Sunday, November 17, 2013

The world's simplest chocolate mousse

Hervé This is a culinary genius.  But perhaps you already knew that.  You may have heard his name whispered in hushed tones between your foodie coworkers, or stumbled across a YouTube video of him doing mad food science.

But if you needed further proof, I present the two ingredient chocolate mousse.  (Ok, really just one ingredient.  Water doesn't count.  It's chocolate mousse, made with chocolate.  Just chocolate.)  It's delicious, rich, stupidly simple, vegan, kosher, halal, dolphin safe, etc., etc.  If you can eat chocolate, you can eat this.  You can jazz it up with liqueurs or fruit, dollop whipped cream on top, or just savor it, bite by chocolatey bite.

Here is the cool science part: to make this, you're basically doing the same thing with chocolate that you do with whipped cream.  When you whip cream, you're incorporating tiny bits of air into a water-fat emulsion, and when there's just the right amount of fat in the emulsion, the air gets trapped, making a stable foam.  The reason why you add water to the chocolate is to create the right ratio of water to fat.  Once you have that nailed, you whisk like mad as it cools, and voila, mousse.

As a bonus, if you over-whisk it, or screw up the ratio, all you have to do is remelt it, correct the proportions if needed, and rewhisk.  Try doing THAT with whipped cream.  (Wait, can you do that with whipped cream?  Gonna need to look into that.  I'll report back at some later date.  Right after I figure out how to do this with olive oil and water, because infused olive oil whipped foam.)

Without further ado, or any more gushing about chemistry, here is the recipe.  Yes, you can halve or double it.
  • 6 oz water (3/4 cup)
  • 8 oz good quality chocolate at your favorite strength.  (We used a mix of Scharffen Berger, some Rich Milk and some 62%, but you can use anything from white chocolate to baking chocolate.)

If you like, you can substitute some of your favorite liqueur or fruit juice for the water.  We swapped in a tablespoon of a ruby port.  We also threw in blueberries and garnished with whipped cream.  We're big on lily-gilding around here.

Prepare a large bowl full of ice cubes and water, with a smaller bowl inside it, large enough to hold at least 4 cups.  (You may recognize this setup if you've ever made whipped cream by hand.) While you're at it, set out 4-6 mid-sized ramekins. We tossed the blueberries on the bottom.

Chop the chocolate finely.

Put the water (and liqueur if you're using it) into a sauce pan over low heat, and add the chocolate slowly to the water.

Whisk continuously, until it all melts.

As soon as it's all fully melted, pour the mixture into the small bowl on ice, and whisk vigorously!  I prefer to do it by hand, and it sets up slightly faster than whipped cream does, but you could use egg beaters if you prefer.  Keep an eye on it, and don't over whisk.

When it starts to form very soft peaks and follow the whisk when you pull it out, pour it immediately into the ramekins.

Let it set up for a bit at room temperature, but don't chill it (it will get really hard in the fridge, unlike whipped cream.)  Once it's firmed, garnish it however you prefer.

Troubleshooting tips:
If it doesn't thicken, reheat and add more chocolate.
If it's too thick and too hard, reheat and add more water.
If it's grainy, you over-whisked it.  Reheat and rewhisk.

Food Blogging: Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate?

It seems like it's the sort of thing we all know how to make, right?  You dump some Hersey's syrup into a mug with milk, microwave, and there you have it.  Well, you have mediocre hot cocoa, but what you don't have is Hot Chocolate.

So what's the difference?  This:

So why the bar of chocolate in the background?  It's the primary ingredient.  Yup, this stuff is pretty decadent.

This is my favorite new way to make hot chocolate.  I got this idea from the coffee roaster and chocolate importer across the street from us.  They had a small metal pitcher of it sitting on top of one of the espresso machines, keeping warm.  That batch was made with chocolate that was 75% cocoa, and it was delicious.

A bit of reverse engineering and improvement landed me this recipe.

