Saturday, June 21, 2014

CDC Advisory: Don't _______ that Chicken!

Mad Libs! Does anyone play it in the winter? Mad Libs reminds me of summer road trips and lying around in the cool basement being bored enough to play Mad Libs by myself. Anyway, two verbs apply to the title of this post. Try to pick them among this list:

- Mollycoddle
- Beget
- Encourage
- Kiss
- Endorse
- Befriend
- Wash
- Catfish
- Underestimate
- Reach out to

Guess yet?

The correct answers are KISS and WASH. There's been some reporting on the former in the past few months. Turns out the rise of backyard chicken coops is causing an increase in Salmonella infections. Because people who keep chickens fall in love with them and plant kisses on them, in spite of the chicken clawing to get away like six year old human trying to avoid the slobbery kiss of a geriatric relative. Even those who shy away from physical expressions of love with their pets are at risk: just having them around in your living space puts you at risk. A healthy chicken can still get you very sick - essentially, they've got germs all over their feathers, feet and beaks. Letting the chicken cross the threshold invites disaster.

As for washing, we're now talking about a bird you're ready to eat. It doesn't matter if it's a whole chicken, or a skinless boneless breast, or a pile of chicken wings and drummettes: don't wash them before cooking. Doing so merely spreads the germs you washed off the bird all over your sink, splattering counters and utensils. I've written about this before around Thanksgiving because I brine the turkey with kosher salt and it needs to be rinsed and the whole thing makes me twitchy about poisoning our guests (not twitchy enough to stop brining, tho).

Brush up on your food safety here at the USDA site. And don't Snapchat that chicken!

Referenced above:
Backyard Chickens Linked to Salmonella Outbreaks, CDC Says 

Risk of Human Salmonella Infections from Live Baby Poultry 
Why Washing Raw Chicken Could Be Hazardous To Your Health

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Can Your Sweet Tooth be Retrained?

There were two big sugar events this week. First, a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough was produced. Our practice concerning cookies is ordered around the empirical truth that cookies are only good when fresh baked (further chronicled here). We make dough and roll it into logs. One log goes in the freezer and the other stays in the fridge. Individual cookies are baked off for treats on an as needed basis. That this practice also precludes overindulgence is not lost on the nutrition hawk in me.

The second event was that we took delivery on a 10-pound bag of glucose (a/k/a dextrose powder). Quick chemistry on glucose: glucose and its chubby cousin, fructose, are monosaccharides. Put together they form sucrose, yes, a disaccharide. Sucrose is what's in your sugar bowl. That batch of cookies called for 3/4 cup of white granulated sugar and another 3/4 cup of light brown sugar (1). Whether your sugar bowl contains sugar-in-the-raw, or those fancy La Perruche sugar cubes I like so much, or white granulated table sugar you assumed originated from sugar cane but is actually from beets, it's all sucrose. It's all the same chemistry.

Once ingested, enzymes break sucrose back down into fructose and glucose. Your body needs glucose, it is a source of energy needed by cells (2). Your body does not need dietary fructose - it heads straight to the liver where the excess (most of it) is turned into fat. (3) This is old news, tho it would have been helpful information for my college girlfriends and I to have understood in the mid-90s TCBY craze.

[Did we not learn anything from TCBY? Frozen yogurt is back and it's bigger than before - and now it's there's candy and you can fill your own massive bowl.]

Glucose is either used immediately for energy or stored in muscle cells or the liver (4). Unlike fructose, insulin is secreted in response to elevated concentrations of glucose. (5) If that sounds like there's a difference between what glucose and fructose do in your body, you're right: researchers at the University of California Davis reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that high fructose consumption puts individuals at greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes than ingesting a similar amount of glucose. (6)

Consumers and food producers limit sugar intake by using less, or by using natural or artificial sugar substitutes. It's important to note that your body doesn't differentiate between natural sugars. It doesn't matter if it's Lucky Charms or Fruit Juice Sweetened Corn Flakes. There's no difference between the sugars in a juicy grapefruit, the honey in your tea, the tomatoes in your marinara, or the cabernet in your glass - your body metabolizes it all the same way. What does matter is the amount, and - in my understanding - the glucose/fructose ratio. That ratio is the cause of the rage against high fructose corn syrup, and the science behind debunking the myth of agave which can contain 97% fructose (manufacturing processes differ and so do fructose levels). As for artificial sweeteners - which are neither carbohydrates nor nutritive - aside from the unknown unintended consequences, my main concern is that they hype our collective sweet tooth (7). Diet sodas have very specific amount of sweetener, and if that's the amount you're used to, your sweet tooth won't be satiated with less.

What we need to do is retrain our sweet tooth and get back to more reasonable sugar consumption levels. We can start doing this by drinking more water and less juice and soda. Reduce sugar every time you cook or bake (if a recipe calls for a cup, just use 2/3 - you won't ruin anything, trust me). Finally, look at nutrition labels carefully and try, with every choice, to consume less.

This morning I added a small teaspoon of glucose to my coffee. No cloying aftertaste, it just tasted like I cut back on my sugar. On the tongue glucose tastes just like table sugar - just a watered-down version - which is exactly what it should taste like, being half sugar. The texture is similar to superfine sugar.

