Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Healthy Snack Wednesday: Bright, Fresh, and Healthy

I just came back from a fantastic weekend in Washington DC at Eat Write Retreat filled with wonderful people, inspirational seminars, and plenty of food. This food blogger conference was full of practical, hands-on activities mixed with a good dose of expert panels and networking.  I'm still trying to process all of the great information I took in, so a full recap will follow later.

Not all of the weekend eats (chili cheeseburger) make the cut for Healthy Snack Wednesday, but there was one dish that fits perfectly! On Saturday afternoon we had the opportunity to attend a cooking demonstration and class at CulinAerie, a cooking school in the heart of downtown DC. Founder Susan Holt created three delicious and easy recipes using endive and other fresh ingredients.

Left to Right: Me, Maisha, Christina, and Isabelle

My fellow participants and I learned proper knife skills techniques and tips to create beautiful and flavorful dishes.

The dish that makes the Healthy Snack Wednesday cut is a salad of endive, avocado, tarragon, and grapefruit. This was bright, fresh, and healthy! Depending on how adept at supreming a grapefruit you are, this is a quick and easy recipe (I was not very smooth...).

As I was thinking about this recipe tonight, I realized that it fits in perfectly with the celebration of May as National Mediterranean Diet Month. I've been checking out recipes and information from Oldways since I found them through twitter last year. Oldways has been promoting the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet since 1993 and are continuing to spread the word. I'm not a believer in diets - but what they really promote is eating fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and healthy fats. That is something that I believe in!

Take a look at their Mediterranean Diet Pyramid (you can download a copy here) - there are great tips to keep in mind for healthy eating. Looking at it, I realize that I actually do most of their recommendations. I ALWAYS eat breakfast, try to add fruits and vegetables to every meal, and include healthy dairy in my diet.

As part of National Mediterranean Diet Month, Oldways offered to give one of my readers a signed copy of “The Oldways Table,” by K. Dun Gifford and Sara Baer-Sinnott. All you need to do to win is leave a comment with your favorite Mediterranean inspired dish or tell me how you incorporate healthy habits into your diet. I'll pick the winner next Tuesday and announce the winner on Wednesday. For now, I hope that you enjoy this recipe.

Salad of Endive, Avocado, Tarragon, and Grapefruit
Recipe Created by Susan Holt, Chef/Instructor at CulinAerie
Serves 4

8 bulbs red endive
1 large grapefruit
1 medium ripe avocado
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped tarragon leaves (I forgot to add this!)
Finishing salt and fresh pepper

Cut the endive bulbs on a bias into 1 inch pieces, discarding the core
Supreme the grapefruit by removing the rind with a sharp knife and separating the segments from the membrane
Set segments aside in a bowl and juice remaining membrane over the segments
Slice the avocado open lengthwise and remove the pit
Using a large spoon, remove the avocado half from the skin
Using a sharp knife, slice the avocado lengthwise into thin slices, leaving them attached at the root end
Use your hand or the back of the knife to gently press down and fan the avocado on a serving plate

Sprinkle the chopped endive around the avocado and place grapefruit segments on the avocado
Combine the olive oil with the grapefruit juice and tarragon
Spoon over the avocado, endive, and grapefruit
Sprinkle plate with finishing salt and pepper

Cutting board, knives, bowl, measuring cups and spoons, serving plate and utensils

Don't forget! Leave a comment with your favorite Mediterranean inspired dish or snack to be entered to win a signed copy of the Oldways Table. Happy health snacking!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wine From California, By Way of Social Networking

I love networking – in person or online. I love to meet new people, share stories, and often find out what a small world it is! Online networking and social media let you really see the connections like friends of friends, shared interests, and new opportunities. Over the past year, I’ve connected with many of my twitter and blog friends on LinkedIn. I noticed a few months ago that many of them started joining food related networking groups and thought that it would be a good idea to join too.

Not long after joining the Food Blogger Connection group on LinkedIn I saw a post from Jonathan Boring, Social Media Marketing Manager from the California Wine Club. He was looking for everyday wine drinkers who would be interested in trying out some of their wine selections. The criteria for reviewers were pretty simple; bloggers without expert wine knowledge. That’s me! While I’ve been honing my tasting skills, I do not consider myself an expert in any way. I generally know what I like and have a preference for roses, cabernet francs (or blends with it), and whites on the drier or grassier/citrusy side (very technical description). And after my trip to Spain last year, I’ve been seeking out new and interesting Spanish wines to try.

