Molecular Gastronomy Science

How Does Jell-O Work?

Nice article over at the Boston Globe on how Jell-O works, explaining the science of food.

This same sort of food science is what is a core component in the fascinating field of molecular gastronomy, but that will be a subject of other posts in the future.

One thing I found interesting in the Boston Globe article, however, is that if you put certain fresh fruits, such as papaya, in gelatin, the gelatin won’t set. That’s because papaya and pineapple, among other fruits, contain enzymes which break down protein. Which is also why papain, a papaya enzyme, is helpful in reducing the sting of jellyfish and related stinging organisms – the papain breaks down the proteins of the stinging toxins, rendering them inert. Food as a type of medicine. Cool!

Recipes Simple Pleasures

My Favorite Hot Dip

I’ve already mentioned one of my favorite versatile food items is mayonnaise. And when I cook savory dishes, I find myself eagerly looking towards garlic as one of my ingredients.

That’s why it’s probably no surprise that my favorite hot dip combines mayonnaise and garlic, and to provide some substance, it also includes Parmesan cheese and artichoke hearts. And it’s incredibly easy to make, although I have not come up with a good and short name for the Garlic Parmesan Artichoke Mayo Dip.

First, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius).

Then, get a baking dish, and then combine equal portions (by volume) of grated Parmesan cheese (like Kraft’s), canned artichoke hearts, and mayonnaise. I usually use a cup of each.

Then add as much minced garlic as you think you can handle. I personally add 10-20 cloves depending on whether I will be meeting with others the next day (less cloves if I like the people I’m meeting, more if I don’t or am not meeting with anyone). I should add that while you can sometimes buy minced garlic at the supermarket, the acidic liquid they package it in robs the garlic of a lot of its pungency, so I prefer fresh or at least some of the garlic that I have pre-minced and stored in oil with salt for later use.

After you have thoroughly blended all the ingredients and smoothed out the top to make it nice and flat, pop the baking dish into the oven and cooking until the top is a nice light to medium brown color. Remove from the oven and let sit for about 15 minutes.

Serve with something nice and crisp. Folks who eat carbs might enjoy it with tortilla chips, pita chips, or toasted wafers of baguette. Low carbers can use cucumber slices or pork rinds. At home we also use the dip as a condiment for meats like steak or pork.

The Garlic Parmesan Artichoke Mayo Dip is also a great thing to bring to pot-lucks and BBQs.

Definitions Simple Pleasures

Food Snobs Are Not Foodies

One of the common misnomers about folks who consider themselves foodies is that they are food snobs. Food snobs are people who turn their nose up at ordinary foods because, well, they are ordinary, common, or pedestrian – choose your description. Food snobs require expensive bottles of wine to show their food elitism. They order foie gras or dishes with truffles because they are considered to be delicacies, and not necessarily because they like those things. They turn their noses up at BBQ and home-style country cooking. Food snobs won’t try regional dishes like guinea pig, stinky tofu, or pig’s intestines.

And food snobs probably ask to have their meals modified when they ordered. A scene from the 2006 movie with Queen Latifah “Last Holiday” where a table full of diners orders various specialties and then asks to have them modified in ridiculous ways comes to mind as an excellent example of this type of food snobbery.

A true foodie delights in trying local cuisine wherever he or she happens to be. A true foodie will, barring allergies or significant dietary restrictions, also trust a chef to produce a dish properly, meaning with all the ingredients and accoutrements the chef designed the dish with. This applies as much to single courses as it does to so-called “chef’s tasting menus”. Back to “Last Holiday”, Queen Latifah’s character is a true foodie, taking her passion as far as to order multiple main courses just to try the various combinations of flavors and textures.

Diners who presume to tell a chef how to cook and what to serve or not are food snobs, not foodies.

And people who denigrate ordinary foods merely because they are not expensive or rare are not foodies either. An example of an ordinary food that comes to mind would be a side dish of fresh green beans boiled with bacon that we enjoyed at the homey Calico County Restaurant in Ft. Smith, Arkansas this past August. It was only a side dish, and simple home cooking, but it was heavenly, as were the cinnamon rolls served with the meal. And I’m pretty sure no food snob would even enter that wonderful place because of the simple exterior and kitschy interior.

In summary, a foodie is passionate about good food, regardless of its source. A food snob adds artificial criteria in his or her evaluation of food, many times including what other people think of the food instead of trusting their own senses.

Simple Pleasures Tips and Tricks

Fluffy Scrambled Eggs

Even foods we consider ordinary can surprise when they are prepared differently. Surprisingly, the preparation doesn’t need to be very different to make a difference.

A perfect example is scrambled eggs. In the past, my favorite way of making scrambled eggs was simply to crack the eggs over a pan and scramble them as they cooked. The result looks colorful, and the texture varied based on the combination of yolk and albumin (the clearer part of the egg).

Linda, my wife, would scramble them in a bowl before cooking them. Some folks may add a bit of milk as well, and over at IHOP, they add a bit of pancake batter (at least that’s what the menu suggested the last time I ate at an IHOP).

But a book I have been reading on and off – Harold McGee’s most excellent “On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” (2nd edition) – suggests that chefs have known for centuries that adding a bit of acid to scrambled eggs makes them extraordinarily fluffy when cooked. In the voluminous chapter on all things “egg” in his book, McGee explains in depth the structure of proteins in egg yolks and albumin, as well as the impact that acid has on those proteins.

