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July 2009

July 26, 2009

Oyster, ginger, steelhead roe, beer

There are two items in the heading of of this post that I don't really love and that made me nervous about this dish: oysters and beer.  Wait.  Let me amend that by saying: cooked oysters in one certain preparation, I love Love LOVE!  Raw oysters?  Snot wads.  Chewy, disgusting snot wads.  It's like when you have a sinus infection and you're at work, and you start coughing in the middle of a meeting and all of a sudden, you cough up a chunk of lung, and there it sits on your tongue.  You can't spit it out (because EVERYONE'S LOOKING).  You can't wedge it between your cheek and gum and deal with it later.  You have to swallow it and pretend it never happened.  You just have to.  And yes, I know it's disgusting (but we've ALL been there, let's not pretend otherwise), and that is what oysters feel like for me.  They make my shoulder blades twitch, my stomach churn, my salivary glands go into pre-vomit overdrive, and I just don't like them.  I've tried and I've tried, and I think it's darn skippy I have leaned to love them cooked.  A+ and +10 points for me.  But raw?  No freakin' thank you.

However, I went into this dish thinking, "If Thomas Keller can get me to change my mind about and fully love (and sometimes even dream about) cooked oysters, perhaps there is a sliver of hope that Grant Achatz can change my mind about raw oysters."

I feel less animosity, apprehension, and grossitude toward beer.  I think I just drank too much of it in college that I overdid it and simply don't enjoy it now.  Even before being diagnosed with celiac, I can't tell you the last time I had a beer.  It's been 5 or 6 years, at least.  It's not offensive and I don't hate it.  I just don't savor the taste of it or crave it.

But let's not dwell on the negative.  There are two ingredients in the post title that send me to the moon in full swoon: ginger and steelhead roe -- waahooooooo!!!!  I'd just had the most splendiferous experience with the Croquette.  I was on a high.  Nothing could go wrong, right?  There was the smoky, salty BLiS steelhead roe and ginger -- fresh, fragrant, bitey, deep-sighing aaaahhhh-inducing ginger.  I could eat anything -- even raw oysters -- as long as the magical roe and ginger were involved.

So, off I went, mentally skipping and zippadeedoodahing into the kitchen to get started.

You know how for the past few weeks, I've been all about "hey, look at me and my awesome food weight guessing skillz!!!"  Sadly, I am Rain Man no more.  I needed 125g of ginger, and this is what I chose:



But wait.

The book says 125 of ginger, peeled.  Maybe after I peel it, it'll be 125g.... right?


Oh well, can't win 'em all, can I?

I sliced the ginger thinly and added it to a pot of boiling water, sugar, and salt.


Just like the steeping pot of lemon thyme, I wish I'd made a second batch of this steeping ginger to use to steam my face.  A little spa time in the kitchen is something every girl needs from time to time, right?  I covered the pot, turned off the flame and let it steep for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, I soaked 4 gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water:



I love that shot. 

I strained the ginger liquid through a strainer and into a clean, empty bowl.  I discarded the ginger slices, and added the gelatin sheets (after squeezing out the water from them) to the ginger liquid, stirring until they had dissolved.  I poured the liquid into an 8x8" glass baking dish and put it in the refrigerator to set.




It took nearly three hours to set, and when it did, I used a spoon to "draw" swirly lines through it to agitate it into chunks that were supposed to be walnut-sized. I put the dish of chunked-up ginger gelée back into the refrigerator until it was time to plate.


Next step was trimming and cleaning the oysters.  The dreaded oysters.  Bllleeaarrrggghhh....


(nothing antibiotics can't clear up, right?)

I trimmed each one so that the flap and other assorted grossness was gone.  Here's what the assorted grossness parts looked like:


And here are the beautiful (*hack*cough*gag*) oysters all cleaned up and ready for plating:


The only other thing I had to do was make beer froth.  Not foam, which you see in the photo below because I poured the beer straight into the saucepan, not at an angle (doy):


I used Redbridge gluten-free beer, and it took only 2 bottles of it to give me 706g (I needed 700g).  And you know what I learned about gluten-free beer?  Unlike regular beer, you can't make the bubbles go down by sticking your finger onto the foam.


SCIENCE! (side note re: this link -- Being an astronaut = coolest job ever.  But picking the music for their daily wake-up call?  Second best job EVER.)

Where were we.... ah yes, the beer froth.

I put the beer in the saucepan over medium heat, added sugar, and brought it to a simmer, skimming off the foam once the original foamy head had settled and dissipated.  This smelled really lovely as it warmed -- made me think I might someday enjoy beer again.


I added the soy lecithin (which got a little clumpy), and stirred it as best I could to remove the chunks and get them to dissolve into the liquid. 


That strategy really didn't work, so I just turned off the burner and used the immersion blender to break up the bits (which worked) and got the froth part started.



I sliced a few scallions and took the roe out of the refrigerator and started plating (here's a shot of the roe when it was just opened to use in the Croquette dish... just to remind you how gorgeous this stuff is):


Then, I began plating, or glassing in this case, using my little juice glasses.  First in -- the ginger gelée:


Next, a spoonful or two of smoked steelhead roe:


Then, two oysters into each glass (they blorped when they landed on the gelée and roe -- ew):


A few rings of scallion:


Then, topped them all with beer froth:




I called the neighbors to come over for a taste -- and decided to do this tasting outside on the new table my awesome, fantastic, super-talented brother made for me out of reclaimed barn wood.  This table has made me an incredibly happy camper this summer, and I figured it could only elevate the flavor and experience of tasting this particular dish.


