Sunday, December 27, 2009

Diana Ross, Daryl Hannah, and Your Meringue

Dear Tricia, The meringue on my key lime pie always weeps. Why does that keep happening?

I'm going to go back to one of my older blogs about egg whites and re-teach it here today because this is an email I frequently receive. Plus the original blog entry was really about why you add cream of tartar to play dough, so it might have been a little round-about. Before we begin, I want to point out to the non-bakers that meringue is a fluffy topping made out of egg whites and sugar. You whip them up until the egg whites turn from goopy clear stuff into a billowing cloud of solid white awesomeness. You just beat the egg whites and sugar together, right? No, not exactly.
Its common for meringues to "weep", or start to fall and leak out water. This is because when you whip egg whites, you're "coagulating" the protein in the eggs, which is a fancy pants term for protein bonding with other protein. When the proteins bond together, they hold in all the water that is floating around the meringue. If the proteins aren't doing that properly, the water will find a way to leak out, or "weep."
Under a microscope, egg whites are tiny strands of tightly wound protein. They look like a big mess of little corkscrew-y, spring-y shapes. Actually, they look a lot like Diana Ross' hair, post 1980. In order to get the egg whites to expand and turn into a fluffy meringue, you have to get them to straighten out. When they're fully expanded, they'll look like long waves of protein, triple the size of the corkscrew ones. If we're comparing apples to apples, the fully expanded protein will be shaped more like Daryl Hannah's mermaid hair in "Splash," all long and loose and wavy. If Daryl Hannah's mermaid hair is going to hold in water and actually remain stable, there are a few things you have to do:

1. Add about a half teaspoon of cream of tartar while you begin beating the eggs. Cream of tartar is like hair spray for Darryl Hannah's hair. If the proteins are bonding with all the other proteins, cream of tartar will make sure they stay bonded.*

2. Use room temperature eggs. Egg whites can be like demanding Hollywood actors: they have all their requests for how big they want their trailer, what kind of food they'll eat, who their co workers are, before they can do their job the best way they know how. Egg whites demand to be room temperature before they'll whip up into a meringue. It works better than using cold whites, so let them come to room temperature before you start whipping them. And no, leaving the egg whites out won't make you sick. A lot of bakeries, if they know what they're doing, leave egg whites out all the time for this exact reason.

3. Don't just turn the mixer on high and expect the whites to instantly fluff up. You have to gently persuade the proteins to unwind. Imagine trying to style Diana Ross' hair into Daryl Hannah's hair: you wouldn't just put a comb in at her scalp and pull, would you? No, that would probably break some of her hair off. Protein will also break if you just start whipping it as hard as you can. Start off by turning the speed on low for a few minutes. Let the whites loosen up a little and then turn it up to medium for a few minutes. Then move into high speed to finish off.

4. Don't dump all the sugar in at the beginning. As if trying to get the proteins to coagulate isn't hard enough, you're adding an extra ingredient to it that can get in the way. After you turn the mixer speed up to medium, wait for the eggs to start to get foamy. Then, and only then can you start to slooooowly add the sugar. How slow? You want to still be adding sugar to it right before the meringue is finished. This just makes sure that while the proteins are bonding with each other, the sugar doesn't interfere too much.

So, to summarize, be gentle with the egg whites, keep them at room temperature, and don't dump the sugar in at once. Got it? Avoid being rough, cold, and dumpy. In meringues and in life.

*Harold McGee's book, "On Food and Cooking," (also known as my Bible) recommends adding 1/16 teaspoon of cream of tartar per egg white.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mama needs a drink!

Hello my little pets! I have finally completed my "What the Bleep Happened to My Rump Roast?" book proposal and sent it to my agent! After some inevitable revisions, the loverly Katharine Sands will be shopping it to publishers tout suite! In the mean time, I'm going to take a break from writing to enjoy the holiday with my friends and family and will be blogging as soon as the festivities are finished. Merry ChristmaKwanzakuh to you and yours! Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Did You Grill Up some Floor Steak? Oh Snap!

