Friends and Family

February 26, 2011

Goose, blood orange, sage, roasting goose aroma

Before we get started, let's do two three things:

1) The winner of the iTunes giftcard from the previous post (chosen via is Beth, who wrote "I've been sick & had mostly crackers and Vernors ginger ale all weekend. Started to feel semi-human yesterday, so my sweet 17-year-old son made tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches (a bit charred on the outside, but whatev) for lunch. Knowing how lazy he is, I truly felt the love from that meal."  Congrats to Beth, and big ups to the kid for making his mom one of my favorite get-well meals of all time!

2) My dear friend Chef Nick Stefanelli made the preliminary cut for a James Beard Award nomination for Rising Star.  Fingers crossed that he makes the final cut, because he's really, really good at what he does, and some of his meals have left me speechless and thus returning the next day to eat his cooking again.  He's also up for a People's Choice award for Food & Wine's Best New Chef/Mid-Atlantic.  Can you throw some votes his way?  Polls close March 1.  Thanks!  You can read more about him at that link, but also know that Nick and his team at Bibiana can accommodate people with celiac, and they create the most pleasureable dining experiences, whether in the dining room or just grabbing a seat at the bar.  They've never made me feel like I was being a burden, and for that I am forever grateful.  Oh, and Nick is the one who made the tripe you guys forced me to eat.  Vote for Nick!

3) Chef Achatz' and Nick Kokonas' memoir Life, on the Line comes out in a few days, and I'm giving away a few copies.  Stay tuned.  I'll put up a little contest post on Wednesday. 

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So..... "Goose, blood orange, sage, roasting goose aroma."  I adapted this recipe last summer and made a deviled goose egg.  Remember?

To make the full dish, my plan was to go hunting with my friends Hank Shaw and Holly Heyser to bag a few geese.  Sadly, those plans didn't work out (one of my clients needed me to stay in Washington that week) so I had to get some birds locally here in town, courtesy of Daniel Shirk at Pecan Meadow Farm.  Check 'em out:


Each weighed about 9-10 lbs.

Before I started breaking them down, I consulted Hank's blog to see if there was a difference between breaking down a chicken (which I have plenty experience in doing) and a goose.  Turns out, there is.  I didn't take photos of the breaking-down process, because Hank has a post about it here, and the photo tutorial and directions are outstanding and much better than I could ever do.  Rumor is, it takes Hank about 5 minutes to break down a goose.  Took me nearly 45 minutes to do two.  Practice makes perfect, I guess.

I cured the breast meat in blade mace, black pepper, allspice, salt and sugar:



I refreigerated them overnight.

I cured the goose legs in salt, sugar, pink salt, cloves, orange zest, nutmeg, and black pepper:



Those went into the fridge overnight, as well.

The fat got rendered (another great Hank Shaw tutorial on goose and duck fat rendering, if you're interested):



The carcass, necks, and wings were roasted in a 450F-degree oven for an hour, and then went into a giant pot (with onions, leeks, carrots, bay leaves, peppercorns, and tomato paste) to make stock: 




See the time on the stove clock?  I'd started the stock around 1 a.m., and it was 3:23 a.m. when the dog woke me up to go outside because there was a small herd of deer in the front yard.  I'd fallen asleep on the sofa, but after I took Dex out into the cold night air for a minute or two to let him chase those deer back into the woods, I walked back into the house and thought to myself: those must have been the happiest geese when they were alive, because this stock smells even better than veal stock does when it's cooking.  No joke.  I don't know what it is about goose bones or those geese in particular, but there's something about how great this goose stock smelled, I decided to camp out on the sofa for the rest of the night to smell it as it simmered.  Didn't want to be further away from it, upstairs in my bedroom.  I drifted off to sleep lulled by the smell, and wasn't even pissed off when the oven timer went off a few hours later at 6 a.m. to get up to strain and cool it.  In fact, the very smell of it put a spring in my step the entire long weekend.  So, remember... you read it here first: Goose stock is a natural mood elevator.  I'm totally gonna pitch an article to JAMA about it.


