Archive for the 'Eat it' Category
It annoys me that it’s taken me this long to start figuring out, I think, why and how money works.
I started writing a long rambling post here on the subject, but it’s too much of a mess so I’ll just skip to the punchline.
Our modern currencies are so-called “fiat currencies”. It used to be that, for example, “a dollar” actually represented and could be traded for a specific amount of refined metallic gold. Now, it’s not really redeemable for any pre-specified amount of anything. I don’t really see this as a huge problem unlike some people, but there is a lot of noise lately about how we need to go back to “the gold standard” (i.e. back to the time when a “dollar” was directly redeemable for some fixed amount of gold). My problem with this is that gold is mostly useless, really. If there were really some sort of horrible society-destroying catastrophe, about the only thing you’d be able to use the gold for is as a bludgeon to club people with (gold is quite heavy, at least), or maybe as radiation shielding if you’ve got enough of it stacked around your basement. If we’ve got to go back to an “asset-backed” currency, I think it ought to be pork-bellies. Or wheat. Or maybe heads of lettuce.
Better still, make it a “basket” of all three, so that fluctuations in the value of one of those three things doesn’t screw up the value of the currency. Plus, then you could redeem 3 $1US bills for a BLT sandwich.
What prompted me to start typing, though, was the thougts of how badly at the mercy of economic parasites we are in the modern world though – I’m thinking here mainly of abusers of “intellectual property” monopolies like broad idea patents and eternal copyrights, who demand tribute before you’re allowed to participate in just about any modern activity using the internet or other digital medium. And then the shocking, horrifying thought came to me: “mp3-download-backed currency”.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be over there in the corner, curled up in fetal position, rocking back and forth, and whimpering occasionally.
I’ve been talking about it for months, now I’ve finally done it: I’m calling it “Pigsfly Pie”…and it’s awesome.
If you’ve not run into it before, there’s a classic Pennsylvania “Dutch” recipe called “Shoofly Pie“, which is more or less a dense molasses cake in a pie crust. It’s quite good…but I’ve improved on it. As the name implies the secret ingredient is the semi-official food of the Internet…Bacon.
Here’s the secret recipe:
- About 155g all-purpose flour
- About 28g (2 Tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
- about 114g “dark brown” sugar
- about 300mg (around 1/8-1/4 tsp) salt
- about 10 slices of crunchy cooked bacon, finely chopped.
- About 3/4 teaspoon (Google says this is about 3.6g) baking soda
- About 177g (3/4 cup) of boiling water
- About 128g (4.5 ounces) of Maple Syrup
- About 115g (about 4 ounces) Blackstrap Molasses
- About 5ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract
- One whole beaten egg
Oh, yeah, and:
- A 9″ radius pie crust
- If you’re using a frozen pie crust, thaw it then poke holes in it with a fork and bake it at about 200°C (around 400°F) for about 10 minutes to prepare it for the wet filling.
- Mix all of the “dry” stuff besides the bacon together well – I actually used a potato masher to thoroughly mash together the butter/sugar/flour until it was homogenous. Then, take out about a quarter-cup worth of the mix and set it aside as a topping, then mix the chopped bacon into the rest. (edit 20100602 to remove the extra “until”…)
- Put the baking soda in a bowl, and pour the boiling water on it.
- Mix in the syrup, molasses, and vanilla, and stir well.
- Beat the egg, then carefully mix it vigorously in (hopefully the liquid will have cooled sufficiently that it won’t curdle)
- Quickly mix the main portion of the dry stuff with this wet stuff. Small chunks will be no big deal. The texture should be roughly similar to waffle or pancake batter.
- Pour this into the pie crust. A typical “deep dish” crust will leave some room left over. A “regular” pie crust will be filled to the top and leave you with a few tablespoons left over. Don’t worry about filling the crust to the very top – it tends to harden up as it expands so it doesn’t overflow in my experience.
- Sprinkle the about-a-quarter-cup of dry stuff that you saved over the top
- Bake 40-45 minutes at 175°C (about 350°F)
- Let it cool at least an hour before cutting
- Eat with an optional topping of whipped cream.
