Saturday, December 29, 2007

How To Make The Best Steak You Can - At Home

Now that the Nativity Fast is over...

From The Dallas Morning News: How to make the best steak you can - at home

FWIW, we tried the skillet steak instructions with some New York Strip steaks. They were good, but not great - and indeed tasted better the second day with a brief reheating in the microwave - so I would go straight for the grill instead. Maybe Ribeyes - said to be the most flavorful steak - would fare better when using the skillet and oven.

Watch the accompanying videos:
  1. Selection and seasoning
  2. On the grill
  3. Is it ready?
From the December 2007 issue of Texas Monthly magazine (the cover story is on the best steakhouses in Texas, and you can read it all here):
How Now Brown Cow

A little over a year ago I started receiving annoying press releases on some kind of unpronounceable Texas-raised cattle called Akaushi. Say what? The stuff was ex-pen-sive, and you had to order it days in advance, even in restaurants. It sounded like a bunch of hype. I thought of the old joke about the difference between ignorance and apathy: I didn’t know and I didn’t care.

Fast-forward to September of this year. Two friends and I walked into Bohanan’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, in San Antonio, and the head waiter started raving about Akaushi beef. Damn. The cheapest cut was $95, for a twelve-ounce filet. Deciding to take one for the team, I ordered it. It arrived. I took a bite. Ohmigod. It was so delicious I almost fainted. My friends noticed and tried to sneak pieces off my plate while I was semiconscious. We were fork-fighting and groaning and carrying on like spotted hyenas. It was that good.

If Akaushi (“Ah-ka-oo-shee”) sounds like what’s called Wagyu, source of notably succulent Japanese beef, it’s because they’re kissing cousins. Actually, “Wagyu” is a general term meaning “Japanese beef.” The correct name for those famous fatties is Kuroushi—“kuro” meaning “black” and “ushi” meaning “cattle.” (In case you’re wondering, Kobe beef is Kuroushi raised near Kobe, Japan.) Akaushi means “red cattle,” though they’re really reddish-brown. In 1994 eleven lone Akaushi were imported by HeartBrand Beef to its South Texas ranch outside Yoakum. From that small pool, they’ve increased to five thousand and are the only breeding herd outside Japan.

If you were to compare Kuroushi with Akaushi, you’d detect little difference. They’re both fabulous. But some Kuroushi in Texas have been crossed with Black Angus, and that meat is generally of a lesser quality. By contrast, all Akaushi are purebred, so they always produce splendidly tender meat with loads of near–microscopically fine fat marbling. On top of this, beef from both Kuroushi and Akaushi is better for you than regular old American beef, because the meat has lots of monounsaturated (good) fatty acids.

But don’t take my word. Try some yourself if you can spare about a hundred bucks. That’s not much for a memory you’ll never forget.
Our new Super Wal-Mart store carries Wagyu beef steaks - $30 a pound!! After we test and master the cooking technique above, we'll try one and see how heavenly it tastes!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cooking With The Bible

I'd been looking for this book, COOKING WITH THE BIBLE: Biblical Food, Feasts, and Lore, by Anthony F. Chiffolo and Rayner W. Hesse, Jr., since it was published in August 2006, but no one around here carries it - probably because it has a $75 price tag, even from That's more than I would gamble sight-unseen, no matter how good the reviews, especially since I am more of an eater than a cook.

Well, today I found that the authors have a Website where they seem to give many (maybe all?) of the recipes in the book, with other information, too.

Enjoy! (And don't forget to invite me to dinner when you cook something from this!)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

We Have ... Coffee!

Per some comments at, I figured: "$9.99? Why not?" and bought this popcorn maker at Walgreens ($3.00 mail-in rebate, too!) and tried roasting some coffee. It's a 1200 watt popper. Everyone's favorite, the no-longer-made West Bend Poppery I, is 1500 watts, I believe, and the Poppery II is 1200 watts, I think.

I put 2/3 cup or so of some green unroasted decaf Sumatra beans I had bought at
Dunn Bros Coffee a few weeks ago into the popping chamber, and used an empty canned green beans can for a chimney. You need the chimney because as the coffee roasts, it gets lighter in weight, and the spinning/blowing of the popper will propel the beans up and out of the popping chamber unless you have a long chimney.

(To make the chimney, I removed both ends of the can with a can opener and cut about eight 1"-long slashes around one end so I could compress the end diameter to fit into the opening of the popcorn maker - a soup can was too narrow for this popper.)

The plastic cover for the popper sits closer to the popping chamber than some others I've seen, and I was afraid the heat would melt it, so I roasted the coffee with the cover off and the chimney extending the height of the chamber.

I then went outside and plugged it in. It was apparently too cold outside, though, because after several minutes, while the beans had darkened somewhat in color, they were not roasting or smoking or cracking.

