This post is going to be a little different than most. Why? Because this is, perhaps, the easiest thing I've ever made in my life. A face-eating chimp could make this. The corpse of Abraham Lincoln's Secret Service agent could make this. The dumbasses on any of the interations of Bravo's Real Housewives could make this. The leaf that just fell off the tree in my front yard could make this. Even Sandra Lee could make this (although she'd probably gank it up with taco seasoning, Mrs. Dash, or whack-a-dough biscuits, but still -- it's feasible even she could pull this off).
So, instead of a long, involved photo play-by-play, I'm gonna keep it short and sweet and let this be about YOU -- meaning, I want YOU to make these (or a variation of them) and report back with what you did, how you used it, and how it tasted.
Seriously, read this post, look at the very few photos I'm going to post, think about what you might like in terms of taste and execution, then go freakin' make it. I even added a brand-spankin' new post tag for this item: "So f-ing easy, dude" because it is, and really, there are no excuses for not taking a few minutes to daydream (I know you're looking for another procrastination tool at work, so with this assignment, I'm giving you one right here, right now. Aaaaaaaaand I just song-poisoned myself with this gem, AWESOME.) and think about how you'd do this dish (or a variation thereof), and then go home and play around and experiment one afternoon or evening and see what you can come up with.
The ingredients are simple, and I'm going to give them to you here in "regular" measurements instead of the weight measurements the Alinea cookbook uses:
-- water (2.5 cups);
-- sugar (1/4 cup);
-- salt (1/4 tsp.); and
-- dried hibiscus leaves (1 cup).
Nothing fancy, nothing scary. My local food co-op and health food store sell hibiscus flowers; I bet you can find them with a few phone calls. If not, my online resource is in the end notes of this post, as always.
The directions are even simpler:
-- Bring water, salt, and sugar to a boil.
-- Turn off heat, add flowers, stir, let cool to room temperature (takes about 20-25 minutes).
-- Strain. Keep liquid; throw away flowers.
-- Pour liquid into molds to make spheres.
-- Done and done.
The step you'll see I avoided was using the tripod. You know, the very title of this dish. Why?
While I think the presentation of these beauties on the actual wire tripod they use in the restaurant is stunning, I just don't think it's practical for the home cook to a) buy tripods they may never use again, or b) spend their hard-earned time and money trying to figure out how to make them on their own. Life is too freakin' short, methinks. And, the pieces they use at Alinea are just so elegant, there's no way I could do it justice -- not even for comedic effect. I will confess that I thought about doing a spoof on Time for Timer's "Sunshine on a Stick" for this post, but how can you outdo Time for Timer? Impossible.
So, I decided to find other ways to serve these amazing (yes, they are just that) frozen hibiscus spheres because my simultaneously channeling both Grant Achatz and a Saturday morning PSA from my childhood is practically blasphemous; and, with the kind of month I'd been having, I thought it might be more appropriate to involve my little friend, alcohol, in this experiment.
So, I decided to put the frozen hibiscus spheres to use in various alcoholic incarnations, because, while I'm not a mixology expert in any way, shape, or form, I am always looking for ways to expand my horizons past the classics (which currently are wine, scotch, scotch, wine and, um, more scotch. Followed by more wine. And then a scotch.).
First up, a shot of Ketel One with a frozen hibiscus sphere:
I made these for my weekly Friday afternoon neighbor-girl drinks gathering, and while I liked it, the other two girls were a bit apathetic. Turns out, they're not really fans of vodka. Whoops.
It was at that point that I realized, hey! I didn't even try one of these suckers WITHOUT alcohol. Doy. So, we gathered the kids around, and we each ate one just plain. The kids were not huge fans. They declared it "too salty" because they expected it to be sweet because of its color... which for a kid, I would totally expect. Red = sweet when you're 10, right?
So, if you haven't had anything hibiscus-infused before, how I can I explain what it tastes like? Well, it's not too floral or overly fragrant (like lavender or roses might be)... it's not overly sweet... it's a little earthy, but not stinky or dirty or peaty. It made me think of a late summer evening around 7:30, 8 o'clock... maybe the grass was cut that morning, so there's a lingering fresh smell in the air.... and maybe it's a little cool because late summer is easing into fall... and maybe it rained the day before, so everything feels alive and green... and maybe you picked or chopped fresh tomatoes earlier that evening so the smell is still on your hands ever so slightly... and maybe you have a planted pot or garden spot of thyme and tarragon and mint and parsley nearby... and maybe, just maybe, there's a slight, warm wisp of a breeze, and you're sitting on the front porch or on your balcony listening to the sounds of your neighborhood, and you hear laughter in the distance and it makes you smile. That's what hibiscus tastes like.
This sphere isn't chewy like the Cranberry bite (the Ultra-Tex 3 makes that chewy), nor is it hard like a popsicle. It doesn't take long to collapse and crush onto your tongue when you press it against the roof of your mouth. It melts beautifully in a drink, and while letting it infuse a shot of vodka wasn't a home run for everyone, I bet using it as crushed ice in a margarita would be awesome. Or, you could do what I did just the other night and pour some Lillet into a glass, add a splash of club soda and a wedge of orange (or lime), and use the frozen hibiscus spheres as ice cubes:
James Bond had The Vesper. This, is The Carol. And I love it.
So, go forth lovely people of Alinea at Home... shake off the end-of-winter blues and make hibiscus spheres, cubes, hearts or stars or golf balls or butt cheeks or rocket ships... just make some sort of flavored, frozen, flower-infused something... or, if you're pressed for time and can't get to it right away, tell me what kind of flavored, frozen, flower- or herbal-infused something you would make. Hell, maybe you'd even use the hibiscus-infused liquid in a tray on the grill to steam to some brats? Sky's the limit, queridos. Hit me in the comments, and you know what? I'm gonna make it slightly more interesting.
Just before my next post, I'll randomize the comments, assign numbers, throw it out to the Twitter universe to let them pick a few numbers, and I'll ship those winners a few ounces of dried hibiscus flowers of their very own.
How's that sound?
Good, I thought so.
Up Next: Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper
Resources: Dried hibiscus flowers from Organic Creations (but your local co-op or health food store should have them, so open the Yellow Pages and make a few phone calls), Domino sugar, David's kosher salt.
Music to Cook By: D'Angelo; various. Because every now and then, a girl wants some D'Angelo in her week.
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