Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Breakfast: Banana Walnut French Toast

*Guest post by our terrific intern, Georgia Rounder!

Everything about Thanksgiving brings a smile to my face--seeing my loving family, snuggling under cozy blankets for our traditional holiday movie marathons, and eating delicious food! Thanksgiving is perfection in every sense of the word.

While the traditional Thanksgiving meal is commonly served at lunch or dinner, there are just as many yummy breakfast opportunities during the holiday season to showcase all the classic flavors we associate with this time of year. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves have the power of turning any average dish into a fall stunner.

During my long breaks at home throughout the holidays, my mother and I are always the first ones awake, as the thought of a steaming hot cup of coffee and a scrumptious breakfast easily gets us out of our warm beds. While everyday breakfast is often a simple slice of toast and peanut butter or some Greek yogurt with honey, we like to bring some creativity into the kitchen throughout this time of year.

This Thanksgiving break, I found myself driving home with an undeniable craving for French toast—a versatile breakfast dish that  take on a variety of flavors using unique breads, spices, and toppings. For this Banana Walnut French Toast, I created a healthier version of this breakfast favorite, without sacrificing any of the delicious flavors. 


For the base of this recipe, hearty whole-grain bread provides a healthy serving of fiber. The bread slices are then dipped in an egg and almond milk batter—almond milk is great for those looking for a dairy-free alternative.  Pumpkin pie spice is the secret ingredient that transforms this French toast into an instant holiday favorite with a perfect balance of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and ginger. The toast is topped with sliced bananas for a bright boost of potassium, and a little honeyed walnuts and organic maple syrup for a sweet finish.


Banana Walnut French Toast

Serves 8

Butter
1 loaf whole-grain bread
3 organic eggs
1 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon baking powder
Dash of cinnamon
2 bananas, sliced
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup chopped walnuts
Organic maple syrup, heated

If you have unsliced bread, slice the whole-grain loaf into eight, equal slices.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, almond milk, pumpkin pie spice, and baking powder together.

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat.

Thoroughly soak each slice of bread in the egg and milk mixture, and then place each slice in a buttered skillet for 2-3 minutes on each side.

In a small bowl, combine the walnuts and honey until all of the nuts are evenly coated.

Top each slice of French toast with banana slices, a spoonful of the honeyed walnuts, organic maple syrup, and a dash of cinnamon.


Enjoy, preferably with those you love!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Almond Pancakes with Brown Butter Pears {Recipe Redux: Homemade Mixes for Holiday Gifts}

Pancakes are a tradition in our house.  Any celebration equals an excuse for pancakes.  Or, maybe it’s just Sunday.

When I was growing up, everyone in our house got breakfast in bed on their birthday.  It didn’t matter if it was a school day or a work day – you woke to the sounds of Happy Birthday and the smell of pancakes.  Last year, my Mom snuck over to our house and surprised me with breakfast in bed and her incredibly delicious yeasted buckwheat pancakes.  I’ll have to share that recipe soon. 


For my husband’s birthday this year, I made these Almond Pancakes with Brown Butter Peaches.  While he chose not to eat in bed, it still felt like a celebration.


Since pancakes make people happy, it feels like a perfect gift to give for the holidays.  Make it simple for your family and friends to have a healthy, hearty holiday brunch by giving them the mix and instructions for Almond Pancakes with Brown Butter Pears (pears, instead of peaches, since pears are in season now.


Healthy pancakes is not an oxymoron.  These pancakes are loaded with fiber and protein from whole wheat pastry flour and nut (almond) meal.  Just don’t overmix, and you’ll have delicious, fluffy pancakes.  Go easy on the maple syrup and top the pancakes with caramelized fruit for sweetness and nutrition.  Your family and friends will thank you.

To make the mix, combine the following ingredients in a medium bowl.

1 ¾ cup whole wheat pastry four
¼ cup almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Whisk together and then transfer to a gift jar, like a Ball jar or Weck jar (my favorite).  Tie a bow, if you like.  If you want to make the present really special, place the mix in a little basket with pears and a card with the following cooking instructions:

Instructions for Almond Pancakes with Brown Butter Pears

Makes about 8 – 10 3-inch pancakes

1 jar almond pancake mix
3 large eggs, separated
1 ½ cups whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus more for cooking the pancakes)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pour the pancake mix in to a large bowl.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, melted butter and vanilla.  Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry mixture until just combined.

In another bowl, whip the egg whites until they reach medium peaks (still soft).  Be sure not to overmix.  Gently mix half of the whipped whites into the batter with a spatula.  Then, gently fold in the remaining whites into the batter, being careful not to overmix.

