Tag Archives: cooking

Genius

Have I talked to you guys about Food 52 yet? Started by two New York Times food writers as a project to create the world’s first “crowd-sourced cookbook,” the site is a pretty fantastic resource for recipes, handy cooking tips, and equipment reviews. Think Cooks.com meets Serious Eats with an Gourmet aesthetic and you’ve kind of got the idea.

They have this feature that I am totally in love with called Genius Recipes. The basic idea is that they’re supposed to come from the stars of the food world and really change the way you think about cooking. What I like about them, however, is how shockingly easy so many of them are – which I guess DOES subvert the idea that for something to be great cooking it needs to be complicated. Many of the entrees appear to fall under the “five ingredients or fewer” category, which makes them ideal for a busy weeknight.

However, I didn’t get around to trying any of them until I saw this one. What was so special about it? Well, for one thing, I just bought the book that it came from, Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook, this summer at the flea market. I bought it because it was a dollar, and because it contains inside it one of the most magical recipes for chicken I’ve ever enjoyed, as prepared for me by good friend and excellent cook Eric Lintz. And yes, I made that chicken and yes, it was amazing, and yes, I will share that recipe with you one day, but not today, because today is all about the applesauce.

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Which gets to the other reason that this was the Genius Recipe that finally got me cooking – I’d bought 10 lbs of apples for $7 at the Farmer’s Market, and there are only so many pies a lady can bake.

Apple Pie 2011
(Though, I will say it, this was freaking amazing pie.)

The apples were Ginger Golds from Kimball’s Fruit Farm, and they made such a good pie that I knew they’d make great applesauce, and this recipe seemed to be the one to go with – simple, letting the apple flavor shine through.

So I peeled them, then cut them with my handheld corer/slicer.
DSC05839 Normally I like to use my crank peeler/corer/slicer, but I needed bigger pieces for this.

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These were tossed with the tiniest amount of sugar and dotted with butter slivers. Into the oven they went!

Here they are all roasted up:
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I mashed mine with the potato masher, and voila:
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Easily the best applesauce I’ve had in my life. The roasting gave a caramelized, toasty flavor to the sauce that, combined with that little bit of buttery richness, was borderline addictive. And it all took about 45 minutes, mostly right in the oven. Truly genius!

Cocktails and Science

In previous posts I’ve outlined my love of food science, and of Harold McGee particularly. And of course, my affection for cocktails is welldocumented. So it will come as no surprise to hear that when I had the opportunity to hear the man himself talk about the science of cocktails, I was all over it.

I gave the heads up to my friend Jess, another avid cocktail fan, and we set out to get schooled. Joining Mr.McGee was Dave Arnold, the Director of Culinary Technology at The French Culinary Institute. Basically, the way the lecture worked was that Dave would do something crazy onstage, usually involving fire, then hand out the resultant samples while Harold would talk about the science of taste and the physical properties of alcohol. In other words, it was awesome.

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This was bourbon mixed with the very essence of banana – banana juice, if you will. It was uncanny.

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Scotch with all of its impurities removed (but not its flavor). It was weird – the skeleton of Scotch.

The best part of the night came when Dave made his recipe for Red Hot Ale, a drink that dates back to Colonial times. First, he demonstrated the method with a hot poker – the drink was traditionally made by sticking irons from the hearth into a mug.
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Clearly, that’s no longer a practical option, so Dave invented his own hot poker. Alas, it’s not really ready for the average bar just yet.

So then he showed us his stove-top method, which was…dramatic.
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That’s Harold and a lab assistant, singeing off their eyebrows.

This was easily the most delicious drink of the night, despite (because of?) the fireworks. Here’s a recipe if you’re interested – I’ll admit I have a slight fear of burning alcohol. Maybe one day I’ll get brave enough, though, because the caramelized beer and cognac is truly remarkable.
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They also played around with making stable oil emulsions with pumpkin seed oil, making for a thick, fatty drink that won’t separate:
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A combo of gum arabic and xanthan gum achieves this magic. I wasn’t incredibly into this particular drink, but the idea of making truly stable emulsions is intriguing – perhaps a different oil would have been more enjoyable.

My favorite actual science moment of the night came when Harold explained why adding water to spirits like whiskey enhances its flavor – something that has always fascinated me. Essentially, it all comes down to the fact that ethanol, the alcohol we drink, attracts aroma molecules. Aroma molecules (remember, most of taste is really smell) hang out little molecular cages on the ethanol because they’re similar in structure to it.This stops them from reaching your nose. On the other hand, they HATE water. When you add water to a drink you drop the concentration of the alcohol and these aroma compounds, break free from their cages for us to enjoy. Here’s a more coherent explanation from Harold himself.

Speaking of which, this post took me so darn long to get out that I’m leaving it mostly pictures. Here’s a better recap of the actual science at the lecture by Frederick Yarm, who is a far more dedicated cocktail blogger than I am. (If you are at all interested in mixology, and especially if you live in Boston, you should be reading his blog.)

