Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Progression of Breakfast Cereal Preferences

The cereal choice of the Princess Goat has shifted.
From Cheerios (first appearance, way back when) ...

To Cap'n Crunch ...
To Cap'n Crunch Berries ...
Too Cap'n Crunch Oops!  All Berries
So she has gone from eating something reasonably healthy to one that received the worst nutritional score of any cereal marketed to children and families.  This is what happens when your kid won't eat breakfast - you resort to what's essentially candy just so they eat something

And yes, I know that those Crunch Berries are candy, or rather artificially-colored cereal balls, not actual berries.  Unlike someone who sued the cereal maker because she thought they were.   The case was dismissed, noting:
This Court is not aware of, nor has Plaintiff alleged the existence of, any actual fruit referred to as a "crunchberry." ... Thus, a reasonable consumer would not be deceived into believing that the Product in the instant case contained a fruit that does not exist. . . . So far as this Court has been made aware, there is no such fruit growing in the wild or occurring naturally in any part of the world.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What to Pack for Space: Ghost Peppers

I know that we, as humans, have got a lot on our to-do list these days, but can we move human space travel and colonization up a bit on that list?  It is the 21st century now, after all. 

First, work on that space elevator.  Seriously.  A Tokyo firm did announce last week that they want to build one - an elevator to take passengers to a space station via a carbon nanotube pulley - by 2050.   It would carry 30 people and run at 125 mph (which would be a seven and a half day trip to reach the station) and make transporting anything to space much safer and more efficient and generally awesome.  The plan, alas, has no estimates for cost, no idea where to build it, or no plan for who would pay for it.  And anyway,  Arthur C. Clarke said that the space elevator will be built "about 10 years after everyone stops laughing".

And once you're in space?  It turns out you'll be craving something different to eat!  After arriving in space, astronauts report that their sense of smell is quite diminished.  The loss of the sense of smell might be due the the effect of microgravity on bodily fluids - instead of being pulled downwards, fluids get retained in the head (giving the faces a rounder look, hence the term "Charlie Brown phase"), making astronauts feel congested. Or, spacecrafts might smell really weird and distracting.  Maybe eating out of pouches takes away from eating enjoyment.  In any case, tastes in space changes

What might you want to eat in space, if you can't smell too well?  Something really spicy!  Like lots of hot sauce (check out Peggy Whitson's ISS journal entry) and shrimp cocktail (with horseradish sauce).

So when Foodgoat goes up in space (not me, I get motion sickness just blogging about the space elevator), I'll be sure to pack him some ghost peppers.  In 2007, the Bhut Jolokia (aka ghost pepper) was certified as the world's hottest chili pepper, 401.5 times hotter than Tabasco sauce (though since then, others have topped it).

I don't think the ghost peppers we recently acquired are quite this hot (where the peppers are grown seems to make a big difference in its heat), but it has a great ingredient in cooking.  It adds a lot of heat but also a lot of flavor, so it's fun to use.  We'd use it more, except we have to cook for the toddler too.  But maybe she'll go up a space elevator someday, and will want ghost peppers to take with her too. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mardi Gras is also Pancake Day ... Crepes Day

The day prior to Ash Wednesday is known as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.  Why?  Because on that day you traditionally used up the fats (like the bacon drippings, or butter) you're supposed to be restricting during the Lenten fast.

It's also called Pancake Day in many parts of the world, because pancakes can be a wonderfully rich dish that uses up eggs, butter, milk, and sugar.  Other places in the world traditionally consume other variations of fried dough or pastries, because if one is going to suffer for 40 days, you want to go out with something good.

In the UK, Australia, and Canada, Pancake Day also features pancake races, where participants carries a pancake in a frying pan. Runners toss their pancakes as they run and catch them in the frying pan. The practice started in 1444 when a housewife was still frying pancakes when she heard the church bells, and she ran out still holding the frying pan with pancake.  This sounds like something we should play with the kids next year.

Anyway, in our house we had a crepes day, even though there won't be any fasting for us over the next 40 days. 