Because this course has beer in it, I couldn't serve it to the kids, so I did roe and crème fraîche atop cucumber slices, because I wanted them to enjoy the roe again since they loved it so much the the Croquette.


Let's look at a full shot of the table and benches (home and garden porn) so you can see my new favorite place to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between:


If I could, I would distract you with even more photos from different angles of my lovely table, because it will delay the delivery of what I feel like is really bad, deflating news.

I didn't like this dish.

I made sure I had some ginger gelée, an oyster, some scallion, roe and beer foam on the spoon for my first bite, and I was really hopeful.... really, really hopeful about how it would taste.

And it was odd.  Not awful, or spit-in-the-sink bad.  Just not good.  Actually, it's probably more appropriate to say that it wasn't to my liking.  The ginger and roe together, as predicted, were really fun and flavorful -- I liked the brightness and the salty smokiness together.  I loved how the ginger gelée opened up and amplified the roe. The beer taste was neither here nor there.  It was fine, but didn't really move me in any particular flavor direction.  I didn't really notice the scallion, come to think of it.  However, the texture and taste of the oyster just threw everything off.  I loved the feel of the roe crunching and popping as I chewed, but the oyster texture and taste just skeeved me out... and I know the oysters were very good oysters (everyone else seemed to enjoy them, and no one got sick, and Scott has never given me bad shellfish). 

I went back and looked at the book to see if maybe there was a different way I could've done this.  Should I have prepared a smaller serving with a little bit of everything and just one oyster in a shot glass?  No, because if you do this as a shot (or oyster shooter) then all you're doing is letting stuff dash across your palate and down your gullet without ever really tasting it -- and that would've been a huge waste of ginger and roe.

Could I have cooked and then cooled the oysters? Not sure how that would've helped.  Maybe finely diced them so they were the same size as the roe (or at least in a quarter-inch dice)? Maybe that would've made a difference.  I can't be sure.  Would love to know your thoughts on oysters and how ya like 'em, if you do.

I'm kinda bummed because I really did think I might enjoy this dish... that it might be the thing to get me to like raw oysters.  Or maybe I just need to give it time or realize I may never like them, no matter how good the rest of the ingredients are.


Up Next: Veal Stock, the Alinea way

Resources:  Oysters from BlackSalt; ginger and scallions from HMart; sheet gelatin from L'Epicerie; soy lecithin from WillPowder; Redbridge gluten-free beer; Domino sugar; and BLiS roe.

Music to Cook By: Fauré: Requiem; Andre Cluytens, conductor.  Okay, confession time: I was a choir geek.  I have been singing since before kindergarten, and did a lot of solo study in the classical form throughout high school and college, but I also spent a lot of time in chamber groups, concert choirs, and had the nerdtastic honor of being the number-one ranked mezzo soprano in Pennsylvania's state chorus in 1986.  I know.  Isn't that totally hot?  I sang all throughout college, and sang Fauré's Requiem (which I'd also done in two different groups in high school) in GW's university choir, sitting right next to my amazing friend, Marisa.  Still, to this day, we can sing it start to finish.  And we know all four voice parts from having done it so many times.  And now that you all have deleted me from your bookmarks and removed my dorktastic self from your RSS feed, please, at least, go listen to this piece.  It's gorgeous.  Yes, it's a funeral mass (perhaps for the death of my taste buds after once again attempting to eat raw oysters), but it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever to be composed.

Read My Previous Post:  Croquette, smoked steelhead roe, endive, radish

July 20, 2009

Croquette, smoked steelhead roe, endive, radish

While I love being a spectator of certain sporting events, I've never been much of the athletic type.  Chalk it up to my innate talents (musical theatre, and being a smartass) focused elsewhere while I was growing up, or being much more into the statistics of sports rather than the sports themselves (I still have my spiral-bound notebook containing various Orioles batting averages and Winter Olympic ski jump records from 1976), but I could never play any actual sports.  Part of it is laziness, part of it is disinterest, and most of it just an extreme lack of athletic talent.  EXTREME.  Like, I got Cs in phys. ed. in junior high and high school because the only sport I was good at was rolling my eyes.

That said, I will confess to being jealous of people who are good at sports, because they're given the benefit of having the opportunity for some amazing, adrenaline-fueled celebratory moments -- the rush of scoring a goal in soccer, the 80-yard touchdown run, or hearing the specific crack of the bat that you just know is going to land that baseball over the left-field fence.  Even watching pro sports -- the Ickey Shuffle, the Lambeau Leap, the touchdown spike, the winning ace in a tennis match, or soccer players who get caught up in the swarm of teammates when they score a goal.  Hell, even the sound of, "goooooooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" itself is awesome.  It's a feeling I rarely have an opportunity to experience.  I mean, so I launch a great press campaign or score a rave for a client in the New York Times... can't exactly do a leaping chest-bump while "WOOO-HOOOOOO"-ing with anyone.  In fact, none of my professional experiences inherently deliver that from-the-gut-gotta-outwardly-and-instantly-celebrate-or-I-might-explode kind of feeling.  Not even close.

