Adventures In Molecular Gastronomy and a love story

My husband is awesome. We are both addicted to food TV (though he won’t admit it), especially No Reservations and Top Chef. Our favorite this season (Top Chef Allstars) happens to be Richard Blais, and the prospect of molecular gastronomy intrigues us to no end. Since Miami has yet to spring its own version of Alinea, this Christmas my Darling Husband (DH) surprised me with a molecular gastronomy kit. Devoid of the really cool stuff like liquid nitrogen or a sous vide cooker, this kit is perfect for a first-time getting-her-feet-wet gastronomer.

The Way To A Geek's Heart: Cuisine R-ÉVOLUTION by MOLÉCULE-R Molecular Gastronomy Kit

The Kit, Cuisine R-ÉVOLUTION by MOLÉCULE-R comes with 10 packets each of Agar-Agar, Sodium Alginate, Calcium Lactate, Soy Lecithin and Xanthan Gum, a slotted spoon, measuring spoons, pipettes, food grade syringe and silicone tubes, instructional DVD and 50 recipes.

For Valentines day this year, we decided to give the kit a whirl.

The Menu

Arugula Spaghetti with Goat Cheese Ravioli and Balsamic Vinegar Pearls

Pan-Seared Beef Tenderloin with Balsamic Onions and Port Sauce

Twice-Cooked Smashed Red Bliss Potatoes with Parmesan Cheese and Bacon Dust

Frozen Chocolate Wind with Berry Raviolis

The Breakdown

Salad Course

Not much of a salad, but at least it tasted good. Picture all this over a coil of bright green arugula "spaghetti"

The Arugula Spaghetti was a complete and utter mess. A beautiful shade of healthy Swamp-Thing green, I managed to shoot the globby-but-not-globby-enough concoction all over my nice clean kitchen. The recipe called for liquefying arugula, bringing it to a boil with Aga-Agar, and piping it into long tubes to set. I have a sneaky suspicion that where we went wrong is in the measuring. The directions called for 2 cups chopped arugula, but didn’t specify whether this was a packed 2 cups or loose. We used 5 oz., which in hindsight was too much.

Goat Cheese Raviolis were fairly successful. Not as pretty as the picture, but that could come with time. This preparation called for preparing the cheese with calcium lactate and floating delicate globes in a sodium alginate bath. The taste ended up nice, and the experiment was overall successful.

The Balsamic Vinegar Pearls were successful as well. This preparation called for mixing the vinegar with Agar-Agar, bringing it to a boil, and pipetting small spheres into a cold bowl of oil to set. Although we had drama with the directions–I’m fairly certain they were translated from French, and aren’t the most specific when it comes to things like how much oil to put in the freezer and what you’re looking for to tell if anything is ready–the pearls turned out semi-pearl ish.

The Balsamic Vinegar Pearls were to be half of the “dressing” of our first course salad, along with a drizzle of olive oil. Since we had no “salad” to our salad, they ended up being a topper to the goat cheese. Not a well-rounded dish, but not a terrible one either.


This is not burnt. The beef is deeply caramelized (but still rare), and the onions are in a syrupy reduced balsamic vinegar sauce. Not, I repeat, Not Burnt.

Pan-Seared Beef Tenderloin with Balsamic Onions and Port Sauce

This recipe is from one of my favorite food blogs: Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, and is the recipe The Chef made for Gluten Free Girl the night he proposed. When I saw this post last week, it was a no-brainer and I followed it exactly (except for halving the amount of balsamic vinegar used since I didn’t have enough left over from the pearls).

This recipe turned out fantastic and I will definitely have to make the onion sauce again. Pan-seared beef tenderloin has already kind of become our generic holiday staple, and this cooking method is pretty much the method I always use.

Can anything involving bacon dust be bad?

