Must-Have Kitchen Tools: Salad Edition

 Jessica kitchen tools

If you take a look around my kitchen you won’t see a lot of clutter – I try to keep the counters free of appliances, even though my husband insists our cornflower blue Kitchen Aid stand mixer would look marvelous on the island. However, as I get more creative with my recipe development and making better-for-you recipe makeovers, I can’t keep the drawers and pantry as neat and organized as I would like – there are just too many gadgets and tools that take recipes to the next level. With all the gift-giving holidays quickly approaching, if you or your loved ones like to cook, now is a great time to find out which kitchen tools are the most useful and worth having no matter how much storage space you have in your kitchen. And seeing as how we focus on salads here at Fresh Express, we thought it would be most appropriate to share our favorites for making nutritious and delicious salads and dressings that will keep you coming back for more.

Measuring Spoons and Cups

No kitchen is complete without a full set of measuring spoons and two sets of measuring cups – one with handles and spouts for measuring liquids and the other for measuring dry ingredients that can be leveled off. Although most sets of measuring spoons have the standard measurements, which include ¼ teaspoon, ½ teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, and 1 tablespoon, I prefer the sets that include the 1/8 teaspoon and ½ tablespoon measurements. The 1/8 teaspoon is especially helpful when measuring salt for salad dressings.

Basic Utensils

Take a stroll through the kitchen department of any home goods store and you will be overwhelmed by the assortment of cooking utensils for sale. Some are not really necessary unless you would use them often. For example, unless you frequently cook delicate filets of fish, a fish spatula will take up valuable space in your kitchen. On the other hand, there are some utensils that are a must, especially for salads: namely a vegetable peeler and a whisk.

Microplane Zester/Grater

This may not seem like an essential kitchen tool, but wait until you see what an impact it has on your cooking! You can use it to grate cheese on your pasta, grate chocolate for decorative shavings on a dessert plate, or grate ginger and garlic for use in stir-fries and sauces. But my all-time favorite use of a microplane, especially when it comes to salad, is to zest citrus fruits, which add amazing flavor to salad dressings and marinades like the Lemon Vinaigrette in this salad.

Hand Juicer

You can use the tines of a fork or your own hands to squeeze juice out of lemons, limes, and oranges, but if you want to get the most juice from your fruit and keep the pits out, a handheld juicer is the way to go. And don’t underestimate the value of freshly squeezed juice for salad dressings, marinades, and sauces – lots of flavor with fewer calories and no fat or sodium. Give it a try yourself when making the Southwest Citrus Chicken Salad.

Mini Food Processor

A full sized food processor will take up a lot of counter or cabinet space, but unless you’re making big batches of pesto, pureed soups and sauces, or ground meat, a mini processor will suffice. When it comes to salads, mini processors are a great way to emulsify salad dressings, chop nuts for garnish, make your own breadcrumbs for meat and fish coatings, or make sauces like pesto, which can be used in recipes like this Penne with Arugula Pesto.

By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express

The Fresh Express Salad Swap helps you recreate the flavors of your favorite higher-calorie foods in lower-calorie salads. Discover the free app with delicious recipes and money saving coupons at www.saladswap.com/

How to Make Better-For-You Comfort Food

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As the weather gets colder and we head into hibernation for the winter, cravings for warmer, more indulgent comfort food may begin. Most traditional comfort foods like macaroni and cheese and fried chicken are loaded with calories and fat, which will wreak havoc on your waistline and your health if you eat that way all winter. But if you make some simple swaps you won’t have to forego all of your favorites.

Take a look at the Fresh Express Salad Swaps as an example: when the craving hits for a rich and creamy pasta, instead of fettuccine Alfredo you can have a Salad with Fusilli and Homemade Creamy Dressing. The salad has the same flavors as the indulgent pasta dish and will save you more than half the calories. If you’re not in the mood for a salad, you can still lighten up these comforting meals. A few ingredient swaps and healthier cooking techniques are all you need for these comfort food recipe makeovers. Here are 5 of our favorites:

Macaroni and Cheese: All the butter, cream, and full-fat cheese make the sauce decadent but also the major source of calories in this dish. Use olive oil, low-fat milk, and light cheese to get the most flavor for fewer calories. Add herbs, spices, and some grainy mustard for a flavor boost. Reduce the amount of cheese and add pureed butternut squash to the sauce to add a creamy consistency and some added nutrients to the sauce. And switch to whole wheat pasta for a fiber boost. Give this recipe a try: Lightened-Up Macaroni and Cheese.

