May 17, 2011

Prosciutto, passion fruit, zuta levana

Last Monday evening, I ran into these guys:


And, really... isn't that how we'd all love to spend every Monday night?  In the presence of those who inspire, teach, motivate, (and intimidate) us?

Going to the James Beard Awards and seeing Chef Keller and Chef Achatz (among many, many other chefs and industry folks I admire and adore) couldn't have come at a better time. I desperately needed that time in New York, and to be surrounded by people who love to cook and eat.  It was a fun night seeing everyone looking so glam and so full of energy.  I had a blast in the press room with my fellow writers and media folks, as well as at the after-party at Per Se where we celebrated their win for Outstanding Service, and it was just an all-around great night.  I am a lucky, lucky girl.

And, it was the perfect way to kick off a week in which I knew I'd be making a dish from the Alinea cookbook that has intimidated me from the get-go: Prosciutto, passion fruit, zuta levana.  

If you have the Alinea cookbook, turn to page 144 and just look at that beautiful thing.  It's one of the first pages I looked at when I first got the book, and I remember thinking, "I will never be able to make that."

Honestly, there's no magic technique or crazy, hard-to-find ingredients.  It's really pretty straightforward.  But, the photo of it in the book is just so beautiful.  It's always intimidated me because, as we all know, my re-creations of Grant's food are, um, not always necessarily the most appealing in their final form.  I do get some of them right, and some of the things I make are visually appealing, but this one has always been the one that I wanted to do well.  I did not want it to look like Sleestak vomit.

Let's see if I can pull this one off, shall we?

The first thing I did was roll the prosciutto into a cylinder.  The book calls for five slices of 3x12" prosciutto.  Mine came already-cut in 3x6" pieces (or thereabouts), so I just doubled the amount, and layered them, and rolled them like so:



Then, I wrapped it tight in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for six hours.  The book says to freeze it overnight... which for me, is five hours (thanks, insomnia!).


While the prosciutto was freezing, I got to work on the passion fruit sponge.

Herewith, a passion fruit:


One of the things I love about doing this blog is getting to work with some of my favorite foods in whole new ways.  I love passion fruit.  Love it.  Would eat it every day if I could.  It's sweet and tart and a little bite-y, but when manipulated with just a wee bit of sugar, it evolves into this bold, amazing taste that I just can't get enough of.  I wish they were a) available year-round; and 2) less expensive than they are.

I halved eight passion fruits, scooped out the pulp and seeds, and pressed the pulp and juice through a fine-mesh strainer and discarded the seeds. 




I puréed the pulp and liquid in the blender until it was smoother than silk. I measured 15g of it for the sponge and froze the rest for future use.

I made simple syrup with the rinds (luckily the book has you make more than you need, so I had a little extra to put into my glass of iced tea the next day):

I put 100g of that passion fruit simple syrup into a saucepan along with some of the passion fruit purée (the orange stuff you saw earlier), water, salt, and citric acid.  Brought it to a boil over medium heat...

I whisked in seven gelatin sheets (which I'd soaked in cold water for a few minuted) and stirred until they had dissolved.  I poured that mixture into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid mixer and let it come closer to room temperature (15 minutes). 

Then, I whipped the hell out of it with the whisk attachment on the mixer -- on high speed, it took 12 minutes for stiff peaks to form.

I plopped it into a plastic-lined, chilled baking dish and leveled it with an offset spatula:


I put that pinky-orangeish sponge into the refrigerator to set for a few hours.  While that was doing its thang, I took the prosciutto out of the freezer, unwrapped it, and (using my awesome knife skillz, meat slicer be damned) sliced thin medallions which I put into the dehydrator for four hours:


When the prosciutto was done, I used a little 2" round cutter to cut cylinders out of the sponge so that I had something to put between the two prosciutto slices (which I garnished with a few fresh baby mint leaves from the garden -- zuta levana is minty, so baby mint leaves were a great substitute):


It's like a ham and passion fruit ice cream sandwich.  It's phenomenal.  It kicks the ass of prosciutto-wrapped melon.  It pummels bacon-wrapped anything.  It's salty, it's sweet, it's tart, it's fresh/green, it's smooth, it's crunchy and chewy, and finishes so nicely when all is said and done.

I had about 20 prosciutto chips and a huge tray of the sponge, so to extend the dish to as many neighborhood tasters as I could (I'm like Jesus that way, y'all), I just put a cylinder of the passion fruit sponge atop a prosciutto chip and topped it with a baby mint leaf.  Didn't top it with another prosciutto chip.  Looked lovely on the plate, and makes me want to file this one away in my Make This For a Cocktail Party folder.

You guys -- you have to make this.  Seriously.  It's not difficult at all -- and, you can skip the whole "serve it on a bed of sprouting thyme" bit, because while that is lovely and beautiful and striking and stuff, the minute you see these little guys all put together, you'll want to eat them and you won't care what it's being served on, I promise.


And, yay for it not looking like Sleestak vomit!  Is there a James Beard award for that?  No?  THERE SHOULD BE.

EXTRA AWESOME THING I WANTED TO TELL YOU ABOUT: The awesome Kat Kinsman and I compared finger injuries in the press room at the James Beard Awards, and she turned it into a story on CNN's Eatocracy.

Up Next: Not sure, yet. Probably another dish with passion fruit, since I have a box of them in my fridge.

Resources: Passion fruit from Wegmans; Domino sugar; gelatin sheets and citric acid from L'Epicerie; David's kosher salt; prosciutto San Daniele; mint from my garden.

Music to Cook By: Foals; Total Life Forever.  Whenever I'm jonesing for a trip to LA (I am now, bigtime), I tune into KCRW online and download their "Song of the Day" podcast.  Nine times out of ten, I love what they've chosen, and a few weeks ago I went through the KCRW podcast archive on my laptop and happened upon the band Foals and their album "Total Life Forever."  I listened to some sample tracks and had to download the whole thing immediately.  It's a got a very early 80s feel -- particularly with two of the songs: Blue Blood and Black Gold.  I just love this album, and foresee it becoming part of my ever-growing driving-to-the-beach playlist.

