Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011-better green beans

Thanksgiving got better a few years ago when they added a football game (no, not shitty college football, the real, deal-NFL) to the holiday. Now we have not two, but three games on Turkey day, allowing you to do more gorgeing on Thanksgiving leftovers only to park your overly stuffed, bloated carcass on the sofa for more barbaric, contact sports.

This year it will get even better for you because for those of you reading this, I am now a part of your (culinary) life and how can that be a bad thing?  I will think of something. So as mentioned before, I will be posting Thanksgiving tips and recipes until the big day.

Today we will talk about green beans and how you can make them better

First, I recommend using haricot verts (baby French green beans) but they are not required
The key points to cooking green vegetables are:
-The proportion of water to vegetables. A rough estimate is one handful of vegetables to two gallons of water
-The water is well salted-it should taste like sea water.
-The water is violently boiling
-If you are just blanching (par cooking in advance) the vegetables, make sure you have ice water ready before the vegetables are cooked
-If you put too many green vegetables in relation to the quantity water, the water will cool down too much, meaning the green vegetables will take longer to cook, consequently affecting the color. Instead of a nice green, you will have Army green (yuk!)
NOTE: if the beans are too old, you won't get a nice color either
My green beans

Approximately 4-6 servings


1 lb of green beans, snipped
3 strips of bacon, rough chop
1/2 red onion, julienned
To taste-salt and fresh cracked pepper
Handful of toasted, sliced almonds
1/2 stick of butter


-Bring a large pot of salted water to a violent boil
-Have a bowl of ice water (lot of ice) and a colander ready at the side prior to cooking the beans if blanching
-Add the beans to the water based on the proportions above and boil until they are tender
-To test, remove a green bean with a spoon.  Bite into it.  When ready, the bean should be a nice green (not Army green which means overcooked) and have a little bite to it.  It should not be crunchy or have somewhat of a raw flavor
-When cooked, scoop the beans out with a strainer and place the strainer in the ice water to cool for a few minutes.  Once cool, place the beans on a tray lined with a lint free cloth to absorb water.  It is bad for food to sit in liquid unless marinating
-Repeat the cooking process with the remaining beans and place the beans in the refrigerator until ready for use

To finish:
-Have a pot of boiling water ready for reheating the beans
-Cook the bacon over medium heat in a pan large enough so the bacon is not overlapping too much
-Once the bacon is almost cooked, add the onions and cook until tender
-Add the butter and melt
-Add the almonds
-Pour the bacon, butter, onion and almond mixture into a bowl large enough to accomodate the beans and keep it warm
-Dip the beans in the boiling water for about 30 seconds
-Remove the beans from the water, shake excess water off and add them to the bowl with the other ingredients and toss, adding salt and pepper
-Taste.  Adjust seasoning as necessary

ps. fresh, chopped thyme also nice with these

You can thank me later :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Thanksgiving part one

All my 31 (like Baskin Robbins' flavors) followers and any other random readers,

With Thanksgiving only a month away I will be focusing on tips and recipes for that holiday to help you cook and serve a killer meal and make for a memorable holiday

I am often asked how one can have everything ready at the same time when you have multiple dishes to serve.  Well, this topic was touched on in an ealier blog about a year ago but I want to cover it some more. 

First, you need to plan properly which is something most home cooks do not know how to do. Fair enough, you don't cook for a living so it is understood.

Whenever you plan a large meal do any of you write out a shopping list?  Take all the recipes you are going to prepare and go through them all carefully writing down what you need.

You also need to write out a prep list.  You should take a sheet of paper, divide it into columns and write a day for each column, for example, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
In each column you write down what you can prep each day.  In a professional kitchen you need to think, at least a few days (or sometimes more) ahead. You need to know what you need to do before going to work each day.  To further illustrate, if you know you are going to marinate the turkey overnight for Thanksgiving, you need to thaw it (if frozen) at least a few days ahead, have your marinating ingredients a day ahead and marinate the turkey a day ahead.

I will be posting a more detailed description of how to plan, execute and serve a big Thanksgiving meal at least a couple times a week so stay tuned

Saturday, October 22, 2011

An apple a day.......

