Solid Phase Extraction And The Orange Bavarian Cream Connection

Doughnuts probably come into mind from the first mention of Bavarian cream. Try to go to doughnut stores (such as Krispy Kreme, Dunkin’ Donuts, Tim Horton’s) and purchase one of each kind of their custard cream-filled doughnuts (i.e. Boston cream, Long Johns, etc.) including the Bavarian cream. Chances are you will conclude that the members of this doughnut family only vary according to the type of exterior frosting because their fillings have the identical decadently sweet taste and oozingly creamy texture to the confectionary sugar-dusted Bavarian cream doughnut. So what is a Bavarian cream then?

Bavarois or Bavarian cream in English is a cold unmolded custard cream or crème anglaise that has been thickened with cornstarch and gelatin. Unfortunately, the term has become a misnomer and thus, is misused nowadays in the American kitchen. Authentic bavarian creams are less fluid because their gelatin to custard ratios are higher than that of the doughnut filling. At a semi-solid state under cold temperatures, the hydrolyzed collagen fragments in the gelatin increase the viscosity and the rigidity of the custard. Hence, try piping a true Bavarian cream into a warm empty doughnut. You will probably feel either a resistance in the flow of the Bavarian cream or no flow at all.

Since Bavarian creams contain gelatin, it is also easy to mistake them as mousse in the culinary context. Actually, the “mousse” layers in cakes are Bavarian creams because a true mousse does not have any gelatin. This dessert (bavarois) is not to be confused with creme bavaroise (or simply bavaroise) either. Although both words literally translate to Bavarian cream, the former was introduced in Germany by a French chef who was working in Bavaria (Larousse Gastronomique 1977). The latter is a hot crème anglaise and tea beverage that was invented in France to appease the demands of visiting Bavarian princes (Larousse Gastronomique, 1977). If the Bavarian cream mold is hexagonal in shape, the nationality changes to Russian and becomes a Moscovite (Larousse Gastronomique, 1977).

Much like ice cream, Bavarian cream can come in different flavors. The repertoire includes chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, mocha/coffee, almond, raspberry, apricot, peach, pear, pistachio, applesauce, champagne, lemon and cloves (a.k.a. perfect love), hazelnut, banana, orange, chestnut and even roses. For this blog entry, I will focus on Orange Bavarian Cream (from Mastering The Art of French Cooking) because one of its steps has a scientific aspect that is not found in other flavors – extraction of the orange flavor using sugar. The procedure may sound bizarrely sophisticated but it is simple and intelligent by design.

While laboratory techniques taught in organic chemistry may prove useful, obtaining orange oil/flavor through steam distillation or solvent infusion (soaking) of the orange rind/peel are both unreasonable and impossible to perform inside an ordinary kitchen for safety and toxicity reasons. Liquid nitrogen can be used but this method demands high costs and accessibility issues – pretty impractical for isolation of orange oil at home. Dry ice will work as a cheaper substitute but this requires high pressure and high temperature such as being done in a pressure cooker and there is the potential of the oil imparting a metallic flavor and taste. Decoction or boiling the orange peel in milk is a feasible method but the loss of orange flavor through vaporization from boiling cannot be controlled.

I was impressed with Julia’s instruction of rubbing the orange peel with sugar until the sugar is “impregnated with orange oil”. For the first time, I get to perform a kitchen method that employs solid phase extraction of an essential oil or flavor. (Well ok, Julia said preferred rubbing with sugar lumps, followed by grating the orange peel into the mashed sugar. I modified her instruction by using teaspoons of granulated sugar out of practical purposes. However, you will be able to skip the grating step.) By taking place under room temperature, sugar scrubbing is a suitable method for the extraction of the flavor in the kitchen. What is also fascinating is that I searched the Web of Science and I did not find any significant search hits on a purely solid sucrose being a solvent for extraction. (Note: I might have made a mistake in my search parameters. If I do, feel free to point it out.)

