Heston Blumenthal’s triple-cooked chips

Monday, July 29th, 2013 | Cooking | 3 Comments

I have added another item to my list of kitchen utensils, the quintessential deep fryer, the pinnacle of fast, fatty food, that leaves you stuffed too early and regretting you ever went for fast food. So, why would you ever want one of these? Because deep fried food can be so much more than fast, fatty food that leaves your innards feeling a sense of regretable greasiness. It can give you soft chewy centres with light crisp exteriors like nothing else. And that is exactly what Heston Blumenthal’s well-known triple-cooked chips are: soft cores with the lightest, crispiest exterior that you could want. Beating out most other chips by a long shot, even from some of the better brassieries and restaurants we have here in Denmark.

deep-fryer

The first part of the cooking process is peeling, cutting, and simmering the potatoes until they’re just starting to fall apart. The starch granules are beautifully apparent on the surface where they have ruptured during cooking.

cooked-potatoes

And an extra gratuitous shot with potatoes falling even more apart (perhaps a bit too much, but the pot was a bit overcrowded so some cooked more than others). Because, here’s the thing, make more than you think people can eat. A lot more. Because they will eat a lot more. They are that good.

cooked-potatoes2

After cooling them and evaporating as much steam as possible, it’s time to actually use the deep fryer where the potatoes go in at 130 degrees in small batches for about 5 minutes so they create a hard coating for the chips, protecting the soft core from the more violent cooking later on.

frying-low

They are then left to cool and evaporate moisture again.

first-fried-potatoes

And finally, after hours of cooking, they are fried at 180 degrees and they turn out like this:

triple-cooked-chips

A centre that’s moist, fluffy potato, and an exterior that’s a light crunchy bite. Seasoned with some sea salt, they’re hard to beat, even in quite a few restaurants.

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Sous vide duck leg with home made linguine and spring vegetables

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 | Cooking | No Comments

One of the joys with having a sous vide setup at home is that you get to cook great tasting dishes with a minimum of fuss. Just vacuum seal the food, leave it at the set temperature for some time, remove it from the water bath and sear it with a blowtorch. Easy, and you get to play with fire. What’s not to like? So with some lovely duck legs on sale, I vacuum sealed four pre-seared duck legs and cooked them at 65°C for 48 hours (remember to pre-sear meat before leaving it in this long or you’ll wind up with a yucky unplatable mushy mass). But, before we get to that, there is also the companion food to go with it (would not do to just eat duck and nothing else, now, would it).

Asparagus and herbs

It is the asparagus season, so I thinly julienned some asparagus, and my wife grabbed some herbs and edible flowers to go with it as well.

Pasta dough

A nice, simple pasta dough was put together quickly with eggs from the garden and turned into nice fettuccine by my wife.

Duck leg sous vide

After searing with the blowtorch, the duck takes on a lovely crisp and caramelised exterior. The meat is extremely tender and succulent after having been developed for so long in the waterbath. Probably some of the most tender duck I have ever tasted.

Finished dish, duck leg with linguine and spring vegetables

And all there’s left to do is pair it with the fettuccine, asparagus, peas and edible flowers and presto, you have a very wonderful meal.

As an added benefit, the duck’s juices that are released as part of its time in the waterbath can be used to create a very powerful sauce full of duck flavour just by adding a bit of starch thickening, e.g. a roux or some pre-gelatinised flour (or corn starch, but I think the pre-gelatinised flour gives it a nicer texture and taste). Or, equally nicely, just use the juices to fry potatoes in. Buon appetito.

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Sous vide chili oil

Saturday, March 16th, 2013 | Cooking | 2 Comments

Flavoured oils come in many shapes and tastes: basil, mint, chili, garlic, chili-garlic, ginger… The imagination seems to be the limit, but the store bought ones seem a bit, well, flat, oftentimes, and they usually only come in quantities that they either go bad before they are used up, or get stale and boring toward the end as they have been left open for so long. So, why not make your own? Good thing that you asked that, because that is exactly what I planned on doing.

