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Posts posted by Alcuin

  1. 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. I've made the observation before that European is "market food" and Asian is "pantry food". That is, most European cuisines can be built from raw, whole ingredients (either fresh or dried) typically found at a market. On the other hand, Asian food relies on having a deep pantry of prepared ingredients that are integral to the cooking.

    Soy Sauce

    Oyster Sauce

    Fish Sauce

    Hoisin Sauce

    Dried Black Beans


    Sambal Olek

    Kecap Manis

    Black Vinegar

    Red Vinegar

    Nobody would normally dream of making these at home.

    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. Yep, sorry, I think I got the wrong end of the stick with what you were saying; but it's amazing how many people believe you can actually taste the soil in the grapes.

    I do realise that minerals are present in wine, but (to use your example) you won't get higher concentrations of calcium in wines from vines grown on a highly calcareous soil. That's not the way that porting and translocation of minerals works.

    What you will get is grapes that ripen later and have lower sugar level and higher acid content than those grown on a sandy loam (for instance). (mostly due to the alkali nature of calcareous soils and the affect it has locking some nutrients away from vine accessibility)

    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. If you want to taste it, get a Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio and you will clearly taste the volcanic rock that characterizes its soil.

    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. 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. I am disgusted with the reactions of theoretically sophisticated forum members to the term "pink slime". If you have been consuming ground beef from a source and found it acceptable or even tasty and have now found out it contains "pink slime" and changed your mind you remind me of someone who eats a dish and likes it until they are informed it contains anchovies or liver.

    If the "pink slime" additive is healthy for you what difference should it make? Would this subject be hot topic if some PR activist had not thought up the term "pink slime". I am reminded of the campaign against farmed Atlantic salmon hybrids using the name "Frankenfish". Instead of an intelligent discussion of the pros and cons, we have a visceral reaction stirred up deliberately by negative marketing term. Those who accept the concept of eating the cow from nose to tail(now trendy) should welcome the conaervation of beef parts which would otherwise have gone to waste.

    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. Organic beef, chicken, fruits, nuts and vegetables and canned foods are okay to discuss but not organic milk? I don't understand. Food is food and milk is a large portion of the dairy that most people consume. I guess I should wait for someone else to bring it up next time.

    The organic market I referenced was in Santa Barbara circa 1978, Sunshine something. Mitch mentioned it once and we were apparently living in SB at the same time. Small world and all.

    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. 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. No strawman, alcuin. We were talking about organic foods, not evolution* or Africa. Raw milk was at one time sold in organic food markets when I was in college, back in ancient times. I picked it out as an example of what some think is a healthier product, when if not handled properly, can be quite deadly. Sort of like giving honey to a baby can be deadly since honey can contain botulism spores.

    * Proven, but this is not the place for that discussion.

    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. I dare say you have never been to Africa in a business capacity. Graft, it is Africa's middle name. It's first name is corruption. Anyway, Africa is not the topic of the thread and organic farming or foods are not going to save them from famine.

    Many people are proponants of raw dairy products on eG, as an example of organic farming and dairy farming in particular. I would submit that pasteurization has saved many, many lives by killing E. coli, tuberculosis, listeria and a number of other food-borne diseases. Remember that dairy cattle are not fussy and will lie in their or their fellows manure and an unwashed or not well-washed udder can yield contaminated milk. As well as cows who are not milked on schedule will develop disease and pass it on through their milk. Sanitary measures are often iffy at home dairies.

    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. Mitch, I would definitely encourage you to give Pomi another try. I've made several converts. It just takes some time to adapt to the reduced salt content and different behavior of the produce. I'll also note that I believe Muir Glen uses BPA-free packaging for its canned tomatoes.

    I'm eager to read some independent research on BPA in tomato packaging and whether it matters, and similar information on potatoes and apples.

    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. I said:

    We're not going to feed 6 or more billion people on locally grown, pesticide and fertilizer free food. Not without chopping down all the rainforests and draining every river and lake for irrigation.

