Posts Tagged MILK

French Macarons and Added Sugars

 

McDonalds Pastry Selection, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris. @gourmetmetrics

McDonalds Pastry Selection, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Paris.
@gourmetmetrics

 A beautiful pastry selection. Wouldn’t you agree?  We took the picture during a recent trip to Paris. And yes the pastry selection really was in McDonalds. And yes that McDonalds really is on the Champs-Élysées just about a block down from the Arc de Triomphe.

Now check out those 6 plates in the center. Those are plates of French Macarons. See the two plates in different hues of green. Then a plate of vibrant pink. And two more plates of chocolate-browns and one of cream. All beautifully sculpted and artfully arranged. All perfect. And all tasting deliciously sweet.

If you were standing in front of that gorgeous display, how many would you eat? Just between you and me, I don’t have a well developed sweet tooth so a good French macaron is almost too sweet for me. One or two is all I can eat at a time.

Now if you have a well developed sweet tooth and are feeling an irresistible urge to indulge, here’s the good news. You don’t have to go to Paris to savor the delicacy. There are stores in New York and other metropolitan cities dedicated to Macarons. Specialty manufacturers have picked up on the trend and providing packaged Macarons in stores and via the internet. Websites like Food Network or Epicurious also feature recipes for making Macarons at home.

The cookie is sweet, light, airy, and dainty. Made with sugar, almond meal (no flour and therefore no wheat), egg whites, cream, butter, and flavorings, the list of ingredients is straightforward and simple.

Had I been at a McDonald’s here in New York, calories for these Macarons would be easy to access. Several cities including New York City require it and McDonald’s has decided to be proactive posting nutrient information in restaurants and online. But Paris has no such municipal regulations so no calories and no other nutrient data.

Based on comparing data from boutique providers and recipe nutrient tags, here’s my guesstimate for my two French Macarons. Weights can vary of course but depending on selection one can expect 5 to 6 Macarons per 100 grams. So for calories let’s say 70 to 80 per each or 140 to 160 calories for two.

As for sugars, it’s safe to assume the carbohydrate is all added sugar. The other ingredients (almond meal, egg whites, cream, butter) are not carbohydrate sources except for just a whisper of lactose from the heavy cream. Good news for celiacs and those with a wheat allergy because Macarons are both gluten free and contain no wheat. Bad news for folks with a nut or milk allergy.

But who really cares? I do. But I’m a self confessed nutrition nerd. So who else cares?

A group of committed health professional food activists care. They believe their duty is to help others eat better and healthier. They care a lot. Then there’s a group made up of food manufacturers and restaurants. This group cares too but for completely different reasons.

Now you may be asking what does all this have to do with French Macarons?

Like so many other packages on the shelf, there’s added sugars in French Macaron. Quite a lot of added sugars actually. Sugar by weight is over 40% of the macaron’s total weight. Or calories from added sugars are over 40% of the total calories. However you measure it, that’s a lot of sweet.

The government has already spent significant resources constructing the new regulations. Manufacturers are now being asked to spend significant dollars to research and update their labels. Soon it will be our turn. Were consumers willing to invest the time to read and understand labels, the investment would be easy to justify. Especially if the information transmitted resulted in a decrease in obesity rates.

But here’s the catch. Will listing added sugar grams on the label discourage folks from eating too many French macarons? That’s the crucial question. Personality, I don’t think so.

Do you think the folks who just love these sweet delicate little treats will pay much attention and eat less?

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Which would you choose for dessert? Panna cotta. Valhrona chocolate cake. Ice cream. Or something else …

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Imagine you’re sitting in a popular Manhattan restaurant. The meal you’ve just finished was worth every calorie invested and every dollar spent because of culinary excellence and ingredient quality. Now it’s time for one more decision. Do you want dessert?

The dessert menu comes and three items catch your eye. Homemade ice cream – a couple of scoops made with heavy cream from grassfed cows. Panna cotta – an Italian creation made from cream, sugar, sometimes buttermilk and molded with gelatin for spectacular presentation. Valhrona chocolate cake – one of the world’s finest chocolates mixed with almond meal and wheat flour, sugars, butter, eggs, and finished with a dark chocolate glaze.

