Sunday, January 29, 2012

Balancing the scales with an adapted chocolate chunk recipe

It makes me happy when a baking recipe has ingredient weights so I can use my scale* for accurate and neat measurement.  It's so much easier to add ingredients by putting the mixing bowl onto the scale, pressing the tare button, and then adding what I need, instead of getting out (and dirtying) multiple measuring cups (especially when the ingredient is something gooey or messy items like oil, molasses and honey**).  However, I haven't been good about making the recipes on this blog scale-compatible.  

The recipe below is a first attempt to start balancing the scales of talk and action.  It is an adaptation of one of my favorite recipes in the family of chocolate chunk cookies, one that has a bit of wheat germ and oats for heartiness and flavor. The display format is somewhat of a hybrid because of the futility of giving weights for quantities as small as a teaspoon and the quantum nature of eggs (note that the egg is specified as "1 large", not as a weight or volume).

For more scale love, visit items by David Lebovitz, Alice Medrich and Fahrad Manjoo at the New York Times.

Recipe:  Hearty Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Metric / weight Non-metric / volume
Unsalted butter 110 g 1/2 c.
Light brown sugar 100 g 1/2 c.
White sugar 100 g 1/2 c.
Egg 1 large 1 large
Vanilla extract 5 mL 1 t.
Baking powder 5 mL 1 t.
Table salt 2.5 mL 1/2 t.
White flour 100 g 3/4 c.
Raw wheat germ 20 g 1/4 c.
Quick oats 100 g 1 c.
Rolled oats 40 g 1/2 c.
Dark chocolate, chopped 85 g 3 ounces
Milk chocolate, chopped 55 g 2 ounces

Optional additions: walnuts, almonds, raisins, dried cherries, coarse salt

(Unit conversion page)

Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C).

Mix the dry ingredients (but not the chocolate) together in a bowl.

Chop the dark and milk chocolate into pieces that are slightly larger than standard chocolate chips. It is not easy to do this; don't worry if the pieces are randomly sized, that is one of the charms of these cookies (a.k.a. chocolatey randomness).

Combine the butter and sugars in a bowl. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment. Beat together until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl, and mix together on low speed until the dough is mixed. Add the chocolate and optional ingredients. Mix on low speed for a short time to combine.

Bake for 10-15 minutes on greased or lined cookie sheets. After removing sheets from the oven, let the cookies cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

* For what it's worth, I have used an Escali P115 for years and am quite happy with it.
** To adapt recipes on the fly, I keep a list of ingredient weights on scraps of paper on my refrigerator, adding items as needed.

Random link from the archive: Rise and Fall, Hit and Miss

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Multi-grain mix jazzes up rice bowl

One of the many useful things I learned from Elizabeth Andoh's outstanding "Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen", was the concept of enhancing a batch of white rice — nutrion-wise and taste-wise — by adding a variety of grains and seeds to the uncooked rice and water. You can easily customize your own blend by hunting and pecking in the bulk food section. Or, in some markets, you can buy a pre-made mix in large or small packets.  Andoh favors one from Japanese markets that contains buckwheat groats, white poppy seeds, black rice, a type of millet (awa) and flat barley (hato mugi).  In the early months of Washoku experimentation, I made my own blend with whatever was around the pantry. More recently, I have spotted packages at markets in San Francisco's Japan Center, but haven't purchased them, as the cost is somewhat high and they are imported from Japan.

I ran across a better alternative to either option while browsing in the Koreana Plaza in Oakland: the "Sukoyaka 8 Grain Mix",  a blend of domestically-grown grains that includes sprouted brown rice, hulless barley, rye berries, whole oats, red rice, purple/black barley, wild rice and bamboo rice.

Following their recommendation of 1/2 cup of grain mix with 2 cups of well-washed short-grain white rice creates a hearty, interesting bowl of grain that makes an excellent accompaniment to Japanese dishes (a short video showing an efficient way to wash rice is at the Japanese Food Report).

