Saturday, January 06, 2007

Sushi and Etiquette

Sushi & Sushi Etiquette

Sushi is the preferred choice for many health conscious people. The word sushi actually means anything made with vinegared rice. It may include cooked or raw foods and vegetables and sashimi (raw fish). Sushi is very nutritious because it is naturally low in fat, with the exception of some western style rolls and roes, is high in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Most fish and seafood are naturally low in saturated fat, and rich in unsaturated fat called omega 3. Generally served raw there is also no extra fat used in preparation. Fish, tofu, seafood and eggs have high levels of protein. Seaweed is nutrient rich as are most of the vegetables.

Most sushi restaurants fly in fish everyday, and many have fish tanks right in their establishment where the fish are available and prepared on order.

Sushi includes shellfish and seafood and vegetables. Most of the seafood is raw, some is cooked. The vinegared rice typically comes rolled in seaweed. Nori is made from purple laver seaweed, kombu (or konbu) is kelp. Both are high in iron, protein vitamins and calcium. Sushi wrapped in nori is served sliced and cold. Nori salad is crisp roasted sheets of nori mixed with vegetables.

Fish that is eaten raw should be absolutely fresh, prepared in an immaculate environment, handled carefully and properly stored.

Most but not all sushi are good nutritional choices for a meal. Some good choices are: maki (which means rolled). Usually refers to food wrapped in seaweed. California rolls are one exception with the rice on the outside. Tekka-maki is tuna and kappa-maki is cucumber roll.

Tuna is served under a number of names. It depends on the species, age and what part of the body it is cut from. Tekka indicates tuna in a roll. Toro, marguo, ahi and ahimi are all tuna. Otoro is the fattiest tuna cut from the lower belly. Chutoro is also moderately fatty. Hamachi is yellowtail - a tune like fish and kanbachi are young yellowtail. Also japanese amberjack, snapper, conger, mackeral and salmon.Other seafoods are squid, octopus and shrimp. There are also various kinds of shellfish.

Vegetables include pickled daikon (a radish), fermented soybeans, avocado, cucumber, asparagus, yam, tofu, gourd, burdock and sweet corm mixed with mayonnaise.

Red meats are beef, ham, sausage, and horse meat. These are often lightly cooked. Hawaiian spam sushi is onigiri and is made with plain rice not vinegared,

If you have any dietary concerns you may want to avoid foods like agemono. It is either panfried or deep fried. Tempura is one example. Also oshinko. These pickled vegetables are salt cured and contain a moderately high amount of sodium.

Sushi is generally served on plain, minimalist wood or lacquered plates for aesthetic style. In some smaller restaurants sushi is eaten directly off the wood counter using one's hands. Modern presentation includes differently flavored sauces, floral touches, special arrangement and the mixing of foreign flavors suggestive of French style preparation.

Sushi etiquette.

Sushi can be eaten with the hands or chopsticks. Traditionally one should start with the milder white flesh items and then proceed into the darker and stronger flavors. Only the fish, not the rice should be dipped into the soy sauce. In high-end sushi restaurants it is considered bad form to request extra wasabi as the chef has probably already place the proper amount on the plate.

It is considered polite to clear one's plate. It is considered impolite to pick out certain ingredients and leave the rest. Pouring soy sauce over rice is not done; one should put some in a small dish and dip the food into it. Leaving food trails in the soy sauce is uncouth.

One should chew with the mouth closed. It is acceptable to lift bowls or plates to the mouth rather than bringing the eating utensil from the dish to the mouth. It is also considered appropriate in some situations to slurp food such as noodles or ramen.

Rice is generally eaten plain or sometimes with nori (dried pressed seaweed) or furikake (various seasonings).

Chopsticks: There are many traditions surrounding the use of chopsticks. It is considered taboo to pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks as this is how bones are handled by the family after cremation. Mismatched chopsticks should also not be used for the same reason. Also, chopsticks should not be stood up in a bowl of food, as this is how offerings are made to the dead. It is considered thoughtful to reverse chopsticks and use the clean end to pick things out of a common dish if serving cutlery is not provided. Chopsticks should not be used to skewer food. Items that are too large to be eaten with chopsticks may be eaten with the fingers.
Ginger is considered a palate cleanser and eaten between bites or different types of sushi. It is not eaten in the same bite as the sushi.
One does not drink sake with sushi, only with sashimi or before or after a meal.
With alcoholic beverages it is customary to serve each other - if not alone - rather than pouring one's own drink. If you need a refill hold your glass politely toward another diner.

In restaurants the bill is known as o-aiso "compliment". In Japan the tip is included in the bill. In North American it generally is not.