So I brought it inside and continued the process by the stove-top ventilation fan, and the beans started darkening in color and even cracked a bit and started getting a bit of an oily sheen. There was no chaff (decaf beans don't have chaff, but regular beans do - lots of it, apparently, which is another reason to roast outdoors so it doesn't blow all over the house) and only one bean caught on fire. I never did get any smoke, but I tasted a bean when it was looking pretty dark, and since it seemed done, I turned off the popper and cooled the beans outside by stirring them with a wooden spoon in a metal colander.

We ground and brewed the beans, and they tasted pretty good - a medium-tasting roast (though they looked darker than that), with a lot of "foaming" in the AeroPress since I didn't give them a day to degas.

I did another batch at about 10:15 p.m. indoors. I didn't get any smoke this time, either. Maybe it's the roasting chaff that creates the smoke, and since there is hardly any chaff on decaf beans, there is also little or no smoke. It took longer than I expected, and I couldn't hear the second crack, but the beans are fairly dark. I put them in a plastic bag for grinding and brewing in the morning.

The instructions say to use no more than 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels to prevent overheating. I tried roasting 1/2 cup of beans with the popcorn cover on, but I still had beans popping out of the cover, so it seems that I need to use the chimney without the cover. Also, 2/3 cup of beans seems to roast fine without overheating the popcorn maker.

The following isn't the best video, but it shows and explains the process. It doesn't show the inside of the correct popper very well, though, so you can't really see how the vents are on the side of the chamber, but if you examine hot air corn poppers, you'll easily see what it means for the vents to be on the side of the chamber.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Storing Coffee Beans - To Vac, Or Not To Vac?

As a test, on 10/13/07 I put two AeroPress scoops each of Sumatra Decaf coffee beans that had been roasted on 10/12/07 into four pint mason jars as follows, to be tasted and compared after about 2 weeks:

A. Vacuum-sealed (with a home vacuum sealer and mason jar lid attachment), and not opened.
B. Vacuum-sealed, and opened and then vacuum-sealed again every day.
C. Closed (not vacuum-sealed), and not opened.
D. Closed, and opened every day.

I opened them all on 10/28 and did a taste comparison, using the AeroPress. My subjective opinion/results:

#1 for flavor: Coffee A.
#2 for flavor: Coffee B.
#3 for flavor: Coffee C. (Very close to B., however.)
#4 for flavor: Coffee D.

Vacuum sealing thus does seem to help retain the freshness. Probably the best thing would be to put a freshly-roasted pound of coffee beans into four mason jars, vacuum-seal the jars (and check them each day the first couple days, for they may still be degassing and undo the vacuum), and take out and grind 2 days' worth of coffee at a time to cut in half the number of times one would have to reopen and re-vacuum-seal the jar before finishing it and starting on the next jar. The resultant loss in flavor of ground coffee over 2 days versus 1 day may negate this benefit, though, and daily grinding might still be the best choice.

Also, I could take a jar to work and grind it there. Since the pint jar of beans will be used up in a few days, it won't spend two weeks being opened and closed, so it should taste better than Coffee D.

I only had 2 AeroPress scoops of coffee in each mason jar - i.e., about the equivalent of 2.5 regular 2 TBSP coffee scoops - so there was a lot of air space in the jars. I suspect that if I kept the non-vacuum-sealed coffee in a reasealable sandwich bag from which I could expel much of the air each time I opened and reclosed it, it would taste very close to the vacuum-sealed coffee. Probably the best system would be to use actual vacuum bags for the beans, and cut open and revacuum each day the one I'm using after taking out the coffee, which would pretty much eliminate all air around the beans while they're not being used. I think a good compromise between this ideal method and efficiency/cost (i.e., not having to pay for vacuum bags, and not having to vacuum reseal every day) would be to keep the beans in full vacuum-sealed mason jars with little air space, and keep the beans I'm using in a resealable sandwich bag. Since I only buy 1 lb. of coffee at a time, it will all be gone in less than 2 weeks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Good, Hot, Black Coffee"

A coworker, for whom I made his first cup of AeroPress coffee yesterday, agrees with me that the reason most people do not like strong, black coffee ("black as midnight on a moonless night") is because they have never had a good (as in "great") cup of coffee. It's either been brewed at the wrong temperature or for too long so it's too bitter, or the beans were not freshly-roasted and freshly-ground, or it's a combination of some or all of these things. Thus, they doctor it up or cover it up with milk and sugar and flavorings and/or dilute it to weaken its bad qualities, not realizing that coffee isn't supposed to taste that way - and doesn't have to.

One day, some day ... I'm going to try roasting my own beans at home. But that's not so urgent, as I now have four reasonably close sources for fresh-roasted coffee: Bookish Coffee, Texas Roast, Dunn Bros, and Addison Coffee Roasters. If it's been roasted within two days of buying it, it should be about the same as doing it myself, since fresh-roasted coffee needs a day or two to degas (coffee gives off CO2 for a couple days after it's been roasted) and reach optimal flavor before grinding and brewing.

