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Oct. 27th
2012
written by scott

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. 

  1. 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
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Cut a hole in the opposite side of the pumpkin, ensuring the hole is large enough to fit your device.  Scrape out the guts. 
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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,

Oct. 25th
2012
written by scott

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.

Oct. 18th
2012
written by scott

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.

Oct. 7th
2012
written by scott

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.

Sep. 28th
2012
written by scott

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.

Jul. 30th
2012
written by scott

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.

Physics Interlude!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

To assemble your pizza oven:

  1. Place one of the stainless plates in a corner of your grill. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Install your BBQ grill fan or bellows on the opposite side of the grill, above the open grilling area not covered by the steel.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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.
  7. 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 :-)
  8. 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.
  9. 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!

Jul. 9th
2012
written by scott

Update: Thanks to keen reader Edsel for pointing out that ModernistPantry.com is now selling WRISE.  This recipe was written for the standard version of WRISE, but they’ve recently introduced an aluminum-free version as well. 

I promised myself that, before the summer is over, I would learn to make fabulous pizza at home.  It turns out, making pizza at home is a fascinating problem.  Almost everyone I know eats pizza at home, but hardly anyone makes it… unless you count baking a frozen DiGiorno or putting toppings on a pre-baked crust.  My self-challenge encompasses aspects of both innovation and practice, and with a food as technique-centric as pizza, there’s no getting around the need to practice. I’ve made about 30 pizzas so far this summer, and my technique and confidence increases with each one.  However, I’ve recently made a breakthrough in recipe development that shows serious promise: no-yeast, no-rise, Champagne-flavored pizza dough that you can make from start to finish in under 40 minutes.  [pictured above]

Seriously. 40 minutes, from scratch. Minute 1: turning on the oven, taking out the stand mixer and grabbing a bag of flour.  Minute 40: eating a goddamn delightful pizza.

Champagne 2The secret to this recipe is microencapsulated leavener – a fine powder made of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and sodium aluminum phosphate that have been microscopically sheathed with non-trans palm lipid to prevent them from reacting with surrounding any acid until they are heated to the point at which the lipid coating melts away.  This means that the leavening action of the baking soda doesn’t kick in until the pizza is heated, and unlike yeast-based doughs, there’s no need for the dough to rise ahead of time.

I first read about encapsulated leaveners in Cesar Vega’s fantastic book, The Kitchen as Laboratory.  Tom Tongue, the R&D Director at Innovative Food Processors contributed a chapter that discusses the use of these products in commercial, take-and-bake pizzas.  I was immediately fascinated by the concept and tracked down a sample package of WRISE from The Wright Group.

In my first tests, I simply added a bit of WRISE to a traditional pizza dough recipe (actually, the Neapolitan pizza dough recipe from the upcoming Modernist Cuisine at Home, to which I have access, neener neener).  Although you’ll need to buy the book to read the full recipe, it relies on yeast and a rise time of at least one hour before baking.

DSC_7292

A few weeks ago, Cesar Vega and Alex Talbot (IdeasInFood.com) happened to be passing through Seattle and joined Jethro and me for dinner at my place. Among other things, we made pizza using the yeast + WRISE method, and I let the dough proof at 55°F for 6 hours before rolling out the crusts. The pizzas were great, but Alex was quick to plant a nagging question in the back of my mind: why do we need yeast in the dough if we have another source of leavening already? It was a great question, and one I couldn’t shake. The yeast and leavener combined to create an extraordinarily light and puffy pizza crust, which I loved, but presumably one could generate enough lift from the leavener alone. Of course, yeast adds flavor to the dough, but flavor can come from lots of sources other than yeast. Buttermilk, whey, blue cheese, soy, miso, beer, and a dozen other foods could stand in for yeast to produce an interesting dough. Then, Alex threw down another challenge: make a new batch of dough, and bake it without letting it rise to see just how much lift the encapsulated leavened provided.

