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February 2010

February 25, 2010

In Which I Am Medicating With Wine, So Take THAT Health Care Reform Advocates...

I was all ready to devein the foie gras that had just arrived from Hudson Valley Foie Gras when this happened:

Photo 12

Three eency-weency microscopic hairline fractures in the metacarpals, and some gorgeous bruising and swelling.  Nothing serious, and it's already starting to feel better now that the swelling is going down.

Per doctor's orders, I'm keeping it wrapped and not using my left hand until the weekend.  In fact, I'm typing this entry with just my right hand, and since it's taking about nine thousand years let's wrap this up and end it on a fun note: use the comments to guess how I broke my hand!!

The person who comes closest wins a packet of Barley Malt Powder and a packet of Malted Milk Powder -- both from Terra Spice -- as well as a packet of juniper berries.

Submit as many guesses as you'd like -- no limits here, folks.  Be creative, be specific.  Have fun busting my chops, because I deserve it.

Photo 10
Photos taken with PhotoBooth on my Mac. So, it's like me looking in the mirror. It really is the left hand that's injured, not the right.

Oh, and p.s.?  It's not a cooking injury.  GO!

February 22, 2010

Orange, olive oil, almond, picholine olive

First, let me tell you who won the vanilla sugar (because I'm lame and forgot to do that last week).  Congrats to Mia Blankensop!  Life's about to get a little bit sweeter for her.  I know, I know..... groan.  And you guys?  All the comments on that post about how you repurpose things?  So awesome.  I got a million great ideas, so THANK YOU -- I learned so much!

Second, thanks so much for all your emails about the tree and the snowstorm.  The tree is still on the house, but it's coming down on Wednesday.  They'll tarp the roof until the rest of the snow melts and my contractor can do his thang.  That'll be a load off my mind, for sure.  A big shout-out to Met Life, because they have been remarkable every step of the way, and I highly recommend them if you're in the market for homeowners insurance.

Third, are you watching the Olympics?  Did you see my boyfriend, Shaun White?  It's not often that I talk to my TV, but on that first run?  The air he got on the first run off the halfpipe?  I fist-pumped a hearty "YEAH!" and was even more psyched that though he already had the gold medal locked down before his second run, he decided to give it his all and treat it like he was still in competition.  That's what I love about people like Shaun -- they prove the adage of if you do what you love, it doesn't feel or look like work.  Makes you think, doesn't it....

Now, on to this dish...

If I'm being completely honest, I was really, really, REALLY distracted the whole time I was making this.  The tree on the house unnerved me more than I thought it would.  That, combined with being snowbound for 10 days and all the residual blizzardosity made me a little antsy and off my game in the sanity department.  Then, add to that some new and interesting developments on the professional front, and I had a hard time keeping my head in the kitchen.  Also, I'd already started this dish once before -- when I tried to make the vanilla bean powder that ended up not becoming a powder, so I went into this attempt a little distant, keeping it at arm's length.  I know that sounds weird, but it's true.  This time, I just plain ole skipped the vanilla-olive oil powder.

I hate that I kind of phoned it in as I was going along... doing it all by rote, not really stopping to smell the roses (or olives, in this case), as they say.  Nothing in this dish is particularly difficult.  If you can read, you can make this dish.  But knowing how it turned out, I wish I'd paid more attention and enjoyed the cooking process, because (spoiler alert) the final result ended up taking my breath away.

Let's start with the olives: I pitted some picholines and dehydrated them.  The book says to do it overnight, but mine must've been extra-juicy because it took a full 24 hours in the dehydrator before they were completely dry and crunchy:




I ground them up  in the mini chopper, and then my spice grinder (a separate coffee bean grinder I use only for spices), then whisked the powder into some olive oil, and set it aside until it was time to plate:


Next up was making the olive oil ice cream and the orange sorbet.  Sadly, I don't have any photos of the olive oil ice cream, but let me tell you this: I am so thankful for David Lebovitz and his book The Perfect Scoop.  I'd never made ice cream before I'd read that book, and because of him, I haven't eaten store-bought ice cream since.  I can't.  It just doesn't taste right.  And thanks to David's training, making Grant's olive oil ice cream for this dish was a freakin' breeze. 