But no matter how you brew it - whether with a drip coffee maker or a French Press or an AeroPress - the first rule for making great coffee is to use freshly-roasted beans that have been freshly ground. (The second rule is to use the right amount of coffee when making it - i.e., about 2 Tablespoons per 6 oz. cup. The third and fourth rules have to do with using the proper grinder and grind, and the right water temperature.) Whole bean coffee is good for a week or two after roasting, and ideally should not be ground until the day you are going to drink it. Don't buy any more coffee than you will use within two weeks of the roast date, if possible. This means that if you want the best coffee, you'll have to say "good-bye" to ground coffee and prepackaged off-the-shelf coffee beans and bulk beans that have been sitting for who knows how long. These can all be acceptable, and sometimes even good. But why settle for poor or at best "good" coffee when you can enjoy great coffee?

Now, watch this video:

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Aerobie AeroPress - Great Coffee!

After reading the reviews, I bought an Aerobie AeroPress. Yes, the flying ring makers have made a coffee maker that looks like a chemist's set and ... makes great coffee.

My first cup was smooth and rich-tasting as promised. Based on the many user reviews, one may want to experiment with the grind and the amount of coffee and water (and water temperature) to get one's favorite cup, but it can make a crema-less espresso (or near espresso) to drink straight or in a latte or cappuccino, as well as (by adding more hot water) regular coffee.

$30. No electricity. (You'll need a source of hot water - a microwave or electric tea kettle - and you can put your water in the plunger tube per the measuring marks and heat it in the microwave, so it's great for travel and a hotel microwave, or just use hot water from a hotel coffeemaker.) No moving parts. A little labor, and even less time, and ... voila! A great cup of coffee.

If only all the world's problems could be solved this easily.

You can buy it
locally and internationally, as well as via (from third parties).

Read some of the reviews at Amazon or at, and those at the links at the bottom of the Aerobie AeroPress Webpage (and the "Frequently Asked Questions" link on that same page).

This test review demonstrates
why it doesn't make true espresso, but great coffee, equaling or besting machines costing many times as much.

If you're a French Press person, here is my earlier post about
French Press coffee, as well as about good coffee in general.

And ...
these guys just opened up a shop 2 miles down the road from our house. On-site fresh-roasted coffee for about $10 a pound. I'll never lack for fresh-roasted beans again. (Sorry, Starbucks.) Whoo-hoo!

Watch the video on the AeroPress Webpage.

- - -

UPDATE October 3, 2007: After some minor experimentation, I find I like the coffee ground at espresso grind (the finest grind on my Starbucks Barista burr grinder) or maybe one step coarser. (Per the instructions, if you make more than 2 scoops at a time, you need to use a coarser grind, as it's difficult to compress the air in the tube with that much coffee at a superfine grind.)

I use 2 AeroPress scoops, which I press with water filled to the "(2)" level in the plunger, and pour a little hot water over the stirring paddle just before I press in order to wash the grounds from the paddle back into the coffee mixture. After pressing, I dilute it in the cup with hot water to about a 11-12 oz. cup of coffee.

The AeroPress scoop is about 36 cc (versus 30 cc for the standard 2-Tablespoon coffee measure) and doubles as an espresso server, holding the amount of a single espresso in case one wants to divide multiple servings among several cups. So I'm using about 20% more coffee per cup than with a French press (i.e., 72 cc for 12 oz. of coffee = 6 cc ground coffee per 1 oz. of water, versus 2 TB = 30 cc per 6 oz. water in a French Press = 5 cc ground coffee per 1 oz. of water), perhaps because the very short brew time requires a bit more coffee to achieve the desired strength, or maybe because I can make the coffee stronger since it has no bitterness.

UPDATE October 5, 2007: I notice that the coffee doesn't seem to have the aroma that coffee from my French Press had. At times it has tasted a bit "flat," too. This is a result of the paper filter absorbing some of the flavor oils (one reason I was a bit cautious about the AeroPress).
Some have recommended letting it steep longer - i.e., for 1 minute or even a French-Press-comparable 3 minutes - by first inserting the plunger and then inverting it, and pouring the coffee and water in via the bottom of the tube (and covering it until ready to put on the cap and filter and turn it over and plunge it), or by pulling the plunger UP slightly after insertion to create a slight vacuum and prevent any flow-through until ready to plunge. (If you pull it up too much, though, it will suck the filter away from the cap, and the water will start pouring through!)

Even then, though,
there are apparently limits that the AeroPress can't pass.

