Monday, January 25, 2010

The science behind a cookie.

Cooking is both an art and a skill. It uses creativity, risk, science and math in order to pull out a good dish out of just about anything. Just ask Morimoto about the strange ingredients he is given and the wondrous concoctions that he creates. The biggest thing that draws me into cooking is the science and math, which is thrown together under the gastronomy term: the science of cooking. While there is a simple recipe to making chocolate chip cookies, the hard part is not making them with white chocolate chips instead of milk-chocolate, but instead taking out many or replacing many of the ingredients becomes more of a trail-and-error with science and math.

For example: I am working on a low GL chocolate chip cookie. Whoa, wait, what? What's a GL? Okay, let's start from scratch. A GL is an abbreviation for a Glycemic Load, which is the amount of sugars that enter your bloodstream and how long it stays in your body before being countered by the insulin your body releases. So, if you eat something that has a high GL, say of 50, then that means that even after your body releases insulin to deal with the sugars in it, it will take a longer time for those sugars to dissipate than an item that has a lower amount of GL's. Now GL's measure the sugars in an item and if there is too much sugar in an item, more than your body can handle, the excess sugar in your blood stream can mess with your body, causing headaches, fatigue, mood swings or get stored as fat. So watching your glycemic load levels day-to-day can help you feel healthy, stay healthy, and help you lose wait.

Now, my recipe for chocolate chip cookies calls for 3/4th of a cup of packed brown sugar. A cup of brown sugar has about 1 tablespoon of molasses and 1 cup of white sugar. Well, that means that a 3rd of a cup of brown sugar has about 1 & 1/2 teaspoons of molasses. Molasses is relatively low on the GL scale and when mixed with something that can act as a sweetener in its place, like 3/4ths of a cup of Stevia, you get something that tastes like brown sugar, but has almost no GL's and almost no calories.

But while the math is there, I had to play around with the science. Sugar plays an important roll in cooking and baking. In cookies, it helps create the texture. The first step is to mix butter with the sugars, to creme them together. The idea is that the sugar mixes with the butter while it pulls air into the mixture. The sugar helps to tear pockets in the fat and air fills the gaps. This creates a creamy texture for the base of the cookies. When they tell you that the butter needs to be room temperature, this is important as the temperature and the softness of the butter determines how easy it is to create the fluffiness of the cookies. If the butter is too cold, you will have super fluffy cookies that would come up as large and crunchy and if your butter is warm then your cookies will become flat and soft and chewy.

That texture, shows through to when the cookies are cooked as well. As if the cookies have air pockets made from the sugar and butter, then the air heats up and cooks its little cell, creating a crunchy cookie. If there are not as many air pockets, then the air only heats up it's immediate area, which normally is just the whole cookie, allowing for cookies that are still soft and chewy.

In the case of my stevia/molasses use, it functions the same way, as far as tearing through the butter to create the air pockets for the cookie. However without the addition of unnecessary calories, it works better for everyone will delivering the same thing. The glycemic load of the molasses and stevia would be 4.5 GL's. Whereas the glycemic load of 3/4ths of a cup of brown sugar would normally have roughly 113 GL's.

What this is leading up to, is a low GL sugar-free chocolate chip cookie. One that doesn't taste like the sugar-free cookies in the store, but one that tastes like a normal fat filled, sugary and rich cookie. No one one a sugar-free diet will touch a sugar-free cookie, unless it tastes good. As my mantra of a chef, "if it doesn't taste good, don't eat it", there is no reason that diabetics and dieters should be forced to eat anything different than the rest of us.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The horse before the cart

I am like every other German American guy in St. Louis, in that I love pork, beer and sausage. It is something that gets into your genes when you live within the St. Louis area. Almost everyone has seen or eaten some sort of sausage or pork product at almost every BBQ or family event. Beer makes the world go around and when what is probably the largest North American brewery is in your hometown, then beer is definitely part of your life.

Just this past Saturday, I attended a meal at a not so well known spot in St. Louis, called The Stable. This location would be classified as historic as it was the same stable that housed the draft horses that pulled Lemp Fallstaff beer around town, as the Lemp Brewery is right across the street. This was my first time hearing of and going to the Stable and I was very happy that I did. The inside has a high ceiling, plenty of ceiling and a host that will great you immediately and sit you rather quickly. They have smaller 2-top tables for dates and can even make larger tables for 20 or more. The restaurant is decorated with some simple things from the time, like the ol'fashioned chandeliers that resemble wagon wheels, hanging from the ceiling and many things hanging on the wall from the time period. The bar is made from a huge wooden mantle piece and there are two small rooms adjacent to each other that have a distillery for making their own alcohol and beers.

I sat down and was prepared to carefully peruse the menu until something caught my eye: basket of bacon. It was a Starter and it was $5.95 and it was a basket of bacon. How sweet does that sound? Had the food gods noticed my love for food pork and have delivered sacred mana bacon from heaven? What better can you get for a lover of pork products than bacon? Without thinking and acting as if through divine inspiration, I ordered that starter, along with one of their home brewed Marzens. After a few minutes, the basket arrived. The bacon was perfectly cooked for the way I like it. It wasn't too crispy, but still a bit soft and flimsy, perfectly done. It was set in a small basket, lined with some wax paper and the 8 strips were arranged in set a way that the grease would run down and collect in a pool in the bottom of the basket. The bacon, tasted like bacon: no maple syrup, no pepper, no spiciness, no smoked anything, just bacony goodness in a perfect multi-note dish of all bacon. Mmmmmmm..... an easy 4 stars out of 5 for all bacon.

I then received the butternut squash ravioli with a white bean ragout and it arrived shortly after the bacon. The ravioli were perfectly cooked with a filling that was almost too sweet for a savory dish. Unless that was their evil plan. I wonder if it was their plan to pair the sweetness of the pasta with the savoriness of the stew, underneath. With white beans and shaved vegetables it was in a nice salty broth that pulled the whole thing together. Don't get me wrong that the ravioli were very delicious but I just wasn't sure that it went perfectly well with what it was sitting on. 3 1/2 stars out of 5 for me.

The last dish I had was the Cajun sandwich, which was a hoagie roll with andouille, shrimp, a sauce with a side of pasta salad. The pasta salad was your normal cold pasta salad, that I am always a fan of but it was the sausage in the sandwich that was notable. Much like Anton Ego, I almost dropped everything I was holding when I tasted the sausage in that sandwich. It instantly teleported me to a camping trip from my childhood when my father would gather sausage from a meat market and bring it and cook it over an open fire, in the woods. The flavors reminded me exactly of that childhood meal and I could almost feel everything melt around me and transport me directly to that same wooded area, sitting in front of that fire and eating that sausage. I was in shock at the perfect balance of flavors and spices a thought for a brief moment that it wasn't real. It worked perfectly with the sauce, cheese, shrimp and bread as everything came together to fulfil a taste that was almost, no... better than the basket of bacon. Whereas I normally try to train my palette for as many things as I can to help distinguish between foods for my star ratings, this sandwich gets my top score of a 5 out of 5.

For anyone looking for a nice night out with some great food that is in the St. Louis area, I highly recommend the Stable. along with their 24 beers on tap and their 50 bottles that they house as well, it is a perfect beer lovers place, if you are not into sausage or bacon.