Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Gelled and Gingered Dirty Shirleys

When I was about seven years old, my parents would take me and my sister out for a Chinese dinner shared family-style. We so rarely ate out that the event was considered a very exciting outing by my sister and me, and in celebration, we were allowed to order the most exciting, spectacular (and sometimes sickeningly sweet) mocktail known to children, Shirley Temples. Recently, I had friends over and wanted to create a more adult-friendly (i.e., less sweet and more spicy with a ginger kick) version of the adult-friendly (i.e., with booze) Dirty Shirley. And I thought it would be fun to gel it. Because why not?

You can find the recipe below, but I do want to make one observation about gelatin that makes it so great to work with: you can remelt a gelled gelatin mixture and reform a gel upon cooling. And this can be done several times in a row. When you dissolve gelatin in a hot liquid, you make a hot gelatin solution, and the gelatin strands are evenly dispersed through the solution. When the mixture begins to cool down, the gelatin chains wrap around each other, forming a three-dimensional structure that gives you a gel. If you reheat this gel, the gelatin chains unravel, giving you a liquid. And on and on. So if something goes wrong when you're unmolding your gelatin, just scrape the gelatin into a pan and start over! (However, do be careful to never let your mixture get too hot - then you can affect the gelatin structure so that it can no longer form a gel.)

Gelled and Gingered Dirty Shirleys
  • 1 tablespoon grenadine
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup white, granulated sugar
  • 1-1 cubic inch section of ginger, peeled and sliced into ~4 slices
  • 2 packets (0.25 oz. each) gelatin
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 cup vodka
  • ~5 maraschino cherries, cut into quarters (optional)
If you plan on unmolding your gelatin after it has set (to cut into squares), brush a 7x5" rectangular dish (or any similar size) with a very light coating of canola oil. If you would rather serve in the container, skip this step.

Pour grenadine into the dish. Use a brush or spoon (or clean fingers) to spread on the bottom of the dish.

Bring the water, sugar, and ginger slices to a boil in a small pot. Reduce the heat to low and let simmer one minute, stirring to ensure the sugar dissolves fully. Turn the heat off, letting the mixture steep for 10 minutes. Remove the ginger slices.

Once the ginger syrup has cooled down, sprinkle the gelatin packets over the surface of the syrup. Let rest 5 minutes, then gently begin heating over low and stirring until gelatin dissolves. Do not let mixture boil. Once gelatin has dissolved, remove from heat and add vodka and lime juice. Pour mixture slowly into the container. (If you can do this without disturbing the grenadine too much, you'll get a bit of an ombre effect. If this doesn't interest you, pour with abandon). Place mixture in refrigerator until set (~4 hours).

Either spoon out of the dish with your friends, OR if you want to impress them, unmold and cut into squares with a sharp knife. If unmolding, be patient: cut around the perimeter of the dish with a thin knife, place the dish in a hot water bath for 10 seconds, turn upside down onto a cutting board, and bang the cutting board gently on the counter. If this doesn't unmold the gelatin, heat for increasingly longer time periods before trying to coax the mixture out of the dish. Once unmolded, cut into squares with a sharp nice, transfer to a serving platter, and top with a slice of maraschino cherry.

Note: If anything goes wrong (you heated too long and melted the gelatin mixture! Or you broke the gelatin into a billion pieces! Or it looks all wrong!), you can scrape everything back into the pan, gently heat and stir until smooth, pour into the dish, place in the fridge a few hours, and start over). If you're not very family with working with gelatin, I recommend making this a day ahead of serving.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Lime-Curd Filled Chocolate Meringues

For a long time, I've been intrigued by citrus/chocolate combinations, but I had always been too scared to actually try it in my own kitchen. That seems extraordinarily silly now, because I'm absolutely in love with these cookies. The richness of the chocolate is cut by the tartness of the lime, amplifying both flavors. These cookies are an especially pleasant way to deliver the flavors to your tongue. If you take a bite from one of these cookies, airy chocolate will melt in your mouth like a cloud. Then, just as that chocolate dissipates, the rich and refreshing lime will brighten the remnants of rich chocolate you taste. Lastly, the spicy/sweet ginger crunch will bring everything together.

The reason french meringue takes on this "light as air" texture is because you're whipping of air into your egg whites to make a foam. Egg whites are made from ~90% water and ~10% proteins, and proteins are just long chains of amino acids. If you look at the cartoon below, you can see that some of these amino acids are water-loving (e.g., hydrophilic), so they're perfectly happy being in contact with water, and some of the amino acids are water-fearing (e.g., hydrophobic), so they hide inside a shell of their water-loving neighbors. When you beat the egg whites, you force them to unravel (i.e., denature), and rather than taking on their original conformation, the water-fearing amino acids assemble around the air bubbles. This forms a stable network of egg white proteins that can hold air for quite a long time, which allows you to pop them in the oven to force the water out, resulting in the lovely meringues we all love.

