Friday, June 22, 2012

Hot Dogs are Haute for Summer

What's a summer trip to NYC without a New York street dog?
The simple summer pleasure of enjoying a hot dog at the ballpark, patio of a casual eatery or from a friendly street vendor has evolved into a gourmet event. As part of a nationwide taste trend, restaurants specializing in hot dogs and sausages such as HD1 in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood are putting the “haute” in hot dog. You can still enjoy a “Plain Jane” at HD1 with a choice of two toppings such as mustard, ketchup, sweet relish or onion but chef Richard Blais’ imagination goes way beyond the basic beef hot dog. His menu includes Haute Dogs such as the “Little Italy” featuring fennel sausage garnished with San Marzano tomato ketchup or a Bavarian Bratwurst with beer braised onions.
Dietitian Lanier Dabruzzi likes the high-end dog trend, “I think the "haute" dog rage is actually great. People aren't stuck w/ those mystery meat dogs topped with sugary ketchup and relish anymore. A lot of the dogs are now being made with leaner meats and act as a great medium for people to load on the veggies.”  
Top Dog Toppings
Of course, there are a lot of options to load on other tasty toppings that can really pile on the calories. What’ll ya have? At the Varsity hot dogs are the culinary canvas to take on slaw, cheese, chili or you can get them all by ordering the chili cheese slaw dog.  Mustards, sauerkraut, pickle relish, and chopped onion are the traditional toppings with the least amount of calories. Calorie free, celery salt is an option to sprinkle on at Mike’s Hot Dogs in Sandy Springs. Count about 315 calories for a regular sized dog on a roll with ketchup.
What about turkey dogs? They are generally lower in fat and calories than beef or pork based dogs and most places offer a meatless alternative veggie frank, too. Choose a whole grain bun and you’re on your way to creating a tasty and nutritious summer treat.
Hot Dog Diet Facts
A five inch long, 1.6 ounce beef hot dog: 150 calories, 13 grams fat, 5 grams protein
A five inch long, 1.6  ounce turkey dog: 102 calories, 8 grams fat, 6 grams protein
A five inch long, 1.6 ounce veggie dog: 80 calories, 2 grams fat, 11 grams protein, 3 grams fiber
A one ounce hot dog bun: 84 calories
Toppings: one tablespoon
 Ketchup 16 calories
Sweet relish: 21 calories
Mustard: 12 calories

 Carolyn O'Neil, MS, RD is co-author of The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!
She loves hot dogs with kraut and spicy mustard and a Stella Artois. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Are you ready for your culinary close up?

Culinary Close Ups

Pretty in Pink: peel 'n eat shrimp Florida and Georgia coast menus

It’s not enough to simply relax and dine on the dishes chefs create for restaurant menus, some folks want to jump in and help cook the meal.  The promise of an “Epitourian” experience in the professional kitchens of the Sawgrass Marriott Resort in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida is what attracted Maureen and Billy Ray Price of Moultrie, Georgia. “I found it online. We wanted to go to the beach to celebrate our wedding anniversary but we wanted something different,” says Maureen Price. “My husband is a really good cook and I thought ‘he’ll learn to make even more great things for me’ and it will be fun.”
So while other guests at the golf centric resort, host hotel of THE PLAYERS Championship, headed out to play one of the areas eight championship golf courses or grabbed a book and a beach chair at the Cabana Beach Club, the Prices jumped on a golf cart with Executive chef David Scalise to visit the on-property bee hives.
Off they go to find the bee hives with Chef Scalise and Heidi Barfels of Miami

Scalise tends two bee hives tucked away in an area guests wouldn’t normally see behind tall trees and overgrown with black berry bushes and other natural plants of north Florida, “At first everyone panicked when they heard I wanted to set up bee hives on the hotel property. But these honey bees are not aggressive and finally even the lawyers understood it was going to be OK, “ says Scalise who set up the hives about a year ago. 

Sweet life: Executive Chef David Scalise tends the hives at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort

“Our first harvest yielded fifteen gallons. The honey is a little nutty tasting with nuances of the wild blackberries. We use pieces of the honey combs on our cheese platters.”  The hotel’s homegrown Sawgrass honey not only sweetens the culinary program, it’s sold in the gift shop and used in the spa for treatments. “We’re even working on using the bees wax to make lip balm, “ says Scalise.  
Proud beekeeper shows off part of the honey harvest.

He says another bonus from beekeeping is developing stronger relationships with local farmers, “We lend our bees to pollinate their crops including a strawberry farmer nearby. So then we get strawberry honey.”
Cook and Learn
Next stop for the Prices on their culinary adventure is the farmer’s market in nearby Neptune Beach to shop for foods they’ll cook with that afternoon.  On the menu for today is a lesson in making fresh pasta.  “I’ve always loved to cook. Even in college at the University of Florida I made spaghetti sauce every Sunday for the other students in my dorm,” says Billy Ray Price who’s a physician in Moultrie.   
Romantic lighting in the Augustine Grille captures the beauty of handmade gnocchi pasta with local vegetables.

