Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Taking Separate Trips

July 10th, 2010 at 4:42 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

It’s now a third of the way into July, and Linda and I find ourselves childless. It’s kind of a strange feeling, but liberating as well.

Bas is back in New Hampshire with his maternal grandparents, who have the pleasure of taking him to his first-ever overnight camp – two weeks of learning robotics, designing video games, and exploring his potential.

We just got word from Krystyana that she arrived safe but exhausted in Beijing earlier today. She’s in China for three weeks with 11 other teenagers and a couple of guides as part of National Geographic Student Expeditions. She will be spending her time looking at Chinese culture on a local, intimate level as well as honing her photographic skills. Her group has a blog set-up, and there should be occasional posts about their activities, as well as the ability to get e-mail notification of new posts – look at http://ngsechina2010.wordpress.com.

And Linda and I are presently at San Francisco International Airport awaiting our flight to Hong Kong, having flown in this morning from Los Angeles. We’ll be spending five nights and four days (not a typo) Kowloon-side, then three days in Macau, and another three or so days on the island of Hong Kong itself. Not much in particular is planned other than two dinners at reportedly excellent restaurants and a full day cooking class learning the ins and outs of Hunan and Sichuan/Szechuan cuisine. I will try to report on those experiences over at A Foodie Moment at some point.

No guarantees on regular updates here on the blog, especially if we’re having too much fun as a pair of temporarily childless parents.

http://www.ngstudentexpeditions.com/

 

GPS Tracking – The Path To Great Lamb BBQ From Ushuaia

March 6th, 2010 at 7:37 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Considering we were not even supposed to still be in Ushuaia yesterday, the folks at Lindblad Expeditions have been taking marvelous care of us – allowing us to remain in our cabins on board the National Geographic Explorer (which was supposed already have been several hundreds of miles away en route to dry dock in the Canary Islands), feeding us, entertaining us, and even providing us with free drinks. That will end later today as we get on the Miami Air charter (which Lindblad has also arranged for us at no charge) to get us to Miami. No other tour company I know of would have done all this for its guests. Kudos to Lindblad Expeditions!

The tour we were treated to yesterday was over the closest part of the Andes to Lago Escondido, and more specifically, to a small restaurant called Villa Marina, where we had wonderful BBQ lamb done in the local style, slow roasted for four hours (see photo in previous entry). Great scenic vistas and explanations of the geology and topology of the area by our guide along the way as well.

The GPS track for our Lamb BBQ quest is below in case any of you make it here, to the end of the earth (Fin del Mundo):

 

No Magellanic Woodpeckers, And Also No Plane

March 5th, 2010 at 2:40 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We just returned from Lago Escondido on the other side of the Andes mountain range here in Tierra del Fuego. Beautiful scenery along the way, and a spectacular roasted lamb for lunch, but no Magellanic woodpeckers to be found.

Roasted lamb in the Tierra del Fuego style - yum!

Roasted lamb in the Tierra del Fuego style - yum!

Returning back to the ship we found that in addition to there being no woodpeckers in sight, our charter flight to Miami was also in hiding.

Word is that the plane finally cleared all the Argentinian bureaucratic paperwork (there was a missing signature on a form, and that’s been the case for the last day), and should have finally departed Lima, Peru a few minutes ago, bound for Ushuaia.

This means we’ll be enjoying another night in the best hotel in Ushuaia, our ship, the National Geographic Explorer. It’s looking likely that we might actually leave tomorrow, but everything depends on when the charter flight actually lands in Ushuaia tonight (hopefully).

 

Dining Around – Minibar in D.C.

June 3rd, 2009 at 6:24 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The Traveling Richters have not traveled much in 2009, at least not so far. We spent a couple of weeks in Arizona and New Mexico in February, exploring red rocks, small bits of desert, art galleries, giant craters, Route 66, and ski slopes, but that’s been about it as my business travels have kept me away from home for pretty much the rest of the time.

The bar at Minibar has some nice ingredients on iceThat hasn’t stopped me from doing some exploration of my own in the various cities I’ve been visiting on business, and thus last night, I had the chance to dine at Minibar in Washington D.C., known for its difficult to obtain reservations (only six seats, two seatings nightly, five nights a week) and its outstanding fare. Minibar is set up like a sushi bar, and the featured cuisine is molecular gastronomy, which combines science with food ingredients to produce (sometimes) amazing culinary experiences. I made my reservation a month ago (the soonest you can book one of the prized spots at the bar at Minibar).

