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November 2010

November 22, 2010

What do you love about your kitchen?

When I bought my house, I did some cosmetic updates to the kitchen thinking I'd do a complete overhaul in five years or so.  A fresh coat of paint, new appliances to replace the circa 1966 rusted-out avocado ones, and a new ceiling to replace the drop-tile ceiling and flickering fluorescent light.

Twelve years later, I'm still puttering around and cooking in a cramped kitchen with chipped countertops, circa 1973 floor linoleum, electrical circuits that make the coffee grinder whirr when you're using the mixer halfway across the room, windows that don't stay on their tracks unless they're locked, and a pantry door that falls off if you don't hold it just so when you open it.

So, I've begun budgeting and saving for a kitchen renovation.  I've been tearing pages out of magazines, collecting paint samples, and researching appliances and layouts.  My contractor came over to take measurements and give me some estimates and budget ranges (>gulp<). I'm taking all the advice I can get, because while I think I know what I want in a kitchen, my plans continue to evolve when I get ideas from other people.

I asked my Twitter friends to tell me what they love (or loathe) about their own kitchens, and here's what they said:

michaelnatkin:  I want two flush holes in the counter right next to my board, one for compost, one for trash, with continuous bag system below

hana_duel: LOVE deep sink, granite counters; WANT more light, pull-out drawers instead of cabinets, instant-hot tea-temp filtered tap H2O
sscoffee: hardwood for us. Things break on cement. 

sixy: I love the many-shelved corner pantry I can stand inside. So much to see, so much to eat. It's also the best place to hide

MarriedWDinner: had slate floors in a kitchen once -- never again will I have stone or something like it (backaches galore). Wood or cork from now on. this time around, we went for wood because we could find info about how cork stood up to dog toenails :)

MarriedWDinner: agree with @joylian - the pull-out deep drawers are awesome. also love the pull-out recycling/trash/compost sorter.

Ahaley: a giant sink & plenty of counter/storage space! We love our commercial sprayer as well! A great bar/seating for guests too.

capshockeygrl28: love granite tops can save money by buying it in squares instead of one piece also wish we had splurged on those touch faucets

capshockeygrl28: stained cement rocks

Morineko: Just put in a composite pseudo-slate tile in my kitchen thats really nice. Also <3 good undercabinet lighting & slightly higher cabinets so 6qt mixer can fit under cabinets. Corian counters and sink is nice too - smooth joint = no gunk

BAnnamama: I have small ceramic tiles on some counters - hate it! Dealing with grout is a pain. I love the hardwood floors, dbl ovens. 

fkhatibloo: Don't know if anyone mentioned cork flooring, but it's amazing stuff. I can't overstate the difference on knees, back.

bonniebenwick: And a counter-inset knife holder, (10 slots+) where knives are vertical, handles up.

aliceqfoodie: we have rough stone tiles and I HATE them. They are never, ever clean.

DCBrit: warming drawer and double oven?

mollymayhem: Wishes: MORE LIGHT! More counters, dishwasher, window over sink w/deep sill to grow herbs, bookshelf for cookbooks.

aliceqfoodie: wood is pretty but can't get wet. I want those painted french cement tiles, like at Bouchon.

aliceqfoodie: I wish I had marble counters and pull out shelves in cabinets. I also like cooktop/wall oven vs. range.

nhallfreelance: pot filler behind range; pot sink for dishes/prep sink for food; composting setup; lotsa nat light; open to living spaces.

heidi_robb: Wish I had a wall oven (electric), a stock pot filler. Anything that eliminates bending/lifting heavy items from low 2 high.

jwscoop: i put cork in my kitchen and it helped my back pain issues. tho it is scratched up now (from our cats). but i don't care

Deaners82: Love my big farmhouse sink and hardwood flrs. Wish I had a bigger pantry.

bonniebenwick: 2 snaps up: a toekick pedal for the sink/faucet, like hospitals use. An oven on wheels w/ French doors (see new Bluestar).