Now that I was awake, I had a lot of sous-vide-ing to do.  First up?  Oranges for orange sauce:


Just one orange, quartered and seeded, with some grapeseed oil, salt, and sugar, cooked sous vide at 190F/88C for 3 hours.  Then blended, strained, and some orange juice whisked in before straining again:




Next in the 190F/88C water bath go turnip cylinders, and sweet potato half-moons (both with a little goose fat):





After the vegetables were done (in just 45 minutes), I plunged them -- still in their bags -- into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process, and then stored them (still bagged) in the fridge until it was time to reheat and serve them.

Next into the water bath?  The goose legs.  I rinsed off the cure and put them into two Ziploc sous vide bag with some goose fat.  Four hours at 190F/88C:


I cooled them -- still bagged -- in a bowl of ice water, and then peeled off the skin (to use in stuffing later) before gently removing the meat from the bone.  I saved the meat in the fridge, and used it in the stuffing later.

The last thing to sous vide were the two goose breasts.  I rinsed off the cure, bagged them with some goose fat, and cooked it at 138F/59C for just 20 minutes.  I cooled the breasts (still bagged) in yet another bowl of ice water, then put the bag of now-cooked goose meat into the freezer overnight.

The next day, I took it out, and cut some thin slices, which went back into the freezer until it was time to plate and serve:

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The next day, I made the stuffing.  I sweated onions, celery, leeks, garlic, and fennel in some goose fat for about 10 minutes, and then let the mixture cool to room temperature.

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When the vegetables had cooled, I folded them in with bread cubes, eggs, goose stock, toasted celery seed, orange zest, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and goose leg meat, and some goose fat.

I coated a 9x13" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray, and laid down the skin from the goose legs.

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And just as I was spooning the stuffing mixture into the pan, my neighbor texted to tell me that not only did she have laryngitis and a sinus infection, but also that her younger son, Carter, had gotten a concussion the night before in a snowboarding accident.  Add that to her son Grant's (of the famous Grant Tipton Day, and who I made eat really awful lobster jelly) broken arm from when he was hit by a car a few weeks ago (yeah, that happened, too, during Carol's Really Bad Weeks Where Awful Things Happen To People She Cares About), I decided to change plans a bit.

Instead of tamping down the stuffing and refrigerating it overnight and finishing the dish the next day, I was going to have the Tiptons over for dinner that night and serve this dish as if it were a real dinner, instead of a tasting-size portion.  Into the oven went the stuffing...

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It needed to bake for 45 minutes to an hour in a 375F-degree oven.  I put it in, set the timer for 50 minutes, and went upstairs to pay bills and do some work.  Just as I was finishing an email to a client, my nose intervened and I could tell the stuffing was done. I walked into the kitchen, and blammo -- only one minute left.

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That is one of my most favorite things about doing this blog and French Laundry at Home.  It's really honed every single one of my senses, and I can now cook a lot of things without using a timer because I can tell the precise moment that something is done.  Sweet, savory, you name it.  I might not seem like a big deal to most people, but I get a kick out of it every single time. 

I took the stuffing out of the oven, lifted the foil that had been covering it, and GRANT ACHATZ ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS?!??!?!!?  Just when I thought goose stock was the best smell in the world comes this most remarkable stuffing.  Goose, orange, garlic, fennel, onion, nutmeg.... AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAAA!!!!!! I jumped up and down like a giant freakin' dork, clapping my hands, and dancing around the kitchen like I'd won the lottery.  Which I kind of did, culinarily.

