Saturday, August 4, 2007

Pressed Veggie Sandwiches - It's Summer!

A pressed sandwich is a loaf of rustic bread that's split, filled with ingredients, and then wrapped and refrigerated overnight under a weight to flatten the layers and meld the flavors. This recipe makes sandwiches with these vegetables, but the basic concept is infinitely variable, so adjust the ingredients if you like. A mandoline ensures that the vegetables are sliced thinly and evenly. You can use store-bought pesto and jarred roasted red peppers in place of homemade.


Serves 6

* 2 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
* 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
* 1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
* 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
* 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
* 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
* 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 red bell pepper (about 7 ounces)
* 1 small eggplant (about 8 ounces), cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
* 1 zucchini (about 8 ounces), cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
* 1 yellow summer squash (about 7 ounces), cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
* Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
* Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
* 2 loaves ciabatta (each about 8 by 10 inches), halved horizontally
* 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices


1. Make the pesto: Pulse basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper in a food processor until combined. With machine running, add 1/2 cup oil in a slow, steady stream. Transfer to a small airtight container, and top with remaining oil. Pesto can be refrigerated overnight.
2. Preheat grill or grill pan to medium-high. (If you are using a charcoal grill, coals are ready when you can hold your hand 5 inches above grill for just 3 to 4 seconds.) Grill bell pepper, turning with tongs, until blackened all over. Place in a bag, close bag, and steam 15 minutes. Peel pepper, and discard skin.
3. Lightly brush both sides of eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Grill, flipping once, until golden brown and soft, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
4. Pull out most of the doughy center of bread, and reserve for another use (such as breadcrumbs). Brush inside of each loaf with oil. Spread pesto over bottom half of each loaf. Top both loaf bottoms with grilled vegetables and the mozzarella. Sandwich top and bottom of each loaf, and press firmly. Tightly wrap each sandwich in plastic, allowing air to release before sealing. Wrap each in parchment paper, and tie with kitchen string. Place sandwiches in refrigerator, and weigh down with a heavy object (such as a Dutch oven). Refrigerate at least 2 hours (or overnight). Slice, and serve.

(Courtesy of MS LIVING)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Pepsi Forced to Admit It's Bottling Tap Water

Pepsi is being forced to change the labels on its Aquafina water to admit it is tap water. But that is just the tip of the iceberg, as activists are ramping up campaigns against the water-bottling giants, Coke, Pepsi and Nestle.

The soft drink giant Pepsi has been forced to make an embarrassing admission: Its bestselling Aquafina bottled water is nothing more than tap water. Last week, Pepsi agreed to change the labels of Aquafina to indicate the water comes from a public water source. Pepsi agreed to change its label under pressure from the advocacy group Corporate Accountability International, which has been leading an increasingly successful campaign against bottled water.

In San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently banned city departments from using city money to buy any kind of bottled water. In New York, local residents are being urged to drink tap water. The U.S. Conference of Mayors has passed a resolution that highlighted the importance of municipal water and called for more scrutiny of the impact of bottled water on city waste.

The environmental impact of the country's obsession with bottled water has been staggering. Each day an estimated 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away. Most are not recycled. The Pacific Institute has estimated 20 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the plastic for water bottles.

Economically, it makes sense to stop buying bottled water as well. The Arizona Daily Star recently examined the cost difference between bottled water and water from the city's municipal supply. A half-liter of Pepsi's Aquafina at a Tucson convenience store costs $1.39. The bottle contains purified water from the Tucson water supply. From the tap, you can pour over 6.4 gallons for a penny. That makes the bottled stuff about 7,000 times more expensive, even though Aquafina is using the same water source.

(information courtesy of

Can’t Sleep? Try This Herbal Combo

Healthnotes Newswire (June 28, 2007)—A new study finds that taking a combination extract of the herbs valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and hops (Humulus lupulus) can help people with insomnia fall asleep faster.

“Valerian and hops are traditionally used as sleep aids,” said Dr. Uwe Koetter, head of research and development at Max Zeller Söhne in Romanshorn, Switzerland, and the study’s lead author. Dr. Kotter and colleagues produced a fixed extract combination that they claim has “distinct pharmacological activity.” The combination is sold in the United States under the brand name Alluna.

Brattström and colleagues looked at the sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep once the lights are out) of 27 people with sleep disturbances not caused by any known underlying diseases. To be included in this study, sleep latency had to be greater than 30 minutes. Sleep parameters were recorded by means of a portable home recorder system.

