Weekend Saccharine Research

Note to self: find a job where conducting research feels like recess on the playground.

Without further ado, I present to you the foundation of my research paper.

Gulab Jamun: Past and Present [read the captions]

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If you care to read the paper, I will be done with it this week, so be in touch.

Happy Weekend everyone.

sonia

Day 32: Flavors

My eyes opened to a very drafty terrain. From the inch of window left cracked open, a crisp, much too chilly breeze had crept into my bedroom. I rolled over to check the clock. 5:50 am.

Darn. Again I had underslept. I convinced myself to lie in bed for half an hour longer, before finally giving in. I pulled on my woolen socks, wrapped my shawl around my shoulders and went to the kitchen to start my chai. As I sat on the wooden stool by the window, I savored the sanctity. It was just me, my plants, and the aromas of pungent ginger and warm elichi cardamom. How sweet is the flavor of sleeping dawn?

Taste – What we taste on the tongue.

Aroma – The odor, the smell.

Flavor – When taste and aroma collide, along with texture, mouthfeel.

Chef Barry Maiden seemed upbeat and excited about the day’s lesson. As I walked in, he enthusiastically handed me a few Q-tips as he concocted solutions, poured liquids, and drew a chart that looked somewhat like my tongue, as he referred back to his Apple screen. I couldn’t help but join in his excitement. Flavors are fascinating.image

Experiment Uno

  • We drink some warm citrusy tea.
  • Chef reduces it by half and we taste it again.
  • Lesson: During reduction, aromas can get lost and flavors become denser. Remember that when you reduce a sauce or syrup.

Experiment Dos

  • We close our eyes and Chef Barry puts a skittle in our palm. No peeking! Close your nose, chew, release your nose, and guess what color, he asks. The sickeningly sweet plastic in my mouth is just not understandable anymore for me. I have to spit it out. I fail miserably.
  • Lesson: Skittles are gross. Our eyes give us a lot of information about flavor.

Experiment Tres

  • We do a taste bud survey, trying to map out where in our mouth do we taste the most sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami flavors. I have a fond memory of elementary school here, although I don’t think our teacher was as democratic as Chef Barry is today. And there was no umami test back then either. All of us have different answers, but overall, we come pretty close to what science argues.
  • Lesson: Our tongues are all different in regards to sensory details. When making food for someone else, consider who you are seasoning for. Their palate may differ from yours. Perhaps chew on the other side every now and then to see if you can heighten other tastebuds.

Experiment Cuatro

  • We eat grapefruit.
  • Then we eat it with salt.
  • Then we eat it with sugar.
  • Then we eat it with salt and sugar.
  • Valencia doesn’t like grapefruit and gives me her extra.
  • Lesson: Salt makes the grapefruit taste sweeter.
  • Lesson: Salt and sugar balance the flavor of grapefruit perfectly.

Experiment Cinco

  • We drink white wine.
  • We taste a lemon and drink more white wine.
  • Lesson: Acid with acid makes the sweetness stand out.

Experiment Seis

  • We drink some red wine.
  • Then we taste some brie (for the vegetarians) or salami and drink more wine. I taste both before handing the rest of my salami over to Valencia.
  • Lesson: Fat makes the wine more refreshing and softens the tannins.
  • Lesson: Salami is tasty.

Slightly buzzing with the nature of science and wine, we discuss the game plan for the rest of the day. A salad and soup off!

Chef Barry puts on a game show voice: Achieve perfect seasoning. Balance the flavors. Get creative. Who will prevail and who will be sent home?

We laugh. Today is not stressful. More like, fun and experimental. I am assigned peanut soup and arugula greens. I cannot wait!

Peanut soup – I know I want some spice, as I have been rather obsessed with chili for the past few weeks and love my mama’s peanut curry. I season with salt, cayenne, and a dash of sugar. My garnish is three fried jalapenos, some crisp raw shallot, roasted peanut crumbles, as well as a few arugula leaves. Chef tastes it, thinks for a second, “All yours needs is this,” he says, squeezing in some fresh lime. “Now it is perfect. Nix the arugula, try an herb.” Heard that, Chef.image

Salad: My salad is a spin off of the peanut butter cookie Lara Bar. I know I need sweetness to cut the punchy arugula. I put in fresh orange segments, chopped dates, radish for crunch, and roasted peanuts. I blend up a citrus jalapeno date dressing – the dates make it so creamy, which is a cool discovery. I personally love the whole thing. Chef says it has good flavors and textures but to cut the dates up finer so that they only come in the mouth every third or fourth bite. Good advice.image

Last but not least, Chef Barry’s class would not be complete without a Steak Off. “Show your skills. Steaks and red-wine pan sauce up in 15!” Yes Chef!

