Moderate

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 Random.org) 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:

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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:

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I refreigerated them overnight.

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

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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):

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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: 

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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.

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

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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:

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

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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:

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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.

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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

December 06, 2010

Salsify, smoked steelhead roe, parsley root, radish

A few things before I tell you about this dish:

1) If you're watching Top Chef All-Stars, I'm doing commentary about the show on The Washington Post's All We Can Eat blog.  I'll Tweet the direct link when it goes up every Thursday morning.

2) I'm kicking off my fourth annual fundraising campaign for Share Our Strength later this week.  Some pretty amazing and generous people have donated some fantastic giveaways for those who donate, so I'm looking forward to seeing how much money we can raise.

3) Thank you all SO MUCH for your amazing insights and advice on kitchen renovations.  Wow.  Such great ideas for what to do and what to avoid.  I got the estimate ranges back from the contractor -- who has renovated both bathrooms in my house, so he knows about all the weird structural quirks we're inevitably going to run into -- so now it's time to hunker down and save A LOT of money (oy) and hopefully get started by this time next year.

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Now that I've completed the second salsify dish in the Alinea cookbook, I'm kind of kicking myself for not ever having cooked salsify before.  It's really, really good.  And now that I know how sticky and sappy they get when you peel them, I included rubber gloves in my mise en place this week:

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I peeled the salsifies and trimmed them to 6" long and put them in this sous vide bag with butter, thyme, garlic, and a little water:

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They cooked in a 180F/82C waterbath for 2 hours.  While they cooked, I made the parsely root purée.  I can't believe I've never had parsley root before.  Or, more accurately, that I've never made or consciously ordered anything with parsely root.  And just like I'm kicking myself for not embracing salsify sooner, I feel the same way about parsley root.  Why?  Because it's really, really good.

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I peeled these guys and cut them into 1/2" chunks.  Raw, it tastes like parsley-flavored celery, only less bitter, but just as "green" if that makes sense.

I put the chunks into a saucepan with some cream and salt, brought it to a boil, and then let it simmer for 30 minutes until the parsley root pieces were tender.

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When the parsley root was done cooking, I strained them through a fine-mesh strainer, saving the hot cream.  I put the chunks into the blender, and slowly added some of the reserved cream to make a silky purée.

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I strained the purée through a clean fine-mesh strainer and rewarmed it later when it was time to plate the dish.

I also braised brown and yellow mustard seeds in water, sugar, salt, and white wine vinegar by bringing it all to a boil for five minutes, then turning off the heat, covering the pot, and letting the seeds plump up as they absorbed the moisture.

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Also made parsley sauce:

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I blanched the parsley leaves in water and salt, then blended them on high speed in the blender with some simple syrup, salt, and Ultra-Tex 3. 

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I strained it through a fine-mesh strainer into a squeeze bottle and refrigerated it until it was time to plate the dish.

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The last major component to make was the smoked salmon purée.  In the food processor went the smoked salmon:

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And as it was whirring away, I added some cold water, olive oil, and salt:

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I strained it through a tamis into a squeeze bottle, are stored it in the refrigerator until it was time to plate the dish.

The last thing I had to do was deep fry the salsifies.  The photos of this dish in the book are beautiful.  The deep-fried salsify looks like a beautiful, golden daddy longlegs just waiting to be eaten. The book gives pretty detailed instructions on how exactly to cut the salsify to be able to render a gorgeous outcome.

And despite the fact that I am literate and can usually follow instructions, I had a hard time envisioning these cuts.  So, I stared at the now-cooked salsifies on the plate, waiting to be finished, and just tried to figure it out.

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I ended up cutting them in half and then making slits in each half all the way to the center so that they'd stand up and be rounded (I hoped).  I think that's what the book meant in its instructions.  With 20/20 hindsight, I should've made a double batch of salsify so I could have practiced this a bit more and gotten it right, because I ended up with this:

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I can hear you laughing.

And I hope you can hear me laughing, because it's all I could do when they ended up looking this sad and wistful when they were done.  I had to lay them on top of shot glasses to get them to take any kind of shape.  And, while I was doing that, some of them stayed in the hot oil a little too long, resulting in an unexpected and yet totally pleasureable outcome: Salsi-fries!

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Man, this project can be so humbling at times.

I began plating the dish with a few blobs of the smoked salmon purée (which had the texture of mayonnaise, so, um, YUM), a tablespoon of parsley root purée, some braised mustard seeds, parsley sauce, and some fresh parsley tips.  If you're following along in the book, you'll see I didn't include the mini black radish strips.  I couldn't find a black radish anywhere, so I skipped that step altogether.

I carefully placed the salsify on the plate and microplaned fresh lemon zest on top of that, and then generously drizzled each serving with some smoked steelhead roe from BLiS:

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I'd already tasted each of the components as I made them (and loved every single one on its own), so I decided to smush everything together on the plate to get a taste for how they all went together.  We all really liked this dish.  The kids at the table liked the salsi-fries and ended up dipping them into the parsley root and salmon purées.  The mustard seeds and roe added a really nice and strong textural and flavor boost to the dish, and the lemon zest bolstered the flavor of the salsify, which surprised me.  Salsify still doesn't taste like oysters to me, but rather more earthy than a potato and less bite-y than a turnip or parsnip. But the lemon zest made the salsify taste more pronounced, somehow, and really helped tie the whole dish together.

I really liked how this dish came together, but the standout element was the parsley root purée.  So much so, I went to Wegmans and bought another bunch of it and made a parsley root mash the next day.  And, I'm thinking it'd be really good in salads, and just roasted along with some potatoes, carrots, and rutabagas.

Mmmmmmmm, parsley root.... Have you ever cooked it or made anything with it?  I'm curious.  Or, have any of you tried making salsify yet?  I've got a bunch more leftover, so I'm thinking there are some salsi-fries in my future.

Up Next: Share Our Strength 2010 Fundraising Campaign

Resources: Salsify, parsley root, parsley, and smoked salmon from Wegmans; 365 butter; canola oil, thyme, and garlic from HMart; David's kosher salt; Monini olive oil; Natural by Nature heavy cream; Ultra-Tex 3 from Terra Spice; brown and yellow mustard seeds from the Takoma Park Co-op; Terra Medi white wine vinegar; BLiS smoked steelhead roe.

Music to Cook By: Kanye West; My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I've decided I don't care anymore if Kanye acts a fool in the media, because this album is excellent.  It's rare these days for an artist to release an album that I want to listen to from start to finish.  Instead, they put together an album with 3 singles that can chart, along with a bunch of filler.  That's not the case with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  His writing is better than it's ever been, and the megalomaniacal Kanye I love is back in his best form yet.

Read My Previous Post: What do you love about your kitchen?

November 17, 2010

Beef, elements of root beer

Let's begin with a toast to Alinea, on receiving THREE Michelin stars!

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A big ole cheers! >clink< to the entire team at Alinea not just for their very well deserved three Michelin stars, but also for doing what they do every single day to inspire and energize home cooks like me to want to do more, and do better.  So, a big congratulations and thank you from me, Holly, Ron, Maggie, Linda, Sean, Grant, and Carter -- all who eat my Alinea At Home cooking, and all who raised a glass of prosecco Tuesday night in gratitude and celebration.

But before we drank, we ate.  Boy, did we eat.  And before we ate, I cooked.  And boy, did I cook.

Let's get to it.

Monday night, I made the root beer cure so I could cure the boneless beef shortribs overnight: 

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Ground sassafras, star anise, juniper berries, black peppercorns, fennel seed, and the seeds of a vanilla bean, some kosher salt, and some sugar.

I trimmed and reserved the fat from about a pound of boneless shortribs:

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And then coated them in the root beer cure:

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I covered the meat with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, I rinsed off the cure under cold running water:

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Then, I put the meat, along with some veal stock, into a sous vide bag and cooked them at 88C/190F for five hours.

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In the afternoon, I got started on the rest of the dish.  To make the root beer sauce, I cooked some fennel and the beef shortrib fat and trimmings in a little canola oil:

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I cooked that for about five minutes, and then added some molasses, sherry vinegar, juniper berries, and peppercorns to the pot and cooked all that until the molasses and sherry vinegar had reduced by two-thirds and was sryupy (took about 20 minutes).  While that was cooking, I boiled and then steeped sassafras root in 75g of water, which made a lovely sort of tea.  I strained the sassafras root out, and added the liquid to the pan of other ingredients.  Lastly, I added some veal stock, and just simmered the sauce for about a half hour, 40 minutes.

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I poured it through a fine-mesh strainer into a smaller pan and continued to slowly reduce the liquid until it coated the back of a spoon.

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While all the simmering and reducing of the sauce was going on, I prepped the salsify.

