What’s your beef?

The story begins with the best meatloaf I’ve ever tasted. Yes, it’s chock fun of vegetables. The carrots look like jewels when it’s cooked. Thank you chef Josh Drage of the Ranch at Rock Creek in cowboy boot central Montana.


Welcome to the Ranch at Rock Creek in the Big Sky Country of Montana.

Yup, this is why they call it Big Sky Country.

The Ranch at Rock Creek is near the historically charming small town of Philipsburg, MT and one of the very special properties on the lux list of Relais & Chateau. 


Let’s get this glamping party started. Surrounded by wildlife and luxury, it’s so quite that you can hear the creek babbling and the birds singing.



Activities include horseback riding, hiking, fishing and I loved getting around on my bicycle. The gravel crunches under your wheels and the wind whistles in the trees. Ahhhhhh.



Finally caught a trout! My guide looks happier than me.






Hiking with my friend Carol Anne Kelly to The Top of the World summit above the ranch. OK, now we’ve worked up a ranch hand appetite so back to that meatloaf!


I added mushrooms to the mix to create a healthy blend of half pound ( 8 ounces) of fresh mushrooms mixed with one pound of ground meat ( I used ground chuck). The mushrooms add moisture, flavor and take the place of some of the beef, so the meatloaf is lower in total fat. Mushrooms are also a good source of many nutrients including vitamin D. Surprise!

Chef Josh Drage’s Montana Meatloaf features carrots, leeks, an egg, and breadcrumbs and was fabulous. I added the mushrooms for even more vegetable variety.


The more you know, the more you can eat. That’s the food philosophy I believe in as a registered dietitian and healthy foodie. So if you thought you had to cut beef out of your diet to eat more healthfully, I have good news. You can enjoy beef and a healthy lifestyle.

Watch the TV Segment here

The secret is learning how to prepare leaner cuts of beef and knowing that three ounces provides 25 grams of protein and 10 other nutrients including iron, B vitamins and zinc. These nutrients help build and repair muscles, maintain brain function, protect cells from damage and help convert food into fuel giving us energy. For lots more on beef and good nutrition as well as a list of leaner cuts and how to prepare them I like this website: 


Meanwhile…..back at the Ranch………a little sunset wine time with freshly baked tortilla chips, guacamole and salsa.  I love camping!!!


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Nutritious Meets Delicious!


Follow the Big Red Apple (symbol of nutrition, not just the Real Housewives of NYC) as I lead a quick tour of what Dietitians learned (and sometimes laughed about ) at the annual Food and Nutrition Conference #FNCE organized by our professional organization the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


Thousands of registered dietitian nutritionists from across the nation and around the world met in Boston this week to hear the latest on food, nutrition and cuisine.



Did someone say Boston? Well then where are the Lobster Rolls?

Here they are! I had 3…they were small.

My registered dietitian colleague Janet Helm, author of Nutrition Unplugged blog is a trend spotting master. Here she is in action on the exhibit floor of FNCE where food companies, big, small, new and classic strut their nutritious stuff to see if dietitians will bite. Sometimes we love it and tell you all about it…and sometimes have to spit it out. But thanks for trying food folks.

Registered dietitian Janet Helm, top taste trend spotter!

Here are a few of Janet’s food photos from FNCE and a few of mine. Thank you Janet Helm.

Build a better noodle: noodles made from beans, peas and other ‘pulses’ to boost protein and add variety to the ever-lovin’ noodle category.


Classic pastas count for good nutrition too! I like Barilla pastas with a boost of protein from beans in the mix.


Go to Gut Health:  Sure gluten-free is a trend but nutrition advice goes way beyond gluten to help folks improve their gut health. Pro-biotics is a hot topic because these foods (vegetables, fermented foods such as yogurt and even sauerkraut, and other foods and drinks packed with friendly bacteria are emerging as a lively category).


Seeing Seeds Everywhere: Who doesn’t love sunflower seeds? sesame seeds? Well, guess what they’re good for our health because they are little power packs of good nutrition. How do you think a plant grows from a seed? I like to add a handful of toasted sunflower seeds to salads for taste, crunch ( instead of friend croutons) and great nutrition.


Sprouted grains ( from the seeds of the plant) are trending in baked goods too. Small bakeries may have started it but now even old favorites such as Pepperidge Farm are in on the sprouted grains trend. I like the nutty taste.


YO! There’s a LOT of Yogurt here! 

Chobani cheers for savory recipes using their Greek Yogurt including whole milk yogurts.



Grab a spoon because yogurt is a pro-biotic food, good for your gut, made of delicious  dairy with so many nutrients including protein, calcium and potassium. Guess what? Even folks with lactose intolerance can often enjoy cultured dairy products, such as yogurt.

Hey Siggi, all the way from Iceland, going BIG for Icelandic “SYR” their deliciously rich and creamy yogurt. That’s #therealSiggi in the photo.

And Dannon, which I remember to be the original yogurt introduced to American palates, is still going strong. I love their Light & Fit yogurts. They threw a yoga party for dietitians. Oh wow, aerial yoga? Ever try this?


Serious Sides for Nutrition Truths Today:

-Remember that nutrition is a hot topic so it attracts a lot of click bait on the internet, which means NOT all of the information is going to be accurate!


-Trust a registered dietitian nutritionist RDN when they are quoted in the media. We are trained academically and professionally to translate the latest research findings into easy to understand food shopping, cooking and eating out advice.

Rachel Berman of, Janet Helm and I…presented a session called “Consulting Dr. Google” – how to navigate the choppy waters of nutrition advice on the web today.
Love sushi? Fish, all kinds, are a lean protein. Some fish, salmon and tuna are higher in healthy Omega-3 fats.

-The 2015 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans are 500 pages long, recommending we cut back on sugar, salt and saturated fats and eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins…but can be translated (by me) into this little phrase:

“Eat a little bit of naughty, and a lot of Nice.” – Carolyn O’Neil, MS RDN LD


For more information on Food, Nutrition and Healthy Cuisine have fun visiting  the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for all kinds of great ideas for good nutrition.

See you next year #FNCE for the 100th Anniversary of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Thank you RDN pals, Jenna Braddock, Holly Grainger and so many more….


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Personal Chef for Busy Weeknights (in your freezer!)


Weeknights are often busy nights with after school activities, late hours at the office and let’s face it America….the stress of fighting rush hour traffic just to get home.  The dream scene of a home cooked meal made from scratch every night is just that…a dream scene…so why not rely on your freezer as your personal chef a few nights a week?

Whether you’ve batch cooked and frozen entrees on the weekend, when you had a little extra time….or you simply reach in and find a frozen entree prepared by chefs in their professional kitchens…the freezer really is your best friend.  I’m happy to be a spokesperson for Stouffer’s where dietitians and chefs work together to come up with recipes that really are the win-win for taste and health. Their meals are freshly made and simply frozen.

Stouffer’s Lasagna Meat and Sauce

Stouffer’s Lasagna with meat and sauce is certainly a family favorite and guess what? One serving contains 18 grams of protein and only 300 calories.

There are no preservatives because the freezer does the preserving!

Oh and now the ingredient label reads like a recipe with vine ripened tomatoes, freshly made pasta and real mozzarella listed on the package. It’s Stouffer’s new “Kitchen Cupboard” commitment to simplify recipes to include ingredients we all can recognize (and immediately start getting hungry!).

Farmers Market Fall Salad

OK, you’ve dashed in the door. The lasagna is baking in the oven. Now it’s time to take a deep breath, hug the kids, get them started on their homework and toss a salad. Don’t want another boring salad? Then, I say, don’t make one. I have two recipes for easy to make and easy to love weeknight salads from my Slim Down South Cookbook that help you balance your plate.

