Tag: food

How to Make Your Favorite Foods Healthier

After the whirlwind of the holiday season, the season of resolutions takes over. Many people to resolve to live healthier, and they may not have to give up their favorite foods to do so. Research from the National Institutes of Health suggests American adults between the ages of 18 and 49 gain an average of one to two pounds every year. Grazing and overeating tends to increase when the weather cools down. A 2005 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, in the fall, people tend to consume more calories, total fat and saturated fat. In the spring, people seem to prefer more carbohydrates. In addition, less powerful sunshine in winter coupled with people bundling up translates into less vitamin D being absorbed by the body. Some researchers believe there is a link between vitamin D deficiency and weight gain as well. To ensure that certain foods do not sabotage healthy eating plans, people can employ some easy modifications and make healthier versions of the foods they like to eat.

• Choose crunchy foods. Those who are prone to snacking can reach for noisy foods. These include crunchy items like apples, carrots and pretzels. Scientists say that when people listen to what they are chewing — called the “crunch effect” — they eat less of that item.

• Tone down the cream. Delicious dishes like fettuccine alfredo typically are made with lots of butter and cream. Replace cream sauces with a healthier base made of low-fat milk thickened with flour. Increase the flavor with favorite spices.

• Fry with care. Use healthy oils like olive or coconut sparingly. Many foods that are traditionally fried also can be lightly coated with cooking spray and baked for a crunchy texture.

• Choose sodium-free seasonings. The USCA recommends limiting sodium to less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day. Try options like fresh herbs or lemon juice to add some sodium-free flavor.

• Increase fiber content. Fiber helps one feel fuller longer and can also be helpful for digestion and heart health. Choose the “brown” varieties of rice, pasta and breads.

• Replace meat with leaner forms of protein. Lean chicken, turkey and pork can replace red meats in many recipes. Some traditional meat dishes, such as burgers, also can be modified using vegetables or seafood. Lean meats dry out quickly, so keep foods moist by watching cooking times.

• Stock up on yogurt. Greek and other varieties of yogurt can replace sour cream and mayonnaise in many dishes.

Resolving to eat healthier can be easy by making some simple swaps when preparing your favorite foods.

The Benefits of Shopping Farmers Markets

Farmers markets have grown in popularity in recent years. Nowadays, consumers interested in farmers markets can likely find one near their homes whether those homes are in rural communities, the suburbs or bustling cities.

People who have never before shopped farmers markets may be curious as to why many people find them so appealing. The following are a handful of benefits of shopping farmers markets that might turn market novices into full-fledged devotees.

• Freshness:

Many people visit farmers markets because the fruits and vegetables sold at such markets seem to taste more fresh than those sold at chain grocery stores. People are not mistaken, as the produce available at farmers markets often comes from local farms, meaning there’s no long-distance shipping necessary. Locally sourced foods need not be frozen en route to the market, meaning foods purchased there tend to taste especially fresh.

• In-season foods:

Some grocery stores may sell fruits and vegetables even when those foods are out of season. Farmers markets only sell in-season fruits and vegetables. To grow fruits and vegetables out-of-season, farmers may need to rely on chemicals or other unnatural methods. No such means are necessary when farmers stick to growing foods in-season.

Environmental benefits:

According to the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, food in the United States travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to consumers’ plates. Such journeys burn natural resources, pollute the air and produce sizable amounts of trash that ultimately ends up in landfills and/or the world’s oceans. Because food sold at farmers markets is locally sourced, considerably fewer natural resources are necessary to transport the food from farm to table, and the relatively short distances the food travels translates to less air pollution.

• Biodiversity:

Many farmers market shoppers find unique foods not readily available at their local grocery stores. This is not only a great way to discover new and delicious foods, but also a way to promote biodiversity.

• Hormone-free animal products:

Farmers markets do not exclusively sell fruits and vegetables. Many farmers markets also are great places to find meats, cheeses and eggs. Animal products sold at farmers markets are typically antibiotic- and hormone-free, which is both more humane to the animals and healthier than animal products produced with hormones or antibiotics.

Farmers markets are more accessible than ever, and the benefits to shopping such markets are endless.

How College Kids Can Save When Dining Out

Dining halls may be the eatery of choice for college students, but that does not mean students don’t enjoy dining out. Tight budgets may make it difficult for some to dine out very often, but there are various ways for students to make dining out more affordable.