    EatNopales said:

    That is a myth.

    Well, I'm glad that's cleared up! Care to cite some evidence. Peer reviewed evidence?

    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.

  16. Are there really things that you must eat organic? Probably not. There may be some benefits to organic practices for some kinds of meat and produce, but it's too hard to say what they are or if the small benefits are worth the extra output (in resources for the producer perhaps, and money from the consumer, etc.).

    You have to believe in the value of organic produce, really, just like you have to believe in many of the mysteries of science (I've never seen an electron, but I believe they exist). Trying to tell other people that they must act a certain way about something that's so nebulous as the "organic" label doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

    All that said, probably 90% of the produce I eat is organic, because I shop at a co-op that's right down the street from me. I don't shop there because its local and organic, but because they've got some of the finest produce, meat, and fish in town. It is expensive, but I pay for the quality.

    edited for clarity

  17. Rutabagas are starchier than turnips and beets. The texture would be the best way to differentiate if color won't. Rutabagas are like starchy turnips, and turnip are crisper in texture than fully cooked beets. Beets are more finely grained than turnips.

    In my experience, rutabagas are off white. They might have picked up some color from the beets, though, because beets leach pigment no matter what color they are. I've never seen them turn white though. The color dulls, but doesn't change.

    edited for clarity

  18. I'm not much of a Zinfandel person, but I'm going to recommend Turley because it's been head and shoulders above anything else I've had in my admittedly limited exploration. What I would do is get something like their "Juvenile" or another of their non-single vineyard offerings. The "Juvenile" in particular is pretty cheap for a Zin, and it will be interesting because it's made to be drunk young. You'll get to taste Zin in its teenage years, so to speak, intense and a little racy with gobs of fruit but a little unfocused and not all it can be yet. Then get a nice, older single vineyard offering from the same winemaker to show you the deeper, more focused intensity of the fruit and nice extras like leather, cedar, maybe a little bit of tobacco, etc.

    If you go this route, the Juvenile should be around $25 if pricing is anything like what it is here. Then you have $75 to put into a very nice bottle. And the contrast between the young and the well-developed (if not in age, in the extra care taken to make the wine) will tell you more about Zin than two $50 bottles in my opinion.

  19. Good fried chicken is high on my list: marinated in buttermilk (or equivalent, yogurt's a good sub; you need the enzymes), then double coated in seasoned flour and shallow fried. This is acutally probably my number one favorite.

    Sausages are important. Double cooked pork belly. BLT. Hamburgers. Big chunks of braised beef (something like brasato al Barolo or boeuf bourguignon). Roasted chicken.

    Whole roasted fish. Fish curry. Sashimi. Mackeral seared over high heat (or better yet, grilled), eaten with a relish of roasted peppers, tomatoes, and olives or something like that. Mackeral is my favorite go to fish-I love it.

  20. Unfortunately the subject of wine tasting does not seem to be a burning issue for perceptual psychologists but let's put some published science on the table.

    One published paper found using triangle testing that experts can more successfully choose the odd sample among three wines than novices [solomon, G. (1990). Psychology of novice and expert wine talk. American Journal of Psychology, 105, 495–517.]

    Experts and novices could similarly detect whether two wines were the same or different by smell alone [Valentin, D., Pichen, M., de Boisherbert, V., Abdi, H. (2000). What's in a wine name: When and why do wine experts perform better than novices. Poster presented at the 41st Psychonomic Meeting, New Orleans (USA).]

    Other studies have found that experts seem to develop a conceptual map of characteristics of different varietals that they can use to distinguish these wines [eg. Hughson, A. & Boakes, R. (2001)Perceptual and Cognitive Aspects of Wine Expertise,

    Australian Journal of Psychology, 53, 103-108.]

    In other words, published and peer reviewed studies show that you can develop a sensory schema of the characteristics of varietals and successfully perceive them.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there's no chemical basis behind winetasting and that experts cannot be correct about it. That's a heresy that you see trotted out all the time, but that I said above I think is BS.

