Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bring on the Heat, Part III

Jump to the first hot pepper post, and the second hot pepper post.

Here's the third and (maybe) final installment in the posting series about the hot and spicy peppers. I've been using hot peppers and things ever since I started cooking, and, while I don't know everything, I have picked up a few practical tips.  So, here are my tips for cooking with heat:

1 - Decide in advance what you’re shooting for.  Are you cooking what will be a 4-alarm chili, or do you just want to liven up a previously tame beef stew?  Just a little bit of heat will pick up a dish, often even without it being perceptibly “hot”.  On the other hand, sometimes you just want to scorch out your mouth.  In either case, decide beforehand rather than arrive there by accident or default.

2 - Start with less, and add as you go.  It’s easy to add more heat, but it’s impossible to take it out.  That’s why it’s best to go tame at first, and then build up, tasting along the way, until you get to where you want to be.  Because of the variations, you won’t be able to rely on a recipe.  “2 tsp chili powder” will not always be consistent.  It’s also best, if possible, to let the recipe cook and simmer a bit between each tasting.  That way the flavors have some time to blend in.

3 - Different peppers have unique flavors, as well as different amounts of heat.  Get to know them as much as you can.  I really like the flavor of cayenne, for example, but I’m not as fond of jalapeno.

4 - Much of the capsaicin is in the seeds and the core, so you can tame a chili significantly by cutting those away.  You can do a lot of adjusting that way, too.  For example, maybe one jalapeno is not enough, but two is too much.  Add one in, and core the second.

5 - Use gloves while handling chili, and don’t wipe your eyes. I have learned this one by sad experience.  You know the self-defence sprays, that you blast in an attacker’s face?  That’s chili extract. If you’re working with chilis, and you wipe your eyes with all that capsaicin oil on your fingers, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt.  Use gloves, and throw them away when you’re done.

Here’s one final bit on chilis:  A few years ago, I was at a roadside produce stand as fall approached.  They were selling lots of different things, but I found a big basket of serrano chilis.  I had this idea, so I bought a few pounds.  I brought them home and laid them out on a baking tray and dried them (make sure they are completely dry, with no moisture).  I broke off the stems and chewed them up in one of those little “Magic Bullet” blenders, where you invert the cup over the blade.  Presto, homemade chili powder.  In subsequent years, I’ve found that I like to blend different chilis together in that mix.  I’ll usually do some serranos, some jalapenos, and some anaheims.  Commercial chili powders will often include other things like garlic powder or oregano, but I prefer to add those into a dish separately.

If you do this, here are two tips:

1 - I tried it in my big tabletop Ninja blender, but it didn’t get the particles fine enough.  Once it got them chopped to a certain point, it just tossed the chunks around.  The smaller blender went faster and chopped finer, into a real powder.

2 - Breathe carefully or wear a surgical mask.  It will burn your nose and throat if you don’t.

I hope these blog entries have helped you get a better grasp on how to use heat and peppers in your dishes.  Don’t be afraid of them, but use them judiciously, and they’ll serve you well!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Molecular Gastronomy: Rice Pudding With Apple Caviar, Part 2

Continued from yesterday's post on Molecular Gastronomy

So, once again, we’re talking about molecular gastronomy, or, as it’s sometimes called, modernist cooking.  When I hear that term, I wonder what will come next, maybe post-modernist cooking?  Will we be debating the existence of food?

But I digress...

As I said last time, the first attempt My son and I made at Basic Spherification failed miserably, and we chalked it up to a learning experience. We made some adjustments the second time and it all turned out.  I’m sure that as we do it more and more, we’ll get better and better and understand it more as well.

As I begin to list the ingredients, you’ll notice that the amounts are in grams, not in cups or tablespoons.  That’s because this is chemistry, and chemists don’t measure in teaspoons. Accurate measurements are very important in this process.

Here’s what you need:


At least 1000 grams Apple Juice
5 grams sodium citrate
5 grams sodium alginate
About a liter of clean water
5 grams calcium chloride


Ph test strips
a scale that measures with an accuracy of 0.1 grams
small cups for measuring and dispensing the chemicals
a blender or a whisk
4 clean bowls, preferably clear glass
a large plastic medical syringe
a small strainer or spoon with small holes.

I started out with a lot of the apple juice, and to intensify the flavor, I boiled it and reduced it down to about half. To do the spherification, you’ll need exactly 500 grams, so I started with more than double that. Confession: I did this step with a saucepan on my stove. I know I should have done it on coals in my Dutch oven. I hang my head in shame.

Then, I let it cool in the fridge. When it was at about room temperature, I pulled it out and tested the Ph with the test strips. There were two possible reasons why the first one failed. One was that the juice might have been too acidic. The best results happen when your Ph is more than 3.6. The first batch tested at 4, so it should have been OK, but it was really close. Also, many fruit juices have added calcium which can begin the spherification reaction too soon. In either case, sodium citrate is the answer. So, the second time, I added some to the juice. This measurement is not so critical, I’d read.

Once that was dissolved, it was time to make the sphere base solution. I measured exactly 500 grams of the reduced juice. For the spherification to work, you have to have accurate measurements. My scale wasn’t so accurate, and that also caused problems the first time. I was much more careful, but I think I also got lucky the second time.  I also measured out 5 grams of the sodium alginate

Then I got the blender (the instructions say you can use a whisk, but I was a bit nervous, so I did the blender). While blending the juice, I gradually tipped in the sodium alginate. The first time, it got very thick. I think we had added too much, and I think it also reacted with the juice. The second time, it did get a little thicker, but it was still very runny.

