Thursday, June 23, 2011

Asparagus Rolled in Herb Crêpes

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

12 herb crêpes

2 pounds asparagus

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated gruyère cheese

2 tablespoons chopped chives

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter or oil two baking dishes. Steam the asparagus until tender, about five minutes. Divide into 12 portions, and place a portion on each crêpe. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, gruyère and chives. Roll up and place in the prepared baking dishes.

2. Sprinkle the Parmesan over the crêpes, and drizzle on the olive oil. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until bubbling; the edges of the crêpes should be just beginning to crisp. Serve hot.

Yield: Serves six.

Advance preparation: You can store the crêpes in the refrigerator or the freezer for a couple of days. Stack them between pieces of parchment or wax paper so they don’t stick together. The assembled crêpes can be refrigerated for up to a day.

Nutritional information per serving (six servings): 288 calories; 4 grams saturated fat; 3 grams polyunsaturated fat; 10 grams monounsaturated fat; 76 milligrams cholesterol; 22 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams dietary fiber; 303 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 12 grams protei

Monday, June 20, 2011

F.D.A. Unveils New Rules About Sunscreen Claims

Chip Litherland for The New York Times

Terms like “sunblock,” “waterproof” and “sweatproof” will be banned under tougher standards.

WASHINGTON — After 33 years of consideration, the Food and Drug Administration took steps on Tuesday to sort out the confusing world of sunscreens, with new rules that specify which lotions provide the best protection against the sun and ending claims that they are truly waterproof.


Chip Litherland for The New York Times

The average person in the average bathing suit needs one fluid ounce for each sunscreen application, a dermatologist advised.

The F.D.A. said sunscreens must protect equally against two kinds of the sun’s radiation, UVB and UVA, to earn the coveted designation of offering “broad spectrum” protection. UVB rays cause burning; UVA rays cause wrinkling; and both causecancer.

The rules, which go into effect in a year, will also ban sunscreen manufacturers from claiming their products are waterproof or sweatproof because such claims are false. Instead, they will be allowed to claim in minutes the amount of time in which the product is water resistant, depending upon test results.

And only sunscreens that have a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 15 or higher will be allowed to maintain that they help prevent sunburn and reduce the risks of skin cancer and early skin aging.

The rules have been under consideration since 1978, when “Boogie Oogie Oogie” was a hit on the radio and most beach lotions were intended to encourage tanning, not protect against it. But federal regulators said they had yet to decide whether to end an SPF arms race in which manufacturers are introducing sunscreens with SPF numbers of 70, 80 and 100 even though such lotions offer little more protection than those with an SPF of 50.

Still, dermatologists said they were thrilled.

“Now, we’ll be able to tell patients which sunscreens to get,” said Dr. Henry W. Lim, chairman of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and a spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology.

The rules will transform the $680 million domestic market for sunscreens, which has been growing rapidly because of an aging population and growing worries about skin cancer. And the final regulations are a stark change from a proposal the agency released in 2007, which would have created a star-based system for UVA protection. Under that system, sunscreens would have provided an SPF number for UVB protection and one to four stars for UVA protection.

The agency received more than 3,000 comments on that proposal, with many asserting that allowing products to offer differing levels of protection against UVB and UVA rays would be confusing. So the agency ditched the stars and instead will tell manufacturers that if they wish to label their products as offering “broad spectrum” protection they must make their defense against UVB and UVA radiation proportional.

“We think this is going to be much easier for the consumer to understand,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the F.D.A.’s drug center, said in an interview. “All they’re going to need to do is pick an SPF number and then make sure that it’s broad spectrum.”

Any product that fails to offer proportional protection or has an SPF of 2 to 14 must include a warning that the product has not been shown to help prevent skin cancer or early skin aging. The new rules will standardize the testing that manufacturers must conduct for UVA protection.

The agency had proposed allowing manufacturers to use SPF numbers no higher than 50, but that remains only a proposal for which the agency will seek further comment. In particular, the government is asking whether there are special groups of people who would somehow benefit from having a product with an SPF of more than 50.

“Right now, we don’t have any data to show that anything above 50 adds any value for anybody,” Dr. Woodcock said.

