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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Cooking

TIP OF THE DAY: 5 Ways To Eat “Mediterranean Diet” Healthy

While our “day job” is to try lots of specialty foods and cook and bake alluring recipes, we aim to make the right choices when we’re not working.

If we’ve been heavy on the healthful eating tips lately, it’s because we’re struggling even harder after the onslaught of Valentine chocolate.

So today we’re passing along five Mediterranean Diet tips, adapted from an original article by Ashley Lauren Samsa on Care2.com.

For about 30 years, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals have encouraged Americans to follow the “Mediterranean Diet,” a heart-healthy eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats.

Substituting olive oil for butter, fish for meat, vegetables for starch, fat-free dairy products and a limit on carbohydrates is said to explain why Mediterranean dwellers have a lower incidence of heart disease. Here’s more from the Mayo Clinic.

What if you’re young, healthy and have no family history of heart disease? Hedge your bets. You don’t know how your system will change as you age…and even if your kin live to 100, you may have a partner and kids to plan for.

 

bottle-with-tree-flavoryourlife-230

Olive oil can do whatever butter can do, and it’s better for you. Photo
courtesy FlavorYourLife.com.

 

1. SUBSTITUTE OLIVE OIL FOR BUTTER

A few decades ago, journalists seized on the fat in the American diet as a no-no. A cascade of media proliferated and a generation of people grew up thinking fat is bad.

That’s not the whole truth. Saturated fat (cholesterol and other sources) is bad. Monounsaturated fats (avocado oil, canola oil, olive oil, peanut oil and others) is good for you. The government recommends two tablespoons a day as part of a heart-healthy diet.

Here’s more on the good fats. Here are tricks to cut down on cholesterol:

  • Sauté in heart-healthy olive oil, not valve-clogging cholesterol (butter or lard).
  • Replace the butter in sauces, glazes and marinades with oil. Look at adding a bit of highly flavored oils, like sesame oil and nut oil.
  • Cook your eggs in oil. We grew up on butter-fried or scrambled eggs in butter every morning—it was what our mother preferred. We love the taste of butter, but it was easy to make the switch.
  • Use olive oil instead of other salad dressings. Make your own vinaigrette with a 3:1 ratio of olive oil to vinegar. Use a quality vinegar—we prefer flavored vinegar or balsamic. We often add a pinch of dried mustard, which helps to keep the emulsion. You can add a small amount of Dijon or honey mustard, or a small amount of honey or the better-for-you agave nectar.
  • Mash potatoes in plain or flavored olive oil. Basil olive oil is our favorite for this!
  • Use olive oil as a condiment instead of a pat of butter.
  • Instead of butter with bread, serve olive oil, like Mediterranean restaurants do. A delicious, full-flavored oil is just fine served plain. If your olive oil is on the bland side, add spices add/or herbs.
  • Check out Italian olive oil cake recipes—they’re delicious (especially with fresh basil and rosemary—seriously!).
  •  
    Get past “generic” olive oil. It’s fine for sautéing, but doesn’t add good flavor for vinaigrette and condiment use. If you can afford better oils, go for them. The ones we use are so delicious, we relish the two tablespoons we drink at breakfast each day.

    Seek out an olive oil bar and taste the different varieties; also try flavored olive oils. If someone asks what you want for a birthday gift, ask for a bottle of basil olive oil (or the flavor of your choice).

     

    grilled-chicken-salad-230

    Grilled chicken atop a tasty salad. Photo
    courtesy Just Bare.

     

    2. EAT YOUR PROTEINS ON A BED OF GREENS.

    Get into the habit. Instead of a side salad, often an afterthought topped with too much dressing, plan for a salad-based meal.

