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It’s been about a week since I’ve started this new non-HFCS diet and I’m finding the results to be quite interesting. A lot of foods that I would have suspected to be sweetened with corn syrup, like salad dressings and even Hostess mini muffins, lack the sticky substance, while other items, like Stove Top Stuffing, Miracle Whip, and every cereal I grew up on list HFCS as one of its main ingredients. It seems that the best way to navigate a non corn syrup diet isn’t by food types but by brands (I’m speaking of course about processed foods). The vilification of HFCS has caused a lot of brands to switch out the ingredient or to proudly advertise its absence (see the recent promotions by Pepsi and Coke and their substitution for real sugar).

I suppose the easiest way to avoid corn syrup is to eat completely organic and buy all my food from Whole Foods. But let’s be honest–I’m a college student on a modest income. For the most part, I’ll choose generic to save that extra $.39 cents (but not on key ingredients like vanilla, cheese, and chocolate). I’m not going to pay an extra 20% to make things easy. We’re doing this the right way–processed foods and all!

I found a list of items that have HFCS. It’s fairly old but gives you a glimpse to how prevalent it is in foods.

http://www.accidentalhedonist.com/index.php/2005/06/09/foods_and_products_containing_high_fruct

Something to note: high fructose corn syrup is in Robitussin. Lets hope I don’t get sick.

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Oh, Thailand. What a strange little place. Home of cheap whores, cheap booze, cheap fun, cheap food and cheaper tourists. Home sweet home.

Being the foodie and glutton that I am, my nostalgia takes on a very peculiar culinary twist. Instead of thinking of people and places, I start salivating over memories of food – the softness and warmth of a ball of black sticky rice, the kick of the tiny prik kee noo chilis after a fork full of som tam, the potent pungency of kapi shrimp paste in my beloved spicy green mango salad. Home, for me, is where the stomach is. And the stomach is most at home in the kitchen of one’s childhood.

And nothing captures the mind – and stomach – of Thailand’s prodigal sons and daughters quite like a still-sizzling Thai-style omelet served on a steaming plate of rice. Why, it had even inspired many an ode, including this classic musical number by the famous Chaleang band:

It is the dish that 99.9% of Thais grew up on. It is the go-to item for when you don’t know what to eat, and the thing you order at the corner kao kaeng (literally, rice and curry) street hawker (much to the chagrin of old auntie food seller) after a good ten minutes of contemplation yielded naught. It is what I make myself when I am feeling particularly nostalgic. It is, in essence, the quintessential Thai comfort food.

A basic Kai Jeaw, or Thai omelet (Kai means egg, and Jeaw is the act of frying something in lots of hot oil), consists only of eggs, beaten until light and fluffy, (and usually a little fish sauce or soy sauce) fried in a pan or wok full of hot, hot oil. And as with any basic recipe, just about everyone has their own variation on the theme: some like theirs extra crispy, some add tomatoes and other veggies to the eggs, and some prefer it served with Sriracha hot sauce (the Thai kind, which, unlike its Vietnamese American counterpart, is a sweet-ish, smooth orange sauce, not a puree). One of the most common variations, however, is Kai Jeaw Moo Sub, or Kai Jeaw with ground pork. This is, by far, my favourite, since the pork adds a certain tenderness and meatiness to the eggs. Without further ado, I present to you my take on this childhood favourite.

Kai Jeaw Moo Sub

serves one

Ingredients
2 eggs
1-2 tsp fish sauce or soy sauce (I will probably get massacred by Thai food hardliners for this, but in most cases, I use the two interchangeably)
1/2 cup ground pork (I marinated mine in soysauce, sake, ground peppers and dried chili flakes, but this is not necessary)
a handful of fresh basil leaves
2 tsp water
vegetable oil
patience and self restraint

a plate of steamed rice

how we do
To make sure that the oil is hot enough and to save time, set up your pan first. Fill your pan or wok up with oil (normal pans work just fine – just make sure it’s big enough). I don’t care if you’re using a nonstick pan – fill that baby up. There needs to be at least 1/2 inch of oil at the bottom of your pan. Turn the heat up all the way.

Next, crack your eggs into a bowl that’s big enough to withstand heavy beating (i.e. the bowl should be less than half filled with the eggs). Add water (water helps make the eggs fluffy) and soy sauce or fish sauce (add more or less than recommended, to taste). With a fork, beat the eggs up. Go at it. No mercy. It’s very cathartic – another reason why this is an excellent comfort food. To get maximum air incorporated into the eggs, tilt the bowl a towards yourself and your fork hand, set your fork horizontally, facing 45 degrees away from you, and beat using a fast, circular motion that lifts the egg mixture in the air… like mini tsunamis. Keep on going until the entire surface is frothy and pale. Add the ground pork and basil leaves, then beat some more to make evenly distribute the meat.

