Tag Archives: agriculture

Endless Summer Produce

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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Grilled Watermelon with Balsamic Glaze

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

Makes 12 servings

Hands-On 20 min.

Total 20 min.

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

1 Tbsp. olive oil

⅛ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto

2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

Fresh basil leaves

2 tsp. bottled balsamic glaze

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

 

Tipsy Melon Salad

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

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

Makes 6 servings

Hands-On 16 min.

Total 1 hour, 16 min.

2 cups cubed honeydew

2 cups cubed cantaloupe

1.3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons)

⅔ cup sugar

½ cup vodka ( optional)

⅓ cup black raspberry liqueur (optional)

¹/₁₆ tsp. fine sea salt

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint

Garnish: fresh mint sprigs

1. Place melon cubes in a large bowl.

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

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

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

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

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Galapagos Eco Gourmet

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Imagine if your grocery list was edited to remove foods considered a threat to the balance of nature in your own backyard.

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That’s the culinary challenge Norman Brandt faces everyday as executive chef of

the Pikaia Lodge in the Galapagos Islands.

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“When I got the position I made a list of ingredients I needed for the kitchen and I was told you can’t bring those in,” said Brandt.

No blue cheese, no cherries, no chia seeds and no imported citrus to name just a few of the foods tightly restricted by Ecuador’s biosecurity regulations for the Galapagos.

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The goal is to prevent the introduction of invasive species and pests that could threaten indigenous plants, many vitally important to the islands’ world famous wildlife.

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The Galapagos Islands have become a mecca for ecotourism attracting over 250,000 visitors a year who arrive with binoculars and cameras in tow ready to spot giant tortoises, sea turtles, penguins and unique birds including the blue-footed booby.

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Galapagos National Park rules control the number of people and time limit spent in wildlife areas and you must stay at least six feet away from the creatures.

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Birds don’t fly away when you walk by and curious cute baby sea lions hop towards you.

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“They thrive because there are no predators here,” said Andrew Balfour, general manager of the boutique eco-property Pikaia Lodge where rooms include a copy of “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin.

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Elegantly furnished rooms overlook an extinct volcano now covered in lush green foliage.
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Strikingly modern architecture of Pikaia Lodge

 

Guests drink in the DNA Bar…

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….and dine in the Evolution dining room.

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Andrew Balfour, Pikaia Lodge

“The magic of the Galapagos is that you see nature in an intimate way and see how the adaptation of the species is crucial from island to island,” says Balfour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chef Brandt, from mainland Ecuador, has enthusiastically learned to adapt to his new environment by getting to know local farmers, discovering wild cherry tomatoes and showcasing Galapagos seafood including tuna, grouper, octopus, and spiny lobsters.

 

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On the menu is a seafood Carpaccio with peppers from chef Brandt’s kitchen garden and the crunch of yucca chips with seafood terrine.  Some imported foods are allowed but restricted and undergo close inspection. Chef Brandt has to make his grocery list at least 9 days in advance,

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Avocado, passion fruit, and oranges are grown here planted by early settlers.

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Dairies produce milk but only fresh cheeses.

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“So I’m trying to make my own aged cheese,” said Brandt.

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He showed me a small wheel of yellow cheese. “I want to wait for two or three months more. It’s an experiment so we’re all learning about it.”

He makes his own red wine vinegar and ages the local grass fed beef so it’s more tender.

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Traditional tastes of Ecuador at the Pikaia Lodge including a quinoa risotto and Arriba chocolate mousse with passion fruit chili coulis add a gourmet touch to Galapagos adventures. What’s a pikaia? It’s the first organism discovered with a spine. See the design with little dots in the dessert above? That’s a pikaia.

 

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Getting to the Galapagos and Getting Around 

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From Atlanta I flew to Quito, Ecuador which is super high altitude at over 9,000 feet above sea level. Took my breath away, literally.

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But so did the fabulous hotel we spent the night in before flying to the Galapagos islands the next morning.

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The historic and gloriously luxurious Hotel Gangotena in Quito, right of the wide San Francisco Plaza, is a member of Virtuoso.  It’s beautiful.

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I had the best, the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever experienced. What a way to get ready to launch off to wilds of the Galapagos!  Hey, even the airport in Quito was super nice.

Check out the sleek and modern airport bathrooms!

