So f-ing easy, dude.

January 24, 2011

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

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

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

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Into a mixing bowl went:

2 cloves of garlic, minced

3 C cooked wild rice

Half a red onion, diced and caramelized

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

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

Small handful of capers

10 Picholine olives, pitted and chopped

Fresh parsley, chopped

Fresh dill, chopped

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

Salt and pepper to taste

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

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

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


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

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

Wait.  What did I just say about a dog?

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

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

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


So, to recap:

You guys are awesome.

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

My dog is cute.

The end.


December 22, 2010

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

Amaze your friends!

Dazzle fellow food lovers!

Brag that YOU can make something from the Alinea cookbook.


Because YOU CAN.

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

Wanna see how easy it is?




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

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

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

David Lebovitz

Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes

Serious Eats

The Los Angeles Times

The Washington Post


Make them.  You won't regret it.

*   *   *   *   *

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

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

*   *   *   *   *

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


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

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

Videos and photos to come next week.

Here's a reminder of our donation milestones:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Holy WOW.

*   *   *   *

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

Thank you so much.

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

September 20, 2010

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

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

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

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


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

The other thing I bought?

Lamb bones:  DSC_0003

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

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

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


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


After an hour, the bones looked like this:


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Up Next: Chocolate, warmed to 94 degrees

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

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

August 09, 2010

Pickled watermelon rind


In a few days, I'm getting on a plane.

While I'm not flying to Chicago this time, my last flying experience made me think.  Not trying to be morbid, but the one thing that kept popping into my head when we were delayed with engine trouble was this: Great. I'm gonna die in a plane crash today and the last thing I ate was a gluten-free Larabar and a cup of coffee. That is bullshit. 

What happened to me?

I used to be the traveler that other travelers envied and also sometimes probably despised.  While they were stuck with their bag of airline-issued pretzels and flat Sprite with fecal-infused ice, I'd be the one setting up my little bento box of charcuterie, vegetables, and fruit.  While they hauled on offensive-smelling bags of gristle and poo from Burger King, I'd nosh on smoked almonds, candied walnuts, cheese, and dark chocolate.

But lately it seems I've gotten lazy about my pre-travel food prep ritual.  And with celiac, there are no gluten-free food options in airports or on airplanes, so I have to be diligent about bringing my own snacks.

So, I decided to kick myself in the ass and make something from the Alinea cookbook to take on the plane for this trip.  After poring over the pages, drooling over some of the options, I decided to make the pickled watermelon rind from "Ayu, kombu, fried spine, sesame" on page 97 of the book.

Something in my body is changing and evolving because I can't seem to stop pickling things this summer.  First it was green beans with dill.  Then, I expanded to doing green beans with fennel seed, or clover and mustard seed.  I pickled chard stems.  I pickled cherries.  I pickled fennel.  I pickled grapes.  All this from the girl who, a year ago, gagged at the mere thought of eating anything in a vinegary brine.

With a seedless watermelon from the farmer's market already on my kitchen counter, I got to work. I had to change the amounts in the recipe to accommodate the larger quantity of rind I'd be pickling, but this is so incredibly easy, I hope you'll try it.  Watermelon pickles are soooooo good, and this whole process took all of 20 minutes.

I cut open the watermelon:



I scooped out the flesh and saved it for later (actually, I've been eating it all week and MAN is it good).

I sliced the halves into crescents and then cut the crescents into strips (easier to remove the green bit of the rind that way):


I removed the outer green rind, and the rest of the red flesh, leaving only planks of the white and pink rind, which I cut into smaller pieces (about 1" square):




The brine is easy:

200g water (just under 1 cup)

200g rice vinegar (just under 1 cup)

150g sugar (3/4 cup)

Heat all three in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, add the watermelon rind pieces, turn off the stove burner, and let the rind sit in the brine until it comes to room temperature (about an hour).


You can eat them right away, but they're even better 3, 4, 10 days out.  After mine had cooled to room temperature, I put them in a mason jar with as much brine as would fit, closed the lid nice and tight, and stored them in the refrigerator (which is where they'll stay until I'm done eating them).


