Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kettle Corn

Oh. My. God. Where has kettle corn been all my life?

I have always dismissed kettle corn and opted for popcorn, its saltier cousin. However, after a handful of fresh kettle corn today, I think I'm converting.

Cooked in an iron kettle, doused with sugar or honey and finished with a bit of salt, it is sweet, salty, and reminiscent of caramel corn. In other words, it's absolutely delicious.

Still not sure how I'd use it other than straight from kettle to mouth (not that there's anything wrong with that). Maybe a kettle corn bread pudding with caramel creme anglaise? Or kettle corn cotton candy would be fun to make, combining two carnival foods into one snack.

Monday, April 26, 2010

30 Second Sponge Cake

Albert Adria runs the pastry kitchen at el Bulli and has devised a method for microwaveable sponge cake. Instead of using traditional leavening agents (baking powder, baking soda), Adria loads his batter into an iSi food whipper and aerates it with N2O (nitrogen). The batter is dispensed into plastic cups that have a few slits cut in the bottom and cooked in a microwave for thirty seconds. Below is a recipe for a pistachio version.

Pistachio Thirty Second Sponge Cake
80 g pistachio powder (pistachios that have been run through a food processor and sifted)
80 g sugar
20 g all purpose flour
3 eggs

Combine ingredients and pour into food whipper. Load with 2 cartridges N2O. Dispense into a plastic cup (fill 1/3 of the way) that has a few slits cut in the bottom. Microwave at full power for 30 seconds.

el Bulli's version: chocolate sesame

In the image above, notice the size of the air pockets (much larger than you'd achieve in a traditional sponge cake).

Friday, April 23, 2010


I was reading through a food science textbook and found this to be pretty interesting.

So we've all had soda before and experienced the "fizz" or "tingle" of a carbonated beverage. Turns out, that fizzy sensation has nothing to do with bubbles.

Carbonation refers to dissolving carbon dioxide in an aqueous solution. A byproduct of this process is carbonic acid (H2O + CO2 --> H2CO3).

Pepsi did an interesting study where they put consumers in a hyperbaric chamber that was set to the same pressure as a can of soda. When opened, the soda contained no bubbles, because there was no difference in pressure between the can and environment. However, consumers said they still experienced the same "bite" we expect in soda.

Further studies showed that the "fizzy" aspect of soda is caused entirely by carbonic and phosphoric acid.

You could mess with someone's head by dissolving a little bit of phosphoric and carbonic acid in fruit juice. It would appear entirely flat ("bubble-less"), but have the same "bubbly," "fizzy" feeling as a carbonated beverage.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Today the Daily Sun ran a review I wrote of Moosewood Restaurant. Due to space limitations, my editor had to cut some of the review. Below is the original.

“Shit!” exclaims a server. She had accidentally begun making a customer’s Bloody Mary with generic vodka, instead of Ketel One as they requested. “Don’t worry about it, they can’t tell the difference,” replies the bartender. She shrugs and stirs in tomato juice. While the diner was probably content with their drink and couldn’t detect the substitution, this unapologetic disregard for their true satisfaction would come to embody many of my experiences with Moosewood Restaurant.

Opened in 1973 in the Dewitt mall (a renovated school building), Moosewood has become a vegetarian Mecca. Known for a menu that changes daily and abundant use of local and organic produce, many liken the restaurant to an east coast Chez Panisse. In fact, Bon Apetit named it one of the 13 most influential restaurants of the 20th century.

Moosewood is run by a “collective” of 18 individuals—possibly because it is more efficient this way, possibly because no one person wants to take the fall for shoddy food. In any case, their brand has exploded over the past thirty years, and Moosewood has gone mainstream. Grocery stores now carry their salad dressings, all-organic refrigerated soups, and frozen entrees. The restaurant has published twelve cookbooks that have sold over 3 million copies. Moosewood cooks have appeared on TV and radio shows during book tours, and have participated in cooking demonstrations, chef trainings, vegetarian cooking classes, and book signings.

However, for all the attention given to this temple of vegetarian cuisine, upon eating at Moosewood one fact becomes unshakably clear: the food really isn’t that good.

The menu at Moosewood is divided into starters, salads, soups, and entrees.

Non-alcoholic drinks include Classic Ginger Tea (the liquid equivalent of sucking on raw ginger) and Raspberry Herbal Tea (which, as a fellow diner agreed, “doesn’t taste like much.”). Both were served with compostable paper straws; a nice touch, but no amount of tree hugging can make up for flavor.

Half of the starters are static and consist of items like marinated artichoke hearts, cottage cheese, low-fat plain yogurt, a fruit platter, and brown rice. During my visits, these were avoided entirely.

From the rotating appetizers side of the menu, a Salmon Cake was dubious. The dish was served mere moments after being ordered, indicating that it had been fried previously and was sitting in a warming tray. A barely lukewarm temperature confirmed this notion. A melon wedge and sliced tomatoes were strange garnishes, begging to be eaten, yet unattractively so. Sadly, even a flavorful lemon herb aioli could not save the day. Another appetizer, BBQ Tofu, was equally disappointing, crying out for salt, pepper, seasoning of any kind. A Bread (Ithaca Bakery) and Butter basket ordered for the table was an opportunity for simple greatness gone awry. The bread, served room temperature, could have been made revelatory from a quick warming. And rock hard tabs of butter? Come on, guys. Just because Moosewood was built in a renovated school doesn’t make cafeteria quality food acceptable.

