Friday, April 30, 2010

How difficult is fancy to do?

I am a fan of shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef and one thing that some chefs do to make their food more appetizing is to make it look and sound fancy. I remember chefs making things like seared Kobe beef on a bed of field greens with a raspberry and wine reduction.  Well food lovers, that does sound fancy doesn't it?  I even bet that this dish can be found in some places for as much as $10 a plate!  Well, let us look at what it is really.

A piece of expensive beef cut, from hand massaged cows, then seared in a pan, which we can all do.  Then that is placed on a handful of either watercress, arugula or some other lettuce leaf.  Then some red wine was placed in a skillet with some raspberry puree' and boiled down for 10-15 minutes. 

Now, did my description sound complicated? Here is a visual example for some pepper and rosemary encrusted pork tenderloin.  Something like this can be found in some restaurants for about $10-$15. It is easy and uses what I have here:

That up there, clockwise, is: a mortar and pestle, salt (I used Hawaiian Sea Salt), dried rosemary, peppercorns, dried mustard, celery seed, two thick pork tenderloin pieces and parsley.

Now, this is what you do.  You mix all of those spices and seasonings in the mortar and pestle and grind it all together.  Then you set your oven for 450 degrees.  Then you rub the mixture all over the pork and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.  Then you let it rest and when slicing and serving, cut some fresh parsley for on top.

This picture above is before cooking...

There you have it, some rosemary and pepper encrusted pork tenderloin.  Now, if I wanted to be fancy, I could make a mushroom risotto from Gordan Ramsey's book to have the pork lay over. But who wants to do that much extra work right?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

So, what's for dinner?

I admit, that the photos I take for this blog are not the most professional looking nor do they always sometimes make the food look really tasty. Like the above picture, that may not look that delicious, but hey, that was the cactus dish I made, before adding the quinoa.  It had chopped onions, tomatoes, green chilis, garlic, and salt and pepper besides the chopped cactus in it. While I did take a course on food presentation, to be honest, I have so little time each day to experiment and cook fun things that I don't have the added hour or so to plate this dish and then clean it up and take the most awesome photo of it I can.  And let's face it even further, if you are a stay-at-home person or just the one who cooks at home, chances are that you don't have the time to make it look really nice either.
I posted a status message about this on Facebook as for some reason, just a pan full of onions cooking smells so good that I once wondered about making a relish purely on diced and cooked onions; and did it by the way. The problem with that photo is that onions are pale and pretty much colorless.  So taking a picture of them doesn't show a lot of color and such so they look like a blob or just not so appetizing.

Now when I am out and reviewing restaurants, I pull my tiny camera out and take pictures of the food and the place, on my own, and quickly as to not get thrown out or have anyone complain towards me.  These in-restaurant food photos tend to have the lighting off a bit or the color and again, as most restaurant reviewers don't want to be recognized, now with the growing number of food bloggers, and the increasing number of people bringing cameras with them wherever they go, I find it easy to take a snapshot and get away with it.  What I can do in the future, is try to take better photos at home, with a better camera.  This way, when I am doing something, you can get a better view of it.  Even my wife suggested using a stand to place a camera onto it so that I could record my process of cooking or doing something fun, like make caviar and place it on here for all to see.  Either way, with luck and more time, better photos will be on here.  Or maybe, when I finish each dish or thing I cook, I can plate it and take a good photo or two.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Iron chef ingredient theme: cactus...

Yes folks, it is not just for storing water in the dessert and letting Spike rest his back against.  The cactus is edible and last year I had the first try with the fruit, the prickly pear and after peeling it, chopping it and boiling it I was able to make a low calories and interesting jam, out of the fruit.  Now, a random, for fun, trip to Whole Foods inspired me to purchase 7 cactus leaves. I bought them because I remember them coming up in a box for the Food Network show "Chopped" and no one had a clue what to do with it.  Well, in case you are ever left with a few leaves of cactus and wonder what to do with it, here was my experiment, which turned out well.

