Autumn

March 01, 2010

Foie Gras, spicy cinnamon puff, apple candy

Before we get to this dish, I have to say how much I LOVED all your guesses at how I broke my hand.  Seriously y'all, there were more ninja kicks, karate chops, and snowboard tricks in the comments than I ever dreamed possible, and that makes me feel like a superhero.

Now, for the real story.  Which is sooooo the antithesis of superhero I'm actually regretting my promise to reveal it.  But I am nothing if not a woman of my word, so here goes:

It was a mild February morning, and I had just loaded the dishwasher and was dressed and ready to go meet a friend for lunch.  I'd been writing and working and having a really productive morning, so I treated myself to a little Prince jam session as I gathered the folders and notebooks I'd spread across the dining room table in planning a campaign for one of my clients.  The first song on my Prince playlist is "Controversy," a seven-minute song that affords me the opportunity to booty-shake from room to room and try out my Morris Day and the Time moves.  You know what I'm talkin' 'bout.

Clad in jeans and a really cute sweater, and smiling at the snow melting outside, I was fantasizing about which shoes I'd wear to lunch.  Shoes that haven't seen the light of day since December, before the first of three blizzards this winter.  Should I wear the cute brown suede boots?  Little red ballet flats?  Black patent leather clogs?  I was still wearing my cozy slipper-socks -- the ones I wear every morning as I pad around the house, making coffee, doing The New York Times crossword puzzle, getting started on my day.  As I left the dining room, I cranked the stereo volume even higher so I could hear it upstairs as I was picking out earrings and shoes.  I fiercely, determinedly, and quite like I was on a catwalk, strutted and strode to the beat of the music out of the dining room and into and through the living room (maybe adding some shoulder movements to the walk because I have the delusion that sometimes I am in my very own music video). I tossed my iPhone into my purse on a chair at the base of the stairs, and busted a move my way up the steps (still to the beat, because it's important when you're in a music video to make sure every step you take is choreographed perfectly) until I was three steps from the top landing and just wiped out.  Plain and simple.  My foot missed the step and I slipped (damn sock-slippers) and fell forward and to the side, and as I tried halfway into the fall to stop myself from going face-first onto the floor, I somehow fell into the door frame at the top of the stairs that leads to the guest room and bathroom, and I heard a crunching sound and saw my hand form the shape of a trapezoid as it hit the door jamb, and I just laid there for a few seconds -- like when a baby falls or bumps its head and it just does that open-mouthed crying face with no sound coming out at all.

And then, it was not a baby-crying sound that escaped my lips.  Oh no.  Not even close.  But because this is a family program, I'll refrain from giving you a literal transcript.  Use your imagination.  Then, make it ten times more crude.  Now twenty.  There you go.

I laid there for a minute or two, moving all my extremities, one at a time, to make sure I still could, then stood up to finish getting ready to go out for lunch.  I was sure I'd just jammed it.  Maybe just bumped and bruised it.  That was all.  Only the throbbing.  It kept getting worse.  Holy crap.  I could barely hold a hairbrush with that hand, let alone do anything else with it.  Driving was a treat, steering around tight corners with just my right hand.  Parallel parking.  Oy.  I went to lunch, hand a-blazing, then came home and tried to do some work, but instead watched the top of my hand swell and turn colors and generally make my life unpleasant.  So, I went to the ER where hello, teeny-tiny hairline fractures, major bruising and jamming and all that crap.  Wrapping, ice, rest, and elevation for the next 48 hours, and you know what?  A week later, and it feels nearly back to normal.  The swelling is gone, there's just a wee bit of greenish-yellow bruising, and it's only just a little sore when I type too much or use it too often.  By the end of this week, I'm sure it'll feel totally fine. I'll be back to juggling chainsaws and waterskiing with Fonzie.

So, that's our lesson for the day: Don't pretend you're in a Prince video while walking up the stairs wearing socks.  Or maybe, don't pretend you're in a Prince video at all, no matter what you're wearing or where you're walking?  Gah.

When the comments started rolling in on that last post, I do believe I guffawed over quite a few of them.  I didn't expect anyone to totally guess the whole story, but now that you know it, I think you'll agree there are three runners up, and one grand-prize winner:

The three runners up are:

For guessing my falling on the stairs and whacking my hand, a prize goes to Kathy said: "I say you tripped on a stair for *no* reason at all, and whacked the back of your hand on the railing as you fell."

For bringing my undying love of Prince into the picture, Mantonat gets a nod for suggesting: Doing the hand gestures to Prince's "I would Die 4 U."

For knowing my proclivity to dancing when I'm alone in the house and bringing the choreography element into it, Jennifer gets a nod for guessing: You fell off your couch while doing the dance scene from Flashdance.

But really, let's give a big round of applause to a certain commenter who pretty much stole the show with a novella that is incredibly spot on when it comes to the inner workings of the Blymire mind, and for tying in the music, fuzzy socks, and wiping out elements of the story, let's hear it for Kailee, who wrote: It had been an unusual winter, that much was certain. More snow than many people could ever remember. It has caused a slight panic around the city. Nothing crazy, mind you, but excitement and wonderment laced the air, prompting people to raid the stores for provisions. Milk, apples, beef for braising, condoms. Then the snow became gray. The buzz died. Wonderment turned to frustration as people circled, circled looking for a parking spot. Maybe that's why people are so on edge, you thought to yourself. Even emails from your favorite colleagues, tinged with a little angst from the cold. You stand to stretch and look out your window. Thank God that tree is being removed tomorrow. You hate to admit it, but the snow has even gotten to you. And you love that stuff. But now, when the threat of snow looms, you don't think of potluck dinner parties and bourbon. Your mind wants to race forward to a few months from now. The trees will start to green. The air will become sweet. The market will have peas. Then berries. Then peaches. You lift your wine glass from the coffee table. Malbec. The inky wine lightly splashes the sides of your glass. It's spicy and tastes of blackberries, cinnamon and oak. You sigh and take a long sip. It's the closest you'll get to berries for weeks. But, it tastes good. And the wine begins to shimmy through you, making you feel warm and happy. Enough emails for today. It's time for music. You start to flip through your iPod. Maybe some music to lift the mood. Something to make you feel warm and light. What goes with a Malbec? Journey. You smile. Yes, that is what the wine dictates. A little Journey. Separate Ways begins to fill the air. You can't help yourself. You love this song. Who can know for sure, but maybe it was the Malbec, or the music, or maybe the last dregs of snow madness in your body, but you feel like dancing. Clad in your fuzzy socks, you begin to move with the music. You sing along, swaying your hips and moving your shoulders. A little twirl before suddenly you lose your balance and Bam! Shit. That really hurt. You pick yourself up off the ground and curse your socks. Your hand is really hurting. You reach again for your glass and find it hurts to lift it. Now this is serious. It's probably only a sprain, you try to reason with yourself. But your hand is throbbing, and the sweet hum of the Malbec has vanished. I better get this checked out. You wrap your coat around you, then your scarf. You slip into your boots and head out the door. It's cold tonight. You exhale and see your breath. God, I'm ready for spring.

Kailee, seriously.  Damn, girl.....  :)

So, give it up for Mantonat, Kathy, Jennifer, and Kailee!!!!!!  And, to the four of you, I'll be in touch via email in the next day or two and we'll sort out some sort of prize situation.

*   *   *   *   *

Now, let's talk about food.  Or, more precisely, let's talk about foie gras:

Look how beautiful it is...

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I mean, really... is there a lovelier thing?

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Well, yeah... maybe that vein isn't so gorgeous, but still.  Mmmmmmm..... foie.  I remember when I was just starting out on my French Laundry at Home journey, how terrified I was of deveining a foie gras.  I was kinda scared to touch it, let alone take apart the lobes, clean it up, and cook it.  I had nightmares about it.  It haunted me.  And now?  Pffftttt.  Ain't no thang.

Even with a broken hand, I took this guy apart, cleaned it up, removed the huge veins, and cut it into 1" cubes.

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I tossed those cubes in a salt, sugar, pink salt combo and molded the bunch of cubes into a semi-cylindrical shape (that part was a little difficult, not having the full use of my hand, but I did it the best I could) and put it in a sous vide Ziploc bag, sucked out all the air and stored it in the fridge for 24 hours.

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Next, I made the cinnamon tea, which would be turned into some rather glorious cinnamon puffs.  To make the tea, I roasted some cinnamon sticks in a 350F-degree oven for 10 minutes, then poured some boiling water (to which I'd added salt and sugar) over them, added some cayenne, stirred, covered, and let the whole thing steep for 8 hours.

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At the end of the 8-hour steep, I poured the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a saucepan and warmed the liquid to a simmer.

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I poured the liquid into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer, added some Methocel F-50 (the name of which reminds me of those Brawndo ads -- METHOCEL F-50 WILL MAKE YOU NEED *NEW PANTS*  METHOCEL F-50 WILL MAKE YOU *WIN* AT *YELLING*), and (using the whisk attachment) beat the crap outta that mixture for 8 minutes -- when it started to form stiff peaks.  METHOCEL F-50 WILL MAKE YOU *FORM* *STIFF PEAKS*!!!!

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I put that meringue-like, amazing-smelling goodness into a Ziploc bag, cut off the corner, and piped little bite-sized morsels onto lined trays in my dehydrator. METHOCEL F-50 WILL MAKE YOU *WIN* AT *DEHYDRATING*!!!  [okay, stopping now]

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The book suggests they'll be fully dehydrated and crisp after 4 hours.  Mine took nearly 12 hours (probably a residential vs. commercial dehydrator).  You'll see what they look like in the final plating shot.