So, I don't play sports, and my profession doesn't really dovetail with the physicality of a celebratory adrenaline surge.  But cooking?  Even when a meal turns out beautifully, I can't say that I've ever experienced that sense of beaming pride that carries you for days.  It always seems as if I take a moment or two to savor it, and then I go on to the next thing.  But you know what happened the other day?  A fist-pumping, can't stop smiling, HELL YES, end-zone dancing, butt-shaking, giddily laughing accomplishment that took me quite by surprise and that I'm still feeling today... all caused by what you see below.  This, my friends, is my Croquette, from the Alinea cookbook:


Is it a breaded, fried ball of dairy product with stuff on top?  Yes, but it may just be the best thing I have ever made.  It's certainly the best bite from this blog up until now.  And, to add to the joy?  I made it gluten-free.

I was caught off guard by how well this turned out, because there were steps throughout the process that could very easily have led to a post with lines like, "well, the spheres were supposed to set, but as you can see, Bluto clearly got to them before I could."  I worried that the breading I'd planned to do would fail, and I'd end up with a repeat of The Great Sweet Potato Meltdown of 2009.  I feared another caper explosion.  I don't know why, but I had it in my head that this was going to be frustrating and unsatisfying, and instead, it was the complete opposite.

And when it was done, and the croquettes eaten, and the dishwasher started, and my friends on their way back across the street to their home, I did my own version of the Ickey Shuffle.  Although, because I have ZERO floor space in my kitchen, it admittedly looked more like Judd Nelson in the final scene of The Breakfast Club after he kisses Molly Ringwald.  Which was shot on a football field.  Which I do not and can not play.  Because I suck at sports.  And we come full circle.  Wow.


But let's begin at the beginning, shall we?  Unless, of course, you're one of those readers who only likes when I destroy something or fail miserably... in which case, FINE.  BE that way.

I did this dish in just a few hours (most of which was waiting time as the spheres set), and it was more than worth it.  I started in the morning because I wanted to make sure I built in some extra time for the crème fraîche spheres to set, or for me to re-do them completely, because I was really sure I was gonna screw 'em up.  But before I even started in on those, I candied some Belgian endive leaves...


I bought two endives, and used the larger outer leaves of both.  I also trimmed the tough, brownish, fibrous parts at the base of each leaf.  I halved the leaves lengthwise (I made a few extra in case some tore while cooking) and put them in a small saucepan of sugar and water I'd already heated to a simmer (stirring until the sugar dissolved).  Upon putting in the leaves, I turned down the flame to the lowest heat level, covered the pot, and let them simmer/steep for 40 minutes.



I turned off the burner and let the leaves sit in the pot of liquid until I was ready to use them later in the day.

The next thing I did was make the crème fraîche liquid -- crème fraîche, water, salt, simple syrup, warmed to a simmer.  I added the gelatin sheets (which I'd soaked in cold water for a few minutes) and whisked them in until they'd dissolved.


I turned off the heat, knowing it would stay warm while I got the cucumber balls and roe ready to make the spheres:



The smoked steelhead roe is from BLiS, and I don't know that I've ever seen roe more beautiful (or more flavorful).  [I can't wait to try all of Steve's other products because if this roe is any indication of the level of quality, I'm going to fall culinarily in love, I'm quite sure.]

To make the spheres, I got out my trusty silicone molds (which J.B. Prince no longer sells, sadly, but these should work just as nicely), and placed 7 eggs into each of the hemispheres, then added a cucumber ball, locked the top on, and squirted in the crème fraîche liquid until each sphere was full:







I put the mold into the refrigerator and crossed my fingers for the next three hours to make sure they'd set.  I really, really, really thought that when I gently lifted up one corner of the top layer of the mold, that half the ball of goo would come with it, and it would be a creamy mess and I'd have wasted all that roe.  But that wasn't the case.

Once I'd checked on them to make sure they were set and ready to be used, I put them back into the refrigerator and prepared the rest of the garnishes: red onion dice, radish slivers, deep-fried capers, pieces of lime segment, and a trio of fresh herbs (sandwiched between damp paper towels) -- chive, sorrel, parsley:


The next step was to bread and deep fry the crème fraîche spheres.  The recipe in the book calls for all-purpose flour and panko crumbs, neither of which I can eat.  So, instead, I took each ball and rolled it in tapioca flour, then egg (beaten), then breadcrumbs I made with four slices of Whole Foods brand gluten-free sandwich bread (which I thawed, removed the crusts, and whacked in the food processor for 20 seconds to make them into bread crumbs).  The book said to do this flouring, egging, and breading twice so that they were double-breaded, but I did it three times.  Just to be safe.




I heated a pot of canola oil to 250-275 degrees instead of the 475 degrees the book suggests.  I know from previous experience that gluten-free bread tends to toast and burn more quickly than regular bread, so I started out at a lower temperature for the oil because I figured I could increase it if it wasn't working at 250-275 degrees.  I just didn't want to lower one of those precious few crème fraîche spheres into 475-degree oil and have it turn black or explode.

