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June 2010

June 28, 2010

My Dinner at Alinea

Remember the last time I traveled to Chicago for dinner at Alinea?

It happened again, only this time on the ground, thankfully.  Nothing like being ready for takeoff when the engines shut down and you hear the captain say, "Uh, folks, some of you might have seen me outside just now; there's something leaking out of our left engine, so just hang tight until we figure it out."

I swear. Can't a girl just get to Chicago?

We boarded another plane shortly thereafter and got to Chicago safely, just a few hours behind schedule.  And by "we" I mean me, and my friend and neighbor, Linda.  She and her family have eaten nearly everything I've cooked for this blog, and her husband, Sean, went to Alinea last year with some work colleagues.  So, it was her turn to go.

We checked in to our hotel room, and she started paging through Destination Hyatt while I looked for my iPhone charger.  She saw the "Science on the Menu" cutline on the cover and started skimming that article...


I found my charger, plugged in my iPhone, and started checking email while Linda read the piece.  "Yadda, yadda, yadda, Wylie.... then they talk about some guy named McGee..... there's Michael Ruhlman, oh look, there's Grant.... and OHMYGOD YOU ARE IN THIS ARTICLE, TOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!"


Thank you, Carrie, for including me in the piece.  What an honor.  And, couldn't have been more perfect timing, too.  Wow.

*   *   *   *   *

So, my dinner at Alinea.  Let's get to it.

We started with five cocktails Grant and the team are developing and testing for his new bar, Aviary (opening Fall 2010).



They were really fun and truly outstanding -- with the passion fruit "Hurricane" and Bloody Mary being my favorites -- and a great way to kick off the evening.  The descriptions of the ingredients in each one is listed on the Tour menu.  Have a read, then meet me below for some thoughts about the whole night:


Last week, when I finally felt ready to write about this dinner, I did a Flickr search for photos I could link to.  Turns out, Alinea at Home reader Kathryn Yu had the Alinea experience not long after I did and took the most beautiful photos, and she's graciously agreed to let me share them with you.

So, take a deep breath, click on this link, and take it all in.

Because of my gluten issues, a few of my dishes were different than Kathryn's.  Where she had "Malt," I had "Vanilla."  Instead of Nutella powder, I had Dry Caramel.  Where she had Corn, we had Green Almond (that was a seasonal difference, not a gluten switch).  Where Kathryn (and Linda) had Black Truffle Explosion, I had foie (poor me, right?).  And, where she had coconut in the chocolate table-top dessert, I had vanilla (that's not a gluten thing; that's an I'm-allergic-to-coconut thing).

When I sat down to write this post, I started describing every course but found I was repeating myself because every single bite of food I ate was phenomenal.  Whenever I do a tasting menu somewhere, I like to play the game of "what course could I have done without" and "what course was my absolute favorite" and this was one of very few times in my life that I couldn't answer either of those questions.  I was thrilled to find Kathryn's photo set because just clicking through those really tells the story of what the dinner was like.

I do want to spend a little time on four of the dishes I still think about at least once a day: Pork Belly, Salad, Squab, and Chocolate.

José Andrés had dinner at Alinea a week or two before I did and Tweeted photos of the pork belly dish, so as soon as these were placed on our table, I knew what we were in for: 

Photo credit: Kathryn Yu

They ended up being filled with creamy pork belly, and served with a tray of garnishes meant to be added to them, so that you could wrap it up and eat it like a summer roll:



Photo credit: Kathryn Yu

Just amazing.  Absolutely amazing. 

Let's move on to Salad.  I loved this dish because a) I love to eat salad with my fingers and this provided ample opportunity for that; and 2) I'd read about it on Alinea-Mosaic.  Here's how they developed this idea: Salad with Ranch Dressing.  The layered service piece is beautiful, and quite a nice surprise to find vichyssoise underneath.

The squab?  Divine.  Or, as I sang when they brought it to our table, "Squab on a Log, ooooooo, Squab on a Log, yeah-eah..."  Here's Kathryn's photo of it:


And here's the thread on Alinea-Mosaic where Christian explains how this course came to be: Squab, charred strawberries, lettuce, birch log.  Squab has never been a favorite of mine, until I had it this way.  Now I get how good it can really be.

The last course, Chocolate, I find myself going back to time and again because it was plated on a silicone mat rolled out on the table.  The last time I went to Alinea, a little over a year ago, they hadn't started doing this particular type of dish (in fact, they started doing it not long after I was there, and I was a little jealous of the people who got to see and eat it).  I remember reading about it and watching the videos people sent me, and thinking, wow, that's kinda cool but also a little, um... weird, maybe? But also kind of awesome?  But I'm also biased?  And jealous?  And maybe I need to stop obsessing over it?

