You’ll know us by our trail of eggs…
After a pretty long break, we’re back at it with our meals inspired by our reading of McGee’s On Food and Cooking . It’s been a little while – a month or two ago, we started the latest chapter, on eggs. We even cooked and photographed a really quite delicious meal to go with the first part of the egg chapter, but the writing never happened, so here I am with part two of the egg chapter: Egg Biology and Chemistry. But first, I’d like to go off on something of a tangent.
In 54 AD, the Roman Emperor Claudius is rumored to have been murdered by poisoning by being fed a death cap mushroom. Though then again, maybe it was Belladonna, a.k.a. nightshade, that the poisoner used. Nobody seems to really know. Continue reading
So this week we took on the unfermented milk products section of McGee’s dairy chapter. Whoa. There’s a lot in there. Milk, cream, butter (and butter substitutes), and ice cream. Some really great stuff in terms of why different dairy products behave the way they do when heated, agitated, cooled, foamed, or whatever other kitchen treatment you might be able to come up with. Continue reading
So, this is not the first nor will it be the last time that someone points out my geekiness. But, the reason that the McGee book appealed to me was the back story on the food that we take for granted. Milk is certainly one of those foods. On the surface, it appears to be so simple, but thousands of years of experimentation and cultivation have revealed its sometimes crazy seeming properties. We’re about half way through the section on milk and finishing up the part of the chapter that will give us an understanding of the how and why individual dairy products come together. We decided that there is no more delicious and versatile way to experience the chemistry of milk than to make butter. Continue reading
This week we took on the “Milk and Health” section of the dairy chapter of McGee’s book. This section focused on the usefulness of milk for infants, why other species’ milks aren’t the right milk for the development of said infants, milk allergies, lactose intolerance, and osteoporosis. McGee made an interesting point about how the average adult (of non-Northern-European origin) on earth can tolerate something on the order of a cup of milk per day, while the U.S. government was recommending roughly four times that amount in its nutrition guidance. While the USDA nutrition guidance has since changed (featuring a much smaller role for dairy), the role of the government in simultaneously promoting health and dairy agriculture is… schizophrenic, to say the least. Continue reading
It’s appropriate that McGee starts the book with milk. In infancy, milk helps babies finish their development outside the womb, which means that they can grow bigger than the birth canal would otherwise allow. Its because of milk, in part, that we get to say, “Look at the big brain on Brad!” Milk, while a surefire stomach ache for most adults, brings us calories from unusable (for humans) foodstuff. Early humans quickly recognized this as a useful way to ensure their own survival and domesticated goats shortly after domesticating dogs. That mammals produce milk and that humans learned to collect and consume milk from other mammals is a fundamental part of why civilization as we know it exists today.
Recipe: Mammal in Milk – Lamb Shanks Braised in Goat’s Milk
(Based on this recipe which I’m not ashamed to admit I saw on Top Chef)
This recipe was pretty incredible. Time consuming, but simple. We chose it because of the obvious highlighting of milk and mammal. Other than an incredible Sunday dinner, I think the biggest thing we got out of this was that this is a pretty amazing technique for taking a tougher piece of meat (like the shank) and making something tender and delicious out of it. And pureeing the milk/vegetable mixture to make a sauce is just kind of genius too. I can completely imagine doing this with lots of other pieces of meat, other dairy products, and other vegetables in the braising liquid. Pork with apples and sage in milk might well be fantastic, for instance. Celery root and sunchokes come to mind too. Something to think about playing with the next time we decide to experiment.
For my birthday this year Bolt got me “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” by Harold McGee. He’s good, this was an astute gift that appeals strongly to my geeky side. Also, just go ahead and read the reviews. “Most widely quoted culinary work in English” “one of the most interesting books I’ve ever opened” The word bible comes up a lot as folks try to explain how they feel about this book. However, it is not the kind of book you just sit down and read. It is dense and sort of… academic.
So, it’s not the sort of thing that you curl up on the couch with and read from cover to cover. So Bolt and I have decided to approach it as a sort of “bible study”. We’re going to try to take on one major heading from each chapter per week, read it, discuss it, and then come up with something to cook together for Sunday dinner, based in some way on the ideas that we discuss. We’ve already done the first of those, and we’ll write something about that soon. Who knows. Maybe we’ll tie these blog posts together into a smashingly successful novel and they’ll make a movie about us when this is done. I suggest Me and Harold McGee as a title.