March 21, 2011

Applewood, Muscovado sugar, fenugreek

Because I work from home, I see my mail carrier, Fed Ex dude, and UPS guy in the neighborhood nearly every day.  Over the past two weeks, every time the UPS guy would back his big, brown, boxy truck up the tiny street to my house, I'd get excited.  And every time, he'd deliver something to my friends across the street, or to the people next door.  Not to me.  And it was driving me crazy.

I kept refreshing the order status/delivery tracking website to find out when my package was due to arrive, and every day for nearly a week it kept telling me my order was "out for delivery."  Most people suffer from this type of UPS Tracking Obsession when they've ordered an iPad or a laptop or Kinect... or something equally as awesome and fun.


Yeah.  I was obsessing over the delivery of sawdust.  Applewood sawdust, to be precise.

I know, I know.  Judge away...

No one's really sure how or why it got lost in the shuffle, but a two-pound bag of finely ground wood chips made its way to my house last week, and I was rarin' to go. 

I made this over two days, since two of the dish's elements had a 12-hour period in which they needed to steep or dehydrate.

Let's get to it.

I toasted the applewood sawdust for 15 minutes in a 350F-degree oven.


I transferred the sawdust to a glass mixing bowl, then brought some whole milk to a boil.  I turned off the burner and poured the milk into the bowl with the sawdust and stirred to incorporate it.


I covered it with a plate and let it steep in the fridge overnight.


Also that night, I whisked muscovado sugar with some egg whites, spread the mixture thinly onto a sheet of acetate, and then put that sheet onto one of the racks in my dehydrator at 150F degrees, so it could dry out overnight.


The next day, I got to work on the rest of the dish.

Time to make the ice cream.

I know I've said it before, but I've been trained well in this department, thanks to David Lebovitz.  Thanks to him, I make nearly all my own ice cream (buying Jeni's Ice Cream is the only exception).  But I'd never included guar gum or glucose in my ice creams before, so I was curious to see what the texture of the final product would be.

To start, I whisked three egg yolks with some sugar:


I brought the applewood whole milk (with sawdust strained out) and cream to a simmer, then tempered the egg yolk-sugar mixture with some of the warm liquid, then poured the tempered yolks into the saucepan with the rest of the warm milk and cream:


I whisked the heck out of it while it cooked over medium heat:


And when it had gotten thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, I removed it from the heat.  I whisked in the glucose, and then poured the whole mixture into the blender.  I added some guar gum and whacked the crap out of it for about two minutes on high speed.


Because I don't own a PacoJet, I had to cool and process it the old-fashioned way.  Well, the semi-old-fashioned way, I guess.  I poured the mixture into a bowl that was nested in a bowl of ice to start the cooling process.


Then, when it had gotten to below room temperature, I poured it into my ice cream maker (not very old-fashioned).


After about 15 minutes, it was frozen enough to begin the next step:


I scooped it into a large Ziploc bag, cut off one of the corners, and used it like a pastry bag to fill six acetate-lined cylindrical molds with ice cream.


The book calls for smaller cylinders to be used, but these are the ones I have, so I just went with it.  It ended up making a portion larger than one bite, but that's fiiiiine by me.

I put the filled molds into the freezer for about two hours.

Meanwhile, I started working on the fengreek syrup.  I steeped some fenugreek seeds in hot water:


Then, I strained them, kept the water, and threw away the seeds.

I melted glucose and sugar over medium heat until it became a golden-brown liquid:






I then added the fenugreek water little by little and kept stirring to incorporate it, bringing it to just under 240F degrees (239F to be exact).  

I filled a bowl with ice water, and gently lowered the pan of hot fenugreek syrup into it so it would cool:


Thing is, after just a few minutes, it had totally hardened, and wasn't syrupy at all.  Couldn't move on to the next step in the book, which would've been putting it into a squeeze bottle.  Nope.  No way, no how.  It was like tamarind paste.  Or a really stale taffy.  Not hard-candy hard, but stiff and barely pliable.  Those divots you see below are my fingertips, pressed down on it really hard:


No worries, though.  I decided I'd just rewarm it to be able to drizzle it over the dessert in its final plating.

The muscovado sugar and egg white combo had dehydrated, so I broke it into shards:




And then?  I plated the dessert.

I removed the ice cream cylinders (they popped right out), unwrapped the acetate from around them, rolled the ice cream in the muscovado shards, then topped it with some of the fenugreek syrup, as well as some finely ground fenugreek seeds.

Like this:


I made six of these, took a bite out of one and Tweeted this:

Picture 3

The ice cream? Smooth.  The muscovado shards?  Crunchy and sweet.  The fenugreek "syrup"?  Hardened a bit and stuck in my molars, but I didn't care. 

Seriously, you guys: make this if you get the chance.  Or, adapt the ice cream recipe to your liking.  It was so silky smooth and this really can't-put-my-finger-on-it kind of earthy. The ice cream itself wasn't really sweet at all... which made the muscovado flakes even more relevant and necessary because they added a really nice texture and sweet crunch.  And, the fenugreek flavor was mmmmmmellow and delicious.  I always forget how much I like fenugreek, and then I have something with it and obsess over it for a week or two, and then forget about it all over again.  I have some leftover fenugreek powder, which I'm sure I'll be sprinkling on everything over the next few days.

So, so easy and so, so good.

Up Next: Chicken Skin, black truffle, thyme, corn (I think)

Resources: Applewood sawdust from; Natural By Nature whole milk; Organic Valley heavy cream; Domino sugar; Smith Meadows Farm eggs; glucose from L'Epicerie; guar gum from Terra Spice; muscovado sugar from Yes! Organic Market; fenugreek seed from TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: A Silent Film; The City That Sleeps.  The band, A Silent Film, reminds me of everything I loved about the music of my junior high and high school days -- you know, the era of fun pop and Brit pop.  The early-to-mid '80s.  On this album, The City That Sleeps, there are some Ultravox influences, a little OMD, a bit of Cocteau Twins, some a-Ha, a dash of The Ocean Blue, and a smidge of something more au courant: Snow Patrol.

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

February 26, 2011

Goose, blood orange, sage, roasting goose aroma

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

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

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

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

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


Each weighed about 9-10 lbs.

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

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



I refreigerated them overnight.

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



Those went into the fridge overnight, as well.

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



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




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


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


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




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





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

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


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

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

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

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

DSC_0004 2

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.

DSC_0007 2

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...

DSC_0008 2

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.

DSC_0009 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A very good long weekend, indeed.

Up Next: Life, on the Line giveaway.

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

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

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

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.

*  *  *  *  *

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:


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:



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.


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.


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.



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.


Also made parsley sauce:


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. 




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


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


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


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.



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:


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!


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:



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!


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: 


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:


And then coated them in the root beer cure:


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:



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


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:


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.