    What I was inarticulately saying was that I don't think varietals, in general, are a good way to think about wine. If you take malbecs grown in Argentina and Cahors, they're not going to come off the same at all on the palate. The fact that they are the same varietal is not that meaningful. Guessing the varietal, when given the same grapes from all over the world, is going to be more a guessing game than a demonstration of skill. The wines will be different in concentration, texture, alcohol level, tannins, acidity, flavor, aroma, etc., even though they're from the same grape.

    Talking about varietals when talking about wine tasting is scientifically not very meaningful if you want to set up a controlled experiment to determine taste. So when Shalmanese says "3 reasonably well educated wine drinkers couldn't correctly tell 3 red wines of different varietals apart," that's scientifically meaningless. Maybe they couldn't tell the varietals apart (though maybe they could), but I'd bet they could talk about what the wines are doing and distinguish quality among them. If they couldn't, they're not reasonably well educated about wine.

  21. There are several hundred people in the world who have done the Master's of Wine qualification who have performed this task successfully in a standardised fashion in blind tastings. One would think that many more who have not chosen this path would be able to do so. The difference is skill development and expertise.

    Passing the Masters of Wine practical (three 12-wine blind tastings in which papers are written assessing the wines for variety, origin, winemaking, quality and style) doesn't necessarily mean that these people could accurately distinguish red wine varietals in a triangle or ABX test at a rate significantly above chance. In fact, the MoW practical doesn't in any way seem to assess for this skill. Regardless of whether they can or not, the fact that a minuscule percentage of the population can distinguish certain differences doesn't make those differences relevant in the real world when Joe Schmo is claiming that X is clearly superior to Y. And that's the point being made here by Shalmanese. In the vast majority of instances, when Joe Schmo is claiming that X is clearly superior to Y, the reality is that he can't accurately distinguish between X and Y in a properly controlled test.

    Maybe it's me but I shudder every time I see the phrase "reasonably well educated" before someone saying that this is proof that something doesn't work. Even more so when I see someone say that they need to see results first hand before they will believe them. Just because you or your friends cannot perceive differences doesn't mean that others can't.

    One of the issues, of course, is that even reasonably well educated and smart people can fail at this sort of thing. In fact, reasonably well educated and smart people with some level of expertise may be even more prone to making certain mistakes because they assume they're smart enough and experienced enough to "think around" the usual confounding factors and don't need to bother with a properly conceived, controlled and blinded test. Do a search back through the archives for the thread on the "wine clip" (a magnetic clip that goes around the neck of a wine bottle and purportedly improves the wine poured out of a "clipped bottle" by magnetism) and you will find some extremely smart, well educated and experienced people "testing" the wine clip and finding an unambiguous positive result.

    There is a lot of ridiculousness in the wine world. Faddish trends are often the name of the game for the vast majority of professionals and drinkers. The value of a wine in dollars is determined by the winemaker: it's not at all intrinsic to the wine and it is really just a guess on how much they can get from the combination of marketing, press, and how the wine itself comes off. A wine is often only as good as it seems to be, not typically how good it is.

    I'm sure you've experienced the same exact wine tasting very different in different circumstances. I have and I've made what I regard as bad buying decisions (not a bottle for me, but for a wine shop and by the case). It is too easy to make mistakes unless you remain very focused, especially after tasting 30 or so wines. I start to get some serious palate fatigue and have to focus even more.

    That said, when you talk about controlled blind tests, what variables would you exclude? There is more to wine than taste: there's aroma, color, and texture. On a bad day, you could give me two wines and I'd have trouble distinguishing their characteristics accurately. On a good day, I could do it decently well. But this is the thing: tasting for varietals is meaningless. I don't think people could do it very accurately, as you say, and even if they could it doesn't matter because varietals don't tell you everything about a wine. In fact, they tell you very little and are not the best heuristic to use when looking at a wine: you've got to include many many variables if you want to speak accurately about a wine.

