Travel + Leisure Ranks New York 7th Best Burger City

The May issue of Travel + Leisure ranks New York City as the 7th best city for burgers. I hate to even bring attention to this “poll” but this is simply outrageous. The T+L editors need to take a little stroll ’round town and visit The Burger Joint and Corner Bistro and Minetta Tavern and Peter Luger’s and Rudy’s and Shake Shack. Only then can an accurate “polling” of the country’s best burger cities be created.

The Burger Joint
119 West 56th Street
(inside the Le Parker Meridian Hotel)

The cities that beat New York include:

#1 Providence

#2 Philadelphia

#3 Chicago

#4 Houston

#5 San Juan, PR

#6 San Diego

#7 Minneapolis/St. Paul

#8 Kansas City, MO

This list really begs the question, “Where is Minneapolis/St. Paul again?”

The complete Travel + Leisure rankings can be found here: http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/americas-best-burger-cities/2

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Study Proves Eating Organic Food Makes You More Likely To Be A Jerk

In what a some have unofficially deduced for years, a study has proven once and for all that people who insist on eating only organic foods are more judgmental and selfish than people who eat conventional foods. A study published in the Journal of Social Psychological & Personality Science concluded that consuming “organic foods reduce prosocial behavior and harshen moral judgements.”

In the study, participants were shown pictures of organic food and food deemed “comfort food” like brownies and other sweets. The  study administrators then gauged the partipant’s reaction to scenarios that suggested moral responses such as a lawyer’s presence  in an emergency room persuading patients to sue for their injuries. Using a numbered scale, researchers proved that those who preferred the organic food were more judgmental than those people who preferred the comfort food. They were also more reluctant to volunteer their time helping strangers, offering 13 minutes in comparison to the brownie lover’s 24 minutes. The study suggests that the people who prefer organic food fulfill their moral quota with their grocery store purchases. The lead researcher labeled it “moral licensing”.

Read the full study here: http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/05/14/1948550612447114.abstract

The moral of the story here? Think twice before you ask your server, “Are these carrots farm raised?” It may suggest more about about who you are than you think.

RECIPE: Flourless Chocolate Cake

In the spirit of eating healthy and getting your smokin’ bods ready for summer, I thought I would post a recipe for flourless chocolate cake. Why? Because most of you won’t actually bake this cake immediately after reading my post, the pictures I have look delicious and it will possibly serve as a nice incentive following weeks of dieting. I mean, really, will one piece of anything kill you?

Making a flourless chocolate cake is a relatively simple task as long as you understand the techniques involved. In a regular, flour-based cake, the flour serves as an aerator to coat the fat (usually butter) and provide a spongy texture. Because there is obviously no flour in a flourless chocolate cake, you need use heat and manual aeration to get the structure the cake needs. I will explain the techniques of making this cake in the method portion of this post. First, the ingredients:

Flourless Chocolate Cake

[yields 1, 8-in cake]

– 8 ea. eggs

– 1 pound chocolate, semi-sweet (or 2 2/3 cups)

– 8 oz butter (or 1 cup)

 

Method

1. Grease the sides of an 8 inch circular cake pan and line the bottom with a parchment paper circle.

2. Whip the eggs on high speed until double in volume, or about 5 minutes. The eggs will turn light yellow in color, like this:

3. Melt the chocolate and butter together over a water bath. For those who are unfamiliar with a water bath, it is also called a double boiler. Instead of melting over direct heat, the chocolate and butter are melted over boiling water. The set up looks like this:

4. Fold 1/3 of whipped egg mixture into the melted chocolate. Fold until there are only a few remaining streaks. The technique of folding is a way of combining two mixtures while also incorporating air. Using a rubber spatula, combine the two mixtures by moving your hand in a circular motion around the outside of the bowl and literally fold it on top of itself. Cut the mixture in half with your spatula and keep folding it on itself to incorporate as much air as possible and retain the fluffy structure of the eggs. Here are a couples pictures of the folding technique:

5. Fold in the remaining eggs in two parts so that the final product is homogenous. It should look something like this:

(note: these are Jon Lee’s man hands, not mine)

