June 27, 2011

Sunday Dinner (or, English peas, tofu, ham, pillow of lavender air)

I hate the Sunday night blues. 

You know what I mean.  That wee sense of dread that sets in, oh, at about 4 or 5 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, when you realize your weekend is coming to an end and you have to work the next day.  You didn't get all your errands done.  There wasn't enough time to finish the book you're reading. You really don't want the next week to begin because it's summer winter whenever, and you just want a little more down time because you aren't in the mood to be a worker bee the next day.

The only remedy I know of to cure the Sunday night blues is to have friends over for an early dinner.  Good music, good wine, great food, and low expectations.  Nothing fancy.  Easy clean-up.  Fun music.  Just a little marker in the weekend to stave off the blahs for a few hours.  By the time you finish eating, clear the table, and load the dishwasher, it's nearly time to head to bed. 

After the Saturday I had, Sunday dinner was the only way I could redeem myself.

So, what happened Saturday? 

Soy milk pustules tumors awfulness!


You guys, I did everything by the book.  Bought the dried soybeans, soaked the soybeans overnight, drained and blended the soybeans with water, heated the now-soymilk, skimmed the foam off the soymilk, strained the soymilk, reheated the soymilk, let the skin form over the soymilk, lifted the skins from the soymilk, let the skins dry then formed them into clumps... and then... they just got all coagulated and smelled weird, and just did not look or feel or seem even remotely close to anything they needed to be.  The skins (before piling them up) were supposed to dry "in a few hours or overnight."  After 18 hours, they were still pretty wet, and they smelled strange.  Add to that the fact that I was supposed to have five times the soy milk left over than I actually did, so I couldn't even move forward with the rest of the dish without starting all over again by soaking more soybeans for 8 hours... and I just... well...

So, I made the executive decision to adapt this into something else.  Didn't want all my other ingredients to go to waste.  I'm kinda bummed about it (I even bought nigari when I was in New York last week so I could make my own tofu; alas, another time), but I am nothing if not resourceful, and turned it into a whole Sunday dinner menu I'm still full from eating.

On Sunday morning, I texted my neighbors and told them instead of a Sunday afternoon tasting, they were invited to dinner.  I'd make something sort of resembling this dish as part of it, and figure out the rest.

I went to the farmers' market and picked up two chickens and some sausages (basil-garlic-beef, and spicy Italian veal).  I roasted the chickens and grilled the sausages.  Protein?  Done and done.  I whipped up a summer salad of grilled Romaine lettuce (chiffonade), sweet white corn, tomato, shallot, zucchini, green beans, yellow wax beans, and yellow squash, with a cumin vinaigrette.  I also roasted asparagus in olive oil, salt, and pepper.

And, I re-fashioned this Alinea dish into a kind of bruschetta.

I sliced an Against the Grain gluten-free baguette on the diagonal, rubbed both sides with olive oil, and toasted them under the broiler in the oven.  Then, I slathered each slice of bread with gooseberry sauce (had some in the freezer; left over from this dish) and yuzu mayonnaise (added a few splishes of yuzu juice to homemade mayo).  Then, I topped them with a buttery mixture of blanched English peas (from the farmer's market), diced ham, and lavender-infused tofu.  I bought soft, silken tofu from the local co-op in town, heated it to break it down to small crumbles resembling cottage cheese, and cooked it for a bit with dried lavender wrapped in cheese cloth.  I removed the lavender sachet and added the ham and peas and some butter to pull it all together.  Atop that on the bread?  Pea shoot leaves and lavender salt:


And you know what?  It was f-ing AWESOME.  Even the kids (who, this winter, were not really loving my adventurous cooking) gobbled this up.  One of them said (with his mouth full), "This bread thing is REALLY GOOD."  They wanted more.

So, there you have it.  My first foray back into the kitchen after a nearly month-long break and I CAN'T EVEN MAKE SOYMILK.  But I can whip up a dinner party with just a few hours' notice and adapt the heck out of an Alinea dish as part of it.

Not too shabby.

You might recall that in the original version of this dish, there's a pillow filled with lavender air the plate is set atop so the scent is release as you're eating.  I've experienced that at Alinea, and it is really quite lovely.  As for me doing it here at home?  Well, honestly, it was never gonna happen.  First, I cannot sew. And when I priced the pillow shams I could use, I just thought my money was better spent on ingredents.  Second, I don't want to buy a vaporizer.  And, third?  Well, there is no third thing; it just felt odd leaving it at two.

*   *   *   *   *

As far as my health goes, I want to thank you all so, so much for your sweet comments in the previous post, and for your lovely emails and Tweets.  You guys just make a girl get all smooshy inside.

Here's the latest health news on this front: in the grand scheme of life, I am fine.  I am not sick.  I am not allergic to anything else, nor do I have any new autoimmune issues.  That's the good news.  What kind of sucks is that my body now doesn't really know how to process dairy and fruit.  Could be celiac-related, but probably not.  No one knows.  Could be permanent, also might be temporary.  Could be only when it's the two of them together, or maybe as individual items.  Still trying to figure it all out.  Again... not allergic.  It's more of a metabolic/digestive/bacterial thing.  Either separately or together, in my body, casein (the protein in dairy) and fructose (natural fruit sugar) attacks the good bacteria in my gut and also suppresses leptin (a protein hormone in the human body that helps regulate our metabolism and determining what gets converted into energy).  That's what we know now.  That might change, or it might be the final landing point.

After a few weeks of what seemed like endless tests and adjustments to an elimination diet, my bloodwork is now back to normal and I feel really, really good.  Everything is working again; I'm sleeping 7, 8 hours a night, the headaches are gone, I have really good energy during the day, and I no longer feel like I'm carrying a 70-pound tumor in my abdomen and around my lower back (which is what made me go down this rabbit hole in the first place).