So I did.  The dough recipe takes 20 minutes to make, which includes 10 minutes of rest time in between 5-minute kneading cycles in the stand mixer.  As soon as the second knead was done, I portioned the dough, stretched it into a 12-inch crust, and threw it in my 850°F grill-turned-pizza-oven (more on that later – it’s badass).  The dough rose, but not nearly as much as the yeast dough that had been left to rise for several hours.  A few bites into this “test” pizza, I realized that there was very little acid in the dough with which the sodium bicarbonate could react, which would explain the measly rise.  The only acid, in fact, came from a small amount of honey.  The liquid content of the dough was all water.  The next logical step was to replace the water with a flavorful, acidic liquid and see what happened.

Over the next few weeks, I went to work testing yeastless, WRISE-only dough variations.  Now, this is probably a good time to explain that I’m a shitty baker, and my scientific knowledge of the processes that take place inside wheat doughs is limited to some light reading on Wikipedia.  However, there’s nothing like empirical experimentation to help me learn my way around a concept, so I have no problem conducting experiments to which a wiser man may already know the outcome.

My experimental setup is as follows.  I preheated my oven to it’s highest setting (around 550°F, according to infrared thermometer readings) for one hour, with a 25-lb, 1/4” thick stainless steel plate set on the top rack.  As described in Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home, a steel plate makes a fantastic pizza stone.  It has a greater thermal capacity than ceramic stones due to it’s higher density, and the higher coefficient of thermal conductivity means that heat can move out of the steel and into the crust faster than it can from a ceramic stone.  I divided each dough recipe into two 200-gram portions, and stretched them as thinly as I could while still maintaining their integrity (no holes).  I rolled, stretched, topped and baked one portion of the dough as soon as it came out of the mixer (left column in the image below).  I let the second portion rest for 15 minutes at room temperature to allow the gluten to relax (right column in the image below).  I topped each pizza with 15g of store-bough pizza sauce and 100g of shredded mozzarella cheese.  Nothin’ fancy here, just aiming for controlled conditions across my tests.  As a control for yeast-based dough, I used a bag of Trader Joe’s premade pizza dough, which calls for a 15-minute rest before using, as it comes refrigerated from the store.

crust results

My goal was to achieve a flavorful, well-risen dough by varying the liquid content across trials.  Besides the liquid, the recipe for each of the doughs was exactly the same.  I specifically chose acidic liquids so that the encapsulated baking soda would have something with which to react to produce the CO2 gas that fills good pizza dough with lovely pockets of emptiness.  Each of the pizzas took between 3 and 4 minutes to bake in my oven.  I ascribe the time differences to cycle timing of the broiler element in my oven – when the broiler is on, the pizza bakes much faster than when the broiler is clicked off.  Here are the results from my trials:

Trader Joe’s Premade Pizza Dough [Control]

[Pictured top-right]  This made a totally decent pizza crust.  It rose well, it was easy to stretch out into 12-inch rounds, and if you live less than 12.5 minutes from a Trader Joe’s, you can theoretically make pizza faster than with the from-scratch method below.  [12.5 minutes x 2 (round-trip) + 0 minute theoretical parking, shopping and checkout time, + 15 minute rest period = 40 minutes.]  Observe the relatively large number of big air pockets and the even rise around the crust.

Water

This trial, which you could also consider a control, I suppose, used 100% filtered water as the liquid content of the dough.  Much to my surprise, it rose pretty well!  As you can see in the recipe below, the only acid content is 4% honey, but the dough still lifted itself into a respectable pizza with a spongy texture and decent, though unremarkable, flavor.  I’m still a little shocked that the dough had this much lift from the acid in honey alone.

Champagne (er, Sparkling White…) – Winner!

In this trial I used a $5.99 sparkling white wine from Trader Joe’s as the liquid content of the dough.  I was counting on the acidity of the wine to react with the sodium bicarbonate, but naively hoping, as well, that the carbonation of the wine would add lift to the baked pizza.  It’s unclear that the carbonation did anything useful (all of the gas was likely released during the mixing process), but the “champagne dough” performed like a champ.  The flavors of the wine were easy to identify in the finished pizza, and the yeastiness you expect in dough was replaced by the similar yeastiness from the wine’s own fermentation.  I could detect apricot and cherry flavors in the pizza, even with the cheese and sauce present.  If topped with muscat grapes, and a wine-friendlier cheese than mozzarella, this could be a smashing success.  I’m excited by the variations that I can achieve using different sparkling (or non-sparkling) wines and more interesting topping combinations.

