Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Does non GMO food exist?

Recently I was told of an organization called "Millions Against Monsanto".  This group spends its time trying to figure out the horrible things that Monsanto is doing to humans, animals and the environment.  Now, I can't really defend them.  They did and have been responsible for some great advances in the early 20th century.  Also, my great-great grandfather worked for them in the 1920's, after he sold the family farm in Carondelet.  So, at that time and for my ancestors, the company has always treated us well.  Now, I did see that Monsanto is 85% owned by Pharmacia.  So, they are the real ones at fault, not Monsanto.

What is important to note, is that the Monsanto between 1901 and 2000 was a different company that the one that is run now.  Different direction and different products.  Now, I am torn because the company has done many bad things and I don't really want them shut down, just restructured, as they are a major contributor to St. Louis. 

Now, the question on everyone's minds is about Percy Schmeiser.  The biggest thing on everyone's minds is about this Canadian farmer.  There are still no facts at how Monsanto found out but the farmer had neighbors who were growing Monsanto seed and Percy had come into possession of Monsanto seed, himself, without buying it.  So Percy has Monsanto seed and claimed that the wind blew the seed into his farms from the neighbors' farms.  While we all want to side with him as a David and Goliath struggle, the Canadian Supreme Court did find that Percy did in fact grow and sow the seed, himself, and knowing that he did not pay for the seed.  Monsanto sued Percy and all was settled.

Now, whether you believe the Canadian justice system or not, Percy basically planted Monsanto seeds on his property without paying for them.  That is against their contract and in this case he did something illegal.  To this day, Percy claims that he won all the court battles and that the seed flew onto his farm.  

Now that the gorilla has left the room, science has yet to determine if there is any positive or negative effects for GMO or GE foods on humans.  Some sides claim that if there is a toxin that kills weeds and insects inside of a plant, it may also kill humans in large doses.  But, anything can kill humans in large doses.  A Monsanto contact of mine suggests that Monsanto makes "non-chemical insecticides, higher yield traits, stress traits that help plants deal with low water availability, plants that need less nitrogen so you don’t have to use as much fertilizer and more."  

So, with that, are those traits that we could use?  Well, here is an idea...: what if a crop could be made that uses very little water and can grow in the worst of conditions.  Imagine growing a field of wheat in a desert.  What about growing apples hydroponically? I know that every year I plant tomatoes and every year I harvest just a handful of them.  The rest of them come under attack from insects and fungus.  I would be completely happy if there was a natural way that the fungus and insects would not attack my crops. For example: I know that there is a type of plant that repels mosquitoes.  Citronella and catnip both repel mosquitoes.  So, what Monsanto can do is create a wearable repellent that is made from oils or both plants and is all natural.  

While discussing the evil's of Monsanto with others, I thought about the bigger picture.  Are there any produce sold in my area that are not grown from GE or GMO seed?  So, a fun challenge lays ahead of me.  I want to go to some of the farmer stands around the city and ask if they use any GE or GMO seeds.  I want to do it out of curiosity to see if there are any farmers doing this and secondly to prove someone from that "Millions Against Monsanto" organization wrong.  



This is the truck of the Stuckmeyers.
They are located in Columbia Illinois and have many, many acreage where they farm.  They have a small stand near their home and have a large building where they sell produce and other goods on Route 3 towards Waterloo.  I asked them as they had a small farmer's market here and they do not use any GMO, GE or any genetically modified or altered anything, in their foods.  So, my goal in finding pure and natural foods shows this farm is still without Monsanto.  This also means that this cannot be the only farm around not using GE or GMO seed, so there has to be one near you.  Ask around.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fun for the kids and edible

Yeah, it is a fun thing for kids to do, but it doesn't taste too awesome.  While on one of my wife's trips to JoAnn's, I discovered something interesting...
If you see this right, it is a sugar fondant pressed thin enough to be like a thick paper, which can be colored and shaped and placed on a cake or whatever.  To the right of the picture is some food coloring markers.  So, I cut the paper in thirds, gave a piece to each of my two sons and gave them access to the markers.  Then I let them go.

I'm not a cake decorator and not professionally selling anything so these may look a bit childish: and they are.  What is important to see is the color and easy way in which you can draw using the food coloring markers on this sugar paper.  After wards, we ate it.  In this case, the paper had a very subtle and sweet flavor.  The markers had no flavor.  I think of this as a great way to give kids something to do.  I would also suggest maybe making some sugar cookies or regular icing cake and letting your kids draw and play on it using these.    