Back to the California Wine Club - a family business that has been shipping wines since 1990. A quick look at the website will give you a great overview and history of the business. Bruce and Pam Boring select wines to send out as part of their monthly wine club. They have a variety of different memberships – from all California producers to small international wines to aged cabernet. They work with smaller wineries that produce limited quantities. For us here in the Northeast, that might mean wines that aren’t available regularly in our neck of the woods.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to participate, due to the restrictions on wine shipping to MA. However the California Wine Club ships by certified freight carrier, so the wine was promptly delivered right to my door. For my first review, I received two bottles from the Robledo Family Winery in the Sonoma/Carneros area of Sonoma. The well packed bottles came with a 12-page booklet describing the wines, the winery and winemakers, recipes, and information about more wine club offerings. This shipment included a 2005 “Los Braceros” Red blend and a 2007 “The Seven Brothers” Lake County Sauvignon Blanc.

This post will cover the red wine, Los Braceros Red Blend. The wine is a blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The tasting notes in the booklet were extensive noting awards, the color, flavors, aromas, weather conditions, aging process, recipes and more. The suggested retail for this wine is $30 and the restaurant price is listed as $45-$50. The wine was bottled in July 2007 and released in September 2008. Only 3000 cases of the wine were produced. I decided to taste the wine alone, and then incorporate into a recipe and enjoy it with the meal.

Using skills I’ve picked up at various wine tasting events, I started first by pouring a glass and observing the color. A nice, deep red (almost a self portrait up there!). Next, I swirled and sniffed. Then a small sip to let it spread over my tongue. Spicy, peppery, and tangy with a little bite. Using a very scientific explanation – it made my tongue tingle and want to take another sip. Not my favorite in terms of red as a sipping wine, but I could see how you would like this wine if you liked a spicy and peppery red. For me, I thought I would like it better with food (and I did). I could imagine it paired with a nice juicy steak right off the grill.

The recipe included in the booklet was a recipe from Maria Robledo for Chiles Rellenos. She picked a bold and spicy dish to pair with the family’s red wine blend. I decided to make a bold red wine tomato sauce and meatballs to pair with the wine. I started by pulling all of the vegetables out of the refrigerator and chopping them into equal sizes for sautéing. In incorporated the wine while sautéing sliced mushrooms. I let the wine come to a bubble and reduce with the mushrooms. The mushroom sauce would have been delicious on its own topping grilled chicken or steak (note for next time!). It had a beautiful color, aroma, and flavor.

I paired the sauce with homemade meatballs over spaghetti and served with toasted bread. The wine gave the sauce a great kick and depth of flavor and paired well as a drink.

I’m excited to open up the Sauvignon Blanc next and share my review. I think it will be a perfect companion to some of my favorite spring dishes.

Don’t forget to check out the California Club website. They have a few different membership options and a lot of fun information about the wineries that they work with. What’s nice about their membership is that you don’t have to commit to a full year – there are no joining fees and you can cancel at anytime. You can also pick all red or all white and pick shipments for monthly, every other month, or quarterly delivery. If you do decide to check them out, make sure to mention that I sent you. You can also keep up with them on their Facebook page.

Los Braceros Hearty Tomato Sauce

1 cup each chopped:
fresh spinach

Olive oil
3/4 cup Los Braceros red wine blend
2 cans fire roasted diced tomatoes, no salt added
1 can tomato paste
Salt and pepper

Set up a slow cooker or large pot with lid
Pour diced tomatoes and tomato paste into the pot
Assemble chopped celery, carrots and onions together
In a large sauté pan, cook celery, carrots, and onions over medium heat in a little olive oil until softened
Remove from the pan and add to the slow cooker or pot and return skillet to the stove
Add mushrooms to the pan and cook until they start to brown
Add wine, bring to a bubble and then let cook for 3-4 minutes until wine starts to reduce
Pour mushrooms and wine into the slow cooker or pot and return skillet to the stove
Add the spinach to the skillet and wilt
Add wilted spinach to the slow cooker or pot and mix together well
Set the slow cooker to the high 4-hour setting, put the lid on and let cook
I prefer a smoother sauce, so after 4 hours I used my immersion blender to blend the vegetables together

Quick and Easy Meatballs
I made these on a Sunday and had plenty of leftovers for lunches and dinners throughout the week. I served them with pasta, as subs, and just on their own.

Makes 24 tablespoon sized meatballs

2 lbs ground beef
2 eggs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely diced onions
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray
In a large bowl, beat the two eggs together
Add ground beef, parsley, and onions and use your hands to combine
Add breadcrumbs, starting with 1/2 cup
Mix together, adding breadcrumbs until the meat is still moist, but holds together well
Using a tablespoon, gently form meatballs and place them on the baking sheet
Bake for 10 minutes, and then flip them over
Bake for 10-15 more minutes until fully cooked through
Serve with sauce and pasta or on a toasted roll with cheese!

