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Archive for Beverages

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Pure Leaf Tea House Collection

Pure Leaf Lemon Honeysuckle Tea

Pure Leaf Fuji Apple Ginger

The New Pure Leaf Teahouse Collection from Pepsico.

 

Pepsico has made iced tea more elegant with its new line of Pure Leaf bottled teas, the Tea House Collection. Debuting in select markets nationwide, the teas are certified USDA Organic—and so delicious, we can’t get enough of them!

A super-premium line of the finest organic tea leaves brewed with fruits and herbs, the debut collection has three elegantly layered flavors:

  • Fuji Apple & Ginger green tea
  • Sicilian Lemon & Honeysuckle black tea
  • Wild Blackberry & Sage black tea
  •  
    In signature glass bottles, tall and squarish, both the glass and the metal cap are 100% recyclable. The sugar is restrained—almost 50% less than most sweetened bottled teas—allowing the sophisticated flavors to shine through. Each 14-ounce bottle from the Tea House Collection has just 90 calories.

    We “stretched” our bottles by drinking the teas from ice-filled rocks glasses. Some colleagues—we won’t name names—added shots of gin and vodka to create “Tea-tinis.”
     
    ABOUT PURE LEAF

    There are 8 flavors of sweetened Pure Leaf teas, 2 diet flavors and 3 unsweetened flavors with zero calories—all in 18.5-ounce plastic bottles (you can find the full collection here). The brand recently introduced Unsweetened Black Tea and Unsweetened Green Tea.
     
    The Unsweeted Green Tea is really special, with a delightful undertone of honeysuckle (there’s no honeysuckle in it; the flavor comes from the particular tea leaves). Who needs sweetener?

    Good job, Pure Leaf!

    Here’s a store locator.

     

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Homemade Ginger Ale

    March 13th is National Ginger Ale Day, time to enjoy a refreshing glass of ginger ale.

    You can buy a commercial brand, of course; but for something special, you can purchase ginger syrup and add it to club soda. If you like a hot and spice sizzle, pick up some ginger beer syrup.

    The syrups can also be used to flavor barbecue sauce, cocktails, desserts, dips, dressings, glazes, iced tea and other foods and beverages.

    Or, make your own ginger ale from scratch, using fresh ginger root simmered in water. The flavor is so much more vibrant: It sizzles.

    And, since St. Patrick’s Day is this week, you can color it green!

    We adapted this recipe from Epicurious. A squeeze of lime juice, not an ingredient in conventional ginger ale, adds terrific flavor complexity.

    The recipe makes about 1-1/2 cups syrup, enough for 4 to 6 drinks. Prep time is 10 minutes, total time including chilling is 3 hours.
     
    RECIPE: HOMEMADE GINGER ALE

    Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 cups (7 ounces) chopped peeled ginger
  • 2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 quart club soda or selter (the difference), chilled
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE the syrup: Over a low simmer, cook the ginger and water in a small saucepan, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the ginger steep, fully covered, for 20 minutes.

    2. STRAIN the mixture into a bowl, pressing on the ginger to extract all liquid; then discard the ginger. Return the liquid to the saucepan, add the sugar and salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.

    3. CHILL the syrup in a covered jar until cold. To make ginger ale, mix 1/4 cup of ginger syrup with 3/4 cup club soda and 1-1/2 teaspoons lime juice. Taste and adjust the proportions as desired. Use up the syrup within one week.
     
    THE HISTORY OF GINGER ALE

    First came ginger beer, which originated in England in the 1800s. It was brewed like beer from ginger, sugar, water, lemon juice and ginger beer plant, a cluster of microorganisms like kombucha. It had an alcohol content of 11%. Today’s supermarket beers average 4%-6% and craft beers average 5.9%, although some styles are brewed with ABVs in excess of 11%).

    The first non-alcoholic ginger ale was created in Ireland in 1851. But modern-style ginger ale was born in 1907 when a Canadian, John McLaughlin, invented what eventually became Canada Dry Ginger Ale.

       

    Homemade Ginger Ale

    Ginger Syrup

    Fresh Ginger Root

    Top: Homemade ginger ale (photo courtesy Malibu Rum). Center: Ginger syrup. Mixit with club soda to make ginger ale (photo The Ginger People). Bottom: Use fresh ginger root to make ginger syrup from scratch (photo Jan Schone | SXC).

     
    It was available in two versions: dry ginger ale, the style of modern ginger ale—pale color, mellow ginger flavor—and golden ginger ale, with a much deeper ginger flavor and golden color.

    Canada Dry ginger ale was introduced in 1907; the “dry” style prevails today. It gained favor around the time of Prohibition (1920-1933).

