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Dinner Made Easy with Veggie Noodles

Spiralizing vegetables is all the rage in the culinary world. So many diets are looking to noodles made out of vegetables as a way to eat gluten-free, cut calories and add more vegetables to a meal.

Basically, you take a dense vegetable like butternut squash, zucchini or potatoes and put it through a gadget called a spiralizer. The spiralizer will cut the vegetable into long noodles. They can be eaten raw, sautéed, parboiled or fried. There’s just one problem. I’ve tried a few spiralizers, and the results were not as successful as I expected. The noodles were flimsy, broken or oddly shaped.

When I saw the spiralized noodles from Veggie Noodle Co. at FRESH, I couldn’t wait to try them. It’s a great company out of Austin, and they do the spiralizing for you. The noodles are perfect, and the packaging comes with quick, easy recipes and cooking instructions. Plus, there is a variety of vegetables to choose from: butternut squash, sweet potato, zucchini and beet. I can’t even begin to imagine the mess that I would have made if I had tried to spiralize a beet!

Having all these options allows you to get creative with recipes. All of them can be made so quickly. It’s the perfect solution for weeknight dinners.

The butternut squash spirals can be sautéed for a few minutes and then tossed in pesto and olive oil. The sweet potato spirals are really delicious when fried. It’s a bit like sweet potato fries. The beet spirals are beautiful and can be sautéed, fried or boiled. Toss them with olive oil and a few drops of balsamic, and then top with some goat cheese crumbles for a nice pasta substitute.

 





Cool and Creamy Coconut-Milk Ice Cream

Cool and Creamy Coconut-Milk Ice CreamThere’s nothing better on a hot summer day than ice cream ­— cool, creamy, refreshing and delicious in any flavor you choose. However, there are those with dairy allergies who can’t enjoy this cold summer treat.

Twenty years ago when my nephew was born with milk allergies, there were no dairy alternatives. Now, there are so many dairy-free ice creams that everyone can enjoy. The flavor and texture are great, and there is little difference between traditional and dairy-free.

NadaMoo Coconut-Milk Ice Cream is one of our favorites. In 2004, the founders started making small batches of coconut-milk ice cream for their own dairy-free friends and family in Austin, Texas. It wasn’t long before other people found out how delicious it was, and strangers were calling them for pints of the ice cream. That’s how NadaMoo began.

For this company, including great, wholesome ingredients is just as important as the ice cream being dairy-free. Each batch is USDA-organic, non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free, kosher and fair-trade certified.

This multi-generational, family-owned business makes their products in the “heart of Texas.” Their family-oriented passion project has united dairy and dairy-free fans, joining a gap between non-dairy and delicious.

At FRESH, you can find four flavors: Lotta Mint Chip, Vanilla…Ahhh, Creamy Coconut and Gotta Do Chocolate. Give them a try! You won’t be able to taste the difference!





Family Central: Love at First Bite!

September is a big month for most families, as it starts a brand-new school year. A daily schedule is developed which includes set meal times, and we all know that growing kids require a lot of food. Back in the days of my school years, I recall always being hungry right after school and rummaging through our kitchen pantry. A select option of potato chips, Fruit Gushers and bananas were all that I could ever find, and that combination was only appealing for so long. I always begged my parents for more snacks, but their answer was always, “I am about to cook; find something in the pantry.” Oh, how I wish I could go back in the day to educate them of healthier snacks that could replace the unhealthy ones they made me eat.

As I was strolling through the aisles of FRESH, I noticed an aisle full of flavored crackers. My eye caught one particular brand, Back to Nature Spinach and Roasted Garlic Crackers. If I’m being honest, the “Spinach and Roasted Garlic” part was what mainly caught my attention, as I am a huge fan of both spinach and roasted garlic. The organic and gluten-free part was just an added bonus.

It was definitely love at first bite. The flavor was there, but it wasn’t overpowering. Did I also mention that these crackers are whole-grain crackers? I decided to pair the crackers with Lilly’s Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, and I can say that this was a good decision on my part. Lilly’s Hummus is also All-Natural, Gluten-Free, Vegan AND Organic!

What I love about both of these products is knowing that you are eating all-natural products. Both Back to Nature and Lilly’s Roasted Red Pepper Hummus take pride in providing non-artificial food to customers without losing that savory flavor.