Itadakimasu! (Bon appetit!)

by Diningroom Diva

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Friday, January 05, 2007

We're fat and the restaurants don't care

Half the country is on a diet and restaurants still send out fat laden dressings and no choice desserts. If I could find just one restaurant that offered low fat blue cheese dressing, low fat sour cream, whole grain rolls as an alternative in the basket, no sugar low fat cheesecake or sugar free fruit dressing - why, I'd be back! As of now, when I want just a plain salad I bring my own low fat blue cheese in my purse - and embarrass my husband.
I love Subway. They have really gone the distance on providing some of the basics to diet conscious people. Lots of good grain breads, low fat mayonnaise, and enough healthy options to satisfy anyone who is hungry and barely in control. Of course the vegetarian and health food stores do offer alternatives, but they could use some updating too.
Some of the more elite restaurants don't really offer anything to the diet conscious, they merely serve starvation sized rations for the sake of presentation.
Still, some mid level restaurants now offer more choices for the diet conscious, but garden burgers served on plain old white buns just doesn't make sense.
I hope to find the restaurant of my dreams soon, the inside of my purse is saturated with low fat blue cheese.

by Diningroom Diva

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

On Wearing Cowboy Hats in Restaurants

by Diningroom Diva

While we were dining in the Stack restaurant at the Mirage in Las Vegas a large group of gentlemen came in all wearing cowboy hats. As they proceeded to their table only one of the gentlemen removed his hat. The hostess quickly offered to check it for him. She glanced briefly at the others, but got no response- their hats remained firmly planted on their heads. Seemingly unperturbed, the hostess seated the rest and nodded to the server.
This interested me as I grew up in New England where gentlemen always removed their hats upon entering a restaurant -or bar for that matter. Especially the duck bills, the red wool hunter plaid with ear flaps and the foul weather gear types. It was certainly expected of all our male family members, or quietly knocked off by Dad from behind -as a gentle reminder.
In addition, gentlemen who wore felt hats often removed them very dramatically and with flourish, bespeaking of culture and breeding. I believe you still see that in Europe today.
Since we had observed the cowboy hats in many establishments in Texas and other Western cities , I decided to check with Miss Manners and Amy Vanderbilt, just in case we were ever caught wearing them ourselves. For instance at the Redford Ranch or the Hawaiian Rodeo Spa.

Well, Amy Vanderbilt doesn't even give an option for men, "men should check their hats as they arrive", however women may and should wear their hat "unless it is a rain hat or wool helmet or wind scarf". No mention of Cowgirls.

Miss Manners has a slightly different slant: "Dear Miss Manners: A certain lumpish fellow of my acquaintance contends that it is not a breach of etiquette for a man to wear a cowboy hat indoors. He states that cowboy hats are unique in this regard. My mother was always a proponent of the Mrs. Paul W. Bryant, Sr. school of thought on this subject. (You may recall that when Bear Bryant was asked why he didn't wear his trademark hat in the Astrodome, he replied that it was because his mother taught him that a gentleman doesn't wear a hat indoors.) To your knowledge has there been a special papal dispensation or whatever the equivalent is in the world of etiquette for cowboy hats?"
Miss Manners replied: "Mrs. Bryant's rule certainly applies to cowboys who wish to behave as gentlemen and, Miss Manners would like to add, to gentlemen who wish to disguise themselves as cowboys, a proliferating breed. For example, a person wearing a cowboy hat, along with a gray suit and lizard boots, in a city office building elevator, is not excused from removing the hat- no, not even if he is wearing a complete cowboy suit, with fringed jacket, jeans, and spurs that he got for Christmas. However, a genuine cowboy, wearing cowboy clothes and going about his cowboy business, does wear his hat everywhere. In other words, it is not the hat but the head that defines the man, oddly enough."
So, do women get to wear their cowboy hats to dinner? It seems so.
Would you want to ask that handsome cowboy seated next to you to remove his hat against his wishes? - Not me!. And we'll not discuss his boots at this juncture.
For a fun read and lots of up to date etiquette tips check out 'Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior'.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Healthy Dining Out