So essentially, at every meal, my plate is now 3/4 vegetables and 1/4 protein.  No fruit, no dairy, and limited (gluten-free) grains.  At the beginning of all this, the mere notion that I might have to completely eliminate fruit and dairy from my diet seemed traumatic, but it's actually a lot easier than it sounds.  And, it's not like I have to completely eliminate it.  I will not die from eating a few blackberries.  A bit of milk or cream in my coffee will not land me in the ICU.  The world will not end if I eat a peach (Best Fruit in the World™).  However, having those things every day is just not something I can do anymore (at least for the time being), and that's okay with me.

When you look at the big picture, I'd say that 80% of what I eat is food that I cook here at home, so when I go out, it'll be okay if I have a little dairy or fruit.  So, it all ends up working itself out.  But, it was really frustrating getting there.  I really thought I had a 70-pound tumor (and thus, my own reality show contract) or was losing my mind.  Or both.  Seriously.

But again, thank you for your sweet notes and check-ins.  You guys are just the cat's pajamas.

Up Next:  Pork Cheek, or one of the remaining Chocolate dishes

Resources: Against the Grain baguette from Whole Foods; tofu from the TPSS Co-op; everything else from the Takoma Park and 14th and U Streets farmers' markets.

Music to Cook By: DO NOT LAUGH AT ME but I am toooooooooootally into the Seals & Crofts Pandora channel.  It's got that AM Gold feel, and it's simply fantastic. [stop laughing]  [dude]  [I mean it] [no really, I SAID I MEAN IT]

Read My Previous Post: What I've Learned So Far...

May 02, 2011

Leftovers: Linguine with mushroom purée


I used the leftover mushroom purée and mushroom dice from the "Porcini, cherry, toasted garlic, almond" dish in my dinner the other night.

I took a handful of Bionaturae gluten-free linguine and laid it on a baking sheet, which I put into a 375F-degree oven for 8 minutes.  As it roasts, the pasta gets more golden and slightly brown in some spots, and the heat just brings out a kind of nutty flavor to it.  Well, maybe not nutty... but sort of.  Yeah, I'm sticking with nutty.  And heartier.  And, roastier.  I don't know how else to explain it.  It deepens the flavor, for sure.  Bionaturae is a really great brand of gluten-free pasta, and I really don't buy any other kind.  It's the closest I've ever tasted to "normal" pasta, and it holds up well in both hot and cold pasta preparations.

So, why roast the pasta?  I got the idea from Frank Ruta, owner and chef of Palena.  I went to Palena a few weeks ago for a nose-to-tail beef tasting menu, and he did this oxtail and cheek ragout that, quite literally, has been the best thing I've eaten so far this year.  My dining companions got to spoon theirs over roasted vermicelli (which they all thought was much more delicious than regular pasta).  I ate mine senza pasta, but texted myself a reminder to roast some dried pasta to see what it tasted like.

I finally did it, and it's goooooooood.

So, while the linguine was roasting (again, you just do it plain -- no oil or anything), I brought a pot of water to a boil.  While I boiled the pasta, I reheated the leftover mushroom purée and mushroom dice in a saucepan on the stove.  I added a little bit of olive oil to stretch it a bit, then when the pasta was done, I strained it and tossed it into the pan with the mushroom goodness.

Poured it all into a bowl, shaved some parm-reg on top, and dug in.  After my first bite, it struck me that I had some leftover ham powder, as well.  So, I dashed a bit of that on top, and it made my dinner even better.  A glass of Etude pinot noir rosé rounded it all out quite nicely.

And there you have it.  The pleasures and benefits of doing this blog are with me in my everyday eating.  They can be in yours, too. 

*  *  *  *  *

So, I got a nice surprise on Twitter the other day: I was nominated for Saveur's Best Cook-Through Blog.  Such an honor, and a pleasure to be nominated in the same category alongside my friends Ryan, Clay, and Zach.  So, click on the image below if you'd like to vote for me.  You'll have to register for a Saveur account (if you don't already have one), but it's free and takes about 20 seconds to do. Voting is open until May 12.

There are so many amazing, fun, wonderful people nominated in all the categories that just being together with them already feels like winning, you know?  Thanks, in advance, for your vote (if you vote for me).  Check out the other categories, too.  I think you'll find some great new blogs to check out -- some really fantastic cooking and writing out there right now.  Good luck, everyone!

*  *  *  *  *

I'm covering the James Beard Awards on Monday, May 9 -- this year, for The Washington Post.  (squeeeeeee!!!!)  I'll let you know when and where you can read the updates -- probably some of it via Twitter, and some on the Post's website.  More details as we figure them out.  Really looking forward to being in New York, and seeing some of my favorite chefs.  Happiness.

*  *  *  *  *

And, thank you for all your kinds words about my previous post.  You guys are the best.  I mean it.

January 24, 2011

Share Our Strength Close-out, and an Alinea Casserole (oh yeah, I went there)

First things first; the numbers are in: you donated $19,656 to Share Our Strength.  THANK YOU!  I am humbled by your generosity, and incredibly grateful for your support of this cause.  You know, there's so much talk in the news these days about the need for civil discourse in politics coupled with a plea for toning down the caustic rhetoric in Washington, and I'm here to tell you -- as someone who works in the trenches -- that things in the political arena are the same as ever, and actually starting to get worse.  But what you guys did?  It makes me really hopeful about humanity in general, not to mention reaffirms my belief that great people do great things and THAT is what makes this world go around.  Seriously, thank you.  I'm honored to know you all.

