Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Booze in my backyard

So this is pretty neat: an article in The Atlantic about the Finger Lakes wine growing region.

I’m not particularly partial to Finger Lakes wine, being a California native and working in Napa and Sonoma for a couple field seasons. But the Reislings are notable, and I do try to support local wineries and businesses.  So maybe I need to take another look, or drink, around the region.

Eat more bugs?

This is an article from Good about the possibility of including insects in our diet as a form of protein to increase food supplies. It’s an interesting proposition, as there are already several countries where insects are regularly consumed, either as a delicacy or as a staple for particular dishes. Here’s a list of the many edible insects from Girl Meets Bug, though I can’t say I’ve tried many. While this may be a way of addressing hunger issues, it doesn’t directly address many of the political challenges associated with food distribution nor the nutritional requirements for a balanced diet.

The Good article also highlights some other common uses of insects, including cochineal. It should be corrected that cochineal are not beetles, they’re scale insects in the order Hemiptera.

Genius

Robert Krulwich of Radiolab was recently awarded the Macarthur Genius grant.  Bravo!

His most recent post on Krulich Wonders, an NPR blog, presents a beautiful and delicious meal.  Complementary dishes for vegetarians and meat eaters, what Studiofeast calls their Doppleganger Dinner.  Looks like something I could really get behind… Duck breast with celery and sweet potato vs. grilled watermelon with fennel and carrots.

Image courtesy of NPR

 

Not only does this seem like a fun culinary exercise, it makes a statement about vegetarian diets.  That doesn’t seem so bad in light of our expanding agricultural environmental footprint (more on that later).

Who’s Who #2

That cute little critter from Wednesday is a pest of the plant below!

If you’ve never seen asparagus growing in a field, this is what it looks like (picture was taken about a week ago in western New York).  It’s asparagus season, and in fact I had some deliciously prepared asparagus at a tapas restaurant in town last night.  My favorite preparation of asparagus is quite simple.  I arrange the stalks on a baking sheet, drizzle with some olive oil, squeeze some lemon juice over them, sprinkle a bit of garlic powder and pepper, then bake for about 30 minutes at 375º until tender but crisp.

Wednesday’s bug is the spotted asparagus beetle, Criocercis duodecimpunctata.  Here’s our spotlight pest on the crop itself.

Photo courtesy of Insect Images

The beetles are quite small, about 6-8mm in length.  Spotted asparagus beetles are in the family Chrysomelidae and may resemble ladybugs to the untrained eye.  It is distinguished from ladybugs by the six spots on each wing with longer antennae and an almost rectangular shape.  (Ladybugs tend to be more oval or almost totally round with similar but varying coloration.)  This particular species of asparagus beetle is often considered a secondary pest of asparagus, with the asparagus beetle Criocercis asparagi the most common pest (below).

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Both these pests directly damage the asparagus crop by feeding on tips and spears.  Furthermore, C. duodecimpunctata feed on the asparagus berries of the male plant.  Cutting stalks close to the ground is a good way to manage for asparagus beetle, not allowing larvae to establish in the crop.  Removing dead stalks over winter can also help reduce success of overwintering populations.  Particularly for the spotted asparagus beetle, removing asparagus berries can help reduce pest populations in home gardens.

Now that the weather has finally warmed up, it’s time to get working on the summer garden.  As soon as these thunderstorms let the soil dry up.  Happy gardening!

Mite-y Cheese

Here’s a road I never thought I’d go down: using arthropods to flavor cheese….WHAT?!  Most excellent.

Photo Courtesy of Cabot Cheese

Last night I went to the Science Cabaret with a friend to learn about the art and science of cheesemaking.  There was chemistry, food science, tasting, and to my surprise, entomology as well!

Enter: cheese mites.  At first I was wondering if they were just referring to unknown creatures as “mites” but indeed, cheese mites are truly mites in the subclass Acari.  Often times, these cheese mites are considered a pest of stored food (maybe in this case aged food) if their arrival is unexpected.  The best way to deal with mite pests is to vacuum the cheese to remove mites (no joke) and make sure to keep the aging shelves clean to prevent mites from recolonizing.

