In almost any pantry, pickles are a staple. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables are preserved using salt and acid, although the classic cucumber has become ubiquitous enough to earn the simple default name of "pickle." Pickling is a preservation technique that dates back to ancient history. Every culture has its own version of the pickle, ranging from Mexico's pickled jalapeno pepper to Korea's kimchi. Pickles are often used as a flavor accent, garnishing a meal rather than acting as the main focus.
One of the ways that we know for sure that spring has sprung is the appearances of ramps on the trails and at the markets. Ramps, Allium tricoccum, are also known as wild leeks, ramson, and ail de bois. They appear in the springtime in deciduous forest areas from South Carolina to Canada and as far west as Missouri and Minnesota. West Virginia in particular is known for its celebration of this seasonal delicacy. Ramps grow in patches in cool shady areas with moist soil rich in organic materials. They begin to appear in late March and can be found through the end of May.
Two of the main challenges when cooking green vegetables are retaining the verdant hues and emphasizing the fresh flavors on the palate. The battle against browning is often fought by blanching, which has the unfortunate effect of leaching much of the vegetable's flavor into the cooking water. We were looking for a better way.
Agave juice was known to native Mexicans as "honey water." Agave plants tend to be most familiar as the basis for tequila, although agave nectar is gaining ground in home kitchens as a wonderful alternative to traditional sweeteners. Agave nectar is made mainly from the juices extracted from the core of the agave plant, most often from blue agave, agave salimiana, agave americana and agave mapisaga. There are many other wild agaves that can also be utilized. The different species produce nectars of varying flavors.
Vinegar is one of those ingredients that people don't think of as often as they should. It is mostly just seen in salad dressings and pickles, which is a shame, because there is a whole world of flavor there just waiting to be tapped into. There are often times, especially during the holidays, when there is leftover wine after a festive dinner. Many of us will cork the bottle, with or without various safeguards to preserve the contents, and set it aside for the next day.
Most American children are familiar with marshmallows. These fluffy, chewy treats are sold in bags in the supermarket, often for use in Rice Krispie treats and s'mores. Marshmallow Fluff is a spreadable marshmallow product, often found nestled on shelves beside the peanut butter used for lunchbox confections, adding a sweet, viscous layer to sandwiches and brownies. Around Easter, marshmallow Peeps, with their softer structure and crunchy sugar coating, appear in stores. In many homes around the country, marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes are a staple at the Thanksgiving table.
The title may be a bit of a misnomer: Really the first hydrocolloids that most people use tend to be flour, gelatin, and cornstarch. The difference is that when people first learn to cook, they don't realize how many of the ingredient they use are hydrocolloids, and so they never learn how to utilize them efficiently. Hydrocolloids are ingredients that control water in a recipe, binding with liquids to form gels or sols, colloidal suspensions.
In 1986, the movie Space Camp was released and freeze-dried ice cream became all the rage around the country. These small packages of impossibly light and dry Neapolitan ice cream were everywhere. For many of us, this unusual, crunchy confection was our first introduction to freeze-dried food. Freeze-dried ingredients were originally popular with the military and NASA, and later gained a foothold with camping outfitters as an extremely lightweight way to carry a variety of foods into the wilderness that could be easily prepared with the simple additions of water and heat.
If you're going to be in New York City next Tuesday, there are still a few tickets left to the Kitchen Alchemy duo's class, "Chilling Out With Liquid Nitrogen."
Did PopSci's recent article on cooking with liquid nitrogen pique your interest? Learn first-hand from H. Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa how to flash-freeze foods and shatter them; turn any cream into ice cream; grind olives into powder; and other kitchen-tech wonders.
The class is at Manhattan's Astor Center, August 26 at 6:30 pm. Use the secret discount code POPSCI when ordering your ticket and get 10 percent off.
Hope to see you there!