I'm totally stoked to be able to take a little container of these on the plane with me for a snack.  Bet no one else will have anything this good in their carry on.  (Watch.  Freakin' Ferran Adrià will be on my flight, and will whip out some sort of avant-garde Chex Mix and put me to shame.)

When you travel, whether by car, train, or plane, do you bring your own snacks?  What do you make?  What do you avoid?

Edited to add: I'll be carrying these on the plane in a small container, no brine.  No TSA agent is gonna make me throw away these beauties.

Resources: Seedless watermelon from the 14th and U Street Farmers Market; Domino sugar; Marukan rice vinegar.

Music to Pickle Things To: You guys, I am such a dork. I've begun what will likely be a year-long process of cleaning up my iTunes.  Getting rid of music I downloaded on a whim and realized I don't like.  Reorganizing my playlists.  Listening to all the music I already have and downloading more from artists I love.  Correcting typos in track listings (yes. dork.).  Making sure all songs in albums are labeled in the correct order so I can listen to them in the way they were intended to be heard (again. dork. I KNOW.).  This is all a very long way of telling you I listened to a lot of Adam Ant while I was pickling this watermelon rind.  I'd forgotten how much I love "Desperate But Not Serious," "Friend or Foe," and "Strip."  I saw Adam live at the old 930 Club in DC in 1989 and had a great time at the show (despite the rabid fan who pushed his way to the stage to show Adam the full back tat he had done of Adam looking over this guy's baby daughter, which, creepy).  It was good to listen to his music again.  And how fitting is the chorus of "Antmusic" when it comes to my music reorganization project: "So unplug the jukebox and do us all a favor, that music's lost its taste so try another flavor."

Read My Previous Post: Shellfish Sponge, horseradish, celery, gooseberry

January 14, 2010

Alinea at Home Extra: Rendering Beef Fat

Deep breath.... stretch fingers.... aaaaand, go.

One of the elements in the upcoming Bison, cranberry, persimmon, juniper dish is to use rendered beef fat as part of the sous vide process.  Now, I know you can buy rendered beef fat (or tallow, as it's also called) in cute little jars for $8 or $9 in grocery stores, but I needed a kick in the ass to get myself back into the kitchen, so I decided to make my own.

I mean, really: if I can't dice some beef fat, add water, and let the fat melt, I should just quit cooking altogether and crawl into a cave.

I wanted beef fat that I knew had been handled well in a butchering environment, and the closest butcher-ish place to me is Max's Kosher Market in Wheaton, Maryland.  They do all their butchering on-site, and have really good product, so I knew I'd be all set.

What I didn't expect is that they wouldn't charge me for the fat.  Could this be a sign that my bad mojo is turning around?  I told them I just needed a pound or so, and they wrapped it up nicely for me and sent me on my merry way.  Thanks, guys!

I'd never rendered my own beef fat before (I'd never needed to use it to cook anything), but I remembered reading Lisa Fain's pork fat rendering post on her blog, Homesick Texan, so I drew from that and got started.

Here's the beef fat:


I cut those two slabs into a 1/2"-ish dice.  Note -- cutting through fat is easier than it might seem.  It's not slippery or gooey or gross at it.  In fact, it felt like cutting through cold butter.  You don't have to do exactly a 1/2" dice.  Anything 1" or smaller will work.  Just try to keep them all relatively the same size.  More importantly, there should be no meat at all on these pieces.  Meat will leech blood and other impurities into the fat as it renders, then it'll burn, and you'll end up with nasty bits you don't want, and that are impossible hard to strain out.