Dr. Warwick L. Morison, a professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University and chairman of the photobiology committee for the Skin Cancer Foundation, said he was disappointed that the F.D.A. failed to ban SPF numbers higher than 50 because such products expose people to more irritating sunscreen ingredients without meaningful added protection.

“It’s pointless,” Dr. Morison said.

More than two million people in the United States are treated each year for the two most common types of skin cancer, basal cell and squamous cell, and more than 68,000 receive a diagnosis of melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease. Sunscreens have not been shown to prevent the first case of basal cell carcinoma, but they delay reoccurrences of basal cell and have been shown to prevent squamous cell and melanoma.

The F.D.A. announced that it was re-examining the safety of the roughly 17 sunscreen agents approved for use in the United States, although it has no information to suggest that they are not safe. Tuesday’s announcement will do nothing to speed the approval of more sunscreen agents. There are roughly 28 such agents approved in Europe and 40 in Japan, and some in the industry complain that the best ingredients have yet to reach American shores.

Some consumer and environmental groups have expressed concern that the ingredients in some sunscreens have been made so microscopic that they could be absorbed through the skin into the body, but Dr. Woodcock said that the F.D.A.’s own tests had found no cause for such concerns.

The agency is also asking for more information about sunscreen sprays to ensure that consumers get adequate quantities from spray bottles and to explore what happens when those products are inhaled. “You could imagine a child getting a sunscreen sprayed on and turning their face into the blast and breathing it in,” Dr. Woodcock said. “It’s a question of safety.”

The new regulations will do nothing to prevent the most common problem with sunscreens lotions, which is that consumers fail to use enough of them. The rules become effective in one year, although manufacturers with less than $25,000 in annual sales will have two years to comply.

Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, said the new rules were important. Mr. Reed proposed legislation mandating that the F.D.A. finally adopt the sunscreen proposals it floated in 2007.

“The F.D.A. has been sitting on these proposals for many, many years,” Mr. Reed said. “This is a major step, and I’m glad they’ve done it.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gluten-Free: Flavor-Free No More
A FEW years ago, tough and tasteless baked goods were just one of the unpleasant things you had to put up with if you had a gluten sensitivity.

Flash forward less than a decade, and it’s a completely different scene. Gluten-free cookies, pies and cakes are starting to rival their traditional counterparts.

At Babycakes, a vegan and gluten-free bakery with branches in Manhattan and Los Angeles, Erin McKenna’s cake doughnuts are so feather-light and deeply flavored that no one would guess they’re wheat-free. And a whole-grain muffin recipe by Shauna James Ahern produces muffins so ethereal, fluffy and tender they seem like pastries from another planet — a sweet one, without gravity — and better than most other whole-grain muffins made with whole-wheat flour.

Gluten-free baked goods have become tastier as demand for them has risen. More Americans — about 6 percent of the population, according to the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland — have found that gluten, in wheat, barley and rye, causes health problems. What had been a niche market has become mainstream.

This means that gluten-free foods, once relegated to health food stores and alternative cafes, are now solid citizens of supermarkets, mall restaurants and even baseball stadiums.

For 20 years, Bob’s Red Mill, in Milwaukie, Ore., has included gluten-free products among the grains and flours it sells, but in the past four years it has increased that product line to include 70 gluten-free items and has seen its sales rise 35 percent annually.

Even home cooks are turning out baked goods that might once have seemed esoteric, as supermarkets are carrying gluten-free flour mixes and a range of gluten-free flours, like sweet potato, sorghum, teff and oat. And gums like xanthan gum and guar gum that can give baked goods the structure and texture that gluten proteins would otherwise provide — once available only in laboratories and food-processing plants — are now probably in a health food store near you or, at the least, a mouse click away.

There have also been a slew of cookbooks to help bakers navigate a gluten-free kitchen. More than 60 were published in 2010 alone.

“When I first started baking without gluten, it was all trial and error, testing out all these unfamiliar flours like sorghum and teff and learning how to use them,” said Ms. Ahern, an author, with her husband, Daniel Ahern, of the cookbook “Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef” (Wiley, 2010) and the popular blog

But years of practice and experimentation have paid off.

Ms. McKenna said that “gluten-free baking is getting better as bakers, myself included, learn more about using all the different ingredients.”

When she first gave up wheat in 2002, she said, all of the pastries she tried were completely unsatisfying.

