Need Just a Little White Wine to Cook With?

I’ve been wanting to write a post about dry vermouth for a while.  It’s a regular part of my cooking, and a great tool for adding flavor to foods without adding a lot of calories or salt.  Every time I try to write this post I get sidetracked, wanting to talk about the physiology of taste and the roles of fat, salt, and glutamine in creating the flavors we taste.  I’m getting sidetracked again right now, so I’m gong to start writing a series of posts where I explore these ideas and how to make use of them in cooking.  More to come on that later.

For now, back to dry vermouth. when I was still working as a cook, there was always white wine in the kitchen.  We would use it to deglaze pans, and flavor sauces and risottos.  I always wanted to have wine on hand when I was cooking at home.  The problem was, I didn’t use it up all that fast, and didn’t want to have to drink or waste most of a bottle of wine after I used a cup or so to cook.  The solution came to me when I learned what vermouth was.  Vermouth is wine that has had additional alcohol to it (fortified), and has been flavored (aromatized) with various botanicals. It makes a great substitute for white wine, and it has a much longer shelf life.

You typically find two varieties of vermouth: dry and sweet.  Dry vermouth is made with white wine and is, I think, a great substitute for white wine in cooking.  Sweet vermouth is made with red wine, and typically has added sugar.  I’ve tried cooking with it, and haven’t been happy with the results. Most recipes that call for white wine only need a splash, whereas most red wine recipes call for a good bit of red wine.  This means a lot of added sugar in recipes where you might not really want it.  Since you typically use more red wine when you cook with it there’s less waste, so it makes more sense just to buy a bottle.

My favorite use for dry vermouth is for finishing sautéed  vegetables.  I take green beans or leafy greens and sauté them in in a little oil. when they are mostly cooked I give them a splash of dry vermouth, cover and let them steam.  I prefer my veggies only lightly cooked, and bright green, but you can let them go until the bright green is gone and the vegetables softer.  I’ll put together a recipe for a post later this week.

Personal Note: Food Allergies and Restaurants

When it comes to food, I have a laundry list of issues:

Allergies? Yes!
Intolerance?  You bet!
Oral Allergy Syndrome? Of course, why not?!
Other strange stuff that I don’t know if it’s real or not?  Uh-huh!

My strategy for coping with these issues throughout my life has been a deep interest in food.  I loved cooking and baking when I was a kid, and was always interested in new foods.  I’ve spent the vast majority of my career in food service or closely related fields: I’ve been a cook, a food service manager and clinical dietitian.  I’m a Registered Dietitian.   I’m ServSafe Certified food safety instructor.  I think it’s fair to say I’ve developed some expertise in the area.

When and where I grew up in the Southwestern United States,  Mexican restaurants were a safe haven for me.  None of them had peanuts on the menu.  Mexican restaurants were safer for me than just about any other option. That, combined with the fact that Mexican food is, generally speaking, super tasty (though typically not particularly healthy), is probably the reason it’s my favorite type of food to this day. Back when we lived in the DC area, there weren’t a lot of good options as far as we were concerned.  This wasn’t due to the quality, but to regionality.  It seemed like the vast majority of the Mexican restaurants were not operated by people who were not really that familiar with Mexican cuisine.  A dead giveaway was seeing  pupusas on the menu.  Tasty, but not Mexican.

When my wife came to the Seattle area to scout for us prior to moving,  she noted that there were quite a few more Mexican restaurants here.  I won’t say it was a major factor influencing our move, but it didn’t hurt either.

One day after we moved, I stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant near home.  When I walked in, it smelled amazing! I looked around at what my fellow diners were having and I was excited.  More importantly, I felt “at home”,  and unfortunately I let my guard down.  I ordered a combination plate with an enchilada.  It was delicious.  After a few bites inside of my mouth started tingling.  I waited for the server to come back, and asked if there were peanuts in the enchilada sauce.  He said yes. I explained my situation and that I would need the check.  He replied, “Oh, well you should really ask first”.  I had to suppress the urge to argue.  He was right.  I should have asked.

