Category Archives: From the Kitchen

Hunger Games Victory

Earlier this month, our resident chef, Ben Witten, mentored a team from GrayHair Software to victory in “The Hunger Games”, a charity cooking event that raised $15,000 to support child nutrition programs at the Food Bank of South Jersey.

The contest provided seven teams with a typical box of food from the food bank. Audience members could also “buy” (i.e., make a donation) additional items to help their favorite team.

The GrayHair Software team produced a breakfast hash that they called GrayHair Sunrise:

“We made an autumn vegetable hash with apples and topped with a sunny side up egg, sprinkled with basil and feta.” – Valerie Capasso, GrayHair Software (Kelly Roncace in South Jersey Times)

The dish surprised the judges by surprise with the simple elegance of its flavors.

As Ben’s brother, I am not surprised. I can see his influence as a team mentor. While I have never had this particular dish, I have had eaten many varieties of vegetable hash that he has prepared for breakfast. They are simple. They are elegant. They are flavorful. And, they all taste like victory.

SOURCE: South Jersey Times (Kelly Roncace) and my proud sister-in-law.

“…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

On the underrepresentation of cheese in literature…

GK Chesterton expounds on the poetic nature of cheese and condemns its notable absence from poetry. The essay is well worth reading, and I a particularly endorse this line with the proviso that it is applicable to man, woman, or child*:

…nor can I imagine why a man should want more than bread and cheese, if he can get enough of it.
-GK Chesterton

*My four and five-year olds are extremely fond of Stilton, which is how we know they are mine.

Hat tip to Steve Silberman.