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Category Archives: Molecular Mixology

Beakerhead: Engineered Eats

What’s this? A new blog post? No, your eyes are not deceiving you – after having the privilege attending the Beakerhead Engineered Eats sneak-peek on Monday, I felt obligated to dust off the keyboard and give it a plug. After all, a food-based event for a grassroots festival in Calgary based on art and science pretty much pushes all of my buttons!

What better symbolizes food + science than sous-vide?

Of the seven Calgary restaurants who are participating in the 5-day-long Engineered Eats program, five of them were present at the sneak-peek – Mango Shiva, Charcut, Taste, Raw Bar/Yellow Door and Muse (the last of whom hosted the event). Each had brought a special concoction or two featuring science-y “molecular gastronomy” techniques – be it gels, foams, sous-vide, caviar, etc. – and in keeping with the Beakerhead theme, most of the dishes and cocktails were assembled in a creative and artful manner.

Looks like a lot more than "just 3 ingredients" to me ;) (Muse's description says it's just tomato/basil/watermelon)

To start off, I hit up Muse’s table for their “tomato and watermelon inversion” (my description, not theirs). It was a daintily put-together mini-salad, featuring tomato, watermelon and basil in numerous combinations meant to f*ck with your mind 😉 Indeed, what appeared to be a scooped watermelon ball had the vegetably-tartness of a tomato, and the meticulously-crafted watermelon slice was of course an intensely-flavoured tomato bomb (the cucumber rind was a perfect choice!). Even the watery sauce with sprinklings of dehydrated buckwheat modelled the innards of a tomato remarkably well. Muse also offered a cocktail of sorts, a Tequila Sunrise push-pop. Utilizing a dollop of sous-vided fruit gel and topped with slushy ice, their cocktail was also an inversion of sorts (this time a thermal one!) – the mix of cold and hot sensations is a fascinating one, though the leakiness of the push-pop device proved a little problematic.

Modernizing an ancient cuisine

The strong aroma of Indian spices was difficult to miss, as Mango Shiva’s chef doled out portions of delectable chicken tikka and gol gappa on demand. There always seemed to be a bit of a lineup by the Mango Shiva table throughout the night, but it was worth the wait – the succulent, yoghurt-tenderized chicken tikka was well complemented by the balsamic caviar, mango puree and mint-yoghurt chutney. The deconstructed gol gappa/panipuri featured artfully transformed chutneys in the form of yoghurt balls and tamarind spaghetti, and the traditional flavoured water (or in this case, a less-traditional herbs-and-vodka mix) was to be taken as a shot rather than poured into the shell. All of the components are reconstructed in your mouth for a complex mosaic of flavours.

More than meets the eye

Taste offered what was likely the most humble-looking offering, with their “gazpacho-on-a-stick”. But the appearance of the minimalistic beige rectangles simply increases the shock value of the explosive flavours that arise upon putting the jelly into your mouth – it’s a full-spectrum savoury sensation. My one criticism of the gazpacho was the size of the serving – it basically filled my mouth to bursting. Who eats soup by the bulging mouthful? Kent tried to bite his and ended up dropping the rest of it on the floor (though admittedly they were kind of melting due to it being really hot in the restaurant). I think a portion half to one-third of the size would make it the ideal amuse-bouche.

All it needs is a fat straw!Hollow ice spheres for cocktails should become a new thing

Perhaps one of the more delightfully-themed dishes at the event was the Tom Yum Bubble Tea, by Raw Bar – presented in a shot glass, the tom yum soup was jazzed up with “pearls” made up of tomato caviar and currant tomatoes (which Muse also used in their dish). The floating cilantro and flower petal just added to the tropical feel. Raw Bar’s cocktail was also a smashing hit – literally! An aromatic kaffir-lime based drink featuring Vietnamese cinnamon spray and jalapeno bitters (if I’m remembering correctly), the presentation of the cocktail left many impressed – the cocktail was injected into a hollow ice sphere, which is subsequently smashed with a hammer and pin. Too cool!