What's the difference between crepes and pancakes?  American or Canadian pancakes are made with a leavening agent like baking powder, so that they come out fluffy and thick.  Crepes are also made of flour, milk, and eggs, but without the leavener, end up very thin.  And they're just called pancakes in other parts of the world. 
The toddler could not resist eating the crepes while they were still being constructed.
Foodgoat fills his with a cottage cheese and sugar.  I think this one was spiked with vanilla liqueur too. 
Even the littlest one enjoyed it!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Easy Dessert: Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Is anything easier to make than chocolate covered strawberries?  Even my toddler can make them.  Wait, my toddler can make bread pork and mashed potatoes by herself.  Okay, even I can make them.  (I'm the one who has to check a cookbook when I make hard-boiled eggs.)  It made for a simple, not too messy, and quick thing to do on Valentine's Day.

All you have to do is wash and dry strawberries.  Melt chocolate (need I say, dark preferably?).  Dip strawberries.  Let cool on a piece of parchment paper. 

Stirring the melted chocolate
She also had the idea to dip graham crackers too.

What didn't work:  melting white chocolate in the mini-crock pot.  Evidently, the one setting is too high, because it burned the chocolate before it melted, resulting in a weird goopy mass.  That's okay, I wasn't all that jazzed about white chocolate anyway. 
More evidence that white chocolate isn't really chocolate.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Making Broth Then, Making Broth Now

Making broth in 2009 ....

and making it in 2012 ....

Wearing her sunglasses after an unfortunate experience chopping an onion

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chinese Dumplings, Inspired by Ching-He Huang

These days, the TV has mostly been hijacked for Team Umi Zoomi.   But there is one cooking show that I've been watching when I can:

Easy Chinese: San Francisco, on the Cooking Channel, hosted by Ching-He Huang.  The Taiwanese-born British food writer, food entrepreneur and TV chef visits local restaurants, markets, and farms in my beloved hometown of San Francisco and Bay Area and cooks up quick Chinese-inspired dishes right on location.

I love that it's set in San Francisco, I love that Ching is so perky and that she has a British accent, but mostly I love that it's Chinese food.  Because if there's a cuisine that I sorely miss on the Cleveland east side suburbs, it's Chinese.

Fortunately, a recent episode on dim sum inspired Foodgoat to try his hand at dumplings.  Rather than following her recipe for steamed pork and mushroom dumplings, he winged it on his own as he usually does, using pork, ginger, hoisin sauce, and I don't know what else. 
His faithful helper was also on hand to put them together, and even figured out her own way of sealing the wonton wrappers.
A variety of dipping sauces is half the fun!
All steamed up and delicious.
Princess Goat has her own set of pink chopsticks.
  They came out wonderfully - very, very yummy.  Gngery and moist and delicious and fun to eat.  I'm plotting to buy some bamboo steamers and keep the fridge stocked with wonton wrappers in the hope that I see these dumplings again.  And I'm going to keep that TV show on.   

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Cookies

We celebrated Valentine's Day with our first ever batch of sugar cookies: heart-shaped, pink-frosted, and sugar-sprinkled. 

Making the cookies was fun, but the frosting - THAT was the good part.  Not only did it involve "painting" the cookies, but nothing tastes as good to this toddler as straight up sugar.

And by the way, I was very surprised at the ease of making this frosting - powdered sugar mixed with a bit of milk and a drop of food coloring.  Nope, there's no reason to ever, ever buy pre-made frosting for cookies. 

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Health Risk of French Press Coffee: Increased Cholesterol

Foodgoat loves his French press coffee. So he was surprised to the see health advice at work saying that a little coffee every day is okay, as long as it wasn't boiled or French press.

What?  What difference would it make, health-wise, if the coffee was boiled or French pressed?

In the 1980s, Scandinavian doctors first noticed that coffee drinkers tended to suffer from high cholesterol more often than those who didn't drink coffee.