So, I made the olive oil ice cream (minus the stabilizer), ran it through my ice cream maker, put it in a 9x13" pan, and stored it in the freezer.  Then, I made the orange sorbet.  I brought orange juice, water, sugar, glucose, and citric acid to a simmer over medium heat:


I let it chill in the fridge, then processed it in my ice cream machine.  Then, I poured it into another 9x13" pan and stuck it in the freezer. 

When both the ice cream and the sorbet were frozen solid, I fired up my little creme brulee torch and heated the surfaces of the ice cream and the sorbet, then inverted the sorbet out of its pan onto the olive oil ice cream, pressing down to fuse the two layers, then put it back in the fridge until I was ready to plate:


Next, I made the frozen liquid sable portion of the dish.  I had to de-glutenize it, and crossed my fingers that it would work.  In the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer, I creamed the butter, sugar, and salt.  Then, I added the two egg yolks, one at a time, followed by the flours.  The recipe already called for almond flour, so I put that into a bowl.  Then, instead of 470g of all-purpose flour, I did the following: 230g sweet white sorghum flour; 230g tapioca flour; and, 10g xanthan gum.

I whisked them all together, then added the flour in small batches to the mixing bowl and kept the paddle going (on slow) until everything was incorporated.

The thing is, gluten-free doughs don't act like glutened doughs.  They don't necessarily come together into one ball.  Depending on exactly how you do it, the dough is usually crumbly, or comes together in chunks instead of a smooth, pliable ball.  It's the gluten that makes that smooth pliability possible.  So, while I'm not yet an expert on gluten-free baking, I am getting pretty familiar with textures and consistencies, and patience in knowing how to work with this new (to me) kind of dough.


Looks like chunky organic peanut butter, doesn't it?  I poured the crumbly dough onto the countertop and worked it together into a ball, which I wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in the fridge for 3 hours.  Then, I took it out, let it rest on the counter for an hour, put it between two layers of parchment and rolled it out to half-inch thickness and baked it in a 350F-degree oven for 25 minutes:


I broke the pastry into 1" and 2" pieces and weighed out 200g of it (stored the rest in the freezer, and have been nibbling on it all weekend long -- oh my....), and put it in the blender with some olive oil and whacked it all up into a batter-like consistency.  I poured it onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and stored it in the freezer for about 4-5 hours.  When it had set, I cut it into 1x4" rectangles, then put those back into the freezer until I was ready to plate:


Next up? The marcona almond brittle tuille.  I cheated a bit on this one, and took some creative license at the same time.  The marcona almonds I bought were already roasted and salted, so I didn't need to do that.  I also decided -- once I'd made the hot, sugary brittle part -- that I wasn't gonna do the final tuille-making step of the process.  I loved the look of the brittle once it had hardened, and I knew my friends would, too. So, I just let the brittle be brittle, and I'm glad I did:


While the brittle was hardening, I started working on the picholine olive brine candy.  I love my guys at the Whole Foods cheese and olive counter.  They let me take as much brine as I need for these dishes, and never charge me a cent.

I brought the olive brine to a simmer, then whisked in a mixture of yellow pectin, citric acid, and sugar, bringing it to a boil, adding more sugar and glucose, then heating it to 219F.  I removed it from the burner and poured it onto a Silpat-lined sheet tray to set.


My expectation was that it would harden and be crackly.  It wasn't.  It was like a smooth gel -- really viscous, with a little elasticity, but not jello-y at all.  Kind of like molasses.  So, while it's hard to tell by the photo of the dish in the book what the heck this was supposed to be, I knew this probably wasn't right, but it also wasn't so wrong I had to trash it.


Onward and upward! Chamomile pudding.  You know, I've never been one for chamomile tea, or anything chamomile-related.  It's not that I don't like it, or am offended by the smell.  I think I just never really paid much attention to chamomile.  That's changed.  These little dried buds, leaves, and flowers were delightful, and perked up my senses quite unexpectedly:


I put the in a saucepan with some water, sugar, salt, and saffron, brought it to a boil, covered the pot, turned off the burner, then let it steep for 5 minutes.  I poured it through a fine-mesh strainer into another saucepan.  While the liquid was steeping, I soaked some gelatin sheets in cold water.  I added those gelatin sheets to the now-strained and re-heated liquid (to which I'd added some agar agar), and whisked until they'd dissolved completely.  I poured this gelatinzed liquid into a shallow baking dish, which I set in a larger baking dish filled with ice, so it could cool and set.


