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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
Play with Your Food segment with registered dietitian Carolyn O’Neil, MS RDN
July 2016 WGN-TV LunchBreak Segment
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!
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.
“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.
“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
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?’”
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.
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.”
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 foodsafety.gov, 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 foodsafety.gov.
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
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.
“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.
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!
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.
“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.”
The 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.
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.”
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.
Ollier 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).
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.
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
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.
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!
What ethnic cuisine do you feel like eating tonight? If you said ‘Italian’ then you’re in the menu majority.
Sixty-one percent of people polled by the National Restaurant Association said they choose Italian food at least
once a month when dining out, followed by Mexican and Chinese. While Italian
American classics such as huge portions of cheese-laden lasagna and chicken Parmesan are still popular, many menus have been modernized to reflect the style of dishes enjoyed in Italy.
After all, Italian ingredients including olives, olive oil, whole grains, seafood and vegetables are at the very heart of healthy Mediterranean diets.
“It’s great news that restaurants are lightening up Italian menus and featuring more authentic Italian dishes,” said Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, a non-profit food and nutrition education organization. “Now, Americans will get the true and healthy tastes of Italy and the Mediterranean Diet.”
Case in point is Carrabba’s Italian Grill. With over two hundred restaurants nationwide the restaurant chain recently introduced twenty new menu items. “It was time for a different way to approach Italian food,” said Jay Smith, head chef for Carrabba’s. “It’s lighter and brighter.”
So joining the classic chicken Parmesan is a new option called ‘Parmesan-crusted chicken arugula” which sautéed chicken breast crusted with panko bread crumbs and topped with fresh arugula, tomatoes and shaved Parmesan cheese with a lemon vinaigrette.
During a visit to the test kitchens of Carrabba’s in the Tampa headquarters of parent company Bloomin’ Brands, I had the opportunity to taste some of the new dishes, many of them featuring fresh vegetables.
Additions include wood-grilled salmon topped with tomato, cucumber and dill. Grilled chicken with a Chianti sauce is served with an arugula salad tossed with apples, grapes, and toasted hazelnuts.
“We wanted to find new ways to add vegetables to the menu,” said registered dietitian Maria Caranfa, who works on recipe development with Bloomin’ Brands’ chefs. “There’s grilled asparagus now wrapped in prosciutto and other small plates such as chicken with vegetables served in romaine lettuce wraps.”
Italian dining doesn’t have to be a special occasion feast. “Over fifty percent of the menu items at Carrabba’s are under 600 calories so guests can feel good about eating here on casual nights out,” said Katie Knight of Bloomin’ Brands.
Many dishes are served with a grilled lemon half so guests can up the flavor without adding calories. Small plates and platters meant for sharing have been added to the menu including a tomato caprese with fresh burrata mozzarella.
“You don’t have to be in the mood for pasta to enjoy Italian,” said Justin Cross of Carrabba’s.
But if diners are in the mood, chefs take pasta seriously here where it’s imported from Italy and cooked to order. “We are passionate how pasta is cooked,” said Smith.
They’re available now, but chefs were reluctant to put whole grain or gluten free pastas on the menu until they found acceptable products.
New school Italian it seems is moving closer to old world demand for quality.
There’s more than one fish in the sea, as the saying goes.
Relatively new to the U.S. seafood scene is a premium white fleshed fish called skrei, a wild caught Norwegian artic cod available only from January through April.
The name skrei (pronounced “sk-ray”) comes from the old Norse language for “the wanderer” because the fish is caught in cold winter months when it’s swimming to spawning grounds in northern Norway. “They swim against the current so they have more muscle and are very lean and have a delicate clean taste,” said chef Espen Larsen. “The meat has more body than other cod.”
Larsen, who owns the Culinary Academy of Oslo, visited Atlanta recently to teach the culinary and wait staff at Legal Sea Foods how to best prepare skrei and describe the fish to guests. One of the menu items sampled was pan-roasted skrei with fingerling potatoes, Brussels sprouts, olives and Meyer lemon. “You don’t want to over power the delicate flavor of the fish,” said sous chef Alexander Clyatt.
“The texture is awesome. Customers always ask about the flavor and texture of a fish and whether it’s wild or farm raised,” said server Lance Brady. “The more information the better.”