Twice-Cooked Smashed Red Bliss Potatoes with Parmesan Cheese and Bacon Dust

This is one of my DH’s favorite go-to potato recipes. I call it a recipe, but it’s really not too involved or complicated. Take your desired amount and type of scrubbed potatoes, put them in a pot with water and boil until done; drain; smash lightly with a potato masher, meat press, back of a frying pan, or anything else you can use to crush them lightly; sprinkle with your desired type of cheese, minced garlic and bacon if you’d like; broil until the cheese is golden and melted. Easy as pie. Mmm.. pie. The Bacon Dust was made by crisping a few strips of our fresh cured home made bacon and smashing the crap out of it in a plastic bag with something heavy.

We always love this preparation, and aside from being a bit dry since we had to re-heat them, the potatoes were lovely as always.
Dessert Course

Picture these globules on a bed of wispy chocolate foam

The Frozen Chocolate Wind was a total flop. Although we followed the directions to a T, foam was just not to be had. The only thing I can think we did wrong was to use electric beaters instead of an immersion blender. The directions said to use a hand blender or eggbeater to produce the foam, and we figured electric beaters are what we use to beat eggs, so they would work. Maybe in France they’re talking about something else. Yet another reason I should break down and purchase an immersion blender.

To go with our Chocolate Wind was a Berry Ravioli. Like the goat cheese raviolis, these turned out well. A full dessert they did not make, and I still feel a little gypped, but they tasted good.

The Verdict

We may have bitten off more than we could chew, but at least we spent two hours doing something together we both love. And no one (namely my long-suffering DH) lost a limb. Or got thrown out of the kitchen. 🙂 And after all, isn’t some QT with a loved or liked one what Valentine’s Day (or the day after in our case) is all about?

Now on to the love story.

A recipe was not all I read in Gluten Girl and the Chef’s post about the beef tenderloin. In her eloquent way, she shared her tender and life-affirming story of love, and encouraged readers from all walks of life to share similar stories. If you haven’t seen the post already, do. Go! The stories are hilarious, sad, and heartwarming. Just the thing for mid-February.

Inspired by Gluten Free Girl, here is the story of how I met my Darling, Dearest Husband.

I met my now husband on an Internet dating site. Yahoo, to be exact. He was in Bahrain on a minesweeper looking for a penpal back home (Raleigh, NC) and I didn’t have anything better to do that day.

I still don’t know what made me answer his initial e-mail. He broke all my “rules”–he hadn’t posted a picture *and* he was in the military. All I can say, is I was bored that day and in a pique of ‘doing my patriotic duty’ I answered the “not so drunk sailor” back. And boy am I ever glad I did. He sent a picture in short order, and he was h-o-t.

In the following months, I told him all about my adventures becoming someone who went on dates; about going out with friends, what movies I’d watched, what bands I’d seen, what books I was reading; about all the little details in life you share when you don’t really expect to ever see the person on the other end of the line. He told me about everything he liked, everything he was and what he got to do during the small amount of free time he was allowed to spend off the ship.

We got to know each other. He had a girlfriend and I was trying to be a dater, so a friendship blossomed. I created a chat space on my website so I could rush home from work and we could talk without him getting in trouble; he rearranged his schedule to be at the computer when I got off of work each day. We chatted. We griped. We both held on and looked forward to our time together more and more each day. He even managed to call a time or two. Then he told me he was coming back home.

And we lost touch for a few months while he adjusted to life back in the States.

Thankfully, one of his sisters intervened and got him to call me. I still thought about him, but in a ‘that was a nice chapter, let’s see what kind of drama I can get into instead’ way and had thought that ship had crashed and burned before it even left the dock.

And then he called and my heart skipped a beat. We had our first date on December 26, 2004, and the bottom fell out. He picked me up (which was a rarity–I never gave out my home address to strangers) and we went to see The Aviator. During the movie, he reached over and just barely held my hand and I wanted to jump out of my skin. After dinner (at my favorite Italian restaurant at that time), he kissed me in the car and I thought I was going to die. It was all over from there. We ended up talking (literally–not a euphemism, ok, there was some kissing and a lot of snuggling but that’s all) all night and I got maybe half an hour of sleep before work the next day. He came back the next weekend (he was stationed in Florida), and the next, and the next, until it was clear that I needed to move to be with him. I remember thinking that this was the thing I was waiting for all through high school, all through college, in order to feel like I could really start my life.