Harvard does a whole series of these lectures using McGee’s On Food and Cooking as the text, and the guest lectures, all by amazing chefs and food scientists, are open to the public. If you’re local to Cambridge check them out!

Joint Project

I am not the easiest person with whom to share a kitchen. Sure, I might let you chop up some vegetables, and certainly any help in washing the dishes is greatly appreciated. But by and large, I am a territorial kitchen beast who will politely but firmly tell you “No, thank you,” should you offer to assist in the making of a meal.

In part this is due to my tendency to make a gigantic, frantic mess while cooking. I’ve got nine things going on at once and it’s way too stressful to tell you what’s going on in my head so why don’t you just let me do it!

However, I am trying to be more enlightened in my approach and learning the joys of joint projects, because while not many people realize this, my guy is a pretty good cook in his own right. Additionally, if we’re going to spend time together it only makes sense to do some collaborative projects. I’m not going to sculpt with him, and he’s not going to learn to knit, but we both cook and eat, so it makes sense that I learn to make room for him. So we’ve been working on projects that play to our individual strengths. Pizza is our crowning achievement – I make the dough, he stretches it. He cuts onions, I caramelize them. There’s a beautiful harmony to our work together. So we recently branched out, and I’m delighted to say it was a huge success!

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This weekend, my fella and I made chicken pot pie together! Not only was it a great pot pie, but it highlighted the true importance of collaboration; namely, a pot pie is a lot of dang work, and I think either one of us would have been exhausted and frustrated to tackle it on our own.

For starters, we made our own stock for the gravy from the carcass of his family’s Thanksgiving turkey. That took several hours of boiling and pot tending – I took the first shift, and he the second since he stays up quite a bit later. The result was some of the richest, most beautiful turkey stock I’ve ever seen or smelled. I braised some endives with just a bit of it and it was all I could do not to lick the pan.

Next, the pastry needed to be made for the pie. This was my job, and while it didn’t take too long thanks to my glorious food processor, it needs to be done well ahead of time to be effective. The gluten in your pie crusts needs to rest, otherwise it’s all short and tough! I used the crust from this recipe. Alas, we didn’t have enough ingredients to use the filling listed in that recipe, nor any need for so much pot pie. So further work went into researching a new recipe for that. We did mash up the recipes into a sort of uber-pot pie. Incidentally, only one of the multitude of cookbooks we own had any recipe for pot pie. What’s up with that, modern cookbooks? Do people not make pot pie from scratch any more? Is it because you need at least THREE hours to do so?

But I digress. The crust completed, my guy took on the task of creating the filling, rolling out the dough, and baking our little treasure until it was golden brown. I came home from work to that beauty cooling on the stove. Just look at the inside!
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Absolutely gorgeous. With results this good, how can I keep the kitchen to myself?

Inspiration

Many people I know claim that they can either cook, or bake, and never the twain shall meet. There’s a seductive logic to this theory; after all, cooking leaves room for tremendous creativity -throw in dash of this, a splash of that, and let’s see what happens! Baking, on the other hand, favors an exact approach – this is chemistry, by gum, and we need to be precise! So I can understand why folks might be strongly drawn to one or the other.

That said, to me it was never an all or nothing proposition. It was only when became an adult that I realized that for many people that this was a war, the battle lines drawn, and that I was expected to pick a side. I’m happy cooking AND baking – any act of creation in the kitchen is a thrill to me. As I thought about why that might be, I realized that I have my mother to thank.

You see, that lady never chose sides. She’s a whiz in the kitchen on both sides of the equation. I’ve waxed rhapsodic far too many times about her turkey soup – it’s like a pot of liquid gold whenever she makes it. But then there’s her cheesecake – her cheesecake is to die for. To be honest it’s normally not my favorite dessert – but when she makes it with that hand-crumbled graham cracker crust, how can I say no?

Her influence can be seen on my kitchen handiwork in other ways, as well. In both the examples above, she makes everything from scratch, creating soup stock from leftover turkey and painstakingly hand grating orange peel to give her cheesecake just the right zest. While I won’t say that she never took shortcuts in the kitchen, when she was making something truly special it was always with the best ingredients she had, and always by hand.

My mother taught me to cook, but it wasn’t really by sitting me down and going through a step-by-step process. Instead, from a very early age, she involved me in what she was doing in the kitchen. One of my earliest memories is of standing on a chair in the kitchen, helping to stir a big pot of homemade peanut brittle. (Another is of waiting for her to fry up some doughnut holes – but you wouldn’t let a small kid near a deep fryer!) When all of us girls (there are four of us) were small, she was always coming up with projects to keep us entertained, and many of them involved baking or making food. I think that part of my joy in the kitchen now comes from the good memories of that time spent in the kitchen with my mother.

There’s a real value, I think, in having the mental flexibility to perform both of those skills with enjoyment. Most of the folks who prefer either baking or cooking can certainly muddle along through the other, even do them well. They just don’t care for it. I feel so lucky to have both, and to feel the need to try new things just for the sake of doing them. Thank you, Mom!