We get moving to sear our meat and reduce our red wine. Steak cooking is always a bit of a mystery to me, as I never know exactly what flavor it is that I am looking for. But I am getting better at recognizing the texture, color, and feel of the steak while I sear and baste it. So that is exciting.

I cook my steak to medium and got a “very good job” from Chef regarding my red wine reduction sauce. “A good nappe,” explains Chef, as he shows how the shiny glaze coats the back of the spoon.image

We learn a lot today. Here are some of my Taste and Flavor notes from the day:

  • Flavors at hot temps are more pronounced.
  • Cold flavors are dulled.
  • Taste your food how you are serving it. Chef’s example: In deviled eggs, taste the filling with an egg white, cold temp.
  • Did you know that soups and salads are the most popular things to order at a restaurant? I would not have realized that.
  • Salt and pepper, acids, and sugars are all very very important in balancing flavors.
  • Umami: the savory, soy sauce, anchovies, capers, natures glutamates.
  • Taste and season as you go. If your palate gets fatigued, take a break, drink some water, or have someone else taste it.

My tastebuds are changing. I can feel it.
sonia

Day 31: The Mind of a Chef

Have you seen the CHOPPED tv show?

yea

Today was CHOPPED with Chef Michael Leviton.

THE most stressful day of my life since my Iyengar yoga assessment. No joke.

Hands shaking so much that it is a miracle I didn’t cut myself while mincing those shallots.

All I have to report is that, Chef Michael liked my flavors, especially my mint jalapeno chutney. He said I know what I am doing with the Indian stuff and that next time, I should add more chutney because it tastes really good. Wow.

JAI HO. Thanks Mom.

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Spiced Cauliflower Rice topped with Pan Seared Scallops and a Mint Jalapeno Chutney

sonia

 

Day 30: Latin America and PASTA

I just love sticking my hands in dough. It brings me great joy.

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Pappardelle

In India, we often use our hands to eat because it allows us to connect to the food with our sense of touch. Touching ingredients imprints specific sensory details, providing us with such special information that our beloved spoon, fork, whisk, mixer, just cannot relay in the same way.

WHAT an interactive day. What a joyful day. What a flour-filled, gooey hands-in-dough kind of day.

With Chef Fernanda White, owner of Commodore restaurant in Newton, we used our hands to roll, fill, fold, and seal cute little pouches. These soon turned into scallop and fontina cheese empanadas. Delicious.

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Chef Fernanda with Virginia rolling empanada dough.

Chef Fernanda, originally from Chile, was quite an inspiration. She was young, perhaps early thirties, a graduate of our program, and now running her own full-blown restaurant with her husband, with whom she had met in the program too. She introduced us to some of the most amazing Latin American flavors from her country – peppers, spices, cured fish, and of course lots of bright cilantro. I now have a rockstar recipe for the most incredible Jalapeno Dressing.

After probably the most delicious lunch I have had in awhile, we got ready for Chef Dante, owner of Restaurant Dante in Cambridge and Casale in Belmont.

No cutting boards today. Just lots of flour. Egg. Bench Scrapers.

It is pasta day, what do you expect?

Pasta world is not a familiar one for me, and so while my notes are sparse – it’s hard to take notes when your hands pasted with egg and flour – I find Chef Dante’s words fascinating.

  • 00 flour – what we used for most of the pasta making. It is refined differently than all-purpose. More protein, I believe.
  • Textured lines on pasta are not there only because they look nice. They help to hold the sauce better.
  • On traditional tomato sauce – Chef’s advice is to keep it simple. Just use good ingredients. No over garlicing. No over herbing. Ours was spicy and delicious.
  • Chef said something like, “Pasta never waits for the king.” (Not sure if that is the correct phrase). But basically, once you sauce the pasta, it does not stay perfect and pretty for long. So eat up!
  • Pasta water is great for diluting sauces.

Orecchiette – No egg in this dough. This dough needed to rest in the fridge before cooking. We cut this pasta into small pieces that we then thumb-printed. We tossed them in a walnut Salsa di Noci sauce.

Ravioli Ignudi – aka naked ravioli. A delicious cheese and spinach mixture, coated in flour and then steamed. I goofed up on this recipe and added all of my egg whites into the filling, while actually they were supposed to be part of the coating. The flour dust storm in the kitchen was just too blinding that I could not read the correct instructions (ahem, excuses). So…Chef Dante dumped three pint containers of cheese into my bowl to dry it up. Ours was…cheesy to say the least.

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Ravioli Ignudi

Gnocchi – Potato and egg dough. Must be cooked immediately or otherwise it gets tough and rubbery. The ridges and thumbprint are important to hold the sauce. The dough has nutmeg in it, but this is only a discrete backdrop. Chef said if you taste the nutmeg then you have added too much.

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Potato Egg Gnocchi dough.
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Ready for thumbprints.

