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September 2009

September 23, 2009

King Crab, vinegar, aromatics, seaweed

Oh, you should've seen the cooking and posting schedule I had planned for the month of September.  After a relaxing beach vacation in August where I cooked nary a thing and was fed every single delicious meal by amazing friends, I was ready to get back into the kitchen and cook up a storm.  I'd scheduled my September days and nights around food shopping, prep, cooking, and writing when, of course, all hell broke loose with three clients in the days after Labor Day weekend, and here we are nearing the end of the month, and I feel so far behind and so rusty and cranky.  I've barely cooked a thing.  Wait, I made a bowl of Rice Chex the other day... does that count?  My eyes hurt.  My hair even hurts.  I'm starting to lose my voice from talking with journalists and politicians and clients and colleagues.  My garbage can lid can barely close as it's stuffed full of empty takeout containers. And I ache to be in the one room in my house I haven't been able to spend time in for weeks: my kitchen.  Even though, as I type this, I'm just a few feet away from my kitchen, I miss my kitchen.

Even though I loved not cooking while on vacation, I was ready to come back and chop.  Stir.  Braise.  Toss.  Cooking soothes me... keeps me sane.  Even these dishes from the Alinea cookbook, as challenging and sometimes frustrating as they can be, relax me in ways I find hard to describe with words.  Some people have explained the effects that yoga and meditation or exercise have on their well being, and for me, well, cooking has that effect.  It's the ritual of prep work, combined with the smells and sounds of the process, capped with the final product and a sense of accomplishment, that makes me comfortable and happy.  And I miss it when circumstances beyond my control change the dynamic of my time at home.

But, you didn't come here for the Carol Pity Party 2009.  So, let's talk about something I'm really happy and excited about:  

*  *  *  *  *

Announcements, announcements, annooooouuunnncements!!!

For all you Wisconsin-ites and Chicagoland area peeps, guess who's coming to Madison?  I am!  That's right -- I'm giving a free public talk at the University on Thursday, October 1 at 4 p.m. in the Helen C. White Hall (Room 6191).  Here's the skinny:

"What's Ethical about 'Cooking the Books'?: Food Writing, Adaptation, and Storytelling"
Please join UW-Madison's Contemporary Literature Colloquium for the inaugural talk of its 2009-2010 lecture series, "Adaptation: The New Lives of Narrative."  In her lecture, food writer Carol Blymire will consider the ethical ramifications of the production and consumption of haute cuisine; she will also discuss the possibilities for creating new narrative via the adaptive cooking she chronicles on her blog.

If you're in the area, I hope you'll come.  I'm really excited about this event, energized by this topic, and very much looking forward to ginning up some great conversation during the Q&A.  If you can't make it on Thursday, shoot me an email and let's see if we can't organize some sort of meetup at the farmers market on the Saturday morning.  It's been ages since I've been to Madison, and I can't wait to get out there and see all of you!

*  *  *  *  *

So, king crab.

FINALLY.

(it's about time, I hear you saying)

Cue obligatory story about how main ingredient of dish skeeves me out/made me vomit once/does not thrill me in the least.

The last time I ate a king crab leg was in 1992, at one of those all-you-can-eat seafood extravaganzas at Chesapeake Bay Seafood House.  I can feel the vomit rising in my throat just typing those words.  My friends and I were a year or so out of college and making no money, so we'd go there on nights we had a BOGO coupon for the king crab leg buffet.  One time, a group of us went there just before I was leaving to go on a business trip (BIG mistake), and I ended up getting really sick on the plane, at baggage claim, in the van, at the event venue, on a colleague's feet... humiliating. 

So, I haven't eaten king crab since then.  I can't even see a Red Lobster commercial out of the corner of my eye without my salivary glands going into overdrive in a bad way.  Not even my imaginary boyfriend Michael Bloomberg draped in king crab legs could have made me try it again.

Only Grant Achatz wields that kind of power, I guess.  Lucky him.  And, no pressure.

I desperately wanted to cook something this week in the small window of time I had free, and I wanted to cook something for the blog, so when Scott at Blacksalt (who is leaving in October, and I'm more than a little sad about it) said he had some king crab leg coming in, I got everything else together and got crackin'.  And away we go!

