Sunday, February 28, 2010

Unsavory Culinary term of the week: Gustation

                                ©2010 John Houser III
There are some food terms that when you hear them for the first time, you can sort of understand it without knowing exactly what it is. Meat emulsion is a good example. It obviously has to do with meat and emulsions, so if you know what those words mean then you can piece together a rough understanding of the term. Pretzel dog would also be a good example (I just added that because I like pretzel dogs).

Then there are food terms that unless you have a dictionary or a cookbook explaining it,, you would have a hell of a time figuring out what it meant at all. Gustation is one of those words. The first words that come to mind are gestation and disgusting, of which the latter is actually an offspring of our ugly word.

So now that we have those words in our head, we're thinking that gustation mean "gross fetus" right? Wrong! The word gustation means the act of tasting things. So something that at first brings to mind Rosemary's Baby turns out to be just an out of date word meaning taste. But taste is the most important part of eating. The physiology of taste makes up how we define food. The sensations of bitter, sweet, sour, salty, and umami make an onion taste like an onion and a big mac taste like.....well, shit.

The actual word gustation might be a bit anachronistic now, but its children live on in the terminology of modernity. Words like the aforementioned disgusting, which primarily describe things as repellently inedible or abhorrent, are used by most English speaking people on almost a daily basis. Similarly associated words such as gusto and gustatory are still in use but they are not used as much as in the past. Gustation may not be a word that you would use everyday, but it is definitely worth knowing if you care about food and cooking. Gustation is the basis for why we strive to prepare food in a way that is palatable to us.

So there you go. Another odd food word described. I know that in the age of Google it is easy as hell to just look the damn words up for yourselves, but I'm trying to use this as a forum to broaden your food terminology with words that you night not normally hear. I hope you enjoy this new segment in the blog.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hot Chocolate

Look…….. we all know that the great snowgasm of 2010 is coming.  The way it looks now, the eastern seaboard will be officially called Hoth by Sunday. We’re all going to either freeze to death or learn to tame Tauntauns to get around for the rest of the winter. We have no choice but to embrace our frigid overlord... or do we?

There is one way we can keep the Wampas at bay for a while (that's it for the Star Wars references, I promise). It is to drink a beverage that is universally loved by all. Be it a 5 year old kid, or a 49 year old hausfrau, everyone loves hot chocolate. Hot chocolate is such an iron clad staple that it even tickles the cockles of 23 year old hipsters (although they imagine its unicorn blood for irony’s sake). When the "HC" is made well it is that good.

Especially when the white stuff is falling, hot chocolate can just make the world seem like a postcard from a more innocent time. Life seems to slow down and get a little more important. We're talking full on transcendence here Jack!
With that being said, hot chocolate really is a study in simplicity. At its base you could have only two ingredients: cream and chocolate, but if you wanted to get fancier, there could be over twenty items in your recipe. Luckily for you, this one only has six and none of them are particularly hard to get your hands on. My version of hot chocolate is based on some of the better flavors I have tasted in recipes over the years. I have always found chocolate and orange to be really good friends, and lately I have found that chili pepper goes great with both. The combination of the three is like a power trio for the senses. Chocolate works as the drummer, holding down the groove. Orange as the guitarist plays its citric power chords while chili pepper heats up the performance with its undeniable bass chops. When they're mixed correctly, get ready to get your face rocked off!

This recipe is done in two parts. The first part is to steep your aromatics in milk. Once they are strained out and you have flavored milk, its time to add the chocolate; but there is a catch. I have never liked trying to whisk cold chocolate into hot milk (it never combines properly), so I went with pouring hot cream onto the cold chocolate and letting it sit until soft. Then when the cream and chocolate are whisked together they are mixed into the hot milk mixture and then you are ready to go. It’s that easy. Now don’t get thrown off by the presence of the chili pepper. It will not be really fiery. As long as you do not break up the peppers and keep them whole, you will be fine.
Hot Chocolate

1 pint (2 cups) Heavy cream
6 cups of whole milk
20oz bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao, or at least 60%). I use bar chocolate, but you can use chips.
1 orange
2 dried arbol chili peppers - They are usually easy to get at you local supermarket.
1 stick of cinnamon

• Peel the zest (skin) off of your orange. You don't need a fancy microplane or zester. You want big strips of zest so just use your vegetable peeler.
• In a saucepan, combine the milk, orange peel, cinnamon, and chilies. Bring to a simmer (do not boil) and turn down to lightly simmer this spicy goodness for 15 minutes stirring occasionally (DO NOT BOIL!). Turn off the heat and let it sit for another 15 minutes.

• After sitting for fifteen minutes, strain out the solids into a new pot and cover to keep the heat in. If you don't think you need to strain it, just look at the picture below. You sure as shit don't want that gunk in your hot chocolate do you? Well do you?!

• Using a serrated knife (bread knife), shave your chocolate off of the bar in chunks. Basically you want to start in a corner of the chocolate and keeping the knife tip on the cutting board, chop down into the bar a 1/4 inch at a time. You do not need to put all of your body weight into it. The knife blade will take care of it for you. And you said that you never use your bread knife. If you are using chocolate chips, put them in a plastic bag and smash them with a rolling pin (it's good anger release).

 • Transfer your lovely chopped chocolate to a heat proof bowl (metal or glass is preferable).

• Put the cream in a small saucepan and set in on medium low. You want to just bring this up to barely a simmer. Once it starts to move around (just watch it, you'll understand) it will be hot enough to melt the chocolate. If you want me to give you a temperature for how hot it should be, I would say between 190 and 200 degrees. Hey, it's cool; I like to use my digital thermometer as much as possible too.
• When the cream is hot and ready to go, pour it over the chopped up chocolate. Let it sit untouched for 3-4 minutes
• After the chocolate has sat in the hot cream, start mixing it together to combine the two. You can use a spoon, whisk, broadsword, or whatever you generally are comfortable stirring things together with. Once it is combined thoroughly, pour the cream and chocolate mixture into your still hot milk.

• Whisk, stick blend, or stir this mixture until it is smooth and looking like the best hot chocolate you are about to ever have. You will not need whipped cream (yes, I'm talking to you).

• Drink and enjoy!

This is not weak ass hot coco, or that Swiss Miss shit. This is a thick, rich, flavorful, and creamy hell broth. This is the kind of liquid love that Willy Wonka killed Augustus Gloop over touching, so enjoy it.

Now if you're like me you're thinking "how can I get some booze in this motherfucker?", don't worry I have you covered. This hot chocolate goes well with most brown liquors (whiskey, brandy, cordials), but my favorite is rum. I like to use a little bit of the spiced rum from a certain sea faring fellow who never does anything except stand around smiling with his leg cocked up on shit. That is just my preference feel free to use whatever rum you like. One great rum is a peanut rum that my friend John at Bad Decisions hipped me to in his hot chocolate. I don't know what it's called so I guess you're just going to have to go there and ask him yourself (and drink as much as you can afford as payment for his wisdom).

Let me know what you think of this recipe. I know that everyone who has had it loves it, but feel free to make adjustments, that's what cooking is. If you think it's too thick, put more hot milk into it to thin it out. If you think it's too spicy, pull out one the the chilies. This is not set in stone, have fun with it.

Now get out there and fight for that last gallon of milk. It's going to be a madhouse out there anytime it snows, but trust me; this hot chocolate is worth punching old ladies for.

*Edit- If you have leftover hot chocolate and refridgerate it overnight, you will need to thin it out when you reheat it. Make sure to blend until totally incoporated.