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May 2010

May 24, 2010

Alinea at Home Adaptation: Lamb, mastic, date, rosemary fragrance

Back injuries suck.

So does being overwhelmed with work.

I missed my kitchen something fierce.  I missed writing about food just as much.

I barely cooked a thing these past 6 weeks.  I assembled.  I ordered takeout (an insane amount).  I ate in restaurants.  I went to friends' houses when I could spare an hour or two (I think that happened twice, so there you go).  I didn't set aside time to go to the market or allow myself the time to cook.  It was a choice.  I didn't have a lot of control over my schedule and therefore didn't want to stock up on any kind of perishable food because the minute I did, I would've gotten a phone call that I needed to be in New York for 3 days... or sitting in a four-hour meeting on the Hill.... or needed to drop everything and write an op-ed that needs to get sent to the New York Times in two hours.... or had to work through the night to get a script in shape for taping the next morning.  I got into a zone and I knew if I buckled down and focused on work deadlines and related endeavors, my summer months would be more manageable, so I did it.  But let me tell you: I missed cooking. 

Last week, I started to get really edgy and bitchy and itchy and moody.  All work and no cook makes Carol a cranky girl.  I wanted to chop.  I wanted to braise.  I wanted to saute.  I wanted to roast.  I wanted to crack open the Alinea cookbook again.  Not wanted to.  Needed to.

So, this weekend, I bought pot after pot of fresh herbs to plant in the garden.  I also went to three farmers markets and stocked the fridge full of everything fresh because I my schedule is now finally my own again, and I can actually enjoy setting aside time to cook and let myself relax like a normal person.  The occasional work crisis might pop up from time to time, but not from 6 or 7 clients all at once like they had over the past two months.  

I texted my friends across the street and invited them to dinner.  And I cooked.

It's good to be back in my favorite room of the house.

Lately, an unusually high number of people have asked me about this blog and about how it's influenced my cooking.  No one seems to believe that the Alinea cookbook can influence a person's everyday cooking or food shopping.  They see it as way too out-there or just not feasible in a home kitchen.  Sure, some of the dishes are a lot of work, but in the long run anything that can help me be a better cook I'm willing to try, or at the very least read about.

So, for those of you out there who need a little jump-start in the inspiration department, I hope this post does the trick because it's all about how 4 truly beautiful pages in an avant-garde cookbook from one of the best restaurants in America shaped a really delicious (if I do say so myself) menu for a weekend dinner with friends.

*   *   *   *   *

Let's look at the elements in this dish (page 324 in the cookbook, if you wanna follow along):

Lamb loin: I already had lamb loin in the freezer, so that was a go.

Red wine-braised cabbage: Nothing crazy or difficult about this.

Medjool date compote: Again, pretty straightforward; just needed to buy some dates

Mastic cream: I don't keep mastic on-hand and I'd never cooked with it, but was curious to try.

Rosemary: Makes me sneeze and cough, so I knew I wasn't gonna include it regardless of how I made this dish.

Oregano leaves: In my garden; check.

Chervil tops: Bought two pots at the farmers market; done.

I got out my notebook and spent all of 30 seconds writing the following "menu" for dinner:

Grilled loin of lamb with mastic cream, chervil, and oregano; date compote on the side

Red wine-braised cabbage

Roasted asparagus

Mashed Yukon gold potatoes

Greek salad

... all of which came together because of the Alinea cookbook.

It's a menu I think anyone could pull off and have a really great dinner with friends.  No special equipment.  No wacky techniques.  I even cooked something sous vide WITHOUT an immersion circulator (you can, too!).

After all that time away from the kitchen, I was worried I might forget how to hold a knife.  That I might not know how to turn on my stove.  That I might not know how to precisely cut a head of cabbage in half so that I could get a 500g yield with one of the halves ON THE FIRST TRY:



(the other half was 394g, in case you were wondering)

I removed the core, then sliced the cabbage really thin, sliced a shallot even thinner, and added it to the melted butter in my Le Creuset pot.  I gently tossed it around (over medium heat) so that everything got mixed with the butter, and let it cook for about five minutes, when the cabbage began to release its liquid.

Then, I added some red wine, some port, orange blossom honey (didn't have wildflower honey on hand), salt, and pepper, covered it with a parchment lid and let it braise for about 4 hours over medium-low heat (until nearly all the liquid was gone).  The book has an additional step involving adding potato, but I skipped that step, because I wanted to serve this as a warm slaw-type of side dish.