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Salsify is a root vegetable, sometimes referred to as the "oyster plant" -- because it's supposed to have a faint oyster-like taste.  Which, I'll be honest, I didn't taste or recognize.  Salsify is available from mid-fall through early spring, and here in the DC area, you can find it at Wegmans (a special shout-out to Liz and Jamar at the Wegmans in Landover, MD for special ordering and setting aside what now seems like a metric ton of salsify for me to work with).  This was my first time buying and working with salsify, and I had no idea that when you peeled it, it left a sap-like residue on your hands:

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Mere washing with soap and water didn't remove it, so I had to coat my hands in Goo-Gone and hope that the Consumer Product Safety Commission wasn't watching.

I put the peeled salsifies into a sous vide bag with some butter and the seeds from a vanilla bean and cooked them alongside the meat at 88C/190F for about an hour:

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Also in my sous vide pleasure chamber was 250g of Yukon Gold potatoes (90 minutes at 88C/190F), which I then peeled and pressed through a tamis before adding to the blender already filled with a hot milk, sugar, salt, vanilla bean, water, and butter mixture:

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Poured that through a fine-mesh strainer into a small mixing bowl before putting it into my siphon canister and discharging an NO2 cartridge.

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When the meat had finished cooking, I cut it into small cubes -- okay, so they're technically not cubes; I was on a conference call during this part of the process and let my knife skills deteriorate ever-so-slighty (read: A LOT).

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I also glazed some 1/4"-thin slices of fennel in water, butter, sugar, and salt:

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And I sautéed the salsify spears in some oil and butter to caramelize them a bit:

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I kept the beef warm (along with some prunes) in a small saucepan filled with its braising liquid.

I plated the dish, sadly, not as beautifully as it's done in the book.  I need to work on my siphon canister skills, because there was some weird air pocket thing going on, and the vanilla-potato foam splorped out in these explosive bursts that, when it hit the plate, splattered sauce and foam all over the plate, the counter, my shirt, my hair, the wall, the floors.  This was the nicest looking plate of all of them:

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Presentation (which we can all agree is probably not my strong point) aside, can we talk about how freakin' GOOD THIS WAS? 

Holy mother of Smoove B, this was really, really good.  The root beeriness of it all didn't really hit until the third or fourth bite.  As I usually do with a dish like this, I tasted different components and combinations thereof for my first few bites, and then just ended up swirling everything together and tasted it that way.  Man, these flavors were perfect for the kind of weather we're having ... where it's cold, grey, lifeforce-sucking, and rainy one minute, and sunny, bright, cold, and windy the next.  The beef was so tender, and the prunes and fennel were really outstanding.  The potato-vanilla foam was a lovely cozy blanket around it all, and I really loved the salsify.  It had the texture of a cooked parsnip, but wasn't as radishy in the nose as a parsnip can sometimes be.  It was delicate, but with some heft, and everything altogether made for a very nice meal.

After we finished eating (and I smiled inside about all the plates practically licked clean), we popped the cork on some prosecco and toasted a certain Chicago Michelin three-star restaurant.  A great day and a great night, indeed.

Up Next: Something with salsify

Resources: Veal stock from my freezer; sassafrass from Monterey Bay Spice Company; star anise, fennel seed, black pepper, vanilla bean, prunes, and juniper berries from the TPSS Co-op; David's kosher salt; Domino sugar; boneless beef shortribs and canola oil from Snider's; Wholesome Sweeteners unsulfured molasses; salsify, potatoes, and fennel from Wegmans; 365 brand butter; Natural By Nature milk;

Music to Cook By: The Police; Synchronicity.  It's the strangest thing.  I was joking around with a friend of mine, where we were trying to out-insult each other, and out of nowhere, I just said, "Okay, FINE Miss Gradenko."  Which, what?  And then all I could think about on my drive home was the "Wrapped Around Your Finger" video.  And then, as I was falling asleep that night, the drum line from "Murder By Numbers" kept going through my head.  So, I needed to listen to the entire Synchronicity album to get it all out of my head.  I mean, it's not a bad thing that The Police were in my head, but I felt like Stewart Copeland was stalking me (which would also not be a bad thing because rrrraaaaoooowwwrrr, Stewart Copeland).

Read My Previous Post: "Tomatos, poatatos, beans, peas, water"

November 11, 2010

Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar, Take Two

When I started this blog, I posted my rules of the road, one of which was that because I am not made of money, I would attempt each dish in the Alinea cookbook once.  Just once.  One and done.  If it failed, it failed.  Sayonara.  Peace out.  Check it off the list, and move on.

But last week's licorice cake blowout really got me down.  Instead of figuring out on my own how to adapt this recipe to eliminate the all-purpose flour, I used a gluten-free baking flour mix substitute.  I'm not gonna name names here, because it's made by a company I actually really love, but I guess the lesson I re-learned is that this specific "all-purpose baking mix" is not technically all-purpose.  And, you know what?  I knew that from the get-go and yet I still used it.  I think I just wanted to, for once in my celiac-baking life, be able to swap something out really easily and not have to think about it.  Silly me.

But if I really get to the heart of the matter, that the cake failed bothered me less than the notion that I failed.  That I failed to trust my instincts.  That I failed to use my resources wisely.  That I went from zenith to nadir by way of a few eggs and some flour... and, if I'm being honest with myself, a lack of confidence and focus.

So, I decided to pull myself up by my bootstraps and give it another go.

I decided to go back to the original sponge cake recipe for this second attempt.  It may not have been what Chef Achatz intended when he developed this recipe for the restaurant, but I wanted to make it again and see if it would work for this particular dish.

So, into the bowl of my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer went 8 eggs, 210g sugar, 5 g kosher salt, 140g grapeseed oil, and 20g Trimoline.  I combined it on high speed for about 3 minutes.  Then, I sifted and gently folded in the following dry ingredients: 20g dry licorice extract; 80g potato starch; 80g white rice flour; 40g tapioca flour; 15g xanthan gum; and 10g baking powder.

Last, but not least, I added 140g whole milk, and stirred it gently to combine everything before pouring it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet:

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I baked it for 25 minutes in a 300F-degree oven, and had a hard time leaving the kitchen while it was baking, it smelled so good.  

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So, instead of the cake the book's recipe called for, I now had a licorice-flavored sponge cake.  I was running low on dry licorice extract, so instead of pure licorice syrup (100g extract + 100g water), I did the remaining 25g of extract + 75g sugar +100g water to make a licorice simple syrup.

I added that to 600g of the cake, along with 250g half-and-half, 50g glucose powder, and then 6 gelatin sheets, and it came together and turned into a purée rather easily.

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I pressed the purée through my tamis and spread it into an 8x8" cake pan:

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I put it into the freezer overnight and finished the rest of the dish the next day.

 

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First thing on the day's agenda?  Orange confit.  I was still floating on a cloud from smelling (and tasting!) the licorice sponge cake the day before, when the orange confit got underway.  And I gotta say: making orange confit might be my culinary Zoloft.  I don't know how I (or anyone) could be unhappy or stressed or anxious when this is simmering away in the kitchen.

And, it's incredibly easy.

Start with an orange:

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Cut it into quarters and remove any seeds:

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Place the orange quarters in a small saucepan with some water, bring it to a boil, let it boil for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse them with cold water.  Do this three times.  Do not complain or roll your eyes.  Just close your eyes and inhale.

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After the third and final boil, return the oranges to the pan, cover them with water, add some D'Aristi Xtabentun (we'll get to that in a minute), some sugar, and bring it to a boil over medium heat.  Then, turn down the flame and let it simmer over low heat for three hours.  Try not to be mesmerized.  Try not to stay glued to the stovetop.  Try not to smile and relax.  I dare you.

So, yeah.  D'Aristi Xtabentun.  Let's review the pronunciation: duh-REE-stee eesht-uhben-TOON. Thanks to Derek Brown of The Columbia Room for clarifying that for me.

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D'Aristi Xtabentun is a Mayan liqueur made in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and is named for the small Xtabentun flowers from which the local bees get their nectar.  It's a fermeted honey and anise liqueur, and it is, for me, a kind of cure-all.  Taken straight, it's quite good, though sometimes a little sweet, but has come in handy when I've felt like a cold was coming on, or had a scratchy throat.  Just an ounce or less of this in a giant mug of coffee or tea, for me, wards off "the icks" -- though y'all know I'm not a doctor or anything so don't do anything stupid like drink this instead of, oh I dunno, going to chemo/dialysis/getting a flu shot/whatever.

When added to the water and sugar the oranges were simmering in, it broadened what already was sweet and citrusy, adding a sense of warmth and comfort (if that makes any sense).

After three hours simmering, the oranges looked like this:

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And when you stick your face into the pan to smell them, you might just have a Snuffles-like reaction, like I wanted to.  The orange, combined with the D'Artisti Xtabentun... my, oh my.

