Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Monosodium Glutamate- the Flavor Enhancing Killer?

Now MSG has gotten a terrible rap. Right up there with Aspartame, Hydrogenated oils, and other unnatural things that kill you. I myself have dabbled in avoidance of this powdery goodness. Speaking with a certain Josh earlier this week, I was telling him that I was thinking of writing a post on how MSG causes all sorts of health problems, very similar to high sodium intake (which as many have recently read leads to the death of nearly 100,000 Americans every year!). But he denied it, saying that some are going to have problems associated with it, while most are not.

Quickly going to Wikipedia when I came home, I seemed to be bested, "[after many studies], toxicologists have concluded that MSG is a harmless ingredient for most people, even in large amounts". Now in no way can Wikipedia be wrong, but upon further examination there is a large group of people spreading an opposing sentiment, which I have concluded as misinformation on a grand scale.  is the best and most comprehensive website outlying medical study after medical study showing that free Glutamates cause all sorts of problems from ADHD to Autism. Don't believe everything that is written.

A little more history on and insight into what MSG is can give us a little more insight into why it's not so much of a problem.

MSG was discovered by this man, Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese physicist in 1903. Using what was the most popular soup flavorer, Kombu (a thick Kelp used in an earlier post), to create Dashi, the Japanese for centuries had been unknowingly creating free Glutamate. While our body was always processing glutamate, it had been a part of a process that was fairly natural and inside of our food, for example Tomatoes and Mushrooms both have high levels of glutamate. What Ikeda did next would revolutionize processed food for the next century and into our current situation. Isolating the element that made Kombu add so much flavor to his soup, Ikeda created MSG. He also created a word for how glutamate was flavoring food, Umami. This flavor did not overwhelm food, but seemed to enhance everything. Umami, generally translated as savory, is another flavor to go with sweet, salty, sour, spicy. His company quickly created a product translated as "essence of flavor," which is still produced and is creating about 1/3 of the worlds MSG, supplying much of Asia. The company quickly found that the flavor could be produced with wheat instead of Kombu, and at a much quicker pace.

MSG would come to America following WWII, along with many other Asian staples. One story goes that American cooks found that rations taken from the Japanese prisoners of war tasted far and away better than the American canned goods, and it was quickly found that this food essence was to blame.  Over the next 60 odd years, MSG has taken hold in American food. Due to a branding problem, MSG has other names, such as Glutamate, Malodextrin, Yeast Extract, Gelatin, and Sodium Caseinate to name a few. Without these products, all of our canned goods, soups, etc. would be bland, lose flavor much quicker, and would have a huge impact on the food industry.

To give the greatest example of why humans love glutamate we can look at breast milk. Glutamate is far and away the most abundant amino acid in the milk, and is ten times higher a content level than cow's milk. Glutamate is one half of the flavor of breast milk, being sweet and savory so kids will eat it!

MSG has its negatives, namely, you want to eat more because it tastes so good! Take a look at the facts, google msg myth, figure out what you want to do, just don't be fooled by MSG free!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Udon Noodle Soup - Umami to the Max!

Udon Noodles are most popularly served with the broth that I am about to show you, and are a staple of Japanese eating. Udon noodles, along with Ramen were supposedly brought from China over to the Japanese islands over a millenia ago. Some say that it is the very noodle that Marco Polo brought back from his travels in the East! Every region of Japan has specific styles of noodles, and in the small city of Takamatsu in Southern Japan, Udon has found it's center. The city boasts over 700 Udon eateries, necessitating Udon Taxi crawls to see the most famous Udon bowls. 

In a later post, I will show you how this style of soup is the precursor to MSG, and truly a magnificent Umami experience. Also a note about Shoyu and Mirin. I will go into more detail again at a later date, but Shoyu is something you should buy for sure yo. It blends and harmonizes flavors, and is made using better products than your average soy sauce. It tastes less salty, and does not overpower soups or rice. Mirin, while being a sweet rice wine, is by no means as sweet as sugar, and helps give Japanese cooking that perfect sweetness. If you cook a lot of fish, it will also help mask the smell. These two ingredients are worth the buy if you hope to do any amount of Japanese cooking. If you choose not to buy mirin, just mix equal parts rice vinegar and sugar, it won't be as tasty I think.