  • Slice the beef, chicken, lamb, pork or other protein and serve it atop a salad of mixed dark, leafy greens and bright colored veggies, lightly dressed with olive oil, vinegar and/or lemon juice. Slicing the meat can also help to cut down on portion size. The recommended size is three ounces—the “deck of cards”—which seems very meager. It can look like more when it’s sliced, diced and added to vegetables or grains.
  • “Greens” should always include two colors in addition to green. It’s easy to add red cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, or radiccho; or yellow/orange cherry tomatoes, bell peppers or summer squash.
  • Alternatively, dice the meat into a chopped salad tossed with homemade vinaigrette. The flavors blend so much better, it’s no surprise that chopped salad is a menu favorite.
  • Place an entire fish filet on top of the salad.
  • Instead a sandwich of grilled chicken or steak, use a lettuce wrap.
  •  

    With this switch, you both reduce your carb intake and increase your vegetable intake. As an added bonus, you are intake more olive oil, too.

    3. REPLACE MEAT WITH FISH & VEGETARIAN MEALS

    Not only is the cholesterol in meat bad for you; breeding animals is the single largest cause of greenhouse gas. It also is responsible for pollution of the water tables and destruction of the rainforest to ranch cattle and grow feed for them. Not only are we a society of carnivores; as third world countries grow more affluent, they want more meat. The environmental impact is growing bigger each year, despite educational efforts and interest in sustainability.

    What can a meat lover do? Start by replacing two meals a week with fish, seafood or vegetarian dishes. There are many vegetarian and vegan favorites, from pasta primavera to bean-based chili and stir-frys. Pick up a cookbook of tempting vegetarian and vegan recipes, or look at the many online. Don’t be swayed by a preconception of vegan as “weird.” In the hands of good cooks, the food is so good you don’t notice there are no animal-derived ingredients.

    Fish are generally high in omega-3 fatty acids, another very powerful ingredient. This easy switch will keep you healthier as it helps the planet.

    4. TRY VEGGIE SMOOTHIES THAT TASTE LIKE FRUIT

    If you simply don’t like the taste of vegetables, blend them into sweet smoothies. Toss vegetables like carrots, spinach, kale or celery into a blender. Add a liquid like milk or fruit juice, along with yogurt or a banana and some nut butter (almond butter and sunflower seed butter are nice alternatives to PB). Flavor with cinnamon and honey.

    All you’ll taste are the banana, cinnamon and honey, but you’ll be getting all the benefits of the veggies.

    Smoothies can be made in advance and frozen. Toss one in your lunch bag in the morning to keep your food cold while it thaws, and it’ll be ready to drink by noon. (By the way, this is a great way to trick kids into eating more vegetables.)

    And…stay tuned for our Top Pick Of The Week, Veggie Blend-Ins from Green Giant. We couldn’t believe that a chocolate cupcake made with added spinach purée resulted in…a really delicious chocolate cupcake!

    5. SNACK SMART

    If you’re not the type to grab a banana or other piece of fruit, you’ve got choices that give you “snack satisfaction”:

    Popcorn, baby carrots or mixed crudités with lowfat or nonfat dip, Bare Fruit apple chips (our favorite—so sweet yet there’s no added sweetener) and dried fruit and nut mixes are easy and very tasty. There are books and websites of “healthy snacks.”

    As a fun challenge, print out a calendar page and research a different healthy snack for every day. It’s not as daunting as you think: garlic popcorn and jalapeño popcorn are three separate snack ideas.

    Here are some of our favorite healthy snacks for the office. Send us your favorite better-for-you snacks.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Garlic Oil

    Boyajian was a pioneer in infused oils and vinegars, introducing its delicious condiments to the marketplace some 25 years ago. From the beginning, their basil oil, chile oil, garlic oil, oregano oil and rosemary oil added zing to our everyday cooking—pure olive oil infused with fresh herbs.

    Moving with the times, Boyajian has added chipotle, habanero, jalapeño, roasted chili and scallion oils. (Alas, our beloved wasabi oil, the easiest way to make wasabi mashed potatoes, has been discontinued.)

    Not everyone has an ongoing need for oregano oil or chipotle oil, but one that you can count on using every day is garlic oil. For some people, it’s a pantry essential.
     
