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January 2009

January 27, 2009

Tuna, candied and dried

Wow!  Thanks for all the kind wishes and sweet emails with your remedies for kicking this cold/flu.  I finally started to feel human again just this morning, and my joy was quadrupled times infinity when I shuffled downstairs to let the dog out and saw the comforting, quiet blanket of awesomeness that only snow can bring.  Snow!!  Wahoooooooo!!!!!

While most of the time my inner 9-year old comes out when someone farts or I'm reminded I went to summer camp with a girl whose last name was Butt, I also get as giddy as a schoolgirl when it snows.  I turn into Lorelai Gilmore.  Snow is like this magical pause button that makes me physically stop what I'm doing or had planned to do, and just stare out the window for hours on end, grinning from ear to ear.  I don't just walk from room to room, I do a little yay-it's-snowing jig.  I even sometimes catch myself humming a little yay-it's-snowing song.  I put on a cute sweater and cute socks and act like such a dorkus malorkus, it's a wonder I haven't been committed.  And, as I sit here typing this, I just realized I actually PUT ON LIPSTICK THIS MORNING, even though I have no plans to leave the house.  It's like snow is Michael Bloomberg or something.

And, do you know what else I love about this weather?  Food tastes better when it snows.  Oatmeal tastes warmer and creamier.  Hot chocolate tastes richer.  Coffee smells better.  Beef shortrib soup, crispy polenta, and a glass of wine make for a perfect lunch.  And in the evening?  Nothing better than a simmering pot of lamb and veal bolognese.

In wintertime, some people await with bated breath the joys of Thanksgiving and Christmas or New Year's Eve.  Me?  While those holidays are lovely, there's something much more magical about the first real snowfall of the season, and today, we finally got it.

That said, I'm sure it'll turn into sleet and freezing rain before too long, but that's okay.  Just give me a few hours of snow, and I feel like I can conquer the world.

*  *  *  *  *

Now, on to the Tuna, candied and dried:

Growing up, the only tuna I ate -- and I ate it begrudgingly, at best -- was tuna from a can, mixed with lots and lots of mayonnaise (no onions or celery for me, because tuna shouldn't crunch, ew), or mixed in with noodles and some sort of can of Campbell's Soup in a tuna-noodle casserole.  It's not like my little Amish hometown was flush with fresh-caught tuna in the 1970s, so for many years tuna was on my Bllleeaaarrgggghhh List (along with liver, Brussels sprouts, and pork chops -- all things I now love).  I couldn't stand the smell of tuna -- it was just so fishy and salty and smelled like an elementary school bathroom -- but I suffered through it because it's what angst-y pre-adolescents do.

In high school, my outlook on tuna changed.  Why?  Because I discovered the tuna melt.  I mean, really -- what can't toast and melted cheese make better?  So, I evolved into at least appreciating, if not fully embracing, tuna salad on toast with melted cheese on top.

In college, I survived on tuna melts, turkey sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, french fries, Chinese food, and pizza.  And beer.  And ice cream.  And Cap'n Crunch.  And also more beer.  But, tuna was cheap (still from the can, mind you), and, again, on toast with cheese much more palatable.  Still didn't love it, but it didn't make me gag anymore.  Progress!

It wasn't until I was in my early 20s that I actually began noticing fresh, not-from-the-can tuna on restaurant menus.  I don't remember the first time I tried it -- I know it was when someone else ordered it, though, and I hesitantly tried a bite just to be polite -- but I do remember thinking, WHAT KIND OF FOOL DO YOU TAKE ME FOR, THIS CAN'T BE TUNA because it actually tasted really good and nothing like tuna I'd had before.

Since then, I've ordered tuna every now and again in restaurants and sushi joints, but it's not something I get all clappy and ga-ga over when I see it on a menu.  I have to be in the mood for it.  And, it has to be prepared with other flavors that make sense.  And even then, it has to sound better than everything else on the menu (which rarely is the case).  So that's to say, I guess, that although I now like tuna, I still don't crave it or eat a lot of it.  I rarely prepare it at home, because there are other types of fish I prefer.  However, lately, I've been seeing some gorgeous tuna in the fish case at BlackSalt, so I was actually in a good headspace about making this dish.  The ingredients all made sense to me, and everything seemed like it would dovetail really nicely and produce a really flavorful end result.

