Cooking

Braum’s Adds 7 New Flavors … All Chocolate!!

By Judy Brotton

 

_DSC4249Chocolate lovers will be in heaven this summer as Braum’s has added 7 new flavors to their lineup, all starting with a chocolate base. Add to that base such yummy ingredients as hazelnuts, pecans, caramel and chocolate ribbons, and you have the makings for some heavenly desserts. We made our own beautiful pie using the Chocolate Turtle, but any of the flavors will work – Molten Lava Cake, Billionaire Shortbread, Chocolate Caramel Mousse, Chocolate Chunk Hazelnut, Chocolate Amaretto Cookie (No-sugar Added) or Deep Chocolate. All of the ingredients are available at Braum’s, for a one-stop dessert shop.

 

CHOCOLATE TURTLE PIE

Ingredients:

  • Braum’s Chocolate Turtle ice cream
  • 30 vanilla wafer cookies
  • 1/3 cup pecans
  • 3 T. butter, melted
  • 2 bananas, sliced
  • 1 pint whipping cream
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • Chocolate syrup
  • Caramel syrup
  • Pecan halves
  • Maraschino cherries

 

_DSC4195Directions:

Remove ice cream from freezer and allow to soften while preparing crust.

In food processor, pulse vanilla wafer cookies and pecans until very fine. Slowly add the melted butter and pulse until blended. Pat into pie dish, then cover with sliced bananas. Top with the softened ice cream and return to freezer until ready to serve.

 

Before serving, whip the cream until almost firm, then add the powdered sugar and beat until firm peaks form. Spread over pie, then drizzle with chocolate and caramel syrup. Decorate top of pie with pecan halves and cherries. Enjoy!

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

By Róisín Crowe

 

Cooking food outdoors has been around since the beginning of time. Now it’s time to put some new twists on an old ritual … seasoning with chocolate or coffee, pairing up unlikely food combinations, grilling dessert, as well as adding hardwood smoke chips to charcoal for some unexpected flavors. Whether you’re grilling on a tiny Hibachi or utilizing a full-scale outdoor kitchen, the basics remain essentially the same:

 

FIRE
FUEL
FOOD
FLAVOR

_DSC4118It is estimated that fire was domesticated some 500,000 years ago, making cooking food over an open flame as old as the Stone Age. Outdoor cooking or grilling was primarily limited to campsites and picnics until after World War II; as middle-class suburbia grew, so did the passion for backyard grilling. Once the craze exploded, so did the gear, menus and imagination.

The key to successful outdoor cooking is a clean-burning and consistently hot fire. Safety is also a necessary component. Check for burn bans before firing up, and take care on windy days. Always cook in well-ventilated areas and extinguish all fires – no matter what source – completely, and safely dispose of the ashes.

 

Fuel sources and cooking methods range from hardwood fire pits, charcoal grills, propane gas, natural gas and smoker grills. More recently added to the line-up are infrared heat grills, which use a gas burner and ceramic tiles to create intense heat and very high temperatures. Whatever method you utilize, there are pros and cons to each choice, yet there is no substitute for the flavor of grilled food.

 

If hardwood is your choice, it must be bone dry and well seasoned. Using moist, green sapling wood causes lots of smoke and leaves a very distasteful flavor. Charcoal briquettes are available plain and traditional or with starter fuel built in. A relatively newer option of charcoal is that of the flavored varieties. In addition, flavored wood chips such as apple, cherry or mesquite can be added to charcoal in endless combinations for flavor so tasty that rubs and sauces can be eliminated. The heat from the fire does most of the cooking, while the smoke from the coals or wood adds an additional element. For more convenience, many prefer propane or natural gas, with the most common drawback being that gas just doesn’t provide the same flavor as good, old-fashioned charcoal.

For most of us, the food is the fun part. From Artichokes to Zucchini, there is no limit to your outdoor menu, which can literally run the gamut from A to Z. Incidentally, that includes fruits from Apples to Zig-Zag vine as well. Savory or sweet, you can grill almost anything you can think of. Fire-roasted marshmallows fit nicely in many wonderful recipes from S’mores to Roasted Marshmallow Ice Cream Sundaes.

 

Steaks, burgers and hot dogs top the most popular list where standard grilling fare is concerned, with chicken, fish, shrimp, ribs, bratwurst and other sausages still high in the running. Pork chops, turkey and lamb, which were once not so traditional in this region, are fast becoming frequent choices for the more adventurous outdoor chef, replacing the oven with the grill and borrowing some exotic recipes and seasonings from afar.

 

Helpful hint:  Parboiling Bratwurst and other encased sausages in water or beer before grilling enhances the flavor and cuts down on grilling time, plus ensures even searing.

 

The kabob (which has many accepted spellings) originated in the Middle East and was later adopted in parts of Europe and Asia, and now found worldwide. Kabob or Shish Kabob literally means “cooked on a skewer.” This is not limited to meat; in fact, many, if not most kabobs alternate meat with different vegetables, creating countless possibilities. Fruit can be skewered and grilled as either a complement to the savory main course or for a separate dessert, served alone, with pie or any number of gelato or sorbet flavors.

 

Helpful hint:  While selecting items to grill kabob-style, wooden skewers are flammable, so soak them in water before skewering. Metal spears won’t burn, but they do get red hot. Also, remember to combine food choices that require approximately the same amount of flame time.

 

Flavors can be derived in myriad treatments from marinades and rubs before grilling or sauces applied during or after cooking. Any of these options can be purchased commercially made or easily prepared in your own kitchen. Rubs, which are generally combinations of dry ingredients, can be rubbed on meats, poultry or fish ahead of time or right before grilling. Coffee and spicy peppers are among favorite choices, even finely ground dry, dark chocolate. Seasoning with marinades, which are liquids such as oil, vinegar or fruit juice with added herbs or spices, can be done hours ahead of time or even overnight to permeate and flavor the foods.

 

Helpful hint:  Don’t let your hard work go up in flames. Fat, oils and sugars can cause flare-ups, as can a grate that hasn’t been cleaned. If your flames get out of hand, quickly move the food to another part of the grill and cover the flames by closing the lid. Fires need oxygen, so in most cases this takes care of the situation. Some foods, like steaks, really benefit from a nice charred crust, depending upon your tastes.

