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Food & Entertaining


- - - - Creating a dog-friendly meal experience - - - - - - Creating a dog-friendly meal experience - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Mealtime is going...well, to the dogs - literally. Dumping kibble into a bowl and walking away has become less and less the norm. Feeding the family dog has evolved into new territory. For example, have you ever warmed your dog’s food in the microwave before serving it to him? You wouldn’t be alone if you have. Maybe you and your dog have a mealtime ritual? Again, you would be in good company.

A 2012 online survey of dog owners by Chef Michael’s brand food for dogs indicated that when feeding their dog, their mealtime rituals included: mixing wet and dry food together (33 percent) and preparing food, such as measuring, chopping and heating (28 percent). The newest trend to pop up in doggy mealtime? Food trucks.

Food trucks are increasing in popularity in many U.S. cities, so tailoring that experience to our four-legged friends seems like a logical next step. However, with 78.2 million dogs living as pets in the U.S. according to the 2011-2012 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, there simply aren’t enough pet-friendly food trucks available to serve them. Enter Chef Michael’s to lead the charge with a new type of food truck for dogs.

“We love the food truck trend, but dogs have largely been left out,” says Sarah BonDurant, spokesperson for Chef Michael’s. “Food trucks aren’t just for people. We want every dog to share and enjoy the food truck experience with their owners.”

And as it turns out, many dog owners agree. That same online survey by Chef Michael’s indicated that nearly 59 percent of dog owners surveyed have patronized food trucks for themselves. In addition, 48 percent would likely take their dog to lunch or dinner at a food truck that provided food for dogs if there was one in their neighborhood.

The Chef Michael’s food truck for dogs is currently rolling through the U.S. providing thoughtful meal experiences for dogs. You can find out if it will be in your neighborhood by following @thefoodfordogs on Twitter or visiting If the Chef Michael’s food truck isn’t going to make it to your hometown, all hope is not lost for a mobile mealtime experience for you and your dog. There is a sweepstakes that will award 25 food trucks across the nation a $1,000 cash prize to help make dog-friendly improvements to their existing truck among other prizes. Visit for complete Official Rules and additional information.

Have you visited a food truck for dogs and want to continue that a special experience for you and your dog at home? Here are a few quick tips that can help you make mealtime for your dog just as special as your own.

* Create a routine to fit with your mealtimes. Feed your dog at regularly scheduled times, such as when the family is having breakfast or dinner so they feel included.

* Turn meal time into a bonding experience. Develop a ritual where you spend some quality one-on-one time with your dog before or after the meal.

* Use mealtime to teach your dog a new trick. Nineteen percent of dog owners surveyed make their dog(s) do a trick before eating.

* Relax and go for a walk after dinner. There’s no better way for your dog to savor the sights and sounds of your community than on an evening walk.

Dogs are a part of the family and deserve the best. Whether it’s establishing a regular routine or visiting a dog-friendly food truck, meal time shouldn’t be a daily chore.

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- - Eating a nutritious breakfast is as easy as 1-2-3 - - - - - - Eating a nutritious breakfast is as easy as 1-2-3 - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Despite good intentions to prepare a nutritious breakfast, it’s often tempting to grab something on the run, only to fall flat when it comes to nutrition and energy. Yet making a nutritious breakfast is as easy as 1-2-3, according to Chef Devin Alexander, a health and wellness expert and best-selling author.

“When you start the day with coffee and a pastry, your blood sugar peaks quickly and then it crashes, which may send you for another sugary snack, adding empty calories, fat and sugar to your diet. But if you include three simple components – protein, whole grains and fruit – you’ll kick-start your day and feel satisfied until lunch,” she says.

Here are Chef Alexander’s three simple steps to a better breakfast:

Step one: protein

A key component of a better breakfast is protein. The Institute of Health’s Dietary Reference Intake recommendations allow anywhere from 10 percent to 35 percent of total calories for normal healthy adults.

“Most Americans struggle to take in enough protein to make up 35 percent of their daily calories,” Alexander says. “One way to stay satisfied all morning is to add protein to your diet as part of breakfast.”

A recent survey of bacon-eating consumers found that bacon is the most popular breakfast protein, with taste cited as the No. 1 factor that sets it apart from sausage and ham. Despite a love affair with bacon, however, 40 percent of respondents also listed fat content and sodium levels as their most important concerns when selecting bacon.

If you want to enjoy delicious bacon flavor and crisp texture, but with less sodium and fat than pork bacon, Jennie-O offers a new and improved turkey bacon, a product with 60 percent less fat and sodium than conventional pork bacon, according to USDA data.

Eggs, another source of protein, were cited as the most popular food to eat with bacon, according to survey respondents. If you want the protein but without saturated fat and cholesterol, there are a variety of egg substitutes and egg whites available that work great in breakfast recipes.

Step two: high fiber carbs

“It’s a myth that all carbohydrates are bad,” says Alexander. “Carbohydrates that deliver fiber and nutrients, like fruit and whole grains, provide energy, and the best ones also deliver high fiber to help digestion. With high-fiber choices, your body is using up 25 percent of the high-fiber food’s calories just to digest it, and it’s going to fill you up, too.”

High-fiber choices abound for breakfast, from whole grain breads and muffins to hot or cold cereals. Jazz up these choices for added nutrition and flavor. For example, try topping oatmeal with dried fruits such as raisins or apricots, or even unsalted nuts. Top a whole wheat English muffin with chunky peanut butter and a sliced banana for a satisfying treat.

Step three: fruits and berries

Fruit and berries pack in a host of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, plus fiber. And because of their high water content, you can eat more of them than denser fruits.

For instance, you can enjoy a full cup of berries versus half of a banana or half of a large apple for the same number of calories. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are all good choices, as the richer the color, the more antioxidants and vitamins they will have.

During the winter when it’s harder to get fresh berries, buy freshly frozen berries and keep them on hand to incorporate into breakfast. So have fun. Toss them on cereal. Add them to yogurt for a flavorful parfait. Fold them into pancake batter, and flip with happiness.

Get creative and have fun with breakfast

Jennie-O and Chef Alexander have teamed up to create four signature breakfast recipes providing a creative way to start the day. These recipes and other great morning recipes are available on and

California Breakfast Sandwich

Try this recipe with a side of fruit to enjoy all three components of a better breakfast.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Butter-flavored cooking spray
2 egg whites
1 whole wheat English muffin
1/4 small avocado, cut into three slices or 1 ounce Wholly Guacamole Classic dip
1 large or 3 small, thin tomato slices
2 slices JENNIE-O turkey bacon, cut in half crosswise

Mist a large ramekin (about 5 inches in diameter) with spray. Add the egg whites. Set aside. Heat a medium-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Lay the bacon strips side-by-side so they do not touch. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, turn and cook 1 minute longer until cooked to desired crispness, about 2 to 3 minutes total. Place on a paper-towel-lined plate. Meanwhile, poach the egg whites. Separate the halves of the English muffin and toast. Place the bottom half of the English muffin on a plate. Add avocado slices or spread 1 ounce of Wholly Guacamole Classic dipon English muffin. Add the egg, tomato and bacon. Cover with English muffin top. Serve immediately.

Makes 1 serving: 277 calories, 17 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 3 g sugar, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 602 mg sodium.

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- - Simple steps to effortless entertaining - - - - - - Simple steps to effortless entertaining - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Whether you’re a hosting aficionado or a novice entertainer, planning a party at home can carry a certain level of stress.

Sometimes, despite all the cleaning, cooking and decorating we do to prepare, it’s the easily overlooked little things that can cause the biggest unwelcome surprises. The No. 1 disaster experienced by party guests and hosts is a malfunctioning toilet, according to a recent survey conducted by Delta Faucet Company. Interestingly, most respondents did not pay attention to their toilet when preparing for a party. Running, leaking or regularly clogged toilets are tempting to ignore, however it’s during parties when bathrooms are in constant use that problems can easily arise.

Chip Wade, expert craftsman and host of HGTV’s hit new show “Elbow Room,” recently partnered with Delta Faucet Company and The Home Depot to encourage homeowners to get ahead of the problem by addressing toilet troubles before planning an event.

“Chip knows that hosts aren’t the only ones who feel the stress of a party – homes get stressed, too,” says Susan Peters, senior retail brand manager at Delta Faucet Company. “Our goal is to help educate homeowners about bathroom maintenance. Even just a few extra people in the house require plumbing fixtures to work overtime to accommodate more flushes, resulting in greater potential for something to go wrong if you already have toilet issues.”

Luckily, despite the fear many of us have when it comes to actually replacing a malfunctioning toilet, resolving the issue is a relatively easy and inexpensive fix. The Corrente toilet from Delta Faucet is a high-performing, water-efficient solution that comes with all the tools necessary for easy installation. Available exclusively at The Home Depot, the Delta Corrente toilet kit includes the tank, bowl, toilet seat, mounting hardware and wax ring, as well as a SmartFit Multi-Tool. Additionally, the EZ Out Toilet Removal Kit provides many of the items needed for uninstalling an existing toilet.

Wade also suggests enlisting the help of a friend to point out other areas of the home that may need to be addressed.

“It’s easy to be ‘house blind’ or oblivious to smaller home maintenance needs. Invite a friend to help assess the house and offer an objective opinion about the areas of the home that may benefit from a little extra attention or repair,” Peters adds.

Finally, to make sure guests are comfortable into the evening, survey your home and address clutter where possible. Entertaining even just a few people can make an otherwise spacious home feel a little too close for comfort. Give your guests room to mingle by removing nonessential items. You can store larger items in a room you won’t be using or pack smaller things away inside inexpensive storage containers and tuck them out of sight.

Entertaining should be fun and exciting, not a burden. Don’t let little things keep you from mingling with and enjoying your company. No matter where you are or what you are celebrating, remember these easy tips when preparing for an event at home.

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- - Outsmart hunger with 3 easy tips - - - - - - Outsmart hunger with 3 easy tips - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - As the leaves change and the air turns crisp, it can be tempting to indulge in delicious food favorites and hide those few extra pounds under a thick wool sweater. But you shouldn’t have to choose between sticking with your weight management plan and enjoying satisfying and delicious foods. There are some easy and tasty tricks to having your cake and eating it too.

“For those looking to manage their weight, protein and fiber filled foods are helpful to feeling full longer. Typical protein options like Greek yogurt and eggs are not good sources of fiber. One option, Kellogg’s Special K Protein Plus cereal, has 10 grams of protein and also three grams of fiber. Special K also offers tasty meal bars and shakes to take with you on the go to help avoid those tempting cupcakes at the office,” says registered dietitian Sylvia Melendez-Klinger.

Melendez-Klinger shares her tips on ways to outsmart hunger:

* Get those greens. Filling up on low-calorie, nutrient-dense vegetables is a great way to incorporate vitamins and minerals into your diet – and help fill you up at the same time. Not a salad lover? Integrating veggies into your diet can be as easy as topping your sandwich with spinach and peppers or baking chicken with carrots and onions.

* Protein packs a punch. Choosing foods with protein will help you feel full longer. “I love options like Special K Protein cereal, bars and shakes, which provide a winning combination of 10 grams of protein and up to five grams of fiber to help you satisfy hunger longer,” comments Melendez-Klinger. 

* Pump up the produce. Adding seasonal produce to each meal is another flavorful and delicious way to watch the scale. While summer may be best known for bringing fresh produce options to the table, fall ushers in a new group of colorful and nutrient-dense varieties of its own, like apples, yams, beets, pumpkins and carrots. Burn some extra calories by walking to your local farmer’s market to buy fresh, local options.

Special K Protein products can be found now in the snack, cereal and sports nutrition aisles of grocery, convenience and drug stores nationwide. For more information about how Special K can help you outsmart hunger, visit

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- - Tips to enhance holiday meals with flavor - - - - - - Tips to enhance holiday meals with flavor - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Thanksgiving and Christmas meals often incorporate a lot of traditional foods and flavors, which as a host, may become a bit boring. But when you have friends and family visiting for several days, there are plenty of opportunities to shine with new flavors and interesting meals.

As a host, embrace all of the meals you’ll be serving, which provides you with an excellent chance to show off your culinary skills. To help you plan the menus and entertain your guests during their entire visit, Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking and Lindsay and Taylor Landis of Love and Olive Oil have recipes and tips to make everything much easier.

“I think like most people, I’m not just entertaining on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, but am making meals for my family on the days surrounding the holiday,” Dalkin says. “These are times when I feel like can stray from the ordinary holiday tradition and experiment with my recipes.”

Here are some tips to make your holidays a memorable time:

* Assess your ingredients – including your spice cabinet – to ensure all holiday essentials like cinnamon, cloves, vanilla bean, nutmeg, flour and sugar are available for all recipes.

* Choose recipes ahead of time so you know that you have all ingredients available. Purchase the dry goods you need at least a week ahead to help reduce stress. Then purchase perishable items like meat and dairy products a day or two before guests arrive so you have everything ready to go.

* Make non-perishable snacks ahead of time and store them in containers to bring out when needed. Try this recipe from Dalkin to keep your guests happy:

Sweet and Spice Roasted Nuts

1 cup raw whole cashews
1 cup raw whole walnuts
1 cup raw whole almonds
1 cup raw pepitas
1 egg white
1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon Spice Islands Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Spice Islands Cayenne Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Spice Islands Ground Saigon Cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and set it aside. Combine the cashews, walnuts, almonds and pepitas in a large bowl and toss to combine. Whisk together the egg white, water, sugar, salt, cayenne pepper and cinnamon. Drizzle the wet mixture over the nuts and toss to combine, making sure they are evenly coated. Transfer the nuts to the baking sheet and spread in an even layer. Roast for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the nuts from the oven and separate the nuts as they cool. Store in an airtight container and serve as needed.

* Add a surprising and special touch to cocktails. Slice a Spice Islands Bourbon Vanilla Bean in half and drop it into your bottle of vodka or bourbon several days prior to the arrival of your guests. It will add a delicious and warm flavor to all cocktails.

But don’t forget about the children at your gathering either.

“I always create interesting cocktails for my seasonal entertaining, and this year, I’m making something special for the kids,” says Lindsay Landis. Her holiday drink gives a festive gingerbread twist to the classic root beer float. Instead of using root beer with ice cream, she instead uses vanilla cream soda and spiced molasses syrup to make the drink taste just like liquid gingerbread.

* Finally, choose recipes that can be easily made in large quantities. Dalkin serves her Classic Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Chip Pancakes the day after a big holiday to continue the rich, luxurious flavors guests enjoy during the holidays.

Classic Pumpkin Pie Chocolate Chip Pancakes

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Spice Islands Ground Saigon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Spice Islands Ground Ginger
1/8 teaspoon Spice Islands Ground Nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon Spice Islands Ground Cloves
3 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Spice Islands Sea Salt
1 cup 2 percent milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
1/2 cup chocolate chips
butter or baking spray for skillet

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, sugar, baking powder and salt and set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin, vegetable oil and egg. Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and stir until everything is just combined, being careful not to over mix. Fold the chocolate chips into the mixture. Heat a griddle or large pan to medium-low heat. Coat the pan with cooking spray. Drop 1/4 cup of batter onto heated skillet. Cook on the first side until the edges begin to bubble, about 2 minutes. Carefully flip pancake over and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. Continue this process to make the rest of the pancakes, making sure to lightly spray the pan between each pancake to ensure they do not stick. Serve the pancakes immediately with maple syrup and butter, if desired.

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- - A phenomenal breakfast - - - - - - A phenomenal breakfast - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - As parents and kids fall back into their daily routines, it’s important to be as prepared as possible with new shoes, pencils, notebooks and more. But there’s one more thing that’s just as essential when it comes to achieving a successful day at school: breakfast, the most important meal of the day.

There’s a good chance, however, that even though 89 percent of moms want their kids to eat breakfast every morning, according to the Kellogg’s Breakfast In America Survey, they may not realize that their kids may not always be getting all the essential nutrients that growing bodies need. Enter the breakfast dynamic duo: cereal and one cup of milk. Together, this simple combination is the perfect way to make sure children get a great-tasting and nutritious breakfast they’ll love. A bowl of Kellogg’s cereal plus one cup of milk provides protein and can help close the gap on the four “nutrients of concern” most likely to be lacking in kids’ diets: fiber, calcium, vitamin D and potassium.

The benefits of eating cereal even go beyond its great nutrition and convenience. In fact, research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that children who eat cereal regularly for breakfast tend to weigh less.

“Cereal and milk is a breakfast that parents can feel good about serving their children every morning,” says Dayle Hayes, mom, registered dietitian and member of the Kellogg’s Breakfast Council. “After a good night’s sleep, kids need to refuel their minds and bodies, and a bowl of ready-to-eat cereal plus milk provides the nutrition they need for school, sports and play.”

Aside from being delicious, most cereal is:

* A good way to incorporate milk into kids’ diets

* Low-fat, nutrient-dense and cholesterol-free

* Easy to serve, easy to eat and affordable at an average of 50 cents per serving

“The benefits to eating cereal plus one cup of milk for breakfast are numerous,” says Hayes. “It kick-starts your metabolism and helps support mental performance, while contributing to higher intakes of calcium, vitamins A, D, B and iron. It also helps promote a healthy weight.  All in all, cereal and milk is a combo that is hard to beat.”

To learn more about the surprising power of Kellogg’s cereal plus one cup of milk, visit

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- - Master of the bar: Easy tips to create the ultimate bar at home - - - - - - Master of the bar: Easy tips to create the ultimate bar at home - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Between the endless string of events and the chill in the air this time of year, it doesn’t take much to convince your friends and family to have a night in. No matter if you’re planning the party of the year or just inviting a few friends over, a great home bar is essential to make it a night to remember.

Having everything you need on hand is the base of creating the perfect home bar. From smooth spirits to glasses to tools for mixing drinks, when your bar arsenal is complete, there is no drink you can’t make at home.  Even if you’re starting from empty, a few simple steps will help transform you into a home bar master, and impress even the most discerning cocktail connoisseur:

* Choose spirits carefully. Look for distinctive spirits that have a reputation for quality. New Amsterdam Vodka, for instance, is a premium vodka known for its unparalleled smoothness, which means you can drink it straight or mix it into a variety of equally smooth cocktails. Flavor profiles are also important in some spirits, so look for brands that emphasize a good balance. New Amsterdam’s award-winning gin is renowned for its balance and subtlety, which makes it a modern approach to this classic spirit. Be sure to have a good variety of the most popular spirits available so that you’re able to make a range of drinks to satisfy any whim.

* Prep your cocktail supplies. Plastic cups are out – real cocktails made with New Amsterdam spirits need the right tools of the trade. That includes glassware, so make sure you have everything you need, from highballs and lowballs to champagne flutes, red and white wine glasses and pint glasses for beer. Other barware you might want to consider includes a shaker, a strainer, a muddler, an ice bucket and a jigger, which will come in handy when measuring out proportions.

* Customize your cocktails. Since you’re home, you’re in charge of the garnishes, and can pick your favorites. A supply of citrus fruits like limes, lemons and oranges let you add twists or a squeeze of fresh juice. When you’re hosting, make it fun by setting out items like pickles, olives, cheese cubes or celery and letting guests create their own skewers to garnish their drinks. Keep up the customization theme by offering your guests a signature cocktail or two, particularly if you’re celebrating a special occasion.

Whether it’s a large party or an intimate gathering, hosting at home allows you to man the bar and personalize the evening. New Amsterdam offers two signature drink recipes that will show off your smooth bar skills, and are as easy to make as they are to drink. Add these to your bar repertoire, or get more ideas at

Winter Toddy

A “wintry mix” of New Amsterdam Gin, maple syrup and a dusting of cinnamon, this steamy cocktail is the perfect storm.

2 ounces New Amsterdam Gin
1 ounce maple syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Fill with hot water

Directions: Add ingredients in a mug.

Garnish: a pinch of cinnamon

Black Diamond

For those who don’t ski the Bunny Slope.

2 ounces New Amsterdam Vodka
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce maple syrup

Directions: Shake ingredients very well with ice and strain into a martini glass.

Garnish: lemon peel

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- - Holiday meal preparation: Tips to coordinate the perfect feast - - - - - - Holiday meal preparation: Tips to coordinate the perfect feast - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Families everywhere anticipate the holiday season months in advance. If you have visions of delicious dishes and happy guests dancing in your head, you’re certainly in the right spirit, but is your home ready to make that holiday daydream a reality? By prepping your home – and especially your kitchen – for the celebration, you’ll be better able to focus on the joy of your get-together.

When planning a party, the kitchen – as the heart of any gathering – is a good place to start. And, with holiday celebrations so often food-focused, ensuring that your kitchen is up to the task should be your first order of business, says Laura Johnson, home economist and kitchen expert at LG Electronics USA. First, it’s  good to think about the details of your soiree. How many people will be attending? Do any guests plan to contribute dishes? Knowing how much food you’ll need, and what folks intend to bring, will help you determine the demands that your cooktop, oven and refrigerator will need to meet.

If you’ve found that your kitchen was unable to meet the demands of the holiday season in years past, consider alternative appliances while you still have the time, Johnson says. A “mega capacity” refrigerator like the new 33-cubic-foot French-door model from LG (the largest available in its class), enables you to store everything you need to feed a crowd until dinner time comes around … and even all those great holiday left-overs into the next day.

Before the big day arrives, make sure that all of the cutlery, china and glassware you want to use is out of storage, clean and ready to go, says Johnson. The last thing you want to do is struggle to find that perfect platter when things are getting busy in the kitchen. Call or email guests who will be bringing dishes to find out whether they’ll need serving utensils, bowls or platters. It’s always a good idea to have some extras on hand in the event something is forgotten.

Having the right cookware isn’t the only kitchen concern during the holiday season, especially as dinner time nears. “Once it’s time to start cooking and do any last minute warming before the big meal, your cooking appliances are going to get their most thorough workout of the year,” Johnson says. From holiday hams to family-sized casseroles, consider a model that blends capacity and quick cooking times, like LG’s largest capacity electric range. “Finding an oven that fits in all of your culinary creations, and finishes them quickly, can mean the difference between hungry guests and happy ones,” she adds. With 20 percent faster cooking times and 6.3 cubic feet of space, a range like this means your dishes will come out of the oven table-ready, and you’ll stay perfectly on schedule.

Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to prepare dishes ahead of time and then give them a quick finish in the oven on the day of the big event. Some items, like a roast, are best made on the day of, but many side dishes can be prepared and stored in the refrigerator for a day or two. Have a variety of beverages pre-cooled for guests of all ages, as well as plenty of snacks – for every palate. Fun finger foods appeal to the little ones, while adults may have more sophisticated tastes. Make sure you’ve prepared for any guests with allergies, too – and have suitable alternatives for them to enjoy.

“A well-prepared kitchen helps make the holidays easier and more enjoyable,” says Johnson. “Your guests will feel at home, and you’ll be able to spend time enjoying the event, rather than spending your time toiling away.” For more ideas about creating the perfect holiday-ready kitchen, visit

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- - The busy person's guide for entertaining on short notice - - - - - - The busy person's guide for entertaining on short notice - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Ideally, you’ll have a few days notice to get everything in order when you’re hosting guests. But everyone knows that’s not always the case. Drop-ins happen and you can make a choice between panicking or embracing the spontaneity of a last-minute get-together with your friends and family. The key to being an unflappable host is having a simple process to get your home guest-ready in a hurry.

You don’t have to be a neat freak or Michelin chef to make an impromptu gathering at your house a success. You simply need to prioritize what is most important to get done, and rely on some help from modern technology to speed up the process. Here’s a guide for entertaining on a dime that will make unplanned visits more pleasant surprises rather than major inconveniences:

* Enlist a full-time housekeeper. Maybe you don’t have the means to put someone in charge of keeping your house clean, but you can put gadgets on the job full-time. Rather than spending time to clean floors yourself, let a robot do the work for you. iRobot Mint, which features both a sweep and mop mode, can effectively handle the job of cleaning your hard floor surfaces all by itself. Mint works with cleaning cloths made by brands like Swiffer, as well as its own specifically designed microfiber cloths that can be reused hundreds of times. It automatically cleans along walls, around furniture and into corners, while avoiding stairs and carpet, so there’s no need to supervise while it does its job.

* Get into party mode with the touch of the play button. Connect your home stereo system with Bluetooth-enabled technology that can allow you to cue up the tunes simply by giving the orders through your smart phone or another connected device. Curating party playlists can be a fun activity during your downtime so you can be all set to go when you get the call that guests are on the way.

* Whip up delivery on speed dial. Store a list of your go-to numbers for food delivery service on your phone so you can make the call once you know you’ll be having visitors. If you’re not one who likes to order out, keep a stash your favorite snacks or appetizers in the freezer for quick reheating when guests arrive. Last-minute guests won’t be expecting a three-course meal, so convenience is more important than elaborately prepared meals.