What thoughts enter your mind when you think of an apple? Apple pie? Snow White? William Tell shooting an apple off his son's head with a crossbow? With Halloween approaching, you may think of bobbing for apples. The tradition being whoever chokes on the apple first will be the first to marry. Apparently this is where the tradition of throwing rice at a wedding evolved from. (Note to friends, if I get married and you throw apples, or anything larger than a grain of rice at me I will not be happy).

Folklore has been associated with the apple throughout history. With its significance in the mythology of many cultures, the apple plays a symbolic role, along with its connotations of love, beauty and sin and temptation. In many religions, the apple appears as a mystical or forbidden fruit. According to Christian religion, the "forbidden fruit" is the apple because the Latin word for apple is "malum," which is also the word for evil. In Danish folklore, apples wither around adulterers. America's best known apple folklore lies in John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.

There is a superstition for boat builders that it is unlucky to build a boat out of wood from an apple tree because this wood was used to make coffins at one point in time. I am not superstitious but I can certainly understand that belief.

An apple is by definition: any tree and its fruit of the genus Palus of the family Rosaceae. The tree originated in Western Asia and there are over 7,000 varieties with a range of characteristics. Apples have been around since prehistoric times and were a favorite of the Romans. It is said the growing of apples in North America started during the time of the Pilgrims. The United States is currently one of the world's top suppliers of apples along with China, Turkey, Poland and Italy.

Being a durable fruit, the apple can grow in hot and cold climates, is firm, and is one of the more versatile foodstuffs that can be used in everything from a chutney, pie, sauce, side dish, raw, a compote, etc.

When buying apples look for strong colors, make sure there are no bruises and remember apples will not continue to ripen after being picked. Store apples in the refrigerator and remember the shelf life of an apple is shorter if not refrigerated.

When deciding which apple to use for cooking, it depends on your tastes, the intended use, and what qualities you want from an apple. Some of the more common varieties are the red delicious, golden delicious, granny smith, McIntosh, gala and lady apple. Certain apples lend themselves to certain preparations better.

For cooking, granny smith apples hold their shape well, where as some varieties of apple will break down once baked. Recipes generally specify which apple to use.

Apples not only have many culinary benefits but are also healthy. (I assume most of you know that). One apple has approximately 20% of your daily fiber needs, only 80 calories, and apples are fat, sodium and cholesterol free.

Maybe an apple a day does keep the doctor away.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Writer's block

I have had some serious writer's block over the past week so I will just ramble a bunch of shit for you. 

Sorry but maybe it will give you something to pass the time.  There is an unwritten rule about writing when you have writer's block.  It says you should always write (no, not really) in bullet points or numbering.

1.  I love movie popcorn.  I saturate that shit with butter until each little kernel of corn needs a friggin life preserver.

2.  In Peru, when taking a taxi, you can negotiate with the driver.

3.  I would love to see the U.S. allow cheese to be made with raw milk and not have it mandated that it age a certain amount of time.  Have any of you been to Europe?  When I was in France three years ago, all I did was drink Rose wine on the rocks, eat charcuterie and cheese.  Oh yes!! I must say, we are worried about people eating raw milk cheese but we allow all sorts of chemicals in our processed food.  Did you know that the red food coloring called "Carmine" is made by crushing the bodies of particular beetles?  True, the crushed beetle bodies are then treated with ammonia.  Sounds healthy doesn't it?

4.  In Australian supermarkets they don't store eggs in the refrigerated case, they store them on the shelf with other dry food.  The first time I went shopping I was looking everywhere for eggs.  I finally found them next to the Froot Loops.  Go figure

5.  If you want to drive a chef up a wall, start seasoning your food before you taste it

6.  Another way to drive a chef up a wall is if you personally ask the chef, "what's good on the menu?"  Really?  Did you just ask me that?  Since it is the chef's menu, how does a chef answer that?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The MSG Conundrum part 6

Could there be another reason for these reactions other than MSG?