All the winners of the giveaways have been notified, confirmed, and their goodies are on the way.

Everyone give a big round of applause (and a jealous side-eye, because I know you want to) to Tom Norwood, the winner of dinner for four at Alinea.  Tom and his fiancée are taking two of their friends to dinner, and I can't wait to hear all about it.

*   *   *   *   *

Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas wrote a(nother) book.  It's called Life, on the Line, and it's due out March 3rd.  You can pre-order it on Amazon, and you can check out the website for the book, which has some great photos, interviews, and excerpts from some of the chapters.  I can't wait for you to read it when it comes out.  I'll be giving away a few copies here on the site in March, so stay tuned.

*   *   *   *   *

Earlier I mentioned how not civil politics is these days.  I've lived and worked in Washington for nearly a quarter-century, and this is the most contentious, testy, frustrating, and head-banging-against-desk-ing it's ever been.  My clients are fantastic, and working with them is intensely rewarding.  However, the climate in which we have to work is so much more challenging and vexing than it's ever been -- this applies to both sides of the aisle -- and at the end of every single day, I'm exhausted. 

To top it off, it's January... which is a hard food month for me.  I love comfort food, but I'm tired of soup.  I love root vegetables, but if I see another potato, turnip, beet, or squash, I'm going to scream.  I really, really miss my January favorites pre-celiac: grilled-cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and lasagne.  Yes, I can make all these things with gluten-free ingredients, but trust me: they don't and will never taste as good as the real thing.

So, a week or so ago, to get myself out of this work and food funk, I gloomily and grumpily opened the Alinea cookbook to the next recipe I'd planned to do for the blog: Salsify, smoked salmon, dill, caper.

Here are the components of the dish: salsify, olive oil, picholine olives, bread crumbs, parsley, lemon, smoked salmon, capers, ginger, red onion, garlic, dill, radish.  There's a lot of powder making, dehydrating, emulsifying... things I already know how to do, so I knew it wouldn't be difficult to make this dish exactly as it is in the book.

And yet, I couldn't do it.  I wasn't feeling it.  I wanted something different.  Something with many of those ingredients, but not. that. dish.  And to make matters worse, I've been turned off by smoked salmon lately.  It's too overpowering, and I just don't enjoy the flavor of it anymore.  That might change, of course, but for right now, the last thing I wanted was to eat smoked salmon. 

So, I opened the fridge, freezer, and pantry, and pulled out salsify, olive oil, picholine olives, gluten-free bread crumbs, parsley, lemon, capers, red onion, garlic, dill, and radishes.  Then, I saw a bag of wild rice on the shelf.  And leftover Vasterbotten cheese from the Noma dish I made in the cheese drawer in the fidge.  And a whole chicken in the freezer.  And all of a sudden, it hit me: I was going to make a casserole.

My friend, David Hagedorn, wrote about his newfound love and acceptance of casseroles in a recent Washington Post piece, and I saved that article because I wanted to try some of his ideas.  So, I quickly scanned his recipes to figure out my ratios, and started chopping, sauteeing, roasting, and baking, and lo, a casserole was born:



I'm not much for proper recipe writing, so here's a rundown of what I did:

Into a mixing bowl went:

2 cloves of garlic, minced

3 C cooked wild rice

Half a red onion, diced and caramelized

Roasted chicken pulled off the bone (white and dark meat), chopped/shredded

8 salsifies, peeled, sliced, roasted w/ olive oil and salt

Small handful of capers

10 Picholine olives, pitted and chopped

Fresh parsley, chopped

Fresh dill, chopped

A Vasterbotten cheese sauce (butter and rice flour for the roux, then the cheese and some milk)

Salt and pepper to taste

I folded all the ingredients together, then gently pressed them into the casserole dish, topping them with butter-soaked gluten-free tortilla bread crumbs.

Baked it in a 375F-degree oven for about 20-25 minutes.

I put some fresh dill and a squeeze of lemon atop my serving before digging in.


It completely and totally hit the spot, and cheered me up rather unexpectedly.  I'm glad I went with chicken instead of smoked salmon, and think you could maybe even make this with canned salmon (old school!) or maybe some fresh arctic char as the protein and it would be really good.

I've since taken all the leftovers and put them in single-serving containers in the freezer.  That way, when I leave early in the morning for a marathon day of meetings, I can move a container of it from the freezer to the fridge to thaw, and then when I get home, warm it in the oven while I take the dog out for a quick walk when I get home.

Wait.  What did I just say about a dog?

Some of you might remember Jake.  I still miss that little guy.

But last week, a new little guy found his way into my home. 

Meet Dexter (we call him Dex, or Dexy, because helllooooo, Dexy's Midnight Runners):


So, to recap:

You guys are awesome.

I adapted a recipe from one of the world's greatest restaurants and turned it into a freakin' casserole.

My dog is cute.

The end.


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

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

May 24, 2010

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

Back injuries suck.

So does being overwhelmed with work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oregano leaves: In my garden; check.

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

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

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

Red wine-braised cabbage

Roasted asparagus

Mashed Yukon gold potatoes

Greek salad

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

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

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



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

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

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


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



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


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


Peace out, date compote.  Was nice knowing you.

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

Next thing I did was prepare the lamb loins:


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





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



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

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


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

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


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

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

Here's what 2g looks like:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


And we sat down to a lovely meal:



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

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

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

What did YOU make this weekend?