Our 26 course taste journey, spread out over about two hours, featured the following menu:

Munchies
Pisco Sour
Olive Oil “Bon-Bon”
Beet “Tumbleweed”
“Mojito”
“Bagels and Lox”
“Cornbread”
Steamed Brioche Bun with Caviar
Dragon’s Breath Popcorn
Boneless Chicken Wing
Blue Cheese and Almond
Cotton Candy Eel

Flavors & Textures
“Guacamole”
Zucchini in Textures
Green Almonds and “Raisins”
“Sundried” Tomato Salad
Smoked Oysters with Apples and Juniper
Salmon-Pineapple “Ravioli” with Crispy Quinoa
“Tzatziki” Salad
New England Clam Chowder
Parmesan “Egg” with Migas
Breaded Cigala with Sea Salad
“Philly Cheesesteak”

Pre-Dessert
Kumquats & Pumpkin Oil

Dessert
Frozen Yogurt and Honey
Thai Dessert

Sweet Endings
Chocolate Covered Corn Nuts – Mango Box – Saffron Gumdrop with Edible Wrapper

Minibar - Course 18 - Tzatziki SaladThe courses were all quite excellent, but I must say my favorites were the Tzatziki Salad (a spoom of Greek yogurt with juvenile cucumber flowers and garlic oil), the Philly Cheese Steak (a hollow bread filled with cheese foam and topped with Wagyu beef slices, and the Thai Dessert, which was like a Pad Thai in dessert form. The latter was the only one I failed to get a photo of during the evening.

The only mild negative was that the courses just kept coming a bit too quickly. But with the first seating at 6pm and the second at 8:30pm, I guess it’s kind of necessary.

The wait staff and chefs were attentive, willing to answer any question, no matter how odd or ignorant, and also very accommodating in explaining all aspects of their culinary arts. And my dinner companions were a delight to share the meal with as well – all of them strangers at the start of the meal and friendly acquaintances by the end.

I would highly recommend Minibar to anyone wanting to try molecular gastronomy and able to plan well in advance of a trip to Washington D.C. Photos from my culinary journey at Minibar can be found here.

Update: Just got a note about a post from Kristin Drohan, one of my dining companions that night at Minibar. Also, here’s a great play-by-play description of the same menu I enjoyed, written by friends of my friend Nell. My photos are better though 😉

 

Cooking With Liquid Nitrogen in New York City

September 8th, 2008 at 12:46 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Thanks to yet another missive from American Express – this one offering discounted prices on some cooking presentations at a place called Astor Center in New York City – we checked out what sort of culinary seminars Astor might be having during our visit in August. One particular course caught our attention – “Chilling Out With Liquid Nitrogen”, a presentation which promised to share a variety of uses of liquid nitrogen in the kitchen.

We first discovered the whole concept of using liquid nitrogen for “cooking” just a few months ago (May 2008), when we dined at The Fat Duck in England. Two of our courses were prepared with LN2 (as liquid nitrogen is called in technical circles).

After returning home we tried to find some affordable devices to generate LN2 for experimentation in our kitchen, but the cheapest system we found was over $11,000, and only available in the United States. Geography aside, that was well beyond our budget. And unlike in the U.S., no one on Bonaire makes LN2 for sale, so we’ve been unable to pursue our desires for experimentation with LN2 in the kitchen.

We spent a couple of hours one evening at the Astor Center learning from Ideas In Food's H. Alexander Talbot about cooking withBut, this class at Astor Center sounded like it might provide us with more insights, so we signed up, and were even given the courtesy of reserved seats so the kids could be in a location where they could be assured of a good view of the demo kitchen. Bas and Krystyana were the only kids present, and we surmise that a vast majority of the rest of the audience were “in the profession”, meaning they were chefs and restaurateurs. That was later confirmed for us when we discovered that Wiley Dufresne, the chef of New York’s top molecular gastronomy restaurant wd-50 had been sitting behind us during the presentation at Astor Center.

Aki and Alexander show us how to make a frozen yuzu cloud with liquid nitrogenThe presentation was conducted by newlywed chefs H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa, who run a business called Ideas in Food. Alex and Aki also write a column for Popular Science about kitchen alchemy, including this article on playing with liquid nitrogen, a copy of which was given to us at the presentation.

