2011 is weird. So freakin' weird.
I don't know how else to explain my absences from this blog. It drives me crazy. All I think about all day long is food and cooking and what I'm making for dinner that night, and which Alinea dish I want to cook next.
But, with the kind of work I'm doing right now for my clients -- coupled with the state of affairs in Washington (you watch the news; you know what I'm talking about) -- I really feel like I don't have a life anymore. I mean, yes, I do get out every now and then to see friends and am not a complete and total hermit. But. My time is not my own these days. There is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. There are also a lot of meetings that require days and nights of prep, just in time for them to be canceled because of potential federal budget cuts, and other shenanigans here in our nation's capital. And, to complicate matters further, I'm actually working downtown three days a week in a client's office, so I don't have as much time here at the house during the week to cater to my food life as I used to. I miss it.
It's frustrating. And yes, while I am beyond grateful to have work and an income and the ability to pay my mortgage, I am looking forward to the month of August when the city shuts down, Congress goes on its August recess, and the pace becomes closer to normal. I need to catch my breath.
Much to my surprise -- in between my "day job," the book writing, and this new project I started earlier in the month -- I had an unexpected two days off this weekend... well, big chunks of time on two consecutive days, really, so I made my shopping list, and got to work on an Alinea dish.
It felt SO GOOD to be in my kitchen for more than 7 minutes at a time. It also didn't hurt that it was 900 frajillion degrees outside, so to have something fun to do in my cool air-conditioned house was a bonus.
I started with the hazelnut pudding. I toasted some hazelnuts for about 15 minutes in a 350F-degree oven, and then added them to a pan of simmering whole milk. The smell of the toasted hazelnuts and milk simmering hit home for me that feeling I get when I smell someone drinking that horrifying hazelnut-"flavored" coffee, or using one of those jank-ass hazelnut cream substitutes in their coffee or tea. THAT is not a hazelnut smell (or taste, frankly). What was going on in my kitchen in this saucepan? THIS is hazelnut. Plain and simple.
I turned off the burner and let the mixture come to room temperature, then covered the pan and stored in the refrigerator overnight.
The following morning, I got started on the apricot-curry sauce. I brought some dried apricots and water to a boil, then turned off the burner and let them steep for a half hour:
I poured the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and reserved the liquid, which came out to 289g -- I needed 300g of the apricot-infused water to keep moving forward with this element of the dish, so I was in decent shape. I poured the 289g of liquid into a small saucepan and added sweet curry powder and saffron, and simmered until it had reduced to a thicker syrupy-like consistency.
I strained that through a fine-mesh strainer and added a bit of fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Then, I whisked in some canola oil to emulsify it before adding a few grams of salt. You'll see the sauce in the final plating photo.
While the apricots were steeping in the hot water in that earlier step, I made the hazelnut granola. One of the things I really like about the Alinea cookbook is that it introduced me to the concept of savory granola. I'd been making my own sweet granola for years, but had never made a savory or curry granola before.
Get a load of this goodness:
Puffed wild rice, honey, canola oil, sweet and hot curry powder, chopped hazelnuts, old-fashioned rolled oats, and freshly ground black pepper
I roasted the granola in a 350F-degree oven for 15 minutes, stirring it every 3-4 minutes, so it wouldn't burn.
While that cooled, I took the hazelnut and milk mixture out of the refrigerator and poured it all into the blender and pureed it on high speed for a minute or two. Then, I strained it through a chinois and poured that liquid back into the blender (which I'd rinsed out), and added some high-acyl gellan gum and some hazelnut oil and blended it until it was thicker and creamier than it had been. (sorry, forgot to photograph this step)
The book then suggests I put this mixture into a Pacojet canister with the aeration attachment and process it for on full cycle. Yeah. I didn't do that because I sadly don't own a Pacojet. So, I did the next best thing: whipped the hell out of it with my Kitchen Aid, using a chilled bowl.
Hey, gotta improvise. [But, I think my final plating photo will show that I do, in fact, NEED a Pacojet, so whoever wants to just send me one, please feel free to do so. I'll give it a good home, I promise.]
The last step is one of the most important ones, because it is supposed to (foreshadowing!) yield the most beautiful translucent apricot-colored and -flavored cylinder to encase the savory granola. The photos of this dish in the book are just gorgeous (particularly the cylinder full of granola), and I couldn't wait to just NAIL this step and feel like the Queen of Everything.
I started by heating and melting together isomalt, fondant, and glucose powder:
Now, the book says to bring it all the way up to 320F degrees, but it started to get really, really dark at 260-270, and then smelled really burny at 280, so I took it to 300 and then poured it onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet, per the book's instructions, to cool/harden:
Uuuuuuummmmmmmm, I do not think that is a translucent, apricotty color AT ALL. It got slightly lighter when I ground it to a powder along with some freeze-dried apricots, but....
I had a feeling this was not going to end well.
After grinding it into a fine powder, the book instructs to sift the powder onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet in a thin layer and put that baking sheet in a 200F-degree oven so the powder will melt into a bendy film-like substance that you can cut into rectangles that you'll then roll around a 1" dowel to make cylinders.
Yeah. Not so much.
Kinda looked like a hippie flaxseed cracker gone horribly wrong.
I decided to abandon this portion of our program, and just go straight to the elements that DID work and see if I could salvage the dessert somehow.
I'd filled a few little parfait glasses with the hazelnut pudding so it could chill and set in the refrigerator. Then, I topped that with a layer of the apricot-curry sauce (which looks like it's missing in the photo below because it sunk right into the pudding), and then sprinkled some granola on top:
I took a bite, and holy saltballs, Batman! I went back and re-read the entire recipe to make sure I hadn't messed up my salt measurements in any of the dish's components, and I hadn't. It was just so, so salty -- and this, coming from a girl who has a healthy respect for salt in her cooking. I broke off a few pieces of the not-cylinders (since that was a sweet component of the dish and I thought it might balance the next bite) and tossed those in before taking another bite, but it didn't make it any better.
It also didn't help that the hazelnut pudding ended up being not pudding... and instead was more like a melted milkshake:
But, in the spirit of trying to find the bright side, I guess this means there's lots of leftover curry granola for me to sprinkle onto some Greek yogurt for breakfast this week. Maybe top it with some nectarine slices... a drizzle of honey.
Cloud, meet silver lining.
Up Next: Pork Cheek, pumpernickel, gruyere, ramps
Resources: Hazelnuts, honey, curry powders, saffron, lemons, and apricots from the TPSS Co-op; Natural by Nature milk; Domino sugar; David's kosher salt; high-acyl gellan gum from Terra Spice; La Tourangelle hazelnut oil; 365 canola oil; Lundberg rice; Bob's Red Mill gluten-free oats; glucose powder and isomalt from L'Epicerie; fondant from Michaels; Honeyville freeze-dried apricots.
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