I don’t think I ever really got to enjoy Labor Day as it was intended. When I was working as a grad student, it was simply a day when I could park in the garage for free, just like 4th of July and the other federal holidays. In fact, federal holidays were some of the best times to get work done, because no one was on campus which made logistics of coming and going a lot easier, especially when running those 24-48 hr long experiments (there is a reason for that futon that was in my office!). Now, the only labor I was doing on Labor Day was in the kitchen, which I sometimes think is not too unlike the chemistry I was doing for grad school, haha. Cooking and chemistry have a lot in common. It amazes me sometimes how often I use my chemistry knowledge in the kitchen.
For example, I wanted to adapt this beautiful summer berry and champagne soup with floating island and caramel sauce (gosh does Ramsay come up with long titles for his dishes!) to be diabetic friendly. It sounds like a challenging feat, I know. Well, it really wasn’t that hard, it just took a bit of thought. I wanted to avoid stevia here, because stevia tends to do weird things with heat. It just isn’t that stable to be able to cook with it.
So instead, I tried a different type of sugar substitute, called erythritol – this is a sugar alcohol, from sugar, that I was able to find organic at my local natural foods store. While it does have carbs, it has 0 glycemic index. My mom wanted to see if she would react to it at all, and her blood sugar was not affected in the slightest! Apparently it has a “cooling effect”, meaning that it changes the temperature of whatever you try to dissolve it in, which can pose a problem trying to use it with more temperature-fussy things like chocolate or hard candies. In science that is called an endothermic process. However, this was only needed for meringue, which I didn’t think was going to be as finicky about any temperature issues. Since the crystals looked closer to sugar than the stevia (I know, highly precise assessment here), I thought I would give it a try. I used 1/2 cup (more than the recipe called for because this is less sweet) when making the meringue. To my surprise, the meringue totally held up, and got that same glossy sheen that you would expect when adding sugar while beating egg whites – success! It totally passed the “hold the bowl upside-down over your head” test…
The next step was to poach the meringue quenelles in vanilla and minted milk. I am not quite sure how/why this works. Everything I have been taught about meringue is that any sort of humidity can mean total and utter collapse of your meringue. And yet I think this is a pretty standard step for floating islands – as I carefully ladled simmering milk over my quenelles, they stayed completely intact! Any chemist out there want to take a stab as to why this is so? Poaching them in this fashion allowed the meringue to absorb the wonderful vanilla flavor from the simmering milk. It was wonderful.
These were served on top of the fruit soup, which is really a glorified smoothie. I used blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries because strawberries and currants were no where to be found at the farmer’s market at this time of year. Actually I have never seen currants sold here. I would love to try some one day. I noticed on the episode of the F-Word that this was featured, guests said the soup was bland. So when I made this, instead of about 2 cups of fruit, I used closer to 3.5 cups. I think this was a good idea, because the soup was definitely not lacking in flavor!
And finally, the caramel sauce – I had no idea how to convert this to be diabetic friendly, so my mom said she was happy to have the soup with the floating island and omit the sauce. Because of this, I was able to make the sauce exactly according to the recipe, though I am still a bit confused as to why Ramsay had you melt the sugar with some water. I slowly let the sugar dissolve, as suggested, and then turned up the heat to give the liquid some color. Instead of browning nicely, what happened was as the solution was bubbling away, all the water boiled away and then all the sugar precipitated out (see, there I go using chemistry terms again while cooking). I was left with dry sugar in my pot. I just don’t understand the point of initially adding the water, what was the purpose of that? No big deal, I just let the sugar melt as if that was what was supposed to happen and went from there. The sauce turned out great.
To serve, I poured in the soup, then added the quenelle (well, it was supposed to be shaped like a quenelle, but lack of the right size spoons made it a bit difficult to make as pretty) of meringue, and topped with caramel sauce for those of us that could have it. My dad decided to also enjoy a cordial of cassis with his, which you can see in the background of the pic.
Overall, my Gordon Ramsay inspired Labor Day menu was a resounding success!! Both dinner and dessert were gluten free, and adaptable to be diabetic friendly, while still being incredibly flavorful and tasty for those of us without dietary restrictions. I hope you all had an exciting and relaxing weekend filled with good food and family/friends as well!