Friday, January 27, 2012

Pizza is still a vegetable.

Today the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced new guidelines for school lunches, intended to make the lunches healthier. These new guidelines, including limiting the caloric range for school lunches and requiring that each lunch have at least two servings of vegetables, seem like a step in the right direction. Despite all of the general pats on the back I see going around the internet, however, the guidelines are still far from perfect. Thanks to agri-business lobbies in congress, the tomato paste in pizza is still counted as a vegetable, and the proposal to limit servings of french fries (another "vegetable") did not make the cut. Baby steps, congress, baby steps...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Science of Beating Eggs

My friend Lynn tipped me off to a neat story on the NPR website about the science of beating eggs. Read it if you'd like to get some pro-tips (from a real chef!) on beating egg whites into a foam for use in a souffle (or other whipped-egg-white application, such as meringue).

The first trick is to separate your eggs (that is, separate the yolks from the whites) without letting any of the egg yolks contaminate your whites. This is important because, while the egg white is entirely made of protein, the yolk contains some fat. When you whip the egg whites, you denature some of the proteins, which unfold and expose some hydrophobic areas. These hydrophobic areas would rather stick to each other than to the surrounding water, so the proteins stick together, creating a sort of net that can surround air bubbles, creating a foam. This foam is what makes whipped egg whites fluffy. If you contaminate your whites with the fat from the egg yolks, the hydrophobic areas of the egg white proteins will interact with the fat from the yolks instead of each other, leaving you with no net of denatured protein in which to catch bubbles. No bubbles means no foam.

Another note: if you over-beat the egg whites, continuing to beat them after a proper foam has formed, the egg white proteins will coagulate completely, sticking together so strongly that they force out all of the liquid between them, leaving you with a clumpy, separated, egg white mess.

If you're more of a visual learner and are interested in learning this useful kitchen technique, check out this how-to slideshow from Serious Eats or this excellent segment on souffle from the ever-informative Alton Brown from Good Eats.

Related: The Science Behind Poaching an Egg

(Image: Soufflé, a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 image from David_Turner's photostream)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Growing Vegetables In the Cloud

Artists rendering of the new Nikkei vegetable growing system from Panasonic.(Image via TechCrunch)

It seems that lately food trends have been moving in the low-tech direction. Slow food, local, organic, grass-fed, heritage, biodynamic - all sorts of words describing us basically getting back to our roots with regards to growing produce and farming animals. Mostly I'm inclined to think this is a good thing. There is all sorts of evidence to show that many aspects of the modern industrial-agricultural complex are harming our environment and hurting our bodies. However, we can't go back to the way we farmed food 100 years ago without creating a shortage of food for our current ever-increasing population. What's the fix?

One way could be to blend modern technology with old farming practices. For example, growing organic heritage greens in a high-tech rooftop garden. I discovered one company, Gotham Greens, doing something similar. This company is growing local vegetables and herbs for restaurants and consumers in Brooklyn, New York City, in a high-tech hydroponic rooftop garden set up in an abandoned bowling alley. Also recently, Panasonic introduced a new product for people who desire to grow vegetables, indoors or our, at home with a super high-tech system that allows users to monitor vegetable growth and manage the garden using a cloud-based computing system. Right now the system is prohibitively expensive for most people at around $8000, but if there is enough demand for this type of technology, every home could soon have its own high-tech victory garden, helping the effort in the war on carbon-footprints and fossil fuel dependence.