smart science: pasta edition

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Given the past post, and given my inability to stop staring at that twisty bowl of fettuccine… we’re gonna chat about pasta.

We’re gonna chat about the best way to make pasta, to achieve that perfect al dente bite. If you’re into really overcooking your pasta until it’s mushy and sad… take this to heart. I promise you it’s better.

Let’s break it down:

  1. Keep the water at a rolling boil – which means waiting until the pasta reaches a rolling boil until you put your pasta in. A rolling boil is when the whole surface is rapidly bubbling and wild-like.
  2. If you’ve been not adding salt to your pasta water… add it now. Making the water taste like the sea is a good level, but generally add in a bit more than you think you should.
  3. If you’ve been adding oil… stop. There’s no use for it. It’ll all pour off when you dump the water out. Oil and water just don’t mix.
  4. PASTA WATER IS LIQUID GOLD. Take this to heart, and scoop out some just before you drain the pasta. If you toss a bit of this water into your pasta as you’re tossing it with the sauce it’ll add flavor, texture, and help your sauce stick to the pasta. No one wants a pile of pasta sitting on a soup of sauce. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
  5. Don’t rinse your pasta after draining it. We need that starch on the pasta so the sauce will stick.

All of these ideas are backed up by scientists who work to make sure pasta tastes the best it could… what a job, right?

Here’s some more information:

have a beautiful sunday, friends!

things i’m thinking about

Hey guys! Here’s some beautiful flowers from Palermo, and some thoughts of mine this week.

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As always, it’s been awhile. I didn’t have time this week to whip up a recipe post – and my brain is so stuffed full of science I thought I wouldn’t bore you with whatever wisps happen to sneak out. They’re probably about plants, definitely about water, and possibly about fossils. Just good ole incoherent ramblings.

Instead, here’s some ideas for dinner, things I’ve been thinking about, and a technique I’m becoming obsessed with (hint it’s the one with eggs):

  • Here’s how to make a french omelette, aka my current obsession. I can’t even play it cool and dramatically move it to the end of the list, because all I want to do is talk about it.
    I like mixing herbs and aromatics into the eggs, and then sprinkling cheese on right before I roll it on up. My dinner omelette last night was scallions and basil in the eggs, with sharp cheddar cheese. Mmm so soothing for hearts and minds and so quick for dinner.
  • I always listen to Nicholas Kristof in the wake of horrible events. He always sets up a nice clear path: and after the Vegas shooting, this opinion piece is no exception. Let’s take some steps in the right direction, for once.
  • Helping feed Puerto Rico while eating food? Sounds pretty good to me. Can’t make it to a participating restaurant? Just donate directly to the World Central Kitchen.
  • Now that it’s getting chilly, let’s eat these tahini chocolate chip cookies warm out of the oven. Have a glass of wine with it, and impress your friends with your knowledge of how it came to taste that way. Greatest fall party trick ever.

stay sane, everybody. xo.

smart science: wine edition

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Wine has always been something that varies from person to person. My mom and I like red, my roommate likes white, and my sister adores a solid (or not so solid) prosecco or champagne. After spending a semester in Italy, I was drawn to the idea that there are guidelines and rules for producing certain kinds of wine. A lot of these rules stem around where specific varieties of grapes can be grown, and whether you can call a wine a specific name. For example – you can’t make real Chianti outside of the Chianti region, in Tuscany. Complicated stuff. It got me to thinking… I wonder how these regions, these climates, and these grape varieties all interact with each other? There has to be a reason – and onto the smart science we go!

  1. There are a couple types of climate that matter here: macroclimate, mesoclimate and microclimate. Macroclimate is the easiest – essentially just the average temperature of a place – and unsurprisingly, some grapevines are more attuned to growing in one temperature than another. Think how cacti are happier in Arizona, and how maple trees are happier up north! Same idea. Mesoclimate is a bit zoomed in – differences within a specific region – like a hill, or a riverbed. This contributes to subtle taste differences between wines grown in the same region. Finally, microclimate is studying the individual vine. This can include how much sun it gets compared to its neighbor, proximity to water, levels of wind and airflow. These can all change how good a grape is from a specific plant.
  2. Soil matters too! Just like any plant, the type of soil you grow it in will affect your final outcome. Most good wines are grown in either clay or sandy soil. Clay soil is known for producing very rich wines (think – wines from Tuscany), while sandy soil is known for producing highly aromatic wines (think – Riesling).
  3. You may have heard the word “terroir” used to describe wine. Essentially, terroir is the entire natural environment of the wine – and then how that natural environment influences the taste. Winemakers from regions where great wine has been produced for many years take this really seriously – and rightfully so.
  4. In light of all these things it takes to make a great wine, it’s no wonder that really good wine can be quite expensive. Wine forgery has actually been around almost as long as wine (classic human innovation, eh), and still constitutes a pretty big issue today. There’s a couple different ways that people forge wine – some blend wine together to try and form a final product, some simply fake the bottle, and some create a bottle to look like a fancy wine. Interestingly enough though, people tend to enjoy wine regardless of the quality if you tell them it’s more expensive. Seriously – neuroscience and brain mapping has shown heightened activity in pleasure centers. Wild, right?

