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February 2009

February 23, 2009

Tripod, hibiscus

This post is going to be a little different than most.  Why?  Because this is, perhaps, the easiest thing I've ever made in my life.  A face-eating chimp could make this.  The corpse of Abraham Lincoln's Secret Service agent could make this.  The dumbasses on any of the interations of Bravo's Real Housewives could make this.  The leaf that just fell off the tree in my front yard could make this.  Even Sandra Lee could make this (although she'd probably gank it up with taco seasoning, Mrs. Dash, or whack-a-dough biscuits, but still -- it's feasible even she could pull this off).

So, instead of a long, involved photo play-by-play, I'm gonna keep it short and sweet and let this be about YOU -- meaning, I want YOU to make these (or a variation of them) and report back with what you did, how you used it, and how it tasted.

Seriously, read this post, look at the very few photos I'm going to post, think about what you might like in terms of taste and execution, then go freakin' make it.  I even added a brand-spankin' new post tag for this item: "So f-ing easy, dude" because it is, and really, there are no excuses for not taking a few minutes to daydream (I know you're looking for another procrastination tool at work, so with this assignment, I'm giving you one right here, right now. Aaaaaaaaand I just song-poisoned myself with this gem, AWESOME.) and think about how you'd do this dish (or a variation thereof), and then go home and play around and experiment one afternoon or evening and see what you can come up with.

The ingredients are simple, and I'm going to give them to you here in "regular" measurements instead of the weight measurements the Alinea cookbook uses:
-- water (2.5 cups);
-- sugar (1/4 cup);
-- salt (1/4 tsp.); and
-- dried hibiscus leaves (1 cup). 

Nothing fancy, nothing scary.  My local food co-op and health food store sell hibiscus flowers; I bet you can find them with a few phone calls.  If not, my online resource is in the end notes of this post, as always.

The directions are even simpler:
-- Bring water, salt, and sugar to a boil.
-- Turn off heat, add flowers, stir, let cool to room temperature (takes about 20-25 minutes).
-- Strain.  Keep liquid; throw away flowers. 
-- Pour liquid into molds to make spheres. 
-- Done and done.






The step you'll see I avoided was using the tripod.  You know, the very title of this dish.  Why?

While I think the presentation of these beauties on the actual wire tripod they use in the restaurant is stunning, I just don't think it's practical for the home cook to a) buy tripods they may never use again, or b) spend their hard-earned time and money trying to figure out how to make them on their own.  Life is too freakin' short, methinks.  And, the pieces they use at Alinea are just so elegant, there's no way I could do it justice -- not even for comedic effect.  I will confess that I thought about doing a spoof on Time for Timer's "Sunshine on a Stick" for this post, but how can you outdo Time for TimerImpossible.

So, I decided to find other ways to serve these amazing (yes, they are just that) frozen hibiscus spheres because my simultaneously channeling both Grant Achatz and a Saturday morning PSA from my childhood is practically blasphemous; and, with the kind of month I'd been having, I thought it might be more appropriate to involve my little friend, alcohol, in this experiment.

So, I decided to put the frozen hibiscus spheres to use in various alcoholic incarnations, because, while I'm not a mixology expert in any way, shape, or form, I am always looking for ways to expand my horizons past the classics (which currently are wine, scotch, scotch, wine and, um, more scotch.  Followed by more wine.  And then a scotch.).

First up, a shot of Ketel One with a frozen hibiscus sphere:


I made these for my weekly Friday afternoon neighbor-girl drinks gathering, and while I liked it, the other two girls were a bit apathetic.  Turns out, they're not really fans of vodka.  Whoops. 

It was at that point that I realized, hey! I didn't even try one of these suckers WITHOUT alcohol.  Doy.  So, we gathered the kids around, and we each ate one just plain.  The kids were not huge fans.  They declared it "too salty" because they expected it to be sweet because of its color... which for a kid, I would totally expect.  Red = sweet when you're 10, right?

