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November 2008

November 26, 2008

Alinea at Home Extra: Happy Thanksgiving

I know I just posted the Sea Urchin dish, but I couldn't resist sharing these videos with you -- Grant Achatz teaches Nick Kokonas how to sous vide a Thanksgiving dinner:

Part One

Part Two

And, Nick's sons, Theo (age 5 1/2) and James (age 9), cook the Pheasant dish from the Alinea cookbook.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Safe travels, and happy cooking!

Up Next: Caramel Popcorn, liquefied

Read My Previous Post: Sea Urchin, vanilla, chili, mint

November 24, 2008

Sea Urchin, vanilla, chili, mint

ring.... ring....

Scott: Hellllllloooooooo, Blacksalt Fish Market!

Carol: Dude.  I need a live sea urchin. 

Scott: WHO IS THIS???

Carol: It's Carol. 

Scott: I know.  I'm just messin' with ya.

Carol: I don't have TIME for your silly GAMES, mister.  I need me an urchin, and I need it soon.

Scott: That should be really easy.

Carol: Oh, really?  Like the Moi was easy?

Scott: No, really.  They'll be in season in a week or so, so it shouldn't be a problem at all.  How many do you need?

Carol: Well, the book says I need one.  Just one.  It's for a small bite-sized thi....

Scott: So, two, then.  Because I'm sure you'll gank up the first one, and...

Carol: HEEEEYYYYY!!!!!!

(slightly uncomfortable silence)

Carol: You're right.  Let's do three.  They're not, like, a million dollars are they?

Scott: We'll have to see.

Carol: Fine.  Whatever.  Just call me when they come in, and I'll come get them.

Scott: What are you doing with them?

Carol: Oh, it's really kind of cool. Little pieces of sea urchin suspended in a vanilla-mint gelée, and it's this teeny-tiny bite, and then y......

Scott: Are you sure you only need three?  Do you want me to order more?  I mean, I know you've never worked with sea urchin before and.....


Scott: Well, I mean, I'm just looking out for you, and...

Carol: Dude.

Scott: Alright.  Talk to you in a few days.

* * * * *

A week or so went by, and Scott called to tell me the sea urchins had been pulled out of the ocean and flown in that morning.  I drove down to BlackSalt to pick them up ($7.50 for all three -- whoot!), and spent some time with him getting a quick tutorial on how to open these suckers up while not completely mutilating them and ruining the insides.  As Chef Achatz so gently points out in the Alinea cookbook, you don't want to damage the urchins orangey 'nads, since that's the part you eat.

So, we did a pretend cut, reviewed some photos in one of Scott's textbooks from culinary school, and I was good to go.  He wrapped them up in wet paper towel and sent them home in a nice plastic case for me so I could get started on them right away while they were still alive.  ALIVE!!!  MWAHAHAHAHA!!!

Now, if you played along with French Laundry at Home, you know that I sometimes feel the need to name the very things I'm going to slice open or mutilate -- especially creatures from the sea.  For instance, I felt it approrpiate to name one of my lobsters after a certain Canadian screecher, and was also compelled to honor a family known for its plastic surgery by naming my hacked-off softshell crabs after them.

So, it seemed only fitting that if I were going to stick the tip of my scissors into the mouths of these three sea urchins and start hacking away, I needed to memorialize them in some vocal-trio-tastic way.  So, I present to you, Chynna, Carnie, and The Other One:


And no, they could not hold on for one more day.

DSC_0006 "Someday, somebody's gonna make you wanna turn around and say goodbye..."

DSC_0005 "You've got no one to blame for your unhappiness; you got yourself into your own mess..."

Now remember, you only need ONE urchin for this dish.  But, you may want to get two or more while you're at it -- an extra one just in case one smells bad, or to have some extra urchin to mix in with some butter and toss with pasta later on is not a bad thing.  But I digress.

Here's the urchin, upside-down, mouth up:


And, here I am, holding li'l Chynna and cutting her open:

DSC_0011 ""Til then, baby, are you gonna let 'em hold you down and make you cry..."

I stuck one tip of the scissors into the mouth and cut out toward the outer perimeter, then cut my way around the outside (careful not to make the scissors all stabby on the insides) and cut off a neat little lid:

DSC_0013 "I know that there is pain... but you, hold on for one more day.... and you, break free, break from the chaaaaiiinnnnns....."