SaltySpoon: skip the painted cement unless you wear shoes every time you cook. Mega hard surfaces = murder in your back (stone tiles here)

samandholly2: love lots of plugs, loathe small cupboards and drawers

mraynal: painted cement would look cool but might cause aches/pains over time.

nhallfreelance: think of your feet, though. Cement would look rad, kill yr feet. A friend recently got cork and loves it. Beauty and comfort.

cj_wong: flooring definitely hardwood, but I have extra advantage of living in vintage Craftsman w/ribbon inlay. I love the faucet next to the stove to fill large pot & pulley lights over deep sink- softer, focused light.

hillaryhoffman: last thing, keep in mind water, that was my problem w/hardwood kitchen floor, cleaning it & keeping a finish, managing spills.

jamaila: we want to put in slate tile when we do our redo next year. only downside is it has to be resealed occasionally.

kristinagill: + 1 indestructable surface in 1 counter area, the rest laminate bc inexpensive can replace often. Floors not porous few joints

heidi_robb: If you love the look of cement, incorporate somewhere in a countertop, but not all.

hillaryhoffman: Keep in mind anything dropped on cement or hard tile will likely shatter. Same in heavy cast-iron sinks.

rscholtz: Love having lots of cabinet and counter space, wish I had a better vent hood and room to hang pots and pans.

kristinagill: above cabinets. Need a stronger extractor hood vented to outside also. I need function over beauty: easy to clean backsplash+

hillaryhoffman: Orig. wanted cork but our floor slants. Ended up w/high-quality vinyl that's padded, looks like tile. Not shiny.

heidi_robb: No, no cement! Pretty but will wreck your back. Hardwood, bamboo.

kristinagill: kitchen is abt 7.5'x11', stuff on 3 walls. 4th wall is window+ext door+radiator. Nothing is useless but havnt maximised wall

emptychampagne: either. as long as its heated.

celiacteen: I love that most of our cupboards have pull out drawers, so you can easily get things at the back, front and sides.

kristinagill: I miss uninterrupted counter space, easy wall access to everyday items (not on counter), adeq storage for storage items+bottle

hillaryhoffman: w/older pipes garbage disposal useless. Wish I had dedicated flat sheet pan/rack storage & would like to hang pots. Pegboard?

phstephen: a butcher block a great thing to have

MarriedWDinner: also wish we'd spent time figuring out how to get outlets hidden from camera angle & chosen more-neutral lighting for photos

hillaryhoffman: Love our diverse lighting and dedicated large chopping block. Love our deep stainless 2-part sink. Wish we had more outlets.

MarriedWDinner: love our deep/wide sink, honed slate counters; wish we'd spent the extra cash for an external exhaust blower (hate fan noise!)

lisalaudato: love my giant spice drawer and pot/pan drawers. seven ft center island is wonderful, too!

DGMarge: Also wish I had a hot water dispenser. And love my new french door fridge too.

DGMarge: LOVE my wall mounted oven. Baking at eye-level! Go with a 30", double if you have space. I only have 24" and it is too small.

nhallfreelance: storage, considered from cook's perspective. Low-boy, perhaps? Stove shelf for pans, plate heating. Hate low reach for broiler

SaltySpoon: love ample, open counterspace. Loathe: lack of proper pantry. Want: sink w/foot control for H2o (like surgeons use to scrub)

annrafalko: I would give me left pinkie for at least two sinks. Yes, *at least*. I could see myself going to three. Honestly. I love sinks.

doriegreenspan: Love my big kitchen sink - it's long and very deep.

So, it's Thanksgiving week... and I imagine that many of you will spend quite a bit of time in your kitchen, or someone else's kitchen over the next few days.  So, I'd like to ask a favor: will you let me know in the comments what you love about your kitchen?  What you wish you had?  What bugs you the most?  I want to hear what you love and loathe about floors, storage, appliances, countertops, cabinet depth, lighting... anything and everything.

Thanks so much.  I really, really appreciate it.

*  *  *  *  *

If you're stuck at work over the next few days with not a lot to do, here's a link to the Harvard "Science and Cooking" lecture series.  Chef Achatz's lecture -- "Reinventing Food Texture and Flavor" -- is here.

*  *  *  *  *

Oh, and I'm getting ready to kick off my fourth annual Share Our Strength fundraising campaign.  Details coming soon.

Happy Thanksgiving...

November 17, 2010

Beef, elements of root beer

Let's begin with a toast to Alinea, on receiving THREE Michelin stars!


