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To Ear Is Human...

Now that you’re all nice and “warmed up” and we have talked about how heat works. Now its time to apply that to our senses. The next few posts are going to relate to how we use our senses with food. Sensory Perception... Sounds like some kind of extra insurance they try to get you to purchase when you buy electronics. Nope. Sensory perception is the conscious awareness of the input from the senses that gives rise to experience. This can happen singularly or in conjunction with other senses working in tandem to create a more enhanced experience (cross-modality, but that’s bonus week 6). In layman’s terms, the brain is locked up high in a castle like Rapunzel and is relying on the information provided it by its 5 bff’s (taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound) to make a decision or draw a conclusion. The order that I listed those five senses in was not random. You may be surprised to learn to that not only scientists, but regular jeans and t-shirt wearing “average joes” like you and me have one major thing in common when we relate our senses to food. Sound rates last. Dead Last. We perceive it to be the least important attribute to how flavor is determined; making it the last sense to cross the finish line in our Sensory Perception Tour de France. Lucky for hearing, I have a soft-spot for the underdog, so I’m going to start at the end of the line and work my way forward… Every dog shall have its day!


I initially was only going to write about how we use hearing use it relates to the cooking process, but as I got further and further into writing this, I decided that some additional information might be helpful as some other ways to consider hearing when eating. Because you might not necessarily associate the connection, but big companies do, and they have spent a lot of money researching and advertising it. More on that shortly. Also, my further research on the auditory cues we take from eating lead me to an interesting observation on the immediate determination on the type of food we are eating - processed vs. raw, without seeing it.


The year is 2019. Gone are the days of the traditional views of sound only playing a small role in the overall perception of flavor. Remember when a chefs two secret weapons to keep you coming back were cream and butter? I do. Fat is flavor.. yada yada yada. I know the mantra. I’ve said it for years. But…Thank goodness those days are over! Don’t get me wrong, they have their place, but now as peoples tastes and ideas on how gastronomy works have changed, chefs and the home cook alike, have adapted a new philosophy when it comes to eating. The food should hit all senses in some way, to engage the senses as fully as possible to provide the best overall dining experience. Before we get to how we apply hearing to cooking, I’m going to start by talking about how big companies use the least important sense to their advantage.


Unfortunately, crispy and crunchy are flavorless, but you use the sound produced from the food you are chewing to make evaluations on freshness. Our brains perceive noisy foods with freshness. The fresher the product we are eating or working with, on an underlying level is interpreted by our brain as more nutritious. Our brains figured this out long ago as experience gained through the years since we were children. As an item degrades, it breaks down and becomes less nutritious leading to the woefully fateful inicere quisquilias – that’s latin for “you throw it away. However, our brains also associate noisy foods as fatty – which can be a reward trigger to many. Bet you didn’t know that. But you know who does know, and has known for years??? Frito-Lay. Since the 1960’s, Frito-Lay has been running tests on the crispness of potato chips. In the 1980’s they spent lots of money on artificial chewing machines solely to measure the p.s.i. of biting a chip. Many tests have been done with p.s.i. and they have determined that 4 p.s.i. is the magic number for biting a potato chip. Compare that to between 150-200 .p.s.i. for chewing a steak. Let me put this in a different context, it takes around 600 p.s.i. to break the femur bone in your leg. What they are trying to do is engineer the perfect combination of potato, process, and additives that keep you chewing. “Bet you can’t eat just one…” that’s not really a cute tag-line challenge. It’s suggestive marketing married with years of data on what is going to keep you chewing more. Because that’s ultimately the goal right.. To keep you coming back?


Going back a few weeks, do you remember when I told you that you can’t eat adjectives? Company advertisers market hearing as their number one attention grabber. Hearing is almost the forgotten sense when it comes to purchasing because we rely on impulse triggers to sell us on an idea. For example, you are routinely and strategically marketed crunch. You’ll see “crunchy” “crunchiest” “crispiest” on everything from cereal boxes to labels on pickle jars. They are all screaming for your attention! .. Butterfinger markets both – touting its flaky “peanut buttery” layers as crispety and crunchety. That’s not a redundant mistake on their part. They are coming at you from both sides, pulling at your shirt tails trying to get you to buy their product. Butterfinger has been around 96 years now, btw. Silent foods do not have the same captivation on your brain that noisy foods do. Noisy foods make you concentrate on what you are eating, make you think about them. Heck you may have even give your potato chips names and a backstory. Again, crunch is a determining factor in our brains that leads to textural clues on the content of the food we are eating. Also, the brain uses crunch to make a determination on what they eyes cannot see. Think about eating popcorn in a dark movie theater. Would that fatty, buttery, salty snack be as appetizing if it were pureed like baby food? Nope, it all goes back to the brain perceiving crunchy (as it applies to unhealthy foods) as a reward trigger. Hearing confirms opinion. Lets go back to the potato chip for a moment. Would that potato chip have the same appeal if you couldn’t hear the crunch? Hearing uses immediate sensory information to instantly determine if what you're eating checks the boxes its supposed to. Easiest example of this… you can’t see stale.


