Video: Home-made Sichuan Chili Bean Paste (豆瓣酱)

Watch video at You Tube (5:00 minutes) . . . . .


The Colonel In The Kitchen: A Surprising History Of Sous Vide

Alice Popovici wrote . . . . . . . .

Long before sous vide became a culinary sensation celebrated by top chefs around the world a retired Army colonel started cooking meat and vegetables in sealed plastic pouches immersed in a water bath to liven up the flavor of hospital food. But you’d be hard pressed to find his name associated with it.

Ambrose McGuckian wasn’t looking for accolades from food critics and gourmands. He wanted to impress hospital patients at the Greenville Hospital System in South Carolina who’d been complaining about the “institutional dullness” of their food.

McGuckian was my step-grandfather and everyone called him “Mac.” In 1968, he was the project manager of a regional study to overhaul hospital food service. He’d been instructed to improve the quality of food while keeping costs down. So he studied existing food service programs and methods of food preparation until he found a formula that boosted taste and extended shelf life.

“Traditional methods of hospital food service have locked operations into a spiral of ever-increasing costs in food, wages, equipment and supplies,” Mac, then president of a company called A.G.S. Food System, Inc., wrote in the May 1969 issue of Cornell Hotel & Restaurant Administration Quarterly. But “water bath cooking, in which the food product is first vacuum packaged in a plastic pouch and then immersed for a specified time in water heated to and maintained at a designated temperature,” locked in flavor and streamlined food service, he wrote.

Once cooked, the food could be safely refrigerated for at least 60 days, then zapped in the microwave (yes, they had them in the foodservice industry back then) and served. No more dull, frozen-and-reheated meals, no more over-production and waste, no more pots to scrape—and the patients were happy, according to Mac’s article.

“I think it was just like, ‘Bingo, this is something that is going to change the way America eats,’ ” says Peter McGuckian. He’s Mac’s son and my step-uncle, and he remembers how excited Mac was about the project.

Fast-forward 50 years, and cooking “under vacuum” — also known as sous vide — has revolutionized the industry, helped along by Michelin-starred chefs like Thomas Keller.

Now, thanks to a new generation of tools, even home cooks can sous vide anything from roast beef to egg whites in their own kitchens.

But aside from a couple of references buried in food science textbooks, no one seems to remember my step-grandfather’s contribution.

Chefs, scientists and plastics

Most sources credit two French chefs — Bruno Goussault and George Pralus — with independently developing sous vide, then working together to refine it.

When Goussault, who’s known as the “father of sous vide,” developed the technique in 1971, he was looking for a way to improve the tenderness of roast beef. Pralus, who’s also been called the “father of sous vide,” discovered in 1974 that wrapping foie gras in plastic prevented the fatty liver from shrinking as it cooked. A few years later, the two chefs teamed up with Cryovac, a plastic manufacturer, to fine-tune the method.

By 1991, when Goussault opened the Culinary Research and Education Academy in Paris, as a training center that promised to take the technique “from boil-in-bag to haute cuisine,” sous vide was on its way.

Goussault leads sous vide seminars for the culinary school, which trains chefs throughout the world, and is chief scientist at Cuisine Solutions, a large-scale sous vide supplier based in Virginia. I recently asked him whether he’d heard of my step-grandfather’s work. He said he hadn’t, but that he was familiar with the Nacka System, which was developed in Swedish hospitals in the 1960s, according to a Canadian research book on the principles of sous vide.

In this system — which Mac tested during his project — items were fully cooked, then vacuum-sealed, refrigerated and boiled before serving. But those who sampled the results said the food had a “tired” taste, likely as a result of overcooking.

Even before Nacka, there was interest in how the new soft plastics being developed could be used in the kitchen, but not necessarily for cooking.

In the 1960s, as people started buying more prepared foods, there was a push to develop lightweight containers, says Julie Goddard, an associate professor at Cornell University who studies the intersection of food and materials science.

Food scientist and culinary anthropologist Carl Rietz describes cooking in plastic in his 1961 book on culinary techniques, and warned against vapor pressure causing the plastic to rip.

Sous vide has come a long way since then.

These days, chefs have temperature controllers that can help “dial in texture,” says Chris Loss, a professor of food science at Cornell University. “You definitely can change the sensory properties of foods by trapping in those aromas and juices.”

