Standard Pages (they don't change often)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Food in disguise

Happy Halloween, everyone! Okay, never mind the usual celebration of death and the macabre, Halloween has morphed into one about costumes and disguise. I mean, really, how does dressing up as the Octomom count as a scary costume? :) I kid, I kid.

There's a lot of the "traditional" foods which tend to be high in sugar and whimsy. But really, shouldn't we just extend it to foods dressing up. For example, at San San...

where vegetables dress up as meat! I passed up on the array of smoked vegetarian "duck" and vegan sausages, and settled on a large tub of "Nutrition Congee"

Despite the pallid gray color, the porridge is chock full of nuts and beans, and is quite savory, with ample umami from the use of dried mushrooms. The dried tofu, gluten blocks, and other ingredients supply a nice textural contrast. I'd try this in place of your usual microwave oatmeal some morning.

With a side of bacon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

You can eat that

I once watched an episode of Morgan Spurlock's "30 Days", where his then girlfriend complained about how tight their food budget was, at the same time cutting up some broccoli florets, and throwing the stems away. I was horrified by the hypocrisy - broccoli stems are definitely quite edible, and in fact, perhaps more versatile than the florets themselves.

Which lead me to thinking about all those edible things that most Americans throw away. The wastefulness is appalling sometimes. I'm not even talking about the delicious animal parts like fish heads and beef tongue. For example: the rind on brie is quite edible. Some may even say it's an important part of the brie eating experience (as it is a part of the mold that is responsible for brie's distinctive flavor and character). Cauliflower leaves are quite edible, so just chop up the whole head, and cook away. At least potato skins have made their way into regular restaurant items (albeit loaded with sufficient fat to mask it's prior discard status :).

As we enter the season for the hard winter squashes - here's a tip I learned from Nigella Lawson - you don't have to peel butternut squash. I noticed that this seems to be the case for just about most winter squashes - acorn, butternut, kabocha - when baked, the peel can be eaten. Easier - and adds to your fiber.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Milk and Microbes Part 2: A change of tone

Morgan Weber of The Orchard Chronicles contacted me about the part 1 of these connected blog posts, and was both civil and gracious. I admit that the initial tone I had set may appear somewhat adversarial, but my intent, as always, is simply to educate and inform. Morgan has taken down the posting about the "Campaign for Real Milk" down to edit it. I commend him for it. I hope I can help in its clarification.

5. Who was Weston A. Price?

One of the statements in the original "Campaign" article was an attribution that milk "has an unbelievable immune system". Paraphrasing, the idea is that when gallons of raw milk are injected with high amounts of Salmonella, "Staph Aureas", E. coli O157 : H7 and other pathogens, and allowed to sit for a while, the pathogens eventually died off, proof that the raw milk rejects potentially deadly bacteria. This work was credited to researchers from the Weston A. Price Foundation.

Who was Weston A. Price, anyway? And what is the deal with this foundation? Is it a research institution?

Weston A. Price was a dentist who lived in the turn of the 20th century who espoused a belief that sugar not only cause tooth decay, but social and moral decay as well. These conclusions were and are controversial, in part due to some flaws in his design. The Foundation was set up to archive and propagate these beliefs, that a return to an aboriginal diet is better for humanity. Near as I can tell, the Foundation does not conduct or fund any scientific research, rather is built more on activism and lobbying. The quarterly journal they publish isn't peer reviewed nor necessarily recognized as a scientific resource.

Nonetheless, I think the interpretations about the "immune system" in milk likely come from an article written in the Foundation's journal by one Ted Beals, a retired pathologist who is a member of the Michigan Fresh Unprocessed Whole Milk Workgroup called "A Campaign for Real Milk", that is mostly a critique of the article "Does raw milk kill pathogens?" presented by Amanda Rose at the American Veterinary Medical Association conference in 2009. Rose's paper concludes that whatever pathogen killing properties raw milk has is so low as to be unreliable.

