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Archive for Gourmet Foods

TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Rebel Fish Salmon Fillets

THE NIBBLE has always written about better-for-you foods. But each January, when people make their resolutions to eat better in the new year, we declare it Healthy Food Month.

In January, we don’t tempt you with gourmet potato chips, artisan chocolates or lemon meringue pie. Instead, we show that it really is easy to find or make delicious foods that are good for you.

Take salmon. We all should eat more of it; but buying fresh fish or defrosting frozen fish, then cooking it, takes time and planning. You have to cook the fresh or defrosted fish in a day, before it starts to go “fishy” and deteriorates.

(NOTE: Do not thaw frozen seafood at room temperature; it enables bacteria to multiply. Instead, thaw it in the fridge, allowing one to two hours per pound; or defrost it in the microwave right before cooking).
 
BETTER EATING WITH REBEL FISH

We have become very fond of Rebel Fish, the first U.S. branded line of fresh salmon that comes prepackaged with seasoning packets.

Always fresh, never frozen and of very high quality, the product should become an instant favorite with consumers. A scrumptious fish fillet can be cooked in 90 seconds. It’s all natural: no artificial flavors or preservatives.

The founders of Rebel Fish believe that we would eat more fresh fish if it were easier to buy and prepare. They’ve made it super easy.

  • The salmon is packaged in an innovative way that preserves freshness. The shelf life is 7 days or longer.
  • The fillet rests in a plastic tray inside the outer carton. All one need do is roll back the plastic and place the tray in the microwave. It’s fool-proof.
  • It can be cooked on the stove top or in the oven, but you can’t beat the 90-second microwave technique.
  •  
    The result: moist, silky, flaky salmon that’s the best we’ve ever cooked at home. We don’t even use the seasonings. We prefer the fish plain (that’s how tasty it is), or with a touch of freshly-ground pepper.
     
    WHAT YOU GET

    Inside each Rebel Fish carton is a 6-ounce salmon fillet and a packet of seasoning that you can sprinkle on it. Choices include:

  • Barbeque
  • Cajun Blackened (our favorite)
  • Cilantro Lime
  • Lemon Pepper Herb
  • Maple Mesquite
  • Smoked Sea Salt
  • Thai Chili
  •    

    Rebel Fish Packages

    Raw Salmon Fillets

    Grilled Salmon Nicoise

    Top: Each flavor is packaged in a different bright color. Second: What’s in the package? One six-ounce salmon fillet and a seasoning packet. Bottom: A 90-second cooked filet atop salad greens. All photos courtesy Rebel Fish.

     
    The only difference is the seasoning packet. Frankly, the blends are not our cup of tea—too complicated, with (egad!) added sugar. We, and likely most retailers, would prefer only one SKU (stock keeping unit*, more in the footnote at the bottom).
     
    The MSRP is $5.99 per serving. We’re more than happy to pay it.
    ___________________________
    *SKU, stock keeping unit, is a retailer identification that allows a product to be tracked for inventory purposes. Each size, flavor, etc. has a different SKU. Thus, the six different flavors of Rebel Fish require six SKUs.

     

    Grilled Salmon With Bowtie Pasta

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    Salmon With Mixed Vegetables

    Top: Salmon atop bow tie pasta. Middle:
    With a Mexican influence: corn kernels, diced
    bell pepper and crumbled cotija cheese. Bottom: With asparagus and baby potatoes. Photos courtesy Rebel Fish.

     

    WHERE DOES THE SALMON COME FROM?

    Rebel Fish salmon is raised in pristine Pacific Ocean waters. It is farmed rather than wild, but the fish are isolated and contained in a pure environment that nearly replicates the wild and may be even better: guaranteed food, clean water, space and habitat without predators.

    Conditions are ideal for producing premium salmon with great flavor and delicate texture. Farming ensures a reliable year-round supply of fresh salmon.

    Rebel Fish salmon are nurtured throughout their natural growth cycle to ensure their welfare, as well as to guarantee high quality. State-of-the-art, stress-free farming practices are both sustainable and healthier for the fish.

    The program is SQF certified, which assures wholesale buyers and retail customers that food has been produced, processed and handled according to the highest standards.

    SQF is a food safety program that is recognized globally for food safety certification, and is the only program that the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) endorses for food production, manufacturing, storage and distribution agencies.

    The brand’s parent company is Marine Harvest Group, the world’s leading seafood company and largest producer of farmed salmon, with top certification.
     
    SALMON NUTRITION

    Farmed salmon is as nutritious as wild salmon. In fact, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture revealed that farmed salmon typically has more omega-3† fatty acids than wild salmon.

    Note that actual amounts can fluctuate as they are influenced by factors such as species of salmon, water temperature, type and availability of food, and stage of maturity. One big difference is that farmers can create consistent levels of omega-3s in their salmon by controlling the amount and composition of the feed to produce consistently nutritious salmon.