I'd abandoned the book's instructions at this point, and decided I was just going to pull the rest of the meal together on my own without the 500F-degree river stones and aroma bowl (didn't need it; the food was intoxicatingly beautiful-smelling on its own).  I put the frozen goose breast slices under the broiler to warm them.  I whipped up some celery root purée (because I'm still kind of obsessed with it from the venison dish), and reduced a combination of goose stock, veal stock, red wine, port, salt, pepper, and a hint of sage (with a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg) as a sort of gravy.  I figured we needed something green, so I made a salad of mâche with caramelized shallots and sautéed green beans (frozen fresh over the summer and defrosted for the salad) with a fig-mustard vinaigrette.  I squeezed a small pool of the orange sauce under the turnip and sweet potato pieces.  And, the pièce de résistance: seared cubes of foie gras.

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This, my friends, is one of the best meals I have ever made in my entire life.  From start to finish, it took nearly four days to create this plate of food, and every single minute was worth it.  From the way the goose stock smelled, to my nose-timer, to being able to whip up celery root purée and a sauce to go with it, to the way the orange zest transformed the stuffing way beyond my expectations, to just being able to adapt to changing circumstances... that is why I love cooking my way through books that intimidate me.  It builds core skills.  It teaches me new things.  It instills a sense of pride and accomplishment.  It gives me new milestones to celebrate on this path to perfecting a craft. 

But most of all, it has given me the ability to say "hey, it sounds like life sucks for you guys right now; why don't you come over for dinner tonight" and be able to include foie gras, goose leg confit, and cured goose breast in my comfort food repertoire.

That is why I keep pushing myself with this book.  The training I'm getting yields the most satisfying results when I least expect it.  And those unexpected moments of satisfaction, pride, and being able to care for other people makes life a little bit sweeter, doesn't it?

We ended the dinner with a pint or two (or, um, three if I'm being honest) of Jeni's Ice Cream, and a salad of white grapefruit, pink grapefruit, blood orange, and cara cara orange with basil-lime sugar.


Oh, and the little bonus moment that came just as I loaded up the dishwasher at the end of the night?  It started snowing.

A very good long weekend, indeed.

Up Next: Life, on the Line giveaway.

Resources: Geese from Daniel Shirk at Pecan Meadow Farm; veal stock from my freezer; produce,  aromatics, and gluten-free prairie bread from Whole Foods; spices from my pantry; blade mace from Terra Spice; foie gras from Hudson Valley Foie Gras; David's kosher salt; Domino sugar.

Music to Cook By: Fitz and the Tantrums; Pickin' Up the Pieces. I can't NOT move when I hear "Breakin' The Chains of Love" and I can't NOT picture "Don't Gotta Work it Out" as a great, semi-drunken break-up anthem sung loudly with friends in a bar as it plays on the jukebox.  You guys, this is a really great album.  Great to cook to, great to clean to, great to drive to, and would be the perfect background music at a dinner party or a night hanging out with friends, having a few beers or a bottle of wine and some noshes.  Can't recommend it enough.

Read My Previous Post: Some links, some love, and a little something for YOU

May 24, 2010

Alinea at Home Adaptation: Lamb, mastic, date, rosemary fragrance

Back injuries suck.

So does being overwhelmed with work.

I missed my kitchen something fierce.  I missed writing about food just as much.

I barely cooked a thing these past 6 weeks.  I assembled.  I ordered takeout (an insane amount).  I ate in restaurants.  I went to friends' houses when I could spare an hour or two (I think that happened twice, so there you go).  I didn't set aside time to go to the market or allow myself the time to cook.  It was a choice.  I didn't have a lot of control over my schedule and therefore didn't want to stock up on any kind of perishable food because the minute I did, I would've gotten a phone call that I needed to be in New York for 3 days... or sitting in a four-hour meeting on the Hill.... or needed to drop everything and write an op-ed that needs to get sent to the New York Times in two hours.... or had to work through the night to get a script in shape for taping the next morning.  I got into a zone and I knew if I buckled down and focused on work deadlines and related endeavors, my summer months would be more manageable, so I did it.  But let me tell you: I missed cooking. 