Before I go into how we use hearing in our everyday cooking processes, I want to interject one last thing. I have used two words to this point, interchangeably. They are not. Crispy and Crunchy. Is there a difference? YES! Food 52 wrote an article titled, “Is There A Difference Between Crispy & Crunchy?” (Food52.com - August 16th 2018) While this was not a long or in-depth article, it did provide definitions for crispy and crunchy. From the International Journal of Food Properties:

  • The journal defines a crispy food as: “a dry rigid food which, when bitten with the incisors [Ed. Note: the four pointy teeth at the front of your mouth], fractures quickly, easily, and totally while emitting a relatively loud, high-pitched sound.”
  • While a crunchy food is: “a dense-textured food which, when chewed with the molars, undergoes a series of fractures while emitting relatively loud, low-pitched sounds..”

For more information on high-pitched vs. low acoustic sounds while eating, read this. https://flavourjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2044-7248-4-3


After pondering those two definitions for a day or two, it has led me to an astute observation. Now again, this is not a blanket statement, but for the most part I find this to be shockingly accurate. In my opinion, more often than not, AND AS IT REFERS TO CHEWING, (not the snap you hear of a green bean) crispy seems to refer to foods that have been manufactured, produced, or processed in some way. Crunchy seems to point more towards foods that are in an organic form, or come from nature. (not organic in growing process – just unprocessed/unmanufactured). I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Now, how does hearing come into play when we cook? Before we even begin to cook, we get auditory cues about how we prepare our food. Think of the difference in sound of a sharp knife vs. a dull knife cutting through an onion.


Our brains are fed instant information about an emulsion we are making in a blender or food processor just by the change in sound of the “whap” or “thud” of the liquids hitting the sides of the bowl as they are changing in viscosity and holding a suspension (which is an example of process acting as the thickening agent).


Close your eyes and think for a moment about the chills that instantly go down your spine when you pull that fresh loaf of bread out of the oven and tap the crust and hear that hollow thud. I can’t think of too many other sounds that bring me as much joy!


Are you getting ready to brown meat? (I hope you are.) How do we know when the pan and the oil are hot enough? We put a single piece of whatever you are about to prepare into the pan and wait for the tell-tale sizzle and pop of the protein hitting the fat. No sizzle? We know immediately that our pan isn’t hot enough and we wait momentarily and try again.


Here’s one that doesn’t come up often… Squeaky. You know that poutine you can’t stop eating? Think about munching away on fries and gravy topped with cold, right out of the cooler, dense cheese curds. Wouldn’t be the same would it? We rely on certain sounds not for their auditory sensations, but also to keep us interested while eating.


You know how I always talk about the mechanics of chewing and how your mouth needs to be lubricated by fats (you find this commonly in the form of sauce) in order to keep you chewing? Your brain can hear the differences when you chew something dry vs. something lubricated and will trigger you to either keep eating or stop.


Have you ever stopped to think about what are some of your favorite sounds that keep you eating or that releases the dopamine in your brain that triggers reward? Two of my favorite sounds are biting into large lactic acid crystals in hard cheese and the grit in a scallop. As it may not be forefront in our thought, it’s happening and we are using it to make a determination on the foods we are eating. As western palates are more dependent on fats and sugars, we rely on our audible sensory perception to create memory profiles about food and what we are eating. If this were not important, pot de crème would have never become crème brulee.


Oh and one final thing on the potato chip. Remember a year or so ago when the good ol’ folks at Frito-Lay engineered the potato chip for women, that didn’t provide as loud of a “crunch” in work environments? Yeah, that was one of their biggest ever flops – but the biodegradable bag they came up with a few years back made too much noise, and failed – people are fickle.


