mattbell: (Default)
Why are desserts too sweet?  Why don't they put yellow masala curry mix, paprika, uncandied ginger, copious amounts of nutmeg, or pepper into cupcakes?  What happens if we alter the flour/egg balance?  We are here to answer these questions.  Like good scientists, we will create lots of different samples, and then taste them all.  

Last time we discovered some interesting things trying to make the darkest dark chocolate cupcakes we could.  This time, we're going to mess with spices.

This will be at a house in Pacifica, not my house.  The event will run roughly 7pm-11pm.  I can take carless people with me if thet take BART to my house.  

LMK if you're interested.
mattbell: (Default)
Here are the results from our baking-very-dark-things adventure -- my attempt to create bittersweet desserts that aren't available in the market.

Recipe #1 -- a standard dark chocolate cupcake recipe (makes 6 cupcakes)

1/4 cup unsweetened chocolate powder (used Dagobah brand)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 whole egg
1/2 egg yolk
1/8 tsp vanilla

Recipe #2 -- modified version of recipe #1:

1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons (almost 1/2 cup) unsweetened chocolate powder (used Dagobah brand)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 stick butter
4 tsp sugar (1/3 the original amount)
1/2 whole egg
1/2 egg yolk

Recipe #3 -- recipe 2 + a dash of Yellow Masala Curry powder.

------------

Frostings:
Frosting #1 was whipping cream + a small amount of sugar + vanilla
Frosting #2 was whipping cream + a small amount of sugar + vanilla + unsweetend chocolate powder
Frosting #3 was whipping cream + a small amount of sugar + vanilla + ground nutmeg (1/2 nut for 6 cupcakes of frosting)

------

Recipe #1 -- the standard recipe -- was a bit on the sweet side but had great texture.
Recipe #2 -- the low-sugar, extra-chocolate recipe -- had a less sproingy texture due to lack of sugar, was a little doughy in terms of the flavor, had somewhat limited expression of the chocolate flavor despite the extra chocolate, but was at the right level of sweetness for me.
Recipe #3 -- the yellow Masala curry -- had the texture problems of Recipe #2 but had the best flavor.  It's proved once and for all that yellow curry belongs in cupcakes.  

Going forward, we are going to try modifying recipes #2 & #3 to add a bit of salt to enhance the chocolate flavor and another egg to help create a more spongey cupcake texture.  

Frosting #3 was the most interesting -- the intense nutmeg flavor only slightly cut by sugar added a strong kick to the frosting.  

----

Thanks to Aviva for providing the cooking mastery and to everyone else for helping.  

----


Baking Dark Things  Baking Dark Things  Baking Dark Things
Baking Dark Things

After baking, we played Bananagrams.  Look closely at the crossword on the lower left.  Someone's mind is a little dirty.

Baking Dark Things

Also, this is a Water Caltrop, a relative of the Water Chestnut.  The flavor is uninteresting, but the fruit looks like something out of Hades:


P1160846  Water Caltrop - the strangest fruit in the world


mattbell: (Default)
 Most desserts are too sweet for me.  When there's a range of sweetnesses available, I almost always choose one of the least sweet options.  When eating chocolate, I usually go for extra dark (70-90%).  

However, it never occurred to me to simply make my own less-sweet desserts.  I'm usually too lazy to bake, but it could be a lot of fun to do as a special occasion.  I want to make extra-dark chocolate brownies, semi-sweet spiced cookies with nutmeg or masala curry mixed into the dough, and other concoctions.  I want to play around with different sugar levels to see what works.  The results could be evaluated and graphed while stomachs are filled.  This could be a total disaster or it could be a lot of fun, or perhaps both.  

I don't even *own* any sugar right now.  I remember a woman I dated a while back was shocked by the fact that I had many different kinds of tea but no sweeteners.  

Anyone want to play along?  Ping me and we'll figure out a date to do this.
mattbell: (Default)
Lots of people are enamored with the idea of eating locally produced food as a way of saving energy.  It turns out that it often isn't true.   

