In the summer kitchen, the thrill of the chill

From the New York Times: In the Summer Kitchen, the Thrill of the Chill.

It lasted only a moment, but it was the most refreshed I’ve ever felt at the dining table. All of a sudden my mouth was shockingly cold, so cold that I could see my breath. As the cold dissipated I could sense acidity, astringency, the aroma of lime. Meanwhile, there was the sight of my companions, eyes wide open and vapor jets shooting from their lips and nostrils. Each of them looked like Yosemite Sam blowing his stack.

The morsels that had cleansed our palates and minds were a mixture of lime juice, green tea, vodka, sugar and egg white that was whipped into a light foam, portioned into spoonfuls, and frozen. At 320 degrees below zero. In liquid nitrogen.

The nitro-poached mousse was invented in 2001 at the Fat Duck, near London, and has been much emulated since. These days there is less talk in cutting-edge kitchens about burners and B.T.U.’s, and more about the Antigriddle, a boxy flat-top appliance that keeps its surface at minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. With it you could, for example, freeze puddles of crème anglaise and flip them into soft-center ice cream flapjacks. Cold is the new heat. [continue]

I’m tempted to try the no-tech ice cream method listed at the end of the article.

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Your mom was right about broccoli

Broccoli is good for you — really good for you! From the BBC: Broccoli may undo diabetes damage .

Eating broccoli could reverse the damage caused by diabetes to heart blood vessels, research suggests.

A University of Warwick team believe the key is a compound found in the vegetable, called sulforaphane.

It encourages production of enzymes which protect the blood vessels, and a reduction in high levels of molecules which cause significant cell damage.

Brassica vegetables such as broccoli have previously been linked to a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes. [continue]

Of sommeliers and stomachs

From The Economist: Of sommeliers and stomachs.

Fine food sings on the palate, but pairing it with the right wine creates a chorus. Among those in the know, the plum, chocolate and spice flavours of Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Pinot Noirs and Sangioveses best accentuate the rich flavours of red meats. Now, however, a group of researchers led by Joseph Kanner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has discovered that pairing red wines like these with red meat appears to be more than just a matter of taste. If the two mix in the stomach, compounds in the wine thwart the formation of harmful chemicals that are released when meat is digested. [continue]

Wait worth it for patient truffles harvesters

Goodness! Somebody’s growing truffles on Vancouver Island. From the Vancouver Sun: Wait worth it for patient truffles harvesters.

It took seven years for Betty and Grant Duckett to harvest their first truffle, but for them it was worth the wait.

The couple retired to Vancouver Island after years of raising livestock on the Prairies. They wanted to grow truffles, so they bought a 40-acre spread near Parksville, levelled the old pasture land, readied the soil, dug wells, and planted more than 5,000 trees inoculated with black Périgord truffle spores, and then waited.

"It was a decision that was hard to make because it was such an investment," Betty says. "We knew it would be years and years of trying. No one in Canada had ever done it, so no one could help us."

Last December, the couple’s wait finally came to an end when they harvested Canada’s first crop of the black Périgord. [continue]

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Keyhole gardens lock out starvation in Lesotho

From Celesias: Keyhole Gardens Lock Out Starvation in Lesotho.

Sometimes, the best solutions are low-tech. For example, in the tiny African country of Lesotho, a simple organic gardening technique called "keyhole gardening" is allowing people to produce enough vegetables to nourish their families without having to invest in costly technology, fuel, fertilizer or pesticides. As the BBC reported on June 3, a number of NGO’s have been teaching people how to use this technique in Lesotho, with incredibly promising results. A keyhole garden is a raised bed shaped like a keyhole and walled in by stone. In the center, a basket made from sticks and straw holds manure and later, vegetable scraps for compost. The garden is watered primarily through the basket in the center, which distributes the nutrients from the compost to the plants.

This gardening system has several advantages: [continue]

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Insects on the menu for Vij’s restaurant

From Now Public: Insects on the menu for Vij’s restaurant.

