Ask the Food Dude 

Q: Dude, whenever I try to separate an egg, I end up with a mess. I've tried doing it the old shell-to-shell way, and when I use the edge of one shell to try to clip the stringy little white stuff that's attached to the yolk (I hate that thing, whatever it is), I end up breaking the yolk. I got a cheap plastic egg separator, but it doesn't always work and I still have the problem with the white crud. He'p me.

A: For the record, those nasty-looking white things are chalaza, and they connect the yolk to the white. The little blood dot you sometimes see is called, get this, a "meat spot." Neither will hurt you at all, ya baby. Fact is, when they’re really visible, it's one sign the egg is fresh, and that’s the key. Always check the sell-by date on the end of an egg carton (did you even know there is one?) and buy the newest. The yolks and whites both will be firmer and easier to handle. An easy way to check freshness is to carefully drop an uncracked raw egg into a glass of water: Fresh eggs sink, rotten eggs float on the surface and the rest hang suspended somewhere in the middle. I think by far the easiest way to separate an egg is to use your clean hands. Crack it open carefully, dump the whole thing in the cupped fingers of one hand held over a bowl, and the white will slip right through as you jiggle your fingers. Slick — literally.


Q: I've been losing sleep, and maybe part of my mind, worrying about cooking in my aluminum pots and pans. Somebody told me the aluminum gets in your food and gives you Alzheimer's. What's, uh ... I forgot.

A: Whatever causes your brain farts probably isn't aluminum pan residue. Although the metal was a suspect in Alzheimer's years ago, the latest research I've seen says not to fret, about aluminum kitchenware, anyway. (Same thing with Teflon, by the way.) If you have quality, heavy-gauge aluminum cookware, carry on. Aluminum's a great heat conductor and will cook very evenly, especially if it jackets a copper disc on the bottom. But stay away from the cheap, tinny stuff. It always has "hot spots" and there's almost no way to avoid burning your beans or bouillabaisse.

Spit or swallow?

Civet Coffee: Some idiots call it “monkey poo coffee,” when everybody knows a civet isn’t a monkey or a cat, but is related to the cobra-killing mongoose. Long tortured for the stuff that comes from the pineal glands next to its exhaust (it gives something special to perfume), the civet has nothing to fear from the harvesting of its other valuable product — doody. These things love perfectly ripe coffee beans, chow on them in Sumatra, digest the soft coating and crap out the beans. Sumatrans who complain about getting all the shitty jobs pick through the turds, wash the beans thoroughly (?), and their bosses sell them to wholesale roasters. Not surprisingly, the taste has been described as a little chocolatey, and notably not bitter, probably thanks to an enzyme in the civet’s chute. Since only about 50 keys of them are collected annually, they sell for $120-$300 a pound. Check Web availability. Right.

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