Moving on....

I let the oranges cool to room temperature, and then cut them into 1/4" dice, which you'll see in the final plating photo.

The next thing I needed to do was make the muscovado candy.  This is pretty straightforward: water, sugar, yellow pectin, and citric acid...

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Bring it to a boil, then add Trimoline, glucose, and muscovado sugar, and continue boiling until it reaches 225F degrees:

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I poured it into a clear glass baking dish I'd sprayed with Pam to let it set at room temperature, before cutting a few small dices of it then refrigerating it until I needed the candy for plating:

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The very last step is to make the spun sugar.  I was really looking forward to this because the photo of this dessert in the book is so strikingly pretty -- and I knew mine wouldn't look the same, but I was hoping I could, at the very least, not screw up heating isomalt to 325F degrees, and then whisking it across two saucepan handles.

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I took the cake purée out of the freezer and let it get a little closer to room temperature before cutting out small pieces of it with a 7/8" round cutter.  I put a piece of the cake on a spoon, topped it with an anise hyssop leaf, then placed a piece of orange confit and a piece of muscovado candy next to it, and topped the whole thing with a bedraggled nest of spun sugar:

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Spoon in the mouth, and bite.  And chew.  And feel all the flavors come together.  Now, let me get this out of the way first: I wasn't thrilled with the texture of the cake purée and wished I'd upped the licorice extract amount because it wasn't anise-y enough for me.  That said, the cake with the sugar candy, crunchy spun sugar, and the orange confit?  Very, very nice.  I liked the flavor profile of this bite, but it needed to be more concentrated and amplified.  And that's all my doing that it wasn't.

But, I mastered the cake (wahoo!), and made spun sugar (which was a hell of a lot of fun to do).  And? I've got a lovely little pot of leftover orange confit in the fridge which I think will go quite nicely with the pork tenderloin I just bought to make for dinner.

Up Next: I bought 15 pounds of salsify this week, so chances are you'll see a salsify dish (or three) coming your way very soon.

Resources: Eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; flours from Bob's Red Mill; Domino sugar; Trimoline, isomalt, yellow pectin, and glucose from L'Epicerie; Monini grapeseed oil; Natural by Nature half-and-half and milk; King Arthur Flour gelatin sheets; licorice extract from HerbalRemedies.com; orange from Whole Foods; D'Aristi Xtabentun from DrinkUpNY.com; muscovade sugar from Yes! Organic Market; anise hyssop leaves from the plant on my front stoop.

Music to Cook By: Robbie Williams; The Ego Has Landed.  This album takes me back to a very specific beach house with some very specific people and some very specific circumstances involving no sleep, drunken Yahtzee, and a bright full moon rising over the ocean.  And I very much needed to be reminded of that time this week.  :)

Read My Previous Post: Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar, Take One

October 11, 2010

Tomato, balloon of mozzarella, many complementary flavors

 

September 27, 2010

Chocolate, warmed to 94 degrees

I can make a grocery list without the phone ringing off the hook.  I can shop for food without having to abandon my half-full grocery cart in the middle of the store to attend to a client's media crisis.  I have food in the house, and I have time to cook it.  My days are still busy, but much more manageable, now.  My nights even more so.  I am getting more than 5 hours of sleep.  I feel like I can breathe again.

Over the past week, late at night I've found myself standing in the front yard, looking southward in the sky staring at the waxing-then-full-now-waning moon, with Jupiter just below.  This past weekend, my neighbors and I had a roaring fire going in my copper fire pit, and we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows for s'mores.  We started at 6 o'clock on Saturday night and didn't turn in until well past midnight.  We listened to the pair of barred owls in the woods hoot and call to each other, and saw one of them swoop down my street, just under the street light at the end of the block, before flying to its tree in the woods.  We stuffed our faces with s'mores and drank wine.  We listened to the kids debate who was more annoying: Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez (it was a tie).  We took turns with the binoculars to look at Jupiter's moons ... something we'll not be able to see again in our lifetime.

It's things like this that bring me back to center and recharge my batteries.

*   *   *   *   *

My nephew and his grandpa (my dad) have something very important in common: an undying, almost-addictive love of chocolate popsicles.  I grew up in a house with a freezer full of chocolate ice cream (from which great milkshakes were born) and Fudgesicles galore, because my dad loved the stuff (and it was the '70s: where there was always dessert after dinner).  Now that my dad is a little older, he's changed his snack and dessert portion sizes to that of a popsicle.  We will not go into my theory that eating seven popsicles is probably worse than a scoop or two of ice cream.  But that is neither here nor there.  Ahem.

Every time my parents babysat their grandson this summer, the little guy would run and jump and act like a crazy dude around noon -- not just because it was the time my dad came home from the office for lunch, but because it meant there would be chocolate popsicles for dessert.  Grandpa is #1 in this kid's heart, but chocolate popsicles?  Not even a #2.  More like a #1.5.

After they ate lunch, my laptop would bbbrrrrrrrriiinnnnggggg with an incoming Skype call, and my nephew could hardly wait to tell me about his dessert: cha-LOCK-a-lit possickles.  To hear that two-year-old little monkey butt say "cha-LOCK-a-lit" was hilarious.  So, of course, I asked every conceivable question that could result in him using that word/pronunciation in his answer.  It never got old.

So when I scanned the Alinea cookbook and my now-outdated cooking planning calendar (thanks a lot, job) to figure out what I wanted to cook next, I read this recipe to myself as Cholocolate, warmed to 94 degrees.

And away we go...

I spent some time among some glorious, bountiful fig trees in northern California in early August, but the fruit was still green and hadn't yet ripened.  I hear they're now out in full force, and it was all I could do to not hop on a plane back out there to pluck them off the tree myself.  Instead, I drove to Whole Foods and picked up a few boxes of figs—a fruit I really didn't "get" for years and years, and now can't imagine living without:

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The first element of this dish I needed to work on was drying figs for bergamot tea.  So, the day before I knew I was going to serve this dish, I halved a whole mess o' figs and dehydrated them overnight at 150F degrees:

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I did two racks of them, which came out to just under the 125g of dried figs I needed.  Not bad for a guesstimate.

I put the dried figs into a bowl until I needed to use them, and got started on the chocolate mousse, which also needed to be dehydrated.  Here's my mise en place (egg whites, sugar, salt, egg yolks, chocolate):

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I melted the chocolate in a bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water:

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And, as it was melting, I whipped the egg whites (and salt) until they became frothy and were just starting to get foamy:

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I added the sugar and kept whipping until just before the stiff-peak phase:

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See?  Just soft peaks:

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I removed the chocolate from the burner, took the bowl out of the saucepan, and stirred to make sure the chocolate (which in my head as I type this looks and sounds like cha-LOCK-a-lit) was completely melted. I also whisked in the egg yolks.  Then, I folded in a third of the whipped egg whites: 

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And after that was pretty full incorporated, I added the rest of the egg whites, folding them in gently until it was a creamy, smooth mousse:

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I spooned the mousse onto a Pam-sprayed, acetate-lined dehydrator tray (I filled 3 of them):

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And, I set the dehydrator on 150F degrees, and let it dehydrate for 8 hours.  The book said it would need 6 hours, but I know my dehydrator well enough (and the humid day I was cooking) to know I'd need longer.

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While the chocolate mousse was in the dehydrator, I made the cassia ice cream.  Since I couldn't find cassia buds, I used cinnamon sticks instead, which I simmered and let steep in some milk:

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After the cinnamon steepage, I poured the liquid through a fine mesh strainer and into a bowl where I added some already-soaked gelatin sheets, sugar, milk powder, glucose, and condensed milk and mixed it all with my immersion blender:

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I processed it in my ice-cream maker and put the ice cream in the freezer to harden further.  You'll see the ice cream in the final plating photo (but man, did it ever smell goooooood while I was making it).  Oh, and ***TANGENT ALERT*** while the ice cream was processing, and the figs (below) were simmering, I used the leftover sweetened condensed milk to make what I think might be the best thing in the whole world: dulce de leche:

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Alright, let's get back to the recipe.

Time to braise some figs.  I halved 12 figs and simmered them in some ruby port and dry red wine (along with a little glucose and sugar) for about 30 minutes:

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I strained the figs and let them cool, and reduced the fig braising liquid to a glaze:

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I let both of them come to room temperature before combining the figs and the glaze in a small deli container for storage until I needed them to serve the dish.

Next to last: I made the bergamot tea.  This couldn't have been easier.  In a small-ish saucepan, I combined the figs I'd dried the night before, sugar, water, and salt and brought it to a boil.  I turned off the burner and added some Earl Grey tea leaves, covered the pot, and let it steep for 5 minutes.  [Now, I'm not a tea lover, but there's something about the smell of bergamot in Early Grey tea that makes me feel all cozy inside.]  After it had steeped, I poured the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and let it come to room temperature.  Then, I added some Ultra-Tex 3 and blended it with my immersion blender for 3 minutes, per the book's instructions.  I let it rest on the counter until it was time to plate.

