Monday, May 28, 2012

Healthy Foods You Already Love!

Do you flip-flop over what you think you like and what you think you should eat?
Win-Wins for Taste and Health

There’s no need to choke down chia seeds, develop a taste for tofu or eat any other foods wearing a trendy health halo if you don’t really like the taste of them. Choosing foods to improve the quality of your diet should start with recognizing what you’re already doing right. Do you add blueberries to yogurt or snack on a few pecans? You’re upping your intake of disease fighting antioxidants. Do you like to carry bottled water in your car? You’re more likely to stay hydrated and not confuse thirst for hunger. Do you go for the mustard and go light on the mayo when ordering sandwiches? You’re choosing big taste without big calories.
 Anytime you add more vegetables to a meal, use less cheese, choose leaner meats, grab the whole grain version of breads and go easy on the butter and oil-you’re right in step with the list of things to do to eat a healthier diet.
So rather than convincing you to try – chick pea cakes with flax seed granola (which I just made up but might actually taste good!)- or some other super nutritious sounding food let’s celebrate some of the dishes you may already be enjoying but, might not have known how healthy they really are.
Win-win for Taste and Health
Why not add some chopped fruit to your Guac?

  • Gaucamole- Since the main ingredient is avocado guacamole is a good source of heart healthy mono-unsaturated fats. The impressive list of nutrients in avocados includes fiber, potassium, Vitamin E and folic acid. Of course, where there’s fat; there are calories. One ounce of avocado, which is 2 tablespoons of mashed or two to three thin slices contains about 50 calories. But compared to two tablespoons of butter at 200 calories you can see why using avocado as a spread is a healthy idea. The mix of chopped tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeno added to avocado to make guacamole actually lowers the calories and increases the fiber and vitamin content even more per bite. Just make sure not to eat too many fried tortilla chips (6 large- 130 calories). Enjoy with torn pieces of one corn tortilla instead (70 calories).  Or better yet with carrots, celery or jicama – a super crunchy and slightly sweet root vegetable popular in Latin cuisines. 
BBQ Chicken Flatbread!

  • BBQ Chicken – Here’s the bottom line if you’re aiming to reduce your bottom line or waistline - batter and deep fry a five ounce chicken breast and you’re chomping on 500 calories. But, if same size chicken breast is dressed up in barbecue sauce instead you choice is 350 calories – a 150 calorie saving. Want some more sauce to moisten the meat at the table? Most barbecue sauces contain only 15 calories per tablespoon. (The sweeter, thicker ones will be higher in calories.)
Seafood dishes are win-wins for taste and health
even with pasta if you choose a tomato based sauce.

  • Peel ‘n Eat Shrimp- The USDA’s My Plate dietary recommendations suggest we eat fish and shellfish at least twice a week to mix up our protein choices and consume seafood’s heart healthy Omega-3 fats. Shrimp are exceptionally low in fat and calories, especially if you keep them that way by enjoying boiled shrimp (¼ pound of boiled shrimp-112 calories, 1 gram fat) instead of fried (274 calories, 15 grams fat). Peel ‘n Eat Shrimp are often boiled with a spicy seasoning so all you need is a squeeze of lemon and you’re ready to dig in. And since all that peeling takes some time, it slows you down a bit so you’re more likely to keep portions in control. (Yes, shrimp contain some cholesterol, but because they are so low in total fat they’re considered a healthy choice.)
Hangar steak ( I'd skip the ball of herb butter) is a lean and flavorful choice .

  • Sirloin Steak- If you’re going out for a steak dinner ordering a sirloin steak can help you save on both your food dollar budget and your fat and calorie budget. Not as pricey as filet mignon or porterhouse, the sirloin cut is one of the leanest. A six-ounce top sirloin steak, strip steak, flank steak or London broil has about 300 calories and about ten grams of fat. Splurge on the same size serving of prime rib or rib eye and you’re looking at an additional 100 calories 10 grams of fat per serving. Want some sauce with that? 2 tablespoons of steak sauce-30 calories vs. 2 tablespoons Béarnaise sauce-120 calories. Better yet enjoy steak with sautéed onions and mushrooms and you’re adding more vegetables to your steak dinner.