The fish is so revered in Norway that every part is utilized. The tongue is a delicacy.
“It’s only available for a short time seasonally,” said Larsen. “For me it’s like looking forward to other seasonal foods like spring asparagus.” Premium prices for the short-term treat means strict protection. “There are fish police who make sure regular coastal cod is not being mislabeled as skrei.”
The Dish on Fish
Whether you’re discovering your first bites of skrei, enjoying a favorite fish taco or lunching on tuna salad, adding more fish and shellfish to your diet is a healthy habit. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend we eat at least two four-ounce servings a week. “The guidelines tell us we’re eating plenty of protein in the U.S. but we should shift the types of protein to include more fish,” said registered dietitian Jennifer McGuire with the Marine Fisheries Institute.
The camellias are blooming in my Atlanta back yard. Please say it’s almost time for Spring.
Let’s lighten up family favorite comfort foods including mac n cheese, honey grilled pork tenderloin and baked pears for dessert. Watch the recipes come together on Atlanta and Company. Watch the video by clicking on the show name.
Here are the recipes from my Slim Down South Cookbook: Eating Well and Living Healthy in the Land of Biscuits and Bacon. Order a copy clicking here or on the title of the book!
Crunchy Pecan Slaw
You’ll have slaw left over; keep it covered in the fridge, and serve it within a day or two.
Makes 10 servings
Hands-On 20 min.
Total 28 min.
1 head napa cabbage, cut into thin strips
1 Braeburn apple, cut into thin strips
½ cup sliced radishes
½ cup Sweet-and-Spicy Dressing
3 green onions, sliced
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
Toss together cabbage and remaining ingredients in a large bowl until blended.
Serving size 1 cup CALORIES 141; FAT 9.9g (sat 0.9g, mono 5.7g, poly 2.9g); PROTEIN 2.3g; CARB 13.7g; FIBER 3.7g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 0.8mg; SODIUM 136mg; CALC 49mg
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.
Creamy, cheesy, a crunchy topping, and plenty of carbs: No wonder mac and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. It’s even made appearances as a side on Southern meat-and-three plates. Not only is this version lighter, it’s got a little ham, too. Use elbow pasta if you can’t find cellentani, cork screw shape!
Makes 8 servings
Hands-On 30 min.
Total 1 hour
1 lb. uncooked cellentani (corkscrew) pasta
2 Tbsp. butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups fat-free milk
1 (12-oz.) can fat-free evaporated milk
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded smoked Gouda cheese
½ cup (2 oz.) shredded 1.5% reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese
3 oz. fat-free cream cheese, softened
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground red pepper, divided
1 (8-oz.) package chopped smoked ham
Vegetable cooking spray
1¼ cups cornflakes cereal, crushed
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare cellentani pasta according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Gradually whisk in flour; cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk and evaporated milk until smooth; cook, whisking constantly, 8 to 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Whisk in Gouda cheese, next 3 ingredients, and ⅛ tsp. ground red pepper until smooth. Remove from heat, and stir in ham and pasta.
3. Pour pasta mixture into a 13- x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Stir together crushed cereal, 1 Tbsp. melted butter, and remaining ⅛ tsp. ground red pepper; sprinkle over pasta mixture.
4. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Note: We tested with Barilla Cellentani pasta and Cabot 1.5% Reduced Fat Sharp Cheddar Cheese.
Tenderloins are one of the leanest cuts of pork with 120 calories per 3-ounce serving—about the same as a skinless chicken breast.
Makes 8 servings
Hands-On 21 min.
Total 3 hours, 21 min.
2 (1-lb.) pork tenderloins
¼ cup lite soy sauce
½ tsp. ground ginger
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. dark sesame oil
Garnish: fresh cilantro
Remove silver skin from tenderloins, leaving a thin layer of fat. Butterfly pork tenderloins by making a lengthwise cut down center of each tenderloin, cutting to within ¼ inch of other side. (Do not cut all the way through tenderloins.) Lay flat.
2. Combine soy sauce, ginger, and garlic in a shallow dish or zip-top plastic freezer bag; add pork, turning to coat. Cover or seal, and chill 3 hours, turning occasionally.
3. Preheat grill to 350° to 400° (medium-high) heat. Stir together brown sugar, honey, and sesame oil in a small bowl.
4. Grill tenderloins, covered with grill lid, 15 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion registers 145°, turning occasionally and basting with honey mixture.