- Make ecstatic “MMMMmmmmmm” noises in appreciation of my culinary genius.
Next time I make it, I’ll probably use a deep-dish crust, then float pecan halves all over the top before sprinkling on the topping and baking…
All Hail Bacon!
I had to do a Fred Transplant last week. A grey fuzzy mold had taken up residence in on the sides of the jar above Fred’s liquid culture, so I set up a fresh container with fresh water and flour, and dipped a spoon down the center of Fred to the bottom, pulling up just a tiny amount of the stuff in there. Then I mixed it into the fresh stuff and covered it with plastic wrap (instead of a paper towel this time.)
Fred smells like Swiss Cheese Feet right now, but he’s obviously still growing, as you can see from last night’s “Gram Stain” microscopy. The slightly blurry light-red-brown lumps are, I believe, yeast cells, possibly Saccharomyces boulardii, since I dumped a capsule of supposedly-still-viable “probiotic” yeast of that species into Fred previously. I have no idea who the bacteria are in here at the moment. I did also see a small number of longer, thinner bacterial cells in there (presumably Lactobacillus) though most of them are the ones you see here.
Meanwhile, I’m about to dig out the still-unused Hillbilly Autoclave and try it out on the media I’m mixing up to try to obtain a culture of genuine wild “native flora” vinegar/kombucha yeast-and-bacteria to play with from the local wildflowers that are just now getting into full bloom.
My starting recipe goes something like this: I mix up about 2 Liters of distilled water with about 100g of glucose (“Dextrose”/”Corn Sugar”), 100g of sucrose, 500mg of L-Arginine, and enough phosphoric acid to drop the pH down to about 5.5 to 6.0. That is intended to be then poured into small “canning” jars in about 100ml amounts and pressure-cooked for at least 15 minutes to sufficiently sterilize and seal them. Meanwhile, a single generic-brand children’s chewable vitamin is crushed up and dumped into a 4-oz bottle of cheap vodka and well shaken.
Then when it comes time to go bioprospecting, I’ll pop open the jar of acidic sugar solution and add about 5ml of the cheap-vitamin-vodka to it to give me about 2% ethanol, and then go find some flowers to cut off and dump into the jars, which will be loosely covered with foil (to let air in but keep dust out) and put in a nice quiet cupboard to grow for a few days.
Hypothetically, the only things that are likely to grow in that will be microorganisms associated with vinegar-making. At some point I’ll also make up a batch of sweet black tea and see if I get a kombucha-like culture going in it, and make up some solid media to try to isolate individual microbes from it.
I got an unsolicited email asking for help boosting search-engine rank. Me! Complete with the particular phrase they wanted linked and everything. Normally, I’d be inclined to sneer and make mocking comments about marketers…except in this case it’s actually for something completely relevant…and kind of nifty, so I’m going to do it…
A company called ASPEX makes what they’re calling an “Affordable Desktop SEM”. Not having a gigantic corporate budget, government grants, or wealthy patron/matron backing me I’m having trouble thinking of ANY Scanning Electron Microscope (there’s that phrase and link…) as being “affordable”, but I’ve got to admit I want one now.
That’s not all, though – ASPEX (no, I don’t know why they capitalize the whole name) has a mind-blowingly cool offer going on right now as part of their promotional campaign. “Send Us Your Sample” – just like the name suggests, they’re soliciting samples to image and post. I know I’m planning to go for it. It’d be nice to have both old-school light-microscopy images AND Electron microscopy imagery of Fred (my sourdough culture in progress) to post.
I’m not sure what kind of magnification they can offer – The submission form is pretty simple but doesn’t say – but I’d be really interested to know if I’ve got any bacteriophages in my sourdough slowing down the lactic acid bacteria growth…
I would like to add that I’m getting no particular compensation for this post, but if anyone from ASPEX corporation wants to upgrade me to “paid shill”, I wouldn’t say “no” to an SEM of my own…
Anyway, for anyone who hasn’t given up on my blog despite the slow updates lately, thanks. There will be more photos, along with other impending microbiological nerdity. And food – sadly, I have not managed to get time to actually make the first of the new pie that I’ve invented in time for Pi Day (“3.14″…March 14…”Pi day”. Insert joke about doing something at 1:59am and laugh track sound here…), but “pigsfly pie” will actually exist soon. Honestly.