Heat a griddle or large pan over medium heat.  Add a little butter and let melt and start to foam.  Drop ¼ cup of batter onto the griddle and let cook until you see holes forming in the batter.  Flip the pancake and cook until golden brown on the other side. 

Serve with maple syrup and brown butter pears.

Brown Butter Pears

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large, ripe pears, cut into thin wedges

In a large skillet, cook the butter over moderately high heat until it is lightly browned and nutty-smelling, about 3 minutes. Add the pear wedges and cook, turning once, until they are softened and lightly browned, about 4 minutes.  Spoon over pancakes while still hot.

Finally, here is the entire recipe, start to finish, with pictures—in case you want to just make these for yourselves, and not give as a gift!  I hope healthy, hearty pancakes become a part of your family traditions. 

get all of your ingredients together in separate bowls
be careful not to overmix, or the pancakes will be tough







I used peaches in Elie's breakfast, because it was summertime.
Use apples or pears in winter.  The technique is the same.


Almond Pancakes with Brown Butter Pears

Makes about 8 – 10, 3-inch pancakes

1 ¾ cup whole wheat pastry four
¼ cup almond meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, separated
1 ½ cups whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (plus more for cooking the pancakes)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the whole wheat pastry flour, almond meal, baking powder, sugar and salt*.

In another bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, melted butter and vanilla.  Whisk the wet ingredients into  the dry mixture until just combined.

In another bowl, whip the egg whites until they reach medium peaks (still soft).  Be sure not to overmix.

Gently mix half of the whipped whites into the batter with a spatula.  Then, gently fold in the remaining whites into the batter, being careful not to overmix.

Heat a griddle or large pan over medium heat.  Add a little butter and let melt and start to foam.  Drop ¼ cup of batter onto the griddle and let cook until you see holes forming in the batter.  Flip the pancake and cook until golden brown on the other side. 

Serve with maple syrup and brown butter pears (if desired…which you will!).

Brown Butter Pears

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large, ripe Bartlett pears—peeled, cored and cut into thin wedges


In a large skillet, cook the butter over moderately high heat until it is lightly browned and nutty-smelling, about 3 minutes. Add the pear wedges and cook, turning once, until they are softened and lightly browned, about 4 minutes.  Spoon over pancakes while still hot. 





Thursday, November 14, 2013

Holiday Survival Guide

We all seem to approach the holidays with equal measures of excitement and dread.  I get to decorate the house! Throw a party! Get dressed up! versus So much food! So many desserts! Not another party…

It can be overwhelming, especially if you’re wrestling with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or other health conditions that mean you really must be conscious of what you eat over the holidays.  Whether you need to keep your blood sugars in check or just want to still be able to fit into your skinny jeans on January 1, here’s a holiday survival guide.  Follow these guidelines, and you’ll meet the new year with cheer!

1.      Don’t starve yourself.
One of the best ways to prevent overeating is to eat often, beginning with breakfast.  How many times have you ‘saved up’ for a party by not eating all day…and ended up eating everything in sight? Nourishing your body every three to five hours—beginning with breakfast—keeps your hunger cues in check, your energy level up, your blood sugars stable, and keeps you in holiday cheer.  You know our advice: eat mostly vegetables, some fruits, protein, fiber-filled carbohydrates and good, healthy fats.  Your body will thank you.

2.      Practice Portion Control
We all have our favorite holiday foods, whether it’s sweet chocolate pecan brittle or savory cheese and sausage biscuits.  This time of year, people gather together and make memories with the people they love, primarily around well-loved food.  Enjoy a (small) serving of your holiday favorites, completely guilt free. Eat them slowly, savor the flavors, and then wait 20 minutes after you finish eating before considering a second helping.  The first few bites are always the best.  Savor them!

3.      Eat what you really want.
When you arrive at a holiday dinner or party, eat what you really want first.  If you try to ‘be good’ and avoid your favorite food, you usually end up eating all the way around it…and then going back and eating it anyway (on top of everything else).  So, eat what you really want.  Take a small portion and really enjoy it.  Take the time to relish every delicious bite.  It might be another year before you taste it again.  

4.      Limit your options.
If you’re in charge of the buffet table, make only the food that your family really loves and enjoys.  Studies show that the more choices we have, the more we eat.  So skip all of the extras and only put out the real favorites.  You’ll end up eating less overall, but getting more pleasure out of the foods you love, because you won't try that green bean casserole that you don't even really like.  And if you’re visiting someone else’s buffet, be strategic.  Stay clear of those foods you don’t love.  You don’t have to be polite and put everything on your plate.  Just fake a food allergy: I'm sorry, but I'm allergic to fruit cake....  

