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April 26, 2010

Marcona Almond, white ale, pink pepper, lavender

Hi!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm back!!!!!!!!!

I missed you guys.

I'm still under a ridiculous pile of work that keeps growing and growing (which, I have to keep reminding myself is a GOOD THING when you're self-employed), but can breathe a bit more easily now since some big deadlines have passed and some others are a little further down the road and more manageable.

And just in time to celebrate this more manageable schedule has come a most painful and ridiculous sciatica attack my orthopedist says is a result of something called piriformis syndrome, which he so beautifully described as "when your buttcheek muscle spasms." Which, because I am 12, cracked me up but then I had to grow up because laughing hurts so much (as does sneezing, crying after sneezing, and pretty much any kind of moving, breathing, and walking).

He said it likely began when I fell up the stairs again two weeks ago, exacerbated by the long periods of time I have spent sitting and writing for clients the past two weeks, and then got worse when I sat on two very long flights last week to the west coast and back. When he and I were going through the list of symptoms and pain positions leading up to this extreme, sharp, shooting pain across my lower back, hips, and down my left leg, I neglected to add to the list the general thrashing and dramatic arm gestures I was doing in the car Friday night along to Poison's "Something to Believe In" to try and will Bret Michaels back to good health. I think that's the straw that broke the camel's back.  Or, um, buttcheek muscle.

So, I've found two positions that don't hurt: standing, and laying on my stomach. I'm typing this while standing at the island in my kitchen... a stack of cookbooks piled up with the laptop on top so I can easily type.  The only time I'm in need of pain management is when I sit, or do the transitions from laying to sitting or sitting to standing.  I took Vicodin on Saturday night to be able to sleep, and holy moley I can see how people get addicted to that.  Not ever taking that again.  Totally whacked me out (even though it gave me the best sleep of my life).

I need a back transplant.  Or a buttcheek muscle transplant.  WHERE'S MY TELETHON?

Okay, enough about my medical ailments.  That's not why you come here.

But(t), before I get to the Marcona almond dish, I have something really cool I wanna tell you...

*   *   *   *   *

I am going to the Food OscarsThe James Beard Awards!  And, not only am I going, they've asked me to live-blog the awards ceremony on their web site!  I'm so excited about this I could plotz. 

More info on specific times and the URL as soon as I get the deets from the folks in New York, but for now, mark your calendars for the evening of Monday, May 3rd.  Yay!  Let the plotzing commence!

*   *   *   *   *

So, Marcona Almond. 

FINALLY.

I made this just before I got buried under the avalanche of work, and it's been bugging me that I haven't written about it yet.  So here we go.

Probably 5 or 6 years ago, or more, I quit drinking beer.  It just didn't taste good to me anymore.  I figured, heck, I drank a LOT of beer in college... maybe I just used up the lifetime quota my enjoyment receptors would allow, and never drank it again.  Didn't miss it at all.  Was it a precursor/early warning sign that my body was rejecting gluten?  My doctors think so.  I've made the rounds of gluten-free beer over the past year to see if I could find one that might make me appreciate or enjoy beer, and while I'm not repelled by it like I used to be, and while I already made one Alinea dish that had beer in it, I just haven't fallen back in love with beer again.

But this recipe called for a white ale (Allagash, to be specific), which just isn't an option for me.  So, after narrowing down my options via some extensive online research and conversations with others who have celiac and have sampled gluten-free beer, I called and went to some of the city's best liquor/beer/wine stores, met with beer experts, talked with many, many men who knew a lot about white ale, but not a single one of them knew anything about gluten-free beer because they've never tasted it.... even though all their stores sold it.

Which... I guess I get.  I mean, when you work in the alcohol sales field you probably can't taste everything you sell, but it would've been nice for at least one person in this city to have some idea of what these beers tasted like, and whether they could recommend one brand over another. 

So, I bought a sampling of 8 or 9 gluten-free beers and narrowed it down to one I thought might work.  On a side note, let me tell you a gluten-free beer you don't EVER need to try to drink or cook with, and that's New Grist.  Tastes like a baby wipe smells, and leaves a film in your mouth akin to having gargled with Oil of Olay and rinsed with water you burned rice in.  Just a little PSA there, from me to you.

