Wise Cooking

Whenever I go to bake, I have two go-to books that I like to check first. One of them is Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food, and the other is Shirley O'Corriher's Cookwise. I imagine I'll be adding The Breadmaker's Apprentice at some point, but I don't have it just yet. What makes me so interested in the first two books? [amtap book:isbn=0688102298] [amtap book:isbn=1584793414] [amtap book:isbn=1580082688] Alton Brown's book is great because it divides up the cooking by preparation type, which I think all bakers should start doing. If you're using yeast, it's the Straight Dough method, and if you're making bubbles by incorporating sugar into solid butter, then it's the Creaming Method. You get a much more firm understanding of the different baking processes than you would just by reading the recipes. As an example, I was transcribing the family Coffee Cake recipe over Thanksgiving, and I noticed it used the Creaming Method. This saved me no end of writing, and I was able to grab the important information. Also, there was a mistake in the recipe as it was written, and I was able to fix it when I first went to make it (the chemical leavener was added to the wrong bit in the recipe). It's easy to use, and it has some great applications (what some people would call "recipes"). Shirley's Cookwise is a completely different beast. Her chapter divisions are based more on the material being studied, such as sugars, fats, or bread. What assured me that I made the right decision in buying her book, and the thing I point to whenever I want someone to know about it, is the thorough way she treated flour. Flour seems simple on the surface - All Purpose Flour, Bread Flour, Pastry Flour, etc. You pick one based on the recipe you're using, depending on how much protein your recipe needs. Pastry flour has relatively little protein, so it's a soft flour, and bread flour has much more protein, so it's a hard flour. However, Shirley points out that AP flours from different regions have different levels protein, so Southern brands are softer than Northern brands, and bleaching has an effect on the hardness, and so on. Then she shows you how you can determine, for any given flour, what the percentage of protein in it is. Not that you may ever need it, but if you do, it's there. The interesting thing about the recipes in Cookwise is that they are geared for success. They are not made to be simple, and they are not made to be quick. They are made to work. Every time. Any little trick that would increase the probability of your bread coming out perfectly is added in, and she makes notes of why the techniques or ingredients were added in to any given recipe, so you can understand what you would be doing if you left it out or modified it. In all, I highly recommend both books, and I would likely be lost without them at this stage in my baking. They're not books that you would use because you just need a quick idea of what you want to bake for breakfast this morning, but they are books to get you to the stage that you can master the concepts involved in baking.

Alton Brown reups for another three years

Alton Brown reups for another three years: "

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Alton Brown with a handmixerIt is my opinion that Alton Brown is one of the best things about the Food Network these days. Rachael Ray jumped the shark when she teamed up with Oprah and I can not deal with the train wreck that is Sandra Lee. But Alton continually provides great programming that expertly pairs education and entertainment.

He'll continue to produce his fun and informative content for another three years, as today he signed a new contract that will keep him emceeing Iron Chef America and manning the stove at Good Eats. Additionally, he'll be taking his 'Feasting on Asphalt' concept to the water with a program called 'Feasting on Waves' that will air this summer. In this show, he'll explore the waterways of the Caribbean, eating, joking and exploring in his trademark way. I can't wait!

[via Food Network Addict]"

(Via Slashfood.)

Violet, you're turning violet, Violet!

