December 1, 2023
December 2023: Bountiful and Boundless
December 2023: Bountiful and Boundless
Is it a cherry or foie gras?

A recent trip to Seattle included a surprise visit to the Modernist Cuisine Cooking Lab, the audacious adult culinary play space/work place.  Modernist Cuisine was founded by Nathan Myhrvold, a physicist and entrepreneur with a passion for cooking who retired from Microsoft as Chief Technology Officer. Myhrvold’s journey into Modernist Cuisine began with a simple desire to understand sous vide cooking, a technique that involves immersing food in a precisely temperature-controlled water bath. As he delved deeper, he realized that the existing literature was fragmented and often contradictory, leaving him with more questions than answers. This frustration fueled his determination to create a definitive resource that would unveil the underlying scientific principles in culinary practices.

The Modernist Cuisine project quickly evolved into a monumental undertaking, encompassing a team of scientists, chefs, photographers, and engineers.  The result was a six-volume magnum opus, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking. Several more tomes followed.

Entering into the building that houses Intellectual Ventures and Modernist Cuisine, one immediately sees the intersection of science, art and innovation in the careful placement of objects and photos on the walls and even the ceiling. Look up at the big and little holes lining the entrance ceiling and learn that you are seeing Newton’s laws of motion in computer code. A “Babbage Engine,” the foundation of modern computing has been put together with the help of the Modernist Cuisine machine shop. 

During the tour, we learn that the machine shop is a key component to the lab’s success. If a needed tool is not there or doesn’t exist it will be crafted to assist the chef’s culinary experiments. Our guide emphasized that the shop was an integral part of the Modernist Cuisine ecosystem, providing the chefs with the means to push the boundaries of culinary possibility.

In a sense the kitchen lab was the culinary extension of the machine shop.  Every tool available to the modernist way of cooking could be spied through the large show window. A freeze dryer, pizza ovens, rational combi-ovens, a laser cutter and a centrifuge were but a few.  White boards, baking molds, cameras and lighting equipment shared the real estate.  Everything calm, methodical and a bit mystical.

Our tour included the library which only houses books on the current project because the collection is so vast. Every book, new and old is scanned and catalogued, making this an invaluable resource of culinary knowledge. Lining the walls of the building is a mini gallery of Myhrvold’s groundbreaking food photography as well as posters outlining some of the discoveries and work of Intellectual Ventures.

This unexpected opportunity was a moment to ponder about potential and boundaries, creativity and scientific endeavor, the past and the future… formally known as food for thought.

What Goes Around…
As the sun embarks on its celestial journey, marking the shortest day and longest night of the year, cultures around the world unite for rituals and culinary traditions to celebrate the winter solstice, a pivotal moment in the cosmic dance of light and darkness.

For those of Persian heritage, the winter solstice is known as Yalda, a night of cozy gatherings, storytelling, and the consumption of pomegranates, a symbol of abundance and fertility. Families huddle around tables laden with platters of pomegranates, watermelon (which has been saved in cellars), dried fruits, nuts, and perhaps a hearty soup, as they recite poetry and share fables passed on from generation to generation.

For the Hopi people of the American Southwest, the winter solstice marks the beginning of Soyal, a four-day celebration honoring the kachinas, benevolent spirits who bring blessings and guidance to the community. During Soyal, homes are adorned with colorful cornstalks and elaborate kachina dolls, while ceremonial dances and performances intertwine with the preparation of traditional foods. In the Northwest, some Native American tribes start celebrating a day early, with a ceremony welcoming the foods first created when the world was new. Salmon was the first food followed by deer and bitter root. As the days get longer, these provisions return to the people. 

The winter solstice is known as Dongzhi in China. It’s a day of family reunions and the consumption of tangyuan, sweet glutinous rice balls symbolizing unity and harmony. Rice balls are also prepared for Dongji in Korea along with Patjuk, a bean soup. The rice balls are symbolic of eggs and new life and for the gluttonous or the daring they might attempt to eat the number of rice balls that equals their age; the bean soup is believed to ward off evil spirits.  The Japanese Toji celebration includes a hot bath with yuzu (a winter citrus fruit), bonfires and eating kabocha squash.
In Sweden, the holiday is named St Lucia’s day and saffron scented Lucia rolls are enjoyed as young girls, dressed in white gowns with red sashes and crowns of lighted candles, usher in the day, chasing away the darkness of the Nordic winter.

Whether you might be celebrating the Winter solstice or you pause to celebrate Hanukah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, we hope that your tables become beacons of life and light, reminding us that even in the darkest nights, the sun’s return is a promise of renewal and hope.

