(10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare)
By Lisa Messinger
Food and Cooking at Creators Syndicate
Spices are common accompaniments to meat and poultry, so much so that many a "spice rub" or other blend has been devised just for that delicious purpose. When it comes to your protein of choice mingling with seasonings, though, if you are leaving calcium-rich, low-fat cheeses out of the spice equation, there's no reason for that.
If you are used to having slabs of Monterey Jack, Muenster or Swiss cheese solo, for instance, why not instead spice up the ante with cumin, chilies, garlic and onions. That's what Southern Living magazine did and inspires the dip idea below.
Rick Rodgers' voluminous The Big Book of Sides bears lots of fruit on the subject with fresh chives blanketing farmer's cheese atop spaetzle (small simple seasoned dumplings that originated in southern Germany), fresh mozzarella balls getting covered with a garlicky olivada, Cotija (a Mexican cheese, that is crumbly when fresh and dry for grating when aged) improved by minced jalapeno. It is also enhanced by freshly ground black pepper, which is an incredibly simple trick on its own to step up the flavor of many cheeses.
In fact, ground black pepper is part of the mix, along with oregano and garlic, inspired by Rodgers that spruces up Romano cheese in the tip that follows.
Fun fare like this also proves food preparation can be easy, nutritious, inexpensive, fun - and fast. They take just 10 seconds each to read and are almost that quick to prepare. The creative combinations are delicious proof that everyone has time for creating homemade specialties and, more importantly, the healthy family togetherness that goes along with it!
Another benefit: You effortlessly become a better cook, since there are no right or wrong amounts. These are virtually-can't-go-wrong combinations, so whatever you - or your kidlet helpers - choose to use can't help but draw "wows" from family members and guests.
Cheese Dip with a Bite: Mix minced onions and garlic cloves, ground cumin, ground black pepper, canned diced tomatoes with green chilies, Monterey Jack, Muenster or Swiss cheese (or a combination) with a small amount of low-fat (but not nonfat) milk or reduced-fat mayonnaise. Heat, stirring often, until melted and hot, but being careful not to burn. Serve with store-bought baked tortilla chips.
Roam toward Romano: Toss store-bought jarred drained artichoke hearts with freshly grated Romano cheese, olive oil, dried oregano, minced garlic cloves, freshly ground black pepper, salt substitute (if desired) and fresh lemon juice. Eat as is, or as a topping on seasoned or seeded crackers.
Cheers to Cheddar: Lightly toast multigrain bread and top with almond butter (available in most supermarket peanut butter aisles), apple slices, ground cinnamon and nutmeg and low-fat Cheddar cheese. Broil until cheese just begins to melt.
Ham 'n' Cheese Surprise: Melt Swiss cheese, stirring with finely chopped walnuts, ground black pepper, curry powder and mustard and spoon as a sauce over thick slices of warm or room temperature ham.
Parmesan Pep-Me-Ups: Mix together dried basil, thyme and oregano and sprinkle some lightly over triangles of Parmesan cheese and raw dipping vegetables, like carrots, celery and jicama. Add the rest of the spice mix to a blend of olive oil and red wine vinegar and use as a dip for the seasoned Parmesan triangles and vegetables.
QUICK TIP OF THE WEEK: Sliders, the popular restaurant appetizer, don't have to be mini burgers. Busy Los Angeles Art's Deli (operating since 1957) serves vegetarian sliders of avocado and tomato slices between mini potato pancakes. You could try the same with mini zucchini, onion or mushroom pancakes as well.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food and nutrition writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the National Council Against Health Fraud and author of seven food books, including the best-selling The Tofu Book: The New American Cuisine with 150 Recipes (Avery/Penguin Putnam) and Turn Your Supermarket into a Health Food Store: The Brand-Name Guide to Shopping for a Better Diet (Pharos/Scripps Howard). She writes two nationally syndicated food and nutrition columns for Creators Syndicate and had been a longtime newspaper food and health section managing editor, as well as managing editor of Gayot/Gault Millau dining review company. Lisa traveled the globe writing about top chefs for Pulitzer Prize-winning Copley News Service and has written about health and nutrition for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Reader's Digest, Woman's World and Prevention Magazine Health Books. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.