Category Archives: Reads and Recipes

A World of Tastes in Your Kitchen

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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.

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

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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.

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Click here to watch the segment.

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

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

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A Simple Chicken Breast Sauté:

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

 

Now it’s time to accessorize!

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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?

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Explore Ireland’s Countryside in Style

Irish Countryside Serves Up Local Fare and Active Outings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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To the Manor!

Step inside Ballyfin’s neo-classical manor house…

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

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

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

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

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Irish Country Estates: Gardens and Guns 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Now let’s visit dreamy Ashford Castle. 

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Crystal clear waters of Lough Corrib

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Did I mention the ham cart? (:

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Green Light for Tourism Ireland: Delicious Dublin

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

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

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

There are lively pubs to enjoy folk music…

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I thought this place looked O’good.

…..a pint of Guinness, perfectly poured…

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with traditional Irish stew or Cottage Pie…

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Or Hey! even gluten-free fish and chips!

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

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…..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.

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I really got into being a Guinness fan.

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

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

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

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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 

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

Irish Art at the Table

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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…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…..

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Modern-Day Dublin

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Where are my falcons????!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wellness Travel is Healthy Trend

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

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

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

Boom in Well Being

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound Sleep

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

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

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

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

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Mexico City Healthy Gourmet

 

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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

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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).

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Mexico City’s Healthy Moves

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

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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.

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

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“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.

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

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Delicioso.

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Marvelous Mexico City Cuisine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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“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.


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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.

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“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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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Need more chocolate?

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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.

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

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

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Farmer’s Market Pizza!


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

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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…..

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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!

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

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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!

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Farmer’s Market Finds Help Balance Your Plate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recipes Here:

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

July 2016 WGN-TV  LunchBreak Segment

 

Pizza-Nella Salad

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

 Yield: 1 large entrée salad

Timing: Prep time = 15 minutes

Ingredients

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

½ cup grape tomatoes

¼ medium onion, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp olive oil

2 cups bite-size pieces Romaine lettuce

2 tbsp. basil pesto

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

 

Method of Production (Instructions)

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Makes 12 servings (one half cup each )

 

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

1/2 cup Golden Raisins

½ cup shredded or matchstick carrots

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

¼ cup sweet n’spicy dressing

 

Trim ends off Brussels Sprouts and cut into thin slices.

Place in a large bowl.

Add raisins, carrots and sunflower seeds.

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

Garnish with 1 T sunflower seeds.

 

 

Sweet ‘n Spicy Dressing

 

Makes 12 servings (1 Tbsp.)

 

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup honey

2 tsp. hot sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. celery salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

 

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl.

 

 

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Food & Wine Classic in Aspen Elevates Taste and Health

Aspen Heights of Food & Wine

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

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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

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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?’”

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

Octogenarian Jacques Pepin replied,

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

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

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Vacation Weight Gain Slight but Steady

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Hold the Pina Coladas

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

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

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

Oh and have a good time!

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

 

 

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Southern Vegetables Celebrated at Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

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

 

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

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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.

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Cold beer and hot chicken!

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

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How it’s done.

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

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Golden Lentil Salad, Odette

 

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

 

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

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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.”

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Chef Mark Abernathy gets excited about greens!

 

 

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Beef Marbling adds Satisfaction to Healthy Portions

 

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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

 

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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.

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“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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Play with Your Food!

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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!

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the recipe:

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

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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.

ENJOY!

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

 

 

 

 

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Catch this Norwegian Fish

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Norwegian chef Espen Larsen

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.

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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.”

 

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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.

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“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.”

 

Skrei is a featured fish on March menus at Legal Sea Foods in Atlanta.

The fish is so revered in Norway that every part is utilized. The tongue is a delicacy.
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“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.”

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Always fun to meet a new chef!

The Dish on Fish

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Espen and Legal Seafoods Atlanta chef Frank Judkins

 

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.

 

 

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Comfort Foods Lighten Up!

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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.

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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

  1. 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

Sweet-and-Spicy Dressing

Makes 12 servings

Hands-On 5 min.

Total 5 min.

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup honey

2 Tbsp. hot sauce

2 Tbsp. canola oil

1 tsp. celery salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

  1. 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

 

 Baked Smokin’ Mac & Cheese

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

 

  1. 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.

    CALORIES 453; FAT 12.1g (sat 6.8g, mono 2.3g, poly 0.3g); PROTEIN 26.8g; CARB 59.9g; FIBER 2.1g; CHOL 48mg; IRON 3mg; SODIUM 846mg; CALC 398mg

 

Honey-Grilled Pork Tenderloins

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

 

  1. 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.

