Picking up where I left off from last month, I finished making the rest of the puree recipes from the PDF excerpt of Modernist Cuisine. Well, almost all of it. Two remaining recipes involved being sauteed and then blended in a commercial blender. One required boiling and a Pacojet. A Pacojet, which quickly purees frozen products to produce a very fine consistency, can be found used online. For around $2900. This is out of reach for this home cook, so it will have to wait until, oh, a miracle occurs.
In that last post, I had some issues getting a truly smooth puree. Then, lo and behold, none other than Dr. Myhrvold himself, the author of Modernist Cuisine, kindly commented that I needed a commercial blender – in particular, a VitaMix – to get the results I was looking for. How did he know? He had his team re-test all the purees. I can just imagine how the chefs felt, having to re-do their work because some frickin’ home cook blogger couldn’t nail it down. Chefs, if you’re reading this, my apologies. Just having lots of fun over here!
So I needed to find a VitaMix. They sell for around $450 new, but that’s pretty steep. I needed to find one used. So to the Internet I went. $300 was the going rate most of the time, but I, master of the bargain, was able to find one at a yard sale for $100! So take heart, home cooks – miracles do occur. Just keep your eyes peeled.
And with my VitaMix in hand, I was ready to conquer the next set of purees.
As what seems to be a pattern for me, I learned something valuable about cooking this week by messing it up. This time it was over phrasing. In particular, the instruction “thinly sliced”. For me, thinly slicing asparagus implies lengthwise. Otherwise, it would have said “thinly chop”, right? I don’t think so. In the first round, the thin stringy fibers of the inside of the asparagus refused to be finely blended, leaving choppy floss and an uneven texture. So I went back to the store, bought some more, and sliced them appropriately.
I gave them a go in my new VitaMix and the smoothest, most beautiful bright green puree presented itself. These Vitamix’s are awesome!
I served it with a 24 hour sous vide pork belly for a dinner with friends and it went over famously. If you have a VitaMix, go make some. Now.
The final puree called for broccoli stems. At my local chain supermarket, they cut off the stems because they rightly assume the vast majority will just throw it away for the good stuff – the florets. But as always my trusty Asian grocery store came through and had nice thick stems to use.
I followed the directions, which were very straightforward – saute on medium heat for 12 minutes with a neutral oil. I looked through my cabinet: canola, pumpkin seed, avocado, olive, peanut…and grapeseed. There’s a nice neutral standard. After cooking I put them in the blender and gave them the spin of their life.
And once again I was rewarded with a thick, creamy, smooth vegetable puree. On the parametric recipe, the asparagus and broccoli recipes point to other pages for reference in the cookbook. I wonder what they help illuminate. I know the purees taste great on their own, but I bet it would be fun to do some inverse spherification on them as well. Maybe that’s what the other pages suggest. Maybe not. I’ll have to wait until March 2011 like everyone else. But I do know that’s what’s up next in my kitchen.
A couple of months back, I had a happy sequence of events. First, I got a raise. Always a cause for celebration. Then, the Modernist Cuisine cookbook publishing date was moved from December 15th to March 15th. Not exactly happy news, but I did set aside $500 to buy it (it has since been reduced to $451.25) that I now had freed up. And soon after that, I found a centrifuge.
When I had a chance to speak with Chef Maxime Bilet about cooking my way through his upcoming book, he said if I really wanted to do it, I needed to get a centrifuge. I was totally expecting him to say an immersion circulator. Perhaps it was obvious that I should already have one. But OK then. I began surfing the Internet to see what I could find (the centrifuge posts at Cooking Issues were of great help in focusing in on what I should look for). Most used centrifuges that have the volume I needed (as opposed to desktop centrifuges that only spin small test tubes) cost around $1000 – $2000 plus freight shipping on top of that. Way too much to justify.
But I kept looking and stumbled upon a used laboratory equipment company in Seattle that was going out of business. They had centrifuges in excellent condition going for cheap. I went to the warehouse to check them out and drove away with a frickin’ centrifuge in the back of my car. A refrigerated unit at that. For $500!
The centrifuge I found was a Beckman TJ-6 with a TJ-R refrigeration unit. It has four buckets that hold up to 2 liters (about 8.4 cups). It gets up to 2700 rpm, or 1520 g’s. It is a large metal beast with a cool 60’s style simplicity. They really don’t make things like they used to.
The Cooking Issues guy’s tabletop centrifuge pulls about 4000 g’s. Chef Bilet didn’t think it would be an issue to separate things, but only that I would have to spin longer. Well, only one way to find out.
The Search For Spin
Now, I should step back for a moment and answer the question: why do I need a centrifuge in the first place? A centrifuge’s principle purpose is to separate substances based on density. Heavier substances, called the pellet, collect at the bottom, while lighter substances, or supernate, collect at the top. Culinary purposes include extracting oils from nuts and separating cream from milk.