So which one would you go with?

There is always the option to skip dessert of course but when you’re having a meal out with a special person and the wine that you drank with dinner has gone ever so slightly to your head, and you love desserts, most folks just don’t skip this “best part of the meal”.

My choice is none of the above. I ask in my most polite professional manner if the restaurant can provide a fruit plate. And I’m not surprised when most of the time the response is we’re really sorry but we’re not able to do fruit plates.

Most restaurants in or out of Manhattan are not set up for fruit plates. Sometimes restaurants put a little fruit on a cheese plate, but that’s usually considered an appetizer. Fruit also appears in tarts or pies or ice cream flavors. But ripe seasonal fruit beautifully presented on a plate is not readily available in most restaurants. And I understand why.

Fresh fruit is perishable. Stone fruits and berries have a finite shelf life and bruise easily. Apples need to be under constant refrigeration and humidity once they are picked. Melons will keep okay for a while until you cut them open … To sum it up, most fruits, with the exception of citrus, grapes, bananas, or pears, are just not good keepers.

Now my preference for a fruit plate has nothing to do with the calories. Although the difference is dramatic. A piece of the Valhrona cake could run as high as 400 calories in an elite restaurant. Not too bad compared with say a slice of chocolate cake from the cheesecake factors at 1500 calories. But still a hit after good meal and a glass of wine. The panna cotta would be less intense and would run around 250 calories for a serving. And the ice cream depending on the size and number of scoops will clock in between 250 and 500 calories. That fruit plate above at most 120 calories.

The reason for the dramatic calorie difference is of course the water content. Count about 30% water for the cake, 65% water for the panna cotta, 60% for the ice cream, and almost 90% for fresh fruit.

And that’s exactly why I choose fruit. Love that refreshing wonderful slightly acidic water, especially after a restaurant meal. Cool, wet, refreshing, and sweetened with natural sugars. Guess you can figure out where that beautiful picture came from. And the fruit was as good as it looks. Down to the last raspberry.

BUY GOOD STUFF.   Nectarine. Grapefruit. Peach. Blackberries. Raspberries. Buy good stuff even when you eat in a restaurant

COUNT WHAT MATTERS.  Here’s how a nutrition label would look:  120 calories, 1 gram fat, 21 grams total sugars (includes 6 grams fiber, 7 grams sugars, 0 grams added sugars) and 1 gram protein. If you check the food composition for fruit, most of the weight is water weight. Not just any old tap water weight but naturally rich vitamin mineral infused water including potassium plus phytonutrients depending on the color of the fruit.

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Classic Risotto

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Good risotto requires three essentials – time, patience, and a healthy dose of respect for ingredients.  The last risotto I made was at Thanksgiving.  My brother in law, an aspiring amateur, volunteered me.  He had crafted a non-conventional spread, got caught up in other preparations, and asked me to give him a hand.  All the right stuff was assembled and my job became the time and the patience part.    Once you get the hang of making risotto, you really do not need a recipe because much of the work is coaxing the rice into absorbing just the right amount of broth then stirring in some more cheese and butter.

The process is straightforward.   Melt about half the butter in a pan, stir the rice into the melted butter, let it sizzle softly, start adding broth little by little until at the end the broth is absorbed and the rice is cooked just al dente.  Incorporate the rest of the butter and cheese.  Serve immediately.

When one of the essentials is missing, you get a bad risotto.  Not enough time.  Not enough patience.   Or insufficient respect for the integrity of the ingredients.  My first risotto was not all that good, but with practice you get the feel of it and with each repetition, the risotto gets better.