    Serving size 3 ounces CALORIES 181; FAT 3.6g (sat 1g, mono 1.4g, poly 0.9g); PROTEIN 24.5g; CARB 11.5g; FIBER 0.1g; CHOL 74mg; IRON 1.2mg; SODIUM 337mg; CALC 12mg

 

Baked Pears with Toasted Oat Topping

Makes 6 servings

Hands-On 25 min.

Total 1 hour, 11 min., including topping

 

3 Bosc pears

2 Tbsp. honey

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

⅓ cup toasted almonds or pecan pieces

⅓ cup sweetened dried cranberries

½ cup orange juice

6 Tbsp. vanilla bean 2% reduced-fat Greek yogurt

Toasted Oat Topping

 

  1. 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.

    Note: We tested with Craisins.

    Serving size 1 pear half with 2½ tsp. topping CALORIES 196; FAT 4.5g (sat 0.9g, mono 2.2g, poly 1.0g); PROTEIN 3.6g; CARB 39.5g; FIBER 5.2g; CHOL 3mg; IRON 0.8mg; SODIUM 14mg; CALC 53mg

 

Toasted Oat Topping

Makes ⅓ cup Hands-On 5 min. Total 15 min.

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.

Serving size about 2½ tsp. CALORIES 24; FAT 0.8g (sat 0.4g, mono 0.2g, poly 0.1g);

 

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Feed Your Gut

Good for Your Gut

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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 Gut and 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.

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Erica and 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.”

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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.”

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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.”

 

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Let’s River Cruise 2016

This is how we roll…..on the river!

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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?

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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.

IMG_5712That means no pesky bills to sign for shore excursions or adult beverages.

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Pop goes the Champagne from breakfast to bed time.

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All aboard who’s going aboard!!!!

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The first difference you notice is that the river ship glides along calm waterways instead of riding choppy seas often associated with ocean cruising.

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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.

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Virtuoso ranks river cruises in the top five 2016 travels trends.

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On a seven-day cruise on the Rhone River in France aboard the Scenic Emerald, I discovered many delightful advantages of traveling by river.

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The pace is leisurely with pastoral scenery in view from large windows or on open decks.

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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!

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On the top deck you can chat with the Captain as he guides his Scenic “Space Ship” carefully through the locks.

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Please don’t try to distract him.

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Another bonus for travelers ready to explore, when docked in town you’re in walking or biking distance to most of the sights.

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Scenic provides electric bikes for passengers to do solo exploring and get some exercise.
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Your castle or mine?

In Arles…..or Arlys…

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…we walked in Vincent Van Gogh’s footsteps.

IMG_5088The wharf here inspired the artist’s iconic painting “Starry Night.”

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The bakeries in Arles inspired me; where fresh strawberry tarts are a culinary work of art.

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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.

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Menus are hyper-local with cheese selections changing to include varieties from the area we were cruising through that day.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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He chats with butchers and bakers and offers sample tastes of local breads, cheeses, and produce of Provence.

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“It was great to see the foods of summer,” says Kiss.

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“But now it’s autumn and there are exciting new things like mushrooms and different olives in the market.”

IMG_5091Chef Kiss caps off the visit with a tasting of freshly shucked oysters.

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Hey look! Someone found a pearl!!!

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Meanwhile back on board the Scenic Emerald things are really cooking!

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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!

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All of this exceptional teamwork leads to exceptional meals from beautiful buffets…

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…to elegant dinners.

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Breakfast, lunch and dinner are highly anticipated adventures for the palate.

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This Scenic culinary team is serious ……

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…..without taking themselves too seriously!

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Thank you Chef Tamas Kiss. You can take a little break now.

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The menus are inspiring and exciting and miraculously appear from this tiny galley!

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One evening we’re treated to dinner featuring dishes from the great chefs of France.

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Your every whim from sushi to sensational desserts are on the Scenic menu.

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Baked Alaska? Of course!

Late night craving for BLT with fries? Whoops, that was for me after a night of dancing to the late night disco music. (:

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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.
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As the river flows …..

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so do the fabulous foods and wines on Scenic.

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Maybe just one more small glass of rose….
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2016 Healthy Food Trends

Look Ahead to Food 2016

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EXTRA EXTRA READ ALL ABOUT IT…OR WATCH THE CLIP HERE FROM ATLANTA AND COMPANY

 As we celebrate the holidays and look ahead to January it’s time for the annual tradition of making predictions for the New Year.

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Food and nutrition experts are part of the crystal ball gazing game. What will be in grocery carts and on restaurant menus in 2016? Here’s a sample of taste trends in the foodie forecast from those who know nutrition.

