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March 01, 2010

Foie Gras, spicy cinnamon puff, apple candy

Before we get to this dish, I have to say how much I LOVED all your guesses at how I broke my hand.  Seriously y'all, there were more ninja kicks, karate chops, and snowboard tricks in the comments than I ever dreamed possible, and that makes me feel like a superhero.

Now, for the real story.  Which is sooooo the antithesis of superhero I'm actually regretting my promise to reveal it.  But I am nothing if not a woman of my word, so here goes:

It was a mild February morning, and I had just loaded the dishwasher and was dressed and ready to go meet a friend for lunch.  I'd been writing and working and having a really productive morning, so I treated myself to a little Prince jam session as I gathered the folders and notebooks I'd spread across the dining room table in planning a campaign for one of my clients.  The first song on my Prince playlist is "Controversy," a seven-minute song that affords me the opportunity to booty-shake from room to room and try out my Morris Day and the Time moves.  You know what I'm talkin' 'bout.

Clad in jeans and a really cute sweater, and smiling at the snow melting outside, I was fantasizing about which shoes I'd wear to lunch.  Shoes that haven't seen the light of day since December, before the first of three blizzards this winter.  Should I wear the cute brown suede boots?  Little red ballet flats?  Black patent leather clogs?  I was still wearing my cozy slipper-socks -- the ones I wear every morning as I pad around the house, making coffee, doing The New York Times crossword puzzle, getting started on my day.  As I left the dining room, I cranked the stereo volume even higher so I could hear it upstairs as I was picking out earrings and shoes.  I fiercely, determinedly, and quite like I was on a catwalk, strutted and strode to the beat of the music out of the dining room and into and through the living room (maybe adding some shoulder movements to the walk because I have the delusion that sometimes I am in my very own music video). I tossed my iPhone into my purse on a chair at the base of the stairs, and busted a move my way up the steps (still to the beat, because it's important when you're in a music video to make sure every step you take is choreographed perfectly) until I was three steps from the top landing and just wiped out.  Plain and simple.  My foot missed the step and I slipped (damn sock-slippers) and fell forward and to the side, and as I tried halfway into the fall to stop myself from going face-first onto the floor, I somehow fell into the door frame at the top of the stairs that leads to the guest room and bathroom, and I heard a crunching sound and saw my hand form the shape of a trapezoid as it hit the door jamb, and I just laid there for a few seconds -- like when a baby falls or bumps its head and it just does that open-mouthed crying face with no sound coming out at all.

And then, it was not a baby-crying sound that escaped my lips.  Oh no.  Not even close.  But because this is a family program, I'll refrain from giving you a literal transcript.  Use your imagination.  Then, make it ten times more crude.  Now twenty.  There you go.

I laid there for a minute or two, moving all my extremities, one at a time, to make sure I still could, then stood up to finish getting ready to go out for lunch.  I was sure I'd just jammed it.  Maybe just bumped and bruised it.  That was all.  Only the throbbing.  It kept getting worse.  Holy crap.  I could barely hold a hairbrush with that hand, let alone do anything else with it.  Driving was a treat, steering around tight corners with just my right hand.  Parallel parking.  Oy.  I went to lunch, hand a-blazing, then came home and tried to do some work, but instead watched the top of my hand swell and turn colors and generally make my life unpleasant.  So, I went to the ER where hello, teeny-tiny hairline fractures, major bruising and jamming and all that crap.  Wrapping, ice, rest, and elevation for the next 48 hours, and you know what?  A week later, and it feels nearly back to normal.  The swelling is gone, there's just a wee bit of greenish-yellow bruising, and it's only just a little sore when I type too much or use it too often.  By the end of this week, I'm sure it'll feel totally fine. I'll be back to juggling chainsaws and waterskiing with Fonzie.

So, that's our lesson for the day: Don't pretend you're in a Prince video while walking up the stairs wearing socks.  Or maybe, don't pretend you're in a Prince video at all, no matter what you're wearing or where you're walking?  Gah.

