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 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.
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.]
Jethro and I were asked to create a dish with “wow factor” for a group of scientists for an upcoming event. We wanted to craft a bite that’s first and foremost delicious, but also illustrates some of the hallmarks of modernist cooking: textural transformation, surprise, and use of unconventional techniques to refine and reinterpret something traditional. It also had to be practical and economical, since we’ll be serving nearly 200 people in two hours. This meant quick plating time, low portion cost, and minimal prep. After some brainstorming, we decided that a cryopoached (liquid nitrogen-frozen) puff would fit the bill. Jethro had already made the Fat Duck’s Cryopoached Green Tea Sour (which I recognized from Modernist Cuisine), but we wanted to make a version that was our own, and frankly, one that was simpler and cheaper.
Ah, chicken & waffles. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I’ve made a few late-night pilgrimages to the famed Roscoe’s House of Chicken’n Waffles, and every now and then, I get a craving for crispy fried chicken alongside a lightly toasted waffle. But other times, my desires are a little more unsavory (pun intended). So, in a recent [epic] Jet City Gastrophysics jam session, we came up with the above: waffle-flavored ice cream served in a crispy chicken skin cup, with maple syrup.
This is effin cool. We centrifuged a can of pumpkin to yield a few tablespoons of a clear, orange pumpkin-flavored liquid. We saturated it with sugar and spiked it with pumpkin pie spice, then heated the mixture to 300F and cast it into hard caramel molds. Then, we spun the hard caramel in a cotton candy machine to make 2” puffs of pumpkin-flavored cotton candy. Then, we squeezed the puffs into the shape of a skull and cut out triangles for the eyes and nose. Finally, we put it on a stand with a candle behind it. Presenting the pumpkin cotton candy jack-o-lantern, as interpreted by Jet City Gastrophysics.
If you were lucky, your eighth grade science teacher demonstrated the surprising effect of plugging a pickle into a household power outlet. The pickle glows bright orange for a few seconds, then starts to smoke and smell like burning. The phenomenon is caused by the electricity exciting the sodium (salt) in the pickle, causing it to emit light.
I wondered what other foods I could get to glow, so I tested pickled asparagus, limes, grapefruit, apples, hot dogs, sauerkraut, bacon, ketchup and soy sauce. Keep reading to see the results.
Did you know that you can cure meat at home using nothing more than a wine refrigerator?
This was my first attempt at meat curing, and I’d say it went fantastically well. This project was inspired by Matt Wright and his insanely beautiful blog, WrightFood. Matt has some serious curing experience under his belt, and offers detailed recipes and techniques for home curing. For this project, I followed his recipe for Duck Prosciutto (recipe is towards the bottom of the post).
The recipe calls for curing duck breasts in salt for 24 hours before hanging them up to cure at 55F with 60% relative humidity until they have lost 30% of their original mass.
Although I’ve got big plans in my head for building a high-tech curing chamber (one day), I also remembered that I had an unused wine refrigerator sitting in the basement. Nothing is sadder than an empty wine fridge, so I decided to repurpose it for a bold new mission. The fridge has an adjustable temperature setting for champagne, whites, reds and long-term storage. Luckily for me, one of those settings corresponds to 55F. I didn’t bother measuring the humidity in the wine fridge, but I reasoned that it would have to maintain a reasonable humidity level to keep wine corks from drying out. The fridge also has a small fan, which is great for circulating the air inside and a desirable condition for curing meat.
Although the title sounds like the beginning of a bad personals ad, this recipe couldn’t be more innocuous. I wanted to play with the notion of a classic shrimp cocktail, and somewhat by accident (and inspired by a brainstorming session with Jethro), I realized that I could dehydrate cocktail sauce and produce something that looked quite a bit like prosciutto. Prosciutto-wrapped shrimp is a great dish on its own, and on first glance, that’s what this dish might appear to be. However, in a single bite, you’ll quickly identify the unmistakable flavor of cocktail sauce.
