A few housekeeping notes before we begin:
1) Congrats to Alinea for being ranked #10 in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list (Restaurant Magazine, S. Pellegrino, et al). Per Se was ranked #6, and came in as the top-ranked American restaurant. Both placements are so well deserved, and I'm so thrilled for them!
2) Grant Achatz is blogging over on The Atlantic's Food Channel. In addition to being a great thinker and amazingly creative chef, he's a good writer, too. I'm curious to see what some of you think about his latest posts, "New Fusion: Making Old Modern" and "Food Tasting or Art Installation?" so hit him up on the comments over there and weigh in with your thoughts. Grant is also on Twitter, if you care to follow him.
3) Michael Ruhlman's new book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, came out two weeks ago, and to commemorate the launch of the book he's working with Share Our Strength on a giveaway of three scales and signed copies of the book. Any dollar amount of a donation to Share Our Strength through the link above qualifies you to win, so check it out. You all know how great an organization I think Share Our Strength is, and as the economy continues on its current trajectory, their work gets harder and harder. So if you have a roof over your head and a sated feeling from the lunch, dinner, breakfast, or glass of wine you just had, I hope you'll send a few dollars their way.... I just did. And, I can't speak highly enough about Michael's book, as well. As I've been cooking my way through Alinea, I've really come to love cooking with a scale.... and that's an integral piece of the kinds of things you'll learn in Ratio.
4) This last bit is not necessarily Alinea-related, but given my previous blog, I feel okay including it here, so I hope you'll indulge me. For the past month or so, Per Se has been offering an a la carte menu in the lounge area of the restaurant. Upon first hearing about it, I'll confess that I wasn't thrilled with the idea because I didn't think it was representative of the brand and it just didn't feel right to me. In fact, to be honest, I caught myself involuntarily wrinkling my nose and making a face when I heard the news. However, since I'm making a concerted effort in my life to be a wee bit less judge-y (and man, is that hard), I thought it best that I try the eating-in-the-lounge experience before having a fully formed opinion about it. So, two weeks ago, I went to New York to visit one of my best friends, Marisa, and took her to Per Se with me and we had the most wonderful time! Is it the same as eating the full menu in the dining room? No, it's not. However, they've staffed the lounge in the same way they staff the dining room, so the service experience, to me, felt quite similar. Courses run in the $25-45 range, and you can have one course, or you can have them all. Or, you can have three servings of the same course. It's first-come, first-served (no reservations) and the dress code for the main dining room applies. Marisa and I were lucky enough to be able to sit on the sofa in front of the window overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park, and we each did four courses (lobster, foie [me]/pork belly [Marisa], rabbit, beef) and split a cheese course for dessert. Everything was absolutely delicious, and the service was fantastic. It was strange, I'll admit, to have control over my menu choices there. I'm much more comfortable, at that price point and with a kitchen staff that talented, surrendering complete control and enjoying whatever the chef has designed. So, while my brain is still not 100% sold on the idea from a branding perspective, my stomach and my heart quite selfishly are jumping for joy at the idea of now being able to pop in for a course or two and a glass of wine when I'm in town on business -- in fact, it's something I've wished in the past I could have done when I craved Oysters & Pearls or the beef with that divine bordelaise. So, if you're in New York and get the chance to try it, let me know what you think.
* * * * *
Now, onto Granola, in a rose water envelope....
* * * * *
Oh, chickens.... after the Great Pineapple Glass Meltdown of 2009, I wish I had good news for you. But, just like LuAnn de Lesseps should stick to shopping instead of writing a book about having class, I think you'll find this post to be yet another reason why I should continue pursuing my political shenanigans here in the nation's capital and stay far, far away from a culinary career in a professional kitchen. Sigh.....
