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Say Cheese

Packed with vitamins and protein, Creole cream cheese is a healthy local staple.

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To keep a health food regime interesting, put local culinary staples in new contexts and prepare key foods ahead of time so you can quickly create sophisticated dishes. Creole cream cheese, a vitamin-packed local twist on common yogurts and cottage cheese, fits the bill perfectly.

  "Creole cream cheese is naturally low fat," says slow food advocate Poppy Tooker, who hosts Louisiana Eats on WWNO FM. "If made the right way, it probably is the most diet-conscious thing you could eat."

  A cross between mascarpone and a smooth cottage cheese, Creole cream cheese is a vitamin-rich protein bomb. A half-cup of Creole cream cheese packs 19 grams of protein into roughly 220 calories. It boasts more than 50 percent of the daily recommended values of calcium, phosphorus and vitamins C and D, and hefty doses of vitamins A and B-12.

  Creole cream cheese is as versatile as regular cream cheese or yogurt. Tooker featured Creole cream cheese as part of a cooking challenge between chef Frank Brigtsen of Brigtsen's Restaurant and Lynne Rossetto Kasper of NPR's The Splendid Table during the New Orleans Roadfood Festival in March. Kasper paired the cheese with heavy cream for a sauce that complemented another local favorite, sheepshead fish. Brigsten worked the dish into a savory, ramekin-sized mirliton pie.

  Pulling from both its sweet and savory presentations, this recipe for Creole cream cheese with strawberry-infused balsamic vinegar and mint combines homegrown traditions with a restaurant presentation. The dessert takes a few minutes to assemble, and the leftover cream cheese, vinegar and prepared strawberries can be reserved for later use.

Formerly a 350-pound rock critic, Russ Lane entered food writing after he lost 200 pounds. He now consults and lectures about lifestyle and cooking, and is finishing his first book (details at www.ikeepitoff.com.)

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