Take advantage of your student status.

Many restaurants in the vicinity of college campuses offer student discounts to patrons who present their college identification cards to their servers or cashiers. Students who patronize such restaurants can save substantial amounts of money.

Look for discount nights.

Just like many college-area restaurants offer discounts to customers who present their student ID cards, others may host discount nights when certain items on their menus are offered at substantially discounted prices. Such discounts are traditionally offered on nights that would otherwise be slow nights for restaurants. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be slow nights for many establishments, and students might be able to find great meal deals on these nights.

Abstain from alcohol.

College students who are of legal drinking age can save money on date nights by abstaining from alcohol. A bottle of wine tends to be considerably more expensive in a restaurant than it would be if customers were to purchase the same bottle at a nearby liquor store. College students who still want to enjoy a drink during their next dinner out can save money by visiting BYOB restaurants.

Embrace food sharing.

Some restaurants offer food sharing or “family style” options to parties that exceed certain sizes. This can be a great way for college students to dine out and save money, as the cost per person might be less when sharing plates than it would be when each person is paying for his or her own entrée.

Tight budgets may prevent college students from dining out too often, but various saving strategies can make dining out more affordable for college students.

Local Dining Spots Foster Community

Dining out is a great way to celebrate life’s milestones or simply reconnect with friends and loved ones.

Research firm NPD Group found that, by the end of 2015, restaurant visits by consumers increased by 700 million compared to just five years prior. While chain restaurants invest heavily in advertising, independently owned restaurants do not have those same resources. Multi-unit chains also have more pull with suppliers and might be able to negotiate better deals, or can spread operational costs across various locations.

Too often diners are not aware of the vast array of tasty, well-priced and artisanal foods awaiting them just down the street. But dining out at local eateries can be beneficial in various ways.

• High-quality food: Many local establishments have complete control over their suppliers and menus. As a result, they can be picky with regard to the vendors they use and the produce, meats, dairy, and other ingredients that they select. Many small, independently owned restaurants team up with local organic farmers and distributors to supply a farm-to-table experience that many diners now enjoy.

• Freedom of experimentation: Although chain restaurants may have to meet approval from administrative boards and marketing departments before they can introduce new fare, independently owned restaurants can let their diners decide which foods remain on the menu and even adapt to community trends. Local restaurants may take pride in serving cultural or regional foods.

• Ability to customize: Independently owned restaurants may be more amenable to adapting recipes or making substitutions to meet diners’ requests. Skilled local chefs can think on the fly and modify recipes, which may not always be possible in chain establishments.

• Crowd control: Local restaurants tend to be smaller and more intimate than many chain restaurants. This can translate into a calm dining experience. When crowds are small, the noise level inside the restaurant may be muted and service may be fast because there aren’t as many tables to serve. Furthermore, local establishments, although concerned about making a profit, may be less worried about table turnover rate, preferring to let diners linger if it means repeat business.

• Familiar faces: Some diners enjoy being a “regular” at their favorite local restaurants. Local dining spots also become gathering locations for residents in the know, instead of passing-through tourists or commuters.

Much can be said about the advantages of patronizing local eateries. Men and women who want unique dining experiences can give local, independently owned establishments a try.

Wine and Cheese Pairing Tips for Summer Entertaining

Summer is a time for picnics, festive garden gatherings and poolside parties. For hot days and warm evening entertaining, keep things cool by creating a delicious, yet easy-to-prepare spread of wines, cheeses, fresh fruits and nuts.

Choosing cheeses to go with your favorite wines does not need to be difficult. Start by thinking of each component of the wine and cheese as a complementary or contrasting flavor, considering the texture, sweetness and flavor intensity of each. Experiment by tasting each on its own to get a sense of its characteristics. Then, see how they taste when combined. You can do this on your own while planning your event or make it a fun activity with your guests.

As part of their hospitality program, the culinary team at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma County, CA looks to local cheese producers for interesting choices to pair with their certified sustainable wines. To help hosts recreate the winery experience at home, here are a few pairing tips for preparing summer spreads that feature some of the best wines and cheeses of Sonoma County:

Pair wines and cheeses of equal flavor intensity.