Read My Previous Post: Leftovers -- Deep-fried almonds over broccoli, garlic, and pecorino-romano

April 26, 2011

Porcini, cherry, toasted garlic, almond

Last week, I had a meltdown.  A spectacular, colossal meltdown.  Granted, no one saw it (I don't think), but it happened just the same.  And it's all because of this dish.  Well, not really.  But sort of.

I was running errands and shopping at Whole Foods for the ingredients to make this dish, when I grabbed a bag of Whole Foods/365 brand almonds.  As I always do, I checked the packaging to make sure they were safe for me to eat (no gluten) and saw on the back of the bag the words that, even after more than two years of having to do this, still make my heart sink and shoulders slump: Processed in a facilty that also handles wheat, tree nuts, soy, and dairy products. With a heavy sigh (and a muttered expletive), I tossed them back onto the shelf and started Googling "gluten-free almonds" on my iPhone.  While doing that, I wheeled my shopping cart over to the deli section to pick up the chunk of ham I needed. I saw they were using the same slicer to cut my ham as they had just used to slice a different cured meat I knew had gluten in its casing.  So now, I also couldn't buy the ham I needed.

I started hyperventilating.  I could feel the tears welling up. Over almonds and ham?

Not exactly.  Earlier in the day, I had had to turn down two different social engagements that revolved around food because there would be nothing at all safe for me to eat, and both events were all about eating.  Days before, I'd had my third pizza stone in as many months crack and shatter in the oven (and I have to make my own pizzas because there is nowhere in this city to eat truly gluten-free, non-cross-contaminated pizza).  A few days before that, I had to turn down a spur-of-the-moment-let's-drive-to-New-York-and-eat-dim-sum invitation because I can't eat normal Chinese food, nor food cooked in the same wok that has held soy sauce or most any other sauce used in Asian cooking.  The week before that, I'd spent a considerable amount of time responding to the plea of a friend of a friend for help in transitioning to a gluten-free life because of a diagnosis in the family, and never got a thank you or even a cursory "wow, this is helpful" response.

Add to that, on the way to Whole Foods that day, I'd seen a group of elementary school-age kids walking into our little town's ice cream parlor... and it reminded me (like a gut punch) that I'll never again be able to just walk up there after dinner one night and order an ice cream cone like a normal person. 

Still standing there in the deli section waiting for my stupid Google app to work on my stupid iPhone and thinking all this stuff over the course of a few seconds that felt like hours, I could feel my breath quickening, and my shoulders tightening to hold it all in.

I thought about all the times I'm downtown walking by all the food trucks I wish I could try, but can't.  I thought about how summer is almost here, and how much I miss eating Pop-Tarts while sitting on the beach in the afternoon, or noshing on a grilled cheese sandwiches at the beachside diner for breakfast.  I thought about what it was like to drink a cold, cold Abita in steamy New Orleans a week before the storm.  I remembered the last In-N-Out burger I ate.  It was like this avalanche in my brain: the food I can never eat again, the new restaurants I won't be able to try, the dinner parties I can't go to, all the restrictions and questions and tension and anxiety that comes with having celiac, and I started to lose it.  In public.

I abandoned my shopping cart (sorry, whoever had to unload that and put everything back) and hustled the hell out of there.  The automatic doors couldn't open fast enough.  Once I was out of the store, I ran at full speed across the parking lot to my car, kind of half-moaning and half-crying, unlocked the door with the key remote, jumped in, slammed the door closed, and lost it.  Completely and totally lost it.

Big, ugly crying.  Wailing.  The biggest, sobbingest pity party you ever did see.

I kept telling myself there are people out there with a harder life than mine.  Oh, poor me... I have a nice house and a nice car and a job and friends, but boo-hoo, I can't eat gluten. Wah.  But trying to put it into perspective pissed me off even more.  I was really, really sad and really, really angry about it.  All of it.  In fact, I'm still angry about it.  I have lived with celiac for more than two years and most days I handle it well.  I'd be lying if I said I don't even think about it anymore, because I do think about it every day because, well, it's hard not to.

When I work in a client's office downtown, I can't just go out and grab a sandwich with them for lunch.  In another client's office kitchen, I can't use the community toaster oven or microwave because it's all glutened up, so everything I bring in to eat has to be eaten cold or at room temperature. Going out to a dive bar after work with friends?  No more. Can't drink beer and the wine options at those places are not anything any human being should ever drink.  Can't go out for banh mi.  Can't grab a burger.  There's nothing deliverable to my house that I can eat.  My mom's dark chocolate cake with peanut butter icing?  Won't ever eat that again.  Soft pretzels from this little shop in the town where I grew up?  Not gonna happen.  Sometimes, it's just exhausting.  And isolating.  And lonely.

Really, I don't mean to make this all about poor, little Carol who can't eat gluten.  I try to remind myself that it's a good thing I know how to cook.  And, it's even better that there are some phenomenal chefs here in DC and across the country who can and do cook safely for me on a fairly regular basis.  But last week, all that went out the window because I just got tired of telling myself and everyone else that having celiac is not that bad in the grand scheme of things, and easy to work around.  It's not.  It sucks, and sometimes I just need to let it be okay that it sucks and not pretend otherwise.

I calmed down before starting the car and driving home; it had begun to rain, and all my slurfing and blubbering was fogging up the windows.  I dragged myself into the house -- grocery-less -- and went straight to bed.  At 8 o'clock.

The next morning, with a (barely) clearer head and pretty, pretty princess puffy eyes, I shopped anew.  I found most of the ingredients I needed for this dish and made substitutions where I had to.

I needed this dish to be successful and taste good for two reasons:  1) to get me out of my funk; and 2) because I didn't want to waste porcini mushrooms.

There's a mushroom lady who comes to the Takoma Park Farmers' Market for just a few months out of the year, and she only has porcinis one of those weeks.  She had them last Sunday, so I snatched up a box ($20 gets you 4-5 'shrooms) and decided I'd make this dish since it was the only chance I had with fresh porcinis.  And, of course she only has these delicious mushrooms in a week when cherries aren't in season.  So, as I was shopping for the other ingredients I strolled around the grocery store wondering if I should MacGyver some dried cherries, or figure out a berry that might work, and it hit me.  I was already making something with ham, mushrooms, and garlic... so, the sweet and tart fruit I wanted to use was pineapple.  So I did.