    Today, the golden style—deeper color and flavor—survives as non-alcoholic ginger beer. While modern ginger beers do have a touch of alcohol from the fermentation, they are categorized as non-alcoholic drinks in the U.S. because their alcohol content is less than 0.5% (this meets FDA requirements for a non-alcoholic beverage).

     

    Old Ginger Ale Bottle

    Launched in 1907, Canada Dry is the “father” of modern ginger ale. This bottle is from the 1940s. See more old soda bottles at Printmag.com.

     

    Ginger ale was the most popular soft drink in the U.S. until the 1930s, when it was surpassed by Coca-Cola (first was bottled for distribution in 1899).
     
    Modern Ginger Ale Vs. Modern Ginger Beer

    The main differences between today’s ginger ale and ginger beer are the sweetness and spiciness.

    Ginger beer is less sweet than ginger ale, and has a sizzling ginger kick. The spicier ginger beer provides a bite to cocktails and food pairings (any spicy or highly-seasoned foods, as well as foods with sweet glazes and sauces like barbecue or glazed ham). The lighter ginger ale provides more sweetness and effervescence as a soft drink or cocktail mixer.

    Production processes differ. Ginger beer is brewed (naturally fermented), a reason for the higher price. Ginger ale is a soft drink made from flavored carbonated water.

    Historically, both were fermented. Today only ginger beer is fermented, a reason for the higher price.

  • The natural fermentation of ginger beer yields less carbonation.
  • Ginger beer can have a beer-like head when poured into a glass.
  •  
    Now, the exception: Some artisan soft drink makers, including Reed’s Original Ginger Brew in the U.S. and Fentinman’s in England, ferment their soft drinks for more flavor and complexity.

    Will this become a trend? Stay tuned?

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Cold-Pressed Juice

    “What is cold-pressed juice,” our aunt asked us recently, “and should I be drinking it instead of Tropicana?”

    While we don’t focus on health foods, we’ll give the topic a bit of attention.

    Cold-pressed juicing has existed for decades among health-food devotées, and generated attention in the 1990s as more sophisticated home juicers came onto the market.

    But it has become much more visible over the last few years as some celebrities (Gwyneth, Kim et al) have publicized their juice fasts for dieting and/or health.

    This engendered the current juicing fad, made more visible by the proliferation of shops and delivery services selling pricey cold-pressed juice. (By the same token, buying produce at retail for pressing juice at home is not inexpensive.)
     
    SHOULD YOU SWITCH TO COLD-PRESSED JUICE?

    If you’re a juice drinker, or are thinking about it, know that there is little scientific evidence to support the claim that cold-pressed juice contains more nutrients than pasteurized juices, or those you could hand-squeeze at home. However, when the juice is unfiltered and cloudy, it indicates a higher level of fiber.

    What is known is that any juice begins to lose nutrients immediately after squeezing, and should consumed quickly if you want to capture every iota of nutrition. Those juices made commercially under high pressure processing (HPP) hold their nutrients longer. Hard-core juicers argue that cold-pressed is better than HPP. Here’s the argument.
     
    PRESSING JUICE AT HOME

    There are two main categories of home juicers:

  • Centrifugal juicers (top photo) have an upright design; the produce food is pushed into a rapidly spinning mesh chamber with sharp teeth on the bottom (like a blender). The teeth shred the produce into a pulp, and the centrifugal motion pulls the juice out of the pulp and through the mesh filter.
  • Masticating juicers (second photo) are horizontal in design and higher in price. Produce is pushed into the top of the tube, where it is crushed and squeezed. Because of the slower crushing and squeezing action, these juicers are better at processing leafy greens and wheatgrass, a limitation of centrifugal juicers. The process extracts more juice in general.
  • Commercially cold-pressed juice (HPP) uses a hydraulic press, crushing the produce under extremely high pressure with cold water to counter the heat generated by the process (heat destroys nutrients; the water does not mix with the juice). This gives the juice a refrigerated shelf life of 30 days or so, compared to only 2 to 4 days for those extracted without high pressure.
  •  
    OUR AFFORDABLE SOLUTION

    Before we had ever heard the term “cold-pressed juice,” we were hooked on a Red Jacket Orchards, a family juice brand produced in New York’s Finger Lakes region that’s delicious, nutritious, unfiltered and affordable.

    They’ve been selling cold-pressed apple juices and blends for 50 years. We’re not a committed juicer; we just love the refreshing flavor as a glass of juice or a cocktail mixer.

    We like every flavor, but are hooked on Joe’s Half & Half.

    The company sells it online; use the store locator to find a retailer near you. Online, three 32-ounce bottles are $31, including shipping.

