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Welcome to The Dietitian's Corner by Best Choice!

Find out the latest health and organic news from our resident dietitian, Rebecca, along with recipes, tips and more!

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Plantains

You’ve likely seen these large banana looking foods hanging out in your produce section at the store. They range in color from green to black, and unlike bananas each color can serve a different purpose for cooking. Black plantains are not rotten they’re actually the sweetest option of plantain which is often used for baking and desserts. Green plantains are starchy with a slightly sweet taste when cooked. They can be used like a potato. Adding them to a soup, stew or curry dish works great. Green plantains also make the best plantain chips. Yellow and black plantains have a sweet taste when baked or fried. They are much less starchy than their green counterpart.

 

Don’t be fooled by the fruit like look. Plantains must be cooked to be enjoyed and to reap their many nutritional benefits. This unique food is gluten free, in fact it’s a staple in many grain free breads, muffins and tortilla recipes. Watch the Clearly Organic blog for some easy ways to incorporate plantains into your next recipe.

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Pure Maple Syrup

The season for producing pure maple syrup spans the gap between winter and spring. Most maple syrup comes from regions where large amounts of snow are melting throughout March. This melting snow helps to nourish thirsty maple trees so they yield copious amounts of sap. It takes 40-45 gallons of sap to produce about one gallon of pure maple syrup.

 

A common question many maple syrup farmers get is; what’s the difference between light colored and dark colored syrups? Maple syrup is Graded solely by its color, and the difference in color is primarily related to what time of year the product was made. Grade A maple syrup is made at the beginning of the season. It’s considered a light aromatic syrup that is traditionally pancake syrup. Grade A Dark Amber is made later in the season when the weather is warmer. It’s considered a good option for baking since its flavors are more robust. Grade B is the darkest and it’s made at the end of the season just before the maple tree begins to bud. It has a strong bold maple flavor. All pure maple syrups contain beneficial naturally occurring nutrients, and pure maple syrup is never refined so you won’t see anything else listed on the ingredient list. Next time you’re at the store pick a bottle of pure maple syrup and enjoy the flavors of the season.

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Cooking With Fresh Herbs

Just a pinch of vibrant fresh herbs can add unique flavor and color to any recipe. Many chefs consider herbs the secret to transforming a normal dish into an extraordinary meal. The challenge many everyday cooks run into is knowing how to appropriately use herbs. It’s also worth noting that if a recipe calls for dried herbs one can easily choose to add fresh herbs if desired. Dried herbs are more potent and concentrated than fresh, so you will use less. When transitioning to fresh you’ll likely use three times as much. Therefore, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon dried oregano you would need 1 tablespoon fresh, since there are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon. Here are some tips on how to pair and incorporate herbs into your kitchen.

Basil- a natural partner to tomatoes, peas and zucchini; great in pesto, pastas and sauces

Thyme- eggs, potatoes, poultry and squash

Flat Leaf and Italian Parsley- potato and egg salad, tabouli

Rosemary- fish, lamb, chicken, roasted potatoes, soup and stews

Dill- carrots, potato and egg salad, cottage cheese, fish, green beans

Mint- fruit salad, tabouli, tea and water

Cilantro- chicken, salsa, tomatoes, most Mexican and Caribbean cooking

Chives- potato and egg salads, dips and tomatoes

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The Perfect Poached Egg

Poaching is a great way to transform a simple egg into a decadent indulgence. Once you perfect the technique you can easily enjoy poached eggs at any meal time. Here is a guide on how to poach an egg.

  1. Heat water in a 2 quart nonstick sauce pan with a lid. Add enough water to come up 1 1/2 inches on the sides of the pan. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons white vinegar, then bring contents to a simmer over medium heat. If you have a thermometer 190 degrees is the ideal temperature for poaching.
  2. Crack one fresh organic egg into a small ramekin. Stir the simmering water in one direction with a spatula then carefully lower and add egg in the center of the lightly whirl pooling water. If poaching more than one egg crack eggs into separate ramekins or add the eggs to the simmering water one at a time.
  3. Turn off the heat to the pan and cover sauce pan. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Don’t open lid or stir water at this time. Simply let the egg sit.
  4. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon. If you are enjoying your egg right away, immediately transfer it to the desired serving method. If you are making your poached eggs ahead of time for a salad topper or another desired recipe, transfer the eggs into an ice bath and refrigerate up to 8 hours. Simply reheat in warm water before serving.

The most classic way to enjoy a poached egg is a traditional Eggs Benedict, but once you master the art of poaching you’ll fall in love with adding this perfect protein to other dishes. Salad, pasta, risotto, sweet potatoes and soup are also great foods that get even better when topped with a poached egg.

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Signs Of Spring

As the tulips start to sprout from the ground they cause us to take note of the delightful transition into Spring. It’s refreshing to see all the sights and sounds of Spring budding around us. It’s also refreshing to see a new lineup of fresh fruits and vegetables at your local grocery store. The extra sunshine and warm weather brings in a whole host of new foods to pick from to liven up your meal plan.

My favorite spring veggies are sugar snap peas. They add a nice crisp crunch to a salad and they are sweet and delicious eaten by themselves. Asparagus is also another family favorite, it goes great scrambled with eggs in the morning. Other seasonal foods include arugula, rhubarb, strawberries, radishes and all varieties of sweet peas. Next time you’re at the store take advantage of the quality and freshness of Springs seasonal produce.