Preheat oven to 375°. Peel pears, and cut in half, cutting through stem and bottom ends. Scoop out core and some pulp to form an oval hole in center of each pear half. Place pears, cut sides up, in an 8-inch square or 11- x 7-inch baking dish.
2. Combine honey and lemon juice in a bowl. Stir in nuts and cranberries.
3. Spoon honey mixture into center of pear halves. Pour orange juice into baking dish.
4. Bake, covered, at 375° for 15 minutes; uncover and bake 12 more minutes or until pears are tender and thoroughly heated.
5. Place pear halves on individual plates; drizzle orange juice mixture evenly over pear halves. Spoon 1 Tbsp. yogurt onto each pear half, and sprinkle each pear with about 2½ tsp. Toasted Oat Topping. Serve immediately.
Preheat oven to 350°. Stir together ⅓ cup uncooked regular oats and 2 tsp. light brown sugar in a small bowl; add 1 tsp. butter, melted, tossing to coat. Spread mixture evenly on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 14 to 16 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring after 7 minutes.
If you’ve ever had the gut feeling that there’s more to eating well than counting calories and watching your cholesterol then you really should trust your gut. Research on the world within our intestinal tract shows that the mixture of microbes in the gut can make or break the body’s overall health. Referred to as the microbiome, the population of friendly bacteria that live in the gut aid digestion, help absorption of nutrients and boost immune function. “It’s the control center for human biology,” said Justin Sonnenburg, PhD co-author of The Good Gutand researcher at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. Sonnenburg and co-author wife Erica, also at Stanford, are leading the charge to place the microbiome at the center of the discussion about optimal health today. “We have more bacteria than cells in our bodies. We are more microbial than we are human,” said Justin Sonnenburg.
So what does a good gut look like? According to the Sonnenburgs and other researchers focused on intestinal health the quantity and variety of bacteria is key.
A poor diet lacking dietary fiber can wreck the microbiome’s health because fiber is what they feed on. Fiber in plant foods is considered a ‘prebiotic’ because it’s the preferred food for intestinal bacteria.
When they don’t get their ‘food’ from what we consume the bacteria can eat away at the mucosal lining of the intestinal tract and eventually perish. “Low fiber intake leads to reduced bacterial diversity in the gut,” said Erica Sonneburg. “It’s diet-induced extinction of the gut bacteria.”
The average American consumes about 15 grams of dietary fiber a day. The recommended amount for good health is between 25 and 35 grams per day.
“You have to feed your bugs, not just your body,” said registered dietitian Regan Miller Jones. “It’s yet another reason to eat more vegetables and whole grains.”
Fermented dairy foods such as yogurt and kefir with live active cultures as well as fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi help add good bacteria to the gut so are called ‘probiotic.’
“There’s an explosion of probiotics foods and beverages in the dairy aisle with beneficial live microbes,” said Erica Sonnenberg. “But keep in mind that probiotic supplement pills are unregulated and are often mislabeled. And what might work for one person might not work for others. It’s highly personalized.”
Another note of caution for fans of ‘detox’ regimens including colonics that ‘flush out’ the GI tract. Justin Sonnenberg said, “Colonic irrigation is not safe or effective for the health of the microbiome.”
Ok, Ok we all know that we’re supposed to eating less sugar. The average American consumes between 22 and 30 teaspoons of sugar per day and according to advice from the new US Dietary Guidelines it should be more like 11 or 12 teaspoons per day. Whoops! Time to cut the sugar habit in half.
US Dietary Guidelines advise we limit Added Sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories. So, if you’re an average adult consuming 2000 calories per day, that means 200 calories for added sugar – or about 12 teaspoons. This DOESN’t include the natural sugars in fruit and dairy. That’s good news.
Which I shared on NBC Atlanta & Company this week with happy, healthy host Christine Pullara. She was game for a blind fold taste test! Tune in here: SWEET NEWS
Sweet Treats with Healthy Taste
If you want to keep the sweet without busting your sugar budget try some of the delicious new products -such as Chobani SImply 100 Greek yogurt -sweetened with natural sweeteners such as evaporated cane sugar, stevia and monk fruit. Monk fruit is a tiny melon grown in Asia and is so super sweet that a tiny bit of it adds big sweetness to foods and drinks so it’s super low calorie. And it’s super to work with Chobani on nutrition education projects such as this!