Participants were randomly assigned to receive either placebo, valerian extract alone, or the fixed valerian–hops extract combination. The amount of the single valerian extract was identical to the amount contained in the fixed extract combination (500 mg). In the extract combination, 120 mg of hops extract was added.

The results, published in Phytotherapy Research, found that the fixed extract combination was significantly superior to the placebo in reducing sleep latency (from 56.5 minutes to 12.0 minutes); the single valerian extract also reduced sleep latency (from 45.9 minutes to 23.8 minutes) but this improvement was not significantly better than the improvement in the placebo group.

In previous research, valerian has been shown to exert physiological effects that are the opposite of those produced by coffee. Caffeine in coffee blocks the binding of a chemical called adenosine to its receptors. Normal adenosine binding causes us to feel tired and ready for sleep. Whereas caffeine interferes with this process, valerian extracts appear to enhance it. The mechanism by which hops induces restful sleep is not known, but the herb is known to interact with receptors for melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep–wake cycle.

While further research is needed to support these findings, insomniacs may find a valerian–hops combination to be worth trying for a better night’s rest.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Spoiled Rotten: How to Make Your Fruits and Vegetables Last

Americans throw out 25 percent of the produce they buy because it’s gone bad. How to stop the waste? Know when to shop, learn which fruits and veggies don’t get along and which ones to keep out of the fridge.

Perhaps you do it once a week. Perhaps only when you trace those sulfurous odors to your refrigerator’s crisper drawers. But eventually, you toss out spoiled vegetables and fruits. Lots of them. Researchers at the University of Arizona recently spent a year tracking families’ food-use habits. Working with the United States Department of Agriculture, they interviewed the families about their eating habits, collected their grocery receipts, watched them prepare meals, and then sifted through every last discarded lettuce leaf, slice of bread, burger and bean.

The results, reported in 2002, were pretty shocking. The families tossed out an average of 470 pounds of food per year—about 14 percent of all food brought into the home—at an annual cost of $600. Every day, they discarded more than half a pound of fruits and veggies. In total, Americans chuck a quarter of all the produce they buy, mostly because it’s gone bad, says Timothy Jones, PhD, contemporary archaeologist at the University of Arizona. Nationally, we dump $43 billion worth of food every year.

Wasting produce is, well, a waste—bad for our wallets and bad for the environment. Plus, who wants to make a salad when confronted with a bin of rotting sludge? All this led us to ask: How can we keep produce fresh longer?


Acai Is Everywhere - Or Will Be Soon

I'm pretty sure that I didn't know anything about açai berries a year ago.

Or if I did, I instantly lumped them into the same "exotic ingredients I'm unlikely to try" category, which also includes mangosteen or goji berry. I thought that, if anything, acai berries were destined to be found only at the funkiest of health food stores, and not at my neighborhood ice cream parlor or watering hole.

But a year later, the small but mighty açai berry has burst onto the mainstream.

Expect to see them in sorbets, cocktails, energy drinks and gels, smoothies, teas, jams, cosmetics, and all sorts of other things. In other words, before long everyone will know that the correct way to pronounce acai is ah-sigh-ee.

Experts now predict that dark purple berries—which taste like a cross between blueberries and chocolate—are likely to follow the same trajectory as pomegranates or green tea, as they become part of the average American pantry.

That's good news, because acai is thought to be one of the world's most healthful foods. Native to Brazil, the berries grow on palm trees in the rainforests. Better still, experts think their popularity could bring a kind of sustainable agriculture option to the farmers in the Amazon, who may prefer to harvest the berries, instead of chop down palm trees.

Acai leapt onto Oprah's radar (and therefore the radar of most of the country) as her No. 1 superfood. They're loaded with antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids.

My question is: Will the potent little berry maintain it's superfood powers once it's revamped as a premium sorbet or infused in a fruity cocktail? I hope so, because I'm far more likely to try acai once its health value has been compromised by sugar, fat, or alcohol.

I doubt they'd still qualify as superfoods, but the second I see it my grocery store freezer, I'm snapping up Haagen-Dazs new Brazilian Acai Berry Sorbet. And I'll happily sample some of the newly-created cocktails, such as an Acai-spiked martini, or mojito (er, make that a Veevito).

In the meantime, there are a lot more truly healthful acai-based options. For instance, there's a new green tea made with acai. Or you can introduce the superfood to your daily diet by blending some acai powder into your smoothie or just drinking some juice.

I'm sure that would be a great way to introduce acai into my day-to-day life. But I doubt it'd be as much fun as a cocktail known as an the Acai Creamsicle.