I gently turned the urchin over so that the black gunk (the lungs, I think) and other matter would fall out.  Then, using a small spoon, I gently scooped out the orange "roe" ('nads!  /12) and gently placed them into a bowl of salted ice water so I could swoosh them around to get cleaned off.



The adorable wiener dog (Jake!) hopefully offsets the crime-scene nature of this photo.  It sure wasn't pretty.

I discarded the shells/outer hulls, and removed the urchin from the salt water and cut it into small portions that I knew would fit within the cylinders of gelée -- probably 1cm each:


I had a lot of urchin left over, so I chilled it and later made some uni butter (butter+urchin/food processor = yum) to use later in the week.  MMmmmmmmm......  So, even though Scott was WRONG and I did not horribly abuse my first urchin beyond recognition, I was still happy to have extra to eat in other ways.

I covered the plate of urchin bits and put it in the fridge while I prepared the rest of the dish:


To make the gelée, I soaked the gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water for about five minutes:


I put the mint in a stainless steel bowl, and in a saucepan brought some water, sugar, salt and the seeds of a vanilla bean to a simmer.  Next, I removed the gelatin sheets from the water, squeezed out the excess water, and mixed it in with the water/sugar/salt/vanilla liquid.  I then poured that mixture over the mint leaves, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it steep for twenty minutes:




After the 20 minutes of steeping, I removed the mint leaves and strained the liquid through a chinois into a measuring cup, so it would be easy to pour it for the next step:


I lined a small, square dish with plastic wrap and poured in enough liquid so that it was about 1/4" deep:


I put it in the fridge for a half hour to set, then brought it back out, placed the pieces of urchin on top, then covered it with the rest of the vanilla-mint liquid, and put it back in the fridge to completely set:



When it had fully set (in about an hour, maybe an hour and 15 minutes, tops), I took it out of the fridge, and gently lifted the block of gelée out of the dish (hence, the use of plastic wrap), and cut out 3/4" rounds.




I topped each cylinder with a baby mint leaf and a grain of sea salt, and served it on a spoon.


You'll notice the word "chili" in the title of this dish, as well as in the list of ingredients (if you have the book).  Sadly, jalapeno chilis make my throat swell closed if I eat them, coat my hands in an angry rash if I handle them, and make my eyes burn if I'm in the same room with a cut up jalapeno, so I had to skip 'em in this preparation.  I wish I could have used them, because in all honesty, something was missing in the end, and I think this was it.

Now, earlier this year while I was still doing French Laundry at Home, I made a lobster gelée as one of my dishes.  I forced it upon my friend's son, Grant, and it was horrible.  So, I wanted to try and make up for being such a jerk and making him gag for days on end after that stuff, so I offered him the first bite of this gorgeous sea urchin preparation, because I really thought he'd like it.

He popped it in his mouth, chewed, bulged out his cheeks and squinted his eyes while somehow simultaneously raising his eyebrows in horror.

Me: Um, Grant?  Are you okay?

Grant: Bleh. Blorgh meen nigh habbor.

Me: WHAT!!?? Oh, no.  Are you going to throw up?

Grant: Blergh.


(Followed by MAJOR stink eye, bordering on daggers. Actually, definitely daggers.  And defeat.  And, I suck, because this is now the THIRD TIME I've tortured this kid and his brother with some sort of gelée.  Guess I'll have to buy them Rock Band 2 for Christmas to make up for it.)

After the look that could kill, he raced to the cupboard for a glass which he filled with water and drank in about 3.8 seconds, at which point he refilled his glass and drank some more.

So, you can imagine, after that, the rest of us were SO STOKED to try this.

But try we did, and you know what?  It wasn't bad.  It just, um, made us all say (nearly in unison), "Dr. Cooper!" 

Dr. Cooper is our local town dentist, and the vanilla-mint combo was more than just a little reminiscent of that twice-a-year torture ritual we all know as a dental cleaning, so I'm bummed I couldn't have the chili to offset it and make it not as toothpaste-y as it ended up being.