* Ditch the dishes. Make things easier for you and festive for your guests by keeping decorative paper plates and napkins on hand. Storing a stash of these in a kitchen drawer is ideal for last-minute hosting since it means you don’t have to worry about hurriedly washing the dishes or creating a mess that you’ll need to clean up later.  

* Embrace quick fixes. You wouldn’t normally throw everything that’s been left out in a storage room, but it won’t hurt if you’re just hosting company for a few hours – you can put everything in its proper space once they’re gone. Keep items like stain sticks on hand for quick coverage of stains and smudges you’ve been meaning to get to tackle. Start by clearing the entry way, move to the living room and forget about areas your guests probably won’t see.

Last-minute hosting doesn’t have to be stress-inducing, especially since your guests won’t be looking for the royal treatment if they’re coming over on short notice. For more tools that can make keeping your home clean and guest ready even easier, visit

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- - Sweet potatoes still top spud in top food trends - - - - - - Sweet potatoes still top spud in top food trends - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Sweet potato consumption rose nearly 10 percent since the year 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And as more restaurants tout sweet potato options on their menus, at-home chefs are looking for ways to prepare the nutritious orange spud.

Whether swapping standard white potatoes for sweet potatoes in a game day potato skins recipe or mashing the sweet spuds as part of a reinvented potato casserole, opportunities to incorporate sweet potatoes in home-cooked recipes are endless. Popular food blogger Jessica Segarra of says she also enjoys stuffing sweet potatoes with unique ingredients or making homemade fries.

“Coupled with a few other simple ingredients like sea salt, cracked black pepper and olive oil, sweet potatoes can bring a lot of flavor to a meal,” Segarra says. “One of my all-time favorites is making homemade sweet potato fries paired with a flavorful dipping sauce, although the fries require a bit more effort on the backend to prepare.”

Luckily, in today’s growing marketplace, consumers don’t have to slave away slicing and dicing. Frozen food companies like all-natural Alexia Foods offer a wide variety of premium sweet potato side dishes available at retailers nationwide. From the company’s bite-sized, crispy Sweet Potato Puffs to its innovative Sweet Potato Roll featuring 8 grams of whole grains in every roll, each of Alexia’s unique sweet potato products are made with farm-fresh, American-grown sweet potatoes and are prepared in the oven in around 20 minutes.

“More at-home cooks are choosing to serve sweet potatoes as part of their weeknight menus. They’re not just reserved for the holidays anymore,” says Mike Smith, vice president and general manager of Alexia Foods. “Using the highest quality ingredients and latest flavor innovation, our wide variety of convenient options such as the new Alexia Sweet Potato Roll or classic Alexia Sweet Potato Julienne Fries give Americans a chance to stay ahead of the latest food trends right in their own kitchen. Plus, sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A – making them a snack or side dish consumers can feel good about.”

To give classic sweet potato fries like Alexia Sweet Potato Julienne Fries a kick, try serving them alongside a homemade dipping sauce like a spicy Asian dip featuring Sriracha hot sauce.

Spicy Asian Dip

Makes two servingss

Serve with Alexia Sweet Potato Julienne Fries


2 cups mayo
1/2 cup chili garlic sauce
1/2 cup Sriracha


Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Set in refrigerator for 20 minutes to join all flavors together. Serve chilled.

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- - Holiday home entertaining made simple and satisfying - - - - - - Holiday home entertaining made simple and satisfying - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - The pressure to host the perfect party can take all the joy out of what is supposed to be a fun and memorable occasion with friends and family. But holiday entertaining doesn’t have to equal stress. By planning ahead and simplifying your party plans, you can host a fun, festive get-together that you’ll remember for holidays to come.

Take the headache out of entertaining this season with tips to make your holiday gathering simple and satisfying.

1. Get your deep cleaning done the week before your party. Make a list of the labor-intensive housework and get the big stuff out of the way so you can focus on the party’s finishing touches.

2. Forego paper invitations. Use electronic invites or create an event page on Facebook. It’s free and easy, and makes RVSPing a mere click of a button for your guests. Online invitation sites like eVite, Pingg and Cocodot offer plenty of beautiful, free and customizable invitation options.

3. Forget elaborate dishes and desserts. Fondue is the easiest way to create an instant, no-fuss party. Try Velata – a simple, new way to enjoy fondue. Velata fondue warmers use a 25-watt bulb inside a decorative warmer to keep Velata premium Belgian chocolate at the perfect temperature with no stirring, messy fountain or open flame. Simply buy some dippables (or ask your guests to bring their favorites such as marshmallows or pretzels), melt Velata chocolate in the microwave, pour it into the warmer dish and gather around the table.

4. Borrow some decoration inspiration. A few simple and tasteful centerpieces are all it takes to make your party look pulled together and chic. Pinterest provides a wealth of decor ideas for prospective party hosts. Or use what you already have. Glass jars filled with colorful ornaments or pinecones, beautiful holiday cards on display, or even an old wreath made fresh with ribbon or glitter can look terrific in the time it takes to tie a bow.

5. Delegate and collaborate. Designate a DJ, put someone in charge of drinks, station a friend near the door and consider paying high school students to be your clean-up crew. Delegating tasks takes weight off your shoulders, makes others feel needed and gives you a chance to enjoy your party.

6. Roll with the punches. Drinks will be spilled. Guests will show up early. But it’s not about perfection. Have fun, make new memories and, above all, celebrate the season with people you love.

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- - Stress-free holiday gatherings - - - - - - Stress-free holiday gatherings - Brandpoint - - Entertaining during the busy holiday season can vary from one extreme – like Halloween with grab-and-go snacks – to another – like Thanksgiving with a sit down formal dinner. And there’s a good chance your family will be very busy hosting parties and gatherings well into 2013 with New Year’s and the big football games.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed during the holidays, between events you’re planning to host, as well as all the invitations your family will be receiving for gatherings elsewhere.

“Don’t let a busy holiday schedule stress you out. Only say ‘yes’ to those events you really want to attend,” says blogger Susan Heim, parenting author and “Chicken Soup for the Soul” editor, whose blog can be found at “It may be time to let go of worn-out traditions that you dread every year.”

In addition to carefully choosing what you want to attend, here are some tips to help keep your own parties flowing smoothly so you can minimize stress and host gatherings with tons of fun and laughter from all your friends and family.

* Prep ahead of time – The less time you spend in the kitchen, the more you can help keep the party going with conversations, fun activities and games.

* Keep hunger at bay - As  prep for these holiday parties gets underway, the smell of turkey or ham roasting in the oven – along with the scents from plenty of other delicious  dishes being prepared – can get plenty of tummies a rumbling. Have hot and wholesome snacks like Farm Rich Turkey Meatballs simmering in a crock pot outside of the busy kitchen area so your guests can sample some appetizers without impeding the progress you’re making on prepping the big meal.

* Entertainment galore – Not everyone will be needed for the party or food prep. So gather some indoor and outdoor games together, or have some family-friendly movies available to help keep guests entertained until the meal is ready.

* Serve kid-friendly foods – Any holiday gathering will be made better with a table full of appetizers available for your guests to munch on. But if you have children involved in the party, make certain you serve snacks they’ll also enjoy. The good news is you don’t have to slave over a recipe to serve hot and delicious foods for the kids. Just prepare some Farm Rich Mini Pizza Slices, serve them with the rest of your appetizers, and you won’t hear any complaints from the children at your party. Visit for a coupon for any Farm Rich products.

* Set a kid’s table – It’s an old cliche, but having a kid’s table works well for holiday gatherings. Not only can the children wiggle as much as they want, but they also can excuse themselves when finished eating and get back to the playing they were enjoying before the meal. In addition, it allows the adults to enjoy their meals and conversation for a longer period of time. To really make the kid’s table work at your gatherings, consider serving kid-friendly foods at the table that they can serve themselves without difficulty.

And don’t forget to take time to relax as well, Heim says. “The holidays are a time for family and friends, but don’t forget to take care of you, too. Set aside time for a relaxing bath, a stroll with a loved one, or a fun holiday movie. Slow down and savor the season.”

Just think of all the fun your family can have this holiday season hosting parties and gatherings to celebrate the season. Soon you’ll be old pros, and everyone will be begging for an invite to attend the next gathering at your house.

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- - Become a produce professional: healthy eats from farm to family - - - - - - Become a produce professional: healthy eats from farm to family - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Local. That’s the buzzword when it comes to healthy eats these days. From the farm to the city, locally grown goods are keeping menus fresh and food lovers satisfied. This trend is on the rise in hot-spot restaurants around the nation and now it’s never been easier to make fresh, culinary magic happen in your own home. Here’s the trick to getting it done: learn the facts and become a produce professional.

The most obvious benefit of shopping local is taking garden-fresh, flavor-packed goods home for your family to nosh on. “You’ll get the highest nutritional value foods by buying in season,” says chef Lynn Krause, culinary academic director of The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of St. Louis. If that’s not enough to get your juices flowing, consider this: “Purchasing crops from various community farmers boosts local economies and enhances sustainability practices by keeping food import/export needs down,” according to chef Linda Trakselis, culinary instructor at The International Culinary School at The Illinois Institute of Art - Chicago. Buying produce cultivated within a 150-mile radius of your location may also increase the likelihood of ingesting products with fewer pesticides and protective coatings typically added during the shipping process.

When it comes to buying regional fruits and vegetables, chef Clare Menck, academic director of Culinary Arts at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Wisconsin, recommends cruising farmers markets. “It’s best to arrive early and do a lap for price checks, product quality and available options. From there, let your menu be guided by seasonal items and begin picking your produce.” Menck also suggests you develop a relationship with the farmers – ask for their pick of the week, recipe tips and preparation suggestions.

“Purchasing medium sized, darker colored fruits and veggies is your best bet for flavor and nutrients,” says Trakselis of hand-picking products at the week-end pop-up shops. 

Farmers markets are also a great spot to pounce on the freshest proteins. “I always head for the specials; seek out the fresh catch of the day, fresh cut steaks and chicken specials to feature in meals,” says Krause. Local poultry and shellfish is often inexpensive when compared to goods imported from other regions.

Another convenient way to secure the season’s freshest crops is to order produce boxes from community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. Boxes offer a variety of the season’s crops straight from the farm on a weekly, bi-monthly or monthly basis. “The problem may be that you’re getting something in the box you’re unfamiliar with, but that’s not such a bad deal. You learn how to incorporate new vegetables into your meals and can ask for the farmer’s cooking tips,” says Trakselis.

Your bounty will vary by season as crops are harvested for the market. Summertime finds include berries, melons, peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, green beans, asparagus and dark, leafy greens. As the season shifts to fall, you’ll score root veggies, Swiss chard, kale and the last crop of sweet corn and melons. Winter brings citrus and hearty vegetables like beets, turnips, winter squashes, Brussels sprouts and leafy greens to your market. Stock up on more bitter veggies during this time as the hard winter frost releases sugars in the produce and sweetens up your goods. Finally, springtime means peas, lettuce and the first berry buds.

Proper storage will ensure the longevity of your loot. “Don’t ever put your tomatoes in the fridge – it breaks down the fibrous membrane and you’ll notice a steep decline in taste and texture,” says Menck. Natural sugars turn to starch in the fridge and it also stops the ripening process. She also recommends keeping onions, potatoes, garlic and even carrots in plastic containers in cool locations, like on a shelf in the garage, especially in the wintertime.

Look no further than your local farm for the freshest and most nutritious meals. Knowing your way around the market will benefit your week’s food haul, your health and your wallet.

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- - Keeping breakfast part of the morning routine - - - - - - Keeping breakfast part of the morning routine - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Fitting breakfast into your kids’ morning routine can be a struggle, especially during the school week. Between nagging them to get out of bed and preparing their book bags for school, breakfast is often put at the bottom of the morning to-do list. In fact, up to 30 percent of middle and high school students skip breakfast, missing important nutrients that are unlikely to be made up later in the day.

That means more than a quarter of students are going to school on an empty stomach and lack the nutrition they need to start their day right. Furthermore, research has shown that kids and adolescents who eat breakfast tend to have better dietary habits and make healthier eating choices throughout the day.

The breakfast struggle is something even actress and mother of four, Holly Robinson Peete can relate to. “One of my biggest challenges as a mom is to make sure my kids get breakfast. With busy mornings, it is essential that my kids get the nutrition they need,” says Robinson Peete. “I want to set my kids up for success, especially during the school year. Knowing there are easy, nutritious options such as Carnation Breakfast Essentials puts my mind at ease that I am making good choices for my kids.”

But even the most dedicated breakfast lovers have mornings that are just too crazy to find time to eat. Robinson Peete understands how busy schedules can make it difficult to keep up good habits. “I like to describe my mornings as ‘controlled madness’ – on a good day I have less than an hour to get my kids out of bed, showered and dressed, teeth brushed, fed and out the door to school,” she says. That’s why she gives her kids Carnation Breakfast Essential, a nutritious and convenient drink which can fit in a backpack and be enjoyed during the morning commute.

One way to help minimize stress in the morning is to prepare things like lunches and backpacks the evening before. If that’s not possible, designating a spot in the house for backpacks and school items to remain can help reduce the amount of organizing that is needed in the morning. Another simple tip is to wake up 10 minutes earlier. Just a few extra minutes at the start of the day can leave time for a quick breakfast.

Physicians agree that a good breakfast is important. Each serving of Carnation Breakfast Essentials provides a rich source of protein and 21 vitamins and minerals, including twice the protein of an egg, twice the calcium of a 6-ounce cup of yogurt, twice the vitamin D of an 8-ounce glass of milk and twice the vitamin C of a 4-ounce cup of orange juice.

To find information and helpful tips on nutrition, to access hundreds of delicious recipes and to download a coupon, visit or the Carnation Breakfast Essentials Facebook page.

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- - How to make your cocktails the life of the party - - - - - - How to make your cocktails the life of the party - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - This time of year, homes across the country are bustling with friends and family celebrating the holidays with festive foods and drinks. Dairy products like butter, milk, cheese and cream are standard ingredients in celebratory dishes, but one area where dairy can play a starring role is often overlooked – the cocktail glass. Instead of just offering wine or beer, the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) has put together cocktail tips and tricks for making every gathering a happy hour at home.

1. Cheers to dairy. Served hot or cold, milky alcoholic beverages are delicious on a hot day or in the cold of winter. Cocktails made with milk can range from the classics like a White Russian to the more unusual Mardi Gras favorite Milk Punch, a somewhat lighter version of egg nog. Make sure to choose flavors and spices that complement the foods you’re serving.

2. Look in the fridge. Chances are you already have everything you need to create a special cocktail or host a happy hour at home. Now is the time to use up the leftover craft beers from last week’s game, that nice bottle of brandy you received as a gift and the California milk and cream you have in your fridge.

3. Apples to apples. Apples are one of those foods that everyone seems to love and that familiar apple flavor seems most welcome in the cooler, cozier months. Why not combine the iconic apple pie with a trend that is on the rise: hard ciders. With the influx of craft beer drinkers, hard ciders are coming into their own. Try creating a Belgian Hot Apple Pie Cocktail (see recipe) and wow your friends and family with your bartending skills. This cocktail takes the beloved flavor of apple pie and lights it on fire, literally.

4. Drink your dessert. It’s easy to create delicious drinkable desserts for the over-21 crowd with just a few ingredients you likely already have on hand. A few scoops of Real California vanilla ice cream, milk, a flavored Irish cream liqueur and a shot of whiskey mixed in the blender will make even non-Irish eyes smile. Try chocolate vodka, peanut butter, milk and ice cream for an adult version of a peanut butter cup. Minty Moochas are a chocolate treat featuring coffee liqueur, peppermint schnapps, semisweet chocolate, milk and whipped cream.

5. Mix it up. Classic cocktails are making a comeback so mix up your own. Classic egg nog is a fun drink that can be served as either an adult or nonalcoholic beverage and is easily flavored to fit the festivities – from pumpkin pie spice to peppermint extract. If you are looking for a classic recipe, try a Wild’s Cooked Egg Holiday Eggnog with a splash of dark rum or bourbon, crafted by Chef Andy Wild on behalf of the CMAB.

Whenever serving alcohol in your home, make sure there’s a designated driver to ensure everyone makes it home safely. Look for the Real California Milk and Cheese seals to guarantee you’re getting products made with 100 percent California milk. To make the irresistible drinks mentioned above and to check out other great recipes, visit, or search for Real California Milk on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Belgian Hot Apple Pie Cocktail
Yield: 1 serving

1 large scoop Real California vanilla ice cream
1 ounce apple brandy
12 ounces Belgian apple beer

Place ice cream in a large glass. Pour brandy into a small glass. Carefully touch a lighted match to surface of brandy to ignite it. When flames die down, pour brandy over ice cream and fill glass with beer. Serve with a spoon and a straw.

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- - Holiday entertaining made easy - - - - - - Holiday entertaining made easy - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - The holidays are just around the corner, which means family and friends will soon get together at your home to celebrate. Whether you're hosting large or intimate gatherings, having a game plan in place well in advance of your event is essential. With a few simple steps, you can jumpstart holiday entertaining - and increase your own enjoyment at the event.

Theme it

Whether you're hosting your get-together in December or into the new year, there's simplicity in creating a theme and sticking to it. For inspiration, check out your favorite holiday films or books; or peruse home and garden magazines or Pinterest for creative entertaining ideas. Once you have a theme chosen, the rest of the details will quickly begin to fall into place. The theme can involve the types of food and drink served, the colors and types of decorations you decide to use, or even your guests’ attire.

Plan it

Send out invitations a month prior to the get-together. Invites can be extended through the mail in a creative way, like a holiday card or a small gift box or cookie tin that guests can bring to the party to take home edible favors. To save time and money, manage party invitations online, with a website like or These sites can help you keep track of guest lists, send reminders and even generate post-event thank-you notes, ensuring you remain on-task, with minimal effort.

Two weeks prior to your party date, take some time to prepare the menu. This will ensure ample time to pick up all the needed grocery items, find any specialty items and avoid last minute runs to the store. Search for recipes with common ingredients and varying preparation times, so you can space out your cooking and baking in the days leading up to your event. Begin setting tables and decorating several days prior to your party.

Stage it

Consider whether your gathering will be a sit-down meal or more of a standing-room affair. If you're only serving drinks and hors d'oeuvres, consider clearing out areas for guests to converse. To keep guests mingling from room to room, strategically space out the food and beverages throughout the areas. If you are serving a full-course meal, be sure you have ample seating for everyone. Think creatively about places for your guests to sit. End tables can be covered with decorative tablecloths and placed in front of a sofa for additional, comfortable settings. Saw horses, a wood board, and a tablecloth can make a quick and easy table in a pinch.

Create it

Between baking holiday cookies and preparing decadent meals, you'll likely find yourself quite busy in the kitchen. Save some of your precious time and energy with a kitchen appliance that does most of the work, helping you to quickly and easily create your holiday menu and spend more time with guests.

The Vitamix Professional Series 750 makes holiday entertaining easy. By utilizing pre-programmed settings for smoothies, frozen desserts, hot soups and purees, hundreds of delicious recipes can be made at the push of a button and cleaned up just as quickly. The Professional Series 750 also automatically shuts off once the cycle is complete, resulting in no-fail, consistent results.

Impress your guests and streamline your holiday menus with the following recipes.

Vitamix Holiday Squash Soup


2 cups (480 ml) chicken or vegetable broth

1⁄2 butternut squash, freshly roasted, peeled or 2 cups (410 g) freshly cooked squash

2 tablespoons (20 g) chopped onion

1⁄4 medium apple, seeded

1⁄4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1⁄4 teaspoon dried sage

1⁄4 teaspoon dried rosemary

1⁄8 teaspoon white pepper

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

1⁄4 cup (60 ml) heavy whipping cream


Place broth, squash, onion, apple, nutmeg, sage, rosemary, pepper and salt into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid. Select Hot Soup program. Switch machine to Start and allow machine to complete programmed cycle. Add heavy cream to the Vitamix container and secure lid.  Switch machine to Start and slowly increase speed to Variable 8.  Blend for an additional 30 seconds.

Nutritional information

Per 1 cup (240 ml) serving: Calories: 109, Total Fat: 6 g, Saturated Fat: 3 g, Protein: 2 g, Fiber: 3 g, Carbohydrates: 13 g, Sodium: 766 mg, Cholesterol: 20 mg


Vitamix Cranberry Lime Sparkle


1/2 cup (120 ml) 100 percent cranberry juice

4 ounces (120 ml) light rum

2 ounces (60 ml) vodka

2 Tablespoons (25 g) sugar

1/4 small lime, peeled, seeded

1/4 cup (25 g) fresh cranberries

2 cups (480 ml) ice cubes


Place all ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid. Select Variable 1. Switch machine to Start and slowly increase speed to Variable 10. Blend for 15 to 20 seconds or until desired consistency is reached. Pour into a sugar-rimmed glass and serve immediately.

Nutritional information

Per 1 cup (240 ml) serving: Calories: 193, Total Fat: 0 g, Saturated Fat: 0 g, Protein: 0 g, Fiber: 1 g, Carbohydrates: 14 g, Sodium: 3 mg, Cholesterol: 0 mg

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- - Open your house parties up to the beautiful outdoors - - - - - - Open your house parties up to the beautiful outdoors - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Having guests over to your house doesn’t necessarily mean you have to keep everyone contained inside. Open the doors of your home to your backyard to provide a relaxed ambiance for your guests. And with good lighting and comfortable seating, they’ll enjoy socializing and hanging around until well after the sun sets.

To prepare your backyard for such a gathering, make certain you have the following so guests will be comfortable the entire evening:

* Seating: No matter if you’re hosting a casual gathering, or something a bit more formal, guests will want to sit down to socialize. Make certain your patio, deck or grassy area has small groupings of chairs and benches within a short distance of food and drink tables, allowing guests to group together to share stories about friends and family. If you don’t have enough seating, consider asking neighbors to lend you chairs, or rent extra chairs from a party store for the evening.

* Tables: Place small tables throughout the backyard on which guests can easily rest plates and drinks. You can rent counter-high small tables at a party rental store, or place traditional-height tables near the gatherings of chairs to help make your guests more comfortable. During the evening, check the tables to pick up used plates and cups to keep the backyard looking refreshed.

* Lighting: Having the proper lighting is crucial for providing the right ambiance and to keep your gathering going well after the sun goes down. Chase away the darkness with recessed, low voltage accent lighting from Deckorators in stairways, railings and pathways so guests can easily negotiate these walkways, and provide a soft glow over the gathering with illuminated balusters and post caps, allowing guests to see and interact with other guests.

Deckorators accent lighting features the latest energy-efficient LED technology which is inexpensive to run and perfect for late-evening entertaining. Low voltage is a safe and easy way to add attractive lighting elements to a deck, whether for function or style. Instead of flooding your deck with unflattering, harsh incandescence, create a dramatic, show-stopping outdoor living area with subtle illumination that calls you to relax and enjoy your outdoor retreat long past sunset.

* Music: Playing music during the gathering is always a nice element to a party, and can greatly enhance the theme. Consider installing speakers throughout your backyard to provide a surround-sound experience. But also be certain to check your community noise ordinances on nighttime volume restrictions, and let your neighbors know that you will follow those regulations so your party will be sure to end on a good note with them and the authorities.

With these plans in place, your next gathering of family and friends will be a magical event, not just during the daylight hours, but well into the evening. Be prepared for encore requests after you successfully pull off an outdoor party encompassing your entire backyard.

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- - Break some rules and have fun with holiday entertaining - - - - - - Break some rules and have fun with holiday entertaining - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “People are always getting ready to live but never living.” This year as thousands of details that surround holiday gatherings threaten to ruin your holiday memories, take a few moments and think about how much nicer it would be if you could be enjoying the special moments with your family and friends. Instead each year you spend countless hours in the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove while your guests enjoy themselves in the next room. Imagine if you could spend more time with them, sharing stories and enjoying their company.

It can be done. It might be time to tweak some traditions, take a few shortcuts and rethink your personal holiday entertaining rules. There are many options to help you entertain in style without all the hassle (and you’ll still get rave reviews). Planning ahead can help you reduce stress and give you back your holidays. Consider these five easy steps to simplify holiday entertaining:

1. Fill your freezer with tasty treats to pull out at a moment’s notice. Premade appetizers, entrees, sides and desserts that you can thaw, bake and serve are lifesavers during the holiday season. Many companies like Kansas City Steak Company make it easy for you to have tasty holiday meals with minimal effort and maximum flavor. They do all the preparation; you get the glory.

How would your guests enjoy this menu? Caramelized onion and feta pastry kisses, tender Chateaubriand, creamy mashed potatoes with porcini mushrooms and a chocolate hazelnut ganache cake for dessert. Or how about a delectable menu of baby brie bites with cranberry chutney, paired with Beef Wellington, twice baked potatoes and a sour cherry peach tart? It will look like you spent days preparing this feast and you’ll be the only one to know it took a few clicks, a look in your freezer that morning and a few minutes to get the meal on the table.

