Saturday, February 26, 2011

iSi Twist n Sparkle

What a crazy week but it ended on a high note, it was pay day and I got my tax return which was larger than I expected. So like any red blooded American with a little extra scratch I got in my car and headed to the mall. Now I live in Poughkeepsie, NY so our mall is basically a soup kitchen with a used car dealership and a Macy's attached to it oh and a Target but I am a chef so I wanted a Williams Sonoma to drop a large chunk of money at. Off to Danbury, CT, however apparently Sprint Navigation thinks that there is a store on a cul de sac in the middle of mountain range with no cellphone service and no street lights, so Sprint here is a middle finger to you. Thank you police officer of what ever unnamed town I ended up in that lead me to the mall. Cursing the whole way I get there and realize I have always wanted something like this. There are a bunch of new trends right now that have lead to this type of product being more readily available to the domestic population. Those trends are: the anti-plastic movement, the anti-high fructose corn syrup movement, the anti-soda corporation movement, the anti-letting people decide for themselves movement, and the pro-making me angry movement.
There are several varieties of these I have seen, the big one is the Soda Stream. Then there is the iSi Twist n Sparkle. I chose the iSi for several reasons even there are pros to the Soda Stream. The iSi corporation has been creating soda canisters for many years, in fact if you have ever used a soda gun it was probably iSi. It will be slightly more expensive in the long run, because the Soda Stream uses a canister that make multiple batches while the iSi only uses single shot canisters. But as with the coffee pod movement I worry that if the company goes out of business the canisters are no longer available, but the single shots are the standard generic type that I have seen. The iSi can be stored in a drawer, the Soda Stream takes up counter space. So $105.00 later, for the starter kit (1 gun, 3 cartridges, and 1 bottle), 2 additional bottles, and a 24 additional cartridges I leave Williams Sonoma, still angry with Sprint, like murderously angry. I see a Macy's, now I saw a soda machine there first, and the concentrates for them. I decide to buy the concentrates and figure out how to use them in this kit (2 1/2 Tbsp Soda Stream Concentrate to 3 cups water for the iSi). I did not tell you that you figured it out yourself and told me and I went back in time and posted that.
Here is how it works. Moved to NY and fell in love with a coffee soda. It is expensive and is just essentially carbonated sweetened coffee, I did not have any cold coffee around but will make it soon enough. I used iced tea instead.
Fill with 3 cups of liquid, use a funnel (sold separately, if you do not own a funnel hit yourself with a tack hammer)

Add 1 cartridge, this is my soda maker, there are many soda makers like it but this one is mine, without me it is nothing, without it I am nothing

Screw on cap, tightly, it will leak not great seals

Holy fizz Batman

After 1 minute, remove gun and add cap, store and drink

Look, fizzy lifting drinks! Yes, I read the instructions

Fizzy black tea, I actually like it, some lemon would be perfect
I like this, so fun, I have wanted one for a while, especially after my homemade root beer attempt which lead to brown stains on my ceiling. KABOOM! Sticky mess. Now I can make a diet one because I am a diabetic and to make carbonation the traditional way you need to use yeast and sugar, which lead to kaboom. Next on my list is to carbonate whole bottles of liquor. Mmmmm carbonated bourbon. Bring this to parties, mix up large batches of any non-pulpy drink, carbonate, and don't share. You bought it, let them buy their own, oh and tell them how good it is. I will also try to carbonate solid food in here too, specifically grapes and melon balls. Use the concentrates to make your own flavors of cola, chocolate, vanilla, lime, bacon, whatever, do it. The cost per 24 fl oz of any soda works out to be about $.90 that is not bad, and you can feel all pious as you will not be using plastic bottles and tell people how much better than them you are, then drive your hybrid, slowly, away. They also have energy drink concentrates, much lower in sugar than the ones you buy in a can but all the caffeine, use the same ratio as previously listed.
Good product, iSi, you get a cookie and a medal, they're in the back in a box go help yourself. Go spend your tax refund on this like I did, money does buy happiness, your grandmother was wrong. Fizzy drinks also make happiness. Finally, Sprint Navigation on the HTC Hero, you can take a long walk off a short pier, which is probably what your GPS system will tell you to do, I am sure there is a Home Depot at the bottom of whatever large violent body of water you walk into.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fusionbrands Poach Pods

