Happy New Year!!


Saw this at H-Mart. Hands down the weirdest ice cream flavor I've seen sold commercially in the US! Cheese ice cream itself is nothing new, such as mascarpone or ricotta ice cream. But this looks cheddar-ish (note the big orange wedges of cheese)! Didn't try it, since it came only in big tubs, and I probably wouldn't finish a whole tub of queso ice cream.

Anyway, happy new year to all!


Eat Your Dulce De Leche: Dulce De Leche Gelato


Awhile back, I shared this method for making your own amazingly rich and creamy dulce de leche. I actually learned it from Jamie Oliver's recipe for toffee apple tart. Which, by the way, I just made for a second time with a few adjustments. Boy, was I surprised when the overall consensus was "This is definitely worse than last time's."

I honestly thought it was too sweet last time, so I reduced the amount of sugar in the apples, as well as used the proper kind of apples plus more lemon in the apples and crust. Everyone said they liked it better the first time. Hmph.

Anyway, so I had the leftover dulce de leche (about 3/4 of a can), and I thought I would finally try making a dulce de leche gelato. I found this recipe from Emeril which got rave reviews, and it sounded interesting to me. I've only made gelato once before (olive oil flavor), and the method was completely different. In that case, the egg yolks were not tempered with hot cream, but mixed in cold. Emeril says to make a brown sugar simple syrup, then mix that in with the yolks over a double boiler until it start to "ribbon" (basically thick enough so when the spoon is lifted up over the mixture, "ribbons" are visible on the surface as it drips).

I have to say this method made a wonderful, creamy gelato with amazing flavor and texture. Highly recommended. Makes me wonder what other flavors of gelato can be made using this method...


Hiatus No. 1: Europe


So I realize I've been away for a little while--ok, all summer--and I should probably explain myself. Reason number one is... my camera got stolen in Barcelona. Yes, pickpocketed out of my purse, even though every other person told me beforehand to really watch my things since pickpockets run rampant over there. I had that camera for less than a year, and although I didn't spend too much on it, I still felt that I had to punish myself by going camera-less for awhile. Sigh.

Reason number two: Too busy to blog. Lots of travel this year, I already talked about Miami, then there was California coast, Barcelona, London, and two trips to central Pennsylvania. Both Europe trips were for work (less than a month apart), and involved me running around stressed out and sweaty for a good chunk of them. Besides that and the stolen camera, both cities were wonderful and lived up to their hype. P.S. Photos are from my cell phone. Who knew that a crappy generic Blackberry knockoff could take such decent photos? Otherwise I would have taken more, arg!

Barcelona had amazing food, but unfortunately, on the one night we had planned on tapas bar-hopping, many of the places were closed. The standout dishes (for photos from other sources, click the links):
  • Queso de Cabrales (Cabrales blue cheese)
  • Sidra (Asturian hard cider, poured very high above the glass to aerate the cider)
  • Jamon iberico de bellota (cured ham made from at least 75% black Iberian pig, then the "de bellota" part refers to those pigs that only ate acorns for the period before slaughter; the "top of the heap" type of jamon iberico)
  • Pan con tomate (really simple, toasted bread with tomatoes rubbed on them, with a bit of garlic and olive oil)

Everyone knows the stereotype about British food. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review for Ratatouille, "Famous British recipe: 'Cook until gray.'" All in all, Barcelona beat out London for Overall Taste, but London had much more diversity in terms of cuisines available. In Barcelona, you saw the same 5 to 10 dishes served everywhere, some places better than others of course. London had the traditional pub food places, the Indian neighborhood, a sprinkling of various types of Asian cuisine, and the fine dining. Gordon Ramsay's restaurants seemed too high end for me, so I opted for lunch at Jamie Oliver's place in Covent Garden, Jamie's Italian.

For starter I had the bruschetta with smashed peas, broad beans, buffalo ricotta, lemon and mint. It seemed appropriate for the sunny (yes, I said sunny!) yet mild London afternoon. Would you believe it if I said it was sunny every single day I was there? I was there for almost a full week! I'm sure this contributed immensely to the gushing love I felt for the city. I could so live there. Back to Jamie's--the bruschetta tasted very fresh, but just too much ricotta and a bit too difficult to eat. Bread wasn't cutting well with a knife and fork, but it was too massive and piled up to eat by hand.

