TNC Holiday Gift Ideas

‘Tis the season and that means holiday gatherings and ugly sweater parties, aplenty! Whether you’re Buddy the Elf or Scrooge when it comes to this time of year, there are many things to partake in to get lost in the feeling of the holidays or just to enjoy the chilly winter weather that is sure to follow.

There are many holiday parties to attend between friends, family and colleagues over the next several weeks. While indulging in the holiday spirit and treats is fun, I’ve included both food and non-food gift ideas. Here you’ll find just a few local items that are perfect to give this holiday season!

Hottest Chefs of the Triangle Calendar

Of course, this beautiful calendar should be gracing your home in the 2018 year! Each month features an amazing chef who is cooking up delicious dishes and giving back to the community in a unique way. All profits benefit the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, so this is a gift that keeps on giving! Check out my blog post on why we created this calendar and be sure to order yours here!


Hottest Chefs of the Triangle calendar benefiting the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina

Nellino’s Sauce

You may be thinking – Tessa! Why are you listing a jarred tomato sauce as a holiday gift?! Trust me, you won’t buy another brand once you try Nellino’s. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Nellino’s is the only jarred sauce I haven’t had to doctor up with a dash of this or a splash of that. Pro tip – grab an extra jar for yourself. You’ll thank me after you whip up my recipe coming to the blog Christmas week!


Nellino’s Sauce at its finest

Carolina Hurricanes tickets

Hockey is the perfect juxtaposition of grace and grit. The players effortlessly speed down the ice, dodging players along the way to score a goal. On the other hand, these players will put some weight into it to shove a guy into the boards or even drop the gloves for a brawl. NHL games offer a lively evening perfect for the whole family. From intermission games to being able to get your favorite player’s autograph, it’s entertaining from the moment the puck drops until the buzzer sounds. You can’t forget the yummy food to eat while taking in all the action, so check out their offerings in my post here!


Cheesesteak with a side of hockey

Videri Chocolate

The intoxicating scent of the freshly ground cocoa nibs is more than enough to make any chocolate lover swoon once you step into Videri Chocolate Factory. The chocolate is undoubtedly some of the best I’ve ever had, let alone in Raleigh. What’s even better? Their facility is completely nut free, making it safe for those with nut allergies. What’s even better than that?! They offer several dairy free options that are great for those with any dairy allergies or who are vegan.


Jeweled bonbons from Videri

I wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season! What are some of your favorite gifts to give during the holidays? Comment below!

Hottest Chefs of the Triangle


As the holiday season has officially kicked off with Thanksgiving last week, I’m excited to continue the season of giving with our Hottest Chefs of the Triangle Calendar Party next Monday, December 4th at Big Boss Brewing Company from 6-9pm. Admission is FREE and the participating chefs will be providing complimentary bites to satiate any taste bud!

What exactly is the Hottest Chefs of the Triangle Calendar, you may ask? Our calendar features amazing chefs from the Triangle area that make our culinary community so great. This collaborative, pro bono project features photography by Stacey Sprenz, graphic design by Karen Baltimore, calendar coordination by myself and Kristen Baughman, and printing by Glover Corporation. This year, we were also fortunate to receive a generous donation for printing by Cary Family Dental.

All of us work within the food and restaurant industries, so we wanted to give back to a cause that helps provide our neighbors in need of a meal. We know the feeling of warmth, security, and belonging that comes from being around a meal with family and friends. So many holiday traditions, passed on through generations, center around food. We wanted to donate the profits from our calendar to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, who is providing this to people in need across North Carolina.

FY1617_Infographic (1)

Image provided by the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina

The holiday season is sentimental to many, and we want to help make sure our neighbors are able to craft new, happy memories around this time. Purchasing one of our Hottest Chefs of the Triangle Calendars will help do just that! For every $1.00 the Food Bank receives, they’re able to serve 5 meals, which is the equivalent of $10.00 worth of food. That’s a lot of smiling faces sitting around a holiday meal!

Calendars are available for $19.99 plus tax at our calendar party next Monday, December 4th or through our online store here. All of the profits from the calendar will go directly to the Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC. Did you miss out on our 2017 edition? Don’t fret! Anyone who purchases a 2018 calendar on the night of our calendar party will receive a 2017 calendar, free! Hope to see you there!

TNC Foodtracks Vol. 2

The Big Apple. The Empire State. NYC has a plethora of nicknames and songs featuring its cultural extravagance from food to people to scenery. After a food-filled trip, my belly is full and ready to share my top bites from our stops.

1. Luzzo’s La Pizza Napoletana – le pizza diavola

Brick oven pizza is unmatched as you smell the welcoming smoke from the fire before biting into the crisp crust. The fat from the spicy salami melted blissfully over the pizza so every bite had a bit of salami goodness running through it.


