It’s not everyday you get to meet “America’s Pig Farmer of the Year” and I went all the way to a food and fact filled conference in Vienna ( it was really no trouble at all thank you!) to meet Brad Greenway.
Brad, who is a pig farmer from Mitchell, South Dakota spoke to a group of food and nutrition communicators at a conference called FoodFluence held in Austria in February.
The conference attended by many of my registered dietitian nutritionist colleagues featured fascinating, inspiring and up to the minute food and nutrition topics including farming and sustainability issues.
The chandelier festooned room of the Hotel Imperial where we held our meetings was equally inspiring!
Now back to what I learned about raising pigs today.
Brad and his wife, Peggy, own two wean-to-finish pig barns.
The Greenways have focused on doing what’s right for people, pigs and the planet on his family farm for the last 40 years. They also raise beef cattle and grow corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa.
Healthy pigs are happy pigs and happy pigs are healthy. That’s the bottom line. There’s no room and no tolerance for cruelty to animals in agriculture today. Brad Greenway addressed a few concerns people have about pig farming and now I understand why mothers are separated from their new borns and why the moms are kept away from each other after they’ve given birth.
Brad explained that sows can experience some pretty intense pregnancy and postpartum anxiety and will get into fights with each other. Keeping the mothers separated from each other in crates, protects them from bigger pigs who may get really rough with another smaller mother. Kind of like the maternity ward with private rooms.
Turns out piglets do much better in the warmer temperatures of the “nursery” where they’re kept and fed and cared for under the watchful eye of farmers and veterinarians who are specialists in raising swine. Also, just as human parents are cautioned not to sleep with newborn infants in the same bed to prevent the risk of rolling over on the little critter, the same goes for baby pigs.
Sometimes the best souvenirs are memories of uniquely wonderful dishes that add a delicious dimension to travel experiences.
This veggie packed meatloaf recipe created by Executive Chef Josh Drage of The Ranch at Rock Creek is beautiful when sliced revealing jewel like pieces of carrot and celery.
Take a bite, close your eyes and ‘taste travel’ to the ranch lands of western Montana.
Thank you to Gena Berry of Culinary Works for translating chef’s measurements into home cook lingo.
The Ranch at Rock Creek Montana Meatloaf
1 teaspoon, olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 carrots, peeled, 1/2″ dice
3 stalks celery, 1/2″ dice
1 medium onion, peeled, 1/2″ dice
1 large egg
1/2 cup part skim ricotta
1 shake hot sauce
1 teaspoon, salt
1/2 teaspoon, black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped
¼ cup breadcrumbs
1 lb. lean ground beef
In a large sauté’ pan, heat oil and sauté’ shallot until soft and starting to caramelize. Add carrots, celery and onion and cook until just softened. Remove from the heat and let cool.
In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg with a large fork, stir in the ricotta, hot sauce, salt, pepper and sautéed vegetables to combine. Add the breadcrumbs and ground beef and gently stir until well mixed.
Form the mixture into a slender loaf and bake on a sheet pan.
Bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, until a meat thermometer reaches 160°, about an hour.
Let the meat loaves rest a bit, then slice using a serrated knife into once inch thick slices. Serve with roasted new potatoes garnished with fresh thyme.
More on the Ranch at Rock Creek.http://www.ranchatrockcreek.com From trout fishing to taking a spin on the mountain bike parked outside your door, this getaway is the essence of ‘glamping’!
Stay in the main house or tuck away into the tented suites complete with footed bathtubs and a fire pit to warm your feet next to the gurgling creek steps outside.
This western Montana Relais & Chateau property is an outdoor lover’s western adventure and luxe lover’s fresh air pampering all under the same big sky.
It’s time to stretch on the spandex, hit the gym with folks who look like they’ve never been there before ( or in a long time )- bless their hearts.
In fact, YES, bless their hearts because no matter what it take to get back on board with health and fitness enthusiasm- good for you!!!
But, here are my Top 3 New Year’s Diet Traps to avoid:
#3. If I buy the foods on the 2017 Trend List I’ll be so much healthier this year.
No, jack fruit probably won’t change your health. But, it might affect how much change you have in your wallet. Often, these ‘super fruits’ are super expensive.
January is citrus season.
Eat more affordable in season delicious and nutritious oranges, grapefruit and add flavor to cooking with freshly squeezed lemon and lime.
#2. I’m going to cook more at home and avoid eating out.
Well, that depends what you’re cooking.
Restaurant meals can be very healthy and in fact, in May 2017 all restaurant chains ( with 20 or more outlets ) have to provide Nutrition Facts information on menu items so you can see what you’re getting into when you order the deep fried calamari or double fudge brownie cake. Or that the hamburger you really want has fewer calories and fat grams than the entree salad you thought you should order. (:
Back to cooking at home; good idea!
