Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Marvelous Marche Region of Italy

Glorious view of the Adriatic from Hotel Emilia near Ancona 

While throngs of visitors flock to Tuscany and Venice, the region known as Le Marche or simply Marche on the east coast of Italy is just waking up to tourists. If you refer to the country’s geographic comparison to the shape of a boot, Marche (pronounced ‘mahr-keh’) is positioned just above the heel so would be the calf of the boot. From the lavender lined cliff views of the Adriatic to the hilly Renaissance towns filled with priceless art and gilded historic theaters there’s much to discover and very little competition to see the sights.

Bronze water horse fountain and no crowds in the square, Ascoli Piceno 

“It’s way out of the way. There are no tourists down there,” says Atlanta native Doug Strickland of Integrity Wines who’s traveled to Marche to source sustainable wines. “It’s a beautiful region with great chefs. There are cool chapels and well restored ancient buildings.” During my visit to the Marche I was delighted with the freedom to explore places on my own. Unlike Florence and Rome where you have to wait in long lines to gaze upon the statue of David or crush into the Coliseum, it was so quiet I could have reached out and touched the works of Raphael at the Palazzo Ducale in Urbino, where the great artist was born. A rustic farm house lunch of fava beans, pastas and rabbit at the Locanda Ca’ Andreana near Urbino was enjoyed in the company of the family dog sleeping by the door.

Fresh cherries and friendly dog at Locande ca' Andreanna 

We’re Glad You’re Here !

What I found the most compelling was the welcoming attitude of the people who were honestly happy to see tourists and share their enthusiasm for this lesser known region of Italy.

Adorable bartender and a bowl of joy

My focus was culinary, of course!  I visited organic cheese producers, biodynamic wineries, savored seafood lunches by the beach and experienced elegant candle lit dinners with a little opera thrown in for entertainment.

Fusilli with fresh clams at Mattia in seaside San Benedetto del Tronto

Lunch begins with this colorful plate at Locande ca' Andreana 

The Marche is a dream destination for food and wine lovers searching for festive and authentic settings. Hey, they invented lasagna here. Oh, and the accordion.

Italian Lessons

With the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in mind I interviewed several svelte Italian women who live in the Marche and while pasta may be on the menu they were all adamant about how and when they eat to help them stay slim.

Daniela Pirani- dining in sequined top, skinny pants and heels -“I love sweets and cakes. But I really try to limit. I never eat pasta for the evening meal. Only once a week for cakes and sweets.”

Marta Paraventi- touring in pink t-shirt, black jeans and loafers - “I eat pasta or risotto for lunch maybe once a week, but only 100 grams of pasta.” (about ¾ cup)

Heather Griffin – translator originally from Pinehurst, North Carolina lost weight when she moved to Marche - “I walk a lot more now can’t park in front of your house. There’s a different way of eating here. Italian women don’t like to eat pasta in the evening. They have a salad in evening maybe with boiled eggs, tuna canned in water, olives, fennel and mozzarella. They don’t eat bread at night. And pasta portions are rich but small. I’m hooked on smoked bacon, tomato sauce and cream.”
The Happiest Hour
An Italian culinary custom which seems contrary to calorie control is the relaxed pre-dinner tradition of Aperitivo with a drink and little snacks such as olives, potato chips, nuts or bites of bruschetta. But that’s usually accompanied by the practice of la passeggiata – an early evening stroll- which aids digestion and adds physical activity. Griffin says, “It’s my favorite time of day.”

Marche has rolled out a new tourism campaign but are residents ready for more tourists to share the beauty of their land and lifestyle? The region’s President Gian Mario Spacca responds, “Yes, slowly but surely.”

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dr.Oz on Dining Out

Dr. Oz in his scrubs after taping episode of The Dr. Oz Show

Chances are if you dine out with Dr. Mehmet Oz he won’t be staying for dessert.

“One of my pet peeves with restaurants is when they push dessert. It’s metabolic suicide,” Oz told me recently after the taping of The Dr.Oz Show at NBC at Rockefeller Center in New York. As one of the studio audience participants I got to watch Dr. Oz in action and gain a better understanding of his media mission to help viewers improve their lives, “We try to get people into wellness. But, it’s not really a health show, it’s about life.” Topics on the show this day included the body pains you shouldn’t ignore, tips on buying food and health products in bulk and discerning which outrageous alternative health treatments are actually legitimate. Hint: leeches can play an important role in modern medicine.

