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July 2010

July 28, 2010

Shellfish Sponge, horseradish, celery, gooseberry

I wasn't sure what to make of this dish when I first read about it.

I love shellfish, and I love horseradish.  Celery has become more tolerable to me.  It was the gooseberry sauce that was throwing me for a loop.  Why?  I'd never eaten a gooseberry before.  I saw them at the farmers' market many, many weeks ago (late May/early June, I think) and remembered that I needed some for a few Alinea dishes, so I bought a few boxes of them and froze them to use as I needed to.


I tasted one before freezing them... and, have you ever had a gooseberry?  Raw?  Like, just popped one in your mouth?  Tart doesn't even begin to describe it.  Neither does sour.  Don't get me wrong: it wasn't off-putting.  It was just nothing like anything I'd tasted before.  An odd combination of sour, tangy, a hint of sweet, with a slightly tart finish.  They also had an odd texture -- like if you bred a passion fruit with a persimmon or tomatillo, and added some grape and maybe the filmy mouth-feel of a pear.

So after having tried a gooseberry, I was even more perplexed about this dish.  I just couldn't wrap my head around what it was going to taste like, or how the textures would feel together.  A frozen sponge of shellfish stock.  Celery ice.  Horseradish cream sauce.  Gooseberry sauce.  Clams and mussels.

Honestly, I was dreading the end result, which I know isn't cool and I should know better.  But no, I was the asshole who scoffed that there was no way this recipe from the bazillion-star chef of the Pellegrino-ranked #1 restaurant in America was gonna be any good.

Grumble grumble grumble.

Heavy sigh.

Seriously. I am such a jerkwad sometimes.

And so we begin.

As instructed, I steamed mussels and littleneck clams in two separate saucepans with vermouth, fennel, celery, shallots, peppercorns, bay leaves, and tarragon.  Man.  Is there a better smell than that of shallots and tarragon steaming away in vermouth? I think not.

The littlenecks opened beautifully, but more than half of the mussels didn't open at all.  And, there was an odd smell emanating from the pan when they were cooking.  When I rinsed and cleaned them before cooking them, they smelled fine (meaning, no smell at all), but I wasn't taking any chances.  I threw them away, poured their cooking liquid down the drain, and just forged ahead with the littlenecks on their own.

I put the clams (still in their shells) on a paper towel-lined baking sheet in the fridge to halt the cooking, and so they'd cool.

The book instructs you to combine both pots of cooking liquid to reduce them, but that wasn't an option, so I added about a half a cup of Etude pinot noir rosé, and cooked the liquid until it had reduced by half.

While the liquid was reducing, I took the littleneck clams out of their shells, discarded the shells, and saved the clams in a container I'd placed into a bowl of ice water in the fridge.

I combined the wine-assisted shellfish cooking stock reduction with 3 ice water-soaked gelatin sheets, some salt, and stirred to dissolve the gelatin, tempering it as I went.

Then, I put that liquid into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer, and mixed it on high speed using the whip attachment.  The book instructs you to whip it "until stiff peaks form," which I'm thinking will take 3 or 4 minutes...


After four minutes:


After 10 minutes:


Twenty minutes gone by...


Twenty-five minutes....


Thirty minutes... and wait!  Is that the beginnings of some peakage...?


Thirty-five minutes....


And, at the 40-minute mark?  The magic happened.  That shizz stiffened right up:



The photo makes it look more like they were soft peaks, but they weren't.  It was stiff and exactly the right consistency to blop onto a parchment-lined baking sheet to put in the freezer:


While the shellfish broth was taking its good old time getting to the stiff-peak stage, I blanched and juiced some celery for the celery ice portion of our program:


I poured that celery juice into a 9x9" glass baking dish and put it in the freezer to harden.

I also made the gooseberry sauce by putting the gooseberries you saw earlier into my blender with some simple syrup, kosher salt, and Ultra-Tex 3:

I pushed the puree of it through a fine mesh strainer:  DSC_0018

And got a lovely, better-than-they-tasted-on-their-own gooseberry sauce:


I also made the horseradish cream, which was so easy I can't believe I don't make this more often.  I juiced some horseradish in my juicer and whisked it with some crème fraîche, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and salt:


And, I peeled and diced some celery, which I blanched for 15 seconds:  DSC_0022


After the celery ice had hardened (about 3 hours), I scraped a fork across the top of it to get a slushy texture, then put it back in the freezer until I was ready to plate the dish:  DSC_0025


If you're following along in the book or are familiar with this dish, you'll notice I haven't talked about the geoduck clam.  As much as I wanted to work with a geoduck for this recipe, I chose not to.  They're not that easy to come by (despite having some good fishmonger connections), and they're really expensive... like, we're talking $40-50/pound, and I'd have to commit to buying the whole 3-pound clam for any of my sources to have one shipped in and I just couldn't justify that expense.