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Clean Labels Spread to Fine Dining

“This year was marked by tons of major food companies, in addition to fast-food and fast-casual restaurants, announcing the ‘healthification’ of their menus through the banning of artificial ingredients or additives. In 2016, we can expect to see this effect ‘trickle up’ to fine dining sit-down restaurants where consumers are going to demand more than ‘locally produced’ or ‘made in house’ to signify a holistic approach to health.”

—Kelly Hensel, Senior Digital Editor, Institute of Food Technologists

         Sweet New Interest in Bitter

“Bitter, once a flavor even foodies avoided, is now enjoying a place in the limelight. Bitter beverages, chocolates and greens like escarole, endive and frisee are getting more attention and will be showing up more on menus in 2016. If you’re new to bitter leafy greens combine bitter with sweet: Bitter greens go great with raisins, pears, roasted pumpkin or baked sweet potato.”

-Ashley Koff, registered dietitian for Earthbound Farm

Savory Yogurt Dishes

“Greek yogurt has been popular for quite some time, and manufacturers are now getting creative with flavors. Trends include mixing fruit with a savory twist like ginger and orange, feta and watermelon, as well as olive oil, seeds and spices. Greek yogurt is a nutritional powerhouse loaded with protein, probiotics to promote healthy gut bacteria, Vitamin B12, calcium and vitamin D.  New flavors will make this healthy food even more versatile: dip with crudités, use as sauce for chicken or fish.” -Tanya Zuckerbrot, registered dietitian, author the F-Factor Diet

Pulses on the Plate

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The crop category for beans, peas, lentils and other legumes, pulses are moving from humble to hero status. In fact, the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2016 the “Year of Pulses” recognizing the role of pulse crops in sustainable agriculture and healthy diets worldwide. Heart healthy pulses are gluten free and a good source of fiber, vegetable protein, B- vitamins, potassium, and iron.

Spice it Up

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STIR FRIED BEEF WITH SPICY ASIAN FLAVORS RECIPE HERE 

McCormick, the company famous for spices, shares an annual flavor forecast. For 2016 the six emerging flavor trends identified include hot and spicy flavors paired with tangy tastes. The company’s forecast report says, “Spicy finds a welcome contrast with tangy accents such as lime, rice vinegar, yuzu, tamarind, Meyer lemon, cranberry, kumquats and ponzu to elevate the eating experience.” Sambal sauce, a spicy Southeast Asian condiment is an example of this trend made with chilies, rice vinegar, sugar and garlic.

Win-Win for Taste & Health

Does it seem like advice on nutrition changes with the daily headlines? In a move to help clear up confusion about what to eat for good health in 2016, nutrition researchers met in Boston recently at a conference organized by Old Ways and Harvard University School of Public Health.. “At the end of the day, there are many different ways to eat well,” said Cynthia Harriman, Oldways Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies. “Whether you like your foods spicy or plain; whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian or omnivorous; whether you live in Beijing or Boston — the good news is that there are many different foods and flavors that all lead to better health.” Bottom line: nutrition experts agreed that food can and should be good for human health, good for the planet and simply good and delicious.

Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year!

 

 

 

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Foodie in the Family Gift Ideas

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If you’ve got a ‘foodie’ on your holiday gift list or someone who wants to become one in the New Year here are some simple, affordable and fun suggestions in the culinary category.

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Watch the segment with  Christine Pullara and me with all of the gift ideas on NBC Atlanta & Company right here!

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“The designers in the housewares industry are truly ‘building a better mousetrap or cheese knife’ every day,” says Mary S. Moore, owner and founder of Atlanta based Cook’s Warehouse.  “For instance the tofu press has totally changed and made effortless the process of removing moisture from tofu, from hours of squeezing to placing in a press and walking away.  There are thousands of examples of this kind of ‘aha and/or duh’ innovation.”

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Healthy eating begins with healthy cooking and the easier the tasks become the easier it will be to enjoy time in the kitchen preparing meals to help support weight management goals all year round.

