Feb 26 2008

The past while waiting for the future…

While sitting, trapped, within a pillow-like swirl of a winter storm, I’ve been thinking about times past and days warm. This undoubtedly led me into my piles and piles of digital photos begging to be attended to and put into some kind of order on my laptop. Nonetheless, I haven’t put anything in any sort of order and don’t plan to unless I lose my job and have some time to myself……anyhow. Instead, I’ve run into some early photos of trying to capture my forays into the food world as a hobby and am posting for means of public record:

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Feb 25 2008

F.Y.I.

Definition of a Hydrocolloid:

A hydrocolloid is defined as a colloid system wherein the colloid particles are dispersed in water. A hydrocolloid has colloid particles spread throughout water and depending on the quantity of water available can take on different states, e.g., gel or sol (liquid). Hydrocolloids can be either irreversible (single-state) or reversible. For example, agar, a reversible hydrocolloid of seaweed extract, can exist in a gel and sol state, and alternate between states with the addition or elimination of heat.

Many hydrocolloids are derived from natural sources. For example, carrageenan is extracted from seaweed, gelatin has bovine (cow) and fish origins, and pectin is extracted from citrus peel and apple pomace.

Jell-O (trade mark Jell-O), the well-known dessert, is made from gelatin powder, another effective hydrocolloid. Hydrocolloids are employed in food mainly to influence texture or viscosity (e.g., a sauce). Hydrocolloids are also used in skin-care and wound-dressing.

****more simply put they are substances that form gels when in contact with water.

Here is a link to recipes for the curious minded, it was put together by a fantastic blog on the subject known as Khymos:

Hydrocolloid Recipe Collection


Feb 24 2008

Hydrocolloids 2 – Continuing Consomme’s

Ok…so I’ve been exploring the very basics of Molecular Gastronomy and so far I haven’t pushed myself any further than just working with Gelatin at the moment. Even something like gelatin that we are so used to using in kitchens, or at least familiar with the concept of its use in foods (i.e. jello) can produce some interesting results applied in different ways.

I posted earlier about a “Suspended Tomato” dish that was essentially an extremely refined Jello of sorts via a rigorous clarification process in an attempt to produce a potent tomato flavor or essence without the accompaniment of any solid particles. This essentially involved making a puree of chopped tomato and basil along with a bit of white balsamic for acidity, then taking the pulpy mess and allowing it to slowly, very slowly, strain through a Chinois (otherwise a ridiculously fine mesh strainer from France). After this process you have a realtivley clear liquid with a highly concentrated flavor of fresh tomato and basil. Next step, heat, activate with gelatin and set in mold…wait. Now you a have a process to turn anything into bursts of flavors in jello molds.

Now, assuming you are still paying attention to this post, there is another process I’ve tried recently using gelatin that can be viewed as sort of an inverted version of what I just explained and is instead a way creating consommes out of anything one could desire. Only until recently have consommes been relegated to the confines of clarified broths from such things as chicken, beef, or fish. For those of you not familiar with a Consomme:

A consomme is a crystal-clear, flavoursome broth made from a stock (most commonly beef, veal, or poultry, although one occasionally sees a fish consomme as well) that is cloudless because it has been clarified of impurities.

What has naturally created the phenomenon of a consomme is the presence of something known as aspic which exists in the bones of animals and is released when cooked for long periods of time and eventually turns into jelly when left to set in a cool place. Now, after reading Harold Mcgee’s , On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” , I’ve learned about a method that creates the same effect of a consomme, sans bones. Therefore you now have an open door to clarify anything you could ever want into a seemingly innocent clear liquid that has a hell of a flavor. Yes, to some of you this isn’t very exciting and if you’re still reading this we have more in common with each other than originally imagined and should probably hang out more.

In any case, here it is…..Make a liquid of just about anything you can imagine, in this case I took left over soup and pureed the hell out of it, then heat it gently and dissolve gelatin powder into it. How much gelatin? Well, according to H. Alexander Talbot from Ideas in Food, one should apply .5% gelatin to the base amount of what ever it is you’re working with. After this quickly freeze until solid then line a Chinois or mesh strainer with cheesecloth and put the frozen block into it, then let it thaw and strain in the refrigerator. The thawing process could take up to 2 days, so be patient.

Consomme 1

Consomme 2

At the end of it all you will have a clarified liquid with every bit of flavor that ever went into what you froze solid. The reason this process works according to McGee is that when you freeze gelatin as it’s setting with all the other liquid, the molecules that make up gelatin stretch and create a fine web that traps all other particles except for the ice crystals that formed first in the freezing process. Therefore, when you are thawing out your frozen liquid mass in the fridge, the ice crystals will thaw first and then filter through the web created by gelatin and then ta-da!…consomme.

Consomme 3

Now with all of this work and newfound appreciation for gelatin, I still have no clue what to do with this stuff. I even have a butternut squash, burnt butter and mint version in the freezer as well. Once I do come up with a use I will let you know. Until then……


Feb 17 2008

Hydrocolloids

Food has long been a source of great fascination and wonder in my daily life. There was a brief and brutal period in time where I actually subjected myself to the restaurant business which I ushered myself out of wounded and wide-eyed all at the age of 23. In the years following though I have kept up and persevered, only in the sense that I’m still cooking for myself and others at home to satisfy an itching fascination with the essence of food.

Most recently, the highly controversial subject of Molecular Gastronomy has entered become of interest. This field most notably made public by the physical chemist Herve This, is an area of interest in the food world that is usually scoffed at or adorned with a religious fervor. In my case, my curiosity has led me to begin to learn as much about the subject as possible in order to be able to make an educated opinion on the matter. My mind has been buried deep, as of late, into books, blogs, restaurants, and articles all regarding the matter. There is a highly arguable angle that people tend to stray from the essence of taste in order to achieve solutions to eccentric quandaries regarding food. I have found that in most cases this is true, although there are few that take these issues to whole new levels of food. In short, the creation of the standard omelets or unparalleled success of such things like Jamon Serrano can all be arguably considered matters of molecular gastronomy. They, like most things, are processes in which people went to great lengths to understand the actual science behind creating something perfect in a food “process” and furthermore be able to recreate it again and again by virtue of that precise or, dare I say it, scientific knowledge of the matter.

In light of such matters, I decided to take a class concentrating on an aspect of food science known as Hydrocolloids. This class was made available through two fantastic Chef’s and bloggers, H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa. They have a blog known as “Ideas in Food” and it’s just that, a daily account in the trials and tribulations of their daily lives as they pioneer new techniques in food. It has been a truly inspiring place for me and amazingly they update on almost a daily basis. Although the class was a whirlwind of information and I left feeling intimidated by the amount of technique I needed to acquire, I have decided to push forth and start giving some things a shot. Without further ado, I present my first foray in the world of Molecular Gastronomy:

Suspended Tomato Essence with a Balsamic Reduction

Tomato Essence

Now this is no feat by any means but at least it has begun to give me some understanding and inspiration towards the science behind what we eat and how it gets from kitchen to plate.

H. Alexander Talbot – Hydrocolloid class

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