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December 2009

December 31, 2009

In Which I Did Not Get Arrested

When my brother and I were little and my parents went out on a Saturday night, our two elderly, maiden great-aunts babysat us and watched The Lawrence Welk Show.  That show drove me nuts, even as a young kid, because it was just so cheesy and awful (but my brother and I had to suffer through it if we wanted to watch Hee Haw).  But, when Arthur Duncan took over the stage with a tap dance?  LOVED.

I put on my first pair of tap shoes when I was seven years old. They were little oxford-looking flats in black patent leather, and were tied closed with a pretty light pink ribbon. I took tap lessons for a year or two (and got into huge trouble when I did a forbidden cartwheel-in-tap-shoes and accidentally kicked my classmate, Donna Bishop, in the forehead), and didn't tap again until I was in college.  Freshman year, I strapped on a pair of beige chorus line tap shoes and played Hope Harcourt in the musical "Anything Goes." Our choreographer was hardcore and really pushed us, and I loved it.  I was the nerd who loved a five-hour choreography rehearsal on a Saturday morning.  LOSER.  Granted, I'd taken years of ballet, pointe, and jazz classes, and I was only 18 (as opposed to the old fart I am now), so getting back into it wasn't really all that difficult.  Off and on over the years, I've thought about picking up tap dancing again, but never got around to it.  Instead, I lulled myself into thinking I was a really great dancer merely by watching So You Think You Can Dance... kind of like the time I bought a Tae Bo DVD and sat on the sofa eating a bag of marshmallows while watching it, saying to myself, "yeah, I could totally do that."

However, I hadn't put on my tap shoes since November 1986, so part of my offering to do this as one of the milestone challenges in this year's Share Our Strength fundraiser was part humiliation, but mostly a kick in the pants to remind myself about something I used to love to do, that maybe now, I'll try again.

Prior to setting foot onto Pennsylvania Avenue, I checked every federal web site I could and learned it's not necessarily illegal to tap dance in front of the White House. In fact, it can be considered an exercise of my First Amendment rights. However, the playing music and lighting sparklers part is generally ill-advised (according to the Park Service), and with a heightened terror alert, well, let's just say, I didn't wanna take out a home equity loan for bail money. So, here's me, doing time steps (and a few double time steps!! /nerdalert) in front of the White House gate. At the end of the video, you'll see me looking off to my left. There was a big white truck pulling out of the WH driveway and heading my way, so I just backed up out of the way and that was a wrap. Enjoy!

Thanks, again, Chris for filming!

As of yesterday, we were at $8,600, which -- you guys -- WOW! I could not be more grateful. Thank you. I'm gonna keep this campaign open through the end of the day Monday, January 4th. Remember, your donation is tax-deductible (Share Our Strength emails a confirmation receipt for tax purposes), and you'll be entered into a drawing to win what I think are some pretty nice prizes.

One final recap:

  • When we reach $1,000 in donations, I'll eat a handful of cilantro.
  • At the $2,500 mark, I'll eat 6 raw oysters. [we're really close, and I'm really afraid]
  • At the $5,000 milestone, I'll eat tripe soup. [click here for how awful this is gonna be]
  • At the $6,500 milestone, I'll eat some celery.  WITH NOTHING ELSE ON IT.
  • Raise $8,000 (meeting last year's donations) and I'll tap dance in front of the White House.  Yes, I own tap shoes, and no, I haven't used them since 1986.
  • Think we can get to $10,000?  If so, I'll eat a softshell crab with a side of durian.
  • At $12,500, I'll videotape myself singing some really awful song at karaoke -- New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, Celine Dion, Tone Loc...
  • Reach $15,000, and I'll go work the line in a restaurant.
  • If we go above $30,000, I'll sweeten the giveaway pot and take one lucky donor to Alinea for dinner sometime in 2010.
  • And, if we reach $100,000 in donations to Share Our Strength, I'll not just change my name to Alinea Blymire, I'll take it one step further: I'll legally change my name to the different sized circles on the Alinea menu.  Don't believe I'll do it?  TRY ME.

Again, to those who have donated -- thank you.  Hope you all have a great weekend, and happy new year!

XOXO

December 28, 2009

Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb

Hope you all have been enjoying the holidays, and for some of you, hopefully, some time off from all the hustle and bustle.  Last week's snowstorm put me into a comfy, cozy winter mood (yay!) but this past weekend's rain melted all two feet of the white, fluffy goodness, so I'm hoping we get pummeled again soon.  I'm taking it easy this week: working as little as possible and reading as often as I can while sneaking a movie or two into this amazingly comforting sloth thing I've got goin' on.

I made the Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb dish from the Alinea cookbook a few weeks ago, and had some technical difficulties with my camera, so that's why I'm only getting around to posting this now.  Spoiler alert: if you have the book and some time off this week and want to tackle one of the recipes, make this one.  It's delicious.  Here goes....

I removed the silverskin and most of the fat from the pork tenderloin, then trimmed it into two 6" logs (using the thickest part of the tenderloin), then rolled them into cylinders tightly in Saran Wrap and tied the ends.  Put 'em in the fridge until I was ready to cook them.

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Next, I made the sage pudding.  First, I brought to a boil some water, sugar, salt, and sage leaves.