 

Even the weather doesn’t have to cooperate. Outdoor grilling is not limited to hot, sunny days as it once might have been. Any season is grilling season!

 

 

STEAK and GRILLED VEGETABLES

_DSC4082We used center cut sirloin, seasoned with cracked black pepper and grilled to medium rare. After allowing to rest for a few minutes, we sliced it thin and arranged it on a platter along with grilled vegetables. To grill the vegetables, we sliced them and sprayed them with olive oil before placing them on the grill. Try bell peppers of all colors, jalapeños, zucchini and summer squash, red or yellow onions, asparagus, mushrooms, even Roma tomatoes. Artichokes are wonderful grilled – parboil them first, and remove the center choke before consuming.

 

REDUCED BALSAMIC Dipping Sauce

Pour a bottle of balsamic vinegar in a saucepan and heat almost to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer until it thickens and volume is reduced by half. The balsamic should coat a spoon. Blend with a few tablespoons of melted herb butter and serve. You can also purchase Balsamic Cream in a squeeze bottle.

 

CHIMICHURRI Butter

We used the classic ingredients of Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce and turned them into a compound butter. Let four sticks of butter soften to room temperature in a large bowl. Add 1 cup chopped parsley, 3-5 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, ½ tsp. chili pepper flakes, 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh oregano leaves and 2 Tbsp. minced shallot. Zest and juice ½ lemon and add to the butter; mix well. Place the butter on a piece of parchment paper, form into a log and roll up. Refrigerate until ready to use. This butter is wonderful on all meats and grilled vegetables.

 

WATERMELON MOJITOS

Make a pitcher without rum for the kids, and another with rum for the adults.

Cut up ½ watermelon; remove seeds and purée in blender or food processor. Pour through a strainer and discard foam. This can be done a day ahead and refrigerated. (Hint: purchase pre-cut seedless watermelon for a much easier task!)

Mash 30 large fresh mint leaves in a pitcher. Add 2 cups watermelon juice, 1 ½ cups white rum, ½ cup simple syrup (equal amounts water and sugar heated until sugar dissolves, then cooled), and juice of 3 limes (about ½ cup). Stir and pour over glasses of ice (or purée extra watermelon to make watermelon ice cubes with mint leaves frozen inside). Garnish with a sprig of mint and a wedge of watermelon on the side of each glass. For the kids – simply substitute ice water, lemon-lime or other soda for the rum.

HERBAN MYTH … Dispelled!

By Róisín Crowe

 

Herban Myth: You must have a green thumb to grow fresh herbs.

NOT NECESSARY. Myth dispelled!

Whether it is a single plant on your kitchen windowsill or multiple plants outside in your yard, you, too, can become an Herban Gardener.

_DSC2832-1Herbs have been used before recorded history in myriad diverse applications from cooking to medicine and even religious rites. All the way from aphrodisiacs to adding zesty zing to any meal, herbs truly run the gamut from A to Z.

Growing herbs indoors is exceptionally simple if you have lots of sunlight and use pots with good drainage. Many plants can be purchased already potted, requiring little care, and can be enjoyed for months.

Outdoors, especially with our Distinctly Oklahoma red clay, cultivating herbs can be a little trickier. The heavy clay usually interferes with proper drainage, which is essential to healthy plants and a robust harvest. The soil will have to be improved by adding organic matter. Also, most herbs require a location with full sunlight to thrive.

Herbs can be grown everywhere from Argentina to Zimbabwe; however, the best choices for any gardener are to select plants that thrive in the USDA hardiness zone of your garden. Oklahoma falls between zones 6 and 7, making herbs like chives, rosemary, oregano, garlic and sage great options because they tend to winter well here. Basil and parsley do very well in the warmth, yet will not live through the frost – they must be planted anew each year like an annual.

If you don’t want to tackle a full garden, plant a few of your favorites in your flowerbed, in planters on your patio or a favorite sunny window. They are beautiful plants and highly fragrant, with aromatic properties capable of healing. Get creative and enjoy!

Here are some of our favorite herb recipes, from one Herban Gardener to another.

 

HERB BUTTER or CREAM CHEESE

_DSC2873-1Soften ½ pound (two sticks) unsalted sweet cream butter or 8 oz. cream cheese. When softened, finely chop 1 T of the following fresh herbs and place in a large bowl: chives, parsley, dill and sweet basil. Add ½ tsp. sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. With a fork, blend into softened butter and form “log” on waxed or parchment paper. Roll until completely covered and twist ends. Refrigerate or freeze until hardened. Gently remove paper and slice. If serving in a bowl, allow to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. For cream cheese, blend and refrigerate.

If using a food processor, put the fresh herbs in first and pulse until well minced. Then add softened butter or cream cheese, salt and pepper and pulse until well mixed. Warning – this will create a green mixture, so if you prefer your cream cheese to remain white or your butter yellow, mix by hand. Experiment with different combinations and create your own flavors.

Note: Dried herbs can also be used. To dry, remove leaves or needles from stems, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in a 175-degree oven for about two hours. “Wetter” herbs like chives and parsley may take longer to dry. When completely dried, store in airtight container until needed. Be aware that herbs change flavor when they are dried, primarily due to the evaporation of the essential oils. As a rule, they tend to become stronger in flavor when dried, and the quantities must be adjusted. In general terms, use half the amount of dried herbs as you would fresh.

 

HERB-INFUSED SALT

Place ½ cup of your favorite coarse salt – sea salt, kosher, pink Himalayan, even smoked salt – into bowl of small food processor along with zest of one lemon and 2 tsp. dried rosemary. Pulse until well blended, but don’t break down salt too much. Here, too, experiment with your favorite dried herbs.

 

 

HERB-INFUSED OLIVE OIL

_DSC2887-1Wash fresh herbs and allow to dry overnight to prevent bacteria growth from the water. Place rosemary sprigs and 2 T peppercorns in clear bottle with a good stopper. Fill with olive oil, seal, and allow to sit in a cool, dark place until the flavors infuse. When ready, discard rosemary and peppercorns and rebottle the oil. Check online recipes for proper care and alternative cooking method; but remember that cooking may affect the flavor of your finished product. Also try oregano, tarragon and chives.

 

 

MINTY BEVERAGES

We decided to simply add citrus slices and fresh mint to our decanter of spring water, but you can use fruit juices, tea, mojitos, margaritas, or your favorite beverage recipe for a refreshing thirst quencher.