Dear Tricia, If I drop a piece of steak on the floor, do I have to throw it away? Will it get you sick?

You know how sometimes you'll see a loud and crazy kitchen scene on TV or in a movie where the cook drops a steak on the floor and then puts it back on the plate and you think to yourself "Wow, I hope that doesn't really happen?" Well, unfortunately my friend, it does. It happens a whoooooole lot. I'm guessing its happened to you half a dozen times in your life so far, and you were none the wiser, were you? Here's why its not that bad: if the steak picked up any dangerous bacteria off the floor, most likely the cook is going to brush it off and put it back on the grill. The grill is running at about 450 degrees- hot enough to kill any bacteria that would potentially get you sick. Bacteria dies at high temperatures, so if a mysterious bacteria sticks around after being grilled on a 450 degree open flame, personally I'd like to shake its hand and find out what else it can do for me. Seriously, it would have to be like a super duper ninja bacteria to survive an open flame. And yeah, its gross if there's a piece of lint on the floor and it got on the steak and then you ate it, but hey... it happens. Lint won't make you sick, and most chefs don't want to throw away a perfectly good prime filet that's running him about 20 bucks a pound. Would you throw that away and start from scratch?
So, to answer your question, no it won't get you sick. If you've dropped it on the ground while it was raw, that's better because it'll spend more time cooking and killing anything potentially dangerous. If you dropped a cooked steak on the floor, just rinse it or brush it off and throw it back on the heat for a few seconds. Unless you have mono or some weird geriatric disease that makes your immune system nonexistent that they like to feature on the Maury Povich show, you're perfectly safe.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How to Be Gay and Healthy!!!

Dear Tricia, I have the gayest food allergies ever: tomatoes, potatoes, red peppers, green peppers, yellow peppers, eggplant, peanuts, seafood, and chocolate. So what can I eat besides salads and chicken? For real, I need a menu to make me a healthy gay bitch. Currently my diet consists of cigarettes, coca-cola, weed, and gay. Help me grow up and stop eating the same crappy junk food.

I love you. Seriously, thanks for writing this awesome question. If I can reel in the gay fan base, I'll be set for life. I looooove my gays. So I'll tell you what: I'll answer this question, and you tell all your friends about me. Then we can all sing along to "The Divine Miss M" together and watch Margaret Cho do stand up comedy.
Your food allergies suck, but they could be much worse. I'm telling you, the whole wheat/dairy/soy allergy thing... that sucks hard. So I'm going to give you 3 quick meals that are healthy, but as an added bonus... they're cheap! And I know that's also something that is super important to you, especially if you're spending your money on cigarettes.
First though, lets talk convenience store snacks. If your blood sugar is about to plummet, and you want something healthy and really fast, try to find some yogurt and fruit, almonds (unless you're allergic to all nuts, not just peanuts. I know you're not allergic to your boyfriend's), or anything with some protein. Even beef jerky is fine. These are all things you should be able to find in any deli, convenience store, or airport, so you no longer have an excuse for your Cheetos craving after you smoke weed.
For breakfast, eggs are your best friend. They're super filling, they're a complete protein, they have healthy fats that are good for your metabolism, eyes, skin, and brain, and they're super cheap. If you want to go really lean, egg whites are only about 15 calories each. I'm a fan of scrambling them up with some fat free cheddar cheese (Kraft brand melts the best out of the fat free cheeses), spinach, and onions. Throw them in a whole wheat tortilla if you want to take it to go.
For lunch, think turkey. Keep your fridge stocked with sliced turkey (if you can afford the stuff sliced fresh at the deli, its much lower in sodium) sandwich meat. Here's what you can do to it to make it taste fatty, even though its not:

Microwave a whole wheat tortilla for about 10 seconds.
Spread some fat free re fried beans (straight outta the can) on the tortilla.
Put a few slices of turkey on the beans.
Top it with some fat free (or not... no judgment... totally up to you) cheddar.
Roll it up and put it back in the microwave for 30 seconds.
Done and Done.