I discovered that I've been making it way too hot. I've been waiting a few seconds after my tea kettle boiled before pouring the water, but when I poured water into the plunger and first used a digital instant-read thermometer to see when it reached 175°, I was surprised that it took a lot longer than I expected. So I now pour out my water before the boil and use the thermometer to check the temperature before pouring it into the coffee, as the AeroPress instructions recommend 165-175° for optimum flavor.

UPDATE October 10, 2007: Despite the lack of some of the flavor oils, AeroPress coffee has its own flavor and quality that still makes it (to me) about the best cup of coffee I've had. While it may be worth the trouble to get a 5 micron polyester filter and use the inverted (i.e., upside-down) method to get the oils into the cup
as the folks here suggest, I am currently pretty content with the regular AeroPress procedure with the AeroPress paper filters.

UPDATE October 20, 2007: I bought a second AeroPress today so I wouldn't have to bring mine home every weekend.

Shortly after I had gotten my $125 (retail) Starbucks Barista conical burr grinder, I did a blind comparison with my $20 blade grinder using my drip coffeemaker. The burr ground coffee had a noticeably fuller flavor.

Based on comments of other AeroPress users, I decided to see if there was any noticeable difference with the AeroPress between burr-ground coffee and blade-ground coffee. I ground 1.5 scoops of a fresh decaf Sumatra City Roast (roasted yesterday) in each of my grinders, and pressed/brewed them both at the same time with 175° water I had filled to the "(2)" mark in the plunger. As far as I could tell, there was not a noticeable difference in taste.

This means that I can take my quiet blade grinder to work and grind my beans there before making each cup. The coffee will taste fresher and I won't have to wake my wife up with the noise of the burr grinder (or even the blade grinder) each morning. On the other hand, it's quite a bit messier, esp. digging out the compacted fine coffee, so I may continue with my burr grinder, but grind it the night before or in another room.

UPDATE November 15, 2007: Though I initially used the Espresso grind setting (or one step coarser) on my Starbucks Barista Burr grinder, I found that the coffee was perhaps too fine, because it took a lot of pressure (and time) to push the water through. Grinding it three steps coarser than Espresso - i.e., about halfway between Espresso Grind and Drip Grind - seems to a better setting. While I found that the coffee tasted just as good if I used a blade grinder (and I even took mine to work for awhile in order to grind the beans right before brewing), the fineness of the grind made it very difficult to press, so I went back to using the burr grinder at home and taking ground coffee to work.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Bad Coffee

Several months ago - late last year, in fact - a news article about this Website introduced me to the art and technique of making good (or, rather, better) coffee:
"Better office coffee is not hard to make. Anyone can do it. All you need are a few simple supplies, some know-how and a desire for better tasting brew. We spent nearly two years slaving away in our cubes figuring out how to use a French Press to make great coffee and this website was created to share our knowledge and experience with all the other cubicle workers of the world."

So, get yourself one of these:

and some of these:

and one of these:

and one of these:

and start off each day with a delicious one of these:

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Fast Regularly ... And Live Longer

(I wonder if any studies have been done on Orthodox monks re: their lifespans and general health?)

Read More: The Calorie Restriction Society

An alternative: Calorie restriction:
Intermittent fasting as an alternative approach

Studies by Mark P. Mattson, Ph. D., chief of the National Institute on Aging's (NIA) Laboratory of Neurosciences, and colleagues have found that intermittent fasting and calorie restriction affect the progression of diseases similar to Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease in mice (PMID 11119686). In one study, rats and mice ate a low-calorie diet or were deprived of food for 24 hours every other day (PMID 12724520). Both methods improved glucose metabolism, increased insulin sensitivity, and increased stress resistance. Researchers have long been aware that calorie restriction extends lifespan, but this study showed that improved glucose metabolism also protects neurons in experimental models of Parkinson's and stroke.

Another NIA study found that intermittent fasting and calorie restriction delays the onset of Huntington's disease-like symptoms in mice and prolongs their lives (PMID 12589027). Huntington's disease (HD), a genetic disorder, results from neuronal degeneration in the striatum. This neurodegeneration results in difficulties with movements that include walking, speaking, eating, and swallowing. People with Huntington's also exhibit an abnormal, diabetes-like metabolism that causes them to lose weight progressively.

This NIA study compared adult HD mice who ate as much as they wanted to HD mice who were kept on an intermittent fasting diet during adulthood. HD mice possess the abnormal human gene huntingtin and exhibit clinical signs of the disease, including abnormal metabolism and neurodegeneration in the striatum. The mice on the fasting program developed clinical signs of the disease about 12 days later and lived 10 to 15% longer than the free-fed mice. The brains of the fasting mice also showed less degeneration. Those on the fasting program also regulated their glucose levels better and did not lose weight as quickly as the other mice. Researchers found that fasting mice had higher brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels. BDNF protects neurons and stimulates their growth. Fasting mice also had high levels of heat-shock protein-70 (Hsp70, which increases cellular resistance to stress.