So, I used surf clams instead.  I had the guys at BlackSalt shuck them for me, and I used a few slices of them, raw, on each serving.

To plate this dish I put one frozen shellfish sponge in the center and spooned a little horseradish cream around one side of it.  I scooped some celery ice along the other side and blopped some gooseberry sauce next to it.  I put 3-4 littleneck clams on each serving, and topped the sponge with a few slices of surf clam.  Last, but not least, I added some of the blanched celery dice and some celery leaves.


I love that if you hadn't read this post or this recipe, you might think that by looking at it that it's a warm dish.  That the sponge is actually a warm foam or meringue kind of thing.


If I close my eyes and inhale slowly through my nose, I can remember exactly what this dish tasted like.  I sampled all the elements of the dish as I was making it, and I thought the end result might be too salty.  Or just too salt-briny.  I was thrilled to be wrong.  It was a perfect blend of salt, sweet, sour, tang, and heat.  The textures melded well with just enough creaminess, crunch, and chew that every bite was a surprise as the flavors opened up.  The sponge was delightful.  The surf clam was lovely.  The horseradish cream was fantastic.  I ended up swirling everything together on the plate to take a bite, and loved how the horseradish and gooseberry unfolded with the shellfish and celery ice.  I loved the temperature of the dish and how the flavors became even more pronounced as the frozen elements melted in my mouth. 

My neighbors came over for the tasting, and one of the pickiest eaters -- an 11-year old boy who is adventurous about some foods and not others; and, those adventurous tangents change without warning -- gobbled his up, much to my surprise.  In fact, I barely even needed to do the dishes after we were done because there were a lot of fingers swiping plates to get every last bit of sauce and flavor.  I think having the mussels in it (had they been good instead of rancid) would've made this even more flavorful, but since no one at the table knew about the mussel fiasco, they didn't think the dish was lacking in any way.

When I think about the individual elements in this dish, there are so many that are adaptable to everyday cooking.  I could do a gooseberry swirl in vanilla ice cream next time I make it.  The horseradish cream could accompany a steak or a roasted goat leg quite nicely.  Steaming clams takes all of 10 minutes (including the time it takes to prep the stuff you steam them in), so I'm not sure why I don't eat them more often.  Even the leftover celery ice was a nice treat on these 105-degree days we've been having.

And, as much as I love and respect my friend, Michael Ruhlman, I gotta disagree with what he wrote in an early review of the book: "This is not a home-cook book."

I beg to differ.

Read My Previous Post: Alinea at Home Adaptation -- Raspberry, goat's milk, red pepper taffy, pistachio

Resources: Celery, lemon, shallots, fennel, and horseradish from Whole Foods; gooseberries from the 14th and U Street Farmers Market; Ultra-Tex 3 from Terra Spice; Vermont Butter and Cheese Company crème fraîche; David's kosher salt; Martini dry vermouth; bay leaves from my potted bay plant in the kitchen; peppercorns from the pantry; tarragon from my garden; shellfish from BlackSalt fish market.

Music to Cook To: I'm gonna cheat a bit.  I listened to Taylor Dayne while I wrote this blog post.  Forgot how much I liked her.

Up Next: Pickled watermelon rind from Ayu, kombu, fried spine, sesame

July 19, 2010

Alinea at Home Adaptation: Raspberry, goat's milk, red pepper taffy, pistachio

When I looked at the core elements in this dish: raspberries, goat milk, pistachios, red bell peppers, and lavender, I knew immediately that I wanted to adapt this dish and try something a little different.


Well, I'm allergic to bell peppers, so that was one thing I knew I couldn't do.  And, you guys know about my disdain for raspberries: Nature's Hollow, Hairy Scourge™.  Lastly, I was in charge of bringing dessert to a friend's house for a night of cards (and swearing, which apparently goes hand-in-hand with playing cards in this group) and I kinda wanted to knock their socks off with something from the Alinea cookbook, but it had to be portable.

So, instead of making this dish exactly as it is in the book, I adapted it and, as a result, have an ice cream recipe I think you'll want to try.  Immediately.