Once it had set, I spooned it all out in small chunks, pureed it in the blender, and pressed it through my tamis into a small bowl.  You'll see photos of it in the final plating.  This and the olive oil ice cream were the two things that really stood out as I tasted them along the way while I was making this dish.

But still.... even as good as those two things were on their own, I still was really ambivalent about this dish while making it.  Not enthusiastic or curious or excited in the least.

The last two things I made were the basil sauce and supreme-ing an orange to get some fresh segments for the final plating.  I forgot to take pictures of the basil sauce-making process, but it's really quite easy: I blanched some fresh basil, then pureed it in the blender along with some water, salt,and sugar.  Then, I strained it through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl, then back into a now-clean blender, where I added some Ultra-Tex 3.  I passed that mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a squeeze bottle and used it in the final plating.

One of the last steps was cutting the ice cream-sorbet combo into rectangles to sit atop the frozen liquid sable/shortbread plank:

Then, I plated:


Picholine olive oil sauce went first, then topped it with the ice cream-sorbet on the plank.  Surrounded it with small dots of dark green basil sauce, the picholine olive brine candy (closest to the orange segment), the chamomile pudding (closest to the marcona almond brittle), then added a piece of the brittle and some baby basil leaves.  This dish also called for Thai basil (which would have made it even better, I know, but the Asian market hadn't yet gotten its delivery of it, so I had to skip it).


I plated six of them, called my friends over, and we sat at the dining room table to dig in.  Off-handedly and still feeling a bit detached, I very quickly described the elements of the dish, and we took our first bites.  I couldn't talk.  Not because the ice cream and sorbet were so cold, but because this was SO GOOD.  I was so caught off guard that I really didn't say much at all while we ate.  My friends did all the talking.  I already knew I liked the taste of olive and citrus together, but this took it to a whole different plane.

The olive oil ice cream and orange sorbet? Better than a Dreamsicle.  It's like a holy-mother-effer-sicle.  The shortbread-y plank below it -- the one I had to deglutenize -- was really nice, too.  The olive oil sauce offered a salty-briney pull, and the chamomile and picholine sides were fragrant and lovely-delicious and just allowed the other flavors to sing.  The basil made it feel so fresh and not like a dessert at all.  I'm glad I kept the marcona almond brittle as a brittle because it added a really nice textural component to it... or, you could do as one of my friends did and save it for last, eating it like a dessert to the dessert.  I finished mine pretty quickly, and as I looked around to see if everyone else enjoyed theirs, I had my answer:


Blown away.  Honestly and truly. 

And, exactly what I needed.  I'll be noshing on the leftovers the rest of the week.  Want some?

Up Next: Foie gras, spicy cinnamon puff, apple candy

Resources: Monini olive oil; Organic Valley heavy cream; Domino sugar; Clabber Girl cornstarch; David's kosher salt; Tropicana orange juice; glucose, citric acid, gelatin sheets, yellow pectin from L'Epicerie; 365 butter; Smith Meadows Farm eggs; all flours from Bob's Red Mill; Marcona almonds, orange, basil, olives, and olive brine from Whole Foods; saffron and chamomile from TPSS Co-op; agar agar and Ultra-Tex 3 from Terra Spice.

Music to Cook By: Prince; Purple Rain.  Needs no explanation.

Read My Previous Post: Maytag Blue, grape, walnut port

February 08, 2010

Maytag Blue, grape, walnut, port


..... so that happened.

I'm fine.  My house is (mostly) fine.  It happened at 3:45 a.m. Saturday while the blizzard was pummeling us, and it happened to my attic and bedroom window (that was fun, only not).  I finally got a chance to get a closer look at the damage and tree positioning this morning, and it looks like I need to spend some time tonight clearing out the dining room because there's a chance that with the next foot-or-more-of-snow coming on Tuesday and Wednesday, the tree could shift.  And, if it shifts in the direction we think it very well might, it'll tear off part of the roof and crash down onto the dining room roof on the first floor, which would be a very, very bad thing.

