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Lancaster International Trading Co. Apricots & Tomatoes

Lancaster International Trading Company (LITCO) & Enduring Sun reached out to me and asked whether I was interested in tasting some of their dried apricots and sun-dried tomatoes. Without a second thought, I said sure! I love dried fruit. It is such a great snack and is both healthy and sweet. These apricots are absolutely exceptional. LITCO gets all of their fruit from Central Asia and produces four types of apricots, Larissa, Jelena, Natasha, and Valentina.  Each apricot looks slightly different and has a vastly different flavor. The Larissa are small and sweet. Jelena's are much larger and have both a hint of sweetness and tartness. The Natasha apricots are less orangy tasting and more lemony. Finally, the Valentina is most like the Jelena but smaller. I ate these apricots a few different ways. For starters, I ate them plain. They were the perfect snack food before working out. I also dipped some in chocolate and refrigerated them for a tasty dessert. I chopped some and used them to top a salad with them. With the remaining 18 ounces, I made two containers of apricot jam. As for the sun-dried tomatoes, they too are tasty. The sun-dried cherry tomatoes are from Morocco and are perfect sauteed in pasta or kept in olive oil to soften them.

You can purchase LITCO/Enduring Sun dried apricots and sun-dried tomatoes at their online store for incredibly reasonable prices ($7.50 for a pound of phenomenal dried apricots). I promise you won't be disappointed. Keep reading for two of my favorite recipes using their dried apricots. Also, don't forget to check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

Chocolate Dipped Apricots

  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips per 5-8 apricots
  • LITCO/Enduring Sun Apricots
  1. Using a double boiler heat chocolate chips. If you don't have a double boiler you can do 1 of 2 things. Either carefully heat the chocolate chips in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until melted OR bring a pot of water to boil and place a metal bowl over top with the chocolate chips in it, stirring until chips are melted.
  2. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Dip half of each apricot into the melted chocolate and place on parchment paper to dry.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 

Apricot Jam

  • 8 ounces of LITCO/Enduring Sun Apricots, any variety
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups water
  1. If you have a Vitamix, skip this step. Chop apricots into thin slices or small cubes.
  2. Place apricots (whole or chopped) and water in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand for at least 2 hours.
  3. If you have a Vitamix, place water and apricots in it and puree for 1 minute (Start on Variable, 1 and quickly turn it to 10, switching to High for 60 seconds).
  4. Place apricots in a large pot on low heat with lemon juice. Cover the pot and let simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Turn heat to high and slowly whisk in sugar and vanilla extract.
  6. Let apricots boil, stirring occassionally until jam thickens. This should take roughly 15-20 minutes.
  7. Pour into a mason jar and let cool for 10 minutes.
  8. Place the lid on and refrigerate. The mixture will thicken and turn into a great jam.

Hooked on Chobani

For those of you who follow me regularly, you know that I love using greek yogurt in my cooking. It is versatile and incredibly healthy. I use it in place of whipping cream, sour cream, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, oil, butter, etc. In other words, you name it and I won't hesitate to swap out a less than healthy ingredient and swap in some Chobani yogurt.

The first time I tasted greek yogurt, I was totally against it. I actually hated the taste and moved right along, reverting back to regular ol' Dannon or Yoplait. When I switched my eating habits to a mostly vegetarian lifestyle, I realized that I needed to get extra protein from somewhere. After resisting the greek yogurt phenomenon, I bought a single, 6 ounce cup of non-fat Chobani honey flavored yogurt. As you might have guessed, I ate the entire thing. I went back and bought non-fat strawberry and non-fat pomegranate Chobani flavors. These were even better. I purchased a single, 16-oz 0% plain Chobani container and started experimenting with it in my cooking. Guess what? You couldn't taste a change in flavors. I tried some of the other popular flavors and they just weren't the same; the texture was less creamy than Chobani and slightly more bitter. I was hooked. Hooked on Chobani.