Locally produced food can end up tasting better, especially if you buy it freshly picked from a farmer's market and happen to live somewhere awesome like Califormia where crops can grow easily.  However, it's a mistake to assume that the energy costs are substantially lower, or that what works in San Francisco would work in New York. 

This op-ed piece breaks down the energy costs involved in food production.  It turns out the vast majority of cost is incurred in preparation... your grocery runs and the fuel required to cook the food.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/20/opinion/20budiansky.html

I really wish environmentalists analyzed things like this more often. 
mattbell: (Default)
I'm not thrilled that this is happening for a sugary beverage, but the concept is fantastic:

Coke has made a custom drink machine that will mix drinks on command

Here are some areas I'd rather see it in:
- Granolas.  Most granolas are way too sugary.  I want to be able to pick the mix of ingredients for my granola, and have the machine mix them in real time.  I suppose I could do this by hand (and I sort of do it already by adding an extra ingredient or two) but this would be waaay more convenient
- Trail mixes.  Ditto to granolas
- Nut butters and syrups.  Yes, I want independent sliders for hazelnut, chocolate, and sugar for my Nutella.
- Vitamins, whey protein etc.  This might be too much work to do locally, but I'd love to be able to pick the optimal nutrient mix for my body and have it delivered custom-mixed to me.

This is one reason I like good bartenders.  They're like the machine, but with a cheery disposition, lots of knowledge, and a voice interface.  :-)  So this one time... I was in a bar in NYC, and there was a yummy-looking drink on the menu called the Angry Lesbian.  I believe it involved tarragon-infused vodka, orange rind, ginger, framboise, and a bit of sugar.  I asked for it with no added sugar since I like my drinks less sweet.  I paused, and then said, "yes, I'd like my Angry Lesbian extra angry." 

mattbell: (Default)
In a sleepy haze, I accidentally added chunks of dry curry lentil soup mix instead of granola to my yogurt. (They look very similar, and I got them both in the bulk goods aisle at Berkeley Bowl) The funny thing is, it's quite good.

Also, last night I learned experimentally that sweet potatoes + cottage cheese is an amazing dessert.
mattbell: (Default)
I've recently discovered that a lot of the dietary issues I've had in terms of various forms of intestinal distress can be solved by taking fiber supplements.  I'm using Metamucil, which is psyllium husk.  I can now eat foods which I thought I was allergic to, and they are now digested just fine.  (Note that in my case these food "allergies" were causing nothing worse than diarrhea)

Fiber has a lot of benefits.  It reduces both diarrhea and constipation by providing bulk and structure that helps the body hold food and guide it through the digestion process. 

Fiber also affects the rate of food absorption.  Since soluble fiber lowers glycemic index, it could be used to make foods that are known for causing insulin spikes (eg sodas and other things high in simple carbs) less unhealthy. 

It turns out that this sort of works.  If you mix the added fiber into the food, you can substantially lower glycemic index and glycemic load, and there have been numerous experiments of adding it to bread and breakfast cereal.  However, it turns out that you can't just take a fiber supplement before indulging in cake and get a good result.  This study found that the fiber has to be mixed in with the food itself in order for this trick to work

I'd love to see this with bread.  I'd love to see this with sodas as well, though I'm not sure if this is possible to do without dramatically affecting the texture of the soda.   If the government is going to start paying for healthcare, they should invest in encouraging the production and consumption of healthier foods.  At that point, it's not a subsidy, it's an investment.
mattbell: (Default)
I got this at Berkeley Bowl a couple of days ago:



This tropical fruit is like something out of Aliens. It's full of jelly-covered plant embryos suspended in a matrix of some connective tissue. When I squeeze the melon, the embryos pop out of the matrix.
mattbell: (Default)
1. Why aren't there more Berkeley Bowls? (For those who don't know, Berkeley Bowl has twice the selection of Whole Foods but none of the pretension tax, and has Trader Joe's prices on most things.) Berkeley Bowl would crush Whole Foods if they were anywhere in my neighborhood.