The next thing I did was prep the apple candy, because I wanted to give it a chance to set overnight, if it needed to.  So, I heated the cider and glucose over medium heat, and whisked gently to dissolve the glucose:

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Then, I mixed in some sugar, yellow pectin, and citric acid and brought it to a boil, whisking to dissolve.  When it had begun boiling, I added even more sugar, whisking to dissolve that, and heated it to 225F degrees.

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I poured it into a Pam-sprayed 13x9" baking dish and let it cool and set.  Took about 2 hours.

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I went to bed and finished everything for the dish about an hour or so before everyone came over.

I removed the foie from the Ziploc bag and rolled it in cheesecloth, tying the ends tightly.

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I blanched the foie in boiling water for about 90 seconds, then plunged it into an ice bath for 10 minutes.

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I removed it from the cheesecloth and pressed it through a tamis (also known as a fine-mesh sieve):

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I put half of it on a tray and put it in the freezer for the other foie gras dish I was working on, and smushed the rest into a small Ziploc bag (with a cut off corner) so I could pipe it into the cinnamon puff, which I'd gently hollowed out using a cinnamon stick:

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I squeezed in enough foie so that it was nearly full to the outer edge, then plugged up the hole with a small piece of apple candy (which had set much firmer than the olive brine candy I'd made recently):

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Here's a plate of 'em:

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And here's what they look like from the bottom:

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They're cute, aren't they?  But I bet you're wondering what they tasted like.  Well, I tasted one before everybody came over, so I knew what I thought about them.  After my friends and I had eaten the foie-pear-sauternes dish you'll read about next week, I saw my friend, Sean, reach for one of these candies -- he was the first to try them -- and he popped it into his mouth, and three seconds later said, "whoa" because the cinnamon and cayenne kicked in, and as he chewed it (which you only need to do, like, four times before it's masticated), he just grinned and reached for another.  Everyone around the table loved them.  They pack a punch, that's for sure, but the flavor and the texture were divine.  There's the heat and the spice of the cinnamon and cayenne, yes.  And it's crunchy and crispy, but also kinda melts in your mouth as you chomp down on it... then the creamy foie taste kicks in and makes it all the more melty and smooth and flavorful.  And the apple candy?  It's sharp and fresh and sweet and really bridges the heat and spice with the foie.  I didn't know what these were gonna taste like.  I thought about what a foie-filled spicy meringue might  taste like, and I couldn't get my brain or my palate to go there.  Just wasn't happening.  Even if I could've conjured it, my imagination wouldn't have been able to fathom how delicious these really are in real life.  They're like little bites of a miracle is what they are.

So, I loved them, and my friends in the neighborhood loved them.  But that evening, I faced a tougher bunch of critics: some very sweet and amazing friends who also happen to be some of the city's most fun and well regarded food writers and culinary connoisseurs.  When we're together, we are not shy about how we talk about food, cooking, and restaurant experiences.  There are no holds barred if someone's had a bad dining experience.  On the other end of the spectrum, we rave on and on about places we love and food that's good, and do everything we can to promote great chefs, cooks, restaurants, meals, sommeliers, mixologists, shops, and whoever in town is doing things well.  So, knowing how open we all are with one another about our likes and dislikes, I knew to be prepared if they hated these foie-filled puffs.  They certainly wouldn't be shy about saying something.  Granted, they'd do it politely because we're friends, but still... I was ready.  I got to my friend's house, and we started cooking.  She'd already prepared some nibbles to tide us over while we made the rest of the evening's feast, and I ever-so-calmly put out a plate of the puffs and said, "These are from the Alinea cookbook, and they're cinnamon-cayenne puffs filled with apple candy and foie gras."  And I waited as they each took turns trying them.  I think "wow" was the word of the night, followed by "whoa" and I think one "are you kidding me?" because they were a hit, yet again!  Whew.  They'd lost a wee bit of the crispness in the 20-minute drive to her house, but that was to be expected. 

I feel like after the food slump I went through, it's about time that food did me right.  And, I feel like I'm on a roll again because everything was right with these puffs.  Everything.

NOTE: If you'd like to make these at home, here's the recipe, courtesy of Google Books.

Up Next: Pushed foie gras, sauternes, pear, chervil

Resources: Foie from the remarkable Hudson Valley Foie Gras; David's kosher salt; Domino pink sugar; Himalania pink salt; cinnamon sticks from HMart; cayenne pepper from the TPSS Co-op; Methocel F-50 from Terra Spice; Ziegler's apple cider; glucose, yellow pectin, and citric acid from L'Epicerie.

Music to Cook By: Duo; Richard Marx and Matt Scannell.  SHUT UP.  Do not mock the INJURED and the MUSIC THEY LISTEN TO.  Ahem.  "Duo" is an album by Richard Marx and Matt Scannell (former lead singer of Vertical Horizon) featuring the two of them duet-ing on acoustic versions of their individual greatest hits, and I like it.  Actually, I love it.  I am not ashamed of my Richard Marx fangirliness, so there.  Maybe if I mention Richard Marx and his name a few more times, Richard Marx, the Google alert he has set up for himself, Richard Marx, will pick up this post, which will make Richard Marx wanna email me and say, "Hey you, when I come to DC on my tour, I would love to have you take me, Richard Marx, to dinner so we can talk about how big a fan you are of me, Richard Marx."  There.  That should do it.  Richard Marx.  I found out about this album a few months ago when I was farting around online and discovered that Richard Marx HAS A BLOG where he posts video from the road, and I'm kind of obsessed with it.  So, I thought, hey, I've always liked this guy, and I love Matt Scannell, so I headed on over to iTunes and downloaded it.  Tune in next time when I sell all my possessions and move to the UK so I can stalk Simply Red.

Read My Previous Post: Orange, olive oil, almond, picholine olive 

December 28, 2009

Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb

Hope you all have been enjoying the holidays, and for some of you, hopefully, some time off from all the hustle and bustle.  Last week's snowstorm put me into a comfy, cozy winter mood (yay!) but this past weekend's rain melted all two feet of the white, fluffy goodness, so I'm hoping we get pummeled again soon.  I'm taking it easy this week: working as little as possible and reading as often as I can while sneaking a movie or two into this amazingly comforting sloth thing I've got goin' on.

I made the Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb dish from the Alinea cookbook a few weeks ago, and had some technical difficulties with my camera, so that's why I'm only getting around to posting this now.  Spoiler alert: if you have the book and some time off this week and want to tackle one of the recipes, make this one.  It's delicious.  Here goes....

I removed the silverskin and most of the fat from the pork tenderloin, then trimmed it into two 6" logs (using the thickest part of the tenderloin), then rolled them into cylinders tightly in Saran Wrap and tied the ends.  Put 'em in the fridge until I was ready to cook them.

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Next, I made the sage pudding.  First, I brought to a boil some water, sugar, salt, and sage leaves.

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When it came to a boil, I turned off the flame, covered the saucepan, and let the liquid steep for 20 minutes.  I then strained it into a clean saucepan, whisked in some agar agar and brought it to a boil for 90 seconds:

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I poured it through a chinois into a shallow pan and let it cool to room temperature, and it completely set:

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I took about a third of the set "pudding" and put it in my blender and whacked it all up until it was smooth, pressed it through a fine mesh strainer, and stored it in the fridge until I was ready to plate:

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While all this was going on, by the way, I was cooking a lovely piece of pork shoulder sous vide (180F degrees):

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The pork shoulder needed to cook for five hours in the water bath, so I put that in first, then did everything else -- another of which was bake cornbread.  I used Shauna's corn bread recipe, and then improvised the corn bread puree step in the recipe, because I knew it wouldn't work exactly as written, since I'd made gluten-free cornbread:

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I measured the 500g of corn bread I'd need, and added hot butter and cream mixture to it in the blender, but knew the texture wouldn't be right for the puree the book wanted me to do.  So, instead, I blended it, and pressed it into a baking dish, and chilled it until it was solid again.  Then, I cut out disks of the creamy corn bread and used that in the final plating (which you'll see in the final photo):

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The pork shoulder still cooking along its merry little way, I caramelized some fennel:

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I supremed and segmented a grapefruit:

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And when the pork shoulder was done cooking, I pulled it apart into threads...

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... which I deep fried, then liberally salted, in batches of 8 (one for each plated serving):

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While I fried each bit of pork shoulder, I was bringing a pot of water to 135F degrees (it would have taken to long to let my immersion circulator bring the pork shoulder water down from 180 to 135) in which to cook the pork tenderloin:

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I sliced the tenderloin into 1" medallions, and began to plate -- a corn "puree" disk, dollops of sage pudding, drops of honey, crispy pork shoulder, grapefruit pieces, sage leaves, fennel fronds, pieces of caramelized fennel...

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If someone had invited me to dinner and said, "I'm making a pork-grapefruit dish, whaddya think" I'm not so sure I would have been all that thrilled about it becase a) I don't think I'd ever thought about those two ingredients together in one dish before; and b) when I did think about it, it didn't jump out at me as something I needed to make or eat.

That said, this dish changed my mind about grapefruit -- which has always been as bitter to me as cilantro has been soapy and milk chocolate has been metallic.  The flavor profile of this dish is just fantastic -- salty crispy fried pork shoulder with cool, airy fennel, soothing sage, sweet and creamy corn, smooth pork tenderloin, and the acid of the grapefruit and the sweet, floral balance of the honey (I used a local guy's honey from here in town -- didn't do the honey comb/extractor thing).... it was really, really delicious. 

When I was growing up, we had a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of eating pork, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes on New Year's Day.  I might just have to alter that tradition and make this dish (or a variation of it) again for my friends on this New Year's Day.  If pork is in your future, think about the elements of this dish and see what you can come up with on your own -- I think you'll love it.