This flavorful combination is guaranteed to be a hit with the family. Try different flavors of Lilly’s Hummus with these crackers, or try different flavors of crackers with the Red Pepper Hummus. The combination is endless, which will make it a fun snack for everyone!





Well and Good: Eat Your Vegetables!

FRESH VegetablesAdding vegetables to your diet can seem like a daunting task…especially if you don’t have fond memories of them from childhood! Vegetables have more health benefits than you may know. Still not convinced? Here are three benefits of eating more vegetables, along with an easy (and delicious) recipe:

You’ll feel full faster and stay full longer. Vegetables contain fiber, which helps bulk up the digestive tract. Because fiber swells when in water, your body will send the “I’m full!” message much sooner. Even adding one serving of broccoli or carrots each day can make a big difference. Full sooner = you eat less. You eat less = less calories. Less calories means weight lost! See? Vegetables ARE good!

Your heart will thank you. Eating a diet rich in potassium can help lower blood pressure. Lower blood pressure means a lower chance of heart attack and stroke! How do I get more potassium, you ask? Try orange vegetables like sweet potatoes and orange peppers and you’ll be well on your way.

Your eyes will see the light. Brightly colored vegetables contain compounds called lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect your eyes from free radicals formed from toxins in our bodies. These compounds in particular seem to have a protective effect against cataract and macular degeneration. The sooner you can get these compounds, the better…so what are you waiting for? Kale is calling!

Chilaquiles Casserole

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 (19 oz) can black beans, rinsed
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 cups corn, frozen (thawed) or fresh
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
12 corn tortillas, quartered
1 (19 oz) can mild red or green enchilada sauce
1 1/4 cups shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese

Preparation:
1.Preheat oven to 400° F. Lightly coat a 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray.

2.Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in zucchini, beans, tomatoes, corn, cumin and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are heated through, about 3 minutes.

3.Scatter half the tortilla pieces in the 9 x 13 pan. Top with half the vegetable mixture, half the enchilada sauce and half the cheese. Repeat with one more layer of tortillas, vegetables, sauce and cheese. Cover with foil.

4.Bake the casserole for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the casserole is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes more.

Make Ahead Tip: Prepare through Step 3 and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

Nutrition:
Calories Per Serving: 243, Fat: 10 g (Saturated Fat: 5 g, Monosaturated Fat: 4 g), Cholesterol: 23 mg, Carbohydrates: 30 g, Protein: 9 g, Fiber: 5 g Sodium: 338 mg, Potassium: 267 mg

Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin C (23% daily value), Fiber (22% daily value)

Carbohydrate Servings: 1 1/2

Exchanges: 2 starch, 1 vegetable, 1 lean meat, 1 fat

Recipe from EatingWell.





FRESH and Festive: Ever Heard of an Alligator Pear?

Did you know that an avocado is also known as an alligator pear? Although that name makes a lot of sense due to its shape and skin, it is probably a good thing that “avocado” has become the common name of this delicious and nutritious fruit.

California produces about 90 percent of our nation’s avocados, consisting of seven commercially grown varieties. The Hass variety accounts for almost 95 percent of the total crop volume. These avocados are arguably the most recognized type and my favorite, by far, for their creamy texture and nutty flavor.

Avocados do not ripen on the tree; they ripen or “soften” after they have been harvested. When you are purchasing avocados, push on the skin gently to determine ripeness. If you are looking for one to slice or mash within the next day or so, be sure that the pressure of your palm causes the skin to yield slighty or produces a small dent. If a large dent results, the avocado is more than likely overripe. Unripe, firm or green fruit can take four to five days to ripen at room temperature. If you are purchasing some for a recipe you want to create a few days out, just be careful to watch the fruit to make sure the temperature in your kitchen does not cause them to ripen too quickly. If they begin to yield to gentle pressure, place them in the refrigerator to slow the ripening process. If you want them to ripen more rapidly, place them in a brown paper bag with an apple or banana. The plant hormone ethylene, which occurs naturally in fruits like apples and bananas, triggers the ripening process.

There are many schools of thought on how to peel, cut and remove the pit from an avocado. I find the easiest method to be to cut the avocado in half lengthwise and twist the halves in opposite directions to separate. I remove the pit with a teaspoon but have friends and relatives that had rather stab the pit with a small knife and pry it out. I guess if you need to get out some pent up aggression, it might be a good thing to try! Once the pit is out, I hold the avocado half with a kitchen towel, cut side up, and use a small knife to score the flesh. Then I simply scoop out the chunks with a spoon, getting as close to the rind as possible.

