Saturday, August 28, 2010

Browning vs. caramelizing


Caramelized is commonly used to described the browning of onions (i.e. caramelized onions), the searing of meats, and the tops of baked goods like bread and cheesecake. Contrary to what you may have heard, these are all incorrect usages of caramelize. WHAT!?!! Read on, my friends, read on...

Now, if you were to refer to the top of that delectable-looking creme-brulee as caramelized, you would be using caramelize correctly. If you were to describe the browning of sugar that occurs when you make caramel syrup, like this:

You would be using 'caramelize' correctly.

Still don't get it? Well, I'll give you a hint...

In creme brulee and caramel syrup, the only thing that you are browning is sugar.


Do you remember sugars? If you need a refresher, I wrote a post about carbohydrates (i.e. sugars) awhile ago (convenient link).

Sugars are made up of a few select atoms. These are carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. When you heat them, they start breaking down into smaller molecules, and they release a variety of gases (carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen gas, oxygen gas, water vapor (dihydro-oxygen gas, if you will). Eventually you can brown your sugar to black - and then it's just carbon solid. You've essentially released all the hydrogen and oxygen from it and it looks like something the fiance and I plan to cook chicken with this evening:


But, breads have sugar, right? So why isn't browning bread a form of caramelization? 

That, my friends, is the right question. 

Breads, meats, even onions have sugar in them or on their surfaces...but they also have protein. The protein is the key to the difference between browning and caramelizing.

So, you know that sugars have carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. Well, proteins have the same components, plus one more: nitrogen. Every protein has nitrogen, in the form of an amino group, at the very end of the chain of amino acids that makes up the protein. This amino group can react with the end of sugars to make a sugar-amine (like 'glucosamine', maybe you've heard of it in conjuction with joint health?). These molecules can only form in the presence of heat, so maybe I should put out there right now that apples, avocados, and tuna turning brown when exposed to air are a completely different set of reactions.

The name of the sugar-amine reactions are called Maillard reactions after this guy:

Cute, eh? He can come over and brown my onions any day...

The product of these Maillard reactions are complex sugar-protein polymers that lend a brown color and interesting tastes to the dish. This is why browned bread, browned onions, and browned meat don't really taste alike. They each have distinct sugar and protein components that lend to their sugar-amine complexes, and they give each food a unique taste.

It turns out that Maillard reactions are much preferred to caramelization as far as your palate is concerned. I can imagine that there are some stringent caramel lovers out there who are shaking their heads at me right now. Just hear me out...just like caramelizing a sugar too long will lead to something akin to charcoal briquets, caramelizing is associated with giving foods a slightly bitter taste if taken too far. On the other hand, Maillard reactions get more and more complex as the food browns. What I'm saying is that the margin for error on browning your onions is a lot more forgiving than browning your sugar crust on your favorite custard treat.

I'm actually a terrible hypocrite because I refuse to use the correct nomenclature when I'm talking about browning vs. caramelizing...because the waiter at the restaurant is going to give me the correct thing if I ask for my onions OR my custard to be caramelized...and he will likely not appreciate a lecture on the complexities of the Maillard reactions while he takes my order. On the other hand, you, my fair friends, are a wonderful audience :)

Happy weekend!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kallie's wedding festivities!

The moment I got back from vacation, I was sidelined with a nasty head cold. Obviously I need to get back to work, so all I'm doing is sleeping, working, and sleeping again until this passes. Not too exciting. Until I become a more interesting blogger, I'll catch up on my half-written post archive! Hope to have more fun posts by the end of the week!

Over the summer, I've been busy preparing for a friend's wedding in my hometown. In July, I ventured home for a weekend to spend some time with her at her bridal shower (hosted by matron-of-honor Celine). Then, I came home in August for a week to celebrate with her at her bachelorette party and, the next weekend, her wedding. SO here are our shenanigans as we prepared for and eventually celebrated her wedding day with her!

Bridal Shower:
This happened about a month ago when I went home the first time. There was fruit...
Cute little tartlettes:
And tea sandwiches...turkey and cucumber or BLT:
 know that mean game where we ask her questions about her fiance when she gets them wrong, she has to shove gumballs in her mouth?

Oh yeah!

TP bridal gowns!