To begin, in a medium saucepan I combined the water, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, fresh ginger, coriander seed, fresh lemongrass, chilis, and vinegar and brought it to a simmer.  Once it had simmered for a minute or so, I turned off the flame and let it steep for 30 minutes:


Then, I added the lime juice, lime zest (by the way, 5g of lime zest = the zest of two limes), and ginger juice.  Let me take a minute here to tell you about some adjustments I made.  I didn't include cilantro, because I'm one of those freaks for whom cilantro tastes like soap.  So, I don't cook with it and I don't eat it.  It's a shame, because I know it's intended to add a layer of flavor that only brings out the good in every other ingredient, but for me it just makes the whole thing taste like Palmolive.  So, no cilantro.  I also reduced the amount of sugar by 50 grams, because instead of pure ginger juice, I used pineapple-ginger juice, which I figured would be sweeter than just regular ginger juice.  Let's see, what else...  Oh, those long green chilis you see in the photo aren't Thai chilis, they're Vietnamese.  I think that's everything. Yeah, that's it.

This marinade smelled amazing.  Really, really amazing.  I'm not a fan of overly fragrant soaps or perfumes, but if someone could make a soap or shampoo that smelled like this marinade, I'd be a happy girl.  It wasn't overpowering, and every scent was subtle, but present and accounted for.  Just lovely.

Once the marinade had cooled to room temperature (which took about 90 minutes), I sliced the tuna into long, thin strips and put them in the marinade for two hours.


(I think raw tuna is just so pretty.)



After being in the marinade for two hours, I removed the tuna strips, rinsed them in cold water, patted them dry, then put them on a Silpat-lined baking sheet and put them in a 130-degree oven for about two hours.


I then strained the marinade into a medium sauce pan and reduced it over medium heat until it was a glaze.  This step made me fall in love with this scent even more, and I actually spent a considerable amount of time online researching how to turn food into bath products.  Paging Tyler Durden...



Here's what the tuna strips looked like after their drying time in the oven.  The book says they should be dry, but pliable, which they were. 


I let the tuna come to room temperature while I made the candied grapefruit zest and sesame-chili mixture.

Using a vegetable peeler, I removed the zest from a grapefruit, then went back over the inside of it with a paring knife to make sure I'd removed all of the pith.



I cut it into 5x1/16" strips and let them steep and cool in the simple syrup I'd just made.


Next, I made the sesame-chili mixture, which was super-easy to do.  I mixed white and black sesame seeds with some red chili flakes and toasted them in a small sauté pan.  If I were ever to do a stage at Alinea, this is the job I'd want.  Making this combo every night.  Why?  Because it's probably the only thing anyone there could trust me to do (I know my boundaries).  And, it smells good.  Again, soap or some hand cream that smells like this would be a great stocking stuffer..... just sayin'.


I brushed the tuna strips with the glaze, then sprinkled the sesame-chili mixture on them.


I wrapped each one with a strip of candied grapefruit zest, placed a thin slice of fresh ginger on each one, and put them on a platter.  You'll see the lack of micro lemongrass.  Couldn't find it anywhere, and regular lemongrass was too fiber-y to use, so I had to forgo that ingredient.



The flavors burst wide open across our palates and up into our sinuses as we took that first bite, but then the more we chewed... and chewed and chewed and chewed (texture alert!), the less we liked it.  The stringy, almost-tough texture of the tuna was so unexpected and weird that it really bummed me out.  I ate a second one just to be sure, and came to the same conclusion.  In the first bite, the flavors were exquisite: the punch of the ginger, with the heat and warmth of the sesame seed mix, the candied grapefruit peel, the roundness and full-bodied glaze, even the tuna-y-ness of the tuna.... all of it was just gorgeous together.

But it was the texture of the tuna as I chewed that left me hangin'.  Maybe my strips were too thick?  Maybe it drying it in the oven instead of using a dehydrator was the problem?  I don't know.  All I know is, I would've much rather seared and lightly grilled a tuna steak, glazed it with the glaze, crusted it with the sesame-chili mix, and done a fine dice of the candied grapefruit zest as garnish on top.  THAT would've been a hit.  And, it's how I'll make tuna here at home, for sure. Because I can't recommend the flavors of this dish highly enough.  They're phenomenal, and if you like tuna and have access to good, fresh tuna you can make at home, then use all the other elements of this dish to pull off an amazing dinner.