2. Rethink traditions. Just because your mother and her mother spent two days preparing the Thanksgiving turkey dinner, it’s okay to give yourself permission to create new traditions that fit your lifestyle while tempting the taste buds of the special people in your life. Want to change things up? How about a Hickory Smoked Spiral Sliced Ham for Thanksgiving this year? Using a fully cooked, slow-smoked ham as the star attraction from the traditional turkey dinner will cut your preparation time on Thanksgiving by hours – and you’ll still have plenty of leftovers to enjoy after a day of bargain hunting on Black Friday.

3. Use free Web guides to pair the perfect wine with your meal. If you want to create the perfect wine pairing for your holiday meal, Kansas City Steak Company has a great guide. They’ve done all the work for you, so relax and enjoy the compliments you’ll receive for making a wise decision when it comes to the perfect palate pleasers.

4. Rent holiday entertainment items. There’s no need to store holiday entertaining items you may only use once a year. Many companies rent holiday serving items, china, wine glasses, tablecloths and more. The items come ready to use and when you’re finished with them, you simply send them back. No need to worry about storage space or washing linens.

5. Think potluck for entertaining. People are more than willing to bring a dish to pass for holiday gatherings. A simple request, like: “We’re going to try something new this year. I’d like you to bring your favorite appetizer, side dish, dessert, etc. I’ll provide the roast (of your choice) and beverages.” Few things are more social than a potluck meal. This allows you to get together with your favorite people without doing all the work yourself. Do a little planning up front and you’ll have a wonderful meal where everyone can take a bow.

So this year, break some rules and live your holidays to the fullest. Just remember the words of the late Katherine Hepburn, “If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun.” Happy holidays.

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- - Celebrate autumn with these fun activities for the whole family - - - - - - Celebrate autumn with these fun activities for the whole family - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Fall is often considered the coziest of seasons. Not too hot, but not too cold, there is something about the vibrant colors of leaves and crisp air that make you want to pull on a sweater and take in all this season has to offer.

Celebrate all the scents and sounds of the fall with a few tips to make the most of this beautiful season:

*Reread a classic. Cozy up with a classic book. A few of the most anticipated upcoming feature films are adaptations of classic novels. Take some time away from your busy schedule to revisit some of these books before they hit the big screen. Throw a few logs into the fireplace, put on your warmest sweater and relax with a good story, whether you’re reading it for the first or 20th time.

*Take a walk. There’s no better way to take in the sights, smells and sounds of fall than being surrounded by the season. Enjoy the vibrant colors of leaves changing, the familiar smell of smoky bonfires and children jumping into massive leaf piles. It is the perfect time for long walks because temperatures aren’t overbearingly hot and the humidity levels are much more tolerable. Dress appropriately for the cooler weather and see what fun you can have outside.

*Help others. Fall is an excellent time to direct your energies and donations toward nonprofit organizations. For example, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and you can participate in a fundraiser for any breast cancer organization or donate funds during this special month. Old London is helping to find a cure by donating 75 cents to breast cancer research for each proof of purchase from any of its products received through Feb. 6, 2013. Enter the UPC at

*Harvest fall fun. Visit a local apple orchard or pumpkin patch. Apple trees are heavily laden with crisp and delicious apples this time of year. Head out to an orchard to pluck the perfectly grown fruits off trees bearing your favorite variety of apples. Or take children on a ride at a pumpkin farm. Let them run through the patch, inspecting every pumpkin for their perfect carving creation.

*Feed your autumnal appetite. All of fall’s exciting activities will leave members of your family feeling voracious. Warm them up – and create a delicious smell in your house – with a bowl of homemade soup. This simple recipe for Chicken Soup and Crackers  is destined to become a fall staple.  

Chicken Soup and Crackers


4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or homemade chicken stock

1 (3-pound) chicken, cooked and de-boned, then skinned and pulled

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut into large chunks

2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks

2 stalks celery, cut into large chunks

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 box of frozen okra

1 box Melba Snacks Spicy 3 Pepper


Place broth in a 3 quart sauce pan. Add the onion, carrots, celery, bay leaf, thyme, turmeric, salt, and pepper and simmer until vegetables are very tender.

Add chicken pieces and frozen okra, and boil for 5 minutes.

To serve, place Melba Snacks Spicy 3 Pepper into bowls and cover them with soup. Garnish with parsley.

The fall months are a perfect time to enjoy spending time with family and getting outside to enjoy the final warm days of the year. For additional recipes, visit Old London on Facebook at

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- - Food gifts top the list this holiday season - - - - - - Food gifts top the list this holiday season - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - When it comes to shopping for holiday gifts, the options are unlimited. From new clothes to electronics to home decor, you can shop forever trying to find just the perfect gift. If your gift list is long, just think of the time and money you will spend.

Why not make your holiday shopping much easier this year with food gifts for your loved ones? Food is always a popular gift. In fact, specialty food gifts account for nearly $20 billion of the more than $120 billion that Americans spend annually on gifts, according to food industry experts. With the wide variety of choices in the food gift category, you can perfectly match a gift to the preferences of every recipient on your holiday list.

Food gifts are:

* Perfect for family and friends – A gift of food is the gift of an occasion - a reason to get together with family and friends to enjoy a delicious meal and great conversation around the dinner table. Your food gift can help your loved ones to plan a special family meal together or to host a party for friends.

* Always right – A food gift will never be the wrong size or color, and there’s nothing to assemble. As long as you choose items to please the palate of your recipients, your gift will be successful.

* Easy on your budget – The diversity of food gifts at varying price points allow you to develop a package that fits perfectly into your holiday gift budget.

* Simple and stress-free – Holiday gift packages of varying price points like those from Omaha Steaks make it easy to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Omaha Steaks The Ideal Gift Assortment highlights the best of the best, offering filet mignons, top sirloins, stuffed sole with scallops and crab meat, burgers, stuffed baked potatoes and a chocolate cake for dessert, all at an affordable price. Packages can be easily ordered by phone and online and are delivered directly to the gift recipient. It’s easy to choose a gift that matches the preferred tastes of your recipients perfectly.  A quick visit to will allow you to finish your holiday shopping in record time.

Food gifts provide an experience, an occasion and a reason to celebrate with family and friends. That is what makes the holidays special and why food has earned a solid reputation as the perfect gift. This year, think food gifts. You’ll enjoy stress-free holiday shopping and your gifts will be warmly welcomed and appreciated by everyone on your gift list.

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- - Four ways to make holiday entertaining a breeze - - - - - - Four ways to make holiday entertaining a breeze - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - With the holidays drawing close, your home will soon be the center of attention when entertaining guests from near and far. From creating a festive atmosphere to feeding friends and family, it’s important to plan ahead for a hassle-free holiday season everyone will enjoy.

Make this season’s party planning less stressful and costly with these simple tips.

Decorate in a snap: Fill decorative clear glass jars with seasonal hard candies and treats such as candy canes, Christmas tree-shaped gum drops and red and white peppermints. Place jars either in a group or individually on an entryway table, fireplace mantle or end table for quick and tasty holiday decor. You can also use taller glass jars and fill them with pine cones, ornaments, fresh cranberries or evergreen branches for a more natural holiday look. Either way, these easy, inexpensive decorating tricks will create a festive ambiance in your home.

Keep it simple: Why not host a wine and cheese party instead of a sit-down meal? This type of party allows guests to mix and mingle freely, is budget (and waistline) friendly and requires little prep time so the host can enjoy the party and visit with guests. Set out a few wine, cheese and fruit pairings for guests to sample. Place cards identifying the combinations make good conversation starters too. Wow your guests when you open the wine with the SKIL iXO Vivo Power Corkscrew, the cordless screwdriver equipped with a corkscrew attachment, foil cutter and wine stopper. This handy tool makes popping open a bottle of wine as easy as tightening a screw which, by the way, it can also do.

Evaluate your space: Providing enough space for you and your guests to move around will contribute to the success of the party. No one likes to fight their way across the room to greet a friend or when they accidentally knock over a wine glass with the slightest movement. Rearrange or remove furniture to provide a better flow throughout the space during the party, while still considering seating, serving and clean-up areas.

Pay attention to details: Make sure your home is welcoming when family and friends arrive. Keep front walks free of snow and ice, arrange evergreen branches in a large planter with a landscape light or two and place on the porch, or set an attractive basket with a folded towel at the bottom near the door to hold guests’ wet boots. Simple steps like these will make sharing your home more enjoyable and your guests feel welcome.

Now that you’ve prepared your home for entertaining, remember to take along a host or hostess gift when you’re the invited guest. SKIL Tools has the perfect gift for anyone on your list, from the new homeowner to DIYer to college student. Visit for product information. Take advantage of the Buy Now feature to make your holiday shopping stress-free too.

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- - Keep food safe in your kitchen with these tips - - - - - - Keep food safe in your kitchen with these tips - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - How safe is your kitchen? It’s a question you should always be asking yourself.

The majority of Americans find food safety important both at restaurants and in their own kitchen, according to new National Restaurant Association research. America’s restaurants serve 130 million customers each day, making the restaurant industry a critical component of the food safety universe. The industry has a long-standing commitment to food safety as there is nothing more important than the health and safety of guests. Almost all consumers say it is important to them to know that the restaurants they visit train employees in food safety.

When it comes to cooking at home, virtually all consumers say they have at least basic knowledge of food safety. Sixty-three percent say they are aware of proper food safety practices and always follow them, while 33 percent say they are familiar with some food safety practices and follow those when they can.

In order to prevent foodborne illness, avoiding cross-contamination is essential. When cooking at home, remember to follow these tips from food safety experts at the National Restaurant Association:

1. Wash your hands: Hand-washing is the first defense against cross-contamination. Wash your hands before handling any food and always after handling raw meat.

2. Touch nothing but your food: Don’t rub your nose, touch your hair or cough into your hand while preparing food, as germs from anything you touch can be transferred onto food.

3. Keep foods apart: Don’t store raw meats next to or above ready-to-eat foods in your fridge and use different utensils, knives, cutting boards and prep surfaces for raw and cooked food. A good way to remember which is which is to use different colored cutting boards, for example red for meats and green for vegetables.

4. Treat friends with food allergies to a safe meal: Take extra care to prep dishes for guests with food allergies, as it’s not enough to simply pick the item in question off a dish. Prepare the dish separately from other food, including using separate cutting boards and utensils.

September is National Food Safety Month, with an annual campaign to heighten awareness about the importance of food safety education. This year’s National Food Safety Month theme is “Be Safe, Don’t Cross-Contaminate,” providing tips and education on preventing the transferring of germs from one surface to another. 

National Food Safety Month highlights components of the NRA’s ServSafe Food Safety program – the leading source of food safety training and certification for restaurant and foodservice industry professionals for nearly 40 years.

While the campaign is held each September, remember that food safety is critical year-round and should be practiced every day. For more information and free resources, visit

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- - Score big with these game day entertaining tips - - - - - - Score big with these game day entertaining tips - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - With football and basketball season in full swing, it’s the perfect time to invite family and friends over to root on the home team. Hosting a crowd-pleasing party can be simple with a little preparation. Score big with these simple game day entertaining tips.

*Create a game plan. Organize the menu ahead of time so you’re not scrambling to finish everything at the last minute. Tackle recipes that can be made prior to the big event, and prep any ingredients so they’re ready to cook on the day of the party.

*Block extra mess and stress. Finger foods are a great way to reduce utensil and dish use. Look to serve items that can be eaten in one bite, and set out napkins for party guests to use.

*Score with decor. Print out team logos and glue or tape to cups. Purchase green or yellow felt fabric – green to evoke a football field, yellow to evoke the hardwood of a basketball court –  from the local craft store to use as a table cloth. Tie team-colored ribbon bows on your door knocker, around lamp shades or any other object you can think of, to show your team spirit.

*Snack sack. Pick foods that are easy to make and fit with the overall game theme. Save time and money by using household staples as ingredients, like Pringles crisps. These quick and easy Loaded Twice-Baked Taters are sure to be a fan favorite.

Loaded Twice-Baked Taters


2 6.38-ounce cans of Pringles Loaded Baked Potato flavor
1 1/2 cup skim milk
1 egg
1 slice of American cheese
Sour cream, dried chives and bacon bits, for garnish


Heat oven to 350 F. Place one 6.38-ounce can of Pringles Loaded Baked Potato crisps in a food processor and pulse until well crushed. Add milk, egg and cheese into mixture and puree until well mixed.

Take Pringles from remaining can and place 48 crisps on a cookie sheet with the curve of the crisp facing up, and edges facing down. With a very small spoon, place a rounded scoop onto each crisp. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Remove and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving. Add a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with dried chives and bacon bits. Serve immediately.

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- - Mrs. Claus shares tips for fun holiday activities - - - - - - Mrs. Claus shares tips for fun holiday activities - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - If you think you’re busy this time of year, imagine how busy the first lady of holiday cheer can be. Not only does she help the big guy get ready for Christmas, but she makes sure everyone in the North Pole has a memorable holiday season. From hosting parties to keeping the elves happy and healthy, this joyful time of year is also her busiest.

“While the holiday season is always a hectic time at the North Pole, just like it is for you and your family, we still try to spend time together even after a long day in Santa’s workshop” says Mrs. Claus. “We read Santa’s letters, play reindeer games and bake tasty holiday goodies together.”

For a holiday season filled with joy and laughter, Mrs. Claus shared her top five ways to make lasting memories with your little ones. 

* Letters to Santa: Santa loves receiving letters from children. Encouraging your kids to write to Santa provides a great opportunity to teach them how to spell, compose written text and allows them to practice handwriting. For younger kids who haven’t started reading or writing, encourage them to draw pictures, instead.

* Leave something special: Making a snack for Santa with your little helpers offers an extra opportunity to spend time together creating memories that will last a lifetime. Think beyond the cookie tray and personalize your treats just for him. One of Santa’s favorites is Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Tree Trimmer Treats.

* Holiday cheer: Make decorating the house a fun event for the whole family. Engage your kids in holiday crafts to display on the mantle and make sure everyone has ornaments to hang on the tree.

* Story nights: Santa and I often gather all of the elves together to reminisce about family memories, or watch our favorite holiday movies. Stir up some hot cocoa and treats, share special moments from holidays past, or let your little ones pick their favorite holiday movie.

* Rudolph roadmap: Make sure Santa and his reindeer can find your house. Sprinkle a mixture of oats and glitter on your front yard to help guide them right to your home – even if it gets a little foggy.

Rice Krispies Tree Trimmer Treats Recipe

Yields 12 servings


12 (6-inch lengths) red or black string licorice

12 miniature marshmallows

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 package (10 ounces, about 40) regular marshmallows or 4 cups miniature marshmallows

6 cups Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal


M&M's brand chocolate candies


Fold each licorice piece in half and push ends through centers of 12 miniature marshmallows. Set aside. In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add 10 ounces marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Add cereal. Stir until well coated. Using 1/2-cup measuring cup coated with cooking spray, divide warm cereal mixture into 12 portions. Using buttered hands shape each portion into ornament shape around licorice ends. Cool. Decorate with frosting and candies. Best if served the same day.

You can find nutrition information and decorating ideas on or gain additional inspiration on Rice Krispies’ Pinterest page at

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- - Grocery insight: What is fair trade and how does it make a difference? - - - - - - Grocery insight: What is fair trade and how does it make a difference? - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - When buying groceries, shoppers have the potential to impact countless people who work behind the scenes producing the foods and beverages that end up in households across America. Purchasing Fair Trade Certified(TM) products has been on the rise for the last 30 years, but most people still aren’t aware of the impact fair trade has on coffee-growing communities around the world and the difference purchasing Fair Trade Certified coffee can make.

By choosing fair trade products, consumers help to improve the lives of farmers around the world. Fair trade guarantees farmers a fair price for their coffee, which helps to improve the quality of life in farming communities – from better access to education and healthcare, to community development opportunities. Furthermore, by participating in the fair trade system, coffee growers are able to farm in a more sustainable manner, which is better for the environment because it reduces the use of agrochemicals, helps to manage and mitigate the impact of waste water and protects natural vegetation areas, while promoting good farming practices.

Fair trade helps to link farmers directly with coffee roasters, such as Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), who purchase high-quality, unroasted, green coffee at fair prices, creating long-term business relationships. Since the start of GMCR’s involvement in fair trade and involvement with Fair Trade USA in 2000, GMCR’s Fair Trade Certified coffee purchases have delivered more than $13 million in community development premium funds to coffee farmers.

Some people believe Fair Trade Certified foods are more expensive, but if you compare costs, you’ll find that these products are competitively priced. Fair trade organizations work directly with producers, so they can keep products affordable for consumers. In addition, the fair trade model allows coffee farmers to invest in better farming techniques, therefore producing some of the highest quality coffees available.

Coffee companies like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters celebrate through fair trade awareness programs. This year, Green Mountain Coffee(R) launched the “Great Coffee, Good Vibes, Pass It On” campaign to encourage people to learn more about the benefits of fair trade. Musicians Grace Potter and Michael Franti joined Green Mountain Coffee(R) as brand ambassadors to help pass on the “good vibes” through free concerts in New York City and Los Angeles. By visiting Green Mountain Coffee on Facebook (, consumers can learn more about Fair Trade Certified coffee.

Fair Trade Certified coffee is something you can feel good about purchasing – because it means a great cup of coffee for you and a better quality of life for farmers. It’s a simple choice that makes a big difference. Make your dollars count by purchasing fair trade labeled products at your local grocery store.

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- - Four foods you don't need - - - - - - Four foods you don't need - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - The average super market offers some 45,000 food products, most of which are packaged, processed and a poor choice for someone who wants to eat healthy - even when the package says otherwise with claims of being natural, whole grain and even organic.

“People love the idea of convenience, especially with their food,” says registered dietitian Anika DeCoster, assistant program manager of LifeTime WeightLoss, a division of Life Time, The Healthy Way of Life Company. “Most of the convenience and processed foods on the market are barely recognizable to the human body. The body can’t properly digest, absorb or use nutrients in these modified foods effectively, which negatively impacts metabolism, weight and energy production.”

Of those 45,000 products, there are four DeCoster says you can stop buying now.

Breakfast cereal. Most Americans consume an over-abundance of sugar, not just in desserts but also via processed foods, like breakfast cereals that contain simple carbohydrates, which our bodies treat like sugar when they enter the bloodstream. Too much sugar in the diet can lead to obesity - which can be a cause for Type 2 diabetes - and also takes some blame for suppressing the immune system and playing a role in depression, even Alzheimer’s. Cereal is not the breakfast of champions. If you miss the crunch, start making your own granola packed with nuts and seeds, which provide healthy fats and protein, without the excess sugar and added trans-fats found in store-bought varieties.

Fruit juice and soda. One of the main culprits of the obesity epidemic, soda - even diet soda - has a negative impact on healthy eating. Fruit juice, while seemingly more healthy since it is made with fruit, contains so much sugar, it outweighs any benefits. Water is the only beverage a body truly needs. “If you need a flavor kick, try buying natural, carbonated water and add a little lime, lemon, or even flavored Stevia drops, which come in vanilla, toffee and other flavors,” recommended DeCoster.

Salad dressing. Eating a salad? Good for you. Top it with dressing loaded with sugar, additives and preservatives and you’ve just doused those healthy vegetables with an unhealthy dose of products your body doesn’t need. Making your own salad dressing is simple: whisk together oil – like olive, walnut, or sesame seed varieties – with acid, like red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or lemon juice. Season with dry or fresh herbs and change the consistency with anything from peanut butter or mustard to sour cream or avocados. Homemade dressings are easy to prepare and keep in the fridge for a week or longer.

Non-fat flavored yogurt. “Instead, buy plain full-fat Greek yogurt and add your own flavorings such as nuts/seeds, a little organic honey or berries,” DeCoster says. That’s right, full-fat. “The fat in the yogurt helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin D, which is the most common vitamin deficiency.” Plus this natural fat is essential for fortifying brain and cell membranes, and because it is digested more slowly, you’re less likely to be hungry an hour later. DeCoster suggests comparing the ingredient list from a plain full-fat yogurt to a non-fat flavored yogurt. The first will have a few recognizable ingredients; the second will read like a chemistry textbook.

Because our busy lifestyles thrive on convenience, as well as good nutrition, DeCoster recommends that people make their own convenience foods via whole food preparation. 

“I encourage people to put most of their emphasis on choosing foods that don’t have labels or packaging, like meat, fruit, veggies, raw nuts and seeds. These foods are in their most natural form and are considered whole and unprocessed foods,” she says.

If a food does have a label or package, never choose to buy it based on the packaging claims. “The ingredient list should always be your first glance in determining if that food is healthy or not. If the ingredients don’t hold up to your nutrition plan or you don’t recognize them, put the food back on the shelf.”

If you need help deciphering food labels, a Life Time Fitness Nutrition and Weight Loss Coach leads a grocery store tour from most facilities every month.

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- - Autumn entertaining made easy with fabulous fall decor ideas - - - - - - Autumn entertaining made easy with fabulous fall decor ideas - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - The golden days of autumn are upon us, signaling a new direction in home decor and entertaining. What are your plans for updating your house? These easy tips will bring the feeling of fall into your home without a lot of money or extra effort.

“Fall marks a time for entertaining as friends and families come back together,” says Visual Merchandiser John Griffith. “The brilliant bursts of reds, oranges, and yellows mark the last vestiges of color until spring, and people are looking to grab onto those, especially those who appreciate nature as a decorating tool.”

Griffith and his team create seasonal decorating vignettes for the retail store at Replacements, Ltd. The company is known as the world’s largest retailer of old and new china, crystal, silver and collectibles. Griffith’s merchandising team has seen fall decorating become an increasingly popular trend. Shoppers are requesting recommendations for autumn decor, as opposed to waiting for the traditional winter holidays to start seasonal decorating.

Industry insiders say manufacturers are answering the trend in autumn decorating by offering more seasonal ornaments and dinnerware patterns, especially for Halloween and Thanksgiving.

“People want a change, but with higher gas prices and the economic uncertainty, they’re worried about spending money,” Griffith says. “Many of us don’t realize we can give our homes a refreshing seasonal style with what we already own. This starts with rethinking how you use your tableware. Fall is a great time to forgo form for function and use your dinnerware in creative ways that aren’t only pretty, but a great conversation starter for fall entertaining.”

While most people think about using their dinnerware for its intended purpose, finding new uses for those pieces opens up fun ideas to style your table. For example, Griffith suggests turning a balloon wine glass upside down over your favorite fall foliage, small gourds, or seasonal ornaments, and then placing a votive on the inverted base. This creates a pretty accent on the dinner table or anywhere in the home.

Look out in your yard for pine cones, nuts, seasonal berries or magnolia pods to arrange on silver serving trays, compotes or various sized serving bowls. You can even create unique centerpieces by mixing various natural elements and candles on single cake stands.

Griffith suggests filling wine glasses with small seasonal-colored ornaments to use at each place setting, or in various rooms around your home to capture a burst of color.

If you are looking to expand your dinnerware collection for fall entertaining, experts say there is no shortage of options.

“You’ll find fall and Thanksgiving dinnerware in traditional browns and yellows, as well as this season’s trend color, pumpkin orange,” says Replacements’ Product Marketing Vice President Robin Long. “You can easily capture the spirit of the season simply by adding accent plates to the patterns you already own. Another great option is to add a decorated turkey platter or other serving pieces featuring colors and designs of the season to your table.”

You can set off each course, such as hors d’oeuvres or dessert, with seasonal accent plates. Favorite Thanksgiving patterns include His Majesty, Autumn Monarch and Wild Turkeys.

As an additional note, Long suggests pulling out your dinnerware and flatware in preparation for fall entertaining. You may notice chips or cracks, or recall a broken piece needs replacing. Silver may have lost its shine. She says you can find replacement pieces and care tips on the company’s website, along with information on restoration services. You can also find more decorating ideas on Replacements’ YouTube channel and Facebook page.

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- - Baking for the holidays? A checklist of pantry must-haves - - - - - - Baking for the holidays? A checklist of pantry must-haves - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - A holiday season without baked goodies would be like a movie without popcorn, burgers without fries or a sundae sans cherry: good but not quite perfect. If you enjoy baking traditional holiday favorites, you may also like trying new recipes. Experimenting with new recipes is easier if you start out with a well-stocked pantry.

While some holiday recipes might call for unusual ingredients that require a trip to the gourmet food store, some ingredients are ubiquitous. Keep those ingredients in your pantry year-round and you’ll be on track to bake up a storm this holiday season.

The baking gurus at Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, a more than 100-year-old family-run flavoring company, offer this checklist of must-have items to help ensure your pantry is well-stocked for holiday baking:

* Flour – Some type of flour is the foundation of most baking. Your pantry should always have a supply of all-purpose white baking flour, but don’t forget to add some other common, useful varieties like whole wheat, unbleached or semolina.

