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Dine-In: Bacon Jack Quesadillas


Even if your team isn’t still in it, the Super Bowl is always a good excuse for a party. There’s always the half-time show, and the special Super Bowl commercials. And, of course the food.

Quesadillas are always a good go-to option. Pretty much everybody likes them, they’re quick to make, they don’t cost an arm and a leg even if you’re serving a crowd, and they match perfectly with the chips, salsa and guacamole that seem to show up at every Super Bowl party, everywhere.

This easy take on quesadillas uses one of my favorite ingredients – bacon. You can easily double, triple or quadruple this recipe if you have a lot of guests. You can either serve as you cook, or keep them in the oven to warm and serve on a platter when you’re finished cooking. If you use a good nonstick skillet, you can skip the step of brushing the quesadillas with oil or bacon fat, but I find just a little extra fat adds a lot of flavor and helps the tortillas crisp up a little better. Finally, if you don’t like spicy food, you can skip the jalapenos and substitute regular jack cheese for the pepper-jack.

Bacon-Jack Quesadillas
Makes 4 quesadillas

Ingredients:
4 strips bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
4 flour tortillas, eight-inch
1 1/3 cup pepper Jack cheese (6 ounces), shredded
2 tablespoons green onions, sliced thin
2 tablespoons pickled jalapeños, minced (optional)
Vegetable oil or bacon fat
Sour cream, guacamole and salsa, for serving

Directions:
Fry bacon strips in nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate; pour fat into small bowl and reserve, if desired. Wipe out skillet with paper towels.

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat until hot. Spread 1/3 cup cheese, 1/4 the bacon, 1/4 the green onions and 1/4 the jalapenos (if desired) on a tortilla. Fold tortilla in half and press to flatten. Brush surface lightly with oil or bacon fat, and set aside. Repeat to form remaining quesadillas.

Place two quesadillas in skillet, oiled sides down; cook over medium heat until crisp and well browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Brush surfaces with oil or fat. Flip quesadillas and cook until second sides are crisp and browned, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer quesadillas to cutting board to cool slightly. Repeat cooking process with remaining quesadillas. If making a larger quantity, cooked quesadillas may be kept in a warm oven (200 degrees) while you finish cooking.

To serve, halve each quesadilla. Serve with sour cream, guacamole and/or salsa.

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Family Matters: Packing a healthier lunch


What’s in your child’s school lunch? More people – including British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver – have been asking that question lately, hoping to encourage parents and schools to give children a more nutritious mid-day meal.

The best way to influence your child’s lunchtime habits, of course, is to pack it yourself. But how do you pack a healthier lunch and end up with something they’ll actually eat, and not toss in the trash, so they’re ready for an afternoon of learning, playing and growing? Get started here:

Get kids involved in planning: If your children go along when you do the grocery shopping, let them select some or all of their lunch components. (This works best, obviously, if you narrow down their choices first to just a few choices, so you don’t spend all day in the store.) If they don’t accompany you, ask for their requests before you head to the store. Again, this works best if you have a list of good choices to start from.

Get the proper packaging: Since kids don’t have access to microwaves or refrigerators, a small investment in thermal containers and coldpacks is worth it. It will allow much more creativity in lunch-packing – soups, pastas, cool desserts – and more importantly, it will keep cold and hot foods safe and appetizing to eat.

Pack ahead: Mornings are a rush job in most households. If you only have two minutes to throw lunch together, it’s far too easy to rely on leftover pizza and a bag of chips. Instead, pack the night before, right after dinner, before you’ve cleaned up the kitchen. Make it a family project; older kids can make their own lunches while you load the dishwasher, or younger ones can help pull out lunch components  with your supervision.

Make simple substitutions, and phase them in gradually: You don’t have to make drastic changes, at least not right away. A few small substitutions will get you on the way to healthier lunches fast. For instance, substitute yogurt-covered raisins, trail mix, or plain dried fruit for candy. Use mustard or fat-free mayo instead of full-fat mayonnaise or sandwich spread. Send pretzels or carrots with ranch dressing instead of chips; lean turkey instead of fatty pepperoni or bologna on a sandwich.

