Open Fruit, Discover Pure Flavor

pom_seeds.bmpDid you know that 90% of Americans eat turkey on Thanksgiving? That’s a HUGE percentage! I realize that Toothsome Delight’s audience is not quite that extensive, but I’m hoping to convince at least a few of you out there to consume some pomegranate along with your turkey this year.

Najmieh Batmanglij is the inspiring, powerful woman who opened my eyes to the soul of the pomegranate (at last year’s WOF Conference–and yes folks, it is a soul). As she gave a demonstration on how to appreciate this fruit using only your bare hands and your mouth, the entire audience was brought to tears. Symbolic of health, fertility and rebirth, it is especially appropriate for the day on which we celebrate two cultures overcoming envy and hatred and coming together in the birth of a new nation. As a religiously and culturally important product the pomegranate deserves the utmost respect– so put down your knife and prepare to become one with the fruit.

A Lesson On Becoming One With Your Pomegranate

*Awaken your senses*

Choosing the perfect fruit is all about color and weight. Pick the heaviest, most brilliant and vibrant fruit you can find. You’re looking for deep red-purple skin that isn’t cut or scabbed in any way. Pick the fruits up: feel them, shake them–the heavier they are, the more sugar is in the juice (signaling that they were allowed to ripen properly and are going to be much tastier than prematurely picked pommies).

When you get your pomegranate home and are ready to use it, quiet your mind. Prepare your mental mis en place as you ready yourself to embark on an ancient pomegranate ritual. (I.e., Wash your hands, put on some sitar music and get a bowl for seed collection).

Start by massaging the fruit with both hands, rotating it constantly. Be sensitive but firm. You should hear some subtle popping noises–those are the arils (deep crimson, juice-filled gems) coming away from the membrane. You’re trying to wake the fruit up, so the more popping the better. Just make sure not to pop a hole in the skin. Continue rotating and massaging until the popping ceases–so that when you shake the pom, it feels like a ball full of juice. (This may take several minutes, enjoy it! Be patient, the reward is sweet).

When you’ve thouroughly massaged your pomegranate, bring it to your mouth and make an incision in the side of the fruit with your front teeth. Remember, this is not an apple, you just want to slice deep enough into the skin enough so that you can suck the juice out, there’s no need to take a huge bite out of the pommie. You may want to lean over your bowl so as not to lose any of that delicious nectar; in the olden days pomegranate juice was used as a dye.

The first reward: now go ahead and slurp the juice out! Oh! Sweet, sweet pomegranate juice! When you’ve had your fill, hold the pomegranate over your bowl and wriggle your thumbs into the incision you made earlier. Gently pull the fruit open to reveal the rubies inside! Aren’t they beautiful? Inside those fleshy arils are seeds. This is my favorite part of the pomegranate– the crimson jewels. The outside is soft and juicy while the seed inside pops and is chewy. Oh, Lord. They’re so good.

There is an alternative way to open the pomegranate, but I do not recommend it because you lose the whole sensual experience of the opening along with all that delicious juice. But if you really want to, you can cut the crown off the top and then section the fruit like you would an apple. Hold the sections in a bowl of water and roll the arils out. The seeds will sink to the bottom and everything else will float to the top. You can then strain the membrane from the arils with a colander.

What to do with these seeds now that you’ve got them out of their skin? Eat them of course! Sprinkle them on salad or ice cream. Try cooking them into a pomegranate-cranberry sauce for a more Persian and a way more interesting, Turkey Day garnish. I’ve adapted this recipe from the Pom Wonderful website so it’s less fuss.

Cranagranate Sauce
1 cup Pomegranate juice (from 2-3 poms or from a bottle)
1 cup Water
Zest of 1 Orange
2/3 cup Sugar
1 1/2 cups Cranberries
Arils from 1 Large Pomegranate

1. Put everything except the arils into a pot and BTAB (Bring to a boil).
2. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce is desired consistency (10-20 minutes).
3. Remove from heat and stir in arils. Cool and refrigerate.

The Symbolic Significance of Boxed Brownies

There�s no doubt about it: recent advances in technology have jumpstarted a Brownie Revolution. Science and technology have changed American culture moist.jpggreatly in the past few years and brought brownies to the forefront of the dessert scene. From kids to accredited chefs, Americans country-wide are creating and consuming brownie varietals more quickly than ever before.

