Past Articles

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

MIT Nano-Technology Grad Perfects Faster Ketchup Bottle

The MIT Team

TIME article about LiquiGlide

Salt, Not Oil

When cooking meat, particularly beef, you can eliminate the need for cooking oil completely.

Heat the pan. Sprinkle salt evenly through the pan. Add meat to the pan, and you will hear it sizzle and crackle. The salt draws moisture from the meat, and enough fats to take the place of the cooking oil you might have used.

I've been told this does not change the flavor of the meat, although common sense dictates that it must. I must say, I have used this method for many years and never experienced overly salty meat using this method.

Monday, May 14, 2012

High-Altitude Cooking? No Pressure!

I was kindly invited to spend Christmas Day with friends up in Ft. Collins, Colo., last December, and I offered to bring a Cheesecake made with the world's bar-none best New York-style Cheesecake recipe.  The day prior, I set aside for baking.  This was one of my first attempts at baking since moving to Colorado, and while I'm keen on improvising in cooking, I'm less likely to stray from a baking recipe.  I completely forgot that adjustments needed to be made to my favorite recipe for the change in altitude.

What do you suppose my first clue might be? 

The mellow filling in the spring-form pan rose much more than usual.  I thought nothing of it, because everybody likes a mile-high slice of Cheesecake, right?  Well, clue number two was the baking time.  The cheesecake requires a very high temperature of 500 degrees for (I believe) 90 minutes.  At 30 minutes, the top crust was already golden brown.  At 45 minutes, it was black and charred.  I removed the cheesecake at this point, primarily because I had trouble seeing it through the smoke in the oven.  After cooling the molten monstrosity, inspection showed that the graham cracker crust was slightly overdone, but nowhere near as overcooked as the black helmet my cheesecake was wearing.  As the cake continued to cool, the black shell split and cracked and peeled, like paint off an old, weathered house.  Using a spatula, I removed the “helmet,” and beneath – The charred cheesecake was beautifully golden brown. 

I was able to rescue the charred cheesecake, and my host and other guests exhibited amazing patience and understanding, as fellow transplants to the mountains from Upstate New York.  It was delicious.

The question is, what factors change at high altitude?  Answer:  All of them.  Okay, I exaggerate.  The big ones are atmospheric pressure, humidity and food chemistry.  The result will be highly visible:  Blackened cheesecake tops, cakes that sink in the middle, flat cookies, batters and fillings that overflow the griddle or pie pans. 

Atmospheric pressure:
  The Colorado State University Cooperative Extension reports that the pressure per square inch at sea level is 14.7, while at 5,000 feet, it is just 12.3 ppi.  At 10,000 feet, it is just 10.2 ppi.  For every 500 feet or so, water boils at one degree less than the sea-level standard of 212 degrees Farenheit.  The change in pressure causes the following:

  • faster action by leavening agents
  • faster evaporation of moisture
  • faster boiling points for liquids

Humidity:  Here in the Rockies of Colorado and points south, we enjoy lots of sunshine and an arid/semi-arid desert climate.  Humidity is low.  The dryness alters the chemical properties of some ingredients, which may affect your recipes.  Flour may be drier, requiring more liquid to achieve sea-level/normal humidity results.   I've noticed that pasta is drier and more liquid is necessary for baked pasta dishes.  On a positive note, bread mold is slower to develop, although bread must be wrapped to avoid drying out.

Food chemistry:
  Under the confines of lower pressure and faster evacuation of gases, cellular structure is compromised for many items, especially those containing sugars and fats.  Adding an extra egg to baked goods and pastry recipes can help offset the weakened cell walls.  Decreasing the amount of flour or leavening while increasing the baking temperature may yield better results.  Decreasing cooking and baking times may also help.

It would be helpful if some smart people came up with a formula for all this.  They have.

Rules of thumb at 5,000+ feet:
  • reduce flour and leavening agents by 1/2
  • reduce sugar by 2-1/2 tsp. per cup
  • Increase liquid by 3 tsp. per cup or one egg
  • Increase baking temperature by 15-25 degrees (except with yeasted breads: reduce by 15-25 degrees)
  • While increasing the temperature, decrease the baking time by 20 percent.
  • For muffins and cakes, fill pans only 1/3 or 1/2
Most experts will agree that a degree of trial and error is necessary.