Intentional food microbiology:
UNintentional food microbiology:
I still don’t feel like I got nearly enough productive stuff done this weekend, but I did manage to do a bit of microscopy – plus demonstrating to myself that I still remember how to do a “Gram stain”. Real Post with explanation and more pictures to follow Real Soon Now…
(Oops, quick edit: the references on erythritol toxicity – or rather lack thereof – are now actually included…)
Crowds, Crass Commercialism, and Crappy Christmas Choruses give me a nasty case of Yule Poisoning, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
I spent the afternoon/evening prepping for and performing some cookie experiments again, and I feel much better. Yes, my cookies are that good.
I had a request for Peanut Butter cookies, so I figured I’d do some experimenting with that tonight. In fact, while I was braving the Christmas Consumption Crowds to get my supplies, I happened upon an ingredient that I decided I had to try as a variant.
(The picture, incidentally, is someone ELSE’S peanut butter cookies – “diekatrin” on Flickr – click photo to go to the Flickr page – I still haven’t quite gotten the hang of getting decent photos of my own food yet.)
My initial peanut-butter cookie recipe came out too dry and not sweet enough, but I think adding 50-75g of honey should solve that. That’s not the most successful experiment of the evening though. That’s reserved for the following recipe for…Sunflowerseedbutter cookies.
(Suitably pompous name pending, as soon as I test version 2.0 of the recipe, which will substitute bread flour for the “all-purpose” flour)
(Pompous Name Pending) Sunflowerseedbutter Cookies
Materials and Methods
- 190g “All Purpose”(Around 1 cup) “All Purpose” Flour
- 3g NaHCO3 (1/2 tsp)
- 1-1.5g (1/4 tsp) “Baking Powder”
- 2g (1/4tsp) NaCl
- 750mg Xanthomonas campestris exopolysaccharide (~1/4 tsp “Xanthan Gum”)
“Wet” stuff and sugars:
- 150g honey
- 100g Erythritol
- 4g glycerol (about 5ml)
- 50ml double-strength black tea
- 140g Sunflower Seed Butter (about 1/2c)
- 60g unsalted butter
- Contents of 1 Gallus gallus egg, 50-55g (approx 60g with shell… aka “large”)
- 5ml Vanilla Extract
The “dry” goods were mixed in one container, while in a separate container, the “wet” goods and the sugars were mixed in another. The dry material was then blended carefully into the wet material in a large steel mixing bowl using an electric hand-held mixer until completely homogenized.
Once homogenized, the dough was spread out in the bowl and chilled at ~18°C(O°F) for approximately five minutes to enhance firmness.
The dough was then measured onto a “non-stick” baking sheet in approximately 30ml roughly-hemispherical aliquots using a small disher, and then pressed down with a fork to approximately half their original height. A few shelled, roasted sunflower seeds were pressed into the surface of each to make distinguishing them from peanutbutter cookies easier.
The cookies were than baked at 190°C (~375°F) for approximately 18 minutes, then slid onto a “non-stick” wire cooling rack at Standard Temperature and Pressure until equilibrated with the temperature of the kitchen.
The experimenter believes this batch of cookies emerged a bit too soft – actually sliding them off of the baking sheet to the rack distorted them, and they still appeared (in the words of the experimenter) “squishy”. Once equilibrated with room temperature, the cookies had a texture more in line with what would be expected from a normal “soft cookie”. The flavor was judged to be superb by the experimenter, who happens to like the flavor of sunflower seeds.
