July 24, 2011

Hazelnut, apricot, curry-scented granola

2011 is weird.  So freakin' weird.

I don't know how else to explain my absences from this blog.  It drives me crazy.  All I think about all day long is food and cooking and what I'm making for dinner that night, and which Alinea dish I want to cook next.

But, with the kind of work I'm doing right now for my clients -- coupled with the state of affairs in Washington (you watch the news; you know what I'm talking about) -- I really feel like I don't have a life anymore.  I mean, yes, I do get out every now and then to see friends and am not a complete and total hermit.  But.  My time is not my own these days.  There is a lot of hurry-up-and-wait.  There are also a lot of meetings that require days and nights of prep, just in time for them to be canceled because of potential federal budget cuts, and other shenanigans here in our nation's capital.  And, to complicate matters further, I'm actually working downtown three days a week in a client's office, so I don't have as much time here at the house during the week to cater to my food life as I used to.  I miss it.

It's frustrating.  And yes, while I am beyond grateful to have work and an income and the ability to pay my mortgage, I am looking forward to the month of August when the city shuts down, Congress goes on its August recess, and the pace becomes closer to normal.  I need to catch my breath. 

Much to my surprise -- in between my "day job," the book writing, and this new project I started earlier in the month -- I had an unexpected two days off this weekend... well, big chunks of time on two consecutive days, really, so I made my shopping list, and got to work on an Alinea dish.

It felt SO GOOD to be in my kitchen for more than 7 minutes at a time.  It also didn't hurt that it was 900 frajillion degrees outside, so to have something fun to do in my cool air-conditioned house was a bonus.

I started with the hazelnut pudding.  I toasted some hazelnuts for about 15 minutes in a 350F-degree oven, and then added them to a pan of simmering whole milk.  The smell of the toasted hazelnuts and milk simmering hit home for me that feeling I get when I smell someone drinking that horrifying hazelnut-"flavored" coffee, or using one of those jank-ass hazelnut cream substitutes in their coffee or tea.  THAT is not a hazelnut smell (or taste, frankly).  What was going on in my kitchen in this saucepan?  THIS is hazelnut.  Plain and simple.


I turned off the burner and let the mixture come to room temperature, then covered the pan and stored in the refrigerator overnight.

The following morning, I got started on the apricot-curry sauce.  I brought some dried apricots and water to a boil, then turned off the burner and let them steep for a half hour:


I poured the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and reserved the liquid, which came out to 289g -- I needed 300g of the apricot-infused water to keep moving forward with this element of the dish, so I was in decent shape.  I poured the 289g of liquid into a small saucepan and added sweet curry powder and saffron, and simmered until it had reduced to a thicker syrupy-like consistency.  


I strained that through a fine-mesh strainer and added a bit of fresh-squeezed lemon juice.  Then, I whisked in some canola oil to emulsify it before adding a few grams of salt.  You'll see the sauce in the final plating photo.

While the apricots were steeping in the hot water in that earlier step, I made the hazelnut granola.  One of the things I really like about the Alinea cookbook is that it introduced me to the concept of savory granola.  I'd been making my own sweet granola for years, but had never made a savory or curry granola before.

Get a load of this goodness:


Puffed wild rice, honey, canola oil, sweet and hot curry powder, chopped hazelnuts, old-fashioned rolled oats, and freshly ground black pepper

I roasted the granola in a 350F-degree oven for 15 minutes, stirring it every 3-4 minutes, so it wouldn't burn.

While that cooled, I took the hazelnut and milk mixture out of the refrigerator and poured it all into the blender and pureed it on high speed for a minute or two.  Then, I strained it through a chinois and poured that liquid back into the blender (which I'd rinsed out), and added some high-acyl gellan gum and some hazelnut oil and blended it until it was thicker and creamier than it had been. (sorry, forgot to photograph this step)

The book then suggests I put this mixture into a Pacojet canister with the aeration attachment and process it for on full cycle.  Yeah.  I didn't do that because I sadly don't own a Pacojet.  So, I did the next best thing: whipped the hell out of it with my Kitchen Aid, using a chilled bowl.

Hey, gotta improvise.  [But, I think my final plating photo will show that I do, in fact, NEED a Pacojet, so whoever wants to just send me one, please feel free to do so.  I'll give it a good home, I promise.]

The last step is one of the most important ones, because it is supposed to (foreshadowing!) yield the most beautiful translucent apricot-colored and -flavored cylinder to encase the savory granola.  The photos of this dish in the book are just gorgeous (particularly the cylinder full of granola), and I couldn't wait to just NAIL this step and feel like the Queen of Everything.

I started by heating and melting together isomalt, fondant, and glucose powder:


Now, the book says to bring it all the way up to 320F degrees, but it started to get really, really dark at 260-270, and then smelled really burny at 280, so I took it to 300 and then poured it onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet, per the book's instructions, to cool/harden:


Uuuuuuummmmmmmm, I do not think that is a translucent, apricotty color AT ALL.  It got slightly lighter when I ground it to a powder along with some freeze-dried apricots, but....


I had a feeling this was not going to end well.

After grinding it into a fine powder, the book instructs to sift the powder onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet in a thin layer and put that baking sheet in a 200F-degree oven so the powder will melt into a bendy film-like substance that you can cut into rectangles that you'll then roll around a 1" dowel to make cylinders.

Which... well....


Yeah.  Not so much.

Kinda looked like a hippie flaxseed cracker gone horribly wrong.

I decided to abandon this portion of our program, and just go straight to the elements that DID work and see if I could salvage the dessert somehow. 

I'd filled a few little parfait glasses with the hazelnut pudding so it could chill and set in the refrigerator.  Then, I topped that with a layer of the apricot-curry sauce (which looks like it's missing in the photo below because it sunk right into the pudding), and then sprinkled some granola on top:



I took a bite, and holy saltballs, Batman!  I went back and re-read the entire recipe to make sure I hadn't messed up my salt measurements in any of the dish's components, and I hadn't.  It was just so, so salty -- and this, coming from a girl who has a healthy respect for salt in her cooking.  I broke off a few pieces of the not-cylinders (since that was a sweet component of the dish and I thought it might balance the next bite) and tossed those in before taking another bite, but it didn't make it any better.

It also didn't help that the hazelnut pudding ended up being not pudding... and instead was more like a melted milkshake:



But, in the spirit of trying to find the bright side, I guess this means there's lots of leftover curry granola for me to sprinkle onto some Greek yogurt for breakfast this week.  Maybe top it with some nectarine slices... a drizzle of honey.

Cloud, meet silver lining.

Up Next: Pork Cheek, pumpernickel, gruyere, ramps

Resources: Hazelnuts, honey, curry powders, saffron, lemons, and apricots from the TPSS Co-op; Natural by Nature milk; Domino sugar; David's kosher salt; high-acyl gellan gum from Terra Spice; La Tourangelle hazelnut oil; 365 canola oil; Lundberg rice; Bob's Red Mill gluten-free oats; glucose powder and isomalt from L'Epicerie; fondant from Michaels; Honeyville freeze-dried apricots.

Music to Cook By: A hefty backlog of podcasts -- Nerdist, KCRW Good Food; Splendid Table; and NPR Fresh Air.

Read My Previous Post: Sunday Dinner; English peas, tofu, ham, pillow of lavender air

June 27, 2011

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

I hate the Sunday night blues. 

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

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

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

So, what happened Saturday? 

Soy milk pustules tumors awfulness!


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Not too shabby.

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

*   *   *   *   *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 31, 2011

What I've Learned So Far...

This past weekend, I made the Squab, Thai peppercorn, strawberry, oxalis pods dish, when something odd happened. I'd made arrangements to get oxalis pods from a grower I know out in Virginia, and he called me Friday morning to tell me most of his oxalis plants got hammered in a hailstorm the day before, and he had none for me.  I'd already bought everything else to start making the dish, so I made a few phone calls to try and find oxalis pods.

My usual suspects weren't turning anything up, so I called a few chef friends.  When I told them what had happened and what I was looking for I heard myself say, "Yeah, my oxalis pod guy called and said..." and then it hit me:  I have an oxalis pod guy?

Five years ago, if you had told me I would one day say that "my oxalis pod guy" said this or that, I would a) wonder what the hell an oxalis pod was; and 2) wonder what douche planet I was living on.