A few facts of note about Nitrogen are important before I continue.

Nitrogen makes up about 75-78% of the air we breathe, with oxygen at around 21% and various other gases making up the difference. Nitrogen needs to be cooled down to around -196° C to become a liquid (it becomes solid at -210° C). Once liquid nitrogen hits -195.8° C, it boils, turning back to gaseous form.

Working with liquid nitrogen is not particularly safe, as it can splash or splatter on your skin and cause “burns”, and likewise, if used in conductive containers you can suffer burns or even more embarrassing side effects from touching such containers, especially with damp body part (flash to the tongue stuck to the frozen metal pole in the movie “Christmas Story”). Liquid nitrogen is also commonly used by dermatologists to try and freeze off warts, as I can testify to from personal experience.

Also, as LN2 becomes a gas, if there’s not even ventilation you could potentially asphyxiate, or at least suffer from dizziness or nausea, if not a loss of consciousness. On a related note, in a recent episode of Burn Notice, nitrogen gas was used to assassinate someone by causing them to asphyxiate.

But, if you can overcome these varied dangers LN2 can be pretty fun to play with, as we witnessed in the presentation by Aki and Alex.

To whit, LN2 has been used for some time to make ice cream because it freezes fats and sugars so quickly you don’t have to spend lengthy periods churning the cream to break up the ice crystals that would otherwise form in traditional ice cream making. However, at the same time, you actually have to temper the produced ice cream to ensure it’s not so cold as to cause burns. Aki and Alex suggested that in order for items which have been thoroughly frozen with LN2 to be edible you should temper the items in a regular freezer to warm them up. Weird concept – thawing something in a freezer.

This is what black olives look like after they have been frozen with liquid nitrogen and then powdered in a commercial blenderAlex and Aki also recommend using LN2 for several particular kitchen functions other than making ice cream. One of those is to create finely ground or even powdered versions of pretty much any ingredient. During the presentation at Astor Center, they deep froze and then powdered (using a Vita-Mix commercial kitchen blender) the following ingredients (many of which we got to sample in one form or another):

  • Raw shrimp
  • Chorizo sausage
  • Pepperoni
  • Black olives
  • Raisins (normal)
  • Sultanas (blond raisins)

Using traditional methods, none of the above items could be turned into a powder. Instead you’d end up with either a greasy or sticky-sweet mush at best. But the low temperature of LN2 causes even fat to become a hard solid that can then be easily (with the right equipment) broken and shattered into a powder.

Creamy grits cooked with powdered shrimp made by freezing the shrimp in LN2, on a bed of powdered chorizo and pepperoni also preWhen raw ingredients like shrimp are used, the idea is that you’d use the resulting powder to flavor a dish you will later be cooking. This was demonstrated with an extremely creamy grits Alex had made using cyro-vac sealing and a pressure cooker. After the grits was finished it was then put in a pot with the shrimp powder and the two blended together by hand over heat, resulting in shrimp-flavored grits. (And then served to us over a bed of powdered chorizo and pepperoni – delightful!)

Krystyana breathes onto carrots frozen in liquid nitrogen and then shattered in a bowl at the Astor Center class room

A side effect of cooking with LN2 is that it will also dehydrate things put into it. Visually this results in clouds of vapor as the nitrogen boils off and takes water with it. Aki explain that when “cooking” with LN2, one way she knows that things are thoroughly frozen is when the LN2 stops bubbling and crackling, much in the same way oil stops sizzling loudly when it has cooked away the water in an item placed in it. This dehydration also aids in the powdering of food items frozen with LN2.

Alex also told us that he has found that using LN2 to freeze vegetables both retains and even concentrates the flavor of the vegetables, while at the same time tenderizing them and more cool yet, allowing one to shatter the vegetables to produce dramatic presentation when the vegetables are incorporated into a dish.

With things like nuts, you can make natural butters with all the flavor of the nut and no additional ingredients when you first freeze the nuts with LN2 and then grind the frozen nuts.

And, LN2 is so cold that you can even freeze alcohol into a solid, although it’s then too cold to consume without being tempered, which might cause it to melt. But a neat concept nonetheless.