Lime-Curd Filled Chocolate Meringues (Dusted with Crystallized Ginger)
Makes ~45 2" meringues

Chocolate Meringue:
(If you've never made french meringue before, definitely read this article)
  • 3 egg whites
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons chocolate powder
  • 1 tablespoon crystallized ginger (optional)
Lime Curd (adapted from the Kitchn's How to Make Lemon Curd in the Food Processor):
  • 2-3 limes
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
Make your chocolate meringue. Preheat oven to 215 F. In a (very!) clean mixer bowl, begin whisking the egg whites on medium-low with a (very!) clean whisk attachment. Add the cream of tartar, vanilla, and salt. Increase the speed to medium and start immediately adding sugar a heaping tablespoon at a time. By the time the egg whites turn to 'soft peaks,' you should have added most if not all of your sugar. When 'stiff peaks' are formed, increase the speed to medium high. When 'firm peaks' form, stop the mixer, add chocolate powder by shaking through sieve or using a sifter, and fold with a spatula to mix.

Onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon mat, pipe the meringues into circular rosettes, building up an extra ring around the perimeter to form an outside 'wall' (leaving a small reservoir in the middle for curd filling). Bake ~90 minutes, but keep an eye on them - you want a crisp outside but a slightly chewy inside.

Make your lime curd. Peel 2 limes and cut off any white pith from the peels with a paring knife. Cut the limes in half, juice them, and reserve 1/3 cup of lime juice. Juice your third lime only if you need more juice. Add the lime peels and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and whirl until the peels are ground finely. Add the butter in 5 pieces, egg yolks, lime juice and salt. Pulse a few times and then whirl for 15 seconds to incorporate everything.

Place a sieve over a small bowl. (You'll use this immediately after your curd is thickened).

Pour mixture from food processor into a small saucepan and place over low heat. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens and can thickly coat the back of a spoon (A finger run through it should leave a clear, distinct path, and the mixture should be thick enough so you can imagine piping it). Pour the curd through the strainer, cool to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap, and let chill for ~1 hr.

Assemble meringues. Once meringues and curd are cool, pipe curd into centers of meringue. Each meringue should be 'filled' with approximately 1/2 teaspoon of curd. Chop ginger and sprinkle over each meringue.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Basil-Infused Sicilian Watermelon Pudding

I recently traveled to sunny, stunning, spectacular Sicily and fell deeply in love with the island's cuisine. Not only was the island a deep-fried food lovers' paradise (with arancini, or breaded and fried risotto balls, the size of your fist), but Sicily has also mastered the cool, refreshing dessert to compliment some of these heavy meals. These desserts include tart and fruity granitas, smooth and creamy gelato, and, my new favorite, light and refreshing 'gelo di melone' - a watermelon pudding with chocolate chips that playfully resemble the watermelon's seeds. The best part is that it's super easy. If you can blend, simmer, and stir, you're good to go. I've added a very subtle basil flavor to give the dish a touch of herbal complexity, and I'm desperately hoping Sicilians don't judge me horribly for it.

This dish is essentially watermelon juice thickened with cornstarch. A word of caution though: if you add the cornstarch directly to the juice, you'll have a lumpy mess - instead, you'll want to make a paste where you add liquid little by little to the cornstarch. This cornstarch/water paste is called oobleck. (I know. It's an absolutely ridiculous name. You can blame/applaud some scientist's love of Dr. Seuss for that.) So, as you're making oobleck, you may be tempted to stir quickly and forcefully, but please don't: oobleck is 'shear thickening', which means that it acts increasingly solid-like as you apply force. To illustrate this, I've imagined a Mr. Oobleck, as you can see below. After a long day of work, he would rather take off his hat, put his briefcase down, and melt into his favorite armchair. If you try to force him to melt into his armchair (i.e. stir forcefully), he will resist. Keep this in mind when you're mixing your cornstarch and liquid to make a paste - a gentle, slow stir will save you time and effort as you make your paste.

Are you ready to give oobleck a try? Find the recipe for oobleck-thickened 'gelo di melone' below.

Basil-Infused Sicilian Watermelon Pudding
Serves 6-8. (Six 2/3 cup portions or eight 1/2 cup portions)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2-3 sprigs basil (~20-30 large basil leaves on sprigs plus 6 for garnish)
  • 4-5 cups seedless watermelon chunks (cut into ~1 inch cubes)
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
Place sprigs of basil (except the 6 set aside for garnish), sugar, and water in a medium pot and bring to boil. Stir until sugar dissolves, remove from heat, and let steep 10 minutes. Remove and discard sprigs (and any leaves that may have fallen off) from pot.

