MenuDirections 2012 Day 3: Cooking Healthy

Attendees delve into learning about herbs, gluten-free and seafood.

Chef Todd Downs created this Moroccan sweet hot
tomato sauce in the Making Gluten-Free Healthy session.

On the final day of MenuDirections 2012, attendees learned tricks to cooking healthy. Three workshops focused on how to promote health through gluten-free cooking, using herbs to enhance healthy flavors, and menuing seafood.

Making Gluten-Free Healthy: Todd Downs, founder of Foodsense Inc., discussed the increasing number of customers who have a gluten intolerance and how foodservice operators can cater to these customers. Downs admitted that he is not an expert in gluten-free cooking because there is still much to learn.

However, he was able to offer attendees a few tricks to preparing tasty gluten-free dishes.

Downs gave attendees a list of flours that can be used in recipes to make them gluten free, including ground corn, chickpea, potato, rice, tapioca, amaranth, arrowroot and millet.

He also offered ideas on different grains operators could use in gluten-free cooking to make it as healthy as possible, including amaranth, brown rice, kasha, the now omnipresent quinoa and the lesser known teff, the seeds of a northeast African grass plan. According to Downs, teff contains double the iron of other grains and 20 times the calcium.

For his cooking demonstration, Downs made a savory trail mix that featured cacao nibs, dark chocolate chips, hulled pumpkin seeds, California natural raisins, California golden raisins and some chipotle chile pepper powder for added kick. He also served a chickpea crostini with Moroccan sweet hot tomato sauce, which featured chickpea flour, cayenne pepper, red onion, California raisins, whole pear tomatoes and dried apricots.

Cooking with Herbs: Marilyn Mills, R.D., clinical dietitian for Elliot Health System in Manchester, N.H., and Joe Stanislaw, corporate director of foodservice for Whittier Health Network, spoke about the benefits of using fresh and dried herbs to add flavor to healthy cooking. Mills and Stanislaw have done the presentation before as part of the Cook Better, Live Better program they developed while both worked at Elliot. Under the outreach initiative, live cooking and nutrition demos are performed for employees, seniors, teachers and area businesses.

Mills noted that operators can be more successful by substituting fresh herbs for dried herbs and not the reverse.
Mills also took attendees through a list of herbs that pack big flavor with other health benefits such as parsley. Like watermelon and cucumber, parsley is a diuretic. Bay leaves, oregano and spearmint act like Pepto-Bismol.

“My husband loves dill,” Mills said. “If we’d had another kid, we would have named him dill. Dill and oregano [are] known to cut gas and the ancient Greeks used dill to cure hiccups.”

Overall the presenters listed the benefits of using more herbs in cooking such as cutting fat calories, slicing empty carb calories, lowering sodium, adding flavor, aiding digestion and the immune system, plus providing antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. As part of the presentation Stanislaw created an orzo and lentil salad with feta, which utilized garlic, fresh mint and fresh dill as well as dry lentils, olive oil, kalamata olives and red wine vinegar.

“It’s not just the culinary benefits [of herbs],” Mills said. “It’s the health benefits. [Using herbs] is stealth health, for sure.”

Seafood on the Menu: Nick Pajor, manager of culinary innovation for King and Prince Seafood Co., offered attendees healthy ideas for seafood dishes in this healthy cooking presentation. Pajor stressed working with suppliers to find out who the local seafood purveyors are in your area and working directly with them to get the freshest seafood possible.

“Simplicity is always better for fish, in my opinion,” Pajor said.

He tackled the thorny problem of what’s better, fresh or frozen fish. The answer is a tough one, he explained, because the frozen can actually be fresher. It might’ve been frozen as soon as it was caught, its freshness preserved, while the “fresh” fish might’ve been sitting on a boat or dock long enough ago to lose its best qualities.

Pajor took a look at historically proven methods of menuing seafood such as Friday fish fries, fish and chips and captain’s platters. However some new trends he noted included the use of super local ingredients, innovative preparations, regional ethnic cuisines, and fish items suitable for food trucks. Pajor confessed he is a big fan of the fish taco truck. Another big trend, he added, is sustainability.

“What is sustainability to you might be different to you,” he said, pointing to one audience member, “or you,” pointing to another.

“Every country has different regulations about how many antibiotics they can add to the water. They have different regulations about water flow. As far as traceability, oysters, clams and mussels have set the bar on traceability.”

There are also different trends in regard to preparation of seafood. Pajor said he’s seeing a lot of smoking, be it cold or hot; rillettes; sous vide; searing; poaching in butter; and sushi, especially in colleges and B&I.

As far as seafood prices go, Pajor said he sees hopeful signs.

“I’m very optimistic on the market [and where prices are going],” Pajor said. “We’re seeing mahi coming in at 30 cents cheaper. Tilapia is pretty much holding steady. We’re starting to see salmon curve down a little bit.”