 

 

ROSEMARY ROLLS

_DSC2905-1Follow thawing directions from a bag of 36 frozen rolls. Once risen, brush with melted herb butter and sprinkle with chopped fresh rosemary-infused sea salt. Bake as directed. Remove from oven and brush with more butter and serve. We topped our rolls with Flash-Fried Rosemary – simply remove needlesfrom stems and quickly fry in hot peanut oil for just a few seconds. Fabulous – try other herbs as well for a delightfully fresh crunch on salads, bread, pasta, vegetables, etc.

 

 

ROASTED CORN WITH HERB BUTTER

Boil corn until almost tender. Finish on grill or indoor grill pan. When ready, brush with herb butter and sprinkle with herb-infused salt. You can also place raw corn on a piece of foil, add a pat of herb butter and sprinkle of herb-infused salt; wrap tightly and cook on outdoor grill until tender. Either method produces a delightful smokiness to the corn; sprinkle with grated Parmesan or Queso Fresco while warm for an extra treat.

 

 

BASIL PESTO

_DSC2868-1This can get rather pricey, so feel free to purchase ready-made – Whole Foods has an excellent version.

Combine 2 cups fresh basil leaves and 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts in bowl of food processor. Pulse lightly, then add three garlic cloves and pulse. With processor running, slowly drizzle in ½ cup extra virgin olive oil until well blended. Add ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese and pulse until mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Use on pasta, grilled bread, steamed vegetables, as a pizza topping, or as a dressing before grilling chicken. One of our favorites is as a sandwich topping, with slices of rare roast beef.

 

 

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE BAKING

By Judy Brotton

 

_DSC2734Last month’s HEALTH story was about eating gluten-free and the reasons behind it. Turns out, two people I know follow this regimen for various reasons. I presented this chocolate cake to my neighbor, Sharon, who was thrilled with the results. She shared a recipe that she uses, from Food Network’s Nigella Lawson, which includes the addition of orange zest and Cointreau. Paula Deen tops hers with a white chocolate glaze that uses white chocolate liqueur. I can’t wait for my next outing into the flourless world!

 

When baking anything that is flourless, be prepared for “the fall.” Your cake or cupcakes will appear rounded and firm when you remove them from the oven, and right in front of your eyes the center will cave in and even crack open. This is simply an opportunity to fill the completely cooled craters with ganache, cream filling or whipped cream topping. As if I needed a reason to add more chocolate or cream!

 

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter cut into pieces, @ room temperature
  • 6 large eggs @ room temperature
  • 12 T. sugar, divided
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. instant espresso powder

 

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 18 muffin cups with paper cupcake liners.

In a medium saucepan over low heat, stir chocolate and butter until melted, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat and stir occasionally until lukewarm.

Separate egg yolks and whites into separate bowls. Add half the sugar to yolks and beat on medium to high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes.

Fold chocolate mixture into egg yolks with a spatula, then fold in the vanilla and espresso.

In separate bowl with clean, dry beaters, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add in the remaining sugar, beating until medium-firm peaks form. Little by little, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.

Spoon batter evenly into cupcake cups. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate pan, and bake 12 more minutes. Remove from oven and completely cool before icing.

 

FILLING

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. container gluten-free mascarpone cheese
  • 1 T. liqueur
  • 1 T. strong brewed coffee, cold
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 4 oz. cream cheese

 

In medium bowl, beat all ingredients until smooth and well blended. Spoon into plastic squeeze bottle and squeeze about 1 T. filling into the center of each cupcake. Top with chocolate ganache glaze or whipped cream and store in refrigerator.

 

_DSC2715FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup chocolate, hazelnut of coffee liqueur
  • 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 7 eggs @ room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar

 

Preheat oven to 350° F. Before buttering a 9” springform pan, remove the bottom and trace a circle onto parchment paper, and cut out. Generously butter the pan, line with parchment circle (pencil side down) and butter this also.

Melt chocolate and butter in heavy pan over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from stove and stir in liqueur and vanilla, then set aside to cool.

Beat eggs and sugar on high until pale and fluffy (about 5 minutes, these will never form peaks like the egg whites). Gradually add eggs to chocolate mixture, folding with spatula. Spoon into buttered pan and bake for about 1 hour or until toothpick comes out almost clean. Cool in pan for 1 hour, then gently loosen springform and remove (run a knife around edge first). When completely cool, sprinkle cake with confectioner’s sugar or top with chocolate ganache glaze and store in refrigerator.

 

CHOCOLATE GANACHE GLAZE

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 4 tsp. butter

In heavy saucepan, heat cream and butter over low/medium heat until mixture nears boiling, stirring constantly. Pour cream over chocolate, stirring until melted and smooth. Cool about 5 minutes, but don’t allow mixture to get too hard or it won’t pour properly. Pour over cake or spoon over cupcakes and allow to dribble down sides.

 

WHIPPED CREAM WITH ATTITUDE

Ingredients:

  • 1 container whipping cream
  • 2 T. powdered sugar
  • 1 T. liqueur of choice

Beat whipping cream until medium peaks form. Slowly add sugar and continue to beat until firm, adding liqueur at the very end. Dollop over cake or cupcakes.

 

Finish top of cake or cupcakes with a simple dusting of powdered sugar (sift over a paper doily to achieve a pretty pattern, but remember to remove the doily before serving) or drizzle with cooled chocolate ganache glaze. Decorate tops with chopped, toasted hazelnuts, chocolate covered coffee beans, dark chocolate pomegranate drops or fresh raspberries. And of course whipped cream with attitude!

Not-so-traditional Beef Stew and Irish Soda Bread

By Judy Brotton

 

While recuperating from my recent bout with flu, I became immersed in watching the cooking channels, as well as online chefs, and was inspired to cook! So, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I have prepared a beef stew that draws from these sources to tweak my favorite stew recipe. Alongside, I have made a traditional Irish Soda Bread, which contains nothing but flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt. (Adding caraway seeds, currants or raisins turns the bread into “Barmbrack” or “Spotted Dog.”) This dense, rustic bread is easy to make, since there is no rising time, and was traditionally baked every few days and eaten daily. Irish women baked it early in the day and wrapped it in a damp tea towel to keep it moist. Let the bread cool for a bit before breaking it into quarters (the reason for the cross cut into the top), then slather it with fresh butter and enjoy!

