Thursday, January 31, 2013

Life Hacks

Life hacks are simple little ways to make your life easier and less stressful so you can spend more time being awesome. Here are some food-related hacks to get you over those speed bumps in the kitchen (via TwistedSifter)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Trying New Food Is a Little Difficult When You're an Asian Food Science Student Who Works in Restaurants

As one of my New Year's challenges, I'm trying to introduce new foods into my diet by buying something I've never eaten each time I go to the store since the same foods tend to occupy my refrigerator every single week. (Scroll down for the TL;DR)

To decide which grocery store earns my business each week, I look through the ads dropped into my mailbox every Tuesday. And it's almost always Sprouts Farmers Market that beats Stater Bros., Smart and Final, and the little bodega two blocks down the street. Not only do they have a great bulk bin selection and friendly workers, but you get 5 cents off your total bill with each reusable bag you bring to carry your groceries home. It think its worth the extra driving time.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Sprouts thinking it would be easy to try out a new food considering that the typical grocery store has about 50,000 SKUs. But I failed to remember, that that accounts for multiple brands of the same food as well as their different flavor variations. And since this challenge isn't about trying every kind of potato chip, nut butter, or cereal, my selection is narrowed down to the produce section, which fortunately, is my favorite part of going grocery shopping. I love browsing the display cases to see what the store carries or doesn't carry, where it was grown, the price per pound, why its so expensive/cheap, etc. I'm weird, I know.

So there I am in the produce section, looking at all my options until I realize that I have almost none. Each of the leafy greens, roots, melons, stalks, crucifiers, and fruits are familiar to me. Bitter melon? My grandma used to make it. Kale? Kale chips. Napa cabbage? I serve it at the restaurant I work at.

This challenge just became harder than I thought since I've been fortunate enough to have eaten at Asian restaurants (where if its edible, they'll serve it) and exposed to different cuisines while working at various foodservice establishments. Not to mention the cooking class I took recently and the many samples we get while attending food expos. Theres not a lot that I haven't tried.

Discouraged, I went on shopping as normal, putting my usual picks into my basket until I looked up and saw the light squash. Chayote, to be specific. This funny looking pear-shaped vegetable on the top shelf called out to me, begging me not to choose the gigantic horseradish root in my desperation to find a new food. So I grabbed only one, just in case I didn't like it.

After sitting at the bottom of my refrigerator for far too long, I took the poor guy out and Googled ways to prepare it. Chayote soup, chayote stew, stuffed chayote... Sounds good, but sadly I don't have time for  all that prep work. So I kept it simple and sautéed it with some garlic, onions, and oregano so that I could taste it instead of having it lost in a soup. The only problem was, it had no taste. I tried some before cooking it and while it had the crispness of a cucumber, it was much more bland. After cooking it with the onions, it only provided a crunchy texture. Big disappointment.

Does anyone here like chayote? Is there a better way to cook it so that it's not just a blank canvas? Where can I go to find food I've never tried??

TL;DR: I tried chayote squash. It was crisp and crunchy but had no flavor. Could be good to scoop dips and hummus with, but it wouldn't be my first choice.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"We could call it Chuck." "Or Dick."

Last week our Food Industry Tour class went to Balut Pateros, a small blink-and-you'll-miss-it store in Westminster that produces and sells chicken and duck eggs. Among the items being sold are pickled eggs, chicken and duck balut, salted duck eggs, and fresh poultry eggs. During our tour of his small facility, the owner, Mr. Dam, told us that he wants to start making and selling another kind of egg. The century egg. He claimed that the U.S. would stop importing them from China come June due to China's lack of food safety and regulation laws.

Long story short, each one of us was given the task (shall we choose to accept it) of producing a century egg using only US ingredients, and the person who comes closest to what he is looking for is awarded a prize. Mr. Dam was kind enough to supply us with a finished example of his desired product as well as a dozen fresh duck eggs.

 Inside the century egg given to us.
It just so happens that I love century eggs. Introduced to me as pei dan, (literally "skin egg"), it was always served diced in congee or sliced into wedges with a side of oyster sauce for dipping. But I've never had a duck egg in any form other than pei dan. Luckily, I have a dozen fresh ones in my refrigerator right now, thanks to Mr. Dam, which allowed me to explore the differences between duck and chicken eggs.

The first difference I noticed was that the duck egg had a more oblong shape than the chicken egg.

Chicken egg on the left, duck egg on the right.
Then I cracked open each of them into a dish to examine them in their raw state. Notice how the albumen of the chicken egg has a slight yellow tint to it whereas the duck albumen is clear. Unfortunately, after a number of Google searches, I still haven't found the reason for this difference.

Chicken egg, left. Duck egg, right.

I debated which method of cooking would best display the flavor of the eggs. Sunny side up is always visually pleasing since you can see the yolk clearly, but I don't really like runny yolks unless they're oozing over a pile of hot fried rice. My current favorite style is poached with the yolk left slightly runny since I can cook it in the microwave, eliminating the chances of me overcooking it and reducing the dishes I have to wash.

