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May 2011

May 31, 2011

What I've Learned So Far...

This past weekend, I made the Squab, Thai peppercorn, strawberry, oxalis pods dish, when something odd happened. I'd made arrangements to get oxalis pods from a grower I know out in Virginia, and he called me Friday morning to tell me most of his oxalis plants got hammered in a hailstorm the day before, and he had none for me.  I'd already bought everything else to start making the dish, so I made a few phone calls to try and find oxalis pods.

My usual suspects weren't turning anything up, so I called a few chef friends.  When I told them what had happened and what I was looking for I heard myself say, "Yeah, my oxalis pod guy called and said..." and then it hit me:  I have an oxalis pod guy?

Five years ago, if you had told me I would one day say that "my oxalis pod guy" said this or that, I would a) wonder what the hell an oxalis pod was; and 2) wonder what douche planet I was living on.


Oh yeah, riiiiight. I do.  You know what else I have?  A squab guy.  Who gets my order ready like so:


Call me old-fashioned, but the tag tied to the bag with butchers twine makes me very happy. 

As for the oxalis pods, I ended up not being able to find any, so when I did the Squab dish I didn't do the neutral-caramel squares that surrounded the oxalis pods, but it's no biggie.  I didn't miss out on learning any new technique in not doing them.  And, when you see the final plating photo at the end of this post, you'll see an even bigger reason they weren't really missed.

I should say now that, for this dish, I'm not going to do the standard step-by-step, photo play-by-play like I do in all my other posts.  Why?  Well, I realized that I have completed all but 30 dishes in this cookbook.  There are 127 in total.  I have 30 left to do.  Just 30.  Granted, some of them are six-pagers (lookin' at YOU, Wild Bass and Bean), but still. I only have 30 dishes left to go.  I can't believe it.

As I cooked this dish over the weekend, I thought a lot about what it's been like to cook my way through the Alinea cookbook.  I thought about where I was in my cooking life when I'd finished French Laundry at Home and was getting ready to start this blog.  I thought about the people I've met.  I thought about the ingredients I've learned about.  I thought about how hard the men and women work in the Alinea kitchen.  I thought about the meals I've had at Alinea.  I thought about what I've done well and what was a complete flop.  I've learned a lot these past two+ years:

  1. I still get an adrenaline rush when I open the book to a new recipe I haven't yet made.
  2. Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas are two of the nicest, most generous and supportive people you could ever have the great fortune to know.
  3. Judy Shertzer from Terra Spice is not only one of the kindest, most generous people I've met, she's a badass hilarious funny lady I am so happy to call my friend.
  4. Steve Stallard at BLiS produces not just the finest roe, but also a maple syrup you will want to find a way to eat every single day.
  5. Months before I started this blog, two very prominent men in the food world told me I was "crazy" to think about cooking anything from this book.  In fact, they both told me, separately, that I couldn't do it.  Which, of course, made me want to prove them wrong.  I think I am.
  6. My kitchen gets the most beautiful natural light in the morning.  I never noticed it until I started learning how to photograph food.
  7. Figuring out gluten-free substitutions for some of these recipes has given me more than one migraine, but hearing from chefs, cooks, and restaurateurs that they've actually consulted my blog for those kinds of swap-outs when they have celiac customers more than makes up for it.
  8. Speaking of celiac, I've learned that you guys go above and beyond the call of duty in the comments section (and via email) when a girl is feeling down and out in gluten land.
  9. If you are a person of a certain age who has been addicted to television for most of her life and you say, or even think the words "squab stock" you will immediately turn it into, "squab stock, squab stock, squab... squab... stock."
  10. Ditto onion JAM.
  11. When I injure myself, you guys are HILARIOUS.
  12. When there's a worthy cause, you're the most generous people in the whole world, and you make me cry (in a good way) just thinking about it.
  13. I've always adored my neighbors, but seeing how willing they are to try new foods and taste everything I make, makes me adore them even more.  They're not just neighbors, they're some of my closest friends, and I'm lucky to have them in my life.
  14. Because I'm cooking my way through this book, I am more patient now than I've ever been in my whole life.
  15. Developing a casserole recipe based on the food from a world-class restaurant is easier than you might think.
  16. Cooking dishes that require intense focus are a good way to work through the grieving process.
  17. My house has never smelled better than when I cook something from the Alinea cookbook.
  18. Seeing clean plates at the end of a tasting with my neighbors makes me happier than I ever thought possible.
  19. The sound a squab's head makes when it clonks along the side of your stainless steel kitchen sink is a little unnerving (not as bad as cutting off the faces of softshell crabs, though).
  20. And, I've learned you can take something kinda ugly:

And turn it into a thing of beauty:


My neighbors and I decided at the last minute to do a cookout on Monday evening, so rather than forcing them to come to my house for a tasting before firing up the grill three houses away, I thought I'd just plate the Squab family-style and bring it over to the cookout. Hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, coleslaw, salad, fresh melon, and a Squab dish from the Alinea cookbook.  This is how we roll in Takoma Park. 