 

 

_DSC1926-1BEEF STEW

  • 1 pkg. dry onion soup mix
  • 2 T. flour
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • 1 ½-2 lb. lean stew meat, cubed
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 2 medium onions cut into eighths
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 8-oz. pkg. mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, quartered, tops on
  • 1 16-oz. bag baby carrots
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and halved
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 1 can beef broth
  • 6 sprigs parsley, tied in a bundle

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine onion soup mix, flour and seasonings in large zipper bag. Add stew meat and shake until all coated. Place meat in a covered baking dish and arrange all vegetables over meat.

In a separate bowl, stir together cream of celery soup (this was a blogger’s idea, but I tried it, and it’s very tasty, but I still add the beef broth) ketchup and beef broth; whisk until smooth. Pour over the meat and vegetables, place parsley on top, cover and bake for 2-3 hours, or until beef is tender.

To serve, remove parsley bundle and ladle stew into bowls. Garnish with chopped parsley, and serve with Irish Soda Bread. (I’ve served this over mashed potatoes, but a baked potato is also great.)

 

 

_DSC1899-1IRISH SODA BREAD

  • 3 ½ cups white flour (not self-rising)
  • (For Brown Bread, substitute whole-wheat flour for 1-2 cups white flour)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 ¾ cups buttermilk
  • Butter

 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Lightly grease and flour a round cake pan. In a large bowl, sift dry ingredients together. Make a well in the center, and start pouring in the buttermilk so that a sticky dough forms – more or less may be needed, depending on the humidity and absorbency of your flour. Mix together and knead for about one minute in bowl. (The lactic acid in the buttermilk reacts with the soda, causing tiny carbon dioxide bubbles. Too much kneading will allow the gas to escape and your bread won’t rise properly.) Turn out onto floured surface and shape into a flattened ball. Place in pan and cut a cross into the top of the dough with a large, floured knife, going almost all the way across.

Cover with another pan, leaving room to rise. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove cover and bake for 15 minutes more, or until golden brown.

Remove the bread from the oven, and allow to cool. When done, the bottom should sound hollow when tapped. Wrap in a damp dishtowel to keep bread moist, then break it open along the cross cuts and serve with butter.

Cooking Up a Cure for Hunger

By Lindsay Whelchel

Riverwind Casino ManagersIn a realm of culinary delicacy known by chefs in the metro, the idea of hunger might seem pretty far away.

The food at trendy and delicious restaurants like Café 7 and The Museum Café, among many others, is plentiful. But the chefs in the kitchen understand that for far too many fellow Oklahomans, a meal is not a guarantee. Now, they’ve quite literally cooked up a plan to help.

For the 26th year, the Chefs’ Feast – a food and wine tasting event to be held March 28 at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum – will raise money to support the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

“It’s a great event. The thing I like best about this event is that every chef really wants to participate. They put on a good show for the food bank, so it’s an important event for everyone in the community,” says Christine Dowd, chef and co-owner of Aunt Pittypat’s Catering. Dowd, who is co-coordinating the event for the third year alongside Chef Don Thiery of Market Source, works to help the event by mobilizing participation in the culinary community. She explains that the response from chefs who want to be involved is strong.

“It means a lot when you know that there are hungry kids, so anything you can do to help is always the best, and everyone does a great job with that,” Dowd says.

7202932780_dbff1d399c_oWhen you look at the numbers, many are sobering. One in six Oklahomans deals with hunger. One in four children struggles with not knowing where their next meal will come from. These statistics, according to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, make Oklahoma the fifth hungriest state in the nation. But the food bank, a nonprofit organization that began 33 years ago, is fighting back with a few numbers of its own.

In the year 2012 alone, the organization distributed 42.2 million pounds of products to fight hunger in the state. More specifically, the organization hosts the Food for Kids Program, which acts as an umbrella for several initiatives targeted at providing meals for children.

Last year 13,500 students were fed through the Backpack Program, in place at 475 schools in 53 counties around the state. This program allows backpacks full of food to go home with elementary-age children, to ensure they will have food over the weekend. The School Pantry Program provides meals for older students, with a food pantry located at the school. Expanding from these are an afterschool snack and tutoring opportunity, as well as a host of family and senior citizen efforts.

7202924356_cff4e12d9d_o“Our administrative and fundraising costs are less than 4 percent, so 96 cents from every dollar you donate goes back to our programs,” says Angie Gaines, director of marketing for the food bank.

Rodney Bivens, founder and executive director for the food bank, grew up in a food-insecure household. Gaines explains, “This really sets the tone for our entire organization. We’re always looking to do something better in terms of feeding more people, saving more money, doing something more efficient so we can help more people,” she says.

Hunger differs from many issues in that it has a cure.

“With hunger, there is a solution … it’s just the resources we’re lacking,” Gaines says.

Events like the Chefs’ Feast help to provide those resources.

7202920578_608fdf2218_o“All of the proceeds from this event go to the Food for Kids programs. Last year we made over $115,000 after all the taxes and expenses were paid out, and our goal is always to make over $100,000,” Gaines says.

The benefits extend beyond recipients at the food bank to the chefs themselves, Gaines explains.

“From the chefs’ side, it’s really nice because some of the chefs say it’s their favorite event. Not only are they giving back to the community with something at which they are talented, I think the fact that we try to choose themes that let them be very creative.”

Dowd would likely agree to the benefits.

7202913450_250326fe9d_o“It’s great for the chefs to be at the event because there’s a lot of communication with their direct customers, so they can actually recognize a face, have a conversation and talk about what’s coming up at their respective restaurants,” she says of the opportunity and adds that, “most chefs, are behind the scenes a lot. They’re not necessarily in front of the customer, so it gives them the opportunity to shake hands and participate on a whole different level.”

Dowd is quick to credit the friendly competition aspect of the event with adding to the fun.

“Oh, it’s very competitive. The chefs really want to try to outdo each other, so they put on their best show,” she says.

Each year, a Foodie Favorite is voted on and awarded a traveling trophy or plaque, along with good-natured bragging rights for the rest of the year.

Added to the already entertaining time are music, opportunity drawings and the theme to the evening. Last year featured an international theme, while this year it’s “television.”

For Dowd, that might mean TV dinner … “with a twist.”