The use of erythritol makes this a “reduced calorie” and “reduced-sugar” recipe, though not entirely sugarless or “diabetic safe” necessarily, due to the use of honey. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, or glycerol (“glycerine”), all of which are often used as low-glycemic substitutes for sucrose or other sugars. Sugar alcohols can often cause digestive discomfort, however, because they are poorly absorbed by human digestive tracts, leaving them to be digested by gas-producing gut microbes. Erythritol is unique in that it appears to be well-absorbed by humans, and yet is not metabolized by humans to any substantial degree and is safely filtered out by the kidneys and excreted in urine. Being unmetabilized by humans, it is theoretically “zero calorie”, though the US FDA mandates a calculation of 0.2 calories per gram (compare to 4 calories per gram for sucrose). Unlike xylitol, erythritol is also safe for dogs and ferrets[Sorry, can't find the citation for this one at the moment...], for whom xylitol can induce fatal insulin shock and/or liver damage. Erythritol, unlike glycerol or sucrose (“table sugar”), is not appreciably hygroscopic, though, so adjustments must be made to recipes using it to avoid an overly dry result.
Glycerol (sold as “Glycerine”, which can be found in cake-making supplies as an ingredient used to keep cake frosting moist) closely resembles erythritol in structure, being (to oversimplify) a one-carbon-shorter version of the same molecule. In addition to hopefully helping to prevent drying out of the cookies, this was included here in the hopes that it would also help the erythritol dissolve. Previous informal testing (unpublished results) appears to support this hypothesis.
Honey was used as a second sweetener so as to include a “real” sugar and to help counter-balance the lack of hygroscopicity of the erythritol. The experimenter also notes that he believes mixing sweeteners tends to provide a better-tasting sweetness than relying entirely on one sweetener, particularly when including less sweet “sugar substitutes” in the mix. Honey was also chosen to provide additional moisture, as a previous batch of peanut-butter cookies (the recipe from which this recipe for sunflower-seed butter is derived) using ordinary sugar and “brown sugar” had turned out excessively dry.
“Xanthan gum” is a polysaccharide (as are cornstarch and pectin, for example) produced by a natural fermentation process from the γ-Proteobacterium Xanthomonas campestris. Along with a wide variety of exotic industrial uses (such as oil-well drilling “mud”), Xanthan gum is also used as a safe food ingredient to help hold water and keep soft foods from being too runny. It helps protect ice-cream from becoming grainy during possibly partial thaw-and-refreeze cycles during shipping and storage. It’s also used to hold “gluten-free” doughs together, which is nice for people who may be allergic to gluten proteins but who still would like to eat bread…
As far as the potentially excessive softness of the cookie, the experimenter believes that substituting bread flour for “all-purpose” flour and baking for up to 20 minutes should solve the softness problem, resulting in a chewier texture which the experimenter believes will be more appropriate.
The experimenter also notes that a second batch of the same recipe, cooked for approximately 20 minutes at ~205°C (~400°F) were nearly burned, though they did come out firmer but drier in texture. The flavor was still judged superb, other than the slight burnt note. Subsequent versions of this recipe will revert back to the original 190°C cooking temperature.
Obviously, further research is needed to determine the correct modifications to achieve perfect texture, and of course, to broaden the sample size of of the taste-testing group, and the experimenter should be given a sizable grant and a nobel prize for this research. Well, a grant at least.
Or at least some praise or something. Or a cookie, except that the experimenter obviously already has some.
 Munro IC, Berndt WO, Borzelleca JF, Flamm G, Lynch BS, Kennepohl E, Bär EA, Modderman J:”Erythritol: an interpretive summary of biochemical, metabolic, toxicological and clinical data.”;Food Chem Toxicol. 1998 Dec;36(12):1139-74.
Dean I, Jackson F, Greenough RJ:”Chronic (1-year) oral toxicity study of erythritol in dogs.”;Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 1996 Oct;24(2 Pt 2):S254-60.
Dangit, I’m out of time. I was going to try out some crazy ideas with my Ginger Cookie recipe, too, and see if I can develop a Kombucha culture from scratch. Guess that’ll have to wait, because it’s bedtime now. Back to work in the morning…
Looks like the truckloads of candy-seeking larvae are done finally. Wretched little urchins now get driven from block to block rather than walking the neighborhood like we did.