* Sweeteners – Refined white sugar, of course, is a reliable stand-by for sweetening any recipe. But many holiday recipes may call for alternative sweeteners like confectioner’s sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar or honey. And, if you’re baking for folks with dietary restrictions, you’ll need artificial sweeteners. Many brands of artificial sweeteners now offer varieties specifically designed for use in baking.

* Extracts – Holiday baking cries out for certain flavors, like peppermint, almond, chocolate and vanilla. You can find an extract for virtually every flavor under the sun, but keeping an ample supply of the staples, like Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, will ensure you have the perfect flavoring on hand for a variety of dishes – from holiday baked goods to main courses and side dishes. The family-run company uses a proprietary cold extraction process that slowly and gently draws the delicate and distinctive flavor from the vanilla beans.

* Spices – Certain spices just speak to the holiday season, but they’re also useful throughout the year. Keep your pantry stocked with holiday-appropriate spices like cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

* Fruits and nuts – While some recipes may call for fresh fruits and nuts, others will require dried varieties. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, raisins, candied ginger and even dried apricots and cranberries are all good starting points for a well-stocked holiday pantry.

* Grains – What would oatmeal raisin cookies be without the oatmeal? Holiday recipes often call for grains and cereals, including oatmeal, cornmeal and bran.

* Leavening – Many cookies don’t require a leavening agent or stabilizer, but cakes and breads may, so include yeast, baking soda and baking powder in your pantry.

* Shortening – Vegetable oil, shortening and lard are staples of baking. To lighten a recipe without sacrificing taste, try naturally lighter oils like canola.

* Milk – You may not use it at any other time of year, but holiday baking often calls for evaporated milk. Sweetened condensed milk is also incorporated in many recipes. A can or two of each, purchased ahead of the holidays, will ensure you don’t have to make a special trip to the grocery store for this less-used ingredient.

Now that your pantry is prepped for the holidays, try this festive recipe from Nielsen-Massey Vanillas:

Crisp Vanilla Butter Cookies


1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chocolate pieces of choice


Cream the butter, confectioners' sugar and vanilla powder in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the eggs and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt on low speed until just blended. Place the dough on parchment paper and shape into a 12-inch long log. Chill for 3 to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an insulated cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Cut the dough log into 1/4-inch-thick slices and place on the cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Place the cooled cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Place the chocolate pieces in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on high for 15 seconds. Repeat at 5-second intervals, stirring and checking the consistency. The chocolate is ready when it freely drips from the spoon in a fine line. Spoon the chocolate into a large plastic food storage bag. Twist the bag until the chocolate is in one corner and then trim the tip of the bag. Drizzle the chocolate over the cookies.

Variation: Add 1/2 teaspoon of any Nielsen-Massey Pure Flavor Extract, such as Chocolate, Almond, Lemon, Orange or Coffee, to the cookie dough to create a signature cookie.

Makes 2 dozen.

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- - Tips for elevating the traditional holiday meal - - - - - - Tips for elevating the traditional holiday meal - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - If preparing the holiday feast falls upon you, the pressure is on to get it just right. Whether you're faithfully replicating treasured family recipes, or want to put a new creative spin on seasonal culinary customs, achieving success with the food you offer can define a happy holiday experience for all.

Want to try a menu item that's completely new? Don't choose the morning of your gathering to attempt replacing everyone's favorite pumpkin pie with that new pumpkin creme brulee. Make sure you've mastered any new dish before springing it on your guests. If you're going to create a new tradition, you need to be prepared to knock it out of the park.

If food that's entirely new and unexpected is too risky for you to attempt, or just not acceptable for the traditionalists around your table, you might try livening up classic standbys in a subtle, yet transformative way.

Try something derivative of the classic recipes that everyone loves:

1. Transform turkey with an herbed basting butter, or use ready-made spice blends such as curry, barbecue, or southwest chili seasoning as dry rubs, or for adding stealth-flavor updates to your gravy.

2. Roast your meat entree on a bed of seasonal herbed vegetables including carrots, parsnips, shallots and fall mushrooms - this will add moisture and flavor that may rival hours of traditional butter-basting. When the meat is done, puree the roasted vegetables to create a healthier take on traditional gravy, or try serving them whole right along your entree as a time- and oven-space-saving side dish.

3. Elevate the flavor of plain white russet potatoes by including buttery turnips, creamy-textured celery root, sweet fennel bulb, nutty cauliflower and seasonings such as parsley, garlic and chives in the mash-up.

4. For dessert, use a bit of pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon and sugar or a dusting of clove, nutmeg and sugar to create a flavored whipped cream for the traditional pumpkin pie.

All traditions evolve, but if something derivative is still too extreme, slip in a subtle twist that improves upon the original. Every traditional food or recipe has likely gone through many incremental changes, even to the point that the dish has probably changed substantially over time. It makes perfect sense to question outmoded preparation techniques or unhealthy ingredients, so don't be afraid to slip in your own subtle twists to any time-worn recipes.

For instance, your mom or grandmother may very well have relied upon less costly but synthetic (and even unhealthy) imitation vanilla flavoring. Real vanilla is a much better investment in quality, flavor and naturalness and could make a remarkable difference in your baking. If the vanilla is organic and certified Fair Trade, even better. Likewise, simply cleaning out your spice cabinet and replacing all those mismatched, aging seasonings with fresh organic spices will do wonders to improve the flavor of any standard family dishes without transforming them into something unrecognizable to the traditionalists who will gather around your table.

For more great creative meal tips as well as a great selection of premium herbs and spices including organic Fair Trade vanilla visit

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- - How to make dining out during the holidays a healthy experience - - - - - - How to make dining out during the holidays a healthy experience - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - The holiday season is here and if you’re like most Americans, restaurants will play a key role in your holiday plans and celebrations, as well as shopping and traveling experiences. 

Each year, tens of millions of Americans visit restaurants for their holiday meals or use restaurants to supplement meals at home. For anyone with a busy schedule, the opportunity to go to a restaurant or bring takeout items home allows for more time with family and friends and does not require the cleanup that typically goes along with cooking a meal. 

National Restaurant Association research shows that more and more, consumers are looking for better-for-you items. While dining out this holiday season, parents looking for those healthful options for themselves and their children will be pleased to find a larger variety of choices on restaurant menus. More than 110 restaurant brands representing 30,000 locations nationwide are now participating in the Kids LiveWell program, an initiative established by the National Restaurant Association in collaboration with Healthy Dining, a group of registered dietitians who have worked with the industry for two decades to help restaurants provide a selection of healthful, dietitian-approved items.

Participating restaurants and qualifying Kids LiveWell menu choices can be found on, along with thousands of dietitian-approved choices for the whole family. The program’s free app makes it easy to find healthful menu items for your kids while out on the go. The app is available in the Android market and iTunes app store and can be downloaded at

Restaurants participating in the program can be found in every state in the country, including everything from quick-service restaurants to fast-casual concepts, from the largest restaurant chains to independent operators. Each one of these restaurants’ Kids LiveWell items meets qualifying criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations, including the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines. The initiative incorporates fruit and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and limits unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium. 

During the winter months, and particularly the holidays, we may be more tempted by indulgent desserts and holiday meals. So what can people do to prevent possible weight gain? Registered dietitian and the National Restaurant Association’s director of nutrition, Dr. Joy Dubost, has a few recommendations:

* Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables, which are lower in calories and packed with nutrients.

* Try incorporating more fiber rich whole grains into the meal, which may help to keep you fuller longer.

* Don’t think you have to avoid your favorite desserts; just remember to choose smaller portion sizes.

* If you are going to eat a more indulgent meal, adjust your calories accordingly throughout the day but do not skip meals. Eat slowly and enjoy the dining experience.

* Don’t forget to keep up your physical activity to ensure you are burning the calories you have consumed.

The holidays can be an especially busy time for families. The Kids LiveWell and Healthy Dining programs help ensure families can celebrate this holiday season with nutritious, well-balanced meals. Wherever you choose to celebrate, have a happy and safe holiday season.

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- - Road trip snacks to fuel family fun - - - - - - Road trip snacks to fuel family fun - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Whether you’re driving to Grandma’s for the holidays or heading south to escape the cold, Americans have a love affair with the family road trip. But before you pack the kids up and head out for hours on the open road, it’s important to plan ahead so hungry bellies don’t delay your journey.

Fuel your road trip fun with these tips for enjoying delicious and satisfying snacks that can be eaten on the go. Stay hydrated by loading up on plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. Grape tomatoes, berries and carrot sticks are great bite-sized snacks perfect for small fingers. By choosing high-protein snacks with staying power, you'll keep your family's hunger at bay so your drive time flies by without hassle.

For longer road trips, be sure to include plenty of ready-to-eat snacks. For example, here is a great-tasting recipe that can be made ahead of time to smooth the journey:

Beef or Ham Pinwheels

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 teaspoon horseradish
Dash Worchestershire sauce
2 packages (2 ounces each) Buddig Original Sliced Beef or Ham

Combine cream cheese, onion, horseradish and Worcestershire sauce until well blended. Separate sliced meat, laying two slices in a row, slightly overlapped. Spread with cream cheese mixture. Roll up and fasten with a wooden pick. Repeat with remaining meat and cream cheese. Refrigerate, covered, at least 2 hours. Just before serving, cut into 1-inch slices. Keep snacks cold in a portable or disposable cooler until ready to eat. Makes approximately 3 and a half dozen pinwheels.

Nutritional information: calories per serving (one 1-inch piece) 23; calories from fat 19; total fat 2 grams; saturated fat 1 gram; trans fat 0 grams; cholesterol 8 milligrams; sodium 55 milligrams; total carbohydrate less than 1 gram; dietary fiber 0 grams; protein 1 gram.

Eating on the go

Demand for handheld meals and snacks that can be eaten on the go has accelerated in recent years, thanks to an increase in multi-tasking, according to a 2010 report from Information Resources, Inc.

Low calorie and trans fat free, Old Wisconsin Turkey Snack Bites get the green light for family road trips with hardwood smoked treats that taste great. Old Wisconsin Snack Bites come in Turkey, Beef and Pepperoni varieties and can be enjoyed out of the bag providing a delicious and natural source of protein.

Each turkey bite serving has just 80 calories and 7 grams of protein. The stay-fresh bag is resealable for added convenience.

For more information about family friendly recipes and road-trip worthy snacks, visit and Also, follow these companies on Facebook at and

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- - Simple, time-saving secrets to add a unique twist to your holiday recipes - - - - - - Simple, time-saving secrets to add a unique twist to your holiday recipes - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - When entertaining during the holiday season, time is of the essence. Between cleaning, shopping, decorating and mingling with friends and family, there’s hardly enough time to cook let alone prepare an elaborate seven course meal. However, the lack of time doesn’t mean your food or your guests have to suffer. By combining classic dishes with unique ingredients, you can enhance the flavor of your recipes without having to spend the entire evening in the kitchen.   

Instead of preparing an over-the-top feast, try opting for simple and satisfying fare with a subtle modern twist to wow your guests. Often, it’s just that extra ingredient that can really tie together your favorite appetizers, entrees and desserts. Jessica Segarra, of The Novice Chef food blog, offers three simple tips to create standout holiday dishes.

* While it’s easy to get caught up in the moment, don’t let the holidays sidetrack your guests from eating healthy. Instead, make wholesome, lighter options the life of the party by adding unexpected ingredients to otherwise bland dishes. Serve protein packed, homemade sweet potato hummus with veggies and low-fat pretzel crackers, the perfect combination of sweet and savory flavors for fall and winter entertaining. Not only will the hummus keep your guests satisfied, it can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

* Sweet-and-savory never fails. Look for recipes that combine both elements to add a well-balance boost of flavor. This holds true for both desserts and entrees. “Pretzels are my go-to ingredient for adding crunch and just the right amount of salty goodness to my sweeter dishes,” says Segarra. “I’ve found Pretzel Crisps (R) offer the most versatility when it comes to flavor and use. “They can be easily paired with my favorite holiday desserts, including beautifully layered trifles.”

* Select dishes that can be prepared ahead of time. Entertaining is no fun if you’re confined to the kitchen while your meal cooks. Choosing a baked entree like pork medallions or chicken breasts that can be prepped before your guests arrive can help to free you up to socialize.

Holiday gatherings are supposed to be fun for everyone, including the hosts. By adopting some simple time-saving secrets to make your food shine, both you and your food can be the life of the party. So, rethink the holidays and celebrate with these seasonally inspired recipes at your next gathering.

Everything Pretzel Crisps Crusted Pork Medallions with Sweet Maple Gravy

Makes 4 servings


1 pound pork loin, sliced into 1 1/2-inch rounds
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, whisked
3 cups Everything Pretzel Crisps, crushed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the gravy:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 cup whole milk


Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking dish with foil and spray with non-stick spray. Set aside. Place flour in a shallow bowl. Place eggs in a separate shallow bowl. Spread crushed Pretzel Crisps on a rimmed plate. Working with one pork medallion at a time, coat pork in flour, dip into eggs and then press into pretzels. Repeat process until all pork medallions have been coated. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add four to five pork medallions at a time, cooking until lightly browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer browned pork medallions to prepared baking dish. Repeat process until all pork medallions have been browned. Place pork medallions in the oven and bake until cooked through, or until internal temperature reaches 140 F, about 8 minutes. Let chops rest for 5 minutes after baking. While pork is in the oven, melt butter over medium-high heat in the skillet used to cook the pork. Whisk in flour, scrapping the edges to include any of the browned pork bits in the pan. Stir continually with a wire whisk until the flour has thickened and started to brown, about 3 minutes. Pour in maple syrup and 1/2 cup of milk, continually whisking. After about 30 seconds, gravy should start to thicken again. Add remaining 1/2 cup of milk and whisk until combined. Remove gravy from heat and serve drizzled on top of pork medallions.

Dark Chocolate & Peppermint Pretzel Crisps Brownie Trifle


1 box fudge brownie mix
1 - 4 ounce bag Dark Chocolate & Peppermint Pretzel Crisps
3 cups whole milk
2 packages (3.9 oz.) chocolate instant pudding
1 tub (11 oz.) whipped topping, divided
Crushed peppermint, for garnish


Heat oven to 350 F (325 F for dark or nonstick pan). Grease pan with butter or nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, mix brownies as directed for fudge brownies, using water, oil and eggs. Bake as directed. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Once brownies are cooled, cut into 1-inch cubes and set aside. Then in a medium bowl, beat milk and pudding mixes with whisk for 2 minutes, or until thickened. Stir in 1 cup whipped topping. Place 1/2 of brownie cubes in 2-qt. bowl. Top with a layer of Dark Chocolate & Peppermint Pretzel Crisps, followed by half of the pudding mixture and another layer of whipped topping. Repeat all layers. Sprinkle the top with crushed peppermint and one whole Pretzel Crisps. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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- - Green living project: Revamp your kitchen pantry to avoid waste and save money - - - - - - Green living project: Revamp your kitchen pantry to avoid waste and save money - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - For a basic green living project with benefits to your wallet and the environment, consider revamping the kitchen pantry. The cupboard is the starting point for most kitchen activity and is more than just a storage space. Develop good buying habits and build a strong foundation and you can avoid the waste of food and money. Here’s how to tackle the task at once or little by little.


When you are not in a rush to whip up a family meal or put away loads of groceries, take some time to really look at the items in your pantry. What is in front? What is hidden in the back? What’s used most frequently? What is expired?

“Be more aware of your consumption habits,” suggests Cory Schreiber, a chef instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Portland. This awareness is a simple step to greener living. “Avoid impulse purchases by being more mindful of the emotions that can be involved in food shopping,” he adds. “Not only do you avoid waste this way, but conscious consumption is more cost effective too.”


Another cost-effective method that Joshua Joe, storeroom manager at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of California – Los Angeles, a campus of Argosy University, recommends is a common inventory and accounting process used by schools, hotels and other food service providers. “Practicing a first-in, first-out method of consuming your pantry goods is a true way to save money and prevent food waste,” says Joe, who purchases the school’s food supplies. With approximately 500 culinary arts students regularly coming through the school’s dry storage area, Joe encourages the students to use the earliest bought, or oldest, goods first. “The tendency is to go for the freshest or A+ product when the A grade item will do,” he says. “You don’t want to let perfectly usable goods go to waste.”

Stock up

Once you have a handle on what you are buying and how you are consuming it, it is time to stock up.

Schreiber proposes buying high-quality essentials and purchasing goods in bulk. “Buy the highest quality staples you can afford,” recommends Schreiber. For example, six pounds of a good butter can last you a solid five months. Other items where quality counts and the products can endure include oils, vinegars, salts, dried herbs and spices.  “When possible, buy dry goods in bulk too,” he adds. Grains, rice, legumes and pastas are all good products to shop for in a food store’s bulk department.

To store the loose pasta or grains, look for containers with a lower environmental footprint. “Using glass, metal and ceramics is the easiest solution,” says Chris Stanley, an Industrial Design instructor at The Art Institute of Seattle. Stanley, who has taught courses on the history of industrial design and in materials and manufacturing, adds “choose something classic in design so you won't be tempted to throw it out in two years. Or, you can re-use glass jars and that fruit cake tin your aunt sends you each year.”

Not only is buying in bulk less expensive, but less packaging means less energy used to create the materials and less garbage to throw away – all of which are more friendly to the environment.

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- - Delicious uses for holiday leftovers - - - - - - Delicious uses for holiday leftovers - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Every year, we face the same question after large holiday dinners: What to do with all the leftovers?

Rita Held, culinary professional and creator of Holland House Cooking Wine recipes, knows that one of the rewards of holiday cooking is leftovers and all their possibilities. “If I’m too busy to make something at the time, my freezer comes in handy,” says Held. “I slice up turkey, ham or roast beef and freeze in individual sandwich-size portions, or I dice it into small portions to use in scrambled eggs, omelets, or soups.”

This year, keep the party going with a few innovative tips and recipes from Held to take your holiday leftovers from dull to dazzling.

* Storing leftovers. How leftovers are stored will determine how much you can use later. Make sure that food cools before sealing and storing it in the refrigerator, and use shallow containers to ensure freshness is locked in. While it’s tempting to keep casseroles and sides wrapped in the serving dishes, it is best to store these in airtight containers as well.

* Deliciously “filled” appetizers. Create simple stuffed mushrooms by removing the stems and scooping leftover stuffing into the cap. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake until mushrooms are tender and the stuffing is golden. Make tasty turnovers by filling pastry dough with scoops of any meat and vegetable dishes and then bake until golden.

* Extraordinary sandwiches. All that leftover turkey usually means sandwiches for a week. Break routine with the traditional turkey sandwich and make a warm Panini sandwich with a flavorful cheese and cranberry sauce, or a croque monsieur sandwich with sliced ham and Dijon mustard.

* Savory pies. Use leftover mashed potatoes and vegetables to create a shepherd’s pie. No more mashed potatoes? No problem! Create delicious potpies with leftover turkey for a simple meal the whole family will love.

* Hearty soups. One of the easiest ways to use leftover meats and vegetables is by making soup. Laced with sherry cooking wine, this Wild Rice 'n Ham Soup is great way to use leftover ham and wild rice. Serve with a fresh spinach salad and a loaf of crusty French bread for an easy weeknight meal. 

Wild Rice 'n Ham Soup


4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped onion
1-1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup Holland House Sherry Cooking Wine
2 cups cooked wild rice
1 cup diced cooked ham
1/2 cup shredded or julienned carrots
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish


Melt butter in a 6-quart pot. Add onion and mushrooms; cook until tender.

Stir in flour and gradually stir in 1 can chicken broth. Add remaining can of broth and sherry cooking wine. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens.

Add rice, ham and carrots; cook 10 minutes or until heated through. Reduce heat; stir in milk and simmer 1 minute or until heated through. Serve garnished with parsley.

Makes 4 servings (about 7 cups).

Don’t let holiday leftovers go to waste. By planning ahead and being creative, you can reuse leftovers to create some truly memorable meals. For additional recipes, visit Holland House on Facebook at

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- - Cranberries are good for much more than just sauce - - - - - - Cranberries are good for much more than just sauce - Brandpoint - - Cooler weather brings on cravings for hearty, delicious meals featuring the flavors of the fall harvest. One of these traditional autumn flavors is so versatile that it is used in breakfast, entree, dessert and snack recipes: cranberries. This season, take the time to explore the many different ways cranberries can go beyond your traditional cranberry sauce to add zing to your plate and natural beauty to your table.

Cranberries are packed with antioxidants to protect against heart disease and cancer, making the delicious fruit a healthy addition to so many favorite recipes. And what’s great is that the vast majority of cranberries are home grown in the United States. In fact, Wisconsin alone produces more cranberries than all other states combined, supplying almost 60 percent of the nation’s crop. This year, Wisconsin cranberry growers expect to harvest 450 million pounds of berries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Sweetened dried cranberries are available year-round, but cranberries fresh from the harvest are only available in stores this time of year, so now is the time to buy. Fresh cranberries add a healthy zest to sweet breads and muffins and help make great sauces for pork or poultry. You can also freeze fresh cranberries for use in summer salads and drinks.

Fall and winter are great times to take advantage of the beautiful red color and decorative uses of fresh cranberries. Put a handful of raw berries in glass containers to bring a dash of color to the table at each place setting or as a centerpiece. Cranberries can also be strung along a wire to hang along doorways or drape over larger plants and trees inside your home.

Looking for new ideas on bringing cranberries to the table this fall and winter season? Try the following recipes from the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association, or visit its recipe page for more delicious ideas.

Cranberry Pecan Cream Cheese Bars

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups quick oats
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups sweetened dried cranberries
1 package cream cheese, softened
1 can sweetened, condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease a 9 x 13 pan. Beat butter and sugar. Gradually beat in flour and oats. Stir in cranberries and pecans. Reserve 2 cups of mixture. Press remaining mix into pan and bake for 15 minutes. In a small bowl beat cream cheese and milk until smooth. Pour over hot crust and sprinkle remaining mixture over top. Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely on metal rack and then cut into bars. (If you wish, drizzle melted chocolate or sprinkle powdered sugar to decorate.)

Spiced Cranberry Wine Sauce

2 cups zinfandel or other fruity dry red wine
3/4 cup sugar
5 (2-inch) orange rind strips
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
6 whole cloves
4 slices peeled fresh ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

Combine all ingredients except cranberries in a medium sauce pan, bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and cook 15 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken and sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, and discard the solids. Return mixture to pan. Add cranberries and cook over high heat 10 minutes or until berries pop. Reduce heat to low and simmer 30 minutes or until mixture is slightly thick.

Pour into a bowl and let cool.

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- - Dining out drives U.S. job growth - - - - - - Dining out drives U.S. job growth - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Did you know that when you and your family dine out, you are helping your community’s economy and the economy at large? That’s because restaurants employ millions of Americans nationwide.

Overall, unemployment remains high as the nation slowly makes its way out of recession. One bright spot in the jobs picture is the restaurant industry, which continues to outpace the national economy when it comes to driving job growth.

Why is that? Because Americans love to dine out. In fact, more than nine out of 10 say they enjoy going to restaurants, and nearly half say it’s an essential part of their lifestyle. National Restaurant Association (NRA) research also shows that two out of five consumers say they’re not using restaurants as often as they would like. When more people dine out, order delivery and use takeout, restaurants staff up to keep up with demand.

The restaurant industry is currently the second-largest private sector employer, providing career opportunities for more than 13 million people, or one out of every 10 working individuals, according to the NRA’s 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast. Since the employment recovery began in March 2010, restaurants have created more than 701,000 new positions – only the professional services and health care industries have created more jobs during that same time.

The rate of employment growth in the restaurant industry was more than double the overall economy over the last year, and restaurants will continue to be a major driver in job creation into the future. Restaurants are projected to add 1.3 million new positions in the next decade, with the fastest growing job categories being combined food-preparation and serving positions, cooks and supervisors.

From restaurant managers to chefs to servers, restaurants offer a wide range of jobs, often with quick opportunities to rise up the ranks. Restaurants are also a training ground for budding entrepreneurs and even careers in other industries, as half of all Americans have worked in a restaurant at some point in their lives. One-third of adults got their first job in a restaurant, and eight out of 10 restaurant owners started in entry-level positions.

So next time you dine out, you’re not only getting a delicious meal and quality time with family and friends – you’re doing your part in creating jobs for the U.S. economy.

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- - Have yourself a heartburn-free holiday - - - - - - Have yourself a heartburn-free holiday - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - For many, the holiday period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s means family get-togethers, rich food and good times. But it can also mean heartburn.

According to some physicians, planning ahead and knowing which over-the-counter (OTC) treatments may help are essential to keep your gatherings merry and bright.