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Souvenir shops in the airport got us primed and ready to experience Galapagos wildlife viewing …blue footed booby neck pillow anyone?

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But….why oh why didn’t I buy that Blue Footed Booby throw pillow?! I love it! OK, next time for sure!

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Galapagos Glam – no vortex left behind!

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Fresh and Fit Diet Advice

13 to go

Weight loss regimens are a national obsession especially at the start of the New Year when fitness centers fill up with new converts and supermarket carts fill up with salad fixings.

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Whether your goal is to trim a few pounds or overhaul eating habits for the long haul, here is a round up of fresh nutrition wisdoms from registered dietitians who specialize in health coaching.

It’s All About You

One size does not fit all fits all when it comes to nutrition. Changing what you eat can make you feel better and your jeans fit better but it can’t make you into a six-foot tall supermodel. So have realistic expectations.

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“People, like dogs, come in differing sizes and shapes,” says registered dietitian Nancy Clark, author of the Sports Nutrition Guidebook. “There are St. Bernards, greyhounds, Labs, poodles and Chihuahuas. Be proud of your ‘breed’, honor your genetics, and treat your body with respect,” says Clark.

Fitness Friends

Congratulations

Phone a friend. Registered dietitian Annette Schottenfeld, of Nett Nutrition says, “Walk with a co-worker. Meet new friends in dance class or team training at the gym. Stay connected with fitness friends to ensure you will show-up, motivate each other and share successes.”

Some Like it Hot

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Fed up with cold rabbit food?  “Rather than trying to eat more and more salads, cook vegetables the way Mediterraneans do by roasting or stewing them with olive oil, onion, tomatoes and herbs,” suggests registered dietitian Elena Paravantes, health editor of Olive Oil Times. 

Learn by Example

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Demand for home delivered kits of pre-measured fresh ingredients with easy to follow recipes is heating up nationwide.  Mary Alice Shreve, registered dietitian with Atlanta based meal kit delivery service Peach Dish makes sure recipes feature healthful foods with seasonings that add flavor without relying on salt. How about a Super Foods Salad with kale and sunflower seeds or Red Quinoa Parsnip Stew? Shreve says, “It’s all about getting people back in the kitchen. If you can put olive oil in the pan you can handle these recipe.”

Add to Your Diet

fruit

Registered dietitian Toby Amidor author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen, advises setting short term goals, “It’s very important to establish short-term benchmarks and achieve different ones every few weeks,” says Amidor. “Short-term goals should be positive. For example, eat a fruit during at least one snack time each day.”

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Goals should be measurable and pleasurable!

 

 

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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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Happy Healthy Thanksgiving!

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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 some inventive ideas to add a deliciously healthy twist to menu traditions.
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. That way you have room for a bigger slice of pumpkin pie. Yes, you can indulge without the bulge.

Here’s the How to Indulge without the Bulge segment for #HealthyThanksgiving I did for WGN TV with Chicago food stylist Connie Pikulas.

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Enjoy Winter Salads

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Look at these beautiful Brussels sprouts!

The very first Thanksgiving’s mission was to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. Chefs turn to the season’s harvest for culinary inspiration. Salads are often overlooked in the parade of roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy.
At newly opened Paces & Vine, chef Ian Winslade’s Tuscan kale salad with mandarin orange dressing, crystalized ginger and local radishes, is a great winter produce idea. The Thanksgiving to-go menu at Murphy’s, also under Winslade’s direction, features a winter salad of mixed greens, pears and walnuts as well as butternut squash soup with the flavors of apple and ginger cream.
Sweet New Ideas
What Thanksgiving spread would be complete without sweet potatoes? Sweet potatoes are rich in healthy fiber, potassium and beta-carotene. Chef Carvel Gould suggests roasting sweet potato wedges and tossing them together with parsnips and rutabaga wedges cooked in a non stick pan with some garlic and shallots for about four minutes until their tender but still have some texture.

Chefs at Seasons 52 restaurants, who specialize in creating just-as-tasty but lighter, lower calorie dishes are serving maple-glazed roasted butternut squash with their Thanksgiving menu this year.

