Want to find more information about Dinner's Done Personal Chef Service?
Call: 215-804-6438
Email: DinnersDonePA@comcast.net
Visit: www.DinnersDonePA.com
Sign up for my monthly e-newsletter: Click Here


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brain Food

Jake loves fish.  We always tell him that fish is "brain food" and that it will help make his brain stronger.  Well, according to a recent study, we're not telling him a fish story.  It's the truth.

The study (click here for the article that describes it in more detail) shows for the first time a direct correlation between fish consumption, brain structure and risk of Alzheimer's Disease.  People who eat baked or broiled fish at least once a week, put themselves in a much better position to combat mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which often leads to Alzheimer's.
The results showed that people who consumed baked or broiled fish at least one time per week had better preservation of gray matter volume on MRI in brain areas at risk for Alzheimer's disease.
 Fish consumption also leads to an increase in "working memory" and stronger cognitive abilities.  One of the doctors involved in the study says:
Working memory, which allows people to focus on tasks and commit information to short-term memory, is one of the most important cognitive domains.  Working memory is destroyed by Alzheimer's disease. We found higher levels of working memory in people who ate baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis, even when accounting for other factors, such as education, age, gender and physical activity.
Interestingly enough, it is only baked or broiled fish that have these positive effects.  Fried fish, while tasty, doesn't do the trick.

Interested in other ways that seafood can help your health?  Read this blog post.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Stress Eating

Most of us do it. 

It's the end of another tough work day and you reach for something to eat to calm yourself down. 

Your kids are having one of those days and you are at your wit's end, so you pop something in your mouth to relax.

The bills are piling up and you throw down something you really shouldn't--but you deserve it, right?

What are these foods that we use as our stress-reducers?  Donuts?  Cookies?  Ice cream?  Sure, they make us feel good as we eat them, but then what?  We think about how we really shouldn't have eaten so much.  And in not too much time will come the crash.

In her article on CNN's website, Amanda Enayati writes that it makes total sense that we want to eat these kinds of foods to help to reduce stress--they're full of carbs and carbs make the brain produce more serotonin--a "happy" hormone.  But you know that these kinds of foods aren't good for your general health and the sugar crash will end up making your feel even worse.

Maybe you reach for some caffeine, but that doesn't help either.  It also leads to a crash and dehydrates you, which can lead to even more stressful feelings.

Enayati explains that the thought that stress leads to weight gain has some truth to it.  Many, if not most of us spend our day sitting--not getting even the least bit of exercise.  When you eat these sugary things and remain static all day, much of the sugar goes to fat cells.  So eating to reduce stress can very easily lead to a bigger waistline.

So what are we to do?  Are there any foods that we can snack on that will help us to reduce the stress we're feeling, but not making our bodies unhealthy and fat?  Sure there are.

In order to reduce stress, we need to find foods that will increase the "happy" hormones and reduce the "stress" hormones.  Having some of these healthy snacks handy will help not to have donuts or candy tempt you.

Eat complex carbohydrates.  All carbs push the brain to create the serotonin that makes us feel good.  But complex carbs are better to eat because they digest slowly and keep your blood sugar levels more stable.  Some examples are oatmeal, whole grains, high-fiber bread, pasta, beans, sweet potatoes, fruit.

Crunchy veggies are a great way to not only eat healthy, but the crunching actually reduces the feeling of stress in  your jaw.

Foods with "good" fat--nuts, salmon, avocado, for example--and those rich in Vitamin C help to control and reduce "stress" hormones.  Plus, Vitamin C helps to boost the immune system, which often is running low when you're stressed.

Tea--especially green tea--if full of the amino acid, theanine, which creates a calming effect and can lower blood pressure.

The bottom line, according to the experts referenced in the article, is to eat a healthy diet all the time. 
Ultimately, the big picture that emerges is much less about short-term solutions and more about creating a diet filled with less processed, more wholesome foods that can provide greater health, well-being and energy -- foods that can also help shore up the immune system by counteracting the pervasive stress in most of our lives.
By eating a healthy diet, your body will be better prepared for the stressful things that come along in your life.