“If you think about a TV dinner, you have to be able to take that idea of a Salisbury steak with macaroni and an apple thingy and update it, make it fashion-forward and trendy. So I think it’s really fun to be able to play with a theme.”

7199070656_a0f2cf89e4_oChefs may go retro-style TV and do Hawaiian for “Hawaii Five-o,” or bring the “Brady Bunch.” The possibilities are endless. Every table at the event will have a different TV show, says Gaines. She adds that the night has also become a reunion of sorts for the culinary community. One chef even met his future wife at the event, and the couple had a baby by the time the following year’s Chefs’ Feast rolled around.

But the bigger purpose for the night is ever-present.

“People are very open and there’s a lot of sharing going on, which doesn’t necessarily always happen, but that event really does create a sense of community because everybody understands a child who is hungry,” Dowd says.

There are approximately 750 guests, 100 volunteers, and 25 chefs and restaurants participating each year.

7202920578_608fdf2218_oTwo weeks before the event, tickets usually sell out; but even if you can’t attend, Gaines emphasizes there are many ways to help fight hunger.

“Everyone can help, whether it’s donating, coming out and volunteering, or holding a food drive. The food bank is here for the community; without it we wouldn’t exist, and we wouldn’t be able to help people,” she adds.

The food bank has a volunteer center where last year 44,160 volunteers gave their time and saved the organization $2.4 million in labor costs, Gaines says. Since $1 can provide five meals to those in need, it seems the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has found a recipe for success in battling hunger.

In this case, a pinch of help and a dash of hope are the perfect ingredients.

Tickets to Chefs’ Feast are $120 in advance, with patron tables offered at $1,400. For a list of participating restaurants and more information visit www.regionalfoodbank.org

CHOCOLATE & COFFEE TREATS FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

By Judy Brotton

 

One of the best things about Valentine’s Day is CHOCOLATE! Research tells us that there are actually many benefits to eating DARK chocolate, including the abundance of flavonoid compounds that can lower the risk of heart disease; it can reduce blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels; it contains a number of antioxidants to protect the body from aging; stimulants like theobromine and caffeine work to produce endorphins that can reduce stress levels; it lowers blood sugar; and since it is made from plants, it contains many of the health benefits of dark vegetables. The Aztecs believed chocolate was a source of wisdom, energy and sexual power … so on the off chance that any of this research is true, lets dive into dark chocolate.

 

_DSC1340Add this all to the reported benefits of coffee consumption – including lowering the risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, as well as being effective in weight management – and you have the perfect recipe for Valentine’s Day.

 

 

COFFEE CAKE

  • 1 pkg. ladyfingers
  • 2 containers Braum’s Cappuccino Chunky Chocolate Frozen Yogurt
    • or Braum’s Premium Cherry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
  • Small carton Whipping Cream
  • ¼ cup Clear Crème de Cacao
  • Heath Bar baking bits
  • Chocolate syrup

 

Line a springform pan with ladyfingers. Scoop in the softened frozen yogurt or ice cream and return to the freezer. Before serving, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Beat in the crème de cacao and beat until stiff peaks form; pipe inside the ladyfinger border. Sprinkle the Heath Bar bits in the center. Slice and serve with a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

 

 

_DSC1254ESPRESSO BROWNIES

  • 1 box Pillsbury brownie mix
  • Vegetable oil, water and eggs per package instructions
  • 2 tsp. instant espresso powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

 

Topping
  • ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 T butter
  • 1/8 tsp. instant espresso coffee
  • 1-2 T milk or cream

 

Bake brownies as directed; remove from oven and place on wire rack. Melt chocolate chips and butter in a bowl placed over a pan of boiling water, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat, and with a wire whisk, stir in the coffee and enough milk until desired consistency. Add the walnuts and drizzle over warm brownies. Cool and cut into bars.

 

 

STRAWBERRIES & DIP

  • Large strawberries, tops left intact or long-stemmed
  • Sour cream
  • Brown sugar

 

Wash strawberries and place on platter with small bowls of sour cream and brown sugar. To serve, dip a strawberry in sour cream, then brown sugar, and feed to your loved one.

 

Or, if you prefer, melt a 3.5-oz. dark chocolate bar in a bowl placed over boiling water. Starting with 2 T cream, stir until chocolate is just melted and smooth; add more cream as needed. Allow to cool slightly, pour into small bowl and serve with strawberries.

 

 

_DSC1295VIETNAMESE ICED COFFEE

  • 1 cup strong coffee brewed using your preferred method
  • 2 T sweetened condensed milk
  • Ice cubes

 

Place milk in glass. Drip coffee into the glass over the back of a spoon so the coffee and milk remain separated. Pour over a tall glass of ice and stir just before serving.

 

My favorite Vietnamese restaurant serves this tableside – during your meal, you smell the incredible aroma as coffee drips from the single-cup metal coffee filter into the milk. This is then poured over a glass of ice and vigorously stirred with a long spoon until the coffee is refreshingly chilled. This is the best part of any meal.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Pies, Glorious Pies!

Throughout history, many cultures have had their form of pie – handheld savory pies during the Medieval ages were called “coffins,” calzones from Italy, the Cornish pasty, cottage or shepherd’s pie from Great Britain, empanadas from Latin America, Canadian tourtières, our own pot pies, and doubtless many more. These savory pies may contain anything from fish and lamb to chicken, beef and pork, even vegetarian versions.

 

I decided to try my hand at pie making, but with the help of refrigerated pie crusts, crescents, puff pastry and pizza dough. Flaky ham and cheese breakfast pockets using puff pastry, while mini chicken pot pies and turnovers were formed from refrigerated pie crusts. Shepherd’s pie, which makes a delicious all-in-one dinner, is topped with mashed potatoes rather than pie crust.

 

Sweet pies come in so many delightful varieties – cream pies and meringues, fruit and chocolate. Armed with some new kitchen gadgets and a pile of clipped recipes (a strange hobby for someone who rarely cooks!) A double-crust berry pie uses ingredients found in a jar at Williams Sonoma (cheating, yes, but seemed to go hand-in-hand with refrigerated pie crusts). Since these jars are a bit pricey, utilize any leftover berries to make tarts or mini tarts.