Sushi is a win-win for taste and health, just avoid the "sushi" with cream cheese
 or other "don't think they eat this in Japan" stuff.
  • Spring Rolls- No, not the deep fried egg roll kind- sorry. But, you can dig in and enjoy the Tai basil rolls popular on many restaurant menus, today. Wrapped in chilled rice paper and filled with fresh veggies and maybe bits of shrimp or chicken they’re a low calorie, high fiber finger food full of crunch and flavors. Low calorie dipping sauces range from sweet and spicy to pungent fish sauces.
  • Gelato- La dolce vita! Italian gelatos are commonly made with milk not cream so are lower in fat and calories than ice creams. But the real plus for a portion control conscious sweet tooth is that gelato is usually served in a dainty half-cup serving. Enjoy sliced strawberries, blueberries or summer’s sweet mango as a topping and you’re adding a fruit serving to your dairy dessert.

Banana gelato sounds great! And apparently  you can use the banana peels to make a pair of shoes!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Southern Foods Y'all

When Richard Blais arrived to join other top named chefs presenting cooking classes at the Loews Hotel assembled for the 2012 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival he showed up with a bunch of leftovers. “I had a chicken carcass in a pan, some celery tops, cilantro stems and the tails trimmed off of radishes,” said Blais, a winner of Bravo’s “Top Chef All-Stars.”

Chef Richard Blais gets creative with everythying in the kitchen

Blais, who is busy writing menus and getting the kitchen set up to open his latest Atlanta restaurant, The Spence, wasn’t taking short cuts or trying to underwhelm his foodie fans. He was there to prove a point. “It’s ethical and economical and even virtuous to use every part of a product,” Blais told his audience. “The garbage can is not an option.”

Hey Richard, are those carrot tops? You win the Top Sustainable Chef contest too!

Southern Flavors Today

The three day festival focused on food and wine, featuring southern chefs, wine experts, craft beer brewers, bourbon makers and food producers filled the midtown hotel, nearby tasting tents and local restaurants with culinary stars and enthusiastic followers. In its second year, The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, organized and founded by Dominique Love and Elizabeth Feichter, champions the past, present and future of Southern plates and palates.

How about a dash of Duke's mayo with your Dish?

There was plenty of fried chicken, barbecue and biscuits, of course, but the variety of foods presented showed that “eating Southern” today means a reverence for the region’s farm fresh produce from Georgia pecans to Vidalia onions. And palates are changing.

A bit out of focus but so dang cute, Bryan Caswell gets ready for Cast Iron Cookoff.

During the “Cast Iron Cook-off” pitting chef Bryan Caswell of Houston’s Reef restaurant against chef Kelly English from Iris in Memphis, two of the judges - who just happened to be the moms of Love and Feichter chosen to reign over the Mother’s Day event- shared with the crowd that they were cooking with less bacon fat and more olive oil and enjoying more fresh herbs, salads and vegetables.

Can't have an Atlanta Food & Wine Festival without some Georgia Peaches!!  

Nose to Tail, Seed to Stalk

There’s an old adage that good cooks know how to use ‘everything but the squeal’ when preparing a whole hog. Blais takes that philosophy even further by applying the concept to all meats, fish and vegetables. His cooking class called “Waste not. Taste a lot.” took folks back to the days when very little went to waste. “Wasting food makes me sad. There’s great flavor in the stems and trimmings of vegetables. You can slice the cilantro stems and use like chives. Corn cobs are the bones we add to stock to make corn soups taste even better. As chefs we should ask our selves ‘what do we do with the extras?’ such as the salsa verde I made with carrot tops during my demo.”

The menu at The Spence will feature both broccoli florets, for instance, and the stems which a lot of cooks just discard. Blais who is executive chef and partner says, “I think the broccoli stems are beautiful. We will make little pedestals out of them as rounds we can sit sautéed scallops or sweetbreads on top.” Nutrition note: broccoli stems are higher in fiber than the florets. And stems, seeds and stalks of most plants are high in antioxidant content.

Atlanta Food & Wine Festival featured star chefs and eager foodies. Norman Van Aken packs the room.

Tail to Fin

Using the whole fish is good for the palate and the planet, too.

Chefs Norman Van Aken and son Justin add a dash of Caribbean flare and flame to recipes.

Father and son chef duo Norman and Justin Van Aken from Miami and Key West grilled a whole red snapper, “This is nose to tail cooking too. We should be thankful for the use of every part of the fish and without being too preachy it’s respectful if you’re taking this creature from the sea,” said the elder Van Aken who notes that cooking fish on the bone is much more flavorful than preparing just the filets.

Sharing some tips from their upcoming cookbook, My Key West Kitchen, Norman Van Aken suggests using the bones, head, fish and tails of a grilled fish to make a delicious fish stock, “It’s like brewing a cup of tea. Why not throw in some lemon balm too?”

So cooking Southern today looks a lot like cooking Southern generations ago prioritizing farm fresh flavors and smart kitchen sense; it just took us a few years to get back to the past.