But, tuna jerky?

Not so much.

(Note: For those who might ask in the comments, I made this dish a few days before I got sick, so it's not a matter of having a cold that made this not the homerun I hoped it could be.)

Up Next: Sardine, niçoise olive, dried tomato, arugula

Resources: Tuna from BlackSalt, pineapple-ginger juice from the TPSS Co-op, all other ingredients from H Mart in Wheaton, MD.

Music to Cook By: School of Seven Bells; Alpinisms.  I first heard these guys on a KCRW podcast, and was drawn to the song Half Asleep.  I have a hard time describing their sound without saying that it sounds like an LA club act that could just as easily play the 930 Club.  They're a little gimmicky-sounding, and I bet when they talk they speak with that annoying art-school/hipster voice, but I also think they're the kind of band you fall in love with and listen to for a year or so, then hear their music in a movie and think, "hey, I knew about them first!"  Know what I mean?

Read My Previous Post: Blackberry, smoke, bee balm

January 23, 2009

Alinea at Home Special Edition: I be illin'...

Y'all, I feel like a Tyrannosaurus Rex tore open my head, dropped a deuce into my sinuses, then stomped on my chest on his way back to terrorize Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill.  It hurts to look my laptop screen for any length of time, so I'll get the promised post on the Tuna, candied and dried, up in a few days.

Meantime, let me share with you a few links for your reading enjoyment:

Carol's Top Ten Guilty Pleasure Blogs.  Joining the ranks of Craig Newmark and Marc Andreessen, I was honored when the good folks at Six Apart asked me for my ten favorite blogs for their Top Ten column on Blogs.com.  It was too hard to narrow it down to just ten favorites, so I focused the list on my guilty pleasures -- and yes, I DO love the meteorologists' blog posts on the Weather Channel web site.  I just wish we heard more from my Weather Channel boyfriend, Jim Cantore.  Sigh....

Is there really an Alinea movie in the works?   No clue if this is really happening, but for fun, go ahead and make your casting recommendations here in the comments.  I think Matthew Modine could play TK, Edward Norton is a shoo-in for Chef Achatz, and I think Lauren Graham or Leighton Meester should play me... because you know I'm going to have to find a way be written into the script as the-spunky-ingenue-who ever-so-slightly-channels-Gladys-Kravitz.  Or, feel free to suggest ideas for awesome plot twists (Achatz as Bond!  Achatz opens a day care with Ben Affleck, hilarity ensues!) or celebrity cameos (Don Rickles sous vides Jack Klugman).  I don't know.  Clearly, I am sick and my funny bone is suffering.

And, it's not online, but a special thanks to Claire Tansey and her editors at Canadian House & Home for including Alinea At Home in their January 2009 trends issue.  It's a beautiful magazine, and I'm beyond thrilled to be included.  As thanks, I will no longer refer to Canada as "America's Hat."  You're welcome.

Be back soon..

January 16, 2009

Blackberry, smoke, bee balm

I'm not one to hide my opinion on something I find distasteful, disgusting, or offensive so let's just get this out of the way from the get-go:  I hate smoking.  Even taking my involuntary asthma-related reactions to second-hand smoke out of the equation, I hate everything about it -- the smell, the taste, the way it makes other people smell and taste, the way second-hand smoke infiltrates every fiber of a favorite sweater or my hair follicles without my permission, and the havoc it wreaks on my sinuses when I walk within 10 feet of someone puffing away.  And that's just cigarettes.

What I hate more are cigars.  To me, there's no more offensive a smell than a cigar.  It's suffocating, toxic, and intrusive.  It's vulgar, vile, and almost hostile in its permeation.  I absolutely hate everything about cigars. 

So you can imagine how I felt when I saw that I had to steep a crumbled bit of cigar in some cream for this recipe.  To say I was less than thrilled would be kind.  I was actually pissed off.  I didn't want my fingertips, let alone my kitchen or my house to smell even remotely like cigars, because that shit takes days to fade, and since it's been -974 degrees Kelvin outside, opening windows to air out the house really isn't an option right now.  And, more on principle, I just didn't want to bring a cigar into the house, or cook with it at all.