So, if you haven't had anything hibiscus-infused before, how I can I explain what it tastes like?  Well, it's not too floral or overly fragrant (like lavender or roses might be)... it's not overly sweet... it's a little earthy, but not stinky or dirty or peaty.  It made me think of a late summer evening around 7:30, 8 o'clock... maybe the grass was cut that morning, so there's a lingering fresh smell in the air.... and maybe it's a little cool because late summer is easing into fall... and maybe it rained the day before, so everything feels alive and green... and maybe you picked or chopped fresh tomatoes earlier that evening so the smell is still on your hands ever so slightly... and maybe you have a planted pot or garden spot of thyme and tarragon and mint and parsley nearby... and maybe, just maybe, there's a slight, warm wisp of a breeze, and you're sitting on the front porch or on your balcony listening to the sounds of your neighborhood, and you hear laughter in the distance and it makes you smile.  That's what hibiscus tastes like.

This sphere isn't chewy like the Cranberry bite (the Ultra-Tex 3 makes that chewy), nor is it hard like a popsicle.  It doesn't take long to collapse and crush onto your tongue when you press it against the roof of your mouth.  It melts beautifully in a drink, and while letting it infuse a shot of vodka wasn't a home run for everyone, I bet using it as crushed ice in a margarita would be awesome.  Or, you could do what I did just the other night and pour some Lillet into a glass, add a splash of club soda and a wedge of orange (or lime), and use the frozen hibiscus spheres as ice cubes:


James Bond had The Vesper.  This, is The Carol.  And I love it.

So, go forth lovely people of Alinea at Home... shake off the end-of-winter blues and make hibiscus spheres, cubes, hearts or stars or golf balls or butt cheeks or rocket ships... just make some sort of flavored, frozen, flower-infused something... or, if you're pressed for time and can't get to it right away, tell me what kind of flavored, frozen, flower- or herbal-infused something you would make.  Hell, maybe you'd even use the hibiscus-infused liquid in a tray on the grill to steam to some brats? Sky's the limit, queridos.  Hit me in the comments, and you know what?  I'm gonna make it slightly more interesting.

Just before my next post, I'll randomize the comments, assign numbers, throw it out to the Twitter universe to let them pick a few numbers, and I'll ship those winners a few ounces of dried hibiscus flowers of their very own.

How's that sound?

Good, I thought so.

Up Next:  Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper

Resources: Dried hibiscus flowers from Organic Creations (but your local co-op or health food store should have them, so open the Yellow Pages and make a few phone calls), Domino sugar, David's kosher salt.

Music to Cook By: D'Angelo; various.  Because every now and then, a girl wants some D'Angelo in her week.

Read My Previous Post: Kumquat, Aquavit, picholine olives, caraway

February 14, 2009

Kumquat, Aquavit, picholine olives, caraway

In third grade, we spent some time each week for nearly half the school year learning about food.  We talked about food groups, and learned about the history of certain foods.  We read about different foods as part of different world cultures, and because the area of Pennsylvania in which I grew up was agriculturally abundant, we spent quite a bit of time on the local foods of our region.

On Fridays, the two third-grade classes in my elementary school got together in one of the classrooms to sample some of the foods we talked about in class.  One week, one of the moms brought in different kinds of cheese.  Another time, another mom brought in different vegetables.  My great uncle owned the local fruit orchard, so my mom was in charge of bringing in different kinds of apples for each kid in the class to taste.  Another week, one of the moms brought in different kinds of bread -- white sandwich bread, wholewheat bread, sourdough, pumpernickel, and rye bread.

Now, being eight years old at the time, I was quite the fan of white sandwich bread.  Give me two slices of Sunbeam or Holsum bread and I was a happy, peanut butter sandwich-makin' fool.  Wholewheat bread was kind of icky because it wasn't white bread, but at least it was familiar.  All the other breads seemed so foreign and strange to me, but I tried a little slice of each of them.  The sourdough bread was okay, the pumpernickel was passable, but the rye bread?  Gag City.  It smelled weird, and texture of caraway seeds (which, coincidentally, were at the time featured in commercials during The Price Is Right as something that gets trapped between your dentures and your gums unless you use Super PoliGrip, so I was all kinds of freaked out about that) is like someone captured a bunch of wrens and sparrows and pulled out their wee little talons one by one and put them into some bread.  Am I right? 