I work with the good folks at Stouffer’s on their #balanceyourplate nutrition campaign.  Did you know that the majority of American families don’t eat the number of fruits, vegetables and whole grains they should for a balanced diet?

So let’s fix that by fixing a well balanced dinner.


It’s fall y’all! So toss in some of fall’s deliciously crisp apples into a salad. Apples are a good source of vitamin C , potassium and fiber.

Arugula, grapefruit, grapes and avocado salad

Or if you like grapes, cut them in half and toss into a salad with avocado and grapefruit segments. I like to top with crunchy sunflower seeds for even more good nutrition.



Here’s another way to #balanceyourplate. While the Stouffer’s Lasagna with Meat and Cheese is baking and starting to fill the kitchen with ‘I can’t wait for dinner’ aromas…..go back to your freezer and find frozen green peas to make a great sweet pea hummus.


The kids ..and you…can dip carrot chips or whole grain crackers into the pea hummus ( another great source of fiber, potassium and protein) for a healthy snack to tide them over before you serve the lasagna and salad. Recipe: green peas in blender, a little olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper. Whirr, stir and serve. Smile.


So, using your freezer as a personal chef not only helps balance your plate, it helps balance your life because you’ll have more time to talk to the. kids, relax and enjoy those family meals on busy weeknights.


Now, this is the way to celebrate good nutrition and great taste on any night!


RECIPES FROM THE SLIM DOWN SOUTH COOKBOOK by registered dietitian, healthy foodie, Carolyn O’Neil

Farmers’ Market Fall Salad with Sweet and Spicy Dressing  

Hit the farmers market or your super market produce section for delicious seasonal vegetables. Can’t decide what to toss in a salad, toss it all in to celebrate your fresh finds.

Makes 8 servings

1 green apple, diced

1 red apple, diced

½ cup thinly sliced green onion

1 cup chopped baby kale

1 cup sliced Napa cabbage

1 cup sliced red cabbage

½ cup golden raisins

Sweet-and-Spicy Dressing

Makes 12 servings

Hands-On 5 min.

Total 5 min.

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup honey

2 Tbsp. hot sauce

2 Tbsp. canola oil

1 tsp. celery salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in refrigerator in an airtight container up to 3 days.
Serving size 1 Tbsp. CALORIES 43; FAT 2.4g (sat 0.2g, mono 1.5g, poly 0.7g); PROTEIN 0.1g; CARB 6.1g; FIBER 0g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 0mg; SODIUM 146mg; CALC 1mg





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Trim Your Tailgate

Hey Y’all it’s Fall!


That means it’s time to start wearing boots, sweaters, leather and your team’s colors to sport at fall football tailgating parties.

It’s GO NOLES for me! Come on Florida State University ( where I received my BS in Foods & Nutrition, with minor in English). No I won’t tell you what year I graduated. Here’s a clue: bell bottoms and big hair were in fashion

img_6333But, woah! Flag on the field. No one wants to get ‘tailgate tummy’ by overeating (and over drinking) while hanging around with football friends at the tailgate. Ditto for football parties at home with fellow fans in front of the big screen.

How to TRIM your TAILGATE:img_6325

Smart Substitution Teams: Use Greek yogurt instead of (or halfsies ) sour cream or mayo based salads. I love the tart taste of plain Greek yogurt with fall salads with baby kale, shaved Brussel’s sprouts and good old cabbage that include the sweet taste of fresh apples and golden raisins.


Smart Plays:  Choose bold flavors and smaller portions.  I really like succulent boneless, skinless chicken thighs on the grill. They’re smaller than chicken breasts, so even though they contain a bit more fat, they’re just the right portion for calorie control. You can prep before and take to the game or cook them up quickly during half time at home. My recipe for Honey Pecan Chicken Thighs from The Slim Down South Cookbook is delicious. And no bones to throw away when tailgating in the parking lot! I made tiny corn muffins with big flavor from pimento cheese, jalapeño and sun dried tomato garnish.


Think about Your Drink: 


We love sweet tea in the South. And it’s a delicious thirst quencher for tail gating at home or away. But all of that sugar means all of those calories. So I like to brew Southern Breeze Sweet Tea at home, chill and bring to the game. ( or pour at home ). It’s delightfully sweet with zero calories and comes in regular, peach, lemon and raspberry flavors.

Southern Breeze Sweet Tea boxes waiting in the wings to fly on NBC Atlanta & Company Click HERE to watch the segment.

I’m a spokesperson for Southern Breeze Sweet Tea and love that your brew this tea, it’s not like a messy (won’t dissolve) powder.

I jazz it up for parties ( Southern Breeze makers even want the recipe!) for a Cajun Lemon Sweet Tea. Brew Lemon flavor Southern Breeze tea, add a dash of Tabasco and top off with rum or vodka if you choose. It’s saves SOOOO many calories and tastes terrific. Garnish with sliced lemon.


So rather than drinking your calories, you can enjoy a Pecan Sandie cookie for tailgate dessert.


Fresh fruit on a skewer is another great way to get good nutrition into your game and it’s hand held easy.  Make sure to use hand sanitizers if you’re throwing the football around the parking lot before you dig into the tailgate buffet.


Please follow my antics on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


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A World of Tastes in Your Kitchen


The boneless, skinless chicken breast is the LBD of the healthy kitchen. Little Black Dress. You can dress it up for a night on the town with recipes inspired by the  south of France with white, wine, lemon and capers.



Or you can go casual with BBQ sauce or an Italian inspired topping  of tomato, garlic and herbs.



So let’s accessorize our breasts by taking chicken breasts on a world taste tour. You can watch the recipes come together by watching this segment on NBC Atlanta & Company.

Click here to watch the segment.

The recipe suggestions are from my book The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!


First, here are some tips from The Dish for preparing perfectly browned and tender boneless, skinless chicken breasts.


A Simple Chicken Breast Sauté:

  1. Remove the excess fat and sinew from the boneless, skinless chicken breast.
  2. Place shiny side down on cutting board and cover with sheet of wax paper.
  3. Pound breast with wooden kitchen mallet or a rolling pin to even thickness.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Heat sauté pan and add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom.
  6. Add the chicken breasts, without crowding the pan.
  7. When a half inch of white shows on the sides of each breast, turn over with tongs.
  8. Cook until firm to touch and juices run clear. Set aside on clean plate.


Now it’s time to accessorize!

Lemon Caper Chicken – (After sautéing the chicken breasts and setting aside) Deglaze the pan with white wine, add rinsed capers, very thin slices of lemon, and minced parsley. Add chicken breasts back to pan to warm in sauce and serve with golden potatoes.











Tomato Garlic Chicken – (After sautéing the chicken breasts and setting aside) Add chopped garlic to the pan, chopped tomato, tomato paste and red wine vinegar. Place chicken breasts back in pan to warm with sauce and serve with pasta.



Taste of Thai Chicken –   (After sautéing chicken breasts and setting aside) Stir in sliced scallions and sliced shitake mushrooms, remove from pan and stir in tamari sauce (a slightly thicker soy sauce), rice wine vinegar and a teaspoon of peanut butter.


Add the scallions and mushrooms back to the pan and the chicken breasts to warm. Serve with steamed brown rice.


Green Chile Chicken- (After sautéing the chicken breasts and setting aside) Deglaze pan with chicken broth, add chopped scallions, minced jalapenos, long thin slivers of mild green chiles (such as poblano). Optional: whisk in a quarter cup of light cream to finish the sauce. Add chicken back to pan to warm and serve with black beans and rice.