Chobani contains only "natural" ingredients. The milk is rBST free, meaning the cows are not treated with synthetic growth hormones. Even the fruit at the bottom of the yogurt cups is real fruit and is sweetened only by using evaporated cane juice. For folks with gluten, corn, nut and soy allergies, Chobani is entirely safe for you to eat. And the reason I eat it? It has two times the amount of protein as regular yogurt; anywhere from 14-20 grams of protein in a 6-ounce serving. If that doesn't rock your world, I'm not sure what does!

One of my most favorite things about Chobani is their extensive line of flavors. For starters, they are constantly coming out with new flavors (the three latest being Blood Orange, Apple Cinnamon and Passion Fruit). They also have a kids line, Chobani Champions, with flavors geared towards a younger palate. As if that isn't enough, Chobani has non-fat yogurt flavors and low-fat yogurt flavors. Their plain yogurt is also available in both 0% fat and 2% fat, perfect depending on what you are substituting it for. For example, if I am using it instead of cream, I use the 2%. However, when I make frozen yogurt or muffins, the 0% plain is great.

Chobani recognizes that not everyone know what to do with greek yogurt. Aside from the obvious - eat it like regular yogurt - there are thousands of different ways to use it. The Chobani Kitchen develops recipes using Chobani yogurt and provides you with access to all of them. They have recipes for side dishes, dips, appetizers, main dishes, desserts, frostings, and so much more. It is the perfect place to browse if you are hesitant to substitute Chobani for other ingredients.

I have had the chance to taste almost all of their flavors. The plain flavors are perfect for cooking. The vanilla is my favorite to serve with fresh cut fruit, a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon over top. The fruit flavors are endless and provide something for everyone. If you are a first time Chobani consumer, I recommend starting with the Pomegranate or Strawberry; the strawberry is delicious and is probably the easiest transition from regular yogurt to greek yogurt. The pomegranate is my favorite because Chobani includes pomegranate seeds in the yogurt, giving a bit of crunch and texture to the yogurt. Delicious ladies and gents, delicious! Oh - and don't forget to pop on over to Chobani's website and print out some coupons before you go to the grocery.

If you aren't sure what to do with Chobani, here are some of my recipes that incorporate Chobani yogurt. Don't be afraid to play around and try it out. Experimentation can lead to some wonderful outcomes in the kitchen.

What are your favorite ways to eat Chobani greek yogurt? Any great recipes that I should be aware of?

Apple Cinnamon Chobani Muffins

Vinaigrette Salad Dressing with Greek Yogurt

Simple Lebanese Fatteh Casserole

Chocolate Chip Scones, Revisited

Ravioli with Butternut Squash Filling in a Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Kale Dumplings

Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt with Caramelized Rum Bananas

Disclaimer: Chobani provided the 0% and 2% Plain Yogurt and 0% Vanilla Yogurt to review at no cost. No additional compensation was received. All opinions expressed are my own.


Bamboo Bottle Company Water Bottle Review 

Over the years I have embarked on a journey to find the perfect water bottle. I have been owner to the likes of them: Nalgene, Bobble, SIGG, and the infamous "freebie" plastic squirt bottle. Lately, I have taken to ditching the water bottle and simply carrying around a bottle of carbonated flavor water. The latest solution simply isn't cutting it and so I commenced yet another exploration into finding the "perfect" water bottle. Over the past few months, the Twitter world has been aflutter with the newest bottle, courteousy of The Bamboo Bottle Company. After doing some research, chatting with my mother, and conversing with the folks over at the Bamboo Bottle Co., I decided this was the bottle I needed to have. Thanks to their generosity, I have been graced with the ability to test out and review this bottle.

Let me start by giving you a bit of background on the Bamboo Bottle Company, an incredibly eco-friendly, sustainable company. This company focuses its energy on creating a bottle that is environmentally friendly. The choice to use bamboo was not just an aesthetic one, it was also a sustainable one. Bamboo minimizes carbon dixied and generates more oxygen than an equivalent stand of trees. The Bamboo Bottle Compnay has partnered with 1% for the Planet, a movement of companies that donate 1% of their sales to a network of environmental organizations worldwide. They have also partnered with NativeEnergy to offset their projected carbon dioxide emissions and with the Green Merchant Alliance, a green credit card processing solution. So it is obvious that this company does some really great things, but what about the water bottle?