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When it came to a boil, I turned off the flame, covered the saucepan, and let the liquid steep for 20 minutes.  I then strained it into a clean saucepan, whisked in some agar agar and brought it to a boil for 90 seconds:

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I poured it through a chinois into a shallow pan and let it cool to room temperature, and it completely set:

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I took about a third of the set "pudding" and put it in my blender and whacked it all up until it was smooth, pressed it through a fine mesh strainer, and stored it in the fridge until I was ready to plate:

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While all this was going on, by the way, I was cooking a lovely piece of pork shoulder sous vide (180F degrees):

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The pork shoulder needed to cook for five hours in the water bath, so I put that in first, then did everything else -- another of which was bake cornbread.  I used Shauna's corn bread recipe, and then improvised the corn bread puree step in the recipe, because I knew it wouldn't work exactly as written, since I'd made gluten-free cornbread:

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I measured the 500g of corn bread I'd need, and added hot butter and cream mixture to it in the blender, but knew the texture wouldn't be right for the puree the book wanted me to do.  So, instead, I blended it, and pressed it into a baking dish, and chilled it until it was solid again.  Then, I cut out disks of the creamy corn bread and used that in the final plating (which you'll see in the final photo):

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The pork shoulder still cooking along its merry little way, I caramelized some fennel:

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I supremed and segmented a grapefruit:

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And when the pork shoulder was done cooking, I pulled it apart into threads...

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... which I deep fried, then liberally salted, in batches of 8 (one for each plated serving):

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While I fried each bit of pork shoulder, I was bringing a pot of water to 135F degrees (it would have taken to long to let my immersion circulator bring the pork shoulder water down from 180 to 135) in which to cook the pork tenderloin:

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I sliced the tenderloin into 1" medallions, and began to plate -- a corn "puree" disk, dollops of sage pudding, drops of honey, crispy pork shoulder, grapefruit pieces, sage leaves, fennel fronds, pieces of caramelized fennel...

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If someone had invited me to dinner and said, "I'm making a pork-grapefruit dish, whaddya think" I'm not so sure I would have been all that thrilled about it becase a) I don't think I'd ever thought about those two ingredients together in one dish before; and b) when I did think about it, it didn't jump out at me as something I needed to make or eat.

That said, this dish changed my mind about grapefruit -- which has always been as bitter to me as cilantro has been soapy and milk chocolate has been metallic.  The flavor profile of this dish is just fantastic -- salty crispy fried pork shoulder with cool, airy fennel, soothing sage, sweet and creamy corn, smooth pork tenderloin, and the acid of the grapefruit and the sweet, floral balance of the honey (I used a local guy's honey from here in town -- didn't do the honey comb/extractor thing).... it was really, really delicious. 

When I was growing up, we had a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of eating pork, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes on New Year's Day.  I might just have to alter that tradition and make this dish (or a variation of it) again for my friends on this New Year's Day.  If pork is in your future, think about the elements of this dish and see what you can come up with on your own -- I think you'll love it.

I'll be back in a few days with a post that has a little something to do with these:

TAP

I've been practicing, but boy am I rusty.  Getting back into tap shoes feels really good, but this little performance of mine most definitely has the potential to be pretty, pret-ty bad.  I originally had plans to light sparklers and twirl them around as I danced, as a distraction from my bad footwork, but thanks to Mister Amsterdamian-Detroitian-Nigerian Terrorist Dude, I get the feeling that lighting anything on fire in front of the White House anytime in the near future will be frowned upon.  Dangit.  But the dancing shall commence... trust.

Stay tuned.... (and there's still time to donate!)

Resources: Pork from Whole Foods; sage, fennel, and grapefruit from HMart; agar agar from L'Epicerie; Organic Valley heavy cream; honey from the TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: I made a "Mad Men" playlist based on the songs used in the series.  The list is here.  I'm addicted, and officially, an old fart 'cause I am totally enjoying all these OLD SONGS.  I think I was born in the wrong era.

Read My Previous Post: Trout roe, coconut, licorice, pineapple (kinda, sorta)


December 21, 2009

SNOW!!! (and some celery)

So, remember my lovely, lovely table in the backyard, where I ate many a summer breakfast and drank many an evening glass of wine?  This table?  The one my brother made for me, and I love so, so much?

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It looks like this, now:

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Tarped and covered with two feet of snow.

TWO FEET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Waaaa-HHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Last winter, I wrote this post about how I feel about snow, so I'll spare you my waxing rhapsodic about it all over again.  Also? My neighbors hosted a blizzard potluck party last night, and about 40 of us here in the 'hood spent 6-7 hours eating, drinking, laughing, drinking some more, which was followed by some more drinking, and the sound of my fingers hitting my laptop keyboard right now is at Gatling-like levels, so I'm gonna keep this post short and sweet.

Instead, I'll torture you with a video of my eating celery during what was one of the more mild moments of the blizzard:

Thanks, Linda, for filming it!

Like I said in the video, we're about $600 short of the $8,000 milestone -- the one where I tap-dance at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  So, let's get there.  Surely, they'll have plowed and shoveled enough for me to dance up a storm this week or next.

Quick recap:

  • When we reach $1,000 in donations, I'll eat a handful of cilantro.
  • At the $2,500 mark, I'll eat 6 raw oysters. [we're really close, and I'm really afraid]
  • At the $5,000 milestone, I'll eat tripe soup. [click here for how awful this is gonna be]
  • At the $6,500 milestone, I'll eat some celery.  WITH NOTHING ELSE ON IT.
  • Raise $8,000 (meeting last year's donations) and I'll tap dance in front of the White House.  Yes, I own tap shoes, and no, I haven't used them since 1986.
  • Think we can get to $10,000?  If so, I'll eat a softshell crab with a side of durian.
  • At $12,500, I'll videotape myself singing some really awful song at karaoke -- New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, Celine Dion, Tone Loc...
  • Reach $15,000, and I'll go work the line in a restaurant.
  • If we go above $30,000, I'll sweeten the giveaway pot and take one lucky donor to Alinea for dinner sometime in 2010.
  • And, if we reach $100,000 in donations to Share Our Strength, I'll not just change my name to Alinea Blymire, I'll take it one step further: I'll legally change my name to the different sized circles on the Alinea menu.  Don't believe I'll do it?  TRY ME.  Prince ain't got nothin' on me.


Coming soon: A blog post in which I cook something!!  Most likely Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb.

December 17, 2009

TRIPE! There it is...

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You hate me. 

You really, really hate me.

