Cranberry, frozen and chewy
I'm finally starting to feel nearly normal [read: healthy; because me? normal?], and was soooo ready to get back into the kitchen this weekend. Didn't used to be like this, but I now feel unsettled when I don't cook every day. And, that need to cook is coming in quite handy because I've decided to not order any carryout this month, nor go out for dinner (unless it's business-related), nor do any grocery shopping other than fresh produce once a week. Even with that, I'm limiting myself to a budget of $15/week. Why?
Last month, Mark Bittman wrote a piece in The New York Times about stocking one's pantry. Then, Michael Ruhlman wrote a post about it, and it was fascinating to scroll through the comments and see what people considered to be their staple items. While my staple items are pretty boring (salt, butter, stock, etc.), I do keep a well stocked freezer and pantry, which I'm quite fastidious about organizing and maintaining. However, I recently realized I'd started to fall back into my bad habit of just buying whatever the heck I wanted at the market every time I went, and my shelves were getting cramped and my freezer and fridge were stuffed to the gills for just little old me.
So, I spent the month of January eating what I already had and cooking what was already in my kitchen. When I got the flu/cold/crud and didn't leave the house for two weeks, I really took advantage of my bountiful kitchen (and freezer) and was so glad to have soups to thaw, oatmeal to make, and different seasonings and extras to make me feel like I wasn't eating the same exact thing every day.
Now that we're in February, I thought, hey, why not keep going? I've made a dent in my stockpile of food, but I've still got a ways to go. So, I've decided to allot $15 each week of this month to spend on fresh produce and eggs... otherwise, I've got to use what I have here at home. It honestly hasn't been difficult at all, and already I can see I'm going to be saving a decent amount of money. A little belt-tightening never killed anybody, right?
I know what I'm doing is hardly revolutionary, and it's not something so out-of-the-ordinary for me, either. On a pretty regular basis, my friends and I do a "leftovers dinner" where we bring our odds and sods that we reheat or repurpose into something else (shepherd's pie being a big favorite), allowing us to clean out our fridges for the week ahead. But, it's been awhile since I've put myself on any kind of food budget or buying restrictions and I'm kind of curious to see how long I can make it last. Of course, the food for this blog is not included in that $15 budget, because that's just not realistic. I imagine when I get down to a bag of frozen peas, agave nectar, and paprika that I'll have to lift my self-imposed moratorium, but for now it's been kind of fun to see what I can come up with, and indulge in the little treasures in my freezer (homemade pesto! in February!).
Speaking of my freezer, let's talk about Cranberry, frozen and chewy. I'll say right upfront that I didn't use liquid nitrogen to make this because I just didn't have the time or the desire, after having been out of commission for what felt like forever, to source it and go pick it up. I wanted instant gratification, something I could make really easily, and since my freezer is right here and I already had 1" spherical molds, that's how I rolled.
And away we go....
Just after Christmas, I bought two bags of cranberries at Whole Foods, put 'em in a Ziploc, and stored them in the freezer. I knew I was going to do this dish in February, and I knew I wouldn't be able to find cranberries then. So, in the photo below you'll see little white dots of defrostation on the gorgeous cranberries I used:
I didn't thaw them, and instead put them straight into the saucepan with some sugar and water and brought them to a boil. Then, I turned down the flame and let them simmer for about 20-25 minutes until they'd broken apart and were just getting mushy.
I strained the cranberries through a chinois and allowed the liquid (or cranberry stock, as the book refers to it) to cool to room temperature (which took maybe 10-15 minutes). I added the Ultra-Tex 3, a modified tapioca-based starch, and whisked it until it was fully incorporated, then poured the Ultra-Texed cranberry mixture into a squeeze bottle.
The next step was to fill the silicone spherical molds. Here's what they look like, in case you've never seen them before -- it's two halves that you press tightly together, then fill through the little holes on top:
I put the cranberry-filled molds into the freezer and kept them in there until the next day, when I finished the dish.