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.



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


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:


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:


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:



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



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).


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



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


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:


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"

June 07, 2010

Alinea at Home Adaptation: Goose, blood orange, sage, roasting goose aroma

For as long as I've been alive, not a winter holiday has gone by in the Blymire family without a cheeseball.  And no I'm not referring to my dad when he tells jokes.  You know what I'm talking about... something sort of Hickory Farms-ish without it actually being from Hickory Farms.  In our family, mom, grandma, and the aunts typically served just two kinds of cheeseballs (with Triscuits and Ritz crackers on the side, of course!) before our big family holiday dinners: one cheeseball was made with cheddar and port wine cheese and had a nutty crust; and, the other was some kind of cream cheese and olive concoction.  But only in the winter.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day.

Similarly, not a summer family gathering has gone by without deviled eggs.

Sometimes they had paprika on them, sometimes not.  That was about the extent of how fancy they might get.  Usually, it was just yer regular old chicken egg, hard-boiled and halved, with the yolks mashed with some yellow mustard and mayo before being spooned back into the hollows of the whites.  No high-falutin' accoutrements.  Don't even think about it, mister.

Now that it's summer, I crave my family's picnic foods.  Baked beans.  Iced tea.  BBQ sandwiches.  And deviled eggs.  So I thought I'd riff on one of the dishes in the Alinea cookbook and make a deviled goose egg.  I'm hoping to do the original Goose dish (pgs. 361-365), and have already put a bug in the ear of one Hank Shaw of Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook to see if we can't shoot a few geese and do it up right later in the year, but for now, I'm gonna show you how to take one of the recipes from the Alinea cookbook and adapt it in a way that might be more accessible for most home cooks.

*   *   *   *   *

Two Saturdays ago, I met my friend, Joe Yonan, at the 14th and U Market.  He's been hard at work on his book, and I wanted to drop off some pickled grapes I'd made so he'd have something new for that day's snack break.  As he rounded the corner to meet me at the market, he saw my bags were already full and asked what I'd bought. I went down the list of meats and fruits and vegetables, and ended with, "Goose eggs!"

And the "big, fat goose egg" jokes began.

They weren't really jokes, per se.  Just commentary on the phrase "big, fat goose egg."  So yeah.  I guess I thought I was going somewhere with that story, and it just kind of fizzled, didn't it.  STEVE HOLT!!

So yeah, back to the (big, fat) goose eggs.  I've had chicken eggs (duh), quail eggs, and duck eggs.  But I'd never eaten or cooked a goose egg before.  Have you? 

Here's what they look like:

DSC_0001 From L to R: chicken egg, duck egg, goose egg.  And yes, I did contemplate doing two duck eggs, then the goose egg and trying to be all "duck-duck-goose" but decided not you.  You're welcome.

And from another perspective, here's a chicken egg:


And, here's a goose egg:


Like a dumbass, I Googled "how to hard-boil a goose egg" and found a million WRONG ways to do it.  I mean, why should hard-boiling a goose egg be any different from a chicken or duck egg?  Goose eggs are only slightly bigger with a tad more cholesterol, but they're not really all that structurally different from a chicken egg, so I figured I'd hard-boil them the same way I do a chicken egg:

Two eggs in an empty saucepan.

Cover with cold water.

Turn on burner to high.  Bring water to a boil.

Let eggs boil in water for 60 seconds.

Cover saucepan with lid.  Turn off flame.

Let the eggs sit, covered, in the hot water for 12 minutes. (Because the goose egg is bigger, I let them rest in the hot water for 15 minutes.)

Remove eggs from hot water, and gently place them in bowl of ice water for 30 minutes.

Chill further in fridge, or store in fridge until ready to use.


While the eggs were cooling, I reduced two cups of duck stock to two tablespoons of duck I-don't-know-what-but-boy-did-it-smell-good:



I also baked a sweet potato (45 minutes at 350F) and cut off about 1/4 of it to mix in with the egg yolks:


I cracked and peeled the goose eggs, halved them, and whaddya know....


They were cooked perfectly.  If there's one thing I know how to do, it's hard-boil an egg.  Check out the whites of the goose egg, though.  It has that semi-opalescence of milk glass, doesn't it?

I gently popped out the yolks and tossed them in a mixing bowl with the reduced duck stock (which, in my mind. represented the foie gras in the original dish), the 1/4 sweet potato, about 2 tablespoons of diced turnip I'd sauteed in brown butter, a few shavings of whole nutmeg, and about a teaspoon of chopped fresh sage leaves.

DSC_0011 All the flavors (minus orange and fennel; they come into play later) from the original dish in the Alinea cookbook.

I mashed everything around, and decided there needed to be a bit more silkiness, so I added a scant teaspoon of homemade mayonnaise just to help with texture, and then re-filled each egg half (four in all), and topped them with a few dices of fresh orange segments and a wee fennel frond:


I tasted a tiny bit of the yolk on its own before mixing it with everything else, and I love how hearty it was... kind of like how a Thanksgiving turkey smells.  But I didn't really know how the end product was gonna taste.  I mean, deviled eggs are usually pretty good no matter what you do, right?  You can't really screw them up.  And, when I read and thought through all the ingredients in this particular deviled egg: egg, sweet potato, duck stock, sage, nutmeg, turnip, orange, and fennel, it all made sense to me.  Nothing stood out as being weird or gross or wrong. 

But I still couldn't fathom how it would taste.  My friend, Holly, dug into hers first and it was gone in three bites.  Linda and her son, Grant, enjoyed theirs pretty quickly, too.  As for my first bite?  Well, I picked that sucker up and bit it from the back end -- the end with the smaller amount of white.  And it was good.  Really, really good.  It was creamy and flavorful and filling, without feeling rich or heavy or gross.

It felt like slipping in between freshly laundered sheets after a long day and a hot shower.

Like finding a hand-written thank-you note from a friend among the pile of bills in the mailbox.

Like eating a strawberry fresh off the vine, still warm from the sun.

It was all those things and a little more.  That deviled egg was so full of new flavor combinations, and yet so full of comfort and familiarity.

So, if you can get your hands on some goose eggs (or heck, even duck or chicken eggs will work just fine), see what you could come up with to adapt this recipe from the book.  I bet you'll be surprised at how easy it is, and how much you'll enjoy it.  I know I am.

Up Next: Not sure yet.  I might go English Pea, I might go Chocolate. Maybe Porcini.  You've been warned.

Resources: Goose eggs from the awesome meat and egg dude (whose card I have since lost because I suck) at the 14th and U Farmers Market in DC; sweet potato from the TPSS co-op; orange, fennel, and fresh sage leaves from Whole Foods; nutmeg from my pantry; duck stock from my freezer; homemade mayo from my fridge; baby turnip from Waterpenny Farm at the Takoma Farmers Market.

