My personal test kitchen

[by Naveen]

A recent presentation to my research group led to the hiatus in posts lately. I'll be giving at least four more related presentations this week, and I'm actually looking forward to the opportunity to get feedback from my colleagues. In grad school it's possible to go for weeks without any type of clear indication of whether one is on the right path. After weeks or spending far too long in front of my computer doing finite element modeling simulations, I desperately sought out the clarity offered in the kitchen.

For instance, I've been enjoying the challenge of using up the weekly assortment of vegetables (and tomatoes) from the Boston Organic's Dogma Box. I was excited to get a bag full of garlic scapes, which I had never used before. I had seen a recipe for a garlic scape soup over a year ago that I've wanted to try since then. However, what should have been a simple, refreshing summer soup turned into a two-hour ordeal in the kitchen. I didn't pre-cook the scapes enough ahead of time, so the immersion blender ended up getting clogged with a green fibrous mess. I tried transferring to a miniature food processor, which was too small and only spread the green goo further across the kitchen. I didn't have spinach leaves, so I added some other leafy greens from the box, which turned out to be some type of extremely bitter plant and totally ruined the flavor. Every chef these days seems to talk about "ingredient-driven" cuisine, but now I'm really understanding how a failure to understand the properties of a ingredient can ruin a dish.

Making bread was slightly more successful. I made my own sourdough starter, which started smelling quite pungent after a couple days. This Saturday I got around to actually making the bread. After making no-knead bread several times before, I initially forgot to knead the dough before shaping the ball. On top of that, I made the mistake was using all whole-wheat flour without any type of compensation, which yielded a dense product that overwhelmed any flavors from the patiently cultured microbes. Fortunately, there's more started int he refrigerator, so I can look forward to more experiments.

I was really looking forward to making a buttermilk summer squash soup. However, the ingredients list on the side of the carton dampened my enthusiasm. I'm still on the lookout for real buttermilk, but have yet to find any.

On the subject of dairy, I'm now a fan of powdered yogurt-starter: it yielded my best batch yet.

I'm not the only one interested in food. All the free local weekly periodicals seemed to have gastronomical-themed cover stories. I'm planning to see Food, Inc., later this week, too.

After missing the Taste of Somerville (lab meeting), Taste of Fort Point (rain), Taste of Cambridge (journal club), I was really looking forward to the Taste of Allston, which seemed like a great way to discover new restaurants on the other side of the river. Moreover, it was much less expensive than the Cambridge event (which offered a "taste of Cambridge" in terms of prices as well). However, I ended up feeling like a butterfly collector. Potlucks (and food-themed microbial science events) are far more satisfying experiences.

Miscellaneous observations:
  • Was my last post too "emo"? The question has been haunting my thoughts recently.
  • Am I also butterfly-collecting when I seek out the most unusual beverage in a cocktail bar? I appreciate the patience of the Boston bartenders and will have a more thought-out request on my next excursion.
  • I'm starting to like Southern food more, but it'll be a while before I'm cooking like Paula Deen.
  • Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes), featured in the first photo, are now my favorite root vegetable.
  • When you love to cook, the world becomes a potluck.

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