The water bottle has two main parts: the bamboo sleeve and the glass interior. The Bamboo Bottle Company grows and harvests the Bamboo (which grows 90 feet in 9 months), cuts it down, splits it, boils it, kiln dries it, shapes it, and forms the cylinder that covers the glass. The bamboo gives the bottle strengths and helps moderate the temperature of the liquid inside. The glass interior is 100% natural, allowing for a fresh, clean taste. The little plastic that is used on the bottle (the top and the lug nut) is BPA-free.

When I finally unwrapped my bottle, the first thing I noticed was this bottle was heavy. Weighing in at 1.5 pounds, the Bamboo Bottle drastically outweighs most other bottles; to give you a point of comparison, a 18 ounce Klean Kanteen weighs a mere 6 ounces. The Bamboo Bottle holds 17 ounces of water, a comparable volume, but weighs almost triple the amount. Once I got used to the weight, it no longer bothered me, though it is not as easy to throw in my purse as a lighter weight bottle. As I mentioned, the bottle holds both hot and cool liquids. This is a really fantastic feature. No longer do I need to carry both a coffee mug and a water bottle. Instead, I place my hot tea in it for the morning and fill it with water later in the day. The glass does not hold the taste of a flavored beverage like a travel mug does. As a result, all the bottle needs is a good rinse before replacing one beverage with another. After using it for a few days, I decided that I needed to wash it out. At first glance, I had no idea how to take this bottle apart. After reading the instructions, I realized it was not as difficult as it seemed, though cleaning does involve a bit of work. You remove the top, then unscrew the green lug net that holds the bamboo in place. The bamboo slides right off and can be gleaned with a damp, soapless cloth. The glass, top and bottom ring are all dishwasher safe. Once you take it apart, you realize that it is not overly complicated, though for someone who may want a water bottle that can be thrown in the dishwasher, the Bamboo Bottle is not the solution for you.

Bamboo Bottle Company now has the Original Bottle with a Flip Top. If you are using this solely as a water bottle, I would highly recommed purchasing this bottle. You do not need to unscrew a cap in order to sip, instead you flip the top like a typical water bottle. However, if you don't mind unscrewing the bottle as you go, the Bamboo Original with Classic Top won't phase you. In case your glass insert breaks, a legitimate fear of mine, you can purchase a replacement from Bamboo Bottle Company for just $10.

While there were definitely a few concerns and adjustments to be made after switching to the Bamboo Bottle, I can most definitely say it is worth it. The aesthetic cannot be overlooked, nor can the ability to carry both hot and cold liquids. I love that the glass interior does not hold the flavor or scent of my morning teas or juices and that I can easily switch to water without tainting the taste. If those reasons are not enough, the pure fact that the Bamboo Bottle Company has created a water bottle that is BPA Free and incredibly environmentally friendly is enough to have me singing its praises.

Please use the discount code HEALTH for a 20% discount on your very own Bamboo Bottle.

Disclaimer: Bamboo Bottle Company provided the scale to review at no cost. No additional compensation was received. All opinions expressed are my own.


EatSmart Precision Pro Kitchen Scale

I have always wanted a kitchen scale, but had never gotten around to picking one up. That is until I was given the opportunity to review the EatSmart Precision Pro Kitchen Scale. Needless to say, I'm hooked. 

Why do you need a kitchen scale? First and foremost, a kitchen scale provides you with an accurate and precise way to measure your food. If baking, weighing your ingredients down to the ounce or gram is far more reliable than using measuring cups (which unfortunately differ from brand to brand). If you are cooking, a digital scale will allow you to maximize portion control and ensure even cook time. I made veggie burgers the other evening and instead of guessing at size, I was able to form a patty and weigh each one out to 2.5 oz. This not only let me know how many ounces I was consuming, it also allowed for more even cooking time.

The EatSmart Precision Pro Kitchen Scale is small and compact. So many kitchen products are large and clunky, and quite frankly, I am running out of room in my kitchen. Not the EatSmart scale. It is no larger than your average paperback novel and fits perfectly in the corner of my counter without taking up unnecessary space.

