Thursday, May 28, 2009

Please Hold the Avocado

I had a very unusual experience yesterday in a restaurant. Now, I am used to some very good waitstaff who suggest what is "excellent" on the menu, or maybe even who hint at what you might not want to order: they explain what things are, try to describe what they taste like, tell you which sauces best complement which foods, politely bring your food and quietly whisk away your empty plates. But yesterday, a waitress shockingly exclaimed that I was asking for them to remove "the best part" of the dish I ordered!

My entire life I have had people telling me what I should like and what I would like. Don't you have friends and family try to convince you that their favorite dish should be yours? They tell you the calamari you savor is "disgusting"; your favorite hot chili recipe is "undigestable"; that their beloved tuna noodle casserole is just the best and you don't know what you're missing!

I remember being told by my father, "You don't know what good is" as he happily gulped down a bowl of cold beet soup that made me gag just to look at. And this week, visiting my sister and brother-in-law in Israel, we are barraged with new fruits and salads and mixtures and sauces, all being pushed at us at every meal, our hosts telling us how delicious these strange foods are and how much we will love them--even if we are politely declining with a smile and a "maybe later--I'm very full right now".

I have been out to restaurants hundreds of times and sat next to customers ordering what I thought were odd requests: "burn the bun", "extra mayo on my hot dog", "bring me my stake so rare you can hear it moo". And the waitress just nods and writes it down.

So, I found it particularly surprising at the Japanese restaurant last night (yes, they have them in Israel!) when I asked the waitress to hold the avocado in my salmon sushi roll--I don't happen to like the texture mixed in with that of the fish, rice, and crunchy cucumber strips--and she virtually shrieked, "WHAT? But that is the best part! Are you sure you don't want it?" As if I had turned down a personal offer of her family favorite recipe, and it would make her feel better if I accepted. I would not. And she was okay with it after all.

What is your favorite (or least favorite) food that people are always telling you is wrong to like!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

FDA Strictly Enforces Label Laws

Last week, the FDA took issue with a health claim that is posted on boxes of Cheerios. The product claims it can "lower cholesterol levels", a feat that may be possible with the oat flour used to make the cereal. But the FDA says the way this claim is worded is in serious violation of the codes of the law.

According to certain sections of the code, the claims that Cheerios can treat and prevent heart disease by lowering cholesterol (specifically "by 4% in six weeks") means it is being marketed as a drug. And drugs on the market must be submitted for extensive studies before the FDA allows them on the market.

The agency reminds General Mills that they are allowed to promote the cereal by saying "diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber-containing fruit, vegetable, and grain products may reduce the risk of heart disease" and that Cheerios can be a part of the healthy diet that meets these recommendations. They go on to quote other claims made regarding cancer prevention that are not written as the laws specify they must be, and warn the company that failure to promptly correct the violations may result in enforcement action without further notice. (Enforcement action may include seizure of products and/or injunction against the manufacturers and distributors of violative products).

For anyone who questions what to believe on food labels, be assured that the FDA is on the ball! Claims are routinely monitored and companies are warned when a violation has occurred when products are under the FDA's auspices. Remember that only food and drugs are covered by the FDA laws, and herbal supplements have exempted themselves from the eyes of the regulatory agencies--so take heed when reading labels of supplements, vitamins, and herbs that claim to improve any health conditions.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Here is a Fantastic Article!

Check out this article from Smart Money magazine about finding the right person to help you figure out how to eat smarter.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chef Ramsay shows cooking at home beats going out!

I caught this show for the first time last week (on BBC) and thoroughly enjoyed it! The chef famous for yelling and swearing at novice chefs who flub up in the kitchen, takes a kinder turn in this series. He finds people who subsist on take out, fast food, and otherwise horrible contributions to a healthy diet (not to mention wallet) and shows them how they can cook their own wonderful meal that is good for them in less than 30 minutes.
I have my own version of a lesson in healthy, quick meals (The Virtual Dinner Coach) to show the average American Mom how to get good food on the table in a hurry for a small family. But his are much more detailed meals: Curry Chicken that includes a cinnamon stick and coconut milk as part of the ingredients; beef stew cooked on a portable camping stove for construction workers to make their lunch on site; and even a contest for the best meatloaf with the rock star Meatloaf!
It was nice to see another side of Ramsay, teaching English citizens to cook, showing them they can really do it even when they didn't believe they could, and enjoying the outcome--how proud the guys are when they taste their own delicious meal! Here's a clip with a man who orders take-out so often the restaurant knows his name and his usual order: Ramsay shows him how to make the same dish in less time than the restaurant can deliver it

