Abominable giant salmon coming soon to a fast food restaurant near you!


Did you hear the news this week? The FDA is close to approving genetically modified salmon. When I read about this for the first time earlier this week, I got a little knot in my stomach. I’ve always been opposed to GM foods but somehow, it felt a little easier to me to accept that man is messing with nature on a plant level. Once we begin to play god with higher order creatures…who knows what mayhem will ensue?

You see nature has a way of doing it’s own thing. Did you see Jurassic Park? The park owner hired geneticists who assured him that the cloned dinosaurs could not breed since they were sterile females. They ended up breeding anyway. I know what you are thinking: that was a fictional story. According to the article on GM salmon, the GM fish will be sterile females. The geneticists are doing this on purpose so that the salmon won’t be able to breed. If they get out, wild salmon stocks will be safe from contamination from these GM abominations. But, fish are strange creatures. They can change their sex from female to male if there are not enough males for breeding in a given population. It has also been documented that a shark held in captivity had a virgin birth. Hopefully fish cannot reverse sterilization.

As I was doing research for this post, I came across another scary article. According to this article, Russian scientists carried out an experiment where they fed GM foods to hamsters. The GM food was fed to each succeeding generation of hamster. Eventually, the fourth generation fed exclusively on a GM diet became sterile. Genetically modified foods are included in something like 75% of our processed foods now. This has been happening since the 1990’s. We should be on our second generation and going on our third generation of people who have been eating GM foods. This could get interesting pretty fast.

Now, I understand the urgency to get a salmon to market that will beef up to marketable size in fewer weeks than a conventional salmon would. Could you imagine how much money a McSalmon sandwich would make for McDonald’s? It would be huge for them! When beef cows and chickens were hybridized to grow to market size quickly, it revolutionized fast food. It made it possible to provide those billions of Big Macs and chicken McNuggets that are served every day. I just wish that corporate profits weren’t tied into the possibility that our health could be compromised in ways we never knew existed.

I am one angry little consumer and I am doing what I can. I try to vote with my dollars and I go to the FDA site to voice my disgust when they open things up to discussion. If I have no real say on the outcome of the decisions that the FDA makes on our behalf, then all I can wish for or hope for is that the FDA will finally help protect our interests just a bit and call for labeling of GM products. I just want to continue to at least think that I have a choice in regards to what I eat. Unless I am given the luxury of knowing what is in my food, I guess I will just remain afraid. Very afraid.

Baking with friends

Baking with friends, Part 1:

I made a huge mistake. Around a year ago, I made some wonderful buns. They were absolutely the most delicious buns ever. I found these scrumptious little bits of cheesy goodness on a blog. They were supposed to be made with Cambozola which is a mixture of triple cream cheese and Gorgonzola. I set out to make them with what I hand on hand which was Blue cheese. When I ran short on Blue cheese, I made up the difference with Parmesano Reggiano. I was going to write a blog post about these wonderful buns and then I somehow forgot.

These buns, rich and delicious were so good, I never stopped thinking about them. Every time I had blue cheese I thought about these buns but the problem is Point Reyes Blue cheese. It is the most amazing cheese. Ever. When I have some in the house, I have a specific use for it and then any leftovers usually find their way onto several crackers and the cheese just disappears. The disappearance of this cheese is sorely to blame for why it has taken me so very long to make these buns again. Really, it’s true.

How did I get so incredibly lucky to find myself with a nice size wedge of Point Reyes blue just waiting for me to bake with it?  Wind. It’s the new weather pattern here in Santa Barbara.  We stop getting precipitation, then we get wind and for the past couple of unlucky years, fire. I was going to barbeque some blue cheese chicken burgers last week, but I waited until after 6 o’clock which is about when the wind starts. I didn’t dare strike a match. To me wind equals fire now, and I don’t want to have to evacuate a fourth time in three years. So I decided I was going to broil my burgers. I grabbed the ingredients and found out the hamburger buns got moldy. I just gave up. Which is good because we forgot to break out the crackers and gobble up that cheese.

Now, I had a problem. I never made notes about the buns. I didn’t even remember whose blog I got them from. I just remembered it was on YeastSpotting. So what did I do?  I went to the YeastSpotting archive and began to painfully look at each week until… I found it!! And whose blog was it? My friend Tanna’s blog (My Kitchen in Half Cups)! I had to laugh! I should have remembered.

Please make these buns and then go to YeastSpotting to see what else was baked by all of the talented bakers this week. And… keep reading after the recipe…

Blue cheese and parmesan buns

Adapted from Maytag buns found on My Kitchen in Half Cups

130 g whole wheat flour

136 g unbleached white flour

2 g salt

28 g honey

140 g sourdough starter

66 g low fat milk

66 g water

1 large egg, lightly beaten

58 g shredded parmesano reggiano

86 g crumbled blue cheese (good quality such as Point Reyes)

40 g softened butter

Olive oil cooking spray

In a large bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, white flour and salt.

