Mar 6 2008

Excuse me while I powder my nose….

As the sun was setting over the mountains last night and I was beginning to settle in, an unsuspecting package arrived via UPS that I’d forgotten was coming so soon.

box

What could be lurking inside such a small corrugated cube other than a miniature arsenal of powdered Hydrocolloids that will allow me to begin the actual experimentation I’m looking for outside the conventional box of supermarket fare. Previously I’ve played around with Gelatin, Pectin, and Xanthan Gum which are pretty much readily available in most places. Now as I’ve broken out of the box I will be playing with Sodium Alginate, Calcium Chloride, Lecithin, and Caregeenan.

powders

First up will be Lecithin:

Leichtin

This substance has mostly been derived from egg yolks in the past but can also be found in plant tissues. Its most common use is in creating and stabilizing emulsions.

Carrageenan – Kappa

Kappa

A derivative of a Red Seaweed found in abundance off the coast of Ireland, Carrageenan is a powerful gelification device. What makes it unique is that you add it in cold and then bring it to a boil for the gel effect to begin.  Unlike like most gelatins, it can be served hot and still holds it form.

Calcium Chloride and Sodium Alginate

CalciumSodium

These two unusual products and very lab rat sounding indeed produce, in tandem, quite a unique effect known as Spherefication.  Sodium Alginate gels in the presence of Calcium and with such a reaction one can drop any liquid that has been thoroughly mixed with Alginate into a Calcium solution and you have spheres of any liquid that comes to mind.  The most well known version of this technique was developed by Ferran Adria when he made his own olive spheres.

In due time, I will have versions of all of these experiments including follies and successes.  In due time……


Mar 4 2008

Something to be eggstatic about…

After reading an article entitled “Chasing Perfection” by Francis Lam, I was happily comforted by the fact that I’m not alone in certain searches for “perfection”. In some ways when I think about why I left New York and moved into the country, at least a city dwellers version of it, my main motivation was perfection driven. There were greener pastures in my mind outside of the hustle of a concrete jungle, something greater but in many ways so much simpler. We all define ourselves, and our lives through multi-faceted definitions that are tirelessly arguable, and ultimately all correct to a degree…although, it’s the variations and combinations that make all these versions so interesting. That’s why this is just me, and my small shaken snow globe version of it.

The article that I found so close to heart was in search of a perfect omelet, this search only came about after having a truly great omelet for the first time. A moment like this can be quite startling, most notably because we often pride ourselves with the knowledge that we do certain things very well. Almost everyone has something food related they make “well”. This can be a pasta dish, sandwich, soup, cocktail, etc. But when all of the sudden we try something we’ve made a million times and it pulls the rug out from under us, there are usually two things that happen. Give in and accept defeat or enlist in a journey for the conquest of such an epiphany.

Eggs are a perfect example of such a subject simply because it’s almost impossible to think of someone who hasn’t handled an egg at one point in time. Not to mention, eggs may quite literally be one of the most versatile ingredients on the planet. Few things can tout being a paramount component at all meal times, and let alone stand alone doing it unlike such staples as salt and pepper. Whats even more satisfying, on a selfish note, is that we have access to some of the best eggs I’ve ever come in contact with here in the Berkshires. These are produced in a very small scale free range format by our friend Billie Best. She works tirelessly as an activist fighting to save our farming culture as well as tending to her pampered flock. Furthermore, after recently purchasing a book known simply as Egg with photographs by Grant Symon, I was blown away by some of the innovations using this beautiful ingredient by some of the worlds best Chefs. Just when you think you know something, you can still stand to be surprised:

All of the following photos are borrowed from the book Egg and were taken by Grant Symon:

Ferran Adria
golden egg

Wylie Dufresene

picture-5.png

Heston Blumenthal

picture-6.png

Eric Briffard

picture-7.png

Jaques Deruex

picture-9.png

Sam Mason

picture-8.png

***if you’d like a little more practical information on the subject of eggs and are comfortable in learning that you probably don’t eat good egg, check out what this little Birdy has to say.


Mar 3 2008

Gimmie!

If I could, I would go ahead and treat myself to many strange and unusual things. Money is tight right now and therefore I stare wide-eyed and dreamily into my laptop screen.

Thermal Circulator Thermometer

That magnificent and equally frightening looking machine on top is known as a Thermal Immersion Circulator. What it does, very expensively I might add, is keep water at exact temperatures for as long as you’d like in order to cook food that has been previously vacuum packed. What you end up with is food that is cooked to the exact, up to a fraction of a degree, temperature you were going for. This particular method of cooking known as Sous Vide has spawned an entirely new realm of cooking and has lent to some wonderful inventions. Many restaurants have adopted this technique, most notably there is El Bulli, Per Se, WD-50, French Laundry, and Blue Hill. Below the Thermal Circulator is a non contact thermometer which can take temp readings at pin pointed locations from safe distances….very useful.