You first have to clean them and the easiest method I did was to get the sharpest knife you have, in my case it was a ceramic kitchen knife, and slice against the grain, slicing each 'eye' off with the needles.  Oh yes, please be careful, those needles drive in deep and fast and hurt. Some people online suggested a cleaning pad, and that didn't work too well as it took off some of the skin, revealing the slimy insides.  Also, other suggested using a vegetable peeler on the whole thing and again, that leaves only the slimy inside. How slimy? Not as slimy as Okra but close.

The next part was easy, as many online sources suggested everything from grilling to boiling and by far the easiest thing to do was just slice it up, and saute' in a pan with some olive oil for about 8 minutes on high heat.  After 8 minutes, it was tender and had gone from bright green to a darker olive green color. I tasted like cooked green beans and I wanted to do something fun with it. So, inspired by its Mexican culture, or South American ideals, I added some chopped garlic, onion, tomatoes, green chilis and some freshly cooked quinoa to the pan, along with a good helping of salt and pepper.
All in all, everything turned out good so if you are interested in my recipe, or more information of what I did, let me know.

Friday, April 23, 2010

That's not sugar free!

As a chef attempting to make sugar-free recipes I find myself surrounded by a set of chefs, who are idiots. Listen, I don't care how much experience these other chefs have but when you say that you have a recipe for something that is sugar-free and then you have sugar listed, like maple syrup, corn syrup, HFCS, honey or other things, it is NOT sugar free.

I just finished making apple butter the second time and this time, this recipe, made eleven 8 oz jars and this was done with a completely sugar-free recipe: which means that no sugar was added.  No honey was added, no blue agave nectar, no corn syrup or anything like that.  It is the most close to nature for these products and as such, this is how sugar-free should be. 

In regards to diabetes, which I attempt to make all of my foods work well with, some things are good to eat and others are not.  For instance, meats have almost no GL's or glycemic loads so they are okay for people with diabetes while other things like processed white flour is high on the glycemic load list and the sugars therein stay in your bloodstream longer so they are not good.  Now, what I love concerning this is the statement on the American Diabetes Website, , stating that "All of our recipes meet the ADA Guidelines and can help you fit nutrition into your busiest days."

So you think, "good, there are recipes that I can make and it will be good for my body."  That is not the case though.  Some of the recipes use high processed things and then on the bottom of the recipe it states " Not all recipes presented here are necessarily appropriate for all people with diabetes, nor will all recipes fit into every meal plan. No two meal plans are alike. Work with your health care provider, diabetes educator or dietitian to design a meal plan that's right for you, and includes the foods you love". 

This is contradicts itself.  A website claiming that all articles on the site are written by women and then having articles written by men with an annotation under them, does not still qualify it.  So, why did the site say that all recipes are good for Diabetics but not all recipes are good for Diabetics?  I have no idea but it would be a good question to ask them. The worse part is that on the site it says that these recipes come from a book that is given out by the ADA.  This is as bad as someone saying that they are going to make a Vegan Pumpkin pie and then use butter and not use pumpkins.

Well, to everyone who reads this: Diabetics should not take in that many glycemic loads per day, as your body has a hard enough time dealing with little bits of sugar anyways.  My products, use as low GL foods as I can get and I do a bit of molecular gastronomy at times in order to make them as diabetic friendly as possible.  These people and most others, seem that they do not care about the consumer.

"Here is my diabetic friendly candy bar, using high fructose corn syrup and all-purpose bleached flour.  Enjoy"

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Helping gravity plays favorites...

I know it looks weird, but on that Saturday a while back when I went to Wasabi and later reviewed them, I spent the day helping my wife photograph Michelle and Katie.  The two of them, also known as Gravity Plays Favorites. During this shoot, right here, they both were going to hang from the bar while holding onto some feathered fans.  They couldn't get on the pole though, while holding the fans so I had to help. I was getting a picture of me helping and here it is.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What is St. Louis known for?

While most of our culinary history, the culinary history of the world, is mostly made up of coincidences and synchronicity, there are some things that certain cities or cultures can ultimately agree upon.  Somewhat.