Soups, an item Moosewood is especially lauded for, lacked in flavor and complexity. Corn Chowder initially tasted of corn but slowly faded into a bland afterthought. Similarly, Spicy Peanut Soup turned flavors of peanut butter and Tabasco into a goopy amalgamation.

Every entrée comes with a side salad, offering dressings like Miso-Ginger (watery), House (flavorless), and Lemon Tahini (the best of the three). Containing shaved carrot, sliced zucchini, and a single kalamata olive, the salads are palatable, but by no means live up to this Vegetable Palace’s hype.

Entrées are hit and miss. Lasagna is served piping hot with a tasty ricotta/mozzarella/Romano cheese combination. However, the noodles were overcooked to the point of mush, the béchamel sauce tastes of chalk, and tomatoes and spinach tucked inside add little. Stuffed Vegetables served on a bed of brown rice and pecans are borderline delicious, and the side of asparagus is perfectly cooked. Tilapia, though, is served with sweet potatoes sugary enough to be a dessert. While the Moosewood website refers to its food as “healthful,” which it very well is, it is no more “imaginative” than Olive Garden fare. When dining at Moosewood, I’d skip the entrées: playing Russian roulette with your main course just isn’t worth the $17 price tag.

Desserts are the most successfully executed items on the menu and at only $5, rarely disappoint. Jamaican Gingerbread, while dense as clay, is a flavorful cake (though what exactly is Jamaican about it remains a mystery) served with sliced apples and whipped cream. Apple cake has the same texture and flavors as banana bread, and is decadently moist. A chocolate mousse made with ricotta was thick enough to snap a plastic spoon, but rich and not too sweet. Blackberry Tiramasu was the best dessert tasted (ironically, it was also the one dessert our waiter tried to talk us out of ordering), a sweet and tart combination of blackberry compote, ladyfingers, and lemon cream.

You’d be better off saving yourself the time, the trek, and the tip, and heading over to Moosewood at Anabel Taylor. The soups are no better than at the flagship—Savannah Sweet Potato Bisque is terribly bland, Tuscan White Bean and Vegetable suffers from a fatal dousing of oregano—but the sandwiches are delicious and reasonably priced. A Hummus Pita combines hummus, alfalfa, spinach, tomato, and the salty kick of feta cheese. Simple, clean, and bright, this is what vegetarian cooking at Moosewood should be. The 2nd Avenue Rueben fills a whole-wheat pita with Russian coleslaw, BBQ seitan (a tofu alternative made from wheat gluten) and Swiss cheese. Though an aesthetically horrendous fusion of dull purple slaw and seitan that’s an unnatural shade of brown, the flavors blend nicely, hinting at a traditional Rueben. For dessert, don’t miss the Homemade Chocolate Cake, easily one of the best on Cornell’s campus. Moist, rich, not overly sweet, and covered in a decadent chocolate glaze, this cake puts the Vegan Chocolate Cake at Oakenshields to shame. Open Monday-Friday from 11 to 2, the café accepts BRBs.

Back at the Moosewood bar, I sat with a friend, chatting and nibbling on some forgettable dish. A server sheepishly approached the bartender, holding a bottle of white wine. “A customer asked if you could chill this,” he said. The bartender glared at him, snatched the bottle, and smashed it into a bucket of ice. My companion and I looked at each other and shrugged, unfazed. With food like this, it’s understandable for the staff to act like that.

My plea for Moosewood: get back to the food. Hold off on the retail soup line, t-shirts, cookbooks and whatever other branded crap is in the pipeline and return to making creative, flavorful, exciting vegetarian food. Until then, I’ll be content at Anabel Taylor.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Other than cooking at the hotel school at Cornell (where I'm making other peoples recipes), it's hard to find the time or the resources to cook, much less experiment with ideas. Since September I've been writing down ideas I've had (as well as classic dishes I'd like to make) on scraps of paper, my dry erase board, in random .txt files saved to my desktop, etc. I was about to make a master word document compiling all these thoughts, but realized it'd be just as interesting to post that list here.