While caffeine is the chemical we usually associate with coffee, it's not the caffeine causing this effect.  It is another of the many other other natural compounds in coffee - cafestol.

Cafestol, found in the flavorful coffee oils, is a terpene, a class of organic compound are the main component of essential oils and resin (from which turpentine is produced).

But, look what cafestol does:
  1. Cafestol binds to a hormone receptor in the intestine where normally bile acids would bind.  
  2. Because this receptor has been hijacked, the breakdown of cholesterol into bile acids slows down.  
  3. Cholesterol then backs up.
  4. Cholestoerol level goes up.  This  is largely an increase in low density lipoprotein (LDL) (the bad kind) levels and triglyceride levels. High density lipoproteins (HDL) do not appear to be affected.
The impact of cafestol on cholesterol is can be significant - cafestol is routinely described as the most potent cholesterol-elevating compound known in the human diet.

One study found that 10 milligrams of cafestol (or four 5-ounce cups of French-press coffee) may raise cholesterol by 8 to 10 percent in four weeks. 

And of course, cholesterol can be deposited in artery walls, increasing the risk for heart disease.

Why Brewing Method Matters
Because cafestol is in the oils of coffee, though, using a paper filter (as in drip coffee brews) captures much of the oil and results in very low levels of cafestol.  So cholesterol is unimpacted. 

In unfiltered brewing methods, including French press, boiled methods such as Turkish coffee, and espresso, the oils remain in your coffee.  It gives better flavor, but also leaves all the cafestol in it, so your cholestorol gets the full impact.  (Note, in Scandanavia, where they first noticed the cafestol effect, the typical coffee brewing method is a boiled method).  Cafetol is highest in Turkish coffee type brews, next highest is French press, followed by espresso.

So, does this mean French press coffee is unhealthy?  I don't think so.  The impact on cholesterol is significant, but still is less than the influence of other factors, including:
  • Eating foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • Being overweight.
  • Not being active every day.
  • Smoking.
Since I'm not concerned about my cholesterol level or overall risk of heart disease,  I'm just going to go ahead and keep drinking my French press coffee.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Things I've Learned About Non-Dairy Creamer

As I've said, I drink my coffee black. 

Once, in an effort to improve upon a terrible cup of coffee provided to me somewhere, I tried adding the non-dairy creamer, Coffee Mate I think it was, to it.  Big mistake.  It made bad black coffee even worse.
  • It's called non-dairy whitener, or coffee whitener, in other parts of the world (such as the UK, it looks like) so that you don't think it's really cream.  Really, it's artificial cream with vegetable oil.
  • They may not be completely non-dairy: most of them contain casein, which comes from milk, in order to make it, well, milky.  Which matters if you're allergic to milk (rather than lactose intolerant) or vegan.
  • You can make a fireball with it!  One of the ingredients can become flammable when dispersed. Tested and confirmed by Mythbusters
  • It generally seems to be made up of things that are not food - edible, maybe, but not food.  Basically, it's high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable fat, casein, artificial flavoring and colors, and phosphates.  There are rundowns here and here.  
  • It's not good for you.  The worst offender in the ingredient list is the partially hydrogenated oil, also know as trans fat.  The coffee creamer container may say "No trans fat!" on it, but labelling rules allow you to say a product as 0 grams of trans fat as long as it has 0.5 grams or less trans fat per serving.  But if you end up using more than one serving of creamer, you could end up getting quite a lot of trans fat.  And no amount of trans fat is good for you.  
  • It comes in a lot of flavors.  A LOT.  International Delight alone has 22 flavors on their website.  Is creaminess not enough of an addition to one's cup of coffee?  
  • The worst sounding flavor:  Cinnabon.  I can't think of anything worse than adding the flavor of horrible, airport/mall cinnamon rolls into my coffee cup.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Why I Don't Like French Roast Coffee

As a result of roasting our own coffee beans, I have learned more about coffee and the properties of the various roast types.  For example, French roast.   I have tried many versions and have never found one that I liked - one that I wanted to go back to and drink again.  Why is that?