So when the service team rolled out a translucent white mat on our table and started placing little dishes and pans of sweet-looking things on top of it, I started to jiggle my knee a bit.  A few seconds later, Chef de Cuisine Dave Beran came out at the end of a very long night to paint our table with dessert.  It was absolutely stunning, and just so much fun to watch.  Photos and video really don't do it justice.  It makes a difference when you see it in person.  Dave has these really strong, masculine hands -- hands that had spent the past 12 or so hours working in the kitchen.  But these really strong hands served this dessert in such a deft, beautiful, and captivating manner, I couldn't take my eyes off what he was doing.  Eating it was just a bonus.  If I could have licked the table clean, I would have.

Makes me wanna invest in a silicone mat and do one of the desserts from the cookbook that way.  Hhhmmmmmm.....

A few of the courses we ate are featured on Alinea-Mosaic:

Lamb (served with the most amazing wine from the vineyard where Chef Achatz once worked)

English Pea

Tournedos a la Persane



King Crab (this is 3 courses in one, served in one serving piece that is both hot and cold (remember the McDLT? - ha!) and offers a progression of flavors that opened up beautifully.

*   *   *   *   *

Every year, I set goals for myself, or, I think of a word or two that I want to guide my decision making and opportunity creating.  Back in 2007, that word was yes.  I let it guide me in 2008 and 2009, too, and am now able to look back on some pretty remarkable experiences I know I otherwise wouldn't have had, had I not set my mind to it.

At the beginning of this year, I did a little re-evaluation.  A little fine-tuning.  I thought about the kinds of things that really and truly make me happy and decided to do them even better.  For example, I love going to concerts and seeing live music, but instead of cramming my calendar full of shows, I'm being more selective about the artists I see and am buying tickets for seats closer to the stage.  Another example of this is that I love working in the yard and gardening, so instead of just doing maintenance and pulling weeds, I'm setting aside time to read and learn more about cultivation and taking better care of the tiny patch of land my house is on so I can focus on making my favorite beautiful things grow.

When it comes to food, I've made some changes and have focused my life a little differently, too.  A few months ago, I found myself getting stressed out that I wasn't cooking through this book fast enough, or at least at the same pace I did with French Laundry at Home, and I had to stop and think about why that was, and more importantly, why it was bothering me.  I think it was bothering me because I love this little community we've built here. I love reading your comments and getting email (some with photos of the dishes you've done from the book).  I love cooking the dishes from this book.  I love what I'm learning.  But I had to wrap my head around the idea that this isn't a competition and it's not a race.  There is no point and no purpose in just making something to cross it off a list and post it online.  That's not why I chose the Alinea cookbook as my second blog.  I chose it because I needed to learn differently about food, and I needed to do something that made me feel a little uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone.  If I'm not challenged in certain areas of my life, I am bored.  And a bored Carol is a miserable Carol.  Trust me.

Lately, I've gotten a few comments and emails that said, "I wish you posted more often" (sometimes they're worded nicely like that, and other times, not so much).  And you know what?  So do I.  The reality of it is, cooking through this book is a different beast, and I'm at a different place in my life.  I want different things from this experience than I wanted from FL@H.  I know what some of those things are, but I know even more of them will reveal themselves long after I've finished.

A few weeks ago, as my dinner at Alinea was fresh in my mind, Michael Ruhlman wrote a piece that struck a chord with me.  It's called Literary Interlude: Unfinished Business, and I encourage you to read it when you have the time.  He writes about a book called Unfinished Business, which made him wonder what his own unfinished business is.  He then asked his readers to think about their unfinished business in the kitchen: what kind of things have they always wanted to make or master.  I took my time reading through the comments, and I hope you'll do the same because I think there are some great untold stories about people's larger unfinished business, revealed merely in their words about food.

I feel lucky to have eaten at Alinea, now, three times.  Incredibly lucky.  I also feel incredibly lucky that every time is better than the last.  And when I think about the notion of unfinished business when it comes to how I eat and cook and live my life, I've realized it all comes down to one thing for me: did my day have pleasure?  Could it have had more?

That, for me, is my unfinished business.

Pleasure is about desire and inclination.  It's about wanting something, doing something to make it happen, then being gratified when it does.  Pleasure, for me, is active.  It's not greed, because I'm not talking about possessions or material wealth.  It's also not the same as happiness or joy, which can come into your life with no work or effort at all.  What I'm talking about here is being intentional.

