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Alcuin

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    Madison, WI
  1. Cooking with "Hot Sour Salty Sweet"

    I've been cooking a lot from this book lately. The Smoked fish and Green Mango salad has been a standout so far, as is the Chicken and Rau Ram salad. Last night I did the Thai grilled eggplant salad, lemongrass beef, peanut sauce, and cucumber/lettuce/herb plate with daikon pickle (and sticky rice of course). Almost every dish I make from this book I like, but I couldn't get the tapioca dough for the tapioca dumplings with pork. HSSS is a bit too succinct on how to make this dough--is there a trick to making it that's not in the book?
  2. Good observation about the basic differences between cuisines. I'd take out Sambal Olek and Sriracha from this list though. As long as you have a blender/food processor, they're both pretty easily made and far better than the bottled versions (James Oseland for the former and David Thompson for the latter). I use them from the bottle, but for different applications (the bottled versions I use more like I would ketchup). I do agree that freshly made curry paste is better than Mae Ploy (right now I'm eating some leftovers from a fresh green curry I made last night), but the Mae Ploy still has a place in my kitchen. Other things would be: Jarred roasted red peppers (favorite brand is Divina, they're a cut above the rest) Canned tomatoes Coconut milk (I don't have the will to make this) Salted anchovies IQF vegetables (particularly broccoli and okra) There are more that I can't think of I'm sure. These are things I use all the time and couldn't do better myself. I've toyed with salting my own anchovies, and maybe I will but only out of curiosity and I doubt mine will be better than what I can buy.
  3. That makes sense. From what I understand, wines can often have high calcium levels but I'm not sure how that works and why one might have a higher mineral content that another. I've read a few journal articles about it, but I'm no scientist after all. This is something I'll keep looking into though. And you're right, when people talk about wine what they say often makes no sense. There's a lot of half baked notions out there about wine, which is really too bad.
  4. No you won't. What you will taste is the impact the growing conditions have upon the vines and the fruit, and therefore the finished wine. You might perceive that as the same flavour as the soil; and, in fact, growing on this kind of soil may give certain characteristics that are not found from the same variety and clone growing on other soils. However, what you will not be able to taste is the soil itself in the finished wine. Perhaps I was being unclear. No, you won't "taste the soil," whatever that even means if taken literally. You will taste the impact of the soil on the wine. This impact can be accurately characterized as having "minerality," especially in the case of the Lacryma Christi. You will taste the volcanic rock: this is a shorthand way to say you will taste the impact of the volcanic soil on the wine. Clearly, you are not literally drinking bits of the soil (if this is what you thought I meant). Minerals are present literally in wine though. Calcium, Potassium, and Iron seem to show up particularly. I would guess that when wines are grown in soil high in chalk and limestone, higher concentrations of calcium are going to make it into the wine. The presence of these minerals is as close as you're going to get to "tasting the soil." edited for grammar
  5. Minerality is not at all a myth. If you want to taste it, get a Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio and you will clearly taste the volcanic rock that characterizes its soil. You can taste it both in the white and the red. This has nothing at all to do with confusion between sense of taste and sense of place. I've tasted lots of people on it, non-experts all, and they can clearly taste it. Some find it off-putting; I've had some red Lacryma that, for me, is undrinkable because it literally tastes way too much like rock. But minerality also affects the mouthfeel of the wine too. A Pinot grigio from Alto Adige is very neutral in flavor and light bodied, but the minerality of the soul in which its grown give it a heaviness on the tongue that makes it feel more viscous. The effect is similar in mineral waters. To give some concrete examples, compare a Pinot grigio from Alto Adige and one from the Veneto (which will have less minerality) and you'll see the difference. When it comes to minerality, sometimes you have to look for it but it's there. Some times it quick literally smacks of drinking rocks. So to say that wine tasters who talk about tasting rocky soil or the sensation of minerality are actually mistaking their sense of taste and are actually talking about some vague idea of "place," isn't really true. This idea perpetuates the unfortunate notion that what wine tasters talk about are just vague notions dressed up in sensual certainties that aren't really there. What's really true is that you can detect these things with the senses. I'm sure there are a lot of snake oil salespeople out there selling an impression of wine that isn't true. For many wine professionals, it's a business and they are out to make money and promote their means of making money. But just because some people misuse a term like "minerality" doesn't mean that you can't actually appreciate the minerality of a wine. In fact, I think it's a pretty important aspect of some, though not all, wines.
