September is National Cholesterol Education Month

Ah, September.  The time of cool, crisp weather (sometimes) and back-to-school (did you hear the collective Mom sigh?) Oh, and National Cholesterol Education Month.


Who  knew there was a National Cholesterol Education Month?

Not me, and I, um, write about cholesterol.  Weekly.

As a marketing professional, this is distressing. As a writer, I can’t believe it took me until September 29th to pen a post about September being National Cholesterol Education Month.

And no, it doesn’t get any ‘ringier’ the more I type “National Cholesterol Education Month.”

How about this: NCEM.

Nope. Not catchy either.

OK, so I give up on making National Cholesterol Education Month sound tantalizing. So let’s get on with what it is.

Way back in November 1985, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) – a division of the National Institute of Health – launched the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP).  The stated goal of the program is to “raise awareness and understanding about high blood cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD) and the benefits of lowering cholesterol levels as a means of preventing CHD.”

And while big advances have been made in reducing cholesterol and heart disease since the 1980s, the NCEP is a government program, and is, um, not well marketed.  To the public at least.

The crazy thing is: there is some fantastic information on the National Cholesterol Education Program website – it’s just buried in an extraordinarily difficult to navigate interface.  If you manage to realize that ‘Patients/General Public‘ is the right link to click — which it is, there’s a ton of great info buried in this page — you’re left to wonder where to go next to actually find the information. Because, um, clicking the link on the title of what you’d like to open doesn’t work (the trick is to click ‘PDF’ next to it).

So in an effort to actually ‘educate’ – and by that I mean to provide links that are easy to open so you can actually find out more about cholesterol, here are links to the good info buried on the NCEP site:

The NCEP wants you to know it’s important to get your cholesterol checked to reduce the risk of heart disease – still the #1 killer in the US.  Who should get their cholesterol checked and how often?

“The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends that adults aged 20 years or older have their cholesterol checked every 5 years.”

And if you’re like me, you need your cholesterol checked far more frequently than every 5 years.  For me, it’s annual.  The recommendation is a more frequent cholesterol check (possibly annually) if:

  • your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or higher,
  • you are a man older than age 45 or a woman older than age 50,
  • your HDL cholesterol is lower than 40 mg/dL,
  • and/or you have other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

As it’s September (well, for a few more hours) and September is National Consumer Education Month (nope, still not catchy), please make an appointment to get your cholesterol checked.  I’m due for my annual check in November.  How about you?


The Trick To Steaming Whole Fish

As a means of communicating with professional cooks who write interesting articles with accompanying, tantalizing recipes, absolutely nothing beats Twitter.

Two of my favorite New York Times Dining section authors, Melissa Clark and David Tanis, both respond to questions about their recipes via Twitter.

They don’t know me. But when I query them via Twitter, both answer.

How amazing is that? You try a recipe you’ve clipped from the NYT, have a question, and simply post your puzzlement to the author via Twitter – and voila, you get an answer. Huge kudos to Melissa Clark and David Tanis for taking the time to respond to readers.

In Not Whole Steamed Fish I posted about the delicious Steamed Whole Fish With Ginger and Sesame recipe by David Tanis — loved the recipe, but the steamer size puzzled me. I could not make the recipe as written because a whole fish would never, ever fit in my what-I-assume-is-a-typical-size (10 inch) bamboo steamer. So I used a fillet as his accompanying article suggested, but was very curious to know what kind of steamer he used. I really want to steam a whole fish in a bamboo steamer because the recipe picture looks amazing – and it’d be a lo-co yet very impressive way to serve fish at a dinner party.

I  direct messaged Mr. Tanis via Twitter with a link to my ‘Not Whole Steamed Fish‘ post, and he direct messaged me back:

“I used a big bamboo steamer 15-inch diameter but for large fish I often steam over a deep roasting pan straddling 2 burners.”

THIS is why I love Twitter — I don’t actually open or read Twitter in general, but I find it absolutely amazing that I can ask a NYT article author a clarifying question about a recipe or their article — AND THEY ANSWER.


Thanks, David Tanis.