In another bowl, mix together honey, sourdough starter, milk, water, egg, parmesan and blue cheese.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix to combine. Add softened butter. Mix in. Transfer dough to a floured board. Knead lightly until the butter is well combined and you don’t see bits of it in the dough. Form a ball and transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover with a dish towel and let sit for a half hour.

Using cooking spray, generously oil two six cup muffin tins. Divide the dough into twelve equal pieces. Form into balls and place balls in muffin cups. Let the dough rise until puffy and it fills the cups most of the way. Since I only used starter, no yeast, this took about four hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, F. Bake the buns for 16 – 18 minutes or until browned. Cool in pans on a wire rack for about fifteen minutes. Remove buns from pans and allow to cool most of the way on wire racks. These buns are wonderful when they are still a bit warm from the oven.

Baking with Friends, Part 2:

 

There is a bread baking formula that is making the rounds on the Fresh Loaf. A lady named Flo Makanai figured out that you could make pretty great bread using the toss out from your starter.  Her formula is a 1, 2, 3 ratio of starter, liquid and flour. My friend John of the Lost World of DrFugawe made this bread over and over, getting fabulous results. Other folks on the fresh loaf are making it and getting fabulous results. I made it and I created a mutant loaf, deformed and tasting of wonder bread with a streak of raw dough in the middle and giant holes near the surface that caused the crust to burn. Horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!

I complained to my friend John, and instead of allowing me to cry on his virtual shoulder, he challenges me to bake ten loaves in a row until I get it right!!!! The nerve of my virtual friend! To be fair, he gave me instructions on how he has been turning out loaf after loaf of wonderful bread.

I started yesterday (this is a two day bread). My results were better this time, but still not good. My problem is that I hate, hate, hate the raw dough. It is sticky! I think I lost a third of the dough to the bowl, my hands, anything my hands touched and then the dough had the audacity to stick to the banneton, deflating itself before it made it to the oven.

But despite deflating itself, it did miraculously spring up in the oven. The outside crust was gorgeous. I got some big holes but they were on the surface again. I think I under salted the dough, it lacked flavor. But the worst part is it lacked flavor and texture. The crumb was springy like sandwich bread again, and there was no flavor at all. Just like sandwich bread.

I have to admit to a couple of shortcuts because this bread pisses me off, so I had no patience for it. I am going to list John’s instructions and then write down where I strayed. I know John will be back to mentor me. If anyone else wants to jump in with suggestions, please do so in the comments.

do a new loaf every day for at least 10 days – make improvements daily.

Loaf #1 down – 9 more to go!

use 100 g of starter – that’ll give you a 600 g loaf

I used 100 g of starter, 200 g water, 300 grams unbleached white flour for this loaf. I am thinking I need to use something besides water next time. Maybe sub out a little water for olive oil? Use milk instead of water? This should improve the flavor. Here is my problem. I remembered the salt, but after looking back at the kitchen mess, I could only find a ½ tsp. measuring spoon, I think I used ½ tsp of salt which is obviously too little. How much should I use??

use a tiny pinch of yeast too (tiny, tiny, tiny)

I don’t use commercial yeast. Other breads, no problem. This bread…

use minimal mixing – do fold and stretch in your mixing bowl – every 15 mins for 2 hours, then hourly.

I definitely have a short attention span. I did the stretch and fold every 15 minutes for about an hour.  Then I ate lunch.  Then I watched “The Next Food Network Star”, which I interrupted to stretch and fold at the two hour mark, I decided to keep doing the folds hourly but got bored three hours later, so I refrigerated the dough after around 5 hours at room temp.

you’ll need to heavily oil your bowl, and let it proof for 6/7 hours at room temp

The dough probably got some oil in it because I had to heavily oil the bowl each time I got the dough hermetically sealed to my hand.

Now form loaf, cover in plastic, and put in fridge, or I use BBQ grill on patio (works great!)

I formed it into as much of a ball as possible and put it in my banneton. Covered it in plastic and put it in the fridge for 16 hours.

in morn, heat oven to 475F for an hour

I heated the oven for as long as it would take to get my stone to 475F. My oven actually freaked out and got to more like 500F.

when oven is ready, pull cold but risen loaf from fridge or BBQ, score and bake immed. After 15 mins, lower temp to 450F, and bake for 20-30 mins more.

I baked even though the oven temp was 500F. The bread puffed up from it’s flattened state after I had to peel it off of the banneton. I actually put a pan with water in the oven for steam, which helped the crust formation. I lowered the heat after 15 minutes but only needed another 16 minutes before the internal temperature was way over 210F.

Now that I completed the exercise, here are my questions:

How much salt to use?

