Tag Archives: cocktails

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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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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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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Menu Labeling: It’s Complicated

girlwithmenu The countdown to provide calorie counts and other nutrition information for menu items is in full swing for more than 250,000 restaurant locations nationwide. Faced with a December deadline set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restaurant chains with more than 20 outlets are busily crunching the numbers to provide nutrition facts on their menus, websites and in-store signage.

“Menu labeling is the biggest advance in providing nutrition information to consumers since the law that required Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods was implemented 20 years ago,” said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director for The Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In addition to calories, written information on total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugar, fiber and protein must be available upon consumer request. The intent of the new law is to guide diners toward healthier choices on the menu.

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Joy Dubost, registered dietitian with the National Restaurant Association says, “Many restaurant patrons have stated that menu labeling is important to them when dining out, and we also know that based on trend data consumers are demanding more healthful options.”

Nutrition by the Numbers

Seeing the facts right up front can help diners avoid calorie bombs or at least be forewarned of the waistline busting cost of indulgent dishes and drinks.

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“What I like about the new legislation is that it holds restaurants accountable,” says registered dietitian Nicole King of the website Healthy Dining Finder.com.

How do restaurants come up with the nutrition numbers? The FDA allows several methods including the use of software programs based on nutrient data bases designed to calculate nutritional analysis for recipes, using nutritional information already calculated for recipes in published cookbooks or the more costly but most accurate laboratory analysis of individual items. King says, “And restaurants have to show their work when they provide documentation to the FDA so it’s clear what method was used.”

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It’s Complicated

Presenting the information to consumers is not always a simple task. Take a pizza restaurant for example. How do they list the nutrition numbers for all of the combinations of toppings and different kinds of crusts? King says, “It’s complex and cumbersome.”

Staff training is part of the new labeling law too to ensure that cooks follow the recipes. A liberal hand with the salt or mayonnaise in the kitchen will mean the numbers on the menu won’t match the dish being served.

“We have to remember this is hand crafted food not made to specs such as an Oreo where every cookie is exactly the same size. There are going to be slight variations,” says King.

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Other challenges behind the scenes are happening behind the bar. From pina coladas to cosmopolitans, alcoholic beverages are included in the menu labeling law even though they weren’t part of the packaged foods labeling laws. That’s why you don’t see calorie counts on a bottle of vodka. “The alcohol piece was not regulated at all. But now cocktail menus have to list nutrition information,” says King. So now when you say ‘make mine a double’ don’t forget to double the calories too.

 

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Culinary Cocktails with Healthy Punch

“Hey who took my basil?” a chef might complain and the answer could be the bartender. Restaurants are raising the bar on the culinary offerings on cocktails menus with a ‘farm to table’ philosophy filling glassware, too.

The Hummingbird Cocktail at The Old Edwards Inn: vodka, broccoli, pea shoots and a dash of local honey.

Mixologist Thomas Keenan created 5 wellness cocktails for Old Edwards Inn
“The demand for fresh, seasonal food from the kitchen carries over to the bar,” notes

Nancy Kruse, Atlanta based menu trends analyst and contributor to Nation’s Restaurant News.  At Ammazza fresh basil is just as likely to end up in a crafted cocktail as on their Napoletana-style wood fired pizzas.  At Holeman & Finch Public House,mixologists are masters at blending bits of citrus and a hint of honey in cocktails with intriguing names such as “She” made with mescal, dry curacao liqueur, grapefruit, lime and tonic.

The cocktail menu at The Optimist raids the kitchen too with potent potables such as the gin based “Mother of Pearl” spiced with celery salt, black pepper, fennel frond and celery leaf.

The high art of high balls made with produce and herbs is perhaps best displayed at chef Grant Achatz’s TheAviary in Chicago where bartenders give cocktails four-star restaurant attention as they whisk, whir, stir, foam and shake spirits in what they call “a state-of-the-art drink kitchen.”  There’s even an ice chef on staff to create just the right cube, ball, shard or snow to compliment the cocktail. 

Drink Your Vegetables

A collection of culinary cocktails is on the menu with spa treatments at The Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, North Carolina. So instead of herbal tea or lemon infused spring water, spa goers can sip refreshing blends of beet juice, broccoli, cucumber, herbs and edible flowers with a little kick from vodka, tequila, rum, brandy or moonshine. Because the drinks are made with vitamin and antioxidant rich fresh fruit and vegetables they could be considered a health and beauty treatment and each drink calls for only an ounce or ounce and half of spirits, “We are trying to focus on flavor and nutrition with less alcohol,” says executive chef Johannes Klapdohr.

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To Your Health

Since these hand-crafted and often pretty pricy cocktails are meant to be sipped and savored in a sophisticated setting registered dietitians like the trend because it encourages moderation in alcohol consumption. Dietitian Rachel Begun, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says they’re drinks with benefits, “Cocktails made from fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs do deliver nutrients and are better options than drinks made from processed mixers both from a taste and nutrition perspective.” 
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There’s even a research study from the U.S.D.A’s Agricultural Research Service Department that shows treating strawberries and blackberries with alcohol boosts the fruit’s antioxidant activity.
Registered dietitian Cynthia Chandler is serving a holiday herb cocktail at her Thanksgiving Day feast made with tequila, lime juice and fresh sage, “Sage is a member of the mint family and is one of the oldest herbs used for both culinary and medicinal purposes and sage has been used to help digest heavy meals.” So here’s a toast to your health to help kick off the holiday season.  

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