A few notches up from spaghetti, Scalise led the Prices through the steps needed to make fresh gnocchi including the delicate broth based sauce that would be served to them for dinner that night as well as other guests in the Augustine Grille. So their “epitourian” experience went beyond creating their own courses, the Prices truly were part of the Sawgrass Marriott’s culinary staff for the day.

Maureen and Billy Ray Price celebrate their Epitourian experience in the Augustine Grille

Watch and Learn
If you’d rather stay out of the line of fire in a busy restaurant kitchen, but still want to be close enough to see exactly how the chef sears a piece of fish then you can take a seat at the Chef’s Table at The Cloister at Sea Island, Georgia.  

Elegant settings and sumptuous bites of the finest food and wine at The Cloister, Sea Island

Seating four guests comfortably in a small yet elegant glassed-in dining room the table overlooks the expansive kitchen of the Georgian Room where chef de cuisine Daniel Zeal and his brigade of chefs turn vegetables into jewel like shapes, expertly grill meats, poach lobster in vanilla and citrus, delicately prepare fine fish such as cobia, garnish plates with edible flowers and create multi-ingredient desserts.  Can’t keep up with the action? Just change the channel.  Above the picture window in the chef’s table dining room is a wide screen television. “We give the guests their own remote control to switch camera views around the kitchen so they can follow their meal every step of the way and I pop in to answer any questions they might have about techniques or ingredients,” says Zeal.
Under the direction of  Resort Executive Chef Jonathan Jerusalmy, Sea Island chefs
create a wide range of culinary experiences for guests.

Off the Farm
Snapper ceviche with micro greens at Edwards Fine Food & Wine, Rosemary Beach,  Florida
It’s nothing new to see the names of farms and farmers on menus today as more chefs create business bonds to bring the best in locally grown foods to their guests. But, take a look around the dining room and you may even see a farmer. 

Eating dinner one night at Edward’s Fine Food & Wine in Rosemary Beach, Florida I asked chef Edward Reese about the deliciously fresh micro greens in salads and garnishing plates. He smiled and replied pointing to the man sitting at the next table, “Why don’t you ask Claus Kazenmaier, they came from his farm this morning!”
So it seems that another component of judging culinary quality is today is how close we can get to knowing where our food comes from and exactly how it’s prepared even when someone else is doing the cooking.
Now let's head to the beach..........

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Chefs and their Menus

What’s on the menu? That’s a critical question chefs must decide before they open a restaurant.  “I was afraid. It was like writer’s block. I needed a point of view,” says Joe Truex, executive chef of newly opened Watershed on Peachtree.  Truex, no newbie to menu development has cooked in professional kitchens from his home state of Louisiana to flashy Las Vegas to the renowned Le Cirque Restaurant in New York. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1989 he set off to Switzerland to immerse himself in European cuisine and then after another stint in demanding Manhattan kitchens including the glamorous Peninsula Hotel decided to head south.  The menu of his former Atlanta restaurant Repast even caught the eye of Martha Stewart who invited him to appear on her television show.
It was a combination of these culinary experiences that led Truex to define what he wanted to cook at Watershed on Peachtree, “I decided that the menu for Watershed on Peachtree should be personal. I wanted to make it an autobiography of my life.”
So, on the menu you’ll find Joe’s Jambalaya, an homage to his upbringing in Mansura, Louisiana. “But it’s prepared in a classical style with everything cooked separately. I grill the sausage. I sear the scallops,” says Truex.  The Grilled Steak and Panzanella  Salad he learned to make at Le Cirque, ”It was owner’s Sirio Maccioni’s favorite.”
The focus of the menu is farm –to- table with locally grown produce and southern staples from pork to pecans. One item Truex had to include in his new menu story is Watershed’s famous fried chicken night (Wednesday), made popular at the eatery’s former Decatur location.
OK, I didn't' have a photo of fish at The Optimist but here's me with a trout in Aspen!

Go Fish
Everyday has a catch- of- the- day when you open a seafood place. Chef Ford Fry has launched The Optimist and Oyster Bar in west Midtown with executive chef Adam Evans at the helm. Last month after lunch at Fry’s JCT Kitchen, I saw Evans sitting outside with chef de cuisine Brian Horn, working on laptops and legal pads designing the menu for The Optimist.
Here's one of the delicious dishes I shared  for lunch at JCT Kitchen that day. 

That’s when it hit me that writing a menu is complicated business. Not only do you have to think of culinary mission of the menu and food costs; you have to consider who’s coming to the restaurant, do they want big plates or small plates, do they care about local farms and sustainable seafood, do they want to start with a salad, will they share dessert, do they crave hand crafted cocktails?
Mixologist, Laura Creasy is the mind behind the bevy of beverages on the menu at JCT Kitchen and The Optimist. 