Chobani Simply 100 Greek Yogurts are a great choice because they contain 75% less sugar than regular yogurt and because it’s Greek yogurt, they’re a great source of protein ( 12 grams per serving) and chicory root is added to up the fiber content to 5 grams per serving.
What’s the 100 stand for? 100 calories. (:
If you want some crunch in your yogurt snack Chobani Simply 100 Crunch contains a little ‘side car’ of dried strawberries and dark chocolate covered rice crisps. Sweet, crunchy and still 100 calories.
So Why is Sugar Limited in the Diet?
Here’s the sour situation. Consuming too much sugar racks up the calories which can ratchet up the extra pounds on the scale leading to obesity which increases your odds of getting diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Is sugar poison? NO! It’s just that too much sugar is just, well TOO much for our bodies.
Think of it like sunshine. A little sun is good and actually boosts our body’s ability to create healthy vitamin D. But, as we ALL know too much sun leads to sunburn which leads to skin cancer.
So, let’s get a little sun for good health and enjoy a little sugar for happy taste buds.
“When I got the position I made a list of ingredients I needed for the kitchen and I was told you can’t bring those in,” said Brandt.
No blue cheese, no cherries, no chia seeds and no imported citrus to name just a few of the foods tightly restricted by Ecuador’s biosecurity regulations for the Galapagos.
The goal is to prevent the introduction of invasive species and pests that could threaten indigenous plants, many vitally important to the islands’ world famous wildlife.
The Galapagos Islands have become a mecca for ecotourism attracting over 250,000 visitors a year who arrive with binoculars and cameras in tow ready to spot giant tortoises, sea turtles, penguins and unique birds including the blue-footed booby.
Galapagos National Park rules control the number of people and time limit spent in wildlife areas and you must stay at least six feet away from the creatures.
Birds don’t fly away when you walk by and curious cute baby sea lions hop towards you.
“They thrive because there are no predators here,” said Andrew Balfour, general manager of the boutique eco-property Pikaia Lodge where rooms include a copy of “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin.
Guests drink in the DNA Bar…
….and dine in the Evolution dining room.
“The magic of the Galapagos is that you see nature in an intimate way and see how the adaptation of the species is crucial from island to island,” says Balfour.
Chef Brandt, from mainland Ecuador, has enthusiastically learned to adapt to his new environment by getting to know local farmers, discovering wild cherry tomatoes and showcasing Galapagos seafood including tuna, grouper, octopus, and spiny lobsters.
On the menu is a seafood Carpaccio with peppers from chef Brandt’s kitchen garden and the crunch of yucca chips with seafood terrine. Some imported foods are allowed but restricted and undergo close inspection. Chef Brandt has to make his grocery list at least 9 days in advance,
Avocado, passion fruit, and oranges are grown here planted by early settlers.
Dairies produce milk but only fresh cheeses.
“So I’m trying to make my own aged cheese,” said Brandt.
He showed me a small wheel of yellow cheese. “I want to wait for two or three months more. It’s an experiment so we’re all learning about it.”
He makes his own red wine vinegar and ages the local grass fed beef so it’s more tender.
Traditional tastes of Ecuador at the Pikaia Lodge including a quinoa risotto and Arriba chocolate mousse with passion fruit chili coulis add a gourmet touch to Galapagos adventures. What’s a pikaia? It’s the first organism discovered with a spine. See the design with little dots in the dessert above? That’s a pikaia.
Weight loss regimens are a national obsession especially at the start of the New Year when fitness centers fill up with new converts and supermarket carts fill up with salad fixings.
Whether your goal is to trim a few pounds or overhaul eating habits for the long haul, here is a round up of fresh nutrition wisdoms from registered dietitians who specialize in health coaching.
It’s All About You
One size does not fit all fits all when it comes to nutrition. Changing what you eat can make you feel better and your jeans fit better but it can’t make you into a six-foot tall supermodel. So have realistic expectations.
“People, like dogs, come in differing sizes and shapes,” says registered dietitian Nancy Clark, author of the Sports Nutrition Guidebook. “There are St. Bernards, greyhounds, Labs, poodles and Chihuahuas. Be proud of your ‘breed’, honor your genetics, and treat your body with respect,” says Clark.