I put the fat cubes into a heavy pan (I'm using a Le Creuset here, though I'm pretty sure any heavy pan will work -- cast-iron enamel is preferred, though):


Then, I added a bit of water.  I didn't measure it precisely as I poured, but in eyeballing it, I'd say there's maybe a cup of water (for a little over a pound of diced fat).  But, since fat floats in water, it looks like there's more water than there really is.  My advice -- just put the fat in, and pour some water in until it barely surrounds the fat:


Cook over high heat (a 9 out of 10, if your stovetop has number dials) until it boils (this took about 3 minutes):


Then, reduce to medium heat (I turned my dial to a 5) until the water cooks off (takes about 20-25 minutes):


Then, cook over a low heat (I turned the dial down to 3) until the fat begins to melt.  You'll hear cracks and pops and sometimes a BLAM or two as the fat releases air and moisture as it melts.  See the fat splatches all over the stovetop? It was also on the windows and floor.  And, after I thought I'd cleaned everything really well, I found three giant fat blobs on the ceiling.  

It'll cook for 45-60 minutes before you start to hear those cracks and splats goin' on.  After that point, you'll see that some of the fat is starting to turn brown.  It's at this point you should stir it every 10 minutes or so -- and wear an oven mitt while you do, use a long handled wooden spoon, and don't stand directly above or in front of the pot.  When you stir and agitate the fat, it will splatter, and it's hot as all get out.  I'm glad I had my glasses on, or else I'd have had fat in my eye, I think.

Once the fat chunks have begun to turn brown, and renders the liquid fat, you've only got about 20-30 minutes to go.


Line a fine-mesh strainer with some cheesecloth (or, if you don't have cheesecloth, then be prepared to strain it twice) and pour the contents of the pot of fat through it into a heatproof (heat-safe?) bowl.


Discard the brown cracklings (or save them and salt them while still hot, for a snack -- though I think they're not as tasty as pork cracklings), let the liquid fat cool for a bit (10 minutes), then pour it into an airtight container.  I used a Mason jar:


I let the liquid cool for a bit longer in the jar (another 10 minutes) before putting the lid on it and storing it into the fridge.

After it's been in the fridge for a bit, it'll turn whitish and become opaque:


And there you have it.  Rendered beef fat.

Oh, and before I go... you guys?  Your comments on the last post?  Your emails?  Your Tweets?  Amazing.  Just amazing.  Thank you so much.  You have NO idea.

Up Next: Bison, cranberry, persimmon, juniper branch aroma

Read My Previous Post: The Thing a Food Writer Isn't Supposed to Say

December 14, 2009

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

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

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

Steve: Oh hey, Carol.  How are you?

Carol: Great, thanks.  You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here goes:

DSC_0002Mmmmmmmmm, roe....

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

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


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

DSC_0002 2


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Up Next: Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb

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

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

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

August 03, 2009

Alinea at Home Extra: Veal Stock

The day is done, the sun set hours ago, the neighborhood is quiet, and most people are tucked into bed, watching the last few minutes of Jon Stewart, turning off the lights, setting the alarm for the busy day ahead...

The clock inches closer to midnight.....


You're in your pajamas, ready for bed........


But you're far from tired.  In fact, you know you're facing yet another night of insomnia, so what do you do?  Have a glass of water?  Read a book?  Toss and turn? Take an Ambien?

Me?  I make veal stock.

Since making veal stock for the first time when I did French Laundry at Home, I now keep packets of veal bones in my freezer at all times so I can make veal stock when the mood strikes.  In the past few years, that's been more often than not.  In fact, I've become a bone-hoarding freak, with all sorts of bones and shells and other detritus in ziploc bags in my freezer, ready to make nearly any kind of stock at any time.  It's like my superhero power -- although Stock Girl doesn't sound all that awesome, now does it?  Well, crap.  I'll have to come up with something else, then.

I was curious to make the Alinea veal stock because the ingredient list is different from TFLC.  Alinea's veal stock has no fresh tomatoes, no bay leaf, no garlic, no leeks, but the basic process is the same: blanch the bones, make the first batch, then the remouillage, then combine them, then reduce.  And strain and skim all along the way.

Making stock really isn't that difficult -- I swear.  And, having veal stock on hand, not just for my blog cooking but for making sauces and soups in general, has made my day-to-day cooking even more pleasurable and easy.  And, the best part about making this veal stock is that you can do it in your sleep. Literally.  Well, most of it.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I started my veal stock around 11:30 at night, got it going by 12:30 or 1 a.m., and let it do its thaaaang overnight while I slept... ah, sweet, elusive sleep... which finally came, once I slowly and steadily inhaled the aroma of stock simmering on my stove.