A big ole cheers! >clink< to the entire team at Alinea not just for their very well deserved three Michelin stars, but also for doing what they do every single day to inspire and energize home cooks like me to want to do more, and do better.  So, a big congratulations and thank you from me, Holly, Ron, Maggie, Linda, Sean, Grant, and Carter -- all who eat my Alinea At Home cooking, and all who raised a glass of prosecco Tuesday night in gratitude and celebration.

But before we drank, we ate.  Boy, did we eat.  And before we ate, I cooked.  And boy, did I cook.

Let's get to it.

Monday night, I made the root beer cure so I could cure the boneless beef shortribs overnight: 


Ground sassafras, star anise, juniper berries, black peppercorns, fennel seed, and the seeds of a vanilla bean, some kosher salt, and some sugar.

I trimmed and reserved the fat from about a pound of boneless shortribs:


And then coated them in the root beer cure:


I covered the meat with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, I rinsed off the cure under cold running water:



Then, I put the meat, along with some veal stock, into a sous vide bag and cooked them at 88C/190F for five hours.


In the afternoon, I got started on the rest of the dish.  To make the root beer sauce, I cooked some fennel and the beef shortrib fat and trimmings in a little canola oil:


I cooked that for about five minutes, and then added some molasses, sherry vinegar, juniper berries, and peppercorns to the pot and cooked all that until the molasses and sherry vinegar had reduced by two-thirds and was sryupy (took about 20 minutes).  While that was cooking, I boiled and then steeped sassafras root in 75g of water, which made a lovely sort of tea.  I strained the sassafras root out, and added the liquid to the pan of other ingredients.  Lastly, I added some veal stock, and just simmered the sauce for about a half hour, 40 minutes.


I poured it through a fine-mesh strainer into a smaller pan and continued to slowly reduce the liquid until it coated the back of a spoon.



While all the simmering and reducing of the sauce was going on, I prepped the salsify.


Salsify is a root vegetable, sometimes referred to as the "oyster plant" -- because it's supposed to have a faint oyster-like taste.  Which, I'll be honest, I didn't taste or recognize.  Salsify is available from mid-fall through early spring, and here in the DC area, you can find it at Wegmans (a special shout-out to Liz and Jamar at the Wegmans in Landover, MD for special ordering and setting aside what now seems like a metric ton of salsify for me to work with).  This was my first time buying and working with salsify, and I had no idea that when you peeled it, it left a sap-like residue on your hands:


Mere washing with soap and water didn't remove it, so I had to coat my hands in Goo-Gone and hope that the Consumer Product Safety Commission wasn't watching.

I put the peeled salsifies into a sous vide bag with some butter and the seeds from a vanilla bean and cooked them alongside the meat at 88C/190F for about an hour:


Also in my sous vide pleasure chamber was 250g of Yukon Gold potatoes (90 minutes at 88C/190F), which I then peeled and pressed through a tamis before adding to the blender already filled with a hot milk, sugar, salt, vanilla bean, water, and butter mixture:



Poured that through a fine-mesh strainer into a small mixing bowl before putting it into my siphon canister and discharging an NO2 cartridge.



When the meat had finished cooking, I cut it into small cubes -- okay, so they're technically not cubes; I was on a conference call during this part of the process and let my knife skills deteriorate ever-so-slighty (read: A LOT).


I also glazed some 1/4"-thin slices of fennel in water, butter, sugar, and salt:



And I sautéed the salsify spears in some oil and butter to caramelize them a bit:


I kept the beef warm (along with some prunes) in a small saucepan filled with its braising liquid.

I plated the dish, sadly, not as beautifully as it's done in the book.  I need to work on my siphon canister skills, because there was some weird air pocket thing going on, and the vanilla-potato foam splorped out in these explosive bursts that, when it hit the plate, splattered sauce and foam all over the plate, the counter, my shirt, my hair, the wall, the floors.  This was the nicest looking plate of all of them:


Presentation (which we can all agree is probably not my strong point) aside, can we talk about how freakin' GOOD THIS WAS? 

Holy mother of Smoove B, this was really, really good.  The root beeriness of it all didn't really hit until the third or fourth bite.  As I usually do with a dish like this, I tasted different components and combinations thereof for my first few bites, and then just ended up swirling everything together and tasted it that way.  Man, these flavors were perfect for the kind of weather we're having ... where it's cold, grey, lifeforce-sucking, and rainy one minute, and sunny, bright, cold, and windy the next.  The beef was so tender, and the prunes and fennel were really outstanding.  The potato-vanilla foam was a lovely cozy blanket around it all, and I really loved the salsify.  It had the texture of a cooked parsnip, but wasn't as radishy in the nose as a parsnip can sometimes be.  It was delicate, but with some heft, and everything altogether made for a very nice meal.

