Quentin Bacon from Urban Italian
By Frances Largeman-Roth, RD
By now you've probably had your fill of sugar cookies, rum balls, and other holiday sweets that have been lurking around your home and office. It's time to give your sweet tooth a break and sample some savory fare! Whether you're hosting a Hanukkah, Christmas, or New Year's Eve bash, or just want to be prepared in case unexpected guests drop by, you'll want to have foolproof appetizer ideas on hand.
The nibbles below all come from well-known chefs who also love to entertain at home. Don't be intimidated—I've tried all of them and they're a cinch to pull off. That doesn't mean you can't still brag to your friends about the complexity of the flavors and all your hard work in the kitchen.
Andrew Carmellini is a James Beard–award-winning chef, who has previously cooked at such well-regarded establishments as Café Boulud and A Voce. He's the author of a wonderful new book called Urban Italian. Here's his recipe for Sheep's Milk Ricotta and Country Bread, which Carmellini guarantees you won't be able to stop eating.
Sheep's Milk Ricotta
Using a stand mixer or a whisk, beat 2 cups Sardinian sheep's milk ricotta (if you can't find this, use regular cow's milk ricotta) with 1 cup milk until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add 1 teaspoon of table salt. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and sprinkle the top with 1 teaspoon each: fleur de sel (or sea salt), coarsely ground black pepper, fresh thyme leaves, and 1 tablespoon dried oregano. Drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Serve with Grilled Country Bread.
Grilled Country Bread
If you have a grill, preheat it to the highest setting, or put your oven on broil and set the rack on the highest level. Cut 1 loaf Italian bread (ciabatta or semolina) into 1-inch thick slices. Drizzle both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the bread (on the grill or under the broiler) until it's charcoal-colored on the edges. Turn it and do the same on the other side. Using tongs, pull the bread off the grill and rub it on both sides with a crushed garlic clove. Serve warm.
You may have seen spunky Chef Alex Guarnaschelli on Food Network's The Cooking Loft, or witnessed her judging talents on Iron Chef. But really what she excels at is amazing food. Here are two of her go-to dishes for last minute entertaining.
Melted Brie on Toasted Rye With Winter Pesto
Layer Brie in between pieces of toasted rye bread. Cook them like a grilled cheese in a skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil (you can also toast these sandwiches and cut into wedges). Serve with a dollop of pesto. You can use store bought, or try Alex's recipe: rosemary, spinach, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
Blue Cheese and Fig Pizza
Mix together thinly sliced dried figs, grated lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small bowl. Spread a prebaked pizza dough with low-fat sour cream. Top with crumbles of blue cheese and the lemon-fig mixture. Warm in a low oven for a few minutes so all the flavors meld together. Cut into wedges and serve.
When Chef Michael Schlow has drop-in holiday guests, he puts together an impromptu Make Your Own Crostini party. It's super easy, and can be done with just an oven or toaster oven.
Next page: Crostini Fest
Drizzle small rounds of bread with extra-virgin olive oil. Put the warm bread out on a platter and surround it with small bowls filled with any of the following toppings. Then just tell your guests to help themselves.
Honeyed Beets: In a bowl, sprinkle cooked, chopped beets with thyme, honey, olive oil, and salt and pepper, and mix. Sprinkle a little goat cheese on top and serve.
Olive Tapenade: You can either buy it, or simply combine pitted olives in a food processor with a little olive oil.
Broccoli Rabe: Sauté broccoli rabe with extra-virgin olive oil, a few slices of garlic, salt, and crushed red pepper. Chop coarsely, place in bowl (can be served at room temperature), and then sprinkle some shaved Parmigiano over the top.
Chickpea and Shrimp Salad: Take cooked chickpeas (canned are fine) and cooked, peeled shrimp and chop into fairly small pieces (just so they can stay on the bread). Mix with sliced red onion, lemon, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley, and place in bowl. Served chilled.
And finally, for the idea that is so easy, even kitchen idiots can't mess it up, I give you Cat Cora's Gorgonzola-Stuffed Figs. Yes, Cat is that amazingly fit chef beating all the guys on Iron Chef America. She totally rocks.
Preheat the oven to 375º. Slice figs (fresh or dried—whatever you can find) in half and fill the center with 1/2 tablespoon of Gorgonzola. Arrange on a baking sheet, cut side up, and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 teaspoons of salt, and pepper to taste. Bake in the oven until cheese begins to melt, about 2–3 minutes. Crumble a little more Gorgonzola on top before serving, if desired.Health World
Monthly Archives: December 2008
By Frances Largeman-Roth, RD
Each holiday season I start off with a sincere plan to make tasty care packages for family and friends. But my plans are often sidelined by other distractions—a baby on the way, my mom in town, and a book about to be published—and there doesn't appear to be a spare moment in sight.
The good news is that there's an abundance of really delicious, healthy treats that can be scooped up and sent off to loved ones with the click of a mouse. And in light of the belt-tightening times, all of these are under $100.
