My previous attempts at DIY cotton candy were insanely dangerous, and frankly, a lot of work. However, I realized that my Aerolatte might be an even better tool for the job. The Aerolatte is sold as a milk frother, and it certainly does that job well. But I’d argue that this tool is one of the most versatile and convenient pieces of gear in a Modernist home kitchen. The Aerolatte is a battery-powered whisk that’s perfect for mixing liquids in small quantities. I use to incorporate hydrocolloids like xanthan gum and tapioca starch into sauces – an application where thorough mixing is critical. I also use it to quickly dissolve salt and sugar into liquid brines, to emulsify salad dressing, and even to hyperdecant wine, a glass at a time.
But let’s talk sugar spinning. Professional and home cotton candy machines work by heating sugar inside a fast-spinning chamber. The centrifugal force produced by the spinning motion forces molten sugar through very tiny holes or slits in the chamber. As the sugar is pushed out, it forms thin filaments that solidify almost instantaneously to form the characteristic delicate threads of cotton candy. However, in our DIY approach, we can use the Aerolatte’s spinning whisk to produce the necessary centrifugal force.
Here’s the recipe:
- Start by heating granulated sugar in just enough water to wet it. Bring the sugar to a boil, monitoring the temperature with a candy thermometer or an infrared thermometer, and without stirring. The temperature will stall at 212°F until most of the water has boiled off. At this point, reduce the heat to avoid overshooting the final temperature of the sugar.
- Continue heating until the sugar to at least 260°F. This is the minimum temperature, in practice, at which it will produce threads. However, anywhere between 260°F and 300°F is a safe temperature range to reliably produce cotton candy. At lower temperatures the cotton candy will be more pliable, and at higher temperatures the final product will be more brittle. Unlike caramel or candy making, you don’t need to be super obsessive about maintaining a precise temperature here.
- With the Aerolatte off (not spinning), dip the whisk tip in the molten sugar. Then, while holding the Aerolatte perfectly vertical, position the tip just below the opening of a wide bowl and switch the Aerolatte on. The whisk will spin, throwing threads of sugar outward. It’s important to use a bowl that’s at least 12” wide, so the sugar has room to form long threads before hitting the wall of the bowl.
- Repeat this process until you have enough cotton candy for your application.
Just as with a cotton candy machine, you can also melt down hard candies instead of using granulated sugar. Additionally, you can add color and flavor to the molten sugar; dry powders work well, but oils and fats can affect the formation of the sugar threads.
Ever wondered to yourself, “WTF is Modernist cuisine?” Here’s our answer. If you’re curious to learn more about the history of the movement, the reason that Modernist chefs don’t like the term “molecular gastronomy” or the difference between Modernist cuisine and Nouvelle cuisine, there’s no better resource than volume 1 of Modernist Cuisine.
Modernist Cuisine introduced the idea of a “constructed cream” – a cream-like sauce that has never passed through a teat [if you’re into vivid imagery]. Dairy creams, including milk, are actually emulsions. Milk, for example, is composed of tiny droplets of fat suspended in water and stabilized by a protein called casein. So, if milk and cream are emulsions of fat and water, why not emulsify together any arbitrary fat and water to produce a sauce with the thickness and mouthfeel of cream? Boom: constructed creams are born.
That one insight has incredible repercussions, and the Modernist Cuisine at Home recipe for Home Jus Gras is a great example. In a traditional gravy, you start with very flavorful roasting juices or pan drippings. The problem is that pan drippings are quite thin, so we typically thicken them by adding flour or cornstarch. This approach has “compromise” written all over it: starches are flavor inhibitors. The Modernist Cuisine approach is to combine those roasting juices with flavorful liquid fat instead, and to swap flour and cornstarch for xanthan gum, which can be used in extremely small quantities and doesn’t dull the flavor of the finished sauce.
The full recipe – which is amazing! – is in Modernist Cuisine at Home. However, if you’re short on time, we’ve developed an even simpler version using store-bough fat and stock. This Simplified Jus Gras recipe is in the Modernist Cuisine recipe library. I hope that this recipe is also a jumping-off point for you to experiment with your own flavors. Last year, I used this technique with rendered fat from a pre-Christmas goose and some spiced apple cider to produce a grain-free gravy that jived with my wife’s dietary restrictions. But, there’s no reason you couldn’t use bacon grease and whiskey, if you were so-inclined.
For the rest of the MDRN KTCHN series, check out CHOW.com.
I’ve always been fascinated by puffed foods. Maybe it’s because our brains are hardwired to enjoy crunchy snacks… maybe it’s because Snap, Crackle and Pop were sending subliminal messages when I was a kid. In this video, I explain the science of puffing and show you a simple one you can make at home: puffed rice crisps.
