Monthly Archive for: ‘October, 2011’


October 31, 2011
Denise Simmons, Corporate Chef

While working at an account a few days ago, an employee, Mario, showed me something I'd heard about, but never actually seen-huitlacoche (pronounced wee-tlah-KOH-cheh).  It's a fungus that grows naturally on corn. Although American farmers view the fungus as a disease (it's known as 'corn smut') and take steps to prevent it from occuring, Mexicans view the fungus as a delicacy and enjoy it prepared in various dishes, or as a filling for tacos or tamales. I think of it as the mexican version of truffles.

Huitlacoche is pretty funky looking, and I wasn't brave enough to try it raw.  Mario said his favorite way to serve it is in a cream sauce.  Anyone seen or tried it before?  How was it prepared?  Did you like it?

Here is more information about it, courtesy of Gourmet Leuth (see article below)

Photo courtesy of uteart on Flickr


Huitlacoche History - Blight Or Delicacy?

The Aztec named this dark growth found on corn huitlacoche which translates (rather bluntly and literally) to "ravens excrement". Although the name provided is not overly appetizing the Aztec's fashioned the fungus into dishes of crepes, soups, and tamales.

American farmers call it "smut" and "devil's corn" and consider it a disease to be irradiated. The peoples of Mexico as well as the American Hopi Indians consider the fungus a delightful delicacy.

According to Betty Fussell in her book The Story of Corn, the Hopi call the corn fungus nanha and collect when it is young and tender, par boil it for 10 minutes then sautéd in butter until crisp.

The Zuni Indians call the corn fungus corn-soot and say it symbolizes the "generation of life".

The French call it goitre du mais. It is unclear if it is eaten in France.

Today in Mexico the product is actually cultivated each season providing an ample supply to be eaten fresh, then frozen and canned. While the product is not easy to find in the U.S. most typically it can be purchased canned.

Another interesting story told by Ms. Fussell is that of a dinner presented by the James Beard House in New York City in 1989. The purpose was to give Americans a tasting of the corn smut but with a new name "Mexican Truffle". The menu was created by Josefina Howard of Rosa Mexicano restaurant and included huitlacoche appetizers, soup, crepes, tortilla torte, and even an huitlacoche ice cream.

Coconut oil gave me back my brain

October 25, 2011
Sherri Meyer, MG Registered Dietitian,

Recently during a nutrition presentation on types of fats, several of the participants expressed confusion regarding coconut oil.  Though we traditionally think of only animal fats as being saturated, coconut (and palm) oil are tropical (plant) oils that are high in saturated fat.  Hence, the confusion, a plant oil high in saturated fat…good or bad.  It was quite timely that appforhealth (a website written by two well qualilifed RD’s) published this summary on coconut oil.  So if you are interested to learn where coconut oil falls in the health spectrum, read below.

“The healthiest oil on earth!”  “Rich in medium-chain fatty acids.”  “Stimulates your metabolism.” “Coconut oil gave me back my brain.”
“The health benefits of coconut oil include hair care, skin care, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion and metabolism, relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer, dental care, and bone strength. These benefits of coconut oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, soothing, etc.” …Organic Facts website
If you believe the coconut oil websites, you’d think that the nut oil is the elixir of life.  It will do everything for you…and then some.  Food manufacturers are responding as coconut oils and coconut oil-containing foods are hitting supermarket shelves in record numbers.
But is it really all that?  Could it be better than extra virgin olive oil, which has thousands of studies that prove it’s heart-healthy?  When most foods are billed as cure-alls, it rarely pans out, so I thought I needed to investigate the research on coconut oil and share what I found.

Here are some facts: coconut oil is primarily saturated fat, like palm and palm kernel oil. In fact, 91 percent of the fat in coconut oil are comprised of artery clogging saturated fats.  Butter is ….sat fat, lard is…Considerably more saturated that, um…butter, palm or lard.  Lsat time I don’t anticipate, lard was not part of a heart healthy diet.  Saturated fat, as you know, raises risk for heart disease as well as type 2 diabetes and much more.
Source from appforhealth
There are two main types of coconut oil: refined and virgin.  Virgin coconut oil (VCO) is better because like EVOO, it provides anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that may help reduce risk for heart disease.  Refined coconut oil, the type used in most food products that contain coconut oil, is just a functional saturated fat that the food industry now uses because it can no longer use the solid-at-room-temperature trans fats.  The two main types of highly saturated fats that have replaced trans fats in the food supply are palm and coconut oils because they provide some of the same properties of trans fats.
Some studies do suggest that VCO is not as unhealthy as you’d expect from the high amount of saturated fat it provides. Laboratory research shows that VCO is rich in beneficial phytonutrients that may help temper inflammation and act as potent antioxidants. While VCO is antioxidant-rich, refined coconut oil is not.
Bottom line: Coconut oil is a saturated fat that you can enjoy in moderation but probably shouldn’t be the primary fat in your diet…until more clinical studies suggest otherwise. (Currently, there’s about 6,000 published research studies about olive oil and 1,300 on coconut oil, so don’t discount other vegetable oils that have reams of research proving their healthfulness.)
I use coconut oil spread and VCO on occasion when cooking, as they are perfect for several recipes I make.  However, I also use EVOO, peanut oil, sesame oil, avocado oil, walnut oil and several other oils (all virgin) as I believe that like all plant-based foods, eating a wide variety of them is the best way to achieve optimal health.