In a blender, puree 4 cups watermelon chunks. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve to remove pulp. You should have 3 cups juice. If not, puree and strain remaining 1 cup watermelon cubes. Add 3 cups strained juice into pot with basil simple syrup. 

Add cornstarch to small bowl. Add watermelon mixture 1 tablespoon at a time to cornstarch, stirring slowly in between additions until you have a smooth paste. Pour paste into the pot with watermelon mixture. With constant stirring, heat watermelon/cornstarch mixture over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken and boil. Turn heat to low and stir vigorously 1 minute, or until your spoon leaves a trail in the mixture. Remove from heat, add lime juice, and distribute evenly between 6-8 serving dishes.

Let cool to room temperature, and chill in refrigerator at least one hour before serving. To serve, sprinkle with chocolate chips and decorate with basil leaves.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Labneh with Za'atar and Chili Oil

Labneh is a creamy, strained yogurt - when you strain yogurt you separate out the sour whey, leaving behind a super delightful spread that's less tangy and acidic than yogurt. If you strain it for a little less time, you get Greek yogurt. Strain it longer, and you get labneh. It's very traditional to top labneh with za'atar (a beautiful, bright, herbal and citrusy spice blend) and olive oil, but here I've added a touch of heat and a huge dose of color to the oil to make it a little special. Serve it with crusty baguette slices, warm pitas, or crunchy vegetables, and you have a lovely appetizer.

So what's happening when you strain yogurt? Let's first think about yogurt - it's technically a 'gelled milk' produced when an added bacteria converts lactose to lactic acid, causing casein (milk protein) molecules to denature (unravel) and form a gel network. That gel network is what gives yogurt its thick creaminess and makes the texture so different from milk. But that gel network can't hold everything together indefinitely - slowly, the watery, acidic whey will separate out from the gelled mixture, leaving behind a Greek yogurt or labneh, depending on how long you let your yogurt strain. So are you ready to perform one of the easiest food science experiments? Let's make some labneh!

Labneh with Za'atar and Chili Oil
*adapted from David Lebovitz's labneh recipe
  • 1 quart (32 ounces) full-fat yogurt
  • 2 pinches salt 
  • (you'll also need a strainer and cheesecloth square large enough to fit inside)
  • 1-2 teaspoons za'atar (purchase or make your own)
  • 2 tablespoons red chili oil (recipe below) or olive oil
Line a nonreactive strainer with cheesecloth, and place over a nonreactive bowl. Add salt to container of yogurt and stir. Scoop yogurt into cheesecloth, place entire ensemble into fridge, and let sit for ~10 hours. Transfer what remains in cheesecloth into a serving dish, using a spoon to leave dimples on surface. Sprinkle with za'atar, drizzle with red chili oil (or just olive oil, if you prefer), and serve.

Red Chili Oil
*Annatto seed is a natural colorant, and can be found in well-stocked grocery stores (look in the Hispanic spices section) and Hispanic food stores.

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 ounce annatto seed (optional, but this is what leads to the bright red color)
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over medium low heat until everything begins to sizzle. Let sizzle for 30 seconds, then remove from heat (don't overcook - the red pepper or annatto can burn). Let cool completely (~30 minutes) and strain (discarding annatto and red pepper).

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Rosemary Cream and Mango Eclairs

If you've never tried making eclairs, you really should. They are labor-intensive if you make custard and chocolate ganache from scratch, so I've decided to skip those steps and fill these with fresh fruit and whipped cream. Filling eclairs with fresh mango slices and rosemary-infused whipped cream elevates the flavor profile to something quite gourmet, and it's much easier to throw together. These are quite a bit lighter than your traditional eclairs, so they are perfect after a big, heavy meal.

For the rosemary whipped cream, you'll steep a rosemary sprig in hot cream, let it cool, and whip to light, fluffy peaks. So what happens when you whip the cream that creates such a glorious change in texture? You're beating air into the cream to make a foam (see my Chickpea Mousse recipe). Cream is a complex mixture, but the essential components are water, milk fat, and lipids. The lipids act as an emulsifier (you know how water and fat refuse to mix? You can think as an emulsifier as a peace-keeping agent - it sits between the fat and water, making sure everyone gets along). When you beat cream, you simultaneously introduce air bubbles and you break up the fat globules. But before some of the broken fat globules can find emulsifier molecules, they come into contact with an air bubble; the fat globules would rather cozy up with air bubbles than water, so you end up forming a three-dimensional air-filled network, as can be seen below.

Do you have a new appreciation for whipped cream? If so, give this recipe a try. If you've never made eclairs or choux pastry before, I highly recommend reading these detailed instructions from the Kitchn. Also, if you're super fascinated by whipped cream science, read much more in this Serious Eats article.

