Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fruit or Cake?

Obstsalat
photo from creativecommons.org
Would you choose Fruit?

Keoln Maerz 2009 PD 20090327 078
photo by PolitiKaner
Or Cake?


Last week, my friend, Kathi, was talking about a study she had heard reported on NPR.


Subjects were given a series of numbers to memorize. They could take as much time as they liked to memorize and then they were to walk down a hall and tell the numbers to someone in another room. Some subjects were given 2 numbers to memorize; some were given 7 (previous research has shown that 7 numbers is about the maximum amount most people can remember).


What the subjects didn't know is that halfway down the hall, a person would offer them a snack as a thank-you for participating in the study. The subjects were welcome to choose fresh fruit salad or chocolate cake. Overwhelmingly, those who had only 2 numbers to remember chose fruit. Those who had the more difficult task of remembering 7 numbers, overwhelmingly chose the cake.


The idea, of course, is that when we are under stress, we tend to make decisions which might not be so good for us. Typically, the rational and deliberate part of our brain makes choices: "The fruit is good for me, it will keep me healthy, I choose fruit." But, when we are stressed--when our brain has too much to keep track of-- our emotional brain takes over and drives our choices: We might choose a food which brings us comfort.


This is not a new idea, of course, and you can find many studies showing the relationship between stress and overeating. But, I thought this study proved the point in an unusually simple and straightforward way.


To hear the complete study, go to Radio Lab.



Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Staff Member


Jack Ryan
We are delighted to announce an addition to our kitchen staff here at MAK! His name is Jack Ryan, or Jack for short. We snagged him away from the Humane Society a couple of weeks ago and we couldn't be happier.

Jack is four years old and has lots of kitchen expertise. While we have taken him on as a recipe taste tester, he also has considerable skills in trash can diving, vacuuming the kitchen floor and pre-dishwasher clean-up.



"Ick, not enough salt..."

He has excellent hearing, as well. He can hear a package opening from a hundred yards.


"All the better to hear the dinner bell, my dear...."


A fine specimen; now let's see, he reminds me of someone. Who could it be?

"A right handsome lad, I am."


Oh well, I'll think of it. In the meantime, here is a photo of our entire taste tester department. Juliette, on the left, is senior taster and head of the department. She has been with us for three and a half years.





"Juliette--it's a promotion! Really!"


Rat Terriers make excellent taste testers. We are so lucky to have them both. Now, watch them work:

waiting for the final stir....


You gotta be fast, Jack! Juliette got both pieces in the bat of an eye. Don't worry, boy, you'll learn.

Thanks for joining us, Jack! We love you!

"Is there anymore of that?"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Decadent Chocolate Truffles with Raspberries

Dark chocolate and raspberries go together just like sweethearts, so how appropriate for a Valentine's Day dessert.

There are so many possibilities for desserts using these two ingredients, but this year I've chosen this one for our V-Day dessert. I love the way the tartness of the raspberries contrast with the richness of the truffle.

The truffles recipe is from Tyler Florence, with my additional notes. The truffles are so rich, one--or at the most two--is more than enough. It definitely can be eaten with a fork,  with a few raspberries on the side, to savor the flavor while you smile at your sweetheart across the table.

One other note: This is a great basic truffles recipe; add ingredients to change the flavor. For instance, you could add a bit of chile powder or instant expresso to the mixture. Crystalized (or ground) ginger or candied orange peel would be delicious. Instead of cocoa,  roll the truffles in chopped hazelnuts or ground blanched almonds.

Hope you enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Truffles
makes 15 - 20 candies

1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces good-quality (70 percent) bittersweet chocolate, chopped finely
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup cocoa powder, for dusting

In a sauce pan, bring the cream just to a simmer over low heat. Pour the cream over the chocolate in a bowl and let stand about 10 minutes to melt the chocolate (be certain it is finely chopped or it won't melt). Add vanilla and stir until smooth. Set aside to cool for one hour at room temperature. Then, beat the chocolate at medium speed until it gets thick and lighter colored. Spread over the bottom of a baking dish (a glass, 9" square pan is perfect) and smooth the top. Refrigerate two hours until firm.

Sift cocoa powder into a shallow bowl. I used a spoon to scrape out some truffle chocolate and then formed them into little 1 inch balls with my hands. Don't worry about perfectly smooth or round truffles; these are handmade after all.

After forming, drop each truffle into the bowl of cocoa and roll between two forks to coat completely. Lift out the truffle with the forks and place onto a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet. Chill until firm and, if making these ahead, wrap and refrigerate.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Loving Valentine's Day Dinner



Ah, Valentine's Day! Something about this holiday always makes me so happy! I think it is because the pretty pinks and reds brighten the gloomy weather and our outlooks. And, there’s nothing like receiving a valentine to brighten one’s mood. While expressions of love and friendship are always welcomed, it is this time of year when we might just need them most!