You guys, this dish was SO FREAKIN' GOOD.  Really and truly.  Red-ribbon and regular sorrel, pepper custard, squab rillettes, macerated wild strawberries (from my front yard!), diced strawberries, seared squab breast, and strawberry sauce made with squab stock... an amazing, flavorful combination that smelled great every step of the way and was so incredibly satisfying at the end of a long weekend.  There were clean (paper) plates all around -- even the kids ate every last bite.  Happiness abides.

If you want to see all the photos, they're here.

You know what's the biggest thing I've learned in doing this blog?  That I am incredibly lucky that you guys are as fantastic as you are.  I rarely, if ever, have to delete dick-ish comments.  There's no fighting in the comments.  No shitstorms.  No hate email.  No drama.  You guys are respectful of the food, of each other, and of this process... and I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.  Your support of this project has made me more confident every step of the way, and I feel like, especially with this dish, you can taste that confidence on the plate.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  I am a lucky, lucky girl.

Now, go on then... make yourself some squab with strawberries and sorrel. 

And let's savor these next 30 dishes, shall we?  I kinda don't want this to end.

May 17, 2011

Prosciutto, passion fruit, zuta levana

Last Monday evening, I ran into these guys:


And, really... isn't that how we'd all love to spend every Monday night?  In the presence of those who inspire, teach, motivate, (and intimidate) us?

Going to the James Beard Awards and seeing Chef Keller and Chef Achatz (among many, many other chefs and industry folks I admire and adore) couldn't have come at a better time. I desperately needed that time in New York, and to be surrounded by people who love to cook and eat.  It was a fun night seeing everyone looking so glam and so full of energy.  I had a blast in the press room with my fellow writers and media folks, as well as at the after-party at Per Se where we celebrated their win for Outstanding Service, and it was just an all-around great night.  I am a lucky, lucky girl.

And, it was the perfect way to kick off a week in which I knew I'd be making a dish from the Alinea cookbook that has intimidated me from the get-go: Prosciutto, passion fruit, zuta levana.  

If you have the Alinea cookbook, turn to page 144 and just look at that beautiful thing.  It's one of the first pages I looked at when I first got the book, and I remember thinking, "I will never be able to make that."

Honestly, there's no magic technique or crazy, hard-to-find ingredients.  It's really pretty straightforward.  But, the photo of it in the book is just so beautiful.  It's always intimidated me because, as we all know, my re-creations of Grant's food are, um, not always necessarily the most appealing in their final form.  I do get some of them right, and some of the things I make are visually appealing, but this one has always been the one that I wanted to do well.  I did not want it to look like Sleestak vomit.

Let's see if I can pull this one off, shall we?

The first thing I did was roll the prosciutto into a cylinder.  The book calls for five slices of 3x12" prosciutto.  Mine came already-cut in 3x6" pieces (or thereabouts), so I just doubled the amount, and layered them, and rolled them like so:



Then, I wrapped it tight in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for six hours.  The book says to freeze it overnight... which for me, is five hours (thanks, insomnia!).


While the prosciutto was freezing, I got to work on the passion fruit sponge.

Herewith, a passion fruit:


One of the things I love about doing this blog is getting to work with some of my favorite foods in whole new ways.  I love passion fruit.  Love it.  Would eat it every day if I could.  It's sweet and tart and a little bite-y, but when manipulated with just a wee bit of sugar, it evolves into this bold, amazing taste that I just can't get enough of.  I wish they were a) available year-round; and 2) less expensive than they are.

I halved eight passion fruits, scooped out the pulp and seeds, and pressed the pulp and juice through a fine-mesh strainer and discarded the seeds. 




I puréed the pulp and liquid in the blender until it was smoother than silk. I measured 15g of it for the sponge and froze the rest for future use.

I made simple syrup with the rinds (luckily the book has you make more than you need, so I had a little extra to put into my glass of iced tea the next day):

I put 100g of that passion fruit simple syrup into a saucepan along with some of the passion fruit purée (the orange stuff you saw earlier), water, salt, and citric acid.  Brought it to a boil over medium heat...

I whisked in seven gelatin sheets (which I'd soaked in cold water for a few minuted) and stirred until they had dissolved.  I poured that mixture into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer and let it come closer to room temperature (15 minutes). 

Then, I whipped the hell out of it with the whisk attachment on the mixer -- on high speed, it took 12 minutes for stiff peaks to form.