So, if it's okay with you all, I'm gonna whip through this post so I can take advantage of the waning sunlight and get back to shoveling a path for the insurance estimator to do his thing tomorrow morning, and to prepare to move out of my house should the tree do further damage.  The tree guys can't get here until tomorrow, and even then, they're not sure they can do anything about this for another week.  Lots of people here in town had far worse tree/house damage than this, so we get taken care of in priority order.

Aaaaaand, as I'm typing this, a National Weather Service alert just crossed the wires and the county sent me a text with a storm update: Winter Storm Warning Tuesday-Wednesday. 15-20" of snow expected.

Please send Valium.

But yes, in case you're wondering: I still love snow.  Sue me.

*   *   *   *   *

I was a bit distracted when I made this dish because of the whole SNOW!  WINE!  DINNER!  BLIZZARD! CARD GAMES!!  SCOTCH!  BEDTIME!  TREE!  thing, so I didn't take as many photos as I usually do, so I'll go ahead and provide this link to the Google Books version of this dish in the Alinea cookbook.  You can follow along and see how the dish was supposed to be done, and then see my improvisations/adjustments below.

The first thing I did was juice four bunches of green grapes in my juicer, then measure out some of the juice for the grape sponge and some for the grape syrup.  No photos of that.  My bad.

Next up was the walnut milk.  I roasted some walnuts and mixed them in with some already-warm milk, salt, and sugar and let them steep for 6 hours.

Then, I blended the mixture and poured it into a cheesecloth-lined strainer over a bowl and let it seep through while in the fridge.



It yielded about a half-cup of liquid.

Next, I took some of the grape juice (which I'd mixed with citric acid, sugar, and salt) and heated it while stirring in some water-soaked gelatin sheets.  I put in in a mixing bowl, attached it to my mixer and whacked the heck out of it for about 8 minutes on high speed until it formed stiff peaks.


I spooned the foamy goodness into a ziploc bag, cut off the corner tip, and piped it into Pam-sprayed, sort-of-spherical molds, then put them in the freezer:


Next, I made the grape syrup -- brought some of the grape juice to a high simmer and let it reduce and reduce until it was thick and syrupy.  Then, I turned off the flame and mixed in a bunch of walnut halves, and stirred until they were coated. 



I made Port gelatin next. by bringing some Ruby Port wine to a boil, then igniting it (FIRE! FIRE! uh-huh-huh.../beavis)...


After the alcohol burned off and the flame died, I turned off the burner and stirred in gelatin sheets that had already been soaking in cold water.  I let the gelatin set in a bowl nestled in another bowl of ice water.  When the gelatin set, I agitated it with a spoon to create small blobs for plating:


So, all the core elements were done.

I ground some celery seed and kosher salt in my spice grinder.  I blanched some thinly sliced celery pieces and celery ribbons (which you'll see in the final plating), and decided NOT to shave the bleu cheese onto an improvised anti-griddle.  I bought dry ice (to use under a baking sheet) before the blizzard, but hearing that half my town had lost power, I saved the dry ice in a cooler in case my power went out and I needed to stick it in the freezer.  I already had the block of Maytag in the freezer, so I just decided to plate all the elements and grate the frozen Maytag over the top. 

So, first I plated three now-frozen (but not frozen solid - just set) grape sponge balls.  Then, I dribbled some walnut milk around the edges, as well as a few little blobs of port gelatin.  Then, I placed some syruped walnuts around, as well as some celery, then shredded some frozen Maytag over it with my rasp. Lastly, I sprinkled a pinch or two of celery seed salt overtop the whole shebang:


All day, I was in such a flurry and a hurry because there were tree removal companies to call and insurance estimators to talk to and shoveling to be done and ice dams to be removed and Advil to take and sidewalks to be salted.... that I was buzzing and zipping and scuttling all over the kitchen to get this done and plated and eaten, and then?  After my first bite?

Everything stopped.


It was like the whole world just stood still for 10 seconds while I tasted this first bite.  Holy moley.

You guys, this was AMAZING.  I mean, the flavor combination -- walnuts, bleu cheese, port, grape -- a natural fit, right?  I contemplated ditching the celery, but am trying to be a grown up about it, so I kept it in, and I'm glad I did. But it faaaarrrr exceeded any expectations I might've had, and whiplashed me out of my current state of freaked-out multi-tasking distraction and made me focus on what was in my mouth.

