Saturday, August 8, 2009

A chocolate delight

The most marvelous thing about MuckMuck Cake (besides a. butter and b. chocolate) is that it's very forgiving. Cook it 7 minutes or less for a liquid center, or a little longer and you'll get more of a cake.

7 (1 ounce) squares chopped bittersweet chocolate (the better the chocolate, the better the dessert)
2 4-ounce sticks unsalted butter
4 eggs
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups confectioners' or baker's sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave and brush six 3-inch souffle or muffin cups with it.
Place chopped chocolate and butter in the top part of a double boiler and set it over lightly simmering water. Melt until completely smooth and even. Remove from heat and stir in eggs and yolks with a whisk. Lastly, stir in sugar and flour.
Bake in preheated oven for7 minutes. The cake may appear underbaked. Remove from oven and serve immediately.
Really good with fresh raspberries and a dollop of whipped cream.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Summer time, and the dinners are easy

As summer wears on, salads are a good option for dinner. I had a nice salmon salad at The Nook on the C'ville downtown mall last Sunday night, with a deck-of-cards-size piece of fish, nice fresh lettuce (tossed with just a bit too much dressing) and shredded parmesan cheese. It seemed more appropriate for the weather than the meatloaf, but let me tell you, if you're hungry, that meatloaf plate at The Nook can fill you up in no time.

But foodies can't live by salads alone. That's why grills were invented. You just need to make sure it's not something that takes a lot of time or attention (have mercy on the griller in the heat). If you're doing chicken, make it boneless breasts or thighs, flattened. Oil that portobello mushroom cap good to keep it from drying out, and season it on the gill side, with a mist of oil to keep it from sticking right before you flip it (otherwise, that's the side that can really soak up the oil and add a meatlike proportion of calories to your meal). Or go for sausage; I like to boil ones that have fresh pork or chicken in them first, just a little, to make sure that the center cooks through. It also serves to firm them up if you want to split them for extra grilling taste.

And split zucchinis were made for the grill. Season the cut side with pepper and garlic salt, spray with oil and grill face down first. Flip over after 5-6 minutes and cook until they are the doneness that you like as you finish up the rest of the dinner.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An egg-stra tip

About that tip on using a funnel to separate an egg: I don't know if was because I was using a larger funnel than usual, or if the egg was older and the white was sticking more to the eggshell, but when I cracked the egg into the funnel, the yolk blocked the neck of the funnel and the white just sat on top of it. I was able to salvage and separate the egg by pouring it back into the shell, but so much for a time-saving tip, at least when using a larger than normal funnel and a less-than-right-out-from-under-the-chicken egg.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Egg tips

When slicing a hard-boiled egg, try wetting the knife just before cutting. If that doesn't do the trick, try applying a bit of cooking spray to the edge.

Use a funnel to separate raw eggs. The white will drop through and the yolk will stay in the funnel.

For the perfect boiled egg, cover eggs with cold water, a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of vinegar. Bring the water to a full, rolling boil. Remove the pan from the heat and cover. Let the eggs sit for 20 minutes. Drain the water and place the eggs in ice water to cool to stop the cooking process.

When in doubt about an egg, make this test: add 2 teaspoons salt to a cup of water and put the egg in it. A fresh egg will sink, a doubtful egg will float. (Tip from the Shrine Mont class: Hard boiled eggs spin fast, raw more slowly.)

Egg whites should always be at room temperature before whipping. Be certain there is no yolk in the whites and that the bowl and beaters are perfectly clean. Cream, on the other hand, should be well-chilled. For the largest volume, chill the bowl and beaters before whipping.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The why of organic food

Nice commentary in Scotland's Sunday Herald:

Keeping it simple in a complex food world
Jennifer Cunningham

IT WAS the perfect research finding for a recession: organic food is no healthier than more intensively-farmed produce, so paying a premium price will not result in better nutrition. If we want to raise healthy children on a tight budget we can head for the cheaper range, backed by the UK's "official" view of organic food, the result of independent research commissioned by the Food Standards Agency.

In the production and distribution of food, however, nothing is that simple. Organic food may be a middle-class Holy Grail prized for its nutritional qualities, but most people who choose it are more intent on avoiding pesticide residues.

Having read both the fairytales and hefty reports from the European Commission, they see potential poison lurking in the skin of the brightest, rosiest, most irresistible apples. In 2006, the EC reported links between some cancers, male infertility and nervous system disorders and exposure to pesticides. No-one would spray an apple with a chemical designed to kill weeds and insects, then give it to a child to eat. Any child, and most adults, however, will look with deep suspicion on an irregularly shaped, mottled piece of fruit which has had to take its chances, without chemical help, against pests and diseases ... and regulations are intended to ensure that spraying is at a minimum level and some time before harvest.

It is not just pesticide use that prompts consumers to go organic. Some, recalling a childhood of peas squeezed straight from the pod into a greedy mouth or strawberries still warm from the sun, are searching for the "real" taste of local, seasonal fruit, vegetables or meat.

The early proselytizers for organic food were taking a stand for a small-is-beautiful world view in support of local producers in danger of being squeezed out of business by the power of major supermarkets. The apparently forgotten link between the soil and the plate was gradually re-acknowledged and 10 years ago consumer demand for organic produce in the UK was growing at a faster rate than supply.

Never slow to seize an opportunity, the supermarkets started to offer more organic lines - at a roughly one-third higher price. Until the recession, however, demand for organic produce continued to grow, as it did for fairtrade and locally-produced goods. Such consumer power can change the world for the better, but it is mired in confusion. It is time to resist the commercial interests that are turning shopping with a conscience into a flag of convenience for ever-more consumption.

Organically-reared animals are free-range and do not suffer the same incidence of disease as intensively-farmed pigs and chickens. Growing grain in great quantity by applying fertiliser produced a grain mountain instead of sustenance for the starving and resulted in producing beef by feeding grain to cows. It would make more environmental sense to graze livestock on pasture, but there is also an economic argument for farmers to produce beef without buying into the global agri-business for seed and fertiliser and cutting transport costs by selling their produce locally. Even improved grassland has costs beyond the financial: animals grazed on natural pasture have higher levels of vitamin E and the healthy fatty acids.

A decade-long study at the University of California found organically grown tomatoes contained more vitamin C and antioxidants than the same variety grown conventionally. A recent Danish study found that organic food did not contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals. Now the FSA's review of evidence from the last 50 years says there is no nutritional benefit from organic food. Only there's an appendix to the FSA report which says that levels of beta-carotene can be 53% higher in organic food. That shows that there's organic, and organic. The best way of being environmentally friendly, and getting the most nutritious and most flavoursome food, is to grow your own, but that brings its own problems. Organic gardeners who put manure on their vegetable patch must worry about the risk of E coli, and self-sufficiency is beyond the scope of the average garden.

So how to maximise nutrition and minimise environmental damage? Buy local.