Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Calling all New Yorkers, past, present (and future)

The time has come to reach out and metaphorically shout out into the global street that is the Internet. You're time has come. I need you. Yes, you. Don't duck down at the back there, I can still see you.

We're off to New York on Friday.

For me, it's a first. The GF has nibbled at the Big Apple many times before but I am yet to taste the sweet flesh.

Naturally, I am planning a gastro-tour of truly epic proportions. Sure, we might have time for MOMA or a stroll through Central Park but, really, we all know it's about the food.

And this is where you come in. Thus far the list is short - and the words mean nothing to me, yet but they make GF make 'oooo' noises: Mac 'n' Cheese at Freemans, street dog with everything, bagels from H&H, pilgrimage to Les Halles, midnight cupcakes at Magnolia bakery. And even Sunday brunch at Balthazar - if the budget stretches.

Are there any glaring omissions from this list? Or mistakes? Please share below. There may be a drink in it for you...

Thanks y'all. Any input greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

On common sense (and a lacking thereof...)

Occasionally triumph arises out of adversity.

More often, though, things happen the other way around.

After successfully recreating el Bulli type spheres of deliciousness (about sixteen different varieties – including a pea sphere which was turned into the filling of some fresh ravioli), I was left with a couple of pints of algin bath.

Which I absentmindedly poured down the sink without so much as a blink before commencing with Mount Washmore (seriously, I don’t know how two of us create so much washing up).

‘Hon, why won’t the shower water drain away?’ my girlfriend asked, her tone heavy with innocent confusion come Sunday morning.

‘I’m not too sure,’ I replied, ‘but the sink is taking ages to empty as well.’

The answer didn’t elude us for long.

‘Erm, the outside drain seems to be full of jelly,’ she shouted through the kitchen window. I went cold and turned a distinct shade of rose that can only be associated with a realisation coupled with guilt and a heavy dose of stupidity.

She was right. It looked like a jellyfish massacre had taken place just outside the back door.

Forgetting my initial travails regarding the effects of hard water on alginate solution, it was with gay abandon that I’d disposed of the liquid down the sink. More than once.

‘Oh my god,’ she said. ‘You’ve blocked our drains with molecular gastronomy. YOU’VE BLOCKED OUR DRAINS WITH MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY.’ If the entire scenario hadn’t been so comical I’d have been more scared.

As it was, she could do little to stop the beginnings of a smile gently touching at the corners of her mouth. My fear gradually fell away.

But it didn’t alter the fact that our drains were blocked with what looked like the contents of the world’s largest sneeze.

‘Do you not remember what happened when you tried to mix that stuff with tap water?

I hadn’t. But now I did.

‘Oops,’ was pretty much all I could manage. It was followed by a sheepish ‘Shit.’

Google was no assistance. Results for ‘dissolve calcium alginate gel’ were unhelpful aside from telling me that it wasn’t heat soluble. The four kettle-fulls of water I’d already poured through the drain cover had probably exacerbated the problem then.

I turned to eGullet and posted my query.

And the good folks there brought answers like the postman delivering a letter to a wartime bride.

‘You could try using an auger or drain snake,’ came one outstanding suggestion.

It’s good to know that when all else fails, brute force is still a veritable option.

After much pushing, shoving, wiggling and dry-heaving the blockage was dislodged and came sailing down the pipe followed swiftly by assorted detritus. No details necessary. I’m sure your imagination can stretch to picturing a giant ball of jelly that had possibly been clogging the pipes for weeks.

And all that followed in its wake.

Success. And like an episode of Thundercats I shall end with a moral. Perhaps one that I should have learnt after watching ‘The Fly’ aged 8: Those with only a rudimentary understanding of science shouldn’t play with forces whose power remains unknown

Jeff Goldblum should probably have taken heed too. Honestly, he should have known Jurassic Park was going to go wrong.

For more acts of occasional idiocy, follow me on Twitter.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Spherification: Why Inverse?

Oh, you lot ask some good questions. Aren’t you a bright bunch?

