Marshmallow Peep Cover

Spring is here!! After a long hard winter, I couldn’t be more excited about a little sunshine and warm days. Fueling the fire is DC’s annual cherry blossom madness. When spring hits, the CB’s come out and you can almost feel the excitement in the air. Here in the nation’s capital, we love our picturesque blooms. So in honor of the spring season, and the overabundance of marshmallow Peeps that flood the grocery store at this time of year, I thought I’d share a little seasonal food science and answer the question, “Why do marshmallows puff in the microwave?” [Continue Reading...]

IMG_4036 Web

Big news!! I’m now offering classes in DC! So if you live in the area, come claim a spot in one of my “The Food Lab” classes at CulinAerie (1131 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005). My first class is scheduled for Sunday, March 23, 2014 from 2-5pm and it’s on the science of COOKIES! So, if you like food science (duh, it’s awesome) and you want to experiment with it yourself, come cook with me!

About The Food Lab: Custom Cookie Science class:
Do you feel skeptical when you see yet another chocolate chip cookie recipe claiming to be the “best”? I sure do. When it comes to chocolate chip cookies, everyone has their own idea of what makes their cookie the BEST. In my class, The Food Lab: Custom Cookie Science, you’ll learn how to use science to customize a standard chocolate chip cookie recipe to fit your idea of the perfect chocolate chip cookie! I’ll explain the science behind the ingredients, and what results you can expect when you change them. Then we’ll experiment with some changes ourselves to see (and taste!) the different flavor and texture results. You’ll learn how to make all types of chocolate chip cookies, like crispy, chewy, cakey, and more!

Come see, feel and taste first-hand the power of science in cookies! Glasses of wine (and milk!) will flow freely. I’d love to see all of you Decoding Delicious fans in person at my first kick-off class, so sign up now through CulinAerie’s calendar page. I can’t wait to see you there!

Keep up with this and future classes by checking my Calendar page for more info. New classes are already posted for April and May!

Please share this with your friends in the DC area who you think might be interested! The more, the merrier!

Gluten Free Grocery Aisle 

Bob's Red Mill's gluten free all purpose baking flour. (Source: bobsredmill.com)

Bob’s Red Mill’s gluten free all purpose baking flour. (Source: bobsredmill.com)

Have you noticed the prevalence of gluten free (GF) foods lately? They’re for sale at grocery stores, specialty shops, cafes and restaurants. I covered what gluten is in a previous article titled Understanding Gluten, but let’s dive into the GF craze that’s been sweeping the nation. Why avoid gluten? Well, not everyone needs to, but if you suffer from celiac disease (an auto immune disease) or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, avoiding gluten is a must. Because GF foods are wheat-free, they’re great alternatives for those allergic to wheat too. Increased awareness of celiac and related issues within the medical community has led to more people being properly diagnosed. That means a growing demand for GF foods. It’s taken a long time, but we’re finally getting close to a legitimate and readily available supply of GF foods for the average American shopper. [Continue Reading...]

Raclette

I recently got the opportunity to go to Zurich, Switzerland–home of cheese, chocolate, meat and potatoes! As a food scientist, I have curious taste buds, and Zurich did not disappoint in its variety of foods! Plus, with the Christmas season approaching, Swiss seasonal favorites were coming available too–like marroni (roasted chestnuts), gluhwein (hot mulled wine), and Raclette (pictured above; melty Raclette cheese over potatoes). Vendors served up these delights, and much more, on street corners and plazas along the Bahnhofstrasse (the main road through downtown Zurich). I couldn’t resist sharing the most delicious and interesting foods I encountered on my culinary exploration of Switzerland’s largest city! [Continue Reading...]

Strawberry Basil Ice Cream

Custard-style (also known as French-style) ice cream contains egg yolks, which gives it a smoother, richer mouthfeel than traditional ice cream (also known as Philadelphia-style), which is comprised of only cream, milk, sugar and flavorings. Although it is a bit trickier to make, it’s much more forgiving to the imperfect conditions of home ice cream making. Plus, I prefer the richer flavor and texture that the egg yolks provide. [Continue Reading...]

Candied Basil, Green

Basil is one of my favorite herbs. I grow several varieties in the house, and I love tending to the plants and finding new uses for their scrumptious leaves. Some basil varieties are sweet (Genovese, Globe and Red Rubin aka “purple” basil), some are lemony (Lemon basil), and some have a distinct licorice note (Napolitano and Thai). I actually prefer using a combination of these types when I cook because it lends a more complex, yet pleasantly balanced basil flavor. [Continue Reading...]

