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Native Cooking

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If we time-traveled back about 300 years, I bet people would be eating the same kinds of comfort food we like now, of course minus the salt, butter, sugar and preservatives: a lovely buffalo or other gamemeat stew, an herb-filled soup or chowder, baked squashes and potatoes, beans of all sorts and chili-like concoctions. The virginal palates were so pure and the taste so real.

If we mean it when we vow every year to lose weight and eat better, we should take a lesson from the past and eliminate, or at least cut way back on, those flavor enhancers salt, butter, sugar and preservatives. If you can do this for a few days, the taste buds adjust and you'll find you don't need them as much as you thought you did. I've tried this many times and it works. Over time, I slip and get back into bad habits because I'm not that strong; it's hard to be in this contemporary culture. Temptations are all around, all the time. I admire those of you who can summon the kind of willpower it takes to resist them.

Well, we all have common sense, and I think we know when we're not eating right. It is harder to do that these days with all the trans fats and hidden sugars, among other things, lurking in labels. Who can read every label on every food while shopping and rushing about? It used to be a matter of trusting our food sources, but this takes vigilance today, more than ever.


Poached Salmon

I just love grilled salmon, but I'm outnumbered at my house because ''they'' like it poached with a dill dipping sauce. I'm beginning to prefer it myself and to appreciate the fact that I can make it ahead of time.

1-1/2 to 2 pounds wild-caught salmon fillet

1 quart water, or enough chicken broth and lemon juice to make 4 cups

1 onion, sliced thin

10 whole juniper berries or peppercorns

4 bay leaves

1 lemon (1/2 sliced thin; reserve other half)

1 tablespoon hot pepper flakes

1 tablespoon celery flakes

Using a high-sided skillet large enough to accommodate your fillet (cut it once to fit), put the salmon on a rack. Fill the pan with the water or chicken broth lemon juice for liquid and add the onion, juniper and/or peppercorns, bay leaves, hot pepper flakes and celery flakes. Place the rack with fish over the water, placing the lemon slices on top. Cover and let the salmon poach-steam until the center is no longer deep pink, about 15 - 20 minutes over low heat, adding more water if necessary.

When done, remove from rack carefully to a flat plate or baking sheet. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Serve with Dill Sauce. (We like it with hot polenta patties and a cold beet salad or a four-bean salad.)

Dill Sauce

1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream

2 tablespoons low-fat Italian dressing

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1 tablespoon dill weed

Salt and pepper to taste


Garlic Mashed Potatoes

2 to 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut in 1-inch pieces

2 cups water

1 cup chicken broth

2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Put potatoes, water, broth and garlic in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil uncovered until potatoes are fork-tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. About 15 to 20 minutes. Mash the potatoes and garlic, then add the milk slowly and the butter. Now add the salt and pepper to taste.


Winter Greens

Salad is great, but let's not forget good, hot, green vegetable side dishes - perfect companions for many winter meals. Collard greens are high in vitamins A and C as well as calcium, and are great steamed. Spinach is the classic; try it hot with a dash of cider vinegar and some butter. Kale is another high calcium carrier and is delicious with a squeeze of lemon.

Calcium in your diet is important any time, especially for strong bones, but it needs help to get into your bones. One of the best helpers is vitamin D, which is easy to get most of the year. If you get only 15 minutes a day of sunshine on only your face and hands, that will give you all you need; or you can eat salmon, fatty fish, drink milk or eat cereal to get the recommended daily amount. Soda and caffeine can stop calcium from being absorbed.


Notes and Tips

-- To keep seafood odors down, put a bit of water with some white vinegar on a back burner on low heat. This absorbs that ''fishy'' smell.

-- Refresh fresh fruit that's in danger of aging by soaking slices of it in a little lemon juice with a pinch of sugar added.