Then I had the pappardelle meatballs ("Incredible meatballs slow-cooked in a tomato and basil sauce with Parmesan"), and they were great. Really flavorful, rich, and delicious. Overall, impressed with the place and would definitely return. Service was excellent (cute waiter helped), modestly fashionable decor, and tasty food.

So that explains hiatus number one. Let's hope there isn't another too soon, but you never know.


Rhubarb "Jam": No Pectin Added


I know I promised some food photos from my coastal California road trip, but first a quick and easy recipe for delicious rhubarb jam. Admittedly, it was not really supposed to be a jam, but did you ever have a moment in the middle of following a recipe where you realized, This isn't going to taste very good if I keep going as is... How to fix things before it's too late? In this case, my cooking companion had bought some rhubarb from the fruit market with a special German dessert-thing in mind. Unfortunately, he didn't get to make it in time, so I had to take over.

These were his instructions: "Take the rhubarb, cut it into small pieces, and throw it in a pot with some sugar and cinnamon sticks. Also add a little lemon juice. Stew until it breaks down, then chill and eat with heavy cream." But what's it called, I asked. He never gave me a straight answer, basically saying it has no real name. I did a bit of research (mostly consisting of googling "rhubarb dessert german heavy cream") but to no avail. The closest I came was on Wikipedia, where "rhubarbsauce" was described as being akin to applesauce and eaten cold.

I looked up a few recipes for rhubarb jam, since it sounded so similar, and to give me a feel for a suitable proportion of rhubarb to sugar. It was my first time making jam, actually, so I read a bit about jam-making as well. In the meantime, I discovered a neat website called The Accidental Scientist run by some women from the Exploratorium in San Francisco. They are also authors of The Inquisitive Cook (Accidental Scientist), a book which I have referenced before. In this article about preserves as well as on Wikipedia, they say that a high enough amount of the complex carbohydrate pectin is key for a true jelly or jam texture: "Hydrogen bonds and hydrophobic interactions bind the individual pectin chains together. These bonds form as water is bound by sugar and forces pectin strands to stick together... to form a 3-dimensional molecular net that creates the macromolecular gel."

This process is called sugar-acid-pectin gelling--the pH needs to be low (acidic) enough to extract the pectin from the fruit's cell walls, and apparently sugar prevents the strands of pectin from sticking only to themselves. Rhubarb is naturally a low-pectin fruit and is thus usually combined with other high-pectin fruits or packaged pectin for making preserves.

The vague recipe I used resulted in something "jam-like" but I'm not sure if it would have stay gelled for the long haul, since I didn't add any additional pectin. Tasty though! I used this recipe as a basis for the rhubarb and sugar ratio, also added the water, and a splash of lemon juice instead of orange juice and zest. Also added 1 cinnamon stick and a tablespoon of apricot preserves. I thought maybe the pectin in the apricot preserves worked some magic, but turns out most pectin gels are non-thermoreversible (will stay a liquid if you heat it the second time around).


Food Place: Miami Beach, FL (Pt. II)


So continuing from last week's post about my time in Miami Beach, onto the food. As I mentioned before, we stayed in North Beach rather than the more popular and touristy South Beach because of the location of the conference center. This meant block after block of authentic Latin American food places, such as Brazilian and Argentinian steakhouses and bakeries. The enticing layout of sweets above is from Buenos Aires Bakery, which was on the way to our conference hotel. I didn't actually get to sample any of those cakes above, or the flan pictured below for that matter, but what I did have was a quite good ham and cheese croissant.

I know what you're thinking: "You ordered a savory pastry from such a shop, with desserts that looked like that?" I ordered something akin to an Italian "cornetto con crema", or croissant stuffed with pastry cream, along with my ham and cheese. Unfortunately, when it came time for dessert, I realized they had forgotten to give me mine. So all in all, I recommend the place, but don't forget to double check the contents of your paper bag before you leave.

The delectable spread of random meats above is from Campo Argentino, which you might seen billed as "New Campo Argentino" ever since the change in management. My first experience with an Argentinian steakhouse, and we went all out--for lunch of all meals--with a bottle of red wine and the "parrillada mixta", or mixed grill platter. It came with skirt steak, short ribs, sweetbreads, chorizo, chicken breast, and blood sausage.