Now, onto my steaming a whole fish project. Now that I know the key is a 15 inch steamer, I have one big problem: 15 inch bamboo steamers seem to be a restaurant staple, not something you can easily find for the home.  That said, I did find a few  – 1 on Amazon and several from some restaurant supply sites. But they were over $100.

I was tempted, but… $100?

Plus it’ll NEVER fit in my magic closet (where my many kitchen implements that are not frequently used and/or are huge live…I mean hide.)

So I will be trying Mr. Tanis’ suggestion to steam a whole fish on a big platter set inside the very large Calphalon roasting pan I use for Thanksgiving turkey.

Oh, wait? Does that roasting pan have a lid? I’ll have to dig in my magic closet to find out.

Maybe while I’m in there I can see if a 15 inch bamboo steamer could fit…



Freedom Equals Dining Out?

Who knew that dropping off your one and only child at the airport for his freshman year of college would spark a spate of eating dinner out every night since he’s been gone.

So not lo-co.

So fun.


We dined out even though I actually drove myself across town to Stop & Shop and purchased ingredients for 2-count-em-2 dinners. (I have just now trashed the fresh kale, broccolini, and already-skewered teriyaki skewers purchased on Monday; luckily the turkey polska kielbasa will hold. Probably indefinitely. Which is a scary something I need to consider as my Hillshire Farms turkey kielbasa obsession rages on.)

On my son’s last next-to-last-night at home, we were planning to eat dinner together but chaos ensued when an emergency trip to REI was needed. I was so aggravated with him, I chose for my husband and I to run this errand – so we could then go out to dinner and avoid more packing-for-college craziness.  After filtered water bottle (critical, right?) was purchased, we then spent several hours at Fat Cat Pie in the next town over, polishing off a bottle of wine along with salad and pizza.

On his last night home, we made his current favorite meal: chimichuri steak, roasted fingerling potatoes  and broccolini sauted with garlic and soy sauce (I had the not-whole-steamed-fish instead of steak. Which ended up being my last lo-co meal all week.)

Sunday morning, we dropped him at LaGuaradia Airport and were so exhausted and emotionally drained we spent hours prone on the sofa. Then we realized we weren’t done with said child – we had to finish packing and taping the 4 huge boxes we were FedEx’ing to his dorm.  I’m not even sure we ate dinner that night.

Monday, I decided to shop so we could have some healthy dinners.

Monday at around 6pm I didn’t feel like cooking. I was still tired. And the chicken would hold until tomorrow.  So out we went out for paninis.

Tuesday, not only did I not feel like cooking, but it hit me that there was absolutely no reason for us to be home.  Eric was gone – and we had no obligations.  The boxes were at FedEx, and we were done.  Free.  Indeed, free to dine wherever our hearts desired. Mine desired chicken under a brick at The Spotted Horse where they have a lovely Super Tuscan by the glass. I had two.

Wednesday, I had the best of intentions for making that darn chicken. Didn’t happen. After a walk at the beach, we were at the other end of town so decided to go to Shake Shack. Ended up instead at Gray Goose, the sister-restaurant to The Spotted Horse. Because, um, they have the same wine list.

Thursday, not surprisingly, we went to Shake Shack. Because, well, we discussed it on Wednesday. At least I ordered the Shack Shack Bird Dog (chicken hot dog) instead of a burger. Though I ate nearly all the fries we were supposed to split. Sorry again, Michael!

Last night, there was no way I was making that now expired chicken so was planning on the turkey kielbasa when my friend Lisa called and asked if we wanted to go to Fat Cat for pizza.  I literally laughed out loud and said yes as quickly as possible.

We’re away for the next few days, so I have some time to get my act together and figure out how to get back to cooking now that we are free to not be here for dinner every night.


Not Whole Steamed Fish

After a summer with a lot of travel – and the poor eating that accompanies vacation, despite good intentions – I was looking to kick off September with some healthy, low-cholesterol dinner options.  It seemed a good omen that David Tanis’ interesting New York Times article, “The Whole Fish And Nothing But” was published on my birthday and the accompanying recipe looked great, so I decided to give it a try.

