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Jul 29, 2009

Lawsuit claims that eating hot dogs causes colon cancer

Personally, I love 'em. Whenever I'm in New York City, one of the first things I do is search out a Nathan's hot dog stand. I smother my prize with sauerkraut and mustard, and then I savor it slowly. Well, maybe not all that slowly. At home I keep Hebrew National low-fat dogs in the freezer. I don't eat one often---maybe once a month, for lunch, tucked not between a white foam bun but between a slice of 100% whole wheat bread.

The thing is, I've been aware for a long time of the dangers involved with processed meats treated with preservatives like nitrate and nitrite, so I've mostly stayed away from products that use them. A long-term low-fat diet means that this hasn't been much of a struggle (it's been years, for example, since I kept bacon around). But I do like the occasional dog, I must admit...

Now it's suggested that even one hot dog a month might be one hot dog too many.

Three New Jersey residents are suing the country's major hot dog makers---Nathan’s Famous, Kraft Foods (Oscar Mayer), Sara Lee (Ball Park), Con Agra Foods (Hebrew National), and Marathon Enterprises (Sabrett)---for failing to warn consumers that hot dogs increase the danger of colorectal cancer. The action comes in the wake of landmark scientific studies linking hot dogs and similar meats to colon cancer.
The class-action consumer fraud lawsuit, which was filed July 22 in Superior Court in Essex County, seeks to compel all five companies to place cancer-risk warning labels on hot dog packages sold in New Jersey. The labels would read "Warning: Consuming hot dogs and other processed meats increases the risk of cancer."
The nonprofit Cancer Project is filing the suit on behalf of John O’Donnell, Ruthann Hilland, and Michele DeScisciolo, who purchased hot dogs made by the companies without being made aware that processed meat products are a cause of colorectal cancer.
"Just as tobacco causes lung cancer, processed meats are linked to colon cancer," says Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the Cancer Project. "Companies that sell hot dogs are well aware of the danger, and their customers deserve the same information."
The lawsuit stems from the findings of a landmark report from the American Institute for Cancer Research, based on 58 separate scientific studies, showing that just one 50-gram serving of processed meat (about the amount in one hot dog) consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent. Every year, about 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer; approximately 50,000 die of it.
In March, the National Cancer Institute published a study of more than half a million people showing that red and processed meat intake is associated with a higher risk of dying from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Jul 28, 2009

7 Ways to Save Local Farms & Food

7 ways to save local farms and food
Did you know that we're losing about 1.2 million acres of fertile growing land each year as our cities expand outward?

The folks at the American Farmland Trust are working to save what remains of our nation's farmland, by protecting farms and ranches while improving agriculture's economic viability. You can help AFT achieve it's goals by accomplishing one or more of these seven activities:
  1. Make Your Voice Heard: Get AFT's free No Farms No Food Bumper Sticker. Contact your legislators and decision makers through American Farmland Trust's Action Network. Let them know that you care about food and farm policy as well as farmland planning initiatives!
  2. Vote for America's Favorite Farmers Markets: Show support for your local farms and farmers markets this summer by voting for America's Favorite Farmers Markets!
  3. Go Shopping with a Message: Donate today to American Farmland Trust and support our work to protect farms and ranches and expand local foods. You'll receive a No Farms No Food totebag to help spread the word when you're shopping at your favorite local food markets.
  4. Share the Bounty: Prepare meals for family and friends with delicious, local food and enjoy the freshest foods the season has to offer. Find great recipes from local food champions in AFT's bi-monthly newsletter—Farm Fresh News.
  5. Know Your Farming Neighbors: Learn more about the specific challenges facing farms in your region and find out what you can do to help. Use AFT's Farmland Information Center's website or contact them directly (800)370-4879 to find all the resources you need to help farmers stay on the land.
  6. Tell Officials in Your Town that Local Food Relies on Local Farmland: Be an active citizen and weigh in on farming issues in your area! Affect decisions made by your local zoning board or planning commission. Use our Farmland Protection Toolbox (pdf) to get started.
  7. Educate Your Community: Write an editorial for your local paper about the importance of farmland to your community. Show your support for farmland issues and advocate for sound farm and food policy by supporting farmland protection or advocating for changes in farm policy. If you prefer, use AFT's sample text.