Foie and brioche - just a touch of sorrel to round out the fresh lightness

Last, but definitely not least, the venerable folks at Charcut put some modernist twists on classic favourites – foie gras and brioche. Both are normally extremely rich foods, but with a little magic foaming action they were transformed into a light, airy, yet flavourful bite. The brioche was apparently foamed before it was cooked, then microwaved – sounds like something even an engineer could cook 😉 Served with the light sweetness of cognac-soaked peach and apple jelly, the foie and brioche could almost double as a dessert. Charcut’s “Autumn in Cognac” cocktail was demure but delicious – cognac plus one other fortified wine whose name escapes me, topped with a little vanilla-apple foam. Not as flashy as the other cocktails perhaps, but I think I liked the flavor of this one best.

You can check out all of the above and more from today through Sunday – in addition to the five restaurants at the sneak-peek, downtownfood and Candela are also offering science specials. Be sure to check out the other Beakerhead events as well! Many thanks to Wendy for setting this all up and extending us an invite 🙂

-Richard

A Cocktail-a-Day #7: Champagne with Cointreau Caviar [Molecular Mixology]

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Today has been a tough day. Got laid off.

Yeah.

Mixed feelings. I have been fantasizing about quitting for last few months, of taking 6 months and going back to India, living there for 6 months, getting in touch with my roots, experiencing life, and in general doing everything I have ever wanted to.

And now that it’s actually a reality, the lack of an income stream is front and center of my mind. It’s like a bad migraine that refuses to go away. It’s constantly there, making sure that you know it is there.

Initially, when I found out, I was elated. Now, I would have all this time to do whatever I wanted. Blog more. Finish up all the projects that I never had the time to. Get involved in the arts scene more. Start a business. Go traveling. The world was my oyster.

But four hours later when the reality set in, my mood changed. I have a headache that refuses to go away.

What am I going to do? Travel and “find” myself? That’s just idealistic bullshit. Everyone fantasizes about going traveling and getting into adventures and living life. But I wonder if that happens in reality. Haven’t read Eat.Pray.Love, but I bet it’s nothing like what happens in real life. I would love to join a culinary institute in India and learn how to cook Indian food from scratch. But I have no interest in being a chef (for now anyways). I can just stay in Calgary and learn from my mum..haha.

And how the hell am I going to pay for this condo (although admittedly, this is my only real major expense)? I am going to have to cut back on pretty much everything. I had a pretty casual relationship with savings…now I am going to have to really pay attention when I didn’t have to before.

An engineer by training, I find the profession keeps me intellectually occupied (and handsomely compensated) for 5 days of the week. But it also takes up a lot of my time. I have 6.5 years of experience that I am kinda walking away from if I decide not to re-join the workforce (if that’s an option at all). I am going to drain pretty much all of last year’s savings. What if I don’t get rehired…ever? I don’t really have that much experience. It’s going to be tough to re-enter the workforce if I take a break for two years. All my friends/classmates are going to be ahead of me in terms of experience and compensation. How am I going to deal with that?

I would love to be able to work 3-4 days a week, preferably remotely, and have a long weekend every weekend. I think that would be the ideal situation. There’s money to be made food blogging, but my impression is you need a lot of unique/niche content and the latter has to be very good. I don’t envision myself public speaking or writing books – I am not that good and am not sure I want to be. This is definitely more of a hobby than a full-time passion that I would quit everything for.

Anyways, I am rambling. Here’s today’s concoction.

Recipe

Found a recipe for my first molecular mixology experiment online at molecularrecipes.com (See previous post on Molecule-R Molecular Mixology Kit).

The recipe is as follows:

Caviar Ingredients

140 g (5oz) Cointreau

60 g (2oz) water (filtered water or with low calcium content)

1.6 g sodium alginate (0.8%)

Calcium Bath

500 g (18 oz.) water

2.5 g calcium chloride

Preparation

Below is the step-by-step notes of making the caviar. I have left my notes and observations where appropriate.

1.  Prepare calcium bath. Dissolve the calcium chloride in the water and keep it in the fridge while you prepare the Cointreau mix for the caviar.

2. Mix the sodium alginate in the water using an immersion blender until the sodium alginate is completely dissolved, i.e. no visible clumps of alginate.

3. Once the sodium alginate is dissolved, mix with the Cointreau.  Pass it through a sieve to eliminate some of the air bubbles created by the immersion blender. **I found that leaving the alginate mix on counter top for 15 min.. didn’t do anything. The mix still had lots of bubbles suspended even after an hour I made the mistake of blending the Cointreau with the alginate instead of adding it after dissolving the powder.