6 cups water
1 1/2 strips Kombu (read directions)
4 oz Udon
4 oz Shitake Mushrooms
2 cups White button cap mushrooms
3 tbsp Shoyu
2 tbsp Mirin
One bunch scallions
4 oz tofu or 1/2 lb meat protien

Boil Water
Add Kombu strips according to directions
Add Shoyu and Mirin
Strain out solids before pouring

Boil Udon
Strain Noodles and set aside

Sautee Shallots and Mushrooms and add Shoyu
Sautee Protien until cooked.

Arrange Noodles on bottom of bowl and veggies along with protien on top of the noodles, adding green onions.
Pour hot broth over noodles and enjoy the hell out of these.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kosher Red Lentil Soup!

Red Lentil Soup? Really? Did Esau just sell his birthright for a pot of porridge? Have you ever been that hungry?

Well get ready because this soup is that good, maybe not giving up status as a forefather good, but its darn addicting and sure to be a big hit with your family/guests. It's also fairly easy because you do not need to sautee the vegetables before cooking the soup!  It's creamy, a great balance of interesting flavors, and truly is my favorite soup to serve.

Lentils are high in protein, fiber, and are a fairly cheap way for many vegetarian populations to get these nutrients. In fact, lentils are third in protein percentage to only Soybeans and hemp. They are also one of the first domesticated plants in the ME.

5 Cups Water
1 Cup Red Lentil
1 Cups Onions, Chopped
8 Cloves Garlic
2 Cups Potatoes
1 tbsp Oil
1 tbsp Butter
2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Tumeric
1 tsp Cinnamon

2~3 tbsp Lemon Juice

Boil Water
Add Lentils, Onions, Garlic, Potatoes. Leaving cloves whole, chopping onions and potatoes.
Simmer 15-20 minutes, until fork pierces potatoes
During this time Melt Butter in Oil
Release Cumin fragrance by adding it and Tumeric to butter mixture, simmer for two minutes, make sure you don't burn it!
Combine butter amazingness with soup, along with Cinnamon!
Blend in batches, unless you want chunky and then blend half
Squirt 2~3 tbsp of lemon juice into soup

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review of two Tasty Bite Kosher Pre-Made Curries

To all those who love quickly prepared dinners, vegetarian kosher meals, then -TastyBite pre-made meals will be great for you.

While not as tasty as a restaurant dish, many nights have been helped out with speeding through meals with a surprisingly authentic ethnic taste. There are several different brands out there, all sporting this cool hechsher, a menorah!

Unfourtanately, these particular dishes left much too be desired. I had never tried either of them, and I wanted to make new things and review new things for this blog.

First, I am going to speak about the Massaman vegetables. Massaman curries are a wonderful thing when they are made right, and Thai restaurants really do it right. Super coconut creamy, super peanuty, with a potato intensive group of veggies and protein, this southern Thai curry has been my number one curry favorite for a long time. Coming from the name Muslim, it is a unique curry on the spectrum, and Tasty Bite truly "al chetted," missed the mark with this one. The flavor was slightly peanut and left much to be desired, the veggies didn't come out so well including soggy peanuts, and the overall experience was not as happy as I would have liked. I give it a 2/7 - 2 Tim Curry Smiles.

And now to move on to the Paneer Makhani.  Makhani is one of my favorite styles of Indian cuisine, meaning with Butter.  The most famous Makhani dish, and the most popular in lunch buffets, is Chicken in Butter sauce, but that doesn't work for my mouth, so we are going to eat with Paneer. Paneer is simple farmer's cheese that we will be making some time in the blog. Its literally just the curds of normal milk boiled off, super simple to make.
Back to the curry, this one actually had some flavor to it, and if it weren't for the paneer which had a terrible texture, I would have really enjoyed this dish.
I give the Paneer Makhani 3/7 - 3 Tim Curry Faces!.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

The one tool you truly need- a Rice Cooker.

Many, many times in my life have I used one of the four rice cookers I have owned. Four rice cookers?!?! That seems overkill, but with the various moves, and the affordability of rice cookers, why not? If you want an easy way to cook rice, and don't mind waiting more than a minute to create an amazing addition to your meal, then a rice cooker is the way to go.