Last week, I started to get really edgy and bitchy and itchy and moody.  All work and no cook makes Carol a cranky girl.  I wanted to chop.  I wanted to braise.  I wanted to saute.  I wanted to roast.  I wanted to crack open the Alinea cookbook again.  Not wanted to.  Needed to.

So, this weekend, I bought pot after pot of fresh herbs to plant in the garden.  I also went to three farmers markets and stocked the fridge full of everything fresh because I my schedule is now finally my own again, and I can actually enjoy setting aside time to cook and let myself relax like a normal person.  The occasional work crisis might pop up from time to time, but not from 6 or 7 clients all at once like they had over the past two months.  

I texted my friends across the street and invited them to dinner.  And I cooked.

It's good to be back in my favorite room of the house.

Lately, an unusually high number of people have asked me about this blog and about how it's influenced my cooking.  No one seems to believe that the Alinea cookbook can influence a person's everyday cooking or food shopping.  They see it as way too out-there or just not feasible in a home kitchen.  Sure, some of the dishes are a lot of work, but in the long run anything that can help me be a better cook I'm willing to try, or at the very least read about.

So, for those of you out there who need a little jump-start in the inspiration department, I hope this post does the trick because it's all about how 4 truly beautiful pages in an avant-garde cookbook from one of the best restaurants in America shaped a really delicious (if I do say so myself) menu for a weekend dinner with friends.

*   *   *   *   *

Let's look at the elements in this dish (page 324 in the cookbook, if you wanna follow along):

Lamb loin: I already had lamb loin in the freezer, so that was a go.

Red wine-braised cabbage: Nothing crazy or difficult about this.

Medjool date compote: Again, pretty straightforward; just needed to buy some dates

Mastic cream: I don't keep mastic on-hand and I'd never cooked with it, but was curious to try.

Rosemary: Makes me sneeze and cough, so I knew I wasn't gonna include it regardless of how I made this dish.

Oregano leaves: In my garden; check.

Chervil tops: Bought two pots at the farmers market; done.

I got out my notebook and spent all of 30 seconds writing the following "menu" for dinner:

Grilled loin of lamb with mastic cream, chervil, and oregano; date compote on the side

Red wine-braised cabbage

Roasted asparagus

Mashed Yukon gold potatoes

Greek salad

... all of which came together because of the Alinea cookbook.

It's a menu I think anyone could pull off and have a really great dinner with friends.  No special equipment.  No wacky techniques.  I even cooked something sous vide WITHOUT an immersion circulator (you can, too!).

After all that time away from the kitchen, I was worried I might forget how to hold a knife.  That I might not know how to turn on my stove.  That I might not know how to precisely cut a head of cabbage in half so that I could get a 500g yield with one of the halves ON THE FIRST TRY:



(the other half was 394g, in case you were wondering)

I removed the core, then sliced the cabbage really thin, sliced a shallot even thinner, and added it to the melted butter in my Le Creuset pot.  I gently tossed it around (over medium heat) so that everything got mixed with the butter, and let it cook for about five minutes, when the cabbage began to release its liquid.

Then, I added some red wine, some port, orange blossom honey (didn't have wildflower honey on hand), salt, and pepper, covered it with a parchment lid and let it braise for about 4 hours over medium-low heat (until nearly all the liquid was gone).  The book has an additional step involving adding potato, but I skipped that step, because I wanted to serve this as a warm slaw-type of side dish.


While the cabbage was cooking, I started the date compote.  I soaked a pound of dates in hot tap water for five minutes which made it easier to remove their skins and pits.  I put the dates in a saucepan with some water, sherry vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper and brought them up to simmer over medium heat:



The dates were supposed to simmer over low-medium heat for about an hour.  So, I turned down the flame and let them do their thing while I Skyped with my nephew (who, in his spare time, likes to watch over ant colonies BEFORE DESTROYING THEM):


Moments after we signed off (he now says, "Peace out, dude!"), I smelled something that was NOT GOOD:


Peace out, date compote.  Was nice knowing you.