Some researchers suggest these reactions have to do with other things in the food such as shellfish, peanuts and other foods common to allergies. Sometimes ingredients are hidden in dishes that the diner is unaware of such as shrimp paste or fish sauce.

Hypersensitivity to acetylsalicylic acid is a condition which has symptoms similar to CRS such as: headaches, change in skin color, itching, skin rash, swelling of hands, feet, face and stomach pain. Coincidentally, one report stated the author of that paper in 1968 that started this whole scare suffered from this same condition.

Salicylates are chemicals found naturally in plants and are a major ingredient in aspirin and other pain relieving medications. They are also found in many food items (that are often used in Chinese cooking) such as fruits, vegetables, dry spices, powders, sauces, vinegar, soy sauces, coffee, peanuts, gelatin and are also found in health and beauty products.

Aspartame reaction has symptoms that are similar to that of a reaction to MSG. Aspartame is, like MSG, an excitotoxin and is the artificial sweetener used in diet soda, also known as Nutrasweet.

Reactions to Chinese tea and Muscarine poisoning share similar symptoms and can include: irregular heart beat, dizziness, vomiting, headache and bronchoconstriction-which can lead to asthma attacks (the last symptom is limited to Muscarine poisoning).

Plasma sodium levels found to be increased after a chinese meal and the high sodium content of Chinese restaurants was suggested as the cause in one report.

Histamine intoxication symptoms are similar to allergic reactions such as: swelling, rashes, hives, asthma-like symptoms-such as difficulty breathing and smooth muscle contractions.

One report stated that when the histamine content of ingredients used in Chinese cooking was measured, it was found some Chinese meals could contain levels of histamine close to the toxic threshold established by the FDA for histamine in foods.

Some of the foods containing histamine are: tofu, alcoholic beverages, avocadoes, dried fruits, eggplant, fermented foods, mushrooms, processed meats, sardines, yogurt, spinach, tomatoes, vinegar or vinegar-containing foods such as chili sauce and pickled vegetables.

Could it be a MSG allergy? No. For anything to be classified as an allergen, the food must contain protein. While glutamate is an amino acid that can be found in protein, the glutamate in MSG is a "free" glutamate and cannot be a protein. O n average 3%-5% of the population suffers from food allergies.

So why don't people have a reaction to glutamate or suffer from CRS after they eat spaghetti bolognaise, pepperoni pizza, or a cheeseburger? Could it be mass psychosis-you suffer the symptoms you've been told to worry about?

While there is much debate on MSG and its affects on the human body, one piece of information is consistent and that is how the body handles glutamate. The human body does not differentiate between glutamate found naturally in foods and glutamate found in MSG.

Actually, there is one health benefit to MSG: if you replace salt with MSG in your recipes, you will reduce your sodium intake by 30% without sacrificing flavor.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What should I blog next?

So, to all my followers (well there aren't that many :))

I would ask anyone reading this post, "what would you like me to cover in my next blog?"
Please post comments to my blog or on my Facebook wall


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Simply braised red cabbage

With fall here it is time for braised red cabbage so here is a very quick and simple recipe.

1 part red onion, julienned
3 parts red cabbage, julienned and core removed
1 part granny smith apple, cored, peeled, cut in 2"X2" cubes
Olive oil for sauteeing
Salt and pepper to taste
Red wine vinegar.....splash
Sugar to taste

-Heat a flat bottomed pan over medium heat and add a bit of oil for cooking. 
-Add your onions, cabbage, salt and pepper and saute, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes making sure it does not brown. NOTE-make sure the cabbage and onions are not more than an inch deep.  If so, you need a wider based pan.
-Add the apples and saute until soft, but firm....about 5-10 minutes
-Add the sugar and vinegar.  You do not want the cabbage too acidic and too sweet so add a splash of vinegar to start and a large pinch of sugar

This is great with pork

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The MSG Conundrum part 5

The MSG Conundrum part 5

Timeline of Studies

1959-FDA classifies MSG as "generally recognized as safe" or GRAS substance along with many other common ingredients such as salt, vinegar and baking powder.