First step was making the vinegar gel.  I'm so used to using white wine and red wine vinegar, that I'd forgotten how strong regular, ol' distilled white vinegar smells.  My mom used to use vinegar on bee stings when my brother and I were little, so I had a few flashbacks.  Not bad.  Just itchy.

I mixed the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and brought it to a boil:

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I turned off the flame, and added the agar agar, then blended on high speed with my immersion blender for about 3 minutes:

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I'd soaked five gelatin sheets in cold water, so I squeezed out as much water as possible and whisked them into the vinegar liquid, then poured just under half the liquid into a 9x13" pan lined with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to set (which took about 15 minutes).


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While the liquid was setting, I got to work on the crab legs.

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[cue involuntary shudder.  deep breath, aaaand exhale.  very good.  namaste.]


I broke them apart at the joints, cut them open with a pair of kitchen shears, and pulled the meat out of each piece.  Then, I cut the meat into 2-inch pieces.  I had leftover meat, which I'll talk about at the end of the post.

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I placed the crab meat on top of the now-set vinegar gel, then poured the rest of the vinegar liquid on the surface, as well.  I wish I'd done less than the quarter-inch the book recommended doing in the first layer, because there wasn't enough to come up around the crab meat.

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Back in the fridge to set.

The next element in this dish was to make the sushi rice.  Aaaaaaaaand, forgive me readers for I have sort-of-sinned.  Instead of making the rice myself, I picked up sushi rice from one of my favorite Japanese restaurants, Murasaki, on the way home from picking up the king crab legs.

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I'll also let you know right now that I don't have access to the three kinds of fresh tosaka seaweed this recipe called for, so I subbed in some amazing seaweed salad from the Asian market.  Just telling you this in advance so you can have some time to prepare your scathing criticism in the comments section.  Heathen!  Heretic!  Cheater!!  Slacker!!  Seaweed Substituter!!!

The second layer of gel had set around the crab after another 15-20 minutes, so I removed it from the pan and cut around the crab pieces and prepared all eight servings for plating.

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Hmmmmmm, she says with pursed lips and a small sneer.... see how the gelatin ended up not fusing into one giant layer and ended up being two layers, one sliding off the other?  THAT WAS ANNOYING.  I purposely checked the first layer of gel every two minutes or so to make sure I got it at the point it was just set enough so that wouldn't happen, and it went ahead and happened anyway.  Dagnabit.  I could go off into a rambling, angry, sleep-deprived Moammar Gadhafi rant about it, but I won't.  One rambling, angry, sleep-deprived Moammar Gadhafi rant per week is enough.  Somebody get that guy a casserole or something.  He's crankier than I am.

And now, we plate.  Instead of the red, green, and white seaweed, you'll see I used an already prepared seaweed salad (way to half-ass it, Blymire! next time, fly to Japan and pull it out of the ocean yourself, you amateur!). Bring it, haterz. You'll also note I didn't use fresh sea grapes, either.  Had I been at the beach, I might've been able to scrounge some up, but instead, I used dulse flakes.  I thought it would complement the flavor profile (and I was right, so there).  (alright, someone bring me a casserole, too.)

On the left, a little 2-inch log of sushi rice, topped with seaweed salad.

On the right, the crab not-really-all-that-encased-in-vinegar-gel-but-nice-try... on top of which went a parsley tip, dulse flakes, fresh ginger, saffron, and black lava salt:

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.... and oh, how DELICIOUS this was.  Wow, wow, and wow.  I love how everything worked together.  The seaweed salad had some sesame elements in it, which really drew this dish together even better than I thought it might.  The crunch of the seaweed with the rice really complemented the texture of the gel and the crab... and the flavors?  Wow.  I mean, I can't say it enough.  The ginger added a nice bump of heat and freshness and the saffron added a mouth warmth... the salt was crunchy, and the dulse flakes gave it a nice overall nose feel.

And, perhaps, the bonus?  I had enough leftovers of all the ingredients and elements to make myself an omelet the next morning, and a salad the day after that.