Oh yeah, riiiiight. I do.  You know what else I have?  A squab guy.  Who gets my order ready like so:


Call me old-fashioned, but the tag tied to the bag with butchers twine makes me very happy. 

As for the oxalis pods, I ended up not being able to find any, so when I did the Squab dish I didn't do the neutral-caramel squares that surrounded the oxalis pods, but it's no biggie.  I didn't miss out on learning any new technique in not doing them.  And, when you see the final plating photo at the end of this post, you'll see an even bigger reason they weren't really missed.

I should say now that, for this dish, I'm not going to do the standard step-by-step, photo play-by-play like I do in all my other posts.  Why?  Well, I realized that I have completed all but 30 dishes in this cookbook.  There are 127 in total.  I have 30 left to do.  Just 30.  Granted, some of them are six-pagers (lookin' at YOU, Wild Bass and Bean), but still. I only have 30 dishes left to go.  I can't believe it.

As I cooked this dish over the weekend, I thought a lot about what it's been like to cook my way through the Alinea cookbook.  I thought about where I was in my cooking life when I'd finished French Laundry at Home and was getting ready to start this blog.  I thought about the people I've met.  I thought about the ingredients I've learned about.  I thought about how hard the men and women work in the Alinea kitchen.  I thought about the meals I've had at Alinea.  I thought about what I've done well and what was a complete flop.  I've learned a lot these past two+ years:

  1. I still get an adrenaline rush when I open the book to a new recipe I haven't yet made.
  2. Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas are two of the nicest, most generous and supportive people you could ever have the great fortune to know.
  3. Judy Shertzer from Terra Spice is not only one of the kindest, most generous people I've met, she's a badass hilarious funny lady I am so happy to call my friend.
  4. Steve Stallard at BLiS produces not just the finest roe, but also a maple syrup you will want to find a way to eat every single day.
  5. Months before I started this blog, two very prominent men in the food world told me I was "crazy" to think about cooking anything from this book.  In fact, they both told me, separately, that I couldn't do it.  Which, of course, made me want to prove them wrong.  I think I am.
  6. My kitchen gets the most beautiful natural light in the morning.  I never noticed it until I started learning how to photograph food.
  7. Figuring out gluten-free substitutions for some of these recipes has given me more than one migraine, but hearing from chefs, cooks, and restaurateurs that they've actually consulted my blog for those kinds of swap-outs when they have celiac customers more than makes up for it.
  8. Speaking of celiac, I've learned that you guys go above and beyond the call of duty in the comments section (and via email) when a girl is feeling down and out in gluten land.
  9. If you are a person of a certain age who has been addicted to television for most of her life and you say, or even think the words "squab stock" you will immediately turn it into, "squab stock, squab stock, squab... squab... stock."
  10. Ditto onion JAM.
  11. When I injure myself, you guys are HILARIOUS.
  12. When there's a worthy cause, you're the most generous people in the whole world, and you make me cry (in a good way) just thinking about it.
  13. I've always adored my neighbors, but seeing how willing they are to try new foods and taste everything I make, makes me adore them even more.  They're not just neighbors, they're some of my closest friends, and I'm lucky to have them in my life.
  14. Because I'm cooking my way through this book, I am more patient now than I've ever been in my whole life.
  15. Developing a casserole recipe based on the food from a world-class restaurant is easier than you might think.
  16. Cooking dishes that require intense focus are a good way to work through the grieving process.
  17. My house has never smelled better than when I cook something from the Alinea cookbook.
  18. Seeing clean plates at the end of a tasting with my neighbors makes me happier than I ever thought possible.
  19. The sound a squab's head makes when it clonks along the side of your stainless steel kitchen sink is a little unnerving (not as bad as cutting off the faces of softshell crabs, though).
  20. And, I've learned you can take something kinda ugly:

And turn it into a thing of beauty:


My neighbors and I decided at the last minute to do a cookout on Monday evening, so rather than forcing them to come to my house for a tasting before firing up the grill three houses away, I thought I'd just plate the Squab family-style and bring it over to the cookout. Hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, coleslaw, salad, fresh melon, and a Squab dish from the Alinea cookbook.  This is how we roll in Takoma Park. 

You guys, this dish was SO FREAKIN' GOOD.  Really and truly.  Red-ribbon and regular sorrel, pepper custard, squab rillettes, macerated wild strawberries (from my front yard!), diced strawberries, seared squab breast, and strawberry sauce made with squab stock... an amazing, flavorful combination that smelled great every step of the way and was so incredibly satisfying at the end of a long weekend.  There were clean (paper) plates all around -- even the kids ate every last bite.  Happiness abides.

If you want to see all the photos, they're here.

You know what's the biggest thing I've learned in doing this blog?  That I am incredibly lucky that you guys are as fantastic as you are.  I rarely, if ever, have to delete dick-ish comments.  There's no fighting in the comments.  No shitstorms.  No hate email.  No drama.  You guys are respectful of the food, of each other, and of this process... and I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.  Your support of this project has made me more confident every step of the way, and I feel like, especially with this dish, you can taste that confidence on the plate.

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  I am a lucky, lucky girl.

Now, go on then... make yourself some squab with strawberries and sorrel. 

And let's savor these next 30 dishes, shall we?  I kinda don't want this to end.

October 25, 2010

Sponge Cake, tonka bean, dried cherry, vanilla fragrance ... or as I call it, Twinkies for grownups

Ever have one of those weekends where everything is awesome?  As in, it's Sunday night and you're not even sad about it because everything that happened over the past two days was just fun and great and relaxing and energizing all at once?

Not tryin' to be all braggy, but this weekend was just one of those two-day respites that was chock full of good things: time in front of a roaring fire roasting hot dogs and marshmallows with friends; celebrating a friend's birthday; making travel plans; having a sweet conversation with a dear friend on the west coast; finding Bionaturae gluten-free pasta on sale; getting a pedicure and foot massage; incredible bounty at two farmers' markets; learning that I can now listen to my Pandora channels through TiVo; finding $20 in the pocket of a jacket that's been in the attic since spring; getting great feedback from a client; reading the amazingly supprtive comments on Ruhlman's blog post; watching the bee balm bloom one last time; sitting next to Yo-Yo Ma at dinner; finishing the Sunday NYT crossword puzzle in record time; finding this much-loved cartoon clip from my childhood; sunny skies and crisp air during the day and a bright, shining moon at night; and, breaking the code on gluten-free sponge cake.

Earlier in the week, I'd planned to cook all weekend.  I was going to make stock, do a brisket, make some pho, work on recipe development with a chef friend, and tackle two Alinea dishes.  Instead, a bunch of good stuff just kept happening and I reveled in it, tossing the to-do list and just going with the flow.  Sunday lunchtime rolled around and my sweet tooth kicked in, so I got to work on making this dish.  I was such a happy camper, I wasn't even stressed out about figuring out how to de-glutenize the sponge cake.  I just took a deep breath, cranked the Pandora Funk Channel, and got to work.

Last year, I wanted to make sponge cake for something else, and I scoured the internet for recipes so I could figure out the correct ratios of gluten-free flour substitutions. I tried three different versions of it, using three different recipes, and all of them were crap.  The cake wasn't spongy and didn't roll (let alone bend), and it tasted all wrong.  So, I decided I'd follow the recipe in the Alinea cookbook, and do my own flour substitutions knowing what I know now about how all these different flours work together.

I never reprint the recipes from the book on this blog (because you should buy it; you really should), but in the case of the sponge cake, I'll give you the exact measurements since I adapted the heck out of it... and because I want my fellow non-glutenites to be able to make this and love it.

I preheated the oven to 300F degrees, and instead of spraying the sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray, I lined it with parchment (works better for gluten-free baking in my experience).  In my mixer, I combined 7 eggs, 225g sugar, 15g Trimoline, 140g grapeseed oil, and 5g kosher salt, and mixed it on high speed for 3 minutes.


While that was mixing, I combined the following dry ingredients in a separate bowl: 90g potato starch; 80g white rice flour; 40g tapioca flour; 15g xanthan gum; and, 15g baking powder.  I remember what cake flour feels like, to the touch, and I knew this combination would be dang close to it.  I also knew that the properties of these flours would work well together and do what traditional cake flour does -- produce a batter that can hold sugar and fat without collapsing, while yielding a light and fluffy cake with a tender and silky crumb.