The first thing I did was put the calf's feet and veal bones into a large stock pot, cover them with water, and bring them to a simmer:



That took about 40 minutes.

I dumped the enter pot of water and bones into a fine mesh strainer, letting the nasty liquid go down the drain, and rinsed the bones under cold, running water.  This first blanching-the-bones step helps remove the impurities and other icktastic stuff from the bones, giving you a better, more pure, final product. 


I put the bones back into the now-cleaned stock pot, and covered them with water.  I turned the burner up as high as it would go and brought the liquid to a simmer.



I skimmed the impurities that rose to the top:


And then, I added the carrots, thyme, parsley, onions, peppercorns, and tomato paste:



I let this come back up to a simmer, and then went to bed, letting the stock simmer on the stovetop for 8 hours on low heat.

Let me just say that I can't remember the last time I slept for 7 hours in a row so soundly, and so restfully.  Wow.  I know I've pined for sauces and foodstuffs to be made into bath products, but if there's any way to make a veal stock-scented sleep aid, I will invest in that, tout de suite!

In the morning, at around 8:30, 9 o'clock, this is what greeted me:


I removed the bones and put them in a bowl on the counter until I needed them again.  I then poured the liquid (and aromatics) through a chinois into another stock pot:



I skimmed that liquid one last time before putting it in the refrigerator to hang out while I did the remouillage -- or "remoistening" of the bones for the second step of this process.  So, bones back into a now-clean stock pot:


Covered them with water and brought them to a simmer:


Added some more tomato paste and continued to simmer for another 8 hours, during which time I did some work for my clients, gardened, reorganized the pantry, and hosed off the front porch and back deck -- all while my stock happily simmered away...



I removed the bones (discarding them, along with the now-fallen apart calf's feet) and strained the liquid into a bowl.


I then poured this second step -- the remouillage -- into the first pot of liquid:


And I turned the burner onto a low-medium heat and began to reduce it.  By this time, it's about 5:30, 6 o'clock in the evening on Day 2.

It's at this point that I see I need to reduce it to 1000g.  Now, I know what a gallon of liquid looks like.  A quart.  A pint.  A cup.  That's easy.  But, I didn't know how to eyeball 1000g of liquid.  So, I measured 1000g of water in a bowl and used that as a rough guide or estimate, knowing that this same visual amount of stock would weigh more than water since there are dissolved solids in it.  But, it was a helpful guide, nonetheless.



I turned up the heat a bit, to reduce it more quickly (so I wouldn't have to stay up all night):


And, by 10 p.m., I had what looked like would be 1000g of veal stock:



It actually ended up being 1,015g of veal stock, so there you go.  Done and done.

I stored the stock in four containers: 3 300g containers and 1 115g container.  I let the stock come to room temperature before covering and freezing the containers, and here's what they looked like before going into the freezer:


Here's a shot of the stock itself:


Isn't it gorgeous?  I wish you could've been here to smell it.  It's one of those things that kept a dork-ass little grin on my face all night long, and made my house smell fantastic for the next two days.

Flavor-wise, it tasted different than the stock from The French Laundry Cookbook.  Not better, not worse, just different.  The Alinea veal stock was more more (does that make sense?): it felt like it had a wee bit of weight to it (like comparing the weights of a baseball and a softball -- incremental difference at best), it was a tad bitey and it had a deeper caramelization, all while staying silky smooth and sleek.

The stock is in my freezer now, ready to be used in one of the dishes I've got planned for later this summer. 

In the meantime, if you're interested in making your own veal stock, here are some great resources: Michael Ruhlman's blog post on making veal stock; and, Ruhlman's chapter on veal stock in The Elements of Cooking. And holy crapballs, I just googled "veal stock" and am gobsmacked that my old FL@H blog post is the top search return, followed closely by Ruhlman's posts.  That's damn cool.