What sort of liquid should I use?

Should I use just white flour or add some whole grains?

How do I keep the dough from sticking to everything??

How do I shape this bread, the banneton is fighting with the dough!

So… At this point, I’m still not loving this bread but it seems to have potential so I’ll try it again. I’ll wait to see if anyone has any good ideas and then I’ll try your suggestions out next time. Thanks in advance everyone, and thank you John for making me get out of my comfort zone.

I just want my frozen yogurt treat. Grrr.

Okay. I need to time travel back in history to about 2 ½ weeks ago. I hope I don’t offend anyone with what I am about to tell you. If you have a weak constitution, you may want to visit one of the blogs on my sidebar instead of reading on. I got sick. Make your acquaintance with the porcelain altar for it will become your best friend for days sort of sick. After I was feeling a little better, I felt sure that I needed to eat some food that would help the good guys in the battle raging for my GI tract. I could tell they were losing the battle big time.

I felt better enough to risk leaving the house. I went to our gourmet/health food store to buy some relief. I immediately thought Kefir would be a good thing to have. I could drink it like a shake instead of having to actually eat something like yogurt. I went to grab some Kefir but my favorite, Nancy’s, was nowhere to be found. In it’s place were commercial looking brands with labels that screamed “now with NutraFlora!”. WTF?! I don’t know what this stuff is and I am in no mood to figure it out. From what I can tell, it is some sort of fiber and the last thing I need is kefir that has been fortified with fiber. After the previous few days, the last thing I need to think about is being regular. I completed the shopping trip of desperation with a shopping cart full of yogurt, kombucha tea, amazake and a big bottle of acidophilus. I got better and life went on. For the time being, I completely forgot about NutraFlora.

                                            

I don’t eat a ton of packaged foods but there are certain things I don’t make from scratch that I enjoy a lot. Frozen desserts are part of that category. I went to Costco last week and saw that they were selling huge boxes of Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. I passed on them last week because they weren’t blackberry flavor. They were strawberry. Julie’s makes the most delicious blackberry ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet and these blackberry ice cream bars covered in dark, dark chocolate. Ohhhhhh. If those bars had been blackberry, I wouldn’t have made it to the check stand without eating them. But… they were strawberry. I left them where they sat. I went back to Costco today and saw the Julie’s frozen yogurt bars. They said “Hi Mimi. We are twelve delicious bars for $8.49. Please take us home”. I said, “Okay, please come home with me”. They were in my hand, on their way to my shopping cart when what did my eyes see? “Now with NutraFlora!” I turned the box over and didn’t see NutraFlora on the ingredients list. Just an item called fructin. Grrr. I put them back in the freezer.

I came home and started looking for information on this new ingredient that seemed to be making it’s way into all of the healthy seeming organic food. It turns out that NutraFlora is a prebiotic, meaning that it is a carbohydrate that is indestructible enough to make it to where your intestinal flora (fauna?) live. It feeds them and makes them healthy. According to the makers of NutriFlora, it is present in fruits and veggies but if you didn’t have “one serving of NutriFlora-enriched yogurt, you would have to eat about 22 bananas, 15 onions, 16 tomatoes, or 383 cloves of garlic“. Maybe this stuff is good for us, but I tend to be skeptical when they remove something from food and then enrich food that doesn’t contain it naturally with said nutrient. I am more of a whole foods gal, and I would rather eat the bananas, onions, tomatoes and garlic. It is my reasoning that if I do, I’ll get so much more nutrition than from my cup of yogurt, glass of kefir or frozen yogurt bar.

So, I made my own frozen yogurt bars and they were good. I could identify all three ingredients in the recipe.

Blueberry frozen yogurt bars

1 1/3 cups nonfat plain yogurt

1 1/3 cups frozen wild blueberries*

2 2/3 tbsp honey

Place all ingredients into a blender. Puree until smooth. Pour smoothie into ¼ cup capacity popsicle molds. Freeze until solid.

* I used frozen wild blueberries which are a small variety of blueberry. This recipe has not been tested using a larger berry. If you use a larger berry, taste the mixture before you freeze it (this is a good idea anyway since my idea of sweet may not be yours). Adjust to add more fruit and/or honey to taste. If making a change to the recipe creates more yogurt mixture than will fit in your molds, just drink it, this is essentially a thin berry smoothie.

…and now for something completely different

Avocado. Mmmmm. Silky. Luscious. Cooling. Cake… Huh??? If the words avocado and cake make you want to have a Corona with lime to help soften the blow of having those two words appear in the same sentence, then this cake is probably not for you. You can leave now. There is a nice sunny beach somewhere with fish tacos and beer and guacamole. You are excused. If avocado and cake made you perk up and be curious, stick around with me for a minute, you won’t be disappointed.