Picking through my drawers, I had forgotten about these:
these are Fusionbrand Poach Pods, designed for poaching eggs. Now I know what you are saying culinarians, "Why do you need those to poach an egg? You should know how to do that? These are just tools of the stupid." Forgive me for liking the fact that I can poach a ton of eggs in these, not lose a single drop of egg (no waste, they all look identical, and they all are cooked to the same degree) So you went to school, and I just covered every aspect of food service you got taught, so I win. Now I will treat you like idiots. Also because my friend at "The Apartment Kitchen":
told me she received some scathing reviews from "educated" cooks in her equipment corner so to make amends...I made eggs, here is how they work:
These are eggs, of the large variety
This is simmering water, 180F NOT BOILING!!! 
This is adding oil and then brushing it in to the mold
This is eggs in pods in simmering water
This is the lid on the eggs, in the pods, in the simmering water
This is the timer, set it for 6 minutes, I know it says 5:58 but you take a pic that fast
This is releasing the egg, with a spoon, from the pod, to put on the plate, flip it over so the flat side is on the bottom
This is them done, starting at 4 o'clock going clockwise: plain, decorated with chives, shaved truffles, and cajun spices
I will give you a segment of actual writing. Grease the pods, lay or sprinkle in garnish, add egg, cook, done, this is all you get.
Semi-firm and slightly runny yolk...on all of them
I ate them, for dinner, they were yummy, now my cholesterol is that of an egg yolk, and yummy
Now that I am done treating you like an idiot. (Just the educated cooks who are hating on these, all other readers...I love you. Give me a hug, a nice long uncomfortable creepy hug). For  $9.99 you get two of these, good for the home cook. We did 2 dozen of these at Christmas, took 72 minutes, and we stored them in ice water so we could you reheat them later for use. So my father who spends his Christmas morning poaching eggs for Eggs Benedict, now was able to crank these out at the rate of 1 per minute. Now my friend at the Apartment Kitchen says that these are not useful for large production, well I say if you have a steamer and you have one of these:
Now you can do these mass production quantities, not lose a drop of egg, they all look the same, and are all cooked the same...again I win. Save your salt and vinegar water and your eggs and try these. They have never failed me, not once. You can also do custards, gelatins, mousses, ice creams, bombes, even cakes in these. Idiot.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Laura Santtini Taste #5 Umami Paste

It has been a while since I posted, 1 week, which in the internet age seems to be four score and a fortnight or some other old timey sounding sounding thing that conjures up images of pocket watches, hourglasses, and sundials. I discovered this paste as an impulse buy at a chef's boutique store my friend suggested to me. Unfortunately, the store was not hip or remotely impressive, Target had a greater selection of useful products. Although they did have a 5 gallon electric turkey fryer, that is impressive I decided I wanted to fry 50 lb of potatoes or 35 lb of chicken wings at one time. The I would consume 50 lb of potatoes and 35 lb of a medic or a plumber.
Now I know, I am a hypocrite. I told you in my last post to buy cheaper kitchen supplies at a hardware store, well if you can find me a soda machine and a 5 gallon electric turkey fryer at Home Depot please tell me what aisle. Next to plumbing maybe?  I digress, I picked this up because in my ventures as a personal chef I have had to supply many a low fat meal with the requirement that I serve nothing meatless. Which means I am limited to lean cuts of pork, chicken, and lean low activity fish, not known for their super high levels of flavor. There is a reason why nobody hates chicken, it tastes like what ever you cook it with. Consider it meat based tofu. I think there are actual real versions of this. But I have been using as many low fat versions of umami, I can, olives, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, and even beef bones with no meat.
After being asked "May I help you? 8 million times" I bought a book and this, angry but intrigued. Stop bothering me, I know I have been here a while, I am looking, if I was going to steal anything I would not be standing here pacing in the aisles. (nice run-on sentence) Umami is considered another taste, other than sweet, salty,sour, and bitter. It is believed to be the meat flavor, that flavor that makes food feel savory, filling and desirable. I believe its purpose is primal, humans are omnivores, there are certain vitamins and minerals that only come from meat, this taste is one that is craved. Possibly driving us to go and gnaw on that deer over there. Just like sweet is designed to help the young crave food and grow, salty is desirable to make our muscles work, sour is to tell us the food is not ready but it may be at some point, and bitter is "don't eat me I will kill you". Umami is centered around glutamates and has been known about by the Asian community for a while, hence MSG (monosodium glutamate) and the name taken from the Japanese word for delicious.SPEAKING OF MSG...
MSG in a can, with a fancy name, because the lie that was started years ago that MSG is awful for you is still around. You can do the research on your own, use a book not the internet. Cite your sources. Test on Monday. Just do not eat a hand full of it and you will not die, I promise, even though that won't kill you either. This is a taste of umami comparison. Starting with the paste.
Mmmmmm...remember that I do this for you

