February 22, 2013
In 1994, Julie Languille lived at the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake, which struck the Los Angeles neighborhood with a magnitude of 6.7. She and her family were without power for two weeks, and the long lines at nearby grocery stores soon began to shrink as food ran out.
“It just became really important to me as part of my feeling of security and good planning for my family to have meals on hand,” Languille says.
The Puget Sound resident, who also runs a dinner planning website, has been canning meals since, and her recipes, ranging from oatmeal and macaroni and cheese to braised chicken and pulled pork, are featured in a cookbook published next month. Two years ago, Languille installed a full-scale food storage unit in her home, filling it with almost 100 jars of basic ingredients like meats and veggies to complex ready-made recipes for baby back ribs and chicken noodle soup. Besides canning and sealing tools, an assortment of jars and enough room in the kitchen, the only other ingredients necessary are water and some heat.
In her cookbook, Languille writes that her bags, jars, and boxes of shelf-stable meals are “insurance against hardship or hunger.” Aside from earthquakes and hurricanes, ready-made meals significantly cut prep time for dinner on a busy weeknight. No washing, cutting, chopping and measuring—that was done weeks or months ago. Jars contain 100 percent of the ingredients necessary (other than water) for any given recipe, which nixes an extra trip to the grocery store for a forgotten item.
When stored in a cool, dry and dark place, dry meals can last for decades. Almost every fruit or vegetable can be dehydrated, a 24-hour process at high temperatures, and freeze-dried meats, which Languille says she buys online, have a long shelf life. But does the flavor of the ingredients hold up?
Languille says the answer is yes. When water is added, powdered eggs transform into fluffy beaten eggs and sour cream powder into dollops of the real stuff. Dehydrated apples, peaches and plums turn into gooey cobbler filling in the oven. Ground beef, once browned in a skillet and pressure-canned in a sterile jar for 75 minutes, becomes hearty chili when deposited into a pot of boiling water.
“The meals that I have on hand are tastier than the commercially prepared dried foods,” says Languille, who doesn’t use any artificial flavoring, coloring or preservatives in her recipes, save for a few packets of oxygen absorbers, which keep food from changing color or growing mold.
Languille replenishes her inventory four times a year, churning out nearly 40 canned jars in one weekend after a Costco-sized shopping trip. Whole meals are stored in quart-size jars and can produce soups and stews for parties of six to eight. Hamburger meat and chicken go in pint-size jars, which hold about a pound of meat and can serve four people
Languille uses a vacuum sealer to suck the air out of pouches filled with food. A dehydrator sucks out moisture from meats and vegetables, reducing their water content so they won’t spoil. A pressure canner preserves low-acid foods like meats, beans and vegetables.
Canning works in two ways. Pressure canning is used to preserve low-acid foods like meats, beans and vegetables. For example, a jar containing a piece of chicken is placed inside a pressure canner, which increases the pressure of the contents, causing steam to push out all of the air trapped inside. Then, the chicken remains stable at room temperature for long periods of time.
Water bath canning is used to preserve high-acid foods like fruits and tomatoes. Food is stored in sterilized jars, topped with warmed lids, and then boiled. This method works well for making jams and fruit butters and preserving spaghetti sauce and salsas
Canned and dry ingredients are packaged together in many of Languille’s recipes. Meat and sauce are cooked and canned together, then tossed into a jar with a sealed bag of pasta sauce and placed in a cupboard. Chicken canned with vegetables can be packaged with noodles to make chicken noodle soup or paired with flour and pie crust ingredients to produce a chicken pot pie.
Read on for the recipe for chicken noodle soup, which Languille says is her favorite, and others, featured in her forthcoming cookbook “Meals in a Jar: Quick and Easy, Just-Add-Water, Homemade Recipes.”