    Rebel Fish Salmon is an excellent source of protein and vitamin D that contains natural omega-3 fatty acids in addition to other critical vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc, and vitamins A and B. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon, at least twice a week to ensure you get plenty of heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
     
    What about the name? The company says that it encourages consumers to “rebel against the ordinary” when it comes to meal preparation.

     
    ____________________________________
    †Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that may promote brain development, heart health and may also reduce the risk of chronic disease. Seafood is a natural source of two healthy omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Since our bodies cannot make omega-3, it’s important to regularly include them in our diets. The American Heart Association recommends that adults have two servings of omega 3 per week to maintain optimal health benefits.

      

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    RECIPE: Easy Roasted Spiced Carrots

    Love roasted root vegetables? Who doesn’t!

    Turn a humble bag of carrots into delicious roasted carrots, spiced and fragrant with cinnamon, cumin and ginger.

    RECIPE: CUMIN-SPICED ROASTED CARROTS

    Ingredients

  • 1 pound carrots
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch ground ginger
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F.

    2. DICE the carrots into ½-inch thick pieces. Leave the skin on as desired.

    2. MIX all ingredients together and bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.

     
    WHAT IS CUMIN?

    Cumin is the dried seed of the herb Cuminum cyminum, a member of the parsley family. Its botanical family, Apiaceae, is also known as the celery or carrot family, a family of mostly aromatic plants with hollow stems.

    Caraway and dill are also members of the family.

     

    Cumin Spiced Carrots

    Cumin

    Top: Cumin-spiced carrots from Evolution Fresh. Bottom: Whole and ground cumin seeds. Photo courtesy Silk Road Spices.

     
    Cumin grew wild from the east Mediterranean to India, and is common in the cuisines of those areas. Seeds excavated in Syria have been dated to the second millennium B.C.E. Cumin seeds are also found in ancient Egyptian archaeological sites.

    Flavorful and aromatic, cumin was popular throughout the ancient world.

  • It is mentioned in both the Old Testament (Isaiah 28:27) and the New Testament (Matthew 23:23) of the Bible.
  • The ancient Greeks kept cumin in a container on the dining table, much as we keep pepper today.
  • Cumin was also used heavily in ancient Roman cuisine.
  • In India, it has been used for millennia as an ingredient and is part of curry powder and garam masala spice blends.
  • It is also added to other spice blends, including achiote, adobo, bahaarat, chili powder and sofrito.
     
    Cumin was brought to the New World by Spanish and Portuguese colonists, and has become a popular ingredient in Latin American cuisines.

    Several different varieties of cumin are cultivated today, the most popular of which are are black and green cumin.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: An Apple A Day

    Pinata Apple

    Apple Compote

    Sauteed Apples

    Applesauce Bar

    Apple  Pie

    Top: The Piñata apple from Stemilt is a crisp, juicy eating apple. Second: Try it in a warm compote, plain or with ice cream. Photo courtesy Ziploc. Third: It’s also a great cooking apple. We love sautéed apples with a pork roast or ham. Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma. Fourth: Is there anything better than homemade applesauce? Photo courtesy U.S. Apples. Bottom: Perhaps everyone’s favorite way to eat apples: apple pie! Photo courtesy Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

     

    It’s the last day of January. How are you doing on those new year’s resolutions?

    If you’re like most food lovers, you haven’t done as well as you’d like with regard to eating more of the better-for-you foods.

    So here’s what may be the easiest resolution of all: an apple a day. Not because it keeps the doctor away, but because they’re yummy. And new varieties are always coming onto the market.

    Take the Piñata apple. Named Apple of the Year in Germany in 2001, it caught the notice of U.S. growers and is now available nationwide. The name Piñata comes from combining syllables of the apple’s two European names, Pinova and Sonata. Pinova is the cultivar of apple trees that produce Piñata apples.

    Why do we need a new apple? Don’t we have enough Delicious, Gala, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, McIntosh, etc. etc. etc.?

    The answer is marketing. Food-oriented folk are always looking for something new, and retailers want to give it to them. We remember rushing to try the first Gala apples* and the first Honeycrisps*.
     
    HOW TO CREATE A NEW APPLE VARIETY

    Apple varieties take decades to develop. They are typically developed at university agricultural schools, although independent companies and individual growers may also develop them.

    First, existing varieties need to be cross-bred, or mutations need to be propagated. The Piñata originated way back in 1970, after researchers in Germany crossed three varieties: the Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange Pippin and the Duchess of Oldenburg, an Orange Pippin variety from 18th century Russia. (The latter two provide the vibrant orange-ish hue to the peel). You want a new apple not only to taste special, but to look special, too.
     
    The root stock is tested in different soils and climates to determine where the sweetest fruit will grow. Then, the saplings need to be planted.

