Tips, fun facts, and recipes from Chef Sandra Lewis of Life At The Table to help you answer the most important question of the day, "What's for dinner?".
Four Tips to Pick the Best Watermelon
Four Tips To Pick The Best Watermelon
Hey y’all! It’s summer and I’m craving a watermelon.
I’m off to the grocery store to pick the juiciest, best-tasting watermelon there is. Come with me and learn how to pick your own.
Here are my four tips for picking the sweetest, juiciest watermelon you can.
Tip #1 Look For a Large Field Spot
Number one, look for a large field spot. That’s the underbelly of the watermelon where it’s laying in the field. The larger the spot, the longer that watermelon lay there.
Tip #2 Listen for a Deep Hollow Sound
Number two, listen for a deep hollow sound when you tap on the watermelon. This generally means there’s more water content which means lots of juice!
Tip #3 Pick a Dull Watermelon, Not a Shiny One
Number three, you want it to be dull, not overly shiny. If it’s dull, it means it’s been picked for a while, and it’s a little bit riper. A shiny watermelon is an indication of being under ripe.
Tip #4 Pick a Heavy Watermelon
You want it to be really nice and heavy. If it’s heavy, that means there’s more juice, more water, more than likely more sweet.
Hey, just got back from the grocery store. I am going to weigh this honking watermelon.
Oh, my, that is a huge watermelon. I just weighed this baby, 31 pounds.
Let’s cut into it. You do have a couple of choices when you cut a watermelon. You can go around the circumference. You can go through it longways.
Today, because this watermelon is so large, I think it will be easiest for me just to cut it around the circumference.
So, here we go. I’m liking the sound of that. Ah, yeah. Look at that. It is beautiful inside. That is an amazing red, ripe, juicy watermelon. Look at that, incredible.
All right, let me put one of these halves aside. I’m going to turn this over, so I have a flat, stable piece of watermelon here to slice. And I’m just going to go right through the middle of it again. Open that up just a little bit to get my knife down the other side. Perfect. Gorgeous.
Can you see the juice all over my cutting board? That is amazing.
Now I’m going to put this side over here to give me a little bit more room to work with. All right, now we’re going to take this, turn it flat, once more lengthwise. Voila.
And now, turn it over. Oh, I’m loving it. Look at this beautiful flesh on this watermelon. Then if you want to slice individual slices for your friends or family, put them on a platter. All you got to do, take your knife now, and there you have it, gorgeous slices of watermelon.
That is amazing. I am loving it. Okay, now the proof is in the pudding. Right? The proof is in the taste of the watermelon.
Here we go. So good, so juicy and delicious.
Like cantaloupe? Here’s how to pick the perfect cantaloupe and the health benefits of eating cantaloupe.here’s a fun recipe to make with cantaloupe.
Want to learn how to cook? Register for one of our virtual cooking classes.
Butternut Squash Soup
“I live on good soup, not on fine words.”
Those are words of wisdom from the 17th Century French playwright, actor, and poet, Moliére.
But he’s a thoroughly modern man and incredible visionary when it comes to soup.
One of the easiest weeknight meals to make is soup, but our culture seems a bit disinclined towards this almost ancient way feeding ourselves.
“Soup?” our culture says, “I need something hardier than water with vegetables after a long day.”
Well you’ve got it with Butternut Squash Soup.
Satisfaction in a Bowl
Not only is butternut squash soup beautiful, warm, filling, and vibrantly orange, this delicious soup is gluten-free.
And it’s dairy-free. Meaning that the vegans amongst us are going to love it.
But don’t say that to anyone who might think that last characteristic makes it instantly flavorless.
Nope meat-eaters and vegans alike will love butternut squash soup.
It has a gorgeous flavor and is packed with vegetables.
And, all those vegetables contribute to the sturdy texture of this soup.
No Better Way to Eat Your Veggies Than in Butternut Squash Soup
That’s right: NO thickeners other than veggies, mostly carrots and cauliflower, in this butternut squash soup.
With the addition of a bit of olive oil and some coconut milk the result is a rich, creamy, decadent soup without a hint of lingering grease in your bowl.
Assemble this soup and let it simmer. While it comes together on the stovetop, make yourself a side salad with the rest of the veggies from the produce drawer in your refrigerator.
There’s no time like the present to use those lovelies up.