When the comments started rolling in on that last post, I do believe I guffawed over quite a few of them.  I didn't expect anyone to totally guess the whole story, but now that you know it, I think you'll agree there are three runners up, and one grand-prize winner:

The three runners up are:

For guessing my falling on the stairs and whacking my hand, a prize goes to Kathy said: "I say you tripped on a stair for *no* reason at all, and whacked the back of your hand on the railing as you fell."

For bringing my undying love of Prince into the picture, Mantonat gets a nod for suggesting: Doing the hand gestures to Prince's "I would Die 4 U."

For knowing my proclivity to dancing when I'm alone in the house and bringing the choreography element into it, Jennifer gets a nod for guessing: You fell off your couch while doing the dance scene from Flashdance.

But really, let's give a big round of applause to a certain commenter who pretty much stole the show with a novella that is incredibly spot on when it comes to the inner workings of the Blymire mind, and for tying in the music, fuzzy socks, and wiping out elements of the story, let's hear it for Kailee, who wrote: It had been an unusual winter, that much was certain. More snow than many people could ever remember. It has caused a slight panic around the city. Nothing crazy, mind you, but excitement and wonderment laced the air, prompting people to raid the stores for provisions. Milk, apples, beef for braising, condoms. Then the snow became gray. The buzz died. Wonderment turned to frustration as people circled, circled looking for a parking spot. Maybe that's why people are so on edge, you thought to yourself. Even emails from your favorite colleagues, tinged with a little angst from the cold. You stand to stretch and look out your window. Thank God that tree is being removed tomorrow. You hate to admit it, but the snow has even gotten to you. And you love that stuff. But now, when the threat of snow looms, you don't think of potluck dinner parties and bourbon. Your mind wants to race forward to a few months from now. The trees will start to green. The air will become sweet. The market will have peas. Then berries. Then peaches. You lift your wine glass from the coffee table. Malbec. The inky wine lightly splashes the sides of your glass. It's spicy and tastes of blackberries, cinnamon and oak. You sigh and take a long sip. It's the closest you'll get to berries for weeks. But, it tastes good. And the wine begins to shimmy through you, making you feel warm and happy. Enough emails for today. It's time for music. You start to flip through your iPod. Maybe some music to lift the mood. Something to make you feel warm and light. What goes with a Malbec? Journey. You smile. Yes, that is what the wine dictates. A little Journey. Separate Ways begins to fill the air. You can't help yourself. You love this song. Who can know for sure, but maybe it was the Malbec, or the music, or maybe the last dregs of snow madness in your body, but you feel like dancing. Clad in your fuzzy socks, you begin to move with the music. You sing along, swaying your hips and moving your shoulders. A little twirl before suddenly you lose your balance and Bam! Shit. That really hurt. You pick yourself up off the ground and curse your socks. Your hand is really hurting. You reach again for your glass and find it hurts to lift it. Now this is serious. It's probably only a sprain, you try to reason with yourself. But your hand is throbbing, and the sweet hum of the Malbec has vanished. I better get this checked out. You wrap your coat around you, then your scarf. You slip into your boots and head out the door. It's cold tonight. You exhale and see your breath. God, I'm ready for spring.

Kailee, seriously.  Damn, girl.....  :)

So, give it up for Mantonat, Kathy, Jennifer, and Kailee!!!!!!  And, to the four of you, I'll be in touch via email in the next day or two and we'll sort out some sort of prize situation.

*   *   *   *   *

Now, let's talk about food.  Or, more precisely, let's talk about foie gras:

Look how beautiful it is...

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I mean, really... is there a lovelier thing?

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Well, yeah... maybe that vein isn't so gorgeous, but still.  Mmmmmmm..... foie.  I remember when I was just starting out on my French Laundry at Home journey, how terrified I was of deveining a foie gras.  I was kinda scared to touch it, let alone take apart the lobes, clean it up, and cook it.  I had nightmares about it.  It haunted me.  And now?  Pffftttt.  Ain't no thang.