Texture-wise, it was great.  And, the urchin added a smoothness and saltiness that rounded out the bite.  But, it definitely needed something else.  I would love to hear your suggestions for what I could do next time to add some heat or salt or something.  Would a tiny flake of horseradish work?  I dunno.  Hit me in the comments.

Knowing this didn't turn out to be the highlight of everyone's evening, I thought I'd appeal to my friends' kids' gross-out/coolness factor, and show them the rest of the urchin 'nads I'd stored on a plate in the fridge.  I thought, for SURE, they would think it was cool.  Instead, they took one look, and the 10-year old turned to me and said, "Um, Carol? You're kind of like the crazy chef lady who kills people and stores their organs in her refrigerator until the cops come."

Now there's a movie script just DYING to be made, dontcha think?  I hear The Other One Wilson is looking for work.  She could play me, right?  If only she could breeeaaaaak free, breeak frrroommm the chaaaaaiiiiinnnsss.....

Up Next: Caramel Popcorn, liquefied.

Resources: Sea urchin from BlackSalt Fishmarket, David's kosher salt, gelatin sheets from King Arthur Flour, mint leaves from my garden, vanilla bean from the TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: Matt Nathanson; Some Mad Hope.  Maybe listening to Matt will be the perfect antidote to my earlier song poisoning, if, you know, you're holding on for one more day....

Read My Previous Post: Cheese, in cracker.

November 18, 2008

Cheese, in cracker

I don't know why my parents didn't disown me as a child.

Together with my aunts, uncles, and cousins, we went on some of the most beautiful and fun vacations when I was growing up.  And, while my brother and cousins were enthusiastic to explore Disney World, Williamsburg, and every other entertaining and totally awesome place we went, I bitched and moaned like an ungrateful little cod, and said that I would rather hang out by the hotel pool all day, practicing my pretend-Olympic dives, then sit on one of the chaise lounges reading Tiger Beat (Ralph Macchio!) and eating packet after packet of crackers with cheese or peanut butter.  That, to me, was the ideal vacation.  A pool with a diving board, magazines, and cheese and crackers.

Honestly, those ideal vacation requirements haven't changed all that much, but my tastes have certainly gotten better, especially in the cheese and cracker department.  No more Lance packets for me or Captain's Wafers with Chive Cream Cheese.  No more orange crackers with orange cheese in a packet of six, waiting to get lodged in my molars.  Now, I spring for (and crave quite regularly) the good stuff.  Cheese from Carr Valley or Cowgirl Creamery.  A wide variety of crackers -- whatever the co-op or Whole Foods has on hand that looks good.  And, truth be told, nowadays I forgo the cracker part of the equation because it's just a distraction of a delivery mechanism for what I love most: cheese.

I used to think I was all cool and hip with my cheese and cracker selections here at home, but this recipe totally upped the ante, and how.  Here we go:

The first thing I did was combine the water, yeast and sugar, and let it stand while I got the rest of the ingredients ready for the cracker dough. I couldn't get my hands on any fresh yeast, as the book suggests, so I did some research and found that (according to the Bo Friberg, who authored The Professional Pastry Chef) that you can substitute one packet of dry active yeast for the 13g of fresh yeast the recipe in the Alinea cookbook calls for:


Here's the mise en place for the cracker dough:


I added the flour, salt and butter to the bowl, put the bowl on the mixer stand, and, using the dough hook, mixed it for about 4 minutes, at which point the dough came together in a ball:



I covered the bowl with a clean dish towel, put it on the counter above the warm, then-running dishwasher, and let it rest and rise for about a half hour.  Then, I put the dough (still in the covered bowl) in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, I got the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up a little bit before cutting it into quarters, and then rolling and cutting one of those quarters into crackers.  I had been moving some things around in the kitchen and couldn't get to my rolling pin, so I rolled the dough with a chilled bottle of Etude Pinot Noir rosé.


Then, I cut the dough (which was about 1/8-1/16" thick) into 1" squares.



I doused them liberally in kosher salt, put them in a 450-degree oven for 5-6 minutes so they could bake and puff up a bit, and let them cool on a wire rack until they got to room temperature.  Then, using a sewing needle (you'll see why in a minute), I poked holes in the underside of each one, that would later be filled with cheesy goodness.