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So, yeah.  We hit the tripe milestone about 8.2 seconds after the oyster video went up.  I said it once; I'll say it again: sadists.  You're all sadists. (but I love you)  It's been fun getting emails from Jeff at Share Our Strength with the $$ updates because they're written in a tone where I SWEAR I can hear him snickering and better-you-than-me-ing when we reach each level of giving.  Even my mom is harassing me with phone calls of "So.... (sing-songy voice overlaid with a snort while choking back a guffaw) how were those oysters? (snort, snerk, cough, choke)"

I had a few options for where to eat tripe.  There's a Mexican/Salvadoran place near my house that lists "Menudo: trip soup" on the menu.  A chef friend offered to make it for me, Argentinean-style, in his restaurant in New York.  Both were viable options.  But, I'd read a review of the tripe at Bibiana here in DC (and someone reminded me of it in last week's comments), and since I hadn't been there yet, I thought I'd give it a go.  I called ahead to make sure it would still be on the menu, and that there wasn't any gluten used in the preparation.  The call went a little something like this:

:::::: ring...... ring :::::::

Voice: Thank you for calling Bibiana, this is Christian, how may I help you?

Me: Hi, Christian.  My name is Carol Blymire, and I have a question for you.

Christian:  Yes Carol, what can I do for you?

Me: Well, I lost a bet, so I have to eat some tripe, and I was wonder-

Christian: AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAHH!!!!!!

Me: -ing if there was any glu-

Christian: AAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHHAHAAHAHAH!!!!!

Me: -ten in the tripe dish you guys have on the menu.

Christian: AAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHH!!!!  I don't think I've ever heard of anyone making a bet based on the loser eating tripe.  That's awesome.

Me: Yeah, I don't really think that's a sentence I ever expected to say, but here we are.  I'm kind of not looking forward to this AT ALL, but I heard you guys have tripe that maybe doesn't really even taste like tripe, so.....

Christian: Ours is the best in the city.  Chef makes it with roasted tomatoes, cheese... you'll love it.  I promise.

Me: Do you have a fully stocked bar that I can take advantage of if I need it?

Christian: Of course. We'll line up whatever you need.

So, I told Christian about the blog and about what you all are doing to help Share Our Strength, and he hooked me up with a table the next day at lunch.  I called my friends, Chris and Brandon, to invite them along (they were there for Oystertastrophe 2009) and prepared myself to challenge a significant food phobia: tripe.

If I could channel my inner Bernie Mac for just a second: America? I did not want to do this.  I mean, I love that you all care about the kids, and hunger, but I didn't really realize how anxious this was making me.  I've always been a pretty adventurous eater, America, but when I have a bad experience with something, I don't easily get over it, if at all.  But knowing it was for a good cause made it something I knew I had to face.

Knowing I needed a little something to help make this a little easier, Christian Pendleton, the restaurant's GM (of the laughing-at-me phone call above), provided the liquid courage:

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I ordered two small courses in advance (a tilefish crudo with turnips, red onion and mint; and, a little plate of sweetbreads with orange and fennel -- both were phenomenal), and then realized I had to address the steaming hot ("atomic" as it was described to me) bowl of tripe in front of me, crying out to be eaten.  It had cooled enough that I couldn't put it off any longer.

Bottoms up -- and here we go:


Even though there were pieces in there that looked like segments of someone's gums with all the teeth pulled out (::::shudder::::), I think I'm gonna petition the Nobel Prize committee to bestow a special lifetime achievement award upon Chef Nicholas Stefanelli, because you guys?  I think I kind of like tripe.  I KNOW.

Now, this is not to mean that my lovely darling chef friends who read this blog should see this as a call to action to slip me an extra course of tripe when I dine in your restaurants.  Nice try.  DO NOT DO THAT. 

Nicholas' tripe was cut into pretty small pieces, and done in a slow, long braise with tomatoes and herbs and a quite lovely amount of parmagiano-reggiano.  He came out to say hello just before I ate it and offered some advice: "If you just close your eyes and don't think about what you're eating, it'll be fine."

When someone tells you NOT to think about something, you think about it even more, right?  So, I took another minute or two to psyche myself up and thought about rainbows, unicorns, lollipops and Donny Osmond -- anything but a bovine alimentary canal.

The first few bites were actually really good.  I followed them with a few sips of wine, and I think Chris and Brandon (and our waiter) thought I was done.  But, I wasn't.  I finished the whole dang bowl.  Brandon had one bite, but I finished every last bit and sent an empty bowl back to the kitchen.

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Mission accomplished.  Mission accomplished, indeed.  Bold, caps lock, hell yeah.

So, thank you to Chef, to Christian, and the entire team at Bibiana for making this week's visit a really special one. Can't wait to come back!

So, to recap:

  • When we reach $1,000 in donations, I'll eat a handful of cilantro.
  • At the $2,500 mark, I'll eat 6 raw oysters. [we're really close, and I'm really afraid]
  • At the $5,000 milestone, I'll eat tripe soup. [click here for how awful this is gonna be]
  • At the $6,500 milestone, I'll eat some celery.  WITH NOTHING ELSE ON IT. [coming soon]
  • Raise $8,000 (meeting last year's donations) and I'll tap dance in front of the White House.  Yes, I own tap shoes, and no, I haven't used them since 1986.
  • Think we can get to $10,000?  If so, I'll eat a softshell crab with a side of durian.
  • At $12,500, I'll videotape myself singing some really awful song at karaoke -- New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, Celine Dion, Tone Loc...
  • Reach $15,000, and I'll go work the line in a restaurant.
  • If we go above $30,000, I'll sweeten the giveaway pot and take one lucky donor to Alinea for dinner sometime in 2010.
  • And, if we reach $100,000 in donations to Share Our Strength, I'll not just change my name to Alinea Blymire, I'll take it one step further: I'll legally change my name to the different sized circles on the Alinea menu.  Don't believe I'll do it?  TRY ME.  Prince ain't got nothin' on me.
And here's the thing: We've already reached the celery milestone.  That video's coming soon.  We're a few hundred bucks shy of $8,000 (last year's milestone), and my friend Jen's son, Jonathan, is really, really hoping we'll get there.  In fact, he even sent a drawing of me tap dancing in front of the White House WHILE BARFING UP TRIPE.  I love that kid.