    Appetizers & Snacks

  • Bread: Add herbs to create a dipping oil for baguette or pita slices or crudités
  • Dips: Add a dash to guacamole, hummus, or yogurt dip
  •  

    garlic-oil-beauty-kingarthurflour-230

    You can use garlic oil in just about every savory dish. Photo courtesy King Arthur Flour.

     
    Mains

  • Fish & Seafood: As a seasoning, cooking oil or garnishing oil, garlic oil goes great with grilled salmon, swordfish, shrimp and other favorites
  • Meats: Rub on beef, lamb, pork or poultry before roasting or grilling
  • Main Salads: Top a salad of raw and roasted veggies and lean protein with an egg fried in garlic oil
  • Pizza: Drizzle on pizza, hot from the oven
  •  

    garlic-rosemary-mashed-potatoes-mccormick-230

    For simply smashing mashed potatoes, mash
    with garlic oil, then add minced chives or
    rosemary. Photo courtesy McCormick.

     

    Sides

  • Flatbread & Garlic Bread: Drizzle or brush on
  • Grains: Use garlic oil as a dressing for whole grains, like farro or quinoa
  • Starches: Use garlic oil in place of butter in mashed potatoes or drizzle over rice instead of a pat of butter
  • Vegetables: Drizzle over roasted cauliflower, sauteed kale or other veggies
  •  

    Find many more recipes at Boyajian.com.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Fun Ways To Use Healthy Foods

    Mmmm…a fun way to eat more veggies.
    Photo courtesy Nature Box.

     

    Trying to turn over a new leaf, eating more kale and other good-for-you veggies, without giving up flavor and fun?

    One of the major paths to better eating is to eat less meat and more vegetables. Yet many of us are veg-averse. Even if we like them, there’s always something we’d rather have (think pasta, pizza or a burger and fries, where the only veggies might be slices of tomato and onion and a piece of lettuce).

    The secret is to serve recipes where the veggies can be “disguised” (see our favorite ideas below). Bright colors also work. What doesn’t seem to work with many people today is Mom’s approach: putting a protein on the plate with a side of string beans and a side of broccoli. So get creative on how to serve the beans and broccoli.

    We picked up this idea from NatureBox.com, an e-tailer that delivers wholesome snacks and blogs on tasty, better-for-you foods. The fun and tasty spring rolls were developed by Lori Yates, a Detroit-area recipe developer, food writer and cooking instructor. She contributes healthier recipes with lots of visual appeal to the NatureBox blog, such as Thai Tofu Pizza and Salmon & Crispy Chickpea Salad and on her own blog, Foxes Love Lemons.

     
    These spring rolls are a better-for-you snack or first course. Crunchy veggies are rolled in rice paper wrappers and served with a spicy creamy dipping sauce. The sweet potatoes are raw and sliced thin, for a texture like jicama but with more flavor and nutrients. Prep time is 25 minutes.
     
    RECIPE: KALE & SWEET POTATO SPRING ROLLS

    Ingredients For 6 Servings (18 Rolls)

    For The Spring Rolls

  • 18 rice paper wrappers
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves torn into large pieces
  • 1 can (15.5 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Kernels from 2 ears of corn (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  •  
    For The Dipping Sauce

  • 1/2 cup light sour scream or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons hot sauce
  •  

    Preparation

    1. MAKE the dipping sauce: Stir together sour cream or yogurt and hot sauce. Set aside.

    2. WORKING one at a time, wet wrappers for 15 seconds and transfer to damp towel. Place kale in center of each wrapper and top with some beans, corn, sweet potato and onion.

    3. BRING the bottom edge of the wrapper tightly over the filling, rolling from bottom to top until the top of the sheet is reached, being careful not to tear the wrapper. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. Serve immediately.
     
    MORE WAYS TO EAT BETTER: FAMILY CONTEST

    Get everyone into the act, thinking about how to “healthify” family favorites. Provide “healthy cookbooks” for reference: Cooking Light, Giada’s Feel-Good Food and the Eating Well Healthy In A Hurry Cookbook. Give a monthly prize to the best idea.