Chicken Noodle Soup
Makes 8 servings
For soup mix: In each of 8 quart-size canning jars or retort pouches, add, seal, and then pressure-can for 75 minutes:
• 1 cup chopped lightly browned chicken
• ¾ cup chopped onion
• ¾ cup peeled and chopped carrots
• ¾ cup chopped celery
• 2 tablespoons chicken soup stock
• 1 slice dehydrated lemon
• 2 teaspoons dried thyme
• 1 bay leaf
• Water, to cover and leave 1 inch of headspace in a 1-quart jar, or 2 inches in a retort pouch
For noodle packet: In each of 8 vacuum bags, add and then seal:
• 2 cups egg noodles
In each of 8 Mylar bags, tote bags, or vacuum bags, store:
• 1-quart jar or retort pouch chicken soup mix
• 1 packet noodles
Combine the chicken soup mix and 12 cups of water in a large pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and add the noodles. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the noodles are tender. Remove the bay leaf and lemon slice, and serve.
Omelet in a Bag
Makes 16 (2 to 3-serving) meals
In each of 16 zip-top quart-size freezer bags, package:
• ¼ cup powdered eggs
• 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese
• 1 teaspoon dried chives or thyme
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 pinch pepper
Heat a medium pot of water over medium heat to just simmering. Add ¹⁄₃ cup of water to the bag and squish the bag to combine (or put in a bowl and stir with a fork). Place the bag of omelet mixture into the water and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until solid and just cooked through. Divide the omelet into portions and serve.
Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes 6 batches (about 3 dozen cookies each)
For cookie mix: In each of 6 vacuum bags, Mylar bags, or jars, add and then seal:
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon powdered eggs
• 1¼ cups flour
• ¾ teaspoons baking soda
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
For peanut butter: In each of 6 vacuum bags or disposable 4-ounce containers, add and then seal:
• ½ cup (4 ounces) peanut butter
For shortening: In each of 6 vacuum bags, add and then seal:
• ½ cup shortening
In a Mylar bag, tote bag, or vacuum bag, store:
• 1 jar or pouch cookie mix
• 1 packet peanut butter
• 1 packet shortening
Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, combine the shortening, cookie mix, and 2 tablespoons of water until a stiff dough forms. Roll into small balls about the size of walnuts and flatten with a fork in a crisscross pattern. Place on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly brown.
February 20, 2013
Give a baby her first spoonful of mashed spinach or blended brussell sprouts and you can likely watch her face pucker up in shocked torment. Veggies tend to be a dreaded childhood bane for many youngsters, yet there are exceptions to the vegetable hate rule. Sweet potatoes and carrots, for example, tend to score highly. But why is that? As a general rule, much of our likes and dislikes spawn from sweetness – or at least our perception of it.
Evolutionarily, we’re programmed to like sweetness, since it’s indicative of calorie-rich sugar. Millennia ago, when we were just beginning our evolutionary journey as Homo sapiens, those individuals who preferred and thus consumed sugar had an edge. Sugar imparts a quick energy boost, so desiring, locating and consuming sugar-rich food could mean the difference between out-maneuvering a predator, keeping warm during a cold night or bearing healthy children. Our closest relatives, such as chimpanzees, also share this propensity towards the sweet. Chimps regularly concoct creative ways to brave beehives to reach the sweet honey inside.
In today’s world of car commutes, office jobs and sugary snacks, however, our attraction to sugar turns against us, helping to fuel an epidemic of obesity. The processed food industry realized this a long time ago when it dawned on them that cranking up the sugar content of even the most cardboard-like snack automatically makes it delicious to our primitive food brains.
But sugar, it turns out, is not the only sweetness driver. The sweetness of a farmer’s market strawberry or a hand-picked blueberry comes largely from volatiles, or chemical compounds in food that readily become fumes. Our nose picks up on and interacts with dozens of these flavorful fumes in any given food, perfuming each bite with a specific flavor profile. The sensations received by smell and taste receptors interact in the same area of the brain, the thalamus, where our brain processes them to project flavors such as sweetness. ”The perception of sweetness in our brains is the sum of the inputs from sugars plus certain volatile chemicals,” said Harry Klee, a researcher with the university’s Horticulture Sciences Department and Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, said at the American Association of the Advancement of Science conference, held last week in Boston. “The volatiles act to amplify the sugar signal so that we actually think there’s more sugar in the food than is actually present.”
A dozen or more volatiles can occupy a single food. Some trigger the sensation of sweetness, others of bitterness or sourness. If we could better understand just how these chemicals interact in foods and in our brains, we could genetically tweak foods to be more to our liking.
