Monday, August 31, 2009

Discounts offered by casual restaurant chains, should they continue, will impact their long-term prospects

Consumers brave enough to pull out their wallets in this economy have grown accustomed to fire sales on every kind of merchandise, from fancy dresses to gas-guzzling cars. Now, add another item to the list: the casual restaurant meal.

The informal, sit-down restaurant chains that blanket the nation are fighting their most intense price war in years. Applebee’s is offering dinner for two for $20. Ruby Tuesday is handing out coupons for two entrees for the price of one. Chili’s, not to be outdone, is promoting some entrees for $7 or less.

“It’s a tit-for-tat pricing war right now,” said Steve West, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus, a brokerage firm in St. Louis. “Each one’s trying to outdo the other in a battle for consumers.”

The sit-down casual segment of the restaurant industry has traditionally competed more on advertising and location than price, but these days, the chains appear to have little choice. Consumers hurt by the recession are eating out less. So the restaurants are fighting one another for that shrinking pool of diners, using deep discounts, heavily advertised on television, to attract them.

The customers who do venture forth are delighted. “This is really an incentive for us to go out,” said Norma Rosado Blake, 38, an archivist, as she stood outside a T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant in Clifton, N.J., with her husband the other night, for an offer entitling her to $8 off.

But even as the chains compete to come up with the best deal, some of the analysts who follow them are worried. They fear that, as was the case with merchandise retailers that sold luxury goods for 80 percent off, the restaurants are hurting their long-term prospects by training customers to eat out only when they are offered a bargain.

“The problem with that is once you start dealing, you’ve got to deal forever,” said Harry Balzer, the chief food industry analyst for the NPD Group, a consumer marketing research company.

The heavy discounting is leading to tensions between the people who, as independent franchisees, operate many of the restaurants, and the corporate officers who control the brands, menus, advertising and strategy. The franchisees agree that discounts can get customers in the door, but wince at what they can do to profit margins.

A T.G.I. Friday’s promotion in April and May offering $5 sandwiches and salads led to a small-scale revolt among franchisees. Ross Farro, who has seven T.G.I. Friday’s restaurants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, said the promotion included salads that normally sell for as much as $10 and a steak sandwich priced at $11.89 on the regular menu. The ingredients alone for each steak sandwich cost about $4, he said.

The promotion brought in a flood of customers, but Mr. Farro said he could hardly afford to feed them. Within days of the promotion’s start in late April, many franchisees began complaining to the chain’s parent company, Carlson Restaurants Worldwide.

The promotion was supposed to run at lunch and dinner, but Mr. Farro said he and some other franchisees put away the $5 menu inserts at night to stop the bleeding

Franchise owners “were very upset that we’re getting hammered here, we’re giving the food away,” Mr. Farro said. In contrast, he said, another promotion offering two-for-one entrees had worked well.

Brad Honigfeld, chief executive of the Briad Group, which runs 69 T.G.I. Friday’s franchises in seven states, said he considered the $5 promotion a success because it greatly increased lunchtime traffic.

“My ultimate goal as an operator is I need to drive traffic, and if that traffic is going to Applebee’s or going to Chili’s, I need to take that traffic away,” Mr. Honigfeld said. “We are in a fierce competitive environment today.”

Unhappiness over the $5 deal has led some Friday’s franchisees to press Carlson for a rebate on royalties they pay the company. Carlson would not discuss the rebate issue.

“Like most promotions, the short-term economics were tough, but the long-term payoff comes from highly satisfied guests who become valuable loyal guests, which is critical for the health of our brand and franchisees,” Nick Shepherd, Carlson’s chief executive said in a statement.

The economic crisis has occurred at the worst possible time for the chains. For years they expanded rapidly. Technomic, a restaurant consulting firm, said that the number of chain restaurants devoted to casual dining (an industry term for midprice lunch and dinner restaurants that typically serve alcohol and have waiter service) rose to about 10,000 last year, from about 7,000 in 1995.

The economics worked in part because the chains steadily raised their prices. But some analysts said the quality of the food did not always keep pace — and as the economy soured, consumers began casting a skeptical eye on prices like $18 for grilled chicken breasts and $16 for herb-crusted tilapia.

“Restaurant prices were high, and in many cases the quality from a consumer perception just didn’t justify the pricing,” said Bob Goldin, an executive vice president of Technomic.

Now, forced by the recession into discounting, the chains are going beyond traditional advertising to get the word out. They are creating Internet clubs where people can sign up for coupons. T.G.I. Friday’s, which has nearly 600 stores in the United States, said it had signed up more than one million club members in less than a year.

One of those is Steve Mosior, 52, a Heineken sales supervisor. On a recent trip to T.G.I. Friday’s in Wayne, N.J., he took advantage of a two-for-one entree deal and used coupons for a free appetizer and a half-price drink.

“Coupons are found money,” Mr. Mosior said. But he added that once he is in a restaurant he will often buy items not covered by the discounts, such as dessert.

That is exactly what restaurateurs hope will happen. But Mr. West, the analyst, said it had not been happening enough. “These guys are coming in just for that deal, and they’re not buying the soda, they’re stiffing the waiter on the tip, they’re drinking water and they’re leaving,” he said.

Malcolm M. Knapp, a restaurant consultant who collects data from thousands of casual dining chain restaurants, said that preliminary figures for May showed that sales were down 6.7 percent from May 2008, when comparing restaurants that had been in business a minimum of 16 to 18 months. The number of customers was also down, but not as much.

“Dollar sales are decreasing at a faster rate than traffic because the promotions are bringing people in,” Mr. Knapp said. “But when you have deep discounts it takes much more traffic to have a positive sales situation.”

On a recent evening, an Applebee’s in Clifton, N.J., was nearly full. The manager, John Butcher, said that about 80 percent of his customers on a typical night were choosing the $20 promotion, which features two entrees and an appetizer (ordered a la carte, the items could total $31). Despite all the business, he said sales were down about 7 percent from a year ago.

Rick Hendrie, senior vice president for marketing at Uno Chicago Grill, which is offering a $9.99 meal of pizza, salad and dessert in some cities, said the deluge of competing discounts made it difficult to reach consumers. “In some ways it’s a real challenge because everybody is screaming the same thing: X number of items for $9.99 or less, or buy-one-get-one,” Mr. Hendrie said.

He also cautioned that some chains were discounting too deeply and risked hurting their brands.

“I believe, this is my own marketing philosophy, that you degrade your brand value if you’re saying, this is not worth but half,” he said. “At some point people go, ‘I guess it’s not really worth what they charge.’ ”

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Children who are allergic to milk may be able to overcome their allergy

Children who are allergic to milk may be able to overcome their allergy by drinking increasingly higher doses of milk, a new study finds.

In 2008, researchers from Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore reported that children with a severe milk allergy could "retrain" their immune systems to tolerate milk and other dairy products by gradually consuming increasingly higher doses.

In the current study, researchers followed up with 18 children aged 6 to 16 whose symptoms had eased or gone away during the previous study.

When 13 of the 18 children returned to the clinic up to 17 months later, six continued to have no reaction after drinking 16 ounces of milk, twice the highest amount tested in the earlier study. Seven children had mild reactions, including itchy mouth, hives, sneezing and stomachache after drinking less than 16 ounces. One child needed medications for a cough, the researchers noted in a news release from Johns Hopkins.

The researchers also followed up with three children who could not drink more than 2.5 ounces at the end of the prior study. All three continued to drink milk daily with only mild reactions, and two were able to drink more than 2.5 ounces with few problems, the study authors found.

The study was published in the Aug. 10 online issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

One key to keeping the allergy at bay seems to be regular consumption of milk and dairy products, according to the study.

"We now have evidence from other studies that some children once successfully treated remain allergy-free even without daily exposure, while in others the allergies return once they stop regular daily exposure to milk," said senior author Dr. Robert Wood, director of Allergy & Immunology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. "This may mean that some patients are truly cured of their allergy, while in others the immune system adapts to regular daily exposure to milk and may, in fact, need the exposure to continue to tolerate it."

The researchers also tested for milk allergy using skin-prick testing, a standard food allergy test. Between eight and 15 months post-study, seven children had no reactions. Blood levels of milk IgE antibodies, which indicate allergy, slowly decreased, while IgG4, an antibody that indicates immunity to an allergen, rose.

The study authors also found that the prevalence of reactions continued to decline over time.

As part of the study, children and their parents kept daily logs of milk and dairy consumption and recorded symptoms, such as hives, abdominal pain, sneezing and cough. For the first three months, drinking milk triggered reactions nearly half of the time. During the next three months, milk triggered reactions 23 percent of the time, while some children reported no reactions.

Milk allergy is the most common food allergy. In those who are allergic, milk proteins cause the immune system to overreact, bringing a cascade of symptoms that can range from hives, itching, swelling and vomiting to anaphylaxis in the most severe cases.

Three million U.S. children have at least one food allergy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More information

The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network has more on food allergies.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Extracts from the roots of the kudzu vine may improve heart health

Extracts from the roots of a vine that has overgrown almost 10 million acres in the southeastern United States may improve heart health, says a new study from the US.

Rats supplemented with extracts from the root of the kudzu plant experienced reductions in cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and insulin levels, according to results published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Scientists in Alabama and Iowa suggest that the extract may play a role in the prevention or improvement of symptoms related to the metabolic syndrome, a condition characterised by central obesity, hypertension, and disturbed glucose and insulin metabolism. The syndrome has been linked to increased risks of both type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD). In the US alone, about 50 million people are affected by the metabolic syndrome.