In the late 1960's a Dr. John Olney performed a study by injecting or force feeding huge quantities of MSG to (one report said he injected MSG directly into the brains) neonatal mice. He reported that the mice suffered brain lesions and that MSG could do the same to the brain of an infant so naturally, this turned parents away from feeding their children anything with MSG. The thing here is children reportedly process glutamate the same way and adult does.

In addition, injections of MSG in laboratory animals has resulted in damage to nerve cells in the brain but consumption of glutamate does not have the same effect.

One study indicated that individuals who feel they react to MSG may react to concentration rather than dose.

Critics of animal testing argue that it is unreliable based on the following reasons: a) the reaction to a drug in an animal's body is different from that of a human and, b) the animals used for testing are in an unnatural environment and will be under stress, consequently won't react to drugs the same way they would in a natural environment and, c) there is debate as to whether or not humans are as suseptible to excitotoxins as rodents

I have to admint, if I was locked in a cage and force fed or injected with MSG, or anything for that matter, I would probably have a reaction to it as well.

1970 onwards-FDA sponsored extensive reviews on the safety of MSG, other glutamates and hydrolyzed proteins as part of an ongoing review of safety data on GRAS substances used in processed foods.

1980-A review was conducted by the FASEB Select Committee on GRAS substances and concluded that MSG was safe at currernt levels but recommended additional evaluation to determine MSG's safety at significantly higher levels of consumption.

1986-FDA's Advisory Committee on Hypersensitivity to Food Constituents concluded that MSG poses no threat to the general public but that reactions of brief duration may occur in some people.

1987-the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization have placed MSG in the safest category of food ingredients.

1991-European Communities' (EC) Sceintific Committee for Foods reaffirmed MSG's safety and classified its "acceptable daily intake" as "not specified," the most favorable designation for a food ingredient. In addition, the EC Committee said, "Infants, including prematures, have been shown to metablolize glutamate as efficiently as adults and therefore do not display any special susceptibility to elevated oral intakes of glutamate."

1992-a report from the Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association stated that glutamate in any form has not been shown to be a "significant health hazard."

1995- Due to the public's continued interest and concerns with MSG, the FDA asked the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) to review MSG and its safety. The FASEB held a two-day meeting comprised of an expert panel and thoroughly reviewed all the available scientific literature on this issue.

Here are some of the key points from that meeting:

-An unknown percentage of the population may react to MSG and develop a condition characterized as "MSG symptom complex" with symptoms ranging from:

burning sensation in the back of neck, forearms and chest, numbness in the back of the neck radiating to the arms and back, headache, rapid heartbeat, chest pain.

-Severe, poorly controlled asthma may be a predisposing medical condition for MSG symptom complex

-No evidence suggests that dietary MSG causes brain lesions or damages nerve cells in humans

-The level of B6 in a person's body plays a role in glutamate metabolism, and the possible impact of marginal B6 intake should be considered in future research (another study has also supported this).

-There is no scientific evidence that the levels of glutamate in hydrolyzed proteins causes adverse effects or that other manufactured glutamate has effects different from glutamate normally found in foods.

2002-A study showed that rats fed on diets where 10%-20% of their total diet was pure MSG suffered retina degeneration. Such high amounts are more than ten times higher than those used in flavoring or found in foods and would not be possible to replicate in a meal for human consumption.

Much of the evidence linking MSG to these health issues has been anecdotal with many reports of non-specific symptoms. Many studies have been plagued with inconsistencies ranging from uncontrolled open challenges to double-blind, placebo challenges. Some studies were not even observed when MSG was taken with food and some studies revealed that a small percentage of test subjects reacted to both the MSG and the placebo but not showing symptoms of CRS.

Another variable is that the methodology of the testing is sometimes flawed with responses to tests inconsistent and not reproducible. When the small percentage of people do show reactions, it has been when straight MSG is given to them in large doses on an empty stomach.

The University of Western Sydney researchers stated 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is an anecdote applied to a variety of postprandial illnesses,' rigorous and realistic scientific evidence linking the syndrome to MSG could not be found.

Any official body, either government or academic, in America or any other country that has researched MSG and its affects on the human body has labeled normal quantities as safe for consumption.