Papillae

Tongue Papillae Diagram

Have you taken a close look at your taste buds lately? Go ahead—take a look! When you stick out your tongue, you see that it’s covered in lots of little bumps. We like to think of these bumps as our taste buds, but actually, these bumps are known as papillae. Your actual taste buds are much smaller, and anywhere from 3-100 of them can fit inside a single papilla.1 Take another look at your tongue. Notice how some papillae look different than others? There are actually four different types! Right in the center of your tongue, there are lots of small, skinny papillae that almost look fur-like. These are called filiform, and they don’t contain any taste buds. On the front and sides of your tongue there are little round dot-like papillae known as fungiform.2 They usually contain 3-5 taste buds each. [Continue Reading...]

Pork Rib, whole

A few weekends ago, I was at a barbecue with my family, and my cousin, Matt, (who is a barbecuing genius) allowed me to tag along and help him smoke all the meats. It was amazing! There’s so much science behind smoking and slow cooking, it’s too much to cover in just one post, but I’d like to get us started with a mystery Matt asked me about himself. What causes a “smoke ring” to form around smoked meats? If you’re not familiar, a smoke ring is a region of pink colored meat usually seen in the outermost 8-10 millimeters of smoked meats. [Continue Reading...]

Cookies (Control) 3

Have you ever worked with a recipe that called for baking powder, but all you have is baking soda? You sit there for a minute debating whether you really need to go all the way back out to the store to buy baking powder. How different are they, anyway? They look the same; they’re used in similar recipes in similar amounts; they’re both supposed to leaven batters, and their names even sound the same. But don’t be fooled! Despite their similarities, using the wrong one can impact your food’s color, texture and flavor. [Continue Reading...]

French Fries

French Fries. Source: Brett Jordan, Flickr Creative Commons, Jan 9, 2012

Frying is a cooking technique that has been used for centuries. Sautéing, stir-frying, pan frying and deep frying all operate on the same principles – what differentiates them is how much fat is used in cooking. It can range from a very thin layer (sautéing and stir-frying) to enough to fully submerge an entire piece of food (deep frying). The biggest benefit to frying is speed. Fat is much better at transferring heat than either air or water, so frying cooks considerably faster than baking or boiling. Plus, the fat imparts a crispy crust and a richness and depth of flavor that is, to many folks, irresistible. [Continue Reading...]

Caprese Salad with Basil Foam

As I mentioned in my previous post (Soy Lecithin: Why is It in Everything?), lecithin will create a foam when whipped into a watery liquid. I thought it might be fun to try this technique on a Caprese salad, which is typically layered tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil. Here, I substituted the basil with a foam made from fresh basil, water, and soy lecithin. It’s a delicate and beautiful addition to the salad, and would be sure to wow guests at a party! The beauty of the lecithin foam is that it allows the authentic flavor of the ingredients to shine through. Foams made with egg whites or cream bring lots of their own eggy or creamy flavor to the mix. With lecithin, you just get pure basil-y freshness. Yum! [Continue Reading...]

Dark Chocolate 60%

Have you ever noticed soy lecithin on the ingredient statement of your pre-packaged food? It sometimes seems like it’s in everything! It makes you wonder–how could one little additive be so pervasive? Well, because it’s really useful.

What does it do?

First and foremost, it’s used as an emulsifier, which means it makes oil and water mix together, which they ordinarily would never do. That’s why you often see it in creamy salad dressings, mayonnaise, reduced-fat buttery spreads and other foods that have a hefty portion of oil. [Continue Reading...]

MSG Crystals

MSG Crystals. Source: James R Coffey, Wikinut, Dec 2010

Monosodium glutamate, aka MSG: a mysterious ingredient maligned by many, understood by few. Described as “the essence of flavor” by some Asian cultures, it’s highly revered for adding that special something to recipes and processed foods.

Why is MSG so pervasive? It’s delicious, it’s inexpensive, and its taste is almost impossible to duplicate. Why is it so disliked by its critics? Well, some people believe it makes them sick. The most common complaint is “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” – headaches and other temporary symptoms after eating a meal containing MSG. But this only affects those who have a pre-existing sensitivity to MSG, a small percentage of the population. More extreme critics even think that MSG may be linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but so far studies have not established a link between those conditions and MSG consumption.

There’s a lot more to the story about MSG and the controversy surrounding it. Let’s start at the beginning: [Continue Reading...]

Struggling with lactose intolerance?
Find out more about the condition, and how to avoid its uncomfortable symptoms. Find out more!
Gluten explained!
A no-nonsense look at gluten, what it is, and the role it plays in baked goods. Find out more!
Hate brown fruit?
Why sliced fruit turns brown, and how to stop it! Works for apples, bananas, pears, peaches, grapes, potatoes, eggplant, and avocados. Find out more!