The world is in a frenzy to help protect the environment and lead ‘green lifestyles’. Meeru Dhalwala, the chef and co-owner with husband Vikram Vij, is adopting this go-green attitude for their Vancouver based restaurant- in the form of BUGS.

That’s right! They have decided to introduce insects to their menu as green cuisine. Dhalwala has argued that insects are environmentally positive, and can provide a much healthier protein than that found in meat. The next step is seeing if consumers have the stomachs to tackle the yuck factor. [continue]

I’m not interested in eating insects, but I’m willing to try anything on the menu at Vij’s. The place is amazing, and we dined there regularly when we lived in Vancouver. Now we (well, my husband, really) cook from the Vij’s cookbook, which is also outstanding.

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Scorpions for breakfast and snails for dinner

From the New York Times: Scorpions for Breakfast and Snails for Dinner.

In Beijing, where my family lives, I once returned home from a restaurant with a doggy bag full of deep-fried scorpions. The next morning, I poured them instead of imported raisin bran into my 11-year-old son’s cereal bowl. I wanted to freak him out. The scorpions were black and an inch long, with dagger tails.

“Scorpions!” shrieked my son, Roy. “Awesome!”

I had to stop him from chomping them all then and there, like popcorn. Then an idea struck him. “Dad, can I take them to school as a snack?”

This is what eating is like in my household. My children eat anything. My 9-year-old daughter reaches for second helpings of spinach, and when we eat out I have to stop her brother, now 13, from showing off the weird things he’ll consume by ordering goat testicles. Think of a child staging a sit-in at his suburban dinner table because there’s a fleck of dried parsley on his breaded fish finger, and you have imagined everything my children are not.

So when I read of American parents who hide spinach in brownie mix and serve it for dessert (“Your kids will never guess,” Parents magazine promised), it spurs me to offer advice to my compatriots back home. [continue]

West Coast aboriginal community tests low-carb diet

From the CBC: West Coast aboriginal community tests low-carb diet.

A remote community off the north coast of Vancouver Island is the unlikely venue for an experiment that uses diet to try to improve the health of native communities.

Dr. Jay Wortman, a Métis, is working with aboriginal Canadians in Alert Bay on B.C.’s Cormorant Island in a bid to show a low-carbohydrate diet can mitigate health problems such as diabetes and obesity, which tend to be rampant in North American native communities.

Working for the University of B.C. faculty of medicine, Wortman is examining the theory that high-calorie Western foods are the root cause of those health problems. A CBC documentary on his study will be shown on Newsworld Tuesday evening at 10:00 p.m. (ET and PT).

Wortman, a diabetic himself, thinks the low-carb diet, dubbed "My Big Fat Diet," may benefit native people because they don’t metabolize carbohydrates well.

He set up a year-long study of the diet in Alert Bay, where 60 people agreed to live on a more traditional aboriginal diet of meat, seafood and non-starch vegetables such as cauliflower.[continue]

New hints seen that red wine may slow aging

From the New York Times, bless them: New Hints Seen That Red Wine May Slow Aging.

Red wine may be much more potent than was thought in extending human lifespan, researchers say in a new report that is likely to give impetus to the rapidly growing search for longevity drugs.

The study is based on dosing mice with resveratrol, an ingredient of some red wines. Some scientists are already taking resveratrol in capsule form, but others believe it is far too early to take the drug, especially using wine as its source, until there is better data on its safety and effectiveness. [continue]

A tiny fruit that tricks the tongue

From the New York Times: A Tiny Fruit That Tricks the Tongue.

Carrie Dashow dropped a large dollop of lemon sorbet into a glass of Guinness, stirred, drank and proclaimed that it tasted like a "chocolate shake."

Nearby, Yuka Yoneda tilted her head back as her boyfriend, Albert Yuen, drizzled Tabasco sauce onto her tongue. She swallowed and considered the flavor: "Doughnut glaze, hot doughnut glaze!"