Mashed Potatoes: Often filled with butter and heavy cream, what seems like a simple side dish can be a calorie, fat, and sodium bomb on the plate. For a less heavy version, use a combination of olive oil, low-fat milk, and low-fat cottage cheese or low-fat plain yogurt in place of heavy cream. Instead of traditional russet potatoes, use Yukon Gold potatoes, which already have a buttery flavor and creamy texture. Or better yet, replace half the potatoes with mashed cauliflower or mashed roasted parsnips. Add garlic and chives for additional flavor and few calories, and a sprinkle of strongly flavored cheese like Parmesan will go a long way for your taste buds.

Chili with all the Fixings: Traditional meat-based chili has a lot of saturated fat and sodium, but the real kicker is all the fixings on top – sour cream, shredded cheese, and crushed corn chips are fan favorites. To make chili more wholesome, use a combination of lean ground sirloin beef and ground turkey breast or skip the meat altogether and keep it vegetarian. Load up on vegetables to add flavor and  bulk up the bowl – try bell peppers, corn, onions, and different types of squash. Look for no-salt added crushed or diced tomatoes and canned beans. For the latter, be sure to drain and rinse them first. When ready to serve, limit the toppings to one or two and stick to lighter options like diced or mashed avocado, low-fat plain yogurt, and reduced-fat shredded cheese. Garnish the bowl with a squirt of lime juice and a sprinkle of cilantro to boost the flavor without added calories. You can also try the Sante Fe Style Flank Steak Chili Salad.

Creamy Soups: Get the silky, smooth texture without the cream in traditional cream-based soups by pureeing the vegetables with a hand blender and thinning it with low-sodium stock. You’ll be amazed how rich and velvety your favorite butternut squash or tomato soup is even without the cream. If you’re looking for some tang, stir in a dollop of low-fat Greek yogurt when serving. For an extra flavor boost, use fresh herbs and spices, especially fresh garlic and onion, and add a pinch of salt just before serving rather than while cooking.

Fried Chicken: Get some Southern comfort without your diet going south of the border by using white meat chicken, removing the skin, coating the chicken in egg whites and whole wheat panko breadcrumbs or crackers, and oven baking at a high temperature on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Or try this Cracker-Crusted Chicken Salad.

By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express

The Fresh Express Salad Swap helps you recreate the flavors of your favorite higher-calorie foods in lower-calorie salads. Discover the free app with delicious recipes and money saving coupons at www.saladswap.com/

Spruce Up Your Salad

Spruce Up Your Salad - Fresh Express

As you’re putting together your holiday party menu, you may be inclined to leave off a salad course thinking it’s too plain, too boring, or too wholesome. Well, think again. As I’ve mentioned before, there are many ways to make vegetables more flavorful and exciting and the same is true for salads. Here are some salad combinations you may not have thought of but are in season and fancy enough to serve at the holiday table.

  • Baby spinach, orange sections, and roasted fennel
  • Tarragon, grapes, and goat cheese
  • Herb salad, fresh figs, and pine nuts
  • Mixed greens, candied pecans, and blue cheese
  • Butter lettuce, roasted butternut squash, and crisp apples
  • Tender Ruby Reds salad, dried cranberries, and Parmesan
  • Sweet Tender greens, ruby red grapefruit sections, and red onion
  • Baby Arugula, pears, and walnuts
  • Fancy Greens, roasted cauliflower, and pomegranate seeds
  • Baby Spinach, beets, and goat cheese
  • Roasted Brussels sprouts, toasted hazelnuts, and feta

By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express

 

 

5 Party-Planning Tips for the Healthier Hostess

healthier planning tips

You’re working hard to be a little healthier this holiday season, but the endless holiday parties and happy hours are getting in the way. So why not take things into your own hands and host your own holiday party. While some of your friends may roll their eyes at the thought of a healthier gathering, you can show them there’s still lots of flavor and fun without sacrificing the waistline. Just follow these five tips for planning a healthier holiday party!