Music to Cook To: No music; just the sound of a thunderstorm and the pouring rain.  Is there anything better than that?

Read My Previous Post: Alinea at Home Adaptation -- Lamb, mastic, date, rosemary fragrance

March 08, 2010

Pushed Foie Gras, sauternes, pear, chervil

It is so hard to believe that just four weeks ago there was four feet of snow outside my front door, and that today, the temperature will be 60 degrees, the sun will shine, and there will be nary a cloud in the sky.  The weather was gorgeous all weekend, so while I'd had visions of working on the two bison dishes, I completely blew it off and worked outside in my yard for hours on end, cleaning out all the fallen limbs and piles of moldy leaves, pulling weeds that somehow grew beneath the snow, and taking those first steps toward greeting spring.  I have SO MUCH work to do today that it will take all the energy and concentration I have to get it done, instead of standing outside on the front walk, tilting back my head, closing my eyes, and letting the sun warm my face for a bit.  Oh, who am I kidding... I'll do all my work AND take those sunshine breaks, too.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I split one foie gras between two dishes.  This is the second dish.  The preparation for the foie was exactly the same in both recipes, so after I'd pushed the cured and blanched foie through the tamis, I set aside half of it on a parchment-lined sheet tray in the freezer until it was time to plate.

I often do two Alinea dishes concurrently.  Sometimes even three if there are (expensive) shared ingredients I need to work with in a timely fashion.  Doing these two at the same time was actually really easy.  I actually enjoy figuring out what needs to dehydrate when, and what needs more time in the fridge or freezer, and then figuring out what other elements of the dishes I can do during those downtimes.  Some people enjoy rock climbing.  I enjoy time management of cooking things.

The first thing I made was the roasted pear puree.  I roasted 10 pears in a bed of kosher salt for 45 minutes in a 375F-degree oven:



After they'd had a chance to cool, I peeled and cored them, then pulverized them in the blender for about three minutes, along with some salt and sugar:


The roast pear puree gets split between two elements in this dish -- pear sorbet and pear panna cotta. 

First, the pear sorbet -- I mixed some of the pear puree in a saucepan with some heavy cream, salt, glucose, and Trimoline and brought it to a boil.  I then let it simmer for about 5-6 minutes before turning off the flame and then adding the juice of half a lemon.  I put the mixture in the fridge for an hour to cool it, before putting it into my ice cream maker for a half-hour.  After it'd been thoroughly chilled, I scooped it into a loaf pan and stored it in the freezer until it was time to plate:


Next, I made the pear panna cotta.  I soaked 5 gelatin sheets in cold water until they were pliable and all squooshy and stuff.  Then, I put the gelatin sheets in a saucepan with some pear puree, heavy cream, sugar, and salt, and warmed it over low-medium heat, stirring until the gelatin had fully dissolved.


I removed the liquid from the heat and poured it into plastic-wrap-bottomed ring molds.  You should know the recipe made more than just the six ring mold you see in the photo below.  I also had enough to pour some into 6 more little ramekins, so I had a few extras to enjoy.

The panna cotta-filled ring molds went into the fridge until the liquid had set -- which took about 2 hours.


The second step of the pear panna cotta was to make a Sauternes gelatin, which I did, and which I also poured on top of the set pear panna cotta and allowed it to set.  No photos of that... sorry.  But you'll see that second layer in the final plating photo.

Now, the one thing I actually did a day before serving (the same day I started the foie) was make the pear chips.  I sliced this lovely little D'Anjou pear lengthwise on my mandoline:


Then, using a 1" round cutter, I cut out little discs, keeping the pear skin intact in part of it:


I poached them in some simple syrup for about 2 minutes:


Then, after gently drying them with a paper towel (those suckers were fragile), I put them in the dehydrator.


The book suggests they'd be dehydrated and crisp in about three hours, but I'm glad I started these a day ahead, because they took nearly 12 hours to fully dehydrate. 


To plate, I gently pushed the panna cotta topped with Sauternes gelee out of each ring mold and onto a plate.  Then, I topped it with some of the tamis-ed foie gras (which had actually only been in the freezer for about a half hour).  Next to the foie, a spoonful of pear sorbet, with a pear chip.  Last, a garnish of baby mint leaves.  The recipe called for anise hyssop (even though the title of the dish mentions chervil), but my anise hyssop plant is still hibernating, so I opted for mint (similar taste).


I served this dish the same afternoon I served the foie gras candy you read about earlier.  We ate this one first, before trying the candy.  It was cold and smooth and fresh, and I absolutely loved the mellow, hey-how-YOU-doin' sweetness of the pear with the taste of Sauternes (I'm not a big fan of dessert wines, but in this preparation, I did), and the creamy foie with that?  WOW.  I didn't think I'd dislike it, but I also didn't expect to like it this much.  I can't imagine a preparation where I wouldn't enjoy foie (okay, maybe foie with celery and cilantro), but this dish is something I'd definitely make again.  Or, you know, I suppose I could just roast a small foie and make a pear chutney to eat with it. 

Pardon me while I go drool......

Up Next: Bison, braised pistachios, potato, sweet spices

Resources: Foie gras from Hudson Valley Foie Gras; D'Anjou pears, mint, and lemon from HMart; David's kosher salt; Domino sugar; Organic Valley heavy cream; gelatin sheets, glucose, and Trimoline from L'Epicerie; Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes (2003); 

Music to Cook By: Fitz and the Tantrums; Songs for a Breakup, Vol. 1.  I completely forgot the name of this album, because I never heard a breakup sound quite like this. There's more soul to this album than anything I've heard in the past 20 years.  It feels like soul music did in the early 60s -- nothing over-produced, no artist bigger than the song, just straightforward music with fantastic vocals, and a beat you can't help but bop your head to.

Read My Previous Post: Foie Gras, spicy cinnamon puff, apple candy

January 19, 2010

Bison, cranberry, persimmon, juniper branch aroma

I'm ramping back up to cooking.  It's going well, but I still feel like I'm not yet totally in my own skin.  Getting glutened threw me for a bigger loop than I originally thought.  Instead of 2-3 days of feeling like crap, it took a little over a week to feel like myself again.  I wish I could explain it in greater detail, but the after-effects of getting glutened are so disgusting and embarrassing and soooo not appropriate for a food blog, that I'll spare you.  Trust me on this.  You're welcome.

As I begin to emerge from this food funk of mine, I am reminded of what a strange time it is in my professional life.  I always forget how slow January is.  I forget that, every year, I bust ass up until the week before Christmas, and then it slows to almost a complete halt.  Then, it takes my clients a few weeks to get their own work up and running in January before they have things to throw my way.  I've been a self-employed media consultant for almost nine years, and with the exception of a political transition year such as last year, January and August are dead, dead, dead here in Washington.  It's the nature of what I do, and the kinds of clients I work with.  I look forward to the August lull, because it means I can spend time with friends at the beach.  The January lull is a different kind of animal.  Going from a food and writing funk into a slow period professionally was a bit freakish for a day or two, but because I always seem to have a personal to-do list a mile long, I've started tackling it all.