Aside from being the star ingredient in guacamole, avocados are delicious on sandwiches, burgers, and salads. Their creamy texture makes them easy to mash up and use as an alternative to spreads like mayonnaise or butter. And the best part is that avocados are healthy! One-fifth of a medium avocado (1 oz.) has 50 calories and contributes nearly 20 vitamins and minerals to one’s diet.

So now you have the “fresh” part of my “fresh and festive” blog. As for the festive part, well, I tend to consider avocadoes as a good party ingredient. When avocados are on the menu, there are always lots of smiles and good times to go with them!





Family Central: Spinach Stuffed Summer Tomatoes

Last week I wrote about my summer obsession with peaches. This week I’m talking tomatoes, which come in a very close second place to my beloved peach. In fact, I don’t think we have to choose a favorite, do we? Let’s enjoy them both as long as our local farmers can grow them.

Just like the peach, my favorite way to eat a summer tomato is right over the sink, maybe with a little salt and pepper cracked over. But after I’ve gotten my fill of tomato sandwiches and BLTs, I like to take a few and stuff them with fresh spinach, onion, pine nuts, basil and two kinds of cheeses. The combination of these flavors is perfect alongside a sliced flank steak from your grill, and these tomatoes are filling enough to make it a great vegetarian solution for those of us trying to eat less meat I our weekly diets.

Enjoy!

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Tomatoes
8 ripe red summer tomatoes, tops removed
3 Tbs olive oil
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
10 oz fresh spinach, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Nutmeg, to taste
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for topping
1/2 cup chopped basil

Preheat oven to 350° F. Scrape out the insides of the tomatoes. Set the tomatoes upside down on a paper towel to drain while you cook the onions. Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add the onions and cook, covered, over low heat until tender and lightly colored, about 25 minutes. Add chopped spinach to the skillet and combine thoroughly with onions. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally for 7-10 minutes.

While cooking, beat ricotta and egg yolks together thoroughly in a mixing bowl. Add spinach mixture, pine nuts, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan and the basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon an equal share of the spinach mixture into each tomato and top with a sprinkle of additional Parmesan. Arrange tomatoes in a shallow baking dish and bake until tops are well browned and filling is hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes.

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A FRESH Point of View: Oh Baby (Bok Choy) – Seasonal Superfood

It is one of those vegetables that many Freshies tell me they have heard of or eaten at a restaurant but have not attempted to cook at home.  Bok choy means “white vegetable” in Chinese.  It is one of the popular crops in China, the Philippines, and Vietnam.  There are more than 20 varieties of bok choy but only 2 are commonly seen in the United States – traditional and “Shanghai” (also known as “baby”).  Traditional has ruffled dark green leaves while the baby version is bright green with smooth, round leaves.

Although classified as a cabbage, bok choy more closely resembles collards or romaine lettuce. It has wide white, thick curved stalks and broad deep green leaves with white veins.  It is juicy, crisp and mild – almost celery-like.   This vegetable can be steamed, braised, boiled or added to your favorite stir-fry.   Baby bok choy is more tender than traditional and is great for raw slaws.

Bok choy is one of the top five most nutrient-dense Superfoods.  It is great for the skin with high levels of Vitamin A, C, and D.  It also contains good amount of minerals like calcium, phosphorous, potassium, manganese, iron and magnesium.

Be sure to try my favorite, baby bok choy, during its peak season (March through June).  Make it one of your inaugural dishes for this year’s grilling season with my recipe below.  You’ll wish baby bok choy was in season all summer to accompany your grilled fish and sweet corn.

Grilled Baby Bok Choy
4 heads of baby bok choy
2 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tbs fresh dill, finely chopped
Salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup grated Grana Padano Cheese

Slice heads of baby bok choy in half length-wise. Soak in cool water for 10 minutes to remove any grit hidden inside. While heads soak, heat olive oil in a small frying pan. Add thinly sliced garlic and stir until just golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove garlic and take pan off heat.

Take baby bok choy out of water and gently shake and pat dry. Slice off dark green leaves from the lighter heads. Coarsely chop leaves and set to the side. Brush both sides of heads with garlic-infused oil from pan.  Place with cut side up and sprinkle with lemon juice, salt, pepper and dill.

