Spin All the Things!

October 18, 2017 · 0 comments

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Visitors to the Belm Utility Research Kitchen, after seeing all of the gadgets and equipment, always ask “Is there anything else you need?” My answer is always the same: I’d like a chamber vacuum sealer and an ultracentrifuge. The former is within the realm of possibility (and budget), the latter remains a fantasy. Ultracentrifuges, even desktop models, cost thousands of dollars.

Then I heard about the Spinzall, the latest project from Dave Arnold at Booker and Dax, makers of the Searzall. It’s a tabletop centrifuge for culinary use and it had a reasonable pre-order price on Kickstarter. I passed at the time because I couldn’t afford it, but also because I didn’t think it handled sufficiently large enough volumes to make it useful.

Then a friend posted the results of his first Spinzall experiment – clarified basil oil – on Facebook, asking if anyone else wanted to give it a whirl. I had just the thing: two quarts of gazpacho that I had clarified via ice filtration. I froze a gallon of gazpacho, placed the solid block in a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer in a fridge, then collected the runoff. (I had employed a similar technique to make kimchi consommé.) The results were clear, but I wanted to see how clear I could go.

The Spinzall was smaller than expected, about the size of a food processor. This is when I learned that it had a pump that allowed continuous batch clarification: clarified liquid overflows the spinning head and is collected from the surrounding chamber.

Before we could start spinning, we had to prep the clarified gazpacho. First we added Pectinex, an enzyme that breaks down the naturally occurring pectins found in fruits and vegetables that would keep the solution cloudy. Next we added Kieselsol, a solution of suspended silica, and finally Chitosan, a hydrocolloid. These last two ingredients are the same fining agents that are used to remove suspended solids from wine. My formerly clear gazpacho was now cloudy and blotchy, but ready to spin.

We fed tubing into the container and attached the other end to the Spinzall head.

It took a while for the rotor to fill, but then we could see clear product sheeting down the sides of the outer vessel.

We collected the runoff in clean containers. Note the foam created by the aeration generated by the rotor.

All of the particulates remained behind in the rotor.

Once the foam had settled, we had a final product that was much clearer than the starting solution.

From start to finish the process took about two hours, twice the time needed for an ultracentrifuge. The Spinzall was remarkably quiet – it hummed and throbbed as if it had been constructed using Krell technology.

What will I do with the clarified gazpacho? I’ll either serve it as is, or use it as an infusion for cocktails. But I’m already thinking of the next thing to spin: clarified bacon fat, anyone?

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Dinner at Olo

August 26, 2017 · 1 comment

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Sometimes my reputation as a foodie precedes me. As a member of the committee that produced Worldcon 75, I had the opportunity to travel to Helsinki on three separate occasions. During each of my visits, my hosts made an effort to expose me to all facets of Finnish cuisine, from the ten-euro lunch buffet through reindeer-topped pizza to restaurants offering modern takes of traditional dishes.

But it wasn’t until the actual convention that I had my best Helsinki meal, thanks to my international restaurant fixer Scott Edelman. He found Olo, one of the city’s Michelin starred restaurants (one star), and reserved a table for six. We all agreed to select the Journey tasting menu, settling in for nearly four hours of food and conversation.

Fenkolta/Fennel

None other than Robert Silverberg advised me “If they serve you fennel, eat it.” They did, and I did. The lightly glazed stalks of baby fennel were a perfect way to start the meal: light, refreshing, and a palate reset to prepare us for what was to come.

Osterilehteä ja osteria/Oyster leaf and oyster

Lohta ja krassinkukkaa/Salmon and nasturtium

This garden in a bowl held oyster leaves (they do taste like oysters) filled with oyster cream, and nasturtium flowers filled with salmon cream.

Porkkanaa ja merilevää/Carrot and seaweed

Roasted carrots rolled in panko and nori.

Kananmaksaa, kanannahkaa ja kanalientä/Chicken liver, chicken skin, and poultry stock

Spheres of chicken liver mousse, chicken skin crackers, and chicken stock. I was having the wine pairing, so the tiny vial was included, which I was advised to drink as I ate the mousse. Perfect advice, as the bottle was a sip of Chateau d’Yquem, a sauterne traditionally served with foie gras.

Sienipiiras/Mushroom pie

Mushroom-filled pastry shells topped with chanterelle mushrooms and parmesan. This concluded the finger food portion of the menu.

Emmer-mannaa ja poron sydäntä/Emmer semolina and reindeer heart

Emmer wheat porridge with shaved dried reindeer heart and quinoa, with wild mushroom sauce underneath. I’ve concluded that it’s not possible to eat a multi-course Finnish meal and not be served reindeer.

Kurkkua ja sinisimpukkaa/Cucumber and mussel

Mussels, cucumbers, nasturtium leaves, and the first of many sauces with dill as a component.