Or, the hearty rice can be the base for a mixed-up rice bowl like bibimbap, the classic Korean mixture of rice, vegetables, a spicy sauce called gochujang, and various other items (like meats, pickles, or a fresh-cracked raw egg that cooks in the hot rice).  With the rice mix, a tub of kim chi, a fresh bag of soybean sprouts (one of the fundamental flavors in a good bibimbap, in my opinion), and a bunch of vegetables, I got to work.  First, start soaking the whole-grain mix and wash the short-grain rice (presoaking the whole grains will ensure they are cooked without overcooking the white rice).  Then start sauteing the vegetables in batches in toasted sesame oil (another key Korean flavor for me).  Cook the rice.  Finally, fill a bowl with hot rice, make piles of the just-cooked item, garnish with toasted nori and mix well.

Students of bibimbap will notice a significant omission in those last few sentences:  the hot sauce called gochujang.  Although I love the savory sauce, I'm not very tolerant of chilies these days, so I had to omit it. Since the sauce is much more than just a chili infusion — it's a fermented paste made from soybean powder, glutinous rice powder, ground chilies and other ingredients, with the fermentation process bringing out plenty of umami — I wonder if it would be possible to make a mild version at home (if not, Japanese barley miso might be a decent substitute).  Do any readers know of a recipe that might be amenable to a dialed down heat level?

Recipe Sketch:  Ersatz Bibimbap

  • Rice 
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • Carrots, shredded in long strips
  • Soybean sprouts
  • Shiitake mushrooms (dried or fresh), sliced into strips
  • A leafy green vegetable like spinach or mustard greens, washed well and chopped
  • Tofu (the firmer the better), cut into bite-size pieces
  • Sake
  • Soy sauce
  • Toasted nori sheets
  • Korean hot chili-bean sauce (gochujang)

  • Start cooking the rice
  • If using dried shiitake mushrooms, rinse them and then cover with hot water to soften.  After 15 minutes, remove mushrooms and strain the soaking liquid to use in another recipe.
  • In a non-stick pan, saute shredded carrots in some roasted sesame oil.  Remove to a bowl.
  • If using fresh mushrooms, saute sliced shiitake mushrooms in sesame oil in the same non-stick pan, adding some sake when they are tender, letting it evaporate, then adding some soy sauce and turning off  the heat.  Remove to a bowl.
  • In the same pan, add some more oil and when hot, toss in some chopped greens, stir, add a little water, turn down the heat and cover.   When tender, remove to another bowl.
  • Give the pan a quick rinse and wipe, then saute some drained tofu on all sides until golden brown.
  • In a pot of boiling water, blanch a handful of soybean sprouts for a minute then rinse under cold water.  Chop into 1" lengths.

  • Top with toasted nori sheets, broken into pieces
  • Korean hot chili-bean sauce (gochujang)

  • Fill a warm bowl with hot rice
  • Add the prepared ingredients and garnishes, stir well

(For a more formal bibimbap recipe, visit the Korea Tourism Organization or consult just about any book about Korean cooking.)

Random link from the archive: Homemade crackers

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Insects are a delectable topic for editors and bloggers

Photo of grasshopper from Suneko's flickr collection via CC
Entomophagy — the practice of eating insects* — seems to be quite a delectable topic for bloggers and editors of magazines and newspapers, with numerous mainstream publications featuring articles on the subject in recent months. Typically the articles follow a pattern that includes profiling someone that raises or cooks insects for human consumption, talking about their potential as a protein source in a resource-limited world, and then some anxiety-filled prose about the author's first encounter with insects on their dinner plate.