Priceless Gifts

In the heart of every kitchen you can find traditions, passed down through generations. These culinary customs often find their expression in cherished cooking tools, creating a seamless connection between the past and the present. Larry’s family, for instance, treasures a brisket pot that was initially used by his mother and now by his wife. It stands as a time machine, simmering with the flavors of family dinners and holiday feasts. It’s truly at the heart of his childhood memories and gatherings with his daughters’ families.Similarly, Gregg had a mandoline passed down to him, a gift from his uncle who ignited his passion for cooking. Today, that very mandoline slices through vegetables for his signature stir-fry, embodying the essence of familial influence in the kitchen. Lynn’s holiday celebrations are infused with the spirit of her mother, as she expertly wields a vegetable peeler bestowed upon her. A spatula was also given to her, providing her the perfect tool to ice the cake for countless birthdays. Both tools are now coveted by her son, eager to continue the family traditions. Gabby also has a cake at the center of her earliest baking memories, in the form of a Barbie (the ultimate culinary muse). The cake mold lives in her kitchen as a testament to her beginnings in baking.Jerome’s apple strudel takes center stage during Christmas brunch, thanks to a unique apple peeler gifted by his grandmother. This specialized tool not only outshines others in efficiency but also preserves the core of holiday tradition in every apple ribbon. Leeanne’s mortar and pestle, a token from her mother, transforms her kitchen into a haven for crafting papaya salads that fill the tables at their family meals. Meanwhile, Tim’s sentimental biscuit roller is a legacy gift from his great-grandmother. You dough-not want to get in between him and her secret recipe! In each kitchen, these cherished tools transcend their utilitarian roles, becoming vessels that hold the stories and flavors of generations past, creating a culinary legacy that stretches across time and family bonds.
From our (Mom Mom’s) Kitchen: Chocolate Crinkle CookiesBarbara Pomroy, care of her granddaughter, Lisa Pomroy, Director of Marketing

Growing up, I was never much of a pie person and the traditional desserts of pumpkin and apple pies around the holidays didn’t really encourage me to finish my green bean casserole. But around Christmas time, my Mom Mom would also have a plate of Christmas cookies to share and on it was a cookie for which I would have gladly eaten all of the green bean casserole. Chocolate Crinkle Cookies are chewy and chocolatey and with their snow topped look, the perfect holiday cookie to share (or just keep for yourself!) 

PS- When making these, don’t forget like I always do that the dough needs to be chilled. But don’t worry, they’re worth the extra wait!

1/2 cup oil
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
confectioner’s sugarDirections: 

Mix oil, chocolate and sugar.
Blend in 1 egg at a time. Mix well after each additional egg. Add vanilla.
In a separate bowl, mix salt, flour and baking powder. Add to egg mixture and combine. 
Chill dough in refrigerator for several hours. Preheat oven to 350. Roll 1 teaspoon of dough into ball and drop into confectioner’s sugar to coat. Place 2″ apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes.

 Click here to print the recipe.

From Our Library, Harriet’s Holiday Book Picks: 

Big Heart Little Stove, Bringing Home Meals & Moments from the Lost Kitchen by Erin FrenchErin French’s third book Big Heart Little Stove, Bringing Home Meals & Moments from the Lost Kitchen would be a welcomed gift for any home cook.  French writes that all her life she has been figuring out how to do a lot with a little and this theme threads its way throughout most of the book.  Straightforward recipes with subtle touches create seductive plates, sage advice from the mothers in her life and the effectiveness of simplicity elucidate this principle. This beautiful new cookbook is a thoughtful guide to good food, the art of hospitality and the intangibles that elevate a shared meal.
Seafood Simple by Eric Ripert

Like a Zen master gaining a beginner’s mind, Eric Ripert’s eighth book, Seafood Simple, returns to the basics after decades of practice.  The meals I have enjoyed at his two restaurants included some of the finest dishes I have ever tasted and epitomize simple elegance. In his latest cookbook, he allows the reader an opportunity to make seafood the main dish with minimal fuss.  The recipes are arranged by cooking technique and rarely stray into unknown realms; merluza with curry oil and yellow cauliflower is about as exotic as it gets.  Systematically practicing the techniques and dishes in Seafood Simplewould make an excellent New Year’s resolution for the home cook wanting to gain confidence in fine seafood preparation.
Veg-Table Recipes, Techniques + Plant Science for Big-Flavors, Vegetable-Focused Meals by Nik Sharma

Open Veg-Table Recipes, Techniques + Plant Science for Big-Flavored, Vegetable-Focused Meals and you will know you are in the hands of not only a chef but a scientist as well. The end pages are lined with a charming “Table of Vegetables” akin to the periodic table of elements but with new invented symbols. Nik Sharma is a molecular biologist, food blogger and cookbook author whose novel recipes are packed with flavors linked to his Indian heritage, time in the south and boundless curiosity. I can’t wait to try Za’atar Onion Rings with Buttermilk Caraway Dipping Sauce, Cauliflower Bolognese and Bombay Potato Croquettes.
Kid in the Kitchen, 100 Recipes and Tips for Young Home Cooks by  Melissa Clark & Daniel Gercke

Kid in the Kitchen, 100 Recipes and Tips for Young Home Cooks is not a new book but that should not deter you from considering it as a holiday gift.  Written by cookbook author Daniel Gercke and his wife Melissa Clark, a New York Times food columnist and cookbook author as well. Written with the authority of parents who cook with their child, there is a wide variety of family friendly dishes, lots of helpful advice and well written recipes that anticipate questions that the new cooks are likely to ask. Set the table and Not-Quite-Instant Ramen, fun pizza ideas and Picadillo, spicy ground meat with olives and raisins might grace it soon.
The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating & Eating While Reading by Dwight Garner

The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, & Eating While Reading by Dwight Garner certainly appeals to two of my favorite passions.
Dwight Garner is a book critic for the New York Times and his new memoir will naturally captivate book-lovers and enthusiastic eaters.  Beware, The Upstairs Delicatessen leads to lots of rabbit holes and possible caloric pursuits. Happy Holidays.