I remember hearing about the history of Buffalo wings. There are four general accepted origins of that type of food and all of them claim to be first and none of them will back down.  Similar and dissimilar to this, St. Louis has some general grip to the claims on foods that they state; also thanks to the World's Fair.  The World's Fair of 1904 was a BIG deal.  It was a culmination of everything new and of the West as well as the World, brought together at one location. Cultures brought their clothing, smiths brought their weapons, inventors brought their inventions and cooks brought their foods.

Now while you may be thinking to yourself that you know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who invented these things, that may be, but this is the first time that it was ever made public. Sure, I may have invented the chocolate brownie, but if I never told anyone or showed it to anyone than it didn't matter. Now, off of a good website:

So, what was invented here?

Toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake, prosperity sandwich, pork steaks, the concrete dessert, peanut butter, the slinger, Provel, St. Paul sandwich, Brain sandwich, whistle, Vess and 70up sodas.  While this list may fill you up, TUMS were invented in St. Louis as well.  Now, could someone around the world thought of just cutting their pork a little thicker and thus creating pork steaks?  Sure, but no one knew about it until someone in St. Louis started doing it.

Now the above list is just some things that were invented in St. Louis, probably because no one else thought of it.  But at the World's Fair, some things were invented elsewhere but were first shown off, to the world, at the fair.  For example: ice cream was invented by the Arabs as earlier than the 13th century, but the idea of placing ice cream in a waffle cone was first introduced at the Fair. Ice tea, Dr. Pepper and Cotton candy were also introduced at the Fair.  Although why no one ever thought of placing ice in hot tea and making a cold tea drink is beyond me, but the others were all new.

So there you have it and as a friend suggested and as I was thinking, if Tony does come to STL, he should partake in at least some of these STL traditions and inventions.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The problem with being human...

It is inevitable and it is not easily taken care of. We will all get sick sometime in our life and whether it is once or many times a year, it always strips our soul of everything that makes us happy and generally makes us feel like crap.  Within the past 3 days, my wife and both of my little ones came down with a flu knock-out that has me in a strange position: the last one.  I am the last one in the house and the timer is clicking down. They all think that I will get it, but I am hoping that they are wrong.  For you see, I strongly believe in holistic healing, which means that I'd rather eat an item than take a pill that has what that item has. I never understand the women who are at risk for bone issues and they refuse to drink milk.  They will sit and fight to swallow two calcium pills or chew some bad tasting supplements but won't drink the milk. 

My view, as a chef, is to make those healthy things into things that are so delicious that no one knows.  Imagine eating a chocolate chip cookie and getting your vitamins for the day.

But enough speculation....what have I been doing?  Well, being hope for a few days, with nothing to do makes a person like me, want to cook.  Right now I have some BBQ pork in a crock pot, home made BBQ sauce with that.  I made some fresh bread this morning, some hoppin john last night and likely will make some gelatto and some other goodies as well.  A chef, with plenty of time and supplies is a dangerous thing.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Welcome to St. Louis, Mr. Bourdain...

Thanks to my wife, she informed me on how to best annoy someone into getting what I wanted. So, last year, I send an email, followed by another and another and after a few emails to a staff member of Point Zero, I finally received a response.  I was selected, through my nagging, to be the person to set things up for a visit by Tony and his crew.  But what would we do and what could St. Louis offer?

Well, let's look at the best case scenario:

If I had Tony for just two days, what would we do?  Well, first off, it could be seen that he tends to go places that his wife and child can go as well. Well, through pure coincidence, my in-laws own a spa. That spa, is what Tony's wife and members of the crew can enjoy.  As for what his daughter can do, St. Louis has the best zoo in the country and it is free.  We have all sorts of things for kids and families as well as more than 6 shopping malls!