Every single bit of this dish popped on its own, but when combined in one bite was just breathtaking.

Outstanding... and exactly what I needed to ground me and bring me back to earth.

Buy this book.  Make this dish.  Please.  You won't be sorry.  Seriously.  Those grape syrup walnuts alone are worth it.  I have a few left over that I plan to snack on while I soak in the tub after another round of shoveling, hoping to one day be able to feel my extremities again.

Up Next: Orange, olive oil, almond, picholine olive

Resources: Grapes from HMart in Wheaton, MD; walnuts, celery seed, and celery from the TPSS Co-op; David's kosher salt; Domino sugar; Natural by Nature whole milk; Maytag from Cowgirl Creamery; Sandeman ruby Port.

Music to Cook By: This American Life and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me podcasts.  If you're not listening to these, you should.

Read My Previous Post:  Here... have some sugar.

February 04, 2010

Here... have some sugar.

Remember the $40 in wasted vanilla beans?

After scraping out the insides of 10 vanilla bean pods for a powder that NEVER POWDERED (I'm still a little bitter about that, can you tell?), I tossed those mostly emptied pods into a ziploc and stored them in the freezer because I knew I'd find a use for them when the food fog lifted and I was ready to re-embrace my kitchen.

This morning, I made vanilla sugar:


You don't even need a recipe.  You put two vanilla bean pods into a jar and pour in some sugar.  Seal it tight, shake it, and don't open it for a day or two... then, enjoy however you'd like.  When the sugar runs out, you just add more to the jar.  The pods should release fragrance and flavor for about 8-12 months.

Along with a splash of whole milk, I like just a half teaspoon of raw sugar in my coffee every morning, and this vanilla bean-infused raw sugar doesn't make my coffee taste vanilla-y at all (Jean-Luc!)*.  It just makes it more smooth and lovely and coffee-y.


I've got many more pods in the freezer, so when these start to lose their luster, I'll start anew.

What kinds of ingredients do you like to re-purpose?  Any cooking accidents you've been able to salvage?  How so?  Hit me in the comments, and I'll pick someone at random and send them a jar of vanilla sugar.  

*Snort.... Jean-Luc.  I remember thinking, when I was in junior high, how cool it was gonna be when I grew up and could drink that stuff.  Only now, I know... IT'S NOT COFFEE!

Up Next: Maytag blue, grape, walnut, port

Read My Previous Post: Yuzu, pine, black sesame, shiso

February 01, 2010

Durian. Need I say more?

"...like you'd buried somebody holding a big wheel of Stilton in his arms, then dug him up a few weeks later."

-- Anthony Bourdain

"Durians Smell Awful — But the Taste Is Heavenly"

-- Smithsonian Magazine

"...a smell so overpowering that generations of Singaporeans have struggled to find a single description that fits. Among the charitable, printable comparisons: overripe cheese. Rotting fish. Unwashed socks. A city dump on a hot summer's day."

-- The New York Times

Liars.  All of them.  

The staff of Share Our Strength joined me in the durian dare as a way to say "thank you" to all of you who donated to our campaign here on the blog this year.  And you know what?   DURIAN DOESN'T SMELL BAD.

Now, let me say this: tasting it wasn't awful, either.  Texturally, it was kinda squicky... but the taste wasn't terrible.  The only even semi-objectionable part of the experience was the film it left on the roof of my mouth, and a few hours after I'd eaten it?  I burped, and that was not a pleasant experience.  Sneezing a few minutes after that?  Also not enjoyable.  But all it took was a simple brushing of the teeth, a scraping of the tongue, and a few glasses of water, and that all went away.

Hate to disappoint, but I'm here to dispel the myth that durian is the worst thing ever.  It's not.  It's sweet, but not sugary-sweet.  Just lightly sweet, like a banana milkshake.  It's custardy.  It's fragrant.  It's a bit like an almond-flavored avocado with a light tang in the aftertaste.  Touching its flesh was like touching the flesh of a mango. 

But it's not awful.  It's not disgusting.  It's not the worst thing ever.  Not even close.

See you soon......

p.s. -- the durian was from HMart, in case anyone wants to head out there and pick up one for themselves...

Alinea Book


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