smart science: butter edition

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Okay. If I’ve ever said a science post is my favorite.. take it back, take it all back now. Butter is my favorite, this post is my favorite, and let’s all go to France and eat some butter.

Now, onto the science.

  1. Butter is a pretty cool substance, and has been around for a long time! A recipe for butter dating more than 4,000 years ago involves an animal skin, a small hole, and a contraption to swing the bag around a wooden pole until butter is formed! But – in order to get the cream to make butter, you’d have to let the milk sit out and still to let it separate, since the first mechanical butter separator wasn’t invented until around 1900. Why does milk have the potential to do this? It’s a liquid called a ‘colloid’, which means that there are tiny particles suspended in another liquid. For milk, this is a bunch of tiny fat globules. Once you let fresh milk sit undisturbed, you’re allowing all these molecules to float to the top, creating cream. Additionally, these fat globules are responsible for the creamy taste and mouthfeel of cream – they’re too tiny for us to detect as particles, but they bring the texture nonetheless.
  2.  Now, almost all butter is definitely made in factories, but you can still shake some cream up in a jar to see how it works for yourself. The agitation of the cream globules causes them to bundle up together, and eventually they clump up enough to make butter! This takes a lot of agitation though, and can be done in a variety of ways! Easy as pie, delicious as pie, essential ingredient in pie… we’ve got this.
  3. But – while butter may have had a place in human diets for a while, it’s recently gotten a lot of flack. If you walk by a dairy cooler, any frozen food aisle, or really any aisle at all in any grocery store, you’ll be flooded with low-fat and non-fat options. But, in 2014, an article was released saying that saturated fat (the ‘problem’ with butter) doesn’t actually correlate with heart disease the way that everyone was up in a tizzy about. And to put some buttercream icing on this cake, the study even suggested that in our craze to substitute fat in our diets, with sugars and and empty carbs – which are even worse for us.

Let’s make butter with heavy cream, and eat it all in one fell swoop. Stir some dill in and pile it embarassingly high on country bread if you want to be like me, but, no pressure. Check out this links to get butter-blissed out:

bittersweet chocolate pudding with earl grey cream

There comes a time where we all must revert to childhood and eat pudding. Even better if the pudding could possibly exist in a pudding cup-type ensemble, and possibly eaten with the foil top because oops you have no spoon. All jokes aside, though, I honestly don’t actively crave pudding most of the time because I’m too busy craving bread and whipped cream and rose italian sodas. Correction – I didn’t actively crave pudding, because now I sure as hell do. It’s on the list – for good. Here’s why.

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It’s at the point in summer where everything feels like one of those fast action videos – things are moving far too quickly and there’s also far too many things to do. Between real-life work, this delightful blog baby of mine, a temperamental sourdough starter and the impending return of a school year where the lab hours seem to keep multiplying… I’m ready to move to New Zealand for a while just to calm down. No joke – been researching working holiday visas and requirements and plane tickets.Let me know if you’re feeling like New Zealand is where you’re headed too. We can hang.

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In a snap back to reality yesterday, I was forced to stop googling New Zealand and instead had to make something to share with you all. Probably good, because I’ve been in such a whirlwind lately that blog baby has taken a hit because temperamental sourdough starter has taken all of my free time because there’s so much real life work so there’s limited free time…..okay okay okay breathe. Think of New Zealand. Loop back around. I decided to make you all pudding. Because pudding is easy and it is good and it is pure of heart.

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To class it up – add earl grey cream and swirl and feel as much like an adult as you can considering you’re moving to New Zealand. To summer it up, add peaches, which I’m sure grow in New Zealand. To enjoy fully, share with friends, to convince them to move to New Zealand. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Repeat.

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bittersweet chocolate pudding with earl grey cream 
adapted from salt fat acid heat

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 cups half and half
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 heaping fine sea salt
3 eggs

earl grey cream:

2 tablespoons earl grey leaves (about 4 teabags)
1 cup heavy cream, separated into 1/2 cup and 1/2 cup
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Splash of pure vanilla extract
Sliced peaches, for topping
how-to: 

Place the chocolate in a large, heatproof bowl and place a mesh strainer over it. Crack the eggs into another medium bowl and whisk lightly to break up and combine a bit. Mix the cornstarch, cocoa powder, salt and sugar in yet another medium bowl. Place the half and half in a medium saucepan – and now we’re good to go.