That's really one of my favorite things about doing this blog... finding creative ways to use the leftover ingredients in my everyday cooking.  It reminds me to be more adventurous than just making scrambled eggs the next day for breakfast -- why not throw in the crab, some saffron, chopped fresh parsley and a little ginger and seaweed on top?  For lunch, why not toss the rice with some watercress and mache, crab meat, seaweed, ginger, and a light vinaigrette with a hint of dulse?


Up Next: Corn, coconut, cayenne, mint ('cause I've been having SUCH great luck with layered, gelled things!)

Resources: White House vinegar; gelatin sheets and agar agar from L'Epicerie; Domino sugar; king crab from Blacksalt; sushi rice from Murasaki; seaweed salad and dulse flakes from HMart; ginger from TPSS Co-op; parsley from my garden; La Mancha saffron; Soul of the Sea black salt.

Music to Cook By: Miles Davis; Kind of Blue.  My brain has been so fried lately, I needed music without lyrics while I cooked.  But I needed traveling music so I could get the job done.  That's what Miles Davis does for me.  Miles is the soundtrack for what my hands and eyes do at the kitchen counter.  Freddie Freeloader is one of my favorite songs to cook to.  Actually, it's one of my favorite songs to pour a glass of wine to, as I scope out the pantry and fridge to decide what to make for dinner during the workweek.

Read My Previous Post:
Octopus, eggplant, beans, soy

September 10, 2009

Octopus, eggplant, beans, soy

This dish really made me miss my dog.  His favorite fuzzy chew toy was a demented-looking green and black octopus.  At least once a week, he'd walk into the living room and spot the ratty thing out of the corner of his eye, and, with his teeth, yank it out of the basket by one of its legs and fling it across the room, barking at it like it was some predatory killer he was protecting me from.  Crazy little wiener dog....

As I was shopping for the ingredients for this dish, I was trying to remember the last time I ate octopus.  There have been a few times I've tried to order it recently in restaurants, but it's almost always had some sort of marinade-related gluten conflict, so I had to choose something else.  Regardless, it's obvious that when I've had it before, it didn't make an impression -- good or bad -- so I feel like I'm starting with a clean slate here.  Feels weird to know I've eaten something before, but have no taste memory one way one another.  Huh....

The first thing I did was prepare the marinade for the octopi.  Wait.  It's octopi, right?  Octopuses?  That sounds slightly dirty.  Hang on, let me consult Merriam-Webster.... okay both are correct.  But both are also weird, aren't they?  Like whoever came up with the word "octopus" back in 1431, or whenever it was, thought it would be hilARious because the plural of the word would make you sound like a dork when you said it.

But I digress...

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Oh, hello there, little guy.

I bought eight octopi, knowing I needed 250g of legs for the final dish, removed the bodies and kept the legs intact of each one, rinsed them, dried them, and put them in a bowl while I made the marinade.

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The marinade is easy: soy sauce, mirin, sugar, rice vinegar, dry red wine, garlic, and fresh ginger -- all brought to a simmer, then allowed to cool to room temperature.


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When it had cooled, I put the marinade in a ziploc bag and added the octopus legs, sealed it, and refrigerated it for 24 hours -- bringing the legs out just in time for grilling just before plating (which you'll see at the end of this post, obviously).


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The only other thing I wanted to do a day ahead of serving was make the frozen eggplant puree.  I peeled and cubed four eggplants to be able to yield 1,500g of eggplant cubes, which I sauteed in peanut oil (which smelled amaaaaaaazzzzzing).

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Once the eggplant had softened and browned, I made the ginger juice by peeling and juicing fresh ginger in my JuiceDude2000:


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Next, I removed the seeds and ribs from these two lovely chilis before mincing them:

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I also made some fresh ground cardamom by removing the cardamom seeds from their pods, grinding them in a spice/coffee bean grinder, and sifting it through a fine-mesh strainer.

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In a medium-sized bowl, I combined the ginger juice, chilies, cardamom powder, soy sauce, red wine, garlic, sugar, and water.

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I added the sauteed eggplant and stirred gently until everything came together and the eggplant was coated.

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I put the eggplant mixture into a ziploc bag, squeezed out as much air as I could (FoodSavers don't work for sous vide cooking, because they suck moisture out, as well as air), and cooked the eggplant en sous vide at 195 degrees Fahrenheit (91 degrees C) for an hour.