The photo above shows you the difference between orange peels before (left) and after (right) being scrubbed with sugar. Pardon my photography skills with an iPhone but you may notice yellow regions on the right orange peel. Before rubbing with sugar, the peel does not only have the orange color but the surface also feels wrinkled. When the oil is transferred into the sugar, the surface of the peel loses the orange color and thins out to a smoother layer. This is somewhat similar to skin exfoliation. The white sugar, on the other hand, will turn yellow (from the carotene of the orange peel), smell citrus (from the limonene found in oranges) and appear syrupy.

So how does this state-of-the-art method work? I suspect a domino effect of sugar-scrubbing. Rubbing introduces friction into the orange peel, the friction produces heat and the cells burst (cell lysis) from the heat to release the oil. Another possible reason behind this extraction is the accumulation of sugar in the orange peel causing the cell lysis. (Of course, I could be wrong with my speculations that these guesses have to be proven and tested.)

After all this science and linguistic talk, you are probably hungry and curious on how my Orange Bavarian Cream turned out. Though the dessert looked jiggly, the dessert was decadently creamy and smooth. Once I had a sample inside my mouth, I felt the softness that the custard was melting inside my mouth. The fluffiness of the custard made the dining experience felt like eating a cloud. The flavor was not overpowering to the sweet taste of the custard even with the combination of the orange juice, orange liqueur and orange oil. I died and went to heaven from having this bavarois and I can’t wait to do it all over again.

Orange Bavarian Cream (Taken from “Mastering The Art Of French Cooking”)

Orange Flavoring
2 large brightly colored oranges
2 large sugar lumps (2-3 teaspoons of granulated sugar)
1 1/2 tablespoons gelatin powder

Custard Sauce
7 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups boiling milk

Egg Whites
5 egg whites
1 pinch of salt
1 tablesppon granulated sugar
Ice bath

Orange Flavored Whipped Cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons orange liqueur

Garnish (optional)
Peeled orange segments

1. Wash and dry the oranges. Rub the sugar over the skin of the orange. If lumps of sugar are being used, mash the sugar lumps and zest the orange peel into the sugar. If granulated sugar is being used, the oil will definitely get into your hands. To solve this problem, scrape the oil from your hands with a spatula.
2. Squeeze the orange juice and sprinkle gelatin over the orange juice.
3. Beat the egg yolks into the orange flavored sugar. Gradually add the granulated sugar while beating until the mixture is pale yellow. Beat in the cornstarch.
4. Pour the milk into the beaten egg yolk mixture in a thin stream of droplets.
5. Return the resulting custard sauce into the saucepan. Thicken the mixture over moderate heat. Make sure to stir with a spoon or a spatula. (Tip: To find out that the custard is thick, coat the spoon or spatula with the custard. If you run your finger on the custard sauce and the coating does not fill the line that you made, then the custard sauce is thick.) Do not overheat or overcook otherwise, the egg yolks will curdle and will separate from the milk.
5. Dissolve the orange juice-gelatin mixture into the custard sauce immediately after removing the saucepan from the heat. Pour into a mixing bowl.
6. Beat the egg whites, salt and sugar until stiff peaks are formed. Fold the egg whites into the cooling custard.
7. Transfer the bowl to the ice bath. Fold the mixture frequently to prevent separation of the custard from the egg whites. When the mixture is cold, set aside.
8. Place a mixing bowl containing the whipped cream under ice bath. Beat the cream until volume doubles.
9. Fold the cream and orange liqueur into the custard.
10. Transfer the entire Bavarian cream into mold. Cover with wax paper and chill the mold for 3-4 hours or overnight.
11. To unmold, dip the container into hot water for one second. Run a long thin knife around the edges of the cream. Reverse on the serving platter.
12. Garnish with orange segments.

The Coulibiac Project

When you go to SWANKY dinner parties or restaurants, the stereotyped servings of salmon are either slices, fillets, slabs, or the whole fish itself. If you prefer the chewy slices, salmon is prepared typically by smoking or salt-cured or simply as the raw sashimi or carpaccio. For the (usual) dry, overcooked and flaky salmon, the fillet is either served grilled, broiled, braised, baked, roasted, seared or sautéed. For events that call for a large gathering, the slab or the whole salmon is either baked, poached, roasted, broiled or grilled.