And the recipe was great – pretty easy and very tasty – but with one big issue. The illustration of Steamed Whole Fish With Ginger and Sesame was my goal, but it was just plain unachievable with the very-regular-sized bamboo steamer I dug out of my ‘magic closet’ of kitchen tools I don’t use very often.

Fred R. Conrad, NYT

Fred R. Conrad, NYT

Doesn’t this picture look tantalizing? Who wouldn’t want to put a nice whole fish on the serving plate, steam it for 15 minutes, and serve right on the plate? No muss, no fuss and best of all, no extra clean up.  OK, my sister Kathy wouldn’t want to because even the idea of fish makes her gag (sad, no?) but for those of us who like fish, this seems, well, perfect.

After unearthing my 10 inch bamboo steamer, I headed to the fish market and was stumped.  Every piece of whole red snapper and black bass were markedly larger than 7 inch plate that fits inside my steamer.

There was no way I could replicate that photo — no way I could fit a whole fish on a dish inside MY bamboo steamer. What was up with that? Did David Tanis have some industrial sized bamboo steamer?

I tweeted him – and the NYT – to no avail.  They did not answer.  Yet.

I remain hopeful that I will receive an answering tweet AND at the prospect of shopping for more kitchen gadgets. Even though there is no more room in my magic closet.

With fitting a whole fish inside a bamboo steamer still a mystery I soldiered on, fortified by Mr. Tanis’ direction to simply shorten the cooking time for a boneless fillet.

I chose a half-pound fillet of red snapper, whipped up the easy marinade and was rewarded with a very healthy, very flavorful dinner (the chile paste makes it spicy so use less if you don’t like some heat.)  My husband and son were dining on steak – but they tasted the fish and both proclaimed it delicious.

A few modifications I made:

  • As I’m not a huge ginger fan, I used less ginger than called for, and cheated with jarred, crushed ginger.
  • I am sure the stir-fried scallions would be delicious, but I left them off to reduce the oil (oh, who am I kidding, I was too lazy and forgot scallions to boot).
  • Though I adore cilantro, the potted cilantro on my deck had been reduced to dry stalks, so I had to leave them off too.  No matter, it was still wonderful.

Here’s to hoping David Tanis tweets me back with an answer to the bamboo steamer mystery so I can whip this up again, this time with a whole fish. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, try this at home by rigging up your own large steamer (Mr. Tanis’ article explains how) OR using a fillet. It’s a great entree: simple, elegant, healthy and delicious.

Steamed Whole Fish With Ginger and Sesame
By David Tanis

  • 2 whole fish, like black sea bass or red snapper, about 1 1/2 pounds each, gutted and scaled by a fishmonger
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese sweet wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chile bean paste, available in a Chinese grocery
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil, more for dressing
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 2 bunches scallions, cut in 3-inch lengths
  • 1 bunch cilantro


Rinse fish with cold water, pat dry and season inside and out with salt and pepper. Place both fish on a heatproof platter or shallow baking dish. (Dish must be slightly smaller than inside dimensions of steamer.)
Whisk together sweet wine, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chile bean paste and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Pour over fish and let marinate, turning once, for 30 minutes.
Set up steamer with 3 inches of water in the bottom, then set rack 1 inch over water. Bring water to a rapid boil. Place fish, still on platter with marinade, on rack and cover with lid. (If using a bamboo steamer, cover top with a dish towel to retain steam.) Steam fish for 10 to 12 minutes, until just done. Flesh should look opaque, and there should be no pink at the bone when probed gently with a paring knife. Carefully remove platter from steamer.
Meanwhile, place a skillet or wok over high heat and add vegetable oil. When oil looks hazy, add scallions and toss to coat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and stir-fry until slightly charred, about 2 minutes.
To serve, scatter scallions over fish and top liberally with cilantro sprigs. (To make a tastier cilantro garnish, dress sprigs lightly with sesame oil and salt.) Using 2 forks, serve top fillet from carcass. Remove and discard skeleton to reveal lower fillet. Give each diner some fish, scallions and cilantro. Spoon pan juices over each serving.
2 to 4 servings