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So, throw a few bucks to Share Our Strength.  I'll do the tap dancing, and not the barfing.  PROMISE.

December 14, 2009

Trout Roe, coconut, licorice, pineapple (kinda, sorta)

I missed trout roe season by two days.  True story.  A few months ago, I spoke with Steve Stallard at BLiS to plan when I needed to order certain products over the coming months to make sure I could get what I needed when I needed it.  He told me a specific week to call for the trout roe, and I procrastinated (I'm not sure why), and instead, called the Monday of the following week.  

Carol:  Hey, Steve... It's Carol Blymire.

Steve: Oh hey, Carol.  How are you?

Carol: Great, thanks.  You?

Steve: I'm good.  What can I do for you?

Carol: Well, I'm calling to see if you can ship me some of your trout roe.  I just checked my calendar, and...

Steve: I shipped out my last batch on Friday.  Sorry.

Carol: Well, shit.... (muting the phone and beating head against desk because procrastination rarely bites me in the ass, but this time it did)

Steve: Hey, tell you what... in two weeks, I'll have some smoked char roe.  Let me send you that instead.

Carol: (pouting on the inside, but being professional and cheerful on the outside) That sounds fantastic, Steve.  Thanks so much!

I already knew I was going to do some serious edits on this recipe and swap in and out a lot of the steps because I can't eat coconut, and 3 of the 5 components are coconut-based.  And now, I was going to have to swap out trout roe for smoked char roe, which, is such a first-world problem, I really need to STFU.

So, I plotted and planned and thought and thought, and tried to figure out how I could still make this dish work and be true to the original recipe.  And then, I thought: why in the name of Don Knotts am I making this so hard? 

If nothing else, this dish was a gentle reminder that, sometimes, I just need to get out of my own way.

The roe arrived, I did some shopping, and made what might be one of the best dinners I've ever made.  Twenty minutes, start to finish.  Seriously.  If you have the Alinea cookbook, give this a shot.  If you don't, TOO BAD FOR YOU.  Kidding. (only sort of)

Here goes:

DSC_0002Mmmmmmmmm, roe....

I decided I was going to make the licorice syrup from the original recipe, because you can almost smell it when you read the ingredients and instructions, and it drew me in and ka-powed my palate just from what was on the printed page.

I toasted some peppercorns and star anise in a dry saute pan for a few minutes until their fragrance filled the kitchen:

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Then, in a small saucepan, I combined the peppercorn and star anise (which I crushed in a mortar/pestle) with some dry licorice extract (you could probably use liquid extract if that's easier to find), unsulfured dark molasses, white wine vinegar, sugar, and water, and brought it to a simmer:

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I cooked it until it reduced a bit, then poured it through a strainer into another small saucepan and reduced it by half:
 

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While the liquid was reducing to a syrup, I peeled, cored, and diced a fresh, whole pineapple, and sauteed some of the fruit in a little butter and some vanilla fleur de sel until the edges of the pineapple turned golden brown. 

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I let the pineapple rest and stay warm in the pan while I seared a lovely piece of char (a tiny bit of canola oil in pan, salt and peppered the fish on the fleshy side -- 3 minutes skin side down, 1 minute flesh side down, done):

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To plate, a bit of licorice syrup, then the pineapple pieces:

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Then, atop that, the char, topped with the smoked char roe and a few pieces of Thai basil:

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After taking the first bite, I danced around in my chair, bobbing my head side to side as I chewed, and reached for my Blackberry to text a chef friend: Just made best dinner ever.  His reply: What did you make?  Me: arctic char, caramelized pineapple, licorice-molasses reduction, Thai basil, smoked char roe.  His reply: Sounds amazing. Send photo!!  Then, when I did, his reply: WOW. You made this just for urself?  Me: Yep.  Him: You're insane. In the good way.

I think he wonders why I'd make something like this when it's just me, eating here at home.  People are funny like that.  Like when it's just dinner for one, you're supposed to eat cereal or order takeout.  Please.

You guys, this was goooooooooooooooood.  Really, really good.  So freakin' good.  Almost as slap-somebody-worthy as the pork belly.  The licorice and pineapple together was beautiful and fragrant and really delicious with the perfect balance of sweet and salt, and then the perfectly-cooked fish and smoky roe on top with the openness of the Thai basil?  I couldn't get enough.  I was sad when the plate was empty.  Full, but sad.  I didn't want that dinner to end.  As I was rinsing the remaining molecules of sauce from my plate and loading the dishwasher, I wondered how I might do it differently, or what else I could serve with this next time.  Jasmine rice?  Amaranth?  A small twist of greens?  A rice and mixed greens salad on the side? And, you know what: I'm not sure I'd actually change a thing.  It was so good on its own, just like this.  And the fact that the entire dish took just twenty minutes to make?  Even better.  In fact, I had plenty of leftover roe, so I bought more fish and made it for dinner a few nights later for friends.  So easy, and so flavorful, and such an unexpected surprise.

I guess procrastinating on some things can be worth it in the end.

Up Next: Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb

Resources: Char from Whole Foods; star anise and peppercorns from my pantry; Terra Midi white wine vinegar; licorice extract from HerbalRemedies.com; Domino sugar; Wholesome Sweeteners molasses; Thai basil and pineapple from HMart; smoked char roe from BLiS.

Music to Cook By: Laurel Canyon Soundtrack; Various Artists. Mercury Rev, Steely Dan, Eartha Kitt, Butthole Surfers -- what's not to love about this album?

Read My Previous Post: Pork Belly, pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, polenta

December 10, 2009

Oysters. ARE YOU HAPPY??!?!?!?

