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Make the Most of Your Shopping Trip

Going to the grocery is probably not your favorite activity. Many people dread this chore. But here are some tricks that can help you make the most of your shopping trip.

Most important, never go without a list. Never. Your list can be jotted on the back of an envelope or kept on your phone, but you should always have a list. If you prefer the tech option, there are lots of shopping list apps out there. What is easy and intuitive to one person is as complicated as a moon launch to someone else, so find the one that works best for you.

There are two reasons you want to shop with a list. First, this is the best way to make sure you don’t forget anything. Few things are more frustrating than getting home from a grocery trip and realizing that you forgot a key ingredient for tonight’s dinner. Second, having a list will help you spend less time in the store. Studies show that the longer you’re in a store the more money you’ll spend.

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Here’s a Tip

Summer vacation season is in full swing. Travel often involves situations that call for tipping. The standard expectations for tipping have changed through the years. While “tip” was originally an acronym for “to insure promptness,” it’s become much more important. Many people in many service industries rely on tips in order to make ends meet.

At Restaurants

There is no need to tip the host or maître d unless he or she went above and beyond, such as getting you a table on an especially busy night. If you’re at a sit-down restaurant, you should tip your server 15-20% of the bill before tax. Though, in larger cities such as Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, 20% is considered the minimum for good service. If you’re at a buffet, tip your server 10% pre-tax. If you’re getting takeout, there’s no need to tip unless they provide extra service or you’ve placed an especially large and/or complicated order. Tip jars at the register aren’t an obligation. You can leave $1 or so if the server or barista provides extra service or if you’re a regular. This is also true if they’re using a device to process your payment. You’ll see a line for a tip (and, possibly, suggested tip amounts). You needn’t feel obligated to add a tip.

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What’s Fresh in July?

You’ll find many of the same fresh fruits and vegetables in July as you did in June. But there are a few differences. I am especially excited for local tomatoes, which start hitting the stands (or ripening in my garden) in July. Remember, the Miami County Farmers Market is open Saturdays, 10 am to 2 pm, at N Broadway and E 5th Streets, rain or shine. (In the event of rain you’ll find the vendors inside the museum.)

Apricots – It’s difficult to find fresh apricots, because they don’t travel well. You’ll usually find them dried or canned. But fresh ones are worth the search. You’ll find them ranging from yellow to deep orange. They sometimes have red or rosy areas. They’ll be from 1.5 to 2.5 inches in diameter. They should smell wonderful and yield to gentle pressure. Don’t buy apricots that are bruised, soft, or mushy. Store ripe apricots in the fridge for a day or two but eat them quickly. If your apricots aren’t quite ripe, store them days at room temperature in a paper bag out of the light. Check them often; they’ll ripen quickly. (These won’t be quite as sweet as tree-ripened apricots, but they’ll still be delicious.)

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Cooking Terms

I’ve often said that if you can read you should be able to cook. However, I do realize that sometimes the terms in recipes can be confusing. Here is a handy list of some of the most common terms and what they mean.

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You know I love a recipe that lets me make something that usually takes a lot of work with very little effort. If you’ve ever enjoyed a real beignet, you’ve enjoyed a little bit of heaven. They are light and delicious. The only place I’ve ever found them is New Orleans. Real beignets are made by first making chou pastry, then deep-frying it, finally covering it in powdered sugar. They’re worth the work, but I found a way to indulge with a lot less effort. Though, the calorie/carb count isn’t any less.

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Grilling Tips

Grilling season has arrived, though for many it never left. When I was growing up we had a gas grill, and we used it all year long. One of my favorite food memories is eating frozen pizza that was cooked on the grill. So here are some tips for getting the most out of your grill.

Preheat your grill 15 to 25 minutes before you start cooking to make sure it reaches the right temperature. This also kills any bacteria that might have found its way to your grill. Your grill should be 400-450°F for high, 350-400°F for medium-high, 300-350°F for medium and 250-300°F for low heat. When you grill is properly heated, it sears food on contact. This keeps the insides moist and helps prevent it from sticking. Contrary to popular belief, searing doesn’t “seal in” the juices, but does create improved flavors through caramelization.

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Fresh in June

One way to find the freshest local produce is to stop by the Miami County Farmers Market. They’re open Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm, at the Old Peru Firehouse, corner of West Main and North Miami Streets in Peru. But, generally speaking, here’s what you’ll find in season this month.

Eggplant—Look for the smallest eggplants. They’re younger and therefore sweeter. (The flesh gets bitter as it matures.) The skin should be smooth and shiny, with even color. The flesh beneath any imperfections is probably starting to decay. The stem and its cap should be a vibrant, bright green. It should look fresh, not dry or brown. When you press it gently but firmly with your thumb, It should give a little, but it should spring back immediately. If the dent remains, the eggplant is old. Store your eggplant in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. You should use it within five days.

Figs—Buy figs that are clean and dry. The skin should be smooth and unbroken. They should be soft and yield to your touch but not mushy. Firm figs are not ripe. Store them in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. Use them within a couple of days of buying them.

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Cheater Pizza

As I’ve said before, one of my favorite things to do is find shortcuts. Cheater recipes are one of my favorite shortcuts. It’s a way to make something quickly and easily that should take a long time and a lot of effort. Cheater pizza is a favorite in my house.