Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Boo! Halloween Food Safety Tips

What the Queen is Wearing This Halloween!
Halloween Food Safety Tips for Parents from the Funloving Folks at the FDA!

Uncle Sam, who will probably dress up as Uncle Sam again has this wise advice to keep the nation safe from pesky pests and other threats to food (candy) safety this Halloween.
Halloween Children shouldn’t snack while they’re out trick-or-treating. (Sure!)
Urge your children to wait until they get home and you have had a chance to inspect the contents of their “goody bags.” (Best to bribe or threaten them.)
Tell children not to accept – and especially not to eat – anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.
Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys. (They want large toys anyway or iTunes cards.)
Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. ( Who are your new neighbors? )
Throw away anything that looks suspicious (Such as candies made from tofu)
And follow these tips for Halloween parties at home.
If juice or cider is served to children at Halloween parties, make sure it is pasteurized or otherwise treated to destroy harmful bacteria. ( I don't care if the 'natural' stuff looked good on the road side stand.)
Juice or cider that has not been treated will say so on the label. (Watch out for older kids or wild neighbors trying to "spike" the cider.)
No matter how tempting, don't taste raw cookie dough or cake batter. (Don't trust anyone who actually bakes their own cookies or cakes, anyway.)
Before going "bobbing for apples," an all-time favorite Halloween game, reduce the number of bacteria that might be present on apples and other raw fruits and vegetables by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt. ( No one said this Halloween party was going to be easy.)
"Scare" bacteria away by keeping all perishable foods chilled until serving time. These include, for example, finger sandwiches, cheese platters, fruit or tossed salads, cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood, and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frostings. ( And the same goes for that scary buffet you serve the kids wearing blindfolds such as peeled grape eyeballs and cold spaghetti guts.)
Cold temperatures help keep most harmful bacteria from multiplying. And don't leave the food at room temperature for more than two-hours. (They will be eating candy by then anyway.)
Trick or Treating Nutrition Tips: What's in Your Bag?
1. Make sure the little goblins have something "real" to eat before they head out on Trick-or-Treat candy grabbing mission. Even if you only have time for them to drink a glass of milk, that's a good base for early trick or treaters. Make it chocolate milk for Halloween fun. It contains a little more sugar but delivers the same 9 essential nutritients as white milk.
2. Go for the "fun packs" of candies, ie. portion controlled packages often limited to 100 calories. It's a good way to teach kids about proper amount of candy to eat in one sitting.
3. Brush your fangs! Candy caught in crevices can cause cavities. Sticky, gummy candies are the worst at getting stuck in between teeth. Chocolate has actually been shown to help curb cavities because it helps balance out acids in the mouth that eat into the tooth's enamel. But, brush your teeth!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spices Add Pinch of Delish and Dash of Health

It turns out that a pinch of red pepper or dash of curry powder not only turns up the heat to boost flavors in dishes, but it also can add a helping of health benefits, too.
Nutrition research supports new reasons to season dishes with herbs and spices, including cinnamon, ginger, oregano, red pepper and yellow curry powder. Blueberries, pomegranates and other deeply colored fruits may be famous for their high anti-oxidant content; but it turns out that some spices rank really high, too.

One teaspoon of cinnamon has the disease fighting anti-oxidant power of a full cup of pomegranate juice or half cup of blueberries. The specific kind of anti-oxidant compounds found in cinnamon called polyphenols have been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels and fight inflammation, which can increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes.
Feel even better about the cinnamon sprinkled on your oatmeal? But don't try to use this spicy news to help justify downing one of those huge cinnamon buns at the mall. Controlling total fat and calories in your diet still reigns supreme as the most important rule in good nutrition. With that in mind, it's interesting to note that spices might come to the rescue there, too.