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When it was done, and the eggplant was so incredibly tender, I put it into a blender and pureed until it was smooth:

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I added salt, stirred, and strained it through a fine-mesh strainer onto a sheet pan to cool to room temperature:

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When it had cooled, I put it into the refrigerator for a few hours to cool further, then put it in my ice cream maker for 30 minutes.  The book provides instructions for using a Pacojet, which I don't have, because that $4,000 is better spent on other things like, I dunno, my MORTGAGE.

So, I kicked it welfare-style and used my 15-year old Krups ice cream maker to freeze the eggplant mixture.

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I spread the now-sort-of-a-little-more-frozen eggplant mixture into a 13x9" baking dish and put it in the freezer to harden overnight.


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The next day, the day I wanted to serve this, the rest of the prep was pretty damn easy.  I soaked the dried chickpeas overnight, and in the morning cooked them for about 40 minutes.   I dried them, and fried 'em up in some canola oil (400 degrees F), then sprinkled them with kosher salt.


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I also marinated the green beans (sadly, the farmers market and local grocery stores were out of wax beans when I went to buy them for this dish -- which sucked because I LOVE wax beans) in rice vinegar, grapeseed oil, salt, and black pepper.

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Finally, before grilling the octopus legs (the last step before plating), I made the soy bubbles.  In a medium saucepan, I brought my gluten-free soy sauce, water, sugar, and soy lecithin to a simmer, whisking to dissolve the sugar and lecithin.

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I strained it into another container, then used my immersion blender to foam it, which you'll see spooned onto the plate in the final photo.

Last but not least, I removed the octopus legs from the marinade, drained them in a colander, and grilled them over high heat for about 30 seconds on each side.

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I wish I'd shot video footage of this, because when you lay the wet, limp octopus legs onto the grill, they slither and slide and squirm and roll and pop and twitch and bounce from the heat.  It's only slightly freaky, and really kinda fascinating.

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To plate, I placed a small rectangle of the frozen eggplant puree onto the plate, and topped it with some of the green beans.  Then, I placed some of the chickpeas around, and placed a set of octopus legs on top of that, garnishing with sliced scallions, mung bean sprouts, and the soy foam.

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So, how did it taste?

Let me break it into three categories -- taste, texture, and temperature.  Overall, the taste was really, really good.  Everything was seasoned really well, and I thought all the flavors complemented one another beautifully.  Mung bean sprouts are sweeter than I thought they would be (I don't think I've ever had them before), and I really liked the taste of everything separately and together.  The fried chickpeas were one of my favorite elements of this dish -- and something I'll make again as a little treat for when friends come over for a glass of wine.  They were a little nutty, hearty, and just salty enough.  The scallions also complemented the dish nicely -- usually, I think they taste too onion-y, or are a distraction, but not here.

Texture?  Well, that's another story.  I kind of suspected I might have some issues with the octopus legs, and there's just something about their texture that skeeves me.  They weren't rubbery or overly chewy.  I think it's the tentacles.  I'm not sure. I swear I wasn't overthinking it when I was eating it -- it was just an awkwardness in the bite that I didn't expect.

Temperature?  I would've rather had this, I think, with a warm eggplant puree.  The frozen state of it was a little distracting in the overall flavor profile, and we all agreed that we loved the taste of the eggplant... it was just that it was frozen that made us stop and have to think about it for a few seconds as we were chewing instead of instantly knowing how delicious it was.  And, since the eggplant puree was the most labor-intensive part of the dish, I wish I'd liked it more.

All told, it wasn't a bad dish.  I just don't think I'll be adding it to the permanent rotation.

