Archive for the 'Food' category

Will fresh cranberries play well with pancake batter? Preliminary findings.

Jan 26 2013 Published by under Blogospheric science, Food

As I was trying to get motivated to crawl out of bed and make breakfast for my family, I tweeted:

Of course, I got a variety of opinions in response:

As you might expect, I set some limits on how far I was prepared to go with this:

But, in the interests of science, I committed to sharing what I learned:

So, as promised, here's the report.

I started with my standard pancake batter.

Beat together:

2 cups buttermilk (or you can use 4 teaspoons of lemon juice and/or vinegar to sour 2 cups of milk, or 2 cups of plain soymilk)
4 eggs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Sift together:

2 cups flour (I use "white whole wheat" flour)
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
0.75 teaspoon salt

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well incorporated, but don't over-beat. (It's OK if the batter is a little lumpy.) Add a bit of milk or water to thin it if it's thicker than you like to spread the way a pancake batter should on the griddle.

While the griddle is heating up, melt 4 tablespoons of butter (half a stick). Cool it slightly, then pour into the batter and stir to incorporate it.

Now, the usual procedure for pancakes at Casa Free-Ride is that half of the batter is made into plain pancakes and the other half gets blueberries added to the pancakes when they're on the griddle.

We've been using Trader Joe's frozen organic wild blueberries. They are teeny tiny little things. I pour a bunch into a custard cup, thaw them with tap water, then pour the water off.

The very best tool for getting them from the custard cup to the proto-pancake without too much residual water/juice being slopped along is a bar-spoon.


The little holes at the end of the bar-spoon get the draining done.

I decided to try three distinct approaches to the fresh cranberries.

Option 1: Halved

Obviously, this was the easiest preparation. I just rinsed some cranberries, cut them in half, and then added them to the proto-pancakes on the griddle before they were flipped in the same way I typically add blueberries.


The predictions here were that maybe the cooking time would be insufficient, leaving the cranberries too raw and tart, or that they would make the pancakes too soggy on account of juice coming out of the cranberries as they cooked.


However, it's worth noting that the raw cranberries are notably not juicy. They're actually pretty dry. And, on the griddle, the halved cranberries didn't have any observable effect on the texture of the cooking pancakes.

Option 2: Chopped and sugared

Here, I rinsed some fresh cranberries, chopped them coarsely, and stirred in a bit of granulated sugar. Then I used a wee little spoon to distribute the cranberry fragments to the proto-pancakes on the griddle before they were flipped.


There was some suggestion that chopped and sugared cranberries might lead to better results because the smaller fragments would have a better chance of cooking sufficiently by the time the pancakes were done cooking, and the extra sugar would balance any residual tartness from the cranberries not having all that long to cook.

However, I observed that the pancakes with the chopped and sugared cranberries did become a bit soggier on the griddle. That extra sugar was drawing the juice out of the cranberries!


Raising the flame under the griddle seemed to take care of this problem, though.

Option 3: Sauced

Finally, I rinsed a bunch of fresh cranberries, halved them, and put them in a tea cup. I squeezed in the juice of a small navel orange, added a few tablespoons of granulated sugar, and popped it in the microwave.

I had planned to microwave it for a couple minutes, but it just about boiled over before a full minute of cooking. It looked and tasted like a cranberry sauce.


It was thick. If you want a pourable sauce, probably adding some water or additional orange juice would thin it nicely.

So, how did they taste?


I liked option 1 the best, and not just because it was the easiest. The pancakes had a nice tart kick to them and the same pleasing pancake texture that our plain and blueberry pancakes have.


My better half preferred option 2. The ones cooked on high enough heat had a good pancake texture (although the ones cooked at lower griddle temperature were just a little soggier than optimal). The cranberry flavor was very prominent in these pancakes, but the tartness of the cranberries was toned down by the sweetness of the sugar.


The sprogs were big fans of option 3. For very little labor, it's a good fruity sauce that plays well with plain pancakes (as well as with pancakes that have blueberries or cranberries cooked into them). For my own tastes, it was just a little too sweet; I might back off on the granulated sugar. The sprigs, on the other hand, might have included just a bit more sugar in the preparation. This is the kind of thing you have to fight out with your fellow breakfast eaters, I guess.


5 responses so far

Hard apple cider: materials and methods.

Sep 08 2012 Published by under Food

This is a follow-up to the last post, because Ewan requested it.

The first thing to note is that my better half is the PI on our cider-making endeavors. I'm pretty much the lab tech. Also, we have only tasted the results of this protocol once (and are at least a month out from being able to check the success of the second run), so the PI is not ready to give precise instructions with respect to how much sugar to add at bottling time, etc. The protocol is approximate because we are still working to refine it.