Straining Spoon iSi

The straining spoon above comes from Ferran Adria’s company FACES. Not many people carry this line and everything they make is quite extraordinary. Ferran Adria is a revolutionary chef who has teamed up with a Swedish industrial designer in order to create high end cooking gear. Following the spoon is a classic siphon used mainly for whipped cream, but these days finds itself in professional kitchens creating foams out of just about any flavor with the help of Hydrocolloids.

sousvide.jpg

Lastly, so I can actually learn to bring some of these things into practice, I would love this book.


Mar 2 2008

Slaughter Redux

It’s been brought to my attention that in a previous post concerning the nature of slaughter, that I was a bit crass and may not have explained the process thoroughly enough. In essence, what I was trying to convey was the fact that one should proudly eat meat, if and only when they have learned to be honest about their relationship with it. Before we get ahead of ourselves, I am not a preaching fanatic and by no means have I been this way my whole life, but after learning a few things and experiencing that much more I can’t help but feel that I’ve been lied to my whole life.

For some reason, after reading Michael Pollan’s “Omnivores Dilemma”, something inside me changed. There was something brooding inside me yearning for change and it was as though a veil had been lifted from my face, allowing me to see clearly for the first time. We make decisions everyday of our lives that impact us greatly and eating has to be one of the most significant and most undervalued decisions there is. Ironically, we’ve developed and nurtured a culture where we rely on corporations to make food choices for us. This system could be fine and hum harmoniously alongside this great engine of a society that we’ve created if it weren’t for the fact that we let the corporations treat it like any other capitalistic business model.

Food production in the United States is controlled by the USDA, which has commissioned a food business that worries more about numbers and subsidies than actual quality and taste. The USA alone produces around 9 billion chickens a year. We have a pork and cattle industry that has been dumping so much waste into our water systems that we’ve created a toxic wasteland the size of Massachusetts in the gulf of Mexico in which no life form can be sustained except algae and bacteria. These are only a few examples of food production atrocities that go so deep, most people will never know or would prefer not to know what they really put into their mouths on a daily basis.

It makes me furious and sad when the USDA recalls 143 million pounds of beef, not because they deem it unsafe to eat but because a video on youtube surfaced showing cows being tortured at what is considered a humane industrial farming cattle operation. The video was so disturbing and horrific, that the embarrassment endured by the USDA caused it to issue the largest beef recall in history. What most people fail to realize is that the atrocious abuse of those animals is by no means unique and practically a standard in our food industry. If that doesn’t say something about the priorities towards the way our food is produced in this country than I don’t know what does. I even saw a commercial the other day from McDonalds which touted the fact that now they were actually serving 100% Beef as though we were supposed to assume that in the past a hamburger was something other than all beef. I can’t even begin to imagine what was in the last Big Mac I ate 15yrs ago.

In any case, back to my original point concerning slaughter. We all eat, and we all make choices about what we eat. I personally wanted to get in touch with what I ate and even more so understand what I was eating. Therefore, I set out on a mission to find meat that was produced under conditions that satisfied my requirements for humane and healthy food. In the galleries below, which are viewable after clicking on each link, I participated in two slaughters that were extremely humane and honest. The animals you see here have all gone to families that have raised and nurtured them through their entire life cycle.

You can say what you want about the notion of slaughter, and yes there is nothing pretty, fun, or easy about it. Although, there is something honest, rewarding, and humbling about it. Most of my experiences in this field have begun with a shot of whiskey around 8am and this is mostly due to the fact that it is very difficult to play God with something you’ve put so much time and effort into. In one instance, after deliberating for awhile because one lamb had witnessed another as it was in the throws of death and had become frightened, we decided to spare it for the time being because our primary concern was that the animal never suffered in the slaughter process and that hopefully death went unnoticed. Another interesting note, concerning the slaughter of a cow, was that after shooting it in a field grazing happily amongst its peers in order to make sure it wasn’t expecting is final moment, all the other cows didn’t flinch as though they didn’t notice at all. Somehow this made me feel better.

Please click on the links below if you’d like to see how something like humane, small-scale slaughter is done. The photos could be considered gruesome so beware, but I would just like to say that I only consider them to be honest.

CHICKEN SLAUGHTER

COW SLAUGHTER


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:

fishy-2.jpgfishy-1.jpg

spicy-breakfast.jpg

ribs.jpg



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 21 2008

Wyoming

During a recent cross country trip through the heart of this country which shall come up again soon, we learned that in Wyoming they ID everyone…..even this guy:

ID Guy


Feb 21 2008

Manic weather….

Here are some backyard highlights from an unusually warm day that managed to wrinkle the quiet fabric of winter:

dsc_0470nef.jpg

dsc_0471nef.jpg

dsc_0484nef.jpg

dsc_0485nef.jpg

dsc_0486nef.jpg

dsc_0489nef.jpg

dsc_0491nef.jpg


Feb 18 2008

New England wet and soggy

dsc_0494nef.jpg

Next day…forecast rain.