 

I tried my hand at a rustic cherry pie, with edges folded in over the filling, leaving the cherries and sliced almonds visible. I was a bit greedy and my over-filled rustic pie began to lose its shape, so I simply pulled it into a pie pan to finish baking. What I lost in “rusticity” I surely gained in fabulous cherry flavor.

 

Making pie is not as easy as … pie! Even refrigerated pastry does not guarantee a successful finished product. But as with anything, practice makes perfect, so I look forward to many more delicious baking sessions. Who knows – I may even graduate to making pie crust from scratch!

 

 

SAVORY

 

Shepherd’s Pie

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • ½ cup A-1 Steak Sauce
  • ¼ cup beef broth
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes

 

Sauté onion in olive oil until translucent; add garlic and mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms cook down. Add the frozen vegetables and heat through. In separate pan, sauté ground beef until no longer pink; stir in A-1 sauce and broth and stir. Add beef to vegetable mixture and cook for a few minutes to allow flavors to marry. Add pepper to taste and salt if needed.

 

Spoon into deep-dish pie pan or casserole and spread mashed potatoes over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until bubbly and potatoes start to brown. Sprinkle shredded cheese or green onions on top, and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

 

Chicken Pot Pie (minis, turnovers or whole pie)

  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 4 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1 bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 ½ cups chopped white meat from rotisserie chicken
  • 1 can Progresso Recipe Starters creamy roasted garlic cooking sauce
  • Salt & pepper
  • Refrigerated pie crusts
  • 1 egg white, beaten

 

Sauté onion in olive oil until translucent; add garlic and mushrooms and continue sautéing until mushrooms cook down. Add the frozen vegetables, chicken and enough Progresso sauce to moisten (I used about ¾ can). Add pepper to taste and salt if needed.

 

Arrange bottom crust in pie pan and spoon in the meat mixture. Place second crust over pie, and cut several slits to allow steam to escape. Brush with egg white and bake in 425-degree oven for 15-25 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

 

For mini pies, prepare as above, but use small pans for each pie and reduce baking time as needed.

 

Turnovers: Pie crust can be used to cut round shapes, or refrigerated crescent sheets for turnovers. Spoon a small amount of meat mixture onto dough; brush edges with egg wash and seal, then crimp all around with a fork. Pierce the tarts or turnovers with the fork to allow steam to escape. Bake as above, but reduce baking time just until pies are golden brown. (Phyllo dough can also be used.)

 

Ham & Cheese Breakfast Pockets

  • 8 eggs
  • Milk
  • ½ cup onion, diced
  • 1 T. butter
  • 4 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • Bacon, Canadian bacon or ham, diced
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 3 scallions, sliced
  • Salt & pepper
  • Puff Pastry, thawed per package directions
  • Egg white

 

Sautée onion in butter; add mushrooms and continue sautéing until mushrooms are cooked down. Add the meat and scallions; scramble the eggs with milk, add salt and pepper, and pour into pan. Stir until cooked, then stir the cheese into the mixture.

 

Prepare the dough as directed, cutting each slab into 6 equal rectangles. Roll out and make sure the edges are squared. Spoon some of the egg mixture onto three of the rectangles, and brush the edges with the egg wash. Top with another dough rectangle and crimp edges all around with a fork. Pierce top with the fork to allow steam to escape. Bake 15-20 minutes in 375-degree oven. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Can be wrapped and frozen, reheated in oven or microwave.

 

Spinach & Feta Pie

  • Frozen Puff Pastry, thawed per package directions
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 16-oz. container Ricotta
  • 1 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 oz. package feta, crumbled
  • 4 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 cup shredded Mozzarella
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 T. lemon juice
  • ½ tsp. black pepper

 

Prepare the Puff Pastry as package directs. Place in a pie pan with dough edges hanging over the edge of the pan.

 

In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, garlic, feta and black pepper. Taste before salting since the cheeses are already salty. Add the spinach, parsley, lemon zest and juice, and Mozzarella; gently combine.

 

Spoon mixture into pan, then fold the pastry over the top, leaving the center open. Bake 30-35 minutes until golden and set. After 20 minutes, you may need to loosely cover with foil if pastry is getting too brown. Remove from oven and allow to set for 10 minutes before serving.

 

If you’re looking for a great appetizer, bake Phyllo shells until lightly browned. Spoon spinach mixture into center of each shell and continue to bake until nicely browned and spinach is warm. You can also use refrigerated crescents or puff pastry to make turnovers or small tarts. Cover with foil if pastry gets too brown. Serve warm.

 

 

SWEET

 

Berry Pie

  • 1 package refrigerated pie crusts
  • 1 ½ jars Berry Patch Pie Filling from Williams Sonoma (a luscious blend of Michigan blueberries, Washington boysenberries, and Oregon strawberries and marionberries)
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • Sparkling Sugar

 

Arrange bottom crust in pan and spoon in the berries – I used 1 ½ jars for the pie, then used the rest to make tarts using refrigerated crescent sheets. Place the second crust on top of the pie, cutting slits on top to allow steam to escape. Brush top with egg wash and add decorations cut from another sheet of dough. Brush these with egg wash also; sprinkle top of pie with Sparkling Sugar and bake 35-40 minutes in 350-degree oven. Remove from oven and let cool before serving with ice cream.

 

Use any leftover berry pie filling to make tarts or turnovers using either refrigerated pie crust or crescent sheets.

 

Rustic Cherry Pie

  • 1 can tart cherry pie filling
  • ½ bag frozen tart cherries (not thawed)
  • refrigerated pie crust
  • 2 T. Amaretto liqueur
  • Slivered almonds
  • Sparkling Sugar

 

Cover sheet pan with parchment paper, and arrange pie crust in center of pan. Mix together the cherry pie filling and frozen cherries, and add the Amaretto (or almond flavoring). Spoon the fruit into the center, leaving about 2 inches of dough all around. Fold dough over fruit, making pleats as you go all around, leaving about a 3-inch opening. Brush dough with melted butter and sprinkle with sparkling sugar; sprinkle slivered almonds over the cherry center. Bake 35-40 minutes in 350-degree oven. If your crust cracks and the filling starts to ooze out as mine did, carefully remove from the oven and transfer with the parchment paper into a pie pan; finish baking. Remove from the oven and leave as is, cutting away the parchment paper, or remove from the pie pan for a rustic look. Let cool before serving with ice cream.

