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.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Chili Peppers: Bring on the Heat, Part II

How Hot is Hot?

Today, I’m continuing to mumble on with some of my thoughts and research about hot peppers and such.  After learning last week about the chemistry of hot and how it reacts with your tongue, I thought I revisit something I wrote about a long time ago, and talk about how “hot” is measured.

There are a number of ways, but the most common of all is the “Scoville” scale. It’s named after pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, who developed this method of testing and measuring in 1912..

Here’s how it works:  When you want to test a pepper variety, or even a crop, some of the peppers are dried, and an extract is made with alcohol.  That extract is then diluted with a formulated sugar and water solution until a panel of tasters no longer taste any heat.  The measure, then, is how much dilution there has to be to tame the peppery beast.

The system works, but there are a lot of variables.  First of all, since the tasters are humans, there will be variances from testing group to testing group.  It’s not empirical, like counting the actual capsaicin molecules would be.  Second, even the same variety of pepper will not measure the same.  Soil, climate, and many other factors will impact the heat of a given pepper crop.  So, not all jalapenos are created equal.

In addition, those eating the pepper or the dish will have different tolerances to heat.  Some of that’s born in, some of that changes with age, and the eater’s own experiences with hot can make perceptions vary.  For example, someone who eats hot food on a daily basis won’t be phased by a milder pepper that would make a lightweight run screaming for the water fountain.

As if that isn’t variation enough, the preparation of the pepper can impact its heat, too, like pickling, etc...

Still, it’s good to have a relative scale.  This guides us in making choices about what kind of heat to use, and how much of it to use.

  • Scoville heat units - Examples
  • No significant heat - Bell pepper, Aji dulce
  • 100–900 - Pimento, Peperoncini, Banana pepper, Cubanelle
  • 1,000–2,500 - Anaheim pepper, Poblano pepper, Rocotillo pepper, Peppadew, Sriracha sauce, Gochujang
  • 3,500–8,000 - Espelette pepper, Jalapeño pepper, Chipotle, Smoked Jalapeño, Guajillo pepper, New Mexican peppers, Hungarian wax pepper, Tabasco sauce, Fresno pepper
  • 10,000–23,000 - Serrano pepper, Peter pepper, Aleppo pepper
  • 30,000–50,000 - Guntur chilli, Cayenne pepper, Ají pepper, Tabasco pepper, Cumari pepper (Capsicum Chinese)
  • 50,000–100,000 - Byadgi chilli, Bird's eye chili, Malagueta pepper, Chiltepin pepper, Piri piri (African bird's eye), Pequin pepper, Siling Labuyo 
  • 100,000–350,000 - Habanero chili, Scotch bonnet pepper, Datil pepper, Rocoto, Piri Piri Ndungu, Madame Jeanette, Peruvian White Habanero, Jamaican hot pepper, Guyana Wiri Wiri, Fatalii
  • 350,000–580,000 - Red Savina habanero
  • 855,000–1,463,700 - Naga Viper pepper, Infinity Chilli, Bhut Jolokia chili pepper (Ghost pepper), Trinidad Scorpion Butch T pepper, Bedfordshire Super Naga, 7-Pot Chili
  • 1,500,000–2,000,000 Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Carolina Reaper

With this chart (courtesy of wikipedia) as a general guide, you can experiment with various chilis and various amounts of heat.  The ones in bold are the ones I, personally, like and use the most. Also, this wikipedia article has some interesting information about chilis in general, particularly about their history and origins.

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 5, 2014

Dutch Oven Chicken Artichoke Soup

There are a few ingredients that you can use in a dish that will immediately class it up.  It almost doesn’t matter how you use them, just the fact that it’s in there (and in the title) will immediately make foodies like me sit up and take notice.  Without it, the dish is pleasant, but with it, the plate becomes a gourmet delight!  A well-seasoned and grilled chicken breast is nice, for example, but if you put steamed asparagus next to it on the plate, it gets an extra start in the rating, right away!

Artichoke is another one of these.

About two weeks ago, I had this germ of an idea for a dish with a chicken soup and a fresh half artichoke.  I started looking at various artichoke soups online, and most of them involved canned or bottled pickled artichoke hearts, veggies, and broth, then simmered and pureed.  So, what you got was a thicker, creamier sort of soup.

That sounds great, but it wasn’t what I was imagining.  In fact, I couldn’t find anyone who had done what I had in mind. That was encouraging, but it also made me nervous.

Dutch Oven Chicken Artichoke Soup

12” Dutch oven

20-24 coals below

1 Tbsp Oil
1 can mushrooms or 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded or cubed
2 medium onions, sliced
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 sweet peppers. diced
4-5 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbsp Oil
4 tbsp flour

1 cup milk
4 cups chicken stock
Juice and zest of 2 lemons

3 artichokes

This soup is built up in steps, or layers.  First, I browned and sauteed the veggies to get the maximum amount of flavors.  I did that in the best order, so that those that cook longer start first.  Then, I made a roux to help thicken it, and created the soup.  Finally, I added the artichoke halves to cook while the soup simmered.

To get started, I put the 12” Dutch oven on some hot coals, with a little puddle of oil in the bottom.  I let that heat up for about 10-15 minutes.  While that’s happening I prepared the chicken and the veggies.

A word about the chicken.  I had some pulled chicken from when I made some stock a bit ago.  After eating a roast chicken or turkey, I boil the remainder (the bones and the rest of the meat), and the liquid becomes stock for soups (see below).  I also pull the remaining meat off the bones, and shred it for things like this, or for enchiladas, or sandwiches.  For this meal, you could also used canned chicken chunks (well drained and dried), or even cubed fresh chicken.  If you use the fresh chicken, you’ll cook it a bit longer in the first step, of course.

When the Dutch oven was hot, I tossed in the chicken and let that sear.  I added in the mushrooms, and let them cook down.  I really like the mushrooms when they’re quite browned.  Finally, I added in the other veggies.  All the while, I tossed and stirred everything frequently.

Once the veggies were getting a bit soft and the onions were translucent, I pushed everything aside and made a space in the middle of the Dutch oven.  In that, I added more oil, and the flour.  Immediately I stirred that into a roux and let it cook, stirring, until it started to smell a bit nutty. It was still quite light, a blonde roux.  I mixed everything together.

Then, I stirred in the next set of ingredients, the milk, the stock, the flavorings.  As always, you can use the flavors and amounts that you like.  I put the lid on, refreshed the coals, and brought it up to a simmer, for about 15 minutes.  I tasted and adjusted.  Artichoke has some bitter tones, so the acid in the lemon juice goes a long way toward lessening that and livening it up.  Make sure you have enough.  Vinegar could also be used.

While it was simmering, I prepared the artichokes.  I cut them in half, across the stem, so that each half was like a floral bowl.  I trimmed off a few of the lower leaves.  I got a paring knife and cut and scraped out the “choke” which is the fuzzy stuff in the heart.  I also cut out the first couple of layers of innermost leaves, just to make sure that I got everything.  Then, I put those into the soup.  I pushed them down in, and ladled some soup over them, so that the soup would get down, in between the leaves.  I set the timer for 45 minutes, and put the lid back on.  During the 45 minutes, I just adjusted the coals, and occasionally checked and stirred.

When it was finally done (a leaf of the artichoke came off freely), I brought it in to cool.  I served it up by lifting an artichoke half into a bowl, then ladling the soup around it.  I served it with some Pita wedges to dip into the soup.  We ate it by pulling off the leaves and scraping the flesh at the bottom of the leaf with our teeth, and then sipping the soup with a spoon.  It was delicious!

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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