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Is there anyone that has made Paula's down-home recipes and thought they might be healthy?
Is there anyone that has made Paula's down-home recipes and thought they might be healthy?

In defense of Paula Deen

OK, I never quite expected to find myself rushing to the defense of Paula Deen.

I'm really somewhat skeptical of culinary television personalities. I have my favorites, especially the cooking shows hosts that either take you to other countries and expose the viewers and cuisines or shows where they try to rescue a struggling restaurant.

I can tell you I've never really watched any of Paula Deen's shows, however I'm aware of the whole Southern, down-home, "butter makes it better" concept.

So it comes out this past week Paula Deen has type-2 diabetes and she is now a spokesperson for a new pharmaceutical company. How unfair of Paula to have duped us. Is there anyone that has made her recipes and thought that it might be healthy? Oh the tragedy! This reminds me of the people that sued McDonald's because they were fat due to consuming their products.

Paula did not owe the public full disclosure of her health status. It's not her responsibility for what goes in our mouths. The whole issue is amusing. Perhaps, if her show was a weight-loss infomercial guaranteed to promote well-being, I could understand how people might be angry. Her show is known for championing fried fatty foods. What outcome could be expected? It's entertainment, not a way of life. Maybe the silver lining is perhaps she'll show how to prepare her style of food in a healthier fashion.

Regardless, as individuals we are responsible for what we consume. I guess it is easier just to blame television, fast food chains or Paula...

Truffles are an indulgent ingredient that most chefs never get their hands on.
Truffles are an indulgent ingredient that most chefs never get their hands on.

A weekend of truffle TV

I had a great weekend of watching food television. "Wisconsin Foodie" featured a segment on one of my favorite things to cook with: truffles! They showcased a specialty dinner where the main ingredient was celebrating fresh imported white and black truffles.

For many years as the chef de cuisine of Dream Dance we would raise funds for Miracle on Canal Street with truffle dinners, and the proceeds would benefit local children organizations. The dinners were quite the event; we got to handle an ingredient that most chefs never get their hands on. And the only way we could justify this indulgence was the children it helped.

I tell you it was intoxicating, every year when we cracked open that case the entire restaurant smelled of that perfume. We would handle them with care, gently brushing off any excess dirt and immediately storing them in mason jars with rice and even fresh eggs – the eggs and rice would be infused with flavor. Also the rice would keep the proper level of humidity.

At one of our annual dinners at Dream Dance we served almost two pounds of shaved white truffles over the course of the night. The first course we served was a poached duck egg with a parmesan truffle broth. The next course was a day boat scallop with trofie pasta and chiffonade white truffles. We then featured a sous-vide strauss veal breast with root vegetables and truffle potato puree; this being the entree course we proceeded to shave more truffles tableside.

We finished with one of Wisconsin's award-winning cheeses: Pleasant Ridge Reserve with Awe's organic honey that we infused with white truffles ourselves.

I have to tell you that this ingredient is humbling. I can't tell you how much money was spent on these truffles but if you missed last night's episode of "60 Minutes" it will give you a great background and idea on the value of this prized tuber.

"60 Minutes" featured Olga Urbani from the Urbani family, which has been a prestigious and respected…

Skip the store soda and do-it-yourself from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Skip the store soda and do-it-yourself from the comfort of your own kitchen.

So you think you can make soda pop?

This past year one of the big trends was do-it-yourself soda. Sound like fun? Well it is, and if you're not careful it can be messy fun.

I set out to create the most popular soda you might find; a version of a homemade Coca-Cola.

There are a couple of kits and carbonators on the market that are relatively affordable. William Sonoma sells the iSi's Twist 'n Sparkle for $49.95, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond sells the SodaStream Pure Soda Maker for $130.

Most kits on the market offer an option to use their version of syrup that you mix with carbonated water – pretty easy. Well, I skipped that part and made the syrup all from scratch using all-natural ingredients – no food coloring, no fructose corn syrup or preservatives. Not an easy task.

First you have to procure the ingredients. You can read the back of the label, but that doesn't give you the recipe. So I turned to the internet to hunt down some kind of starting point.

This recipe was like putting together a puzzle with missing pieces and only your taste buds to guide. I learned most soft drinks require citric acid to some degree, a water-soluble powder having a strong acidic taste, obtained by fermentation of crude sugar or corn sugar. Thankfully, I didn't have to do that part; you can find citric acid pretty easily – The Spice House carries it and it's not expensive.

Another ingredient hurdle was cassia oil; this is supposedly the secret ingredient to Coca-Cola. This Vietnamese cinnamon oil usually is used for aromatherapy. This hard-to-find ingredient is essential for flavoring and is very intense. You can find this at most health food stores.

I found in Coca-Cola they use lemon oil, orange oil, citric acid, cassia oil, vanilla (I used fresh bean paste), caffeine (which I chose to omit, but crushed NoDoz can be used) and carbonated water. I recommend finding the oils; extracts lack the potency.

One of the challenges about recreating the cola syrup was the color. I attempted to create the right flavor b…