September 08, 2011

Chocolate, avocado, lime

Dessert: A Love Story

I'm in love.

With lime ice cream.  Sweet, tart, cold, smooth lime ice cream.  C'mere, you...


But, I have to confess: I am tempted to have a torrid, steamy, illicit affair with this lime curd:


Oh, lime curd... you wicked beast... what, with all your sugar and your eggs...


Oh, how you taunt me.  How you beckon me.  I mean, LOOK at all the BUTTER that went into you.  Oh, lime curd...


That's enough sweet, unsalted butter to make Paula Deen and Tony Bourdain get over their stupid Internet fight and come together in peace and harmony.

But am I willing to share my lime curd?  In its liquid form, no.  But after I dehydrated it for 56 hours (the book says it takes 12) and it still wasn't crisp and looked like pee-soaked drywall... the bloom was off the rose, my friends. Semi-dehydrated, kind of limp lime curd and I were over.

But, hey... who's that over there trying to make eye contact with me?  Trying to steal me away from the limes of my life?  Oh, well helllloooo there, chocolate mousse...

Look at you, all melty in the improvised double boiler.... trying to turn me all cliche like a Cathy comic...  Oh, and you over there... egg whites... what's that about wanting to be whipped...?  With some sugar?  I got your sugar....


And now you want to be gently folded in...?

Then lovingly spooned onto a dehydrator tray?  Why sure... I can do that... I got you, boo...

Who's your friend?  I think he's kinda cute, actually.  You're related?  I can see the resemblance.  Nice to meet you, pliable chocolate ganache...

I can't wait to slice you and curl you and bend you to my will.

But there's something over here I can't ignore.  Mint pudding.  Come over here, baby.  How you been?  I think you're kinda cool.  A little fresh, even...DSC_0001

You like it when I add xanthan gum and calcium ascorbate before whacking you around in the blender, don't you.  DON'T YOU.

Yeah, you do.

Someone's feeling a little left out, I can see.  Avocado purée, you're creamy and very nice, but I kinda just wanna be friends.  Is that okay?  It is?  Oh, good.  I'm glad.


I wonder if polyamory is okay in the dessert world.... 'cause I have fallen in deep, hard love with every single flavor in this dish... on their own, and all together:

Oh, and hey there, cocoa crumbs... I'm sorry I only have this one shot of you with the group.  But I'ma draw a heart around you when I put this picture up inside my locker so everyone will know how I feel about you.  MMMmmm....

Resources: Green & Black's chocolate and cocoa; 365 butter; Domino sugar; Smith Meadows Farm eggs; gelatin sheet, glucose, and sorbitol from L'Epicerie; agar agar, malic acid, and xanthan gum from Terra Spice; Natural by Nature heavy cream and skim milk; David's kosher salt; mint leaves from my garden; Now Foods calcium ascorbate; limes and avocados from Shoppers Food Warehouse; licorice extract from HerbalRemedies.

Music to Cook By: No Doubt; Rock Steady.  I don't know why, but I've been in a No Doubt mood the last few days. I love Tragic Kingdom, too, but had Rock Steady on loop most of the weekend. I hadn't listened to it in ages, and when it came out I didn't really love it.  Now?  It's grown on me.

Read My Previous Post: Pork Cheek, pumpernickel, gruyere, ramps


August 11, 2011

Pork Cheek, pumpernickel, gruyere, ramps: Achatz and Ziebold together in my kitchen. Um, sort of.

My kindergarten teacher died a few days ago. 

Her name was Selma Rosenfeld, and she whole-heartedly and enthusiastically recognized and nurtured my love of reading and writing.  Thanks to my mom and dad reading with me and getting me to do writing workbooks and tell stories when I was little, I already knew how to read and write all my letters and many words before I started kindergarten.  So while the other kids were using the Letter People to learn the alphabet, Mrs. Rosenfeld gave me some extra assignments to do during class time so I wouldn't get bored.

It was through those assignments Mrs. Rosenfeld taught me that not only did letters make words, but that words made sentences (!!), and sentences made stories (!!!).  Selma Rosenfeld taught me how to write.

There is one day in particular I remember so clearly: our class was listening to a song about Mister M with his Munching Mouth.  And, because there was a line in the song about Mister M liking macaroni, she brought in a hotplate, a small saucepan, and a box of elbow macaroni, which she let me help her cook.  We drained it carefully in the sink at the back of the room, then added a little butter and salt before doling out very small portions in tiny paper cups so everyone in the class could have a taste.  I remember writing a story about macaroni that day, and trying to use as many words as I could think of that started with the letter M.  I got to eat macaroni, help my favorite teacher, and write a story?  It was a very good day.

Growing up being me wasn't easy.  I was a weird nerd who never really quite fit in.  But throughout my elementary school career, whenever things seemed rough or I was made fun of, or a teacher told me to stop "showing off" by getting A+ grades on my tests (yes, that really happened), I would steel myself from crying on my walk home and just think about how Mrs. Rosenfeld was the only person in the world who really "got" me.  And, I'll tell you this: there have been days, even as an adult, when I've thought about her and how special she made me feel.  I hope you have, or have had, someone in your life like her.

