Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Savor Steaks South America Style

La Cabrera parilla in Palermo Hollywood section of BA.
 I’ve got Argentina on the mind this week. My daughter Katie just began a four month stay in Buenos Aires for a university program focused on Spanish and international business. Hopefully she’ll return fluent in the language and learn lots about a culture famous for tango and fabulous steaks. At 20 she’s old enough to legally enjoy Argentina’s signature red wine, Malbec, too. (At least while she’s living there!)

Another reminder of Argentine cuisine arrived in a newsletter from dietitian colleagues who are members of the Food and Culinary Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association. Paula Tsufis wrote about the groups’ trip to sample South American food customs such as ‘asado’, Argentina’s traditional barbecue of meats and empanadas as she described, “Turnovers filled with a mixture of ground meat cooked with onions, olives and raisins.”

Steaks are meant for sharing; condiments are inspiring.
La Cabrera parilla in BA. 

Argentines eat 160 pounds of beef per capita, and their tender, deeply flavored grass-fed beef (typically charred on an open fire called a parilla) is considered among the best in the world. During a visit to Buenos Aires a couple of years ago, I really liked that steaks were sliced to share and served with lots of different savory condiments such as pickled onions and chimichurri sauces made with olive oil, vinegar, finely chopped parsley, onion, garlic and herbs. When you add that kind of punch to the parilla plate you don’t need a Texas-sized steak hanging off the plate, as you see in a lot of U.S. steak houses. In Argentina the expertly seasoned and grilled cuts of beef, lamb or pork may be center stage, but interesting salads, such as hearts of palm with tomato, onion and green olives grace the tables, too. In Argentina the dining style is more European, with smaller portions, and the pace is slow and easy. The feel and flavors of Argentina, as well as other Latin cuisines, are a specialty at Pura Vida Tapas & Bar in the Poncey-Highlands neighborhood. Puerto Rican born chef Hector Santiago’s menu celebrates the cuisines of South and Central America. He grills hangar steak “parilla” style on a charcoal grill and serves with an Argentine inspired house made chimichurri sauce.

Steak Places Can Be Healthy

Believe it or not, steak restaurants in the U.S. can be among the easiest places to find a healthy meal. You get to pick the size of your steak so portion control is built into the menu options. There are usually delicious salads to choose from and most side dishes are served a la carte so you can order steamed broccoli without the cheese sauce. Just don’t count that huge stack of onion rings as a vegetable serving.

While heavily marbled steaks have been prized in the past, there’s a move at modern steak houses to serve leaner cuts of beef such as tenderloin and sirloin and to prepare them with health conscious steak lovers in mind. Executive chef Ian Winslade of Murphy’s Restaurant has added a grilled strip steak to the menu served with a tangy sesame mustard sauce and sliced Portobello mushrooms. Owner Tom Murphy notes that since many customers eat at the Virginia Highlands restaurant multiple times a week - for lunch and dinner - there’s an emphasis on taste and health. Strip steaks are among the 29 cuts of beef considered “lean” which by the official USDA definition which is: less than 10g total fat and less than 95mg cholesterol per 3.5 oz. serving. Another nutrition note: lean beef provides needed nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, riboflavin and of course protein. Even The Capital Grille in Buckhead, known for big steaks, big martinis and big red wines is lightening up for summer. Lunch guests can mix-and-match three choices from nine small plate offerings including mini-beef tenderloin sandwiches.

Choose Steak Accessories Wisely

Hearts of palm and tomato salad at parilla in BA.

Saddle Up:

Sliced tomatoes-add a sprinkle of salt and grind or two from the pepper mill

Coleslaw- ask for your cabbage lightly tossed with the slaw dressing.

Baked potato-whether white or sweet, a half is usually the right size portion since steak places buy huge spuds.

Steamed Vegetables- a squeeze of fresh lemon is all you need.

Sautéed Spinach and mushrooms – ask the kitchen to go light on the butter or oil

Steak sauce- no fat, 15 calories per tablespoon.