Spice mixes before roasting

The spices are roasted in the oven until crisp and flavourful. And just because spices are really beautiful, here are a couple of gratuitous closeups of the interesting spice landscape.

Gratuitous spice closeup

Another gratuitous spice closeup

After roasting, the spices are ground to help extract flavour from them in the oil. Grounding the chili spices has to be the most sneeze-inducing thing I have ever done in my life.

Ground chili spices in mortar

The spice mix is put into a vacuum bag, the oil is added and it is cooked sous vide for 8 hours at 70°C to pasteurise the oil and the spice mix. Sealing it in using a simple home vacuum sealer is impossible as it would just suck up the oil (unless you use some clever multi-bag tricks to avoid leakage), so instead I used water to displace the air out of the bag, but none of our pots were big enough to fit the entire spice-oil mix, so finally we had to use my daughter’s bathtub to get enough water depth (long live practical solutions). Cooking it sous vide at this temperature makes the oil keep a lot longer than it normally does when not cooking it. It is then stored in the fridge for another 12 hours to allow the flavours to really develop in the oil.

Chilled chili oil

The vacuum bags are highly glossy so it proved impossible to take a photo without a lot of highlights. It is then strained through a cheese cloth and nicely bottled up.

Finished chili oil

I tried to show that the oil is, in reality, entirely transparent and light in colour, but despite my best efforts it looks a bit murky in the shot here. After being bottled, I tried a bit of it on its own on a tea spoon (perhaps a quarter of a tea spoon). The taste started as “oh, this is quite pleasant”, “why, this has a bit of a hot aftertaste, but not too bad”, “air, I need air”. It is, indeed, incredibly hot, and a few drops of it suffices to make your entire dish pleasantly spicy. This size batch of chili oil is much too much for a single family to consume all by itself, unless you really love spicy food, but as a benefit, you can bottle it up in small bottles (remember to soak them in boiling water to kill any bacteria first) and give them as gifts to friends and family.

Sous vide eggs

Saturday, February 16th, 2013 | Cooking | No Comments

Being busy with real life tends to not only kill the time that one has for maintaining an online presence, but also for doing imaginative things that are worth writing about, so the past year has mainly been occupied with rehashing the same old things rather than experimenting with new things that are interesting to share. I hope that is enough foreshadowing, so without further ado, I present to you my newest gadget…

Sous vide supreme

Underwhelmed? Puzzled? Nonplussed? Save a couple of people who are really culinarily interested that I know, these have been the main reactions I have received when I’ve (over)enthusiastically been telling people about it. This device is basically a thermostat that controls the temperature of water that you put inside to ±0.5°C. The effect of this is that you have very precise control over how the food you cook in it is cooked. Now, why would I ever plunge a steak into water and cook it to a lovely medium rare at 55°C? Well, you wouldn’t. If we just plunged in the meat, vegetables, etc. in the water, then it would also act like a brine and enter the meat or vegetables and make them taste, well, watery. Instead, you put whatever you want to cook into food grade vacuum bags for cooking and you vacuum seal what you want to cook in them. This is done to maximize the water contact with what you are preparing, so as to carry over the maximum amount of heat from the water possible (very simplified, the air acts as an insulator, if you will).

Of course not all things need to be vacuum sealed but can merely be immersed in water, e.g. eggs and potatoes. For good measure I usually seal them in a bag with water to avoid messy cleanup of the machine itself if the eggs were to crack, or the starch leak out of the potatoes.

Sous vide supreme panel

The panel on the machine lets you, more or less, easily set the target temperature to hold the water at, and depending on what you are cooking, you will need different target temperatures. The only downside about the machine is that the panel feels very plasticy and cheap, and the input is a bit sluggish, but apart from that it is rather decent.