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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 diet needs including a nut allergy, a gluten intolerance or are vegetarian or vegan. No doubt whoever’s cooking the meal will feel a bit challenged. Sous chef Cooper Miller of JCT Kitchen says, “We are used to special diet requests so we create a bunch of sides that anyone can enjoy without nuts, bacon or breadcrumbs. Then we throw in a few dishes loaded with all of those ingredients for those who want to splurge.” An easy idea for home entertaining: create a condiment platter of ingredients so each guest can customize their plates depending on allergies or food preferences.

Everybody’s happy on Thanksgiving.

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How Not to Get Over Stuffed on Thanksgiving

• 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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Rooting for Root Vegetables

 


handsimagesCarrots may enjoy a starring role on restaurant menus year round, but other less commonly consumed root vegetables take center stage in the fall. The slightly sharp flavors of parsnips, rutabaga, beets and turnips are a great compliment to hearty braised meats featured on cold weather menus.

“The parsnip has that dynamic light licorice flavor that lifts your palate with heavier dishes such as duck,” says executive chef Mike Deihl of Atlanta, currently the Southeast Regional Vice President of the American Culinary Federation.

Demonstrating his enthusiasm for the autumn harvest, Deihl prepared a salad of roasted parsnips, carrots and golden beets at the Taste of Atlanta food festival recently. “I call it my culinary fall trinity,” he says. “They’re roasted first to concentrate the flavors kind of like reducing a sauce.”

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Roots on the Menu

A quick survey of online menus posted by Atlanta restaurants proves chefs are rooting for root vegetables this time of year. At Woodfire Grill braised pork shank is served with roasted parsnips and an apple cider glaze. An apple, walnut and rutabaga compote complements roasted duck at Babette’s. Creamy parsnip soup is on the menu at Canoe and braised baby beets with burnt honey vinaigrette is offered at South City Kitchen. An arugula salad at The Optimist is topped with pickled turnips and carrots.

“What I like about root vegetables is their flexibility. You can eat them hot, cold, room temperature, pureed, braised, stewed and grilled because they’re so strong and hearty,” says Deihl. “I’ve even made a golden beet sorbet!”

Grounded in Good Nutrition

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While root vegetables come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors they’re all really good sources of dietary fiber, which promotes digestive health and is associated with lower rates of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Turnips and rutabaga are high in vitamin C.   And as with most members in the produce aisle, root vegetables contain the mineral potassium, which helps support healthy blood pressure. Rutabagas and turnips are in the same cruciferous family as broccoli and cauliflower known for cancer-fighting antioxidant nutrients that help boost the immune system. So, while you’re enjoying the seasonal taste treat of root vegetables this fall know that you’re also adding some pretty powerful nutrition to boost your health to help ward off the winter chills ahead.

 

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Atlanta Chefs Ahead of 2014 Food Trends

 

Chef Joe Schafer of King + Duke hands me yummy collards in kimchi broth with sausage from Whippoorwill Farms
Chef Joe Schafer of King + Duke hands me yummy collards in kimchi broth with sausage

Menu predictions for what we’ll be sampling at restaurants in 2014 are already showing up on the plate in Atlanta.  Guests at the Atlanta Les Dames d’Escoffier International 13th annual Afternoon in the Country were treated to a tasting of dishes from more than sixty Atlanta area chefs at an outdoor party set at the rural Serenbe community located about thirty miles south of downtown.

More than 60 chefs and 30 farmers joined forces to create great food at the annual Afternoon in the Country Event, south of Atlanta.
More than 60 chefs and 30 farmers joined forces to create great food at the annual Afternoon in the Country Event, south of Atlanta.
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Guests enjoyed a beautiful fall afternoon of tasting and talking to friends.

Rich, familiar and hard to resist earthy flavors such as The Feed Store’s braised root vegetables with braised chicken thighs were the order of the day.  Bacchanalia chef Anne Quatrano served up snails and Aria’s Gerry Klaskala dished out slow cooked black eye pea ragout with collard greens and country ham.

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These are the peas and greens.

The future of food is looking a lot like a polished version of dining’s delicious past according to the Sterling-Rice Group’s 2014 restaurant report which lists “Refined Classics” as one of the top trend picks.  Local Three Kitchen treated the gathered foodies to elegant bites of “meatloaf and potatoes”.

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Also on the list, “New Farm to Table” with lesser-known cuts of pork and beef and a wider variety of proteins from goat to rabbit jumping onto menus.  Veni Vidi Vici’s chef Jamie Adams served oxtail gnocchi.

