Kitchen Essentials Part 1: Pots and Pans of Conduction

Author: L. A. Briggs // Category: , , ,
Posted March 29, 2011 at 12:39 AM
One of the major pieces of equipment that any cook uses are pots and pans. There is large debate about which type of material makes the best pan, and each material has both its advantages and disadvantages. However, for the most part, the material doesn’t matter so much as whether the material does what it is supposed to: conduction.

Conduction plays a major role in preparing any foods on the stove top or in any situation where heat is added to any vessel. Conduction is the process where heat is transferred from one object to another through direct physical contact. An example in the kitchen would be when you are heating a pot of water on the stove. The heat from the burner is transferred to heat the water by the water directly contacting the surface of the pot. How well a certain material conducts heat depends on it thermal conductivity, which is a numerical coefficient that relates how well a material conducts thermal energy. The larger the value of thermal conductivity, the better that material conducts heat.

This is where the different types of material come into play. Copper is the best conductor among the materials that pots and pans are made out of, but these types of pans can be very expensive. The next best is aluminum. The material that, on its own, is the worst conductor of heat is stainless steel.

The following video is an excellent source of information on the different types of materials that pots and pans are made out of and what sorts of applications they are best used for. The video is rather long (~10 minutes), but the information is really good. The lady who is in the video is Rita Heikenfeld, and she does a wonderful job. She does get off topic a couple of times, but on a whole she does a fantastic job.

Food Allergies Part 2: The Gluten-Free Takeover

Author: L. A. Briggs // Category: ,
Posted March 21, 2011 at 8:59 PM
It seems like in almost every supermarket that you go to now have a certain section devoted to gluten-free products. Much like dairy allergies, wheat allergies are becoming more prevalent among people.

So much like with diary, wheat allergies occur when the body produces antibodies that react in the presence of a particular wheat protein. The most common occurrence of wheat allergies occurs in young children, but most children outgrow the allergy between the ages of 3 and 5. The allergy is not very common in adolescents and adults. However, celiac disease, or gluten sensitivity, while not considered an actual food allergy, is more common among adults. A person can have both celiac disease and wheat allergies.

Celiac disease is a digestive condition that is triggered by the intake of gluten, a protein component of wheat. When a person who suffers from celiac disease consumes gluten, they experience an immune reaction that causes damage to inner surface of the small intestine that causes the body to not be able to absorb certain nutrients. Celiac disease has a wide range of symptoms, and sometimes it is hard to diagnose the condition because the symptoms mimic the symptoms of another digestive ailment. Some symptoms are very serious and life-threatening. Doctors are unsure of the cause of the disease, but they have found that if someone in your family was diagnosed with it, you have a greater chance of having the disease.

So what can be done about wheat allergies and celiac disease? The best advise is to avoid anything that has wheat, and particularly gluten, in it. As I noted above, most supermarkets today have whole sections devoted to gluten-free products. My mother is slightly celiac in addition to having dairy allergies, so having gluten-free and dairy-free foods is not new to me. Knowing that I too may have or develop celiac disease makes me conscious about the foods that I eat. It is really helpful that the food industry is aware of the growing problem and willing to make alternatives for the people with these allergies.

Food Allergies Part 1: The Curse of the Dairy Allergy

Author: L. A. Briggs // Category: ,
Posted March 9, 2011 at 2:46 AM
Whenever my family goes out to dinner at a restaurant, my mother usually has to ask the waiter, “Is there any dairy in this?” She, like many others, of course has dairy allergies. It seems to be a growing affliction among many adults these days.

Allergies to dairy are cause by three components of milk: the casein proteins, whey proteins, or lactose sugar. The lactose usually is involved with an intolerance while the proteins are usually the source of a true allergy.

So what is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

An allergy is when something is ingested and the body recognizes it as foreign, which then causes the release of antibodies. This can cause the body to release histamines which give off the typical indicators of an allergic reaction. Intolerance on the other hand is when there is no enzyme present in the body to break down the food. In the case of milk, intolerance occurs when the body does not produce the enzyme, lactase, needed to break down the lactose sugar. This results in the presence of lactose in the intestines which can lead to gas, bloating, and stomach cramps.

Lactose intolerance is said to affect 30% of Americans, and is the most common food intolerance in the country. Unlike most allergies, lactose intolerance is something that can develop later in life. This is because the body stops making enough lactase as we get older.

My mother is one of the people that are allergic to the proteins in milk, and that trait seems to be a trait that runs in my family. While I seem to have less of an allergy than most of my family, I still try not to ingest as much dairy as I used to when I was younger. I always loved, and still do, drinking milk, but recently I have cut back on the amount of milk that I drink. However, I still partake of many other forms of dairy such as cheeses, and of course one of my favorite culinary confections is cheesecake, so I doubt I will ever be able to give up dairy entirely because it is just too delicious to resist.

There are many other non-dairy beverages available to consumers these days because of the increasing amounts of dairy allergies. Some of these alternatives include soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk. I particularly enjoy almond milk as a milk replacement. My favorite of the many brands is Silk PureAlmond™ Dark Chocolate almond milk. I think it tastes just like chocolate milk, plus it has more calcium than a glass of milk and it has antioxidants (according to its label). They even make dairy-free ice cream too, and it too tastes just like regular ice cream. You can't even tell the difference.
So while the number of people with some sort of dairy allergy or intolerance increases each year, the food industry is attempting to accommodate the people that have these afflictions with non-dairy alternatives. How delicious an alternative these are remains to be seen because sometimes there just isn’t an alternative to dairy.

Cookies: From Gooey to Chewy

Author: L. A. Briggs // Category: ,
Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:42 PM

This past weekend I spent a good portion of my time baking cookies and brownies for a bake sale, and as I was baking things, I noticed a trend among the things that I baked. The final product, the cookie, always seemed to be much larger in size than the dough that I put into the oven. So that got me to thinking. What makes a cookie a cookie? And how does a gooey blob turn into a delicious, chewy confection?

There are certain leavening agents found in any cookie recipe out there. Most of the time it is either baking soda, or baking powder, and in some cases both. So what do these ingredients do? They form carbon dioxide gas once they are placed in the batter. And as the cookie cooks, the creation of this gas forms air bubbles in the dough, causing it to rise and spread, and giving it its characteristic cookie look.

The spreading of the cookie is also helped along by the melting of the fats, such as butter, margarine, or shortening. As the dough heats up in the oven, the fats melt and cause the dough to spread. And as the dough heats up, the water found in these fats evaporates, which causes the dough to stop spreading once all the moisture from the fats have evaporated.

And what makes a cookie chewy as opposed to crispy? It’s a combination of many of the ingredients. The type of sugar used is one such example. Brown sugar has more moisture than regular granulated sugar, so more brown sugar in the dough will make softer cookies. Another tip is to bake the cookies on light colored cookie sheets, or on parchment paper.

I tend to bake my cookies for a little bit shorter time than what the recipe calls for, and I sometimes turn down the heat in the oven by about 25 degrees too, depending on the oven that I use. One of the tricks that I have learned over the years to deal with crisp cookies is to put a piece of bread in with them. Doing so will make crispy cookies soft again in much the same way that a piece of bread will make hard brown sugar soft again.

No matter whether your cookies turn out crispy or chewy, they will undoubtedly taste delicious just the same. And just remember, one minute makes all the difference between a perfect cookie and an over-done cookie.