Tag Archive for strawberry

Bowls made of depleted uranium, what could possibly go wrong?

Just a relatively quick post, as things are have been and are continuing to insist upon being busy – I’ve had a round of assessment for my PhD (my mid-candidature review), participated in a speaking competition about my PhD, done a talk about “seducing with neuroscience” (maybe I’ll post something about that at some stage – it’s not food-related but it is very interesting, and despite the evocative name it’s actually about how neuroscience information influences people’s judgments about the credibility of explanations), and now I’m madly analysing data to get an abstract submitted for a conference in November prior to leaving for a conference coming up in September (yep, it’s overseas-trip-time for me again, for the fourth time in 18 months – more on that later too, I guess).

SO! Another one to file away in the “how to influence people’s perception of food” category – can you influence people’s perception of food by manipulating something as simple as the weight of the dish it’s served in?

YES! It seems…

In a study by Piqueras-Fiszma and colleagues, participants were asked to rate 3 yoghurt samples in terms of flavour intensity, density, price expectation and liking. The yoghurt samples were served in three bowls that were all identical except for their weight: they were white ceramic bowls to which a hidden weight could be attached, so that the lightest bowl was 375g, the intermediate-weight bowl was 675g, and the heaviest bowl was 975g. Each bowl was used to serve a 150g sample of plain old Greek yoghurt (important information for study replication: it was purchased from Tesco!).

Participants had to hold the bowl in one hand while they sampled the yoghurt, and each bowl was taken away before the next one was given, so that there was never a chance to directly compare the weights.

Of course, it was the exact same yoghurt in each of the three samples that each participant tried – the only difference was the weight of the bowl the yoghurt was served in. But the participants didn’t know that. They probably assumed they were taste-testing different yoghurts.

Results showed that the heavier the bowl, the higher people rated the perceived density of the yoghurt when they sampled it, and the more money they expected to pay for it. Also, the heavier the bowl, the more participants liked the yoghurt. Perceived flavour intensity was not significantly affected by the weight of the bowls.

So everyone go out immediately and buy really heavy bowls and plates! Serve your things in heavy dishes all the time! Force your dinner guests to hold the crockery in their hands as they eat! Make people think your food is more fancy, more expensive, more lovely!

Or not. These results probably can’t be generalised too much – maybe you only get this effect for particular foods, and yoghurt just happens to be one of them. Maybe the effect changes depending on other properties of the food, e.g. maybe the volume of yoghurt is difficult to visually gauge because it’s just a big amorphous lump, so people’s perceptions are only influenced when the amount of food is difficult to get an idea of. Maybe putting something a bit more discrete, like an apple, into the different bowls would get a different result.

And it would be interesting to do a study investigating whether the weight of the vessel influences the amount of food eaten – maybe if the bowl is heavier, the food seems denser, and perhaps the brain is tricked into thinking the food is more calorific and so satiety occurs sooner. Who knows? I mean, there are many cues that the brain uses to determine satiety, so maybe it would be difficult to detect an effect of serving dish weight, but it is intriguing…

Anyway, it’s brownie time. Or blondie, as the case may be, I don’t know what defines one versus the other. Do blondies simply lack the predominance of cocoa or milk/dark chocolate in the batter? Anyway, the photos above are of some ridiculously delicious blondies (we’ll go with blondies for the name), featuring one of the greatest things known to humankind: peanut butter. They are peanut butter and waffle blondies (they have waffle crumbs throughout them) with dark chocolate chips. I recently made a variation of the recipe, photos of which are below: peanut butter, waffle and malt biscuit blondies with white chocolate chips and strawberries. I made those for a friend who recently endured an incredibly difficult experience (understatement of the century) and has just gotten out of hospital.

Recipe for peanut butter blondies (and variations thereof)…

Darkplace soup

May I tempt you with this alluring and sophisticated dish?

It’s a poached egg in soup.

Used since ancient Greek times to woo one’s objet d’amour, poached egg in soup remains one of the most alluring, enchanting and salacious gastronomical expressions of undying passion. The egg, representing fertility and perched perkily upon the thick molten soup, is like an unblinking bulbous eye within which you glimpse an unmistakeable come-hither look.

Or so I imagine. All I can say is that this is my loving, labour-intense, bizarre, gastronomical tribute to Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, one of the greatest television shows ever. In the mighty concluding episode of the series, Dr Lucien Sanchez, hotshot surgeon, woos Linda, the woman who is slowly turning into broccoli, using an egg poached in soup. Such a poignant and beautiful gesture… that looks like this:

My variation has nothing on the original, of course, but I have exerted myself and my creativity to produce this dessert version of the egg poached in soup: a strawberry mousse tinged with Grand Marnier and dark chocolate (and a bucket of food colouring — damn, that mousse was a delicate pale pink), a circle of vanilla milk gel, and a yolk made out of a sphere of saffron-flavoured apricot nectar.