In addition to the pineapple sub-in, I also decided I wasn't going to spend more than $100 on all the porcinis I would've needed for every element of this dish.  So, I used creminis for the purée and dice, and saved the porcinis for the chips.  And, I decided to use just two porcinis for the chips so that I could enjoy these glorious fungi in other ways in my everyday cooking throughout the week... doling them out in small bits... a little in my morning eggs, a bit over some risotto, one pickled to include in a salad.  You get the drift.

I got home from the store, unpacked my shopping bags and got to work.  Deep breath, errrbody.  I know that was one long-ass intro.

I continue to be amazed by my ability to know how much of something to buy to yield the amount I need for the dishes in this blog.  For the purée, I needed 500g of mushroom caps.  Check this shizz out:



I literally just stuffed a plastic bag full of creminis at Whole Foods and weighed them to make sure it was a little more than 500g (1 pound, 2 oz.), and just figured it would be enough.  I never figured it would be exact.  I am a magical, magical wizard of produce buying.  Perhaps I should buy a lottery ticket this week.  Yes, I think I shall.

But wait.  It gets better.  For the mushroom dice, I needed 50g of stems.  However, since I knew I wanted to used some of this dice in a salad I was making for lunch the next day, I decided ahead of time to double this part of the dish (100g) so I'd have some leftovers.  So, what's the weight of the stems from my mushroom awesomeness above?


Seriously.  I needed 100g, and got 99.  This makes me wanna party like it's (19) 99 Luftballons.  I know that makes no sense at all.  I'm just giddy from the measuring prowess.

You know what else I'm giddy over?  The smell of mushroom caps cooking:


I sautéed them in some canola oil over high heat until they were dark brown on both sides.  Then, I added some chopped garlic and continued to let them cook until the garlic had turned golden.  I turned the heat down to medium and added cream, butter, salt, and twine-bound springs of thyme.  I let them cook until the mushrooms were completely tender -- about 10-15 minutes.  I really wish I could've let them cook for days and days because the smell of mushrooms, garlic, and thyme cooking can turn anyone's day around.  Things were, indeed, looking up.

I discarded the thyme from the pan, and poured the remaining contents into the blender and whacked it around until it was completely smooth:



I strained the mushroom purée through a chinois and into a plastic container and stored it in the fridge.  I made this dish over the course of two days (though, it can be done in one day), and didn't need to use the purée again until it was time to plate.

Next up?  The mushroom dice.  As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to double this so I'd have some leftover to use in my everday eating over the next day or two.  Into a small sauté pan with hot, hot canola oil went the diced cremini mushroom stems:


Once they'd become nice and browned, I added a little butter, water, and kosher salt, and continued to cook them until the mushrooms were tender and glazed:


I let them cool to room temperature before storing them in the refrigerator.

Next, I made the garlic gelee, because I wanted to allow it to have ample time to set.  First, I sauteed some garlic cloves in a pan of hot canola oil.  Then, after they'd gotten a lovely golden-brown color, I put them in a saucepan with water and salt, and brought them to a boil.


I turned off the heat, put the lid on the pan, and let the liquid steep for about 20-25 minutes.  Then, I strained the liquid, discarded the garlic, and whisked in some already-soaked gelatin sheets into the garlic water.

I gently poured it into a plastic wrap-lined baking dish and put it in the fridge to set overnight.


Next thing on the prep list to make was the almond ice cream.  Because of my I-can't-find-gluten-free-almonds-any-damn-where meltdown, I decided I'd just use store-bought almond milk for this part of the dish.  Granted, I probably could've just used whole milk with some almond extract, but I was still feeling a little rough around the edges in the clear-thinking department, so I grabbed a carton of almond milk with the words "GLUTEN-FREE" blazing across the front of it and just decided that's what I was going to do.

In a saucepan, I whisked together the almond milk, powdered nonfat milk, glucose, sugar, and salt and brought it to a boil.  Whisking constantly, I let it simmer for 5 minutes, then poured it into a blender where I blended it on medium speed for 3 minutes.  I poured it through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl, where I then whisked in some already-soaked gelatin sheets.  Put the whole mixture into my ice cream maker for 30 minutes, then stored it in a container in the freezer.


Then, just before going to bed, I cleaned my porcinis (now there's a euphamism for all you 12-year olds out there) and used two of them to make the porcini chips.

I lined a sheet tray with parchment paper, then sprayed it with nonstick cooking spray.  I verrry thinly sliced the porcinis by hand (about 1/8" thick) and laid the slices on the parchment, then sprayed them with a very fine mist of nonstick cooking spray.



I put them under the broiler for a few minutes, and rotated the pan 180 degrees to ensure they all got equal treatment...


They curled up like Shrinky Dinks and flattened back out again in a matter of seconds.  And when they were done (after about 3 minutes), I seasoned them with salt and pepper and put them into the dehydrator at 140F degrees.


The Alinea cookbook says all they need is three hours in the dehydrator, but I know from previous experience that because my little dehydrator is not exactly industrial strength, these would take about six hours.


I was right.  While I slept, these gorgeous mushrooms dried all the way out and did exactly what they were supposed to do.  Happy day.

With the porcini chips out of the dehydrator, it was time for some ham to go in. Because I couldn't buy the hunk of ham I needed, the night before I'd just folded over some slices of Applegate Farms (safe for me) black forest ham and stored it in the freezer.  This next morning, it was ready to be grated onto a parchment-lined dehydrator tray and dried for about 30 minutes:




While the ham was dehydrating, I deep fried some almonds and let them cool in a heaping load of kosher salt:




Then, the last thing I needed to do was make the macerated cherries pineapple. 

I diced this bad boy:


... and brought the piece to a boil in a saucepan of sparkling rosé, and some sugar:


Then, I turned off the burner, covered the pot, and let them steep for 20 minutes.