The Cryovac system

Mac, who died in 2000, spent his career in the Army’s Quartermaster Corps, in charge of organizing military food supplies during and after World War II. After retiring in 1964 as a colonel, he started a personnel firm placing Army veterans in food service jobs. Then he was hired by chemicals giant W.R. Grace as a consultant on the South Carolina hospital study.

Around the same time, his son Peter remembers coming home from college to find various sealed plastic packages in his parents’ refrigerator. Sometimes, Mac would ask him to open up a pouch and taste what was inside.

“One time, I said, ‘Hey Dad, that’s been in there for a little while,’ ” Peter remembers. “Go ahead, try it,” Mac insisted, and Peter did. “You’ve got to trust your dad, right?”

Mac called his technique “the A.G.S. System,” named for the company formed to produce food and distribute it to the three hospitals in Anderson, Greenville, and Spartanburg, S.C. But it’s more commonly known as “the Cryovac system,” for the manufacturer of plastic packaging and water bath cookers used in the project. Cryovac was a division of W.R. Grace.

Mac patented the technique in the U.S. and a few other countries, but Cryovac claimed ownership of the technique because Mac was one of its contractors when he developed it. They went back and forth over the rights for years, based on documents and correspondence Mac saved. Sometime in the early ’70s they reached a cross-licensing arrangement, with A.G.S. as the formal assignee for Mac’s patent.

But in 1978, Mac writes in a letter to A.G.S. that Cryovac lawyers told him the patent wasn’t worth “really anything.” Mac writes that he decided “ownership of the patent, worthless as it may be, would mean more to me than ownership of 4,000 shares of AGS stock.” He asked for an exchange.

“[The patent] was important to my father because it was his baby and it was a significant development in the food industry at the time,” remembers Peter’s brother, Paul McGuckian, who is my stepfather. Paul, a retired judge, served as his father’s attorney during negotiations with Cryovac and W.R. Grace in the 1970s. “He hoped he could make some money from it.”

As far as we know, he never did. Eventually the patent faded from everyone’s memory.

Now Cryovac is owned by Sealed Air. Asked for a comment on this story, a company representative emailed a statement describing “a long line of contributions to the advancement of food safety and food packaging.”

Source: npr

Video: 15 Cooking Tricks Chefs Learn at Culinary Schools

15 simple but effective cooking tips every foodie should know. These secrets will help you to make your dishes taste just as great as Gordon Ramsay’s (or even better!).

  1. The Perfect Steak
  2. Juicy Meat
  3. Seasoning
  4. The Perfect Dough
  5. Crusty Fish
  6. Cooking Steak Without Using Oil
  7. Creamy Mashed Potatoes
  8. Cream Soup
  9. Pancakes
  10. Seasoning with Sugar
  11. The Perfect Fried Egg
  12. Clear Chicken Broth
  13. Crispy Crusts
  14. Cooking Onions
  15. Using Garlic

Watch video at You Tube (11:50 minutes) . . . . .

How to Make the Perfect Shot of Espresso Every Time

The average American drinks more than three cups of coffee a day, contributing to a $40 billion industry in the U.S. alone, according to the National Coffee Association. But not all coffee is created equal; flavor profiles vary. Focusing on espresso, scientists say they have now unlocked the key to creating consistent cups of java.

The researchers are presenting their results today at the 255th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS, the world’s largest scientific society, is holding the meeting here through Thursday. It features more than 13,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

“One day you might have a good cup of coffee and the next day you might not. From a scientific perspective, it has always puzzled me why we couldn’t do the same thing twice,” Christopher H. Hendon, Ph.D., says. “My research looks at every variable that goes into making espresso coffee, from grinding and packing the ground coffee, to water pressure and mineral chemistry. If every single café in America were to implement the procedure, it would save the U.S. $300 million a year by reducing the amount of coffee beans used to make espresso, while improving reproducibility.”

Hendon’s research is some of the first of its kind, earning him the title, “Dr. Coffee.”

Previous research in his lab explored several variables that impact the reproducibility of espresso. For example, water hardness varies throughout the U.S., and this can affect flavor. “Hard” water with a high amount of magnesium and calcium causes coffee to have a stronger flavor than “soft” water This is because compounds such as caffeine stick to magnesium during the brewing process. Hard water can also have high amounts of bicarbonate, which causes coffee to have a more bitter flavor.