     


    Another better-for-you dish: chili that’s heavy on the veggies. Photo courtesy Swanson.

     

    Some of our most popular switches:

  • Chili that is more veggie than beef or beans. Here’s a tasty recipe from Swanson that “disguises” the veggies among the bean.
  • Mashed cauliflower with olive oil and Greek yogurt instead of mashed potatoes with butter and sour cream. Many people just assume the mashed cauliflower is potatoes.
  • Pasta primavera, with at least 50% veggies (aim for whole wheat pasta).
  • Salad pizza,” piled high with six or more of your favorite veggies (and a whole wheat crust!).
  • Stir frys—check out the Everything Stir Fry Cookbook with 300 recipes!
  • Also see:

  • Sneak More Veggies Into The Pasta
  • 5 Ways To Sneak More Veggies Into Your Diet
  •   

    Comments

    FOOD 101: What America Cooks

    mccormick-chili-sourcream-chives-230r

    America’s favorite recipe to cook at home:
    Chili? Photo courtesy McCormick.com.

     

    Cook much? While so many people rely on take out foods, others are still cooking up a storm. In fact, the website TheDailyMeal.com has put together America’s 25 Favorite Recipes to Make at Home.

    By using data collected from common food searches at The Daily Meal and many of the country’s other leading search engines and food websites, the writers developed a comprehensive list of the most searched food terms of 2013. They then took the research a step farther to find out what recipes America loves to make with those foods and how many times each recipe was searched.

    Finally, they crafted a unique algorithm to yield a search score and rank.

    AND THE FAVORITES ARE…

    25. Chicken wings
    24. Deviled eggs
    23. Guacamole
    22. Fish tacos
    21. Mashed potatoes
    20. Crock pot chicken

     

    Continuing on, we get to the two sweets that made the list (which doesn’t mean we don’t eat a lot of sweets—we just may be buying them for immediate gratification.
     
    19. Apple pie
    18. Choc chip cookies
    17. Mac and cheese
    16. Hummus
    15. Baked chicken
    14. Burgers
    13. Beef stew
    12. Pasta sauce
    11. French toast
    10. Chicken soup
    9. Chocolate chip
    8. Spaghetti
    7. Pizza
    6. Meatball
    5. Banana bread
    4. Meat loaf
    3. Lasagna
    2. Pork chop
    1. Chili
     
    So what are you cooking tonight?

     

    apple-pie-cut-centerville-230r

    When we bake, it’s usually apple pie or chocolate chip cookies. Photo courtesy Centerville Pie Co.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Pink Party Food

    We’ve been invited to a “pink party” for Valentine’s Day: All the food and drink are in shades of pink, with some touches of deeper rose and red. If you want to hold your own party, menu options are below.

    There’s also a National Pink Day on June 23rd, so we’ve been included some summery dishes.

    You can make anything more pink with beet juice, red food color or rosy accents like pomegranate arils, raspberries and strawberries. You can make sauces and soups pinker with a touch of crème fraîche, mascarpone, sour cream, or plain yogurt.

    You are encouraged to wear something pink to the party. Owning nothing pink, we’re donning pink nail polish.

    PINK PARTY MENU

    PINK & RED COCKTAILS

  • Champagne cocktail with pink sparkling wine
  • Cosmopolitans
  • Pink Champagne and strawberry punch
  •  
    PINK & RED WINES

  • Pink sparkling wine (Yellowtail and Martini are great values)
  • Red Wine
  • Rosé
  •  

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    Lobster bisque. You can serve soup shooters on a buffet. Photo courtesy MackenzieLtd.com.

  • Cranberry or pomegranate juice spritzers (with white wine) or mocktails
  • Pomegranate Martini
  • Vodka and pink lemonade
  •  
    There are scores and scores of other pink cocktails—just search online.
     

