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Healthy Living: Roasted Okra


Roasted OkraI have this thing about okra.

I know it’s healthy. I know it’s good for me, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the texture.

I basically cut it out of my diet, which is rather shocking considering it’s a staple of Southern cuisine.

Recently, I had the best bowl of gumbo I’d ever eaten in my life, and it featured a generous amount of okra. The okra was cooked perfectly with just the right amount of tenderness.

I decided to give okra another chance, and I’m so glad I did because I found this recipe.

Roasting the okra gives it the perfect texture, in my opinion, and the coconut oil just increases the health factor!

Roasted Okra

Ingredients:
1 lb okra
2 Tbsp coconut oil
salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 450° F. Wash and thoroughly dry the okra. Once dried, roughly chop okra, and toss with coconut oil and seasoning. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, stirring the mix once about halfway through. Serve immediately and enjoy.
Serves 2
Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 192, Calories from Fat: 126, Fat: 14 g (12 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 16 mg, Potassium: 678 mg, Carbohydrates: 17 g, Fiber: 7 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 4 g.

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Healthy Living: Frozen Banana Bites


Frozen Banana BitesI’m always on the quest to get my kids to make better choices when it comes to snacking. Being honest, I could make better choices as well.

When they ask for a snack, I tend to say, “Get a piece of fruit.

Well, I made these and now they’re all about getting a “piece of fruit!”

Frozen Banana Bites

Ingredients:
2 large bananas
1/3 cup carob (or chocolate) chips
1/3 cup natural peanut butter
unsweetened coconut flakes

Directions: 
Set out a large plate or bowl with a piece of parchment or wax paper on it. Cut up the bananas into good-sized chunks. Each banana should give you around 5 to 6 pieces. Heat the peanut butter and carob chips in the microwave on HIGH for about a minute; stir until smooth.

Dip the banana pieces in the chocolate-peanut butter mixture. Lay them out, leaving some space between them on the parchment/wax paper. Then, sprinkle the unsweetened coconut flakes on top. Transfer to the freezer and freeze overnight.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 422, Calories from Fat: 206, Fat: 23 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (13 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 35 mg, Carbohydrates: 48 g, Fiber: 6 g, Sugar: 25 g, Protein: 11 g 

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Shop the Sale: Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries


StrawberriesIt’s almost Valentine’s Day and that means roses, chocolate, wine and strawberries, although not necessarily in that order.

For couples, Valentine’s Day can be a romantic time. For us single people, Valentine’s Day comes with a bit of dread. I attend a Sunday school class for single parents, so you can imagine that there’s not a lot of love for February 14 in our group. However, because we always make the best of everything, we usually have a group event on that evening and enjoy each other’s company.
Last year, one woman made cheesecake stuffed strawberries, and I’m pretty sure they were gone before we ate the actual meal.

I’m going to make them this year because even if three of us bring the same thing, we still won’t have enough!

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

Ingredients:
1 lb washed strawberries
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
6 Tbsp powdered sugar (add more if it’s not sweet enough)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs

Directions:
Use a paring knife to cut stems off strawberries. Hollow out a small hole in the center of the strawberries. You can also cut a small piece off the bottom of each strawberry so it will stand.

Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla on medium speed for about 2 minutes.

Using a spoon, put the filling in a plastic bag and snip off a corner; pipe the filling into each strawberry.

You can then sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on the top.

Refrigerate until cold.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 307, Calories from Fat: 186, Fat: 21 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (12 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 62 mg, Sodium: 216 mg, Carbohydrates: 27 g, Fiber: 9 g, Sugar: 19 g, Protein: 5 g



Healthy Living: Black Bean Stuffed Avocado


Black Bean AvocadoLast night, I went straight from work to an event for the 2014 Cattle Baron’s Gala. The actual gala raises money for the local chapter of the American Cancer Society to provide patient support services and fill other needs for people suffering from cancer in our area.

A Cattle Baron’s event has happened in almost every southern city I’ve lived in, but this is the first year I’ve actually been a part of the committee that puts it all together. The American Cancer Society estimates that right now, more than 13 million people are living with cancer. Chances are that it will impact the lives of each and every one of us, so I definitely felt compelled to get involved with Cattle Barons.

Last night’s event was the announcement of the entertainment for this year’s gala. The fun part was that the headliner himself, Joe Nichols, was in attendance! The other fun part was the FOOD. Let’s be honest, it’s always the food.

There were flat bread pizzas topped with grilled vegetables, brisket and ribs, enchiladas in a white queso sauce and a nacho bar. However, what I went straight for were the stuffed avocados. This particular dish is a signature of the catering company. I only get them at their events, and I look forward to them every time.

There were three different kinds of stuffed avocados: black bean, mango and corn. I love the black bean variety!

Even better, studies show that avocados are a great cancer-fighting food because they’re rich in many nutrients, including potent antioxidants and phytochemicals as well as vitamins, minerals, fiber and healthy, monounsaturated fats.

