May 09, 2011

2011 James Beard Awards

Tonight, Monday, May 9, I'll be covering the James Beard Awards for The Washington Post along with Tim Carman, recent 2011 James Beard Award winner (for best food column).

You can find our coverage throughout the night here: Washington Post; All We Can Eat

Or, you can follow me on Twitter (@carolblymire).  You can follow Tim, too (@timcarman).

You can even watch the awards via live feed here:  James Beard Awards Live Video Feed

I have a good feeling about our DC-area chefs who've been nominated.  If this afternoon's celebrity sightings (Donny & Marie!!!!) are a harbinger of good things to come, well then, there you have it. 



May 05, 2011

Leftovers: Deep-fried almonds over broccoli, garlic, and pecorino-romano

I've been making a concerted effort to eat more vegetables this year.  I'm also trying to eat these vegetables without a whole lot of other stuff covering them up, because that kinds of defeats the whole purpose, doesn't it?

I actually like vegetables, so it's not like this is a huge challenge.  I'm just trying to eat more of them, as well as a varied amount of vegetables.  One in particular I have never really liked is broccoli.  The only way I choked it down in high school was with 47,000 cups of melted Cheez-Wiz on top.  So, yeah.  Not exactly an option for me now.

But broccoli is inexpensive, and something I feel like I should like.  I finally found ways to make cauliflower that doesn't make me gag.  So, I think it's time for me to find a way to make broccoli and enjoy it.

So, I put a little something out on Twitter the other night:

Picture 1

And boy, did the responses fly on in.  Tons of great ideas, most of which involved roasting the broccoli in olive oil, salt and pepper, and various other seasonings (cumin, red pepper flakes, curry powder, etc.)  There were lots of variations and combinations.  SO many great ideas.

So, I started with the basics and wanted to see what broccoli tasted like if I roasted it at a high temperature in just olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Oh, and garlic, because you can't go wrong with garlic.  And shallots.  Because I had them here.  So here's what I did:

1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets; tossed in a bowl with a generous amount of olive oil and kosher salt; more ground pepper than you might ordinarily do; 3 cloves of garlic, chopped; one small shallot lobe, chopped.  And a teaspoon of duck fat.  Because everything is better with duck fat.  (but seriously, you can do this without duck fat; I just happened to have it on hand)

I put this mixture onto a foil-lined baking sheet and roasted it in a 425F-degree oven for 30 minutes.  While it was roasting, I noticed I had some leftover deep-fried almonds from the "Porcini, cherry, toasted garlic, almond" dish.  So, I chopped those, and used them to top the broccoli when it came out of the oven.

I also shaved some pecorino-romano on top.  And, I sprinkled the last of the ham powder from that Porcini dish, too.

And, you guys?

I now really, really, really like broccoli:


The heads got all dark brown, crispy, and toasty.  The stalky part was crunchy and delicious.  Didn't taste like broccoli at all.  You know what I mean, right?  Like, you know how farty and pungent broccoli can taste when you just steam it or blanch it?  Yeah, that.  This tasted NOTHING LIKE THAT, and I now love broccoli, and I'll be buying it every week and doing variations on this theme.

And, for dessert?

MORE LEFTOVERS from the Porcini dish!

Leftover almond milk ice cream and some wine-soaked pineapple chunks, a little bit of 2% milk, and a handful of ice cubes.  Whacked it in the blender for 30 seconds.

A fruity, smooth, nutty milkshake.

Alinea leftovers are awesome.  Awesome, awesome, awesome...

May 02, 2011

Leftovers: Linguine with mushroom purée


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

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

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

I finally did it, and it's goooooooood.

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

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

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

*  *  *  *  *

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

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

*  *  *  *  *

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

*  *  *  *  *

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

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 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.

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

April 01, 2011

I'm no fool, and neither are you...

Oh, you guys ...

I had not one, but TWO April Fool's Day stunts in the works.  TWO, I tell ya.

They were/are phenomenally hilarious. (but I'm not telling you what they were)

For reasons I cannot go into, I had to pull the plug on both due to circumstances (of the other participants) beyond my control, and a production timeline that was hampered by unforseen travel mishaps and scheduling hiccups.  It just wasn't meant to be.

Then, literally minutes after the pranks fell apart, it looked like something even better was going to shake out -- a major, national broadcast media outlet was supposed to come to my house yesterday to cook with me and do a feature story that would run over the weekend.  So, it wouldn't have made sense for a prank post to be up anyway, and instead, it would have been a really fun news story with a great accompanying post.

And THEN, that got the very-last-minute kibosh because of breaking news elsewhere in the world (::: shakes fist at Qaddafi :::), so here I am.  Prankless.  Postless.