Chimichurri sauce- olive oil based, 50 calories per tablespoon.

"Steer" Clear:

Mashed potatoes- some recipes are so high in fat they’re more like potato ice cream!

Potato au gratin – any food followed by “au gratin” means it’s loaded with cheese.

Creamed Spinach- rich tasting for a reason; heavy cream and butter often involved.

Onion rings-deep fat fried and the size of CD case. Share an order per table.

Béarnaise / Hollandaise- cream and butter based, 70 calories per tablespoon.

Selection of wines at Buenos Aires Airport is Excellente! 

Argentina here I come! I'll be back in October 2011! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Follow that food truck!

Follow that food truck. Whether it’s up the street, over at the farmer’s market or on Twitter and Facebook there’s a bumper crop of cooks serving meals from mobile kitchens this summer. Greg Smith, president of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition, “It’s like we had pressure on the dam and it burst. It started with King of Pops carts and the Yumbii truck and now we’ve got at least ten trucks fully permitted by the health department.” A far cry from the neighborhood ‘ice cream man’ and hot dog stands; the food truck scene represents a wide range of ethnic and gourmet offerings. From Yumbii’s Asian rib-eye tacos and Tilapia tacos with Korean BBQ sauce to W.O.W truck’s arepas -Venezuelan corn cakes filled with beef, chicken or pork- food trucks serve an impressive variety of quality vittles at affordable prices. Even popsicles get a culinary upgrade. Steven Carse’s King of Pops with carts working the streets of Athens, Atlanta, Asheville and Charleston offers frozen flavors such as chocolate sea salt, strawberry rhubarb and banana pudding.
Karen Bremer executive director of The Georgia Restaurant Association applauds the creativity and diversity food trucks bring to the Atlanta food scene, “It has really blossomed and it’s a great way for consumers to try something new and food trucks allow the opportunity to try on new concepts before making the significant investment required for a "bricks and motor" restaurant.”
A survey out this week by the market research firm Technomic, Inc found that 91 percent of folks familiar with food trucks say the trend is here to stay. The biggest reason non-users of food trucks cited for not frequenting a mobile cart was hesitation over buying food from a vehicle. Certainly food safety and proper permitting is a big concern, “Everyone’s required to operate out of a commercial kitchen,” explains Smith who adds that area municipalities haven’t exactly made it easy for food truck owners to roll into their new businesses easily, “It’s extra complicated in the metro Atlanta area because we have so many municipalities with different methods of interpreting the health code. The City of Atlanta and the Fulton County Health Department are the ones we have worked with since we started. Marietta is taking initial steps to permit food trucks now.”

Smith who is an attorney specializing in the restaurant industry and other small businesses says the Atlanta Street Food Coalition aims to be the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ for food trucks, “My goal is to get everyone permitted for membership so consumers can recognize a brand they trust.”
Bremer focuses on food safety too, “As long as food trucks work collaboratively with our public health officials to insure safe food handling practices, we support this dynamic and emerging segment of our industry.”

Where do you find food trucks?
While many food trucks advertise daily locations – from office complexes to city parks- on their websites there’s an emerging trend in Atlanta to create food truck “pods” or gatherings of multiple mobile kitchens. You can find food trucks in Midtown on Mondays and Thursdays at the Woodruff Arts Center, Atlantic Station on Fridays and Thursday evenings at the Buckhead Theatre. Jenny Levison of Souper Jenny restaurant in Buckhead loads up her brightly colored "Incredible Flying Soupmobile" with soups, salads and sandwiches and takes her show on the road to food truck events, "It's entertaining and you can get all kinds of people to sample lots of food in one place."
Not surprisingly, the Technomic survey found that location is vital to the success of food trucks, as more than half of consumers “just happen upon them.” Facebook and Twitter are key ingredients for marketing these mobile restaurants because 84 percent of heavy social media users visit food trucks once a week. “I think it’s really cool,” says Smith “It brings people out and really taps into the power of community in Atlanta.” And the vibrant food truck scene is apparently not only focused on sharing good food at fair prices it’s a community that cares about customers in many ways. On King of Pops’ Facebook page this week a message, “If you or someone you know drives a burgundy xterra and lost your sunglasses this morning I have them at the corner til 730 or so.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!