Olon leipää ja karitsaa/Olo’s bread and baby lamb

The plating for this course began with a sheet of paper and a smear of house-churned butter, followed by a bowl of baby lamb tartare and a loaf of sourdough. The various dips were garlic, avocado, cucumber, and rapeseed oil. It’s unusual to be served a bread course in the middle of a tasting menu, but I ate it all, despite my concern that it would make me too full to enjoy the rest of the meal. Somehow I managed to soldier on.

Tomaattia ja vouhenjuustoa/Tomato and goat cheese

A play on the classic caprese salad: baby tomatoes with cucumber, basil gelée, and frozen powdered goat cheese.

Merianturaa ja kesäperunaa/Sole with summer potatoes

Poached sole, baby potato, fresh peas, kale, dill sauce.

Kuhaa ja kaviaaria/Pike perch with caviar

This was the first dish where I could see the work that went into its preparation. Pike filet had been “glued” together with transglutaminase, thinly sliced, and set over a disc of horseradish cream. A turned turnip cup held the caviar and sour cream.

Kateenkorvaa ja sipuleita/Sweetbreads of veal with onions

Sweetbreads are typically dredged in flour and lightly fried, but for this dish it was seared like foie gras. It was served with a roasted onion and oxtail stock.

Jogurttia ja tilliä/Yogurt and dill

Frozen yogurt foam with dill gelée and cucumber granita. A perfect palate cleanser.

Kesän marjoja, maitoa ja sitruunaverbena/Sumer berries, milk, and lemon verbena

Baby strawberries, strawberry sorbet, frozen mint spheres, and lemon verbena powder. And the mandatory salmiakki: salty black licorice.

Vadelmaa ja rusua/Raspberry and rose

Mustaherukka/Blackcurrant

Mignardises to conclude our meal: pastry puffs filed with raspberry and rose cream, and blackcurrant jellies.

Many restaurants pay lip service to “fresh and local,” but Olo didn’t just talk the talk, they walked the walk. Every dish highlighted an aspect of what Finland had to offer. I’d be interested in revisiting in the winter when the variety of fruits and vegetables would be more limited, but I suspect they’d be no less creative.

There was no technique on display for the sake of clever presentation, but there was clearly a lot of thought and skill put into each plate. It was refreshing to enjoy a fine meal where everything was in service to the food.

I’m not sure when I’ll return to Helsinki, but if I do, another dinner at Olo will be on my list.

(A confession: I ate everything on every plate with one exception – the salmiakki. That stuff is just nasty.)

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Twelfth Annual Birthday Dinner

July 11, 2017
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Trying to shoehorn an extended essay into 140-character tweets is a pain, the threading is a nightmare and it’s impermanent. If only there was some other medium better suited to the purpose… Oh, what’s this? *blows dust of WordPress* How is it possible that I haven’t posted anything here for a little over a year? […]

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We’re Out of Vanilla

June 16, 2016
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If you worked in an ice cream store in the mid-’80s you almost certainly saw this B. Kliban cartoon, probably pinned to the staff bulletin board or taped to a wall in the back room. When it was first published (Playboy, February 1983) it was a solid absurdist laugh – after all, who would make, […]

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Eleventh Annual Birthday Dinner

May 13, 2016
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How do I come up with the menus for the annual birthday dinners for She Who Must Be Obeyed? I pay attention to dishes that she’s enjoyed over the course of a year, either prepared by me, or that we’ve enjoyed while dining out. Penicillin We began with the same cocktail I made for the last Can’t […]

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Smoke ’em If You Got ’em

February 28, 2016
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It was our turn again for Can’t Talk, Eating, our quarterly dining club. Due to the host rotation this was our first winter meal, so we planned on heartier fare. We settled on a theme of “smoke” for all the courses, in both obvious and subtle presentations. Charcuterie Baguette, fig and butter spread, Serrano ham, […]

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Birthday Dinner at Tasting Counter

December 3, 2015
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Deciding where to have dinner on my birthday is a process that can begin months before the actual meal. After all the planning that went into last year’s wd~50 dinner, I wanted to limit this year’s choice to the Boston area. After reading this review in The Boston Globe, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I decided […]

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Dinner At Damon Baehrel

November 16, 2015
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I have a lot of foodie friends. We cook for each other, share recipes, trade restaurant info, and sometimes arrange to eat at some of the country’s (or world’s) best restaurants. One friend in particular, Scott Edelman, has a knack for wrangling “impossible” reservations, which has resulted in amazing meals at Alinea, The Fat Duck, […]

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Introducing Reading While Cooking

August 2, 2015
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Two weeks ago I saw this post from Rose Fox in my Twitter feed: Intrigued, I replied: Rose answered: Rose and I have worked together before, so after a few email exchanges we divided up the tasks. We grabbed a domain name, set up a WordPress blog, launched a Patreon campaign, and within 24 hours Reading While […]

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Meet Meat

July 9, 2015
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During last summer’s London trip, we ate at two of Heston Blumenthal’s restaurants. The first, The Fat Duck, was reported here. The second, dinner at Dinner, was an evening that I preferred not to document. The restaurant bases its menu on updated recreations of historical recipes researched by Blumenthal and recorded for his Heston’s Feasts series. […]

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