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The last step was, perhaps, the trickiest.  Bringing chocolate -- chunks of a plain old bar of chocolate -- to 94 degrees.  It's melty, but not melted.  It's soft, but not gooey.  It's silky and shiny, but not gloppy.  It needed to retain its shape, but be soft enough to to push a pin through it with no resistance.  And, it had to be done while the chocolate pieces were already resting atop the pieces of dehydrated chocolate mousse.

The book suggested leaving it on the stovetop with the oven turned on, and hinted that it might take 20 minutes to reach 94 degrees.  I know myself (and my lack of experience, especially when it comes to being successful at making desserts), so I allotted 45 minutes for this step.  Which, it turns out I needed.

I placed the pieces of 64 percent cacao chocolate onto the squares of dehydrated mousse, and laid them on a Silpat-lined baking sheet.  I didn't want to put them directly in the oven, because I knew it would be harder to control the heat. 

So, I placed them on the stovetop, right near the oven vent... where it gets really warm.  So, how warm should the oven be to generate the kind of heat I needed to bring the chocolate to 94 degrees, without getting too hot that it would melt?

200 degrees?

Nope.

300 degrees?

Uh-uh.

400? 

Close.  But still no increase in the chocolate's temperature.

I turned my oven to 425, and checked the chocolate's temperature every minute.  Slowly it climbed from 74 degrees... to 76, then 77, then 82... and then stayed there for a few minutes.  It inched up a degree at a time, until it got to 94 degrees (94.3 actually) and I turned off the oven and removed the chocolate from the stovetop and started plating.

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First in the bowl?  Four braised fig halves, in their glaze.  Next to that went the cinnamon ice cream.  On top went the 94-degree chocolate-topped dehydrated chocolate mousse, which was topped with bee balm flowers (bergamot flowers are out of season right now).  My friends carried their bowls out to the table, and I poured in the tea around the base of the dessert:

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Pretty, isn't it?  But how did it taste?

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She's gonna kill me for posting that photo, but I don't care.

This dessert was really, really good.  Even better than I thought it was going to be.  Almost as good as being able to see most of Jupiter's moons.  Seriously. 

These ingredients were so wonderful together.  I also loved how the soft warmth of the chocolate tempered the ice cream.  The figs were sweet, but not overly sweet, and the wines were noticeable but not at all overpowering or domineering.  The tea added a really nice aromatic quality to the dessert in addition to tasting really good.  The texture of the dehydrated mousse was crunchy and chewy, and tasted like a compressed brownie.  In fact, I have some leftover dehydrated chocolate mousse and leftover cinnamon ice cream, so as soon as I hit the Publish button on this bad boy, I'mma make myself an ice cream sandwich.

But you guys?  This dessert?  Worth it.  Maybe it's because I've been so stressed out for the past month, but this, combined with fire pits, planet-gazing, hot dogs, s'mores, and wine, has made for a pretty memorable September.

Up Next: Tomato, balloons of mozzarella, many complementary flavors (I don't want to wait until next summer to do this dish, and this is the last week for tomatoes here in DC)

Resources: Figs from Whole Foods; Sandeman ruby port; The Squid's Fist wine; glucose from L'Epicerie; Domino sugar; Twinings Earl Grey tea; Ultra-Tex 3 from Terra Spice; cinnamon from HMart; Natural by Nature whole milk; gelatin sheets from King Arthur Flour; Organic Valley nonfat powdered milk; Borden sweetened condensed milk; Green & Black's 72% cacao chocolate; Ghirardelli 64% chocolate; eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; David's kosher salt; bee balm from my garden.

Music to Cook By: XTC; Oranges and Lemons.  I think "The Loving" might be in my top 20 favorite songs of all time.

Read My Previous Post: I made lamb stock, and all is well with the world...

June 15, 2010

Beef, elements of A1

A few things before we get started:

1) I had dinner at Alinea the week before last.  It was beyond beyond beyond any dinner I've had there before.  It kicked my ass, made out with me, screamed at the top of its lungs, did a mile of back handsprings, and blew my mind.  Details are forthcoming.

2) The new season of Top Chef (in DC!) starts this week on Bravo, and I have the delightful honor of recapping the series each week for Washingtonian magazine.  Every Wednesday night/Thursday morning, the recaps will go up here.  Hope you'll come over Washingtonian-way and join the convo. 

*  *  *  *  *

When I ate at Alinea last year, I had a different version of this dish.  The A1 was powdered, and while it wasn't bad, I really only ate it on one bite of the beef it was served to accompany.  I'm just not a fan of A1.  My brother slathers it all over his steak.  Friends of mine put it on scrambled eggs.  Me?  I've just never liked the taste of it, nor have I ever gotten the appeal of it.  If beef is good on its own, then why add anything to it? 

That said, I was curious to try this dish because every individual ingredient appealed to me.

My food-savvy friend, Joey, IMed me a few days ago to ask what dish I was working on for this week's post.  When I wrote "Beef -- page 194," there was a loooong pause before I got a return IM from him that read, "Wow, that recipe just goes on and on and on!" 

Yes.

It does.

It's a six-pager.  Twenty elements in all.  Lots of dehydrating.  Lots of sous vide action.  Lots of dishwasher cycles.  Lots of lovely, lovely food I was so excited to cook.  Let's get to it.

I made this over the course of two days.  I needed to.  I don't have enough counter space or stove-top space or dehydrator trays or electrical outlets in all the right places to have done this all at once.  Time for a kitchen renovation, methinks.

Day One

Let me start by saying that there are two elements of this dish I did not do: the red pepper reduction and the dried red pepper.  Not too long ago, I found out the hard way that bell peppers are not my friend.  The first clue should've been when cutting them made my hands itch and my fingers swell.  Why I ate them after that is beyond me.  But I did.  And it wasn't pretty.  So, scratch those off the list. 

First up?  The raisin puree.

Now, I don't know about you, but I am vehemently opposed to the production and purchase of brown raisins.  They're flies without wings.  They're rat turds.  They are not, nor have they ever been, two scoops of sunshine, no matter what Madison Avenue tries to tell you.  They completely squick me out and I won't buy them or eat them.  Golden raisins, on the other hand, I can handle.  They're lovely to look at, and they've got a little more life to them.

So, I chose to make the raisin puree with golden raisins. I blanched them three times, then put them in the blender with a little salt until the mixture was smooth.  I pressed that mixture through a chinois into a little storage container until I was ready to plate the next day:

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The next thing I did was dehydrate some tomato slices:

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After six hours, they looked like this:

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Then, I dehydrated some elephant garlic:

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I blanched very thin slices of that garlic in milk (three times!) and dehydrated them.  After three hours, they looked like this:

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Next up?  Dried orange zest.  I've gotten really good at peeling oranges, so that I don't have to go back and carefully slice away the pith.  I peeled these two oranges....

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... then sliced those peels into thin strips, blanched them in simple syrup, then dehydrated them.  After four hours, they looked like this:

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And now, for some onion rings! I sliced this onion across its equator:

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... then, I used my mandoline to slice very thin slices, which I cooked and soaked in simple syrup before dehydrating.  After five hours, they looked like this:

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Mmmmmm, ginger:

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I peeled and very thinly sliced that ginger (using my mandoline), which I simmered in simple syrup for about 15 minutes.  After five hours in the dehydrator, they looked like this:
 
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Next up was the rib eye. I knew I was only having 4 or 5 people over for this dish instead of my usual 7 or 8, so I only bought half the amount I needed:

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I cleaned up those slabs o' meat -- removing all the outer fat and silverskin.  The book instructs you to save the fat so you can render it for the potato portion of this dish, but I already had rendered beef fat in the fridge, so I saved this fat to render later in the week. After the rib eyes were cleaned up, I cut them into small 3- to 4-oz portions, put them in a Ziploc sous vide bag, and cooked them sous vide in 134F-degree water for 20 minutes:

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When the meat was done cooking, I plunged it into a large bowl of ice water (more ice than water) to stop the cooking process.  When it had sufficiently cooled, I put the bag of meat in the fridge to keep it cold until the next day, when I would finish everything for this dish.

Day Two

I got an early start so I could make sure everything got done, and have a few hours of buffer time in case anything went drastically wrong.