In other words, this is going to be one of those Materials and Methods where people grumble about details that have been omitted. I asked the PI for more detail on the details; I was told to get back to washing bottles.

However, I can point you at Real Cidermaking on a Small Scale by Michael Pooley and John Lomax as a source of more guidance.


Cider press
Large plastic bucket with lid and airlock
Carboy with stopper and airlock
Siphon (basically, a long length of Tygon tubing)
Bottling wand
12 ounce bottles (as many as needed)
Bottle caps
Universal capper


Apples (lots)
English cider yeast (commercially available from White Labs)
Sulfites (commercially available from beer and wine making stores)
Five Star Sanitizer (commercially available from beer and wine making stores)


Pick a whole mess of apples. Wash them and remove the worm-ridden cores. Cut into not-gigantic pieces (at least quartering the medium-sized apples).

There's a beer and wine making store in the area that has a fancy hydraulic cider press and that will press your apples for free during a few weekend hours during apple season. It's remarkably quick ... but come the zombie apocalypse, when the grid goes down, that kind of cider press will be of little use. We have one of these:

We line it with a fabric cider-bag. Before we put the pieces of wood on top and start the pressing, we put the apples in the cider-bag. But to maximize the juice recovery, you want to grind the apple pieces with a crusher:

To facilitate the crusher throughput, we attach one of these hoppers to the top:

and fill it up with apple pieces, then start turning the hopper crank with the hopper positioned over the cider-bag-lined cider press.

Press the cider into a big bucket (we used a 5 gallon bucket). Note that pressing 5 gallons of cider may take one adult a full workday and then some.

Add sulfites.

Pitch yeast.

Put lid and airlock on bucket.

Ferment to dryness.

[I'm pretty sure somewhere around here in the process the PI was making measurements of specific gravity and sugar content and alcohol content. The PI is being very closed-notebook about this right now, so see what Pooley and Lomax recommend.]

Rack to secondary (carboy with airlock), adding sugar if desired.

Let it age. (How long? Until it tastes mellow enough. Or until you need the carboy for something else.)

Wash bottles and sanitize 'em. Also sanitize your siphon and bottling wand.

If you want some carbonation in the bottled cider (or to increase the sugar content somewhat), make a sugar solution and add to the cider in the carboy. (Make sure to eyeball the available volume so you don't dissolve the desired amount of sugar in too much water to fit.)

Get the bottles near the carboy, stick one end of the siphoning tube in, and pipette by mouth to get things flowing. Attach the bottling wand and start filling the bottles.

For 12 ounce bottles, to get the right amount of headspace, you need to fill until just a moment before overflow with the bottling wand in the bottle. (It dispenses liquid when you press the end of the wand against the bottom of the bottle, and stops dispensing when you lift it up.)

Cap the bottles. Let them age for a month or more.

When the apple tree is full of apples, do it again.

10 responses so far

The Thanksgiving feast and sleepiness: let's crowdsource some data!

A few years ago, we talked about the role turkey consumption might (or might not) play in post-Thanksgiving-feast fatigue. The oft-heard hypothesis is that the tryptophan in turkey gives you the yawns, but there was the suggestion that carbohydrates from starchy and sweet side dishes were an accomplice -- and that eating additional protein might counteract the tryptophan's soporific effects. Also, the amount you eat may be involved in how your body prioritizes consciousness relative to digestion.

It gets complicated pretty fast when we don't eat standardized lab chow.

Also, in passing, let me note that for all its association with tryptophan, turkey doesn't even crack the top 50 in this list of tryptophan-rich foods. (Number one: stellar sea lion kidney.)

Bora has a nice discussion of what tryptophan is up to in your body. Myself, I'm interested in working out observable patterns in Thanksgiving dining-and-yawning experience. Once we know what the patterns are, then we know what we need to explain with a biochemical mechanism.

To this ends, let's conduct some citizen science (and, come Friday, to collect some reports from the field).

Here is a form for data collection (*.doc format).

Ideally, we'd all want to sit down to the same Thanksgiving meal together (having all gotten a good night's sleep the day before, etc., etc.). Sadly, that's not going to happen. However, maybe you can rope those with whom you are dining on Thursday into participating.

Depending on the vibe at your Thanksgiving table, you can either ask the diners to keep track of what kinds of foods they eat, or you can assign your guests particular consumption objectives. Then, before dessert, have everyone do a quick assessment of his or her energy level.