  • In every phase of development, it takes 5 to 8 years for a tree to bear fruit. (One tree yields 4 to 5 bushels of apples per year.)
  • Development takes much longer than you’d think. From its start in 1970, the Piñata was first released in 1986 to European growers. Some varieties take even longer. Honeycrisps were first developed in 1960, but not released commercially until 1991.
  • Before it purchases the right to grow the apples from the developer, a grower needs to test the apple in its own orchards: another 5 to 8 years of growing, which may or may not produce the apple qualities the grower is hoping for.
  •  
    Then, the apple variety must be licensed from the developers, and a name chosen and trademarked. Licensing is how the developer gets paid back for years of development.

  • In the U.S., Stemilt Growers in Washington holds the exclusive rights to grow and market Piñata apples. Why “Piñata?” In English, Piñata sounds more alluring than Pinova.
  • The grower plants the stock and waits, yes, 5 to 8 years for the first commercial crop.
  • Only then does a new variety make its way to your market. Hopefully, you’ll appreciate its long journey and enjoy each bite even more.
  • ________________________________________
    *Gala apples are a cross between Golden Delicious and Kidd’s Orange Red, first planted in New Zealand in the 1930s. In turn, it was bred into dozens of other varieties, including the Royal Gala and the Scarlett Apple. Honeycrisps are a hybrid of Macoun and Honeygold varieties, were developed at the University of Minnesota in 1960. They were patented in 1988 and released commercially in 1991.
     
    PIÑATA APPLE FACTS

    The Piñata apple thrives in eastern Washington’s arid climate and is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after apples, thanks to its unique tropical flavor and culinary attributes. The stripy red skin over an orange background has eye appeal. The flesh has a blend of high sugar and high acid levels, producing a welcome tangy taste.

    The apple is super crispy and juicy. Its classic apple flavors are complemented by nuances of tropical fruits.

    Piñata is one of the most versatile apples on the market. Its crisp bite and great flavor make it ideal for eating out-of-hand, while its thin skin and fine-grained flesh make it a delight in salads and baking.

    Use Piñata apples any way you like: baking, cooking, juicing, salads and snacking (known as hand fruit in the industry). Here are recipes from the grower. You can also download their e-book of savory soups and sides recipes.

    The season for Piñata apples is November through May. So what are you waiting for?

     
    Here’s more about Piñata apples from the grower at Stemilt.com.

    And if you want to know what an apple a day does for your health and well-being, here’s the scoop from the U.S. Apple Association.
     
    THE TOP TEN APPLES IN THE U.S.

    According to the U.S. Apple Association, the 10 most popular apples in the U.S. based on sales are, in order, Red Delicious, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji, McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Rome, Empire and Cripps Pink (Pink Lady).

    Of course, the popularity is retailer-driven. Retailers want to buy varieties that will sell, and customers can only buy what the retailer has. Personally, we’d like to see fewer Delicious apples (they haven’t been exciting in a long time) and more new varieties.

    But keep those apples handy, whatever the variety, and you won’t even notice that they are helping you with your better-eating resolutions.

     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Snow Cream (Snow Ice Cream)

    AN ANCIENT TREAT

    Although the crank ice cream freezer wasn’t invented until 1843, and the first large-scale commercial ice cream plant in 1851, esearch shows that ice cream was first created in the cold regions of China more than 4,000 years ago. There, milk and cream, perhaps some overcooked rice, and spices were packed in snow to harden.

    Fruit ices were also developed, prepared with fruit juices, honey and aromatic spices. Snow and saltpeter served as an ancient ice cream maker to freeze ingredients in a container.

    Through trade routes, the frozen desserts were introduced to Persia about 2,500 years ago. The Persians called the frozen concoction sharbat, “fruit ice” in Arabic and the origin of sherbet, sorbet and sorbetto.

    Alexander the Great, who battled the Persians for 10 years before finally toppling the Persian Empire in 330 B.C.E., discovered fruit “ices” sweetened with honey and chilled with snow. He returned to Greece with the knowledge; and within three centuries, Emperor Nero was serving fruit juices mixed with honey and snow at his banquets.

    Here’s more on the history of ice cream.

    Turn history into fun: With the next fresh snowfall, you, too can make sharbat—or snow ice cream, also called snow cream. Transport yourself back to ancient China, or to Alexander the Great’s conquest of Persia. (Nero’s banquets? Maybe not so safe!)

    First up is a simple recipe from Julie Blanner for strawberry snow cream, ready in just three minutes.

    RECIPE: SNOW ICE CREAM (SNOW CREAM)

    Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup Strawberry Nesquik*
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 cups clean snow
  • Optional garnish: fresh or frozen/thawed strawberries
  •  
    *Instead of Nesquik, you can purée frozen strawberries and add sweetener as desired.

     
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the Nesquik and milk, and pour over the snow. Blend as desired.
     
    RECIPE: SHARBAT

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fruit juice
  • 2 cups clean snow
  • Optional sweetener: agave or honey
  •  
    Prepare as above.
     
