. . . into the kitchen.

Sadly, I have a hard time affording the foodie life, I wish I had a foodie friend around here that liked to cook as much as I do so we could trade off. But that is all the more reason to explore food at my home with and for my friends, right?  I frequently describe cooking as a meditative experience anyway. Too bad the dishes afterward tend to ruin my calm.

While my jealously of people who can stare into their fridge and know what dishes are for dinner grows, so does my brain’s recipe database with the eventuality of being able to do the same. As I stated previously, two of my goals are to increase my vegetarian recipe repertoire and to gain some more accurate knowledge of Mexican cuisine (you know, beyond Taco Hell). So I worked up some recipes from James Peterson’s Cooking: tomatillo sauce and chiles rellenos.

Chiles Relenos on Tomatillo Salsa from Peterson's Cooking

Chiles Relenos on Tomatillo Salsa from Peterson's Cooking

I have a thing for tomatillos. Me and the tomatillo . . . we know how to get along. I love their combination of tomato and lime flavors. Their citrus is so blatant, but when you cook them, they calm down and just add and take on flavors. Mmm. The sauce also had poblanos and jalapenos which made it pair well with the chiles rellenos.

Man were these a production. Peterson has the cook put some cream of tartar in with the egg whites while you whip them to a fluff (without a beater I do all this by hand), then slowly fold the yolk back in. After you have roasted, peeled and stuffed the poblanos with chevre you toss them in flour and roll them in the eggs. I’m guessing this is to keep the egg lighter on the outside of the poblano, but for how much work it is without a mixer I think it might be worth it to just roll the floured peppers in beat eggs and then fry them. Placing a bed of the sauce on a plate you then set the fried peppers on top with some sour cream and serve.

While I forgot the sour cream my guests both thought the dish was good if a bit spicy (though they both admitted to being Spice Sallys). The chevre inside the peppers was perfect with the tomatillo sauce, but I think if their had been a bit more cheese (definitely if I had not forgotten the sour cream) I would not have had any spice complaints.

For desert I made a passover napoleon. My other region of interest in Mediterranean, especially Israel/Lebanon. Some have expressed that my obsession with Israel in food and religion is a little odd, I shrug my shoulders. But the reason this is a passover napoleon is that it is made with matzos because during passover, observant Jews are disallowed leaven, or yeast.

I cannot say that I know tradition napoleons well, and perhaps I should know the real thing before I adventure outward, but you should have seen the picture in the book, haha. I set out to make it. After soaking the Matzos I fried them (making some of them curl up and hard to work with) and candied them. The candy coating was simply caramelized sugar with coconut milk added. Letting them sit for some time in the fridge, I made something like a custard of coconut milk, sugar, egg yolk, and rosewater. With all that finished I sliced some strawberries in half and got to work on the delicate assembling procedure, topping it all off with some powdered sugar. It was very good, though the rosewater did not really come through and I think I needed to wait for the filling to thicken a bit more.

Passover Napoleon from New Israeli Food book

As always, if I make anything a reader would like a recipe for, just ask.  I wouldust rather talk about the process of making, eating, and the flavor than type all the technicalities in my posts.

Saffron Restaurant

I had visitor for the past two days that obsesses about food as much as I do. One of the restaurants mentioned below rates among the fancier restaurants of Minneapolis. I fell in love with what I ate there and when I told my roommate and his girlfriend about it I had to explain the money spent on such small portions: “it’s about taste, not stuffing your face.” They did not understand. The girl eats bland foods because anything more rich than ramen makes her stomach upset and the boy eats whatever happens to be on his plate.

But on to the food (if you read nothing else in this article, read about the last restaurant, Saffron):

The first place we stopped for food was Fasika. A short review: my mother teaches English as a Second Language to many Ethiopian students and all have said this is the place to go for authentic Ethiopian food. I trust that. You walk in to the restaurant and hit a waft of clove and cinnamon black tea. You tell the waitress, whose English is just good enough to understand your butchering of the words on the menu, what you want and 10-20 minutes later you find a plate half the size of the table in front of you with injera and your dish on it. No silverware here. I got the Ybeg Tibs and my company ordered the Ybeg Alicha Wot, both lamb dishes and on the menu on the website. My dish was good, but the lamb was tough and over cooked. My dish also came with some berbere which was hotter than I planned on. The Ybeg Alicha Wot was amazing. It was citrusy and tender.