And there were presents and such. The bride had a great time and left well-prepared for married life!

Bachelorette Party:
Ok, we played nice last time, so it was time to get naughty. Since this is a family show (namely, my family: Hi Dad! Hi Mom! Hi Brothers!), I'm choosing to edit the actual events of the night, but here is the setup.

Assorted snackage care of Lindsey....
Buffalo chicken dip:
Homemade salsa (both consumed with chips):
And penis shaped cookies, handmade of course:

I drove all that day to get up to my hometown, so I was in charge of drinks. I meant to make them look all pretty and then take a picture, but I forgot in all the fun. So, here are my two healthy-yet-amazing cocktail recipes...sans pictures.

Paradise Punch

8 oz mango puree
~20 oz pineapple juice (half a large bottle of juice)
325 mL Malibu coconut rum
500 mL soda water


1/2 can frozen lemonade concentrate
~750 mL vodka
4 cans diet gingerale

Once we got our food and drink on, we got ready to go out. Here is the bride before we made her look obnoxious:

And after....before the addition of the candy bra...

Lindsey and I came prepared to catch cash for our bride...and we all went out with bandanas and cowgirl wear:

Building up to the wedding:
In the days leading up to the wedding, we were busy girls. We got our nails done -
We frosted mini-cakes, we decorated things, we pinned xmas lights to tulle fabric, we folded programs. We were good girls! Then, we rehearsed in Kallie's mom's beautiful backyard garden:
And ate some rehearsal food:
(watermelon, salad, beans, chicken drummie, and 2 slices brisket. I went back for 2 more chicken drummies)

Then it was the big day! We were all up early to do our hairs and makeup!

Poor Celine! So pregnant! And so cute!

After hours of preparation and pictures, we were all exhausted!
But the ceremony hadn't happened yet, so we grabbed our flowers....
And stood up for our lady. At the end of the day, operation: Get Kallie Hitched was successful...and the happy couple danced the night away!

Ray and Kallie
August 21, 2010
Ok, wish me luck kicking some viral butt as I hope to recover for a weekend long run. It's 1/2 marathon training time! I don't have time to be sick! 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Eating healthy at Dad's house

Just like any vacation, it's tough to stay on track when I go to my Dad's house. My family eats pretty healthy, but there are suddenly a million new choices for my breakfast lunch and dinner. I'll show you what I ate, when I indulged, and how I balanced it out over the course of my week at Dad's house. 

First: Eat a good breakfast!
Every morning, I started with a piece of fruit or two, some yogurt, and 1/4 c of rolled oats. Lots of fiber, fruit, protein. Super filling. Really delicious. 

Second: Choose balanced snacks! If I wanted a salty snack, I'd balance it with veggies (my brother ate at least 1/2 of the chips + cheese, but he didn't touch the salad!) or I'd eat a banana with protein like PB to keep from getting hungry again. 

 Another idea was to help my brother make granola. We made it with oats, almonds, craisins, sugar, butter, vanilla, and nutmeg. Sure, it's high calorie, but it's a better choice than a candy bar! It has a good balance of protein and fiber, and I tried to keep the sugar and fat content in check! 

Third: Do some of the cooking! My dad is king of the kitchen, so it's hard to get in. I bargained and agreed to  make dinner before he got home from work, but I had to make the meals he wanted. I healthified some recipies to make them more my style.

I made stuffed peppers with peppers from the garden - 93% lean, brown rice, onions, peppers, herbs, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and seasoning. Topped with a thin layer of cheddar at the end.

Then there was the lentil bhujia. Dad insisted I try this recipe. It took 2.5 hours to make. I decided that it wasn't good enough to even blog about. But I ate it as leftovers with a pepper, so here is a picture. 
Fourth: When all else fails, eat lots of veggies!

Here is a perfect example - Dad made steak and mashed potatoes for dinner. I roasted some broccoli, so I had a small amount of the high calorie foods and a lot of veggies + a salad. 

Otherwise, I just made sure to get lots of veggies in!

Fifth: EXERCISE! Here is my P90X setup. Cans = decent weights. I also ran 15 miles over the course of the week and walked the dog, did yoga, and danced at the wedding.

Finally: Enjoy the indulgences. It was my youngest brother's 14th Bday, so we had cake and ice cream! Totally worth it!