Baked Brie…..Always a Hit

July 14th, 2014

Can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.

Baked Brie

Brie wrapped in pastry and baked until it has thoroughly melted inside is one of the world’s easiest yet tastiest appetizers. The brie is topped with a sweet jam, wrapped with pastry and coated with maple syrup.


  • 1 sheet of puff pastry dough, if frozen let thaw until pliable
  • 1 round of brie cheese
  • ¼ cup of chopped walnuts or other nuts
  • Apricot jam, or other sweet fruit jam
  • Maple syrup
  • Brown sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. The thin top rind of the cheese can be carefully cut off with a sharp knife if desired. The rind is edible so this doesn’t have to be done. The rind helps the crust stay with the cheese when served.
  3. Spread the puff pastry out on a non-stick cookie sheet and center the brie round on top. Spread the jam on the Brie and sprinkle the chopped nuts evenly over the jam.
  4. Pull the dough over the top of the brie, folding the sides. Twist the ends of the dough together. Drizzle maple syrup over the dough and sprinkle brown sugar on top.
  5. Bake at 350º for 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Can be served alone or with slices of fruit, and crackers or thin slices of French bread.


A Week in Tuscany… Put It on Your Bucket List

July 1st, 2014
Cinque Terra

Cinque Terra, Manarola from the Water

Our group, actually 22 people, recently spent a week in Tuscany. It was well beyond, and very different from, my expectations and I would recommend it to anyone. What you will find is lush rolling hills, a temperate climate, interesting hill towns, culture and fine art… and of course great food and wine.

Tuscany is a product or it’s history and civilizations. The Apennine culture dominated the late second millennium BC, followed by the Villanovan culture (1100–700 BC). Tuscany, and the rest of Etruria, was then dominated by City-states before the Etruscan civilization rose in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Then came the Romans in the first century AD followed by the medieval period. Tuscany (Florence) is often referred to as the birthplace of the Renaissance. I didn’t realize how many people died in the “black death” which started in 1348, 50% of the population overall and up to 75% in some cities.

We spent about two weeks in Italy but “the group” all stayed at Villa Ponte in Bettolle for 7 days (previously called Il Casale Del Marchese or La Bandita). The villa dates back to the 18th century but has been beautifully restored and the manager/chef, Gian Luca, is a hoot. While at the villa we did day trips on our own, mostly by car.

Below is the list of towns and places visited:

Cinque Terra:
Actually 5 towns on the Italian Riviera, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. It’s a fairy tale land with multicolored houses built on the steep hills and terraced gardens. Take the (underground) train and the ferry. Be prepared for lots of walking up and down the steps.


1929 Mercedes

1929 Mercedes SSK in the Mille Miglia

A very quaint walled city. We just happened to be there on the day that the 1000 Miglia, passed through town. The Mille Miglia started in 1927 as an open road endurance race and is now limited to cars made before 1957. I lost count at 100 vintage racing cars.

Castello Banfi and Banfi Wines:
A very large vineyard and winery producing 12 million bottles per year… olive oil. We had a tour then a great lunch in the restored castle.

Yet another quaint hill town/commune famous for the Brunello di Montalcino wine made from the sangiovese grosso grapes grown within the commune.


Siena Cathedral

The Romanesque-Gothic Siena Cathedral

Spend some time people watching in the Palazzo Pubblico where the Palio horse race is held twice a year. The Romanesque-Gothic Siena Cathedral is a must see as well as the home of Saint Catherine of Siena, one of the two patron saints of Italy.


Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio on the Arno River; Get out Your Wallet

What can you say about Florenza?….Santa Maria del Fiore, The David, Uffizi Gallery, Piazza della Repubblica….the cradle of the Renaissance. And of course Ponte Vecchio, the Medieval bridge over the Arno river, now home to jewelers, art dealers and souvenir shops.