    RED & PINK APPETIZERS

  • Bruschetta with strawberry-basil or tomato topping
  • Crab cocktail
  • Crudités: red bell peppers, radishes, cherry tomatoes, red Belgian endive, etc., with spicy pink dip (recipe below); you can include some celery, fennel or other pale vegetables for variety
  • Goat cheese log rolled in pink peppercorns
  • Hot dogs in jelly-mustard dip
  • Pink deviled eggs (soak peeled whole eggs in beet juice or food color)
  • Poached shrimp with cocktail sauce
  • Red pepper dip
  • Salume platter
  • Shrimp spread with crackers
  • Shrimp tea sandwiches
  • Smoked salmon or gravlax platter
  • Smoked salmon pinwheels or tea sandwiches
  • Smoked salmon rillettes
  • Strawberry bruschetta (recipe)
  • Taramasalata (Greek caviar dip) with crackers or party breads
  • Tuna sushi and spicy tuna rolls
  •  

    olive-oil-poached-salmon-pomwonderful-230

    Think pink with poached salmon. Photo
    courtesy Pom Wonderful.

     

    PINK & RED BUFFET
     
    PROTEINS & OTHER MAINS

  • Pasta in pink sauce
  • Poached salmon
  • Rare beef (we’re poaching a filet mignon)
  • Shrimp & strawberry salad (recipe in footnote* below)
  • Steak tartare or tuna tartare
  •  
    PINK & RED SIDES

  • Beet salad or pickled beets
  • Cherry tomato salad
  • Radicchio and radish salad with pickled red onions
  •  
    *Combine 3 cups cooked rice, 1/2 pound cooked, sliced shrimp and 3/4 cup thinly sliced celery in a large bowl. Make dressing with 2/3 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup strawberry yogurt, 1 teaspoon dry mustard, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and salt to taste. Dress the salad and then fold in 1-1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries. Chill and serve on a bed of greens.

     

    PINK & RED SOUPS

  • Borscht (you can turn it from red to pink with sour cream)
  • Cream of tomato soup
  • Lobster or shrimp bisque
  • Red bell pepper purée
  • Red gazpacho
  • Tomato or watermelon gazpacho
  •  
    PINK & RED DESSERTS

  • Cherry cheesecake
  • Fresh strawberries and raspberries
  • Pears poached in red wine
  • Pink frosted cake or cake pops
  • Pink ice pops (freeze your own from cherry or pomegranate juice)
  • Raspberry or strawberry mousse
  • Red velvet cake, cupcakes, donuts, ice cream
  • Cherry cheesecake
  • Strawberry ice cream/cupcakes
  • Strawberry milkshake shooters
  • Strawberry sorbet
  • Watermelon: granita or fruit salad
  •  
    RECIPE: SPICY PINK DRESSING OR DIP

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups mayonnaise (full fat)
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup sherry wine (not cooking sherry)
  • 1 tablespoon dried tarragon, finely crushed or 1-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce sauce, or to taste
  • 2-3 drops red food coloring or beet juice
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MIX mayonnaise, sour cream, sherry, tarragon, garlic powder and hot sauce until well blended.

    2. ADD a few drops of food coloring to desired shade of pink. If the dressing is too thick, you can thin it with a small amount of milk. Chill well before serving.

    Recipe courtesy Food.com.
      

    Comments

    TIP: Uses For An Olive Oil Mister

    misto-salad-230

    The Misto is one of the most popular misters. Photo courtesy Lifetime Brands.

     

    Olive oil misters have been around for several years. They control the portions of olive oil you use, delivering a much lighter—but equally effective—coating than brushing with oil. You save calories as well as the cost of the oil.

    Some enthusiasts have more than one mister, to hold different types of oil.

    Yes, there are aerosol sprays, which do provide a finer, more even coating. But they come with a cost: chemical propellants and a can that goes into the landfill, both of which are needed to create that fine spray. Not to mention, the slightly chemical flavor and aroma, and the ongoing cost per can as opposed to the small investment in a mister.

    Originally, we used one as a diet tool, to cut down on the oil calories on salads. We abandoned that approach in favor of tossing lightly with homemade vinaigrette. So we looked at other ways to use the mister.

