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November 18, 2012

Chestnut, too many garnishes to list

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Sometimes, I think there is no more beautiful color in the world than that of a chestnut.  

A few years ago on Christmas Eve, my friends and I roasted chestnuts over open fire.  We used a cast-iron pan ... which I forgot to shake and move around as often as I should have, so we (well, I should be fair here and say *I* instead of *we*) ended up burning half of them.  Still, the ones I didn't do all Cajun-style were really, really good.  I've had quite a fondness for chestnuts these past few years.  I didn't eat them a lot as a child, but I've cooked with them and roasted them from time to time, and I really, really like them.  To me, they're a bit rich ... so I go easy on the intake.  But when I do eat them, they make me smile.  It's like a nut that gives you a hug.  (Get your mind out of the gutter.)  (Or don't.)  (See if I care.)  (I said "nut.")  (HA!)  (I'm 12.)

For this recipe, I peeled and skinned the Kuhn Orchards chestnuts in the photo above, and simmered them in cream with salt and a bay leaf, then pureed them with some of the cream before emulsifying with butter.  You can see the final result of this process in the final plating photo.  I made it a day ahead of time and refrigerated it until it was time to serve.

Another component I made the day before was the bacon powder.

I froze this slab of bacon from Truck Patch Farms, then removed the plastic and grated the hell out of it onto a parchment-lined tray for the dehydrator.

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I dehydrated it at 150F degrees for about 50 minutes until it was dry, then stored it in a covered plastic container at room temperature.

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The one thing I often don't have good luck with on this blog are making gels.  I don't know why.  Sometimes they're too tough and not tasty, and other times they don't come together at all and look like surgical waste.  I can't explain it.  This time, though, the gel gods were smiling upon me and the marsala gel worked!  I brought some Marsala wine and a bit of Kelcogel JJ Gellan Gum to a boil (bringing it all together with my immersion blender prior to it coming to a boil), and then a simmer.

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I poured it into a shallow pan and let it set up in the fridge overnight.  You'll see the beautiful, perfect amber squares in the final plating shot.  I pumped my fist to the sky and high-fived myself over this accomplishment and then called my therapist to set up an appointment.  I might need to get out of the house more.

Will you look at these gorgeous egg yolks?  Just look at them!  The eggs are from Smith Meadows Farm.  [NOTE:  Forrest Pritchard, the farmer/owner/main dude at Smith Meadows writes a pretty funny blog about his farming life.  I highly recommend it.  He also has a book coming out in Spring 2013.]

Back to the eggies!

I whisked the yolks with some heavy cream, kosher salt, and ground Thai long peppercorns. 

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I poured the mixture into a plastic bag and cooked it sous vide at 180F degrees for 20 minutes.  When I cut away the bag, the eggs looked like this:

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I sliced off the ends so I could have a taste, and also squared it off so the pieces on the plate would be prettier.  Look how bendy this was:

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It tasted pretty fan-darn-tastic on its own, and even better in the finished dish.  I sliced what I needed, laid them out on a plate, and covered it with a damp paper towel.

There wasn't really a need to do this next component a day ahead of time, but I did.  Chocolate-dipped demarara sugar cubes:

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Stored those suckers in the fridge until the next day.

I was on a roll, and kept prepping ingredients.  Next up?  Onion sticks.  I turned this onion into dehydrated, charred-end onion sticks:

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Oh, Truffles.  Lovely, lovely, delicious black truffles.  I don't care if they're winter black truffles or summer black truffles.  There's just something about the black truffle that is so comforting to me.  

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I used them to make the truffle puree.  Which ... didn't turn out like the photo in the book.  Mine looked a little more like peanut butter.  I brought the truffles, black trumpet mushrooms, Yukon Gold potatoes, and truffle juice to a simmer over medium heat and simmered until the liquid was gone.  I blended it in the VitaMix with truffle oil (which I am not a fan of, but I used it anyway), salt, and vinegar.  You can see the end result in the final plating photo (it's a blob nestled in a Brussels sprout leaf).  It tasted great.  The texture was a little dry, but I'm not gonna beat myself up over it. 
I went to bed happy with what I'd accomplished and only had four things to make the next day:  parsnip sauce; nutmeg mousse; bay leaf bubbles; and celery root chips.
The parsnip sauce might be one of my new favorite things for fall.  I do love parsnips, and this sauce was silky smooth and so, so lovely:

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Celery root chips were super-easy to make.  Just peeled and sliced thin a chunk of celery root.  Deep fried those slices in some hot canola oil and salted the heck out of them as they drained on a paper towel.

