June 21, 2011

Brushing away the cobwebs.... and sharing some big news.

:::: tap tap taps on the microphone ::::

"Hellllooooo...... anyone out there?"

Hi, you guys.  Bet you've been wondering where I've been.

(Maybe you haven't.  That's okay, too.  My feelings won't be hurt.  Much.)

Two things to tell you:

1) I've had to take a break from cooking because I'm having some health issues.  It's nothing serious or fatal or life-threatening.  But, it's weird and (frustratingly, once again) diet-related.  The experts are sorting everything out and beginning to uncover some odd triggers that are making certain numbers in my bloodwork go all wackadoo, thus affecting my baseline physical health.  I'm ready to turn my body over to science because I feel like a lab experiment with all the tracking and measuring and poking and prodding and scanning and needles and testing.  I'll share more details when I have more information (in case anyone else out there has/has had the same symptoms) and when I know more about what my food future will look like.

2) One thing I do know about my food future is this: I am writing a book.  With Mike Isabella.  And I couldn't be more excited!  You might know Mike from Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars.  Or, you might know Mike because you ate at Zaytinya when he was executive chef.  Mike's new restaurant, Graffiato, opens this week, and if you're in Washington or you're visiting my lovely city in the future, I hope you'll add Graffiato to your must-eat list.  Mike and I have already begun working on the book -- his wife, Stacy, is doing all the recipe testing -- and I can't wait for you to read it and cook from it.

Off to the grocery store on Thursday morning, and back to cooking this weekend.  I can't take it anymore.  I miss my kitchen.  I miss this blog.  I miss all of you.

So, get ready for some English peas and ham and lavender, and my attempts to make my own tofu.  After which, if I buy a hackeysack, join a drum circle, and braid my armpit hair, please come rescue me.  Please.  I BEG YOU.

See you soon.

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. 

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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!

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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.

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

April 21, 2011

What a Week for Grant Achatz and Alinea

Chef Achatz gets listed in the Time 100.

Alinea moves up the Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants list.  They're #6 in the world, #1 in North America. 

Couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people.  Really and truly.

As for me, I'm cooking this weekend.  The mushroom lady at the farmer's market had fresh porcinis (she only has 'em once a year), so look for a new post soon.

March 13, 2011

The winners! And some thoughts on the new book: Modernist Cuisine

Congrats to Rob and Matt on winning the two copies of Life, on the Line.  I used to choose both winners because your stories were too awesome and too powerful for me to try and choose two on my own.  Thanks for being so willing to share who you are.

Here's what Rob said about chasing greatness, who he is, and what he wants to do:

Being keen on electronics, particularly computer hardware parts, always wanted to help a wounded animal (thus becoming a veterinarian), and always helping around the kitchen were things that I liked doing as a kid.

However, when my grandfather passed away on the 64th anniversary of D-Day (June 6th) back in 2008, my path in my life took a dramatic change in direction with what I do in my spare time. I started reading everything I could get my hands on that had to do with World War II, whether it be the Pacific or Atlantic theater (he served in Italy in 1944-1945 as a navigator on a B24). Now, I feel that it is my duty to preserve this memory of these war vets that fought in the worst war in human history. Not only do I feel it needs to be done, it is my honor to do it for them.

Posted by: Rob | March 02, 2011 at 12:13 PM

And here's Matt's comment:

I'm failing out of school. My parents love to tell the story of my first day of school. I was excited to ride the bus to school, to be on my own and to learn. Half of a school day later I swore to both my mom and dad that I would never ever go to another day of school in my life. Despite this promise I'm in university again and hate everything. Your two blogs, linked to me by a friend, have been the catalyst for failing exams because I was making stock not studying. Thanks Carol. I'm going to say fuck it and do what interests me, family and everyone else be damned.

Posted by: Matt Shackleford | March 02, 2011 at 05:35 PM

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I have three more copies of Life, on the Line to give away, so stay tuned for that.