“The smart thing to do is to be prepared and bring along a few over-the-counter treatments, like antacids or H2 blockers,” says Dr. Paul Farr, attending gastroenterologist for Saint Mary's Health Care. “The last thing you want to do is have your holiday fun ruined by heartburn.”

Farr suggests that patients consider store-brand OTCs rather than name brands. “They’re just as effective and are approved by the FDA but cost a lot less,” Farr says.

According to Perrigo, a Michigan-based manufacturer of OTC medications found under store-brand labels at leading retailers, grocers, club stores and pharmacies, the primary OTC treatments available  for heartburn relief are:

* Antacids. Antacids come as liquids and tablets like calcium carbonate (name brand: Tums).

* H2 blockers. Indicated for occasional heartburn, these medications are most effective when taken an hour before eating. Examples include famotidine and ranitidine (name brands: Pepcid and Zantac).

* Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). PPIs are indicated for people who have heartburn at least twice a week. Omeprazole (name brand: Prilosec OTC) won’t relieve heartburn right away - and may take up to four days for full effect - so they’re not helpful for immediate, temporary relief after you’ve already overindulged.

Contrary to its name, heartburn, which affects 60 million Americans at least once a month, has nothing to do with the heart. It’s a digestive problem that is also called reflux esophagitis or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when contents in the stomach flow back into the esophagus. This happens when the valve between the stomach and the esophagus does not close properly.

Heartburn is most often described as a burning sensation behind the breast bone that moves up toward the neck or throat. This occurs when stomach acid irritates the normal lining of the esophagus. People may also experience acid regurgitation with heartburn, which is the sensation of stomach fluid coming up through the chest into the mouth. Less common symptoms that may also be associated with gastroesophageal reflux include unexplained chest pain, wheezing, sore throat and cough, among others.

“For most people holiday heartburn is nothing to worry about. However, if you're having ongoing symptoms, you need to see a doctor. If you are having any trouble with food sticking on its way to your stomach, be sure to tell your doctor and have it checked out. It may be a stricture which is easily treated. The worst thing you could do is ignore chronic symptoms, hoping they'll resolve in the new year on their own,” Farr says.

You can find more information about the symptoms and treatments for holiday heartburn at the National Institute of Health, or the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

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- - A new, healthy spin on the classic tortilla - - - - - - A new, healthy spin on the classic tortilla - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Many people opt for whole wheat bread as a healthier option than the white version. But for meals that go beyond a standard sandwich, whole wheat tortillas can serve as a versatile ingredient that's more nutritious than white flour tortillas. Whole wheat tortillas typically contain fewer calories, less fat and more fiber than traditional white flour versions, while also offering vital nutrients like antioxidants and B vitamins. Many restaurants, including Qdoba Mexican Grill, have incorporated them into their menu, and it's easy for you to do the same when preparing foods at home.

One of the biggest attractions of tortillas is their versatility, particularly for busy nights when a quick, fresh meal is a necessity. The same tortilla that you would use for a homemade quesadilla can also be used as a pizza crust or dessert crepe. With a little imagination, you can use whole wheat tortillas to create tasty and unexpected dishes that the whole family will love.

* Tortilla pizzas. Think of tortillas as an already-prepared pizza crust that just needs a touch of your creativity. Top whole wheat tortillas with sauce, vegetables and pre-cooked meats for a healthful taste treat. Or, turn it into a dessert by adding fruit, which can take on even bolder flavors when grilled.

* Crepes. Making the traditional French creation can be a real challenge, particularly if you don't have the right tools. Instead, use tortillas to make sweet and savory crepes when the mood strikes. Spiced apple filling is ideal for those with a sweet tooth, but ham-and-cheese or vegetable-and-cheese versions can make great lunches and dinners.

Having easy, nutritious options for dinner, lunch and beyond is the saving grace of many pantries. Keeping a stock of tortillas, particularly nutrient-rich whole wheat varieties, makes it easy to prepare creative, delicious dinners that please all kinds of palates. Try these recipes from Qdoba's head chef Ted Stoner for a fresh, flavorful take on tortillas. For more information about Qdoba, visit

Crispy Whole Wheat Tortilla BBQ Chicken Pizza

Makes one pizza

1 8-inch whole wheat tortilla per pizza

1 Rotisserie chicken*, skin and bones removed, shredded in bite size pieces

1/2 ounce red onion, diced

1 ounce BBQ sauce

3 ounces partial skim mozzarella cheese

1/2 ounce mild green chiles, diced (fresh or frozen preferred)

5-6 sprigs fresh cilantro chopped

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place tortilla on a baking sheet and bake for 3-4 minutes, or until slightly crispy.

3. Remove from oven and top with BBQ sauce, cheese, desired amount of chicken, diced onions and diced green chiles.

4. Place back in oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until cheese is completely melted.

5. Remove from oven and top with fresh chopped cilantro.

6. Cut in to quarters and serve.

*One full rotisserie chicken will make as many as six pizzas. After you've used the desired amount of chicken on your pizza, wrap and save leftovers or make additional pizzas.

Whole Wheat Tortilla Apple Crepes

Makes 6 - 8 crepes

6 - 8 8-inch whole wheat tortillas

1 can apple pie filling

4 large eggs

1/2 cup low-fat milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon powdered sugar for garnish

1. Whisk eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg thoroughly in a bowl large enough to dip tortillas.

2. Heat non-stick skillet on medium-high.

3. Dip one tortilla in the French toast batter, coating thoroughly on both sides.

4. Place the tortilla in the heated skillet and cook to a golden brown on both sides.

5. Wrap tortillas in tin foil and place in a warm oven until all tortillas have been battered and cooked.

6. Fill finished crepe with apple pie filling.

7. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

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- - Delight friends with unique eats this holiday - - - - - - Delight friends with unique eats this holiday - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - The holidays are a magical time to celebrate with family and friends. Whether it’s the first snowfall or a gift from a loved one, the season inspires us to celebrate and be merry. It’s also a time when holiday hosts and hostesses are eager for entertaining inspiration.

Entertaining isn’t effortless, but there are simple ways to host a festive time to remember. Here are a few tips and tricks to make the most of each occasion:

*Decorate with simplicity. Keep holiday decor quick and easy. Fill a decorative bowl with ornaments for a pop of color. Drape garlands in unexpected places, tie big bows on furniture and dangle bells on doorknobs. Most importantly, let the party decor reflect your style.

*Illuminate the setting. Make a show-stopping centerpiece for the dinner table by filling a hurricane vase with water, add cranberries and evergreen sprigs and top with floating candles. Warm lighting is an affordable, handmade detail sure to set a festive mood.

*Improvise space. Avoid kitchen traffic jams by designating separate spaces for drinks and food. Lay a cloth runner on a table behind a couch and line it with cocktail napkins and small plates. Set up folding chairs and arrange furniture to provide extra room for guests to mingle.

*Surprise your guests. Delight everyone with a unique sweet treat. Try a different spin on snacking, like Pringles Crisps Holiday Flavors in Cinnamon & Sugar and White Chocolate Peppermint. Slip a can of these limited edition Pringles crisps into a gift bag or simply top the lid with a bow.

*Start a tradition. Creating traditions provides lasting memories the whole group will cherish. Before dinner, have every individual share their favorite memories from years past. Play a classic game like charades as a group or candidly take a quirky group photo with props. Fun activities will give guests something to look forward to each year.

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- - Holiday party in minutes: Three gourmet cheese plate pairings guaranteed to impress - - - - - - Holiday party in minutes: Three gourmet cheese plate pairings guaranteed to impress - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Whether you’re gathering with friends, colleagues or family this holiday season, entertaining with appetizers is the perfect way to have fun without the stress of creating a multi-course meal. And when the question of what to serve arises and you need an easy-yet-impressive solution, cheese plates are an ideal way to bring a gourmet touch to your event without a lot of effort.

If a cheese plate sounds too basic, think again. It’s all about balancing tastes, textures and visual appeal with a variety of fun food and beverage pairings. Plus, it’s a great conversation starter to get your guests interacting.

Luckily, if you’re in a rush on the day of your gathering, a cheese plate is easy to put together in minutes - no cooking necessary. Just plan to include three to five cheeses per platter - estimate about 3 to 4 ounces of cheese per person - and arrange  your choices on a pretty dish or tray.

There are infinite ways to create a cheese plate that will be the talk of your party. Consider these simple suggestions for a bit of inspiration:

* Play with variety and contrast. Include cheeses in a range of textures, from soft to semi-hard to crumbly or hard, that have a range of flavor profiles. Consider combinations like a soft and creamy brie, a harder aged cheese like Stella Sharp Provolone and a crumbly Salemville blue cheese.

* Start mild and move to strong. Give your guests a tastebud tour of the many different flavors fine cheeses have to offer. Present a trio of options with varied intensity of flavor including an appealingly tangy chevre like Organic Creamery goat cheese, a buttery Gouda and a bold cheese like Black Creek Extra Sharp Cheddar.

* Shake it up with unusual cheeses. Give guests the opportunity to try cheeses they might not have had before. It’s the perfect way for them to sample something that could become a new favorite. Look for cheeses with unique ingredients, like Great Midwest Mango Fire Cheddar, which has habanero pepper and the rich sweetness of mango.

It’s a great idea to set out some other small food items that pair nicely with cheese, like Kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, Marcona almonds, grilled vegetables, sliced fruit or even chocolate.

Cheese and wine famously go together, so offering your guests samples from a few bottles will make the tasting experience even more fun. Keep these wine-and-cheese pairing principles in mind:

* For hard, stronger-flavored cheeses (e.g. Gruyere or aged Cheddar): Medium-bodied reds (e.g. Pinot Noir)

* For soft, young cheeses (e.g. goat cheese): Simple, young wines like sauvignon blanc

* For stronger blue cheeses (e.g. gorgonzola, Danish Blue): Sweet/dessert wines

* For mild, buttery or creamy cheeses (e.g. triple-creme bries): Sparkling wines

* Semi-soft cheeses (e.g. camembert): Chardonnays and full cabernets

Parties should be just as much fun for the hostess as they are for guests. Opting for easy-to-create gourmet cheese plates will save time and allow you to enjoy the tasting experience with friends and family. For more pairing ideas that will make your holiday party the most memorable of the season, visit

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- - A guest-friendly home is easier than you think - - - - - - A guest-friendly home is easier than you think - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - One of the many exciting and sometimes stressful parts of the holiday season is entertaining at home with friends and family. To prepare for their arrival you may be tempted to just clean the kitchen counters, toss a few extra towels in the guest bathroom and ignore the rest of the house. Instead, your visitors will enjoy the party more if they have full access to an open, organized and welcoming home.

Knowing where to start is the most important thing. Lifestyle guru Susie Coelho has provided entertaining tips for the home on HGTV, “Oprah,” “Today” and “The View” and knows just what to do.

Tip No. 1: Food can make or break a celebration. Start your preparations by stocking the bar and cleaning the kitchen.

Set the table or buffet before people arrive. There is a good chance some of the seating for your gathering will be located in the kitchen area. Make certain the kitchen is clean and the sink area is cleared of all food prep materials. If your garbage disposal has an odor, your guests will be sure to notice. Before the party starts, drop in a Power Pack of Liquid-Plumr Disposal + Drain Foaming Cleaner and run the disposal. The fresh citrus scent indicates your disposal is cleaned and deodorized, eliminating the chance of an embarrassing lingering smell being sensed by your guests.

“If you decide to host a holiday event or New Year’s Eve party, ask your guests to participate by bringing an appetizer on a decorative platter. This will add different flavors to your event and help encourage conversations about the combination of foods prepared,” Coelho says.  Also, encourage them to match the theme of the gathering, like chips and salsa for a Mexican-themed party or olives, hummus and pita bread for a Greek-themed party.

Tip No. 2: Once the space is clean and the food is ready, add simple decor to make the space warm and inviting.

When decorating the seating and buffet areas, Coelho suggests going simple with tea lights in glass votive jars and choosing a one or two-tone color palette for dishes, napkins and flowers.

“For beautiful ambiance and magical lighting, arrange candles down the center of the table,” she says. “If you want to add some greenery among them for the holidays, you can, but keep it simple.”

In addition to the candles as centerpieces, Coelho also recommends making the food part of the display as well.

“Contrast is a buffet’s best friend and you can find it in different heights, sizes, colors of the food, dishes and accessories. I have used everything from fabrics, herbs and pottery to flowers, candles and vases, turned over a dish to get height and used an odd container for display,” she says.

Tip No. 3:  The more room you have to mingle, the merrier everyone will be.

As people start making themselves comfortable, they won’t just stay in the kitchen. Having all areas of the house clean and open will invite guests to gather and socialize, keeping the party going longer.

One room your guests will be sure to visit is the bathroom. Make certain you have the room stocked with plenty of paper products as well as soap and hand lotion. Consider also placing a decorative candle in the room to add a festive glow for ambiance.

Most importantly, be prepared for clogged drains in the bathroom and kitchen sinks, which could disrupt the flow of the party. “A clogged sink drain always comes at the wrong time,” says Coelho. “To avoid these inconvenient situations, I recommend keeping two products handy at all times: Liquid-Plumr Double Impact Snake + Gel System and Liquid-Plumr Urgent Clear. These products work great for both the bathroom and kitchen sinks to keep them running smoothly.”

Now that you had prepared your home for guests ahead of time, you can enjoy the fun and party the night away.

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- - 'Tis the season for holiday baking - - - - - - 'Tis the season for holiday baking - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - The holidays are a busy season. From cooking and baking for family and friends to holiday shopping and preparing for time-honored traditions, the season will pass in a blur. Regardless, it’s also the time of year when everyone has holiday cookies and extra-special meals on their minds.

While dreaming of countless delectable treats, like homemade eggnog and royal icing, there is also a risk that at-home cooks and bakers strive to avoid: salmonella. Renowned baker and author of The Cake Bible and Rose’s Christmas Cookies, Rose Levy Beranbaum, uses pasteurized eggs instead of worrying about the risk of salmonella when baking her holiday treats.

Beranbaum offers tips for baking this holiday season and her favorite iced sugar cookie recipe.

* Prep the kitchen. Put away unnecessary items, clean off the counter or table top and make sure that all of the tools and ingredients are available to make for a smoother baking process.

* Measurement is key. Unlike cooking, baking requires exact measurement. One important technique is the spoon-and-sweep method for measuring flour, which can settle. Scoop the flour into the measuring cup, ensure it is full and sweep off the excess with a knife.

* Be patient. Allow the cookie sheets to cool completely before using for the next batch to avoid flat cookies.

* Think through baking times. Looking for a slightly softer, chewier cookie? Roll the dough to 1/4-inch thickness and reduce the baking time slightly

* Use high quality ingredients. Products like Safest Choice Pasteurized Eggs eliminate the risk of salmonella – and they add a little fun and excitement back into the kitchen for anyone who enjoys a quick taste of cookie batter or using eggs in raw preparations like Beranbaum’s royal icing recipe.

Traditional Rolled Christmas Sugar Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen 3-inch cookies

2 1/4 cups (11.25 ounces) bleached all-purposed flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large Safest Choice Pasteurized Egg
1 tablespoon (finely grated) lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Royal Icing (recipe follows)

Soften the butter. In a mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the egg, lemon zest, and vanilla extract and beat until blended. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining dry ingredients. On low speed, gradually add them to the butter mixture and mix until incorporated. Add water, a few drops at a time, only until the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl.

Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and use the wrap, not your fingers, to press the dough together to form a thick flat disc. Wrap it well and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably no longer than 3. Place 2 oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough, covered with plastic wrap to prevent cracking, to a 1/8-inch thickness. Cut shapes using your favorite cookie cutters or freehand with a knife. With a small spatula, transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes or until the cookies begin to brown around the edges. For even baking, rotate the cookie sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking period. Use a small spatula to transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool before decorating with Royal Icing, dragees, sprinkles and glittering holiday edibles. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Royal Icing

3 large Safest Choice pasteurized egg whites
4 cups (1 pound) powdered sugar

In a large mixing bowl, place the egg whites and powdered sugar and beat, preferably with the whisk beater, at low speed, until the sugar is moistened. Beat at high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form when the beater is lifted (5 to 7 minutes). The tips of the peaks should curve slightly. If necessary, more powdered sugar may be added. Keeps for 3 days in an airtight container at room temperature.

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- - How to know if your fish dinner is good for the environment - and you - - - - - - How to know if your fish dinner is good for the environment - and you - Brandpoint - - Most people go through life wanting to do the right thing. That desire is why many of us choose to buy products and food that have been produced sustainably with minimal negative impact on the environment. When considering questions about what constitutes sustainable seafood, however, it’s not uncommon to feel adrift.

Even if you’re educated about sustainable vegetables and fruits, separating responsibly produced seafood from the school of available products can raise many questions. For example: Is sustainable seafood farm-raised as opposed to fished? Not necessarily. Is pulling fish from the ocean or rivers bad for the environment? Not always.

“The key to finding sustainable seafood is knowing how it was harvested and transported, and what impact that has on the environment and on the animal itself,” says Mark Florimonte, executive chef of Kingsmill Resort, a AAA Four Diamond property in historic Williamsburg, Va. The resort’s newly launched restaurant, James Landing Grille, specializes in sustainably sourced seafood and fresh local cuisine. “Farmed fish are not necessarily sustainably raised, or healthier for you, and it’s over-fishing that’s bad, not all fishing.”

When it comes to how fish are harvested, net fishing and over-harvesting are red flags, Florimonte says. “Net fishing can wipe out entire schools of fish and over-harvesting depletes fish populations.” Consumers and the culinary industry can make a difference, however, he adds. “A few years ago, swordfish could have been extinct, but the restaurant industry rallied to the cause and stopped buying and serving swordfish. At Kingsmill Resort, we uphold that philosophy and avoid buying product from net fishers. We prefer fish that are line-caught and we work with local purveyors as much as possible.”

Florimonte offers tips for recognizing sustainably sourced seafood dishes when you’re dining out:

* Read the menu closely. “Restaurants are proud of their environmentally responsible practices, and they’ll usually make note of their stewardship right on the menu,” he says. “Often, you’ll see menu descriptions that make it clear a dish contains sustainably produced ingredients. Look for words like ‘line caught,’ ‘sustainable’ and ‘local.’ ”

* Look for the local connection. Buying locally produced seafood helps minimize the environmental impact of transporting the product from its point of origin to your plate. Because the product travels less distance, less fossil fuels get consumed transporting it. “Plus,” the chef points out, “it supports local economies.”

* Do some research on the restaurant before you go. Check the menu online and read reviews. If you’re still not confident about a restaurant’s environmental practices, call and ask – just not during lunch or dinner rush.

Restaurants aren’t the only ones paying attention to consumer demand for sustainable products, Florimonte adds. “Supermarkets are more aware of the value of local and sustainably produced products, too.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council offers some advice on how to recognize sustainable seafood in your supermarket:

* Find out where the fish is from. How healthy a type of fish is, and whether or not it was sustainably produced, can differ from region to region.

* Whenever possible, buy American. The United States has stricter fishing and farming standards than other parts of the world, so the American variety of a type of fish is likely to be better than something imported.

* Go wild. Fish farming has a significant impact on the environment, so a wild-caught fish is more likely to be better for your health and the environment than a farm-raised variety.

* Look for line-caught, rather than net-fished. Catching fish using a hook and line has less environmental impact because it doesn’t damage the sea floor and allows fishermen to throw back unwanted fish in time for them to survive.

* Frozen fish can be a good choice. Seafood frozen at sea is likely to retain its quality better, and transporting it creates less greenhouse gas than transporting fresh fish because it doesn’t have to be air-shipped.

If you would like to savor the goodness of sustainable seafood at home, try this recipe from Chef Florimonte:

Crab Cakes


1 pound Chesapeake Bay lump crab meat

1 whole egg

2 ounces mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 ounces diced onion

2 ounces diced celery

1 ounce crushed corn flakes

3 cups (additional) corn flakes for the coating


Pick through the crab meat to ensure there are no shells left in it. To do this, heat the oven to 400 F, spread the crab on a baking tray and place in the oven for one minute. The heat will cause any remaining shell to turn bright white, making it easier to see.

When the crab is free of shells, combine all the other ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Add the crab, being sure to mix lightly and just enough to combine all the ingredients. Avoid breaking up the lumps of crab.

Grind the three cups of cornflakes in a blender. Divide the crab mixture into five portions, each approximately 4 ounces. Roll each portion into a ball and coat with the remaining corn flake crumbs. Form into cakes.

In a small skillet, melt three tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Place the crab cakes in the pan and brown on each side until golden. Finish in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes to complete heating all the way through.

Serve with fresh lemon and your favorite homemade tartar sauces or remoulade.

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- - Prevent winter fun from becoming a DUI - - - - - - Prevent winter fun from becoming a DUI - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Many Americans associate drinking and driving with New Year’s Eve. But throughout the cold-weather months, from holiday season office parties through snowmobiling season in January and February, to St. Patrick’s Day in March, there are ample opportunities for even cautious drivers to let their guard down when it comes drinking and driving.

That’s why law enforcement officials step up their efforts to deter drinking and driving during peak periods of alcohol use.

Across the United States, the law is clear. It’s a crime for a driver to operate a motor vehicle, including snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, while impaired by alcohol or drugs, including prescribed and over-the-counter medications, according to, the nation’s leading source of free online legal information. Driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) can carry significant consequences that can affect all aspects of your life, from jail time to revoked driving privileges to dramatically higher insurance rates.

The use of alcohol and other drugs also extends beyond the roads to the slopes. In Colorado, for example, under the Ski Safety Act of 1979, it is “unlawful to ride a lift or to use any ski slope or trail when your ability to do so is impaired by the consumption of alcohol or any drug.”

According to, all states measure intoxication based on a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) above a set limit (now .08 in all states). This means if you have BAC at or above .08, you are intoxicated in the eyes of the law, and no additional proof of driving impairment is necessary.

“Many people mistakenly believe that a DUI is a traffic violation,” says John Callahan of Norris & Callahan, a Chicago-based criminal defense law firm. “The reality is a DUI is a criminal offense that carries heavy consequences, including jail time.”

If you regularly drink and drive– the odds of being pulled over for a DUI are just a matter of when. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), about two-thirds of DUIs involve a first-time offender. First-time offenders have typically driven drunk about 87 times before being caught.

Callahan reminds drivers that a police officer can ask you to pull over for any traffic violation – from a burned-out brake light to texting while driving (illegal in a growing number of states). If an officer suspects that you’re under the influence, he or she can begin the investigation process, which includes observation, sobriety tests and blood alcohol measurement.

“Police officers are especially on the alert for underage drinkers who attend schools in college towns and during large college events such as a college basketball game where many students may be drinking on and off-campus,” Callahan adds. “Many states have zero tolerance laws toward drivers under 21 who are arrested for drinking and driving. These laws are much stricter, where a DUI arrest can be made if a driver, under the legal age to drink, has even a trace of alcohol in their system.

“Beyond the risk of injuring another driver or even the passengers in your car, I strongly urge drivers (including snowmobilers) to never drink and drive,” Callahan says. “It’s not worth the risk. If you do choose to imbibe, and you are charged with a DUI, take my advice and get a lawyer who specializes in DUIs and is located in the state you’ve been charged. Especially if you’ve been convicted of a previous DUI offense, as the consequences are much more severe.”

Here are some additional tips from Callahan about driving-under-the-influence laws:

Don’t do it. Period. The absolute best way to avoid a DUI is to never get behind the wheel of your car if you’ve been drinking. Call a cab. Arrange a ride with a friend who has not been drinking. Agree with your spouse before you go to dinner or out to an event as to who will be the designated driver for the evening.

Watch your consumption of more than just alcohol. Pain or anxiety medicines prescribed for an illness, such as severe back pain, can impair your ability to drive, too. Read your prescription label carefully for warnings about drowsiness.

Be careful at holiday office parties. Avoid drinking at office holiday parties. Not only could it lead to a DUI following the party, alcohol can lead to embarrassing situations that could damage your career.

Understand that snowmobiles and ATVs count, too. Many states have DUI laws that extend to other motorized vehicles, as well.  In snowy states from Washington to Maine – operating a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle while intoxicated is illegal,  and can be prosecuted just like receiving a DUI while driving an automobile.

Be aware of sobriety checkpoints. During peak periods of alcohol consumption, such as New Year’s Eve or St. Patrick’s Day – local police may set up sobriety checkpoints in your area. Even if you have not been drinking, it’s important to cooperate with police.

Don’t refuse a sobriety test. When you obtain the privilege of driving a motor vehicle, you are effectively giving your consent to DUI testing if a police officer reasonably believes you are under the influence while operating a motor vehicle. This is called implied consent and many states have these laws on their books. If you refuse to take a breath, blood or urine test, prosecutors may turn to the implied consent laws when you go to court. In many states, refusal to submit to a chemical test may be used to increase the penalties if you’re convicted of a DUI.