Red chile pepper gets heat from a powerful antioxidant compound called capsaicin. Spicing up your meal with red pepper flakes or hot chile sauces may also help increase satiety so you eat less. Other studies found red peppers, even milder sweet red peppers, boost your metabolism so you burn a few more calories. Other studies suggest that some seasonings such as cayenne pepper, chili powder and paprika may help curb hunger pangs and boost the metabolism, making it a bit easier to stick to a weight control diet.
Executive chef Piero Premoli of Pricci restaurant in Atlanta adds a touch of heat to vegetables, seafood, pasta dishes and risotto, and jokes, "I put it on my cereal in the morning!" For Pricci's menu this month featuring recipes from Sicily, Premoli prepares swordfish with a glaze of Sicilian Marsala wine with pickled calabrese red peppers, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil and garlic. "This dish is a classic mix of hot and sweet. The cuisine of Sicily is known for its use of chiles, heat and spices," Premoli said.

Ginger has long been used as a natural remedy to soothe an upset stomach. Now research focusing on one of its active ingredients, gingerol, suggests it may work like anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Is your mouth burning from the wasabi served with sushi? Pick up that piece of fresh ginger on the plate.

Oregano has the highest anti-oxidant levels of the dried herbs because of its rosmarinic acid content. Used heavily in Mediterranean cuisines, oregano has antimicrobial powers that can help fight bacterial growth and may help inhibit the bacteria associated with ulcers.

Yellow curry powder is a blend of turmeric, also spelled turmeric, and other spices. Curcumin, the bright yellow pigment in turmeric, helps fight heart disease and may boost brain health, possibly protecting against Alzheimer's disease. You may associate curry primarily with Indian or Thai cuisine, but Premoli shares the secret to his sauce for Pricci's seafood with linguine: "I add a hint of cumin-based red curry, something I learned from a chef in Liguria."

More spice, less fat, sugar and salt

Of course, one of the best ways that spices can contribute to the enjoyment of a healthy diet is by taking the place of other seasonings that are high in fat, sugar or salt. Herbs and spices are classified as calorie-free and salt-free.
So the oregano in Greek and Italian dishes, cinnamon in the recipes of Morocco, chiles in Mexican cuisine and turmeric in the curries of India and Thailand not only enhance the fragrance and flavor of foods, but they also play a significant role in the overall nutrition of meals.

What's a spice? A spice may be the bud (clove), bark (cinnamon), rhizome (ginger), berry (peppercorn), aromatic seed (cumin) or flower stigma (saffron) of a plant.

What's an herb? An herb is generally defined as the leaf of a plant (rosemary, oregano, thyme, coriander) in cooking, but any other part of the plant, often dried, can be a spice.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Last Flight: The Dining Room at The Ritz Carlton, Buckhead

Sadly The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton, Buckhead has closed. Too "fancy" for modern times? Too "old fashioned" for today's foodies? Perhaps, these elegant ocean liners of fine dining just can't compete in an age of jet travel and noisy bistros. Who knows? But, the memories are treasures to savor. And I'm so glad I can say that I was there. From Guenter to Joel to Bruno to Arnaud. Once even dining with Julia.... I was there.

An evening spent at The Dining Room at The Ritz Carlton, Buckhead is the kind of rarified culinary experience where chances are you won’t be saying, “Oh, I just had something like that last night.” That is unless of course you just flew in from Paris, where a new definition of Mediterranean cuisine is being forged as assertive young chefs venture across the Sea to borrow flavors from North Africa and the Middle East. Witness the elevation of legumes in Dining Room Chef Arnaud Berthelier’s Black Truffle Studded Loup de Mer with a Chick Pea-Clam Froth. And odds are when the parade of dishes in the six to seven courses of the Tasting Menu begin to arrive, it won’t prompt a response, “I’ve made something like this before.” Unless a table side presentation of Roasted Lobster with artisinal hand rolled pasta with a lobster Bolognese fragrant with preserved lemon, basil and Medjool dates is a specialty you like to whip up on weekends.