Over the past few decades there has been a great rise in salmonella in eggs, and even though some countries do a lot to keep it at a manageable level, there have been some risks involved in eating soft-boiled eggs as the levels of bacteria might not have been reduced adequately. To counter this, various governmental health agencies have indicated that you must cook your food to 74°C for the bacteria to be killed (this is one of the most common knowledge items for safe cooking that I’ve come across). However, the truth is a bit more nuanced as the time also influences how many bacteria are killed. Different bacteria require different holding times at different temperatures to kill, so be sure to consult food safety guidelines for different bacteria before embarking on low temperature cooking if you do not want to poison yourself (and your guests). So what if we could put the egg at a certain temperature for long enough to kill the bacteria and keep a runny yolk? That sounds awesome!

While I do enjoy experimenting quite a bit, some kindly fellows have experimented on eggs before me and written an article, Culinary biophysics: on the nature of the 6x°C egg, about it in which they detail that the consistency of the yolk is not just a question of the temperature, but also a question of the time that the egg is held at that temperature. Fascinating! Since the article is sadly caught behind the great paywall of academia, there is an interesting blog post that illustrates parts of the article: here.

After having studied the article, I ended up at 63°C for approximately 60 minutes to get a consistency of mayonnaise with my yolk. As also indicated in the blog post above the consistency of the egg white is rather dissimilar to what we usually expect in a soft boiled egg, rather resembling onsen eggs (japanese eggs made in hot water baths). So to get the egg white to set adequately, I boiled them for 3 minutes and put them into ice water to cool rapidly to room temperature, then I placed them in a vacuum bag with 63°C hot water for an hour.

But wait, there is more, where did the eggs come from?

Light sussex hens

They were kindly supplied by our very own light sussex hens, scraping away in their hay in the garden. Let me tell you, there is something very special about a completely fresh egg.

Now, back to the food. Deshelling the eggs while keeping the egg white entirely intact is rather difficult. As you can see, I failed miserably with one of the eggs.

Sous vide eggs, deshelled

The eggs are placed on a dark loaf of quintessential Danish rye bread and garnished with Maldon sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Sous vide eggs

And the consistency is, indeed, like that of a good mayonnaise. While the egg preparation time is about an hour and a half it is not the first thing you think at making when you are hungry on a weekday morning, but for a late weekend breakfast, it is just lovely.

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Mercurial 2.3 sprint

Sunday, May 13th, 2012 | Development | No Comments

Just finished the Mercurial 2.3 developer sprint on behalf of the company I work for, Edlund A/S. It was really nice to meet a lot of the familiar faces and the new ones from Facebook and Wolfram Research. It is especially in meetups like these that you truly get to experience the friendliness that’s part of the people around the Mercurial project.

Some of my more noteworthy contributions around the Mercurial eco-system during the sprint were:

  • Release RepoMan, the repository forest manager that we have developed at Edlund A/S for managing a complex multi-repository setup where some modules are individually co-dependent but we want to be able to modify all of them coherently at the same time. We’re hoping that other people out there will find it useful and/or interesting.
  • Proof-of-concept, hg-deadkeys, written with Martin Geisler from Aragost Trifork, which is an extension for marking changesets ‘dead’ (which includes a slightly hacky misuse of the phases concept) so they aren’t propagated across the client/server boundary – requires that the extension is enabled on both client and server. Eventually this should be able to garbage collect changesets (e.g. strip them) that the user considers permanently dead.
  • Bit more polished proof-of-concept, hg-multiundo, written with Jason F. Harris, for supporting automatical snapshot-based backups of your repository and working copy state whenever you modify files. The extension allows you to undo/redo in multiple levels the last things you have done in the repository. No more ‘Oh no, I did hg up -C and now all my changes are gone!’ – they’re just an ‘hg undo’ away. Disk space performance improvements will probably be introduced later on.

Apart from that we had a lot of good discussions on the project and things around it. I’m looking forward to the next sprint.