One of the things on my to-do list that really helped me get my cooking mojo back was to completely clean out, scrub, reorganize, and inventory my pantry, freezer, and refrigerator.  I'm kind of a neat freak as it is, but I needed that physical, tactile activity -- touching ingredients, making lists of what I had, replacing things that needed replenished, and appreciating what all was in my kitchen.

You guys, I made lists.  (Like you're shocked.)  But it's true.  I wrote down (and categorized) every single ingredient and food item so that I can more more efficient and resourceful in my everyday cooking, not just cooking for the blog.  My friend, Joe, refers to the crisper drawer in his refrigerator as "the rotter" because he, like so many of us, buys produce and never gets around to using it before it goes bad.  I'm so guilty of that, and it's just wrong.  It's so wasteful, and I don't wanna do that anymore.  And, I need to stop buying meat for awhile -- I have enough meat and poultry in my freezer to last me the next 3 or 4 months... not kidding.  I mean, here... look at the lists I wrote and taped to the fridge so that I can use things and cross them off and be smarter about the way I cook day-to-day:

And then, there's the list of all the Alinea-specific ingredients I had to inventory and reorganize (hey! I needed a reason to go to The Container Store):


I know, some of you are thinking she's completely and totally lost it, let's run for the hills! but you must know that this exercise was so incredibly motivating and energizing, and I highly recommend it even if you've got the good mojo goin' on.  It's remarkable to see it all on paper.  It's humbling.  It makes me want to kick my own ass for all the times I've said, "I've got nothing to eat, so I guess I'll get Indian food tonight."  It's made me completely rethink my entire personal cooking and eating plans (and budget) for the next six months.  More importantly, though, it made me feel like I was back in the driver's seat in my own kitchen, and I needed that.

Having done all that and ready to crack the Alinea cookbook open once again, I decided to tackle the Bison, cranberry, persimmon, juniper branch aroma dish (page 323), and see how it went.  I'll say now that I'm pleased... almost even thrilled.  But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves now, shall we?

First step? Puffed rice.  Now, I know in the book, it says "puffed barley" but barley contains the dreaded g-word, so I decided to play with some wild rice and see if I could make it work.  First, I toasted it:


I cooked the rice in hot water and salt, according to the package instructions, then dehydrated it for a few hours:


While the rice dehydrated, I took the steeping walnuts out of the fridge.  The day before, I toasted some walnuts in the oven, then put them in a saucepan with some milk and walnut oil, and brought it to a boil.  After it had cooled to room temperature, I covered it and let it steep overnight in the fridge.  This day, I strained the liquid into a small saucepan, added sugar, salt, and agar agar and brought it to a boil:



After it had boiled for a minute or so, I strained it (again) into a small bowl and put it in the refrigerator to set, which took about 30 minutes:


I broke that solidified walnut awesomeness into small chunks and put them in the blender:


The instructions say to blend it until it becomes smooth, which didn't necessarily happen.  Instead, after much blending and agitating and further blending, it ended up having the consistency of cat food:


So, I made the executive decision to add small increments of milk and walnut oil as I continued blending to facilitate the smoothness:


Eventually, I ended up with this:


It was a lot creamier in person than it is in that photo.  Much like Christina Hendricks at the Golden Globes, but I digress.

I refrigerated the walnut pudding until it was time to plate.

The next thing I did was make the cranberry puree.  In a small saucepan, I heated cranberries, sugar, and red wine vinegar until the cranberries were soft and starting to break down, and the pan was nearly dry:


I strained the cooked cranberries into a blender and whacked the hell out of them, then strained them into a small bowl:



Cooked cranberries is one of my favorite smells.  Didn't know that until I made them like this for this dish, but wowzers. 

Next, I got the bison tenderloin ready to be cooked sous vide.  Remember the rendered beef fat?  Here's what 25g of it looks like:


I put that in a sous vide bag along with the 100g center-cut bison tenderloin, and let it cook in a 130F-degree water bath for 25 minutes:


When it was done, I cut the bison into small rectangles and stored them in the fridge:


Then, the final element: persimmons:


I removed the tops and the bottoms, and poached them in what felt like a weird ratio of sugar to water -- 5:1... yes, you read that correctly 500g sugar, 100g water. 


 When they were done, I cut out cylinders using my 1/2" cutter...


... but realized they'd be too big (the bison pieces wouldn't wrap around them the way they were supposed to), so I trimmed them down a bit into smaller rectangles:


By now, the rice was dehydrated, so I brought some canola oil up to 425F degrees and deep fried the rice.  Now, I knew it wouldn't be puffy like barley is, but I was hoping the rice would have some good, earthy depth to it, and it did.




Crunchy, deep-fried rice is delicious.  Why do they not sell this in movie theatres?  WHY, I ASK YOU?

Last, but not least, I ground up some dried juniper berries to be used in the final plating:


Now, here's where my photography just gets criminal, and it's a shame because this was really not that hard to shoot.  I guess I was just too focused on getting it to taste right.

So, with all the elements in place, I did the final step -- which is wrapping the bison around the persimmon pieces, then searing the seam of each one, before placing it on a hot river stone to serve it.  Here's the wrapping around part (and again, my apologies to those of you who like pretty things, which I know is everyone, so SORRY, PEOPLE OF THE EARTH):

I had a tray of black river rocks in a 400F-degree oven, waiting to be used in this final step.  The book calls for (and displays a beautiful photograph of) these stones nesting in a bed of juniper branches.  That's the one element I had to skip in this dish.  I wish I hadn't, because juniper is so lovely and fragrant, but it wasn't possible.  So, I put the hot stones on a bamboo board and put a round of bison and persimmon atop it (you'll see the bubbles in the photo below where the meat hits the hot stone and sizzles), and then topped each bite with a pinch of crushed juniper berry, a little blob of walnut pudding, a little blob of cranberry puree, and some crunchy deep-fried rice:


Yes, the bison fell apart on its way from the saute pan to the stone. 

Yes, I "plated" it on its side instead of the way it was done in the book.

Yes, the photo above looks like something you might find in the tumors chapter of a med school textbook.

I don't care.


The only thing I might've done differently is add salt to the meat when it's cooking sous vide.  After I tasted my first one, I salted the rest with a tiny pinch of Maldon sea salt, and it woke everything up.

So, bison.  I really like bison. It's not as steak-y as steak (which I crave almost daily), but it's smooth and hearty, and I really enjoy it. I've had it in restaurants, but I've never cooked it at home.  So, instead of just ordering the center-cut of the tenderloin (which the book calls for), I bought a whole tenderloin (thanks to the awesome guys at Gunpowder who come to the Takoma Park Farmers Market), and used what I needed for this dish, and froze the rest in individual cuts.

