Not quite spirals

Eat more vegetables.  I know I’m preaching to the choir here.

But even for real vegetable lovers,  eating the same vegetables over and over can get monotonous. Fortunately there are tools on the market that can help put fun vegetables on your plate.

One of these tools is the spiralizer.  Spriralized (is that a word?) vegetables are the “in” thing. The theory is that these noodle-like vegetables can be add variety meal and can replace higher-calorie pasta in recipes.

Listening to the ads on television and watching some YouTube videos on spiralizing they make it seem easy-to-do.  I’ve tried a couple different types of models–including hand-held, hand-crank and electric.  I have to admit that I’ve had limited success making my own spiralized vegetables.   I think some of this depends upon the type of spiralizer. Prices range from as low as $12 and as high as $300 for restaurant quality.

In my opinion, it’s difficult to get good results with the hand-held (hear: less expensive) spiralizers.  There is also  more of a chance of cutting yourself (note from personal experience).  I got fairly good zucchini and yellow squash noodles.  Admittedly, my carrots looked more like shreds.

There are some table-top spiralizers and others that attach to counter-top mixers.  These seem to have better results with heavier vegetables such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, jicama, carrots and rutabagas. Some have different sized and style blades so you can get strips, ribbons, spaghetti, fettuccini along with noodles.

The shape and density of the vegetable has a lot to do with successful spiralizing. The longer and more uniform the shape of the vegetable the better results. Because of their shape, not all vegetables turn into great noodles.  Bell peppers, onions and cabbage can be cut with a spiralizer, but you might end up with slices and shreds, just due to the layers naturally in the vegetable. Cucumbers are usually not as firm as other veggies and need a little more skill–but with the electric sprializer I got beautiful cucumber ribbons.

If you don’t own a spiralizer (or your skills are similar to mine) look for already made veggie noodles in the fresh produce section or the frozen vegetable aisle of your grocery store. Veggie noodles are becoming more popular and easier to find. I found beets, butternut squash and zucchini “noodles” cleaned, cut and ready-to-go….easy peasy.

If you try spiralizing, I hope you have better success than I did.  But no worries—this is one of those times that you can eat your mistakes.  All vegetables count! 

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

NOT Ready-to-eat

Except perhaps a quick glance at the recommended microwave cooking times, I’m betting that most people don’t look at the fine print on a bag of frozen vegetables. I’ve recently noticed that some packages now contain the food safety caution:

“Product is not ready to eat. For food safety, cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer. Refrigerate any leftovers.”

As a food safety instructor I’m really pleased to see these kinds of cautions on packages—now to get people to read and believe.

Most people think of frozen vegetables as relatively safe but, they are not intended to be consumed without cooking, because they may contain bacteria that are only killed when cooked properly and thoroughly. These bacterial pathogens are the biggest concern.  Several foodborne illnesses have been linked to frozen vegetables including  Listeria monocytogenes, Norovirus and Hepatitis A.

According to the Frozen Food Foundation  http://www.frozenfoodfacts.org/about-frozen-foods/helpful-hints   freezing does not kill all bacteria; some can live at freezing temperatures. Even frozen foods that were partially cooked by the producer may not have been cooked at temperatures high enough or long enough to kill all the bacteria that might have been present. They emphasize that it is important to prepare ready-to-cook frozen foods according to their cooking instructions.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers most frozen vegetables “ready-to-cook” NOT “ready-to-eat.”  As their name suggests, ready-to-cook foods must be cooked according to package instructions before eaten.  On the other hand,  ready-to-eat (RTE) foods are just that: foods that can be eaten right out of the refrigerator.

You might be asking yourself, why would someone eat frozen vegetables uncooked?  One thought that comes quickly to mind is when people pop veggies directly from their freezer into the blender for a smoothie. I also know several salad and salsa recipes that use frozen or partially thawed but not cooked vegetables as ingredients.

Remember that young children, the elderly and people that are immune compromised due to illness, transplants or HIV are more susceptible to a foodborne illness than others.  Pregnant women should be very cautious because a Listeria infection could lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or septicemia or meningitis in the newborn.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

 

 

 

Reader questions onion safety

Question from a reader:  “What information do you have about the idea that onions pose a risk if left in the refrigerator after cutting?  It is something most of us have always done and now there is information floating out there in the internet world that this is not a safe practice.  Thanks for any insight!”

Don’t you just love the internet?  All of these “tales” can cause us to worry about everything!  According to Snopes, this one has been going around since 2008 and there isn’t any scientific proof to support this statement.