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You guys.... we hit the $2,500 mark (and it happened pretty damn quickly after that cilantro video went up, you sadists), so, as promised, below is a video of me downing a half-dozen oysters.  You'll notice I'm squicking and squirming and doing that annoying fanning-of-the-face thing at certain points.  Let me be clear: the oysters were not bad.  In fact, and quite surprisingly, what I allowed myself to taste was actually really good (a little mignonette certainly helps).  It's a texture thing, far and away, and I wish I could love these guys, I really do.  But alas, I'm not sure it's meant to be.  And it's a good thing we got a decent video in just one take, because what if something had happened and I had to do this all over again?  Straightjacket City is what.

No more stalling.  Here's me.  Eating oysters.  Really quickly and sloppily.  And trying not to cry.


Thanks to Bob for filming.  Thanks to Chris and Brandon for snerking in the background. And thanks to the fabulous folks at Central Michel Richard for not just letting me shoot this video in their restaurant, but also donating two $50 gift certificates to two lucky winners-to-be.

So, where are we now?  Well, I heard from the folks at Share Our Strength yesterday afternoon.  Seems we're just shy of $5,000, and you know what the $5,000 mark buys you?  Me eating tripe soup.  I may need to be drunk to do this, and boy wouldn't THAT be a fun video?

Let's do a quick recap of where we are and what's coming up:

  • When we reach $1,000 in donations, I'll eat a handful of cilantro.
  • At the $2,500 mark, I'll eat 6 raw oysters. [we're really close, and I'm really afraid]
  • At the $5,000 milestone, I'll eat tripe soup. [click here for how awful this is gonna be]
  • At the $6,500 milestone, I'll eat some celery.  WITH NOTHING ELSE ON IT.
  • Raise $8,000 (meeting last year's donations) and I'll tap dance in front of the White House.  Yes, I own tap shoes, and no, I haven't used them since 1986.
  • Think we can get to $10,000?  If so, I'll eat a softshell crab with a side of durian.
  • At $12,500, I'll videotape myself singing some really awful song at karaoke -- New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, Celine Dion, Tone Loc...
  • Reach $15,000, and I'll go work the line in a restaurant.
  • If we go above $30,000, I'll sweeten the giveaway pot and take one lucky donor to Alinea for dinner sometime in 2010.
  • And, if we reach $100,000 in donations to Share Our Strength, I'll not just change my name to Alinea Blymire, I'll take it one step further: I'll legally change my name to the different sized circles on the Alinea menu.  Don't believe I'll do it?  TRY ME.  Prince ain't got nothin' on me.

Again, we're just shy of $5,000, so if you wanna see me eat tripe, make it happen.  Head on over to Share Our Strength and help them do their great work. 

Oh, and hey: If your employer does matching donations and you need forms signed or things authenticated, email me, and I'll put you in touch with the person at SOS who can help.

One more thing: we've got a new prize to add to the list -- a two-night stay and a fine, fine dinner for two at the Sheppard Mansion.  My good friend, Andy Little, is the chef at the restaurant, and he's been touted in the food press as a hot, young chef to watch (and I agree; he's a damn fine cook who sources well and has great relationships with his farmers and producers in the area).  The inn is beautiful (and its owner and staff are so gracious and funny), and I may be biased, but south central PA is a gorgeous part of the country.  So, if you donate $100+, you'll be entered into a drawing to win this prize (valued at $500).  Thank you, Kathy, and the whole Sheppard Mansion team for donating this great prize!

Speaking of prizes, Thomas Keller's NYT bestseller Ad Hoc At Home is sold out on Amazon, sold out in bookstores, and is in its second print run with the next batch of books due out in February.  So, if you want to try and win a copy before then, donating to Share Our Strength -- whether it's $5 or $5,000,000 -- will earn you a chance to win a signed first edition copy of the book.

And I can't say it enough, but THANK YOU -- all of you.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for your donations and for helping this incredible organization do their work in fighting childhood hunger.  You guys are the best!

December 07, 2009

Pork Belly, pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, polenta

I will confess, I'm kinda tired of all the rah-rah bacon and oooooooo, pork belly talk in the media, on the Internet, and everywhere else. And by saying that, it's not like I'm trying to be all, "I liked bacon before bacon was cool." Not at all. I just have reading-and-talking-about-pork fatigue.

I mean, I get it: I love pork and you love pork. What's not to love about pork? Pork is great. But can we talk about something else for once? PLEASE?

Oh, crap.

Wait.

This entry is supposed to be all about pork. Pork belly, actually, Alinea-style.

FINE.  BE THAT WAY.

I have high standards for pork belly, in case you were wondering.  (shocker)  Why?  The two best pork belly dishes I've ever had were at Alinea and Per Se.  (yes, I'm spoiled, and I'm the first to admit it)

After my dinner at Alinea in May, I wrote this about the pork belly course:

Our next course was pork belly, served in a cucumber juice-infused lettuce cup with a variety of Thai spices and flavors, and a shot glass off to the side with a really clean and lovely (and not overpoweringly spicy-hot) distillation of Thai green chili and lemongrass.  Now, I'm of the school of thought that it's really hard to screw up pork belly, but it also takes someone special to make it sing and make you go from, "oh cool, pork belly" to "HOLY MOTHER OF CHARLES NELSON REILLY THIS IS AMAZING!!!!"  This course was a perfect balance of cool, heat, salt, kick, and crisp.  Again, I could've eaten three or eleventy kabillion of these, too.

After my birthday dinner at Per Se in August 2008, I wrote this about the pork belly course:

* "Smoke;" All-Day Braised Hobbs Shore's Pork Belly, Heirloom Beets, and Burgundy Mustard. I knew what type of preparation was coming when I saw the crystal spheres being so gently and carefully carried into the room, but I had no idea I was in for the single best piece of pork belly I've eaten in my life. This dish, if you'll indulge me in a rather nerdy confession, almost made me cry, it was so good. The reveal that takes place when the top of the sphere is removed and the smoke rises up and into and onto your palate is such a wonderful tease, and to be able to feast on even that small morsel of pork belly that has spent a day braising to absolute perfection (along with beets and mustard that more than held their own) is nirvana.