    Perhaps my palate just isn't disciplined enough (I'm very far from a master taster), but I really have my doubts when I hear yet another report that wine tasting is worthless because two buck chuck won another contest or wine tasters can't tell the difference between red and white when blinded. Here's the heresy that I think is BS: I can taste cheap wine a mile away, even on a really bad day. You could probably fool me by giving me a heavy bodied white wine colored red, or a light bodied highly acidic red tasted blindfolded. But so what? I don't think that proves much because you're essentially rigging the game.

    There is so much going on with wine, that you'd have to think very carefully what to control for. Books like Francois Chartier's Taste Buds and Molecules will hopefully keep us looking in the right direction.

  22. there are so many reasons i won't buy pre-ground meat. E .Coli (i like my occasional burger rare in the center), and now pink slime.

    sorry--it may be perfectly safe, but i don't want ammonia-washed beef by-product in my beef. when i want ground beef for something, i either buy it someplace where they will sell me a hunk of chuck and grind it for me right then, or i will either use the kitchen-aid grinder or just pulse it in the food processor, depending on its intended use. just my solution.

    Your diligence is admirable. But I'll trust my grandchildren to the folks with the lab coats. It's not a new science, and it feeds millions.

    I get your point about the folks with the lab coats knowing what they're doing when it comes to the science of producing edible meat. The ammonia solution used as an antimicrobial is "generally recognized as safe" by the USDA, and clearly scores of people have been eating meat containing pink slime and not getting sick (i.e. there is no epidemic of illness resulting from using it).

    On the other hand, a report by ABC says that the USDA's own scientists suggested the use of pink slime should be labelled. Clearly, they don't think it's just the same as ground beef. That's because it's not ground beef. Ground beef is beef that has been ground in a grinder, not meat particles separated from fat by a centrifuge, then treated with ammonia because it is safe to assume the stuff is riddled with bacteria. Pink slime and ground beef aren't the same, so I agree with the scientists that it should be labelled as such.

    There's a reason why people don't like the idea of something like this, even beyond the fact that it is not labelled (a sin of omission). It's because when people think of ground beef, they think of ground beef. When it comes down to it, I don't want to eat a meat-product. I want to eat meat. If the meat has to be produced by means other than growing an animal and butchering it, I become suspicious of it. It's pretty clear that producers with a profit motive will do anything to wring that last bit of value out of their raw material (the cow). That profit motive will drive them up to the limit, just this side of safety. The issue with feeding this to kids is that we typically think we take extra safety measures to protect them (and we do). In this case, using pink slime seems to run counter to that. Just because using pink slime is possible and cheap, doesn't mean we should use it.

    I also think Jaime Oliver's methods are absurd. Dousing meat with ammonia is over the top. This is an issue that requires careful consideration, like we're doing here, not made for TV antics.

  23. My mom had a job like this, but it was in PA not on an island. Outside of the island stuff, this reads like a description of the job she worked at right down to the on-call part of it. It was not a summer gig though, it was full time. She even had an apartment at the estate, but never used it. If I recall, she complained about pretty normal personal chef stuff when she had the job. She was happy to leave it for a better job, especially because breakfast, lunch, and dinner is a lot of work. Making three meals a day, and not being overly repetitious, except by request, was as I recall the tough part. Then again, she liked that kind of challenge. It was intense for her, I think, so I'd say if you're not up for working 24 hours a day or thereabouts, best to forget it. And she wasn't on an island so she could go home and did (though the phone was always at reach of course). The insularity of the job would be magnified by having to live on an island.

  24. I've read a little about this, and the article seems genuine. It seems that people are really lining up at the Olive Garden in Grand Forks and driving there because there are only a handful of the chains in the state.

    Mockery of this article is the internet losing all perspective (an oxymoron I know). The article may be totally appropriate for Grand Forks. Mocking something like this is a number one indicator of small-mindedness. On the other hand, she is most certainly writing in a world and for an audience I have never experienced.

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