I can honestly say that rice cookers do create perfect rice without the fuss of watching and turning off the stove at the right time. To avoid confusion when purchasing, there are two types of rice cookers with the lovely names of: On-Off Rice Cookers, and Fuzzy Logic Rice Cookers.

On-off rice cookers are by far the simpler of the two, with three "settings." On, Off, and Warm.  You can get them at discount prices for as low as Seven dollars (that was the cheapest one I ever bought), and they range up to $100 for the nicer brands. Be forewarned when you buy these, they aren't of the best quality at the lower prices, you won't be able to make brown rice (which I know many people are starting to eat these days). They are low power, still make amazing white rice, and are a good way to have an all night warm snack, as they can keep the rice in edible condition for many hours. Many also include steamers which make for easy vegetable cooking.

While I have never owned one, I have combed through many reviews of Fuzzy-Logic cookers in order to place one on my wedding registry. It is a quick find of the most popular brand, Zojirushi. These more advanced cousins of the On-Off variety can do many more jobs. They have brown, sticky, sweet, reheat, and quick cook rice settings. They also have porridge (think polenta, rice porridge) and soup settings for the time when you aren't making rice. Some even have char settings, for the classic asian dishes such as Bi Bim Bop (which I will be making sometime soon for this blog), which utilize crispy rice on the bottom as a flavor component.

Although the price is much higher, if you make rice more than several times a week, I think a fuzzy logic rice cooker is the way to go. The major benefits are: you can cook more types of rice, and you can keep that rice warm for up to a day in a half in the fuzzy rice cookers. The problems- they take a lot longer to cook, making cooking times nearly 45 minutes for a simple pot of rice. They have computers in them that are literally creating the perfect hearting conditions for the rice of your choosing (why they take so long).

While I own an on-off rice cooker now, I cannot wait for the day where a fuzzy logic cooker arrives on my doorstep.  In any case, BUY A RICE COOKER! Thank you Kayla for the inspiration!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Simple Bok Choy with Garlic, Lemon, and Terriyaki

Thank you for this photo of Baby Bok Choy, the vegetable highlighted in the following dish.

Bok Choy has a long history in China, making it to Europe sometime during the 18th century. It's a close relative of cabbage and turnips, and has a similar use in the culinary world. Find a bunch that is pure white, firm, and is absent of spots. The leaves shouldn't be flacid and wilting, rather strong and a darker green.  The best time to find them in your stores or local farmers markets is Fall or Winter, and they will not be available in July or August. Interestingly enough, baby bok choy is just young bok choy, it is ripe for a major portion of its' life. Bigger is not better in this case, I find baby bok choy to be more tender, and easier to deal with.

2 Bunch of Baby Bok choy
1/2 onion
1 clove garlic
1 tsp lemon
1 tsp oil
1 tbsp Terriyaki Sauce
1/4 cup water

Begin by sauteeing onions and Garlic in oil for 2-3 minutes.
Add your liquids and allow to boil
add bok choy (which has been cut down the middle and sliced into smaller pieces)
and mix, allowing bok choy to cook down 4~6 minutes.
Serve immediately

Tikka Masala by Seeds of Change Review. Fish Curry!

Don't know much about Tikka Masala? This is a classic example of how European needs changed Indian cooking. A restaurant in Scotland created a creamier, more tomato heavy version of the classic cooking from their homeland. This is now the most popular curry in the UK, and it's easy to see why.

This is our first review of a pre-produced sauce. It's made by Seeds of Change, is Organic, and has an OU Hechsher. Tikka Masala is tasty with everything; beef, chicken, fish, or tofu.

At first smell upon opening the jar, it was too tomato centric for me, but that would come out in the cooking process. Just to be sure, I combined it with a 1/4 cup of water, terriyaki, and garlic which I used to poach cod.

To make these curries, you complete the cooking process with whatever your protein is. In this case, after seasoning a 1/2 lb filet of cod with salt, I sauteed the fish for 4 minutes on each side with 1/2 an onion before adding 1/4 cup of water and 1 tbsp of terriyaki. I covered and let poach for 4 minutes, at which point I added half the jar of curry, covering the entire fish, and let that simmer for 10 minutes, as per the directions on the jar.

Let me tell you that this was simply delicious! Especially with the tone down on the tomato by adding the water and terriyaki. I cannot wait to try out more of these sauces, which can be found at Whole Foods in Boston, and I am sure many other places.