I love pumpkin carving – it’s my favorite part of Halloween. This year, I decided to do something a little different with my jack-o-lanterns: animate them! I was inspired by the guys at DigitalDudz, who came up with the very clever idea of brining Halloween t-shirts to live by taping your smartphone or tablet inside the shirt and playing a video that aligns to the image on the front of the shirt. If it works for a t-shirt, why not a pumpkin?
The process is quite simple.
- Start by picking a video that you want to incorporate into your pumpkin design. There are lots of videos on YouTube that will work, but I really liked the HallowEyes video pack ($6 CAD) from Hallowindow.com.
- Next, pick the device that you’ll use to play the video. Any digital device will work: an iPad or iPhone, any other smartphone, a Kindle Fire, a digital picture frame that supports video playback… even a small monitor or pico projector connected to a laptop. For extra versatility, consider using more than one device (ex. a smartphone for each eye).
- Load the video onto your device. Then, lay a piece of paper over your device’s screen and trace the outline of the important part of the video. In my case, I traced the outline of each eyeball.
- Pick the side of your pumpkin that you wish to carve. Transfer the outline from the paper to the pumpkin by poking a series of small holes into the pumpkin around the lines on the paper. Be sure to pick an area on your pumpkin where the device will fit nicely, remembering that most devices have a bezel that adds extra width.
- Cut a hole in the opposite side of the pumpkin, ensuring the hole is large enough to fit your device. Scrape out the guts.
- Put your video device in a clear plastic bag to protect it from the guts of the pumpkin. Most touchscreens will still allow you to control them through a thin plastic bag.
- Make a small alignment hole where you want the video to appear. In my case, I made a 1/2” hole in the center of each eyeball. Insert your device with the video playing and check the alignment against those holes. Then, working with a small amount of material at a time, scrape out the inside flesh of the pumpkin until your device fits against the inside wall. Be careful not to scrape too far or you could puncture the inner wall of the pumpkin.
- Remove your device from the pumpkin. Working from the outside face, gradually expand the alignment holes until they reveal the correct part of your screen.
- Finally, insert your video device one last time and hold it in place using toothpicks inserted into the inside flesh of the pumpkin. Play the video (on repeat, if your device supports it).
If you liked this project, check out my primer on carving pumpkins with a laser,
Before Modernist Cuisine, and certainly before Modernist Cuisine at Home, I thought pressure cookers were antiquated, holdover kitchen appliances, like manual egg beaters or the electric hot dog cooker. But, after my first taste of caramelized carrot soup, I was an instant believer. In this video for MDRN KTCHN, I explain how pressure cookers do their magic, and why you no longer need to be afraid of one exploding in your face.
Just need the basics of sous vide? This video, the second in the MDRN KTCHN series, breaks down the basics. My go-to sous vide machine these days is the PolyScience Sous Vide Professional CREATIVE series, but if you’d prefer to save a little money and don’t mind the elbow grease, join the 1,000+ folks who have built their own sous vide machines from my $75 DIY instructions.
I’m so excited to show you the first episode of MDRN KTCHN, a new cooking show that I’m hosting for CHOW.com, showing off the culinary innovations and food hacks of the Modernist Cuisine lab. In this episode, I explain how to give Velveeta-like meltability to the flavorful cheeses you know and love. This technique comes from Modernist Cuisine at Home, which devotes an entire chapter to recipes centered around this technique. Just last night, I used this cheese hack to create a mac and cheese sauce from smoked gouda and sharp cheddar – cheeses that would have otherwise melted into an oily mess.
We’ll be releasing new MDRN KTCHN videos every Sunday, so check back often. I’ve also got a few other CHOW videos online, including Mind-Blowing Microwaved Boxed Cake, Crispy Korean-Style Fried Chicken Wings, and How to Carbonate Fruit with a Whipping Siphon.
I know things have been a little quiet on SeattleFoodGeek.com for a while, but that’s only because I’ve been working so hard to prepare some great tips for the launch of Modernist Cuisine at Home. Here’s a video tip from the book that I did for CHOW.com: how to carbonate fruit with a whipping siphon.
If you’ve never had carbonated fruit, it’s a very cool experience. If you have kids, this is a great recipe that they can make with you, and it’s a very clever way to get them to devour a siphon full of fruit.
Update: Andris Lagsdin, fan of Modernist Cuisine and steel expert has just launched a Kickstarter for Baking Steel, a low-cost slab of pre-cut steel for baking pizzas and breads in just the way I describe below! I’ve tested one of his prototype units and it performs like a champ – even with a single Baking Steel (no double-decker) I was able to produce fantastic, wood-fired-oven-like results on my grill! I highly recommend this Kickstarter for anyone looking to make pizza or breads at home.