    Variations

  • Sweeteners: try whatever you like, from honey and maple syrup to lower-glycemic sweeteners like agave and sucralose (Splenda).
  • Flavors: Instead of fruit or juice, add an extract to the snow: coffee, lemon, mint, vanilla, etc.
  •  

    Ice Cream

    Making Snow Cream

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    Top photos: An ancient recipe with modern decorations, and the preparation process, from GimmeSomeOven.com. Bottom: Strawberry snow ice cream from Julie Blanner.

  • Milk type: You can use almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, and other nondairy options; and can add more flavor with the flavored varieties (chocolate, coffee, green tea, vanilla, etc.).
  •  
    DIFFERENT TYPES OF FROZEN DESSERTS

    Ice cream and sorbet are just two types of frozen desserts. Discover more in our Frozen Desserts Glossary

      

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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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    FOOD HOLIDAY: Corn Chips Vs. Tortilla Chips

    January 29th is National Corn Chip Day.

    Before THE NIBBLE, we thought that corn chips and tortilla chips were synonymous. They aren’t, as you’ll see below.

    The best-known corn chips in America are Fritos, which were created in 1932 by Charles Elmer Doolin of San Antonio.

    Dolan was the manager of the Highland Park Confectionery in San Antonio. As the story goes, he found a local man who sold deep-fried corn snacks and had 19 retail accounts. He purchased the recipe, the accounts and a handheld potato ricer for for $100, which he borrowed from his mother.

    Doolan and his mother perfected the recipe in their kitchen, and Doolan created the Frito Corporation. [Source]

    In 1948, Doolin invented Chee-tos. In 1961, a merger between The Frito Company and H.W. Lay & Company, makers of potato chips in 1961 to form Frito-Lay. In 1965 Frito-Lay became a subsidiary of The Pepsi-Cola Company.

    Here are more photos from the early years of Fritos, on FlashbackDallas.com.
     
    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CORN CHIPS & POTATO CHIPS

    Corn chips and tortilla chips are made in very different ways.
     
    Corn Chips

  • Corn chips are made from corn meal (ground corn, or masa), which has been is mixed with salt and water, extruded (shaped) and fried.
  •  
    Tortilla Chips, A.K.A. Taco Chips

  • The corn in a tortilla chip undergoes a process known as nixtamalization, in which the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution such as lime water, and then hulled, ground and made into tortillas.
  • The tortillas are then sliced and fried into crispy chips.
  • This ancient process was developed by the peoples of what is today Mesoamerica.

  • Tortilla chips, however, were invented in the late 1940s in Los Angeles. Here’s the history of tortilla chips.
  • National Tortilla Chip Day is February 24th.
     
    HERE ARE ALL THE AMERICAN FOOD HOLIDAYS.

  •  

    Fritos Corn Chips

    Bag Of Fritos

    old-fritos-bag-flashbackdallas-230

    Fritos, America’s most famous Corn chips. Top photos courtesy Frito-Lay. Bottom photo courtesy FlashbackDallas.com.

     

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: More Uses For Granola…& A Better For You Granola Recipe

    Yogurt Parfait

    Granola Salad Topping

    Spicy Thai Cole Slaw

    Granola Coated Chicken

    Granola Baked Apples

    Top: The original granola add-on: a yogurt parfait from Fruits From Chile. Second: Granola as a salad topping at Nuts About Granola. Third: Spicy Thai coleslaw with granola from Nuts About Granola (here’s the recipe). Fourth: Granola-coated chicken or fish, from SayWhatYouNeedBlog.com (here’s the recipe). Bottom: Baked apples stuffed with granola from Reynolds Kitchen (here’s the recipe).

     

    Granola was originally devised by a doctor in 1863, as a spartan breakfast food. It was packed with fiber, intended to help people with digestive problems.

    Granola was reborn in the second half of the 20th century as a sweet breakfast creal, packed with dried fruit, refined sugars and fats. Most commercial brands of granola don’t qualify as a “healthy alternative” (just read the nutrition labels).

    Even when natural sugars are used—honey or maple syrup, for example—the calorie and carb count is just as high. Although natural sweeteners are theoretically “better” than refined sugars, the body metabolizes them exactly the same way*.

    Thus, today’s tip is to look for a granola that is low in sugars; or to make your own with agave or brown rice syrup, natural sweeteners with low glycemic indices.

    Then, try new uses for your granola: as a crouton substitute on salads, as a coating for chicken or fish fillets, etc. You’ll find ways to use it in every meal of the day, beyond the already-mainstay granola snack bars, cookies, muffins and yogurt parfaits.

    Be sure to try it with vegetables, from sweet potatoes to roasted carrots and other sweet veggies (beets, squash, sugar snap peas, rutabaga) but not corn: It’s overkill.

    Here’s a recipe for homemade, sugar-free granola, plus a way to use it to make crispy chicken breasts or fish fillets.