I should confess upfront that I had reservations about this dish -- specifically the making of the rose water envelope. And no, not because I would have to figure out a workaround for the heat sealer thingamabob. That part was easy (because I am a girl who owns a certain hair appliance that I knew would work perfectly). See, here's the thing: I f-ing HATE the smell of roses, rosewater, that nasty-ass rosewater-glycerin "perfume"... hate hate HATE. It makes me sneeze and wheeze, and even just the slightest whiff stays lodged in my nasal passages and my throat for HOURS, and I loathe it. Detest it. Wish it harm. An old boyfriend's parents gave me some rose-scented soaps and lotions one year for Christmas, and I could smell that shit through the wrapping paper, as its very scent made the Christmas tree drop needles in protest. As I unwrapped it, I starting coughing and sneezing and lying, "Oh, thanks! How great! Just what I wanted! Pardon me as I rush myself to the ER to get hooked up to a nebulizer so I can breathe again!" And, when I was but a pipsqueak, I had a Sunday School teacher who wore a suffocating amount of rosewater-glycerin perfume, and you could smell her a block away (I am not exaggerating; people from my hometown, feel free to back me up on this one; you know who I'm talkin' 'bout). She also happened to be the minister's wife, so no one felt like they could intervene in her plot to kill small children with the twenty-seven bottles of that stupid rose perfume she doused herself with every day. Oh, Edna.
I've also never liked food or drinks prepared with rosewater, and even the act of someone unwrapping a piece of Turkish Delight makes my throat close.
So, yeah. Me and anything rose-scented or rosewater-related? No. Just, no.
But, I knew I had to get over my damn self and make this, so with my trusty inhaler by my side, I got started.
The first thing I did, however, was make the granola.
I loooooooove granola. My neighbor and friend, Holly, makes the most lovely granola every year as holiday gifts, and the lovely Olga over at Sassy Radish got me hooked on her granola which I now eat with Greek yoghurt for breakfast 3-4 times a week.
The granola for this dish, however, isn't an overly sweet granola. Not in the least. While there's a lovely, sugary vanilla undercurrent, this granola is more on the savory side (which made me crave Tea Weaver's curried oatmeal with caramelized onions), and just looking at the list of ingredients made me drool: wildflower honey, butter, sugar, vanilla bean, salt, sweet curry, hot curry, cinnamon, tonka bean... um, what? Tonka bean? I'd heard of them before, but had never cooked with one/some. So, after calling my local co-op to see if they had any ("Uh, no one's every called us to ask for one of those before"), I did some digging around online and ended up buying my tonka beans from a site called Capricorns Lair. Yes, they forgot the apostrophe. Because they are witches, wiccans, and pagans, oh my! However, they have quite the quality control/customer service, so maybe the dark side ain't so bad?
Yay for nice witches!! From Utah!!!
I preheated my oven to 325 degrees and lined a baking sheet with a Silpat. I ground one of the tonka beans in my spice grinder so I'd have the 2g of tonka bean powder I needed, and mixed all the ingredients -- honey, butter, sugar, vanilla bean guts, cinnamon, sweet and hot curry powders, salt, and the tonka bean powder -- in one bowl, and the steel-cut oats in another bowl:
I combined them, then poured the mixture onto the baking sheet and roasted it in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring it every 5 minutes:
Let me just say this: as much as I hate hate hate anything rose-scented, I love love F-ING LOVE the way this granola smelled as it baked. People, this granola on its own is worth buying the book, I'm not kidding. Over the course of its baking time, the smell and the color intensified... it got deeper and richer and made me close my eyes and just take these big, deep, giant whiffs... me oh my.
I took it out of the oven after 30 minutes and let it cool to room temperature (which took about 15 minutes, maybe 20). I then broke it into small pieces and stored it in a plastic deli container with the lid sealed tight so it would stay crunchy. I wasn't going to taste it, because I wanted to wait and taste it all together in the finished package, but I couldn't resist. And then it was torture to not be able to eat all of it right then and there.
There are few things in life that make me do a giddy, little jig in my kitchen -- bordelaise sauce, full breakfast, Mrs. See's scotchmallows, a glass of Turley, really strong coffee, and now this -- the granola from page 368 of the Alinea cookbook.
With that done, it was time to move on to the dreaded, the evil, the already-loathed-so-much-you're-probably-starting-to-feel-pity-for-it rosewater leather. Fllleeaarrggghhh.
The first step was to combine rosewater, regular water, pectin, agar agar, salt, citric acid, sugar, and sorbitol, blend it with my immersion blender, then bring it to a boil. And try not to die from asphyxiation.