I whisked them together before adding them to the egg mixture, which I did by folding them in gently with a rubber spatula.  Last, but not least, I added 120g whole milk and 20g maraschino cherry liquid, folding that in, also, with a rubber spatula.


I poured the cake batter onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and put it in the 300F-degree oven for 20 minutes.  And when it was done, it looked like this:


Evenly cooked, light golden-brown, darker (but not burnt) at the edges... I almost did a whoop and a holler, but needed to let it cool before doing the taste (and bendy) test.

 While that cooled, I started the neutral caramel rectangles.  I heated isomalt, sugar, glucose, and a little water to 316F degrees and poured it onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet to harden:






It only took about 30 minutes to harden and cool to room temperature, after which time I broke it up into a million little pieces and ground it (in small batches) in my spice grinder (which is actually a coffee bean grinder I use only for spices and powders):



I put the powder into a fine-mesh strainer and lightly tap-tap-tapped it on the side as I hovered it over a Silpat-lined baking sheet, allowing the powder to fall evenly across the surface of it to create a sheet of powder:




I put the sheet of powder into a 350F-degree oven for about 3 minutes, turning the sheet pan 180 degrees halfway through, until it was completely melted:


Then, the book instructs you to cut small rectangles while the caramel is still warm and pliable.  Which I did.  But it was not exactly the cleanest cutting job in the world:


And all across the land, pastry chefs wept.


While the caramel rectangles were hardening, I made the tonka bean cream.  Except, uh, I adapted that, too.  I only had a few tonka beans in my possession, and needed them for the tonka bean froth.  So, I made coffee bean cream instead.  I KNOW.  How can you not love coffee as part of your dessert?

In a saucepan, I brought milk, heavy cream, maraschino cherry liquid, sugar and two tablespoons of gently crushed (in a mortar and pestle) coffee beans to a simmer.  I turned off the flame, covered the pot, and let it steep for 10 minutes.


Then, I poured the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl for the next step, which is adding gelatin sheets (that were soaked in cold water for five minutes):


I poured this mixture into a clean saucepan and reheated it, while whisking together egg yolks and salt in a clean bowl.  I then tempered the yolks with some of the warm coffee-milk mixture, then poured the tempered yolks into the saucepan with the coffee-milk mixture and brought it up to a simmer, whisking constantly.

When it was done, I poured it into a glass bowl that was nesting in a bowl of ice, to cool it to room temperature, before putting it into a siphon canister and chilling it for an hour.  I also made the tonka bean froth, but took no photos (explained in the Music to Cook By section below), though you'll see the frothy goodness in the final plating photos at the end of the post.

Meanwhile, the sponge cake had completely cooled and was ready to be cut into rectangles, and then enveloped by caramel rectangles.

Look how spongey and bendy and rolly it is! 


This pleases me greatly.  I foresee many a buche de noël in my future.

I cut rather generous rectangles here (deviating from the book's recommendation), and inserted a vanilla bean into the end (because when heated, as it soon will be, it unleashes the most lovely aroma):


I topped each one with a caramel rectangle, then put them in the oven for about 3 minutes until the caramel had melted down around the edges, and the cake was warmed.



Then, I flipped them over and did the same thing on the other side.  The caramel rectangles began to break apart when I was working with them, so I just made sure enough pieces were on them to envelop the cake (which you will see in the final plating photos; 'cause my sugar-wrapping skillz aren't that great).

Time to plate the dish.  Or, uh, glass it, I guess.

First thing in the glass was a healthy shot of coffee-bean cream from the siphon canister (into which I'd discharged an NO2 cartridge, so the coffee-bean cream had that soda water buzz to it).  Then, I placed a sponge cake into each glass, which I topped with tonka bean froth and some grated dried cherry.




Remember what Twinkies taste like?  Well, imagine a not-chemical-tasting Twinkie with the creaminess on the outside (eminently a better decision) and coffee to go with.  Also, imagine it warm.  And with no assy-tasting aftertaste that coats the roof of your mouth.

That's what this tasted like.  It was awesome.  Really and truly.  I am still a little shocked that my instincts were spot-on in making the sponge cake.  I guess I'm better at this gluten-free baking thing than I thought I was.

So, because I made the rectangles, like, twenty-seven times larger than the book recommended, you couldn't exactly lift them up by the pod to eat them.  That's okay.  We're all friends, so we used our fingers (and the spoons I graciously provided).  The first bite was nicely coated in the coffee-bean cream and the froth.  After the first bite, we dunked them back into the glass, and the cake started absorbing the liquids, and HOLY MOTHER OF JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE was that the right thing to do. Each bite was pure pleasure and delight, and the cake was just warmed enough that it felt even fresher and more delicious.

Oh, but what's that you see in the photo below?  An uneaten dessert?


Shock! Gasp! Horror!

One of my trusty tasters had taken sick just a few hours before and didn't make his way over to my house. Pity, that.  An extra dessert for the cook, my friends insisted (as they snacked on leftover pieces of sponge cake)...


Even better the second time.


Next Up: Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar

Resources: All flours from Bob's Red Mill; Smith Meadows Farm eggs; Domino sugar; Trimoline, isomalt, and glucose from L'Epicerie; Monini grapeseed oil; Safeway brand maraschino cherries; Clabber Girl baking powder; Natural by Nature milk; Organic Valley cream; King Arthur Flour gelatin sheets; tonka beans from that witchy-wiccan-whateveritwasonlinestorethatisnowoutofbusinesssoican'tlinktoit; David's kosher salt; soy lecithin from Terra Spice; vanilla beans from my pantry.

Music to Cook By:  Pandora Radio.  The Funk Channel.  Where they also sometimes play disco, which will inspire you to want to do your own wildly choreographed version of The Hustle in your kitchen and I'm here to tell you that's probably a bad idea especially if your kitchen is as small as mine is but sure fine go ahead and try to replicate those moves you've seen on So You Think You Can Dance even though you most certainly are not a dancer and have no idea what you're doing but don't come crying to me when you whack the hell out of your wrist on your countertop when you spin around doing that windmill-lookin' thing with your arms because I tried to warn you.

"Read" My Previous Post: Tomato, balloons of mozzarella, many complementary flavors

NOTE: Harold McGee's new book, Keys to Good Cooking, is out.  You can listen to his interview with NPR "Fresh Air" host, Terry Gross, by clicking here

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

July 19, 2010

Alinea at Home Adaptation: Raspberry, goat's milk, red pepper taffy, pistachio

When I looked at the core elements in this dish: raspberries, goat milk, pistachios, red bell peppers, and lavender, I knew immediately that I wanted to adapt this dish and try something a little different.


Well, I'm allergic to bell peppers, so that was one thing I knew I couldn't do.  And, you guys know about my disdain for raspberries: Nature's Hollow, Hairy Scourge™.  Lastly, I was in charge of bringing dessert to a friend's house for a night of cards (and swearing, which apparently goes hand-in-hand with playing cards in this group) and I kinda wanted to knock their socks off with something from the Alinea cookbook, but it had to be portable.

So, instead of making this dish exactly as it is in the book, I adapted it and, as a result, have an ice cream recipe I think you'll want to try.  Immediately.

I mean, LOOK at this:


Don't you want to eat it right this second?

I do.  And since there's a little bit of it left in my freezer, as soon as I'm done writing this post that's where I'll be.  Freezer door hanging open (ARE YOU TRYING TO COOL OFF THE WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD!!?!?!?!), container in hand, spoon digging furiously, moaning when the lavender and goat-stank hit my palate.  Wish you all could be here.  This shizz is good.

Thanks to David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop I love making ice cream.  In fact, I can't remember the last time I ate the store-bought stuff.  I consulted his Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream recipe (on page 92 of Perfect Scoop) for ratios, then struck out on my own to make blackberry, lavender, goat milk ice cream.

I think you'll love it.  Here goes:

Blackberry Lavender Goat Milk Ice Cream

2 C goat milk

3/4 C sugar

pinch salt

1 T food-grade lavender buds

1 quart blackberries

6 egg yolks (I used duck eggs, which, wow)

2 C heavy cream

dash vanilla extract

Warm goat milk, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat; stirring to dissolve sugar.  This should just be warmed -- not quite a simmer and definitely not a boil.  As soon as the sugar is dissolved, add the lavender buds, turn off the burner, put the lid on the saucepan and let the liquid steep for 20 minutes.

While the lavender goat milk is steeping, do the following:

-- Pour the cream into a separate large mixing bowl, and set a mesh strainer over the top of the bowl. 