I mean, why ruin a perfectly luscious, magnificent blackberry with something so onerous?  It just didn't make sense to me, and going into this dish, I was cranky and feeling a defiant animosity that, quite honestly, took even me by surprise.  I mean, it's only a food blog, right?  But still.  I was pissed about having to do this, and went into this dish hoping it would fail beyond anything that had ever failed before, because I wanted to feel some sense of justice that my belief about cigars was right.

Here's the mise en place:


Aren't those blackberries just gorgeous?  I found them at the Asian grocer (and only 99 cents for a pint, compared to Whole Foods' $4.99), and made sure I tasted one before I bought them.  Buying produce at my local Asian market, H Mart in Wheaton, MD, can be touch and go.  Sometimes their fruits and vegetables spoil before you even get them home.  Other times, they just don't ever taste ripe.  These blackberries were from Mexico and they were so juicy with the right balance of sweet and tart, with the flavor bursting across my tongue -- perfect!  I was tempted to eat them all right out of the bowl and just bail on doing this dish altogether, but again... I needed to do it to prove it sucked and was bad, so I soldiered onward.

Let me go off on a semi-related tangent for a second: does anyone else out there have a rapturous affection for blackberries, but detest raspberries?  I could eat blackberries every day, night, and in between.  But put one lone raspberry on top of my cheesecake or slather anything raspberry-flavored between the layers of a chocolate cake and you've ruined my evening.  Seriously. This wanton trend of adding raspberries where they don't belong (anywhere but the trash can, if you ask me) needs to stop.

Okaaaaaayyyy.... wow.  I'm kind of ranty today, aren't I?  Lucky you.

The instructions for this dish were really quite easy, so I figured, at least if it's going to suck, it's going to be overwith quickly and without too much fuss or wasted ingredients, so I got started.

The first thing I did was combine the half-and-half, cream, sugar, salt, and those vile tobacco leaves in a small saucepan and bring it to a simmer.


After it had simmered for about 45 seconds, I turned off the flame, covered the pot, and let the mixture steep for 20 minutes.  For the last five minutes of the steeping time, I soaked five gelatin sheets in cold water.

When the 20 minutes were up, I squeezed the water out of the gelatin sheets, added them to the tobacco cream mixture, and stirred until they had dissolved.  I then poured the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a separate container and discarded the tobacco leaves.


Also while the tobacco cream was steeping, I leveled the ends of eight blackberries and set them on paper towels to drain.


I lined a 9x13" baking dish with plastic wrap and poured a few ladlefuls of the tobacco cream and gelatin mixture into it -- just enough to cover the bottom of the dish -- and put it in the fridge so it could set (which took just 45 minutes, not the two hours the book suggested).


Let me interject here that I tasted the tobacco cream as I poured it in the baking dish, and I gagged.  It tasted so sharp and pointy and pungent and intense and awful.  And while I not-so-secretly wanted this dish to suck, I found myself also feeling really disappointed that the cream had turned out to be so awful and disgusting.  Why?  Because even though I hated the tobacco element in concept, I hated even more the idea that we'd all take our bites off the spoon, and fight over space in front of the sink to spit it out in disgust.

Really.  It was that bad.

After the cream had set, I took the pan out of the refrigerator and placed the blackberries evenly on the surface, pushing them down ever so slightly before pouring in the rest of the tobacco cream liquid and putting it all back in the fridge so the next layer could set.



The last thing I had to do was grind some long peppercorns (the book called for Thai long peppercorns; I had Indonesian and used those instead) and smoked salt:


I also pulled the smallest mint leaves to use as garnish, since finding bee balm leaves and flowers this time of year isn't possible.

To plate, I slid my 1.25" round cutter down over each blackberry, through the tobacco cream, and back up again.  Then, I used an offset spatula to lift it up each serving and place it onto a spoon.  I sprinkled each serving with the finely ground long peppercorns and smoked salt mixture, then topped each blackberry with a mint leaf.  Wanna see?