Even though the sodium alginate looks dissolved, it needs some time to fully hydrate and to be fully absorbed into the juice. Also, the air bubbles have to dissipate.  I set it in the fridge for about an hour, or longer.

After a time in the fridge, the liquid looked clear, but there was still some bubbles on top. I scooped these away with a spoon.

While I let the sphere base solution get a bit warmer, I made the setting bath. I set up three bowls.  In the first, I put 500 grams of water. I used tap water, but the instructions also recommend using distilled water. I think next time, I’ll do that. While whisking, I gradually added the calcium chloride, and stirred until it was fully dissolved. I filled each of the other bowls about 3/4 of the way with water.

I had bought a molecular gastronomy chemical kit to do this and it came with a big plastic syringe. I have a son with special health care needs, so we actually have these things all over the house, anyway. I sucked up the sphere base solution into the syringe and, from a height of about 2-3 inches, began dribbling it into the setting bath.  It’s important to not press too fast, or you’ll get a worm, not a sphere. I like having a clear glass bowl, because it was easier to see the resulting caviar spheres from the side of the bowl than it was from above. The fact that the apple juice was a light color didn’t help much either.

Once I’d squeezed out about a full syringe of juice, I gently stirred up the water to see what we had. I stirred over the spheres, rather than through them, and let the water motion move them around. I let them set in the bath for about a minute or two, and then lifted them out with the strainer. I poured them immediately into the first water bath, rinsed them, and then into the second water bath.

I got a small bowl and put a heaping spoonful of rice pudding into the center, and then placed the apple caviar beads around and on top of it. It was a really elegant presentation, and the flavor was wonderful. It was a lot of fun to try and a great learning experience!

By the way, the spheres keep gelling even though they’ve been rinsed off, so It’s important to serve them as quickly as possible.  A great video instruction series can be found at http://chefsteps.com/mp

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dutch oven Rice Pudding With Apple Caviar, Part I

Part I of a two-part story. Here's the link to part II, about the molecular gastronomy

A long time ago, in fact back when John over at mormonfoodie.com first encouraged me to start here at Mark’s Black Pot, there was a forming movement called “molecular gastronomy”.  It was kinda weird, kinda exciting, kinda new. It involved using science, particularly chemistry, to make some new and unusual sorts of taste experiences.

Recently, my son encountered some examples on youtube and we started looking into being able to do it ourselves.  It’s both simple and complex, so it took a bit of research. One of the simplest processes is one called Basic Spherification.  Here’s how it goes:

1 - You pick a juice or a puree
2 - You mix it with one chemical
3 - You drizzle drops of it into a bath of water and another chemical
4 - The chemicals instantly react to form a coating, a membrane, around the sphere of juice.
5 - You rinse it off and serve it, and it looks like juice caviar.  When you pop them in your mouth, they pop with the flavor of the juice.

So, we got a kit of the chemicals, and gave it a try.  Actually, it took two tries. So, I’m going to share the process here, because it was a lot of fun, and we learned a lot doing it.

But first, a bit of tradition to go with our modernist dessert.

I wanted to make something to go with it. I mean, you don’t just eat caviar straight from the bottle, do you?  I started thinking about things to put it on, a proverbial canvas to carry the paint. I wanted the base flavors to be subtle, not strong, but complementary to the caviar’s own.  I decided on a rice pudding and an apple juice caviar.

So, today’s entry is not so much about molecular gastronomy as it is the prep for it.  Then, in the next spot, I’ll tell you how to do the caviar.

Dutch Oven Rice Pudding

8” Dutch oven
12-13 coals below

3/4 cup uncooked white rice
1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk

2/3 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

First of all, I got some coals going, and I cooked the rice.  Over time, I’ve developed a way to do rice that works for me almost every time, without burning.  I put one part rice and two parts water into either my 8” or 10” Dutch oven and set it on coals to boil.  I watch closely to notice when the steam starts venting out from under the lid.  At that point, it’s been boiling for several minutes already.  I’ll mark that time, and let it go for an additional ten minutes more.  Then, I pull it off the coals and let it sit for another 15-20 minutes.  At no time in this process do I lift the lid! Only after it’s all done.

In this case, however, instead of bringing it in and serving it, I put it back on the coals, and stirred in the milk, sugar, and salt.  I put the lid back on and let it come back up to a simmer, and cook for another 15-20 minutes.

I whisked the milk and the egg together. I’m not sure if I needed to or not, but I decided to temper the egg, so that it wouldn’t cook and congeal when it suddenly hit the hot rice and milk.  I got the egg and milk mixture in a bowl next to the Dutch oven, and, while whisking the egg mixture, gradually added big spoonfuls of hot rice and milk. The idea is to gradually bring the temperature of the egg up so that it blends in without scrambling.  When it was all hot, then I poured it all into the Dutch oven.  I added the final flavorings and let it cook for another 4-5 minutes.

A note about the seasonings, go easy. The idea is to create a platform for the apple juice caviar, so you want flavor, but not too much. Of course, if you are making the pudding just for a dessert and you’re not going to put anything on top, then season all you want!

Finally, I let it cool. Actually, because our first attempt at spherification bombed, I ended up refrigerating the pudding and bringing it out the next day.  It was delicious, even the next day!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.


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