Experiment a little: We all tend to end up in a lunch rut. Get away from the sandwich-chips-fruit combo. Why not hummus and pita chips, or bean dips and baked tortilla chips, or even a container of edamame? Make that sandwich on pita bread, a whole-wheat bagel, or a tortilla. Try a Greek yogurt cup instead of pudding.

Allow the occasional surprise treat: Nobody can be perfect all the time, so it’s fun for kids to discover the occasional unexpected treat. A fun-size candy bar, a small bag of chips, a cookie – anything that’s school-approved should be included at least once in a while, to mix things up and remind kids that moderation is the goal.



Shop the Sale: Nature’s Own Whitewheat bread


When it comes to bread, do you have one of those picky eaters in your family?

You know, the ones who only want soft, fresh, white bread for toast and sandwiches – not the whole-wheat, higher-fiber varieties that you know are better for you?

Then maybe it’s time you got a little sneaky. Nature’s Own Whitewheat sandwich bread – on special this week at your neighborhood Brookshire’s – is tailor-made for white-bread traditionalists.

This bread is baked with a special enriched wheat flour and extra fiber, so it provides super nutritional benefits. It has about two grams of fiber in each slice, double what you get in a typical slice of white bread. It also delivers more calcium and iron than a typical whole wheat bread. And it’s made without artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup.

But just to look at it and taste it, you probably wouldn’t know you aren’t eating regular white bread.

The slices are just slightly more tan in color than a traditional white sandwich loaf. But the soft texture and the mild, wholesome taste will satisfy those who are looking for that fresh white bread flavor.  Try it in this simple update of the grilled cheese sandwich. Serve it with a cup of tomato or vegetable soup, and you’ll be getting the family to eat a lighter, healthier dinner without them even knowing it.

Grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches

Ingredients:
8 slices white-wheat bread
8 slices deli ham, thinly sliced
8 thin slices sharp cheddar (about 4-6 ounces)
8 thin slices fresh tomato (about 1 large or two medium tomatoes)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter

Directions:
Lightly toast bread, on lowest setting of toaster, just to slightly dry it. Heat oven to 200 degrees.

Place four slices of bread on a cutting board and top with one slice cheese, one slice ham, tomato, then another piece of ham and another piece of cheese. Sprinkle each sandwich with a bit of salt and pepper, then top each with a piece of bread. Press together slightly.

Over medium heat, heat a large nonstick skillet or griddle. Melt one tablespoon butter, then add two sandwiches and cook until the bread is toasty and golden and the cheese is softened. Flip sandwich and cook until bread is golden and cheese is melted. Transfer to a warm oven and keep warm while you repeat the process with the remaining two sandwiches, using the second tablespoon of butter.

Transfer cooked sandwiches to cutting board and slice each in half. Serve.

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Healthy Living: Healthier popcorn


Popcorn got a bad rap, nutritionally speaking, back in the ’90s, when a health group released a report that condemned it for being a fatty, salty, nutritional disaster.

But, really, they were just talking about movie popcorn, which is popped in oil and often drenched in butter flavoring. On its own, popcorn can actually be a  healthy snack, and a good alternative to other salty snacks like chips!

Seriously, it is. Without the extra salt and fat, popcorn is a whole grain that is low in calories (less than  30 calories per popped cup) and high in fiber (about 1 gram per cup.) Alone, it doesn’t contain sugar, salt, or fat.

Of course, that changes if you pop it in a lot of oil, add a ton of butter, or turn it into kettle corn, with both salt and sugar. But there are ways to enjoy your popcorn and maintain a healthy diet, too:

  • Go old school: Invest in an airpopper, and you cut the fat and calories to almost nothing. (Choose some of the add-ins below to give it more flavor.) Or, you can use an old-fashioned popper that uses oil, but just cut way back on the oil. A quarter cup of popcorn kernels, which will produce at least 8 cups of popped corn, will pop in a tablespoon of oil, or less, in a regular popper. That tablespoon of oil will add about 120 calories. Don’t have a popper? You can make popcorn in a heavy-bottomed, covered skillet on the stovetop.  Shake it occasionally while the corn is popping, to get more kernels to pop.
  • Easy, cheesy: Sprinkle air-popped or lowfat popcorn with parmesan cheese or another hard grated cheese, like Mexican cotija, for a burst of flavor without too much extra fat.
  • Spice it up: Instead of just plain salt, sprinkle popped corn with a bit of your favorite herbs, like powdered garlic, onion salt or garlic salt, chile powder or crushed red pepper. To get the spices to stick better to air-popped corn, you can mist with a tiny bit of water or a butter-flavor spray.
  • Practice portion control. Three cups of air-popped popcorn – a decent-size serving –  is just about 100 calories. Add a tiny bit of butter and your favorite flavorings, and you’re still looking at a satisfying, 150-calorie snack. If you eat microwave popcorn, look for “lite” versions, which can contain half as much fat as other varieties, and either buy individual-size bags, or make sure you find someone to share the bag!
  • Popcorn trail mix: Skip butter or oil, and add a sprinkle of good-for-you snacks to your bowl of popcorn, like dried cherries, raisins, pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds or chopped dates.
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Posted in: Healthy Living


Product Talk: Yukon Gold potatoes


Restaurant consultants and food writers are calling 2012 the “Year of the Potato.” Well, personally, I think pretty much every year is the potato’s year, at least in the United States. Year in and year out, we eat more potatoes than any other vegetable.

Of all the potatoes out there, however, the one that is probably getting the most attention right now is the Yukon Gold. And there’s a good reason for that. These yellow-skinned, yellow-fleshed potatoes are naturally buttery and creamy, and are good just about any way you cook them.

You may have just heard of these golden potatoes in the last few years, as chefs and restaurants have discovered them, but they are not all that new. In fact, in much of the rest of the world, yellow potatoes have been the gold standard for centuries.

In the U.S., however, we have traditionally preferred potatoes with white flesh. That began to change only about a generation ago, after Canadian researchers developed the Yukon Gold by crossing North American white potatoes with yellow varieties from South America.

The result was a yellow-fleshed potato with skin so thin you don’t really have to peel them, and a tender flesh that is especially good for pan-frying, boiling, and mashing.

That probably has a lot to do with the unique texture and starch content. Yukon Golds do not have quite as much starch as a traditional baking potato like an Idaho or a russet, but they have a little more starch than a red potato, which is often boiled or mashed. They cook fairly quickly, so you do have to watch them, as they can get too soft and fall apart if overcooked.

Also, unlike some potatoes, they don’t turn grayish when cooked. In fact, they often turn a little more golden, so your mashed potatoes will have a pretty golden hue, even if you don’t use much butter to flavor them.

Which, right there, is part of the reason potatoes are popular again in some circles. Now that the “low-carb” diet fad has died down, more people have realized that potatoes can actually be pretty good for you, as long as you don’t overload them with fat and salt. (A medium uncooked potato has only about 100 calories, but good chunks of Vitamin C, potassium and fiber.)

And that is where the Yukon Gold really stands out. You may find you that Yukon Golds have a richer flavor and creamier texture than other potatoes, so you can get by with less butter, cream, cheese or bacon in your favorite potato dishes.

 

 



Dine-In: Tex-Mex chicken casserole


One of the only downsides about being a chef is that no one ever wants to invite me over for dinner.  I guess everybody assumes that I’ll go all Gordon Ramsey on them, criticizing their chopping technique and refusing to eat anything that doesn’t meet chef standards, whatever those may be.

The reality is A. I’m always happy when someone else does the cooking and B. I eat pretty much anything, as long as it’s good. In fact, at home, we eat a lot of simple dishes, especially in the winter – soups, casseroles and even one-dish meals. Even a chef doesn’t want to spend hours cooking every night.

This casserole is one of those simple dishes, a kind of Tex-Mex take on chicken lasagna. It has a lot of flavor, but uses short-cuts (canned beans, prepared chicken broth and cooked rotisserie chicken) so you can get dinner on the table without laboring too long in the kitchen.

Tortilla Casserole

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1 cans (15.5-ounce) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon chipotle chilies in adobo, minced
2 cups chicken, cooked and shredded
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
5 cups tortilla chips (3 ounces)
2 cups Mexican style cheese, shredded (such as asadero or quesadilla; Monterey jack will also work)

Directions:
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Add onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and bring to simmer.

Stir beans, tomatoes, and chipotle into sauce and simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in chicken, 3 tablespoons cilantro, ¾ tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. pepper.