Classic proportions for four people as listed in my favorite Italian recipe source, Le Ricette Regionali Italiane: Quarta Edizione 1976, are as follows:  400 grams rice, 100 grams butter, 1 ½ liters stock, 80 grams parmigiano.  Optional ingredients:  medium onion, olive oil, white wine, saffron, salt, and pepper.   Translated into common American measure:

2 cups short grain rice, measured dry

               7 tablespoons unsalted butter

               6 cups chicken or beef stock

               1 cup grated parmigiano

Now, you may be asking, what has to be done to a sumptuous, sinfully delicious dish like risotto to make an ugly risotto?  Let me explain.

Way back in 1997, as New York City restaurants were expanding their portion sizes and Americans were expanding their waistlines, four nutrition professionals and an intrepid food writer at The New York Times conducted a calorie counting experiment.  The original article is still available at the Times website “Losing Count of Calories as the Plate Fills Up” and that is where I found it recently.

The purpose of that article was to highlight expanding portion sizes in restaurants.  The signature dish was a risotto, which laboratory analysis determined contained 1280 calories and 110 grams of fat.

Under the most benign conditions, risotto is certainly not what you would call a light dish.  Just check out the nutrition numbers below for a classic portion.  Good risotto needs the right amount of butter and cheese to make it decadently delicious.

So I said to myself, what would you have to do to classic proportions to get 1280 calories and 110 grams of fat?  Classic proportions by weight are consistent no matter which source you choose, so establishing a ratio is relatively easy.  Ratios work by weight, so bear with me and we will walk through the weights together.

The ratio of rice to butter for the classic version is 4 to 1.  In other words, four parts rice to one part butter plus the handful of cheese.  In metric units, that is 400 grams rice to 100 grams butter.  Or in common measure about 2 cups rice to 7 tablespoons butter.

It actually took me a while to retrofit the ratio to yield 1280 calories and 110 grams of fat.  When I finally succeed, there was a lot more fat and a lot less rice.  The calories from fat go from 44% for the classic risotto to 77% for this risotto.  Starting with the same 400 grams / 2 cups rice, the butter needs to be increased to 600 grams.  That is 43 tablespoons or 1 ⅓ pounds.  Plus that handful of cheese.  And who knows what kind of fat the restaurant used?  Fresh unsalted butter?  Margarine?  Fats of unknown origin?

So how did it taste?  To my great disappointment, not one of the nutrition professionals or even the intrepid food writer commented on how this risotto tasted so we will never know.  What we do know, however, is that whatever this risotto was, it was not classic.  I love butter.  And I love cheese.  But too much of a good thing can get ugly and that is why I decided to call this risotto ugly.   So back it goes filed under nutrition in the archives of the New York Times.  I plan to stay with a small portion of my decadently delicious and very good classic risotto.

 

One Portion Classic Risotto,  about 1 ½ cups (364g):  Calories 530, Fat 26g, Saturated Fat 16g, Sodium 370mg, Carbohydrate 59g, Fiber 2g, Protein 13g.
One Portion Ugly Risotto, about 2 ½  cups (640g):  Calories 1280, Fat 110g, Saturated Fat 70g, Sodium 350mg, Carbohydrate 55g, Fiber 2g, Protein 12g.

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Fresh Pasta

My experiment for this batch of fresh pasta was to try white all purpose whole wheat flour and it worked beautifully.  Cooked in salted water and dressing with say Roman artichokes, grated parmigiano, and extra virgin olive oil, the final product was delicious.  I used a hand cranked pasta machine with a four inch roller and “fettuccine” cutters for this batch.

  • makes 1/3 pound (150 grams) fresh pasta

  • cost $2.70 per pound

  • serves 2 to 4 depending on portion size

INGREDIENTS

 white whole wheat flour, ¾ to ⅞ cup  (100g)

egg, 1 large

METHOD

Weigh out (or measure) flour.  Place in bowl or on a board.  Add the egg.   Knead until the moisture from the egg has absorbed as much flour as it can hold.  Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about an hour.  Divide the dough into 6 pieces.  Working one piece at a time, finish the kneading process by putting each piece through the large rollers until it is soft and pliable.  Then flatten the piece by progressing from the wide roller setting to the narrow roller setting and cut the piece using one of the two cutting blades.  Form into a nest, use immediately, or freeze.