After we finished eating (and I smiled inside about all the plates practically licked clean), we popped the cork on some prosecco and toasted a certain Chicago Michelin three-star restaurant.  A great day and a great night, indeed.

Up Next: Something with salsify

Resources: Veal stock from my freezer; sassafrass from Monterey Bay Spice Company; star anise, fennel seed, black pepper, vanilla bean, prunes, and juniper berries from the TPSS Co-op; David's kosher salt; Domino sugar; boneless beef shortribs and canola oil from Snider's; Wholesome Sweeteners unsulfured molasses; salsify, potatoes, and fennel from Wegmans; 365 brand butter; Natural By Nature milk;

Music to Cook By: The Police; Synchronicity.  It's the strangest thing.  I was joking around with a friend of mine, where we were trying to out-insult each other, and out of nowhere, I just said, "Okay, FINE Miss Gradenko."  Which, what?  And then all I could think about on my drive home was the "Wrapped Around Your Finger" video.  And then, as I was falling asleep that night, the drum line from "Murder By Numbers" kept going through my head.  So, I needed to listen to the entire Synchronicity album to get it all out of my head.  I mean, it's not a bad thing that The Police were in my head, but I felt like Stewart Copeland was stalking me (which would also not be a bad thing because rrrraaaaoooowwwrrr, Stewart Copeland).

Read My Previous Post: "Tomatos, poatatos, beans, peas, water"

November 15, 2010

Tomatos, poatatos, beans, peas, water

My parents came for a visit yesterday and brought with them the index card on which I wrote my very first recipe (Age 6):

Souper Soup

Sounds delicious, doesn't it?

Seeing this card reminded me that my brother, Jon, and I used to play restaurant when we were little, and I remembered writing a menu for it.  More specifically, I remember removing my class photo from the pearly-glossy-cardboard frame it came in, and turning it into the menu, and hoping I wouldn't get in trouble for doing it.  After about 20 minutes of going through some boxes in the attic, I found it (Age 7; 2nd Grade):

Menu Cover
Dear Anyone With Artistic Talent, I'm so sorry....

Restruant.  Nice.

That was the cover.  Here's the inside:


At least I spelled everything correctly, but I'm cracking up over the fake-French-accent-thingy after the "t" of Parfait, and how I thought I could make it even more French-sounding by adding an extra "L" to my name.

And to all the fooderati who thought they declared bacon a hot trend, I think I had you beat.  My "restruant" was SOLD OUT of our awesome bacon all the way back in 1975.  So suck it, all you baconphiles.

*   *   *   *

November 11, 2010

Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar, Take Two

When I started this blog, I posted my rules of the road, one of which was that because I am not made of money, I would attempt each dish in the Alinea cookbook once.  Just once.  One and done.  If it failed, it failed.  Sayonara.  Peace out.  Check it off the list, and move on.

But last week's licorice cake blowout really got me down.  Instead of figuring out on my own how to adapt this recipe to eliminate the all-purpose flour, I used a gluten-free baking flour mix substitute.  I'm not gonna name names here, because it's made by a company I actually really love, but I guess the lesson I re-learned is that this specific "all-purpose baking mix" is not technically all-purpose.  And, you know what?  I knew that from the get-go and yet I still used it.  I think I just wanted to, for once in my celiac-baking life, be able to swap something out really easily and not have to think about it.  Silly me.

But if I really get to the heart of the matter, that the cake failed bothered me less than the notion that I failed.  That I failed to trust my instincts.  That I failed to use my resources wisely.  That I went from zenith to nadir by way of a few eggs and some flour... and, if I'm being honest with myself, a lack of confidence and focus.

So, I decided to pull myself up by my bootstraps and give it another go.

I decided to go back to the original sponge cake recipe for this second attempt.  It may not have been what Chef Achatz intended when he developed this recipe for the restaurant, but I wanted to make it again and see if it would work for this particular dish.

