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Sunday, December 8

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Feature Thu Jul 03 2008

Molecular Gastronomy at Home

With every leap in technology and taste that professional chefs make, there are always some fearless home chefs looking for ways to make the same moves in their smaller spaces on their limited budgets. And the ones with time and energy to spare will sometimes blog about it as well.

While I still consider peeling tomatoes a daring feat, I like to imagine that I’m just steps away from turning those peeled tomatoes into little cubes to sit atop a perfectly formed square of fish or mozzarella. As I wait for the nerve to try turning my everyday foodstuffs into gels or foams, I live vicariously through these chefs and their blogs.

Foodplayerlinda is like the Nigella of molecular gastronomy. She even looks like Nigella. On her blog, PlayingWithFireandWater, she relays a Devil Wears Prada sort of tale about how her corn and cream-cheese pudding, made with Methocel, came into being. Rather than mix together corn, cheese and gelatin, she meticulously combines cheddar powder, corn juice (extracted from a juicer), cream cheese and Methocel with an immersion blender. Then she puts the mixture into molds to be later served with meat that’s been formed into a ball with meat glue (Activa) on a bed of silky threads from the corn husk.

Methocel is the necessary ingredient for turning your food into smartly shaped cubes or spheres. Unlike gelatin, Methocel, or methyl cellulose, gels when heated. I learned from an LTHForum message board on using Methocel to make gluten-free bread, that you can order the ingredient online. If you go so far as to buy it, you can turn to husband-and-wife chefs H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa and their blog, Ideas in Food, for tips on how to use it. They use Methocel to make a French Toast Bread Pudding, a corn scramble, and they have a video in which they make a fake hard-boiled egg out of cauliflower puree and Hollandaise sauce. But Methocel is only the tip of their cutting-edge iceberg. They also concoct olive pop rocks, squash handkerchiefs and gnocchi out of almost anything they have lying around. Unfortunately, they don’t include recipes. They do, however, teach classes if you’re ever in New York.

PlayingWithFireandWater also offers a primer on working with methylcellulose, with a chart outlining the different types and the temperatures at which they harden.

The other thickener used by experimental chefs is hydrocolloids. Chemist Martin Lersch explains what a hydrocolloid is (a substance that forms a gel in contact with water). Cornstarch can be used as a hydrocolloid, as can flour. They sound scary, but are often plant-based. Lersch has compiled a downloadable collection of recipes using hydrocolloids. So if you have a hankering for gazpacho sorbet, celery pudding or Turkish delight, print a copy and haul out your beakers. And check out WillPowder for ingredients. PlayingWithFireandWater has an impressive post about cakes and hydrocolloids, with a photo of a cake in the shape of a Gucci high-heel pump—sadly, no recipe or how-to accompanies the photo.

Hydrocolloids can also be used to make foams—or airs, if you dare. It’s possible to use a foam-making canister, the kind you’d use to make your own soda. But the true kitchen geeks break out the agar-agar or the xanthum gum. The recipe collection from khymos includes foams, some of which use the easy-to-find flavorless gelatin. On the food blog Chadzilla, there’s a recipe for whipped lemonade made with Methocel.

Meanwhile, on Chowhound, there’s a home-cooking board from a few years ago with a discussion on making mushroom foam, perhaps the granddaddy of foams, introduced by Ferren Adria in Spain about a half a decade ago. The home cooks seem to prefer hand-held blenders and unflavored gelatin to foam from a canister.

Beware, though, if you decide to start making foams or gels. From the blogging I’ve seen, they’re a gateway technique. A little carrot air will lead you straight to dehydrating your food and putting it in a cotton-candy machine, or gluing white and red meat together to make a checkerboard meal.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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