Tea for You? From Green to Fennel, Everything You Need to Know

Tea is well-established as a healthy drink for many reasons – it’s low in calories and filled with antioxidants, just to name a couple. But are you in tune with the vast array of options and flavors? Get better acquainted with this ancient brewed beverage.
Health Benefits
One cup of unsweetened brewed tea has less than 5 calories but plenty of flavonoids – plant compounds that help protect cells from damage. This protection may benefit heart health, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and even (slightly) increase metabolism. One particular compound found in tea is known as EGCG. This potent antioxidant has been linked to various health benefits, including weight loss and anti-inflammation.
Flavor profiles of tea vary dramatically, and ultimately it comes down to personal preference. Ever wonder if it’s best to put milk or cream in your tea? According to many tea connoisseurs, whole milk complements it best. But there’s a small amount of research that suggests adding milk to tea blunts some of the antioxidant content.
Traditional Leaf Tea
These teas stem from the Camellia sinensis plant. Leaves are processed in a variety of fashions; these different methods will affect the flavor and color of the tea once steeped in water.
BlackThese tea leaves are fermented, then heated and dried. They tend to be highest in caffeine and have a bold, rich flavor. Many studies link black tea to health benefits including a reduction in cholesterol. Research continues to find favorable outcomes. (A study published in October 2014) found that moderate black tea consumption could reduce the risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 31 percent.
This is typically the least processed tea, because the leaves are picked when the plant is still young. The flavor is mild, and this type of tea tends to retain a high amount of antioxidants.
These leaves are steamed and dried, but not fermented. Green tea boasts a high content of EGCG and one of the lowest amounts of caffeine; it accounts for about 20 percent of tea consumed. Studies have linked consumption to reduction in illnesses including cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There is, however, a lack of research to substantiate claims that drinking green tea aids in weight loss.
To make this less common type of tea, the leaves are partially fermented, leaving the flavor somewhat mild, in the middle of the road between green and black teas.
Herbal and …
“Teas” can also be created by steeping plants, flowers and seeds. These are formally referred to as “tisanes” and come in many forms. There are countless varieties and, overall, less scientific evidence to support many of the health claims. Here are a few of the most-popular types.
This flower-based tea is known for its pleasant aroma and soothing properties. It may also help calm an upset stomach. Like other herbal teas, it’s caffeine-free.
Known for its sweet, floral flavor and brilliant hot-pink hue, hibiscus tea contains numerous antioxidants, including vitamin C. There’s a small amount of research to support the theory that (hibiscus) has a blood pressure-lowering effect.
Also known as “holy basil,” this Indian herb has been linked to treating everything from anxiety to diabetes to the common cold. While there’s currently insufficient evidence to support these claims, it does contain a hefty dose of antioxidants. Supplements of holy basil have been associated with slowed blood clotting.
Steeping fennel seeds in hot water will yield a warm cup of aromatic tea. This type of brew is often recommended as a digestive aid and is considered safe when consumed in the amounts typically found in food and beverages. There is evidence of potential side effects when it is taken in large medicinal dosages.
Photo: iStock.com.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

Dessert of the Month: Mocha Hazelnut Chia Pudding

Chia pudding in all variations is one of my most-popular recipes with friends and clients. It’s sweet and light, is irresistibly creamy and lends itself well to a variety of flavors. Making a batch is a virtually mess-free endeavor, with only a blender and a bowl to clean, and this is also the perfect dessert to serve when you have no desire to stand over a stove. The only caveat is to allow enough time for the mixture to chill completely; overnight is best.
The creamy texture of the pudding comes from “blooming” chia seeds. When chia seeds are added to liquid, they absorb up to 10 times their weight and grow a gel around each tiny seed; this is what gives the pudding its tapioca-like consistency. Chia seeds need to “bloom” in order for our bodies to absorb their incredible nutritious properties. Packed with omega-3s, antioxidants, protein and fiber, and revered by Aztecs, Mayans and Incans, the nutrient-dense tiny seeds were a staple food that was cultivated throughout Central America for centuries.
Mocha Hazelnut Chia Pudding
Here you can use real coffee or an instant grain coffee such as Inka dissolved in boiling water. Instant espresso powder would also work. Freshly toasted nuts lend this pudding its rich caramel-y flavor.
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, plus more to garnish (see recipe below)2 cups water6 Medjool dates, pitted2 teaspoons vanilla extract1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil2 teaspoons cocoa powder, plus more to serve2 teaspoons espresso or grain coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or coconut nectarPinch sea salt1/4 cup chia seeds
Add all ingredients except chia seeds to an upright blender and puree until completely smooth. Pour into a medium mixing bowl, add chia seeds and whisk to combine. Place in the refrigerator for 2 hours or until completely chilled; mixture will thicken further after a night in the refrigerator. Spoon into small bowls, dust with cocoa and top with a few toasted hazelnuts. Store any remaining pudding in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Toasted hazelnuts:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place raw hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 12 to 14 minutes or until fragrant. Set aside to cool. Toss nuts on the tray to remove their papery skins. Pick nuts off tray and discard the skins. Store in a jar for up to 3 weeks.
Photo: Stephen Johnson
Amy Chaplin is a chef and recipe developer in New York City. Her cookbook At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen came out this fall. She blogs at amychaplin.com.