My dinner at Alinea this month left me at a loss for words because it was truly one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life.  Not only was it more than four hours of no cellphones and no email, it was eating great food, drinking great wine, being with great company, giggling with our servers over the April Fool's Day prank, seeing Grant, Dave and the team hard at work in the kitchen, being humbled by the skill and craft that went into every single moment I was there, and allowing myself to just take in the incredible experience being given to me in that restaurant.  It was perfect in every sense of the word.  To me, there's nothing more appealing and attractive than confidence, and every single dish placed before us was confidence on a plate.  There was nothing tentative.  Nothing halfway done.  Nothing arrogant or eye-roll-inducing.  Pure confidence, through and through.

And, it really solidified, for me, this notion of more pleasure being my unfinished business, whether it's in life, in food, or as a part of this blog. 

So tell me: any meal ever render you at a loss for words, and why?  And, what's your unfinished business?

June 21, 2010

Q&A with Joe Catterson, Alinea's General Manager

Below you'll find my interview with Joe Catterson, Alinea's GM.

But first, I hope you'll indulge me in a little link-love.  I hope you all regularly read Hank Shaw's fantastic blog: Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.  I'm a long-time fan of Hank, and had the great pleasure of meeting him (and Holly, hi guys!) in New York in early May.  Hank and I talked about the Alinea cookbook and how, when seasonal ingredients come into the markets, a home cook could really find inspiration in this cookbook.  And, he's gone and done it.  Here's Hank's post, Porcini-O-Rama, featuring a dish inspired by "Porcini" on Page 180 of the Alinea cookbook.  I love it!  Only wish I'd been there to eat it.

*   *   *   *   *

Joe Catterson is the General Manager and Wine Director at Alinea.  His official bio on the restaurant's website is as follows:

Overseeing the service staff at Alinea is our GM/Sommelier Joe Catterson, a native of New York who, before settling in Chicago, had also lived in Seattle, Los Angeles, Berlin, London, and Tenerife. A career path that zigzagged between service and management positions in numerous fine restaurants and studies and professional engagements as a classical musician, found itself focused on a long-held passion for wine. Catterson honed his chosen craft and was named Sommelier at Le Français in 1996 and later also at Les Nomades. Challenged to create a wine program for Trio to complement the cuisine of incoming chef Grant Achatz, Joe found an ideal environment to explore the pairing of wine and spirits with Chef Achatz' cutting edge menus. The opportunity to entice diners with a highly eclectic selection of obscure discoveries as well as classic favorites led to Chicago Magazine bestowing "Best Wine Program" honors to Trio in their 2002 and 2003 restaurant award issues, and naming Joe "Best Sommelier" in 2003.

What the bio neglects to specifically mention is that Joe is awesome.  True story.  Read on to learn more about Joe, what makes great service at Alinea, and what the team had for staff meal:

Carol: First of all, congratulations on Alinea's 2010 James Beard Award for Outstanding Service.  Having dined at Alinea, I know why you won; but, if you were to encapsulate Alinea's service philosophy in 20 words or less, what would it be?

Joe: Strive for detailed, polished service.  Create a comfortable tempo and flow for the experience.  Provide engaging narrative for the cuisine.

IMG_0121 Catterson, celebrating with what looks like a g&t at the James Beard Awards, New York, May 3, 2010.

Carol: How did you get to Alinea?

Joe:  Henry Adaniya invited me to return to Trio when he hired Chef Achatz. He knew I would enjoy creating a wine program to match Grant's cuisine. Alinea was the next step, taking what started at Trio and finding ways to make the entire dining experience more polished and complete.

Carol:  In the course of your career, how have you seen restaurant service evolve?  Are diners more/less demanding than in the past 5, 10, 20 years? 

Joe: My experience is that diners are increasingly more knowledgeable about food and wine, and in many ways more demanding, but also, on the whole, more respectful and appreciative of a well-trained and professional server.  But as far as demanding diners, in a sense, we work at Alinea to diffuse the diners' need to control the dining experience; they'll have the best time giving themselves over to our program.

Carol: Does your front-of-house staff turn over regularly, or have many folks been on board for the five years Alinea has been open?

Joe: Very few remain from the opening team, but there’s been little turnover in the past 2 plus years.  Right now we have a very solid crew.
Carol:  Alinea is moving to a single menu in August.  What kind of impact will this have on both the kitchen and the front-of-house service?

Joe:  It will increase efficiency in many regards, but the net result will be a longer average menu and actually a small reduction in the number of guests we serve per evening.  More diners will get a broader sampling of our cuisine, and our currently very long workdays should become somewhat shorter.

Carol: It seems Grant's post on Alinea-Mosaic about photography and videography has spurred some debate, leading to many misinterpreting his post to mean that he hates or wants to ban photography altogether.  Care to set the record straight?  What is the restaurant's policy on photography and videography in the dining room and kitchen?

Joe:  It’s a very double-edged issue, isn’t it? On the one hand, much of the photography that gets shared in posts and blogs has undoubtedly served us well as effective promotion. On the other hand, the act of taking the pictures can be disturbing to other diners and, for that matter, to the staff.