So, into the bowl of my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer went 8 eggs, 210g sugar, 5 g kosher salt, 140g grapeseed oil, and 20g Trimoline.  I combined it on high speed for about 3 minutes.  Then, I sifted and gently folded in the following dry ingredients: 20g dry licorice extract; 80g potato starch; 80g white rice flour; 40g tapioca flour; 15g xanthan gum; and 10g baking powder.

Last, but not least, I added 140g whole milk, and stirred it gently to combine everything before pouring it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet:



I baked it for 25 minutes in a 300F-degree oven, and had a hard time leaving the kitchen while it was baking, it smelled so good.  


So, instead of the cake the book's recipe called for, I now had a licorice-flavored sponge cake.  I was running low on dry licorice extract, so instead of pure licorice syrup (100g extract + 100g water), I did the remaining 25g of extract + 75g sugar +100g water to make a licorice simple syrup.

I added that to 600g of the cake, along with 250g half-and-half, 50g glucose powder, and then 6 gelatin sheets, and it came together and turned into a purée rather easily.





I pressed the purée through my tamis and spread it into an 8x8" cake pan:


I put it into the freezer overnight and finished the rest of the dish the next day.



First thing on the day's agenda?  Orange confit.  I was still floating on a cloud from smelling (and tasting!) the licorice sponge cake the day before, when the orange confit got underway.  And I gotta say: making orange confit might be my culinary Zoloft.  I don't know how I (or anyone) could be unhappy or stressed or anxious when this is simmering away in the kitchen.

And, it's incredibly easy.

Start with an orange:


Cut it into quarters and remove any seeds:


Place the orange quarters in a small saucepan with some water, bring it to a boil, let it boil for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse them with cold water.  Do this three times.  Do not complain or roll your eyes.  Just close your eyes and inhale.


After the third and final boil, return the oranges to the pan, cover them with water, add some D'Aristi Xtabentun (we'll get to that in a minute), some sugar, and bring it to a boil over medium heat.  Then, turn down the flame and let it simmer over low heat for three hours.  Try not to be mesmerized.  Try not to stay glued to the stovetop.  Try not to smile and relax.  I dare you.

So, yeah.  D'Aristi Xtabentun.  Let's review the pronunciation: duh-REE-stee eesht-uhben-TOON. Thanks to Derek Brown of The Columbia Room for clarifying that for me.


D'Aristi Xtabentun is a Mayan liqueur made in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and is named for the small Xtabentun flowers from which the local bees get their nectar.  It's a fermeted honey and anise liqueur, and it is, for me, a kind of cure-all.  Taken straight, it's quite good, though sometimes a little sweet, but has come in handy when I've felt like a cold was coming on, or had a scratchy throat.  Just an ounce or less of this in a giant mug of coffee or tea, for me, wards off "the icks" -- though y'all know I'm not a doctor or anything so don't do anything stupid like drink this instead of, oh I dunno, going to chemo/dialysis/getting a flu shot/whatever.

When added to the water and sugar the oranges were simmering in, it broadened what already was sweet and citrusy, adding a sense of warmth and comfort (if that makes any sense).

After three hours simmering, the oranges looked like this:


And when you stick your face into the pan to smell them, you might just have a Snuffles-like reaction, like I wanted to.  The orange, combined with the D'Artisti Xtabentun... my, oh my.

Moving on....

I let the oranges cool to room temperature, and then cut them into 1/4" dice, which you'll see in the final plating photo.

The next thing I needed to do was make the muscovado candy.  This is pretty straightforward: water, sugar, yellow pectin, and citric acid...


Bring it to a boil, then add Trimoline, glucose, and muscovado sugar, and continue boiling until it reaches 225F degrees:


I poured it into a clear glass baking dish I'd sprayed with Pam to let it set at room temperature, before cutting a few small dices of it then refrigerating it until I needed the candy for plating:



The very last step is to make the spun sugar.  I was really looking forward to this because the photo of this dessert in the book is so strikingly pretty -- and I knew mine wouldn't look the same, but I was hoping I could, at the very least, not screw up heating isomalt to 325F degrees, and then whisking it across two saucepan handles.