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I had a bit of an ingredient-ordering/delivery glitch late last week and into the weekend, so my cooking schedule is all farkakted and I don't have a new dish to post on the blog this week.  When the stuff didn't arrive, I was suddenly faced with a completely free weekend.  THAT NEVER HAPPENS.  So, I watched Season 1 of Modern Family, worked outside in the flower beds to get them ready for spring, ran errands, hosted my neighbors for an evening around the outdoor firepit, watched St. Elmo's Fire on Netflix Instant (!!!) and started gathering up some things I need to sell on Craigslist and eBay.  It was exactly the kind of weekend I needed.

And, what I lacked in cooking this weekend, I made up in reading.  Oh, you guys.  Modernist Cuisine?  Is jaw-droppingly gorgeous and full and rich and amazing.  There is just so much to read and learn and absorb, and it's really going to be hard to step away from it and work this week.  I mean it.

There are multiple volumes covering the history and culture of food, ingredients, science, cooking techniques and fundamentals.... I mean, everything you ever wanted to know or learn about food is in here.  The photography will take your breath away.  It will also instruct you in ways no other cookbook ever has (or probably could).

But what I found really amazing, and honestly, unexpected, was that there are many, many things in this book I want to cook.  Like, immediately.  Brussels sprouts.  Fish.  Pistachio consommé... the list goes on and on and on.  And, I'm here to tell you: much of it is doable in your very own kitchen.  I swear.  There are workarounds for gear you don't want to, or can't, buy.  But, trust me: you can cook this food. 

I'm not a professional reviewer, but I'm coming at this book from a unique perspective, I think.  I tackled The French Laundry Cookbook as a complete amateur.  And now, I'm cooking my way through Alinea.  Better-skilled, yes, but still: an amateur.  I have never gone to culinary school.  I have never taken cooking lessons or classes.  I have never worked in a restaurant kitchen.  I am not inherently a creative or craft-driven person.  And yet, I want to learn.  There's the adage "write what you know."  I find that to be bollocks.  I get bored writing what I know and doing what I know.  That's why Modernist Cuisine is so appealing to me.  It's kind of cool that I can leaf through the book and say to myself: oh, I know how to do that or I've made that before or that actually looks kind of easy.  But you know what?  You'd be able to do the same thing.  And, in doing so, you'd learn a hell of a lot over the many years you'd refer to this book.

There are pages where my brain explodes.  Centrifuged pea purée? Mussels in mussel-juice spheres?  Edible soap with honey bubbles???  Teach me how to do that.

And, there are many, many pages that make me hug myself in joy: flourless gnocchi, deep-fried Brussels sprouts, caramelized carrot soup, risotto Milanese...

Some people will scoff at this book, whether at the price or the sheer size of it.  Or, that the recipes aren't written in the way they are in most cookbooks (which, quite frankly, is a refreshing change).  Others might be afraid of it... afraid that it's suggesting a new way to cook and isn't the way we do it now just fine as it is? 

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.  Mine is that I love this book.  Unabashedly.  There is so much to learn, and so much to read.  It's the kind of book I might open on a Thursday morning and think: what can I learn to do this weekend?  What can I cook that I already love?  How can I grow?  Where can I improve?  Or, I might just drool over the photos.  This is a book I will refer to for years and years and years.  I know that already.  In fact, I'm making a space for it in the little mudroom/pantry just off the kitchen because it doesn't belong on a shelf in the living room or den.  It needs to be read and used, and kept close by.

It's difficult to put into words all that this book encompasses, and all that can be learned.  So, if I may, I'd like to borrow from Carl Sagan, who once wrote:

What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

Modernist Cuisine is on back-order everywhere, and they're working on another print run.

I wholeheartedly recommend it.


You can read more about the inner workings of producing this book here.

October 18, 2010

Media Roundup

First, let me say that I love that you love the Tomato Video.  I had so much fun putting it together, and even more fun making the dish.  Thanks for all your great comments and emails.

I took a much-needed break this weekend to visit my cousin, her husband, and their daughter, so I didn't cook.  I'm tackling a few dishes this week, so there'll be a new food-related blog post up over the weekend or next Monday.

In the meantime, I thought I'd include some Alinea-related links and videos you might be interested in ('cause I am).