Up Next: Octopus, Oyster Cream (I know!!), or Idiazabal... or maybe Kuroge Wagyu

Resources: Veal bones from Smith Meadows Farm; calf's feet from Wagshal's; aromatics from the Takoma Park Farmers Market; peppercorns and tomato paste from Whole Foods.

Music to Cook By: Podcasts: NPR Science Friday.  I'm on a podcast kick these days, and in an effort to clear out my backlog of books and articles to read, shows to watch, and other miscellaneous things to do, I've been cutting way back on TV and music for the past few weeks and listening to all the podcasts I subscribe to.  Plus, there's also always some sort of statistic or discovery on Science Friday that make for great dinner party chatter.

Read My Previous Post: Oyster, ginger, steelhead roe, beer

May 19, 2009

Junsai, bonito, soy, mirin

I got yelled at today at my local Asian market, H Mart.  Why?  Well, last week when I was shopping for the ingredients to make this dish, I bought too many bags of bonito shavings and needed to return some.  I walked into the store and made a beeline for the customer service desk, receipt in hand, bonito in shopping bag, smile on face:

"Good morning," I chirped.  "May I please return these items?  I'm afraid I bought more than I needed." (I always end up sounding like Donna Reed when I need to return something because I feel totally guilty about it; ugh.)

As I handed her the receipt, she scowled and mumbled something to herself then barked, "YOU COME THIS WAY."  She snatched my shopping bag from the counter, walked over to the nearest unoccupied cash register, and began rapid-fire punching the buttons like a secretary in a steno pool in those movie scenes depicting a busy office in Manhattan in the 1940s and 50s.

I held my breath until the cash register drawer shot out toward her, the register spit out the return receipt, and she counted the money I was getting back.  As she pressed the bills and change into my hand, she held on for a few seconds and looked me in the eye and snapped, "YOU BE SMARTER NEXT TIME SHOPPING."

Believe me, I will.  Yike-a-roonies.

And that, ladies and germs, was the most stressful, difficult part of making this dish.

For anyone out there who thinks all the recipes in the Alinea cookbook are too difficult (scaredy-cat), are all full of chemicals (probably the biggest, most ill-informed misconception), or too frou-frou* for them (get over yourself, it's just food), this one is for you.  These ingredients are not hard to find and this couldn't be easier to make. If you can soak, pluck, and pour, then you can make this dish.

(* I apologize if the frou-frou reference gave you RHoNY flashbacks to Ramona and her buggity crazy eyes calling out Simon for being "too-too-frou-frou" and then dancing with him at that whack-ass fundraiser. Kuh-DOOZ!  *snerk*)

The kombu (dried kelp) was a little stinky upon opening the package, but once I got it soaking its lovely green self in a big bowl of water, it smelled more ocean-y.  I let it soak overnight at room temperature on my kitchen counter:



In the morning, it had softened a bit more and was ready to be cooked on a low simmer for 20 minutes:



After its 20 minutes of simmer time (no, I did not put on Hammer pants and scuttle side to side on the floor singing "can't touch this"), I poured the contents of the pan through a chinois into a large mixing bowl.  Then, I added the bonito shavings.  Again, I used already-shaved bonito just like I did in last week's dish.

Sorry, I forgot to take photos of this part of the prep.  No specific reason or excuse other than I just spaced out and forgot to do it.  I'm not perfect.  Please don't yell at me like that lady at HMart did.  I just couldn't handle it. "YOU BE SMARTER NEXT TIME COOKING."  Nooooooooooooo!!!!!!!

I stirred the kelp liquid with the bonito shavings in it for about 30 seconds or so, maybe a minute.  Then, I poured that through a cheesecloth-lined chinois (the book says to use a coffee filter, but I don't own any and didn't want to buy any for this purpose, since I knew cheesecloth would be fine -- I doubled it, just to make it as close to a coffee-filter as I could).