Now, day one would start with a trip to the World's Fair Donut store, near Shaw Garden, as it is repeatedly chosen as one of the best donut spots in America. Why not start off the day with some award winning donuts?  Next, a nice tour of The Hill and then stopping off in the Central West End at Kopperman's deli for some strange things like a tongue sandwich and such.  A nice afternoon stroll down Washington Avenue showing off the area that was gaslight square, for a little more history and then a run to a night ball game of the world series winning St. Louis Cardinals.  I don't know what Tony actually likes, but from his many journeys with  Zamir, it seems like he is always looking for the party spots but never really finding them.  Tony, welcome to St. Louis.  After a nice Cardinals game, enjoying st. louis local made beer and brats, there is nothing better than perhaps some casino run or a quick trip for drinks and a smoke at the local strip clubs.

Day two would start off with a nice walk and stroll through Soulard Market, where the local farmers bring their fruits and veggies to be sold. Always wonderfully fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and flowers as well as crafts can be found by people there. We would be there to sample and buy some ingredients for a large family dinner that evening.  After food is bought, I think that a tour of the A&B brewery would suffice and then a nice lunch in the city.  Dinner would be in Forest Park, under a park pavilion, as a large BBQ. What more st. louis than a st. louis style BBQ with everyone, family, friends and all crew members get a nice meal of dead animal flesh or pork.  Now that I think about it, maybe hiring someone who does BBQ for a living, like Kenerick's may work best.

Here is my idea and let me know what you think.

Come to st. louis, Tony.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

the never ending story

I read this article in the tangible paper and was interested because I never really put 2 and 2 together.  On one side of the debate you have the Humane Society which is big on animal rights and the ideas that animals deserve the same rights as humans, basically.  On the other side of the fence, there is anyone who makes their money through the death of animals.  So, while the Humane Society is the richest charity organization for animals, the ranchers and independent farmers who have been using livestock as their income and food source for generations, are now under the gun.  

While I think that my cat should be fed when it is hungry and for me to not hit or injure it, at the same time, I went and paid for her to have her front claws removed, because I have had two children grow up with my cat and didn't want her scratching them on purpose or acciadent.  Animal people can't tell me otherwise, it happens.  The moment a cat person says that cats don't scratch, they get scratched.  Animal people are against de-clawing, because it harms the cats.  Well, me going to the dentist for a root canal gives me as much or more pain, so does that mean the dentists should not do root canals?

Anyways, my personal rant is similar to the farm vs. wild fishing reasons.  In that battle, it has been shown time and time again that the healthiest fish is wild fish.  The farm fish sometimes tend to have a higher mercury content in them so while it may seem healthy, it actually hurts you in the long run: like Tylenol.  But, the animal rights people argue that you should not eat and kill the animals in their natural habitat.  So, a question never poised to them: you or them?  Would an animal rights person give up their life and health for an animal, even as small as a fish?  So, if you stop wild fishing, then you let go of hundreds of thousands of jobs around the US and most likely many times more all over the world.  So, the animal rights protester may seem all high and mighty, but that on person is partially responsible for having people lose their jobs.

So, Humane Society against farmers, ranchers and chefs: what happens on either front?  Well, if everyone continues and the Humane Society just deals with it, then people can eat, make money and be happy.  However, if the Humane Society wins, then ranchers, farmers, and even chefs and their restaurants will go out of business.  When the animal rights people don't understand, is that water trickles downhill (you can think of something else that always goes downhill, but I made this a PG blog). Ranchers are not allowed to kill cattle, so all meat places close, so there goes 99.999% of the restaurants out there.  Wow, that will not hinder the economy any...  

What about the more likely approach: which is that there are restrictions that have to be done for each pound of beef.  So, those restrictions mean that more time and money has to go into every pound.  This will mean that the ranchers will charge more, so restaurants charge more, and the 99 cents hamburger at mcdonalds, which has some soy in it somewhere, most likely, now will cost $1 or more, and have even more soy in it to help offset the costs.  White Castle hamburgers, which is made of beef pieces, will go up to almost a $1 each and NO ONE will buy any, as I can remember in as little as ten years ago, they used to be 36 cents each and now they are 48 cents each.  What about your favorite steak house? The 6 ounce $10 steak will not be $15, the 16 ounce steak will now be $50 and if you want anything more, you can't afford it.

