By The Restaurant Dieter

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 6)

Covid-19: Living in a no-restaurant world and loving it

Given the times in which we live, what use is a blog devoted to the passions of eating out healthily? Can such a thing even exist during a pandemic?

Hobby bloggers run hot and cold when it comes to posting regularly; this blog has been in the deep freeze since Spring 2019. Of all the times to unwrap and thaw, why choose now? For starters, we all have time on our hands as we stay home to dodge the Covid-19 virus. Another reason is that I have learned a valuable lesson about eating out.

Home is still better.

Like others, we have turned to the comforts of cooking in this great Covid-19 pandemic. Boy have we. Our home is full of food that we would never have had around a year ago. We are inside constantly and potentially tempted to consume out of stress or boredom.

And yet, my husband and I have not gained a pound.

One reason is that we are getting exercise — walking or biking with new E-bikes we purchased. The other reason, I have to believe, is that the food made at home is just plain better for us.

The focus on real food — free of the additives, flavor-enhancers, salt, sugar, and unpronounceable ingredients — first really hit home with my reading the New York Times food writer Mark Bittman. He says we need to make food from scratch, using fresh and raw ingredients.

Now that we aren’t in cars commuting between the office and home, we have more time than ever to cook. It’s given us a reason to support a great local butcher, Chop Shop in Atlanta.

During downtime between Zoom calls, my husband watches bread and pastry videos on YouTube. He’s mastered a perfect sourdough, canelles, no-churn mint chip ice cream, peach galette and some pretty mean cakes. Every single night, we have some kind of dessert with a glass of wine (him) or a cup of decaffeinated Darjeeling (me). We find we are satisfied and not binging on snacks until it’s time to turn off tonight’s movie and go to bed.

We plan and post a weekly menu. We’ve made everything from company-fare pork loin with a cherry wine sauce to tater tot casserole that was sinfully good. We’ve had Italian nights — tagliatelle with prosciutto and butter (3 tablespoons per serving) — and German feasts laden with bacon, bacon, bacon. We are making our own vegetable stock from the produce scraps.

One week’s posted menu
Sausage from Chop Shop, a nearby butcher shop, with German potato salad and red cabbage, both made in the Instant Pot.
Crab cakes with fries; yes, the fries were frozen from a bag. So sue us.

There is one recipe that, more than any, reveals how our lives have changed during this pandemic: Black bean chorizo casserole with pickled onions from The New York Times Cooking website. The recipe made eight servings and took 2 1/2 hours — something I missed when I put it on the menu. It had 11 steps in the recipe and involved things like:

  • Grating a lime for zest and mixing it with sour cream to make a lime crema
  • Chopping and pickling red onion slices
  • Toasting dried chiles and broiling garlic cloves for the sauce, then soaking the dried chiles until soft.
  • Processing the soaked chiles and garlic into a paste, adding oil and cooking it all into a sauce.
  • Poaching the chorizo because I brought fresh instead of pre-cooked; my mistake.
  • Chopping cilantro stems and onions for saute.
  • Sauteing the stems, onions chroizo, black beans.
  • Layering all of the above into a casserole dish for baking

This recipe was cooked on a weeknight. Are we insane?

Maybe. But we are also gratified by how wonderful food such as this actually is; how it tastes good without that ton of salt that is in restaurant food, regardless of whether it’s an Applebee’s or fine dining.

We’ve managed to eat a couple of meals out — and by that I mean truly outside “out” — and mostly it’s been disappointing.

Yet we are absolutely cheering for the restaurant industry to survive. Going to a restaurant is about so much more than the food. It is theater. It’s an experience. It’s a communal byproduct of the great and advanced society we live in. We get to be out and among people, something we all miss.

As soon as there’s a vaccine and we feel safe enough to venture back, we’ll be there. But I don’t think we’ll forget what we’ve learned about the value and goodness of a home-cooked meal.

Iced tea: the best diet beverage out there

You can go wrong with iced tea

Some time ago, I stopped drinking soda. Because I don’t drink alcohol, my beverage choices sometimes are limited.

At a typical party with an open bar, there are fruit juices, natural but loaded with sugar; soft drinks, artificial and loaded with sugar; diet soft drinks, waaay artificial and loaded with sweeteners that can pack on the weight instead of take it off; some form of blah fizzy water.

What I’d rather have is unsweetened ice tea. I don’t sweeten it, but one could and still wind up with a better choice than soda.

On an airplane, they don’t “serve” iced tea, but they obviously have both ice and tea.

Because I’ve actually been told that “we don’t have iced tea,” I’ve taken to asking for “a double bag hot tea and a big glass of ice.”