I’d love for you to have your very own copy of The Dish! Why not order the paperback edition on to keep in your world inspired kitchen?




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Explore Ireland’s Countryside in Style

Irish Countryside Serves Up Local Fare and Active Outings


It’s the weather that keeps the Emerald Isle so green, the gardens lush and the creamy dairy products so delicious.


“It’s a soft day,” said Damien Bastiat general manager of Ballyfin hotel, an elegantly restored country estate set in the middle of Ireland.


Bastiat was referring to a gentle mist of rain calling for a light jacket but not enough to require an umbrella.


He led us on a tour to explore the walled gardens and expansive landscaped grounds including a climb up a stone tower built as an architectural folly.


The formal kitchen gardens boast a gourmet grocery of vegetables, herbs, apple trees, and even artichokes.










“Irish producers are just starting to promote their own,” said Ballyfin executive chef Michael Tweedie.  His ‘garden to plate’ menus star farmhouse cheeses, and yogurt from Irish dairies, shellfish and sea salt from the coast, eggs from the estate and Thomas Salter’s free-range pork from a nearby farm.


“It’s nice to meet the farmers and hear their stories,” said Tweedie.

Just the right touch of Irish butter or cream adds indulgence to lovely desserts at Ballyfin.


More local tastes include braised lamb from Kilkenny with wild garlic, mint and peas.


(Nutrition note: Irish sea salt is very salty so you only have to use a little to add flavor to foods. I bought the adorable little silver butter dish below at the Ballyfin gift shop. Had to have it. Helps you savor butter’s flavor even more.)


To the Manor!

Step inside Ballyfin’s neo-classical manor house…










….originally built in the 1820’s, and step back in time for cocktails in the Gold Room overlooking the lake or the library with a secret door that opens into the glass conservatory.


Guests can time travel to dinner by donning formal wear from the hotel’s collection of period costumes. I felt as if I’d burst into song. Must have been the song bird perched on my head.


More echoes of history: Ballyfin spent time as a boy’s boarding school.


The hotel’s serene indoor swimming pool sits in what was the student’s (no doubt raucous then) dining hall. Ballyfin is truly a magical place where you can escape the world and enter your own surrounded by peace and grace.



Irish Country Estates: Gardens and Guns 

Clay shooting at Ballyfin. Pull!!!
Walk this way…with a falcon at Ashford Castle.










What’s a country estate experience without a few sporting activities?

Now let’s visit dreamy Ashford Castle. 


Crystal clear waters of Lough Corrib















At stately Ashford Castle (a member of Leading Hotels of the World) on the shores of Lough Corrib in southwest Ireland in County Mayo guests can golf, fish, learn archery, shoot at sporting clays or try their hand (safely cloaked in a leather glove) at Ireland’s School of  Falconry.












Dating back to the 13th century, Ashford Castle with soaring turrets, stone towers and sunken gardens…


is now brought to life for today’s travelers (who want luxury and technology) with a loving restoration led by Beatrice Tollman of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection. The restoration brought a new roof, new windows and interiors lavish with antique filled guest rooms and a luxurious spa and indoor swimming pool. Details of the decor are a joy to discover such as the tiny tassels on the canopy over the bed in my suite.



There’s a wine cellar to explore and taste a world of vintages and then join the guests for dinner in the elegant George V dining room where the table is set in luxurious style.


…..or hide away in the casual and cozy ( yes!) Dungeon restaurant.










For a taste tour of the Irish countryside, sample woodland mushroom soup or the wild game terrine with plum gel and purple potato chips…and salmon of course!

A full Irish breakfast at Ashford Castle includes the luxury of baked ham served to you from a silver and mahogany trolley.

Did I mention the ham cart? (:

Good thing there are 350 acres of land to explore on horseback, by bicycle or via running shoes before the next enchanting Irish meal. More salmon please…..


But perhaps my most precious memories from my trips to Ireland are those of the friendly Irish people who laugh, tell a story and make you feel at home in their home.

I’ll be back Ireland….or my name isn’t Carolyn O’Neil!




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Green Light for Tourism Ireland: Delicious Dublin


There may be a touch of rain as you stroll the storied streets of Dublin, but the Emerald Isle is enjoying sunny times in tourism.


Restaurants, hotels and attractions are teed up to greet visitors with their legendary Irish charm, including new enthusiasm for sharing Ireland’s culinary scene.


A survey conducted by The Leading Hotels of the World found that 89 percent prioritize culinary experiences as a main motivation for travel, and Ireland is set to satisfy.  Survey here. 

There are lively pubs to enjoy folk music…

I thought this place looked O’good.

…..a pint of Guinness, perfectly poured…


with traditional Irish stew or Cottage Pie…


Or Hey! even gluten-free fish and chips!


One of the most popular taste tours in town is Dublin’s own Guinness Storehouse…..


…..where visitors learn how the world famous brew was born and continues to be the best. And I had my first sip of Guinness ever. Honest.

I really got into being a Guinness fan.

Cafes, bars and restaurants within the Guinness Storehouse (including a bar with floor to ceiling glass panoramic views of Dublin)


……serve up food and beer pairings, of course. Including the perfect pairing of oysters and Guinness.


Or maybe you’d rather indulge in chocolate dessert…..paired and made with Guinness. 


But the big draw for those who go to for the gastronomy is the local-meets-modern cuisine created by Dublin’s innovative chefs.

Dynamic Dublin Dining 

Cosmic Apple with Pistachio Dessert  at  Michelin Two-Star Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud in Dublin exemplifies contemporary Irish cuisine.

Irish Art at the Table


Art Afternoon tea in the elegant Georgian Drawing Room at The Merrion Hotel Dublin (a member of Leading Hotels of the World) surprises guests with intricate little cakes by executive pastry chef Paul Kelly designed to mimic paintings in the hotel’s extensive collection of 19th and 20th century Irish and European art.


Kelly, a judge on Ireland’s TV series The Great Irish Bakeoff, paints and sculpts with confections to create edible works of art.


Stepping into this hotel is a step back into Irish history. Originally built as four townhouses in the 1760’s, the Merrion preserves old world architectural charm with antiques and landscaped gardens enhanced by modern luxuries including a spa and swimming pool.


At the hotel’s Cellar Bar you can tuck into Irish Halibut with Dublin Bay prawn broth, barley and peas for lunch and walk to nearby Trinity College or St. Stephen’s Green.




Return for dinner at two-star Michelin ranked Restaurant Patrick Guilbaud….


…where Ireland’s beef, lamb, and seafood are globally inspired in dishes such as Turbot Poached in Aromatic Milk
 with Leeks, Ginger, and Yuzu Hollandaise. Now these are delectable lucky charms…..


Modern-Day Dublin


If you crave a contemporary perch in Dublin then head to the trendy Docklands district, the Irish home of Facebook and Google and The Marker, an ultra modern hotel (and member of Leading Hotels of the World) with hip lobby lounge, sleek brasserie and panoramic city-views from the roof top garden.


Enjoy a sunset cocktail on the rooftop over looking the Dublin skyline and country hills in the distance.


Then watch out! Things can change in seconds as clouds roll in and pelts of hail fall from the sky!


But in the time it takes to enjoy that last sip of Champagne the Marker staff doesn’t miss a beat picking up cushions and guiding guests to the elevator where dinner waits below in the The Marker’s chic brasserie.