They were among 40 or so people who were tasting under the influence of a small red berry called miracle fruit at a rooftop party in Long Island City, Queens, last Friday night. The berry rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy. [continue]

Trouble in truffledom

From the Beeb: Alien threat to truffle delicacy.

One of the world’s most prized culinary delicacies, the famous Perigord black truffle, could soon be off the menu.

Scientists fear it will be wiped out by an invading Chinese truffle they have discovered growing in European soils.

They tell the New Phytologist journal that the incomer is a particularly aggressive and fast-growing species.

The Perigord black truffle is one of the most highly regarded truffles, fetching around 600 to 800 euros per kg this season. [continue]

Eat insects to help the environment

From Discover Magazine: Want to Help the Environment? Eat Insects.

David Gracer lifts a giant water bug, places his thumbs in a pre-sliced slit in its underside, and flips off its head. "Smell the meat," he says, sniffing the decapitated creature, and the people gathered around the table willingly oblige. Members of the New York Gastronauts, a club for adventurous eaters, they murmur appreciatively as they scoop out and swallow the grayish, slightly greasy insect flesh.

"Perfumey, tastes like salty apples," one says. "Like a scented candle blended with an artichoke," another adds.

The giant water bug, or Lethocerus indicus, a three-inch-long South Asian insect that looks uncannily like a local cockroach, is just one of the items on the menu of this bug-eating bacchanal. The Gastronauts’ meal may seem more like a reality TV stunt than a radical environmental strategy, but Gracer is on a serious mission to shake up how we all think about our food supply. Gracer, a self-described "geeky poet/nature boy" who teaches composition at a community college in Providence, Rhode Island, has made it his duty to persuade ordinary Americans to eat insects.

Gracer wants people to move away from getting their protein from traditional livestock such as cows, pigs, and chickens because [continue]

Reindeer: it’s what was for dinner

From Reindeer: It’s What Was For Dinner.

Reindeer meat went from being an occasional treat to everyday fare among prehistoric cavemen who lived in Southwest France and what is now the Czech Republic, two new studies suggest.

In fact, so many nibbled-on reindeer bones were present in their caves that possible calendars circa 26,000 years ago might have been carved on the leftover bones. They may have also been used as counting devices or for ornamentation.

The first study, authored by J. Tyler Faith, analyzed bones found in limestone cave and rock shelters at a site called Grotte XVI at Dordogne near Bordeaux. The numbers and types of bones revealed plenty — how, for instance, the hunters butchered the meat, how far they traveled to hunt, and details about populations of the animals themselves. [continue]

More good news about booze

There I was waiting for the ferry when the Globe and Mail’s Social Studies section came along and brightened my day with this:

Drinking. Two large studies have found that although moderate drinking will not cure colds, it can help keep them at bay, reports The New York Times. One, by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in 1993, looked at 391 adults and found that resistance to colds increased with moderate drinking, except in smokers.

I think I’ll go have a wee bit of grappa before bed.

How’s this for a Christmas dinner?

From The Daily Mail: It serves 125, takes eight hours to cook and is stuffed with 12 different birds … now that really IS a Christmas dinner.

This massive roast, the proud creation of Devon farmer Anne Petch, weighs almost four stone (more than most airlines’ baggage allowance), costs £665, and has enough meat to serve 125 people.

It contains about 50,000 calories and takes more than eight hours to cook in an industrialducksized oven.

Anne, who runs the Heal Farm shop near Kings Nympton, said: "The True Love Roast has a bird for each of the 12 days of Christmas.

"It uses skinless breast meat from several birds of each species with flavours that work well together."

The roast contains turkey, goose, chicken, pheasant, partridge, pigeon squab, Aylesbury duck, Barbary duck, poussin, guinea fowl, mallard-and quail with herb and fruit stuffings. [continue]

The Mount Athos diet

Why settle for the Atkins diet when you can go for the Mount Athos diet instead? Yeah, just eat the way the monks do. From the Times Online: A foolproof anti-cancer diet… with just one or two drawbacks.

