Past Articles

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

Monday, March 12, 2012

Public Enemy #1 for Knives

The next time somebody tells you, “You're not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” you might want to reply, “Thank you! The sharpest knives aren't kept in the drawer.” I'll tell you why at the end of the blog.

The sharpest cooks have the sharpest knives. Knives are actually fragile tools that require much care. When used properly, a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife, so keep it sharp and keep it safe.

 Maintaining your chef knife and cutlery can be a challenge, but your reward is safer food handling, better looking and better tasting food, says cutlery expert Robert Ambrosi, owner of Ambrosi Cutlery, founded in 1930. Here are some ideas that will keep you cutting and chopping, and not mashing and squeezing.

Before you slice that tender corned beef this weekend for St. Patrick's Day, think about your knife. What is Public Enemy #1 for your expensive knives? It's your dishwasher. Never put your chef knife in the dishwasher. Dishwashers blunt your knives with high temperatures, abrasives and acidic food remnants. Electrolytic conversions from other metallic items in your wash can dull and pit the blade, Ambrosi says.

 “Start with the handle,” Ambrosi advises. “The American dishwasher has a booster coil, and it gets too hot for a wood handle. It will shrink, and the wood will separate from the tang on a good knife.” (The tang is the metal extension of the knife that connects to the handle). “Composition handles pretty much hold up. When you look at the blade, some people say the heat alters the molecular composition or melts the edge. That's not the case. The way blades are tempered, the heat will not affect them that way. “There are other issues,” he says.

“A sharp knife should come in contact only with the item it is cutting. Anything else will contribute to it dulling. For that reason, it is not okay to put a knife in a dishwasher. The next reason is the chemicals and hardness in the water can create pit marks. I've had people bring knives in for sharpening that had small holes, indentations, in the steel blade from the water and chemicals.

“Aluminum against stainless steel causes a chemical reaction,” he explains. “It causes pitting and corrosion. I see tiny black spots on the blade edges.

 “All in all, it's not a good idea to put a good knife in the dishwasher.”

Automatic dishwashers heat to 160 to 180 degrees F, and while debate rages among manufacturers and chefs, Ambrosi says it's not hot enough to re-temper most steel knives. However, he acknowledges that the knife's extremely thin edge does change with heat, and may become pitted or re-aligned due to the abrasive soaps and chemicals in the dishwasher.

What is the best way to treat your best knives? Ambrosi recommends a simple procedure. “Take it to the sink,”Ambrosi says. "Wipe it down with a sponge and soapy water. Do this with the edge facing away – sometimes people forget that and get cut. Wipe it dry immediately with a cloth. Then, put it away.”

 Ambrosi suggests that storing knives in a drawer is a bad idea for two reasons. First, they slide in the drawer against utensils or other knives, blunting the blade. Also, reaching into a drawer with exposed knives can be extremely dangerous.

The Atomic Kitchen will tackle other cutting edge kitchen issues and proper knife storage in future blogs.

Next week: Coffee and Asthma
Last week: Carmelizing Onions

The Atomic Kitchen is a blog by Kerry Gleason that explores the science of cooking. For more information about Kerry, visit .

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Exponential Yummying of Onions

Caramelized vegetables are a tasty preparation method, although the process is a bit more complex than it may seem on the sweet surface.  Caramelization occurs by altering the chemical properties of foods containing sugars, which includes almost all fruits and vegetables.  The end result is a heightened natural sweetness that invigorates the flavors for your main dishes, casseroles and side dishes.

Here's a mathematical equation to simplify the caramelization process:

 heat + sugar = flavor change (isomerization) + color reaction (polymerization)

Caramelization is a form of browning, not to be confused with Browning, the poet, or the Browning automatic rifle, which was a favorite of Bonnie and Clyde. It entails roasting or heating for onions, leeks, shallots, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and many other vegetables, to a temperature between 120 degrees and 212 degrees Farenheit.  The objective is to reduce the water content and initiate two chemical reactions – isomerization and polymerization.  The process converts simple sugars to more than 100 different molecules, which I call “exponential yummying.”

Caramelizing speeds as it progresses, like a marble rolling downhill.  As the dehydration process changes chemical properties in the food, it requires lower temperature for the caramelization process to continue.  Its momentum must be stopped by removing it from it's heat source.  If the temperature and time are not kept in check, the result is burning or charring.

Different sugars caramelize at different temperatures.  Fructose, found naturally in fruits and honey, begins to caramelize at about 120 degrees F.  Other sugars, saccharose, glucose, galactose and maltose, start caramelizing at 160 degrees F. Caramelized fruits and vegetables will shrink as the water evaporates, sometimes losing two-thirds of their volume. They will become very hot, with internal temperatures exceeding 300 degrees F. 

Here's your tip of the day:  Do not use butter when caramelizing your fruits and veggies.  Dairy fats burn at a lower temperature than is required for caramelization to take place.  Use a small amount of oil at the start. If you need to prevent sticking, add water, or for added flavor, wine or alcohol.  (One of my favorite recipes is caramelized mushrooms, finished with Southern Comfort.  Killer!).

Next week:  The #1 Public Enemy for your Knives
Last week:  Avoiding Dr. Seuss Eggs

Article ID: TAK2
keywords: the atomic kitchen, caramelization, onions, browning, exponential yummying