-- In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk the egg yolks together.

After the 20-minute goat-milk steeping, pour that mixture through a mesh strainer into another saucepan.  discard the lavender buds.  Reheat the mixture on low-medium heat for a few minutes, then ladle some of the milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking to incorporate.  Do 2 - 3 ladles of the milk mixture, then pour and scrape the eggs and milk combo back into the main saucepan with the rest of the lavender-goat milk.

Stir to incorporate, and keep stirring it over medium heat until the liquid begins to coat the back of your wooden spoon or a silicone spatula.  Turn off the burner and pour this mixture through the mesh strainer into the bowl with the heavy cream and stir well to mix.  Add a dash of vanilla extract, and stir to incorporate. 

Completely cool and then chill this mixture before processing it in your ice cream maker.  I started by nesting the bowl of liquid in a larger bowl of ice cubes and stirred it to start the cooling process.  When it had gotten a little below room temperature, I put the bowl of liquid into the refrigerator for about 4 hours until it had cooled completely.

Just before churning this in your ice cream maker, put the blackberries in a bowl and mash them a bit with a fork.  No need to make a puree.  Just rough-chop 'em with your fork.  I suppose you could put them in a food processor and pulse it once or twice, if you'd like to do it that way.

Mix the blackberries in with the lavender-goat milk custard and stir well to get everything mixed well.

Process in your ice cream maker, according to the owners manual.

I also wanted to make the Pistachio Brittle from the book, because I knew it would be fantastic with this ice cream.  And, I wanted something a little salty and crunchy with it.  It felt right.  So, while my ice cream custard was cooling in the refrigerator, I walked up to the little food co-op in town and bought some pistachios.

Pistachio Brittle

The pistachio brittle is incredibly easy.  If you have the Alinea coobook, it's on page 92.  If not, here's how to make it:

165g (5.8 oz.) pistachios

465g (1 lb. .4 oz.) sugar

72g (2.5 oz.) water

5g (.2 oz.) baking soda

If you didn't buy them already-roasted, toast pistachios on a baking sheet in a 350F-degree oven for 8-10 minutes.  When you start to smell them get a little nutty, take them out.  They're ready to go.  I should note here that the pistachios I bought were already roasted and salted, and I gotta say, I loved the salt in them so add a few shakes of kosher salt to yours if you're roasting them on your own.  You won't be sorry.

Heat the sugar and water to 342F degrees (172C), then turn off the burner.  Stir in the baking soda (the mixture will foam and bubble when you do this) and the pistachios.  Pour the mixture onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet and let it harden at room temperature (should take less than an hour).  Break it into small pieces and store it in an airtight container (otherwise, it gets sticky and chewy and weird).

I think the brittle took all of 10 minutes to make.  Fifteen tops.  So, if you're not an ice cream-making dude or dame, then at least make this brittle.  Please.  I beg you.  It's nutty, and molasses-y, and crunchy, and holy crap I bet if you added smoked salt or used smoked nuts this would be even more awesome... especially with blackberry ice cream, because I'm now having flashbacks to this dish and remembering how utterly blown away I was by it.  When I look back on all the dishes I've made for this blog, "Blackberry, smoke, bee balm" stands out because for months afterward I just couldn't get over the fact that I was capable of making something so good, and so flavorful.

This ice cream felt very much the same way to me.  I'm sure some of you are thinking Girl please, ice cream isn't hard to make... but I had very much the same reaction to eating this ice cream as I did to last year's blackberry dish.  For this one, though, to be able to trust my instincts enough to know how to layer flavors, figure out ratios and timing, and be able to make something that rendered everyone speechless at the table feels really, really good.

This cooking thing I'm doing?  I think I like it.

Up Next: Shellfish Sponge, horseradish, celery, gooseberry

Read My Previous Post: Raspberry transparency I screwed up, dagnabit

March 22, 2010

Bison, beets, blueberries, burning cinnamon

Every so often, someone asks me how far along I am in this project of mine. And, I realized last night that I've been giving everyone the same answer for the past six months or so: Uh, I dunno... about a third of the way through the book, I think?

I spent some time yesterday afternoon going through my Alinea at Home spreadsheet, tracking which dishes I'd done, which ones still needed to be posted, and which ones were coming up in the next two months, and it hit me: I'm more than halfway through the book.


I totally missed my Alinea at Home Halfiversary, which I think might've been the Foie Gras candy.

Wow.  More than halfway through the book.  I've done 56 of 107 dishes.  I kinda can't believe it.  Can you?

The bison dish I did prior to this one was so wonderful in such a personal way I had to force myself not to compare the two when I started cooking this one -- it wouldn't have been fair.  But, this one has so many elements I love: bison, blueberries, beets, fennel... how could I not love it?  I just wasn't sure what everything would taste like together, you know?

It was indeed another week from hell... not in a bad way, just a crazy, hectic schedule with deadlines to meet, more hurry-up-and-wait projects, and other distractions that sorta forced me to cook this in a really condensed and much more compressed timeline than I'd originally planned.  That's okay, though, because I needed more stress and pressure in my life.  Really and truly.

Let's get to it:

Six days prior to even starting this dish, I had to make the corned bison.  Here's the corning liquid the meat rests in, refrigerated for six days:


(that's water, salt, evaporated cane juice, tinted curing salt, black peppercorns, ground cinnamon, bay leaves, and the guts of a vanilla bean)

Here's the bison leg meat (I removed meat from the multiple osso buco cuts) before it went into the corning liquid:


Here it is IN the corning liquid:


And, six days later, here it is in Ziploc sous vide bags with some canola oil in a four-hour, 185F-degree water bath:


While the bison was sous vide-ing, I prepped a beet for dehydration:

DSC_0002 2

I sliced one medium-sized beet very thin on my awesome Benriner mandoline (if you don't have one, you should):

DSC_0003 2

DSC_0004 2

Man, I love the early-morning sun in my kitchen...


I simmered the beet slices in a mixture of water, salt, and sugar for a few minutes, then let them drain on a towel-lined baking sheet:


I put the beet slices onto the trays in my dehydrator at 145F degrees, and after five hours, they looked like this:


I put them into my mini-chopper with some freeze-dried blueberries, and made beet-blueberry crumbs (you'll see the crumbs in the final plating photo):


As soon as the bison leg meat came out of the water bath, I plonked them into two big bowls of ice water (more ice than water to start) and put two bags of four cubed red beets (with butter!) into the water bath and let the temperature come down to 180F degrees:


The beets cooked for an hour.  I put them into my blender along with 500g of beet juice, salt, and red wine vinegar until everything was smooth and pureed.  I then added Ultra-Tex 3 to thicken it, then pushed the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and reserved the creamy pudding until it was time to plate.

After the bison leg meat had cooled, I cut it into half-inch cubes and stored it in the fridge until it was time to make bison leg ragout out of it:



Meanwhile, after the two bags of beets for the beet pudding came out of the water bath, two more bags of beets went in -- one bag of red beet cubes and one bag of golden beet cubes.  These were supposed to have been baby beets, but after calling nine grocery stores and three farmers market producers and not finding any baby beets, I improvised and just cut regular beets into what I thought would be close to baby beet size.  I put them into Ziploc sous vide bags with a mixture of water, salt, red wine vinegar, and butter:

They went into the water bath for about an hour at 165F degrees:


While they cooked, I made what I think is my favorite-named element of this dish: the Beet Sheet.

The book recommends juicing four beets to get 500g of beet juice, but I had a few bottles of beet juice already on hand, so I just went with that.  I brought the beet juice, agar agar, and salt to a boil, whisking like the Tasmanian Devil while it boiled for a minute and a half, then turned off the burner before whisking in four already-soaked and pliable gelatin (ha! i just typed "genital" - whoops) sheets. 

I poured 120g of this liquid onto an acetate-lined baking sheet and put it in the fridge to set.  I saved the rest of the liquid in case this version of it didn't work and I needed to try again.  Luckily, it worked, though my camera skillz were sorely lacking:


(no, you don't have glaucoma)

Once the beet sheet had set, I used a 3" round cutter to cut eight circles, which got draped (or folded) over the corned bison ragout in the final plating.

The last thing I had to sous vide was the bison tenderloin (135F degrees for 25 minutes):


When the tenderloin was done, I plunged it into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  Then, I cut it into eight pieces and let them rest on a plate in the fridge, covered by a paper towel, until it was nearly time to plate.