Phone a friend. Registered dietitian Annette Schottenfeld, of Nett Nutrition says, “Walk with a co-worker. Meet new friends in dance class or team training at the gym. Stay connected with fitness friends to ensure you will show-up, motivate each other and share successes.”
Some Like it Hot
Fed up with cold rabbit food? “Rather than trying to eat more and more salads, cook vegetables the way Mediterraneans do by roasting or stewing them with olive oil, onion, tomatoes and herbs,” suggests registered dietitian Elena Paravantes, health editor of Olive Oil Times.
Learn by Example
Demand for home delivered kits of pre-measured fresh ingredients with easy to follow recipes is heating up nationwide. Mary Alice Shreve, registered dietitian with Atlanta based meal kit delivery service Peach Dish makes sure recipes feature healthful foods with seasonings that add flavor without relying on salt. How about a Super Foods Salad with kale and sunflower seeds or Red Quinoa Parsnip Stew? Shreve says, “It’s all about getting people back in the kitchen. If you can put olive oil in the pan you can handle these recipe.”
Add to Your Diet
Registered dietitian Toby Amidor author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen, advises setting short term goals, “It’s very important to establish short-term benchmarks and achieve different ones every few weeks,” says Amidor. “Short-term goals should be positive. For example, eat a fruit during at least one snack time each day.”
On your mark, get set, go! The brand spanking new US Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) have just been released. They’re based on the latest and greatest food and nutrition research and are translated into advice on what we should be eating MORE of and what we should be eating LESS of to promote good health and prevent chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. US Health and Human Services Secretary Syliva Burwell says, “We can’t get broccoli to taste like ice cream but we can give Americans tools to choose healthier eating patterns.” That’s my favorite quote of the day!
Here’s a link to my sassy summary of the new DGA’s on WXIA Channel 11, Atlanta.
Go to www.choosemyplate.gov and you’ll find an easy summary and how-to follow for the new dietary guidelines which are good until until 2020, by the way. The guidelines are released every five years. A lot can change and a few things did this time, too.
Sweet call out– for the first time the advice on sugar is to limit added sugars to less than 10% of total calories. They are referring to the extra sugar added to coffee, tea, sodas or even to yogurts. They’re not talking about the naturally occurring sugars in dairy products and fruit. So keep an eye on the grams of sugar listed on the Nutrition Facts Label on foods and drinks you buy. Bonnie Taub Dix, registered dietitian nutritionist, explains it really well here.
“Sugar: The guidelines suggest that added sugars should not account for more than “10 percent of total energy.” So what does that mean? Here’s the quick math: The average caloric recommendation equals 2,000 calories (even though that’s more than many of us need). So 10 percent of 2,000 calories equals 200 calories. Then 200 calories of sugar equal 50 grams (g) of sugar. One can of cola soda has 35 g of sugar. One bottle of water has zero grams of sugar.”Bonnie Taub-Dix, MS RDN
Cholesterol Gets a Pass- Sort of:
Dietary cholesterol, found in foods such as eggs and shrimp, is NOT associated with increased blood cholesterol levels, so the new DGA’s no NOT include a limit on dietary cholesterol. Enjoy your eggs as part of the list of healthy protein foods encouraged. How about celebrating with a low country shrimp boil from the Slim Down South Cookbook?
But, saturated fat, the kind in heavily marbled beef and in bacon, IS associated with increased blood cholesterol and increased risk of heart disease so the new DGA’s limit saturated fat intake to less than 10% of total calorie intake.
Bonne Taub-Dix to the rescue again, “Less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fats. The Nutrition Facts label can be used to check for saturated fats. Foods that are high in saturated fat include butter, whole milk, meats that are not labeled as lean, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil.”
The recipes and road rules for slim and trim healthy eating in The Slim Down South Cookbook follow the new US Dietary Guidelines in a delicious and nutritious way.
How about starting with eating more vegetable based protein with a Slow Cooker Veggie Chili. A super food for the Super Bowl. Great for game day or any day!!!!
Here’s the recipe!
Slow-Cooker Veggie Chili
Corn, beans, and squash are known as the Three Sisters in Native American agriculture because they can be grown at the same time in the same soil. This tasty, easy recipe makes enough to feed you and up to 15 sisters.