2. Why haven't Asian supermarkets caught up to the desire for quality food? Almost all imported food in Asian supermarkets is full of exciting things like high fructose corn syrup (in pickled ginger!), MSG, and sodium benzoate. The cluster of people who are into organic food and the cluster of people who are into fine Asian meals overlap significantly.
mattbell: (Default)
So I'm self-managing the rest of the elimination diet for now.  I looked up online about techniques for reintroducing dairy.   They involve drinking an absurdly small amount of milk (about 1/4 cup) each day and gradually increasing the amount.  

I've been trying to continue to change only one variable at a time so as to figure out what I'm allergic to.  However, it's hard to change only one variable without having a very bland diet, so I'm aiming to more generally keep a food diary and look for correlations.  

So far, the food allergies I've discovered are kind of odd ... large amounts of chocolate, quinoa(?), coconut milk (?) to name a few.  
mattbell: (Default)
Today while waiting for my appointment at HealthNOW, (the people I was doing the elimination diet with) I started browsing their book, the Gluten Effect.  I happened to glance over the acknowledgements page and I discovered that the authors (and the people who run HealthNOW) are Scientologists.  I asked the doctor if he was a scientologist and he said yes.

Interesting discussion ensued.  He wanted to know what was wrong with scientology and whether I knew about all the good scientology was doing in the world.  He asked whether I'd be as upset upon discovering that my doctor was christian.  He assured me that the lab was not owned by the Church and that his medical research has nothing to do with scientology.  

He asserted that the mainstream media (and everyone else) was biased against scientology and that I should give scientology a chance.  Fortunately, [livejournal.com profile] euneeblic did that in a bias-confronting personal growth experiment a few months ago, and I was able to talk about his firsthand experiences. 

We ended up talking about science, e-meters, comparative religion, and other stuff.  I was definitely making him uncomfortable and vice versa.  At the end he said "I'm sorry for you", which is I think almost verbatim what the scientologist recruiter told [livejournal.com profile] euneeblic before he walked away. 

The thing is... if I find out that a smart, accomplished person is a scientologist, I generally would assume that they are basically part of the system... as in an "exploiter" rather than an "exploitee".  This makes me really bothered by the idea of a scientologist doctor... this person is entrusted with my life, and they're active users of the scientologist psychological toolbox.  (for the record, I'd probably trust an evangelical fundamentalist christian doctor only slightly more, and this guy was definitely evangelical about scientology) 

I was already somewhat concerned about this clinic.  There were a few ambiguous red flags for me in prior weeks... nothing of clear concern but just general unease:
- They mentioned that some of the test lab's (BioHealth Diagnostics) tests were done just for their clinic.  Lack of demand from any other clinic is concerning to me.
- The same company that does the tests provides supplements, which are available directly at the clinic.  They are among the highest priced supplements in their category on the market.  Now it could be that they're expensive because they're really good, but then again, maybe not. 
- The speech patterns, images, and word choice used by the doctors and in the Gluten Effect book seem to be a bit preachy and condescending.  Now maybe it's designed with seniors in mind, which would explain the large text.  I got a similar squick from the Life Extension Foundation's weekly magazines (though not from their medical reference manual).
- They try to schedule the next 5 followon appointments as soon as you schedule the first one. 

On the other hand, the anti-inflammatory and adrenal support supplements they put me on do seem to have caused diarrhea issues to cease.  I'm no longer on the full elimination diet -- last time we agreed to reintroduce all foods except gluten and dairy.  The logic of the anti-adrenal-exhaustion program seems good, but hey, I'm not a doctor.  I could easily make up some reasonable sounding but completely flawed software system that a technically competent nonprogrammer would think sounds like a great idea.

So at this point, I'm unsure how much of the idea toolkit from these people to throw out.  I'm tempted to throw out almost everything I learned from them and (one at a time) gradually reintroduce gluten and dairy and stop taking the various anti-inflammatories to see what happens, but it does seem like at least some of their science and experimental approach was good.  Early on I really liked their approach -- they seemed to have the right philosophy regarding treating ultimate causes instead of symptoms and eliminating external variables. 