According to the researchers, led by J. Michael Wyss, kudzu root extracts have recently become available in Western dietary supplements marketed primarily for women’s health.

“Although the exact mechanisms remain to be determined, the present results suggest that incorporation of kudzu root supplements into a diet modulates glucose, lipids, and blood pressure,” wrote the researchers, led by J. Michael Wyss.

“Because the supplement appears to have no adverse or toxic effects at these dietary levels in rats, it may be useful to consider the use of kudzu polyphenols as complements to strategies used to reduce metabolic disorders.”

Dr Wyss and his co-workers used stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rats as a model for the metabolic syndrome. The animals were initially fed for two months on a polyphenol-free diet, and then randomly assigned to a standard diet or the standard diet supplemented with 0.2 per cent kudzu root extract.

Two months later the researchers noted that the kudzu root fed animals had arterial blood pressure between 11 and 15 mmHg lower than the control animals, total cholesterol levels about 50 per cent lower, and fasting blood glucose between 20 and 30 per cent lower than the control animals.

New findings

“This is the first report investigating the potential for long-term kudzu supplementation to decrease these interacting factors of the metabolic syndrome in an animal model,” stated the researchers.

Commenting on the potential mechanism, Dr Wyss and his co-workers proposed that kudzu root extract may regulate plasma glucose by affecting the expression of glucose transporters in the intestine, such as SGLT-1 and GLUT-2.

Another possible mechanism may involve the polyphenols and isoflavones in the kudzu, which could activate PPAR-gamma, a hormone receptor which reportedly plays a key role in the control of expression and differentiation of genes associated with fat cells.

“We suggest that individual phenolic compounds in kudzu extract are related to its beneficial effects. Kudzu root extract contains not only a high concentration of puerarin (25 per cent) but also other phenolic compounds,” wrote the researchers.
Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry

Volume 57, Issue 16, Pages 7268-7273, doi: 10.1021/jf901169y
“Chronic Dietary Kudzu Isoflavones Improve Components of Metabolic Syndrome in Stroke-Prone Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats”
Authors: N. Peng, J.K. Prasain, Y. Dai, R. Moore, A. Arabshahi, S. Barnes, S. Carlson, J.M. Wyss

Hell's Kitchen, is now being associated with another nickname: Thai Town.

For more than a century, the midtown neighborhood west of Eighth Avenue has been known as Hell's Kitchen. Now, another nickname for the area is emerging: Thai Town—a nod to the growing number of Thai restaurants cropping up along Ninth Avenue from West 34th to West 57th streets.

Restaurateurs in the area estimate that there are some 40 Thai eateries, mostly small and budget friendly with quirky names including Tai & Thai, Tiny Thai Café and Pam Real Thai Food.

Though Ninth Avenue has long been known as a destination for inexpensive ethnic restaurants, Thai eatery openings have accelerated in the past four years, according to Darrick Sampson, past president of the West 46th Street Block Association.

The trend began with Nirun Jetanamest, a Thai immigrant who opened Yum Yum Bangkok on Ninth Avenue between West 45th and West 46th streets in 1998. He now owns four restaurants—including three named Yum Yum—all within a block of each other. Some consider him Thai Town's unofficial mayor.

“Everyone knows Nirun. He is a big person in the Thai community,” says Suraschai Plaibua, general manager of Room Service, a chic restaurant that moved into the neighborhood in March.

The restaurant business can be highly competitive, but the Thai countrymen seem indifferent to such pressures. While Mr. Plaibua's Room Service was under construction earlier this year, Mr. Jetanamest invited him and the owners to dine for free at his restaurants.

“He welcomed us to Ninth Avenue,” says Mr. Plaibua.

Mr. Jetanamest earned attention last year by making a bold move—he opened Yum Yum Too on West 46th Street and Ninth Avenue, directly across from his Yum Yum Thai and Vietnamese. He figured customers would consider the proximity a sign of success.

“When people see we have the same name, they will think the food should be good because you wouldn't have two the same that were bad,” he says. It also helped that the building's landlord, a fan of his restaurants, offered him the space.

A lifetime in the food business

At age 70, Mr. Jetanamest has a lifetime of experience in the industry. He immigrated to New York in 1974 to better support his family, who stayed in Thailand. Earning meager wages as a cook and waiter, including at the Waldorf Astoria, he still managed to scrape together $30,000 with his roommate to open his first restaurant in 1991. Little Bangkok on West 54th Street closed four years ago, when the landlord sold the building.

His daughter, Narisara, describes him as a visionary.

“I remember there were drug dealers and prostitutes along Ninth Avenue when we first opened Yum Yum,” she says. “I didn't think we would be busy, but we had long lines.”

A graduate of New York University's school of hotel management, Ms. Jetanamest, 34, helps run the four restaurants with her older brother, Nares. Their holdings include Bangkok House on Restaurant Row, which they co-own with a cousin.

The family was not always so close-knit. The siblings got to know their father for the first time as teenagers when they arrived in this country with their mother. None of them spoke English, and Mr. Jetanamest still struggles with the language. “My father was like a stranger to me,” recalls his daughter. “But now he is more like a good friend.”

The patriarch says he wants to retire to Thailand, leaving the business to his children, but his daughter doesn't believe he can stop working. Mr. Jetanamest isn't sure, either, as he muses about opening a fifth Yum Yum in Pennsylvania, where the rents are much lower.

In the meantime, the current group of restaurants is weathering the economic downturn well. Recession-friendly prices such as $7 for lunch specials and $15.95 for a prix-fixe dinner help keep the places full, along with a steady stream of pedestrians from the nearby offices, new residential buildings and theaters. The restaurants earn as much as $300,000 each in annual revenues.

Thai Town has its detractors. Local residents grumble about the abundance of restaurants in the neighborhood and the dearth of other types of retailers, and local landlords are growing wary of the proliferation of Thai restaurants, according to Aaron Gavios, executive vice president of Square Foot Realty. “When there are five in one block,” says Mr. Gavios, “landlords ask themselves whether the block needs another one.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

There are at least 10 gourmet street vendors in New York City that are using Twitter

When Kim Ima pulls up her Treats Truck at Sixth Avenue between West 19th and West 20th streets, she whips out her BlackBerry and sends a tweet (an update for Twitter users). Within minutes, familiar faces line up at the vehicle.

“They are waiting for the signal to come out of their office buildings,” says Ms. Ima, who started selling cookies and other baked goodies from a truck two years ago.

Twitter has made all the difference for a growing group of mobile entrepreneurs. The online social network is to them what the musical jingle is to ice cream trucks: a way to announce their arrival at a location.

Over the past couple of years, the number of food trucks peddling gourmet fare in the city has exploded, with many of them relying on Twitter to build up loyal followings. There are at least 10 such trucks that twitter, according to Web site Serious Eats.

“Kim Ima’s is the grande dame of the branded trucks,” says Kenny Lao, owner of Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, who started roaming the city’s streets with his own truck about seven months ago. “She took me under her wing. There are a lot of people who have since started.”

Mr. Lao says his first task in the morning is sending out tweets to his nearly 2,000 followers on Twitter to let them know where he plans to park his truck.

“Having the truck and being on Twitter is a great ambassador to the brand,” says Mr. Lao, who notes that some of his mobile customers don’t even know that he also has a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Chelsea.

Robert Arbor, who drives Le Gamin truck with its offerings of sandwiches and crêpes, started twittering in March and now has 700 followers.

While he has given up his blog—“I don’t have time,” he says—it is time-effective for him to send out tweets about the truck’s latest location or its specials of the day.
The truck has replaced two restaurants in Manhattan that he recently closed. Mr. Arbor continues to operate a café in Brooklyn.

Of course, some street food vendors forgo Twitter, preferring the old-fashioned business model of setting up in a regular location and establishing a neighborhood clientele. And some haven’t caught up with the new technology.

Mohammad Rahman owns three Quick Delight trucks—purveyors of Middle Eastern cuisine that were once runners-up in the Vendy Awards. Mr. Rahman, who started his business in 2001, prefers to park his vehicles in the same spots each day. He says he doesn’t twitter, “though it would be nice” to do so.

Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before he joins the Twitterati, along with brick-and-mortar restaurants.

This summer, city tourism agency NYC & Company is promoting Restaurant Week on its Twitter profile, sending out tweets with information on new deals and allowing diners to access exclusive benefits. The organization plans to give Twitter followers information on how to make early reservations for the popular promotion, which will run from July 12 to July 31.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Food processors are increasingly modifying the amount of high fructose corn syrup

First it was fat, then it was trans fat, and now it's corn syrup.

Consumers are asking manufacturers to remove ingredients they believe are harmful, and high-fructose corn syrup is near the top of many a mother's hit list. Some major manufacturers have responded by removing the offending syrup, and the Corn Refiners Association has staged a full-fledged media assault aimed at what it perceives to be "misinformation" in the media.

Kraft Foods Inc. has reformulated a handful of its most popular products in recent years, removing high-fructose corn syrup from Bulls-Eye barbecue sauce, Capri Sun Juice drinks with 25% less sugar, and the majority of its Kraft Salad Dressings line. The company is launching a campaign for Wheat Thins next week, from agency Draft FCB, Chicago. Kraft has reformulated the crackers, more than doubling their whole-grain content, and getting rid of HFCS.

"We saw some consumers were interested in products without high-fructose corn syrup, so we decided as part of this quality improvement to eliminate [it]," said Kraft spokesman Basil Maglaris. He added that Kraft isn't out to eliminate HFCS across the board. Marquee products such as Oreos, of course, still contain the sweetener.

