Peach Cobbler

I was in the mood for a celebratory dessert today, and remembered the large box of canned peaches we have in the pantry. We’ve made peach crisp a few times, but I wanted something a little more cake-like. So we made peach cobbler:

peach cobbler

It was amazing. It had a thin, crispy crust on top that reminded me a little of meringue, a lemony-cake layer underneath, and a thick peachy goop on the bottom. The cake topping gets a little extra fluff and loft by adding eggs, and instant tapioca helps to keep the bottom from getting soggy, while making the peach goop particularly goopy.

This is an adaptation of this recipe. I’ve recently edited this post to add weights to the ingredients, so you can speed things up a bit using a kitchen scale.

Peach Cobbler

This recipe makes about six servings. Preheat your oven to 350°F, and find a dish for baking your cobbler; I used an 8×8 Pyrex dish, but you could use anything of similar size. Add:

  • 1/3 C (3 oz) of juice from your canned peaches (discard the rest)
  • About 30 oz of canned peaches (drained). Peeled fresh or frozen is fine too.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla (I used vanilla paste)
  • 1/2 tsp lime juice (or lemon)
  • 1/4 C (2 oz) brown sugar (tightly packed)
  • 4 tbsp instant tapioca

Stir everything together. Next, we need to make the topping. In a separate bowl (I used a food processor), add:

  • 1 C (5 oz) flour
  • 2/3 C (5 oz) sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 C (2 oz) cold butter

Mix these together until the butter is incorporated into the dry ingredients. If you’re using a food processor, this only takes a few seconds. After everything is mixed together, add:

  • 2 eggs

Then, stir the mixture (with a spoon!) until the eggs are fully mixed in. It will make a thick, sticky, pasty mess. Use a couple of spoons to scoop up bits of the paste and spread it around the top of your peach mix. You want it to be pretty even, but it doesn’t have to be perfect, because it will rise and seal together while the cobbler is cooking.

Put your cobbler in the oven and cook it for about 55 minutes. It should become pleasantly golden brown on top, and the peach mix should bubble up the sides. Let it cool for ten minutes after you take it out so that all the hot liquids can set. We served it with whipped cream, but it would also be great with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

Resurrection and making pizza

Hello folks. Although we have been rather poor at posting, we have kept cooking, and I even have a few photos scattered around. For now, I shall tell you a brief story about pizza.

About eight years ago, my family took a trip to New York City. My brother had been on mission there, and he took us to one of his favorite pizza places in Brooklyn. The pizza was good, really good. And it wasn’t good because of the interesting toppings, because there weren’t any. It just had a really good crust, really good sauce, and really good cheese. That was it.

Since then, I’ve wanted to eat pizza that good. While I did find some tantalizing hints about what is involved in achieving it (like this guy, who is both fascinating and insane), the methods are prohibitively difficult and require specialized equipment. Lately, however, we’ve decided to try and get close. Our most recent experiment was based around two key ideas:

  1. Get really good tomatoes. Most grocery store tomatoes are terrible.
  2. The oven has to be screamingly hot. The professional ovens cook at 700-900 degrees Farenheit.

It’s impossible to buy good quality, fresh tomatoes at a grocery store. The hothouse tomatoes are so-so, and the regular ones are frankly terrible. Real life vine ripened tomatoes go bad in just a few days and transport very poorly, so you’re never going to see them outside of a farmers’ market.

But we’re not making salad here, we’re making pizza sauce, and we don’t need fresh tomatoes. What we’re looking for are good canned tomatoes. And it turns out that our grocery store has good canned tomatoes, but they were well hidden. All of the mid-shelf stuff (the organic stuff included) is terrible; they are all very sour. But the tomatoes in the big yellow Cento can on the top shelf have a mild, savory flavor, and they taste fruity and sweet despite having no added sugar. Perfect.

Step 2 was to acquire a 20-pound block of steel, which was a birthday present this year. We’re using the Modernist Cuisine baking steel, but there’s nothing special about it; this is literally just a clean, flat, heavy piece of steel. It has been seasoned, the same as the way you’d season a cast iron skillet, but that’s it. We stuck it in a maxed out oven (ours goes to 550 degrees) for about an hour, and it gets incredibly hot.

