Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Let's Yo!

Meet my newest cooking staple: Yogurt. It's no longer relegated to diaper bags, lunch pails, and hotel breakfast offerings.

We've all eaten yogurt at some point in our lives, and it probably wasn't that memorable of an experience. (Frozen yogurt doesn't count!) Sure, there are tons of tasty and inventive yogurt flavors (coffee, orange creme, banana cream pie) and tempting combo packs with stir-in toppings (mini candy, sweet cereals, cookie crumbs), but have you sampled the thick and creamy strained/Greek yogurts? They're reported to be lower in sugar and higher in protein than regular yogurt, and the flavor is amazing. A bit tart, but not jarring, and so not like the watery, artificially colored, high fructose syrupy-sweet yogurt you're probably used to.

I like to think of Greek yogurt as yogurt for grown-ups. Or at least, grown-ups who like to eat lovely things. Just try one spoonful, and I bet you'll be a convert for life. If it turns out that you don't care for the taste of plain Greek yogurt, there are plenty of offerings with fruit, vanilla, or honey added. I personally like the plain and honey Greek versions best, usually the low-fat (2%) or nonfat (0%). For cooking, the plain full-fat and 2% versions work great. Also, please don't think yogurt is just for breakfast. A bowl of Greek yogurt is a lovely way to start the day, but it's also terrific for lunch, dinner -- even dessert.

Here are a few ideas for making the most of your Greek yogurt experience:
  • Top plain, vanilla, or honey Greek yogurt with sliced bananas, a drizzle of honey, and a tablespoon of chopped walnuts or pecans for a morning treat that will keep you satisfied until lunch.
  • Brighten your morning routine: stir in a handful of blueberries, raspberries and/or sliced peaches and few leaves of fresh mint (minced) into plain, vanilla, or honey low-fat Greek yogurt.
  • Grab and Go: Blend 1 cup of frozen berries, 1 frozen banana, 1 cup of orange juice, 2 teaspoons of honey, a sprinkle of cinnamon and 1 1/2 cups of nonfat plain or your favorite fruit-flavored Greek Yogurt for a healthy, tasty smoothie.
  • Use plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream to top your famous chili, baked potatoes, tacos, enchiladas, goulash and more.
  • Stir a dollop of plain yogurt into stews, soups and sauces for a tart, creamy finish. You can substitute Greek yogurt for heavy cream or milk -- just stir it in at the end (off the heat) so it doesn't curdle.
  • Replace sour cream with plain low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt in your favorite dips.
  • Ditch the mayo in your tuna, chicken, egg, potato and macaroni salad recipes. Try it with plain low-fat Greek yogurt instead.
  • Make your own salad dressings? Try plain Greek yogurt in your next batch of Caesar or Ranch. Or try this: Top a salad of greens, pecans, sliced grapes, and cubed chicken breast with a mixture of a couple teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, a few tablespoons of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, a pinch of salt, black pepper and fresh tarragon.
  • Did you know that 4 oz. (1 stick) of butter has over 800 calories, while 7 oz. of full-fat yogurt has only about 190? Reduce the amount of butter in your favorite cookie recipes by cutting the amount of butter in half and replacing about 1/4 of the original portion of the butter with plain full-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt. For example, if your recipe calls for 1 cup butter, change that to 1/2 cup butter and then add 1/4 cup of yogurt. 
  • If you must use boxed cake or muffin mixes (sigh), omit the eggs and oil and use plain yogurt and water instead, 1 cup each.
  • Love the decadent cream cheese frosting on carrot cake and red velvet cupcakes? Make it with yogurt, instead of butter, using a 1:1 ratio of cream cheese to yogurt and you can have an extra slice. (Whip up this quick version: 4 oz light cream cheese, 4 oz low-fat or full-fat plain Greek yogurt, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract and a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg.)
  • Mix 1-2 teaspoons of honey and 1 TBS of chopped crystallized ginger with 1 cup of low-fat plain  or vanilla Greek yogurt and use in place of whipped cream on top of dense gingerbread or pound cakes.
  • Top shortcakes with a dollop of low-fat plain, strawberry, or vanilla Greek yogurt mixed with macerated strawberries.

Don't get me wrong -- I love cooking with butter and eggs and mayo and heavy cream. I absolutely love them. It's just that sometimes, it's a good idea to shake things up.

Because then you can shake it in your bikini, too. (Wink.)



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