     

    WAYS TO USE AN OLIVE OIL MISTER

  • Balsamic vinegar: cuts down on waste on balsamic and other expensive vinegars
  • Bread: on bruschetta and focaccia, to keep dough moist when rising
  • Frying
  • Garnish: as an annointing oil on fish, meat, and poultry
  • Greasing pans and muffin tins
  • Low fat cooking: basting, grilling, roasting, sautéing
  • Pasta
  • Vegetables, grilled or roasted
  •  

    And of course, there’s always salad!

     

    TIPS

    Read the directions! The biggest complaint about the misters is that the spray clogs.

  • Don’t overpump. You’ll end up with oil “in the air.”
  • Don’t fill to the top unless you’re a heavy user. Over months, the oil can become rancid.
  • Clean the mister frequently per the manufacturer’s directions.
  •  
    CLOGGING

    Oils vary in viscosity. Vegetable oil, for example, can be thicker than olive oil, and contribute to clogging. Frequent cleaning with hot water and soap is recommended. But clogging is common. Here’s how to avoid it:

  • Fill the mister just half way with oil.
  • Twist the top after each use to release the pressure.
  •  

    meat-aliexpress-230

    A great pan spray. Photo courtesy Aliexpress.

     

    Even if your mister clogs and you can’t unclog it, it costs the equivalent of about three cans of aerosol spray. You’ll be ahead of the game.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Easy Food Glamour

    Fine restaurants know that exciting presentation of food is almost as important as the preparation of the dish. They don’t serve main courses with mounds of starch and vegetables circling the protein; they use potatoes, rice and veggies as the bed to hold the protein.

    In its simplest form, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in New York City shows how easy it is to put your protein atop a bed of grains. You can center the protein or place it off-center, as shown in the photo.

    Whatever the bed comprises—see our list below—you can make it more visually arresting and flavorful with mix-ins. Here, Del Frisco adds diced vegetables to brown rice.

    Use a spoon to drizzle the sauce; you can make an easy sauce by deglazing the pan.

     

    grilled-salmon-rice-veg-delfriscos-230

    Grilled fish or meat looks fancier atop a bed of grains and/or vegetables. Photo courtesy Del Frisco’s.

     

    MENU BASICS

    Start with grilled, poached or sautéed meat, poultry or seafood (or tofu). For a bed, use:

  • Beans: cook with at least one other ingredient for interest, such as bacon or onions, and herbs; garnish with fresh herbs
  • Grains: barley*, buckwheat*, black/brown/red/wild rice*, bulghur, corn*, couscous, farro*, grits, kamut*, white rice or quinoa, with mix-ins (see below)
  • Noodles/pasta: refined or whole grain noodles, dressed with butter/olive oil and herbs or complementary sauce
  • Potatoes: mashed potatoes white or sweet potatoes, or mashed cauliflower; hash browns, sautéed potatoes or other “flat” preparation
  • Salads: Bean salad, corn salad, mesclun, rice salad, tomato and onion salad (in season)
  • Vegetables: Roasted, sautéed, steamed with fresh herbs
  •  
    *The asterisk indicates a whole grain.
     
    MIX INS

    A combination of ingredients is always more interesting than one alone. Would you rather have a bowl of lettuce, or a salad of lettuce plus three or four other vegetables?

    Try to enhance any of your beds with at least one other ingredient; for example:

  • Fresh herbs: chiffonade or minced
  • Mixed vegetables: beans; diced carrots, celery, onions, squash, etc.; edamame; onions; peas and other favorites
  • Nuts and seeds: chopped or slivered almond, pecans, pistachios, walnuts or other favorites; chia, flax seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), pomegranate arils
  • Onions: chives, green onions, leeks, red onions, shallots or yellow onions, cooked or raw as appropriate
  •  
    Happy bedding!

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: 15+ Uses For A Culinary Torch

    bonjour-culunary-torch-230

    Making crème brûlée is just one of the
    numerous things you can do with a culinary
    torch. Photo courtesy BonJour.

     

    Many of us have purchased a culinary torch (a.k.a. chef’s torch or brulée torch) for the sole purpose of caramelizing sugar on crème brûlée.