Watch Norman Van Aken and me in vintage CNN On The Menu video
He's a rogue model pioneering New World Cuisine

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Brunch Bunch Beware

Marvelous morning meal at Rancho La Puerta Spa

Wake up and smell the coffee, the bacon and the eggs.
There seems to be a lot of action in the breakfast category as more restaurants focus on the first meal of the day. Eateries from fast food lane to corner coffee shops are in hot pursuit of early birds with an appetite to spend money on breakfast away from home. Even the new AMC television series The Pitch features an episode with rival advertising agencies fighting to win the Subway breakfast campaign account.

According to the NPD Group, about 14 percent of Americans eat breakfast away from home. But restaurants want to entice even more folks to order their breakfast out and have their eyes on the 31 million people who skip breakfast. The biggest ‘skippers’ are males aged 18 to 34 – nearly a third of these guys ignore the morning meal. Women over age 55 are the least likely to skip breakfast.

Morning Fuel - to eat and drink.

No doubt you’ve heard that “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Eating in the a.m. recharges your batteries, giving fuel to your brain and your muscles, making it less likely you’ll succumb to a mid-morning munchies or a huge lunch because you’re ravenous by noon. Dietitian Dr. Joanne Lichten says the best breakfasts contain both fiber and protein, “I’d go for the oatmeal and some scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. But you could opt for Greek yogurt, sprinkling of nuts, and fresh fruit.” Simply drinking a cup of fat free milk or adding to cereal or a coffee latte provides eight grams of protein.

Container of Fage  Greek Yogurt contains 12 grams protein

Big Breakfast, Big Calories

Some even say we should prioritize the morning meal by eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. But Lichten says “How many of us eat dinner like a pauper?” In her new book “Dr. Jo’s Eat Out Healthy” she reveals the fat trap with big breakfasts, “ Even when breakfast out is just once a week, the traditional large bacon, eggs and biscuit meal can put on excessive pounds, due to high caloric content of these foods.”

When ‘Let’s go out for breakfast or brunch’ turns into an overstuffed omelet, hash browns, bacon, sausage and biscuits slathered in butter you’ve moved into the budget-busting calorie category. A three-egg ham and cheese omelet can rack up 500 calories. Hashbrowns add 250 calories. Two sausage links another 100 calories. Big biscuit with butter and jelly add up to 450 calories. And before adding cream to your coffee, say ‘Good Morning’ to 1300 calories.

Sharon Palmer, dietitian and author of The Plant Powered Diet says, “Restaurant breakfasts can be the most decadent meal of the day providing at least half a day’s calories and more than a day’s worth of sodium.” But, she’s happy to see healthy trends, “More restaurants are offering “lite” or “fit” menu offerings with reasonable portions in the 500 calorie range. The best news is that these lighter meals are hot sellers—showing that people are tired of eating these traditional “American” gut-busting breakfasts. I tried a Denny’s Fit Fare Breakfast recently when traveling and it was just the right amount of food—and there was fresh fruit and veggies on my plate!”

Health Halos not Heroes 

Seemingly uber- healthy granola cereals, fruit smoothies, and whole wheat pancakes, big muffins or bagels can throw a weighty wrench into your day’s diet plans too if you don’t pay attention to portion sizes.

Sure they're packed with whole grains and a daily dose of bran but enjoy half to avoid eating your whole calorie budget

Jackie Newgent, chef, dietitian and author of the upcoming 1,000 Low Calorie Recipes advises two actions – choose your breakfast location and beverage wisely. “For a healthy weight, breakfast—like all meals—is best eaten while sitting down at a dining table, and not while in a car, at a desk, or on your iPad. Plus, some popular morning drinks, including select blended coffee or juice beverages, can provide a meals-worth of calories. The best bet when eating breakfast out is to keep your beverage calorie free, like an unsweetened green or black tea.

Juice it up - but not too far up

And if there's no fruit in the breakfast, then it's okay to sip a glass of 100% juice in a six ounce juice glass - not 16 ounces.”  Juice can have the same calories per ounce as a soft drink.
Cynthia Ann Chandler, a dietitian and culinary nutritionist ( that means she really likes the food part of food and nutrition!) in Louisville, Kentucky has a great idea for a hydrating with breakfast juice,"Just go for an orange juice, small size.  If you are using it to quench your thirst, add equal parts club soda to the juice and you have a refreshing breakfast drink.  Don't be afraid to ask for club soda.  Most restaurants with fountain drinks can offer you a club soda option."

More breakfast ideas and tips in my book The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!