See the comparison of dietary fats here

Cast Iron

October 24, 2011
Denise Simmons
, Corporate Chef

I made it very clear early on in life that I wanted to be a chef.  As a result, my family started buying really nice kitchen stuff for me for birthdays & Christmas.  I have almost a full set of Calphalon cookware.  It’s great stuff!  But truth is I don’t use it much.  For many years, I didn’t use it because I didn’t cook at home.  Now I don’t use it because I have something I like better, something that can be used for just about anything I need to cook: a good old cast iron skillet.  It’s been around for a while, handed down from grandma to mom to me, and has been seasoned perfectly through the years.  I can cook eggs, potatoes, cheese…just about anything in it, and it won’t stick!  

It works incredibly well for searing meat, for braising or stewing.  It browns chicken perfectly.  Last night I used it to prepare wild cod piccata.  It was awesome - golden brown on both sides and cooked just through, so it was flaky & moist. I made the sauce in the pan with the fish: a little cheap white wine, fresh lemon juice, a pat of butter, capers, salt & pepper.  I don’t think the fish would have tasted as good coming from any other pan.  Maybe it’s the seasoning & years of use, maybe it’s also the love that’s gone into all the food it’s cooked.

Photo courtesy of: newlyplanted on Flickr

Weekly Wisdom – Beat your breast cancer odds

October 24, 2011
Sherri Meyer, MG Registered Dietitian,

Beat your breast cancer odds
Women who did 3 things had a 15-25 % reduced risk of breast cancer over a 5 year period.

  1. Exercise at least 20 minutes (moderate to vigorous intensity) 5+ times a week. Aim for 40-60 minutes.
  2. Maintain a normal body mass index (BMI) 18.5-25 through adulthood.
  3. Limit alcohol to 1 drink a day. (Defined as 12 oz beer, 5 oz wine, 1.5 oz 80 proof spirits.)

November featured recipe: Autumn mushroom soup

12 servings

2 T olive oil or butter
cup fresh onion, chopped
cups fresh mushrooms (mix of types), sliced
1 1/2 tsp
dried parsley
bay leaf
1/4 tsp
dried thyme (or 1 tsp fresh)
1/2 tsp
1/4 cup
1/2 tsp
fresh lemon juice
1 qt
chicken broth, or vegetable broth
1 cup
whipping cream, or evaporated milk

  1. Heat oil in a large stockpot.
  2. Add onion & mushrooms, sauté until vegetables are tender (about 8-10 minutes).
  3. Add seasonings, sauté, stirring frequently, 8 minutes.
  4. Add sherry, lemon juice & broth. Stir well, including scraping bottom of pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat; simmer 20-25 minutes.
  5. To thicken, puree 2 cups soup in blender until smooth.
  6. Stir puree back into rest of soup in pot.
  7. Finish with cream / milk. Bring back to 1800F. Serve hot.

*Note: Substituting evaporated milk will reduce the calories by 20% and fat by 50%. 

Trash Talk – Water Footprint

October 17, 2011
Leslie Phillips, President & COO

Water Footprint. What about yours?

  • It only takes 4 to 5 gallons of water per day to sustain a person
  • BUT, the average American uses 100 to 176 daily
  • How can you cut back on your water waste?

Go to for tips

Weekly Wisdom – Focus on food

October 17, 2011
Sherri Meyer, MG Registered Dietitian,

Focus on food. Despite availability of “powerful” nutrients in a capsule, individual nutrients have little effect on chronic diseases.

  • Focus on wholesome, whole foods and “healthy eating patterns”
  • Follow good old fashioned advice: eat more fruit, vegetables, whole grains & fish

Loving tradition… healthy or not!

October 10, 2011
Sherri Meyer, MG Registered Dietitian,

This past weekend I traveled to my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio to attend a family wedding of a dear childhood friend. The wedding was a lovely affair and I was so happy to be part of their special day. However, I must confess one of the events I was most looking forward to was scoping out the cookie table.

In Youngstown, Italian weddings have featured cookie tables loaded with endless displays of homemade offerings like lady locks, biscotti, pizzelles, buckeyes & my personal favorite kaloche for as long as I can remember. Most of the cookies are traditional old-fashioned favorites, ones you will not find on the shelf of your gourmet grocery store.

Where this tradition started, I am not sure as evidenced by a NYT article published in December 2009

But in my opinion, it doesn’t really matter where this idea of the cookie table started; I am just happy the tradition lives on!

My confession: I must admit to partaking in the leftover cookies for breakfast! It’s all about moderation….right?

Weekly Wisdom – Eat your beans…and split peas

October 10, 2011
Sherri Meyer, MG Registered Dietitian,

Eat your beans…and split peas. Women who consume high fiber foods are less likely to develop breast cancer.

  • A high fiber diet can help you lose weight, which can reduce your risk for breast cancer.
  • Fiber reduces your risk of heart disease by lowering your cholesterol.
  • Aim for 25-35 grams daily. One cup of split peas contains 16 grams!

Weekly Wisdom – Stand up.. and move a little!

October 4, 2011
Sherri Meyer, MG Registered Dietitian,

Stand up…and move a little! Physical inactivity is linked to high blood pressure & heart disease, the # 1 killer of women.

  • Research shows that even small amounts of moderate exercise (20 minutes a day of walking) can reduce the risk of heart disease by almost 15%!
  • So get moving! Take a walk on your lunch break!