     

    Centrifugal Juicer

    Masticating Juicer

    Cold Pressed Juice

    Red Jacket Joe's Half & Half

    Top: The Kuvings NJ-9500U Centrifugal Juice Extractor, $149 on Amazon.com. Second: A masticating juicer from Omega, $299.99 at Amazon.com. Third: Cold-pressed juice at Trader Joe’s. Bottom: Red Jacket, a brand that’s been quietly selling cold-pressed juice for 50 years.

     
    That’s a lot more affordable than the 16-ounce bottle of cold-pressed juice at the juice shop on the corner!

      

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    ST. PATRICK’S DAY RECIPES: Irish Spuds & Green Dip With Green Beer

    Green Beer & Fries

    Green Food Color

    St. Pat’s snack: wedge fries, green dip and a green beer. You can color any light-hued food green. Photos courtesy McCormick.

     

    For St. Patrick’s Day you’ll be able to buy green-tinted bagels, beer, donuts, and more; but you can also plan to color your own foods.

    Chocolate chip cookies? Mashed potatoes? Milk? Oatmeal? Pancakes? With a bottle of green food color you can have a blast/

    Here are three recipes from McCormick, maker of that green food color, to add to the collection: Irish Spuds With Green Ranch Dip, Green Beer and Leprechaun Lemonade.

    For St. Patrick’s Day fun, color your food green.

    Here, roasted potato wedges and crudites are dipped in a green-tinted ranch dressing and served with green beer or “Leprechaun Lemonade.”

     
    RECIPE: IRISH SPUDS WITH GREEN RANCH DIP

    Prep time is 10 minutes, cook time is 30 minutes.

    Ingredients For 6 Servings

  • 2 pounds russet* baking potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon dried parsley or other green herb
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup ranch dressing†
  • 1/4 teaspoon green food color (20 to 25 drops)
  • Crudités: 2-3 varieties of raw vegetables
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 450°F. Cut the potatoes into 3-1/2-inch wedges and place them in a large bowl. Add the oil and toss to coat well.

    2. MIX the chili powder, optional parsley and salt. Sprinkle over the potatoes and toss to coat evenly. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer in foil-lined 15x10x1-inch baking pan.

    3. BAKE for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden brown. While the potatoes are baking, slice the crudités.

    4. MIX the ranch dressing and food color in medium bowl until well blended. Serve it as a dip with the potato wedges and crudités.
    _______________________________
    *Idaho is a brand name for russet potatoes grown in Idaho.
    †If you want to make your own dressing, here’s a ranch dressing recipe.

     
    RECIPE: GREEN BEER

    Ingredients Per 12-Ounce Beer

  • 1 can (12 ounces) light-colored beer (Pale Ale, Pilsner or other Pale Lager, Wheat Beer)
  • 5 to 6 drops green food color
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the food color in a glass. Add the beer and stir gently until evenly tinted.

     

    RECIPE: LEPRECHAUN LEMONADE

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 4 cups lemonade‡
  • 1/2 teaspoon raspberry extract
  • 15 drops green food color
  • Ice cubes
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MIX all ingredients in a pitcher. Pour into ice-filled glasses.
     
    Variations

  • For Strawberry Leprechaun Lemonade, use replace the raspberry extract with strawberry extract.
  • For an adult version, stir in 1/2 cup Limoncello or a clear spirit (cachaça, gin, rum, tequila, vodka); or 1/4 cup of each.
  •  

    Green Lemonade Recipe

    Leprechaun Lemonade can be turned into a cocktail with Limoncello and/or a clear spirit. Photo courtesy McCormick.

     
    __________________________
    ‡Here’s a recipe for homemade lemonade.

      

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    FOOD “HOLIDAY”: Caffeine Awareness Month

    Coffee Cup & Beans

    Cold Brew

    Top: People with no conflicting conditions can enjoy coffee 4 cups of brewed coffee daily. Want more? Switch to decaf (photo La Panineria). Bottom: Cold brew coffee, growing in popularity, has the most caffeine by a long shot (photo Seaworth Coffee).

