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Cook's Exchange: Spring heralds return of fresh fruits, vegetables

By Andrea Yeager

Farmers markets are back, and gardeners have been busy planting vegetables and plants. Yes, it is spring.

Biloxi kicked off its twice-a-week market with fanfare and new vendors that include arts and crafts and jewelry.

Gulfport's market is Wednesdays, and those in Pass Christian, Ocean Springs and Long Beach are on Saturdays. Gulfport, Ocean Springs and Long Beach vendors offer farmer-raised products and plants. Pass Christian, in addition to produce, includes some arts and crafts.

My daughter is back to gardening. She has planted herbs and tomatoes and started some vegetables from seeds, which is experimental. Her Big Boy tomato plants look great. Perhaps she will have a better result than last year.

I picked up some really good mayhaw jelly that a lady named Merle makes and sells at Biloxi's market. Mayhaw jelly reminds me of my grandmother, who always canned jellies, preserves and vegetables, and my grandfather, who would tell stories of picking mayhaws when he was a boy in East Texas. One bite of the mayhaw jelly and I was back at my grandmother's breakfast table. The jelly was pretty and clear, just like hers was.

Mayhaws, for those unfamiliar with them, are a southern berry that like to grow in swampy or wetland areas in the South.

Yes, it's that time of year for fresh green beans cooked with little red potatoes, as well as asparagus, radishes, lettuces, spinach, green onions, snow peas or pea pods and, of course, strawberries, to name a few.

Since the markets from Texas to Florida are opening, I thought I would share some recipes for fresh vegetables.

ASPARAGUS SOUP

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 slices onion

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1- 1/2 teaspoons salt

Few grains pepper

3 cups milk

2 pounds cooked asparagus

1/3 cup cream, optional

Heat butter or margarine; add onion and simmer for about 4 minutes, or until soft. Stir in flour and seasonings, Remove from heat and slowly add milk, stirring until well blended.

Return to low heat and cook until thick and smooth, stirring constantly. Put asparagus through food mill, then add to soup mixture. Reheat before serving, adding cream if desired. Yield: 8 servings.

-- From "Southern Country Cookbook."

CHICKEN FLORENTINE WITH MUSHROOM SAUCE

3 chicken breasts, boned

1/4 cup chopped onion

Vegetable cooking spray

1- 1/2 cups cooked, chopped spinach

2 tablespoons shredded reduced-fat Swiss cheese

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup skim milk

1/2 cup water

1 tablespoon reduced-calorie margarine, melted

1/2 teaspoon chicken-flavored bouillon granules

Place chicken between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap, and flatten to1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Set chicken aside.

Sauté onion in a large skillet coated with cooking spray. Remove from heat and stir in spinach, cheese and nutmeg.

Divide spinach mixture in half and shape into mounds. Transfer mounds to an 11-by-7-by-2-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top each portion with a chicken breast half. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until chicken is done.

Place mushrooms in skillet. Stir in milk and remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil; boil 6 minutes or until liquid is reduced and thickened, stirring frequently. Spoon sauce evenly over chicken and serve warm.

Yield: 3 servings.

Diabetic exchanges: 1 starch, 3 lean meat. Nutritional data: Carbohydrate: 16 grams; protein, 24 grams; fat, 7 grams; calories, 214; fiber, 4 grams; sodium, 594 milligrams; cholesterol, 43 milligrams.

-- From "The Complete Step-by-Step Diabetic Cookbook"

This main dish uses fresh vegetables, onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, eggplants and green onions.

EGGPLANT JAMBALAYA

1 pound good sausage

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 bell pepper, finely chopped

3 ribs celery, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1- 1/2 cups uncooked rice

3 cups chicken or beef stock or water

Couple of dashes of pepper sauce

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon powdered thyme

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Salt and pepper to taste

2 medium-sized eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

6 green onions, finely chopped

In a heavy pot, fry the sausage after slicing into rounds about1/4-inch thick.

Stir frequently, and when lightly browned remove the sausage and reserve drippings. Pour off all but about1/4 cup of the fat and add the onions, bell pepper and celery.

Cook until the vegetables are tender. Add the rice and mix well until the grains are evenly coated. Add the stock or water, the garlic, pepper sauce, bay leaves, thyme, chili powder, and salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.

Add the sausage and the cubed eggplant and lower the heat. Partially cover the pot and cook over low heat for about 45 minutes. Toward the end of the cooking procedure, the rice should absorb most of the liquid. If it becomes too dry, a little liquid may be added, a few tablespoons at a time. When almost cooked, stir in the green onions and mix well. Serve hot.

Fresh fruits and vegetables and the grill pair well. This salsa is great served with grilled fish or chicken or just with tortilla chips. It also makes a good base for cold strawberry soup. For the soup, all you have to do is add four cups of half-and-half or fat-free half-and-half.

STRAWBERRY SALSA

2 cups strawberries, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind

1 tablespoon lime juice

1- 1/2 tablespoons honey or sugar substitute

Combine strawberries, mint, lime rind and juice and honey or sugar substitute and whirl in the food processor. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour to let the flavors marry.

For the soup, simply add the salsa mixture to the 4 cups of half-and-half in a blender.

Chicken-fried steak report

Alene Russell has friends who are on a mission to find the best chicken-fried steak on the Coast. Some two years ago, we found answers to this quest, but I would like readers to update us on where to find the best chicken-fried steaks. Restaurants, unfortunately, come and go, and our old list is not as reliable. Let me know which restaurants have the best.

Grilling recipes wanted

A Biloxi reader just purchased and new grill and wants some easy, tasty ideas to try on the grill. Please share the best grilling ideas, whether they be meats, vegetables, fruits or even desserts.

Mother's Day on way

Readers, what do you prepare for Mother's Day? Does Mom get breakfast in bed, a Sunday brunch or maybe a backyard barbecue? Please share your Mother's Day menu and recipes with fellow readers.

Also if you have a favorite recipe of Mom's, Grandmother's or even Great-grandmother's, please send it to me. We have only two weeks before I need the recipes, so don't delay.

Andrea Yeager can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net or Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535-4567.

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