Someone commented the other day on how difficult it is to eat out at different restaurants and also stay within healthy eating guidelines. There's lots of information out there, but short of lugging around a big fat notebook - how to do?
Here is a brief guide that may help.
• Don't skip a meal on the day you are going out to eat.
• Eat a light snack (such as an apple, orange or slice of low fat cheese).
• Choose a restaurant that offers a variety of food including low fat options.
• Be aware that snacks served with wine or other alcoholic drinks are part of the meal too. We often tend to overeat when using alcohol.
• Order more plant based foods - pick salads and deserts that emphasize fruits or vegetables; look for whole-grain pasta, bread, rice and cereal.
• Order baked, not fried; grilled, not greasy.
• Ask about substitutions of lower fat,, lower carbohydrate food as side dishes.
• Taste your food before adding salt, butter, sauces or dressings.
• Order dressings on the sides of your salads.
• Substitute healthier condiments such as mustard for mayonnaise, or pepper or lemon juice instead of salt.
• Resist the desire to 'supersize' your meals.
• Make the salad your first course with plenty of veggies and fruit.
• Eat slowly.
• Order food that requires work such as crab legs.
• Order water, sparkling water or mineral water with a twist of lemon - it's filling and has no calories (most diets insist on at least 8 glasses a water per day for a reason)
• Finish the main course before you think of ordering dessert.
• For dessert consider lower fat, lower calorie options such as fresh fruit, angel food cake or sherbet.

• For more information on healthy eating check out Healthy Eating at Best Place to Eat .com

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Greek and Mediterranean Cuisine for Healthy Dining Out.

The Mediterranean Diet has probably focused more attention on Greek cuisine than ever before. And Greek restaurants are becoming much more popular. If you haven't ventured into a Greek restaurant yet, summer is an especially good time.

Mediterranean people love to eat. The sunny climate allows for many social gatherings where food is served. Greek cuisine has been influenced by every culture who battled for, conquered, traded and immigrated there. Many who inhabit Greece and the Mediterranean region are a mix of religions, nationalities and races. Influences include the past Ottoman Empire, Southern Italy, North Africa and the Middle East.

Mediterranean cuisine offers a great deal in the way of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pita, pasta, olive oil, cheese, milk, eggs, fish and red wine. Less on red meat and processed foods. People of that area have been observed to have less incidences of heart disease and certain cancers, and this has been attributed to their cuisine. And that is also the basis of the currently popular Mediterranean Diet; although you certainly don't need to be dieting to enjoy the food.

Still, if you are basically health conscious and looking for some variety in dining out, Greek restaurants will definitely accomodate many of those desires.

A typical Greek Restaurant offers a wide range of vegetarian style dishes as well as seafood and chicken and of course lamb. You might enjoy a baked vegetarian moussaka with eggplant, parmesan, riccota cheese and zucchini layered, topped with tomato sauce. Other great healthful dishes include Greek Skillet Snapper or Greek Lemon Chicken. There are many lamb dishes offered too, of course. Be mindful, though, that lamb, like any red meat, should be eaten sparingly in accord with many modern health advisories. Mediterranean herbs and spices and traditional ingredients make for a very flavorful cuisine regardless of meat content. Greek Rose wine is wonderful too.

Wild marjoram grows in the mountains in Greece and is often used to flavor meat dishes. The herb is much sharper in flavor than domestic marjorams or oreganos. In Spain it was used to brew fine ales.

Here is a recipe for a Greek salad dressing with marjoram (rigani) to enjoy with fresh greens.

-1/2 cup virgin cold pressed olive oil
-Juice of one lemon (pierce with a fork and heat for a few seconds in a microwave to extract the most juice.)
-1/2 teaspoon of wild marjoram (rigani)
-1 teaspoon minced fresh mint
-1 tablespoon chopped onion
-1 tablespoon parley or cilantro
-1 teaspoon fresh cinnamon basil minced
1/2 teaspoon lemon thyme

Combine all ingredients and chill for a few hours before serving. Great on dinner salads.

Don't forget the desserts! Baklava, Kataifi, Amydgalopita....
That's pronounces bahk-lah-VAH, kah-tah-EE-fee, ah-mag-dah-lo-PETA.

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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Don't Settle For the Same Old Salad, Go Bitter!

Restaurants these days have increased their salad options. Largely, of course, because of our new national nutrition concerns, but also because people are hipper and looking for some variety beyond the same old 'garden salad' fare.

Try eating weeds! Dark green bitter greens are packed with nutrition, and whether you are seeing them on a menu or are preparing salads at home, they are well worth trying.

Dark greens including arugula, nettles, dandelion, watercress and chickweed are the most healthful. Especially for the digestive system. When the bitter dark greens are chewed and eaten, the taste buds respond by increasing salivation. Then gastric acid secretion increases, (and) pancreatic enzymes are primed to respond when the food enters the small intestine, helping to maximize food breakdown and speed waste elimination. In other words your body will appreciate the 'spring cleaning'.

Dandelion leaves are experiencing a resurgence in popularity in restaurants. Chefs are recognizing the nutritional value and zippy taste of these little lawn invaders. Dandelions are rich in vitamin A and C and rank high in overall nutrition. And according to reliable medical resources, dandelion leaves are also a natural diuretic, increasing urine production by promoting the excretion of salts and water from the kidneys. Purchase in bunches at your produce stand.