I first became intrigued with the idea of avocado in a baked good after stumbling onto the recipe for avocado bread on the avocado.org site a couple of years ago. People use zucchini, carrots and bananas in baked goods. With it’s high fat content and creamy flesh, why not avocado too? My only problem: although I live in the middle of avocado country and I can get huge Hass avocados for a buck a piece, I am very miserly with them. I didn’t want to waste a good avocado or two on something that might suck.

This week, we managed to buy too many of these wonderful fruits, and like bananas, the window of yummy goodness is very short indeed. I had two avocados that were quickly heading past their prime. Today was the day to experiment.

The experiment went well. I have to admit that I was a little too bold with my experiment and the addition of chocolate chips, while well intentioned was possibly a mistake. They made the cake a little too rich. We tried a nibble of cake that somehow didn’t get polluted with chocolate and the dates and walnuts alone were just perfect. If you just have to have chocolate, it was pretty tasty but the cake would have been somehow more pure and elegant without the chocolate.

Why is this cake a surprise you ask? It surprised me with it’s super moist texture. Avocados are high in oil. If you look at the recipe, there is no added fat besides the flesh of the avocado. I used whole wheat pastry flour and yet, this cake was as moist as a cake made from cake mix. Just fabulous and yet another reason to drop the chocolate from the recipe so that you can enjoy the texture with just a little fruit and nuts to compliment it.

Avocado surprise cake

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

Zest from 1 large orange, chopped

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips, roughly chopped (optional)

½ cup fresh dates, chopped

½ cup walnuts

½ cup honey

¼ cup orange juice (about 1 large orange, juiced)

1 cup avocado (2 large), mashed until smooth

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ cup plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F. Oil and flour a bundt pan.

In a large bowl mix together, pastry flour, orange zest, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, chocolate chips (if using), dates and walnuts.

In another large bowl combine honey, orange juice, avocado, egg and yogurt. Mix until well combined.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until the cake is browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

How to season a wok

I’m very good at destroying things. It’s true. I’ve had two woks in the past. I followed the directions that came with these inexpensive carbon steel pans. Both times, no matter how well I cared for them, the seasoning came off and I rusted them most of the way through.

I love a good wok. A wok is so deep that you can pile the veggies into it and then crank up the heat and get a good sear on them. I’ve been wok-less for years and it’s been a major frustration.

A few years back, Gourmet did an article on the classic $15 wok. I saved the issue because the owner of the store that was profiled had instructions on how to season a wok and the instructions made so much more sense than the usual stove top method. I bought a wok and then forgot about it. Until today. Today was the day that a wok came back into my life.

I went hunting around the Gourmet website thinking that the instructions would be there, but of course I couldn’t find them so I’ll let you know what I did:

First, gather up what you will need:

A carbon steel wok

Steel wool

Dish soap

Vegetable oil

Paper towels

An old dish towel or wash cloth that you don’t mind damaging

Aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Your wok will have some sort of coating on the inside to keep it from rusting. Using some steel wool and dish soap, scrub the inside of the wok thoroughly to clean off this coating. Dry the wok with a dish cloth.

Now look at your wok. Does it have a wood or plastic handle? Plastic? Sorry, these instructions aren’t for you unless you can remove the handle. If you can remove the handle please do so now. If it is a wooden handle and the handle cannot be removed, wrap the handle in a wet dish cloth and wrap the cloth completely in aluminum foil.

Using a paper towel and some vegetable oil. Wipe oil all over the inside and outside of the wok. (If you like the look of the steel you can leave the outside surface unseasoned but I don’t recommend it, an unseasoned bottom was the source of my rust problems with the other woks). Put the wok in the hot oven and allow it to bake for 20 minutes. Make sure your room is well ventilated and run the range fan. This will cause smoke! After 20 minutes, remove the wok and let it cool for at least five minutes or until cool enough to handle. Using an oven mitt, grab the wok by the handle (the wok will be cool, but the handle will still be warm, be careful!) and take it to the sink. Scrub the inside of the wok with the steel wool, using hot water only, no soap. Don’t scrub enough to remove the layer of seasoning, you just want to scratch the surface up a little.

Repeat the oiling, baking cooling and scrubbing three or four more times until the wok is bronze colored. It’s now fully seasoned.

So what did I make with my newly seasoned wok? Tofu and Broccoli Stir fry from the June issue of Eating Well Magazine. Click here for the recipe, the only thing I changed was to double the garlic (I so love garlic!) and substitute honey for the sugar which I recommend. The honey made the sauce sweet but also so very flavorful. This was a delicious and easy recipe that used a lot of pantry items.

If you don’t already have a carbon steel wok, go out and get one! They are very cheap and a great addition to your kitchen. And…now you know how to properly season it! Oh and by the way… never use soap on your wok. A little kosher salt and a sponge are all you need to clean it up and keep it’s non-stick surface in great shape!