Blogger Spotlight: Gail Watson of A Stack of Dishes

Join Food Network's Healthy Eats in discovering the best healthy bloggers around the web. Today we're talking to Gail Watson of A Stack of Dishes.

You might know Gail Watson for her beautiful confectionary creations, but the former wedding cake designer is now using her food expertise to promote healthy eating. Her blog A Stack of Dishes features wholesome meals that are attainable to the everyday home cook. With a Master's degree in Nutrition/Exercise Physiology from Columbia University, she is currently developing the site A Healthy Hunger, a menu plan subscription service for people with diabetes or elevated blood sugar.

When did your love for cooking and baking begin?

My mother jokes that she used to put cooking magazines in my playpen when I was a baby, and I would tear them apart all day long. Perhaps that was the spark of a humble beginning? Or maybe the fact that she had Julia Child on the TV every afternoon (more likely).

I come from a long line of food-centric folks. Some families get together and discuss sports teams, or politics -- we talked about restaurants and recipes. I always liked to bake and cook from when I was a young girl. I made my first apple pie when I was 8 after nabbing some apples from my neighbor's tree. I think it comes from an internal desire to make and create things in general- and then to be able to share it with others -- well that's just magical.

Do you have a favorite on-the-healthy-side dessert you like to serve to guests?

My favorite "healthy" go-to dessert is panna cotta. I've done it many different ways and with an array of different sauces to go along side of it. Honey panna cotta with minted strawberry sauce, lemon-lavender with candied orange peels, or even an espresso with a fudge sauce, to give you a few ideas. I make them with skim milk, or sometimes yogurt. Panna cotta is always so elegant looking, and guests are always delighted to find out that it’s lighter than they think. I've even made large slim platter sized versions, with fresh fruits that spill over the top. It makes a dramatic presentation, and they are ridiculously easy to make.

What’s for dinner tonight?

Right now I’m working on some new recipes, so there are a lot of leftovers from that project. But it might interest you to know that about once a month I indulge myself with a jar of Salmon Roe Caviar. I'm the only one in our house that eats it, so it's all mine. I'll make myself "lady snacks" of it on toasted sourdough bread with a slathering of Greek yogurt rather than crème fraiche. It's my self-indulgent guilty pleasure.

After years of working as a wedding cake designer, why did you decide to study nutrition?

When I first entered college I was deciding between medical school or art school. My biology lab TA had to leave and so we had the head of the department run our lab instead. We broke our backs for her and gave us all C-. I needed at least a B to get into the pre-med program, so that sort of put the cabash on my medical dreams. After almost 25 years of making cakes (and loving it), I felt that I wanted to get back to that place of doing something helpful and positive for the world. I also loved and missed the science. I considered medical school again- but I don't always have as much faith in medicine as I do in food. Nutrition is an amazing science and more is being learned every day. It can be very empowering for people to regain their health through food. I love being a part of that.

Talk to us about your newest venture, A Healthy Hunger. What was the inspiration behind the service?

When I started the cake business in the 80's I couldn’t understand why wedding cakes didn’t look or taste so great. I sometimes feel the same way about "health food." I know of so many people who take the attitude that to eat healthily, they have to give up delicious and inspiring food. It can also be overwhelming to know exactly what to eat, especially when you have health concerns.

A Healthy Hunger takes the work out of figuring out what to eat and should also get you excited about what's for dinner. Wouldn't it be a nice feeling to know that the delicious meal you just made for yourself is also GOOD for you too? A Healthy Hunger also has a companion blog for sharing and inspiring, not just about eating, but lifestyle as well.  The site is a place where the subscriber can feel they have a reliable and quality source to get answers and support. The initials for A Healthy Hunger are AHH- something I didn't plan on, but that's pretty much what I am offering. Ahh… good and good for you.

What can subscribers expect from the menu plans?

There will be two different versions of menu plans to choose from: Clean Eating or Diabetic Friendly.  They both consist of 5 days of complete dinner menus, a shopping list, the recipes and full nutritional breakdowns. In addition there are instructions on some cooking techniques that you might need some brushing up on, insider tips on how to save time and money, a subscription to the blog newsletter with inspiration, tips on exercise, how-to's and community support.

The Clean Eating menu is designed for the person who doesn’t necessarily have a health concern, but wants to eat well and eat healthy meals. It is a great plan for anyone and everyone- especially families. The Diabetic Friendly menu consists of meals that are balanced to provide good glycemic control, have lower saturated fat and are nutritionally rich. For each meal I will also provide food exchanges for those who use that method to monitor their intake. Some of the most important things the subscriber can expect are less stress at the end of the day, and peace of mind knowing that you are nourishing yourself while eating deliciously.

 Do you have any favorite kitchen gadgets?

There are a few things that I am grateful for in my kitchen. One thing that I use all the time is my stovetop grill pan. It pretty much stays out all the time. If there were ONE thing that I would suggest to someone to go out and buy today, it would be a VERY good knife. Spend the money on a good knife and learn to take care of it. I see so many people struggle with dull, terrible knives, and struggling makes you not want to do it very often. A good quality knife feels good in your hand and can make prepping vegetables and meats a joy.

Are there any ingredients that you just can't stand?

That's an interesting question. I'm not really a fan of foods that are highly processed or "fake" foods. I'm not a purist, but the real thing is always so much more delicious. I'm pretty adventurous when it comes to food in general. My fiancée and I travel to Thailand often. There are a lot of strange and strong smelling things there, and given the chance, I pretty much will try it all.

Follow Gail on Facebook and Twitter for updates on A Healthy Hunger and more healthy eating inspiration.

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