French roast is coffee has been roasted for longer time, well into the  "second crack"stage, so what you get is a a very dark roast.  At the French roast stage, the beans are very oily and almost black.

As you roast beans, the flavors change.  At lighter roasts, the beans will have more of its "origin flavor" which result from its variety and growing conditions and locations.  Here's where you can taste the differences between the Sumatran and Guatamalan and the Ethiopian beans. 

Keep roasting them long enough, and the specific flavors of the bean are increasingly replaced by mostly carbony flavors.  At the French roast stage, it doesn't matter so much where the beans came from and or what kind they were or how well they were grown, because all those distinctive elements are overpowered by the charcoal taste. 

And so, French roasts tasted kind of burnt.  

Turns out I am not the only one who prefers the lighter roasts. 

My favorite part of this Wall Street Journal article comes at the end, because it echoes what Foodgoat complained about to me this very morning:
"Because quality beans, properly roasted retain more natural sweetness, Mr. Wells says that he won't offer sugar when he opens his first café in February. He adds he has served thousands of coffees at events and has never offered sugar, to the consternation of some consumers.
Many consumers erroneously associate dark-roasted coffee with "strong" coffee, Mr. Howell says. "Strength is a matter of how much coffee to water," he says. While some drinkers enjoy the flavorful jolt of a dark coffee, "light roast rewards waiting a little bit, like letting a wine open after it has been poured," and can taste even better as it cools, Mr. Howell says. Light roasts are best enjoyed without cream or sugar because they can be naturally sweet and not bitter, he adds."
Why do I know that French roasts tastes burnt?  Because I drink coffee black.  No sugar.  No cream. 

Lighter roasts don't need sugar or cream to taste good; they don't have the bitter, burnt flavor that needs to be covered up with sweeteners.

They let the coffee taste delicious just as they are. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Roasting Coffee at Home, FTW!

Coffee around here is a necessity, not a luxury.  The day really can't get started without it.  Diapers can, if needed, get changed before the morning cup, but that's with some real concentration and effort.

But the really good roasted coffee beans, the kind that makes delicious coffee worth waking up to, are not cheap at all, and they seem to have been more expensive over the past year.  Where once we were getting roasted coffee beans for $10 a pound, we would now pay $13 to $16 a pound at the local coffee shop.  

I'm not opposed to coffee beans being expensive.  The local coffee roasters and shops are nice people and have great products and I'm happy to support them.  The coffee farms and cooperatives that the beans come from also produce lovely beans and I'm happy to support them too.  But funds being what they are, alternatives had to be explored.  

We've tried a range of coffee beans at various price points, in the quest to save some money.  Some were better than others, but none were as good as what we gotten used to - high quality, single origin coffee beans roasted locally.

So for Christmas, Foodgoat got a coffee roaster.  And it's been fabulous.

The process is simple: you put in some green (unroasted) coffee beans.  You turn the roaster on.  You watch the beans toss about, turning from greenish to brownish to dark brown, which takes about six minutes.  You cool them down.  You wait a day or so.  And that's it!

The coffee we made was just as good as the coffee we had been buying - fresh, flavorful, and complex.  And the green coffee beans only cost around $6 a pound if you buy enough - quite the cost savings.  The green beans can also be stored for up to a year, so we can buy a big supply and roast as needed, which helps with our other coffee problem - running out of coffee beans and having run out to the coffee shop to get more, or horrors, having to go a morning or two drinking some instant stuff.

I bought the roasting machine, but it's basically a glorified air popcorn maker.  Now that I've seen the roasting process in action I can see that the other DIY methods would work just as well.  It's also kind of fun that the varieties of single origin coffees available to us is now wider, since the green coffee bean offerings online have a much larger selection that the roasted bean selection at the local shop.   And so now, I'm learning a lot more about coffee production and flavors in general.

So the coffee roasting adventure has been a great success and is now part of our weekly routine.  Excellent coffee, low cost, and convenient - totally recommended.