Hire an experienced lawyer. Don’t take a DUI lightly. Hire an attorney who is experienced in defending people who have been charged with a DUI in the state in which you were arrested – an attorney who understands both the scientific and medical concepts of DUI. While there is a fair amount of consistency between states in regard to DUI, laws do vary from state to state. To find a DUI attorney in your local area, visit the lawyer directory on

Don’t count on a plea bargain. It doesn’t work like the police shows on TV. Prosecutors rarely negotiate plea bargains in DUI cases. Some states have laws that prohibit prosecutors from offering plea bargains with DUI defendants.

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- - Tried-and-true come together with new in creative holiday traditions - - - - - - Tried-and-true come together with new in creative holiday traditions - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Every holiday season is built upon family traditions of years past. Whether it’s enjoying holiday baking with friends or shopping with loved ones for gifts, traditions define the season. While honoring the past, traditions also open us to the opportunity to create new family observances, along with some great memories.

This year, introduce some new traditions to your holiday celebrations with these ideas for blending the traditions of yesteryear with new ones of your own:

Decorating in the digital world

Decorating for the season is an important part of many holiday observances. Whether it’s an heirloom Christmas tree ornament, a menorah handed down through generations, or an African drum that highlights Kwanzaa celebrations in the home, a cherished decoration can be central to the season.

Technology makes it easy to give the time-honored tradition of decorating for the holidays a modern flare with items like personalized photo ornaments and digital picture frames. An ornament that preserves a holiday memory with a personal photo would make a treasured addition to any tree ornament collection. Another way to merge memories of holidays past with contemporary style is to load favorite photos on a digital frame and place the frame in a central location in your home.

The taste of a happy holiday

Holiday food traditions allow us to savor flavors and revisit memories that we don’t experience at any other time of year. Treats like cookies add sweet enjoyment to the season. In fact, 42 percent of people bring cookies or dessert as a hostess gift when invited to a party, according to a survey by Archway. With 30 percent of survey respondents saying they attend three to four holiday parties or gatherings between Halloween and the New Year, and 66 percent saying they will host at least one holiday event, there are a lot of cookies going around.

Busy modern life can make it difficult to find time to bake as many types of cookies as you might like, so options like Archway’s winter cookies - including holiday classics like Bells and Stars, Cashew Nougat, Gingerbread Man, Iced Gingerbread Man, Wedding Cake and Pfeffernusse - are a great way to enjoy the flavors of the season without the extra work.

The movies that move us

Whether you’re chuckling over Chevy Chase’s challenges in “Christmas Vacation,” pining with Ralphie for the perfect gift, or having your heart-strings tugged by Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” holiday films can be a focal point of family holiday traditions. While the classics like “A Christmas Story” and “Miracle on 34th Street” will likely always have their place, it can be fun to incorporate some new options into your holiday viewing for a fresh spin on an old tradition.

Looking for something family friendly? Settle in with an oldie but goodie, like “Home Alone.” Don’t forget to serve treats. Make plenty of popcorn for both eating and stringing, and serve up winter cookies like Archway’s Iced Gingerbread Men cookies - always a family favorite.

Gathering with loved ones

Spending time with family is the holiday tradition 58 percent of people most look forward to, according to the Archway survey. For all the fun of gift-exchanges and feasts, sharing time with those we love is the real heart of the holiday season.

Traditionally, loved ones come together during the holidays for occasions like meals, parties, religious services, caroling and sports events. It can also be rewarding to create new family traditions by bringing loved ones together in fresh ways. For example, tap the season’s spirit of charity by volunteering as a family to work at the local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or by participating in clothing and toy drives for those in need.

Holiday traditions are as much a part of the season as cool weather and good will toward all. Blending time-honored ones with new ideas can help your loved ones create unique memories that will last long after the last cookie is eaten and the decorations are packed away for another year.

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- - Build a better breakfast: Flavor meets nutrition in the best morning meals - - - - - - Build a better breakfast: Flavor meets nutrition in the best morning meals - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Mom and grandma had it right: Providing your body with a meal at the beginning of the day can have a multitude of benefits, from keeping you in a good mood to preventing bad snack habits. To get the maximum effectiveness from your breakfast, it needs to be nutrition-packed. Of course, it’s just as important that what you eat to start the day is delicious.

Eating foods that provide a nutritional boost will help you today and in the long run. During your day, your body can rely on foods that provide “fuel,” keeping you energized, alert and feeling good. And as the years go by, those healthy habits will pay off, helping your body function better for longer.

Everyone knows that pleasing the palate is important - after all, if it doesn’t taste good, you won’t want to eat it. Luckily, many of the healthiest foods are flavorful, even in their simplest forms – that means a lot of taste with little effort. With that in mind, consider these options for quick, delicious breakfasts that pack a nutrition-rich punch.

* Toast with toppings – A simple slice of bread can be so much more than just that – Food For Life’s new Ezekiel 4:9 Flax Sprouted Grain bread is far more than an average carbohydrate.  The bread itself covers two nutrition quadrants of the USDA’s “My Plate” – both grains and protein – and is available in a range of varieties, including the new flax option that delivers added Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids.  Top your nutrient-rich toast with avocado, fresh sliced tomatoes or hummus with a squeeze of lemon for a tasty start to the day.

* Steel-cut oats with super fruits – When you need a stick-to-your ribs morning meal, it’s hard to beat oatmeal. Steel-cut oats are minimally processed and offer a hearty texture. If you want to dress up your breakfast with some touches of sweetness, look to “super” fruits like fresh blueberries or dried goji berries, both of which are packed with vitamins.

* Breakfast sandwich – In most households, there are differing opinions on whether breakfast should be sweet or savory. Customizable breakfast sandwiches make for a simple solution that keeps everyone happy. Using a wholesome bread like Ezekiel 4:9 Flax Sprouted Grain Bread provides the perfect backdrop for catering to your unique taste buds. The bread’s nutty, rich flavor complements everything from apples and honey to pears and almond butter (for sweet teeth) or smoked salmon with cucumbers and dill.

* Fruit-and-veggie smoothies – Pairing fruits and vegetables for a morning smoothie is easier than you might imagine. Greens or even raw beets can be blended with berries for added nutritional benefit, but with a flavor that’s fruit-forward and naturally sweet. Another popular combination is orange and carrot. Supplement your smoothie with a slice of protein-rich sprouted grain toast and you’ll have a complete meal that will keep you going.

It can be easy to fall into a routine of breakfast “blahs” with food that doesn’t fill you up and leaves your taste buds unimpressed. But by adding a few new items like Ezekiel 4:9 Flax Sprouted Grain bread to your shopping list, you’ll have a whole new range of options for a tasty morning meal. For more information and ideas for nutritious eating, visit

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- - Saving money during the holiday season can be easier than you think - - - - - - Saving money during the holiday season can be easier than you think - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - If you are like most Americans, you will likely spend an average of $764 on gifts alone this holiday season, according to a Gallup survey. When totaling up the cost of gifts with extra trips to the grocery store, dinners out to toast the season and travel costs to visit loved ones, you’re looking at quite a holiday spending spree. While we all recognize that we spend a little extra during the holiday season, there are ways to give yourself a present this season and have your money working for you. With a little savvy planning, families can lessen the burden of holiday expenses on their budgets and earn some added value with their purchases.

“Not everyone has to shop for a family of eight like me, but no matter what size your family, those holiday expenses can quickly add up,” says Colleen Burns, a savings expert, who is also known as ”The Mom on the Run” and Shell spokesperson. “The good news is there are always things you can do to keep your costs down without sacrificing all those fun gifts, meals and travel plans.”

Here are a few tips for keeping your holiday expenses down this year:

Choose your food wisely: When grocery shopping, consider alternating frozen, canned or dried items for fresh to help reduce costs. These items often have the same – or even better – nutritional values as fresh because they’re processed quickly. When eating out, choose a lunch item rather than a more expensive dinner entree option.

Earn rewards:Take advantage of loyalty programs that help you earn rewards for significant savings. One example, the new Fuel Rewards Network program, or FRN program, allows you to earn rewards on everyday purchases that are redeemable for potentially huge fuel savings at participating Shell stations.

Here’s how it works, when shopping for clothes, household supplies or even holiday gifts online, simply go to the Online Mall found on to find your favorite brand name online retailers like and jcpenney. You can earn 5 cents per gallon in Fuel Rewards savings for every $50 you spend, with some online merchants offering two times, five times, 10 times rewards or more so you can multiply your savings even faster. You can also earn additional rewards when dining at participating local restaurants, grocery shopping at participating grocery stores and when using eCoupons downloaded from

While the average saving is around $.32 per gallon according to, some savvy consumers have saved really big and paid just pennies per gallon on Shell fuel. You can learn more and sign up for the free FRN program by picking up an FRN Card at a participating Shell station and activating it online at You can also request an FRN Card online at during the sign up process. Program availability and ways to save vary by location.

Comparison shop: Let technology do the hard part for you – try one of those handy shopping apps to compare prices so you know exactly where to go to find the best deals. You can check out pricing and deals at home or on your mobile device – perfect for people on the go.

Check labels: Always read the tags and labels on what you purchase. When shopping for clothes, avoid purchasing clothing with tags that stipulate dry clean only. The ongoing cost of cleaning the garment will quickly exceed the original price. And at the grocery store, always look for an expiration date to avoid wasting food and money; food items to really pay attention to include meat, dairy and spices.

“Using eCoupons, shopping for discounts, purchasing lower-priced items and earning rewards all add up when applying these savings to holiday shopping,” says Burns. “By following these tips, you can stretch that family budget a little further, so it's easier to keep in the holiday spirit.”

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- - Expert tips for busy parents who want quick, delicious and wholesome meals - - - - - - Expert tips for busy parents who want quick, delicious and wholesome meals - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Increasingly hectic lives make at-home meal preparation more challenging than ever, but it’s still important. If you feel like your family life has never been busier, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey, 58 percent of parents say their life is more hectic than a year ago, and having a long to-do list can cut into their mealtime.

Jenny Rosenstrach is a working mother of two and the author of “Dinner: A Love Story.” Through her blog of the same name, she hears about mealtime barriers from thousands of time-strapped parents a month. Now, Rosenstrach has partnered with Barilla to offer tips on how to put a quick, home-cooked and crowd-pleasing dinner on the table, even on the busiest of nights.

Make a plan, stock your pantry

A fully stocked pantry is the best way to ensure you have plenty of options come meal time. In fact, 59 percent of people say having ingredients on-hand is the most important. Make a list of essential ingredients – box of pasta, jar of pasta sauce, extra virgin olive oil, fresh vegetables and a good hunk of real Parmigiano-Reggiano – then hit the store. There’s no better strategy for making dinner happen than to be armed with everything you need.

Please everyone at the table

It’s important not to get discouraged if you have a picky eater.  Rosenstrach suggests bringing the kids grocery shopping and letting them help select things for dinner. “They’ll be more invested when it’s time to sit down and eat,” she says. Also, as often as possible, she tries to expose her daughters to something new – calling this “flexing their adventure muscles.”

A delicious home-cooked meal is a spaghetti strand away

There is no such thing as too many pasta shapes when you have kids. From ziti to farfalle (or bowties) to shells, ditalini, rigatoni and penne, the pasta possibilities are endless. Have some fun and let your kids choose a different shape each week. It's a task her 9-year-old takes very seriously.

Be a multitasking master

When making pasta add your fresh or frozen vegetables during the last few minutes the pasta is boiling and there you have it, one less pot to clean. While cleaning up, always make sure the leftovers go right into the lunchbox. That way, one more thing on the to-do list is taken care of and you don’t have to think about it in the morning.

Visit to download your free copy of the cookbook filled with extra recipes and tips from Jenny, and view the results from the survey.

Barilla Lemon Spaghetti

Serves: 4 to 6


1 pound Barilla Spaghetti
2 fresh lemons
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped


Grate lemon peels and place lemon zest in a small bowl. Juice the lemons into a separate small bowl. Whisk the oil, lemon juice, cheese, salt and pepper in a large bowl and blend. Set the lemon sauce aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook, stirring occasionally until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the spaghetti to the lemon sauce, and toss with the basil and lemon zest. Toss the pasta with enough reserved cooking liquid, 1/4 cup at a time, to moisten. Season the pasta with more salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to bowls and serve.

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- - Curious about the Mediterranean diet? How to make it work for you - - - - - - Curious about the Mediterranean diet? How to make it work for you - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - They never counted calories, but they ate flavorful, satisfying food and drank wine with lunches and dinners. The people in countries bordering the Mediterranean have historically been known as some of the healthiest, fittest people in the world. Their diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, wholesome whole grains, and fish and lean meats has long been hailed by nutritionists and health experts as a reliable recipe for weight control and better health.

If you need further evidence of the health value of the Mediterranean Diet, consider a recent NPR report on the growth of the obesity epidemic worldwide. In that report, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at the University of Verona linked the growth of obesity in Italy with the trend away from a traditional Mediterranean diet and toward a more American one.

"The good news is the traditional Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest lifestyles in the world and eating this way is not only enjoyable but it is affordable, delicious and easy to do," says Sara Baer-Sinnott of Oldways, a nonprofit organization that promotes healthy eating and drinking, and hosts National Mediterranean Diet Month each year in May. "It's appropriate for all ages, incorporates familiar foods and tastes great."

You can easily find the essential ingredients for following a Mediterranean Diet in your neighborhood supermarket. With some simple planning and a few lifestyle adjustments, it's possible to feed your entire family delicious food that is healthy and affordable.

First, look to the Mediterranean Diet pyramid as a guide, it places exercise, activity and communal dining at its base, as a reminder that this is not just a "diet." The pyramid also recommends incorporating vegetables, whole grains and fruit in every meal, fish at least twice a week, moderate portions of lean meat and dairy, wine in moderation, and red meat and sweets less often.

The food and nutrition experts at Oldways also recommend eight steps for adopting the Mediterranean Diet as your new healthy lifestyle:

1. Eat lots of vegetables. Think beyond just raw veggies and some dip. You can find many flavorful, creative ways to incorporate vegetables into your diet, from a plate of sliced tomatoes drizzled lightly with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese to a medley of grilled or oven-roasted vegetables. Strive to fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner.

2. Change your perspective on meat. If you eat meat, consume smaller amounts of 3 ounces or less. Instead of having a steak or a whole chicken breast, incorporate your lean meat selection into another dish, such as small strips of sirloin in a vegetable saute, or diced prosciutto as a garnish for a dish of pasta.

3. Never skip breakfast, and make your first meal of the day one that emphasizes fiber-rich foods like fruit or whole grains. High-fiber foods will help you feel fuller for longer. Try layering granola, yogurt and fruit in a parfait, or mash half an avocado with a fork and spread it atop a slice of whole grain toast.

4. Savor seafood twice a week. Not only is fish a naturally lean protein source, the fats that it does have are the good ones - omega-3 fatty acids. This type of fat, found in shellfish, tuna and salmon, has been linked to brain and heart health.

5. Go meatless one night a week. Instead of a meal with meat, build a meal around beans, whole grains and veggies flavored with fragrant herbs and spices. When one night a week feels comfortable, add a second night.

6. Don't turn your back on fat entirely. Instead, emphasize "good" fats. Healthy fats can be found in extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives, avocados and fish. Include these sources in daily meals.

7. Include lean dairy products like Greek or plain yogurt, which are high in protein and lower in fat, skim milk and small amounts of a variety of cheeses.

8. Don't give up dessert; eat fruit like figs, oranges, grapes, apples or pomegranates. Instead of daily ice cream or cookies, save sweets for a special treat or celebration.

"The healthy Mediterranean Diet and its lifestyle practices reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes," Baer-Sinnott says. "The foods that are the foundation of this lifestyle can boost the health and brainpower of everyone, from infants to the elderly."

You can learn more about Oldways, the Mediterranean Diet and download a pdf brochure at Try this delicious recipe for a taste of the Mediterranean lifestyle:

Penne with Pesto and Cherry Tomatoes


1 pound cherry tomatoes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

8 ounces whole wheat penne pasta

2 tablespoons pesto

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Cut the tomatoes into halves and put them in a glass or stainless steel bowl. Add the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Toss, cover and leave at room temperature for several hours or overnight, tossing once or twice.

When you’re ready to eat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook according to the package directions. Drain and return the hot pasta to the pan along with the tomatoes, their juice and the pesto.

Toss. Season with freshly ground pepper and serve hot or at room temperature.

If you have some fresh local tomatoes, by all means use about three or four to make the sauce. But the new cherry tomato varieties, including colorful heirlooms and yellow pear, provide plenty of flavor. Substitute a half cup each of chopped fresh basil and Parmesan cheese for the pesto.

Serves four.

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- - Turkey Day tips to make this Thanksgiving shopper-friendly and stress-free - - - - - - Turkey Day tips to make this Thanksgiving shopper-friendly and stress-free - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - This year, hosts across the country will look for simple ways to make this Thanksgiving an event their loved ones will enjoy. But, there’s a lot of work that comes with holiday entertaining – shopping on a budget, cleaning the house, cooking a feast, and caring for friends and family – and sometimes the fun that should fill the day can begin to slip away.

Though pulling together the perfect Thanksgiving may seem like a Herculean feat, help is available. Jennie-O Turkey Store, a company that is on a mission to show how easy it is to eat well with delicious turkey, has tips for a stress-free Turkey Day.

The main event: how to prepare a mouth-watering Thanksgiving turkey

With friends and family to feed, preparing a tender, delicious turkey is the key to a fabulous holiday spread. Here are some helpful tips this holiday season:

Take advantage of once-a-year sales: With food prices continuing to climb, Thanksgiving specials offer a once-a-year opportunity to find value in discounted whole turkeys. “One way to stretch your grocery budget during the holidays is to purchase an additional whole turkey around Thanksgiving,” says Chuck Meath, vice president of retail sales at Jennie-O Turkey Store. “Leading up to the holiday, retailers often offer turkeys at the lowest prices of the year. An extra turkey can provide a family with a full week’s worth of wholesome, high-protein meal options.”

Shop smart: A general rule of thumb is to purchase a whole turkey that will provide a one-pound serving for each guest. This portion size will allow enough turkey for the Thanksgiving meal and still leave plenty of meat for tasty leftovers.  

Use a meat thermometer: Many hosts have concerns about cooking a Thanksgiving turkey – a dry turkey can make the Thanksgiving feast fall flat. However, one easy-to-use kitchen tool can deliver a scrumptious, juicy turkey time and time again. A meat thermometer is an affordable kitchen necessity, essential to preparing poultry.

“Meat thermometers build confidence for home cooks by taking the guesswork out of preparing the Thanksgiving turkey,” says Renee Cool, product manager at Jennie-O. “This tool gives a true sense of assurance and piece of mind that your whole turkey will come out tender, delicious and fully-cooked.”

Follow package instructions: To find the target temperature for whole turkeys, simply consult the directions found on the product’s packaging. Your delectable turkey will have friends and family salivating for more.

Make room in the freezer: Plan ahead and clear out proper storage space to save wholesome meals for down the road, and make sure to put the inevitable leftovers from the Thanksgiving feast to good use.

Get creative with leftover meals: Jennie-O has a variety of fun and delicious post-Thanksgiving recipes, which families won’t even recognize as leftovers available at, including the tempting JENNIE-O(R) Mediterranean Pizza:

Mediterranean Pizza
Makes six servings


4 cloves garlic, minced
About 18 ounces leftover JENNIE-O(R) turkey, cut into strips
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (12-inch) pre-baked thin pizza crust
2 large ripe tomatoes or 4 roma tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup ripe olives, pitted and halved
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup basil leaves, shredded


Heat oven to 450 F. Coat a large skillet with cooking spray. Over medium-high heat, cook garlic 1 minute. Add leftover turkey strips, rosemary, salt, and red pepper flakes. Stir-fry 3 to 5 minutes. Place pizza crust on a large baking sheet; top with tomatoes, cooked turkey mixture, olives, and cheese. Bake 10 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Sprinkle with basil leaves; cut into wedges.

By following these simple tips from Jennie-O, it’s easy to create a holiday experience that your friends and families will remember all year long.

For more tips, visit

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- - Crank up the heat and enjoy wild American flavor this fall - - - - - - Crank up the heat and enjoy wild American flavor this fall - Brandpoint - -

(BPT) - Fall is jam-packed with tailgates, hayrides and local traditions that celebrate all things spiced, oven-baked and full of flavor. What better way to salute the most flavor-filled season of the year than sampling all the cultural experiences the country has to offer?

One of the nation’s most flavorful characters will be doing just that as he arrives with his flavor truck in hand-selected cities across the country to get a taste of the bold local flair.

Frequent heartburn sufferer and comedian Larry the Cable Guy will set out on the Wild American Flavor Tour this October, where he’ll be parking his “Wildberry flavor mobile” outside the most jaw-dropping sporting events held in cities known for their all-American cuisine, entertainment and, of course, die-hard sports fans.

Fans should prepare to see Larry as he comes into each city on his show-stopping adventure introducing the new Prilosec OTC(R) Wildberry.

“I love wild flavor! And I don’t let my frequent heartburn stop me from enjoying all the spicy, cheesy, sizzling experience America serves up,” says Larry the Cable Guy.

He has tips for how fans all around the country can crank up the flavor this sports season:

1. Play your wild card. I always add a little something unique when I cook. That way my guests will remember my dishes, even if it’s just because they are choking back a waterfall of tears after. A little extra sauce here and a dash of spice there can really shake things up. Be a signature chef and friends will be chomping at the bit for your recipes.

2. Style is everything. Wild costumes always make the jumbotron. Grab some buddies and paint your stomachs with some team spirit. Sure it might be cold, but you can warm-up after you have the best day ever.

3. Heartburn free on game day. Don’t let frequent heartburn ruin the big day. New Prilosec OTC Wildberry offers relief just like Prilosec OTC and has a fancy coating that gives you a burst of wildberry flavor. With just one flavorful pill a day for 14 days, you can enjoy the foods that used to cause heartburn.

4. Turn it up a notch ... then sit back and kick it. The clock is winding down and you have 20 hungry guests arriving for the big game any minute. Whip up your double-battered, wildly sauced-up wings and put your feet up. You are the master of all things that pack the heat.

Fans across the country can view footage of Larry’s wild experiences and crazy antics at

From now until Jan. 7, 2013, enter at for a chance to win trips to three of America’s most flavorful cities, with three of the country’s biggest sporting events, courtesy of new Prilosec OTC Wildberry. One prize pack winner will be chosen at random to receive the prize pack, including tickets to the big football game in New Orleans (Feb. 3, 2013), the first big auto race of the year in Daytona Beach (Feb. 24, 2013) and the basketball championship game in Atlanta (April 8, 2013), travel and accommodations (a two-night hotel stay and air transportation for each destination), and one $5,000 check to be used in any of these flavorful cities.

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- - Planning a party without big problems - - - - - - Planning a party without big problems - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Planning a large celebration can be challenging. From setting a date that works for everyone to creating a fun party atmosphere, there is a lot of work that goes into planning the perfect event. Regardless of who the party is for, there are some ways to ensure your big party comes off without a hitch.

Renting makes sense

Few of us host large gatherings on a regular basis, so it’s not surprising if you don’t have enough seating on hand for a large group, or a supply of chafing dishes to keep everything warm on your buffet. Since you may only use these items once or twice a year, it doesn’t make sense to buy them – plus, where would you store them for the rest of the year?

Fortunately, it’s possible to rent just about everything you could possibly need to stage a large-scale celebration. Rental stores in your area carry party necessities from chairs and tables to place settings and stemware to festive decor. Just remember to reserve your items early, especially if your party is during a busy time of year like the holidays.

Where not to skimp

Saving money is vital when you’re planning a big event. It’s smart to look for the best deals you can find on rental items, and to find creative ways to save money. But every host knows there is one aspect of the party that can’t be skimped on – and that varies from event to event, and crowd to crowd.

If you know your party will be heavily attended by foodies, you may want to spend a bit more on gourmet fare and cut costs in other areas. If your guests are the kick-up-their-heels type of crowd, it may make sense to invest more in live music or a DJ. Hosting a bevy of social butterflies? They may appreciate more upscale seating that affords them plenty of comfy places to sit and chat.

Knowing what you can rent to save money and where you have to spend is an essential part of staging a smashing soiree and saving money at the same time.

Special ways to spice things up

Every party should have at least one element that gives guests a delightful surprise. Maybe it’s a make-your-own dessert station for the company holiday party, or a chocolate fountain for your large family gathering.

Whether it’s adding elegant lighting and centerpieces for your New Year’s Eve party, or a large screen television and games for your football party, adding a special touch can really set the tone for the event. It’s easy to find these types of rental party items that make for a special surprise for your guests.