Bagni San Filippo:
Hot springs, a great surprise and change of pace. We “sort of” stumbled on hot springs that were a bit of a hike back into the woods and with few other people there. There was a series of rustic pools people had damned up going down the hill with the top pool at the source about 96 degrees F.

A hill town/commune with beautiful panoramic views. The town was originally called Corsignano, the birthplace of Aeneas Silvius Picolomini who later became Pope Pius II and entirely rebuilt it as an ideal renaissance town.


Bridge To Civita

Don’t take the bridge to Civita if you are afraid of Heights

A very interesting hill town, less restored then the others because it was isolated for years after the original land bridge collapsed. You can still see Etruscan caves in the area. I got vertigo for the first time in my life while walking up the bridge.

Another interesting hill town perched on vertical cliff faces with a subterranean city of caves and tunnels one can tour. The Duomo, the Orvieto Cathedral, is striped in travertine and basalt.

Other cities people in our group visited included Rome, Venice, Pisa, Cortona, Bologna and Milan.

RO 6-14

A Better Way to Determine Calories in Alcoholic Beverages

June 16th, 2014

A while back I reported a table of the approximate calories in an average (115 ml or 4 oz) glass of wine (also see here and here). However there is a more accurate way to calculate how many calories alcoholic beverages contain which actually contribute towards your body’s use of calories. In other words how will the alcoholic beverages you consume affect your weight?

Wine contains about 13% alcohol by volume (actually I’ve seen one that reports 16.5%) and beer any where from 3.2% to 10% or more, and distilled spirits vary widely. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. So you might assume the more alcohol you consume the more weight you will gain. It turns out that many studies have determined that calories from alcohol do not necessarily lead to weight increase. The reason is unclear but the research suggests that alcohol is not effectively metabolized and that alcohol can increase overall metabolic rates causing more calories to be burned rather than stored. (Read this). For scientists the “calories” reported in foods are actually kilocalories but we will just call them “calories” here.

So for a correct comparison of the “metabolic calories” in various alcoholic beverages you have to back out the calories due to the alcohol. Note for comparison: one gram of fat contains about 9 calories; complex carbohydrates and protein each contain 4 calories per gram; and as above pure alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. So if you know the total (T) calories in a given volume (Xoz) of a drink and the percent alcohol (P) it’s simple to calculate the net (N) metabolic calories you will consume:

N = T – 7(cal/gm alcohol)*0.28(gm alcohol/oz%)*P*X = T – 1.96*P*X

  • N = Net calories in your drink of X ounces
  • T = Total calories in your drink of X ounces
  • X = Number of ounces of the drink
  • P = Percent alcohol of the drink


There are a number of sources that report the calories and percent alcohol in various drinks. The values differ quite a bit from source to source, but below I have selected some wines and beers to provide a few examples:

Calories in Wine

  Total Calories Net Calories
Non-Alcohol Wine 4oz, 0% 37 37
Champagne 4oz, 12% 105 11
Dry Red 4oz , 13% 115 13
Dry White 4oz , 12.5% 120 22
Dry Rose 4oz , 12% 100 0

Calories in Beer

  Total Calories Net Calories
Non-Alcohol Beer 12oz, 0% 60 60
Beer 12oz, 5.5% 150 21
Light Beer 12oz, 4.0% 100 6
Stout 12oz, 4.3% 153 52
Double Dock 12oz, 9.5% 323 99


There are many references but these will get you started if interested:



Glorious Insults

August 5th, 2013

Insults used to be an art form… before the English language got boiled down to all those unfortunate 4-letter words. Here are a selection of some of the better known insults from the better known insulters…


The He Said – She Said exchange between Churchill & Lady Astor:

  • She said, “If you were my husband I’d give you poison.”
  • He said, “If you were my wife, I’d drink it.”


“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend… if you have one.” – George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

  • “Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second… if there is one..” – Winston Churchill, in response.


“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” – Winston Churchill


“He had delusions of adequacy.” – Walter Kerr


“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).