Place seasoned heads on pre-heated grill with cut side down. Grill, covered, for 5 to 8 minutes.  Turn heads over and continue grilling until golden color starts to appear.  Drizzle balsamic vinegar over cut sides.  Grill, covered, again for 5 minutes, turning halfway through.  Remove from grill when fork-tender.

Heat the remaining oil in the small frying pan. Add pine nuts and toast slightly. Add reserved chopped baby bok choy leaves and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir constantly until just wilted. Remove from heat.

To serve, plate grilled heads and top with the wilted leaves and toasted pine nuts.  Sprinkle with cheese.

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Well and Good: Alternative Pizzas

Pizza has become such an all-American favorite that it’s hard to imagine living without it. But for people who can’t eat wheat or dairy, because of illnesses or allergies, pizza is one of those foods on the no-fly zone.

But we have been expanding our selection of gluten-free and dairy-free pizzas. So if you, or a family member, have been avoiding this treat, here are some options to make it pizza night again. All are available in our frozen section:

Conte’s: Known for its gluten-free pastas, Conte’s also makes some delicious ready-to-bake pizzas, with a tender gluten-free crust made with rice flour. We like the margherita pizza _tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, roasted garlic and a dash of olive oil – because the whole family enjoys it. For more sophisticated tastes, there is a mushroom Florentine variety, with spinach and roasted garlic. (Note: these pizzas do contain real cheese, so may not be an option for the lactose intolerant or vegans.)

Amy’s: Is there anything Amy’s doesn’t do well? They have introduced a “cheese-only” version of their popular spinach vegan pizza – understanding that kids love pizza but aren’t always big fans of the green veggie. This one is gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan, with a nicely textured rice-flour crust, flavorful tomato sauce and a topping of soy-based “cheese.”  They produce our favorite gluten-free crust of the lot – nicely textured, with a bit of a whole-grain taste.

Tofurkey: If you like the Tofurkey brand of meat alternatives, you will love the fact that they’ve introduced vegan pizzas. Available varieties include pepperoni and “Italian sausage” with fire-roasted veggies – both with a really delicious vegan “cheese” that  actually melts. These do contain gluten, in the whole-wheat crust.

Nature’s Hilights Brown Rice Crust: Make your own gluten-free with this ready-to-bake crust – made with brown rice but no yeast, wheat or gluten. It bakes up crisp and light, with a mild flavor that will let your toppings stand out.





Well and Good: Healthier Eggnog Alternatives

Eggnog may be a cherished holiday tradition for a lot of us, but it’s sure not great for our waistlines. A single 8-ounce glass of eggnog may have as many as 350 calories – half of them from fat.  And that’s before you add the rum.

Luckily, there are lots of holiday-themed eggnog alternatives out there. Try one of these non-dairy alternatives to get a healthier holiday fix:

Rice Dream Rice Nog: Not quite as thick and rich as the real thing, but definitely creamier than regular rice milk, this “fake-nog”  is sweet and carries a nice nutmeg flavor. It has 160 calories, and just two grams of fat, per one-cup serving. And, it’s free of lactose, soy, cholesterol and gluten. It’s good alone, or try it on top of your morning oatmeal.

WestSoy Chocolate Peppermint Stick Soy Milk: Organic soy milk, with smooth, silky texture and moderately sweet chocolate flavor, with just a hint of peppermint.  It has 180 calories and less than 4 grams of fat per cup. Try this one warmed, perhaps topped with some non-dairy whipped creamer.

Silk Pumpkin Spice Soy Milk:  Tastes a little like a liquid pumpkin pie, with a nice touch of cinnamon. But it’s soy, so there are no eggs, no cholesterol, no dairy and no lactose. This has 170 calories per cup, just 30 of those calories from fat.

Silk Mint Chocolate Soy Milk: Try this when you’re craving a cup of hot chocolate. Made with soy, not dairy, it’s got just 90 calories per cup, about the same as a glass of skim milk. But it’s sweet and chocolatey and good either cold or warmed. For a fun serving idea for kids, add a miniature peppermint candy cane as a stir stick.





Family Central: Versatile Tofu

Tofu.The mere mention of the word can send a carnivore running for the hills. It has a bad rap in the meat-eating community, and for good reason.By itself, tofu is undeniably bland and boring. It does not have an appetizing texture, appearance or feel.