I'll be back in a few days with a post that has a little something to do with these:

TAP

I've been practicing, but boy am I rusty.  Getting back into tap shoes feels really good, but this little performance of mine most definitely has the potential to be pretty, pret-ty bad.  I originally had plans to light sparklers and twirl them around as I danced, as a distraction from my bad footwork, but thanks to Mister Amsterdamian-Detroitian-Nigerian Terrorist Dude, I get the feeling that lighting anything on fire in front of the White House anytime in the near future will be frowned upon.  Dangit.  But the dancing shall commence... trust.

Stay tuned.... (and there's still time to donate!)

Resources: Pork from Whole Foods; sage, fennel, and grapefruit from HMart; agar agar from L'Epicerie; Organic Valley heavy cream; honey from the TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: I made a "Mad Men" playlist based on the songs used in the series.  The list is here.  I'm addicted, and officially, an old fart 'cause I am totally enjoying all these OLD SONGS.  I think I was born in the wrong era.

Read My Previous Post: Trout roe, coconut, licorice, pineapple (kinda, sorta)


December 14, 2009

Trout Roe, coconut, licorice, pineapple (kinda, sorta)

I missed trout roe season by two days.  True story.  A few months ago, I spoke with Steve Stallard at BLiS to plan when I needed to order certain products over the coming months to make sure I could get what I needed when I needed it.  He told me a specific week to call for the trout roe, and I procrastinated (I'm not sure why), and instead, called the Monday of the following week.  

Carol:  Hey, Steve... It's Carol Blymire.

Steve: Oh hey, Carol.  How are you?

Carol: Great, thanks.  You?

Steve: I'm good.  What can I do for you?

Carol: Well, I'm calling to see if you can ship me some of your trout roe.  I just checked my calendar, and...

Steve: I shipped out my last batch on Friday.  Sorry.

Carol: Well, shit.... (muting the phone and beating head against desk because procrastination rarely bites me in the ass, but this time it did)

Steve: Hey, tell you what... in two weeks, I'll have some smoked char roe.  Let me send you that instead.

Carol: (pouting on the inside, but being professional and cheerful on the outside) That sounds fantastic, Steve.  Thanks so much!

I already knew I was going to do some serious edits on this recipe and swap in and out a lot of the steps because I can't eat coconut, and 3 of the 5 components are coconut-based.  And now, I was going to have to swap out trout roe for smoked char roe, which, is such a first-world problem, I really need to STFU.

So, I plotted and planned and thought and thought, and tried to figure out how I could still make this dish work and be true to the original recipe.  And then, I thought: why in the name of Don Knotts am I making this so hard? 

If nothing else, this dish was a gentle reminder that, sometimes, I just need to get out of my own way.

The roe arrived, I did some shopping, and made what might be one of the best dinners I've ever made.  Twenty minutes, start to finish.  Seriously.  If you have the Alinea cookbook, give this a shot.  If you don't, TOO BAD FOR YOU.  Kidding. (only sort of)

Here goes:

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I decided I was going to make the licorice syrup from the original recipe, because you can almost smell it when you read the ingredients and instructions, and it drew me in and ka-powed my palate just from what was on the printed page.

I toasted some peppercorns and star anise in a dry saute pan for a few minutes until their fragrance filled the kitchen:

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Then, in a small saucepan, I combined the peppercorn and star anise (which I crushed in a mortar/pestle) with some dry licorice extract (you could probably use liquid extract if that's easier to find), unsulfured dark molasses, white wine vinegar, sugar, and water, and brought it to a simmer:

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I cooked it until it reduced a bit, then poured it through a strainer into another small saucepan and reduced it by half:
 

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While the liquid was reducing to a syrup, I peeled, cored, and diced a fresh, whole pineapple, and sauteed some of the fruit in a little butter and some vanilla fleur de sel until the edges of the pineapple turned golden brown. 

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I let the pineapple rest and stay warm in the pan while I seared a lovely piece of char (a tiny bit of canola oil in pan, salt and peppered the fish on the fleshy side -- 3 minutes skin side down, 1 minute flesh side down, done):

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To plate, a bit of licorice syrup, then the pineapple pieces:

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Then, atop that, the char, topped with the smoked char roe and a few pieces of Thai basil:

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After taking the first bite, I danced around in my chair, bobbing my head side to side as I chewed, and reached for my Blackberry to text a chef friend: Just made best dinner ever.  His reply: What did you make?  Me: arctic char, caramelized pineapple, licorice-molasses reduction, Thai basil, smoked char roe.  His reply: Sounds amazing. Send photo!!  Then, when I did, his reply: WOW. You made this just for urself?  Me: Yep.  Him: You're insane. In the good way.

I think he wonders why I'd make something like this when it's just me, eating here at home.  People are funny like that.  Like when it's just dinner for one, you're supposed to eat cereal or order takeout.  Please.

You guys, this was goooooooooooooooood.  Really, really good.  So freakin' good.  Almost as slap-somebody-worthy as the pork belly.  The licorice and pineapple together was beautiful and fragrant and really delicious with the perfect balance of sweet and salt, and then the perfectly-cooked fish and smoky roe on top with the openness of the Thai basil?  I couldn't get enough.  I was sad when the plate was empty.  Full, but sad.  I didn't want that dinner to end.  As I was rinsing the remaining molecules of sauce from my plate and loading the dishwasher, I wondered how I might do it differently, or what else I could serve with this next time.  Jasmine rice?  Amaranth?  A small twist of greens?  A rice and mixed greens salad on the side? And, you know what: I'm not sure I'd actually change a thing.  It was so good on its own, just like this.  And the fact that the entire dish took just twenty minutes to make?  Even better.  In fact, I had plenty of leftover roe, so I bought more fish and made it for dinner a few nights later for friends.  So easy, and so flavorful, and such an unexpected surprise.

I guess procrastinating on some things can be worth it in the end.

Up Next: Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb

Resources: Char from Whole Foods; star anise and peppercorns from my pantry; Terra Midi white wine vinegar; licorice extract from HerbalRemedies.com; Domino sugar; Wholesome Sweeteners molasses; Thai basil and pineapple from HMart; smoked char roe from BLiS.

Music to Cook By: Laurel Canyon Soundtrack; Various Artists. Mercury Rev, Steely Dan, Eartha Kitt, Butthole Surfers -- what's not to love about this album?

Read My Previous Post: Pork Belly, pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, polenta

November 09, 2009

Pheasant, shallot, cider, burning oak leaves

Last year at about this time, Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas' two sons (then five-and-a-half and nine years old) made this dish in response to two gals from the Chicago Reader trying to make the dish and not faring all too well.  Nick posted a video of it on YouTube, and it's fantastic.

Back then, I was only a few weeks into this project and wasn't quite ready to tackle this dish, but I remember thinking, if two adorable little pipsqueaks could make this dish with such great ease, I'm sure I can.  And then, a few months later, I did a different dish featuring something gelatinous, battered, and deep-fried, with a creative skewer, and we all remember how well that turned out.

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Ah yes, the Sweet Potato, brown sugar, bourbon, blah blah blah Cockup of 2009.  Ugh.  Give me a minute to re-suppress that memory. Okay.  Whew.  That feels better.

I hoped with every molecule of my being that the same thing wouldn't happen again, because I didn't want to be pwned by the Kokonas Kids.  Humiliating!

Cross your fingers.

Because the cider gel needed time to set, and because if I screwed it up, I wanted a second chance at making it, that's the first thing I worked on.  I peeled and cored three medium-sized Granny Smith apples, and put them in a saucepan with cider, salt, and agar agar, and brought it all to a simmer.

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I simmered it over medium heat for about 15-20 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so.

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I transferred this mixture to the blender, and blended it until it was completely smooth.  I strained it through a chinois into a plastic wrap-lined 4x4" Rubbermaid storage container (it was the closest thing I had to a 4x6" pan) and let it set for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

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Next, I roasted the shallots.  Just like the Kokonas Kids (and papa), I've never seen a grey shallot, so I just used regular ones.  I tossed them with grapeseed oil and salt and put them in a shallow, oven-safe saute pan in the oven for an hour.


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Probably coulda just done them in foil with the oil and the salt, but dadgumit, I was gonna follow exactly what the book said to do.  While the shallots roasted, I prepped the pheasant.  The recipe calls for a bone-in pheasant breast, which I suppose I could've ordered from D'Artagnan or Fossil Farms, but my local Asian grocery store carries MacFarlane pheasant every fall, so I bought a whole one and broke it down myself.  It's amazing what one can do with a pair of kitchen shears and a little practice on a whole chicken every few weeks:

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I saved the rest of the carcass in the freezer -- I'll roast the legs and then make stock out of the bones later this week.

I put the breast (with skin on) in a Ziploc bag with butter, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper, and squeezed out as much air as I could.

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I cooked it en sous vide using my immersion circulator at 160F/71C for 25 minutes, then plunged the bag into an ice-water bath for 20 minutes to halt the cooking process.

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I removed the pheasant breast from the bag and cut it into 1x1" cubes, which I covered with a damp paper towel and stored in the fridge until I was ready to finish the dish.


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By this time, the shallots had cooled off enough for me to remove their outer skin. They seemed a bit soft to me when I unwrapped them, so I stored them whole in a plastic container in the fridge and let them cool a bit more before I cut them for skewering.

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I have a big, hundred-year-old pin oak tree in my back yard.  It provides an amazing amount of shade in the summer, and an amazing amount of acorns that bonk you on the head in the fall.

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Trouble is, this oak tree's leaves stay green as they dry, and almost overnight turn brown before falling to the ground.  So, while I wish I had lovely yellow, orange, or red leaves to work with, I made do with nearly-dried-out-and-days-away-from-turning-brown leaves:


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I whittled the ends with a vegetable peeler:

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Time to finish the dish.

Onto the end of each skewer went a bit of shallot, then a cider gel cube, then a pheasant cube:

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I seasoned it with salt and pepper:

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Next, I dredged each skewer with rice flour, tapping off the excess:

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Then, I dunked it into a gluten-free tempura batter (recipe at the end of the post, if you're interested):

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Into a pot of 375F-degree canola oil:

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And onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain:

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VICTORY!!