Executive chef Gareth Mullins pleases palates seeking healthy alternatives such as a green salad with Broccoli sprouts, bee pollen and wheatgrass.


The menu also celebrates the rich tastes of Dublin Bay lobster with Irish country butter and locally raised Wicklow Lamb with delicious dots of a savory sauce of roasted onion and stout.


Next post from the Emerald Isle adventure takes me into the Irish countryside for elegant and exciting outdoor pursuits. Oh, and several tastes of Ireland’s fabulous farmhouse cheeses.

Where are my falcons????!!!







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Wellness Travel is Healthy Trend


Good-bye ‘fat farms’ and hello ‘soft wellness’ as more travelers choose vacation destinations that meet a revised definition of health. That includes spending more time connecting with nature. Above, my vacation is literally for the birds in The Galapagos Islands.

“It’s really changed,” said Jean Pickard, luxury travel consultant with SmartFlyer of Atlanta. “It used to be hard core where you worked out for a week. Now wellness travel has blossomed into going places to take a hike and have a nice lunch paired with wine. It’s a soft wellness.” Pickard was one of nearly five thousand travel  professionals who attended Virtuoso Travel Week, the annual conference of Virtuoso travel advisors and destination properties.

Jean Pickard (right) met with representatives of travel destinations world wide at Virtuoso Travel Week.

Boom in Well Being

More travelers are literally taking the time to stop and smell the roses. That’s a healthy trend for spa-centered hotels such as the Evian Resort on Lake Geneva where some of the swimming pools in town are filled with (you guessed it) water from the Evian springs. “Guests wake up and the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing,” says Samuel Berne, of Evian Resort.


Virtuoso, an international network of travel advisors and destination properties, predicts the wellness travel niche, representing 15 percent of global tourism, will reach $680 billion by next year.

“Simply defined, wellness travel encompasses physical, mental and social well-being, as well as spiritual health,” says Virtuoso’s Albert Herrera.

What’s on the menu has also changed with the wellness trend. “It used to be the vegetarian was the odd man out but now there’s not a table today where people are not watching what they eat including lactose free and gluten free,” said Roland Fasel, general manager of The Dorchester Hotel in London. “This all happened very quickly and you have to be ready to deliver with specific menus.”

Pickard is currently planning a trip to Japan for a client who doesn’t eat sushi and is gluten-free.

In Vietnam the question might be ‘where can I go for the safest street food?’

“It’s really a big deal. We tell the concierge the most important thing they can do is help guests with their food experience,” said Anthony Slewka-Armfelt, of the Hotel Metropole in Hanoi.

“If I’m into culinary it’s not just hotel menus, it’s providing information on what’s happening in the community,” said Chris Cahill, chief executive officer of Accor Hotels.

Wellness trends include savoring little luxuries such as lobster risotto at Rivea restaurant, menu from Alain Ducasse, at the Delano Las Vegas Hotel.

Sound Sleep

The quest for wellness includes a good night’s sleep. “Lack of sleep is no longer a badge of honor. My travel clients want to get away from sleep deprivation and it’s goes beyond bed linen thread count to classes in meditation,” said Pickard.

There are even places that offer ‘electronic detox’ where you check your phone and other devices at the door as a part of a wellness vacation.

I feel better already. Are you packed? Don’t forget your running shoes.

This article also published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Healthy Eating column.

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Endless Summer Produce


It may be time for back to school for lots of families nationwide, but summer is still in full swing in farmer’s markets and the supermarket produce section.  Peaches, berries, summer squash and melons – all kinds of melons are ripe for the picking and deliciously nutritious.  I’ve shared a couple of recipes from The Slim Down South Cookbook below.


Back to work after summer vacation often means busy weeknights. But that doesn’t mean you have to say goodbye to the fresh tastes of summer produce. Why not celebrate the fabulously fresh with the wonderfully easy to prepare microwavable frozen entrees such as Lean Cuisine Sweet & Spicy Korean-Style Beef? It comes with brown rice and vegetables and I added a cup of snow peas to balance the plate. The Lean Cuisine website is beautiful with lots of nutrition information to explore. “Freshly made, simply frozen” is a great way to describe the variety of entrees inspired by global cuisines and close to home comfort foods.

Nestle’s Balance Your Plate campaign provides great information on nutrition, portion control and creative combos for satisfying meals.  I added a parfait of fresh berries and a cup of steamed summer squash and zucchini with onions to a plate starring Lean Cuisine Roasted Turkey and Vegetables.


You can add your own creativity to the table too. Lean Cuisine’s Vermont Cheddar Mac n Cheese is beautiful when you add broccoli florets. Or even if it’s a weeknight why not enjoy Lobster Mac n Cheese?  I bought a lobster tail for $6.99, boiled it in water (with some lemon juice added) for about six minutes until the shell turns bright red and the meat is translucent. Plunge the lobster tail in ice water to cool. Remove the meat from the tail by slicing through the center of the shell longwise and pull out the meat. Chop it up and add to the mac n cheese! Fancy but soooo easy.


SUMMER PRODUCE RECIPES from The Slim Down South Cookbook: As seen on NBC Atlanta & Company with host Christine Pulara! 

Here’s the link to the TV Segment: CLICK HERE


Grilled Watermelon with Balsamic Glaze

Adding a bit of savory blue cheese and salty prosciutto (optional) to sweet watermelon makes for a wonderful combination. Brush the watermelon wedges with a bit of oil to keep them from sticking to the grill.

Makes 12 servings

Hands-On 20 min.

Total 20 min.

3 (½-inch-thick) watermelon rounds, quartered

1 Tbsp. olive oil

⅛ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto

2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

Fresh basil leaves

2 tsp. bottled balsamic glaze

  1. Preheat grill to 350° to 400° (medium-high) heat. Brush both sides of each watermelon quarter with olive oil, and season with desired amount of salt and pepper. Cut prosciutto into thin strips.2. Grill watermelon quarters, without grill lid, 1 minute on each side or until grill marks appear.3. Transfer watermelon to a serving plate; top with blue cheese, prosciutto strips, and fresh basil. Drizzle watermelon with balsamic glaze. Serve immediately.Serving size 1 wedge CALORIES 44; FAT 3g (sat 1.2g, mono 1.2g, poly 0.2g); PROTEIN 7g; CARB 2g; FIBER 0.1g; CHOL 7mg; IRON 0.2mg; SODIUM 213mg; CALC 28mg


Tipsy Melon Salad

Cantaloupe is packed with vitamins A & C for eye and skin healthy, plus it’s is a good source of the B vitamin folate, which is critical for pregnant women. It’s high water content also makes it super hydrating for hot summer months.

Raspberry liqueur and vodka give this colorful spiked fruit salad its lighthearted moniker. Liven up a weeknight dinner party, or skip the booze if it’s a ‘school night’.

Makes 6 servings

Hands-On 16 min.

Total 1 hour, 16 min.

2 cups cubed honeydew

2 cups cubed cantaloupe

1.3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons)

⅔ cup sugar

½ cup vodka ( optional)

⅓ cup black raspberry liqueur (optional)

¹/₁₆ tsp. fine sea salt

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint

Garnish: fresh mint sprigs

1. Place melon cubes in a large bowl.

2. Whisk together lemon juice and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves. Pour lemon juice mixture over watermelon balls; stir gently to coat. Cover and chill 1 to 2 hours.