However, appreciation of salmon dishes should not be boring, lest we forget that the salmon is an adventurous and diadromous fish. Adult salmon have to brave through waterfalls and predators to return to their freshwater spawning grounds before they turn pink and die. Salmon smolts have to survive natural enemies before they can reach and spend their adulthood in the sea, which also does not guarantee their return to spawning grounds. If the salmon can be fearless in their life cycle, then why not take a risk in preparing an unknown salmon dish? No, I am not talking about using a dishwasher to cook your salmon (although you could) but rather I am talking about coulibiac. Basically, this is a pot pie filled with alternating layers of rice, salmon, diced mushrooms and cream.

Salmon is not a traditional French seafood ingredient especially when you think about fish mousse, quenelles, fish stews and pâtés. Instead, salmon is used in Nordic and Russian cuisine. Coulibiac is actually a Russian dish (Cyrillic: кулебя́ка; Pronunciation: kulebyáka) with French roots because the Russian nobility (in St. Petersburg), being inspired with the culture from Western Europe, imported French chefs in the late 17th century to innovate new dishes. The French chef, Auguste Escoffier, then brought the dish from Russia to France during the early 20th century. This was also featured in the second season of Julia Child’s celebrated show, The French Chef. Since I do not have the DVD nor video files of the series, I am clueless on whether she learned this in Le Cordon Bleu or she got the recipe from Escoffier’s book Le Guide Culinaire. I got to try her recipe because I bought her “The French Chef Cookbook”.

Based from my own experience, the coulibiac took seven hours to complete. This includes kneading and preparing the pâte demi-feuilletée a.k.a. the mock puff pastry case. I know seven hours sounds horrific but what I can I say? I am a culinary purist who prefers to start everything from scratch. But fear not and let us learn from the salmon life cycle! After all that long grueling work, the dish is all worth my time. One, the dish is heavy, rich and flavorful that taking a half-inch slice can easily make me full. Two, since I eat coulibiac alone, it takes AT LEAST 6 meals to finish the entire thing, which saved me a lot of time cooking for the following few days. Three, coulibiac is such a handsome dish that it makes a good addition to a dinner party. Leaves are the typical decorations but you can be creative with your design. Four, this is a new and elegant way of preparing and enjoying salmon that I am certain you won’t get bored with this project.

Before I divulge the recipe for coulibiac which includes the pâte demi-feuilletée. Here are my tips/recommendations:
– If you are not a culinary purist, you can “cheat” by buying a puff pastry dough from a grocery store. Then, prepare the filling by yourself. This will save you five hours in the kitchen. However, the bottlenecks of a store-bought puff pastry are less flavor (because it is completely made with vegetable shortening rather than butter), less puff, and more expensive than the homemade puff pastry.
– If you are a culinary purist, the trick to make the perfect pâte demi-feuilletée is to roll the dough immediately after a two-hour chilling in the fridge. My educated guess is that this has something to do with the phase transition of butter. I think the fat in the butter at this stage is at the liquid crystal phase. (I will discuss this further when I write about puff pastries and tart doughs.)
– When you cook the salmon filling, you might want to sear the fresh salmon fillet for 1-2 minutes on both sides and cut into 1-inch cubes. After all, the salmon will be heated again. Contrary to the mainstream belief, a flaky fillet is the worst thing that can happen when you are cooking fish. The juicier the fish, the better it will taste and the more flavor it will have. Otherwise, you may also use leftover salmon.
– Once the pâte demi-feuilletée is sealed, it is IMPERATIVE that you have an opening at the top of the pastry. You may insert METAL pastry tips or foil funnel to introduce holes. The holes prevent your coulibiac from exploding caused by the build-up of steam and the expansion of the cream sauce.
– Before baking, the pastry case can be brushed with egg glazes. Egg glaze (depending on how you prepare them) gives a colorful and shiny appearance to the surface of the pastry.