First, here's a video of Chef Achatz explaining "flavor-bouncing," and how he plans a dish at Alinea:


David Tamarkin at Time Out New York did a great interview with Grant in their most recent issue.  Click here to read the article.

I find the title/topic of David Chang's December 6 Harvard lecture intriguiging: Creative Ceilings: How We Use Errors, Failure and Physical Limitations as Catalysts for Culinary Innovation.

And, last but not least, I can't stop watching this video... and wondering if I can make food do what this water droplet is doing (particularly at the 1:40 mark): Bouncing Water Droplet on a Superhydrophobic Carbon Nanotube Array.


August 02, 2010

A Little Something From the Trib

One of the many things I do as part of my day job is teach.  My first teaching experience was at Johns Hopkins University, where I taught in their graduate communications program.  I then moved on to become an adjunct professor at Georgetown's graduate school of communications where I taught public relations writing and a class called "The Power of Opinion."  In that second class, my students were required to write and submit one letter each week to the editor of a major daily newspaper, and write and submit five op-eds over the course of the semester.

Most of them were solid writers to begin with; they just needed some fine-tuning and an editor (me) to help shape their pieces so they'd have a better chance to be considered for publication.  They had to be able to articulate in 200 words or less for a letter to the editor and 700 words for an op-ed what they thought about a particular issue and why... which is a hell of a lot harder than it sounds.  It's not creative writing, and it's not news writing.  It's opinion writing which is persuasive, factual, and sans adverbs.  It's the kind of writing I love to read, and getting my students to the point where they could whip up a really strong, printable letter in 10 minutes or less during a timed class assignment was quite an accomplishment.

By the end of the semester, I was so proud of them because every single student got at least one letter to the editor published, and many of them had their op-eds printed, as well.  And we're not talking about the Butt-Scratch Herald in NeverHeardofYourTown.  Their pieces ran in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Chicago Tribune ... all papers and op-ed pages that our country's policymakers, decision makers, and business leaders read and pay attention to.

If you're not reading the editorial and op-ed pages of your daily newspaper, you should be.  While some may argue the print medium as a distribution platform is dying, the power of our opinions is not.  You should also be checking out the letters to the editor.  Sometimes, they're full of reader crankiness.  Other times, they shine an interesting new light on a news story you read a few days before.  And other times, they make you smile and say, "Richard and Carlotta, you are so, so right!"

This letter to the editor ran in the Chicago Tribune last week, and I couldn't agree more:

Food, not politicians, should represent Chicago

My, how times change. During our frequent travels, my wife and I have had some interesting conversations about our wonderful home town of Chicago. These have typically run the gamut from gangsters (Capone), sports heroes (Jordan), mega-celebrities (Oprah), wacky films (Blues Brothers), and most recently our pantheon of corrupt politicians (Blago).

Much to our delight, it appears as if the world view of Chicago might actually be changing. On a recent trip to Quebec City, we were momentarily taken aback, when one local, hearing that we lived in Chicago, posed the eager question: "Have you eaten at Alinea?"

It was our good fortune to be able to tell him about two wonderful dining experiences that we had there. After some further discussion of the allure of Chicago, we eventually tallied another future visitor to our sometimes overlooked, fly-over Midwest mecca. Go Grant Achatz!  A better ambassador we could not find.

-- Richard Hren and Carlotta Olson, Chicago

As a teacher, it thrills me to have an example such as this to share with my students. It's interesting, relevant, newsworthy, and tells a great story in a succinct, direct manner.  As someone who reveres innovation in business and food, this letter makes my day.

July 01, 2010

A little of this, a little of that


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 10, 2010

I know, I know........

I've been MIA.

I'm still in the work-hell homestretch and very close to getting back to a normal pace of life. But can I talk about the James Beard Awards for just a minute?

What a remarkable two days in New York.  Wow.  Let me take this opportunity to thank the  James Beard Foundation for inviting me to live-blog the event.  The team I worked with at the Foundation were true professionals, and a pleasure to work with.  It was a remarkable night, and one I'll remember forever.  I know that sounds totally cornball, but stay with me for a sec....


It KILLED me not to peek at those before the ceremony began.  Damn my moral upbringing!!