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

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

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

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

March 15, 2010

Alinea at Home: Comfort Food (Bison, braised pistachios, potato, sweet spices)

I bought my house just over twelve years ago, and I remember my first night here as clearly as if it were yesterday.  I didn't sleep at all -- partly because I was sleeping somewhere new, and that meant new smells, new sounds, and just a whole new feel... not to mention it was the first major investment I'd ever made, and those numbers on the closing sheet leapt from the page into the worry area of my brain and cascaded down the inside of my eyelids like a cruel hybrid of Tetris and The Matrix as I tried to fall asleep.

The second night in my house, it rained... and the sound of that hard pouring rain completely washed away the fear of owning a home. It washed away the digital shower of numbers in my brain, the weird sounds and smells, and it calmed me completely. I've always loved the sound of rain -- and, there's something about the way it sounds when it lands on my roof, or hits the muddy ground or the leaves of my hydrangea bushes just outside the living room window.

We had quite a lovely sunny, warm streak of weather last week, which melted all the snow, but for the past three days, it's done nothing but rain. Dreary, gray skies, and a steady ploploploplopdropdripdripdrop all day and all night. I love it. I loved it even more because it had been a week where that kind of soothing noise was very much needed... one of those weeks where I worked from the minute I woke up until my head hit the pillow at night.

My phone rang non-stop and email poured in. There were new clients to pitch, brainstorms to be had, things to write, conference calls to conduct, deadlines to meet, projects to deliver. Some things took off beautifully while others stalled or got postponed or rushed or canceled or left in limboland. And while I was working, I kept noticing things around the house that needed to be done. Errands to be run. Pet projects I want to start. Things I want to cook. Photos to organize. Things I want to write. People I want to talk to. Books I want to read. Magazines I want to peruse. Friends and family I want to see.

Working from home is usually something I love and am really grateful for. But last week, I wished I had a job and an office I could leave in the evening so that work was work and home was home.

I didn't sleep well at all last week, because my brain was still trying to work while I was trying to sleep. And when it wasn't my own thoughts waking me up in a cold sweat, it was the herd of ten or eleven deer that, every night, makes their way from the woods next to my house, through my front yard, over the garden wall just below my bedroom window (they huff and snort, and thonk and clack their hooves on the wall as they leap over), and meander around my neighbor's garden just outside the other bedroom window.

Again, grateful for the work and the business I've built over the past nine years, but I was more physically and mentally drained by Friday afternoon than I've been in a long, long time. I knew I needed to shut off that part of my brain for just two days (something I rarely allow myself do). So, late Friday afternoon, I went across the street to my friend Linda's house to sit by the fire with a glass of wine, many snacks, and played a mean game of cards with my friends.

On Saturday, I spent a good part of the day reading my friend, Tara's book, The Butcher and the Vegetarian.  I loved the book because it "sounds" just like Tea when she talks.  I'd also recently re-read my dear friend, Laurie's book, Saving Henry.  Both books are so personal and so beautifully written, and yet both books also deal with profound struggle on so many levels. Throughout, both Tea and Laurie maintain a sense of hope and courage and a fierce determination I admire.

I spent a lot of time Saturday afternoon thinking about Tara and Laurie and how their stories weighed heavily on my heart, and that, heaped onto my already-exhausted self, made me sorely in need of some serious comfort food.

I've written quite a bit about my love of cooking for others.  I love to show people how I feel about them by cooking for them.  But it's not often enough that I care about myself that way.  Yes, I cook nearly every day for myself, and yes, I actually do eat at my dining room table many nights.  But, it had been a very long time since I'd spent an hour or so in the kitchen making something just for me.

I needed to cook something that was comforting, yet wouldn't make me feel like crap three hours later as it sat there in my stomach like a lump (hey there, mac and cheese) (also, bag of Swedish fish).  I didn't want to slap anything together in a hurry.  I wanted to take my time and really pay attention to what I was doing.

So, I adapted the Bison, braised pistachios, potatoes, sweet spices dish.  There was nothing difficult about making the dish as it was in the book.  I'd already bought all the ingredients and was ready to let 'er rip.  But, I decided to adapt it because I wanted something that felt like dinner, not a tasting menu item, and I wanted it to taste like something that was mine, only better.


In addition to the bison tenderloin thawing in the fridge for this dish, I'd already begun to dry-age a six-ounce bison tenderloin in the fridge, thinking I'd eat it Sunday night. I love prepping meat this way -- I rinse it, thoroughly dry it, salt it, and stick it on a plate for 4 or 5 days in the fridge, uncovered.  It gets all hard and tough on the outside, which gives it a lovely sear when you put it in the pan, and it cooks more evenly.

I poured a little canola oil into a stainless-steel saute pan, heated it on medium for about 3 minutes, then placed the bison tenderloin in the pan, searing it on all sides (took about 10 minutes).  Then, I put it (still in the pan) in a 450-degree oven for 5-7 minutes.

I made mashed potatoes (my own personal favorite comfort food) by boiling some Yukon Golds, then mashing them (skins on) in the Kitchen Aid mixer, along with some whole milk, unsalted butter, and sea salt.  No measurements. I've been making mashed potatoes for so long, I do it completely unconsciously now, and they're always perfect.

I also sauteed some Swiss chard with carrots, shallots, and pistachios in butter and olive oil, along with some curry powder (dash), cinnamon (pinch), thyme (sprig), allspice (trace amount), salt, and pepper. Oh, I wish you all could've been in my kitchen to smell this as it came together.


I poured a glass of water and a glass of Malbec, and sat and ate that dinner at my table in the dining room... no music... no television... no books or magazines.  Just me, my dinner, and the sound of the rain on the roof.



The bison was cooked a perfect medium-rare.  So flavorful and robust, without being overly rich or heavy.  And let me tell you -- the tiny amounts of spices I put in that vegetable dish blended so beautifully with the carrots, shallots, and chard, and the pistachios were so tender, they fit right in, texturally.  This dinner had all the elements of the original dish in the book, just done a little differently.

