Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I started this blog without putting much thought into the name. Actually, I lie. I did put some thought into it, but every half-decent cooking pun of a name I could come up with already seemed to be the name of someone else's blog. So since this is supposed to have something to do with science and food, I started thinking back through the words I associate most with the lab and with cooking. I thought maybe I could go with something like 'Dinner's in the Incubator' or 'Cooking protocols' or something like that.

But then I remembered the time back in grad school when I happened upon a large group of people (hippie-ish music students mostly, no offense to hippies or musicians) protesting GM (genetically modified) foods. I myself haven't really thought about my opinion on GM foods recently, but the thing that got me during this protest was that they were chanting 'No DNA in my tomatoes.' Now, I'm pretty sure that in my first biology class they taught us that plants, as well as animals, have DNA. It turns out that these guys were protesting fish genes in their tomatoes (and to their credit, some of the signs did say
'Keep your fish DNA out of my tomatoes.')

That phrase stuck with me, however, and I just pulled it out of the depths of my brain today and decided it wouldn't be such a bad name for this blog. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the new, re-branded 'No DNA in My Tomatoes' blog. Someday I'll figure out how to change the URL and/or migrate the posts over to a new address...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Hummus and pesto and bread, oh my.

The topic of the day is making things at home that most normal people buy at the store. Again, I think this all started with my parents. Dad makes homemade spaghetti sauce from his garden tomatoes. Mom used to bake fresh bread all the time when I was in pre-school and early elementary school (before she went back to work). I of course used to want the 'floppy bread' the other kids had for their sandwiches, much the same way that I never wanted an afternoon nap when I was 3, but man-oh-man do I want one now!

What do I make at home that might seem a bit odd to some people, and why do I bother? Hummus, salsa, pesto, mac and cheese, Chex mix, pizza dough, bread (though I did the latter 2 far more when I lived in the US and had a breadmaker), the list goes on. I've even been making milk at home for the past 4 months (ew, gross, I know). Seriously, though, I once even made my own ketchup, and experimented with flour tortillas but for all the work they weren't really that great. One day I swear I am going to try making my own bagels (my friend A gave me a recipe about 8 years ago...) and doughnuts (I just saw what sounds like a brilliant recipe for baked doughnuts and can't wait to try it...), granola and pasta. I suppose I should make my own mayo (and bacon/pancetta as one of my friends is doing) as well, but who has time for that?

So why? Well, sometimes because I wanted a healthier version of something (eg, lower-fat hummus and pesto), sometimes because I couldn't find a version to my liking in the UK (eg, the salsa), and sometimes just because I wanted to see if I could (and if my version would taste better than store-bought).

And now the fun part. The tip of the day. Well, it's actually a recipe of the day. But, there are a couple of tips buried within it.

Lower-fat homemade hummus
2 small cans of chickpeas (each 410 g/240 g drained), drained and rinsed (not sure of equivalent American can sizes - should be about 14-15 oz)

1/4 c plain lowfat (or fat free) yogurt
2-3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 T sesame oil
2 tsp olive oil

salt to taste (1/4-1/2 tsp)
freshly ground black pepper (about 1/8 tsp)
pinch of cayenne pepper (to taste; I use about 1/8 tsp)
Put the chickpeas, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and oils into a food processor and whiz everything up for a couple of minutes until it's fairly smooth. Add more yogurt if needed to thin it out. Taste, and then add seasonings. Taste a few times while adding the seasoning to be sure you don't get too much. Also, some chickpeas come canned in salted water (rather than unsalted). If there is salt in the chickpeas, be sure to rinse them well, and start out easy on the added salt.

Enjoy with pita bread or, if you're trying to be really healthy, fresh raw veggies (carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, green beans).

For a fancy touch, drizzle some good olive oil over the top of the hummus in the serving bowl and sprinkle with some paprika or cayenne pepper. You can even add a sprig of parsley or a few whole chickpeas to the center of the dish.

Finally, t
he tips. This hummus is lower-fat because the large quantities of olive oil and tahini traditionally found in hummus is replaced with yogurt and just a small amount of oil (sesame for a tahini-like flavor). In all, there is about 20 g of fat in the whole batch, and since it makes so much, it works out to about 2 g per serving, I think. Lowfat plain yogurt is a great way to reduce the amount of fat in other dishes as well. For example, it can replace sour cream when used as a condiment (like on your tacos or baked potato), not in baking. It can also be used in place of some or all of the mayo in things like tuna salad.

The other tips involve juicing the lemon. Before cutting the lemon (or other citrus fruit) in half for juicing, roll it on the counter under the palm of your hand to get the juices flowing. Also, when you juice the fruit, you can use a fancy gizmo, but you can also just squeeze the lemon in your hand, letting the juice run through your fingers to catch the seeds.