What are you doing for Valentine's Day this year? I am planning to make a special family dinner. Since I have two teens in the house, I am NOT planning a menu with aphrodisiac foods. Enuf said.  :-)


In 2011, I am working to take care of my favorite hearts--those of my husband and kids. So, I've been thinking about some delicious celebratory dishes using heart-healthy ingredients. Keep in mind, though, this is a special occasion dinner, so of course it has more calories and fat than usual--in this case we just watch our portion sizes and enjoy every bite.  


Here is my menu: 


Almond-Crusted Salmon with Leek and Lemon Cream
Salmon is a number one heart-healthy food--lots of Omega 3 fatty acids; try for wild pacific salmon (which will cost you a fortune) or a good Norwegian "ocean-farmed" salmon, which will still be expensive, but less so than wild. It should not be as red as the wild: if it is, it probably has artificial coloring which should be avoided. Almonds are another superfood with plant omega-3 fatty acids; vitamin E; magnesium; fiber; heart-favorable mono- and polyunsaturated fats; phytosterols.


Brown rice
Brown rice is filled with B-complex vitamins, fiber,  niacin and magnesium. Avoid the instant stuff and use a rice cooker to turn out perfect brown rice, which is so much better for you.


Roasted asparagus

Asparagus is a good vegetable choice with beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids), B-complex vitamins,  folate and fiber. Using a bit of olive oil is all the better. Click here for guidelines on how to roast it. 
Pinot Noir 
Twenty years ago, we were introduced to the concept of the French Paradox and discovered the benefits of red wine. A glass of red wine (5-6 ounces) with your meal provides catechins and reservatrol (flavonoids), and could improve "good" HDL cholesterol.


Dark chocolate truffles with fresh raspberries
Reservatrol and cocoa phenols (flavonoids), found in dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content), may reduce blood pressure. In addition, researchers say that chocolate triggers "feel-good" chemicals in the brain. One truffle would be sufficient. Served with raspberries, we also get potent antioxidants, vitamin C among other benefits.*


I can't wait!


Today, I have the salmon recipe for you, which I have adapted from Bon Appetit magazine. I have made it many times--truly, it is one of my favorites. This year I will use milk instead of cream in the sauce (by the way, DON'T use half and half or you will get a curdled mess). Even if you use cream, you really only need a dollop of the sauce. 


Almond-Crusted Salmon with Leek and Lemon Cream

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium leek, halved, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 cup sliced almonds, chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 6 skinless salmon fillets (4-6 ounces each)
  • 2 egg whites, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leek; sauté 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook until leeks are very tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Increase heat to medium; add lemon juice and stir until liquid evaporates, about 1 minute. Mix in cream. Simmer until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Cool slightly. Transfer mixture to blender. Blend until smooth. Strain sauce into same saucepan, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. (Sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

  • Mix almonds, parsley, lemon peel, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper on plate. Place flour on another plate. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Dredge salmon in flour, shaking off excess. Lightly brush 1 side of salmon with beaten egg whites. Press brushed side of salmon into almond mixture, pressing lightly to adhere. Arrange salmon, nut side up, on baking sheet.

  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in each of 2 heavy large skillets over medium heat. Add half of salmon to each skillet, almond-coated side down, and cook until crust is brown, about 5 minutes. Turn salmon over. Sauté until salmon is cooked through and opaque in center, about 5 minutes. Transfer salmon to plates.

  • Reheat sauce, stirring over medium heat. Spoon around salmon and serve.
Tomorrow: Dark Chocolate Truffles!


* Thanks to webmd.com for nutrition information in this post.





Thursday, February 10, 2011

Update

Field of sugar beets

In my previous post I wrote about the USDA considering genetically engineered alfalfa; they were to decide whether to completely deregulate or only partially deregulate its use. As we know by now, the USDA completely deregulated the genetically engineered seeds (click here for full story).

In a stunningly fast development last week, the USDA then went on to agree to a partial deregulation of genetically modified sugar beets. They are allowing farmers to plant these seeds this spring while they finish work on a full environmental impact study. (click here for full story)

Both of these crops' seeds have been modified to be resistant to the weed killer Roundup, which is produced by Monsanto, the same corporation who has created and lobbied for the modified seeds.

Lawsuits against the USDA rulings will go forth in both cases.

*     *     *

In an update to the funding of school breakfasts for poor children:


It looks like Colorado lawmakers might be on the path to doing the right thing. A senate committee has voted to reinstate free breakfasts for poor children (click here for full story). The decision isn't final but must be approved by the House and Senate.