Archive for June, 2008

A simple, elegant, summery dessert

June 25, 2008

Summer entertaining is all about light, easy and relaxed. But the meals you serve your guests still need to have style. So today I’m revisiting a simple, stylish dessert that I posted sometime back, Rosemary Apricots. Think of it as a second helping.

Apricots are in season right now. With a little sugar, a little water, fresh rosemary and about ten minutes in the kitchen, you can turn them into a light, sophisticated French dessert. I adapted the recipe from Laura Calder’s French Food at Home. And while it’s a delightful finish to a summer dinner, I like it so much that I’ve been known to overpay for apricots out of season to serve it in winter.

You’ll find the original post and recipe right here.

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Heart health, safe tomatoes and a broth shortcut

June 18, 2008

Mice get all the breaks. Scientists have been testing the benefits of red wine on them. Again.

In this latest study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, results indicate that “the chemical resveratrol, commonly found in red wine, can help keep heart tissues young and delay aging—and at levels lower than previously expected.” In fact, researchers “believe that a glass of red wine a day might provide all the resveratrol the heart needs.”

Delaying the effects of aging on the heart is huge; the aging process itself apparently causes more health issues than age-related diseases. In tests on middle-aged mice [did that phrase make you smile too?], the hearts of the mice on resveratrol stayed stronger and the tissue maintained its health longer.

Resveratrol has been known for some time to offer significant health benefits, but previous studies involved levels of resveratrol found in hundreds of bottles of wine. If this latest study is correct, one or two glasses of red wine a day could actually prevent changes in heart cells that lead to aging.

Red wine-based pharmaceuticals are suddenly becoming big business, as heavy hitters like GlaxoSmithKline aim to cash in on these findings with resveratrol supplements. They’re already commercially available. Personally, it sounds like an answer for which there was no question, to quote a former boss. I mean, a nice glass of Cabernet versus a pill? No contest, as far as I can see.

Tomatoes and salmonella scare update

Last week I wrote about an outbreak of Salmonella serotype Saintpaul linked to consumption of certain kinds of raw tomatoes in the United States. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] has not yet pinpointed the source for the tainted tomatoes, but they have cleared the tomato crops in 39 states and the District of Columbia as well as Baja California [Mexico], Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Israel, Netherlands and Puerto Rico. To see if your state’s tomatoes are safe to eat and for the latest updates on the outbreak, visit the FDA’s website.

Better Than Bouillon: Good broth, good and fast

Yeah, broth or stock made from scratch is best. No argument here. But often, we don’t have time to make it. And just as often, it’s playing a supporting role in a dish and, quite frankly, the time and effort to produce a cup or less of homemade broth just isn’t worth the payoff, at least not in my kitchen.

The good news is that choices for store-bought stock have gone way beyond the soup can and the bouillon cube. Reduced fat and reduced sodium options abound. And at Trader Joe’s [as well as other places], you can even buy organic chicken stock made from free range chickens. One of our favorite “stock options” is the Superior Touch line of Better Than Bouillon bases. They now offer an amazing 18 varieties in all, but what first caught our attention is the mushroom base. We first discovered it at Fairway Market in New York. And we loved it so much, we pestered the Chicago chain Treasure Island to add it to the varieties they already carried.

What makes Better Than Bouillon bases, well, better is that the main ingredient in whatever variety you choose is the name on the label: Beef, chicken, mushroom, lobster… not salt. That said, they do pack plenty of sodium too, so it’s good to taste whatever you’re adding it to before adding more salt. But by way of contrast, bouillon cubes can deliver anywhere from 38 to a whopping 56 percent of your DVA for sodium in a single one-cup serving! Superior Touch does offer reduced sodium versions of their beef, chicken and vegetable bases too.

And you can’t beat them for convenience or value. A single teaspoon makes a cup of broth; an 8-ounce jar makes 38 cups of broth. And it keeps in the fridge for up to 18 months, ready to grab at a moment’s notice when you need a little liquid for a dish. The mushroom base remains our favorite, but we also keep chicken and vegetable on hand. If your local store doesn’t carry Better Than Bouillon, you can order it at Amazon.com or direct from Superior Touch.

You say “tomato”—I say “salmonella”

June 11, 2008

Salmonella is usually viewed as a problem in meat, particularly chicken. But last year, there was the lettuce salmonella and E. Coli scare, involving bagged lettuce. And this year, it’s tomatoes and salmonella.

Yep, just as it’s getting to be prime tomato season, they’re being yanked from supermarket shelves. Fast food chains from McDonald’s to Chipotle have also pulled them from their menus. About 150 people in nine states have been sickened by salmonella-tainted tomatoes, and at least one death has been linked to the outbreak.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Salmonella is characterized by diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps that occur within 12 to 72 hours of infection … While most people do not need treatment, the disease can be dangerous to infants, elderly people and those with impaired immune systems.”

Large tomatoes, including Roma and round red, are suspected of carrying the strain Salmonella sereotype Saintpaul. Red plum tomatoes also may be affected.

So what tomatoes are safe to eat? First and foremost, homegrown tomatoes. Smaller tomatoes, such as cherry and grape tomatoes are also safe. But if you crave big tomato taste, go for tomatoes sold on the vine. As I’ve written before, the vine continues to supply nutrients to the tomatoes in the store, making them more flavorful. I suspect that the vines themselves don’t protect the tomatoes from salmonella; I’m guessing it’s more the growing and processing conditions.

So enjoy your tomatoes this season, but just shop carefully. And as always, wash your produce before eating it.