We allow photography, but ask that in consideration of other diners, people not use flash in the dining room. For some reason, there are always some folks that don't agree with that policy and don't understand why we would ask them to do without the flash. So they flash anyway, and we ask them not to, et cetera. Some people will unabashedly film the chef preparing something at another table; we're amazed that we need to suggest that that might be intrusive of the other diners' experience.

We get frustrated that excessive photography (I've seen people honestly stage a dozen shots of a single dish, multiplied by 20-odd courses) interrupts the pacing of the menu (something we feel is important to the overall experience), and sometimes detracts from the intended experience of a dish, particularly when temperature is an issue.

I honestly get the impression that for some people, the act of photographing the food is more important to them than actually enjoying the food. I hope I’m wrong about that. But no, I don’t believe anyone here hates or wants to ban photography. We would, however, hope for moderation and, mostly, higher consideration for the dining experience of others.

Carol:  Thank you for clearing that up.  And while we're on the topic of manners, I'm not asking you to rat out rude diners or "tell tales out of school," but what kinds of things do you and your team find most frustrating or challenging?  Is it people who talk too loudly?  Show up drunk?  Not understand the concept before making their reservation?  Show up with a list of alleged food allergies instead of telling the reservationist ahead of time?

Joe:  I’m sure we could post quite a long list, but I think you landed on one of our most regular challenges. It is disappointing that there are often groups who seemingly have no concept that the volume of their conversation and laughter is out of any reasonable proportion. Of course we want them to have fun, but there are other people in the dining room. Pretty basic lack of manners.

Carol: Most chefs I know do what they do because they've always known they wanted to cook.  When it comes to the service side of the business, I'm wondering if the same pull is there.  Did you always know this is what you wanted to do?

Joe: I was always interested in wine and cuisine; I became fascinated by the running of a restaurant and the choreography of the dining experience. This was never my first choice of career, but it was something I did for a job and came to appreciate more and more over time.

Carol: Never your first choice of career?  What was? Astronaut?  Cheesemonger?  Neurosurgeon?  Race car driver?  Barber?  In a dream world, is there another career you'd love to pursue?

Joe: When I was in high school, I narrowed my college choices down to studying architecture, enology, or music. Music won out. My choice of career was playing the horn. I was lucky enough to get to do that for a while, but unfortunately injury led me to veer from that path. If I were to leave the food and wine business altogether, I’m sure I would find some way back into music.
Carol: What advice do you have for those who want to get into the restaurant management business?  Do you need a culinary or hospitality degree?  Or, can you learn by working for good people/establishments? 

Joe:  I’ve seen people get great benefit from culinary and hospitality degrees, and I’ve seen many who didn’t. I was fortunate to work for talented people in some really excellent restaurants. It worked out to be an effective education for me. Whether someone chooses a focused culinary or hospitality degree or not, I don’t think there is any substitution for practical experience in the best venues possible.

Carol:  You're managing service and operations at Alinea while also helping open Next Restaurant and Aviary.  (do you ever sleep?)  How will service be different at these two new ventures?  Will some of the Alinea staff move over to either of these new spots to help during the opening? 

Joe:  The nature of the new ventures will undoubtedly be more casual, but we would certainly expect to uphold similar standards of service. The bottom line of the success of Alinea's service is the care and thoughtfulness everyone in the house applies to their job, I should hope we will be able to carry that over to Fulton Street. And yes, bringing along team members from Alinea will be an important step in expanding the brand.

Carol:  Alright, no more talk about work (for a minute).  What's your ideal vacation?  What do you like to do when you have time off?

Joe:  An ideal vacation definitely includes plenty of beach time. I also very much enjoy exploring other cities, checking out the local food scene, art, and architecture. With time on my hands I will go to symphony concerts, look for good jazz, get to sports events when I can. And, over the past five years I’ve played a fair amount of poker.

Carol:  What did you have for staff meal last night?

Joe:  We had chicken breast fillets with a very tasty barbecue sauce, fingerling potato salad, slaw, and green salad.

*   *   *   *   *

Thanks, Joe.

*   *   *   *   *

Read My Previous Post:  Beef, elements of A1

June 15, 2010

Beef, elements of A1

A few things before we get started:

1) I had dinner at Alinea the week before last.  It was beyond beyond beyond any dinner I've had there before.  It kicked my ass, made out with me, screamed at the top of its lungs, did a mile of back handsprings, and blew my mind.  Details are forthcoming.

2) The new season of Top Chef (in DC!) starts this week on Bravo, and I have the delightful honor of recapping the series each week for Washingtonian magazine.  Every Wednesday night/Thursday morning, the recaps will go up here.  Hope you'll come over Washingtonian-way and join the convo. 