With luck, we'll get data for the following variations:

  • High-tryptophan food (like turkey), high carbohydrate intake. (Prediction: sleepy)
  • High-tryptophan food, low carbohydrate intake. (Prediction: not sleepy)
  • Skip the high-tryptophan food, high carbohydrate intake. (Prediction: sleepy)
  • Skip the high-tryptophan food, low carbohydrate intake. (Prediction: not sleepy)
  • High-tryptophan food, high carbohydrate intake, extra protein. (Prediction: not sleepy)
  • High-tryptophan food, low carbohydrate intake, extra protein. (Prediction: energetic)
  • Skip the high-tryptophan food, high carbohydrate intake, extra protein. (Prediction: not sleepy)
  • Skip the high-tryptophan food, low carbohydrate intake, extra protein. (Prediction: frighteningly energetic)

Of course, if you track participant input a bit more precisely, maybe we'll stumble upon some other factor that turns out to be important, like vitamin A or sage.

If you use my form, you can return your results to me (as a *.doc or scanned into a PDF) by email: dr - dot - freeride - at - gmail - dot - com. I'll compile the responses and we'll see if we can make sense of the data.

See you back here on Friday morning with your results!

2 responses so far

Murphy's Law: it's what's for dinner.

Apr 02 2011 Published by under Food, Passing thoughts

It would seem that the chili peppers I acquired today were just hot enough to inflame the skin of the hands that chopped them without being hot enough to confer any appreciable heat on the chili they were meant to make spicy.

How many scovilles is that?

Alternatively, I may have stumbled onto a combination of ingredients that acts as antimatter to capsaicin.

One response so far

Friday Sprog Blogging: comfort food.

We had to fetch the younger Free-Ride offspring from school yesterday midday on account of an unscheduled bout of vomiting.* Because, you know, the microbes and immune systems tend not to take account of things like our work schedules. ("Or whether we have a science test," the younger Free-Ride offspring chimes in.)

Anyway, since experience has established me as the puke-parent** in the Free-Ride household (the one upon whom a child will vomit in instances where someone is vomited upon), I now have something of a procedure when I get home with a pukey kid. We cover the head of the bed, the pillow, and the floor area adjacent to the child's bed with towels (since, in case of puke, it's easier to remove and replace a towel or two than to strip the whole bed and change the sheets). We provide a nice big aluminum bowl next to the bed ... just in case.

And we don't even think about putting food into that tummy until the tummy shows no signs of erupting.

But then, what to put in the tummy -- what counts as a "gentle" food for a kid recovering from a stomach bug -- is a source of some controversy at Casa Free-Ride.

In the household in which I grew up, flat ginger ale and saltines were the canonical first foods after an upchuck. If they stayed down, maybe 24 hours later you'd get to try some baked custard, the eventually "real" food.

Sadly, we hardly ever have ginger ale in the house, and the Free-Ride offspring have declared saltines strange and disgusting. What this means is that I don't have a well-established safe food with which to test tummy stability.

Indeed, as I was laying down towels, right before I was going to make a batch of baked custard, the younger Free-Ride offspring mentioned that a teacher at the after school program had said that eggs (an ingredient of baked custard) are not a good food for your tummy after vomiting.

This suggests to us that what people consider as the right kind of food to give a kid who's been throwing up must be pretty strongly shaped by what kind of food they were given as kids trying to get better from crummy tummies. Also, it suggests that there is no clear unified theory of the optimal macronutrient composition for these foods -- at least not one upon which a clear majority of grown-ups taking care of these kids agree.

My strategy, drawn from my childhood, has been: fluids with a little flavor (because water tastes funny when you're sick), then carbohydrates with negligible fiber (the dreaded saltines), then some not-too-wobbly protein, and none of it very far from a flavor range it would be fair to describe as "bland". Probably a banana somewhere in there, too.

But, see, now the younger Free-Ride offspring and I are wondering if this strategy is bunkum.***

So, because the younger Free-Ride offspring tells me that a PubMed search would not be a relaxing way to spend a sick day, we're appealing to those more likely to have an actual evidence base here (Pal? Pascale? Other medical/nutrition types?) to tell us whether there is any informed-by-science consensus on what a kid ought to be fed (and in what sequence) once the puking subsides.

* No, we don't have scheduled vomiting. It's just that these stomach bugs hardly ever happen on a day when we had nothing else to do.

** The companion role to "puke-parent" is "poop-parent". My better-half assumed that role, but hasn't gotten any action in it since the sprogs were in diapers.

*** My current favorite alternate theory on why to eat bland foods in the wake of a stomach-bug: You don't want to eat foods with more interesting flavors and textures, especially foods you really like, and then throw them up (if you've tested the tummy too soon) lest you develop a long-lasting aversion to those foods. It took me maybe a decade to get over my aversion to spaghetti and other long pastas served with tomato-based sauces ... because of a stomach flu when I was about 11. On the other hand, if you develop an aversion to saltines, it doesn't really impact your quality of life in quite the same way.

19 responses so far

Repost: The ethics of snail eradication.