Le Pizza Diavola

2. Harry & Ida’s – roasted tomato, fennel & peaches

Ugly delicious has never looked better. Stewed peaches, fennel, tomatoes and dill. Who would ever think to mash these items together? Thank you luncheonette heavens for making this hot veggie side dish take center stage.

3. Osamil – pork shank

It was hard to choose just one item, as we tried 7, but I may have chosen this simply because I was #DressedToKale. The luscious pork was balanced perfectly with the kimchi, apple slaw and, of course, kale. Hard not to keep from licking our plates after this banger.


Dressed to kale with a side of kale

4. Saigon Shack – saigon shack pho

This bowl easily slid into top 5 best bowls of pho I’ve had in my life. The broth was as every pho broth should be; clear, while having the depth of five spice flavor. I stopped at nothing in my quest to not waste any drops of soup.

5. Dim Sum VIP – carrot custard bun

Not only were these buns absolutely adorable, the filling was surprisingly unctious. If you’ve ever had apple butter, just imagine a carrot butter version and that’s exactly what was inside these little piggies.


Food smiles continue, no matter where we land

TNC Bites at PNC

As fall has settled in and the leaves are turning, I’m thankful not only for the cooler weather, but also for hockey season! I’m an equal opportunity hockey lover, but I have a soft spot for both the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes. As the 2017 NHL season has officially kicked off, it felt like Christmas as I was able to follow around Chris Diamond for the third year. He is the Vice President of VAB Catering, the company responsible for providing food for all PNC Arena events, including Carolina Hurricanes games. Chris has shown me all the new food options with each passing year, as well as the advancements they’ve made to enhance the attendee experience.

You may be shocked to know PNC Arena’s food provider, VAB Catering, makes nearly all of their menu items, from scratch, in house. You can learn more about the extensiveness of their operations in two of my previous pieces here and here. This year, I wanted to give a little more love to the health conscious options around the arena and what VAB Catering does to give back to the food community.

“Health conscious” might not be the first two words that pop into mind when you’re heading to a hockey game. All the same, I use those words together to describe food options that can fit any food allergy or any dietary choice. We all have different needs and VAB Catering doesn’t let you down whether it’s something vegan, gluten free or anything in between. The quick answer when you’re on the main concourse is to head to Market Place at section 126. Panini of the day, soup of the day and a hummus tray are just a few items that offer something out of the ordinary and meet several dietary needs.


When in doubt, Chris says to just ask! Not many people are aware that every concession stand in PNC Arena has an Ingredient and Allergen Guide. Just ask to see the guide so you can peruse and decide which items may be safe for you to eat and meet your needs. If this proves unhelpful, ask again! Chris says the good thing about being an in-house catering company is the ability to make meals from scratch. This means you can talk to the chefs directly so they can craft a meal that is custom made to meet your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask!


Ingredient and Allergen Guide

Sustainability is a hot topic and an entertainment arena isn’t immune to the trends of the world. The sheer volume of food that’s prepared for thousands of attendees at any Carolina Hurricanes game is astonishing. The Carolina Hurricanes are participants of the NHL, Rock and Wrap It Up! program. The NHL, Rock and Wrap It Up! initiative launched back in 2010 as a way to address the large amounts of food leftover after games, but still completely safe to eat. The Carolina Hurricanes are part of this action, but PNC Arena has been donating food to the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle program for well over ten years. In the last fiscal year alone, PNC Arena has donated over 7800 pounds of food to them; that’s equivalent to over 6500 meals!

Chris and his staff have already implemented several new menu items and processes since last season’s walk through. His hunger for progress is clear, as his next project includes constructing a new-to-arenas style of dining that will increase the number of choices in a condensed area to expedite service. I can’t wait to see what next season brings for us! As always, a huge thank you to Chris for the complimentary tickets and personal tour of PNC Arena.

FNCE in the Windy City

The Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) was a whirlwind this year. Not only because of the extensive wind and rain we had while in Chicago, but also from the onslaught of food and nutrition interaction! Many say FNCE is to a dietitian as the big game in February is to a football player. I couldn’t agree more. From the best booths at the expo to my thoughts on this year’s FNCE, keep on reading!

Ocean Spray – Um, could you miss this booth?! Although it was at the far back of the Expo Hall, I’m pretty sure everyone either waited in the massive line to jump in the cranberry bog, saw it on social media or just heard about it through word-of-mouth from other FNCE-goers.


Boggin’ with a swan

The United Soybean Board’s Soy Connection – I’ve been fortunate to go on a few farm tours and see first hand what happens to get the food from seed to what’s on our tables, but not everyone has had the opportunity or access to do so. I think using the Virtual Reality headsets to create the connection between farms and consumers was a smart way to share information using fun and trending technology.


VR tour of a soybean farm

I was thrilled to present at FNCE this year with Ellie Krieger and Sara Haas (in spirit). I’m grateful for these two strong ladies who helped make it happen and couldn’t have done it without them! Thank you to everyone who attended our presentation and cheered for our two sous chefs, Manju Karkare and Cara Harbstreet, too. If you haven’t already tried out the recipes, head to my Facebook page for the details!