Photo 19

So, what can we do today?

Here's an idea: how 'bout you let me gloat for one minute about something nice Richard Blais said about me in his Washington Post live chat yesterday, and I'll make it worth your while.

Check this out:

Picture 1

I SQUEEEEEEED out loud, passed out and died, then came back to life and died again. And now, I've come back to life again to squuueeeee some more.  So, so, so, so nice of him.  Bee-tee-dubs, if you're interested in the end-of-Top-Chef-season video chat I did with WaPo food editor Joe Yonan and deputy editor Bonnie Benwick yesterday that's here.

Okay, so now let's make the rest of this post all about you.  You, you, YOU!!

Remember when I was raising money for Share Our Strength, and I danced along to the Michael Jackson Wii game?  Wellllll, the good folks at Ubisoft saw the video, got in touch to tell me they loved it, and sent two copies of The Michael Jackson Experience (for Wii) to give away to YOU!  It's a really fun game, with all of MJ's great tunes from the 70s and 80s, and the only thing more fun than playing it is watching other people play it.

I've also got three brand spankin' new copies of Grant Achatz' memoir Life, on the Line that need to find permanent homes with some of you.

So that's five -- count 'em -- FIVE things I'm gonna give away over the next few days to make up for the fact that I am a prankless April Fool.

How can you win?



Say hi.

Tell me a joke.

Sing me a song.

Write a haiku.

Tell me how your day is.

What are you doing this weekend?

How's the weather?

Who's going to win the White House in 2012?

Are you as angry about Mad Men being delayed as I am?

Say something, anything in the comments. 

But really, if you've been hanging out here for awhile and haven't ever commented, we'd all love a hey and hello.

This giveaway is open to everyone, so let 'er rip.  I'll probably wrap it all up on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, when I hope to have a new food post up.  Gotta do something with all the chicken skin and truffles I've got lying around, now that a certain Libyan leader is HOGGING ALL MY PRESS COVERAGE.

Have at it in the comments -- go!

And, if you'd like to relive some April Fools moments, here's a trip down Memory Lane:

Alinea at Home, on the Road!

Alinea at Home Extra: BIG NEWS!!!

French Laundry at Home Forced to Close: Final Post


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; 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

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

*   *   *   *   *

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.

March 02, 2011

Life, on the Line


This, my friends, is an incredible book.

It's a book you'll want to read in a day, but there are times you'll want (or should, or maybe even need) to put the book down for a bit because some of the moments in it are so big.  And, I think some of the turning points deserve a pause before moving on.

I could spend paragraph upon paragraph on the stories in and nuances of this book, but to sum it up neatly: it should be required reading upon one's 18th birthday, or any point thereafter.  Why?  Because, ultimately, this is a book about knowing what you're good at, and then making the decisions that enable you to pursue the opportunities you know in your gut are right.

There's a natural, almost-seamless back-and-forth in the narrative between Grant's story and Nick's story and the writing is strong.  Both their stories share the commonality of being confident in who you are as an individual and building a life around your sense of self.

In life, each of us can be described with a variety of labels.  Husband.  Wife.  Boyfriend.  Girlfriend.  Parent.  Son.  Daughter. Workaholic.  Free spirit.  Democrat.  Republican.  Sick.  Healthy.  And with every one of those labels comes a set of rules or expectations that you or other people measure against, or in some cases, we use as excuses to not pursue the things we're supposed to.  Because, if we're being honest with ourselves, sometimes we're afraid to really be who we are.

Reading Life, on the Line felt like I was reading about two men who eschew living a life constrained by the expectations that come with labels.  Instead, they set only their own own expectations and goals, and as a result continue to build pretty fantastic lives without compromising who they are or what they believe.

So, here's my challenge to you:

If you stripped away all the labels you place on yourself or that others place on you... if you laid the groundwork to be able to blow past every roadblock and obstacle (because you can, you know)... if you lived your life in the pursuit of "chasing greatness" (as the book's subtitle suggests)...

In the comments below, tell me:

Here is who I am, and what I want to do.

And, I'm not talking about a "bucket list," or that "life list" nonsense...

You know deep down inside what you're good at.  So, with nothing stopping you, what is your big, hairy, audacious goal?  Are you "chasing greatness"?

If you're not, why?  And when will you?

I've got two copies of Life, on the Line to give away.  I'll choose two winners next week.

Comments close Monday night at 11 p.m. ET.

p.s. Check out the Life, on the Line website with excerpts from the book, a slideshow, and some really great video interviews with Grant and Nick.  My favorite video clip is where Grant confesses to having called out "Duuude!" when he unexpectedly ran into Thomas Keller at an awards ceremony.

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