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One way to ruin your mashed potatoes is to boil them and then “mash” them with a food processor. This will disrupt the starch bodies and afford a thick, snotty paste suitable for gluing GOP posters to utility poles.

Here is a nice way to prepare mashed potatoes. While a pot with a quart and a half of water is coming to boil, peel and cube 4 Russett potatoes. Peel and cube a yam and combine the whole mass of cubed tubers into the pot, bring to a low boil and cover.  Yukon Gold potatoes are even better. If you’re feeling less adventuresome, use half a yam. Enjoy a can of Old Chub or a suitable substitute during the process.

After 20 minutes of reflux, test for softness.  The potatoes should still be slightly firm, but not crunchy.  The yams will disintegrate first if refluxed too long.

Carefully drain the hot water and add a quarter stick of butter and a half cup of milk. Using a hand held mixer or a hand held masher, mash the light orange mixture to the desired consistancy, adding more milk as needed.  Consider what pleasure there might be in a coarse consistancy.

Transfer to a large bowl and nestle a pat of butter in the top. To the mound of potatoes sprinkle a light dusting of Hungarian Paprika and serve. Enjoy.

This year we tried Tofurky along with turkey for the thanksgiving meal. While my expectations were low, I have to admit that the Tofurky wasn’t quite as nasty as I had imagined. It is a seitan/soy product textured to resemble meat. Truthfully, in texture it resembles a firm bologna or salami lunchmeat. The package recommends that it be sliced thinly.

One plate holds a Tofurky. Can you tell which one it is?

Buried in mashed potatoes and real turkey gravy, the Tofurky was moderately edible. It is hard to say just how thankful the pilgrims might have been if Squanto had brought Tofurky to the feast. I’ll wager that the soiree would have gone badly.

Here is how to make a good tuna salad-

Drain thoroughly 1 large can of tuna packed in water and add two large dollops of Kraft salad dressing (or mayonaise), a spoonfull of pickle relish, and your favorite mustard (to taste).  Take a dozen olives stuffed with pimento and slice them into fifths. Carefully fold the olive slices into the blended tuna mixture.

The olives add a saltiness and a pleasing texture to the tuna salad. Enjoy as a sandwich or on a salad.

Found a great website for recipes. A prep for Nutella, a chocolate hazelnut spread, can be found there. In the restaurant section, you can find recipes from a large number of restaurants, including Legal Seafoods, Antoines, PF Chang’s, seasonings from Taco Bell, and Crab Rangoon from Trader Vic’s.  They even post School Cafeteria recipes. Crimony.

Being a scientist, I am interested in natural phenomena. And, being a gastronaut,  I am naturally keen to explore the distant reaches of the food universe.  Generally my voyages into multidimensional food space are uneventful. But now and then I encounter foodstuffs that push back. Food that does pressure-volume (PV) work on the internals.

Some foods are capable of generating many moles of gas phase product that is appreciably insoluble in the digestive fluids. The result is an inflation of the gastric spaces and prompt notice to the brain of distress.

Fortunately the good folks at Beano have a commercially available product that in my hands or … ahem … elsewhere … makes a dramatic difference in the discomfort level associated with certain legumes. The secret of this wonder of science is alpha galactosidase. When taken before the first bite of PV generating foods, it causes a drastic reduction in the inflation of the large intestine. This enzyme aids in the hydrolysis of troublesome saccharides that are otherwise left to travel from the small to the large intestine where the gut flora go to town.

All the legume eater has to do is to chew 2 or 3 Beano tablets right before the first spoonfull of chili or pintos. In my half dozen live fire beano tests and one frightening control experiment, I have to say that I am a believer. I am grateful and my family is even more grateful.

Science for the betterment of mankind. Ya gotta love it.

I’m not an apologist for the chemical industry. Chemical industry has a checkered past in many ways. The pesticide, petrochemicals, and mining industries have left a deep and abiding foul taste in the mouths of many communities. In a previous era, heavy industry has fouled rivers, lakes, air, and ground water. It has lead to illness, death, and loss of livelihood to many people.