The guys from Tested.com came to Seattle, so I shared with them one of the projects that’s been on my mind lately: making perfect pizzas at home. In a previous post, I discussed my approach to making great pizza dough. But, dough is only one half of the equation. Without a good oven, the best dough in the world still won’t produce quality pizza.
Now, let me first say that there are people who devote their entire lives to pizza ovens – to building them, to studying them, and to understanding how they work. I am not one of those people, and, although I still have a blank space in my yard that I one day hope to fill with an actual pizza oven, my goal here was to produce the best pizzas possible using my CharBroil infrared grill as a starting point. But if you want to send me a pizza oven, I’ll test the shit out of it.
There are two keys to hacking a grill into an effective pizza oven: getting it really goddamned hot, and holding the heat. Getting a grill hot is not so much of a challenge – add enough charcoal and let it burn for long enough, and you’ll have quite an inferno. Add more airflow or additional oxygen, and your fire will burn hotter and faster. But, retaining that high heat when you open the lid or add cold food… well, that requires mass.
Mass, like a pizza stone, or the thick floor of a pizza oven, or in this case, 25-lb steel plates, act like a heat battery, storing up heat energy. I was first turned on to the idea of using steel instead of ceramic brick by Modernist Cuisine, who recommend the technique not only for grills but for household ovens as well. So, why are steel plates better than a pizza stone? A few reasons:
- Steel is much denser than ceramic materials. A typical pizza stone has a a density of 0.0625 lbs. per cubic inch. The steel plates I’m using have a density of 0.329 lbs. per cubic inch – about 5 times as dense. That means that for the same volume of material, I can store much more energy in steel than brick.
- Steel has a much lower specific heat than brick. This means that it takes less energy to heat a steel block than a brick of equal mass. So, the steel will heat up faster in the oven.
- Steel has a much higher thermal conductivity than brick. Thermal conductivity measures how quickly heat moves through a material, or between materials via conduction. This means that the heat can move from the steel plate to the pizza crust faster than it could if I were using a ceramic material.
All of these factors are summed up in one convenient measure, known as thermal diffusivity. And, it turns out that the thermal diffusivity of 304 steel (the grade I’m using) is about ten times greater than the thermal diffusivity of brick. [I don’t have precise numbers for the ceramic composition of pizza stones specifically, but it will be similar in magnitude. Some types of steel, like high-carbon steel, have more than 20 times the thermal diffusivity of brick.]
Do ceramic pizza stones produce good-looking, great tasting pizzas? Yes, absolutely. But according to physics, they necessarily do so more slowly than steel. One of my pizza criteria is a crunchy crust that will support its own weight when held from one end. I’ve found great success in achieving this texture with a steel cooking surface. The other advantage to steel, of course, is that it will last nearly forever. I don’t have to worry about dropping and shattering it, I can use it as a griddle and scrape it clean, and if I need to build an impromptu blast shield, I’m all set.
To hack your grill into a worthy pizza oven, here’s what you’ll need:
- A grill, preferably one that runs on natural gas, or propane, but has a place to load in charcoal
- Two 1/4” 304 stainless steel plates [either purchased in pre-cut size, or custom cut to fit 2/3 of your grill area]
- 4 5-inch stainless steel pipe nipples, or any other 5” length of stainless to act as a stand for the top plate
- BBQ grill fan, or an electric bellows, or a hair dryer and about 18” of metal tubing to fit
- An aluminum pizza peel
To assemble your pizza oven:
- Place one of the stainless plates in a corner of your grill.
- Place two of the stainless steel pipe segments on the two far corners of the plate. Place the other two pipe segments on opposite edges of the plate, about 1/3 of the way back. These pipe segments will hold up the top plate. By pushing them back from the front corners, you allow yourself a little more room to negotiate the pizza with the peel.
- Place the top plate on top of the pipe segments. It should sit firmly – you sure don’t want it crashing down on you during cooking.
- Install your BBQ grill fan or bellows on the opposite side of the grill, above the open grilling area not covered by the steel.
- If your grill has a charcoal tray or basin on the open side, fill it with charcoal. If not, place the charcoal in a roasting pan or metal dish on that side of the grill. Ignite the charcoal, turn on all of the burners and close the lid. Allow the grill 45-60 minutes to preheat thoroughly.
- A few minutes before cooking, start your grill fan or bellows. This will boost the internal temperature of the grill and even out hot and cold spots. A cooking temperature between 800°F and 900°F is ideal.
