Archive for November, 2011
I’ve assembled a list of must-have cooking gear, kitchen toys, and foodie fetishes for 2011. If you have a food geek in your life and you’re looking for gift inspiration, I’m here to help. They say “‘tis better to give,” but ‘tis best to give to someone who’ll cook you dinner in return!
|Bob Kramer 10" Carbon Steel Chef’s Knife by Zwilling J.A. Henckels®
Say hello to the “it knife” of 2011. Bob Kramer is the only Master Bladesmith in the world who specializes in culinary knifes, and his rare, hand-made blades sell for thousands of dollars. (see my post on touring Bob Kramer’s workshop.) Now, he’s produced a line of exceptional quality carbon steel cutlery that conforms to his exacting standards, but is affordable enough for the home chef.
|Skillet Bacon Jam
Seattle residents are already familiar with the spreadable jar of heaven known as “Bacon Jam”. Produced by the same Skillet group that brought us the Skillet Street Food truck and the Skillet Diner, the jam is a mixture of rendered bacon and spices that adds a succulent kick to sandwiches, burgers, omelets, Ritz crackers, or any other bacon-submissive food. Makes a great stocking stuffer – just hope you can fit into your stockings after you’ve plowed through a jar.
$15.95 – Amazon.com
|Rouxbe Cooking School
In this day and age, anything that’s worth doing is worth doing online – learning to cook is no exception. Rouxbe is the world’s leading online cooking school that teaches people of all levels to become better, more confident cooks. Focused on techniques, not recipes, Rouxbe offers over 1,100 close-up instructional videos that capture the exact same curriculum found in professional cooking schools around the world.
$23.00/month (other packages available) – Rouxbe.com
Any serious food geek cooks sous vide. And those who don’t? Well, they’re waiting for you to buy them a sous vide machine… that is, if you’re not up for building one yourself. By far, the easiest way to get started with sous vide cooking is the SousVide Supreme line of water ovens. Their machines are available in multiple sizes and colors and they’re currently running some fantastic deals for the holidays, including a Modernist Cuisine gift set!
$299 and up – SousVideSupreme.com
|VacMaster Chamber Vacuum Sealer
Whether you’re cooking sous vide or tackling a whole slew of other modernist techniques, a vacuum sealer is an absolute necessity. FoodSaver-style sealers work fine for dry foods, but for wet foods like meat and fish or liquids of any kind, you need a chamber sealer. Unlike an edge sealer, which sucks all of the air out of the bag from one edge, the VacMaster removes the air from the entire chamber, then seals the bag. When the vacuum is released, the pressure of the atmosphere compresses the bag against its contents for a fool-proof, air-free seal with no messy liquid sucked from the edge of the bag.
|Excalibur 3500 Deluxe Series 5 Tray Food Dehydrator
If you thought dehydrators were just for jerky and fruit snacks, you’re missing a whole world of possible applications for dried foods. For example, why not whip up some Shrimp in Cocktail Leather for your next dinner party? The Excalibur dehydrator is the brand trusted by chefs everywhere. The rectangular drying trays provide 8 square feet of drying space, and the 85º – 145ºF thermostat let’s you dehydrate everything from soup to nuts (and yes, jerky too)!
$189.95 – Amazon.com
|Presto 1755 16-Quart Aluminum Pressure Cooker/Canner
For some reason, lots of folks think of pressure cookers as “your grandmother’s kitchen gadget”. And, while it’s true that grannie may have reached for her pressure cooker as a way to save time in the kitchen, their usefulness extends well beyond expediency. Pressure cookers are fantastic for extracting flavors, for example, when making stocks and sauces. When coupled with a little baking soda, they’re also key to making the best vegetable soups I’ve ever tasted. I’d recommend purchasing a pressure canner rather than just a pressure cooker. The difference is the inclusion of a pressure gauge which allows you to can many foods that you couldn’t otherwise safely preserve.
$71.99 – Amazon.com
|Noble Tonics: Handcrafted Matured Maple Syrups & Vinegars
This is my new favorite breakfast condiment: Tahitian Vanilla Bean & Egyptian Chomomile Blossom Matured Maple Syrup. Just speaking its name evokes images of meticulous artisans patiently watching over these syrups as they mature in charred American oak barrels. It is to maple syrup what Château d’Yquem is to wine. The complete line includes two maple syrups, a sherry bourbon oak vinegar, an heirloom lemon matured white wine vinegar, and XO, a viscous, rich “finishing vinegar”.
