Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Worth Your Weight in Salt

I recently got a question about Sea Salt. Why, for goodness sakes, are some little packages worth $20 dollars? Why is table salt so cheap? How come they can taste so radically different? Cooks Illustrated, the reputable magazine known for testing and retesting their recipes, took a look at salts to discover which was the best, and whether you should really take out a second mortgage to season your stake.

First of all, where does salt come from? That depends on the type. To get normal table salt which might run you 36 cents a pound, water is pumped through underground mines to create a brine. The liquid is brought to the surface and rapidly evaporated to eliminate impurities. Big flaky sea salt, on the other hand, is gathered from large pans of ocean water slowly left to evaporate. When the large salt crystals fall out, they are raked up, and marked up! $36 a pound! Kosher salt also harvested from the sea and manufactured under rabbinical supervision for curing meats.

The size of the crystals depends on how the salt is processed, table salt is obtained rapidly and yield small grains, while the slower process of sea salt allows big flakes to fall out naturally.

In a general taste test, the sea salt did better than table or kosher. According to Professor Gary Beauchamp a ranking authority on the science of taste and smell at Monell Chemical Senses Center, larger flat crystals create a more pleasing taste sensation than small round particles. However, the actual flavor variation in salt actually comes from the mineral content, rather than extraction method. At its base form, all NaCl tastes identical.

Moral of the Story: If you're looking for something truly spectacular for a lovely side of meat, try Fleur de Sel de Camargue or Celtic Light Grey Sea Salt. If you need to add a pinch of flavor to a sauce or for making pasta water, reach for table or Kosher salt and if you're baking, lean towards a smaller grained salt to ensure good distribution.

This only scratches the surface of salt information. If you want to know more, check this website:

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Women's Health Part 2 and Food of the Week: Oatmeal

It might just snow...

The only thing that gets me out of bed is the thought of my breakfast awaiting me in the kitchen....

Oatmeal is a great way to wake up on a chilly winter morning. The soluble fiber in oats keeps energy levels high and hunger pangs at bay by moderating blood sugar. This is true of all soluble fiber, but oats have something special….

A specific fiber called beta-glucan can significantly lower bad (LDL) cholesterol, three grams a day can knock off up to 23%! A recent study by Archive Internal Medicine found that eating a big bowl of steamy oatmeal every morning lowered the risk of heart failure in men by almost 30%. Although we don’t all fit the 50-year old –male-smoker model, the lesson applies to everyone.

Attention College Women: Fiber from Whole Grains is especially important in the fight against breast cancer. Pre-menopausal women who ate 30 or more grams of this type of fiber a day reduced their risk for the disease by more than fifty percent!

Finally, oats kick-start your immune system, making them attack bacterial infections much more quickly.

Break out the Quaker this weekend, because an entire bowl has less than 150 calories, tons of iron, fiber, and a smattering of other nutrients. Toss some almonds on top for added protein, iron and skin saving omega-3 oils. Try some cranberries for color and vitamin c and antioxidants or sliced bananas to strengthen eyesight and build strong bones.....the possibilities are endless!

Here are few different ideas to get oats into your diet throughout the day….
Oatmeal Cookies
Chicken with Whole Oat Stuffing
Saturday Night Turkey Burgers
Blue Berry Crisp with Oatmeal and Almond Topping

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Women's Health Part 1 con't: Beans

As promised many days ago, I want to return quickly to the subject of BEANS! With over 18,000 varieties, beans play a prominent role in many cultures around the world. They are delicious, nutritious and kind to the pocket book.

However, in 16th an 17th century Europe, beans developed a stinky stigma of indigestibility. I don't doubt this sentiment originated when the first bean eater got a little gassy.

In some cultures, beans are thought of as peasant food, because when hard times hit financially, only the richest could afford to buy meat. This left the poor and populous to capitalize on other types of proteins. In cultures where beans are eaten for different reasons however, like vegetarian diets in India, this type of legume stratification does not exist.

Beans also carry meaning in almost every religion. For example....

In the Christian Culture, beans become the primary protein during lent. In the Roman Catholic Church it is traditional abstain from meat from hoofed animals (this means pork, beef, lamb, venison....yes, including a hamburger...)

In the Jewish tradition a dish called the atafina (originally composed of chickpeas) is popped into the oven on the evening proceeding the sabbath so the family can eat lunch and dinner without turning on the oven. In the fifteenth century, Catholic Inquisitioners looked for people eating this dish to hunt out those nominally converted to Christianity.