     

    March is Caffeine Awareness Month. The National Consumers League (NCL) shared these facts on the world’s most consumed pick-me-up:

  • Caffeine has been consumed by humans for thousands of years. Tea was first consumed in China as early as 3000 B.C.E., and coffee consumption in Ethiopia appears to have commenced in the 9th century C.E.
  • Caffeine is found naturally in more than 60 plants. It is also produced synthetically and added to products including soft drinks and energy drinks. The actual source of caffeine—natural or synthetic—does not matter to performance or health.
  • Six beverages contain natural caffeine. Can you name them? The answers are below.
  • We are a nation of caffeine consumers. Some 85% of Americans drink at least one caffeinated beverage per day.
  • The caffeine intake of American adults ranges from 110 mg/day (for women ages 19-30) up to 260 mg/day (for men ages 51-70). National caffeine intake has remained steady over the past decade. It is much higher in the world’s top caffeine-consuming nations: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
  • Most caffeine intake in the U.S. comes from coffee, tea and soda. Caffeine is sometimes found in surprising places like orange soda, lemonade and enhanced water beverages. Read the labels!
  • Moderate coffee consumption—up to 400 mg/day of caffeine—can be part of a healthy eating pattern, according to the recently released 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. This amount has also been found to be safe by Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority.
  • Here’s what 400 mg of caffeine comprises:
  • – 16.6 servings of green tea (24 mg caffeine/8 fl. oz.)
    – 11.5 servings of a cola soft drink (average 35 mg caffeine/12 fl. oz.)
    – 8.5 servings of black tea (47 mg caffeine/8 fl. oz.)
    – 5 servings of Red Bull energy drink (80 mg caffeine/8.4 fl. oz.)
    – 4.2 servings of regular brewed coffee (95 mg caffeine/8 fl. oz.)
    – 2.2 servings of coffee house coffee (180 mg caffeine/8 fl. oz.)
    – 2 servings of 5-Hour Energy (200 mg caffeine/2 fl. oz.)
    – 1 serving of 10-Hour Energy shot (422 mg caffeine/2 fl. oz.)

     

  • Amounts of caffeine in cold-brew coffee can be astonishing: as much as 2,160 mg of caffeine in a 32 fl. oz. bottle, or 540mg per eight-ounce cup. It equates to about 23 cups of home brewed coffee, 62 cans of cola or 45 cups of black tea.
  • Scientific consensus is that everyone is different when it comes to the effects of caffeine. Children and teens should generally consume less caffeine due to their lower body weights.
  • Moderate caffeine consumption in healthy adults is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases (e.g., cancer, heart disease) or premature death, according to the Dietary Guidelines.
  • The Dietary Guidelines are silent on most population groups, but advises that pregnant women, those who may become pregnant, and those who are breastfeeding should consult their health care providers for advice concerning caffeine consumption.
  • Dogs, cats, and birds cannot metabolize caffeine, so don’t feed them chocolate or anything else with caffeine.
  •  

    LABELS DON’T TELL ALL

    The FDA currently requires food labels to disclose added caffeine as an ingredient, but the label is not required to provide the amount of added caffeine or to list natural caffeine.

    As a result, very few products voluntarily list the total amount of caffeine they contain; although some companies, like Red Bull and Monster, and some soft drinks, provide this information voluntarily.

    The NCL is an advocate for transparency. To be able to moderate their intake, says the organization, consumers need to know how much caffeine is in the foods and beverages they consume.

    The NCL believes that all products containing caffeine should declare the amount of caffeine per serving-and per container-on the label—and we agree.
     
    And The Answers Are…

     

    Hot Chocolate With Marshmallows

    Not so innocent: Cacao beans, and the cocoa powder made from them, contains caffeine. Photo courtesy La Panineria.

     
    The six foods/beverages that contain natural caffeine are: cacao/cocoa, coffee, guarana, the kola nut, tea (black, green or white Camellia sinensis but not herbal tea, which has no caffeine) and yerba maté.

      

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    RECIPE: Strawberry Thyme Ice Cubes

    Strawberry Ice Cubes

    Strawberries In Colander

    Top: Strawberry ice cube, a recipe from
    Shari’s Berries. Bottom: Beautiful berries
    from the California Strawberry Commission.

     

    It’s National Strawberry Day. You can have a classic bowl of strawberries and cream, or eat your berries plain. And we have lots of strawberry recipes below, from cocktails and salads to (of course) desserts.

    To start the celebration, here’s a fun and tasty recipe from Shari’s Berries: Strawberry Thyme Ice Cubes.

    Use them in cocktails, iced tea, punch bowls, sparkling water, water pitchers or soft drinks like Ginger Ale, 7-Up and Fresca.

    RECIPE: STRAWBERRY THYME ICE CUBES

    Ingredients

  • Large silicon ice cube tray*
  • 18† medium-sized fresh strawberries
  • 6 sprigs of fresh thyme (substitute basil chiffonade)
  • Mortar and pestle
  • Water
  • _____________________
    *The larger the cubes, the more slowly they melt.

    †The number will vary based on the size of strawberries available, and how many ice cubes you’d like to make.
     