In big cities like New York, LN2 can be had for about $2/liter. You need to get a dewar (eBay) – basically a giant ultra-thermos which costs many hundreds of dollars and then determine if you want a nozzle to pump the LN2 out, or if you’re comfortable simply pouring the LN2 into the vessel(s) you plan to “cook” in. Alex and Aki used Styrofoam coolers for their demonstration. It should be noted that while LN2 does boil at a low temperature, this boiling effect is more of an issue when in contact with warm solids than with air, although the cooler the air in the work area where the LN2 is being used, the longer the LN2 will survive before boiling off completely. That could be another reason that LN2 might not work so well for us on Bonaire, where the average temperature is around 85 degrees Fahrenheit year round.

Popcorn ice cream made with liquid nitrogen - made by injecting the popcorn cream into the LN2 with a gas bottleThe class lasted almost two hours, during which time, in addition to all the information I have noted above, Alex and Aki created a popcorn gelato, a frozen yuzu cloud used to chill a smoky mescal, creamy shrimp-flavored grits on a bed of powdered sausage, pureed almonds, frozen shattered carrots and beets, and a taste-packed rum raisin ice cream covered in powdered sultanas. And all prepared with liquid nitrogen.

Alex with a 20 liter dewar for holding liquid nitrogen during the LN2 cooking presentation at Astor CenterWhile we learned a lot about the practical application of liquid nitrogen in the kitchen, we left yearning for a way we could experiment with LN2 ourselves back home in our kitchen on Bonaire. Sadly, that’s just not viable at this time (although Alex suggested we could try with dry ice), but we may well see about borrowing some friend’s kitchen in big cities in the U.S. when we come to visit, and having a dewar shipped to them in advance of our visit.

The Astor Center also has remote cameras and TV screens so that every can see what's going on in the kitchen in the class roomIn closing I should add that the Astor Center’s classroom is quite well set-up, with two levels of seating arranged so that pretty much everyone has a good view of what the presenter is working on, with video cameras and flat screen displays to show more detail when needed. We’ll definitely be checking their schedule again when we next visit New York City.

More details on cooking with liquid nitrogen, as well as some recipes can be found in Alex and Aki’s article.

Click on the above pictures to enlarge them and get captions. You can also see all photos taken during this presentation on Flickr.

 

New York City – Cooking and Eating at Aureole

September 5th, 2008 at 5:54 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

As previously mentioned, one of the many highlights of our just-completed visit to New York City was spending time in the kitchen of restauranteur Charlie Palmer’s Aureole restaurant with Chef Tony Aiazzi.

We had wanted to arrange some sort of cooking class for The Traveling Richters while in New York, but had no idea how to find someone to spend time working with us.

That’s where Relais & Châteaux came in. Relais & Châteaux is an association representing fine hotels and restaurants all over the world, based in France, but with offices in London and New York City. Their affiliated lodging properties tend to be high quality inns and even castles, not traditional hotels. And on the dining side, their affiliate restaurants tend to represent some of the best restaurants in the world. In the last few months, the Relais & Châteaux restaurants we have dined at include The Fat Duck outside of London and Le Pre Catalan in Paris.

Linda and I are members of the Relais & Châteaux 5C Club, which provides VIP treatment at Relais & Châteaux properties, and more importantly, provides priority access for reservations at Relais & Châteaux restaurants. We even have a special concierge available to us to help arrange such reservations and other special events, which is how we got connected with Chef Tony at Aureole.

Aureole's chef, Tony Aiazzi, puts the finishing touches on the market sushi course, featuring yellowtail flown in from Japan witWe were told to show up at Aureole at 10am on Tuesday wearing comfortable clothes that we would not mind getting dirty. We did as we were told, and found Chef Tony waiting outside the restaurant for us. He guided us in through the delivery entrance (the restaurant was only open for dinner that day), along the way showing us various aspects of how a professional kitchen is set up. Aureole’s is actually on two floors, with desserts prepped in the basement, and the hot and cold kitchen on the second floor behind the upstairs dining room. That’s Chef Tony in the photo at right.

We were also introduced to Sous Chef Marcus Glendow-Ware (he’s in the photo with the pasta below), who actually ended up joining us for our cooking class as well – a pleasant surprise, as we were not expecting two chefs to be working with us.