*  *  *  *  *

When I ate at Alinea last year, I had a different version of this dish.  The A1 was powdered, and while it wasn't bad, I really only ate it on one bite of the beef it was served to accompany.  I'm just not a fan of A1.  My brother slathers it all over his steak.  Friends of mine put it on scrambled eggs.  Me?  I've just never liked the taste of it, nor have I ever gotten the appeal of it.  If beef is good on its own, then why add anything to it? 

That said, I was curious to try this dish because every individual ingredient appealed to me.

My food-savvy friend, Joey, IMed me a few days ago to ask what dish I was working on for this week's post.  When I wrote "Beef -- page 194," there was a loooong pause before I got a return IM from him that read, "Wow, that recipe just goes on and on and on!" 


It does.

It's a six-pager.  Twenty elements in all.  Lots of dehydrating.  Lots of sous vide action.  Lots of dishwasher cycles.  Lots of lovely, lovely food I was so excited to cook.  Let's get to it.

I made this over the course of two days.  I needed to.  I don't have enough counter space or stove-top space or dehydrator trays or electrical outlets in all the right places to have done this all at once.  Time for a kitchen renovation, methinks.

Day One

Let me start by saying that there are two elements of this dish I did not do: the red pepper reduction and the dried red pepper.  Not too long ago, I found out the hard way that bell peppers are not my friend.  The first clue should've been when cutting them made my hands itch and my fingers swell.  Why I ate them after that is beyond me.  But I did.  And it wasn't pretty.  So, scratch those off the list. 

First up?  The raisin puree.

Now, I don't know about you, but I am vehemently opposed to the production and purchase of brown raisins.  They're flies without wings.  They're rat turds.  They are not, nor have they ever been, two scoops of sunshine, no matter what Madison Avenue tries to tell you.  They completely squick me out and I won't buy them or eat them.  Golden raisins, on the other hand, I can handle.  They're lovely to look at, and they've got a little more life to them.

So, I chose to make the raisin puree with golden raisins. I blanched them three times, then put them in the blender with a little salt until the mixture was smooth.  I pressed that mixture through a chinois into a little storage container until I was ready to plate the next day:



The next thing I did was dehydrate some tomato slices:


After six hours, they looked like this:


Then, I dehydrated some elephant garlic:


I blanched very thin slices of that garlic in milk (three times!) and dehydrated them.  After three hours, they looked like this:


Next up?  Dried orange zest.  I've gotten really good at peeling oranges, so that I don't have to go back and carefully slice away the pith.  I peeled these two oranges....


... then sliced those peels into thin strips, blanched them in simple syrup, then dehydrated them.  After four hours, they looked like this:


And now, for some onion rings! I sliced this onion across its equator:


... then, I used my mandoline to slice very thin slices, which I cooked and soaked in simple syrup before dehydrating.  After five hours, they looked like this:


Mmmmmm, ginger:


I peeled and very thinly sliced that ginger (using my mandoline), which I simmered in simple syrup for about 15 minutes.  After five hours in the dehydrator, they looked like this:

Next up was the rib eye. I knew I was only having 4 or 5 people over for this dish instead of my usual 7 or 8, so I only bought half the amount I needed:


I cleaned up those slabs o' meat -- removing all the outer fat and silverskin.  The book instructs you to save the fat so you can render it for the potato portion of this dish, but I already had rendered beef fat in the fridge, so I saved this fat to render later in the week. After the rib eyes were cleaned up, I cut them into small 3- to 4-oz portions, put them in a Ziploc sous vide bag, and cooked them sous vide in 134F-degree water for 20 minutes:


When the meat was done cooking, I plunged it into a large bowl of ice water (more ice than water) to stop the cooking process.  When it had sufficiently cooled, I put the bag of meat in the fridge to keep it cold until the next day, when I would finish everything for this dish.

Day Two

I got an early start so I could make sure everything got done, and have a few hours of buffer time in case anything went drastically wrong.

The first thing I did on the second day was make the spiced vinegar sauce. It starts with toasting whole cloves and allspice berries, grinding them to a fine powder, then adding the spice powder to a saucepan with water, sugar, and vinegar.  I brought this mixture to a boil:  DSC_0003

After it had boiled for a few seconds, I turned off the burner and let it steep for 20 minutes.  Then, I poured it through a fine-mesh strainer into another saucepan, added the agar agar and brought that to a boil, whisking like crazy while it boiled for 90 seconds.  I poured that mixture through yet another fine-mesh strainer into a bowl set in a bowl of ice so it could cool and start to set:


After about 45 minutes nestled in the bowl of ice, I moved the vinegar mixture (which was starting to set) to the fridge where it could get really cold and finish setting.