Heat the half and half on low heat until just steaming and simmering. Don’t boil this – it won’t ever be the same. Pour the half and half into the cornstarch mixture and whisk to combine. Return to the pot and cook over medium-low heat, constantly stirring, until visibly thickened and the pudding can hold a trail on the back of a spoon. While whisking, stir about two thirds of the half and half mixture into the eggs, and then return all of it to the pot. Cook on low heat until visibly thickened again. You’ll know when it’s ready. It might take a minute, it might take ten. Just keep stirring and let it take it’s own sweet time.

Pour thickened pudding through the mesh sieve and onto the chocolate. Use a spatula to push the pudding through. Let the heat melt the chocolate, and then blend with a stick blender (or a normal blender, do your own thing), until silky and smooth and it looks like you want to eat it up. Adjust salt as needed, and pour into whatever cups for serving. Let come to room temp, or put in fridge for cold pudding.

To make the whipped cream, heat 1/2 cup of the cream in a small saucepan over low heat, until just steaming. Turn off the heat. Steep the leaves in the cream for 10 minutes, and strain. Add the rest of the cream and chill until very cold. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip up to soft peaks.

Pile earl grey cream on pudding cups and top with sliced peaches or other fruit. Breathe in, eat pudding, breathe out.

 

lox bagel salad

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You know when you feel like a bagel but should definitely eat some greens? Me too.

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I know that feeling oh so well – and I’m here for you today with a bagel salad, so that none of those feelings go without reward.

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Smoked salmon meets tender greens. Red onions get soaked in a bit of water to soften the bite (though go without if you’re feeling spicy). Capers get sprinkled and eggs get soft boiled and peeled. Here we go, it’s happening. Bagels get chopped into little pieces, drizzled with oil, sprinkled with salt and toasted up til golden.

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Mustard gets all mixed up with dill and oil to make a dressing fit for a king. You should probably start to make your own dressing – it’s easy and oh so good. My life has been one cake and event and work shift after another, so I can vouch for the simplicity of this salad. It’s easy. And it’s what you should have for dinner tonight. I’m not even going to give you perfect amounts for anything because it’s a salad and you can do this.

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lox bagel salad

Greens (mixed greens, baby kale, arugula, your pick).
Smoked salmon
Capers
Red onion, sliced, and soaked in cold water
Bagels, any flavor, cubed.
Mustard-Dill Dressing (recipe follows).

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toss the bagel cubes with olive oil and salt and place in oven until golden, with a bit of give on the inside. This time can change based on how big your cubes are, so start checking at 10 minutes. Place salad, toppings, and croutons in the bowl (along with anything else you’re feeling like). Top with dressing and serve!

mustard dill dressing: makes a little over half a cup, multiply as needed

1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
2 teaspoons chopped dill
1/4 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

 

smart science: gluten edition

Since gluten is a commonly used buzzword in our food world today, this week we’re going to dive into gluten – what is it, where does it come from, and what’s the deal with gluten and health.

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To start – what is gluten? Gluten is the combination of two proteins that are found in flours. When water is added to the flour, the two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, hop together to form a gluten molecule. As gluten develops (as the two proteins join together), dough or batter becomes less lumpy and becomes more smooth, elastic and bouncy. A common trick you might see in cooking shows tests if enough gluten has developed in dough in order to move onto the next stage: the windowpane test. Take a small piece of dough, stretch it between your fingers. If it can form a thin sheet that you can see light through without ripping (a ‘windowpane’), you’re good to go. Your dough has peaked in terms of a balance between stretch and strength.

When that dough is baked, most of the water evaporates, and all you’re left with in terms of gluten is a structure that holds its shape – giving essential shape and structure to bread. Different types of bread-making can result in different types of gluten development and therefore a different final structure in the baked loaf! We’ve got this down – onto the fun stuff.

Clearly, one of the biggest diet crazes right now is going gluten-free. People swear by it for both weight loss as well as increased energy, clearer skin, and any and all things to happen to a human body. To start off, reputable sources like the Mayo Clinic say that a gluten-free diet is not necessary unless you have a disease like celiac or a demonstrated wheat allergy that requires you stay away from gluten. They even go as far as to say that the weight loss often associated with a gluten-free diet is likely just the cause of a pretty restrictive diet – not simply because you’re not eating gluten anymore. I think it is essential to differentiate between good bread and bad bread – since it might just be the cause of all these ‘gluten stomachaches’ we keep hearing about.