The freshness of the coffee beans can also impact how tasty a cup of coffee is. Freshly roasted coffee contains carbon dioxide and other compounds that easily evaporate. Over time, these volatile compounds escape the beans, resulting in a less flavorful cup of coffee. Lower temperature slows the rate of evaporation, which explains why storing coffee in the fridge extends its shelf life.

Hendon’s team at the University of Oregon has been focusing on the process of grinding coffee beans and the brewing method itself. “There is a point in grinding coffee beans when you make too many small particles, which stick together and result in reduced extractions,” Hendon says. Although smaller particles mean a greater surface area, which should result in consistently tasty espresso, there is a critical point at which smaller isn’t better. For this reason, the grinders used can have a significant impact on the flavor of the resulting cup of coffee.

Additionally, when extracting the espresso, the water should come into contact with the coffee grounds uniformly. Passing water through the grounds in a systematic manner would ensure that all of the grounds come in contact with water equally. In comparison, with a traditional drip-brew coffee pot, the water drips mainly through the center of the grounds while the grounds on the outside have little contact with water.

By collaborating with baristas, Hendon developed a method by which they can achieve their desired flavor profile consistently. Hendon proposes an optimization process achieved by altering grinding size and brew ratio. “By predetermining the coffee-to-water ratio, as well as the water pressure, the maximum extraction can be systematically determined,” he says. “The barista can then iteratively improve their espresso reproducibility, while reducing waste coffee mass.”

Now, he plans to take his work in another direction, focusing on the impact of temperature on grinding coffee. Specifically, he explains that cooled coffee grinds more uniformly and would therefore impart greater control on the resulting cup of joe.

Source: American Chemical Society

Relaxation Via Deep Breathing

The term “fight or flight” is also known as the stress response. It’s what the body does as it prepares to confront or avoid danger. When appropriately invoked, the stress response helps us rise to many challenges. But trouble starts when this response is constantly provoked by less momentous, day-to-day events, such as money woes, traffic jams, job worries, or relationship problems.

Health problems are one result. A prime example is high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. The stress response also suppresses the immune system, increasing susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. Moreover, the buildup of stress can contribute to anxiety and depression. We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them. One way is to invoke the relaxation response, through a technique first developed in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. The relaxation response is a state of profound rest that can be elicited in many ways, including meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation.

Breath focus is a common feature of several techniques that evoke the relaxation response. The first step is learning to breathe deeply.

Deep breathing benefits

Deep breathing also goes by the names of diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, belly breathing, and paced respiration. When you breathe deeply, the air coming in through your nose fully fills your lungs, and the lower belly rises.

For many of us, deep breathing seems unnatural. There are several reasons for this. For one, body image has a negative impact on respiration in our culture. A flat stomach is considered attractive, so women (and men) tend to hold in their stomach muscles. This interferes with deep breathing and gradually makes shallow “chest breathing” seem normal, which increases tension and anxiety.

Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. The lowest part of the lungs doesn’t get a full share of oxygenated air. That can make you feel short of breath and anxious.

Deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, it can slow the heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure.

Practicing breath focus

Breath focus helps you concentrate on slow, deep breathing and aids you in disengaging from distracting thoughts and sensations. It’s especially helpful if you tend to hold in your stomach.

First steps. Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).

Breath focus in practice. Once you’ve taken the steps above, you can move on to regular practice of controlled breathing. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, blend deep breathing with helpful imagery and perhaps a focus word or phrase that helps you relax.

Ways to elicit the relaxation response

Several techniques can help you turn down your response to stress. Breath focus helps with nearly all of them:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Yoga, tai chi, and Qi Gong
  • Repetitive prayer
  • Guided imagery

Creating a routine

You may want to try several different relaxation techniques to see which one works best for you. And if your favorite approach fails to engage you, or you want some variety, you’ll have alternatives. You may also find the following tips helpful:

  • Choose a special place where you can sit (or lie down) comfortably and quietly.
  • Don’t try too hard. That may just cause you to tense up.
  • Don’t be too passive, either. The key to eliciting the relaxation response lies in shifting your focus from stressors to deeper, calmer rhythms — and having a focal point is essential.
  • Try to practice once or twice a day, always at the same time, in order to enhance the sense of ritual and establish a habit.
  • Try to practice at least 10–20 minutes each day.

Source: Harvard University

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