Bold wines can overwhelm some cheeses. One pairing example of balanced flavor intensity is Laura Chenel Goat Brie paired with St. Francis Sonoma County Chardonnay 2016 (SRP $16.99). The goat brie is delicious for summer, with a light creamy quality that carries notes of grass and nuts and has a clean lemony finish. The Chardonnay has delicate aromas and flavors of green apple, juicy pear and melon. The combination is a bright, crisp wine that nicely matches the cheese’s flavors and weight.

Pair bold reds with aged cheeses.

Aged cheeses are richer in flavor. This aspect of their character counteracts the tannins of a bold red wine, making for a delicious pairing. Consider serving Vella Dry Monterey Jack, an aged cheese similar to Parmigiano with a sweet flavor reminiscent of butterscotch, with Sonoma Valley Merlot 2015 (SRP $20.99). The expressive Merlot, with aromas and flavors of red cherry, plum, espresso bean and savory spices, complements the cheese beautifully. The aged Dry Monterey Jack cheese highlights the smooth texture of the Merlot wine.

Add an array of fresh fruits to your spread.

After assembling the cheese board, add color and texture with fresh fruits of the summer season. Strawberries, cherries, grapes, raspberries and figs are festive choices. For an added cool factor, put frozen green grapes in your glass of Chardonnay to keep it chilled without diluting the flavor.

With these pairing tips, you are sure to have an entertaining and delicious cheese and wine filled gathering. (StatePoint)

4 Steps to a Healthier You this New Year

Want to make resolutions you’ll keep this new year? Think simple, sustainable changes. Follow these four steps for a healthier you, inside and out.

Stick to Your Workout

After the holidays, the gym is filled with people who have resolved to incorporate exercise routines into their lives. Come February, the novelty of the new year wears off, life gets in the way and, according to “U.S. News & World Report,” 80 percent of resolutions fail by the second week of the month.

Instead of jumping from no routine to a seven-days-a-week commitment, introduce workouts to your schedule in small doses. Dread cardio or weight machines? Find something that you’ll look forward to, like a cycling class, yoga or outdoor pursuits. Choosing activities that you enjoy will increase your chances of sticking to your resolution.

Eat Smarter

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Americans are falling short of their fruit and vegetable intake goals, and most eat only half the recommended amount of fiber. To increase your consumption of essential nutrients, create a grocery list packed with fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains.

Plan meals for the week to ensure you stick to a whole-food menu. Keep ingredients on hand for meals you can make in a pinch, so you’re not tempted by fast food on a busy day. Try frozen salmon fillets, which you can cook without thawing, or eggs, low-fat cheese and veggies for a quick-baking frittata.

Freeze individual servings of chopped fruits and vegetables in resealable bags to create quick and delicious smoothies each morning in a high-powered blender, such as the Vitamix E310 Explorian Series machine. For a satisfying, energy-boosting snack, use your blender to pre-make Dried Fruit Chia Bars or White Chocolate Peanut Butter Energy Balls.

Stress Less

Stress can have adverse effects on minds and bodies, as insomnia, weight gain, anxiety and depression are all potential related risks. While it isn’t always avoidable, simple changes will help you manage tension.

Sometimes, stress can be solved with some “me time.” Treat yourself to a massage or manicure, soak in a hot bath, or unwind with a nature walk. Connecting with others can help, too. Plan a brunch with your best friend or a date night with your significant other.

Feeling overwhelmed with work and family life? Build out a to-do list or calendar to feel more in control of your busy schedule, then cross items off the list when completed.

Practice Positivity

A sunny outlook can affect your wellbeing. Keep a gratitude journal by writing down something good that happens each day. On bad days, you’ll be forced to focus on the positive aspects of your life.

One of the best ways to improve your happiness is by giving others a boost. Volunteer with a charitable organization or donate to a favorite cause. Practice doing something kind daily.

This new year, take small steps to help you feel happier and healthier. (StatePoint)

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Be Prepared for Unexpected Company

The latter part of the year is full of social engagements with family and friends. Pew Research Center says 92 percent of all Americans plan to celebrate Christmas as a holiday, with 69 percent using it as an opportunity to spend time with family and friends.

While many social occasions surrounding Christmas are anticipated for months in advance, unexpected pop-ins are also the norm this time of year. Rather than being caught off guard, individuals can take steps to prepare for unexpected guests.

