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March 2011

March 21, 2011

Applewood, Muscovado sugar, fenugreek

Because I work from home, I see my mail carrier, Fed Ex dude, and UPS guy in the neighborhood nearly every day.  Over the past two weeks, every time the UPS guy would back his big, brown, boxy truck up the tiny street to my house, I'd get excited.  And every time, he'd deliver something to my friends across the street, or to the people next door.  Not to me.  And it was driving me crazy.

I kept refreshing the order status/delivery tracking website to find out when my package was due to arrive, and every day for nearly a week it kept telling me my order was "out for delivery."  Most people suffer from this type of UPS Tracking Obsession when they've ordered an iPad or a laptop or Kinect... or something equally as awesome and fun.


Yeah.  I was obsessing over the delivery of sawdust.  Applewood sawdust, to be precise.

I know, I know.  Judge away...

No one's really sure how or why it got lost in the shuffle, but a two-pound bag of finely ground wood chips made its way to my house last week, and I was rarin' to go. 

I made this over two days, since two of the dish's elements had a 12-hour period in which they needed to steep or dehydrate.

Let's get to it.

I toasted the applewood sawdust for 15 minutes in a 350F-degree oven.


I transferred the sawdust to a glass mixing bowl, then brought some whole milk to a boil.  I turned off the burner and poured the milk into the bowl with the sawdust and stirred to incorporate it.


I covered it with a plate and let it steep in the fridge overnight.


Also that night, I whisked muscovado sugar with some egg whites, spread the mixture thinly onto a sheet of acetate, and then put that sheet onto one of the racks in my dehydrator at 150F degrees, so it could dry out overnight.


The next day, I got to work on the rest of the dish.

Time to make the ice cream.

I know I've said it before, but I've been trained well in this department, thanks to David Lebovitz.  Thanks to him, I make nearly all my own ice cream (buying Jeni's Ice Cream is the only exception).  But I'd never included guar gum or glucose in my ice creams before, so I was curious to see what the texture of the final product would be.

To start, I whisked three egg yolks with some sugar:


I brought the applewood whole milk (with sawdust strained out) and cream to a simmer, then tempered the egg yolk-sugar mixture with some of the warm liquid, then poured the tempered yolks into the saucepan with the rest of the warm milk and cream:


I whisked the heck out of it while it cooked over medium heat:


And when it had gotten thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, I removed it from the heat.  I whisked in the glucose, and then poured the whole mixture into the blender.  I added some guar gum and whacked the crap out of it for about two minutes on high speed.


Because I don't own a PacoJet, I had to cool and process it the old-fashioned way.  Well, the semi-old-fashioned way, I guess.  I poured the mixture into a bowl that was nested in a bowl of ice to start the cooling process.


Then, when it had gotten to below room temperature, I poured it into my ice cream maker (not very old-fashioned).


After about 15 minutes, it was frozen enough to begin the next step:


I scooped it into a large Ziploc bag, cut off one of the corners, and used it like a pastry bag to fill six acetate-lined cylindrical molds with ice cream.


The book calls for smaller cylinders to be used, but these are the ones I have, so I just went with it.  It ended up making a portion larger than one bite, but that's fiiiiine by me.

I put the filled molds into the freezer for about two hours.

Meanwhile, I started working on the fengreek syrup.  I steeped some fenugreek seeds in hot water:


Then, I strained them, kept the water, and threw away the seeds.

I melted glucose and sugar over medium heat until it became a golden-brown liquid:






I then added the fenugreek water little by little and kept stirring to incorporate it, bringing it to just under 240F degrees (239F to be exact).  

I filled a bowl with ice water, and gently lowered the pan of hot fenugreek syrup into it so it would cool:


Thing is, after just a few minutes, it had totally hardened, and wasn't syrupy at all.  Couldn't move on to the next step in the book, which would've been putting it into a squeeze bottle.  Nope.  No way, no how.  It was like tamarind paste.  Or a really stale taffy.  Not hard-candy hard, but stiff and barely pliable.  Those divots you see below are my fingertips, pressed down on it really hard:


No worries, though.  I decided I'd just rewarm it to be able to drizzle it over the dessert in its final plating.

The muscovado sugar and egg white combo had dehydrated, so I broke it into shards:




And then?  I plated the dessert.

I removed the ice cream cylinders (they popped right out), unwrapped the acetate from around them, rolled the ice cream in the muscovado shards, then topped it with some of the fenugreek syrup, as well as some finely ground fenugreek seeds.

Like this:


I made six of these, took a bite out of one and Tweeted this:

Picture 3

The ice cream? Smooth.  The muscovado shards?  Crunchy and sweet.  The fenugreek "syrup"?  Hardened a bit and stuck in my molars, but I didn't care. 