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Sadly, there are no prep photos of the nutmeg mousse.  It's pretty easy, though.  Just whisk some creme fraiche, salt, and freshly ground nutmeg until stiff peaks form.  
The bay leaf bubbles were easy, too.  I steeped bay leaves in a boiling mixture of water, sugar and salt, then strained it before blending in soy lecithin to create bubbles.  You'll see it in the final plating photo.

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You guys, this dish came together so nicely.  I fully expected some or all of the parts to bomb.  I'm not sure why.  Regardless, it was such a delight to have everything (mostly) work and all of it taste fantastic.  
Ta-daaaaaaaaa!

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Since I tasted all the components of this dish as I made them, I did what I usually do with dishes like this:  smashed it all up into one gloppy mess to see if all the elements played nicely with one another.  They did.  They soooooooo did.

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Neighbor friends came over to eat, and we all really liked this dish.  When I made it, it hadn't gotten cold yet (fall/winter weather has taken its damn sweet time getting here), and we all thought it would've tasted even better had it been snowing (!!!) outside, or at least below 60 degrees.  I really loved the celery root chips.  I'd make those again.  Actually, I'd make any of these components again.  They were really pretty simple to do and everything was seasoned really well.  A+ homerun touchdown goooooaaaalllll gold star smiley face dish!
I have to say, I have loved being back in the kitchen cooking these dishes again.  I wish I could do it more often.  The cooking part I can do ... it's the setting time aside to write and edit photos that has been a challenge.  Thanks for being patient -- you guys are the BEST.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.  I hope you have a wonderful week and holiday weekend.  Cooking anything new and fun?  Sticking to the traditional stuff?
NOTE:  I'm recapping "Top Chef: Seattle" for The Washington Post. You can find them by clicking here.  I'll also Tweet the links to them when they go live, so if you're not following me on Twitter, you can do so by clicking here.
Up Next:  Not sure yet ... need to see if some of my NY/NJ folks are back up and running to ship some needed ingredients.  Maybe Persimmon.  Maybe Hot Potato, Cold Potato.
Resources:  Most ingredients from Whole Foods and vendors at the 14th and U Street farmers market.  Truffles from D'Artagnan.  My super-duper fancy science ingredients always come from Terra Spice Company.
Music to Cook By:  Jennie Abrahamson; Lights.  

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Welcome back, I've missed your lovely posts.

It's good to see another post up - I've been following your blog for years and have missed it this past year.

I love how you smashed everything up for the final tasting. I usually like nibbling at everything before putting it all together. There's a funny story of a dinner at Bucharest where a pile of finely grated horse radish was mistaken for cheese. I took a nibble to taste it while my partner ate a huge mouthful...hahaha

It's like a nut that gives you a hug. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) (Or don't.) (See if I care.) (I said "nut.") (HA!) (I'm 12.)

I've missed those so much.

I'm exhausted just reading this post, but it sounds so good that I'm wiping drool of my keyboard.

Welcome back! :)

How on earth did I miss your September post? Hope the health issues have settled down even more and congrats on the cookbook too! I have really missed reading your blog and this dish looks and sounds fabulous. I could eat a basketful of those celery root chips right now. Welcome back to your zen place.

You had me at bacon powder.

Looks great, thanks for posting... although the thought of grating frozen bacon gives me shivers.

Dear Carol -
Bacon powder...now I know what to give my aunt for Christmas!
Sooooo good to hear your voice again.
Happy Thanksgiving!

I believe you may have covered this before but I can't find it. What is the dehydrator that you use? Thanks. Glad to have you back.

**Erik, it's an Excalibur 5-tray dehydrator. Bought it used for $50. They retail new for $200-ish. I like it.

Missed you - so glad you're back on on top form!

Missed you so much! welcome back!

It's so nice to see another post. I wish I could taste all the things you're making. Well, I could, couldn't I, by making them myself. I wish you a happy and fun holiday season.

Glad to see you back on the blogwagon! I've had a year myself that didn't permit much other than work, and am glad to be back to blog reading and writing. In a way, I'm sort of selfishly glad that you haven't been posting either, because it means I haven't missed anything! :)

p.s. Considering I still have enough homemade celery salt to last another year, I think I'm going to have to try those celeriac chips. Thanks for the idea!

Soooo glad you are back! I have missed your kitchen whimsy and joy... and pictures... and everything that makes this blog wonderful.

Always great to see a new post. I was wondering how the charred onions worked in the dish. It doesn't sound that pleasant.

I had a big smile on my face when I saw your November post! Hope you're feeling well. The one big thing (for me) that I'll be making for Christmas is a Dacquoise cake.. wonderfully labor intensive! Wishing you a very happy Holiday.

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