4 Juice Cleanses to Start 2015

Juice cleanses (sometimes called juice fasts) are a popular way to jump-start a healthy lifestyle and get nutritious fruits and vegetables into your diet. While many brands, like Organic Avenue and Blueprint Cleanse, were once offered exclusively via delivery in the local New York market, juice cleanses are more accessible than ever. Several brands are now distributed at grocery chains like Whole Foods and natural markets, ship overnight and have spawned their own full-on juice cafes. If you’re thinking of starting a cleanse in the new year, keep in mind that these natural juices should not be used as a long-term meal replacement. Rather, treat them as a way to kick-start your new routine and complement your diet. Here are a few ways to get your cleanse on.
Blueprint Cleanse
Where: Overnight delivery in continental United States and Canada or pickup at locations such as Whole Foods and Exhale.
What You Get: Blueprint Cleanse may be able to lay claim to this trend that caught fire after celebrities professed juicing as the way to get red-carpet ready. For us regular people just starting out, Blueprint offers the “Renovation” cleanse. Considered a gateway cleanse for those who have never done a detox program, the Renovation includes two green juices; pineapple-apple-mint juice; cashew milk; carrot-apple-beet juice; and spicy lemonade, which gets its kick from Mexican habanero, jalapeno, African, Chinese, Thai, Korean and Japanese peppers. In January, Blueprint will also introduce two new green-juice blends, one featuring arugula and kale, and the other a blend of chard, basil and collard greens. If you’re feeling unmotivated, Blueprint is on call 24/7 via their app, which sets up reminders for when it’s mealtime, and offers supportive messages as well as recipes for when you’re back to preparing your own food.
Mother Juice (pictured above)Where: Boston
What You Get: Founded in 2013, Mother Juice first offered their nutrient-rich juices, which “detoxify and regenerate cells,” from their roving juice truck. After much success, this past summer owners Laura Baldini and Ellen Fitzgerald opened their first brick-and-mortar location in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. There customers feast on vegan snacks, salads, smoothies and raw, cold-pressed juices. Those who sign up for the cleanse follow a guide outlining each juice’s ingredients and the order in which to drink the juices. The menu constantly changes, but expect a green juice like Kale Yea (liquefied kale, spinach, cucumber, celery, mint, pineapple and ginger); carrot juice (blended with watermelon, tomato, pineapple and ginger); and beet- and lemon-based juices. Ingredients are locally and seasonally sourced, and occasionally supplemented with organic produce not native to Massachusetts, like citrus. Their partnership with Freight Farms and their hydroponic kale program allow Mother Juice to have locally sourced kale year-round.
Feel FoodWhere: New York City
What You Get: Feel Food provides natural, organic juices using fruits, vegetables and nuts with an emphasis on Latin American produce. Cleanses come in 1-, 3- 5- or 7-day programs and are available for pickup in their West Village shop. When you’re feeling the midwinter blues, the Spring Breaker cleanse will brighten you up. It includes two cold-pressed green juices (provide vitamins A, C, K and folate); a Green Almond Gazpacho (bolsters immunity); and a Bloody Mary, which is more like a virgin Mary full of antioxidants and is said to “brighten skin and eyes.” Also included in the plan is a Wake Up shot of spirulina, ginger and lemon. All of the ingredients in the juices and various soups, stews and sandwiches offered at the shop are sourced from organic farms and producers that share Feel Food’s passion for sustainability.
Truce Juice
Where: Minneapolis
What You Get: Detoxification benefits that juice cleanses purport are often debated by nutritionists, but there’s no denying that Truce’s cacao juice, a combination of almonds, dates, maple syrup, sea salt, cacao and filtered water, will cure any hankering for a chocolate in a healthful way. Another favorite on their cleansing program is the Vacay. Reminiscent of lazy days on the beach, the Vacay is a zippy blend of carrot juice, lime juice and coconut milk that is said to replenish the body. If you want a customizable and comprehensive one-day cleanse, try Truce’s Complete Cleanse, which offers a choice of three green juices, one Roots, Vacay or Immunity and solid food (!) — a vegan salad (dressing included) and a creamy housemade almond milk. You can be sure that all juices at Truce are freshly pressed on-site within 24 hours of pickup.
Note: Please consult your health care provider before beginning a cleanse.
Kiri Tannenbaum is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris and holds an M.A. in food studies from New York University where she is currently an adjunct professor. When her schedule allows, she leads culinary walking tours in New York City and is currently at work on her first book.