They didn't leak, fall apart, explode, or render themselves a county fair fried reject.  And, I figured out how to make them with alternate flours, sans gluten!  ALL BY MY DAMN SELF.

YES!!  (I'm doin' the Ickey Shuffle again)

At the restaurant, courses like this one are typically served in the Crucial Detail squid service piece, but I laid mine gently on a serving platter and brought them back outside, so we could eat under the very tree that provided the skewers.

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One by one, I held each skewer, lit the edges of the leaves on fire, then blew them out, creating the most fragrant smoke:

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In between them draining on the paper towels and my re-plating them and bringing them outside, they had about 3 or 4 minutes to cool, so I knew they wouldn't be too hot or burn our mouths when we ate them.

I held my skewer in my right hand with the leaves still smoking and the tempura-battered piece dangling slightly above my mouth, and at it all in one bite.

You guys?  These were soooooo good.  Eye-closing, deep breath inhaling-ly good.  Pheasant isn't as game-y as I thought it might be.  It's a little more dense than chicken, and while I thought it might taste a little like squab, it didn't at all.  It was juicy and delicious, and had a really nice texture.  The cider gel had loosened up quite a bit inside, so that it surrounded the pheasant and the shallot, and eating the piece in one big bite was the way to go.  Pheasant, shallot, apple.  Smoke.  Crisp.  Salt.  Sweet.  I would totally make this again.  Everything was so flavorful and so fragrant -- you could taste each element on its own as you chewed, but together, it was really incredible.

It wasn't until after we'd eaten them and talked about how I made them that my friend, Linda, wondered how I could eat anything tempura-battered because didn't that have gluten in it?  She didn't know I'd made a gluten-free tempura batter.  Couldn't taste the difference.

We even had a clean-plate moment when we were done:

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To make Gluten-free tempura batter:

Dry tempura base: 150g (5.3 oz.) white rice flour, 150g (5.3 oz.) tapioca starch, 35g (1.2 oz.) baking powder, 45g (1.2 oz.) cornstarch.  Stir together in large mixing bowl.

Gently fold in 198g (7 oz.) very cold sparkling water.

-- This recipe makes more than you will need for this particular dish, but these are the ratios that work for gluten-free tempura batter, so scale according to your specific needs.


Up Next: Apple, horseradish, celery juice and leaves

Resources: Pheasant, shallots, grape seed oil, and apples from HMart in Wheaton, MD; David's kosher salt; thyme from my garden; bay leaf and pepper from TPSS Co-op; 365 butter; apple cider from Whole Foods; agar agar from L'Epicerie; Bob's Red Mill white rice flour; EnerG tapioca starch; Poland Spring sparkling water; Clabber Girl cornstarch and baking powder.

Music to Cook By: Bat For Lashes; Fur and Gold.  For a long time, I didn't get the appeal of Bat For Lashes.  I'd only heard a few of her songs, and wasn't drawn in at all.  And then, I spent an afternoon cooking and listening to my iPod on shuffle, and her single "Daniel" popped up (I forgot I had downloaded it), and I loved it.  So, I went back and listened to more of her music, and really started to like it.  Fur and Gold is her debut album, but I'm also enjoying her latest release, Two Suns.  Her voice and her style reminds me of Kate Bush with a little Annie Lennox thrown in there, and a slightly more percussive tone.

Read My Previous Post: Duck, pumpkin, banana, Thai aromatics

October 29, 2009

Duck, pumpkin, banana, Thai aromatics

This is the grown-up version of the dish I made for my nephew a few weeks ago.  It required a little more effort than roasting a duck, slicing a banana, and roasting a butternut squash, but it wasn't difficult to do. And, it gave me lots of leftover elements I could use in other dishes throughout the week (which you'll see in a future post).  Let's dig in.

I did this dish over two days, because one of the elements required time in the fridge overnight, so I'll start with that one: banana pudding.

The first thing I did was roast a banana, whole, in its peel (pierced in 3-4 places with a paring knife), in a 350F oven for about 30 minutes.

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When the banana was cool enough to work with (about 15 minutes of resting was all it took), I opened it up and weighed 50g of roasted banana for use in this part of the dish (I used the rest in banana pancakes the next morning).

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I combined the roasted banana with half-and-half, dried banana chips, salt, and sugar, and brought it to a boil:

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I whisked in some agar agar and boiled it for another 90 seconds, whisking the whole time like a Tasmanian devil on crack.

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I poured it into a bowl and refrigerated it overnight.

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I got up nice and early the next morning to work on the duck brine.  In a large saucepan, I combined jalapeno chili, lemongrass, ginger, gluten-free soy sauce, cinnamon (I used cinnamon sticks instead of ground cinnamon, because I thought the powdery texture of ground cinnamon would coat or cling to the duck as it brined, and I didn't want that to happen), brown sugar, salt, water, and the juice from two of these:

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I brought it to a boil, then turned off the flame and let it steep for 2 hours.


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After it had steeped, I strained the mixture into a bowl (nestled in a bowl of ice to speed the cooling process) and refrigerated it for another 15 minutes until it was cold.

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I put the duck tenderloins into the brine and let them stay in there for 3 hours (in the fridge).

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While the duck was soaking in the brine, I prepped the rest of the dish.

I zested a lime -- peeling off long segments with a vegetable peeler -- then removed the pith with a paring knife and cut them into thin strips, boiled them in water and cooled them before preserving them in simple syrup:

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Next, I made the fried pumpkin seeds.

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The recipe called for just 16 pumpkin seeds, but I made a bigger batch of them because they were going to be fried and covered in curry salt, and that sounded like something I wanted to snack on.  So, I deep fried the pumpkin seeds in batches (in canola oil at 400F) and laid them out on paper towels to drain:

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I tossed them with curry salt (hot curry powder, sweet/mild curry powder, and kosher salt, ground with a mortar and pestle) and put them in a deli container until I needed them for plating.

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The next thing I did was roast the peanuts in a cayenne pepper-salt-sugar-water glaze:

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When they'd finished roasting (300F oven for 25 minutes), I let them cool for a few minutes, then put them in a Ziploc bag and crushed them with a large mason jar:

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I kept them stored in the bag until I needed them for plating.

Also while I was making the lime zest, pumpkin seeds, and peanuts, I was roasting a butternut squash (one hour at 350F):

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When it had finished its roasting time, I took it out of the oven, peeled it and diced the flesh.  I weighed and set aside the 500g of squash I needed for this dish.  I put some of the diced squash aside for later in the week (a photo you'll see soon), and mashed a bit of the rest for a late lunch (topped with parm-reg):

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Back to the dish....

I put the 500g of squash into a saucepan along with some cream, water, sugar, and salt and brought it to a simmer.  Before putting it in the blender as the book suggests, I used my immersion blender on it while it was still in the saucepan.  My blender is kinda crappy, so I wanted to make sure it was well on its way to being creamy before I put it in there.

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After I'd blended it (had to do it in two batches), I strained it into a small bowl to keep it warm.

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With about an hour or so to go before serving this dish to my friends and neighbors, the last thing I needed to do was finish the banana pudding.  So, I skimmed all the recipes, running my finger along the pages to make sure I hadn't missed anything when.... HEY!  Banana froth?  Wait, but I already roasted the banana, and that was for the pudding, so I.... oh.... huh...... yeah..... whoops.

If you've got the book in front of you, you'll see I missed the Banana Froth step of the dish.  I have no excuse other than I just plain forgot to do it.  When I was planning the timing of making all the different elements, I think I thought I'd already factored it in (because the opening instructions for the pudding and the froth were exactly the same -- roast a whole banana for an hour at 350F), but I hadn't. 

No worries, I thought to myself as I scanned the list of ingredients.  I already had everything on hand, and it's a froth, so it can't be that difficult; I've made froth before.  So, I pulled the ingredients together, cranked up the oven to roast another banana, and skimmed the instructions to make sure I knew what I was doing, and came to this part: "Cover and let steep for 2 days." 

My flux capacitor and a DeLorean were in the shop, so I just had to bag it altogether.

I win the Duh Award for the day, I guess.

I finished the banana pudding by taking it out of the fridge (where it had been since the day before), scooping it into the blender, and blending in on high speed until it was smooth:

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I pressed it (in batches) through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, and then into a squeeze bottle for plating.

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Time to grill the duck and plate this sucker.  I reheated the squash soup, and removed the duck tenderloins from the brine and patted them dry:

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I put them on the stove-top grill and grilled them for 2 minutes on each side.  When they were done, I cut a few of the tenderloins into 2x2" squares for plating (I snacked on some of the rest of the duck, and saved some for lunch the next day).

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I sliced some Thai red chili, ginger, and scallion for the final plating, and pulled a few leaves of cilantro, as well.

To plate, I filled small custard cups with the butternut squash soup and assembled the duck on a spoon perched on each custard cup's rim.  Atop the duck went a blob of the banana pudding and all the little garnishes: scallion, Thai red chili, fried pumpkin seeds, lime zest strip, cayenne roasted peanut, ginger, and cilantro:

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As I sit here in my little home office, watching the brown, orange and yellow leaves flutter from the tree across the street onto the wet street below, I can almost smell the duck brine steeping and the butternut squash roasting, and taste the flavors all over again.  This was a dish that made me thankful for fall.

Let's start with what's on the spoon.  WOW.  First, the duck.  I love duck.  I almost always order it when I see it on a menu, but I never make it at home.  Now, I want to make it every week.  It was perfectly cooked, and the flavors of the accompaniments?  Fantastic! There was just enough heat, just enough brightness, just enough warmth, and because I'd steamed the cilantro for 30 seconds (a trick I learned from a chef friend), it didn't taste like soap or make the whole bite taste like soap.  I actually enjoyed the taste of it (I KNOW!).  Even those who didn't like duck really loved this bite:  "This isn't duck; it's good!"  "Wow, I actually like this!"