Holiday Five Spice Seared Sea Scallops with Cranberry Relish, Sweet Potato Edamame Mash and Steamed Broccolini

Chef Phil Levinson
Executive Chef, Nebu

 

 

These succulent scallops speak elegance. Savory, sweet and salty, they are perfectly balanced in flavor, resulting in a delicious, healthy meal sure to satisfy the most sophisticated of palates.

  • Yield: 6 Servings
  • Prep Time: 90 Minutes
  • Cooking Time: 60 Minutes

 

ScallopsDirections for Scallops:

  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. Chinese five spice powder
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil for marinade
  • 1 Tbsp. Japanese rice wine (not vinegar)
  • 1 tsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 18 large sea scallops

 

1. In a medium bowl, combine ginger, garlic, five spice, sesame oil, rice wine and soy sauce for marinade. Add scallops and marinate, chilled, for 1 hour.

2. In cast iron pans over medium heat, add olive oil and brown the scallops on one side until halfway cooked, about 1-2 minutes. Do not move the scallops around, rather leave them in one spot in order to develop the best “sear.” Flip over and cook about 1 minute more until just cooked, or 130 degrees.

Serving Size: 3 each

 

Directions for Cranberry Relish:

  • ½ cup Asian sweet chili sauce
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup red onion, minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup orange juice

 

1.   In a heavy bottomed saucepot, over medium heat, cook the sweet chili sauce and rice vinegar for approximately 8-10 minutes, slowly reducing the amount of liquid until reaching a thick syrup consistency.

2.  Next, simmer minced red onion and ginger with the orange juice in a small sauté pan until all the liquid is dissolved. Add this mixture to the chili sauce vinegar reduction and mix together gently with a wooden spoon or spatula.

3.  Add cranberries and simmer 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool.

Serving Size: 4oz

 

Directions for Broccolini:

2 Bunches Broccolini

  • Trim ends of Broccolini with paring knife and arrange pieces over steamer basket.
  • Steam about 3-4 minutes, until stems are tender when pierced with a knife but still have plenty of texture. Serve immediately.
Serving Size: 3oz

 

Pumpkin MousseDirections for Sweet Potato Edamame Mash:

  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • ¼ cup scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup soybeans (edamame), shelled
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 Tbsp. Miso paste, mellow white
  • 1 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter

 

1.  Roast whole sweet potatoes in 350-degree oven for 50 minutes, or until soft, turning once. Allow to rest.

2.  Heat canola oil in a sauté pan and combine ginger, garlic and scallions. Sauté over medium heat until they develop an aroma.

3.  Add edamame and water, cook 3 more minutes until edamame is heated through.

4.  Halve the yams and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Mash in miso and peanut butter.

5.  Fold in edamame mixture, transfer the mash to a serving bowl and keep hot for plating.

Serving Size: 6 oz

 

Directions for Plating:

  • ¼ cup dry-roasted peanuts, unsalted
  • 10-12 chives
  • ½ cup soybeans (edamame), shelled

 

1. Place three dollops of Sweet Potato Edamame Mash on a long, rectangular plate, about 2 tablespoons each, 2 Inches apart.

2. Place two tablespoons Cranberry Relish next to the first and last dollop of Sweet Potato Mash. Use the back of a spoon and swipe the sauce in opposing directions, creating a swoosh pattern.

2. Place one piece of Steamed Broccolini on top of the Sweet Potato Edamame Mash, all facing the same direction, on an angle.

3. Place one scallop on top of each Broccolini, and lightly sprinkle with about ½ teaspoon chopped peanuts. Decorate plate by sprinkling with chives, more chopped peanuts or edamame, or use edible flowers and micro greens.

Serve and enjoy!

 

DESSERT:

Silken Pumpkin Mousse with Nutella Cream

Now you can carve your pumpkin and eat it too! Enjoy this smooth, silky and not-too-sweet pumpkin mousse, which will satisfy your guests’ cravings for decadence without the additional calories and fat typical of most desserts.

  • Yield: 6 Servings
  • Prep Time: 1 Hour
  • Cooking Time: 1 Hour
  • Plating Time: 10 minutes

 

Directions for Mousse:

  • 30 oz. canned pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 lb. silken tofu, drained
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp. ground clove
  • ¼ tsp. sea salt

 

  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine pumpkin purée and drained silken tofu. Process until combined, about 1 minute.

 

  1. Add maple syrup and seasonings, and process until combined, about 30 seconds more.

3. Transfer mousse to a covered container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

 

Directions for Spiced Pumpkin Seeds:

  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tsp. canola oil
  • ¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground clove
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp. light brown sugar

 

Combine seeds, oil, spices, salt and sugar, and spread onto a parchment-lined sheet pan. Roast in 350-degree oven 12-15 minutes. Cool completely.

 

Directions for Nutella Greek Yogurt:

  • 2 oz. Nutella
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt, 0% fat
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 whole mini pumpkins

Whisk together Nutella, Greek yogurt and vanilla extract until smooth. Chill until ready to use.

 

Directions for Roasting Mini Pumpkins:

1. Rub 6 mini pumpkins with oil, place on a parchment-lined sheet tray.

2. Roast at 350 degrees for about 45-55 minutes, until tender.

3. Cool completely, then carve off top of pumpkin. Scoop out seeds and insides.  Reserve the top for garnish.

 

Directions for Plating:

1. Drain any water that has accumulated from mousse. Give it a quick stir and scoop 1 cup mousse into each of 6 small roasted mini pumpkins.

2. Top each serving with 2 teaspoons Nutella Greek Yogurt mixture.

3. Sprinkle with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds and refrigerate until ready to serve.

 

Chef Phil Levinson is currently the Executive Chef for Nebu and Aravalli Restaurants, located in the Devon Energy Center, downtown Oklahoma City. Originally from Chicago, Chef Phil combines a passion for cooking high-volume, sophisticated cuisine with experience operating some of the top restaurants in the Midwest.

Keeping Good Health in Your Holidays – Simple Strategies For Success

By Alison Acerra MS, RD

National Nutrition and Wellness Manager, Guckenheimer

 

Holidays are a time spent connecting with family and friends, expressing gratitude for good fortune, wishing for peace on earth and lending a hand to those who need it most. The holiday season draws out the best of us in many ways, yet tests us in so many others. Perhaps more than any time of year, this is the season of temptations, complete with cocktails and finger foods, office potlucks and boxed chocolates, dinner parties and freshly baked desserts. Pair these enticements with the daily stresses of the season (which also leave little time for exercise) and these early winter days can present a challenge to even the most health conscious among us.