On New Years Day, cultures around the world eat different beans for good luck. The French make White Bean Cassoulet as a traditional supper; Brazilians like their lucky lentils and in the southern US we eat black eyed peas to represent little coins for a prosperous year ahead.

Want more information? Pick up Ken Albala's new book, Beans: A History at your local bookstore.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A quick chocolate recomendation...

Following up on tasting chocolate, I want to make a recommendation. If you haven't been introduced to Vosges Chocolate- you are missing out. For beginners, try the Barcelona Bar with hickory almonds, sea salt in creamy milk chocolate. When you're ready, try the d'Oliva Bar with dried, briny olives and white chocolate or the Absinthe truffle with Chinese star anise and fennel. There are hundreds of shockingly wonderful combos to choose!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thank You!

Dear Readers,

This afternoon, my friend spotted an article in North by Northwestern, the university's online newspaper about student blogs. "Cheers" was selected as one of the top blogs on campus. I would like to thank the publication and Vi-An Nguyen for the article, but more importantly, you wonderful readers. I'm thrilled that you love to read, learn and eat!

Thanks for checking in and remember, don't be a stranger; if you have a question about food, health or edible history, send me a comment, I'd love to dig in and do some research for you!

Once again, thank you for reading and thank you to the good people at North by Northwestern. I'm so happy you enjoy this little adventure.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Post Valentine's Chocolate Tasting

Post-Valentine's Day, we all have chocolate lying around. Whether it is from your lover, your mother or.....yourself (the best kind!) you should know how to extract as much pleasure from its soft, silky darkness as possible.

Chef, baker and author Dorie Greenspan recently spoke on NPR's Splendid Table and shared the secrets to tasting the perfect piece of chocolate.

First, you need to look at the dark creamy surface, if it is shiny it has been well tempered .

Next, take the chocolate to your nose and inhale. What you smell is the odor of the chocolate. An odor is a smell you experience directly through your nose.

Now take the chocolate in your fingers and give it a good snap! A crisp noise is another sign of good tempering and fresh chocolate. It also means its a good temperature for tasting.

Now open you mouth and close your eyes, and you will get a great surprise....Use your tongue to push the chocolate to the top of your palate, and your whole mouth will fill with flavor.

As the chocolate melts, the aromas are released. Aromas are retro-nasal smells meaning they come from the back of the nose. First, you'll sense the volatile aromas- fruits and florals, then the warm, spicy, roasting notes and finally the heavy scents of toasted nut and woods.

Taste by now is exploding in your mouth, and whatever happened on Valentines night, you're in Pleasure City now! As the last chocolaty essence lingers on your tongue, notice a final bitter note ~ that's the flavor that leaves you craving more!

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." Lucy, courtesy of Mr. Charles Schulz

Monday, February 11, 2008

Women's Health Part 1

Its a common misconception that heart disease is only a man's problem. It is actually the #1 killer of American women. In honor of Women's Heart Health Month, I'm posting a series about foods that encourage healthy tickers. First up, the protein power house....the Bean!

According to Ken Albala, professor of History at University of the Pacific in CA, and author of the new book, Beans: A History, there are over 18,000 types of beans in the world. Before we dive into legume-brious history, this is why you should eat an extra service of beans with that burrito........

1. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in your body that grabs cholesterol and cleans it out! Researchers have determined that the type of artery cleaning that comes from eating more than the average amount of legumes can lead to an 82% reduction in risk.
2. Fiber also balances your blood sugar giving you long burning energy after you eat.
3. Beans, also called legumes, are high in Iron, helps fiber in providing energy.

Check Back Soon for more info on the bean, its social stigma and maybe a bit about Jack and his cow...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fettuccine Alfredo Day

7th of February
-- Learn the Truth!

Many recipes present "Alfredo Sauce" as actual, separate sauce made independent of the pasta. In fact, it's not -- there technically is no such thing as a recipe for Alfredo Sauce. So when you buy the frozen packet at the grocery store, you're being hoodwinked. Luckily this luxiourious pasta dish is one of the easiest pasta meals you can possibly make.

This recipe takes 25 minutes to make. It requires almost no ingredients other than good cheese, pasta and butter (nature's edible gold). The Romans who created this dish didn't use cream so neither should you.

Toss anything you like on top. Try a little freshly grated nutmeg and wilted spinach mixed in. Sounds like an unlikely marriage, but it is delicious.