I stored these crackers in an airtight container and prepared the cheese sauce.  Oh, the cheese sauce.  I swear, I'm fine with being allergic to some foods/food groups, but if I had to give up cheese, I would be so incredibly sad.  The smell, the taste.... ooooh, my.

I grated the cheddar cheese using the handy-dandy shredder gizmo on my food processor and put it in the blender.  I topped it with the warm milk, sugar and salt, and blended the badonkers out of it until it was creamy and smooth.  The smell of the cheese melting with the milk and the sugar and salt gave me a total jones for the macaroni and cheese that this woman is known for, and which I love like no other.






I strained the cheese sauce into a bowl from which I filled my syringe to fill the crackers:



You'll note that this is not a standard needle-based syringe.  This syringe is one of three newborn baby breastfeeding supplement syringes my friend Holly (who is a lactation consultant) gave me a few weeks ago when my dog hurt his back and couldn't stand up to eat or drink, so I had to give him water with a syringe.  No, this is not the same syringe that hydrated my dog, but it's an extra one I held onto because I knew I needed a syringe for this dish and thought this might work perfectly.

And it did:



Grant Achatz, you saucy little minx.  These crackers are not only genius, they're delicious and addictive.  They're so so cute (which, I know was your driving force in creating them, um, NOT), really easy to make, and completely tasty -- we devoured them in minutes... it would be hard not to.  Totally better than Combos (even though I do love those sometimes, especially in airports, holy crapsticks why am I rambling), and rivals my love for spreading some Wispride on a Saltine or Carr Valley Benedictine on a slice of baguette.

Here's the deal: you pop the whole thing into your mouth, bite down and get a satisfying crunch.  Then, within seconds comes the ooey, gooey cheese mixing in with the cracker.  I love the sharpness of the cheddar cheese with the smoothness of the biscuity cracker.  This one is a no-brainer in terms of taste because it's familiar and good, and quite clever.

I think these would be great to serve at a party, because you can make the crackers a day ahead and inject them just before your guests come.  Or, you could delegate that task to that one person who habitually shows up to your parties early under the guise of being helpful, but somehow does nothing but distract you, nearly derailing your getting-ready efforts.  You know, the person who always begs, "no, let me help," and now with this canape, you could say, "Sure.  Fill up this syringe with the cheese sauce I've got over there and go ahead and inject those crackers with the sauce, mmmkay?"  And then watch them slowly back out of the kitchen and hide in the closet, slightly in fear but mostly in awe of your mad, awesome culinary skillz.

Up Next: Sea Urchin, vanilla, chili, mint

Resources: Grafton Village Cheese Company aged cheddar cheese, Organic Valley whole milk, Domino sugar, David's kosher salt, Red Star yeast.

Music to Cook By: The Thin Red Line soundtrack; Hans Zimmer.  I've been on a movie score/soundtrack kick as of late, and thinking back on some of the best movie scores out there (Ennio Morricone, The Mission is a favorite), and happened upon the soundtrack to The Thin Red Line in my iTunes library.  Totally forgot I had it.  And while I loved that movie and found it really compelling and powerful, I love the musical score just as much, maybe more.

Read My Previous Post: Salad, red wine vinaigrette

November 12, 2008

Salad, red wine vinaigrette

You know what I love about you guys?  You see this story, and you email me to say, "I know you are totally going to this dinner, and I can't wait to read about it on your blog!"

And then I have to reply and say, "Sadly, I did not get to go to that dinner because I had prior commitments that prevented me from going."

Now that I've seen the menu, I wish I'd said, "F off" to those prior commitments or last-minute-ditched said commitments, and flown to New York to eat some truly amazing food.

Alas, I remained a true patriot, decided to do the hard work of freedom, stayed earnestly dedicated to my country and my people, and forged ahead in this new era, and ... oh, who am I kidding ... I should've gone.  I am a dumbass.

Instead, I made salad! WOOOOO-HOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Wanna see?

Of course you do.  I mean, seriously, we didn't miss anything by not going to that dinner, right?  We could just read my old blog, and then read all the posts on this blog, keep flipping back and forth between the two, and it's almost like we were at THAT OTHER DINNER.  Only, not even close.