I took the cake purée out of the freezer and let it get a little closer to room temperature before cutting out small pieces of it with a 7/8" round cutter.  I put a piece of the cake on a spoon, topped it with an anise hyssop leaf, then placed a piece of orange confit and a piece of muscovado candy next to it, and topped the whole thing with a bedraggled nest of spun sugar:




Spoon in the mouth, and bite.  And chew.  And feel all the flavors come together.  Now, let me get this out of the way first: I wasn't thrilled with the texture of the cake purée and wished I'd upped the licorice extract amount because it wasn't anise-y enough for me.  That said, the cake with the sugar candy, crunchy spun sugar, and the orange confit?  Very, very nice.  I liked the flavor profile of this bite, but it needed to be more concentrated and amplified.  And that's all my doing that it wasn't.

But, I mastered the cake (wahoo!), and made spun sugar (which was a hell of a lot of fun to do).  And? I've got a lovely little pot of leftover orange confit in the fridge which I think will go quite nicely with the pork tenderloin I just bought to make for dinner.

Up Next: I bought 15 pounds of salsify this week, so chances are you'll see a salsify dish (or three) coming your way very soon.

Resources: Eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; flours from Bob's Red Mill; Domino sugar; Trimoline, isomalt, yellow pectin, and glucose from L'Epicerie; Monini grapeseed oil; Natural by Nature half-and-half and milk; King Arthur Flour gelatin sheets; licorice extract from HerbalRemedies.com; orange from Whole Foods; D'Aristi Xtabentun from DrinkUpNY.com; muscovade sugar from Yes! Organic Market; anise hyssop leaves from the plant on my front stoop.

Music to Cook By: Robbie Williams; The Ego Has Landed.  This album takes me back to a very specific beach house with some very specific people and some very specific circumstances involving no sleep, drunken Yahtzee, and a bright full moon rising over the ocean.  And I very much needed to be reminded of that time this week.  :)

Read My Previous Post: Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar, Take One

November 03, 2010

Re-posting: Pheasant, shallot, cider, burning oak leaves

Chef Achatz was on Martha Stewart this morning, and demonstrated how to make this dish.  So, I thought I'd take this opportunity to repost my original recounting of making this amazing bite of food ... and encourage you to give it a try. 


Original Post Date: November 9, 2009

Last year at about this time, Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas' two sons (then five-and-a-half and nine years old) made this dish in response to two gals from the Chicago Reader trying to make the dish and not faring all too well.  Nick posted a video of it on YouTube, and it's fantastic.

Back then, I was only a few weeks into this project and wasn't quite ready to tackle this dish, but I remember thinking, if two adorable little pipsqueaks could make this dish with such great ease, I'm sure I can.  And then, a few months later, I did a different dish featuring something gelatinous, battered, and deep-fried, with a creative skewer, and we all remember how well that turned out.



Ah yes, the Sweet Potato, brown sugar, bourbon, blah blah blah Cockup of 2009.  Ugh.  Give me a minute to re-suppress that memory. Okay.  Whew.  That feels better.

I hoped with every molecule of my being that the same thing wouldn't happen again, because I didn't want to be pwned by the Kokonas Kids.  Humiliating!

Cross your fingers.

Because the cider gel needed time to set, and because if I screwed it up, I wanted a second chance at making it, that's the first thing I worked on.  I peeled and cored three medium-sized Granny Smith apples, and put them in a saucepan with cider, salt, and agar agar, and brought it all to a simmer.


I simmered it over medium heat for about 15-20 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so.


I transferred this mixture to the blender, and blended it until it was completely smooth.  I strained it through a chinois into a plastic wrap-lined 4x4" Rubbermaid storage container (it was the closest thing I had to a 4x6" pan) and let it set for 2 hours in the refrigerator.


Next, I roasted the shallots.  Just like the Kokonas Kids (and papa), I've never seen a grey shallot, so I just used regular ones.  I tossed them with grapeseed oil and salt and put them in a shallow, oven-safe saute pan in the oven for an hour.




Probably coulda just done them in foil with the oil and the salt, but dadgumit, I was gonna follow exactly what the book said to do.  While the shallots roasted, I prepped the pheasant.  The recipe calls for a bone-in pheasant breast, which I suppose I could've ordered from D'Artagnan or Fossil Farms, but my local Asian grocery store carries MacFarlane pheasant every fall, so I bought a whole one and broke it down myself.  It's amazing what one can do with a pair of kitchen shears and a little practice on a whole chicken every few weeks:





I saved the rest of the carcass in the freezer -- I'll roast the legs and then make stock out of the bones later this week.