Ingredients with umami flavor in this paste: tomatoes, anchovies, black olives, balsamic vinegar, porcini mushrooms, and parmesan cheese. This did not look appetizing, as the first part of the squeeze was pure red drippy oil, yum. I held my breath, I closed my eyes, I took a drink (the song reference doesn't really work, but points are earned for getting it right, no using Google). After I picked a scale or a bone or a dehydrated mushroom or a small rock out of my teeth, yes something was in there, I got to the tasting. I could taste every ingredient. No kidding. Tomato first, then mushroom and olives, balsamic sweetness and POW anchovies. I was impressed. It was a not overly salty kick in the face of mouth watering. I wanted to garnish the spoon with parsley and call it dinner. Now for the bad news. Although delicious, it is all flavors from Italy so if you want to add an delicious kick in the groin (is that possible?) to your dinner, it better be a cuisine centered on Mediterranean. I cannot see this adding the right touch to a miso soup and a ceviche. Otherwise, add this to a risotto, ratatouille, tagine, polenta, pasta, or paella. It will heighten it to the next level. I recommend this highly, store it in your freezer cause it will spoil. Moving I really going to do this.
Why am I going to eat this? I think I saw this in a movie, it ended badly
MSG, looks like salt, and I am going to eat this. Throw it back! Done. Not a lot of flavor. It is carte blanche meat flavor. My mouth waters again. A little salt, not much, a slight sour, and then a mouth filling savory coating. I see endless possibilities. Again it looks like the best stuff does come from Asia, except for sausages and beer, Germany and England you win that round. You can simply sprinkle this into anything and it will feel like you have cooked that frisee salad with grapes in pure white truffles, mixed with bacon, veal stock, and lard. (sounds good to me) The meatiness will be unmistakable, just lie to your friends and don't tell them you used this. I added it to vegetable stock and pasta and it tasted like I had used a hearty broth and not stock made from broccoli scraps, which it was. I wonder what happens if I put umami on something naturally full of glutamates? Temporal paradox? If I sprinkle this on a ribeye with truffle butter will I end up in 1955 and have to attend the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance? Just for the chance to drive a Delorean 88 mph I will.
Get both of these, use one for specific cuisines, use the other as an all purpose flavor punch and for a trip to the past, don't take your mother to the dance! Or just add both to that deer you've been teething on, but do it fast he looks angry.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mountain House Freeze Dried Meals