The first thing I did on the second day was make the spiced vinegar sauce. It starts with toasting whole cloves and allspice berries, grinding them to a fine powder, then adding the spice powder to a saucepan with water, sugar, and vinegar.  I brought this mixture to a boil:  DSC_0003

After it had boiled for a few seconds, I turned off the burner and let it steep for 20 minutes.  Then, I poured it through a fine-mesh strainer into another saucepan, added the agar agar and brought that to a boil, whisking like crazy while it boiled for 90 seconds.  I poured that mixture through yet another fine-mesh strainer into a bowl set in a bowl of ice so it could cool and start to set:

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After about 45 minutes nestled in the bowl of ice, I moved the vinegar mixture (which was starting to set) to the fridge where it could get really cold and finish setting.

The next thing I worked on was the bitter orange puree.  I kinda had to MacGyver this because I couldn't find bitter oranges anywhere I looked or called.  No one had them.  So, I decided I'd use regular navel oranges.  But, with bitter oranges, the trick is to sous vide the entire orange (peel and all) because that activates the pectin and thickens it to a puree.  I didn't want to do that with regular oranges (because the makeup of the peel and the pith is different from bitter oranges), so instead, I decided to supreme two large navel oranges and put them in a saucepan with all the other ingredients the recipe called for -- simple syrup, grapeseed oil, and salt.  I lowered the amount of grapeseed oil (from 50g to 30g) because for some reason it felt like the right thing to do.  I brought this mixture to a boil, then let it continue to cook on a high simmer for about 45 minutes, until the oranges had really begun to break down and get stewy:

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I put that mixture into my blender and whacked it around on really high speed until it was nice and smooth.  Then, I returned it to the pan, and added 8g of apple pectin and brought it to a boil again, whisking the entire time to incorporate the pectin.  It started to thicken, and you'll see the final orange puree in the plating shot at the end of the post.  I was really happy with the way it turned out, considering I pretty much had no idea what I was doing and relied on my ever-growing knowledge of SCIENCE.

The next thing I worked on was the anchovy sauce.  I'd made anchovy butter the day before (and forgot to take photos).  I reduced some veal stock, then added just a few grams of the anchovy butter (which I made by pureeing some anchovy filets along with some unsalted butter), and whisked it to incorporate.

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You'll see the finished product in the final plating photo.

The next thing I did was bake the potato slices before turning them into sort-of-potato-chips.  In the book, Chef suggests using a Japanese rotary slicer to make loooooong strips.  I don't have a Japanese rotary slicer (Even though I want one.  Bad.), so I just sliced a russet potato on my mandoline and made smaller strips instead of one big, long strip.

But before I even did that, I melted some of the rendered beef fat in the new (!!) All-Clad copper pot I was given at the James Beard Awards (it's just so pretty -- I use it all the time):

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I sliced this potato as thinly as I possibly could...

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... then laid those slices (which I'd trimmed to a more even rectangle shape) on a sheet pan I'd brushed with some of the rendered beef fat, then brushed a little more beef fat on the tops of those slices, and put them in the oven for 6 minutes.  

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When they were done, I transferred the potato slices onto a different sheet pan which I'd lined with parchment.  When they'd cooled to room temperature, I covered them with another piece of parchment paper and let them rest before I needed to deep-fry the ends of them for the plating.

By now, the vinegar sauce gel was MORE than set: 
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I chopped it up a bit and put it in the blender on high speed for a minute or two (along with some kosher salt) until it was a smooth puree.  I pushed it through a chinois, and you'll see the final outcome in the plating photo at the end.

Are you tired yet?  This might seem like it was exhausting or a lot of work, but it really wasn't.  I promise.

Last, but not least, the Yukon gold puree.  I started with these two bad boys:

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I put them in a Ziploc sous vide bag and cooked them in a pot of 190F-degree water on the stovetop for an hour.  I helped keep them below the water's surface by dunking a ladle in and letting it fill with water so that it could be a bit of a weight:
DSC_0013 When the potatoes were done, I mashed them through a tamis into a saucepan with warmed cream in it:
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Then, over low heat, I stirred in nearly two sticks of butter (yes, kids, that's a ratio even Ruhlman could love -- a 1:1 potato to butterstick ratio), a few 1/2" cubes at a time until it was fully incorporated and the potatoes were creamy.

The last thing to do before plating was to sear the meat.  Well, the last thing, really, to do was to go through the list of elements in this dish and make sure I had everything lined up for plating.  Sauces?  Check.  Dehydrated items?  Check.  Purees?  Che.... oh, wait.  Oh no. 

Crap.

Somehow, in all my meticulous planning I'd forgotten to make the chive puree.  Even worse?  I completely forgot to buy chives, and the meager amount growing in my garden right now wouldn't even come close to the 8 oz. I needed for the puree.

Dangit.

So, I kicked myself in the butt a few times and soldiered onward.  I had no choice.  I was 15 minutes away from everyone coming over, so there was no time to run up to the Co-op and spring what likely would've been $15 on 8 oz. of chives. 

I deep-fried (in canola oil) the ends of the potato strips (which you'll see in the final plating shot) and seared the beef on the grill-top:

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And then, I plated everything:  DSC_0022

So, clockwise: raisin puree, garlic chip, dried tomato, potato strip, beef (atop potato puree), a streak of the orange puree, a blorp of spiced vinegar sauce, dried orange zest, chive tips (from my garden), another piece of beef (atop an anchovy strip) with an onion ring on top of that next to some of the anchovy sauce.  There's a ginger chip underneath that second piece of beef, and some fresh ginger juice drip-dropped on top of everything.

I am really proud of this dish.  It was a lot of work, and it was the first thing I cooked after having dinner at Alinea.  After visiting the mothership.  After being in the presence of greatness on a plate.  I'll admit I was a little intimidated to open this cookbook again after my time in Chicago.  To see and to taste and to experience the absolute pleasure that kitchen and the service team provides can be overwhelming and humbling.  It was both those things, but it also energized me and put me on a higher plane of appreciation when I sliced that onion so so thin.... when I peeled that orange zest.... and when I MacGyvered that orange puree.  It made me really pay even more attention to what I was doing and how I was doing it (except for the chive puree brain fart).

That plate of food you see above tasted really, really good.  Thinking back on it now, I could've been more generous with the ginger juice, I think.  I was conservative with it because fresh ginger is such a powerful flavor that I didn't wanna go overboard and have everyone be like, "Um, could I have a little beef with my ginger?"  But now that I've eaten it, I know I could've done a few more drops or drizzles.  Even with that, I thought this was really good.  All the flavors, of course, played nicely with one another as they were meant to.  I wish I hadn't forgotten the chive puree, because I think that would've amped it up even more. 

I really loved this dish, and while I might not make it the same exact way in the future, as we get into summer and I dream of grilled steak (hold the A1), I can totally see a green salad with a lot of these ingredients, and an herbed potato salad to go with.

Meanwhile, I've got leftover potato puree to go reheat for breakfast.  Don't you wish you were here?

Up Next: Prosciutto, or Chocolate.

Resources: Rib eye, oranges, butter, tomato, onion, ginger, and potatoes from Whole Foods; raisins, elephant garlic, cloves and allspice from the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op; Domino sugar; Terra Medi white wine vinegar; agar agar from Terra Spice; David's kosher salt; Roland grapeseed oil and anchovies; veal stock from my freezer; Organic Valley cream; rendered beef fat from my fridge; Natural by Nature milk; chives from my garden; 365 canola oil.

Music to Cook By: Journey; Escape.  I kind of hate that "Glee" has adopted Journey as their go-to band for the show.  That said, this album is always in my regular rotation.  I can't help it.  It's an old, old favorite and brings back so many amazing memories from my junior high and high school days.  No matter what kind of day I'm having, Journey: Escape always makes it better.  It just does.

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

April 26, 2010

Marcona Almond, white ale, pink pepper, lavender

Hi!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm back!!!!!!!!!

I missed you guys.

I'm still under a ridiculous pile of work that keeps growing and growing (which, I have to keep reminding myself is a GOOD THING when you're self-employed), but can breathe a bit more easily now since some big deadlines have passed and some others are a little further down the road and more manageable.

And just in time to celebrate this more manageable schedule has come a most painful and ridiculous sciatica attack my orthopedist says is a result of something called piriformis syndrome, which he so beautifully described as "when your buttcheek muscle spasms." Which, because I am 12, cracked me up but then I had to grow up because laughing hurts so much (as does sneezing, crying after sneezing, and pretty much any kind of moving, breathing, and walking).

He said it likely began when I fell up the stairs again two weeks ago, exacerbated by the long periods of time I have spent sitting and writing for clients the past two weeks, and then got worse when I sat on two very long flights last week to the west coast and back. When he and I were going through the list of symptoms and pain positions leading up to this extreme, sharp, shooting pain across my lower back, hips, and down my left leg, I neglected to add to the list the general thrashing and dramatic arm gestures I was doing in the car Friday night along to Poison's "Something to Believe In" to try and will Bret Michaels back to good health. I think that's the straw that broke the camel's back.  Or, um, buttcheek muscle.