Here's the ingredient list:

  • 1/2 bar of bittersweet dark chocolate
  • about a tablespoon of water
  • about a tablespoon of heavy cream

As the chocolate is the primary ingredient, use a kind that you really like.  I would stick to the dark side, at least 50% cocoa.  In the US, I'd use Scharffen-Berger bittersweet 70% cocoa bars.  But that's me.  Aleatha might use the 82%...  :)

Anyway, the process is easy.  In fact, this is so easy, I don't think I'm ever going to be doing this any other way again.  The whole thing takes about 5 minutes, including getting out the ingredients.

Start by breaking up the bar into chunks.

Turn on your smallest burner to the lowest heat setting.  It's very easy to overdo the heat, and then you cook the chocolate, and it gets gritty.

Stir with a spatula to make sure it's all melted.

Then add in the water, and stir.

The water is to thin the chocolate to make it drinkable, so the amount you add adjusts the thickness of the result.  I slowly add water, stirring, until I get a consistency that I like (thick and goopy).

But this can be a bit harsh, especially with the high-cocoa bars, so adding a bit of heavy cream smoothens it out:

Stir in the cream, and then pour into cups or mugs, and enjoy!


Depending on the amount of water and/or cream you use, you can make it as thick as chocolate pudding, or as thin as that "hot cocoa" you get from vending machines (but why would you want to do that?)

Friday, November 8, 2013

Spring pea soup

Despite being famous for their elaborate fashion and cuisine, the French are masters of making simple things into something amazing.  For instance, French street fashion can be summarized as "making a gunny sack look fantastic".  Throw on a loose structureless dress, belt it at the most flattering spot for your body (or don't), finish with a scarf.  Simple!  Leave the ruching and the structural epaulets to the catwalks.

Likewise, French cooking contains a variety of very simple recipes, honed to perfection.  Listen closely.  I am about to tell you the secret of French soup making.  Are you sitting comfortably?

Take some vegetables.  It doesn't really matter what vegetables, as long as they're in season, or were frozen in season.  (But don't mix seasons.  Tomatoes and parsnips are natural enemies.)
Is it summer?  Proceed to step 4.
Step 1: Sweat the veggies in butter or olive oil.
Step 2: Now add some water or broth.
Step 3: Cook the ever living daylights out of the vegetables.  No, they're not done yet.  Put them back.  Cook them some more.
Step 4: Puree them.  Stir in a generous dollop of crème fraîche.  You're done!  

What's that you say?  French onion soup?  Bouillabaisse?  Pfui!  For tourists!  Let the bistros make that!  Or save it for a Sunday dinner when you have company.  It's fiddly and slow, and you have your next vacation to plan.

Having learned the secret of French soup making, I have been applying it liberally.  Part of this is good parenting.  My daughter will eat any vegetable known to man, as long as it's pureed. She eats bell peppers and spinach and green beans.  She eats cauliflower and artichokes and all manner of "challenging" veggies, but only after the stick blender gets to them.  Then again, I really like soup too.   It's a great way to eat seasonal veggies, it rounds out almost any meal and when you do it right, it's really unfussy, the sort of thing you can do while you're waiting for the pasta water to boil.

Now that I've laid out the principles, here's an implementation that I've been making for the past six months or so. It's fast.  It's easy and delicious.  It's more of a spring dish, but with frozen peas, you can make it year round.  Use good young peas, not the older starchy ones.

You will need:
Sweet young peas, fresh or frozen
Spring onions
Chicken broth or stock
Olive oil
Crème fraîche
Dill (optional)

Sweat finely sliced spring onions in a generous dollop of olive oil.

Once they've turned translucent, add about twice as much peas as onions, and a generous amount of fresh or frozen parsley and mint.  Maybe a pinch of dill. Sauté a minute longer.

Add chicken broth, and simmer lightly.  (Ok, we're not cooking it to death this time, but only because the peas are delicate and get yucky when overcooked.)  Puree it with a stick blender until it's really smooth.

Add a generous dollop of crème fraîche...  About 3 tbsp., rather more than shown here.

And you're done.  We had it as a starter with the courgettes farcies, but if you want to go all in, have it with lamb chops.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Food Blogging: French Omelets with Mushrooms

One of the uses of the mushrooms that I picked up for experimentation was to make omelets.  So this morning after fortifying myself with some coffee, I dug into the prep work and starting making omelets.