In response to last week’s post about mozzarella spheres, I received literally two (possibly three if you include Twitter) requests for explanations regarding the ‘inverse’ part of ‘inverse spherification’.

So, how does this differ from regular (!) spherification?

The original method Adria used for creating these suspended ravilo (singular for ravoli, apparently) was first developed back in 2003 and kept hush-hush secret for quite some time.

He discovered that salts and alginates reacted to each other and created colourless, flavourless ‘skins’ capable of holding flavoured liquids within them.

The alginate would be dissolved into the liquid to be sphere-ized and then dropped into a calcium carbonate solution where the two would react thus creating the famous orbs.

For example, alginates would be added to a puree of peas, spoonfuls of which would be dropped into a calic bath.

But there was a problem.

Even when rinsed clean in fresh water, the reaction continued.

Over a period of five minutes the sphere solidified and the diner was left with a rather disappointing ‘jelly’ as opposed to a satisfying ‘pop’ as the skin burst and filled the mouth with essence of pea, mango or mozzarella cheese.

How to get round this?

Well, simply switch the two elements. Inverse them.

Instead of adding the alginates (derived from seaweeds, much like agar agar) to the desired flavour, Adria developed an algin solution which would react with the calcium salts inside the foodstuff.

The reaction produced an almost identical outcome with the benefit of being able to halt it by rinsing the spheres in plain water. No more disappointing jellies.

Instead the result was a more stable sphere whose inside remained liquid for much longer and inverse spherification was born.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Chocolate Mousse Redux - Video Recipe

No, that's not me. It's (a slightly more hirsute) Heston Blumenthal demonstrating the method I wrote about last week to make mousse from just chocolate and water.

For all you naysayers, here's the proof:

Monday, 11 May 2009

Inverse Spherification - Mozzarella Spheres

You want to do what to my sphere? Inverse it? Well, that’s quite enough of that, thank you very much.

Despite sounding like the name of a prog rock group from the mid 70s or the title of an obscure drum and bass album, inverse spherification is a rather nifty culinary technique.

It may sound scientific (partly because it is) but fear not. There is as much chance of me boggling you with science as there is of George Bush being named Iraq’s Man of the Century.

Spherification is a principle whereby a flavoured liquid is encased in a flavourless skin. Imagine ravioli with invisible pasta and you’re somewhere close. It is a technique perfected by Ferran Adria and one he uses to great effect with his ‘olives’.

Here fresh olives are juiced then strained before being mixed with calcic gluconolactato. The mixture is then spooned into an algin bath where the two chemicals react together, instantly forming a translucent skin which holds in the liquid.

Phew. Still with me? Good.

The effect can be repeated with almost any liquid thus creating a tasty burst of flavour with near infinite possibilities. Imagine dishes that ‘self-sauce’ at exactly the right moment or cocktails that mix in the mouth rather than the shaker. Oh what fun to be had.

For the cauliflower cheese dish, the inspiration came in the form of incredible buffalo mozzarella from Laverstoke Park Farm (A British made mozzarella? Believe it).

Whilst it tastes superb unadorned, oozing freshness from within the delicious pale orb, I was desperate to try Adria’s method for making mozzarella spheres.

Previous attempts at spherification had yielded mixed results varying from partial failure to complete and utter failure. Only when I found a thread on eGullet about the effect of hardwater on algin baths did I realise what was going wrong. The natural lime present in the water was setting the algae extract and creating a jelly.

Enter bottled water and, huzzah! Success. No more jellies.

The cheese (125g) was blended with a little cream then passed through a sieve before being mixed with about 2g calcic gluconolactato. Spoonfuls were then dropped into the waiting algin bath and fingers were crossed.

The excitement of seeing the spheres set for the first time was truly palpable. I couldn’t hide the smile from my face, neither did I want to. Half expecting the white liquid to ooze out, it was fantastic to see it set instantly into a neat little orb that looked exactly like a mini mozzarella cheese.

The surprise comes when you bite into it – instead of the slight resistance of a semi-solid cheese you get a burst of mozzarella flavour in liquid form. A real revelation and certainly one to try again.

