Monday, June 20, 2016

The imperfection of the "bunch"

(I'm in the middle of reading The Chronicles of Barsetshire by Anthony Trollope, and I feel that he would have titled this post thus.)

I edit a lot of recipes...and it's a little like detective work (I knew my Nancy Drew training would eventually come into play) trying to suss out what a recipe creator means when they* call for "a large handful" or "a generous glug" or [wait for it] "a bunch."

Let's consult the dictionary for a definition of bunch:
"a group of things of the same kind that are held or tied together or that grow together"
There is nothing in the definition that implies a quantity (even for things that "grow together," like grapes or bananas). In fact, the size of a bunch is controlled by custom. And since customs change pretty much constantly, calling for a bunch of something in a recipe is extraordinarily imperfect.

Here, peeps of the jury, is a "bunch of basil" from a farmers' market:













And here's a "bunch" from the supermarket:













I rest my case.

*On a separate note, I've finally given in to the use of "they" to indicate an individual of unknown gender......but I am not happy about it.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Quinoa rant

Why does everyone keep saying quinoa is packed with protein? It's making me crazy.

Here's how some vegetable-based foods stack up protein-wise, and then maybe we can figure out what qualifies as packed with protein. I decided to base the following info* on 100 calories' worth of the food (cooked), since serving sizes can be sort of meaningless (though I've included them to show what you get for 100 calories). The items are ranked from the most to the least protein per 100 calories:

Tofu, firm (2.5 ounces, 1/3 cup) = 12g protein, 2g carbs (1.6g fiber)
Lentils (scant 1/2 cup) = 8g protein, 18g carbs (8g fiber)
Black beans (scant 1/2 cup) = 6.9g protein, 18g carbs (7g fiber)
Chickpeas (scant 1/2 cup) = 5.8g protein, 18g carbs (5g fiber)
Quinoa (scant 1/2 cup) = 3.7g protein, 18g carbs (2.3g fiber)
Brown rice (scant 1/2 cup) = 2.2g protein, 21g carbs (1.3g fiber)
Barley (1/2 cup) = 1.9g protein, 23g carbs (3g fiber)

Now, these numbers of course do not reflect how "complete" the protein is—as in which of the essential amino acids they contain. That's a whole other can of wax, or ball of worms. But I just want cookbook authors and other food writers to stop saying that quinoa is reeeelly high in protein. It's definitely higher than other grains for which it is often substituted, but packed it ain't.

For my money, it's LENTILS FOR THE WIN! (I would have said tofu, but honestly there are a lot of people who avoid tofu for one health reason or the other.)

And of course if you're into eating animals and animal products (it sounds so wrong when you say it like that), you're made in the shade. One hundred calories of most lean meat—so we're not talking about sausages here, 'kay?—will give you in the neighborhood of 25g protein and no carbs to speak of.

For the record: I'm very fond of quinoa. I eat it every single day for breakfast. So there.

* data is [are, for you linguistic pedants] from the USDA's nutrition database, so if you have a quarrel, take it up with the gov.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Snips & Snaps

Things that have interested me recently, but that I'm entirely too lazy to write about (at any length), are:

1. Foraging for wild bamboo shoots. Complicated, but interesting. Even Jean-Georges Vongerichten thinks so. I was just playing around with the bamboo shoot in the photo (don't you ever accuse me of being a food stylist!): The white filling is goat cheese and the little topper-jobs are chive blossoms (from my garden) that I pickled.


2. Steaming eggs to hard-boil them . . . it makes them incredibly easy to peel. You can also really nicely control the "doneness" of the yolk. Thanks to Maria Rodale whose book, Scratch (Rodale, October 2016) turned me on to this. (Though to be fair, she learned it from a chef in Pennsylvania named Allan Schanbacher. You'll have to ask him where he learned it. And then let me know what he says.)

3. Making an easy-peasy ratatouille by roasting whole (untrimmed) eggplant, zucchini, and plum tomatoes (and sometimes some sliced onions) and then slicing everything up after. Just add olive oil, herbs, S&P, and maybe a dash of balsamic. Done.

4. Black limes. They are an ingredient in Persian (OK, Iranian) cooking and are called—among other transliterated words—loomi. I've never seen a whole lime, but I bought a bottle of powdered limes. The powder has a nice sort of citrusy tang and a very faint underflavor of something else....almost like fenugreek, or some other sort of haunting spice. I mix black lime powder with sea salt for sprinkling on things. I thought that I had stumbled on a fantastic salt substitute until I found out that "black limes" are first cooked in a salt solution (sheesh) before being dried in the sun until they turn black. The bottle I bought is labeled Black Lemon Powder, even though the ingredient list says black limes (oh, those wacky Middle Easterners).

5. Dried mango powder. Called amchoor/amchur (more transliteration here). Liking this too, for the same reason as the black limes. Faintly tart and sort of like putting salt on food, but not.

6. And then, in a complete 180°, I've been obsessed with making flavored salt. (It was weird last Xmas, 2015. I gave people flavored salt and they gave me flavored salt. Everybody gave everybody flavored salt. What up?) Anyway, I just experimented with mixing kosher salt with various liquids: some simple (lemon juice) and some more complex (red wine and balsamic with herbs steeped in it). I spread the resulting paste out on a baking sheet to dry and then I crumbled it back into sprinkle-able salt. It's fun. You can get cool colors. Don't bother with the lemon juice, it just tastes like salt on steroids.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The mystery teapot

In the late 18th, early 19th century, a certain style of teapot came into fashion in England. It was modeled after a pot brought back from India by a Lady Cadogan and was made popular because George IV admired one. Thenceforth everyone absolutely had to have one.

I want one too, not because I am a follower of George IV, but because the teapot is just plain cool. This teapot has no lid. There is no apparent way to fill it.

The way it works is this: If you invert the teapot you see that running up into the pot from the bottom is a tube. You fill the pot through the tube, turn the pot rightside up and the water.....aaaah, too hard to explain. Look at this glass version of the pot and you can see how it works.

You can look for antique Cadogan pots (like the top photo) manufactured by the Rockingham works in England or you can buy the modern glass version shown here (called the Mystery Pyramid Teapot) for $30 from a site that also sells Klein bottles.

Just in case you don't know what a Klein bottle is, it's a bottle that, like a Moebius strip, has a continuous surface. Enough said. You can check out the Klein bottle site to learn more.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Ramen spork

If you have a kid either in college or recently graduated (which probably also means unemployed), then it's very probable that ramen figures heavily into his/her food budget. So check out this very fine ramen-eating implement.

This stainless steel spork was designed by Masami Takahashi for a chain of ramen restaurants in Japan. It costs $14 from Uncommon Goods.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Stabilizing a cutting board

There's nothing more annoying (or potentially dangerous) than a cutting board that slides all over the counter when you're wielding a sharp knife. Some cutting boards come with nonskid feet, but what if you have a perfectly fine collection of other random cutting boards--as I do--with no nonskid bottoms?

Well, if you do a Google search on the topic, you'll get tips on using a wet towel underneath the board. Or if you've ever been to a professional food shoot, you'll have seen food stylists use stacks of wet paper towels under their boards.

Both of these ideas work just fine, but not as well as my personal favorite: nonslip shelf and drawer liner. You can find rolls of this webby material in any hardware store. It costs from $3-6 for a roll 12 inches wide by 5 feet long. You can cut out pieces that match any one of your cutting boards, and it works like a charm.

If you can't find it locally, you can do a search on Contact brand drawer liners.