We’ve been married coming up on five years in April, I couldn’t be happier about my decision to be with him and can’t wait to tell him so when we renew our vows in Vegas this year.

Making Staples: Mexican Crema

Crema is a Mexican condiment that is much like sour creme or creme fraiche in taste. Either can be substituted for crema in a recipe, but since crema is so ridiculously easy to make, it’s little trouble to have some on hand.

Plus, you can spice it up any way you like with the addition of chopped chipotle pepper (or the adobo sauce chipotles come packaged in), chopped cilantro or chives, lemon or lime juice/zest, or diced onion. Crema is a great multi-purpose ingredient not only for Mexican dishes, but to add body to a quick pan sauce for pasta or rice, as a quick dressing for fish or chicken, or as a base for salad dressing.

Make it once, use it a thousand different ways.

Stuck on what to do with the extra buttermilk? You can always make some fresh ricotta or a batch of Southern-style biscuits.

Mexican Crema

2 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. buttermilk
big pinch salt
big pinch pepper

Bring your cream up to room temperature by setting it on your counter for an hour or so.

Stir in the buttermilk, cover with plastic, and let set in a warm place (80-90 degrees F) over night. If you are using a jar or other lidded container for this step, make sure not to secure the lid tight; you need bacteria to come in and do its thing. I made mine in a glass measuring cup covered with plastic wrap and it worked like a charm.

Voila. In the morning, you will have a cream that is noticeably thicker than the night before. Add salt & pepper and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours more to continue the thickening process and there you go. Crema, and lots of it.

Add your optional ingredients and enjoy. The first thing I enjoyed mine in was the Nacho Empanadas (recipe to come) I made on Superbowl Sunday.

Smoky Porky Goodness

This, perhaps, is my favorite ingredient right this minute, currently beating out both garlic and sriracha. Double-smoked bacon is one of the richest and most decadent pork products ever to cross my threshold, and it’s smoky, porky goodness has found a way into dishes aplenty over the last few months.

This bacon comes slabbed, so you can slice it as you wish, cooks evenly, and lends a sublime smokiness to any dish.

Try it sliced on an egg and sharp cheddar sandwich on nice challah knots, cubed into crisp little crunchy nuggets in green vegetables, or sliced into lardons with onions in a potato hash.

The Beginnng

This is me

This is not my first 365 photo project. Last year, I managed to take pictures all but 4 days; a small feat in itself. Some of the pictures (ok, most if I’m being honest) are complete crap, but that’s not the point. The blog got my juices flowing and I took more pictures last year than the year before. So, I think I will do it again. I haven’t decided whether or not I will be limiting myself to iPhone pictures this year–I think I’ll keep it open–but I have a feeling that the majority of pictures will be taken with it. And the 12 camera apps I have so far 🙂 I’m a bit obsessed.

If you’re curious, 2010’s 365 photo blog can be found here.

This year’s blog will also cover just what exactly to do with a bi-weekly box of CSA vegetables. Last year, I documented the contents and should have been blogging the recipes all along instead of storing them, squirrel-like, waiting for 2011 to roll around so I could start a cookbook. The cookbook is coming, it will be awhile, but it will come. There’s a hell of a pile of recipes sitting next to me, staring at me, just waiting for me to start.

I also may get around to posting about life issues, you know, the things that keep me up until 3 a.m.; driving me to scribble by monitor light in my little graph paper notebook.

Time will tell.

If you’re following from 2010’s blog, thanks. I’m always surprised when I find out people actually read the things I write on my off time. Hell, I’m surprised when people read the things I write for business, too.

If you’re just joining us, welcome. I hope to make it an entertaining ride at the very least.