Disclosure: I was sent two bottles of wine at no charge from the California Wine Club to review. I was not compensated financially. The opinions are completely mine!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Healthy Snack Wednesday: Strategic Snacking

Happy Healthy Snack Wednesday! When things get busy, I tend to rely on some of my favorite snacks to fuel me through the day. Today's post will feature a few of my favorite snacks and my newest go-to healthy breakfast. I hope you enjoy!

Before we get to the snacking, first is the winner of last week's delicious giveaway from Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom. Congratulations to MaryBeth, who said "I'd love to try the smoked chicken mole... sounds intriguing :-)!" I hope you and Timmy enjoy the 5lbs of sausage! I'll contact you with details on how to pick out your flavors.

Now on to the snacks. I'm a snacker at work, I tend to eat smaller breakfasts and lunches and supplement them with a snack around 10 am and 4 pm. I try to follow the guideline for 1-2-3 snacking that I learned from Boston University's Nutrition and Fitness Center. They are a great resource on campus for students, faculty, and staff. I took advantage of their nutritional counseling service for staff to help fine tune my meal planning and eating. What I like best about their nutritional advice is that it's easy to follow and leaves you with a lot of room to customize your own plan. Their 1-2-3 snack plan calls for foods that give you:

1. Energy You Need Right Now (whole grain crackers, bread, chips, cereal, etc.)
2. Filling Power (non-starchy vegetables or fruit like carrots, celery, apples, or grapes)
3. Protein to Make it Last (dairy/lean meat or plant protein like nut butter, yogurt, hummus, and nuts)

I took this information from a handout from Boston University Nutrition and Fitness Center

For example, yesterday I knew I had a meeting that was going to run past my normal lunch time. I made a snack of whole grain crackers, a medium apple, and a Laughing Cow mini-babybel cheese. It helped me make it to lunchtime without passing out from hunger.

With those guidelines in mind, here are some of my favorite snacks!

I love to mix crunchy cereal like grape-nuts or granola into my yogurt. Earlier this year I found a fantastic lactose-free yogurt and haven't stopped buying it! This is great afternoon snack to fuel my train commute home. If you don't have yogurt, you can also mix grape-nuts into a cup of applesauce.

I don't eat these snacks together, but wanted to show a picture of some of my favorites. I will often make my own trail mix with dried cherries, dried cranberries, pepitas, and nuts. This way you can add exactly what you like.

One of my all-time favorite snacks is olives. Yes, they are high in fat (if you eat the whole can like my hubby). But I like to have olives and carrots mixed together along with some crackers or cheese.

And LARABARS are great! They are all fruit and nuts and they taste great! I always go for the apple pie and cherry pie flavors. This week I decided to give the cinnamon roll flavor a try. Some of my other favorites include Clif Z bars (the kid bars) and Kashi Pumpkin Spice Flax crunchy granola bars.

When I'm snacking at home, I love to pop up a fresh bowl of popcorn. My popcorn maker requires minimal oil, which keeps the popcorn light and healthy. Since I was a little girl, I've always paired my popcorn with a large, ice cold glass of orange juice. What's your drink of choice with popcorn?

And last for this week's post, my newest go-to breakfast! I usually eat in the car on the way to getting dropped off at the train station. Keeping the 1-2-3 principles in mind, I put together a healthy breakfast that is ready in less than 3 minutes! Spinach, egg and cheese wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.

I tried to get an interior picture on the way to work, but the roads were pretty bumpy and they all came out blurry. This breakfast is a great start to the day! But you can see that it isn't enough to make from 7:30 a.m. all the way until 12:00 or 12:30 pm. That's where the snacks come in.

3 Minute Breakfast Wrap
1-2 eggs (I usually do 1)
Handful of fresh spinach, stems removed
1 inch block of cheddar, cut into small pieces
1 8-inch whole wheat tortilla

Spray the bottom of a small microwaveable bowl with cooking spray
Crack the egg into the bowl and break up the yolk a little bit
Cover the egg completely with the spinach leaves
Microwave for 1 minute on Power-level 8 (this may vary by microwave)
The egg will be just set and the spinach will have wilted
Place the egg & spinach onto the tortilla and top with the cheese pieces
Wrap like a burrito and then wrap in a paper towel
Microwave for 15 additional seconds to warm the tortilla and melt cheese


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