Archive for April, 2011

28th April
2011
written by scott

lemon panna cotta
Now that we’ve seen the first inklings of spring, I thought it would be nice to make a not-too-heavy, not-too-sweet dessert to pair with some sunshine and [the hope for] warmer weather. Although you might assume that I used a hydrocolloid to make the gel-like panna cotta and a modified soy protein to create the foam, but this recipe is actually something your great grandmother could have made.  In fact, I used a basic panna cotta recipe from Epicurious as my starting point.  One of the keys to this recipe is to use really great cream and half and half – find the best stuff you can at a farmers market or a discerning grocery store.

Makes: 8 servings
Total kitchen time: 30 mins working + 4 hours refrigerating

Shopping list:
For the panna cotta

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 32 drops lemon extract

For the candied lemon supremes

  • 1 Meyer lemon, supremed
  • 3 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. water

For the coconut foam

  • 1 13oz. can light coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 drop lavender essential oil (one drop goes a long way, but feel free to adjust to taste)

Garnish

  • Shaved coconut (available in the bulk foods section of finer grocery stores)
  • Edible flowers
  • Shaved white chocolate

 

  1. Add the water to a small saucepan and sprinkle over the gelatin to bloom.  After it has been hydrated for 1 minute or so, heat on low and stir until it forms a fluid.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the cream, half and half and sugar to a simmer over moderate heat until, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and stir in lemon extract and gelatin mixture. 
  3. Divide the heated cream base among 8 muffin molds (or ramekins) and transfer to the refrigerator until fully chilled, at least 4 hours. 
  4. To make the candied lemon, combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan.  Add the lemon supremes and cook over low heat for 15 minutes, flipping once.
  5. When you’re ready so serve, beat the coconut milk together with sugar and lavender essential oil in a medium bowl using a whisk or an electric mixer.
  6. To remove the panna cotta from their molds, I like to use my cooking torch.  With the torch on its lowest setting, quickly heat the outside of each metal mold, spending just a few seconds on each one.  The panna cotta should slip right out.  Alternately, heat the molds in a little warm water and run your knife around the inside to loosen. 
  7. Garnish the panna cotta with coconut foam, candied lemon, shaved coconut, shaved white chocolate and edible flowers.
27th April
2011
written by scott

grapefruit-before-and-after

In Part 1 of this article, we got a behind-the-scenes look at the equipment, lighting and shooting setup used by Ryan Matthew Smith to achieve the stunning food photos in Modernist Cuisine.  Now, we’ll take a look at the second step in the process: cleaning up your pictures in Photoshop to really make them come to life.

Ryan is amazingly talented with Photoshop and he has shared some of his favorite tricks and techniques with me.  There is a lot more to be learned than what’s covered in this article, but this is a great start for any food photographer looking to squeeze a little more succulence out of your shots. 

The steps below are my attempt at cleaning up the grapefruit picture shown here.  Although my process achieves a similar result to Ryan’s work on the same photo, chances are, an experienced Photoshop guru like Ryan can correct this image faster, cleaner and more accurately.  However, as I was quite pleased with the finished product, so I thought I’d share my steps with you. 

At the end of the article, I’ve listed a handful of other useful Photoshop tips that Ryan was kind enough to share. 

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26th April
2011
written by scott

Last night, I enjoyed the rare privilege of experiencing a 29-course tasting menu prepared by the Modernist Cuisine team.  The dinner was spectacular and showcased some of the most innovative and sophisticated cooking techniques on the planet.  Often the flavors were new and complex as well, though now and then, a dish would surprise me with a familiar taste from childhood or years past.  I don’t dare try to describe every plate, but the majority of the dishes they served can be found in the book, in one form or another.

I’d like to give a big Thank You to the Modernist Cuisine team for hosting such a spectacular evening, and for their continued generosity.

21st April
2011
written by scott

tomato-560

This week I had the extreme privilege to get a lesson in food photography from Ryan Matthew Smith, the principal photographer for Modernist Cuisine.  We recreated a few shots from the book and Ryan explained some of the techniques he used to create those jaw-dropping photos.  In this article, I’ll give you some of Ryan’s best tips and tricks for shooting food in this style.  We’ll cover the lighting setup for each shot, talk about the equipment that Ryan uses, and even look at some at-home alternatives.  Finally, as a reward for reading all the way through, you can watch gelatin bounce in extreme slow motion :-)   In Part 2 (coming soon), we’ll walk through a set of steps in Photoshop to pull out the hyper-real detail and lighting that make Modernist Cuisine’s food seem to jump off the page.

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14th April
2011
written by scott

It takes five minutes to unpack the Modernist Cuisine books.  Five.  I know… I counted.

Several weeks ago, when I brought home a review copy of Modernist Cuisine, I was too eager to bother documenting the unboxing process.  However, now that I’ve purchased my personal copy (for-keeps) I thought it would be worthwhile to share the experience of opening it up for the first time. 

The video above shows the process from start to finish.  First there’s the outer box (note the shipping weight on the label).  Then, you reveal the inner box, suspended in air by six rigid cardboard pyramids.  Inside the inner box, there are thick cardboard panels which completely surround a mysterious white package (hint: it’s the books!).  On the other end, the kitchen manual hides in a box of its own. 

Although it may seem like the Matryoshka-style packaging was added to create a tantric unboxing experience, it actually serves a purpose: protecting the acrylic book case from breaking during transit.  One of the reasons that the original shipping date was delayed, in fact, was that the previous version of the packaging had failed a “drop test”.  When you’ve got 50 lbs. of books sloshing around in a box, cushioning counts.