I had a similar experience with a place called Woodside Chiropractic a few years back.  After a few sessions (and about $400) I realized that they were doing a small number of things that were probably legitimate and a large number of things that were total bullshit.  I'm guessing a lot of quack places get away with their practice by mixing in some real with some fake.  Apparently WC is doing very well these days, with various satellite offices now.

-------

So I know a number of you went through the full program with this lab and liked it.  I'd be interested to hear what your reaction is to my experience

-------

I think I'd like to find another doctor / dietitian to work with on somewhat similar program.  My mother called this one -- she thought early on that the clinic sounded fishy and suggested some alternative programs (eg 7-day detox miracle etc).   I wanted to give this program a fair shot first before trying any alternatives, so I held off.  Now I'm ready to look around.
mattbell: (Default)
Although the elimination diet did not turn up any food allergies, it has had a couple of positive effects on my diet.

While I tended to be adventurous when eating out, I used to have a fairly narrow range of foods I prepared at home.  I would generally eat healthy, but I'd tend to pick foods that took almost no effort to prepare.  While I ate a broad array of fruits and some vegetables, wheat, dairy, and various meats made up the rest of my diet.  When restricted on wheat, dairy, and many meats, I ended up incorporating whole new realms of food, including beans, lentils, (black) rice, and various kinds of squash.  The high fiber content of these foods has helped make my digestion smoother and more consistent.  It also allows me to address protein needs easily through methods other than meat and soy.  As a result my meat consumption is lower, which is probably a good thing.  (I still love tasty, tasty meat though... please don't refrain from inviting me to that Argentinian Steakhouse dinner)
mattbell: (Default)
I discovered spaghetti squash today. It's easy to prepare (cut in half, microwave face down in a pool of water for 12 min) and flakes apart in a most spaghetti-like way. Fascinating stuff. I added cubes of ginger, tamarind paste, onion powder, and paprika to it after cooking it.

Total active prep & cleanup time was like 10 min (I can do other things while it's microwaving).

This is how I like to cook... maximum taste, minimum effort, minimum cleanup.
mattbell: (Default)
Given the intestinal problems I have are sporadic, I'm thinking that instead of eliminating a bunch of foods and then slowly adding them back in again, I should just eat normally and then approve any foods that I ate during periods of normal intestinal function over the next few days. Over time, I'd build up a bigger and bigger list of allowed foods.

This would also get around the problem that some of the foods I'm eating *because* I'm on the diet are causing problems.
mattbell: (Default)
 I'm tempted to shortcut the elimination diet and try a food allergy test kit instead... it will help remove some of the guesswork and is only slightly more expensive than a single visit to the elimination diet doctor.  The elimination diet is not working so well in that there are multiple things *allowed* under the diet that are giving me trouble.  So I'm currently shifting around what I eat on the elimination diet to see if I can determine what's causing the issues.  

I've already determined that hemp protein powder and large amounts of coconut milk, while both allowed, are not compatible with me.  I'm thinking that part of why the diet gave me trouble is that when blocked from my favorite sources of food, I found certain new foods that were very dense and filling and scratched the same nutritional itch, and my body was not used to consuming those foods.  
mattbell: (Default)
The first few days have been interesting.  

Shopping for groceries has been frustrating as just about anything with more than 3 ingredients in it has a prohibited item.  I am trying to be strict about adhering to the diet, perhaps unnecessarily so.  For example, it is doubtful whether the one gram of added sugar in an otherwise acceptable turkey sausage would really have an impact on whatever mechanisms are being tested, but I avoided it anyway.

One interesting thing about the diet is that it has caused me to confront my severe laziness and incompetence when it comes to cooking.  I don't like spending more than a few minutes preparing my food and cleaning dishes every day, so I tend to optimize on things that are both healthy and super easy to prepare.  I'm starting to branch out.  I've cooked turkey for the first time.  This may seem silly, but I've been much more hesitant to cook chicken/turkey/pork because the perceived dangers of undercooking are much greater.  Thus, in the past I have ended up overcooking them.  [livejournal.com profile] floppylala  was kind enough to cook for me the first night because I was feeling sick.  