As it was coming up to a boil, I soaked some gelatin sheets in ice-cold water for about five minutes. As the liquid came to a full boil, I turned off the flame, added the gelatin sheets, and gently whisked them in until they were fully dissolved, cursing and swearing, and wondering aloud if perhaps I needed an exorcism since I was so clearly loving and swooning over something that had a wiccan/occult/goth-sent ingredient, and loathing the part of the dish that reminded me of my childhood Sunday School teacher.
I poured the liquid into a mixing bowl and refrigerated it -- the book indicated it might take two hours to set, but in my fridge, it took just over an hour.
I transferred the now-set rosewater mixture (which, by the way, made the inside of my fridge smell like rose-stuff for the next three days, and YES, I'M STILL BITTER ABOUT THAT) into the blender and blended it until it was smooth.
Mmmmmm, chunky and gloppy. And stinky. Three of the seven dwarves, right?
Once it was thoroughly smooth (took about two minutes to get it all processed), I strained it through my chinois:
Can't you just hear the glopping, slappy sound it makes as it's pressed through the chinois and hits the bowl? Bllleeeaaaauuurrrggghhhh... it's the consistency and color of what I imagine the insides of our eyeballs contain. [I'm totally making this appetizing for you, aren't I?]
Now it's time to turn this slop into magic! Instead of buying a single acetate sheet and cutting it into strips, I used cake ring mold acetate liners I already had, which were the right width -- I just needed to cut them into the right length, so that I had 10 strips of acetate that were 3x12":
Using my wee little offset spatula, I spread the Patron Saint of Asthma Attacks, I mean the rosewater gel, onto each strip, and laid the strips on some baking sheets, which I then put in a 90-degree oven (my oven on its "warm" setting):
The book suggested that if I were using a dehydrator, they'd be in for 8 hours. I figured it'd be less time when using an oven to dehydrate them, so I estimated that they'd be done in 3-4 hours.... and if not, I could monitor them as they went along, and know when to pull them out based on how they felt to the touch.
So, I hopped in the car, met a friend for lunch, was gone for maybe two hours, and when I came back, THIS is what greeted me:
See how that one sheet in the foreground, a little to the left, is starting to curl up? Yeah, that's not good.
I opened a few windows because the heat had further intensified the rose smell and I started to feel like I was cooking in a funeral home. I also -- quite optimistically and in complete and total denial -- got out my cutting board and hair straightening iron, which I'd planned to use as my heat sealer (yes, I cleaned it first):
I removed the lid from the granola container and was all set to go with making my little rosewater leather envelopes to stuff, and this happened:
Not once, not twice, but all ten times (the book called for 8 -- I made two extras just in case; shit lot of good THAT did) -- pieces flaked off, cracked apart, or generally disintegrated.
FAILY FAIL FAIL. I suck. Honestly, I shouldn't have left the house, and instead, should have stayed home and checked them every 20 minutes or so to test for leathery doneness... but I didn't, and that was stupid of me. I know some of you are gonna go all Beastie Boys on me about it, but I swear there was no sabotage on my part. Ill will, yes... but as you know, this book has changed my mind about other things I've loathed before, so I kinda thought this might fall into that category as well.
But, all was not lost because my lovely, beautiful, most perfect granola was waiting to be eaten. A spoon, some Greek yoghurt, and the granola of my dreams to top it:
Cue the Barry White, 'cause I'm in loooovvve...... this sweetness is my new weakness, fo damn sho.
Up Next: Sweet Potato, brown sugar, bourbon, smoking cinnamon
Resources: Gelatin sheets from L'Epicerie; rosewater from the TPSS Co-op (and it was pricey, which intensified my annoyance); NH pectin, agar agar, citric acid, and sorbitol from Terra Spice/Alinea; David's kosher salt; Bob's Red Mill steel-cut oats; 365 brand unsalted butter; tonka bean from oooo-oooo-witchay-woman; all other granola ingredients from my pantry and now-forgotten origin (some from Adriana's Caravan, others from Whole Foods, I think).
Music to Cook By: Cheap Trick; Greatest Hits. What can I say? I'm seeing a bunch of my favorite bands from my childhood this summer: Chicago; REO Speedwagon; .38 Special; Styx; Earth, Wind & Fire. It's only a matter of time before Cheap Trick gets back to the east coast for a show. In the meantime, I'm enjoying listening to their live tracks -- the sound of screaming fans throughout the concert performances are awesome. And honestly, what girl didn't dream that "The Flame" was written about her?
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