Monday, August 22, 2011

My review of the Molecular Cusine Starter Kit, from ThinkGeek

So, ThinkGeek is offering something that looked so fun and fantastic that I had to get it. 

This kit was $79.99 and came with a few things so that you can work your way through all 50 something recipes. 

The box with the "T" on it, is for the tools, like a slotted spoon, pipettes and some other fun stuff.  I have already made some caviar the regular way so I thought I would try their version of spherification would be fun because it would allow for a broad application.  I tried the ravioli recipe first and that meant that I was adding chemicals to drinkable yogurt and making medium sized spherical shapes in the bath to produce something as cool as below:
This is a strawberry flavored ravioli.  It was just as it was supposed to be.  The outside was a thin layer of gel as the inside was still liquid.  I think that the kit is great for those who want to get into Molecular Gastronomy or Molecular Cuisine and don't know how to get in.  The instructions are easy that someone new could get whatever they wanted out of this.  Be caution though: these type of recipes require patience and a keen eye for measurements.  If you are not strong in these virtues, find someone else to make this cool food. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A small snack...

I admit, I did get some good genes from my family line.  One of my favorite is my metabolism, and it is also a topic of conversation and remarks wherever I go.  I eat a lot of food and I gain only 1% of the total weight onto my body.  I don't know how it happens or why it happens this way but it does.  My family has always been thin, when eating mostly healthy options, and I am still in this category.  I know one day my wife wanted to know what I ate on a normal work day during the week.  I counted up over 7,000 calories. 

Anyways, my wife and I were watching an episode of Bizarre Foods, when Andrew went to Montreal.  It was torture.  It was worse than water boarding as my wife and I sat on the couch, well after our dinner, as the kids were already asleep and we watched pictures and video clips of foods of the gods paraded in front of us.  The fresh maple syrup, the meats, even exotic meats like horse looked tasty and I my stomach was starting to growl.  When I get hungry and something looks good, I feel as though I am as hungry as Wiley E. Coyote.  Images of the coyote stealing 4-5 sheep at one time to eat at once, or trying to catch that elusive bird, but always very hungry.  I would suggest a Tasmanian Devil reference, but I think I have more class than that.

So, I wanted a snack and I started with some breakfast sausage in a pan with some olive oil.  I then added some mashed potato smiley faces and then some eggs.  Cooked it all up and poured some roasted onion soup on top of that.  A sprinkling of Tabasco sauce, freshly ground black lava salt and some freshly ground pepper later and I have a great snack.  Yeah, it was a large plate and enough to be a meal for some, but for me, it was only a snack.
"What was it," you ask?  It was 2 eggs scrambled in some olive oil with some breakfast sausage and some oven-ready french fries.  I cooked it all together and added some roasted onion soup on top.  A sprinkling of some black lava sea salt and some fresh pepper and there you have it.  Probably a good 500 calorie snack and a good way to end the night.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A fun organic versus non-organic test

It was my wife's idea as we went through the store and saw them selling organic red grapefruit and non-organic red grapefruit.
As you can see, the one on the left is the biggest organic red grapefruit we could find and the one on the right is the biggest non-organic one we could find.
Here is a few observations that one can take away from this experience.  First of all, the organic one was less tart than the other non organic.  As you can see, the organic one is all red, which it should be for a red grapefruit.  The non-organic one is orange still.  This suggests that perhaps the organic one was left out to ripen naturally while the other one could have been gassed to ripen.  The organic one was firmer, juicier and sweeter than the other.  While there is no evidence to show that organic is better, in this case, it is.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Golden.......Corral

This is one restaurant that I am fully qualified to review and rate.  I worked at the Old Country Buffet/ Home Town Buffet for 8 and 1/2 years.  I started as a bus-boy, cleaning tables and the restaurant and ended as a Dining Room Supervisor, certified trainer in every position and even helped do managerial work.  In that time, I have picked out what recipes we would be serving on the line, picked where they go, helped cook them, helped serve them, and even tasted them.  I had to know for certain how the food was prepared and tasted so when someone complained about a food item, I could try it and inspect it and see.

At my job, food for my breaks was free.  So, when I ate my snack for 10 minutes before the dinner rush or sat down afterwards for my dinner around closing time, I picked things that I not only knew were well prepared but tasted good.  My favorite selection was a main course of pot roast, hot wings, cornbread dressing and a cornbread muffin.  That was almost always my first plate.  My second was more of a mashed potatoes, french fries, and anything else that looked good.  At OCB/HTB, there was always a large wall which separated the front of the restaurant to where we prepared the food but nothing was really a secret.

