Thursday, April 22, 2010

Experimental Cooking

Today was dull and dreary; overcast skies and alternating rain and thunderstorms most of the day. Molly wasn't willing to get more than a few inches from me all day. Finally this evening with the storms passed she was willing to leave my side long enough to venture outside for a bit. What is it going to be like this summer when the real thunderstorms arrive?

I had supper at mom's tonight and the discussion turned to the ingredients in microwave mashed potatoes. We conducted a side by side taste test of two different brands because the advertised differences were amusing. One brand (Betty Crocker) advertised "high fiber" and had a larger serving size (2/3 cup) with fewer calories, the other (Idahoan) was advertised as "natural" potatoes with a smaller serving size (1/2 cup). (Both were red potato varieties.) The results: we preferred the Idahoan natural potato kind. It tasted more like real mashed potatoes and had a better consistency.

I had predicted the result before the experiment based on the ingredients listed on the box. The Betty Crocker "high fiber" variant had cellulose listed as the second ingredient. They were using cellulose to supply fiber and add body to the potatoes, allowing the lower calorie claim along with the larger serving size. But it also made the consistency stiffer and the taste was less potato-ey than real mashed potatoes. It is amusing what you can learn if you read the box carefully.

That experiment in turn led to a discussion of angel food cake baking.  I had made a regular angel food cake earlier in the week and mom had made the chocolate variant yesterday. I happened to mention that the boxed mix I used allowed adding either a quarter cup of all purpose flour or a quarter cup of cocoa and extending the baking time by 3 minutes to account for the altitude here. Mom had started from a different mix but had added the cocoa as a seat of the pants thing. Both turned out well, but the high altitude "fixes" led to us looking at a couple of the "from scratch" recipes renowned in the local area and comparing them to a recipe out of a standard cook book. Sure enough, the local recipes had that dash more flour added relative to the standard cookbook.

I wonder how many local recipes have all the altitude corrections built in without notation? I also wonder how drastic the effects would be on low altitude cooking.

Enough blithering about cooking, time to do some real work.


  1. Cooking isn't real work?? Back to the drawing board for me. :)

    I love comparing things like this. I especially love it because it involves food.

  2. I couldn't have done the potato test - no microwave.....

    I LOVE angel food cake!

  3. Hmm, interesting food comparisons :)

    I second the Idahoan brand mashed potatoes too. It actually tastes quite similar to real mashed potatoes (or in my case, it tastes better than my own handmade ones).

    Hmm, never thought about how high altitude affects baking. I guess I've never really had to think about it since I've never lived anywhere that is considered "high altitude". Actually, I must admit, I've always thought that they just put that there just so you can't blame them if the cake doesn't turn out the way it should be. Who knew that it really does matter? (well you did of course)

    Lots of random ponderings...

  4. I'm a HUGE fan of mashed potatoes, and while the Idahoan instant potatoes are edible, nothing beats homemade for me. I could make a meal out of 'em. Actually, I have. Several times :)

    Dang. Now I want potatoes. And it's only 9:30 in the morning!!

  5. Those cakes look good! I bet a lot of your local recipes would fail in low altitude areas.

  6. I love how you did the side by side taste testing of the mashed potatoes! Proves once more that it's good to look at the igredients. There should be a health class mandatory each year to the public so we know what to look out for.

    Interesting thought about the altitude changes. Hmmm...

  7. I love angel food cake. I've never had to deal with altitude notations.

  8. Baking a cake is cool. I've never done one. Not so sure about instant mashed potatoes; no, actually I am sure; that's very UN-cool. Whatever possessed you to try them? Real ones are so easy... and cheap... and good. No ingredient list to have to read either.

  9. I love potatoes from a box. Is that bad?

  10. Wondering if you've died from your experiment...where you been man?


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