I plopped it into a plastic-lined, chilled baking dish and leveled it with an offset spatula:


I put that pinky-orangeish sponge into the refrigerator to set for a few hours.  While that was doing its thang, I took the prosciutto out of the freezer, unwrapped it, and (using my awesome knife skillz, meat slicer be damned) sliced thin medallions which I put into the dehydrator for four hours:


When the prosciutto was done, I used a little 2" round cutter to cut cylinders out of the sponge so that I had something to put between the two prosciutto slices (which I garnished with a few fresh baby mint leaves from the garden -- zuta levana is minty, so baby mint leaves were a great substitute):


It's like a ham and passion fruit ice cream sandwich.  It's phenomenal.  It kicks the ass of prosciutto-wrapped melon.  It pummels bacon-wrapped anything.  It's salty, it's sweet, it's tart, it's fresh/green, it's smooth, it's crunchy and chewy, and finishes so nicely when all is said and done.

I had about 20 prosciutto chips and a huge tray of the sponge, so to extend the dish to as many neighborhood tasters as I could (I'm like Jesus that way, y'all), I just put a cylinder of the passion fruit sponge atop a prosciutto chip and topped it with a baby mint leaf.  Didn't top it with another prosciutto chip.  Looked lovely on the plate, and makes me want to file this one away in my Make This For a Cocktail Party folder.

You guys -- you have to make this.  Seriously.  It's not difficult at all -- and, you can skip the whole "serve it on a bed of sprouting thyme" bit, because while that is lovely and beautiful and striking and stuff, the minute you see these little guys all put together, you'll want to eat them and you won't care what it's being served on, I promise.


And, yay for it not looking like Sleestak vomit!  Is there a James Beard award for that?  No?  THERE SHOULD BE.

EXTRA AWESOME THING I WANTED TO TELL YOU ABOUT: The awesome Kat Kinsman and I compared finger injuries in the press room at the James Beard Awards, and she turned it into a story on CNN's Eatocracy.

Up Next: Not sure, yet. Probably another dish with passion fruit, since I have a box of them in my fridge.

Resources: Passion fruit from Wegmans; Domino sugar; gelatin sheets and citric acid from L'Epicerie; David's kosher salt; prosciutto San Daniele; mint from my garden.

Music to Cook By: Foals; Total Life Forever.  Whenever I'm jonesing for a trip to LA (I am now, bigtime), I tune into KCRW online and download their "Song of the Day" podcast.  Nine times out of ten, I love what they've chosen, and a few weeks ago I went through the KCRW podcast archive on my laptop and happened upon the band Foals and their album "Total Life Forever."  I listened to some sample tracks and had to download the whole thing immediately.  It's a got a very early 80s feel -- particularly with two of the songs: Blue Blood and Black Gold.  I just love this album, and foresee it becoming part of my ever-growing driving-to-the-beach playlist.

Read My Previous Post: Leftovers -- Deep-fried almonds over broccoli, garlic, and pecorino-romano

May 09, 2011

2011 James Beard Awards

Tonight, Monday, May 9, I'll be covering the James Beard Awards for The Washington Post along with Tim Carman, recent 2011 James Beard Award winner (for best food column).

You can find our coverage throughout the night here: Washington Post; All We Can Eat

Or, you can follow me on Twitter (@carolblymire).  You can follow Tim, too (@timcarman).

You can even watch the awards via live feed here:  James Beard Awards Live Video Feed

I have a good feeling about our DC-area chefs who've been nominated.  If this afternoon's celebrity sightings (Donny & Marie!!!!) are a harbinger of good things to come, well then, there you have it. 



May 05, 2011

Leftovers: Deep-fried almonds over broccoli, garlic, and pecorino-romano

I've been making a concerted effort to eat more vegetables this year.  I'm also trying to eat these vegetables without a whole lot of other stuff covering them up, because that kinds of defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it?

I actually like vegetables, so it's not like this is a huge challenge.  I'm just trying to eat more of them, as well as a varied amount of vegetables.  One in particular I have never really liked is broccoli.  The only way I choked it down in high school was with 47,000 cups of melted Cheez-Wiz on top.  So, yeah.  Not exactly an option for me now.

But broccoli is inexpensive, and something I feel like I should like.  I finally found ways to make cauliflower that doesn't make me gag.  So, I think it's time for me to find a way to make broccoli and enjoy it.

So, I put a little something out on Twitter the other night:

Picture 1

And boy, did the responses fly on in.  Tons of great ideas, most of which involved roasting the broccoli in olive oil, salt and pepper, and various other seasonings (cumin, red pepper flakes, curry powder, etc.)  There were lots of variations and combinations.  SO many great ideas.