Got Coconut Water? Our Guide to the Latest and Greatest

Coconut water used to be that fun drink you had on vacation — down at the beach, the hot sun on your back, a big bowling ball-sized coconut between your hands, a straw in your mouth. Nowadays, it’s in stock at virtually every deli, grocery and specialty food market. And it only continues to gain popularity. Here’s the skinny on its nutritional value, and our favorite brands to drink right now.
Nutrition Facts
An average 1-cup serving of plain coconut water contains about 45 calories, 11 grams of carbs and 450 milligrams of potassium. It’s free of fat, cholesterol and protein. Check labels on your favorite brand of coco concoctions; added flavorings and sweeteners can turn up the calorie count.
Worth the Hype?
Some might describe plain coconut water as pleasant and refreshing, while others might say it’s an acquired taste. It has a mild coconut essence but lacks the robust coconut flavor of higher-fat coconut milk (which is made from a combination of coconut water and coconut meat). Flavored varieties of coconut water are also available, but check ingredient lists for added sugars and artificial sweeteners. If you’re feeling creative, coconut water can be used for more than just sipping – check out these 10 fun ways to use it.
On the Market
There are an increasing number of coconut waters filling up store shelves. Here are some of our favorites.
Harmless Harvest
If you’re looking for a fresh, unprocessed jug of coconut water, but you’re not ready to fly to a jungle in Thailand, climb a tree, wrestle down a coconut and hack it open yourself, you’re in luck. The guys at Harmless Harvest, pioneers of the first line of raw coconut water, are doing it for you. This organic, Fair Trade certified and “raw” (never heat-treated) coconut water uses high-pressure processing to keep it safe to drink. A 1-cup serving contains 56 calories, 1 gram of fiber and 514 milligrams of potassium. Harmless Harvest takes tremendous care in the sourcing and manufacturing of their products and also offers two newly launched flavored coconut waters, Cinnamon Clove (sourced from a plantation in Indonesia) and Cacao (sourced from the Dominican Republic).
Zico products are made from coconuts purveyed from local farms and coconut plantations in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. This brand offers convenient resealable packaging for use on the go, plus three varieties of chilled juices. Some are sweetened using fruit juice concentrates and monk fruit extract. You can find this brand at many large chain retailers across the country, as well as online.
Vitacoco brand is also widely available and comes in a variety of flavors, including lemonade, orange, and peach & mango. Instead of added sweeteners, most flavors of Vitacoco contain naturally sweet fruit purees, making a 1-cup serving come in around 60 calories. Brand offerings also include a line of sports drinks, lattes and kids’ drinks. Parents are cautioned to read labels, as the kids’ drinks are sweetened with sugar.
CoCo Libre
You can find this brand at Whole Foods, smaller grocers and some large chain retail stores. It’s organic, Fair Trade certified and free of added sugars. It has a clean and fresh coconut flavor. In addition to plain coconut water, there’s a flavor sweetened with pineapple juice, plus vanilla and chocolate protein shakes fortified with a milk-based protein
Blue Monkey
Blue Monkey is a lesser-known brand, which features 80/20 blends of coconut water and fruit juice. Some flavors are sweetened with agave nectar, and each 1-cup serving contains about 80 calories. They even make a unique dried coconut “instant” powder that can be mixed with water.
Photo: ©iStockphoto.com.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