I called my friends to come over, and made sure it was okay for their kids to eat something with tobacco cream.  Everyone was cool with it, and a few minutes later, seven of us (four adults, three kids) stood in my kitchen staring at the platter in front of us, all the spoons of doom lined up in a row.

I explained what the bite was going to be, and we all looked at one another and said, "You go first."  "No, you go."

We agreed that we'd each pick up a spoon and try it at the same time.  I arranged it so that some of us would be near the sink, while the others had easy access to the trash can.

I foresaw lots of gagging and spitting and water drinking and tongue scraping in our future.

And you know what?

I was wrong.

Dead fucking wrong.

This dish?  This blackberry-assaulting tobacco cream dish is my favorite one so far.

And it's now the dish by which we'll measure all others. 

I can hear it now: "Well, this salsify was okay, but not as good as the blackberries with tobacco cream."

The tobacco cream wasn't pungent, and it wasn't sharp or at all offensive.  It was smooth, slightly smoky, a little sweet, and was the most perfect cushion upon which to place a blackberry.  Having a very smooth, lightly smoky taste partnered with the sweet juiciness of a perfectly ripe blackberry was great... but then add the very subtle salt and pepper to it, with a fresh infusion of mint?  Off-the-charts good.  Spectacular, in fact.  With every chew, a little more of the blackberry became masticated, and when everything was together in my mouth, it was such a wonderful surprise.  I wish I'd doubled or tripled the batch, THAT'S how good it was.

All seven of us LOVED it, and after we'd ooooed and aaaahed, we all honed in on the lone, remaining spoon left on the platter.  There was one extra serving, and after a dorky contest of guess-the-number-I'm-thinking-off-between-1-and-100, my friend's daughter, "M," got to eat the extra one and was quite thrilled about her victory.  This, from the girl who is one of the most finicky eaters I've ever known, and can only name 3 out of the 100 French Laundry dishes she ate as being dishes she only "sort of liked."  Awesome.

So instead of us racing to the sink to spit it out, I'm happy to say that this was the end result:



A spit-free sink and licked-clean spoons.


And for the first time in my life, it feels... no, tastes good being wrong.

Up Next: Tuna, candied and dried

Resources: Blackberries and mint from HMart in Wheaton, MD; Romeo y Julieta Medallas de Oro cigar from Talbert's; Organic Valley cream and half-and-half; David's kosher salt; King Arthur Flour gelatin sheets; Indonesian long peppercorns and smoked salt from Whole Foods.

Music to Cook By: Joshua Radin; Simple Times.  I like the singer-songwriter genre, but nothing too folksy or too strummy-strummy-la-la.  Joshua Radin is neither.  I first heard Radin's music when I watched the movie Catch and Release (SHUT UP) and then again when I Netflixed I'm Reed Fish (Jay Baruchel is this generation's Patrick Dempsey, the Can't Buy Me Love years).  When it seems like so many musicians just yell incoherently or overdo the melisma, I'm tending to lean more toward singing that sounds like a quiet, comfortable, easy conversation with someone you've known forever. [Oh shit.  I'm officially old.] I like Radin's voice and his overall sound.  It's great to cook to when you're in the mood to be contemplative or need to feel calm, and this month, I've been desperate for moments of calm.  Radin toured with Schuyler Fisk (Sissy Spacek's daughter), who also happened to be in I'm Reed Fish, so I listened to some of her tunes, as well.  They go nicely together.  But Joshua Radin is nice afternoon background cooking up some tobacco and blackberries music.  Especially if you're a senior citizen like me.  Wonder if he's ever done a cover of the Matlock theme song....

Read My Previous Post: Sour cream, sorrel, smoked salmon, pink pepper

January 11, 2009

Sour cream, sorrel, smoked salmon, pink pepper

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the easiest dish in the Alinea cookbook.  I'm not kidding.  Yes, I know the book instructs you to use an antigriddle, but I'm here to tell you you don't need to buy one.  You can make your own with dry ice and a baking sheet.  It's so easy, and there are fun science-y things you can do in the process and after eating.  Which, of course, is at the top of everyone's new year's resolutions list: Do More Science-y Things.

I know how you roll.

Let's get started.