Even with a broken hand, I took this guy apart, cleaned it up, removed the huge veins, and cut it into 1" cubes.

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I tossed those cubes in a salt, sugar, pink salt combo and molded the bunch of cubes into a semi-cylindrical shape (that part was a little difficult, not having the full use of my hand, but I did it the best I could) and put it in a sous vide Ziploc bag, sucked out all the air and stored it in the fridge for 24 hours.

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Next, I made the cinnamon tea, which would be turned into some rather glorious cinnamon puffs.  To make the tea, I roasted some cinnamon sticks in a 350F-degree oven for 10 minutes, then poured some boiling water (to which I'd added salt and sugar) over them, added some cayenne, stirred, covered, and let the whole thing steep for 8 hours.

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At the end of the 8-hour steep, I poured the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a saucepan and warmed the liquid to a simmer.

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I poured the liquid into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer, added some Methocel F-50 (the name of which reminds me of those Brawndo ads -- METHOCEL F-50 WILL MAKE YOU NEED *NEW PANTS*  METHOCEL F-50 WILL MAKE YOU *WIN* AT *YELLING*), and (using the whisk attachment) beat the crap outta that mixture for 8 minutes -- when it started to form stiff peaks.  METHOCEL F-50 WILL MAKE YOU *FORM* *STIFF PEAKS*!!!!

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I put that meringue-like, amazing-smelling goodness into a Ziploc bag, cut off the corner, and piped little bite-sized morsels onto lined trays in my dehydrator. METHOCEL F-50 WILL MAKE YOU *WIN* AT *DEHYDRATING*!!!  [okay, stopping now]

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The book suggests they'll be fully dehydrated and crisp after 4 hours.  Mine took nearly 12 hours (probably a residential vs. commercial dehydrator).  You'll see what they look like in the final plating shot.

The next thing I did was prep the apple candy, because I wanted to give it a chance to set overnight, if it needed to.  So, I heated the cider and glucose over medium heat, and whisked gently to dissolve the glucose:

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Then, I mixed in some sugar, yellow pectin, and citric acid and brought it to a boil, whisking to dissolve.  When it had begun boiling, I added even more sugar, whisking to dissolve that, and heated it to 225F degrees.

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I poured it into a Pam-sprayed 13x9" baking dish and let it cool and set.  Took about 2 hours.

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I went to bed and finished everything for the dish about an hour or so before everyone came over.

I removed the foie from the Ziploc bag and rolled it in cheesecloth, tying the ends tightly.

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I blanched the foie in boiling water for about 90 seconds, then plunged it into an ice bath for 10 minutes.

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I removed it from the cheesecloth and pressed it through a tamis (also known as a fine-mesh sieve):

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I put half of it on a tray and put it in the freezer for the other foie gras dish I was working on, and smushed the rest into a small Ziploc bag (with a cut off corner) so I could pipe it into the cinnamon puff, which I'd gently hollowed out using a cinnamon stick:

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I squeezed in enough foie so that it was nearly full to the outer edge, then plugged up the hole with a small piece of apple candy (which had set much firmer than the olive brine candy I'd made recently):

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Here's a plate of 'em:

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And here's what they look like from the bottom:

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They're cute, aren't they?  But I bet you're wondering what they tasted like.  Well, I tasted one before everybody came over, so I knew what I thought about them.  After my friends and I had eaten the foie-pear-sauternes dish you'll read about next week, I saw my friend, Sean, reach for one of these candies -- he was the first to try them -- and he popped it into his mouth, and three seconds later said, "whoa" because the cinnamon and cayenne kicked in, and as he chewed it (which you only need to do, like, four times before it's masticated), he just grinned and reached for another.  Everyone around the table loved them.  They pack a punch, that's for sure, but the flavor and the texture were divine.  There's the heat and the spice of the cinnamon and cayenne, yes.  And it's crunchy and crispy, but also kinda melts in your mouth as you chomp down on it... then the creamy foie taste kicks in and makes it all the more melty and smooth and flavorful.  And the apple candy?  It's sharp and fresh and sweet and really bridges the heat and spice with the foie.  I didn't know what these were gonna taste like.  I thought about what a foie-filled spicy meringue might  taste like, and I couldn't get my brain or my palate to go there.  Just wasn't happening.  Even if I could've conjured it, my imagination wouldn't have been able to fathom how delicious these really are in real life.  They're like little bites of a miracle is what they are.

So, I loved them, and my friends in the neighborhood loved them.  But that evening, I faced a tougher bunch of critics: some very sweet and amazing friends who also happen to be some of the city's most fun and well regarded food writers and culinary connoisseurs.  When we're together, we are not shy about how we talk about food, cooking, and restaurant experiences.  There are no holds barred if someone's had a bad dining experience.  On the other end of the spectrum, we rave on and on about places we love and food that's good, and do everything we can to promote great chefs, cooks, restaurants, meals, sommeliers, mixologists, shops, and whoever in town is doing things well.  So, knowing how open we all are with one another about our likes and dislikes, I knew to be prepared if they hated these foie-filled puffs.  They certainly wouldn't be shy about saying something.  Granted, they'd do it politely because we're friends, but still... I was ready.  I got to my friend's house, and we started cooking.  She'd already prepared some nibbles to tide us over while we made the rest of the evening's feast, and I ever-so-calmly put out a plate of the puffs and said, "These are from the Alinea cookbook, and they're cinnamon-cayenne puffs filled with apple candy and foie gras."  And I waited as they each took turns trying them.  I think "wow" was the word of the night, followed by "whoa" and I think one "are you kidding me?" because they were a hit, yet again!  Whew.  They'd lost a wee bit of the crispness in the 20-minute drive to her house, but that was to be expected. 

I feel like after the food slump I went through, it's about time that food did me right.  And, I feel like I'm on a roll again because everything was right with these puffs.  Everything.

NOTE: If you'd like to make these at home, here's the recipe, courtesy of Google Books.

Up Next: Pushed foie gras, sauternes, pear, chervil

Resources: Foie from the remarkable Hudson Valley Foie Gras; David's kosher salt; Domino pink sugar; Himalania pink salt; cinnamon sticks from HMart; cayenne pepper from the TPSS Co-op; Methocel F-50 from Terra Spice; Ziegler's apple cider; glucose, yellow pectin, and citric acid from L'Epicerie.

Music to Cook By: Duo; Richard Marx and Matt Scannell.  SHUT UP.  Do not mock the INJURED and the MUSIC THEY LISTEN TO.  Ahem.  "Duo" is an album by Richard Marx and Matt Scannell (former lead singer of Vertical Horizon) featuring the two of them duet-ing on acoustic versions of their individual greatest hits, and I like it.  Actually, I love it.  I am not ashamed of my Richard Marx fangirliness, so there.  Maybe if I mention Richard Marx and his name a few more times, Richard Marx, the Google alert he has set up for himself, Richard Marx, will pick up this post, which will make Richard Marx wanna email me and say, "Hey you, when I come to DC on my tour, I would love to have you take me, Richard Marx, to dinner so we can talk about how big a fan you are of me, Richard Marx."  There.  That should do it.  Richard Marx.  I found out about this album a few months ago when I was farting around online and discovered that Richard Marx HAS A BLOG where he posts video from the road, and I'm kind of obsessed with it.  So, I thought, hey, I've always liked this guy, and I love Matt Scannell, so I headed on over to iTunes and downloaded it.  Tune in next time when I sell all my possessions and move to the UK so I can stalk Simply Red.

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You are hilarious! The funniest part is that I can imagine the whole thing perfectly.