So, I've found two positions that don't hurt: standing, and laying on my stomach. I'm typing this while standing at the island in my kitchen... a stack of cookbooks piled up with the laptop on top so I can easily type.  The only time I'm in need of pain management is when I sit, or do the transitions from laying to sitting or sitting to standing.  I took Vicodin on Saturday night to be able to sleep, and holy moley I can see how people get addicted to that.  Not ever taking that again.  Totally whacked me out (even though it gave me the best sleep of my life).

I need a back transplant.  Or a buttcheek muscle transplant.  WHERE'S MY TELETHON?

Okay, enough about my medical ailments.  That's not why you come here.

But(t), before I get to the Marcona almond dish, I have something really cool I wanna tell you...

*   *   *   *   *

I am going to the Food OscarsThe James Beard Awards!  And, not only am I going, they've asked me to live-blog the awards ceremony on their web site!  I'm so excited about this I could plotz. 

More info on specific times and the URL as soon as I get the deets from the folks in New York, but for now, mark your calendars for the evening of Monday, May 3rd.  Yay!  Let the plotzing commence!

*   *   *   *   *

So, Marcona Almond. 

FINALLY.

I made this just before I got buried under the avalanche of work, and it's been bugging me that I haven't written about it yet.  So here we go.

Probably 5 or 6 years ago, or more, I quit drinking beer.  It just didn't taste good to me anymore.  I figured, heck, I drank a LOT of beer in college... maybe I just used up the lifetime quota my enjoyment receptors would allow, and never drank it again.  Didn't miss it at all.  Was it a precursor/early warning sign that my body was rejecting gluten?  My doctors think so.  I've made the rounds of gluten-free beer over the past year to see if I could find one that might make me appreciate or enjoy beer, and while I'm not repelled by it like I used to be, and while I already made one Alinea dish that had beer in it, I just haven't fallen back in love with beer again.

But this recipe called for a white ale (Allagash, to be specific), which just isn't an option for me.  So, after narrowing down my options via some extensive online research and conversations with others who have celiac and have sampled gluten-free beer, I called and went to some of the city's best liquor/beer/wine stores, met with beer experts, talked with many, many men who knew a lot about white ale, but not a single one of them knew anything about gluten-free beer because they've never tasted it.... even though all their stores sold it.

Which... I guess I get.  I mean, when you work in the alcohol sales field you probably can't taste everything you sell, but it would've been nice for at least one person in this city to have some idea of what these beers tasted like, and whether they could recommend one brand over another. 

So, I bought a sampling of 8 or 9 gluten-free beers and narrowed it down to one I thought might work.  On a side note, let me tell you a gluten-free beer you don't EVER need to try to drink or cook with, and that's New Grist.  Tastes like a baby wipe smells, and leaves a film in your mouth akin to having gargled with Oil of Olay and rinsed with water you burned rice in.  Just a little PSA there, from me to you.

The first step in making this dish is to make beer gel.  So, I put 200g of Green's Quest Triple Blonde into the blender with some sugar, glucose, potassium citrate, and kappa carrgeenan and blended it on high speed for 3 minutes:

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I put it in a saucepan, brought it to a boil, the poured it into a plastic-lined 13x9" baking dish:

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I put it in the fridge to chill for an hour until it had set.

Meanwhile, I made the Marcona almond cream.  The recipe in the book calls for Marcona almond paste (50% sugar) which I couldn't find anywhere, so I made my own.  Or, at least something vaguely resembling what I think Marcona almond paste is.  I'm familiar with the texture and taste of regular almond paste, so I threw a bunch of already-roasted and salted Marcona almonds into the food processor with a little bit of sugar and just kept pulverizing it and augmenting with sugar and almond oil until it felt and tasted right:

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It's not creamy like almond butter, and it's not chunky or gritty.  It really is like a paste.  Not overly sweet, but not overly nutty, either.  Not something I'd advise eating with a spoon, but more something that can be used in other things, you know?

I weighed 150g of that homemade Marcona almond paste and put it in the blender with some yogurt, and then blended everything until it was well combined.  In a saucepan, I heated some cream until it began to boil.  I removed it from the stove top and added some already-soaked gelatin sheets and some sugar, and stirred until they both were dissolved. Then, I whisked the gelatin-sugar-cream mixture into the Marcona almond paste-yogurt mixture, and poured it over the now-set beer gel layer:

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Next, I made some almond oil jam (and forgot to photograph it because I was too busy tasting it, and by tasting it I mean pouring it down my throat because it was sooooooo good) by whisking a boiled Trimoline and glucose mixture into 3 egg yolks, then drizzling in some almond oil while it was buzzing around in the food processor.

Last but not least was slicing some orange zest into small pieces, and frothing some more beer by adding soy lecithin and sugar to the white ale and making it foam with the immersion blender.

For plating, I was supposed to cut the now-set beer gel and Marcona almond cream into long 3"x10" strips and roll them, then cut them so they'd look like a cool spiral-y thingamabob on the spoon.  For some reason, it didn't work (the strips kept breaking as I rolled them, and generally turned into a giant mess; I'm blaming the lack of gluten which is a binder), so I just cut neat little squares and put them on a spoon.

First on the spoon, though, was a blob of almond oil jam, then the squares, which I topped it with beer froth, orange zest, and crushed pink peppercorn pieces.  I also added a tiny bit of dried lavender, as the book suggests, but didn't do the malted milk powder (it has gluten), and instead grated some Marcona almond over the top of each serving:

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So, how'd it taste? Wellllllllll, it didn't suck.  It certainly wasn't the best thing I've ever eaten, but it also wasn't the worst.  I served this to my friends the same night I made the Yuba, shrimp, orange, miso dish, which was just such a freakin' knockout of a dish, this one barely stood a chance.  But, it held its own.  

The flavor of the beer was not all that great, but I loved the Marcona almond cream with the orange and pink peppercorn.  The beer kinda gave it a mellow backdrop, but because it was gluten-free beer, I think the dish suffered a bit as a result in the taste and texture department.  Such is my life.  When I made the Marcona almond cream, I used sheep's milk yogurt, because I knew the beer part of the deal would be weak, so I wanted the other element of that layered bit to have some zing to it, and I love the way it turned out.

Don't get me wrong: I do enjoy the challenge of de-glutening these (and other) dishes, but it kills me when the basic chemistry of gluten is such a determining factor in a dish's outcome, and mine ends up not being what I know it can be if only I had a normal immune system.  (:::shakes fist at sky:::)

That said, if you can eat gluten, you might want to try making this.  I like the idea of these flavors together, and I think it could be really, really good.  Or, you know, you could just drink beer and eat a handful of Marcona almonds on a Tuesday night.  SLACKER.

Up Next: Lamb, mastic, date, rosemary fragrance... or Opah, in the style of bacon, endive, radicchio

Resources: Green's Quest Triple Blonde beer; Old Chatham sheep's milk yogurt; Domino sugar; glucose and Trimoline from L'Epicerie; potassium citrate from ZooScape.com (weird, I know); kappa carrageenan and soy lecithin from Terra Spice; Marcona almonds, orange, and lavender from Whole Foods; Organic Valley heavy cream.

Music to Cook By: Alphaville; Forever Young.  Twenty-six years later and I still love this album as much as I did the first time I put the needle on the record.

Read My Previous Post: Yuba, shrimp, orange, miso

April 05, 2010

Yuba, shrimp, orange, miso

Well, THAT was fun, now wasn't it?

Some people love decorating their Christmas tree... others look forward to Valentine's Day every year.... me?  I'm a big fan of the 4/1.  It's kinda *my* holiday, ya know?  Special thanks go out to two incredibly wonderful and cherished friends -- Catherine and Chris -- the wind beneath my April Fool's wings. 

And you know what?  When I read through that April Fool's Day post one last time before pressing the "Publish" button, I thought to myself, hey, wait a minute... that actually sounds like a fun tour, and I wish I could really do it.  Well, except for the liquid nitrogen part.  And the having to do all that permitting.  But cooking my way across the country???  I'd love it.  Let's find a way to make that happen, k?  I'm serious.  Wouldn't that be cool? 

For now, though, I guess I'll just stay here at home and show you how to make dehydrated and fried soy skin sticks.  See, isn't that more fun?  (say it with me: NO)

But before we get started, I wanna tell you about an event here in the DC area I hope you'll come to: Smith Meadows Farm Day.  A little over an hour outside DC, Smith Meadows Farm is owned and run by the Pritchard Family.  I've gotten to know Forrest and his wife Nancy over the past few years (they're at a few of our local farmers markets), and not only do I think they are awesome, their food is amazing (their chickens are the best you'll find in the area).  You can read this interview I did with Forrest, and then, you can go to their web site and sign up for Farm Day -- it's Saturday, May 1st from 10 - 2.  The cost is $35 per person ($60 for a couple), and that includes a tour of the farm, some workshops and activities, and a big ole BBQ lunch (featuring their meats).  Kids 18 and under get in free.