- Just before cooking, turn the burners below your steel plate down to 75% power. This will help prevent the bottom crust from burning before the top crust is fully cooked. However, I’ve found that the first pizza of the day is usually somewhat sacrificial
- Slide your pizza onto the bottom steel plate and cook, turning once, for 2-3 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the top crust is golden brown. Keep the grill lid closed as much as possible during cooking to maintain the high temperature.
- Enjoy extraordinary pizza made at home!
I hope you enjoy the pleasure of homemade pizza as much as I have. I’ve probably made 50 or so pizzas this summer, and there is nothing quite as satisfying than pulling a perfect pizza out of the grill and serving it to friends. If you don’t (or can’t) have a grill, this technique works pretty well in a home oven, too. Place one steel plate on the bottom floor of your oven to act as a heat battery. Set the other on the top rack. Preheat your oven for an hour on its highest temperature setting. You’ll need to add a minute or two to the baking time, but the results will be worth it!
To make an omelet, you’ve gotta break a few eggs. To learn to use a Phantom v.12 high-speed video camera, it’s best to break those eggs as dramatically as possible. This was shot at 6900 frames per second, which is fast enough to capture the worst facial expression I’ve ever made.
Video courtesy of Modernist Cuisine / The Cooking Lab, LLC.
The video above is not camera magic – I actually poured a bottle of water into a room-temperature glass and watched it instantly turn into ice. I stumbled upon this phenomenon when I was experimenting with the optimal temperature at which to serve Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Long ago, I modified the freezer in my basement to maintain precise temperature control using a PID controller. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sampling cans of PBR at different temperatures. Incidentally, I have concluded that PBR is best served right around –8.5C. At that temperature, the beer is still liquid, but has a small amount of ice crystal formation (which is just delightful). I just happened to have some small bottles of Arrowhead water in the freezer and I noticed that a few of the bottles remained liquid while others were already frozen solid. I wondered if these bottles might be supercooled: chilled beyond their freezing point but not yet frozen because the ice didn’t have a nucleation point from which to form. Turns out, they were.
And I have video proof.
From now on, this is what I want when I order “ice water” at a bar.
This may be the most dangerous food I’ve ever created. I came up with the idea near the end of a very long day of work, when delirium had set in and all of my ideas were at their most absurd. But, in the morning, the idea still lingered with me, so, despite my sense of impending moral conflict, I present Hypermelon.
Hypermelon is melon that has been vacuum infused with an energy drink. Strong vacuum pressure causes the cellular structure of the melon to change, and when atmospheric pressure is returned, the melon sucks up a proportionally large amount of any surrounding liquid. In these experiments, I infused watermelon with 5 Hour Energy and Sugar-Free Redbull. It’s pretty easy to extend the recipe to Rockstar Energy Drinks or other high-caffeine beverages. The watermelon helps to mask the semimedicinal flavor of the energy drink, making consumption of those beverages even more dangerous.
Here’s a short video showing the vacuum infusion process. As you can see, the watermelon sucks up quite a bit of liquid. In fact, it only takes 200g of watermelon to absorb an entire 5 Hour Energy.
I encourage you to exercise caution when making hypermelon. This shit is no joke.
Last summer, I had the unbelievable privilege of participating in a documentary produced by Sahale Snacks founders Edmond Sanctis and Josh Schroeter, called Explore Taste Adventures. The idea behind this project was to create a three-star meal using foods that are foraged, found, cooked and served using only what was naturally available in our immediate surroundings.
We set up camp in the San Juan Islands with our fearless crew: Josh and Edmond, the explorers; Eric Rivera, the chef; Jennifer Adler, the nutritionist and seaweed expert; Langdon Cook, the forager; and me, the food geek. We faced incredible challenges in the pursuit of this unorthodox meal, but the final results were amazing. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around to witness the team’s triumph…
On the first day of our arrival on Whidbey island, the entire crew went out for dinner to kick off our adventure. There were red tide conditions in certain locations around Puget Sound, but the restaurant at which we ate sourced their shellfish from red tide-safe waters. I, along with everyone else, enjoyed a beautiful spread of seafood, including oysters. Dun dun duuuuuuuuun….
The next day, I felt like a champion – I spent most of the day on the beach, assembling a smoker out of driftwood and aluminum foil. Around midday, a rainstorm rolled in and we banded together to build a rainproof fort to protect the fire and the food. By dinnertime, we were exhausted, but still feeling the adrenaline-powered victory of overcoming the elements. In the evening, we gathered around the fire to sip a little whiskey and look up at the stars. And then it hit. Out of nowhere, I started to feel nauseated. Urgently nauseated. I, “gave my bounty back to the sea” a few times, but I still didn’t feel any better. Within a few minutes, I was on the ground, incapacitated. I crawled into a driftwood lean-to, seeking shelter for my heaving, not thinking that it might make me difficult to find.