The next thing I worked on was the bitter orange puree.  I kinda had to MacGyver this because I couldn't find bitter oranges anywhere I looked or called.  No one had them.  So, I decided I'd use regular navel oranges.  But, with bitter oranges, the trick is to sous vide the entire orange (peel and all) because that activates the pectin and thickens it to a puree.  I didn't want to do that with regular oranges (because the makeup of the peel and the pith is different from bitter oranges), so instead, I decided to supreme two large navel oranges and put them in a saucepan with all the other ingredients the recipe called for -- simple syrup, grapeseed oil, and salt.  I lowered the amount of grapeseed oil (from 50g to 30g) because for some reason it felt like the right thing to do.  I brought this mixture to a boil, then let it continue to cook on a high simmer for about 45 minutes, until the oranges had really begun to break down and get stewy:


I put that mixture into my blender and whacked it around on really high speed until it was nice and smooth.  Then, I returned it to the pan, and added 8g of apple pectin and brought it to a boil again, whisking the entire time to incorporate the pectin.  It started to thicken, and you'll see the final orange puree in the plating shot at the end of the post.  I was really happy with the way it turned out, considering I pretty much had no idea what I was doing and relied on my ever-growing knowledge of SCIENCE.

The next thing I worked on was the anchovy sauce.  I'd made anchovy butter the day before (and forgot to take photos).  I reduced some veal stock, then added just a few grams of the anchovy butter (which I made by pureeing some anchovy filets along with some unsalted butter), and whisked it to incorporate.


You'll see the finished product in the final plating photo.

The next thing I did was bake the potato slices before turning them into sort-of-potato-chips.  In the book, Chef suggests using a Japanese rotary slicer to make loooooong strips.  I don't have a Japanese rotary slicer (Even though I want one.  Bad.), so I just sliced a russet potato on my mandoline and made smaller strips instead of one big, long strip.

But before I even did that, I melted some of the rendered beef fat in the new (!!) All-Clad copper pot I was given at the James Beard Awards (it's just so pretty -- I use it all the time):



I sliced this potato as thinly as I possibly could...


... then laid those slices (which I'd trimmed to a more even rectangle shape) on a sheet pan I'd brushed with some of the rendered beef fat, then brushed a little more beef fat on the tops of those slices, and put them in the oven for 6 minutes.  


When they were done, I transferred the potato slices onto a different sheet pan which I'd lined with parchment.  When they'd cooled to room temperature, I covered them with another piece of parchment paper and let them rest before I needed to deep-fry the ends of them for the plating.

By now, the vinegar sauce gel was MORE than set: 

I chopped it up a bit and put it in the blender on high speed for a minute or two (along with some kosher salt) until it was a smooth puree.  I pushed it through a chinois, and you'll see the final outcome in the plating photo at the end.

Are you tired yet?  This might seem like it was exhausting or a lot of work, but it really wasn't.  I promise.

Last, but not least, the Yukon gold puree.  I started with these two bad boys:


I put them in a Ziploc sous vide bag and cooked them in a pot of 190F-degree water on the stovetop for an hour.  I helped keep them below the water's surface by dunking a ladle in and letting it fill with water so that it could be a bit of a weight:
DSC_0013 When the potatoes were done, I mashed them through a tamis into a saucepan with warmed cream in it:

Then, over low heat, I stirred in nearly two sticks of butter (yes, kids, that's a ratio even Ruhlman could love -- a 1:1 potato to butterstick ratio), a few 1/2" cubes at a time until it was fully incorporated and the potatoes were creamy.

The last thing to do before plating was to sear the meat.  Well, the last thing, really, to do was to go through the list of elements in this dish and make sure I had everything lined up for plating.  Sauces?  Check.  Dehydrated items?  Check.  Purees?  Che.... oh, wait.  Oh no. 


Somehow, in all my meticulous planning I'd forgotten to make the chive puree.  Even worse?  I completely forgot to buy chives, and the meager amount growing in my garden right now wouldn't even come close to the 8 oz. I needed for the puree.


So, I kicked myself in the butt a few times and soldiered onward.  I had no choice.  I was 15 minutes away from everyone coming over, so there was no time to run up to the Co-op and spring what likely would've been $15 on 8 oz. of chives. 

I deep-fried (in canola oil) the ends of the potato strips (which you'll see in the final plating shot) and seared the beef on the grill-top:


And then, I plated everything:  DSC_0022

So, clockwise: raisin puree, garlic chip, dried tomato, potato strip, beef (atop potato puree), a streak of the orange puree, a blorp of spiced vinegar sauce, dried orange zest, chive tips (from my garden), another piece of beef (atop an anchovy strip) with an onion ring on top of that next to some of the anchovy sauce.  There's a ginger chip underneath that second piece of beef, and some fresh ginger juice drip-dropped on top of everything.