You Can Dine on Good Soup and Fine Words
Butternut squash soup is truly an indulgence of the very best type.
One that your body, soul, and spirit can enjoy any night of the week as you gather at the table accompanied by great conversation.
With this combo, unlike Molière you can say that you dine on good soup and good words.
Interested in learning more about making soup? Check out our soup-making class.
Easy Homemade Granola with Maple Syrup
What do you think of when you hear the word granola?
Do you think California? Hippie movement? Health food?
Granola has ties to all three.
Two Californians emerge as the modern-day proponents of this crunchy, delectable food.
Wayne Schlotthauer in Chico, CA, was making a wheat-based granola as far back as 1957 using his grandmother’s recipe from Germany.
Commenting in a Rolling Stone Magazine interview, Schlotthauer said that the crunch in this granola would “take your fillings out.”
In the 1960s, another Californian known simply as Johnny Granola-Seed, began making oat-based granola.
Exchanging the wheat for oats was the dawning of a new day.
Now, it wouldn’t crack your teeth, and it was a delicious, nutritious food certainly embraced by the hippie and health food movement throughout California.
And, of course, big business.
In the 1970s Pet Incorporated, Quaker Oats, Kellogg’s, and General Mills all introduced granola cereals to the market.
Not So Recent History
Granola’s history seems like recent history until you realize in 1863 Dr. James Caleb Jackson served granola at his health spa in Dansville, NY.
He called it Granula and it was made from graham flour.
Being concerned about one’s health is not a new phenomenon.
Health spas, known as sanitoriums, were prevalent even in the 19th century.
Here’s the good news.
It’s a fantastically healthy and delicious food, if you make it at home.
The Healthiest Version of Granola is Made at Home
The even better news is that you can make this at home and it’s super simple.
If you have a well-stocked pantry, more than likely you have the ingredients already on hand.
Oats, walnuts, dried cranberries, egg whites, a bit of brown sugar, and pure maple syrup.
Pour the maple syrup mixture over the oats and walnuts, and stir until the grains and nuts are coated.
Evenly layer the granola on a sheet pan and bake at 350˚ F.
Stir the mixture after 20 minutes and bake for another 10 minutes or so until its brown. As it cools it will crisp up.
You’ve saved a ton of money creating something delcious to eat, and you’ve avoided consuming all the extra additives of processed food.
History and Health Benefits of Pure Maple Syrup
History and Health Benefits of Pure Maple Syrup
From trees to jars and jugs, maple syrup is a sweet yet surprisingly healthy addition to recipes and breakfast meals.
Because of its price tag, you may have bypassed this beautiful, remarkably good-for-you syrup in favor of a cheaper imitation.
Read the label.
That imitation syrup is filled with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colorings, and maple-flavored with chemical additives.
If you’ve ever wondered why this amber-colored, delicious syrup is so expensive.
Producing This Tasty Syrup is a Labor of Love
It’s labor of love and its intense.
Native Americans were the first to discover this sweet syrup from a broken maple tree branch.
They introduced early European immigrants to this sugary treat who invented the process of drilling holes in the maple tree to insert a spile, a sort of faucet used to drain the sap from the tree.
Draining sap is only the first step in a four to six weeks process which involves reverse osmosis, boiling for thickening and carmelization, filtering, and grading for color and flavor.
Now you have the perfect jug of syrup.
It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.
On average a tapped maple tree will produce 10 – 20 gallons of sap per tap.
Some maple sap harversters work with between 40,000 – 60,000 taps.
And maple trees are not harmed in this process.
Some maple trees have been producing sap for more than 100 years.
This labor of love production process produces a maple syrup that is rich in at least 24 antioxidants that can lower your risk for some diseases.
Now that’s a mic drop fact.
Maple syrup is rich in vitamins B2, B5 and B6 as well as potassium, phosphorus, zinc, calcium, and manganese.
And it does have a lower glycemic index than other sugars.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you guzzle maple syrup or slather it on everything.
Buy Pure Maple Syrup
But I am suggesting that next time you’re in the grocery store you pause to take a longer look at that jug of maple syrup.
Consider the health benefits in paying just a bit more to add this natural, delicious syrup to your pantry.
Your health and your tastebuds will thank you.
Try my homemade buttermilk pancake recipe with pure maple syrup!
