Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Breaking the Chocolate Rules - Pure Chocolate Mousse

Lately I’ve been reading about Molecular Gastronomy, an exciting discipline where chefs with a scientific bent and/or scientists with a culinary streak analyze ingredients down to their chemical properties and reinvent amazing new recipes. Actually, it is much more than that. It is the collaboration of art and science in the kitchen. For example, the analysis of foods sharing common volatile molecules led to the unlikely but successful pairings of caramelized cauliflower with cocoa, and white chocolate with caviar. Other examples include unusual presentations, such as sherry served in the form of cotton candy, or green tea foam frozen tableside with liquid nitrogen.

To those who don’t understand the background these ideas may seem like gimmicks created by chefs to draw attention to their restaurants but these unusual dishes are actually inspired by scientific principles.

During my reading I encountered this unbelievable Chocolate Chantilly recipe by Hervé This, via Hestor Blumenthal. Made from only quality chocolate and water, it promised to create something amazing that resembles chocolate whipped cream, without any cream. What really shocked me about this recipe, aside from the fact it is made from only two ingredients (one if you don’t count water as an ingredient) is that it breaks all the rules we’ve been taught about working with chocolate.

Every cookbook I own dictates that chocolate must never be melted over direct heat, only in a double boiler to prevent burning. But this recipe uses a saucepan right on the burner. And then there is the rule that water and melted chocolate don’t mix. I have always used a folded paper towel between the pot lid and the double boiler when melting chocolate because, Lucullus forbid, should even a miniscule drop of water from the condensation on the inside of the pot lid fall into the melting chocolate it will immediately seize, ruining the chocolate. But this recipe has us mixing quite a bit of water into the chocolate!

Because of its breaking of all these chocolate rules, I was very skeptical of this recipe. But I put my trust in these molecular gastronomists (I am, after all, a geek at heart) and risked my pricy Callebaut chocolate to try it. It worked!!! It really worked!

This is pure chocolate mousse. Like mousse, its texture is smooth and airy but it has the flavor denseness of a chocolate truffle. A spoonful just melts on the tongue. As there is no cream to coat the palate and block the taste buds, the pure flavor of the chocolate shines through.

Leftovers firmed up nicely but remained fluffy which leads me to believe that this may be piped through a pastry bag when freshly made to decorate a cake or dessert and when chilled will retain its shape. It would also make a fabulous filling between cake layers, or inside a cream puff.

As you can imagine, this will taste exactly like the chocolate you use so be sure to use a chocolate you love. Also, it is critical to use a quality dark chocolate that contains a high percentage of cocoa, at least 70%. I used Callebaut bittersweet with great results.

Herve This’ Chocolate Chantilly

200 ml water
225 gr quality bittersweet chocolate (a scant 8 oz), chopped coarsely

Place the water and chocolate into a small heavy saucepan over medium heat to melt. Stir the chocolate in the pan until completely melted.

Have ready two bowls, one that will sit inside the other. Into the bigger bowl, put some ice and a little water, and place in it the smaller bowl. Pour the melted chocolate into the smaller bowl and whisk over ice - the mixture will gradually thicken and take on the appearance of whipped cream, at which point it is ready to serve.

I used a hand-held electric mixer with a whisk attachment and it took 3 minutes.Be careful not to over whip it, but if you do simply put it back into the pan and start again.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Shirred Eggs Supreme – Pizza Eggs

From the moment I learned to read I have always been a voracious bookworm. Even at a very young age I would read any and every printed page I could lay my eyes on. My parents did not maintain much of a book collection back then so in between reading the books borrowed from my weekly visits to the local library I found myself poring over the newspaper, the Reader’s Digest, and my mother’s cookbooks. Oh, and then there was the circa 1950s sex manual I found in my parent’s bedroom that, although I didn’t quite understand at that tender age, I somehow sensed had to be read surreptitiously; which I did, cover to cover.

During my pre-teens cookbooks were my second favorite reading material, after science fiction stories. When I discovered (by reading, of course) that the side panel of the box of rice and the back of the package of egg noodles offered cookbooks that would be sent to me for free or maybe for a quarter to cover postage and handling, I began requesting them from every available resource. I combed the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator and read the fine print on every label of every box, bottle and package I found and ordered all the cookbooks offered. After exhausting those resources, I would accompanied my mother to the grocery store to scan the shelves, reviewing packages of products she normally didn’t buy, and write down the information to request additional cookbooks.

The cookbooks arrived in droves. Almost daily the mailbox would surprise me with “The Joys of Jell-O” cookbook or the “The Best of Bisquick” or Hellman’s “Too Good to be Leftovers Cookbook”. To this day I still have a large box of these little cookbooks and I go through them from time to time with great fondness.