Yes, this is something very special and should be approached with the giddiness of expectation that there will be several I-never-would-have-thought-of that discoveries and just as many delightful I-had-no-idea surprises tonight. The Jerusalem Artichoke Soup promised a shaving of truffles, but generously delivered a complete shingling of jet black truffles to ooh and ah over before even lifting a spoon.

Perhaps that’s why the doorway to this elegant yet cozy restaurant on the second floor of the hotel (best approached by climbing the grand staircase in Cinderella fashion) allows just a small peek into the plush world of soon to experienced pleasures as you’re greeted by the reigning diplomat of the Dining Room, Maitre D’ Claude Guillaume. Tall and handsome with the formality of a footman tempered by a wink of “delighted to see you”
he welcomes my guest and me and motions for us to cross the threshold. Entering the room it feels as if you’ve begun a journey and you just know this must be First Class Cabin. Taking in the d├ęcor while being escorted to an alcove banquette, covered in posh club-meets-modern greens, it’s time to really check things out. Look at all of the interesting people already on board; they’re chatting and sipping and laughing with the waiters guiding their tour. Then what better way to prepare for take-off than to be settled in for the evening and immediately asked if you’d care for a glass of Champagne? Did they think my dress was couture and these were real diamond earrings? Oh, this was going to be a great flight.

The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton Buckhead is in its twenty first year of winning awards and securing the highest ratings a restaurant can garner including the Five Star from the Mobile Travel Guide and AAA Five Diamond Award. Three highly rated chefs have led the culinary team here through the years, Guenter Seeger, Joel Antunes and Bruno Menard. And with Menard’s departure in June for an opportunity in Japan the speculation of who would be next to break gourmet ground at the Dining Room was fueled by a three month long international search for candidates. Talk about a reality show search for excellence and ingenuity.

After preparing an 11 course audition meal that wowed the search committee with its fragrance, flavor infusions and use of spices, French born, Arnaud Berthelier, won the right to wear the top toque at the Ritz Buckhead and so began his continental shift away from the Asian influences introduced by Antunes and emphasized even more by Menard. The Dining Room’s menu now, while not completely turning its attention away from Asia, leans decidedly toward the cuisines that ring the Mediterranean region.
Three dishes that capture the new style of The Dining Room with Berthelier’s bold combinations of flavors and textures, often many on one plate include the
Four Story Hill Veal Breast, grapefruit, fennel and Black Truffles,
Silverstone Ranch Lamb Loin Garam Masala Crust, Sweet Potato Licorice Puree, Pear Polenta, Lemon Milk Froth and Grouper in Yuzu Juice stuffed with Tomato Confit, Lemon and basil, Basil Yuzu reduction and Lemon paparadelle pasta.
One interesting note on the pasta, I’ve never seen it presented this way. A long ribbon of yellow pasta (the lemon) with green zebra stripes (the basil) was rolled into a coil resembling a fruit roll up. I didn’t want to cut into the tight coil because I wanted the sensuous mouth feel of the paparadelle, so I took my fork and unwound the whole thing ending up with the long flat noodle of my dreams. Dipped into the citrusy Yuzu juice and capturing the bursts of tomato confit with a bite of glistening grouper the paparadelle easily won in the aforementioned delightful I-had-no-idea surprises category.

A Ritz-Carlton veteran, most recently Berthelier was executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton at a seaside resort in Egypt and he was chef for The Dining Room’s at both the Ritz-Carlton Naples and St. Thomas. Before that his culinary resume was built in Europe by working in eight one-, two- and three-star Michelin restaurants including Alain Ducasse’s le LouisXV in Monte Carlo and Le Saveurs in London working along side Joel Antunes. Who knew then they’d both end up with a second matching resume entry, Chef of the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead??