Up Next: Corn or Idiazabal

Resources: Baby octopus from Blacksalt; peanut oil, canola oil, rice vinegar, grapeseed oil, mirin, eggplant, ginger, Thai chilis, scallions, and garlic from HMart; Domino sugar; San-J wheat-free soy sauce; Turley 2007 Juvenile Zinfandel; David's kosher salt; mung bean sprouts, cardamom pods, and chickpeas from TPSS Co-op; soy lecithin from WillPowder; green beans from Glenville Hollow Farms at the Takoma Farmers Market;

Music to Cook By: Chuck Brown; Assorted.  I've lived in the Washington, DC area for 23 years, and you can't live here for 23 minutes without knowing Chuck Brown.  Chuck is the godfather of Go-Go music, and a legend in the music community -- even more so here in DC, as they recently named the street in front of The 930 Club "Chuck Brown Way."  I've heard Chuck, Juju, and the guys (his horn section is fantastic) play at so many music festivals and tributes over the years, and I have a blast every time.  In fact, the last time I saw James Brown in concert (not long before he died), Chuck opened for him, and it was such a great show -- I don't think my body stopped moving the entire night.  So, from time to time, I love to put some Chuck Brown on the kitchen rotation (LOVE "Bustin' Loose" and "We Need Some Money") and put my backfield in motion.

Read My Previous Post: Huckleberry, soda, five flavors gelled

September 02, 2009

Huckleberry, soda, five flavors gelled

When I was in second and third grade, my friends and I would jump rope on the playground at recess.  One of the songs, or rhymes, we'd jump to went like this:

Strawberry shortcake, huckleberry pie, what's the initial of the boy I like?

And then, the girls would start chanting the alphabet as they swung the rope around overhead faster and faster, and you'd have to jump at hot-pepper speed, and inevitably, you'd miss a jump of the rope and the letter of the alphabet on which you did that was supposed to reveal the first initial of the boy you liked.  I wasn't necessarily a boy-crazy little girl back then, so instead, I remember focusing extra-hard not to mess up on any of the letters of the boys who were really gross, lest my friends would think I liked that stupid, icky boy, or something.  I mean, ew.  Who knew jumping rope could be so stressful and potentially damaging to my 7-year old public image?  [/weird kid moment #413,671,994,677]

Before making this dish, I'd never tasted a fresh huckleberry.  I knew they were plentiful in the Pacific Northwest and in a few other regions of the country, but they are not commonplace here in the mid-Atlantic; meaning, they're not something you find easily at the farmers market or grocery store.  They're not something found all that readily on menus here in town, either.  So, I did some research online and called around and found that I could order some from producers out west, but it chapped my ass to think about paying anywhere from $40 - 100 for a few pounds of huckleberries, which would've arrived frozen... not that that's any big deal, but I wanted to know what fresh, off-the-bush huckleberries smelled like.  I wanted to hold them in my hands and take a deep, olfactory-orgasmic whiff... I wanted to see if they tasted like a sunset.  I wanted to know how the tastes and smells changed with heat.  So, while I knew I could make some sort of berry substitution to make this work, I didn't want to give up that easily on my quest for fresh huckleberries.

However, just to be safe, I put out a notice on my Twitter feed asking for huckleberry substitutions (just blueberries? Blueberries with some raspberries and tarragon or star anise thrown in?) in case I couldn't get my hands on some, when lo and behold, my friend, Andy Little, chef at The Sheppard Mansion in Hanover, PA, texted me with this message: I have fresh huckleberries coming in tomorrow.  Want some?

I think my reply was something along the lines of: DUDE. TOTALLY.  YES.  ZOMG.  WTF.  WHERE DID YOU GET HUCKLEBERRIES?  HOLY CRAPSTICKS DUDE.  WOOOOO-HOOOOOOOO!!!

I'm quite the professional business communicator, as you can see.

I called Andy, and he called his produce maven, Kathy Glahn, to verify and she said she'd have 3 pounds of huckleberries for him (me!) the following day.  Andy had wanted to work with huckleberries this summer, so he asked Kathy to grow them for him, and she did.  (love that!)  So, the next day, I hopped in the car and drove 90 minutes to Hanover to spend some time with Andy and see what he was up to in the kitchen, and pick up my huckleberries.  I love spending time in Andy's kitchen.  The smells are intoxicating, and the quality of his final product rivals some of the better restaurants I've eaten in.  Having grown up in south central PA, I know it's home to some of the most delicious and abundant produce, and it's such a treat to know a chef that can make the "food of my people" that much better.

Huckleberries in hand, I drove home to start working on this dish.  The berries sat on the passenger seat of the car, and it was all I could do not to eat all of them right away.  I tasted 3 or 4 of them in the kitchen with Andy before I left and loved how rich and fresh and dark and acidic and sweet and barely-a-whisp-of-anise-y they were.  They were so, so ripe, so I had to start working with them that night.