I've since tried to like rye bread, but to no avail.  So, to see that I had to use caraway in this dish was more than a little off-putting.  I almost considered eliminating it altogether, but instead I got over my bad self and just decided to deal with it and see how it turned out.  I was curious to work with Aquavit, since I'd never had it before and always wondered what it was.

Here's my mise en place:


I put the baby bird toenails, sorry, the caraway seed into a small sauté pan and began toasting them:


I also heated some Aquavit in a small saucepan, into which I put in two gelatin sheets that had soaked in cold water for a few minutes.


Then, I got to work on the kumquats.  I love these little guys.  So fragrant and so tasty -- I rarely cook with them, but I need to remember to make some preserves or something with kumquats because I love the way they smell when they cook.

I sliced them lengthwise, removing the top third of each kumquat:


I discarded the tops and put the kumquats into a small saucepan, covered them with water, and brought the water to a boil.  Then, I strained them, refilled with more water, and did this two more times. 


Then, I put them back into the saucepan, covered them with simple syrup, brought it up to a very gentle simmer, and let them cook this way for 40 minutes.  The book indicated it might take an hour, but mine were very tender at 40 minutes, so I turned off the burner and let them come down to room temperature while still in the liquid.


When they'd cooled to room temp, I removed them from the pan and let them drain on a paper towel while I very gently scooped out and removed the insides (very carefully using a grapefruit spoon).




I put them on the plate, then put the Aquavit gelatin (which had set in the saucepan, so I gently rewarmed it to turn it back into liquid) into a squeeze bottle and filled each of these now-candied kumquat hulls with the Aquavit gelatin.


I put them in the refrigerator to set, which took about 45 minutes.  Just before plating them, I sliced the olives (by cutting off the sides around the pit of 4 picholine olives, to yield 8 little olive caps):


I also ground the toasted caraway seed in my old coffee bean-turned-spice grinder, and strained it through a sieve to yield a very fine powder (the smell of which was sadly gagging me to no end) which you'll see in the photos below.

To serve, I put a piece of picholine olive on top of the gel-filled kumquat, then dabbed a small bit (using the tip of an espresso spoon) of the caraway powder:


I carried this plate of kumquat delight across the street to my friend Linda's house, where she and I and our other neighbor-friend, Holly, convene nearly every Friday afternoon around 4 o'clock for a glass of wine to wrap up the week and ease our way into the weekend. Our snackage typically consists of hummus and chips, pretzels and cream cheese, cheese and crackers, and whatever we have in our refrigerators that we need to get rid of.  When I did French Laundry at Home, our snacks oftentimes incorporated leftovers or leftover ingredients from one of those dishes, lucky us!

It's rare that food for this blog is easily travel-able, but this one was, so I was psyched to be able to have the kumquats to share.  Why?  Because they had the evil, dreaded caraway on them and I was pretty sure I was going to hate them and need to drown my sorrows in a nice Côtes du Rhône.

But the joke's on me because these kumquats were AWESOME and I wish I'd made a hundred of them.  Seriously.  One of the best things I've ever eaten.

The sweetness of the kumquats, combined with the almost-fennel of the Aquavit, the salty, olive-y goodness of the olives, and the did-not-make-me-vomitness of the caraway powder?  Brilliant.  I loved it.  Again, it's one of those combinations I wish I could buy as a shampoo or some sort of soap product because in addition to how well it tasted, it smelled so fresh and clean and gorgeous and almost like it would make my hair all shiny and flowy when I tossed my head from side to side in slow motion.

We finished them in no time flat (they're so easy to eat -- just pop one in your mouth and in a few chews, yer done!), and as I looked at the clean plate before me and reached to pour a glass of wine before sitting down with the girls in front of the warm fireplace to get caught up on the week's gossip, it struck me that I went from one Friday afternoon tasting 32 years ago hating caraway, to a tasting on this Friday afternoon, thinking caraway maybe isn't so bad after all.  As Trent Walker might say, I'm all growns up.

Up Next: Tripod, hibiscus

Resources: Kumquats and picholine olives from Whole Foods; caraway seed from the TPSS Co-op; King Arthur Flour gelatin sheets; Aalborg Aquavit.

