Friday, 28 March 2014

Tasty Tuesday on WVLT, Knoxville

I have always wanted to help out on a cooking show and my dream came true this month. WVLT-TV (CBS) in Knoxville has started a fun segment called "Tasty Tuesday" where viewers can come on the show and share an easy recipe. The idea is to bring in dishes that can be made quickly by working parents for their families during the week. 

Because I'm trying to eat more meals that are meat-free, I decided to share my Southwest Sweet Potato recipe. I adapted this recipe from one I found on Pinterest and I think it is pretty tasty. It is certainly easy to make with only a microwave needed for cooking (you can also bake the potatoes in the oven, of course).

For two people:

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 can black beans (rinsed)
1/4 of a medium red onion, chopped
1/4 cup Cilantro or italian flat leaf parsley (pick leaves and then tear onto potato)
1/2 cup fat free sour cream or plain greek yogurt
fresh lime juice
1 cup salsa
cracked pepper

Just bake the potato, open it on a plate, mash slightly and pile on the toppings! I heated the beans and cooked the onions in a microwave safe dish and a little bit of water for one and a half minutes.

You can watch the Tasty Tuesday segment that I got to be a part of by clicking on the link here:

Lauren Davis and Mark Packer are fun hosts and we had a great time! Ted Hall also made a cameo appearance.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Pasta Tasting at Felidia, NYC

I was in New York City recently to recruit participants for my dissertation research and dined at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich's restaurant. I adore her and have watched her PBS cooking show Lidia's Italy for years. (Is it strange that I ate by myself and also took the 5:45pm open reservation because I wouldn't have been able to get in for a later seating!?)

Mario Batali is another one of my favorite chefs (see blog posts about his NYC restaurants Po, and Del Posto) and he has teamed up with Lidia and her son to open a winery in Tuscany. I didn't get to sample wine from La Mozza Winery but I did try the 2009 Bastianich Rose. It was nice and not sweet at all. The Bastianich family has had a winery in Fruili since 1997.

Felidia's chef is Fortunato Nicotra. He started there in 1995 and Ruth Reichl gave him three stars in her review for the New York Times after he had been there only three months.

I ordered the chef's pasta tasting (someone loves food a little too much) and this gave me a chance to try four small dishes of different pasta. Note: Chef's pasta tasting is only available Monday through Thursday.  Felidia is an Italian restaurant and famous for pasta! Unfortunately, my pictures of the dishes didn't turn out too well because the ambiance is such that the lighting is low. That's okay because I took notes on the dishes in order to share the experience with you.

The first "taste" of pasta was Lidia's signature dish: cacio e pere. It is ravioli filled with pear and fresh pecorino, topped with aged pecorino and crushed black pepper. It had an amazing, sweet finish with a tart aftertaste. 

The second taste was minestra di pesca. This dish included lobster broth, scallops, shrimp and several types of pasta. Apparently this is a sort of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink dish. One makes it using a combination of whatever fresh seafood is on hand with whatever uncooked pasta is left over from the week. It was delicious and had such a nice presentation. It was served to me from a single serving copper pot and had a hint of spice to it which was nice because I was freezing from walking around New York City in frigid temperatures. 

The third taste was pappardelle. This is wide pasta made from spinach with a duck and mushroom sauce. The Hudson Valley moulard duck (from a cage-free duck farm) was braised and shredded with a mushroom-base sauce. I've never been a fan of mushroom sauce but the duck was perfectly cooked and I adored the texture and flavor of the pappardelle. 

The fourth and final pasta taste was the evening's special: wild boar ragu with spicy andouille sausage. Andouille is smoked sausage made from pork and commonly used in gumbo. This dish was fantastic. It wasn't too spicy and had a rich, hearty flavor. My favorite pasta was Lidia's signature. 

While the food was lovely and memorable, I was particularly impressed with the service. Sometimes if a woman dines alone, the server might not be as attentive because they think the bill will be smaller. There wasn't a hint of that and each dish was thoroughly explained when presented. I had high hopes for Felidia since I'm such a fan of Lidia and I was not disappointed! This was an impressive dining experience. 

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Dining at Husk in Nashville

I visited Casey and Ryan recently in Nashville and we went to Husk for brunch before going to look at Casey's wedding dress (Ryan did not attend the fitting). This awesome restaurant is located in the Rutledge Hill area of downtown Nashville and is run by James Beard award-winning chef, Sean Brock.