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What to Eat With No Electricity

Recently some close family members were left without power in their home for several days. This prompted the question, "what will we be able to eat?" With power out all through the county most restaurants were not open either, and many of the gas stations were unable to provide fuel--so people were hesitant to waste gasoline driving around looking for fuel and food!
You can keep a few things in stock at home in case of a power outage that will allow you to eat enough nutrition to keep you healthy and satisfied for several days without having to cook. The number one item on the list is to be sure you have a hand-held can opener that does not need to be plugged in! Most of the items you will be living off of come in cans, and not all of them have handy pop tops.
Once the power goes out, your refrigerator and freezer are still going to be keeping food at a safe cold range (below 40 degrees F for refrigerated foods and below 0 degrees F for frozen foods) for several hours. It's after going more than a day that these foods may reach the "danger zone" above 40 degrees that allows bacteria to quickly multiply and cause food poisoning. At this point they will have to be thrown away for safety reasons. Up until then, feel free to eat leftovers and food that is cooked: this includes meats and chicken, dairy products like cheeses and milk, perishable fruits and vegetables, and juices.
After the refrigerated foods have raised to unsafe temperatures, you may still be able to consume some of the frozen foods, as long as they are already cooked. Raw meats will have to be thrown away once they thaw. But if you have cooked prepared foods or leftovers (the package will tell you whether it needs to be cooked or not) you can eat these cold (as long as they remain below 40 degrees all the way to the center). So the second important appliance on your list will be a good kitchen thermometer. This will let you know what is safe to eat.
If you happen to have an outdoor gas or charcoal grill, you'll be able to cook the foods you already have. Be sure they are cooked to proper safe temperatures (above 155 for most meats and fish; 165 degrees for poultry and pork).
After the raw food is cooked or tossed, you're going to be resorting to pantry staples that are canned or otherwise safely packaged.
Here are some nutritious items to meet your needs for protein: peanut butter, canned beans, canned chili, canned stews and soups, tuna or chicken (which now also comes in pouches), sardines, canned meats and fish. You do not have to heat these foods up when they are already cooked. Cold soup might not taste as great as when you heat it up, but it's a nourishing meal that will provide the energy you need to keep you going.
For many vitamins and minerals when fresh fruits and vegetables aren't available, canned ones work just as well: canned peaches, pears, pineapples, applesauce; green beans, asparagus, peas and corn will give you some vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber. Dried fruits are handy to have around as well, and will give you a more dense form of calories as well as fiber. Juice boxes will last without power. Any vegetables or fruits that are not consumed once the can is opened must be disposed of within a few hours if there is no refrigeration available.
Energy and B vitamins from carbohydrates can be obtained from canned white or sweet potatoes, breads, rolls, and crackers. Granola snack bars, and even pretzels and cookies are good snacks to keep around to give you a treat while you're living through life without power. They are good sources of carbohydrates and will give you the energy to help you get through another day.
If you have evaporated or condensed milk you can use these straight from the can in the case that your water supply is not safe to drink. Some stores carry ultra-pasteurized milk which is safe on the shelf for long periods of time, until the container is opened.
You can put together a surprisingly good meal with canned meat (chicken, or chili, or stew); canned potatoes or some bread or crackers; canned peaches and green beans on the side, and some cookies for dessert!
Print this out for future reference so you know what's safe to eat when the power goes out and you won't be able to look up safe temperatures for food on the computer :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Can I eat food that might be spoiled if it smells okay?