But, bison with the persimmon?  Really nice.  Beautiful balance, flavor- and texture-wise.  I don't eat persimmons all that often -- they're an odd hybrid, flavor-wise, I think... kind of tomato meets pear meets acorn squash, with a hint of (I think) mango and/or apricot.  I can't tell.  It's so complex and unique, and I need to remind myself to eat these more often, because I enjoy them when I do.

So, bison with persimmon = homerun, but then add the nuttiness of the rice with the sharp, tart sweetness of the cranberry and the smooth, mellow walnut pudding?  And, a palate-opening hint of juniper? 

That's what I love about this book -- these are not flavors I would EVER put together on my own.  I'm really good at food shopping without lists or recipes or books.  I see things and know what I'd put together and how I want to cook them.  But I can't imagine for one second, two years ago, going into the grocery store and thinking, hhhmmmmm, there's some persimmon and cranberries... so let's head over to the meat counter for some bison, and then pick up some walnuts and rice, and oh! can't forget about the juniper!  I mean, WHO DOES THAT?  Oh yeah, Grant Achatz.  Which is why getting back in the saddle and cooking from this book is so important to me.  There's so much I want to learn.

Up Next: Yuzu, pine, black sesame, shiso

Resources: Bison from Gunpowder Trading; walnuts and juniper berries from the TPSS Co-op; agar agar from Terra Spice; La Tourangelle walnut oil; Lundberg rice; David's kosher salt; 365 canola oil; Ocean Spray cranberries; Terra Medi red wine vinegar; Fuyu persimmons from H Mart in Wheaton, MD; Domino sugar; black river rocks from Behnke's.

Music to Cook By: Ra Ra Riot; The Rhumb Line.  I love this album, and now that I've read the heartbreaking Rolling Stone review (I didn't know anything about these guys), I love it even more.

Read My Previous Post: Rendering Beef Fat

December 07, 2009

Pork Belly, pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, polenta

I will confess, I'm kinda tired of all the rah-rah bacon and oooooooo, pork belly talk in the media, on the Internet, and everywhere else. And by saying that, it's not like I'm trying to be all, "I liked bacon before bacon was cool." Not at all. I just have reading-and-talking-about-pork fatigue.

I mean, I get it: I love pork and you love pork. What's not to love about pork? Pork is great. But can we talk about something else for once? PLEASE?

Oh, crap.


This entry is supposed to be all about pork. Pork belly, actually, Alinea-style.


I have high standards for pork belly, in case you were wondering.  (shocker)  Why?  The two best pork belly dishes I've ever had were at Alinea and Per Se.  (yes, I'm spoiled, and I'm the first to admit it)

After my dinner at Alinea in May, I wrote this about the pork belly course:

Our next course was pork belly, served in a cucumber juice-infused lettuce cup with a variety of Thai spices and flavors, and a shot glass off to the side with a really clean and lovely (and not overpoweringly spicy-hot) distillation of Thai green chili and lemongrass.  Now, I'm of the school of thought that it's really hard to screw up pork belly, but it also takes someone special to make it sing and make you go from, "oh cool, pork belly" to "HOLY MOTHER OF CHARLES NELSON REILLY THIS IS AMAZING!!!!"  This course was a perfect balance of cool, heat, salt, kick, and crisp.  Again, I could've eaten three or eleventy kabillion of these, too.

After my birthday dinner at Per Se in August 2008, I wrote this about the pork belly course:

* "Smoke;" All-Day Braised Hobbs Shore's Pork Belly, Heirloom Beets, and Burgundy Mustard. I knew what type of preparation was coming when I saw the crystal spheres being so gently and carefully carried into the room, but I had no idea I was in for the single best piece of pork belly I've eaten in my life. This dish, if you'll indulge me in a rather nerdy confession, almost made me cry, it was so good. The reveal that takes place when the top of the sphere is removed and the smoke rises up and into and onto your palate is such a wonderful tease, and to be able to feast on even that small morsel of pork belly that has spent a day braising to absolute perfection (along with beets and mustard that more than held their own) is nirvana.

Over the years, I've had pork belly in many, many restaurants, and I can't recall any of them ever being bad or awful or just not right.  Some have been outstanding, and many of them very, very good.  But those two stand out in my mind far above the rest because they stopped me in my freakin' tracks and made me wanna slap somebody.  HARD.  A quiet storm of delightfully hysterical deliciousness, they were.

So imagine the standard I set for myself when starting out to make this dish from the Alinea cookbook.  It couldn't be just good or okay.  I wanted it to be EXCELLENT.  I wanted it be AWESOME.  It had to bring me to my knees. 

No pressure.

In reviewing the recipe and instructions one more time before getting started, I realized that none of these components were difficult.  They all involved ingredients I was very comfortable with, and techniques I (now) know well.  Still, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect and excellent and turn out a fantastic bite of food, because who wants to fail at pork belly?

I made the cure: sugar, kosher salt, smoked paprika, chipotle chili powder:


Then, I rinsed and dried the piece of pork belly I was going to cure:


Then, I packed that sucker in among the cure and rolled it tight in a ziploc bag and stored it in the fridge for two days.


After two days, it looked like this:


Because the Cryovac Fairy still hasn't shown up at my house, I've been looking into other options for vacuum-sealing my plastic bags better for cooking en sous vide.  The FoodSaver is out -- it doesn't really work and pulls out too much moisture when sealing.  And, while I'm getting better and better at wrapping things on my own, I wanted to try another method, so I splurged (**cough$4.25cough**heybigspender) on the Ziploc-brand hand-vacuum sous vide kit at my local Giant grocery store:


Really easy to use, and the hand pump was a no-brainer:


But, as the bag o'bacon wiled away the hours (four of them, to be exact) in the 190F-degree water, I noticed that it would rise to the top every 40-45 minutes. And, I could see that air (but luckily no water, 'cause I kept that part above the water's surface) was seeping in.


So, I just kept pumping out the air as often as I could, and hoped for the best.

While the pork belly spent time underwater, I worked on the smoked paprika tuile -- or, the BBQ Sugar portion of our program. 