The butternut squash soup was so fragrant and creamy and wonderful.  Admittedly, it was really rich, and a tad too salty for my tastes, but it was still delicious.  In all, it was a lovely dish, and it was so great to hit another one out of the park.

Up Next: Pheasant, shallot, cider, burning oak leaves

Resources: Duck tenderloins from Fossil Farms; jalapeno, lemongrass, ginger, chilis, cinnamon, pineapple, curry powders, cayenne, lime, dried banana chips, banana, butternut squash, scallion, and cilantro from HMart in Wheaton; San-J gluten-free soy sauce; David's kosher salt; pumpkin seeds and peanuts from TPSS Co-op; citric acid and agar agar from L'Epicerie; Natural by Nature milk and heavy cream. 

Music to Cook By: Ray Davies; The Kinks Choral Collection.  Earlier this year, Ray Davies, lead singer and songwriter for The Kinks, worked with the Crouch End Festival Chorus to record part of the Kinks' catalog with full orchestra, band and chorus accompanying him doing lead vocals.  Their recording of "Days" is just beautiful.  "You Really Got Me"?  Hilariously odd and wonderful.  A friend got an early copy for review and set it my way.  It goes onsale here in the States on November 10, but you can listen to samples and pre-order it on Amazon.

Read My Previous Post:  Crab Apple, white cheddar, eucalyptus, onion

October 22, 2009

Finding Crab Apples

Remember how helpful and supportive my mom was with my whole eucalyptus-magnolia confusion?

Well, she totally redeemed herself in my quest to find crab apples.  Yay, mom!

When I was in Madison, Wisconsin, I had a chance to go to their farmers market, which, may I say, WOW.  Hundreds of vendors, beautifully organized, hot coffee at the ready, cheese and other items for sampling, hot food carts at key points around the perimeter, good company on the stroll around the square... it's an incredible market, and I'm totally jealous.

On my walk from the hotel to the market early that cool and drizzly Saturday morning, my mind wandered to the tasks ahead of me that week both for work and for this blog, and I thought: It's October, I bet someone will have crab apples.  My flight was in just a few hours, so I figured I'd buy some, stash them in my suitcase, and hope they survived the trip home.  But I didn't know how many crab apples I needed; couldn't remember if I needed one pound, four pounds, eight bushels, twelve tons, or just three wee apples.

My parents were traveling, so I couldn't call them to ask them to check their copy of the Alinea cookbook.  My neighbor was minivans-deep in her kids' soccer practices, so I couldn't have her run across the street to my house and look it up for me.  Just before putting out an APB on Twitter, I texted my friend, Brad, who I knew would have his copy of the book nearby.

Of course, my text message woke him up (because it was 7 o'clock on a Saturday morning, and man, that was jerky of me to call so dang early), but he quite gamely looked it up, and texted back: 2 lbs.  Turned out no one at the market had crab apples, so I woke up Brad for no reason.  Whoopsie.  On to plan B.

I was going back to Pennsylvania to babysit my nephew that next weekend, so I called my mom a day or so beforehand to see if 1) the crab apple tree in our old house's backyard was still there, 40 years later; 2) there was anyone in town who had a crab apple tree I could pick from; or 3) there was still a crab apple tree at the orchard our uncle used to own.

She told me there was a crab apple tree on the wooded property behind their house (I hadn't known about that one!), but that the deer had already gotten to it, so that was a no go.  She didn't know if the crab apple tree at our old house was still there, so, she said she'd check over at the orchard, and let me know.

As I was driving up their way that next Saturday morning, she called to say that there was, indeed, still a crab apple tree at the orchard, and that the woman she spoke to there said I was more than welcome to come by and pick whatever I wanted.  So I did.

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Just a mile or two from my parents' house, is Forge Hill Orchards, which used to belong to my great uncle.  I have such fond and vivid memories of this place.  Smells.  Sounds.  Watching my grandfather and cousins help the crew sort and pick out the bad apples on the conveyor belt.  Feeling the fuzz on a fresh-picked peach.  Eating nectarines, and enjoying the juice dribbling down my chin.  Begging my uncle for a nickel out of the cash register so I could buy a bottle of Nehi grape soda (in a glass bottle) from the soda machine behind the cider pressing barn.  Watching cider get pressed, and holding a cup under the spout to taste it before it was pasteurized.

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Yes, that's Three Mile Island off in the distance.  Lots of memories there, too, but for another time.

Many, many fall days when I was a kid, we'd rush home after school, pile into the car, and go to the orchard to pick apples, buy pears, or just stop by to see what they were working on.  I remember not being a very productive apple picker.  I more enjoyed climbing the tree, finding the perfect limb -- way high up, or so it seemed at the time -- to sit on and daydream, and picking one apple to eat while everyone else filled their baskets.  Turning off the main road onto the farm lane back to the orchard used to have such a distinct sound when the road was still gravel.  It's paved now.  That bums me out.

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I stopped part of the way down the lane and, for the first time, realized how big this orchard is.  I mean, it's not a huge, bajillion-acre commercial mass-production orchard, but for our area, it's significant. Peaches, nectarines, pears, chestnuts, apples, plums, strawberries, chestnuts, and fruits I'm sure I'm forgetting... as far as the eye can see.

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But I wanted crab apples.  Just two pounds of crab apples.

I poked my head into the little orchard store to say hello before finding my crab apple tree.  I made my way down a small hill past the old cider-pressing barn and farmhouse, toward the picnic pavilion and pond where we'd had cookouts with my mom's cousins in the summer, and standing there just before the pavilion was a crab apple tree.  Without realizing I was doing it until after I'd done it, I reached up and touched my right cheek -- I swear, I could feel the sting of that one hard, little crab apple hitting me smack in the face when I was 10 and my brother was 8, and his baseball-throwing (and crab apple-throwing) arm was a force to be reckoned with.

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I stood under that tree and just breathed in.

Just fifty feet away, the orchard workers were burning wood in a large, shallow burn barrel to generate enough smoke to help keep bugs away.  Twenty feet away in the other direction?  A small pond with a slightly murky smell, but familiar nonetheless.  I think the rowboat turned upside-down at the water's edge is the same one we'd use to ride out into the middle of the pond after the sun had set to listen for that distinct bullfrog crrrrroooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaak.

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Smoke, drying grass, water, apples, and now, under this tree, the smell of crab apples.  When they're blossoming, they smell ever so sweet and floral.  But when the fruit is ripe, they have their own distinct smell.  A little like feet, and a little sweet like an overripe grape, with a hint of spice and a hint of green.  Earthy. Sharp. Unusual.

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I had my half-peck basket in the crook of my left arm, and used my right hand to pick. 

I could've stayed there for hours.

The sun was shining, the air was slightly smoky and crisp and cool, there was an occasional breeze, and I could almost taste the hot dogs my cousins and I ate and the marshmallows we roasted not far from this tree those many, many Indian summers ago.

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I picked and I picked, and wondered, why am I remembering picnic food?  I should be remembering what crab apples taste like, and it dawned on me: I'd never eaten a crab apple.  They always seemed so ugly and wormy.  Great as weapons (my brother and I played out our love for each other with fruit violence apparently, because my only memories of crab apples seem to be getting hit by them, or winging them at someone hard enough to leave a red mark and a lump on their arm), but I had no idea what they tasted like.  Sure, I'd read about them and could imagine by their size and shape that they were sour, but I needed to know for myself.

I took one of the ripest-looking ones out of the basket and rubbed it on my shirt to clean and polish it.  Shiny, half-red/half-yellow, slightly larger than a golf ball.  I took a small bite.

Chalky, sour, sharp.  Slightly woody.  Tough, not crunchy, and really, really tart.  Maybe a tiny note of sweet for the first 0.00000000000000000000001 seconds of the bite.  A clean, pointed nose-feel that went all the way up into my sinuses and out through my tear ducts.  Bite-y but not acidic or vinegary.  Weird, but not bad.

I couldn't wait to see how this sharp, pointy-tasting, dense and chalk-like little fruit was going to be transformed into a tasty (I hoped) sorbet, complemented by a pepper tuile, eucalyptus pudding, olive oil jam, onion jam, and white cheddar sauce.  So, I finished filling my basket, hopped in the car, and listened to the Avett Brothers as made my way back out the farm lane and away from the orchard, fiercely missing the dust cloud the old gravel road used to churn up in the rearview mirror.  Stupid progress.  Stupid pavement.

I've made the dish, and will post it on Monday.

But now, just an hour or so ago as I stood in line at the Whole Foods in Silver Spring, the woman in front of me put a small bag of crab apples (who knew Whole Foods carried crab apples?) on the conveyor belt and said to her daughter, "I don't know what we're gonna do with these, but we'll figure something out."  She turned and smiled at me as she continued to move things from her cart to the conveyor belt.

I smiled right back and said, "You're buying crab apples?  I just made crab apple sorbet.  Wanna know how?"

She smiled again, much bigger this time, and said, "I would love to.  I just saw these and we'd never eaten them before and wondered what they were like.  It wasn't until you just now asked me about them that I realized I had no clue what to do with them." 

So, I hand-wrote on the back of an envelope she'd dug out of her bag what I hope were good, simple instructions for the sorbet... or at least instructions that will work for her, in her kitchen.  I hope she finds as much delight in eating those crab apples -- in whatever form they take -- as I did in finding mine.