I picked up two different kinds of mushrooms, girolles and trumpettes noir.  Neither of these are exclusive to France.  The girolles are known as golden chanterelles in the US, and the trumpettes are known as black trumpets in the US (I think).

First, the ingredients:

Here's the list:

  • a half-dozen fresh eggs (large)
  • sweet butter
  • cheese: comté jeune (or gruyère or some other easy-melting cheese, cheddar is probably too much for this)
  • ham (smoked)
  • golden chanterelle mushrooms (about 50-100g)
  • black trumpet mushrooms (about 50-100g)

The mushrooms are wild-picked, these varieties are very difficult to grown domestically, as the form symbiotic relationships with the trees that they're found under.  Or at least that's the theory.  They're not well-understood.  But they're very tasty.

The Girolles:

That's a photo of them before washing, as I got them from the green-grocer.  They have a surprisingly fruity/floral taste, with a peppery finish.  I commonly see "apricot and pepper" used to described the flavor.

The Trumpettes Noirs:

Here are the trumpets, unwashed. I found some small leaves in some of them while I was cleaning. A nice reminder that they are wild-picked mushrooms. These are a very meaty, strongly flavored mushroom. In retrospect, I think they're a bit too strong for these omelets, but I think they would do exceptionally well as the mushrooms in something like Beef Bourguignon.

On to the prep work...

I carefully washed the girolles, paying special attention to anything that might have been stuck between the gills of the mushrooms. Then patted them dry with paper towels.

Then I cut off the ends and sliced them the long way.

Followed by the short way, to dice them into small (5mm) pieces.

Then I carefully washed the trumpets, splitting each one open.  Unlike the girolles, which are solid, the trumpets are hollow like, well, trumpets.  Stuff can be stuck in them (leaves, dirt, "stuff", etc.).  So these took a lot more attention to make sure that I had them fully clean.

Like the girolles, I first cut them longwise, and then short-wise to dice them.

Having prepped the mushrooms, I decided the ham, and shredded the cheese, setting up a mise en place for cooking the omelet itself.  They can go fast, so everything in its place ahead of time makes it a lot less stressful.

Except, I first needed to sauté the mushrooms.  The flavors are mostly oil-soluble, so a quick sauté in butter both makes them easier to eat (texture-wise), and really makes the flavors pop.

Some butter in a pan on medium heat, and then add in the mushrooms.  I sautéed them separately, and ended up using too much butter for the girolles, and ended up over-cooking them.  I should have pulled them from the heat instead of taking the time to snap this photo...

So I cut back on the butter I used with the trumpets.

I transferred the mushrooms back into their bowls, to await being added to the omelet.

Then it was time to wipe out the pan, and make the omelet itself.

I cracked two eggs into a bowl, added a dash of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper, and beat heavily (~80 strokes).  Then I poured the beaten eggs into a pan pre-warmed on medium heat, and started stirring the eggs continuously with a wooden chopstick.  This breaks up the surface, and makes for some fluffier eggs.

As the eggs started to set, I layered first with ham, then cheese, and then the mushrooms.

Since this was the first time I made these, I put the different kinds of mushrooms in different, overlapping regions so I could taste a range of ratios in the final result.

The first was a 2-egg omelet, and didn't quite seem to have enough body to it.

But when I used three eggs for the second, it was a bit too much.  It was certainly easier to roll the first omelet in the proper French style (vs. the fold as is usually done in the US).

And... then it cracked open as I transferred it from the pan to the plate.  A little more comté on top, and some parsley for color, et voilà!

The final verdict was that the golden chanterelles went superbly with the ham in the omelet.  The trumpets, however, were perhaps a bit much.

As we still have a bunch of mushrooms left to play with, so I'm sure more will follow (so long as we remember to have one of us take photos while cooking).

Double the fun

At some point, Aaron and I realized it was a bit absurd to have two parallel blogs, both often about food, both starring our photos and cooking.  (Usually his photos and my cooking, but sometimes we switch things up.)  So Two Engineers was born, a place for both of us to talk about food, cooking, dining, and trying to raise a daughter who's as passionate about good food as we are.

Coming up soon:

  • A guide to making every French soup ever
  • Exploring French mushrooms
  • Carrots, perfected

And lots more...