LSFE: Honey is Sweet!

April 28, 2011

Raw Honey

Back during the Holidays, I received a glass jar of honey in my Christmas stocking. I’m always inundated with fun food related items after the stockings are finished but in this case I had no idea what I had just received. How lucky was I that I now had 12 oz of liquid gold!

This stuff was not what I was used to however. Instead of amber and free-flowing this was a light yellow slightly solidified block of sweet goodness. And the flavor was awesome. Actually less sweet than you’d expect or maybe it was the increase in subtlety that counteracted the sweetness. But who cares, the stuff was delicious and I was using it for everything. Until the glass jar was empty…

Awfully dramatic for a post about honey, huh? Well, it wasn’t until I started craving the stuff that I actually did my research. Sure, I was intuitive enough to grasp the likely difference between this “raw” honey and the standard bear bottle variety. But it wasn’t until I did my reading that I really understood just how great this “raw” stuff really was.

Honey is touted as having antibacterial properties, being great for sore throats and stomach aches, and even as a potential anti-cancer agent. But all of those fantastic properties stem from “stuff” that is partially or fully degraded by heat processing. The same heat processing that takes “raw” honey and makes it the stuff we are used to seeing. Most interesting of the “stuff” to me is the propolis. Propolis is a mixture of resins used by honeybees to seal their hives against viruses and bacteria. It’s not so shocking that raw honey could have those antibacterial properties then is it? Or what about how honey is the only natural food that doesn’t go bad? Probably not a coincidence. Additionally, levels of “good” bacteria (think Activia), can be found in raw honey which would certainly explain the use as a stomach aid.

So what’s the bottom line? Raw honey is awesome! You can buy many different varieties in most grocery stores and definitely in specialty shops at this point. And yes, like all things good, it’s more expensive than those honey bears. But for an ingredient you use in such small quantities, and with amazing flavor and health properties, it’s definitely worth it!


LSFE: Salt and Pepper

March 8, 2011

Salt and Pepa Shakers

Think about every meal you’ve ever cooked. Whether it came from a recipe or straight from your brain, there are two ingredients that don’t even need to be mentioned: salt and pepper. They are in every kitchen, on every table, and in the hands of most eaters (even when it’s not necessary). Eggs, beef, carrots, whatever; salt and pepper is the essence of cooking.

But why? Why the hell are we all stocking up and programmed to use these two seasonings without fail? Sounds like a job for LSFE!

To be honest, answering the question of “why salt” is pretty easy. Besides the modern-day obsession with salty foods which has most big brands scrambling to “reduce sodium”, salt has played a role in shaping how we as human beings eat, but more importantly survive. Salt is considered one of our original preservatives. Curing with salt allowed for food to last much longer than what was typical, reducing disease and death and paving the way for the overpopulated planet we find ourselves living on today (wow, that was a bit too much cynicism, sorry about that).  But the science of it is pretty fascinating stuff (at least to me). Salt draws moisture out of foods. The same moisture that is crucial for microorganisms to grow. Little to no water means little to no spoilage (see beef jerky). But at the end of the day, in our nightly cooking routines, salt isn’t preserving much. And while we do rely on its ability to draw out moisture, taste is king. Simply put, salt tastes good!

So what about pepper? Well this one was a bit harder to figure out. Because while there seems to be a lot of evidence pointing to the “wealth in spices” Europe so hotly sought after, pepper may also have grown in popularity because of that whole lack of refrigeration thing. Turns out pepper does wonders for covering up the taste of spoiled meat which I really hope isn’t the origins of pepper crusted filet! But one thing is for sure, the bite and spice we equate with balanced meals starts and ends with pepper.

So let’s talk about taste, baby! And pass the salt and pepa!

LSFE: Metallogeusia

February 11, 2011

Pine Nuts: Image from Wikipedia

It’s been an awfully strange week! Because starting this past Sunday everything I ate, no matter how sweet or how salty, all I tasted was bitter. At first I didn’t think much of it, but after two or three days, it kind of freaked me out. Particularly for how much my life revolves around food, having taste issues isn’t exactly ideal. So I did what any paranoid and panicked individual does these days…I googled it!

You’ve all done this before right? You have a symptom. You google the symptom. Then you lose your mind. It’s a good thing Doctors are still in business. But interestingly enough, despite the plethora of major problems google was suggesting I had, a more simple conclusion was mentioned quite a bit: pine nuts. Having snacked on a few handfuls earlier in the weekend, I was happy to accept the information. But 6 days later and only slow progress towards normalcy to speak of, what the hell were these pine nuts up to!

Well if you choose to believe every word the internet says….

The Pinus amandii  and Pinus massoniana species of the tiny nut seems to be invading the traditional exports. Tinier, rounder, and packed with a different make up of fatty acids, some have hypothesized this particular pine nut is the culprit. A metallic taste disturbance, also known as metallogeusia, taking place 1-3 days after consumption and lasting a few days up to a few weeks (yikes) has been shown to be pretty typical.