3. Gently toss melon. Sprinkle with chopped fresh mint. Serve immediately with a slotted spoon.

Serving size about 1 cup CALORIES 228; FAT 0.1g (sat 0g, mono 0g, poly 0g); PROTEIN 0.7g; CARB 41.5g; FIBER 0.7g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 0.5mg; SODIUM 25mg; CALC 14m

Many thanks to Nestle and Lean Cuisine. It’s a pleasure working with you to help happy, healthy folks learn to Balance Your Plate!


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Mexico City Healthy Gourmet



Demand for fried churros dusted in sugar and dipped into chocolate sauce begins at breakfast and continues all day at Mexico City’s historic El Moro churreria open since 1935.


Street food carts at busy intersections in this sprawling city of nine million serve up sweet corn slathered in butter and crispy chicharron fried pork skins.


Bustling food markets such as the Mercado Merced boast rows of colorful candies to exquisitely shaped marshmallows.


But Wait!!! There’s Good Nutrition News too!

IMG_2965 But, there’s a healthy side to Mexican food emerging in this city’s exciting culinary scene. Fish flown in daily from the Pacific coast is simply grilled and presented on top of wilted greens and sliced golden potatoes with a side of locally foraged mushrooms at chef Jair Tellez’s newly opened Amaya restaurant and wine bar.


“We serve good food and strange wine,” said Tellez, who offers an entirely Mexican wine list.


A light dessert at Amaya is a sampling of Mexico’s unique fruits including bright pink prickly pear and dark orange mamey served with a touch of fresh cheese scented with anise.

Rooftop Vineyard in the City


At Vinicola Urbana, a restaurant set in a demonstration vineyard planted on a rooftop, the Baja California grown wines are paired with traditional dishes for modern palates including squash blossom soup and yellow rice wrapped in nopales (cactus leaves).


Mexico City’s Healthy Moves


There’s a fitness trend in Mexico City. Central streets are closed to traffic and open to cyclists and pedestrians only on Sundays.


The St. Regis Mexico City hosts yoga classes with skyline views and the bartenders mix up breakfast fruit smoothies including one with orange, papaya, agave honey and oatmeal.


Quinoa salad with dried mango chips and an avocado topped pizza are popular menu items at the hotel’s J&G Grill.


“Many people who travel a lot like to take care of themselves,” said Manuel Aceves, a St. Regis Mexico City dining manager.

On the streets there’s healthy fare to find, too.


A day spent with Eat Mexico Culinary Tours led our group to a woman on a street corner shaping and cooking blue corn tortillas filled with huitlocoche (corn fungus) and to a tiny shop specializing in Pavos (turkey) Tortas (sandwiches) made with roast turkey, avocado and chipotle salsa.



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Marvelous Mexico City Cuisine

The vibrant art, historic monuments and architectural treasures of Mexico City continue to lure visitors in search of inspiring cultural experiences.


Sampling the country’s culinary treasures is a portal to the past as well.








Mexico’s cuisine is influenced by centuries of food customs from the indigenous Mayan to Spanish conquerors.


Today chefs leading the lively food scene in Mexico City add contemporary flair to taste traditions.


Recently opened Fonda Mayora is set in a park filled residential neighborhood of Mexico City.


Chef Gerardo Vazquez Lugo and his team of young chefs serve smoked oysters, roast pork stuffed with chorizo and pineapple ……


…and grilled whole fish presented with black beans, tender blue corn tortillas and a fresh selection of green and red salsas.


For the adventurous, there’s a sauce spiced with tiny ants. It’s the one on the left in the middle. The little dots are ants. Dig in!


“Mexican food is a way to get right to the spirit of the country,” said Paco de Santiago with Eat Mexico culinary tours. It’s a taste discovery that defies the stereotypes. “There’s a myth that Mexican food means hard taco shells, sour cream and all spicy food,” said Eat Mexico tour guide Anais Martinez.

One of the most sought after reservations in Mexico City is at intimate Pujol where internationally renowned chef Enrique Olvera celebrates Mexican ingredients using ancient and modern techniques.

Courses included octopus with ink tostado, smoked baby corn with coffee and chile mayonnaise, a lamb taco with avocado leaf adobo and avocado puree and a suckling pig taco with smoked tortilla, chickpea puree, coriander and red jalapeno. One of the showstopper dishes was a circle of richly bright ‘new’ mole sauce surrounded by a dark and intense ‘mother’ mole sauce made 990 days ago.


“Mole sauces are made with over forty ingredients including tomatoes, onions, nuts and seeds and not always chocolate as many people think,” said Santiago.
Mexico City Markets










One of the best ways to leap into local cuisine is to visit a city food market such as the Mercado San Juan where Mexican avocados and limes are piled high, moles come in an assortment of flavors, tortillas are hand made and just caught Pacific coast seafood glistens on mountains of crushed ice.


Chefs from the St. Regis Mexico City hotel lead guests on market tours including a lesson in choosing the freshest fish and a sampling of Mexican cheeses.


“This one is like a Spanish manchego,” said executive chef Sylvain Desbois, who leads the hotel’s elegant La Table Krug eleven course Krug Champagne tasting menu.


The dessert courses (yes there’s more than one dessert) include a salute to Mexican chocolate as warm chocolate sauce is poured over and into a sponge cake shaped like a cacao pod.


Need more chocolate?


The Mucho Chocolate Museum of Mexico City is a chocolate lovers dream come true with rooms filled with delicious displays about chocolate history, chocolate agriculture and chocolate cuisine over the centuries.


Don’t miss spending a few moments of bliss in the little room with walls covered in fragrant deep dark chocolate.


I think I’ve found my new home in Mexico City! Truly a magical culinary destination.




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Farmer’s Market Pizza!


Summer time is prime time for farmer’s markets offering an eye-popping selection of simply delicious fruits and vegetables bursting with fresh flavors.


So why not dress your favorite easy to prep foods -hello family pizza night! -in summer’s vibrant colors and flavors? Why not sliced strawberries on a pepperoni pizza?

Sweet goes well with spicy. Read on…..


On a recent trip to Chicago to appear on WGN-TV’s Lunch Break segment, I dined at The Girl and The Goat restaurant the night before my TV appearance and was excited to see that celebrated chef Stephanie Izard had garnished her super tasty goat empanadas with fresh strawberries. I ordered a sweet and spicy margarita called Ring of Fire to go with the dish. Perfecto!









OK….back to pizza night, now that we know my culinary inspiration of strawberries with savory bites was spot on!  Click HERE: Welcome to WGN TV’s Lunch Break segment.


Set up right in the busy WGN newsroom for the LIVE segment, food stylist Robert Haynes and I dressed the demo table for a segment called PLAY with YOUR FOOD, complete with a Twister game tablecloth. Spin the little arrow and if it  lands on yellow, you pick the yellow peppers to top your DiGiorno Four Cheese Rising Crust Pizza.



Spin and it’s red, pick the red peppers. Spin and it’s blue, well, just eat the blueberries!


Farmer’s Market Finds Help Balance Your Plate


Working with Nestle on their nutrition education Balance Your Plate campaign,


I presented ideas to add more fruits and vegetables to family pizza night with delicious, nutritious and fun ideas. How about pizza with your salad? OK, of course! But, what about pizza IN your salad? Pizzanella Salad is a super smart recipe from Nestle that’s a no-brainer to use leftover or just baked frozen pizza in a creative, exciting way. The pizza, cut up in bite size pieces, becomes the croutons with cheesy, tomato goodness.

A slice may be a 'portion' but a serving is how many YOU get to eat based based on age and activity level.
A slice may be a ‘portion’ but a serving is how many YOU get to eat based based on age and activity level.