Canola Oil has a lot going for it

A field of bright-yellow canola flowers

One of my favorite culinary websites is sponsored by the Culinary Instute of America. It’s loaded with recipes, videos, food facts, info about culinary trends, and a lot more. CIA also tackles many subjects in-depth.

I recently delved into the site’s massive info-bank related to Canola Oil. I know, I know—it sounds dull as dishwater, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not.

Here are some tidbits about oils in general and canola oil in particular, followed by a CIA recipe that uses canola oil: Parsnip Vichyssoise With Apple Horseradish Oil & Roasted Shitake Chips:
  • Everyone needs a little fat in their diet. Fats and oils, such as canola, play an essential role in human nutrition. Fat is part of every cell in the body and is a valuable source of energy. It aids in the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well as beta-carotene and slows digestion so that you feel full for a longer period.
  • Not all fats are created equally. Canola oil contains the lowest level of saturated fat of any common culinary oil. It is high in monounsaturated fat (shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels), and has moderate levels of essential polyunsaturated fats. Canola oil is a good source of plant-based omega-3 fat and vitamin E. Like all vegetable oils, canola oil is cholesterol-free.
  • Canola oil is made from canola seed. Canola oil is pressed from tiny canola seeds produced by beautiful yellow flowering plants of the botanical Brassica family, whose members include cabbages and cauliflower.
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Parsnip Vichyssoise
With Apple Horseradish Oil & Roasted Shitake Chips

Serves 6 as a First Course
Thanks to Chef Almir and the CIA for this recipe

INGREDIENTS:

For the Roasted Shitake Chips:

¼ cup Shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 Tb. Canola oil

For the Parsnip Vichyssoise:

½ cup Onion, chopped
½ cup Celery, chopped
1.5 pounds Parsnips, peeled, sliced ¼ inch thick
2 Tb. Garlic, minced
6 Leeks, whites only, chopped
1 cup White wine
½ pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut 1 inch
2 quarts Chicken stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
1+ cup Heavy cream
Lemon juice as needed

For the Apple Horseradish Oil:

½ cup Braeburn apple, finely julienned
1 tsp. Horseradish, freshly grated
½ cup Canola oil
Salt to taste
1 Tb. Chives, thinly sliced

METHOD:
  • For the Roasted Shiitake Chips: Toss the shiitake mushrooms with 1 Tbsp. of canola oil. Place in a single layer on a Silpat mat. Cover with a piece of parchment paper and another sheet pan. Bake in a 250°F oven until golden brown and crisp, approximately 30 to 45 minutes. Set aside for garnish.
  • For the Parsnip Vichyssoise: In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat 3 tablespoons of canola oil. Add the onions, celery, parsnips and garlic and sweat the vegetables on a low flame, covered, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the leeks and cook another 5 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook until dry. Add the potatoes and cover with chicken stock or water. Salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes. When the vegetables are tender, blend until smooth using an immersion blender. Stir in the heavy cream and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
  • For the Apple Horseradish Oil: Combine the apple, horseradish, and canola oil. Season with salt.
  • To serve: Top each hot bowl of soup with a little bit of the apple mixture, lean a shiitake chip on top, and sprinkle with chives.

MORE INFO:

Watch Chef Almir prepare this recipe.
Watch "Matters of the Heart," a video that shows how using canola can be heart-healthy.
Find more recipes using canola oil

Jul 22, 2009

A David vs. Goliath turnabout in California wineries

For the second year in a row, a winery from the Temecula Valley---which is midway between, and inland from, Los Angeles and San Diego---was judged the best in the state at the California State Fair.

