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Archive for April, 2011

TIP OF THE DAY: Asparagus Season & Recipes

The classic French preparation: asparagus
with hollandaise sauce. Photo courtesy
California Asparagus Commission.

 

Asparagus has been popular since ancient times. The spring vegetable was cultivated by the Egyptians, appearing on a frieze dating to 3000 B.C.E.

The Greeks and Romans liked asparagus so much that they dried it to enjoy after the short asparagus season (April-June) ended. The oldest surviving cookbook, De Re Coquinaria by Apicius, has a recipe for cooking asparagus. France’s King Louis XIV built special greenhouses to grow asparagus.

Louis XIV (1638-1715) no doubt enjoyed his asparagus in what is now known as French style: with Hollandaise sauce, a rich sauce made from butter and eggs. In 1651, the great French chef François Pierre de La Varenne (1618-1678) published a recipe for Asparagus in Fragrant Sauce (Hollandaise) in his cookbook, Le Cuisine François.

Asparagus is one of our favorite vegetables: delicious, delicate flavor and only 20 calories per 5.3 ounces, or 4 calories per spear. It’s low in sodium, has no fat or cholesterol and is a good source of fiber, potassium and other vitamins and minerals.

 

You don’t need a special asparagus pot; a regular steamer does just fine. Enjoy asparagus:

  • Steamed as a side: served plain or with melted butter, flavored mayonnaise, olive oil, vinaigrette and/or Parmesan cheese (try this recipe for Asparagus With Grapefruit Vinaigrette).
  • Oven roasted, with olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper—and an optional topping of fresh-grated Parmesan.
  • In omelets and frittatas (recipes for asparagus frittata and asparagus scramble).
  • On a vegetable sandwich with roasted red peppers and other favorite vegetables.
  • In pasta, tossed with olive oil and garlic (try this Linguine With Asparagus & Parma Ham recipe).
  • Puréed into asparagus soup.
  • Added to salads (try a spinach and bacon salad, with feta or goat cheese).
  • As an hors d’oeuvre, with a prosciutto wrap; or try this recipe for asparagus crostini.
  • Pickled asparagus for snacking and garnishing (get it from Tillen Farms).
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    The history of asparagus, shopping tips, cooking basics and 11 asparagus recipes.

      

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    PRODUCT: Onion Dip Mix

    It’s been a long time since we made dip from a mix. Back in college, dip made from sour cream and French’s Onion Soup mix alongside chips and pretzels was all the rage.

    We were taken down memory lane recently when we received samples of Lays Dip Creations, dry seasoning mixes in Garden Onion, Country Ranch and Freshly Made Guacamole. (In some parts of the country, the products are branded as Tostitos Dip Creations.)

    The packets contain dry seasonings such as onions, garlic and a combination of herbs and spices.

    In these days of healthier eating, we’re surprised that the package directions indicate only sour cream as the base. Sure, you can buy reduced fat and nonfat sour cream.

    But we substituted 0% Fat FAGE Greek yogurt and loved the result. FOOD TIP: While fat has been called a “flavor carrier,” it actually coats the tongue and inhibits tasting the subtleties of the recipe. The less fat, the more you can taste the seasonings.

     

    Make a healthy, delicious lunch of yogurt-
    based onion dip and crudités. Photo courtesy
    Frito-Lay.

     

    We made a happy, healthy lunch of crudités (raw vegetables) and yogurt-based Garden Onion mix, using 0% Fat FAGE Greek Yogurt. We’re always happy when we enjoy something that is so good for us.

  • We liked the lively flavor of Garden Onion seasoning mix, and have put it on our shopping list.
  • Ranch isn’t generally one of our favorite flavors, so it wasn’t surprising that Country Ranch didn’t score well with us.
  • We’re still waiting for the avocados to ripen, so we’ll have to report back on the third flavor, Freshly Made Guacamole.
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    The dips are all-natural and certified kosher by OU. They are soy free, MSG free and contain no gluten ingredients.

    Here’s a $2.00 coupon for FAGE yogurt.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Have An Easter Chocolate Strategy

    Chocolate bunnies. Photo courtesy
    Burdick Chocolate.

     

    If large amounts of Easter chocolate are bestowed upon you and your family, develop a strategy for consuming it. Otherwise, it’s easy to overindulge.

    Forget all the media hype about chocolate as an antioxidant food.* Chocolate is not health food. It’s high in calories and fat. A 1-ounce serving of plain chocolate has from 140-160 calories and about 12 grams of fat. A 1.5-ounce Hershey bar, in comparison, has 210 calories, about half of which come from fat. (Note: Sugar and fat content varies by manufacturer.)