Music to Cook By: Salt-N-Pepa; Hot, Cool & Vicious.  I was doing an event with a client recently and had to do a sound check onstage before the doors opened.  For some reason, when the audio tech asked me to "go ahead and say something, Carol" I blurted out, "My mic sound nice, check one."  Dude.  I haven't heard that song since 1986.  So, I came home and downloaded all the Salt-N-Pepa I didn't already have.  Spinderella, cut it up one time...

Read My Previous Post: Cranberry, frozen and chewy

February 08, 2009

Cranberry, frozen and chewy

I'm finally starting to feel nearly normal [read: healthy; because me? normal?], and was soooo ready to get back into the kitchen this weekend.  Didn't used to be like this, but I now feel unsettled when I don't cook every day.  And, that need to cook is coming in quite handy because I've decided to not order any carryout this month, nor go out for dinner (unless it's business-related), nor do any grocery shopping other than fresh produce once a week.  Even with that, I'm limiting myself to a budget of $15/week.  Why?

Last month, Mark Bittman wrote a piece in The New York Times about stocking one's pantry.  Then, Michael Ruhlman wrote a post about it, and it was fascinating to scroll through the comments and see what people considered to be their staple items.  While my staple items are pretty boring (salt, butter, stock, etc.), I do keep a well stocked freezer and pantry, which I'm quite fastidious about organizing and maintaining.  However, I recently realized I'd started to fall back into my bad habit of just buying whatever the heck I wanted at the market every time I went, and my shelves were getting cramped and my freezer and fridge were stuffed to the gills for just little old me.

So, I spent the month of January eating what I already had and cooking what was already in my kitchen.  When I got the flu/cold/crud and didn't leave the house for two weeks, I really took advantage of my bountiful kitchen (and freezer) and was so glad to have soups to thaw, oatmeal to make, and different seasonings and extras to make me feel like I wasn't eating the same exact thing every day.

Now that we're in February, I thought, hey, why not keep going?  I've made a dent in my stockpile of food, but I've still got a ways to go.  So, I've decided to allot $15 each week of this month to spend on fresh produce and eggs... otherwise, I've got to use what I have here at home.  It honestly hasn't been difficult at all, and already I can see I'm going to be saving a decent amount of money.  A little belt-tightening never killed anybody, right?

I know what I'm doing is hardly revolutionary, and it's not something so out-of-the-ordinary for me, either.  On a pretty regular basis, my friends and I do a "leftovers dinner" where we bring our odds and sods that we reheat or repurpose into something else (shepherd's pie being a big favorite), allowing us to clean out our fridges for the week ahead.  But, it's been awhile since I've put myself on any kind of food budget or buying restrictions and I'm kind of curious to see how long I can make it last.  Of course, the food for this blog is not included in that $15 budget, because that's just not realistic.  I imagine when I get down to a bag of frozen peas, agave nectar, and paprika that I'll have to lift my self-imposed moratorium, but for now it's been kind of fun to see what I can come up with, and indulge in the little treasures in my freezer (homemade pesto! in February!).

Speaking of my freezer, let's talk about Cranberry, frozen and chewy.  I'll say right upfront that I didn't use liquid nitrogen to make this because I just didn't have the time or the desire, after having been out of commission for what felt like forever, to source it and go pick it up.  I wanted instant gratification, something I could make really easily, and since my freezer is right here and I already had 1" spherical molds, that's how I rolled.

And away we go....

Just after Christmas, I bought two bags of cranberries at Whole Foods, put 'em in a Ziploc, and stored them in the freezer.  I knew I was going to do this dish in February, and I knew I wouldn't be able to find cranberries then.  So, in the photo below you'll see little white dots of defrostation on the gorgeous cranberries I used:

I didn't thaw them, and instead put them straight into the saucepan with some sugar and water and brought them to a boil.  Then, I turned down the flame and let them simmer for about 20-25 minutes until they'd broken apart and were just getting mushy.





I strained the cranberries through a chinois and allowed the liquid (or cranberry stock, as the book refers to it) to cool to room temperature (which took maybe 10-15 minutes).  I added the Ultra-Tex 3, a modified tapioca-based starch, and whisked it until it was fully incorporated, then poured the Ultra-Texed cranberry mixture into a squeeze bottle.