Want to know more about mindful pizza portions? How many slices to eat? Well, of course that depends whether you’re a four year old or a forty year old! And depends on how active you are in your everyday life. Here’s a handy dandy pizza portion/serving guide from Nestle’s Balance Your Plate collection of nutrition resources.

And if you do want a salad with your slice of pizza ,  how about my recipe for Sweet ‘n Spicy Brussels Sprouts Slaw with Golden Raisins and Sunflower Seeds?  Here’s a beautifully balanced plate with California Pizza Kitchen’s BBQ Chicken Pizza and the slaw.


So have fun with pizza night this summer and remember to think Farmer’s Market finds by adding seasonal produce to pizza!

Recipes Here:

Play with Your Food segment with registered dietitian Carolyn O’Neil, MS RDN

July 2016 WGN-TV  LunchBreak Segment


Pizza-Nella Salad

Whether you’re looking for a new way to enjoy your freshly baked cheese pizza, or something other than its leftovers straight from the fridge, this salad helps to make that slice more satisfying, nutritious and delicious!

 Yield: 1 large entrée salad

Timing: Prep time = 15 minutes


1 slice (1/6 of pie) prepared DiGiorno 4 Cheese Rising Crust Pizza

½ cup grape tomatoes

¼ medium onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp olive oil

2 cups bite-size pieces Romaine lettuce

2 tbsp. basil pesto

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar


Method of Production (Instructions)

Preheat oven to 450 deg F. On baking sheet, place tomatoes, onion and garlic, drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 5-7 minutes, or until onions are tender. Remove from oven and cool. Cut tomatoes in half.


Cut pizza into bite sized pieces. Mix pesto and red wine vinegar. In a large bowl, toss lettuce, tomatoes, onion and garlic, and pizza with pesto vinaigrette. Wait 10 minutes before serving, to allow bread to absorb dressing. Serve on a dinner plate, and enjoy!


Sweet ‘n Spicy Brussels Sprouts Slaw  with Golden Raisins and Sunflower Seeds


By Carolyn O’Neil, MS RDN, author The Slim Down South Cookbook.


Makes 12 servings (one half cup each )


2 pounds Brussels Sprouts (about 6 cups trimmed and sliced)

1/2 cup Golden Raisins

½ cup shredded or matchstick carrots

¼ cup sunflower seed kernels (one tablespoon reserved for garnish)

¼ cup sweet n’spicy dressing


Trim ends off Brussels Sprouts and cut into thin slices.

Place in a large bowl.

Add raisins, carrots and sunflower seeds.

Dress with 1/4 cup of Sweet ‘n Spicy dressing, tossing well to combine.

Garnish with 1 T sunflower seeds.



Sweet ‘n Spicy Dressing


Makes 12 servings (1 Tbsp.)


¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup honey

2 tsp. hot sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. celery salt

¼ tsp. black pepper


Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl.



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Food & Wine Classic in Aspen Elevates Taste and Health

Aspen Heights of Food & Wine


They come for the food, the wine and the wisdom.


“A young chef adds and adds and adds to the plate. As you get older, you start to take away,” said French born chef Jacques Pepin, author of over twenty cookbooks and celebrated host of over 300 television cooking shows. The audience of loyal foodie fans for Pepin’s cooking class with daughter Claudine filled a ballroom at the St. Regis Hotel, just one of many culinary seminars featured at the 34th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Assisting her father in demonstrating how to make vinaigrette salad dressings Claudine Pepin advised, “Use a really good olive oil. You know the one you’re saving because it’s too good to use everyday? Well, throw that away because it’s rancid by now and go buy a new one.”


Over five thousand food lovers and wine aficionados attend the festival to meet top named chefs and wine makers from around the world. Spirits have taken a more central role with the rise of interest in craft cocktails.


Chef Marcus Samuelsson of Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem created food pairings including honey glazed salmon and pork ribs with ginger and peach to match sips of Glenmorangie single malt scotch and a citrus infused whiskey cocktail.

IMG_3645 IMG_3657

“Summer time is barbecue time and the spiciness goes with the sweetness and smokiness of the scotch whiskey,” said Samuelsson.


Fresh New Heights of Cuisine

IMG_3487 IMG_3461 IMG_3459








Aspen’s chefs know to put on a show when their rocky mountain town fills up with world-class foodies. “They literally eat it up,” said Matt Zubrod, executive chef of The Little Nell Hotel. “It’s a cool crowd who ask really good questions about food such as ‘where did you get the meat for this tartar?’”

Executive Chef Matt Zubrod, Element 47 restaurant, The Little Nell Hotel, Aspen

Zubrod’s menu at the Relais and Chateau hotel’s Element 47 restaurant features plates as pretty as the Aspen scenery garnished with edible flowers and fresh herbs such as pineapple sage and chocolate mint and grown steps away from the tables. And just as the mountain air requires adding a layer of clothing with changing temperatures, Zubrod layers flavors in dishes, “Its evolved where I like to do a layer of pureed, then cooked and then raw of the same ingredient such as peas, corn or artichoke.”


Halibut cheeks are served on a layer of pureed ratatouille with fresh corn and fava beans.


Nilou Motamed, Editor in Chief, Food & Wine Magazine enjoys the tasting tents and saying hello!

Health and wellness was in focus on a panel led by Food & Wine Magazine’s editor in chief Nilou Motamed who noted, “I think in the last ten years the conversation have moved from a message of moderation to where our food is coming from.”




Octogenarian Jacques Pepin replied,

“It can go to far if we wonder where every carrot is from. I’m not a doctor, I’m a chef, but my best advice is finish your food.”

Thank you Jacques, that’s the best view in Aspen.







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Why Summer is Food Safety Central


Summer time is prime time to relax in a hammock or at the beach but it’s certainly not the time to relax food safety concerns.

Due to a variety of factors, most notably the sweltering temperatures outside, the website, ramps up consumer education efforts and reports that the risk of food born illness increases during the summer months.

The infamous ‘danger zone’ where bacteria and other bad bugs thrive and multiply lies between 40 degrees and 140 degrees F.


So, leaving picnic or backyard barbecue foods out in the summer heat is tempting fate.

Generally food safety experts advise foods not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours, but when the mercury reaches 90 that time frame is shortened to no more than one hour.

The same goes for carrying groceries home in the car or transporting restaurant leftovers to your home refrigerator. Get all foods home in under an hour, or place them on ice in a cooler in your car.

Make sure not to invite a bout of food borne illness to your summer festivities, even if you have to politely remind your host.

Here are some important reminders from

When bringing food to a picnic or cookout:

  • Use an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs.  Frozen food can also be used as a cold source.
  • Foods that need to be kept cold include raw meat, poultry, and seafood; deli and luncheon meats or sandwiches; summer salads (tuna, chicken, egg, pasta, or seafood); cut up fruit and vegetables; and perishable dairy products.
  • A full cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than a partially filled one.  When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter.
  • Avoid opening the cooler repeatedly so that your food stays colder longer.

When cooking on the grill:

  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread.
  • Keep perishable food cold until it is ready to cook.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked thoroughly to their safe minimum internal temperatures
    • Beef, Pork, Lamb, & Veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145 °F with a 3 minute rest time
    • Ground meats: 160 °F
    • Whole poultry, poultry breasts, & ground poultry: 165 °F
  • Always use a fresh, clean plate and tongs for serving cooked food. Never reuse items that touched raw meat or poultry to serve the food once it is cooked.

When serving food outdoors:

  • Perishable food should not sit out for more than two hours.  In hot weather (above 90 °F), food should NEVER sit out for more than one hour.

