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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.

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Good luck with the snow. Usually us northerners make fun of you guys when you complain about snowfall, but I think this winter gives you all evidence you will need to win future snarkfests forever.

I'm really sorry to hear about the tree, but you know what they say about lemons and lemonade? If you've got branches poking in the window, you could light 'em up and make the recipe on page 223... ;)

ok, ok, I am going to buy the book. This one convinced me....at first I thought "lots of Waldorfy stuff going on, not a fan" but wow, that sounds fantastic.

Holy Smokes! It's snowing like crazy here in Chicago - but nothing enough to crash a tree down. Stay safe and take 800 mg of Advil at a time if you need to. (I'm not a doctor, do not play one on TV, but know you can take that much at one time....)

Oh man I've been waiting for this - hope hope hoping that it would be as good as it sounded in my mind! Almost couldn't stand to not skip to the bottom ;) I think I'm gonna give this one a go.

Glad to hear you're mostly okay, and I hope the tree doesn't get worse.

Those grape-covered walnuts are totally going on a salad in the near future, with a little salt on them. Yum.

Also, the Ruby Port gelatin really looks like hunks of raw liver to me.

Geez, this storm is crazy, sorry to see about the tree, hopefully it will stay put!

You're stop on with the music to cook by - I usually spend my Sunday evenings cooking while listening to both of those podcasts too!

I was making those "mmmm" noises back in my throat while reading this, especially the part about the the grape syrup walnuts. We lost power for most of 4 days, trees and power lines down in the neighborhood, porch roof is now sagging. Am starting to forget why I loved snow. Hope the tree stays out of your house!

Sounds delicious.

I guess this success means Maytag Blue is gluten-free, right? I once tried to find out and couldn't get anyone on the phone at Maytag to give a straight answer. I then called the Point Reyes Cheese plant and was immediately transferred to the master cheesemaker, who told me that even though the grew the penicillium cultures on old bread, they'd have each batch tested for gluten levels and it was "below detectable limits".

Guess which brand we buy now? (Not sure it Point Reyes Blue is available in your area. It's good though).

My fingers are crossed for you...

December 2007 marked THE biggest ice storm ever in the history of my state, and we went through a huge ordeal, some of it covered by insurance, some not.

I hope you will surf through this without too much trouble, hang in there...

Oooh thank you for leading me to This American Life - love this sort of stuff. If you're at all interested in what we do on the other side of the world, try out some podcasts from Radio National in Australia - http://www.abc.net.au/rn/ - particularly the Hindsight and Rear Vision programs. Although the accents may be a little impenetrable for you?

Good luck with the snow - BTW it's sunny and hot in Sydney today (snicker)

So sorry to hear about the tree. I am constantly amazed by your patience and perseverance. I would love to taste one of your creations some day.


ps. no market at Delray this weekend-- sucks!, but we thinks the others are on so far...

YOWZA! Blue cheese and walnuts are two of my fave foods, along with port (is that a food)? I've got to make this!!!

Sorry about the tree - I'm in the Great Lakes and have lost branches before and two dead trees years ago (falling onto my apartment wall and roof and nearly taking out the office window and computer monitor). Now I just watch the power and phone lines coming into the house and worry....

Oh, and ice dams? Bane of my existence. Spent nearly $3000 this year in additional attic insulation and roof and soffet vents to try to circument that misery in the future...

I just started learning to like bleu cheese within the last year. It's one of the easiest lessons I've ever learned.

Eeek! I really hope you get the tree situation all worked out. :(

Must say, looks really good.

Hello Carol!

I just randomly "found" The French Laundry restaurant online, which inevitably led to your old blog... which I read all the way through in about 1 month. Now of course I'm addicted to your Alinea at Home blog and Thomas Keller and more obsessed with cooking than I've ever been. I just thought I'd write you a comment to let you know I've read (and love) everything, and shouldn't selfishly admire things without ever complimenting them!

Thanks for your wonderful blogs, your wit and charm, and the way you've inspired me to cook outside my comfort zone.

-Sheryn (24, American girl living in Dubai)

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