Living Life Deliciously: Recipes for Busy Weekdays and Leisurely Weekends

              Her friends call her Tara Teaspoon, a reference to Tara Bench’s more than 20 years spent working as a food editor at Martha Stewart Living, Kids, and Weddings magazines and as the food and entertaining director of Ladies Home Journal magazine. Now a food blogger, recipe creator, and food stylist, Bench has written her first cookbook, “Living Life Deliciously: Recipes for Busy Weekdays & Leisurely Weekends” (Shadow Mountain Publishers 2020) with over 120 recipes designed for both casual and more experienced cooks. To make you feel like she’s In the kitchen cooking along with you, each of Bench’s recipes has a description of her experiences In creating and using It at the beginning. And at the end she offers Tara’s Tips, other options for other ways to prepare It, how to jazz up Its presentation or ways to make It easier and faster.

              Crediting Martha Stewart’ Living, her first job after graduating from college with teaching her everything about being a food editor, Bench left the relatively new magazine–It was launched 30 years ago and grew exponentially while she worker there–for the venerable Ladies Home Journal. First published In 1884, LHJ was one of the first women’s service magazines.

              “I loved working at a magazine with such an amazing legacy,” she said. “Flipping through the pages of those turn-of-the-century Issues was fascinating.”

Thai Chicken Meatballs

              Noting that there are obvious and huge differences in the way we cooked and ate from decade to decade, Bench can see both Innovative and regressive changes.

              “Can you Imagine being around when people started cooking with small appliances, like a toaster, a blender, let alone a microwave?” she said. “Then, over time there was a desire to relearn to cook from scratch and using traditional cooking methods. We are a bit all over the place right now, with the Insurgence of new machines like Instant Pots and Air Fryers, then whole food trends and unrefined food. What I love Is that there Is always Innovation, and new perspectives on health, wellness, enjoyment, and convenience.”

              Bench’s passion for vintage cookbooks Is part of her love for the history food and cooking has created.

              “I’m fascinated by old cookbooks and the story they tell about Ingredients, homes, families and what foods brought them together,” she said. “I’m entranced by the techniques and practices of cooks before kitchens had microwaves, and large freezers, let alone electric mixers and food processor. the recipe In some of the old cookbooks are of dishes, Ingredients and styles of cooking that have been forgotten.”

              But Bench is in the her and now and when it comes to new cooks wondering how to begin stocking their kitchen, she recommends five essentials–a good and sharp chef’s knife, a knife friendly non-slip cutting board, a heavy, medium-sized saucepan, and a ceramic-nonstick skillet. On, and a dishwasher.

              “Ok, skip the dishwasher,” she said with a laugh. “The last one Is a toss-up between a U-shaped whisk and a silicone spatula.”

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              The following recipes and photos are courtesy of “Living Life Deliciously” by Tara Bench (Shadow Mountain Publishers 2020).

Thai Meatball Golden Coconut Curry

Makes: 6 To 8 Servings

Tara Bench notes that this one-pan coconut curry is easy to pull together with some spices from the pantry and a few fresh veggies.

“The Thai meatballs make this meal extraordinary, and leftovers are rare at my house,” she writes in the recipes introduction.  “The full-fat coconut milk gives the dish a subtle sweetness and creates a quick, rich sauce that’s perfect for spooning over rice. The turmeric gives it a luscious gold color and aromatic flavor. Add a few tiny slices of fresh red cayenne chilis for a kick of heat. “

2 tablespoons olive oil 

1 teaspoon fennel seeds 

1 red or yellow bell pepper, cut into 2-inch strips 

1 small red onion, sliced root to tip 

1 clove garlic, minced 

1 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half 

½ teaspoon turmeric 

¾ teaspoon dried basil 

¼ teaspoon cayenne 

½ teaspoon kosher salt 

1 cup water 

1 recipe Thai Chicken Meatballs (see recipe below), prepared 

1 (14.5-ounce) can coconut milk 

Chopped cilantro 

Sliced red chilis, like fresh cayenne (optional) 

Cooked long-grain rice, for serving 

Tara’s Tip

This curry is delicious with more than just meatballs. Try it with sliced chicken breast or shrimp. I cut the chicken into thin strips so it cooks in about the same time it would take the meatballs to heat through. For a vegetarian option, add a few cups of your favorite cut-up veggies in place of the meatballs and use soy sauce in place of fish sauce.