Comments?  What are some of the foods that you look to when you're stressed?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Foodies in Chief, Part III

We finish up our culinary tour of the White House today.  Again if you want to read much, much more, click here
"Mmm...This is just the way my mom used to make it."
  • Harding--Some favorites included chicken pie, waffles, knockwurst and sauerkraut.  He preferred heavy main dishes usually preceded by light salads.
  • Coolidge--Cal had some strange quirks when it came to food.  He called all meals "supper", whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner.  He was a notorious nibbler.  There's a story that he had to be slipped a plate of roast beef before the start of a state dinner so he could nibble before "supper".  He was very fond of pickles, which isn't very strange, but apparently, he was unusually fond of pickles.  He believed that chicken was only good if it was raised very near the kitchen door, so he established a chicken yard on the White House grounds.  It was said, though, that these chickens tasted a little bit strange because the chicken yard was put in the same spot as Teddy Roosevelt's mint patch.
  • Hoover--Herbie demanded the best of everything when it came to his meals.  He was, however, easy to please.  And he was a big candy fan.
  • F. Roosevelt--Meals in FDR's White House was a reflection of the times.  They "made do" with what was available and affordable.  The Queen of England enjoyed her first hot dog on her visit to the President.  As far as cuisine goes, he enjoyed typically American fare with soups and Eleanor's scrambled eggs two of his favorites.  Although dinner was often a family affair, he usually ate lunch at his desk.
  • Truman--Harry wasn't picky--enjoying good ol' farm food: roasted or fried chicken, meat and potatoes.
  • Eisenhower--Dinner for Ike and his wife was often eaten in front of the television.  Some of his detractors even supposed that they ate frozen TV dinners.  He was a big fan of garlic and apple pie (not together, I assume).  And he loved soups--some of which he cooked himself in the White House kitchen.  (His beef soup was famous among the staff.)
  • Kennedy--Thanks to Mrs. Kennedy, French cuisine was a standard in the Kennedy White House.  State dinners were fancy events.  Like many presidents it seems, JFK was fond of soups.  But overall, politics came before food for him--he often had to be reminded that it was dinnertime.
  • L. Johnson--Some LBJ favorites: creamed chipped beef over biscuits, Texas-style dishes, seafood, spinach.  He was known to be a very fast eater.
  • Nixon--Tricky Dick was into simple American foods like salads, California fruits, cottage cheese, meatloaf, avocados.  He went "international" with spaghetti and meatballs and lasagna.  Nixon lunches were almost exclusively eaten cold.
  • Ford--Gerry had a very healthy appetite as you might expect from this former athlete.  Some favorites were spareribs, spaghetti and meatballs, salads, cabbage and strawberries.
  • Carter--This Georgia farmer loved his down-home Southern dishes.  Grits were served with many meals--even to visitors.  The Carters gave the staff the day off on Sundays, so the family prepared meals for themselves on that day.
  • Regan--Thanks to his wife, Ronnie's meals were usually nutrition-based.  Meals were usually high in fiber, pita was served instead of regular bread.  He was allowed to have eggs just one time a week.  It wasn't all nutritious foods for him, though.  He liked desserts (especially those made with apples) and hamburger soup.  And his love of jelly beans is well-documented.
  • G.H.W. Bush--Bush the Elder was known more for a food he didn't like than for those he did.  He famously denounced broccoli (and less famously, he didn't eat cauliflower or Brussels sprouts either).
  • Clinton--Slick Willie single-handedly kept fast food restaurants in business (culminating in his heart surgery later in life).  Some other favorites included chicken enchiladas, tacos, BBQ ribs, cheeseburgers, lemon and peach pies, beef marinated in Italian dressing and his mom's sweet potato casserole.
  • G.W. Bush--Food wasn't a priority for W.  He wanted his meals "distinct, direct, non-negotiable and quick".  When the staff found something that Bush enjoyed, they served it often--Tex-Mex, BLTs, grilled cheese with Kraft Singles and white bread, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, pretzels (sounds like the favorites of a 9-year old!).  Huevos rancheros were served for lunch pretty much every Sunday.
  • Obama--Our current president is a notorious snacker--Planter's trail mix, Fran's chocolates (from Seattle).  His drink of choice is Black Forest Berry Honest Tea.  For meals, he prefers Mexican (Rick Bayless is a favorite chef), burgers, ribs, Tex-Mex.  Of course, Michelle makes sure that he eats healthy since that's her worthy cause.
"Michelle will never know..."
So that's it!  Hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about some of the interesting, boring, strange food habits of our presidents. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Foodies in Chief, Part II