I'm gonna be there, so I hope you'll come out to see a working family farm, and get to know some great people who work harder than anyone I know.

*  *  *  *  *

Now, about those dehydrated and fried soy milk skin sticks.... let's hit it:

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Those were some dried soybeans I soaked in water overnight.  The next morning, I put them in a blender along with some water, and made soy milk:

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I poured that liquid into a large sauce pan, brought it to a boil, and let it boil for 3 minutes.  I poured the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into another large sauce pan (the liquid was about 1" deep) where I skimmed off all the foam and bubbles and brought it up to just below a simmer -- that's when the skin began to form on the top of the liquid. The skin that forms is called yuba, hence the word "yuba" in the title of this dish.  How many of you thought "yuba" was short for "yodeling tuba?" Show of hands?  I thought so.  Shame on you.  Especially you, there, in the back. What were you THINKING?

Now, you're supposed to be able to pull the skin off and lay it flat on a piece of parchment to dry before rolling it into a stick.  But you know me... I can work my magic in the halls of Congress, in the East Room of The White House, and on the front page of the nation's leading newspapers, but lifting the skin off soy milk and laying it flat? I got no skillz.  (and it's totally frustrating, believe you me)

I got the skin about halfway off the surface before it kinda started folding all into itself, so I decided to just run with it, and made the sticks straight away... and added in some extra time in the dehydrator (since there would be moisture in the ridges of the sticks).  Here's what one of the soy milk skin sticks looked like as it dried at room temperature before going into the dehydrator:

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Not the most attractive food product I've ever seen, but not the worst, either, I suppose.  I made eight of those sticks, which took about two hours -- after one layer of skin was pulled off the surface of the milk, I had to wait another 15-20 minutes for another one to form.  There were eight in all, and they all spent about 5 hours in the dehydrator at 135F degrees.

While I was making the soy milk sticks, I made miso mayonnaise:

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It's so easy -- you just start with one egg yolk in a bowl, then whisk in the canola oil, a drop or two at a time, whisking all the while, then adding the oil more steadily as the mayo emulsifies.  I love making homemade mayonnaise... and miso mayonnaise?  Holy wow, is that good.  After whisking the egg yolk and oil, I added red miso paste, the juice of two limes, sugar, water, kosher salt and cayenne pepper.  All I need to do now is learn how to make a gluten-free baguette and I will slather this miso mayonnaise on every freakin' sandwich I can think of.

The other thing I did while waiting for the soy milk skins to form was peel an orange, go in with a paring knife to remove the pith, cut the peel into long, thin slices, then blanch them in simple syrup.  Those long orange peel strips were wrapped around the yuba sticks just before serving.

DSC_0012Look!  I peeled it all in one piece!  I should have my own TV show!  Or a recording contract!  Or a clothing line!  Right?  Right.

Once the yuba sticks were dehydrated, it was time to deep fry them:

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While they blobbed around the pot of hot canola oil for about a minute, I sliced some raw, pink, Florida Keys shrimp lengthwise so they, too, could be wrapped around the now-fried yuba sticks.

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I wrapped one sliced shrimp around each yuba stick, put them on a baking sheet, lightly brushed them with canola oil, and stuck them under the broiler for about 2 minutes when the shrimp were cooked through and the yuba had begun to brown even further:

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To serve them, I put a spoonful of miso mayonnaise in a shot glass, then perched a yuba stick in it.  I included a piece of chive, a candied orange zest strip, a dash of togarashi (a spicy Japanese pepper powder), and a sprinkling of black sesame seeds (those weren't in the recipe, but they were there in the photo, so I included them):

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Love, Love, Love, LOVE! 

Shrimp, orange, and miso might just be my new favorite flavor combination. Holy cats, these were good.  There were just four of us around the table, and we were pretty psyched to have two apiece.  The biting and the re-dunking, and the biting again, and the one last dunking and biting... wow.  I think we could've gone through a few dozen of these.  They're THAT good.

If the danged soy milk skin sticks weren't such a pain in the ass, I'd make these things EVERY DAY.  I'm not kidding.  Salty, crunchy, shrimpy, orange-y, miso-y flavor all in one bite?  What's not to love?  I mean, sure, fine... go ahead and buy some lame-ass box of cheese straws from the stupid grocery store for your next dinner party or holiday gathering.  FINE.  Be that way.  Or, you know, you could make these and actually make your guests pass out from all the deliciousness.  Then, while they're unconscious on the floor, you could eat your leftover miso mayonnaise out of a little plastic storage container with a spoon.  Oh wait, I meant, you could WANT to do that.  Not that you would really ever DO that.  Because who eats miso mayonnaise out of the container with a spoon?  I mean, really.  That's gross.  Ew.  WHO DOES THAT?  (me.)  (totally.)  (i ain't gonna lie.)

I think one of my projects this summer will have to be to figure out a nice little lunchtime shrimp salad that incorporates miso, orange, and sesame.  That, with a glass of prosecco, would make me a very happy girl.

Up Next: Marcona Almond, white ale, pink pepper, lavender

Resources: Dried soybeans, orange, limes, red miso, and togarashi from HMart; egg from Smith Meadows Farm; 365 canola oil; Domino sugar; David's kosher salt; cayenne pepper from TPSS Co-op; shrimp and chives from Whole Foods.

Music to Cook By: The Bird and The Bee; Interpreting the Masters Volume 1: A Tribute to Darryl Hall and John Oates.  One of my favorite duos covering the songs of one of my other favorite duos?  If loving this is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Read My Previous Post: Alinea at Home, On the Road!  (*snerky-snerk-snerk)

March 22, 2010

Bison, beets, blueberries, burning cinnamon

Every so often, someone asks me how far along I am in this project of mine. And, I realized last night that I've been giving everyone the same answer for the past six months or so: Uh, I dunno... about a third of the way through the book, I think?

I spent some time yesterday afternoon going through my Alinea at Home spreadsheet, tracking which dishes I'd done, which ones still needed to be posted, and which ones were coming up in the next two months, and it hit me: I'm more than halfway through the book.

I KNOW.

I totally missed my Alinea at Home Halfiversary, which I think might've been the Foie Gras candy.

Wow.  More than halfway through the book.  I've done 56 of 107 dishes.  I kinda can't believe it.  Can you?

The bison dish I did prior to this one was so wonderful in such a personal way I had to force myself not to compare the two when I started cooking this one -- it wouldn't have been fair.  But, this one has so many elements I love: bison, blueberries, beets, fennel... how could I not love it?  I just wasn't sure what everything would taste like together, you know?

It was indeed another week from hell... not in a bad way, just a crazy, hectic schedule with deadlines to meet, more hurry-up-and-wait projects, and other distractions that sorta forced me to cook this in a really condensed and much more compressed timeline than I'd originally planned.  That's okay, though, because I needed more stress and pressure in my life.  Really and truly.

Let's get to it:

Six days prior to even starting this dish, I had to make the corned bison.  Here's the corning liquid the meat rests in, refrigerated for six days:

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(that's water, salt, evaporated cane juice, tinted curing salt, black peppercorns, ground cinnamon, bay leaves, and the guts of a vanilla bean)

Here's the bison leg meat (I removed meat from the multiple osso buco cuts) before it went into the corning liquid:

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Here it is IN the corning liquid:

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And, six days later, here it is in Ziploc sous vide bags with some canola oil in a four-hour, 185F-degree water bath:

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While the bison was sous vide-ing, I prepped a beet for dehydration:

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I sliced one medium-sized beet very thin on my awesome Benriner mandoline (if you don't have one, you should):

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Man, I love the early-morning sun in my kitchen...

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I simmered the beet slices in a mixture of water, salt, and sugar for a few minutes, then let them drain on a towel-lined baking sheet:

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I put the beet slices onto the trays in my dehydrator at 145F degrees, and after five hours, they looked like this:

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I put them into my mini-chopper with some freeze-dried blueberries, and made beet-blueberry crumbs (you'll see the crumbs in the final plating photo):

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As soon as the bison leg meat came out of the water bath, I plonked them into two big bowls of ice water (more ice than water to start) and put two bags of four cubed red beets (with butter!) into the water bath and let the temperature come down to 180F degrees:

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The beets cooked for an hour.  I put them into my blender along with 500g of beet juice, salt, and red wine vinegar until everything was smooth and pureed.  I then added Ultra-Tex 3 to thicken it, then pushed the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and reserved the creamy pudding until it was time to plate.

