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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gelato—An Italian Specialty

Gelato is the Italian regional version of what most know as ice cream. It consists of most of the ingredients in other frozen dairy dessert products, such as milk, cream, sugars, fruit and nut purées. The difference between gelato and other ice creams is the fact that it has lower butterfat content and slightly lower sugar content. The sugar content is perfectly balanced with the water content to ensure that the gelato won't freeze solid, retaining that creamy smoothness. In custard based gelato flavors, such as crème caramel, egg yolks are sometimes used.
   Typically, the mixture for gelato is made using a hot process, including pasteurization. After pasteurization is complete, the gelato mix must age for several hours to allow the milk proteins to hydrate with the water in the mix. The hydration reduces the size of the ice crystals, creating a smoother texture in the final product.
   Unlike its cousin, the commercial ice creams of the United States, gelato isn't frozen with a continuous assembly line freezer. Instead, it is quickly frozen in small individual batches in a batch freezer. The batch freezer incorporates air (a.k.a. overage) into the gelato mix as it freezes. Gelato also has a lower overage percentage than American ice creams. The overage percentage varies between 20% and 35% whereas American ice creams have an overage of up to 50%. The resulting flavor is more intense than any American ice creams. Although the American ice creams generally have a high fat content, thus allowing it to stay in the freezer for months, high quality artisan gelato normally holds its peak texture and flavor for only several days, despite careful storage and heating procedures.
   The history of the dessert probably dates back to ancient Rome and Egypt, where they would bring down snow from the high mountain tops to make desserts from. Later, the dessert appeared in the Medici courts in Florence, Italy. It is said that the Florentine cook Bernardo Buontalenti invented modern ice creams in 1565 since he presented his recipe and cutting edge refrigerating techniques to Caterina de’ Medici who brought the creation to France where, in 1686, the Sicilian fisherman Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli created the first ice cream machine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha Halys) wasn’t ever seen in North America until recently. It was most likely first introduced in Pennsylvania. This true bug in the family Pentatomidae is known as an agricultural pest in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. Recently, it has been known to be a pest to various farm crops in the Mid-Atlantic region. This insect often becomes a nuisance both indoors and out when it is attracted to the warmth of a house in fall or winter in search for an overwintering site.
   The adults are about 17 mm or 5/8 in. long. The underside is usually pale or tan with gray markings. The upper and lower portions of the body are shades of brown and the stink glands are located between the first and second leg, on the underside of the thorax.  There are five nymphal stages, ranging in size from the first instar at 2.5 mm to the fifth instar at 12 mm. The abdomen of the nymphs change from yellowish red to off-white with reddish spot and the eyes are deep red. The species usually has a birth rate of one generation per year, two to three if the spring and summer conditions allow it. Adults appear in the spring time, during late April to mid-May.
   These insects aren’t known to cause harm to humans, although their strong stink and noisy buzzing is slightly annoying. The best method to keep stink bugs out of buildings is mechanical exclusion. Sealing the cracks between doors, windows, siding, utility pipes, behind chimneys, and other openings will keep stink bugs from squeezing into the building. Vacuuming or squishing stink  bugs will kill them, but make sure to clean out the area where the stink bugs were killed as it can create quite a stink.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eating Acorns

Yes, it's possible to eat acorns! ;)
Acorns, the nuts of genera Quercus and Lithocarpus in the family Fagaceae, usually consist of a single seed enclosed in a tough leathery shell.
Birds, such as woodpeckers and jays, and small mammals, such as chipmunks and other rodents, along with large mammals, such as bears and deer, have been known to consume large quantities of acorns- especially in the autumn where it can make up to 25% of their diet.
Unfotunately, acorns can be toxic to other animals, such as horses and humans (hopefully, however, we have become civilized enough not to have to call ourselves animals.)
Acorns contain bitter tannins, an astrigent polyphenolic compound, with the specific amount varying from species to species. They must be proccessed in some way before they can become edible. Native American originally achieved this by letting bags of acorns sit in a fast running stream until the acid completely washed away. An alternative is to repeatedly boil your acorns until the brown tannic acid is no longer visible, and then roasting the nuts.
When cooked, acorns normally have a mild sweet taste. At times during the 19th century, when coffee cost an extradinarily high price, roughly ground up acorns served as a coffee substitute, although its strange flavor prevented it from ever becoming popular. Most people eat acorns ground up in pancakes or breads.
A good place for those curious to taste acorns is a Korean restaurant. In Korea, people make an edible jelly, dotorimuk, from acorns and the Korean noodles Dotori guksu are also made from acorn flour or starch. Acorn starch is the remainders of an acorn when the fibers are removed during processing


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