As we continue through "President's Week", here are some more food-related tidbits about our country's past leaders.
"I didn't order collard greens and grits."
  • Pierce--Frankie wasn't much of a food fan.  It was said that state dinners during his administration were "not up to par."
  • Buchanan--This was our only bachelor president and the only one from Pennsylvania.  His young niece acted as First Lady and hosted a bunch of extravagant parties in the White House.  And, although he was partial to French food, Buchanan was also a big fan of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. 
  • Lincoln--By many accounts, Abe tended to be a bit to preoccupied to be into food.  You could say that he had a lot on his plate.  Still, he apparently ate well--no matter what was served to him.
  • A. Johnson--Very particular about his dairy products, he established a dairy to specifically stock the White House kitchen.  He was partial to cooking from his home state of Tennesee, especially duck, wild turkey and sweet potato dishes.
  • Grant--The former general was a simple eater, but brought an army cook with him to the White House.  It turned out that he wasn't that great a cook.  So Mrs. Grant brought in an Italian to cater with top-of-the-line food.  Big breakfasts were a favorite of Grant.
  • Hayes--In short, Hayes' food mantra was "everything in moderation".
  • Garfield--He LOVED lasagna.  Oh, sorry. Wrong Garfield.  This one was partial to squirrel soup and apple pie.
  • Arthur--Beside Tom Jefferson, Chet Arthur was our most foodie president ever.  He ate light meals, but always wanted it prepared well and served with style.
  • Cleveland--When entertaining, the Cleveland era was filled with Victorian style.  In private, he preferred comfort food--corned beef and cabbage was a favorite.
  • B. Harrison--Ben Harrison enjoyed all sorts of food, but was partial to soups.  He also loved simple comfort foods as long as they were well prepared.
  • McKinley--This president enjoyed plain foods in very large quantities.
  • T. Roosevelt--As you might expect, Teddy was an adventurous eater.  And he loved to eat.  He was wealthy, so he could afford pretty much anything that he wanted: seafood, beef, ham, all sorts of game.  He was also a big coffee drinker.
  • Taft--As you might expect with Big Howie, he liked all kinds of food--and lots of it.  Some favorites were turtle soup, seafood, peach salad, salted almonds.  Just don't serve him eggs.  He couldn't stand them.
  • Wilson--In contrast to his predecessor, Woody didn't eat much at all.  In fact, his doctors were often worried about his low weight.  If he had a favorite food, it would probably be strawberry ice cream.
Tomorrow, we'll finish up with Harding through Obama.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Foodies in Chief

In honor of President's Day, I thought I'd do a little research about the relationship of our Commanders in Chief and food.  Some are obvious--Reagan liked jellybeans, Bush the Elder didn't like broccoli, Jefferson liked gourmet food and Taft liked pretty much anything that was put in front of him.  But there is a lot that you don't know about.

I'll just give a few interesting tidbits, but if you want to read more--much more--click here.

