TND – Sensory Experiences

May 30, 2013

unroasted sweet potatoes

I was half watching an episode of Chopped the other night (one of the many many many cooking competition shows the Food Network has embraced in place of shows that are actually about cooking – rant for a different day) while I ate my dinner and checked my email. I glanced up, however, when one of the contestants was revealed to be deaf. It caught my attention because in one of his ‘to camera’ interviews he said that people didn’t expect a deaf person to be able to cook, but that after all you don’t need to hear to cook.

It had never occurred to me that anyone would think that being deaf was a barrier to cooking.  Mind you, I also think that anyone who has the interest can learn to cook.  I’m not saying that there are people who can’t cook, I just tend to think that it’s because they lack an interest in figuring out how flavors and textures play together, rather than because of some kind of fundamental genetic barrier to learning.  And, that’s fine; everyone has their own thing that turns them on – I don’t like bowling, watching golf on TV (or in person), or long distance driving.  Anyway.  Yes, deaf people can cook.

His comment did, however, make me think about how I use my senses when I cook.  For me cooking is an inherently sensory experience, particularly when I’m multi-tasking.  I listen for the sound that boiling water and sugar makes as it cooks down, and when the sound changes I know it’s about to turn into caramel and I have a few seconds to get across the kitchen before it turns to carbon.  I listen to the way that meat sizzles in the pan so I know when to turn it.  I know when a sauce or a pudding has thickened enough as much by sound of the spoon scraping the bottom of the pan, as by sight or taste.

Until I started thinking about it I hadn’t actually considered how much I use hearing when I cook.  I don’t rely on it as much as sight, or smell, or taste, but I do use sound to guide me.  Knowing about how long something will take to cook is a useful guide, but so is being able to look at it or listen for it and know when it’s about to go from done to burned.  I don’t tend to listen to music when I cook, but I hadn’t processed that it’s partly because if I’m listening to music it means that I can’t hear what’s happening on the stove behind me while I’m chopping something at the counter.

Cooking, for me, is immersive and meditative.  It lets me turn my brain off and stop thinking for a while.  Instead I get to focus on the weight of a knife in my hands, the glorious perfume of onions frying in butter, the soft pop and burble of sauce simmering on the stove, and the magic of all the disparate ingredients you have chopped and simmered and sautéed coming together to form a whole that is greater than the sum of their parts.

orange wedges

Char Sui Pork Sliders
‘Asian’ Slaw with a Coconut-Ginger-Lime Dressing
Kale Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Orange Wedges/Pineapple

Black Forest Meringue Pie

Char Siu Pork Sliders
(serves 4-6 – I doubled the recipe to serve eight at Dinner; but that’s Dinner, normal people will probably eat less)

pork - before & after

½ cup ketchup
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup sugar
½ cup hoisin sauce
2 lb pork tenderloin
1 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Mix together the ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, and hoisin sauce.  Marinate the pork in the sauce overnight.

Preheat oven to 450.

Remove the pork from the marinade and place on an oiled rack set over a (well) lined baking sheet.  Roast for 30-40 minutes, turning pork over once, or until the internal temperature is 150-155.

Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing thinly.  Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.

Serve with slider rolls*, hot Chinese mustard and mango chutney.

* I found this recipe as part of a menu for a Mad Men party, and they suggested serving the pork tucked into charmingly retro King’s Hawaiian Rolls.  I was vaguely astonished that I could actually find that particular brand of roll and bought a pack before I really processed what I was doing.  However, staring at them the next day they reminded me disturbingly of the dinner rolls that they served in my elementary school cafeteria, so I also invested in some fresh brioche slider rolls from Iggys.  I think any kind of small soft-ish roll will do, something with a little sweetness to it is a nice pairing with the caramelized marinade on the pork.  I ran both kinds of rolls under the broiler to toast them up before serving.

‘Asian’ Slaw with a Coconut-Ginger-Lime Dressing
(serves 8-10)

And by ‘Asian’ I mean the ingredient list included coconut, lime, and ginger.


1 head napa cabbage, halved & finely sliced
½ head red cabbage, quartered & finely sliced
6 scallions, finely sliced
2 carrots, grated
1-2 apples, grated (will depend on the size of your apples)

1/3 cup dried unsweetened coconut
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
Zest & juice of 2 limes
2” piece ginger, peeled & grated
5 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp honey
Dash of sesame oil
½ tsp garam masala
Salt/pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until well combined (this will never get completely smooth).  Adjust seasonings to taste – you may need extra lime juice or vinegar, or more honey.  The apple in the slaw mix will add a little extra sweetness to the finished dish, so perhaps go easy on the honey to start.

Toss slaw with dressing.  Adjust seasonings to taste.

Kale Salad with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

kale salad

Zest & juice of an orange
2 Tbsp white wine vinegar (or other mild vinegar)
3 Tbsp olive oil
Drizzle of honey
Generous dollop mustard (I like grainy Dijon)

Whisk all together.  Adjust seasoning to taste – how much honey/vinegar you will need will depend on how sweet & how juicy your orange is.

2 bunches kale, leaves removed from stem & thinly sliced
Generous handful dried cranberries (maybe 1/3 – ½ cup – depends on how big your hand is)
¼ cup sunflower seeds (or roasted pumpkin seeds, or peanuts, or something salty & crunchy)
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
1 large sweet potato, diced & roasted

Cut the sweet potato into a small (¼” maybe?) dice.  Drizzle with maple syrup (or honey), a little white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper & cinnamon (or garam masala).  Roast in a 400 oven for 25 minutes, tossing halfway through.  Allow to cool.  Can be made in advance & refrigerated.