    Preparation

    1. MUDDLE the strawberries with a mortar and pestle. Distribute evenly so each section of the ice cube tray is filled 2/3 with muddled berries. Each cube requires 2-3 berries.

    2. FILL the ice cube sections the rest of the way with water, and top with a sprig of fresh thyme. Freeze 4-5 hours.
     

    MORE STRAWBERRY RECIPES

    Beverages & Cocktails

  • Strawberry Basil Gimlet
  • Strawberry Egg Cream
  • Strawberry Margarita
  • Strawberry Mojito
  •  
    Breakfast

  • Strawberry Banana Pancake Stack
  • Strawberry Yogurt Parfait
  •  
    Desserts

  • Angel Food Cake With Strawberry Glaze
  • Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries
  • Easy Strawberry Sorbet
  • Strawberry Cheesecake Topping
  • Strawberry Cream Pie
  • Strawberry Ice Cream Cake
  • Strawberry Shortcake With Yellow Cake
  • Strawberry Shortcake With Biscuits
  • Strawberry Parfait
  • Strawberry Sundae
  •  

    First Courses & Mains

  • Chilled Strawberry Soup
  • Green Salad With Strawberries
  • Strawberries marinated in Grand Marnier or other orange liqueur
  • Strawberry-Orange Pasta Salad
  • Strawberry gastrique (sauce) sweet-and-sour sauce
  •  
    Snacks

  • Crunchy Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwich
  • Strawberry & Brownie Skewers
  • Strawberry Cheesecake Frozen Pops
  • Strawberry Margarita Ice Pops
  • Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Sandwiches
  •  
    STRAWBERRY TRIVIA

  • Strawberries are native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere.
  • Strawberries are the only fruit with seeds on the outside.
  • The strawberry is not a true berry, but what is known as an aggregate accessory fruit: The fleshy part is derived not from the plant’s ovaries but from the receptacle that holds the ovaries. Each “seed” (achene) on the outside of the fruit is actually one of the ovaries of the flower, with a seed inside it.
  • Strawberries do not reproduce with their seeds, but via long shoots of new growth.
  • The most widely held view of the origin of the name is that the berries are “strewn” about on the plants. The name “strewn berry” evolved into “strawberry.”
  • The strawberry belongs to the botanical genus Fragraria, which is in the rose family, along with apples and plums. The name of the scientific classification was derived from the Old Latin word for fragrant. The garden strawberry is Fragaria × ananassa.
  • The garden strawberry was first bred in Brittany, France, in the 1750s as a cross of Fragaria virginiana from eastern North America and Fragaria chiloensis, which was brought from Chile in 1714.
  • Strawberries are the first fruit to ripen in the spring.
  •  

    Strawberry Mojito

    Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwiches

    Top: Strawberry Mojito (photo Hard Rock Cafe). Bottom: Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwiches (photo Pillsbury).

     
    How will you enjoy strawberries today?

      

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    TIP: Hot Chocolate From Chocolate Chips & Other Hard Chocolate

    It’s snow and ice today on the East Coast; when we look out the window we see…white. So we’re deferring our scheduled tip to tomorrow, to publish something more comforting:

    Hot chocolate from chocolate chips, chocolate bars, even Hershey’s Kisses.

    Even if you have no cocoa powder at home, you’re still in the chips if you have solid chocolate in any form. Baking chips are the easiest because you don’t have to chop them; although if you have a good chocolate bar—) or Lindt—the chocolate flavor will be better. First…
     
    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COCOA AND HOT CHOCOLATE

    You’re familiar with cocoa and hot chocolate, terms often used interchangeably. Technically, they’re different. There are also drinking chocolate and sipping chocolate—terms that don’t seem to have existed in the U.S. prior to the end of the 20th century (and the growth of the artisan food movement).

  • Cocoa or hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder and is less rich than hot chocolate. That’s because to make cocoa powder, roasted cocoa beans are ground to a thick paste and pressed between hydraulic plates, which squeeze out about half of the cocoa butter. Products made from cocoa powder are erroneously called hot chocolate.
  • Hot chocolate contains all the cocoa butter; and some better brands even add extra cocoa butter for richness and mouthfeel. It was the original hot chocolate, made in Switzerland by blending hot milk with chopped chocolate bars (THANK YOU, Switzerland!). Authentic hot chocolate is made from ground chocolate plus sugar.
  • Drinking chocolate/sipping chocolate are European terms for hot chocolate. The product has relatively large pieces of chocolate—disks or pellets, but also beads, shavings, or large ground pieces—that are then melted in hot milk or water. If you were to eat it, it would taste just like chocolate from a chocolate bar.
  •  
    RECIPE: HOT CHOCOLATE FROM CHOCOLATE CHIPS & BARS

    This is a very rich recipe, combining whole milk with half and half. If you want something less rich, use less half and half or all milk.