· Have food available. Even if guests pop in for a little while, it’s nice to be able to offer them something to eat. Keep cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, pretzels, and other snacks on hand. Make-ahead, crowd-friendly foods can be prepared and frozen. Casseroles, pasta dishes and stews are hearty and can serve in a pinch when unexpected visitors arrive. Simply take out to defrost and heat up. Keep cookies in air-tight tins and purchase a premade frozen pie to serve, if necessary. In a pinch, you can always order out, but over time the cost of having food delivered can add up.

· Keep the bar stocked. Toasting to a happy holiday season is the norm during this time of year. Toasting requires hosts have some spirits on hand. Stock the bar with a few staples, such as red and white wine, vodka, rum, whiskey, and mixers. Also, you may just want to create a signature or seasonal cocktail that can be served when guests arrive, such as a spiced punch or a holiday eggnog.

· Cue the playlist. Put together a playlist of favorite holiday music that will provide the ideal ambiance should guests ring your doorbell. Thanks to services like Spotify, Amazon Music and Pandora, holiday music that fills a home with the sweet sounds of the season is now always accessible.

· Keep things neat. Set aside a closet or space that can serve as a catch-all where errant items can quickly be stored should guests arrive. Gather loose toys, books or stray papers in a basket and then stash the basket in the closet until guests depart. Routinely empty the dishwasher so dirty dishes left in the sink can be quickly loaded before guests arrive.

· Create an aromatic atmosphere. Scented candles that evoke the aromas of the season can refresh stale indoor air. Butter cookie-, apple pie- and cinnamon-scented candles can make it seem like you just finished some holiday baking.

Guests tend to drop by on a moment’s notice come the holidays. Preparing for the unexpected can make such visits more enjoyable.

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Simple Tricks to Satisfy Picky Eaters

Family mealtime can be challenging for a variety of reasons, including the varying taste buds of moms, dads and their kids.

Although there is no consistent definition of picky eating, according to a report published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics, the term is generally used to characterize children who eat a limited amount of food, have strong food preferences, have restricted intake of certain foods, or who are unwilling to try new foods. It’s difficult to account statistically for picky eating, but this relatively common behavioral problem tends to peak around age 3.

Picky eating tends to be genetic. A study led by Dr. Lucy Cooke of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London found genes are largely to blame for picky eaters. According to her research, 78 percent of pickiness is genetic and the other 22 percent is environmental. Pickiness usually is a temporary part of normal development, and many of the behaviors associated with picky eating can be alleviated by open-minded, patient parents who are willing to try new things themselves.

Experiment with different textures

Sometimes it isn’t the food itself but the texture of the food that is the problem. Therefore, parents shouldn’t rule out certain foods just yet. For example, a child might not like the texture of a baked potato, but mashed potatoes are fine. Try presenting the food in a different way. Cauliflower is one food that can be transformed into many different styles, from being grated like rice, to baked into a pizza crust. Don’t give up on foods on the first try.

Make meals more hands-on

Many ingredients touching one another can be an overwhelming experience for children getting ready to eat. For example, young kids may not understand that melted yellow stuff on a hamburger is the same type of cheese they eat cubed with crackers for lunch. Rather than create separate meals, make the dinner table look like a fixings bar at a restaurant. Let kids pick and choose what they want to put on their plates. This may compel them to be more adventurous with their selections.

Find ways to mask nutrition

Choose foods that children regularly eat and enjoy and experiment with ways to dress them up and make them more nutritious. Regular mac-and-cheese can be improved with the use of whole-grain pasta and fresh cheese instead of boxed mixes. Try making chicken nuggets from scratch rather than buying frozen nuggets. Smoothies can be enhanced with fresh fruit and other mix-ins. Even desserts can include pureed vegetables and fruits to increase their amount of vitamins and minerals.

Picky eating is a phase many children will experience. Parents can ride through the mealtime woes by experimenting more in the kitchen.

Baking Shortcuts for Time-Pressed Entertainers

‘Tis the season for baking cookies, cakes and other treats. However, during the holiday rush, it’s easy to get side-tracked or tired, and perhaps even a little bit overwhelmed by all the things to do in such a short period of time. Holiday baking doesn’t have to add to seasonal stress. With these tips and shortcuts, there will be plenty of sweet treats for the family.

Stick with tested recipes

Although holiday bakers may want to branch out a bit with their culinary creativity, recipes that have previously been prepared with great success can take some of the work out of holiday baking. Preparing recipes you recall preparing in the past is much easier than trying something new. If you’d like, add sparkle to old standards, such as decorating oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies with colored sprinkles.