Scientists from the University of Florida think that “fixing the flavor” of foods such as tomatoes would make them more appealing to shoppers, which on the long run may facilitate a healthier society. “If we make healthy things taste better, we really believe that people will buy them more, eat them more and have a healthier diet,” Klee said. “Flavor is just a symptom of a larger problem,” he continued. “We have bred crops for a higher yield, while quality and nutritional value have dropped.”
What we think of as flavor actually has a great deal to do with the subtle smells of volatiles. Not convinced? The researchers predicted as much. In Boston, they whipped out samples of gummy bear-like candy (raspberry and blueberry Sunkist fruit gems to be specific) to prove the power of volatiles to the audience. As instructed by the Klee and his colleagues, I pinched my nose shut tight, then popped the candy into my mouth, chewed and swallowed half of it. As if I had a seriously stuffed up nose from a bad case of the flu, the candy felt squishy and lackluster on my tongue. This bland sensation, the researchers explained, is taste. Now, they instructed unplug your nose, and swallow the rest of the gummy candy. A wave of intense sweetness hit me like a sugary rainbow of fruity flavor. This is olfaction at work, explained Linda Bartoshuk, one of Klee’s colleagues at the university’s Center for Smell and Taste. “Who experienced a rush of flavor and sweetness that seemed about twice as powerful as before?” she asked. In a room of around 100 people, about half the hands shot up.
Several years ago, Klee made a mission of saving the modern tomato’s flavor in the hopes of ultimately improving consumer health. Those efforts have led him down a winding vine of chemistry, genetics and food science.
Rather than starting his investigation with tomato growers–who are paid to churn out attractive tomatoes, not make a flavorful food–Klee began with consumers, or the people who buy and eat tomatoes. He wanted to understand what makes good and bad flavor on a molecular level. Figuring out the formula for creating a delicious tomato that still maintains the high yields and disease resilience of the watery, bland supermarket offerings could give growers an easy-to-implement toolkit for improving their offerings.
Klee and his colleagues ground up dozens of tomato variety, then asked 100 different people to sample the fruits of the researchers’ labor and report back on their favorites and least favorites. Using that feedback, the researchers could identify which of the tomatoes’ more than 400 volatiles actually drove flavor. What they found indicated that consumers prefer tomatoes with a perceived sweetness – emphasis on “perceived.”
For example, yellow jelly beans, a breed of tomato, contain around 4,500 milligrams of sugar per 100 milliliters. A matina tomato, on the other hand, contains around 4,000 mg per 100 ml. Yet people perceive matinas as being about twice as sweet as yellow jelly beans. Volatiles drive the perception of what we think is sweetness in these two tomatoes.
Typically supermarket variety tomatoes vary in their sugar content, but they usually range from around 2,000 to 2,500 mg per 100 ml. The cherry tomato varieties typically sit in the 3,000 to 3,500 mg per ml range.
Just 15 to 20 volatiles control the majority of a tomato’s flavor, the researchers found. ”Some of the most abundant chemicals in a tomato have absolutely no influence on whether people like it or not,” Klee said.
This knowledge in hand, they went about creating a recipe for the perfect tomato, which resembles an heirloom. Their ideal fruit represents the average of what the research participants ranked as their preferred tomato. While absolute individual preferences may vary by demographics, cultures and whether or not someone is a supertaster, Klee believes that nearly everyone would agree that “this is a really good tomato.”
The next step, Klee says, is to move those desirable traits into the high yielding varieties of tomatoes. In the lab, he and his team successfully crossed modern tomatoes with their perfected heirloom, creating a hybrid. The new tomato maintains the deliciousness of the volatile-laden heirloom but produces twice as much fruit and keeps the modern strain’s resistance to disease. So far, yields aren’t quite at the level to convince commercial growers to change their ways, but Klee believes production improvements will get his tomato to the marketplace eventually.
“Can volatiles enhance sweetness while reducing our use of sugars and artificial sweeteners?” Bartoshuk posed. “We think: yes.”