Arugula also boosts vitamin A and C, calcium and fiber. Tangy arugula contains naturally occurring compounds called isothiosyanates, powerful anticarcinogens particularly effective in fighting cancers of the lung and esophagus (according to Drug Metabolism Reviews 2000, Vol. 32, #3-4.) You can find arugula year round in most grocery stores.

Nettles (Yes nettles, those little boogers in the woods that sting like crazy!) Nettles contain protein and dense amounts of minerals including iron, silica and potassium. The mineral content of nettles supply a basic energy source that helps support the nervous system and provides energy in times of fatigue and stress, according to Keegan Sheridan, N.D. of Beverly Hills, California. To harvest nettles, put on your rubber gloves first -to avoid the inevitable stinging when the leaves touch bare skin. Cooking will deactivate the sting.

Chickweed supposedly grows all over the world, and is well known for its medicinal uses. According to the Journal of Natural Products, Chickweed has calming effects on tissues when applied topically, and it's drying and cooling anti-inflamatory properties heal everything from cuts and burns to puffy eyes. Chickweed is an excellent edible green that is high in fiber, protein, and vitamin A.

Watercress grows partially submerged in creeks and streambeds. It contains abundant beta carotene which converts to vitamin A in your body. It contains more than 100 percent of the daily recommended intake of beta carotene. It is rich in cancer protective isothiocyanates.

Try arugula on a tomato and cheese pizza. Chickweed chopped in a waldorf salad, or with chicken and fish. Dandelion leaves (purchase at market, or grow in a garden at home) are great in salads. You can also saute them. Nettles can be served like cooked spinach, or the leaves dried for a tasty tea. Watercress is great for dressings and dips.

All these greens are best purchased in a produce section of a grocery store-or garden grown. Roadside plants are obviously not your wisest choice. Stinging nettles can be found in the forests - ouch.

The next time you see an offering of any of the above on a restaurant menu - wouldn't you want to give them a try?

A savvy chef knows his greens.

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A Relaxing Afternoon with Pastis

You're in a hammock, gazing lazily over the Cote d'Azur. A glass of pastis in one hand, the other hand dangling in the tall sweet grass. The warm air drifts in from the mediterranean past the ancient stone walls and rustles the silver green sun filtering branches over your head. You have resolved to never set foot in the 'rat race' again.

And even if you can't stick to your resolve forever, at least enjoy the moment with your glass of pastis. It is a drink to be enjoyed leisurely, and since it has a rather potent alcohol content, it should not be rushed. It is best lightly sipped and even put down out of view a time or two, drawing out the ritual.

Pastis, in case you are wondering is a very popular drink in Provence. Seen on many beverage menus of U.S. restaurants as well, pastis is a licorice or anise flavored spirit meant to be enjoyed slowly.

Pastis is descended from the notorious absinthe, a mind numbing distillation popular in France until early this century. Absinthe was banned in France in 1915 and was blamed for murders, criminal unsanity, and even of Van Gogh's hacking off of his own ear. Despite the colorful vintage posters, absinthe is ugly stuff, and although can still be had by foolhardy risk takers, it is advised to stay clear of it. Pastis is the sane descendent.

Pastis is made from alcohol and distilled herbs or herbal extracts. Chief among them is grand wormwood and green anise; and almost always including three other herbs - petite wormwood, fennel and hyssop. Star anise is sometimes substituted for the green anise.

Pastis with its sweet licorice taste should be taken from a tall narrow glass. Add some ice cubes and slowly pour the pastis over the ice. Then add water. The general measurement is 1/3 pastis and 2/3 water. Then you can add more ice as you go along - many prefer up to 4 parts water to one part pastis.

It is considered a daytime drink and a real thirst quencher. It can be mixed with grapefruit juice for a sweet-tart flavor. A handful of crisp almonds is a good accompanient.

There are several brands sold in the United States, many distinguished by the variety of spices added, like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, pepper and nutmeg. Among the brands available here are Pastis 51 - very viscous and pungent; Ricard, a popular pastis in the States similar to Pastis 51; Baldanis, dry with the essence of anise; and Jean Boyer, a dry aromatic bouquet said to contain 24 herbs and 12 spices. There is also a non alcoholic pastis called Pacific. Pernod is another brand that is handled like pastis but is not really pastis. It is actually distilled from a wine flavored with anise, fennel and other herbs. It tastes similar and is served in the same way as pastis.

Enjoy a pastis on your next afternoon sojourn. If even on your own back porch, sit back, tip your drink and enjoy the scents of the warm mediterranean summer breeze as it slips over the lavendar Provence fields and meandering stone walls just a little bit beyond the horizon.

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