$22.95 – $69.95 – MikuniWildHarvest.com
|Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook
Although this cookbook was only released a few weeks ago, it’s already one of the most talked-about cookbooks of the year. And rightfully so – this book is so much more than a cookbook; it is a window into the soul of Eleven Madison Park. Featuring breathtaking photography and over 125 sophisticated recipes, this will be one of the [very few] cookbooks I reference on a regular basis, both for inspiration and for technique.
$31.50 [hardcover] – Amazon.com
|Momofuku Milk Bar
Imagine an incredible collection of desserts that all seem like they were designed by stoners with phenomenal pastry skills. That would, more or less, be Monofuku Milk Bar. Written by pastry chef Christina Tosi, the book includes an entire section on cereal milk ice creams. Other notable dishes include the infamous “crack pie”, “compost cookie”, and “gutter sundae” (directions: Go to the hardware store. Buy a gutter. Invite your friends and family over. Make a gutter sundae to celebrate). Yet, somehow, the whole thing is irresistible!
$20.18 – Amazon.com
This has been a great year for chef David Chang and his ever-expanding influence. Case in point: Lucky Peach. In an era when print publishing is dying a very public death, Chang had the chutzpah to start his own food journal. Issue Two’s theme is "The Sweet Spot," and will feature Rene Redzepi on vintage vegetables, Tajikistani apricots with Adam Gollner, a visit to Callaway Golf and Louisville Slugger, time-sensitive fermentation, banana pie with Momofuku Milk Bar chef Christina Tosi, and much, much more.
$9.50/issue – Amazon.com
|Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts: Secrets and Recipes for the Home Baker
Top Pot Doughnuts are a treasured part of Seattle’s edible landscape. Let it be said that no other doughnut pairs as well with a nonfat, fair trade, soy, double, vanilla cappuccino. Committed bakers, casual home cooks, and sweet-toothed fans will eat up these 50 tried-and-true recipes from classic Old-Fashioneds to the signature Pink Feather Boa and become experts themselves after learning the secrets of doughnut-making tools, terms, and techniques (no, you don t need a deep fryer).
$10.98 – Amazon.com
|Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking
If you’re searching for a food geek gift that will make all others pale in comparison, look no further. For the price of a stand mixer and a handful of tasteful stocking stuffers, you can give the gift that will keep your food geek cooking for a lifetime. I’ve already written quite a bit about Modernist Cuisine, but for the first time ever, you can wrap it in a bow and put it under the tree. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a 40 lb. cookbook!
$450.84 – Amazon.com
|iSi Professional Food & Cream Gourmet Whipper
Thanks to Ferran Adria and others, the term “culinary foam” now means more than whipped cream. If you’re interested in experimenting with foam-at-home, you’ll need to own a whipping siphon. A now-essential part of both sweet and savory preparations, whipping siphons are also great for quick infusions and making carbonated snacks. Unlike cheaper siphons, this model is designed to handle more viscous liquids commonly called for in modernist preparations.
|Krups 203 Electric Coffee and Spice Grinder with Stainless-Steel blades
Textural transformations are a hallmark of modernist cooking, and powders play in important role in achieving the correct mouthfeel and presentation of many dishes. If you’ve ever attempted to turn a solid into a powder using a blender or food processor, you’ll understand why it’s important to have the right tool for the job. This spice grinder is compact, inexpensive and incredibly efficient at making very fine powders in a matter of seconds.
$19.00 – Amazon.com
|Canon EOS 5D Mark II with EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens
Modern food-enthusiasts (see how hard I tried not to use the word “foodie”?) never travel without a camera in-hand. But, approaching your plate of foie gras and truffles with a cell phone camera is as gauche as wearing a sport coat and shorts just to spite the dress code. If you or the food geek in your life are ready to get serious about food photography, there’s currently no better value than the iconic Canon 5D Mark II. It shoots 21MP stills and broadcast-quality video, all for less than a bottle of Chateau Margaux.