Over the years, I've had pork belly in many, many restaurants, and I can't recall any of them ever being bad or awful or just not right.  Some have been outstanding, and many of them very, very good.  But those two stand out in my mind far above the rest because they stopped me in my freakin' tracks and made me wanna slap somebody.  HARD.  A quiet storm of delightfully hysterical deliciousness, they were.

So imagine the standard I set for myself when starting out to make this dish from the Alinea cookbook.  It couldn't be just good or okay.  I wanted it to be EXCELLENT.  I wanted it be AWESOME.  It had to bring me to my knees. 

No pressure.

In reviewing the recipe and instructions one more time before getting started, I realized that none of these components were difficult.  They all involved ingredients I was very comfortable with, and techniques I (now) know well.  Still, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect and excellent and turn out a fantastic bite of food, because who wants to fail at pork belly?

I made the cure: sugar, kosher salt, smoked paprika, chipotle chili powder:

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Then, I rinsed and dried the piece of pork belly I was going to cure:

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Then, I packed that sucker in among the cure and rolled it tight in a ziploc bag and stored it in the fridge for two days.

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After two days, it looked like this:

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Because the Cryovac Fairy still hasn't shown up at my house, I've been looking into other options for vacuum-sealing my plastic bags better for cooking en sous vide.  The FoodSaver is out -- it doesn't really work and pulls out too much moisture when sealing.  And, while I'm getting better and better at wrapping things on my own, I wanted to try another method, so I splurged (**cough$4.25cough**heybigspender) on the Ziploc-brand hand-vacuum sous vide kit at my local Giant grocery store:

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Really easy to use, and the hand pump was a no-brainer:

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But, as the bag o'bacon wiled away the hours (four of them, to be exact) in the 190F-degree water, I noticed that it would rise to the top every 40-45 minutes. And, I could see that air (but luckily no water, 'cause I kept that part above the water's surface) was seeping in.

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So, I just kept pumping out the air as often as I could, and hoped for the best.

While the pork belly spent time underwater, I worked on the smoked paprika tuile -- or, the BBQ Sugar portion of our program. 

In a small saucepan, I heated fondant, glucose, and isomalt to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, then poured it onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet:

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That doesn't look right, does it?  I should've, at that point, trusted my instincts and thrown it back in the pot and taken it up another 50 degrees or so, but I didn't.  I figured I'd sort it out after it had hardened.  Which it didn't really do.  I mean, it got hard (heh... /dirty), but it was still a little bendy.  Regardless, I broke off 75g of it and threw it into my spice grinder with some sweet smoked paprika and cayenne, and set about turning it into powder:

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I walked over to the other side of my kitchen to plug in the grinder and get it goin' when this happened:

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Not sure how it happened, to be honest, but I dropped the whole thing, the contents of which went all over my pants, my shoes, the floor, the lower cupboard door knobs, the trash can pedal.  EVERYWHERE.  I let many, many expletives fly (because I wanted so much for this to go well), and went back to the tray of white lumpy stuff, tore off another 75g, weighed more cayenne and paprika and tried again -- this time in a little mini-food processor/chopper thingie that sat on a counter and did not require my holding it.

But even after that, it ended up looking like this (and not a fine powder):

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So, I threw it into a small saucepan and figured I'd heat the crap out of it until it was melted and smooth and would harden on the Silpat:

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YES!!!!

(doing the cabbage-patch over here, complete with white-girl's overbite)

I broke it up into pieces and put it back in a now-clean mini-chopper, and let 'er rip:

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Then, I put it through a fine-mesh strainer so that I'd have the finest powder in town:

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I made a square stencil (by cutting a 2x2" square out of a piece of paper) and, using yet another fine-mesh strainer, sifted the fine sugary, paprika and cayenne powder onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet in eight little squares:

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I put them into a 350F-degree oven for a minute.  The book said to "turn the squares once" after 30 seconds, but I didn't know if that meant actually flipping them with an offset spatula (which seemed odd and not possible) or turning the tray around, which didn't really make sense to me either, so I did neither.

I did, however, keep the oven door open a crack while I counted out those 60 seconds.  Not sure why, but it felt like the right thing to do.

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While they cooled, I diced some red bell pepper:

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I made some carrot balls and soaked them in sugar, water, and white wine vinegar:

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And I made some cucumber balls, too:

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The pork belly was done sous vide-ing, so I plunged it, still in the bag, in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process:

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I trimmed and cut it and made 1" squares that were about 1/4"-1/2" thick:

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(I saved all the rest of it in a bag, thinking I'd snack on it over the next few days.  Um, yeah. I finished it that night.  Oink.)

I made the polenta, and added lovely, lovely butter and mascarpone:

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Then, I seared the pork belly squares over very high heat on one side only, until that one side was nearly charred:

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Then, I arranged all eight pork squares on a small baking sheet, topped each one with two carrot balls, two cucumber balls, and a wee piece of red bell pepper in the center

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I topped each one with one of the hardened paprika-cayenne tuille squares, then put them under the broiler, so the squares could melt down and around the pork belly and its adornments (which took all of 5 seconds) and then re-harden.

To plate, I put a blob of polenta on a spoon, topped each one with a pork belly square, and added a few leaves of marjoram:

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There were eight spoons.  There were eight people.

We each took one, opened our mouths, inserted a spoon, slid it out, then chewed.

It's the quietest my house has EVER been.

And, it's the most I've wanted to slap someone hard across the face over something I made.  It was THAT good.