You can find more ideas for great party items and how renting can help you stage a spectacular event at

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- - Quick tips for pulling together a holiday potluck - - - - - - Quick tips for pulling together a holiday potluck - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - When your holiday-dinner guest list keeps growing year after year, it may be time to share the cooking. A potluck is a great way to share the load, and with just a little advance planning you can avoid ending up with 12 green bean casseroles on the dinner table.

“Don’t be shy about assigning food categories to your guests,” says Ginny Bean, founder and publisher of Ginny’s catalog and“This eliminates the guesswork for them, too.” Bean suggests you start planning four to six weeks out, and following these simple tips.

* Don’t overlook the non-cooks. Include categories such as beverages and paper products, or ask non-cooks to bring flowers, candles or other items to decorate the table. Those who want to help but need something easy to do can do some of the shopping for you.

* Double up. Ask at least two of the guests to make different salads, two to make different potato dishes, two people to bring different green vegetables, and two to bring pies. Plan on making the turkey, stuffing and gravy yourself.

* Make sure someone brings kid food. There’s nothing worse than having kids reject all the food at the table. Make sure there’s ice cream or another dessert that appeals to kids, some sparkling apple juice for a special toast, and kid-friendly items like mac and cheese or yams with marshmallows.

* Pick your battles. If someone really wants to bring a certain dish that you don’t particularly want, let them bring it anyway. You never know which dish might turn into a family tradition.

* Assess your appliance needs. Ask guests to let you know ahead of time if they’ll need refrigerator, oven or range-top space. The added capacity of countertop ovens and microwaves can be a godsend for big holiday meals. Plan a menu with some dishes that can be served at room temperature so you don’t have too many dishes that need to be kept hot.  

* Be prepared with extra serving plates, bowls and spoons. Somebody’s bound to forget something. Also remind guests to label their serving dishes and utensils. Most regular potluck participants can tell tales about losing the lid to a favorite plastic bowl or discovering that the only casserole dish left on the table was not the one they brought.

* Don’t attempt to serve all the food from one table. Place desserts on a table separate from main dishes and side dishes. Locate beverages in another area. For the most convenient self-service, arrange the buffet so diners can serve themselves from both sides of the table. Lay out the table in logical order: plates at one end of the table for guests to pick up and load with food, and utensils tucked inside napkins at the other end to grab once their plates are full.

* Strike while the iron’s hot (and guests are in a festive mood). Before everyone leaves, set up the planning committee and solicit suggestions for next year.

To request a copy of Ginny’s catalog, log on to or call (800) 487-9024.

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- - From patch to table: the many uses of a pumpkin - - - - - - From patch to table: the many uses of a pumpkin - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - While pumpkins are most often associated with pies, don’t underestimate this favorite of the squash and gourd family. Not only is the mighty pumpkin delicious, but it is also quite the multi-tasker.  

“Pumpkins are incredibly versatile. They can be used in virtually any application,” says Chef Joseph Brown, culinary chair at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Raleigh – Durham, a campus of South University. From sweet to savory, desserts to dinners, Brown and Chef Arthur Inzinga, culinary instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, offer tips and ideas for making the most of your pumpkins.

Pumpkin can be added to a variety of dishes to provide textural elements as well as flavor. “When pumpkin is cooked down it is very similar to mashed potatoes, but more sweet and flavorful,” says Brown. “It brings a sweetness to the table, which is its most unique aspect.” He adds that anywhere a potato is being cut up and cooked, pumpkin would be a good addition and/or substitution.

Pureed pumpkin can be added to a variety of sauces and soups, and according to Inzinga, “pumpkin is used a lot in conjunction with pasta.”  He recommends using it as a filling in gnocchi: “Typically, gnocchi is made with potato puree. You can substitute pumpkin puree.” Brown also notes it can be used as a filling for ravioli.

Adding the bold flavor of pumpkin to a variety of dishes can be achieved with some simple substitutions. Pumpkin chili can be created by augmenting some of the stock and tomato with pureed pumpkin. “This brings a richness to the chili. The pumpkin is going to be as much a textural component as it is a flavorful item,” says Brown. He also adds that pumpkin and tomato go together beautifully. This can be seen in autumn or pumpkin pizza, where the pumpkin becomes part of the sauce. Brown likes to top his pumpkin pizza with barbequed chicken. Inzinga recommends juicing some of the pumpkin pulp and using it as the cooking liquid for risotto or mixing equal parts pureed pumpkin to mashed potatoes. “It can be used as an ingredient in pancakes and waffles to replace some of the liquid and add flavor,” he says.

Pumpkin can also take center stage in dishes such as pumpkin-based bread puddings and ice creams and pumpkin butter. Inzinga says pumpkin butter is much like apple butter and can be created by adding pumpkin pie spices and cooking the pumpkin down until it is a spreadable consistency. He also recommends pumpkin/apple smoothies made with pureed pumpkin, apple juice and a bit of yogurt.

Enjoy the full flavor of the pumpkin by dicing and roasting with other root vegetables, sauteing it to bring out its natural flavors or even putting it on the grill. Brown says the slow heat of the grill brings out natural sugars, removes moisture and condenses the flavor. 

Don’t forget that the flesh isn’t the only part of the pumpkin that can be used. The seeds can be roasted and used as a garnish on breads, muffins or on pumpkin soup; added to homemade granola; or pureed into sauces and pesto. According to Inzinga, the flower blossoms can be battered and fried or stuffed and baked. Both chefs even recommend using hollowed-out pumpkins as bowls and tureens for chili or soup.

“It’s important for people to realize that when you go pumpkin picking, those pumpkins are grown for their size and shape, not necessarily flavor,” says Brown. The large pumpkins are less sweet. He says there are hundreds of varieties of pumpkins, and you can get more sweetness and flavor if you are more selective. He recommends as a reference for the characteristics of different types of pumpkins.

Tips for roasting a pumpkin:
To roast a pumpkin, Brown recommends roasting it at 350 to 375 F for a medium-length roasting time. The flesh will brown a bit. For a more concentrated flavor, roast at 300 F for a longer period of time and bump the temperature up to 425 F for the last 15 to 20 minutes. Pumpkins are a lot like potatoes – you can tell if they are done by touch. They will get softer the longer they cook.

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- - Savory fall dishes enhanced with grapes - - - - - - Savory fall dishes enhanced with grapes - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Beautiful fall vegetables are in season now and make for wonderful dishes that will have your family members saying “yum.”

In addition to the traditional fall flavors of produce like squash and cauliflower, California grapes are also in season, having one of the longest, “just-picked” seasons among North American fruits, from May to January.  Always the perfect snack, grapes possess a flavor balance of sweetness and acidity, making them a versatile ingredient for both sweet and savory preparations.

When it comes to fall produce, cauliflower is often passed over in the produce aisles in favor of its much-touted cousin broccoli. But roasting cauliflower brings out a hint of surprising sweetness in this robust veggie. Add to that roasted grapes, with their juicy burst of tangy flavor, along with a good sprinkling of ground cumin, and you’ll be reaching for cauliflower more often just to prepare this simple and delightful dish.

Butternut squash takes on a whole new dimension when baked with grapes and rosemary and seasoned with a gratin topping.  The crunch of the topping adds another texture component to the “pop” of juice coming from the grapes and the browned edges of the comforting squash.  Rosemary offers a hint of aromatics that fits perfectly into the mix.

Roasting grapes is a big trend in finer restaurants, but very easy to do. Roasted grapes can also be turned into a simple sauce, by adding a ladleful of wine, water or broth and reducing the mixture over heat to thicken to a syrupy consistency. Drizzle over pork tenderloins or sauteed chicken breasts, and you’ll wonder why you’ve never done it before.

Both featured recipes have an added bonus:  They combine fruit and vegetables, which are foods that health experts say we need to eat more of, more often.

Roasted Cauliflower and Grapes

Serves six


1 large head cauliflower (3 pounds), cut into 1 1/2-inch florets

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups red, green or black seedless California grapes


Preheat the oven to 450 F. Toss cauliflower, 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, salt, cumin and pepper together in a large bowl and spread in one layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Roast 20 minutes and stir the cauliflower. Toss the grapes and remaining olive oil together and add to the baking sheet. Roast 5 to 10 minutes longer and serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories 116; Protein 3.3 g; Carbohydrate 17 g; Fat 5.2 g; 37 percent Calories from Fat; Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 287 mg; Fiber 3.6 g.


Butternut Squash, Rosemary and Grape Bake

Serves eight


5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 medium butternut squash (about 4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks or 3 1/2 pounds pre-cut butternut squash chunks (11 cups)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 large red onion, cut into thin slices

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried

3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups red or black seedless California grapes, stemmed and rinsed

2 cups fresh breadcrumbs

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan


Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the squash and season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 to 7 minutes, then transfer to the baking dish. Repeat browning of remaining squash with another tablespoon of olive oil and more salt and pepper. Transfer to baking dish.

Heat another tablespoon of the oil in the skillet and add the onion and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Pour in the broth and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom. Bring to a simmer and pour into baking dish. Cover with foil and bake until squash is very tender, about 40 minutes.

Raise the oven temperature to 450 F. Remove the dish from the oven and take off the foil. Sprinkle the grapes over the top. In a medium bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, Parmesan and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the squash. Bake until top is browned and bubbling, or about 10 to 15 minutes longer.

Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories 259; Protein 6.6 g; Carbohydrate 36 g; Fat 12 g; 38 percent Calories from Fat; Cholesterol 10 mg; Sodium 266 mg; Fiber 4.7 g.

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- - Turkey is tops for easy, everyday meals - - - - - - Turkey is tops for easy, everyday meals - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - At this busy time of year, it’s often difficult to get a meal on the table, especially if you’re multitasking between other priorities around the home. Consider including turkey burgers in your dinner menus - it’s a great way to add protein and create a delicious and convenient meal without having to be tied to your kitchen for hours.  

Turkey isn’t just for Thanksgiving anymore. It has grown from a traditional holiday staple into a year-round favorite. In addition, there are so many quick and easy-to-prepare turkey burger options at today’s grocers, and creative recipes available to add flavor and style to your family meal.

Temperature is everything when it comes to preparing safe and delicious turkey burgers. Cooking turkey burgers to 165 F helps you achieve the most delicious flavor and the perfect, never-dry tenderness families love, while also being important for food safety. For this reason, a meat thermometer is a necessity. Quick and convenient, this essential cooking tool provides a simple way to prepare delicious cooked turkey.

Technology has made today’s meat thermometers easier to use than ever. For example, Jennie-O, a recognized leader in turkey, has teamed up with iGrill, the first app enabled wireless meat thermometer, to help home cooks and grill masters prepare tender, delicious turkey while ensuring food safety from anywhere in the home. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android devices, the app takes the guesswork out of cooking turkey by helping you monitor food temperature without being glued to your grill or oven. It has a wireless range of up to 200 feet, so you can tend to other important things around the house and spend time with your family as you cook.

The iGrill app is free and includes 25 delicious Jennie-O recipes for great-tasting everyday meals. It can be downloaded at the iTunes Store. The wireless meat thermometer is available for purchase at Use promo code JENNIEO for $10 off savings.

Five easy rules for cooking delicious turkey burgers

When it comes to cooking, food safety is just as important as great taste. Here are five easy kitchen tips for cooking a delicious meal featuring JENNIE-O turkey burgers: clean, separate, cook, chill, and don't forget—enjoy! 


Safety begins with a clean cooking space. Use warm, soapy water to wash anything raw turkey touches, including cutting boards, plates or serving platters, countertops and other surfaces, food thermometers, grilling utensils and - most importantly - your hands.

It is not necessary to rinse poultry before cooking. In fact, rinsing poultry can spread bacteria rather than kill it.


Always fully cook poultry to destroy any bacteria that could cause foodborne illness.

Using a meat thermometer is the most accurate way to determine when the meat is ready to enjoy. Cook poultry to at least 165 F, as measured by a meat thermometer, such as the iGrill, to ensure a safe and delicious dining experience.

Never eat under-cooked poultry. If you’re not sure how long to cook a product, simply read the packaging and cook as specified.


Use separate cutting boards for poultry, meat, seafood and vegetables to avoid the spread of bacteria that may cause food-borne illness. Store raw poultry in sealed containers to make sure juices don’t contaminate other foods. Never reuse a raw marinade on cooked poultry. Instead, create a fresh marinade for each new batch.


When storing raw poultry, set your refrigerator to 40 F or lower. Never thaw poultry at room temperature or on the counter. Thaw in the refrigerator in sealed containers and keep it no more than two to three days before cooking. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking and eat within one to two days.


Following these simple food safety rules makes it easy to achieve the best possible taste for a delicious meal the entire family will enjoy.

For more information on cooking turkey burgers, visit or look for the iGrill sticker on JENNIE-O lean ground turkey products at grocery stores nationwide. Use promo code JENNIEO for $10 off your iGrill purchase.

Jennie-O Turkey Store, Inc. is not responsible for the operation of the iGrill device or its compliance with safety and regulatory standards.

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- - Innovation is key to America's breadbasket - - - - - - Innovation is key to America's breadbasket - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - The holiday season is a good time to recognize the important contribution of America’s farmers to our quality of life. Agriculture is a tough business. Farmers have to cope with production factors outside of their control, such as weather and geography. Yet according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, America’s 2 million farms are the world’s most productive, not only feeding our nation, but providing crucial grains and foodstuffs to help feed other people around the world.

American farmers grow about 60 percent of the world’s corn, the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) reports, and 33 percent of the world’s soybeans, according to the American Soybean Association. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that Americans import more manufactured goods than we export, resulting in a significant trade deficit, but our balance of trade in agriculture is positive – and by a large margin.

“We’re a very productive country. We are a breadbasket for the world. Half of our soybeans are exported, as well as a lot of our corn, to Europe and Asia. Because we are capable of producing more, the balance of trade is very promising,” says Dr. Thomas Carter, research geneticist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service. “We’re seeing greater technological innovation, from the lab to the field.”

Beyond providing income for farmers, the American Farm Bureau Federation points out that agriculture employs 23 million Americans when you include employment resulting from farm to fork, such as manufacturing farm equipment and inputs, food processing, transportation and marketing, and retail and wholesale sales. Innovation is important to the success of farming, just as it is for any economic enterprise. Thanks to modern farming techniques, America's farmers are producing more food than ever before on fewer acres. Among recent innovations in agriculture is the use of seeds improved with biotechnology – using scientific research to enhance the plant’s ability to resist harmful pests, more effectively utilize water, and allow the farmer to control weeds more efficiently.

Today, 88 percent of U.S. corn acreage is planted with biotechnology varieties. The average yield (bushels per acre) of corn in 2011 was 16 percent higher than in 1996 – the first year biotech varieties were planted, according to the ERS. This has enabled farmers to produce enough corn to not only meet our growing demand for food and animal feed, but also to manufacture ethanol that reduces our nation’s dependency on imported oil.

In addition, 93 percent of the U.S. soybean acreage is now planted with biotech varieties. Soybean yields have increased about 10 percent since 1996. And 94 percent of U.S. cotton is now genetically engineered. The result is that cotton yields have increased approximately 12 percent since 1996, the ERS reports.

This has been a particularly difficult year for American farmers, who confronted the worst drought since 1988. They experienced reduced yields, earlier harvests and reduced income. There is no total solution to drought, because the reality is that plants need water to survive and thrive. But to help alleviate the effects of drought on the U.S. food supply, seed companies have been working with farmers across America's farm belt to make available corn varieties that can improve a crop's ability to use water more efficiently and tolerate drought conditions.

Farmers who planted drought-tolerant corn varieties this year say their corn crop appeared to endure the drought better than other varieties. Even a small improvement in tolerating drought – just 4 to 8 percent – can have a huge economic impact when magnified across the broad scope of America’s corn crop. This is encouraging to agriculture scientists, because developing plant innovations that improve a crop’s ability to use water more efficiently is critical to addressing weather conditions in the face of our changing climate.

“Continued research and breeding, including the use of biotechnology, is essential in developing varieties that can survive and sustain economic yields despite seasonal droughts and higher temperatures we expect in the future,” says Dr. Kent Bradford, professor and director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California, Davis.

There is no single solution to helping farmers grow the food an expanding U.S. and global population needs today and in the future. But, as in other areas of our economy, science can offer improved seeds and soil inputs, or help farmers conserve the quality of their land and water resources. Innovation is essential to ensuring our farmers remain the world’s most productive, and in turn, keep America’s rural economy strong.

For more information on the benefits of agricultural biotechnology, visit

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- - To brine or not to brine? Kitchen experts answer your holiday cooking questions - - - - - - To brine or not to brine? Kitchen experts answer your holiday cooking questions - Brandpoint - - Cooking for an event can be nerve-wracking, especially if it happens to be the first time you’ve prepared a holiday meal for a big group. No cook makes it through without a couple of hiccups and a handful of questions. The good news is that now there’s an easy way to get the answers you need – by asking the food experts at the Betty Crocker Kitchens.

For over 90 years, Betty Crocker has been a resource for inspired ideas and trusted recipes. The Betty Crocker Kitchens, based in Minneapolis, Minn., are home to a team of food experts who are eager to guide home cooks through their holiday culinary preparations. In addition to the thousands of recipes, how-to videos, tips and Thanksgiving menu ideas on, a leading food website, a special initiative called “Ask Betty” enables cooks to ask any culinary question and get a personal answer from a kitchen expert. Additionally, all of the questions and answers are housed on, so you can also find out what others are asking.

“Our ‘Ask Betty’ food experts have a range of culinary backgrounds, including chefs, nutritionists and food scientists, so you know you’ll get an expert solution to any cooking challenge,” says Ann Stuart, manager of the Betty Crocker Kitchens. “Being able to access more than 20 food professionals during the hectic holidays – or any day of the year - enables you to relax and be the best cook you can be.”

Whether you’re having a baking emergency or planning your holiday menu weeks ahead of time, Betty Crocker can help. Visit or Betty Crocker’s Facebook community at to learn more about Ask Betty and ask your most challenging cooking questions.  And during the busy holiday season when cooking and baking questions are at their peak, the Ask Betty team will be working harder than ever to give cooks the answers – and confidence - they need to have a successful holiday. 

What questions does Betty get the most? Here is a sample of the most commonly asked questions the experts receive, along with the answers:

* Are there quick ways to thaw a turkey?
Answer: For food safety reasons, never thaw poultry at room temperature. Cold-water thawing is quicker than refrigerator thawing. Submerge the packaged turkey in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. An 8- to 12-pound turkey will take four to six hours when cold water submerged, while a 20- to 24-pound turkey will take 10 to 12 hours when cold water submerged.

* What are the best potatoes for mashing?
Answer: Round red, white potatoes or Yukon gold potatoes make creamier, denser mashed potatoes, while russet potatoes make for lighter-textured mashers.

* How can I make gluten-free gravy?
Answer: White rice flour as the thickener works well. 

Make your holiday event a hit with two new recipes from Betty Crocker, sure to please any palate:

Chocolate Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake

Makes 16 servings
Prep time: 40 minutes
Total time: 9 hours, 35 minutes


2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (35 to 40 cookies)
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

4 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup Gold Medal all-purpose flour
4 eggs
4 tablespoons bourbon
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 1/2 teaspoons aromatic bitters
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted

1/2 cup caramel topping
2 teaspoons bourbon
Dash aromatic bitters
Toasted pecans, if desired


1. Heat oven to 300 F. Grease 9-inch springform pan with shortening or cooking spray. Wrap outside bottom and side of pan with foil to prevent leaking. In small bowl, mix crust ingredients. Press mixture in bottom and 1 inch up side of pan. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Cool 5 minutes.

2. In large bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed just until smooth and creamy; do not overbeat. On low speed, gradually beat in sugar, then flour, then eggs one at a time, just until blended. Remove half of the cream cheese mixture (about 3 cups) into another large bowl; reserve.

3. Into remaining cream cheese mixture, stir 2 tablespoons of the bourbon, the pumpkin, 1 1/2 teaspoons bitters, the ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg with whisk until smooth. Spoon over crust in pan. Into reserved 3 cups filling, stir 2 tablespoons bourbon, the vanilla and melted chocolate; pour over pumpkin layer directly in middle of pan. This will create layers so that each slice includes some of each flavor.

4. To minimize cracking, place shallow pan half full of hot water on lower oven rack. Bake cheesecake 1 hour and 20 minutes to 1 hour and 30 minutes or until edges are set but center of cheesecake still jiggles slightly when moved.

5. Turn oven off; open oven door at least 4 inches. Leave cheesecake in oven 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven; place on cooling rack. Without releasing side of pan, run knife around edge of pan to loosen cheesecake. Cool in pan on cooling rack 30 minutes. Cover loosely; refrigerate at least 6 hours but no longer than 24 hours.

6. Run knife around side of pan to loosen cheesecake again; carefully remove side of pan. Place cheesecake on serving plate. Stir together caramel topping, 2 teaspoons bourbon and a dash of bitters. To serve, drizzle with caramel and sprinkle with pecans. Cover and refrigerate any remaining cheesecake.


Bisquick Pan Gravy

Makes 1 cup
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes


Drippings from roast turkey or other cooked meat
2 tablespoons Original Bisquick mix
1 cup liquid (turkey or meat juices, broth, water)
Few drops browning sauce, if desired


1. After removing turkey from pan, pour drippings (turkey juices and fat) into fat separator or glass measuring cup, leaving browned particles in pan. The fat will rise to the top. With spoon, return 2 tablespoons of the fat to the pan. Pour or spoon off and discard any remaining fat drippings.

2. Stir Bisquick into fat in cooking pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping up browned bits, until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat.

3. Gradually stir in reserved juices plus enough broth or water to equal 1 cup. Heat to boiling while stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in browning sauce if a darker color is desired.

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- - Great ways to 'green' your holiday season - - - - - - Great ways to 'green' your holiday season - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - With homes adorned in holiday hues of silver, gold and red, these are colorful times. This year, why not "green" your holiday by adopting some eco-friendly traditions? From making holiday meals with organic ingredients to wrapping gifts in recycled paper, it's easy to find ways to celebrate the season and be kind to Mother Nature at the same time.

Earth-friendly feasting

Americans are embracing organic foods for many reasons, from better taste on their plates and improved health in their homes, to the gentler impact on the environment associated with the production of organic produce and meats. If you’ve never tried organic dining before, give your family – and the earth – the gift of going organic this holiday season. And if you prefer organic foods throughout the year, there’s no need to set the habit aside just because of the holidays.

From main dishes of responsibly raised poultry and line-caught fish, to side dishes of sustainably grown vegetables and grains, it’s easy to serve a holiday meal that’s good for your family and the environment. Companies like Simply Organic offer options for every aspect of holiday feasting, including mixes for gravies, dips and dressings, organic spices, flavorings, extracts and sauces. You can find holiday-appropriate organic products and recipes at

Decorating with heart

Some traditional holiday decorations can be less than friendly for the environment, but a cut tree is not necessarily one of them. Consider that the production of artificial trees consumes large quantities of resources and creates wasted by-product. Also, keep in mind most tree lots sell trees raised on farms, so natural forests are not impacted by the tree you buy off the lot. When it comes time to dispose of your tree, consider mulching it yourself, rather than just setting it out on the curb.

What would the holidays be without bright lights? But those little bulbs can consume lots of energy. Switching to LED lights will reduce the amount of power it takes to keep your home twinkling brightly this holiday season. And a bonus of LED lights: they last longer, so you won’t have to buy new strands every season.

Guilt-free giving

Gift-giving and the goodwill it brings are at the heart of the holidays, but that good feeling often also comes with ripped wrapping paper, pounds of packaging materials and a lot of energy consumed in shopping. It is possible, however, to give gifts with minimal impact on the environment – and your conscience. Handmade gifts are not only more eco-friendly, they show the recipient that you cared enough to invest time and effort in creating something unique. But if you’re not handy, look for gifts that are energy-efficient (like solar-powered items or gadgets that use rechargeable batteries), come with minimal packaging, are made of sustainably harvested natural materials, or that are locally produced.

Intangible gifts can also be “green.” Instead of gifting the cooking enthusiast in your life with a new set of pots and pans, sign him up for a cooking class and attend together. Give your gardening fan a “gift certificate” redeemable for your help when spring planting season arrives.

Greening your holiday season will take some thought and time, but giving yourself and your loved ones a more environmentally responsible holiday season will be something you can celebrate throughout the year.

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- - Experts offer help with holiday baking - - - - - - Experts offer help with holiday baking - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - The holiday cookie season – and baking season – has arrived, and home bakers are in a flurry finding favorite recipes, purchasing necessary ingredients and planning for the big baking day. Whether you’re a seasoned baker or a beginner in the kitchen, everyone can achieve baking bliss with a little help from the experts. Hershey’s Cookie Headquarters offers step-by-step recipes, professional tips and exclusive access to a team of experts ready to answer your toughest baking questions.