Cookies are fast-baking

Did you know that cookies were originally made to test oven temperatures? Culinary historians say that cookies were first made to test if an oven was hot enough to bake other goods. Today, cookies can be whipped up in mere minutes. Make a batch of dough and then freeze or refrigerate it, thawing it when the time comes to bake. Also, think about baking one day and decorating the next if pressed for time.

Embrace colored candy melts

Icing can be tricky to master. Simply heating colored candy melts and pouring over cakes or painting onto cookies can add festive appeal to desserts. Candy melts even come in many different colors and can be combined to achieve the tint desired.

Keep ingredients in top form

Don’t let poorly performing ingredients or a lack of supplies be your undoing. Butter can be softened quickly in the microwave when needed for recipes. Eggs can be brought to room temperature by allowing them to sit in a bowl of warm water. Ensure that brown sugar stays soft by putting a piece of sliced bread in the container. Don’t forget to stock up on other baking staples, such as vanilla and almond extracts, baking powder/soda, molasses, and confectioner’s sugar.

Don’t bake from scratch

Not all recipes need to be made from scratch. Boxed cake mixes can be embellished and turned into delicious desserts without much fuss. Substitute melted butter for oil, buttermilk for water, and add an extra egg for a rich cake. Mix in chocolate chips or nuts or experiment with garnishes for a festive look.

Parchment paper is key

Line cookie sheets or cake pans with parchment paper for easy dessert release and quick cleanup. Parchment paper and even foil can help lift cakes or cookie bars out of pans so they look neat and do not stick.

Holiday baking can be made much easier by employing a few tricks of the trade.

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Various Ways You Can Put Pumpkins to Use

Few items signal the fall harvest season more than the bright, orange pumpkins that dot fields and liven up displays outside of homes and businesses. Come fall, many pumpkins are turned into grinning jack-o-lanterns just in time for Halloween. But there are many other uses for pumpkins as well.

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Early Native Americans relied on pumpkins as a source of food that helped them survive long winters. Pumpkins could be roasted, baked, boiled, and dried, and they were eaten and used as medicine. Pumpkin blossoms were added to stews. The shells of the pumpkins could be dried and used as eating and storage vessels.

While pumpkins may now be symbolic of Halloween, the following are a handful of additional ways this versatile fruit can be put to use.

Beauty regimen

Pumpkins contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals that can help replenish the skin. Pumpkin purée can be mixed with honey, aloe vera gel, olive oil, and a bit of cornmeal to create an exfoliating mask for the face or body. Pumpkin also can be used to rejuvenate dry or tired skin from cold weather.

Honey, pumpkin and yogurt can be mixed together and used to condition hair. Let the mixture sit for 15 to 20 minutes, and then wash it out and shampoo.

Foods and beverages

Pumpkin purée is the basis for many tasty, pumpkin-infused treats. Purée can be used in pies, cakes, muffins, breads, and many additional foods. Pumpkin purée also may be found in certain beverages, such as smoothies and shakes. A bit of spiced purée may appear as flavoring in teas and coffees.

Roasted pumpkin seeds make a healthy treat. Foodies suggest using the seeds from “sugar pumpkins” or the ones best for making pies. Boil the seeds for a few minutes before draining. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray and put the seeds in a single layer. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Allow to cool and serve.

Pumpkin wines and beers are popular as well. There are many recipes for developing sweet, fermented beverages, which tend to be especially popular in the fall.

The “guts” of the pumpkin can be simmered along with aromatics and other vegetables to create a vegetable stock perfect for soups and broths.

Decorations

Pumpkins can also add to one’s home décor during the fall. Pumpkins can be carved for Halloween displays, hollowed-out to hold tealights or simply left on tables and used as centerpieces. Larger pumpkins may be used as natural flower pots for mums or other seasonal floral displays. As the Native Americans once did, pumpkins can be hollowed-out and used as bowls to serve favorite soups and dips.

Use a hollowed, small pumpkin as a natural aromatic candle holder. Cut holes in the sides to vent the exhaust. Rub aromatic spices, such as cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and vanilla bean, on the inside of the pumpkin. Insert a beeswax candle in the bottom of the pumpkin and let it send inviting aromas into the air.

Pumpkins are a versatile fruit that can serve many purposes beyond just jack-o-lanterns and pies.