The one snafu? When we were trying to slide our pizza onto the baking steel, it stuck to the peel. Badly. So instead of a nice flat pizza, we ended up with a vaguely squashed, vaguely heart-shaped mess of pizza-flavored dough. The dough puffed up brilliantly, so we know the concept works; we just have to work on our peel technique. The cheese also didn’t melt completely on top (while the bottom crisped to quite dark), so we need to solve that problem.

Still, the result was definitely tasty, and a big improvement over the classic 325-for-11-minutes method, so we’re going to try it again. Perhaps next time I’ll even have the presence of mind to take pictures!

Sous-vide pork ribs

There’s a lot of weird food in The Book. That’s almost the point, really. After the strawberry marinara ordeal, Rachel announced that she was done with experimental cooking for a while, and anyway it was my turn. The writing having thus been firmly written on the wall, I decided to go with something a little more conventional.

Our local supermarket sticks most of their cuts of meat on a sort of “wall o’ meat” at the back of the store. For the more frugal, they also have the “bucket o’ meat,” a standalone floor fridge where, as long as you’re willing to buy your meat in three pound chunks, you can pay less per pound. And that’s why a large pack of pork ribs has been waiting, frigidly, for their day to come.

plastic-bath-pork

Sous-vide makes good food, but the in-progress photos aren’t going to win any beauty contests.

Pork ribs are a fairly tough cut—the meat tastes good, but it can be really tough and chewy because of all the collagen fibers. The usual way to fix this is to cook it for a long time, often several hours, so that the fat and collagen can melt.

In the past, we’ve usually stuck it in the oven for a couple of hours at about 300 degrees. By the time it’s done cooking, the collagen will have melted, the internal temperature is about 190, and the meat is tender, if a bit dry. The modernist method is more gentle—it cooks at 140 degrees, which keeps the meat from shrinking and squeezing out all the juices. Collagen melts slowly at this temperature, so you have to cook it for a patience-testing forty-eight hours.

The usual weakness of sous-vide cooking still applies: wrapping your meat in plastic and then dunking it in water isn’t going to brown it at all. So just before eating it, you have to apply high heat to get some browning on the outside. Since you really don’t want to cook the inside any further (you’ll just dry it out!), it’s helpful to use very high heat. And this is where it’s handy to get out the blow torch:

torch_meat

All the blow torch photos came out blurry. You’ll just have to imagine how much fun this part is.

We’re using a blow torch from the hardware store. I don’t recommend those cheesy kitchen-supply-store crème brulée torches: regular propane torch from the hardware store are cheaper, the fuel is cheaper and lasts longer, and they’re big enough to hold comfortably. The main reason to use the tiny ones is if you don’t have enough room to store a blow torch. It’s important that the torch’s flame burn blue, so that you don’t get food that tastes like fuel; so far, that hasn’t been a problem for us.

Despite the similarities, blow torching isn’t rocket science. There are, however, a few things that make the results better. It helps if the blow-torched surface is oily—it spreads the heat out, giving you more even browning and fewer black specks. Flame-torched oil is also what makes grilling smell so good, so this makes your kitchen smell amazing. You don’t want too much liquid on the surface of the meat, although the blow torch tends to take care of that pretty quickly.

juicy_pork_ribs

I suck at food photography, but the ribs tasted so good that it’s hard to care.

The ribs were amazing. My brother nobly assisted in helping us eat the results, and it was definitely something we’ll do again. For sides, we had mashed potatoes, mint-balsamic beetroot (which might be worth doing a post on some other day), and sweet corn.

Page 228 of the Book

 

Strawberry Marinara

We had more strawberries than we knew what to do with. We talked about how Strawberry Marinara could taste good; how most strawberries are actually more sour than sweet; how it might make for a good texture.

IMG_1322

I tried to stick closely to the recipe. I peeled and de-seeded all my tomatoes (I ended up 50g short), and borrowed white wine from a neighbor. I also had to learn how to open a wine bottle with a swiss army knife corkscrew. The list of stressful substitutions continues: I had to use dry herbs and not fresh, and I merely blended my strawberries instead of juicing them. This took way more than fifteen minutes.

IMG_1320

The Book recommends serving with Polenta or ricotta-filled ravioli, but I was far too lazy and served it with spaghetti. After eating it, I said “I hate cooking. I just wasted two hours of my life making this and I don’t even like it.”

