You know, I’m just going to admit it here- I don’t get radishes. I try to for sure, thinking that somehow I’ll instantly seem more Parisian if I happen to have a few of the French Breakfast variety smeared with butter and dusted in salt, but.. I don’t like them that much. I could live without radishes.
The reason why I don’t care for radishes is a no brainer. They’re hot, and they make my mouth feel odd. Granted I like spicy foods when its a mellow burn and no residuals, but there’s something about radishes that remind me that their flavor is nature’s way of saying “STOP CHEWING ON ME RIGHT NOW JERKOFF!” and it isn’t just limited to human beings. Radishes are known as a companion plant- one that naturally protects another crop because they’re so damn vile to bugs. (If you were an innocent flea beetle, would you want to eat something that put your tiny little mouth on fire? Exactly.)
The burn that flashes in your mouth though isn’t the same as what makes a chili burn. Keep reading and I’ll explain to you what does cause the flashbulb of pain to go off in your mouth, butter or no.
Question: “Is ceviche just pickled fish? Could you call a pickle ‘vegetable ceviche’?” -Makala O. Corvallis, OR
Answer: Ceviche, a South American dish consisting of fish and vegetables “cooked” with an acid, most certainly looks like a pickle but it couldn’t be further from one. Read the rest of this entry »
The other night, when I was making the Spiced Dulce de Membrillo out of this beautiful looking bright green quince that I had found and I encountered a familiar problem. My sweet, sweet beloved quince wouldn’t turn pink. Nope, not at all. Not an iota of pink, not a blush to be found. Not one little bit. It annoyingly stayed milky white until I cooked the quince down so much that the only color that I saw developing was most likely because I cooked the sugar in the recipe down enough so that it was caramelized. See? Not even close to pink. That peice of latin candy is, at best, burnt umber.
But, it did get me to wondering why this colorless quince problem kept happening to me. I’d see other cooks turn their quince to the color of a highlighter with almost no effort whatsoever! Just put a match under it and go! I knew that it wasn’t a myth, fiery pink quince wasn’t the unicorn of the cooking world. Quince are supposed to turn vividly magenta when they’ve been slowly cooked down. Why wasn’t this magical event happening to me though?
The answer, as I discovered with a little research, was simple and two fold.
The quince is a fruit closely related to apples and pears in the fact that they are all pomaceous fruit in the rose family. A quince closely resembles a pear in shape but is also naturally high in pectin, much like its cousin the apple. Quince trees are native to southwest Asia and the Caucasus region and are harvested in late fall and early winter, after the first frost in their growing reason. The unripe fruit are hard and green. Ripe quince turn golden yellow, are still firm to the touch but have a beautiful vanilla pineapple smell.
Reason number one that I hadn’t been able to get my quince to turn pink was that I was using unripe quince to begin with! The ones that I had been buying at the fruit market were so green they could have been on a stoplight and so hard that they could have shattered a plate glass window. As I’ve only seen the finished quince products rather than the raw fruit, I had no idea what to look for when shopping for quince. I had been jipped! Unripe quince will not turn bright pink if it’s cooked down, no matter what you do to it. However, you can let the unripe ones sit on the counter for a few days before using as they will continue to ripen long after they have been picked. (Good thing they’re also attractive fruit to look at.)
The second reason as to why quince turn bright pink when cooking is because the fruit is usually cooked in or stored in an acidified water bath. Quince, much like the apple and pear, is subject to browning via polyphenol oxidase if the cut surfaces are exposed to air. (That’s just a fancy way of saying “they turn brown”.) When cooking quince, the heat and the acidity help break down the phenolic compounds, which then develop into anthocyanins. Anthocyanins, as you may remember from that article I had written, are pigments found in plant matter that serve to protect the plant in some cases or attract pollinating animals in other cases.
Double Ah HAH!
Not much acidity is required though to help turn a quince from milky white to the elusive rose pink. The juice of one lemon is sufficient enough to discolor four average sized quince. In my case it turns out that I had been screwed from the get go by using unripened quince in my recipes, but now I also knew that I could help the process of science along with just a little squeeze of lemon juice.
Want to know something about food? Well email me and I’ll answer it. Send all inquiries to unprofessionalcookery(at)gmail(dot)com
Question: What’s the difference between baking powder and baking soda?- Richard Nordgren, Richland, WA
Answer: Great question. Both baking powder and baking soda are leavening agents in baked goods, but they have different reactions and they’re not interchangeable.
Baking soda is simply sodium bicarbonate, a salt. It is both naturally occurring a mineral known as nahcholite and easily produced artificially. Baking soda was invented in the mid nineteenth century by John Dwight and his brother in law, the chemist Dr. Austin Church. Their original product was bagged by hand in Dwight’s home, and shortly thereafter became known as Dwight’s Cow Brand Baking Soda when the company incorporated formally in 1847 under John Dwight & Company. (The cow was the mascot representing the use of an acidic agent to produce a reaction.) Dr. Church ended up splitting from John Dwight and forming his own baking soda company when he saw the rise in popularity (get it?) of sodium bicarbonate and the need for greater manufacturing capabilities. His company was named Church & Company, and was attributed to creating the arm and hammer logo associated with baking soda. The two companies merged in 1896 to form Church & Dwight Company Inc, which now produces the ever popular Arm & Hammer brand baking soda (as well as First Response pregnancy tests, Nair, Lady Speed Stick, and Trojan condoms… if you were curious).
