Monday, March 14, 2011

End of a Season

As the winter season comes to a close around me, and with the growing produce problems in Mexico, I looked to some in house ingredients for a new salad to the menu.  Beets have been in abundance for months since they last a long time in a cool dry environment.  When looking to use the beets I wanted to use familiar flavors, but just present them in a different way.  I tend to do this more often then not and find it a good way to introduce people to new techniques, but not scare them off with wild ingredients.  In the past at other restaurants I had done pickled beet salads, wood-roasted beets, and so on.  For this new salad I took ideas from the past.  Though I am not a fan of beets, pickled beets are one of my favorite items to can (more to come on that soon).  When thinking back to a previous beet salad I remembered a problem with the pickling liquid making the color of the beets run and bleed.  To prevent this from happening I a.) separated the different colors of beets, and b.) used two different techniques for presenting the beets.  The golden beets were just given a simple pickle.  The liquid was nothing more then water, sugar, salt, and a basic pickling spice.  The red beets were first boiled to make them tender and then roasted in the oven to intensify the flavor.  Once all the beets were cooled and pickled they were then sliced thin and cut out with a small ring cutter.  Another flavor that is used on the plate is chevre.  I am lucky enough to have many different local artisanal cheese producers to look to for great products.  For this dish I used Split Creek Farms Chevre out of South Carolina.  Instead of just crumbling the cheese (pretty dull if you ask me), I made a chevre emulsion.  This emulsion was just double cream, chevre, and neutral flavored oil.  Again, nothing outrageous, just good, clean flavors.  Next I thought of sherry vinegar, but a sherry vinaigrette is played out, plus I wanted to add some sweetness to the dish to give it some roundness.  Sherry gastrique was the answer.  Lastly was the addition of frisee greens tossed in lemon vinaigrette for some acidity.  This is what the finished product looked like.  So what do you think?

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I'm just gonna get straight to the point! Deconstructed cocktails were a success.  It was a lot of hard work, but it all paid off in the end.  
The day was full of trials and tribulations, set backs, and even last minute changes.  The first cocktail to receive attention in the day was the Pina Colada.

The bottom of the cup contains a sous vide pineapple that is infused with coconut milk and coconut rum.  All of these flavors are present in the pina colada so it was a natural combination.  To top off the pineapple I made an espuma.  An espuma is a light foam that contains dairy and gelatin, and is charged through a CO2 gun, such as the iSi Whipped Cream Canister.  The espuma is chilled and then expelled directly onto the pineapple and topped with toasted shaved coconut.

Next we looked at the beach favorite, the Margarita.  I wanted to showcase the gelee technique.  I took the most dominate flavors, tequila, lime, orange, and salt, and turned them into individual gels (except for the salt) using gelatin sheets.  This is where the first problem arose.  I only had cheap tequila, which smelled like a frat party, which resulted in a gel that was intense to say the least.  The good thing about the gelatin is that it can be melted back down and re-formed.  This gave the opportunity to add flavorings and correct the problem.  The addition of triple sec was the answer.  The same process was done for each of the remaining ingredients.  Once the gels had firmed up they were cut into cubes.  The cubes were mixed on a small dish and topped with a salt air.  This was a recipe I ran across some time ago and had set aside for an occasion such as this.  Chef Jose Andres was the creator of the recipe, and he claimed to have gotten the idea from his dislike for a salted rim of the margarita glass.  I think the salt air is a fantastic substitute.

Now just for some background, this event took place at a Southern Country Club, where tradition is a must, so a mint julep was something I couldn't pass up.  To recreate this drink I looked to one of my go to pantry items, Xanthan Gum.  Xanthan Gum is a natural product that thickens liquids at room temperature, and can thicken large amounts of liquid with as little as 0.5% of weight by volume.  The xantan was used to thicken a mixture of simple syrup and club soda.  Next came the mint. It took 8 ounces of fresh mint to produce enough mint puree to make the needed amount of mint "caviar".  The mixture was made using the simple sodium alginate and calcium chloride preparation.  When making "caviar" such as the mint, it is best to let the flavor base and sodium alginate mixture sit overnight.  Since this was not possible I did the next best thing.  I took the mix and spread it out in a pan and placed it into a cryovac machine.  This allowed the mixture to "boil" at room temperature which popped the bubbles trapped in the soultion.  Below you can see the mixture beginning to boil and the bubbles starting to form and pop.

