Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cooking Up Bad Ideas

A few days ago I took a class at the Brooklyn Kitchen labs called Cooking Up Bad Ideas. Hosted by the friendly and talented Tom (pictured above, who I had previously met at a pig butchering class he taught also at Brooklyn Kitchen) and Millicent, I knew it was my kind of class when the first thing they did when I walked in was handed me a PBR and a Koozie.

The class was super fun - we were fed all sorts of glorious and inglorious food concoctions and learned the five pillars of CWBI, which I will share with you here:

1) Re-appropriating prepared food items and combining them in novel and unexpected ways (ex: Hormel chili + fritos = frito pie).

2) Stuffing (or injecting) one food item into another (ex: the lauded and feared turducken).

3) Making junk food out of otherwise totally unadulterated and high quality foodstuffs (ex: Kobe beef Big Mac), while being careful not to attempt to re-engineer foods which are already the Platonic ideal of that food (ex: Heinz ketchup).

4) Brazenly adding flavors to food by soaking, salting, brining, marinading, injecting, or otherwise applying flavoring agents (ex: Kewpie mayo, Sriracha, Frank's Red Hot, or any kind of seasoning salt or rub).

5) DEEP FRY IT. I feel that this needs no explanation, but one useful tip was provided that I will point out: have a fry buddy. Someone needs to ask, "Yes, we can deep fry this, but SHOULD we?"

Tasty examples and lively discussion were provided. I would recommend this or any of the other classes at Brooklyn Kitchen - I have taken two and they were both great. Additionally, it has been a great cooking shop (on 616 Lorimer St. in Brooklyn, NYC) for some time now. The location of my most recent class was the bright and shiny new Brooklyn Kitchen Labs (100 Frost St., around the corner and up the block from the old store, which still exists), which includes, in addition to classroom spaces, a butcher shop with real, live, knowledgeable butchers (the Meat Hook) as well as HOMEBREW SUPPLIES! (In case you can't tell - I'm excited. Finally a well-stocked homebrew supply shop in NYC!)

I appreciated how casual and fun the class was, and it helped me rediscover the fun part of cooking (remember fun? it used to be your primary occupation in 2nd grade?). Food is a complicated mixture of sustenance, personal preference, history, and culture. After CWBI, I am going to try to ask myself more often while I am cooking: how can I make this more fun, and does it taste good?

P.S. My experience at CWBI has also inspired an upcoming series of posts unapologetically celebrating uniquely American concoctions. Await them with mouthwatering anticipation!

Friday, January 22, 2010

E. Coli and Grass-Fed Beef

We've heard lots of reports in the past few years about how grass-fed beef, although more expensive than conventional feed lot beef, is better for you/the environment/the cattle. All this seems to be true, but here Slate has an discussion about why grass-fed beef is NOT free from pathogenic strains of E. Coli like O157:H7.

Let's go over safe handling instructions for raw meat again, shall we?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Science Behind Poaching an Egg

(via Tastespotting)

Poached eggs are delicious – at least I think so. I suspect that a number of other people do, as well, yet they remain relatively unpopular when compared to other methods of egg preparation. This may be because oftentimes the result of boiling an egg without its shell resembles Egg-drop soup more than Eggs Benedict.

Science to the rescue! Actually, poaching an egg is not that difficult, especially if you think a little bit about what’s going on inside your pot. With a little bit of know-how behind you, preparing perfect poached eggs, without space-hogging and expensive unitaskers, is no problem.

What’s going on when you cook an egg? The answer is all about proteins. Egg whites are made of proteins and water. Proteins themselves are large (macro) molecules that consist of long chains of smaller molecules called amino acids folded up into complex structures. When proteins are subjected to heat, they denature, that is, the chains unfold and lose their structure. This often causes the proteins to lose solubility (they can no longer be dissolved in liquid). In the case of ovalbumin, the main protein component of egg whites, this causes the egg white to solidify and look white and cooked. The key to perfect poached eggs is to have this happen as fast as possible when cooking the egg, before the egg white has a chance dissipate into the water in the pot.

How to do this? Well, it has been shown that ovalbumin is more easily denatured at acidic pH1. This is the science behind why vinegar is often added to egg poaching water. This recipe outlines the basic approach I take. A simple experiment shows that adding 1 tsp. (4.9 mL) of white vinegar (5% acetic acid v/v) in 2 quarts of NYC tap water (1.9L) changes the pH from 6.75 to 3.43 at room temperature (25C) (Remember that pH 7 is neutral, lower pH is acidic, and higher pH is basic or alkaline). At a simmer (95C), the pH of tap water is changed from 6.84 to 3.87. This more acidic pH, combined with the heat of simmering water, rapidly denatures the ovalbumin in the egg whites, creating a coating of cooked egg that the interior of the egg is trapped in while cooking. This prevents the egg from falling apart and the result is a perfectly poached egg.

Poached Egg Protocol:

Materials: 1-4 fresh eggs (egg white proteins break down over time, resulting in a runnier white that spreads out more in the pot), 2qt or larger pot, small bowl, white vinegar, slotted spoon, paper towel

  • Bring ~2qt. water to a low simmer (NOT a vigorous boil) and add 1 tsp. white vinegar.

  • Crack one egg into a small bowl before sliding it into the simmering water so as not to break up the egg on it’s way into the water.

  • Repeat for subsequent eggs, spacing eggs out from each other so that they heat quickly and evenly and don’t stick together.

  • Cook eggs 2-3 minutes (or until desired done-ness level). Eggs will continue to cook as long as they are hot, so expect them to cook a little more after they have been removed from the pot.

  • Evacuate eggs to a paper towel on a plate using a slotted spoon.

  • Bon Appetit!

1Koseki et al. Conformational Changes in Ovalbumin at Acid pH. J Biochem.1988; 103: 425-430

Carl Sagan's Apple Pie


(via Serious Eats)

Hello World!

Hello world!