Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fiesta of Flavors

Some like it hot and, according to 2009 trend watchers even more diners are joining the spicy food fan club. That means Mexican food is poised for even greater popularity. That’s good news for health-conscious flavor-seekers who are trying to eat less fat and calories because more Mexican menus and recipes are getting their zing from zesty calorie-free ingredients such as garlic, hot peppers, smoked chiles, fresh salsas, dried spices, tangy limes and fragrant herbs such as cilantro. While Tex-Mex dishes first attracted many of us to Mexican flavors with their liberal use of high-fat ingredients such as melted cheese, fried tortillas and gobs of sour cream, the latest taste trend is closer to the healthier, more traditional cuisines south of border.
Lighter Mexican on the Menu
Rosa Mexicana restaurant, located in Atlantic Station, has an impressive selection of healthier menu choices including Alambre de Camarones – Grilled shrimp marinated in garlic vinaigrette with onions, tomatoes, serrano peppers and Yucatan pico de gallo. They’ll even bring you raw jicama crudités instead of fried tortilla chips to enjoy with guacamole made fresh to order tableside. Jicama is a crunchy root vegetable also called the Mexican potato but tastes more like an apple. It’s low in calories (46 calories per cup and high in fiber (6 grams per cup). Compare that to a bowl full of fried tortilla chips at 20 calories per chip!!
Uncle Julio’s Mexican restaurant group, headquartered in Texas, has taken their healthy choices so seriously, they even teamed with a hospital in Dallas to create dietitian approved heart-healthy menu items. I like to customize a healthy meal at Uncle Julio’s by ordering the shrimp ceviche appetizer and three freshly made tortillas on the side. I wrap the shrimp in the tortillas, add some pica de gallo (chopped tomato, onion, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro) and a squeeze of lime. Skip the margaritas at 300 calories for a 6 ounce drink and choose a 12 ounce Tecate or Dos Equis beer at 150 calories or light beer at 100 calories. I’m happy to see other menu improvements around town, too. Tin Lizzy’s offers whole wheat tortillas and three different kinds of freshly made salsas.
Chipotle Mexican Grill with outlets nationwide has a corporate “Food with Integrity” program which includes serving naturally raised pork, chicken and beef as well as cheese and sour cream from dairies where cows are not treated with bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Dietitian’s note: this doesn’t mean these ingredients have any fewer calories.

Fiesta time
Ceviche- fish or shrimp marinated in citrus
Gazpacho- cold tomato, pepper and cucumber soup. Full of Vitamin C and beta carotene and only 60 calories a cup.
Fajitas: grilled beef, chicken or shrimp with peppers and onions; you control how much cheese or sour cream to put on each tortilla
Fish tacos: Southern California invention -ask for grilled fish, often served with tasty slaw
Grilled fish: look for “asada” on the menu which means grilled. Ask for fresh lime and salsas
Mexican Rice: flavorful side dish; 1/2 cup contains 150 calories
Beans: Choose pinto beans or black beans instead of refried beans (they usually have lard thrown in for flavor).
Enchiladas, burritos and tamales- often baked not fried. Watch portion size and limit cheese and sour cream toppings.
Fiesta of Flavors: Top everything with a healthy helping of shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, green onions, roasted bell peppers and pour on the salsa.
Tortilla Tip: Corn tortillas have 40 fewer calories compared to flour tortillas. Choose whole wheat tortillas when possible.

Border Control
Con Queso: Count 50 calories with every tablespoon of added cheese.
Chimichangas: fried flour tortilla stuffed with beef, chicken, beans or cheese
Chili Rellenos: chili peppers stuffed, battered and fried
Flauta: beef- or chicken-filled fried tortillas, often covered in creamy sauce
Nachos supreme: Mexican “Biggie” sizing; can be as high as 800 calories, with 65 grams of fat.
Taco salad: Sure, there’s some lettuce in there, but it’s mostly meat, cheese, sour cream and guacamole in a fried tortilla shaped like a bowl (Ole! The bowl alone adds over 400 calories!)
Refried beans: Due to added lard count 500 calories per cup.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

There's more than one fish in the sea!
Steaming fish is a lot healthier than frying! Carolyn O’Neil visits Au Pied de Cochon restaurant in Atlanta to find out how the chef steams salmon in parchment paper and how you can make it at home!