    RECIPE: SUGAR-FREE GRANOLA RECIPE

    Making your own granola lets you control the type and amount of sweetener and fat, while enabling you to add your favorite flavors: cinnamon, dark chocolate, nuts, peanut butter, vanilla, etc. You can make it organic, raw, whatever you like. Best of all, there is no “correct” recipe. Use whatever you like, in the proportions you like.

    Prep time is 10 minutes, bake time is 20 minutes.
     
    Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole rolled (“old fashioned”) oats
  • ½ cup nuts, chopped or sliced
  • ¼ cup seeds (sunflower or pumpkin seeds, plus chia or flaxseed if you like them)
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar or brown rice syrup
  • 2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil, other healthy cooking oil or butter‡
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract or almond extract
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • Optional: ½ cup unsweetened dried blueberries, cranberries or other fruit†
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 300°F. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, mix well and toss to thoroughly coat the ingredients with the sweetener and fat.

    2. SPREAD the granola in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, until lightly toasted. That’s it!

    3. COOL, then store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Use it within 2 weeks.
     
    RECIPE: CRISP CHICKEN CUTLETS OR FISH FILLETS WITH GRANOLA

    Instead of Corn Flakes, coat your chicken or fish fillets with granola. This recipe from Viki’s Granola uses crisp panko bread crumbs to cut the sweetness; but if you’ve made your own lightly-sweetened granola, you can lessen or eliminate the panko. You may also want to use a granola without added fruit†, although chopped nuts add some nice crunch.
     
    Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup panko
  • 1/2 cup granola (Viki’s uses its Honey Granola)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1-1/4 pounds chicken cutlets (substitute fish fillets)
  • Canola or vegetable oil for frying
  • Preparation

    1. PLACE the beaten eggs in a shallow dish. Pulse the panko and granola in a food processor and place in a separate shallow dish. Place the flour in a third dish.

    2. SEASON the cutlets with salt and pepper. Place 1/8 inch of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. While the oil heats…

    3. DIP the cutlets first in the flour, then in the egg, then in the panko, shaking off the excess with each addition. When the oil is hot, add the cutlets.

    4. COOK until the bottoms are golden brown, about 3 minutes; then flip and brown the other side. Transfer to a platter lined with a paper towel.
     
    _____________________________________
    *There are natural, low-glycemic sweeteners: agave, glycemic index (GI) is 32, half that of sugar; and brown rice syrup, GI of 20. Agave is 1.4 to 1.5 times sweeter than sugar and honey, so you don’t need to use as much. By comparison, the GI for honey is 58, pure maple syrup is 54 and refined sugar is 60-65.

    †You can keep your granola flexible by not adding dried fruit initially. It’s easy to mix it in when you want it.

    ‡Butter has recently been de-demonized as a bad fat. Margarine remains a demon.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Buy Better Olive Oil

    Some 10 years ago, the Food and Drug Administration allowed a qualified health claim on food labels of olive oil. The claim states that daily consumption of 2 tablespoons, or 23 grams of olive oil, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The decision to allow the claim was made after the FDA found sufficient evidence to conclude that monounsaturated fatty acids, naturally present in olive oil, may prevent heart disease.

    This spurred the consumption of olive oil in the U.S. So if your healthier eating plans for the new year include those two tablespoons, here are tips for buying olive oil from an expert: David Neuman, CEO of Gaea US and a certified master panel taster trained at ONAOO, the Organizzazione Nazionale Assaggiatori Olio di Oliva (National Organization For The Tasters Of Olive Oil).

    While American olive oils tend to be well monitored, that’s not so with some imports. The industry has long been fraught with fake and doctored oils, fooling even good retailers.

    For your money and your heart-healthiness, here are some tips to help you find the real deal.
     
    TIPS TO BUYING QUALITY EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

    1. Look & Taste

    Color is not necessarily an indicator of quality. The color has a lot to do with the variety of olive being crushed, the stage of the harvest the olives were picked and the time and temperature of the malaxation† process. And if the oil is filtered or not. Not to mention, many olive oils are sold in dark glass bottles which help preserve the oil, but make it impossible to see the color before you buy.

    Neuman prefers robust oils of a premium nature that are early harvested and quickly malaxed using olives that are prone to being more green. However, he says, there are wonderful oils such as from Sicily that are yellow and have a very intense fruity taste accented by bitterness and pungency. They are of excellent quality, but not dark green in color.

    There are also different styles, which appeal to different plates. Some examples:

  • Fruity, a factor affected by variety, maturity, processing and growing conditions.
  • Bitter, a feature of good, young olive oil, the intensity of which depends on the olive variety and ripeness, as well as on the milling technique.
  • Pungent (chemesthesis), throat-catching and/or mouth-hot, a characteristic of Tuscan olive oils.
  •  
    2. Aroma

    Neuman thinks that a much more precise indicator of the quality of an olive oil is the aroma. A quality EVOO should taste fresh, green, peppery and grassy.