And why are we baking and creating so quickly? Because of the world-changing inventions which allow us to travel, communicate, and live at a faster pace than ever possible. The internet, cell phones, and jets that travel at the speed of light inspire us to go everywhere we ever imagined, do all of the things we�ve always wanted and become athletic, nutrition savvy, god-like beings! In the process of achieving these lofty goals we speed up our every activity and no longer have time to spend hours slaving over the hot oven.

And so arrives the Brownie Revolution: a mind-boggling explosion of fast, easy and satisfying alternatives for the busy, health-conscious American of the 21st century. Moms and Dads pursuing professional careers �don�t have time to bake� and embrace boxed brownies and Easy Brownie recipes in which there are two steps�mix the ingredients right in the baking tin and cook�waalah! Only one dish to wash! Hundreds of companies are now producing dozens of kinds of boxed brownies, which are available in all local supermarkets. Most of these boxes feature three-step illustrated instructions�just in case you don�t have time to actually read a recipe. Or for those living extremely hectic lifestyles there�s the No-Bake Brownie: don�t worry; you won�t have to go anywhere near the oven! And, if you�re really caught up in the frenzy of the century, just order pre-made brownies online!

Even the busy 21st centurion takes time to think about healthy food options, and modern science has invented hundreds of options for the health conscious brownie lover. The now famous No-Pudge Brownies that �taste just like the real thing, but with no fat and only one-third the calories!� What an ingenious invention! mixed_brownies.jpg

There are vegetarian and even vegan brownie recipes available– nutrition-inspired recipes like Carrot-Tofu Brownies, Twelve-grain Brownies and Zucchini Brownies. And for those avoiding sweets all together we have savory brownies filled with ricotta or spiced with black pepper. You can even get your daily servings of fruits and vegetables by sampling brownies filled with fresh or dried fruits and vegetables.

I think this new creative interest in the food industry is great because it�s satisfying cravings and providing Americans all over the country with an outlet for their culinary creativity. Parents can whip up a quick box of brownies even after a hectic day of work because the pre-made mix takes only minutes to put together. Kids too young to read can even throw a batch together thanks to the walnut_brownies.jpghandy illustrated instructions.

The box of brownies is a simple thing–it costs only a few dollars and takes but a few minutes to throw together–it’s the symbolic significance of those brownies that makes them meaningful and popular. Boxed brownies give pleasure to everyone who touches them! Children love them because of their fudgy chocolate goodness and their easy assembly; parents love them because they can have a full-time career and still have time to bake special homemade goodies that only the professional housewife used to have time to make. Through boxed brownies people everywhere are fulfilling their dreams of being the best they can be–working and providing delightful treats for their families at the same time!

Fudgy, chewy, nutty, fruity, frosted, cake-like, layered, chunky, crunchy�the hybrid specimens are endless. Add nuts, caramel, peanut butter, toffee, cookies, candy bars, pineapple, cream cheese, liquor, coffee, extracts, grains�if it makes you happy or brings you closer to nutritional Nirvana, it must be a Good Thing.

Don’t have enough time for from-scratch brownies, but want more than the average box has to offer? Check out Chocolate From The Cake Mix Doctor for hundreds of easy-to-make, better-than-the-box, chocolatey recipes.

Splenda: The Splendid–But Not Perfect–Artificial Sweetener

Much to the dismay of lab rats everywhere, the number of artificial sweeteners has dramatically increased in the past hundred years. This increase, which may have something to do with modern mans recent interest in healthy eating and weight loss, is spurning international controversies. Many of these new sweeteners, such as saccharine and aspartame, may have as-yet-undiscovered long term side effects. For the consumer and especially the consumer with health restrictions or special nutritional needs it is vitally important to understand what exactly these artificial sweeteners are — and how they affect our bodies.

Sucrose, commonly marketed as Splenda, is one of the most recently created non-nutritive sweeteners, but has quickly gained popularity and is now among the top-selling sweeteners in the United States. This artificial sweetener offers a multitude of benefits to the diabetic and calorie-counting dieter, which may explain why it is so widely used today. Contributing zero calories and zero carbohydrates, it is a convenient alternative to the calories and carbohydrates in regular, granulated table sugar.