I should have also had some anti-histamine, and/or an epinephrine auto-injector on hand as well.  Fortunately I caught myself before I ate much, so I wasn’t busy having to serious of a reaction.  I got myself home, gulped down some diphenhydramine, and settled in for the oncoming nap.

Up until moving to the Seattle metropolitan area, I’d taken my safety while dining out mostly for granted.  I still worried about it, but I didn’t really take any precautions.  Now I’m back on the case, communicating with restaurant staff and taking the proper precautions. I’m not sharing my experience in search of sympathy. I hope that it may encourage one of you to get back in the habit of notifying restaurant staff, and carrying supplies in case something goes wrong, or help readers without food allergy have a little better understanding of the challenges people with food allergies face.


Fresh Chickpeas

Fresh Garbanzo Beans

Fresh chickpeas in the the pod and peeled

I was at the Asian Grocery Center in Bellevue, hunting down some Dragon Well tea when I spotted these in the produce section.  I’m familiar with chickpeas, but I’d never seen fresh ones before.  I knew my wife would be tickled by them, so I grabbed  a pound.

They come in fuzzy little pods (pericarps, if you want to get technical) which are not edible.  Opening the pods reveals the crinkly, light-green bean inside.  As you can see in the picture above, they come in a range of sizes.  It made me think about how much the canned and dried chickpeas I buy must be sorted for size, as they all seem almost identical.

They are edible raw, which I tried and am not sure I would recommend.   They taste like chickpeas, but with a bit of sweetness and a strong vegetal flavor.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to do with them.  I already had some lacinato kale simmering on the stove, so  I waited until the kale was almost done cooking, tossed them in, and re-covered the pan to let them steam for a few minutes, until their green color had brightened a bit.  They were a nice accompaniment to the kale, and the only part of the dish that my daughters would eat without encouragement.

The fresh chickpeas are a nice change of pace.  Peeling enough to make dinner for four or so was a time consuming task. Now that I think about it, I should have delegated this responsibility to one of the kids.   It’s the perfect task for young helpers in the kitchen.

Perhaps with the with the exception of soybeans and favas, I don’t think I’ve seen any beans (where the bean itself is the edible portion), fresh before.  Perhaps that’s because the consumption of some raw legumes can cause lathyrism. Good news: According to Wikipedia, fresh chickpeas do not cause this disease, and so can be eaten raw. I can’t remember where in my nutrition education I learned about the protease inhibitors in some legumes, but hopefully their isn’t much in fresh chickpeas.  The presence of protease inhibitors would reduce the  digestive tract’s ability to breakdown protein, preventing the gut from absorbing this nutrient.  These enzymes are destroyed during the cooking process, which is why we can safely consume cooked beans.


Still Have Some Turkey and Candied Yams in the Fridge?

Turkey Flautas

Two Turkey Flautas, cut in half to show the filling. One is served with enchilada sauce and cheese, the other with cranberry sauce.

My wife and I were looking at the various “Thanksgiving Recipes from the 50 States” articles that were everywhere just before Thanksgiving.  Turkey enchiladas was one recipe that came up for more than a few times, but I wasn’t thrilled by any of the recipes.  One in particular just wasn’t very saucy looking.  Since “covered with tomato and chili sauce” is a necessary condition for a food to be called an enchilada, and since I deeply love enchilada sauce, that was a bit of a sticking point for me. I suggested Mole Poblano might be a nice pairing and we moved on to another topic of discussion

Then a few days after Thanksgiving we were trying to figure out what to make for dinner.  The possibility of turkey enchiladas was proposed, but we didn’t have any corn tortillas.  What we did have was a warehouse store size pack of uncooked flour tortillas.  So I said, “What about candied yam and turkey flautas?”  I was half joking when I said it, but my wife’s enthusiasm for the idea changed my mind from half joking to only 1/4 joking.