So, yeah.


To start, I loaded up my freshly cleaned sink with all the spinach, arugula and romaine the recipe called for:


Criminy, that's a lot of roughage.  Now, let me say that when I wrote my shopping list for this dish, I didn't really know what nearly 9 pounds of salad greens would look like.  But now I know. Yike-a-roonies.

Now comes the fun part.  And by fun, I mean TOTALLY NOT FUN.  Because I don't own a juicer and refuse to buy one (my kitchen storage space is precious, and I'd never use a juicer for any other reason because I kind of hate juice in general), I had to pulverize all that lettuce in my food processor, squeeze it through chee..... WAIT.

I'm getting ahead of myself.

Really, the reason this was the TOTALLY NOT FUN part is because I bought real salad greens -- not the already-washed and bagged stuff -- so that meant I had to take apart all these bunches, leaf by leaf, and rinse and spin and rinse and spin until they were clean, and then tear the leaves into choppable bits, and process them in what amounted to MORE THAN TWENTY SEPARATE BATCHES in my food processor.


I stopped counting at twenty batches because I just couldn't take it anymore.

BUT I STILL WILL NOT BUY A JUICER because I'm stubborn that way.

I lined two big containers (a glass mixing bowl and a Le Creuset pot) with cheesecloth, dumped each batch of lettuce purée in there, and when I was done, I squeezed the juice from those collective bunches of purée, then combined the juice into one bowl.  Then, I strained that combined juice into yet another bowl and added a little salt to taste.







Now, if I'd had a juicer, this step probably would have taken all of four minutes.  Instead, because I am annoying and mule-ish, this step took me an hour and twenty minutes.  But it was time well spent, because I.... um..... had all these.... um..... like, um.... great thoughts and stuff during that time.... and, um.....


I thought the hard part was over, but no. There was some serious engineering to be done. 

The next step involved freezing the lettuce juice after it's poured onto a sheet pan.

I don't know what your kitchen is like, but mine is so ferdunkled.  It's an old, old house.  Appliances too big for the space allotted, and the freezer door doesn't really open the whole way like it should because the countertops were cut by someone whose business card read Random Chopping Uneven Counterop Guy.  So, originally, I thought I'd just pour the liquid lettuce onto a sheet pan and then slide that sheet pan into the freezer.

It's good I have half a brain because I thought, "Huh.  Maybe I should make sure this sheet pan fits into the freezer before I go pouring this BRIGHT GREEN LIQUID onto it and then have it not fit, and drop it or tilt it to fit in the freezer, forcing the lettuce juice to run down the inside of the freezer and then all over my kitchen floor, and I will have to immediately sell the house because who the hell wants to clean up all that?"

Sure enough, the pan wouldn't slide straight in, so I rigged a bunch of frozen items in one of the bins to create a somewhat level surface, slid the pan in, adjusted the aforementioned frozen items to ensure a level surface (PEOPLE, I even used an actual carpenter's level to make sure it was even), and then poured the juice onto the pan once the tray as secured.


Next up?  The red wine vinaigrette.  Thankfully, this did not involve seven million hours of lettuce washing and pulverizing, and instead simply required that I mix some red wine vinegar and salt, and pour it in a shallow pan, so that I could freeze it, as well.



I let these freeze overnight, and finished and served it the next day.

Finishing the dish seemed like it was going to be a breeze, and appeal to the orderly, particular, straight-lined, everything has its place so let me just adjust that three more times freak that I am.  To prep for plating, you merely take a fork, turn the points of the tines down onto the surface of the now-frozen lettuce juice and the now-frozen red wine vinaigrette, and drag it across the surface, scraping long lines to raise up the icy goodness like you would with a granita.

It was easy, but wow does it make a mess.