    While you first have to purchase the bottle, Neuman recommends the sniff test, which is also the way to judge how an opened bottle of olive oil is holding up.

  • When you open the bottle it should smell green and grassy, or even ripe and tropical (depending on variety, ripeness, milling, etc. etc. etc.). It should smell good.
  • Look out for fustiness or rancidity, two common defects in olive oil. If you are reminded of a gym locker, sweaty socks, stinky football pads, feet, cheese, crayons, old peanuts, or a compost heap that is too wet, that oil has not been made with fresh, healthy olives. Return it to the retailer!
  • Rancidity doesn’t show up in the aroma until it’s fairly advanced, but you will can smell it immediately and taste it as soon as the oil is in your mouth: It will have a greasy, fatty mouthfeel. If you get an impression of crayons, wax, window putty, old linseed oil or oil paint, rancid walnuts or peanuts, “cat piss” or a wet compost heap: That’s rancidity.
  •  
    Here’s more on the flavors and aromas of olive oil.
    _________________________________
    *Olive oil should be used to replace, and not add to, the other fats present in your diet. Here’s more on the recommendations.

    †Malaxation is the churning or mixing of milled olives for 20 to 40 minutes. This allows the smaller droplets of oil released by the milling process to aggregate and be more easily separated. Here’s more about malaxation.

     

    Harvested Olives

    Gaea Olive Oil

    Green-Hued Olive Oil

    Coratina Olive Oil

    The color of olive oil is based on various factors, and is not necessarily indicative of quality. Top: Just-harvested olives at O Olive Oil. Second: A green-hued olive oil from DeMedici. Third: A yellow-hued premium olive oil from Gaea. Bottom: If you butter your bread, switch to an olive oil dipper. You can add herbs, chili flakes, or enjoy it plain, like this Coratina olive oil from Murrays.com.

     
    3. Price

    Price typically is a solid indicator of quality. The more the oil costs, the better the quality. But there’s a catch: A high-priced oil can sit on the shelves for years and be completely rancid. Check for “best before” dates, or at least harvest dates. You can check online for the shelf life of the particular oil.

  • Bottle dating is voluntary, and this type of transparency is not yet universal on bottles from all producers in countries. But you can let it be a deciding factor in your purchase.
  • Watch out for bargains. If the price is so low and seems too good to be true, it probably is. Expect to spend more than $10 for a 17-ounce bottle of EVOO.
  • Look for extra virgin olive oils that are from a single source. This can range from a single estate to a single Protected Designation of Origin (PDO—these regional designations are policed well by the EU) to a particular region or country.
  • The worst sign is a label that says, “May contain olive oils from Spain, Italy, Greece, Tunisia, Turkey, Argentina and Australia” (i.e., more than one country) or “Mediterranean blend.” This means that the oil is from an industrial packer that sells bulk not quality, and not a conscientious olive oil producer.
  •  
    FINAL TIPS

  • Beware of “extra light” olive oil. Neuman warns that an “extra light” label does not indicate an olive oil that is light in calories. Rather, it is a refined olive oil blend, made with olive oil that has been heavily refined so that it has no color, aroma or flavor. It is blended with about 10% Extra Virgin or Virgin grade for flavor and color, and is the lowest-quality olive oil sold to consumers. Avoid it!
  • Study up before you buy. Check out our Olive Oil Glossary, what you need to know about extra virgin olive oil, and how to taste olive oil.
  • Olive oil sensory wheel: How to learn the flavors and aromas of olive oil.
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Your Own Hummus

    Garnished Hummus

    Hummus With Garnishes

    Hummus Sandwich

    Hummus Flatbread

    Top: Hummus, lightly garnished at Shaya | New Orleans. Second: Hummus with sophisticated garnishing at Shaya. Third: Hummus on a sandwich from EatWellEnjoyLife.com. Bottom: Hummus flatbread with arugula, at The Purple Carrot.

     

    Hummus, a dip and spread made from chickpeas, has been eaten for millennia: Chickpeas and the sesame seeds used to make tahini were among man’s first cultivated crops.

    Hummus has long been served in every Greek and Middle Eastern restaurant in the U.S. But following its endorsement by nutritionists as a healthful snack and better-for-you dip, the once-niche product’s sales have grown dramatically in the U.S., following the trajectory of another food from its neck of the woods, Greek yogurt. Unlike yogurt, hummus is accessible to lactose-intolerant and vegan customers, and is a pareve ingredient for kosher diets.

    Smaller brands like Abraham’s and Yorgo’s have been around for 30 years or more. But Sabra, another modest brand begun 30 years ago, had the good fortune to be purchased by Israeli food giant, Strauss Group, in 2006. Strauss, in turn, sold a 50% interest to Pepsico in 2008.
     