The first Husk (there's two) was started in Charleston, North Carolina, so the idea of Southern cooking with flair moved to Tennessee from there. The restaurant grows much of its own produce from a garden on the grounds and things that cannot be grown on site are sourced locally. 

The food was inventive and fresh and I loved the atmosphere. This is a very hip place with excellent menu choices and I would love to go back to dine there again. 

*The three above photos are from Husk's Press Media Kit. Marketing for Husk is by Polished Pig Media.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

"Your Wellness Coach"

I have to blog about the successes of one of my good friends, Maureen. I've known her since we were both students at Powell High School and when I was living in London, she was as well! We randomly connected on Facebook and she came to my 26th birthday party in Putney. That was almost nine years ago. Since then, Maureen married (her English boyfriend) Sam and they have a smart, fabulous little boy. Those are all certainly successes - but that's not what I'm blogging about today. 

Maureen began research more than a year ago about entrepreneurship. She wanted to start her own company and began by interviewing successful women business owners. After gathering information, she sought out a mentor and joined a program where she learned techniques about setting and meeting personal goals. Soon after that, guess what!? She started her own business as a wellness coach! (Obviously I'm very proud of her!) 

Maureen has a background of working in the wellness and health industry for more than 10 years and promotes the idea of integrated health and wellness education. She has a Master's degree in public health from Boston University and recently started her own website for her business. The reason for this blog post is to talk about the fabulous fact that Maureen asked me to be a beta tester for her online wellness coaching program. 

We're in Week 2 of the program and I've learned several things so far. During the first week, we set our personal health goals and during the second week we're working on nutrition and healthy eating choices (writing down everything that we're taking in and learning about how many calories our bodies need daily). Maureen provides readings each week, interactive forms to discuss where we are individually in the program, and we have the option of meeting with her and others in the program twice a week for online chat sessions.  


Maureen will be taking her second class of team members in April. The great thing about all of this is that you meet with her online and through email. It is extremely convenient. You don't even have to leave your home or office to participate. I'm very impressed thus far. If you're interested in her services, please email her at "yourwellnesscoachclt" at or "@" "" (I separated her email address to protect her from spam.) 

The best part about this modern approach to health and wellness is that online coaching makes participants feel like they are part of a "family" of people improving their health within a program and finding someone like Maureen as a coach means encouragement, knowledge, and support are just an email away! 

Friday, 7 February 2014

Punta del Este

Punta del Este is a very pretty city on the ocean with great restaurants and friendly people. It is very busy in the summer as Argentinians come here to vacation. We were there in the low season so things were slower and more private. 

Our hotel was on the water and we enjoyed walking the beach in the mornings. You can see how vacant it is in the below picture. However, it should be noted that many South Americans enjoy going out at night to dance and fellowship (especially on the weekends) so not seeing people on the beach in the morning isn't that odd. James and I awake and walking the beach before 8:00 a.m. was odd. 

Our favorite restaurant in Punta del Este, Casa de los Terre, is across from the bay where lovely boats are moored. The spot isn't that fancy but the food is incredible and the service impeccable. Plus, the views from the tables by the open windows are gorgeous.

I usually don't have dessert but it was included in our meal and my goodness, it was worth the calories. Dulce de leche is a popular ingredient in Uruguay and made up this dish with mini pancakes, ice cream and shot with Baileys. To. Die. For. 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Olives near Punta del Este

From Punta del Este on one of our last days in Uruguay, we went to the olive groves of Colinas de Garzon. This is the first brand of extra virgin olive oil produced in Uruguay that has received international awards and the grounds are gorgeous!

The tourist experience here is well designed, with a concentration on education. First, we watched a movie about the evolution and spread of olive trees around the world. Olive trees originated in Syria. Oil was popular and made into perfumes. The crop then spread to Greece. From there, the trees were taken to Italy, and then Spain. Finally, the olive was transported to Mexico, and then California where trees were planted at missions. 

Apparently Uruguay is a great place for producing olive oil because olive trees grow well here. The soil is sandy and copious amounts of rain water can filter through to the roots of the plants. The harvest season is from April to June depending on the maturation of the olives and the fruit is gathered through a technique they call "milking." Workers run their hands over the branches, gently pulling away the olives.

Here's a look at the tanks where the oil is processed. The oil settles in these tanks, is filtered again, and kept cool. The oil can rest in steel for four years where nitrogen is slowly collected and interacts with the product.