Later that night we ate at a place called The Vegetarian on Central and 40th. Another place where on entering you are not sure whether you just walked into the slum, but then the Palak Paneer, Mutter Paneer, Nan, and Mango Lassi is set in front of you and you wonder why you have not been here before.

The next morning Kopplin’s Coffee was the destination. Andrew Kopplin, the owner, is a chocolatier as well as a Barista with amazing taste. If you order a cup of jo you’re going to be able to choose from about 10 different coffees, but you won’t have to drink from the pot that was brewed an hour and a half ago because this guy makes every cup of coffee fresh. When you order your cup of coffee the barista grinds the beans and brews it on the spot for a thick and really flavorful cup. Nearly a french press whenever you order, you can taste the difference between the regions. The espresso drinks are brewed in traditional Italian portions. This means when you get your espresso macchiatto it comes in a demitasse cup with a tiny spoon. The kicker: you also get what looks like a painting of a pine tree on the top. The latte art at this place marks their expertise and care, not their covering up of poor quality. It’s more expensive than going to Starbucks, but it’s worth it.

A Minneapolis staple was hit for lunch: Holy Land. A buffet that only cost $8.49. The buffet is huge. Mouska, tzatziki, gyros, greek salad, hummus, pita, honey cake, roast chicken and lamb, doro wat, and that’s just the beginning. The fresh peach juice was something amazing. We also stopped in the attached market and got some prickly plums, labna (a yogurt cheese that is sour and delicious), semolina for some polenta, and a huge one galloner of Sultan first cold press olive oil.

The capstone on the trip was a stop at Saffron on 1st ave and 3rd st in Minneapolis. This is where the audible groans of amazing flavor blew out from my gustatory enjoyment. Good God!

First and most disgustingly (if you think about it too long), the Lamb Brain. It came out as a left hemisphere of the brain sitting on some micro greens. It had been seered and was served with garlic confit and some roasted cherry tomatoes with a parsley oil. The texture was definitely brain-ey, and I loved that I could identify some of the structures – even on such a small scale (I was explaining white and gray matter to my dining partner when she told me to shut up and eat it, haha).

Next item on the list was white anchovies. They were marinated in harissa and served with a preserved lemon sauce. I have made preserved lemons in the past and I either messed it up or like preserved lemons about as much as I like being paddled on the ass. I’m guessing it is the former because this dish did not offend me at all. After the marinade the anchovies were briefly sauteed (I think) then the preserved lemon came in as a sauce. I cannot say I would throw myself at this dish again, but for not liking anchovies or preserved lemons it was not bad.

I have a penchant for eating things that freak out my more normal dining friends, though it is not difficult since even medium rare steak does that sometimes.  When I reported that I ate carpaccio they were thinking they should pack me up for the hospital. Silly inexperienced eaters. The carpaccio had white truffle browned butter vinaigrette , but it was thick, more like a paste than a sauce. A single hazelnut and some microgreens topped the half millimeter thick slices of tenderloin. It was a beautiful presentation and the truffle flavor came through brilliantly.

We finished off our eating with a duck confit. But it was different from any confit I have had. The dish was served with the duck shredded sitting in a crust of phyllo dough. A good combination of the tenderness of the meat with the flakey crunch of the phyllo dough. It also came with a Moroccan carrot salad, the carrots were jullienned with a preserved lemon sauce. The flavor confused me because it distinctly went from sweet to bitter and back to sweet. My taste buds might have been fooling me.

The bartender served us a complimentary beverage of roasted lemonade with mint and arac. The lemons were cut in half and roasted with sugar coating them for about 30 minutes. Then the whole lemon was blended and put through a sieve. Add sugar and water and it came out as a syrupy smooth lemonade. The minced mint was added and turned the beverage a kind of green you do not want to drink. Finally, the arac was added. The arac is a Lebanese liquor that shared a flavor profile with Sambuca.

Saffron hit the spot. I recommend it. For all that we ate (the brain, anchovies, carpaccio, and duck confit) and one premium we paid $36.00. And like I said, it was not about getting full, but about getting full flavors. The price was worth it.

Can I have a drag?

July 20, 2009

Many items have converged on the topic for this article. Brainblogger, The Frontal Cortex, my observations at work, and two articles I read recently (see below) made me think about the association between cigarettes and schizophrenia. More precisely nicotine and schizophrenia.