The Chef’s Take: Chris Barnett’s Trash Vegetables from Stir Market

There was a time when carrot skins, radish greens and beet tops used to go straight from the cutting board to the trash bin. Then came the compost movement and all those vegetable scraps were destined for a future as fantastic fertilizer. Now comes chef Chris Barnett of Los Angeles’ Stir Market — a boutique California take on the classic European food-hall experience — who’s decided that one chef’s trash is indeed another’s treasure. Rather than toss his vegetable scraps in the garbage or compost bin, he uses them on his menu — think nose-to-tail cooking but with a carrot standing in for a pig.
Radish greens are incorporated into a green salad with preserved lemon, or blanched and shocked and then pureed and pulsed into housemade butter with roasted garlic and shallots. Freshly snipped carrot greens get fried and served as a garnish for a plate of roasted heirloom carrots, while beet tops show up in juice or make their way into salads like the one we feature here, with braised lentils and ricotta. Even celery leaves are saved and used to jazz up potato salad with pickled shallots.
“The eureka moment for me was that all this stuff looked so good, and I just could not throw it out,” explained Barnett. “It also gives you an excuse to be creative, and on top of it you are making money on it.”
Barnett makes all manner of chips from his scraps. He fries potato peels and gives them a good sprinkle of salt. “Why throw them away?” he asks. The same goes for the peelings of parsnips and carrots. These get washed and cleaned, then baked slow and low at 175 degrees F overnight. “Just dress them super lightly with a spray of nice olive oil and dust them with salt and you’ve got some awesome chips,” he says. “They’re healthy and tasty, and it costs you nothing, because you would have thrown them away.”
Roasted Red Beet and Lentil Salad with Ricotta SalataServes 6
1 cup Beluga lentils3  fresh bay leaves5 thyme sprigs1/4 cup sherry vinegar3 medium sized red beets with their tops4 ounces ricotta salata3 tablespoons  extra virgin olive oilSalt, to tasteFresh ground black pepper, to taste
In a medium stock pot, combine 5 cups water, lentils, fresh bay leaf, thyme sprigs and sherry vinegar and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and cook uncovered until the lentils are tender but not starchy, about 25 – 30 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain and set aside.
In a large stock pot, fill with a couple inches of water and bring to a boil. Remove beet tops, and set aside. Lightly rub beets with olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap the beets in foil along with fresh bay leaves and thyme sprigs, and roast until tender, about 1 hour for a medium size beet.  Remove beets and let cool to room temperature, then peel.  Dice beets into 1-inch cubes. Wash beet tops, trim stems saving just the leafy part.  Coarsely chop the tops, set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the steamed beets, lentils and beet tops.  Dress with extra virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.  Shave the ricotta salata on top and serve.
Photo Credit: Jesus Banuelos
Andrea Strong is a freelance writer whose work has appeared everywhere from The New York Times to Edible Manhattan. She’s probably best known as the creator of The Strong Buzz, her food blog about New York City restaurants. She lives in Queens with her two kids, her husband and her big appetite.

6 Reasons We Love White House Chef Sam Kass

At the end of last month, Sam Kass — White House chef, Executive Director of Let’s Move! and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy — stepped down. Thirty-four and recently married, Kass, who has played a pivotal role in first lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to encourage healthy eating and reduce childhood obesity, said that, while he loves the first family (they attended his wedding in August) and remains a staunch supporter of their work and mission, he is ready to join his wife, TV journalist Alex Wagner, in New York. “I have to put our future first,” Kass, who started as the Obamas’ personal chef in 2005, when the president was but a lowly freshman senator, told the Wall Street Journal.
A Chicago native and college athlete, Kass played baseball for the University of Chicago and graduated with a degree in U.S. History. He worked at 312 and Avec in Chicago and was trained as a chef by one of Austria’s greatest chefs, Chef Christian Domschitz in Vienna. If his past is any indication, Kass’ future will be filled with impressive accomplishments. Here are six things, in addition to cooking for the first family five nights a week, that Kass accomplished during his six years in the White House:
1. As a guiding force behind the first lady’s “Let’s Move” fitness initiative, he helped to shape and work toward its goals: giving kids a healthy start and parents the information to help them make healthy choices, improving food in schools and access to healthy, affordable foods, and encouraging kids to be active.
2. He was, according to the White House, the first to hold the post of senior policy adviser on nutrition.
3. He helped the first lady plant a Kitchen Garden on the White House’s South Lawn, growing organic seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs — including some that were grown in Thomas Jefferson’s garden at Monticello. The garden, which was planted in 2009, can be toured by community organizations and school groups interested in gardening and healthy eating, and has inspired many schools and organizations to plant healthy gardens of their own. To date, the garden has yielded thousands of pounds of produce that has been used to feed event guests, staff and the First Family at the White House, with further harvests donated to local food shelters.
4. He supervised the installation of a beehive — a White House first — on the South Lawn, to pollinate the Kitchen Garden, as well as other plants and flowers around D.C. The colony’s estimated 70,000 (or more) bees also provide honey used in the White House kitchen.
5. He worked with President Obama to homebrew White House Honey Brown Ale and Honey Porter, using, yes, honey from the South Lawn’s hive. “As far as we know the White House Honey Brown Ale is the first alcohol brewed or distilled on the White House grounds,” Kass wrote in a blog post on the official White House website in 2012. “George Washington brewed beer and distilled whiskey at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson made wine but there’s no evidence that any beer has been brewed in the White House. (Although we do know there was some drinking during prohibition…)”
6. He has helped to promote a widespread embrace of healthier food options — in stores and in schools — and to address the way food is marketed to kids. The New York Times has credited Kass with helping “popularize a way of eating embraced by moneyed urban foodies. Just as the first lady’s fashion choices and toned biceps permeate the consciousness of the country, Mrs. Obama and Mr. Kass have taken organic gardening and the whole-wheat-ification of grilled cheese sandwiches mainstream.”
Kass, who will continue to work on healthy-eating issues as he moves into the private sector, “has left an indelible mark on the White House,” President Obama told the Washington Post. “And with the work he has done to inspire families and children across this country to lead healthier lives, Sam has made a real difference for our next generation.”
Amy Reiter also contributes to FN Dish.
Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Kent Weakley

Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner — 5 Egg Dishes to Make Right Now!