Chicken makes way for duck. The team from Leon’s Full Service presented duck ham on a savory pancake frisee and pears from Whippoorwill Hollow Farms.

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Duck confit starred in caterer Bold American Events’ tasty offering with a sweet potato gnocchi and Brussels sprouts leaves.  More duck from Livingston restaurant in a petite bite of sweet tea infused duck breast with ginger applesauce and candied lemon pecans.  Which brings us to another predicted trend for the New Year -lots of lemon.  Preserved lemons added bright notes to Chicken and The Egg chef Marc Taft’s braised short rib with smoked Gouda grits.

And tart lemon with spicy ginger beer balanced the sweet notes of Belle Meade Bourbon in the Tennessee Stud cocktail served on the rocks for guests to sip.

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Kazia Jankowski, associate culinary director of the Sterling-Rice Group says, “Lemon is pure. Lemon is versatile. Lemon is nostalgic. For those reasons, it and not other citrus will be the flavor of next year. Lemon’s bright flavor is fresh and unadulterated.”

Year of the Yolk

Quail eggs sunny side up!
Quail eggs sunny side up!

Another yellow food beaming brighter on the culinary scene is the egg yolk. Good-bye egg white omelet, hello the whole thing.

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Chef Steven Satterfield of Miller-Union who presented a sunny side up quail egg on butternut squash hash says, “The yolk is where it’s at! The texture is unctuous and a runny yolk is one of my favorite things on earth.” Nutrition note: egg yolks contain important nutrients including choline, which supports brain health.

Registered dietitian, Janet Helm who tracks healthy food trends on her blog Nutrition Unplugged says, “I think it gets people excited about food. Quinoa, kale, Greek yogurt and chickpeas became trendy, so perhaps that motivated more people to buy these foods and use them more often.  That’s a good thing.”

Seven Lamps' Kabocha squash wrapped in surryano ham is a Southern twist on classic melon with prosciutto
Seven Lamps’ Kabocha squash wrapped in surryano ham is a Southern twist on classic melon with prosciutto
Thank you Ladies! The Atlanta Chapter of Les Dames d'Escoffier. I'm in the back somewhere on the left.
Thank you Ladies! The Atlanta Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier. I’m in the back somewhere on the left.

Congratulations to the LDEI Afternoon in the Country organizing teams!! We earned big $$$ for culinary scholarships and grants for culinarians in the Atlanta area to improve their skills so that we all can eat even better as the trends march on!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seeing Red for Happy Hearts

Seeing Red in Healthy Foods



Red is the color of the month with the hearts and roses of Valentine’s Day and the American Heart Association’s annual Go Red For Women campaign to coax us to be good to our hearts.  
Heart Smart Fashions for Go Red for Women National Heart, Lung and Blood Gala in NYC 
So as long as we’re seeing red in February here’s a taste of the reasons why choosing foods that are naturally red are a good choice for good nutrition.
Red Hot Healthy
From blue to green to red and orange pigments of foods are indications of the nutrients that lie within. (This does not include the many colors of M & M’s.)  The color map to good eating applies principally to plant foods. Individual pigments offer visual clues about various health promoting plant compounds called phyto-chemicals. Phyto is the Greek word for plant. That’s why you may have heard you’re supposed to eat a rainbow of colors.  
Red is easier to say than Anthocyanin and Lycopene

By eating a variety of fruits and vegetables from each color group, you have a better chance of getting a variety of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other healthy compounds.

When you see red in fruits and vegetables it’s a sign that these foods contain the compounds lycopene and anthocyanin. These dietary good guys, classified as antioxidants, are associated with promoting heart health, protecting cells from damage, improving memory function, aiding blood sugar control and a lowering risk of certain cancers including prostate cancer.



More Than 50 Shades of Red

 Reddish orange tones in foods such as red peppers and tomatoes are an indication that beta-carotene, another potent antioxidant, is also in the healthy mix. Generally foods with darker pigmentation are richer in antioxidants. So, a ruby red grapefruit would be higher in antioxidants than a yellow colored grapefruit.   