There's an extra step in the book where you're supposed to strain the fruit, add gelatin to the liquid, then put it into a siphon canister with some NO2, but I just didn't feel like doing it.  I was hungry, dagnabit, and wanted to eat.

So, I plated everything, and dug in...


Mushroom purée and mushroom dice on the bottom.  Pineapple chunks on top. Almond ice cream on the side, along with some salted fried almonds, garlic gelée cubes, ham powder, a porcini chip, and some fresh thyme leaves.

Now, here's where I ususally tell you that I called my neighbors, and they came over to share this with me... but alas, that is not the case this time.

Part Marlene Dietrich, part still feeling a little sorry for myself and not up to having to talk to anyone, I just wanted to eat this by myself.  I wanted to sit at my dining room table, with the sunlight streaming through the high windows, and eat this in peace and quiet.

And, oh my word... this was delicious.  Really, really, really, really delicious.  While I think the cherries would've been spectacular in this dish, the pineapple was a home run.  The mushroom purée is going into the regular rotation (in fact, I'm using the leftovers over gluten-free pasta).  So creamy and hearty and good.  I wish I could afford to make it with fresh porcinis.  Someday, I will.  The mushroom dice added a nice texture.  The almonds were great, the garlic gelée was really fantastic at adding a hint of garlic without overpowering the dish.  The almond milk ice cream would have been better had I used real milk, but the flavor of it was surprisingly good.  The thyme leaves were a nice addition (the book called for thyme flowers, and my little herbs just aren't flowering yet).  And the ham powder?  Really nice.  Salty and a little smoky.

I loved this dish.  I loved it because it tasted good.  I loved it because it smelled great.  I loved it because I got to cook with fresh porcinis.  And, I loved it because it allowed me to have a 20-minute period where I didn't think about what I couldn't eat.

And that was a good, good thing.

Up Next: Prosciutto, passion fruit, zuta levana (I think)

Resources: Porcinis from the mushroom lady at the Takoma Park farmers' market; all other produce and aromatics from Whole Foods; 365 canola oil and butter; Natural by Nature heavy cream; David's kosher salt; gelatin sheets and glucose from L'Epicerie; Blue Diamond almonds and almond milk; RJ Cava; Applegate Farms ham; Domino sugar.

Music to Cook By: The Head and the Heart; The Head and the Heart.  I love their sound. I love her raw voice.  I love their hispter doofiness.  I love "Honey, Come Home."  I love "Lost in My Mind."  It's great cooking music.  Even better driving music, especially on a Sunday night.

Read My Previous Post: Chicken skin, black truffle, thyme, corn

April 07, 2011

Chicken Skin, black truffle, thyme, corn

Things I am (irrationally) afraid of:

1) Tripping up cement or stone steps and landing on my face, knocking out my front teeth;

2) Tearing off my hand in the garbage disposal, even if I'm in another room and nowhere near the kitchen sink;

3) Drowning (despite the fact that I'm an excellent swimmer);

4) Opening the hood of my car;

5) Snakes; and

6) That a pressure cooker will blow up, leaving me with disfiguring facial burns.

I know from corresponding with many of you over the years that I'm not alone in my pressure cooker heebie-jeebies.  I've used one from time to time, and it's not like I'm paralyzed by fear (like I am with all the other things on the list) when I look at a pressure cooker, but it's just not something I have ever 100% felt safe using.

So, I borrowed my friend, Linda's, pressure cooker for this recipe, and asked her to give me a tutorial to make me feel more comfortable having it in my house.  Her explanation was clear and simple, and allayed my worries enough to actually allow that pot into my house.  In case you're a secret-scaredy-cat like me, I'll show you how easy it is to use through some photos below.  And, I'm happy to say that after using the pressure cooker to make the truffle stock for this dish, I can finally remove this fear from my scary, scary list.  I used it.  It did not blow up.  I did not die.  I did not even get a little bit burnt.  Success!

To make the truffle stock, I used D'Artgnan's canned summer black truffles.  I did this for two reasons: 

1) black truffles aren't in season anymore; and

2) even if they were in season, the pricetag for the vast amount of truffles needed for this dish would have been more than $300 for such a small yield in the final product, that I couldn't justify the spend.

To start the truffle stock, I put just over 200g of chopped black truffles into the pressure cooker with 2000g water:


Using my immersion blender for about a minute, I broke down the truffles even further, and made sure they were fully incorporated into the water:

I placed the lid on the pressure cooker, aligning the narrow, oval, etched icon on the lid with the center of the pot handle:DSC_0002

I twisted the lid's handle to the left to lock it into place, aligning both handles:

I pushed the purple slider up toward the yellow button to lock the lid into place:

I turned the dial on the handle to the closed-pot icon:

Then, I turned the heat on medium-low to bring the liquid to a simmer:

When the yellow pressure indicator popped up...

I lowered the flame...DSC_0002

I let it simmer like that for 30 minutes.  When the 30 minutes was up, I turned off the burner... 

Turned the dial to the "release steam" icon:

Then, after about 10 minutes, the yellow pressure indicator had gone back down: 

...which meant I could push the purple slider back down, to unlock the pot lid (sorry for the blursies):DSC_0002

I rotated the lid to the right...

I removed the lid and released the most amazing aroma of truffle stock:

I poured the contents of the pot into a bowl nested in a larger bowl of ice, to cool it a bit:
Then, I poured all the liquid (and truffle bits) into a jar and stored in the fridge for a few days:DSC_0001

The day before I was going to serve this dish, I made the mushroom stock.  Into a large stock pot went mushrooms, carrots, and onion (which I'd chopped up pretty well in my food processor), along with some parsley, bay leaf, thyme, and water:


I brought it to a boil, then simmered it for just over 45 minutes, skimming off the foam from the top every 10 minutes or so.  I strained it through a fine-mesh strainer (and discarded the solids) into a clean stock pot...

... then reduced it by half over medium heat (a little-more-than-gentle simmer), which took about an hour.