Spread 1 cup tortilla chips over bottom of 8-inch baking dish and top with 1 cup chicken mixture. Spread 2 more cups tortilla chips into dish and sprinkle with 1 cup cheese. Spread remaining chicken mixture into dish and top with remaining tortilla chips. Sprinkle remaining 1 cup cheese over top.

Bake until cheese is golden brown and casserole is bubbling, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro before serving.



Family Matters: National Children’s Dental Health Month


According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, as many as half of all children will be affected by tooth decay by the time they turn 5 years old. Tooth decay starts as soon as your baby’s teeth begin to appear – so it’s important to start proper dental hygiene as soon as your baby starts teething.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry encourages parents to have a “dental home” by their baby’s first birthday. But there are things you can do at home to maintain your baby’s beautiful, healthy smile.

  • After feeding your baby, wipe his or her teeth with a soft damp towel or brush them with a soft toothbrush. When bacteria in your mouth comes in contact with sugar, it produces an acid that can produce tooth decay, so it’s especially important after any meal containing sugars, even “good” sugars like fruit.
  • One of the biggest causes of tooth decay is putting your baby to bed with a bottle. Don’t do it! The peace and quiet now could result in dental problems later on. Also, avoid giving your toddler sugary drinks, like juice, lemonade and soda, in his or her sippy cup.
  • Calcium, along with plenty of vitamin D, will help your children’s teeth stay strong and their gums stay healthy. The majority of Americans get most of their calcium from milk and milk products. Current dietary guidelines recommend consuming low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products to reach the proper levels of calcium. Children ages 2 to 4 should consume 2 cups of these products; children ages 4 to 8 should consume 2 1/2 cups; and children 8 and up should get 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. Because our bodies need Vitamin D to properly absorb calcium, look for products that are Vitamin D enhanced, too. 
  • Fluoride plays an important role in keeping tooth enamel hard. Most Americans, including babies and toddlers, now get plenty of fluoride from fluoridated water. However, if your family’s water is not fluoridated, or you drink bottled water, talk with your pediatrician or dentist about fluoride treatments or supplements. 

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, so there’s no better time than now to get on the right track with your baby’s dental care.



Shop the Sale: Brookshire’s Bacon


Like a lot of chefs, bacon is one of the few foods I could probably never give up. Nothing really can substitute for it, and I use it in everything including sweets. (Candied bacon? Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.)

So I will be stocking up on Brookshire’s own bacon this week, thanks to the special (2 packages for $7) deal we have going.

Because we use so much bacon in my house, I often cook two or three packages at a time, drain it, crumble it and freeze it. Then, we’ve got instant, homemade bacon bits, ready to thaw out quickly for salads, baked potatoes, omelets or to use in recipes like this dip. It’s good with crackers, chips or, if you want to be a little bit healthier, raw veggie sticks.

By the way, this may be one of the few recipes I’ve ever made in which you could possibly over-caramelize the onions. If the onions are too caramelized, the dip will be a little too sweet in my opinion. So, do not over-cook them.

Bacon Onion Dip
Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:
6 medium onions, julienned (cut into long thin strips)
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 – 8 slices bacon, cooked crisp and drained, crumbled
2 cups sour cream
2 1/4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
3 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1/2  tsp. Kosher salt
Ground black pepper

Directions:
Peel onions by cutting of top and bottom (root and stem ends).Remove skin and julienne as finely as possible.

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over med. high heat. Add onions and season with salt. Reduce heat and gently cook the onions down until translucent and golden brown. You will need to stir onions frequently, as the longer they cook the easier they will burn. This step should take at least 30+ minutes up to about an hour. If it takes longer all the better. Once cooked set aside to cool.

When onions are cool, chop finely.

Mix all ingredients (including onions) in medium bowl. Serve immediately or chill.

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Healthy Living: Tea for your health


It makes sense that January is National Hot Tea Month. When the weather’s cold, and you’re possibly fighting off the cold and flu bugs that are making the rounds, a nice cup of hot tea sounds especially appealing.

But it turns out that tea is actually good for you all year long. A growing body of research has linked the consumption of tea to health benefits that may include weight loss, cancer prevention, and strengthening of the immune system. A big factor is that tea contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties, which help stave off many chronic diseases, including heart disease.