Get everyone in the family to learn to add more vegetable to all meals, even meatloaf! This recipe from The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana is one of my all time favorites because the meatloaf includes big jewel like pieces of carrots, mushrooms, and leeks.
RECIPE FOR MONTANA MEATLOAF: Scroll down below! OK it’s written by a chef, so measurements are in weights. But the ratios work for smaller batches, too.
Learn to season with no calorie flavors such as salsas, vinegars, mustards, hot sauces, herbs and spices.
The Slim Down South Cookbook: Eating Well and Living Healthy in the Land of Biscuits and Bacon is great place to start building your healthy cooking skills.
(My recipe below for Shrimp and Grits-(see recipe posted below).. is just one of many easy and delicious weeknight meals in The Slim Down South Cookbook.)
Also, jump into a fabulous new healthy food trend- home delivered meal kits such as Peach Dish, based in Atlanta featuring southern grown foods but shipped locally and nationally.I’m working with Peach Dish as one of their registered dietitians to provide nutrition information and healthy cooking tips.
Now drumroll…..my favorite New Year’s Diet Trap to AVOID!!!
#1.This year I vow to NEVER eat ice cream or French fries EVER again!
Hey, good luck with that. Chances are by Super Bowl Sunday you’ll be knee deep in nachos.
So, rather than making huge promises that will be a huge burden to keep, make small, measurable changes. For instance, when I enjoy ice cream after dinner I’ll serve myself two small scoops in a bowl and top with fresh strawberries or blueberries. I honestly love French fries, so I’ll allow myself to enjoy them once a week- especially if they’re really good! Try mustard ( no calories ) with fries, as opposed to ketchup (lots of sugar).
And as always remember that The More You Know, The More You Can Eat!
Happy and Healthy New Year Friends! Carolyn O’Neil, MS RDN ( French fry lover, especially shhhhh dipped into Champagne.)
Shrimp and Grits from Southern Living’s The Slim Down South Cookbook, by Carolyn O’Neil, MS RDN
2. Prepare Creamy Shrimp Sauce: Peel shrimp; devein, if desired. Sprinkle shrimp with pepper and ⅛ tsp. salt. Cook in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat 1 to 2 minutes on each side or just until shrimp turn pink. Remove from skillet. Reduce heat to medium. Add oil; heat 30 seconds. Whisk in flour; cook 30 seconds to 1 minute. Whisk in broth and next 5 ingredients; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until thickened. Stir in shrimp and spinach; cook 1 minute or until spinach is slightly wilted. Serve immediately over grits.
Serving size ½ cup grits and about ⅓ cup shrimp sauce CALORIES 235; FAT 6.1g (sat 1.9g, mono 2g, poly 0.6g); PROTEIN 19.1g; CARB 25.2g; FIBER 1.4g; CHOL 119mg; IRON 3.3mg; SODIUM 74
The Ranch at Rock Creek Meatloaf
• 5# ground beef
• 1100g (2.5#) carrot
• 550g (1.25#) celery
• 550g (1.25#) onion
• 300g (10oz) shallot
• 500g (2 cups) ricotta
• 1 ¼ cup bread crumb
• 4 large eggs
• 20g (.75 oz) salt
• 5g (.2oz) black pepper
• 5g (.2oz) fresh thyme
• 5g (3 shakes of) Tabasco
Sauté carrots, celery and onion until just softened.
Sauté the shallots separately and cook until sweet and almost caramelized.
Mix all ingredients in the stand mixer until just combined.
Cook off a test piece and check seasoning.
Split into two or three loaves making them long and slender, the same width all the way down.
Bake on sheets, leaving space between each loaf.
Bake at 325-350 degrees uncovered for 45 minutes.
It’s the holiday season with lots of festive get togethers. Hope you’re ready to put on your sparkle and get those parties!
But as an invited guest you may generously ask the host, “What can I bring?”
If their answer is “Why don’t you just bring a side dish?” I’ve got you covered.
Here are some great tasting crowd pleasing recipes that just so happen to be super easy to prepare. I created a buffet of EASY HOLIDAY SIDES for NBC Atlanta & Company.
And if you shop at ALDI food markets, they’re super affordable too. Have you ever been to and ALDI? No frills, but all fabulous.
ALDI is a great place to buy holiday essentials like fresh seasonal produce and organics, dairy, gluten-free foods, USDA choice beef and bakery items, priced up to 50 percent less than at other traditional grocery stores.