While all this sous vide action was going on, I was making a few other things: pickled blueberries and blueberry gastrique, and fennel puree.

To make the pickled blueberries, I brought red wine, water, and sugar to a boil, added blueberries, then turned off the burner and let them cool to room temperature.  I strained the blueberries (and stored them in a container in the fridge until it was time to plate), and saved the liquid to make the gastrique (which you essentially do by reducing the blueberry liquid, then adding veal stock and reducing further, skimming and straining until it's thick enough to coat the back of a spoon). 


I also made fennel puree by cooking 2 large fennel bulbs (roughly chopped) in a whole freakin' stick of butter (BOO-YAH!), which, when done looked like this.......


..... and smelled better than almost anything I've smelled in months.  Wowza.  I know I've written before about wanting to bathe in Bordelaise sauce and wanting to steam my face with lemon thyme, but this hot, buttered, fennel gives those other things a SERIOUS run for their money.  Day-um.  And for some reason, I'm now singing "HOT buttered FENNEL...(hot buttered fennel) tonight....(tonight) Oh yeah...."

I put the hot buttered fennel (you're singing it now, too, aren't you) into a blender to puree it, then passed it through a chinois into a saucepan to keep warm, where I added a dash of white wine vinegar and some kosher salt.  You'll see the final fennel puree in the plating photo.

Another element you'll soon see is the corned bison leg ragout.  I took the cubes of bison meat and added them to a warmed mixture of cream cheese, heavy cream, red wine vinegar, salt, a lightly blanched dice of fennel, and a fennel seed/star anise powder seen here:


I took a photo of the bison ragout as it was cooking, but it looks like dog food on its own, so I deleted it.

I shaved some fresh fennel on my mandoline and pulled off some fennel fronds for the dish, and the last thing I had to do before plating was sear the bison tenderloin pieces -- a few minutes on each side.  I also reheated the mock-baby beets in their cooking liquid.

Here's what the final dish looked like:


So, let's look at this photo below and go clockwise from the top, shall we?

Mock-baby red beets, mock-baby golden beets, beet pudding, fennel puree, corned bison ragout (topped with shaved fresh fennel and fennel fronds), seared bison tenderloin (topped with a 2" piece of beet sheet), and in the middle were the pickled blueberries, sitting in a small pool of blueberry gastrique.  The confetti-like sprinklin' action you see on top of the fennel puree?  Those are beet-blueberry crumbs.


Twelve elements in one dish.  Gorgeous.

The book suggests adding a smoking cinnamon stick or two to each plate, and in the book they're using plates shaped to be able to do that.  I couldn't make it work on each individual plate, so I lit a bunch of cinnamon sticks on fire, then blew them out so the cinnamon smoke would be our centerpiece as we ate:


One of my good friends was in town from Portland, OR (he's a vegetarian, and loved the bison), another college friend came by, and my neighbors were more than happy to join us for this dish. 

I started off by eating little tastes of each of the elements of this dish.  I'd been tasting as I went along, but did a little round-robin of nibbling before starting to mix things and get a taste of beets and bison, bison and fennel and golden beet, bison, blueberries, fennel, and beet pudding.... the combinations were kinda fun to experiment with.

The bison ragout tasted better than it looked (whew!).  In fact, it was delicious.  You could tell it was corned, but I kinda thought it might taste more corned than it did, but that's okay.  The seared bison tenderloin was AMAZING... just further proof that when you start with great ingredients, you're halfway there.  All I did was add heat, and it was melt-in-the-mouth good.  The beets were lovely (I love beets, even though as a kid they made me gag).  The fennel puree was really nice, though in retrospect could've used more salt.  I liked the raw fennel with beets and bison, too.  Didn't know what they'd be like together, but the freshness of the fennel pulls the beets away from feeling too earthy and heavy.  I loved loved LOVED the pickled blueberries.  If you own this book and wanted to try something from it, make the pickled blueberries (page 112).  Seriously.  They took all of 5 minutes of active cooking time and 30 minutes of cooling-to-room-temperature time.  No whackadoo ingredients.  Just blueberries, red wine, water, and sugar.  Be a rock star.  Channel your inner Achatz.  MAKE THESE BLUEBERRIES, I BEG YOU.  I think they'd go really nicely with pork, too.  Or, you know, you could just eat them out of a bowl on their own, they're that good.

I didn't want this dish to end.  It was a hefty portion of food, and I was glad for that.  It was nice to have everyone around my table, enjoying something I made, using ingredients I love, but never would have thought to put together on one plate.  And, I had leftovers of many of the elements of this dish, so I was happy to share them with the neighbors and snack on them myself over the next day or two.  That's one of the awesome benefits of doing this blog: my fridge has the best leftovers in America.  True story.

Before I go....

I did a few Q&A posts on my French Laundry at Home blog, where I encouraged folks to post questions in the comments or email me with things they wanted to know, and I think it's high time I did that here.  Some of you have been reading me since way back in the beginning of my FL@H days, but many of you haven't.  So, if there's anything you wanna know -- whether it's about me, food, cooking, Alinea, gluten, writing, the time I spilled a drink on Colin Powell's shoes, Barry Manilow, my obsession with notebooks, snow, how I got kicked out of my college pre-med program, or my thoughts on Richard Marx (seriously, Richard Marx's PR person, I know this is showing up in your Google Alert, so can we please just have a conversation about a photo-op when he's here in the DC area on April 6, please, I'm beggin' ya?) feel free to ask.  Hit me in the comments or email me at [email protected].  I'll do a post or two to answer your questions, and will also let you know what I'm thinking about this blog now that I'm halfway done.  'Cause I have been thinking about it quite a bit these past few days now that I know how far I've come...

Up Next: Marcona Almond, white ale, pink pepper, lavender

Resources: Bison from Gunpowder Bison & Trading; David's kosher salt; Wholesome Sweeteners evaporated cane sugar; black peppercorns, cinnamon, bay leaves, vanilla bean, fennel seed, and star anise from TPSS Co-op; 365 brand butter, cream cheese, and canola oil; beets and cinnamon sticks from HMart in Wheaton, MD; Domino sugar; Just Blueberries dried blueberries; Terra Medi vinegars; Ultra-Tex 3 from Terra Spice; gelatin sheets and agar agar from L'Epicerie; blueberries and fennel from Whole Foods; Organic Valley heavy cream; Biotta beet juice.

Music to Cook By: Nellie McKay; Normal as Blueberry Pie.  I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era.  I should've been an adult in the 50s and 60s, because the singer/songwriter genre in those decades is so ingrained in my DNA, it's kinda of scary.  Nellie McKay, however, is a modern-day singer/writer who has that early 60s feel to her music.  Think Doris Day meets Baby Washington meets The Pentagons meets Don Cherry.  The first time I heard one of her songs, I thought it was part of a retro/oldies podcast, but I was wrong.  If you're missing "Mad Men" as much as I am, and you wanna transport yourself back to the early 60s but still support a young artist, see what you think of Nellie McKay.  Ya might just like her yerself.

Read My Previous Post: Comfort Food (Bison, braised pistachios, potato, sweet spices)

October 19, 2009

Wild Turbot, shellfish, water chestnuts, hyacinth vapor

Scott Weinstein, my fishmonger and my friend, is leaving Blacksalt, so I wanted to get one more seafood dish in before his last day (October 31, for anyone in the DC area who wants to stop in before he leaves). 

Every single bit of food in this recipe made me drool.  I had very high expectations for this dish, because turbot and shellfish and sunchoke puree?  Music to my ears.  I'm still having a hard time accepting the fact that summer is over, and this dish was the transition that is helping me love autumn once again: fish and shellfish from an ocean I miss so much, and a warm, earthy puree that makes this colder, windy weather a little more palatable.

I've made mussels and littlenecks here at home so many times I've lost count, but I'd never worked with razor clams before.  I see their shells on the beach every summer and I've eaten them quite a bit, but I've never cooked them.  They were kinda slurpy... meaning, after I rinsed them, they were moving in and out of their shells quite a bit and making a kind of slurping, slithery sound against the glass bowl as they did so.  A little creepy, but nothing at all like the Great Softshell Crab Trauma of 2007.  Not even close.