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Gifts for Healthy Cooking

  • Salad spinner- create a gourmet gift basket and fill the salad spinner with olive oils, mustards and vinegars for making vinaigrettes.
  • Slow cooker- one of the best ways to tenderize tasty cuts of lean meat in stews packed with tasty vegetables.
  • Non-stick pans – great for sautéing vegetables with just a little bit of oil.
  • Microplane grater – for zesting citrus and grating hard cheeses and whole spices.
  • Great gadgets – make fruit and vegetable prep a breeze and a lot of fun with produce specific gadgets such as a jalapeno corer, cherry pitter, citrus juicer, strawberry huller, avocado cuber, garlic peeler and ginger grater.
  • Specialty spices – more expensive spices like cardamom, vanilla, saffron, smoked paprika and curry powders are elegant gifts to add flavor without sodium and healthy antioxidants with no calories.
  • Immersion blender – make rich and creamy textured soups and sauces from cooked vegetables without the need for much or any cream.
  • Spiralizer- to make oodles of ‘zoodles’, these great gadgets turn vegetables such as zucchini into pasta-like swirls.
  • Cooking classes – great gift for the gourmet or the kitchen beginner.

Moore, who offers over 800 cooking classes per year, says, “Our most popular cooking class is Knife Skills 101.  It’s a great building block and helps the student to become more confident in their abilities and feel more at ease in the kitchen.”

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Fit for Fitness

  • Fitness sensors – they just keep getting better and better and even talk to your smart phone! Wearable digital fitness bands keep track of activity, food intake, and sleep patterns.
  • Fitness Gear – Clothes or equipment for an activity someone does or wants to try such as yoga or Pilates mat, yoga blocks, hiking poles, sports specific workout clothes and shoes.

Gifts for Gardeners

  • Little garden kits – Snip fresh herbs to add healthy seasonal taste to recipes. Small decorative containers of grow–your-own fresh herbs can sprout now on winter windowsills.
  • Big garden help – wrap up a brand new shovel, rake, or garden hose and attach vegetable seeds packets to plant in the spring.

 Something Special

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The Ruffino Bruschetta Board by Noble Goods is hand crafted from walnut and is designed to beautifully display toppings for bruschetta such as olives, cheese, roasted red peppers and hummus.  And introducing the perfect stemware for enjoying Champagne. Meet the Riedel Veritas Champagne Wine glass. Yes, even better than Champagne flutes for savoring the delicate nuances of Champagne.

Merry Christmas and happy shopping!

 

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Modern Family Holiday Menus

 

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What are you making for Thanksgiving dinner this year? If your answer is “reservations”, you are among the 33 million Americans who rely on restaurants for all or part of their Thanksgiving feast. According to the National Restaurant Association, Thanksgiving has become the number two busiest day of the year for eateries. (Mother’s Day is number one.)

Whether you’re doing the cooking at home, taking a dish to a gathering or making restaurant reservations for Thanksgiving dinner Atlanta area chefs offer delicious ideas to add an inventive and healthy twist to menu traditions. Move beyond the green bean casserole and be inspired by the vegetable dishes chefs create with seasonal produce. After all the mission of the very first Thanksgiving feast was to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. The menu at 103 West includes a butternut squash soup garnished with fragrant truffle oil and the turkey dressing is made with Granny Smith apples and fresh rosemary. Seasons 52 serves caramelized Brussels sprouts seasoned with crispy bacon, garlic and Parmesan.

Winter Salads

Salads are often overlooked in the parade of roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. A crisp and colorful salad perks up taste buds and lightens up the menu a bit. At Southern Art the kale salad is garnished with bourbon macerated mission figs, cherry tomatoes and pecans. The poached pear, watercress and endive salad at The Shed at Glenwood is topped with goat cheese and peanuts. Another inspiring salad idea for a Thanksgiving spread is 103 West’s Boston Butter Lettuce Salad with apples, celery, currants and toasted walnuts.

Modern Family Menus

From the head of the table to the kids’ table, there are bound to be a few folks at Thanksgiving gatherings this year who have unique dietary needs including vegetarian, vegan, nut allergies, gluten or lactose intolerance. So no doubt whoever’s cooking the meal will feel a bit challenged to please all of the pilgrims.

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Watch Carolyn and Christine give thanks for naturally healthy Thanksgiving foods.

An easy idea for the big feast is to create a selection of ingredients so each guest can customize their plates depending on allergies or food preferences. For example, simply roast sweet potatoes and steam green beans then offer nuts, bacon crumbles, toasted breadcrumbs and shredded cheese on the side in little bowls. Just about everyone can enjoy a seasonal mix of roasted vegetables, even the kids who might claim to be “allergic” to parsnips and rutabaga.

Restaurants and caterers are used to adapting recipes for special dietary requests. Matthew and Lynda Phillips of ADAiRE Personal Chefs offer a list of gluten free side dishes on their catering menu for Thanksgiving. Need some ideas for the non-turkey eaters at the table? Vegetarians and everyone else would enjoy the lady pea and okra succotash or the Carolina gold risotto with autumn squash and sage featured on the menu at South City Kitchen.