Buttermilk

I had high hopes for buttermilk.  Buttermilk is mildly acidic (pH around 4.5), but acidic enough that the encapsulated leavened readily foams if heated to 60C in the stuff.  Buttermilk is also delicious, with a wonderful sourness that I admire in pancakes and biscuits.  Unfortunately, [in this recipe, at least] it made very pathetic pizza dough.  Buttermilk must somehow interfere with the formation of the gluten network in the dough, preventing it from holding on to much of the expanding CO2 gas released by the leavener as the pizza bakes.  The dough was still quite tasty, but unfortunately didn’t meet the criteria I was looking for in terms of rise.  Bummer.

Bacardi Dark Rum

My line of thinking went like this: if Champagne worked, why not something even more acidic… like rum?!  As you can see in the image above (and as I found out later when researching this), alcohol interferes with gluten in dough.  I could tell just from the mixing process that this dough would suck – it was crumbly and inelastic, and too much stretching would cause it to tear easily.  But, I baked it anyway, and for my commitment, I was rewarded… it turns out that Bacardi pizza will self-flambe after 30 seconds or so of baking in a 550°F oven!  The pizza ignited in a poof of blue flame, then flames gently danced around the perimeter of the dough for the remainder of the baking time.  This pizza was giving off plenty of gas, as you can see by the pocket of lifted cheese in the 15-minute rest trial in the image above.  Unfortunately, the dough just couldn’t hold on and the pizza ended up basically unleavened.  The image below is a video frame-grab of the Bacardi pizza putting on a light show for me.

bacardi pizza flambe

Finally, the winning recipe.

 

No-Yeast, No-Rise Champagne Pizza Dough Recipe

Inspired by the Modernist Cuisine at Home Neopolitan Pizza Dough recipe.

 

INGREDIENT

QTY.

SCALING

PROCEDURE

Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

250g

100%

  1. Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment installed.
  2. Mix on medium speed for 5 minutes.
  3. Let the dough rest in the mixer for 10 minutes.
  4. Mix on medium speed, again, for 5 minutes.
  5. For easier rolling, allow dough to rest for 15 minutes.  Divide dough into two equal parts, and roll out into 12-14” pizza crusts.
  6. Top to your liking, and bake in the hottest setup you’ve got until the crust is risen and the cheese is golden brown.

Champagne or Sparkling White Wine

155g

62%

Honey

10g

4%

Salt

10g

4%

Vital Wheat Gluten (Bob’s Red Mill Brand)

2.5g

1%

WRISE Microencapsulated Leavener

7.5g

3%

Jun. 22nd
2012
written by scott

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.

Jun. 13th
2012
written by scott

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.

May. 29th
2012
written by scott

MCAH-page-feature-large-centered-title

This morning, we (the Modernist Cuisine team) announced our next book, Modernist Cuisine at Home.  You can read all about the book at the Modernist Cuisine website, but it gives me tremendous personal satisfaction to finally get to share this project with the world. Although I only joined the MC team at the beginning of the year, already well into this book’s development, I have had the privilege of helping our team finish the book, which I believe will make a serious impact on home cooking.

If you’re a regular reader of SeattleFoodGeek.com, you know that bringing Modernist cooking into home kitchens is what I live and breathe. It’s the reason there’s a centrifuge in my basement, a PID controller on my freezer, and a 25lb. steel plate on my grill. I believe that a Modernist attitude – the desire to challenge convention, the willingness to embrace new ideas, the hope to always improve – is an important part of cooking, both professionally and at home.  That’s why I’m thrilled at the prospect of reaching a broader audience of home cooks with Modernist Cuisine at Home.  At $140 list price (which will be closer to $100 with book pricing magic), this book is widely more accessible than the original Modernist Cuisine, but retains the same spirit of creativity, innovation and scientific wonder that got me excited about Modernist cooking in the first place.