I poured the reduced mushroom stock through a cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh strainer into a bowl nested in a larger bowl of ice so it would cool a bit:

After it had cooled completely, I poured it into a jar and kept it in the fridge until the next day when I was ready to use it to finish the dish.


The next morning, I rendered the fat from 150g of chicken skin (which, for your reference, is all the skin from a 4-pound chicken) and crisped the skin.  I put the skin into a sauté pan with some slightly smashed garlic cloves and thyme:

With the heat on low (a 2 out of 10), I cooked the skin, turning it and moving it around to ensure it was evenly browned... which took about 25 minutes:

I removed the skin from the pan and placed it on a cutting board, where I finely minced it, seasoned it with salt, and placed it on a few layers of paper towels so it could drain for about 3 hours:

I discarded the garlic and thyme, and poured the chicken fat into a small bowl to weigh it so I could use it in the next element of the dish: chicken fat powder.  The recipe calls for 40g of chicken fat, but my chicken skin only yielded 22 grams of fat, so I augmented it with 18g of duck fat (which I always have in the fridge or freezer).  I also weighed 20g of tapioca maltodextrin in a separate, larger bowl:

I added the salt to the chicken+duck fat, and slowly poured it all into the maltodextrin, whisking as I went, until it yielded a really nice, silky powder:

I stored that in a bowl at room temperature on the kitchen counter while I finished prepping the rest of the dish.

Next up?  Toasted bread crumbs.  I removed the crusts from a few slices of gluten-free sandwich bread, and coated them in a mixture of olive oil, salt, and pepper before toasting them in a 300-degree oven for 25 minutes:



I put the toasted slices into my food processor to crumb them:

The next thing to make was black truffle purée.  Black truffles, black trumpet mushrooms (man, I love those things), mushroom stock, and truffle stock (which I strained before using), and small cubes of Yukon Gold potato into a large sauce pan:

Brought it to a simmer over medium heat and cooked it for about 30 minutes before pouring the contents of the pot into my Vitamix blender and pulverizing it until it was a smooth, deep-dark brown purée.  I passed it through a chinois into a bowl, and then transfered a bit of it into a plastic bag that doubled as a pastry bag for piping a dot of it onto the spoon before serving.

There are no photos of this part of the dish, because every photo I took... from every angle.... with every lighting trick in the book... going to great lengths to make it not look like poo... looked like poo.  So, I'm sparing you the photos because they were disgusting. 

I finely minced 10g of black truffle and spread the pieces on multiple layers of paper towel to drain and dry.

I ground some freeze-dried sweet corn in my spice grinder to turn it into powder:


With all the components completed, it was time to roll them all into chicken skin bites. Into the mixing bowl went the minced skin, some chicken fat powder, thyme leaves, corn powder, toasted bread crumbs, and minced truffle:

I mixed these ingredients together and hand-formed little nuggets, placed them each on a spoon atop a small blob of the poo-looking truffle purée, and topped them with some more fresh thyme leaves:

My neighbors came over, and looked at the bites with some hesitation.

"What's this called," asked one of them.

"Chicken skin,' I replied.

She winced.

"Can't you just call it 'chicken?' Does it have to be 'chicken skin'," she wondered.

Sigh.... I guess I just don't understand why people don't like (the notion of?) chicken skin.  I think it's the best part of the chicken.  And, the very idea of chicken skin, truffles, mushroom, and corn makes me really, really hungry.  And drooly.

I put the spoon in my mouth and slid it back out, leaving the chicken nugget and truffle purée on my tongue.  I chewed, and as it broke down in my mouth, all the flavors opened up, and this comforting sense of umami took over.  The texture was really nice -- some definite crisp and chewiness -- and it was a beautifully well-rounded bite.  Even though it was made and served at room temperature, it still felt warm.... and almost creamy.

Only one of my tasters didn't like it, but the rest of us gobbled them up.  These are chicken nuggets I can get behind.  For sure.

NOTE: The winners of the Michael Jackson Wii games and the copies of Chef Achatz's memoir have been selected, and I'm just waiting to hear back from two of the people... so those are spoken for.  More giveaways on the way in the coming months!  Thanks for being so great about my April Fool's Absence.  You guys are THE BEST!

Up Next: Not sure yet; probably something sweet. Gotta get my clients through this government shut-down-lack-of-FY2011-budget nonsense before I tackle another Alinea recipe.

Resources: Chicken skin from a Smith Meadows Farm chicken; produce and aromats from Whole Foods; David's kosher salt; tapioca maltodextrin from L'Epicerie; Just Corn freeze-dried corn; black truffles from D'Artagnan; Udi's white sandwich bread; black trumpet mushrooms from the mushroom lady at the Takoma Park Farmers' Market.

Music to Cook By: Britney Spears; Femme Fatale and Blackout.  Do not judge me.  Girlfriend's producers can write a mean hook.  And, a part of me believes that by listening to her music, I will osmotically have abs that look like hers.  Kind of like how I feel like I've totally worked out and am in super-fantastic shape when all I've done is eat a bag of marshmallows while watching P90X videos.

Read My Previous Post: Applewood, muscovade sugar, fenugreek

March 21, 2011

Applewood, Muscovado sugar, fenugreek

Because I work from home, I see my mail carrier, Fed Ex dude, and UPS guy in the neighborhood nearly every day.  Over the past two weeks, every time the UPS guy would back his big, brown, boxy truck up the tiny street to my house, I'd get excited.  And every time, he'd deliver something to my friends across the street, or to the people next door.  Not to me.  And it was driving me crazy.

I kept refreshing the order status/delivery tracking website to find out when my package was due to arrive, and every day for nearly a week it kept telling me my order was "out for delivery."  Most people suffer from this type of UPS Tracking Obsession when they've ordered an iPad or a laptop or Kinect... or something equally as awesome and fun.


Yeah.  I was obsessing over the delivery of sawdust.  Applewood sawdust, to be precise.

I know, I know.  Judge away...

No one's really sure how or why it got lost in the shuffle, but a two-pound bag of finely ground wood chips made its way to my house last week, and I was rarin' to go. 

I made this over two days, since two of the dish's elements had a 12-hour period in which they needed to steep or dehydrate.