The first step in making this dish is to make beer gel.  So, I put 200g of Green's Quest Triple Blonde into the blender with some sugar, glucose, potassium citrate, and kappa carrgeenan and blended it on high speed for 3 minutes:

DSC_0003

I put it in a saucepan, brought it to a boil, the poured it into a plastic-lined 13x9" baking dish:

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I put it in the fridge to chill for an hour until it had set.

Meanwhile, I made the Marcona almond cream.  The recipe in the book calls for Marcona almond paste (50% sugar) which I couldn't find anywhere, so I made my own.  Or, at least something vaguely resembling what I think Marcona almond paste is.  I'm familiar with the texture and taste of regular almond paste, so I threw a bunch of already-roasted and salted Marcona almonds into the food processor with a little bit of sugar and just kept pulverizing it and augmenting with sugar and almond oil until it felt and tasted right:

DSC_0007 

It's not creamy like almond butter, and it's not chunky or gritty.  It really is like a paste.  Not overly sweet, but not overly nutty, either.  Not something I'd advise eating with a spoon, but more something that can be used in other things, you know?

I weighed 150g of that homemade Marcona almond paste and put it in the blender with some yogurt, and then blended everything until it was well combined.  In a saucepan, I heated some cream until it began to boil.  I removed it from the stove top and added some already-soaked gelatin sheets and some sugar, and stirred until they both were dissolved. Then, I whisked the gelatin-sugar-cream mixture into the Marcona almond paste-yogurt mixture, and poured it over the now-set beer gel layer:

DSC_0008 

Next, I made some almond oil jam (and forgot to photograph it because I was too busy tasting it, and by tasting it I mean pouring it down my throat because it was sooooooo good) by whisking a boiled Trimoline and glucose mixture into 3 egg yolks, then drizzling in some almond oil while it was buzzing around in the food processor.

Last but not least was slicing some orange zest into small pieces, and frothing some more beer by adding soy lecithin and sugar to the white ale and making it foam with the immersion blender.

For plating, I was supposed to cut the now-set beer gel and Marcona almond cream into long 3"x10" strips and roll them, then cut them so they'd look like a cool spiral-y thingamabob on the spoon.  For some reason, it didn't work (the strips kept breaking as I rolled them, and generally turned into a giant mess; I'm blaming the lack of gluten which is a binder), so I just cut neat little squares and put them on a spoon.

First on the spoon, though, was a blob of almond oil jam, then the squares, which I topped it with beer froth, orange zest, and crushed pink peppercorn pieces.  I also added a tiny bit of dried lavender, as the book suggests, but didn't do the malted milk powder (it has gluten), and instead grated some Marcona almond over the top of each serving:

DSC_0024

So, how'd it taste? Wellllllllll, it didn't suck.  It certainly wasn't the best thing I've ever eaten, but it also wasn't the worst.  I served this to my friends the same night I made the Yuba, shrimp, orange, miso dish, which was just such a freakin' knockout of a dish, this one barely stood a chance.  But, it held its own.  

The flavor of the beer was not all that great, but I loved the Marcona almond cream with the orange and pink peppercorn.  The beer kinda gave it a mellow backdrop, but because it was gluten-free beer, I think the dish suffered a bit as a result in the taste and texture department.  Such is my life.  When I made the Marcona almond cream, I used sheep's milk yogurt, because I knew the beer part of the deal would be weak, so I wanted the other element of that layered bit to have some zing to it, and I love the way it turned out.

Don't get me wrong: I do enjoy the challenge of de-glutening these (and other) dishes, but it kills me when the basic chemistry of gluten is such a determining factor in a dish's outcome, and mine ends up not being what I know it can be if only I had a normal immune system.  (:::shakes fist at sky:::)

That said, if you can eat gluten, you might want to try making this.  I like the idea of these flavors together, and I think it could be really, really good.  Or, you know, you could just drink beer and eat a handful of Marcona almonds on a Tuesday night.  SLACKER.

Up Next: Lamb, mastic, date, rosemary fragrance... or Opah, in the style of bacon, endive, radicchio

Resources: Green's Quest Triple Blonde beer; Old Chatham sheep's milk yogurt; Domino sugar; glucose and Trimoline from L'Epicerie; potassium citrate from ZooScape.com (weird, I know); kappa carrageenan and soy lecithin from Terra Spice; Marcona almonds, orange, and lavender from Whole Foods; Organic Valley heavy cream.

Music to Cook By: Alphaville; Forever Young.  Twenty-six years later and I still love this album as much as I did the first time I put the needle on the record.

