Thursday, February 26, 2009

Inspiration in the Kitchen with Tyler Florence!

It’s February, it’s freezing outside, our New Year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside, and we’re in full-on comfort-food mode. So how do we manage to keep it healthful? So how do we realistically restore balance and health to the picture? I think it's all about a little 'kitchen inspiration' to get you out of that cold-weather rut. So recently I jumped at the chance to chat with super-cool Food Network celebrity chef Tyler Florence, who shares my enthusiasm for healthy — and delicious — eating. We agreed that playing around with new flavors and recipes — and making an extra effort to cook more from scratch — not only benefits your health and taste buds, but also your wallet. Tyler's doing his part to get us excited and revved up in the kitchen by partnering with Macy’s to kick-off the Macy’s Keeps America Cooking challenge. The contest runs through early April and asks entrants to make a short video depicting what inspires them to get cooking, whether it’s a favorite food, time of year, event, or whatever. The winner wins a $2,500 shopping spree accompanied by Tyler himself. I think it's a great way to promote food traditions, healthful cooking, and fresh ingredients. Here’s the scoop from my Q&A conversation with Tyler:
Q: What exactly does the “Keep America Cooking” challenge aim to do?

A: The contest is a great way to encourage people to get cooking back in the kitchen. We’ve put together a series of helpful podcasts on how to use different cooking equipment and how to prepare seasonal recipes perfect for this time year. We’re asking people to send in clips of what inspires them in the kitchen.

Q: I think it’s fantastic that you’re working to encourage us to get cooking again and not be afraid to get creative in the kitchen. Why do think this is so important?A: I think it’s all about helping others to understand that there’s really no “quick-fix” when it comes to good food. Quick fixes simply serve as immediate gratification — it’s like an empty promise. Food and cooking at home is really about reconnecting with who we are as a culture and a family. I always say a house should smell like good cooking — I really think it gives kids in particular a sense of comfort, family, and great memories around food. It’s important because food and home-cooked meals act as a vehicle of communication They bring about a sense of gathering.

Q: What can people do to make healthy cooking more fun, exciting, and inviting?

A: I don’t think healthful cooking is boring in the slightest, or it certainly doesn’t have to be. I'm a big proponent of curbing gigantic portions and zoning in on the idea about consciously watching calories and your overall intake. In my house, my wife and I really focus on protein and vegetables. Four or five bites of great food is really all we need to be satiated. Think about balancing out the scale when it comes to smart eating and making the most of indulgences. It’s all about making a conscious choice and sitting down to a great meal with the people you care about.

So the real question is...what inspires YOU in the kitchen!?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Newsworthy nibblings

I may have mentioned this before, but I have a strange thing for bald men (don't ask me why). Well, clean-shaven Top Chef judge and esteemed chef, Tom Colicchio is no exception in that grouping. His focus on fresh, seasonal cooking and really honoring the food we eat is quite inspiring and I'm a big fan of his restaurants in NYC and his cookbook as I've blogged about in the past. Yesterday, Tara Parker Pope of the NY Times posted a Q&A session with Colicchio himself on the topic of kids and healthy eating ("Even Top Chefs Have Picky Kids"). I love that Colicchio talks about his own teenage son and the challenges (and victories!) he faces in raising a healthful, good eater. It's all about balance, setting healthy patterns when kids are young, and serving up really well-prepared, fresh food. When asked what restaurants should be doing to promote healthy eating, here's what Colicchio had to say:
What chefs can do when it comes to getting the word out is have people understand food differently. If food is well sourced and well prepared, I don’t think the word healthy needs to be brought into it. It’s healthy because it’s wholesome. That’s what we should focus on. You can buy a box of low-fat macaroni and cheese made with powdered nonsense. I’m not worried if I’m using four different cheeses and it’s high in fat. It’s real food. That’s what’s more important.