In a small saucepan, I heated fondant, glucose, and isomalt to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, then poured it onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet:




That doesn't look right, does it?  I should've, at that point, trusted my instincts and thrown it back in the pot and taken it up another 50 degrees or so, but I didn't.  I figured I'd sort it out after it had hardened.  Which it didn't really do.  I mean, it got hard (heh... /dirty), but it was still a little bendy.  Regardless, I broke off 75g of it and threw it into my spice grinder with some sweet smoked paprika and cayenne, and set about turning it into powder:


I walked over to the other side of my kitchen to plug in the grinder and get it goin' when this happened:

Not sure how it happened, to be honest, but I dropped the whole thing, the contents of which went all over my pants, my shoes, the floor, the lower cupboard door knobs, the trash can pedal.  EVERYWHERE.  I let many, many expletives fly (because I wanted so much for this to go well), and went back to the tray of white lumpy stuff, tore off another 75g, weighed more cayenne and paprika and tried again -- this time in a little mini-food processor/chopper thingie that sat on a counter and did not require my holding it.

But even after that, it ended up looking like this (and not a fine powder):


So, I threw it into a small saucepan and figured I'd heat the crap out of it until it was melted and smooth and would harden on the Silpat:






(doing the cabbage-patch over here, complete with white-girl's overbite)

I broke it up into pieces and put it back in a now-clean mini-chopper, and let 'er rip:



Then, I put it through a fine-mesh strainer so that I'd have the finest powder in town:


I made a square stencil (by cutting a 2x2" square out of a piece of paper) and, using yet another fine-mesh strainer, sifted the fine sugary, paprika and cayenne powder onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet in eight little squares:



I put them into a 350F-degree oven for a minute.  The book said to "turn the squares once" after 30 seconds, but I didn't know if that meant actually flipping them with an offset spatula (which seemed odd and not possible) or turning the tray around, which didn't really make sense to me either, so I did neither.

I did, however, keep the oven door open a crack while I counted out those 60 seconds.  Not sure why, but it felt like the right thing to do.


While they cooled, I diced some red bell pepper:


I made some carrot balls and soaked them in sugar, water, and white wine vinegar:


And I made some cucumber balls, too:


The pork belly was done sous vide-ing, so I plunged it, still in the bag, in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process:



I trimmed and cut it and made 1" squares that were about 1/4"-1/2" thick:


(I saved all the rest of it in a bag, thinking I'd snack on it over the next few days.  Um, yeah. I finished it that night.  Oink.)

I made the polenta, and added lovely, lovely butter and mascarpone:


Then, I seared the pork belly squares over very high heat on one side only, until that one side was nearly charred:



Then, I arranged all eight pork squares on a small baking sheet, topped each one with two carrot balls, two cucumber balls, and a wee piece of red bell pepper in the center


I topped each one with one of the hardened paprika-cayenne tuille squares, then put them under the broiler, so the squares could melt down and around the pork belly and its adornments (which took all of 5 seconds) and then re-harden.

To plate, I put a blob of polenta on a spoon, topped each one with a pork belly square, and added a few leaves of marjoram:



There were eight spoons.  There were eight people.

We each took one, opened our mouths, inserted a spoon, slid it out, then chewed.

It's the quietest my house has EVER been.

And, it's the most I've wanted to slap someone hard across the face over something I made.  It was THAT good.

Smoky pork with a bit of heat (but not a ton); smooth, warm, delicious polenta; cool, crunchy vegetables; the sweet, smoky, salty envelopment; and, the marjoram... still now today, days after eating it, I'm having trouble summoning the right words -- any words, for that matter -- to describe how good this was.  It's definitely the best thing I've made for the blog, hands-down.  But even bigger than that, it really and truly is one of the best things I've ever made in my whole life.

It's times like these I wish I could have every single one of you here in my house, standing around my dining room table, taking a bite, and savoring it, so that I could say, "See... SEE!??!!?!?  THIS is why I love to cook from this book.  This pork belly bite is sooooo WORTH MAKING!!! TRY IT!!!!"  And, I wouldn't even slap you.  Well maybe I would.  And you'd probably like it.

Up Next: Trout Roe, coconut, licorice, pineapple (MAJOR adaptation on this one, y'all)

Resources: Domino sugar; David's kosher salt; paprika, cayenne, and chipotle chili powder from TPSS Co-op; Cedarbrook Farm pork belly; fondant from that stinky craft store, Michaels; glucose and isomalt from L'Epicerie; bell pepper, carrot, marjoram, and cucumber from Whole Foods; Terra Midi white wine vinegar; Bob's Red Mill polenta; 365 butter; Crave Brothers mascarpone.

Music to Cook By: The Editors; The Back Room.  Thanks to my Twitter compatriot EricDM1 who answered my call for new music a few weeks ago.  He suggested their album "In This Light and On This Evening," which I also love, but there's something about The Back Room that is just captivating.

Read My Previous Post: Niçoise Olive, saffron, dried cherry, olive oil

December 01, 2009

Niçoise Olive, saffron, dried cherry, olive oil

It's been a little over a year since my celiac diagnosis, and, generally, when I cook at home, I just avoid foods with gluten or foods that require me to figure out work-arounds or substitutes. However, there are times when I crave something from "the good old days" and have to figure out how to make it sans gluten. Sometimes, I nail it on the first try and it's fantastic, and other times, I blow it bigtime and the final product ends up being such a cockup that it's inedible, unbakeable, or just plain wrong and bad.

This dish is the first time I was stuck somewhere in the middle. The shortbread wasn't terrible, but there was a texture thing that just didn't sit right with me. I didn't fully expect it to look like the one in the photo or taste like I know shortbread tastes. It was kinda grainy, almost sandy -- but like fine, wet sand, not the dry, blows-in-your-eyes stuff. And sandy not in a totally bad way, if that's even possible to fathom. I just wanted it to be better. To be right. So, I'll include the steps for how I made it gluten-free and if any of you experts out there know how you'd tweak it, please, hit it in the comments.

But let's start with the first thing you have to do when making this dish, and that's dehydrate some Niçoise olives in the dehydrator at 150 degreesF for 24 hours.  I love the way my house smelled during that time.



Sorry for the blurry shots.  I thought I'd saved the good ones and trashed the bad ones.  Whoopsie.

Have I ever told you about how much I hated olives?  FOR YEARS.  Until I was in my early 30s, I believe.  I couldn't stand the smell, loathed the taste, and just thought they were like little black and green turds getting in the way of good food.  I was fine with tapenade, but whole olives skeeved me out.  I know.  There's no explaining it.  I'm weird.  Their flavor was just too concentrated, and I was squicked out by gnawing them then leaving the pits in a little bowl off to the side.  The Lovey Howell in me looked down my nose at myself and huffed that it was simply appalling behavior.

Then, one night, I was having dinner with a group of friends and there was a particularly handsome and funny guy at the table with us.  We were drinking martinis, and I'd left the olives in the glass because I hated them.  He asked how I could possibly leave the best part of the martini behind (and inside my head I was all, "Um, I drank the gin, which is the best part, am I right?), but because he was cute and I am a girl, I said something like, "I was just getting to those!"  And I ate them.  Just popped them in my mouth and hoped for the best.  Maybe it's because the gin and vermouth mellowed the olive flavor a bit, but I loved them.  From that point on, I've been eating olives with abandon (and not just in martinis) and really liking them.  So thanks a lot, cute guy, for getting me over one of my long-held food loathings.  