    Prep time is 5 minutes, cook time is 15 minutes.

       

    Hot Chocolate From Chocolate Bars

    Chocolate Chips

    Top: Chop up chocolate bars to make rich hot chocolate. Chocolate chipsalso work, especially top-quality ones from Barry Callebaut or Guittard, available at KingArthurFlour.com. The company also sells sugar-free chocolate chips. Bottom: Melt chocolate chips into hot chocolate.

     
    Ingredients For 3-4 Mugs Or 6 Smaller Cups

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate bars*
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Optional flavors: cinnamon, mint (extract, Junior Mints), orange zest
  • Optional toppings: whipped cream, chocolate shavings, sprinkles
  •  
    *While semisweet chocolate is the standard, you can use milk chocolate or white chocolate. White hot chocolate is splendid:

     

    Hot Chocolate Made From Solid Chocolate

    Dutched & Natural Cocoa Powder

     

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the milk and half-and-half in a saucepan. Warm slowly over medium-low heat. When the milk is very hot but not yet boiling, stir in the chocolate chips.

    2. STIR until melted and taste. If it’s too rich, add more milk. If you’ve used a high percentage cacao bar and the chocolate is not quite sweet enough, add sugar one teaspoon at a time.

    3. STIR in optional flavors. Pour into mugs and top as desired.
     
    EVEN MORE HOT CHOCOLATE: RECIPES, FLAVORS & TIPS TO MAKE RICHER HOT CHOCOLATE

  • Everything you need to know.
  • The differences between cocoa and hot chocolate, including more types of, what we’ll categorize as, hot milk drinks flavored with chocolate.
  • The difference between regular and Dutched cocoa powder.
  •  
     
    PHOTOS: Top: Melting a chocolate-covered marshmallow into hot chocolate at Dominique Ansel. Bottom: Natural (left) and Dutched cocoa powders. Photo courtesy SilkRoadSpices.ca.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Drink Kefir, Delicious & Very Healthy

    Strawberry Kefir

    Green Valley Lactose Free Kefir

    Lifeway Frozen Kefir

    Top: Kefir as a midday snack or even a better-for-you dessert. Photo © Viktorija | Fotolia. Middle: Green Valley Organics makes lactose-free dairy products, including kefir, yogurt, sour cream and cream cheese. They’re a godsend to dairy lovers with lactose intolerance. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE. If you’re sensitive to cow’s milk, or simply prefer goat’s milk, turn to Redwood Hill Farms kefir. Photo courtesy LAFujimama.com. Bottom: Frozen kefir is an alternative to frozen yogurt with a higher probiotic content. Photo by River Soma | THE
    NIBBLE.

     

    Media attention is so interesting. In terms of “healthier options,” we’re blanketed with pitches for kale and quinoa, hummus and Greek yogurt, even juice bars.

    But we haven’t heard anything on probiotics in ages. In case you don’t remember: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help to promote digestive health and enhance the immune system. Five years ago, probiotics were the “it” food ingredient.

    Today’s tip is to take a look at kefir, a highly probiotic beverage that is also highly delicious.
     
    WHAT IS KEFIR

    Kefir, pronounced kuh-FEAR, is a tart fermented milk beverage. It is often called “drinkable yogurt,” although the recipes for yogurt and kefir vary (see below).

    In fact, kefir is even healthier than yogurt. It has been called “super yogurt,” since it is up to 36 times more probiotic than yogurt.

    Kefir is believed to have originated some 2,000 years ago among the shepherds of the Caucasus Mountains region—today’s Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. In more modern times, it has long been enjoyed instead of milk, tea or other beverages in northern and middle Europe and the countries of the former USSR.

    As our “January Healthy Foods Month” winds down, we offer up kefir as a must-try. You can drink it at breakfast, lunch and snack time—or enjoy frozen kefir for dessert.
     
    MODERN KEFIR

    Kefir drinkers have benefited from the the explosion of the yogurt category over the last few decades. What was once only plain, rustic kefir is now a vibrant category of yummy, lowfat, probiotic smoothies, so satisfying that you can substitute them for milkshakes when you want a sweet treat.

  • You can find all the standard fruit flavors (banana, berry, peach and pomegranate, for example) as well as seasonal ones. Lifeway Kefir alone offers Cranberry, Eggnog, Pumpkin Spice and Watermelon flavors.
  • There are veggie flavors, too. Lifeway makes vegetable kefirs in Beet, Cucumber and Tomato.
  • There are conventional lines and organic brands.
  • For frozen yogurt lovers, there’s Lifeway Frozen Kefir.
  •  
    KEFIR AS A HEALTH FOOD

    Kefir is not only delicious, it’s therapeutic. It contains millions of live and active probiotic cultures that clean and strengthen the intestines and help the body with healing and maintenance functions.