Though it sounds a bit like a miracle drug, sucralose is decidedly of-this-world and was discovered in 1976. Twenty-two years later, in 1998, the Food and Drug Administration approved it for limited use in an assortment of food products. Today sucralose is available for use in all foods in the United States, and is commonly found in over fifty other countries. The molecular structure of Splenda is based on sucrosea complex natural sugar composed of glucose and fructose. In fact, sucralose is a chlorinated form of sucrose; this means that in the process of transforming sugar cane into an artificial sweetener, the hydrogen and oxygen groups in sucrose are replaced with three bonds of chlorine–yielding sucralose. This change in the chemical composition explains why sucralose contains no calories: the human body doesnt recognize the molecular structure as a sugar or as a carbohydrate. Because the substance doesnt register, sucralose is not absorbed into the blood stream for nutrition. As a result, the granules pass right through the body without being broken down for energy–thus the lack of calories.

This non-absorption means great things for diabetics. Since sucralose is six hundred times sweeter than regular table sugar, it is a convenient way for people exhibiting careful control over their blood sugar levels to enjoy their favorite desserts and sugar drinks. When we consume sugar, our body recognizes it as a carbohydrate and breaks it down into glucose so we can absorb it into our blood stream and take advantage of the nutrients and energy it provides. Because the body does not recognize sucralose as a carbohydrate or sugar, the sucralose is not broken down and is not absorbed into the bloodstream. Therefore, it has no effect on insulin levels and also doesnt cause an increase in a diabetics hemoglobin A1c a diabetics average blood glucose level over time. Keeping close track of glucose and carbohydrate intake is very important for diabetics because the amount of sugar in their blood determines whether they will be hyperglycemic or experience serious complications with their health. For these people, Splenda or sucralose can greatly improve the quality of their life by allowing diabetics the freedom to eat sweet foods without drastically altering the amount of sugar in their blood.

For many of the same reasons that Splenda is a positive sugar alternative for diabetics, it is also a useful alternative for dieters. One of the first things that people on strict weight loss diets eliminate is dessert. They do this because many desserts contain high percentages sugar, fat and caloriesthe three things they most need to cut down on when trying to lose weight. But with the modern availability of low-calorie and no-calorie artificial sweeteners, modern dieters have the option of simply replacing their bag of (high carbohydrate, high calorie) granulated sugar with a box of (no carbohydrate, no calorie) Splenda or other sugar substitute. By making this switch, these dieters can still enjoy the sweet foods they love while drastically decreasing the number of calories they eat.

One of the gastronomic benefits of sucralose is that, because it derives from the natural sugar sucrose, the flavor of the sweetener is extremely close to that of regular sugar, and has almost no aftertaste. Plus, the FDA conducted over one hundred and ten safety tests on sucralose over a twenty year span– so consumers of this product can be fairly sure that Splenda will live up to the governments promises: that sucralose is a non-carcinogenic, non-toxic substance that doesnt promote indigestion or other negative digestive side effects, and doesnt cause gene mutation over an extended period of consumption. In addition, sucralose does not have the molecular structure that oral bacterias use for tooth decay, so it is actually less likely to cause cavities than regular table sugar.

With all of these health benefits, it seems that Splenda certainly is a splendid product! However, when we look at the baking properties of this artificial sweetener, we realize that sucralose wont be winning awards with bakers or pastry chefs in the near future. Although it may make sense for home bakers who are looking to cut calories to use this product, the quality of baked goods made with Splenda– rather than granulated sugar– is considerably lower.

The purpose of sugar in baking is to add structure, texture, volume, and color (through carmelization) to baked goods. Sugar also helps to retain moisture in a dessert and makes the final product more tender while acting as a preservative. So, substituting Splenda in any recipes that use sugar for these purposes (especially caramels, meringues and pound cakes), yields a finished product that is considerably less enjoyable than its sugar-laden relative. Splenda simply does not have the same baking properties as old-fashioned granulated sugar; sucralose does not have the viscous quality or the moisture content of sugar. And because sucralose doesnt contribute the fundamental properties needed for leavening, Splenda recommends altering recipes in which the baker substitutes sucralose for sugar by adding the following:

A half a teaspoon of baking soda for cake, cookie and quick bread recipes
A half a cup of sifted non-fat dry milk powder for cakes
One to two tablespoons of honey or molasses for cookies and quick breads
A half a teaspoon of vanilla for flavor in sauces, puddings and custards.

In addition, even though dextrose and maltodextrin were added to sucralose to improve volume, baked goods made with this sweetener need to be beaten longer than regular sugar to achieve the same fluffy, aerated texture, and still the recipe with the sugar substitution will never yield the same amount of product as the sugar version.

So although Splenda has contributed a great deal to the diabetic and dieting populations in the world, it is not so beneficial that we should completely assimilate it into all of our favorite recipes. Splenda may be a great product for some, but it simply isnt as splendid as sugar when it comes to baking.