Beals' article proceeds to nitpick Rose's article citation by citation, which can be rather tedious, but I'll highlight just one example:

In another cited paper, researchers Massa, Goffredo, Altieri and Natola inoculated seven different strains of E. coli O157:H7 into fresh unprocessed whole milk to determine their fate after days of storage (Letters in Applied Microbiology 28(1):89-92). Like Doyle and Roman, they spiked the milk with extraordinarily high numbers of each pathogen (1,000,000 per ml — Doyle and Roman used 10,000,000 per ml). Even with these huge numbers of pathogens, the E. coli O157:H7 strains failed to grow and died off gradually. Actually, the purpose of this research was not to determine whether the pathogens were being killed, but whether it was acceptable to store milk at 8°C ( 46°F) rather than the standard 5° C (41° F). The authors conclude that the colder temperature should be used as the standard. tive inhibition properties of fresh raw milk. [italics mine]
Here is an excerpt from the abstract from the original Massa et al paper:

...There was essentially no change in the viable population of three EHEC strains for up to 14 d. The remaining four strains showed an increase in population from ³2 log to 3 log cfu ml−1 in a time period of between 9 and 17 d. The results indicate good survival or even multiplication of E. coli O157 : H7 in raw milk when stored at 8 °C and reaffirm the need for pasteurization and holding the milk at >=5 °C. [italics mine]
Note how the exact opposite conclusion is derived by Beals. This type of argument, where looking for incompleteness in the scientific evidence as proof of the counterargument is a logical fallacy commonly employed by creationists and other pseudoscientific movements. By invoking scientific terms and papers, they ride upon the credibility of scientists but really deploy a different message altogether. Of course, writing is also more entertaining when there is a duality to be presented.

Back to pasteurization and raw milk. Cornell University has put together a website that links together many resources behind the science and technology of modern milk production. Fact is, prior to pasteurization, 25% of all food and water borne illnesses can be traced to milk. The implementation of pasteurization has dropped that rate to less than 1%. The antimicrobial compound lactoferrin is naturally found in milk, but is very dilute. But here's the important fact: it is not affected by pasteurization.

In many cases, people will want to consume raw milk regardless of the scientific evidence. The evidence for any health benefits from raw milk is tenuous at best, and the potential public health problems are a proven historical fact, but I also happen to think that individuals have a right to decide what to do with their lives so long as they don't harm someone else in the process. So, go into it with open eyes: consuming unpasteurized milk is a risky activity. Like unprotected sex, or Russian roulette, or skydiving. And people undertake those risks, anyway. Just don't delude yourself (or others) about it.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The hot beverage triumvirate

This week, Tara Dooley wrote an excellent article describing the new higher end coffee scene in Houston. I spoke to many who seem to think that the epitome of good coffee is found in overpriced green adorned coffee cups, and aren't even aware of the artisan nature of some baristas - in contrast to the coffee worshiping culture of the Pacific Northwest.

That said, we also have at least three different teahouses in Houston, staffed and run by people as passionate about tea as the baristas so mentioned in the article, yet I have not seen too many mainstream articles written about them. Tea offers an even wider range of flavors and ritual, yet plays second fiddle to the coffee mainstream. Put on your conspiracy hats, I'll seed the rumor mill - maybe it's because the teahouses are run by women, whereas baristas tend to be male. I have no basis behind that speculation. I'll admit to having some distaste for coffee, while liking some teas and tisanes.

But much as I (and some others) may grouse about how tea is treated in the coffee dominated world, that pales in comparison to the sheer neglect hot chocolate or cocoa gets treated in America. Culturally considered a seasonal drink for cold weather (never mind that the same people will quaff boiling coffee even in the peak of summer), hot chocolate is seen mostly as vehicle to deliver milk. Most places fall back on industrial mockolate syrup as sufficient for making the beverage, as if simply an excuse to say that they have something for the ones with a sweet tooth. In fact, most commercially prepared hot chocolate barely uses chocolate at all! Chocolate, of course, carries equal complexity and variety to coffee, in sourcing, ingredients and preparation. Try a Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate, prepared the right way, and you can taste the true potential in the beverage beyond simply appealing to the kiddie sweet tooth.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Milk and Microbes Part 1

