Author Archives: btwitten

“…baking IS science”

Editor’s Note: A strip from Danielle Corsetto’s Girls with Slingshots reminded us of Ben’s inaugural post here at The Finch & Pea. Excerpt from post originally published 30 August 2012.

Adapted from "Girls with Slingshots #1882" by Danielle Corsetto (All Rights Reserved - Adapted & Used with Permission)

Adapted from “Girls with Slingshots #1882″ by Danielle Corsetto (All Rights Reserved – Adapted & Used with Permission)

Good food, sexy food is the result of passion and science. We talk a lot about passion in cooking, but passion alone can’t make a chocolate mousse cake. Passion can’t ensure efficient heat transfer, make proteins bind, crystallize molecules, or drive chemical reactions. There is science in your food, even if you don’t know how it got there.

I’m here to introduce you, the patrons of The Finch & Pea, to some delicious nosh, to stoke your passion for cooking, and to help you understand how cooking works.

Understanding the science behind a recipe – what the ingredients really are, how they interact with each other, how they change when you manipulate them – will make you a better cook, chef, and diner. When I go to write a cake recipe, knowing flour type composition, hydration ratios, chemical reactions of leavening agents, and methods for strengthen emulsions drastically affects the success of the recipe. Cooking isn’t just about passion. It’s about words you heard in chemistry and physics class. Words like heat conductivity, melting point, vaporization temperatures, phase transition, pressure effects on physical states, hygroscopic minerals, and density differentials all play an important role in almost every aspect of cooking.

Together we are going to explore the science behind everyday cooking. Why should you salt a steak an hour before cooking, but never right before? Why shouldn’t you use vanilla extract? How can baking soda ruin your cookies? How does granulated sugar “cook” your strawberries when poured over top?

Food Remembered: Meatloaf

I would love to meet the person responsible for the invention of meatloaf. I imagine them looking at a loaf pan saying, “Sure I could put bread in it. Everyone puts bread in it. But, what if I filled it with meat?”

My stepmom insisted that all of her children knew how to make a few basic dishes before going to college.  At the very least, we wouldn’t starve. Meatloaf was the dish that fascinated me the most. Every time I see meatloaf on a menu, I smile a little and feel a sentimental urge to order it. I’ve included two recipes for this one. The first is my stepmom’s classic recipe featuring crushed saltines and ketchup.

Click image for printable recipe (PDF)

Click image for printable recipe (PDF)

The second is my “later in life” interpretation, just to show how food inspiration can come from those simple dishes that remind us of home.

Click image for printable recipe (PDF)

Click image for printable recipe (PDF)

What are those dishes that hit home to you?

The Devil’s in the Details of the Modern Cupcake

Finished cupcakes croppedI teamed up with Red Ridge Farms – an Oregon Vineyard, olive oil press, and garden nursery – for a wine dinner event. We served a five course meal inspired by street food using Red Ridge Farms’ locally grown and pressed olive oils with wine pairings from Red Ridge’s wine label, Durant Vineyards. I always enjoy developing a menu, especially a tasting menu and especially tasting menus paired with wine (or beer or cocktails).Copy of Notes

While I had fun writing all the recipes, my time as a pastry chef makes me particularly partial to desserts. Therefore, we are going to focus on our sweet selection, the Malted Devils Food Cupcakes with Passion Fruit Cream Filling and Olive Oil Buttercream – and some of the science behind its chocolatey decadence. Continue reading

The Manhattan Project

VTR - Barrel-Aged Manhatten by Edsel Little (CC BY-AS 2.0)

VTR – Barrel-Aged Manhattan by Edsel Little (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you were wondering what to drink while you watch Manhattanhenge, the choice is obvious – a Manhattan, preferably barrel-aged.

As I grew into manhood, my father promoted a strong set of core values in me – politeness, gratitude, compassion, kindness – as well as respect for a good glass of whiskey and Winston Churchill. What, you may ask, does Winston Churchill have to do with this classic whiskey cocktails and science? Glad you asked.

The most common Manhattan origin story states that it was created in 1874 at New York’s Manhattan club for a banquet hosted by Lady Randolph Churchill, Winston’s mother. That was the same year Winnie was born. I doubt he, of all people, would discourage the notion that helping coordinate the creation of the Manhattan cocktail in utero may have been early practice for coordinating the Allied victory in WWII. At the very least, the Manhattan and Winston are akin to each other. Watch out Jagermeister! Continue reading

Food, Remembered: Dad’s Floating Island

Floating IslandFloating island is why I am a chef. My father, who is an exceptional cook*, was always in charge of preparing our special occasion meals. Christmas dinner, friends coming over, celebrations – he would turn out some kind of delicious feast without fail. On one such occasion, when a boss was joining us for dinner, my dad once more set off to pull out all the stops. In this instance, the boss happened to have a sweet-tooth. So, in order to pluck at his food soft spot, my dad decided to making floating island for dessert. The dinner preparation was a large undertaking so he enlisted my help. At 12, I would have been just about the right age to start an old world kitchen apprenticeship. In a life changing moment, he slid his copy of Julia Child’s The Way to Cook over to me and pointed to the recipe. I could practically hear Julia’s voice speaking from the pages as she told me that I “must have courage” in preparing the crème anglaise. To this day, that book is sacrosanct among my cooking library.

The recipe above is my recipe, for copyright reasons, not Julia’s. As floating island is extremely simple in its base components, there is little difference between the two.

*Editor’s Note: This is also my father. I can vouch for the truth of this statement.