One of my favorites is the “Polly-O Recipe Book – Cooking with Cheese” published in 1968 by the popular Brooklyn manufacturer of mozzarella, ricotta, and other fresh dairy products. This collection of mainly Italian recipes is peppered throughout with the smiling image of the Polly-O mascot; a cartoon parrot sporting a towering chef’s toque while charging forward carrying either a giant fork, spoon, whisk or other kitchen implement as if he were going to ram down a door with it.

Many of the recipes are illustrated with what from today’s perspective appear to be vintage color photographs. Just thumbing through it now brings back mouthwatering memories.... simple spaghetti with ricotta, manicotti made from scratch, mozzarella in carrozza (an Italian version of grilled cheese, but infinitely better), stuffed calamari, cassata alla Siciliana (Sicilian Cream Cake), and many more.

One particular recipe stands out for me because I have been making it regularly for decades with only minor embellishments. It doesn’t have one of those snappy Italian names that roll impressively off the tongue but it is a good tasty reliable dish that can be thrown together quickly with kitchen staples. Polly-O calls it Shirred Eggs Supreme but I have renamed it Pizza Eggs, which is much more descriptive.

Imagine eggs baked in a flavorful marinara sauce over a hidden bed of meltingly creamy mozzarella cheese, all topped with parmesan cheese and herbs. I often make Pizza Eggs for weekend breakfasts or sometimes even a simple supper.

As I write this, I find myself wondering what kind of free cookbooks I would find offered by today’s food manufacturers. A quick survey of my cupboard and refrigerator reveals, sadly, not a single one. Many of the packages offer a recipe or two but then direct me to their website for additional recipes.

It looks like the days of those wonderful little jewels of cookbooks are gone, so now I will treasure my collection even more. To honor Polly-O, and all those other food manufacturers who published these cookbooks that capture a moment of culinary history in time, I offer you….

Pizza Eggs
Adapted from a Polly-O recipe circa 1968
Ingredients for a one-egg serving; increase as necessary

½ teaspoon butter, softened
4 tablespoons of your favorite marinara sauce (homemade or jarred)
1 slice of mozzarella cheese, about 1 1/2 inches square and ¼ inch thick
1 extra large egg
½ teaspoon grated parmesan cheese
a sprinkling of Italian herbs
pinch of garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

If making a one-egg serving, use an 8 ounce custard cup. For a 2 egg serving, double the ingredients and use an individual oval gratin dish.

Butter the dish with the softened butter. Place 2 tablespoons of the marinara sauce in it. Press the slice of cheese down into the sauce, making a shallow indentation for the egg.. Drop the egg on top of the cheese. Spoon the remaining 2 tablespoons of sauce around the egg, covering only the white. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, Italian herbs, and garlic powder.

Bake in preheated oven about 15 - 20 minutes, until the white is set but the yolk is still soft. Serve immediately with good toasted bread.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006
High Roasted Green Veggies

Even people with limited cooking experience know that roasting root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots or onions, causes caramelization of their starches, making them sweet and delicious. But who would’ve thought other vegetables, especially green vegetables, could profit from roasting? Instead of long, slow roasting however, the green vegetables are cooked with high heat, flash roasting.

I first learned of this technique a few years ago when I came across a recipe called Blasted Broccoli. I loved the name and how simple it was to prepare, but I especially loved how it tasted. The broccoli florets were tender, their edges flecked with patches of brown caramelization. Cooking broccoli this way brings out their sweetness and doesn’t fill the kitchen with that cabbage-like odor that members of the kohl family of vegetables often generate.

Shortly after that I discovered the Barefoot Contessa’s Roasted Brussel Sprouts. These tender morsels smell like popcorn while roasting and have a crispy brown outside, reminiscent of a potato chip, and a soft, almost creamy inside. Nutty and salty, I find myself munching these like snack food. This recipe may turn brussel sprout haters into fans.

These recipes use an oven temperature that is higher than normal and because most home ovens are not perfectly calibrated, I suggest using an oven thermometer to insure success. Actually, I recommend always using an oven thermometer.

Blasted Broccoli
From Best American Recipes 2001 – 2002
By Fran McCullough, series editor

4 cups broccoli florets, rinsed and slightly drained
Olive oil, to taste
Sea salt, to taste
Balsamic vinegar, to taste

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Arrange the broccoli florets in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toss them with the olive oil and salt. Roast until cooked through and crispy brown at the edges, just a few minutes. (about 6 – 8 minutes).

Remove the broccoli to a serving bowl and toss with balsamic vinegar to taste. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

Roasted Brussel Sprouts
From The Barefoot Contessa
by Ina Garten

1 1/2 pounds fresh brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Trim the core end of the brussels sprouts (not too closely or the sprouts will fall apart) and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Toss them in a bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour them on a sheet pan and roast for 35-40 minutes until crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Shake the pan from time to time to brown the sprouts evenly. Sprinkle with more kosher salt and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Brooklyn Chocolate Egg Creams
Brooklyn Chocolate Egg Creams

I cannot think about chocolate egg creams without recalling the assassination of President Kennedy. The two are inextricably linked together in my memory.