  • Tip 1: Plan your menu based on food groups. You’ll help your guests eat a more balanced meal by serving dishes based on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Aim for two dishes within each food group so there is variety without too much choice. Studies show when we have too many options to choose from, we are more likely to overeat.
  • Tip 2: Use smaller plates and bowls. Studies show people eat more off of larger plates. So forget about putting out those dinner plates; instead, provide small cocktail or appetizer plates, which won’t hold as much food at one time. Guests will put more thought into what they take, eat more slowly, and think twice about going back for more.
  • Tip 3: Make place cards for food. Food tents are a great way to let your guests know what’s being served without bothering you all night long, which means more time for you to socialize and enjoy the party. Plus, these days with so many food allergies, it’s a great way to include allergen information, which can save you from a potential crisis.
  • Tip 4: Serve some fan favorites. Go ahead and makeover some recipes in a healthier way, but don’t overdo it. People expect to have a little indulgence and find certain dishes at a holiday party, so don’t disappoint. Say marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole is a family tradition, keep it on the menu and choose a different dish to lighten up like apple pie. 
  • Tip 5: Keep all the food in one place. Set the dining room table or the kitchen island as the buffet and keep the rest of the house food-free. This will discourage guests from reaching into the bowl of chips when they’re sitting and mingling with friends.

By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express

Find all of our Salad Swap recipes online: Salad Swap.

Holiday Party Appetizer Swaps

Holiday Party Appetizer Swaps by Fresh Express

You have your tips for being healthier through the holidays and we’ve even given you the cheat sheet to host your own healthier holiday party, but now we need to get down and dirty and answer the all-important question of what to serve. Many traditional dishes served at parties are fatty finger foods that won’t match your eating goals, but there are plenty of ways to make flavorful and delicious appetizers that are better for you and your guests. Try some of these swaps for the holidays this year.

  • Swap lightened up spinach dip for traditional artichoke dip. Substituting reduced fat cheeses for sour cream and mayonnaise will cut some of the fat and calories. Plus you’ll get a nutrient boost from baby spinach.
  • Swap chicken sate with peanut sauce for Buffalo wings with blue cheese sauce
  • Swap stuffed mushroom caps for stuffed potato skins
  • Swap turkey crostini with cranberry drizzle for foie grois crostini
  • Swap shrimp cocktail for mini crab cakes
  • Swap a wine or sparkling wine-based cocktail for eggnog
  • Swap cheese plate for mozzarella sticks

Stay tuned for salad recipes that are fancy enough to serve at a holiday party!

By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express

The Fresh Express Salad Swap helps you recreate the flavors of your favorite higher-calorie foods in lower-calorie salads. Discover the free app with delicious recipes and money saving coupons at www.saladswap.com/

5 Tips for a Healthier Holiday Season

healthier season

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, the holiday season has officially begun. As the holiday party invitations arrive in the mail, now is the time to get your plan in place for a healthier holiday season. Don’t fret – it is feasible to enjoy all the festivities and still fit into your slinky black dress for New Year’s! Just follow these tips.

Stay active. Extra plans on the calendar may impact your ability to get to the gym after work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find time for your daily 30-60 minutes of exercise. You may not sweat as much, but if you make a few changes to your daily routine you’ll still burn some calories:

  • Walk the long way to your office, get off the bus a couple of stops early, or park in the farthest spot from the door at the shopping center.
  • Get in a mini workout during commercial breaks or while you’re watching The Mindy Project (or some other light-hearted show). Think about old-school exercises that don’t require any special equipment like jumping jacks, triceps dips, squats, and core work. You can even do some of these when you’re waiting on line to buy holiday gifts!
  • Work those arm muscles when cooking by using an old fashioned whisk instead of an electrical mixer and grating by hand instead of using a food processor.