In a large stockpot, I brought to a simmer some wine, vermouth, shallots, peppercorns (the book calls for 27 of them; I put in 28 just to be a dick), fennel, tarragon, thyme, and garlic:


Then, one batch of shellfish at a time, I steamed the mussels, littlenecks and razors -- about 3-4 minutes for each, pulling each batch out with wok strainer thingie, and letting the shellfish sit in a colander over a bowl to catch all the liquid that might be hiding in the shells.




After removing the shellfish from their shells and putting them in separate containers prior to the further cleaning of them, I strained the cooking liquid through a double-cheesecloth-lined strainer.  I wanted to make sure I caught all the sand and other gunk that might have ended up in the cooking liquid.  It looks murky in the photo below, but it was clean as a whistle.  No grit, no sand. 


It was at this point that I checked the book again to see how much of this liquid I needed for the custard, for sous vide-ing the turbot, and for storing the shellfish.  I'm glad I did, because had I not rechecked it, I would have been screwed.

After cooking the shellfish and straining out the solids, I ended up with 490g of liquid (started out with 500g -- 250g white wine + 250g vermouth+whatever small amount the shellfish release when steaming open).  The books calls for setting aside 250g of the liquid to store the shellfish in, then to reduce the rest by half, which would be used for the custard and the turbot.  But, the custard required 350g of stock and the turbot needed 240g of stock, so I was perplexed as to how 240g of stock (since I had just 490g and already set aside 250g for the shellfish) could be reduced to equal 590g. 

So, I made the executive decision to not reduce the stock, and instead, set aside just 200g (instead of 250) for storing the shellfish in the fridge, which left me with 290g -- so I split it in half: 145 each for the shellfish custard and the turbot, then adjusted the corresponding ingredients in those dishes accordingly.

I love math.

Where were we?  Ah yes, cleaning the shellfish.  I removed the bellies from the razor clams (the belly is outside the clam and pulls off much like an outer filmy layer of a scallion or green onion), then sliced the razor clams on the bias:


Next, I trimmed the littlenecks, removing the stomach and rinsing them to make sure all the sand was removed.


I don't have an individual photo of the mussels being cleaned, but I just pinched then pulled off that outer blackish band from around the edge of each mussel.  Then, they all went into the now-strained cooking liquid and into the fridge while I finished prepping the rest of the dish.


Onto the shellfish stock!  My kitchen, at this point, smelled amazing.... and got even more amazing as the afternoon went on.  I love the smell of cooking shellfish.  It's so fresh and fragrant and salty.  Bliss.

For the shellfish stock, I mixed the shellfish stock and some heavy cream and brought it to a simmer, then added some iota carrageenan (that's with a hard "g" sound, not "jeenan") and mixed it with my immersion blender.


Poured that mixture through a fine mesh strainer into another saucepan, covered it, then stored it in the fridge until it was time to plate.


Sadly, neither the farmers market nor three local grocery stores had sunchokes when I was shopping for this dish (which is odd), so I subbed in some Yukon Gold potatoes, because I knew they'd work, flavor-wise with this dish.  Sunchokes would have been better (I love love love them), but I had to roll with the punches and make do with what I had.

So, I peeled and cut the potatoes into small chunks, put them in a saucepan with heavy cream and salt, and brought them to a simmer.  I cooked them over low heat, covered, for 25 minutes -- at which point the potatoes were so, so tender.


I put the potatoes and 2T of the cooking cream into the blender and pureed them until they were silky and creamy, and oh my....


I put the potato puree into a small saucepan (over no heat) and got to work on the fish.


Gulp.  Yes, Turbot is expensive.

I suppose I could have substituted halibut or sole or cod, but it's so rare that I eat Turbot, that I wanted to splurge and do it right.

I also bought a little more than I needed, because I knew I wanted this dish to be more entree-sized in its final presentation.

So, yeah... Turbot.  But look at it:


I put each turbot fillet into a ziploc bag along with 10g butter and approximately 15g of shellfish stock.  Rolling them to remove as much air as I could before sealing them, I put them in a 138F/59C water bath for 20 minutes.


With 5-10 minutes left to go on the fish's cooking time, I slowly and gently reheated the potato puree and the shellfish custard.  I also put the bowl of shellfish atop a large pot of simmering water (improvised double-boiler) to warm them.

To plate: turbot in the center, flanked by potato puree and a little fortress of diced water chestnuts



I gently poured the custard in so that it surrounded the fish, but didn't cover it. Then, I topped the fish with a generous serving of shellfish, as well as a fresh fennel frond.


So, how'd it taste?

Check out the reaction below from one of the neighbor kids (who, by the way, SPIT OUT the last two Alinea @Home dishes he tasted):


Need further proof that this was a winner?


You guys, this is one of the best things I've ever made.  It's certainly our favorite dish, so far, from the Alinea cookbook.


Clean plates all around.  The turbot is rich, but not chest-clutchingly so.  The shellfish custard was creamy and fragrant, but not heavy.  The shellfish was perfectly, perfectly cooked (yay, me!).  Not a bit of grit or mealiness in any of mussels or clams (yay, Scott!).  The water chestnuts added a needed texture to it, and the potato puree was just lovely.  All the flavors worked so well together, and everything just tasted so gooooooooood.   It was one of those dishes that made me wish I had a fireplace, because I wanted nothing more than to curl up on the sofa under a blanket with a glass of Macallan 18 afterward. 

Now, those of you who have the book, or who remembered every word in the title of this post might be wondering: Carol, what about the hyacinth vapor?  Good question.  A few weeks ago, Grant posted an essay on his blog on The Atlantic's Food Section called "Fish, Flowers, and the Taste of Youth."   In it, he writes about the creation of this dish -- all the different variations, tests, and how it just wasn't coming together the way he wanted it to until he added the scent of flowers.  Smelling hyacinths as he cooked and ate this dish reminded him of fishing with his dad for walleye, and how they'd sit on the banks amid the spring wildflowers eating lunch.

And it struck me: fish and flowers is Grant's food memory.  Not mine. 

And yes, I could have found hyacinth or some other really, really fragrant flower to put in a charger-type bowl, and create vapor for this dish, but it didn't feel right.  It felt forced.  And, it's not like by not including it I was ignoring a specific technique or ingredient integral to the execution of this dish or its enjoyment by others.  Instead, the shellfish and turbot smell were more than enough to make us giddy and hungry and happy bite after bite.  Because when I think of shellfish, I think of the beach, I think of Quahog's, and I think of my friends and how much we all love a good meal together.  And, when my neighbor's kids think of shellfish, they always always always think about two things: the mussels at Central, and their favorite French Laundry at Home dish: "Linguine" with White Clam Sauce... and that makes me grin, because I wonder if -- when they're all grown up, out on dates or having dinner with friends or their own families -- when they see and eat mussels or clams they'll think about how much fun we've all had over the years eating at the same table, cracking jokes, trying new foods, and revisiting old favorites.

The next day, I worked all morning and treated myself to an Alinea-leftovers lunch -- DeBoles gluten-free/corn spaghetti with some leftover shellfish tossed in some leftover shellfish custard.


And, just as I finished eating it (and it was divine), I heard the mailman's truck pull up outside, and I was hoping he had something I'd been waiting for:


YES!  A brown, cardboard box from Amazon can only mean one thing:


I love my life....

Up Next: Crab Apple, white cheddar, eucalyptus, onion

Resources: Shellfish and turbot from Blacksalt; Martini and Rossi vermouth; Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc; peppercorns, garlic, and fennel from the TPSS Co-op; thyme and tarragon from my garden; iota carrageenan from Terra Spice; Organic Valley heavy cream; Dynasty water chestnuts.

Music to Cook By:  Meaghan Smith; The Cricket's Orchestra.  I love this girl's voice.  It's young and soulful and really beautiful.  She's a modern-day Keely Smith, she is.

Read My Previous Post: Alinea? IS FOR BABIES

August 22, 2009

Kuroge Wagyu, cucumber, honeydew, lime sugar

If you've ever eaten Snake River Farms beef, you'll know why I wanted to use their Wagyu for this dish.  If you haven't, oh how I wish and hope you will someday.  It's one of those bites of food that renders you mute, and even if you could talk, to try and find the language to describe how good it tastes is impossible.  The beef melts in your mouth and is, quite honestly, one of the best things I've ever eaten in my whole life.  I know the cooking process and professional expertise plays into how it tastes, but when you start with beef this good, it can only get better with great cooking.

