Happy World Food Day, readers. Yesterday was so awesome that I’m still in a really good mood today, despite the weather outside still looking like yuck. It’s definitely turned into the season for comfort food, so today I would like to share pictures of a most successful experiment in the very best of belly-warming goodness, and celebrate proving to myself that I can still write and publish a full set of weekday posts.
But speaking of yesterday, yuck weather, and experimental cooking, a not so quick digression (or you can scroll down for photos):
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The cold rain and wind yesterday ultimately dissuaded me racing from home and back for an autographable copy of On Food and Cooking; instead of getting soaked and maybe ending up late to the party, I was on time and got to meet Harold McGee afterward. I got to tell him that I own both editions of his book, and thank him especially for the sections on vitamin C, which were instrumental to my final paper for Marion Nestle’s nutrition class last term. (He seemed sincerely happy to hear that the paper was a hit.) So that was great. A little later, I even worked up the courage to tell him that I was a mathematician at an engineering school for my undergraduate degree, but that what I love about food is how it’s one of the places where art and science meet. What I didn’t (and probably couldn’t) do enough is praise his writing, which beautifully illustrates that point.
Yep, I’m a big fangirl. Even Prof. McGee’s participation in the panel discussion was an amazing display of his talent for making connections between seemingly different ideas. The moderator, Clark Wolf, started by asking Prof. McGee to discuss their earlier conversation about how organically grown herbs taste better than those grown with pesticides and fertilizer. Apparently the theory is that some of the compounds that give herbs their flavor are part of the plants’ natural defense against predation, so it stands to reason that plants grown with chemical protection don’t need to produce as many of those compounds, and so are less flavorful. Neat! However, Clark’s next question was about molecular gastronomy. Try making a smooth transition there, right? But Prof. McGee managed to do so, explaining that chefs who make traditional foods, especially familiar comfort foods, are analogous to fruiting plants, which have delicious parts because that makes them more likely to be eaten. Experimental cooking (his preferred term for the modern crazy chemistry performance art food production) is more like organically grown herbs, which are not trying to please eaters. Traditional cooking is about satisfying nutritional needs and pleasing the senses; experimental cooking is meant to appeal more on an intellectual level, provoke us on a cultural level, and so on. And just like that, the two ideas were deliciously blended. As I told Prof. McGee, it was an honor and a pleasure to be there.
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All right, on to the photos of delicious experiments. Back in July, I decided that the weirdly cold summer justified breaking out a February recipe: Sexy Mac ‘n Cheese. However, I was home alone, and knew better than to make the full recipe, and despite the unseasonable weather I couldn’t quite bring myself to fire up the oven for a single serving of food. So I got daring, and tried an experiment. Four months later, I am still happy to report that yes: you can make single servings of baked macaroni and cheese, even the crazy don’t boil the noodles kind, in a toaster oven. Behold!
Gear notes: that’s a Black & Decker Toast-R-Oven, which I chose for the simple fact that it has a toast button, a surprisingly rare feature which is essential first thing in the morning when I am too sleepy to set a timer. Toast darkness is adjustable if you’re feeling fancy, but when all you want to do is insert bread and press a button, this baby’s a winner. Any toaster oven can do the standard oven trick of baking at the temperature of your choice, and as the results of this experiment show, ours rocks at that as well, even if I do not always rock at remembering to turn the oven off when I’m done (another reason the one-button toast is so crucial). Oh, and here’s a post about those oven mitts.
Happy weekend, readers.