After the bison leg meat had cooled, I cut it into half-inch cubes and stored it in the fridge until it was time to make bison leg ragout out of it:

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Meanwhile, after the two bags of beets for the beet pudding came out of the water bath, two more bags of beets went in -- one bag of red beet cubes and one bag of golden beet cubes.  These were supposed to have been baby beets, but after calling nine grocery stores and three farmers market producers and not finding any baby beets, I improvised and just cut regular beets into what I thought would be close to baby beet size.  I put them into Ziploc sous vide bags with a mixture of water, salt, red wine vinegar, and butter:

They went into the water bath for about an hour at 165F degrees:

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While they cooked, I made what I think is my favorite-named element of this dish: the Beet Sheet.

The book recommends juicing four beets to get 500g of beet juice, but I had a few bottles of beet juice already on hand, so I just went with that.  I brought the beet juice, agar agar, and salt to a boil, whisking like the Tasmanian Devil while it boiled for a minute and a half, then turned off the burner before whisking in four already-soaked and pliable gelatin (ha! i just typed "genital" - whoops) sheets. 

I poured 120g of this liquid onto an acetate-lined baking sheet and put it in the fridge to set.  I saved the rest of the liquid in case this version of it didn't work and I needed to try again.  Luckily, it worked, though my camera skillz were sorely lacking:

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(no, you don't have glaucoma)

Once the beet sheet had set, I used a 3" round cutter to cut eight circles, which got draped (or folded) over the corned bison ragout in the final plating.

The last thing I had to sous vide was the bison tenderloin (135F degrees for 25 minutes):

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When the tenderloin was done, I plunged it into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  Then, I cut it into eight pieces and let them rest on a plate in the fridge, covered by a paper towel, until it was nearly time to plate.

While all this sous vide action was going on, I was making a few other things: pickled blueberries and blueberry gastrique, and fennel puree.

To make the pickled blueberries, I brought red wine, water, and sugar to a boil, added blueberries, then turned off the burner and let them cool to room temperature.  I strained the blueberries (and stored them in a container in the fridge until it was time to plate), and saved the liquid to make the gastrique (which you essentially do by reducing the blueberry liquid, then adding veal stock and reducing further, skimming and straining until it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). 

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I also made fennel puree by cooking 2 large fennel bulbs (roughly chopped) in a whole freakin' stick of butter (BOO-YAH!), which, when done looked like this.......

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..... and smelled better than almost anything I've smelled in months.  Wowza.  I know I've written before about wanting to bathe in Bordelaise sauce and wanting to steam my face with lemon thyme, but this hot, buttered, fennel gives those other things a SERIOUS run for their money.  Day-um.  And for some reason, I'm now singing "HOT buttered FENNEL...(hot buttered fennel) tonight....(tonight) Oh yeah...."

I put the hot buttered fennel (you're singing it now, too, aren't you) into a blender to puree it, then passed it through a chinois into a saucepan to keep warm, where I added a dash of white wine vinegar and some kosher salt.  You'll see the final fennel puree in the plating photo.

Another element you'll soon see is the corned bison leg ragout.  I took the cubes of bison meat and added them to a warmed mixture of cream cheese, heavy cream, red wine vinegar, salt, a lightly blanched dice of fennel, and a fennel seed/star anise powder seen here:

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I took a photo of the bison ragout as it was cooking, but it looks like dog food on its own, so I deleted it.

I shaved some fresh fennel on my mandoline and pulled off some fennel fronds for the dish, and the last thing I had to do before plating was sear the bison tenderloin pieces -- a few minutes on each side.  I also reheated the mock-baby beets in their cooking liquid.

Here's what the final dish looked like:

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So, let's look at this photo below and go clockwise from the top, shall we?

Mock-baby red beets, mock-baby golden beets, beet pudding, fennel puree, corned bison ragout (topped with shaved fresh fennel and fennel fronds), seared bison tenderloin (topped with a 2" piece of beet sheet), and in the middle were the pickled blueberries, sitting in a small pool of blueberry gastrique.  The confetti-like sprinklin' action you see on top of the fennel puree?  Those are beet-blueberry crumbs.

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Twelve elements in one dish.  Gorgeous.

The book suggests adding a smoking cinnamon stick or two to each plate, and in the book they're using plates shaped to be able to do that.  I couldn't make it work on each individual plate, so I lit a bunch of cinnamon sticks on fire, then blew them out so the cinnamon smoke would be our centerpiece as we ate:

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One of my good friends was in town from Portland, OR (he's a vegetarian, and loved the bison), another college friend came by, and my neighbors were more than happy to join us for this dish. 

I started off by eating little tastes of each of the elements of this dish.  I'd been tasting as I went along, but did a little round-robin of nibbling before starting to mix things and get a taste of beets and bison, bison and fennel and golden beet, bison, blueberries, fennel, and beet pudding.... the combinations were kinda fun to experiment with.

The bison ragout tasted better than it looked (whew!).  In fact, it was delicious.  You could tell it was corned, but I kinda thought it might taste more corned than it did, but that's okay.  The seared bison tenderloin was AMAZING... just further proof that when you start with great ingredients, you're halfway there.  All I did was add heat, and it was melt-in-the-mouth good.  The beets were lovely (I love beets, even though as a kid they made me gag).  The fennel puree was really nice, though in retrospect could've used more salt.  I liked the raw fennel with beets and bison, too.  Didn't know what they'd be like together, but the freshness of the fennel pulls the beets away from feeling too earthy and heavy.  I loved loved LOVED the pickled blueberries.  If you own this book and wanted to try something from it, make the pickled blueberries (page 112).  Seriously.  They took all of 5 minutes of active cooking time and 30 minutes of cooling-to-room-temperature time.  No whackadoo ingredients.  Just blueberries, red wine, water, and sugar.  Be a rock star.  Channel your inner Achatz.  MAKE THESE BLUEBERRIES, I BEG YOU.  I think they'd go really nicely with pork, too.  Or, you know, you could just eat them out of a bowl on their own, they're that good.

I didn't want this dish to end.  It was a hefty portion of food, and I was glad for that.  It was nice to have everyone around my table, enjoying something I made, using ingredients I love, but never would have thought to put together on one plate.  And, I had leftovers of many of the elements of this dish, so I was happy to share them with the neighbors and snack on them myself over the next day or two.  That's one of the awesome benefits of doing this blog: my fridge has the best leftovers in America.  True story.

Before I go....

I did a few Q&A posts on my French Laundry at Home blog, where I encouraged folks to post questions in the comments or email me with things they wanted to know, and I think it's high time I did that here.  Some of you have been reading me since way back in the beginning of my FL@H days, but many of you haven't.  So, if there's anything you wanna know -- whether it's about me, food, cooking, Alinea, gluten, writing, the time I spilled a drink on Colin Powell's shoes, Barry Manilow, my obsession with notebooks, snow, how I got kicked out of my college pre-med program, or my thoughts on Richard Marx (seriously, Richard Marx's PR person, I know this is showing up in your Google Alert, so can we please just have a conversation about a photo-op when he's here in the DC area on April 6, please, I'm beggin' ya?) feel free to ask.  Hit me in the comments or email me at [email protected]  I'll do a post or two to answer your questions, and will also let you know what I'm thinking about this blog now that I'm halfway done.  'Cause I have been thinking about it quite a bit these past few days now that I know how far I've come...

Up Next: Marcona Almond, white ale, pink pepper, lavender

Resources: Bison from Gunpowder Bison & Trading; David's kosher salt; Wholesome Sweeteners evaporated cane sugar; black peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaves, vanilla bean, fennel seed, and star anise from TPSS Co-op; 365 brand butter, cream cheese, and canola oil; beets and cinnamon sticks from HMart in Wheaton, MD; Domino sugar; Just Blueberries dried blueberries; Terra Medi vinegars; Ultra-Tex 3 from Terra Spice; gelatin sheets and agar agar from L'Epicerie; blueberries and fennel from Whole Foods; Organic Valley heavy cream; Biotta beet juice.

Music to Cook By: Nellie McKay; Normal as Blueberry Pie.  I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era.  I should've been an adult in the 50s and 60s, because the singer/songwriter genre in those decades is so ingrained in my DNA, it's kinda of scary.  Nellie McKay, however, is a modern-day singer/writer who has that early 60s feel to her music.  Think Doris Day meets Baby Washington meets The Pentagons meets Don Cherry.  The first time I heard one of her songs, I thought it was part of a retro/oldies podcast, but I was wrong.  If you're missing "Mad Men" as much as I am, and you wanna transport yourself back to the early 60s but still support a young artist, see what you think of Nellie McKay.  Ya might just like her yerself.

Read My Previous Post: Comfort Food (Bison, braised pistachios, potato, sweet spices)

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

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