Glad the hand is nearly back to normal. Stay safe, Blymire. Watch out for slipper socks:-)

I dare not laugh at your pain, lest I anger the air-guitar-secret-music-video gods myself and bust a limb while bust a move.

Great post and the little spicy foie nibbles sound really good.

I just can't believe all the things people say...about your injury...

As for the dish, lovely, lovely, lovely - can't wait for the foie follow-up!

If you had ever watched up close how foie gras is made, you surely wouldn't find it that beautiful. It made me swear it off entirely, and I was practically raised on foie gras.

Did Grant tell you to hollow out the meringue using a cinnamon stick (I'm too lazy to go look it up in the book)? Absolutely brilliant move- I wonder if it added a significant kick of flavor.

----------------> Casey, yes, it's in the book. I don't think it imparted any additional flavor to be honest.

To the above poster, who mentioned how foie is made. You might want to read this piece (or one of the many others) on Hudson Valley Foie Gras, and what an outstanding job they do with the animals.

http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-02-18/news/is-foie-gras-torture/1

After having foie gras twice from Joel Robouchon restaurants and once from FL, I'm pretty much in big fat love with the stuff. Whenever I hear folks say they don't like it, I just tell them they obviously haven't had it prepared well. :) These sound delish!

If that album includes a duet on "Best I Ever Had" (one of my favorites of that "type" of song ever) I will be in heaven. Off to iTunes I go! :)

In my hasty attempt to be witty, I completely forgot to be considerate. Hope the injury didn't cause you too much stress, pain, or missed meals.
After reading your blog regularly for the last couple of years, I still found it a little unnerving that I could even come close to guessing how you hurt your hand. Apparently you wear your musical tastes and non-cooking habits on your sleeve. As much as I love learning about innovative food techniques, daring chefs, and quality ingredients, it's your willingness to pour your personality into your writing that keeps us all coming back. Cheers to foie gras and Dick Marx.

I knew Kailee would win! Her commment was amazingly wonderful. And you need a pair of those hospital slipper socks that have the non-skid strips on the bottom. This dish sounds incredible. I will live vicariously through you because I doubt it will ever be made in my house. Glad you're healing up.

1. Glad you're on the mend.
2. My slipper socks are named cookiemonster as they are blue and fluffy and they, too, are slippery on hardwood floors. One must respect the slipper socks!
3. Those foie morsels look amazing.
4. We know where you'll be April 6th http://tinyurl.com/y99ptc8 I see tickets are still available!

--------------> Already bought my tix. Hee! :)

Oh, Carol. So you thought you could dance? ;)

After reading this, all I want to say is... METHOCEL F-50 WILL MAKE YOU *VANQUISH* COOKING SLUMPS!

:-)

I'm curious about the boiling of the foie.

Unless I'm completely misjudging the size of the roll from the pictures, I'd expect that anything but the very the outside of the foie barely got warm after 90 seconds.

So most of it was completely raw, right? (not that there's anything wrong with that: I love me some seared foie where the inside is still very rare -- but when searing it you get a nice texture on the surface, which boiling doesn't).

So I'm curious as why the book says to do that.

Or am I completely off base, and the boiling actually does cook it in 90 seconds?

--------> Here's the thing about foie gras -- it's best served/eaten when it's barely cooked. That part aside, it's made up of mostly fat, so no matter how you're preparing it, you can't cook it for very long or else it completely melts and all you have is a pot full of yellow liquid fat. When blanching it like this in a torchon, you have to do it for just 90 seconds because that's the point at which it starts to release the fat and begin to liquefy... which is why you pull it out of the water and plunge it into ice water right away to stop the cooking process. If you have The French Laundry Cookbook, there's a two- or three-page section (if memory serves) on the basics of cooking foie gras. And, if memory serves, again, I believe the torchon recipe in there calls for just 90 seconds of cooking time. Hope that helps.

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