The only other thing I had to do before serving them was make the orange purée. I quartered an orange, removed the pith and fibers in the center, and then blended them in my blender with a little bit of simple syrup:
I strained it through a chinois into a small bowl, added a little kosher salt, stirred it, and put it in a squeeze bottle to get it ready for plating:
So, the only thing left to do was get the cranberry spheres out of the freezer and put them onto spoons. Then, I'd dot each sphere with the orange purée, top it with a chervil leaf, and down the hatch it'd go! Easy, right?
Um, maybe I should've taken the time and effort to to the whole cranberry-into-balloons-then-into-liquid-nitrogen, because look what happened when I opened the mold:
I pulled gently around each sphere to ever-so-lovingly get the little guys out while keeping them as intact as I could. I smoothed them a bit and placed them on spoons which I'd kept in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes:
They look respectable enough, don't they? I dotted each of them with a few little squirts of the orange purée, then topped each one with a chervil leaf. Here's the final result:
I have to say, I was pretty damn proud of myself for salvaging this one. I did not have it in me to fail or even semi-fail, and I really wanted them to be pretty and not resemble the Ghetto Fish Triscuit Debacle of 2009. But even more important than having them be so pretty (which they are! So pretty! Don't you want to make out with them??), I wanted them to taste good.
My house smelled amazing -- still a little cranberry essence from the day before making cranberry stock, with a nice overtone of orange. I called my friend, Linda, and she and her son, "C," walked the 50 feet from their front door to mine to come taste them. As soon as she stepped across the threshold, she said, "Ooooooo, something smells really good." So, the three of us stood in my dining room in front of this plate of eight spoons, and thought we'd each try one while we waited for other folks to arrive.
So, we each took a spoon off the plate, opened wide, and took it all in one bite. I rolled it around in my mouth for a few seconds, then chewed and swallowed. Not 10 seconds had passed as we chewed and swallowed before we all reached for another one, pausing only for a second to say, "shouldn't we wait for... nah, ya snooze, ya lose" before we each ate another one.
You guys, THESE ARE FREAKIN' AMAZING!!!!!
They're smooth, they're fragrant, they're flavorful, they have a really smooth mouth feel -- not crunchy or hard like a popsicle, but not mushy or slimy in any way (which was what I was afraid might happen). It's like a really light ice cream or maybe a sharper, more tart sherbet kind of texture. Flavor-wise, it was a hit with all of us. Not too sweet, not too tart, the cranberry and the orange just complementing one another so perfectly, and the hint of chervil added an almost salty taste to it.
I'm totally making these again. I have more cranberries in the freezer, so I'll probably do them again soon, either as a canapé or maybe a palate cleanser if I do a multi-course dinner party. They're really easy to pull off, and if you're willing to do a little smoothing or reshaping when you take them out of whatever shape of mold you use, the colors are just so beautiful that everyone you serve them to will ooooh and aaaah and think you are a freakin' rock star. Which you are, anyway... I'm just sayin'.
So, in total there were eight of these bites and we'd eaten six of them. There were two full spoons left and three of us. So, we decided I should put them in the freezer for an hour or so until Linda's husband, Sean, came home so he could try them. Fast-forward to this morning when he still hadn't come over, so I ate them for breakfast.
You snooze, you lose, indeed.
Up Next: Kumquat, Aquavit, picholine olive, caraway
Resources: Spherical molds from J.B. Prince; cranberries, orange, and chervil from Whole Foods; Ultra-Tex 3 from Terra Spice/Alinea.
Music to Cook By: The Smithereens; From Jersey It Came. Someone was paying me a compliment the other day and used the phrase "a girl like you." I happen to like being called a girl. The word woman feels a little too forced or p.c., and I don't think I could be referred to as a lady. Chick isn't right either, and gal is just too affected. I'm fine being referred to as a girl. But more than an analysis of gender terms, the phrase made me launch into song, specifically "A Girl Like You" and, as a result, I've been listening to The Smithereens for days, now. Reminds me of college and singing along to their music at The 21st Amendment (which we actually called "the two-one" because we were so cool, but not cool enough to keep it from being razed and replaced with an IMF or World Bank outpost).
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