From traditional breakfast fare to the quintessential holiday appetizer, eggs are known for their versatility. They’re also one of the most perfect proteins around, providing all the essential amino acids your body needs. Although some folks may hold back on eating the entire egg, the yolk is where all the good stuff is found! And according to the latest recommendations from The American Heart Association, one egg can be eaten daily in lieu of another protein choice. But instead of using your daily egg in the same old way, cook up these healthy, creative egg dishes instead.
Chicken Egg Drop Soup This bone warming soup is perfect for the cold weather. This 200-calorie version adds delicious watercress so you get in even more of your daily greens.
Shakshuka Also known as “Eggs in Purgatory”, this dish combines aromatic vegetables like onions and garlic with jarred bell peppers and tomatoes and a touch of spice from harissa. It’s then topped with eggs that are cooked to perfection.
Egg Stew Beans and eggs are two of the most budget-friendly foods, and they both provide a nutritional bang for your calorie buck. This quick vegetarian-friendly stew is ready in 35 minutes and is an easy fix for any night of the week.
Egg Fried Rice There are only 2 tablespoons of oil used in this Asian favorite. Flavored with fresh tomatoes, soy sauce, and scallions, it’s a simple dish that’s cooked in the wok and not fried as the misleading title indicates.
Cheddar, Ham and Egg Casserole (pictured at top of post) This one pot dish uses a combo of eggs and egg whites to bulk it up without going overboard on saturated fat and cholesterol. To keep calories in check, a small amount of deli ham and extra sharp Cheddar do the trick. Sun-dried tomatoes, Dijon mustard, and scallions round out the flavors.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

Holiday Havoc? Calm Down with These Smart Tips

Like so many things in parenting, navigating holiday indulgences among a sea of candy canes, school celebrations loaded with Christmas-colored doughnuts, social events and sentimental meals is totally and completely … exhausting. This very morning I was having a minor panic attack (OK, I’m being a little overdramatic), about a weekend of gingerbread cookies, candy-cane hot chocolates and Nutella crepes. I shifted gears and got excited thinking of how “clean” (c’mon, this is what I do for a living) I was going to cook and we were all going to eat to help get us through the rest of this holiday week. As I pulled out my first carrot to chop for a big veggie soup, I was thinking I couldn’t wait to make the Hanukkah cookies with the kids that we make every year. Do you feel my pain here? Is it possible to indulge and feel empowered rather than victimized? I think the answer is a resounding YES, but it also means taking a look at your food culture and deciding how you plan to empoweringly indulge. I have some ideas:
Know you’re normal. Even though you may not like it, it is normal to feel a little conflicted about holiday food. Everything from the holiday lunch to the neighborhood potluck to the full-on feast can trigger negative feelings about your eating and the way your family eats. I’ve soothed many a mother who has publicly berated her kid for stealing a cookie from the dessert table when the meal hasn’t even started. Normal. I’ve listened to stories of kids telling their grandma, who worked tirelessly on a holiday meal, that their friend’s mom’s food is better. Normal. There are countless numbers of us out there who say “What the heck?” and just eat and eat and eat. Normal. All normal. You are not alone. Whatever you are dealing with when it comes to holiday eats, you’re in good company.
Make a food culture exception. Perhaps the kindest way you can navigate your way through the last couple of weeks of December is to consciously and deliberately make an exception to the food culture that you generally follow. If your family and personal food culture uses fruit for dessert nightly, but during the mistletoe season you are not home on most nights, then you may decide that one holiday treat will replace that fruit. Take a good look at your food culture and reassess it during the holidays. Whatever you decide, you do not “fail” and “all is not lost” if you are a little off your usual track.
Prioritize your partying. Even with the youngest kids, I always try to find something non-food-related to focus on through the holidays. I’m a huge believer in focusing on the company rather than the food at any celebratory event. Just as you remind the kids that they are there to spend time with cousins, not linger around the buffet, you can do some self-talk not to get too worked up over the artichoke dip. You give the kids a snack before they go to the party so they won’t be grumpy and overly hungry. You should give yourself one, too. You want the kids to eat the greens before they load up on sweet potato pie. You too can make good choices by going for the veggies and shrimp cocktail, not the triple-baked potatoes. If you’re at your in-laws’ for New Year’s, you and the kids can be the horn-blowing, countdown-keeping and favor-distributing guests of honor. Focusing on what you will be doing instead of what you will be eating will keep you positive and goal-oriented.
Blaze some memories. You don’t have to make a fruitcake, just because you grew up with one every holiday. You can choose what memories you want your kids to treasure and look forward to as they race to grow up way too fast. You can honor your own memories by telling the stories of them, or cooking that fruitcake on a random day in April, when you’re less surrounded by Santa’s cookies. Make a list of traditions that you want your family to honor, such as serving at a shelter, doing a holiday puzzle, taking a family hike and planning a secret sock exchange. Throw in a few healthy new traditions and your kids will grow up to plan their own healthy holidays.
Cook, bake and eat mindfully. You can definitely, absolutely, with all the permission under the sun, bake and cook and plan for kitchen love with your family. Do it your way! Make the cookies so that you’ll feel great eating them. Use the expensive, high-quality chocolate chips. Reduce the sugar and use the organic brand you bought at the health food store. Add the flax and replace the butter with prune puree. Choosing ingredients that you feel good about makes for a great teaching moment with those kiddos, and eating one satisfying cookie with a hot mug of tea will you help to indulge happily.
We all want to create wonderful family memories for our children and ourselves. Indulge. Go ahead. It is part of the enjoyment of the season. Use these tips and try my favorite No-Cook Cookie Balls to help you do just that!
Homemade No-Cook Cookie BallsTime: 45 minutesServes: 4
1/2 cup almond butter3 tablespoons honey1 teaspoon vanilla extract1/3 cup oats1/4 cup ground flax seed1/4 cup mini dark chocolate chips
Mix together all wet ingredients. Add in dry ingredients and mix well. Roll into 1-inch balls, place on wax or parchment paper and stick in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Keri Glassman is the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life and The Nutrition School. She is a contributing editor and advisory board member for Women’s Health Magazine, the Health and Wellness partner for JW Marriott, was Lead Nutritionist for Turner’s health and wellness entertainment brand, upwave and the Nutritionist and Judge on the healthy cooking competition show, “Cook Your Ass Off”. She has authored four books and is regularly featured on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live.