Coulibiac (taken from “The French Chef” by Julia Child)

Mock Puff Pastry Bottom Case (Interior dimensions: 13-14 inches long X 3 inches wide X 2 inches deep)
Mock Puff Pastry Cover
4 1/2 cups braised rice
6 cups salmon and mushroom filling
2 cups well-flavored cream sauce (salmon juice and heavy cream)
Salmon juices (optional)
Egg glaze (1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water)

1. Preheat oven to 220°C (425°F).
2. Place the pastry case on a lightly buttered baking sheet.
3. Layer the bottom with a third of the braised rice. Layer with half of the salmon and mushroom filling. Spread with half of the cream sauce.
4. Repeat again with half of the remaining braised rice, half of the salmon and mushroom filling and half of the cream. Top with the rest of the braised rice. If the filling overflows the case, mound the rice layer into a dome.
5. Roll the mock puff pastry cover. The dimensions should be 1 1/2 inches longer and wider than the bottom case.
6. Paint all sides of the case with egg wash. Lay the mock puff pastry cover over the pastry case and seal firmly.
7. Mold the leftover dough from puff pastry cover into garnishes. Decorate the cover and paint with egg wash. Draw crosshatch markings around the sides of the cover using the tines of a fork.
8. Poke two holes in the cover using pastry tips. If the tips are metallic, leave the tips in the cover. If the tips are plastic, replace with with aluminum foil that has been shaped into a funnel.
9. Bake in the middle of the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, or until the pastry is nicely browned and you hear bubbling sounds from the funnel-shaped openings.
10. Serve a slice with butter, lemon butter, light cream or mock-Hollandaise (bâtarde) sauce. (See the last photo.)

Pâte Demi-feuilletée (Mock Puff Pastry Dough)
4 cups all-purpose flour (leveled and sifted)
1 3/4 sticks chilled butter
4 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
2 teaspoon salt, dissolved in 3/4 cup cold water
Loaf pan (Dimensions: 13-14 inches long X 3 inches wide)
1 or more tablespoon cold water (optional)

1. Blend the chilled butter, shortening and the flour in a large mixing bowl, until the mixture looks and feels coarse.
2. Add the cold water. Press the dough together using the cupped fingers of one hand.
3. Roll the dough into a ball. Place on a board. Push the dough away from you using the heel of your hand into a six-inch smear.
4. Press into a bowl. Wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate for two hours.
5. Once chilling process is over, preheat oven to 220°C (425°F).
6. Mock Puff Pastry Bottom Case. Roll two thirds of the dough into a 1/8 inch thick rectangle. Butter outside of loaf pan. Turn the loaf pan upside down and fit the dough over it. Trim dough evenly all around and prick all over with a fork. Bake inside the oven for 6-8 minutes. Cool and unmold.
7. Mock Puff Pastry Cover. Roll the dough into a rectangle. Spread bottom half with a tablespoon of butter and fold over top half. Repeat this step with another tablespoon of butter. Cover with wax paper and chill.

Braised Rice
1 1/2 dry, raw, plain rice
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups fish or chicken bouillon
2 tablespoons minced onions
White Pepper

1. Sauté the onions in butter for 5 minutes. Do not allow them to brown.
2. Stir in rice until the grains look translucent.
3. Add the bouillon and bring to a boil. Stir once.
4. Cover and bring to a simmer without stirring for 18 minutes.
5. Season with salt and pepper.