Some beverage companies are also promoting their lack of HFCS. PepsiCo launched "throwback" versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew, which are essentially HFCS-free formulations in retro cans. The products proved successful, leading the company to bring them back for another eight-week run, beginning Dec. 28. A third product, Pepsi Natural, launched this spring and is being positioned as a premium cola. Snapple, meanwhile, went a step further, revamping its entire line of premium juices and teas to eliminate HFCS.

CRA getting message out

Retailers are also climbing onboard the anti-corn bandwagon. Costco has been selling Mexican-made Coca-Cola in some markets, sweetened with sugar rather than syrup, apparently to rave reviews. Costco did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Starbucks removed HFCS and trans fat from products in its bakery case this summer.

But the Corn Refiners Association is fighting back. Its campaign, from agency DDB, Chicago, depicts people such as mothers in a kitchen, or a young couple on a picnic blanket, talking about whether corn sweeteners are bad for you. "It has the same amount of calories as sugar, honey, and it's fine in moderation," a woman says while handing her boyfriend a popsicle stick.

"It has really been a nationwide multimedia and advertising campaign targeted principally at moms, given the role they play in buying food," Corn Refiners Association President Audrae Erickson said of her group's effort. The association does an all-cable TV buy, focusing on female- and family-oriented networks, such as Lifetime, Bravo, TLC and the Food Network.

According to TNS Media Intelligence, the Corn Refiners Association spent $12 million in measured media during the first half of 2009. Ms. Erickson declined to give the campaign's budget, but described it as "similar to that of a consumer-package-goods company."

The organization has also orchestrated a massive public-relations campaign through PR agency Weber Shandwick, also in Chicago. The team is reaching out to mommy bloggers to correct the impression that refined sugar is healthier than HFCS. Ms. Erickson said this effort has been different than the usual mommy-blogger outreach. Massive sampling in search of reviews, for instance, "wouldn't be appropriate," she said. It's all part of a "rapid response" function that also contacts media covering the industry, particularly if they describe a reformulation that removes HFCS as a "healthful" transformation.

Missing the point?

The association has also targeted "thought leaders" such as dieticians and physicians, possibly leading to statements from the American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association that high-fructose corn syrup is about the same as refined sugar. Ms. Erickson, a former USDA economist, said that the current consumer backlash hasn't affected the corn refiners' wallets yet. Consumers' shift to bottled water and diet sodas from full-calorie colas over the last decade has left the category flat to slightly down in recent years. But current sentiment did spark the campaign. Books such Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" got many consumers thinking about corn consumption for the first time.

Still, some advocates think they're missing the point.

"I don't know whether it's laughable or tragic that the corn refiners association is likening its product to sugar," Rory Freedman, co-author of "Skinny Bitch," wrote in an e-mail. "Neither HFCS or refined sugar is good for us. Our bodies simply do not like foods that have been highly processed, especially those which cause spikes in our blood-sugar levels."

Michelle Simon, author of "Appetite for Profit," said that the product is also much cheaper than sugar, and it has encouraged people to eat and drink more. "It's the reason why it's only 10 cents more for a large soda," she said.

The American Heart Association urged Americans to significantly reduce sugar intake

"Like many foods, soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are a source of calories, but in and of themselves, they are not a unique risk factor for obesity or other negative health outcomes - including heart disease.

Obesity - a serious, but complex problem - is about calorie balance. According to the National Institutes of Health, risk factors for obesity are fueled not by any single food or beverage, but rather a complex interplay of environmental, social, economic and behavioral factors acting on a background of genetic susceptibility. A recent systematic review published in Nutrition Research Reviews concludes that there is little evidence from epidemiological studies that sugar-sweetened drinks are more likely than any other source of energy to lead to obesity

Like obesity, heart disease is a complex problem with no single cause and no single solution. According to the American Heart Association, the major risk factors for heart disease are increasing age, gender, heredity and race. Being obese can increase a person's risk for heart problems and
high blood pressure, but studies show that being physically fit can help mitigate that risk.

At the end of the day, you can be a healthy person and enjoy soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages in moderation. What matters most is balancing the calories from the foods and beverages we eat and drink with regular physical activity. These are the keys to living a balanced lifestyle - something the beverage industry supports and encourages by helping consumers make appropriate choices by providing easy access to calorie and nutrition information, promoting physical activity, and beverage innovation."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Some 70% of consumers report that healthier foods are increasingly difficult to afford

Technomic has found that the recession is adversely affecting consumers’ healthy eating behavior. Results from the Chicago-based food industry research firm’s recent consumer survey show that while over half of consumers are more concerned about their eating habits today compared to a year ago, 70 percent report that healthier foods are increasingly difficult to afford, 53 percent claim they often purchase less healthy foods because they cost less, and 44 percent say their budgets prevent them from eating healthier foods. The survey also revealed that consumers generally regard popular lower-priced restaurant options to be less healthy.

“Healthy eating is still important to consumers, but evidence strongly suggests that it is a lower priority these days,” says Bob Goldin, Executive Vice President. He adds “consumers are economizing in their food expenditures and believe that one way to do so is to spend less on healthy foods. It’s an unfortunate development.”

Increased intakes of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma,

Increased intakes of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, says a new study from the Mayo Clinic

Intakes of vitamin C, alpha-carotene, and proanthocyanidins were associated with reductions in the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma of 22, 29, and 30 percent, respectively, according to findings published in the International Journal of Cancer.

From a food perspective the researchers, led by Dr James Cerhan, report that yellow/ orange and cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, were found to confer the greatest risk reductions.

However, despite identifying individual nutrients, Dr Cerhan and his co-workers noted that the benefits would most likely be from dietary sources of antioxidants, and not from supplements.

“Most studies have not shown an association with supplemental intake of antioxidant nutrients, suggesting that any association is likely to be mediated through foods,” they wrote.

“This has mechanistic implications (potential synergies between antioxidants; other anti-carcinogenic compounds in these foods) and also suggests that prevention approaches will likely need to be targeted towards foods and food groups and not individual nutrients, particularly taken as supplements.”

Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) is a cancer that starts in the lymphatic system and encompasses about 29 different forms of lymphoma. According to the American Cancer Society, over 50,000 new cases are diagnosed in the US every year.
Study details

In collaboration with scientists from the University of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic researchers examined data from 35,159 Iowa women aged between 55 and 69 participating in the Iowa women's health study. Diets were analyzed using a validated semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire.

Over 20 years of follow-up, a total of 415 cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma were documented. Intakes of 204 or more servings per month (about 7 servings per day) of all fruit and vegetables were associated with a 31 percent reduction in NHL risk, compared to intakes of less than 104 servings per month.

High intakes of yellow/orange vegetables (14 or more servings of per month) were associated with a risk reduction of 28 percent, as were four or more broccoli servings per month, compared to people who are no broccoli.

Considering the nutrients, in addition to the risk reductions associated with increased intakes of vitamin C, alpha-carotene, and proanthocyanidins, increased intakes of manganese from dietary sources was also associated with a risk reduction of about 40 per cent.

“To our knowledge, an inverse association with manganese has not been previously evaluated for NHL, and thus this will require replication,” they wrote. “Foods rich in manganese include whole grains, nuts, and leafy vegetables. However, we observed no clear association with foods that are major sources of manganese.”

Supplements have no effect

Cerhan and his co-workers reported no links between multivitamin use, or supplemental intake of vitamins C, E, selenium, zinc, copper or manganese.
“These results support a role for vegetables and perhaps fruits, and associated antioxidants from food sources, as protective factors against the development of NHL and follicular lymphoma in particular,” they concluded.
Source: International Journal of Cancer

Monday, August 24, 2009

Eating foods high in oxycholesterol increases blood cholesterol levels

A form of junk food cholesterol virtually unknown to the public may pose the biggest threat of heart disease, research suggests.

Oxycholesterol can be formed when foods such as burgers and steaks are fried or grilled, causing their fats to react with oxygen. Photo: PA

Scientists want to raise public awareness of oxycholesterol, which is mostly found in fried and processed food and take-aways.

Oxycholesterol can be formed when foods such as burgers and steaks are fried or grilled, causing their fats to react with oxygen.

Food manufacturers also introduce oxycholesterol to improve the texture, taste and stability of processed foods.

The new research indicates that eating foods high in the substance gives an extra boost to blood cholesterol levels and is more likely to damage arteries than ordinary cholesterol.

Most cholesterol health warnings involve low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, which helps form hard deposits in the arteries called atherosclerotic plaques.

In addition there is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, which is healthy for the heart.

Study leader Dr Zhen-Yu Chen, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said: "Total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), and the heart-healthy high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) are still important health issues.

"But the public should recognise that oxycholesterol is also important and cannot be ignored. Our work demonstrated that oxycholesterol boosts total cholesterol levels and promotes atherosclerosis more than non-oxidised cholesterol."

Dr Chen's group measured the effects of a high oxycholesterol diet in hamsters.

The researchers found that the animals' blood cholesterol rose up to 22 per cent higher than when they were fed non-oxidised cholesterol.

Hamsters on an oxycholesterol diet also had more cholesterol deposited in the lining of their arteries.

Oxycholesterol reduced the elasticity of arteries, impairing their ability to expand and carry more blood when the need arose.

Healthily functioning arteries can reduce the risk of clots forming leading to a heart attack or stroke.

The findings were presented today at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting in Washington DC.

A healthy antioxidant-rich diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans and certain herbs and spices can counter the effects, said Dr Chen.

Healthy alternatives to high oxycholesterol fast food included whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts.

It is not yet known whether the popular cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins, can reduce levels of oxycholesterol.