To use my new beast, however, I needed to find suitable containers for the food to be spun in. The guys over at Cooking Issues settled on sealed vacuum bags. I tried the bags I had on hand using some carrot juice, but they were too small so the pellet and supernate wouldn’t separate fully.
I searched my local supermarkets and found some small Ziploc containers that fit into the buckets nicely. The lids were just a bit too wide, but the body was good enough. I filled them up and spun them. Turns out it was not good enough. I immediately heard a crack inside the machine. Centrifuges can be very dangerous with objects spinning at such high speeds. It is said what you pay for in a centrifuge is the housing in case of an accident. And accidents do happen.
I immediately turned it off and left the room. After a couple of minutes, I came back in and checked to see what had happened. The problem was the centrifuge worked perfectly: as it created over 1500 g’s, the sides of the lids were crushed and the containers snugly fit themselves into the bottom of the buckets.
I kept searching and found some plastic containers at Storables that fit in the buckets and didn’t crush when spun. Finally I could start seeing what this ‘fuge could do.
Procuring Pellets And Supernate
One use of a centrifuge: ‘instant’ tomato water. Usually you let a puree of tomatoes sit in a cheesecloth over a bowl for 8 to 24 hours. With a centrifuge: 30 minutes or less.
You also end up with a nice tomato paste to use however you wish. I made a caprese martini: an instant liquor infusion of basil and vodka with spun tomato water in a chilled martini glass lined with olive oil and salt. Deliciously awesome. So good my best friend put it on the menu at his bar. New Cookery finds its way to the masses!
I also took the sous vide apple puree I made and spun it. The result: a thick sweet apple syrup. The ‘pellet’ of apple puree left was incredibly thick and just as good as before.
I’ve also taken fresh carrot juice and ‘fuged it. I was left with a thin carrot paste at the bottom of the containers.
I didn’t know exactly what to do, if anything, with it. I remembered watching Katsuya Fukushima and Ruben Garcia from Minibar on Iron Chef and they said something interesting on their approach to cooking: “The fish talk to us and say, we want to be cooked that way.” So I looked at this paste and said “what does this look like”? And it looked like paint. I guess it wanted me to paint with it. So, I did.
A streak of carrot paste, topped with hand foraged chanterelle mushrooms and the seeds (or ovules) from sugar snap peas. It was great.
But I also realized I have fallen off the deep end. I mean, I centrifuged carrot juice and took sugar snap peas and de-seeded them by hand just for a small meal alone at my house. I’m done for. I’ve lost the plot. I’ve been spun crazy.
This turned out to be one of the more dangerous machines I’ve ever built. The goal was to make a cotton candy machine out of parts I had lying around. The finished product was an aggressive, 1/2 horsepower, 4000°F beast of a machine that lasted long enough to prove itself before dying of awesomeness.
If you want to build a cotton candy machine at home, all you need is:
- A tin can, like a tuna or dog food can
- A drill with a very small drill bit
- A motor (ex, your drill, an old CD player, a blender)
- A heat source, such as a propane torch, a lighter, or the coils from an old toaster
- A bucket to catch the cotton candy, or alternately a sheet of paper to wrap around the assembly
Follow the steps in the video to see just how easy this machine is to build. Oh, and don’t forget… safety first. My favorite part of this project was setting up a blast shield in front of the camera before we turned on the machine.
Special thanks to Victor (@sphing) for filming!
About a month ago the team at Intellectual Ventures put up an interesting blog post about frying watermelon to make watermelon chips. With nothing more fancy than a vacuum sealer, this seemed like a perfect recipe to try out at home.
The concept behind the watermelon chip is that starch is what makes a chip a chip, whether it’s corn or potato or even parsnip and taro. Fruit, however, does not have the high starch content that these vegetables have (yes, a potato is a vegetable). Using vacuum compression, starch can be infused into the fruit, and make it suitable for frying. They settled on watermelon. I decided on dragon fruit.
The steps are simple enough:
- Thinly slice the fruit
- Apply a starch slurry to the fruit
- Vacuum seal and let rest for 30 minutes
- Deep fry
I went to my local Asian supermarket and nabbed a dragon fruit. I then had it thinly sliced on a meat slicer. Here I pulled some strings: I don’t have a slicer at home, so asked my best friend who owns a bar if I could come in and borrow his for a minute. I’m sure I could have just cut it thinly myself, but I wanted to nail it. Sometimes it’s more fun to make it more complicated.
Next up was starch. In the blog post, Chef Zhu says he’s using something and water. Did he say Crisco? Or maybe Cryscoat? One check on the web and it turns out that Cryscoat is a “nickel-containing zinc phosphate for steel and zinc-coated steel, applied by spray or immersion prior to painting”. So, probably not that. Screw it I thought – I’ll just use the cornstarch in my cabinet. Sometimes it’s easier to not make things too complicated.