When you first enter the Golden Corral you are forced to wait in a line and then pay for your meal.  You are given a tray, a filled cup with a beverage of your choice and a receipt and then sent to find a seat. 

When you are at OCB/HTB, as I remember it 6 years ago, you are forced to wait in a single line, you pay for your meal and you get a receipt.  No drink, you get those as soon as you want from the beverage bar.

We sat down, the five of us at a 6 person table and immediately noticed that we had no straws.  I asked where the straws were and were told that they were given to us by the server when they come to greet us.  Well, so we sat for almost 2-3 minutes waiting for a server to greet us and give us straws.  The kids were wanting to drink their drinks and getting anxious as we waited.  Some of my group went up to get their food.  The food line looked nicer and cleaner and more, sunny, with more windows and white-colors to make the place look more nicer.

OCB/HTB was always dark, even with small white curtains on the tops of the booths and walls.  It had dark blue tiles against the back of the food line, dark red carpet on the floor in the dining room and dark red tile on the floor around the food bars. It had large windows but they never faced a real direction where the sun beats in.  With recessed can lights in the ceiling, and dark ceilings, and what little sunlight comes in, it is pretty dark.

The food tasted the same, if not worse than I grew up with OCB/HTB.  The hot wings were salty, the cornbread muffin was dry and the pot roast didn't have enough of a full, umami, flavor.

Now what was good, was the steak.  At the Golden Corral, they had a large grill behind the sneeze guard/glass wall, and on that grill were large slabs of sirloin steaks.  You stood in front of that window, and when asked how you wanted your steak cooked, a cook would cut a slab off of the larger chunks of beef and grill it right there in front of you.  The beef was surprisingly tender for a steak at an all you can eat restaurant.  My 4 year old even was able to eat some of the steak.

As I said, the cooks' line was fully exposed and seen by all people, as it was right on the other side of the food line, which was only one-sided.  The kitchen was exposed and you could see steamers, ovens and even fryers ready and waiting for when they needed it.  In the salad bar section, the greens were in view of everyone and in an open air cooler.
I see what they were doing, making the food look as good as possible from start to finish to make you see that you are getting good ingredients and everything is quality.  What was done behind the walls, in the kitchen and prep area at Old Country Buffet/Home Town Buffet was never really a secret, but we were allowed to say what we wanted and not have the customers hear or see us.  A bit more freedom was allowed overall.  I can't imagine how strict the Golden Corral must be.

As mediocre the food was turning out to be, we were hoping that the large dessert bar would save it all.  We were wrong.  Sure, there must have been 100 items on the dessert bar, but none of them were really good and none were even okay.  Well, maybe one: carrot cake.

The carrot cake is seen to the right, in this picture.  It tasted like carrots and had the simple cream cheese icing.  All was good.  Now, the bad desserts:  That red thing to the left tasted like it was supposed to be a Hawaiian Punch cake, but instead tasted like a bland cake with Hawaiian Punch leaking out that tasted as if it was left out in the sun for a few days.  It had no bite to it and just tasted awful.  When I bit into the cake and it started to leak, I first got a bit confused and then it tasted like kool

What we have here is a chocolate creme pie, a fudge brownie, a chocolate truffle with nuts on top and a chocolate pizza slice.  The chocolate creme pie didn't taste like anything.  All you tasted with the whipped cream on top.  The fudge brownie tasted like a bad version of the Little Debbie fudge brownies.  The chocolate truffle tasted like they took a small ball of the brownie and rolled it in nuts.  The chocolate pizza had a crunchy chocolate "crust" but the flavors on the top competed and had no taste other than chocolate.  Making chocolate treats is one thing, if there are other flavors or levels, not just chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.  

Overall, service (at how only the server could bring us drink refills or straws and we had to wait to start our drinks until he arrived at his own time and pace), atmosphere (how the inside was bright and shiny but the workers had not a single smile or even acknowledged anyone when said "hi" to) and the food quality (the food tasted okay or even bad in most cases), I would give this place about a 2 out of 5. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mae West.....is tasty

Mae West was an actress, playwright, screenwriter and sex symbol.  She was born in 1893 and died in 1980.  She started her work in Vaudeville and moved onto Hollywood to become a successful comedian and actress.  She was a risque' performer and even wrote, directed and stared in her own play on Broadway called "Sex", in 1918.  She was known for this type of material and while the ticket sales were doing well, the show was raided by city officials for its lack of censorship.  She was also arrested and charged with "corrupting the morals of youth."  She later wrote a play dealing with homosexuality and never opened due to complaints from the Society for the Prevention of Vice.