Basic Egg Pasta – Lots of egg in this dough. We made a little well in the center and then worked the dough together. We kneaded and kneaded and kneaded. Chef Dante commented that this was our workout for the day and Team 2 across the table promised to show off their pasta guns. Remind me to ask them about this tomorrow…This dough needed to rest as well.

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Chef Dante shows us how to make the dough.

Rolling and cutting the egg pasta was quite exciting and quite challenging. Those gosh darn pasta rollers were both a curse and a blessing, at least for a novice pasta maker like myself. But at last, letting that sheet of finely rolled pasta dough rest on my palms, so smooth, so perfect. It felt like a stick of juicy fruit gum. Nothing could bring me the same kind of contentment.

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Chef Dante showed us all different ways to cut the dough into tagallini, fettuccine, tagliatelle, pappardelle, spaghetti, and more. FYI – hardcore Italians will only eat certain shapes of pasta in certain sauces.

My fingers are happy today.

And now that I think of it, pruny, after washing fifteen saucy stockpots.

sonia

 

Day 29: The Farmer and the Chef

I will be honest.

Today kind of slipped through my fingers.

It was one of those days where my face was perspiring due to being so near the hot plancha. My fingertips were stinging from pitting the steaming Castelvetrano olives. And my stomach was flip flopping for hours after spatchcocking our guinea hen, which looked all too much alive.

Not to say I was in a place of exhaustion or desperation…it was more like, an energized tension.

I felt like Peter Pan trying to catch my own shadow.

Chef Chris Fischer, well-versed chef and the 12th generation of his family’s Beetlebung Farms, on Martha’s Vineyard was here to give us a glimpse of farm and chef life. Growing up on the farm, Chef Chris was exposed to a uniqueness – pure, wholesome vegetables, fresh oysters, preparing food from scratch, sitting around the table with three to four generations of family members at every meal. He told us about his late grandfather who loved to dumpster-dive, his 100-year-old grandmother who just gave a haircut to, his foraging loving father who he was texting photos to as he spoke, and so much more. By the end of the morning, I was off in a farmland dream. Check out his James Beard nominated cookbook.

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Chef Chris shows us the black sea bass.

Chef Chris was personable and fun to work with. He learned our names within ten minutes of arriving to class, which was nice. He emphasized the importance of working with a clean, organized station and did not like wasting any part of the vegetables we were using. I appreciated that.

Chef was also quite ambitious and fast paced. We had a rather complex menu today, lots of technique, and lots of dishes. I got home an hour and a half later than usual. So I will quickly show and tell what we made.

Pan Roasted Black Sea Bass with Salsa Verde: Black sea bass is scaly. Refreshing green sauce to brighten the flavors.

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Guinea Hen Ragu. (not pictured) I love the word ragu and don’t hear it often enough. I am proud that I had the courage to butcher the hen, but it was really, really tough today for me. The ragu flavor at the end really came together nicely.

Watercress and Pea Shoot Salad: the most interesting salad I have ever had. A thick puree of veggies, topped with more veggies, and more veggies! Love those greens.

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Valencia, Rachael, and Scotty’s beautiful salad.

Pea Shoot and Pistachio Cake: We didn’t have pea shoots unfortunately, so we had to improvise with other greens. My team was assigned spinach. I think because the spinach was just rather moist, the texture of the cake was not my favorite and the whole thing overall was a tad too sweet for my liking. However, check out those candied fennel frawns that Chef created. Cool idea.

What a day.

In a somewhat more tranquil spot, after having done my inversions. Drinking ginger tea and hoping my shadow decides to cooperate. Farmland dreams.

sonia

Day 28: India

It is only fitting that I write this post while listening to Vande Mataram. I suggest you listen to this song and read along.

I’ve said it before when I was very young and I will say it again now, I am so glad to be an Indian.

Indian food, Hindustani khana, is ingenious and genius – the most fascinating, clever, most comforting food ever.

I may be biased.

It is not only delicious food. Indian food works with the seasons, with flavors that engage not only the physical senses, but with nature’s elements – earth, wind, fire, air, ether – that compose our systems. Indian food has been designed so cleverly to work on healing our system, integrating the system. I could go on and on about this in detail – do get in touch if you want some Ayurveda knowledge!

Today, while cooking Indian food with Chef Robin DeLuca, I was somewhere else. Of course, I was there in our school kitchen, but I was also in India…In that alive kitchen. I was with Shobana watching the chapatis balloon on the fire. I was with Sonali making the tarka (seasoning) for the most comforting dal. I was with the whistle of the pressure cooker and hiss of hot milk as it bubbled up to the surface of the pan. I was with my grandmothers. I was with my mother. I was in Guruji BKS Iyengar’s home, inhaling the fragrance of toasted rai that always seeped through the open windows around 10:30 am as I practiced yoga.