Then, I added the soy sauce, mirin, and rice vinegar, and chilled the liquid for two hours in the refrigerator:



I know the title of this dish is "Junsai," which is a specific type of Japanese mushroom, but there were no junsai to be found.... and believe me, I've been looking and calling and searching high and low.  I know that young, fresh junsai have this gelatinous coating on them that is supposed to be wonderful and add to the mouthfeel of whatever you make with them, so I was disappointed not to be able to find them anywhere.  As you know, I'm not usually a fan of certain squicky textures, but I've heard a lot about how great these mushrooms are, so I was more than a little bummed that I couldn't find them fresh, or canned/bottled, anywhere.  After doing a little digging around and making some phone calls to friends with greater expertise in this area than I have, I decided to use fresh bunapi (white beech mushrooms) instead:

Not quite the same, but they were the right size and texture, and they have a little more heft to them than enoki mushrooms (which is what I imagine our intestinal villi to look like, so, ew) and I knew they wouldn't suck (which, honestly, is the yardstick by which I sometimes reluctantly measure things for this blog because mama didn't wanna fail again).

I lined up six shot glasses on the dining room table and poured some of the kombu-bonito-mirin-soy-vinegar liquid into each one, then dropped in a few mushrooms:



I think these look beautiful, if maybe, perhaps, a little alien.

The kids had zero interest in tasting this one.  They looked at the shot glasses with great scorn and abject horror.  What were those things floating in there?  MUSHROOMS??!  Are you kidding me?!?!?!?!  That's disgusting, I'm SO NOT EATING THAT NOT EVEN FOR A MILLION DOLLARS, YOU SICK FREAK.  Okay, so none of them actually said those things, but I know it's what they were thinking.

To be honest, the grownups weren't all that into the idea of being the first one to taste it, either.  So, I explained what it was, what the ingredients were.  They just stared at me.  "Oh, fer cryin' out loud," I said (rolling my eyes for effect, because that's always the mature, helpful thing to do), knocked one back and because I didn't choke, gag, or vomit, I think the others began to feel more brave.

The adults each had one, but the kids avoided it like... well, "the plague" isn't an apt metaphor, really, because plagues are, like, sooooooo nine centuries ago.  They avoided it like Robert Pattinson avoids soap and hot water.

So, what did it taste like?  Cold miso soup with mushrooms instead of tofu.  In some ways, I think I expected it to have more layers of flavor, but in looking at the ingredients and knowing how to make miso, this made sense.  I actually think I should have steeped the liquid with the bonito shavings a little longer.  It felt like it needed more oomph, since I used mushrooms that were a little flat in the flavor department.  I just did it as one shot -- tossed back the glass' contents into my mouth, chewed the mushrooms a bit... it was nice.  Nothing earth-shattering or mind-blowing, but nice.  Easy.  Comfortable.  Familiar.  Tasty.  Good.

After I had mine and the adults had theirs, there was one left on the table in front of us.  While all the other kids left to go home, my 12-year old neighbor, Grant (he of the famed lobster jelly and dental office sea urchin tastings) looked to the left, looked to the right, picked up the glass and did the shot like an expert (this kid will someday be able to down Jagermeister with great aplomb, I have no doubt).  He did not barf.  He did not gag.  He did not spew.  He did not rush to the sink to spit it out and pour himself a glass of water to get rid of the taste.  Instead, he chewed thoughtfully, head cocked to one side, then swallowed and said, "Wow, that wasn't so bad.  It was even kind of good."