So, when in comes to food and cooking, hearing is way more important than we give it credit for! Not only do we rely on it for cooking process, but also for satisfaction when eating. Think about a beautiful, fresh, crispy fried chicken vs. the sad underbelly of a shake and bake pork chop. Still hungry? You just used two associated food memories collected by your ears during chewing to make that connection. Awesome, huh?


I don’t know a lot of bells that bring people running. No one ever rang a root canal bell that got my mouth salivating! I guess there’s a little bit of Pavlov’s dogs in all of us! 


You are going to pop, crackle, and possibly snap over this week's recipes, I hope you enjoy them, you crazy culinary audiophiles!

Spanikopita

  • 1 Lb. frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed completely dry, chopped
  • 1 Lb. feta cheese block, crumbled
  • 8 green onions, white and green parts, sliced thin
  • 1 T. + 1 tsp. chopped fresh dill
  • ¼ C. parsley, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1 package phyllo sheets
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  1. In a bowl, combine the spinach, feta, green onions, dill, parsley, garlic, and red pepper (if using); stir well to combine.
  2. Lay phyllo dough flat and brush gently with butter. Repeat this with 2 more layers so there are 3 layers total. Cut the phyllo into 6 equal squares.
  3. Place a scant tablespoon of the mixture onto the phyllo squares, and fold one end of the square over to form a triangle; press the edges together. Repeat this process with all of the phyllo until the spinach feta mixture is gone.
  4. Place the phyllo triangles on a baking sheet and brush the tops lightly with butter. Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 35-45 minutes, or until light brown and crispy. * Note, if you notice that the top is getting too brown, flip over and cook on the other side.

Fried Green Tomato and Pimento Cheese Tower with Molasses Gastrique

For The Pimento Cheese:
  • 2 oz cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 1/4 C. mayo
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. whole grain mustard
  • 1 T. worcestershire sauce
  • 8 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
  • ½ jar (small) chopped pimentos, drained well
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For The Fried Green Tomatoes:

  • 1 Lb. green tomatoes, or tomatillo
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 C. panko
  • Oil for frying

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For the Molasses Gastrique:

  • ½ C. molasses
  • 1 T. bourbon
  • 2 T. malt vinegar
  • 1 T. tarragon, chopped


For the Pimento Cheese:

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to a creamy consistency.  Chill before use.


For the Fried Green Tomato:

Heat the oil to 350 degrees. Slice the green tomatoes into 1/2” slices and dip in the egg and then the panko. Fry to a nice golden brown. Drain on paper towel lined plates. Season immediately with salt and pepper.


For the Molasses Gastrique:

Combine the molasses and bourbon in a small pan until warm. Add vinegar and tarragon. Season.


To Assemble, spread some pimento cheese on the fried green tomatoes and stack 2 or 3 layers high.  Drizzle with the gastrique.  For a little bit more of a substantial appetizer or small meal, add some low-country grilled shrimp!

Blackberry Napoleon with Lavender Pastry Cream

  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 1/2 C. 10x sugar

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  • 1 container blackberries
  • 2 C. simple syrup

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  • 3 containers blackberries
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • ¾ c. merlot
  • 9 allspice berries

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  • 1 ¼ c. milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 3 egg yolks
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • 1/8 c. flour
  • Scant 3 T. cornstarch
  • 1 T. lavender
  1. Dock or fork poke holes in the puff pastry sheet, sift the powdered sugar over the top and bake in a 360 degrees oven until the sheet is cooked and the sugar is caramelized. Set aside.
  2. Poach the blackberries in the simple syrup for 15-20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and refrigerate.
  3. Combine the blackberries, sugar, lemon juice, merlot, and allspice berries in a saucepan.  Reduce until thickened, puree and strain.
  4. For the lavender pastry cream -

    Mix eggs and sugar until pale yellow. Sift in flour and cornstarch.

    Boil milk, vanilla and lavender

    Temper hot milk into the egg mixture, return to heat until 2nd boil and thickened.

    Transfer to a shallow pan, cover the pastry cream itself (not the pan) with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool. When cool, transfer to a piping bag.

  5. To assemble - Stamp circles out of the pastry sheet, layer the puff pastry circles with piped pastry cream in the center and the poached blackberries around the edges. Place some of the puree on the place and top with the napolean.  Garnish with a little pipe rosette of the pastry cream and a little sprig of chervil.