Previous research has not shown that oxycholesterol is any worse for health than LDL cholesterol.

Creative—and sparing—use of different kinds of fish can ensure a future for seafood.

You won’t be seeing all-you-can-eat fresh swordfish buffets in U.S. restaurants anytime soon. Getting a dinner of wild, fresh-caught Pacific salmon is now a rare, memorable, and expensive treat for most Americans. And if you pine for an era when fresh Atlantic cod and bluefin were as plentiful as fresh coleslaw at summer cookouts, well, sadly, you may be pining for a good, long time.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that “the maximum wild-capture fisheries potential from the world’s oceans has probably been reached.” And as Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything, said in The New York Times last fall, “I remember when local mussels and oysters were practically free, when fresh tuna was an oxymoron … but we overfished these species to the point that it now takes more work, more energy, more equipment, and more money to catch the same amount of fish—roughly 85 million tons a year, a yield that has remained mostly stagnant for the last decade after rapid growth and despite increasing demand.”

Farm-raised fish are everywhere, but the sensory quality is often unpredictable. Some research has even suggested that in certain cases, it appears that the practices that have yielded more plentiful supplies of particular fish might have negated the very health benefits that made people want to eat more seafood in the first place. Farm-raised tilapia, for instance, came under fire last year in a report by two Wake Forest University Medical School researchers. Writing in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, the authors noted that the popular menu staple contains relatively low levels of healthful omega-3 fatty acids and relatively high levels of omega-6 acids, which reportedly trigger inflammation in the body.

So what’s a quick-serve chain bent on offering seafood as part of its menu to do? Here are a few suggestions:

Take the lead in sustainability

Obviously, quick-serves have customers who want consistency, and so for reasons ranging from cost to supply-chain efficiency to end-user satisfaction, it just makes more sense to serve the same beef patty or chicken breast in California as you do in the Carolinas. With seafood, though, the sourcing issue can be quite a bit more complicated. The saving grace is chains stand to score big points in sustainability circles by using their purchasing clout to help ensure that responsible, environmentally sound resource management becomes the norm. This could mean working to tailor fish offerings from season to season based on the availability of particular varieties. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program is dedicated to educating both consumers and commercial entities about so-called “ocean-friendly” seafood, and the facility’s Restaurant Program even counsels establishments, typically local independent restaurants, about which fish are more suitable at particular times based on their geographic location.

Consider fritto misto

In Italy, it’s customary to serve portions of fried mixed seafood composed of whatever’s fresh and readily available at the moment. So rather than large fillets from a single fish, you may get bits of monkfish mixed with clams, calamari, and bass served alongside, or atop of, a portion of pasta. Now, managers of quick-serve outlets can’t take the time—or the risk—of heading down to the market or the docks every morning to procure fresh catches for that evening’s fried seafood combo platter. But serving, say, a fritto misto salad, in which small portions of lightly fried, sustainable seafood obtained from top suppliers are tossed with greens and light dressings might appeal to both the health-conscious and the eco-conscious.

Take the cakes

Who doesn’t love crab cakes? Judging from their massive popularity on both fine-dining and casual-dining menus, they enjoy more than their fair share of ardent fans. But crab cakes that comprise crab and crab alone are a rarity; for the most part, these fried concoctions contain plenty of seafood and vegetable fillers—as well as sauces and seasonings—that give the final product a balanced flavor and texture. Could mixed seafood cakes that draw from several varieties of sustainably sourced fish be the next hot finger food on quick-serve menus?

Accent the positive

With an eye to conservation and allowing time for certain stocks to recover, we need to rethink the way we use seafood in menu applications. If chains with 2,000 outlets add a 10-ounce plate of fried haddock or flounder to their menus, it’s hard not to imagine this putting at least a temporary strain on local supply chains. But if they instead add a three- or four-ounce serving to a salad, or include it in a fried combo platter of some sort, the supply-chain impact could be sharply diminished.

Using seafood as an accent or an accompaniment, rather than the main attraction, could be key to managing demand. Can we, as consumers, start to think of seafood as something we enjoy in small amounts on top of a pizza or in a salad rather than something we must have as the centerpiece on our plates? The answer to that question is likely to determine, to a great degree, whether we’ll still have anything to talk about when it comes to seafood in 2050.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Meal Replacements Help Shed Pounds

Meal replacements in a medically supervised weight-loss program are successful in facilitating weight loss, according to a new study conducted at the University of Kentucky.

The study, which appeared in the August 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, assessed weight outcomes, behavioral data and side effects for obese patients enrolled in an intensive behavioral weight-loss program. Two treatment options were offered—medically supervised and healthy solutions. Medically supervised patients restricted food consumption to meal replacements, which consisted of shakes, entrees and bars. Patients either consumed five shakes daily or three shakes and two shelf-stable entrees daily. Healthy solutions patients limited food intake to shakes, entrees, bars, fruit and vegetables. Recommendations were to consume a minimum of three shakes, two entrees and five servings of fruit and vegetables daily.

Patients in the medically supervised option lost an average of 43.4 pounds in 19 weeks; patients in the healthy solutions option lost an average of 37.5 pounds in 18 weeks. The study also found that patient compliance, accountability and commitment with the support of a structured program increases weight-loss success.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Yogurt is a $3.8 billion category in the U.S

Dannon wants consumers to view its yogurt as a key back-to-school staple, and has launched a coupon promotion across several of its product lines.

The campaign, dubbed "Dannonomics," features a loyalty program that rewards shoppers based on how much they purchase. A consumer who submits receipts totaling $15 worth of yogurt purchases, for example, would receive three $1-off coupons, while those who spend $20 and $40 would earn $6 and $15 worth of savings, respectively. To qualify, shoppers must submit all receipts documenting proof of purchase through Oct. 31 by Nov. 16.

Dannon, a subsidiary of Groupe Danone, the world's largest yogurt producer, is running the promotion across several of its traditional Dannon and functional brands, including Activia, DanActive, Danimals, Light & Fit and Dan-o-nino.

To get the word out, the company is leveraging TV, print, online, in-store and package messaging with ads that promise, "Delicious yogurt in your fridge. Money back in your wallet."

Marketing Drive, an integrated agency whose roster of clients also includes Procter & Gamble and Campbell Soup, handles.

The effort to some extent echoes Kraft Foods' August 2008 "DiGiornomics" initiative, which appealed to shopper smarts when positioning its frozen pizza brand vs. delivery. Unlike Kraft, however, which was tapping into the eat-at-home trend, the Dannonomics campaign is intended to reach consumers who still want to "enjoy nutritious, wholesome products and save money on the grocery bill," according to Dannon rep Michael Neuwirth.

Yogurt is a $3.8 billion category in the U.S., with sales in food, drug and mass-merchandise outlets up 3.70 percent. (Data is for the 52 weeks ended July 12 and excludes Walmart.) In the U.S., however, yogurt is still an emerging category, with Americans collectively consuming "less than a quarter of the yogurt" eaten per capita in European countries, Neuwirth said. (An NPD report published last month, however, ranked yogurt among the "top food trends expected to grow more important during the next decade," tied with salty and savory snacks at 16 percent.)

In recent months, Groupe Danone has relied on a mix of increased advertising spending, price reductions and yogurt-pack size adjustments to drive sales in a tough economy. Of the $136 million it spent in measured media in 2008, much of that outlay -- $63 million -- supported Activia, its probiotic yogurt line. Through June of this year, Groupe Danone has spent $69 million advertising Dannon, per Nielsen. (Figures do not include online spending.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

No-electricity coffee maker takes patience

Take a look at this coffee maker. I saw it on Coffee takes 12 to 24 hours to brew.

But, in exchange for waiting, maker claim you get better tasting coffee.

The contraption uses cold water, which tests show, reduces acid by 69.6 percent. Acid is what sometimes makes coffee taste bitter. Also, retained are essential oils that are lost when coffee beans are heated, further enhancing the flavor.

The hourglass does not use electricity -- it's all infusion. Coffee + water = coffee extract. Take the extract, which lasts two weeks in the frig, and mix with hot or cold water.

Is this all may be too much for our instant gratification society? You sticking with the regular pot, or sticking with the coffee shop?

Vitamins C, E and other antioxidants do not increase the risk for melanoma

Vitamins C, E and other antioxidants do not increase the risk for melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, a new study found.

A recent study had suggested that the risk for melanoma was increased four-fold among women who took supplemental vitamins C and E, beta carotene, selenium and zinc. Because 48 to 55 percent of U.S. adults take vitamin or mineral supplements, the potentially harmful effects of the supplements was alarming.

"As someone who takes supplements as a preventive measure, I was happy to see that the authors [of the new study] were able to debunk the claims of the prior study," said Dr. Robin Ashinoff, a dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center, who was not involved with the new research.

The new report is published in the August issue of the Archives of Dermatology .
For the study, a team lead by Dr. Maryam M. Asgari, of Kaiser Permanente Northern California in Oakland, collected data on 69,671 women and men who participated in the Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) study. It was designed to look at the use of supplements and the risk for cancer. At the start of the study, between 2000 and 2002, participants completed a questionnaire that included inquiries about lifestyle, medical history, diet, use of supplements and other cancer risk factors.

The researchers found that multivitamins and supplements taken over 10 years, including selenium and beta carotene, were not associated with the risk for melanoma among both women and men.

"Consistent with the present results, case-control studies examining serologic [blood] levels of beta carotene, vitamin E and selenium did not find any association with subsequent risk of melanoma," the authors wrote. "Moreover, the Nurses' Health Study reported no association between intake of vitamins A, C and E and melanoma risk in 162,000 women during more than 1.6 million person-years of follow-up," they added.