February 15, 2013
Today, entering “chipotle” into a Google search yields 19.7 million results in a fraction of a second. The ingredient appears in more than 800 recipes on Food Network’s website. A MenuPages search for the ingredient generates more than 1,500 mentions of chipotle on the East Coast alone. Founded in 1993, the Chipotle Mexican Grill franchise grew from 16 locations in 1998 to more than 500 in 2005, then doubled that in 2011.
How did a small smoke-dried jalapeno reach such celebrity status in the kitchen?
Ten years ago, McCormick & Company, the largest spice company in the world, put chipotle on the map in its third annual flavor forecast, a roundup of spices and other ingredients that predicts a peak in popularity for that year. Chipotle, already well known and regularly used in central and southern Mexico, saw a 54 percent jump in menu mentions across America in the next seven years.
The company’s 2003 forecast also included lemon grass, sea salt and wasabi, present-day restaurant staples. Three years later, chai and paprika were the breakout stars. In 2011, the forecast featured flavors with origins outside of the states, highlighting curry and herbes de Provence.
McCormick’s team of nearly 100 chefs, sensory scientists, dietitians and marketing experts will talk 2014 flavors at a summit next month. But 2013 has just begun, and one of the ingredients in this year’s flavor combinations could become the next chipotle:
- Bitter dark chocolate, sweet basil and passion fruit. Pairing chocolate with fruit isn’t a new trend, but swapping traditional mint with basil is a new spin.
- Black rum, charred orange and allspice. Allspice is usually associated with baking, but pairing it with black rum could produce tropical cocktails.
- Cider, sage and molasses. This trio lends to rustic, comfort foods during chilly weather.
- Smoked tomato, rosemary, chili pepper and sweet onion. This quartet can be used to spice up homemade ketchup, sauces and jams.
- Faro, blackberry and clove. Faro, one of the oldest ancient grains, is similar to quinoa, which has begun showing up in the grocery aisle inside pastas and chips.
- Dukkah and broccoli. Dukkah is an Egyptian blend of cumin, coriander, sesame and nuts. It mostly appears in olive oil as a dipping sauce for table bread in American eateries, but McCormick chefs say uses can extend to toppings for soups, stews and salads.
- Hearty cuts of meat, plantains and cinnamon sticks. Plantains can stand in for potatoes in the classic meat-and-potatoes meal.
- Artichoke, paprika and hazelnut. These three aren’t new on the market, but combining them in one palate makes for a more exotic dish.
- Anise and cajeta. McCormick chefs believe the latter will catch on quickly. It’s a thick Mexican syrup similar to dulce de leche, which many Americans are already familiar with.
- Japanese katsu and oregano. Katsu’s tanginess resembles barbecue and steak sauces.
Zeroing in on trends is the easy part, says McCormick chef Mark Garcia. It’s the recipes that are tricky. They combine the ten flavor combinations with complementary ingredients and taste-test the recipes multiple times.
“One of the worst things we could do is just come up with a recipe where the ingredients don’t make sense but we thought they sounded cool together,” Garcia says. “We clearly have to bring some techniques as well as some artistry to the process so that we create combinations that are both relevant but also make sense from a culinary standpoint.”
Garcia’s prediction for the frontrunner this year for America’s next top flavor is dukkah, explaining that it’s “one of those ingredients where literally the term ‘all-purpose’ comes to mind.” The blend, along with the other flavors, may diffuse into the food industry, cropping up in grocery aisles and the pages of restaurant menus. But will the average citizen’s taste buds accept the new flavor?
Ami Whelan, a senior scientist at McCormick, thinks so. Her job is to evaluate, measure and interpret people’s responses to food based on their senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.
“The senses help us make decisions about the foods we eat. For instance, the appearance of a strawberry helps us make a decision on whether the fruit is ripe,” Whelan writes in an email. “The aroma of fresh baked bread or cinnamon rolls direct us to the store where we expect to taste a fresh, tasty product.”
A sensory analysis of flavor combinations reveals the likelihood of consumer acceptance, but Whelan says she usually has an inkling about the outcome.
“The chefs and culinarians on the team have an extensive intrinsic knowledge of the basic sensory properties of foods and flavors and innately know, even prior to tasting, what might work well together and what likely does not,” she says. “All of us on the team are foodies by nature, meaning that food and flavor is not just our job, but also our hobby and favorite past-time.”