Coming soon: Crab Apple, white cheddar, eucalyptus, onion

Apple

October 12, 2009

Idiazabal

I have a number of Spanish-speaking friends from all over the world -- Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela -- and when I asked them how to pronounce Idiazabal, I got three different answers:

EE-dee-ah-zah-ball

ee-dee-ah-ZAH-ball

ee-dee-AH-zah-bowl

Oy.

So, I'm just going to call this dish Alinea Cheetos and be done with it.

Because that's what it is: cheese, flour, salt, water, a little bit of frying, and there you are.  Alinea Cheetos.

First, a mise en place:

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Clockwise from the top: water, cheese, salt, tapioca flour.

Next, I prepared the steaming portion of our program.  I don't own a steamer, and since I had no plans to buy one, I picked up this silicone splatter screen instead and figured I'd jury-rig equipment I already had to make this work:

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See?!?!?  You can use it to steam:

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I set a large pot of water on the stove to boil -- the circumference of which was the same as the silicone splatter guard -- and made the dough from the ingredients in the mise en place.

I combined 50g of the grated Idiazabal (saving 10g for the final step of the recipe) with the tapioca flour and salt in my food processor:

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While the food processor was running, I slowly added the water:

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The end result is that the dough looks like a blob of really nice ricotta:

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I put the dough between two layers of plastic wrap and rolled it with a rolling pin until it was 1/8" thick:

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By this time, the pot of water on the stove had come to a simmer and had begun to release steam through the holes of the splatter guard:

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Still in the plastic, I placed the dough on top of the steamer/splatter guard:

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I covered it with a pot of the same size and let it steam for 12 minutes.  Then, I flipped the dough and let it steam another 12 minutes on its other side:

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After the 24 minutes of steaming was up, I removed it from the splatter guard/steamer, and let it cool to room temperature:

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Once it had cooled, I removed the plastic and placed it on.... dunh dunh DUUUUNNNHHHHH, a rack in my NEW (well, used) DEHYDRATOR!!!

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Y'all, I was just so freakin' sick and tired of failing miserably at trying to dehydrate things in the oven.  My lovely friend, Heidi, offered to loan me hers, but on a lark I searched Craigslist one Sunday morning and there it was.  An Excalibur 4-drawer food dehydrator.  Being sold by someone mere minutes from my house.  I called the number on the ad, and within the hour (and for $50), this lovely machine was mine.... alllll mine.

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The dough went in to dry out at 130 degrees F for two-and-a-half hours.  I checked it, and it was still a little wet at that point, so I let it go another 30-40 minutes until it had fully dehydrated and was crispy.

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Meantime, I ground some BLiS smoked salt and maple granules with my mortar and pestle while I waited for the canola oil to get hot enough so I could fry the now-dry Idiazabal dough:

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Once the oil had reached 425 degrees, I gently slid the flat of dough into it, and let it fry for about two minutes -- when it had become puffy, light, and airy:

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I let it drain on a few layers of paper towels before breaking it into cracker-sized servings.

I used a pastry brush to brush on a thin coating of BLiS maple syrup (which seriously? Rocked my damn world, that stuff is SO GOOD and I love it so much I wanna marry it), then sprinkled it with the maple granule-smoked salt mixture.  Then, I sprinkled the remaining 10g of Idiazabal on top before putting it under the broiler:

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I took them out after about 30 seconds, and let them cool on a cooling rack.

Here's what they looked like:

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I put them in a bowl, and made my usual round of phone calls to the neighbors to have them come over for a taste.  And, freakishly (but lucky as hell for me), no one was home, so I settled in for the evening with a TiVo full of Mad Men and Glee, a glass of Podere Forte, Castiglione d'Orcia (Petrucci, 2005), and proceeded to eat every last one of my Alinea cheetos.  All by myself.

And they were fantastic.

Idiazabal cheese is made from unpasteurized sheep's milk, and it has a smoky flavor, even though it's not smoked.  It's slightly nutty, a little buttery, and I love it shaved over gluten-free pasta with a little olive oil.  I also like to grate it over sausage and lentils, or beef shortrib soup with kale and chard.

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So it's a cheese I already loved.  And now made into a light, airy, crispy cracker with hints of smoked salt and maple.  A crispy crunch, with sweet, salt, smoke, and a little nutty buttery nose feel.  Made with tapioca flour, so I didn't even have to think about how to adapt it to make it gluten-free. 

I mean, YOU tell me which one of these you'd rather have:

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Yeah, I thought so.

Up Next: Wild Turbot, shellfish, water chestnuts, hyacinth vapor

Resources: Idiazabal cheese from Whole Foods; tapioca flour from Bob's Red Mill; David's kosher salt; canola oil from HMart; BLiS smoked salt and maple syrup; Buck Hill Farm maple granules.

Music to Cook By: Mayer Hawthorne; A Strange Arrangement.  A young soul singer from Michigan, Mayer Hawthorne (not his real name -- it's something like Andy Cohen, I think) has incredible talent.  I love his voice, and the production values on this album make me feel like I've been dropped into the 60s, listening to a hybrid of Smoky Robinson, Curtis Mayfield, and maybe someone a little more beachy and coastal.

Read My Previous Post: Corn, (not)coconut, cayenne, mint

May 19, 2009

Junsai, bonito, soy, mirin

I got yelled at today at my local Asian market, H Mart.  Why?  Well, last week when I was shopping for the ingredients to make this dish, I bought too many bags of bonito shavings and needed to return some.  I walked into the store and made a beeline for the customer service desk, receipt in hand, bonito in shopping bag, smile on face:

"Good morning," I chirped.  "May I please return these items?  I'm afraid I bought more than I needed." (I always end up sounding like Donna Reed when I need to return something because I feel totally guilty about it; ugh.)

As I handed her the receipt, she scowled and mumbled something to herself then barked, "YOU COME THIS WAY."  She snatched my shopping bag from the counter, walked over to the nearest unoccupied cash register, and began rapid-fire punching the buttons like a secretary in a steno pool in those movie scenes depicting a busy office in Manhattan in the 1940s and 50s.

I held my breath until the cash register drawer shot out toward her, the register spit out the return receipt, and she counted the money I was getting back.  As she pressed the bills and change into my hand, she held on for a few seconds and looked me in the eye and snapped, "YOU BE SMARTER NEXT TIME SHOPPING."

Believe me, I will.  Yike-a-roonies.

And that, ladies and germs, was the most stressful, difficult part of making this dish.

For anyone out there who thinks all the recipes in the Alinea cookbook are too difficult (scaredy-cat), are all full of chemicals (probably the biggest, most ill-informed misconception), or too frou-frou* for them (get over yourself, it's just food), this one is for you.  These ingredients are not hard to find and this couldn't be easier to make. If you can soak, pluck, and pour, then you can make this dish.

(* I apologize if the frou-frou reference gave you RHoNY flashbacks to Ramona and her buggity crazy eyes calling out Simon for being "too-too-frou-frou" and then dancing with him at that whack-ass fundraiser. Kuh-DOOZ!  *snerk*)

The kombu (dried kelp) was a little stinky upon opening the package, but once I got it soaking its lovely green self in a big bowl of water, it smelled more ocean-y.  I let it soak overnight at room temperature on my kitchen counter:


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In the morning, it had softened a bit more and was ready to be cooked on a low simmer for 20 minutes:

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After its 20 minutes of simmer time (no, I did not put on Hammer pants and scuttle side to side on the floor singing "can't touch this"), I poured the contents of the pan through a chinois into a large mixing bowl.  Then, I added the bonito shavings.  Again, I used already-shaved bonito just like I did in last week's dish.

Sorry, I forgot to take photos of this part of the prep.  No specific reason or excuse other than I just spaced out and forgot to do it.  I'm not perfect.  Please don't yell at me like that lady at HMart did.  I just couldn't handle it. "YOU BE SMARTER NEXT TIME COOKING."  Nooooooooooooo!!!!!!!

I stirred the kelp liquid with the bonito shavings in it for about 30 seconds or so, maybe a minute.  Then, I poured that through a cheesecloth-lined chinois (the book says to use a coffee filter, but I don't own any and didn't want to buy any for this purpose, since I knew cheesecloth would be fine -- I doubled it, just to make it as close to a coffee-filter as I could).

Then, I added the soy sauce, mirin, and rice vinegar, and chilled the liquid for two hours in the refrigerator:

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I know the title of this dish is "Junsai," which is a specific type of Japanese mushroom, but there were no junsai to be found.... and believe me, I've been looking and calling and searching high and low.  I know that young, fresh junsai have this gelatinous coating on them that is supposed to be wonderful and add to the mouthfeel of whatever you make with them, so I was disappointed not to be able to find them anywhere.  As you know, I'm not usually a fan of certain squicky textures, but I've heard a lot about how great these mushrooms are, so I was more than a little bummed that I couldn't find them fresh, or canned/bottled, anywhere.  After doing a little digging around and making some phone calls to friends with greater expertise in this area than I have, I decided to use fresh bunapi (white beech mushrooms) instead:
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Not quite the same, but they were the right size and texture, and they have a little more heft to them than enoki mushrooms (which is what I imagine our intestinal villi to look like, so, ew) and I knew they wouldn't suck (which, honestly, is the yardstick by which I sometimes reluctantly measure things for this blog because mama didn't wanna fail again).

I lined up six shot glasses on the dining room table and poured some of the kombu-bonito-mirin-soy-vinegar liquid into each one, then dropped in a few mushrooms:

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I think these look beautiful, if maybe, perhaps, a little alien.

The kids had zero interest in tasting this one.  They looked at the shot glasses with great scorn and abject horror.  What were those things floating in there?  MUSHROOMS??!  Are you kidding me?!?!?!?!  That's disgusting, I'm SO NOT EATING THAT NOT EVEN FOR A MILLION DOLLARS, YOU SICK FREAK.  Okay, so none of them actually said those things, but I know it's what they were thinking.