The causes of melanoma have to do with genetic predisposition; sun exposure, especially in early life; and other yet-to-be determined factors, Ashinoff said.

"Melanoma can occur internally, as in the vagina and GI [gastrointestinal] tract, as well as in the eye, so sun exposure is certainly not the entire story," she said.

Earlier experiments had found that topical antioxidants such as green tea extracts, vitamin C and E and soy can prevent and reverse some of the sun's damage to the DNA and immune systems in the skin, if applied before sun exposure, Ashinoff said.

"It shows how difficult these studies are to interpret," she said. "I am happy to see that these antioxidants have not been shown in a similar group of people to increase the risk of melanoma."

Another study in the same issue of the journal found that most melanomas found by dermatologists are discovered during a full-body examination of the skin. And these melanomas tend to be thinner and more likely to affect only the top layer of skin, making a cure more likely. Melanomas reported by patients tended to be more advanced, the researchers noted.

"It should come as no surprise to anyone that the keen eye of a trained dermatologist is superior to that of laypeople in identifying suspicious lesions and early melanomas," said Dr. Jeffrey Salomon, an assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery at Yale University School of Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on melanoma.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

High-Fat Diets Linked to Stupidity, Laziness

High-fat diets may make humans lazy and stupid, according to a new study published in the FASEB Journal. Researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered that rats that ate a high-fat diet for 10 days suffered short-term memory loss and difficulty in exercise.

"Western diets are typically high in fat and are associated with long-term complications, such as obesity, diabetes and heart failure, yet the short-term consequences of such diets have been given relatively little attention," said Andrew Murray, co-author of the study and currently at the University of Cambridge. “We hope that the findings of our study will help people to think seriously about reducing the fat content of their daily food intake to the immediate benefit of their general health, well-being and alertness."

Antioxidants Abound in Cereals, Popcorn, Whole-Grain Snacks

Eating a bowl of your favorite cereal every day is a great source of natural antioxidants, new research shows.

Joe Vinson, a professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton, in Pennsylvania, and his team have found that nearly all whole-grain breakfast cereals and many common, grain-based snacks contain substantial amounts of polyphenols, a form of antioxidants that is thought to have major health benefits. Vinson was scheduled to present his findings Tuesday at the American Chemical Society annual meeting, held in Washington, D.C.

"Cereals have a plethora of [good things]," said Vinson, who tested more than 30 brands and types of breakfast cereals found in supermarkets. "They all have polyphenols."

Whole grains are the main source of polyphenols in breakfast cereals, and since nearly all cereals contain at least some whole grains, it stands to reason that consumers should consider making cereals a regular part of their diet, said Vinson, adding that he received no food industry funding for his study.

"Early researchers thought the fiber was the active ingredient for these benefits in whole grains -- the reason why they may reduce the risk of cancer and coronary heart disease," Vinson noted. "But recently, polyphenols emerged as potentially more important. Breakfast cereals, pasta, crackers and salty snacks constitute over 66 percent of whole grain intake in the U.S. diet," he added.

"We found that, in fact, whole-grain products have comparable antioxidants per gram to fruits and vegetables," Vinson said. "This is the first study to examine total phenol antioxidants in breakfast cereals and snacks, whereas previous studies have measured free antioxidants in the products."

Polyphenols occur naturally in plants and are the most abundant antioxidant. They have anti-inflammatory properties, and scientists believe they may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other illnesses.

Nutritionists have recommended regular consumption of green tea, red wine, fruits, nuts and a few other food categories for their antioxidant content. Vinson found that cereals containing whole-grain corn or oats contained the most polyphenols, roughly 0.2 percent by weight per box. Wheat-based cereals contained an average of 0.07 percent polyphenols, and rice cereals contained the lowest amount, at 0.05 percent.

Raisin bran had the most polyphenols -- 3 percent by weight; however, Vinson attributed the concentration to the raisins -- like other dried fruits, a known rich source of antioxidants.

Another high-ranking cereal was a wheat-based blend containing the polyphenol-rich spice cinnamon. Vinson declined to name the brands he tested, but he encouraged people to add nuts, raisins and various spices like cinnamon to their cereal to boost their polyphenol content.

As for snacks, Vinson found that popcorn had the most polyphenols (2.6 percent), followed by whole-grain crackers (0.45 percent). Sadly, most processed tortilla chips -- Vinson's favorite -- contained negligible amounts of polyphenols.

Registered dietician and nutritionist Eva To, who practices in White Plains, N.Y., said she found the study fascinating, but she had some concerns.

"Whole-grain cereal is a great replacement for high-fat breakfast food or as a replacement for no breakfast at all, since breakfast is the most important meal of the day," said To, who specializes in obesity and diabetes management. "But moderation is the key. Many cereals contain ingredients that may not be very good for you, such as excessive sugar."

Also, she added, "cereals are easy to binge on. It is very important to follow the serving size suggestions."

To Vinson, the benefits of eating more cereals may outweigh the negatives.

"We always think of fruits and vegetables as the primary sources of polyphenols," he said. "But many people, especially students, don't eat enough of them. Here we have a product that is very familiar in the diet and that people like to eat. We can push kids to eat more whole grains."

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on antioxidants.

An increasing amount of New York City restaurants are offering gourmet baby food

GOURMET baby food? Why not? These days, even chichi eateries are catering to tiny taste buds, serving fancy feasts that venture way beyond tater tots and fish sticks.
Since our daughter was born 20 months ago, my husband and I have barely had a chance to eat out. So when we heard about this dining trend, we couldn't wait to slap a bib on Daphne and see what she thought. Here's the dish.


It's got star power -- thanks to its owner, Jon Stewart's wife, Tracey -- but this cozy TriBeCa café-cum-arts-and-crafts-space is anything but haughty, serving reasonably priced finger food with a locavore twist. Daphne loved her Froggy Dipper (guacamole decorated as a frog's face served with blue corn tortilla chips; $5.95) and we all enjoyed the Super Tryers: a sampling of six bite-sized seasonal snacks, from chicken breast to whole-grain bread to goat cheese; $4.95.

The dish: Our fave by far. We came for the food, but next time we'll stay for the art projects, too.

161 Hudson St. (between Laight and Hubert streets); 212-226-0345.


Tucked amid the French-inspired offerings at this casual Flatiron spot is "Tiger Lily's homemade baby food," created in homage to executive chef/owner Jason Weiner's 1-year-old daughter. Available at Saturday brunch, it's a parfait of organic strawberry and mango purées layered with homemade yogurt ($3). Daphne gobbled it down, then amused herself playing with the mason jar it came in while we savored our almond hash (poached egg with duck confit and roasted potatoes, $15).

The dish: The yogurt-and-fruit-sauce combo is a healthful, affordable kid-pleaser. But it's the only option on the menu, and allergy-wary parents may want to avoid giving strawberries to babies under 12 months.

12 E. 22nd St. (between Park Avenue and Broadway); 212-228-7557.


This rustic Village eatery serves simple organic fare with South American flair -- think steak and eggs ($19) and grilled empanadas ($4 to $5). There are seven baby-food meals in all, including baked squash and macaroni with spinach and Parmesan cream ($8.95), which you can have your toddler's way (puréed or cut into bite-size pieces), plus four desserts, including a banana and dulce de leche purée ($6.95). Daphne finished her steamed chicken breast with zucchini and carrots but preferred our Carlito's crepe (spinach crepe with corn and cheese; $16). The dish: The baby menu seems aimed more at infants than toddlers, who may find these offerings too bland. But when we gave Daphne some of GustOrganics' signature (adult) dessert -- chocolate-dipped alfajores (sandwich cookies with dulce de leche filling; $2.45 each) -- she actually licked her plate!

519 Sixth Ave. (between 13th and 14th streets); 212-242-5800.

Various New York City chefs are serving cold soups this summer

Soup is rarely ordered in the summer -- no matter how rainy it is. This year, though, New York City chefs are taking a standard cold weather favorite and turning it into the season's most refreshing menu item by serving it cold. And we're not talking about standard gazpacho made with tomatoes and onions, either. These soups use flavor-loaded ingredients like spiced watermelon, curry powder, tarragon and even Prosecco. The end result is a chilled dish that's waist-friendly, full of taste and the perfect antidote to the sticky August heat.

Slurp this: Sake Mango Soup

* At: Harbour, 290 Hudson St.; 212-989-6410

This nautically decorated restaurant is known for its crustaceans, but diners would be remiss not the try the Sake Mango Soup ($9) for dessert. Sous pastry chef Abby Hupp creates the sweet dish by pureeing fresh mangos and blending them with sake, vanilla beans and confectionary sugar. After sitting overnight in a fridge to let the flavors meld, the mixture is strained and served with coconut sorbet and cinnamon-coated rice noodles.

Slurp this: Spicy Watermelon Gazpacho

* At: Jane, 100 W. Houston St.; 212-254-7000

This always-packed New American eatery in the heart of the West Village has a new lineup on the summer menu: a spicy watermelon gazpacho served with a warm goat cheese croquette ($9). Chef Glen Harris blends sweet watermelon with cucumbers, red onion, cilantro and jalapeños for a spicy kick. The gazpacho is then topped with diced watermelon, tomatoes and a goat cheese croquette.

Slurp this: Chilled Red Pepper Soup

* At: Counter, 105 First Ave.; 212-982-5870

This always-hopping vegetarian eatery offers a chilled red-pepper soup with fresh basil and an aged goat-cheese crouton ($8). Chef Whitney Aycock slow-roasts red peppers in a low-temperature oven, then simmers them with onion in a vegetable stock. Everything is pureed into a smooth consistency and chilled. A crouton made with aged goat cheese and torn basil is a lovely finishing touch.