Oct 20 2010 Published by under Environment, Ethics 101, Food, Garden, Personal

Since I recently reposted an explanation of one method for dispatching snails and slugs, it seems only fair that I also repost my discussion of whether it's ethical for me to be killing the snails in my garden to begin with.

In the comments of one of my snail eradication posts, Emily asks some important questions:

I'm curious about how exactly you reason the snail-killing out ethically alongside the vegetarianism. Does the fact that there's simply no other workable way to deal with the pests mean the benefits of killing them outweigh the ethical problems? Does the fact that they're molluscs make a big difference? Would you kill mice if they were pests in your house? If you wanted to eat snails, would you? Or maybe the not-wanting-to-kill-animals thing is a relatively small factor in your vegetarianism?

Continue Reading »

10 responses so far

Practical chemical engineering.

It's day two of my training course, and as I contemplate my mug of decaf, I am suddenly flashing back to a question that was rumored to be part of the chemical engineering qualifying exam in my chemistry graduate program. As it's an intriguing problem, I thought I'd share it here:

In the dead of winter, a professor sends his grad student out into the cold to fetch him a hot beverage from the cafe. "Coffee with two creams, and make sure it's HOT when it gets to me!" the professor barks.

Shivering from fear as much as cold, the grad student procures a 12-ounce styrofoam cup of hot coffee and two little containers (maybe 20 mL each) of half and half at the cafe. To maximize the temperature of the coffee when it is delivered to the prof, should he add the half and half to the coffee before he walks it through the cold or after?

Feel free to work together on this problem, and please show your work in the comments.

21 responses so far

Zucchini utilization: two recipes.

Aug 12 2010 Published by under [Etc], Food, Garden, Personal, Uncategorized

The Free-Ride family has spent the last several weeks dealing with an abundance of zucchini. Here are two of the smaller ones we harvested this week.

Since there's a limit to how many zucchini you can give away without alienating your friends and neighbors, it's good to have some tasty strategies for eating them. Here are to of the recipes we've been working.

Zucchini Faux-Risotto

Wash and trim about 3 pounds of zucchini. Halve them lengthwise and slice into semicircles (about 1/8 inch thick).

DIce one large onion.

Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil.

Heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and zucchini and toss to coat with oil. Cook on high heat without stirring too much (so that the zucchini and onions brown a bit). As you cook, the onions will get translucent and the zucchini will cook down significantly.

Meanwhile, boil 1 pound of orzo. (Ours is al dente after about nine minutes.) Drain, add to the skillet with the onion and zucchini, toss gently, and turn heat off.

Finely grate some asiago or other hard cheese until you have 1/2 to 1 cup. Toss with the orzo and vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This dish is good hot or at room temperature.

Zucchini Bread

Preheat your oven to 350 oF. Lightly grease a standard loaf pan, or line with parchment paper.

Grate a very generous 2 cups of washed, unpeeled zucchini. (In a two-cup Pyrex liquid measuring cup, you want it to be overflowing with the grated zucchini.) If you have a food processor with a grating disk, this is a good time to break it out.

Put the grated zucchini in a large bowl with 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, the finely grated rind of half a large lemon, and a large egg. Beat together with a fork.

Sift together into the zucchini mixture 1.5 cups flour (this last batch I used 1/2 cup whole wheat, 1/3 cup white whole wheat, and 2/3 cup all purpose), 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom. Stir together until incorporated.

Pour into the loaf pan and bake for about 55 minutes. Cool before removing from the loaf pan and slicing.

This is so moist that you won't even think about buttering it until after you've gobbled it down.

9 responses so far

Pi Day bake-off 2010: Chocolate Almond Cherry (Tofu) Pie.

Mar 13 2010 Published by under Ask a ScienceBlogger, Food

Longtime readers of this blog may remember last year's orgy of pies on the run-up to Pi Day (March 14th, or 3-14). This March at Casa Free-Ride, there's been less pie making, in large part due to the fact that I'm no longer on sabbatical (either from my job or from coaching soccer).
But the bake-off is on again, so I figured that I needed to feed you all one really good pie (or pie recipe, anyway).
This pie melds three flavors that play very well together: rich chocolate, tart cherries, and almonds. As a bonus, it puts those flavors together in a pie that is rich but not heavy, one that doesn't lean on eggs, or cream cheese, or butter, or milk.
I make this pie with a food processor, but if you don't have one, you can manage with a blender, a heavy rolling pin, and a knife and cutting board.

Continue Reading »

One response so far

Blogiversary addendum.

Feb 10 2010 Published by under Food, Passing thoughts, Personal

Earlier today, I had this conversation with my better half.
Dr. Free-Ride's better half: (with a look of deep concern) So, I saw something in your post today.
Dr. Free-Ride: Oh? (Wondering if a heinous typo got through cursory attempts at editing)

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One response so far

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