5.      Drink Responsibly
I’m not talking about avoiding drinking and driving (although that’s very important, too).  But holiday cocktails (even non-alcoholic ones) can be packed with excess sugar.  Think eggnog, hot apple cider, rum punch… If you really love eggnog, enjoy a small cup.  Most of the time, choose red or white wine or champagne.  They are lower in sugar and calories than a mixed drink. Even better, studies show moderate wine consumption (one glass a day for women, two for men) reduces the risk of heart disease.  Moderation is key, so be sure to alternative those drinks with some water or sparkling water!

6.      Eat the real thing.
Don’t try to make fake ‘lo-cal’ or 'low fat' substitutes of your favorite foods.  When making your holiday dishes and desserts, use real sugar—sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey—and not artificial sweeteners.  Use real bacon, not turkey bacon (which is higher in sodium and has the same number of calories).  Use real butter, not fake butter (which could contain trans fats—really bad for your heart).  You get the picture.  Get real, eat small portions, and enjoy yourself. 

7.      Experiment with New Recipes
Holiday recipes seem to always guild the lily—adding extra sugar and butter even when it’s not needed. Do a little experimenting with your traditional holiday recipes.  You know the sweet potato casserole that has a cup of sugar…and heavy whipping cream…and butter?  And that doesn’t include the streusel topping!  Try reducing the sugar in half or quarters, swapping the heavy whipping cream for half and half or whole milk, and reducing the butter by half.  Chances are, it will actually taste better—and you’ll certainly feel better after eating it! 

8.      Take Advantage of Seasonal Ingredients
Fall and winter provide us with an incredible bounty of vegetables and fruits for our holiday table.  Take advantage and experiment—with brussels sprouts, delicata squash, kale, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, fresh cranberries...  A variety of vegetables and fruits provides incredible nutrition (think antioxidants!) and makes you feel good (thanks primarily to fiber!).    

9.      Get Moving.
When the days get shorter and darker, our desire to be active wanes.  But being active is one of the best ways to keep your metabolism humming along, reduce your appetite, and burn off that second piece of pie.  For your own well-being, start a new holiday tradition, like a brisk walk around the neighborhood to look at the holiday lights, skating a few laps around the ice rink, hitting the slopes or going sledding.  It doesn’t have to be a full day commitment. Even a few minutes here and there makes a difference!

10.  Be Nice to Yourself
If you don't pay attention to any of these guidelines and you completely overdo it...be nice to yourself!  If you overeat one day, just make healthy, balanced choices the next day.  It's that simple.   

Happy Holidays!

And to get you started on your holiday cooking, here's a recipe for one of our childhood favorites, recreated with less sugar, butter and cream, but still delicious!


Sweet Potato Pecan Streusel Casserole

Serves 10 - 12

3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 5 large)
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup of half and half
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or bourbon
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt

Topping

½ cup whole wheat flour
1 cup pecans, chopped if desired
½ dark brown sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place whole sweet potatoes on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  Pierce with a knife.  Place in the oven and bake for about an hour, or until very tender.  Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Scoop the flesh of the sweet potatoes into a large mixing bowl.  Add maple syrup, half and half, melted butter, vanilla, eggs and salt.  Blend with a mixer on medium-high until smooth.

Make the streusel topping.  In another medium bowl, blend together the whole wheat flour, pecans, brown sugar, butter and salt, until the mixture is coated with butter.

Pour sweet potato mixture into a buttered casserole dish.   Top with streusel topping.  Place in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until casserole is puffed and streusel is browned on top.  If it starts to get too brown, cover with foil.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.





Enjoy, preferably with someone you love...at the holiday table!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Keeping it Simple (and a recipe for Hemp & Cranberry Power Bars)

Food, like fashion has its fads. Whether it’s acai berries, kombucha, flax seeds , kale, or coconut oil – there always seems to be a new trendy food. Yet, just as all the fashion “dos & don’ts” can be overwhelming, so can food fads...

Is caffeine good for us? What’s the deal with wheat? Do we need to double up on protein? Do beets have too much sugar? Is it better to have salmon than supplements?

Nutrition is undeniably a hot topic–but it’s for a very good reason: it’s important! With that being said, conflicting information and all the differing nutrition philosophies can often leave people confused.


That’s why we feel so good about recommending real foods to our clients, readers, and loved ones. Rather than stressing about every number on nutrition labels or allowing yourself to get overwhelmed by the latest trends, we recommend you focus your efforts and energy on:

1.      eating whole, unprocessed foods – those you can imagine growing – the majority of the time.