But in the modern era much of this wanton issuance of hazardous industrial material into the air and waters has been halted or greatly diminished. At least for the US, Canada, and the EU. And it is not because industry suddenly found religion. The “regulatory environment” became so compelling a liability cost factor that industry set its mind to engineering plants into compliance. 

I would make the observation that today, the major chemical health issues before us are not quite as much about bulk environmental pollution by waste products. Rather, I would offer that the most important matter may have to do with the chronic exposure of consumers to various levels of manufactured products. High energy density foods, particularly, high fructose corn sweeteners; veterinary antibiotic residues, endocrine disrupters, smoking, highly potent pharmaceuticals, and volatiles from polymers and adhesives to name just a few.

Modern life has come to require the consumption of many things.  A modern nation must have a thriving chemical industry to sustain its need for manufactured materials. It is quite difficult and isolating to live a life free of paint and plastics or diesel and drugs. Choosing paper over plastic at the supermarket requires a difficult calculation of comparative environmental insults. Pulp manufacture vs polymer manufacture- which is the least evil? I don’t know.

Our lives have transitioned from convenience to wretched excess. Our industry has given us an irresistable selection of facile ways to accomplish excess consumption. Individualized portions meter out aliquots of tasty morsels that our cortisol-stressed brains cry out for. These same portions are conveniently dispensed in petroleum- or natural gas-derived packages within packages within packages. These resource depleting disposable nested packages are delivered to our local market in diesel burning behemoths because some pencil-necked cube monkey decided that rotund Americans needed yet one more permutation of high fructose corn syrup saturated, palm oil softened, sodium salt crusted, azo dye pigmented, extruded grain product on Wal-Mart shelves.

Enough already.

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This Beer Minute is brought to you by Th’ Gaussling and the code ffolk at WordPress.

Two half-decent Utility Beers I’ve run into lately are Samuel Adams Winter Lager and Stella Artois. Both are commendable lagers, best taken with a hearty meal and convivial friends.

Might I recommend a visit to the Stella Artois website? It is rather entertaining and interactive. 

This has been a Beer Minute brought to you by WordPress and Th’ Gaussling.

As a desperate strategy to fight insomnia, Th’ Gaussling often finds himself watching C-Span at 1 AM.  Congressional testimony or a televised speech at the International Museum Docent Convention by the Acting Assistant Deputy Undersecretary of the Stratosphere is often enough to initiate somnolence.

But early this morning was different. A panel of FDA administrators were before a House Committee on Commerce Chaired by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Michigan. At issue was H.R. 4167, the National Uniformity for Food Act. Apparently, the proposed law will remove requirements for certain kinds of food labeling, in particular the presence of certain additives may not be part of manditory labeling.

What has come to light is the industrial practice of exposing meats and fish to an atmosphere of dilute carbon monoxide (CO, ca 0.4 %) in order to maintain a red color in the flesh.  Meat naturally turns brown on exposure to air over a short period. Industry has been wrestling with this for a long time, adopting and subsequently abandoning various schemes for maintaining the reassuring red color of meats and certain fish. Carbon monoxide coordinates with iron in haemoglobin to afford a complex that renders the tissues red in color. The FDA defines CO as a fixative in this application, rather than a preservative.

As a result of the use of this scheme, it is possible to keep meats and fish with a saleable red appearance for much longer. This reduces store losses due to the non-marketability of brown meat.

The House Commerce Committee was split down the isle in terms of its concern for this matter. Democratic committee members voiced considerable concern over the subterfuge of artificially reddening meat, allowing unwary consumers to falsely conclude that the meat could be fresher than it really is. Republican members seemed disinterested in the matter and several voiced concern that the FDA should spend it’s time with Salmonella rather than CO. The honorable Republican member from Kentucky tried to suggest that as a “simple country doctor”, he was having trouble understanding the issues and pronouncing the words (Rep. Elmer T. Bonehead, R-KY).