For earth-conscious chocolate lovers, the Bento Goodie Box ($79) from Viva Terra is a home run. Not only are all the decadent chocolates organic, but the bento boxes can be reused for holding jewelry or cuff links, or for post-holiday portion-sizing. The beautiful box contains cranberry-ginger bark, peanut-butter cups, roasted-almond bark, and festive foil-covered chocolate balls.
For healthy cooks, a high-quality olive oil is a welcome gift. Hand-harvesting of olives (as opposed to machine harvesting, which can be damaging to the fruit) makes all the difference in the quality of olive oil. That's why Round Pond's Italian Varietal ($26) is so fantastic. It has a wonderful, fresh, intense flavor and is fantastic in salad dressings, drizzled over grilled fish, or in dips and tapenades.
For those trying to be virtuous (we all know a few), you can't go wrong with organic fruit. A basket of seasonal fruit won't lead anyone down the gilded path to naughtiness, and it's nice to have on hand with guests popping by. Filled with USDA-certified organic pears, apples, oranges, grapefruit, and a bonus seasonal fruit, the Organic Fruit Banquet ($65) comes in a lovely reusable basket.
Next page: For the friend who got pink-slipped
For friends who just got pink slipped, help fuel their job-search with Dean & Deluca coffee. The coffee gift set ($48) includes a 1-pound bag of earthy Ethiopian, mellow Breakfast Blend, nicely balanced House Blend, and Espresso Blend for those all-nighters. And if you're the one who just got laid off, you may want to go with a single 1-pound bag ($15).
For friends who entertain over the holidays, a jar of June Taylor Quince Paste ($20) is a thoughtful gift. All of Taylor's preserves are outstanding (especially anything made with citrus), but the quince is perfect for throw-together tapas parties. Quince is a classic accompaniment for Spanish manchego cheese. And while most quince is made into a solid block (aka membrillo), this more spreadable version comes in a jar.
For everyone else, here's the perfect sweet treat that helps a wonderful cause. After her son Liam was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, my friend Gretchen started Cookies for Kids Cancer to help raise funds for pediatric cancer research. You can send the irresistible trans-fat free, all-natural cookies to friends in great flavors: Chewy Oatmeal Raisin, Chunky Chocolate Chip, or Liam's Lemon Sugar ($30 plus shipping). I know that's kind of steep for cookies, but you're not just sending a baked good—you're also contributing to a worthy cause. And the donation is tax-free.Health World
By Anne Harding
TUESDAY, Dec. 9, 2008 (Health.com) — Men who want to reduce their prostate cancer risk shouldn't bother popping antioxidant vitamins and supplements, according to two of the largest trials ever conducted on vitamins and cancer prevention. The studies published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association show that vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium won't ward off prostate cancer—or other types of the disease—in men.
In one study, 35,533 cancer-free men in their 50s or older took selenium and vitamin E alone or in combination. Several years later, they had the same risk of developing the disease as men who took a placebo. In a second study of 14,641 men—some of whom may have had early-stage prostate cancer—a combination of vitamin E and vitamin C didn’t prevent prostate cancer, or any other type of cancer.
“It looks like these particular antioxidants are not effective,” says Howard Soule, PhD, chief scientific officer of the Prostate Cancer Foundation in Santa Monica, Calif., who was not involved in either study.
According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 6 men will get prostate cancer in his lifetime, and 1 in 35 will die of the disease. The ACS estimates that 28,660 U.S. men will die of prostate cancer in 2008, accounting for roughly 10% of all cancer-related deaths in men.
Next: Why vitamins seemed promising for prostate cancer prevention
Vitamins seemed promising in the 1990s, after one study found that men who took selenium supplements had a 65% lower risk of prostate cancer, and another found that vitamin E cut risk by 35%. But those findings were from trials that had not been specifically designed to look at prostate cancer, or they looked at men in the population who just happened to be taking vitamins for other reasons.
So researchers launched the two new studies: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial, aka SELECT, led by Scott M. Lippman, MD, of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, and Eric A. Klein, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine; and the Physicians’ Health Study II Randomized Controlled Trial (of vitamins C and E), led by J. Michael Gaziano, MD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital and VA Boston Healthcare System.
The Physicians’ Health Study followed participants for 10 years, while SELECT—the largest clinical trial ever run of chemoprevention for cancer—was halted early when the researchers found no benefit for the supplements.
Durado Brooks, MD, director of prostate cancer for the American Cancer Society, called the findings “disappointing,” noting that for many years men have been taking the vitamins in the hopes that they would be preventive.
“There was a lot of hope in the community that vitamin E, selenium, something was going to pan out,” says Dr. Durado, who was not involved in either study. “Right now, we don’t have any agents that we can point to and say that these agents can clearly and unambiguously and safely decrease your risk of developing prostate cancer.”
Although some experts might argue that supplements could be effective in different doses or combinations than those used in the study, "it’s doubtful that the results would be any different," says SELECT study author Dr. Klein.