This mint mixture was then placed into a caviar maker and dropped into a solution of water and calcium chloride.  When the drops of the mint mixture hits the calcium chloride bath a thin membrane is formed, resulting in a liquid or gel center surrounded by a natural skin.  These "caviar" were then suspended in the thickened simple sugar/club soda mixture.  But what about the bourbon.  The original plan was to make bourbon "caviar", but I did not have the needed chemicals on hand to make this happen.  What I did have was soy lecithin.  I decided to add the lecithin to some bourbon to create a bourbon foam.  This foam added a nice light bourbon aroma and flavor to the drink making sure not to over power the other ingredients.  This was the final product.

Last was the classic bourbon and coke.  This was simply a mixture of bourbon, coca-cola, and gelatin.  This mixture was then placed into hemispherical silicone molds and frozen.  To present the "drink" the gelatin hemispheres were placed on spoons, but something was missing.  In the process of making the gelatin, the CO2 from the cola was lost.  To recreate the sensation of carbon dioxide in the drink I looked to a product from Chef Ferran Adria, the father of Molecular Gastronomy.  
Fizzy is basically a light citrus flavored pop rock candy that can be added to almost anything to create a fizzing sensation.

All and all I would say that everything was a success.  I am now looking forward to what will come next.  Check back for the latest ideas and techniques in todays cooking.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Problems arise...

With any new untested idea in cooking, problems are bound to arise.  My crew and I have tasked ourselves with creating contemporary versions of classic cocktails.  Margarita, Gimlet, Pina Colada, Screwdriver, Mint Julep, Martini, and more.  We have taken what we know and tried to change someone's perception of a drink.  Gelee came to mind and it was decided that would be the best application for the Margarita.  We took three flavors of the drink, lime, orange, and tequila, and used a basic gelatin recipe.  So far so good.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  After cooling for a few hours we return to find three different textures to our gelees.  The sugar added to the lime juice caused the gel to not thicken nearly as much. Next was the flavor of the gels.  The lime gelee was too tart.  And the tequila was too strong (or shall I say too "cheap").  Upon discussion we came to the conclusion that a better quality of tequila needed to be used.  And as for the lime, we will add another layer on top of the current layer, making sure to add more sugar and less lime juice to even out the flavor.  Results to come soon.

Friday, February 25, 2011

a kid's favorite...

as a person grows up they eat their weight in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  pb&j's were never my favorite though.  there was never enough jelly and always too much peanut butter.  don't forget the bread! that tasteless starchy dried out thing that held the contents in.  my mind was racing and i began to think of how to improve this classic sandwich.  first i came to the peanut butter.  this was easy. through the magic of tapioca maltodexrin i was able to dehydrate gooey paste and turn it into a light and fluffy powder.  for those that don't know, tapioca maltodextrin is a modified food starch that stabilizes and dehydrates fatty compounds. the resulting product is light and fluffy like powder.  next came the jelly.  through classic training i thought about the idea of roasting, which can intensify subtle flavors.  with flats of fresh grapes in the cooler i put two and two together and vine roasted grapes were the result.  last was the hardest part.  bread. how do you change bread but still keep its unique taste.  i first looked to a very flavorful and buttery bread.  brioche.  and again began to reinvent.  with the help of the pastry sous chef i made a brioche puree. a loaf of bread that had been turned into a liquid, but still retained all flavors from its solid state. success!  the completed dish was finished with micro basil which added a floral note and lightened the heaviness of the peanut butter. 

 with the success of the new and improved pb&j sandwich, i am beginning to look at cocktails.  classics such as the margarita, gimlet, pina colada, and the mint julep.