4. Remove the calcium bath from the fridge. Fill a syringe with the Cointreau mixture and expel it drop by drop into the calcium bath. The syringe needs to be high enough for the drops to sink when they get in contact with the bath but not too high or the drops may break into smaller drops creating “baby” spheres. Leave the caviar "cooking" for about 1 minute in the calcium bath and then carefully remove it using a sieve. Then rinse it very gently with water to remove the calcium.

5. Consume immediately since the jellification process continues even after removing the caviar from the calcium bath and will eventually convert into a solid gel sphere with no magical liquid inside. **They are not exaggerating here. At the end of my shoot, there was no liquid inside – the spheres were all a chewy clump.

Learnings

I had a pretty hard time making a perfectly round sphere…more sperm shaped than spherical. The basic problem was the thickness of the sodium alginate Cointreau. The fluid was too viscous to make a clean “break” – I was instead left with little tails as shown below.

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I also didn’t follow instructions properly. I don’t have a weighing scale, so I couldn’t measure exact proportions of the Calcium Chloride. Also, the Molecule-R kit comes with Calcium Lactate whereas the recipe called for Calcium Chloride – not sure if it matters – but that could have made a difference.

The Molecule-R kit says to leave the alginate mix standing for 15 min. but even after an hour, air bubbles did not collapse. The air also made the caviar lighter than liquid,  causing them to float on top instead of sinking to the bottom. The picture below shows the tiny air bubbles trapped inside the caviar.

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The final result wasn’t very good. The caviar floated instead of dropping to the bottom of the coupe due to all the trapped air. I made some more caviar spheres after a few hours and those sank to the bottom fine. I am guessing 15 min. is too short.

Well, an interesting first experiment with spherificiation. Lots more to come. Stay tuned!

A Cocktail-A-Day #6: Unboxing of the Molecule-R Mixology Kit

I have been fascinated with molecular gastronomy as far as I can remember. However, I have a hard time defining or describing what it really is. From my brief research into the topic, I can summarize that “molecular gastronomy” is a branch of food science that investigates the science behind the physical and chemical processes of cooking. Most foodies would associate it with the celebrity chef Ferran Adria, the owner of the now-defunct El Bulli restaurant. The term was originally coined in 1992 by an Oxford physicist Nicholas Kurti and the French chemist Herve This and is now associated with a style of cooking that you see at super high-end restaurants such as Alinea of Chicago.

yuzu-sphereBut really, it’s just some cool shit. Yuzu-Cilantro Spheres? Yes! Carbonated Mojito Spheres? Double Yes!! Cocktail INSIDE an Ice Sphere? Triple yes!!! How can you not want to experiment and play with all these awesome recipes and techniques?

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Oh, also I am a Chemical Engineer so I get excited by molecules and science shit. Who knew all those chemistry courses in university would actually come in handy?

Molecular-R Molecular Mixology Kit

So I finally took the plunge and bought the kit from Amazon.ca for CAD$58.95. The kit comes with the following:

    • 5 sets of food-additives:
      • Agar-agar – 10 sachets of 20g each
      • Calcium Lactate – 10 sachets of 20g each
      • Sodium Alginate – 10 sachets of 20g each
      • Soy Lecithin – 10 sachets of 20g each
      • Xanthan Gum – 10 sachets of 10g each
    • 1 set of tools:
      • 5 pipettes
      • 1 slotted spoon
      •  1 set of measuring spoons
    • A Quick Start Guide
    • DVD with 50 recipes

 

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The Quick Start guide is pretty well laid out and has plenty of illustrations on how to get started. Molecule-R recommends that you experiment with recipes in the booklet first to master some basic techniques before moving onto the the more advanced DVD recipes.

Of note, you will need a immersion blender to mix the alginate-water solution as apparently an egg-beater may not be powerful enough. You may also want to invest in a fine sieve and silicone ice moulds (for some of the more advanced techniques like Mojito Spheres).

I am pretty pumped to play with my kit. Haven’t had time to play with any recipes yet, but that’s what I will be doing over the next few days. Meanwhile, here’s a more in-depth review from GeekMom over at Wired Magazine that covers making some of the recipes as well.

Time to play with some recipes!