I chose wisely:



That level of brown crispiness happened in ten seconds, and I knew each of these balls had to go into the oven for a few minutes to make sure the centers were softened, so I was happy to see that my gut instinct on this was correct.  I did all nine spheres, one at a time, then put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 250-degree oven for 2 minutes.  The only thing I thought about while they were warming was whether that 10 seconds in the oil was enough time, given that I had three layers of breading instead of two.  I needn't have worried because this plate of croquettes is one of the finest things to have ever graced my kitchen:


So, what did it taste like?  Well, we ate it as one bite... and the warm crème fraîche just exploded in my mouth (and some dribbled out of the side of my mouth; klassy!).  The contrast of warm and creamy on the inside with the toastiness of the breaded outside was one thing.  But, then to add the subtle layers of the smoky, salty, flavor bursts of the roe as they exploded between my teeth, and the sharpness and biteyness of the radish, the zing of the onion, the brine of the capers, the tart acidity of the lime, the cool freshness of the cucumber, and the sweetness of the candied endive?  "Wow" doesn't cut it.  "YEAH!" doesn't quite do it either.  "Proud" doesn't quite encompass the height of emotion.  My 10-year old neighbor's eyes bulged wide (he dribbled a bit, too) and he didn't blink at all while he chewed and then reached for a second one.  But "eyes bulging" isn't the right descriptor, either.  My neighbor, Sean, who had eaten at Alinea the week before, said, "this is your best work EVER."  So while I was even more flattered because he actually now has a real-life reference point for the level of quailty I'm going for, it still isn't the most complete way to describe how I felt about this croquette.

I know part of my loving this croquette so much comes out of my knowing that I'll never again eat roe in the traditional way -- on toast points.  Toast made with real bread -- the kind of bread I can't eat anymore.  So to have all that toasty deliciousness, and the crème fraîche and the salty roe surrounded by all the other supporting flavors in one bite?  And that I MADE IT?

It really and truly felt like what I can only imagine it's like to spike a football in the end zone... crack a bat on a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth... be the first one to cross the finish line in a come-from-behind win... feel the thunderous, all-encompassing roar of a crowd... then trying not to cry while you're standing on the platform receiving the gold medal and hearing the national anthem.

It's all of those wrapped up into one, because, I MADE THIS:


And it was FANTASTIC.

I'm gonna go do a victory lap now.

Up Next: Oyster, ginger, steelhead roe, beer

Resources:  Gelatin sheets from L'Epicerie; Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. crème fraîche; David's kosher salt; English cucumber, Belgian endive, red onion, radish, sorrel; and gluten-free bread from Whole Foods; Domino sugar; BLiS roe; Bob's Red Mill Tapioca Flour; eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; 365 canola oil; Bal Paese capers; parsley and chive from my garden.

Music to Cook By: Ray LaMontagne; Trouble.  Raspy, but not grating.  Thoughtful, but not emo.  Has a walkable musicality, but not Randy Newman.  Lyrical, but not lilting and twee.  I love this guy.    

Read My Previous Post:  Lamb, akudjura, olive, eucalyptus veil

July 11, 2009

Lamb, akudjura, olive, eucalyptus veil

Last year at this time, I was learning how to break down a whole baby lamb and cook its various parts.

So, when I got ready to make this dish, I was all, "ppssshhhffttt, I could do this blindfolded, with both hands tied behind my back, and it's going to be really boring, and...... wait....... maybe not boring, because I get to use my IMMERSION CIRCULATOR!!!  WHOOOT!!!!"  And then I imaginarily did 647 vodka shots because ONLY Sandra Lee whoots out loud like that, and we all know girlfriend is knockin' 'em back on her show.

[And now I have to go stab myself and dump the contents of a taco seasoning packet into the wounds because the words Sandra and Lee have appeared on the same page as the word Alinea, and I think I just felt the earth crack open, ready to swallow me whole.]

Alright, where were we?

Ah yes, the immersion circulator.  That I got from some hack.  HA!  I AM KIDDING.  I did not get my immersion circulator from some hack.  Far from it, actually.  I got my immersion circulator from someone I greatly admire, and who put it to good use, but was ready to get rid of it since his new restaurant venture leaned more in the direction of burgers over an open flame than it did cooking them sous vide.

Any idea who I'm talking about?

Will this clue help?


Yep, it's Chef Richard Blais, most notably from Top Chef (season 4, and more recently helping that buttsocket, Hosea, win this past season -- which we all know wouldn't have happened without Blais' help, so I prefer to think of Blais as last season's winner).

But, again, I digress.

So yeah, Blais was getting rid of some equipment and I was more than happy to take the immersion circulator off his hands.  I'd already experimented with sous vide cooking in French Laundry at Home with the roulade of duck and just figured for the sous vide stuff for the Alinea cookbook, I'd do the same thing -- tightly wrap the meat and regulate the temperature of water in a big stockpot.  It's not hard.

But the immersion circulator?  Made this dish really easy.  And, who doesn't love playing with fun, sciencey kitchen equipment?

But before we get to the meat (ha!) of this post, let's start off with something I actually love to eat, and love to prep, but hate to cook: fava beans.


I love to eat them because they're damn good.  I love to prep them because it involves not just opening each pod and plucking out the beans encased inside, but also using a paring knife to remove each bean's outer fibrous layer.  I find it soothing and relaxing to do this.  There is probably something in the DSM-IV related to my enjoyment of this process, but I don't care.  I love doing it.

What I don't love about favas is that they smell like feet as they cook.  Really stinky, sweaty, homeless person feet.  That part I could do without.

I needed 250g of favas for this dish -- and that's favas that are already shelled and peeled, so I estimated that 3 lbs. of beans (still in their pods) would yield the 250g (8.8 oz.) I'd need.  Was I right?



[I am sort of scaring myself with this odd ability to guess and measure things WITH MY MIND and be eerily accurate quite a bit of the time.]