While the cabbage was cooking, I started the date compote.  I soaked a pound of dates in hot tap water for five minutes which made it easier to remove their skins and pits.  I put the dates in a saucepan with some water, sherry vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper and brought them up to simmer over medium heat:



The dates were supposed to simmer over low-medium heat for about an hour.  So, I turned down the flame and let them do their thing while I Skyped with my nephew (who, in his spare time, likes to watch over ant colonies BEFORE DESTROYING THEM):


Moments after we signed off (he now says, "Peace out, dude!"), I smelled something that was NOT GOOD:


Peace out, date compote.  Was nice knowing you.

Scratch that little side item off the menu.  Oh well.  Can't win 'em all, I suppose.

Next thing I did was prepare the lamb loins:


I trimmed them and cleaned them up a bit, removing the silverskins and big chunks of fat, brushed them lightly with olive oil, and wrapped each one, air-tight, in Saran Wrap:





I picked it up in both hands, holding both ends, and twirled it around five times (twirling away from me), then tied the ends tight:



I got the water bath ready -- a large saucepan with a candy thermometer works just fine, see?  Heated the water to 135 degrees, put in the wrapped lamb loins, and let them cook for 20 minutes.

Then, I took them out and put them (still wrapped) in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process:


When they had cooled, I stored them in the refrigerator until it was time to sear them on the grill just before sitting down to eat.

While the lamb was cooking, I made the mastic cream.


I'd never cooked with mastic gum before.  Have you?  I know what it tastes like and I've had it in many different kinds of food and drink (smoked lamb in Morocco, Turkish Delight, as a sweetener in Turkish coffee), but I didn't really know all that much about it until recently.  Mastic gum (above) is resin from the mastic tree.  In Greece, it's sometimes referred to as Tears of Chios, because it comes out of the tree in what looks like tears or droplets (like you often see tree sap here in the States) in liquid form, then the sun dries it to a hard resin.  It's (relatively) expensive: I paid $7.99 for the tiny jar you see above.

It's hard to describe what mastic tastes like.  There's a pine-scented element to it, and it's also floral and fragrant, but not in the off-putting way I find rose water to be.  It's also a little woodsy... kinda like if it's just finished raining, and someone's fireplace is going strong and you're outside in the woods and you smell all that together. 

Here's what 2g looks like:


I combined the mastic with some half-and-half, sugar, and salt, and brought it to a boil:


I poured it through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean saucepan, added a little bit of agar agar, and brought it to a boil, whisking to dissolve the agar, then poured it into a shallow pan:


I set that pan in a bowl of ice water so the cream would set: 


After it had set, I scraped the mastic cream into the blender and whacked it around for a minute until it was smooth:


Meantime, I lightly peeled and roasted some asparagus (olive oil, salt, pepper) at 425F for 15 minutes:


Whipped up some mashed Yukon golds (skins on, butter, salt, milk):


Made a Greek-ish salad (romaine hearts, cucumber, tomato, dill, chive, feta, vinaigrette):


And, I unwrapped and grilled the lamb loins, and garnished them with fresh oregano and chervil:




Linda, Sean, Grant, and Carter walked in the door:


And we sat down to a lovely meal:



Now that I know how to do meat sous vide, it's hard for me to make it any other way.  I know that probably sounds really obnoxious, but it's true.  It just makes such a difference, and I love how tender the meat turns out.  Granted, I started with a beautiful cut of lamb, but cooking it this way made it even better.  I put little dollops of mastic cream on each bite of lamb, and that along with the fresh chervil and oregano was just lovely.

The braised cabbage?  OH MY WORD.  I made a similar cabbage when I did French Laundry at Home, but this one was a little sweeter and complimented the lamb nicely.  I'm glad I did mashed potatoes, because it rained all weekend and was kind of chilly and those potatoes were comforting in so many ways -- and, with summer just around the corner, my mashed potato days are soon heading for hiatus.  The asparagus was so fresh and delicious, and the salad had some really nice flavor (I went heavy on the fresh herbs and light on the dressing).

Didn't miss the date compote one bit, and you know what else I didn't miss?  The rosemary fragrance. Instead, I opened the windows in the dining room and the fresh, clean, just-finished-raining air was all we needed to help us enjoy the food, a great bottle of wine, some tunes, and talks of summer plans.