All Citrus is Healthy but Red Color Means More Antioxidant Concentration 


Anthocyanins are also found in reddish blue foods such as grapes, red cabbage, radicchio, red onions, red skinned and purple potatoes. So enjoy all the shades of red.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation offers a lot of great information on the health benefits of enjoying fruits and vegetables. In fact, researchers estimate that there is up to 4,000 different phytochemicals in plant foods and only a small fraction have been studied closely. 
So much tastier than a vitamin pill

That’s why, for example, it’s better to bite into a strawberry, which is an excellent source of vitamin C (even a dark chocolate covered one on Valentine’s Day) than to swallow a vitamin C supplement. Strawberries contain so many more healthy nutrients, some not yet even identified.

While we think about eating raw fruits and vegetables as the ultimate healthy snack, the red hued phytochemical lycopene is actually better absorbed after it’s cooked. 
Cooking tomatoes ups the betacarotene bioavailability 
So marinara sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato soup and even ketchup contribute to a heart healthy diet.


Red Hot Shopping List

Fruit:

Red apples
Blood oranges
Cherries
Cranberries
Red grapes
Pomegranates
Raspberries
Watermelon

Vegetables:

Beets
Red peppers
Radishes
Radicchio
Red potatoes
Rhubarb
Tomatoes

A Nutrition Note on Red Meat


Lean beef is redder in color than heavily marbled cuts with streaks of fat throughout. That means lean beef cuts such as filet mignon, sirloin and flank steaks are lower in saturated fats, total fat and calorie content and therefore a better choice for heart health.  There are 29 lean cuts of lean beef. 

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Pleasures of Pantelleria

In the salted caper room at Bonomo and Giglio on Pantelleria

 

One of my favorite ingredients – whether sprinkled on pizza, tossed into a salad or paired with olive oil and lemon to adorn grilled fish – are capers.  Slightly sweet, mostly salty with a tangy bite capers add a bright note to many dishes.  

Caper plants clinging to the earth bound for Bonomo and Giglio 


Capers are the unopened flower buds of bushy plants that cling to stonewalls or are cultivated close to the ground. On the tiny Italian island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily just 36 miles from the coast of North Africa, the volcanic soil and Mediterranean sun produce high quality capers prized for their flavor. “They are the best capers and I like them because they are cured in salt and not pickled,” says chef Piero Premoli of Pricci Restaurant. Premoli is featuring a menu of Sicilian dishes throughout October including a cured tuna with capers and the region’s classic caponata stew with eggplant and capers.
Olives, tomatoes, onions, basil and olive oil love in Pantelleria


Pleasures of 

Pantelleria 

If you haven’t been to Pantelleria or even heard of it, join the club.  I was invited by a non-profit food and nutrition organization called Old WaysPreservation and Exchange Trust to join a group of writers and culinary experts for a symposium to discover the island’s uniquely healthy food and lifestyle habits.  
It’s a desert out there. The island of Pantelleria gets very little rain fall. 
The rocky island is pummeled by the wind forcing olive trees, grape vines and caper bushes to lie low growing outward not upward. Citrus trees are cradled in walled gardens to protect the fruit.

“There’s still a little magic out there,” says Phil Meldrum of Food Match a specialty foods importer attending the symposium. “When you find something with a taste particular to that area it gives me goose bumps.”

 Pantelleria capers on freshly caught swordfish makes me swoon. 
Stone cliffs, stonewalls, stone buildings, and piles of stone create a harsh landscape surrounded by the crashing sea. Minimal rain means cactus blooms and bougainvillea blooms offer the only color. 

“It was frozen in time,” says dietitian Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant Powered Diet, “We had very little red meat. It’s primarily a plant based diet that’s nutritionally really balanced with carbs from pastas, healthy fats from almonds, olives and olive oil and dishes flavored with herbs, fennel and capers.”  
Sharon Palmer and I enjoying ‘studying’ nutrition on Pantelleria.
Other common cooking ingredients included eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Since cows were not a traditional part of farm life here, there is very little cheese and pasta dishes and potatoes are sprinkled with seasoned bread crumbs instead of parmesan.  
Just so you believe me. Pantescans add breadcrumbs to pasta.
Palmer notes, “We had traditional dishes handed down through the generations in an isolated farming environment so we had what they have there.” 
Even though there is a tradition of sweet cookies made in intricate patterns and shapes, the principal sweetener is made from reducing grape juice not refined sugar. 
“It’s nice that the healthiest traditional eating patterns happen to be the most delicious,” says Sara Baer-Sinnott, President of Oldways.   