2.      practicing moderation. Fill  half your plate with fruits and vegetables and enjoy a good quality protein and starch at each meal.

3.      nourishing your body regularly – every 3 to 4 hours.

4.      balancing nutrition with pleasure. Food is meant to be enjoyed, not cause guilt. If you’re craving something sweet, allow yourself a single serving of something you really love.

5.      sharing meals with those you love.

And now, for a recipe.

 

This is healthy bar recipe below does not make just any bar...one serving comes packed with a protein, fiber, and antioxidants! It features hemp seeds and flax meal, which like chia seeds, both provide a wonderful vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids. This recipe also highlights cranberries – a food considered to be a cancer prevention powerhouse. The American Institute for Cancer Research has recently added cranberries to their list of foods that fight cancer.

 

Hemp & Cranberry Power Bars

These bars are perfect for a quick and easy breakfast or for an on-the-go snack. Serve over a scoop of yogurt or ice cream for a sweet dessert.

 


Ingredients:

¾ cup rolled oats
1 cup almond meal
¼ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup dried plums
¼ cup hemp seed
¼ cup flax meal + ½ cup water
½ cup unsweetened apple sauce

 Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the flax meal and water until they become gelatinous.

3. Combine the dry ingredients: almond meal, oats, and hemp seed with the flax meal mixture.

4. Mix in the apple sauce and dried fruit.

5. Grease a 7x9 baking pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. Spoon the mixture into the baking pan.

6. Place in the oven for approximately 25-30 minutes.

7. Allow bars to completely cool before serving.

 



Enjoy, preferably with those you love.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Dietitian Is In: Enhanced Waters

When we meet someone for the first time and share what we do, it often seems to open the gateway to a game of 20 questions. “What do you think about the Paleo diet?” “It’s a good thing to give up gluten, right?” “Is a banana bad for me?” “So, do you always eat healthy?” When we’re asked these kinds of questions, we’re happy to answer them. We feel grateful that people feel comfortable enough to ask. Here's a recent question we were asked...and here's the answer!


Question: Are enhanced waters worth the price?

Answer: With slick claims that enhanced waters improve focus, increase energy, help you “revive” or make you “glow,” it’s understandable why many of us toss water aside in place of these brilliantly marketed beverages. But, generally that’s all these enhanced water bottles are— well-marketed hype—despite some added nutrients, such as electrolytes, antioxidants, and water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins. A few diluted vitamins and minerals do not necessarily make these beverages worth the extra dollar or two compared to plain bottled water. Most health experts agree that, while high performance athletes may benefit from a sports beverage containing carbohydrates and electrolytes to enhance athletic endurance and optimize fluid retention, most ordinary people get enough electrolytes and vitamins in their diet, and thus can stick with plain old water. And since your body doesn’t store excess amounts of water-soluble vitamins, you simply excrete what is not used. Indeed, you gain more benefits from eating nutrients in whole foods than you do in their isolated forms. In the end, you’re basically paying for flavored, sometimes sweetened water. Some enhanced waters provide up to 120 calories and 33 grams of sugar per 20-ounce serving—just shy of the 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar in a can of regular cola.

  
Photo courtesy of W.J. Pilsak

This Q&A was written by McKenzie for the "Ask the Expert" section in the August 2013 issue of Environmental Nutrition.




So, when it comes to meeting your hydration needs, try our five thirst quenching strategies below:



#1. Invest in a water bottle you really like – it will be worth it, we promise. Carry it around with you throughout the day so it’s easy and convenient to take small sips. No need to guzzle an entire bottle at one time!

                                                                              
#2. For something different—and fancy! Pour a glass of sparkling water and combine it with a splash of real fruit juice (orange, cranberry and pomegranate are our favorites). You can also try hint water -- a product we love for it's essence of flavor without the added sugar or artificial ingredients -- when you’re on the go!



#3. If you need a water break (pun intended!), try brewing your own iced tea. If you really want to be impressive, freeze lemonade in your ice-cube trays and add a few cubes to your glass. When they melt, rather than diluting the tea, they’ll enhance the flavor and provide a touch of satisfying sweetness.


 #4. Try adding fresh slices of oranges, lemons, limes or cucumbers to your water. Not only does it look pretty, having that additional flavor makes drinking your water way more fun.



#5. Eat your fruits & veggies. You don’t necessarily have to drink all of your fluid needs. Foods you eat contribute to total water consumption too. Some foods, however – such as fruits and veggies – have a higher water content than most foods so it’s a good idea to listen to your doctor and mom, and eat them - as if you need another excuse.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Post-Halloween Pumpkins


With Halloween now over and our costumes back in storage, some may think that our leftover (Sugar Pie) pumpkins are somewhat of a burden.