The first thing I did was press a whole bunch of pink peppercorns against a fine-mesh strainer to remove the skins:




I set those aside, and mixed the sour cream, salt and simple syrup:



I put that mixture into a squeeze bottle, and set it aside.

The night before, I bought a small piece of smoked salmon, completely ignored the book's instructions on how to clean and prepare it, and just tossed it into the freezer -- still in its packagaing -- to harden.  Not because I didn't think the instructions were important, but a) I kind of forgot I was supposed to clean it up a bit; and 2) once I realized what I'd done, it was a too frozen to thaw it, clean it, and refreeze it.  So, I threw caution to the wind and figured, at the very worst, it wasn't going to kill anyone, and at the very best, it might actually still taste really good.

Oh, I also couldn't find sorrel at the five stores I called and the three I was going to anyway, so I substituted chives.  Normally, I might've used dill (because dill + salmon + sour cream = zipadeedoodah), but all the dill I saw looked droopy and sad and turning yellow, and the chives were rather perky, so there you go.  Wow.  Look at me making substitutions and executive decisions all over the place. 

With the food ready to go, it was time to set up my homemade antigriddle.

I should preface this by saying that I spent some time during the days leading up to this trying out other ways of doing an antigriddle -- like, what if I just froze a small baking sheet?  Or, used the frozen container part of my ice cream maker?  Or, what if I just put the sour cream mixture on a Silpat and stared at it with a cold malevolence?

None of those ideas worked (I can tell you're shocked, SHOCKED, I say), so I relied on what the experts say you should use -- a baking sheet atop a block of dry ice.  Harumph.

I haven't worked with dry ice since 7th or 8th grade science class where we did, I dunno, something all science-y with it.  (Please.  I fried those brain cells in college; ain't no way I'm gonna remember an experiment from 198flormbleschmobble.)  So, while I was psyched about doing this, I was also under the mistaken assumption that dry ice could probably singlehandedly blow up my house if I'm not careful with it.  Me?  Dramatic?  Never.

Dry ice is easy to find here in the DC area, but the one place I wanted to go for it was Talbert's in Bethesda, MD.  Talbert's is old school.  Surrounded by high rises and shopping centers in a quite prosperous part of the county, Talbert's is housed in a small, standalone building with what I'm sure is its original sign (and original employees), very few and inconveniently placed parking spaces, dirty leather chairs facing the Keno monitor, and five or six drunks smoking Swisher Sweets, checking the numbers, drooling, and caterwauling at fairly regular intervals. Crap beer and wine selection, but there's just something about Talbert's I love.  So, I drove over there to get my dry ice, and the guy working the register (who was easily in his early to mid-80s) started to give me instructions about how to use it in my freezer (he'd assumed my power had gone out, I think), and I just said, "Oh, it's not for my freezer; I'm using it to cook.  Well, not really to cook, but to freeze something, but like the opposite of a griddle."

Talbert's Guy: You can't cook with ice.

Me: Ha ha ha!! I know, I misspoke.  I meant to say that I'm putting this dry ice on my countertop, placing a baking sheet on top of it, waiting for it to get really, really cold, and then I'll put a blob of sour cream on it to sort of flash freeze it.

Talbert's Guy:  (silence)

Me:  (nervous laugh) Yeah, it's kind of weird, isn't it?  But then you put this pepper stuff on it and smoked salmon and I couldn't find sorrel, so instead I.... oh no. I'm rambling. I'm sorry.

Talbert's Guy: Cash or credit?

Me: Cash.  (hands over cash)  Thank you.

Talbert's Guy: Why would you want to freeze sour cream? 

Me: Well, I'm using this cookbook, and it has all kinds of new ways to make things, and this is something I wanted to try to see what it tastes like.

Talbert's Guy: Well, I hope it tastes good because you seem like a nice young girl and I would hate to see you hurt yourself or drop that ice, so let me get Carlos to carry it to the car for you.

Me: Oh, that's okay.  It's only ten pounds.  I can do it.

Talbert's Guy: (shakes head, mutters something about "people today")

Me: You know what?  You're right.  I'd love some help to my car.  Thank you.

Talbert's Guy: (muttering something under his breath about wasting perfectly good food by playing with it)  Carlos!  The lady needs some help!

Me: (thinking 'you ain't kidding') Thanks, bye!