So what actually happened with my cheesecake?  As the liquids evaporated so quickly, it altered the concentrations of sugars and fats.  I should have increased the liquids by at least 10%, reduced the sugar by 25 percent and decreased the baking time to about 60 to 70 minutes.   I'll  report back on the next attempt.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite tweeps, Rise Keller, a.k.a. @VanillaGrrl and her presentation on the subject.

Friday, May 4, 2012

pHarmony for Your Body

Your body is like a barber-shop quartet.  When you are feeling at your peak, everything works in  harmony with everything else.  Sounds great, looks great, feels great.  Diet plays a major part in the orchestration of those harmonies, and when you hear those sour notes prick your ears with more frequency, you may want to check to see if you have a pH-armony problem.  I apologize up front:  This is a rather complex issue and I am giving it  a basic blog overview.  For more details, consult a registered dietician (RD) or a doctor.

For most non-space alien people, the body operates with an average blood pH of 7.35-7.45, which is slightly “alkaline.”  In this range, the body maintains stores of minerals, nutrients and raw materials to maintain its peak performance.  To keep the body in this range, an alkaline diet is helpful.

In today's world, however, many of us thrive on or fall prey to pre-packaged foods, meats, white bread, sugared drinks, alcohol, chips and candy.  All of those are acidic, and it's like replacing members of your barber-shop quartet with all baritones.  Your body won't be able to hit the high notes.  As a result, it pulls from the stores of calcium, potassium and sodium, sending the body's pH spiraling toward Acidopolis – Sin City.

This is a condition known as acidosis.  I call it the slug-ification of America.  To avoid acidosis, increase your intake of the items listed at the end of this article, because acidosis can be checked with proper diet.  But when left to run rampant for long periods of time, it may cause these conditions:

Weight gain, obesity and diabetes.
Cardiovascular damage.
Bladder conditions.
Kidney stones.
Immune deficiency.
Acceleration of free radical damage.
Hormonal problems.
Premature aging.
Osteoporosis and joint pain.
Aching muscles and lactic acid buildup.
Low energy and chronic fatigue.    
Slow digestion and elimination.
Yeast/fungal overgrowth.
Lack of energy and fatigue.
Low body temperature.
Tendency to get infections.
Loss of drive, joy, and enthusiasm.
High stress and quick temper.
Pale complexion.
Inflammation of the corneas and eyelids.    
Loose and painful teeth.
Inflamed, sensitive gums.
Mouth ulcers.
Stomach ulcers.
Cracks at the corners of the lips.
Excess stomach acid.
Nails are thin and split easily.
Hair changes: dulling, split ends, and falling out.
Dry skin.
Skin irritation.
Leg cramps and spasms.

Embellish your diet with these items to leave Sin City and return to a natural, alkaline state:


Barley Grass
Beet Greens
Chard Greens
Collard Greens
Edible Flowers
Fermented Veggies
Green Beans
Green Peas
Mustard Greens
Nightshade Veggies
Parsnips (high glycemic)
Sea Veggies
Spinach, green
Sweet Potatoes
Wheat Grass
Wild Greens

Dandelion Root

Cherries, sour
Coconut, fresh
Dates, dried
Figs, dried
Honeydew Melon
Tropical Fruits
Umeboshi Plums


Tempeh (fermented)
Tofu (fermented)
Whey Protein Powder



Chili Pepper
Herbs (all)
Sea Salt

Alkaline Antioxidant Water
Apple Cider Vinegar
Bee Pollen
Fresh Fruit Juice
Green Juices
Lecithin Granules
Mineral Water
Molasses, blackstrap
Probiotic Cultures
Soured Dairy Products
Veggie Juices

Calcium: pH 12
Cesium: pH 14
Magnesium: pH 9
Potassium: pH 14
Sodium: pH 14

Note that a food's acid or alkaline forming tendency in the body has nothing to do with the actual pH of the food itself.  Although it might seem that citrus fruits would have an acidifying effect on the body, the citric acid they contain actually has an alkalizing effect in the system.  For example, lemons are very acidic, however the end products they produce after digestion and assimilation are very alkaline so, lemons are alkaline forming in the body. Likewise, meat will test alkaline before digestion, but it leaves very acidic residue in the body so, like nearly all animal products, meat is very acid forming.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Why Onions Make You Cry

Here in the Atomic Kitchen, we bring the gamut of emotions. We like to make you laugh.  Today, we might make you cry.  Fair warning: you may need a box of tissues as we explain why cutting onions makes you cry.

Your tears are primarily water.  Saline. Salt water.