I brought water and salt to a boil and cooked those little guys for about 4 minutes, until they were tender.  I also gagged and gorked and blarked and flearghed the whole time, because of the stinkyhomelessfeetandalsomaybefarts smell. 



I cooled them in a bowl of ice water....


... which removed the staaaannnnk, and then put them in the food processor with a little salt and olive oil and puréed them until they were smooth:


I strained the purée through my chinois into a bowl, then into a squeeze bottle, which went into the fridge until it was time to plate.



The next thing I did was make the akudjura powder for the panade.  I had lunch with Judy Shertzer, the head of Terra Spice (btw, they're supplying the specialty ingredients of this kind for Top Chef Masters), when I was in Chicago in May, and she was kind enough to bring me a bag of these lovely little dried Australian bush tomatoes.


Thanks, Judy!

I ground a little over 50g of them in my coffe bean/spice grinder until they were as close to powder as they were going to get:


I suppose I could've sifted them through a sifter or wire mesh strainer to get a really fine powder, but since I was going to use gluten-free bread instead of brioche to make the panade, I thought I'd keep the powder the way it was -- I figured, the more substance and heft to the panade, the better, since I didn't know what impact the gluten-free bread might have on the outcome of the finished product.  (not to be all foreshadowy, but it was the right decision)

Here's the bread (crusts removed) just prior to going into the food processor:


I used gluten-free sandwich bread from Whole Foods (their Gluten-Free Bakehouse products have, so far, been acceptable substitutes for my being able to make breadcrumbs -- the bread on its own, even as toast, is not enjoyable in the least).

I put those slices into the food processor along with some butter, salt, and the akudjura powder and whacked it around until it was fully incorporated:



I poured the mixture onto a piece of parchment, which I topped with another piece of parchment, then used a rolling pin to gently roll it to a quarter-inch thickness:





I put it in the freezer to harden (which took all of 30 minutes) and moved onto the lamb:


I removed the bone from the lamb, trimmed away all the fat and silverskin, separated the tenderloin from the loin (cooked that separately, which you'll see later, and now that I think about it, it's one of the last special treats Jakey had from my kitchen.  :(   That, and some orange American cheese -- his favorite food in the whole world.  :)   )

I don't have a Cryovac machine or commercial pressure sealer, because I would rather spend that $10,000 on a vacation than a giant metal box that would take up half my kitchen.  And, I know from my brief time listening to Thomas Keller talk about sous vide cooking when he launched Under Pressure, that FoodSavers are not the way to go (they suck out moisture as well as air), so I decided to kick it old school and just put the lamb and olive oil in a ziploc bag and did my dingdangdiddliest to get all the air out by hand.  In retrospect, I should've laid this on plastic wrap and done the twisty-twirly-spinny-in-the-air technique (which, I'm sure, is what all the professionals say when describing this method.  Except not.) to seal it tight.  But this way worked pretty well.





I'd already filled a restaurant food storage bin with water, hooked up the immersion circulator, turned it on, and set the thermostat to 57 degrees Celsius so that it'd be all nice and warm by the time I was done getting the lamb ready:


You guys, I never thought I'd be the kind of girl who would get all amped up over a thermal circulator, but here we are.  I LOVE THIS THING!  Now, I will say this: doing a whole blog on sous vide cooking?  Snooze.  At least for me.  I can't imagine photo after photo of stuff being put into bags, then plunked into water, where nothing having to do with any of our senses happens.  BORING.  No change in smell, look, taste, touch, or hearing.  Taste being a given, I love that I can tell when something's done, or nearly done, by the way it sounds in a pan, or smells in the oven, or looks like while being blanched, or by touch when it's still on the grill.  It's something I'm so proud to have learned or cultivated in myself, I don't know that there are words to describe how big an accomplishment it is for me to let go, not rely on recipes for my everyday cooking and entertaining, and just trust in my senses to tell me when the food is ready.

So yeah.  A whole blog of photo after photo of food in bags submerged in water?  Not for me.

But, cooking that way at home every now and then?  Absolutely.  And in restaurants quite a bit of the time?  Yes, please.  Especially if the restaurant name rhymes with Schmer Se.  Or Schmitty Zen.  Or Schmalinea. 

Alright.... back to the lamby-lamb doing its sous vide thang.....



You'll see the temperature dropped a few degrees when I put the cold bags of lamb into the water:


As you can see, there were a few air bubbles still in there (dangit!), which caused the lamb to float to the top every now and then, but I stood nearby to push it back down to make sure it was fully submerged for 20 minutes to cook.

After its 20 minutes were up, I put the lamb (as well as the separate bag of the tenderloin I was doing at the same time, which you might barely see on the far right of the above photo) into a bowl of ice water to stop the meat from cooking.


After 10 minutes of cooling, I took the lamb out of the bag and patted it dry:


Still looks kinda raw, huh?  It's not.  It's cooked to medium-rare (yummmmmmmmmm).

I cut the lamb into eight 15g cubes:



And, I snacked on the trimmings and tenderloin, sharing them with a certain weiner dog.  Delicious.

Next up? Halving the already-pitted (thanks, Whole Foods!) niçoise olives:


I snacked on a few of those, too.

You may recall my efforts a few months ago to find magnolia, I MEAN EUCALYPTUS, for a previous dish for this blog.  Having learned that important botany lesson, back in early May, I happened upon a little eucalyptus plant in the herb section at Behnke's, my local nursery.  It was the last one remaining in the tray, so I snapped that sucker up and brought it home because I knew I'd need fresh eucalyptus for this dish, and I didn't want to create another Great Tree Misidentification Dust-up With My Mom.