- Spread cocktail sauce (bottled or homemade – I’ll admit to using bottled) in a thin, even layer on a piece of parchment. Make the layer just thick enough that there are no holes or gaps in coverage.
- Dehydrate in a food dehydrator at 135F for 2-3 hours or until it is dry to the touch. If you don’t have a dehydrator, you may be able to achieve similar results in a low oven with the door cracked slightly.
- Carefully peel the parchment away from the dehydrated cocktail sauce. It will peel away just like a fruit leather. Place the cocktail “leathers” on a silpat or another sheet of parchment – they will stick to counters and cutting boards.
- Cut the leather into strips, 3/4” wide by 7” long (for medium shrimp – adjust the size as needed).
- Cook shrimp using the method of your choice. Refrigerate until cool. Wrap the shrimp in cocktail leather. Serve, and watch for the look of surprise on the faces of your guests.
It is undeniably fashionable, these days, for an upscale restaurant to serve “their take” on macaroni and cheese. I’ve seen it prepared at least a dozen ways: with wild mushrooms, with truffles, with bleu cheese, with cave-aged gruyere, in mini-cocottes, on oversized platters, broiled, baked, and deep fried. For the record, there’s nothing wrong with any of these preparations. In fact, we served a wild mushroom and truffle oil mac & cheese at my wedding! However, I wanted to take the concept to the extreme and produce the most hyperbolic, modernist version of the dish I could… just to see what happened. The result: maltodextrin-powdered Beecher’s cheese with a tableside hot cream to make an “instant” sauce.
I originally thought I’d post my results as a joke – an over-the-top preparation that was to comfort food what the Dyson Air Multiplier is to climate control. However, I was delightfully surprised to find out that this mac & cheese actually tasted fantastic! The flavors are extremely pure and the consistency of the instant sauce was perfect. Watch out, Kraft… you’ve got competition.
Makes: 2 snobby servings
Total kitchen time: 4 hours (45 minutes working time)
For the Powdered Cheese:
- 100g Beecher’s Flagship (or Smoked Flagship, if you prefer), grated
- 30g water
- .4g sodium citrate
- 200g (+15g) tapioca maltodextrin
- Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (180-220°F).
- Combine the cheese, water and sodium citrate in a small saucepan. Heat on low until completely melted. Stir to ensure evenness.
- Transfer the cheese mixture to a small food processor and add 200g of tapioca maltodextrin and process until it forms a paste. If you can’t fit all of the tapioca maltodextrin at once, add half and process, then add the remainder.
- Spread the paste in a thin, even layer onto a silicone baking sheet. Bake until dry and brittle, 2-3 hours.
- Crumble the cheese mixture into a food processor, or preferably a clean, electric coffee grinder. Process until the mixture becomes a fine powder. If necessary, add an additional 15g of tapioca maltodextrin. The mixture should have the same texture as the powdered cheese in instant macaroni and cheese.
For the dish:
- 1 cup pipe rigate (or any other type of macaroni you’d like)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Hawaiian black lava salt
- 2 sprigs thyme
- Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box.
- Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream to a simmer. Just before serving, divide the cream into two mini sauce pots (I used glass port sippers, shown in the photo).
- To plate, sprinkle a two tablespoons of the cheese powder into a small bowl. Top with pasta, sprinkle with a pinch of black lava salt, and garnish with thyme. To finish the dish tableside, pour over the hot cream and stir well to make the cheese sauce.
I owe a big thanks to Maxime Bilet (author of Modernist Cuisine) for giving me a hand with the powdered cheese recipe. If you aren’t up for ordering a pound of maltodextrin online, you can also use my simplified powdered cheese recipe from the Beecher’s Cheddar Cheetos article I wrote for Seattle Weekly. However, tapioca maltodextrin (N-Zorbit) is pretty handy stuff for turning liquids into powders, and is a staple in modernist kitchens.