Flautas are rolled tacos.  Where I grew up, if it was rolled in a corn tortilla it was called a rolled taco, and if it was rolled in a flour tortilla, it was a flauta. According to the internet, that convention doesn’t hold true everywhere, though.

I don’t have a recipe for this, much less a nutrient analysis, but I can tell you what I did.

  1. Mash the candied yams
  2. Shred the turkey
  3. Spread a few tablespoons of the mashed candied yams across the diameter of the tortilla (ours were 8 inch tortillas, but smaller would work too)
  4. Layer the shredded turkey atop the mashed yams
  5. Roll tightly
  6. Pan fry the taquitos, starting with the end of the roll side down first to prevent the taquito from unrolling

I served them two ways, one covered in enchilada sauce and cheese, and the other topped with homemade cranberry sauce.   My wife loved both. One daughter loved it with cranberry sauce, and the other hates everything except pears and Elmo right now.  I was torn between my passion for enchilada sauce and the cold, hard facts: it was better with cranberry sauce.

We dubbed these flautas a new tradition, and look forward to making more in about 12 months.  For now we still have turkey, but are out of candied yams. I should also point out that I make my candied yams with a bit of chipotle chili powder, which may make them a little more compatible with a mexican food flavor profile

All Canned Beans are Not the Same

I realized after completing my post for the hummus recipe that I had not provided one important piece of information.  I preferentially use organic brands of canned beans.  I use them not because I think organic foods are better (I think that they are not as much better for you as they are touted to be, but still have value) and not because most of them use BPA free linings (I’m not super-concerned about BPAs, but think less chemicals in my food is generally a good thing), but because they are typically significantly lower in sodium:

Here are the nutritional values, recalculated with the values for a conventional brand of beans (see the original values here):

15  Servings
Serving Size: 2 tablespoons
Calories 53   Calories from Fat 30
% Daily Value
Total Fat 3.4 g 5%
   Saturated Fat 0.4 g 2%
   Trans Fat 0 g
   Cholesterol 0 g 0%
Sodium 102.3 g 4%
Total Carbohydate 5.1 g 0%
   Dietary Fiber 1.4 g 5%
   Sugar 0 g
Protein 1.8 g 4%

Sodium jumps from 6.6 grams to 1o2.3 gram.  In the grand scheme of things, it initially seems like 4% of your sodium intake for the day isn’t a huge amount.  Keep in mind, the foods that hummus is usually served with: bread, cheese, pita chips and olives.  All of these foods tend to be rather salty.

I like to choose how much salt I add to my food, not leave it up to food manufacturers. Draining and rinsing canned beans can significantly reduce the amount of sodium.  There are also quite a few low sodium options on the market as well, which are a less expensive than the organic brands.

Of course, if you want total control, you could always cook the beans from scratch.



Hummus garnished with za’atar (garnish not included in recipe).

Hummus is a tangy spread made from garbanzo beans.  It is a staple of middle eastern cuisine but it is also extremely versatile, and can be used as a sandwich spread, a dip, or as an accompaniment for a salad.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t have hummus for the first time until I was in college.  There used to be a restaurant in downtown Tucson called The Grill.  It’s been closed for a while know, but I still proudly wear my grill T-shirt with the logo of a 1950’s-style waitress standing on a speeding rocket, griping the reins around the nose cone with one hand and a steaming pot of coffee in the other.  A great logo, although if it was intended to express the speed of service, it was somewhat misleading.  That was a different time of life though; we weren’t as concerned with speed of service.

What’s that got to do with hummus? Well, The Grill had an eclectic menu, including a hummus plate.  Served with red onion, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese, kalamata olives and french bread, the hummus they served was not anything special, but it made a great meal.  It’s a dish that I would serve regularly before we had kids (right now it would be a tough sell).