Toss the kale with the salad dressing (you may not need all of it), massaging the dressing in a little with your hands.

Layer the dressed kale with the roasted sweet potato, red onion, cranberries and sunflower seeds in a large salad bowl (I usually do 2-3 layers depending on how much of the recipe I’m making).  Layering the ingredients means that all the yummy bits don’t end up at the bottom of the bowl, and everyone gets a mix of everything when they serve themselves salad.

Black Forest Meringue Pie
This is not a last minute dessert.  This is a dessert that requires time management, patience, and multiple steps.  It is impressive looking, and the combination of flavors is lovely; although the cherry curd is definitely the star of the dish.  Next time I might skip the meringue & pie shell in favor of just the curd – possibly sandwiched between layers of a fudgy chocolate cake, or layered with a chocolate pound cake and whipped cream.

This is a recipe that is full of things I have historically been very bad at achieving successfully, but everything worked perfectly this time.  My blind baked pie shell did not crack (this is the real reason I used a tart shell and not a pie plate – I have a much better success rate with uncracked blind baked shells in a tart pan than I do in a pie plate); my curd did not curdle, and thickened on schedule; my meringue meringue-ed and baked up beautifully without burning.  All in all, I felt extremely victorious on Monday night when the pie came out of the oven.

pie in progress

Chocolate Pie Dough
140 grams (5 oz) all purpose flour
30 grams (1 oz) unsweetened cocoa powder
15 grams (½ oz) super fine sugar
85 grams (3 oz) butter (cold)
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp cold water

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt.  Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Whisk together the egg yolk and water.

Mix the egg/water mixture into the flour/butter and stir to combine.  Press together to form a dough – you may need a little extra water (I didn’t, but it was also pouring with rain when I made the dough so there was lots of extra moisture in the air).  Form into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.

Lightly grease a 9” pie pan, or a 10” tart shell with removable rim.

Roll out the dough and carefully place in the prepared pie pan.  Trim the edges.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Lightly dock the pie shell with a fork, and then blind bake in a 400 oven (15 minutes with weights / 5-10 minutes without weights).  Allow to cool completely.  Can be made the night before.

Cherry Curd
400 grams (1 lb) cherries, fresh or frozen
Juice of 1-2 lemons, depending on the sweetness of your cherries
2-3 Tbsp of kirsch (optional – but recommended)
2 Tbsp maraschino cherry juice (optional – if you have it on hand)
¼ – ¾ cup super fine sugar, will depend greatly on the sweetness of your cherries
1 egg
3 egg yolks

Place the cherries, lemon juice, kirsch, and maraschino cherry juice in a heavy bottomed sauce pan.  Bring to a brisk simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes, mashing the cherries slightly to break the up.  You’re looking to cook them down a little.

Press the cherries through a fine sieve, pressing firmly to get as much goo as possible.  You should be left only with skin (and pits if you’re using fresh cherries).

Stir in sugar to taste – I only ended up needing about ¼ cup, so start low and add as needed.

Whisk together the egg, and egg yolks (reserve the whites for the meringue).

Return the cherry puree to the saucepan, and whisk in the eggs.  Return to stove and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly, until curd has thickened (anywhere from 7-15 minutes).  Allow to cool.  Can be made the night before.

Chocolate Meringue
3 egg whites*
¼ tsp cream of tartar
Pinch salt
¼ cup super fine sugar
1 tsp vanilla
50 grams (2 oz) dark chocolate, melted & cooled

Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over (not in) a pot of simmering water.  Allow to cool.

Beat the egg whites until they are foamy.  Add the cream of tartar and salt (will help stabilize the meringue) and continue to beat the egg whites until they are the soft peak stage.  Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat the egg whites to stiff peaks (if you’re feeling daring you can turn the bowl upside down over your head – if you emerge unscathed your egg whites have achieved the right consistency).

Fold in the vanilla.  Then fold in the chocolate – leaving the meringue streaky.

* maybe because I made this in a 10” tart shell versus a 9” pie plate, I thought the meringue layer was a little thin.  Since you have a 4th egg white floating around (from the pie dough), I would up all the ingredients in the meringue layer by a ¼ next time so that there was more meringue.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Reheat the cherry curd over a low heat (the warm curd will help set the meringue).  Pour into the baked pie shell, and spread to fill evenly.

Carefully dollop the chocolate meringue over the top of the cherry curd, spreading it gently to cover evenly, making sure that the edges of the meringue touch the edges of the pie shell and completely cover the curd layer.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until firm and lightly browned.  Cool completely before serving.  Garnish with shaved chocolate and maraschino cherries.

The meringue is probably best made day of, although due to time constraints I actually meringue my pie on Monday night and refrigerated it (after it had cooled completely) very very loosely covered.  I took it out of the fridge when we sat down to eat, so by the time I was slicing and serving it was more or less room temperature.



  1. You are right, being deaf is no encumbrance to cooking. There is a well known chef who is deaf and was already losing his sight (Usher syndrome) when he opened his restaurant The Ragin Cajun in Seattle, Washington in the 90s (it may be closed now). It was a well known eatery in its day; Bill Clinton ate there when he was President. Interest and perhaps taste buds are the main requirements.

  2. […] got back on track to decadence with a Black Forest Meringue Pie – and then hit our stride in August when we worked our way through a cup of butter, a box of […]

  3. […] Recipe previously given:  Sensory Experiences […]

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