But….and this is a big but…tofu is the chameleon of meat substitutes. With the proper accompanying ingredients and cooking methods, tofu can “taste like chicken” – or any other flavors that one might like it to mimic. Tofu has a remarkable ability to absorb the essence of other ingredients with which it is cooked. It is also extremely versatile. Whatever dishes your family loves, tofu can be a part of them: It can be baked, deep fried, marinated, stewed, scrambled, added to soups, casseroles and dressings, stuffed into lasagnas and tacos, made into dips and mixed into smoothies.

Tofu is simply the Japanese name for soybean curd. If soybeans sound a little too “granola,” consider this: in the United States, food manufacturers put the legume in more than 60% of processed foods. If you’ve eaten anything from cereal to mayonnaise, pasta orlunchmeat, then you’ve eaten soy. Soy products are often used as an economical protein substitute in meat and poultry products to “extend,” or stretch, meats without reducing their nutritional value.

Tofu is a healthy source of protein, B vitamins, iron and calcium. Scientists have found that people who consume diets high in soy have significantly lower rates of heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer, and fewer menopausal symptoms. It’s believed that these disease-protecting qualities come from the isoflavones found in the soybean plant. Before you run out and stock your pantry full of this soy wonder, be mindful of the flip side: some research indicates that “mega-doses” of isoflavones may not be healthy, so soy is like anything else: you can have too much of a good thing and moderation is the key to enjoying this low fat and protein-rich plant.

If you’ve tried tofu before and didn’t like it, remember that it can assume myriad textures, shapes and flavors. You might have just tried it in a dish that didn’t appeal to you, so it’s worth another consideration. Look for it either in FRESH’S refrigerated vegetarian section or as a shelf-stable product in the Asian foods aisle. It varies from soft to extra firm, depending on your intended use. Attached are some recipes that should convince even staunch skeptics that a wonderful world of tofu awaits!

Blueberry-Banana Smoothie

6 oz soft silken tofu
1 medium banana
2/3 cup soy or almond milk
1 cup frozen or fresh blueberries
1 Tbs honey
2 -3 ice cubes

Drain the silken tofu to remove excess water (silken tofu has a high water content). Peel and slice the banana. Place on a baking sheet and freeze for about 15 minutes (this helps make the smoothie thicker).Blend the banana, tofu and soy milk for 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup of the blueberries and process until smooth. Add the remaining blueberries, honey and ice cubes and process again until smooth. Enjoy!

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Grilled Tofu Kabobs

2 (14 oz) pkgs extra firm tofu
2 cups marinade, see recipe below
3 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch circles
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch wedges
12 cherry tomatoes
1/2 lb mushrooms
1 cup pineapple cubes
Wood or metal skewers (if using wood skewers, soak them in hot water for 20 minutes.)

Marinade

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp rosemary
2 tsp oregano leaves
1 Tbs honey or brown sugar
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Slice each block of tofu in half horizontally, and, in crosshatch pattern, make two slices vertically and two slices horizontally for total of 36 tofu cubes.

Place tofu in a large plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Add the marinade and let sit for 6-12 hours. While the ingredients marinate, turn the container upside down or stir every few hours so that the marinade soaks through everything inside. Heat grill or grill pan to medium heat. If using a charcoal grill, set and light fire using coals or mesquite about 30 minutes before cooking time.Alternating ingredients, thread tofu, vegetables and pineapple cubes on skewers. Place kabobs over hot coals on well-oiled grill rack. Grill, turning occasionally, for 4 to 12 minutes. Place skewers on a large platter so that each person can remove as much of each one as they want.

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Vegan Green Goddess Salad Dressing

6 oz lite firm silken tofu
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 Tbs cider vinegar
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbs tahini
2 green onions, white parts removed, chopped
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley, packed
1 large clove garlic

Place all ingredients in blender and process until smooth.

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ABOUT VANESSA:
Vanessa and her husband Brad are former owners of Julian’s Restaurant in Tyler. While no longer involved in the restaurant business, Vanessa’s passion for healthy, savory food is stronger than ever. She enjoys sharing her enthusiasm for the culinary arts with fellow “FRESHies” as a frequent guest chef in the test kitchen. Stay tuned as she shares her practical ideas for bringing FRESH to your dinner table.





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