Assertive with Oz

Now back to the issue of declining that dessert. Oz, who is a cardiac surgeon as well as Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University, is concerned about the significant health consequences of obesity in America but says, “It’s really a 100 calorie problem.” He explains that by cutting 100 calories when you can (skipping dessert) or by burning 100 calories through exercise most folks can prevent weight gain. “You need assertiveness training to dine out. You have to ask the waiter not to bring the bread and butter. Look on line at the menus ahead of time. Even fast food restaurants have healthier options today.”

And if you can’t find a healthier version of your favorite restaurant food, The Dr. Oz Show can show you how to make your own at home. Do you like fried rice? In a segment called “Fake Out - Take Out” a Dr.Oz fan identified as Lisa prepared a lightened up version of Shrimp Fried Rice that featured edamame beans, quinoa and ponzu sauce- which is lower in sodium than soy sauce. Audience members tasted and approved. “Number one, you have to give them foods that they like,” explained Oz “Foods that taste good and happen to be good for you. The ponzu sauce was a smart idea.” Calorie savings shared on the show revealed that a typical order of Take Out fried rice contains 1000 calories, while the “Fake Out” lighter recipe contained only 360 calories.

The Oz File

Dr. Oz gained fame as a medical expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show for over five seasons and has authored best selling books with Dr. Michael Roizen including YOU: On a Diet and YOU: Losing Weight. The Dr. Oz Show has earned Daytime Emmy Awards for Best Informative Talk Show host two years in a row for 2010 and 2011.

After observing the morning taping, I met Dr. Oz in his office where he had changed out of the tailored suit he’d been wearing for the show and into comfy blue scrubs and a black t-shirt. His was relaxed and welcoming even though he was preparing to tape another episode in the afternoon. I felt as if I was being greeted by a family physician who’d known me for years and told him that’s how he appears to greet the guests who are ‘patients’ on his show. “I think that’s something that’s lost in American medicine,” he said, “Someone who knows your parents. It’s about identifying a quilt of symptoms.”

Another highlight of my visit to The Dr. Oz Show happened in the hallway outside the studio. I heard someone call my name, "Carolyn? Is that you?! It's me Kari Pricher from CNN Features!" Kari and I worked together at CNN when I was hosting Travel Now. Now Kari is an Editorial Producer for The Dr. Oz Show. Small world and a wonderful coincidence to run into her again. Way to go Kari!!!  

Oz’s Lunch

Even though topics presented run the gamut from flossing to fibromyalgia, Oz believes “Good nutrition is the foundation of the show. When I walk into a grocery store I see all of the healthy foods and it’s like a pharmacy.” I looked next the scripts arranged on his desk and noticed a plate of food. Guess what he was having for lunch? A serving of the winning recipe for healthy alternative take out – the shrimp fried rice. How about that?

Oz is a doctor who takes his own medicine.

"Fake Out" Shrimp Fried Rice Recipe

2 tbsp canola oil

3/4 lb frozen shrimp, defrosted

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 chopped red pepper

1 cup asparagus cut into bite size pieces

1/2 cup shelled edamame (frozen can be used)

3 tbsp Ponzu sauce

1 egg and 2 egg whites whisked together

2 cups quinoa cooked in water

Additional Ponzu sauce to taste

Sriracha sauce to taste


Cook quinoa in water. Bring 2 cups of water and 1 cup dry quinoa to a boil. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until tender.

In a large non-stick frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat. Add the shrimp and garlic. Add pepper, asparagus and edamame. Cook for a few minutes until vegetables start to wilt. Add Ponzu sauce and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Move all ingredients to one side of the pan.

Scramble the eggs and egg whites. Cook in the pan. Add the cooked quinoa and mix all ingredients together. Add Sriracha and Ponzu sauce to taste. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Heart Pork Tenderloin

Pork Tenderloin Cutlets in Cracker Jack Salad at JCT Kitchen, Atlanta
Pork Tenderloin is Heart-Healthy 

If you’ve been scanning restaurant menus for chicken and fish to find healthful dishes you can widen your gaze. Pork which often gets overlooked as a leaner entrée possibility has officially joined the list. Pork tenderloin is now certified with the American Heart Association’s “Heart Check” mark indicating it qualifies as an extra lean heart-healthy protein. Bacon may be getting a lot of culinary attention lately and a rack of baby back ribs slathered in barbecue sauce can rack up 1000 calories, but, there’s more than one way to serve a pig. In fact, ounce for ounce pork tenderloin is as lean as a skinless chicken breast. A three ounce portion of pork tenderloin contains less than 3 grams of fat and 120 calories. Isn’t it great when you can please desire for flavor and good health with the same meal? “Pork tenderloin is very popular on our menus,” says Chef de Cuisine Brian Horn of JCT. Kitchen & Bar. “It goes well with so many other flavors.” On JCT.’s lunch menu the “Cracker Jack Salad” features thinly pounded pork tenderloin cutlets topped with an arugula salad lightly dressed with Georgia apple vinaigrette and garnished with the crunch of spiced caramel popcorn.