Let's get to it.

I toasted the applewood sawdust for 15 minutes in a 350F-degree oven.


I transferred the sawdust to a glass mixing bowl, then brought some whole milk to a boil.  I turned off the burner and poured the milk into the bowl with the sawdust and stirred to incorporate it.


I covered it with a plate and let it steep in the fridge overnight.


Also that night, I whisked muscovado sugar with some egg whites, spread the mixture thinly onto a sheet of acetate, and then put that sheet onto one of the racks in my dehydrator at 150F degrees, so it could dry out overnight.


The next day, I got to work on the rest of the dish.

Time to make the ice cream.

I know I've said it before, but I've been trained well in this department, thanks to David Lebovitz.  Thanks to him, I make nearly all my own ice cream (buying Jeni's Ice Cream is the only exception).  But I'd never included guar gum or glucose in my ice creams before, so I was curious to see what the texture of the final product would be.

To start, I whisked three egg yolks with some sugar:


I brought the applewood whole milk (with sawdust strained out) and cream to a simmer, then tempered the egg yolk-sugar mixture with some of the warm liquid, then poured the tempered yolks into the saucepan with the rest of the warm milk and cream:


I whisked the heck out of it while it cooked over medium heat:


And when it had gotten thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, I removed it from the heat.  I whisked in the glucose, and then poured the whole mixture into the blender.  I added some guar gum and whacked the crap out of it for about two minutes on high speed.


Because I don't own a PacoJet, I had to cool and process it the old-fashioned way.  Well, the semi-old-fashioned way, I guess.  I poured the mixture into a bowl that was nested in a bowl of ice to start the cooling process.


Then, when it had gotten to below room temperature, I poured it into my ice cream maker (not very old-fashioned).


After about 15 minutes, it was frozen enough to begin the next step:


I scooped it into a large Ziploc bag, cut off one of the corners, and used it like a pastry bag to fill six acetate-lined cylindrical molds with ice cream.


The book calls for smaller cylinders to be used, but these are the ones I have, so I just went with it.  It ended up making a portion larger than one bite, but that's fiiiiine by me.

I put the filled molds into the freezer for about two hours.

Meanwhile, I started working on the fengreek syrup.  I steeped some fenugreek seeds in hot water:


Then, I strained them, kept the water, and threw away the seeds.

I melted glucose and sugar over medium heat until it became a golden-brown liquid:






I then added the fenugreek water little by little and kept stirring to incorporate it, bringing it to just under 240F degrees (239F to be exact).  

I filled a bowl with ice water, and gently lowered the pan of hot fenugreek syrup into it so it would cool:


Thing is, after just a few minutes, it had totally hardened, and wasn't syrupy at all.  Couldn't move on to the next step in the book, which would've been putting it into a squeeze bottle.  Nope.  No way, no how.  It was like tamarind paste.  Or a really stale taffy.  Not hard-candy hard, but stiff and barely pliable.  Those divots you see below are my fingertips, pressed down on it really hard:


No worries, though.  I decided I'd just rewarm it to be able to drizzle it over the dessert in its final plating.

The muscovado sugar and egg white combo had dehydrated, so I broke it into shards:




And then?  I plated the dessert.

I removed the ice cream cylinders (they popped right out), unwrapped the acetate from around them, rolled the ice cream in the muscovado shards, then topped it with some of the fenugreek syrup, as well as some finely ground fenugreek seeds.

Like this:


I made six of these, took a bite out of one and Tweeted this:

Picture 3

The ice cream? Smooth.  The muscovado shards?  Crunchy and sweet.  The fenugreek "syrup"?  Hardened a bit and stuck in my molars, but I didn't care. 

Seriously, you guys: make this if you get the chance.  Or, adapt the ice cream recipe to your liking.  It was so silky smooth and this really can't-put-my-finger-on-it kind of earthy. The ice cream itself wasn't really sweet at all... which made the muscovado flakes even more relevant and necessary because they added a really nice texture and sweet crunch.  And, the fenugreek flavor was mmmmmmellow and delicious.  I always forget how much I like fenugreek, and then I have something with it and obsess over it for a week or two, and then forget about it all over again.  I have some leftover fenugreek powder, which I'm sure I'll be sprinkling on everything over the next few days.

So, so easy and so, so good.

Up Next: Chicken Skin, black truffle, thyme, corn (I think)

Resources: Applewood sawdust from 800-DRY-WOOD.com; Natural By Nature whole milk; Organic Valley heavy cream; Domino sugar; Smith Meadows Farm eggs; glucose from L'Epicerie; guar gum from Terra Spice; muscovado sugar from Yes! Organic Market; fenugreek seed from TPSS Co-op.

Music to Cook By: A Silent Film; The City That Sleeps.  The band, A Silent Film, reminds me of everything I loved about the music of my junior high and high school days -- you know, the era of fun pop and Brit pop.  The early-to-mid '80s.  On this album, The City That Sleeps, there are some Ultravox influences, a little OMD, a bit of Cocteau Twins, some a-Ha, a dash of The Ocean Blue, and a smidge of something more au courant: Snow Patrol.

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

February 14, 2011

Venison, encased in savory granola

A friend's divorce.

Another friend's broken engagement.

Two colleagues diagnosed with cancer; one of them dying just days after being diagnosed.

A third friend's cancer rages back, forcing her to be admitted to hospice care.

Work frustrations and humiliations that in light of everything else are so minor, and yet kicked me while I was already down.

It's been a hellish three weeks since I last logged onto this blog and, as a result, on Saturday I needed to cook.  I needed to do something tactile and productive that didn't require a lot of thinking.  I needed to make my kitchen smell like someone actually cooks in it.  I needed to feel the weight of my knife in my hand.  I needed to follow my instincts.  I needed to feel like I could do something right.  I needed to focus on something other than the outside world.  I needed to have my friends around my dining room table.  And, I know this sounds strange, but I needed to hear the comforting white noise the dishwasher makes as it's doing its thing.  All of this brought be back to center -- or at least as close to center as I ever get -- and set the tone for one of the most relaxing Sundays I've ever had.