    But a culinary torch has numerous other uses in the kitchen, for preparing both sweet and savory dishes. Here are 14 ways to use your torch, with thanks to Williams-Sonoma for some of these ideas.

    BREAKFAST

    1. Breakfast or dessert grapefruit brûlée. Cut a grapefruit in half and pat the cut surface dry. Sprinkle a thin layer of brown or white sugar and some optional cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Heat with the torch until the sugar bubbles.

    2. Brûlée your oatmeal. Sprinkle cooked oatmeal or other porridge with a thin layer of brown or white sugar; heat with a torch until it gets crisp.
     
    LUNCH/DINNER

    3. Caramelize beef and other meat.

     

    Meat that’s served rare, like roast beef, is best cooked at a lower temperature. But this technique doesn’t produce a caramelized crust. Chef Thomas Keller shares his technique for prime rib: Before popping the roast into the oven, char the outside with a blowtorch. You can also do this with lamb. And, it makes any bacon wrap (like bacon-wrapped shrimp) crisper: just torch the bacon before putting the appetizers in the oven.

    4. Char bell peppers. Instead of holding them over the stove, use your torch. You can also use the torch to roast small chiles (jalapeños, e.g.).

    5. Cook a pizza, no oven required! Your torch will brown a ready-to-eat crust, melt the cheese, even roast the veggies.

    6. Glaze a ham or a pork roast. Brush with chutney, honey mustard, preserves etc. If you’re adding fruit, lay the pineapple slices or other fruit over the ham. (If you need to use toothpicks, first soak them in water.) Sprinkle with brown sugar. Heat with the torch until the sugar caramelizes.

    7. Melt cheese. Add a finishing touch to the cheese atop onion soup gratinée, chili or any hot dish with grated cheese, including mac and cheese.

     

    8. Peel tomatoes. When making sauces, chili, etc., you can blanch the whole tomatoes in boiling water, or use your torch to sear and easily peel the skin. When skin starts to crack, set the tomato aside to cool, then peel.

    9. Sear fish. You may have seen a sushi chef use a torch to sear the outside of a raw piece of tuna or other fish. Try it at home for an appetizer, atop a bed of frisée, mesclun or seaweed salad; replace some of the olive oil in your vinaigrette with sesame oil, and garnish with toasted sesame seeds. For a more cooked alternative, use the torch to crisp the skin and of the fish that hasn’t gotten it crisp enough in the pan (how to crisp fish skin).

    10. Singe the pin feathers off poultry. Easy peasy!

     

    roasted-bell-peppers-zabars-a

    Charred bell peppers. Photo courtesy Zabar’s.

     
    11. Toast a bread crumb topping. Stuff tomatoes, bell peppers or avocado halves with chicken, crab, lobster, shrimp or tuna salad. Sprinkle with buttered bread crumbs and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, then heat with a torch until golden brown. You can also torch the bread crumb topping on mac and cheese and spaghetti or other pasta dishes.

    DESSERT

    12. Brown meringue. Use the torch to brown the meringue atop Baked Alaska, fruit tarts, meringue pies and other desserts.

    13. Create burnt sugar garnishes. Place a greased cookie cutter on a Silpat liner and sprinkle a thin layer of sugar inside the cutter. Heat with a torch until crisp, then lift off the cutter. Use the burnt sugar decoration to garnish desserts such as frosted cakes, ice cream or pudding.

    14. Make s’mores. Do this in the kitchen; or if your guests are handy adults, place graham crackers, chocolate bars and marshmallows on a platter and invite them to spear marshmallows with fondue forks and toast and assemble their own.

    15. Flambé your food. Make delicious, festive desserts: Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee, dessert crêpes, fruit compote, etc. Pour Grand Marnier or other liqueur into a metal measuring cup and heat with the torch. Pour the warmed liqueur over the dessert and then use the torch or a long match to ignite. How to flambé.

