Friday, August 30, 2013

The Politicizing of Food

It is my contention that the gathering, preparation and sharing of food is a universal custom, and as such is a tradition capable of bringing together people of all races, creeds, colors, nations, and beliefs.

But its these very attributes that people use to create divide within the human species.

Every race, creed, color, nation, belief, etc. etc. etc. has its own dogma to which adherents adhere like crazy glue on pinky fingers. Thus, certain people – let's use the contemporary term 'haters'- inevitably find a way to use the  entire procedure of meal-making and partaking thereof as a platform to promote their political views.

And sometimes, they bypass the whole food thing and just step into the spotlight to make their points heard.

Titli Nihaan is a YouTube renowned cook. She's British. She's Muslim. She's educated and has traveled extensively. And she's a heck of a cook. She posted a video called, "The Great Bubble and Squeak Recipe." For this particular video, she introduces her friend from Israel and her friend narrates the recipe. It's a terrific video. Bubble and Squeak is a traditionally English dish, but also has Irish roots. And it's a great way to use up leftover veggies and mashed potatoes.

But here come the troublemakers. In the comments section of the video, one fool starts talking about Palestine, Israel, Jews, Arabs and some kind of politically confusing nonsense about the who, what, where, and how of who should be living where and how they should be doing it.

And so someone else feeds the troll and a whole other discussion erupts, right there in the middle of the discussion about bubble and squeak.

The haters kind of missed the point, though, which surprised me. Titli is a Muslim. Her friend is, I assume, a Jew. The Muslims and Jews are not typically recognized as allies, much less friends. Yet, here we see Titli and her friend Keren gathering, preparing and sharing food.

If every Muslim, Jew, Christian, Pagan, Wiccan, and what-all got together one morning and made Bubble and Squeak, the world would be a better place.   

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gluten Free Lemon Bars

These gluten free lemon bars are a family favorite. Sweet with a bit of tartness, and a crust that has just the right texture. I credit the Gluten Free Bisquick Pancake Mix for that. The half cup of white rice flour gives the crust a bit more body, and the powdered sugar keeps it sweet.

For the crust:
1 cup Gluten Free Bisquick Pancake Mix
½ cup white rice flour
¼ cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons chilled gluten free butter spread
4 teaspoons to ¼ cup cold water

For the topping:
2 eggs
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon white rice flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Zest of one large lemon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray an 8x8 baking pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper

Make the Crust
Whisk together the gluten free flour mix, white rice flour, powdered sugar and salt.
Cut the chilled butter into chunks and add it to the mix.
Use a fork or pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour mix.

When the flour mix is crumbly, use your fingers to break it down until it has a sandy feel to it.

Add two teaspoons of cold water and work it in with your fingers.
Continue adding one teaspoon of water at a time until the mixture feels sticky.
Add ½ teaspoon of water at time until the mixture holds together.

Transfer the mixture into the prepared pan and press it across the pan, making it as even as possible.
Place the pan in the oven and bake the crust for 20 minutes.

Make the topping
Five minutes before the crust is done baking, make the lemon topping.

In a bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the eggs and cream of tartar until light and fluffy.
Add the sugar, white rice flour and baking powder, the lemon juice and zest to the egg mixture and beat on medium speed until well blended and slightly thickened.

Take the crust out of the oven and pour the lemon mixture over the hot crust.

And Bake
Put the pan back into the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for at least one hour before cutting.

Sprinkle powdered sugar on top if desired. I don't usually do this, because I find the bars to be sweet enough, but a little extra sweetness is always an option.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Lab Burgers and Stem Cell Research

It's being called a test tube burger, a lab burger, an in vitro burger. When I asked by husband if he would eat a burger grown in a petri dish, he replied, "If you didn't tell me it was grown in a petri dish, I would."

Grass Fed Beef and Potatoes
At an event held in London on this day, August 5, 2013, a hamburger grown in a petri dish, originating from the cells of cow muscle is cooked up and served. This is cultured meat, not meaning it has a certain elegant style – or perhaps it does- but rather that it's been grown much like any other culture, such as a throat swab.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, aka, PETA, are all for this. They don't want cows, pigs, chickens, etc to endure the horrid conditions now so well documented that are associated with raising animals for food. So taking a bit of tissue from a cow muscle and growing a burger means animals will provide the cells for meat, not become the meat itself.

There are other considerations as well: environmental, financial, and of course, world hunger. We all want a healthier planet, a more robust global economy, and a well-fed population.

But really, are burgers the way to go? I suppose the science behind lab-grown food had to start somewhere, and it's probably easier to grow a burger than, say, a radish when it comes to cultured food. With pundits screeching about obesity and the crappy diets that cause it, is this the sort of thing that is going to further encourage veggies and grains over meat and potatoes?

Now, to be fair, the burger is actually fat free, by any FDA standard. It's strictly muscle tissue, which doesn't contain fat. This isn't a greasy half-pounder. It is five ounces of lean meat. It's the kind of burger that Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig would certainly encourage the clientele to include in their diets.

Veggie Plate-A natural alternative to meat?
So, a leaner hamburger that also saves the planet and ends world hunger is really quite revolutionary. Let's all hear it for the lab-burger.

How does it taste? According to food writer Josh Schonwald, one of the tasters at the London event, the burger was more like "animal proteincake". The lab-burger had the texture and appearance of meat, but wasn't wildly flavorful. But any Contemporary Cook worth her herbs can turn that around – a bit of ketchup, onion, and some dried parsley mixed in to the meat and you've got a delicious hamburger.

This technology is born of stem cell research aimed at helping humans with debilitating medical conditions or damaged body parts. But that particular goal involved ethical issue, primarily because the research required stem cells from human fetuses. But it would seem that helping humans overcome pain and life-threatening diseases isn't high on the list for organizations such as PETA. But God forbid we eat a cow.

The lab-burger though, is still meat. The goal of this culinary innovation is to feed the carnivores of this planet.  Should it prove a cruelty free source of meat, will vegetarians and vegans who abstain now come to the dark side because the cruelty factor is removed?

The experts won't be churning out lab-burgers anytime soon; this one burger cost several thousand dollars to grow. But if we, as humans, stopped eating meat, this technology would perhaps be put to better use, perhaps determining ways to improve soil for home gardens, or grow grains in a more efficient way. Or perhaps, to help humans in distress.

As an omnivore, I applaud the effort, and hope for the best outcome from this expensive experiment. As a Contemporary Cook, I believe I could make this in vitro meat taste good. As the parent of a vegetarian, I don't think it will convert any meat-free people into carnivores. As a human, I wonder if we're headed in the right direction when it comes to stem cells and the research surrounding it.