For more bursts of flavour, follow me on Twitter .

For UK supplies of the necessary bits and bobs to re-create some Adria inspired dishes try Cream Supplies who have a incredible range.

Friday, 1 May 2009

The Code

The Internet is an untamed beast. One capable of great things but a little rough around the edges at present.

Traditional print media has had a couple of hundred centuries in which to iron out the creases and develop its own set of rules and regulations, conventions and precedents, codes and guidelines.

As a result we have the rules of referencing, acknowledgement of sources, notions of plagiarism and the laws of libel to keep ‘the media’ in check.

Being but a mewling toddler, the Internet has no such guidelines.

So, it works to the benefit of all of us when someone pro-active decides to spend time drawing some up.

That someone is actually two people: Brooke Burton and Leah Greenstein of and

Together they’ve created The Food Blog Code of Ethics.

And it’s good.

In short?

1. Be accountable
2. Be Nice
3. Be Honest
4. Practice good journalistic practice.

I encourage you to read the full code and spread the word.

Tweet me. Go on...

The Cheap Eats - Buying meat in a credit crunched climate

I recently wrote a piece for a regional magazine here in the UK about how tighter budgets don’t necessarily mean that we have to shelve our ethics when it comes to buying meat.

Here it is. Comments and thoughts appreciated.

With consumers having to tighten their purse strings thanks to the economic downturn, many of us might be tempted to head towards the budget aisles of the supermarkets and start filling our trolleys with meats of dubious origin in order to make savings.

Of course, thanks to Hugh and Jamie et al we know about the plight of the ‘three-quid’ chicken and continentally raised pork. But when it comes to the bottom line, many of us are hampered by simple economics.

But the answer doesn’t necessarily lie at this end of the market and the good news is that we don’t need to temporarily shelve our principles in order to enjoy meat on a budget. There is, in the words of chef Fergus Henderson – advocate of a more holistic ‘nose to tail’ approach to meat cookery – a world of delights ‘beyond the fillet’.

Before you switch off entirely, we’re not talking about offal here, although liver, kidneys and their ilk remain a very cheap option for those that aren’t squeamish about such cuts. The answer instead lies in the ‘forgotten cuts’ that for so long have been unfashionable but are making a swift and timely return to the fore.

‘There is some wonderful meat that is so cheap it is almost unbelievable,’ says Miles, head butcher at Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop. ‘For a while it has been hard to sell, but we’re finding that they are getting more and more popular.’ They are the cuts whose very names evoke an earlier age of cookery and thrift, ones that perhaps your grandmother would have made the most of.

Kevin from Andrew Northorp Butchers on Mill Road agrees: ‘The one cut we’re selling a lot of is pork belly, people love it and we’re selling more than ever. Brisket is brilliant as well, it makes a great and economical pot roast.’

Pork hand, cheeks (both pork and beef), beef shin, and chicken thighs are also all ideal for a credit-crunched menu. And what’s more, as well as being staggeringly cheap, they are supremely delicious: far tastier than fillet, loin or chicken breast in many cases.

Although they may lack the convenience of the more familiar pieces of meat – you certainly can’t cook beef cheeks as you would a fillet steak – they invariably lend themselves to near effortless slow cooking, a process as close to culinary alchemy as it is possible to get without donning a wizard’s hat.

The animal perhaps most synonymous with this time of year, though, is undoubtedly lamb and that too has no shortage of cuts ideal for those looking to cook on a budget. Lamb neck makes a better curry than almost any other meat and, left on the bone, adds an unsurpassed flavour and richness that lends itself beautifully to spiced dishes. Perhaps slightly more unusual is lamb breast which is the cheapest cut on the animal. Similar to pork belly, it is delicious rolled around rosemary and garlic stuffing and slow roasted.

Although they may be hard to find at the supermarket there are many excellent butchers throughout the region (see for more details) that would be delighted to talk you through these wonderful pieces of meat that are well worth hunting out for both economic and culinary reasons.