Greens + Grains = Great: A Conversation with Cookbook Author Molly Watson

Unlike the many cooks whose love affair with food was sparked by assisting their grandmother in the kitchen, Molly Watson’s culinary passion grew beside her grandmother at the table. Watson, a Minneapolis native, remembers meals at French restaurants and observing her grandmother effortlessly host dinner parties in their Northern Minnesota cabin. Her affinity for food was bolstered by a childhood spent foraging for mushrooms and blueberries. Though at first she pursued academia, earning a Ph.D. in Modern European History at Stanford University, eventually her passion won out and she embarked on a food writing career. Now a San Franciscan, Watson has become an expert in locally sourced food and recently penned her first cookbook, Greens + Grains: Recipes for Deliciously Healthful Meals.
Why do greens and grains make for a good pairing?
There are so many different kinds of greens, and there are so many different kinds of grains, and the combinations are sort of endless. You can make meals out of these two things that feel satisfying, even if you’re not used to eating so much of a plant-based diet.
Kale is the green on everyone’s radar. Can you shed a little light on the different varieties?
The great news there is there are different varieties of kale, but they are not all that different. You can almost always use any kind of kale you feel like or whatever kind you have on hand. Like most people, I have a fondness for the Tuscan kale with the flatter, darker leaves. It’s slightly less bitter than the traditionally curly kale that you see, but it also has a fibrous texture. When cooking kale, the difference is negligent in most recipes. If there’s only one kind at the market, then that’s just fine.
OK, so what’s a good runner-up to kale?
I really like chard. It does have an earthy edge that some people are not as thrilled with. You just have to treat it right. I have a recipe, Swiss Chard Little Doves, where I stuff it with a grain mixture and braise it with tomato sauce; it’s just fabulous. The other thing I’m going to throw out there is that I’m thrilled with all the greens that come with other vegetables — the ones you might get because you bought something else — like beet greens or turnip greens. I’m a really big fan of those, because I take a frugal pleasure in using them. Kohlrabi greens are also totally edible and delicious. Mustard greens too deserve a shout-out. They are pretty widely available, and they just have an amazing flavor.
How do you convince salad eaters that they should become acquainted with cooking their greens?
My mother-in-law was over and I was making a dish for her, braised kale. She had mentioned she didn’t particularly like kale beforehand. So I blanched the kale first, because that takes out some of the bitterness. Then I chopped it and braised it in tomato and she loved it. She was sitting there and eating this giant portion of it. She said, “Oh, I thought when you boiled kale, doesn’t it take out the vitamins?” “Well, it takes out some,” I said, “but if you enjoy eating it, isn’t it better than not eating it at all?” Greens and whole grains are so good for you that however you go about eating them is just fine, even if you cook the life out of them. They have some vitamins and fiber left. They are one of things that are so good for you, you can cook them however you want and feel pretty virtuous about it.
Greens run the flavor spectrum. How can greens change a dish?
If you like a peppery, spicier kick, then arugula or mustard greens will give you that. In the onigiri recipe I cook down the mustard greens until they are almost dry. Then I mix them in with the rice bowl and you end up with this intense, nutty flavor from the greens. If the greens aren’t the central ingredient in the dish, they aren’t going to overpower most other flavors. I loved doing the soups so much for that reason. The greens absorb all the flavors in this wonderful way.
What is your top tip on cooking with grains?
When you want to cook whole grains, the key is it takes a little bit of planning. One great thing is most grains, once cooked, freeze really nicely. If I’m cooking up barley or rye berries, I’ll usually cook more than I need. Then I’ll freeze the extra so I can put them into a pot of soup or defrost and toss into a salad. That would be my tip: Cook a lot of them and freeze the extra.
Swiss Chard Little Doves with Tomato SauceServes 4 to 6