If you want to avoid cancer, live like a monk. That is the inescapable conclusion from research into one of the world’s most renowned monastic communities.

The austere regime of the 1,500 monks on Mount Athos, in northern Greece, begins with an hour’s pre-dawn prayers and is designed to protect their souls.

Their low-stress existence and simple diet (no meat, occasional fish, home-grown vegetables and fruit) may, however, also protect them from more worldly troubles.

The monks, who inhabit a peninsula from which women are banned, enjoy astonishingly low rates of cancer.

Since 1994, the monks have been regularly tested, and only 11 have developed prostate cancer, a rate less than one quarter of the international average. In one study, their rate of lung and bladder cancer was found to be zero.

Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki, said that the monks’ diet, which calls on them to avoid olive oil, dairy products and wine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, helped to explain the statistics. "What seems to be the key is a diet that alternates between olive oil and nonolive oil days, and plenty of plant proteins," he said. "It’s not only what we call the Mediterranean diet, but also eating the old-fashioned way. Small simple meals at regular intervals are very important." [continue]

Uncovering the secrets of Ireland’s ancient breweries

From Wired: Uncovering the Secrets of Ireland’s Ancient Breweries.

Hangovers rarely inspire scientific breakthroughs. But Billy Quinn’s eureka moment occurred on just such a head-pounding morning in 2003. After a night spent carousing at a pub in Galway, Ireland, he and colleague Declan Moore were discussing their plans for the day over a traditional breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, white pudding, beans, and fried potatoes. The two archaeologists were scheduled to excavate a nearby grassy mound known as a fulacht fiadh (pronounced "full-oct fee-ah"). About 5,000 of the mounds have been discovered throughout Ireland, most dating from 1500 to 500 BC. They’re not much to look at — excavation reveals a rectangular trough (fulacht is Gaelic for "recess") surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped arrangement of burnt stones. No one’s certain what they were used for, but in a flash of insight, Quinn proposed a hypothesis in keeping with his nation’s cerevisaphilic reputation: The Bronze Age relics might just be Ireland’s first breweries. [continue]

Earliest chocolate drink found

From the Telegraph: Earliest chocolate drink found.

Our love affair with chocolate began at least 500 years earlier than previously thought, and was combined with a love of alcohol too, according to traces of the treat found in pottery shards uncovered in Honduras. (…)

Today, researchers say that residue of the chemical theobromine, which occurs in Mesoamerica only in the cacao plant used to make chocolate, is present in the shattered remains of liquid-holding pottery vessels dating from somewhere between 1400 and 1100 BC, marking the earliest known chocolate drink of the New World. [continue]

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

You know about Mrs Beeton’s book, yes? In case not, here’s a brief intro from the Canadian Conservation Institute:

Beeton’s Book of Household Management is the pre-eminent 19th-century source of recipes for all seasons, for all foods (even guinea pigs!). Much more than a simple cookbook, it has provided generations of readers with delightful insights into the preparation of food for the well-to-do Victorian household. Take for example the section on rabbits. Each species is introduced with an engraving of the bunny in its natural state (fuzzy evocations of Beatrix Potter) along with a brief description of its habitat and habits. This is followed by directions for preparation, and concludes with an engraving of the finished product laid out on a plate ready to eat. And within this very thorough compendium of methods for preparing and serving food, Isabella Beeton also provided many tips on preserving and maintaining the tools of the household. [continue]

And perhaps you saw the Guardian article about Mrs Beeton last year: Mrs Beeton couldn’t cook but she could copy, reveals historian. Fascinating!

At any rate, somebody has put Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management on the web. Go read about the Arrangement and Economy of the Kitchen, Domestic Servants, or Game. Or go straight to Sweet Recipes, because who can resist looking at those?

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France’s songbird delicacy is outlawed

From the Telegraph: France’s songbird delicacy is outlawed.

French gourmands are to be denied what one restaurant critic describes as the "barbaric pleasure" of feasting on tiny songbirds after their government announced that it intended finally to enforce laws that have been on the statute books for eight years.