I'll follow the lead of car companies and other retailers that have "President's Week" sales and spread my history lesson over a few days.  So here they are starting with Numero Uno.
"I'm in the mood for hot wings. 
How 'bout you guys?"
  • Washington--George and Martha enjoyed simple meals--like many people of the time.  Their home, Mount Vernon, was completely self-sufficient in raising and growing food for the family.  He saw himself as a farmer above all.
  • J. Adams--Adams spent a lot of time abroad and developed a taste of fine food from living in England and France.  At home, however, simple New England fare was the norm.
  • Jefferson--Of all of our presidents, TJeff (as his friends would call him these days) was our biggest foodie.  He had a very adventurous palate--much of it developed from his traveling abroad.  He loved French cuisine especially, but was also a fan of traditional Southern cooking, among others.  At his home, Monticello, he raised a huge amount of fruits and vegetables and had one of the first successful wineries in the new country.
  • Madison--Not much is known about Madison's tastes, but his wife, Dolley, was known as the Hostest with the Mostest during their time in the White House with lavish dinner parties consisting of Virginian and French foods.
  • Monroe--It was said that Monroe "loved" food, but not much else has been recorded.  He was partial to French cuisine from his days spent in France.
  • J. Q. Adams--Simply said, the son of our 2nd president had little interest in food.
  • Jackson--Andy loved foods--all types and cuisines.  Some of his favorites: spiced round of tenderloin with mini biscuits, roasted lamb with rosemary, French-style rabbit, "Old Britches" (green beans cooked with bacon), duck, goose, "Old Hickory" nut soup.
  • Van Buren--Marty was known as a foodie, second only to Jefferson to this point.  He demanded a perfectly set table for his meals.  He also avoided sweets, eating fruit for desserts.
  • Harrison--He was only president for about a month, so there isn't much recorded about his culinary likes and dislikes, but it was said that he did enjoy good food.  And he was also very fond of hard cider.
  • Tyler--Married twice, Tyler had 14 children (7 from each marriage), so it was said that desserts were very popular in his household.  State dinners during the second half of his administration were elaborate and full of all sorts of foods.
  • Polk--Plain eating was the name of the game for James K.  Ham and corn pone (a sort of skillet cornbread) were staples for him.  When he really wanted to get crazy, he went with a tomato omelet.
  • Taylor--Zach was said to have been partial to the spicy and complex tastes of Creole cooking.  But he also made it known that plain food was fine, too.  As long as it was prepared well.
  • Fillmore--Millard made culinary presidential history by installing the first iron cookstove in the White House (previous to this, cooking was done in a colonial era "walk-in" fireplace).  But Fillmore wasn't much of a foodie.  He preferred plain farm food--meat/potatoes/veg. 
More tomorrow--Franklin through Woodrow.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fatty Flowers

So apparently, a new craze for Valentine's Day is bacon roses.  Yes, you heard me. 

Photo courtesy of bacontoday.com.
Hey, why not?  We have bacon donuts, bacon ice cream, chocolate-covered bacon, etc.  Why not a nice bouquet of smoked pork?  Mmm...smells sweet.

OK, while it is a little over the top and time consuming to make, it would be a pretty funny gift for the right person.  You can learn how to make them (there's even a video!) by reading this article from pennlive.com. 

Other than bacon, what are some of your favorite Valentine's Day foods?  Let me know! 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rising Food Prices

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post talking about tips on how to save money while shopping for food.  (Click here if you missed it.)  According to experts, it's time to brush up on your money-saving ideas because food prices will probably continue to rise throughout 2012.

One of the biggest reasons for this increase in food prices is the weather.  The Weather Channel website has a feature on 5 foods that are impacted by weather the most as we begin this year.  You can click here to see the whole thing, which includes a couple videos, but here are the highlights.
Frozen Oranges courtesy of AP/Chris O'Meara.
  • Beef--The terrible drought in Texas is showing signs of improving, but it's still very dry there and will be for a while.  The damage has been done, though, to the beef industry.  The dry weather has diminished the ability of farmers to feed their cattle well, so many of them have had to sell off large parts of their livestock creating a shortage of beef--and an increase in the price of beef that is available.
  • Orange Juice--It's been a mild winter, but when it did get cold in places like Florida, Texas and California, it really did a number on the orange crop.  On top of that, other orange-growing countries (Brazil and Mexico, for example) have been very dry, also hurting the crop.  Expect higher OJ prices throughout the year.
  • Milk--As it has done with the beef industry, the Texas drought has caused big problems in the milk industry.  Not only are the herds thinning, but the dryness has provided poor quality food for the cows, which leads to less milk production.  Luckily, much of the milk we buy around here is more or less locally produced.  Other parts of the country, however, aren't so lucky and will see milk prices rise.
  • Peanuts & Pecans--Extremely dry conditions in the Southeast and California have given peanut farmers their worst crop in 30 years.  This could lead to as much as a 30% increase in the price of peanut butter.  Don't think that's that big a deal?  In the US, we spend $800 million on PB each year.  A 30% increase would mean us spending over $1 billion just on PB.  That's a lot of nuts.  Pecans are a little different.  80% of the world's pecans come from the US and although supply is down because of dry weather, demand in places like Asia is not.  This leads to an increase in pecan prices.  (Be sure to watch the Weather Channel's short video on this subject and tell me if you think that the desalination idea makes sense to you.  It sure does to me!)
  • Sugar--The world's biggest sugar cane producer, Brazil, has been extremely dry and the crops have been hit hard.  Sugar prices will continue to rise and, although you may not see it too much when buying a bag of sugar, you probably will notice it in the price of sugary items like cookies and candy.
Just more reason to buy locally produced foods.  And to make your own cookies.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Community Garden to Help the Hungry