I took the dragon fruit slices, which were awfully thin and delicate, applied the starch to either side, and placed them in a sealing bag. Which I then sealed up.
After 30 minutes I fried them up on the stove. They liked to stick together so I found it easier, though more time consuming, to only do 2 or 3 at a time.
And after I let them dry out and crisp up, I had some amazing dragon fruit chips. The sweetness of the fruit came through, with the added texture of the seeds, which also imparted a sesame-like flavor to the chip. Excellent and delicious.
I’m looking forward to their completed cookbook to see what other ideas they have for transforming foods into flavors and textures they’ve never been before. In the meantime, however, I’ll just try and cook the examples they keep throwing out at us.
Eric, Scott and I met for our eighth meeting at the end of November to start putting together everything we’ve learned together over the year for a master project. A thesis project, if you will.
We’re pretty excited about it and we’ll post more about it in the future. Otherwise, I was the happy recipient of the latest version of Scott’s DIY immersion circulator. This one is cased in aluminum, otherwise known as ‘Jethro Proofed’ because of my unique ability to break things.
We also exchanged other early Christmas gifts as well as distributing our collection of foodstuffs amongst ourselves: fresh ceylon cinnamon from Costa Rica, homemade chocolates, transglutaminase, sodium alginate, Ultratex 3 and maltrodextrin. Teamwork has its benefits.
Our next few meetings will be concerned with our developing thesis project, so we’ll wait to post on the project as a whole instead of meeting updates. We’re looking forward to it!
The season of giving is upon us, and that means it’s time to start Christmas shopping for the food geek in your life. Let’s face it: he (or she… but who are we kidding, it’s a he) is hard to shop for. He already owns 4 kinds of microplanes, he’s got more cookbooks than Barnes & Noble, and his spice rack is organized by atomic weight. A waffle iron just isn’t gonna cut it this year.
For just that reason, I’ve rounded up the best and geekiest kitchen gifts of 2010. And, if you’re feeling extra generous, I also threw in a few “luxury items” sure to induce a Christmas morning nerdgasm.
2010 was a great year for cookbooks. In fact, all of the books below are new this year, with the exception of Modernist Cuisine, which is available for preorder but won’t ship until March. At $475, it’s not exactly a stocking stuffer, but you can spread out the joy by wrapping each of the five volumes separately.
- Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet – $475
- Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes by Harold McGee – $19.23
- Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi – $32.97
- Sous Vide for the Home Cook by Douglas Baldwin – $25.95
- Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter – $20.71
- Modern Gastronomy: A to Z by Ferran Adria – $43.90
Modernist Cooking “Ingredients”
If the food geek on your Christmas list is dying to pull off the latest techniques, he’ll need some ingredients. I’ve found the WillPowder brand to be a great value for the price.
- For spherification (you’ll need all three): Sodium Alginate – $27.69, Calcium Chloride- $15.08, and Sodium Citrate – $13.62
- For gels: AGAR AGAR – $52.35, Methylcellulose F50 – $28.64
- Thickeners: Ultratex 3 – $13.42, Ultratex 8 – $18.12
- For foams: Versawhip 600K – $36.08
- For powders: Tapioca Maltodextrin – $14.13
Essential Kitchen Gear
Who doesn’t like playing with new toys? Over the last year, prices of induction cooktops have plummeted. They are a great way to expand your stovetop capacity, and they’re extremely energy efficient for heating small quantities of food.
- Max Burton 6000 1800-Watt Portable Induction Cooktop – $99.99
- Whip-It! Professional Cream Whipper – $49.99
- Infrared Thermometer – $47.96
- Distilling Apparatus – $55.12
- Bernzomatic Self-Igniting Torch – $20.89 (fuel sold separately)
In My Dreams…
Some guys dream of sports cars, some guys dream of rotor/stater homogenizers. Here is the equipment in the kitchen of my dreams.
- Torbeo Hand-Held Homogenizer – $841.00
For blending sauces into a consistency that is unachievably smooth using a conventional blender
- Ultravac 250 Vacuum Chamber Packaging Machine – $4600.00
Step aside, FoodSaver, this is a vacuum sealer for the big boys.
- Polyscience Sous Vide Professional – $799.95
Hands-down the best sous vide machine I’ve ever tested.
- Vacuum Rotary Evaporator – $9230.00
For distilling and extracting essential oils. No more store-bought vanilla extract!
- PacoJet – $3950.00
Best known for making extraordinarily smooth and creamy desserts.
- Freeze Dryer – $2,000-20,000
DIY astronaut ice cream!
- Centrifuge – $7000
For separating and clarifying stocks and sauces.
- Laser Cutter – $30,000
For making templates, etching and cutting foods