As a young child in Brooklyn part of my regular routine was an afternoon stop at a local luncheonette for a chocolate egg cream, my favorite drink at the time. Containing neither eggs nor cream, a chocolate egg cream is a freshly made chocolate soda invented in Brooklyn around the 1920’s.

Watching the soda jerk make the egg cream was almost as enjoyable as drinking it, and a major part of the experience. He would pour a splash of cold milk into a tall soda fountain glass and add a few squirts of Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup without stirring it in. Then he filled the glass quickly with fresh seltzer water from the fountain while using a long spoon and a unique wrist action to stir just the bottom of the glass. The crown of the glass developed a huge head of pure white foam beneath which lay the brown chocolate soda. Although served with a straw, I liked to try to drink the fluffy head from the top of the glass before all the bubbles dissipated. Then I’d suck up the delicious chocolate soda through the straw, with appropriate slurping noises, to get every last drop. There is nothing else quite like a chocolate egg cream.

A true chocolate egg cream must be made fresh and cannot be bottled and distributed like other sodas because its key ingredient is fresh seltzer. Fresh seltzer was so popular back then that my grandfather would get weekly home deliveries. A truck would bring the heavy glass bottles that were topped with a shiny chrome siphon. Pressing the lever of the siphon would force a hard jet of the bubbly water to squirt out. These were great for water fights, but I wasn’t allowed to touch them without supervision. Each week the empty bottles would be returned to the truck in exchange for new full ones.

The bubbles in the fresh seltzer water seemed much larger than what today’s bottled club soda contain, and they also dissipated more quickly. I believe those are important properties for a true classic chocolate egg cream. I’ve tried making chocolate egg creams at home with bottled seltzer and the results, although good, are a pale shadow of the real chocolate egg creams I enjoyed as a child.

One November my family was preparing to move from Brooklyn to Long Island. At that young age I didn’t realize that suburbia contained no luncheonettes and that you needed a car to go to any store. So little did I know that week that I was enjoying what were to be my last real chocolate egg creams. One particular day my aunt, who was only 16, accompanied me to the luncheonette. Like all teenagers, back then and today, she didn’t go anywhere without her music, a scratchy portable transistor radio. As we were walking back home the music was interrupted by a news flash. President Kennedy had been shot! By the time we got home all the neighbors were outside talking, hugging, and crying. The President was dead.

They say that everyone remembers what they were doing when Kennedy was shot. That must be true because I cannot think about the assassination of Kennedy without remembering chocolate egg creams and I cannot think about chocolate egg creams without recalling the assassination of Kennedy.

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Serendipity in the Kitchen
Chai Flavored Oatmeal

Most of my cooking mistakes result in culinary disasters. Like the time I poured cold popover batter into a hot glass baking pan and watched it instantly crack and break into pieces. Or when I cooked a ham with some plastic accidentally left on it. A recent kitchen accident however, led to a wonderful success.

I enjoy oatmeal for breakfast and have several favorite ways to prepare it. On frosty weekend mornings I often toast the raw oats to bring out their nuttiness and then steam them until fluffy and tender. But weekdays, when I’m in a hurry, I usually use the microwave. To embellish this simple hot cereal I sweeten and flavor it with DaVinci Gourmet flavored syrups. These syrups are most often used to flavor coffee, sodas, etc. but I use it in all sorts of ways in the kitchen. My kitchen typically has about a dozen different flavors on hand at any one time.

For flavoring oatmeal I usually use caramel, French vanilla, or Irish Cream flavors. One morning, in hurry and a bit distracted, I grabbed the bottle of Irish Cream syrup to add to my hot oatmeal. As soon as the first drops of liquid fell from the mouth of the bottle into my bowl I realized I had the wrong bottle. I had poured DaVinci’s Spiced Chai Tea concentrate into my breakfast!

I had purchased the concentrate for making Chai tea and decided that I didn’t really care for the tea it made. In my oatmeal it smelled pretty good, and it was too late to make another bowl. I stirred in some milk and tasted it. It was delicious!

Chai contains many intense spices like cloves, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon, and ginger. These flavors go well with the creamy nuttiness of hot oatmeal. The Chai tea concentrate really perked up my plain bowl of oatmeal. I highly recommend it!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a scent is worth a million. A photograph of a bowl of oatmeal can never be more than, well, a photograph of a bowl of oatmeal. Even a professional food photographer with thousands of dollars of fancy equipment could not create an enticing image of oatmeal. If only I could capture the fragrance of this Chai flavored oatmeal and post it here! But all I can give you are my words and this simple photograph and hope they encourage you to try this.

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