Now, check whether your pan is hot enough by dropping a tiny bit of the egg mixture (i.e. from the tip of your fork) into the pan. If the droplet sizzles and puffs up immediately, then you are good to go. If not, wait. Oil that’s not hot enough will result in soggy, greasy, yucky kai jeaw. yeuch. When the pan is good and ready, pour the egg mixture into the centre of the pan from as high as you can manage. The height adds even more air into the mix, making your eggs extra crispy and fluffy. Wusses do not good Thai cooks make. Now wait. if you feel the need to prod and probe your eggs, don’t. Just don’t. Meddling with your eggs prematurely (for example, by throwing oil into the centre to help it cook faster) will result in greasy, oily kai jeaw, much in the same way that peaking will scare away the tooth fairy and lose you your reward… or something.

Once the edges are all crisp and golden brown and most of the egg mixture is nice and firm, wriggle your spatula as far under the omelet as you can, and with one swift, decisive motion, flip the mo’ fo’. Let cook for another 10 seconds or so (again, no touchy!), then lift out of the pan and onto the waiting plate of steaming rice (or, you know, just a plate. to each his own).

Now, your choice of condiment is pretty broad. Some people like their kai jeaw with Sriracha hot sauce, as mentioned above, and some with ketchup, even. I like mine the country way, with nam pla prik, or fish sauce with chilis. You can make this really simply by adding some chopped chilis (the smaller, the spicier) and a splash of fresh lime juice (usually from one lime wedge) to a bowl of fish sauce (adjust proportions to taste). Or, if you, like me, have none of those things, then soy sauce, chili flakes and a splash of bottled lime/lemon juice work just fine.

High fructose corn syrup has been catching a lot of flack lately as the cause and end-all-be-all for America’s diabetes epidemic. Criticism has gotten to the point where the Corn Refiner’s Association has produced a series of commercials to de-vilify the sticky syrupy goodness.

Check out this link for one example. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYiEFu54o1E

The CFA aren’t lying about HFCS in these commercials, but they’re not exactly telling the whole truth either.

HFCS is 6 times sweeter than regular cane sugar. The inexpensiveness is what’s causing so many companies to use the syrup. During WW2 due to the limits on cane sugar soft drink companies switched from cane sugar to corn syrup as a measure to cut costs. This substitution allowed production for companies like Coca Cola to grow exponentially to become one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

“It’s good in moderation.” That’s a defense that all food reps from Hostess Cupcakes to butter fall back on. They assume that the ones doing the moderating are the consumers themselves but what happens when it’s so prevalent and ubiquitous to American culture that we can’t track our HFCS intake and “moderate” it?

I’ll be the first to admit I have a huge sweet tooth. Sometimes I crave sugar and reach past the OJ to grab a can of soda. Just this morning I needed curb exhaustion and get a jolt in my system for work. I stood in the company kitchenette between a pot of freshly brewed coffee and the fridge stocked with ginger ale and cola. I chose the cola and guzzled the sweet concoction down. Sure I can say soda tastes better than work coffee (which tastes terrible where ever you go. Company rules state employees must make horrendous coffee) but in all truth, I just needed a can of quick sugar.

So I’m going to challenge myself. For 1 month, starting today, I’m cutting HFCS out of my diet entirely. I want to find out how pervasive this syrup is in our food (since when does white bread need sugar?) and whether we can feasibly moderate our intake. High fructose corn syrup–we’re breaking up. I don’t like who I become around you. I don’t want to see you for a while. You can have the Dave Matthews CD collection.

First challenge-lunchtime.

I had a chicken parmesan grinder with fries. Instinctively I reach for the ketchup to douse my fries. Damn, forbidden. Last night at a diner my friends and I learned that one of Heinz’s main ingredients was corn syrup, leading up to this little conversation.

Renato: What’s corn syrup doing in ketchup?
Me: That’s what makes it taste so good.
Renato: I thought that was the tomatoes.
Chris: Please there’s hardly a tomato in that.

