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As a heuristic, I tend to avoid foods labeled as “vegan” because, in my limited experience, they tend to be poor imitations of their non-vegan counterparts.  Sure, a tomato is both vegan and delicious, but I’ve never met a vegan pizza that tasted better than the paper on which they print Dave Matthews tickets.  However, at my first visit to the Intellectual Ventures kitchen lab last summer, I ate a bowl of pistachio gelato, which I was later informed was (you guessed it) vegan!  The gelato was smooth and silky, and unquestionably better than any lactose-free ice cream I’ve ever tried.  And although the Modernist Cuisine book doesn’t wander into the realm of desserts, luckily for us, their pistachio recipe is their sole exception.  I’ve substituted cashews for pistachios, but other nuts will work just as well.  I’ve also simplified the emulsifiers called for in the book, which means you can find everything you need to make this recipe at a (finer) grocery store.

Shopping list:

  • 680 g water
  • 210 g cashew butter (available in the nut butters aisle at Whole Foods)
  • 102 g cashew oil
    Note: I haven’t been able to find a bottle of cashew oil, straight up.  Instead, I poured off the oil that had settled at the top of my cashew butter.  Using this amount only yielded 1/5 of the recipe. You can sacrifice 4 more jars, or substitute the remainder with walnut, hazelnut, macadamia, peanut, or even safflower oil – just make sure the oil is unused, or your gelato will taste like french fries.
  • 155 g fine baker’s sugar
  • 22 g salt
  • 2.5 g Xanthan gum
  • 2.5 g Guar gum
    Note: both Xanthan gum and Guar gum are available under the Bob’s Red Mill brand at finer grocery stores.

 

  1. Combine the water, cashew butter, cashew oil, sugar and salt in a food processor or blender.  Blend until very smooth.
  2. Add the Xanthan gum and Guar gum and blend until combined, about 30 seconds.  The mixture should thicken to the consistency of cream.
  3. If necessary, chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 1 hour.  Churn in an ice cream maker, following the manufacturer’s instructions.  If you don’t have an ice cream maker, break 2.5 lbs of dry ice into 1/2” pieces.  Add the gelato base to a stand mixer with the paddle attachment installed.  Mix on medium, then add the dry ice.  Continue mixing until the dry ice fog has stopped.  Transfer to an airtight container and store in the freezer.

This gelato screams “cashews” and is delightfully salty. Now that you’ve got a reliable recipe for nut-based vegan gelatos, you can finally open that Fremont dessert shop you’ve always dreamed of… bongo drums and all.

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Reading time: 2 min

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Tuesday night was the official book launch party for Modernist Cuisine, the 2400+ page epic that can only be defined loosely by the term “cookbook”.  Although it doesn’t begin shipping until March 7th (and you may have to wait longer than that), the book has already sold over 3400 copies in pre-order and has entered Amazon.com’s Top 100 for books, not just cookbooks. 

The launch party, hosted at the Palace Ballroom, was a sold out but still intimate evening.  Admission included a small plate of samples from the book – dehydrated pear, a cube of pastrami with a rye cracker, fried chicken, and a dehydrated corn chowder that blasts into existence only once inside your mouth.

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Tom Douglas introduced Nathan Myhrvold, the book’s creator, with obvious reverence and respect.  Apparently, on Monday night, and a handful of renowned chefs, including Tom, gathered at the Intellectual Ventures kitchen lab in Bellevue and were treated to a 30-something course dinner of  a lifetime.  One of the ironies in the way this book was made was that there is no restaurant associated with their kitchen – they have no customers, so until recently, nobody knew what the food tasted like, exactly.  Luckily for a handful of world-class chefs and prominent journalists (and on a separate occasion, one extremely fortunate food blogger, me), the Modernist Cuisine team has been throwing a series of dinner events to prove just how good these dishes taste.

Nathan spoke to the crowd, armed with a PowerPoint to show off spreads from the book, and talked with his usual candor about the process of creating the book.  He commented on the risk-averse nature of both the US Department of Health and the world of book publishing – the former being a politically-driven machine full of inconsistency, and the latter being a least-common-denominator-driven machine full of compromise and devoid of flexibility.  He seems to have set both of those industries straight, likely to their embarrassment.

The audience oohed and aahed when Nathan showed footage captured by his super-high speed camera – a corn kernel popping, oil drips hitting a a hot coal, droplets of liquid nitrogen dancing on the surface of a counter.  At one point, he showed an extremely slow motion shot of a champagne cork popping from the neck of a bottle.  It was the stuff rap videos are made of, minus the spinning rims.

During the Q&A, Nathan made the themes of the book very clear: they refused to compromise on quality, nothing should be “dumbed down”, and the vast majority of the book really was accessible to anyone with some basic kitchen gear.  However, it was near his closing remarks that Nathan really explained his motivation.  “I wanted to write this book as a way to give back to the world of cuisine, which has given me so much.”  Indeed, I hope the world of food can continue to find benefactors as generous and as genius as Dr. Myhrvold.

Modernist Cuisine [Amazon]

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Reading time: 2 min

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If you haven’t already, read How The Modernist Cuisine Book Caused My Existential Crisis – Part 1.

And so I wallowed in my untimeliness, still gawking with the turn of every page at the unparalleled photography and exhaustive parametric permutations of each new recipe.  “What could I possibly write now?” I questioned.  And then I had a realization….

It occurred to me that the modernist food revolution I was so sad to miss has actually just barely started.  Rather than feeling “late to the party”, I now recognize that the publication of Modernist Cuisine represents a critical phase for the movement: democratization. 

Until now, only a few chefs in the world have been able to execute the types of dishes featured in the Modernist Cuisine book.  Most of these chefs (Ferran Adira, in particular) are highly skilled and highly creative people, but they’re also people who have the time and resources to devote to such an R&D-heavy brand of cooking.  Experimentation certainly doesn’t come cheap.

Let’s take, for example, the problem of thickening…

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Reading time: 5 min