The next step was to fill the silicone spherical molds.  Here's what they look like, in case you've never seen them before -- it's two halves that you press tightly together, then fill through the little holes on top:




I put the cranberry-filled molds into the freezer and kept them in there until the next day, when I finished the dish. 

The only other thing I had to do before serving them was make the orange purée.  I quartered an orange, removed the pith and fibers in the center, and then blended them in my blender with a little bit of simple syrup:



I strained it through a chinois into a small bowl, added a little kosher salt, stirred it, and put it in a squeeze bottle to get it ready for plating:



So, the only thing left to do was get the cranberry spheres out of the freezer and put them onto spoons.  Then, I'd dot each sphere with the orange purée, top it with a chervil leaf, and down the hatch it'd go!  Easy, right?

Um, maybe I should've taken the time and effort to to the whole cranberry-into-balloons-then-into-liquid-nitrogen, because look what happened when I opened the mold:



I pulled gently around each sphere to ever-so-lovingly get the little guys out while keeping them as intact as I could.  I smoothed them a bit and placed them on spoons which I'd kept in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes:


They look respectable enough, don't they?  I dotted each of them with a few little squirts of the orange purée, then topped each one with a chervil leaf.  Here's the final result:



I have to say, I was pretty damn proud of myself for salvaging this one.  I did not have it in me to fail or even semi-fail, and I really wanted them to be pretty and not resemble the Ghetto Fish Triscuit Debacle of 2009.  But even more important than having them be so pretty (which they are! So pretty!  Don't you want to make out with them??), I wanted them to taste good.

My house smelled amazing -- still a little cranberry essence from the day before making cranberry stock, with a nice overtone of orange.  I called my friend, Linda, and she and her son, "C," walked the 50 feet from their front door to mine to come taste them.  As soon as she stepped across the threshold, she said, "Ooooooo, something smells really good."  So, the three of us stood in my dining room in front of this plate of eight spoons, and thought we'd each try one while we waited for other folks to arrive.

So, we each took a spoon off the plate, opened wide, and took it all in one bite.  I rolled it around in my mouth for a few seconds, then chewed and swallowed.  Not 10 seconds had passed as we chewed and swallowed before we all reached for another one, pausing only for a second to say, "shouldn't we wait for... nah, ya snooze, ya lose" before we each ate another one.


They're smooth, they're fragrant, they're flavorful, they have a really smooth mouth feel -- not crunchy or hard like a popsicle, but not mushy or slimy in any way (which was what I was afraid might happen).  It's like a really light ice cream or maybe a sharper, more tart sherbet kind of texture.  Flavor-wise, it was a hit with all of us.  Not too sweet, not too tart, the cranberry and the orange just complementing one another so perfectly, and the hint of chervil added an almost salty taste to it.

I'm totally making these again.  I have more cranberries in the freezer, so I'll probably do them again soon, either as a canapé or maybe a palate cleanser if I do a multi-course dinner party.  They're really easy to pull off, and if you're willing to do a little smoothing or reshaping when you take them out of whatever shape of mold you use, the colors are just so beautiful that everyone you serve them to will ooooh and aaaah and think you are a freakin' rock star.  Which you are, anyway... I'm just sayin'.

So, in total there were eight of these bites and we'd eaten six of them.  There were two full spoons left and three of us.  So, we decided I should put them in the freezer for an hour or so until Linda's husband, Sean, came home so he could try them.  Fast-forward to this morning when he still hadn't come over, so I ate them for breakfast.

You snooze, you lose, indeed.

Up Next: Kumquat, Aquavit, picholine olive, caraway

Resources: Spherical molds from J.B. Prince; cranberries, orange, and chervil from Whole Foods; Ultra-Tex 3 from Terra Spice/Alinea.

Music to Cook By: The Smithereens; From Jersey It Came.  Someone was paying me a compliment the other day and used the phrase "a girl like you."  I happen to like being called a girl.  The word woman feels a little too forced or p.c., and I don't think I could be referred to as a lady.  Chick isn't right either, and gal is just too affected.  I'm fine being referred to as a girl.  But more than an analysis of gender terms, the phrase made me launch into song, specifically "A Girl Like You" and, as a result, I've been listening to The Smithereens for days, now.  Reminds me of college and singing along to their music at The 21st Amendment (which we actually called "the two-one" because we were so cool, but not cool enough to keep it from being razed and replaced with an IMF or World Bank outpost).