After a few minutes had passed, Eric noticed my absence and went searching. When he finally discovered me, curled into a ball and barely making sense, he knew something was seriously wrong. This wasn’t normal food poisoning. This was something else.
Eric alerted the team and everyone immediately sprung into emergency mode, getting me off the beach and calling an ambulance. I don’t have a great recollection of of the next hour or so, but I do vividly remember everyone on the team going to incredible lengths to make sure I was OK. They were worried – probably more worried than I was – but their actions likely saved my life. When the ambulance arrived, I had started to regain lucidity, but my abdominal pain and nausea weren’t subsiding. They phoned the emergency room at Anacortes, the nearest hospital, to which there was no land bridge. They called in a helicopter, loaded me in, and airlifted me to the ER. It was badass.
My incredible wife made the 2-hour drive to meet me in the middle of the night, after working a nearly 24-hour straight shift at another hospital in Seattle. After several hours, a few IV bags, and a healthy dose of narcotics, my condition stabilized and they discharged me. Rachel drove me home. It was 5 AM. To this day, I have no idea how she stayed awake for the drive there and back.
|A very healthy, delicious Blue Pool oyster (from a recent photo shoot I did for the Hama Hama Oyster Company)|
It turned out that source of my illness was Vibrio parahaemolyticus – a bacteria found in oysters under certain, rare conditions. I had drawn the short straw – one of the oysters at our kickoff dinner must have been infected, and I was unlucky enough to pick it. Getting this sick sucked, but not as much as knowing that I was going to miss the dinner for which we had been foraging, fishing, building and cooking for the previous two days. I had planned on being Eric’s sous chef, and I knew that his menu was extensive. I wanted to be there to help, but also to witness the meal become a reality. I wanted to celebrate the culmination of the adventure and high-five the team and sleep well that night, knowing what we’d accomplished. I’ll always regret the fact that I missed the end of the trip, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
So, by this point you may be thinking that I have a vendetta against oysters, or that I’ll never eat an oyster again, or that I stand on the beach and curse the waves. You’d be wrong. After my hospitalization, I underwent extensive allergy testing to ensure that I didn’t have a shellfish (or any other food allergy). All of the tests came back negative, and three days later, I was sitting at the counter at The Walrus and the Carpenter slurping Samish Sweets, Hama Hamas and Kusshis. In the words of of Ghandi, hate the sin, love the sinner (I’m deep, you know). I’ve probably eaten a hundred oysters since and, to this day, they’re still one of my favorite foods.
I do hope you take 20 minutes to watch the 5-part documentary at the top of this post. Even though my role was small, I’m so incredibly proud of this project. What Edmond, Josh, Eric, Langdon, and Jennifer pulled off is inspiring, and it speaks volumes of the philosophy and integrity of Sahale Snacks that they would produce this film. Now stop reading and start watching.
It must be ultrasonic month here at Seattle Food Geek headquarters, ‘cause I’ve got another high-frequency food hack. I recently bought an ultrasonic mist generator to use as a humidifier for a meat curing chamber I’m working on. These little devices emit ultrasonic waves (around 20KHz) which cause the surrounding water to cavitate into a very fine mist without raising the water temperature. Since the mist is so fine (about 1 micron) and is instantaneous and low-temperature, I thought it might be a great way to disperse aromatics around a food or beverage. I ran a few experiments to see if it would turn alcohol into mist, but unfortunately most of the results were very poor.
Rum did bupkis. Whiskey gin were the same. Dry vermouth produced a small amount of mist, and absinthe on it’s own produced a decent fog. However, since Absinthe is meant to be consumed with added water anyway, the cocktail you see above was the best result I achieved in my limited testing. From what little I can gather, I think the mist generator relies on a relationship between the frequency of the emitted ultrasonic wave and the speed with which sound travels through water in order to produce the mist. Sound waves will move at different speeds in liquids with different densities, so perhaps tweaking frequency of the transducer would allow me to directly mist other liquids. Just a theory.
The mist generator has a ring of garish, color-changing LED lights built in – this is not part of the intended effect. However, the mist produced above the drink does add something nice to the act of drinking it; the aromatics of the absinthe are amplified by becoming airborne, so you get a pleasant hit of anise aroma before you make contact with the drink. I think there’s potential to this technique, but until I can make mists out of whatever liquid I want, and without having to submerge a plastic doodad in your cocktail, I’ll consider this to be a “promising prototype.”