Checkmate for the less motivated flight attendants; the good ones just say: “Would you like me to bring it to you already done?”

Why, how kind. Yes thank you.

It’s real food

Pasta made by my niece, Sarah

When you eat, make it “real food.” This is a good example. The pasta was made by my niece, Sarah. It’s just flour, egg and water. The sauce is a simple meat sauce using my mother’s recipe. Tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and hamburger meat. No jars, no preservatives, no fake food.

We each got about a cup of pasta, a reasonable portion, and a half cup of the sauce. Perfect.

It’s all about eating good food in moderation.

Salads aside, fast food is getting worse, not better for you

Forget all that stuff about the fruit cup or the salad that landed on the menu. It masks a 30-year trend of fast food meals overall getting worse, not better. They’ve gotten more bigger, more fattening and saltier.

That’s the conclusion of research published recently by Boston and Tufts universities in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The study looked at 30 years of fast food menus at restaurants such as McDonald’s, Dairy Queen and KFC.

Between 1986 and 2016, deserts grew by 62 calories per decade; entrees gained 30 calories per decade; and sodium grew as well each decade — 4.6 percent for entrees, 3.9 percent for sides and 1.2 percent for deserts.

With about 37 percent of U.S. adults consuming some fast food every single day, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, it’s not what you’d call good news. Fast food has been implicated in rising rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Restaurants for eating healthy in Atlanta during the Super Bowl

Cold and fresh oysters from W.H. Stiles Fish Camp at Ponce City Market.

The Super Bowl supposed to be all about the 7-layer dip and the wings in front of the TV, right? Well, tell that to The New York Times, which earlier this week weighed in with a visitors’ game plan for “eating well in Atlanta.”

Writer Kim Severson, who lives in Atlanta, highlighted some of the better known — and some little known — restaurants visitors should consider. So here’s some insight on her favorites and how they stack up for dieters.

The article gives a prominent shout-out to Ponce City Market. One of the food stalls highlighted is W.H. Stiles Fish Camp from chef Anne Quatrano, whose Bacchanalia has been a leader in Atlanta fine dining for more than two decades. It’s one of my go-tos at Ponce. (One reason: a decent amount of inside seating. Don’t get me started on the special hell that is wandering inside the food hall, asking, “Is this seat taken?” It is.)

A weight-conscious diner at W.H. Stiles can feel pretty safe with a Poke bowl, oysters, Georgia Coast clams and poached shrimp. I’ve purchased a few of the shrimp — they’re local, sizeable, sweet and firm — at $1.75 each and thrown them on the $9 wedge salad with fresh, housemade dressing.

Tiny Lou’s is another hot newcomer that attracted Severson’s attention. It’s in the basement of Hotel Clermont, a former dive hotel that now has spiffy condos. (The divey strip bar is still open for business; a dancing girl on the menu advertises that Lou’s is “above where the ladies dance.” ) Sadly, they’ve cut the crudites with Green Goddess dressing. More than once, that bouquet of beautiful cold vegetables saved me.

But there are still plentiful vegetables among the sides, and daily, a vegetarian gnocchi. They’ve also been willing to toss a grilled chicken breast on that when I’ve wanted to add some protein to the mix.

Revival in Decatur from chef Kevin Gillespie made the cut. It is great Southern cooking, but as my review awhile back noted, not exactly a place for a lot of low-calorie options. So eat light that day.

Taco Bell to test vegetarian menu

Taco Bell is planning to offer a more extensive vegetarian menu in 2019, the company recently announced. Count me as more than casually interested.

My fondness for Taco Bell goes deep. There are times when the hunger for ersatz Tex-Mex will not be silenced. This craving dates back to college days in the late 1970s, when the closest restaurant to the student newspaper was a Taco Bell. The staff had a love-hate relationship with the chain.

“I’m going to Taco Death to pick up dinner. Does anyone want anything?” someone would shout as the evening deadlines approached.

Still a couple of bean burritos — vegetarian before its time, I guess — were filling and less than a dollar. For students, it was convenient and cheap — and in its own guilty pleasure way, kind of good.

The food was a bargain for poor students.

Taco Bell hasn’t said much about the details for the new vegetarian menu. The chain’s website has a placeholder for vegetarian offerings consisting of what’s available now. And it’s relatively easy to assemble a vegetarian meal from what is already on the menu.

Some years back, Taco Bell promoted a series of “fresco” menu items that were intended to be healthier than the normal fare. Even though the fresco promotion is over, there are still calorie-conscious options that are under 350 calories and under 10 grams of fat each. Calorie-conscious is the key word there, because I wouldn’t call them exactly healthy.