Mediterranean Medicine

The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet – rich in vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seafood and olive oil – are well documented. Dietitian Kathy McManus, Director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston says, “Since this diet is not low in fat people enjoy the foods more, lose more weight and they tend to eat more vegetables because they can add olive oil.”  The Mediterranean lifestyle leads to longevity, too. 
Olive oil contains more than healthy fats, it’s rich in plant nutrients and antioxidants to promote good health.
Ligia Dominguez, MD of the University of Palermo says, “We want an active life in old age not frailty. The Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants which can add years to your life and life to your years.”

Dominguez says being “kissed” by the sun for at least 15 minutes a day boosts vitamin D levels naturally and getting enough sleep is important too. “I took a nap every day in Pantelleria,” admits Baer-Sinnot, “It’s the joy of resting to reduce stress.”

Grape harvest bonanza during my stay on Pantelleria.


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Recalculating Calories for Almonds

Down on the farm, well orchard to learn about California almonds.

When is a 100-calorie pack not a 100-calorie pack? When it’s filled with almonds.
The calorie count for California almonds turns out to be 20 percent lower than previously measured according to new studies conducted by nutrition scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). So, that 100-calorie pack of dry roasted almonds you might grab to snack on actually contains 80 calories. 
Nutrition researcher Sarah Gebauer gets out of the USDA lab to grab almonds in the orchard.
The almonds are not any different, but the way the USDA calculates calorie content is new and improved.  
California almonds ready to harvest in Lodi. You can snack right from the tree.
Historically, samples of food are burned in the lab to measure the amount of heat given off which is measured in calories. Now USDA researchers have enlisted the help of human volunteers at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center to determine the number of calories actually digested and absorbed from almonds as part of typical American meals. 

Mmmm toasted almond and heirloom tomato crostini 
“We are excited to have this approach to look at calories in a mixed diet,” says David Baer, PhD who led the research published this month in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “How we count calories is an important issue as we look forward.”
Recalculating

“Recalculating. Recalculating.”  That’s what you may hear from an auto’s GPS system when you drive off the suggested route.  USDA nutrition experts are recalculating too.  Their new course is a bit more complicated because measuring digestion and absorption in human volunteers means collecting samples of feces, “It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it,” says Baer. The analysis revealed that the fat in almonds is not absorbed as easily as fat in other foods due to the nut’s fiber content.  

Almonds in the Stewart & Jasper Orchard processing plant in Newman, CA.
 “Fat is stored inside the cell walls,” explains Chris Rosenbloom, registered dietitian and professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University, “If the cell walls are not completely broken down through chewing and normal digestion then not all of the fats, therefore not all of the calories, will be available to the body. So, foods, like almonds, that are high in fiber and a ‘hard’ nut, actually have fewer calories based on the usual calculations.” (Similar studies with pistachios conducted by the same research team found five percent fewer calories than previously measured.) Can Georgia pecans be far behind? 

Food labels may need updating to lower calorie counts on hard nuts  such as almonds.
The Skinny on Almonds

Another diet discovery – even though subjects were fed meals designed to maintain their weight during the USDA study and were consuming about 70 almonds a day – many lost weight because the available amount of calories was actually 100 or 150 calories fewer per day because 20 percent of the nut was not being digested.  Rosenbloom says she’s always recommended almonds for health benefits, “So if you avoid almonds because of the calories, you should think again. Almonds can help you feel full longer so are good food to include for weight management.”

Jim Jasper is super creative with almond products. Coconut cream Pie and Key Lime Pie flavors! 
Also worth noting, scientists report that the more almonds are chewed up or chopped into slivers or pureed into almond butter, the easier they are to digest and therefore higher the ultimate calorie count.

“This new research opens the door for scientists to take a fresh look at how the body uses the energy stored in foods,” says Rosenbloom. “So, a calorie may not be calorie -at least as far as the food label goes.”

Baer reports that other commodity groups are clamoring to have their foods retested so it’s a busy time at the Beltsville lab, “My colleagues are going nuts.”

I’m nuts for these savory flavors of almonds. Perfect for Happy Hour. I’m happy almonds contain fewer calories.

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