See... why go to one of those anonymous, unhelpful big-box beer and wine distributors for your dry ice needs when you can go to a place like Talbert's, go blind from the neon lottery signs, give some guy something to mumble about for the next few days, and come out smelling like the VFW!!?!?  I hope you have a Talbert's-like store near you so you can be thought of as some whippersnapper who is playing with your food AND WASTING IT, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE.

Alright, where were we?  Ah, yes.  The ingredients are prepped and ready to go, and it's time to build an antigriddle.  My friend's son, C., and his friend, N., came over to watch this part of the process because I promised them if they tried this dish, we'd do soemthing cool with the leftover dry ice when we were done.

I placed a dish towel on top of my butcher block, then reached for the dry ice (in its plastic bag) to cut open the bag so I could get the block out.  It was at this point, I realized I should probably have put on my silicone oven mitts to handle it, but didn't and therefore felt a rather sharp stinging sensation as I touched the ice through the bag.

Let's just say the kids heard a word they've probably heard a thousand times before, and giggled uncontrollably at hearing it again.  Of course, this meant they wanted to touch the ice through the plastic bag, too, so I let them do that for a few seconds.  I thought they wanted to do it so they could legitimately swear.  Remarkably, they only AAAAAUUUUGGGHHHHHed for a minute, and wanted to do it again.  Which I did not let them do, because, despite stories to the contrary, I am a responsible adult.

With oven mitts on, I removed the dry ice from the plastic bag, put it on top of the dish towel, then put a baking sheet on top:


It took about a minute for the sheet to get nice and cold.  Here's a shot of the kids blowing on the ice to create a smoke effect (while I made ghost noises, which didn't seem to impress anyone.  Minus ten cool points.).


I did a test dollop before doing all the others because I wanted to make sure this would really work.  It took about 15 seconds for it to be able to hold the chives on its own:

After only 45-50 seconds, the whole thing was frozen, so I sprinkled on some of the peppercorn skins, shaved some smoked salmon onto it with a Microplane, and topped it with a whole pink peppercorn:

Let me just say here that I KNOW the chives look kinda lame.  Actually, REALLY lame.  And that sorrel leaves (or pretty much any other leaf or herbal foliage item) might've been prettier.  I know.  I get it.  I'm not perfect, so LEAVE ME ALONE.


Come back.

I didn't mean it.

I'm just being sensitive about my chiveage.

I lifted the frozen sour cream dollop off the baking sheet with an offset spatula, and ta-da!!!

I tasted it and, honestly, had a mixed reaction.  At first, when the frozen sour cream hits your tongue, it just feels weird and odd.  Then, as you bite down on it and chew, and it breaks down and all the elements mesh in your mouth, it feels familiar.  It warms as it's in your mouth, but is never quite as comfy and lovely as sour cream (or cream cheese) and smoked salmon on a flatbread or cracker.  I like the bite of the pepper, and I love the smoked salmon with it.  I would've used less salt in the sour cream mixture, though.  Probably just 1g instead of 2g.  Tasted a little too salty for my liking.

I made more, called the neighbors, and they came over for a taste. 

The kids thought it was so-so.  One spit it out into the trash and said it was "too sour cream-y" and the other liked it, but thought it needed more salmon (so I made him another one with a huge, honkin' pile of grated salmon on it, which he very much liked).  The adults had pretty much the same reaction that I did.  Weirdness going in until maybe the third bite where it starts to warm, melt, and integrate.

So, would I make this again?  Probably not.  I love smoked salmon spreads and will probably stick to that.  But you can bet the next time I use a homemade antigriddle, I'm gonna come up with all sorts of things to try on it to see what I can do.  If anything, this little bite would be something fun to make during cocktails before a dinner party.  It's a cool party trick, and would certainly make you the science-y envy of your friends.

And, after you've had your cocktails, you could put that dry ice into a cooler, add water and dish soap and watch some smoky, soapy volcano action (inspired by this video, but I just did stills because I am lame and didn't not want to shoot video in the rain and then have to find technolounge music of my own as accompaniment):



Up Next: Blackberry, tobacco, smoke, bee balm

Resources: Ducktrap River of Maine smoked salmon; Axelrod sour cream; David's kosher salt; chives and pink peppercorns from Whole Foods.