So, I figured that little plant would have time and time and more time and even more time to grow and become big and huge in the two months before I neeed it for this dish.


So, that didn't happen.

Stupid plant.  It stayed the same size.  Maybe sprouted 4 or 5 new leaves.  Dick.

Eucalyptus HATES ME.

Regardless, I took out my anger and frustrating by plucking a few leaves (a few days after which, the whole plant DIED, so I WIN) and placing them on the baking sheet with the olive oil-, salt-, and pepper-rubbed cubes of lamb -- each topped with a small square of the akudjura panade.  I also dropped a few drops of eucalyptus oil onto each leaf, figuring the heat from the broiler might help release some sort of fragrance -- which was the whole point of the eucalyptus inclusion anyway -- hence the "eucalyptus veil" in the title of this dish.



I slid the tray into the oven, under the broiler, for 30-45 seconds.  The panade had just begun to brown, and the lamb and eucalyptus smells had ripened (if that makes sense. flourished? blossomed? opened up? know what I mean?) when I pulled them out.



I topped each one with an olive half, put each bite onto a spoon (onto which I'd already squirted some of the fava bean purée -- which I bet you'd forgotten about, hadn't you. Shame!), and called the neighbors to come on over and taste these lovely vittles:



I wish you guys could've tasted this.

The tenderest of lamb.  The toasty, slightly bitter creaminess of the akudjura panade.  The smooth, almost cashmere-like feel and earthy, green, fresh taste of the fava purée.  The *ping!* of the olive. 

It made me wish I hadn't called my friends, because I could've eaten all eight of these suckers myself.  But then I would've gotten a phone call from Linda or Holly, saying, "HEY! There's a post on your blog about something I DIDN'T GET TO EAT AND WHAT IS UP WITH THAT?"

I'd like to play around with creating a sort of entree-ish version of this, because it was really, really good and I think it'd be something people would like.

As I chewed, I summoned my very fond memories of brioche (oh, how I miss regular, gluten-filled bread) and wondered what the panade would've tasted like with that thick, eggy, amazing bread.  Nevertheless, this version of it was damn good.  Damn good, indeed.  Wish you'd been here....

Up Next:  Croquette, smoked steelhead roe, endive, radish

Resources: Lamb, niçoise olives, and gluten-free bread from Whole Foods; Monini olive oil; David's kosher salt; 365 butter; akudjura tomatoes from Terra Spice Company; fava beans from Glenville Hollow Farms at the Takoma Park Farmer's Market; eucalyptus from my garden (via Behnke's); eucalyptus oil from the TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: While I peeled the favas: nothing but silence. The rest of the time: The Ting Tings; assorted.  I'm sort of addicted to So You Think You Can Dance, and one of the audition callback routines was choreographed to a remix of The Ting Tings "Great DJ" so I'm getting to know The Ting Tings.  And I like what I hear.

Read My Previous Post: Surf Clam, nasturtium leaf and flower, shallot marmalade

July 06, 2009

Surf Clam, nasturtium leaf and flower, shallot marmalade

Wow.  You guys... just, wow.  Thank you so much for the outpouring of support and kindness about Jake.  It has helped so much to hear from so many of you, and my parents are appreciative, as well (Jake stayed with them when I traveled, which was quite often, so he was their dog, too).  So, thank you.... thank you so very much.

*   *   *   *   *

My family and I spent time on the southern New Jersey shore every summer, and when I was a kid, to take a break from all the sitting and tanning and trying to figure out how to make Donny Osmond my boyfriend, we'd take walks on the beach.  Without fail, hard clam and surf clam shells littered the shoreline, especially along the foamy tide line just after a storm.  I'd fill up my trusty little plastic bucket with the shells, take them down to the water's edge and rinse them off so I could take them back home to Pennsylvania.  Sometimes, my friends and I would glue googly eyes and pipe cleaners (a smiley-faced mouth) on the rough side of the shell and use them as paperweights.  Other times, I'd leave them as is and just sit them atop my dresser or desk, and have a year-round reminder of the beach (one of my most favorite places in the world). 

Living so close to a coastal region, I grew up eating clams (because who doesn't love fried clam strips and fries in a basket!), and love them even more as an adult.  Now that I think about it, I rarely order them in restaurants and only make them at home a few times a year, but I so love their taste and texture.  I love eating them freshly steamed open, just out of the pot... with white wine, garlic, shallots, and thyme wafting about as I devour them.  I love them with pasta, a little olive oil and garlic, and parmigiano-reggiano.  And clams casino (minus the bell pepper)?  LOVE.  Suffice to say, I would be very, very sad if my life could not include clams.  And, I love that I can sashay down to Blacksalt on a moment's notice to pick up fresh littlenecks whenever I want them.

Surf clams, on the other hand, are not part of Blacksalt's regular order.  So, after a quick email exchange with a certain Chicago chef (who just landed a sweet book deal, btw) on the merits of Pacific vs. Atlantic surf clams, I emailed Scott with my request (Atlantic, please) and within days I had my surf clams:


I can't talk enough about how important it is to get to know the people who procure your food.  Because, not only are they usually really fun and interesting people, and not only do they make sure you get the best stuff they have, but they also take care of you in other ways -- like shucking your clams for you and separating what you need from the junky bits you can throw into a chowder later on:








The hunks of clam in the foreground are what I used for this dish.  The bits in the plastic container ended up in a ziploc bag that promptly went into the freezer for what ended up being impromptu linguine and clams this past weekend with friends (my serving was made with Bionaturae gluten-free penne, and it was really, really good).

