Monday, October 31, 2016

Hot Bubbles

 While soda sales are falling flat, Americans are bubbly over seltzer.  Nielson researchers report that sales of sparkling water are up over 21% in the past year.

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     Some new flavors are just right to compliment your Thanksgiving meal.  Polar Seltzer has released a cranberry cider flavor and a cranberry-clementine version, too.  Released regionally last Winter the bounce berry flavor will be available nation wide this year.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Molasses Disaster

     Recently I've been touting the benefits of molasses, the by-product of the sugar refining process.  And while it does have numerous health benefits, it was lethal for 21 people one balmy  day in Boston on January 15, 1919.

     That was the day of what has become known as the Great Boston Molasses Flood.  The disaster occurred at the Purity Distilling Company.  The temperature had risen above 40 degrees, climbing rapidly from the frigid temperatures of the preceding days. Stored in a tank 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter was 2,300,000 gallons of molasses.  Just after the noon hour the tank collapsed, unleashing a wave of molasses 25 feet high, moving at 35 MPH.  Several blocks in Beantown were flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 feet. Nearby buildings were swept off their foundations.

     The Boston Globe reported that people "were picked up by a rush of air and hurled many feet."  One truck was picked up and hurled into Boston harbor, others had debris hurled at them from the rush of sweet-smelling air.  Witnesses reported that as the tank collapsed they felt the ground shake and heard a roar, a tremendous crashing, and a deep growling.  And as the rivets shot out of the tank the sound resembled that of a machine gun.

     In all, approximately 150 were injured, 21 people and several horses killed, some were crushed and drowned in the molasses.  It took four days before the rescuers stopped searching for victims, many of the dead were so glazed over in molasses that they were difficult to recognize.  

     There are claims that even today on a warm spring day the sweet smelling scent of molasses wafts through the city, a grim reminder of the Great Flood.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

By-Product Benefits

     Yesterday I wrote about the different levels of molasses, a by-product of the refining process of sugar cane and sugar beets.   When no additional sugar can be crystallized the residue that remains is molasses, a viscous, residual syrup.  It contains valuable substances that are beneficial to your health.  Let's take a look at what's actually in molasses.

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     "Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in your body.", writes Karen Curinga in a February 9, 2014 on-line article for  "Molasses is rich in calcium." She describes how it is crucial in building and maintaining strong bones and teeth.  Calcium helps to prevent osteoporosis.  Each 3.5 ounce serving of molasses contains 205 mg of the mineral that contributes to the healthy functioning of heart and nerve systems.  That's 21% of the daily values set by the FDA.


     Magnesium plays an important role in the activation of more than 300 enzymes that regulate the body's functioning.  Combined with calcium magnesium maintains proper muscle contraction and regulates blood pressure.  There is 61% of the daily value (242 mg) of magnesium in a mere 3.5 ounces of molasses.


     Just like magnesium, potassium plays an important role in the activation of enzymes, specifically related to carbohydrate and protein metabolism.  Potassium also helps maintain a steady heartbeat and helps balance body fluids.  3.5 ounces of molasses contains 1,464 mg of potassium, 42% of the recommended daily value.


     Molasses, especially the dark and blackstrap varieties, is rich in antioxidants.  Studies have shown that substituting alternative sweeteners like molasses in place of refined sugars can increase antioxidant levels on a par with a serving of berries or nuts.

So it's time to hunt for that bottle of molasses that's hidden in the back of your pantry and find more uses for this healthy alternative to sugar. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Matter of Degree

     Nancy Nesbitt from Augusta, Maine poses this question to the editors of Cuisine at home magazine:

     I noticed different types of molasses at the store.  Can you explain the differences?

Here is their reply:

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     Molasses is a thick, brown syrup.  It's a by product of the sugar-making process after sugar cane or sugar beets are boiled down and the sugar crystals are removed.  The more times it's boiled down, the spicier and more intense the molasses flavor becomes.