Read My Previous Post: Sardine, niçoise olive, dried tomato, arugula.

February 02, 2009

Sardine, niçoise olive, dried tomato, arugula

I suppose I could offer an analogy of how sick I still am by saying that any of the ingredients below resembles something that has come out of my sinuses in the past week, but I won't.

Except that I just did.


It's not entirely true, and my crankiness about still being sick should have no bearing on your enjoyment of this dish... because, quite honestly, it was pretty tasty.  Unlike the stuff that's coming out of my.... okay, I really will stop now.

*  *  *  *  *

Any recipe that affords me a trip to the Asian market to buy ingredients I wouldn't ordinarily cook with is always welcome.  So, knowing Whole Foods and Safeway wouldn't carry sheets of dried fish, I hopped in the car, tottled around the beltway, and headed on up Georgia Avenue to the H Mart in Wheaton, only to find that their stock of dried sardine sheets had been recalled earlier in the week and they didn't know when they'd be back in stock.

So, I perused my other options, discovered there was really only one other choice, and decided that I'd just go ahead and use sheets of dried ice fish instead.  Not exactly the same flavor, but would offer the same functionality, right?

But before we get to that part of the dish, let's start off with what I knew I couldn't screw up -- tomatoes and arugula.

I squared the edges of and cut the sun-dried tomatoes into 1/8" strips and set them aside until it was time to plate:



Next, because I couldn't find baby arugula, I decided to to a chiffonade of regular arugula, and set that aside until it was time to plate:



It's at this point that I think I owe anyone who knew me in 1984 a huge apology.  Why?  Well, I had the good fortune (and trusting parents) to travel to England the summer in between 10th and 11th grade as part of one of those let's-do-10-countries-in-two-weeks-and-also-sing-songs-about-America-as-part-of-a-pseudo-Up-With-People-only-not-as-dorky-and-certainly-no-jazz-hands-chorus-and-band-tour-shut-up-I-can-hear-you-laughing-at-me.

Most of our meals were prearranged by the tour leaders and we ate in group settings, but when we had some free time, my new friends and I would spend as little as we had to on food so there was more money for clothing (which, sadly, in 1984 meant buying an oversized Frankie Say Relax t-shirt, green neon hoop earrings, and red jelly shoes).  One afternoon in London, on one of our final days abroad, I remember going into a sandwich shop (after having spent hours in my new favorite store Miss Selfridge) and getting a really cheap egg salad sandwich with arugula... only in England, arugula is called "rocket."  Armed with a desire to be British, I dropped "rocket" into more conversations than was probably necessary or appropriate, and when I got back to "the States" (see how fake British I still am?), I continued my annoying monologue about rocket, and how good it was, and how I wish I just had some rocket for this sandwich, and what do you mean you've never heard of rocket, oh maybe that's because here in the States it's called something else, so let me now tell you nine hundred other things that somehow involve me saying the word "rocket."

So, if you knew me in 1984, I apologize... not just for talking about rocket all the damn time, but also for my unfortunate hairstyle and gross misunderstanding of makeup technique.  Thanks for not punching me in the neck.  I probably deserved it.

Okay, moving on...

The next thing I did was prepare the niçoise olive cream.  Really easy.  First, I took my 300g of niçoise olive brine (which the lovely girls at the cheese counter at Whole Foods poured and weighed for me and REFUSED TO LET ME PAY FOR IT, I LOVE THEM) and added the Ultra-Tex 3 (which sort of sounds like a condom brand or a herpes medicine, but I assure you, it's neither, although I now have Barry White's voice in my head enouraging me to use the Ultra-Tex 3, GREAT).




I whirred it in the blender for about a minute, during which time I also whipped my whipping cream in my Kitchen Aid mixer, bringing it to medium-stiff peaks.




I folded the Ultra-Texed (ooohhhhhhh yeeeaaaaahhhhhh) olive brine into the whipped cream...


... and put it in a pastry bag until I was ready to pipe it into the little sardine, nay, ice fish crisp cups I was about to make.

Here's what I started with:


What's that little graphic on the bottom of the package?  Does it mean only middle-aged, mustachioed post-grads with three diplomas can use this product? 