About 80% of the residents at Andrew smoke. The point prevalence of smokers in the United States in 2006: 20.6%. So if Andrew Residence is a somewhat representative sample of the people with mental illness in the U.S., then we would expect people with serious and persistent mental illness (S&PMI) to smoke at four times the rate of the “well” population. This rate difference is exactly what was reported in both the articles I read, as well as the facts that people with schizophrenia smoke much more per day, smoke lung darts with high tar contents, and smoke their cigarettes to the very end (Lyon said this was because that’s where the highest nicotine content is, I think it is probably just because they don’t want to waste what little tobacco they get and I think this is more parsimonious, more on this below). The latter tends to end in burnt and yellow fingers. The burning then makes the residents drop the butt on themselves and burn holes in their clothes. Andrew has gotten in trouble with state boards in the past for “not caring for our residents” because of some of these issues. We try to balance the residents freedoms, watching their budgets (always buying new clothes), and keeping hawk eyes on them while they’re rockin’ a grant.

Digression: Speaking of grants: cigarettes are a currency at Andrew. So many of our residents are vulnerable to just giving up their smokes when people ask for one (after all, it is kind of the smokers unwritten code to give a smoke out when someone needs one – we understand the craving). And since we are helping so many people with their budgets, and this disallows many of them from smoking more than a pack a day of Remington’s, we tend to control how many cigarettes a person can have per hour. It sounds cruel, but so many times the other option is that their coffin nails are chain smoked, bummed, and borrowed so quickly that by the 10th of the month they won’t have any left until the 1st of the next. /end digression

Off the culture of Andrew and back onto the science of nicotine and schizophrenia. I need to mention some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, brain chemistry, and antipsychotic medications, for the interaction of nicotine and all these to make sense.

First of all, the “negative symptoms” of schizophrenia involve avolition, flat affect, anhedonia, alogia (comes with a good example of the kind of conversation I have at work every day), and general seclusion from social life.

The brain chemistry ties in with the above negative symptoms: hypofontality. This is a pretty common characteristic associated with people with schizophrenia. It means that the frontal portions of the brain (the frontal and prefrontal cortices) are not seeing nearly the amount of activation that people without schizophrenia experience. Most of this is associated with dopamine, but also involved are acetylcholine, serotonin, glutamate, and norepinephrine. So what? The frontal lobe conducts the “executive functions” of the brain. It controls many of your social responses, for example: your roommate keeps leaving his shoes right in front of the door so upon entering you are consistently tripping over them.

Do you
(A) Ask him politely to move his shoes two feet to the right explaining why?
(B) Throw a hissy fit and his shoes at the door of his room while he is sleeping?
(C) Not say anything because it might cause conflict and you hate conflict?
(D) Note he continues to do this despite asking him to move them and develop a paranoid delusion regarding his intentions to harm you?

Though the latter is not a choice, all of these are reactions I could see happening from one or more of the residents at Andrew. The frontal cortex allows us to appropriately choose option (A) if the region is sufficiently stimulated. It allows us a level of social functioning. So the explanation that is offered by both Lyon and McGloughen in their literature reviews are that nicotine increases dopaminergic activity in this frontal area of the brain thus reducing the negative symptoms of the disease. Once this happens, people also realize they are being more social active and this can be reinforcing of the habit (like when you smoke while drinking but then it slowly seeps into the rest of your life).

There is something called prepulse inhibition (or sensory gating) that I learned about when I was working in the Cuthbert Lab at the University of Minnesota. In the lab the lab techs will put an EEG on you and play two tones: first a quieter more pleasant tone, then a loud white noise like static on T.V. about 20 milliseconds later. In healthy people the first tone reduces our brain’s reaction to the second tone because our attention cannot switch that fast. But we see a deficit of this in people with schizophrenia and it actually looks more like their reactions are stacked or added to one another. Nicotine has been found to reduce this deficit for people with schizophrenia. I think this is really interesting because the essential problem is filtering of extraneous noise. What effect does this have on their auditory hallucinations then? Can they better focus them out and their conversations with their fellow smokers in? Overall though the explanation of nicotine use due to positive symptomatology is less clear, but nicotine could help increase attention and memory (as it does for everyone), which are both in deficit in people with schizophrenia.

