Buffet o’ Bacon 3

Last night I had the Buffet o’ Blog staff over for a regular team outing (where we played video games and discussed funny stuff — how meetings should go!).  As has happened before, this meeting turned into a Buffet o’ Bacon.  It was kinda like an Iron Chef episode, where 3 contestants brought an original dish based around bacon.  (At these impromptu cooking sessions, the theme is always bacon.  Not that I’m complaining!)

First on the menu was bacon-wrapped smokies covered with barbecue sauce and grilled, and served on a stick.

smokies, bacon, & BBQ, on a stick

That one used turkey bacon, which works better for grilling and is a lot healthier.  The taste was really good.  You just have to make sure the bacon is cooked to the point of getting slightly crispy, or it’ll be easier to notice it’s turkey bacon.

The second item we sampled was bacon-wrapped cream-cheese-filled jalapenos.   We removed the seeds so they wouldn’t be too spicy (for some).  These were also delicious, although I’d like to experiment with different types of cheese.  Cooking them on a rack is essential (as I will explain in further detail on the next item).  They were also served on a stick (well, a toothpick).

bacon-wrapped cheese-filled jalapenos

Third on our list was the most ambitious creation, and the one that slightly concerned me.  It consisted of club crackers topped with shredded cheese, then bacon-wrapped and cooked for two hours at 250 degrees.  Here’s a picture of them during preparation.

bacon-wrapped club crackers, with cheese, in preparation

Notice there was no rack used to elevate the food above the inevitable bacon grease.  Supposedly it wasn’t necessary according to the recipe, that the crackers wouldn’t absorb all the grease.  I was concerned because we’ve been down this road before.  /* flashback */ At the initial Buffet o’ Bacon, there were some bacon-wrapped croissants, and the bread absorbed almost all the bacon grease during cooking.  The consistency of the croissants was like butter at room temperature, and it was deemed the “gut-bomb”.  (Read the second comment on our initial Buffet o’ Bacon for an explanation.)  /* end flashback */ So how did it turn out?  Let’s have a look:

bacon-wrapped club crackers, with cheese

What’s missing from this picture is the grease that was drained before I got in there with the camera.  Supposedly there was a pool of grease.  And if it isn’t evident in the picture, the crackers were saturated with grease, along with the cheese, and the bacon was quite greasy also.  Someone looked at the recipe to see where they went wrong, and they noticed the last line of the recipe said to cook it on a rack over a pan.  Obviously that line was never read, and the excuse was used that the picture included with the recipe didn’t have a rack in it.

We each tried a couple of them, and you could tell there was a lot of potential there, if not for the extreme load of grease.  The rest were discarded, for the sake of healthiness.   Hopefully a lesson was learned from this, because it’s really sad to throw away bacon and cheese.  (Should we have a moment of silence?)

If you want to read about our previous bacon research sessions, the link to part one is above, and here’s part two.  There are other food-related experiments and discussions — too many to list — but you can search for them if you want.

For those of you who live nearby and would like to participate in one of these in the future, there has been talk of hosting one on a Saturday afternoon and making a party out of it.  Stay tuned to this blog for further details.

some say exercise won’t make you thin

The blogosphere has been abuzz lately about an article in TIME magazine called Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.  It is interesting, because we’ve joked about such things before, yet here’s an article in a credible magazine suggesting it.  But before we dig into it, let me mention that the author of this article exercises regularly and talks about how he isn’t losing fat, yet he weighs only 163 pounds.  Unless he’s abnormally short, that’s not a bad weight for an adult male to be at.   I don’t see how he could be considered fat or obese.  Actually, my “ideal weight” is supposedly 190-200 for my height, so 163 seems too skinny to me.  Anyway, let’s get to the article.

First, let’s start with the author’s premise for his hypothesis:

Like many other people, I get hungry after I exercise, so I often eat more on the days I work out than on the days I don’t.  Could exercise actually be keeping me from losing weight? ~ John Cloud

He also quotes some other experts who back his claim: “In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless,” says Eric Ravussin, chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and a prominent exercise researcher.  That sounds extreme to me, but I’ll keep reading.

The notion that we eat more because exercise makes us more hungry and thus exercise makes it harder to lose weight sure sounds like something the “Important Doctor” came up with.  The article also mentions the idea that intense sessions of exercise may cause people to reward themselves by eating what they want.  I can see that — it’s much easier to justify a milkshake or snack if you’ve worked out.

Some scientists imply that it’s evolution’s fault that humans can easily get fat.  We don’t have much “brown fat”.  Rats, among other species, have a lot of it, which turns off their mitochondria (which are the cells’ power plants), so they don’t get an energy boost from eating too much — they just get warmer, which helps the calories burn effortlessly.  So for animals like that, it’s really difficult for them to get fat, even if they overeat.  In contrast, humans can barely overeat and yet gain weight, because unused calories get stored in regular “white fat” cells.