Extensive history aside, the function of baking soda is that it works as a leavener by reacting with liquids and acids in baked goods to produce carbon dioxide. The chemical reaction of baking soda, acids and liquids is immediate, so it is important to use any doughs or batters quickly after incorporation to get the best effect.
As baking soda is a simple salt and has no acidic buffer added to it, its important to consider the other ingredients involved in the recipe. The bitter taste will need to be masked by other acidic ingredients, such as cocoa powder, buttermilk, lemon juice, vinegar or yogurt. Also, since the reaction of baking soda is immediate, the use is best suited for less tender and lofty baked goods, such as cookies rather than cakes.
Baking soda may also be used in recipes that call for baking powder if potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar) is also added. To create a simple baking powder, combine two parts sodium bicarbonate to one part potassium bitartrate.
Baking powder, as alluded to, is simply sodium bicarbonate, potassium bitartrate and a drying agent (usually starch) combined. The invention of the product is attributed to a British chemist and food manufacturer named Alfred Bird who created the compound in the mid nineteenth century so that his wife, who had both egg and yeast allergies, could enjoy bread products. (The patent for baking powder is dated in 1843, three years prior to the formal invention of baking soda, incidentally.) This type of baking powder was known as single acting baking powder and was widely used until nearly the turn of the twentieth century when double acting baking powder was developed in 1889.
Single acting baking powder reacts immediately when moisture is added to it, while double acting baking powder reacts both when it comes in contact with liquid and while the dough is being baked and thereby has a greater window of time in where the dough can be worked. In comparison to baking soda, both single and double acting varieties of baking powder have a neutral taste which work well in recipes where the other ingredients are also neutral tasting- such as when using regular milk rather than buttermilk. If a batter is particularly acidic though, additional baking soda may be needed in the recipe and will not result in a bitter aftertaste if used in lower proportions than the baking powder.
On a final note, baking powder will produce a bitter aftertaste in foods if sodium acid pyrophosphate, a buffering and chelating agent, is present. Sodium adic pyrophosphate can be used to prevent discoloration in foods and is common in foods such as frozen hash browns and canned seafood. That being said, choosing baking powder when making homemade tuna potato muffins is a poor choice. Use baking soda instead, obviously.
Recently, I decided to try making my own rennet based cheese, hearing it was an “easy” project. I’d made goat cheese and ricotta in the past with no problem- now it was time to tackle the elusive fresh cheeses involving enzymes. Having done some poking around on the internets, there were handful upon handful of “Make your own mozzarella in 30 minutes!! Great for family projects!!” recipes to be found. Everyone had an opinion and a coveted technique. After reading quite a few of them, some of them of questionable process, I settled on the recipe offered by Ricki Carroll, the self-proclaimed “Cheese Queen” on the New England Cheesemaking Supply website.
Surely if the Cheese Queen could bang out mozzarella in a half an hour and make it look so easy, *I* would have no problem, right?
I dutifully followed Ricki’s recipe twice and both recipes failed miserably. The first batch came together quickly, but needed twice as much citric acid and four times the tablet based rennet (Junket) than called for in the recipe to work. The end result of that recipe was also like chewing on a rubber ball. I originally had thought that perhaps the quality of my ingredients had been the culprit, so I tried a few different things. I tried a different water bath after making the cheese. That wasn’t it. I tried a fresher vegetable liquid rennet, thinking that my Junket tablets may have expired. That wasn’t the culprit- the cheese curds didn’t set up at all with the liquid stuff when using the 30 minute recipe.
However, the liquid rennet that I used clearly stated on the label “1/8 tsp will set 2 gallons of milk in 45 minutes” which led me to my hypothesis that the 30 minute recipe wouldn’t work simply because the reactions hadn’t really had a chance to work. (Strangely, the liquid vegetable rennet was also from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Hmm…) So I did some more poking around the internets, looking for a recipe on how to make mozzarella traditionally, thinking that someone in Italy somewhere had to spend more than half an hour making this cheese at some point.
I found very little in the way of “traditional” recipes, but after a few more tries I found another version on Cook Italian. (The guy is also no stranger to exclamation points.) I tried his version in a bastardized manner and discovered that my hypothesis that the reason my fresh mozzarella wasn’t coming out right was because I wasn’t giving it enough time to work. I was doing just about everything correct in making my own cheese EXCEPT giving the enzymes a chance to do their thing.