I've noticed a rise recently in debates and articles exhorting the benefits of consuming unpasteurized or "raw" milk, some from the perspective of flavor, but most alleging nutritive and immunological benefits. There are some merits to these arguments - aged cheeses prepared from raw milk has a different character than those prepared from pasteurized milk, and as a fermented product, the point of initial pasteurization is mostly moot. Moreover, the draconian enforcement of pasteurization laws, initially meant to protect the public health, is stepping into the territory of small farmers transacting with private consumers - people who are aware of the risks, and are consenting to undertake them. It's not wise, but the debate there is about government stepping into areas between consenting adults.

I do, however, take issue where scientific merit is taken, and twisted in the name of propaganda for the raw milk movement. Take for example, this recent blog posting from a Orchard Chronicles about a "Campaign for Raw Milk", despite a noble intent to espouse healthier living, is rife with scientific inaccuracies. I'll try to clear up a few of them:

1. rBST is not a fake hormone. It is, in fact, molecularly identical to the bovine somatotropin. The recombinant part simply means that it used recombinant DNA technology to mass produce it so it can be cheaply made. I reserve judgment on whether or not rBST treatment of cows for
improved milk production is wise.

2. Modern farmers do use prophylactic antibiotics to ward off early infections, but it does not "disinfect" milk, nor keep it from being contaminated. The issue with heavy use of antibiotics center more along accelerating the evolution of antibiotic resistance through horizontal gene transfer among bacteria - and raw milk consumption has nothing to do with that.

3. Phosphate in milk is not destroyed by the transient heating involved with pasteurization. In fact, the presence of free phosphate is deleterious to retention of calcium, as the formation of calcium phosphate as an insoluble salt happens, and it precipitates out. The papers citing problems with this involve heat labile compounds in milk that keep phosphate away from calcium to prevent this precipitation. And not because humans can't absorb the calcium (after all, the acid environment in the stomach will release free calcium from the salt), rather, it's because the salting out can clog up harvesting and processing tubes.

Mind you, the papers being cited here are published in the 1920s and 1930s - I have found no more recent publications backing them up, and pasteurization practices have changed since. Also, in many of these early milk nutrition studies that involve mouse models, the assumption in the experiment is that milk is the sole nutritive source. Most studies indicate that nutritive loss during pasteurization is at most minor (mostly to heat labile vitamins) that are easily made up in a varied human diet.

4. Perhaps the most problematic issue in this posting is the poor understanding of microbiological terms, and a direct misinterpretation of the sources behind them.

4a. Coliform is a generic term referring to the shape of bacteria - in this case, short rod shaped cells. Coliform bacteria are both benign, and pathogenic, and I have found no peer reviewed published evidence of "cultured coliforms" being used to treat Staphylococcus infections. In fact, since 15% of human fecal bacteria are coliform, water and food safety assays look for a coliform count as a rough measure of fecal contamination.

4b. Milk as it emerges from the teat is sterile - all bacteria found in it are present by way of contamination. The problem with contamination is that it is difficult to control, either in kind or amount, which is the problem with distinguishing between so called beneficial or pathogenic bacteria. But there is no argument that before pasteurization, milk borne diseases were a major public health hazard.

4c. Lactose is the primary sugar (disaccharide) in milk. Human infants produce the enzyme lactase in the intestinal lining to digest milk, but as most mammals mature, they lose this enzyme. Some humans, however, by quirk of evolution, retain lactase to adulthood, while others do not. The inability to digest lactose unassisted is thus diagnosed as lactose intolerance - even though it's really the ability to digest lactose that is the odd thing out. But it is a beautiful example of how natural selection acting on variations in the species results in propagation of traits (in this case, the incorporation of harvested milk as an adult food source).