Salmon and Mushroom Filling
2 cups mushrooms, finely diced and sautéed in butter
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup shallots or scallions, finely minced
1/2 cup dry white vermouth
1/4 cup cognac
2 1/2 cups skinless and boneless cooked salmon (or 1 1/2 pound salmon fillet, seared and cut into cubes)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
1 teaspoon oregano or tarragon
White Pepper

1. Cook the shallots or scallions in butter for 2 minutes under low to moderate heat.
2. Stir the mushrooms, vermouth and cognac. Raise the heat to medium and boil for several minutes to remove the alcohol.
3. Reduce to a simmer and add the salmon, tarragon and parsley. Cook for several minutes under low heat.
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Apple Snow: Golden and Delicious

October is not just a bacchanalia of overflowing beer in pubs, bars and festivals. October is certainly the time of the year where you can keep the doctor away. Why? October in the United States is National Apple Month according to the U.S. Apple Association. As autumn starts to shed the leaves of the deciduous trees, apples also become ripe for picking in fruit orchards. Because it’s the season of the apple, they will also cost cheaper in groceries (at least here in the United States) and they will also taste a lot better than apples picked “outside” of its season.

If you are a fan of mythology, literature, the classics and arts, you would probably notice that apples typically have become either a sacred, indulgent or seductive symbol. The golden apple of discord caused three Greek goddesses to clash and compete in a beauty pageant title of being the “fairest one”, indirectly precipitating into the Trojan War. The “tomboy” Atalanta lost to Hippomenes in a race after the latter threw three irresistible golden apples of joy in order to outrun her in exchange for her hand in marriage. The golden apples of Hesperides/Hisbernia bestow immortality in Greek mythology and eternal youth to the gods of Norse and Celtic mythology. Renaissance painters use apples in their paintings as emblems of condemnation and redemption in their re-imagination of Biblical stories from the fall of man to sin to the salvation by Jesus’ loving sacrifice- depending on the persona who holds the apple.

As of this month, there are 7,500 cultivars of apples based on the place of origin and their ancestors. This does not only mean that there are 7,500 apple genomes out there but this may also imply that if your tongue has a has a detection limit of 1/7500, then tastewise, it would be able to distinguish how subtly different the cultivars are. Of course there is no human tongue that is gifted enough to achieve that feat! That is why these apple cultivars are gastronomically classified according to their use – eating, cooking and cider. Not that you have to be anal retentive, but you need to plan ahead what apple cultivar you are going to use in your recipe before you buy them in the grocery.

I must confess though that I am not much of a fan of apples, I had only come to appreciate them during the celebration of National Apple Month thanks to this marvelous recipe – Apple Snow. This dessert is simply a combination of applesauce and egg whites as the latter are beaten into stiff peaks. What’s pretty slick about this dish is how the applesauce and egg whites complement the taste and the texture. The applesauce gives the mildly zesty flavor and the sweet taste while the egg whites are responsible for the creamy texture. The addition of caramel sauce finally enhances the rich taste.

But how do you address the issue of apple cultivar for the applesauce? I highly recommend the Golden Delicious (United States) which according to the U.S. Apple Association is third most popular cultivar. While the Granny Smith (Australia) is ideal for withstanding the cooking temperatures, it is not suitable for this dessert because of high malic acid content, resulting to a sour taste (Wu J, Gao H, Zhao L, Liao X, Chen F, Wang Z, Hu X. "Chemical Compositional Characterization of Some Apple Cultivars" Food Chem., 2007, 103, 88-93. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2006.07.030). In fact, I learned this the hard way from the first time I tried preparing the applesauce from Granny Smith apples. Golden Delicious is also advisable for the applesauce not only because its low malic acid content has been consistently reported from literature but also because it contains a high sugar content in comparison to sorbitol-devoid apple cultivars like the Gala (New Zealand) and the Gravenstein (Denmark) (Hecke K, Herbinger K, Veberic R, Trobec M, Toplak H, Stampar F, Keppel H, Grill D. "Sugar-, Acid- and Phenol Contents in Apple Cultivars from Organic and Integrated Fruit Cultivation" Eur. J. Clin. Nutr., 2006, 60, 1136-1140. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602430). Finally, it just makes the experience of enjoying your apple snow both golden and delicious!