What did YOU make this weekend?

Up Next: Goose, blood orange, sage, roasting goose aromas

Resources: Lamb from Elysian Fields; mastic from Asadur's Market in Rockville, MD; cabbage, shallot, Yukon gold potatoes, and dates from Whole Foods; herbs from my garden; asparagus and cucumbers from the 14th and U Street Farmers Market; Sandeman ruby port; Turley zinfandel; David's kosher salt; Organic Valley half-and-half.

Music to Cook To: David Byrne and Fatboy Slim; Here Lies Love.  I had the great pleasure of (quite unexpectedly) meeting David Byrne at a breakfast in November.  He was really lovely, and I wish I'd known this album was coming out because I'd have wanted to ask, "Really?  A two-CD set of songs about the life and times of Imelda Marcos sung by some of the world's most talented and engaging female singers and songwriters?"  You have to hear it to believe it.  [I think "Don't You Agree" by Roisin Murphy might be my favorite.]

Read My Previous Post: Marcona Almond, white ale, pink pepper, lavender

May 10, 2010

I know, I know........

I've been MIA.

I'm still in the work-hell homestretch and very close to getting back to a normal pace of life. But can I talk about the James Beard Awards for just a minute?

What a remarkable two days in New York.  Wow.  Let me take this opportunity to thank the  James Beard Foundation for inviting me to live-blog the event.  The team I worked with at the Foundation were true professionals, and a pleasure to work with.  It was a remarkable night, and one I'll remember forever.  I know that sounds totally cornball, but stay with me for a sec....


It KILLED me not to peek at those before the ceremony began.  Damn my moral upbringing!!


This man made my 40th birthday incredibly special. [Get your minds out of the gutter, you sickos. He made me an incredible 25+-course dinner at Per Se, and for that I will forever be grateful]


David Kinch of Manresa (Best Chef, Pacific), who was just lovely and whose restaurant I can't wait to enjoy  (and who was there with his partner, Pim, who I feel like I've known forever)...

If you haven't read the James Beard Awards blog, check it out.  I'm still kind of blown away that I was even there, let alone able encouraged to talk to and spend time with some of my heroes. 


You guys? Jean-Georges is really, REALLY hot in person.  Like hotter than Mayor Bloomberg.  Yes.  THAT HOT.   I KNOW.

In addition to hanging with two of my favorite chefs in the whole world, I also had a hilarious time backstage in the press room with that Ruhlman chap, a ton of media folks, as well as a few of my fellow bloggers -- particularly, the team from Shut Up Foodies and Alyssa Shelasky from Apron Anxiety.  


Alyssa and me backstage in the staff room, nursing our feet after being in heels for SEVEN HOURS.

On a side note, it was fun to learn about who in the food media and chef world really reads this blog: I can't tell you how many times I was asked how my butt/back were. Totally sweet, and totally noted.  And, totally humbled.


Alyssa, Jose Andres, me -- DC, represent!

It was an incredible night.  Some of my favorites won; others didn't.  But even bigger than who presented, or who won or lost, was this magnificent electricity in my veins, down to my capillaries.  I don't know how else to describe it, other than this other-worldly feeling of a humming... or a tingly buzzing in my system all night and into the next morning. 

I keep forgetting about how TALL that Achatz chap is.  And, as I'm writing this caption, I'm noticing the odd fairy-like creature on Grant's shoulder.  What the heck?

Look, you guys know I do PR and media and events for a living.  So usually, I'm really jaded about most things.  I've worked for Presidents.  I've written for celebrities.  I've been on TV. I hosted my own radio show.  I've done media training for and consulted with people you read about in the news every day.  I've seen and done a lot here in this city of mine in the almost-25 years I've lived here.  But there was something really special about being in New York for the James Beard Awards this year.  Was it that I knew a lot of people there?  Maybe.  Was it that I had incredible access to some incredibly amazing and creative people?  Probably.

But there's something else I haven't yet -- almost a week later -- been able to put my finger on.  So let me just write for a few seconds to see if I can get to the core of it.

I really loved the camaraderie and seeing men hug each other.

Does that sound weird?  It's not meant to.