Thai Chicken Meatballs

1 small onion, roughly chopped

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons grated ginger

1 jalapeno, seeded

1 ¾ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into pieces (can use ground chicken instead)

½ cup packed cilantro

1 tablespoon fish sauce

½ cup breadcrumbs

2 egg whites

In a food processor, combine onions, garlic, ginger and jalapeno and pulse until finely chopped. Add chicken, cilantro, fish sauce, and breadcrumbs and pulse until well blended but not quite pureed; no large pieces of chicken should remain. Add egg whites and pulse briefly.

Heat broiler to high and place rack 4 inches from heat. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.

Use a 2-tablespoon cookie scoop or a ½ cup to portion mixture into about 30 balls. Coat hands with water and shape into meatballs. Arrange on prepared baking sheet.

Broil until meatballs are highly browned, about 4 minutes. Turn meatballs over and broil another 4 minutes. Serve, or continue to add them to another recipe.

Stovetop Variation

To cook meatballs on the stovetop, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook meatballs in batches, turning occasionally, until cooked through, about 6 minutes.

Mexican-Spiced Black Bean Hash Browns and Eggs

Mexican-Spiced Black-Bean Hash Browns and Eggs

“My take on huevos rancheros involves crispy hash brown potatoes instead of tortillas and seasoned with all the spices that make Mexican food delicious,” she said. “It’s a one-skillet meal filled with crispy and soft potatoes, black beans, eggs, and tasty fixings.”

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 (30-ounce package) frozen hash browns, partially thawed (6 cups)

½ cup finely chopped yellow onion

1 cup canned black beans, drained

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

¾ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ small jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped

4 large eggs

Toppings, such as salsa, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, diced avocado, and cotija cheese

Heat oil and butter in a large 12- or 14-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until butter melts. Add thawed hash browns and onion and stir to coat. Cook 5 to 7 minutes, until just starting to crisp. Stir in cumin, oregano, chili powder, salt, and jalapeño and cook 4 to 6 minutes, until potatoes start to brown and crisp.

Reduce heat to medium. Stir in black beans and then make 4 wells in the potato mixture. Crack 1 egg in each well, cover pan with lid, and cook eggs to desired doneness, about 10 minutes for soft eggs.

Divide hash browns and eggs between 4 plates and serve immediately with your favorite toppings.

Tara’s Tips

The presentation of the eggs cooked in the hash browns is fun, but you can skip that step and serve the hash browns with fried or scrambled eggs on the side.

Sidebar: Tara Teaspoon On How to Use Herbs and Spices in Cooking

A small amount of a new and different spice will add depth to your dishes. Experiment start with small amounts and have fun in the kitchen.

Make gingerbread caramel sauce. Those staple ground spices you use in the fall can turn caramel into an all year-round holiday. Add ground Saigon cinnamon, ground ginger, ground nutmeg to store-bought or homemade caramel sauce for a gingerbread caramel sauce. Drizzle on ice cream, use as a dip for apples and other fruit, sweeten your morning oatmeal or coffee and even to spruce up a cocktail.

It’s good for the soul, and even better when you spice it up: Homemade, or out-of-the-can chicken soup takes dinner to the next level with the addition of herbs and seasonings. Make a Southwest chicken soup by adding ground cumin, ground coriander, oregano, and chili powder to taste. Serve with tortilla chips. Or, add a sprinkle of curry powder, coconut milk and some fresh spinach for an Indian-inspired soup. You could even make a version hearty and comforting by adding a teaspoon of ground sage and grated cheese.

Deviled eggs are a cult favorite, making a play on the food scene in a big way. Zest up your favorite recipe by adding celery salt or Spice Islands Lemon Peel to the egg yolk filling. For a Southwest, smoky flavor add ground cumin and ground ancho chile to the mix, serve with lime wedges for squeezing. You can add an Indian twist to deviled eggs with some garam masala seasoning or curry powder; garnish with toasted coconut.

Make your own house seasoning mix. Restaurants do it all the time—house blends of herbs and spices that get used on roasted potatoes, veggies, meats, on salads and fish. Create your own by combing onion powder, cayenne pepper, dried rosemary, dried thyme, dried sweet basil, and grated Romano or Parmesan. Store it in a jar in the fridge and pull it out every day in place of the same old salt and pepper.

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