February 13, 2013
If one day of hearts and lovey-dovey, mushy-gushy isn’t enough, you might want to consider a move to Japan or Korea. Both countries have an interesting adaptation for Valentine’s Day: They celebrate it twice.
Traditionally on February 14, the female buys the male a gift, Sadie Hawkins-style—usually in the form of chocolate. There are two ways the chocolate can be given: giri choko for the men in a woman’s office that she does not have romantic feelings for and honmei choko, for the man she truly cares for. It’s a relatively young tradition: The first advertisement for Valentine’s Day in Japan appeared in 1936 when a chocolate shop, Morozoff Ltd., thought it wise to pitch their sweets as the perfect way to show someone you care. But it wasn’t until 1958 and throughout the ’60s and ’70s—long after World War II—that the westernized, commercial selling of chocolate would reappear in Japan. During this boom of Hallmark holidays, Japan’s obsession with Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas also took off from a similar marketing campaign.
But on March 14, called “White Day” the male returns the favor with chocolates and other gifts to prove his requited love. The holiday originated in 1978 when a Japanese confectionary company declared it “Marshmallow Day” for men as a response to the chocolate gifts received a month prior (which explains the “white” part of the celebration’s current namesake and the convenient boost in confectionary sales). It’s popular for men to present their special someone with expensive white chocolates, marshmallows or even white lingerie, sometimes spending up to $250.
But Korea, which adopted the two-day Valentine’s Day celebration around the same time as Japan, has taken the event to another level: And it’s specifically for single people. On April 14th, known as Black Day, sorry singles in Korea who did not receive presents on Valentine’s Day or White Day, gather, dressed in black—black nail polish, black accessories, black shoes—and eat jjajang myeon, noodles covered in black bean paste. (Jjajang translates to black bean paste sauce; myeon, noodles).
The Chinese-style noodle dish is one of South Korea’s national foods, and is considered a comfort food—comparable to the stereotypical image of Ben and Jerry’s eaten straight out of the carton. On Black Day, there are organized, jjajang myeon-eating contests, where dark and devastated loners emerge to eat their weight in starch and bean paste. Sales of black coffee spike, and matchmaking services pounce on the resounding pity for singles lingering in the air.
This interview with Reuters in 2008 just about sums it up:
“I had a miserable time on Valentine’s Day, felt even lonelier on White Day and now I’m crying over a bowl of black noodles,” said a young women who asked only to be identified by her family name Na out of embarrassment. ”Things better be different next year.”
The thick, wheat noodles, similar to pasta, are typically served in a separate bowl from the sauce made with onions meat and/or seafood like shrimp or sea cucumber. The contents are then mixed together at the diner’s discretion. The sauce often leaves a black tint on the teeth—the perfect accessory to an all-black ensemble.
But if you thought kicking it solo on Valentine’s Day was tough, and Black Day perhaps all the more difficult to fathom, in Korea there are roughly 13 holidays devoted to love. Though they aren’t all comparable in participation and importance as Valentine’s Day is in the states, what does one do come June 14th on “Kiss Day” or “Green Day” (August 14th) when couples, dressed in green, skip through the woods drinking the popular cheap, Korean alcohol, soju, from a green bottle?
Though, it seems not everyone is sad on Black Day; not even these yo-yoers (their singledom unconfirmed). And if you can’t find any buddies to celebrate Black Day with you in America, there’s always Singles Awareness Day to look forward to on February 15.
February 11, 2013
Let’s just say Dominic Episcopo has sunk his teeth into the “meat” of Americana. In his Kickstarter project, “Meat America,” the photographer has paired iconic images from Lincoln to Elvis (“Love Me Tender”) with hunks of red-meat art. He spent six years gathering what he describes as uniquely American images for the coffee table book-to-be “manifesto” that hits shelves later this month.
“I was absorbed in this world of meat. When I was at the supermarket or at a restaurant, I thought, ‘What else could that be besides a hot dog?’,” he says. “I go in with drawings into the supermarket—they know me there. Now they run into the back to grab extra steaks for me to look at.”