(It doesn’t actually bother me as much as that makes it sound, I just like having an excuse to say “wretched little urchins”…which reminds me – I have only about a month to get a cheerful flashing “Bah! Humbug!” sign built…)
The only thing that really annoyed me is the fact that having to be ready to be interrupted by another horde of costumed consumers meant I couldn’t really spend any of the evening getting into anything requiring any real attention…which means the 113g of CaCl2.2H2O I’ve got sitting here now to go with my Xanthan Gum has been left neglected, and I still don’t know if I can make Xanthan Gum gel into beads the way you can with sodium alginate. I figure it must be possible, given that both Xanthan gum and Alginate (among others) were all formed into little “bio-booger” beads using the same kind of process in the paper I discussed in Episode 2 of my little audio oggcast. Perhaps I’ll have time to find out tomorrow.
For now, it’s time for bed. Daylight Losings Time starts tonight, so if the critters allow me to actually sleep, I ought to be well rested to attempt some serious lake-spanking in the morning – there’s supposedly a resort on the shore of the lake that has a sushi bar, and the idea of being able to paddle out for sushi amuses me. It looks like it’s at least 9-10 miles away, though, so it’ll be a long trip if I attempt it. Hopefully I’ll have time left after that.
Also, the developer of the libdmtx datamatrix barcode encoder and decoder software posted a recent comment on my previous post about the software and its potential uses – looks like some interesting projects going on there, including one intended to generate ID cards that only legitimate authorities could read (so as to prevent identity theft).
P.S. Anybody know how to build a really good (but simple) ozone generator for sanitization purposes? Or the effective pore sizes of commonly available materials like plastic wrap? Or if a corporate entity can be a shareholder/partner in a Limited Liability Company?
Yes, I’m still here – though I don’t know if any of YOU are.
The pay at my job is somewhat low for the skillset it requires, but makes up for that by having a very reasonable workload, a pleasant work environment, and certain perks – like access to the electronic journals that my employer subscribes to. I added an RSS feed from pubmed intended to cover my main interests – basically edible and industrial microbiology and biotechnology. Every day, a list of 300-600 or so new scientific articles pops up in my feedreader and I scan through the titles looking for anything interesting to me. Unintentionally, my selection appears to also result in quite a bit of diabetes, obesity, and sports medicine research. Lately I’ve taken a moderate interest in our own most blatantly bacterial components, the mitochondria.
Mitochondria are kind of like a nearly 2-billion-year-long case of typhus (or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, if you prefer). After infecting our ancestors (and now us) for so long, they’ve been reduced to dependency on living in our cells. Perhaps a bit like the progression from wolves to Chinese Crested dogs. On the other hand, having thoroughly domesticated them, we get a lot of use out of them, and couldn’t live without them. Their ability to harness the electron-sucking power of oxygen means we get almost 20 times more energy out of our food than we otherwise would, which is a good thing since biologically speaking, keeping the hideously complicated mess of biochemistry that makes up a human body takes a ridiculous amount of biochemical energy compared to that of normal organisms (i.e. prokaryotes).
Lately in the stream of new publications I’ve been seeing a number of papers suggesting that a lack of proper mitochondrial activity might be related to obesity and related problems (e.g. “metabolic syndrome”, type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, obesity-related “inflammation”, and so on) and even some age-related problems, both physical and mental. There is some seriously interesting research going on into treatments to potentially stimulate mitochondrial activity and whether this might help solve a number of health problems.
So…take good care of your mitochondria. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been trying to pay special attention to properly feeding my mitochondria and making sure I take them for regular walks (and paddling trips and so on). It could, of course, be purely psychosomatic, but right now I feel better than James Brown…
There’s a fair amount of rational skepticism over using drugs or nutritional supplements to stimulate mitochondria, but here’s a tip that I suspect everyone’s doctor would accept: make sure you take your mitochondria for regular walks. Frequent exercise (particularly endurance exercise) seems to be a scientifically well-accepted way to induce production of more mitochondria.