Serve cold food in small portions, and keep the rest in the cooler.  After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served – at 140 °F or warmer.


If there is still plenty of ice in the cooler when you get home, and the food did not sit out at the picnic, the food is still safe to store in the refrigerator.



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Vacation Weight Gain Slight but Steady


Vacation souvenirs from T-shirts to snow globes that prove you’ve ‘been there’ are lots of fun to collect over the years. Unfortunately for many adults picking up a few extra pounds on vacation is an unwanted souvenir of good times spent on holiday road. According to a University of Georgia study, the small but steady creep of weight gain most adults experience over the years often sneaks in when we relax diet and fitness habits on vacation.

The study of 122 participants between the ages of 18 and 65—average age of 32—found that folks going on a one- to three-week vacation gained an average of nearly one pound during their trips. A few actually lost weight and some in the group gained as much as seven pounds.

Guess it depends whether you choose the spa menu or an all-you-can-eat buffet vacation.

“If you’re only gaining a pound or two a year and you gained three-quarters of that on a one- to three-week vacation, that’s a pretty substantial weight gain during a short period of time,” said Jamie Cooper, an associate professor of nutrition in University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Previous diet studies have confirmed weight gain during the ‘turkey, gravy and all the trimmings’ holiday season, but this is the first to link weight gain to short-term vacations. So much for ‘the summer of fun’.

What about all of that summer walking, hiking, biking, swimming, tennis, golf and paddle boarding so many people enjoy during their free time away from work and home? Sorry, more sobering news: the weight gain occurred despite a trend for slightly increased physical activity during vacation.


“You might be a little bit more active but it’s not enough to compensate for the extra calories you might be eating or drinking on vacation,” said Cooper.

Another weight gain whammy: the study showed a decrease in physical activity in the weeks following vacation.

Hold the Pina Coladas

No big surprise but clearly a big impact on calorie intake, the study found participants ate and drank more when living it up on vacation. Alcohol consumption doubled from an average of eight drinks a week to 16 per week.

“One of the challenges people face is unless you’re diligent about weighing yourself before and after vacation, usually you’re not going to notice a pound of weight gain,” Cooper said. “People don’t realize it’s happening, and that’s why they don’t lose weight following a vacation.”

To help prevent body fat from taking a ‘stay-cation’ Cooper suggests weighing before and after a vacation or any long trip away from home, “If you’ve gained three pounds then work really hard in the next couple of weeks to take those three pounds off because if it stays on long enough it gets really hard to take off.”

Oh and have a good time!

Cooper noted there were some benefits to vacations. Study participants showed significantly reduced stress levels and a slight reduction in systolic blood pressure that lasted even six weeks post-vacation.



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Southern Vegetables Celebrated at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

Rebecca Lang, author of Southern Living’s The Southern Vegetable Cookbook


“The larger the radish, the spicier it is. Who here is afraid of radishes?” asked Rebecca Lang, author of The Southern Vegetable Cookbook. Leading a sold out class on ‘Vegetable Versatility” at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, Lang saw there were no hands in the air. This was a room full of enthusiastic food fans eager to taste and learn veggie-centric cooking tips from chef Todd Richards of Atlanta’s White Oak Kitchen & Cocktails restaurant and visiting chef Digby Stridiron of the U.S. Virgin Islands. While Stridiron sliced into plantains and advised, “Buy the green ones in the market and let them ripen at home”, Richards passed samples of his English pea soup garnished with fresh pea tendrils and shared, “We try to use as much of the whole vegetable together.”


In its sixth year, the four-day festival features chefs from the southern region and entertains guests with lavish southern themed dinners, cooking classes and wine, beer and spirits tastings.

Cold beer and hot chicken!

Please note my food festival balancing act skills as I carried a Honeysuckle cocktail made with Cathead Vodka and chicken liver pate with a cup of ice in the middle to keep things cool!

How it’s done.

Sure there’s plenty of BBQ pig and peach cobbler to please, but there’s a sizable celebration of the lighter side of the south, too.


Golden Lentil Salad, Odette


“Everyone things of pork first, but vegetables are the surprising foundation of southern foods, said chef Linton Hopkins of Atlanta’s Holman & Finch Public House, Restaurant Eugene and newly opened Linton’s in the Atlanta Botanical Garden. “I love vegetables and right now I’m excited about the in-season peas, especially lady peas.”


Even the Grilling Terrace at the Loews Atlanta Hotel -home base for the festival classes- put vegetables in the spotlight. Chef Rob McDaniel of the Spring House on Alabama’s Lake Martin smoked whole beets in a Big Green Egg to build a beet sandwich with celery and blue cheese slaw. “You can substitute eggplant or zucchini. Grilling is a great way to enhance vegetables because earthy and smoky flavors go really well together,” said McDaniel.


New Southern Styles

No longer destined to be ‘cooked to death’ and coated in bacon fat, vegetables are elegantly prepared by southern chefs today. Instead of ham hocks, McDaniel prepares greens and beans with smoked turkey or chicken legs. The crisp and refreshing golden lentil salad served up in the tasting tents by chef Josh Quick of Odette in Florence, Alabama was garnished with a Gulf shrimp relish and tiny touch of ham.


Salt and sugar are still part of the recipe when cooking a ‘mess of greens’ but Arkansas chef Mark Abernathy of Red Door restaurant in Little Rock cautioned, “You can always add more salt and more sugar later. You can’t take it out. The sweet and salty flavors will concentrate as the greens cook, so have a lighter touch.”

Chef Mark Abernathy gets excited about greens!



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Read all about it: New Nutrition Facts Label


13239356_10154102486110406_4906816577016542092_nThe old saying “you can’t believe everything you read” shouldn’t refer to the black and white Nutrition Facts label printed on packaged food products.

While marketing words such as ‘all natural’ and ‘made with whole grains’ are often part of the manufacturer’s package design; each line listed on the Nutrition Facts panel is closely regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. But, it’s not always easy to translate milligrams into choices for healthier meals. That’s why the FDA recently announced a new and improved version highlighting the nutrients considered most important. Calories will be printed in bigger, bolder print and serving sizes will be in amounts usually consumed. The current Nutrition Facts label may identify a serving of pickles as ¾ of a spear. Who eats ¾ of a pickle?


“Our understanding of a ‘serving size’ has changed over the years. The new Panel now lists serving size as what is typically eaten in one sitting,” says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson registered dietitian Lori Zanini.

The serving size for soft drinks will increase from eight ounces to 12 ounces. Bagels and muffins will increase from two to four ounce servings.

Healthy Changes

One of the sweetest improvements to the Nutrition Facts label is adding a new line revealing how much sugar has been added to a product above and beyond the sugars naturally occurring in food such as milk and fruit.


“The new labels will help consumers looking at labels for things like yogurt, jams, or cereals know how much of the sugar comes from fruit or milk, and how much comes from added sugars,” said Michael F. Jacobson, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI first petitioned the FDA to put added sugars on Nutrition Facts labels in 1999.

Say goodbye to Vitamin A and C which will no longer be listed on labels because most Americans are already getting the recommended amounts.

Say hello to Vitamin D and potassium which will be listed for the first time and needed for bone and heart health, respectively. “Many people do not consume these nutrients in sufficient amounts,” Zanini said.

Let’s hope easier reading will lead to healthier eating. Registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix said, “Read it before you eat it.”

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Beef Marbling adds Satisfaction to Healthy Portions


You can enjoy the thrill of the grill even when the weather won’t cooperate if you use a specially designed pan with raised grooves that create the grill marks.