Back to lunch. I use italian vinaigrette instead after inspecting the ingredient list. This shouldn’t be too hard. Hopefully.

grill

Yes; burgers are back. Long chided as that goofy, quintessential American convenience food, burgers are now being increasingly scrutinized through the lens of the gourmand. Perhaps in keeping with the economic theme of spurning excess, restaurants that would normally opt for flashy steaks topped with pretentious fungi(morel anyone?) or other pointless amenities lacking distinct tastes or textures, have shifted to serving the same product in a different form. Restaurants are loathe to serve a simple burger, it’s seen as beneath them. They pile them under brioche buns, port reductions, exotic legumes, and fancify them as much as possible(that sounds kind of good to be honest). But this Fourth of July, I decided to get back to the basics, and grill some old goddamned fashioned burgers. Now as a college student who lives in campus housing, I don’t have anything remotely resembling a grill; something that left me at a slight disadvantage for this particular day. Thankfully, one of my suitemates invited me to a cookout, and when I brought up the subject of my cooking at said event, he was all for it.

Burgers; however, are not as simple as they appear. Of tantamount importance is the fat content of the meat, and the seasoning of it. For this endeavor, I had no control over the meat, thus I strove to keep the seasonings subtle; something either incredibly easy given my Italian heritage, or something incredibly difficult given my African American heritage. I brought with me thyme, oregano, salt and pepper, and cayenne. Upon seeing the meat, a beautifully fatty 30%, I was overjoyed. I got to work hurriedly, and excitedly. My patties came out relatively uniform, and I was ready to cook. I’m not going to debate the merits of gas and charcoal, as I think it’s a wash. For the sake of details, I’ll say this time it was charcoal. The grill had already been lit, but I was confident enough in my ‘touch test’ ability to compensate for the strangely even nature of the flame. To all you wannabe grill meisters out there, this is Bobby Flay’s explanation of the touch test:

“As meat cooks, it becomes firmer and firmer to the touch. Rare meat feels spongy, medium meat feels springy, and well-done feels taut. This is true for pork, poultry, and steak-like fish such as tuna, salmon, and swordfish, too.”

*This is something that’s much easier to get a feel for through practice than simply approximating, so if you don’t trust yourself or just don’t want to burn shit, get a meat thermometer.

I have few principles when it comes to cooking, but I hold fast to them; one of which being that burgers are best done medium rare. I didn’t take requests. If anyone wanted a well done burger, or in my eyes a hockey puck, I told them they could nuke the damn thing for all I cared. While that may seem callous, I’m just unwilling to serve someone something that I know tastes inferior. Newsflash: you won’t die from eating foods that are slightly less cooked. Just throwing that out there. Look at the French.

The next part of burger lore is probably the most hotly debated; the choice of toppings. To this day, I’ve always contended that a burger is first and foremost, about the meat. Any burger buried by a mountain of toppings probably has something to hide. The cheese I chose for today, while not exactly the most patriotic, didn’t seem to ellicit too many complaints. Mozzarella, blended with pecorino. I find it has enough flavor to stand out without overwhelming the beef, and the meltability factor is just right, being gooey without leaving a greasy mess. The next two parts are important; don’t add tomatos if they aren’t fresh, and don’t add lettuce if it isn’t dark. The reasoning behind the first maxim is obvious. The older the tomato is, the more it tastes like…water. The latter warning may sound like heresy to some of you. I favor dark lettuce because I feel lettuce is there mostly for the crunch, but crunch is something you can get from many sources, why not make it a more flavorful one? Even something like a baby spinach leaf or basil is acceptable, and indeed, are what I chose to go with.

The end result was something I felt was not quintessentially American, but quintessentially me. And in truth, that’s all we can ever hope to achieve. We all will be altered by our upbringing, our heritage, our varied environments we call home. This is a holiday yes, primarily about our sneaky(in a cool spy way, not a dastardly way) forefathers underhandedly founding a nation, it is also a holiday that forces the recognition of who we are now. It’s only proper to celebrate it with a beer, a burger, heavy duty fireworks and Rob Zombie’s Dragula. It was for me at least. You do whatever you damn well please.

Hello world!

Hi! This blog is just a compilation of culinary and epicurian musings of a bunch of friends. We’re all college students trying to navigate our ways through life while taking the time to enjoy the smaller things in life, like a good burrito. After all, after a long day of work, classes, and aggravating finals, what’s more comforting than a cupcake waiting for you?

We’ll be highly inappropriate throughout this blog. Please don’t mind us. Hopefully you’ll pick up some of our humor and decent recipes along the way.

And please, estate of H.A. Rey, please don’t sue us. We’re poor, you won’t get anything.