  • The exact amount of flour depends on the moisture content of the flour and the moisture in the egg.  The goal is just the right amount of flour and moisture and is more dependent of getting a feel for the dough than on an exact measurement.  If the dough is too dry, it becomes brittle, lacks pliability, and cannot be rolled or cut successfully.  If the dough is too moist, it gets stuck in the rollers and the cutters and ends up making a sticky mess.

  • Using the same ratio of 100 grams flour to 1 extra large egg, different combinations of flour can be used:  all purpose unbleached white flour, whole wheat all purpose flour.  You can also experiment with using semolina flour, up to 25% of the total amount.   Because the recipe is weight based, proportions are expandable.

NB:  Making fresh pasta requires a pasta making machine.  Models available today come with a wider cutting surface which makes the process go faster.  If I were getting one today, I would get the wider cutting surface.  But I don’t make enough pasta to warrant replacing the one I have and my machine has a lot of sentimental value for me because I bought it on my first trip to Rome and hand carried it back home.

 METRICS

Cost.  I priced fresh pasta and it runs $3.50 to $4.00 per pound in one of my local supermarkets.  Making it at home cost me less, but the difference is not significant enough however to justify my labor.  Pasta only gets made at home if you like the taste better and you think it is fun.

 Calories.   Proportions for fresh pasta used consistently in my Italian source books are 200 grams flour and 2 eggs for 4 people. These classic proportions are a little larger that our current Serving Size for pasta which is 1 about cup. I prefer a smaller portion, say half the size of the classic Italian portion.

Classic Italian Portion (163g):  Calories 210, Fat 3.5g, Saturated Fat 1g, Sodium 270mg, Carbohydrate 36g, Fiber 5g, Protein 10g.
My Smaller Portion (82g cooked):   Calories 100, Fat 2g, Saturated Fat 0g, Sodium 135mg, Carbohydrate 18g, Fiber 3g, Protein 5g. 

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Camembert Cheese and Apples

We all love cheese.  But it is the French who have mastered the art of serving cheese and setting it within the structure of a meal.  Try serving cheese accompanied with fruit after the meal instead of a dessert.  Most people do not complain and for those who do, just serve a “real” dessert too.  If you have never tried, you may find cheese is more satisfying at the end of a meal than something sweet and syrupy.  Cheese is fun to experiment with.  Most people quickly determine which types they like and which types they can do without.  Each cheese has its own unique character and its own finite shelf life.  A hard cheese like parmiggiano or aged cheddar will keep months as long as it is stored correctly.  A fresh cheese like goat should be eaten relatively quickly.  A camembert will keep a while.  The delicate aromas and textures of cheese are enhanced when served at room temperature, so remove cheese from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.  Pictured below is the local Hudson Valley Camember cheese (5.6 ounces/156g) I picked up at my Greenmarket. Hudson Valley Camembert & ThinCrisps

one camembert cheese       6-8 ounces (150g-250g)

cost $7.00 – $10.00

calories depends on size

serves 6 to 10

140 calories per serving

 Green Apples Fall

Pictured here on the left are the green Pepin apples I also picked up at the Greenmarket.   Thin crispbreads, water thins, or a good baguette are a must.  Crispbreads or water thins are my preference because they provide a surface for tasting and savoring cheese but are less calorie dense than bread.  A plain wooden board makes the best serving plate.  The best garnish is an attractive cheese knife.

RECIPE

camembert cheese, count 1 ounce (25g-30g) per person

box of crispbreads

crisp fall apples, count 1/2 apple per person

METRICS

Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein, but is also high in butterfat and for sodium for some people.  See nutrition information for fat content.  So here is the question — can we eat our cheese and be healthy too?  Guess the answer to this one has got to be it depends …

A serving of cheese on my plate is about an ounce or 25 to 30 grams.  Small is beautiful!