So, a few weeks ago, I called Kim Glineski at Snake River to see if I could order the Wagyu beef cap I needed for this dish.  They were willing to work with me on it, but I had to buy 4 of them, and the price per pound meant I'd have had to shell out in the low four figures... something I knew I couldn't and didn't want to do.  Yes, I have friends who love food, but none who, right now, would've wanted to spend that much money on meat.

So, I pouted for about 3.8 seconds and thanked Kim for trying to make it work.  Before we hung up, she suggested I speak to their distributor in my region -- Seafoods.com -- to see if they might be able to find one of their clients for me to share a shipment with, and thus split the cost.  Sadly, we weren't able to make it happen, but they were able to get me some Mishima Ranch Wagyu instead:


But we'll get to the meat-cooking portion of our program in just a few minutes.

The first thing I set out to make was the lime sugar -- something I thought would be really quite easy.  And you know what happens when I think something's gonna be easy: fail-o-rama.

I needed Teflon-coated paper for this, and it was on my ingredient planning and procurement list; unfortunately, it got lost in the shuffle of a thousand different post-flu work projects I had to scramble to get done, and I didn't realize that I hadn't bought them until I cracked open the book to start pulling together my mise en place.  Dangit.  So, I sucked it up and used Silpat instead, which I thought might just possibly maybe perhaps work (while knowing deep-down inside it wouldn't), but I forged ahead anyway, because hell, it's only lime and sugar.  Not like if it doesn't work, I'm out nine frajillion dollars or hours of sweaty labor, right?

No, I'm just out a heaping helping of 12 hours of gas usage from my oven running overnight with a side order of maybe-I-should-just-get-an-effing-dehydrator-already.

To start, I whisked together sugar, egg whites, salt, citric acid, lime juice, and lime oil:



I put this mixture in between two layers of Silpat on a baking sheet.  The book says you should flatten it into 5" disk-ish shapes.  Not sure why.  I tried to do it in small bits, but when I rolled it to flatten it, it just T-1000'd itself into one giant blob.



I put it in a very low oven (about 120-125 degrees F) and went to bed. 

This is what greeted me the following day:


The more white-ish edges kind of resembled what it was supposed to look like, but the rest of it?  Not so much.


It was bendy and taffy-like, so I just let it sit uncovered in the warm oven, with the oven door cracked open, to see if it would dry out.

It didn't.  It just got darker and even more bendy and twisty, so peace out, lime sugar.  It was nice knowin' ya.

No time for whining, though.  Life's too short.  Onward and upward: time to finish the soy pudding!

Just as I started the lime sugar the day before, I also started the soy pudding a day ahead of time.  I mixed the tamari soy sauce and agar agar in a medium saucepan and combined it with my immersion blender:



I brought it to a boil, whisking all the while, and let it cook for a minute or so:


I stirred in more soy sauce and strained the liquid through a fine-mesh strainer into a plastic deli container.


It sat in the fridge overnight (at the same time the lime sugar kerflonked itself in the oven), and when I went to finish it the next morning, it came out of the container all in one piece, and it was beautiful:


The natural sunlight on it kind of makes it look like a metal canister or something, doesn't it?

I put it in the blender, along with a little bit of soy sauce (probably about 2T) to help it along, until it was the texture of mayonnaise.



I poured it into a squeeze bottle and put it back in the fridge until it was time to plate.

Then, I got working on the beef.



Look at this gorgeous cross-section:


I trimmed away the silverskin and visible pieces of fat on the outside, squared off the tapered end, and cut the beef into two pieces, which went into separate plastic ziploc bags.  I squeezed out the air as best I could (please, oh lord in heaven, magical tonka bean witches, and Oprah's The Secret, send me a Cryovac), and put both bags in a 59-degree Celsius water bath, courtesy of my immersion circulator.


During the 30 minutes the meat was in the water bath, I prepped the cucumber strips.  I sliced an English cucumber lengthwise and sliced it along my mandoline, making 1/16"-thick strips.  I laid the strips on a damp paper towel-covered tray and covered them with another damp paper towel and stored them in the fridge.




That whole process took all of 3 minutes, so for the remaining 27 minutes of the beef's cooking time, I putzed around, nibbling on Cheetos and prosciutto and an overripe peach, drinking Pellegrino, and getting nostalgic about my cassette Walkman and the Depeche Mode tapes I played over and over again (you'll understand why when you see the "Music to Cook By" below).

I took the bags of beef out of the warm water, and put them into a bowl of ice water for 15 minutes to stop the cooking.


Now, here's where I diverged a wee bit from the book's instructions.  I knew I was going to serve this as an entree.  And, I knew the people I was serving it to wouldn't really love the idea of the meat being so red on the inside (even though it was cooked -- it's that when you do beef sous vide, medium-rare looks like rare).  So, I cut the meat into thin strips that I'd sear later on just before plating.


I also ate two of those strips, and moaned with pleasure as I chewed.  Lawdy, lawdy...

The last thing I needed to do was prep the honeydew melon.


Gosh, is there any better smell than honeydew?  I mean, I know there is.... but on a summer afternoon, when it's hot outside, and you just want something cool and clean and sweet and crisp and so fresh-smelling?  I'll take honeydew over cantaloupe or any other melon or fruit any day.

The book had very specific slicing instructions on the honeydew.  I took one look at them and decided that since I wasn't plating it on a rectangular dish as they did in the book (the photo of which is so beautiful, by the way), I'd just slice it however I felt like.


I heated my grill pan and seared the pieces of Wagyu ever so slightly:


And then, I plated.



Again, another dish I wish I could've had you all over to try.  Succulent, eye-closing, deep breath-inducing beef with the fresh, clean, cool crispness of the melon and the cucumber... a slight zing from the crushed pink peppercorns... the saltiness of the soy pudding.... AMAZING.  Yes, the lime sugar would've rocketed this off into the stratosphere, for sure.  And, looking back, if I'd had a few extra limes, I would've drizzled a wee bit of fresh-squeezed lime juice on this; but even without it the dish was outstanding.  You'll see there's cilantro on this portion -- my portion did not include cilantro, but my friends who ate it loved that extra bit of green to round out the flavors.

I'd make this again in a heartbeat.  In fact, I've been thinking about it as a salad: mache (or maybe even pea shoots), strips of seared gorgeous beef, cucumber, melon, and a lavender honey-lime-soy vinagrette.  I think this might be just the thing for a Sunday night dinner with friends.

Up Next: Huckleberry, soda, five flavors gelled

Resources: Mishima ribeye cap from Seafoods.com; honeydew from Whole Foods; English cucumber, cilantro, and limes from HMart; Domino sugar; eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; citric acid and agar agar from L'Epicerie; lime oil from TPSS Co-op; San-J gluten-free tamari soy sauce.

Music to Cook By: Depeche Mode; Catching Up With Depeche Mode.  I don't know how to describe my love for Depeche Mode.  They were the one band in high school who, along with Phil Collins and Journey, wrote and sang the songs that made me think man, they totally GET me.  They know how hard my LIFE is, and stuff.  Sigh....  I defy you not to dance around your kitchen to "Flexible."  Seriously, you can't NOT move to that.  Everything else? Just, LOVE.  Transports me to high school and college, and then makes me think about New Order, INXS, XTC, and OMD.  And Roxy Music.  And, seriously. Stop me, now.  Please.

Read My Previous Post: Oyster cream, lychee, horseradish, chervil

July 26, 2009

Oyster, ginger, steelhead roe, beer

There are two items in the heading of of this post that I don't really love and that made me nervous about this dish: oysters and beer.  Wait.  Let me amend that by saying: cooked oysters in one certain preparation, I love Love LOVE!  Raw oysters?  Snot wads.  Chewy, disgusting snot wads.  It's like when you have a sinus infection and you're at work, and you start coughing in the middle of a meeting and all of a sudden, you cough up a chunk of lung, and there it sits on your tongue.  You can't spit it out (because EVERYONE'S LOOKING).  You can't wedge it between your cheek and gum and deal with it later.  You have to swallow it and pretend it never happened.  You just have to.  And yes, I know it's disgusting (but we've ALL been there, let's not pretend otherwise), and that is what oysters feel like for me.  They make my shoulder blades twitch, my stomach churn, my salivary glands go into pre-vomit overdrive, and I just don't like them.  I've tried and I've tried, and I think it's darn skippy I have leaned to love them cooked.  A+ and +10 points for me.  But raw?  No freakin' thank you.