On behalf of the farmers and ranchers and chefs like me, buy meat and don't give in to the animal rights mumbo jumbo.  I don't want to eat a salad every day for the rest of my life.

Friday, April 16, 2010

the secret recipe...

 In the world of cooking there is the sub-field of molecular gastronomy and as this sounds like any other cooking field, this one is fairly new.  Especially when it comes to making fruit caviar or turning things into powders or foams, this form of cooking seems to be very new, about 5 years new. It is so new, that while there are a few sites out there and a few blogs, there isn't that many recipes that deal with everything.  For example, the way to cook chicken has been around long enough that there are probably over a million different recipes involving chicken. However, imagine wanting to make strawberry caviar and not finding a single recipe.  What do you do? Experiment.
 I started by taking out the juicer from our basement and after cleaning it, I juiced some strawberries.  I added about 2.5 grams of sodium alginate to the 250 grams of strawberry juice and made chunky strawberry juice.  It almost looked like a puree' which means the alginate didn't dissolve properly.  I mixed the calcium chloride into the water and then got my things ready.  When I first did caviar, there was still a salty taste on the beads even though I thought I washed them off. Now, after they are 'cooked' I place them in a giant bowl of water, so the salty residue on them becomes diluted in the water and they only have their juice taste.
 When I placed my syringe into the juice mix, it was chunky going in, but when I squeezed it out, 2 feet over the bowl, they did form perfect drops or spheres as they fell and splashed a bit.  Out of 250 grams of juice, I messed up once but still had enough to fill a 4 ounce jar with strawberry caviar. 
 The issue was two fold:  First, I read online that the caviar could be heated, and not break the bonds. That much is true and I found this out by adding a bit of water into a 4 ounce jar, adding the caviar, sealing them in and then processing the jar like I do all of my other jars.  After 10 minutes in boiling water, the jar came out and was all ready and the little pearls were still jiggling around in the water, so it worked! The other issue had to deal with taste.  Since there wasn't a clear and easy recipe on strawberry caviar online, I had to improvise and the frozen strawberries that I used, after the caviar was done, didn't have a very 'strawberry' taste.  It tasted like watered down strawberries, which isn't something I enjoy that much.  It is a lesson though that I do need to either get better strawberries and get a better juice mixture or, as my wife suggested, storing them in something.  My wife was shooting ideas out like storing them in jars with some sweetened water or perhaps something tasty like wine.  Those ideas didn't go unheard and now that I have the chemicals and the fun when doing things like this, more flavorful strawberry caviar in red dessert wine, may be something you can buy soon, from me.  

Thursday, April 15, 2010

my little hostess...

Okay, I love sugary, rich snack cakes and love Hostess cupcakes.  However, since I do try to make everything a bit healthier than it normally is : ie, take out the HFCS, I found a copycat recipe and decided to play around. So, I made the cupcake parts:

Then I made the creamy white filling:

Then I made the chocolate frosting for the top:

The way this worked, was that you took the filling and piped it into the insides of the cupcakes, from the bottom.  This gave the insides, like a hostess cupcake.  Then placing the frosting on top made something that looked okay but tasted okay as well.

My problem was that the filling did not fill up the cupcakes, it only went as far as the piping bag fit in, so it didn't make a spot of filling at all.  I ended up cutting the cupcakes in half and placing a pat of filling on a side and then closing them back up.  Doing this recipe does need work to make them taste as good and work as the originals, so more work is needed in the future.

Monday, April 12, 2010

st. louis culinary landmarks?

I normally go online, like so many other people, for my news. The days of waiting at home and reading the day's paper, when most of the day is finished as you sit on the couch at home in the early evening, is long gone. Why would I wait all day for the day's news when I can go online and find it?

Anyways, Bill writes a good article for stltoday here about the history of a st. louis steakhouse, starting in 1925 and still going on but slowly.

The story is being interpreted by some as a sign that the chains are taking over and the single independent restaurant is dying but that is not the case. The real reason why places like this is dying is because of two things: price & location.