Read My Previous Post: Yuba, shrimp, orange, miso

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Always love reading what you get up to - just wished you lived down the road so I could sample some of this incredible stuff!

My wife was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, so we've been experimenting with with gluten-free beers. Green's is far and away the best gluten-free beer brand (the others aren't even a close second). I just made braised short ribs with the Green's dubbel dark & it was amazing. I did a pretty tradional preparation (mirepoix, garlic, bay leaf, tomato paste) and used a whole large bottle of the beer. The aroma was incredible and the sauce came out rich and smooth.
As you have no doubt also experienced, my wife has mixed emotions about her diagnosis. She is feeling better and better with each passing day and feels relieved to know the source of her symptoms and how to avoid them. However, she almost started crying the other day when we passed a fresh tray of garlic knots at a pizza counter. We are both encouraged that you are not only dealing with your celiac in a public forum, but you are putting out beautiful food with minimal impact due to substitutions. I just hope the buttcheek spasms don't affect your ability to produce great food and entertaining writing.

Honestly -- you are about the only person who can write about your health in a way that both lacks any sense of whining or self-pity AND manages to be almost as entertaining as the food blogging. And congrats on the James Beard Award blogging. It couldn't happen to a better blogger! And I hope you feel better soon...

Dude! I had the same butt muscle issue! Stupid butt muscles. Craziest, most painful thing ever! And yeah... the answer to "so how did you hurt your back?" question... love the eyebrow raise to the "it's my butt" as an answer.....

I feel the same way about Alphaville. I think Big in Japan was on that album, right? It was a good song, but then again, so was Forever Yong. The 80's were such a happy time for pop music. Thank you for the posting. I've been hoping that your schedule would calm down enough for a new post.

I highly recommend 7 Steps to a Pain-Free Life: How to Rapidly Relieve Back and Neck Pain by Robin McKenzie. Works great on sciatic pain. Just some very simple exercises that work amazingly well. No need for vicodin--unless you really want some, of course...

Boy, am I glad you're feeling better.

What does one wear to the Food Oscars? Will you be able to wear killer heels?

Ack! I strained (or whatever) that same muscle last summer, I completely feel your pain! PT was the only thing that worked. Which, sadly, was 15 minutes of the PT's unbelievably bony elbow jammed into the sorest spot (billed as "massage") twice a week.
And stretching at home. But getting rid of that pain, and being able to sit and not look like I had hemorrhoids--worth it!
I'm looking forward to reading your blog from the James Beardsley's!

Yay!! Welcome back! You were missed! An mucho congrats to the James Beard-i-ness!

Can't WAIT to read it!

Huge bummer on the butt cheek problem! A friend had that last year and was comfortable only when lying on her side. Liberal amounts of valium helped a lot. Congrats on the James Beard blog. It will be very fun to read as you type. Hope you feel better soon - and that we can stop saying this to you!

First of all, congratulations on the live=blogging! I am sure you will do an awesome job!

On the piriformis thing - I injured mine while training for a marathon (well, at least I had a good excuse, right? :-) but WOW. The pain is really incredible, and like Vicky in her comment, the physical therapy was enough to make me confess on crimes never committed. Very painful stuff.

I hope you'll heal quickly - just thinking about those days make me a little queasy


Go with the Opah. I made it except, except I subbed the bacon-style opah for some seared salmon. But the juniper/rosemary white beans and the braised endive is heavenly. I ate the leftover beans for a week and never go tired of them.

So, about your butt cheek. My sister has the same problem and her physical therapist prescribed sitting on a tennis ball for long plane trips, but also when sitting at the desk. Place the ball where the muscle spasms. She swears by it.

I'm going to Central at the end of May. So I was wondering, if you could only order 1 thing off the menu, what would it be? Currently, I want to order one of everything, but my bank account would not be able to handle that.

Good to have you back. I'm not sure we gluttoners of gluten can comprehend how impressive it is to be doing these recipes with the extra degree of difficulty. But it does add a great twist. Keep it up. An old GF had the same buttcheek problem. I remember some of the least sexy rubbing of a woman's backside ever.

I had to jump over here from my blog reader to see if anyone else had commented about reading that as "Oprah in the style of bacon". Nope, just me. Tell me you did, though. Surely you did...

I (am so glad I don't have a gluten problem and I) totally respect in such a big way how much effort you put into the best possible gluten-free results. It can't be easy to manage a lot of the time and I am always interested to read how you work around it.

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