Another element in the evolution of The Dining Room as Berthelier joins the team, is an emphasis on more table side service. Don’t expect flaming desserts but, the art of table side presentation from carving meats to presenting foamed sauces in front of the guest sets the Dining Room a part from other restaurants as well. “It went away because people didn’t care but it’s back,” says Guillaume whose European hotel school training included skills in tableside service which he teaches to the wait staff, “It’s just like a painting. We add the frame at the table. It’s an elegant way to present food, not just delivering a plate to a guest.” Meant as a selection for two to enjoy, the Lobster with Garganelli pasta, for instance, arrives table side on a rolling cart in a glass covered bowl. The waiter then removes the lid and the fragrance of the lobster Bolognese and preserved lemons precedes the pleasure of watching him divide the delicious spoonfuls of pasta and succulent lobster onto the plates which finally arrive in front of you. Anticipation is part of pleasure, too.
And look out, here comes another cart! Cheese carts, dessert carts, and isn’t that a bottle of some amazing Bordeaux and a crystal decanter being wheeled over to that table for two we really can’t see in the back of the room? “When I first came here I found this beautiful French Christofle silver cheese cart was not being used.” Guillaume says he polished it up, sprayed WD 40 on the wheels and today it proudly presents The Dining Room’s ever changing selections for the cheese course. So, I would say that the service is definitely formal but it’s not stuffy, because the waiters seem to be part well, waiter and part psychologist. They have to know who’s in a good mood. Oh did you see that woman over there just opened up a birthday present and it was a diamond and sapphire bracelet!! They have to know when to lie low. Oh, I think that CEO is here to tell the other guy he’s firing a whole division tomorrow. But, for me, I just wanted them to be efficient and a bit entertaining. This is a three hour cruise, you know. When discussing the new emphasis on table side service our waiter joked that, “We bring a fish tank into the dining room and then Claude will throw in a line to catch your dinner.” I’ve always enjoyed eating out in fancy places with great food as long as you don’t have to behave yourself! And the Dining Room feels like it can be that kind of place. I’m not talking rock star misbehavior but, it is nice to know the Dining Room staff is aware most guests are there to have fun with all of this fabulous food and wine; there’s no need for so much decorum you’re afraid to ask “Now, what is this again?”

One member of the Dining Room team who clearly loves to entertain guests by sharing interesting stories about far away places, the mysteries of nature and family secrets is the lovely and very young ( she’s 24) Sommelier Chantelle Grilhot. We first meet upon that initial champagne pouring welcome with the presentation of a Cremant Grand Cru Libert 1995, “It’s 100 percent chardonnay grapes.” she whispers with a knowing smile as she does when introducing each of the wines selected for the Tasting Menu. When you finish a course and you see her coming with another bottle, you know this will be a liquid clue as to what dish the chef is delivering next. “I take you now to the Loire Valley of France with a Vouvray 2004.” She talks about the limestone influence and mineral nuances and I look forward to pairing this with the Ahi Tuna with Jicama, Watermelon and Jalapeno Gelee.
Later Chantelle is back “We go now to South America to the country of Brazil” and surprisingly this is the dark opulent red wine Miolo, Quinta do Seival with the aroma of chocolate covered cherries that will go beautifully with the Lobster Garganelli.