In addition, black beans have been linked to reducing the risk for prostate and breast cancers, as consuming more legumes increases levels of the fatty acid butyrate, which in high concentrations has protective effects against cancer growth.

This dish is a win/win, no two ways about it. 

Black Bean Stuffed Avocados

Ingredients:
2 large, ripe avocados
1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup prepared salsa

Directions:
Mix black beans and salsa. Slice avocados in half; remove the stone. In the indentation left by the pit, scoop a generous two tablespoons of the bean mixture and stuff into the avocado. Serve cold or place under the broiler for about one minute.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 366, Calories from Fat: 183, Fat: 20 g (2 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 107 mg, Carbohydrates: 31.8 g, Fiber: 14 g, Sugar: 2 g, Protein: 12 g



Healthy Living: Cucumber Raita


Cucumber RaitaI mentioned recently that a lovely friend in my Sunday school class brought tandoori chicken to a class party. I’ve made her recipe TWICE since then!

In the meantime, I’ve rediscovered my love of Indian foods and flavors. Back when I lived in Germany in the 1990s, I used to go to Luxembourg fairly frequently with my friend, Rachel, for Indian food at a delicious restaurant right in Luxembourg City. Our city was only about 40 minutes from the borders of Belgium, Luxembourg and France so going to eat Indian food in a different country was really less exotic than it sounds.

One winter, Rachel was pregnant with her first child and craving Indian food, but she was hesitant as she was nearing her due date and had heard the old wives’ tale that spicy food (as many Indian dishes can be) could trigger labor. Well, that was all fine and good, but Rachel was trying to avoid having her baby on February 29, as that year was a Leap Year.

Well, we gave into Rachel’s cravings on February 28 and delighted in just about every spicy dish on that menu.

You guessed it.

Her son was born February 29.

Whether it was an old wives’ tale or just coincidence, we’ll never know.

I do know there are some healthy and delicious ways to cool down Indian food. My favorite is with cucumber raita, a mixture of yogurt and cucumber that is as refreshing as it is delicious!

Cucumber Raita

Ingredients:
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Directions:
Combine cucumber, yogurt, mint, lime juice, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend.

Nutritional Information (Per 1/4 cup serving): Calories: 32, Fat: 1 g, (0 g Monounsaturated Fat, 0 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Carbohydrates: 4 g, Protein: 2 g, Fiber: 0 g, Sodium: 129 mg, Potassium: 146 mg



Healthy Living: Winter White Velvet Soup


Healthy Living SoupYou’ve heard of red velvet cake, right?

Well, this soup is nothing like that.

I think most days it’s colder in my house than it is outside. I’ve replaced the weather stripping and battened down the proverbial hatches, and I light the fireplace as soon as dusk falls. However, it’s hard to defeat the chill in the air. Needless to say, I’ve been making a lot of soups this winter. They warm you through and through.

I love this one because I can sneak so many vegetables into it! My kids are much better about eating vegetables these days, but it can’t hurt to work in a few extra.

Winter White Velvet Soup

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2 medium leeks
2 medium shallots, quartered
6 medium cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
6 cups low sodium chicken broth (You may need a bit more for thinning.)
1 medium head of cauliflower, broken into florets
2 medium potatoes, roughly chopped
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices
1/2 cup feta cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, more to taste
1/2 tsp white pepper, more to taste
2 Tbsp finely diced red bell pepper
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

Directions:
Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Add onions, leeks, shallots and garlic. Reduce heat to medium-low, and sauté onion mixture until soft and slightly golden, about 15 minutes. 

Add chicken broth, cauliflower, potatoes, parsnips, salt and white pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce to a constant simmer and cover. Cook until all veggies are very tender, about 20-25 minutes

Add feta and puree with an immersion blender or regular blender until smooth and velvety. If soup is too thick, add a bit more chicken broth to thin. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a bit more feta and a sprinkle of the diced red bell pepper and chopped parsley.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 120, Calories from Fat: 46, Fat: 5 g (2 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 7 mg, Sodium: 545 mg, Carbohydrates: 15 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 4 g, Protein: 4 g



Healthy Living: Greek Black-Eyed Pea Salad


Black Eyed Pea SaladIf you’ve spent any amount of time south of the Mason-Dixon Line, you know that we eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck and prosperity in the new year.

What happens if you’re like me and don’t particularly like black-eyed peas? Hmmm…perhaps that explains a lot about that luck thing.

I digress.

Most people just boil their black-eyed peas until tender. Well, I’ve got to do SOMETHING besides that if I’m going to enjoy them. I saw this recipe which calls for using black-eyed peas in a salad!

This version looks much healthier than boiling the peas with bacon and looks, to me, much tastier, too. The original recipe called for sundried tomatoes packed in oil. I went with the healthier, fresher option.

So, start your new year off with a healthy and delicious way to eat your peas AND your greens.