The answer is usually yes to all of these questions today. And while it’s hard to please all of the people all of the time, seafood lovers dining at The Optimist will find a sea of offerings from delicate grouper with smoked Vidalia onions in a horseradish broth to down home fish house fried hushpuppies dusted in cane sugar. 
Dream Menu
As a dietitian who loves to dine out here’s what I like to see on the menu.
-Sensible portion sizes. It’s nice when the servers can tell you if the fish entrĂ©e is big enough to share or if you should just get your own.
-Healthy appetizers. Too many starters are deep fat fried or loaded with cheese. Great choices are seafood ceviche, steamed shellfish, simple salads of great greens or heirloom tomatoes with fresh herbs and without cheese.
- Clean tastes. Chefs love to make rich sauces, but too much can over power the flavors of fish or any food. Don’t gild the lily.
- Flavors without fat. The Optimist’s wood roasted Amish chicken with a fresh salsa verde is a good example. So is Watershed’s salmon with tomato and herbs.
The Old Salty Dog at The Optimist with fresh squeezed pink grapefruit juice and an impressive slab of grapefruit peel.
-Slim and stylish. Used to be that pungent foods such as Brussels sprouts and grapefruit were menu outcasts. But happily and healthily they’re now in vogue.

Salt and Flavor Savvy

Pepper may be used to add the heat, but when it comes to diet debates the seasoning closest to the fire is salt.

Talk about spicing things up!

Government health officials have declared the sodium in table salt as a nutrition no-no with advice to limit intake in home cooking, restaurant menus, processed foods and school lunches. Sodium levels in foods have been on the nutrition watch list for years because research studies show that too much sodium in the diet is associated with high blood pressure, which can increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Meanwhile, there’s a heaping helping of scientists who say the salt warnings are way overblown and that there’s not enough research to prove that even if it does raise blood pressure a bit that salt consumption causes heart disease deaths.

So who should care about consuming way too much salt? Just about everyone, according to health watchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who report that 70% of U.S. adults should limit sodium intake.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend healthy adults consume no more than 2300 milligrams of sodium (about one teaspoon of salt) per day. A lower limit of 1,500 mg per day is recommended for adults with high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, the over 50s, and all African-American adults.

FYI: most of us consume around 4000 milligrams of sodium a day (about two teaspoons).
Fish tacos and a Margarita with salt on the rim! Just don't lick the whole rim.

Cut Salt, Not Flavor

A big challenge for restaurants is that creating foods lower in fat and calories often means adding flavor with other ingredients such as sauces and salty spice blends which are often high in sodium. Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods list sodium content to help you keep track. Some chain restaurants provide sodium information on their websites. But, in general when dining out you're often on your own.

  • The main source of sodium in the diet is salt or sodium chloride, with 2, 325 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon. Most salt comes from processed foods such as salad dressings, soups, cheeses, baked goods and snack foods. So cut back on portions or choose lower sodium versions; there are many better tasting ones on the market today.
Hot chiles, citrus, herbs, hot sauces add big flavor so you can use just a little salt.

  • Taste buds adjust. Scientists who study taste have found that when you cut back on salt you get used to it in about three weeks. You may even discover the real flavor of foods!

    A squeeze of tart lemon brightens flavors so you don't need as much  salt.  
  • Note that pickles, cheese, smoked meats, gravies, sauces, salad dressings, barbecue sauces, soy sauce and broths are usually high in sodium so use sparingly. A tablespoon of soy sauce, for instance, contains 1,000 mg sodium. Hot sauces are often sodium free; read the labels.
  • Ask the server for help. Request that foods be prepared without added salt, or ask for sauces and salad dressings on the side. For low-sodium dressings, try lemon, lime or a splash of vinegar. Get to know the delicious difference between the taste of red wine, sherry, rice wine, balsamic and cider vinegars.

  • Look for menu items you can season at the table, such as a baked potato instead of mashed potatoes. Surface salt, such as a light shake on scrambled eggs or fresh sliced tomatoes, can give you the salt flavor hit you crave with just a small sprinkling. Even if those who don’t worry about salt and their health must agree that too much salt in a dish unpleasantly overpowers the other flavors.
  • Upgrade your saltshaker. Sea salt (which by weight contains the same amount of sodium as regular salt) is often brighter and livelier in flavor so you can use less salt to season foods. Amy Myrdal, registered dietitian with the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in Napa Valley notes that all salts are not alike, “Kosher Salt which is very soft and fluffy has granules that melt quickly on the tongue and 1 teaspoon contains only 1120 milligrams of sodium compared to regular table salt with 2,360 milligrams.”

  • Eat more spinach, cantaloupe, oranges and other fruits and vegetables. They’re naturally low in sodium and are excellent sources of the mineral potassium, which acts as the healthy counter-balance to sodium in body fluid regulation. Salsas made with fresh fruit and vegetables are a great way to add healthy flavors to foods.

Carolyn O'Neil, is a registered dietitian and co-author of  "The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!"  Email her at