Onions can be divided into two categories:  Sweet and Storage.  Sweet onions have a much higher water content, and have a limited shelf life.  They have a milder reaction with your eyeballs and tear ducts because of that high water content.  We're going to address yellow, white and red onions used in cooking – the “storage onions” sometimes referred to as “dry onions,” with a relatively low water content.

You're embarking on a fantastic recipe.  You've got a sharp knife at the ready.  You peel the skin off the onion and place it on the cutting board.  Shortly after making that first slice, your eyes tear uncontrollably.  These do not feel like “Oh, the suffering of humanity!” tears.  They burn.  What is going on?

Lurking within your onion are a mishmash of chemicals separated by cell membranes. In the whole onion state it is stable.  But inside some of those cells are many amino acids, among which are sulfoxides.  When you cut into the onion, you break the cell membranes, releasing a chemical medley through the onion, creating instability in Onion World.  The sulfoxides become sulfenic acids.  These are free to combine with other molecules, and one of the by-products is propanethiol S-oxide, a gas which takes a vapor form.  Propanethiol S-oxide wafts upward, interacting with the moisture in your nose and those saline tears in your lachrymal ducts to create small amounts of sulfuric acid.

Sulfuric acid burns.  Your tear ducts create more tears to wash the irritant away, and before you know it, you look like you just watched “Ol' Yeller.” 

To avoid the waterworks, chill the onion for 30 minutes before cutting it.

Thanks for reading The Atomic Kitchen!  Please share us with your friends. 

Next week:  Acidosis

Last Week:  How to Avoid Curdling


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Going Curdless: Tips to Avoid Curdling

A good rule of thumb for cooking with dairy products, including cream, milk, eggs, butter, cheese and mayonnaise, is:  patience!

Sauces made with milk,  cream and cheese may curdle for several reasons:
  • not enough fat content.  Skim milk will curdle more than heavy cream, and low-fat creams and cheeses are more likely to curdle than their whole-fat compadres.
  • too high heat.  Cream sauces must be cooked at low temps. Use a thermometer to ensure temperatures stay lower than 175 degrees F.
  • too much acid.  Cream should be added last (with exceptions like lemon juice). Wine can be very acidic, and should be reduced.  any ingredients should be of medium temperature before cream is introduced, as it will separate at boiling.

How curdling occurs:
Dairy fats combine to form a rubbery mesh, which squeezes out water.

One possibility to prevent curdling is Carrageenan.  There are three kinds, and Lambda Carrageenan is best for sauces because it is water soluble. It is derived from red seaweed.  80% of the world's supply originates from the Philippines, although its name originated from an Irish fishing village noted for a pudding made from seaweed and sweetened milk.

Interesting fact: Camel's milk will not curdle.  It may be tougher to find on your supermarket shelves.

If a cream or butter sauce “breaks,” it can be fixed.  In a separate pan, gently heat a small amount of your cream or your dairy base, and gradually add the broken sauce, whisking as you go.  The added dairy fat plus the gradual temperature reduction will rectify the curdling.  This is called “tempering” a sauce.

Or... remove the curdled sauce from heat immediately and place pan in an ice bath, which will immediately halt the cooking process.  You may add an ice cube to the sauce as well. This quick-cooling should help bring the sauce back together.  Some cooks recommend adding starch, such as a paste made from flour or corn starch and water.

None of these methods are foolproof, and many chefs will attest, sometimes you may have to just start over!  C'est la vie!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Atomic Kitchen: Love Me Tender: Natural Tenderizers

The Atomic Kitchen: Love Me Tender: Natural Tenderizers: Wrapping meat in a papaya leaf from the paw paw tree is one way to tenderize it naturally. Meat derives much of its flavor from fat.  Th...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Love Me Tender: Natural Tenderizers

Wrapping meat in a papaya leaf from the paw paw tree is one way to tenderize it naturally.
Meat derives much of its flavor from fat.  The ideal cuts have fat “marbled” in its texture.  Some cuts of meat are simply tough.  Many meat tenderizers are available on the market.  The critical ingredient in most of these is papain.  As you might guess, papain comes from papaya.  I was not able to figure that out on my own.  I though it came from the Pope.

Good news!  You can tenderize your meat without a packaged meat tenderizer or papal intercession. 

  • Liquify or smash ripe papaya to create a tasty marinade that will tenderize your meat using natural papain.  You can also wrap meat overnight in paw paw leaves to reap the benefits of papain.
  • Use fresh pineapple.  It contains an enzyme, bromelain, that quickly tenderizes meat in 30-60 minutes.  It will add flavor to the meat, which may be good, or not.
  • Use a meat mallet to pound chicken, beef or pork.  It breaks fat tissue, increasing tenderness.   