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Garlic-chili dutch oven bread

Sunday, February 26th, 2012 | Cooking | No Comments

This is very much an afternoon/dinner/evening bread with its strong notes of garlic and chili. Works wonderfully with stews and fish.

Since it is winter time and the cold north is, well, cold, the fresh herbs we can come by are not particularly fresh, so we turn to the dried variety. For this loaf I’ve used dried thyme, basil, and rosemary, and a sprinkling of chili flakes.

Dried herbs ready for crushing

To get them worked into the dough and distributed more nicely, I crush the herbs in my trusty mortar until they’re just small flakes.

Crushed dried herbs

On the side, melt a pan of margarine (or butter if you’re not allergic to milk) over low heat. Once it’s melted, remove from the heat and stir in the herbs and crush a small handful cloves of garlic into it as well. Give a good stir.

Butter, herb and garlic mixture

Mix with water, flour, salt and fresh yeast and give it a good ten minute kneading in your stand mixer. Once it’s mixed, lightly oil a bowl and place the dough in it to rise until about doubled in size.

Ready to rise

Pour it onto a lightly floured surface and shape it with a bit of force.

Ready to shape

Then it goes into your dutch oven, whatever form or shape it might have. Mine’s big and made of glass.

Dutch oven

As depicted it’s important to slice a deep cross at the top of the bread (or another slicing shape that opens up the bread in both directions) as it will have a very good deal of oven spring (or bloom). It bakes for about 30 minutes with the lid on at 230°C and another 20 to 30 minutes at 200°C without the lid on. Remove from the dutch oven and let cool.

Baked bread with blooming

Now all we need is some fried fish, steamed vegetables, and a nice generous dollop of sauce hollandaise. Mmmmm.

Recipe

110 g margarine
Dried herbs to taste (e.g., 1 tbsp each of thyme, rosemary, basil, and chili flakes. 3-6 cloves of garlic)
480 g flour (preferably bread, but all-purpose will do)
240 g water
8 g salt
7 g fresh yeast

Olive oil to drizzle (not part of the dough itself)

  • Melt butter at low heat. Remove from heat and mash in the garlic and stir in the herbs.
  • Allow to cool slightly then mix all the ingredients in a stand mixer and knead for 10 minutes at low to medium speed.
  • Ferment in a bowl for about 2 hours. After about an hour to an hour and a half, heat the oven to 230°C.
  • Slightly knead and shape the dough and place it in the dutch oven. Cut a cross in the dough, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle sea salt on top of it.
  • Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on at the 230°C, then reduce the temperature to 200°C, remove the lid and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Allow to cool before slicing.

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My new cool baby

Sunday, July 10th, 2011 | Cooking | 2 Comments

We have recently acquired an ice machine with a built-in compressor, and we are enjoying every little bit of ice cream it’s churning out.

One of the huge limiting factors of being allergic to dairy products is that, well, most ice creams are made with milk and/or whipping/double cream (granted, there are some products based on soy with an uncomfortably grainy feel, and a few made on oats, but you pretty much have to travel to another country to obtain these). So, time to experiment at home!

Ice machine

With dairy allergies there are a number of alternative choices when preparing ice cream. Rather than milk you can use water, rice drink, soy drink, or oat drink as some of the more readily available solutions. And instead of cream you can use soy or oat based “creams” (they are generally somewhat lower in fat content than cream so some experimentation has to be made). I usually rather dislike the grainy substance of soy, so I tend to favour the oat based products. I generally use Oatly’s oat-based cream for all my cream needs (it’s the only one that’s readily available in Denmark), but if you’re fortunate enough to be in Sweden, for instance, there are a lot of different oat based products available to you, also with higher fat concentration allowing you to stay closer to the milk-based recipes.