A shout out to Seeds of Change, who have done their part to preserve nature and fight against large seed monopoly player Monsanto. By preserving heirloom variety seeds, and donating 1% of their profits toward organic farming initiatives, this is truly a great organization to support.

On a scale of 1 to 7, I would say this is 6 and earned the title of curryrific!

Six Adrienne Curry faces- oh my!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fried Rice!

Fried Rice is one of the cheapest, tastiest, most spectacular meals. Making tons of rice at the beginning of the week, you can have an easy breakfast every morning, a quick midnight snack, or an easy way to incorporate all your leftover veggies.

The Most basic Fried Rice I make uses only four ingredients; carrots, onions, soy sauce, and rice of course. I love to use more elaborate ingredients and include some form of protein.

This recipe includes a vegetable that was on sale this week, Baby bok choy along with mushrooms and carrots.

Fried Rice as a "culinary exploration" has become, like curry, popular all over Asia and the world. New styles are being created everywhere from China and Thailand, to Africa, the UK, and America. Made with various meats, gravys, and things you don't want to know, Curries have made it into the local cart, shop, street, and restaurant culture. Here is the version I like.

2 tbsp Oil, 1 tbsp water
1 bunch Baby Bok Choy
8 oz Mushrooms
1 Carrot
1 medium Onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp each of Soy and Terriyaki sauce and more for your taste
3 cups cooked cold leftover rice
Green Onions for garnish and taste

Heat 2 tbsp Oil
Add Chopped Onion and Sautee 2 minutes, add Minced Garlic and sautee 30 seconds.
Add Carrots, Mushrooms, Bok Choy- Sautee 30 seconds
Add Terriyaki, Soy Sauce, Water - get boiling and cook for 2 minutes
Add Rice, and mix well, heating all the way through, 2 minutes
Make space on side of pan, beat three eggs and scramble.

I can't find any Fried Rice jokes so until next time!

Curry #1 of Many

One of my favorite ways to eat on the cheap, and on the easy is to make a curry. Using simple ingredients, along with some water or broth, you can make any size meal you want, that is filling and incredibly tasty.

My love of curries started in Thai restaurants, whose creamy, peanut buttery, coconut milky goodness was a logical next step after my regular order of Pad Thai needed a break. I have made curries over the last several years for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, adding any number of vegetables and using any number of spices. They are so easy to make kosher because there are no processed goods!

Now many think of Curry as specifically an Indian dish, but Curries are actually European and American in there origin. The term most likely comes from the Tamil Khari , meaning gravy. Most Curry Spice is orange in color because of Tumeric which is popular spice. Curry spice includes most commonly tumeric, cumin, red pepper, fenugreek, and corriander and the name refers to this mixture. Because of its wide spread nature, I figured it would be the perfect way to start off this blog, and a good pulse of what I am going to be cooking on a daily basis in my kitchen. All of my measurements are approximate, for when you start making your own curry, you can add or subtract to your tastes, and you will find whether you like Paprica or Corriander more, or if you like cinnamon added at the end of the process.

Just know, that there are many more curries to follow, along with reviews of curry pastes that can be bought in the store!

3 Cups Potatoes
1 can Garbonzo Beans
1 Onion
1 Clove Garlic
2 cups Yellow Squash
1 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp Curry
Broth, Water
1.5 tbsp flour
1 tbsp Soy Sauce
1 tbsp Oil

Sautee your Onions for two minutes in the oil, add minced garlic and sautee for 30 seconds

Add Potatoes and season with Salt and Pepper

and Cumin, combine. Sautee for 30 seconds until the cumin smells crazy good.

Add Garbonzo Beans and Curry Powder and a few tablespoons of water. Sautee for a few minutes with water boiling.

Add Squash and Soy Sauce, Mix until everything is covered.

Add Water or broth until veggies are covered.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes until the potatoes are cooked and pierced with a fork easily.

If you want a thicker curry (my fiancee loves it that way)

Add 1/2 cup of the curry broth to a 1.5 tbsp flour. Mix well! Add back to the curry.

I like to add a nut butter to the curry, it really thickens it and gives it a great flavor

Heres to the coming year, tall ships and small ships.

Knock Knock
Who's there ?
Curry !
Curry who ?
Curry me back home will you?