Saturday, December 27, 2008

Great Food Blog Meme #1: TGRWT

As far as food blog meme's go, Khymos' "They Go Really Well Together (TGRWT)" contest. Martin Lersch (it's his blog), is one of those smart, sciencey food guys. He way more scientist than chef, but if you read me, then you clearly don't care about that. I like reading him because he doesn't dumb anything down. And when people don't dumb things down, it means you have to smarten up. You should be reading his blog in general, but what I really wanted to talk about was TGRWT.

Once a month, Martin announces two ingredients that well, go really well together. Some flavor-pairings are really counter-intuitive. Here is his description:
The name refers to flavour pairing of ingredients based on their content of volatile aroma compounds. The idea behind flavour pairing is that if two (or more) foods have one or more volatile compounds in common, chances are good that they might taste well together. Click for a list of other flavour pairings and to read previous blog posts on the topic. The molecule shown in the logo is of 2-methylfuran-3-thiol, a very potent aroma chemical found in coffee, chicken, meat, fish and popcorn - to mention a few.
Mmmm... 2-methylfuran-3-thiol!

Anyways, it is an excellent contest because it is collaborative and gets people's juices flowing. Does it actually further any flavor pairing theories based on volatile aroma compounds? Probably not. Does it get people to flex their minds? Definitely.

Martin asks blogger-chef-types a question. Sometimes the best way to learn is to answer a question you didn't know the answer to.

The latest question was:

Caraway and Chocolate/Cocoa?

And it was one of the questions that I had an answer to, but couldn't remember the name. But I knew I had experienced those flavors together. Then, while standing in the elevator, I had a bout of food-related tourettes:

"PUMPERNICKEL!", I blurted out.

Thankfully, there were no witnesses to this. As it happens, I-freakin-love pumpernickel bread, especially bagels. So, I break out the internets and I start looking to confirm, and holy caraway for chocolate, I get my confirmation.

Also, snopes tells me one thing about pumpernickel that I did not know. Apparently, there are at least two supposed origins of the word. The first is from the French "Pain Pour Nicol", which means Bread For Nicol, where Nicol is some random Frenchman's horse. Of course, this is widely disproven, and really just goes to show that the French have to somehow be involved in all culinary matters!

Even funnier is an alternate theory that states pumpernickel is derived from "Pumpern", which was New High German for "fart", and Nickel, which was a name often reserved for something evil, like the devil. See where they are going with this?

The Devil's Fart, my friends. The Devil's Fart.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Crosne: Tasty Starch Or Tuber Maggot

I have a fatal attraction to unusual product. Even worse, I recently bought the bizarre at the bazaar and promptly forget its name:

Crosne, a.k.a Chinese Artichokes a.k.a. Maggot Tubers

In attempts to do research, i typed "tuber that looks like a maggot". Instead I found this video:

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.1859815&w=425&h=350&fv=]
more about "Maggot Lives Inside Woman's Head", posted with vodpod

Then "tuber maggot".

The results were not promising.

I had a vague memory of the sign. Whatever these little nuggets were called, it began with the letter C. Let's refine our approach. This was a tuber. A tuber is a root vegetable. Let's zip on over Wikipedia, and look at my options.

Wikipedia tubers that begin with a C: Chufa and Crosne. A couple of google searches later and we are confirmed. They are Crosnes. The Internet also suggests simple preparations. Butter, salt and pepper. Boiled. Pickled (Chinese preparations). Raw (Crunchy in salads).

First attempt had them added to a salad. Slightly nutty, definitely crunchy, but raw is not for me. They are calling for some extra love.

My next attempt will be butter, salt, pepper, some fresh herbs and crosne @ 83C.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Food Information Overload

I have been slowly transcribing notes from a number of food talks i've been to dating back about five months now. I have seen:
  1. Alex and Aki from Ideas In Food (Liquid Nitrogen)
  2. Wylie DuFresne and David Zuddas at the French Institute
  3. Ferran Adria at the NYPL
  4. Grant Achatz and Nathan Myhrvold also at the NYPL
  5. Thomas Keller and Michael Ruhlman promoting Under Pressure
Since I have already written about Liquid Nitrogen and Under Pressure, I suppose I only owe you Achatz, Myhrvold, Adria, DuFresne and Zuddas. I don't know if this is intentional or by accident, but all of the remaining talks really focused on food as art and/or the future of food.

That is a ridiculous amount of knowledge and culinary perspective to absorb.  While each one incrementally changed how I thought about food, getting such a high dose of foodthought in a short period of time has forever altered how I interact with food.  

Did I mention that, in one trip to Chicago, I experienced Moto, Alinea, Blackbird (twice) and Avec.

To make it worse:

I also have in my possession: "Under Pressure", "Alinea" and thanks to a co-worker who is clearly trying to kill any chance I have at being productive: "The Big Fat Duck Cookbook".   All combined that is over 1200 pages.

Head. Melting.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Altered Tastes: Fresh Mushrooms

Everyone has experiences that change the way they perceive one of their five senses. Altered Tastes is an ongoing feature where I discuss culinary moments that rewire my sense of taste forever. Without further adieu...

I love mushrooms. Love them. I will judge any produce section by the variety and quality of their mushrooms. Usually, I am into the exotics. Mushrooms that can't be easily cultivated. You know, the good stuff. But I digress, because today, I discuss:

The White Button Mushroom

The garden-variety, white button mushroom.

The vanilla of fungus, found plastic-wrapped in produce aisles at every grocery store. Sliced raw atop all the most uninspired salads I have eaten. I've never given this mushroom much consideration. In fact, I am generally prejudiced against them.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit a mushroom farm. Walking past a steaming pile of compost, and I mean steaming, we entered one of the pens.

A Mushroom Wonderland

Mushroom studded compost pallets extended as far as the eye can see. It was a cross between an alien landscape and a perverse marshmallow-mushroom nightmare.

"Can We Taste Them?"

"Sure." said our guide.


With a simple twist, the entire mushroom came out of the soil.

I do not like raw mushrooms. I do not like them.

Wiping off of the small amounts of dirt...

Don't mushrooms grow in poo?

I hesitantly took a bite.

It was incredible.

Meaty with a delicate, earthy flavor. Moist. None of that dry woodiness, or 'shroom slime. Another bite and the mushroom was gone.

What the hell have I been eating all of these years?

In a single bite, every white button mushroom I have ever eaten immediately became stale.

Escolar: The World's Most Dangerous Fish

Escolar is the most controversial fish that you are likely to find in your fish market. This firm, white fleshed fish has an incredibly ric...