Applesauce

Recently, my friend Amber and I aimed to preserve the last of the local apple harvest by canning homemade applesauce. It was our first adventure in canning, and it was a perfect starter project. The applesauce was simple to prepare, and the high acidity of apples made the canning process simpler too. To get the best flavor, we picked our apples at Larriland, a local pick-your-own farm. We picked 15 pounds of small to medium sized fuji and braeburn apples, and we got about 7 pints of applesauce out of them. [Continue Reading…]

Rodenbach glass WM

Last week, I did a piece called Beer Science: Sour and Funky Beers, which was all about the basic science of brewing and the special fermentation microbes used in brewing sours. This week, I’d like to step away from the science (just a little) and into the fun! I wanted to pay homage to the eight beers that inspired me to write about sour beer in the first place. Although my love of sour beer began over five years ago with my first sip of Dogfish Head’s Festina Peche, the inspiration for this deep dive into the world of sour brewing was inspired by an event I attended in August called Summer Sour Brews, held at the Historic Sixth & I Synagogue. It was a rare opportunity to taste brews from different local breweries side by side and hear tales of brewing from the expert panel of brewers. [Continue Reading…]

Sour Beer close up WM 3

Sour beer isn’t a new concept; in fact, the earliest beers were probably all sour by today’s standards. This is largely due to the wild yeasts and bacteria that would infiltrate old-world open-container brewing systems and add their own unique flavors to the brew. Eventually, these wild flavors and sour notes were phased out as brewers improved their sanitation methods and began using closed containers and stainless steel. Keeping wild yeasts and bacteria out allowed brewers to choose specific yeast and bacteria strains, which meant the flavor and alcohol content of their beer would be more predictable.

As a general rule, having a predicable recipe is a good thing, but shouldn’t we be able to have our cake and eat it too? Over the centuries, brewmasters have worked to isolate the specific strains of bacteria and yeast that made those ancient beers so good, and leave out all the ones that made them so bad. Once upon a time, sour beers were manufactured by only a few specialized breweries in Belgium and Germany, but in recent years, small breweries all over the world have begun experimenting with sour beers. And where good beer goes (haha, Gose?) people will follow. At long last, sour beers have earned a small but thirsty following in America, and I’m proud to be among them.

[Continue Reading…]

Tomatoes

Photo credit: Liz West

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to write a piece about the nutritional implications of monosodium glutamate (MSG) for 75togo.com. You can view the original article on that site by clicking here, or you can visit the abridged version I posted on the Huffington Post. The full text is printed below, so read on to learn all about the MSG controversy and what it means to you. 

You’ve probably heard mixed reviews about monosodium glutamate (MSG). Perhaps you’ve heard it’s perfectly safe. Or maybe you’ve heard it causes mild problems for people who have a sensitivity to it. Or maybe you’ve heard that it’s a toxic chemical that’s slowly killing us all. The internet is full of conflicting perspectives. To set the record straight, I’ve taken a close look at the large body of scientific research and spoken with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Ajinomoto (the world’s first producer of MSG) to learn what you need to know about MSG – what it is, why it’s used, and whether or not it’s safe. [Continue Reading…]

IMG_5188 2We food-lovers often eat with our eyes. This is evidenced by the internet phenomenon known as “food porn” (or #foodporm, as it’s often tagged), which salutes mouth-watering (and G-rated!) photos of beautiful food. Color is an important factor in the appearance of a dish or ingredient. Color is how we judge how, ripe, fresh, or well-cooked our food is. In addition to being an important quality indicator, the color of food can also be visually stunning and contribute to the overall appeal and flavor of food. [Continue Reading…]

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…]

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!