  6. Wok Cooking Over a Chimney Starter?

    I've done the wok in coals. My coals where very hot and plentiful, which made my wok ridiculously hot. Hot enough to burn the seasoning off the bottom of my cast iron wok. When you do this, keep in mind that you will have to work extremely fast, likely faster than you've ever cooked before unless you've cooked over a 100000+ BTU wok burner or something similar before. I cooked three dishes in about as many minutes, and I felt like I was always behind! I would put in the oil, then the aromatics, stir once (no time for more than that), then the meat, stir until nicely brown, then the sauce, stir to toss, and you're done. More stirring and time than that and you will burn the aromatics. Think of your active time in increments of 15 or 30 seconds, not minutes, and you'll be in the right frame of mind. The results were great--definitely the best I've ever cooked and the only time I've been able to achieve the elusive wok hei at home. The meat browned beautifully, but the cooking was so fast that it was only just done inside and incredibly juicy. Cooking in the coals is great, but difficult. Starting with the chimney would probably be easier to manage in terms of how much heat you're giving the wok. I'm going to give that a shot sometime soon.
  7. Pink Slime

    Talk about theoretically sophisticated! You're making a whole lot of assumptions. People don't typically appreciate being talked down to as if they are faux-sophisticates or children grossed out upon finding that they've eaten food they think they don't like. So, let me tell you my reasons for being against this stuff. I won't speak for others in these forums, but for me it has nothing to do with the term "pink slime." Would you prefer to call it "boneless lean beef trimmings"? That's a pretty outrageously misleading term. I'll just call it "stuff" from here on out. What I react against is this: due to a profit motive that seeks to wring ever more out of the raw product, beef distributors began selling this stuff for human consumption whereas before it was deemed fit only for pet food. Does this seem like progress to you? Also, what do you mean by "healthy"? You seem to suggest that healthy means "it won't cause you immediate or visible harm." Otherwise, I can't see how this stuff is healthy in the sense that it is good for your health, the commonly accepted defining of "healthy." Why is this stuff sprayed with ammonia? Because it is heated to 100F to loosen the "meat" so it can be centrifuged off. As I'm sure you're aware, 100F is prime growing conditions for bacteria. The ammonia is there because the meat is put well within the danger zone according to USDA recommended guidelines. But it's ok if its hidden in what is marketed as ground chuck or ground sirloin? Give me a break. If this were done in a restaurant don't you think inspectors would be all over it? That's why the idea that this is anything like nose to tail eating is the most ridiculous red herring. This is not about taking some nice sweatbreads and lovingly preparing them. Do you really think nose to tail eating is anything like heating beef bones to 100F and centrifuging every last particle off of them, treating it with ammonia to kill the bacteria you just created, and then putting it into ground beef that is labelled as ground chuck or ground sirloin, or at the very least rests on the assumption that the only thing in the package is ground meat and not centrifuged ammonia treated meat paste? Searing some liver and serving it with onions is a far cry from this. But how about this, let's just properly label the stuff as an additive, using a neutral term that doesn't conceal what the substance is but that represents it for what it is as objectively as possible (sorry, but this is not likely to be a positive term in that case). Then you can eat it all you want, and everyone who wants to can avoid it. Problem solved. Also, as a sidenote, I haven't been eating this stuff for years. I've been grinding my own beef since I got my kitchenaid and when I do go to restaurants for a burger, the meat doesn't have an additives. But that's just me, and I'm lucky to live in a place where that's possible.