But sometimes, cheese mites are good.  Really.  In fact, cheese makers will purposely introduce mites as part of the maturing process to flavor the cheese and get a good rind.  A study published recently identified two important cheese mites: Acarus siro on Mimolette cheese and Tyrolichus casei on Milbenkase cheese.  These two styles of cheese are specialty cheeses from France and Germany, respectively.  Section a in the figure below illustrates a mite specimen of A. siro. b, c, and d illustrate identifying morphological characteristics of cheese mites.

Photo courtesy of Journal of Dairy Science

There are a few other arthropods associated with cheese making, including cheese flies in the family Piophilidae. These flies are not specific to cheese and may be pests of cured meats or cause intestinal damage in humans.  But the intentional introduction of maggots to pecorino cheese yields the Italian delicacy casu marzu.  See Gordon Ramsey’s segment below.

Mmm cheese.  Even Mental Floss is blogging about it.  And Tina Fey.  Better get working on my night cheese.

Potato potata

It seems an auspicious time when I come across extremely similar recipes on two different food blogs that I follow…especially when they’re crispy potato roasts from The Bitten Word and Smitten Kitchen. And my office mate was just talking about home made potato chips. Good thing I’m making dinner for the house tomorrow.

With all this talk about potatoes, how could I not mention the devastatingly cute Colorado Potato Beetle and all the havoc it’s wrecked over the years.

Leptinotarsa decemlineata is a beetle native to North America that originally fed on other Solanaceous plants.  It’s primary host is the cultivated potato, but also does damage to tomato and eggplant crops.  The potato beetle is multivoltine, having several generations per growing season.  Because of this, early management of the pest is key to minimizing loss.  While chemical control is perhaps the most common management strategy, the development of resistance to insecticides is increasing in many populations.  Other non-chemical controls are equally important in managing this pest, which might include changing crop planting times, applying mulches, or lining trenches in the periphery of the field to reduce early season colonization of the pest.  At home, physically removing adults or egg masses can be an effective way of managing the problem.

Until next time, I leave you with delicious preparations of potatoes, so versatile!

Potato au gratin

Twice baked potatoes

Potato salad

And if that weren’t enough, there’s always potato-origin beverages….  Happy Slope Day 2011!

Frankenfoods

There has been and continues to be a lot of discussion regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or genetic engineering (GE).  While there are many things that fall under this category, I’m going to stick to food crops (which is an expansive category in itself).

This is what I’m not interested in.

Although it looks pretty cool, and might entice children who are picky eaters to try something nutritious, I find the blue hue of strawberries completely unnecessary and unnatural.  It looks radioactive and reminds me of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Speaking of which, who thought it was a good idea to let kids pal around with teenaged mutant turtles who were ninjas and took orders from a sewer rat?  That said, I loved that cartoon.)

What intrigues me is the possibility of using genetic engineering to reduce the use of pesticides, reduce environmental impact, and help create a more sustainable agricultural system for the future.  The blue strawberry above is an example of one kind of genetically engineering a transgenic crop.  An arctic flounder gene coding for an antifreeze protein was introduced to strawberry to help protect the crop against frost.  In theory, it seems like a pretty good idea to protect crops.  But I’m curious to hear the reasoning for using a fish protein in contrast to a cold-hardy plant from the tundra regions of the world.

Another hot commodity in the Frankenfoods debate is Bt corn.  Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacteria currently used in organic agriculture as an insecticide for particular crops.  Different strains of Bt are effective against different kinds of pests which means not all pests are susceptible to the insecticide.  The bacteria produces proteins which disrupt the gut membrane of insects, causing pests to stop feeding.  Currently, Bt has been genetically engineered into certain field crops like corn, soy, and potatoes.  Instead of the pest coming into contact naturally with the bacteria, the plant continuously produces the protein toxic to insects.  This dramatically reduces the insecticides necessary to control pests, as is the case with Bt corn and the European Corn Borer.  But it’s important to keep in mind that all the concerns about insecticide resistance and resistance management still exists for Bt crops.

Photo courtesy of Iowa State Entomology

Genetic engineering is not a cure or a method.  It’s merely a tool that might assist with production and the promotion of sustainable agriculture.  It is equally important that we proceed with caution and concern for social and cultural values.  It’s a complex issue that has no singular answer.  And that seems to be my answer for everything.

For more information, Harvest of Fear was a televised report by NOVA and Frontline exploring this issue.  The report can be viewed on YouTube by clicking here.  The Future of Food was a documentary on the same issue produced by Deborah Koons Garcia.