Mae West was famous for the line: ""Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"


Now, in 1932 a cake named the Mae West was created.  The cake has two layers of cake with a vanilla creme between them with a chocolate glaze.  The cake went by this name until 1980, when the name was changed.  This could have coincided with Mae West's death.  The cake's name was changed to May West, still having the same name, but spelled differently to disassociate it from the late actress.

The cakes are tasty.  The chocolate isn't too much chocolate and the cake is just a nice fluffy texture.  The creme filling is amorphous.  I mean that the company describes it as being a vanilla creme, I tasty something similar to a marshmallow  and a coworker tastes something a bit like coconut.  Either way, it is definitely worth it.  Buy one today.  4 out of 5 stars!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day off.

Sorry, took Thursday off.  I will suggest this though:

A friend of mine made some thoughts about my organic chocolate chip cookie recipe blog:

"Just throwing out a fun fact for you in regards to your organic cookie post, there has not been one legitimate scientific study to date that has been able to show an organic product is healthier than a non-organic product….not one.

Also, if you like conspiracy theories, there is an “organic food council” that acts as a quality board and a lobbying board for the organic industry….the President and vice president of this council just happen to be the CEO of Whole Foods and the CEO of Dean foods the largest dairy provider in the country……hmmmmm wonder why??????"

Makes you wonder, right?  What if the people who make a choice as to what is organic and what is not organic are the leaders of these organizations.  Would that or could that suggest a bit of friendly corruption?  Because I am king everything I say is law? Could the CEO of Whole Foods declare that since he is leader of the Organic food council, that all of the foods he sells at his stores are organic, no matter if they are not?

I did see this :"The weight of the available scientific evidence has not shown a significant difference between organic and more conventionally grown food in terms of safety, nutritional value, or taste."- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organic_food 
I know that wikipedia isn't a really viable source, but, since so many people can edit it, if something was incorrect, it could have been edited by now. 

It is interesting.....

 Now, for fun, since I have been making ice cream for a bit now, I stumbled upon a new recipe in my MG cookbook. (Molecular Gastronomy)  The book is an e-book called Texture.  http://blog.khymos.org/recipe-collection/  This book, focuses on the Hydrocolloid, which is a substance that gels or hardens or thickens when added to water.  You can find one in just about every food you eat, from food at restaurants to food your grandma makes.  If you have have ever had gravy made at home, it was likely made with flour, arrowroot flour or even corn starch.  Corn starch is a great thickener for gravies and is a hydrocolloid.  I was peering through the book and found a recipe for ice cream, using corn starch.  So, instead of egg yolks and heavy cream, it has milk and corn starch.  It gets a thick consistency and then you freeze that in your ice cream machine for a smooth ice cream.  Also, when you make ice cream this way, it has a large amount less of calories.  I highly suggest looking at this book as there are recipes to make everything from ice cream to spheres in here.  Don't feel bad if you cannot get a recipe to work.  It took me many times to get the spherification process to work.  I didn't even get the olive oil gummy bears to work.  Anyways, it is fun to read and fun to look at.

Thought I would give you a few things to think about.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How much was I paid to say that?

I was reading a fun story on cracked.net about some of the hardest but silliest sounding jobs.  One of these was the restaurant reviewer or food critic. http://www.cracked.com/article_19308_6-silly-sounding-jobs-that-are-way-harder-than-you-think_p2.html

I love the Anthony Bourdain picture at the top of this article...

"Your bad review can ruin some family's business -- and they know where to find you. At least one critic has been threatened with a gun over a bad review. Another has been beaten bloody by the owner's associates (i.e., mob goons) over several bad reviews; to be fair though, he probably shouldn't have posted on his paper's website where he would be dining that night.
You can't think of this as Michael Bay threatening Roger Ebert with a shotgun over a bad review -- they're both famous, that's not going to happen. But as a food critic, you are literally going into enemy territory -- a business owned by some regular guy who you don't know -- assessing the fruits of his labor, and telling everyone in your readership whether or not to give that business their money. That restaurant owner's ability to pay his mortgage can lay on what you write, and you don't know how he's going to react.   
Not wanting to become the next bloody statistic, many a critic will go to work in disguise and assume a false name -- whatever is deemed necessary to stay anonymous."

Now I was thinking about this all weekend.  Everywhere I ate, any foods I looked at and any interesting people and items I saw, I wondered about how valid those above statements are to me and I came up with an interesting revelation about the food world, as a whole:  they don't want the truth.  I've said it before in my defense, but I like to give an exact account of my experience from the moment I walk into the front door to the moment I leave the building.  Everything gets taken into account from the decorations to the bathrooms.  Now the truth is that many magazines, from the RFT to the New Yorker, pay their reviewers to go to a restaurant, eat and then write about the experience.  So, their views may already be tainted because they are getting paid for those restaurants.  Secondly, in some cases, they are comped for their meal, by the restaurant or given other perks.  Would I have liked to have my meal completely paid for when I went to eat at RM: Seafood in Las Vegas?  Yes, but it wouldn't have changed my mind or view of the meal.  For some reviewers and critics, you have to ask them some questions:

Do you get paid to eat at the restaurant?
Who picks the restaurant?
Did the restaurant pay for your meal?
Dis the restaurant pay you for your nice review?
Did the restaurant buy a large ad in your magazine or paper?

The cost of ads in some papers like the RFT or Ladue Times is enough to consider a trade for a nice review.  (I am not suggesting that every restaurant that has a nice review in the RFT, Sauce, Feast or any other magazine or paper in the St. Louis area has paid for their nice review by ad space.)  But it could happen.

I was thinking about this article also when I ran into the local grocery store Saturday Morning.  While in there I noticed the owner of a local restaurant buying his ingredients.  The owner looked tired and still half-sleepy as he had a load of buns, lettuce and a few other small things in his cart.  I did start to feel bad for giving them a bad review, but then cut myself short.  It was bad.  It wasn't me being paid by someone else to say those things and I wasn't being comped for my meal so I was giving an honest experience just as the average person would enjoy or have as well.  The average person cannot afford to eat at Alinea every night, so I pick places I just happen to go to. Also, if you are a restaraunt owner and you had any bad marks in my reviews, there was a reason.  It could have been that your food was saltier than a salt lick, or that it took over an hour to bring out a hamburger or maybe you charged me $12 for something that I could have bought at the local store and made at home in less time and for less than $4.  That is why you are in my blog.  I explain it like this:

If I have someone I know from Texas come to St. Louis and ask me, "where is a good place to go for dinner?" I want to take them or suggest a favorite spot of mine.  This is human nature.  As humans, when we like something, we tend to want to enjoy it again and that suggests that we also like to let our friends enjoy it as well.  So, a good dinner spot in St. Louis?  Well, I have to know how much they want to spent.  You can find great food spots for about $20 a couple for great food and also for not great food.  So, where should I send them?  For less than $20 for some great 5 star food and service I would suggest the Thai House in Columbia, IL, about 10 minutes East of the JB Bridge.  Why?  did I get paid by them?  Did they pay for my kids to go to school?  NO.  They are real people who have a real passion for Thai food of their heritage.  Many times a year their head chef flies back to Thailand to get new recipes and ideas, which is something that some of the "best rated" Thai restaurants in St. Louis do NOT do.  That shows a real passion in the food.

Do you want a meal for about $80 a couple?  Well, what about the Farmhaus in St. Louis City?  Have I been paid to say this? No.  I went there and loved the food and atmosphere. It was a bit expensive for St. Louis but it was great from the start to the end.  If I was like the other reviewers in STL, I would suggest Niche.  But I haven't eaten there yet as I have not been able to make a reservation before 9:30pm.  It doesn't matter what time I call or what I say, but I can't get in.  (I know I could get any time I wanted if I identified myself as a restaurant reviewer and told them that, but that defeats the purpose.)  Its true: if I called and told them that I was a restaurant reviewer, I would have the best seat at the best time and no questions.  But, everyone else will not have that experience, so I will not do it.

A lot of people see this blog and then think to themselves that my ideas, ramblings and thoughts could not be that important.  Many think that if you are not writing for the New Yorker, the RFT or the Post Dispatch that you are not important.  Well, my answer back is simple:  My blog is important because I am NOT in those periodicals. I have not sold out, I was not bought out and my thoughts are my own.  I am allowed to say whatever I want about whoever I want.  I don't care who donated or who bought ad space.  I don't care if you think that just because your grandfather ran a lemonade stand that it qualifies you to run a restaurant.  If you don't have your whole heart and soul into the food then it shows and I will know it.  Maybe you shouldn't be running a restaurant.  I know that there is a huge amount of investment, but if you are doing it just to make money and really not care, then it may not be for you.