Bas looks amused while Krystyana and Linda review their recipes for our five course lunch cooking lesson at Aureole in New YorkIn the upper kitchen we found four spots set up for us, each with an apron and a menu, and were asked to select the menu items we wanted to work on. The menu actually had five courses:

  1. Tuna Tartare with Ponzu Sauce
  2. Chilled Golden Tomato Soup with Piquillo Pepper, Melon, Fennel
  3. Market Sashimi with Fresh & Pickled Celery, Capicola, Black Lava Salt
  4. Caramelized Scallops with Fresh Linguine with Crab and Lemongrass Emulsion
  5. Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with Figs

Jake and Bas stretch out pasta dough for the linguine course with Marcus at Aureole_Bas picked the Chilled Golden Tomato Soup, Krystyana the Tuna Tartare, Linda chose the Ponzu Sauce, and I started on the Lemongrass emulsion. The first quarter hour was spent chopping, cutting, measuring and blending, all under the careful supervision of the duo of chefs.

We ultimately each ended up doing a variety of tasks, learning along the way about a great way to make fresh pasta (use a cryo-vac machine to firm up the dough first), how to make a foam (use soy lecithin granulate, but make sure it’s not flavored), how to make fresh tortellini, and a variety of other tips and tricks we are certainly going to be putting to use in the coming months when we are home for a spell.

Marcus and Tony also explained how a commercial kitchen actually operates, including staffing, order processing and delegation to make sure orders are accurate and complete, how and when supplies are procured, and much much more. Anyone contemplating starting a restaurant without real hands-on experience should think twice – it’s not easy work. But Tony and Marcus have it all well in hand, which was even more obvious the following evening.

A special treat - Kobe beef carpaccio made by Tony at AureoleA cooking class in a top restaurant can be very rewarding, as we discovered when we got to sample the fruits of our various labors, and were also treated to two bonus courses: self-made ravioli and tortellini with a wonderful fresh ricotta filling and a Kobe beef carpaccio which Tony made for us using as a drizzle the Ponzu sauce Linda had helped prepare for our tuna tartare.

Chef Tony helps Krystyana make the dessert during our cooking lesson at AureoleHere are the sticky toffee banana puddings Krystyana made cooling out of the oven at AureoleAnd as a sort of kudo to Krystyana’s culinary efforts, the extra sticky toffee banana pudding that Krystyana help prepare was put aside to serve to the kitchen staff later as a special treat.

Linda enjoys the excellent tuna tartare with ponzu sauce we helped prepare in the kitchen at AureoleWe spent just over two and a half hours in the kitchen prepping, cooking, learning, and eating, and could have not been happier with the way it all worked out. Tony and Marcus were both enthusiastic, helpful, knowledgeable and charming. We learned that they had actually never had a small (four person) cooking class in the kitchen before – only cooking presentations where they did the work with an audience looking on, so this was as much of a first for them as it was for us. And it was executed splendidly. Close-up of the caramelized scallops with fresh linguini with crab and a lemongrass emulsion I helped make at Aureole

Before leaving Aureole after our cooking session, we ended up making reservations for a chef’s tasting dinner the following night.

And when we showed up Wednesday evening we got the full red carpet treatment, including some special courses – sashimi four ways, three cheese ravioli, butter roasted Maine lobster, country ham crusted pork tenderloin, and a phenomenal grilled lamb with charred eggplant (and is an appraisal from a person who does not generally enjoy lamb). Great wine pairings made the meal even more special.
The night after our cooking class at Aureole we went back for a chef's tasting menu and Tony and Marcus treated us to a Grand Dessert
We also had personal visits to our table by both Tony and Marcus, and were provided a grand dessert tasting featuring six different plates of sweet delectables (including the best trio of creme brulee we have ever had – see photo at right, center of table). Capping off the evening was a present to Linda of a bottle of verjus (which was an ingredient used in making the ponzu sauce) and then to top that, we received a personal tour by Marcus of the fully operational kitchen at night.

While the cost of the cooking class or the subsequent dinner were not insubstantial, we felt it to be a very worthwhile investment as this truly was a remarkable and educational experience we would have otherwise not had, nor likely have ever been able to experience if it hadn’t been for Relais & Châteaux.

So, in summary, if you’re looking for an excellent fine dining experience in New York City, definitely visit Aureole – they are presently on the lower upper East Side (61st Street near Madison Avenue) but moving to Times Square later this year. And tell them The Traveling Richters sent you. I can’t promise that you can get cooking classes though. But if you can, jump at the opportunity. You won’t regret it.

Click on the above photos to see larger versions in our photo gallery. You can also see all of our photos from our experience at Aureole on Flickr.