Whether this is 100% accurate or not, this week has been a serious eye opener. At the risk of sounding dramatic, losing the ability to taste or taste accurately ranks up there with drowning for me; it has to be one of my biggest fears. So all week I’ve tasted and re-tasted dishes hoping they’d turn out perfectly (for Em, for friends, and for my fantastic clients that had me back last night). But hopefully experience took over where my taste failed. Empty plates are always good feedback!

One more thing…For one of the more amazing stories in the culinary world, I’d encourage anyone interested to read about Grant Achatz. The young, succesful, and now famous chef of Alinea in Chicago was diagnosed with tongue cancer back in 07 and lost the ability to taste. His perseverance and ability to thrive as a chef under the worst of times is pretty amazing. You can check out this New Yorker article that was published sometime ago or do some googling on your own!

LSFE: Does Eating Make You Cold?

October 7, 2010

I’ve always loved outdoor dining at restaurants. Who doesn’t!? But despite the overwhelming number of restaurants in NYC, there is a limited amount of comfortable and enjoyable outdoor dining space. Sure for the three months during the summer you’ll see a few tables and a crappy divider set up on the sidewalk, but that’s not what I’m really talking about. And of course, even the places that have the space are limited by the weather…or are they?

One of the greatest things I experienced throughout the city of Berlin, was the open air dining scene. And your probably thinking the same thing I was…isn’t it pretty damn cold in Berlin these days? Well, it wasn’t unreasonable, but it was definitely cold. The cure? It wasn’t hot beverages. It wasn’t hot foods. It was blankets! Seems so simple but what a way to immediately fall in love with a restaurant experience. So as it’s getting colder and colder, and darker and darker in the city, I hope some of my favorite restaurants are reading this. But since I doubt they are, I may just have to buy a snuggie…

This got me thinking though…have you ever gotten cold after eating? I can’t think of the last time I was extremely aware of this “phenomenon” but I do remember as a kid, feeling this way fairly often. My Mom would always say that I must have gotten more of her genes…But when you break it down (great  pun) feeling cold after eating doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Eating stimulates the metabolism which in fact generates heat. Hmmm, this seems like a job for the internet!

But unfortunately my searching came up with little that seems definitive (damn you internet!). So here’s a few thoughts of mine, and I’d love to hear a few of yours. Comment below!

  • I remember always attributing this perceived cold to an issue with blood flow. Blood must head to the stomach to aid in digestion and therefore blood is flowing less in the external portions of your body. This argument does seem logical at first, but as I said above, the heat generated by your metabolism should at the very least counteract this, if indeed this is true. I’m not convinced!
  • Maybe more believable is the possibility of a digestion deficiency. Whether it be from the quality or type of foods we are eating, or an internal issue of our own, a less than stellar digestion system may be the cause of this cold feeling. In fact, when you are nauseous, don’t you feel cold? I like this answer.
  • What about location? I feel like I’ve experienced this issue mainly from eating out. Typically dining out comes with larger portions than eating at home. Overeating could easily be a contributor right? Too much food will slow and hinder digestion again contributing the previously mentioned thought.
  • And half in jest (man the puns just keep coming)….maybe it’s the air conditioning and gallons of ice water I tend to drink….

What do you think?

What did you put in that Vodka?

September 24, 2010

Tomato and Peppercorn Vodka

Two summers ago, Em’s sister Sarah and I thought we struck “idea gold”. In the middle of a late night bloody mary frenzy, with a morning road trip to Em’s horse show looming, we took action. With stores closed for the night, and a limited number of the necessary ingredients (i.e. no tomato juice), we were determined to make our very own. Well let’s just say, our “bloody mary mix” was more like tomato soup, and a bad one at that. A classic case of recipe fail, but at least we can chalk it up to the red wine…

So word of warning: I made my “infused vodka” poll winning decision last night in a similar mental state. This time the culprit; a few fantastic cocktails at Back Forty.

But I’ve got reserved optimism about this one. Infusing vodka with ingredients is pretty simple. The quantity and time are the two crucial factors. So the only way to know when this tomato and black peppercorn infused vodka is ready? Keep tasting…so stay tuned!

LSFE: More Powerful than “Jewish Penicillin”

September 16, 2010

Homemade Miso Soup: "Winter Penicillin"

Growing up, no matter what your religion, you surely ate some “Jewish Penicillin”. And throughout the years, with all the different batches, the effects always seemed sure-fire in their impact….at least for me. Of course, “Jewish Penicillin”, or chicken soup, provides real nourishment when made from scratch. From the protein to the vegetables, this liquid meal was sure to help provide the energy needed to ward off illnesses. But there is something more to it. There’s got to be!