To be honest, the grownups weren't all that into the idea of being the first one to taste it, either.  So, I explained what it was, what the ingredients were.  They just stared at me.  "Oh, fer cryin' out loud," I said (rolling my eyes for effect, because that's always the mature, helpful thing to do), knocked one back and because I didn't choke, gag, or vomit, I think the others began to feel more brave.

The adults each had one, but the kids avoided it like... well, "the plague" isn't an apt metaphor, really, because plagues are, like, sooooooo nine centuries ago.  They avoided it like Robert Pattinson avoids soap and hot water.

So, what did it taste like?  Cold miso soup with mushrooms instead of tofu.  In some ways, I think I expected it to have more layers of flavor, but in looking at the ingredients and knowing how to make miso, this made sense.  I actually think I should have steeped the liquid with the bonito shavings a little longer.  It felt like it needed more oomph, since I used mushrooms that were a little flat in the flavor department.  I just did it as one shot -- tossed back the glass' contents into my mouth, chewed the mushrooms a bit... it was nice.  Nothing earth-shattering or mind-blowing, but nice.  Easy.  Comfortable.  Familiar.  Tasty.  Good.

After I had mine and the adults had theirs, there was one left on the table in front of us.  While all the other kids left to go home, my 12-year old neighbor, Grant (he of the famed lobster jelly and dental office sea urchin tastings) looked to the left, looked to the right, picked up the glass and did the shot like an expert (this kid will someday be able to down Jagermeister with great aplomb, I have no doubt).  He did not barf.  He did not gag.  He did not spew.  He did not rush to the sink to spit it out and pour himself a glass of water to get rid of the taste.  Instead, he chewed thoughtfully, head cocked to one side, then swallowed and said, "Wow, that wasn't so bad.  It was even kind of good."

Indeed.


Up Next: PB&J, peanut, bread, grape.... or (big tease), it may be a recap of my upcoming dinner at Alinea in a few days, which, I am sooooooo looking forward to.  Some friends from DC are joining me in making the trek to Chicago for a few days of eating, and I can't wait!  In fact, it's even invaded my unconscious, because I had a dream last night that Grant changed the whole Alinea concept the day we got there and renamed the restaurant "Saucier," (a recording of Tom Brokaw's voice saying "sohs-YAY" in a French accent played when you walked through the front door) and would only serve sauces "in the Escoffier tradition" in demitasse cups. The servers wore Mardi Gras masks and black cargo pants with camouflage t-shirts, and instead of wine, they served only 7-Up and RC Cola.  There was a multiple-choice quiz you had to take before each sauce was brought out, and the only answers on the cards were a) Tom Brokaw, b) Tom Brokaw, and c) Tom Brokaw.  And, I was the only one at our table who was freaked out by all of this and saying things like, "who DOES this? I mean, this is not AT ALL what I thought we were going to have.  Where is the FOOD?  I haven't eaten anything today and now all I'm getting is M-Fing lukewarm sauce in a coffee cup? What the F is going on here, people? And what is all this Tom Brokaw nonsense?!!??!??"  Everyone else at the table looked at me, totally perplexed by my outrage and said, "Um, Tom Brokaw is Grant's father, what's WRONG with you?  And how could you not know he was doing sauces now? I mean, duh.  EVERYONE knows; how could you not know?"  Clearly I need to have a second glass of wine with dinner from now on, because sleep is supposed to be relaxing and restorative, NOT STRESS YOU OUT ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING VACATION.

Resources: All ingredients from HMart in Wheaton, MD.  Where We Loudly Chastise You For Returning Things.™

Music to Cook By: Under the Influence of Giants; Under the Influence of Giants.  I first heard of these guys when they called themselves Hometown Hero and one of their songs was on a very early episode of Veronica Mars (2003 or 2004, I think?) and liked their sound and still do.  They haven't put anything out since 2006, and I have no idea if they even exist as a band anymore, but their tunes are great for cooking on a weekend afternoon -- solid pacing, fluidity, and nothing too jarring or obnoxious.

Read My Previous Post:  Mango, bonito, soy, sesame

March 06, 2009

Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper

When I started this blog, I created a spreadsheet of all the dishes and their specialty ingredients so I could more efficiently plan my ingredient purchases and cooking timeline.  When I looked ahead to this dish, I didn't see anything that needed to be special-ordered or sourced online.  I already have a stash of gelatin sheets, and pears and lemons are easy to find at the grocery store.  I knew I'd be using fresh mint leaves instead of zuta levana leaves, and I'd planned to dry my own eucalyptus leaves because I was absolutely, positively certain there was a eucalyptus tree in a someone's yard back in my hometown where I'd been planning to visit anyway.  This is the point at which you should know my hometown is not in California, nor is it in Australia -- the two places in the world where eucalyptus trees are prevalent. I grew up Amish-adjacent in Pennsylvania.

About a week before making this dish, I called my mom about something else, and while I was on the phone with her I asked her to help me figure out who it was that we knew who had a eucalyptus tree in their yard:

Me: So, I thought the next time I came up, I'd just get some eucalyptus leaves from one of the trees up there and dry them myself.  That might be cool.  Who do we know that has a eucalyptus tree in their yard? 

My mom: What are you talking about?

Me: Eucalyptus.  You know, that tall and round tree with the big, dark green leaves... that tree that I think Aunt Phyl and Uncle Doc used to have in their side yard at the old house?

My mom: :::: silence :::::

Me: Um, how do you not know what I'm talking about?  (yes, I sometimes act like I'm 13)  Eucalyptus!!! They're everywhere.  Dark green leaves, beautiful white flowers, and I think there's one in the front yard of that Tudor-looking house on Chestnut Street, and...

My mom: I think you might be thinking about a mag...

Me: ...nolia tree. 

My mom:  :::: stifling a laugh ::::

Me: Oh, man.  Oh, shi... Crap... crappity-crap-crap. 

My mom:  :::: not exactly stifling that laugh anymore :::::

So, I had to find dried eucalyptus leaves online, which was really easy and they arrived quickly, so I guess the story has a happy ending, despite my winning the Duh Award for momentarily confusing magnolia for eucalyptus.

I will say this upfront: I had reservations and hesitations about making this dish.  I associate the smell of eucalyptus with camphor oil, and of being sick as a little kid and having Vicks VapoRub on my chest.  So, as I was preparing the ingredients for this dish, I was thinking this might smell and taste like a sinus infection or bronchitis, and wouldn't that be the opposite of awesome...

The first thing I did was prepare the pear balls.  I peeled the first Anjou pear and scooped out eight little balls using my #12 melon baller (about 1/4").  The Alinea cookbook suggests using two pears, but I was able to make it work with one, and my balls ended up being bigger (*snerk*) than the ones the book recommends doing, because of the melon ballers I already owned.

So, after scooping out the little balls with the 1/4" scoop, I then scooped around those with a 1" melon baller, creating a semi-ball with a hollowed-out top:


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As I scooped each one, I stored them in a bowl of water, into which I'd squeezed some fresh lemon juice, so they wouldn't turn brown as I worked.

The next step is to put the pear balls (the big ones, not the little guys I hollowed out first - I ate those) in a small saucepan with some wine, sugar, and water and bring it to a boil.  Once that happened, I turned off the flame and poured the contents of the saucepan into an empty bowl nestled in a larger bowl of ice water.


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While those cooled, I made the eucalyptus (that's a hard word to type, and I keep typing it as eucatlypus, argh!!!) gelatin.  I combined water, sugar, salt, and eucalyptus in a small saucepan.   Let me just say here how much I love using a scale to measure things for cooking.  It is so damn easy to just plonk the pot or whatever vessel I'm using onto the scale, press tare to zero-out the readout, and add each ingredient, pressing the tare button in between each one. 


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I brought the liquid to a boil, turned off the flame, then let it steep for 45 minutes, covered.


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p.s. -- it didn't smell like cold medicine at all, so my expectations got a wee bit sunnier.

After the 45-minute steeping, I strained it through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and then added the gelatin sheets (which I'd soaked for about five minutes before straining the eucalyptus liquid).  If you are going to attempt this or any other dish that calls for gelatin sheets, please don't try to substitute powdered gelatin.  It doesn't work in the same way, and you will be disappointed with your outcome, trust me.  I love that so many of you are adventurous enough to want to do these dishes -- I would just hate for you to feel like it was a waste of all the other ingredients when it doesn't turn out the way it should... because it won't.  Using powdered gelatin can sometimes add a weird mouth feel, and it just doesn't set as nicely or as cleanly as sheet gelatin.  Not sure why (and if anyone reading this wants to explain it better in the comments, be my guest), but take my word for it.


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I lined a small baking dish with plastic wrap and poured a little bit of the gelatin (about 1/16" to 1/8" inch) to cover the bottom, and put it in the refrigerator to set.


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The book suggests it might take an hour or so.  Mine took 15 minutes.

Just before taking the baking dish of gelatin out of the fridge, I leveled the bottoms of the pear balls just a smidge so they'd be able to sit properly on this layer of gelatin.  I also evened out the tops of the balls, too, so that they'd be a little more uniform.  It wasn't perfect but it sufficed, even if some of them look a little raggedy in the close-up.

I then placed the pear balls onto the thin layer of set gelatin, and gently poured the rest of the liquid gelatin into the dish so the pear balls would be surrounded in it -- like a silken eucalyptus hug -- careful to not let any of the liquid go into the divots in the center of the pear balls, because that's where the olive oil needed to go in the final plating.


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I put them in the refrigerator again, and while the book suggests it might take an hour to set, mine took about 40 minutes.  Again, yours may take more or less time -- it's all in the temperature and humidity, I suppose.

When they'd set, I lifted the gelatin-surrounded pears out of the baking dish (the reason why using plastic wrap in that step is important) and used a 1" round cutter to cut around and remove the pear balls, leaving a thin coating of gelatin around the sides, as well.