Up Next: PB&J, peanut, bread, grape.... or (big tease), it may be a recap of my upcoming dinner at Alinea in a few days, which, I am sooooooo looking forward to.  Some friends from DC are joining me in making the trek to Chicago for a few days of eating, and I can't wait!  In fact, it's even invaded my unconscious, because I had a dream last night that Grant changed the whole Alinea concept the day we got there and renamed the restaurant "Saucier," (a recording of Tom Brokaw's voice saying "sohs-YAY" in a French accent played when you walked through the front door) and would only serve sauces "in the Escoffier tradition" in demitasse cups. The servers wore Mardi Gras masks and black cargo pants with camouflage t-shirts, and instead of wine, they served only 7-Up and RC Cola.  There was a multiple-choice quiz you had to take before each sauce was brought out, and the only answers on the cards were a) Tom Brokaw, b) Tom Brokaw, and c) Tom Brokaw.  And, I was the only one at our table who was freaked out by all of this and saying things like, "who DOES this? I mean, this is not AT ALL what I thought we were going to have.  Where is the FOOD?  I haven't eaten anything today and now all I'm getting is M-Fing lukewarm sauce in a coffee cup? What the F is going on here, people? And what is all this Tom Brokaw nonsense?!!??!??"  Everyone else at the table looked at me, totally perplexed by my outrage and said, "Um, Tom Brokaw is Grant's father, what's WRONG with you?  And how could you not know he was doing sauces now? I mean, duh.  EVERYONE knows; how could you not know?"  Clearly I need to have a second glass of wine with dinner from now on, because sleep is supposed to be relaxing and restorative, NOT STRESS YOU OUT ABOUT YOUR UPCOMING VACATION.

Resources: All ingredients from HMart in Wheaton, MD.  Where We Loudly Chastise You For Returning Things.™

Music to Cook By: Under the Influence of Giants; Under the Influence of Giants.  I first heard of these guys when they called themselves Hometown Hero and one of their songs was on a very early episode of Veronica Mars (2003 or 2004, I think?) and liked their sound and still do.  They haven't put anything out since 2006, and I have no idea if they even exist as a band anymore, but their tunes are great for cooking on a weekend afternoon -- solid pacing, fluidity, and nothing too jarring or obnoxious.

Read My Previous Post:  Mango, bonito, soy, sesame

February 23, 2009

Tripod, hibiscus

This post is going to be a little different than most.  Why?  Because this is, perhaps, the easiest thing I've ever made in my life.  A face-eating chimp could make this.  The corpse of Abraham Lincoln's Secret Service agent could make this.  The dumbasses on any of the interations of Bravo's Real Housewives could make this.  The leaf that just fell off the tree in my front yard could make this.  Even Sandra Lee could make this (although she'd probably gank it up with taco seasoning, Mrs. Dash, or whack-a-dough biscuits, but still -- it's feasible even she could pull this off).

So, instead of a long, involved photo play-by-play, I'm gonna keep it short and sweet and let this be about YOU -- meaning, I want YOU to make these (or a variation of them) and report back with what you did, how you used it, and how it tasted.

Seriously, read this post, look at the very few photos I'm going to post, think about what you might like in terms of taste and execution, then go freakin' make it.  I even added a brand-spankin' new post tag for this item: "So f-ing easy, dude" because it is, and really, there are no excuses for not taking a few minutes to daydream (I know you're looking for another procrastination tool at work, so with this assignment, I'm giving you one right here, right now. Aaaaaaaaand I just song-poisoned myself with this gem, AWESOME.) and think about how you'd do this dish (or a variation thereof), and then go home and play around and experiment one afternoon or evening and see what you can come up with.

The ingredients are simple, and I'm going to give them to you here in "regular" measurements instead of the weight measurements the Alinea cookbook uses:
-- water (2.5 cups);
-- sugar (1/4 cup);
-- salt (1/4 tsp.); and
-- dried hibiscus leaves (1 cup). 

Nothing fancy, nothing scary.  My local food co-op and health food store sell hibiscus flowers; I bet you can find them with a few phone calls.  If not, my online resource is in the end notes of this post, as always.

The directions are even simpler:
-- Bring water, salt, and sugar to a boil.
-- Turn off heat, add flowers, stir, let cool to room temperature (takes about 20-25 minutes).
-- Strain.  Keep liquid; throw away flowers. 
-- Pour liquid into molds to make spheres. 
-- Done and done.






The step you'll see I avoided was using the tripod.  You know, the very title of this dish.  Why?

While I think the presentation of these beauties on the actual wire tripod they use in the restaurant is stunning, I just don't think it's practical for the home cook to a) buy tripods they may never use again, or b) spend their hard-earned time and money trying to figure out how to make them on their own.  Life is too freakin' short, methinks.  And, the pieces they use at Alinea are just so elegant, there's no way I could do it justice -- not even for comedic effect.  I will confess that I thought about doing a spoof on Time for Timer's "Sunshine on a Stick" for this post, but how can you outdo Time for TimerImpossible.