I put the huckleberries in a saucepan with some sugar and lemon juice and brought it to a boil over medium heat.


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I lowered the heat and let them simmer for about 12 minutes, until the berries had really released their juices:

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I strained the cooked berries, discarded the solids, and set aside the juice to let it cool to room temperature:


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After the juice had cooled, I remembered that I needed to set aside 300g for the huckleberry strips.  The rest went into the siphon canister and into the fridge for the soda portion of our program during plating. 

To make the huckleberry strips, I gently warmed the juice, and then stirred in some gelatin sheets I'd soaked in water for five minutes.  I stirred the mixture until the gelatin had dissolved, poured it onto a small sheet tray, and put it in the refrigerator to set.

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There was one more step I needed to do before going to bed -- start the first layer of the gelee.

Having grown up eating layered Jell-o "salads," I had high hopes for this dish.  The layered Jell-o dishes from my childhood (red-white-blue, strawberry with banana slices, or rainbow layers with fruit cocktail and walnuts strewn throughout -- I know, barf) have become hilarious fodder among my cousins, and my one cousin, Ann, and I regularly send each other vintage Jell-o cookbooks when we find them at book sales or estate sales.

This dish was, to me, going to be a far tastier and far more refined Jell-o mold, so I figured my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage came in handy in not just the huckleberry procurement, but would also, surely help guide me in the making of this gorgeous layered gelatin creation.

The first layer was a hazelnut gelee.  I toasted the hazelnuts over medium heat for about 10 minutes, and set aside 8 of them for garnish when the dish was complete.  


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The remaining nuts went into a large pot and were joined by some water, skim milk, sugar, and salt.  I brought that mixture to a boil, then turned off the flame, blended everything with an immersion blender, then let the mixture cool to room temperature before putting it in the fridge to cool overnight.  I'm not much of a hazelnut fan.  I don't really love their taste (although, I don't hate it, either), but the way this mixture smelled as it warmed and then cooled?  Divine.


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The next morning, I strained the hazelnut liquid mixture and threw away the solids. 

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While the gelatin sheets were soaking, I warmed the now-strained hazelnut liquid, then stirred in the gelatin until it was dissolved.  I strained the liquid again.

I lined (and built up the sides of) a square pan and poured 350g of the hazelnut liquid into it, and put it in the fridge to set.

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While the hazelnut layer set, I started working on the chocolate layer.

The book suggests using milk chocolate for this layer, but I used a combination of dark-bitter and semi-sweet.  Pure milk chocolate, to me, tastes like what licking a 9-volt battery must taste like, so I went a little darker.

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I chopped 275g of chocolate, put it in a bowl, then poured some boiling water over it.  I stirred it gently with a rubber spatula (careful to not aerate it) until the chocolate was melted.  I added sheets of already-soaked gelatin, stirred until they'd dissolved, strained the liquid again, and poured it on top of the now-set hazelnut gel.


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While that sat in the fridge to set, I watched an episode of Mad Men, started a load of laundry, and emptied the dishwasher, and did some minor pantry organizing.  Why?  Well, because I cheated on the next layer of gelee, thus giving me some free time I otherwise would've spent working on the smoked cream layer.

The book suggests actually smoking the half-and-half in a smoker with smoldering hardwood chips for an hour.  And, since I don't have a smoker, I was going to ask to use a friend's smoker, but they were on vacation, and I didn't just want to waltz on into their backyard without permission while they were gone and use anything remotely related to fire.

So, instead, I added six drops of Liquid Smoke to warmed half-and-half before stirring in the gelatin, then layering it on top of the chocolate layer.

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The next-to-last layer was a fennel stalk gelee.  I blanched, ice-bathed, then pureed fennel stalks (adding some sugar and salt after straining the puree.


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I added the gelatin sheets, stirred until they were dissolved, then poured the same amount -- 350g -- of this liquid atop the now-set smoked cream layer.  I forgot to take a photo of this layer, but I'm sure you can imagine what it looked like.