Clearly, the photo on pages 216-217 of the Alinea cookbook shows the righteous fury with which the icy spray of green doom can splatter, but I didn't know that in addition to splattering across my countertops, floor, windows, cupboards, and walls, it was also SPLATTERING ALL OVER MY FACE until I went to the local co-op to pick up some bread an hour later and the cashier stared at me and said, "Whoa.  That's a really brave tattoo."  To which I replied, "Oh no, that's a zit."  To which he replied, "No, the teardrops of green.  Is that, like, because you're for the earth?"  At which point I muttered something under my breath about "what do you even mean am I for the earth, what a stupid thing to say, am I for the earth, what does that EVEN MEAN" and pulled out my compact mirror and saw that it wasn't just a few drops of green under my eyes, but that I quite resembled The Hulk (Edward Norton!  CALL ME!), and scooted on out of there and invested heavily in the Cetaphil Corporation as well as whatever corporation makes mirrors, because who leaves the house without checking to see how they look?  Oh yeah.  Me.

Back to the scraping, so you can see how it looks:





And now, time to plate.

I spooned 2 large spoonfuls of lettuce ice into a bowl, then topped it with the icy red wine vinegar.  I dribbled a few drops of olive oil, added a pinch of sea salt and black pepper, and proudly served this to my friends:


So let's recap.  We went from this:


To this:


And how did it taste?

Well, we learned the hard way that you kind of need to stir it a bit to mix all the flavors together, otherwise, there's a very good chance you might feel like you took a bite of a vinegarcicle.  However, if you stir it and smush it around (which melts it a little, but that's okay), it's a really nice balance.  Overall, it's really light and fresh, and tastes really green and healthy.  I know for some people that might be a turnoff (healthy = booooo), but I enjoyed it.  Come summertime, I'd make this again as a fun course at a dinner party.  It's really good.

Up Next: Cheese, in cracker

Resources: Salad greens from Whole Foods, Domaine des Vignes red wine vinegar, Monini olive oil.

Music to Cook By: Azure Ray; Assorted.  I have a few of their albums on my iPod, so I just put them on Shuffle and listened.  There's no higher praise than to say their tunes kept me from wanting to throw my food processor out the window on batch 17 of the lettuce.  So, yay them.

Read My Previous Post: Dry Caramel, salt

November 06, 2008

Dry Caramel, salt

This time of year always reminds me of caramel.  I grew up in a fairly small town (8 streets tall, four streets wide), and every Halloween, we joined forces with the neighboring town to host a big parade on the Sunday afternoon before Halloween.  There were roller-skating clowns (which still to this day freak me out), and fire trucks decorated with orange streamers, cardboard skeletons, and that fake cobweb stuff.  Politicians would ride on the back ledge of their car dealer-loaned convertible, followed by the local high school homecoming king and queen, Miss York County, and if we were really lucky, Miss Pennsylvania, waving to the crowds as they went by.  The local VFW men in their jackets, service pin-laden sashes, and member hats, would lead the parade with a flag line, and we'd all stand and salute or put our hands over our hearts as they walked by.  Marching bands, flag teams, majorette squads, old-timey cars, Cub Scout troops, and social and civic clubs from across the county would dress up and compete for what was probably a $50 "Best of" prize in their category.

In junior high and high school, I was in marching band (I know you're not surprised one bit), so I spent many a cold October Sunday in my polyester uniform and plumed hat walking the three-mile route playing Africa and Tusk and, yes, Celebration on my glockenspiel.

My grandmother lived along the parade route, and before I was old enough to be in the parade (which was the equivalent of being a total rock star) my cousins and I, all decked out in jeans and heavy sweaters, would sit along the curb, plastic pumpkin baskets in hand, waiting for the best part of the parade -- the fire trucks.  Why?  Because the firemen tossed candy from the truck, and it would scatter across the pavement and toward our feet like an accidentally overturned basket of crabs, and we'd elbow each other out of the way to get the candy we wanted.  Smarties, Snickers, Sweet Tarts, Necco Wafers, Tootsie Rolls, Charms Blow Pops... you name it, they had it, and they threw it right at us.  It was BETTER than trick or treating, because all you had to do was sit there and wait for it.  None of that pesky walking around in your sweaty costume, breathing through the tiny airhole in your plastic mask.  And did I mention the pesky walking around part?  TOO MUCH WORK.