$3,019.98 – Amazon.com
|Nikon 1 J1 10.1 MP HD Digital Camera System with 10-30mm VR 1 NIKKOR Lens
So, you’ve realized that you want to improve your food photography, but you don’t want to lug a giant (and conspicuous) DSLR to every restaurant you visit. Nikon’s “1” line is a brand new imaging system that’s designed to be highly portable and highly performant. Featuring interchangeable lenses, a high-speed sensor for great low-light shooting, and the ability to snap stills while you’re shooting 1080p HD video, this is a great camera for the fooderazzi.
$599.00 – Amazon.com
Man, o man do I love butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, delicata squash… you get the point. When I was young, one of my favorite side dishes at family dinners was an acorn squash, halved, filled with butter and brown sugar, and roasted until soft and sweet. It tasted like candy, but technically qualified as a vegetable – a loophole that I still enjoy exploiting.
During my recent, steamy love affair with my pressure cooker, I’ve discovered that it does fantastic things to squash. For example, last week, Jethro served THE BEST butternut squash soup I’ve ever eaten – pressure cooked, of course. There are two fundamental benefits to pressure cooking, as opposed to roasting, squash:
- Speed. Fork-tender squash takes 15-20 minutes in the pressure cooker, rather than 30-45 minutes in the oven.
- All-Over Tan. Put another way, the pressure cooker achieves deep, even browning on all surfaces, with a significantly reduced risk of burning. Let’s explore that more…
One of the best tricks I’ve learned from Modernist Cuisine is that adding 0.5% baking soda (by weight) to things you’re about to pressure cook results in fantastic caramelization. The baking soda increases the pH of the food, which allows the Maillard reaction to take place at the the relatively low-temperature environment of the pressure cooker – typical Maillard reactions start around 310F, but a pressure cooker operating at 15 psi only reaches about 250F. That means that you get deliciously-sweet, browned squash without running the risk of accidentally scorching your squash.
Also, pressure cookers brown more evenly than ovens. Think of your oven like a cheap tanning bed, with lights above and below the subject (in this case, food). The top and bottom of the food is exposed to a lot of light and gets nicely tanned. The sides, however, remain pasty-white because they’re mostly in shadow. The environment inside a pressure cooker, however, is more akin to bathing in a pool of self-tanner. The heat and pressure generated by the steam come from all sides, and as a result, your cubes of squash are beautifully browned from every angle, not just the top and bottom.
If you’re ready to drink the Kool-Aid, here are some pressure cooked squash recipes to get you started.
Basic Pressure Cooked Squash Recipe
- Remove the skin and seeds from your squash and cut into evenly-sized 1” cubes.
- Add 1/2 cup of liquid to your pressure cooker. I recommend centrifuged squash water (thanks Jethro!), chicken stock, or other flavorful liquid. Water works fine, too.
- Toss your cubed squash in .5% its own weight in baking soda. You can eyeball this measurement – about 1/2 tsp. of baking soda for 2 lbs. of squash. Add the squash to the pressure cooker.
- Pressure cook for 20 minutes. Remove and season to taste.
Pressure Cooked Squash Soup Recipe
- Follow steps 1-3 above. For extra richness, add butter or duck fat to the cooking liquid.
- Check after 20 minutes. Pressure cook an additional 10-20 minutes if the squash isn’t tender enough to fall apart yet (cooking time will vary by species).
- Using an immersion blender, puree the squash until smooth, adding additional liquid to reach the desired consistency.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, roasted garlic, nutmeg, maple syrup, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, apple cider, tarragon, ginger, or whatever else suits your fancy.
Go wild with variations. Add other stuff like apples or canned pumpkin or bell peppers or carrots or leeks. I promise it’ll be good.
[BTW, the picture above is an acorn squash, uncooked.]
Ah, chicken & waffles. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I’ve made a few late-night pilgrimages to the famed Roscoe’s House of Chicken’n Waffles, and every now and then, I get a craving for crispy fried chicken alongside a lightly toasted waffle. But other times, my desires are a little more unsavory (pun intended). So, in a recent [epic] Jet City Gastrophysics jam session, we came up with the above: waffle-flavored ice cream served in a crispy chicken skin cup, with maple syrup.
The first step is to make a neutral ice cream base infused it with waffle flavor. Jethro took on the challenge and nailed it. He used a standard ice cream recipe (6 egg yolks, heavy cream, sugar, ice cream machine, etc) except for three variations:
- He toasted up 6 Eggo waffles and soaked them in the milk after it had been brought to a simmer. After 30 minutes he pressed the milk/waffle goop through a sieve.