You got it: that's California, as in the state that's home to the world-famous wine districts of Napa and Sonoma Valleys.

Temecula Valley's South Coast Winery Resort & Spa, which opened its doors just six years ago, again won the fair's Golden Bear Winery trophy, which goes to the winery that wins the most medals and awards at the prestigious wine competition. South Coast beat out more than 600 other wineries to capture the trophy, which in the past has gone to such well-known wineries as Kendall-Jackson and Geyser Peak (both in Sonoma County).

"With this back-to-back win, South Coast Winery continues to demonstrate to the world that Southern California's Temecula Valley is a quality, award-winning wine region," states Jim Carter, South Coast's owner and vintner. "While I am personally pleased with our performance, this win is not just for South Coast Winery. We are proud to share this prestigious accomplishment and the attention with the entire region."

Other Temecula Valley wineries that won gold medals and best of class awards at the California State Fair included Wiens Family Cellars, Maurice Car'rie Vineyard and Winery and Falkner Winery. Altogether, Temecula Valley wineries brought home 7 golds, 29 silver and 15 bronze medals from the state fair. No surprise, then, that the Valley's wineries are a significant contributor to the region's $600 million tourism economy.

To learn more about visiting Temecula Valley and touring its wineries, visit the Temecula Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau website.

Jul 18, 2009

Sharpen up your knife skills

Here's a guest blog---a review of Peter Hertzmann's book, Knife Skills Illustrated---compliments of the best "amateur" chef I've ever known, Dennis Allison:

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I met Peter Hertzmann, author of Knife Skills Illustrated, at a San Francisco Exploratorium event a few months ago (we're both long-time supporters of this world class, hands-on science museum).

We were chatting, drinking wine, and enjoying the excellent catered hors d'oeuvres while waiting for the art and music focused program to begin. Conversation turned to food, and Peter had a lot to say as he is a cook and a foodie. He said that he was working on a new book about salt and that he'd published a book on knife skills. We talked about salt: which was best and which was not. He pointed out that Kosher salt is a US-only thing, which surprised me. We both waxed eloquent about French sea salt, which exhibits that je ne sais qua which makes it a flavoring agent rather than just, well, salt. He talked a bit about his writing and the classes he teaches for Sur Le Table. Then the program started and we took out seats. I made a mental note to get his book which was bound to be interesting.

I finally got around to ordering Knife Skills Illustrated last week; it arrived today and I read it immediately from cover to cover. What a delightful and informative book. There is material about the naming, care, and selection of knives, but it's really a book about how to use knives in the kitchen, nicely illustrated by Alan Witschonke. There are basically two sections: vegetables and meats.

In the vegetable section he covers individual vegetables, explaining step-by-step how to use your knife to produce professional results quickly. When it makes a difference in technique, he shows techniques for right-handed folks and for lefties. He's thorough, too; for example, the section on cutting onions runs nine page; shallots, four pages; and garlic, seven. I've had a bunch of experience in the kitchen, but his careful deconstruction of the process taught me new techniques.

In the meat, fish, and poultry section, he shows how to cut poultry into pieces, debone a chicken breast, prepare fish, butterfly a large piece of meat, prepare rack of lamb for roasting, and so forth, ending with instructons for carving whole poultry. I will take the latter to heart the next time I have to contend with a roast turkey.

Anyone with ambition in the kitchen will find this book helpful. It's not a deep book about the philosophy of food or the calculus of taste. You are likely to read and refer to it over and over again. You will learn many new techniques to incorporate into your own particular style in the kitchen.

If you want to step away from the practicum and read about food, visit Peter Hertzman's á la carte website. I'd recommend his essay assaionner and Les Secrets de la Cuisine, among others.

Find Knife Skills Illustrated on Amazon.

Knife Skills Illustrated by Peter Hertzmann
W. W. Norton (2007)
256 pages

Jul 8, 2009

Summer means beer!

Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

From the National Beer Wholesalers Association in Alexandria, Virginia comes this press release with two fun recipes just perfect for summer:

To give your cooking an international twist or ethnic flair, look to a surprise ingredient to enhance worldly flavors: Beer. With so many varieties and styles of beer available today, it’s easy to find one to complement any type of cuisine. The sweet-and-sour of Asian dishes; the exotic spicing of Middle Eastern cooking; or the sharp garlic, onions and herbs popular in Mediterranean cuisine can all be deepened by adding a splash of beer to the mix.

Here are two new dishes (recipes follow, below) that use beer to enhance popular and familiar international flavors. Both are perfect as a light, summer entrée.
  • Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Lime-Flavored Lager Dressing beats the summer heat by combining the coolness of Boston lettuce leaves with the tang of lime-and-spicy chopped chicken.
  • Pale Ale Beer Greek Chicken offers the popular flavors of the Mediterranean.
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Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Lager-Lime Dressing
Serves 4

2 bottles (12 oz) Lime-flavored Lager Beer
2 large shallots, peeled and sliced thickly
2 pounds chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
2/3 cup shredded carrots
½ cup packed fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
¼ cup chopped scallions
1/3 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
3 TBLS fresh lime juice
1 ½ TBLS low-sodium soy sauce
2 heads Boston lettuce, washed and separated into leaves
  1. In a large sauce pan or Dutch oven, bring beer to a boil over high heat (it will foam up). As foam subsides, add shallots and then chicken thigh meat; return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover pot and simmer about one hour, or until chicken is tender.
  2. Remove chicken, place on a cutting board and let cool at room temperature for 20 minutes. Reserve 1/3 cup of the poaching liquid.
  3. When chicken is cool enough to handle, chop into bite-sized shreds. Place in a large bowl and toss with reserved poaching liquid. Add carrots, mint cucumber and scallions; toss to combine. Whisk together Thai sweet chili sauce, lime juice and soy sauce; pour over chicken mixture and toss well.
  4. To serve, place a large spoonful of meat on an open lettuce leaf. Fold lettuce over and eat as a wrap.
Nutrition Information, Per Serving:
400 calories; 17 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 12 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 5 g sugars; 43 g protein


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Pale Ale Beer Greek Chicken
Serves 4

1 TBLS Greek seasoning
4 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless
1 TBLS olive oil
1 bottle (12 oz) Pale Ale Beer
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with garlic and onion, drained
1/3 cup pitted green olives
1 TBLS fresh chopped oregano leaves
½ cup crumbled feta cheese

  1. Rub Greek seasoning on both sides of chicken breasts. In large skillet over medium-high heat, warm oil. Add chicken and sear until lightly browned, about five minutes. Remove chicken to a plate.
  2. Pour the Pale Ale Beer into the skillet and raise heat to high. Bring to a boil (it will foam up); boil until beer is reduced to 1/3 cup, about seven minutes. Stir in diced tomatoes, olives and oregano and bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. Return chicken breasts to the skillet. Lower heat to medium and continue to simmer the chicken, uncovered for five minutes, spooning tomato mixture over the chicken breasts several times. Scatter feta over the chicken and in the sauce, cover and cook two minutes longer or until feta has softened and partially melted and the sauce has thickened.
  4. Transfer the chicken to a platter to serve. Garnish with fresh oregano sprigs.
Nutrition Information, Per Serving:
340 calories; 13 g fat; 4.5 g saturated fat; 10 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 4 g sugars; 38 g protein

Jul 3, 2009

Fever Tree introduces Ginger Beer to its lineup

Fever Tree Mixers
I became a fan of London-based Fever Tree mixers a year or so ago when they first entered the US market. These dandy mixers---devoid of artificial sweeteners, chlorinated water, synthetic coloring, and fake flavors---seemed to transform even the simplest cocktail.

Fever-Tree appears to have filled a giant gap in the cocktail and mixer world. Despite being more expensive than traditional mixers, last year---in this economy, yet---the company grew an amazing 300%. They’ve expanded worldwide, with mixers now available in 20 countries.