One of the seemingly rather north European traits is an unending love of liquorice, so why not combine the two: ice and liquorice. One of the very best liquorices on the Danish market is a handmade liquorice by Johan Bülow, and one of my favourites is his Habanero-chili-liquorice. (Non-liquorice-loving people can now experience true, physical pain when eating liquorice—unless, of course, you have a resistency toward Habanero-chili).

To extract enough flavour from the liquorice, I have sliced it very thinly.

Liquorice slices

This is then covered with a mix of oat based cream and water (to simulate the fat content of milk mixed with cream).

Liquorice cream

The cream and liquorice mixture is then simmered over low heat for at least 30 minutes, and if you have been using good, natural liquorice, then you will get something like this (after a bit of using an insertion blender; the liquorice pieces aren’t completely dissolved so they can still contribute with a bit of a texture/bite to the finished ice cream):

Liquorice cream after simmering

If you do not use natural liquorice, you will get a gray unappetiteful pot of goo, so don’t do that. In a separate bowl, whisk some egg yolks and sugar together, then, while whisking, slowly pour in the liquorice cream, then pour the entire thing back in the pot and simmer for another 5–10 minutes (until it has thickened). Then it goes into the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (until it has reached about 5°C).

Liquorice cream mix ready for churning

Depending on the freezing capabilities of your ice machine it will typically take 30–40 minutes to cool it to ice cream consistency that is ready for immediate consumption (otherwise place it in the freezer and take it out some 20 minutes before use).

Liquorice ice cream

This is a bit more than half a litre of liquorice ice cream that has finished churning.

Liquorice ice cream serving

Liquorice ice cream behaves rather like anise in what foods you can combine it with (anise also has a rather liquorice-y taste). So, typically, it will go wonderfully with strawberries and pineapple, just to name a few fruits.

The ice cream packs a good punch due to the Habanero chili, so this is definitely not a very kid-friendly ice cream, but if you love liquorice, chili and ice cream, this is a mix that cannot go wrong (unless you use poor liquorice, or mix it wrong, or…).

To save other dairy allergics from repeating a lot of experiments, then here is my simple recipe for an oat-based custard:

Chili-liquorice ice cream

  • 240 g oat-based cream
  • 240 g water
  • 56 g liquorice
  • 2 pasteurised egg yolks
  • 100 g sugar
  • pinch of salt

Combine cream, water and liquorice. Simmer for at least 30 minutes. Whisk yolks and sugar, gradually add cream mixture, pour back into pot and simmer for another 5–10 minutes until thickened. Add the pinch of salt and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Churn in ice cream mixer. Enjoy.

If you’ve kept reading until the end, then it was ice of you to stay with me so long (I know, I know, I need to brush up on my ice puns, that one was absolutely chilling).

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New bread knife

Sunday, June 5th, 2011 | Cooking | 5 Comments

I have recently acquired a new bread knife from Yaxell, a Ran knife, made from 69 layers of Damascus steel. It is a thing of beauty and it carves bread like a wooden knife cuts through soft butter, mmmm.

Yaxell Ran 23 cm bread knife

I normally score my breads using the bread knife and our old bread knife just wasn’t sufficiently sharp to create interesting patterns, but here and now this changes. Now with even more fancy patterns:

Bread

It carves beautifully and the crumb isn’t mashed together like our old knife had a tendency to do. Most of my previous crumb photos took several slices before I got to a slice where the crumb was sufficiently nice to look at.

Crumb

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Yaxell in any way. I just love my new knives.

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Sausage rolls

Sunday, November 14th, 2010 | Cooking | No Comments

The typical sausage roll is made from puff pastry, wrapped around sausage meat, brushed with egg and baked. I simply cannot stand these!

When I think sausage roll, I think some nice bread rolled around a real, actual sausage, not just ‘sausage meat’ (whatever that is). So, I take some nice basic french dough bread recipe and let it preferment for about 3–4 hours, then when we get to shaping, I roll out the dough (very much like making croissants, really, just with a single layer of dough and no fats), place a sausage at the fat end of a slice of dough and roll it up into the typical croissant shape (translated literally, we call these ‘sausage horns’ in Danish).