Demonstrating how to cooks steaks on a cooktop at the Le Creuset L’Atelier in Charleston, chef Michael Ollier made sure the cookware company’s cast iron grill pan was good and hot before placing a pretty filet mignon on the grooves.

As the steak sizzled and beefy aromas filled the air, we waited. “Always bring patience to the grill,” said Ollier, who is the corporate chef for the Certified Angus Beef brand. Picking up the steak with tongs he showed a group of food writers the perfectly charred grill lines and then placed the cooked side down again but at the opposite angle to create a crisscross design. “Diamonds are a grill’s best friend,” Ollier joked.

Beef must meet strict standards to be called Certified Angus Beef including specifications for tenderness and marbling, the tiny white threads of fat that run through the meat which add flavor and juiciness. The US Department of Agriculture grades beef based on marbling. USDA Prime has the most marbling, USDA Choice is in the middle and USDA Select has the least marbling (its the leanest grade but can often be tough when cooked on the high heat of a grill).


Certified Angus Beef is classified as USDA Choice but chefs prize it for its consistent tenderness whether cooked medium-rare or well done.

“Everyone should have the same experience no matter how they order their steak,” said chef Craig Deihl of Cypress restaurant in Charleston. Deihl pairs the filet of beef with a red pepper puree or you can ask for some house made salsa verde to add a bracing counterpoint to the richness of the beef.


Chef Ollier of Certified Angus Beef suggests chimichurri, a South American fresh herb, garlic and vinegar based sauce, “It’s fifty-fifty vinegar to oil so the acid works well to cut the fatty mouthfeel of beef.”



All this talk about beef fat and you’re probably wondering why this registered dietitian is writing about marbling. Well, here are some fast facts. The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we limit saturated fat (the kind found in beef, bacon and dairy) to less than ten percent of total calories. That means we get to enjoy a little. If the suggested portion size for beef is three ounces, it seems to me that choosing a tender juicy cut would add more satisfaction to a modest serving. A splurge on a big porterhouse steak can still be part of a healthy meal pattern if it’s an occasional treat, and enjoyed with grilled vegetables and a fresh salad. Skip the high fat Béarnaise sauce and go for the chimichurri.


“You might be surprised to find that 10 percent or less of the saturated fat in the American diet comes from beef, “said Shelley Johnson, registered dietitian with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. She said according to government food surveys, “Just 5 percent of calories in the American diet come from beef.”

All cuts of beef, regardless of grade, are a good source of zinc, iron and protein.


More Nutrition Notes: A 3-ounce serving of beef is about 170 calories, on average, yet an excellent source of six nutrients (protein, zinc, selenium, niacin, vitamin B6 and B12) and a good source of four nutrients (phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and choline).











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Dressed to Thrill! Salad Dressing Chic


Don’t make another boring salad!

Learning to make a basic vinaigrette is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Actually you don’t even need the 2! The ratio for making a vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part acid.



I like red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. But there’s a world of other vinegars to  use including Champagne, White Balsamic, Apple Cider and Rice Wine vinegars…just to name a few.

Once you learn to make a basic vinaigrette you can get creative! Whisk in orange marmalade and add minced chives to make an Orange Chive Vinaigrette. Or why not start with Sweet Tea or Bloody Mary Mix?  These recipes are from The Slim Down South Cookbook where you’ll find many more ways to Dress to Thrill with healthy and happy spring salads.

Lemon parsley vinaigrette in this mashed potato salad recipe! Inspiration is from Peru’s traditional potato dish called Causa.

Sweet Tea Vinaigrette

Make the dressing up ahead and allow it to cool; otherwise it’ll wilt your salad. Store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Makes 6 servings Hands-On 10 min. Bring 1 cup sweetened tea to a boil in a saucepan over medium-low heat; reduce heat to low, and simmer 9 to 10 minutes or until reduced to ⅓ cup. Remove from heat; cool 20 minutes. Whisk in 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar, ¼ tsp. honey, ¼ tsp. Dijon mustard, and a pinch of table salt. Whisk in 6 Tbsp. canola or olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Serving size 2 Tbsp. CALORIES 137; FAT 14.0g (sat 1.0g, mono 8.9g, poly 3.9g); PROTEIN 0g; CARB 3.3g; FIBER 0g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 0mg; SODIUM 28mg; CALC 0mg

Bloody Mary Vinaigrette

Whisk together ¼ cup spicy Bloody Mary mix, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, 1½ tsp. prepared horseradish, ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, ½ tsp. hot sauce, ¼ tsp. celery salt, and ¼ tsp. Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl. Serving size 4 tsp. CALORIES 44; FAT 5g (sat 0.6g, mono 3.3g, poly 0.5g); PROTEIN 0g; CARB 1g; FIBER 0g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 0.1mg; SODIUM 105mg; CALC 4mg





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Play with Your Food!


Let’s have some fun. Play with your food. Why not think of things a little bit differently to shake up meals to include festive ways to include more fruits and vegetables.

Crazy mixed up pizza topping idea: Ever thought of adding sliced fresh strawberries to DiGiorno pepperoni pizza? I did and it’s great! I shared the idea on NBC Atlanta & Company this week. Watch the VIDEO here!


Now that we’re exciting about new pizza topping ideas….let’s play Pizza Party Twister!


Follow the colors of Twister- red, green, yellow and blue and fill little bowls with colorful foods such as green edamame beans, yellow peppers, blueberries (why not?!) and red radishes. SPIN and choose your pizza topping. Even more creative topping and flavor pairing ideas from the chef at California Pizza Kitchen.


Puzzled by Pizza Portions?  Here’s a great guide from the good folks at Nestle.

We’ve all heard of enjoying pizza with a side salad…..but what about pizza IN a salad?  Pizza-zanella Salad is a take on the Italian classic Panzanella salad which stars leftover bread tossed in with fresh veggies. Just cut up leftover pizza and toss into any green salad for super delicious pizza flavored croutons! Bonus: you just made salad more fun and tasty.IMG_1040

It’s all Balancing Your Plate to include healthy side dishes when enjoying the deliciousness of pizza. Pizza by the way is a combo dish that includes grains, cheese which provides the nutrients in dairy (including calcium, potassium and protein), sometimes meats and many times veggies!

Pair your pizza with additional fruits and vegetables for a delicious and (bonus!) balanced meal.

Add even more veggies to the mix by tossing a creative side salad such as my recipe for:

Sweet ‘n Spicy Brussels Sprouts Slaw with carrots, golden raisins and sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds even sound fun.

Here’s the recipe:

Sweet ‘n Spicy Brussels Sprouts Slaw with Carrots, Golden Raisins and Sunflower Seeds By Carolyn O’Neil, MS RDN, author The Slim Down South Cookbook.


Makes 12 servings (one half cup each

2 pounds Brussels Sprouts (about 6 cups trimmed and sliced)

1/2 cup Golden Raisins

½ cup shredded or matchstick carrots

¼ cup sunflower seed kernels (one tablespoon reserved for garnish)

¼ cup sweet n’spicy dressing

Trim ends off Brussels Sprouts and cut into thin slices.

Place in a large bowl.

Add raisins, carrots and sunflower seeds.

Dress with 1/4 cup of Sweet ‘n Spicy dressing, tossing well to combine.

Garnish with 1 T sunflower seeds.

Sweet ‘n Spicy Dressing

Makes 12 servings (1 Tbsp.)

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup honey

2 tsp. hot sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. celery salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl.


DIsclosure: I worked with the good folks at Nestle who bring us the great frozen pizza brands of CPK and DiGiorno to create this blog post. Thank you!





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