However, I went into this dish thinking, "If Thomas Keller can get me to change my mind about and fully love (and sometimes even dream about) cooked oysters, perhaps there is a sliver of hope that Grant Achatz can change my mind about raw oysters."

I feel less animosity, apprehension, and grossitude toward beer.  I think I just drank too much of it in college that I overdid it and simply don't enjoy it now.  Even before being diagnosed with celiac, I can't tell you the last time I had a beer.  It's been 5 or 6 years, at least.  It's not offensive and I don't hate it.  I just don't savor the taste of it or crave it.

But let's not dwell on the negative.  There are two ingredients in the post title that send me to the moon in full swoon: ginger and steelhead roe -- waahooooooo!!!!  I'd just had the most splendiferous experience with the Croquette.  I was on a high.  Nothing could go wrong, right?  There was the smoky, salty BLiS steelhead roe and ginger -- fresh, fragrant, bitey, deep-sighing aaaahhhh-inducing ginger.  I could eat anything -- even raw oysters -- as long as the magical roe and ginger were involved.

So, off I went, mentally skipping and zippadeedoodahing into the kitchen to get started.

You know how for the past few weeks, I've been all about "hey, look at me and my awesome food weight guessing skillz!!!"  Sadly, I am Rain Man no more.  I needed 125g of ginger, and this is what I chose:



But wait.

The book says 125 of ginger, peeled.  Maybe after I peel it, it'll be 125g.... right?


Oh well, can't win 'em all, can I?

I sliced the ginger thinly and added it to a pot of boiling water, sugar, and salt.


Just like the steeping pot of lemon thyme, I wish I'd made a second batch of this steeping ginger to use to steam my face.  A little spa time in the kitchen is something every girl needs from time to time, right?  I covered the pot, turned off the flame and let it steep for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, I soaked 4 gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water:



I love that shot. 

I strained the ginger liquid through a strainer and into a clean, empty bowl.  I discarded the ginger slices, and added the gelatin sheets (after squeezing out the water from them) to the ginger liquid, stirring until they had dissolved.  I poured the liquid into an 8x8" glass baking dish and put it in the refrigerator to set.




It took nearly three hours to set, and when it did, I used a spoon to "draw" swirly lines through it to agitate it into chunks that were supposed to be walnut-sized. I put the dish of chunked-up ginger gelée back into the refrigerator until it was time to plate.


Next step was trimming and cleaning the oysters.  The dreaded oysters.  Bllleeaarrrggghhh....


(nothing antibiotics can't clear up, right?)

I trimmed each one so that the flap and other assorted grossness was gone.  Here's what the assorted grossness parts looked like:


And here are the beautiful (*hack*cough*gag*) oysters all cleaned up and ready for plating:


The only other thing I had to do was make beer froth.  Not foam, which you see in the photo below because I poured the beer straight into the saucepan, not at an angle (doy):


I used Redbridge gluten-free beer, and it took only 2 bottles of it to give me 706g (I needed 700g).  And you know what I learned about gluten-free beer?  Unlike regular beer, you can't make the bubbles go down by sticking your finger onto the foam.


SCIENCE! (side note re: this link -- Being an astronaut = coolest job ever.  But picking the music for their daily wake-up call?  Second best job EVER.)

Where were we.... ah yes, the beer froth.

I put the beer in the saucepan over medium heat, added sugar, and brought it to a simmer, skimming off the foam once the original foamy head had settled and dissipated.  This smelled really lovely as it warmed -- made me think I might someday enjoy beer again.


I added the soy lecithin (which got a little clumpy), and stirred it as best I could to remove the chunks and get them to dissolve into the liquid. 


That strategy really didn't work, so I just turned off the burner and used the immersion blender to break up the bits (which worked) and got the froth part started.



I sliced a few scallions and took the roe out of the refrigerator and started plating (here's a shot of the roe when it was just opened to use in the Croquette dish... just to remind you how gorgeous this stuff is):


Then, I began plating, or glassing in this case, using my little juice glasses.  First in -- the ginger gelée:


Next, a spoonful or two of smoked steelhead roe:


Then, two oysters into each glass (they blorped when they landed on the gelée and roe -- ew):


A few rings of scallion:


Then, topped them all with beer froth:




I called the neighbors to come over for a taste -- and decided to do this tasting outside on the new table my awesome, fantastic, super-talented brother made for me out of reclaimed barn wood.  This table has made me an incredibly happy camper this summer, and I figured it could only elevate the flavor and experience of tasting this particular dish.


Because this course has beer in it, I couldn't serve it to the kids, so I did roe and crème fraîche atop cucumber slices, because I wanted them to enjoy the roe again since they loved it so much the the Croquette.


Let's look at a full shot of the table and benches (home and garden porn) so you can see my new favorite place to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and everything in between:


If I could, I would distract you with even more photos from different angles of my lovely table, because it will delay the delivery of what I feel like is really bad, deflating news.

I didn't like this dish.

I made sure I had some ginger gelée, an oyster, some scallion, roe and beer foam on the spoon for my first bite, and I was really hopeful.... really, really hopeful about how it would taste.

And it was odd.  Not awful, or spit-in-the-sink bad.  Just not good.  Actually, it's probably more appropriate to say that it wasn't to my liking.  The ginger and roe together, as predicted, were really fun and flavorful -- I liked the brightness and the salty smokiness together.  I loved how the ginger gelée opened up and amplified the roe. The beer taste was neither here nor there.  It was fine, but didn't really move me in any particular flavor direction.  I didn't really notice the scallion, come to think of it.  However, the texture and taste of the oyster just threw everything off.  I loved the feel of the roe crunching and popping as I chewed, but the oyster texture and taste just skeeved me out... and I know the oysters were very good oysters (everyone else seemed to enjoy them, and no one got sick, and Scott has never given me bad shellfish). 

I went back and looked at the book to see if maybe there was a different way I could've done this.  Should I have prepared a smaller serving with a little bit of everything and just one oyster in a shot glass?  No, because if you do this as a shot (or oyster shooter) then all you're doing is letting stuff dash across your palate and down your gullet without ever really tasting it -- and that would've been a huge waste of ginger and roe.

Could I have cooked and then cooled the oysters? Not sure how that would've helped.  Maybe finely diced them so they were the same size as the roe (or at least in a quarter-inch dice)? Maybe that would've made a difference.  I can't be sure.  Would love to know your thoughts on oysters and how ya like 'em, if you do.

I'm kinda bummed because I really did think I might enjoy this dish... that it might be the thing to get me to like raw oysters.  Or maybe I just need to give it time or realize I may never like them, no matter how good the rest of the ingredients are.


Up Next: Veal Stock, the Alinea way

Resources:  Oysters from BlackSalt; ginger and scallions from HMart; sheet gelatin from L'Epicerie; soy lecithin from WillPowder; Redbridge gluten-free beer; Domino sugar; and BLiS roe.

Music to Cook By: Fauré: Requiem; Andre Cluytens, conductor.  Okay, confession time: I was a choir geek.  I have been singing since before kindergarten, and did a lot of solo study in the classical form throughout high school and college, but I also spent a lot of time in chamber groups, concert choirs, and had the nerdtastic honor of being the number-one ranked mezzo soprano in Pennsylvania's state chorus in 1986.  I know.  Isn't that totally hot?  I sang all throughout college, and sang Fauré's Requiem (which I'd also done in two different groups in high school) in GW's university choir, sitting right next to my amazing friend, Marisa.  Still, to this day, we can sing it start to finish.  And we know all four voice parts from having done it so many times.  And now that you all have deleted me from your bookmarks and removed my dorktastic self from your RSS feed, please, at least, go listen to this piece.  It's gorgeous.  Yes, it's a funeral mass (perhaps for the death of my taste buds after once again attempting to eat raw oysters), but it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever to be composed.

Read My Previous Post:  Croquette, smoked steelhead roe, endive, radish

Alinea Book


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


Comment Policy

  • Your comments and questions are welcome. However, please think of this web site as if it were my dining room table, and make sure your comments reflect the manner in which you'd treat someone in their home, as if you'd only just met them and were sitting across from them, sharing a meal. I've got thick skin and can take constructive criticism (because ultimately, we all learn from it), but nasty, rude, grossly off-topic, attacking, baiting, or blatantly self-promotional comments aren't welcome and won't be posted. It's just not cool.