MCAH_PT2_SWEET_gelato

But it’s not the price that excites me most; it’s the fact that all 406 recipes and variations are designed for the home kitchen. Why is this such a big deal? Because, although I love cooking from Modernist Cuisine, it’s a challenge. Take, for example, the pistachio gelato recipe. Since I’ve pretty much got the best job on earth, I get to eat that gelato regularly. It’s incredible. The flavor is so vibrant, and the texture of that gelato is the yardstick by which I measure all other ice creams. But when I tried to make it at home, it didn’t turn out well. I didn’t have locust bean gum, and it isn’t easy to find locally, so I substituted some other hydrocolloids. My version was terrible. It turns out that my “instinct” for hydrocolloid substitution sucks. However, the Modernist Cuisine at Home adaptation of this recipe calls for emulsifiers that I could find at any grocery store, yet it produces a gelato that is nearly indistinguishable. The chefs have done the experimentation on my behalf so I can count on the recipe being a success.  As a home cook, this gives me tremendous confidence.

I’m also excited by what Modernist Cuisine at Home represents as a milestone in the Modernist cooking revolution. I don’t know if we’ll ever see a day where Whole Foods carries locust bean gum or when Cuisinart makes a centrifuge, but I do believe that the way we cook at home is changing more radically than ever before. I’m proud and honored to have been involved with the development of Modernist Cuisine at Home, and I can’t wait to see its impact.

Apr. 21st
2012
written by scott

5 hour energy hypermelon

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.

redbull energy hypermelon

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.

Watermelon being vacuum compressed in a pool of Redbull

I encourage you to exercise caution when making hypermelon. This shit is no joke.

Apr. 1st
2012
written by scott

pink slime burger

Pink slime is so hot right now – it’s in fast food joints, at supermarkets, and even in our elementary schools.  But, pink slime is so much better when it’s homemade!  Once you taste a fresh pink slime hamburger, you’ll never be satisfied with the drive-through version again. Grinding our own pink slime is also a great way to tailor the ammonia content to your particular taste, whether you prefer tangy and solvent, or mild and corrosive.

For this burger, I used the left over beef trimmings that I had been saving for compost. They were aged one week at room temperature and had just started to take on the terroir of my compost bin. You can use store-bought ammonia, but if you happen to be (or know) a cat owner, I highly recommend using feline-produced ammonia. It provides a sharper, more vibrant flavor that you can only get from fresh, local sources. I recommend using cat litter that has been sitting for 30 days.  Sift out the solid waste (because it would be disgusting if any fecal matter got near your burger patty) and reserve the litter granules – they contain the precious ammonium hydroxide we’re after. Blend the litter granules into a fine puree, then pass them through a chinois or coffee filter. Combine the aromatic litter liquid with the beef trimmings and feed through a masticating juicer or a pasta maker with a spaghetti die attached.  Form the extruded meat into circular patties and cook on a grill, or sous vide before deep frying for a perfectly brown crust.

I like to keep the rest of my burger pretty simple – a Kaiser roll or a brioche bun, an American cheese slice, some heirloom tomato, and plenty of ketchup to mask the other flavors.  Enjoy at your next backyard barbeque, or any old day of the week!

[The photo above was obviously inspired by Ryan Matthew Smith’s iconic hamburger photo from Modernist Cuisine. Thanks for the inspiration and the tips, Ryan!]

[and happy April Fool’s day.]

Mar. 26th
2012
written by scott

shrimp in pea water

If being a student of Modernist Cuisine has taught me anything, it’s that I should strive for purity of flavor.  Achieving this goal is usually an exercise in what to leave out of a dish, not what you put in it, and this recipe is a great example.  Served chilled, the “broth” is made of centrifuged pea water and filtered celery juice.  When blended peas are separated in the centrifuge, most of the starch ends up in the fibrous layer at the bottom.  Since the presence of starch inhibits your ability to perceive sweetness, the starch-free pea water ends up tasting much sweeter than a whole pea.  I didn’t bother to centrifuge the celery juice, but I find that the flavor of celery is so strongly associated with the crunch of the stalks that it creates a fascinating synesthesia to consume it in liquid form.  I made the conscious choice here to leave out pea starch and celery fiber, and the bright flavors of the vegetables shine right through.

I plan on serving this dish for dinner tomorrow, and I may try adding a wasabi ice or a frozen foam to give it another level of texture.

 

INGREDIENT

QTY.