I had heard stories about both sweetbreads and blood sausage, but both were not as unappetizing as I had anticipated. Especially the blood sausage, which my sister had long ago described to me as "like eating congealed, gelatinous bloody jello". Its texture reminded me more of, say, liver than any type of jelly (to my relief). One of my dining companions remarked that it reminded him of "soondae", which now makes sense considering it can be categorized also as a type of blood sausage.

Lastly, one of Miami's delicacies: the stone crab. We went to the most well-known crab place in Miami Beach, Joe's Stone Crab, and despite the high price tag and aggressive salesmen--I mean waiters--it did not disappoint. Look at the size of those claws! Their thick, ceramic-like shells came pre-cracked for convenience, and the amount of meat in each one makes them worth the price. Even the side dishes were well-made, and the key lime pie (on the house for our party) was heavenly. Highly recommended.


Food Place: Miami Beach, FL


April was a month full of travel, starting with a conference in Miami Beach, FL and ending with a road trip up the coast of California. Well actually, the month started with the craziness of preparing for said conference, then Miami Beach, then California. All in all, despite the exhaustion and creeping guilt of taking time off work, I love traveling. I feel alive, and like the world... it's turning inside out, yeah... (Sorry, I've had this song in my head for days. Just about to say how fun it is to bike to this song, and now found out it was voted best driving song ever by Top Gear fans!)

We stayed at The New Hotel in North Beach, which is about a 20 minute cab ride from the popular and much more bustling South Beach. The hotel itself was perfect--small and cozy, yet with modern furnishings and very friendly and attentive service. And another major perk--Lou's Beer Garden, a bar next to the pool with great beers on tap:

The beer selection during our stay:

First I had the Longhammer IPA from Washington's Redhook Brewery, which was not bad but a little dull for my taste. I prefer more bitter IPAs, the most bitter of which I've had in recent memory was this past holiday season's Celebration Ale. It literally knocked my head back with the first sip... but in a very enjoyable way. Bitterness of beer is measured by the International Bitterness Units scale (IBU), whose estimation takes into account the amount of hops used in brewing as well as how hoppy those hops are (otherwise known as "alpha acid percentage"). As expected, IPAs are on the higher end of the IBU scale than, say, a blonde ale or porter. However, the bitterness of hops are balanced by the sweetness of malt, and apparently the IBU scale does not take into account the amount the bitterness is affected by more or less malt flavor: "For example, an Imperial Stout may have an IBU of 50, but will taste less bitter than an English Bitter with an IBU of 30, because the latter beer uses much less malt than the former."

Then I tried Dogfish Head's Midas Touch: "This recipe is the actual oldest-known fermented beverage in the world! It is an ancient Turkish recipe using the original ingredients from the 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas." In other words, worth drinking for the backstory alone. Also, a coworker mentioned that it is quite unusual to be found on tap, so I went for it. I didn't know what to expect, so I was shocked at the sweetness of it. It wasn't sugary-sweet, more like a rich golden honey-sweet, but an interesting beer experience nevertheless.

No photos of them, but the mojitos everywhere were amazing. Huge sprigs of fresh mint, sugarcane stirrers, and limes a-plenty. More about Miami to come (the food next time, I promise)...


Raw Oysters: Yay or Nay?


In light of my last post about finding certain foods or flavors repulsive, I wonder what percentage of the population finds raw oysters to be disgusting, slimy things that they would never dare put in their mouths? I can already think of one friend (yes you, Jenobi!). But overall, the success of raw bars like Oyster House in Philadelphia already tells me that the little guys can't be universally hated.

I had my first raw oyster in New Orleans a few years ago, and it took some time to get used to the strong ocean taste and soft, fleshy texture. But with a bit of lemon juice and increased exposure (my companions ordered dozen after dozen), I started to see what all the fuss was about. Apparently, people have been eating oysters since "prehistory", and Jonathan Swift is quoted as having said, "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster".