I will report back on my baking-with-glucose experiments. In the meanwhile, should you want to try it, glucose (sold as dextrose powder) can be sourced on Amazon.

(1) Brown sugar being simply refined white sugar to which molasses (a byproduct of the refining process) has been added back in.
(2) Glucose -

(3) How Bad is Fructose? - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
(4) What is the Difference Between Sucrose, Glucose & Fructose? - SF Gate
(5) and (6) All Sugars Aren't the Same: Glucose Is Better, Study Says - TIME
(7) Added Sugars - Harvard Medical School

More interesting reading on measuring sugar density:  What is Brix? from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Not Quite Winging It

I was a terrible waitress. It's due to the same reasons why I'd have made a terrible line cook: I don't work well under pressure. I like to show up early and methodically work through my list. Pastry always suited me well in that regard. Cooks in the sweet kitchen show up early and work until the line cooks gradually take over all your counter space, usually around 3pm. Jockeying for work space is an everyday battle in professional kitchens. It's common occurrence to step away from your station for a moment and return to find your neighbor has casually installed half his mise en place right up against your cutting board (cutting boards being the mark of territory on the line, and respecting a 3-inch easement around your neighbor's cutting board is just common courtesy).

I'm thinking about waitressing because earlier I called up my memory of how the cooks at Rockwell's used to make Buffalo sauce for wings. Rockwell's was a strip mall, casual dining place in the same vein as Chotchkie's, a/k/a the place where Jennifer Anniston worked in Office Space. Rockwell's produced mainstream American junk meals (wings, hamburgers, fries, salad with creamy dressing, pasta with creamy sauce, that kind of stuff). I worked there the summer after I graduated college, and thank goodness, since I am going to make chicken wings this weekend, and I want them to be as awesome as the ones they made there.

I had Buffalo wings for the first time - thankfully! - in Buffalo, NY, the city from which they originated. I was there in high school with a few friends and a teacher for a student government conference or something. All I remember from that weekend was the thrill of flying somewhere with friends, and the dive bar where Mr. Jones took us for wings. Oh, and we played Name that Tune in the rental car, and the freshman kicked everyone's butt. I remember that too.

My estimation of what makes wings so perfectly delicious is that 1) they are fried, and 2) they are subsequently slathered in butter. I didn't want to deep fry them for two reasons: 1) hello, totally unhealthy and 2) I don't have the right pan. That left broiling as the only option. This is what you do to prep the wings:

Step 1: Preheat broiler
Step 2: Cut the wings into three parts, discarding the wing tips
Step 3: Toss the wings with 1-2 tablespoons canola oil and transfer to a baking sheet
Step 4: Broil 6 min on each side, turning them midway
Step 5: Mix together The Sauce
Step 6: Toss the broiled wings in the sauce. Serve with celery and blue cheese dressing

To come up with the recipe for The Sauce, I jogged my memory of what the cooks did at Rockwell's. One of the guys showed me how he made the giant pot of sauce. It involved many, many bottles of Tabasco and Frank's Red Hot, and pounds of butter. To reproduce the recipe, I determined the ratio of the two hot sauces by the bottle size: the bottle of Tabasco is 5 ounces and the bottle of Franks's is 12 ounces. The restaurant was using industrial sized bottles, but the Frank's bottles were definitely bigger. I settled on a 2:1 ratio of Frank's to Tabasco and really like the flavor.  Here's that recipe:

Pinch Buffalo Wing Sauce
Print recipe only here

Generously sauces one dozen whole wings (24 pieces once the wings are cut)

12 whole chicken wings (you will cut them)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt **reduce the salt to a pinch if using salted butter**
2 tablespoons Tabasco
1/4 cup Frank's Red Hot

Add all the ingredients to a small pot and swirl over a low to medium heat just until the butter is melted. Toss with the broiled wings once cooked through, or on top of anything you want.

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

On Life, Lemons, and Limoncello

What should one expect when expecting a lemon? Do I need to find a citrus doula and book a lake view suite at Prentice?

I've had a lemon tree for four or five years, and my first fruit is highly anticipated. The tree has produced lots of flowers over the years but the little fruits were weak, jumping from the branch like lemmings when touched by even the gentlest breeze. The problem, I think, was due to general plant weakness from scale. Repotting, pruning, thorough descaling, and regular washing got rid of the scale enabled the tree to gain strength. Most people call this sort of activity gardening. I called it getting all up in a tree's business. Whatever you call it, it worked. Over the summer, its newfound confidence and strength enabled my tree to hold onto one of its fruits.  The lemon is nearly full term now, ripening from a deep green to light green, and taking its sweet time. It's going to be hard to cut into it. The tree has at least twenty flowers on it right now but I'm not expecting a bumper crop, or even a second lemon.

The saying goes, when life hands you lemons, vodka, and 151-proof grain alcohol, you make Limoncello. In possession of all three this past fall, I sought a recipe and embarked on a 16-week curing and bottling experiment. I'm told by my father that it was successful endeavor. I couldn't tell you myself because I cannot stand limoncello - too much alcohol in one place. My dad and step-mom were the inspiration and principal beneficiaries for this project. They both love limoncello and since their birthdays are in the fall and winter, they were both on my heart throughout the project.

Want to make it yourself? Here's the recipe I followed. And here's some pictures from the adventure:

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