But now I have to go to bed. My main complaint with work these days is that it eats up essentially my entire day, leaving me with just enough time for some household chores between getting up in the morning and going to bed in the evening. Not their fault I live almost and hour and a half from work, though (and at least the commute is through relatively low-traffic and scenic terrain.). Still, it makes it hard to get blog posts and podcasts done (episode 4, on the subject of “heat-fixing” of bacteria for microscopy – particularly Mycobacterium tuberculosis – will be out as soon as I can manage. Still pondering the subject of Episode 5. I’m saving the “Two Mass Spectrometers, High Performance Liquid Chromatography, and a Female Donkey” episode for later when I manage to surpass the “nearly 3″ listeners that I seem to be stuck at…)
I have to say that suffering through periods of chronic blogstipation is seriously annoying.
There have been a number of things I’ve been wanting to post about, but I’ve been way too loaded down to have time to sit down and compose them. Therefore, lest anyone think I’ve abandoned bigroom.org, I’ll throw a few of them out here in shortened form.
First, a public service announcement: HTML 5 is not just about turning the internet into Television. I keep seeing articles about “HTML5″ and they all seem to focus obsessively on the <video> tag. The same is largely true of articles about the recent Firefox 3.5 browser release, since arguably the biggest feature of the new version is HTML5 support. Although there are quite a few other new features, the main one I wanted to briefly remind everyone of is that there’s also an <audio> tag. I think audio is important, because it’s a lot simpler for people to generate audio for the web than to produce a video. Also, the “Vorbis” audio codec is a definite step up in quality from the de-facto “mp3″ codec. The latest Opera, Google Chrome, and Firefox browsers all support the <audio> tag with “Ogg Vorbis” files. Apple’s Safari browser doesn’t by default, but that’s easily fixed. If you install the free QuickTime® component from Xiph, it teaches QuickTime about Ogg files, allowing you to watch and listen to the same HTML5 audio and video that everyone else (aside from Microsoft, as usual) can. It apparently also allows you to create Ogg files through QuickTime, so you can make your own content available for everyone else to watch and hear if you want to.
If you’ve seen some of my earlier map-and-pictures posts, you can probably guess that I’m also interested in the new geolocation feature. As far as I can tell, it’s currently natively implemented in the new Firefox, but will be showing up in Safari, Opera, and Chrome (at least) in the relatively near future. My only real complaint is that right now Firefox can only get the location through Google via your current IP address, and that isn’t at all accurate (when it works correctly, the precision is limited to “somewhere around this city” – when it doesn’t, where it thinks you are depends entirely on whose network your internet connection comes from.) It’s still baffling to me why they didn’t include a simple “manual entry” option for geolocation. Anyway, I’ve not had time to dig into this either, so enough said about that. For now.
And now a question of science and microbiology enthusiasts who may read this – I may soon, finally, be able to buy a microscope. Any recommendations on where to get one? The only “special” features that I really want (and can afford) would be a sufficiently bright light source and ability to swap in a darkfield condenser from time to time.
bacteria snot Xanthan Gum is hereby declared my Favorite Food Additive of the Month. It turned out to do exactly what I hoped it would do in the lemon-ginger ice cream I made a couple of weeks ago. I must play with this delightful edible substance more.
Finally, is anybody in California actually hiring geologists? As if marrying me wasn’t proof enough of insanity, my wife really wants to move back there. We can’t stay here forever in Southeast Texas on just my meager academic staff salary, as nice as the job itself is, and although for months she’s been firing off applications all over the country (and even a few beyond the borders) she’d really prefer to take her geophysics experience and PhD in Geology from UC Davis back to California. Although I’m personally a bit less enthusiastic about the idea, the possibility of getting into UC Davis’ Fermentation Science or Food Science graduate programs definitely has some appeal. Plus, I’d be able to listen to This Week In Science live while it’s being broadcast.
- I can confirm that if you Mac users install XiphQT (which I see has just been updated, even!) to let QuickTime know how to handle Ogg files, the latest Safari release can handle the same audio and video formats that the latest Opera and Firefox 3.5 browsers use, in addition to the proprietary codecs Apple includes. It worked on the MacBook I use at work, anyway.
- I managed to do some more exploring of the lake last weekend, including trying out the floating BBQ place I found the previous weekend. Short review here
- Cats are pests