The good news is that we overestimate – and the media widely exaggerates – pounds gained during the holidays. Contrary to popular opinion, a 2010 National Institute of Health study found that the average holiday weight gain is closer to just 1 pound, not the alleged 5-10! The downside is that Americans do, on average, gain 1-2 pounds per year once they reach middle age. This tells us that the seemingly minor gain during the holidays, if not lost, can have a significant, lasting impact on long-term weight status and can increase risk for chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease later in life. While weight loss during the holidays may not be the most realistic goal, weight maintenance can be considered a great success. If that isn’t good news, this is sure to be: you can still enjoy the generosities in food and drink the holidays have to offer and keep your health and waistline in check. It’s all about balance and moderation, and we’ve got a plan in place to help you achieve just that.

 

Start off  bright with breakfast

If you do nothing else to prevent holiday weight gain this season, start your day off right with breakfast. Missing meals, especially the first one of the day, can leave you with cravings and extreme hunger, making it difficult to avoid impulsive choices (especially on high-fat, high-sugar foods) and the urge to overeat later. While it may seem counterintuitive, skipping meals is likely to sabotage your best efforts at saving calories. Always include a balanced breakfast, complete with high-fiber carbohydrates, lean protein and a bit of healthy fat – such as whole grain cereal, atop Greek yogurt, with some fruit and nuts. You’ll be more likely to keep your calories in check at your evening affair and throughout the holiday season.

Lighten up your recipes

Another strategy to ward off holiday weight gain is to be creative in the kitchen and consider ways you can lighten up dishes by reducing the calories, added fats and sugars in traditional favorites. Take mashed potatoes, a definite crowd pleaser. Why not prepare them using cauliflower instead? This simple swap can save plenty of calories, with no compromise in taste or texture (they really are delicious!) Healthful oils, rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, can be used in place of butter; and buttermilk, with its lower fat content, can take the place of cream. Make seasonal fresh fruits – ripened to their sweetest, accented with spices and herbs like ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon – the focal point of your desserts. Instead of creamed veggie dishes, prepare them roasted, drizzled lightly with olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper. Not only do the true flavors of the main ingredient shine, these are easy, fast, healthy and delicious preparations that are sure to satisfy.

 

Eat your veggies

Prepare vegetables in creative ways, and it will be much easier to include them more often.  Make it your goal to build half your plate with water-packed, fiber-full seasonal vegetables at each meal. They will fill you up on few calories, leaving some, but less room for rich, calorie-dense foods. This provides for built-in portion control, and will help you find some balance as you enjoy sampling a variety of more indulgent offerings in healthier amounts.

 

Selective eating

If healthier recipe modifications aren’t your style, and loading up on veggies just isn’t realistic, mindful eating is a technique you will want to master. This is an important approach to eating for good health any time of year, but can serve you especially well during the holidays when temptations are bountiful. At holiday gatherings, from hors d’oeuvres to desserts and everything in-between, there are typically more than enough options from which to choose. It’s important to zero in on the ‘must haves’ and those things you can leave behind. Why spend your calories on foods available to you any day (think dip, crackers, bread and butter) when a delicious made-from-scratch pumpkin pie is waiting for dessert? In the same vein, if you know your sister’s stuffing leaves something to be desired but her candied yams are out of this world, perhaps that’s the choice to make.

 

Listen to your body

Another aspect of mindful eating, sometimes referred to as “intuitive eating,” is the best strategy to keep your body in proper balance. Often, we let external cues (time, habit, stressful situations) dictate what and when we eat. Instead, try to focus on your body’s true internal hunger and fullness signals to help determine food choices and amounts. Slow down, taste and savor the subtleties of flavor in your favorite foods. Keeping a slower pace at the dinner table will do two things to help you avoid overeating. First, it will give your stomach time to signal to your brain that you’ve had enough to eat and you are, in fact, full. This way, extra helpings of even the tastiest foods will be far less tempting. Secondly, you are sure to have a more enriched, satisfying dining experience, and less truly does become more.

 

All is not lost …

Here are some other strategies to keep you feeling healthy and at your best this holiday season:

  • Just as you would a doctor’s appointment or a dinner party, schedule time for exercise.  Book social engagements a bit later in the evening to fit in an aerobics class after work, shop online to save you time and stress at the stores, or take a few 15-minute breaks from your day to squeeze in some power walks. While you might not be able to dedicate as much time to exercise as is typical, every bit counts.
  • Be sure to stay well hydrated and take frequent sips of calorie-free fluids like fresh water, fruit and herb-infused waters and herbal teas. Dehydration can reduce energy levels while increasing hunger and the desire for sweets.
  • Be conscious of liquid calories. Alcohol is caloric and can loosen inhibitions, making it harder to put good intentions around healthful dining into practice.
  • Be aware of using food and alcohol to “lubricate” uncomfortable social dynamics. Do your best to stay centered; take deep breaths, eat mindfully and practice a positive frame of mind.

Remember, the holidays are a time of joy, occasion to come together with loved ones and revel in the culinary delights of the season. There is nothing wrong with over-indulging from time to time, and if you do, all is most certainly not lost. Reflect on the pleasurable time you had and start your new day fresh, back on track with healthy eating and exercise. Rich foods and flowing drink are characteristic of the season, but holiday weight gain need not be.

Cheers to healthy and happy holidays!

 

Alison Acerra, MS, RD, currently serves as Guckenheimer’s National Manager of Nutrition and Wellness, where she brings 10 years of professional experience to her role, specializing in weight management, cardiovascular disease, diabetes prevention and management, as well as culinary nutrition, offering a balanced, no-nonsense approach to maintaining optimal health through good nutrition.

 

Guckenheimer traces its roots back to 1963, when founders Stewart and Jeanie Ritchie began selling artisan sandwiches from a cart at Stanford Medical School to finance Stewart’s studies. The focus on delicious and nutritious food combined with service customized for each account continues to drive Guckenheimer, which today has more than 2,470 employees serving over 300 locations in 31 states. They proudly serve some of America’s finest companies and organizations, including many that are listed on Fortune’s “Top 100 Companies to Work For.”