  1. Bread, traditionally, is naturally fermented, like sourdough. In the endless fermentation that produces a loaf of sourdough, in addition to nutrients and vitamins becoming easier for our body to absorb, gluten becomes easier as well. Little microbes that are busy fermenting start to chew stuff up for you, which makes your body handle it a lot easier. And before you get freaked out about microbes in your bread – microbes are everywhere, helping us live and thrive. Check out the links at the bottom for more information and various cool facts.
  2. So, now that we know sourdough might be easier to digest, why does that make normal supermarket bread different? There is usually no fermentation in supermarket bread – so you are eating completely undigested gluten! That doesn’t feel good on bellies (think about eating a handful of raw flour), and people often associate that with gluten as a whole – but they shouldn’t. Gluten is healthy, and bread often brings about a host of other nutrients as well. Understanding the process by which your bread came to be helps break it down. Even people who have been demonstrated to be sensitive to gluten can often eat naturally fermented sourdough without ill effects. Important.

Now that you’re a gluten expert, go annoy your friends with this. Share the bread love:

  • Mayo Clinic breaks down diet myths here.
  • History of sourdough, including natural fermentation, health benefits, and an Ancient Egyptian bakery.
  • For those of you coming here because of my microbe comment: TED Talk on how bacteria talk, Bonnie Bassler exploded my mind when this came out. Watch and learn.

smart science: salt edition

Welcome to the newest weekly installment: smart science. Using my biology, chemistry and environmental science background, we’re going to break down food science topics that are important to know – in language that is easy to understand. I have a couple ideas on back burners, but let me know if there is anything you’d like to know about.

Today, we talk about salt.

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Salt is a chemical compound, consisting of an equal number of sodium and chlorine ions that bond together. It’s a natural mineral, and humans have loved it for just about as long as it’s been around – in the olden days, it was a totally hot commodity. But lonely, little salt has a lot more to offer to food than simply providing a salty flavor or decorative touch (I’m looking at you, flaky sea salt). Salt is good for food, and good for us – in the right quantities.

Let’s break it down.

  1. Salt plays an actual, physiological role in the human body! We carry sodium naturally in our fluids, and it provides stability and allows cells to function as they should. We HAVE to ingest some sodium every single day in order to replace the sodium we lose through sweat and bathroom breaks. Additionally, lots of table salt in the US contains added iodine – an essential compound for human function. Without iodine, you can have some pretty serious thyroid issues. But – salt does not naturally contain iodine – we add it in since it was an easily accessible and widespread way to get iodine to the general population.
    When doctors hook you up to an IV, they’re actually using saline solution – not pure water. The saline (read: salty) solution allows your cells to feel at home in the incoming liquid – if it was pure water, your cells would explode – which is wildly counterproductive to your stay in the hospital.
    Long story short: you cannot and should not eat a no-sodium diet – it would cause a myriad of health issues. Your awesome body needs some salt to function, despite what you might hear in the news. But – too much salt is just as bad as too little. We’re practicing moderation here.
  2. Salt helps us keep our food fresh. Salt-curing was a practice used before refrigeration in order to preserve food – and we still do it to certain foods for enhanced taste. Essentially, when you put that level of salt on something, it draws out the water in the product. Itty-bitty microbes need water to thrive, so removing the water removes their source of liquid, and they will die. Score one for humans wanting to live past 25.
  3. Salt is important for bread – got your attention now, carboholics? As we already know, salt loves water and greedily gobbles it up. In bread, this means that the salt is competing with the yeast for water. The salt has a stronger pull, and in doing so, slows down and regulates the fermentation. Since yeast needs water to ferment – a smaller supply creates a longer fermentation, which lets us make bread with only very simple ingredients. It also allows us to knead dough less (jackpot!), since the longer fermentation creates a better web of gluten, which traps gases and makes a fluffy loaf without serious hands-on time.
    Also, salt allows the crust to get a nice color. As we already talked about, salt in dough slows down the fermentation – but it also tells the yeast present to slow their roll with sugar consumption! This lets more sugar hang around for the final bake, where it caramelizes and turns yummy shades of brown.
    Salt also provides essential flavor to bread. I spent a semester in Tuscany, where traditionally bread is made without salt, and boy can I tell you – it makes a difference both in taste and in color. All that said – your bread should still have taste without salt, just not the full bready taste we’ve come to know here at home.

There you go – a primer on salt. There’s a zillion more things salt does in baking, cooking, and the human body – and if you’re interested, here’s a couple links:

read up! and happy salting!