At raw bars like Oyster House, they usually offer a few different varieties of oysters, differentiated by the region from where they were plucked. Wikipedia states: "Like fine wine, raw oysters have complex flavors that vary greatly among varieties and regions: sweet, salty, earthy, or even melon... Salinity, mineral, and nutrient variations in the water that nurtures them influence their flavor profile." When I went (first photo), the oysters were from Cape May, NJ. During my California trip, I had a Japanese-style preparation of raw Kumamoto oyster most likely from Washington State (photo above) at Shintaro Sushi. The Cape May had more of a salty, ocean taste whereas the Japanese preparation lessened that effect and brought out more of the sweetness. Really delicious either way, although in this case I think I preferred the Kumamoto oyster.

Side note: Oyster House has a nice happy hour special "A-Buck-A-Shuck" (M-F, 5-7pm, Sat, 9-11pm) where the oyster of the day is only $1 apiece and a select draft for $3. I had Cape May oysters and Kenzinger was on draft. Not a bad deal--the combination of fresh oysters and good beer is definitely a winner.

We also had these oyster shooters, which were really not for me. A raw oyster dunked in a liquor-filled shot glass. Blech! Already the look of it was a bit much... reminded me too much of a random organ half-floating in a mini-jar of formaldehyde. Downing it was quite a struggle.


Cilantro, Cilantro!


Wanted to post an interesting article sent to me by my sister, all about why some people can't stand cilantro. Harold McGee writes: "Food partisanship doesn’t usually reach the same heights of animosity as the political variety, except in the case of the anti-cilantro party. The green parts of the plant that gives us coriander seeds seem to inspire a primal revulsion among an outspoken minority of eaters." My (other) sister is part of the anti-cilantro group, but strangely enough, both E and I are both strongly pro-cilantro. And I don't remember ever hating it, either.

McGee asks a neuroscientist, Jay Gottfried, where such hate could come from: "The senses of smell and taste evolved to evoke strong emotions, he explained, because they were critical to finding food and mates and avoiding poisons and predators. When we taste a food, the brain searches its memory to find a pattern from past experience that the flavor belongs to. Then it uses that pattern to create a perception of flavor, including an evaluation of its desirability." So his theory is that if you haven't had enough cilantro exposure, you may be bound to hate it forever. (Off-topic: By the way, how awesome is Dr. Gottfried's group website? They have actual photos on there of the group *gasp* socializing!)

Hmm, maybe this also applies to me and horseradish? Any flavors you absolutely can't stand? Give it a few more tastes and perhaps your brain won't label it as poison anymore...


Eat Your Dulce De Leche: Toffee Apple Tart


I'm prepping for a month full of exciting travels, which I will surely post some photos of (food and otherwise), but before heading out I wanted to add a couple of recipes where one can use the lovely homemade dulce de leche. The first is a toffee apple tart from Jamie Oliver, and this is where I actually picked up the instructions to make the dulce de leche from canned condensed milk.

Speaking of Jamie, anyone been watching his new show, Food Revolution, where he goes around American schools trying to change the usual fare from fast food to more healthy stuff? I haven't seen it yet, but have heard good things from various sources (ok, one source--the other told me he saw a crazy commercial featuring a yelling match between Jamie and some school cooks). I saw parts of the British version though, and I'm all for the idea of "healthifying" elementary school food. It reminded me of when a certain wise someone said, "There used to be one or two fat kids in the class. Now there's one or two skinny kids."

Anyway back to the topic at hand. I found the recipe online here on his website, and also realized that you could substitute other fruits, and that this is essentially what banoffee pie is, no? Must try that next. The flavors were excellent though, it is basically a caramel apple with a flaky shortbread crust. Look at the cool method Jamie recommends for making the crust! You first shape the dough into a roll and slice them into rounds, as if you are making cookies...

Then simply lay them out into your tart dish and press them together to form a continuous crust!

One thing I regret is that I used the apples I had on hand, which were Fuji apples. I should have realized that the crispness of the Fuji apple would not go well with a baked apple dessert, and indeed, the apples would not "uncrisp" even through several minutes of overbaking. What makes an apple good for baking? A baking or cooking apple has to be somewhere in the middle in terms of texture--it can't be too crisp like a Fuji, and it can't turn to mush during baking like a Red Delicious. But to be safe, I would look up the actual type of apple that is best for your particular recipe. For this recipe, perhaps a Golden Delicious or Granny Smith, but these guides should also help.