We tend to have a very different view on the matter.  

We fully appreciate that pumpkin season is still in full-swing and really doesn’t slow down until after Thanksgiving.

There’s no denying our pumpkin love as we are constantly trying to devise ways to sneak this seasonal item into our recipes. And if nothing else, the hard outer shells of pumpkins make them durable and able to last for weeks as gorgeous fall arrangements, such as this one we noticed on Pinterest.


Since our visit to Tutti Frutti Farm this summer, the wonderful people at Vons have been supplying us with delicious recipes; these below came to us not too long ago and are the perfect solution for our un-used pumpkins.





Roasted Pumpkin Wedges with Minted Yogurt


Prep Time: 35 Minutes
Cook Time: 25 Minutes
Ready In: 1 hour



Photo by our wonderful contributing blogger, Georgia


Ingredients
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint leaves, plus additional leaves for garnish
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (3 pound) Sugar Pie pumpkin
¼ cup grapeseed oil
¼ cup granulated Sugar


Directions

1.      For minted yogurt: Place yogurt in a colander lined with a paper towel or cheesecloth. Set in sink to drain for 30 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk thickened yogurt with 1 teaspoon water, chopped mint, coriander, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Let stand at room temperature, covered, while pumpkin bakes.

2.      Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking pan with foil.

3.      For pumpkin: With a sharp, heavy knife, carefully cut pumpkin in half vertically. Use a metal spoon to scrape out seeds and strings. Put each pumpkin half, cut side down, on a cutting board. Using the pumpkins natural lines as a guide, cut each half into 8 equal wedges. Peel the pumpkin with a vegetable peeler; place in a large bowl.

4.      Drizzle pumpkin with grapeseed oil and evenly rub with sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Turn into prepared pan, scraping sugar mixture onto pumpkin. Cover tightly with foil and bake until very tender when pierced, 20 to 30 minutes.

5.      Broil pumpkin about 5 inches from heat until wedges turn deep golden brown in spots (watch to prevent burning) 3 to 5 minutes. On plates, spoon minted yogurt over pumpkin wedges. Garnish with additional mint leaves if you like.



Photo by our wonderful contributing blogger, Georgia
Serves 4.




Roasted Pumpkin Risotto with Prosciutto and Sage


Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Ready In: 1 hour



Photo by our wonderful contributing blogger, Jaime
Ingredients
1 (2 pound) Sugar Pie pumpkin
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ ounces prosciutto, cut into slivers
12 leaves sage leaves
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup medium grain white rice
½ cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
4 cups organic chicken broth
3/4 cup shredded asiago or parmesan cheese


Directions

1.      Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cut stem off pumpkin. With a sharp, heavy knife, carefully cut pumpkin in half vertically. With a metal spoon, scrape out seeds and strings.

2.      Cut half the pumpkin into 4 wedges. Rub all 5 pieces (including the half) with 2 tablespoons oil and place in a large rimmed baking pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast pumpkin until tender when pierced, 25 to 30 minutes.

3.      Meanwhile, in a large, deep frying pan over medium-high heat, frequently stir prosciutto in remaining tablespoon oil until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Add sage and cook until leaves turn bright green and are crisp, about 1 minute more. With a slotted spoon, lift prosciutto and sage onto paper towels.



Photo by our wonderful contributing blogger, Jaime

4.      Add onion to pan and stir often until tender, about 3 minutes. Add rice and stir often until it begins to turn opaque, 1 to 2 minutes. Add wine; stir often until mostly absorbed. Add 3 cups broth and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes over medium heat.

5.      When pumpkin is tender, peel the half-pumpkin piece, then cut flesh into 1/2-inch cubes. Keep wedges warm.

6.      When rice has cooked for 20 minutes, add remaining broth, cheese, and pumpkin cubes. Stir gently until cheese melts, pumpkin is hot, and most of broth is absorbed, about 3 minutes. On plates, spoon risotto next to pumpkin wedges and top with prosciutto and sage.

Notes: You can use traditional Italian arborio rice or domestic medium-grain rice; both give the chewy, distinctive texture you want in a good risotto. Gently frying fresh sage leaves with the prosciutto heightens flavors. Look for fresh sage in the Produce Department.

Serves 4.


Enjoy, preferably with those you love.


Recipes by Executive Chef Jeff Anderson for Vons


We are not spokespersons or profiting from this product or company; just providing fun, delicious recipes and our unsolicited opinion about popular products on the market today!