4d. Lactobacilli are a general term for spore forming bacteria that can use lactose as a primary carbon source, and converting it to lactic acid. They are important in fermentation of things from kimchi to sourdough, but in this case - fermented milk products like yogurt and cheese. They do not assist humans in digesting fresh milk. When you convert milk to these other milk products, then yes, their actions will cause the lactose content to drop (but the acidity to rise). Fresh milk does not have appreciable levels of benign lactobacilli to have an impact on lactose digestion. Milk can be treated with lactase early on to produce lactose-free milk. But to hold it that long, pasteurization is advisable.

---> to be continued --->...Who was Weston A. Price?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

From one capital to another

We used to have a rapidly expanding Malaysian restaurant scene in Houston. "Used to" being the operative words - late last year, many of the emergent restaurants just as rapidly shuttered. Now, arisen at the same spot as the restaurant Kuala Lumpur is another restaurant named after a capital: Managua (7818 Bellaire Blvd).

Managua is the capital of Nicaragua, but I am a little unfamiliar with the cuisine of Nicaragua. I resolved to try the place out - stopped by one night to peruse the menu and order something. Inside, the place looks like someone's home; that hasn't changed much from the days of K.L. The place is also cash only (good thing I brought cash), and the ultimate caveat - no one speaks much English. I took that as both good and bad sign - in this neighborhood so close to "new" Chinatown, I'm surprised that they expected and were getting a predominantly Hispanic clientele, at the same time promising some authenticity to the experience.

I found Nicaraguan food clearly a variant of the Cuban/Mexican/Caribbean bent. For example, gallopinto, as it turns out, is simply rice and beans, aka Hoppin' John. Except in the choice of bean - Cubans choose black beans, and call the mixture "Moros y Cristianos". Gallopinto's use of red beans result in a mottling that is reminiscent of certain rooster breeds. I found the pickle vegetables (curtido) tangy and refreshing against expertly fried plantains. And the beef tongue in "special" sauce was tender, flavorful, and sat amidst mushrooms and carrots. Nicaraguan cuisine is supposedly proud of their fresh juices and concoctions, so I ordered some pinolillo, which turns out to be a traditional drink of cornmeal and cacao. Fortunately, sweetened, and served on ice. It was mostly quite sweet, with the cornmeal jutting in occasional gritty sip. It was drinkable, but not notable.

All told, I had a good introduction to the cuisine, although I fear I have yet to sample the dishes that convey the Nicaraguan identity. A good reason for a repeat visit, no?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What the World Eats

Time Magazine and CNN published a series of photoessays available on the web that illustrates what people around the world eat. In the first two segments, they focus on what a family buys in a week, and how much it costs them.
What the World Eats, Part I,

The third part, however, looks at the different places where people buy their food. I didn't know that one could get narwhal meat.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Three stars and the sun

In the aftermath of the weather related calamities visited upon the Philippines a couple of weeks ago, a local Filipino American group called the BahalaNa Tribe organized an Adobo Hoedown on October 18th. Although ostensibly a cook-off featuring the vinegar/garlic scented national dish of the Philippines, what actually emerged was a festival of music, cuisine, karaoke, martial arts, graphic design - a veritable circus in celebration of Filipiniana housed at the mixed arts space Diverse Works.

Plenty of food was to be had. Ranging from traditional plate lunch style servings, to Filipino baked goods, more American bake sale items like pecan tarts, and of course, the actual sampling of various versions of adobo prepared by cooks of earnest and professional caliber. The adobo versions prepared ranged from traditional to avante garde. Jonathan Jones of Beaver's wore his fondness of the Filipino culture proudly, decorating his table with photographs of his trip to Banaue and beyond, and preparing a smokey grilled stew. Other entrants included wet preparations, dry ones, spicy ones - but the pickled papaya was a real stunner, complimenting the rice and adobo rather well.

Of course, one cannot forget the notable Plinio Sandalio and his adobo ice cream (red striped hair to the left). I must admit, Plinio captured the adobo flavor in the ice cream, although the responses from the unprepared was generally comical. On the same station here are the Tuscany Coffee pair, David and Ecky, presenting a collaboration with Randy Rucker on iced coffee with ube.