Seriously, you guys: make this if you get the chance.  Or, adapt the ice cream recipe to your liking.  It was so silky smooth and this really can't-put-my-finger-on-it kind of earthy. The ice cream itself wasn't really sweet at all... which made the muscovado flakes even more relevant and necessary because they added a really nice texture and sweet crunch.  And, the fenugreek flavor was mmmmmmellow and delicious.  I always forget how much I like fenugreek, and then I have something with it and obsess over it for a week or two, and then forget about it all over again.  I have some leftover fenugreek powder, which I'm sure I'll be sprinkling on everything over the next few days.

So, so easy and so, so good.

Up Next: Chicken Skin, black truffle, thyme, corn (I think)

Resources: Applewood sawdust from 800-DRY-WOOD.com; Natural By Nature whole milk; Organic Valley heavy cream; Domino sugar; Smith Meadows Farm eggs; glucose from L'Epicerie; guar gum from Terra Spice; muscovado sugar from Yes! Organic Market; fenugreek seed from TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: A Silent Film; The City That Sleeps.  The band, A Silent Film, reminds me of everything I loved about the music of my junior high and high school days -- you know, the era of fun pop and Brit pop.  The early-to-mid '80s.  On this album, The City That Sleeps, there are some Ultravox influences, a little OMD, a bit of Cocteau Twins, some a-Ha, a dash of The Ocean Blue, and a smidge of something more au courant: Snow Patrol.

Read My Previous Post: Goose, blood orange, sage, roasting goose aroma

March 13, 2011

The winners! And some thoughts on the new book: Modernist Cuisine

Congrats to Rob and Matt on winning the two copies of Life, on the Line.  I used Random.org to choose both winners because your stories were too awesome and too powerful for me to try and choose two on my own.  Thanks for being so willing to share who you are.

Here's what Rob said about chasing greatness, who he is, and what he wants to do:

Being keen on electronics, particularly computer hardware parts, always wanted to help a wounded animal (thus becoming a veterinarian), and always helping around the kitchen were things that I liked doing as a kid.

However, when my grandfather passed away on the 64th anniversary of D-Day (June 6th) back in 2008, my path in my life took a dramatic change in direction with what I do in my spare time. I started reading everything I could get my hands on that had to do with World War II, whether it be the Pacific or Atlantic theater (he served in Italy in 1944-1945 as a navigator on a B24). Now, I feel that it is my duty to preserve this memory of these war vets that fought in the worst war in human history. Not only do I feel it needs to be done, it is my honor to do it for them.

Posted by: Rob | March 02, 2011 at 12:13 PM

And here's Matt's comment:

I'm failing out of school. My parents love to tell the story of my first day of school. I was excited to ride the bus to school, to be on my own and to learn. Half of a school day later I swore to both my mom and dad that I would never ever go to another day of school in my life. Despite this promise I'm in university again and hate everything. Your two blogs, linked to me by a friend, have been the catalyst for failing exams because I was making stock not studying. Thanks Carol. I'm going to say fuck it and do what interests me, family and everyone else be damned.

Posted by: Matt Shackleford | March 02, 2011 at 05:35 PM

*   *   *   *   *

I have three more copies of Life, on the Line to give away, so stay tuned for that.

*   *   *   *   *

I had a bit of an ingredient-ordering/delivery glitch late last week and into the weekend, so my cooking schedule is all farkakted and I don't have a new dish to post on the blog this week.  When the stuff didn't arrive, I was suddenly faced with a completely free weekend.  THAT NEVER HAPPENS.  So, I watched Season 1 of Modern Family, worked outside in the flower beds to get them ready for spring, ran errands, hosted my neighbors for an evening around the outdoor firepit, watched St. Elmo's Fire on Netflix Instant (!!!) and started gathering up some things I need to sell on Craigslist and eBay.  It was exactly the kind of weekend I needed.

And, what I lacked in cooking this weekend, I made up in reading.  Oh, you guys.  Modernist Cuisine?  Is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and full and rich and amazing.  There is just so much to read and learn and absorb, and it's really going to be hard to step away from it and work this week.  I mean it.

There are multiple volumes covering the history and culture of food, ingredients, science, cooking techniques and fundamentals.... I mean, everything you ever wanted to know or learn about food is in here.  The photography will take your breath away.  It will also instruct you in ways no other cookbook ever has (or probably could).

But what I found really amazing, and honestly, unexpected, was that there are many, many things in this book I want to cook.  Like, immediately.  Brussels sprouts.  Fish.  Pistachio consommé... the list goes on and on and on.  And, I'm here to tell you: much of it is doable in your very own kitchen.  I swear.  There are workarounds for gear you don't want to, or can't, buy.  But, trust me: you can cook this food. 