Tom Colicchio, along with Rachael Ray and Tara Parker-Pope will be participating in a panel this weekend at the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival titled - "Beyond Chicken Nuggets: How to Raise a Healthy Eater."
Photo credit: Tom Colicchio (Bill Bettencourt/Bloomberg News)

Another great article in the news this week..."Sweeteners: Real Aid or Excuse to Indulge?" Health columnist Jane E. Brody unravels the truths and misconceptions about artificial sweeteners in the U.S. Most of you already know my opinion...the less the better. The article hits on the point I frequently bring to light -- overcompensating on calories when noncaloric sweeteners are high in our diet, so essentially intaking more calories (when you're actually trying to curb them) because your body doesn't register the fake stuff, isn't satisfied and seeks out additional food. And just like that, welcome to the world of unintentional weight gain. The article's a great overview on sweeteners, looking at the biological and psychological factors -- check it out.
Lastly, while I'm on the topic of Glamour magazine this week (see my earlier post), I thought it'd be fitting to mention this article on sleep on weight loss that was featured in the mag's March issue, "Lose Weight While You Sleep". Oh yeah, I've touched on this snoozy subject again and again's really freaking important! Consistent sleep deprivation = screwed up hunger-satiety hormone levels = increased refined carb and sugar cravings = you got it...weight gain. Not so fun, wouldn't you rather be sleeping? I sure as hell would. Granted, I realize life is hectic and crazy and I often wish there were 36 hours in the day, but it is absolutely important to figure out how much shut-eye your body requires to perform at optimal speed. Sleep expert, Dr. Michael Breus is quoted in the article and recommends no less than 7.5 hours per night. If you're looking to lose a few without much effort and increase energy, sleep is the big rest at its best.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wonder what's on my plate?

I often get asked, "What do you eat on a given day?". Well, here you good friend Margarita at Glamour magazine asked me to disclose to readers a day in the life of a nutritionist (or "nutritionista" as she likes to call me!). So here it is front and center in her own blog post from earlier today (check out her inspiring weight loss/healthy eating blog - Margarita Shapes Up).

My Two Skinny Friends Tell Exactly What They Ate Yesterday
Marissa’s Vitals:

*equal parts ‘nutritionista’ and foodie
*half-marathoner and Spin buddy
*lover of mint chocolate-chip ice cream and red wine (her motto: everything in moderation)
That's Marissa in the pink dress. I want to wake up in my next life with her portion control and her ability to wear pink satin.

Marissa's Food Diary:
7:30 A.M. At My Apartment - pre-breakfast
1 / 2 a ruby red grapefruit. Vitamin C-rich grapefruits are in season right now and they’re amazing! I’m slightly obsessed. It’s a quick and easy jumpstart to my morning as I’m running out the door to my office for a long day of seeing clients and wrapping up a few article deadlines.
9:00 A.M. In The Office, Between Early-Morning Clients -- breakfast
Low-fat plain organic yogurt with banana slices and a handful of Feed GranolaA small coffee with 1 teaspoon of agave nectar (a natural sweetener that’s a little more blood-sugar friendly) and whole organic milk. I use a small drizzle, so I can handle the little extra indulgence!
12:30 P.M. Still At The Office
A little Babybel cheese round to get me to lunch. (I aim to eat something, whether it's a meal or a small snack, every 3-4 hours to keep my blood sugar steady and my energy levels kicking.)
2:00 P.M. At Grey Dog Coffee Shop

I usually try to bring lunch from home, but yesterday was crazy. I grabbed a cup of tomato lentil soup (high in fiber!) and a side salad with vinaigrette.
5:15 P.M. At My Office, Before The Gym

1 tablespoon of organic cashew butter (one of my new favorite things) with an apple.
9:00 P.M. Thailand Cafe With Friends

Shared a green papaya salad to start. Grilled Coconut Chicken with steamed vegetables and a little more than half a cup of jasmine rice as my entree. A glass of red wine. (Hey, even nutritionists have their vices!).
**About 2 liters of water and a cup of Pomegranate Green tea throughout the day.
by Margarita Bertsos