A sure sign of summer is a menu populated with plenty of fresh tomatoes. Red, green, orange, yellow, purple, gold or even black – beautiful tomatoes are the culinary stars of the season. “We are getting all kinds of assorted heirloom tomatoes right now from Woodland Gardens,” says Ford Fry, executive chef of JCT Kitchen and soon to open No. 246 in Decatur, “There are wonderful cherry tomato varieties too like black cherry tomatoes and watermelon looking tomatoes and Black Crème tomatoes!”
Fry’s enthusiasm for all-things-tomato and his support of local farmers led to the creation of The Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival. The third annual event kicks off Sunday, July 17 at JCT Kitchen & Bar at 1pm to benefit Georgia Organics (www.georgiaorganics.org). “I hear people are going to dress up like tomatoes this year. We have thirty five chefs competing in this crazy, quirky food festival and they want to win.” Last year, Aria executive chef Gerry Klaskala won with a simple grilled cheese and tomato sandwich. JCT’s chef de cuisine, Brian Horn, made a memorable Tomato Jelly Donut filled with tomato jam and bacon flavored mayonnaise. Executive chef Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill created a tomato ice cream sandwich. Fry says “This year we’re doing an heirloom tomato Monte Cristo sandwich and you can count on us using the bacon mayo again.”
“It’s a day that truly showcases the sheer diversity of an ingredient,” says Executive chef Ron Eyester of Rosebud Restaurant, “I’m especially impressed with what the mixologists do with tomatoes.” Way beyond Bloody Mary’s, the creative libations last year included Bacchanalia’s tomato moonshine poured over shaved ice served with sweet condensed buttermilk. Eyester reveals his entry ideas for this Sunday’s festival competition, “We are working on a tomato lemonade beverage and a chilled tomato soup that will spoof the classic Bloody Mary.”

Tomatoes on the Menu
Ford Fry, JCT Kitchen & Bar and No. 246 :
“Tomatoes are one of the only vegetables that need nothing other than salt to make them sing. The tomato will carry all of the other flavors very well and enhance grilled fish, scallops and fresh pasta. Tomatoes are naturally acidic. Acid tends to enhance other natural flavors. A really light dish we’re doing for summer is tomato broth with tortellini and cherry tomatoes and freshly shaved parmesan.”
Ron Eyester, Rosebud Restaurant:
“I’m like a little kid and get so excited when tomatoes are in season. This year I love the sweet amber colored Sungold tomatoes from Crystal Organics farm.” Rosebud’s special Benton Bacon dinner this Thursday night may be a salute to Allan Benton’s celebrated pork products but Eyester says, “I’m just as excited about the local cherry tomatoes in the Cornbread Panzanella salad on the evening’s menu.”
How about those tomatoes? (Nutritionally speaking)
A Medium Tomato
Very Low Calorie/No fat- 35 calories
Vitamin A (20 % of daily needs) - needed for healthy skin and vision.
Vitamin C (57 % of daily needs) - needed for healthy immune system and skin.
1.5 grams Fiber (about the same as slice of whole wheat bread)
Potassium- 300 milligrams (good source) –needed for heart health, blood pressure control. .
Lycopene- excellent course of lycopene, an antioxidant plant nutrient linked to reduced rates of cancer, strong evidence linking tomatoes and diet rich in vegetables to reduced risk of heart disease.
Take Two Bowls of Gazpacho- A Tufts University study published in the Journal of Nutrition shows that daily consumption of two bowls of gazpacho for two weeks significantly increased blood levels of vitamin C and decreased biomarkers of stress and inflammation.