“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” – Oscar Wilde


 “He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends..” – Oscar Wilde


 “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.” – Mark Twain


“Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?” – Mark Twain


 “I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.” – Irvin S. Cobb


 “I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.” – Clarence Darrow


 “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it.” – Moses Hadas


 “I feel so miserable without you; it’s almost like having you here.” – Stephen Bishop


 “He is a self-made man and worships his creator.” – John Bright


 “He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others.” – Samuel Johnson


 “He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up..” – Paul Keating


 “In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily.” – Charles, Count Talleyrand


 “He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.” – Forrest Tucker


 “His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” – Mae West


 “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts… for support rather than illumination.” – Andrew Lang (1844-1912)


 “He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” – Billy Wilder


 A member of Parliament to Disraeli: “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.”

  • “That depends, Sir,” said Disraeli, “whether I embrace your policies or your mistress..”


 “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” – Groucho Marx



 And if you have managed to read this far… a couple more recent ones:


 ”The problem with being better than you is that you think I’m arrogant” – Alex Obenauf


 “While intelligence can be mistaken for arrogance, your lack of intelligence can never be mistaken” – Obie




James Beard Foundation

July 16th, 2013

SPEX attended a fundraiser in support of the James Beard Foundation on Monday June 15, 2013. The function was held at the headquarters on West 12th street in the heart of the Village in New York City, which just happens to be where the culinary legend lived for many years. The foundation’s mission is to celebrate, nurture and preserve America’s diverse culinary heritage and future.

The excellent wine tasting was hosted by Maynard James Keenan of Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards of Jerome AZ. Mr. Keenan is, of course, a music icon as well.

Maynard James Keenan

Maynard James Keenan

The hors d’oeuvres followed by a great five course dinner were created by Chef Mike Carrino of the “Pig and the Prince” in Montclair, NJ. Chef Mike was assisted by his staff and several of the students from the James Beard Culinary Arts School.

Pickled Peppers, Tomatoes, Onions, Mushrooms… I call them Premium Pickled Stuff

July 2nd, 2013

I started pickling a few years back because so many peppers ripened all at once that I couldn’t keep up with them just through eating…. and I certainly was not going to let them go to waste. Initially I pickled just peppers, all different kinds together, but then I began adding onions. Then I tried small green tomatoes, then mushrooms and who knows what is next on the list. I found that the same basic method worked for just about anything I tried, so I decided to share it with you. By the way I have never pickled cucumbers.


Start by washing and cutting off the stems. You can remove most of the seeds from the peppers but if you want more heat then leave in more seeds. I use a food processor to slice the peppers and onions fairly fine. They make a great topping for sandwiches and salads. For the tomatoes and mushrooms I just cut them into bite size pieces.

Cut Peppers pickled-stuff

The basic recipe for the brine is always the same but I change the spices just about every time; guidelines:

  • 5 Cups white pickling vinegar
  • 1 Cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 Cup pickling spice
    4 Teaspoons pickling/canning salt
  • 2 Teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 2 Teaspoons coarse, ground black pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon whole black/white peppercorns
  • 2 Teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 Teaspoons cumin
  • 2 Teaspoons Fresh Dill to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste

Bring the mixture to a boil then simmer for 10-15 minutes


Place your canning jars and lids in simmering/boiling water for 5-10 minutes to sterilize them; remove and let cool until ready to fill. Stuff the jars to within ½ inch of the top with the cut up vegetables and press down slightly. Ladle the brine to fill the jar leaving ¼ inch headspace and make sure to get some of the pieces of spice in each jar. Put on the lids and screw the top on hand tight. Submerge the jars in boiling water for ten minutes. Remove the jars and set on a towel to cool making sure you hear a “ping” from each jar assuring a good seal.


Chili – Obie’s Special Recipe

February 25th, 2013

My special chili recipe. I like it nice and hot!