Apple Snow (taken from “The Way To Cook” by Julia Child)

6 to 8 Golden Delicious apples
1 medium lemon
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup sugar or even less
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup homemade caramel sauce

1. Wash, quarter and core out the seeds of the apples. Keep the peel in the apples to retain the flavor and the body of the sauce.
2. Place the apples in the saucepan along with the zest of the lemon and the cinnamon. Sprinkle the apples with lemon juice. Cover the pan and soften the apples under moderately low heat for 30 minutes. Make sure to stir and mash them frequently.
3. Remove from heat. (If you are using the cinnamon stick, remove the cinnamon from the saucepan) Transfer the apples into a food processor, purée and return the applesauce into the pan.
4. Boil the apple sauce, gradually adding the sugar. Stir in the vanilla.
5. Cover and chill inside the refrigerator for at least one hour.
6. Set the electric mixer at moderately low speed and beat the egg whites until they start to foam. Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed until stiff shining peaks are formed.
7. Reduce the speed and add the apple sauce into the beaten egg whites. Raise the mixer speed again until the mixture is stiff enough to hold its shape.
8. Drizzle or layer with caramel sauce any way you like it

Caramel Sauce
1/3 cup sugar
5 teaspoons water
1/3 cup cold heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Blend the sugar and the water in a saucepan and let them simmer.
2. Remove from heat and swirl to completely dissolve the sugar.
3. Return the pan to the stove at moderately high heat and boil for several minutes. Make sure peek into the pan. Once the bubbles look thick, uncover the pan and swirl it by its handle.
4. Boil for a few more seconds. Remove from heat and continue swirling.
5. When caramel has cooled but remains in the liquid state, add the heavy cream.
6. Whisk over moderate heat until the congealed caramel dissolves. Stir in salt and vanilla.

Suprême – The Breast Taste Of Chicken

Thanks to the strenuous workload of graduate courses, research and teaching. My food blog entries were as dead as Friedrich Nietzsche’s definition of God from his book “Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science)”. Now that my graduate school obligations are temporarily over, it’s time to resuscitate my contributions of blog entries to Phood Journal.

Perhaps it’s an appropriate time to talk about breasts…chicken breasts…

To be honest, breasts are not my favorite part on a chicken. My order of preference when I am, say, given a half-serving of chicken or any poultry/game bird is thighs, legs, wings and breasts. I am fully aware that health and fitness buffs will contend with me but chicken breasts tend to have a very dry and bland texture. It doesn’t help too if the chicken bought from the market turns out to be an old and ailing chicken because the meat can be VERY tough. To open some gastronomic scars of my childhood, I found myself having a difficult time chewing and swallowing, and to some point would prefer regurgitating, the meat of the black chicken boiled in some weird Chinese plant extracts not because of the bitter taste coming from whatever alkaloid or natural product is found on that soup but rather the texture of the breast meat is just too DAMN dry and bland.

Then again, the chicken breast should not shoulder the blame for its taste and texture. Its prolonged exposure from the heat of braising, boiling or roasting has to compromise with the duration of completely cooking the softer, fattier and juicier red meat found on the thighs and the legs. The rule of thumb of treating chicken breasts (or any breast coming from any poultry or gamebird) with love is that you DO NOT OVERCOOK them UNLESS they come with the other parts. Plus, time is an advantage too for graduate students like me because the length of preparation can only take 15-25 minutes especially if you are aware of the “cooking parameters” that will maintain the juicy and exquisite taste and softer texture.

Paraphrasing French cuisine from Julia Child, the raw breast of a chicken is classified according to the presence of the wing, skin and the bone. If the upper part of the wing is present, then the entire slab is called a “côtelette” or simply (in English) the cutlet or the chop of the chicken. If the breast comes both skinless and boneless, then the chicken breast is called a suprême. However, a suprême is NOT ALWAYS a suprême because the definition of a suprême encompasses the cooking time and hence the taste and the texture of the flesh. If the “suprême” is overcooked, it becomes nothing more but the bland, dry and tough white chicken meat – similar to a prolonged chemical reaction that leads to an undesirable product. Instead, an actual suprême should be cooked in 205°C (400°F) for 6-8 minutes only – NOTHING LONGER NOR HOTTER.