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Versatile Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar is a flavorful reduction made from grapes. It’s often used as a tangy addition to salad dressing, but it can also be valuable in many other ways during the cooking process. Here are a few unique ways balsamic vinegar can be that secret ingredient to liven up your next recipe.

 

  1. Reduce the vinegar to a syrup. Reduced balsamic goes great over fruit salad or a bowl of vanilla ice cream! Reducing balsamic only takes a few minutes. Simply add about a cup of balsamic vinegar to a sauce pan, bring to a boil then simmer on low for 2-4 minutes until the consistency of the liquid is thicker and syrupy. Adding a little sugar and cinnamon can provide one more layer of flavor when using the syrup on fruits or desserts. One cup of balsamic makes about 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar syrup.
  2. Marinate meats and vegetables. Balsamic vinegar and garlic are a great marinade to tenderize and add flavor to steak, veal, tofu or chicken. My favorite vegetable to marinade in balsamic vinegar are portobello mushrooms, onions and tomatoes.
  3. Finish a soup, salad or entree. An aged balsamic can be an excellent finishing ingredient. When the cooking process is complete, just before you serve your favorite soup or main entree drizzle a little aged balsamic on the top. It can help bring favors together and add a colorful zip to any recipe.
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Benefits of Green Tea

Have you ever stopped to take a closer look at the health benefits of green tea? This tea has been around for centuries and it has been used medicinally to help counteract many adverse health issues. Green tea is well known for its antioxidant content. Antioxidants help reduce the risk of disease by helping to flush out the free radicals in your system. Free radicals can come from our daily exposure to things like car exhaust, UV rays and industrial fumes. Our bodies need antioxidants, from our diet, to help fight off oxidative stress.

By drinking 1 to 2 cups of green tea, without sugar, per day you can start reaping its health benefits. As you think green for the week of St. Patrick’s Day try starting a new routine of enjoying green tea. This may not be your traditional St. Paddy’s day drink but it has a lot to offer.

 

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All Natural

A debate is currently being waged on what it means to be considered a “natural” food. We see this claim posted proudly on the front of many packaged foods. So what are the requirements for a food company to say that they have an “all natural” product? According to the main agencies that regulate food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the natural claim can be posted on anything that is deemed ‘minimally processed’. This vague phrase leaves the door wide open for interpretation, allowing a multitude of packaged products to claim they are “natural”.

When Consumer Report conducted a survey of over 1,000 Americans they found that most people attributed the word ‘natural’ to mean no artificial ingredients, artificial colors or genetically modified foods (GMO’s). However, that is not necessarily true especially in regards to meat products. One fool proof way to ensure you are limiting GMO’s, artificial flavoring, colors and processing is to consume organic products. Certified Organic foods contain 95%-99% organically grown ingredients. When you see the 100% Organic label you can be confident the food is organically grown or contains all organic ingredients. Take a minute next time you’re at the store to watch for some of these labels.

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Cooking With Dried Beans

When you think of adding beans to a recipe your mind often defaults to the various canned varieties of beans that are readily available at most grocery stores. In fact, you might even walk right by the bagged dried beans on your way to pick up a can of beans for your next chili recipe. The best part about dried beans is that they are the most nutritious and inexpensive food you will find sitting on the shelves at your store.

If you’ve never tried cooking with dried beans it’s worth experimenting with when making your next batch of soup. All dried beans require is time. They are easy to use and pack a little more nutritional punch than their canned counterpart. Dried bean have significantly less sodium than canned beans. They also have slightly more folate, iron and potassium. Canned and dried beans are similar in calories per serving and protein content. The main benefit to canned beans is their undeniable convenience.

Cooking with dried beans at home is no more trouble than filling a pot with water and letting it simmer joyfully on your stovetop all afternoon. Cooking a pot of beans on an afternoon when you are home anyway can be a relaxing and resourceful way to meal prep. Just be sure to give your beans plenty of time to reach their desired tenderness. Soaking beans in advance is also a great way to trim down the cooking time. One pound of dried beans yields about 5 cups of cooked beans. Making plenty of beans for soups, salads, burritos and much more. Extra beans not used after soaking can be stored in the freezer, that way you will have delicious and nutritious beans whenever you need them.

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Kid Friendly Cooking

When you think of foods that kids love your mind often jumps to items like pizza, macaroni and cheese and french fries. Kids may want to enjoy these foods on a daily basis but the same old recipe can get boring for adults and eventually the whole family. Reinventing recipes and putting new spins on your traditional line up can increase your nutritional profile and help expand your families love of meal time.

The most important thing you can do to help encourage healthy eating for kids is to have an ample supply of fresh fruits and vegetables on hand. Always have a fruit bowl in the middle of your counter so kids see this as a go-to option. Try not to label foods as “good” or “bad” this might make children feel like they have restrictions on food, making them want what’s off limits. If your child’s favorite foods are pizza, mac & cheese and french fries try making these items at home in a healthy way. Adding vegetables to pizza with more tomato sauce and less cheese can take pizza to the next level. Mac & cheese can be made with small chunks of cauliflower or broccoli to increase its nutritional content. Real roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes are very nutritious if made with olive oil, seasoning and roasted in the oven. Our Clearly Organic blog has recipes for harvest mac & cheese, which is veggie based, and we have an easy sweet potato fry recipe that the whole family will love. If you are looking for a way to spice up your kids menu check out these recipes!

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