Scratch that little side item off the menu.  Oh well.  Can't win 'em all, I suppose.

Next thing I did was prepare the lamb loins:


I trimmed them and cleaned them up a bit, removing the silverskins and big chunks of fat, brushed them lightly with olive oil, and wrapped each one, air-tight, in Saran Wrap:





I picked it up in both hands, holding both ends, and twirled it around five times (twirling away from me), then tied the ends tight:



I got the water bath ready -- a large saucepan with a candy thermometer works just fine, see?  Heated the water to 135 degrees, put in the wrapped lamb loins, and let them cook for 20 minutes.

Then, I took them out and put them (still wrapped) in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process:


When they had cooled, I stored them in the refrigerator until it was time to sear them on the grill just before sitting down to eat.

While the lamb was cooking, I made the mastic cream.


I'd never cooked with mastic gum before.  Have you?  I know what it tastes like and I've had it in many different kinds of food and drink (smoked lamb in Morocco, Turkish Delight, as a sweetener in Turkish coffee), but I didn't really know all that much about it until recently.  Mastic gum (above) is resin from the mastic tree.  In Greece, it's sometimes referred to as Tears of Chios, because it comes out of the tree in what looks like tears or droplets (like you often see tree sap here in the States) in liquid form, then the sun dries it to a hard resin.  It's (relatively) expensive: I paid $7.99 for the tiny jar you see above.

It's hard to describe what mastic tastes like.  There's a pine-scented element to it, and it's also floral and fragrant, but not in the off-putting way I find rose water to be.  It's also a little woodsy... kinda like if it's just finished raining, and someone's fireplace is going strong and you're outside in the woods and you smell all that together. 

Here's what 2g looks like:


I combined the mastic with some half-and-half, sugar, and salt, and brought it to a boil:


I poured it through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean saucepan, added a little bit of agar agar, and brought it to a boil, whisking to dissolve the agar, then poured it into a shallow pan:


I set that pan in a bowl of ice water so the cream would set: 


After it had set, I scraped the mastic cream into the blender and whacked it around for a minute until it was smooth:


Meantime, I lightly peeled and roasted some asparagus (olive oil, salt, pepper) at 425F for 15 minutes:


Whipped up some mashed Yukon golds (skins on, butter, salt, milk):


Made a Greek-ish salad (romaine hearts, cucumber, tomato, dill, chive, feta, vinaigrette):


And, I unwrapped and grilled the lamb loins, and garnished them with fresh oregano and chervil:




Linda, Sean, Grant, and Carter walked in the door:


And we sat down to a lovely meal:



Now that I know how to do meat sous vide, it's hard for me to make it any other way.  I know that probably sounds really obnoxious, but it's true.  It just makes such a difference, and I love how tender the meat turns out.  Granted, I started with a beautiful cut of lamb, but cooking it this way made it even better.  I put little dollops of mastic cream on each bite of lamb, and that along with the fresh chervil and oregano was just lovely.

The braised cabbage?  OH MY WORD.  I made a similar cabbage when I did French Laundry at Home, but this one was a little sweeter and complimented the lamb nicely.  I'm glad I did mashed potatoes, because it rained all weekend and was kind of chilly and those potatoes were comforting in so many ways -- and, with summer just around the corner, my mashed potato days are soon heading for hiatus.  The asparagus was so fresh and delicious, and the salad had some really nice flavor (I went heavy on the fresh herbs and light on the dressing).

Didn't miss the date compote one bit, and you know what else I didn't miss?  The rosemary fragrance. Instead, I opened the windows in the dining room and the fresh, clean, just-finished-raining air was all we needed to help us enjoy the food, a great bottle of wine, some tunes, and talks of summer plans.

What did YOU make this weekend?