Here's to good health, comfort, friends, support, and sanity.  All things I'm incredibly lucky to have.

*  *  *  *  *

When I originally planned to make this dish, I hoped I'd be able to go hunting with a friend of mine and bring home a nice deer loin to use in this dish.  Sadly, the timing didn't work, and I had to look elsewhere for a loin.  If I didn't live in such an uptight, hippified town, I'd just shoot one of the dozens of deer that stroll through my yard every night.  But alas, I cannot.

Thankfully, Wegmans carries D'Artagnan products, so I didn't have to look very far.



I covered the venison pieces with a wet paper towel and stored them in the fridge while I prepped everything else.

The granola the venison gets encased in made me drool just by looking at the recipe.  Onions and celery root and cherries and pistachios and rice?  Aaaaaahhhhhh....

I puffed (a.k.a. deep-fried) some rice:



Then, I peeled and thiiiiiinly sliced some celery root:




Oh, and by the way? This dog of mine? LOVES VEGETABLES.  As I started slicing the celery root, he darted out from under the pile of blankets he likes to burrow and gave me this face:


So, of course I gave him a few slices of the celery root (which he gobbled down in no time).  The rest got tossed in cornstarch and deep fried in canola oil at 275F degrees for a few minutes:



This onion got the same treatment:





I roasted some oats in the oven for 10 minutes, chopped some pistachios and dried cherries, and tossed them in a bowl with the celery root, onion, and rice.  Then, I added some salt, pepper, allspice, and a mixture of melted glucose and honey, and ended up with this:


I let it sit out at room temperature while I made the celery root purée.  I peeled and cubed a medium-sized celery root, and simmered it in heavy cream for about 30 minutes.  Then, I poured everything into the blender and puréed the heck out of it:



I pushed it through a fine-mesh strainer.  You'll see the final purée in the plating photo at the end of the post.

The last prep step I had to take was making the cherry sauce to spoon over the celery root purée.  This lovely small saucepan contains dried cherries, ruby port, and cabernet sauvignon.  I brought it to a boil, then simmered it, then added veal stock, brought it up to a boil, then reduced, strained, and reduced further.  You guys?  I kind of want to marry this sauce.


Preheated the oven to 400F degrees and started to get the venison prepared.  Into 2" ring molds went some granola:


Then, the venison:


Then, more granola:


I put it in the oven for three minutes, then flipped each cylinder using an offset spatula and cooked it for another three minutes.  I could tell it wasn't going to hold up like the one in the photo in the cookbook, but I really didn't care.  You know why?  'Cause this smelled amazing.  Really and truly.  I couldn't wait to eat it... I didn't care what it looked like, 'cause I knew it would make me really, really happy as soon as it was in my mouth.


One little note before we get to the money shot: there's a "toasted oat bubbles" component to this dish that I failed pretty miserably at.  I roasted the oats, steeped them in milk and water, then strained them.  When I went to add the salt and soy lecithin (it's what makes it bubble), I couldn't find it in the pantry, and realized I'd ordered more agar agar instead of soy lecithin (duh), so I couldn't make it foam.  I put it into a siphon canister and discharged an NO2 cartridge, thinking I might be able to rescue it that way, but you'll see in the photo that it just looks like milk that someone blew bubbles into using a straw.

But everything else is pretty......


The green garnishes are chives and micro sage leaves.

You'll see the venison is not 100% encased in the granola.  You'll also note that I 100% don't care. 

This was really, really good.  Everytime I have celery root purée in a restaurant, I'm reminded of how much I love it, and yet I never make it at home.  That's stupid.  It's so good, and so freakin' easy to do.  I need to make it more often.  The cherry-wine-veal stock sauce was ridiculous.  The venison was tender, and the granola?  Wow-effing-zers.  I have leftovers and plan to eat it with some duck I've got ready to roast later in the week. Even the oaty milk was good, and bolstered the light heartiness of this plate of food.

It was a lovely dish on a chilly night with my dearest neighbor friends, and it made everything in the world alright again. 

Exactly what I needed.

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

Resources: Venison from D'Artagnan; veal stock from my freezer; Lundberg rice; 365 canola oil; produce and aromatics from Wegmans; Hodgson Mill cornstarch; David's kosher salt; Bob's Red Mill oats; allspice, pistachios, and dried cherries from the TPSS Co-op; Toigo Orchards honey; Natural by Nature heavy cream and milk; Sandeman ruby port; Jericho Canyon 2006 cabernet sauvignon.

Music to Cook By: Duran Duran; All You Need is Now. It's almost better than Rio.  I'm not even kidding.  I love this album so much.  Though, I caution against listening to it whilst driving on the highway, 'cause it makes you wanna go kinda fast, which might mean a speeding ticket. (damn it)

Read My Previous Post: Salsify, smoked salmon, dill, caper -- casserole-style

December 22, 2010

Preserved Meyer Lemons, and a MAJORLY AWESOME Share Our Strength Update

Amaze your friends!

Dazzle fellow food lovers!

Brag that YOU can make something from the Alinea cookbook.


Because YOU CAN.

A few of the recipes in the book call for preserved Meyer lemon.  Trick is, you need to start them 3 months in advance.  So, knowing I have some springtime recipes that use preserved Meyer lemon, I got them started this past weekend.

Wanna see how easy it is?




Seriously.  That's it.  You quarter six Meyer lemons, remove the seeds, and mix them with 14 oz. sugar and a pound of kosher salt.  Seal 'em in a bag and stick 'em in the freezer for three months. 

It's how they do it at the #1-ranked restaurant in America.  You can do it, too. 

If you don't want to do a full-on Alinea dish with your preserved lemons, you can get some ideas for how to use them from:

David Lebovitz

Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes

Serious Eats

The Los Angeles Times

The Washington Post


Make them.  You won't regret it.

*   *   *   *   *

Because they've clearly figured out I'm addicted to making my favorite gluten-free brownies topped with homemade dulce de leche these days, the lovely folks at Chicago Metallics donated some brownie-making supplies for me to give away as part of my Share Our Strength campaign.