Purple TomatoBiology at the beginning of the third millennium, the 21st century, the year 2006, is much like Physics was in the 1950s. We've recently uncovered the tools and built up the requisite knowledge to make huge strides in our ability to understand what happens with life, as well as our ability to control it. With that knowledge comes fear, legislation, potential, likely a severe catastrophe or two, some eventual wisdom (hopefully), and ... purple tomatoes? You may recall reading in the news that blueberries are a super-food, containing secret chemicals that help prevent cancer. These chemicals are called Anthocyanins, and aren't so much a secret as they are hard to remember. Still, anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants, and antioxidants are useful in preventing oxidation, which prevents molecular degradation, which prevents mutations in DNA, which prevents cancer. Tomatoes, on the other hand, are an extremely popular foodstuff, second most popular worldwide (next to potatoes, a cousin to the tomato), and so wouldn't it make sense to piggy-back on that popularity to bring even more cancer-fighting abilities to one of the most popular fruits in the world? There are two schools of thought on that: yes, and no. Okay, there are many, many schools of thought. Some people think that anything science can do to help fight cancer is great. Other people think that tampering with the genetic code is likely to cause us trouble in the future due to the law of unintended consequences. Other people think tampering with the genetic code is playing God, and therefore wrong. Alton Brown thinks that modifying foods to have healthy properties of existing foods is the wrong way of going about things. (Scroll to the bit about the Omega Pigs.) The gist, if I may extrapolate from his one rant, is that blueberries are already blue because they contain the appropriate anthocyanins, so why not just eat blueberries? Of course, if he feels differently about tomatoes vs pigs (and I have no idea if he does or not), it may be because it's a lot easier to grow tomatoes than blueberries (hence one of the reasons they're so popular). Generally, with genetically engineered crops, the idea is to give beneficial traits to crops that are easy to grow in areas that don't easily have access to whatever the genetic engineering is allowing. For example, adding vitamins to wheat or rice, so if the farmers in some area of the world can only grow wheat or rice, they receive far more nutrients than they otherwise would have. Alternately, if you don't have access to organic, human-safe pesticide, build it into the crop. Saves from having to spray (especially if you don't have easy access to an aerosolization technology), but with the exact same benefits. Do the researchers at the Oregon State University have the emerging world agriculture in mind, or commercial possibilities, or is it just to see if they can do it at all? Probably some of each, really. Interestingly, the seeds are apparently available for commercial growth as well as home growers. I'm very curious to know what a blue tomato tastes like, and if it's sweet and delicious, that's at least as important as whether it is heavy in antioxidants. After all, I can always eat blueberries, but an even tastier tomato is always worth finding.

Podcast 11 - A really quick update

A really quick update. No, I mean it, really quick. It looks like I've overextended my time a little bit for the past month and the next few weeks, so the site is going to have to slumber until mid-October. In the meantime, here are some links for a few audio programs that might be of interest to my Podcast listeners, as well as those who read the site and who are also into audio programming.

Lunch Box Stove

12 Volt StoveFor those of us who watched the fourth episode of Alton Brown's Feasting on Asphalt, there were plenty of items of note. There was the unfortunate accident, the nice police officer who managed to get his own TV show, and the revelation that Alton Brown pretty much makes coffee the same way I do (and, unlike most of my cooking, my coffee making technique was mine before I ran across Good Eats, so it was a nice case of parallel development). However, probably the most notable part of the show was the introduction of a new gadget, the Portable 12V Stove in the shape of a lunch box. I've been accused, at least once, of being awfully influenced by Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently novels. Still, as with the coffee, I'd learned about myself, that I can go from just learning of something's existence to owning it in the space of about 45 seconds, happened well before The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul was written. Though perhaps not before the Dr. Who episode which it eerily resembles was written. In any case, I do not own the 12V Portable Stove shaped like a lunchbox, but that's mainly because I'm saving up for a honeymoon, and it would be frowned upon if I bought something that I have absolutely no use for when that money could go towards espresso in Rome, right? This portable stove can heat to 300 degrees, which means I wouldn't be baking any bread in it, but it sounds great for a stew, or the meatloaf that Alton Brown made, or some manner of cobbler, perhaps. You know, when I go on a road trip to...somewhere. Okay, I really have no use for it. Tailgating, perhaps. Not that I go to sporting events. Really small chili cookoffs. Ummmm...bah. It's $30, and sold out 'til mid-November (Possibly because of Feasting on Asphalt, but still, a great little gift for someone who would not have any reason to get it for him- or herself.

That's how the cookie colors

I was watching The Cookie Clause episode of Good Eats a moment ago, and he mentioned that powdered food pigment is better in many cases than gel, paste, or certainly liquid. Liquid because it's weak in color and will throw off the recipe, gel because it'll crack a royal icing, and gel and paste because they contain preservatives and the like. It's tough to find powdered food color, at least in Charlottesville, so I figured I'd compile links to them. There's a few more, but I figured that this would pretty much get you by, plus a little bit more. I would recommend at least getting red, yellow, blue, black, and white. Red, yellow, and blue will give you your base colors, and black and white will allow you to darken and lighten the colors as necessary. If you're working with a white substance such as royal icing, then you can just add that to desaturate it rather than the white food coloring.