Spring Clean your Kitchen (and your diet)

Spring is here and the change of season is the perfect time to organize our kitchens and clean up our diets.

The task of spring cleaning your kitchen can seem daunting – it’s more than just wiping everything down but if you keep these tips in your back pocket and commit to the task, you’ll breeze right through it.

  1. Declutter and minimize. Go through every cupboard and drawer and look at everything. If you haven’t used it in a year, donate it. If it’s expired, throw it away. If you have food items that are opened and only partially used and you don’t know how long it’s been there then get rid of it. By purging old food, utensils, and other unnecessary odds-and-ends, you make room for other things, such as wholesome, healthy food.
  2. Organize the pantry and cupboards. Check the labels on everything and toss anything stale or beyond the expiration date. Consider setting aside non-perishable food items to donate to the food bank. Organize your food into categories, such as pasta and rice, cookies and crackers, canned vegetables and soups. If you haven’t already, invest in air-tight containers and label them. This helps prolong the shelf life of your food and keep things organized and easy to identify.
  3. Tackle the fridge and freezer. This is a big one! The fridge/freezer is the one appliance that never gets a break. They serve the purpose of prolonging the life of our food, and tend to collect a variety of items, some of which we forget we even have! For the fridge, use a mild detergent and warm water. If your fridge allows, remove any shelves and drawers and take them to the sink for easier cleaning. The freezer is a bit more of a task and typically requires that it’s turned off before you give it a thorough cleaning. Fill a cooler with ice so you can keep your frozen foods cold during the cleaning process. Use a solution of equal parts warm water and vinegar and wipe down the inside of the freezer, as well as any drawers and shelves. You will need to dry the inside of the freezer before turning it back on and restocking. As with your pantry, be sure to check labels and toss any old, expired, or freezer-burnt items.

Now that the foundation is set and you’ve spring cleaned the kitchen, it’s time to rethink your diet. All the effort to declutter and rid your kitchen of old food and knickknacks has made room for fresh and bright spring produce and smarter eating options. Lightening up the fridge and pantry isn’t as hard as you think if you keep these key points in mind.

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  1. Choose a variety of produce. Keep healthy options accessible. Buy fruit and vegetables that are in season. Spring brings asparagus, broccoli, rhubarb, spinach and strawberries. Choose a variety of produce and incorporate a colourful combination into your diet each day. Be adventurous and try something new, such as Fennel. Eating a variety of healthy foods promotes a well-balanced diet and good health.
  2. Cook with Tre Stelle® Cheese. Cheese is full of calcium and minerals and is a wonderful source of protein. Ricotta, for example, can be used in place of mayonnaise in a variety of recipes, such as potato or pasta salad, and pairs well with most fruit, such as strawberries and grapefruit. Crumble Tre Stelle® Feta over roasted vegetables for a tangy twist or add Tre Stelle® Bocconcini to elevate your salad.

The biggest thing to remember is to keep up with all the changes you’ve made. Make a conscious effort to stock healthy options and keep those wholesome items at arm’s reach. And don’t forget to keep the fridge and pantry organized!

Caprese Style Grilled Cheese Sandwich

In the spring there is something wonderful about lightening up our dinner fare. Less are the hearty comfort foods of the winter months as we move into longer daylight hours and lighter dinner menus that include salads. There is nothing that our family enjoys more than a caprese salad with dinner. Ripe tomatoes sliced thickly with a light dusting of salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, then sandwiched between layers of fresh basil leaves and some quality mozzarella cheese. Finally, a few swirls of balsamic reduction over the top to finish it off. It is pure heaven, and we have it with everything from a good steak, to bbq’d burgers and sausages.

Something else that we love in this house is grilled cheese sandwiches… as long as it doesn’t include a yellow square. I felt like I had won the lottery when the idea came to me to make a caprese style grilled cheese sandwich. I felt like I’d won it twice once I bit into it too!

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The key to this sandwich, and to keeping the fresh taste that a caprese salad is known for, is in how you cook it. You’re going to cook the sandwich open face style, which mean both sides of the bread will cook at the same time in the pan, with the cheese on top, and you’re going to start off in a cold non-stick pan. This way, the mozzarella has some extra time to melt, and we add the tomatoes and basil at the last second, to keep them cool and fresh.

First, though, I had a little something else up my sleeve – a slice of prosciutto. I popped it into a 350℉ oven on a foil lined baking sheet for 12 minutes while I prepped the rest of the sandwich.

While the prosciutto is cooking, cut some nice thick slices of the tomato and Tre Stelle® Mozzarella cheese, about ¼” thick each. Get two ½” thick slices of a crusty Italian bread (I used Pugliese for this one) and generously butter one side of each slice.

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Now it’s time to cook. Place the bread butter side down in a cold pan and top with the Mozzarella cheese. Place over medium-low heat, and cook gently until the cheese has completely softened and started to melt. Check the bottom of the bread, and turn the heat up to medium until the bottom turns a delicious and crisp golden brown. Turn off the heat, and add the prosciutto, tomatoes, a generous drizzle of balsamic reduction, and basil leaves, in that order. Top with the second piece of bread, and move to a cutting board. Let it cool for a few minutes before slicing. I drizzled the top of mine with a bit more balsamic reduction, but if you don’t want to have messy hands, just put a bit on your plate to dip into.

RECIPE (per sandwich)

Ingredients

1 slice prosciutto
2 thick slices (½”) crusty Italian bread
3 to 4 (¼” thick) slices Tre Stelle® Mozzarella Cheese (depends on size of bread)
3 to 4 (¼” thick) slices of fresh, firm tomatoes (heirloom, or on the vine preferred)
2 to 3 fresh basil leaves
salt
pepper
balsamic reduction
butter, softened

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350℉ with a rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean up, and put your piece of prosciutto on the foil. Bake for 12 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to cool once done.

While the prosciutto is baking, prep and begin cooking the rest of your sandwich.

Slice your tomato and mozzarella. Lightly season the tomato slices with salt and freshly cracked pepper.

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Generously butter one side of each slice of bread. Place the bread, butter side down, in a cold, non-stick pan. Top each piece of bread with an even layer of mozzarella cheese. Place the pan over medium-low heat, and let gently warm until the cheese has completely softened and started to melt. Your bread will not have browned much, if at all, at this point.

Once the cheese has melted, turn the heat up to medium until the bread has crisped up and turned a golden brown on the bottom – this shouldn’t take very long, about a minute.

Immediately turn off the heat. Top one side of the bread with the slice of prosciutto, then the tomato slices. Drizzle on a generous amount of balsamic glaze, then top with the fresh basil leaves. Finally, carefully place the second piece of bread on top –remember that it will be hot.

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Set the sandwich aside on a cutting board for 2 minutes to cool slightly before cutting. You can drizzle some additional balsamic reduction on top of the sandwich, or onto the plate for dipping.