In the end, though, it was about the people, and the good cause that this supported. The Bahala Tribe did a great job assembling this affair, which I unfortunately had to leave before the event closed. So, I don't know who actually won this handcrafted trophy. Anyone?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

One other thing

Green tea cream puff, Beard Papa
Happy Diwali, everyone.

Share a sweet. I know a green tea cream puff isn't traditional Indian, but it's the spirit that counts, right?

Restaurants go, restaurants come

And sometimes, they are interesting.

In the spot of Kuala Lumpur, one of the once thriving Malaysian restaurants of Houston, a new restaurant has established itself - Managua. I don't think I have had Nicaraguan food before, and this may be worth exploring.

Speaking of capital cities - how a place named Cafe Beirut? It's wonderful that there is a proliferation of new ethnic cuisines, as it emerges from the life cycle of cuisine adaptation here in America. Ms. Horn's essay is wonderfully succinct:

When a group first attains critical mass in America, its restaurants are mostly for its own members. Later, as these groups gain confidence, they begin selling their more accessible foods to a general public craving cheap exotic eats. These dishes then mutate into American form, a la chow mein, and the group's American-born children typically spurn these foods as they try to assimilate. Around the third or fourth generation, the descendants of immigrants are secure enough in their American credentials to explore their "roots." Shortly thereafter, food nostalgia sets in, and the quest for the "authentic" begins.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A quick cake

Ah, the last of the summer peaches are fading from the markets. But back when they were abundant and cheap, I made this cake several times this summer, and it capped our tripartite dessert for the pig roast at the Great Western Casa McBardo. Along with the chai ice cream, we grilled some fresh ripe while freestone peaches. And this peach "cake". Or is it a clafouti?

Basically, you toss the peaches (and the occassional plum... or any handy fruit) with some cornstarch (or flour) and sugar, and layer onto a buttered baking dish.

I mixed up a quick batter (slightly thicker than pancake batter) flavored with vanilla, and poured it over the top, dotted with butter, before baking in a hot oven. Resulting thing was devoured so quickly we don't have photographs.

But word has it that memories of the peach upon peach upon chai combination still ring on months later.

Monday, October 12, 2009

An (unholy?) delicious collaboration

The flavor profile for this is Vietnamese but I think this may be a distinctly American if not houstonian creation. From Parisian Bakery III, I find the rare waffle taco. The shell is a waffle made with coconut and scented with pandanus, and stuffed with black glutinous rice and sweet white bean paste.

Unique and delicious.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

I love controls

I think I've seen this before in a science fair experiment, but certainly not as well documented as this blog posting on finding (and defining) the perfectly boiled egg. I must note, however, despite the careful explanation that incorporates understanding the chemistry of heat denaturation of protein, many of the commenters still pooh-pooh science in favor of old traditions "that have always worked".


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Move aside, Apple Pie

As American as...

... taco salad.
... chop suey.
... fortune cookies.
... California maki.
... manapuas.
... gumbo.
... (Mission style) burritos.
... meatballs on spaghetti.
... fry bread.
... peanut sauce.
... pineapple fried rice.
... General Joe's Chicken.
... "Asian" chicken salad.
... McRib.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pork and Chicken Unity

The so-called national dish of the Philippines is adobo, often confused with the eponymous Mexican spice mix or the Spanish adobado. Filipino adobo is, at its root, a cooking technique, where a food item is cooked in vinegar and garlic to preserve it. Stereotypical images of adobo prescribe the use of chicken and pork in a stew that incorporates bay leaves, peppercorn, and soy sauce (the Chinese influence in Filipino cultural evolution). But the basic technique can be applied to various ingredients, from vegetables to snails. Coupled with the infusion of additional ingredients, there are innumerable variations throughout the country, and in immigrant communities throughout the world. The former fine cuisine restaurant Cendrillon in SoHo, New York, introduced me to pheasant and rabbit adobo made with red wine. The version pictured above is one I made using chicken thighs, pork ribs and enriched with coconut milk and ancho chiles.