Up Next: Goose, blood orange, sage, roasting goose aromas

Resources: Lamb from Elysian Fields; mastic from Asadur's Market in Rockville, MD; cabbage, shallot, Yukon gold potatoes, and dates from Whole Foods; herbs from my garden; asparagus and cucumbers from the 14th and U Street Farmers Market; Sandeman ruby port; Turley zinfandel; David's kosher salt; Organic Valley half-and-half.

Music to Cook To: David Byrne and Fatboy Slim; Here Lies Love.  I had the great pleasure of (quite unexpectedly) meeting David Byrne at a breakfast in November.  He was really lovely, and I wish I'd known this album was coming out because I'd have wanted to ask, "Really?  A two-CD set of songs about the life and times of Imelda Marcos sung by some of the world's most talented and engaging female singers and songwriters?"  You have to hear it to believe it.  [I think "Don't You Agree" by Roisin Murphy might be my favorite.]

Read My Previous Post: Marcona Almond, white ale, pink pepper, lavender

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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


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


October 15, 2009

Alinea? IS FOR BABIES!!!

I recently had the great pleasure of babysitting my one-and-a-half-year old nephew, Ian, for a night at my brother's house in Pennsylvania.  Just before heading up there, I was in the thick of shopping for and prepping the Alinea duck dish (page 224), and as I read through the list of components in the dish -- duck, banana, squash -- I thought to myself: I wonder if the little monkey butt would eat duck, banana, and squash.  So, I picked up a duck at the farmers market, and a butternut squash and a banana at the supermarket on the way to my brother and sister-in-law's house.

I didn't do the full Alinea dish for him.  That comes later.  Instead, I just roasted the duck (after stuffing it with raw ginger, onion, and salt) and roasted the butternut squash.  The banana?  Just sliced and diced.

My bro and sis-in-law left for their event, and the kid and I settled in for a fun day of swinging on the swingset, checking out all the different kinds of bugs on the garage door, HulkSMASHing towers of blocks, reading the same book fifteen thousand times (and feigning surprise and terror over the shark fifteen thousand times), singing along with Moo, Bah, La La La, dancing along with videos on VH1 Classic.

Around 6 or 6:30, the duck had finished roasting in the oven -- the smells of which along the way resulted in Ian taking a break from playing to walk into the kitchen, point at the oven, and say "hot."  When I'd turn on the oven light for him to see what was in there, he'd smile and say, "Ooooooooooo....."

After the bird rested for about 20 minutes outside the oven, I cut a few pieces for him to eat, along with some of the roasted butternut squash (which I just threw in the oven whole, then peeled and diced when it had cooled along with the duck) and the banana.

I strapped the little guy into his high chair and said, "Alright, bud, Aunt Sissy made you some dinner -- it's sort of from the Alinea cookbook, and I think you'll LOVE it.  It's banana, squash, and duck!"


Not exactly the response I was hoping for.

Then, I put the plate in front of him:



That's a little better.  A little more enthusiasm.  A little more joie de vivre, as it were.

I said, "Hey goofus, how about a bite of the duck?"  I handed him a piece of the duck, and he did that thing where he just chews it with his front teeth so as to not really have to taste it.  I mean, it was a NEW FOOD and it MIGHT BE YUCKY:


Not loving it.  But, not hating it.  (Notice his hand holding a piece of banana on the tray, at the ready, to cleanse the palate after the nasty duck)  He ate about four bites of the duck, and had had enough.  Up next? Squash:


Then, bananas, then more squash...




The squash was the hit of the night:



Meantime, one of the dogs was desperate for something, anything to fall from the high chair tray.  I threw a few pieces of duck her way, which resulted in some really (not) pleasant smells in the living room later that night, if you catch my drift.  Lesson learned. Huskies + duck = Defcon 2.


Once Ian saw that the dog was getting some of HIS DINNER, he crammed another piece of duck into his mouth:


So, mostly a clean plate by the end of the meal, and a happy, happy baby:


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

Alinea Book


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


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