Here's what I mean: I work in politics and entertainment.  To be honest, there's not a lot of honest, heartfelt, supportive stuff going on among men in those fields.  There's a lot of glad-handing, finger guns, and fakey-fake-fakeness.  Phony smiles and forced handshakes.  Frat-boy hug-slaps.  Know what I mean?

But what I LOVED about being at the James Beard Awards was seeing any one of the winning chefs come off the stage, down the elevator to the photo-op area, then to the press room where he was greeted by his peers and colleagues with what felt (to me) like genuine, sincere joy and praise.


Coliccho.  A good egg.  And, he smelled nice.

Were there some snarky comments and sidelong glances?  Well, duh.  Of course there were.  It's a competition.  That's to be expected.  But overwhelmingly there were hugs, hurrahs, high-fives, hell-yeahs, and so much testosterone.... I loved every second of it.

And I know I'm talking A LOT about the men who won awards.  That's not to take away from the women who were nominated and who won (because there were a few).  I'm focusing on the men because I work around many, many men in my everyday life, and it was a true pleasure to see men, unplugged.

Maybe that's what it was.

It was a sense of men not being afraid to shed a too-cool-for-school front, and instead really be happy for one another. 

IMG_0113 Thomas Keller and "Rising Star" Tim Hollingsworth, cheers-ing.  I adore Tim.  He's really great, down-to-earth, and incredibly smart and focused.  Oh, and a damn good chef.

The word camaraderie is from the French word comrade and means "a spirit of friendly good-fellowship," and that's exactly what this night was about.  Friendly good-fellowship.  I loved every minute of it.

So, that was Monday night.

Oh wait.  There was an after-party Monday night, well into Tuesday morning, at Eleven Madison Park.  You know the saying of Whatever Happens at EMP STAYS at EMP, right?

I'mma break that rule and share a (blurry) photo of Daniel Boulud standing on top of the hostess stand at Eleven Madison Park with chef Daniel Humm, spraying the crowd with champagne while the DJ spun some Prince and some Snoop.  But that's ALL I'm gonna say about that party, because it was a writhing, grinding, awesome mess of 200 people who probably definitely had headaches the next morning day.


On Sunday afternoon before the media and book awards, I had the distinct pleasure of having drinks and a lot of laughs with some amazing people -- friends old and new -- and thoroughly enjoyed our time together.  Some of them have blogs, some of them have books, some of them have columns, and some of them edit entire newspaper sections. All of them are Beard nominees and/or winners.  Give these guys some love (again, with the men... I KNOW):

Michael Ruhlman

Joe Yonan

Tim Carman

Francis Lam

Hank Shaw


So what's up with me now that I'm back home and off the James Beard high?  Here's the dilly-o:  my dishwasher is d-e-a-d, dead.  And the repair guy can't get here until May freakin' 18th.  So, I'm gonna spend the next few days adapting some of the recipes in the Alinea cookbook to see what I can come up with for those of you who a) live in small apartments; and/or b) don't have dishwashers. 

When asked what tools are most important in doing a blog like mine, I always answer: patience, and a dishwasher.  So, I'm thinking I'm gonna adapt a lamb dish and the opah dish, and mix things up a bit.  You with me?  Good.  I knew you would be.

I've got a Q&A with me coming down the pike pretty soon (hit me up in the comments if there's anything you wanna know), and I'm planning to do an interview this week with Joe Catterson, the GM at Alinea -- and winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Service -- about service in the restaurant, service in general, and whatever else you'd like to know (you can submit your questions for Joe in the comments section, as well).   
Here's Joe (with one of the press room's famous gin & tonics).  Don't you just wanna squeeze him for hours and hours?

See you on the flip side.....

May 01, 2010

James Beard Awards

So, here's the deal -- on Monday evening, starting around 6 p.m. ET, I'll be posting to the James Beard Foundation's blog, covering the big awards ceremony.

The URL is here:

2010 James Beard Awards

I'll also be Twittering (@carolblymire) with photos and text during my time in New York on Sunday and Monday, so stay tuned there, too... you never know who or what I might run into before and after the awards!

Also, thanks so much for all your kind comments and emails about my lower back/buttcheek issues.  I'm feeling better, but not back to 100%.  Which will make walking around in 3" heels on Monday night really, really fun.  I'll be medicating with wine afterward, so I'll apologize in advance for any typo-ridden Tweets that might cross the transom.

See you on the other side....

Alinea Book


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


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