Don't crudité for me, Argentina!

Crudité.  French for "raw as a mofo."  Typically, this means veggies and lots of 'em.

Instead of being boring, and throwing a bunch of carrots, celery, and cherry tomatoes on a plate with some ranch dressing, I decided to spice things up a bit.  Brown butter powder, blanched carrots, some basil oil and roasted sesame seeds accompanied greens from the garden is what made it to our plate.

carrot-crudite.jpg

Speaking of the plate, I went with a rustic clay plate, that provided a nice clean palette to work on.  Another thing I did in advance was to make some basil oil.  Never having made this before, it was a bit fun.  I depleted my entire garden's supply of Genovese basil, rinsed it, then tossed it in some boiling water for 30 seconds.  From there, I tossed it in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.  Then, I squeezed out the water and threw it in the blender and added a pinch of salt plus 2 cups of canola oil.

After you blend the heck out of that, you want to pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.  I then passed it through a cheesecloth to make sure I wasn't getting a lot of particulates in my oil, and it was as clear as possible.

Once the basil oil was done, I whipped up some brown butter powder, and wow, what an experience that was!

While making brown butter is easy - you just throw butter in a pan and cook it over medium-high until it browns - turning that into a powder is not easy, no matter how simple ChefSteps makes it seem.  Originally, I tried measuring everything out exactly, only to learn that is ridiculous - none of the measurements worked exactly as prescribed elsewhere across the internet.

Once the butter is browned, chill it by putting it in a bowl that's in an ice bath, making sure you stir to chill as evenly as possible.  From there, throw the butter in a food processor and spoon in some tapioca maltodextrin (~100g for every 225sh grams of butter), also called N-Zorbit.  Add in a spot of finely ground salt as well as 20sh grams of confectioners sugar.  Flip the switch on the food processor.

Keep going.  And gooooing.  And gooooooooing.  What, you thought this would be easy?  If you need more N-Zorbit, put it in - what you want is a fine, powdery substance, that looks like a very light, fluffy brown sugar, and tastes both sweet and a bit savory at the same time.  

Once you've got the powder squared away, it's worth blanching some carrots.  As much as I'd like to say I grew those beautiful carrots, they were purchased from Whole Foods.  All you need to do is wash and peel the skin off of them, being careful not to go too far / deep, so they keep the naturally beautiful color.  Then, add a half cup of sugar plus a pinch of salt to some boiling water, and throw the carrots in for 2 minutes max.  Once that's up, throw them in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.  After they've chilled for a few minutes, go ahead and pull 'em out, and cut at varying lengths.

From there, start placing them on the plate, being sure to contrast the colors (e.g. yellow and purple, white and orange).  Then grab the brown butter powder, and using a spoon, gently put it around the carrots, giving the appearance of the carrots being in a garden.  Then, grab the greens.  I found covering the border of 25% of the plate provides an interesting visual, and adding Nasturtium petals amongst the carrots.

Once you've got it ready to go, it's up to you how you serve it.  I wanted this to be interactive, so it was served without flatware, which required the use of hands - it was fun, and meant I removed the distance between the diner and their food.  More senses were engaged.  They got to feel the crunch of the carrot and the gentle nature of the Nasturtium.  They smelled the brown butter powder and the tastes that were contrasted against it seemed to make more of an impact than had it been eaten with a traditional fork and knife.

End of the day, it's your call, and it's fun, easy, and engaging to eat, so go ahead and dive in!

Don't botch the bouche!

I'm not big on amuse bouche.  Yes, it's usually a small bite, and often times is tasty, but candidly, I just don't get it.  It's supposed to be fun (hence the 'amuse' in the name), but rarely have I encountered an amuse bouche that was that genuinely amusing.  Sadly, I didn't change the game with the one I whipped up a couple weeks ago, but it was pretty yummy, nonetheless.

The route I took focused on having this bite be more of a palette cleanser.  So, I went with an apple-strawberry gelee, lightly coated with a super-fine bakers sugar.  I'm not sure if I accomplished the palette cleansing, either, now that I think about it... the flavor of the strawberry really shined through and was a little more bold than I'd anticipated.  While it was sweet, it wasn't overpowering, and it did get the salivary glands running!  