-pillsbury biscuits --> doughnuts with yuzu curd and vanilla glaze
-pate de fruit
-caramelized white chocolate (applications)
-cornmeal+ lemon + olive oil cake
-mousses (frozen, molded)
-hockey puck sized macaroons
-layered cakes (petit fours)
-opera cake
-pate a choux donut holes filled with pastry cream
-vacherin (lined with white chocolate) + passion fruit pastry cream + tropical fruit salsa
-frozen alginate --> thaw in calcium bath (perfect spheres)
-plastic tube --> riff on Alinea --> root beer float = vanilla + root beer tapioca + birch beer gel
-deconstructed s'more
-deconstructed tiramasu
-big semisphere chocolates (a la Migoya) with layered fillings
-alcoholic bubble tea (either spike the tea itself with vodka, bourbon, rum, amaretto, tequila OR soak tapioca pearls in simple syrup + alcohol)
-apples --> cut into cubes --> cook like bananas foster --> spherical mold on place --> flavors of brown betty
-cake balls
-pate a choux (the perfect eclair)
-different types of sweeteners (sucrose, glucose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, invert sugar, trimoline, honey, molasses)
-how different types of flours act (all purpose, cake, baking, self-rising, almond, whole wheat, unbleached)
-eggs, pasteurized yolks vs shell
-using whipped egg whites in cakes
-how does steeping work in flavor infusion (hot cream + citrus peel = flavored cream --> HOW?)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chocolate Demonstration

Another HEC event today, this time a chocolate demonstration sponsored by Guittard. It was held in the food labs and consisted of a half dozen stations, each making a different type of chocolate. In the center of the space was a larger table at which Chef Peter Greweling from the Culinary Institute of America made a chocolate sculpture.

My partner and I made citrus truffles, citrus bonbons, and caramelized white chocolate hot chocolate. Everything was a hit. One guy even said, "These are the best truffles I've ever had."

This event was another first: interacting with guests. Guests would walk by our station, sample chocolates, and ask questions.

The recipe below is for chocolate ganache and is perfectly scaled for adding other flavors (peanut butter, citrus peel, herbs, spices, liqueurs, etc).

Chocolate Ganache
180 g heavy cream
60 g glucose (or corn syrup)
30 g flavor** (this can be anything, see above for ideas)
20 g butter
430 g dark chocolate

**If using a non-liquid flavoring (herbs, spices, citrus peel), heat the cream, pour over flavoring, and let steep for about half an hour. Strain the cream and use for ganache. Discard what's left in the sieve. If using something that will incorporate into the chocolate well (jam, peanut butter, nutella, etc), you can just add with the butter.

Heat cream and glucose to simmer. Pour over chocolate. Let sit 30 seconds. Mix with rubber spatula. Add butter and flavoring. If not completely melted, place over double boiler for a couple seconds and stir. Pour into pan, cover with plastic wrap (so the plastic touches the chocolate) and let sit for about an hour.

At this point you can table the chocolate to use for truffles, pipe it into chocolate molds for bonbons, eat it as is, etc.

Friday, April 9, 2010


This week has been crazy.

In addition to multiple exams and a twenty eight page paper, I've been working at Hotel Ezra Cornell (a massive three day function organized by the Hotel School students). There has been very, very little sleeping the past few days.

I joined a team of three that was making desserts for an after dinner cocktail party.

Prep started wednesday, continued until this afternoon, and the function was tonight from 9 pm to midnight. It was my first true experience with catering (everything was made at the Statler, put onto a speedrack, loaded onto a truck, driven to the biomedical engineering building--while our team stood in the back of the truck holding onto our pastries--and unloaded). The desserts were finished and plated on site. The design team was amazing and managed to turn the atrium of the biomed engineering building into an opulent lounge.

The team: myself, Victoria (a senior at the hotel school from Singapore), Alexa Quiros (crazy talented junior here, went to CIA for pastry), and Tommy (a 32 year old senior hotel student who has a culinary degree from CIA as well as a bachelors in accounting from UCLA). Also, Ben *I don't remember his last name* joined us on site to plate.

The menu:

Truffles--white chocolate truffles. Pink ones are cherry flavored, blue ones are blueberry, and orange are orange. They are rolled in finely ground cake crumbs (that match their flavor).

Marshmallows--white peach marshmallows dusted with violet pop rocks (making pop rocks, by the way, is awesome).

"Happiness"--these are the orangish squares. Bottom layer is a sugar cookie dough, followed by guava puree, then a coconut jaconde (sponge cake), passion fruit mousse, and a mango glaze. So. Damn. Good.

Macaroons--pistachio macaroons with a pistachio mint filling, raspberry puree, and topped with white chocolate and raspberry powder

Vacherin--vanilla poppy seed vacherin filled with white chocolate, lemon pastry cream, topped with strawberry and candied lemon

Tomorrow I'm going back to work a chocolate demonstration for HEC guests (apparently someone at the hotel school thinks I know a lot about chocolate.....). Will probably make mojito bonbons and caramelized white chocolate truffles.

Pictures of tonight's event are below.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Food Updates

Le Bernardin stage was fantastic.

Recently made caramelized white chocolate bonbons (delicious).

Have been given the opportunity to write more restaurant reviews for the Daily Sun. Vietnamese restaurant will be published this week, followed by Moosewood for Earth Day, and a not-yet-determined restaurant two weeks later.

Using leftovers from around the floor, I made chocolate bark tonight. Melted down dark chocolate and added frosted flakes, cheerios, corn flakes, dried fruit, nuts, and oatmeal. Let cool and drizzled with white chocolate. While passing the bark out throughout the building around 1 AM, at least a dozen people asked "how much pot is in this?" Only in college is it ASSUMED that the chocolate I'm offering you is laced with marijuana.

Madison Flager, your belated birthday gift will be in the mail soon.