I'm not a professional reviewer, but I'm coming at this book from a unique perspective, I think.  I tackled The French Laundry Cookbook as a complete amateur.  And now, I'm cooking my way through Alinea.  Better-skilled, yes, but still: an amateur.  I have never gone to culinary school.  I have never taken cooking lessons or classes.  I have never worked in a restaurant kitchen.  I am not inherently a creative or craft-driven person.  And yet, I want to learn.  There's the adage "write what you know."  I find that to be bollocks.  I get bored writing what I know and doing what I know.  That's why Modernist Cuisine is so appealing to me.  It's kind of cool that I can leaf through the book and say to myself: oh, I know how to do that or I've made that before or that actually looks kind of easy.  But you know what?  You'd be able to do the same thing.  And, in doing so, you'd learn a hell of a lot over the many years you'd refer to this book.

There are pages where my brain explodes.  Centrifuged pea purée? Mussels in mussel-juice spheres?  Edible soap with honey bubbles???  Teach me how to do that.

And, there are many, many pages that make me hug myself in joy: flourless gnocchi, deep-fried Brussels sprouts, caramelized carrot soup, risotto Milanese...

Some people will scoff at this book, whether at the price or the sheer size of it.  Or, that the recipes aren't written in the way they are in most cookbooks (which, quite frankly, is a refreshing change).  Others might be afraid of it... afraid that it's suggesting a new way to cook and isn't the way we do it now just fine as it is? 

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.  Mine is that I love this book.  Unabashedly.  There is so much to learn, and so much to read.  It's the kind of book I might open on a Thursday morning and think: what can I learn to do this weekend?  What can I cook that I already love?  How can I grow?  Where can I improve?  Or, I might just drool over the photos.  This is a book I will refer to for years and years and years.  I know that already.  In fact, I'm making a space for it in the little mudroom/pantry just off the kitchen because it doesn't belong on a shelf in the living room or den.  It needs to be read and used, and kept close by.

It's difficult to put into words all that this book encompasses, and all that can be learned.  So, if I may, I'd like to borrow from Carl Sagan, who once wrote:

What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

Modernist Cuisine is on back-order everywhere, and they're working on another print run.

I wholeheartedly recommend it.


You can read more about the inner workings of producing this book here.

March 02, 2011

Life, on the Line


This, my friends, is an incredible book.

It's a book you'll want to read in a day, but there are times you'll want (or should, or maybe even need) to put the book down for a bit because some of the moments in it are so big.  And, I think some of the turning points deserve a pause before moving on.

I could spend paragraph upon paragraph on the stories in and nuances of this book, but to sum it up neatly: it should be required reading upon one's 18th birthday, or any point thereafter.  Why?  Because, ultimately, this is a book about knowing what you're good at, and then making the decisions that enable you to pursue the opportunities you know in your gut are right.

There's a natural, almost-seamless back-and-forth in the narrative between Grant's story and Nick's story and the writing is strong.  Both their stories share the commonality of being confident in who you are as an individual and building a life around your sense of self.

In life, each of us can be described with a variety of labels.  Husband.  Wife.  Boyfriend.  Girlfriend.  Parent.  Son.  Daughter. Workaholic.  Free spirit.  Democrat.  Republican.  Sick.  Healthy.  And with every one of those labels comes a set of rules or expectations that you or other people measure against, or in some cases, we use as excuses to not pursue the things we're supposed to.  Because, if we're being honest with ourselves, sometimes we're afraid to really be who we are.

Reading Life, on the Line felt like I was reading about two men who eschew living a life constrained by the expectations that come with labels.  Instead, they set only their own own expectations and goals, and as a result continue to build pretty fantastic lives without compromising who they are or what they believe.

So, here's my challenge to you:

If you stripped away all the labels you place on yourself or that others place on you... if you laid the groundwork to be able to blow past every roadblock and obstacle (because you can, you know)... if you lived your life in the pursuit of "chasing greatness" (as the book's subtitle suggests)...

In the comments below, tell me:

Here is who I am, and what I want to do.

And, I'm not talking about a "bucket list," or that "life list" nonsense...

You know deep down inside what you're good at.  So, with nothing stopping you, what is your big, hairy, audacious goal?  Are you "chasing greatness"?

If you're not, why?  And when will you?

I've got two copies of Life, on the Line to give away.  I'll choose two winners next week.

Comments close Monday night at 11 p.m. ET.

p.s. Check out the Life, on the Line website with excerpts from the book, a slideshow, and some really great video interviews with Grant and Nick.  My favorite video clip is where Grant confesses to having called out "Duuude!" when he unexpectedly ran into Thomas Keller at an awards ceremony.

Alinea Book


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


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