In this story, Al's, a high-end steakhouse, seems to be going out-of-business as less people are eating there. But as the author of the article shares, $38 for a steak and $35 for a cut of veal is a bit pricey. I have only paid that much for meat, once in my life and that was at Emeril's restaurant Del Monico's in Las Vegas. Probably with the same type of insides, at the Las Vagas place, my wife and I were greeted by the head waiter, who then sat us to a table where we were attacked by a clan of waiters and bussers, taking glasses and dishes away while unfolding our napkins and pulling our chairs out and so much more. That experience was way more than we have had and it was especially great because we were there during our honeymoon. I'm not a big carnivore, but I paid the $40 for a steak and a few sides as well. Al's is suggested that including the steak and veal, salads, sides and drinks, brings a total bill to $155!

I have eaten in some nice places: Del Monico's, Mesa Grill, Pearl and Chez Leon, and at none of those places did my wife and I end up paying more than $125! So, having a place in STL, of all places, charge that much for food, has to be a great place with the type of steak that is so tender that you can eat it with a straw. Money is a big issue when people want to eat and when they think about other things that they can get for the same amount, they turn away. So, if Gordon Ramsay was going to show up and help this place, he likely would suggest that they lower their prices. I don't feel sorry for this restaurant as it is not an issue of a local place competing and losing but an issue of a local place charging more than its competitors and dying. When places compete, they normally lower their prices in an attempt to get people in and in this case, it looks like Al's has been raising their prices.

Location is equally as important. There was a great restaurant off of Kingshighway called Space. I had never eaten there but the sign off of the bridge pointed down in a 1950's space style. From what I have heard and read about, the place was adorned with loud colors and old radios and other electronics. The location may have been prime, 50 years ago or so, but now it is only accessible from taking the back roads and you have to drive under the bridge, that is known as Kingshighway. When the bridge was built, who said "you know, let's not move somewhere else but stay right here"? It has always been so out of the way to get to that we never have and now it is out of business and closed down for good. I heard that it good food and now think we may have missed on a hidden gem, but eh, that's life.

In Al's case, where it was once by working and usable warehouses and businesses, those places have left or been unusable now and instead of moving to another location, Al's can still be found surrounded by warehouses and in a Gotham style looking area of downtown.

My thoughts: if you are keeping your prices high to hold out for the st. louis elite and you are fighting to stay open, maybe those elite really don't care about your store and you should lower prices. Moving to a location that has people may help as well. Now, if you want to stay there, like everything else in stl, if you wait long enough, someone may take one of those warehouses and make something of it. If I had the money, I would turn one of those warehouses into reasonable prices apartments and a store and make downtown a center again, but most STL elite like having downtown as a slum.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ahhhh, Wasabi.

After being an assistant to a sexy photographer for a photoshoot this past Saturday with Gravity Plays Favorites, we went for a nice meal at Wasabi, where we had the company of having both Michelle and Katrina dine with us. I may not be the best person to judge about sushi, since I am not really into fish, but do try whatever comes on my plate. I ordered some spicy chicken and my wife ordered the sushi meal for one.
We enjoyed our meals as we sat outside on Washington Avenue, in the 70 degree weather on the clear sky day. As the conversation started to get interesting, our food arrived. Mine was a spicy chicken dish, with some fried vegetables and fried rice. The rice was okay and not the best fried rice, maybe a 2 out of 5 stars. The veggies had a thick sauce on them that ruled out any taste of their true form, which I gave a 1 out of stars. The chicken was the best part. I had a Buffalo hot sauce/ Asian spicy hybrid on the chicken and it tasted so good.
I fixed the rice be adding some soy sauce as you can see that it looked like it had none, originally. Overall though, the chicken pulled the dish from okay to good, getting a 3 stars out of 5 from me. Now my wife, who has eaten sushi all over the world, commented on how her dish, was so good that she was recommending it to anyone who would listen. At other sushi places, they would have just served her food on a plate, but here, they gave her a small boat.
She gave it a 3 &1/2 out of 5 and we were very happy with the service as well, as the waitress was always right next to us when we needed us, even no matter how strange the table's requests were. Whether you like sushi or not and are in the downtown area, I recommend going to Wasabi and enjoying yourself.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