I am really proud of this dish.  It was a lot of work, and it was the first thing I cooked after having dinner at Alinea.  After visiting the mothership.  After being in the presence of greatness on a plate.  I'll admit I was a little intimidated to open this cookbook again after my time in Chicago.  To see and to taste and to experience the absolute pleasure that kitchen and the service team provides can be overwhelming and humbling.  It was both those things, but it also energized me and put me on a higher plane of appreciation when I sliced that onion so so thin.... when I peeled that orange zest.... and when I MacGyvered that orange puree.  It made me really pay even more attention to what I was doing and how I was doing it (except for the chive puree brain fart).

That plate of food you see above tasted really, really good.  Thinking back on it now, I could've been more generous with the ginger juice, I think.  I was conservative with it because fresh ginger is such a powerful flavor that I didn't wanna go overboard and have everyone be like, "Um, could I have a little beef with my ginger?"  But now that I've eaten it, I know I could've done a few more drops or drizzles.  Even with that, I thought this was really good.  All the flavors, of course, played nicely with one another as they were meant to.  I wish I hadn't forgotten the chive puree, because I think that would've amped it up even more. 

I really loved this dish, and while I might not make it the same exact way in the future, as we get into summer and I dream of grilled steak (hold the A1), I can totally see a green salad with a lot of these ingredients, and an herbed potato salad to go with.

Meanwhile, I've got leftover potato puree to go reheat for breakfast.  Don't you wish you were here?

Up Next: Prosciutto, or Chocolate.

Resources: Rib eye, oranges, butter, tomato, onion, ginger, and potatoes from Whole Foods; raisins, elephant garlic, cloves and allspice from the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Co-op; Domino sugar; Terra Medi white wine vinegar; agar agar from Terra Spice; David's kosher salt; Roland grapeseed oil and anchovies; veal stock from my freezer; Organic Valley cream; rendered beef fat from my fridge; Natural by Nature milk; chives from my garden; 365 canola oil.

Music to Cook By: Journey; Escape.  I kind of hate that "Glee" has adopted Journey as their go-to band for the show.  That said, this album is always in my regular rotation.  I can't help it.  It's an old, old favorite and brings back so many amazing memories from my junior high and high school days.  No matter what kind of day I'm having, Journey: Escape always makes it better.  It just does.

Read My Previous Post: Goose, blood orange, sage, roasting goose aroma (adaptation)

June 07, 2010

Alinea at Home Adaptation: Goose, blood orange, sage, roasting goose aroma

For as long as I've been alive, not a winter holiday has gone by in the Blymire family without a cheeseball.  And no I'm not referring to my dad when he tells jokes.  You know what I'm talking about... something sort of Hickory Farms-ish without it actually being from Hickory Farms.  In our family, mom, grandma, and the aunts typically served just two kinds of cheeseballs (with Triscuits and Ritz crackers on the side, of course!) before our big family holiday dinners: one cheeseball was made with cheddar and port wine cheese and had a nutty crust; and, the other was some kind of cream cheese and olive concoction.  But only in the winter.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day.

Similarly, not a summer family gathering has gone by without deviled eggs.

Sometimes they had paprika on them, sometimes not.  That was about the extent of how fancy they might get.  Usually, it was just yer regular old chicken egg, hard-boiled and halved, with the yolks mashed with some yellow mustard and mayo before being spooned back into the hollows of the whites.  No high-falutin' accoutrements.  Don't even think about it, mister.

Now that it's summer, I crave my family's picnic foods.  Baked beans.  Iced tea.  BBQ sandwiches.  And deviled eggs.  So I thought I'd riff on one of the dishes in the Alinea cookbook and make a deviled goose egg.  I'm hoping to do the original Goose dish (pgs. 361-365), and have already put a bug in the ear of one Hank Shaw of Hunter, Angler, Gardner, Cook to see if we can't shoot a few geese and do it up right later in the year, but for now, I'm gonna show you how to take one of the recipes from the Alinea cookbook and adapt it in a way that might be more accessible for most home cooks.

*   *   *   *   *

Two Saturdays ago, I met my friend, Joe Yonan, at the 14th and U Market.  He's been hard at work on his book, and I wanted to drop off some pickled grapes I'd made so he'd have something new for that day's snack break.  As he rounded the corner to meet me at the market, he saw my bags were already full and asked what I'd bought. I went down the list of meats and fruits and vegetables, and ended with, "Goose eggs!"

And the "big, fat goose egg" jokes began.

They weren't really jokes, per se.  Just commentary on the phrase "big, fat goose egg."  So yeah.  I guess I thought I was going somewhere with that story, and it just kind of fizzled, didn't it.  STEVE HOLT!!