Manju, Ellie, myself and Cara

I want to wrap up by touching on a few things I didn’t hear when I was an intern or even now as a dietitian.  Even though you’re surrounded with thousands of dietitians and food industry professionals at FNCE, it’s by no means the time to let your nutrition science guard down. How many products did you see at the Expo with questionable health claims and labels? Just because the item is featured at the Expo doesn’t mean the company isn’t using marketing tactics to influence consumers and dietitians to recommend the products. It’s our job as nutrition experts to ask questions so we can present facts to our clients so they’re able to make informed decisions.

FNCE is the one nutrition conference I would recommend any dietitian and intern to go to at least once every few years, if not every year. The food and nutrition industries are constantly evolving and changing as new research is done and FNCE is a great way to get all the latest info in one spot. FNCE is an investment. Yes, it is expensive if you look at it purely from a monetary perspective. However, you’re able to earn CEUs, learn about valuable new research, sample new food products and network with food and nutrition professionals from around the globe. Plus, there’s no better way to catch up with your fellow RD colleagues in a fun environment in a new city each year!

Howlin’ to Keep it Sweet

The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission and I have teamed up to bring a slew of healthy sweet potato recipes to your cooking arsenal. The first one I’ll be highlighting is my Sweet Potato Chili just in time for Halloween!

When we were younger, Halloween night meant not only dressing up as our favorite characters, but also the one night of the year our neighbor would make a big batch of chili and perform Poor Joe for us. This set the spooky mood before we ran off into the night trick-or-treating from door to door. Chili will always make me think of Halloween and I hope you’ll make this slow cooker friendly recipe for any little ghouls and boys in your life this year!

Sweet Potato Chili
Serves: 12

2 cans (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with chilies
1 can (14.5 ounces) kidney beans
1 can (14.5 ounces) black beans
1 can (14.5 ounces) garbanzo beans
1 pound lean ground beef (93% lean)
1 large sweet potato, diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dried red chili flakes, to taste
2 cups low sodium vegetable stock or water

1. Rinse all beans under cool water until water runs clear.
2. In a large slow cooker, add in all ingredients and stir well.
3. Set heat to low and cook chili for at least 4 hours.
4. Serve chili hot with optional toppings of plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheddar cheese, sliced green onions, sliced jalapeños or chopped white onions.



My Sweet Potato Chili recipe in partnership with the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission

Breeze into Rumtoberfest

I’ve been to Bahama Breeze before for their Rumtoberfest, so I was looking forward to joining in on the fun this year with a friend and her little one. I remember really enjoying their beef empanadas along with a few other dishes, but I wanted to mix things up and try something new. We opted to share the Rumtoberfest special (Rum & Coke Chicken and Ribs) as suggested by our server, PJ, and an all-time favorite (Grilled Salmon & Mixed Greens on a Tostada) of Bahama Breeze’s manager, Jesseka. Bahama Breeze provided our meal in exchange for this post. Don’t forget to check out the Rumtoberfest offerings (food and drink specials) they have on menu until November 5, 2017!

Grilled Salmon & Mixed Greens on a Tostada

Highlights: The salmon had the grilled, charred smell that is oh-so-delicious as well as being cooked well-done while still being juicy. There were just enough spices sprinkled on the salmon to lend to the crunchy char grilled salmon exhibits.

Lowlights: The tostada fell WAY short. Instead of being a crispy, cheesy carby vessel to pick up our greens and salmon, we bared our teeth to saw through the stale tortilla.


Grilled Salmon & Mixed Greens on a Tostada

Rum & Coke Chicken and Ribs

Highlights: The chicken was tender and slathered in a smoky, spicy and savory sauce that had me poking around the bowl for the last bits of it. The griddled mac and cheese had unexpected pops of mild chili that lent well to the contrasting soft interior of the mac with the textured exterior.

Lowlights: This is the only special entree being run during Rumtoberfest. The ribs were a bit dry and the jicama cole slaw wasn’t seasoned at all. We wished there was another side as flavorful and memorable as the griddled mac & cheese.


Rum & Coke Chicken and Ribs

Despite the food being just ho-hum, one thing I can’t emphasize enough is the quality of service and attention we received. From the time we walked in the door, we were greeted by the mega-watt smile of hostess Martika and manager Jesseka. Our server PJ was attentive and available, but didn’t hover, as all great servers do. Bahama Breeze was also great in getting us a high chair and kids coloring sheet/crayons without a fuss, so I would definitely recommend this as a family-friendly spot. Their overall menu has a wide variety of options to please any palate, too.

Last, but certainly not least, Little E enjoyed capping off his meal at Bahama Breeze for Rumtoberfest with a few mindful minutes reflecting over the waterfall.


Little E enjoying the waterfall