Rosemary Cream and Mango Eclairs

Eclairs only adapted from the Kitchn.
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into ~10-20 small pieces
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon of water, for the egg wash
  • 1-2 mangoes, cut into long slices
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon confectioners sugar
  • 1 sprig rosemary 
Making the eclairs. Preheat oven to 425 °F.  Line a baking sheet with silicone mats or parchment paper.

Bring butter, water, and salt to a boil over high heat in a small saucepan. If butter hasn't melted, turn down heat until it has melted, and then return to a boil. Take the pan off the heat, add the flour, and stir vigorously. Place saucepan over medium heat and stir for 3-5 minutes by alternating mashing and stirring motions continuously. When ready, the dough will look glossy. Remove from heat.

Mix dough in a stand up mixer on medium-low speed with a paddle attachment until just warm to the touch. Add 3/4 of your beaten egg mixture in 4 additions, letting dough come back together after each addition. Add last 1/4 of egg mixture only if dough looks dry: dough should be soft, smooth, and should hold its shape. 

Pipe eclairs (I used a sandwich baggie with the corner snipped off) into 4" fingers. Brush the tops with egg wash. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until puffed.  Lower the oven temperature to 375°F and
bake another 18 to 20 minutes until golden-brown. Lower the temperature to 300°F and bake another 15 minutes until dried out. Remove from oven, and poke each eclair with a toothpick in 2-3 spots to release steam. Let cool to room temperature. These will keep in the fridge in a sealed plastic container for up to 2 days.

Making the rosemary whipped cream, Bring cream just to a simmer over medium heat (bubbles will start to form around the edge of the pan). Remove from heat, add rosemary sprig, give a quick stir, cover, and let rest 10 minutes. Pour mixture through fine mesh sieve and chill in the fridge at least two hours. Transfer chilled mixture to a bowl (ideally, place bowl and mixer whisk attachments in the freezer for 20 minutes before beginning), and whip to soft peaks.  

Assemble the eclairs. Cut eclairs in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. Distribute mango slices between the eclair bottom halves, top with whipped cream (1-2 tablespoons per eclair), and form sandwiches with eclair top halves. 

Dust with powdered sugar if you have a sweet tooth. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Lemon Thyme Daiquiri

I recently visited the 'Casa Bacardi' near San Juan, Puerto Rico and was served a "daiquiri," but this daiquiri was totally unlike any I had had before. This cocktail was so simple and so delicious - no blended ice or fake-tasting fruit - it consisted of sugar, lemon juice, and white rum shaken with ice. That's it. Beautiful, bright, tart, and, frankly, glorious. For this recipe, I've recreated this Bacardi daiquiri with a hint of thyme to bring an herbal complexity to the tart lemon, while also highlighting the simplicity of the flavors.

Lemon Thyme Daiquiri

  • 1.5 ounces thyme simple syrup (recipe below)
  • 1.5 ounces lemon juice
  • 3 ounces white rum
  • Ice
  • Thyme sprig (optional, for decoration)
Combine simple syrup, lemon juice, and rum in a cocktail shaker. Shake over ice for 20 seconds. Pour into a low-ball glass, float a small piece of thyme sprig on foam (optional), and serve. Makes one nice-and-boozy cocktail.

Thyme Simple Syrup

  • 1 sprig thyme 
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
Stir sugar and water over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, add thyme sprig, steep 10 minutes, and remove sprig. Let cool completely before using. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Chickpea Mousse

Have you heard about aquafaba? No? Not to worry, I'll tell you all about it. Aquafaba is the liquid you get when you cook chickpeas (and some other beans as well) or when you strain a can of chickpeas. It can be beaten to glossy, stiff peaks, making it a perfect egg white substitute for vegan meringues and mousses. Here, I've made a chickpea mousse - it's similar to hummus, but with a smooth, silky spreadability that makes for a perfect dip for crisp veggies or spread for crackers.

When you whip aquafaba, you introduce air bubbles into the liquid. This stable dispersion of air bubbles in your liquid is called a 'foam'. Some liquids are such wonderful foaming agents that they can hold this foam structure for extended periods of time, giving you the opportunity to transform the texture, appearance, and flow of certain foods.

Chickpea Mousse

  • 1-15.5 oz. can chickpeas (low sodium or regular sodium)
  • 1/4 bunch parsley
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
Strain chickpeas, reserving liquid. In the bowl of a food processor, combine chickpeas, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, paprika, and olive oil. Process to a smooth puree. In a large bowl (preferably in a stand up mixer), beat reserved chickpea liquid on medium-high to white, glossy, stiff peaks (this takes about 10 minutes). Fold 1 cup of whipped mixture into chickpea puree and add salt and pepper to taste (salt isn't really necessary if you didn't use low sodium chickpeas). Transfer to serving container. Refrigerate at least two hours. Serve with crackers, pita chips, and/or vegetables.