Works Cited
American Diabetes Association. Complete Guide to Diabetes. 2nd ed. Alexandria: American Diabetes Association, 1999.

Cronier, Claire, MSc, RD and Marjan Shalchi MSc, RD. Artificial Sweeteners.

Henkel, John. FDA Consumer. September 6, 2003. http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/1999/699_sugar.html.

September 7, 2003. http://www.splenda.com.

Molten Future

When I think about the future–where I’ll be in five, ten or fifty years in terms of my career– a single burning image enters my mind: light; Bright rays of intense thermal energy. I’m standing at the peak of a snow-covered mountain in the Alps. That shimmering energy (those rays of pastry glory!!) radiate from me, as I proudly display a selection from my original and wildly successful new line of chocolates, (insert witty and ingenious name of new chocolates here). But there’s more behind this image of success than the most fabulous tasting chocolates that the Universe has experienced in the past 200 years; let’s take a closer look at how I plan to forge great new heights in pastry history.

Upon graduating with highest honors from the CIA Greystone, I travel to Europe where I spend five years conducting intense chocolate research. Befriending the most respected chocolate makers in Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, France, and Spain, I spend one year in each country immersing myself in cocoa bean culture. I’ll work long hard hours to gain a complete understanding of– and appreciation for– each artist, scientist and producer’s chocolate-making techniques and beliefs. While abroad I will also learn extensively about each country’s culture, and at the end of these five years, will be well prepared to compare, analyze and assess the various techniques. Herein lies my secret to success: determining the motivating factor behind each culture’s desire to consume this glorious food product.

Next, I head to South America to investigate cocoa bean agriculture and the early history of chocolate. I hope it will be possible to live with a family and work in a primitive cocoa bean farming town where chocolate is used for medicinal and spiritual purposes. In this rugged landscape I will improve my Spanish skills and gain a new understanding of food (in terms of food-for-survival rather than food-for-frivolity).

Following my stint in South America, I will return to the States to work with (only) the most highly respected pastry chefs, start my own TV mini-series (on the international study of chocolate), compete in chocolate showpiece competitions, and write a cookbook or two. Or, if I’m feeling entrepreneurial and have managed to stash some savings in my (recently acquired) Swiss bank account, I will start my own high-end resort, inspired by that amazing little bean. Each suite in the resort will be tastefully decorated in chocolate brown hues and have it’s own theme-for example, Fondue Frenzy, Hershey Heaven, and the Tudor Truffle Suite. There will be a special in-house theme park for children, similar to the candy room in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, so that kids can enjoy themselves while their parents relax in hot tubs filled with hot chocolate, have a personalized cocoa-aroma perfume designed for them, partake in a molten chocolate massage, attend chocolate seminars and tastings, grab a night cap at the fondue bar, or perhaps get some counseling at Chocoholics Anonymous. With any luck, the company will do exceedingly well, and before you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious there will be branches in major cities around the world proudly serving my new line of chocolates and educating people everywhere about the wonders of this gastronomic delight.

Speaking of chocolate…
I started ordering Ibarra for the Molten Mexico Motifa in the resort described above, but just realized that I’m going to need a couple more months of serious planning before beginning construction. In other words, now’s your chance to get a sneak preview of the Mexican Hot Chocolate Sublimity Suite!! Submit your witty and ingenious name of my future chocolate line (in a comment below) to win your very own sample of Ibarra (sweet Mexican chocolate specially designed for the perfect cup of Ultimate Hot Chocolate). Five winners this month!!

Make your own Chocolate Fondue–It’s a quick, tasty treat sure to please any crowd! Plus, it’s totally fun to eat. Check out Sweet Eats for the recipe.

Funny Bugs

cart.jpgThere are these old bugs–the volkswagon kind
that drive around St. Helena trying to find
misplaced shopping carts.

Hilarious! They attach the carts to their rear bumper
and bring them back to the store. I can’t figure out if Safeway
pays these guys to do this, or they’re just in it for fun. Does anyone know?

In other news, I’m in search of the perfect brownie recipe and need testers. brownie.jpg
Here’s how it works: I’ll send you samples of brownies and you send me back a postcard (included in aforementioned brownie package) with your thoughts on the brownie–improvements, likes, dislikes, etc. If you’d like to be a tester, submit a comment to this blog with your address if I don’t have it, and I’ll send you some treats.

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