A little boasting about braised short ribs

Ok, I'm going to be a bit boastful for a moment or two so bear with me. I decided it was finally time to experiment with cooking short ribs, a cut of red meat I've never worked with before. Short ribs seem to be popping up on restaurant menus everywhere these days...or maybe I've just recently noticed them and have joined the bandwagon. I'm not a huge red meat lover in all honesty, never really have been. I do however, love a great piece of meat that's so tender and succlent it falls apart on the bone or while cooking and then just melts in your mouth. I admit, short ribs aren't the leanest cut of beef you can buy, but if you get a nice boneless piece and trim any extra fat off, you've definitely got a pretty healthful cut there--at least as far as red meat goes. Short ribs that are "bone-in" tend to be much fattier, less meat. Anyhow, seeing how winter has officially made a come back and the frigid air is here in full force, I figured it was a perfect evening for braising up some short ribs...a nice comforting, warm meal on a cold night. Braising is a fantastic, healthy way of cooking tough, leaner cuts of meat and heartier vegetables. Slow-cooked at lower temperatures in liquid produces an incredibly moist dish. I perused a few classic recipes for braised short ribs with red wine and then adapted/concocted my own version of deliciousness. Not to brag, but these are damn good and will certainly go down in my personal recipe collection. I paired the dish with a lovely, lite Brussels sprouts salad with lemon vinaigrette, walnuts and pecorino and some baby fingerling potatoes dusted with a touch of truffle salt. By the way, if you're a fan of truffles/truffle flavor, truffle salt is a relatively inexpensive way to give a side dish some serious pop...without needing to go into sodium-shock, just a touch does the job and keeps your blood pressure where it should be.'s last night's menu, dish by dish. And a quick disclaimer, I realize the photo's not the greatest. We're working on investing in a higher-quality camera, my poor digital just isn't cutting it anymore!

Braised Short Ribs with Dried Cherries and Red Wine
Makes 4-6 servings
2 pounds boneless short ribs, trim extra fat off
¼ cup flour for dredging
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.5 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 carrots, roughly chopped
5 cremini or button mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1-2 cippolini onions (or 1 small yellow onion), roughly chopped
½ shallot, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed gently with a knife
1/3 cup dried cherries
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ bottle dry red wine *I use one with cherry overtones
2 cups beef stock

Preheat oven to 350.
Heat olive oil in heavy oven-proof saucepan over medium-high heat. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Dip in flour to cover each side. Brown short ribs, about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer ribs to a plate and place all vegetables and herbs in saucepan, sauté for about 5-7 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and dried cherries, cook for another minute. Place short ribs back into pan, add wine and beef stock. Bring to a boil and transfer pan to the oven and cook 2 ½ hours until meat is tender, stirring occassionally. Remove from oven, place meat on a separate platter and boil down liquid about 20 minutes. Serve with roasted Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes dusted with truffle salt.

Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Pecorino, Walnuts & Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves 4
12-16 Brussels sprouts, rinsed and outer leaves removed if needed
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/3 cup shaved pecorino romano cheese
juice of 1 fresh lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 - 1/2 small garlic clove, minced (literally just a few teeny pieces to flavor the vinaigrette, but not overwhelm it)

Using a mandolin slicer on the thinnest setting, shave Brussels sprouts over a medium mixing/serving bowl--shave down to the stem and then discard stems. Watch your fingers on the slicer! Toss in walnuts and pecorino. Mix lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper. Drizzle over salad, toss well and serve.

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Truffle Salt
Serves 4
*Yet, another reason I love living close to the farmer's market. Got these baby potatoes over the weekend and they were super fresh and flavorful.
Preheat oven to 425. Rinse and dry about 12-14 medium-sized fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise. Place in mixing bowl and drizzle with 1.5 tablespoons olive oil, a tiny touch of regular salt and freshly ground black pepper. Evenly distribute on a baking sheet and roast for about 25 minutes, stirring midway through. Remove from oven and dust with truffle salt. Serve.

Happy eating!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sweet treats in small packages...

Who doesn't love a little sweetness on Valentine's Day? Whatever your sugar-high seducer of choice is, you all know by now that I'm a big fan of indulging when it's worth it (read: pass right over that giant box of tasteless Russell Stover "chocolates", you could eat the whole box and still be left unsatisfied).
Every Valentine's Day I get asked "what's the best sweet or chocolate to dive into?" I could blab on about the stellar heart-health benefits of antioxidant-rich dark chocolate, but I've decided to deviate this year as I've got a few new favorites on my radar. Big surprise, they're teensy but insanely luscious. Lots of lovin' can come in any size.