You may remember that I headed up my church's charity music festival, Joyful Noise, this past summer.  It benefited the Quakertown Food Pantry--one of loads of similar organizations in our area that help thousands of families acquire the most basic of needs--food. 

As you travel throughout Bucks County and other areas near here, you can't be struck by the bounty of incredible food that's available to us from wonderful local farms, restaurants and specialty stores.  It makes you wonder how there could be any hungry families around here.  But there are.  Thousands of our neighbors' children go to bed hungry, not knowing where their next meal is coming from.  The numbers can be astounding.  Read this article that I wrote last spring for more statistics that will blow you away.   

There are some positive signs, though.  One of these signs is the formation of a community garden on the grounds of Delaware Valley College in Doylestown.  According to an article in last Sunday's Intelligencer, an acre of land at the school will be used to grow food--under the supervision of students and faculty--that will be donated to the Bucks County Opportunity Council, which will then distribute the food to various agencies and food pantries around the county. 

This is huge for people who use such organizations.  Very often, fresh fruits and vegetables are the foods that get sacrificed by families in need--even though they're the most important for a healthy diet.  The DelVal program will help to spread these healthy foods to families that need such foods badly. 

Tackling hunger is a huge task, but it can be done.  The DelVal community garden may be a small step, but it's one in the right direction.  A lot of small steps can cover a lot of ground. 

It reminds me of favorite quote by Chinese writer and inventor, Lin Yutang who said, "Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence."  Let's hope that the efforts at DelVal lead to a long road ahead.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Big 0-6

I just want to take a minute to wish Jake a Happy 6th Birthday.  When he was born, I wondered if I could make it through 6 days, never mind 6 years.  But he's made it very easy. 

Since this is a mostly food blog, I thought I'd post some pics from the past year of him enjoying all sorts of food.  And he often is enjoying some sort of food.  I guess he's a growing boy!
He requested homemade popcorn shrimp for last year's bday dinner.
Chewing on one his favorites--fennel.
Enjoying some Owowcow ice cream.
Picking strawberries this summer.

Eating his first whole lobster in Maine.

More ice cream, this time with Mom at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream
in Bar Harbor.
Mmmm...Great burgers at Johnny Rockets in Freeport, ME.
Most recently, enjoying another favorite--cabbage.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Root, Root, Root for the Home Team

We all know that eating locally is great--especially in our area with all the great farms and farm markets around.  It gives us fresher, more nutritious, more delicious produce than we could ever find in a supermarket.

But we also know that in the dead of winter (yes, this is winter despite the spring-like weather), it's hard to eat locally grown produce.  No tomatoes or cucumbers around here these days.  So if we can't necessarily eat locally, we can eat seasonally.  And this time of year, that often means root vegetables.

Supermarket tomatoes, for example, grown in California or Mexico or wherever, taste lousy because tomatoes just don't ship well.  But root veggies, whether they're grown locally or not, will not lose their freshness for a long time.

Carrots, parsnips, beets, celeriac and other root veggies may not have gained popularity until recently (and for some, haven't gotten that far yet).  But don't dismiss them--especially roasted where they get browned and so sweet. 

The cool thing about them, as NY Times food columnist, Mark Bittman, writes, is that root veggies can be used virtually interchangeably.  You may have to adjust cooking times, but you can use parsnips in a recipe that calls for carrots or turnips in place of potatoes, etc.  Check out Bittman's article about root veggies and be sure to click the link that takes you his recipes.