6. Pour batter into buttered cake pan and smooth surface.

7. Bake cake in 325 degree oven in a hot water bath until the cake has risen slightly and pulls away from the pan edges. The center of the cake should be about 145 degrees. This should take approximately 25 minutes in a convection oven, or 30 minutes in a conventional oven.  The water in the water bath should be about 3/4 of the way up the cake pan. The set-up looks like this:

8. Cool and refrigerate overnight so the cake can set.

9. To remove the cake from the pan, warm the edges in a hot water bath.  Flip the cake pan upside-down and tap the bottom so the cake drops out. If you have a blow torch laying around your kitchen, you can also use that:

10. Once the cake is out of the cake pan and onto a plate, dust with powdered sugar or chocolate shavings to serve. You can also make homemade Chantilly cream (whipped cream with sugar) or use a store bought brand to layer another flavor into the cake. If you do use whipped/Chantilly cream, I suggest portioning the cake slices first so you can serve each slice with a clean rosette. Enjoy!

The 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards

It has been an embarrassingly long time since my last blog post (more than four months) and with the James Beard Foundation Awards being announced last night, I decided that today was as good a day as any to get this going again. In this morning’s online edition of the New York Times, Florence Fabricant recounted several of the main awards presented and I could not agree more with a select number of recipients.

Though she did not win for her culinary talents, Gabrielle Hamilton (owner/executive chef of New York’s Prune) walked away from Lincoln Center last night with the award for Writing & Literature for her memoir “Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef”. This is hands down not only the best food book I have ever read (I’ve read a lot) but my favorite book of the year. Hamilton – or since this is my blog I can call her Gabby – tells her story of growing up in Lambertville, NJ in an eccentric family with mostly absent parents. The story details her move from New Jersey to live with her sister in New York City and all of the adventures that come along with working in soulless catering halls around the tri-state area. The story includes a trip to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY where she has a startling and upsetting reaction to comments made by her fellow notable female chefs on a discussion panel. Her memoir combines incredible wit and sarcasm, interesting use of language and story flow, and a personal story worth reading at least twice.

Before I get to the actual food-related awards, Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxine Bilet beat out Eleven Madison Park’s cookbook with “Modernist Cuisine” in the category of Book from a Professional Point of View. I have never seen Dan Humm and Will Guidara’s book, but I do not need to. The Modernist Cuisine belongs in a museum and will be unsurpassed for several years to come. For those unfamiliar with the Modernist Cuisine, it is a five volume monster of a “book” that depicts everything you could ever want to know about molecular gastronomy in incredibly sharp images. My description of the images will never do it justice so here are a few examples of pages from the bible, I mean book:

As my favorite restaurant (when I’m not paying) in New York has been Eleven Madison Park for the past two years, I was very happy to see Daniel Humm, the executive chef and owner, leave last night with the award for 2012 Outstanding Chef. Daniel Humm, along with William Guidara, purchased Eleven Madison Park from Danny Meyer late last year so this accolade was just the validation they needed to continue their quest for world (not just U.S.) domination.

I like to think of myself as having discovered Momofuku Milk Bar three years ago following a TINY snip-it I read in New York Magazine. For this reason, I will credit myself with Christina Tosi’s win for Rising Star Chef. She is the creator of Momofuku’s famous crack pie and cereal milk flavored soft serve ice cream. (In case you have always wondered how they make the cereal milk flavored soft serve they literally soak the creme anglais in corn flakes for hours before churning the cream. I know: genius.) If you have never been to Momofuku Milk Bar I would suggest you wander over to 13th and 2nd and get one of each: compost cookie, blueberry & cream cookie, cereal milk soft serve and a hot chocolate. I would expand this list if it weren’t almost bathing suit season.  (note: they have expanded to a few locations around the city but you should always go to the original location in the east village)

For a complete list of James Beard Award winners check out their website: http://jamesbeard.org/sites/default/files/static/additional/050712_JBF_WINNERS.pdf

You can also view this morning’s New York Times blog for a more concise list of winners that is not exclusive to New York: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/07/daniel-humm-leads-beard-award-winners/?ref=dining

11 Things to Buy Organic

Ok, so this is not a story I wrote myself but an interesting find nonetheless. This article was written by Sara Reistad-Long at Health.com and lists the 11 most important items to buy organic. This list is not limited to food and some of the items and reasons why they should be organic may surprise you. I highly suggest you read this article in its entirety but if you don’t have time I have listed out the items below, following the link to the article.