5 guys with pictures

Last time I wasn't ready but on Friday when my family had the whole day off of work and school, we decided to take the day at the Botanical Garden. We had to eat somewhere and I was in the mood for a burger, a big, thick, juicy burger. So, I drove my family about 7 minutes away and delivered them to the care of 5 guys. I did a review in the past and while I think that first impressions are essential, I believe that the same expectations should be met on further trips as well.This time, with my camera in hand, I had a burger with different toppings, two kinds of fries and my wife got a burger and the kids got a bacon covered hot dog.
So right out, my burger was great, a good 3 &1/2 out of 5, my kids' hot dog which I tried was a good Hebrew National dog which was a 3 & 1/2 stars as well and I have some photos to show why the french fries are so tasty but so bad for you. What you see here, is the inside of the bag, with a regular, not large, order of french fries.
French fries are french fries and while I have had shoe string and thick steak cut, these are okay at maybe a 2 & 1/2 out of 5 stars. But here are the photos and there you go.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

An imperfect sphere...

Ever since I saw an episode of Top Chef, in which the chef made some food into spheres, I was hooked, thinking it was the best way and a brand new method. After all this time I thought that food was cooked the way it was given, as in, the only way to change the texture of food was to do it by juicing it or mashing it. A carrot has the carrot texture unless you juice it or mash it then it has a liquid texture and mashed potato texture.

So, as great chefs like the ones at WD50 and El Bulli have shown us, using chemicals we can drastically change the texture of things. After reading a free downloadable book on textures and hyrocolloids, by Martin Lercsh, I was very interested in other hydrocolloids. Recipe upon recipe of spherification gave ideas for me to try. One of the recipes used olives and making olive juice and then dripping it into ice cold oil, making the spheres form there. A good idea and worked for the mixologist in the video, but not for me.

I did the next best thing, finding a place that sold a mixture of an unknown percentage of sugar and sodium alginate, I thought it was pure sodium alginate but was mistaken, I used it anyway, using twice as much as the recipe called for. I also bought some calcium chloride for use as well. The recipe had me taking a soda, boiling it a bit, then adding the sodium alginate, or in my case, adding a bunch of the mixture.

I let it cool so it would start to gel. I then mixed water and the calcium chloride and dripped the soda mixture into the water one.
Little spheres formed perfectly and floated to the bottom of the bowl.
I then poured the whole bowl over a sieve and collected the water in another bowl, underneath, to be used again. I rinsed the caviar off in water, then dipped in a separate bowl of clean water. When I had enough, I placed them in a white dish and thought they looked like caviar, my wife, the sushi lover, thought it looked like flying fish roe.
However, the taste wasn't what I had expected: The small balls of strawberry soda flavor, had a gummy shell but a juice on the inside, like a paintball. I rinsed them off multiple times but still, there was a salty or sour flavor afterwards, which could have come from the calcium chloride since it is a salt. I have read online that people say that it has no taste, but it clearly does. It was an interesting process and I am very happy to have done it, but this may not be something I would do many many times.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Gordon does make it easy...

While not a huge fan of his shows and his attitude, I am still a huge fan of Gordon Ramsay's recipe collection and blunt honesty of showing, telling and doing things. In his book here, above, he has some great recipes. I have done the bacon wrapped chicken legs and converted the recipe to work well with just bacon stuffed chicken breasts. I've done the risotto of wild mushrooms and my wife loved it. I've done the pasta and bacon with peas, which is a lot like a pasta carbonara. I even just last night did the hot chocolate fondant, which produces two small cakes with a creamy chocolate center. I will be honest in that in the large number of recipes, I can pick through and select the ones that look good and easy to do, and I have not been disappointed with any of them.

The link is below, get the book if you like simple recipes with fresh food.
Gordon Ramsay Makes It Easy