Nothing mysterious happens to onions once they are in the refrigerator. Like all fruits and vegetables, once cut, onions should be kept in the refrigerator (National Center for Home Food Preservation and National Onion Association).  I’ll refer you to another article I wrote about Keeping Fruits and Vegetables Safe.

Once a fruit or vegetable has been cut, the barrier to the outside world has been broken and the plant’s natural defenses have been compromised. This opens the food up to the environment. Plus, the moisture and natural sugars in fruits and vegetables help create a great place for bacteria to grow. Refrigerator temperatures, on the other hand, can help slow this development of bacteria. The biggest problem with onions in the refrigerator is the odor.  Be sure to wrap well or keep in a sealed container.

But don’t store your uncut onions in the refrigerator. Whole unpeeled onions should be kept in a cool, dry, well ventilated place. Don’t store them in a plastic bag. Sweet onions tend to have higher water content and are more susceptible to bruising and will have a shorter shelf life than yellow onions. Once peeled or cut, onions should be stored (well wrapped or covered) in the refrigerator at 41 degrees or below.  A peeled or cut onion will be of good quality for 7 in the refrigerator.

If you have a few too many chopped onions they can be frozen. I have frozen leftover chopped  onions (without blanching) for a short time, they are not crisp when thawed, but work great for cooking. Be sure to wrap well.  Use within 3-6 months for best quality. For longer freezer storage, The National Center for Home Food Preservation (nchfp.uga.edu) recommends they be blanched and cooled before freezing.

One final tip: according to the National Onion Association (www.onion-usa.org) it’s the sulfuric compounds  in the onions that cause us to cry when cutting onions. To help reduce this,they recommend chilling the onion before cutting and cutting into the root end of the onion last.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS

Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

Are Your Holidays Healthful? A Quiz

Do you keep your holiday celebrations good for your health? Find out with this brand-new quiz!

Questions:

Dancing at a Party1. What is the most featured item in the display of foods at your holiday party?

a) Cookies
b) Meats
c) Fruits and vegetables
d) Cheeses

2. True or false? I make sure to get at least some physical activity during most days of the week.

3. Some smart ways to control portion size at meals include…

a) Making a healthy plate.
b) Sharing a meal
c) Being aware of the calorie content of the foods you purchase.
d) All of the above

4. True or false? I make sure to eat a healthful high-fiber breakfast every morning.

Answers:

Holiday Platter1. c) Fruits and vegetables
For the most healthful holiday celebration, make fruits and vegetables the start of any buffet you set up. You can keep things simple with crudités and some yogurt-based dips, or you can get fancy and roast up your favorite vegetables and serve them on a platter, drizzled with a little bit of sauce and garnished with parsley. Add bowls of berries and sliced fruit too!

2. True
To stay healthy during the holidays, it’s wise to sneak in a little physical activity whenever you can, even though things are busy. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, “Being physically active is one of the most important steps that Americans of all ages can take to improve their health.”

Check the Label3. d) All of the above
If you’re having a holiday gathering at a restaurant or coffee shop, check out any nutrition information that’s available online. Make sure that the portion size of what you want to order is reasonable. If it’s not, look for alternatives. Then, if you want to get or make something that only comes in a large portion, share it with a friend or family member. Finally, if you’re picking up a treat for a holiday gathering, check the labels! Use the Nutrition Facts to calculate serving size, nutrient content, and much more! Making a healthy plate will help you put your foods in the right proportions, too.

4. True
Starting your day off with a balanced and high-fiber breakfast is a smart way to stay healthy this holiday season. After all, breakfast is associated with a lower BMI, fewer calories consumed during the day, and a better diet. Plus, a healthful breakfast not only gives you energy, but also increases cognitive function. Some ideas include high-fiber cereal with nonfat milk, and fruit, or lowfat yogurt and fruit, or egg whites and fruit. A smoothie made with fruit and skim milk is also a great start.

How did you do? Do you know the nuts and bolts of staying healthy during the holidays?

Fresh Local Corn–Enjoy While You Can

We all know that local corn-on-the-cob tastes the best. One of the reasons is that corn’s natural sugars change quickly after harvest causing the corn to lose its sweetness quickly. Corn is one of those great summer farm market treats.

When selecting sweet corn look for husks with good bright green color that are snug to the corn ear and the silk dark brown. Avoid silk with worms or decay. Select ears that are full of kernels. These kernels should be well developed and plump, tender and milky.  If they are too large or too dark they can be tough, chewy and pasty.