I got to work on the surf clams first, because I wanted to prep them while they were still so fresh.  I laid them out on a cutting board (they looked like pounded chicken breasts!), trimmed them a bit, and then cut them into (sort of) squares. 



Per the book's instructions, I made several slits in one end of each clam so that they could be spread into a fan-like shape in the final plating.


I stored them in a deli container with canola oil, salt, and pepper, and refrigerated them until I was ready to grill them just before serving.


With the clam prep out of the way, I started the lemon pudding.  If you have the Alinea cookbook, you'll see the photo of this dish on page 56 -- and the lovely yellow blob of something on the fork, but no recipe for it on the opposing page.  In an email to me of the cookbook's errata before I started this blog, Grant noted that I'd need to follow the Lemon Pudding recipe on Page 269 (part of a Salsify dish).  So, I did.  And so should you, should you choose to make this.

In a medium-sized saucepan, I brought water, salt, sugar, saffron, and lemon zest to a boil.  Now, one of the sometimes-pesky things about using a cookbook that uses weight measurements is that I had no idea how many lemons it might take to yield the required 6g of lemon zest (I guessed 2) as well as the 250g of lemon juice I'd also need (I guessed six).  I was able to get the 6g of lemon zest from one-and-a-half lemons, and it took all six lemons I'd bought to give me the 250g of juice (it actually yielded 260g, so I wasn't that far off!).



I brought it to a boil, and then turned off the flame, covered the pan, and let the mixture steep for 20 minutes.


After steeping (during which time, the color intensified, for sure), I strained the liquid through a chinois into a clean saucepan, added the agar agar and brought it to a boil, whisking like a maniac while it boiled for about a minute and a half:




I poured it through the chinois into a sauté pan, which I'd set in a baking dish full of ice water so it could cool and set (which took about 40 minutes):



I scooped out the lemon gel and put it, along with the lemon juice, into my food processor and blended the heck out of it until it was smooth:






I pushed it through my chinois and stored it in a squeeze bottle in the refrigerator until I was ready to begin plating.



This is the point where I should confess: I really don't like lemon.  If I had to be stuck with one citrus fruit the rest of my life, it would be limes.  Oranges place a distant second.  Grapefruit doesn't even rank, I detest it so much.  But, I've never been a fan of lemon.  It's too sharp, and I really don't like the taste or smell of it at all.  I get really, and probably quite unnecessarily, ticked off and annoyed when restaurants automatically add lemon slices to their water, or jam a lemon wedge onto the glass.  Because.  Lemon.  Is.  TOUCHING MY WATER.   AAAUUUUGHGGHGHGRHRHGHGHGHHGHGH!!!!!!!!!  Stupid slimy lemon seeds and pulp.  Stupid lemon taste.  DO. NOT.  LIKE.  I mean, why not just spray a can of Pledge into my mouth.  Or Mr. Clean.  IT'S THE SAME THING.

However, the smell of this lemon-saffron pudding intrigued me.  And by "intrigued," I mean it didn't make me want to stab anyone.  I didn't want to taste it on its own, though, because I didn't want to hate it, and therefore have it cloud my opinion of the bite when I tasted everything together.  So, I just took a small whiff of it and stowed it away... silently cursing its lemonosity.

Two more elements to make -- and this one I knew was gonna be good: nasturtium leaf soup.  Before I get to the nasturtium part, though, let me show off my potato-measurement guessing skillz.  I needed 250g (8.8 oz.) of Yukon Gold potatoes.  I held potato after potato in my hand at the grocery store... trying different combinations to see what felt like it might've been just over a half a pound.  I didn't cheat and use the scale in the produce section -- I wanted to see if I could nail it on my own.  Check this shizz:


Not bad, eh? 

I peeled and sliced the potato into half-inch slices and put the slices into a saucepan with water, half-and-half, and salt.  I brought it to a simmer and cooked the mixture for about 8 minutes (when the potatoes were tender):



While the potatoes were simmering, I went outside to the flower pots on my front "stoop" (it's not really a stoop, but it sounds odd to describe the flower pots huddled along the edges of the wider part of my brick walk along the front porch) to bring in all the nasturtium leaves I could muster.


I needed 150g of nasturtium leaves, and only ended up having 50g, but I knew it wouldn't be that big a deal, so I shed not one tear as I threw them into the food processor (after having washed and spun them dry) along with the potato mixture:


I blended this mixture for about two minutes, then began adding ice cubes.  The recipe called for 150g of ice cubes, but since I'd only put in 50g of nasturtium leaves, I only added 50g of ice cubes.  I blended and blended until the sounds of ice cubes being broken up and whacked around had subsided, and poured it through a chinois, creating one big, green, liquidy, potato-smellingy bowl of wow:



I let it cool in a bowl nestled in another bowl of ice, so that it could cool off enough before I put it in the refrigerator to wait for its final plating.

Last element of this dish is a shallot-cucumber marmalade.  Its title alone made me drool in anticipation.  I love shallots; I love cucumbers -- how could this NOT be good?