New this year, a team of 12 of the best bloggers in baking and entertaining will also be on-hand at to ease your baking worries with how-to videos and gift ideas for “The Sweetest Thing to Bring” everyone on your gift list. Bakers can also submit questions to @HersheyKisses on Twitter to receive real-time answers and join in on the latest conversations with fellow baking enthusiasts.

Many holiday bakers need help achieving the perfect cookie consistency. Visit Hershey’s Cookie Headquarters for expert baking tips like:

* To prevent cookies from becoming hard and tough, avoid adding more flour than necessary to the cookie dough or batter. Taking cookies out of the oven 1 to 2 minutes early may also help keep them soft after they cool.

* To avoid cookies that are too flat, try refrigerating the cookie dough for at least 30 minutes before you scoop them on the tray.  This will keep the dough from spreading too much when placed in a hot oven.

For a fool-proof holiday cookie, try this easy recipe for Hershey’s Peanut Butter Blossoms:

Peanut Butter Blossoms

Yields 4 dozen cookies


48 Hershey’s Kisses Brand Milk Chocolates

1/2 cup shortening

3/4 cup Reese’s Creamy Peanut Butter

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

Granulated sugar


Heat oven to 375 F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.  Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

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- - No muss, no fuss - just the perfect meal every time - - - - - - No muss, no fuss - just the perfect meal every time - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - While holiday meals often take on a special significance because of the season, every meal is an opportunity to show those you care for what they mean to you. Instead of stressing about each meal throughout the holiday season (and all year long), why not create a few “go-to” meals that are not only special for those who will enjoy them, but are also no muss, no fuss for you – and simply delicious?

Let’s take a look at four meal occasions that occur throughout the year – especially during the holiday season – and help you create the perfect meal to enhance the occasion and win you rave reviews at the same time.

Meal 1 – The perfect intimate dinner for four. Admit it. Sometimes it’s fun sitting down with another couple and sharing life’s experiences over a sumptuous, relaxing meal. The chefs of Kansas City Steak Company have developed a wonderful line of Bake & Serve Gourmet foods that will help you get that special meal on the table faster, giving you more time for wine and conversation. How about Beef Wellington as the star of the meal? Add in a favorite appetizer, like caramelized onion-and-feta kisses and a show-stopping dessert like chocolate velvet boule. And don’t forget a full-bodied cabernet sauvignon to round out your intimate dinner. If you’re looking for a can’t-fail intimate meal, this one is always a hit.

Meal 2 – Open house? No worries! Planning a dinner party can sometimes feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s not rocket science. It’s a party. Have some fun with it. First, go with a buffet. It’s easier for you and more efficient in serving many guests. Then, select your meat. Deciding how much meat you need per person is sometimes a good way to decide what kind of meat you’d like to serve. If you’re serving steak or pork, with just a couple of sides, it’s best to consider about 8 ounces per person. If you have multiple appetizers and desserts, you could probably drop that down to 5 to 6 ounces/person. Some great options might be a large prime rib, sliced thin on crusty rolls or beef tenderloin tip kabobs (easy to eat and oh-so delish). Add in a variety of sides (or ask your guests to bring their favorite appetizers). Offer a variety of desserts (cheesecakes, sponge cakes, cupcakes, etc.) and you have yourself a great party. Be sure to check out the great entertaining guides online from Kansas City Steak Company. They’re packed with great entertaining tips that can help you all year long.

Meal 3 – Did someone say, “brunch?” As we try to plan more togetherness time throughout the busy holiday season, many are turning to brunch as the perfect way to start the day. Brunch these days is more than scrambled eggs; it’s a veritable feast for the eyes and soul. Much like you don’t want to spend hours cooking meals for dinners, there are a few things you can do to help you speedily make a spectacular brunch. Be sure to keep some great appetizers in the freezer. These bite-size nuggets are perfect complements to your brunch menu. How about a hickory-smoked boneless ham that’s already sliced and the perfect choice for any egg dish you might choose? Some choose to add special desserts, while others go with a selection of warm pastries or bagels and toppings. Add a variety of fruit juices, mimosas and freshly ground coffee and you’re good to go.

Meal 4 – Put some scrumptious supper in your football celebration. Let’s face it, the professional football championship may be in February, but extra bodies tend to show up for any type of sporting event in your family room. Sure, you could go with your grandma’s chili recipe, but how about something different this year? How about giving your guests a choice of sandwich steaks, steakburgers and chicken breasts? These combo packages from Kansas City Steaks are perfect for game day get-togethers; they’re packaged and ready to cook. Add some buns, toppings, chips of choice, and maybe some crab cakes or shrimp, or whatever your crowd enjoys to start the party. Finger food is the way to go with sports-themed parties, so be sure to end the meal with cookies, brownies or something sweet. And don’t forget the beverages.

For more great meal ideas, be sure to check out

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- - Six tips to keep your new year's resolution to lose weight - - - - - - Six tips to keep your new year's resolution to lose weight - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - It’s probably the most commonly made new year’s resolution: lose weight and get into shape. In early January, the gyms are full, the sports stores run out of equipment, and the streets are teeming with new joggers. Many of us promise ourselves to lose weight to start the new year, and usually, within a month or two, we have given up.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Dr. Michael Zemel, creator of the NuShape Brand all-natural weight-loss supplement, says that simple lifestyle changes are the key to losing weight and keeping it off.

"People put too much pressure on themselves to change everything in their diets, which sets them up for failure," says Zemel. His advice? Set your sights on making several small dietary and lifestyle changes, and you'll lose weight without making major sacrifices.

NuShape works with the body to turn 15 minutes of moderate exercise into 60 minutes of fat burning. It is an all-natural, clinically demonstrated supplement containing leucine and vitamin B6. Leucine is found in protein-rich foods, like eggs, meat, poultry, dairy and legumes. But food cannot give you the amount of leucine needed to burn fat, according to Zemel. When combined with 15 minutes of exercise a day, NuShape’s unique blend helps the body burn an extra 300 calories for sustainable weight loss without any side effects.

He offers these six easy diet and exercise tips:

1. Choose a parking spot away from the mall entrance – Get a little exercise before you start shopping by choosing a parking space away from the mall entrance. Even walking just 15 minutes at a time can improve your health, both physically and mentally. Visit for more 15-minute exercise ideas.

2. Say no to the elevator, when possible – Whether you are at work or the mall, choose the stairs instead of elevators or escalators. Remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you have to go up to the eighth floor, consider taking one flight of stairs up and then pressing the elevator button.

3. Bring your workout indoors – During the winter, sometimes it’s hard getting outdoors. Squats, leg lifts, and walking lunges are great exercises to do indoors. For weight training, use 10-pound dumbbells for bicep curls or tricep extensions, using a chair for support.

4. Just add water – Drinking fruit juice is an easy way to chug down calories. But if you love the fruity taste, cut down your serving by mixing half the amount of juice with an equal amount of water – and say goodbye to 85 calories.

5. Downsize, don't super-size, fast food meals – Opt for a small order of fries instead of a large one with your fast-food meal (savings: over 300 calories) Another portion-control trick: Instead of placing serving bowls of food in the middle of the family dinner table, measure individual portions in the kitchen.

How easy is it to cut back 100 calories on a daily basis? One hundred calories equals:

* 1 cup of regular soda

* 1 tablespoon of butter

* 1 ounce of cheese

6. Reward yourself for small changes – Most diets fail because people set high expectations and when they don’t achieve their goals, they feel defeated. However, losing any amount of weight is good, even if you don’t meet your goal at first. “Small successes are what you’re looking for,” says Zemel. Reward yourself with something that makes sense to you, such as a new dress or pair of jeans you’ve wanted to get into.

Losing weight doesn’t have to be an uphill battle. Small, simple changes can produce the biggest results.

To learn more about NuShape, the all-natural weight-loss supplement, visit

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- - Seventies style is stayin' alive: tips to keep up with the trend - - - - - - Seventies style is stayin' alive: tips to keep up with the trend - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - From home decor to fashion and food, the styles and trends of the 1970s have slowly been creeping back into the mainstream, and this year they’re out in full force. Don’t be alarmed when you see the vibrant colors, bold patterns and relaxed entertaining of the decade taking over in today’s world. There are many ways to embrace the retro style while staying thoroughly modern with some simple expert tips.  

Beauty and lifestyle expert Alexis Wolfer of has some simple suggestions for bringing the best of the ‘70s to the current day.

“Fashion is always one of the earliest indicators of style re-emergence,” says Wolfer.

The popularity of mixed prints and varying textures is straight ’70s, and aspiring fashionistas shouldn’t be afraid to take risks.

“Keep all prints in the same color family and you can wear those striped pants with a polka dotted top,” Wolfer recommends. “Tweed, velvet and suede take boring basics to trendy new heights. Swap out your go-to little black dress for a velvet one to entertain in ’70s -inspired style.”

It’s not just personal fashion that is getting the ’70s treatment - this trend is popping up in home decor as well. Forty years ago, colorful appliances were must-haves to match shag carpets and paneled walls. Today the color is back, but dull green refrigerators are being replaced by brighter, more playful colors, like a tangerine orange KitchenAid stand mixer, a purple Keurig coffee machine or a bright red washer/dryer.  

Appliances aren’t the only place in the kitchen where trends are re-emerging. Back in the ’70s, the Swiss tradition of fondue, shared around a table, was all the rage at dinner parties and social gatherings throughout the decade. Today, inspired by fondue restaurants, like The Melting Pot, and easy-to-prepare at-home options, people are breaking out their fondue pots more than ever for easy entertaining and a fun, social meal to enjoy.

“Fondue pots, either electric or candlelight-powered, are inexpensive and easy to find at retail chains or online,” says Wolfer. “Emmi Roth USA has a fantastic line of ready-made fondues that are simple and really delicious. Just open the package, pour into the pot and stir!”

Entertaining in the ’70s also meant playing games. “The ’70s brought game night into the spotlight and it’s making a comeback,” says Wolfer. “With family or friends, plan your own game night with classics like Twister or modern ones like Cranium. It’s inexpensive and fun for all ages.” Bring out games that can work with teams or individual players so that everyone is included, no matter how many or how few guests there are. Having small prizes for the winners will increase the excitement and make the party more memorable, so pick up some small items like scented candles, decks of cards or gift cards to local shops or cafes for the game night victors to take home. 

The ‘70s was a complex decade but there was no shortage of fun, and embracing the tastes and trends of those days gone by can bring newfound vibrancy and enjoyment into the present.

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- - Holiday dining gets fresh flavor with new uses for seasonal ingredients - - - - - - Holiday dining gets fresh flavor with new uses for seasonal ingredients - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - When the weather cools, do your cravings turn toward peppermint? Or perhaps the approaching holidays are priming your palate for pumpkin and gingerbread. Some flavors and ingredients just seem to go naturally with the season. While time-honored culinary traditions will always have a place in our seasonal celebrations, mix things up this year by using familiar ingredients in non-traditional ways.

From snack foods to main dishes, a variety of ingredients can lend themselves to culinary exploration this holiday season. Here are a few ideas to help you get creative with well-loved traditional ingredients:

Not just for snacking

Sure, you’ve heard of replacing bread crumbs with crumbled crackers in holiday recipes, but did you know pretzels can punch up a variety of seasonal dishes? From pumpkin muffins that get a savory spike from Snyder’s of Hanover Sourdough Pretzels to savory turkey stuffing, pretzels can add flavor and interest far beyond the snack bowl. Pretzels make a great ingredient not only for their familiar, appealing flavor, but also because they’re naturally low in fat and calories. Snyder’s offers more than three dozen shapes and flavors, convenient 100-calorie packs, lower sodium content, and even gluten-free options. You can find a plethora of ideas and recipes online at

Sprouting creativity

Few foods shout “fall” and “holidays” as clearly as pumpkin. Whether perched on your front step as a jack o’ lantern or gracing your holiday buffet in pies and muffins, pumpkin is a quintessential ingredient of the season. But when it comes time to incorporate pumpkin in your holiday meal-planning, it pays to look beyond the pie plate. Pumpkin can serve as a basis for appetizers, sides and main dishes. From soups to pasta, casseroles to omelets, pumpkin is a nutrient-rich, flavorful ingredient.

Cavorting with candy

Candy corn to candy canes, candy treats make the final months of the year that much sweeter. Peppermint is, of course, to the holidays as elves are to Santa, but don’t imagine that this versatile mint flavoring is only appropriate in candies and pricey coffee shop mochas. Paired with garlic, fresh peppermint leaves add zing to pastas. Mystified as to what to do with leftover Halloween candy corn or candy pumpkins? Try adding them to your s’mores. What would holiday baking be without chocolate? But Americans’ second-favorite flavor can also pop up in main dishes, like chili, sloppy joes, chicken and salmon.

Sweet harvest time

Apples are a favorite fall harvest fruit, and what better way to make them the start of fall celebrations than by putting some on a stick and dipping them in caramel? Yet neither ingredient - apples or caramel - need be limited to the realm of sticky treats. In addition to apple pie, popovers and cake, you may have experienced apple in stuffing. Yet apples play well with a host of other flavors, including main dish staples of the holidays, like turkey, pork, chicken and even beef. Caramelization as a cooking process turns veggies like carrots and sweet potatoes into yummy side dishes. But caramel can also enhance main dishes, like pork chops, cod or chicken.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s easier than ever to find fresh, unconventional ways to use favorite holiday flavors and ingredients. Try this savory recipe from Snyder’s of Hanover for Pretzel Stuffing:

Pretzel Stuffing


1 6-ounce package of long grain or wild rice, prepared according to package directions

8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms, sauteed

1 medium onion, chopped and sauteed

1 12-ounce package link sausage, browned and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

2 cups Snyder’s of Hanover Hard Sourdough Pretzels, broken into 1/2-inch pieces, crumbs removed

4 cups stuffing croutons, seasoned or unseasoned

1 cup chicken broth, added to out-of-bird stuffing only

Salt, pepper and sage to taste


Combine all ingredients in a very large bowl and fill chicken or turkey cavity. Place remaining stuffing in a casserole dish, add chicken broth and baste with pan drippings or chicken broth. Cover with foil and place in oven for one hour. Remove cover 10 to 15 minutes before end of cooking time to create crispy texture.

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- - Prepping treats for school fun? Tips for dealing with food allergies - - - - - - Prepping treats for school fun? Tips for dealing with food allergies - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - With the long holiday season right around the corner, you might be asked about bringing treats in for your child to share with the classroom. You’ll probably want to roll up your sleeves and dig through the recipe file for the yummiest treat you can find. Before you get started, be certain to find out if there are any children with food allergies in the classroom and the school.

Food is a very important part of the school day – from snacks and treats to the lunch hour, but children with food allergies could face extreme consequences if they come in contact with certain foods. All states have laws governing how schools protect students and employees with allergies and asthma, but these laws vary from state to state.  Each year the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) releases its State Honor Roll of Asthma and Allergy Policies for Schools, recognizing those states that are at the forefront of establishing policies, and pointing out other states that don’t yet make-the-grade. Check out what laws and policies have been established in your state at

Also keep the guidelines from your state in mind as you purchase or make treats for your child’s classroom from Halloween all the way to Valentine’s Day:

* Check with the classroom teacher and the school first about foods that should not be brought into school. Some children have extreme allergies, such as to peanuts, and can react to minimum contact like touching a door handle that had been previously touched by someone handling something with nuts. Any food can cause an allergic reaction, but milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish allergies are some of the most common. If purchasing a snack, read the ingredients list carefully, and double check it against the allergy list provided by the school.

* When preparing the foods – or shopping at the grocery store – make certain the foods you’ll be taking to the classroom don’t come in contact with foods that are barred from the school. This includes washing pots, pans and utensils thoroughly before blending ingredients when baking at home.

* If your child has been diagnosed with a food allergy, consider making special treats he can enjoy without worrying about the snacks containing the foods he’s allergic to. Also develop an allergy action plan with your child’s doctor, teacher and the school nurse.  A free asthma/allergy action card is available from AAFA on the State Honor Roll website, which helps you outline what foods to avoid, what medications to keep (an epinephrine auto-injector is the best first-line emergency treatment), what to do in case of emergencies, who to contact and more. The AAFA site also has many other pages of free information and tips about food allergies.

As the holiday parties start up this season, encourage your children to have fun, but also be mindful that some foods can cause their classmates to have serious reactions. And keep food allergies at the top of your thoughts when you’re asked to bring treats for a classroom party. It will help make the celebration much more fun – especially when the child with the allergy doesn’t have to worry about the foods she’s eating.

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- - Tips for going nuts with your holiday recipes this year - - - - - - Tips for going nuts with your holiday recipes this year - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - Whether you’re roasting them over an open fire or cooking them into your holiday favorites, nuts can be used to enhance almost any recipe. You’d be hard-pressed to find an ingredient with more versatility, as nuts can be used to create a flavor accent or to provide some extra crunch and texture while keeping dishes fresh and light. Whether you’re using almonds, pecans or roasted peanuts, the possibilities are limitless.

For celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli, regular judge on Food Network’s Chopped and executive chef at The Darby and Butter in New York, the holiday entertaining season provides a great opportunity to share some of her favorite recipes.

“I’m a chef, but I’m also a mom and I want time to spend with my family during the holidays,” says Guarnaschelli. “Nuts are one of those special ingredients that give a dish an extra special touch, but still allow me to keep it simple.”

This holiday season Guarnaschelli has developed a series of exclusive recipes and tips to show at-home cooks how ingredients like nuts can easily create a chef-caliber dish.

* Healthy holiday snack: Nuts add wonderful flavor and texture when mixed into recipes, but they can also be a healthy snack—season nuts with a little cayenne and quickly roast them in a little olive or nut oil. Try using the Fisher Nuts Freshness Seal Bag – it has a re-sealable closure that will keep the leftover nuts fresh after the package is opened. 

* Simply delicious dessert: For a great addition to your holiday dessert table, melt some sugar in a pan until golden brown and stir in some nuts. Transfer the mixture to a baking sheet to cook and then break into pieces for a quick and simple nut brittle.

* Top off a side dish: Parsley and basil are great flavors to finish many holiday dishes. Try chopping parsley with some Fisher almonds for added texture and taste.

* Spruced-up spice rub: For this year’s holiday roast, try adding some ground nuts to the spice rub. The nuts can mellow some of the heat from the spice and add needed richness to the mix.

Braised Parsnips with Maple Syrup and Fisher Pecans

“I grew up eating braised carrots with brown sugar, so I always associate them with the holidays,” says Guarnaschelli. “I love the freshness and unusual sweetness parsnips have and they seem to naturally gravitate to pecans. It’s also great to feature pecans in other places besides pecan pie for the holidays.”

8 medium parsnips, ends trimmed and thoroughly peeled

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds, lightly crushed

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed

1/2 cup Fisher Pecan Halves

Kosher salt

1/2 cup maple syrup

2-3 cups water

Place the peeled parsnips on a flat surface and cut them in half lengthwise. Heat a skillet large enough to hold the parsnip halves in a single layer and add half the butter. When the butter melts and starts to get brown, add the pecans, cumin and coriander. Stir in the pecans and “toast” them with the spices for a minute. Strain out the pecans and set aside. Add the parsnip halves and remaining butter to the pan. Season with salt and add the maple syrup.

Continue to cook the parsnips over medium heat for another minute of two. Add some water and continue cooking the parsnips until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Parsnips can vary in size so feel free to add a splash of water to finish the cooking process, if needed. Stir the nuts back into the parsnips. Serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

For more of Alex’s tips on cooking with nuts and special recipes for the holiday season, visit

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- - Food and drink recipes inspired by the hottest trends of the season will make your holiday gatherings sizzle - - - - - - Food and drink recipes inspired by the hottest trends of the season will make your holiday gatherings sizzle - Brandpoint - - (BPT) - The holidays will be here before you know it, and if you’re not sure how you’re going to wow your friends and family this year, Betty Crocker offers up these ideas – inspired by the hottest food trends of the season. 

“Our team of food lovers at the Betty Crocker Kitchens selected what we think will be the season’s most popular food trends. Using these trends as inspiration, we created new recipes perfect for holiday get-togethers, family-time baking and gift giving,” says Kristen Olson, food editor at Betty Crocker. From cooking and baking with craft beer to families making memories with playful recipes there is something for everyone.  

Sweet surprises

Alfajores Hidden Surprise Cookies: This year, secret ingredients, hidden surprises and revealing colors are on the menu. Put a new twist on an old classic by stacking these Argentinean sandwich cookies triple high and adding a secret pocket filled with sweet surprises.  

Layers. Layers. Layers.

18 Layer Red Velvet Cake: This year has been all about layers, in everything from food to fashion. Take your holiday celebration to impressive new heights with a stunning 18-layer cake that guests will go gaga over.

Gluten free for all 

Gluten Free Chocolate Truffle Cakes: Gluten free baking has come a long way. These indulgent mini cakes are filled and topped with ganache and sprinkled with crystallized ginger, pistachios and cacao nibs. 

Beer craft 

Chocolate Stout Caramel Corn: Craft breweries are enjoying a resurgence, and building community one pint at a time. Home brewers and food lovers alike are getting in on this trend too, as more are brewing, cooking and baking at home with beer. Stout beer, roasted almonds and plenty of milk chocolate chunks make this caramel popcorn an irresistible snack.

Family kitchen

Elf Food: Families are getting creative in the kitchen, with adults and kids using playful recipes as a way to connect over food and craft.  Together, they are making so much more than food – they’re making memories.  A surefire way to lure elves from their hiding spots: combine candy sprinkles, maple syrup and tiny doughnuts (made from Cheerios!) for an irresistible mix.

Try the 18 Layer Red Velvet Cake to wow your guests, or the Craft Beer Caramel Corn for a great food gift. Find all the red hot holiday trends and recipes at


18 Layer Red Velvet Cake

With just a little effort on your part, this cake manages to create maximum “wow” factor for guests.


White Cake 

1 box Betty Crocker SuperMoist white cake mix 

1 1/4 cups water 

1/3 cup vegetable oil 

3 eggs 


Red Velvet Cake 

1 box Betty Crocker SuperMoist German chocolate cake mix 

1 cup water 

1/2 cup vegetable oil 

3 eggs 

2 tablespoons unsweetened baking cocoa 

1 bottle (1 ounce) red liquid food color (about 2 tablespoons) 



2 1/2 cups marshmallow creme (from two 7-ounce jars) 

1 1/2 cups butter, softened 

1 teaspoon vanilla 

1 to 2 tablespoons milk 

4 1/2 cups powdered sugar 

1.  Heat oven to 350 F. Spray 3 (8-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray. Line bottom of each pan with cooking parchment paper. Spray parchment paper with cooking spray. 

2. In large bowl, beat White Cake ingredients on low speed 30 seconds, then on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Loosely cover and refrigerate. 

3. In another large bowl, beat Red Velvet Cake ingredients on low speed 30 seconds, then on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. 

4. Spread 1/2 cup red velvet batter in bottom of each pan. Loosely cover and refrigerate remaining batter. Place all 3 pans on oven rack positioned in center of oven. Bake about 8 minutes or until cake is set when lightly touched in center. 

5. For next cake layer, spread 1/2 cup white batter evenly over each baked red velvet layer. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cake is set when lightly touched in center. 

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5, twice, baking 9 to 12 minutes per layer or until top of cake layer is set when lightly touched in center. 

7. Cool 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans; remove parchment paper from bottoms of cakes. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. 

8. Meanwhile, in large bowl, beat marshmallow creme, butter, vanilla and 1 tablespoon milk with electric mixer on medium speed until blended. Beat in powdered sugar until fluffy. If necessary, beat in more milk, a few drops at a time until spreading consistency. 

9. To assemble, stack cake layers, spreading 1/2 cup frosting between each layer. Spread remaining frosting on side and top of cake. 


Chocolate Stout Caramel Corn

For a sweet treat that’s all grown up, try this rich-tasting play on the craft beer trend.

8 cups popped popcorn 

1 cup roasted salted almonds 

1/2 cup stout beer 

1/4 cup packed brown sugar 

1/4 cup brown rice syrup or corn syrup 

3 tablespoons butter 

1/4 teaspoon salt 

1 cup chopped premium milk chocolate (6 ounces) 

1. Heat oven to 300 F. Line two 15x10x1-inch pans with foil. Spray foil with cooking spray. 

2. In large bowl, place popcorn and almonds; set aside. 

3. In 2-quart saucepan, heat beer over medium heat, stirring frequently, until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Pour into glass liquid measuring cup to confirm measure. Add back to saucepan. Stir in brown sugar, syrup and butter. Cook over medium heat until bubbly around edges, stirring occasionally. 

4. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook about 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, until thickened and syrupy. Remove from heat; carefully stir in salt. Pour over popcorn mix in bowl; toss until evenly coated. Spread popcorn mixture in pans. 

5. Bake 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, to caramelize mixture. Cool completely, about 1 hour. Break into pieces; stir in chocolate. Store in airtight container.

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