    16. Unmold frozen desserts. If they resist popping out of metal molds, the torch is neater and quicker than hot water.

    17. And of course, crème brûlée.
     
    Have other suggestions? Let us know!

      

    Comments

    FOOD 101: How To Chiffonade

    How to chiffonade. Photo courtesy Marichelle | Lifeflix | Flickr.

     

    We so often recommend a chiffonade (shif-oh-NOD) garnish that we’re devoting an article to it.

    Chiffonade is a chopping technique in which leafy herbs or greens (basil, sage and spinach, for example) are cut into long, thin strips. Large, stackable leaves are needed—the technique doesn’t work with small leaves such as parsley or thyme.

    The word comes from the French chiffon, “little rag,” and refers to the shreds that this technique produces. It is also used to slice other foods (such as crêpes or thin omelets) into strips.

    The technique, shown in the photo, is easy:

    1. STACK the leaves.

    2. ROLL them tightly.

    3. SLICE perpendicular to the roll.

     

    Use the chiffonade as a garnish or stir into eggs, salads, soups, stews, etc.

      

    Comments

    TIP: The Easy Way To Healthier Cooking

    Struggling with that “eat healthier/lose weight” new year’s resolution?

    Nutritionists tell you that you can have your favorite rich foods, just in small portions. One piece of pizza instead of two. One heaping tablespoon of ice cream instead of half a pint.

    But overall, eating healthier means better nutrition and fewer calories. The good news is that even historic “bad eaters” can appreciate the delicious flavors of these other foods. It’s a mind thing.

    So start looking at your favorites an see where you can make revisions. You might want to start with a copy of Cooking Light: The New Way To Cook Light, Fresh Food & Bold Flavors for Today’s Home Cook.

    While there are numerous books in the Cooking Light series, this books starts with the principles of eating lighter:

     

    Continue to enjoy pasta, but make it whole wheat pasta and 50% “primavera” (half pasta, half vegetables). Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

  • Healthy fats, like olive oil and avocado oil, rather than butter and cream
  • Larger portions of vegetables and more modest portions of meat
  • Whole grains rather than refined ones (white flour, white rice, e.g.)
  •  
    The recipes use “real” ingredients instead of fat-free sour cream, artificial sweeteners, etc.

    They provide more than enough flavor, texture, color and mouthfeel to satisfy everyone at the table.

    The adjustments are easy, the taste results negligible, the overall transition painless. And if you want to lose weight without working at it, this is how!

     

    The best way to start a new eating regime:
    Read an inspiring, calorie-cutting cookbook like
    this one. Photo courtesy Cooking Light.

     

    OUR PERSONAL TIPS

  • Substitute nonfat Greek yogurt for sour cream and cream cheese. Whether on a bagel or a burrito, it works!
  • “Pad out” pasta and rice with vegetables. Aim for a half and half ratio, and vary the veggies and the cuts (dice, julienne, circles, etc.) so they don’t get routine.
  • Make exciting salads. A plate of boring greens cries out for caloric dressings. Instead, add other, more flavorful vegetables and a vinaigrette: artichoke hearts, broccoli, capers, edamame, hearts of palm, olives, pimento and/or water chestnuts, for example. When tomato isn’t in season, it’s pretty flavorless—again, crying out for caloric dressings. Substitute grape or cherry tomatoes in red or the more catchy yellow, pimento or sundried tomatoes. And don’t use inexpensive oil and vinegar: treat yourself to the good stuff.
  • Drink lots of water or plain iced tea with meals. The more you drink, the fuller you get. Vary with club soda, flavored unsweetened seltzers and other low calorie options. Drink wine in spritzers (half wine, half club soda).
  •  

  • Enjoy your favorite cake in cubes. We’d rather eat a tiny piece of rich cream cheese cheesecake than a slice of “cheesecake lite.” A solution:
    Bake the cheesecake in a pan, like brownies—shorter than a standard cheesecake. Keep it in the freezer, and cut small squares as needed for a “fix,” or to top a larger dish of mixed berries for dessert.
     
    Send us your favorite tips, and keep working it.

      

  • Comments

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