In the light of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines, a local Filipino-American community is holding a fundraiser in the form of an Adobo Hoedown. Essentially, an adobo cookoff, but incorporating a celebration of modern Filipino culture. I certainly plan to attend and help out. There's a link there to donate for the cause, which will benefit the Red Cross, and there are other additional links to how you can help out. Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Icy beans

Earlier this summer, I had organized an "ice crawl", where we managed to go forth and sample icy treats around Houston. I figured it was a good day to spend a blisteringly hot Fourth of July. We had halo-halo and Taiwanese ice bowls, but so far, the Malaysian ais kacang and chendol have eluded me. Pictured above is the Korean patbingsu from the food court in the venerable Komart, which I fear is losing ground fast to the shinier Super H-mart. Nestled among the shaved ice are sweetened mung beans, chunks of watermelon, pieces of sweet tteok, and various other sundry ingredients. I am sure there is a version at Super H-mart as well, which I should investigate.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Sweet and spicy

Among the collaborative cooking projects I did at the Great Western Casa McBardo (home base to Indirect Heat) is an adapted chai ice cream we served as one of the desserts to the roasting of a 50 pound pig. Yes, there was more than one dessert.

Here's the basic recipe:

1. Slice and bash up 1x3 inch piece of fresh peeled ginger. Add this to a nonreactive pot along with 1 bashed up sprig of fresh lemongrass and 2 cups of whole milk.

2. Crack up 4 tablespoons of whole cardamom, and add to the pot along with 2 tsp of freshly cracked black pepper, 2 tablespoons of cinnamon powder.

3. Add in 40 cloves, 3 tablespoons of dried basil, and 8 teaspoons of assam tea.

4. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, and allow to steep for 10 minutes, and strain into a measuring cup. Make up the volume with more milk up to 2 cups to allow for evaporation.

5. Return to the cleaned pot along with 2 cups of cream, and mix well. Add 1 split vanilla bean, scraping out the seeds, and 1/4 cup of sugar, and heat up to a simmer - do not allow to boil. Make sure that the sugar gets dissolved. Allow the vanilla to steep.

6. Meanwhile, beat 12 egg yolks until liquid, and gradually add 1/4 cup of sugar while beating (do not dump the sugar directly on egg yolks, as this will result in the proteins "salting out").

7. When the yolks are foamy and the sugar mostly dissolved, temper the yolks by adding the hot milk mixture into the yolks, and stir the custard back into the pot. Cook the custard until the appropriate consistency, add 2 cups of room temperature cream to stop the cooking, and strain to remove any possible curdling. The vanilla bean should also be fished out, and can be reused for other things. Drying it out, and sticking it into a jar of sugar is traditional for making vanilla sugar.

8. Grind in a generous amount of fresh black pepper (fine grind). Don't skimp here, the cold will mute the bite of the spices. Chill overnight, and process in an ice cream machine.

I did mention that there was more than one dessert, right? It has something to do with this caramelized fruit....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Odd culinary verb

Isn't it strange that the verb "to dust" applies to the removal of dust as well as to the addition of dust? Although in the latter case it requires a mention of the nature of the powder being applied.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Mid-autumn festival

It's an eventful weekend this weekend, as October begins. For one thing, the traditional Greek Festival in Houston happens in my neighborhood, which brings its usual fare of festive dancing, drinking of the ouzo, and dining, all the dining. From souvlaki to baklava, the generous dinner plates are quite good. But of course, if the weather is amenable, it'll be time for some loukomades as well.

That said, it is coincident with the Chinese mid-Autumn festival, or the Moon Festival. That's traditionally celebrated with the lighting of lanterns and the eating of mooncakes. Locally, Té House of Tea will be serving mooncakes this weekend, although I doubt if they'll have snowskin mooncakes.


Looks amazing, doesn't it? So much like real meat.

Just kidding. That's home cured bacon, sliced manually. Breakfast, anyone?