The biggest challenge was on the first day when I kept trying to eat different foods, but nothing would stop my milk/meat/bread cravings.  Since the true sources of food cravings are often unclear, it's hard to figure out, for example, what other than milk would scratch the "milk" itch.  Here's what I found tended to scratch these itches (I'm not sure which foods actually scratched which itches):
- Brown rice, black beans, lots of olive oil on everything, lentils, avocado, smoked salmon, coconut cream, chicken, turkey.  

Grocery costs have gone way up, though I'm not going out to eat anymore (since it's more or less impossible).  I am going through approximately $5 of smoked salmon a day, which at the current rate is $150 a month just on smoked salmon.  That's also the cheaper (but still good) wild stuff from Trader Joe's.

Whole Foods has some interesting hippie-ish (ok, let's be honest, rich privileged liberal wannabe hippie-ish) concoctions that manage to have a whole 15 ingredients and taste great while staying entirely within the confines of the elimination diet.  Brands include Lydia's Organics and Mauk Family Farms, which produces the unappetizing-sounding but tasty "Raw, Mineral-Rich Crusts".  It makes me think of a mining operation.  

So far the elimination diet has not had positive effect on any of the issues I'm trying to solve, but I know I need to give it time.  
mattbell: (Default)
I'm going to take all elimination diet posts onto a filter so the rest of you don't get spammed by them.  If you want to be on the filter, let me know.

First question -- what is a good non-dairy, non-soy substitute for yogurt?  I need something that I can use as a creamy-ish base for (non-wheat) cereals and pasta sauce.  All the rice/nut milks are too thin.  



mattbell: (Default)
I wrote a while back about trying to do chocolate-dipped beef jerky.

Yesterday I gave it a try.  I created a crude double-boiler and dipped various different kinds of jerky into it. 

I tried the combinations of:

Chocolate
- 74% spicy Dagoba chocolate
- 100% Ghirardelli baking chocolate (no better brands available)

Jerky:
- Teriyaki Turkey jerky
- Classic style beef jerky

The beef jerky worked somewhat better than the turkey jerky.  The 74% chocolate was too sweet, and didn't mesh well with the savory taste of the jerky.  The 100% seemed more right taste-wise, but the texture was bad.  Unfortunately, 100% chocolate is really sticky when it melts, so the mouthfeel isn't very good.  It tends to coat the inside of your mouth.  I'm guessing a chocolate more in the 85-90% range, which is actually designed to be eaten straight, would work better. 

I think another issue was that the chocolate/jerky mix was too heavily weighted toward the chocolate.  Since I was using thin strips of jerky, the chocolate coating was often as thick as the jerky itself.  I think the chocolate works better as an accent, so I either need to use thicker jerky of find a way of thinning the chocolate.  Suggestions are appreciated.  :-)
mattbell: (Default)
On advice of a fellow Milan hostel-goer, I checked out what may be some of the best gelato in Itally. They had a small but excellent range of flavors, including an extra dark chocolate that actually lived up to Matt standards of extra dark. The best part was that the server suggested a pairing – I had three scoops and had chosen the extra dark chocolate and a lemon flavor. Before I could pick a third flavor, he suggested the ginger, and it worked extremely well as a mix. Chocolate-lemon-ginger happiness for the reasonable price of 3 euros.

If any of you find yourselves in Italy soon, the chain is called Grom. They now have locations in several major cities.

For kick-ass gelato back home, there's always Naia.
mattbell: (Default)
After tasting some very dark chocolate and beef jerky in quick succession, I'm convinced that you could indeed do a successful fondue with beef and baking chocolate. Take pure unsweetened chocolate, add a little pepper and spice to bring the mixture closer to mole, and then give people bits of beef, pork, or chicken to dip in the fondue pot. If small bite-size pieces of jerky are used instead, they could be coated with a layer of chocolate and then left to cool and harden. Then they could be eaten later as a snack. I don't have the facilities to try this at the moment, but perhaps someone else does and could work with me when I return.

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