    People have been touting the numerous healing effects of kefir since the early 18th century. It has been used to treat allergies, atherosclerosis, cancer, candidiasis, digestive disorders, heart disease, hypertension, HIV, metabolic disorders, nervous system disorders, osteoporosis and tuberculosis.

    While kefir isn’t the panacea many believed it to be, it is a very healthy food, chock full of beneficial bacteria and yeast.

  • It contains numerous vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes, including healthy doses of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamins A, B2, B12, D and K.
  • Kefir contains a substantial amount of tryptophan, one of the essential amino acids that is known for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. Some people see it as a “calming” drink.
  •  
    But the reason most people seek out kefir is for digestive health: help from the millions of probiotic bacteria in each serving.

    Probiotic bacteria, which are live and active cultures, occur naturally in the digestive tract, where they help promote a healthy balance, good digestion and overall intestinal vitality. People with digestive problems need more of these cultures than their systems naturally contain.
     
    KEFIR FOR THE LACTOSE-INTOLERANT

    Raw kefir. Some mildly lactose-intolerant people can enjoy kefir, as long as it is is raw and not cooked (cooking destroys the lactase enzyme, which digests the milk sugar, lactose). Read the labels, and if you can’t find raw kefir in your regular market, check the nearest health food store.

    Lactose-free kefir. There’s lactose-free kefir for people with a higher degree of lactose intolerance. Green Valley Organics, a brand of lactose-free dairy products we can’t live without, makes not just kefir and yogurt, but cream cheese and sour cream.

    Goat’s milk kefir. For those who prefer goat’s milk, there’s Redwood Hill goat kefir. People who are mildly lactose intolerant can often tolerate goat’s milk products. Lovers of fresh goat cheese may like the affinity.
     

    THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN KEFIR & DRINKABLE YOGURT

    There are several differences between yogurt and kefir, including how each is made, the types of bacteria present in each, and the flavor and consistency.

    Of greatest interest to those who seek probiotics for digestive health, is that kefir and yogurt contain different types of probiotic bacteria, which perform differently. And, as noted earlier, kefir has up to 36 times more beneficial bacteria. Net net, kefir is better for digestion.

  • Yogurt. The beneficial bacteria in yogurt help keep the digestive tract clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria found in a healthy gut. They pass through the digestive tract and are called transient bacteria.
  • Kefir. The bacteria in milk kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract and team up with the beneficial bacteria that live there. Kefir also contains contains some yeasts.
  •  
    If you’d like to drill down into the details of the differences, a great source is CulturesForHealth.com. The website can also guide you to making your own kefit, yogurt, and other cultured products at home.
     
    MORE TO DISCOVER

  • All about probiotics in our Probiotics Glossary.
  • All the different types of yogurt and kefir products in our Yogurt Glossary.
  •   

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Almond Milk

    Homemade Almond Milk

    Homemade almond milk. Photo courtesy
    Juice Queen.

     

    Here’s a fun project for the weekend: homemade almond milk. All you need are almonds, water, cheesecloth and a jar.

    Almond milk is a dairy-free milk alternative, favored by the lactose-intolerant, vegans, raw foodists and as a kosher (pareve) milk alternative. Others simply like the creaminess and hints of almond on the palate.

    Almond milk is the number one nondairy milk in the U.S. It can be used anywhere cow’s milk is used, from morning cereal to afternoon smoothies to after-dinner coffee. (Here’s a nutrition comparison.)

    In just five minutes (plus eight hours soaking time), you can make a batch, From there, you can make flavored almond milk, like vanilla or cocoa. You can add a sweetener of choice—agave, honey, maple syrup, noncaloric sweetener, sugar—or drink it as is (it has its own natural sweetness).

    You can even give a cocoa almond milk kit to a child, useful for everything from Show and Tell to inspiring the joy of cooking.

     

    But today’s project is making a batch of plain almond milk. Sure, you can buy it ready made. But making your own is not only fun; it tastes a lot better than the manufactured, shelf-stable product, which typically contains additives and preservatives.

     

    RECIPE: HOMEMADE ALMOND MILK

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • Jar
  • Water
  • Cheesecloth
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the almonds in a large bowl or jar and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Cap the jar or cover the bowl with a dish towel, and let the almonds soak for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days. The almonds will plump as they absorb water. The longer you soak them, the creamier the milk will be. If you plan to soak them for more than 8 hours or overnight, put the bowl in the fridge.