Make Your Own Dulce De Leche


I'm very embarrassed to say it has almost been a month since my last post! Actually by the time I finish writing this, it will have been a month. Sigh, what can I say, work has gotten the better of me these days! I'm still trying my best to cook whenever I can, but taking the time to post is another issue...

But anyway, before too much more time passes, I wanted to share a really neat and quick "mini-recipe" that's almost like magic. It's for making your own heavenly dulce de leche with nothing but a can of condensed milk and a pot of water! I actually learned this in the process of making a toffee apple tart (hence the apples and pie crust in the photo above) from Jamie's Dinners: The Essential Family Cookbook.

He describes the process of making "toffee" from sweetened condensed milk, and it couldn't be simpler: "Put your unopened tins of condensed milk in a high-sided pan, covered with water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer constantly for about 3 hours with a lid on top. It’s very important to remember to keep checking the pan, as you don’t want it to boil dry – otherwise the tins will explode. It will give you the most amazing toffee. Put the tins to one side and allow to cool."

Ok, so I will acknowledge it is a bit time consuming ("3 hours?"). And a little bit risky, it would seem ("Exploding tins?"). But honestly, don't let that stop you, because opening that once humble can of condensed milk to find silky smooth, golden dulce de leche is really worth it. I used a large pasta pot and filled it close to the brim to prevent any explosions, and checked it every half hour or so to make sure the water level was decent. The resulting caramel was quite thick yet spreadable, but supposedly if a more pourable consistency is desired, one can shorten the simmering time accordingly.

Why does this magic reaction occur? Wikipedia states: "Much of the water in the milk evaporates and the mix thickens; the resulting dulce de leche is usually about a sixth of the volume of the milk used. The transformation that occurs in preparation is caused by a combination of two common browning reactions called caramelization and the Maillard reaction." Both reactions require sugars, which is why sweetened condensed milk is required for dulce de leche; evaporated, or non-sweetened condensed milk lacks the added sugar for the reactions to occur.


Strawberry Basil Ice Cream: No More Curdling


Ah, curdling. The bane of my ice cream making existence. I can't count how many custards have been sadly ruined after several minutes of infusing, carefully tasting and adjusting, tempering, slowly heating/stirring, and then... #^$*! One second too many turns perfectly smooth, thickened custard into egg drop soup. This is probably a testament to my somewhat reckless attitude towards cooking, as I'm sure this rarely happens to other ice cream making people. Or at least, multiple times.

Sure, people say you can "save" a custard by blending it back into shape, which I did once to some ginger ice cream (it was a holiday emergency), but it doesn't come out as good as it could be. So what's the idea behind curdling anyway? And how can we prevent curdling of any custard?

The Inquisitive Cook (Accidental Scientist) states that "In both cooked and stirred custards, setting happens at temperatures well below boiling. Cooking at too high a temperature or for too long toughens proteins and squeezes out liquid. This makes a baked custard "weep," and a stirred custard curdle--both signs of overcooking."

So temperature matters, as one would expect. But they also claim that it is the rate of heating that matters: "When egg proteins are heated quickly, there's a very small temperature difference (just a few degrees) between thickening and overcooking, so that custards seem to curdle instantly. When heated slowly, this range widens to 10° F or more." This is why some recipes call for use of double boilers for stirred custards, since they allow for a longer "grace period" before reaching the curdling point. Stirring is important for even heating throughout the custard, and not allowing one region (say the bottom) become overheated.

Ok, so now I have my double boiler and low heat. Wouldn't it be great if, with the help of my trusty thermometer, I knew exactly what temperature to look out for to prevent overcooking? This website says I can, with a greatly oversimplified formula. Unfortunately, application of this rule does not work. As described in Experimental Cookery, From the Chemical and Physical Standpoint, "The temperature at which coagulation (thickening) starts varies with the varying proportion of ingredients of the custard and the rate of cooking." So what works for my recipes won't work for someone else's, in other words.