Be sure to use fresh pineapple and papaya.  Canning and bottling destroys these enzymes.  Do not tenderize for long periods or your meat will turn to mush.

Papaya leaves, which are very bitter in their raw form, are believed to cure scarlet fever, lessen menstrual pain, treat acne, increase appetite and improve digestion.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cooking With Beer

Beer can be a useful cooking ingredient in two ways: as a reduction for sauces, gravies, soups and baked goods, or as an add-in flavoring.  Three ways – in a glass as an accompanying beverage while cooking and during the meal.

First, what are you cooking?  Different beers work best toward distinct ends. 
"There's 32 different styles of beer and each style lends itself to something different," said Brian Marin, chef/owner of the Beer Bistro in Toronto, which uses beer as an component of nearly every dish served. 

He and other chefs recommend:
Porters and full-bodied dark beers:  red meat, game and stews. 
European and British pale ales that are light on hops:  chicken and pork. 
Sweeter stouts:  braised meats, stews, pizza dough and chocolate desserts. 
German and Czech pilsners:  cheese fondues.
Belgian fruit lambics: duck and fowl. 

American pilsners, predominantly rice driven, do not pack enough flavor for most cooks to find them useful.  But you can experiment with any beer and any food.

A few rules may apply, because unlike wines and liquor, beer loses much of its malty goodness if it is boiled or reduced.  Many beers become bitter and nasty tasting.  Instead of reducing the beer, you are better served by adding a thickening agent.  Unflavored gelatin is recommended by top chefs.

I will save beer that I don't drink for use in broths and sauces.  Better, use fresh beer, but reduce the carbonation by whisking it briskly. Many chefs advise adding beer at the end of the cooking process so you don't lose all the flavors your brew master worked hard to create.

If your stew or other concoction tastes bitter from the beer, you can remedy that.  Add carrots!  Pureed or sauteed carrots or a few drops of lemon juice will help reduce the bitterness.

Beer as a marinade and tenderizer? No, and no.  The alcohol begins “cooking” the outside of the meat, and actually creates a barrier preventing flavors from penetrating the meat.  It has little effect as a tenderizer. 

Last week:  Treating Asthma with Coffee
Next week:  Tenderizers that do work!

Article ID: TAK5
keywords: the atomic kitchen, beer, meat, stew, soups, sauces, pilsner, lager, porter, stout, lambics

Monday, March 19, 2012

Can A Cup O' Joe Treat Your Asthma?

Physicians have known about the beneficial effect of coffee for treating asthma and COPD symptoms since at least 1859, when its effects were documented in the Edinburgh Medical Journal. How does coffee help treat asthma, to what degree, and what side effects might be encountered?

Briefly, let's look at asthma. It is caused by a constriction of the bronchi, which can be allergy-induced, exercise-induced, environment-induced or stress-induced. Studies indicate asthma may also be exacerbated by vitamin D deficiency. Typical treatments for severe asthma include theophyllin or epinephrine – which is in the adrenaline family. The key to treating asthma is to relax the bronchial tubes to allow oxygen to pass.

Coffee helps on two levels.

First, the chemical composition of caffeine is similar to that of theophyllin. It is in a class of drugs, methylxanthines, which are very close to adenosines, which may mean nothing to anyone who doesn't weat a white coat. Caffeine binds to adenosine cells without activating them, which in turn releases adrenaline, and nonadrenaline, to the brain. The presence of adrenaline serves as a potent bronchodilator and an effective anti-allergen.

Second. The warmth of the coffee may have a soothing effect, helping the asthma sufferer to relax, thereby relaxing the bronchi. It's a comfort factor that can be achieved with other warm, non-dairy beverages, such as tea, boullion or a hot toddy.

It's easy to see how caffeine can replicate some of the effects
of theophylline and provide short-term relief for asthma sufferers.

Side effects for theophyllin may include nausea, vomiting, persistent headaches, insomnia or rapid heart beat. Caffeine intake may exacerbate these symptoms, and is not recommended in conjunction with theophyllin treatment.  Documented studies show the positive effects for caffeine last about two to four hours, which could be enough to prevent a major asthma attack or emergency room visit.

In a pinch, coffee can be used as a bronchodilator and allergen represser.  

Next week: Cooking with Beer

Article ID: TAK4-coffee_asthma