Another NIA study indicates that intermittent fasting may be more beneficial than cutting calorie intake. Researchers let a control group of mice eat freely. Another group was fed 60% of the calories that the control group consumed. A third group was fasted for 24 hours, then permitted to free-feed. [9] According to an Associated Press article (29 April 2003), the fasting mice "didn't cut total calories because they ate twice as much on days they weren't fasting. Both the fasting mice and those on a restricted diet had significantly lower blood sugar and insulin levels than the free-fed controls. A toxin that damages hippocampal cells was injected in all of the mice. Hippocampal damage is associated with Alzheimer's. Interestingly, the scientists found less damage in the brains of the fasting mice than in those that ate either a restricted or a normal diet. The NIA is planning a human study that will compare a group eating three meals a day with a group eating the same diet and amount of food within four hours and then fasting 20 hours."

In a television interview with Meredith MacRae c. 1984, Roy Walford mentions intermittent fasting and its dramatic effects on animal life span through "undernutrition without malnutrition".
- - -

Gene clue to longevity uncovered

By Rebecca Morelle Science reporter, BBC News

The mystery of how eating less boosts longevity is closer to being solved.

Studies have shown that severe calorie restriction markedly extends lifespan in mice and many other species - but the reasons for this remained elusive.

But now US research on nematode worms, published in Nature, has uncovered a gene linked to this unusual effect.

In the future, the find could lead to drugs that mimic the consequences of calorie restriction but negate the need for severe fasting regimes.


The life-lengthening properties of reducing calorie intake were first discovered in the 1930s, when laboratory rodents fed a severely reduced diet were found to outlive their well-fed peers.

Since then, this effect has been observed on organisms as diverse as yeast, flies, worms and dogs.

The consequences for humans of cutting calorie intake by about 60% while maintaining levels of vital nutrients are still unclear, although this extreme diet has a number of followers.

Andrew Dillin, an author of the paper and an associate professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, said: "If you reduce food too much, you go towards starvation and live less long. If you overeat you will succumb to obesity and have a short lifespan. Dietary restriction is really a sweet-spot between the two.

"But for 72 years, we have not known how it works."

A study using nematode worms (Caenorhabditis elegans) revealed that a gene called pha-4 played a key role.

The team found worms that had their pha-4 genes removed showed no enhanced longevity while on the restricted diet.

But they discovered that the opposite experiment - over-expressing levels of pha-4 in the worms - increased longevity when on the restricted diet.

"This is the first gene we have found that is absolutely essential to the longevity response to dietary restriction," explained Dr Dillin.

"We finally have genetic evidence to unravel the underlying molecular programme required for increased longevity in response to calorie restriction."

Feast or famine

Although the study was carried out on worms, the finding could also be important for other species.

Mammals, including humans, possessed genes that were highly similar to the pha-4 gene, explained Dr Dillin.

These genes play a key role in development, and then in later life in the regulation of glucagon, a hormone that has a major role in maintaining glucose levels in blood - especially during fasting.

In fact, scientists believe the life-increasing effect of dietary restriction may be linked to boosting chances of survival through times of food scarcity.

"Pha-4 may be the primordial gene to help an animal overcome stressful conditions to live a long time through dietary restriction conditions," explained Dr Dillin.

Scientists now plan to look at the gene in other species.

Should the longevity link also apply to humans, it could open the door to the development of drugs that mimic the effects of calorie restriction while allowing people to maintain their normal diet, the scientists said.

Professor Richard Miller of the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Michigan, commented: "It is really hard to guess whether the connections that we see between the pha-4 system and calorie restriction in worms will have parallels in mammals, whose repertoire of responses to various forms of long- and short-term food shortages are far more complex than those of worms.

"But the Dillin paper provides both motivation to look and also clues about where to look. I think it's likely to be influential, even if the implications for mammals do eventually turn out to be a cul-de-sac - which they might or might not."

Story from BBC NEWS:

- - -

Extreme dieting: Eat less, live longer?

By Rebecca Morelle Science reporter, BBC News

Scientists believe they are a step closer to working out why an extremely restrictive diet boosts longevity.

This well-documented calorie-cutting phenomenon has been seen in many species, from yeast to mice to dogs.

Although the effects of "calorie restriction" in humans are as yet unknown, some are undertaking this in a bid to live longer.

Here, Bob Cavanaugh, managing director of the Calorie Restriction Society, tells the BBC News website about his diet.

I've been doing calorie restriction for six years.

When I was 53, I had a physical and found out my blood cholesterol level was very high. My doctor wanted to try to control it with diet before resorting to drugs, and I was all in favour of that.

I had read a book about calorie restriction and ageing back in 1988, and was convinced by the science, so I decided to try it.