So, I started with the basics and wanted to see what broccoli tasted like if I roasted it at a high temperature in just olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Oh, and garlic, because you can't go wrong with garlic.  And shallots.  Because I had them here.  So here's what I did:

1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets; tossed in a bowl with a generous amount of olive oil and kosher salt; more ground pepper than you might ordinarily do; 3 cloves of garlic, chopped; one small shallot lobe, chopped.  And a teaspoon of duck fat.  Because everything is better with duck fat.  (but seriously, you can do this without duck fat; I just happened to have it on hand)

I put this mixture onto a foil-lined baking sheet and roasted it in a 425F-degree oven for 30 minutes.  While it was roasting, I noticed I had some leftover deep-fried almonds from the "Porcini, cherry, toasted garlic, almond" dish.  So, I chopped those, and used them to top the broccoli when it came out of the oven.

I also shaved some pecorino-romano on top.  And, I sprinkled the last of the ham powder from that Porcini dish, too.

And, you guys?

I now really, really, really like broccoli:


The heads got all dark brown, crispy, and toasty.  The stalky part was crunchy and delicious.  Didn't taste like broccoli at all.  You know what I mean, right?  Like, you know how farty and pungent broccoli can taste when you just steam it or blanch it?  Yeah, that.  This tasted NOTHING LIKE THAT, and I now love broccoli, and I'll be buying it every week and doing variations on this theme.

And, for dessert?

MORE LEFTOVERS from the Porcini dish!

Leftover almond milk ice cream and some wine-soaked pineapple chunks, a little bit of 2% milk, and a handful of ice cubes.  Whacked it in the blender for 30 seconds.

A fruity, smooth, nutty milkshake.

Alinea leftovers are awesome.  Awesome, awesome, awesome...

May 02, 2011

Leftovers: Linguine with mushroom purée


I used the leftover mushroom purée and mushroom dice from the "Porcini, cherry, toasted garlic, almond" dish in my dinner the other night.

I took a handful of Bionaturae gluten-free linguine and laid it on a baking sheet, which I put into a 375F-degree oven for 8 minutes.  As it roasts, the pasta gets more golden and slightly brown in some spots, and the heat just brings out a kind of nutty flavor to it.  Well, maybe not nutty... but sort of.  Yeah, I'm sticking with nutty.  And heartier.  And, roastier.  I don't know how else to explain it.  It deepens the flavor, for sure.  Bionaturae is a really great brand of gluten-free pasta, and I really don't buy any other kind.  It's the closest I've ever tasted to "normal" pasta, and it holds up well in both hot and cold pasta preparations.

So, why roast the pasta?  I got the idea from Frank Ruta, owner and chef of Palena.  I went to Palena a few weeks ago for a nose-to-tail beef tasting menu, and he did this oxtail and cheek ragout that, quite literally, has been the best thing I've eaten so far this year.  My dining companions got to spoon theirs over roasted vermicelli (which they all thought was much more delicious than regular pasta).  I ate mine senza pasta, but texted myself a reminder to roast some dried pasta to see what it tasted like.

I finally did it, and it's goooooooood.

So, while the linguine was roasting (again, you just do it plain -- no oil or anything), I brought a pot of water to a boil.  While I boiled the pasta, I reheated the leftover mushroom purée and mushroom dice in a saucepan on the stove.  I added a little bit of olive oil to stretch it a bit, then when the pasta was done, I strained it and tossed it into the pan with the mushroom goodness.

Poured it all into a bowl, shaved some parm-reg on top, and dug in.  After my first bite, it struck me that I had some leftover ham powder, as well.  So, I dashed a bit of that on top, and it made my dinner even better.  A glass of Etude pinot noir rosé rounded it all out quite nicely.

And there you have it.  The pleasures and benefits of doing this blog are with me in my everyday eating.  They can be in yours, too. 

*  *  *  *  *

So, I got a nice surprise on Twitter the other day: I was nominated for Saveur's Best Cook-Through Blog.  Such an honor, and a pleasure to be nominated in the same category alongside my friends Ryan, Clay, and Zach.  So, click on the image below if you'd like to vote for me.  You'll have to register for a Saveur account (if you don't already have one), but it's free and takes about 20 seconds to do. Voting is open until May 12.

There are so many amazing, fun, wonderful people nominated in all the categories that just being together with them already feels like winning, you know?  Thanks, in advance, for your vote (if you vote for me).  Check out the other categories, too.  I think you'll find some great new blogs to check out -- some really fantastic cooking and writing out there right now.  Good luck, everyone!

*  *  *  *  *

I'm covering the James Beard Awards on Monday, May 9 -- this year, for The Washington Post.  (squeeeeeee!!!!)  I'll let you know when and where you can read the updates -- probably some of it via Twitter, and some on the Post's website.  More details as we figure them out.  Really looking forward to being in New York, and seeing some of my favorite chefs.  Happiness.

*  *  *  *  *

And, thank you for all your kinds words about my previous post.  You guys are the best.  I mean it.

Alinea Book


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


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