Disclosure: I’m working with ALDI this holiday season to get the word out on their great food products, award winning wines and all you need for holiday bash. Find lots more tips, inspiration and recipe ideas at ALDI Holiday Hub.
First Side Up! Twice Baked Butternut Squash
Cut a butternut squash in half, bake and then scoop out the insides leaving enough skin to create your ‘boat’. Mix mashed butternut squash with honey goat cheese, …well hold on…here’s the recipe from ALDI Holiday Hub website.
Twice-Baked Butternut Squash
SERVINGS: 8 | COST PER SERVING: $1.12† | PREP: 10 MIN | COOK: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN
In a large baking dish, place butternut squash cut side up. Add hot water, cover with foil. Bake until tender, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven, discard water, allow to cool. Scoop out tender parts of squash leaving skin intact.
In a medium bowl, combine squash, 3 ounces of goat cheese, half & half, melted butter, mixed berries, pumpkin pie spice, salt and pepper. Stir until well combined. Scoop mixture back into squash skin, top with remaining goat cheese and chopped pecans. Bake until mixture is slightly firm, approximately 10-12 minutes.
Change oven setting to broil.
Broil until cheese is browned, approximately 5-8 minutes.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Morgan, ALDI Test Kitchen
How about these Tomato and Goat Cheese Santas? Stuffed with garlic and herb goat cheese, they are an adorable addition to any holiday party and are pop-in-your-mouth easy to eat and delicious! Top a hollowed out cheery tomato with a grape tomato half as the hat! OK…it’s my secret holiday mission to get folks to eat more fruits and vegetables during the holidays…and all year long!
If you’re going to build and bring a cheese and meat platter to a party don’t forget to add the fresh fruit to add good taste and good fresh seasonal nutrition. The gourmet cheeses including a white cheddar with cranberry and a beautiful brie cheese are from…you guessed it…ALDI.
Pears are in season right now and add a naturally fresh sweet taste to cheese platters. A included Anjou (brown) and Bartlett (green) pears to my platter on Atlanta & Company. Thank you USA Pears!
Oh, and to round things out….how about a little indulgence with teeny tiny bites of cheesecake and wonderful chocolate covered gingerbread cookies, too. The wines, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Italian Prosecco are wines from ALDI’s award winning and super affordable wine collection.
Ok let’s get to the party!!!! Happy Holidays everyone! And THANK YOU Mallory for your fab food styling skills! You made everything look sooooo great! More plaid please. (:
Every food has its day and November 3rd has been designated ( not sure by whom originally) as National Sandwich Day.
What’s your favorite?
From hero to gyros, sandwiches are easy to eat and even easier to love. History or legends that became history tell us that John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich in jolly old England ‘invented’ what became know as the sandwich in the 1700’s. The story goes that he was an avid gambler and rather than leaving the hot pursuit of winning cards to take a meal, he ordered meat between two slices of bread so he could use one hand to keep the cards going and one hand to fend of hunger.
The most popular sandwich in the US, according to a number of polls, is the …drum roll……. turkey sandwich, followed by ham and chicken. But, sandwich lovers and sandwich crafters know no bounds of creativity.
Here are a few ideas to add style and good nutrition to the great sandwich.
Add blueberries to a grilled cheese sandwich. Why not? the sweet pop of the blueberries warmed on the griddle and matched with a melty gouda or white cheddar is delicious.
We all know the BLT, bacon, lettuce and tomato. But why not make a BLAT and add slices of ripe avocado to the stack. Avocados add a luscious creaminess and healthy fats to the mix.
Pile your sandwich high with salads inside. The Chopped Chicken Sandwich with Crunchy Pecan and Apple Slaw is great way to enjoy veggies and fruit right between the bread. Recipe is from my Slim Down South Cookbook: Eating Well and Living Healthy in the Land of Biscuits and Bacon.
Perhaps the Earl of Sandwich would have been even luckier at the tables with this healthy improvement over simply meat and bread.
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 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!).
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.
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
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
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
But, 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:
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.
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.
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.
First, here are some tips from The Dish for preparing perfectly browned and tender boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
A Simple Chicken Breast Sauté:
Remove the excess fat and sinew from the boneless, skinless chicken breast.
Place shiny side down on cutting board and cover with sheet of wax paper.
Pound breast with wooden kitchen mallet or a rolling pin to even thickness.
Season with salt and pepper.
Heat sauté pan and add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom.
Add the chicken breasts, without crowding the pan.
When a half inch of white shows on the sides of each breast, turn over with tongs.
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 Amazon.com to keep in your world inspired kitchen?
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.
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
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…..
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.
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!
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
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!
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
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.”
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.