So, I decided to find other ways to serve these amazing (yes, they are just that) frozen hibiscus spheres because my simultaneously channeling both Grant Achatz and a Saturday morning PSA from my childhood is practically blasphemous; and, with the kind of month I'd been having, I thought it might be more appropriate to involve my little friend, alcohol, in this experiment.

So, I decided to put the frozen hibiscus spheres to use in various alcoholic incarnations, because, while I'm not a mixology expert in any way, shape, or form, I am always looking for ways to expand my horizons past the classics (which currently are wine, scotch, scotch, wine and, um, more scotch.  Followed by more wine.  And then a scotch.).

First up, a shot of Ketel One with a frozen hibiscus sphere:


I made these for my weekly Friday afternoon neighbor-girl drinks gathering, and while I liked it, the other two girls were a bit apathetic.  Turns out, they're not really fans of vodka.  Whoops. 

It was at that point that I realized, hey! I didn't even try one of these suckers WITHOUT alcohol.  Doy.  So, we gathered the kids around, and we each ate one just plain.  The kids were not huge fans.  They declared it "too salty" because they expected it to be sweet because of its color... which for a kid, I would totally expect.  Red = sweet when you're 10, right?

So, if you haven't had anything hibiscus-infused before, how I can I explain what it tastes like?  Well, it's not too floral or overly fragrant (like lavender or roses might be)... it's not overly sweet... it's a little earthy, but not stinky or dirty or peaty.  It made me think of a late summer evening around 7:30, 8 o'clock... maybe the grass was cut that morning, so there's a lingering fresh smell in the air.... and maybe it's a little cool because late summer is easing into fall... and maybe it rained the day before, so everything feels alive and green... and maybe you picked or chopped fresh tomatoes earlier that evening so the smell is still on your hands ever so slightly... and maybe you have a planted pot or garden spot of thyme and tarragon and mint and parsley nearby... and maybe, just maybe, there's a slight, warm wisp of a breeze, and you're sitting on the front porch or on your balcony listening to the sounds of your neighborhood, and you hear laughter in the distance and it makes you smile.  That's what hibiscus tastes like.

This sphere isn't chewy like the Cranberry bite (the Ultra-Tex 3 makes that chewy), nor is it hard like a popsicle.  It doesn't take long to collapse and crush onto your tongue when you press it against the roof of your mouth.  It melts beautifully in a drink, and while letting it infuse a shot of vodka wasn't a home run for everyone, I bet using it as crushed ice in a margarita would be awesome.  Or, you could do what I did just the other night and pour some Lillet into a glass, add a splash of club soda and a wedge of orange (or lime), and use the frozen hibiscus spheres as ice cubes:


James Bond had The Vesper.  This, is The Carol.  And I love it.

So, go forth lovely people of Alinea at Home... shake off the end-of-winter blues and make hibiscus spheres, cubes, hearts or stars or golf balls or butt cheeks or rocket ships... just make some sort of flavored, frozen, flower-infused something... or, if you're pressed for time and can't get to it right away, tell me what kind of flavored, frozen, flower- or herbal-infused something you would make.  Hell, maybe you'd even use the hibiscus-infused liquid in a tray on the grill to steam to some brats? Sky's the limit, queridos.  Hit me in the comments, and you know what?  I'm gonna make it slightly more interesting.

Just before my next post, I'll randomize the comments, assign numbers, throw it out to the Twitter universe to let them pick a few numbers, and I'll ship those winners a few ounces of dried hibiscus flowers of their very own.

How's that sound?

Good, I thought so.

Up Next:  Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper

Resources: Dried hibiscus flowers from Organic Creations (but your local co-op or health food store should have them, so open the Yellow Pages and make a few phone calls), Domino sugar, David's kosher salt.

Music to Cook By: D'Angelo; various.  Because every now and then, a girl wants some D'Angelo in her week.

Read My Previous Post: Kumquat, Aquavit, picholine olives, caraway

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