As I cleared the table and started loading the dishwasher, my friend, Chris, called to see if I wanted to grab a drink or see a movie.  I'd bought a bottle of Caol Ila I hadn't yet opened, so I told him to come over for some scotch and a movie.  It was the perfect way to end the evening.

Sunday morning came, and for the first time in a long time, the whole daylight-saving-losing-an-hour-of-sleep-thing didn't bother me.  I credit dinner the night before.  I slept really well and loved the feel of the rain on my messy morning hair as I plodded in my new slippers* down the front sidewalk to pick up the New York Times from the edge of the yard.  I made a pot of coffee as I got started on the crossword puzzle (which I'm now able to do every day of the week without looking up any of the clues -- one of those life list goals.  I know.  NERD.).

I emptied the dishwasher and got ready for the day.  I felt really good about the dinner the night before, but still felt like I needed to be taken care of a bit more.  This week is going to be as mentally draining as last week, so I thought it would be good to get the heck out of Washington for the day... away from my phone and my laptop and all the things in my house nagging to be done.  I also really wanted someone else to cook for me, and I wanted it to be Carlos.

Carlos Barroz is from Cordoba, Argentina, and is the chef at one of my favorite restaurants in the little beach town I go to every summer.  He's a good friend and a great cook, and he and two of his best friends (also dear friends of mine) just opened a new restaurant, Hoof + Fin, in Philadelphia.  I wanted meat and I wanted chimichurri, but I also wanted raw fish.  And I wanted to see his new restaurant.  And, even though it was raining, I also really wanted to drive.  I wanted a few hours of uninterrupted time to clear my head, listen to podcasts, and daydream.

So, I hit the road and made it to Philly in record time.  Um, I mean, I, uh, drove 55 the whole way, MOM, and made it there in exactly the time I should have.  (only not)  (I have a lead foot)   I cruised up I-95, and as the highway split to 495 toward Philadelphia, off to the right was the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which just broke my face into this huge, uncontrollable smile.  That's my bridge.  That's the bridge that, when I cross it, means I'm just an hour and a half from kicking off my shoes, running in the sand, turning my face toward the sun, and standing ankle-deep in the ocean, grinning from ear-to-ear.  (one of my favorite things in the world) (but I digress) (and what's up with all these parentheticals I'm doing) (I need to knock it off)

I puttered around Old City and Queen Village for a bit, then headed over to the restaurant for an early dinner.  If you live in or near Philadelphia, I hope you'll stop by and eat at Hoof + Fin.  It's a great space, and the food is... well..... wow.


I started with the fluke carpaccio (sorry for the crap iPhone photo quality), which was raw fluke, radish, red onion, clementines, red chiles, and a truffle-lime-lemon juice :


Carlos then followed that with a giant plate o' meat: skirt steak, short ribs, chorizo, sweetbreads, ribeye, lamb, some chimichurri, as well as a stack of frites topped with an over-easy egg, and a side of parsnip puree:


Holy wow. 

And, exactly what I needed.

I sent back an empty plate, but for the bones.


*   *   *   *   *

I know what I made on Saturday night was not the exact dish from the book, but it encompassed all of the flavors, and they all came together in a way I didn't expect at all.  In fact, this dish -- and the adaptation of it, really -- came at a time I didn't expect to need it, but found out I really did.

In fact, if you'd told me when I started this blog back in October 2008 whether I thought anything in this book could ever remotely resemble comfort food, I'd have told you to put down the crack pipe.

And now I know I'm wrong.  Happily so, in fact.  Usually, this book challenges and expands the ways in which I think about food.  But this weekend, this cookbook calmed, comforted, and soothed me.  Used to be that a grilled cheese sandwich was my go-to comfort food.  Now, it's something Alinea-inspired.  I like that.  I like that a lot.

What do you do when you need to be comforted and cared for?  Do you cook?  If so, what?  Or, do you want others to cook something for you?  Neither?  Both?  (I'm in the "both" camp)

Do tell.... I'd love to know.

Up Next: Bison, beets, blueberries, burning cinnamon

Resources: Bison from Gunpowder Bison & Trading; vegetables from the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Co-op.

Read My Previous Post:  Pushed foie gras, sauternes, pear, chervil

* I got new slippers!  Because I am a dork who falls when she wears old, tread-worn slipper socks!  Yay!  Thanks, Mom and Dad.


December 14, 2009

Trout Roe, coconut, licorice, pineapple (kinda, sorta)

I missed trout roe season by two days.  True story.  A few months ago, I spoke with Steve Stallard at BLiS to plan when I needed to order certain products over the coming months to make sure I could get what I needed when I needed it.  He told me a specific week to call for the trout roe, and I procrastinated (I'm not sure why), and instead, called the Monday of the following week.  

Carol:  Hey, Steve... It's Carol Blymire.

Steve: Oh hey, Carol.  How are you?

Carol: Great, thanks.  You?

Steve: I'm good.  What can I do for you?

Carol: Well, I'm calling to see if you can ship me some of your trout roe.  I just checked my calendar, and...

Steve: I shipped out my last batch on Friday.  Sorry.

Carol: Well, shit.... (muting the phone and beating head against desk because procrastination rarely bites me in the ass, but this time it did)

Steve: Hey, tell you what... in two weeks, I'll have some smoked char roe.  Let me send you that instead.

Carol: (pouting on the inside, but being professional and cheerful on the outside) That sounds fantastic, Steve.  Thanks so much!