After microwaving the eggs separately for one minute and ten seconds, I tasted the whites first for any textural or flavor differences, and there were none that I could tell. But visually, the whites of the duck egg were much more appealing, as you can see below. The chicken egg produced an uneven result while the duck egg white was much smoother, which may be the due to the fact that duck albumen has a slightly higher protein-to-water ratio than chicken albumen. As for the yolks, the chicken yolk was your regular run-of-the-mill yolk. I didn't use anything fancy like "super-open-free-range-organic-insect-and-kelp-only-diet" eggs since I'm on a college student's budget. These were conventionally grown and came from Trader Joe's ($1.79/dozen). I know that how poultry is raised and fed can affect egg quality and nutrient content, but even if I did use the aforementioned fancy eggs, I still wouldn't be able to fairly compare it to the duck eggs since I do not know how the ducks were raised and fed.

Poached chicken egg

As for the duck yolk, there was definitely a difference. Simply put, it was yolk-ier, richer than the chicken egg, with a creamier texture and a flavor similar to the chicken yolk. On average, a duck egg yolk has about 3 more grams of fat than that of a chicken, including mono- and poly unsaturated fat, not just saturated fat. The higher fat content also means that the micronutrient content is higher than chicken yolks, especially iron and B-12 levels.

Poached duck egg
During my research on these eggs, I read that the higher fat and protein content of duck eggs makes them ideal for use in baking since baked goods tend to rise better and taste richer than when chicken eggs are used. If I have any leftover duck eggs after trying my hand at Mr. Dam's challenge, I will definitely test their abilities in a cake or souffle recipe and report back the results.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hello From Mt. Almond!

Image: Crystal Lin

Thank you to Liberty Vegetable Oil Company for allowing us to tour their plant this past week and for creating this giant pile of almonds for us to gawk at and pose in front of.

I hope everyone is having an excellent Interterm, and I look forward to meeting this semester's new food science students soon. Stay tuned for details on a back-to-school get together!

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Kid's Museum is Still a Museum, Right?

I went to San Francisco for winter break this year, and as everyone knows, its a city full of eats. Along with NYC, Chicago, and LA, San Francisco is one of the food capitals of the country. We did eat out for the majority of our meals but I don't want to bore you with details of where I went and pictures of my food. You get enough of that on Instagram and Facebook. Instead, I'll show you the food science-related displays we found in the Exploratorium at the beautiful Palace of Fine Arts.

This contraption explains how a refrigerator works. When you crank the handle on the right, it compresses the Freon inside the chamber.

Here's the explanation up close. Not going to lie, I had to read it a few times to understand it and I still don't fully comprehend how a refrigerator works. Maybe this is why I'm studying to be a food scientist and not an engineer.

This activity allowed you to see how quickly and evenly pans of different materials heated. The one on the right is a cast iron pan while the one on the left is made of stainless steel. Obviously, the cast iron pan is losing the heating race, but it's a much better conductor of heat than the stainless steel one. Plus, a cast iron pan is an item that can be passed down from your lovely mother or grandmother.

This was my favorite station. My mom thickens her beef stew with cornstarch and water and I always wondered why the slurry would start to solidify when mixed but return to liquid when left alone. The answer? Shear thickening! I had heard this term before but didn't fully understand it until I came across this example. I also didn't know that cornstarch + water = Oobleck. Oobleck is an example of a non-Newtonian fluid and, according to Wikipedia, is a result of shear forces overcoming interparticle forces.

The slurry was placed on a disc that vibrated with increasing vigor the harder you pushed a button. Here it is at rest...

...and here it is all shook up. Apologies for the limited visibility, the stuff was all over the plastic cover.

I know this is all elementary knowledge for most of you, but it gives you a chance to see how far you've come and how much you've learned since your earlier days as a future food scientist. For me, it was a nice unexpected introduction to the things I'll be learning soon, now that I am officially taking classes in the Chapman Food Science Program. It would be nice if lectures included fun examples like these!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Food Resolutions

Hello! I hope every one had a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year!

Some things to look forward to in 2013:

- SCIFTS Monthly Dinner Meeting at the White House in Anaheim (1/16)
- SCIFTS Monthly Dinner Meeting at the Alpine Village in Torrance (2/20)
- SCIFTS Suppliers' Night Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center Marriott (3/6)
- Natural Foods Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center (3/8-3/10)
- Mountain West College Bowl at Chapman University (3/9)
- Other super fun awesome stuff planned by the FSNSA

Like a lot of people, the new year has prompted me to think about how I can better myself. In the past I've tried making resolutions but found that I never stick to them or just plain forget about them by the middle of the month. But I'm going to try something different this time. Instead of resolutions, I'll call them habits or challenges so that they'll seem less intimidating and more do able. Here are the food-related habits and challenges I've come up with so far:

1. Buy and cook something new each time I go grocery shopping.
2. Try new cuisines (Ethiopian and Peruvian are at the top of my list).
3. Use up the stuff in the back of my pantry and freezer.
4. Try to make something from scratch (eg. bread, yogurt, butter, pickles...)
5. Understand the Farm Bill and how it affects our food system.

I'll try to keep this blog updated with my progress as a source of motivation, since that tends to be why people give up on their resolutions so easily. Any encouragement or advice is welcome :)