On a related note, a few weeks ago I was reading an ice cream recipe on a popular blog that said to heat the custard to exactly 84° C (183° F). Of course, this was before I read about curdling, and so I thought "Oh great, a guideline for what temperature to heat my custard up to!" Next thing I knew, I had a curdled mess on my hands. What does help is keeping a thermometer in and taking note of approximately when thickening occurs. This way, from that point on you'll have a rough guideline (assuming the same proportions are used) of when to stop.

And lastly, with this newfound knowledge I made a delicious and beautifully pink strawberry basil ice cream! Simply use this recipe by Emeril (I cut it in half), but infuse the milk and cream with bunches of chopped fresh basil leaves for one hour. I also added a pinch of salt and half a packet of gelatin as described here. For presentation, I sprinkled the top with crushed dehydrated strawberries picked out a box of cereal, hehe. Wrong season for this flavor I know, and in summer it would be twice as good and refreshing, but keep it in mind until then!


Homemade Chipwich: Baking a Chewy Cookie


Made with the Thomas Keller chocolate chip cookies, plus strawberry basil ice cream (post coming soon!). Sorry Ode, this flavor turned out awesome I must say, but next time I promise not to be too tired for ice cream making! The chipwiches looked and tasted good, but the cookies (and chips) were too rock-hard. That got me thinking, what's the best way to make cookies suitable for chipwich-making rather than for eating? Because for eating on their own, I like my cookies a bit crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside rather than chewy all around. How to best make them chewy all around?

The first thing I noticed was that size matters--I made two sizes of cookies, one about 2.5 inches in diameter, the other 4 inches in diameter. The 4 inch cookie remained soft the next day, at least in the middle, whereas the smaller cookies became rock-hard. Unfortunately, I used the smaller cookies for the chipwich, which really didn't work very well. I smushed the whole thing just by taking my first bite.

Second, I cooked them all too long for them to be chewy. In order to be chewy, the cookies have to retain sufficient moisture contributed to the dough by the eggs, butter, and brown sugar. Baking the dough for too long in the oven allows for increased evaporation of this moisture, making for an overall drier result. I basically left them in until the edges browned due to caramelization of the sugars in the dough, causing dehydration. So next time, I would want to use a shorter cooking time to preserve that moisture.

And lastly, a thicker cookie would also help. Shorter cooking time would help this, but to affect the thickness in a very significant way, I think the recipe would have to change. Which would subsequently affect the flavor, perhaps in a negative way, something like adding flour to thicken the dough. Well, shorter cooking time and bigger cookie diameter is a start, I suppose. Oh, and smaller chocolate chips. Because the chips were self-cut from a bar, I ended up with quite large chunks--which really hurt your teeth when bitten into frozen. What are your tips for making a better cookie for chipwich-ing? Any favorite chipwich combinations?


Thomas Keller's Chocolate Chip Cookies


I must admit I've been neglecting the blog a bit these days, mostly because of various visitors that have come to stay with me, a gigantic "snowmageddon" that hit, and well, a hint of laziness. The recent snow storm has actually helped me get me off the couch/bed/lab bench and back into the kitchen (due to my school being snowed in for two days, yeah! So there are benefits to having the city wait for snow to melt rather than cleaning it up...). I recently bought Thomas Keller's new book designed for more casual, family-style home cooking, Ad Hoc at Home, and tried my first recipe. Of course it turned out to be a dessert, and something simple: chocolate chip cookies. I was just curious... What do Thomas Keller's chocolate chip cookies taste like?

The recipe was easy enough, although it really took the wind out of me to stir cookie dough without a stand mixer/paddle attachment. For chocolate, he uses a combination of Valrhona 70% and 55% chocolates. I cheated, and added half milk chocolate instead of the 55%. I know, all true chocoholics would turn their nose up at me right now, saying "Milk? Please, who eats that stuff anymore after age 10?" But I really do prefer milk chocolate over dark, even in my cookies. Not sure what that says about me, especially since I do enjoy lots of bitter things, like super-hoppy beer. What's your preference?

I made a few test cookies first, to see if I liked the dough I had or wanted to add anything more to it. First off, I forgot the salt! Terrible mistake, salt is such a big thing in desserts to bring out the flavors properly. Second--and this is probably after years of making the Toll House recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag--I was missing the vanilla extract. I know, I doubt Thomas Keller uses vanilla extract, or extracts of any kind for that matter, in his cooking. But I ended up adding a teaspoon in anyway--my personal preference.