Smoky pork with a bit of heat (but not a ton); smooth, warm, delicious polenta; cool, crunchy vegetables; the sweet, smoky, salty envelopment; and, the marjoram... still now today, days after eating it, I'm having trouble summoning the right words -- any words, for that matter -- to describe how good this was.  It's definitely the best thing I've made for the blog, hands-down.  But even bigger than that, it really and truly is one of the best things I've ever made in my whole life.

It's times like these I wish I could have every single one of you here in my house, standing around my dining room table, taking a bite, and savoring it, so that I could say, "See... SEE!??!!?!?  THIS is why I love to cook from this book.  This pork belly bite is sooooo WORTH MAKING!!! TRY IT!!!!"  And, I wouldn't even slap you.  Well maybe I would.  And you'd probably like it.

Up Next: Trout Roe, coconut, licorice, pineapple (MAJOR adaptation on this one, y'all)

Resources: Domino sugar; David's kosher salt; paprika, cayenne, and chipotle chili powder from TPSS Co-op; Cedarbrook Farm pork belly; fondant from that stinky craft store, Michaels; glucose and isomalt from L'Epicerie; bell pepper, carrot, marjoram, and cucumber from Whole Foods; Terra Midi white wine vinegar; Bob's Red Mill polenta; 365 butter; Crave Brothers mascarpone.

Music to Cook By: The Editors; The Back Room.  Thanks to my Twitter compatriot EricDM1 who answered my call for new music a few weeks ago.  He suggested their album "In This Light and On This Evening," which I also love, but there's something about The Back Room that is just captivating.

Read My Previous Post: Niçoise Olive, saffron, dried cherry, olive oil


December 03, 2009

Cilantro. I ate it. (and a few updates!)

You all donated (more than) $1,000 so far, and I said when we reached the $1,000 mark, I'd eat a handful of cilantro.  I did it.  Here ya go:

(Thanks, Linda, for shooting the video!)

Now, a few updates:

I've added a new book to the list of raffle giveaways for anyone who donates -- Michael Ruhlman's Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking (signed by the author).  Grant has also offered to sign the copy of Alinea, and I've got a signed copy of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home.

We've also got some goodies to give away, raffle-style, for those who donate $50 or more:

-- The good folks at Whole Foods have donated a $50 gift card;

-- The lovely, awesome people at Central Michel Richard here in Washington, D.C., have donated TWO $50 gift certificates; and

-- Judy Shertzer, managing partner of Terra Spice, has donated what we're calling an Alinea Starter Kit.  She's going to put together packets of all sorts of potions and hydrocolloids... all the things we think are good to get ya started on your journey into the Alinea cookbook.

Now, on to what I'm gonna do at each donation milestone.  I read your comments and your emails and your Twitter replies, and here's what I've decided:

  • When we reach $1,000 in donations, I'll eat a handful of cilantro.
  • At the $2,500 mark, I'll eat 6 raw oysters. [we're really close, and I'm really afraid]
  • At the $5,000 milestone, I'll eat tripe soup.
  • At the $6,500 milestone, I'll eat some celery.  WITH NOTHING ELSE ON IT.
  • Raise $8,000 (meeting last year's donations) and I'll tap dance in front of the White House.  Yes, I own tap shoes, and no, I haven't used them since 1986.
  • Think we can get to $10,000?  If so, I'll eat a softshell crab with a side of durian.
  • At $12,500, I'll videotape myself singing some really awful song at karaoke -- New Kids on the Block, Milli Vanilli, Celine Dion, Tone Loc...
  • Reach $15,000, and I'll go work the line in a restaurant.
  • If we go above $30,000, I'll sweeten the giveaway pot and take one lucky donor to Alinea for dinner sometime in 2010.
  • And, if we reach $100,000 in donations to Share Our Strength, I'll not just change my name to Alinea Blymire, I'll take it one step further: I'll change my name to the different sized circles on the Alinea menu.  Don't believe I'll do it?  TRY ME.

So, head on over to Share Our Strength and help them do their great work.

Thanks.  :)

December 01, 2009

Niçoise Olive, saffron, dried cherry, olive oil

It's been a little over a year since my celiac diagnosis, and, generally, when I cook at home, I just avoid foods with gluten or foods that require me to figure out work-arounds or substitutes. However, there are times when I crave something from "the good old days" and have to figure out how to make it sans gluten. Sometimes, I nail it on the first try and it's fantastic, and other times, I blow it bigtime and the final product ends up being such a cockup that it's inedible, unbakeable, or just plain wrong and bad.

This dish is the first time I was stuck somewhere in the middle. The shortbread wasn't terrible, but there was a texture thing that just didn't sit right with me. I didn't fully expect it to look like the one in the photo or taste like I know shortbread tastes. It was kinda grainy, almost sandy -- but like fine, wet sand, not the dry, blows-in-your-eyes stuff. And sandy not in a totally bad way, if that's even possible to fathom. I just wanted it to be better. To be right. So, I'll include the steps for how I made it gluten-free and if any of you experts out there know how you'd tweak it, please, hit it in the comments.

But let's start with the first thing you have to do when making this dish, and that's dehydrate some Niçoise olives in the dehydrator at 150 degreesF for 24 hours.  I love the way my house smelled during that time.

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Sorry for the blurry shots.  I thought I'd saved the good ones and trashed the bad ones.  Whoopsie.

Have I ever told you about how much I hated olives?  FOR YEARS.  Until I was in my early 30s, I believe.  I couldn't stand the smell, loathed the taste, and just thought they were like little black and green turds getting in the way of good food.  I was fine with tapenade, but whole olives skeeved me out.  I know.  There's no explaining it.  I'm weird.  Their flavor was just too concentrated, and I was squicked out by gnawing them then leaving the pits in a little bowl off to the side.  The Lovey Howell in me looked down my nose at myself and huffed that it was simply appalling behavior.