I already knew I was going to do some serious edits on this recipe and swap in and out a lot of the steps because I can't eat coconut, and 3 of the 5 components are coconut-based.  And now, I was going to have to swap out trout roe for smoked char roe, which, is such a first-world problem, I really need to STFU.

So, I plotted and planned and thought and thought, and tried to figure out how I could still make this dish work and be true to the original recipe.  And then, I thought: why in the name of Don Knotts am I making this so hard? 

If nothing else, this dish was a gentle reminder that, sometimes, I just need to get out of my own way.

The roe arrived, I did some shopping, and made what might be one of the best dinners I've ever made.  Twenty minutes, start to finish.  Seriously.  If you have the Alinea cookbook, give this a shot.  If you don't, TOO BAD FOR YOU.  Kidding. (only sort of)

Here goes:

DSC_0002Mmmmmmmmm, roe....

I decided I was going to make the licorice syrup from the original recipe, because you can almost smell it when you read the ingredients and instructions, and it drew me in and ka-powed my palate just from what was on the printed page.

I toasted some peppercorns and star anise in a dry saute pan for a few minutes until their fragrance filled the kitchen:


Then, in a small saucepan, I combined the peppercorn and star anise (which I crushed in a mortar/pestle) with some dry licorice extract (you could probably use liquid extract if that's easier to find), unsulfured dark molasses, white wine vinegar, sugar, and water, and brought it to a simmer:

DSC_0002 2


I cooked it until it reduced a bit, then poured it through a strainer into another small saucepan and reduced it by half:


While the liquid was reducing to a syrup, I peeled, cored, and diced a fresh, whole pineapple, and sauteed some of the fruit in a little butter and some vanilla fleur de sel until the edges of the pineapple turned golden brown. 


I let the pineapple rest and stay warm in the pan while I seared a lovely piece of char (a tiny bit of canola oil in pan, salt and peppered the fish on the fleshy side -- 3 minutes skin side down, 1 minute flesh side down, done):


To plate, a bit of licorice syrup, then the pineapple pieces:


Then, atop that, the char, topped with the smoked char roe and a few pieces of Thai basil:


After taking the first bite, I danced around in my chair, bobbing my head side to side as I chewed, and reached for my Blackberry to text a chef friend: Just made best dinner ever.  His reply: What did you make?  Me: arctic char, caramelized pineapple, licorice-molasses reduction, Thai basil, smoked char roe.  His reply: Sounds amazing. Send photo!!  Then, when I did, his reply: WOW. You made this just for urself?  Me: Yep.  Him: You're insane. In the good way.

I think he wonders why I'd make something like this when it's just me, eating here at home.  People are funny like that.  Like when it's just dinner for one, you're supposed to eat cereal or order takeout.  Please.

You guys, this was goooooooooooooooood.  Really, really good.  So freakin' good.  Almost as slap-somebody-worthy as the pork belly.  The licorice and pineapple together was beautiful and fragrant and really delicious with the perfect balance of sweet and salt, and then the perfectly-cooked fish and smoky roe on top with the openness of the Thai basil?  I couldn't get enough.  I was sad when the plate was empty.  Full, but sad.  I didn't want that dinner to end.  As I was rinsing the remaining molecules of sauce from my plate and loading the dishwasher, I wondered how I might do it differently, or what else I could serve with this next time.  Jasmine rice?  Amaranth?  A small twist of greens?  A rice and mixed greens salad on the side? And, you know what: I'm not sure I'd actually change a thing.  It was so good on its own, just like this.  And the fact that the entire dish took just twenty minutes to make?  Even better.  In fact, I had plenty of leftover roe, so I bought more fish and made it for dinner a few nights later for friends.  So easy, and so flavorful, and such an unexpected surprise.

I guess procrastinating on some things can be worth it in the end.

Up Next: Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb

Resources: Char from Whole Foods; star anise and peppercorns from my pantry; Terra Midi white wine vinegar; licorice extract from; Domino sugar; Wholesome Sweeteners molasses; Thai basil and pineapple from HMart; smoked char roe from BLiS.

Music to Cook By: Laurel Canyon Soundtrack; Various Artists. Mercury Rev, Steely Dan, Eartha Kitt, Butthole Surfers -- what's not to love about this album?

Read My Previous Post: Pork Belly, pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, polenta

November 12, 2009

Leftovers: Roasted Curry Pecans, and Viewer Mail!


Using the leftover curry salt from the Duck, pumpkin, banana, Thai aromatics dish, I made one of my favorite snacks: roasted curry pecans.  It's so easy, you really don't need a recipe.  Here's what I do: melt a stick of butter in a saute pan, add salt, curry powder, and raw sugar.  Stir until butter is melted and all flavors incorporated (use whatever amounts you like, that will satisfy your particular tastes).  Throw in a pound or so of pecans.  Stir until the nuts are coated.  Then, dump the nut mixture from the pan onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Roast coated nuts in a 375F oven for about 15 minutes.  You'll be able to smell when they're done -- the curry smell will deepen, and you'll smell the sugar really start to caramelize.  Remove pan from oven and let them cool to room temp.  The whole process, start to finish, is 20 minutes at the most.

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While I have you here, I'd like to take a few minutes to respond to a couple of comments that have popped up over the past few weeks.  First, from "JoP," one of my most loyal and lovely FL@H readers who continues to follow this blog:

"Can you reflect yet about what it's like cooking from Alinea vs. cooking from French Laundry? FL dishes are familiar in the sense that they're salads, soups, entrees, desserts, etc.; Alinea's dishes are less familiar, tastings rather than typical courses, using ingredient pairings that one probably hasn't had before. One cooks out of FL and says, "Here's dinner." From Alinea, one might say, "Here's a bite (or two or three)." FL is elegant and refined; Alinea is playful (and elegant and refined). I guess what I want to know is: does cooking Alinea feel the same as cooking FL? Or does cooking Alinea feel like playing? Or maybe like doing a science experiment? I'm just wondering if the experience is different, and if so, how."

