Monthly Archives: November 2010

Party Pleaser: Roasted Pears with Herbed Goat Cheese

It’s time to continue the holiday recipe mania with a little something to wow your friends at the next Christmas party.  Pears are perfect for this time of year, and this dish makes a great appetizer, side dish or dessert.

Here are the ingredients you’ll need: (Serves 24, so adjust accordingly!)

1/2 pound goat cheese
1/4 cup fresh mixed herbs, chopped (I used parsley, thyme, and chives)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt and pepper
12 small pears
2 tablespoons honey

Preparation Instructions:

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix the goat cheese, herbs, and 2 tablespoons olive oil; season with salt and pepper to taste.

Halve the pears, scoop out the seeds and cores, and place them on a baking sheet. Stuff each pear half with about a tablespoon of the cheese/herb mixture.

Drizzle some olive oil over the pears and season them with salt and pepper. Bake until the pears are tender, or about 30 minutes.  Place the pears onto a pretty platter, drizzle with the honey, serve and enjoy!

For the most antioxidants, allow pears to fully ripen at room temperature before slicing.

If you want to make your roasted pears just a bit more over the top, wrap each one with a strip of bacon or prosciutto. 

Why go with a hum-drum cheese and cracker platter when you can make an appetizer with a little more pizzazz?

I hope you give this dish a try this holiday season.  It’s unique, super easy and sure to dazzle your party guests!

Are you cooking the life out of your veggies?

Hello everyone!  I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with lots of good food and time with family and friends.  Now that it’s officially Christmas season, it will be full steam ahead until the New Year.  Between all the shopping, parties and other holiday festivities, temptation to eat junky foods soars to an all-time high, and motivation to exercise and prepare nutritious meals tends to hit rock bottom.

The Monday after Thanksgiving can be rough.  Some of you reading this post may have noticed your pants are fitting just a bit snugger than they were last week at this time.  You may have even resolved to give in to the holiday gorging for the next few weeks and just assess the damage at the New Year.  I want to encourage you to think again!  Even if you totally overdid it at Thanksgiving, the past is in the past, and now it’s time to move forward and make it a great December.  Why wait until January 1 to start over when you can finish 2010 with a bang?

Ok, the pep talk is over!  If you’ve been keeping up with my posts, you know I’m a big fan of resolutions.  I make them on the weekends, at my birthday, and any other time I need to remind myself to stay on track!  As I kick off this first days of December and try to undo a little of the Thanksgiving damage, my resolution this week is to eat tons of veggies!  It will balance out the pecan pie I ate, right?  I figure the more veggies I eat, the less room I’ll have for the bad stuff.  That’s why I sent my hubby to the farmer’s market with a list of items to make my Asian Stir-Fry and a big pot of vegetable soup this week.

So all this talk of veggies leads me to today’s topic on the healthiest ways to prepare your vegetables.  Many people have the best intentions to get their vitamins, minerals and antioxidants through the foods they eat, but they are cooking all the nutrients out of them before they ever reach their plates!  Restaurants, cafeterias and processing companies are often guilty of using microwaves and other cooking methods that completely deplete the value of their ingredients.  Sometimes tweaking your cooking routine just a bit can make a huge difference.

Did you know that garlic's health benefits and anti-cancer properties are best preserved if the minced cloves are allowed to sit out for about 10 minutes prior to cooking?

As a general rule, the longer a vegetable is exposed to heat, the greater the nutrient loss.  Even five minutes can make a big difference in the nutritional quality of your meal.  The intensity of the heat can also have a big effect on veggies.  That’s why steaming often preserves more nutrients than boiling and grilled or broiled veggies should be kept as far from the flame as possible.

Every vegetable is different when it comes to the healthiest way of preparing them, so I recommend doing your homework.   The World’s Healthiest Foods Web site is a great resource for looking up individual veggies and preparation and cooking guidelines.

Here are a few tips for cooking some of my favorite veggies: broccoli, asparagus and spinach.  All are full of beneficial nutrients, and all require a different cooking method in order to best maintain their value.

Broccoli – Steaming this vegetable for about five minutes is the best way to prepare it.  It provides just enough moisture to make it tender, bring out its peak flavor, retain its bright green color and maintain its nutrition.  I think the main reason many people don’t enjoy this veggie is because they over cook it and it’s either mushy or all dried up.  When you steam it, you can enjoy it al denté, tender on the outside and a bit crispy on the inside.  I don’t recommend  boiling, baking, broiling, grilling or roasting this veggie.  Of course, raw broccoli always makes a great addition to a salad or veggie platter.