So, essentially, this is a sheet of dried ice fish.  Wanna see the little guys up close?


I am equally fascinated and skeeved by this product.  I've eaten it before, but never cooked with it.  And, while I love the purpose it's going to serve, if I think too much about their crunchy little spines and beady little silvery eyeball heads, I twitch.  So I don't think about it.   (>twitch<   DAMN IT)

I cut one of the sheets (they came two to a pack, which later turned out to be a VERY good thing) into 1x3" strips, which I then sprayed with a little water before getting ready to cook them:



I wrapped one of the strips around the end of a wooden spoon handle, pressed the edge a bit to seal it, then gently slid it into a pot of 375-degree canola oil (the seam side pressed against the inside of the pot so it would stay together):




It only took about 30 seconds for this to turn golden and stop bubbling.  I was thrilled that this was so easy that I did a second one right away, which also was so easy, that when I got to the third one, I was stumped and annoyed.  Same for the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eight ones.  Why?  They stayed wrapped around the spoon handle in the pot, but when they were done cooking, I couldn't get them off no matter how gently or hard I tried.  It was so strange.  The first two were easy-peasy and slid off beautifully without any problem.  The rest just cracked apart when I touched them or had to be scraped off with a paring knife.  SO ANNOYING.  And, after working with all eight of them, and all eight of them just having come out of 375-degree oil, my finger pads were toast.  Seriously, I should've robbed a bank or something because I think my fingerprints disappeared for a good 48 hours.

So, I got the second sheet of fish out of the refrigerator and cut it into little cracker-like pieces, fried each one for a few seconds to crisp it up, and figured I'd just improvise in the presentation.


Man, those look worse in the photo than they did in real life.  Kind of depressing to see them this way.  Yipes...

I was able to fill the two ice fish crisp cylinders with the olive cream, then top them with arugula and the dried tomato strips, but they're not as pretty as the ones in the photo in the Alinea cookbook.  Not even close:


Look at that olive cream trying to make a run for it.  "Get me out of here!  I'm mortified to be associated with this whackjob!!  Aaauuuuggghhhh, there's rocket on top of us!!!!"

Completely defeated and simply wanting to get it overwith and see what the damn things tasted like, I blorped some olive cream, arugula, and tomato strips onto my ghetto fish triscuits (with all apologies to the fine Nabisco corporation) and said Ta-DAAA!!!!!!


You already know how I feel about the look of these, so let's move on and talk about how they tasted.  I will say that they weren't sardine-y or salty enough for me, but I was expecting that.  Eaten as one bite, they were really pretty good, and we all liked them.  The adults enjoyed them more than the kids did, but there was no gagging or spitting or fake vomiting on their part, so I count that as a plus.  I didn't like olives until about ten years ago, and while I still don't really always love them on their own, I do love the way the olive flavor integrates with other flavors in a dish.  And, the textures in this bite worked well together, too.

I'd certainly do this dish again, only I'd probably do it differently because now that I have my fingertips back, I kinda wanna keep 'em.  So, maybe some sort of toast or homemade flatbread spread with sun-dried tomato compound butter topped with a sardine-and-olive tapenade.  Or, I'd somehow find a way to do an olive-tomato-arugula-sardine relish over a piece of pan-seared fish.

So, while maybe not Miss America on a plate, it definitely earned the Miss Congeniality title, because at the core of it, it's good.  Really good.

Up Next: Cranberry, frozen and chewy

Resources: Dried ice fish sheet, sun-dried tomatoes, and canola oil from H Mart; arugula and olive brine from Whole Foods; Organic Valley heavy cream; Ultra-Tex 3 from Terra Spice/Alinea.

Music to Cook By: The Pilmsouls; Assorted.  I'm not sure how or why the song "Million Miles Away" got stuck in my head last week, but it did, which led me to not only download some of their music, but also to watch Valley Girl.  I really love these guys for nostalgic reasons, and they don't sound all that dated when you listen to them now.  Or maybe I'm just in denial about this not being the 80s anymore.  I dunno.  I've been spending waaayyy too much time catching up with old high school friends on Facebook, I've probably forgotten what year it is.

Read My Previous Post: Tuna, candied and dried

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