Even if you don’t care about the science involved, you can still benefit from McGee’s analysis. The next time you scramble up some eggs before cooking them, add a small squeeze of lemon juice or a bit of fruit juice or even vinegar – a quarter or half teaspoon will do. The amount of lemon juice or other liquid you add is so miniscule you cannot taste it, but the result will astound you – you will likely never have had eggs so fluffy.

And you will likely never go back to chewy or rubbery scrambled eggs again.


What is a Foodie?

This blog is about foodie moments, but some folks might not share our concept of what a “foodie” is. So, in a first of a number of posts on the subject, let me share some thoughts on the matter.

What is a Foodie – Criteria #1:

A “Foodie” is someone who enjoys food for more than its perceived nutritional value.  Said another way, a foodie relishes understanding and discussing food preparation, presentation, and flavor. Being a Foodie involves passion for food, and not merely acceptance of what’s on the plate in front of you.

More on this subject later.

Condiments Kitchen Tools Simple Pleasures Tips and Tricks

Home Made Mayonnaise

Julia Child was a huge fan of butter, and I wholeheartedly agree that butter is a foodie staple. However, in that same vein, I’m also a devotee of mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is an excellent condiment – just ask my Dutch friends who eat it liberally with “frites” (french fries), a habit I have now adopted as well.

Of the store bought varieties, I find Kraft and Hellman’s regular mayonnaise to be the best, while at the same time, I believe that low-fat mayonnaise is an abomination as it has the wrong flavor and consistency (and it has carbs to compensate for the reduction in fat).

However, my absolute favorite mayonnaise is home made. The only implement you need is a good blender. Personally, I’m a fan of Vita-Mix blenders.

The basic ingredients for a good home-made mayonnaise are egg yolks, salt, mustard, lemon juice, and oil. You can use olive oil, but unless I want a strongly flavored mayonnaise (tasting like olive oil), I tend to use nut oils like peanut or sunflower oil. As a general principle I stay away from corn oil and generic vegetable oils.

Place three or four egg yolks in the blender, along with a pinch of salt (sea salt preferred over iodized table salt), a teaspoon or so of Dijon mustard (although any mustard will do), and another teaspoon of lemon juice. On very low speed, blend those things together quickly (keep the lid on the blender because you will get spattering).

Once those four items have been blended together, with the blender still on, slowly dribble in the oil. Feel free to increase the blender speed a bit as you do this. As you continue dribbling in the oil, you’ll find that the mixture will start to thicken. Keep adding oil until you get the consistency you want for your mayonnaise. You don’t want to add too much oil, as the mixture will become too thick. However, if that does happen, you can stir in a little bit of water to thin out the mayonnaise.

Voila! You have mayonnaise!

But here’s the really cool thing – in the early stages, after you’ve added some oil but your mayonnaise isn’t too thick, you can also add other ingredients to flavor your mayo before aiming for the consistency you want. For example, mince up a clove or two of garlic and add it to the blender to make a garlic aoili. Or add curry powder to make a curry mayo. Or chipotle peppers to make a nice spicy Mexican chipotle mayonnaise. The possibilities are endless. In any event, after you’ve added and blended in the extra ingredients, resume with the oil dribble to get the consistency you want.

Also, if you stop adding oil, you can blend your mayonnaise for extended periods of time without impacting its texture or flavor. That’s a great way to make sure your extra ingredients are well minced and distributed by the blender.

Once you try making your own mayonnaise you’ll be hard-pressed to go back to the store-bought stuff.

One final tip and trick – that blender will be a bit greasy after you’ve extracted all the mayo you can with your spatula. A great way to clean such a blender container is to rinse it out, and then fill it half-way with warm or hot water and a bit of dish detergent, and then, with the lid on, blend away on high for a minute or so. You’ll find that your blender container, once you get all the bubbles rinsed out, is clean and no longer greasy feeling (or at least less so than before).

Simple Pleasures Tea

Fresh Mint Tea

We recently completed a trip to The Netherlands and Germany, and found, to our delight, that many cafés offered fresh mint tea on their menus. We became fans of mint tea in Morocco last year, but Moroccan tea, made with dried mint leaves does not compare to the fresh flavor and color of tea made with fresh mint leaves.

After we got back home from our trip we attempted to make Fresh Mint Tea ourselves, and it was incredibly easy. Basically, you get a large sprig of fresh mint, put it in a large mug, add boiling water, and wait for it to steep. We find that muddling the leaves in the hot water helps add more mint flavor to the tea. We also like our mint tea sweetened, and use one or two packets of Splenda for that purpose instead of sugar (in order to avoid unnecessary carbs).

Fresh Mint Tea in The Netherlands
Fresh Mint Tea in The Netherlands

A small footnote about terminology: Technically, a “tea” is only a “tea” when it includes leaves from a tea plant or bush. Fresh mint tea is actually a “tisane“, a term used to describe hot drinks made from herbs and other non-tea plant leaves and ingredients.

Simple Pleasures

A Foodie Moment

Many people who have found happiness in life say that the best path towards fulfillment is to do the things that you love best, and success will follow. Certainly, doing the things you like makes it more likely that you will work on them regularly.

Thus, as food is a passion of the Traveling Richters, we have opted to created a separate site to share that passion with others.

“A Foodie Moment” refers to the joy and pleasure we find in discovering new foods, cooking techniques, presentations, combinations of textures and flavors. These joys can be simple or they can also be epiphanies. Either way, we hope that you will enjoy our Foodie Moments with us.