As I wander into Dick's Sporting Goods drinking my coffee from the first blog I posted, I wonder to myself, "Why am I here?" Sports, are not my strong suit to play, as I was cut from the grade school basketball team in 6th grade. Yeah, that right, imagine an 11 year old being told that they are not going to play on a team of their peers by an adult. Why am I here? Cast iron and torches, that is why, cast iron cookware is actually cheaper in a place that does not market itself as a culinary store, that being said buy all your pastry brushes from Home Depot. I stumbled upon these...
I have had the standard freeze dried ice cream growing up, the stuff that feels like lava rocks until it melts in your mouth then it just tastes like sugar, but the astronauts ate it so it has to be the future and delicious? I had never seen full meals available to the public. I am obsessed with MREs, I have eaten hardtack, this should be the next best thing until I can get an actual one from the military but I am not really high on their priorities list. I picked up three of them that I thought covered the largest spectrum: Scrambled Eggs and Bacon, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, and Chicken Teriyaki with Rice. Let us get started and remember I do this for you...remember these are neat.
Scrambled Eggs with Bacon
Remove silica gel pouch or I am pretty sure death happens
 Open them up. See the second reference to lava rocks in a single blog ever in a nice mylar bag. Speckled with little red flecks of bacon. Add 1 cup of boiling water, stir, seal, wait 7 minutes, DO NOT READ NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION as you will learn you are going to consume 170% of your daily value of cholesterol and probably reach for a cup of spiked black coffee and a much healthier cigarette for breakfast (thankfully for you I don't smoke but I did read the label). After waiting open bag and drain off excess water. I am not really a fan of draining my eggs so why not add less water so I do not have to, they actually do resemble real eggs and the bacon looks right, the smell is amazing. I pop one in my mouth, good salt, bacon has good chewy texture, the eggs have no creaminess they resemble sea sponges soaked in water. They are not dry just not creamy. They honestly taste better than any buffet egg you have had, if you're in the wild I guess they would do. So, I guess they were worth it....then I look at the receipt $7.99 for roughly 3 eggs and 1 piece of bacon and realize I can get all you can eat pancakes at IHOP for that and think "If I am in the wild, I brought my car, that car accessed the area somehow, there has to be a road, hmmmm if I start it and drive...I'm rambling, PANCAKES HERE I COME!" *starts car speeds off probably hitting a squirrel
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
I will say, this actually looks promising
 I read the bag on this one, actual meat and tomatoes and pasta and no trans-fats and no lethal doses of LDL. Honestly, the other one did have real eggs and bacon in there. This is a two person meal, no chance, I'm boiling my water I am eating all of this. I fill it up and seal it. No instructions to drain, that is a good sign.  I open it up, it is soupy but again smells great. Kinda resembles my childhood room temperature Spaghetti-O's that I would eat right out of a can which I still do. Having revealed that do I seem qualified to critique food? Tastes of nothing and sadness. The meat has texture again, I am impressed by that. The pasta is a solid form of mush, only holding its shape out of what I am convinced is good intentions. It is floating in tomato colored slightly thicker than water goop. A cheese packet would be nice, and a hot sauce packet, and a garlic packet, and a salt packet. If I am in the wild and eating this, I am picking any mushroom I can find for flavor, if anything it will cure the sadness this has caused. Oddly, I actually find gristle in the meat sauce, I do find that impressive although not tasty. In short, bring Little Debbie Zebra Cakes instead...can those be freeze dried?
Chicken Teriyaki
Looks like food
 I have had the problem of too much water in all of these, I thought about it and came to this conclusion: MY STOVE IS TOO EFFICIENT FOR BOILING THE WATER, THINK LIKE A CAMPFIRE. I concluded I was boiling it too fast and not allowing it to have proper loss due to evaporation from a slower heat up, I set my burner to medium not high. Added the water and stirred it. Now would be good time to mention, you add water at 212F and seal it in a insulated bag, what temperature do you think it will when you open it, I read about 202F too hot. Open it, stir it, let it sit for 10 minutes, it is about 150F then. It was saucy, not soupy this time, it just looks wet, but not awful. It has a texture of congee, a rice porridge, and again it smells awesome. I taste...DOES SALT EFFECT THE FREEZE DRY PROCESS!?! Add a pinch of salt and stir it. Do this in the wild, steal packets of salt from the IHOP you went to for breakfast after you hit that poor squirrel, remember? After that it actual tastes like American Chinese food, I know teriyaki is Japanese so get off my back about it, The chicken has chew, the vegetables are discernible (the skin of the vegetables are actually evident), and the rice is not mush it is actually decently cooked. Of the three this is the best, it could also be the fact I changed my method. I enjoy this entree for 2, with a total of 570 calories that is not bad. This would make me a happy camper, if I camped.
In conclusion, these are neat, but not always good. Mountain House company has mastered the smell of freeze dried food, step 2 work on flavor. I do want a freeze drier and I want to play with it and make my own stock pile for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, aim for the head. I will also find a way to make them not $7.99 a pop and full of sadness. I promise my next venture will not be about IHOP.