Spiced Orange Jelly Jar

Continuing my love of all things citrus in the winter, here is an amazing recipe for Orange Spice Jelly taken from the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP). The final flavor is warm and delicately spiced. It’s heavenly spread on pancakes, toast, or scones. The NCHFP is a great resource for anyone interested in canning and preserving at home. If you’re not interested in going to the extra trouble of canning, you can simply refrigerate your jelly instead. [Continue Reading…]

 

Monkfish Pate in a Pot WM

Foie gras (pronounced fwa-gra) is the pinnacle of luxury for many foodies, due to its remarkably rich flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture. You may have read about it recently, as a federal judge overturned a California law banning the sale of foie gras in the state. NPR did a piece about the lifted ban; read or listen here. The term foie gras is officially defined by the French government as the liver of a duck or goose specially fattened by gavage.1 Oxford Dictionaries defines gavage as the administration of food or drugs by force, especially to an animal, typically through a tube leading down the throat to the stomach.2 Bringing me to another foie gras fact that most diners don’t realize–foie gras is, by definition, from birds that have been fattened through force feedings. The table below is taken directly from the European Union’s (EU) Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare’s (SCAHAW) 1998 report on the welfare aspects of foie gras production. It’s important to illustrate with numbers why the liver of a force fed bird (foie gras) is different from the liver of a bird fed normally (i.e. why the practice continues).

Mean weight and composition of the liver from force fed and not-force fed geese (Babile et al., 1998)

Force fed Not force fed
Liver weight (g) 982 76
Water content (%) 34.3 70.4
Protein content (%) 7.6 20.7
Lipid content (%) 55.8 6.6

You can access the SCAHAW’s full report here. In my opinion, foie gras production as it is today is inhumane. I haven’t eaten foie gras since learning about its production methods, but back in my blissfully ignorant days, I tried it a few times. I can’t deny that it’s special, which is why I was interested to try monkfish liver, often nicknamed foie gras of the sea due to its delicate flavor and texture. Most monkfish are wild caught off the coast of New England. The latest numbers show their population is above target levels, and numerous practices are in place to minimize fishing impact on habitats and protected species. For more information, read the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fish Watch report on monkfish. As far as I can tell, monkfish go about their normal lives until they’re caught.

I made a monkfish liver pâté to find out if it would live up to its nickname. It was delicious, with a smooth buttery texture much like foie gras. However, the flavor was (not surprisingly) slightly fishy or “of the sea”. I wouldn’t attempt to pass it off as duck or goose foie gras, but it’s just as decadent, and especially lovely if you’re a fan of seafood. This recipe would be perfect for a special occasion or dinner party.

Ingredients

0.5 lbs monkfish liver
0.5 cups of diced onion
2 cloves diced garlic
0.25 cups unsalted chicken stock
0.25 cup white wine
2 leaves fresh sage, chopped
1 sprig fresh thyme, about 6 inches long, plus more for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp cream cheese

Directions

  1. Clean the liver by removing as many of the veins as possible. Also remove the thin membrane that surrounds the whole liver. If not removed, these parts will toughen when cooked and detract from the silky smooth texture we’re looking for. This process will force you to tear up your liver, but it’s okay if it looks messy, since we’ll be pureeing it in the end anyway. Keep your monkfish liver on ice until you’re ready to cook. Keeping seafood ice cold prevents it from developing a fishy aroma.3
    Cleaning monkfish liver WM
  2. In a small saucepan, add your onion and garlic and cook over medium-low heat until translucent. Avoid adding oil or butter; it will cause separation in the final product. If your pan is looking too dry, add a bit of stock to prevent scorching. Reduce heat to low and add the monkfish liver, stock, wine, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Break the liver into chunks to help it cook more evenly. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the liver has cooked through. When done, it should look opaque and beige or orange in color.
    Cooking monkfish liver WM
  3. Remove the woody thyme stems and transfer to a mini food processor (or use an immersion blender). Add the cream cheese and process until smooth. Serve with crackers or toasted baguette. Garnish with a few leaves of fresh thyme.
    Monkfish Pate on Cracker WM
    Makes about a pint of pâté.

 

 Notes

  1. http://legifrance.gouv.fr/affichCodeArticle.do;jsessionid=943EF0198AA70E691D551179EB5E5A83.tpdjo05v_3?idArticle=LEGIARTI000006584967&cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006071367&dateTexte=20091223
  2. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/gavage
  3. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (New York: Scribner, 2004), 188, 192.

Candied Citrus Peel WM 800px

It’s citrus season! Winter may not have much to brag about from a seasonal produce perspective, but boy is the citrus good this time of year. To help make the most of the season, I decided to candy some citrus peel. It’s easy to do, makes quite a lot of candy per fruit. A typical batch makes enough for your own sweet tooth plus extra to give away as gifts. I used four or five oranges and three lemons, and I had several trays of candy laying out to dry by the time I was done. I’ve created the recipe below to be flexible to any batch size. Instead of giving specific numbers, all the quantities are based on how much citrus peel you’re starting with. So whether you have one orange or ten, this method will work. Any type of citrus will do, but if you want to make these for snacking, I recommend using mostly orange peel, which is sweet and thick-skinned. I also recommend dipping these in chocolate if you like a bit more complexity in your candy. In addition to snacking, candied citrus is delightful chopped into scones and cakes, and makes an excellent garnish for cocktails. In fact, you can save the leftover sugar syrup from this recipe and use it to sweeten tea or cocktails. [Continue Reading…]

Lavender hot chocolate 2 WM

This rich hot chocolate is sure to keep you warm and toasty all through the chilly winter season. I was raised drinking hot chocolate from a packet, so I understand the draw of hot chocolate in two minutes with two ingredients and two steps. However, the packet isn’t the only answer to quick and easy hot cocoa. Let this recipe be proof that you can have the incredible flavor and texture of real chocolate without any extra time or effort. [Continue Reading…]

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…]

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!