Verjus, lemon thyme, beets, olive oil
This post is proof positive that I belong far, far away from the Alinea kitchen. In fact, when you see the photos at the end, you'll say, "Carol, why in the world did you not continue in your undergrad pre-med program, because you clearly have a knack for creating things that look as if they belong in a post-op medical waste container?"
Guys, it's bad. Really bad.
I mean, it tasted GREAT.... but my technical difficulties contributed to what ended up looking like some sort of ... well.... you'll see for yourself. None of these steps were all that difficult, I swear. It's just that when you screw up one or two of them, it definitely and quite clearly has an impact on the end result. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's savor the journey, so we all can be reminded why SOME people are better suited to PR/media/lobbying jobs while others clearly belong in professional kitchens.
First step? Bringing the verjus and sugar to a boil, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Then, after letting it cool to room temp, pouring it into a sheet pan and putting it in the freezer.
It took about 3 hours to freeze solid.
While that was in the freezer, I started on the beet juice spheres. Instead of actually juicing the beets myself, I relied on my old standby of bottled Biotta beet juice. I added calcium lactate to it, and blended it with my immersion blender:
I poured the liquid into two squeeze bottles (it ended up being way more than I needed) and then filled my spherical molds with the beet liquid:
I put that mold into the freezer, also for three hours.
So, those two things were easy, weren't they? I bet you think the lemon thyme infusion is where everything gets fakokted, BUT NO, IT IS NOT. I rocked the lemon thyme infusion because, really, how hard is it to pour boiling water over a bunch of fresh lemon thyme and let it steep for 20 minutes then strain it into a pitcher?
It was all I could do not to hold my face over that bowl for the whole 20 minutes of steeping and steam my pores and clear out my sinuses. It smelled amazing, and with the way this spring's pollen is already wreaking havoc on my nasal passages, it was tempting... until I realized that it probably wasn't all that hygienic a thing to do, so I restrained myself. But I think I'll make this infusion again soon and pour it into a nearly full bath tub for a Friday night soak. Glass of wine, some good music, and a lemon thyme bath. Alinea, take me away!
Now, here comes something I know I didn't do properly -- and that's making the lemon thyme foam. It pisses me off because I've made foam before, and it's really not that hard, I swear. It's a great party trick, and people will think you're a total smartypants whizbang when you do it... that is, unless of course, you're me trying to do it this time for a public blog that PEOPLE WILL SEE and you screw it up. Ugh. Dorkus maximus.
I measured out some of the lemon-thyme infusion I'd just made, mixed it with some sugar and brought it to a boil over medium heat. I added some gelatin sheets (which I'd soaked in cold water for five minutes) and mixed it with my immersion blender.
I poured this mixture through a funnel and into my iSi siphon canister, which I put into the refrigerator to chill for about an hour before plating. You'll see the error of my ways in just a little bit. Hang tight.
The next thing I did was make the lemon thyme froth. This was easy, despite the fact that when I made the Yolk Drops, asparagus, meyer lemon, black pepper my froth didn't froth really at all.
I measured out some more of the lemon-thyme infusion from the pitcher, poured it into a small saucepan, added some sugar and brought it to a boil. I poured it into a plastic pitcher, added the soy lecithin, and used my immersion blender to froth the crap out of it.
And now, the moment you all have been waiting for (well, maybe not, but let me live for a moment with the illusion that you have been pacing the living room floor for months wondering, WHEN will Carol EVER make BEET JUICE SPHERES? I simply cannot wait another day!!).
I combined water, sugar and sodium alginate in a large saucepan, blending it with an immersion blender:
As I was bringing it to a boil, I removed the beet spheres from their molds and returned them to the freezer on a plate until the sodium alginate bath was ready:
Once the liquid had come to a boil, I turned off the flame. Then, I took the beet spheres out of the freezer and gently placed them, one at a time, into the sodium alginate bath:
The book says to let them in there for five minutes, which gave me enough time to get the lemon thyme foam (in the siphon canister, remember?) out of the refrigerator, discharge the NO2 cartridges, and ..... WHAT THE...!!
It splorfed all over the counter and the floor, and I just stood and watched it happen for a few seconds before realizing I should just put it in the sink already and let it overflow there. Grrrr..... Not sure why it happened, but it did.
As I pored over the Alinea book and the siphon canister instruction manual to figure out what the hell happened, the five-minute timer went off, which meant it was time to remove the beet spheres with a slotted spoon and let them rest in a bowl of cool water. I was so looking forward to seeing them -- they look so lovely in the book. I just knew they'd be darling and gorgeous, except for the part where I lifted the first one out followed by the other eight and found they'd kind of fallen apart and each one looked like a just-born jellyfish got stabbed by both the Crips and the Bloods, committed harakiri, and impaled itself on a wrought iron fence. Or, you know, morphed into surgical waste -- witness the beet spheres with a wee bit of olive oil:
Oh man, you guys, I'm so sorry you have to look at this.
I honestly thought about just throwing it all away, but decided it couldn't get any worse... maybe the now-calmed-down lemon thyme foam would cover it up a bit. You know, hide the nastiness and make it all pretty and sparkly...
Aaaaaaaaand, you can see how well that turned out. Which is not at all. IT MADE IT WORSE. Now, it just looks like infected surgical waste. With pustules. [Note: I don't really know what pustules are, but they sound gross and somehow fitting.]
But wait!! There's more! I had the last three things to add: verjus ice (which did not give me green tears of doom when I scraped it), lemon thyme froth, and a few lemon thyme leaves:
I feel like I need to write a letter of apology to everyone who has ever worked at Alinea, because this is just so not right.
And eight of those beauties is what my friends were greeted with when they came into the kitchen. Everyone was such a good sport. They'd look at the photo in the book (page 84, and man, it pains me to look at that and then see mine) and marvel at my rendering of it by saying things like, "nice weather we're having," or "I wonder if Target is having a sale this weekend."
I half-assedly explained what it was, told them they didn't even have to try it if they didn't want to, but everybody picked up a serving of it along with a spoon and dug in. I reluctantly tried mine, ready to gag over the texture of the beet spheres and the overall innards-ness, but much to my surprise, it was AWESOME.
Yes, the beet thing was a little, um, chewy, but once you got past that and had a little bit of everything in one bite (or stirred it all together into a sort of beet-verjus-lemon thyme slushie), it was pretty damn good. We all looked at each other wide-eyed and amazed at how good it was, and maintained eye contact because as long as we weren't actually looking at it, we could eat it. I loved the flavor combination because it was a near-perfect balance of sweet, sour, and a lush earthiness, and would not hesitate for even a second in making a roasted beet salad with a verjus-olive-oil-lemon thyme dressing. That would be divine. Making spheres is another matter altogether. I haven't given up on it, yet, but I have it on good authority that a friend's 4th-grade son is going to try some sort of encapsulation-spherification like this for his science fair project. You watch. He's gonna kick my ass, and they're gonna be perfect. I just KNOW it. I will officially be pwned by a 10-year old. Crap.
Up Next: Granola, in a rose water envelope
Resources: Biotta beet juice; Castelmuro Verjus du Perigord from J.R. Mushrooms and Specialties; soy lecithin, calcium lactate and sodium alginate from Terra Spice; lemon thyme from Whole Foods; gelatin sheets from L'Epicerie; Domino sugar; Monini olive oil.
Music to Cook By: Gomez; A New Tide. I love love love this band. There's not one album of theirs I can't stand. There's not one song I skip. I was thrilled to get their new album a few days before it was released (thanks, Kim!) and haven't been able to stop listening to it. I think it's tied with "How We Operate" for favorite Gomez album, for me.
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