There’s more than one fish in the sea! Carolyn O’Neil visits Au Pied de Cochon
Restaurant in Atlanta to sample a variety of seafood tastes from oysters to halibut including the classic French fish stew Bouillabaisse.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

Breakfast of oatmeal, prunes, freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit, one egg poached over spinach and whole grain bread is heart and healthy fare served at Rancho La Puerta after an early morning hike in the mountains.
Although my first choice for a week away from home would not include all the flax seed you can eat and dinner without a wine list, I’m writing to you from a spa in Mexico that was founded as a fitness resort in 1940. Rancho la Puerta, located just south of the border below San Diego in the tiny town of Tecate, attracts visitors interested in improving their health and well being through sunrise hikes on mountain trails, days filled with yoga teachings, fitness classes and foods prepared with produce plucked daily from the Ranch’s gorgeous organic veg etable garden. It’s a principally vegetarian menu here with a few meals featuring fresh fish from the nearby coast in Ensenada. There’s no sugar in sight. Instead beverages and desserts are sweetened with agave nectar from the agave plant perhaps more famous for its role in making tequila. But, there’s no tequila here.
Deborah Szekely, now 86, founded Rancho la Puerta with her late husband Edmond as with the motto “always better and always changing”. While the basic food and fitness philosophies may not have changed much from the days when guests chopped and carried firewood and lunch consisted of cheese from goats tended here then, a homegrown tomato and sprouts from the sprouting room; the Ranch has kept pace with contemporary culinary trends and state of the art fitness training. Lunch today could include a lentil soup with open faced sandwich on whole grain bread with cheese, avocado, and tomato. Dinner is a four course affair with soup, salad, entrée and dessert. Last night we had a freshly made tomato and basil soup, a salad with blue cheese dressing, fettuccini prepared with fresh kale from the garden and lemon tiramisu made with agave nectar. There’s actually a lot to eat! Instead of doing ranch chores as guests did in the forties you get to pick your own physical activities. From strength training with a weighted bar in “Body Bar” classes set to the energizing sounds of The Killers and Kanye West to lessons in guided meditation with bird chirping new age music soundtracks there are exercise classes for every part of you. Lectures challenge the mind as well with experts on politics, finance, literature, art and history. It’s a week away from the real world and a really good time to check in with yourself to see what changes can and should be made to improve body, mind and spirit.
Lessons Learned at the Ranch to Take Back Home
Try the Plate Flip- fruits, vegetables, beans, cereals, seeds and nuts are the stars of the meal here with small but satisfying servings of fish or shrimp. The typical American plate is dominated by large servings of meat with veggies as supporting players. Flip that notion and enjoy four to six ounce servings of meat, chicken, pork or fish with larger servings of veggies and whole grains. .
Try New Foods- it’s the best way to add a variety of new tastes and nutrients to your diet. This week I’ve tried flax seeds sprinkled on cereal (good source of healthy Omega 3 fats) and I liked the nutty crunch and knowledge it may help make my hair shinier!
Try Less Sugar (and alcohol )- a vacation away from favorite indulgences is a living/learning adventure too. I drank water instead of wine this week- think of the calorie savings! And agave nectar is a nice sweetener because it’s so intense you don’t have to use much to sweeten coffee or tea ( so you save calories) and since it ranks lower on the glycemic index it’s absorbed more slowly into the blood stream.
Try Self Monitoring – we wear pedometers while at the Ranch so we can measure how many steps we take each day. You’re supposed to get 10,000 steps a day as a fitness goal. I’m continuing that at home and I’m sure will be horrified to see how few I get the days I sit and write this column!