Next: Should you stop taking supplements?
Neither study showed harm from taking the supplements, notes Dr. Gaziano, who participated in both studies. But this doesn’t mean people should keep doing so, he warns.
“I think that the potential downside of taking something that’s not proven to be effective is that there are only so many things that we can get our patients to do,” Dr. Gaziano says. “If we think we’re getting the benefit from the pill, we may be less inclined to do the other things that may be more difficult but we know are going to be more beneficial.”
And what are those beneficial things? Dr. Klein notes that in the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial, the drug finasteride reduced a man’s chances of developing prostate cancer by 25%.
The drug tested in that trial is the same medication in the anti-baldness drug Propecia, but at a higher dose. Dr. Klein suggests that men concerned about their prostate cancer risk talk to their doctor about taking finasteride.
There is also some evidence—though no firm proof—that exercising, quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating less fat could help prevent prostate cancer or slow the progression of the disease. Following a Mediterranean-style diet, which includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy oils from fish and nuts, and moderate amounts of alcohol, may also be beneficial, Dr. Gaziano says.
Even pomegranate juice and broccoli may help, and they can’t hurt, advises Soule: “A lot of things that appear to have a scientific rationale for chemoprevention may also make you healthy."
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By Amanda MacMillan
MONDAY, Dec. 1, 2008 (Health.com) — Want to avoid a heart attack or stroke? In addition to well-known risk factors like diet and exercise, you may want to keep an eye on your vitamin D levels too.
Low levels of the "sunshine vitamin"—so nicknamed because we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight—may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a report published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
About 30% to 50% of American children and adults don’t get enough vitamin D, says coauthor James O'Keefe, MD, cardiologist and director of preventative cardiology at the Mid America Heart Institute, in Kansas City, Mo.
"Society has been slow to respond to the pleas of vitamin D experts for years," Dr. O'Keefe says. "People say, 'Well, I go outside,' but the truth is we just aren't outside enough—or when we are, we're using sunscreen or wearing protective clothing."
Small amounts of vitamin D can be consumed through food, such as fish, cod liver oil, and fortified milk and juice. But to achieve the daily 1,000 to 2,000 international units (IUs) that most people need, a dietary supplement is almost always necessary, according to the report. Oral doses of up to 2,000 IUs a day are considered safe and are available over the counter.
Next: Vitamin D deficiency linked to heart, stroke risk
People with vitamin D levels below 15 nanograms per milliliter (deficiency is defined as less than 20 ng/ml) are twice as likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event within the next five years as those with higher levels, according to the Framingham Heart Study, the large, ongoing study of heart risk factors.
Because the Framingham Heart Study is not a randomized controlled trial, it’s still not clear if vitamin D is the real reason for the link (the vitamin's levels could drop in unhealthy people for other reasons), or if taking a supplement would lower the risk. However, experts agree that a connection is likely. Vitamin D appears to regulate insulin production in the pancreas, and a deficiency could raise diabetes risk. Low levels of vitamin D can also raise blood pressure and increase inflammation in the arteries, "a recipe for disaster," says Dr. O'Keefe.
"These are the fundamental disturbances that predispose us to blood clots, strokes, and cardiac deaths," he says.
Susan Harris, DSc, an epidemiologist in the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts University, in Boston, agrees that there's little harm in assuming that vitamin D may help the heart. "It looks like vitamin D is important in very basic physiological functions like appropriate immune responses and inflammation, which plays a role in cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses," she says.
While placebo-controlled studies are still needed to define vitamin D's real relationship with heart disease, "it is such a safe and possibly preventive treatment, there's not really any reason to wait until that research is conducted," she adds.
Dr. O’Keefe and his colleagues at the University of Alabama, the Mayo Clinic, and the vitamin D laboratory at Boston University recommend that people with cardiovascular disease or related risk factors—such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, or a family history—have their vitamin D levels checked by a doctor.
Next: What to do if your vitamin D levels are low
To restore normal vitamin D levels, deficient at-risk patients should be supplemented with 50,000 IUs of prescription vitamin D2 or D3 (vitamin D comes in two forms) once a week for 8 to 12 weeks, according to the report's authors. They should then maintain these levels with either 50,000 units every two weeks, 1,000 to 2,000 IUs of vitamin D3 every day, or approximately 10 minutes of sunlight a day between the hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Harris agrees with most of these recommendations, although she warns that sun exposure in the northern United States during the months of November through April tends to be an inadequate source of vitamin D. The bottom line, says Dr. O'Keefe, is that adequate vitamin D levels are a necessity for overall health—and they probably improve heart functioning as well.
"Deficiency really wreaks havoc on long-term health," he says. "And so even though [the cardiovascular benefit] is still theoretical, we have a mandate to normalize levels in heart patients—and really in all patients—just for the good it will do the rest of their system."
Dr. O’Keefe is an unpaid consultant for CardioTabs and the group practice where he works uses the supplement company’s funds for marketing and patient education.
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