This man made my 40th birthday incredibly special. [Get your minds out of the gutter, you sickos. He made me an incredible 25+-course dinner at Per Se, and for that I will forever be grateful]


David Kinch of Manresa (Best Chef, Pacific), who was just lovely and whose restaurant I can't wait to enjoy  (and who was there with his partner, Pim, who I feel like I've known forever)...

If you haven't read the James Beard Awards blog, check it out.  I'm still kind of blown away that I was even there, let alone able encouraged to talk to and spend time with some of my heroes. 


You guys? Jean-Georges is really, REALLY hot in person.  Like hotter than Mayor Bloomberg.  Yes.  THAT HOT.   I KNOW.

In addition to hanging with two of my favorite chefs in the whole world, I also had a hilarious time backstage in the press room with that Ruhlman chap, a ton of media folks, as well as a few of my fellow bloggers -- particularly, the team from Shut Up Foodies and Alyssa Shelasky from Apron Anxiety.  


Alyssa and me backstage in the staff room, nursing our feet after being in heels for SEVEN HOURS.

On a side note, it was fun to learn about who in the food media and chef world really reads this blog: I can't tell you how many times I was asked how my butt/back were. Totally sweet, and totally noted.  And, totally humbled.


Alyssa, Jose Andres, me -- DC, represent!

It was an incredible night.  Some of my favorites won; others didn't.  But even bigger than who presented, or who won or lost, was this magnificent electricity in my veins, down to my capillaries.  I don't know how else to describe it, other than this other-worldly feeling of a humming... or a tingly buzzing in my system all night and into the next morning. 

I keep forgetting about how TALL that Achatz chap is.  And, as I'm writing this caption, I'm noticing the odd fairy-like creature on Grant's shoulder.  What the heck?

Look, you guys know I do PR and media and events for a living.  So usually, I'm really jaded about most things.  I've worked for Presidents.  I've written for celebrities.  I've been on TV. I hosted my own radio show.  I've done media training for and consulted with people you read about in the news every day.  I've seen and done a lot here in this city of mine in the almost-25 years I've lived here.  But there was something really special about being in New York for the James Beard Awards this year.  Was it that I knew a lot of people there?  Maybe.  Was it that I had incredible access to some incredibly amazing and creative people?  Probably.

But there's something else I haven't yet -- almost a week later -- been able to put my finger on.  So let me just write for a few seconds to see if I can get to the core of it.

I really loved the camaraderie and seeing men hug each other.

Does that sound weird?  It's not meant to.

Here's what I mean: I work in politics and entertainment.  To be honest, there's not a lot of honest, heartfelt, supportive stuff going on among men in those fields.  There's a lot of glad-handing, finger guns, and fakey-fake-fakeness.  Phony smiles and forced handshakes.  Frat-boy hug-slaps.  Know what I mean?

But what I LOVED about being at the James Beard Awards was seeing any one of the winning chefs come off the stage, down the elevator to the photo-op area, then to the press room where he was greeted by his peers and colleagues with what felt (to me) like genuine, sincere joy and praise.


Coliccho.  A good egg.  And, he smelled nice.

Were there some snarky comments and sidelong glances?  Well, duh.  Of course there were.  It's a competition.  That's to be expected.  But overwhelmingly there were hugs, hurrahs, high-fives, hell-yeahs, and so much testosterone.... I loved every second of it.

And I know I'm talking A LOT about the men who won awards.  That's not to take away from the women who were nominated and who won (because there were a few).  I'm focusing on the men because I work around many, many men in my everyday life, and it was a true pleasure to see men, unplugged.

Maybe that's what it was.

It was a sense of men not being afraid to shed a too-cool-for-school front, and instead really be happy for one another. 

IMG_0113 Thomas Keller and "Rising Star" Tim Hollingsworth, cheers-ing.  I adore Tim.  He's really great, down-to-earth, and incredibly smart and focused.  Oh, and a damn good chef.

The word camaraderie is from the French word comrade and means "a spirit of friendly good-fellowship," and that's exactly what this night was about.  Friendly good-fellowship.  I loved every minute of it.

So, that was Monday night.