The EatSmart scale has only two buttons. Meaning, it takes zero time to learn how to use it and once you have figured it out, you really can't mess it up. It has a UNIT button, which allows you to measure in grams, ounces, kilograms, or pounds. It also has an ON/OFF/TARE button. Put in your two AAA batteries and you are ready to go. It has an automatic turnoff feature after three minutes, so no more worrying about unplugging another device or frying yet another set of batteries. The TARE feautre is probably the neatest part about this scale. The TARE function allows you to automatically return the scale to zero at any time. In other words, I can place a bowl on top of the scale, push the tare button, and the scale will return to 0.0. I can then place my food in the bowl and the reading will accurately reflect the weight of only the food, not the bowl and the food. This means that you can place a mixing bowl on the scale, use the tare function, and then add your ingredients to be weighed. No more complicated math and no more worrying about cleaning the scale because you are placing food directly on top.

It has an 11 pound capacity. This allows you to place a large bowl on top and use the tare function to zero it out. No extra cleaning of scale-specific measuring bowls. No concern about placing food on top that weighs too much.

The EatSmart team includes a guidebook to calorie counting with the scale. What they have done is provide you with a list of foods and their corresponding calorie-factor. A calorie-factor is a number, calculated by the USDA that represent the amount of calories present per gram of food. Using the EatSmart scale, in conjunction with their guidebook, you can now carefully count and record calories. Just weigh your food in grams and multiply it by the calorie-factor they have provided you with. The end result is the number of calories for that portion size. I have never known exactly how many calories are in raw fruits and vegetables, so I tried it out with a granny smith apple. I just placed the apple directly on the scale, weighed it in grams, and multiplied that by the calorie-factor in the EatSmart guidebook (turns out that apple was 106.08 calories). It was as easy as 1-2-3. The EatSmart has taken the guess work out of calorie counting.

Overall the EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale is the perfect scale for the everyday chef. It is reasonably priced at just $25.00 and comes in a host of colors to choose from. It is sleek looking and compact, features that guarantee it front row spot on the kitchen counter. The simple design makes it easy to use and understand. For the person trying to meticulously count calories, the calorie-factor guidebook is just the tool to get you started. All in all, the scale is affordable, reliable and comes backed with EatSmart's 100% Product Guarantee.

Disclaimer: EatSmart provided the scale to review at no cost. No additional compensation was received. All opinions expressed are my own.


Kyocera Advanced Ceramics Knives

These knives rock. I received the Paring Knife with a 3.0" Blade and the Santoku Knife with a 5.5" Blade as a wedding gift this past August. Both knives consist of a black handle with a white, ceramic blade. After doing a bit of research on Kyocera's website, I learned that ceramic blades tend to hold their edge longer than other blades. Skeptical still, not believing they would hold up or cut food in the manner in which I was accustomed to, I was pleasantly surprised when I put them to the test.

These are by far, some of the sharpest knives I have used. The paring knife is perfect for slicing apples, peeling the skin off fruits and vegetables and for a quick, go-to knife. The Santoku knife is also wonderful. I use it regularly for chopping lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables. The sharpness is surprising and has not deteriorated in the 6 months I have been using it. Both knives are extremely light, half the weight of traditional knives, and have an ergonomic handle that fits perfectly into the palm of your hand.

When purchasing knives, I always take a look at both the warranty and the sharpening information. Kyocera has a lifetime warranty and sharpening policy. If your knife becomes chipped or damaged, they will replace it or fix it for free. Same goes with the sharpening. If at any point your knife becomes too dull for your liking, Kyocera will sharpen it for free.

I would highly recommend these knives as a second, go-to knife for anyone who owns a professional grade chef's knife or as a primary knife set for the beginner chef. They are fairly inexpensive and can be purchased at many kitchen stores, or online through Amazon. Check out their website Kyocera's website to learn more about their knives, as well as their other kitchen products. up: Testing out their 7 Inch Serrated/Bread Knife, Nakiri Vegetable Cleaver and Advanced, 3-in-1 Peeler.