Native Cooking

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While I am writing this it is cold outside, but the temperature is going up to nearly 40 degrees. I just heard on the TV that it is 90 degrees in Phoenix. How's that for diversity? A lot of places have flowers and prolific sunshine; others are snowed in. When you're hungry and have kids that are, too, it doesn't really matter what the weather is outside.

When you work all day you want to relax when you get home, sit a minute and unwind, mull stuff over and get off your feet. It gets harder and harder to do this. Sure, you can order in or go out to eat, but this all takes money and energy. Thinking ahead is the key. It's easy to say that, and I know it isn't easy to stick to.

Maybe if you give one night a week to ordering in, you could plan the rest of the week around that night. Some working people I know devote Sunday afternoon to ''batch-cooking'' to fill in gaps during the week. For example, make a big pot of chili and package it up in smaller portions to freeze. At the same time, make your own tomato sauce for pasta in another pot. You've just completed two or three meals. Having flour tortillas in the freezer at the ready makes a quick backup meal in no time, and quesadillas can be made in a variety of ways.

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Good and Easy Rice

3 cups cooked rice (brown, white or risotto)

3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1 low-sodium beef or chicken broth packet

Toss all these ingredients together and keep hot until ready to serve. This dish is rich and yummy.

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You can put together quick dinners easier during the week if you already have the base carbohydrates pre-cooked or ready to go. Rice, potatoes, polenta, pastas and beans are all good pantry items to keep on hand. A can of beans, some rice, a little bit of meat and some seasonings like onion and celery, can make a meal in minutes. Flour or

corn tortillas are handy meal-makers, too. Just brown some ground meat with a little onion and put it on a tortilla. Add some cheese or refried beans, roll up, cover and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. A little side salad or vegetable makes an excellent quick dinner.

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Sunchoke Cheese Soup

2 cups sunchokes (wash well and leave the skin on)

1 cup sharp Cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup milk (whole or 2 percent only)

2 tablespoons flour

Salt and pepper

Boil the sunchokes until tender. Drain (reserving the cooking liquid) and set aside. Use a good, heavy saucepan to melt the butter. Sprinkle in the flour, and whisk into the butter. Slowly add the reserved cooking liquid and milk to the butter/flour mixture and season with salt and pepper. Whisk this over medium heat until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from heat.

Put this white sauce and the sunchokes in a blender and puree. Pour the pureed mixture back into the pan. Add the cheese and cook over very low heat until the cheese is melted. Stir constantly. You can add a pinch of cumin or cayenne at this point if desired.

Sunchokes have fewer calories than potatoes and also contain potassium and inulin (a sugar much like insulin that is beneficial to diabetics and hypoglycemics). They also contain vitamins A and B.

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Hearty Good Soup

1 celery root, peeled and cubed

2 slices bacon, chopped

1 cup smoked ham or pork, chopped

2 onions, chopped

2 potatoes, cubed with skin on

3 carrots, cut in chunks

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups cooked white beans (or canned)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 quart water or stock (vegetable or chicken)

In a heavy Dutch oven-type pot, cook the bacon in the olive oil for about a minute. Add the ham or pork and cook for 3 more minutes. Add water or broth and remaining ingredients (except the beans, if using canned: they go in the last 15 minutes). Bring all to a boil over high heat and then simmer for an hour and a half. Adjust seasonings.

The celery root gives the soup a hearty flavor. You can add some parsley, thyme or almost any other herb to enhance the taste.

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Notes and Tips

* Dried apricots are a delicious fruit treat. You can use them like raisins in baked quick breads along with dried cranberries. They are good alone or with other dried fruits as a quick, nutritious snack.

* Sunchokes contain a lot of iron, which makes them turn a little gray when cooked. If you add about 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar to the water about 5 minutes before they are done, you'll avoid that color change. A little lemon juice added to the cooking water at the start will also prevent the color change.