I mean, LOOK at this:


Don't you want to eat it right this second?

I do.  And since there's a little bit of it left in my freezer, as soon as I'm done writing this post that's where I'll be.  Freezer door hanging open (ARE YOU TRYING TO COOL OFF THE WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD!!?!?!?!), container in hand, spoon digging furiously, moaning when the lavender and goat-stank hit my palate.  Wish you all could be here.  This shizz is good.

Thanks to David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop I love making ice cream.  In fact, I can't remember the last time I ate the store-bought stuff.  I consulted his Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream recipe (on page 92 of Perfect Scoop) for ratios, then struck out on my own to make blackberry, lavender, goat milk ice cream.

I think you'll love it.  Here goes:

Blackberry Lavender Goat Milk Ice Cream

2 C goat milk

3/4 C sugar

pinch salt

1 T food-grade lavender buds

1 quart blackberries

6 egg yolks (I used duck eggs, which, wow)

2 C heavy cream

dash vanilla extract

Warm goat milk, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat; stirring to dissolve sugar.  This should just be warmed -- not quite a simmer and definitely not a boil.  As soon as the sugar is dissolved, add the lavender buds, turn off the burner, put the lid on the saucepan and let the liquid steep for 20 minutes.

While the lavender goat milk is steeping, do the following:

-- Pour the cream into a separate large mixing bowl, and set a mesh strainer over the top of the bowl. 

-- In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk the egg yolks together.

After the 20-minute goat-milk steeping, pour that mixture through a mesh strainer into another saucepan.  discard the lavender buds.  Reheat the mixture on low-medium heat for a few minutes, then ladle some of the milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking to incorporate.  Do 2 - 3 ladles of the milk mixture, then pour and scrape the eggs and milk combo back into the main saucepan with the rest of the lavender-goat milk.

Stir to incorporate, and keep stirring it over medium heat until the liquid begins to coat the back of your wooden spoon or a silicone spatula.  Turn off the burner and pour this mixture through the mesh strainer into the bowl with the heavy cream and stir well to mix.  Add a dash of vanilla extract, and stir to incorporate. 

Completely cool and then chill this mixture before processing it in your ice cream maker.  I started by nesting the bowl of liquid in a larger bowl of ice cubes and stirred it to start the cooling process.  When it had gotten a little below room temperature, I put the bowl of liquid into the refrigerator for about 4 hours until it had cooled completely.

Just before churning this in your ice cream maker, put the blackberries in a bowl and mash them a bit with a fork.  No need to make a puree.  Just rough-chop 'em with your fork.  I suppose you could put them in a food processor and pulse it once or twice, if you'd like to do it that way.

Mix the blackberries in with the lavender-goat milk custard and stir well to get everything mixed well.

Process in your ice cream maker, according to the owners manual.

I also wanted to make the Pistachio Brittle from the book, because I knew it would be fantastic with this ice cream.  And, I wanted something a little salty and crunchy with it.  It felt right.  So, while my ice cream custard was cooling in the refrigerator, I walked up to the little food co-op in town and bought some pistachios.

Pistachio Brittle

The pistachio brittle is incredibly easy.  If you have the Alinea coobook, it's on page 92.  If not, here's how to make it:

165g (5.8 oz.) pistachios

465g (1 lb. .4 oz.) sugar

72g (2.5 oz.) water

5g (.2 oz.) baking soda

If you didn't buy them already-roasted, toast pistachios on a baking sheet in a 350F-degree oven for 8-10 minutes.  When you start to smell them get a little nutty, take them out.  They're ready to go.  I should note here that the pistachios I bought were already roasted and salted, and I gotta say, I loved the salt in them so add a few shakes of kosher salt to yours if you're roasting them on your own.  You won't be sorry.

Heat the sugar and water to 342F degrees (172C), then turn off the burner.  Stir in the baking soda (the mixture will foam and bubble when you do this) and the pistachios.  Pour the mixture onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet and let it harden at room temperature (should take less than an hour).  Break it into small pieces and store it in an airtight container (otherwise, it gets sticky and chewy and weird).

I think the brittle took all of 10 minutes to make.  Fifteen tops.  So, if you're not an ice cream-making dude or dame, then at least make this brittle.  Please.  I beg you.  It's nutty, and molasses-y, and crunchy, and holy crap I bet if you added smoked salt or used smoked nuts this would be even more awesome... especially with blackberry ice cream, because I'm now having flashbacks to this dish and remembering how utterly blown away I was by it.  When I look back on all the dishes I've made for this blog, "Blackberry, smoke, bee balm" stands out because for months afterward I just couldn't get over the fact that I was capable of making something so good, and so flavorful.

