Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Potluck 4/22: Mad Scientists

While I was in Seattle listening to talks about plasma, it was decided that I should host potluck the day after I returned. Since my brain was pretty geared towards science, I figured it was about time to have a mad scientist potluck, filled with (possibly) science-themed food. Or at least food that we can experimentally prove tastes delicious.

First things first: any good science party needs a genuine science experiment. And since I like my rented microwave too much to make grape plasma in it, I went with the always popular non-Newtonian fluid: corn starch and water. What I mean by non-Newtonian is this - this mixture will feel like a liquid (like white glue) if you touch it slowly, not putting a lot of force on it, but it will feel more solid (like thick, wet sand) if you poke it quickly. Lana and Laura demonstrate...
Later on in the evening I demonstrated that it could be rolled (with a fast, constant motion) into a ball, which I then threw against the outside of the house. It stayed ball-shaped and hard for long enough to slam into the wall and fall to the ground, but then it melted like the Wicked Witch of the West, slipping through the cracks on the deck.

Another science project that I provided was savory molecules. Cherry tomatoes, basil, mozzarella balls, and chunks of carrot took the place of hydrogen, oxygen, and other atoms in some complex molecules, made by Aditya. I think here we have caffeine and one other one. What can I say, chemistry has never been my thing.

I did take solid state physics, though, so I am a pro (ha! not really...) at crystalline structures such as the ever-popular "body centered cubic" shown below.

Lana took a more zoological approach, with her dog (neck-less giraffe?) figure, seen below with some H2O and balsamic vinaigrette.

Every scientist needs a little liquid inspiration, which Mike so boldly provided.

Geoffrey and Laura provided nourishment in the form of delicious peanut and potato stew. Just looking at this picture makes me salivate like Pavlov's dog.

My final contribution was, naturally, a dessert. The end result was not particularly science-y, but I do find the transformation of the ingredients to be a testament to kitchen science. Because, let's face it, a plain mixture of lemon juice, eggs, and whipping cream doesn't sound all that appetizing.

But add a little sugar, heat, and lots of whisking, and you end up with lemon mousse: rich and fluffy, with a flavor like lemon drops. Now that is a good use of science. And here's the recipe!

Lemon Mousse
from The Amateur Gourmet

2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
2 lemons
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream

1. Start a pot filled 1/4 of the way with water boiling on the stove. In a bowl, roughly whisk together the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, and the grated peel and juice of the lemons. Prepare a larger bowl with ice cubes and cold water.
2. Place the bowl with the egg mixture over the boiling water (taking care that the bottom doesn't touch the water), and whisk until the mixture thickens to the consistency of cake batter.
3. Move the bowl with the egg mixture to the ice-water bath, and whisk occasionally until it cools to room temperature. Meanwhile, use a hand-held mixer to whip the cream (along with a pinch of sugar) until you have stiff-ish peaks.
4. Whisk 1/3 of the whipped cream into the lemon curd. Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream with a spatula, until no streaks of pure lemon curd remain. Chill until you're ready to devour it.

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