If you’re still waiting on your copy to arrive, I hope this video gives you a moment of vicarious pleasure.  And, in case you’re wondering, yes I saved the box. 

07th April
2011
written by scott

shrimp cocktail

Although the title sounds like the beginning of a bad personals ad, this recipe couldn’t be more innocuous.  I wanted to play with the notion of a classic shrimp cocktail, and somewhat by accident (and inspired by a brainstorming session with Jethro), I realized that I could dehydrate cocktail sauce and produce something that looked quite a bit like prosciutto.  Prosciutto-wrapped shrimp is a great dish on its own, and on first glance, that’s what this dish might appear to be.  However, in a single bite, you’ll quickly identify the unmistakable flavor of cocktail sauce.

Method:

  1. Spread cocktail sauce (bottled or homemade – I’ll admit to using bottled) in a thin, even layer on a piece of parchment.  Make the layer just thick enough that there are no holes or gaps in coverage. 
  2. Dehydrate in a food dehydrator at 135F for 2-3 hours or until it is dry to the touch.  If you don’t have a dehydrator, you may be able to achieve similar results in a low oven with the door cracked slightly.
  3. Carefully peel the parchment away from the dehydrated cocktail sauce.  It will peel away just like a fruit leather.  Place the cocktail “leathers” on a silpat or another sheet of parchment – they will stick to counters and cutting boards.
  4. Cut the leather into strips, 3/4” wide by 7” long (for medium shrimp – adjust the size as needed). 
  5. Cook shrimp using the method of your choice.  Refrigerate until cool.  Wrap the shrimp in cocktail leather.  Serve, and watch for the look of surprise on the faces of your guests.
01st April
2011
written by scott

easyvide

As you might know, I’ve been working on sous vide machine designs for a little over a year now.  I’m happy to announce today that I’ve finally got a model ready for sale: the Easy-Vide Sous Vide Water Oven for Kids! 

I discovered that children are currently the biggest untapped market for kitchen technology, and in order to make sous vide cooking pervasive in the future, we need to educate the next generation of chefs and home cooks.  I created the Easy-Vide to be the simplest, easiest and most fun way to teach kids about sous vide.

Features:

  • Screw in the light bulb (included), fill the basin with water, and pug in the power cord. 
  • No pesky temperature settings to remember.  The water bath is heated by the light bulb – it’s that simple!
  • Works for all types of foods including steak, chicken, fish, and even vegetables!
  • Kids will love searing their favorite snacks with the included Mini Blowtorch

I’m still in negotiations with several retailers, so check back soon for pricing and availability.  The Easy-Vide promises to be the must-have toy for the aspiring cook in your family!

01st April
2011
written by scott

modernist cuisine secret

Nathan Myhrvold’s presentation on the Modernist Cuisine book is loaded with astonishing facts and figures: over 2400 pages, 46 lbs., 4 pounds of ink… the list goes on.  But, he leaves out a great deal of the behind-the-scenes facts about  the book and the process of its creation.  As we enter early April, just under a month after the first copies shipped, we are finally uncovering details of the real story behind Modernist Cuisine.  Below are a a few little-known facts that I was able to gather from members of the kitchen team who have asked to remain nameless.

  1. The working title of the book was How to Boil Distilled Water At Sea Level Using A Conductive Heat Source and a Wet Bulb Thermometer.  It was later changed to Modernist Cuisine to conserve ink.
  2. A month before the book went to print, the team decided to cut a 6th volume that described  the physiology of the human body’s digestive process.
  3. As lifelong fan of hidden clues and puzzle-solving, Nathan has placed a secret clue inside the printed pages of book 5. If you cut off the book in half vertically down the exact center and view each half from the side, the interior edge of the stacked pages reveals the recipe for Three-Course Dinner Chewing Gum.
  4. The book originally included a recipe for Coca Cola, which the Modernist Cuisine team reverse-engineered using a mass spectrograph. However, efforts to recreate an edible aluminum can were problematic, and the recipe was ultimately discarded.
  5. The iconic “cutaway” photos in the book were actually created using a prototype device that resembles a light saber.  Intellectual Ventures has several working “light sabers” which it uses for testing defenses against (according to a research assistant) “pests significantly larger than a mosquito”. 
  6. During the book’s production, photographer Ryan Matthew Smith was asked to leave a Seattle restaurant after connecting a fiber optic strobe flash to his cell phone camera and tossing his meal in the air.  Ultimately, the restaurant owner apologized and asked to purchase the photo.
  7. One of the more famous recipes in the book is the Modernist Hamburger, which requires over 30 total hours and a bowl of liquid nitrogen to create.  Unfortunately, the team decided to exclude their recipe for “2 AM Mini Hamburgers”, which was inspired during the teams extensive experiments with methods of smoking herbs.
  8. The recipes in the book have clearly undergone rigorous testing.  However, the extent of the tests is often greater than we realize.  For example, one member of the culinary team spent four days measuring the number of licks it takes to get to the tootsie roll center of a Tootsie Pop.  He concluded, applying the central limit theorem, that the number is three.
  9. Although it is true that the genesis of the book was Nathan’s desire to understand sous vide cooking, it is not widely known that Nathan turned to sous vide because his microwave had broken and he needed a reliable way to reheat frozen taquitos.
  10. If you were to sum the cooking time for all of the recipes (not including parametric variations) included in the books, the result would be 8 years, 2 months, 15 days and 9 hours.  However, the book was completed in fewer than seven years, leading some to conclude that Nathan Myhrvold has secretly developed a time machine.

I hope these facts have given you an inside look at the creation of Modernist Cuisine.  And, as always, happy April fool’s day.