This ice cream felt very much the same way to me.  I'm sure some of you are thinking Girl please, ice cream isn't hard to make... but I had very much the same reaction to eating this ice cream as I did to last year's blackberry dish.  For this one, though, to be able to trust my instincts enough to know how to layer flavors, figure out ratios and timing, and be able to make something that rendered everyone speechless at the table feels really, really good.

This cooking thing I'm doing?  I think I like it.

Up Next: Shellfish Sponge, horseradish, celery, gooseberry

Read My Previous Post: Raspberry transparency I screwed up, dagnabit

July 12, 2010

Raspberry, transparency, yogurt, rose petals

So, I did all this:









































And after a total of two days of active work and dehydration time, I ended up with a leathery war wound with Band-Aid pieces strewn about:


I screwed it up somewhere along the way.  Everything seemed to be going well up until the final step, the last dehydration bit.  It never un-leathered itself.  It never got crispy and dry.  And, the photo in the book doesn't even look like there are rose petals in this bite.  Argh.  I've eaten this thing three times in the restaurant, and I actually really, really like it.

I don't like failing at something that I know I can do.  That makes me CRAZY.

Think the raspberries heard me talking about how much I don't like them?  How I wish they were as good as blackberries?  How they're hollow and seedy and look like they misplaced their tweezers?

I'm gonna have to sweet talk my next batch of raspberries.  Put on some Barry White.  Dim the lights. Tell them how pretty they are.  Maybe THAT will work.

Actually, I just bought an even more precise digital jeweler scale (measures to the 0.01g), and I'm gonna try it again, 'cause I'm feeling stubborn.  If it doesn't work again, then I'm buying the URL ihateraspberriestheytotallytotallysuck.com.  You watch.  It'll be the next big internet sensation!

July 01, 2010

A little of this, a little of that


This is a salad I made with lettuce from my neighbor's garden, pickled carrots, fresh chives and dill from the garden, roasted pepitas, a homemade vinaigrette, and many of the dried accoutrements from the "Beef, elements of A1" dish.  I could eat this every day.

*   *   *   *   *

Here's a Chicago Tribune: The Stew interview with Patton Oswalt about his love of food and restaurants.  I love how he describes his dinner at Alinea as having "had just walked away from one of the great seminal rock concerts of all time."

*   *   *   *   *

I tried to make this dish this week.  Perhaps you heard me sighing about it on Twitter.  Perhaps you heard me use the descriptor "open war wound with Band-Aid bits strewn about."  It did not end well.  A post is forthcoming, and I'm actually gonna try it again because I want to do it right.  I even bought a new scale that measures to the 0.01g.  That's how committed I am, y'all.

*   *   *   *   *

Some of you sent the most amazing and sweet and heartfelt emails after my last post.  I loved reading about your unfinished business, and I hope you get to do whatever it is you want to. 

*   *   *   *   *

Are you watching Top Chef?  Who are you rooting for?  Who do you loathe?  Do you think the show is a little tired and played out?  (I think I feel that way, but I'm willing to give it until the end of the season.)  I'm doing the episode recaps for Washingtonian magazine and would love your insights and thoughts on this season's cheftestants and the show as a whole.

*   *   *   *   *

It's a long weekend (happy birthday, America!) and here's what's on my reading list for the next few days:

Food in Jars: my friend, Marisa, is a jamstress.  A canstress?  A jarstress?  Whatever she is, she's awesome and her blog is giving me a ton of great ideas for how to preserve everything I buy too much of at the farmers market.

The Victory Garden: I was obsessed with Crockett's Victory Garden on PBS (along with Hodge Podge Lodge) when I was a kid, and I remember carefully leafing through my mom's copy of the original Victory Garden book (which she's sending me) and thinking how cool it would be to have my own house and my own garden when I grew up (and was retired from being a ballerina-TV news anchor-surgeon).

A couple of books by Jonathan Tropper.  Easy summer reads that are well written and funny.

*   *   *   *   *

Enjoy the holiday weekend -- and let me know what you're cooking and eating.  Don't mind me; I'll just be sitting here, drooling over my corn on the cob with tarragon butter (I love summer; can you tell?).

Alinea Book


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


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