A Homemade Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe Fit For A King
A Homemade Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe Fit For a King
A friend of mine got a job in a biscuit factory. He kneaded the dough.
Ok, that pun’s not mine but it’s a fun way to talk about one of my favorite subjects – homemade buttermilk biscuits.
The Biscuit Lady
My last rotation in culinary school was working the pizza station in the school restaurant.
Yes, what a way to end my education!
This station wasn’t just for pizza it was also for bread.
And my gig was making biscuits.
And, oh, did my homemade buttermilk biscuits rock. The customers loved them, which was nice.
But the real test was in the culinary palates of my fellow students.
When they were over the top excited about my biscuits I knew I was on to something good.
One student even suggested that I earn my living making biscuits. I could be the biscuit lady, he said.
A Wine Bottle and a Vienna Sausage Can
These tender, flaky rounds of dough have always been a part of my family’s culinary history which begins with my dad’s Aunt Inez.
She lived in rural Mississippi, grew a huge garden behind her simple home that was plunked in between a lot of large trees on a rural gravel road.
She cooked three meals a day, all served with biscuits.
Ine, as we called her, rolled out her dough with a wine bottle and cut them into rounds with an old vienna sausage can. If biscuits were a kingdom, hers were king.
I never saw her use a recipe and not sure one ever existed.
Since then I’ve developed my own recipe that comes as close as possible to my memory of her tender, flaky globes of dough that with some butter and jam transported you straight to heaven.
Make Homemade Biscuits a Part of Your Culinary Kingdom
And believe me when I say that tubes of refrigerated dough are NO comparison to a homemade, beautiful, fluffy warm biscuit.
Also believe me when I say it’s very simple and doable, even on a weeknight. Get my recipe and give it a whirl.
Become the biscuit king in your own kingdom.
A Brief and Delicious Bit of Biscuit History
A Brief Bit of Biscuit History
I can smell it now: The aroma of biscuits baking in the oven.
And not the kind that you pop out of a can!
Rising to The Occasion
So just what is the history of the humble biscuit?
Well, it begins way before supermarkets began peddling cylinders of refrigerated dough.
You can thank Mr. Lively B. Willoughby for patenting that bad idea in 1931.
No Half-Baked Origin
The name biscuit is derived from the Latin word “biscoctus” meaning “twice-cooked,”.
You’ll recognize the root of this word in the Italian name for their delightful treat, biscotti.
Twice-baked means biscuits were first baked and then dried in a low temperature oven.
This biscuit preserving process provided food that didn’t readily spoil and nourished ancient mariners and soldiers on their long journeys.
The Egyptians called their version of biscuits a dhourra cake. For the Romans it was buccellum which they served with honey and pepper.
During his third Crusade to the Middle East, Richard the Lionheart brought a “biskit of muslin” made of corn, rye and barley flour.
And during the Spanish Armada conflict in 1588, a daily allowance for an English Royal Navy sailor was one pound of biscuit and one gallon of beer.
Biscuits Embraced in the New World
It didn’t take long for the beloved biscuit to land on American shores and plates.
In the pre-Civil War South, biscuits were a prized delicacy and mostly eaten during lunch or dinner on Sundays.
It’s thought that Southerners had the advantage when it came to cooking biscuits with a soft winter wheat growing climate.
To save time, the “cathead” biscuit was born by simply dropping clumps of the buttery dough onto a baking sheet.
And during the Civil War, the indestructible “hardtack” biscuit was a staple to soldiers on both sides.
Biscuit History and Cowboy Culture
If you’ve had a chuck wagon meal, you may be familiar with “Cowboy” biscuits cooked in iron dutch ovens.
Can you hear the song, “Home on the Range” in the background?
I’m sure that never a “discouraging word” was heard around the campfire when these baked beauties were browning in a cast iron oven.
Chef Sandra Lewis really does inspire you to cook! Great recipe ideas and very interesting to listen to!!
Great Healthy Cooking Insight
Chef Sandra has a wonderful demeanor and such a passion for cooking, the culinary arts, and teaching. The common link that ties humanity together regardless of culture, creed, and geography is sitting down and breaking bread together at the table. Chef Sandra has managed, through her recipies, speaking, workshops to bring us all a little closer together. Nothing is better to have at your side than a friend and mentor, and Chef Sandra is both.