    BEYOND CLASSIC (PLAIN) HUMMUS

    With the best marketing clout of any hummus in the world—from distribution, advertising and promotion to endorsements such as becoming the NFL’s Official Dip [whatever that means]—Sabra had the resources not only to become the top seller in the hummus category, but one of the top healthful snacks and dips in the U.S. It also had the ability to make more consumers seek flavored hummus, an explosive category that is very American.

    Sales of the refrigerated flavored spreads alone, a category dominated by hummus, grew 21% in 2015 to almost $700 million. [Source: IRI]. And oh, the flavors! New ones seem to appear monthly to keep customers interested, often as limited editions which may then become permanent parts of the line.

    Tribe Hummus, our personal favorite, has done an exemplary job of turning hummus into a fun food beyond a plain spread. Consider these flavors:

    Everything (one of our favorites, like an “everything” bagel), Fiery Sriracha, Forty Spices, Garlic, Harvest Carrot, Lemon Rosemary Focaccia, Mediterranean Olive, Mediterranean Style, Spicy Red Pepper, Sweet Roasted Red Peppers, Vine Ripened Tomato & Basil and Zesty Spice & Garlic, among others.

    Tribe’s latest limited edition is Ranch, which provides amazing ranch flavor in what is a dairy-free spread (authentic ranch dressing has a base of buttermilk).

    Other brands have featured beet, cilantro chimichurri, edamame, guacamole, horseradish, kalamata olive, lemongrass chili, pumpkin, sundried tomato, Thai chili and spinach artichoke hummus flavors. The lesson is: If you like a particular flavor, try stirring it into hummus.
     
    IT’S EASY TO MAKE HUMMUS AT HOME

    We can go through an eight-ounce container of hummus in a day. Our friend Jerry teased us, because he has been making hummus in his food processor for 20 years—for a lot less than it costs to buy it.

    We also listened to Steve Sando of RanchoGordo.com, who sells the world’s great heirloom beans and legumes (check out his retail store when you’re in San Francisco or Napa Valley—you’ll buy many pounds’ worth). Canned chickpeas are not even in his vocabulary.

    “You may think I am biased,” says Steve, “but first and foremost, you need to start with good, recent-crop garbanzos. You can use the dusty old bag [of dried chickpeeas] you picked up at the supermarket or you can use ours. They cook quickly, they have a fresh, almost nutty flavor and you don’t need to rinse them the way you must with canned beans.

    “I understand that some people want to soak the beans, others don’t. Some salt up front, some brine, some salt later. Whatever makes you happy and inspires you to make [it] is what works for me—except for one thing: baking soda.

    “Many recipes call for a pinch or more of baking soda to help soften the garbanzos. Only if your beans are old, or if you live in the desert where beans age very quickly, may this be a good idea.”

     
    CANNED VS. DRIED CHICKPEAS

    Canned chickpeas are more convenient to buy and faster to work with. But they are canned in salt and don’t have the same “fresh” flavor as dried chickpeas.

    Dried chickpeas have better flavor and texture, which is especially noticeable in plain (unflavored) hummus.
     
    RECIPE: RANCHO GORDO HOMEMADE HUMMUS

    Fresh garbanzos (chickpeas) make the best-tasting hummus, but if you can’t get them or don’t have the extra time to cook them, default to the best canned brand. Canned chickpeas need to be rinsed to remove the salt solution.

    Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound fresh garbanzos (chickpeas)
  • 1/4 onion, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 tablespoons tahini
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt, to taste
  • Garnish: extra virgin olive oil
  • Garnish: smoked Spanish paprika
  • Other garnish (see below)
  • Dippers: crudités, toasted pita, pita chips, etc.
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the garbanzos and onion in a large pot, cover by two inches of water and bring to a strong boil for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, add the bay leaf and cook until tender. Add more water, boiled in a tea kettle, if needed.

    2. DRAIN the garbanzos, reserving a quarter cup for garnishing if you want. Add them to a food processor* with the tahini, lemon, garlic and salt; pulse until smooth. Taste and adjust the tahini, lemon and salt to your liking.

    3. TRANSFER the hummus into a shallow bowl and with a chopstick or other tool, draw a swirl pattern on top. Alternatively, use the back of a large spoon to create a large center indentation (see photos above). Gently drizzle your best extra virgin olive oil over the top, letting it flow as it may. Dust with Spanish paprika and/or other garnishes or dot with the reserved, whole garbanzos. Serve with crudités, toasted pita, pita chips, etc.
     
    *Steve prefers to blend his hummus in a deep bowl using an immersion blender.

     
    HUMMUS GARNISHES

    Use whatever you like, in any combination that you like. In addition to the options below, don’t rule out anything else that appeals to you.