Slurp this: Corn Soup and Peach and Tarragon Soup

* At: Nios, 130 W. 46th St.; 212-485-2999

Both savory and sweet chilled soups are on the menu at this Midtown wine bar and eatery. Start with corn soup accompanied by a chipotle créme fraiche ($9), which uses three different variations of corn (a juice, a stock and whole kernels), ensuring you get a mix of textures with each sip. End with a peach and tarragon soup ($9) that's made with tarragon-marinated peaches and then pureed with Prosecco.

Slurp this: Chilled Tomato Rasam

* At: Devi, 8 E. 18th St.; 212-691-1300

Indian food is more famous for its hot dishes, but the chilled tomato rasam ($6) topped with naan croutons at upscale boite Devi bucks the trend. This traditional soup from southern India, which is usually served warm, is made by blending a medley of ingredients including tomatoes, cumin, curry powder, different chilies and mustard seeds. The chilled temperature balances out the spicy kick, and the buttery naan croutons add a pleasing crunch.

Slurp this: Stone Fruit Soup

* At: Primehouse New York, 381 Park Ave.; 212-824-2600

For an ideal ending to a steakhouse meal, don't miss the Stone Fruit Soup ($10) served as a dessert at Primehouse. Taking full advantage of the summer's extra-sweet fruits, its yellow peach and vanilla bean base is topped with a nectarine-and-cherry salad. The crown of the dish is a creamy Fior di Latte sorbet (flower of milk sorbet) that's infused with lemon and orange.

Slurp this: Chilled Cucumber Soup

* At: DBGB Kitchen and Bar, 299 Bowery;

Star chef Daniel Boulud's newest eatery is offering chilled cucumber soup topped with smoked salmon wrapped on a skinny breadstick and dill tapioca ($8). Chef Jim Leiken starts by sweating a mixture of leeks, onion and celery, then adds seeded cucumber and purees the mixture with yogurt, créme fraiche and blanched cucumber peels to impart the dish with its rich green color. The dill tapioca and a smoked salmon wrapped grissini on top make for tasty finishing touches.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Intake of fats from meat, eggs and dairy products do not increase a woman's risk of breast cancer

Intakes of fats from meat, eggs, and dairy products do not increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, according to findings from a big European study.

However, according to data from 319,826 women, high intakes of processed meat were linked to a slight increase in the risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women, and high butter intakes were linked to a slight increase in the risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women.

But overall a null results was observed, state the EPIC researchers in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In an accompanying editorial, Eleni Linos from Stanford University Medical Center and Walter Willett from Harvard School of Public Health stated: “We are now fortunate to have reports from many large cohort studies conducted worldwide, which include well over one million women and many thousands of cases of breast cancer, that are quite consistent in showing no overall relation of meat or dairy products consumed in midlife or later to breast cancer risk.

“Although more data on diet in childhood and early adult life are needed, and on the effects of high temperature cooking, these data are sufficient to exclude any major effect of consuming these foods during midlife or later on risk of breast cancer.”
While the results of the study do appear to allay fears of animal fat intakes and breast cancer, concerns still abound in relation to other forms of cancer, most notably lung, pancreatic and colorectal cancer.

Indeed, a body of research blames excessive red meat consumption for a number of health problems, including higher rates of heart disease, macular degeneration, various cancers and premature death.

Study details

During the course of almost nine years of study, the EPIC researchers, led by Valeria Pala from the IRCCS National Cancer Institute in Milan, documented 7,119 cases of breast cancer.

Overall, they found not “consistent association […] between breast cancer risk and the consumption of any of the food groups under study”, wrote Pala and her co-workers.

High intakes of processed meats were associated with a “modest” 10 per cent increase in breast cancer risk for post-menopausal women, while increased butter intakes amongst pre-menopausal women were associated with a 28 per cent increase in the risk of breast cancer.

“Future studies should investigate the possible role of high-temperature cooking in the relation of red meat intake with breast cancer risk,” they concluded.

Important results

Commenting on the study, Shelley McGuire, PhD, spokesperson for the American Society for Nutrition said it pointed toward two very important points. "First we all need to remember that there are really no such things as 'bad' foods.

“Second, observational studies that show associations between diet and health need to be considered with a proverbial grain of salt. These studies clearly provide additional and strong evidence that consumption of meat and dairy products by women does not, by itself, increase breast cancer risk.”

Linos and Willet added that “nevertheless, good reasons still exist for keeping consumption of red meat low, because this will likely help reduce risks of coronary heart disease and type-2 diabetes.

“Also, for women looking to reduce their risk of breast cancer by nutritional means, solid evidence documents that avoidance of weight gain during adult life and low alcohol consumption will be effective.”

Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bon Appetit magazine names 10 top new restaurants

Restaurants in San Francisco, Cambridge, Mass., Chicago and Austin, Texas, are featured by Bon Appetit in the magazine's annual September restaurant issue.

The restaurants appear on Bon Appetit's list of 10 of the country's best new restaurants, along with a recommended dish. They are:

_Bar Jules, San Francisco, lamb with preserved lemons

_No. 7, Brooklyn, N.Y., pumpkin-seed-crusted tofu

_Spring Hill, Seattle, black cod with fennel chowder

_Hungry Mother, Cambridge, Mass., cornmeal-crusted catfish

_Mado, Chicago, clam and calamari seafood stew

_Feast, Houston, braised beef with fresh pears and ginger

_Cakes & Ale, Decatur, Ga., citrus arancine (rice balls) with pecorino cheese

_Olivia, Austin, Texas, milk-braised pork shoulder

_Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore, spiced pear flatbreads

_The Greenhouse Tavern, Cleveland, potato-crusted goat cheese tarts

Some 20% of consumers ranked food health as an important factor when ordering dinner,

Despite increased buzz about healthy dining and restaurant nutrition labeling, new findings from Mintel Menu Insights suggest healthy menu items still face a tough battle for acceptance.

Surveying American diners, Mintel found that only one in five (20%) rank food health as an important factor when ordering dinner. Far more essential are taste and hunger satisfaction, selected by 77% and 44% of respondents, respectively, when describing what they look for on a dinner menu. And although over three-quarters of adults claim they’d like to see more healthy items on the menu, barely half (51%) say they usually order them.

“There’s definitely a dichotomy between what people say they want and what they actually do when it comes to healthy restaurant eating,” says director of Mintel Menu Insights, Maria Caranfa, registered dietician. “Over eight in 10 adults told us it’s very or somewhat important to them to eat healthy, but when it comes to dining out, most people are really looking for taste, texture and experience. So healthy menu items need to perfect the balance between nutrition and flavor.”

Price remains a deterrent to healthy restaurant fare, especially as the economy weighs down people’s finances. Over half of Mintel’s survey respondents (54%) say eating healthy at restaurants is more expensive than not eating healthy. Maria Caranfa agrees that “when it comes to healthy menu items, the prices are often higher and less promoted.”

Additionally, even though restaurants are creating more nutritious food and drink, “healthy” items are still dwarfed by regular, and even anti-health, menu items. Mintel Menu Insights found that during Q1 2009, only 5% of new items carried a nutritional claim. But nearly one in five new food items was fried.

Despite obstacles faced by the healthy food menu, pressure exists for restaurants to add more wholesome options. The government is trying to increase nutrition labeling on menus, and Mintel’s survey shows over three-quarters of diners want more menu transparency on food health.

“Restaurants need to make ‘healthy’ food appeal on flavor, freshness and satiety benefits, not just on calorie and fat information,” recommends Maria Caranfa. “People seek fresh ingredients and more vegetables in healthy food, both of which can be promoted in a positive way. Healthy dining should be as satisfying as ordering from the regular menu.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

Aging Boomers and diverse Gen Yers are finding new ways to fulfill their comfort food cravings

Aging Boomers and diverse Gen Yers are finding new ways to fulfill their comfort food cravings, according to the Generational Comfort Food Culinary Trend Mapping Report co-published by the Center for Culinary Development (CCD) and Packaged Facts. The report is based in part on a national survey of over 3,700 people about their comfort food preferences, which was conducted by CCD in June 2009. The survey confirmed that consumers are passionate about their comfort foods, many of which stem from childhood favorites. In today's changing food world, however, these dishes are evolving in sync with new values and lifestyles.

"Childhood comfort food is getting a make-over according to who's eating it," says CCD CEO Kimberly Egan. "Each generation has different needs and tastes, including more healthful fare, gourmet ingredients and bolder flavors, which are reflected in their go-to comfort foods."

While the survey showed that the overall food category preferred by all ages was sweets, individual responses revealed a more nuanced generational portrait of comfort food preferences. For example, while many participants craved chicken soup, Gen Yers also turned to Vietnamese pho. Gen Xers gravitate to beloved branded foods while Boomers are skewing premium but keeping an eye on health.

And what are the overarching trends driving today's beloved and evolving comfort foods? We identified three:

Contemporary quality. All three generational cohorts are all seeking higher quality food experiences and these are surfacing in updated versions of old favorites. Today's pies are farmers' market fresh; new leaner meats appear in meatloaf; casseroles are loaded with seasonal veggies; and mac 'n' cheese arrives with gourmet twists. Additional upgrades include fresh herbs and exotic spices, artisan cheeses, and natural and organic ingredients.