If, like me, you look at that picture and think, "ummm, they're not the same size and not even centered on the plate!! BARBARIAN!" then we'll get along just fine.  Yes, the plating here isn't what I'd hoped for.  See, at the start of the meal, you expect your party to be sitting down, and for the room to be a decent temperature.  Unfortunately, neither was the case for me, and 85 degree heat plus 3 minutes of no one sitting down to eat = sad melty bouche = replating while everyone's watching, hangrily.

But I digress. This little bite was good, and while a more than a bit of trouble to put together, is probably best served for a larger group in a temperature-controlled environment.

I started with 2/3 cup of fruit juice (apple-strawberry), and added an ounce of gelatin.  After whisking that together and allowing it to firm up, I put another 2/3 cup of the same fruit juice in a pot with a 2/3 cup of sugar, then heated it (medium-high) until the sugar dissolved.  From there, I added a couple cups of apple and strawberry preserves, and heated it until it was boiling.

Thankfully, that only took a couple minutes, and I added in the gelatin-juice combo, and whisked it in the pot until it was smooth.  Remove from the heat, try not to burn yourself, and pour the gelee concoction through a fine mesh sieve into a rectangular glass baking dish.  The sieve pulls out the chunks, and if your sieve isn't fine mesh enough, or you think you'll end up with some pulp still coming through, maybe add a cheese cloth inside the sieve.

After the baking dish has chilled for a few hours, you're ready to cut it up, roll it in sugar, and plate it.  The challenge is with the cutting it.  Since you can't really grease the dish before pouring in the gelee mix, there will be some loss of product as you try to get an offset spatula in the dish.

Credit: HuffingtonPost.com

Credit: HuffingtonPost.com

Once you have a block of gelee out, the next challenge is how to make it into a cube-like shape.  Since cutting with the flat-edge of a spatula may be sub-optimal (it could stick to the spatula), you may want to use unflavored dental floss that's waxed.  Wrap it around your two index fingers and slice away.  This technique can also be used on other foods that are a challenge to cut with a knife, like cheese!

Now that you have a square of gelee, lightly coat it with fine bakers sugar and plate with some edible flowers.  Voila, you've now got a bouche that's ready to amuse!  Maybe next round I'll try combining apple juice and beets - that could be an interesting combo!

Color-changing drinks!

This one was fun, and fairly easy to do.  I've been wanting to experiment with different ways of using molecular techniques with adult beverages, and since it was so simple, I really couldn't avoid whipping a couple of these up!

In a nutshell, the only ingredients you'll need are vokda, club soda, and a b'lure ice cube topped with a squeeze of lemon.  Sure, you could use another base alcohol (e.g. gin), or make the drink without alcohol (e.g. water) just use a base liquid that's clear and not acidic - that's where the effect has the most impact.  

To that last point, changing from soda water to tonic water can impact the effect.  How?  Well, tonic water has citric acid in it, and the citric acid reacts to the b'lure and changes the color, so try using soda or another non-citric base.

It's best to start by creating ice cubes.  I use a large-cube tray, but you could use a sphere, too.  Depends on the glass size and the effect you're going for.  Mix 2 cups water with 2 full droppers of the b'lure extract, mix it up, then pour in the ice molds.  You want nice, very blue cubes, so if you're not getting that, add a bit more b'lure.

Once the cubes are frozen, throw one in a glass, add your vodka and soda, then notice the voka soda will start turning blue as the ice melts.  Once the drink is sufficiently blue, squeeze a bit of lime or lemon (I'll try orange, too, since in theory it should work) into the drink.  For a nice visual effect, I recommend using lemon as it has a nice pop against the electric blue ice cube.

Once the citrus is mixed into the drink, the b'lure will react with the citric acid, and slowly start turning the drink pink, then purple.  It's pretty neat to watch.  Alternatively, you could start with just vodka and your b'lure ice cube, and once the vodka's turned blue, then add the tonic water for a faster effect.  

You may be wondering, "what in the HECK is b'lure?!"  and "can I put it in a drink that's non-alcoholic?"  Put simply, b'lure comes from a plant called the butterfly pea flower (pictured here) and is processed to extract the blue coloring.  The fun part of that is there's no alcohol in it, and it's completely natural.

I'm going to try adding a dropper full next time I make rice or some scrambled eggs to see if I can gross out my 7 year old son.  Should be fun!

The big meal!

Soooo I did it!  Kinda.  OK, it wasn't the grand slam I was hoping for, it was more like a 2 run homer.  