I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately, because I'm a year into this book and a little over a third of the way through.  I'm stepping up my schedule (now that my worklife has slowed to a normal pace), so I'm hoping to post full dishes twice a week instead of once a week from here on out.

But, back to JoP's questions.  You know, just last weekend, I went back and re-read FL@H from start to finish, and, as a result, spent a lot of time reflecting on where I was and where I'd gone in the first third of that project.  Before I started French Laundry at Home, I knew how to cook, I just needed to reawaken my senses.  I needed to get past some of the fears or uncertainties I had about what kind of cook I was.  I needed to prove to myself that I could cook every single thing in that book.  I was hungry to learn and to be challenged.  But above all, I needed (and I mean needed) to write, cook, eat, and learn, all at the same time.  It was primal.  It was from the gut.  It was from the heart.  I wanted to learn, and learn from the best.

I look back at some of the posts from my first year of FL@H and laugh, or cringe, or wince, or shake my head.  For example, the parmagiano-reggiano crisps?  I sweated through that first time making them, and they completely and totally stressed me out.  Now?  I make them without even thinking.  It's become part of my DNA; I go on autopilot.  I make a mean effing parm-reg crisp.  The duck roulade?  It was the first time I'd done anything sous vide, and I really didn't know I was cooking en sous vide.  But now? I can cook sous vide.  Nearly every single dish that first year changed everything about the way I cook.  It made me sharper, more intuitive, and more thoughtful about everyday cooking.  It made doing a braised stuffed pig's head seem easy and even enjoyable.

Cooking from the Alinea cookbook is different, but I fear that, for many people, my saying that implies that different is bad, or less than or not quite the other thing.  That's not the case here.  It's just different.  It's different in the same way that my starting French Laundry at Home was different.  Back then, I had never cut the face off a softshell crab.  I'd never whipped Brie.  I'd never cooked with morels.  I'd never diced something to 1/16".  I'd never broken down a baby lamb.  I'd never purchased a pig's head.  I'd never made a powder.  I'd never made a quenelle.  I'd never made veal stock.

But when French Laundry at Home was coming to its inevitable close, I knew I had so much more to learn.  I knew there were challenges way above my skill level that I wanted to try.  And, again, I wanted to learn from the best.  I haven't really talked about this before, but about eight months before the Alinea cookbook came out, I had separate email exchanges with two men in the food world who I greatly admire.  With both of them, I wrote about where I was with FL@H and what I might want to do next.  I floated the idea of doing the Alinea cookbook -- without knowing anything about it, and not yet having eaten there, either -- and they both said that they thought I was crazy, that it couldn't be done by anyone really, and that there was no way I could do it.

If you know me in real life -- hell, if you've read me long enough -- you know that telling me I can't do something is going to make me want to do it.  And as soon as I decided it was the next project I was going to take on, I felt that same buzz of energy and fear that I'd felt when I started French Laundry at Home.  That same uncertainty about what kind of cook I was.  That same fear of techniques and ingredients I'd never heard of.  That same hunger to be challenged. That same drive to write and cook and learn... and, again, to learn from the best.

So, much like the things I didn't know when I started FL@H, when I started this blog, I'd never made an antigriddle out of dry ice and a baking sheet.  I'd never used an immersion circulator. I'd never heard of some of the ingredients I'd be working with.  I'd never pushed myself this far out of my comfort zone in the kitchen.  But I wanted to, because I saw how I grew as a cook and as a person by cooking my way through The French Laundry Cookbook.  So, why not try another book that the industry and the media said was the most difficult, challenging, and not-for-the-home-cook?  Bring it.

Yes, sometimes the end result of an Alinea dish is just a bite or two, and yes, some of the ingredients, flavor profiles, and techniques are different, but my intent is still the same.  By the end of this, I want to have not just cooked every dish in the Alinea cookbook, I want to have grown in new directions as a home cook.  None of these dishes have felt like a science experiment, nor have any of them felt like play time.  Doing this blog feels like doing something I've never done before, yet within a context I'm comfortable in.

I think the best way I can explain how the two blogs are similar, yet a little different, is by drawing a parallel to the way I like to spend my vacation time.  A few times a year, I need to go to my favorite beach town.  It's just three hours away and many friends live there year-round, so I always have a place to lay my head at night when I need to hear the ocean and go for a walk along the water, even if it's just a quick day trip or for a weekend.  There are times when I just simply need to be there.  It's part of who I am.

But, I wouldn't be who I am without opening myself up to new places, people, and things.  So, at least once a year, I like to travel to somewhere I've never been before.  Sometimes it's overseas, and sometimes it's here in the U.S. -- heck, sometimes I stumble onto new places on the drive to somewhere else.  Sometimes, I find places I want to go back to.  Other times I don't.  But it's about exploring and learning and leaving a piece of me there, and bringing a piece of that place back home with me.  And, what I love even more is when those new places become familiar places, because I fall in love with it and want to go back again and again.

I need both kinds of experiences.  The new and the familiar.   Same thing goes for me in the kitchen.  So, you see why ya can't -- or at least I can't -- fairly compare one to the other.  They're different, and yet so much the same in terms of how I allow them to shape and mold me.