My special Chili recipe

My special chili recipe


Start with 2 lbs ground beef (or 1.5lb beef, 0.5lb pork)

Brown in small amount of oil with crushed garlic and 4Tbs chili powder, salt & ground pepper


To the beef, add:

  • 2-3 large cans of crushed Tomatoes(or two crushed and one whole, cut in pieces)
  • 2 cans dark kidney beans
  • 2 cans light kidney beans or chick peas
  • 2 onions, cut in lengthwise slices or rings
  • 3 bell peppers cut in lengthwise slices
  • 1 green, 1 red and 1 orange for color
  • 3 Tbs chili powder
  • Oregano, salt, 2tsp sugar, pinch ground cloves


Now for the heat… to your taste:

  • 3-4 large Jalapeño peppers
  • Tabasco, cumin and/or your favorite hot sauce
  • 1-2 habanero peppers, chopped but be careful
  • spices and peppers are to your taste


Simmer all together for at least one hour, preferably two.

I like it Cincinnati style. Obie’s Chili on a bed of angel hair pasta with cheese on top and sour cream on top of that and chopped onions on top of that and… get the idea


Unusual Words and their Definitions – some new, some strange, and all funny

February 5th, 2013
Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.


A manager, who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything, and then leaves.


The process by which some people seem to absorb success and advancement by kissing up to the boss rather than working hard.


The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die in the end


An office filled with cubicles.


When someone yells or drops something loudly in a Cube Farm, and people’s heads pop up over the walls to see what’s going on.


The on-line, wired generation’s answer to the couch potato.


Single Income, Two Children, Oppressive Mortgage. What yuppies turn into when they have children and one of them stops working to stay home with the kids.


A person who seems to thrive on being stressed out and whiny.


An ATM or credit card that has been rendered useless because the magnetic strip is worn away from extensive use.


Euphemism for swiping free photocopies from one‘s workplace.


Entertainment and media spectacles that are annoying but you find yourself unable to stop watching them.


The fine art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get it to work again.


The rarefied organizational layers beginning just above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often profoundly inappropriate or irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.


Someone who’s clueless. From the World Wide Web error message “404 Not Found” meaning that the requested document could not be located. (For those in Toronto, it’s also Hwy 404… A destination that cannot be located.)


Surreptitiously farting while passing through a Cube Farm.


That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you’ve just made a BIG mistake.


Well-Off Older Folks


(oh-bliv-éon) – A person who is so oblivious to his or her surroundings that they abandon all common courtesy and commit daily acts of rudeness. Oblivions are oblivious to the very fact that they are Oblivions, which makes it difficult for an Oblivion to ever see the error in his or her ways.

For example: A line of courteous people will form at the Starbucks coffee counter, with each person ordering in their turn. An Oblivion usually stands to the side of the line, staring so intently at the Frappuccino menu that when a clerk asks who’s next, they are awakened out of their Oblivion trance and will yell out their order, cutting the line as if there weren’t a line at all. They also park in a no-parking or handicapped zone.  Another example is the movie theater Oblivion, who arrives to a packed theater with an Oblivion friend, after the movie begins. Together they will search for seats and eventually spot two separate, empty seats in the same row. They will then proceed to ask the people who bothered to show up early so they could choose the seats they wanted (non-Oblivions) and ask everybody in the row to scoot down a seat so they can sit together (most times people will accommodate the Oblivion, just to save the Grrrrrr).


A person whose Oblivionism is dangerous to others. Will stop short in the middle of a busy sidewalk to answer a cell phone, try to board an “up” elevator before it empties, and swings a lit cigarette indiscriminately as they walk. Also known to make abrupt, complete stops at yield signs and are chronic rubber-neckers.


An automobile driver who believes so strongly in speed limit highway laws that he or she will drive 55 miles per hour in the passing lane, forcing people to either adhere to the speed limit or to pass on the right. Left Lane Vigilantes never use their rear view mirror, so tailgate intimidation or flashing the high beams is of no use. These are people committed to keeping you from getting a speeding ticket, and they will do whatever they must to keep you behind them.