MAN, and just like when I wrote about peanut butter in an earlier post and got a craving for it, I just now went downstairs and pulled some Mantequilla olives (cured with fennel) out of the fridge and will probably OD on them as I write the rest of this post.  Mmmmmm-mmmmmm.....

Okay, now where were we.  Ah, yes.... dehydrated Niçoise olives.

I spread 'em all out on a few trays, dried them over 24 hours, then put the dried olives with some olive oil into the blender and blended away...



I strained it through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl (then into a squeeze bottle) and set it aside until it was time to plate.


The next thing I made was the olive oil jam.  And, sad but true, when I saw Michael Jackson's "This Is It" a few weekends ago (which featured these awesome hydraulic below-stage speedy, toaster-like lifts I want to install in my house), in my head I sang along with "Jam" using the lyrics, "olive oil, olive oil JAM."  No more onion jam singing. It's all about the olive oil... olive oil JAM.

Check out my def precision in measuring the Trimoline (100g) and glucose (100g):


Damn, I'm good.

While I brought those two things to a boil, I cracked five eggs and saved the yolks for the next step:


I tempered the yolks with the glucose mixture, pouring it all in ever so slowly, then put the glucose-Trimoline-yolk combo into the food processor with kosher salt.


I mixed and mixed and processed and processed, while drizzling in olive oil from above through the feed tube:


After letting it sit there for 30 seconds while I turned on the camera again, the emulsion started to break (see how the oil is separating from the rest?).


I kept it in the processor bowl while I refrigerated it before plating, knowing I'd probably have to blend it again before using it in the final preparation.

The next thing I did was grind these lovely freeze-dried cherries in my spice grinder:



Then, it was on to the shortbread.  To make it gluten-free, I took out the 360g of all-purpose flour the book called for and subbed in 180g rice flour, 160g sorghum flour, and 20g cornstarch.

In my food processor, I combined that flour mixture, along with the almond flour, confectioners' sugar, and salt, and mixed it briefly until everything had combined.  Then, I added the butter in little cubes and the olive oil, and processed it some more until it became crumbly:


I put the mixture onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and baked it in a 325-degree oven for 20 minutes. 


I let the golden-brown crumbles cool to room temperature (took about 30 minutes) then put them back into the food processor (I did it in two batches) and processed it until it was -- and the book says this -- "a sandy paste."


So yeah, it looks like wet sand, which explains maybe why it tasted like wet sand when it was done?  I put the sandy paste onto a sheet of parchment, topped it with another sheet of parchment, and gently rolled it out until it was 1/8" thick.


I slid the sheet-covered dough onto a baking sheet and into the refrigerator for an hour.  When it had firmed up and completely cooled, I cut 1x3"-ish rectangles and moved them to a separate tray and put 'em back in the fridge for another 30 minutes.



Here's the part where it all kind of goes to hell.  So, after the little shortbread jobbies had been in the fridge, I brought them back out and piped the olive oil jam onto a few of them and topped each with another shortbread piece.


Um, I don't think it was supposed to look or act like that.

I was supposed to use a heat gun to flash the cookies and seal in the jam, but this happened before I could even finish doing 2 or 3 of them.  Just started oozing out and makin' me look the fool.  And, since I didn't have a heat gun (not like it would've mattered at that point, anyway) I threw them back in the oven (which I'd accidentally left on all that time, duh) for five minutes, but it didn't make a bit of difference.  I even tried sealing one of them with my creme brulee torch, but ended up setting the parchment paper on fire (see upper left corner of photo above).  So, I just cleaned them up as best I could and began plating.

First on the spoon (since these are, ideally, one-bite numbers) went a small blob of olive oil jam -- since most of it oozed out from the shortbread, I thought I'd put a little on the spoon.  Then, I topped it with the shortbread pieces.  Atop each one of those went a blob of Niçoise olive puree, a pinch of ground dried cherries, and a few saffron threads:



Was it awful?  No, not at all.  It was actually a little too sweet for me.  I think I was expecting a more savory shortbread (not sure why I thought that, but I did), but it wasn't terrible.  It was more a texture thing than anything.  It was like gummy sand.  Sort of left a bit of a film on the roof of your mouth.  I loved the way the Niçoise puree and the cherry and saffron played into it -- it definitely had some depth of flavor with all that.  But I wanted it to be more than what it was.  I think it had something to do with de-glutenizing it, but I'm also disappointed that the olive oil jam was as runny as it was.  And, I wish it had been more olive-y.

Harumph.... ya win some, and ya not-really-lose-but-wish-ya-coulda-done-better-at-some.

Up Next: Pork Belly, pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, polenta

Resources: Olives from Whole Foods; Monini olive oil; eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; Trimoline and glucose from L'Epicerie; David's kosher salt; Bob's Red Mill flours; Domino confectioners' sugar; 365 butter; Just Cherries freeze-dried cherries; saffron from TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: Friendly Fires; Friendly Fires.  I was in a squidgy mood a week or so ago and desperately needed some new music suggestions.  I threw a call for help out on my Twitter feed, and got so many great suggestions -- thank you so much!!  Friendly Fires was the suggestion of "tomdarch," so thanks, kind sir.  This album was great to cook to, and to answer email to, and to do the dishes to, and to generally bebop and fadawdle around the house to.

Read My Previous Post: Peanut, five other flavors

November 23, 2009

Peanut, five other flavors

I love peanut butter.  Seriously.  I eat it almost every day -- a spoonful here and there.  Not in sandwiches anymore (siiiiigggghhhh, stupid celiac), but when I hit that afterschool-snack hour of 3 or 4 o'clock and need a little somethin', I grab a spoon and dunk it into a container of fresh-ground peanut butter from the grinders at Whole Foods.  I mix the regular and honey-roasted versions, so it's a nice blend of salt, nut, and a hint of sweet.  I grew up eating Jif peanut butter, but it tastes funny to me now... a little like plastic, I think.  I'm not 100% in love with the Whole Foods fresh-ground stuff, either, but it'll do in a pinch.




That little break there?  Yeah. Writing about peanut butter gave me a wicked craving for it.  Had to run downstairs and have some.  Mmmmmmmmmm.....

I've written about my love for peanut butter here and here.  I tend to torture my friends with this little ditty from time to time.  So, I think it's safe to assume that going into this dish, I had high hopes, an eager palate, and knew there wasn't anything I was dreading or loathing or having for the first time.  These are flavors I know, techniques I'm familiar with, and preparations that are pretty straightforward.

So let's get to it.

I made the Peanut Chocolate element first, since the book said it needed 6 hours in the fridge to become firm.