What's great about this is that the beans are fat free, and full of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. The turkey adds more lean protein, the cheese adds calcium, and the tortilla provides some more complex carbohydrates. The key is to make sure you get the fat free re fried beans, not the ones made with lard. Gross.

"Why use whole wheat tortillas instead of white tortillas?" you ask? Well, whole wheat flour takes longer for your body to break down than white flour. So while your body is working hard on that, the energy you're getting from the calories in the tortilla is being used at a slower, more deliberate pace. If your body breaks down food before you have had time to actually use the calories, the extra calories get turned into fat. So you want foods that take longer to digest, and foods that are packed with protein and fiber. Whole wheat tortillas have both. This is why you want to avoid eating excess sugar: it breaks down really fast and your body will turn the unused calories into fat.

For dinner, pile up on the veggies. Sugar snap peas, asparagus, and green beans are all super easy to steam. You just have to wash them, get a pan really hot, dump them in the pan with about a 1/4 cup water, and put a lid on it. By the time the water has evaporated, the veggies will be cooked. Remember, get the pan REALLY hot before you put the veggies and water in. Otherwise it won't steam... the water will just sit there and the whole event is anticlimactic at best.
Brussel sprouts are easy to cook if you slice them in half, toss them in a little bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and then roast them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Brussel sprouts are one of the most nutritious veggies because for every 8 calories, they have one gram of protein and one gram of fiber. That's like, unheard of in the world of food. So they make you full really fast, plus they have a ton of vitamin C and K. Vitamin K helps prevent bruising, by the way. Its awesome. I like it because I bump into things a lot.
If you take a bunch of these steamed veggies and mix them with some cooked whole wheat spaghetti noodles, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a little lemon, you've got a very ghetto, yet nutritious pasta primavera. The you can take your sucky chicken that you're tired of and hide it in the noodles for some extra protein. Ugh... thank God you're not vegan. Then you'd really be screwed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holiday Parties Can Suck.

That's why I'm busting out this oldie, but goodie, to reference for your holiday parties. I think it'll come in handy when you go to parties this month that require you to bring food. (Lame) Plus, I've been super duper busy the past few days with the actual "What the &%@# " book proposal and haven't had time to write a new blog entry. Hopefully this will tide you over for a couple more days...

Dear Tricia, Ok...ahem(clearing throat)...Tis the season for potlucks! As a lovely 28 year old female there is pressure to arrive to a friendly potluck dinner with something sinfully delicious...and to be honest...I'm a hard working lady and don't have time to bake or slow roast anything! What's a girl to do? When a guy brings a salad...its perfectly acceptable...but when a girl walks in with some leafy greens everyone looks as if you farted in the middle of the room! So...we single gals need some advice. What's are some potluck suggestions for a gal on the go?

First of all, it IS completely acceptable to bring a salad, and if you're getting dirty looks, then your host can just suck it. (I'd just go ahead and tell the party "That's right. I brought a salad. Jealous?" but that's just the kind of person I am.) What I've found for you though, is a standard spinach artichoke dip, which everyone and their mom loves. That's why its on every Chili's and Applebees menu. It's also cheap to make since I know I'd rather spend my money on cocktails than a stupid potluck dish where people might look at you like you farted.
Grab a casserole dish or "borrow" one from your neighbor. (See my Swedish meatball post for how to steal kitchen equipment from your divorcing neighbors.) In the dish, mix:

1 14 oz can artichoke hearts, chopped
Half a bag of frozen chopped spinach (thaw it in the microwave since you're a busy girl.)
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 grated parmesan cheese (this time you can cheat and use the stuff in the green can. I won't tell.)
A sprinkle of garlic powder or a clove of chopped garlic.

Mix it all up in your casserole dish with a spoon or your hands, cover the dish with a lid or with foil, and bake it when you get to the pot luck, at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

That's all you have to do. It's fool-proof, even when you're making it after a few glasses of box wine at 2 in the morning. (Hypothetically. I'm not saying I tried it out after box wine binge drinking. Especially not last Thursday.) Pair the dip with a bag of chips at the party, because I promise you someone will have brought chips as their potluck dish. Then its their turn to be looked at like they farted.