As January wraps up, it's common for New Year's resolutions to begin to dwindle, but there are plenty of ways to add zest to healthy foods, making it easier to stay on track. Simple spices and pantry items that frequent cupboards often do the trick. Nutrisystem's Chef Tony Mantuano, who was also featured on Bravo's hit show, Top Chef, offers his own tips on how to enhance foods' flavor without breaking the bank.
1. Italian Red Wine Vinegar: You've heard of infusing vodka, but did you know that you can add personal flavors to red wine vinegar? Sprinkle spices into a quality red wine and heat until simmering. Splash on vegetables or chicken for a taste that's high in flavor, but low in calories. Mantuano recommends combining fresh rosemary, thyme and parsley with the vinegar.
Price: $2 for one bottle of red wine vinegar2. Dried figs: Add some excitement to a boring breakfast using dried figs. They go great with cereal, pancakes, french toast and muffins, as well as various desserts including pudding and cookies. "Once you taste their rich, nutrient-filled flavor, you'll love them, and priced between $6 and $10 a pound, you can keep going back for more," said Mantuano, who recommends using two figs per meal.
Price: $6-$10 per pound
3. Dried Oregano: The ultimate go-to spice adds taste to everything from sauces, soups and meats to vegetables and eggs. For quality seasoning, Chef Mantuano suggests purchasing imported Greek or Italian oregano that's still on the stem and storing it in a plastic container in the freezer. "Whenever I add this in cooking, it reminds me of my grandmother's food," he said.
Price: Starts at $6 per pack
4. Pickled Pepperoncini: For an Italian-induced flavor, throw pickled pepperoncini into chili, chicken salad, pasta or meat. The peppers vary from spicy to mild so shoppers can choose the amount of kick to add. Mantuano advises at-home cooks to use five pieces at a time.
Price: Cans start at $1.50
5. Orange Zest: Chef Mantuano describes orange zest as a "secret flavor weapon." Grate orange peels, avoiding the white pith, with a micro pane grater. The shavings can be added to just about any meal for an extra zing.
Price: About $1 per orange
6. Capers: These pickled buds go well with beef, pastas and poultry. "This under-utilized pickled flavor-enhancer, grown in the Mediterranean, adds a unique and intense saline flavor," said Mantuano. Be sure to rinse before combining with food.
Price: $5 per jar
7. Sun-Dried Tomatoes: Cook for five minutes in boiling water and then drain and chop. The dried vegetables are tastiest on dishes such as pasta, frozen pizza and a variety of soups. To maintain flavor, throw in some torn basil and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Chef Mantuano encourages shoppers to avoid sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil and to use four pieces per serving.
Price: $4 per jar
For the best health results, the chef recommends eating sensibly-portioned meals. "When it comes to weight loss, a perception exists that dieting equals sacrificing meals you enjoy most," said Mantuano. "This is not the case. You can still enjoy the foods you love, but moderation is critical."
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