    *Most antioxidants can be processed out of chocolate, unless deliberate care is taken to preserve them.

    Jelly beans seem like a better bargain: 35 pieces have 140 calories and 0 grams of fat. But they’re composed almost entirely of sugar.

     

    Our personal Easter chocolate strategy: one or two servings a day for adults, three ounces a day for children. It’s a good way to teach kids about portion control and an equally important lesson: Ration your treats and you’ll be able to enjoy them longer.

    HAPPY EASTER

    HAPPY SPRING

    FROM THE NIBBLE EDITORS

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Pomegranate Seeds

    Pomegranates are an unusual fruit. There’s no flesh, per se, inside that big red globe. Instead, there are scores of seeds, each covered with a translucent, ruby-colored juice sac.

    The seeds in the juice sac are called arils, a term that refers to a specialized outgrowth that covers the seeds. The edible parts of the mangosteen and the mace of the nutmeg seed are other examples of arils.

    Boxes of pomegranate arils, ready to eat, are available at many supermarkets. They’re an easy way to add sophistication to a variety of dishes.

  • Toss them into a green salad or fruit salad.
  • Garnish ice cream, sorbet and hot or cold soup.
  • Sprinkle onto dinner plates or platters.
  • Drop into clear cocktails such as Martinis.
     
    Two simple Easter desserts:
  • Ice cream or sorbet sprinkled with arils and a mint leaf.
  • Pound cake topped with whipped cream, arils and a mint leaf.
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    A pomegranate and its arils—juice sacs
    covering the seeds. Photo by Kelly Cline |
    IST.

     

    As with raspberries, some people enjoy the crunchy seeds and others don’t. But the seeds are wholly edible—in fact, they provide fiber. Those who don’t like them can enjoy the juice, then remove the seed from their mouth with a spoon.

  • An overview of the pomegranate: history, health benefits and how to eat a pomegranate.
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    PRODUCT: New Water Bottle Options

    3M’s Filtrete Water Station filters tap water
    into four bottles at once. Photo courtesy
    3M.

     

    Drinking bottled water may seem like a healthy habit, but consider this:

  • Four out of five water bottles end up in landfills. That adds up to more than 2 million tons of water bottles in landfills every year.
  • According to All-Recycling-Facts.com, nearly 250,000 plastic bottles are dumped into landfills every hour. Plastic bottles constitute close to 50% of recyclable waste in dumps.
  • Worse, the average time it takes for a plastic bottle to decompose in a landfill is close to 700 years.
  • Plastic dumped into the ocean kills sea life at an estimated 1,000,000 creatures per year.
  • Almost a quarter of all bottled water is transported across national borders. Not only are millions of barrels of oil per year used to create plastic bottles, but transporting the bottles also burns fossil fuels, to the tune of 1.5 million barrels of fossil fuel each year.
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    But you can enjoy bottled water sustainably—and less expensively. Just buy a reusable bottle that you really like, and will enjoy carrying around.

    There are so many bottles that fit the bill, that they’ve become fashion accessories—options range from high-tech aluminum to leopard spots. Or, you can get special glass bottles that are shatter-resistant.

    Here are three of the best water bottle options we’ve seen lately:

  • The 3M Filtrete Water Station is an innovative product that allows you to filter water from the tap into four reusable bottles at a time. The bottles are dishwasher safe and BPA-free. The filter processes two and a half times more water than traditional pitcher-style water filters, and reduces sediment and chlorine taste and aroma. With the Filtrete Water Station, you can save up to 3,000 bottles of water per year. Click on the link for a discounted price of just $29.75.
  • The Pure Glass Bottle was developed by an environmental chemist who wanted to create a glass bottle—not plastic, not metal—that was sturdy enough to withstand an active daily lifestyle. Glass is one of the safest substances for contact with food and water. Pure Glass Bottle is safety-coated with a permanent, BPA-free, protective outer layer that is shatter resistant. We can vouch for this—we hit the bottle multiple times with a wrench and it was fine! It’s also dishwasher safe.
  • WaterGeeks makes several varieties of fun, stylish, environmentally friendly water bottles. Most impressive to us is their series of filtered bottles, which filter out chlorine, bad tastes and smells, chromium 6, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals. You can fill your bottle at any tap and be guaranteed safe and great tasting water.
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    If you have a favorite water bottle, please share. And pass this thought along: Every day should be Earth Day.

      

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