I use software to work out what to eat everyday. I believe without it, it is impossible to have proper nutrition.

You weigh your food, and it works out the calories, the ratio of fat, carbohydrate and protein and the breakdown of vitamins, minerals and amino acids, then runs a nutritional profile of what you eat throughout the day.

On an average day, I eat 1,800 calories. Younger people can restrict their calories more severely, but I've been told that, based on lab animal evidence, I have already accumulated years of damage to my mitochondria (the powerhouses of the cells), so I utilise my food less efficiently than a younger person.

On a typical day, I will eat an oatmeal-based recipe for breakfast, which is about 455 calories and it gives me about half of my daily nutrients.

I don't eat lunch - after this breakfast I just don't feel hungry - so that leaves me about 1,350 calories for my evening meal, which is a lot.

If you are smart, by eating small portions of meat and small quantities of starchy things, that leaves an enormous amount of room for fruit and vegetables. You wind up eating quite a large meal and it is very filling, nutritious and satisfying.


Contrary to popular belief, you are not hungry on this diet, and I feel excellent. When I started the diet when I was 53, I felt like I was starting to get on in years and didn't quite have the vim and vigour I used to have.

But starting calorie restriction, that exhilaration that I used to experience in youth returned and my whole sense of well-being returned to levels I experienced as a child.

It really made me feel like I got my life back.

In terms of health, my cholesterol level has really dropped; I now weigh 150lb, and I haven't had any illnesses at all - not even a cold.

My motivation for doing calorie restriction was two-fold. One was to reduce my risk of age-related diseases such as heart disease - with the cholesterol level I had. I was in line for this.

And the prospect of extending your lifespan is very appealing - although I guess you have to be somewhat narcissistic to think you are worth living a lot longer than anyone else.

Story from BBC NEWS:

- - -

Worm gene linked to longevity

LAJOLLA, Calif., May 2, 2007 (UPI) -- California researchers say they have located a gene that helps low-calorie diets increase longevity in animals.

The scientists say the discovery of the gene PHA-4 in worms may lead to new understanding of the "starvation response" in animals. The researchers said that could then lead to new drugs that delay the onset of age-related diseases in humans, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The report was published online in the journal Nature.

Senior scientist Andrew Dillin of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., said PHA-4 coordinates other genes that influence how the adult worm's body responds to a restricted diet. He said humans possess three genes that are very similar to PHA-4.

- - -

Calorie reduction may lead to longer life

LONDON, April 19, 2007 (UPI) -- An Imperial College London canine study suggests a calorie-restricted diet might result in extended longevity.

In the study led by Jeremy Nicholson, Labrador retriever dogs fed a calorie-restricted diet showed different lifelong patterns relating to energy metabolism and the activities of their gut microbes. The dogs lived nearly two years longer than similar dogs given a slightly higher-calorie diet.

Nicholson and colleagues from Nestle Purina Research centers in Switzerland and the United States noted previous studies also established calorie restriction as a proven method for extending the lifespan of animals. But that research did not explain how calorie restriction works.

The new study suggests some beneficial changes might relate to the activities of symbiotic bacteria that live in the intestinal tract. Those microbes, the scientists said, produce a range of biochemicals that might influence disease processes and alter energy metabolism in host organisms.

Researchers said although their goal was to help develop diets that keep pets alive and healthy for as long as possible, the findings might also be relevant to human dietary changes and obesity.

The study is scheduled for the May 4 issue of the Journal of Proteome Research.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"Not By Bread Alone" ... But Also Not Without Bread!

Thanks to Rod Dreher of beliefnet for letting us know about these NYTimes articles.

(Be sure to read the Variations and Improvements post.)

Watch video here.

November 8, 2006

The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work


INNOVATIONS in bread baking are rare. In fact, the 6,000-year-old process hasn’t changed much since Pasteur made the commercial production of standardized yeast possible in 1859. The introduction of the gas stove, the electric mixer and the food processor made the process easier, faster and more reliable.

I’m not counting sliced bread as a positive step, but Jim Lahey’s method may be the greatest thing since.

This story began in late September when Mr. Lahey sent an e-mail message inviting me to attend a session of a class he was giving at Sullivan Street Bakery, which he owns, at 533 West 47th Street in Manhattan. His wording was irresistible: “I’ll be teaching a truly minimalist breadmaking technique that allows people to make excellent bread at home with very little effort. The method is surprisingly simple — I think a 4-year-old could master it — and the results are fantastic.”

I set up a time to visit Mr. Lahey, and we baked together, and the only bad news is that you cannot put your 4-year-old to work producing bread for you. The method is complicated enough that you would need a very ambitious 8-year-old. But the results are indeed fantastic.

Mr. Lahey’s method is striking on several levels. It requires no kneading. (Repeat: none.) It uses no special ingredients, equipment or techniques. It takes very little effort.

