Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Title: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think
Author: Brian Wansink
Published: 2006 by Bantam Dell
ISBN: 0-553-80434-0

I've heard this guy on KCRW's Good Food before. He's a professor of marketing and nutritional science, and from the sounds of it he's a creative guy with an extremely fun job. He does research on why people eat the way they do and what influences them most. A lot of the time, it's not what you expect.

One of the best experiments he did was with a bottomless bowl of soup. His question was what makes a person decide to stop eating? What makes us stop eating? He rigged up a bowl of soup connected via a tube to a vat of soup. Without slurping down a lot of soup, basically it was impossible to empty the bowl. On average those with the endless bowl at 73% more soup than those with a normal bowl.

Most were still eating when we stopped them, 20 minutes after they began. The typical person at around 15 ounces, but others at more than a quart--more than a quart. When one of these people was asked to comment on the soup, his reply was, "It's pretty good, and it's pretty filling." Sure it is. He had eaten almost three times as much as the guy sitting next to him.

Another of my favorites is the story of a cook on a Navy ship in World War II. Due to some sort of error, the cook took on too much lemon Jell-o and no cherry. When you're out at sea for months at a time, little things like that can be a big deal. Fights were actually breaking out because of it. Well Billy, our fearless cook, thought quick on his feet and colored the lemon Jell-o red. The crew never even guessed what happened. Because they thought it was cherry, they imagined the taste of it.

But to the point of the book. Our body is quite capable of noticing changes in diet, such as eliminating all carbohydrates or eating half as many calories. That's why 90% of dieters regain their former weight. It's just not sustainable, and generally speaking the quicker you lose the weight the quicker you'll put it back on. But the human body can't detect slight changes, such as 100 calories a day. That amount of change over the course of a year works out to about 10 pounds. So if you drink an extra Mountain Dew every day, you'll gain 10 pounds. If you cut one out, you'll lose 10 pounds. In both cases, you won't notice any difference in your diet.

Dr. Wansink offers a number of ways to work 100-200 calories out of your diet, things like serving yourself 20% less (which will still leave you feeling just as full), fill your plate with fruits and veggies (less calorie dense, more vitamins), don't abandon your comfort foods instead rewire them (deprivation rarely works, but comfort foods are not written in stone).

There are plenty more suggestions, and more importantly, funny stories in this book. The author definitely has a good sense of humor and a good wit. It's an easy read that is still well supported by scientific research and more endnotes than you can shake a pastrami at.


Test Test: Amano Chocolate

Who doesn't love chocolate, right? Well, my wife for one. She's sucrose intolerant (lacks the enzyme sucrase), so the sugar makes her sick. Can't say I blame her then. It's a good opportunity to try out some fancy chocolate when she's out of town. What can I say? I live on the edge.

I picked up some Amano chocolate over at Amazon. The shipping there was a dollar cheaper than direct from the site, so I went all cheapskate. I bought one each of the Madagascar and Ocumare. To my pleasant surprise it arrived the very next day (04/10). How's that for quality service!


Apple Tacos

First off, let me up front apologize for not having pictures. My wife took the digital camera on her trip to Oregon and I'm left here with no way to document my life. How will I ever survive?

So, on IRC the other day, somebody was pointing out the vast difference between two things and used the classic phrase, like "apples and oranges", to which another party responded saying that it was more like "apples and tacos". Well, that got me thinking, why not apples and tacos? I mean aside from the fact that they seem so different. Different can be good. I mean bananas and mayonnaise sounds like a horrible combination but turns out to make a delicious sandwich. So it was only fair that I give it a shot.

I complicated matters a little bit because I came up with my own recipe for shredded pork taco meat. Ideally I should have controlled for everything but the apples, but with my smoker out of commission for so many months I've really been craving to slow roast something even without smoke. I purchased a pork roast for just this purpose. (Incidentally whenever possible I but Salmon Creek Farms pork. Yes it really does make a difference, and generally it's actually cheaper. Win, win!)

Well, for this roast I mixed up an unholy combination of most of the spices in my house (ground black pepper, kosher salt, chili powder, cayenne power, paprika, Tabasco sauce, garlic powder, thyme, spicy mustard and worcestershire sauce). That made a nice paste which I smeared all over the pork. Placed it in a dish, covered and roasted at 250° for oh about 3½ hours. Once it cooled I shredded it and stirred it around in a reduction of the sauces that filled the original cooking vessel. So yummy.

But it was late last night when I finished the roast, so I couldn't make the tacos right away. Besides, I was so full of chocolate that I couldn't bear the thought of eating. Instead the pork went into the fridge until today. I diced some onion, sautéed it in some oil with a little ground chipotle, and then added the pork. Once that was warm I tossed in the diced apple and kept cooking until piping hot. I used a Granny Smith which I figured could take the heat while retaining its crispness and the tartness would stand out against all the spice. The final taco was on a soft white flour tortilla with grated mozarella cheese and lettuce.