So with the pain in the ass “weather changing cold and flu” season kicking into full gear, it’s time to be pro-active. Because there is nothing worse than missing out on some of the amazing fall nights, when the sun still exists after work, because your head is murky, heavy, and full of crap…

So since Em and I have both been feeling the beginning stages of cold’s coming on, I was going to do my best to reinforce our immune systems using one of the most powerful meds out there: Soup! My homemade miso was packed with immune system boosters and comforting ingredients including aduki beans, dandelion greens, shitake mushrooms, ginger, garlic, and of course miso. And this mix goes well beyond the warming effects of soup. Look out “jewish penicillin”, you may have just been replaced!

Miso –  This fermented soy bean product is an extremely potent source of vitamin B12 along with one of the most crucial minerals, zinc, for immune function. Along the same lines, our soy intake has gone through the rough as the health claims surrounding the beans have received a ton of press. But the real health benefits come form the fermentation process, so miso is a perfect addition!

Dandelion Greens – You would have had to be living under a rock to not have heard that dark greens are one of the best foods for you. Packed with antioxidants, greens like spinach, kale, and swiss chard have been touted as diet must-haves. And dandelion greens may pack even more. Despite their bitter taste, I love their addition as a flavor balancer and for the  natural benefits in digestion!

Shitake Mushrooms – Shitakes are one of those less talked about health foods, but they are absolutely packed with the good stuff. A great source of one of the most powerful antioxidants and a healthy dosing of iron make these shrooms great for you. But the presence of lentinan, a polysaccharide, is where the health legend really gets its power. Shown to seriously boost the immune system, lentinan is reason enough to keep shitakes in your weekly routine. The added bonus: they taste amazing, and there is a ton of locally cultivated mushrooms available!

Ginger – The spicy and fruity flavors of ginger make it one of my favorite ingredients. But ginger has forever been used to ease stomach pain and more and more recently as an anti-inflammatory agent. Simply put…eat some more ginger!

Garlic – Great for warding off vampires, and illnesses: Enough said!

Aduki beans – The presence of these beans goes well beyond their abundance of protein and vitamins. Fiber is a crucial piece to our diet, not because cereal companies say so, but because fiber is key to absorption. Fiber slows down our systems giving ample time for all those great vitamins and nutrients to be absorbed.

So as more and more people show up to work with the sniffles, and you start to feel some scratchiness in your throat, don’t forget to take advantage of these powerful ingredients and get to soup making!

I Have a Hangover….LSFE

July 15, 2010

My Hangover Cure

You wake up, it hurts to open your eyes, but it hurts to close them. You hope a few more hours of sleep is the remedy. It’s not. You’re miserable. So you start to regret the night before. You vow to never drink tequila again. But then you piece it all together. You remember the fun. You remember the people. And you remember the stories. You may be suffering. But it was worth it.

Yep, I have a hangover. And I’ve had it for two stinkin’ weeks. My tequila…Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Since that meal, I’ve barely cooked. Partially because of the heat, partially because of my schedule, but for dramatics, mainly because of that meal. It was so good! But I feel like I’m close to being cured. So great food and more posting to come! Maybe the greasy take out and cold beer from last night is exactly the remedy I needed…

 But in a LSFE segue, I wanted to think about the makings of a true hangover cure (the alcohol induced variety). We all have our go tos. Some swear by a Gatorade and others by the egg sandwich. Maybe a cup of coffee or a stiff bloody mary to get through the pain. But why do these work? Or maybe more importantly, why don’t they?

In my expert opinion vast experience and google searching, there are three points of focus: your head, your stomach, and fatigue. The problem is, some of the most common remedies will help one, but negatively impact the other. That cup of coffee? Great for fatigue but terrible for both your head and stomach. Even though caffeine is often touted as a headache cure, the headache that comes with a hangover is more to do with dehydration than anything else. Caffeine will not only further dehydrate, but it’s also a stimulant and a diuretic (think, oops I crapped my pants).

So what about the greasy food solution? Well it’s been suggested that the greasy food can slow the absorption of the alcohol into the bloodstream. But if you have a hangover, then it’s too late for this. That being said, just like the cup of coffee, gaining some energy to fight off the ill effects may still prove to be valuable. In other words, it may not be biologically effective, but I’m sure I’ll be inhaling an ommellete and a black coffee this Saturday morning.

So what’s the best bet? It has to be drinking! Okay so the bloody mary probably only helps you deal, not necessarily cure. But that’s not what I mean by drinking. Hydrating is probably the only real valid hangover cure out there. Whether its water, Gatorade, or some combination (try some ginger beer or tea for those stomach turns), the more you hydrate, the quicker you’re cured. At least that’s what google says.

Oh, one more thing. If anyone ever tries to argue, “the only cure for a hangover is to not drink in the first place”, immediately remove them from your circle. Or even worse…de-friend them!

%d bloggers like this: