Eat Your Pie, or The Science of Appetite

pumpkin pie

Never argue dessert with homemade pie. Blue frosted birthday cake or a cafeteria cookie are usually worth standing up to, and Hostess Twinkies need not a glance. But lovingly prepared pie? It deserves your respect.

The time spent alone is worth your caloric real estate-

Recipe box referenced.

Dough blended, chilled, and rolled.

Filling selected, prepped, and seasoned.

Baked for one hour.

Cooled even longer.

This pie has really worked for you, so to this, please, never say no.

But many people dread the transition to the winter sugar season that is ushered in by the big turkey roast every last Thursday in November. For all we look forward to- the time worn recipes and their updated modern contenders- we know what lies on the other side of January 1. It’s all tight pants and regretful resolutions come the new year. So, how can we make it through the season of glut without turning ourselves into our own stuffed birds?

Appetite is a yearning for food that we experience through hunger. It is a physiological sensation experienced in real time resulting from signals in your brain’s hypothalamus. The desire to eat is held in check by your central nervous system working in concert with the brain and peripheral organs like your stomach, pancreas, and liver. And when one considers the cornucopia of hormones and enzymes involved you can begin to realize there is quite a bit going on when you hit the dessert buffet.

With all this seemingly perfect metabolic regulation where has our contemporary appetite gone array? As a society we are thicker and sicker than ever before. Type II diabetes is a disease marked by excessive weight, and the numbers of diagnosed are reaching epidemic.  According to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control in 2012, between 1995-2010 there was a 50% increase in diabetes diagnosis in 48 states and a 100% increase 18 states. Over the course of (a very recent) fifteen years the population of one third of American states reported a doubling of diabetes diagnosis. The human genome simply cannot recode itself fast enough to take credit for this trend, and more and more research points to what’s piling up on our plates.

I’ll let you digest those facts for a second.

We have more food but enjoy it less. Our society is literally stuffed. If there was ever an argument for reconditioning our national appetite I believe it’s just been made, and one of the first places we can start regaining traction is with social food rules. As a nation, not only do we sip and snack in abundance we also often do it alone. The excess of calories in our midst signals to our psyches that constant consumption is right and good, and few people can even go two hours without replenishing their moveable feast.

There is an important cause for getting hungry; for allowing the stomach to empty, metabolism to do its job, and satiety to reach homeostasis. I’m talking about appetite promotion here, not fasting or starvation. Working to create that moment where you can eat and be truly satisfied. But let’s not kid ourselves. If the conversation was as easy as willpower we might all just limit ourselves to one meager glass of wine, skip dessert, and go home to an early bedtime. There is a lot more defining when, what, and how we eat than simple restraint. These strong metabolic cues are programmed over decades of living in our bodies. Every indulgence, every fad diet, and every treadmill sprint (or lack there of) is accounted for, and our bodies respond to these sculpted environmental cues accordingly.

Perhaps the best thing we can do at this moment for our society is resurrect the dietary rules and consumption guidelines that governed our social meals and solo diets for generations.

Perhaps the best thing we can do is skip the snack and save room for dessert. Simple as pie.

Simple as (Pumpkin) Pie Recipe

I almost always make whole grain crusts because I am hard wired for health food. Not to say I can’t enjoy a white crust here and there. If that’s your thing, feel free to substitute half, or all the whole wheat pastry flour for unbleached white flour.

And I’ll go on record saying I believe glass pie plates and french rolling pins are superior choices (and the least expensive in their class).

Lastly, vanilla bean paste is the blue ribbon contender between scraping a bean and using the cloying pervasive extract, and crust shields are a pie bakers best friend.

For the crust:

  • whole wheat pastry flour, 1&1/4 cup
  • butter, unsalted, cubed and chilled, 1 cup
  • salt, (sea salt preferably) 1/2 tsp
  • sugar, just a pinch
  • water, iced, 3-4 tbsp

-Add flour, butter, salt, and sugar to a food processor and pulse until a granulated texture is reached (not so long that it blends into a soft butter mush).

-While continuing to pulse, add water a few drops at time until the dough comes together in a ball.

-Transfer dough to a bowl and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

-Lightly butter a pie plate and set aside.

-After dough has chilled flatten the ball onto a sterilized, floured countertop. Roll in a circle to desired thickness (I always go for as thin as I feel confident enough to roll that day) and transfer to pie plate.

-Trim the edges, and crimp the crust by pinching with your thumb and forefinger at evenly spaced intervals.

-Set aside and wait for the filling.

For the filling:

  • eggs, 2 large
  • heavy cream, 1 cup
  • pumpkin, (1) 15oz can
  • sugar, 1/2 cup
  • cinnamon, ground, 1 tsp
  • ginger, ground, 1/2 tsp
  • orange peel, ground, 1/4 tsp
  • cloves, ground, 1/4 tsp
  • allspice, ground, 1/4 tsp
  • vanilla bean paste (or extract if that’s your option), 1/2 tsp
  • salt, 1/2 tsp

-Heat the oven to 350F.

-Whisk together all the filling ingredients until smooth and the spices are well distributed.

-Pour filling into crust.

-Place a pre-made crust shield on the crust edges or make your own by sculpting aluminum foil over the edges.

-Bake for 50-55 minutes or until firm in the center.

-Allow to cool for a couple hours before serving.

pumpkin pie


Bone Food, or A Nutritional Defense of the Butcher

Bone Food

 

Some of us don’t like to be reminded from where our food comes. Perhaps it’s much easier to indulge that giant bowl of teriyaki or juicy cheeseburger if  not reminded that there is a cow or chicken involved. Avoiding what our food is made of could be considered a national sport with pressed and fried chicken nuggets as mascot. A few people manage to forsake this game completely by sticking strictly to vegetables, but despite which side of the fence you dine on there is no denying that there is a food chain and humans are right up on top. If you choose to assume your evolutionary seat you may as well go for your best option- meat on the bone.

Since man’s first spark of fire and his instinct to cook over it, human beings have been eating their meat right from the bone. The animal’s skeleton adds important elements not only to the science of denaturing the proteins for digestion, but also to the overall nutrition of the meal. In the bones lie important minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, as well as albumin and collagen which are believed to help with degenerative joint issues and promote healthy cellular function. These nutrients leach into the cooking liquid and fortify not only your health but also your taste buds.

pork butt bone

The same cooks that obsess convenience often shy from cooking meat on the bone. Perhaps it’s the idea of an extra step, or the thought of a little more mess. The truth is that meat is easier to cook on the bone because it is harder to dry out and will have better inborn flavor. Another bonus- season, sear, and walk away. Cooking meat on the bone offers the distracted cook a significant margin of error.

To begin the simple endeavor of cooking bone food, you could start with a whole chicken, but a hefty 5-7 pound roast of beef or pork will really have you patting your effort on the back. The first step in your strategy is to find a butcher. This is a necessity. You might be lucky enough to have access to a free standing butcher store in your neighborhood. (Go, you!) Some chain style grocers still house a small butcher counter, but if you get desperate they most all have someone in the back who is portioning and wrapping all those grab-and-go cellophane and styrofoam packages. This is to whom you need to speak. As far as selection goes, choosing the butt or shoulder is really no matter so long as it’s on the bone. Thickness counts. Make sure it’s at least your cut is a minimum 3-3.5 pounds, and don’t allow yourself to be sold anything less.

Once home the roast can sit in your fridge up to 3 days before cooking. Meat on the bone deteriorates faster because of the natural bacteria thriving between the muscle and the skeleton, so don’t stretch this rule. If you get surprised with alternative plans after purchase you can always freeze and thaw for another date. Once you are ready to get started you can choose to tie the meat or not depending on your mood or inclination. (I mostly don’t tie, unless I’m stuffing the meat, because cooking is a daily task surrounded by other chores begging to be attended).

What you can’t get around is the searing. This step is crucial for capturing the liquids inside the muscle with which the bone nutrients and seasonings can mix. Begin with the heaviest bottomed 6-8 quart lidded pan you have, and warm a tablespoon of oil over a medium-high heat. Season each side of the meat generously with salt and pepper and place the fattiest side down on the hot oil. Patience is your assistant, and you must, must, must allow 6-10 minutes per side while searing. What you are looking for is a milk chocolate colored crust resembling the crisped texture of proper hash brown potatoes.

While searing your meat begin to roughly chop some flavorful vegetables. An onion and carrot are mandatory, garlic drastically improves the situation, and a rib of celery, if available, seals the deal. After you’ve thoroughly seared, remove the meat to a separate plate. Drain off most of the fat leaving a couple tablespoons in the pan and add your vegetables. Toss until browned over a medium flame. Once you’re pretty sure you’re there, add back the meat, 2 cups of freshly opened wine (red for beef, white for pork), 3 cups of broth, (chicken is most universal), a tablespoon of dried aromatic herbs like rosemary or thyme, and some more salt and pepper. {When learning to season without measuring always begin on the conservative side. A teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of ground pepper is generally a good starting point with stew-ish, soup-ish foods.} Now your work is done! Transfer the lidded pan to a 300F oven and let it ride for the next 6-8 hours.

Let us review:

Simple Roast of Pork or Beef

  • 5-7 lb roast on bone
  • onion, 1
  • carrot, 1-2
  • garlic, 3-4 cloves
  • celery, 1-2 ribs
  • unopened wine, 2 cups
  • broth, 3 cups
  • dried rosemary or thyme, 1 tbsp
  • oil for searing
  1. Set oven at 300F
  2. Allow 30-40 minutes for a proper sear while you prep other items. (See searing above.)
  3. Roast for 6-8 hours depending on size of cut.
  4. Once the meat is falling off the bone and fork tender you are ready. You can strain the broth and make a quick pan sauce or serve the juices with the vegetables in a rustic style. Best enjoy your roast with pasta or grains that will absorb the flavorful juices.

 

Quick Pan Sauce

In a skillet over low heat melt 2 tablespoons of butter to which you will whisk in 2 tablespoons on white flour. Turn the up the heat to a medium temperature and whisk in 2 cups of the strained roasting broth. As the slurry comes to a simmer continue to whisk until the wheat proteins have unravelled and the sauce begins to solidify and thicken. this should take a total of 6-8 minutes. Keep a flat bottomed silicone spatula handy in case the sauce begins to grab at the bottom of the pan and burn. Serve over meat and enjoy!

 

Bone Food


Simple Addition, or What Turmeric and Flax Can Do For You.

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The maintenance of hearth and health is arguably experiencing a domestic boom. Well being has become a fashionable trend evidenced by the kale craze and its ubiquitous yoga pant uniform. The 2010s provide us advances like pressure sensor athletic clothing, jewelry that measure sleep and wake cycles, and fresh pre-made calorie controlled meals. Billions of dollars have been devoted to technology that helps manage nutrition, fitness, and overall well being, and the glut of options expands each year. But not a full generation ago Americans were running from these topics as though nothing was more suffocating to mind and spirit. Matters of the stove were traded for convenience based factory food, and fitness was silenced by the hum of the VCR and electric lawn mower.

It was during the Dawn of Aquarius that the educational pursuit of home economics became more than passé. A burgeoning generation of youth shunned the art of homemaking and ran in droves from the army of electric stoves tucked into florescent lit corners of local high schools. Housewifery be damned. The abandoned academic doyens of stove and sewing machine were forced to reinvent their curriculum, and many found happy homes within burgeoning Nutrition Science departments of regional universities. They traded aprons for lab coats as they turned the art of making dinner into a scientific examination of crust and crumb.

It was in one of these home economic kitchens come science labs that I, as a green college student, first considered the science of food. Through measurements of emulsion, turgor, viscosity, and disbursement I learned to deconstruct a biscuit, fry a perfect egg, and simmer green vegetables (with minimal water soluble vitamin loss). In short, I learned to cook simple food very well.

IMG_0222

I simultaneously loved and hated the food I learned to cook in those labs. Debatably boiled broccoli, white rice, and Crisco biscuits are not man’s most healthy or desirable food choice, but armed with notebook and mass spectrometer these basic foods conversed a new language with me. Practicing a perfectly executed cheese muffin not only increased my grade point average, it also taught me to cook.

As a painter sees a blank canvas so does a cook see ingredients. And a cook with nutrition science training will see those ingredients not only for flavor potential but also health benefits. This is the legacy of home economics: use basic scientific technique to elevate the everydayness of life into something remarkable. No housewife required.

It is in this spirit that whole grain, turmeric, and flax have transformed Professor Harris’ Food Science 101 cheese muffin recipe. Besides the nutty taste and golden hue, turmeric contains a powerful chemical arsenal of curcumin, the biologically active component of this warm weather root. Ingested for centuries as an anti-inflammatory treatment in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric supplements have shown promise in the medical management of arthritis (Arthritis & Rheumatism, 2006). Various researchers have elicited the potential of turmeric as a potent antibacterial and anti-carcinogenic food.

In this muffin recipe the flavor of turmeric perches upright and forward, but the nuttiness of the flax seed mellows the yellow root’s outspoken call. Flax seeds play flavor yin to turmerics brazen yang, and they contain a heaping dose of fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, and lignans to boot. In addition to reducing LDL (the bad) cholesterol (Nutr Metab, 2012), flax compounds work in concert to help prevent heart disease, bone disease, and possibly hormone related cancers.

You won’t notice any of that science as you reach for another one of these golden brown gems, but you may be calculating if you have enough ingredients left over to bake a second batch.

 

Cheddar Muffins with Turmeric and Flax

  • whole wheat pastry flour, 1.25 cups
  • golden flax seeds, whole or (preferably) ground, 1 tbsp
  • turmeric, ground, 1/4 tsp
  • salt, 1/2 tsp
  • baking powder, 2 tsp
  • butter, unsalted, 6 tbsp
  • cheddar cheese, shredded, 8 oz
  • milk, cold, 1/3 cup
  • eggs, 3 large
  • honey, 2 tbsp

Special Equipment:

  • Parchment muffin wrappers (optional)
  • (2)12 cup muffin tins
  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Place dry ingredients in large mixing bowl and whisk to combine evenly.
  3. Melt butter and combine with cheese, cold milk, and honey.
  4. Beat eggs and add to wet mixture.
  5. Fold wet ingredients into dry and transfer to muffin pans (grease tins with additional butter if not using parchment wrappers.
  6. Bake for 18-22 minutes depending on your oven and size of muffins.