IMG_1329

We have theories about why the Strawberry Marinara failed us. Perhaps those missing 50g of tomato were crucial. Perhaps we’re unused to winey sauces. Perhaps it would taste better with Polenta. But there’s also another explanation, which is that we’re not hardcore enough to appreciate this dish. For that, I apologize.

Page 114 of the Book

Playing with a vacuum sealer

Whenever we explain sous-vide cooking, the first reaction is often “isn’t that just boiling it?” The difference, of course, is that the food never actually touches the water—it’s protected by a thin layer of plastic. At first, you might just use plastic bags for this, but for some dishes it’s better to use a vacuum sealer.

Vacuum sealed strawberries

Sure, they stay fresh for ages, but how are you going to get them out?

Of course, once you have a vacuum sealer, you may as well exploit its other talents—vacuum sealed foods last a whole lot longer in the refrigerator or freezer. At this time of year, the smallest quantity of strawberries that I can buy is approximately three tons for two dollars. Since this usually results in me stuffing myself silly before the remaining 2.995 tons grow a forest of mold, I thought we’d try vacuum sealing them to decrease the waste slightly.

The results are as you see above. We rinsed the strawberries in a weak vinegar solution, then chopped and sealed them in bags. There was a little finessing involved to persuade the vacuum sealing to not crush them to pulp for us, but once that was figured out, it worked nicely.

Our future plans involve crushing the strawberries to pulp. We’ll see how it goes.

vacuum_sealer

This little fellow is a device with many talents. Well, two talents, anyway, both of which are entirely described in its name.

Fruit loaf

Even before I got a copy of Modernist Cuisine, I’ve been interested in seeing if I could make an interesting dessert by suspending bits of fruit in completely clear gelatin. I finally got around to it and made this:

IMG_1304

This loaf is a whole lot of experiments compounded into one gelatinous brick of fruit. There are a couple of interesting things going on here.

I didn’t want the gel to taste too plain, so I used a mixture of water and apple juice as the liquid. I also added a little bit of sugar. This made the flavor a little more interesting, and I would do this again. I also wanted to try using agar (aka kanten) to see how it compares with gelatin; honestly, it is very nearly the same. It is not quite as springy, but the mouth feel is close, and it can set very firmly. Agar is almost odorless (it doesn’t have gelatin’s wet-dog smell when you heat it), and it’s a plant extract, so it is also good for avoiding awkward conversations with vegetarians.

The fruits in there are raspberries, blueberries, canned pineapple, and star fruit. Fruits that keep gelatin from setting seem to have the same effect on agar, and fresh star fruit seems to be one of those fruits. It’s a pity, because it’s so good looking! That is one gorgeous top layer of star fruit. Perhaps this could be addressed by heating the star fruit a bit; I’m not sure. Star fruit tastes like a combination between pears and granny smith apples, and has a little bit of crunch.

The raspberries and blueberries, unfortunately, were a little bit sour, and that didn’t help the overall flavor at all. Since the fruit is the only real flavor in this dish, it’s important to make it very good quality.

Whipped cheesecake foam

Even before I actually owned a whipping siphon, and had only seen them on YouTube, I have considered their true purpose in life to make something whipped and fluffy and cheesecake flavored. The whipping siphon was a birthday gift from some particularly perceptive siblings (with my wife as a possible co-conspirator), and it was just a matter of time until I got around to it.

Today, that day came. And it was cheesecaky. My spell-checker thinks that cheesecaky is not a word, but then the spellchecker has never tasted this:

The original plan was to make little graham-cracker crusts, but laziness happened.

It’s a fairly simple recipe, and I didn’t even invent it (I stole it from this blog). That foam is mostly cream cheese, plus a few other things to help flavor and consistency. I did, however, do one thing wrong—I overcharged the whipping siphon, thanks to which I now know why that’s a bad idea.

The original recipe is for a 1-liter siphon, and uses two cartridges. I knew that, and halved the recipe, but wasn’t sure whether one cartridge was going to be enough. I decided to experiment: the cookie on the right is from a single charge, and the cookie on the left is from a double-charge. While it didn’t hurt the taste, the siphon hissed and spluttered, and the foam came out a bit chaotically. It also quit coming out entirely after the fifth cookie.