Overall the cookies were crisp on the edges, chewy in the middle, and tasted delicious. Not overly sweet, like so many of those pre-made dough kinds, and I think this recipe really makes the chocolate you use the star of the show. A lesson to use better chocolate--and more of it--next time. Anyone have their own chocolate chip cookie recipes or tips to share?


Fresh Mint Ice Cream: Introducing Gelatin


A friend recently commented that I've been making only ice creams for weeks now, and I will admit that it has been awhile since I've thought of making anything but. I've become preoccupied with making a better homemade ice cream, especially regarding texture. Taste hasn't been too much of an issue, in my opinion, and I always have a long mental list of new flavors to test out. Last time I made my first gelato, and I thought it was quite successful texture-wise, but I don't like the idea of forever making gelato (I'm more of an ice cream person myself) and also forever using raw eggs. One thing I noticed was that it was nicer coming out of the freezer then my previous custard-based ice creams. Taste was less rich, admittedly, but texture was a bit more scoopable.

Before the gelato, my cornstarch ice cream was a terrible failure. Too pudding-like and melted strangely. So moving on to my next experiment, I decided to give gelatin a try. Gelatin is commonly used in desserts that "set", such as panna cotta, jello, and gummies. According to Wikipedia: "Gelatin is a protein produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the bones, connective tissues, organs and some intestines of animals such as domesticated cattle, pigs, and horses." Gross, huh? Try not to think about that when you are eating or using anything with gelatin in it (probably a lot more products than you realize).

It was used as the main stabilizer in the ice cream industry for years, according to Dr. Douglas Goff, before being replaced by cheaper compounds. What's the benefit of using a stablizer? Dr. Goff states that adding a stabilizer increases the viscosity of the ice cream mixture by thickening the unfrozen portions of the water and preventing them from moving through the mix, joining together, and creating big ice crystals when re-frozen. Gelatin powder put into water, for instance, dissolves a little at room temperature, but then melts completely with sufficient heat. When cooled, the mixture then solidifies into a colloid gel--the water being suspended in a protective collagen matrix.

So I decided to use a few sprigs of fresh mint as my flavor (which by the way, gives such an amazing flavor as compared to the mint chocolate types of ice creams you buy at the store), just to keep it fairly simple as I didn't know how the use of gelatin would turn out. I used 2 egg yolks, half a packet of gelatin powder, 1/3 c sugar, 1 1/2 c whole milk, and 1 c heavy cream--along with my usual recipe for making ice cream mix, except I melted the gelatin in after infusing the mint into the milk/cream. Remember that you have to melt the gelatin at sufficient heat to incorporate it throughout the mix.

The results were a success! I found the ice cream more scoopable, yet still rich and creamy, and had firm "bite". Also, it had nice melt-down characteristics--none of that "pudding"-like weirdness that cornstarch gave. Unfortunately, it is not vegetarian, which is the biggest downfall of using it in ice cream (as far as I can tell). Which I assume would be where vegetation-based hydrocolloids like locust bean gum come into play. Anyway, I'm convinced! I now see the benefit of adding a stabilizer into my ice creams. As a temporary fix, gelatin seems to work well, but if I want my vegetarian friends to partake, I'll eventually have to find a substitute. Which is your favorite plant-based hydrocolloid and how do you use it?


Olive Oil Gelato: Gelato vs. Ice Cream


As I've mentioned (and demonstrated) before, I always leave New York City inspired by its bustling and ever-evolving culinary creativity. About a year ago, I went to Mario Batali's Otto Pizzeria and had one of the more revelatory ice cream flavors in my life--olive oil gelato. E recommended it, and I was admittedly skeptical, but since she's usually right about these kinds of things, I took her word for it. It was surprisingly delicious, with the subtle taste of olive oil all wrapped up in soft, sweet cream. I had it a second time from Capogiro, the famous Philly gelateria known for their unique flavors and use of local, fresh ingredients.