The apple flavor was definitely noticeable. I think the choice of a tart apple was wise because a mild apple would have been lost in that taco. I would probably do a finer dice (¼ inch or less). My apple chunks were too big and they seems to overpower rather than blend. There were also spots in the taco where there was no apple flavor and that stood out as well.

One concern I had was that the apple would get all mushy and soggy while cooking. It didn't happen. I really should have given the apple more credit. My wife makes and cans apple pie filling. Those things go through a process of cooking, canning and then baking and still come out in one piece. I should have known an apple could sit in a skillet for 5 minutes without melting.

I ate the whole apple so that's probably the last serving of apple tacos for a while, but I think I'll have to try again and see if I can achieve a more balanced flavor.


Kitchen Confidential

Title: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Author: Anthony Bourdain
Published: 2000 by Bloomsbury
ISBN: 1-58234-082-X

Joseph told me that one of his culinary icons was Anthony Bourdain. I had heard of him, seen him as a guest judge on Top Chef, but I was curious as to why so I picked up this book. I don't think Alton Brown has anything to fear as far as replacing my #1 food hero, but I have definitely learned a few things about the food industry.

I do respect Anthony Bourdain. He is unapologetically a ruffian. He is, or at least has been, a drug abuser. He's got a foul mouth. You definitely won't want to read this book to your kids. So what's to love about somebody like that? Well, the fact that he is who he is and he's happy about it. He doesn't pretend to be somebody else. He's not concerned with what others think about him. He says exactly what he thinks and you know that's what he means, nothing more and nothing less.

My favorite section, probably not surprisingly, is the chapter about why he doesn't eat fish on Monday. Turns out that because the fish market is only open Monday through Friday, the fish you're served on Monday is likely whatever they bought on Friday and couldn't sell over the weekend. I have since heard the same thing from other sources, albeit with less colorful language. Mr. Bourdain also makes it clear that it is in a restaurant's best interest to serve you food that may not be the most fresh. So whenever you see something that is on special, be wary. Carefully consider any item which is not commonly sold, since it may have been in the fridge for an extended period of time. He tells of one of his jobs which was to arrange the Sunday morning brunch buffet, which consisted of leftovers from service the previous nights (yes, plural). So, also be cautious there.

I think this book has scared me away from ever opening my own restaurant. No, it's not something I've ever seriously considered. Every once in a while I think to myself that it might be fun. I don't think I have my heart into it enough though. There's a vast difference between a love of cooking (and eating!) and the ability to put in the hideous amounts of work required by a restaurant. I fall clearly in the first category and I think I will happily stay there.


Rabbits, Horses and Morons

Saw a post on about fried rabbit ears. While it's not exactly my cup of tea, I really don't see a problem with it. Some of the comments on the blog are quite visceral and I just don't get it. Just because an animal is cute or is useful in some other way than food, doesn't mean we can't eat it. OK, I can understand if you think eating animals is wrong. Vegetarians and vegans are totally missing out, but I can completely respect that point of view.

It's a lot like the recent Congressional debate about horses. Many want to ban the practice because "the slaughter of horses is both cruel and inhumane, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it no longer occurs". And why isn't it cruel and inhumane to raise chickens in small wire cages where they have to have their beaks clipped to keep from pecking each other? Oh, that's because the chicken industry has more money than the 3 horse meat producers do.

People who eat meat (that would be most of this country) need to accept that that involves taking a life. We should respect that animal, but unless we kill it we can't eat it. Hamburger does not come from a store, it comes from a cow. Either accept that or you really need to become a vegan.


Taste Test: Chocolate Sauce

Due to a slight mixup, we received a bottle of Hershey's Special Dark chocolate sauce. A week ago I had also made a bottle of Alton Brown's cocoa syrup, so I had a perfect chance to compare them. Incidentally, the dutch cocoa I used was also Hershey's.

I tasted them straight up, in spoons, at room temperature. I poured them out and handed them to my wife without telling her which was which. She gave them to me in random order. It wasn't hard to pick out which was mine though. It was the one with little gritty chocolate pieces. Whoops. I don't remember those being in there last week. Maybe I just couldn't taste it on the cheese cake. Or maybe they form while sitting in the fridge. I filtered it through a sieve, but maybe I need a finer mesh.

As far as the taste, the Hershey's tasted much sweeter. It was also less viscous, from the corn syrup no doubt. I think I preferred my own syrup as it had a much richer taste. For a Special Dark, I really expected more dark flavor. I wonder what the regular syrup is like.


Careful, Careful

Yesterday I was looking around in the cupboard to see how much of my sun-dried tomatoes were left. Off to the side I noticed another bottle of oil and popped it open. Turns out it was a garlic infused olive oil I made who knows how long ago. I gave a whiff and it was a little funky, so I wondered to myself how long an oil like that would last.