One example cited in the article explains why our compensation for exercise keeps us from losing weight:

A standard 20-oz. bottle of Gatorade contains 130 calories.  If you’re hot and thirsty after a 20-minute run in summer heat, it’s easy to guzzle that bottle in 20 seconds, in which case the caloric expenditure and the caloric intake are probably a wash.  From a weight-loss perspective, you would have been better off sitting on the sofa knitting.

Well, few people knit these days, but I think it would be fair to replace that part of the example with sitting on the sofa playing video games.  So there’s your proof that playing video games can help you lose more weight than running! (That definitely sounds like something from the “Important Doctor”.)

The article also says that self-control is like a muscle, that it gets weaker when you use it too much.  So if you force yourself to jog for an hour, your capacity for self-control becomes weakened, and you’re more likely to eat pizza than a salad.  (Although I’m always more likely to eat pizza than a salad, given those choices.)

Steven Gortmaker, who heads Harvard’s Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity, agrees that exercising makes you more hungry, therefore he’s suspicious of the playgrounds at fast-food restaurants: “Why would they build those?  I know it sounds kind of like conspiracy theory, but you have to think, if a kid plays five minutes and burns 50 calories, he might then go inside and consume 500 calories or even 1,000.”   One study has shown that exercise causes kids to eat an average of 100 calories more than they had just burned.

Of course, some sites have countered the TIME article, with one even saying it is an “Epic Fail”.  The TIME article makes some points, but we don’t have to give in to overeating because we exercise.  And I don’t think self-control is like a muscle from a physiological sense, but the analogy may work if you carry it out further.  The more you resist something, the stronger you get, instead of weaker — after a while.  For example, if you give up cokes, it may be hard for a few days, but eventually you don’t even miss them anymore.  (I know, because I gave them up.)

I reckon what all this debate results in is that you can find a study that backs up whatever lifestyle you want to live.   If you don’t want to exercise, then you shouldn’t, because it makes you gain weight.   But if you want to lose weight, well, it’s hopeless.  (Of course the last one isn’t true — but if you want to blame it on evolution or misinformation or whatever, there’s an excuse.)  To me, it still seems really simple — if you burn more calories than you take in, you will lose weight.  Maybe that seems too-good-to-be-true, but it adds up, if you do the math.

what is locust bean gum?

Do you ever look at the ingredients of the pre-prepared foods you eat?   Occasionally I do.  And thus begins our story.

My wife recently acquired a coupon for a free package of Starbucks’ caramel macchiato ice cream.  It’s a mix of vanilla and coffee ice cream, with swirls of caramel.  I don’t care much for coffee, but she liked it.   We happened to look at the ingredients on the back of the label, and noticed that the last ingredient was “locust bean gum”.  I don’t know what that is, but the name of it doesn’t sound appealing.

Normally the lower-tier ingredients have scientific names, such that the average consumer has no idea what it stands for (and is too lazy to bother looking it up).   But with a name like locust bean gum, that just opens the door to a lot of questions.  Let’s start with, “What does that mean?”  Is it locusts ground up into beans, or do the locusts eat the beans and then “extract” the gum (a la a certain coffee), or is it locust-flavored beans?  I have no idea, apart from rampant speculation.

So it’s time for some research*.  I found that it’s a galactomannan consisting of a B-D-mannopyranose backbone with 6 branchpoints linked to a-D-galactose.  A detailed explanation of what that means is WAY beyond the scope of this article.  However, a quick summary in English is that it retards ice crystal growth by forming a structured gel at a solid/liquid interface.  I suppose it has to do with the texture and viscosity of the ice cream.  But that still doesn’t answer where it comes from.

But I’m not sure I want to know…  Sometimes it’s good to not ask too many questions.  Just enjoy your ice cream…  🙂

* My research consisted of a single search and looking at one link on the first page of results.

scientists discover a skinny gene

I saw something quite interesting in the news recently : scientists discover “skinny” gene.  If that’s true, then it should be made into a vitamin I can take.   I really miss the days when I had a metabolism, when I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight.  But since I got out of college and started working in a cubicle farm, that’s no longer the case.

Now, I know, some of you are thinking I should just eat less and exercise more.   If that’s what I wanted to do, I’d be skinny.  But I enjoy eating.   And while I enjoy some forms of exercise, there’s not always time to do enough of it.  If only I was genetically predisposed to be skinny, then I could eat fried chicken with biscuits & gravy more often.   Oh, and include mashed taters, too, covered with gravy.  Yeah, that’s the stuff.  And I’d order pizza a whole lot more.  I’d definitely eat much better if I was unable to gain weight.  And then I wouldn’t have to rearrange my schedule, giving up fun activities, to make more time for exercise.   And who knows, maybe if I wasn’t overweight and thus had more energy, I’d do more exercise-type activities.  As it is now, exercise makes me feel tired.

So I’m looking forward to being transformed into a skinny person by the benefits of cutting-edge science.  They need to hurry up with it, because I think a lot of people need this.