A person who is always right, and has to let every one know it. Favorite phrase: “l told you.”  Self-Righteons will cross in front of a moving bus because they have the right of way, will rudely demand another steak because they ordered theirs well done and it came out a little pink in the middle, and usually huff and puff at the retail counter when an underpaid clerk makes an honest mistake (yes, you should get your steak how you ordered it, but for crying out loud, it’s not the end of the world).  Self-Righteons, when driving, are Left Lane Vigilantes. Also known to speed up their vehicle when another driver makes a suspect move, just to show how close they came to an accident (if they didn’t speed up, however, it wouldn’t have been close at all). They also refuse to let anyone merge in front of them.


Sooo important that they can’t sit through a restaurant meal without loudly talking business on the cell phone or believe that if they quit their job their employer’s business would go down in flames. Note to doctors, police officers and emergency medical technicians who fit into this category: While your job is very important, there are millions more of you who don’t feel the need to let everyone know that what they do is sooo important. Celebrity staffs, including public relations people are usually ImporTants.


These are grocery store Oblivions, who wait until their entire cart is rung up before whipping out the checkbook. These are the folks whose families span across entire shopping aisles, debating the pros and cons of all-in one shampoo and conditioner, or who stop to chat with their next-door neighbors to catch up on the last five years.


People who know nothing about politics yet nod profusely and agree with the loudest (and oftentimes most obnoxious) people in the room.


People who are treated like celebrities when their only contribution to society is appearing on a reality show. Therefore, they don’t get the honor in the Grrr! to be called celebrities. Real-ities will hold on to their little bit of fame with every nook and cranny of their being, announcing to everyone they meet, “Remember me? I’m the guy who had sex in the restaurant bathroom,” or “I’m the Apprentice who was attacked by the tow truck driver,” or “I’m the guy who threw water on Simon Cowell”


LCGC Europe Webinar: “The Comprehensive Analyses of Wine”

October 29th, 2012

LCGC Europe recently held a very informative webinar detailing the analysis of wine.  You can register on the LCGC Europe website to view a recording, or download the slides.

You can also watch the webinar I hosted last year on the Art and Chemistry of Wine.


If you analyze wine, be sure to check out SPEX CertiPrep’s growing selection of wine standards.

Phthalate and BPA concentrations in small, inexpensive, imported children’s toys [Updated!]

April 3rd, 2012

Concerns continue to grow about what is causing the increase in autism, cancers and other childhood disorders. We see higher levels in the environment for pesticides, heavy metals, steroids, antibiotics and potentially toxic compounds used in the production of plastics. These alone or in combination could be responsible for some of these increases. Plastic additives are of particular concern because it is virtually impossible to limit a child’s exposure to food and drink containers, toys, etc. which can lead directly to the ingestion of plasticizers such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA).


In fact children’s products are often targeted for testing and regulation where the potential for toxic exposure is even greater than for adults. The US has started to limit levels of some phthalates, including DEP, DEHP, DBP, BBP, for use in children’s’ products. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has published testing methods for these regulated phthalates while the regulation of BPA remains under debate. A study was undertaken here to examine the levels of phthalates and BPA in small, inexpensive, imported children’s toys. New cryogenic grinding methods developed to process the different types of plastic toys examined and new quantitative analytical methods developed specifically for these analyses are described and the results discussed.


“The Preparation, Extraction, and Analysis of Imported Children’s Toys for Phthalates and BPA.”

Presented by Patricia Atkins at Pittcon 2012


Download the slides (.pdf) from this very informative presentation.


Want to learn more?  Join SPEX CertiPrep for a FREE webinar!

Join SPEX CertiPrep on May 3rd, 2012 at 10AM or 2PM for an informative webinar on the sample preparation of imported plastic toys for the analysis of BPA and phthalates.

Register now!