Based on my first experience of cooking and eating a homemade suprême, the final grade that can be given to a suprême borderlines between “E” and “F” for EXQUISITE and FANTASTIC respectively. Cooking is also short and simple that the anticipation of eating can only be delayed by the preparation of the sauce. The flesh is white in color just like your white chicken meat. However, the taste is so juicy and the texture is so soft that it’s like eating the drumsticks and thighs – my conventional favorite parts on a chicken.

I think from now on, the breast (in the form of a suprême) has become my GUILTY PLEASURE.

Chicken Suprêmes Recipe (taken from “Mastering The Art Of French Cooking” by Julia Child)

4 fillets of chicken breasts, boned and skinned
4 tablespoons of butter
1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice
White Pepper

1. Preheat the oven at 205°C (400°F).
2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Set aside.
3. While the chicken is being marinated, melt the butter on a skillet or a flame-proof casserole under medium to high heat until the butter starts to foam and bubble. (Optional: The foam can be removed by scraping with a spoon giving the clarified form of butter.)
4. Roll the chicken breasts in butter QUICKLY and remove the skillet or casserole from heat.
5. Cover the breast with wax paper or aluminum foil.
6. Place the skillet or casserole inside the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes.
7. Remove from oven and transfer the breasts immediately to a warm platter. The leftover butter in the skillet or casserole can be used to prepare the sauce of your liking.

Culinary Instrumentation 101: The Trusty Food Processor

I don’t know how much blood I have lost from accidentally getting cuts on my fingers with either a chef’s knife or a cheese grater over the past two months. All I know is wherever the site of the bleeding is, it’s too far away from my entrails, unless I perform hara-kiri. Aside from that, it just occurred to me two weeks ago that julienning and mincing meat and vegetables into strips or pieces with a knife seemed a tedious and time-consuming process for a graduate student who should spend more time pursuing erudition rather than olfactory and gustatory indulgence.

As time is more important than money, I decided to invest on a substantially “expensive” instrument – the food processor. Well, it was substantially “expensive” because I bought the Cuisinart brand with a 7-cup capacity. I bought it brand new from an Ebay auction at 66 USD – 20 USD shipping charge included (but this is already considered cheap because the 7-cup Cuisinart food processor costs 100 USD on Amazon or on grocery stores.) I don’t want to sound like a beauty pageant contestant but I have to say this. I personally believe that every graduate student studying ALONE and ABROAD should own one. Here are my Top 5 reasons justifying my worthy investment:

1. Versatility: A food processor is like the entire set of food preparation apparatuses crammed into one machine. It does not only chop and mince. Provided that it comes along with the shredding and slicing discs, it can grate, julienne and slice too. You can also use it for mashing without you complaining about the lumps produced from using a fork. This feature also allows you to prepare soups, sauces, stuffings, dressings and garnishes. (Limitations: It does not dice.)

2. Automation: A food processor is like a spectrometer without the detector. Not that I am lazy in cooking but as a graduate student, time is of the essence. So just plug your food processor and and individually put whatever vegetable you need for cooking. Press the button. Presto!!! You are done in 2-3 minutes as opposed to using a knife which will take you 10-15 minutes to get the job done.

3. Safety and Protection: One cool feature of the food processor is that it is covered. That way it protects your eyes from whatever lachrymose vapors released during chopping. (This is somewhat analogous to a pair of laboratory goggles except you don’t have to put on it because it’s the food processor that wears it.) In addition, to avoid any future possibility of getting cut, you can skip washing the food processor blades with sponge and detergent. Instead, use the dishwasher.

4. Consistency This feature will come into play if you need to prepare scalloped vegetables. What your food processor does is that it slices your vegetables evenly, maintaining the consistency of food texture upon cooking. (Sidebar: Not advisable if you are julienning vegetables for garnish.)

5. Practicality: If you are done with your graduate studies and you plan to go back to your home country that you no longer need it, sell it via Ebay or Amazon. That way, you will be able to partially retrieve your money.

In other words, the food processor is your trusty kitchen sidekick.