Long considered the pinnacle of gastronomic delight by the French, the ortolan is a protected species after being hunted almost out of existence.

The prized birds can fetch up to €150 (£102) each if sold illegally to restaurants. Diners savour the ritual almost as much as the flavour.

François Mitterrand, the former French president, notoriously feasted upon a whole one at his "last supper" while terminally ill with prostate cancer, concealing his head beneath a napkin in the traditional manner.

Some say the napkin helps the diner savour the aroma, others that it is intended to conceal his greed from God. [continue]

A serving of Philistine culture: boar, dog and fine wine

From A serving of Philistine culture: Boar, dog and fine wine.

Unlike most of the peoples living in the region in the biblical era, the Philistines were not Semites, but rather one of the Sea Peoples who immigrated from the Aegean Sea region of today’s Greece and western Turkey. They brought with them technologies new to the area, including a wide range of pottery vessels and a sophisticated political organization.

They prepared meals in a characteristic sealed pottery vessel suited to long cooking times at low heat, while most inhabitants of Canaan at the time used open pots and faster cooking methods. The bones found at the Philistine cities showed that their diet was also different from those of their neighbors. While the Canaanites and Israelites ate mainly beef and lamb, the Philistines ate mainly pork, with an occasional meal of dog meat. The Philistines’ wine culture was also very well-developed. [continue]

How Bronze Age man enjoyed his pint

From the BBC: How Bronze Age man enjoyed his pint

Two archaeologists have put forward a theory that one of the most common ancient monuments seen around Ireland may have been used for brewing ale.

Fulacht fiadh — horseshoe shaped grass covered mounds — are conventionally thought of as ancient cooking spots

But the archaeologists from Galway believe they could have been the country’s earliest breweries.

To prove their theory that an extensive brewing tradition existed in Ireland as far back as 2500BC, Billy Quinn and Declan Moore recreated the process.

After just three hours of hard work — and three days of patiently waiting for their brew to ferment — the men enjoyed a pint with a taste of history attached. [continue]

This is my kind of archaeology!

There’s more information on the Great Beer Experiment section of Declan Moore’s website. Don’t miss the photo gallery.

Mozzarella di bufala

One of the things I miss about Italy is the bocconcini made from water buffalo milk — mozzarella di bufala. It’s splendid, and almost impossible to get in Canada, from what I’ve seen. (Of course you can buy bocconcini at most supermarkets here, but that stuff is almost certainly made from cows’ milk. What’s worse is that it’s been sitting around for too long, and is almost not worth eating by the time it gets to your table. Even if you do see mozzarella di bufala, it’s likely imported from Italy and no longer fresh.)

So can you imagine how pleased I was to learn that a farm on Vancouver Island has set up a water buffalo dairy? And yes, they’re making mozzarella di bufala!

Here’s an article about the enterprise from the Globe and Mail: Curdling till the buffalo come home.

The orb of pristine cheese in Paul Sutter’s hand is soft and shiny, the picture of youth in the cheese world.

"It’s very delicate at this point," says the Courtenay, B.C., cheese maker, cradling the day-old white mozzarella in his palm like an oversized poached egg.

This cheese is like any good ball of fresh Italian bocconcini, but it’s the first artisan buffalo-milk mozzarella commercially made in Canada. It’s moist on the inside, with the typical striated layers created by stretching the warmed mass of freshly coagulated curds. It’s encased in a tight, thin skin, formed when the cheese is pulled and hand-pinched into a neat round ball.

And like the original — the famed Mozzarella di Bufala Campana — it is made from buffalo milk: a dense, sweet, high-fat milk used to create the finest fresh cheeses.

The milk comes from Fairburn Farm in British Columbia’s Cowichan Valley, the only water buffalo dairy in Canada, where owners Darrel and Anthea Archer have just begun to produce enough buffalo milk to create this new Canadian product. [continue]

This is extra good news for anyone within striking distance of the Cowichan Valley.

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