Monday, January 26, 2009

The 11 Worst Foods of 2008

I have been told that more gym memberships are sold in January than during the other months of the year, combined.

Being in the restaurant business for 28 years, I can attest that more diets are started during the first month of the year. I can personally confirm that most diets don’t make it to February.

Now that we’re nearing the end of the month— as calorie counters and carb critics begin to crave “real food”— I thought I would share an email I received from the people at

Each year the Daily Spark publishes a list of the worst food of the previous year ( ). I should mention that “worst” does not necessarily mean “bad tasting.” The Daily Spark is only interested in physical condition and nutrition. When the Spark people say “worst,” they are speaking in terms of health and wellbeing.

The 11 Worst Foods of 2008 list starts out with a harmless cup of caramel-flavored hot chocolate from a very popular national coffee chain that weighs in at a surprising 550 calories with 24 grams of fat. One fast food restaurant’s Gourmet Mushroom Swiss Burger contains 600 calories and 36 grams of fat, another fast food burger chain’s Mushroom Swiss Steakhouse Burger has 850 calories and 48 grams of fat— no fries, no cola, just the burger.

Some of the findings were surprising. At a mid-scale casual national Italian chain, the Seared Scallops Salad—a healthy menu alternative, one would think— carried 1,270 calories and 94 grams of fat. I am always baffled by people who are trying to eat healthfully while dumping tons of cream and oil based dressings on their cheese-filled greens.

Other findings were scary. One could wake up to a stack of Butterscotch Rocks pancakes at a national pancake chain and kick off the day with 1,310 calories and 52 grams of fat. Guess what’s for lunch? Rice Cakes. Guess what’s for dinner? Water.

A national chicken chain sells a Fully Loaded Box Meal that packs 1,320 calories and a fast-food taco chain sells an item that they call Fully Loaded Nachos that lives up to its name and is loaded with 1,390 calories and 83 grams of fat. It’s probably a good idea to stay away from things that are fully “loaded” until we reach our ideal body weight.

One of the biggest surprises came in at number two on the worst-foods list and is sold in a national sandwich chain. The item is a Prime Rib Cheesesteak sandwich on toasted bread which packs 1,490 calories and 88 grams of fat. A sandwich.

I’m a big guy. My daily caloric intake needs hover somewhere around 3,000 calories per day. That means as long as I take in roughly 3,000 total calories a day, and as long as those calories are a good mix of lean protein, complex, high-fiber carbohydrates, and healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, not cream and cheese), I can maintain a hale and hearty lifestyle.

I would guess that the average woman needs roughly 2,000 calories a day to maintain her ideal body weight. It just so happens that the average woman can blow her entire daily caloric intake on one menu item sold at a national casual chain restaurant. The number one item on Spark’s 2008 list was an order of Texas Cheese Fries with JalapeƱo Ranch Dressing which tips the scales at 2,070 calories and 160 grams of fat. The dish also contains almost two days worth of sodium.

I am certainly not disparaging any of the restaurants on the list. Actually, I am chief among the sinners. My restaurants sell all sorts of good-tasting, yet fattening foods. Julia Child once told me that the key to eating well is “moderation.” It certainly worked for her.

So here’s to all of the New Year’s resolution dieters who are starting to waver and are craving cheese, fried food, and pancakes. Hang in there. Be strong. I’m with you. I’m 20 down with 20 to go. We’ll make it together, and when we do, the cheese fries are on me!

Fish Tacos with Fresh Fruit Pico di Gallo or Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salsa

2# mahi mahi filets

2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Combine seasoning, sprinkle fish with seasoning, cover and refrigerate for one hour.
Cook the fish, prepare your outdoor grill to cook over a medium heat. Lightly oil the fish and grill for 4-5 minutes on each side.
Allow the fish to cool slightly then cut into thin strips.

To serve:
Allow guests to make their own taco creations. Set out the cooked fish and prepared salsas along with:

1 1/2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
24 corn tortillas

Place 2-3 thin fish strips in each tortilla and add a small amount of the shredded cabbage and Fresh Fruit Pico di Gallo or Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salsa.
Yield : Tacos for 6-8 people

Fresh Fruit Pico di Gallo

1 cup fresh tomatoes, small diced
1/4 cu red onions, small diced
2 Tbl. cilantro, chopped
2 tsp fresh jalapenos, seeds removed and minced
1/2 cup pineapple, small diced
1 kiwi, peeled and small dice
1/2 cup orange segments
1/2 cup lime segments
1/2 tsp Salt

Combine all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sweet Corn and Black Bean Salsa

1 Tbl olive oil
1/4 cup yellow onion, minced
2 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp dry oregano
1 1/2 cups fresh tomato concassee (or 1 can rotel tomatoes- 10 ounces)
1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh sweet corn cut from the cob
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
2 tsp fresh lime juice

Place the olive oil in a small stainless steel sauce pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, salt, cumin, coriander and oregano to the warm oil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning. Add in the rotel tomatoes and allow the mixture to simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add in the black beans and corn and cook for 5 more minutes. Stir in the thinly sliced green onions and lime juice and remove from the heat.

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