Music to Cook By: Mercury Rev; All is Dream.  I first heard Mercury Rev on the Laurel Canyon soundtrack, and really liked their sound, so from time to time I download some of their stuff to see what else they're working on and I really like them.  You may want to check out their appearance on KCRW's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" to see what you think. I have to be in a certain mood to listen to Mercury Rev, and something about smoked salmon and smoky dry ice put me there.

Read My Previous Post: Skate, traditional flavors powdered

January 08, 2009

Alinea at Home Extra: Share Our Strength Update, Other Miscellany

My most heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you who donated to Share Our Strength in December.  We raised $8,000, which was double what I had hoped for, and I couldn't be more thankful for your kindness and generosity.

The winners of the Alinea cookbooks and Under Pressure books are:

Brian Carmen
Colleen Carnley
Brad Detlefsen
Michele Grace
Heidi Guariello
Rachel Luxemburg
Steve Ortiz

Big round of applause for everyone, and again, thank you all so much.

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Jessa Crispin of Bookslut (a longtime favorite site) recently interviewed Grant Achatz (thanks to Drew for the heads up).  Around the four-minute mark they talk about this blog, and how my Cheese, in cracker DIDN'T SUCK.  To have Grant Achatz say that something you made actually looks like something he would serve at home is pretty damn cool, don't you think? Click here to watch the interview.

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Thanks also to the awesome team at Washingtonian magazine for including me in their 2008 Food Trends piece.  I'm honored to be included in a round-up that calls not only for an end to the ever-proliferating cupcake craze (ugh) and snarks on Barton Seaver's wardrobe, but also lauds the arrival of some much-needed butcher shops in town.   The full story is here.

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A few weeks ago, Chef Achatz emailed me a list of Errata in the first edition of the cookbook.  These are things they've corrected for the next print run, but I wanted to post the list here so that if you have the book and plan to cook from it, you'll have the most up-to-date corrections and additions to the recipes.  As always, you can check the Alinea Mosaic forum for ongoing updates and additions to this list:

Surf Clam (page 57) -- there's no recipe for the Lemon Pudding on the fork.  Refer to the Lemon Pudding recipe on page 269.  And, when assembling and serving the dish, add the following instruction as the last sentence: “Place a dot of lemon pudding on the back of the spoon.”

Pistachio Brittle (page 92) -- change second set of temperatures from 240F/116C to 342 F/172 C.

Whole-Wheat and Pine Nut Cereal (Page 122) -- In second paragraph, change second set of temperatures from 115F/45C to 320 F /160C.

Page 343 -- Lemon Marshmallow temps need to be changed to 254 F/123 C.

Page 209 -- Spun Sugar temp needs to change to 325 F / 160 C; and, Muscovado Candy temperature needs to change to 225F /107 C.

Page 223 -- In method, sentence 5 should read, “Season cubes on skewers to taste with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour, tapping off excess.”   Sentence 9 should read, “Season battered cubes with salt and pepper to taste.”

Page 257 -- Cinnamon Tea; Change cayenne amount to 1 g.

Page 288 -- Pistachio Brittle; change second set of temperatures from 240 F/116C  to 342 F/172 C.

Page 367 -- In method, the last sentence in second paragraph should read, "“Season battered squares with mixture to taste.”

Page 182 -- Pineapple Glass; need to add in method, ”In medium saucepan, bring 350g of pineapple juice, sugar, saffron…..” Also need to change sugar amount to 25g, and salt amount to 1g, and amount of Pure Cote B790 modified food starch to 45g.

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I thoroughly enjoyed my much-needed, off-the-grid, closed laptop break over the holidays, and am now getting slammed with work this week.  As I'm sure you can imagine, Washington is throbbing with activity, what with the beginning of a new legislative session and the upcoming change in administration.  So, those of us who work in this arena are busting our asses and generally working around the clock to get done what we need to have in place to ensure a productive 2009.  However, to preserve my sanity (and to try and break my habit of watching the Real Housewives of Orange County when I'm stressed out), I've been spending what little free time I've had this week playing around with how to freeze some stuff without having to buy an antigriddle, and expect to have a food post up over the weekend.

See you soon....

Alinea Book


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


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