Friday, November 20, 2009

Big News: I'm Going to Spain for GF/Celiac Research

Starting in January 2010, I will be living in Catalonia, Spain doing a very prestigious internship at the Alicia Foundation. My research project will be conducted over three months, returning me back home at the end of March. The project objectives will be to help and learn in the health department in its alimentary research of dishes and recipes, adapted for special techniques such as Celiac disease, and other alimentary intolerances. Experience at cooking to help and increase life quality for people with these alimentary disorders. The project I will be working on is to get a better material properties understanding of gluten free materials. From there, mapping out gluten free formulation in a smart, efficient manner and correlating the finished product properties to sensory perception. I am so excited! I want to thank my friend, best food writer ever, and true inspiration, Colman Andrews for telling me about this place while he was working with Ferran Adria. Never could I believe that a special place like Alicia exists that combines Chefs working with Scientists with the health of people foremost in mind.

Here is more information: Alícia is a research centre focusing on technological innovation in kitchen science and the dissemination of agronourishment and gastronomic heritage. It has a clear social mission in that it is open to the public, and is aimed at promoting good nourishment.

It is a foundation created by the Generalitat de Catalunya and CaixaManresa, with a Board of Trustees headed by chef Ferran Adrià and consultancy services provided by the cardiologist Valentí Fuster.

Alícia aims to be:
* an international point of reference in the field of research applied to excellence in gastronomy.
* a reference that recommends the creation of social awareness regarding the importance of food as a cultural fact and educational factor.
* a place where innovative ideas and experiences about food and cooking are created.
* a sensorial and stimulating experience that combines tradition and innovation for all its users and visitors.
* a cultural and tourist centre of attraction for visitors to Món St Benet area and central Catalonia.

Definitely, a very inspirational place.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cream Puffs & Eclairs. Gluten Free, Oh My!

My last term in Culinary School was challenging with adapting my Professional Baking class and lab to be gluten free. Kudos to my Pastry Chef Instructor for being so patient and a good about it. (Go visit her at the Cincinnati Hilton Orchids. Chef Kat Kessler is the best!) To me, it was important to get objective feedback for how it compares to the standard (gluten-filled). She was always happy to provide constructive feedback. Even provided benchmark qualities such as texture and flavor for the target finished product. For example, describing the difference between a cake and muffin texture, crumb, and flavor. Every week I did trial runs for every single recipe, adapting it gluten free before class/lab. Sometimes it induced a bit of anxiety, especially scaling with others carelessly throwing around flour in the lab. But in the end, the payoff was worth the anxiety and extra work upfront. And thankfully, I never got sick.

One of the items we were to make made me both scared and at the chomping at the bit to try. Pate a choux. Also know as eclair dough. This dough is amazing in how it is made. It works by gelatinizing the starches before baking. This was an experiment that I have been meaning to do. Now I had to. The procedure for making pate a choux calls for boiling liquid, fat, and salt. Throwing flour into the mixture and cooking it until it forms a ball. Immediately put dough into a mixer with a paddle attachment and mix until cools. Add in eggs until elastic and doughy. I figured it was just crazy enough to work well for a gluten free adaptation. What type of gluten free flour would gelatinize the most? Easy - sweet rice flour. I thought why not go for it, and just substitute out the bread flour (high gluten content) for sweet rice flour at a 1-for-1 swap? It worked so well, maybe even better. Amazing. The dough had a sweet reminiscent flavor and aroma of Cream of Rice cereal. My Pastry Chef instructor was amazed, too. Yes! The dough gave plenty of loft to fill with the pastry cream mousseline, had the strength to withstand the needed manipulation of filling and dipping in chocolate ganache. And the feedback I received from my fellow classmates was outstanding. Some of them actually preferred mine to their regular, gluten-filled eclairs/cream puffs.