For best quality, store corn in the husks uncovered in the refrigerator. If you have corn without the husks, put them in a perforated plastic bag. Corn is best when eaten within two days. After removing the husks and silk, wash the corn in cool running water before eating, cooking or preserving.

Nutritionally corn is a good source of carbohydrates as well as small amounts of Vitamins A and C.  It is sodium-free and low in fat.  Depending upon the size, corn can yield 2/3 to 1 cup of corn per ear. One medium ear of corn contains about 90 calories. Corn provides folate and thiamin as well as fiber.  It can also be a source of zeaxanthin, an antioxidant that may protect against age-related eye disease, such as macular degeneration.

Even though corn is a starchy vegetable, it can still fit into a healthy balanced diet.  According the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans we should try to eat 2-2 1/2 cups of vegetables each day and this can include 5 cups of starchy vegetables a week. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-3/ The key here again is balance and moderation and an occasional ear of corn-on-the cob when it’s fresh adds variety.

Instead of the traditional boiled and slathered with butter and salt corn-on-the-cob, try roasting on the grill with a little olive oil. I recently placed husked corn in a zip-top bag with a small amount of olive oil and added an herb blend. I turned the bag over several times to coat the ears with the oil and seasoning.   Then I took the cobs out of the bag and placed the cobs directly on a hot grill turning them several times until the kernels were slightly charred and golden. The flavor was great and there was no need to add extra salt or butter. Do be careful to watch the corn as it cooks, you don’t want it to overcook and dry out.

Judy’s favorite method for grilled corn is to start in the microwave and then finish on the grill at the same time the other items are cooking. That keeps it sweet and from getting tough and burnt. She cooks it in husks or in a covered dish for 2 minutes per ear. See her recipe below for corn salad using leftover cooked corn.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Here is one of Food and Health Communication’s Favorite recipes for corn:

Fresh Corn Salad

Serves: 4 | Serving Size: 1 cup
Total Time: 15 min | Prep: 15 min | Cook: 0 min

Ingredients:

6 cups dark green lettuce, preferably red leaf
2 ears of corn, shucked and cooked
1 large, ripe tomato
1/2 medium-sized, ripe avocado
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons flavored vinegar
Black pepper to taste

Directions:

Cut the lettuce into bite-sized pieces and soak in a large amount of cold water; allow to stand so the dirt sinks to the bottom. Drain the lettuce well in a colander. Place the lettuce in a salad bowl.

Cut the corn off the cob and place on top of the lettuce. Core and dice the tomato and place on top of the salad. Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit and scoop out the flesh from the rind. Dice the avocado and place it on top of the salad.

Chill and cover the salad until ready to serve, up to 3 hours.

When ready to serve, drizzle oil and vinegar over the top and add black pepper to taste.

Serves 4. Each 1 cup serving: 148 calories, 8g fat, 1g saturated fat, 0gtrans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 18mg sodium, 20g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 4gsugars, 4g protein.© Food and Health CommunicationsAnother article in the blog on Corn-on-the-Cob

Shucks with the husks

Freezing the Taste of Summer

One of the great tastes of summer  is corn-on-the-cob. Lots of people try to retain that great flavor for later in the year by freezing corn when it’s at its peak.

People are always looking for quick and easy ways to do things and the internet tends to perpetuate this with the latest fads and quick-you-have-to-try recipes. Preserving corn-on-the-cob is frequently a topic. I’ve heard two new corn “ideas” this year. While neither are “unsafe”, the quality of the final products may not be so great.

One of these  methods is freezing corn cut off-the-cob  in a mixture of water, sugar and salt in lieu of blanching. There is no research to prove that this sugar and salt brine would be a substitute for heat to inactivate enzymes.

Another  “tip” going around is to put the corn directly in the freezer (husks and silk and all). This method obviously doesn’t include blanching either.  For my personal thoughts on cooking in the husks see an earlier blog post Shucks with the Husks .

If you’re going to freeze corn, blanching is highly recommended.  This is for quality not safety. Blanching inactivates enzymes within the food. If not destroyed,  these enzymes can cause loss of flavor, color and texture in the frozen food. Blanching is scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time and the immediately cooling in ice water.  Without blanching you may have a very poor quality product.