Now the Dining Room experience is not for the faint of heart- there’s a carpaccio of foie gras nestled next to broiled squab- and I can’t help but think that these slices of raw liver remind me of something a coroner deals with for toxicology tests. And if you’re flight of feet and like to dash and dine this is not your place, either. No wonder there’s a small decorative pillow tucked behind me on the banquette- it’s for lumbar support! This is dining for the long haul. That said, make sure your dining companions are ready to converse for at least two, often three or even four hours and enjoy it. I never knew the charming story of how my friend met her husband, even though I’d known them for two years.
On our fourth or was it fifth course my friend observed, “You’ve got to tell people to pace themselves.” In all honesty the waiter did warn us! And just when you think the flight is about to end and dessert arrives you learn that this is a slow descent because the waiter announces “Ladies, please enjoy your pre-dessert. We present three small tastes of Kenyan Coffee Tart, Tahitian Bean Ice Cream, and Chocolate Gelee with Chocolate Souffle.” Meanwhile, the room is really buzzing now and we overhear a snippet of conversation of two young women with their aunts or perhaps a wedding planner, “Will you be responsible for your bridesmaids’ hair and makeup?” I think the answer was yes. I was distracted by the arrival of the main dessert, a “Citrus Composition” of Naval Orange Sabayon, Mardarine Sorbet with a very unusual and totally memorable Satsuma and Orange Blossom Salad. Yes, then there was a table side tea service followed by a selection of hand made confections and we felt we had become part of this canvas which was anything but a still-life. The only thing missing, which we didn’t miss was a table hopping chef. No, he waits until the flight has landed. On departure we walked to the door where adorable Chef Arnaud Berthelier with a puckish smile in a tres moderne short sleeved chef’s jacket, quietly asked us how we enjoyed dinner and said good-bye. Still aloft from the experience of an exhilarating culinary journey, we rode the elevator down and returned to Earth.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What Do Dietitians Do on a Typical Day?

The day began at WXIA TV NBC sipping bottled water with TV doctor and Oprah pal Dr. Mehmet Oz ( he's really friendly and actually even more handsome in person) and ended at the St. Regis Hotel drinking a silky 2007 Estate Chardonnay with fabulous Napa winery owner Janet Trefethen of Trefethen Family Vineyards. http://www.trefethen.com/

The middle of the day found me talking "vegetarian"menu development with the wonderful staff of Good Measure Meals, a fresh gourmet delivered meals program. Eggplant torte, Acapulco Chile and Vegetable Lasagna dishes are wowing taste buds of vegetarians and non-vegetarians ( we'll call them Flexitarians!) as Good Measure Meals rolls out their 5 week ( breakfast, lunch and dinner) menu plans for clients who want to eat great, lose weight and do NONE of the work!! Good Measure Meals dietitians did all the work figuring out exactly how many calories in each menu and making sure that all the needed nutrients were there from protein, fiber and all the vitamins you need. The chef makes sure that all that nutrition meets taste bud requirements! http://www.goodmeasuremeals.com/

Oh..while I was interviewing Dr. Oz he asked, "Is it OK if I eat something while we chat?" He had been on a wild whirlwind schedule that morning....of course! He dove into a carton of Greek yogurt and small container of fresh blueberries. Meanwhile, lurking in the hallway....a WXIA producer with a package of donuts covered in powdered sugar with plans to spring it on him during a taped interview. You guess how it all turned out!

Oh, then it was off to lunch at Nan's Thai Fine Dining paired with Trefethen wines. My first Janet sighting of the day!! The Trefethen 2008 Estate Dry Reisling paired perfectly with the crispy calamari with three chili sauce. Red snapper with green mango salad with its slightly sweet and salty flavors was lovely and lively with the 2007 Estate Chardonnay. Janet remarked on their subtle winemaking approach ( read: no heavy oaking), "We think of our Chardonnay as a beautiful woman. She's lovely on her own and maybe needs a bit of mascara or hint of lipstick. But we would never cover her up with a lot of make up or we'd never find her."

What did Dr.Oz say about healthy dining out? His advice was to be a regular at your favorite places so you can get to know everyone in the dining room and in the kitchen, "If they know you and know what you like and how you liked things prepared it's easier for them and for you! Everyone loves regulars!" Good for business and your health, I guess.

By the way, when I told Dr. Oz I was having lunch with Janet Trefethen, he said, "I love Trefethen wines!" I'm sure he'd have enjoyed our lunch ........just what the doctor and dietitian ordered!

(Photo: Janet Trefethen (center) surrounded by fabulous fans. Notice the pearls by Dolma Jewelry owned by cute Ashley on the left. That's me in the back and my sister Alison on right of Janet)