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They sort of look like milk-soaked, bloated Apple Jacks, don't they?

I placed each one on a spoon, filled each center with olive oil, then added a little bit of freshly ground black pepper and a small mint leaf.  Whaddya think?

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I kind of wish I'd thought to strain the strained eucalyptus liquid through a cheesecloth before adding the gelatin sheets because there was microscopic sediment which didn't allow the gel to be as clear as I know it could have been.

So, how'd they taste?  Well, not at all weird.  Texture-wise, they were a little on the mealy side.  I think, maybe, I should've done the steeping part of the gelatin first, and done the pear balls while the liquid was steeping.  Of course, my pear was really pretty ripe, so maybe that contributed to the soft graininess.  It didn't gross me out, and it didn't detract from the taste; it was just something I noticed.

Taste-wise, it was pleasant and a nice contrast of flavors. I wish I'd used a sharper olive oil, because I think that might've enhanced it a bit.  The combination of eucalyptus and pear was very nice and quite fragrant, and the mint added a nice touch.  I think I want to get new or at least different black peppercorns, because these tasted a little off; maybe they're stale.  I would like for them to have added a bit more depth of contrast than they did for me.

In all, this was a really nice bite.  Will it end up in my Alinea at Home Top Ten of All Time when the blog is done?  Probably not.  Will it end up on the list of Ten Dishes I Will Never Do Again Because Holy Crap That Was Not Worth It?  No way.  In fact, they were so easy to make, I'll probably do them again, or a variation thereof.  And if you want to try them at home, you should.  They wouldn't be that hard to do it you only had one size of melon baller.  I imagine you could do the smaller scoop-out part with a twist of the tip of a grapefruit spoon, right?

This bite was calm and nice and lovely.  And, it certainly changed my mind about cooking with eucalyptus, that's for sure.  Or magnolia.  Whatever.

Speaking of which, in honor of The Great Eucalyptus-Magnolia Confusion of 2009, I'm going to do another giveaway.  Use the comments to tell me about a time when you were so sure you were right about something (doesn't have to be about food), but so easily got schooled by someone else, and you instantly knew you were wrong and, thus, felt like a giant dork for the rest of the day.  I'll randomly select a winner, and he or she will receive a bag of 2.5 oz. of dried eucalyptus leaves to experiment with.  Good luck!  And have fun sharing the shame.  We've all been there.

Oh, and congrats to Liz, Amanda, and Andreas, who won the dried hibiscus flowers!

Up Next: Verjus, lemon thyme, beets, olive oil

Resources: Pear, lemon, and mint from HMart; Domino sugar, Mâcon-Villages Louis Jadot Chardonnay (2007); David's kosher salt; King Arthur Flour gelatin sheets; eucalyptus leaves from organzabagg.com; Monini D.O.P. Umbia olive oil.

Music to Cook By: Metallica; Metallica (The Black Album).  I'm a fan of all things Metallica, but there's something about this album that I particularly like.  I think it's because I associate it with a time in my life when, to relieve the stress of my job, I played the drums to this album on my steering wheel in the car on the way home from work.  I like it even more now because it's always fun to see people's reactions when a girl (me) opts to bang out "Enter Sandman" at karaoke.  It's quite the crowd pleaser.

Read My Previous Post: See, here's the thing...


February 23, 2009

Tripod, hibiscus

This post is going to be a little different than most.  Why?  Because this is, perhaps, the easiest thing I've ever made in my life.  A face-eating chimp could make this.  The corpse of Abraham Lincoln's Secret Service agent could make this.  The dumbasses on any of the interations of Bravo's Real Housewives could make this.  The leaf that just fell off the tree in my front yard could make this.  Even Sandra Lee could make this (although she'd probably gank it up with taco seasoning, Mrs. Dash, or whack-a-dough biscuits, but still -- it's feasible even she could pull this off).

So, instead of a long, involved photo play-by-play, I'm gonna keep it short and sweet and let this be about YOU -- meaning, I want YOU to make these (or a variation of them) and report back with what you did, how you used it, and how it tasted.

Seriously, read this post, look at the very few photos I'm going to post, think about what you might like in terms of taste and execution, then go freakin' make it.  I even added a brand-spankin' new post tag for this item: "So f-ing easy, dude" because it is, and really, there are no excuses for not taking a few minutes to daydream (I know you're looking for another procrastination tool at work, so with this assignment, I'm giving you one right here, right now. Aaaaaaaaand I just song-poisoned myself with this gem, AWESOME.) and think about how you'd do this dish (or a variation thereof), and then go home and play around and experiment one afternoon or evening and see what you can come up with.

The ingredients are simple, and I'm going to give them to you here in "regular" measurements instead of the weight measurements the Alinea cookbook uses:
-- water (2.5 cups);
-- sugar (1/4 cup);
-- salt (1/4 tsp.); and
-- dried hibiscus leaves (1 cup). 

Nothing fancy, nothing scary.  My local food co-op and health food store sell hibiscus flowers; I bet you can find them with a few phone calls.  If not, my online resource is in the end notes of this post, as always.

The directions are even simpler:
-- Bring water, salt, and sugar to a boil.
-- Turn off heat, add flowers, stir, let cool to room temperature (takes about 20-25 minutes).
-- Strain.  Keep liquid; throw away flowers. 
-- Pour liquid into molds to make spheres. 
-- Done and done.


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The step you'll see I avoided was using the tripod.  You know, the very title of this dish.  Why?

While I think the presentation of these beauties on the actual wire tripod they use in the restaurant is stunning, I just don't think it's practical for the home cook to a) buy tripods they may never use again, or b) spend their hard-earned time and money trying to figure out how to make them on their own.  Life is too freakin' short, methinks.  And, the pieces they use at Alinea are just so elegant, there's no way I could do it justice -- not even for comedic effect.  I will confess that I thought about doing a spoof on Time for Timer's "Sunshine on a Stick" for this post, but how can you outdo Time for TimerImpossible.

So, I decided to find other ways to serve these amazing (yes, they are just that) frozen hibiscus spheres because my simultaneously channeling both Grant Achatz and a Saturday morning PSA from my childhood is practically blasphemous; and, with the kind of month I'd been having, I thought it might be more appropriate to involve my little friend, alcohol, in this experiment.

So, I decided to put the frozen hibiscus spheres to use in various alcoholic incarnations, because, while I'm not a mixology expert in any way, shape, or form, I am always looking for ways to expand my horizons past the classics (which currently are wine, scotch, scotch, wine and, um, more scotch.  Followed by more wine.  And then a scotch.).

First up, a shot of Ketel One with a frozen hibiscus sphere:

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I made these for my weekly Friday afternoon neighbor-girl drinks gathering, and while I liked it, the other two girls were a bit apathetic.  Turns out, they're not really fans of vodka.  Whoops. 

It was at that point that I realized, hey! I didn't even try one of these suckers WITHOUT alcohol.  Doy.  So, we gathered the kids around, and we each ate one just plain.  The kids were not huge fans.  They declared it "too salty" because they expected it to be sweet because of its color... which for a kid, I would totally expect.  Red = sweet when you're 10, right?

So, if you haven't had anything hibiscus-infused before, how I can I explain what it tastes like?  Well, it's not too floral or overly fragrant (like lavender or roses might be)... it's not overly sweet... it's a little earthy, but not stinky or dirty or peaty.  It made me think of a late summer evening around 7:30, 8 o'clock... maybe the grass was cut that morning, so there's a lingering fresh smell in the air.... and maybe it's a little cool because late summer is easing into fall... and maybe it rained the day before, so everything feels alive and green... and maybe you picked or chopped fresh tomatoes earlier that evening so the smell is still on your hands ever so slightly... and maybe you have a planted pot or garden spot of thyme and tarragon and mint and parsley nearby... and maybe, just maybe, there's a slight, warm wisp of a breeze, and you're sitting on the front porch or on your balcony listening to the sounds of your neighborhood, and you hear laughter in the distance and it makes you smile.  That's what hibiscus tastes like.

This sphere isn't chewy like the Cranberry bite (the Ultra-Tex 3 makes that chewy), nor is it hard like a popsicle.  It doesn't take long to collapse and crush onto your tongue when you press it against the roof of your mouth.  It melts beautifully in a drink, and while letting it infuse a shot of vodka wasn't a home run for everyone, I bet using it as crushed ice in a margarita would be awesome.  Or, you could do what I did just the other night and pour some Lillet into a glass, add a splash of club soda and a wedge of orange (or lime), and use the frozen hibiscus spheres as ice cubes:

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James Bond had The Vesper.  This, is The Carol.  And I love it.

So, go forth lovely people of Alinea at Home... shake off the end-of-winter blues and make hibiscus spheres, cubes, hearts or stars or golf balls or butt cheeks or rocket ships... just make some sort of flavored, frozen, flower-infused something... or, if you're pressed for time and can't get to it right away, tell me what kind of flavored, frozen, flower- or herbal-infused something you would make.  Hell, maybe you'd even use the hibiscus-infused liquid in a tray on the grill to steam to some brats? Sky's the limit, queridos.  Hit me in the comments, and you know what?  I'm gonna make it slightly more interesting.

Just before my next post, I'll randomize the comments, assign numbers, throw it out to the Twitter universe to let them pick a few numbers, and I'll ship those winners a few ounces of dried hibiscus flowers of their very own.

How's that sound?

Good, I thought so.


Up Next:  Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper

Resources: Dried hibiscus flowers from Organic Creations (but your local co-op or health food store should have them, so open the Yellow Pages and make a few phone calls), Domino sugar, David's kosher salt.

Music to Cook By: D'Angelo; various.  Because every now and then, a girl wants some D'Angelo in her week.

Read My Previous Post: Kumquat, Aquavit, picholine olives, caraway

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