The first ingredient? Unsweetened peanut paste.  Now, you may be wondering, what in the hell is peanut paste and how is it different from peanut butter, and where the heck do you buy it?  I wondered that myself, and suspected that it was pretty simple: peanuts, a little bit of peanut oil, food processor, whackedywhack, and done.  So after making a few phone calls to some chef friends, they confirmed that my assumption was correct.  So, I put 270g of raw peanuts in the food processor and turned it on, while I drizzled in 2T of peanut oil, just to give it some moisture to turn into paste instead of just being ground peanuts.



Not quite peanut butter, not quite ground peanuts.  Somewhere in between.  Works for me.

I threw 265g of the peanut paste into my Kitchen Aid mixer along with some confectioners' sugar:


Then, I melted a half-pound of butter and let it brown, so I could add brown butter to the paste and the sugar:



I put the mixer on low speed to start mixing the peanut paste and confectioner's sugar, then slowly poured in the brown butter with the mixer running, until everything was incorporated:


Brown butter, peanuts and sugar? My kitchen smelled like a fairy tale.

I put the mixture on a piece of parchment, covered it with another piece of parchment, and "rolled" it flat with my hands (I think they're the most valuable and underused tool in the kitchen).




When I had smoothed it to its called-for thickness (1/4"), I slid it onto a sheet pan and put it in the fridge to set.  The book said it would take 6 hours.  It took one hour.  I LOVE when that happens -- since what usually happens to me is that instead of 2 hours, something takes 947 days.


While that was in the fridge, I made the concord grape gel, otherwise known as "Peanut Grape" in the book.

While not all gels I've made for the blog have worked out in my favor, I had a feeling this one would.  First step? Combine sugar and pectin and whisk it in to a saucepan of concord grape juice:


I brought it to a boil, then added the sugar, isomalt, and glucose and heated it to 225 degrees F, stirring furiously so that it wouldn't scorch.  Scorch is such a weird word, isn't it.  It's one of those words that when you say it out loud, over and over again, it loses its meaning, and makes you look like a basket case walking around saying, "scorch" out loud a hundred fifty times in different intonations.  Not like I've ever done that or anything.


I poured the liquid onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet and let it set in the fridge.  It took about 30 minutes to set.



Also part of the "Peanut Grape" element of this dish is some peanut butter powder.  Simple as pie: peanut butter and tapioca maltodextrin in a food processor, whackedywhack, sift, done.







With the two most time-consuming (and really, not very time-consuming at that) elements done, it was time to do the little bits.

I cut eight small pieces of celery heart -- sorry, I don't have photos of it, but it's easy.  At the base and on the inside of a bunch of celery is the heart.  They're the most tender, innermost, probably beige or yellow-ish stalks.  You'll see them with a dab of peanut butter in the final plating photo.  If you wanted to use the green stalks, I'm sure that'd be fine, too.

Next, I cut eight small pieces of freeze-dried banana:


Each one of those got a small dab of peanut butter, as well.

Then, I took eight peanuts, dipped them in orange blossom honey, then into some freeze-dried honey powder.  No photos of that step because it's boring to watch.  It was even kind of boring to do.  I actually probably fell asleep during the process which might explain the sticky stuff in my hair.  You'll see the honey-slathered peanut in the final plating photo.  Swears.

Next up? I cut small rectangles of the grape gel and rolled each one, and dabbed them in the peanut butter powder.



Peanuuuuut, peanut butter, and jelly, and jelly, jelly, jelly.... first ya take the peanuts and ya pick 'em, ya pick 'em, ya pick 'em, pick 'em, pick 'em.  Did anyone else sing that song in camp, or am I making that up?

DSC_0006 2

DSC_0008 2 

Then, I cut small squares of the "Peanut Chocolate", and dipped the ends of each one into some dark chocolate I'd melted in a bowl over a small pot of simmering water. 

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DSC_0010 2 

As much as I would've loved to splurge on eight of these serving pieces as the book describes, I didn't.  So, for the purposes of the blog, I plated them all in a row so you could see what they looked like.  I used my fingers to eat mine, but realized it was a bit of a messy proposition for my guests.  They got theirs each on individual spoons.


From L to R: Peanut dipped in honey and freeze-dried honey powder; peanut butter on a piece of freeze-dried banana; peanut butter on a piece of celery heart; "Peanut Grape," the concord grape gel dipped in peanut butter powder; and, "Peanut Chocolate" -- a peanut-y kind of nougat-like square dipped in dark chocolate.

The peanut dipped in orange blossom honey and honey powder?  What's not to like?  Sweet, crunchy, delicious.

The peanut butter on a piece of freeze-dried banana was so tasteless and dry and annoying that I threw away the other seven pieces of it and didn't serve it to my friends.  It was like eating a piece of drywall with creamy, salty spackle on it.  Only grosser.

Peanut butter on a piece of celery heart?  Fine.  Not earth-shatteringly good or puke-inducing bad.  Crunchy, peanut buttery, good.

Now, the peanut butter powder on the concord grape gel?  LOVED.  Fantastic flavors, nice texture, and the gel nearly dissolves in your mouth.  There's some give at first, but it's just so clean and smooth in the end.  Loved it.  And there's just something about the way the concord grape flavor is just so much better than any old regular grape flavor.  It gets all up in your nose, and it's rich and heady and gorgeous.  I love it.

But I think the hit among all of them was the last one, "Peanut Chocolate." It was kind of like a nougat-y piece of candy with a shortbread-like texture.  Like shortbread with a hint of flavor that reminded me of Mary Janes or Bit-O-Honey.  And the little bit of dark chocolate on the end made it even better.  In fact, I'd be content to make that exact same thing all over again, cut them into larger pieces, dip them in chocolate, and give them away as holiday goodies.

Up Next: Niçoise Olive, saffron, dried cherry, olive oil

Resources: Peanuts and celery from the TPSS Co-op; peanut butter from Whole Foods; Domino sugar; yellow pectin, isomalt, glucose, citric acid, and tapioca maltodextrin from L'Epicerie; McClure's orange blossom honey; freeze-dried honey powder from; Just Bananas freeze-dried bananas (can't recommend 'em, though); Noi Sirius chocolate; Knudsen concord grape juice.

Music to Cook By: Reservoir Dogs Soundtrack; Various Artists. Laugh all you want, but "So You Think You Can Dance" either introduces me to new music I end up loving, or reminds me of songs I love but haven't listened to in awhile.  "Little Green Bag" is one of those songs I haven't thought about since "Reservoir Dogs" came out, and I was thrilled to be reminded of it again when it was on SYTYCD a few weeks ago.  And no, not just because dreamy Wade Robson choreographed something to it.  Do you really think I'm that shallow?  Fine.  You know me too well. (Hey Wade, call me!!)

Read My Previous Post: Share Our Strength

Alinea Book


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