Fresh sweet corn may be frozen cut-off or on-the-cob. I usually tend to avoid frozen corn-on-the-cob because sometimes it’s mushy, watery and “cobby” tasting  when cooked. If you really love eating corn from the cob, here are some tips that can help you be successful:

According to the National  Center for Home Food Preservation  http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/corn.html medium ears of corn should be blanched for 7 minutes. One of the key steps to keep this corn from tasting like the cob when thawed is to leave them in the ice water and even adding more ice to completely chill the cobs after blanching.  The general “rule of thumb” is to chill the corn for as long as it was blanched. Don’t allow it to stay too long or it will get soggy and allow to drain well before freezing. Another tip to get better quality results is to slightly thaw the corn-on-the-cob before cooking.

I usually suggest to people to try freezing a few ears and then prepare and see if you and your family likes them before getting carried away and using a lot of freezer space on something you won’t like come January.

Here are a few more tips from Chef Judy Doherty to savor your favorite foods this summer:

  1. Berries can be frozen in zip bags so they are ready for smoothies, muffins, pies, sauces/purees, and cobblers. Mix them for a fun new flavor sensation or keep them separate.
  2. Tomatoes can be cooked into sauce or salsa and frozen in a zip storage bag.
  3. Herbs can be made into pesto or frozen in tupperware so they can be slipped into your favorite foods and dishes. To make a simple pesto, puree your favorite herbs with a little olive oil then freeze on foil, slice and freeze the squared in a zip storeage bag.
  4. Corn should be steamed and then cut off the cob for the best results. Or just cut it off the cob and then steam before freezing. The problem with freezing a whole cob is that you will overcook your corn trying to heat the whole cob.
  5. For peaches and tree fruits, cut them into wedges, freeze on a sheet, then put them into zip bags.
  6. Spinach and other greens may be flash steamed (steam quickly) and then stored in zip bags or plastic containers in small serving sizes.
  7. If you have a lot of fresh mint consider freezing it in ice cubes so you can flavor water or tea.
  8. Grate zucchini and carrots and freeze them in ziplock bags so they are ready for muffins and quick breads.

Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS
Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

 

Check out our new materials now at 

Food News: Potassium and Your Health

Ask anyone to name a source of potassium and inevitably they’ll say “bananas.” Yet if you ask that same person why we need potassium, you might find less of a definitive answer.

In fact, few can answer that question.

Potassium is a mineral that’s not only found in bananas, but also citrus fruit, green leafy vegetables, yogurt, beans, whole grains, and sweet potatoes. Researchers suggest that it’s wise for people to increase the amount of potassium in their eating patterns, since potassium can help lower blood pressure, regardless of sodium intake.

Let’s take a closer look at some of that research…

Dr. Alicia McDonough, a professor of cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC), evaluated the diets of several populations and found that higher potassium intakes were associated with lower blood pressure, no matter what the sodium intake was. Her review included a combination of interventional and molecular studies evaluating the effects of dietary potassium and sodium on high blood pressure in various populations. During this review, she found that the kidneys get rid of more salt and water when dietary potassium intake is high. McDonough likens high potassium intake to taking a diuretic or water pill.

Unfortunately, a typical American diet tends to be higher in processed foods, which in turn tend to be high in salt content and low in potassium. One of the most cost-effective strategies to reduce blood pressure is to cut back on salt. Improved consumer education regarding salt, changes in processed food, and reduced consumption of high sodium foods should be implemented to this effect.

Why?

Let’s explore some more data.

Finland and the UK were first to start salt reduction programs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Europeans consume an average of 7-18 grams of salt per day, which is far above the suggested limit of 6 grams per day, which contains 2400 mg sodium. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) suggested that adults consume 4.7 grams of potassium daily to reduce blood pressure, reduce the impact of high sodium intake, and slash the risk of bone loss and kidney disease. Dr. McDonough notes that consuming just ¾ cups of dried beans daily can help individuals reach half of their potassium goal.

Here are more ways to obtain more potassium:

  • Eat an orange or banana daily.
  • Include green leafy vegetables daily. Think broccoli, spinach, or kale.
  • Snack on unsalted nuts.
  • Add an avocado to your salad or sandwich.
  • Choose dark orange fruits and vegetables like melon and sweet potatoes.
  • Enjoy kiwi, mango, or papaya regularly.

By Lisa Andrews, MED, RD, LD

Reference:

Alicia A. McDonough, Luciana C. Veiras, Claire A. Guevara, Donna L. Ralph, Cardiovascular benefits associated with higher dietary K vs. lower dietary Na evidence from population and mechanistic studies.  American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism. Apr 4, 2017, E348-E356

WHO Salt Facts http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs393/en/

Do You Have to Drink Green to Eat Clean?