Be choosy. When deciding what party to attend, what to put on your plate at the buffet, or whether to have another glass of wine, consider all your options, weigh the pros and cons, and make mindful choices. Remember, the holiday season lasts a few weeks, so no need to indulge in everything all at once.

Get Enough Zs. Research shows a link between lack of sleep and weight gain. This may be due to a decrease in the regions of the brain that evaluate appetite or maybe it’s as simple as you being too exhausted to think about healthy food choices. Whatever the reason, to make the healthiest decisions, get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

Make a swap. There are plenty of opportunities to treat yourself over the holidays, so every meal doesn’t have to be the most indulgent. When you don’t have celebration to attend, keep your meals on the lighter side. Instead of a burger and fries for lunch, try a Bacon Cheeseburger Salad with some kale chips. Get your gingerbread latte with skim milk and skip the whipped cream. Try a baked apple for dessert in place of apple pie. With all of these changes you’ll save calories and still enjoy the flavors of the season.

Don’t fall down the rabbit hole. If you do slip up and overdo it at one holiday event remember not all is lost. Get back on track later that day or first thing the next morning and remind yourself what a great job you have been doing to be a little healthier this holiday season. Repeating a mantra like “I know I can” may help reinforce your ability from within.

By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express

Learn more about the Fresh Express Salad Swap.

Meet Salad Swap Specialist, Chef Britney Ruby Miller

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Salad Swap Specialist, Chef Britney Ruby Miller

From a very young age, Britney Ruby Miller was taught an appreciation for high quality foods. As the eldest child of Cincinnati’s most successful restaurateur, Jeff Ruby, most of Britney’s childhood was spent growing up in high-end steakhouses. At the age of only 15 she started out as a hostess, however her true passion was cooking, so over the next several years, Britney vigorously trained at every position in the BOH. During this time Britney also earned a Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies degree from The University of Cincinnati. After college, she attended The Midwest Culinary Institute.  Britney has most recently focused most of her efforts on comprehensive corporate endeavors with Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment where she serves as Director of Operations. Here, she utilizes all of her natural talents from experience, including leadership, food & beverage, marketing and branding.

In her spare time, she enjoys finding new and effective ways to share her passion for excellent cuisine with the world. A devout believer in using superior quality, organic foods, Britney created britneyrubymiller.com to be an open venue where she can share her intense passion for fabulous fare with home cooks, chefs, foodies, and basically just anyone who loves to cook or eat (i.e. everyone!)

Britney is also a brand ambassador for Fresh Express Salads where she creates dozens of healthy, yet flavorful, easy-to-make gourmet salads/recipes. Through venues like Fresh Express and britneyrubymiller.com, she shares her philosophies, recipes, new ideas and tips.

Learn more about the Fresh Express Salad Swap.

Eating By the Season: Fall

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During the summer, we shared some of our favorite fruit and vegetables of the season along with ways to enjoy them cooked or raw. Now that fall is here, the produce offerings are a little different, and that means your salad fixings, side dishes, and mid-afternoon snacks are going to change too. You may still see some of those summer favorites in the fresh produce aisle, but you’ll likely pay a lot for them and they won’t be as flavorful as they were a few months ago – a result of being shipped long distances and picked before their prime. And while most fruit and vegetables are available all year round in the canned goods aisle and the freezer section, there are lots of benefits of eating fresh produce, one of which is keeping farmers in business. To help you get a handle on produce that will take you from fall into winter and how to prepare it, here are five favorites of the season.