Makes 16 servings
Hands-On 20 min.
Total 8 hours, 20 min.
4 medium carrots, diced (1 cup)
2 celery ribs, diced (½ cup)
1 medium-size sweet onion, diced (1¼ cups)
Vegetable cooking spray
2 (8-oz.) packages cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 large zucchini, chopped (2 cups)
1 yellow squash, chopped (1 cup)
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. seasoned pepper
¼ tsp. salt
1 (16-oz.) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (16-oz.) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15.5-oz.) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like on a river cruise then hop on board and take off with me along the Rhone River on the elegant Scenic Emerald. Best part?
Well there are so many best parts…but if you’re like me you’ll really relax and enjoy the cruise from morning to night because Scenic is all-inclusive.
That means no pesky bills to sign for shore excursions or adult beverages.
Pop goes the Champagne from breakfast to bed time.
All aboard who’s going aboard!!!!
The first difference you notice is that the river ship glides along calm waterways instead of riding choppy seas often associated with ocean cruising.
These long sleek ships built to transport passengers along wide European rivers, past picturesque villages and vineyards are gaining momentum as a sought after vacation experience.
Virtuoso ranks river cruises in the top five 2016 travels trends.
On a seven-day cruise on the Rhone River in France aboard the Scenic Emerald, I discovered many delightful advantages of traveling by river.
The pace is leisurely with pastoral scenery in view from large windows or on open decks.
There’s an impressive display of crew navigation as the ship traverses river locks with only inches to spare on either side of the ship!
On the top deck you can chat with the Captain as he guides his Scenic “Space Ship” carefully through the locks.
Please don’t try to distract him.
Another bonus for travelers ready to explore, when docked in town you’re in walking or biking distance to most of the sights.
In Arles…..or Arlys…
…we walked in Vincent Van Gogh’s footsteps.
The wharf here inspired the artist’s iconic painting “Starry Night.”
The bakeries in Arles inspired me; where fresh strawberry tarts are a culinary work of art.
France on the Menu
On board the Scenic Emerald, meals feature the regional foods and wines of France with many of them produced in the Rhone River valley.
Menus are hyper-local with cheese selections changing to include varieties from the area we were cruising through that day.
Don’t know the difference between a goat’s milk Rigotte from Lyon and a cow’s milk Charolais from Burgundy? Join the cheese class with a dozen French cheeses to sample.
Adding to the laid-back luxury, wines and cocktails on Scenic cruises are all inclusive. Pop some bubbly for breakfast and end the evening with a cordial in your coffee. It’s all part of the gastronomic experience included in the fare.
For passengers craving a deeper dive into what’s for dinner, executive chef Tamas Kiss leads a tour through the bustling Les Halles market in Avignon.
He chats with butchers and bakers and offers sample tastes of local breads, cheeses, and produce of Provence.
“It was great to see the foods of summer,” says Kiss.
“But now it’s autumn and there are exciting new things like mushrooms and different olives in the market.”
Chef Kiss caps off the visit with a tasting of freshly shucked oysters.
Hey look! Someone found a pearl!!!
Meanwhile back on board the Scenic Emerald things are really cooking!
It’s literally all hands on deck to provision the ship as boxes delivered to the ship in Avignon are loaded into storage areas near the galley by all of the crew. Even the bartenders, housekeepers and piano player help in the ‘bucket brigade’ to get the groceries on board!
All of this exceptional teamwork leads to exceptional meals from beautiful buffets…
…to elegant dinners.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are highly anticipated adventures for the palate.
This Scenic culinary team is serious ……
…..without taking themselves too seriously!
Thank you Chef Tamas Kiss. You can take a little break now.
The menus are inspiring and exciting and miraculously appear from this tiny galley!
One evening we’re treated to dinner featuring dishes from the great chefs of France.
Your every whim from sushi to sensational desserts are on the Scenic menu.
Late night craving for BLT with fries? Whoops, that was for me after a night of dancing to the late night disco music. (:
From artichoke truffle soup to whole roasted lamb, menus are marked with indications to alert those with food allergies. Even more good nutrition on the “Vitality Corner” vegetarian menu with entrees such as bulgur risotto with mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and spicy basil salad.