Oh wait.  There was an after-party Monday night, well into Tuesday morning, at Eleven Madison Park.  You know the saying of Whatever Happens at EMP STAYS at EMP, right?

I'mma break that rule and share a (blurry) photo of Daniel Boulud standing on top of the hostess stand at Eleven Madison Park with chef Daniel Humm, spraying the crowd with champagne while the DJ spun some Prince and some Snoop.  But that's ALL I'm gonna say about that party, because it was a writhing, grinding, awesome mess of 200 people who probably definitely had headaches the next morning day.


On Sunday afternoon before the media and book awards, I had the distinct pleasure of having drinks and a lot of laughs with some amazing people -- friends old and new -- and thoroughly enjoyed our time together.  Some of them have blogs, some of them have books, some of them have columns, and some of them edit entire newspaper sections. All of them are Beard nominees and/or winners.  Give these guys some love (again, with the men... I KNOW):

Michael Ruhlman

Joe Yonan

Tim Carman

Francis Lam

Hank Shaw


So what's up with me now that I'm back home and off the James Beard high?  Here's the dilly-o:  my dishwasher is d-e-a-d, dead.  And the repair guy can't get here until May freakin' 18th.  So, I'm gonna spend the next few days adapting some of the recipes in the Alinea cookbook to see what I can come up with for those of you who a) live in small apartments; and/or b) don't have dishwashers. 

When asked what tools are most important in doing a blog like mine, I always answer: patience, and a dishwasher.  So, I'm thinking I'm gonna adapt a lamb dish and the opah dish, and mix things up a bit.  You with me?  Good.  I knew you would be.

I've got a Q&A with me coming down the pike pretty soon (hit me up in the comments if there's anything you wanna know), and I'm planning to do an interview this week with Joe Catterson, the GM at Alinea -- and winner of the James Beard Award for Outstanding Service -- about service in the restaurant, service in general, and whatever else you'd like to know (you can submit your questions for Joe in the comments section, as well).   
Here's Joe (with one of the press room's famous gin & tonics).  Don't you just wanna squeeze him for hours and hours?

See you on the flip side.....

April 29, 2010

Some Things For You To Read and Think About and Help With

Congratulations to Alinea for coming in at #7 on the S.Pellegrino Top 50 World's Best Restaurants list (and #1 in the U.S.).  So well deserved.  I love that this list focuses on and rewards innovation and creativity.  I don't know about you, but I'm grateful for chefs who take risks, try unconventional things, and push the envelope... chefs who take us outside our comfort zone and make us think about what we're eating and why.  Do I want this in every meal?  No.  But, am I damn thankful for chefs and cooks who mix it up and make me think about food differently than I had before.  I love artists who challenge my way of thinking about painting or sculpture, actors who take risks and do bold things in their medium, and musicians who innovate... and when it comes to food, I so appreciate the amazing group of chefs in the top ten on that list who shake things up and unabashedly try new things to keep the industry on its toes.  That takes courage and guts and gumption, and it's awesome.

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Speaking of creativity, check out this video of the Alinea team brainstorming some ideas for the Spring 2010 menu:

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Last week, the International Association of Culinary Professionals hosted their annual meeting in Portland, OR, during which time Michael Ruhlman took part in a panel discussion that discussed the death of recipes.  Check out his piece in the Huffington Post's new Food Section that goes further into why he called bullshit on the notion that people don't have time to cook.  Michael and I see eye-to-eye on this issue.  What do you think?

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On Monday, I'll post the URL for the James Beard Awards live blog.  Hope you'll come check it out.  And, a special thanks to James Beard Award nominee Tim Carman from the Washington City Paper for his Q&A with me on the awards.  I'll be in New York Sunday and Monday hanging with some of my favorite chefs and food folks, so if you're not following me on Twitter (@carolblymire), you should... 'cause I'll tweet updates and photos as the festivities get underway.  And, if you have a minute, check out the list of nominees, and let me know (in the comments) what questions YOU think I should ask these folks.  Any chefs from your cities or towns in the running?  Any restaurants or chefs you think are the ones to watch?  Let me know.

See you Monday!

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.

*   *   *   *   *

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!

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