Not Your Grandma’s Pork Chop

Over the past couple of decades, changes in feeding and breeding techniques have produced leaner pigs. According to the National Pork Board, today's pork has 16% less fat and 27% less saturated fat than 21 years ago. Pork tenderloin may be the trimmest of them all, but the loin cuts, including pork chops and roasts are the next leanest with 147 calories and a smidge over 5 grams of fat per three ounce serving. “For those who love the great taste of pork, the new certification is a wonderful reminder to incorporate more heart-healthy foods into their diet without sacrificing flavor,” says Pamela Johnson of the National Pork Board.

In the Pink

Recipes for preparing pork have changed too. Last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made it official that pork can be safely cooked to medium rare, at a cooked temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by a three-minute rest time to continue cooking. This is fifteen degrees less than the previous recommendation and means the meat will be slightly pink in color. Because pork is leaner today, it’s important not to over cook it so the meat is juicy and tender. So slightly pink is considered very safe by the USDA. Chef Dean Dupuis of South City Kitchen says five years ago if he served pork a little pink in the middle his customers would send it back but, “It’s not as bad as it once was when everyone freaked out.”

Pork’s Nutrition Power

While cured pork products such as bacon and ham are relatively high in sodium, fresh pork is naturally low in sodium.

Pork tenderloin and other loin cuts are excellent sources of protein, thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorous and niacin and good sources of potassium, riboflavin and zinc.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ramp up with Spring Veggies, Kale too!

Kale Slaw jumps off the menu at Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, AL

Spring is in full swing as restaurant menus brighten up with the bold flavors of vegetables that like to take the spotlight. Sweet onions, green onions, garlic chives and ramps jump into soups and onto salads to help waken taste buds from their winter comfort food slumber. What’s a ramp? Southern chefs certainly know and get pretty excited when these bright green wild onions with as assertive, garlicky-onion flavor spring from the ground. James Beard Award nominated Best Chef of the South, Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham ramps up the taste of pan roasted flounder with wild watercress, ramps and lemon vinaigrette and serves a zingy ramp vinaigrette with soft shell crabs. Vidalia onions have arrived on the spring scene too. All members of the allium family of vegetables onions, leeks, ramps and garlic bring health to the table too. Their strong aromas signal antioxidants and sulfur compounds are present which are associated with disease prevention and cell repair. Talk about springing into action.

Bold Taste and Bold Nutrition

Other powerful players garnering gourmet attention are vegetables from the Brassica family especially kale continuing a winter run of popularity as crunchy kale chips and braised kale into a spring fashion format. At Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, chef Frank Stitt’s fresh kale even showed up at the bar as guests enjoyed cocktails with soft shell crab and deep green kale slaw. Dietitian Kathleen Zelman, nutrition director for WebMD, says “Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet. One cup of kale contains only 36 calories and provides 5 grams of fiber and 15 percent of your daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B6, 180 percent of vitamin A, 200 percent of vitamin C and over 1000 percent of vitamin K. Move over Popeye!”

Sometimes you have to be a little bold to get the bolder vegetables. Mark McQueen, of Atlanta looked around the room at Canton Cooks in Sandy Springs and noticed that Asian families knew to ask for Chinese broccoli instead of the regular stuff automatically served with dishes like Beef and Broccoli. “So I decided to get the Chinese broccoli with my lunch. It’s a bit bitter but tastes super fresh and it was a real bright green. I liked it.” McQueen said. Chinese broccoli and broccoli rabe often served in Italian restaurants are more closely related to mustard greens than broccoli. Their bite is as bold as their nutrition contributions as excellent sources of vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium as well as the healthy plant nutrient called lutein associated with eye health. Chinese broccoli, broccoli rabe and rappini can be steamed, stir-fried, sautéed or braised and I bet a pretty good slaw.

Supermarket Safari

It's a jungle in there! Supermarkets stock from 35,000 to 60,000 products - no wonder you get lost in those miles of aisles hunting for dinner! Join me for this Fox Good Day Atlanta consumer report - we save money, time and find the healthiest choices. And there's an app for that. See Fooducate in action on my iPhone!