For the last couple years I've been whipping up a big molecular meal for my wife and son during the 4th of July week.  Last years meal had 1 amuse, 6 courses and 3 desserts.  This year, I'd planned on slightly upping my game by doing a special drink, 1 amuse, fresh brioche + butter, 6 courses, 3 desserts and making the plating amazing.  Unfortunately, not all went to plan.

Getting ready for the big day

Getting ready for the big day

Thankfully, the plating turned out pretty well, although I substantially underestimated the time required to bang out all the items on the menu, and the heat wave we've been experiencing had the house at almost 90, which melted some of the items so quickly I had to redo them.  

 

Let's see how things fared:

  • Drink: Vodka soda with butterfly pea extract ice cube and lemon [success!]
  • Amuse: Strawberry-apple gelee [success!]
  • Thomas Keller's brioche + freshly made butter [FAILED!]
  • Course 1: Oyster on the half shell w/large lemon pearl + oyster shooter w/tiny ponzu pearls [success!]
  • Course 2: Mushroom gelee with quenelle of caviar, topped with shallot rings, accompanied by creme fraiche [success!]
  • Course 3: Crudite with brown butter powder, fresh basil oil and edible flowers [success!]
  • Course 4: Sous vide shrimp 2 ways, and lightly smoked under a bell [success!]
  • Course 5: Seafood symphony with airy mashed potatoes [FAILED!]
  • Dessert 1: Mango ducky in a tub, with lightly sweetened foam [success!]
  • Dessert 2: Orange juice sphere, surrounded by Midori [success!]
  • Dessert 3: Cored strawberries, filled with popping sugar, capped with brown butter powder [success!]

As you can imagine, that's a LOT to prepare for, given I'm a one-man band.  In the coming weeks I'll get into the detail of each course, what worked, what didn't, and how you can tackle these, too!  While there was a LOT of equipment that went into making a big meal like this, it was fun to use!  The biggest chunk of time was spent figuring out just what to make given my families interests and the challenges I was trying to set for myself.

Every time I do a big meal like this, the appreciation I have for the REAL chefs around the world grows.  I can only imagine the effort put into creating Michelin-class meals, even if they have a team of people working towards an incredible dining experience.

Back soon!

Whipping your scrambled eggs into shape!

I'm fairly simple when it comes to breakfast, and it's usually some scrambled eggs and bacon/sausage before I start my day.  Sure, it's nice to eat homemade waffles or crank out some eggs benedict, but that can take a lot of time, and I'm usually pretty hungry when I wake up.

So, today I decided to whip up some eggs, and by that, I mean put my good 'ol scrambled eggs through a whipper.  Why a whipper, you ask?  Eggcellent question (sorry, cheesy, I know!)!

Simply put, a whipper like this adds a LOT of volume to whatever substance you put through it, making the resulting food a LOT more fluffy / light.  Perhaps the most common whipped food item is whipped cream, which has millions of little bubbles injected into the sweetened cream thanks to the nitrous oxide capsule.

Since this requires just 1 extra step in the whole creation of my meal, I figured it's worth experimenting with, and if it was a massive failure, at least we'd know to cross this off the list of bright ideas.

OK, so to do this, just start with your normal scrambled egg mix.  Mine is dead simple:

  • 2 eggs 
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • Splash of milk (I used 0% and lactose free)
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Some folks will say "beat your eggs" but that sounds pretty harsh, so I'll suggest you use a fork and "aggressively stir" them until everything is mixed up and is all nice and has a nice, consistent yellow color.

From here, you just pour the mix into your whipper, screw the top on, add a charge, and make sure you have a nozzle on it.

I'm a fan of cooking with butter (who isn't, amiright?), and since my wife's trying to convince me to eat a little healthier, I've been using margarine instead.  Soooo, I threw some in a pan, let it melt a bit, and dispensed the eggy concoction into the pan.

As you can see, it looks pretty similar to pancake batter, which I'll admit - had me a questioning my decision to experiment with breakfast when I'm ridiculously hungry.

Unsurprisingly, the volume of eggs was substantially larger than normal.  The 2 whipped eggs turned out to be quite a bit more than I'm used to seeing when done, but after waiting going on a rollercoaster of emotions on this whole thing, I was ready to dive in.

It was really good!  A light and fluffy consistency, with the same simple-but-delicious taste of my everyday scrambled eggs.

While I won't be doing this every day (those nitrous charges aren't free), it definitely turned out favorably, and something I'll use when making breakfast for the family.