Another example of my weight-guessing skillz below (I needed 185g of shallots), and what did I bring home from the store?


Maybe I need to call this blog Rain Man at Home, because I'm starting to scare myself.

I peeled and diced those shallots, and put them in a saucepan with some butter, water, white wine vinegar, sugar, and salt, and brought it to a simmer.


I simmered it over low-medium heat for 45 minutes until the ingredients had cooked down and the liquid had evaporated, and it looked like this:


I could barely leave the kitchen the whole time this was cooking because it smelled soooooooo good.  Shallots are one of my favorite ingredients of all time, and I love watching (and smelling) them caramelize and cook.

I spread the shallot mixture onto a sheet pan and put it in the refrigerator to cool fully (took about an hour):


When the shallots were fully chilled, I peeled, quartered, and seeded an English cucumber (the book didn't specify an English cucumber, but I almost always have one on hand, so it's what I used):

DSC_0005 2


I diced it, and stirred the cucumber dice with the shallot mixture, and this was the end result:


It was all I could do to not eat this entire bowlful all in one go.  Sweet, cool, crisp, marmalade-y, onion-y, pointy, smooth, aromatic... summer.  I was imagining all the different kinds of food I could serve this with, and then realized I'd been daydreaming for a good 20 minutes.  About shallot-cucumber marmalade.  Seriously.  It's that good.  If you have the book, turn to page 57 and make this immediately.  This is one of those staples I want to have in my fridge at all times.

With all the elements of the dish ready to go, I called my neighbors and gave them the five-minute warning.  Then, I began plating.... or, mini-souffle-dishing and spooning.

In the little bowls, you'll see the nasturtium soup.  On the spoon is a blob of lemon pudding and a little bit of shallot-cucumber marmalade:


On top of the lemon pudding and marmalade, I laid a very small nasturtium leaf, and a nasturtium flower petal:


Then, I threw the surf clams onto the stove-top grill pan.  Alert: some not-prettiness ahead.  But I think I fixed it in the final plating:




They ended up being too big for the spoon (which I knew would be the case, but knew I could work around it), so I did some post-cooking trimming, and put more a appropriately sized clam piece onto each spoon as the final step before tasting them:


Now, apart from the one clam piece that looks like a decaying tooth (I ate that one so that no one else would be grossed out by looking at it), they look pretty nice, don't they?  Each of us slid the spoon's elements into our mouths at the same time, and it was fun to hear, "whoa, lemon" and "what's crunchy?" and "ooooo, cucumber" and "oohhh, clam" as we chewed.  Then, we ate the nasturtium soup (which I got out of the fridge about a half-hour before serving, so it was closer to room temperature, which I prefer).  Overall, this got a big thumbs up, and was a big crowd pleaser among the adults.  The kids liked the clam part, but not the soup.  We all loved the clams so much that, after we'd eaten this dish, we stood around the cutting board picking like vultures at the leftover pieces I hadn't used.  Makes me think I'll just grill the surf clams on their own next time, and know it'll make a great cocktail hour snack on a Friday afternoon.

I loved the way the softness of the nasturtium was sort of like a calming, almost felt (material)-like backdrop for the marmalade and lemon pudding to really showcase the clam.  The clam had the most amazing clammy taste -- like, you know how you really taste clams in your nose (moreso that other bivalves)?  But it wasn't overpowering.  It was the perfect level of clamness... and the textures were layered nicely together.  And, get this: I didn't hate the lemon pudding.  In fact, I actually kind of liked it.  I will give MOST of the credit to the saffron, because.... well.... because I want to.  (Stupid lemon.)  My neighbor, Holly, loved the lemon pudding so much that she took the rest of it home with her, and brought back the empty bottle a few days later.  I think she and her daughter took turns squirting it onto a spoon and having little snacks of it. 

I polished off the rest of the shallot-cucumber marmalade that night before bed, which, *urp*, may not have been a good idea from a timing perspective, but whatevs.  I've since made another batch, and I eat it on everything: sausages, a slice of gouda, toast with cream cheese... and sometimes just on its own when I need to eat something and stare out the kitchen window to clear my head.

I really loved this dish, and I'm so glad it reminded me again how much I love clams. In fact, I think I'll order some more and make them this weekend.

And, you know what I just realized?  The completion of this dish heralds the one-quarter-of-the-way-through-the-book milestone.  I've done 28 out of 107 dishes.  Fancy that.

Up Next: Lamb, akudjura, olive, eucalyptus veil

Resources: Clams from Blacksalt; nasturtium from my garden (courtesy of Behnkes); potatoes, shallots, and cucumber from Whole Foods; Organic Valley cream; Terra Medi white wine vinegar.

Music to Cook By: Invincible Soundtrack; various artists.  So, here's the thing.  In the summertime, I think about the beach.  My friends at the beach are Phillies fans, as am I.  When I think about the Phillies, I think about the Eagles (the football team, not that Don Henley combo).  And then, I think about Vince Papale.  And then, I think about "Invincible."  And Marky Mark.  And that scene where he's playing a pick-up game with his friends, and it's raning, and his t-shirt is all, well, clingy and awesome because, hello, he's Marky Mark. And then, I have to listen to this soundtrack again and again, because it really was one of the best-scored (soundtracked?) movies, for me, in the past 10 years.  And, did I mention Marky Mark?  And his shirt???  Sigh.....

Read My Previous Post: PB&J, peanut, bread, grape

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