Well, later in the day I happened to browse to the garlic entry at Wikipedia. Apparently fresh garlic oil only lasts about a week and that's in the fridge. Mine had been sitting in at room temperature for a good six months. I was a prime candidate for dying of botulism. The thought of it scares me a little, honestly. Commercial oils use salt and acid to eliminate the risk. I tried to find instruction for how, but came up empty.

I guess in the future, I'll stick to fresh herb oil.


Taste Test: Canned Tuna

I've always wondered the difference between tuna packed in oil and that packed in water. Actually I was in Twin Falls and I saw an episode of Ham on the Street where he promised to explain the difference. I unfortunately got a phone call or something before I got the answer. Well, I just had to find out for myself.

I purchased two cans of our normal brand, whatever the cheap Walmart brand is. Incidentally, we really dislike the Starkist tuna because it tastes way too fishy. I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't really any fish in the Walmart brand. Well, whatever.

The first thing I noticed is that the oil-packed tuna is really oily. Duh! Even after draining, it was just greasy. It had 6 grams of fat per serving verses only 1 gram in the water-packed. I suppose that's to be expected.

My aunt showed me a delicious way to mix tuna with mayo, celery and onion. She eats it on fresh baguettes. I love it. So that's what we did with it. I found that the oil-packed tuna didn't need as much mayo to get the same creamy texture. I debated about keeping the mayo amount the same or matching the texture. I ended up trying it both ways and really couldn't tell much difference, except in the appearance. An extra tablespoon of mayo is 11 grams of fat, so there goes all the savings of the water-packed tuna.

In the end, even with a blind test, neither my wife nor I could tell the difference. I could see the difference, but in my mouth they were the same. I think I'll stick with the water packed just because the oily tuna creeps me out, likely due to flashbacks of horrible food my college roommate used to make.


Storing Mushrooms

Mushrooms are great, whether shiitake, crimini, or even your run-of-the-mill button mushrooms. Our shrooms come in a little shrink wrapped container that is quite moisture resistant. That means that if you leave the little cuties in there for more than a week or so, they start to get soggy and nasty. That's just not acceptable.

A while back I heard a recommendation from a mushroom farmer on Good Food who said you should store them in a paper sack. Since the paper passes moisture, the mushrooms will dry out. And that's a good thing. The mushrooms will basically last forever (yeah, like you won't eat them before they go rotten). But just in case I always write the date on the bag, if for no other reason than to know how long my mushrooms have aged.

One thing I discovered is that it's a Bad Idea(tm) to wash the mushrooms before storing them. I tried it once thinking that the little amount of moisture the washing adds would just dry up. It doesn't. They turn into a squishy mess. The problem is that washing shriveled up mushrooms is a little difficult. So use the classic French method and dust them off with a brush.


Stuffed Tomatoes

Back in October Joseph started a fun game he titled "Weekend Challenge". It's a kind of theoretical Iron Chef, if you will. In the second episode, I entered a recipe for stuffed tomatoes and let me tell you, they sounded good. Really good. Ever since then I've wanted to actually try it out and see if it turned out as well as I hoped. Tonight I finally had a chance to test it out. Keep in mind that the following recipe is what I did make, but not necessarily what it will become. Stay tuned for a more thorough treatment.

Cream Cheese Stuffed Tomatoes

  • 4 large slicing tomotoes
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 4 ounces ground sausage
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • basil
  • parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/4 cup finely diced green pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced or pressed

Remove the top from each of the tomatoes. Remove the guts. Place in a non-reactive pan and roast at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, brown and drain the sausage. Saute the onion, pepper and garlic in a little of the sausage fat, if desired. Remove from heat. Add the cream cheese and mozzarella cheese and mix well. Season with basil and possibly salt to taste.

Spoon the cheese mixture into the tomato bowls. Top with generous portions of bacon bits and parmesan cheese. Return the tomatoes to the oven and cook 5 more minutes. Then crank up the broiler to put a little brown on the cheese.


  1. The taste was quite good. I enjoyed it immensely. I mean, how can you go wrong with sausage, bacon and cream cheese? I'm salivating just thinking back on it.
  2. I got the tomatoes roasted just about right. They should be soft but with not mushy. The crunch of the bacon and crispy parmesan contrasted nicely with the soft cheese and tomatoes.
  3. The tomatoes paired well with a sun-dried tomato bread, which I also made.

And now the bad.

  1. The sausage was barely noticeable. The quantity should have been at least double.
  2. The cheese was delicious but maybe too soft. My wife's stuffed pepper recipe uses rice for this purpose. I think rice doesn't fit quite right for this one. She suggested bread crumbs. I'm thinking of toasting them.
  3. I didn't remove enough of the tomatoes, especially along the bottom. Alton Brown recommends using a grapefruit spoon and that seems to be a pretty good idea.



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