- He replaced half the required amount of sugar with maple syrup.
- For good measure he threw in a chunk of butter to give it that waffle flavor.
Next, we needed to make a chicken skin cup. So, I skinned a chicken (it was already dead). We thought that an intact chicken skin was fun to play with, so we gave it some time in the spotlight, as you can see on the left. With a little Activia, we could have done a Silence of the Lambs dish (it puts the Hoisin on the skin, or else it gets the hose again!) but we decided that we’re probably on enough FBI watch lists already.
I removed as much of the fat as I could from the inside of the skin, making sure not to accidentally create any holes. Using a 4” biscuit cutter as a guide, I removed a circle of skin to eventually form our cup.
With the waffle cone maker preheated, I crisped the skin until it was golden brown, but still slightly pliable. I immediately placed the disk on top of an inverted stainless steel condiment cup, then pressed another cup down against the skin to form it into a bowl shape. We waited for the skin to cool down, and lo and behold, it held its form.
One scoop of ice cream and some really excellent maple syrup later, we had an incredibly satisfying dessert that tastes exactly like chicken and waffles. Unfortunately, it was a little unwieldy to eat in that form factor – the cup was too big to take in one bite, but not quite brittle enough to shatter at the tap of a spoon. So, we (including Eric, via Skype) brainstormed an alternate presentation.
We decided that the dish would be easier to eat as a single bite served on a waffled chicken skin wafer. Eric actually suggested making a coronet from the chicken skin and serving the dish as a miniature ice cream cone, but we were feeling impatient. So, I fried another piece of skin and broke it into shards. We also garnished the dish with espresso powder, as it seemed a fitting compliment to the breakfasty flavor of the waffle ice cream.
Ultimately, we determined that the best presentation of this dish would be to cast the ice cream into a miniature waffle mold, served on a waffled chicken skin wafer, topped with maple syrup and perhaps even a miniature dollop of espresso whipped cream. We’ll save that for round 2.
As you may know, one hallmark of the photography in Modernist Cuisine is their use of cutaway photos that show what’s happening inside your food – and cookware – as you cook. Since I plan on (eventually) trying to recreate all of the recipes in the book, I thought it might be prudent to recreate those cutaway shots, too. Unlike the MC lab, however, I don’t have a waterjet.
Enter the fantastic folks at Flow International Corporation. They happened to catch my half-joking tweet asking if anyone had a waterjet I could borrow, and as it turns out, they do. In fact, Flow manufactures waterjet machines and invited me to visit them at their headquarters in Kent, WA. When I arrived, they led me – and my box of fully intact cookware – into their demonstration room, an enormous space punctuated by a handful of monstrous waterjets machines.
Under normal circumstances, they’d load a 3D model of the object we were cutting and the cutting nozzle would follow an exact path through the object. However, since I just wanted my pans cut “in twain” the operator switched the machine into manual mode and piloted the cutting head across the surface of the pan like a Jedi. The video below shows the cutting process.
Water and abrasive grit forced at 87,000 psi through an opening the size of a human hair is powerful. And, it doesn’t discriminate – it’ll cut paper, tile, glass, stone, metals (including titanium) and just about anything else that gets in its path. As it turns out, water jets are also commonly used for cutting food products. Since the water jet doesn’t generate much heat as it cuts, it’s perfect for portioning frozen meat and fish or slicing a sheet of nougat into individual candy bars. Of course, now I totally want one of these machines for home. Cutting the crust off a loaf of Wonderbread would never be the same again.
The image at the top shows one of my new half-skillets and depicts the problem with cooking a thick steak on a hot surface (see those gray bands of well-done?). Now I can do my very own cutaway shots, just like the big boys
Huge thanks to the fantastic folks at Flow for helping me out!
I’m very happy to announce my first food photography print available for purchase. This image is an arrangement of 61 different microgreens, micro vegetables, edible flowers, herbs and mixes.
The original image is over 60 megapixels – I went to great lengths to capture all of the ingredients in high resolution. The shot below shows a zoomed-in view of mint apple leaves, found in the bottom center of the poster.
If you’re interested in purchasing a print of this image, I’ve made it available for custom printing through Zazzle. If you’re interested in licensing the entire collage, or each of the ingredients separately, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In case you’re curious, the image includes: borage blossom,