According to his Kickstarter page, the series “is a state of mind, an eye-opening and artery-closing tour of America’s spirit of entrepreneurship, rebellion and positivity.” A few more examples of things you’ll find in the book: A “Don’t Tred on Meat” flag, a map of the “United Steaks,” and the Liberty Bell.
Food art is no new concept (Arcimboldo comes to mind); whether it’s a fruit sculpture at some swanky gala or an Edible Arrangement sent to a loved one for their birthday, playing with food is a thing Americans like to do. But what makes meat uniquely American? According to a Food and Agricultural Organization report in 2009, Americans consume 279.1 pounds of meat per person each year. Australia is a close second with 259.3, but compare that to places like the United Kingdom (185 pounds/ person), Croatia (85.8 pounds/ person) or even Bangladesh (6.8 pounds/ person) and it’s clear: Americans like meat. And we like a lot of it, but what about a big ole’ steak connects the mind to cowboys rounding up cattle on the range? Episcopo says he’s not sure.
“I’m not quite as obsessed with meat as you might think,” Espiscopo says. “But I do think these images speak to a meat fetish thing that is uniquely American.”
He continues, citing his Kickstarter page: “This exhibition celebrates our collective American appetite of insurmountable odds, limitless aspiration, and immeasurable success. Though, some may just see it just as a bunch of states, presidents and American icons shaped out of animal products, which is also fine with me.”
Episcopo received his BFA in photography from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and has lived and worked in the city for the last 25 years as a commercial photographer. Most of his “meat” series was produced in his studio inside of his home—a converted 150-year-old abandoned church—he shares with his wife and three-year-old son.
“A sense of humor in photography is hard to pull off and still be taken seriously,” he says. “Weegee’s got that tongue-in-cheekness to it and Penn’s work influenced my straightforward rendering [of the meat].”
To achieve that simple, untouched look for his meat photos he used cookie cutters and a keen eye for the right cut of steak. For the map of the “United Steaks,” he bought a ribeye, made one cut-in, bent one side to create Florida and the rest he shaped with his hands. The lines from the fat of the slab matter.
For the lettering in examples like “Love and Death” based on the famous Philadelphia statue by Robert Indiana, Episcopo uses deli cuts of ham, roast beef, salami and bologna. The settings and surrounding materials all have meaning and play a roll in telling the image’s story, he says. For “Love and Death” he included what he calls a Philadelphia breakfast: A pretzel, some coffee and the cover of the Daily News—all iconic images for the city.
“I can’t just use a cookie cutter to get a shape of Abe Lincoln,” he says. “I wanted it to look like the steak you bought at the supermarket.” Though Episcopo and his family eats only local, organic and grassfed beef, he says there’s a reason he can’t go organic with his images.
“Organic meat is purple,” he says. “I need a big, ruddy robust piece of meat to get the right idea across.”
He tries to maintain political neutrality with his work, but that doesn’t stop the letters from PETA advocates from coming in, he says. But flack for his flank art hasn’t stifled his creative energy around this endeavor.
“I love when I enter an art show and they ask me the medium,” Episcopo says. “How many people get to say meat or steak? Or ‘Meat is my Muse?’”
While we’re on the subject, a few other examples of “meat art” out there:
- Mark Ryden’s “The Meat Show: Paintings about Children, God and USDA Grade A Beef,” will have you gawking at paintings with Colonel Sanders, Abe Lincoln and a big, juicy steak on the same canvas.
- Though Russian artist Dimitri Tsykalov, may not be going for the “Americana” theme with his work, he’s certainly another meat artist worth checking out. Rather than shaping sausages into the state of Texas, his series “Meat Weapons,” evokes a more visceral response featuring full-suited soldiers outfitted in very rare meat-made machine guns and ammo.
- Marije Vogelzang’s “Faked Meat” goes for the meaty look using anything but: Sapicu-wings with dark chocolate, “meat” lollipops, and veggie-made meatballs. The gist: there are a lot of meat substitutes on grocery store shelves.
- A basic search for “meat art” on Pinterest will find you something red and raw to look at (real or not). A personal favorite: This meat-looking mask by artist Bertjan Pot.
- Lest we not forget America’s bacon obsession: This Foulard bacon scarf just may be the perfect Valentine’s Day present for the bacon-loving, love of your life.