Apples:

  • Perfect on their own or with a handful of raw nuts or a spread of nut butter
  • Braise with red cabbage and cider vinegar
  • Bake with cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup for a warming dessert

Butternut Squash:

  • Cube, roast and add to a salad (goes great with kale) or serve as a side dish
  • Bake and puree into soup
  • Ravioli filling topped with sage butter sauce

Brussels Sprouts:

  • Roast with olive oil and drizzle with aged balsamic vinegar
  • Shaved Brussels sprout salad
  • Add to a veggie and bean chili

Grapes:

  • Add to a spinach salad with blue cheese and toasted pecans
  • Roast and toss with a whole grain like farro, barley, or wild rice
  • Make grape jam

Fennel:

  • Combine raw with baby spinach, orange slices, and avocado
  • Roast with carrots as a side to poultry or fish
  • Add to soups and stews

Find all of our Salad Swap recipes online or via our app: Salad Swap.

By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express

Cauliflower: Trendy & Versatile

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Cauliflower is HOT! Food trend predictions for 2014 included cauliflower as the new kale and those predictions became a reality. As consumers are following a more vegetarian-inclined diet, the versatility of vegetables has become more apparent. Cauliflower isn’t one of the most talked about vegetables, and the perception of it is rather bland. For one thing, it’s most commonly known in it’s white variety and when you repeatedly hear the recommendation to have a rainbow of fruits and vegetables in your diet, cauliflower probably isn’t the first veggie to cross your mind (although it does come in purple, orange, and green). Add to that the image of the soggy steamed trio of cauliflower, broccoli, and crinkle-cut carrots served in your school cafeteria as a kid, and you most likely wince when you even think about those cruciferous florets. Fortunately the not-so-appealing perception of cauliflower is being changed as chefs, food bloggers, and supermarkets are recognizing the versatility of this nutritious and delicious vegetable.

And versatility is what makes vegetables trendy! On the simpler side, toss cauliflower florets with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes and you have a mouth-watering side dish. You may even want to call it cauliflower popcorn! Mash boiled cauliflower the way you would potatoes for a lower-calorie side to your turkey and gravy on Thanksgiving. Start to get more creative and take it to the next level when you cut a head of cauliflower into thick slices and broil or grill it to make cauliflower steak. Or grate this stellar veggie to make gluten-free pizza dough! And don’t forget about using cauliflower to make soup and the endless salad possibilities when you start with a base of Shredded Broccoli & Cauliflower – add some dried fruit, nuts, and a lightened up creamy dressing and you have a restaurant-quality appetizer. The possibilities are endless, so join the trend and eat some cauliflower before 2014 ends!

Fresh Express Shredded Broccoli and Cauliflower

Find out where you can purchase Shredded Broccoli and Cauliflower by using our Store Locator Tool.

By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express

Game Day Tailgating Tips

Tailgating Tips

Fall is here, and that means it’s time for apple picking, a hayride in the pumpkin patch, and Sunday Night Football. And nothing goes better with football than some good eats like foot-long subs, burgers, beer, and chips and dip. But before you set out the traditional tailgating fan-fare, check out the following tips to keep game time nutritious and delicious.

  • Warm up. Before you fill your plate, take a lap around the room to see what’s being offered. Studies have shown that the more variety you put on your plate, the more likely you are to overeat. So pick three or four items from different food groups and save room for a sweet treat.
  • Sub in better-for-you ingredients. Instead of the traditional plate of nachos or chips with French onion dip, serve fresh veggie sticks with hummus, guacamole or a low-fat Greek yogurt dip. And save hundreds of calories by making Salad Swaps in place of traditional tailgating dishes. For example, the Sante Fe Style Chili Salad is more than 300 calories less per serving than traditional beef chili, and the Italian Antipasto Salad will satisfy your craving for salty, savory meats and cheese for 220 calories – a 400+ calorie savings from an Italian sub sandwich.
  • Stay hydrated. It’s easy to fill up on caloric drinks like beer and soda, so choose your drinks wisely. Go for light beer, diet soda, or unsweetened iced tea to keep the calories in check. And remember to have plenty of water to wash down the salty party food.
  • Make the most out of halftime. Break away from the food and head outside for your own game of two-hand touch football or some halftime stretches. Remember, you want to balance those calories in with expending some calories, and what better way than to be active on a cool, crisp autumn day.

By Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN for Fresh Express

Learn more about the Fresh Express Salad Swap.