The new diversity. Although Boomers have a decided taste for exotic flavors, diverse Generation Y is truly adopting global comfort dishes like Vietnamese beef noodle soup (pho), sushi, and Indian and Thai curries. In addition to these new comfort meals, global flavors are enhancing comfort classics.

Balanced eating. Boomers and Gen Xers are trying to balance indulgent comfort foods with more healthful versions using fresh vegetables, sustaining whole grains and leaner meats. Gen Y grew up learning nutrition basics and now craves fresh fruit for a healthful burst and cheese in all forms for a protein and flavor boost.
Opportunities abound for food marketers to create enticing, up-to-date versions of the comfort foods every generation passionately craves.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Don't eat mold

As college students enter the halls of elite education and higher learning, here is one piece of advice: Learn from the caveman.

"How the caveman worked, he'd check stuff out -- the look and smell of it," said Jeff Nelken, a food safety expert, about suspicious foods. "You have a sense of smell and taste, a radar system that tells you that the food is not fresh."

A survey of more than 4,000 college students published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that "young adults, particularly white men, engage in risky eating behaviors" by consuming undercooked animal products, which carry risks of illness.

College students aren't generally known for healthy eating. Busy schedules and tight budgets -- and sometimes a lack of knowledge about food -- can result in not-the-greatest choices. Outside the dining halls, the college student diet may rely heavily on ramen noodles, beer, cereal and leftovers. Today, a few food experts offer advice on ways to balance health and frugality, since many students are new to the kitchen and crunched for cash.

Can I cut the mold off the bread/cheese and eat the rest?

It's tempting to lop off the fuzzy patch, but the mold could have spread already.
"Once you're able to see mold on bread, it means there's quite a lot of mold," said Nelken, a food consultant in Woodland Hills, California. "It's indicative that there's mold on other slices, just not at the level you can see it. Why jeopardize your health on a slice of bread?"

Nelken likened mold to jellyfish. "Even though you scrape off the head of the jellyfish, the tentacles are still in the food product."

Eating moldy bread could cause an upset stomach. Although most molds are innocuous, it's probably not going to taste good, food experts said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends discarding moldy bread and baked goods, because of their porous texture.

Creamy dairy products like yogurt can easily spread mold and should be discarded. Soft cheeses with high moisture content -- including those that are shredded, sliced, or crumbled -- can be contaminated with both mold and bacteria. So throw those away, experts advise.

Hard cheeses can be saved, as long as the mold is cut 1 inch around the spot. Because of the cheese's hardness, the mold generally cannot penetrate deep into the product. Complete chart of USDA's guide on moldy food.

To save food and money, consider freezing food items to keep them longer, or buy the item in smaller amounts.

Do dry packaged foods like ramen or boxed macaroni and cheese last forever?

"Forever is a long time, but these products will last for some time," wrote Linda Harris, a researcher who focuses on microbial food safety at the University of California-Davis. "The quality will be affected by long-term storage. The flavors may change over time. The texture of the noodles might not be as good but they won't become unsafe."

Most dehydrated products have a "Best If Used By" date, recommended for best flavor or quality. Food experts say it's not dangerous to eat a product after the "Best If Used By" date, but it could taste different or stale.

Would a hungry college student searching for a cheap, convenient meal notice? That would be "highly variable depending upon storage conditions, age, product and taste sensitivity of the student," Harris said.

The pizza from last night has been sitting out on the counter. Can I eat it for breakfast?

The USDA advises no, saying that perishable foods should not be left out for more than two hours. Anything left at room temperature for longer should be discarded.
"Fridges were invented for a reason," said Sam Beattie, a food safety extension specialist at Iowa State University. "They work well to keep food cold. It slows the growth of these illness-growing microorganisms."

Leaving a box of pizza out overnight and grazing on it the next morning is something that "I think we've all done," Nelken said. "You don't hear people getting ill from leftover pizza."

But he said to steer clear of left-overnight pizza with exotic ingredients such as smoked salmon or grilled eggplant because of bacteria.

Should I drink milk after its use-by date? What about eggs?

Drinking milk a day or two after its use-by date shouldn't be an issue. But if you notice changes in flavor, consistency, smell -- don't take any chances, Nelken said.
For eggs, the USDA recommends using within three to five weeks of the date of purchase. The "sell-by" date will usually expire by then, but the eggs are safe to use.

Eggs and milk should be stored in the coldest areas of the refrigerator, not on the door, since it's four to five degrees warmer there.

Raw chicken always smells funny. How do I know if it's gone bad?

It'll smell a lot more gamy, said Beattie, an assistant professor for food safety in Ames, Iowa. This means it'll give off an odor -- stronger than when you first bought it at the grocery store.

Store chicken in the freezer or use refrigerated chicken within three days after purchase. Beyond that, spoilage organisms will get into the chicken and it will start emitting an unpleasant smell, Beattie said.

Invest in a cooking thermometer to make sure that meat has been cooked thoroughly, rather than relying on visual cues.

Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap to avoid transmitting E.coli and salmonella.

Should I drink the water after the expiration date has passed on the bottle?
"What happens with water is absolutely nothing," Beattie said. Water is safe to drink even past its expiration date (as long as there's no leakage in the bottle), but the water may taste different.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, bottled water is considered to have an indefinite safety shelf life if it is produced and stored properly. While the federal agency does not require an expiration date for bottled water, many manufacturers elect to put expiration dates.

"What happens is that people feel more comfortable with bottled water with a code date," Beattie said. "There is no safety factor beyond that. Manufacturers feel that quality of water may deteriorate or become more neutral."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Some 52% of consumers are monitoring the amount of sodium in their diets

Americans love sodium and most of us consume considerably more than we should on a daily basis. Mintel’s recent data shows consumers are starting to pay more attention to their intake as more than half (52%) are monitoring the amount of sodium in their diets.

Meanwhile, food product introductions containing a low, no or reduced sodium claim have increased by nearly 115% from 2005 to 2008, according to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD). Consumer awareness and the continued push from public health organizati

“The rapidly rising evidence in the past several years points out sodium as a major cause of hypertension, osteoporosis, kidney damage and stomach cancer,” states David Lockwood, director of consumer insights at Mintel. “Because of this scientific knowledge mixed with that of global health activists, there is a climate forming for rapid change. We are starting to see this information set into motion with a reduction in sodium on packaged goods and restaurant menus.”

What are consumers currently doing about sodium? Mintel sees four main types:

• 22% restrict the amount of salt that they add to food, but don't watch the much greater amount of sodium that is in foods and beverages
• 18% say that “food and beverages low in sodium are one of the three most important components of a healthy diet”
• 26% read labels for sodium, and may make some decisions based on this info, but they are not following a regimen to control sodium in their diet
• 34% do not pay attention to sodium

It helps that the craving for salt can truly be lowered over time. Mintel’s research supports this, as three out of four respondents who say they are on a sodium-restricted diet also say that they “do not miss the salt.” Being able to cut back is critical, given that 70% of over-75 women and 80% of over-75 men are currently on medication for hypertension.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heart attack survivors who eat chocolate two or more times per week cut their risk of dying from heart disease

Heart attack survivors who eat chocolate two or more times per week cut their risk of dying from heart disease about threefold compared to those who never touch the stuff, scientists have reported.

Smaller quantities confer less protection, but are still better than none, according to the study, which appears in the September issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine.

Earlier research had established a strong link between cocoa-based confections and lowered blood pressure or improvement in blood flow.

It had also shown that chocolate cuts the rate of heart-related mortality in healthy older men, along with post-menopausal women.

But the new study, led by Imre Janszky of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, is the first to demonstrate that consuming chocolate can help ward off the grim reaper if one has suffered acute myocardial infarction -- otherwise known as a heart attack.

"It was specific to chocolate -- we found no benefit to sweets in general," said Kenneth Mukamal, a researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and a co-author of the study.

"It seems that antioxidants in cocoa are a likely candidate" for explaining the live-saving properties, he told AFP in an exchange of e-mails.

Antioxidants are compounds that protect against so-called free radicals, molecules which accumulate in the body over time that can damage cells and are thought to play a role in heart disease, cancer and the aging process.

In the study, Janszky and colleagues tracked 1,169 non-diabetic men and women, 45-to-70 years old, in Stockholm County during the early 1990s from the time they were hospitalised with their first-ever heart attack.

The participants were queried before leaving hospital on their food consumption habits over the previous year, including how much chocolate they ate on a regular basis.

They underwent a health examination three months after discharge, and were monitored for eight years after that. The incidence of fatal heart attacks correlated inversely with the amount of chocolate consumed.

"Our findings support increasing evidence that chocolate is a rich source of beneficial bioactive compounds," the researchers concluded.

The results held true for men and women, and across all the age groups included in the study.

Other factors that might have affected the outcome -- alcohol consumption, obesity, smoking -- were also taken into account.

So should we all be loading up on cocoa-rich sweets?

"To be frank, I'm pretty cautious about chocolate because we're working on weight problems with so many individuals," said Mukamal, who is also a practising physician.

"However, I do encourage those who are looking for healthier desserts to consider chocolate in small quantities," he said.

"For individuals with no weight issues who have been able to eat chocolate in moderation and remain slim, I do not limit it," he added.

The researchers caution that clinical trials are needed to back up the findings of their study.

In the meantime, however, a bit of chocolate may not be amiss, they suggest.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kernel of truth about corn: It's a good dessert

Leaf through any classic American cookbook and you're bound to find pages extolling the virtues and versatility of corn.

"Sweet corns taste delicious uncooked in salads and salsas," says one edition of the "Joy of Cooking," which goes on to provide a laundry list of the vegetable's best accompaniments, from butter and bacon to chili powder, basil and lime. The savory uses are seemingly endless.