It accomplishes all of this by combining a number of unusual though not unheard of features. Most notable is that you’ll need about 24 hours to create a loaf; time does almost all the work. Mr. Lahey’s dough uses very little yeast, a quarter teaspoon (you almost never see a recipe with less than a teaspoon), and he compensates for this tiny amount by fermenting the dough very slowly. He mixes a very wet dough, about 42 percent water, which is at the extreme high end of the range that professional bakers use to create crisp crust and large, well-structured crumb, both of which are evident in this loaf.

The dough is so sticky that you couldn’t knead it if you wanted to. It is mixed in less than a minute, then sits in a covered bowl, undisturbed, for about 18 hours. It is then turned out onto a board for 15 minutes, quickly shaped (I mean in 30 seconds), and allowed to rise again, for a couple of hours. Then it’s baked. That’s it.

I asked Harold McGee, who is an amateur breadmaker and best known as the author of “On Food and Cooking” (Scribner, 2004), what he thought of this method. His response: “It makes sense. The long, slow rise does over hours what intensive kneading does in minutes: it brings the gluten molecules into side-by-side alignment to maximize their opportunity to bind to each other and produce a strong, elastic network. The wetness of the dough is an important piece of this because the gluten molecules are more mobile in a high proportion of water, and so can move into alignment easier and faster than if the dough were stiff.”

That’s as technical an explanation as I care to have, enough to validate what I already knew: Mr. Lahey’s method is creative and smart.

But until this point, it’s not revolutionary. Mr. McGee said he had been kneading less and less as the years have gone by, relying on time to do the work for him. Charles Van Over, author of the authoritative book on food-processor dough making, “The Best Bread Ever” (Broadway, 1997), long ago taught me to make a very wet dough (the food processor is great at this) and let it rise slowly. And, as Mr. Lahey himself notes, “The Egyptians mixed their batches of dough with a hoe.”

What makes Mr. Lahey’s process revolutionary is the resulting combination of great crumb, lightness, incredible flavor — long fermentation gives you that — and an enviable, crackling crust, the feature of bread that most frequently separates the amateurs from the pros. My bread has often had thick, hard crusts, not at all bad, but not the kind that shatter when you bite into them. Producing those has been a bane of the amateur for years, because it requires getting moisture onto the bread as the crust develops.

To get that kind of a crust, professionals use steam-injected ovens. At home I have tried brushing the dough with water (a hassle and ineffective); spraying it (almost as ineffective and requiring frequent attention); throwing ice cubes on the floor of the oven (not good for the oven, and not far from ineffective); and filling a pot with stones and preheating it, then pouring boiling water over the stones to create a wet sauna (quite effective but dangerous, physically challenging and space-consuming). I was discouraged from using La Cloche, a covered stoneware dish, by my long-standing disinclination to crowd my kitchen with inessential items that accomplish only one chore. I was discouraged from buying a $5,000 steam-injected oven by its price.

It turns out there’s no need for any of this. Mr. Lahey solves the problem by putting the dough in a preheated covered pot — a common one, a heavy one, but nothing fancy. For one loaf he used an old Le Creuset enameled cast iron pot; for another, a heavy ceramic pot. (I have used cast iron with great success.) By starting this very wet dough in a hot, covered pot, Mr. Lahey lets the crust develop in a moist, enclosed environment. The pot is in effect the oven, and that oven has plenty of steam in it. Once uncovered, a half-hour later, the crust has time to harden and brown, still in the pot, and the bread is done. (Fear not. The dough does not stick to the pot any more than it would to a preheated bread stone.)

The entire process is incredibly simple, and, in the three weeks I’ve been using it, absolutely reliable. Though professional bakers work with consistent flour, water, yeast and temperatures, and measure by weight, we amateurs have mostly inconsistent ingredients and measure by volume, which can make things unpredictable. Mr. Lahey thinks imprecision isn’t much of a handicap and, indeed, his method seems to iron out the wrinkles: “I encourage a somewhat careless approach,” he says, “and figure this may even be a disappointment to those who expect something more difficult. The proof is in the loaf.”

The loaf is incredible, a fine-bakery quality, European-style boule that is produced more easily than by any other technique I’ve used, and will blow your mind. (It may yet change the industry. Mr. Lahey is experimenting with using it on a large scale, but although it requires far less electricity than conventional baking, it takes a lot of space and time.) It is best made with bread flour, but all-purpose flour works fine. (I’ve played with whole-wheat and rye flours, too; the results are fantastic.)

You or your 8-year-old may hit this perfectly on the first try, or you may not. Judgment is involved; with practice you’ll get it right every time.