Fever Tree’s original offerings consisted of four mixers, each made of pure spring water with a high carbonation level, and each offering its own special blend of ingredients gathered around the world:
  • Indian Tonic Water is made with hand cold-pressed orange oil, coriander oil, lime oil, African marigold, Tanzanian bitter orange oil, cane sugar, and high-quality quinine from the fever-tree, long considered the finest source of natural quinine. Clean, fruity, with a hint of sweetness.
  • Ginger Ale includes natural green ginger from Ecuador, India, and Nigeria, and botanical flavors. Lightly sweet, fresh, crisp, tangy, direct, and clean.
  • Spring Club Soda is made with fine, soft spring water from Scotland. Dry, crisp, clean.
  • Bitter Lemon gets its flavor from Sicilian lemon juice blended with hand cold-pressed orange oils, botanical flavors, cane sugar, spring water, and fever-tree quinine. Slightly cloudy, due to the use of real lemon juice; zesty, with a subtle quinine bite.
Now a Ginger Beer has been added to the lineup. Originating in 18th century England, this beverage was wildly popular into the 20th century. It’s continued to be brewed, but not in the authentic way (requiring fermentation)---until Fever-Tree took on the task. Fever-Tree Ginger Beer is brewed traditionally. A proprietary blend of three gingers is utilized (always including fresh green ginger from the Ivory Coast, and a hot, fresh Nigerian ginger). The ginger root is steeped in hot water for 48 hours; the ginger juice is drawn off and combined with spring water and pure cane sugar.

Fever Tree Ginger BeerI'm not sure I'd even had Ginger Beer when I sampled the Fever Tree version. All I can say is, it's simply delicious. I like drinking it by itself, but it’s a wonderful mixer as well. Here’s a recipe using Ginger Beer from the company’s website for the Dark & Stormy cocktail, which happens to be the national drink of Bermuda.

Dark and Stormy Cocktail
Serves 1

  1. Fill a highball glass with ice
  2. Pour in 50ml of dark rum and 1 ½ tbsps of lime juice
  3. Top up with Fever-Tree Ginger Beer
  4. Serve garnished with a wedge of lime
You can find Fever-Tree mixers at BevMo!, Whole Foods, The Food Emporium, Wegman’s, Spec’s, and at selected retailers around the US.

Jul 1, 2009

September in the Loire Valley: A Superb Tomato Festival

Tomatoes grown at Château La BourdaisièreTomato lovers, take note: the 11th annual Fêtes des Tomates (Tomato Festival) will be held September 12-13, 2009 on the grounds of the lovely 16th century Château La Bourdaisière, in Mountlouis-sur-Loire. Owned by Prince Louis Albert de Broglie (a.k.a. "The Garden Prince"), the château's unique tomato conservatory features over 630 varieties of heirloom tomatoes in every imaginable size, shape, and color. De Broglie—a passionate gardener—has been collecting tomato seeds since 1995, searching out unique varietals in markets around the world to plant in his garden. The festival's theme this year is 'La tomate pour la santé!' ('Tomato for the health') and features tomato tastings, biodynamic gardening classes, and guided tours of the gardens and conservatories (one for tomatoes and one for medicinal plants).

Château La BourdaisièreThis year's festival will also feature a special "Dahliacolor" exhibit, debuting a brand new garden with over 100 varieties of dahlias. Festival-goers can purchase a variety of tomato-based items: books for the gardener and the chef, chutneys, soaps, and even a special line of tomato-based cosmetics from Ella Baché and Clarins. This year's festival will launch a new series of cooking classes taught by Chef Randall Price, former resident chef at La Varenne École de Cuisine. Chef Price will create garden-inspired seasonal menus and instruct students in lively hands-on classes in the château's kitchen. Afterwards, students will enjoy the fruits of their labors at a sit-down lunch (or dinner).