This week's entries are brought to you courtesy of my brother who, as of today, is still living without power after severe storms passed through Southern Illinois several days ago. He and his wife came up to stay with us in the St.Louis area (just about 90 miles away) so they could enjoy the luxuries of hot showers, lights, internet access, and food that wasn't spoiled!
They had to return to their home before power was restored in order to get grades turned in for the semester end at Southern Illinois University where he is a professor. So after a lovely visit and some shared meals, we set about figuring out what they could bring home that would be safe to eat: without refrigeration, without electricity to heat a microwave dinner, or a freezer in which to keep any frozen; and without potable water (although they did purchase a portable camp stove so they could boil water and also cook in a pinch).
For now here are some facts on food safety, and tomorrow I'll bring you some ideas for what you can eat when you have no electricity. My brother had a great idea--he recommends you print this out now, while you have power for your printer and your computer, and while you have internet access. If you need this information when the power is out, you won't be able to access it!!
When Is Food Safe to Eat?
1) Never rely on smelling food to see if it's safe! Food does not always smell bad when it is teeming with bacteria. Yes, if it does smell funny you should throw it out. But just because it smells okay and looks okay, that doesn't mean you won't get food poisoning: There are more reliable ways to tell if it is safe!
2) Check the Temperature: Food has to remain within certain temperature zones to minimize replication of bacteria that are present. The so called "danger zone" (where you don't want the food to be) is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit; this is where bacteria multiply more quickly.
Notice that room temperature is in this danger zone, and so is picnic weather, and so is leaving it in your car while you do some more shopping and catch a movie! Food should be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (which is the temperature in your refrigerator) or above 140 degrees (which happens when you cook it to the proper temperature and keep it warm until the guests arrive).
Your refrigerator should probably be at 36 to 38 degrees in order to be sure the food contained is all below 40 degrees. Keep a food thermometer on the top shelf or in the door to monitor this. After a power outage the foods in the fridge along with the insulation will keep it cool enough for several hours--maybe even overnight. So if the power outage is brief (say, six hours) you can check your trusty thermometer for assurance and as long as the temperature hasn't exceeded 40 degrees, you can keep all your food for safe consumption.

3) The Test of Time: Sometimes food will come into the danger zone and that's perfectly fine for a short period of time. For instance, while you are eating dinner, if you notice, as you reach for a second helping of meatloaf and mashed potatoes 15 minutes after it was set on the table, the food is not steaming hot. Testing the temperature with a food thermometer will show you that it has fallen below 140 degrees and is now in the "danger zone". But it does take time for the bacteria to multiply--you won't get food poisoning from food the instant it falls into this temperature range.

The safe guideline is to get food back to below 40 or above 140 degrees within two hours. So it's perfectly okay to have a leisurely dinner and put the leftovers back into the refrigerator 45 or even 90 minutes later.

This is why a brief power lapse will not affect the safety of refrigerated food. A four hour outage is no reason to dump all the contents of your refrigerator: It takes a while for the temperature to rise when everything inside is cooled. Certainly, though, after 24 hours or more the temperature is likely to have risen above 40 degrees inside the appliance, and the food will likely be creeping up into the danger zone. Having a thermometer in the refrigerator will be most helpful to determine at what point it's time to throw out the refrigerated foods.

Once power is restored to your neighborhood and your refrigerator is humming along, realize that it may take several hours (probably at least 12) for it to actually cool back down to below 40 degrees. Do not stock the refrigerator until the internal temperature is back in the safe zone. Use your thermometer to show you when you can safely purchase more milk, meat, spreads and sauces, and other perishables . . or you will have another load of spoiled food on your hands.
4) When in Doubt, Throw it Out! If you aren't sure about the safety of a food as a result of power outage, a questionable thermometer, or leftovers inadvertently left out for too long, just throw the food away. It's a shame to waste food, but it's even worse to make someone ill over eating something you aren't certain is safe. Food poisoning is uncomfortable at best, and can even be fatal in small children, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems.
So there you have it: after a power outage, mind the time that perishable food stays within the safe range below 40 degrees; take your time re-stocking the refrigerator when power is restored; and just toss anything that gets up to room temperature for more than a few hours. Be safe!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Healthy Peanut Butter Product Coming Soon!

Hearts&Minds® “No-Stir” Peanut Butter with Olive Oil and Omega-3 is about to hit your local market! They take one of America ’s favorite comfort foods and make it even better by giving it what consumers want: great taste and better nutrition. Using heart-healthy olive oil to replace 40% of the peanut oil and adding 100mg of EPA/DHA--omega-3’s important for heart and brain health--results in a delicious combination of premium ingredients, exclusively made for you, with your heart in mind.
This incredibly unique product is formulated with rich peanut taste and a superb creamy texture that minimizes oil separation. And more importantly this is the first and only peanut butter in the market that offers a nutritional profile that takes advantage of the latest in nutritional science.

The product will retail for $5.99 for an 11.3 oz jar. The product is also available online where shipping is free! Right now you can order using Special Code “AD0509” and receive a discount of $1 per jar for online purchases. The website address is

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mini Clif Bars

Now Clif energy bars come in a "mini" size which provides only 100 calories, so you can get the energy you need without overdoing it! The same yummy product as the larger one, it lets some of us who aren't running marathons enjoy a snack in the afternoon. The mini bars also provide essential nutrients: they deliver more than 10% of the daily value for Vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. Right now they're available in chocolate chip, chocolate brownie, and crunchy peanut butter flavors. While the regular sized bars often go for over $1.50 apiece, these are easy to find for under a dollar.