Green drinks and clean eating are all the rage, but what exactly is “clean eating?”

Margaret McCartney, GP, notes in the British Medical Journal,

“The command to eat cleanly implies that everyone else is filthy, being careless with their bodies and lives. It comes with promises of energy boosts, glowing skin, spirituality, purity, and possibly immortality. But this nonsense is all based on a loose interpretation of facts and a desire to make the pursuit of well-being an obsessive, full-time occupation.”

Let’s also add that there isn’t a single definition of clean eating that everyone agrees with. Here are a few examples…

  • At its simplest, clean eating is about eating whole foods, or “real” foods — those that are un- or minimally processed, refined, and handled, making them as close to their natural form as possible.  Fitness Magazine
  • It used to imply eating lots of whole, real foods — veggies and fruit, whole grains, animal and plant-based protein, nuts, seeds, and oils. It also meant that what you eat should be as close to nature as possible — minimally processed, not packaged or originating from a factory. Good Housekeeping
  • The soul of eating clean is consuming food the way nature delivered it, or as close to it as possible. It is not a diet; it’s a lifestyle approach to food and its preparation, leading to an improved life — one meal at a time. Clean Eating Magazine
  • Eating clean is simply the practice of avoiding processed and refined foods and basing your diet on whole foods. Eating Clean for Dummies Cheat Sheet

Some clean eating programs ban gluten, dairy, sugar, any food that’s not organic, or any food that isn’t sourced locally. What starts off sounding like a simple concept can get buried in an overwhelming list of food don’ts – without any science to back it up.

It’s clear from the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that eating plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, dairy, protein foods, and more healthful types of fat while limiting added sugars, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium will result in a healthful eating pattern. Clean eating and green drinks aren’t mentioned.

How do you define a processed food?

While we probably all agree that Twinkies or frozen meals are processed, what about bread? Do you have to make your own bread to avoid processed foods? Do you have to mill your own flour? We most likely think of fresh fruit as fitting into the clean eating concept, but what if that fruit is shipped to my home in Arizona from China? It’s easy to overthink clean eating to the point where we throw up our hands and head to the nearest fast-food drive-through.

Here’s our take on clean eating: read the list of ingredients, and choose foods where you can visualize each of the ingredients. The Triscuits cracker label states: whole grain wheat, vegetable oil (soybean or canola oil), sea salt; while the Carr’s Rosemary Cracker label lists: enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate <Vitamin B1>, riboflavin <Vitamin B2>, folic acid), vegetable oil (sunflower, olive, canola and palm kernel oil), leavening (yeast, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate), contains two percent or less of dextrose, salt, maltodextrin, rosemary, spices, dried garlic, malt extract, onion powder, sugar, whey, natural flavor, and soy lecithin.

Which cracker contains ingredients you can visualize?

Now, if you relate to Sam I Am from Dr. Seuss and don’t like to drink anything green, does that mean that you’re missing vital nutrients? I’m convinced the green smoothie/juice craze was started by companies who make super blenders like Vitamix as a way to market their products. Before juicing became a health fad, we either ate vegetables raw in salads or cooked, drank fruit or vegetable juice, and ate fruit. While eating plenty of vegetables is of course an important component of a healthful eating pattern, you don’t have to drink green juice to get the health benefits of vegetables. Choose a rainbow of fruits and vegetables for optimum nutrients. Red, purple, blue, white, brown, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables are important sources of phytochemicals that are crucial to good health. Stick to green veggies only, and you’re missing out on essential nutrients.

If you enjoy making your own vegetable/fruit juices or smoothies, use these tips:

  1. Choose plain, unflavored Greek yogurt for an excellent protein source without added sugar.
  2. Use ½ – 1 cup total fruit, choosing a variety of colors of fruit and incorporating fresh, frozen, or fruit canned in its own juice.
  3. Toss in 2-3 times the amount of vegetables as fruit. For example, if you use ½ cup fruit, use 1-1 and 1/2 cups vegetables. Vary the colors of vegetables for the most nutrients.