  8. It's not the topic, it's the way you use it that makes a straw man fallacy what it is. Anyway, the idea of an organic market brings up an interesting point which is that things have changed a lot since 1978. The rise of Whole Foods has taken advantage of the cache and murkiness of what organic food is and what it's benefits are, which I think is unfortunate. I think many people associate organic food with this kind of boutique experience and that really pigeon-holes organic food. It shouldn't be that way; as EatNopales says, agricultural subsidies obscure the real cost of food. There are a lot of things that get in the way of a clear view of what organic food is and isn't, or what it can and can't be. Whole Foods and subsidies actually obscure what things are important to eat organic or aren't. I'm not surprised this conversation turned into a battle over what organic food is and isn't, but that's really just a consequence of the complexity of the issue and the infancy of our knowledge and thinking about it. We're not ready to talk about what organic foods are important to eat over conventionally farmed food.
  9. Lao-style mortar and pestle

    I have one of those, but I bought it for around $5 at an Asian market. I only use it for the SE Asian salads, but it's worthwhile because it's got more capacity than my granite mortar and pestle. It's also more bullet shaped, which is great because you make the dressing in the bottom of the mortar and it doesn't splash out when you're mixing the salad. If you make a lot of salads, it's worth it. You just might be able to find a cheaper one if that matters to you.
  10. Sorry, but that was definitely a straw man argument. Nobody was talking raw milk, and I don't think raw milk and organic farming practices are really analogous at all. Connecting the two really begs the question, and attacks a viewpoint nobody said they held. That's the definition of the straw man fallacy. Also, what's an "organic market"? I shop at a co-op that's probably one of the crunchiest in the country, the Willy Street Co-op, but it's not an organic market. Perhaps we're talking Whole Foods then? Count me as somebody who thinks that Whole Foods is a boutique "shopping experience" that I do think promotes the misapprehension that organic equals healthy. It's all about marketing. Whole Foods is not the ideal market: if organic food is going to work, it can't be boutique. Then again, many people know this about Whole Foods (even though many do not), and I don't think raw milk has such a healthy image. Most people understand the benefits of pasteurization. Or maybe this just seems the case because I live in the dairy state and the milk industry is pretty strong around here (e.g., non-dairy creamers were banned from restaurants because the dairy industry wanted to maintain milk consumption...).
  11. What does raw milk have to do with organic products? I don't see the connection, and I think I see some straw peeking out of the sides of this argument... There are a lot of reasons why organic farming is important. I'm not sure of the health claims myself, but neither can anyone else here be so sure that it doesn't have benefits. It's an open question, to say the least. Skepticism is very important, but its not a substitute for deep consideration. I see a lot of skepticism in arguments against organic food, but not a lot of deep consideration of what we know and don't know, and what may be possible or not. To say that organic food is practically worthless because its benefits are not proven is unfortunate. There are a lot of things still "unproven" by science, like the theory of evolution. We can't "prove" it because no one's been around long enough to see it, but if you look into the theory it makes too much sense not to be true. Similarly, its hard to prove that organic farming has health benefits because there are so many variables involved. On the other hand, there's not a lot to be skeptical about when it comes to organic fertilizers. Petrochemical fertilizers are non-renewable. Artificial fertilizers based on fossil fuels, to my mind, represent a backwards looking way of thinking about agriculture. The benefits of organic farming practices, environmentally speaking, seem to me to be pretty good. Talking about feeding Africa, as I said above, is meaningless. Nobody's mobilizing the grand technology of modern farming to stamp out famine in the world. Could it be done? Sure. But for how long? So maybe its a good idea to pursue alternatives. Organic farming practices are something we should be thinking about making more efficient, rather than denigrating them in favor of conventional methods. Why? Humans produced food for thousands of years using non-industrial methods. There's probably something we can learn from that, rather than presuming that modern technology is the only answer. Are the practices of the past as efficient as they can be? Of course not: that's why we need to think about how to make them better. Ultimately, we're going to have to pay the piper when it comes to our treatment of the environment. We should probably start thinking about that now. Organic farming provides one way to do that.