Upon opening the siphon, I found there was enough solidified foam left inside for a further three or four cookies, and since it still tasted amazing, I scooped it out directly onto the cookies and resumed eating. Sadly, the last few tablespoons were stuck at the bottom of the siphon where I couldn’t reach them. So if you want to know how the evening ended, you should picture me in the kitchen, my fist shaking at the ceiling, and crying sadly: “I need a longer spoon!”

Cheesecaky Foam

  • 1.5 g vanilla paste
  • 125 g cream cheese
  • 25 g yogurt
  • 50 g water
  • 25 g sugar
  • 3 g honey

Measure out the cream cheese and whip it for a bit; it’s a little tougher to whip if you combine everything first. Add everything else and combine it until it’s evenly mixed. You can use a blender, a whisk, a hand mixer, whatever.

Pour into a half-liter whipping siphon, charge with one cartridge, and spray it onto whatever it is that you want to taste amazing. We used shortbread cookies.

The slowest way to boil an egg

The first two years I was in college I lived with my grandparents. Almost every Saturday my grandma would make soft-boiled eggs for me and my grandpa. Eating them with salt and pepper crushed in a bowl was one of the pleasures of the weekend I looked forward to. I’ve tried to recreate the gelatinous whites covered in gooey yolk, but I’ve never quite mastered the art.

So you can understand how the first thing I wanted to cook when we bought our sous vide cooker was a soft-boiled egg. With sous vide cooking, a water bath is kept at a constant temperature over a long time to cook foods all over evenly and without drying them out. I put an egg on at 147 F, which according to the accompanying temperature guide would have a yolk that was “firmly set but very creamy. White firmer.” After an hour of cooking it was kind of a slushy disappointment.

IMG_1298 cropped

If you stare at them for the entire hour, they do not boil any slower.

If you’ve studied food science, you know that the white and the yolk of the egg solidify at different temperatures, which is why boiling an egg through sous vide alone is a terrible way to get firm whites and a gooey yolk. Adam was undeterred by my failure and proceeded to make me a much better soft-boiled egg:

  1. Allow egg to warm to room temperature. 
  2. Cook egg in (already) boiling water for three and a half minutes. This gets the whites nice and cooked!
  3. Cool egg for ten minutes in an ice bath.
  4. Cook sous vide at 149 F for 35 minutes.
  5. Toast shell in a toaster oven for 15 minutes to get the shell nice and brittle. I think this step is silly.
IMG_1302 cropped

That’s hand-pressed flatbread from our wood-fired oven. Just kidding! We got them at CostCo.

I think I might just have to learn how my grandma does it (probably boiling ~6 minutes), but the modernist method is probably more consistent.

Pages 142-143 of the Book

Modernist macaroni and cheese

no-flour mac and cheese

No-flour mac and cheese

Hi, Adam here. Let’s get this cooking blog started with some classic American comfort food—macaroni and cheese.

Of course, since this a modernist cooking blog, I have to do it in the weirdest way possible. The Book suggests you try making the cheese sauce without flour, to avoid dulling the flavor. Of course, the other purpose of flour is to keep the cheese from separating into an oily mess. To get that silky texture, the recipe uses sodium citrate instead.

As far as texture goes, this stuff is magical—I got a smooth cheese sauce, with a consistency slightly thinner than the goopy yellow substance that your school carnival scoops over nachos. We used medium cheddar cheese, making this about as close to the blue box as you can get while still using actual cheese (OK, that’s not very close).

Flavor-wise, it is less perfect. Even without adding extra salt, I found it a little salty, with flavor notes that came across as somehow artificial. It turns out that sodium citrate is not a free lunch: eaten plain, it tastes of lightly salted metal. Most of the cheeses recommended by the book are quite strong (white cheddar, Gruyère, Gorgonzola, etc.), which would conceal this pretty well.

The cheese sauce works wonderfully over broccoli and cauliflower, and I think this will be how I use most of the leftovers. The cheese sauce keeps for quite a while in the fridge.

Modernist Cheese Sauce

Boil the water, and add the sodium citrate. Add the cheese to the water a little bit at a time, whisking furiously to incorporate it. You can use an immersion blender if you have one, but we did just fine with a wire whisk.

Serve over macaroni, nachos, broccoli, or whatever you have that needs a good cheesing.

Page 310 of the Book