11 Things It’s Best to Buy Organic

http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20471167,00.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Beef

2. Strawberries

3. Cookware

4. Popcorn

5. Yard Pesticides

6. All-purpose home cleaners

7. Water Bottles

8. Food Storage Containers

9. Milk

10. Celery (!)  (and spinach, bell peppers, and potatoes)

11. Tomato Sauce

RECIPE: Bulgar Wheat Salad with Parsley, Tomato, and Feta

The day after the New York City marathon can be pretty depressing. Do you feel like you were the only one in the city not donning the ING superman cape yesterday? As you sit at your desk at work and swear that you are hitting the gym extra hard tonight, here is a SUPER easy and healthy recipe that will be sure to kick start your new workout routine you just (mentally) outlined. This salad can be served as a side to an entrée or as a lunch salad on its own. Bulgar wheat may be an unfamiliar food to some of you, but it is a high protein whole grain that is ready in minutes and does not require any real cooking. It is very affordable and will last longer than lettuce greens in the refrigerator.

Bulgar Wheat Salad with Parsley, Tomato and Feta (+ Vinaigrette)

[yields 6-8 portions]

-2 bunches parsley, finely chopped

– 3 each tomatoes (or 10 oz grape/plum tomatoes)

-1/4 cup bulgar wheat

– 8 oz feta, crumbled

– 8 oz kalmata olives (about 16), halved

Vinaigrette

– ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

– 3 teaspoons lemon juice

– 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

– Salt and Pepper (to taste)

Method

To cook the bulgar, soak the wheat in boiling water until the texture softens but still holds texture. Combine the remaining ingredients immediately before service so that the moisture in the cheese and olives do not make the salad mushy.

Tip #1: Do not add too much salt to this dish because of the salt already present in the feta cheese and olives. The less salt, the healthier the salad!

Tip #2: Do not skimp on the amount of parsley suggested above as the herb provides an excellent flavor component when combined with the other ingredients.

Put a (Synthetic) Cork In It

Since the introduction of synthetic cork in the early 1990s, great debate has erupted over its environmental impact and its effect on the quality of wine.  Synthetic corks initially entered the market in response to an increase in natural cork prices. Natural cork can cost a winemaker upwards of 50 cents each compared to the synthetic version at seven cents. Besides the price differential, natural cork carries a natural mold called TCA that can taint as many as 12% of total wine bottles according to Wine Spectator. Many argue that despite the increased price and risks of TCA contamination, natural cork is more sustainable and therefore the better choice for winemakers. Even though natural cork may be slightly more sustainable, synthetic cork provides an alternative that is better for the consumer and in the best interest of wine enthusiasts around the world.

 

Natural Cork Production

Most of the world’s natural cork originates in Portugal, with some manufactures growing cork oak trees in Spain, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and France. The total acreage of cork forests is second only to the Amazon rainforest in terms of size and species diversity, totally more than 6.5 million acres. The cork made for wine is a byproduct of the tree’s trunk and can only be harvested once every 10 years. Since synthetic cork was introduced to the market, several studies have been conducted comparing the environmental impacts of natural cork and its synthetic alternative.

 

The Carbon Footprint of Natural Cork

In 2008, a study was released by PricewaterhouseCoopers that found synthetic cork to be nine times more damaging to the environment in comparison to natural cork. This study, as well as the findings of every other notable study that is readily accessible online, was commissioned by Amorim, the world’s largest cork manufacturer. This study conducted by PWC assessed cork’s environmental impact on non-renewable energy consumption, water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric acidification, formation of photochemical oxidants (which cause ozone layer depletion), the production of solid waste, and the loss of animal life. Of these factors, natural cork scored better on everything with the exception of water consumption.