Then, one night, I was having dinner with a group of friends and there was a particularly handsome and funny guy at the table with us.  We were drinking martinis, and I'd left the olives in the glass because I hated them.  He asked how I could possibly leave the best part of the martini behind (and inside my head I was all, "Um, I drank the gin, which is the best part, am I right?), but because he was cute and I am a girl, I said something like, "I was just getting to those!"  And I ate them.  Just popped them in my mouth and hoped for the best.  Maybe it's because the gin and vermouth mellowed the olive flavor a bit, but I loved them.  From that point on, I've been eating olives with abandon (and not just in martinis) and really liking them.  So thanks a lot, cute guy, for getting me over one of my long-held food loathings.  

-

-

MAN, and just like when I wrote about peanut butter in an earlier post and got a craving for it, I just now went downstairs and pulled some Mantequilla olives (cured with fennel) out of the fridge and will probably OD on them as I write the rest of this post.  Mmmmmm-mmmmmm.....

Okay, now where were we.  Ah, yes.... dehydrated Niçoise olives.

I spread 'em all out on a few trays, dried them over 24 hours, then put the dried olives with some olive oil into the blender and blended away...

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I strained it through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl (then into a squeeze bottle) and set it aside until it was time to plate.

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The next thing I made was the olive oil jam.  And, sad but true, when I saw Michael Jackson's "This Is It" a few weekends ago (which featured these awesome hydraulic below-stage speedy, toaster-like lifts I want to install in my house), in my head I sang along with "Jam" using the lyrics, "olive oil, olive oil JAM."  No more onion jam singing. It's all about the olive oil... olive oil JAM.

Check out my def precision in measuring the Trimoline (100g) and glucose (100g):

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Damn, I'm good.

While I brought those two things to a boil, I cracked five eggs and saved the yolks for the next step:

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I tempered the yolks with the glucose mixture, pouring it all in ever so slowly, then put the glucose-Trimoline-yolk combo into the food processor with kosher salt.

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I mixed and mixed and processed and processed, while drizzling in olive oil from above through the feed tube:

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After letting it sit there for 30 seconds while I turned on the camera again, the emulsion started to break (see how the oil is separating from the rest?).


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I kept it in the processor bowl while I refrigerated it before plating, knowing I'd probably have to blend it again before using it in the final preparation.

The next thing I did was grind these lovely freeze-dried cherries in my spice grinder:

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Then, it was on to the shortbread.  To make it gluten-free, I took out the 360g of all-purpose flour the book called for and subbed in 180g rice flour, 160g sorghum flour, and 20g cornstarch.

In my food processor, I combined that flour mixture, along with the almond flour, confectioners' sugar, and salt, and mixed it briefly until everything had combined.  Then, I added the butter in little cubes and the olive oil, and processed it some more until it became crumbly:

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I put the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and baked it in a 325-degree oven for 20 minutes. 

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I let the golden-brown crumbles cool to room temperature (took about 30 minutes) then put them back into the food processor (I did it in two batches) and processed it until it was -- and the book says this -- "a sandy paste."

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So yeah, it looks like wet sand, which explains maybe why it tasted like wet sand when it was done?  I put the sandy paste onto a sheet of parchment, topped it with another sheet of parchment, and gently rolled it out until it was 1/8" thick.

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I slid the sheet-covered dough onto a baking sheet and into the refrigerator for an hour.  When it had firmed up and completely cooled, I cut 1x3"-ish rectangles and moved them to a separate tray and put 'em back in the fridge for another 30 minutes.

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Here's the part where it all kind of goes to hell.  So, after the little shortbread jobbies had been in the fridge, I brought them back out and piped the olive oil jam onto a few of them and topped each with another shortbread piece.

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Um, I don't think it was supposed to look or act like that.

I was supposed to use a heat gun to flash the cookies and seal in the jam, but this happened before I could even finish doing 2 or 3 of them.  Just started oozing out and makin' me look the fool.  And, since I didn't have a heat gun (not like it would've mattered at that point, anyway) I threw them back in the oven (which I'd accidentally left on all that time, duh) for five minutes, but it didn't make a bit of difference.  I even tried sealing one of them with my creme brulee torch, but ended up setting the parchment paper on fire (see upper left corner of photo above).  So, I just cleaned them up as best I could and began plating.

First on the spoon (since these are, ideally, one-bite numbers) went a small blob of olive oil jam -- since most of it oozed out from the shortbread, I thought I'd put a little on the spoon.  Then, I topped it with the shortbread pieces.  Atop each one of those went a blob of Niçoise olive puree, a pinch of ground dried cherries, and a few saffron threads:

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Was it awful?  No, not at all.  It was actually a little too sweet for me.  I think I was expecting a more savory shortbread (not sure why I thought that, but I did), but it wasn't terrible.  It was more a texture thing than anything.  It was like gummy sand.  Sort of left a bit of a film on the roof of your mouth.  I loved the way the Niçoise puree and the cherry and saffron played into it -- it definitely had some depth of flavor with all that.  But I wanted it to be more than what it was.  I think it had something to do with de-glutenizing it, but I'm also disappointed that the olive oil jam was as runny as it was.  And, I wish it had been more olive-y.

Harumph.... ya win some, and ya not-really-lose-but-wish-ya-coulda-done-better-at-some.

Up Next: Pork Belly, pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, polenta

Resources: Olives from Whole Foods; Monini olive oil; eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; Trimoline and glucose from L'Epicerie; David's kosher salt; Bob's Red Mill flours; Domino confectioners' sugar; 365 butter; Just Cherries freeze-dried cherries; saffron from TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: Friendly Fires; Friendly Fires.  I was in a squidgy mood a week or so ago and desperately needed some new music suggestions.  I threw a call for help out on my Twitter feed, and got so many great suggestions -- thank you so much!!  Friendly Fires was the suggestion of "tomdarch," so thanks, kind sir.  This album was great to cook to, and to answer email to, and to do the dishes to, and to generally bebop and fadawdle around the house to.

Read My Previous Post: Peanut, five other flavors

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