The baking itself is virtually foolproof, so the most important aspect is patience. Long, slow fermentation is critical. Mr. Lahey puts the time at 12 to 18 hours, but I have had much greater success at the longer time. If you are in a hurry, more yeast (three-eighths of a teaspoon) or a warmer room temperature may move things along, but really, once you’re waiting 12 hours why not wait 18? Similarly, Mr. Lahey’s second rising can take as little as an hour, but two hours, or even a little longer, works better.

Although even my “failed” loaves were as good as those from most bakeries, to make the loaf really sensational requires a bit of a commitment. But with just a little patience, you will be rewarded with the best no-work bread you have ever made. And that’s no small thing.

November 8, 2006

Recipe: No-Knead Bread

Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1-5/8 cups water
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

December 6, 2006

The Minimalist

No Kneading, but Some Fine-Tuning


LAST month I wrote about Jim Lahey, the owner of Sullivan Street Bakery on West 47th Street in Manhattan, and his clever way to produce a European-style boule at home. Mr. Lahey’s recipe calls for very little yeast, a wet dough, long rising times and baking in a closed, preheated pot. My results with Mr. Lahey’s method have been beyond satisfying.

Happily, so have those of most readers. In the last few weeks Jim Lahey’s recipe has been translated into German, baked in Togo, discussed on more than 200 blogs and written about in other newspapers. It has changed the lives (their words, not mine) of veteran and novice bakers. It has also generated enough questions to warrant further discussion here. The topics are more or less in the order of the quantity of inquiries.

WEIGHT VS. VOLUME The original recipe contained volume measures, but for those who prefer to use weight, here are the measurements: 430 grams of flour, 345 grams of water, 1 gram of yeast and 8 grams of salt. With experience, many people will stop measuring altogether and add just enough water to make the dough almost too wet to handle.

SALT Many people, me included, felt Mr. Lahey’s bread was not salty enough. Yes, you can use more salt and it won’t significantly affect the rising time. I’ve settled at just under a tablespoon.

YEAST Instant yeast, called for in the recipe, is also called rapid-rise yeast. But you can use whatever yeast you like. Active dry yeast can be used without proofing (soaking it to make sure it’s active).

TIMING About 18 hours is the preferred initial rising time. Some readers have cut this to as little as eight hours and reported little difference. I have not had much luck with shorter times, but I have gone nearly 24 hours without a problem. Room temperature will affect the rising time, and so will the temperature of the water you add (I start with tepid). Like many other people, I’m eager to see what effect warmer weather will have. But to those who have moved the rising dough around the room trying to find the 70-degree sweet spot: please stop. Any normal room temperature is fine. Just wait until you see bubbles and well-developed gluten — the long strands that cling to the sides of the bowl when you tilt it — before proceeding.

THE SECOND RISE Mr. Lahey originally suggested one to two hours, but two to three is more like it, in my experience. (Ambient temperatures in the summer will probably knock this time down some.) Some readers almost entirely skipped this rise, shaping the dough after the first rise and letting it rest while the pot and oven preheat; this is worth trying, of course.

OTHER FLOURS Up to 30 percent whole-grain flour works consistently and well, and 50 percent whole-wheat is also excellent. At least one reader used 100 percent whole-wheat and reported “great crust but somewhat inferior crumb,” which sounds promising. I’ve kept rye, which is delicious but notoriously impossible to get to rise, to about 20 percent. There is room to experiment.

FLAVORINGS The best time to add caraway seeds, chopped olives, onions, cheese, walnuts, raisins or whatever other traditional bread flavorings you like is after you’ve mixed the dough. But it’s not the only time; you can fold in ingredients before the second rising.

OTHER SHAPES Baguettes in fish steamers, rolls in muffin tins or classic loaves in loaf pans: if you can imagine it, and stay roughly within the pattern, it will work.

COVERING BETWEEN RISES A Silpat mat under the dough is a clever idea (not mine). Plastic wrap can be used as a top layer in place of a second towel.

THE POT The size matters, but not much. I have settled on a smaller pot than Mr. Lahey has, about three or four quarts. This produces a higher loaf, which many people prefer — again, me included. I’m using cast iron. Readers have reported success with just about every available material. Note that the lid handles on Le Creuset pots can only withstand temperatures up to 400 degrees. So avoid using them, or remove the handle first.

BAKING You can increase the initial temperature to 500 degrees for more rapid browning, but be careful; I scorched a loaf containing whole-wheat flour by doing this. Yes, you can reduce the length of time the pot is covered to 20 minutes from 30, and then increase the time the loaf bakes uncovered. Most people have had a good experience baking for an additional 30 minutes once the pot is uncovered.

As these answers demonstrate, almost everything about Mr. Lahey’s bread is flexible, within limits. As we experiment, we will have failures. (Like the time I stopped adding flour because the phone rang, and didn’t realize it until 18 hours later. Even this, however, was reparable). This method is going to have people experimenting, and largely succeeding, until something better comes along. It may be quite a while.