Whereas many of the members soft pedaled their questions, Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, offered no quarter to the FDA group. In particular he focused his attention of Director of Food Additive Safety, Laura Tarantino.  In earlier testimony, Tarantino was a picture of confidence. Her knowledge of the statutes and the Byzantine procedural details as well as her confidence and instant recall was impressive. However, when Dingell’s time for questions came along, he went after her with rapid fire questions, not allowing time for her to qualify her answers or fend off subtext.  “Just answer the question, yes or no”. It was interesting to see.  Dingell was obviously disgusted with the FDA.  The regulations and protocols that govern FDA movement are very complex and apparently even the administrators have faint grasp on much of it.

Director Tarantino stated that no specific rule-making concerning CO fixatives had been completed because it was still under study.  The working assumption was that CO was considered GRAS- Generally Recognized as Safe. These assumptions are often advanced by industry and accepted with scant examination by FDA.

When asked about the general safety of CO in the product, one FDA manager stated that the added CO posed no hazard. I have no reason to doubt this. But the real issue is consumer deception. I think even libertarians would have to agree that without disclosure of food additives, the market cannot rationally award its demand to preferred providers. You can bank on the notion that consumers are particular about meat and freshness. HR 4167 is a step backwards for consumers and we can only hope that good sense prevails in the House.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopists have finally crawled down off their crosses and condescended to the application of their technology to something really useful- the study of wine NMR spectra. If you believe the attached article, a restaurant in NJ has purchased an NMR spectrometer for the purpose of determining the quality of wine.  Evidently, the contents of a cork-sealed bottle can be examined by proton and 13C NMR.

Jeepers.  I wonder if it is hard to get boxed wines to spin inside the magnet? \;-)

One question. Does the rotating frame turn the opposite direction for Australian wines? 

Th’ Gaussling has been a lazy blogger lately.  Life has been intruding into my blogging time. 

This weekend I’m gonna try ginnin’ up a batch of Rhubarbarita’s. Rhubarb is a good natural source of oxalic acid (for the uninitiated, that was a joke).

Being from the Iowegian belt of middle earth, I have a fondness for porkchops and rhubarb pie.  I know- it’ll kill me eventually. 

Rhubarbarita Update.  I prepared ca 500 mL of rhubarb juice for formulation experiments. To a stainless steel 2 quart pot was added ~500 g of rhubarb stalks cut into chunks ~2 cm in length and taken to a reflx in a 2:1 mixture of water:Karo corn syrup with a lid on the pot to help retain volatile flavorants.  The chunks were boiled for 10 minutes whereupon they began to disintegrate.  The stalks were crushed and the resulting slurry was separated via metal strainer. The greenish solids were discarded and the resulting cloudy pink extract was charged into a sealable container and refrigerated. 

The purpose was to obtain a rhubarb syrup suitable for formulation with various liquors, Tequila in particular. Corn syrup was chosen for sweetness and viscosity. Some observations from the organoleptic trials-

  • Rhubarb juice prepared in the fashion described (vide supra) has a low flavor potency with only a small amount of tartness. It has a distinct flavor and agreeable color, but does not jump out at you.
  • Rhubarb juice has little natural sweetness, so a sweetner must be added to provide the expected mouthfeel and sweet aspect worthy of a drink fitted with an umbrella.
  • The 2:1 ratio of water to syrup is not satisfactory in regard to sweetenss or viscosity.  A 1:1 ratio should be tried.
  • As the sole flavorant, the rhubarb extract is not flavor-intense enough or exotic enough to expect repeat consumption from foo-foo umbrella drink consumers when used for Margharita formulation.
  • A properly formulated Margharita on the rocks should have good mouthfeel with sweet and tart attributes as well as a jab of citrus in addition to the exotic agave flavor of the Tequila. 
  • The addition of lime juice was found to markedly improve the organoleptic test. 

In summary, the experimental Rhubarbarita described above was judged to have an acceptable flavor, though hardly exciting or memorable.  It was found empirically that the addition of fresh lime juice contributed substantially to the overall impact of the formulation. The impact of a “bottom shelf” Tequila for the experiment is unclear at this time.

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