SCALING

PROCEDURE

Frozen peas, thawed

907g

453%

1.       Blend until smooth.

2.       Divide the pea puree among centrifuge bottles and spin at 1500Gs for 2 hours

3.       Decant the pea water through a paper towel or paper filter.  Reserve and chill pea water.

4.       Scrape, reserve, and chill pea butter.

Celery hearts

907g

453%

5.       Juice in a masticating juicer, such as an Omega.  Reserve and chill juice.

Shrimp, prawns, langoustines, lobster tail or other shellfish

200g

100%

6.       Vacuum seal together using weak vacuum pressure.

7.       Cook sous vide to a core temperature of 54C (for shrimp), about 12 minutes.

Duck Fat

30g

15%

Olive Oil

30g

15%

Small Shiitake Mushrooms

20g

10%

8.       Sweat vegetables in butter.

9.       Cut the onions in half and lightly char the cut sides with a blowtorch.

10.   Plate the dish by spooning 15g pea water and 5g celery juice into a shallow bowl.  Place cooked shellfish in the middle.  Garnish with onions, mushrooms and pea butter.

Small Pearl Onions

20g

10%

Butter

10g

5%

Salt

1g

1%

shrimp splash
One of the shrimp got away and tried to return to his natural habitat.

Mar. 12th
2012
written by scott

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.

DSC_8687
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.

Mar. 4th
2012
written by scott

blacklight oyster
I really wanted to make glow-in-the-dark oysters.  More accurately, I wanted to make oysters fluoresce under ultraviolet light (sometimes called “black light”).  Why?  Because it’s cool, of course.  [If you were hoping for a more noble, practical reason, you’re probably reading this blog by mistake.]

I knew two things before beginning this experiment: 1) the quinine in tonic water fluoresces under UV light, and 2) oysters are “filter feeders,” meaning they trap particles from the water as a means of taking in nutrients.  Modernist Cuisine includes a recipe, which is an adaptation from Dave Arnold and Nils Noren, for Beet Juice-Fed Oysters (book 3, page 206).  The recipe calls for submerging live oysters in beet juice strained through a 500 micron sieve and letting them feed for 48 hours.  The flesh of the oyster turns pink and red as it takes on the microscopic particles of beet juice. 

Following this example, I thought there was a good chance that the oysters might filter the quinine out of tonic water in the same way, leading to slightly sweetened oysters that would glow iridescent blue under a black light.  In my experiment, however, they did not.  The picture you see above is one of my test oysters under a fluorescent UV bulb.  Although it looks cool in the photo, it is very much not fluorescing.  If I put a white cloth next to the oyster, the cloth lit up like a warehouse rave, but the oyster was only reflecting the bluish hue of the visible light from the UV blub.  Interestingly, a portion of the shell just at the hinge is fluorescing (it’s a brighter blue-green in the picture) but I did not achieve my intended result of an iridescent mollusk. 

Why didn’t it work?  I have a few theories:

  1. Perhaps the oysters were DOA.  Shamefully, I purchased the oysters at the type of grocery store that also sells name-brand cola and US Weekly.  I should have known better, and I’ll never do it again, but it’s quite possible that these fugly-ass oysters were dead before I got them home.
  2. Salt problem?  The Modernist Cuisine recipe calls for 2.6% aquarium salt.  I’m not sure what that is, so I used regular table salt.  Perhaps that’s an important difference. 
  3. Is tonic water lethal to oysters?  The shells were still tightly closed when I removed them.  I did notice that, for about 30 minutes after I covered the oysters in tonic water, they were releasing a constant stream of very small bubbles from the edges of their shells.  I assume this was a result of them circulating the water through their muscular little bodies.  But perhaps the fact that the bubbles stopped after 30 minutes is evidence that they didn’t survive the pre-cocktail environment of a bottle of Canada Dry.
  4. The quinine in tonic water might be inaccessible to the oyster’s filtration system.  Either the quinine particles are too large, too small, or for some other reason can’t be filtered by the oysters. 
  5. Not enough quinine?  Perhaps everything did work as I anticipated, but the concentration of the quinine was just to weak to show up in the oyster bodies. 

I may repeat this experiment with higher-quality oysters and additional quinine.  Alternately, if any geneticists out there want to grab the fluorescence gene from a modified zebrafish and put it into a Samish Sweet or a Blue Pool, I’ll gladly shuck and slurp with you!

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