The oil is constantly analyzed for acidity. Oil with 0.2 acidity is perfect. This is the quality of oil we tasted. The world standard for acidity is 0.5. Our guide suggests that cooks buy smaller bottles of olive oil and that once it is opened, the oil should be used within two weeks. Who knew? After a tour of the facilities, it was time for a ride on the tractor to see the grounds! 

The grapes were first planted on the grounds 10 years ago and the production yields about 2,000 tons of oil each season. They also grow almonds here but our guide said it is not as simple of a venture as the olives. 

Garzon employs 800 people to work on the farm each year with another 200 seasonal workers when it is harvest time. In another life, I'd love to work to harvest olives or grapes for a season. The weather in Uruguay is lovely and the people are very friendly. I'd certainly have to work on my Spanish, however...

Next up: olive oil tasting and lunch! When tasting olive oil, you are supposed to cup the dish in your hand to heat it up. Then, after smelling the oil, take a small sip and move it from side to side in your mouth. Breathe in and "shhhhh" through your teeth to feel the spiciness. 

Our fantastic guide explained all of this as we tasted three types: Monovarietal (intense yellow with green hues, herbaceous aroma and hints of tomato leaves and artichoke), Bivarietal (pure yellow and mild fruity aroma, delicate smell of clover, soft but with character), and the Trivarietal (deep golden and intense fruity aroma, subtle clean smell from fresh olives).

This trip really was so special. James selected activities that he knew I'd love and I was so thankful to experience new things such as a cooking class, olive oil tasting, and one-on-one time with a sommelier. Uruguay is by far one of my favorite destinations and I cannot wait to return to the rolling country side and wide, powerful river.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Bouza Winery, Montevideo

This boutique winery is a working farm by a family started in 1942 as an orchard. Here the family grows three red grapes: Tannat, Merlot, and Tempanillo, and two types of white grapes: Albarino, and Chardonnay.

The grandson of the family took our small group on a tour and explained they have 30 hectares of vineyards and produce approximately 120k bottles of wine per year. The focus of this winery is not on production at Bouza, but instead on quality. 

The parcels of grapes are small and the rows are wide. They are each tended to carefully and the different parcels are treated on specific schedules. 

We learned that the winery is organic and no irrigation is needed because Uruguay gets so much rain. Bouza winery experiments on different parcels, using different growing techniques for different vines. For instance, they used granite rock at the base of some of the vines to reflect heat from the sun and offer soft light to the bottom of the vines (these grapes grow close to the ground). 

The harvest is in February or March depending on the maturation of the grapes. I found it interesting that the crews harvest at night when the day is at its lowest temperature. At Bouza, grapes are harvested by hand.

The first step after picking the grapes is the selecting table. It vibrates and knocks items that aren't just the grapes through a strainer. Then the grapes move on to another selection table where people pick out any grapes that aren't perfect. The grapes ride a conveyor belt and go through two rollers. They aren't crushed, however, because that would create a bitter taste. (You can see the processing area behind the guests in the photo below.)

There are three types of tanks for wine: steel, French oak and concrete. The concrete tanks are original to the farm but rarely used now. In the tanks, fermentation begins and the grapes change from juice, to a sugary mixture, to alcohol.

(French oak tanks)

(Concrete tanks)

Our guide told us more about why French oak barrels and tanks are popular in the wine making world: inside the containers, French oak isn't sealed completely. The wood is slightly porous allowing oxygen to come in and help the chemicals, giving stability to the wine. White wines age six to nine months and reds age eight to 18 months. 

From the processing room, we went to the area where the wine is stored. Interestingly, the family has a cellar inside a cellar where they keep several bottles from each year of production. This way, they can get together periodically and sample the variations, "tasting the journey" as the winery matures. 

At Bouza, there is also a fantastic antique car showroom. The "father" of the family collects old cars. The cars are started up and driven every week and any that fall into disrepair are immediately fixed. There are full time employees here that only work on the cars!

My favorite of the lot is this little one (below). It was manufactured by an airplane company in Germany and is built with parts of a plane! Fascinating. 

Once our tour was complete, my guide Tamara and I were escorted to the gorgeous restaurant for lunch and wine tasting. The restaurant at Bouza is modern and spacious. There were large crowds there for business lunches even at 2pm when we were seated! 

While I adored Narbona winery, Bouza is a different experience all together. Both are certainly worth visiting just to see the different styles of wineries in the region and the various approaches to growing and tending to grapes.