To beat the wine snobs at their own game, check out the links below to learn some timely fun facts you can insert into conversation! Drink some wine while you’re at it, and I’ll be back eventually with more smart science posts on wine.

  • A general overview on everything we’ve been talking about, with a bit more detail.
  • Want to know more about wine forgery? Read this article, and then watch the documentary Sour Grapes.
  • A whirlwind five things to know about the science of wine from the World Science Festival, some of which we’ll chat about later. It’s like homework! For wine!

bittersweet chocolate pudding with earl grey cream

There comes a time where we all must revert to childhood and eat pudding. Even better if the pudding could possibly exist in a pudding cup-type ensemble, and possibly eaten with the foil top because oops you have no spoon. All jokes aside, though, I honestly don’t actively crave pudding most of the time because I’m too busy craving bread and whipped cream and rose italian sodas. Correction – I didn’t actively crave pudding, because now I sure as hell do. It’s on the list – for good. Here’s why.

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It’s at the point in summer where everything feels like one of those fast action videos – things are moving far too quickly and there’s also far too many things to do. Between real-life work, this delightful blog baby of mine, a temperamental sourdough starter and the impending return of a school year where the lab hours seem to keep multiplying… I’m ready to move to New Zealand for a while just to calm down. No joke – been researching working holiday visas and requirements and plane tickets.Let me know if you’re feeling like New Zealand is where you’re headed too. We can hang.

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In a snap back to reality yesterday, I was forced to stop googling New Zealand and instead had to make something to share with you all. Probably good, because I’ve been in such a whirlwind lately that blog baby has taken a hit because temperamental sourdough starter has taken all of my free time because there’s so much real life work so there’s limited free time…..okay okay okay breathe. Think of New Zealand. Loop back around. I decided to make you all pudding. Because pudding is easy and it is good and it is pure of heart.

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To class it up – add earl grey cream and swirl and feel as much like an adult as you can considering you’re moving to New Zealand. To summer it up, add peaches, which I’m sure grow in New Zealand. To enjoy fully, share with friends, to convince them to move to New Zealand. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Repeat.

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bittersweet chocolate pudding with earl grey cream 
adapted from salt fat acid heat

4 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 cups half and half
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 heaping fine sea salt
3 eggs

earl grey cream:

2 tablespoons earl grey leaves (about 4 teabags)
1 cup heavy cream, separated into 1/2 cup and 1/2 cup
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
Splash of pure vanilla extract
Sliced peaches, for topping
how-to: 

Place the chocolate in a large, heatproof bowl and place a mesh strainer over it. Crack the eggs into another medium bowl and whisk lightly to break up and combine a bit. Mix the cornstarch, cocoa powder, salt and sugar in yet another medium bowl. Place the half and half in a medium saucepan – and now we’re good to go.

Heat the half and half on low heat until just steaming and simmering. Don’t boil this – it won’t ever be the same. Pour the half and half into the cornstarch mixture and whisk to combine. Return to the pot and cook over medium-low heat, constantly stirring, until visibly thickened and the pudding can hold a trail on the back of a spoon. While whisking, stir about two thirds of the half and half mixture into the eggs, and then return all of it to the pot. Cook on low heat until visibly thickened again. You’ll know when it’s ready. It might take a minute, it might take ten. Just keep stirring and let it take it’s own sweet time.

Pour thickened pudding through the mesh sieve and onto the chocolate. Use a spatula to push the pudding through. Let the heat melt the chocolate, and then blend with a stick blender (or a normal blender, do your own thing), until silky and smooth and it looks like you want to eat it up. Adjust salt as needed, and pour into whatever cups for serving. Let come to room temp, or put in fridge for cold pudding.

To make the whipped cream, heat 1/2 cup of the cream in a small saucepan over low heat, until just steaming. Turn off the heat. Steep the leaves in the cream for 10 minutes, and strain. Add the rest of the cream and chill until very cold. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip up to soft peaks.

Pile earl grey cream on pudding cups and top with sliced peaches or other fruit. Breathe in, eat pudding, breathe out.