     First-boil molasses is often referred to as mild, light, sweet, or Barbados.  This type is, as expected, lighter in both flavor and color.  It's the most common and is used extensively in baking.

     Second-boil is known as full, dark, or robust.  Thicker, less sweet, darker, and stronger in flavor, this type is what gives gingerbread and molasses cookies their distinct color and flavor.  First and second-boil molasses can be used interchangeably.

     Third-boil is referred to as blackstrap.  It's a by far the thickest, darkest, and least sweet, and is somewhat bitter.  Great in savory dishes, use blackstrap molasses only when called for in a recipe.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Whole Grain Goodness

Here's a simple recipe from the pages of Fine Cooking magazine that you can try that will highlight the flavors of whole grain pasta:

Whole-Grain Penne
Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Corn

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Sweet, chewy dried tomatoes and brown butter infused with orange zest and spicy chile boost the whole-grain flavors of the pasta in this simple yet scrumptious weekend dish.


fine sea salt                                                 1 oz (1 cup) finely grated pecorino romano;
12 oz whole grain penne                                          more for serving
2 1/2 cups (12 oz) fresh or frozen           1/4 cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes,
     corn kernels                                                         drained and chopped
3 oz (6 Tbsp) unsalted butter,                 1/2 cup packed torn fresh basil leaves (1/2 oz),
     cut in a few pieces                                              preferably Thai basil
1 Tbsp finely grated orange zest
1 Fresno or other small fresh red chile, minced (remove seeds & ribs for less heat)


Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions until not quite al dente.  Add the corn and cook for 1 minute.

Meanwhile, place a small heatproof bowl next to the stove.  In a small, heavy duty saucepan (preferably stainless steel so you can monitor the color of the butter), melt the butter over medium-low heat and cook, watching closely and swirling occasionally, until it is golden brown with brown specks, 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the orange zest and chile (it will sizzle and foam), and cook, stirring for 30 seconds, then immediately pour into the bowl.

Reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.  Drain the pasta and corn, and return the mixture to the pot or a large heated serving bowl.  Using a large serving spoon, stir in 1/4 cup of the pasta water, the butter mixture, cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.  Toss vigorously for about 2 minutes until a glossy sauce forms, adding a bit more cooking water as needed to loosen the sauce.  Season to taste with salt.  Sprinkle with the basil.  Serve immediately, passing more cheese at the table.

Serves 4 to 6 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Eating Healthy, Eating Better

     Recently Maria Speck wrote about whole grain pastas.  In her article in Fine Cooking magazine she said, "They  may be lower in calories and higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals than regular pastas, but if they don't taste good, who cares?"  She then defends whole grain pasta by describing how they differ from regular pastas and then teaches us to adjust our way of preparing and presenting them.

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      Two things set whole grain pastas apart from regular pasta.  First is their coarser, chewier texture and second, their more assertive flavor.  Consider the difference between steak and chicken breast.  We couldn't think of substituting one for the other in a dinner recipe.  And the same goes for whole grain vs. regular pasta.  The take-away from that for us is to combine whole grain pastas with ingredients that highlight rather than compete with their unique characteristics.

     To that end Maria recommends choosing deeply savory flavors like roasted or caramelized vegetables like butternut squash, red onions and radicchio.  Earthy mushrooms, aged cheeses, spicy chiles, fragrant herbs, smokey bacon and salty prosciutto are all natural parings, as are anchovies, tuna and sardines.  "Ingredients like these will not only stand up to whole grain pastas' nutty flavors, but they'll enhance and harmonize them, too."

     By adding complimentary textures you can also enhance the rustic quality of whole grain pasta.  Add some toothy, chewy or crunchy ingredients like sun-dried tomatoes, corn, beans or nuts and you'll have a dish that's much more balanced and enticing.

Tomorrow: Some ways to serve whole grain pastas!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Scheduled Maintenance

     For the next two weeks there will be no VinnyPosts.  My PC will be down for some scheduled maintenance to upgrade some of the ancient programs.  Please look forward to my return soon!