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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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Fitness Vacation a Deliciously Healthy Retreat

 

IMG_2500Summer vacations often mean a time to let loose and have fun with no particular goals except to drink cold beers at the beach or pool and read the latest popular page-turner.

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But I chose an escape from the ordinary that required hiking shoes, work out clothes, and swim suits actually designed for swimming.

The Activity Pool: did you know exercise in water takes 25% more effort?
The Activity Pool: did you know exercise in water takes 25% more effort?
Craig Stuart of HYDRO-FIT led the water classes.
Craig Stuart of HYDRO-FIT led the water classes.

IMG_2629As a gift to myself in advance of a really big number arriving on my birthday in July, I spent a week at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico.

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The menu is vegetarian, except for seafood choices at dinner, and there’s no alcohol served with meals. But this was not about deprivation.

Actually, wines from Baja region are available at the Ranch's new Sol Bazar. The rose is pretty good.
Actually, wines from Baja region are available at the Ranch’s new Sol Bazar. The rose is pretty good.

Dinner is a perfectly portioned four-course affair with soup, salad, entrée and dessert.

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One night the menu included spinach soup with toasted almonds and balsamic reduction, a roasted vegetable salad with walnuts, goat cheese and tomato oregano vinaigrette, Florentine lasagna with black lentil and yellow pepper sauce and lemon tiramisu with macerated berries.

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“Great flavors allow us to enjoy food more while actually eating less, “ says Executive Chef Denise Roa, who oversees the Dining Hall and La Cocina Que Canta cooking school. All of the meals feature a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs fresh picked from the property’s organic farm. “I believe that many people have forgotten or never experienced what food can taste like in-season and at its peak of freshness,” says Roa.

Chef Virginia Willis and the happy cooking school class at Rancho La Puerta
Chef Virginia Willis and the happy cooking school class at Rancho La Puerta

The guest chef at the cooking school during my week’s stay was Atlanta based Virginia Willis, author of the Lighten Up Y’all! Cookbook.

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She led a group of eager guests through the garden to pluck cucumbers and edible flowers and then assigned us to re-create her recipes in the Mexican tiled kitchen.

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I was on the Makeover Broccoli Mac n Cheese team. The recipe called for a calorie cutting one-to-one ratio of broccoli florets to whole-wheat pasta. Willis’ lump crab and celery remoulade recipe lightens up the dressing. “It’s OK to keep some of the ingredients you crave. I like to substitute half of the mayonnaise with low fat Greek yogurt and add some mustard and horseradish so there’s plenty of flavor,” advised Willis.

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Dessert shines! Spa-ah Peach Cobbler
Dessert shines! Spa-ah Peach Cobbler

My fitness focused week at ‘the ranch’ is what I call a ‘slim-cation’ of satisfying, nutritious meals and busy days that began with an early morning mountain hike and included an entertaining mix of activities from Pilates and weight training to water aerobics and tennis lessons.

Ground hog day! Two mile minimum hikes each morning at 6:30. Already getting hot!
Ground hog day! Two mile minimum hikes each morning at 6:30. Already getting hot!
Work it!
Work it!
Tennis anyone?
Tennis anyone?

It helps to have a buddy at the Ranch. My good friend and registered dietitian colleague Janet Helm who blogs at Nutrition Unplugged was with me every step of the way as we hiked and tried new fitness finds including barre classes and pumped iron. Oh there was spa time too of course!

Fitness days and farm to table nights.
Fitness days and farm to table nights.

“Health is within everybody’s reach,” says petite and peppy 93-year-old Deborah Szekley, founder of Rancho La Puerta. “You just have to reach out.” During an inspiring evening lecture on aging, Szekley advised making a weekly schedule to plan and time for fitness and shopping for healthy foods. “I have maybe ten years left in my life and I’m excited about it. You have to value your time.”

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They say it takes at least one week to establish new habits. I made an effort to drink more water, which wasn’t difficult in the desert heat; especially since there were water sources everywhere on the property and stations with iced herbal teas.IMG_2483

Each afternoon there was a tasting of fresh fruit smoothies at the new juice bar by the activity pool.

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Did I lose weight? Maybe a little.  But I gained a renewed spirit to prioritize my health for many more birthdays ahead.

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Marvelous Marche Region of Italy

Let the love of all things Italian continue…….. Under the Marche Sun.

You’ve probably been to Rome, Florence and Venice. And perhaps you’ve also toured the Amalfi Coast or walked the cliffs of the Cinque Terra. But, chances are you haven’t visited the Marche region on the east coast of Italy. The lavendar scented view above is taken from the lovely Hotel Emelia in Portonovo perched high above the Adriatic Sea.

Marche is a region brimming with culture, beauty, art, cuisine, wine and people who greet you with an attitude, “We’ve been waiting for you!” What the towns and villages of Marche do not have are crowded streets or long lines to get into museums and historic sights.

From stone country houses such as Locanda ca’ Andreana offering a dream sequence of farm fresh lunches to elegant evenings inspired by top Italian designs at Symposium restaurant ……… the Marche is yours to discover.

More to come…..ciao for now.

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