So what's the difference between cream puffs and eclairs? Shape. That is all. A cream puff is round and an eclair is elongated. I decided not to post this recipe for the process of making, and it's really long. It is very involved and time intensive, about five hours to make finished product. My recipes are all based on Gisslen's Professional Baking. First step is to make the pastry cream, and chill. Second, make the pate a choux dough. Bake. Completely cool. Third lighten the pastry cream with whipped cream for a mousseline. Lastly, make the chocolate ganache and dip. Maybe, if enough of you request the recipe, I can post a holiday special entry with a seasonal twist on the filling. I am open for suggestions. Yum. It is possible to bake even more delicious gluten free. And I am on the path to unlocking the secrets. Without xanthan gum.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Friday, November 6, 2009

Battle Pineapple Gelato

A group of our friends decided to have an Iron Chef potluck dinner party. The battle: Pineapple. We all coordinated between us what course we were to make. How much fun! It was a night of camaraderie and competition with a bottle of pineapple vodka as the prize. Of course!

I chose gelato, which was a straight forward platform to incorporate all flavors I was looking to build. When I was working for a flavor company, in beverage development, fruity tropical drinks were all the rage. To this day one of those flavor profiles I cannot shake. Grapefruit pineapple basil. Thinking about it now just makes me quiver. It is sweet, tart, with a herbal basil aroma. This profile could be boosted with using light coconut milk as the base and potentiating the flavors with salt. The flavors had to steep in the fridge (for several hours), and the texture had to be like velvet. Therefore, nothing could be cut or ground to so fine to the point where I could not strain it. Garnish. This cannot be some plain looking gelato. It needed embellishment. I decided to highlight the two main flavors: pineapple, which was sliced thin and dried in the oven at a low temperature; and basil leaves, which were fried at a very low temperature in vegetable/canola oil. I put the garish in a container of granulated sugar to protect them and sugar coat.

1 whole grapefruit (juice of)
~2/3 pineapple
1 can (low fat) coconut milk (12 oz), unsweetened
1/2 cup basil leaves, chiffonade (cut into very thin strips)
*1/4 cup sugar (*more to taste if needed)
1 tsp Salt

Blend or mill very rough/coarse the fruit + coconut milk + sugar + salt. Turn into large bowl.
Add in the basil. Stir. Chill in fridge for several hours, preferably overnight.
Strain before putting into ice cream maker.

Garnish with crystallized pineapple and basil leaf.

And the end of the night I was declared champion of Battle Pineapple. Now I need to think of some cocktails using that nice Skyy Pineapple Vodka.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pan Fried Stuffed Squash Blossoms

The first time I had stuffed squash blossoms was on my first trip to Greece back in 2000. The concept struck me as bizarre at the time. And then I tasted it and all of its complexity. Somehow I found it both comforting and exotic. Delicious. I consider squash blossoms a delicacy, yet very rustic. The only way to acquire it is freshly picked since they are extremely perishable. Since I do not have a proper yard, that means my best bet is from the Farmer's market. This time of year, squash blossoms are a fresh memory of late summer.

Handling them delicately while cleaning and stuffing can prove to be challenging. I usually trim them, put into a shallow pan of room temperature water to keep them fresh as possible before preparation. At best, they will survive a few hours without wilting. There are two sexes of squash blossoms: female, attached to the baby vegetable; and male, on a stem, no effect on harvest of the squash. Make sure that in cleaning, remove the stamen before stuffing and cooking. If they do tare, they tend to be forgiving in stuffing and pan frying - so do not throw it away.

There are a number of ways to prepare squash blossoms. Different cultures have different preparations for them. In Mexico, they are sauteed and put into blue corn tacos or quesadillas. In Italy, it is most common to put them into frittatas. In Greece they are stuffed with a variety of fillings and either pan fried or boiled. For these, I wanted to use everything I bought from the Farmer's market and my herb garden. For these pictured, I made a filling consisting of goat cheese, an egg, and fresh herbs such as oregano, mint, thyme, chives, salt and pepper. Make life a little easier by piping the filling into the blossoms. You can use a sandwich bag with the corner cut off. Gently twist the top of the flowers to seal. Lightly coat in seasoned brown rice flour. Cook in a medium saute pan with a small amount of olive oil over medium heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. As an accompaniment, I made a julienned style ratatouille of sauteed carrots, eggplant, peppers, and onions. Something to look forward for next summer.

-Erin Swing
The Sensitive Epicure