GateHouse News Service's weekly Food for Thought, with tips on adding fresh produce to brunch, how many servings of whole grains to eat and how to macerate fruit.

When you're hosting a brunch, look for recipes that make the most of fresh, seasonal flavors, and ingredients that come from close to home.

- In-season fruits and vegetables tend to be better quality, have better flavor, and be less expensive. Whether you grow them yourself or get them at a farmers market or grocery store, take advantage of vitamin-rich produce at its peak. Use them in recipes or serve as part of a fruit and cheese plate.

- Turn fresh produce into a beautiful centerpiece. Fill a bowl with colorful whole fruits and fresh flowers; or add citrus slices and small fruits to a bowl of water with floating candles.

- Plan a variety of easy-to-make brunch dishes to satisfy guests. Quiches with fresh vegetables, make-ahead savory casseroles, and fresh fruit medleys or leafy green salads all make great brunch choices.

This delightful brunch recipe for Strawberry and Ricotta-Stuffed Whole Grain French Toast pairs ripe, juicy strawberries with whole grain bread and a decadent creamy filling. 

Strawberry and Ricotta-Stuffed Whole Grain French Toast

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
Servings: 4

1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
2  teaspoons granulated sugar
4  large eggs, beaten
1/2  cup milk
1/2  teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
8  slices whole grain bread
2  cups fresh, sliced strawberries, divided
  Nonstick cooking spray
  Powdered sugar
  Maple syrup (optional)

Combine ricotta cheese, sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla in small bowl; mix well. Combine eggs, milk and remaining vanilla in shallow bowl; mix well.

Spread ricotta-sugar mixture evenly over 4 bread slices. Top each slice with 1/4 cup sliced strawberries and remaining bread slices to form 4 sandwiches.

Spray large skillet with nonstick cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Carefully dip sandwiches in egg mixture, coating both sides. Cook on each side for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and top with remaining strawberries. Serve with maple syrup, if desired.

Number to Know

3: The USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the average person eat at least 3 ounces of whole grains a day.

Tip of the Week

For a change, try brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. Try brown rice stuffing in baked green peppers or tomatoes, and whole-wheat macaroni in macaroni and cheese.

-- ChooseMyPlate.gov

Easy Recipe

Saffron and Vanilla Pistachios

1 pound American pistachios, in-shell
1.5 ounces Spanish saffron, steeped in cold water
2 vanilla beans, scraped
2 tablespoons canola oil
Sea salt to taste

Directions:

Warm canola oil in roasting pan or wok on your stove top, add pistachios and lightly toast. Add saffron, with some liquid to coat the pistachios. Add the vanilla bean scrapings and stir to incorporate; season with sea salt to taste. Remove from heat and serve warm in the dish of your choice.

-- Brandpoint

Food Quiz

What are you doing when you macerate fruit?

A. Chopping fruit to a coarse pulp.

B. Sweetening fruit by mashing it with sugar.

C. Chewing fruit and then spitting it out.

D. Soaking fruit in liquid to absorb the liquid's flavor.

Answer at bottom of rail.

Word to the Wise

Whole grains include the entire grain seed, usually called the kernel. If the kernel has been cracked, crushed, or flaked, then, to be called a “whole grain” a food must retain the same relative proportions of these components as they exist in the intact grain. Whole grains are consumed either as a single food (e.g., wild rice or popcorn) or as an ingredient in foods (e.g., in cereals, breads, and crackers). Some examples of whole-grain ingredients include buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, quinoa, rolled oats, brown or wild rice, whole-grain barley, whole rye, and whole wheat.

-- USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The Dish On...

"From Mama's Table to Mine: Everybody's Favorite Comfort Foods at 350 Calories or Less" by Bobby Deen

From beloved food personality Bobby Deen, son of Paula Deen, comes an irresistible new cookbook featuring 120 recipes of Southern comfort-food classics — all under 350 calories and jam-packed with flavor.

Raised on his mother’s fried chicken and hoecakes, Bobby Deen ultimately found himself, as a young man, twenty-five pounds overweight. Unwilling to sacrifice any of his favorite foods, Bobby started tweaking the recipes he grew up on, replacing sour cream with nonfat yogurt, using lower-calorie versions of mayonnaise, cream cheese, and other high-calorie items. Even Paula herself sometimes couldn’t tell the difference between the lo-cal versions and her originals -- since the flavor remained top-notch.

Here you’ll find a soup-to-nuts collection of many of the great dishes and flavors you’ve come to enjoy and expect from the Deens, but with a lot fewer calories. Every recipe has been reviewed and approved by a certified nutritionist.

-- Amazon.com

Food Quiz answer

D. Soaking fruit in liquid to absorb the liquid's flavor. Fruit is often macerated in liqueur before being added to desserts. You can also macerate fruit for a short time in orange juice before serving it as a fruit salad; this practice brings out the fruit's natural juices and sweetness.

-- Delish.com

GateHouse News Service