So yeah, back to the (big, fat) goose eggs.  I've had chicken eggs (duh), quail eggs, and duck eggs.  But I'd never eaten or cooked a goose egg before.  Have you? 

Here's what they look like:

DSC_0001 From L to R: chicken egg, duck egg, goose egg.  And yes, I did contemplate doing two duck eggs, then the goose egg and trying to be all "duck-duck-goose" but decided not you.  You're welcome.

And from another perspective, here's a chicken egg:


And, here's a goose egg:


Like a dumbass, I Googled "how to hard-boil a goose egg" and found a million WRONG ways to do it.  I mean, why should hard-boiling a goose egg be any different from a chicken or duck egg?  Goose eggs are only slightly bigger with a tad more cholesterol, but they're not really all that structurally different from a chicken egg, so I figured I'd hard-boil them the same way I do a chicken egg:

Two eggs in an empty saucepan.

Cover with cold water.

Turn on burner to high.  Bring water to a boil.

Let eggs boil in water for 60 seconds.

Cover saucepan with lid.  Turn off flame.

Let the eggs sit, covered, in the hot water for 12 minutes. (Because the goose egg is bigger, I let them rest in the hot water for 15 minutes.)

Remove eggs from hot water, and gently place them in bowl of ice water for 30 minutes.

Chill further in fridge, or store in fridge until ready to use.


While the eggs were cooling, I reduced two cups of duck stock to two tablespoons of duck I-don't-know-what-but-boy-did-it-smell-good:



I also baked a sweet potato (45 minutes at 350F) and cut off about 1/4 of it to mix in with the egg yolks:


I cracked and peeled the goose eggs, halved them, and whaddya know....


They were cooked perfectly.  If there's one thing I know how to do, it's hard-boil an egg.  Check out the whites of the goose egg, though.  It has that semi-opalescence of milk glass, doesn't it?

I gently popped out the yolks and tossed them in a mixing bowl with the reduced duck stock (which, in my mind. represented the foie gras in the original dish), the 1/4 sweet potato, about 2 tablespoons of diced turnip I'd sauteed in brown butter, a few shavings of whole nutmeg, and about a teaspoon of chopped fresh sage leaves.

DSC_0011 All the flavors (minus orange and fennel; they come into play later) from the original dish in the Alinea cookbook.

I mashed everything around, and decided there needed to be a bit more silkiness, so I added a scant teaspoon of homemade mayonnaise just to help with texture, and then re-filled each egg half (four in all), and topped them with a few dices of fresh orange segments and a wee fennel frond:


I tasted a tiny bit of the yolk on its own before mixing it with everything else, and I love how hearty it was... kind of like how a Thanksgiving turkey smells.  But I didn't really know how the end product was gonna taste.  I mean, deviled eggs are usually pretty good no matter what you do, right?  You can't really screw them up.  And, when I read and thought through all the ingredients in this particular deviled egg: egg, sweet potato, duck stock, sage, nutmeg, turnip, orange, and fennel, it all made sense to me.  Nothing stood out as being weird or gross or wrong. 

But I still couldn't fathom how it would taste.  My friend, Holly, dug into hers first and it was gone in three bites.  Linda and her son, Grant, enjoyed theirs pretty quickly, too.  As for my first bite?  Well, I picked that sucker up and bit it from the back end -- the end with the smaller amount of white.  And it was good.  Really, really good.  It was creamy and flavorful and filling, without feeling rich or heavy or gross.

It felt like slipping in between freshly laundered sheets after a long day and a hot shower.

Like finding a hand-written thank-you note from a friend among the pile of bills in the mailbox.

Like eating a strawberry fresh off the vine, still warm from the sun.

It was all those things and a little more.  That deviled egg was so full of new flavor combinations, and yet so full of comfort and familiarity.

So, if you can get your hands on some goose eggs (or heck, even duck or chicken eggs will work just fine), see what you could come up with to adapt this recipe from the book.  I bet you'll be surprised at how easy it is, and how much you'll enjoy it.  I know I am.

Up Next: Not sure yet.  I might go English Pea, I might go Chocolate. Maybe Porcini.  You've been warned.

Resources: Goose eggs from the awesome meat and egg dude (whose card I have since lost because I suck) at the 14th and U Farmers Market in DC; sweet potato from the TPSS co-op; orange, fennel, and fresh sage leaves from Whole Foods; nutmeg from my pantry; duck stock from my freezer; homemade mayo from my fridge; baby turnip from Waterpenny Farm at the Takoma Farmers Market.

Music to Cook To: No music; just the sound of a thunderstorm and the pouring rain.  Is there anything better than that?

Read My Previous Post: Alinea at Home Adaptation -- Lamb, mastic, date, rosemary fragrance

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