I was on to something with the timing thing. However, there was more than just the timing that was souring my experiences with making fresh cheese. In both batches that I had tried to make using the quick method, the cheese was seasoned in a water (or whey) bath that had been heavily salted. The brining method did work for making the end product taste better, but in both cases the end result was that the outside of each cheese ball was slimy and gooey while the insides were tough. Being a person who has this constant need to reinvent the wheel whenever possible, I wanted to know if there would be a way to both make cheese and season it simultaneously. I consulted my parents, the ultimate chemistry couple, and they had some good suggestions. (Also to note, I apparently missed the part of the Cook Italian recipe where it said to salt the curds. Yet I digress.)
My parents suggested that when making fresh cheese using rennet, the second heating of the cheese curd was essential to kill off the enzyme that was causing the cheese to form. If I wanted to season the cheese while I was making it, the point at which I would want to add the salt was when I reheated the milk after letting the rennet do its thing. This would serve multiple purposes, they suggested. One, it would help precipitate the whey out of the forming cheese curds- perhaps cutting time. The second being that it would also help stop the reaction of the rennet with the milk. Lastly, the cheese would have some flavor in the end, no brining necessary.
So I tried making mozzarella one last time… and it worked! Really well! So well, that I’m going to share my recipe and method for making mozzarella, which is pretty much foolproof.
Mozzarella Cheese, or how I gained a great appreciation for Sargento
1 gallon milk (don’t use ultra pasteurized, but the standard homogenized/pasteurized is fine)
1/2 c water, divided
2 tbls salt, or to taste
2 tsp citric acid, divided
1 tablet rennet (Junket)
1 heavy bottomed large saucepot
a long knife (crappy blade is fine)
measuring cups and spoons
cheese cloth, a thin clean dishtowel OR two clean old stockings (your choice, neither is better than the other)
a chinois or fine sieve
a microwave safe bowl
rubber gloves or wooden spatula (optional. You may up your badassness if you choose not to use them.)
1. Put the saucepot on the stove and pour the milk into the pot. Let it reach about 50 degrees farenheit. (This takes only a few minutes really.) Meanwhile, pour 1/4 c water in each measuring cup. Dissolve the rennet tablet in one cup and 1 tsp citric acid in the other.
2. When the milk has reached 50 degrees, pour in the citric acid and stir for a few seconds. Then sprinkle the other teaspoon of citric acid over the milk and stir it in again. The milk will curdle a bit at this point.
3. Turn the heat on the stove to very low. Heat the milk to about 90 degrees farenheit, not stirring. It’s important to not heat the milk too quickly, as otherwise it WILL scorch and stick to the bottom of the saucepot. (Nobody likes scraping out the bottom of saucepots.) This will take about 10-15 minutes.
4. When the milk has reached the right temperature, cut the heat and stir in the rennet for a few seconds. Put a lid on the pot and let it sit there for at least 15 minutes but perhaps as long as 30 minutes. Take this opportunity to read more on Unprofessional Cookery.
5. After the 15 minute mark, test the milk for a clean break by sticking your (clean) finger into the center of the milk. If the milk sticks to your finger, the curds need more time to form, let it sit further. If your finger doesn’t have milk stuck to it you have successfully found a clean break.
6. Cut the curd with your long knife by dragging it in 1/2 inch lines vertically and horizontally in the pot (forming cubes). Let it sit again about 5-10 minutes doing nothing.
7. Introduce salt to your curds. I added about 2 tablespoons, but you may have to add more later. Then turn on the heat to very low again, heating the curd to 108 degrees farenheit. Every now and then, stir the curds with your slotted spoon. The whey will begin to separate from the curds at this point rapidly.
8. When the curds reach 108 degrees, turn off the heat and strain them. I found the easiest (and fastest) way to do this was to pour off as much of the whey as possible through the chinois and then to spoon the curds into a double stocking strainer so that I could squeeze out the whey a bit faster rather than waiting with the cheesecloth or dishtowel method. However, there is nothing wrong with lining a chinois, pouring the curds into the lined basket and just waiting. The most important thing is to make sure that all the whey you can get is strained off of the cheese curds. This will take about 20 minutes with the cloth-lined method, 10 with the stocking method.
9. When all the whey is strained off of the curds, transfer it to a microwave safe bowl and heat the curds for 30 seconds. Strain off the whey using a rubber gloved hand (or a spoon), pushing the curds into a loose ball as you go. Reheat the curds again and strain off again. The curds should reach about 135 degrees farentheit, but do not overheat or they will break down again.
10. After the second straining, start kneading and stretching the cheese. (Rubber gloves come in handy for this initially, the curds are really hot.) Taste the curds again, season again if necessary. Knead the cheese to squeeze out the last bits of whey initially, then stretch the cheese to get everything smooth and pliable. Work it just enough to get everything smooth, but not so much that it becomes rubbery.
11. Quickly form your cheese into one large ball, many tiny balls or a braid of cheese, whatever you like. You don’t need to brine this cheese, so it can be set in a bowl or on a plate and chilled (or allowed to reach room tempurature).
Voila! You have cheese! It’s a lot of work!