Also, if you’re trying to cut back on caffeine, tea is a wiser choice. The average cup of black tea (what’s in regular tea bags) has under 60 milligrams of caffeine, half what you are likely to get in an average brewed cup of coffee.

What’s more, the specialty tea market has also grown dramatically over the last decade. So even if most of the tea you drink is of the iced variety, like many Southerners, you may find that some of the newer flavors or blends of tea taste good hot, too.  And while almost all tea has some health benefits, each has a little something different to offer.

Green tea: This is the tea that’s gotten most of the attention health-wise. It is a mild, almost grassy tasting tea that has been linked to lots of good things.  It may fight diabetes and strokes, lower cholesterol, burn fat and slow down some signs of aging. If you don’t like the taste of green tea plain, try one of the many flavored varieties now on the market.

Black tea: Black tea doesn’t have as high a level as antioxidant as green tea, but its consumption has also been linked to the prevention of heart disease, stroke, some cancers and more mild maladies such as tooth decay. And, many drinkers prefer its clean, mild flavor, especially because this is the kind of tea most of us have grown up drinking.

Herbal teas: Strictly speaking, most herbal teas aren’t actually tea at all, but rather a mixture of dried herbs. Many of these herbal teas have long been used as home remedies or simply to promote good health. Chamomile tea, for instance, is often considered a natural way to help relax; so is lavender. And hibiscus tea, known as jamaica in Spanish-speaking countries, offers Vitamin C and antioxidants, and has been linked to lowering blood pressure.



Product Talk: Exploring Hispanic cheeses


Cheese is an important part of Mexican and Latin American cooking –but not just any cheese. There’s a whole world of specialty Hispanic cheeses out there. Mild crumbly cheeses to garnish a salad. Creamy, rich, meltable cheeses for sauces and pasta. Hard, intensely flavored cheeses to perk up any dish.

Smart U.S. cooks are finding out just how versatile these cheeses are, too. They not only make your Mexican dishes more flavorful and authentic, but they are a good, value-conscious substitute for many other kinds of commonly used cheeses. Here’s a starter guide to some of the most commonly found Hispanic cheeses – look for these varieties in the market section of your local store.

Asadero: Traditionally used in queso fundido – a kind of Mexican fondue that is similar to the chile con queso that’s popular in the U.S. It’s smooth, has just a bit of a bite, and melts easily, so it’s a good substitute for any melting cheese like Monterey jack, Colby-jack, fontina or American cheese.

Cotija: This is a firmer, stronger-tasting cheese that is typically crumbled or grated. Often called the “Parmesan cheese of Mexico,” it can be sprinkled over pasta or refried beans, over salads, or used to flavor tostadas or tacos. It’s salty and flavorful so you don’t need to use very much. Use instead of Parmesan, Romano, grana padano, or other hard, stronger cheeses.

Manchego: Creamy and meltable, with a nuttier, slightly stronger flavor than many of these other types. It’s good in sandwiches, pastas, or simply served with bread, crackers or olives. Mexican-style manchego is softer and milder than most Spanish-style manchego cheeses.

Panela: Mild and soft, this fresh cheese is often crumbled into tacos and burritos, or is good as a snack. It’s so mild that children will eat it like string cheese. It doesn’t melt well, though.

Oaxaca: The state of Oaxaca, in the southern part of Mexico, contributed this mild cheese, which is sometimes referred to as Mexican string cheese, as you can separate it into strands before eating or cooking. It’s somewhat similar in taste and texture to mozzarella, and good in quesadillas or even pizza.

Queso Fresco: A mild, crumbly cheese that’s often used atop beans, salads or tostadas; it doesn’t have the bite of cotija. You can substitute it for feta, which has a similar texture, but queso fresco doesn’t have quite as strong a taste as that traditional Greek cheese.

Quesadilla: A very mild, meltable cheese, perfect for grating and using in quesadillas, but also good in sandwiches, panini, or even melted on cheeseburgers. You may also find this cheese in a jalapeno flavor; it’s got the same texture but a hint of heat. It’s a great substitute for American, Monterey jack or Colby cheese.



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The products mentioned in “Share, the Brookshire’s Blog” are sold by Brookshire Grocery Company, DBA Brookshire’s . Some products may be mentioned as part of a relationship between its manufacturer and Brookshire’s.

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