Steaming broccoli makes it easier to digest and its health-promoting nutrients more easily absorbed.

Asparagus – Sautéing asparagus in a little chicken broth for about five minutes is your best bet for preserving its nutritional value.  I don’t recommend using oil to sauté, as high temperatures damage many oils and create harmful free radicals.  As with broccoli, serving asparagus al denté aids in optimal digestion and nutrient absorption.  Steaming asparagus increases its water absorption, causing it to become soggy and lose much of its flavor and nutrition.  If you like your asparagus roasted or grilled like me, I recommend sprinkling a bit of lemon juice and spices on it before cooking, and wait until serving to drizzle with oil.

Overcooking asparagus will cause it to lose as much as 50% of its nutrients. You lose only 5-10% of its vitamins and minerals when you sauté it.

Spinach – Since spinach is such a delicate vegetable, boiling it for just one minute is the best way to reduce its acids, maintain its flavor and bright color, and prevent the loss of nutrients.  Make sure to discard the cooking water as it contains unwanted acids leached from the spinach.  I don’t recommend steaming or sautéing spinach because it will retain its acids and taste slightly bitter.  Of course, this vegetable is great in the raw form, so feel free to throw it in salads or protein shakes.

Spinach will remain fresh in the refrigerator up to five days. Wait to wash it until you're about to cook it as the moisture will encourage it to spoil.

When it comes to bringing out the nutrition in foods, how you prepare and cook them can make all the difference in the world.  That’s why it’s so important that we study up not only the best cooking methods, but also on things like the best oils and cookware to use.

I challenge you to do some research on the foods you’re buying and serving to your family week after week.  If you have a favorite vegetable that you’d like me to research for you, just leave a comment on this post, and I’ll get back to you with tips for preparing it in the healthiest way possible.

I wish you all a very merry Christmas season, and I’ll have lots of fun recipes coming your way in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, eat your vegetables!

Say Bye to Dye: The Dangerous Effects of Chemical Food Coloring

Americans are now consuming a whopping five times as much food dye as we did in the 1950s.  This isn’t a huge surprise, when you consider all the unnaturally colored foods out there.  Hint: Ice cream shouldn’t be blue, people!  Colorants from natural sources such as turmeric are available, but many companies opt for synthetic dyes to keep their costs low and because the fake stuff makes the food look brighter.

They may make foods look bright and cheery, but food dyes have some very dangerous side effects, especially for children.  They appear in ingredient lists as a name of a color with a number following it, such as Green 3, Citrus Red 2 and Blue 1.   The three most widely used dyes are Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40, and they contain chemicals such as benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl that have been linked to cancer.

Sports drink companies are some of the major food dye culprits. Not to mention these drinks are full of refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup!

The eight most commonly used synthetic dyes in the U.S. have been tested on animals.  Check out a few of the findings:

  • Red 3 was acknowledged by the FDA to be a carcinogen in 1985 and was banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs.  However Red 3 is still used in ingested drugs and foods.
  • Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, which account for 90% of dyes in the U.S., are contaminated with low levels of chemical carcinogens, as byproducts of the manufacturing process.  Although the FDA places limits on the concentrations of these contaminants in the final dye products, they still may pose risks.
  • Citrus Red 2 resulted in bladder tumors.
  • Red 3 resulted in thyroid tumors and caused DNA damage.

Research studies also link dyes to allergies, hyperactivity, aggressive tendencies and irritability in children.  A British study conducted in 2007 revealed that kids who ate a combination of common synthetic dyes exhibited hyperactive behavior within one hour!  In fact, these results are what prompted the country’s Food Standards Agency to encourage manufacturers to find natural alternatives to synthetic dyes.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to purge your kitchen of food dyes is that they are usually used in foods with a host of other harmful ingredients, such as poor-quality fats, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar and other harmful additives.

A total of 15 million pounds of dyes are added to the U.S. food supply each year.

Unfortunately, even foods that are labeled as USDA Certified Organic can contain synthetic dyes, so you still have to read those labels carefully.  Steer clear of products with labels that say “artificial color” or “color added,” and instead look for foods with natural colorants such as beets, annatto, carotenes and capsanthin (paprika extract).

Here are a couple more helpful articles on this topic:

Food Additives Found to Cause Hyperactivity in Children

How Food Companies Fool Consumers with Food Coloring Ingredients Made from Petrochemicals

Let’s cut these harmful dyes out of our diets once and for all.  We and our kids deserve better!