  12. To get back on track... I find myself drinking a gruner veltliner tonight, and noticed that the label says that it's made with organic grapes. I've seen a lot of wines that are organic or biodynamic, but it doesn't seem like most wines I drink make a big deal out of it. I certainly don't pay much attention to organic wines. I also have the sense that a lot of wines may be organic, or close to it, but don't have the certification. It seems to me that wine makers that want to produce good wine aren't using pesticides. But I actually don't know. This is just an assumption I've always made. I don't really pay much attention to organic wine, but think it might not make a big difference unless you're drinking Yellow Tail or $2 Trader Joe's wine (who knows what they do to make a $2 wine). What's the thinking about organic wine?
  13. I use Muir Glen and they switched to non BPA cans about a year or so ago. I realized this when I noticed a distinctly tinny taste where there wasn't one before. I still use Muir Glen, but don't like it as much. I've tried Pomi, but the only tomatoes I can get from them are pureed or diced and I like whole plum tomatoes so I'm sticking with the Muir Glen.
  14. To speak to Fat Guy's question about what we eat that's organic or not. Here goes: Vegetables: everything organic, except when I buy from the Chinese grocer (definitely not organic) or Hmong farmers at the farmer's market (may be organic, may not be). Eggs: I eat Phil's eggs which are certified humane but not organic. They are a dollar cheaper than organic eggs. I use Sassy Cow milk whenever I use milk, but I don't keep it around. For butter I use "Local Source." Interestingly they don't use rGBH but note on the package that there's no significant difference between using it or not. I eat Willow Creek Farms pork which is organic and humane, and beef, lamb, and sometimes pork from a co-op called Black Earth Meats. I try to buy the grass fed from Black Earth, since the organic is more expensive. For chicken I use good old Bell and Evans, since it's cheaper than the other chicken usually available to me, and I've gotten used to air dried chicken which is way better. For rice, I use the 25lb bag I get at the Chinese grocer. For AP flour I usually use Gold Medal, but for some other stuff like rye I use the organic stuff from the bulk bins. Sometimes I buy Choice beef from a market a little further away than where I usually go, and I'm sure it's not organic because it's too cheap for that. This is often a huge hunk of chuck for grinding into burgers or making a pot roast out of. The grassfed/organic stuff is prohibitively expensive for that. If I want a big fat steak, I usually go to Whole Foods and buy whatever they have. I'm lucky to have some really good sources for food around me. The organic stuff is typically (though not always) more expensive, but if you shop intelligently it's actually not too bad (buy what's cheap, often what's in season, and find a way to use that). For salmon, I usually eat wild because that tends to be cheaper in my market for some reason. I'm not sure why. I avoid farmed shrimp from anywhere but the US or Canada like the plague. The environmental impact and the way shrimp are farmed in many places in Asia are very scary. I eat a lot of mackeral and sardines, because they are full flavored and cheap. Most of this stuff, I buy because it's the best I can get. The environmental or health benefits are a great bonus though, and I have to say I've gotten used to it. It would be hard to go back, because I like the choices that I've made for a lot of reasons at this point. That said, I'm not going to buy produce or meat or anything of bad quality just because it's organic. That's where I draw the line.
  15. There's no such thing as scientific evidence of the kind it seems you're looking for about something has never happened or will happen in the future. That's because there's no empirical data on it, since no one has tried to feed six billion people and we have no experience of the future. But that's why we have arguments to go where no man has ever gone before. Like this one. Appeals to "science" are often based much more on faith than on empirical evidence. Science is great, but there are so many questions it doesn't or can't answer, like this one. There's really no definitive way to say right now what the benefits and drawbacks of organic farming, or eating organic food. The science isn't there. To talk about the benefits of conventional farming for feeding the world, I'll believe it when I see it. It's possible, but there's no evidence to back up something that has never happened. On the other hand, we are beginning to learn about the environmental problems associated with conventional farming. If we were to compare organic to inorganic fertilizers and look at their environmental impacts, that's where it's possible to point to some evidence. It seems to me that the evidence points to a much worse environmental impact for inorganic fertilizers.
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