The 150-calorie chicken soft taco “fresco style” gets 1/3 of its calories from fat and has 430 mg of sodium, which is a lot. The Centers for Disease Control urges American adults to consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day. That is supposed to improve, too; the company also announced that it would reduce sodium by 25 percent by 2025.

So here’s hoping the chain is successful with adding more vegetables and reducing sodium, because sometimes the bell just rings. When that happens, I’ve gotta go get lunch. And don’t get me started on the guiltiest pleasure of all, the bacon breakfast crunchwrap.

Back with a new attitude about food and weight

It’s true in any language. Diets don’t work.

So where have I been?

Well, like a lot of bloggers, my desire to write after a day of work waxes and wanes. And for more than a year, it’s been waning.

That’s not the only reason. I’ve also continue to think about food and health. I don’t endorse dieting — at least as it concerns the defintion “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.” Simply put, scientists are becoming convinced that dieting doesn’t work.

At 60, I’m the same size I was in high school, college and my early 20s. Most pictures from any point in my life show me with the same 36-inch waistline. At one point it got to 38, but mostly, I’ve been a 36 for years. Those two periods in which I got to 31 and 34 were a result of my exercising like a fiend and starving myself. I was eating a no-fat, turkey-and-cheese sandwich and a microwaved baked potato dipped in barbecue sauce for dinner. That’s no way to live.

I’ve come to the conclusion that first: the sane approach is to eat real food. By this I mean food that comes from fresh ingredients, cooked at home, with none of the salt-fat-and-unpronounceable words on prepared foods’ ingredient labels. Second, I also try to balance my choices; if I’ve had something rich and incredible, the next meal might be a salad with lots of vegetables, nuts and protein. The fact that I truly enjoy the latter helps.

So let’s continue the journey, shall we? Under new management, of course.

Review: Eat light the rest of the day before going to Revival in Decatur

The only way to eat mindfully at Decatur’s Revival is to eat light the rest of the day. This is not a restaurant with a lot of light-and-healthy choices. It’s a splurge, and a really good one at that.

Revival is an interesting name for this restaurant situated in an old Decatur home just off the downtown area. It’s been the location of at least two failed restaurants. This effort seems likelier to be successful. It’s by Chef Kevin Gillespie, who also owns the new American dim sum restaurant Gunshow in Atlanta.

The inspiration here isn’t the unlucky building, though. The name comes from the Sunday suppers of Gillespie’s youth. It’s southern with all the trimmings.

Diners can order a la carte from the menu, or choose their own entries as part of the family style dinner for $42 a person. Family style includes entree, the sides and choice of dessert. We chose family style, and it was a lot of food.

The amuse bouche was a pork belly — I gave mine away — with pickled green tomatoes.

The salad, if eaten alone, would have been a pretty healthy choice. It was kale, lightly bruised in a dressing of cider vinegar and egg, with apple chunks, pickled onion and locally sourced Thomasville Tomme cheese. It came with exceptionally tender corn bread and honey butter. Of course I had one.

The salad at Revival was was kale with apples, picked onion, Thomasville Tomme cheese and a boiled dressing of apple cider vinegar and egg

Revival’s corn muffins with honey butter

Two of our number had a juicy pork chop; the third the duck and I had the fried chicken. I limited myself to the one small breast piece, and gave away or left the rest. As with any southern restaurant, the sides starred as much as the main courses. The beans in the beans-and-rice were firm; the flavor and texture had not been cooked out of them. The mac ‘n cheese was gooey good. The greens were smoky and rich.

For dessert, three of our group had the fried apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The pastry itself was buttery, flaky, wonderful. I had a ginger cake with cream cheese ice cream. The latter is a strange flavor by itself, but it worked well with the cake. I tasted both desserts, enjoyed them, and shared or left most of mine.

That’s the secret to eating here. Leave some to take home, share with companions¬†or consign to the food recycling gods.

Revival’s ginger cake with cream cheese ice cream



Breakfast: why eating nuts works

Research suggests that nuts, the enemy of calorie counters, actually contribute to healthy weight and even weight loss. Since I’ve stopped counting calories and Weight Watcher points, I’ve been eating more nuts. They have a satisfying mouthfeel, crunchy and substantial.

The trick is to avoid eating salted nuts. Salt is a trigger food that leads to overeating.

My go-to breakfast is plain yogurt, some 100 percent real maple syrup, fruit (fresh if possible), some kind of high-fiber sugar-free cereal and unsalted nuts. It’s really satisfying and seems to set me up for a successful day. The rest of today will be all restaurant eating, and I think I’m well prepared.

« Older posts