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In the Kitchen -- December 2

Advent In the Kitchen -- December 1

Cucumber Salad

Slow Cooked Pork Chops with Sweet Potatoes and Apples

Country Green Beans

Fresh Oranges or Clementines or Chocolate Pound Cake

This is an easy menu and one that oozes “comfort food.” The cucumber salad is an old recipe that’s inexpensive, quick to put together, and that keeps well in the refrigerator. While you’re waiting for the cucumbers to drain, you can put all the ingredients for the pork chop dish in the slow cooker and let it do its thing. The green beans are the type your grandmother used to make (if you were lucky), though lightened up a bit, so your arteries stay intact. Dessert could be as simple as fresh oranges or clementines, which have lots of great fiber and vitamins in them, but feel free to substitute another fruit of your choice. If you’d prefer a more substantial dessert, go for the chocolate pound cake. I will confess to tinkering—a fair amount—with the recipe for the cake, which came from a good friend of the family. The original was a dense, chocolaty, real old-fashioned pound cake. My effort, when I made it according to the original recipe, didn’t taste quite as good as our friend’s, perhaps because I knew what went into it (a significant amount of Crisco solid shortening and butter) and how long I’d have to spend on the Stairmaster for each piece I ate! So, I decided I might as well try the recipe again with a healthier slant. I think the result is pretty good and also easier than the original. No mixer needed! The cake is wonderful, as is. Or you may want to dust the cake with powdered sugar or cocoa powder and serve each slice with a handful of berries.

Cucumber Salad – Serves 6

This is a good salad to pull together when other vegetables are hard to find. Cucumbers generally are available year-round and won’t break the bank. You can also use regular cucumbers and scoop out the seeds. With either type of cucumber, be sure to make the salad early in the day. It needs to sit in the refrigerator at least an hour to allow the flavors to blend. You can serve the cucumber salad “as is” or atop salad greens, perhaps sprinkled with some green onions.

2 seedless cucumbers, washed well and thinly sliced but not peeled

1-2 teaspoons of salt

½ cup of light sour cream

1 tablespoon of dried dill

1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar

Several chopped green onions (optional)

Place the cucumber slices in a colander and toss them with the salt. Let the cucumbers stand for about half an hour to drain (place the colander over a bowl or in the sink). After the standing time, blot the cucumbers with paper towels to absorb leftover moisture. In a large bowl, whisk together the light sour cream, dill, and vinegar. Add the cucumbers and stir them gently to coat them with the sour cream mixture. If you’d like, stir in the green onions or sprinkle them on top of the salad.

Slow Cooked Pork Chops with Sweet Potatoes and Apples – Serves 4-6

This simple pork supper can be put together early in the morning and will be ready, filling the kitchen with wonderful aromas, when you get home later, tired and hungry for a good dinner.

1 15-ounce can or jar of applesauce

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into ½-inch slices

1 teaspoon of salt, divided

½ teaspoon of pepper, divided

¼ cup of brown sugar

6 bone-in pork chops

1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

2 apples, cored and sliced

½ teaspoon of cinnamon

Coat the insert of a slow cooker with non-stick spray and pour in the applesauce. Top the applesauce with the sweet potatoes. Sprinkle the potatoes with half of the salt and pepper and the brown sugar. Arrange the pork chops on top of the potatoes, drizzle them with the balsamic vinegar, and sprinkle them with the remaining salt and pepper. Spread the apples on top of the pork chops and sprinkle them with cinnamon. Cover the slow cooker and cook the pork chops on low for 6-8 hours or until the pork chops and potatoes are tender.

Country Green Beans – Serves 4-6

This is an old standby recipe. It’s best made with fresh green beans, but the frozen ones work fine in December when the fresh aren’t available or are too expensive.

1 16-ounce bag of frozen green beans

¼ cup of chopped onion

¼ cup of chopped ham (left over is perfect)

1 tablespoons of olive oil

1/3 cup of water

¼ teaspoon of garlic powder

¼ teaspoon of pepper

¼ teaspoon of salt

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook 9-15 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Don’t overcook! The beans should be green, not limp and gray.

Chocolate Pound Cake – Serves 12+

This is an easy chocolate pound cake, elegant in its simplicity. The cake is dense, moist, and has a light chocolate flavor heightened with a bit of coffee and hint of cinnamon. Serve the cake plain or with a scattering of fruit and dollops of light whipped topping, if you’d care to do so. My husband also suggests eating the cake plain alongside your breakfast oatmeal as a nice morning treat. He notes that the cake includes healthy ingredients—like yogurt and whole-wheat flour—so why not?

½ cup of canola oil

1 cup of sugar

½ cup of dark brown sugar

¾ cup of plain, fat-free Greek yogurt

3 eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

¼ cup of strong brewed coffee (or instant), cooled to room temperature

¾ cup of white whole-wheat flour

¾ cup of flour

½ cup of cocoa

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of baking soda

¼ teaspoon of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a large tube pan with nonstick spray, preferably the type with flour in it (or use regular spray and shake a teaspoon or so of flour in the pan, tapping out the excess). Combine the canola oil, sugars, yogurt, eggs, vanilla extract, and coffee and whisk them well. Combine the flours, cocoa, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, mixing until you have a smoothish batter. Pour the batter into the greased tube pan and bake the cake for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before trying to remove it.

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