Today’s menu.

Homemade garam masala: I finally understand WHY the extra time is taken to make this from scratch. So aromatic, so worth it.

Goan Shrimp Curry: What makes this Goan are the tamarind and coconut flavors.

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Goan Shrimp Curry

Lamb Curry: North Indian preparation with ginger and garlic. Mom makes her curries with this same base.

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Lamb Curry

Aloo Samosas with Mint Chutney: Little pockets stuffed with aloo sabzi (potatoes and peas).

Parathas: I had a flashback to our family home in California, watching my Mom quickly roll and fold and roll and fold the dough as she layered ghee inside.

Lime Rice: Aromatic rice spiced up with toasted peanuts, spices, and a zing of lime.

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Lime Rice

Saag: My favorite. All the greens. Spinach, mustard, and methi fenugreek! Cooked together and blended up.

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Saag

What a feast.

Missing India so much. Heading to Netflix to rustle up something Bollywood. Perhaps that will make me feel better.

sonia

Day 27: Pizza @ Tavolo and Appetizers

The warm kitchen got my feet tapping, the buoyant dough had me bouncing inside, and the possibilities of toppings…my imagination was salivating.

I didn’t even realize I was asking so many questions.

“Chef, do we have pesto?” I asked the sous Chef of Tavolo.

“Uhhhhhmmm, we usually do but ran out yesterday,” he responded, directing his attention the roaring ovens that he had just opened.

“Chef, is there any goat cheese here?”

“Uhhhhhhhh, yea, one sec,” he said, closing the hot pizza oven and sliding through our condensed bodies, ducking underneath to reach into a small fridge below the counter. He plopped a bucket down in front of me on his way back to the oven, “Here.”

“Chef, could I crack an egg on my pizza? I’ve always wanted to try it.”

Sous Chef Scott, filling in for head chef, who had seemed rather shy while teaching us in the morning came to me swiftly, looked me directly in the eye, and with a smiling hint of exasperation, said, “You’re killing me smalls.”

We all burst out laughing.

He shot off around the corner and was back in a flash with an egg. “You can only have it if you crack it one handed.”

“But CHEF…!” I protested.

More laughing.

That broke the ice. He warmed up to us after that, laughing and telling us all about his work as he expertly maneuvered our pizzas in, out, and all around the big pizza oven.

“Now THAT, is a good looking pizza. Yours is probably my favorite,” he told me, peering at it inside the oven.

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My masterpiece. Egg success.

Long day, great day, but since I have been awake for 16 hours, I could probably could use some eye-closing time. The rest of this post will be a story through my photos. Thank goodness pictures speak a thousand words (and I will probably contribute a few as well. I can’t help it, I love writing here!)

Early morning on a field trip to Dorchester to visit Chef Douglass restaurants, Ashmont Grill and Tavolo. We were greeted with hot coffee and Irish soda bread.

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Irish Soda Bread
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Chef Chris Douglass shows us Ashmont Grill

It was my first time in Dorchester. Chef Douglass’s restaurants are on the same street and they are both so comforting.

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Ashmont Grill Menu
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Ashmont Grill Patio

Sous Chef Scott from Tavolo taught us how to make pizza dough, proof it, roll it, and shape it into pizza crust. We had a blast personalizing our own pizzas and tasting each other’s. Pizza hearted, we made our way back to the kitchen to meet Chef William Kovel, owner of Catalyst restaurant in Kendall square. He was here to teach us all about appetizers.

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Beef Tartare

Beef Tartare. Check out my handiwork on those golden brown guaffrette chips. Tasted the tartare – it did not taste like beef but rather like the saucy dressing it was in. Quail egg perched on top.

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Warm Vegetable Salad

Warm Vegetable Salad. A bit too oily for my liking. Too dressed.

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Mussels in Coconut Curry

Mussels in coconut curry broth. This was bomb. I am over my mussel phobia and definitely ate four just deceased mussels. Making homemade curry powder was so worth it. Taking home a precious amount of curry powder to use this weekend.

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Cheese souffle with Salad Lyonnaise

Cheese Soufflés with Salad Lyonnaise (same salad as Day 24: France). First time making a soufflé. That was exciting and beautiful. Not a fan of the flavor too much. Saved some frissee salad for my dinner.

About apps:

  • Usually 3-4 oz max in serving size.
  • Must be filled with flavors that get your palate salivating – salt, acid, and chili. Something you can pair with a drink, something that makes you want to eat more.

Honestly I have mixed feelings about today’s appetizer food. Somehow I don’t think I will make these for myself, but wow, I did learn a lot of new technique.

Still daylight when I left the kitchen to go teach my yoga class – hurray! Pizza hearted, curry loved, aum, namaste, and goodnight.

sonia