Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mouthwashing our Taste Buds

A great column today on a new study linking diet soda to an increased risk of stroke.

The author makes the larger point that consumers, doctors and diet gurus avoid the core problem: We are addicted to sweetened drinks. Instead of suggesting that overweight people drink water or unsweetened beverages like tea, they tell them to switch to diet soda, an unholy concoction of chemicals and artificial coloring.

The author writes:

"The proliferation of diet soda cuts to the core of what's wrong with the Western diet. The Western approach is to remove the most obvious dangers from an unhealthy habit — in this case, removing the 12 teaspoons of sugar per can of fizzy water laced with acids, colors and flavors of uncertain origin — so that we can continue that habit in denial of other dangers.

"The underlying problem is that we are addicted to sugar; beverages without a sweetener now seem bland. For the first million years or so of pre-human and human existence, water was adequate to quench our thirst. But apparently no longer."

Let me be clear: I am not anti-sugar or even anti-sugary drinks, although I confine my consumption to stuff made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. I love Foxon Park Soda, which still uses sugar and is ironically much less sweet than big brand sodas. But everything in moderation. All you drink doesn't have to be sweet.

Yet another example of how Big Food has mouthwashed our taste buds. Fight the power. Drink unsweetened beverages!

Monday, February 21, 2011

How to Boil an Egg

Sounds easy. It's actually pretty tricky. I've been perfecting my technique for years.

My wife loves egg salad so I hard-boil a lot of eggs. She's often had problems shelling my hard-boiled eggs: the shards stick to the white.

So I checked some cookbooks and found a tip. Don't put the eggs in water and boil. Instead, bring the water to a simmer and lower the eggs into the water. The first time I tried it I made the mistake of dropping the ovals into the water. Bombs away! You guessed it. They cracked, bleeding white and clouding the water with rubbery wisps.

I tried again, this time using a small soup ladle to lower the eggs into the simmering water. This worked perfectly. After about 13 minutes (my wife likes her eggs pretty hard), they were perfect. And the shell no longer stuck.

I was egg-static.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"It's Our Secret"

Mmmm! Doesn't that look good!

Lewis Black was in a rare form a few nights ago on the Taco Bell meat lawsuit. As he says, when an old Italian lady tells you what's in her homemade marinara is a secret, that's okay. But when a billion dollar food conglomerate says the contents of of its "beef" are classified, that's a problem.

Watch the whole thing. Hilarious.

That said, I'm somewhat skeptical of this lawsuit because it was brought by class action lawyers. Those are the guys who send you occasional post cards telling you riches await if you just sign on as a plaintiff to their lawsuit. When ka-ching time comes, they get tens of millions, and you get a check for 50 cents.

Still, what these lawyers allege -- just 36 percent of the "meat" in a Taco Bell taco is meat -- is disturbing. Disturbing, but not surprising. I mean, let's get real guys. It's Taco Hell. What do you expect?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Food Manifesto

I was deeply disappointed to read Mark Bittman's farewell "Minimalist" column last week, but consoled that he would begin a new column focused on government food policy, agricultural subsidies, agribusiness, obesity and the politics of food -- the high cost of cheap food, if you will.

His inaugural column in today's Times hit it out of the park. In 600 or 700 words, he sums up the problems with our food system and offers common sense solutions.

Only one problem. This system has made certain companies -- ConAgra, Cargill, ADM -- fabulously wealthy and powerful. And they will fight a Stalingrad-like, scorched earth battle to defend government policies and subsidies that have made them richer than Midas.

I found it ironic that today's Times also had a story about the FDA denying approval for a anti-obesity drug, prompting some experts to warn "that the action could further discourage, or even kill, efforts by pharmaceutical companies to develop medicines for obesity, one of the nation’s largest health problems."

Let me get this straight. First, federal policies encourage agribusiness to flood America with cheap, unhealthy, fattening processed food, helping create an obesity epidemic. The solution to this crisis isn't to change the policies that created it -- heavens no. The solution is to have a second set of corporations create drugs to "treat" obesity. So pharmaceutical companies get to make a fortune "curing" the obesity crisis that the food industry created -- all at government expense (Medicare and Medicaid would be huge buyers of such drugs). Everybody wins -- except you and me.

This is capitalism? Sounds more like corporate socialism to me. When the tea partiers start to complain about stuff like this, I'll believe they are a genuine movement instead of a bunch of shills and dupes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Baking Fool

Yet another snow day today, so I spent the morning baking. I started with the potato rosemary bread above. The potato imparts a silky smooth texture, while the rosemary gives a cool kick, just right for a midwinter's day.

Here's the recipe:

2 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup mashed potato
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or to taste
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 to 1 1/4 cups warm water.

Mix the dry ingredients, add mashed potato, water and olive oil and form into a ball. Kneed for about 10 minutes adjusting flour so the dough is tacky, but not sticky. Once the dough is elastic and smooth, form into a ball, put into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, an hour to 90 minutes.

Next, remove the dough onto a lightly floured counter and punch down. Shape dough as best you can into a rectangle and using the back of your hand press it out to about half inch thickness retaining the rectangular shape as much as possible. Then roll the dough into a loaf and put in an oiled pan. Let rise until the dough crests or nearly crests over the top of the pan, an hour to 90 minutes.

Just before baking, paint about a tablespoon of olive oil on the top. Bake 30 to 35 minutes in a preheated 400 degree F oven.

As the bread rose, I made spice muffins. Not too sweet, but exploding with flavor. It's like a spice party in your mouth. And good for you. My wife eats them for breakfast:

This recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything."

1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup of sugar or to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup raisins (organic if possible. Makes a difference) or to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds (toasted or raw) or to taste
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground clove
1 cup of 1 percent milk or full milk if you prefer
1 egg
3 tablespoons of canola oil or other fat. If using meltedbutter, cool before adding so as not to cook egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix the dry ingredients. Add canola oil and egg to milk and whisk until well combined. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in liquid. Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the liquid, rotating bowl as you go. Do not over mix. You want it lumpy and just hydrated.

Grease a 12 cup muffin tin and dollop in about 1/4 cup of dough into each cup handling the mixture as little as possible. Put in oven for 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

After the muffins came out, I figured what the heck, let's keep going. I need bagels too. Chewy, dense and flavorful. The raisins suffuse the roundels with a sweetness that compliments the cinnamon kick. I eat one every morning for breakfast:

Here's a link to my recipe for cinnamon raisin bagels.

For all you Zappa fans, you guessed right. This was my inspiration for this post's title.