At no point, however, will you find mention of corn's affinity for desserts.

Perhaps it's because decades ago, when most of these books were written, the rich, buttery vegetable wasn't nearly as sweet as it is now. In years since, sugar-laden hybrids have become the favored variety, pleasing a growing collective sweet tooth.

The varieties we're finding now are almost candy-like, even if the ears sit for a while in supermarket produce bins. Whirred into a puree, fresh corn adds moisture when baked into cakes or cookies, and can also flavor custard and puddings. Plus, corn is a natural partner for summer stone fruit and berries. It's a wonder, then, that we've seen so little of the crop at the end of the meal.

Sweet corn ice cream is a seasonal staple at Tara's Organic Ice Cream (Berkeley and San Francisco), at Pepito in South San Francisco, and mixed with blackberry at Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco.

At Moss Room, executive pastry chef Rachel Leising has a sweet corn panna cotta on the menu. "It's selling quite well," she says, adding that those who take the plunge - even if a little skeptical - say it tastes just like summer.

Her smooth, silky dessert is made by steeping cream with corn kernels and cobs, long enough for the vegetable to impart the slightly sweet flavor. The recipe couldn't be simpler, crafted from just a handful of ingredients and garnished with ripe berries.

Using a similar steeping method, it's also possible to flavor thick, sweet custard, as in the accompanying pie recipe inspired by banana and coconut cream pies. The corn-scented pudding gets lightened with whipped cream, topped with sweet-tart blueberries and folded into a graham cracker crust. The gentle notes of corn come through at the end of each bite.

Savory corn pudding, a traditional Southern staple, often shows up as a side dish to accompany pork, barbecued meats or even Thanksgiving dinner. By adding a little extra sugar and topping it with sweet stewed cherries, however, it's perfectly at home on the dessert menu, and takes just minutes to prepare.

Sweet corn cupcakes with brown butter honey icing takes its cue from traditional corn bread, but has no cornmeal - just a puree of sour cream and corn with light cake flour. It results in a cupcake with a moist crumb and rich fluffy frosting.

These desserts are just the thing to make summer's iconic vegetable the stuff of every dish in the meal.

Sweet about corn

It used to be that you had to eat corn shortly after picking to ensure sweetness, but today's varieties travel well and retain their sweetness long after harvest. Here are a few types of corn that you'll find on grocery store shelves and at farmers' markets:

White: White corn tends to have a subtler, sugary flavor with small, tight kernels. Brentwood (Contra Costa County) growers are partial to the super-sweet white varieties, so they are the most prevalent in local markets. Today's recipes all use white corn.

Yellow: Compared with white corn, these golden varieties are richer and a little more buttery, with larger, less juicy kernels. The ears are also smoother.

Butter and Sugar: Also called bicolored, these cobs boast a mixture of yellow and white kernels.

Off the cob

Today's recipes all require you to get the corn kernels off the cob. Sure, you can buy a fancy corn-zipper to store in your gadget drawer, but the old-fashioned way is just as quick.

To remove kernels, first cut the cob in half, so that there is a flat end to place down on the tray (if you're working with a small cob, you can simply cut off the tip to achieve the same flat surface). Line a tray or cutting board with a towel to catch falling corn. Place the cob flat side down, and use a sharp chef's knife to slice the corn from top to bottom as you rotate the cob.

Sweet Corn & Crescenza Pudding with Stewed Cherries

Serves 6

Rich Crescenza cheese adds a tangy note to this super sweet pudding. Bellwether Farms makes a nice version that can be purchased at Whole Foods or specialty grocers. If it's not available, substitute any soft, fresh cow's milk cheese.

  • The pudding
  • 4 cups fresh white corn kernels
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for greasing the baking dish
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons Crescenza cheese
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • The sauce
  • 1 pound cherries, pitted
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • -- Juice of 1 lemon

For the pudding: Preheat the oven to 350° and butter an 8-inch square baking dish. In a food processor puree the ingredients until well combined. It's OK if there are still a few bits of corn, but they should be small. Pour into the buttered baking dish, and bake until the pudding is golden brown on top and feels set, about 50-60 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

For the sauce: In a saucepan, combine the cherries, sugar and lemon juice. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cherries have softened and released their juices, about 20-25 minutes. Serve over the corn pudding.

Per serving: 555 calories, 11 g protein, 71 g carbohydrate, 28 g fat (16 g saturated), 219 mg cholesterol, 519 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.

Wine pairing: Cherries provide red fruit sweetness. Try a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.

Sweet Corn Panna Cotta

Serves 8

This recipe comes from Rachel Leising, pastry chef at the Moss Room in San Francisco. She suggests serving the panna cotta with vanilla creme anglaise and fresh berries.

  • 2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
  • 1 large ear fresh corn
  • 3 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • -- Fresh berries or other garnish, to serve

Instructions: Place 2 teaspoons of cold water into a small bowl and sprinkle the powdered gelatin over it. Let soften, about 5 minutes.

Remove corn kernels from the cob off with a sharp knife. Make sure to get only the kernels and not the cob.

In a medium saucepan, heat cream over low heat with kernels and cobs until it just begins to simmer. Remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes. Discard the cobs. Puree the corn and cream with an immersion blender or a regular blender, then strain.

Set the bowl with the gelatin over a pot of barely simmering water to melt. Add to the still warm cream-corn mixture. Add sugar and stir to dissolve completely. Strain again.

Refrigerate the mixture until very cool (approximately 50°), then pour into eight individual 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups. Refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight, until firm.

Serve in the ramekins, garnished with berries. Or, remove from the ramekins by running a small pairing knife around the edge, and carefully inverting onto a plate (the panna cotta is very soft).

Per serving: 415 calories, 3 g protein, 16 g carbohydrate, 39 g fat (24 g saturated), 143 mg cholesterol, 44 mg sodium, .5 g fiber.

Wine pairing: The moderate sweetness and delicate texture of this dessert calls for a lighter-bodied, slightly sweet Moscato d'Asti.

Sweet Corn Cupcakes With Brown Butter Honey Frosting

Makes 12 cupcakes

To brown the butter, heat over medium low heat, swirling occasionally, until the milk solids in the butter turn golden brown and release a nutty aroma. Pour immediately into a bowl and solidify in the fridge. One stick of butter will yield about 3 ounces browned butter.

  • The cupcakes:
  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 3/4 cup fresh corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • The frosting:
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 ounces browned butter (see headnote), cooled and softened to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • -- Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh corn kernels, for garnish

To make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together; set aside.

In a blender, puree the sour cream and corn kernels until as smooth as possible (it will still have bits of corn). Set aside.

Using a mixer, preferably a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla and the sour cream/corn mixture. With the mixer on slow speed, add the flour mixture in three additions, scraping down the sides between each addition. Take care not to over mix.

Spoon batter into the cupcake holders until they are about three-quarters full. Bake in the center of the oven for about 20-22 minutes, until the tops spring back and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely.

To make the frosting: Using a mixer, preferably a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the two butters with the honey until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the lemon juice, vanilla and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add the powdered sugar, scraping down the sides occasionally, until it has been incorporated. Turn the mixer to high speed and whip until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Frost the cupcakes, and garnish each with a few kernels of corn. Serve immediately.

Per cupcake: 350 calories, 3 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 23 g fat (14 g saturated), 113 mg cholesterol, 198 mg sodium, .5 g fiber.

Wine pairing: The moist cupcakes and the frosting, which adds another level of sweetness, would be good with an Irish coffee.

Sweet Corn Cream Pie With Blueberries

Serves 8-10

The pie can be served immediately, or refrigerated for 24-36 hours.

  • The crust
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • -- Pinch of kosher salt
  • -- Pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted melted butter
  • The filling
  • 3 ears fresh white corn
  • 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • -- Pinch of kosher salt
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • To assemble
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 pint blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons fresh white corn kernels

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 350°. Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar, salt and nutmeg in a bowl. Pour in the melted butter and stir until well combined. Press the crumbs along the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until set and slightly browned. Set aside and let cool.

To make the filling: Cut the kernels off the ears of corn, and break cobs in half. Put corn and cobs in a medium saucepan, and add half-and-half. Heat over medium-low until just boiling, then remove from heat and steep for 30 minutes. Remove and discard the cobs; puree corn and half-and-half in a blender or food processor. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve.

Pour the strained half-and-half back into the pot, then add the 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla and salt, and slowly heat until just beginning to boil. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the cornstarch .

Remove the half-and-half from the stovetop and set next to the bowl containing the yolk mixture. Temper the yolks by slowing adding a ladleful of the half-and-half to the yolks while whisking constantly. Do this about 2 to 3 times, then pour the yolk mixture back into the pot with the remaining half-and-half, whisking constantly.

Return the mixture to medium heat on the stove, and whisk continuously until the custard begins to thicken. When it reaches a pudding consistency, remove from heat and whisk in the butter piece by piece, until incorporated. Pour into a bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap, so that a skin doesn't form. Cool slightly, then refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to overnight.

To assemble: Whip cream to soft peaks. Gently fold half the whipped cream into the corn custard.

Line the bottom of the pie crust with 1 cup blueberries, then top with the custard. Add blueberries to the top of the pie in 2-3 circles around the edge, then spread remaining whipped cream over the center of the pie. Garnish with fresh corn kernels. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 36 hours.

Per serving: 530 calories, 7 g protein, 54 g carbohydrate, 32 g fat (18 g saturated), 221 mg cholesterol, 165 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

Wine pairing: Try a German Auslese Riesling or Riesling ice wine.