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Eating Well: Cooking with carrots

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The importance of cooking or baking with carrots is often underrated and overlooked. Right now they are reasonably priced in the grocery stores, making for a good time to incorporate into the family's menu planning.

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All in all, carrots are an excellent cooking, snacking and baking food at only 26 calories per medium carrot. And there is no end to the way you can prepare this versatile vegetable. Eaten raw, carrots can be cut into julienne strips and used in dips. They can be grated into salads, or juiced with other ingredients; used in soups or other casseroles to bring out their savory and characteristic flavor; or added to cakes, where their flavor is hardly noticed but adds a sweetness and richness to the texture.

And the next time someone tells you to eat your carrots because they are good for you, you'd do well to listen up.

Research is indicating that carrots are indeed good for your eyes, containing beta carotene, which some studies say can reduce the chance of eye disease. Carrots, eaten both raw and cooked, are rich in carotene (the source of Vitamin A) and high in fiber and sugar content. Notable amounts of Vitamins B3, C and E are also present. When eaten raw, carrots also provide good quantities of potassium, calcium, iron and zinc. Eating about 3 1/2 ounces of carrots daily provides the recommended daily amount of Vitamin A.

Some studies also indicate that eating more foods rich in beta-carotene can be associated with a lower risk of cataracts; and people who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables high in beta-carotene could be at lower risk for macular degeneration than people who do not eat these foods. To obtain the optimum nutritional value from eating the vegetable, it is recommended you eat raw or only slightly cooked carrots in order to maximize on the valuable nutrients that are contained in and under the skin.

The following recipes all rely on the crunchy, little vegetable for their delicious nature. The strong orange, carrot color dresses up the "Crunchy Shoestring Salad" that is so great served as a side salad or as a meal all by itself. Add a piece of fruit and a soft, warm roll and you're all set.

The "Old Fashioned Carrot Bars" are chock full of goodness, with a generous three cups of carrots poured into the recipe. Adding the coconut is a slight twist to the traditional carrot cake, but I can guarantee you if you like coconut, you're going to love this recipe. It is so moist and decadent; you're not going to be able to stop at one piece. This recipe calls for baking in a jelly roll pan, but it also works well to bake it in a regular 9x13 size cake pan. You'll just have to adjust your baking time a little.

The "Yummy Glazed Carrots" are one of the easiest of its kind that I've tried. If you like your carrots even a little sweeter you can add a little more brown sugar. You can also spice up the recipe a little by adding a few tablespoons of orange juice to the topping.

The last recipe is a heartier side dish that takes a little more time to prepare, but it's worth the extra effort and a nice change from regular scalloped potatoes. This dish goes great with chicken or pork and is wonderful heated up if there are leftovers.

Until next time, from my kitchen to yours, happy cooking!

Crunchy Shoestring Salad

1 cup carrots, grated

1 cup celery, sliced

1 can tuna, chicken or shrimp

1/4 cup onion, diced

1/2 cup Miracle Whip

1/2 tsp mustard

1/2 tsp. vinegar

3 to 4 tbsp. milk

Mix together and keep in refrigerator several hours. Add 1 small can shoestring potatoes just before serving.

Old Fashioned Carrot Bars

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups salad oil

2 cups flour

1 tsp. soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

3 cups raw grated carrots

1 1/2 cups angel flake coconut

3/4 cup chopped nutmeats

Beat eggs well. Add sugar and salad oil and beat again. Add flour, soda, cinnamon and salt and mix well. Pour in your remaining ingredients and mix one last time.

Pour in well-greased jelly roll pan and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Frosting

3 oz. cream cheese

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 tbsp. cream or milk

Mix together until well blended. If you need to add more cream or milk for proper spreading consistency, feel free to do so. Frost bars while still slightly warm.

Yummy Glazed Carrots

Boil a 16 oz. bag of baby carrots until tender.

Pour into slightly greased casserole dish.

Pour 1/4 cup brown sugar over the top. Dot with butter and layer mini marshmallows over the top, about one cup, add more if you like. Make sure the dish is deep enough so you can cover. Place in 350 degree oven and bake until topping melts and sugar dissolves. Gently mix and serve hot.

Scalloped Carrots and Potatoes

2 1/2 pounds potatoes (about nine medium) peeled and sliced

5 medium carrots, cut into 1/4 inch slices

2 cups boiling water

1 tsp. salt

Cheese Sauce:

3 tbsp. butter

2 tbsp. all purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups (6 ozs.) shredded Cheddar cheese, divided

Combine potatoes, carrots, onions, water and salt in large Dutch oven. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for ten minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, melt butter. Remove from heat, stir in flour, salt and pepper until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook and stir for two minutes. Stir in one cup cheese, reduce heat, and stir until cheese is melted.

Drain the vegetables. Layer half in a greased 9x13x2 inch baking dish. Top with half the cheese sauce. Prepare layers. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake ten minutes longer or until potatoes are tender. Yield 6-8 servings.

Tips

Cooking carrots will bring out their natural sweetness.

When cooking carrots be sure to cut the pieces as close as possible to the same size so that they will cook evenly.

Enhance the naturally sweet flavor of carrots by adding a little honey or sugar when cooking.

When cutting pieces or slicing carrots, cut diagonally to expose more surface. This will allow the carrot to cook more quickly.

Carrots that have become limp can be soaked in ice water to make them crisp again.

Peeled carrots will sometimes develop a dry, white coating when being stored. If they seem to be acceptable otherwise, the carrots can be rehydrated by soaking in cold water for a short period of time. This should rid the carrots of the white coating and bring them back to their original color.

One pound of fresh carrots equals 6 to 8 medium carrots, 24 to 34 baby carrots, 2 1/2 cups shredded, and 3 cups sliced or chopped.

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