Hamburger Science: Why I Will Probably Never Eat At Another Burger Joint (Unless Starvation Calls For Desperate Measures)

If you were asked to name the ultimate American food or fast food on the game show “Family Feud”, there’s no doubt that hamburgers will probably be the top survey answer. Perhaps to the food amateur, he/she will be looking for the ground “ham” component from the burger patty even though the former is a slab of salt/sugar-cured pork while the latter comes from minced beef chuck. Hamburger was actually a German word coined after the city of Hamburg which served as an important Russian trade center of steak tartare (but that’s another recipe) during the last century of the Holy Roman Empire.

Even before I became a Julia Child fan, I had this curiosity on preparing and cooking hamburger patties. Most people consider the simplicity of its preparation because you just mix ground beef, onions, salt and pepper and fry them on a thin film of oil. Voilà! You have a burger!!! One of my friends gave me an account that her mom used to prepare hamburger patties before but they had a tendency to contract even before cooking that you don’t get your appetite’s worth at all. I had also made several food trips in the Philippines (where I come from) to search for the best burger joint. I even watched an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show just to find out the The Top Ten Best Burgers in the U.S. (If my memory serves me right, the best burger in America comes from a sirloin burger joint somewhere in Chicago)

Aside from simplicity, students like myself take into account the cost of a homemade burger versus a burger ordered from a fast food chain or restaurant. Assuming you don’t have to pay any state tax, service charge or value-added tax from your restaurant bill, the cost will still be at least thrice the price of making your own hamburger sandwich from the convenience of your own home.  But, here comes a big (and all-caps) BUT!!! Advantages of simplicity and cost obviously compromise the ideal flavor, texture and taste. The patties greatly contract even before frying as mentioned above. They dry up by losing their juices upon frying. No matter how iconic the hamburger is to U.S. culture, Americans (no offense) have probably underestimated its simplicity. So where does the problem lie? Lipid/fat biochemistry.

Fat inside the ground beef works two ways. Being hydrophobic or water-fearing, the presence of fat retains the moisture and juices inside the meat, therefore slowing down the dehydration/contraction process. It also adds flavor to the meat during heat-induced hydrolysis and/or oxidative cleavage.  However, if fat degradation takes place at a faster rate before or during cooking, then dehydration will occur quickly too because water is less trapped due to reduced fat levels. To solve this problem, fat content of the meat is increased by adding sour cream, thus, keeping your meat swollen and moist during cooking. This is the scientific basis behind Julia Child’s hamburger recipe from The Way To Cook.

I have a confession to make. I was pretty unsure of what might happen while I was preparing the entire hamburger meat based on Julia Child’s recipe. It turns out the result was awesome. The patty itself was so thick and fat as seen on both pictures. If you ask me about the taste, it was juicy and mouth-watering that I have to fry another patty to satiate my appetite. Honestly (and I don’t mean to brag), the burger was a lot better than the burger joints here in the U.S. or those from the Philippines. Also, if you are cutting costs, hamburger is probably the practical way to go. I finished the entire hamburger meat for 6-7 dinner meals at an estimated total cost of 10 USD. That’s spending around 1.50 USD for one night of fine dining without sipping a glass of red wine.

Now that’s a HAMBURGER!!!

Burger Patty Recipe (taken from “The Way To Cook” by Julia Child)

1 1/2 pounds (681 g) of ground beef
1 egg
2 tablespoons of onion, grated
2 tablespoons of sour cream
1 teaspoon of thyme (fresh or dry) or Italian seasoning
Cooking oil

1. In a large bowl, season the ground beef with egg, grated onion, sour cream, thyme, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
2. Divide them in any way you want to and shape them into round patties.
3. Film the frying pan with cooking oil under moderately high heat.
4. As the pan undergoes heating, lightly dredge each side of patty with flour. Fry each patty two minutes in one side and two minutes on the other.
5. If hamburger is squashy, then it is rare. Once the meat starts to bounce when pressing with a turner or your finger, it is medium rare. The hamburger patty is well done when it doesn’t bounce/spring back.