Tender but flavorful Swiss chard leaves wrap up a savory filling of whole grains and chopped chard stems before being baked in a simple tomato sauce in this modern take on golubtsy (“little doves”), or stuffed cabbage. I like to buy extra chard to guarantee plenty of leaves large enough and intact enough to make single bundles out of them, but feel free to cobble two leaves together for some of the packets. Red chard or rainbow chard also work nicely in this recipe; since everything is cooked in a tomato sauce, the slight “bleeding” from the red stalks will be well hidden.
1/2 cup pearled barley1/2 cup quinoaOne 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes, drained2 roasted red bell peppers, peeled4 tablespoons butter1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus 1 tbsp1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes (optional)1 yellow onion12 large Swiss chard leaves1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepperBring a large pot of water to a boil.
Rinse the barley and quinoa and drain. Put the barley and quinoa in a large bowl and cover with cool water.
Whirl the tomatoes and roasted red peppers in a blender or food processor until smooth. In a wide saute pan over medium-high heat, combine the pureed tomato mixture, butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and chile flakes (if using). Cut the stem end off the onion and trim the root end, leaving the core at the root to hold the onion together. Cut the onion in half through the root end, peel the halves, and add them to the tomato mixture.
Bring the tomato mixture just to a boil, stirring in the butter as it melts, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, undis­turbed, until the butter separates out from the tomatoes and floats on the top, about 30 minutes. Adjust the seasoning.
While the sauce simmers, rinse the chard leaves and cut out the stems. Finely chop the stems and put them in a large bowl.
Add the 1 tablespoon salt to the now-boiling water. Blanch the chard leaves by dipping them into the boiling water until they wilt, about 30 sec­onds. Drain the leaves and rinse them thoroughly with cold water to cool them quickly (this will also set the green color). Gently squeeze as much water out of them as you can, open them up again, and set aside.
Drain the barley and quinoa and add to the chard stems along with the walnuts. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle in the black pepper. Toss to combine.
Working with one leaf at a time, lay it on a work surface, put 3 or 4 tablespoons of the filling at one end of the leaf, bring the shorter end of the leaf up and over the filling, fold in the sides to encase the filling, and then roll it up to the longer end so the filling is completely encased and the whole thing makes a plump rectangular bundle. Or place the filling in the center of a leaf and simply fold all the sides over the filling and tuck in any corners that stick out. The chard leaves are flexible, so you, too, have some flexibility when shaping them. Both the barley and the quinoa will expand as they cook, so no matter which method you use, be sure to wrap the leaves loosely around the filling. Repeat with the remaining chard leaves and filling. You should have about twelve stuffed chard leaves.
Remove the onion halves from the tomato sauce when it’s done simmering. Stir in 1 cup water and bring the sauce back to a simmer. Set the filled chard leaves directly in the tomato sauce in the pan in a single layer — the sauce will come about one-third to one-half of the way up their sides. Cover and simmer until the barley and quinoa are tender, about 40 minutes. Check on the pan after about 20 minutes and then every 5 minutes or so. If the tomato sauce starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add 1 tablespoon water along the edges of the pan and adjust the heat to keep a steady and gentle simmer going until 40 minutes have passed and the filling is cooked through and tender.
Serve the stuffed chard leaves hot with a bit of extra sauce under, over, or alongside them, as you like. These keep nicely, covered and chilled, for up to 2 days. Reheat gently, covered and over low heat, on the stove, or cover with foil and reheat in a 350 degress F oven.
Kiri Tannenbaum is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris and holds an M.A. in food studies from New York University where she is currently an adjunct professor. When her schedule allows, she leads culinary walking tours in New York City and is currently at work on her first book.