While this study clearly examines the environmental impact of cork production it does not seem to consider the effects cork has on the environment after use. It is estimated that approximately 18 billion corks are produced annually, causing great concern for their recycling ability. Despite being the more “organic” approach, natural corks are very difficult to recycle for the same reasons that make them great wine stoppers. Because corks are designed to avoid the absorption of water, they are not compostable.

In 2005, Amorim launched a program called “ReCork America” through Whole Foods that aimed to educate the public about cork’s recycling ability. This program was introduced at Whole Foods’ Napa store and slowly spread through California and the Southwest. Recycling buckets were put on display for customers to drop off their used wine corks with the satisfaction that their waste would turn into the earth’s treasure. While true in that the corks were eventually going to be “recycled”, Amorim failed to effectively explain to consumers that the corks were to be sent back to Portugal to be resold again by Amorim to shoe, flooring, packaging, and insulation companies. After transporting the corks across the country, then across the Atlantic Ocean, the actual environmental impact of natural cork post-consumption is probably negligible at best.

The Carbon Footprint of Synthetic Cork

Synthetic cork is a compound made up of a food grade, high quality thermoplastic elastomer. Due to the food grade and high quality of molds in the material, synthetic corks create a TCA-free seal in the wine bottle. In accordance with the production of most plastic materials, synthetic corks are not biodegradable; however, Supreme Corqs, the largest producer of synthetic corks in the world, make recyclable corks for over 1,800 wineries across South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Unlike natural cork, synthetic cork can be collected and easily recycled along with other plastic materials.

The Effects of Synthetic and Natural Corks on Aging Wine

Most studies related to the effects of cork type on the aging process recommend that wines corked with a synthetic material should be consumed within 5 years of bottling. This is mainly due to the cork’s porous material that allows air to penetrate and enter the bottle overtime. As mentioned previously, it is impossible to purchase a “corked” bottle of wine that has been stopped with synthetic material. For wine that is meant to be consumed within the next 5 years, it could be argued that customers should demand synthetic corks to ensure they receive a TCA-free bottle. The positive attributes of synthetic cork far outweigh the negative for younger vintages of wine.

Natural corks allow for better aging of wine because of their complete airtight seal. Despite this advantage, wineries can lose thousands of cases of wine per year to TCA contamination from natural corks. It is impossible to predict what bottles are going to be contaminated, as it is a random occurrence that appears naturally in cork material.

Synthetic corks are the most logical choice for the majority of wines on the market today. For wines that are made with the intention of being consumed within the next several years, synthetic cork should be used to avert any risks associated with TCA contamination. According to wine expert Kevin Zraley, less that 1% of wine should be aged more than five years, suggesting that essentially all of the 18 billion wines produced annually should be corked with a synthetic material to preserve the integrity of the wine. The environmental concerns surrounding the use of synthetic cork are valid, yet the use of natural cork does not provide a worthwhile alternative. 

 

Sources:

Bonne, Jon. “Recycling Your Wine Corks.” The San Francisco Chronicle. 14 Nov. 2010. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://blog.sfgate.com/wine/2008/11/14/recycling-your-wine-corks/&gt;.

Easton, Sally. “Cork Is the Most Sustainable Form of Closure, Study Finds.”Decanter.com. 4 Dec. 2008.      <http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/485297/cork-is-the-most-sustainable-form-of-closure-study-finds>.

O’Donnel, Kim. Wine Cork Recycling and a Bigger Conversation. The Washington Post, 4 Mar. 2009. Web. 14 Oct.         2011. <http://voices.washingtonpost.com/mighty-appetite/2009/03/wine_cork_recycling_and_a_bigg.html&gt;.

Zraley, Kevin. “Myth or Fact? The Older the Wine the Better.” Web log post. Delish. 23 July 2009. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. <http://www.delish.com/food/zraly-wine-blog/myth-fact-ageability-of-wine&gt;.

 “Synthetic Cork.” Professor’s House. Web. <http://www.professorshouse.com/Food-Beverage/Wine/Articles/Synthetic-Cork/&gt;.