Marcona Almond, white ale, pink pepper, lavender
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...
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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!
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So, Marcona Almond.
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:
I put it in a saucepan, brought it to a boil, the poured it into a plastic-lined 13x9" baking dish:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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