And so with this I salute you, Garth Marenghi: author, dream-weaver, visionary, plus actor. You taught me to love, and to convey that love through an egg poached in soup (mayhap with a pork pie or sausage roll). If only there was more of such epic beauty in the world.

(Darkplace Episode 1 Part 1 here.)

As for the neuroscience for this post, just a quick mention of something very interesting I came across when reading up on lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, when people experience particular tastes in response to hearing, reading or thinking particular words (see my previous post if you haven’t already).

We’re all familiar with that indecently enraging thing known as the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon. You’re trying to think of a word and YOU. JUST. CAN’T. BUT. YOU. HAVE. ALMOST. GOT. IT. IT’S ON THE TIP OF MY TONGUE. OH. GOD. I’M SO ANGRY. This is a pretty difficult thing to research — everyone will have different words that cause this phenomenon for them (compromise and renege do this to me endlessly for some reason, and yes, they did it while I was writing this, gaaarrghhh), and once you’ve reminded someone of the word then there’s no point in testing them with that word again any time soon.

Apparently researchers have worked out some words that are pretty good at generating the phenomenon. For example, “What’s the name of the navigation instrument you use to measure the angle between two objects?” — the answer is a sextant, which is apparently a difficult word to recall (I had no problem recalling when my psychology lecturer asked that in one of my undergraduate courses, and it’s not like I’ve ever so much as held one, although at least half of the class did have trouble recalling the name). Another one that often generates tip-of-the-tongue is platypus, apparently. That’s really not going to work for anyone who grew up in Australia, that’s for sure — I think most 5-year-olds here could name a platypus without hesitation.

Anyway, the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon occurs when you can access the word’s meaning from your memory, but you can’t quite remember its actual sound.

The particularly interesting part is when you try to generate a tip-of-the-tongue state in a lexical-gustatory synaesthete. Why?

Because they experience the taste before they can recall the word.

So for instance, one participant, MK, was shown a picture of castanets and was asked to say what they were. She couldn’t quite remember the name, but she did experience the taste of tuna while trying to figure out the name of what she was looking at. Then, later on, when she was asked what taste is usually associated with castanets, she confirmed it was tuna. And just to be extra thorough and make sure she wasn’t just saying that castanets was associated with the taste of tuna because that’s what the researchers would like to hear, a year later, the participants in this study were given a surprise re-test and asked which tastes were associated with which words. And yep, MK again said that castanets was associated with tuna.

This tells us something pretty interesting about lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, then: it’s not the actual phonological sound of the word that triggers the associated taste, but its meaning, since the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon occurs when you can dredge up the word’s meaning from your memory but can’t quite get the word itself.

Which makes it all the more odd that these synaesthetes experience tastes in association with made-up, non-existent words, like keach or spluk (like I mentioned in this post). Maybe there are different levels of processing going on in lexical-gustatory synaesthesia? One involving the meaning of words and one involving their orthographic and phonological aspects, and these levels of processing can sometimes work independently of each other? Maybe the initial association between the word and a taste is based on orthographic or phonological aspects of the word, but then the association becomes so strong and automatic that the taste is conferred to the word’s meaning instead? I don’t know, but there is the potential for some very interesting and elegant studies to be formulated to answer those questions!

And now, what you really wanted: the recipe for fake egg poached in soup, brought to via a brief detour through the outer regions of molecular gastronomy land.

Read on for the recipe for fake egg poached in soup — strawberry mousse, vanilla milk gel and saffron apricot nectar sphere.

Japanese soufflé cheesecakes with guava-strawberry-saffron fluid gel filling and white chocolate cream cheese icing

Sorry for the dearth of updates recently; been baking extra hard and extra creatively for an event that took place last night that I will update about in the near future. Allez cuisine!

So… another recipe with a title the length of a novella.

The fluid gel filling is one of those molecular gastronomy things I’ve been meaning to try for ages. Essentially it’s supposed to have some of the properties of a fluid and some of the properties of a solid, which sounds fancy until I say that the best example of this is tomato sauce/ketchup, which tends to stay in the upturned bottle like a solid until you shake it and it flows out like a liquid. Yay physics.

The cupcakes were made using this amazing recipe which entails using cream cheese to give an interesting texture to a basic sponge (watch out, the blog has an auto-playing music player). I think this Japanese soufflé cheesecake is destined to become one of my favourites just because it’s a good basic cake that can be added to and adjusted and lends itself well to showcasing other flavours (particularly summery, fruity, floral, light kind of flavours… which I have a marvellous ability to end up pursuing in the depth of winter, just to show those damned seasons that they can’t hold me back when I’m on another of my deranged culinary missions).

Just some notes about making the cake: I made them as cupcakes, so they only require about 15-20 minutes of baking. Also, the recipe recommends melting the cream cheese (along with the butter and milk) in a bain marie, but if you don’t have infinite patience or 5 hours to spare, just chuck it in a saucepan directly over low heat, stir often, and it’ll be melted in no time with no harm done.

Further adornment of the blank canvas cupcakes is as follows…