Greek Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Ingredients:
2 cups dry black-eyed peas
salt
7 oz feta cheese
1 tomato, chopped
1 cup black olives, preferably Kalamata or oil-cured
1 finely chopped green onion
1 finely chopped garlic clove
1 lb fresh spinach, washed and chopped
zest and juice of a lemon

Directions:
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Turn the heat down to low and add the black-eyed peas. Let them cook slowly, uncovered, until they are tender, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Don’t let the water simmer.
Add the spinach to a large bowl. Crumble the feta cheese into the bowl, and add all the other ingredients except the lemon juice. Mix well.
When the black-eyed peas are done, pour them into a colander and spray them with cold water to stop the cooking process. Add the black-eyed peas to the salad, mix well and serve. Squirt some lemon juice over each serving before you take them to the table.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 292, Calories from Fat: 140, Fat: 16 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (8 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 44 mg, Sodium: 963 mg, Carbohydrates: 26 g, Fiber: 8 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 17 g



Healthy Living: Spicy Basil


I have two herbs that grow in containers on my back porch: rosemary and spicy basil.

I first purchased the spicy basil by accident, grabbing for regular basil and probably distracted by a kid or two. But, I love it and it’s now a favorite I won’t ever give up.

Spicy basil is basil that is…well, spicy. Profound, huh? Spicy basil, or “spicy globe basil,” can also be called “green basil” and is hugely popular in Europe, although it originated in India. It features small leaves, tender stems and huge flavor. You can use spicy basil in anything you’d use regular basil for and as Chef Emeril Lagasse says, it will “kick it up a notch.”

Studies have shown that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, antiviral and antimicrobial properties, as well as a potential use in treating cancer. Basil is also traditionally used for herbal treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes.

Spicy Basil Chicken

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 large shallot, minced
1.25 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp chili paste, like sambal oelek
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp water
1.5 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup spicy basil leaves, sliced

Directions:
Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; swirl to coat. Add shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add chicken and garlic to pan. Cook 8-10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, whisk the fish sauce and the next 6 ingredients (through cornstarch) together in a small bowl. Add fish sauce mixture to cooked chicken, and cook for 1 minute or until mixture thickens, stirring to coat chicken. Remove from heat and stir in basil.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 340, Calories from Fat: 132, Fat: 15 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (3 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 127 mg, Sodium: 983 mg, Carbohydrates: 8 g, Sugar: 5 g, Protein: 43 g



Dine In: Zucchini Treats


Zucchini ChipsWhenever I get stumped for something new to make on a Friday night, I poll my friends via Facebook. I’m never disappointed with the variety of fun foods they can conjure up for a Friday night staycation.

My Facebook friend Lauren has been on an inspiring weight loss journey. In response to my latest query (which specified that friends could NOT list pizza as a Friday night favorite), she said she loves finger foods on Friday nights (me too!). She used to fry up jalapeno poppers or egg rolls, but now, after losing weight, beginning to exercise and remembering to treat her body as a temple, she prefers healthier fare. She’s discovered that you don’t have to give up fun finger foods for health. She reports that she recently made zucchini chips and was going to try zucchini tots this weekend!

With the abundance of this delicious vegetable this time of year, it’s easy to work these tasty treats into your weekend repertoire.

Zucchini Chips

Ingredients:
3 medium zucchinis
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Directions:
Preheat oven to 275°F.
Slice the zucchini into 1/8″ slices.
Coat the slices with olive oil, salt and pepper.
On a parchment-lined baking sheet, lay out the zucchini slices in a single layer.
Bake for 30 minutes, flip the zucchini slices over and bake for 30 more minutes. Keep a close eye on the oven, as cooking time varies depending on slice thickness. The chips should be golden brown and crispy. Serve immediately.

Serves 2

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 168, Calories from Fat: 131, Fat: 15 g (2 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 1192 mg, Carbohydrates: 10 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 5 g, Protein: 4 g

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Healthy Living: Grilled Tomatoes


I live in Tyler, birthplace of Brookshire’s, but I spend the majority of my time during the week in Jacksonville, home to the world’s largest bowl of salsa from 2010 and close runner-up to the title of “Tomato Capital of the World.”

Brookshire’s gets many of their tomatoes from Jacksonville farmers, and I buy them up as fast as they hit the shelves in the produce department.

Tomatoes are very high in lycopene, an agent thought to help ward off cancer. They’re also high in antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamin E and vitamin C. So, eat a lot of tomatoes while they’re at the peak of freshness this summer.

I’ve done all sorts of things with fresh tomatoes: canned them for the winter, used them in marinara sauce, stuffed them with tuna salad, used them in fresh salads and many other things. But, I’d never grilled them until last night. However, it won’t be long before I do it again. They were so delicious with a light char that caramelized the fruit beautifully. I just sliced my tomatoes into thick slices, sprinkled them with a teeny bit of salt and pepper, put them in the grill basket (with the fish I was already grilling) and put them on the grill over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, flipping once. I know I’m not going to be able to get enough of these grilled treats.



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