So I was reminded recently that this was a flavor I had yet to try my hand at, and plus I had all the ingredients at home. The recipe comes from The Babbo Cookbook, and the first thing I noticed is that the egg yolks are not cooked. As in, it does not require you to make a custard. I know, it isn't ice cream that we're making, but I didn't know that gelato sometimes contains raw egg yolks. Then again, I've never made gelato before, but I had the notion that the only difference is that gelato uses only milk whereas ice cream uses cream and milk.

Another thing I heard was that gelato contains less fat than ice cream. This apparently is true. Wikipedia states: "Gelato differs from ice cream in that it has a lower fat content, typically 3.5% for gelato versus 10-12% for ice-cream." That was another reason why the Babbo recipe baffled me, because it actually contains the same proportion of ingredients as my usual ice cream base does, and that includes cream. Weird.

The only difference then, is that for ice cream I heat the milk, whisk the hot milk into the beaten yolks, and put the whole thing back on heat to cook the eggs which thickens the mixture into a custard. For the gelato, I basically mixed all ingredients together cold, and they even say you can throw into the ice cream maker right away. This means that, because the heating process is missing, the bonds between the yolk proteins do not break (even through "ribboning", as Harold McGee describes in On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen), and the usual net-like matrix of unraveled proteins does not form as it does during cooking. Thus the gelato mix has a lower viscosity than traditional custard (which can be seen immediately upon making the mix), which affects "body and mouthfeel" of the eventual frozen product.

Qualitatively, the gelato certainly did not freeze as firmly as previous ice creams had, and had more of a "whipped" quality. But overall, it still turned out decently, but I would warn those that try to actually use a high quality olive oil. I used a mediocre olive oil because it was what I had on hand, and it gave me a bit of a strange aftertaste. Any tips on making gelato, feel free to contribute!


Nutella Ice Cream: No Eggs, Just Cornstarch


Recently I've been giving some thought as to how I can improve the texture and/or flavor of my ice creams, and while reading some articles online, I stumbled upon this recipe for cornstarch ice cream in the New York Times. Sounds gross, doesn't it? It actually is an egg-less ice cream with cornstarch in place of the more traditional egg yolks. Then you may feel free to add whatever fruits etc. you choose, without (as some claim) any yolks affecting the intended flavor with their egginess. Not to mention it's a lot easier and faster to drop in a spoonful of powder and heat, than it is to separate yolks and proceed to watch/stir the custard ever so carefully to prevent curdling. And lastly, eggs (especially good quality ones) can get expensive, also considering that some recipes call for as many as six yolks.

Then I started thinking about why this would be, why can you substitute cornstarch for yolks? And what are the downsides of doing so? Well before going any further, I can tell you from a non-scientist's point of view that I was not pleased with my cornstarch ice cream at all. I followed the New York Times recipe exactly, except I added 1/2 c Nutella and let it melt while heating the cream/milk. Ever since I returned from Rome, I've been meaning to make some ice cream with the Nutella I bought there. Actually it isn't Nutella brand, but an Italian kind of "Crema Gianduja". I know, what a waste of 1/2 c Nutella. I should have tested the recipe with vanilla first, but I guess I trusted that it would work out as well as it did in the video.

Before even freezing the ice cream, the custard already had me worried because it had quite a different texture than the egg custards I've made in the past. It reminded me of chocolate Jello instant pudding, with its glossy finish and light consistency. Not that egg custard isn't shiny, but this was really glossy. Plus, the use of cornstarch seemed to have caused the custard to lose its "richness," in both taste and texture.

After freezing, I have the same complaints as when it was unfrozen--glossy, loss of richness--and while the flavor was ok, I had a hard time eating it as noticed it melting into a pudding-like thing. One good thing, it certainly scooped easier right out of the freezer than the egg ice creams. Perhaps I used too much cornstarch? Or did the Nutella affected the custard in a negative way? I haven't written off the use of cornstarch in ice cream completely, but I will certainly put less than 3 Tbsp of it next time.

If anyone has a good or bad experience with cornstarch ice cream, please share! Ok, enough of the qualitative talk, now I want to know what the quantitative difference is between using yolks vs. cornstarch. To be continued...


New Year, New Look!


Hopefully 2010 will be full of even more interesting experiments in the kitchen. Notice the new look of the blog, banner courtesy of E!