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Ode to Greek Yogurt!

Now that the holidays are over—although the tree is still up, empty boxes scatter the floor and I still pine for eggnog—I suppose it's time to start thinking about resuming the healthier eating habits that I once upheld. I do hate to be so cliché as to talk about healthful things at the start of a new year, so let's not. Let's talk about something truly delicious that is always in my fridge and if it just so happens to be healthy, well then, that's pure coincidence.
 
I'm referring to Greek yogurt. If you are unfamiliar with it then I'm so happy to be able to introduce the two of you today. I mean, it's yogurt and I realize that it's hard to get excited about yogurt, but Greek yogurt is something special. It's perfectly tangy and thick, and creamy enough to think it is indulgent. Strained to remove much of the whey, lactose and sugar, Greek yogurt contains about half the amount of sugar as regular yogurt while packing in much more protein. Its recent popularity has made it widely available in practically any grocery store, but if for some reason you can't find it, you can buy regular plain yogurt and strain it overnight in a couple of layers of cheesecloth to replicate the texture of Greek yogurt.
 
In our house, Greek yogurt can be as simple as honey drizzled over with a handful of nuts for breakfast. I use it regularly as a base for creamy dressings, such as Caesar and Ranch. It has replaced sour cream, as it cozies up next to rice and beans, and sits atop soup and chili. It slips into sauces, smoothies and even replaces ice cream alongside some roasted fruit. It's such a staple in our house that I'm almost ashamed I haven't mentioned it before. 
 
Just to reiterate this yogurt’s versatility (and I assure you I'm not a spokesperson although it may appear that way), I wanted to share with you a couple of our favorite uses that we find ourselves repeating again and again. The first is a completely oil and egg-free Caesar dressing recipe. It's bright, tangy and creamy. You can be sure that if I make something this healthful it is first and foremost delicious. Even my husband, who often cringes at green leafy vegetables, will eat kale by the bowlful if it's coated with this dressing. Topped with grilled chicken, it is one of our favorite healthy meals.
 
The second recipe makes for an indulgent breakfast or a satisfying a nutritious dessert. I wish I could take credit for this idea, but it comes from one of my favorite chefs, Nigel Slater. Essentially, we are replacing the custard in crème brulee (gasp!) with yogurt. Tucked at the bottom of the dish are some fresh berries or other fruit, honey is drizzled throughout, then a thin coat of sugar sits atop the yogurt. With either a torch (if you so happen to have one in your kitchen as I do) or the broiler, the sugar submits to the heat and returns its force with a deep and crunchy caramel top. 
 
If I was the Greek yogurt spokesperson, I think my job would be done. But instead, I'm just crazy for it and couldn't help but share one of my family’s favorite ingredients with you all. 
 
Here's to a blessed, healthful and delicious 2013!
 
by Ashley Rodriguez
food blogger
 
Photo credit: Notwithoutsalt.com
 
A LIGHTER CAESAR
This is a very forgiving recipe. Taste and adjust as you please—I promise, I won’t be offended. Just remember that you want the dressing to taste strong, as the greens will tame its flavor. Top with slow-roasted tomatoes, shavings of Parmesan, roasted chicken, or steak for a complete and healthful lunch or dinner.
 
Ingredients 
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons Dijon
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 Tbl fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh pepper
2 Tbl finely grated parmesan
 
Directions
In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
Carefully combine with fresh, chopped greens (kale or romaine are our favorites). Serve with shavings of Parmesan.
Keeps in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for one week.
 
NIGEL’S YOGURT BRULEE
Nigel says to use a small ramekin or a shallow dish that may be the perfect home for a quiche on another morning. In the bottom of your dish, place a handful of berries. I happened to have raspberries, Nigel had blackberries. In an act of defiance, I covered my berries with a few passes of honey. 
 
On top of the berries there is yogurt. Level the top with a fine coat of sugar. Torch or broil to get a caramel crisp cap. From my formal brulee training, we would coat the custard with three fine layers of sugar, torching in between each passing. The result was a deeply caramelized, sturdy and dense sweet layer that shattered with a mighty plunge of the spoon. So that’s what I did.
 
If you are using the broiler, stick the dish of sugared yogurt directly under the preheated broiler for about 2-3 minutes or until the sugar caramelizes into a golden crust.
 
Top your breakfast brulee with more fresh berries. Now of course, this could also double as an elegant dessert. Simple, subtly sweet, yet fancy and sophisticated as things are when they have a French name associated with them.