I got the updated donor list from the team at SOS today, removed family and close friends and jumbled the order of the list, then asked my Twitter followers for a number between 1 and 104 (the number of donors so far).  The 10th number Tweeted back to me corresponded with the line on which was Cathy K. from Brush, Colorado's name.  So, Cathy, we'll be shipping out a brownie pan, batter pitcher, and silicone spatula to you shortly.  Enjoy, and thanks for your donation!

*   *   *   *   *

I've got to run, because there are Noma dishes to cook, Christmas carols to be sung at the White House, and now... somersaults to be done in front of the Capitol Building.


You guys, we've raised nearly $8,500 for Share Our Strength.  IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.

Do you know how awesome you are?  Do you?  Because you are.  And I love you for it.

Videos and photos to come next week.

Here's a reminder of our donation milestones:

$2,500 -- I will cook something from the Noma cookbook. [Sourcing the ingredients for this has been FUN.]

$5,000 -- I will go Christmas caroling at The White House. [I hope I don't set off the Dork Alarm.]

$7,500 -- I will do a row of somersaults in front of the Capitol Building. [Wonder if I can get one of my favorite Senators to join me?]

$10,000 (our goal, by January 16) -- I will dance along with the Wii videogame The Michael Jackson Experience.

More than $10,000 -- I think I might just have to select one lucky winner for dinner at a certain award-winning restaurant in a certain midwestern city.  My treat.  I think that's a fair trade for us going over our goal, don'tcha think?  No more humilation for me; and the chance to eat an amazing dinner for you. Yeah, sounds about right.


Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas got in touch with me not long after I posted this and said, "Not your treat... our treat. You get 10k and we will pony up a dinner for 4 on us... not two... four. OK? Got that? raise the dough and we will be yours for the taking that night."

So here's the deal: if we raise more than $10,000, there's a dinner for 4 at Alinea that's going to be given away to one lucky winner.

Holy WOW.

*   *   *   *

Thank you for everything you've given so far.  There's a part of me that wants to say I'm blown away by your kindness... but if I'm telling the truth, I've known for a long, long time that you all are a kind, generous, helpful, caring bunch.  I love seeing it come to life again this way.

Thank you so much.

And, thank you to Nick and Grant, whose generosity and support I couldn't do without.

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

September 20, 2010

I made lamb stock, and all is well with the world...

Late last week, I tweeted about the very distinct possibility that I might have a few hours of downtime over the weekend.  And, as soon as I saw the words appear on the screen, I kicked myself, because I thought I might've jinxed it. 

But alas, I did indeed have a few hours on Sunday with no work to be done, no deadlines to meet, no conference calls to run, no all-day strategy sessions to attend.  

First things first -- I went to the farmers' market:


The middle of September is betwixt and between when it comes to produce in this part of the country.  Is it summer or is it fall?  Well, there are still a few stone fruits (last of the peaches) and tomatoes, but they're displayed on tables next to honeycrisp apples, which scream fall to me, and sweet potatoes (just thinking about them makes me want to wear a sweater).  Green beans and pea shoots next to winter squash.  I don't mind it, though.  This straddling of seasons makes me far more happy than the bridge from winter into spring, where if I see one more beet or turnip, I'll scream.  The weather here was so weird this year that nothing came into season when it typically does.  Some things were way early (corn), while others ripened weeks past their usual time (tomatoes).  I love fairytale eggplant, so I stocked up on those and will make a curry later this week with them.  And, my favorite egg and meat guy just started doing chorizo, so I had to get some of that. 

The other thing I bought?

Lamb bones:  DSC_0003

Since I only had a few hours to cook, and I wanted to prep some food for daily consumption this week (I love Indian and Thai takeout, but 5 weeks of it has wreaked havoc on my girlish figure), I decided to make some lamb stock, using the recipe in the Alinea cookbook.  I needed my house to smell like someone who cooks lives here.

I like to think I've mastered stock.  I can do The French Laundry's veal stock without hesitation.  I make a mean chicken stock, vegetable stock, fish stock, corn cob stock, and even goat stock.  I am pretty traditional in my aromats, but every now and then I like to mix it up.  For instance, using rue instead of thyme in goat stock, and then cooking beans in that stock?  Love. Adding summer savory to corn cob stock, then making risotto with it?  You might pass out, it's so good.

Per the book's instructions, I took 5 pounds of lamb bones, arranged them evenly in a roasting pan, and roasted them in a 400-degree oven for an hour.  I turned the bones every 15 minutes so they'd cook evenly and not stick to the pan:


While they roasted, I sat outside at my table, drank an incredibly awesome cup of coffee, and read about my boyfriend, Michael Bloomberg's, latest political endeavors:


After an hour, the bones looked like this:


I put them into my giant stock pot, covered them with water (and added more so that the water line was 6 inches above the bones), and brought it to a simmer.  I skimmed off the gunk that rose to the surface of the water, then stirred in tomato paste, carrots, onions, thyme, and peppercorns:


I stirred, and skimmed, and let it simmer for 6 hours over low-medium heat:


I removed the bones and threw them away.  Then, I poured the stock (with the remaining vegetables and a few residual bone chunks) through a fine-mesh strainer into another stock pot:


The sun set on what had been a particularly lovely and not-stressful day, and I finished the stock.  I brought it up to a simmer over medium heat and let it cook until I only had about 1000g left.


With just a few minutes to go before Mad Men started, voilà!  A thousand grams of lamb stock ... now chilled in the fridge and headed to the freezer in a few minutes until I'm ready to use it for the "Lamb, in cubism" dish.


My house smells amazing.  I love that something as simple as stock can make a good day great.

For now?  It's back to the grind. But I'm dreaming of something sweet, and can't wait to get up to my elbows in chocolate.

Up Next: Chocolate, warmed to 94 degrees

Resources: Lamb bones from Smith Meadows Farm; onions and carrots from Twin Springs Fruit Farm; thyme from my garden; peppercorns from the pantry; and, Muir Glen tomato paste.

Music to Cook By: The Doobie Brothers; Best of.  Because "China Grove" makes the act of chopping vegetables even more cathartic.

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

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