Cookie Monster: Our Favorite Healthy Holiday Cookies

Holiday cookies are everywhere this time of year, and no doubt you want to have a few — or an entire tin. The good news is that cookies don’t have to be all bad. Instead, you can add health-focused ingredients, like antioxidant powerhouses matcha green tea and cocoa powder, fiber-rich chestnut and almond flour, and inflammation tamers like ginger and cinnamon.
Matcha Maple Meringue KissesYield: 20
2 large egg whitesPinch of cream of tartarPinch of salt1/2 cup maple sugar1 teaspoon matcha green tea powder
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and salt; continue whisking for 1 minute. Gradually add the maple sugar and whisk until stiff and shiny peaks form, about 8 minutes more. Fold in the matcha green tea powder until just incorporated. Spoon into a large resealable bag fitted with a 1/2-inch tip and pipe out kisses about 1 inch apart.
Decrease the oven temperature to 200 degrees F and bake until kisses are dry to the touch and can be easily removed from the parchment paper, about 1 hour. Let cool completely on the baking sheet set over a wire rack.
Chocolate Chai Ganache-Stuffed Almond Macaron SandwichesYield: 10 cookie sandwiches
For the Sucanat or Coconut Sugar Confectioners’ Sugar:1 cup sucanat or coconut sugar blended together with 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
For the Macarons:2 large egg whites1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract1 cup sucanat confectioners’ sugar (recipe above)1 cup ground blanched almonds
For the Ganache:1/4 cup coconut cream2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped1/2 teaspoon ground clovesPinch of ground allspicePinch of salt
Make the macarons: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites and almond extract on medium speed until foamy. Gradually add the sucanat confectioners’ sugar and whisk on high speed until stiff and shiny peaks form, about 8 minutes more; fold in the almonds. Spoon into a large resealable bag fitted with a 1/2-inch star tip and pipe out cookies about 1 inch apart. Bake until set, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking sheet set over a wire rack.
Make the ganache: In a small saucepan, bring the coconut cream just to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, place the chocolate, cloves, allspice and salt in a small bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, let sit for 2 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
Soft Big Gingerbread-Chestnut CookiesYield: 10
For the Gluten-Free Flour Blend:
3 cups (435 grams) white rice flour1 1/2 cups (187 grams) tapioca flour3/4 cup (123 grams) potato starch1 tablespoon (8 grams) xanthan gum1 1/2 teaspoons (5 grams) saltFor the Cookies:1 cup Gluten-Free Flour Blend (recipe above)2 tablespoons chestnut flour1 teaspoon ground ginger1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon1/2 teaspoon baking soda1/4 teaspoon ground cloves1/8 teaspoon salt1/4 cup softened unsalted butter1/2 cup sucanat1 large egg, at room temperature2 tablespoons molasses1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger, optional
Make the flour blend: In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, xanthan gum and salt.
Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour blend, chestnut flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, cloves and salt. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sucanat until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and molasses. Gradually add in the flour mixture until combined; stir in the ginger. Using a 1 3/4-inch scoop, place the cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.
Chocolate-Orange Amaretti CookiesYield: 18
For the Sucanat or Coconut Sugar Confectioners’ Sugar:1 cup sucanat or coconut sugar blended together with 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
For the Cookies:1 1/3 cups almond flour3 tablespoons cocoa powder1/2 cup sucanat or coconut sugar1/4 cup sucanat confectioners’ sugar (recipe above)Pinch of salt
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract1/8 teaspoon pure orange extractSliced almonds, for coating
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, cocoa powder, sucanat, sucanat confectioners’ sugar and salt. Add the egg whites, zest, almond extract and orange extract; whisk until combined.
Place some sliced almonds in a small bowl. Working one at a time, drop heaping teaspoons of dough into the sliced almonds and gently roll to coat, forming a ball. Place about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet and bake until set on the outside but still chewy on the inside, about 30 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking sheet set over a wire rack.
Strawberry Chia Jam Cornmeal Thumbprint Cookies (pictured at top)Yield: 12
For the Jam:One 10-ounce bag frozen strawberries, defrosted and coarsely chopped2 tablespoons pure maple syrup2 tablespoons whole chia seeds
For the Gluten-Free Flour Blend:3 cups (435 grams) white rice flour1 1/2 cups (187 grams) tapioca flour3/4 cup (123 grams) potato starch1 tablespoon (8 grams) xanthan gum1 1/2 teaspoons (5 grams) salt
For the Sucanat or Coconut Sugar Confectioners’ Sugar:1 cup sucanat or coconut sugar blended together with 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder
For the Cookies:1 cup Gluten-Free Flour Blend2 tablespoons finely ground cornmeal1/4 teaspoon salt1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sucanat confectioners’ sugar (recipe above)1 large egg yolk1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Make the jam: In a small saucepan, cook the strawberries with the maple syrup over medium-high heat until reduced and thickened slightly, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the chia seeds. Let cool completely.
Make the flour blend: In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, xanthan gum and salt.Make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour blend, cornmeal and salt. In a large bowl and using a fork, cream together the butter and sucanat confectioners’ sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla. Gradually stir in the flour-cornmeal mixture until combined. Using a 1 1/2-inch scoop, place the dough on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart; refrigerate for about 15 minutes. Bake for 10 minutes and remove from the oven; carefully use your thumb to make an indent in the center of each cookie and fill with jam until about three-quarters full. Bake for about 10 minutes more; let cool on a wire rack.
Silvana Nardone is the author of the Silvana’s Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Kitchen: Timeless Favorites Transformed.