At the end of the parade, we'd all trudge up the small hill that was my grandmother's front yard (it's barely a slope but when you're six, it's Everest), and head inside for hot chocolate, doughnuts, and some heavy negotiations amongst us kids about who wanted to swap out some of our candy for the better stuff.  For a long time, I was the youngest of many cousins, so I know I got swindled ("no Carol, I promise, it's totally fair that you give me seven of your full-size peanut butter cups for this Tootsie Roll that somehow didn't come in a wrapper"), so don't think when the tides turned and I was able to lord over my new set of younger cousins, I didn't do the same.  I totally did, because  the mission at hand was to amass as many Kraft caramels and Sugar Daddies as I could.  Ah, Sugar Daddies... you had to just suck on them because chewing them would rip out a molar.  But moreso, I loved getting caramels during the parade because I'd always unwrap one and drop it into my mug of hot chocolate and let it almost melt by the time I'd finished drinking.  Then, I could scoop out the caramel with my spoon and it would be just the right smoothness, and it would be all warm and drippy.

So every year in October and November, I crave caramel.  Even though it's one of my favorite flavors, it feels wrong to eat it at any other time.  Almost like I'm cheating on fall.

So, now that I've made you suffer through tales of marching band and being the Don Corleone of my cousins, it's probably about freakin' time I talk about this dish.

So, Dry Caramel, salt: here we go --


In a medium-sized saucepan, I heated the sugar, glucose (the clear, bubbly stuff above that actually reminds me of this stuff), cream, and butter over medium heat until it reached 230 degrees (F).





I poured it onto a Silpat-lined sheet tray to cool.  The book says it needs to cool to room temperature, but it mentions nothing about it hardening, which mine did.  Hmmmmm....

After it has cooled, you measure/weigh a certain amount of the caramel base and put it in the food processor with some tapioca maltodextrin, then you process it until the "caramel base is completely absorbed."  That last part quotes directly from the book and leads me to believe that maybe, perhaps, my caramel base wasn't supposed to harden (FAIL) and that I would probably break my food processor trying to do this step.



Here goes:


Can I get a what-what?

I think it worked.

I covet the glasses this dry caramel is served and photographed in in the book (p. 297), and wish I had thought to buy some, but alas, I did not.  The only small-ish, shot-ish glasses I have are vintage and they're green, so I called my friend, Linda, across the street and asked what her barware situation was like and could I bring my dry caramel over and serve it there?  She happily obliged, so I took the food processor bowl off the stand and marched it right over to her house where I spooned it into these little glasses, and topped it off with a pinch or so of sea salt.


So, how'd it taste?

I'd had a dry shot at Alinea in July, so I knew what it would be like to have something powdered go in and then explode with flavor as it hit your tongue.  It was fun to see everyone's hesitant yet curious faces go from I-don't-know (as the powdered caramel hit their tongues) to Whoa-and-cool as it re-liquified in their mouths.  We all had seconds and thirds, and it was delicious.  I had some extra leftover, so I packed it in a plastic deli container and took it to my parents' house the next day when I went up for a quick visit.  My dad and I bypassed the whole polite manners part of putting it in a glass, and just used a spoon, so it was kind of cool to be able to bring this new caramel preparation back to the same town where I fell in love with caramel as a child.

Note: You'll see in the right-hard margin a small "Links" section.  In that section, I'm linking to a "Hydrocolloid Shopping" list that someone else put together and made into a Google Doc, and that my buddy, Joey, found for me.  So, if you're having trouble finding some of the specialty items used in the Alinea cookbook, that link might be a helpful resource.

Up Next: Salad, red wine vinaigrette... or perhaps, if you behave yourselves, Sea Urchin, vanilla, chili, mint.  Because, Scott, my trusty fishmonger, has put the entire New England coast on sea urchin duty.  I'm a little scared.

Domino sugar
Tapioca maltodextrin and Glucose from L'Epicerie
Organic Valley heavy cream
365 organic butter
Maldon sea salt

Music to Cook By: Sondre Lerche; Faces Down.  I like to think this Norwegian poppy, somewhat-dare-I-say bouncing, strummy-strummy-la-la kind of music is the soundtrack playing as I'm walking down the street in some fantasy world I live in because I rarely walk anywhere and instead scorch the earth driving my SUV everywhere.  But really, if I did walk down the street, in a jaunty cap of some sort, I like to think "Modern Nature" is what's playing as I do so.

Read My Previous Post: Bacon, butterscotch, apple, thyme.

Alinea Book


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


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