I put the breast (with skin on) in a Ziploc bag with butter, thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper, and squeezed out as much air as I could.


I cooked it en sous vide using my immersion circulator at 160F/71C for 25 minutes, then plunged the bag into an ice-water bath for 20 minutes to halt the cooking process.




I removed the pheasant breast from the bag and cut it into 1x1" cubes, which I covered with a damp paper towel and stored in the fridge until I was ready to finish the dish.





By this time, the shallots had cooled off enough for me to remove their outer skin. They seemed a bit soft to me when I unwrapped them, so I stored them whole in a plastic container in the fridge and let them cool a bit more before I cut them for skewering.



I have a big, hundred-year-old pin oak tree in my back yard.  It provides an amazing amount of shade in the summer, and an amazing amount of acorns that bonk you on the head in the fall.


Trouble is, this oak tree's leaves stay green as they dry, and almost overnight turn brown before falling to the ground.  So, while I wish I had lovely yellow, orange, or red leaves to work with, I made do with nearly-dried-out-and-days-away-from-turning-brown leaves:



I whittled the ends with a vegetable peeler:



Time to finish the dish.

Onto the end of each skewer went a bit of shallot, then a cider gel cube, then a pheasant cube:


I seasoned it with salt and pepper:


Next, I dredged each skewer with rice flour, tapping off the excess:


Then, I dunked it into a gluten-free tempura batter (recipe at the end of the post, if you're interested):


Into a pot of 375F-degree canola oil:


And onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain:



They didn't leak, fall apart, explode, or render themselves a county fair fried reject.  And, I figured out how to make them with alternate flours, sans gluten!  ALL BY MY DAMN SELF.

YES!!  (I'm doin' the Ickey Shuffle again)

At the restaurant, courses like this one are typically served in the Crucial Detail squid service piece, but I laid mine gently on a serving platter and brought them back outside, so we could eat under the very tree that provided the skewers.


One by one, I held each skewer, lit the edges of the leaves on fire, then blew them out, creating the most fragrant smoke:


In between them draining on the paper towels and my re-plating them and bringing them outside, they had about 3 or 4 minutes to cool, so I knew they wouldn't be too hot or burn our mouths when we ate them.

I held my skewer in my right hand with the leaves still smoking and the tempura-battered piece dangling slightly above my mouth, and at it all in one bite.

You guys?  These were soooooo good.  Eye-closing, deep breath inhaling-ly good.  Pheasant isn't as game-y as I thought it might be.  It's a little more dense than chicken, and while I thought it might taste a little like squab, it didn't at all.  It was juicy and delicious, and had a really nice texture.  The cider gel had loosened up quite a bit inside, so that it surrounded the pheasant and the shallot, and eating the piece in one big bite was the way to go.  Pheasant, shallot, apple.  Smoke.  Crisp.  Salt.  Sweet.  I would totally make this again.  Everything was so flavorful and so fragrant -- you could taste each element on its own as you chewed, but together, it was really incredible.

It wasn't until after we'd eaten them and talked about how I made them that my friend, Linda, wondered how I could eat anything tempura-battered because didn't that have gluten in it?  She didn't know I'd made a gluten-free tempura batter.  Couldn't taste the difference.

We even had a clean-plate moment when we were done:


To make Gluten-free tempura batter:

Dry tempura base: 150g (5.3 oz.) white rice flour, 150g (5.3 oz.) tapioca starch, 35g (1.2 oz.) baking powder, 45g (1.2 oz.) cornstarch.  Stir together in large mixing bowl.

Gently fold in 198g (7 oz.) very cold sparkling water.

-- This recipe makes more than you will need for this particular dish, but these are the ratios that work for gluten-free tempura batter, so scale according to your specific needs.


Up Next: Apple, horseradish, celery juice and leaves

Resources: Pheasant, shallots, grape seed oil, and apples from HMart in Wheaton, MD; David's kosher salt; thyme from my garden; bay leaf and pepper from TPSS Co-op; 365 butter; apple cider from Whole Foods; agar agar from L'Epicerie; Bob's Red Mill white rice flour; EnerG tapioca starch; Poland Spring sparkling water; Clabber Girl cornstarch and baking powder.