Fine & Raw Chocolate - I discovered these little gems of raw cacoa sweetened with agave nectar at the Young Designer's Market in Nolita on Mulberry and Houston. Two ingredients, that's it. Pure 87% raw chocolate straight from Ecuador and blue agave nectar. The price is well worth it for the 2 little bonbons--absolute heaven in an adorable tiny printed box.

Nine Cakes - Mini Cupcakes - Betsy Thorleifson has struck gold with her mini cupcakes in every flavor combination possible. I love that a) they're MINI -- which means the perfect indulgent bite for the perfect amount of indulgent calories and that b) Betsy is huge on seasonality and plays up the flavors and fresh fruits of each season in her baked creations. The current Winter menu features flavors like Black Forest (dark chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream and kirsch (cherry-liqueur) drizzled with dark chocolate and Little Turtle (dark chocolate with caramel buttercream with salted pecans).

BabyCakes NYC - Ok, so their baked goods aren't distinctively "mini", but they are gluten and wheat-free for all of you with gluten and wheat intolerances/allergies...they're also vegan and actually taste phenomenal. BabyCakes founder Erin McKenna knows how to impress your taste much so she's been featured in Gourmet magazine, and on Martha Stewart and the Food Network among other media mentions. Cupcakes, banana bread, killer chocolate chip cookies, and cinnamon raisin cookies with vanilla filling to name just a few of the items on the mouthwatering menu. Check out Erin's new cookbook which is about to hit bookstores.

Eat your heart's to a happy & *healthy* Valentine's Day!
photo credits: BabyCakes NYC, Nine Cakes, Fine & Raw

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Super Bowl...a world of dips and wings

As usual, my roommates and I hosted our annual Super Bowl party this past Sunday. I'm a proud Giants fan, but the Cardinals-Steelers match up was an incredible game to watch, such a great 4th quarter. Aside from the game itself and the much anticipated half-time show (loved watching Bruce Springstein ram into the camera and laugh it off), the other focus of Super Bowl festivities tends to be the food. Football eats aren't exactly known to have a winning healthful playbook. I'm however, of the mindset that you can find balance in every situation. I think my friends would first laugh and then walk right out the door if I presented them with a 'feast' of vegetables, hummus, fat-free potato chips and fat-free cheese and crackers. Actually, I would personally be leading the charge right out the door.
My friends and I typically do potluck for the Super Bowl, so the level of healthfulness is somewhat of a toss-up. We've generally got an array of random foods, snacks, and of course, a fridge full of every beer known to humankind. This year's theme ended up being chips n' dips completely by chance. As you can see from the pictures, I think we had every kind of dip possible, from salsa to lite onion and ranch dips, black bean and guac dip, feta-sundried tomato dip, buffalo chicken dip and finally a deliciously sinful, super spicy cheese dip made with lean ground turkey. That's a whole lot of dip...and chips. No worries, being the nutritionist I am, I made sure there were fresh cut veggies on the table as well. Funny, that they were the first thing to go. I can confidently say that every one of my friends who brought dip, made an effort to lighten it up or boost the nutritional value somehow - whether by using reduced-fat sour cream (fat-free scares me), lean turkey, or vegetarian refried black beans. Maybe I'm rubbing off them?
I rounded out the table with a coveted football standby, wings. I make them every year for the big game and they're actually an amazing, pretty darn healthful addition to the whole spread. The recipe's a family secret, so, apologies, no full disclosure here. Here's the recipe, adapted...I promise you'll have people indebted to you for life, begging for more.

Mahogany Chicken Wings
1 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/8 cup hoisin sauce
3 scallions, minced
6 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup honey
6-7 lbs free-range/organic chicken wings

clean and rinse wings, pat dry.
combine all ingredients but wings in medium saucepan. bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. allow to cool 10-15 minutes.
place wings in tupperware or glass container, pour sauce over and marinate at least 4- 6 hours or overnight.
preheat oven to 375. line two baking sheets with aluminum foil or use 2 roasting pans. distribute wings on both pans, save excess marinade for basting. bake uncovered for 1 - 1 1/2 hours, baste every 20 minutes with remaining sauce. turn wings about halfway through to brown.
cool and serve.

makes about 12 servings, 4-5 wings each.