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Let me take a minute to address the many, many emails and comments I've gotten with the suggestion that I cook my way through Ad Hoc at Home and blog about it.  I love that so many of you are loving this book. I love the way it's written and laid out, I love how open and friendly and non-intimidating it is.  And, I think it's the kind of book that can teach so much, and pretty much obliterates the need for 75% of all the cookbooks on the market today.  I think it's one of Artisan's best books, and if Ann Bramson and the whole Ad Hoc at Home team were standing here in front of me, I'd give them the biggest hug, because this book sings... it absolutely sings.

So...... will I cook my way through it and blog about it?

My answer to that is: No.  No, no, no.  And also?  No.

YOU do it.

Actually, you know what?  Don't.

And here's why. 

Ad Hoc at Home is written for home cooks.  It's why they named it Ad Hoc at Home, instead of just Ad Hoc, or the Ad Hoc Cookbook.  It's already all about home cooking, and it's chock full of recipes you can do quite easily, believe me.  Ad Hoc at Home is all about bringing people together at a table over plates of incredible food.  It's the kind of food you already know how to make, but Thomas shows you how to do it even better.  It's the kind of cookbook that should make you want to shut out the world for a few hours while you get your hands dirty and do some good, honest cooking.  It's written in such a way -- and the illustrations and the photography are so, so great in this regard -- that it doesn't need to be blogged for other home cooks to be able to cook from it.  In fact, I think blogging about it cheapens the intent of what the book has the power to deliver.

One of my favorite food people, Helen Rosner, did a behind-the-scenes story at Ad Hoc with chef Dave Cruz, and they also talked about how this very cookbook is the reverse of other restaurant cookbooks -- that it all started with home cooking

So, if you have Ad Hoc at Home, my advice to you is to step away from the computer and put down the digital camera.  Shove your Blackberry and iPhone into a jacket pocket in the closet.  Spend time with the people in your life.  Cook.  Eat.  Drink.  Laugh.  Enjoy.  THAT'S what the book is about.  It's not about Flickr or Facebook or Typepad or Twitter.  It's about connecting with people face to face, forks in hand, food on the table, and the great stories that come about when people turn off the noise in their lives and actually spend time together with no greater purpose or outcome than to enjoy one another's company.  That's what I love about this book.  It's the kind of food I want to cook and eat and never ever photograph or write about because the pictures and words could never possibly convey the feeling of what it's like to have people you love at the table with you, eating something you've cooked just for them.

But if you insist on reading a blog about how to cook something from Ad Hoc at Home, there's always this: Ad Hoc at Home, At Home.

UPDATE: Michael Ruhlman just announced on his blog that Ad Hoc at Home just landed at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list.  Remarkable, amazing, well-deserved, glorious, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer group of people.  LOVING this news!

Up Next:  Apple, horseradish, celery juice and leaves

Read My Previous Post: Pheasant, shallot, cider, burning oak leaves

October 15, 2009

Alinea? IS FOR BABIES!!!

I recently had the great pleasure of babysitting my one-and-a-half-year old nephew, Ian, for a night at my brother's house in Pennsylvania.  Just before heading up there, I was in the thick of shopping for and prepping the Alinea duck dish (page 224), and as I read through the list of components in the dish -- duck, banana, squash -- I thought to myself: I wonder if the little monkey butt would eat duck, banana, and squash.  So, I picked up a duck at the farmers market, and a butternut squash and a banana at the supermarket on the way to my brother and sister-in-law's house.

I didn't do the full Alinea dish for him.  That comes later.  Instead, I just roasted the duck (after stuffing it with raw ginger, onion, and salt) and roasted the butternut squash.  The banana?  Just sliced and diced.

My bro and sis-in-law left for their event, and the kid and I settled in for a fun day of swinging on the swingset, checking out all the different kinds of bugs on the garage door, HulkSMASHing towers of blocks, reading the same book fifteen thousand times (and feigning surprise and terror over the shark fifteen thousand times), singing along with Moo, Bah, La La La, dancing along with videos on VH1 Classic.

Around 6 or 6:30, the duck had finished roasting in the oven -- the smells of which along the way resulted in Ian taking a break from playing to walk into the kitchen, point at the oven, and say "hot."  When I'd turn on the oven light for him to see what was in there, he'd smile and say, "Ooooooooooo....."

After the bird rested for about 20 minutes outside the oven, I cut a few pieces for him to eat, along with some of the roasted butternut squash (which I just threw in the oven whole, then peeled and diced when it had cooled along with the duck) and the banana.

I strapped the little guy into his high chair and said, "Alright, bud, Aunt Sissy made you some dinner -- it's sort of from the Alinea cookbook, and I think you'll LOVE it.  It's banana, squash, and duck!"


Not exactly the response I was hoping for.

Then, I put the plate in front of him:



That's a little better.  A little more enthusiasm.  A little more joie de vivre, as it were.

I said, "Hey goofus, how about a bite of the duck?"  I handed him a piece of the duck, and he did that thing where he just chews it with his front teeth so as to not really have to taste it.  I mean, it was a NEW FOOD and it MIGHT BE YUCKY:


Not loving it.  But, not hating it.  (Notice his hand holding a piece of banana on the tray, at the ready, to cleanse the palate after the nasty duck)  He ate about four bites of the duck, and had had enough.  Up next? Squash:


Then, bananas, then more squash...




The squash was the hit of the night:



Meantime, one of the dogs was desperate for something, anything to fall from the high chair tray.  I threw a few pieces of duck her way, which resulted in some really (not) pleasant smells in the living room later that night, if you catch my drift.  Lesson learned. Huskies + duck = Defcon 2.


Once Ian saw that the dog was getting some of HIS DINNER, he crammed another piece of duck into his mouth:


So, mostly a clean plate by the end of the meal, and a happy, happy baby:


Up Next:  Wild Turbot, shellfish, water chestnuts, hyacinth vapor

Alinea Book


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


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