Music to Cook By: Bat For Lashes; Fur and Gold.  For a long time, I didn't get the appeal of Bat For Lashes.  I'd only heard a few of her songs, and wasn't drawn in at all.  And then, I spent an afternoon cooking and listening to my iPod on shuffle, and her single "Daniel" popped up (I forgot I had downloaded it), and I loved it.  So, I went back and listened to more of her music, and really started to like it.  Fur and Gold is her debut album, but I'm also enjoying her latest release, Two Suns.  Her voice and her style reminds me of Kate Bush with a little Annie Lennox thrown in there, and a slightly more percussive tone.

Read My Previous Post: Duck, pumpkin, banana, Thai aromatics

November 01, 2010

Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar

I was so excited to make this dish.  I wanted to tell you all about how, when I worked for Discovery Channel in the late 1990s, no matter where I traveled the world I relished the familiar sweet, salty, and punch-you-in-the-sinuses taste of the black licorice at this one little kiosk in the Frankfurt Airport.  How the anise hyssop plant on my front stoop is still blossoming and sprouting new leaves.  How stoked I was about making orange confit.  How nervous I was to make the beautiful, delicate, and intricate spun sugar nests to sit atop this sweet, little bite.

I wanted to keep riding the wave of my sponge cake success, and be able to share with you how marvelously I deglutenized yet another fine-dining, avant-garde dessert.

I hoped to be able to show you how you cream an egg, egg yolks, butter, and sugar...




... then add flour, cornstarch, and dry licorice extract to make the most amazing batter:


... which you bake for a little over an hour until it's spongy and light golden brown.....  and how when it's baking you walk out the front door every 10 minutes so you can relish how wonderful the house smells when you walk back in...



... but what I hadn't counted on is that as it cooled, it hardened.  So much so that I nearly broke a molar as I sampled a little taste of it.

That was the first sign that, perhaps, this dessert was not going to go the way I'd planned.

Regardless, I forged ahead and continued to follow the book's instructions, which was to break that cake into pieces (using a very sharp knife) and put them into a saucepan with some half-and-half, licorice syrup, and glucose powder:



The goal was to reliquify the cake enough so that it became a purée, which you then freeze and cut into small pieces.  Only, no matter how much I stirred it and broke apart those cake pieces into the liquid, it woudn't get close to a purée.



I added more half-and-half, and then some more licorice syrup... thinking that maybe all it needed was a little more liquid (because apparently I think I know more than Chef Achatz does about his own dishes ::::eye roll::::), that maybe my scale was off (it's not), or that I misread the instructions (I didn't), or that the licorice extract was expired (nope), or that the moon was rising in Mercury (I have no idea what that even means).

And even after all that, all I ended up with was this:

... which is not even close to being purée-like.  Despite that fact, I added the six soaked gelatin sheets, and then even tried pushing some of it through a chinois just like the book suggested.  And, it was awful.  Nothing happened.  It just wouldn't work.  It was the texture and consistency of wet drywall (which, I know, doesn't really make sense and is sort of an oxymoron, but whatever).  It was just bad.  And wrong.


I threw it all away.

Without the cake base, there was no need to do the orange confit, the muscovado candy, or the spun sugar (which I was soooo looking forward to).  So, I put all those ingredients back into the pantry and the fridge.

I cleaned the kitchen, felt completely dejected, and was in a rotten mood.  Like, not even the Real Housewives or the Kardashians could snap me out of it.  I KNOW.  I was not smiles times.

I fell back onto the couch, lifted the lid of my laptop, and sent an email to my friends, Holly and Linda -- the friends who are also neighbors, who have eaten everything I've cooked for this blog (and the other one) -- to tell them the evening's tasting was canceled "because this dessert is broken."

Their response ran the gamut of "Noooooooooo!!!!" and "That's never happened to you before!!!" to "Stupid recipe" to "Sponge cake karma."  Which is exactly why I love them.

So, I'm ordering more licorice extract and trying this again, because I should be able to do this and do it well, damn it.  I'm pretty sure that what I used as my gluten-free substitution for all-purpose flour is what caused the problem, so I'm gonna tinker with my own formulas and see if I can make this work.

You guys, I have learned so much from this cookbook, and have come so far in my gluten-free baking in the past two years, that I should be able to make this.  It might not be perfect, but it could be pretty freakin' fantastic. 

So, stay tuned.... it's time for a do-over.

Alinea Book


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


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