Before I get to a collection of links, an article by Sarah Schmidt in Heifer International's World Ark that deserves a special shout out because it has a different focus. Although she has most of the elements of a standard entomophagy piece, Schmidt looks at some positive developments around insects as food in the developing world.  She notes that although many cultures around the world traditionally eat insects (I would guess that more cultures eat insects than don't), the people who run food programs — bureaucrats in the United Nations from Europe and other industrialized countries — generally don't eat insects, and thus are potentially ignoring a source of affordable and culturally acceptable food. To change this, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has started including programs on insect raising in their portfolio**:
The FAO first became interested in edible insects about eight years ago when its researchers were studying the Central African bush meat crisis—steep declines in animals traditionally used for meat as a result of deforestation and unsustainable hunting practices. "One revelation was that up to 30 percent of the people's protein intake during the rainy season comes from insects," explained Paul Vantomme, a researcher for the UNFAO's Forestry Department. "Yet insects were, and still are, completely ignored in all of the international discussions of the bush-meat crisis." Vantomme began to look into the issue in depth and in 2004 published a study on the role of mopane worms as a food source in the Congo Basin.
The worms, the caterpillar of the Emperor moth, thrive in the forest during the region's three-month rainy season; women and children gather them by hand from trees or the ground. Gram for gram, they're higher in both protein and fat than meat or fish and are also rich in calcium, niacin and riboflavin. They can be stewed, fried or ground into nutrient-rich flour. In Central Africa, local people often make the flour into pulp to be given to children to combat malnutrition or to pregnant or breastfeeding women. They're also an important source of extra income for rural families. One study from Botswana found that the mopane worm generates about 13 percent of household income for rural families but accounts for only about 6 percent of the labor output. Rural people often sell them to traveling merchants, who then sell them at urban markets.
A potential issue with this program is that the above-mentioned worms are gathered from the forest – i.e., taking advantage of nature’s bounty – making them vulnerable to overharvesting just like fish or animals***.  With this in mind, a significant challenge for a program like the FAO’s is to make the transition from gathering to farming.  Initiatives in places like Laos – where the FAO is giving out "starter kits" for cricket farms that consist of insects or eggs, a supply of appropriate feed, and a 3-foot-wide concrete cylinder that serves as the 'farm.'  If the programs in the Congo Basin and Laos are successful, how long will it be before Heifer’s gift catalog includes a kit for mopane worms, crickets, or another culturally appropriate and feasible insect crop?

Here are some of the articles I ran across recently along with short summaries:
  • SF Weekly: “Bug Me: San Francisco Helps Pioneer Insect Cuisine” was the cover story in the October 19 edition, and one of the better articles I've read. In the following weeks, the weekly printed thoughtful letter to the editor from a professor emeritus from UAB. (Warning: unstoppable animation on the web page.)
  • Business Week:  a quick look at several entrepreneurs trying to build businesses that produce insects as a food source. There is plenty of room for scaling and innovation, as food-grade insects are surprisingly expensive (one company, World Entomophagy, sells its product for as much as $40 per pound).  There is also plenty of room for adaptation and updating of regulations.  How does one raise "organic" crickets for human consumption? How about if you want to feed the crickets to chickens that you want to certify as organic?  Is any agency even able to certify an insect farm as organic? 
  • Triple Pundit: the author recounts a first-hand experience with insects at Guelaguetza restaurant in Los Angeles, followed by a run-down of the potential and challenges related to entomophagy.
  • Los Angeles Times travel section:  A review of some entomophagic practices in Cambodia that include crickets, locusts and spiders. Some spiders are so desirable that some worry whether they could be hunted to extinction.  
  •  1) a video from The Perennial Plate with entomophagy expert David Gracer (who sounds a bit like a mellow Chris Traeger [brilliantly played by Rob Lowe] from the often hilarious Parks and Recreation. Consequently, I kept expecting him to say something Tragerian like “That fried walking stick is literally the greatest thing I have ever eaten, and your hospitality truly warms my heart.”) and 2) inclusion on the Grist 2011 trend report – insects as food joins such items as swapping, new kinds of CSAs, and fermenting on this year’s list.

* When applied to food for humans, the term “insect” generally breaks the biological boundaries placed on the term (i.e., six legs, a member of the Insecta class, etc.) and includes arachnids like spiders and scorpions, and myriapods like centipedes and millipedes.     
** I haven’t seen a single-word term that describes the controlled raising of insects for human consumption.  Plant raising is "agriculture”, fish farming is “aquaculture,” so should we call insect/spider/scorpion farming “arthro-culture”?  Or have sub-groups for each category like "insectculture," "arachnid-culture" and so on?
*** Speaking of insect hunting, "My Life as a Turkey" from PBS Nature has some superb footage of the turkey family hunting grasshoppers.  The whole program is a gem, with a compelling story and excellent camera work (the shot of a snake drinking water that collected in a leaf is magical).

Photo Credit
Grasshopper photo from Suneko's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.

Random link from the archive: Grapefruit vs. Gasoline: Elasticity Illustrated