If you’d rather purchase juices or smoothies, follow these recommendations:

  1. Read the list of ingredients to make sure you can visualize each ingredient and that you’re purchasing a beverage made from whole foods.
  2. Avoid juices/smoothies with added sugar, even from healthier-sounding sweeteners such as brown rice syrup, raw cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, etc. The fruit in the juice/smoothie will provide all the sweetness you need without added sugar.
  3. Note the number of calories per serving – you might be surprised! 1 cup of 100% fruit juice has about 100 calories, and 1 cup of tomato juice has about 40 calories.

By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, CPT, CHWC

References:

Margaret McCartney:  Clean eating and the cult of healthism. BMJ2016; 354:i4095

Jocelyn Voo. The Complete Crash Course on Clean Eating. Fitness Magazine. http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/weight-loss/plans/diets/clean-eating/ Accessed 3-20-17

Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN. Why Clean Eating is Total BS. http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a37595/what-is-clean-eating/ 3-29-2016. Accessed 3-20-17

What is Clean Eating? Clean Eating Magazine. http://www.cleaneatingmag.com/clean-diet/what-is-clean-eating 4-29-13. Accessed 3-20-17.

Eating Clean for Dummies Cheat Sheet, from Eating Clean for Dummies, 2nd edition. http://www.dummies.com/food-drink/special-diets/eating-clean-for-dummies-cheat-sheet/ Accessed 3-20-17.

Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/executive-summary/ Accessed 3-30-17

Eat a Colorful Variety Everyday. Fruit & Veggies More Matters. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/eat-a-colorful-variety-of-fruits-and-vegetables Accessed 3-30-17

Summer Salad Coloring Page

It’s time for another fun and relaxing coloring page. This one highlights the joys of salad!

What do you think?

Our artist has also made a simpler one for kids…

These pages are perfect icebreakers! They’re also great as activities people can do while they’re waiting for class to start or if they’ve finished an assignment ahead of a group. They’re also fun prizes and take-home activities! How will these coloring sheets make your life easier?

Here are the printable PDFs!

Activity Idea: Crostini Bar

You guys, I just got the coolest request from longtime reader Pat Hunter.

Pat wrote…

I am working on a simple demo for a table I am planning on the topic of plant-based meals. I thought a crostini bar might be an inviting stop for customers. Everyone enjoys make-your-own bars. I would like to use a whole grain cracker, hummus, etc. Have you ever created a handout on this topic?

I haven’t made a handout on this particular topic, but today I want to share a bunch of strategies in this blog post.

Here’s everything you need to build a tasty and appealing crostini bar that’s also good for health!

The Bases:

Crostini make the most sense as the base for a crostini bar. For a nutrient boost, make sure that you’re slicing and toasting whole wheat bread or using pre-made crostini that highlight whole grains.

As Pat suggested, whole grain crackers are also a delightful base for the toppings, and in this day and age it might be wise to throw in some healthful gluten-free crackers as well.

Sliced cucumbers can also be good bases for the toppings in this bar if people are looking to go low-carb or get an extra veggie boost.

The Middles:

Plain hummus is a great topping for the next section of the crostini. Its mild flavor complements the toppings to follow, and its creamy texture makes it an effective “glue” for holding the toppings to the bases. Set out a few different flavors of hummus and let participants try their favorites.

Artichoke tapenade, olive tapenade, and red pepper tapenade are all also colorful and tasty options for the “middle” section of the crostini bar. Choose the options with the lowest sodium to keep your bar heart-healthy.

Finally, bean dip makes a great high-fiber addition to this crostini bar.

The Toppings:

Now let’s add some color! Sliced and diced raw vegetables are phenomenal toppings for a crostini bar. Plus, they add the necessary visual appeal and crunch that a topping should provide. Go for a mix of things like shredded carrots, halved grape tomatoes, ribboned cucumber (use a peeler to make thin ribbons), diced celery, sliced radishes, chopped bell peppers — really whatever is in season and looks appealing would be great at this part of the bar.

A shredded green salad with a light dressing can also be a great crostini topper. Consider ribbons of raw kale or chard, bulked up with shredded carrots or Brussels sprouts, then tossed with a bit of oil and fresh lemon juice.

You can also add steamed and sliced beets with goat cheese as a final option in the toppings section of your bar.

The Finishing Touches:

Salt, pepper, olive oil, citrus juice, fresh herbs, toasted and chopped/sliced nuts, and/or salad dressings can all add the perfect “finishing touch” to a crostini bar. Consider setting out a selection of those ingredients at the end of the bar for people to add to their creations before they eat them.

So, what do you think? Are you ready to build a crostini bar for your next presentation or event?