So far all the above has been pretty positive, no? Well the negative aspect of smoking for people with schizophrenia that does not apply to the well population is the dose of antipsychotics they have to take. A few studies have found that the amount of antipsychotics that people have to take if they smoke is about 50% higher. Though, others found that haloperidol and risperidal increased the amount a person smokes while clozapine decreased the amount a person smoked (as well as decreasing alcohol, cocaine and heroin use). Lyon states this is because “polycyclic hydrocarbons in cigarette smoke stimulate the hepatic microsomal system, inducing liver enzymes to increase the metabolism of antipsychotic medications.”

Both articles I read assumed that smoking was still evil. I’m not so sure. Nicotine does do the above is it really something to take away from our residents? There are options of course: patches, gums, lozenges and nicotine inhalers. But I cannot help but think that if smoking is something a resident enjoys, and the nicotine is helping reduce some of their symptoms, why are we trying to take it away from them? Some psych wards have instituted full smoking bans and have only seen increases in pro re nata medications for a short while afterward, then a return to normal. They also did not find an increase in security calls or agitation. They article says nothing of an increase in seclusive behavior or the other negative symptoms I mentioned above though.

Lyon, E.R. (1999). A review of the effects of nicotine on schizophrenia and antipsychotic medications. Psychiatric Services, 50, 1346-1350.

McGloughen, A. (2003). The association between schizophrenia and cigarette smoking: a review of the literature and implications for mental health nursing practice. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 12, 119-129.

This Week in Food

July 16, 2009

This week was amazing.  I went to Eau Claire and was able to make a lot of different dishes.  Many of them I made in the past, but I was able to try making some new things that my brother-in-law showed me last week.  I have pictures to record my kitchen endeavors.

French Toast with real maple syrup and Alchemy Farm's Organic (Black) Raspberries

French Toast with real maple syrup and Alchemy Farm's Organic (Black) Raspberries

I was treated to this by a friendly soul. I have to say, I was skeptical when she made it with white bread, but I can’t have asked for a french toast that was much better. I do not know, but maybe Wolfgang Puck could do a better job. But if that is her competition, I’d rather not pay the $100 for his french toast and dig into some of this.

Polenta, Salmon with Rasperry Beurre Rouge, Grilled Asparagus and Zucchini, and Sweet Potato Fries

Polenta, Salmon with Rasperry Beurre Rouge, Grilled Asparagus and Zucchini, and Sweet Potato Fries

Alchemy Farm‘s Dean Parent is constantly teaching me about food. He’s one of those chefs that can look into his fridge and tool around his kitchen for a few minutes then have a menu for dinner ready. We had previously spoken about Brasa and Alma and the polenta I had at Alma, so Dean decided he would let me try some of his polenta, which was delicious. The sweet potato fries were served with a chipotle and garlic aioli. The beurre rouge on the salmon was brilliant. I am typically not a fruit with my meal kind of person (I think of fruit as a desert item), but the red wine and butter in the beurre rouge settled the sweetness in the raspberries down.

Italian Sausage burgers on Ciabatta with Edam cheese, Roma Tomatoes, Garlic, and cracked pepper

Italian Sausage burgers on Ciabatta with Edam cheese, Roma Tomatoes, Garlic, and cracked pepper

I do not expect and “wow!”s from this, but I love setting Italian sausage outside of the dishes I have always had it in (typically with spaghetti sauces). I also just enjoy making immensely simple recipes from which each ingredient can be tasted strongly.

Rajas con Hongos, Avocado, Tomato, Radishes, Shredded Cheddar and Mozarella, Chevre with Walnut crust, and Ciabatta

Rajas con Hongos, Avocado, Tomato, Radishes, Shredded Cheddar and Mozarella, Chevre with Walnut crust, and Ciabatta

Dean showed me the meal to the left as well. Rajas con Hongos is a dish made from roasted Poblano peppers and sauteed mushrooms. Dean also used lemon, cream cheese, black pepper, and a little salt. I, of course, used too much cream cheese, but when I made it the taste was still quite good. The other ingredients are self explanatory, except that I committed a sin by used store bought shredded cheese. Forgive me.

Fun with Tomatos and Chevre

Fun with Tomatos and Chevre

Anytime I mention a food, please feel free to request the recipe from me in the comments. I can either give you the recipe, the resource from which it came, or both.