 While Thanksgiving is not a day for dieting, it’s certainly smart to up the flavor appeal of holiday favorites with creative recipes that help keep the calories down. Use smart swaps such as Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise, sour cream or whipping cream in all kinds of recipes from salad dressings to pancakes. Chobani has a great offering of holiday recipes in Chobani Kitchen.  I work with Chobani on some nutrition communications projects and love the fact that their Greek yogurt comes in 0%, 1%, 2% and now 4% milk fat varieties.

I love the seasonal flavors Pumpkin Spice and Cinnamon Pear as toppings on Pumpkin Pie!

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Chobani’s yogurts for kids and tots in tubes and pounces are 25% lower in sugar than other yogurts marketed to children and since Greek yogurt is strained, Chobani yogurts for kids and adults is twice as high in protein as other kinds of yogurts. #client

 Yes, you can indulge without the bulge.

  • Fill your plate with your personal holiday favorites first. Don’t waste your calories on foods you can eat all year long.
  • Turkey and all the trimmings may be the draw, but remember the main event should be sharing time with family and friends.
  • Start a new tradition by taking a walk with family and friends after the big meal and serving dessert after the stroll. You’ll feel better and dessert will taste even better.
  • Give thanks that even dietitians believe Thanksgiving is not a day to diet. You may not lose any pounds over the holidays, but if you maintain your weight you’re doing great.

 

 

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Pecans: Pecan Pie and Beyond

Pecans More than Pecan Pie

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 Traditional pecan pie may have met its match because creative cooks are introducing new ways to showcase pecans.

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Soup made with pureed pecans and chipotle peppers

They can literally be used from soup to nuts. Gathered at a culinary event in the Serenbe Farms community south of Atlanta organized by the National Pecan Shellers Association (NPSA) professional chefs rose to the recipe challenge.

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Think beyond sugar laden pecan pies and pecan praline candies. “Europeans often ask me ‘why is it you take such a healthy product and turn it into such an unhealthy product?’ so I’m very interested in the recipes developed here,” said Bruce Caris, of the Green Valley Pecan Company and chairman of the NPSA.

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The second culinary challenge- rather than relying on perfect pecan halves – invent sweet and savory dishes using pecan pieces and pecan meal. “We need to educate culinarians how to use the lesser known pecan ingredients,” said Christian Hallowell, executive chef for Delta Air Lines.

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Executive Chef Christian Hallowell, Delta Airlines

Pick up the Pieces

 

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Some of the first recipes demonstrated by Leif Eric Benson, chef for Oregon’s Department of Agriculture included a soup of pureed pecan pieces flavored with chipotle peppers and roasted lamb with a topping of pecan pieces cooked with garlic and thyme.

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Leif Eric Benson, chef for Oregon’s Department of Agriculture

Chefs, in a cook-off style contest worked together in teams at Serenbe’s Bosch Experience Center to create exciting new recipes with pecans and pecan products including pecan meal and pecan oil.

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“Pecan pieces are very absorbent and pick up the flavors of spices when cooking,” said Benson.

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Other inventive uses in the culinary world include using pecan meal as a meat extender or substitute. “Pecans can be used as a protein ingredient and we made a meatless all pecan pate today,” said Hallowell. “You roast and grind the pecan pieces to make a plant based protein dish.”

How about a pecan inspired cocktail? I made ginger ale from scratch using fresh ginger root, added sugar and fresh lime juice and then used Cathead Distillery Pecan Vodka to create a Pecan Mississippi Mule!

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Winning team: Trent Page, Google, Carolyn O’Neil and Keith Schroeder founder High Road Craft Ice Cream

Trent Page, chef for Google at the company’s You Tube headquarters, created a recipe for a miso pecan vinaigrette salad dressing using pecan pieces and pecan oil.But, when making menu changes affecting thousands of employees, he’s aware allergies must be considered. “You have to be transparent in menu signage because tree nut allergies are very serious,” said Page. Here’s a great resource on tree nut allergies

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Of course we made dessert! Pastry chef extraordinaire Kami Smith of Dawn Food Products quietly worked her magic to create a pecan desserts including a sumptuous pecan bread budding!

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Pecan Nut-rition

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Pecans, like other tree nuts including walnuts and almonds, are an excellent source of heart healthy fats, are rich in protein and a good source of fiber as well as other nutrients including vitamin E and potassium. What sets pecans apart from the rest of the nut pack is that they are the only nut native to North America and compared to other tree nuts have the highest concentration of antioxidants. Pecans are a win-win for taste and health.

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OK, now you can have a piece of pie!
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