  • Citrus zest
  • Minced herbs of choice (flat parsley is terrific here and mint is a revelation, but follow your taste buds)
  • Olives, sliced
  • Pickled vegetables (including jalapeños and peppadews)
  • Pine nuts or pistachios (also try topping with cooked ground lamb and ground flat-leaf parsley)
  • Sauce: chiles in adobo, yogurt sauce, or other that you’d enjoy combining with hummus)
  • Spices of choice: aleppo pepper, red chili flakes or other hot chile; cumin; paprika
  • Whole cooked garbanzos
  •   

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: A Popcorn Bar For Healthy Snacking

    We’ve been getting daily pitches for Super Bowl snacks, none of which would pass muster with New Year’s healthy eating resolutions (crudités with yogurt dip instead of pizza and wings, for example).

    So we’ve decided to publish one of our favorite good-for-you snack (see below) that’s also lots of fun: the Popcorn Bar.

    Popcorn is a whole grain snack, and low in calories unless caloric toppings/mix-ins are added. But provide an assortment of healthy toppings along with the candy, and there will be something for everyone.

    WHAT TO INCLUDE IN YOUR POPCORN BAR

    Better-For-You Toppings/Mix-Ins

  • Apple chips (our favorite is Bare Fruit)
  • Cinnamon, brown sugar, nutmeg (blend it yourself)
  • Chopped cilantro or other herb
  • Corn Nuts/Inka Corn
  • Diced jalapeño
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
  • Mini pretzels or pretzel sticks
  • Nuts (pine nuts, peanuts, pistachios, slivered almonds)
  • Pepper or chile flakes
  • Seasoned salt
  • Seeds: chia, flax, pumpkin, sesame, etc.
  • Other spices
  • Trail mix
  •  
    Fun & Sweet Toppings/Mix-Ins

  • Candy: gummy bears, jelly beans, Junior Mints, mini
    marshmallows, mini peanut butter cups, M&Ms, Reese’s Pieces
  • Chocolate-covered or candied nuts; candy-coated seeds
  • Coconut flakes
  • Chocolate chips and other baking chips (butterscotch, mint,
    peanut butter, vanilla)
  • Cinnamon sugar (blend it yourself: cinnamon, sugar and a bit
    of nutmeg)
  • Dried fruit (blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raisins, etc.)
  •    

    Popcorn Toppings

    Popcorn Toppings

    Popcorn Bar

    Top: Popcorn bar; photo courtesy Brit.co. Middle: Candy-focused toppings for kids, courtesy Family Fresh Meals. Bottom: Popcorn bar from Popcorn.org.

  • Goldfish or other cheese crackers
  •  
    Plus

  • 3 cups of popped corn per person (it’s much better to pop the corn yourself and serve it fresh, than to buy it)
  • Bowls for ingredients and bowls for serving
  • Spoons for ingredients and for mixing them in individual bowls
  • Napkins
  •  
    RECIPE: EASY MICROWAVE POPCORN

    Plan on three cups per person. Instead of trying to make a mega-batch in the microwave, try no more than 1 cup of kernels at a time. Microwaves differ in power, so if you want to pop more than one cup at a time, do a test batch.

    Ingredients For 3 Cups

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable* oil
  • Brown paper lunch bag
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the popcorn and oil in a bowl and mix to coat. Add to bag and sprinkle in the salt. Fold the top of the bag over twice to seal in the ingredients.

    2. MICROWAVE on full power for 2-1/2 to 3 minutes, listening until you hear pauses of 2-3 seconds between pops. Remove the bag from the microwave. Even though there may be some unpopped kernels, to continue cooking risks burning the popped kernels.

    3. OPEN the bag carefully, releasing the hot steam; then pour into a serving bowl.
     
    *For an interesting twist, experiment with other oils you may have on hand: nut oils, sesame oil, etc.

     

    Popcorn Kernels

    It’s easy to make all-natural popcorn in the
    microwave with a brown paper bag. The
    result: additive-free corn. Photo courtesy
    Squawkfox.

     

    STOVETOP POPPING INSTRUCTIONS

    1. COVER the bottom of a 3- to 4-quart pan with a thin layer of vegetable oil (don’t use butter, it will burn). Place 3 kernels of popcorn in the pan, cover with a loose lid that allows steam to escape, and heat. When the kernels pop…

    2. POUR in enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pan, one kernel deep. Cover the pan and shake to evenly spread the oil. When the popping begins to slow to a few seconds apart, remove the pan from the stove top. The heated oil will still pop the remaining kernels.

    3. COOL for at least 5 minutes before serving.
     
    WHY POPCORN IS GOOD FOR YOU

    It’s a pleasant surprise: home-popped popcorn is one of the healthiest snacks you can enjoy.

    It’s full of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help to neutralize the free radicals that contribute to aging. In fact, popcorn has one of the highest levels of polyphenols of any plant food.

    It’s also a whole grain, packed with fiber. If you use just a little butter or cheese, you’re adding a bit of cholesterol; but it’s just as easy to skip the cheese, use olive oil, and pile on lots of herbs and spices.

    Note that prepackaged, store-bought microwave popcorn is less good for you, made with chemicals and synthetics for flavoring and coloring.

    So pop it yourself—it’s easy enough!

      

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