“They were heavy and dry and just not good,” she said. That motivated her to start coming up with her own recipes and, eventually, to open Babycakes.

Ms. Ahern said that when she first removed wheat flour from her baking, she felt like a mad scientist.

“I had never baked like this before,” she said. “No one had ever baked like this before. It was all new territory.”

The key for Ms. Ahern’s baking success was letting go of expectations.

“About two years ago, it dawned on me that I should stop trying to make my batters and doughs mimic gluten-filled recipes,” she said. “Everything looked different, wetter, softer; breads don’t rise as much. But it didn’t matter, because the recipes were working.”

The most important lesson that Ms. Ahern learned was figuring out how much flour to use. A cup of gluten-free flour and a cup of wheat flour will have different weights, but gram for gram, they act the same. And the precision of gram measurements helps.

“We are so attached to measuring things by volume in this country,” she said, “but what I’ve learned is that if you weigh everything instead, you can substitute a gluten-free flour blend for wheat flour in pretty much any recipe.”

Ms. Ahern recommends making your own flour blend rather than using a store-bought mix so that you decide what ingredients you want to include or leave out.

Her exact mix changes with what she has in the house, but she finds that a ratio of 70 percent grain and/or nut flours (sweet rice, brown rice, cornmeal, sorghum, amaranth, teff, millet, oat, buckwheat or almond) to 30 percent starches (potato starch, arrowroot, cornstarch, tapioca) will yield an all-purpose substitute for wheat flour.

“I don’t know all the science behind why that ratio seems to work so well,” she said. “I just know through trial and error that it does.”

A flour blend in that ratio worked well in several recipes. An almond layer cake baked up fragrant and buttery, albeit a little more crumbly than usual. A much-loved recipe for brownies was as fudgy and intense as always, though perhaps a shade stickier. Even a pizza came out reasonably well, with a full-flavored, crackerlike crust that had a pleasing if slight chew.

The recipes also worked with a purchased flour blend, but they were drier and denser, with a slight metallic aftertaste that probably came from the bean flours in the mix.

Ms. Ahern uses mostly whole grain flours, for two reasons. One is the increased nutrition. The other is that whole-grain flours have a higher protein than refined flours, and a high-protein content is essential to good gluten-free baking. That is why high protein and (sadly vegetal and metallic tasting) bean flours — garbanzo and fava — are often used in gluten-free flour mixes, to bump up the protein count.

Gums are another way to help the texture of gluten-free pastries.

“Gluten gives baked goods their chew, their crust and their structure,” said Rebecca Reilly, the author of “Gluten-Free Baking” (Simon & Schuster, 2007) and an instructor at the Natural Gourmet Cooking School.

“If you don’t have gluten in a recipe, you have to rely on protein, starch and sometimes gums and texturizers,” she said, “xanthan gum, guar gum, kudzu and gelatin, pectin, to hold everything together and give an elastic quality.”

But gums are expensive and can cause stomach irritation in some people. Ms. Ahern has cut them out of her baking entirely. The proper ratio of grain flour to starch should do the trick, she said.

Before you start custom-designing your flour mix, Pam Cureton, a registered dietitian at the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland, recommends starting with a ready-made blend. “It’s expensive to mix your own flours,” she said. If you don’t like the taste of bean flours, she said, there are new mixes on the market without them (though many have the gums already added, so check the ingredient list if you want to avoid them).

The one imperative to keep in mind if you are baking gluten-free in a usually gluten-filled kitchen, Ms. Cureton said, is to make sure there is no cross contact. Wheat flour can linger in the air for 24 to 36 hours. If it lands in your bowls and pans, it can contaminate them, very possibly making someone extremely sick. Similarly, it is wise not to buy gluten-free flours from bulk bins, because you never know if someone accidentally stuck the whole-wheat flour scoop into the millet flour.

Her advice is to scrub your kitchen and put utensils, pans, bowls, cutting boards and sponges in the dishwasher before baking gluten-free. And to make sure your aprons and oven mitts are clean. “I always tell people that if they are going to do both gluten-free and gluten-filled baking, they should bake the gluten-free recipes first, when the kitchen is clean,” she said.

But then again, maybe an easier route if you’re baking for mixed company is to just go gluten-free. With these recipes everyone will be happily fed from the very same platter.

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