During my time as a cook, made hummus quite often, but always did it on the fly, without a lot of science.  Now I’ve taken the time to really go through it and do some test kitchen work and developed a refined recipe.  Following this I’ll demonstrate the versatility of hummus, both flavoring, and in use.


  1. 3 tablespoons tahini (42 grams)
  2. 1 tablespoon lemon juice (11 grams)
  3. 3 cloves garlic (10 grams)
  4. 1.5 tablespoon olive oil (18.75g)
  5. 1 can of garbanzo beans, 15  ounce (425g)


  • Food processor
  • Rubber spatula
  • Small bowl
  • Storage container


  1. Drain and reserve fluid from garbanzo beans
  2. Combine tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil in a food processor. Blend until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute
  3. Add garbanzo beans to the food processor.
  4. Blend until smooth, approximately 3 minutes.
  5. With processor running, gradually add the reserved liquid from the can, until desired consistency is reached. approximately 2/3rds of the liquid.

Nutrition Information:

15  Servings
Serving Size: 2 tablespoons
Calories 58   Calories from Fat 28
% Daily Value
Total Fat 3.1 g 5%
   Saturated Fat 0.4 g 2%
   Trans Fat 0 g
   Cholesterol 0 g 0%
Sodium 6.6 g 0%
Total Carbohydate 5.4 g 0%
   Dietary Fiber 1.4 g 5%
   Sugar 0.1 g
Protein 2.1 g 4%

 Food Safety:

Store hummus under refrigeration (between 32 and 41 degrees) for no longer than 7 days.


Well, my paying work managed to drag me away from this project for almost six months.  It’s time to get back on track.  I hope to have my first recipe up within the week.   I’m also going to begin blogging on current events in nutrition.

For my work on this site, I developed a recipe analysis tool in LibreOffice, an open source office suite.  I really like LibreOffice and work in it regularly, but it occurred to me that if I drew a Venn Diagram of the people who would be interested in my work in nutrition informatics and the people who use open source software, the overlap would be very small.  In order to make my work more accessible, decided to rebuild the tool in MS Office.

I’m hopeful that, once the tool is complete:

  1. It will be useful (or at least interesting) to others
  2. It will serve as a prototype for my efforts to develop a recipe analysis application

If all goes as planned, I’ll be posting again shortly.

Database Recipe Analysis

In order to develop the nutrient facts displayed on this website, I will be be using what is referred to as Database Nutrient Analysis. Database Nutrient Analysis relies on published nutrition information, including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, and information from food manufacturers and other sources.

The alternative is to send samples of the food item to a laboratory for analysis.  This is done primarly by food manufacturers, but is typically too expensive for foodservice operations and anyone else doing a lot of recipe development.

I have been working in the area of Database Nutrient Analysis for the last decade, and have over 10 years experience in foodservice and nutrition.  In this blog I will be discussing my process for developing these values, the tools I use, and the challenges I encounter.

Work in Progress – Hummus

When I firstsed started planning this blog, I thought I would be ready to start posting content very quickly.  It turns out that there was a lot more work for me to do than I originally realized.  I am planning to do a series on hummus, starting with a very basic hummus recipe and then providing a number of variations to demonstrate different cooking techniques and how the nutrition values are or are not altered.

So far, I’ve done some really good test kitchen work on the hummus recipe and ran into a significant need to work on formatting and tooling for the recipes and nutrition information.  I hope to resolve both issues shortly and then begin posting the series.  I’m hopeful to also further develop the blog so that I can talk about the process of recipe development and nutritional analysis withou having it right on the front page.

Due to my work schedule, I won’t have a lot of time to work on things this week,   I hope to have the first recipe in the series posted up early next week.

Welcome to Fact Label


If you’re reading this,  you’ve probably noticed there isn’t a whole lot going on here just yet.  I’ll be posting up more soon.  Please come back later and hopefully you’ll see something that interests you.