I will not abandon this blog

Wow...It has been a long time since I wrote anything.  What a slacker I am, right?


So much has happened.  Shortly after my last post, I walked into the kitchen of one of Charlotte, NC's fine dining restaurants and asked to work for free.  Six months later, I'm on salary and helping to run the kitchen.

I took a break from the restaurant 4 months in and toured Europe and Israel this summer.  I ate ridiculous food that inspired me.  I cooked a little (I had loads of fun finding ways to get a friend's daughters help me prepare meals).

In any case, this post has little substance except for a promise not to abandon it.   I need an outlet.  The pressure of cooking professionally has been intense, so letting out some frustrations and sketching ideas should help. And, even if I don't have as much time to put my ideas into practice or to practice the ideas of the masters, I won't abandon this blog; I want it to be a helpful tool.


So,  I'll try to write something at least a few times a week.  Could be a new recipe, an experiment, a copy, scenes from the kitchen, self-doubts (there are many) or encouragement (also many of these).


Dinner 02-12-2012

Monkfish was being sold at the grocery story.  That meant opportunity to try this (as it turns out) slightly sweet, mild, and meaty fish.   Not knowing about it, I turned to Thomas Keller for guidance.

The French Laundry Cookbook has a dish pairing the fish with a braised beef cut (oxtails).  Wow...fish and a rich braise.  This must be some fish, I thought.  Sure enough, it really holds its ground and pairs well with the sauce.  A lot of earthy flavors in this dish, with the salsify (another new ingredient for me), and porcini mushrooms.  All in all, pretty easy to do, and worth the effort since I had a lot of sauce left over and enough fish for a second meal.

I also have been trying to play with sugar decor.  I haven't gotten the results that I wanted (not pictured), but I did something simple, which you can see above.  This is simply a caramel drizzled onto a silpat in a pattern and then folded over on itself.

I whipped up a simple chocolate cookie wafer and had some pistachio gelato in the freezer, which I framed with the caramel decoration.  Fun stuff.


Making use of gelatin.  100 grams Sugar and 30 grams corn syrup melted with 15 ml water and 6 grams of gelatin.  Then whipped until fluffy and dusted with powdered sugar and corn starch.

Gelatin Conversion Factors

One of the things I'm frequently having to do is figure out how much gelatin to use to get some effect.  Complicating this is that gelatin comes in different bloom strengths, which correspond to their setting power.  Many recipes implicitly are based on "silver" strength gelatin.  I believe the powdered stuff you can get in the grocery store is silver gelatin.

If you have a gelatin of a certain strength and need to know how much to multiply the amount in a recipe calling for a different strength, you need to use a little formula to convert:

M_b = M_a * (B_a/B_b)

Where M represents mass, B is bloom strength, the b subscript the bloom strength you want to convert to and a subscript the one you are called to use.

To simplify this, I made a table of conversion factors, since the ratio of bloom strengths doesn't change, but the masses do.  To use this table, multiply the mass of the original amount of gelatin by the conversion factors below  to get the mass of the gelatin you want to use.  First, choose the row.  This is the strength of gelatin you want to convert from.  Then, go right across the columns to find the gelatin strength you're converting to.

Name (Bloom) Bronze (125-155) Silver (160) Gold (190-220) Platinum (235-265)
Bronze (125-155) -- 0.96 0.65 0.53
Silver (160) 1.28 -- 0.84 0.68
Gold (190-220) 1.52 1.18 -- 0.81
Platinum (235-265) 1.88 1.47 1.2 --

For example, suppose I have a recipe calling for 21 grams of Platinum strength gelatin, but I have Silver strength.  To find out how much gelatin I need, I find platinum on the left most column, then I move across the table to find silver.  The gelatin conversion factor is 1.47.  Amount I need is equal to 1.47 times 21.  I need 30 grams of silver strength gelatin.

Occasionally you'll see the bloom strength given directly.  Then you can use the formula above.

Also, you may see sheets of gelatin rather than weights.  In this case, use the table below to calculate the amount of gelatin per sheet.