Comparing my cheese plate to the calories in an equivalent dessert say a piece of cheesecake, the camembert does well.  A classic restaurant style cheesecake will run about 550 calories, considerable more than my camembert plate.  More extravagant cheesecakes go up exponentially up from there to 1000 calories or more.  As for salt, comparing my camembert to an equivalent weight of American process cheese, the camembert has less sodium.

Liz Thorpe has written a wonderful book chronicling how local cheese makers across our country have reinvented European traditions for American consumption.  Check out The Cheese Chronicles:  A Journey through the Making and Selling of Cheese in American, from Field to Farm to Table, 2009.

 

Per Serving of cheese,crispbread, and apple (103 g):  Calories 140, Fat 7g, Saturated Fat 4g, Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 20mg, Sodium 290mg, Carbohydrate 14g, Fiber 1g, Protein 6g.

 

 

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Strawberries

Being from California, I have had to adjust to New York’s limited growing season.  Strawberry season is short and sweet beginning about mid-June and lasting into July as weather conditions permit.  Fresh local berries are fragile and perishable.  Pictured below are 1 dry quart (liter) of a variety called Honeoye.  Grown upstate New York, transported downstate, and sold at my local GreenMarket, they were held in my refrigerator from late that afternoon to the next day when I took the picture.  Notice how the berries differ in size and color.  It’s normal because that is how nature grew them.  Most local strawberries are sold by the dry quart (liter) and a dry quart of strawberries weighs about  570 grams.

Fresh local strawberries are expensive, perishable, and special.  They are the first fruit of the season and announce good things to come!

Fresh Local Strawberries

yield 4 cups (1 liter)

cost $6.00

calories 170

serves 4

45 calories per serving

RECIPE

Fresh Local Strawberries:   Can something this simple really be called a recipe?

1 dry quart fresh, local strawberries, picked within the last 24 hours

Hold in refrigerator, wash just before serving leaving stems intact.Serve with brown sugar as needed.

Nature is prolific producing lots of berries all at once.  So what is to be done with the berries you can’t eat?  My preferred approach is sugar and brandy.  It is not the only approach, but it is definitely my favorite.  Sugar acts like salt pulling the juices out of the berries which then mixes in with the brandy to form a bright red slightly alcoholic syrup.  Strawberries macerated in sugar and brandy hold well for at least another couple days.

yieldMascerated Strawberries  3 cups (700ml)

cost $8.00

calories 450

serves 6

70 calories per serving

Macerated strawberries:

1 dry quart fresh, local strawberries, washed, stems removed (540 gram)

3 tablespoons brandy

3 tablespoons turbinado sugar

6 tablespoons 0% strained Greek yogurt for garnish

Place washed and stemmed berries in a bowl.  Add sugar and brandy and carefully stir in berries.  Cover and let macerate in the refrigerator for 24 hours.  Serve garnished with a generous dollop of Greek yogurt.

METRICS FOR 1 DRY QUART (1 LITER)

Notice the calories.  Adding sugar, brandy, and yogurt nearly doubles the calories per serving.  Compared to a calorie dense real dessert, however, macerated berries are a much better choice.  Now notice the cost.  Fresh, local berries are expensive.  I know most people choose a “real” dessert, but I have always preferred to end a meal with a fruit.  Less calorie dense, sweetness balanced against a mild acidity, and unfortunately a lot more costly!

All berries scores well on what is called the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity.  Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are all grouped near the top of the scale keeping good company with almonds and pomegranate.  ORAC is a method of measuring antioxidant capacities in laboratory test tubes and as Wikipedia points out “there exists no physiological proof in vivo that this theory is valid.”  Besides a good ORAC score, fresh strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C.

 

Per Serving fresh (135g):  45 Calories, Fat 0g, Saturated Fat  0g, Sodium  0mg, Carbohydrate  10g, Fiber  3g, Protein  1g.
Per Serving macerated (117g):  70 Calories, Fat 0g, Saturated Fat  0g, Sodium  10mg, Carbohydrate  13g, Fiber  2g, Protein  2g.
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

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