The final layer was a lemon verbena gelee.  I bought and planted lemon verbena this spring, solely for this dish, so I walked out into the garden and plucked the leaves fresh off the plant. 

I brought some water and sugar to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolved the sugar, then added the lemon verbena leaves to steep for 10 minutes.  I find most lemon verbena-scented things (soaps, creams, etc.) way too overpowering, but this steeping lemon verbena was just lovely.  It made my whole house smell clean and fresh, and reminded me of how my garden smells after a light rain, and when the sun begins to dry the droplets on the plants' leaves.


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I strained the liquid, added some salt and stirred until it dissolved.  Then, as with every other layer in this dish, I added already-soaked gelatin sheets, stirred until they'd dissolved, then poured 350g of this liquid on top of the now-set fennel layer.

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I let the gelee stay in the fridge for 3 hours, just to ensure everything was set.

The excitement of working with huckleberries for the first time, combined with what I knew was my innate ability to produce the perfect Jell-o mold, ramped me up so much I was giddy in the hours leading up to serving this.  One of the families who usually comes over for tastings was on vacation, but their nieces and their boyfriends were housesitting, and they read the blog (hi Emily, Laura, Chris, and Tyler!) and were excited to be visiting when I'd be doing an Alinea dish... so I was thrilled that this was the one they'd be tasting.  It sounded delicious, and it would be the prettiest one I'd ever made.

I mean, I'd been obsessing over this photo for weeks, and knowing, just knowing I could make my layers as perfect as this when it was removed from the pan and sliced in the manner that creates this presentation:

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Beyond beautiful, no?

I'm sure you'll agree then, that I did a damn fine job of rendering mine to almost exactly, 100% resembling the original:

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You know what?  Life's too short to get pissed off about the whole dang thing splorging all over the place when it was removed from the pan, so I got out my serving spoon, made sure there was a little bit of every flavor in each person's bowl, and then added a bit of the huckleberry gelee (which I'd done in a separate pan before, remember?), along with the individual garnishes:


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And you know what?  It was AWESOME.  Presentation?  Not so much, but flavor?  Really, really good, if I do say so myself.  Everyone's bowls were licked clean, and some even went back to the cutting board to serve themselves some more of their favorite flavor gelee (my favorite was a toss-up between the chocolate and the fennel). 

To try and redeem myself, I brought out the huckleberry soda and a group of glasses -- figuring we could do a toast to food with "inner beauty" -- and made a big dramatic move of getting ready to squirt the soda out (it's a fun party trick that people just love!), and, um.....


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No fizz, no squirt, no nothing, really.  Just a few drops of some sort of vampire remnants, and it just stopped working altogether.  I'd discharged the CO2 cartridge earlier in the day and kept the soda chilled, so I'm not sure what happened... other than giving us an opportunity to have a laugh and spend some more time outside in the fading sunlight on a warm summer night..

It's been said that Mark Twain came up with the name Huckleberry Finn because he'd heard the fruit, huckleberry, was "of lowly, rustic origination and resists cultivation" much like the character he was writing about.

Kinda like me with this dish, huh?

Up Next: Octopus, eggplant, beans, soy

Resources: Huckleberries from Kathy Glahn via Andy Little at The Sheppard Mansion; Domino sugar; lemons and fennel from HMart; hazelnuts from the TPSS Co-op; Organic Valley milk and half-and-half; gelatin sheets from L'Epicerie; Noi Sirius chocolate; David's kosher salt; lemon verbena from my garden; BLiS smoked salt.

Music to Cook By: Keane; Perfect Symmetry.  I love the song "Better Than This," and I wish I could remember where I first heard it.  Nevertheless, it snuck into my brain and stayed there for days, so I had to download more music from Keane.  Some call them Brit pop, but I think it's more rich than that.  It feels like a-Ha, some Beatles, a bit of early-80s U2, and a pinch of something else... I can't put my finger on it. Maybe New Radicals without the depression and angst?  I just know I like it.  I like cooking to it, and I like driving long distances to this and two of their other albums: Under the Iron Sea, and Hopes and Fears.

Read My Previous Post: Kuroge Wagyu, cucumber, honeydew, lime sugar


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  • I'm cooking my way through the Alinea Cookbook. Because I can. I think.

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