Strength                  g/sheet
Bronze (125-155) 3.3
Silver (160) 2.5
Gold (190-220) 2
Platinum (235-265) 1.7

I'd like to thank Martin Lersch of khymos.org for publishing a guide to hydrocolloids.  Please visit his site.


Prune, Blue Cheese, Preserved Meyer Lemon

While working with the blue cheese, I thought I felt something "pruney" about it.   I happened to have a jar of prune juice  waiting for use.

I mixed 250 grams prune juice with a 100 gram simple syrup and 8 grams of methylcellulose (F450).  One of methylcelluloses' neat tricks is that you can make heat stable foams out of them, which I did.  You simply whip as you would if you were making a meringue.

I then dehydrated piped puffs of MC-prune juice mixture until they were crispy.

To incorporate the blue cheese, I used the left over Carrageenan mixture  from the toasted walnut oil experiment (see previous pictures).  One of kappa carrageenan's neat properties is that it will release its liquid when agitated (syneresis).  So, I blended my left over blue cheese custard, pressed through a chinois twice, and and filled the prune juice puffs with a smooth "blue cheese pudding"

To add another dimension I broke into one of my jars of preserved meyer lemons and sliced a piece thinly.

You get a burst of intense salty-citrus flavor right off the bat.  This seems to come from nowhere, as though it burst through out of nothingness.  Then, crispy crunching and sweetness from the prune, which disappears very quickly.  This disappearing act is one of the nice features of the methylcellulose "meringues." And slowly mingling and then shining through is the piquancy and saltiness of the blue cheese.

A nice experience, and sure to be refined in the future.  Any ideas?


Walnut Oil and Danish Blue

I spent part of today working on an idea that came to me while falling asleep last night.  This is destined to be a component rather than a main ingredient.  Its hard to recall exactly the train of thought, but I was thinking about yogurt covered raisins at first.

In my first attempt I used the following proportions:

Walnut Oil Pebbles:Tapioca Maltodextrin at 100:24

Milk:Blue Cheese:Kappa Carrageenan at 100:20:1

There were two problems I needed to deal with.  First, the walnut oil pebbles did not crisp in the pan, but would stick and lose outer layers of malto.  Second, when coated with the blue cheese mixture, the malto balls would simply release the oil and melt away.

I tried increasing the ratio malto to 40%.  This worked much better when heating the malto balls.  They held together much nicer, and started to brown a bit.  I'm still having trouble getting a blue cheese coating, however, since the malto would absorb the extra liquid before the kappa had a chance to set.

Ok, maybe I need to make the malto balls crispier by heating over higher heat.  This seemed to form a protective shell around the balls.  This worked a little better.

Still more playing needs to be done.  I'd like a firmer set, so I may mix in iota carrageenan and/or locust bean gum.  Also, I don't like handling the malto balls because they're quite fragile, so I think I'll try to crisp them in a hot oven next time.

The ratio in the end was this, which still needs to be tinkered with:

Walnut Oil:Tapioca Maltodextrin at 100:40
Milk:Blue Cheese:Carrageenan (Kappa:Iota):Locust Bean Gum at 100:10:1 (50:50):1

Tasting notes: the crispy exterior of the maltodextrin gave way to a creamy toasted walnut flavor.  Of course this works well with blue cheese, which was only hinted at, but that should be able to be rectified in future iterations of this.


When we lived in Houston, we had the fortune of living around the corner from a great little (I do mean little) bagel shop.  They made bagels fresh every day, and many days the line would double over itself and go out the door.  Standing room only.  

Well, since we moved to the Davidson/Charlotte area we haven't had really good bagels.  As with many things these days, I thought, "why not make them myself?"  The recipe came from the CIA's textbook, so that's handy

A jar of diastatic malt syrup (diastase enzymes FTW), and a quick trip to the grocery store for garnishes got me all set to go.

Bagels are garnished with minced onion & garlic, salt, sesame seed, fennel seed, caraway seed, and poppy seed.  With smoked salmon, thinly sliced red onion, capers, and cream cheese.