Sausage rolls before baking

This is left to proof as normal, i.e. 1½–2 hours, and then baked at around 240°C for 10 minutes, then the oven is vented to let out steam, and finally they finish baking in another 10 or so minutes at 220°C.

Sausage rolls

And unlike my typical bread, these may be eaten hot. The taste of the sausage is typically a lot stronger than the flavour of the bread, so the added taste of actually letting the bread cool off completely isn’t really worth outlasting the temptation of eating them. And once you start eating them, you are hooked. I have yet to meet anyone who prefers the puff pastry versions to these. Bon appétit.

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Using GStreamer and PulseAudio to direct computer audio output to a Squeezebox

Sunday, November 7th, 2010 | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I’ve been a big fan of the Squeezebox system from long before Logitech purchased SlimDevices who originally made the device. I keep my music collection in FLAC format on my computer and can easily access it from my Squeezeboxes that play the music synchronised all over the house. As an added bonus, the Squeezebox also supports streaming a lot of different internet radio stations. What it doesn’t support, however, is playing arbitrary audio output from your computer. This might be handy if you’ve got access to a bunch of music through a Flash player and would like to make it available on your normal sound system.

Some plugins have been made to make SqueezeCenter, the management platform for the Squeezeboxes, support fetching audio from specific extra places, but the few that does that for Linux do not mesh very well with PulseAudio, the sound server that e.g. Ubuntu ships with by default. So rather than getting the music directly into SqueezeCenter, we can side-step the entire issue and just provide the audio output as an internet radio station that is only accessible from your local computer; this, the Squeezebox can quite easily play.

I have done this on Ubuntu 10.10, but any system using PulseAudio should be fairly analogous. You need a few prerequisites:

  • icecast2: Ogg vorbis and MP3 streaming server.
  • gstreamer0.10-pulseaudio: GStreamer plugin for PulseAudio.
  • gstreamer0.10-plugins-base: The base set of GStreamer plugins.
  • gstreamer0.10-plugins-good: A set of GStreamer plugins containing interface to icecast2.
  • gstreamer0.10-plugins-ugly-multiverse: A set of GStreamer plugins containing MP3 encoder.
  • gstreamer-tools: tools for use with GStreamer.
  • pavucontrol: PulseAudio Volume Control

Any standard configuration of the icecast2 server will probably do, as long as you can receive music from it and send feeds to it using the configured password you should be good.

First we tell PulseAudio that we have a sink we’d like to register: pactl load-module module-null-sink sink_name=squeezebox

Then we start playback with this easily understood and very apparent command line invocation: gst-launch pulsesrc device=squeezebox.monitor ! audioconvert ! lamemp3enc target=1 bitrate=128 cbr=true ! shout2send ip=127.0.0.1 port=8000 password=PASSWORD mount=mystream.mp3

If you live in parts of the software patent encumbered world, you can probably make it work with Ogg Vorbis instead.

You can now point your Squeezebox at a stream at http://127.0.0.1:8000/mystream.mp3, however, you still won’t have any sound! Why? I hear you pondering… Because above we simply said that we wanted the Squeezebox sink to be the null-sink, i.e. nothing goes on there apart from a timer keeping stuff in sync. In order to hear anything we’ll start up pavucontrol, the PulseAudio Volume Control program and in the Recording tab, we ask it to show all streams and we should be able to see a stream called gst-launch-0.10 and a button next to it that says ‘Monitor of null output’, click this button and select ‘Monitor of your sound card’ and presto, music should appear from your Squeezebox after it’s done buffering (provided, of course, that you are playing something on your computer at the moment).

Just be aware that this plays all audio output from your machine, but it isn’t terribly adequate for watching videos, etc. as there is a noticeable delay between what goes on in the video and when the music appears on the Squeezebox, but for streaming music, it’s perfect.

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