    2. STRAIN the almonds in a colander, thoroughly rinse them with cold water and place them in a blender. Pulse them to break up the almonds. Add 4 cups of water and blend on high until the mixture is very smooth, 2 to 4 minutes. The almonds should break down into a very fine meal and the water should be white and opaque.

    3. PLACE the cheesecloth in a large strainer over a bowl. If you don’t have a strainer, gather the edges of the cheesecloth in one hand so as to create a well. Carefully pour the water and almond mixture into the cheesecloth, taking pains to not let any spill out of the sides. When all of the mixture has been poured…

    4. SQUEEZE the remaining almond meal in the cheesecloth to extract any remaining liquid. You can wring the cheesecloth to get every last drop. See below for what to do with the leftover almond meal. At this point you can taste the almond milk and sweeten to taste. It has natural sweetness, so we don’t add anything more.

    5. STORE the almond milk in an airtight container in the fridge. Since it has no preservatives and isn’t pasteurized, it only keeps for two or three days. Because there are no emulsifiers, the milk can separate. Just shake the bottle.

    If you’ve had commercial almond milk, you’ll be wowed by the fresh flavor.

     

    Make Almond Milk

    Making Almond Milk

    Top: Soaking the almonds. Bottom: Wringing the last delicious drops from the cheesecloth. Photos and recipe courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.

     
    If you’d like a thinner milk, use more water next time; for thicker milk, use less water.

    If you plan to make almond milk regularly, buy a nut milk bag from a health food store or online. It’s easier to work with than cheesecloth.

    HOW TO USE THE LEFTOVER ALMOND MEAL

    You can toss or compost it, of course. But you can also:

  • Add it to oatmeal, muffin batter or smoothies for extra protein.
  • If you want to keep it for future baking, dry it by spreading it onto a baking sheet and baking it in a low oven (275°F to 300°F) until completely dry, 2 to 3 hours. You can then freeze it for up to 6 months.
  •  
    MAKING ALMOND MILK: BLENDER VS. FOOD PROCESSOR

    You can use either a blender or a food processor to make almond milk. The differences:

  • With a blender, the milk has a silkier texture and subtly sweet flavor notes.
  • With a food processor, the milk is a bit thicker with a nuttier flavor. It may contain some the bits of ground almonds.

     
    ALMOND MILK HISTORY

    In the Middle Ages, almond milk was made in Europe to East Asia. It was a staple because it kept longer than cow’s or goat’s milk; and it was appropriate for consumption during Lent and fast days.

      

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    PRODUCT: DRY Sparkling, A Sophisticated Soft Drink

    Do your guests have sophisticated palates? Do they drink carbonated beverages?

    While it’s tempting to buy those two-liter bottles of soda for 99 cents for parties and dinners, consider treating your New Year’s Eve guests to a better carbonated drink from DRY Sparkling.

    One of the pioneers in adult soft drinks, DRY was founded when a mother-to-be, unable to drink alcohol, wanted something more tantalizing than typical American soft drinks. She developed an “haute” line of sodas: all-natural, caffeine-free and lightly sweetened with pure cane sugar.

    The company, currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, continues to charm foodies with its sparkling beverages. The original four flavors have expanded to include:

  • Blood Orange
  • Cucumber
  • Ginger
  • Juniper Berry
  • Lavender
  • Rainier Cherry
  • Rhubarb
  • Vanilla Bean
  •  
    Fans in the Pacific Northwest, where DRY is produced, can also find the limited edition Lemongrass flavor, a perfect pairing with Asian cuisines and an exotic experience drunk on its own.

    A 12-ounce bottle has just 50 to 70 calories, and is just as enjoyable as a cocktail mixer (see the website for cocktail recipes) as an adult soft drink. Serve it straight in a wine glass or champagne flute for even more panache.

     

    Dry Soda Lavender

    DRY Cucumber Soda

    TOP PHOTO: Lavender lovers, rejoice! BOTTOM PHOTO: Most flavors are available in bottles and cans. Photos courtesy DRY.

     
    DRY is sold at natural and traditional grocers nationwide, including Kroger, Safeway and Whole Foods Market. There’s a store locator on the website.

    The line is also sold on Amazon.com, in 12-ounce bottles, 12-ounce aluminum cans and the special edition Lemongrass bottling.

    A four-pack has an SRP of $9.99. There are also 750 ml bottles, the standard wine bottle size. Impressive looking, they make great gifts for those who don’t drink.

    For more information, visit DrySparkling.com. Your designated drivers and other non-drinkers will thank you.

      

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