Mrs. Rosenfeld moved away from our little town ages and ages ago, and was living in Oregon when she died.  She and I corresponded over the years, and my last email from her was in 2008.  She had read some of my writing in our hometown newspaper, and on different blogs and websites and, once again, told me how proud she was of me.

She was a very special lady, and a very big reason why I am still so drawn to the written word, and why I still can't fall asleep at night until I've written something, anything.  So thank you, Mrs. Rosenfeld.  Thank you.

*   *   *   *   *

Oh my word, you guys.  Debt ceilings.  Supercommittees.  August recess.  Major stressors in all our lives in Washington (and around the country, yes?) right now.  So, I was really, really looking forward to spending a day or two in the kitchen focusing on this dish.  I had a (mostly) free weekend and was stoked to be cooking.  It felt good.  So, so good.  Even better when I knew I was going to be working with pig cheeks!  Who doesn't love a pig's cheek and jowl meat?

There are a few swap-outs in this dish due to gluten issues, one skipped ingredient because it's already out of season, and one gift from a chef that has extra-special meaning.  Let's get going...

I had to start this dish three days before I was going to eat it because one of the elements required three solid days of dehydrating:


I diced the onions and caramelized them in some canola oil in a large sauté pan.


I know this is nothing new, but the smell of onions caramelizing?  It made me completely forget about everything in my outside world.  For those 30 minutes, I just breathed deeply and luxuriated in that familiar, homey, warm, lovely smell and was incredibly relaxed.  Which makes me think I should open a spa that specializes in food scents rather than a Yankee Candle Store exploding in your face and suffocating you during a massage.  Ahem.

I spread the onions on two dehydrator trays, set the temperature to 145 (the highest it would go), closed the door, and let them dry.  It took the full three days for them to dry out and become crispy-ish.  When they were ready to be ground, they looked like this:


I ground them in a coffee grinder I use for spices and making powders.  I also added some ground caraway seeds, and thus, the onion powder was done:

I'll confess that I looooaaaaathe caraway.  I can't stand the smell of it (it triggers my gag reflex) and I don't like the taste of it.  Even the look of those little seeds reminds me of those denture adhesive commercials that used to air during The Price is Right when I was a kid.  Double-ew-gross, right?  Please tell me I'm not alone in my caraway hatred.  Please, I beg you.

But, I put on my big-girl pants and forged ahead, hoping it wouldn't ruin the dish and give me a case of the sadz.

While the onions were dehydrating, I made the pig cheek marinade: Worcestershire sauce, white wine, kosher salt, garlic cloves, onion, leek, and carrots all brought to a simmer.


I prepared a sachet of peppercorns, bay leaves, more caraway seed (ack, barf, gag), whole cloves, and allspice:

And placed the sachet into the marinade, removed the pot from the heat, and let it cool to room temperature:

Got my pig cheeks all ready to go:


I removed the silverskin and as much fat as I could (which definitely made for a smaller piece of meat to cook), and placed it in a Ziploc sous vide bag with the marinade to rest in the fridge overnight.


Let me note here, that I only made one pork cheek, even though the recipe called for 8.  I did this for two reasons: 1) The farmer I bought the cheek from only had one; and 2) all the neighbors were out of town this particular weekend, so I was on my own in terms of serving this, and honestly, I wanted to make myself a really nice dinner on Sunday night and this seemed like the perfect thing.  Apart from the caraway, obvs.

One other thing I did the day before serving this (TO MYSELF) was Microplane some gruyere cheese onto a parchment-lined baking sheet so it could dry overnight.



On the great day of eating, I cooked the pig cheek sous vide in a 180F-degree water bath for five hours, and made the plumped raisin ragout and sauce.  I talked about this dish with some of my friends the week leading up to cooking it, and do you know what I found out?  They all HATE raisins.  Every last one of them.

Swollen ticks. -- Bonnie Benwick

GROSS. -- Joe Yonan

Flies without wings. -- Me

Now, golden raisins are different.  Better.  Kind of awesome, in fact.  I don't hate those at all! [And please don't ask me why.  I can't explain it.  I'm weird. You know that.]  So, I used golden raisins in this element of the dish.

In a medium saucepan, I caramelized diced onion, then added raisins, Worcestershire sauce, a garlic clove, and water, then covered the pot and let the mixture simmer for about 30 minutes.


I ladled out 100g of that mixture and reserved it for the raisin ragout.  I poured the rest of the liquid through a chinois, reserving both solids and liquid.  I blended the solids in my blender until it was the consistency of a thick sauce (like slightly runny polenta), adding a little of the liquid as I blended to smooth it out a bit.

I folded a little of the sauce into the raisin-onion mixture I'd held back for the ragout, and it looked like this:

I'm sorry it looks like baby poo.  I tried to shoot it many different ways, and, well, this one was the least offensive.

I saved the rest of the raisin-onion sauce and used it later in plating.

I skipped the green garlic step because green garlic is out of season right now in DC, no one was carrying it at the farmers market, and so I just didn't do it.

The recipe called for razor-thin shavings of pumpernickel bread atop the final plate of food but since I loathe pumpernickel as much as I loathe caraway, I decided to, instead, make my own bread crumbs/chunks using Rudi's gluten-free bread, some olive oil, and a little salt.  Just whacked a slice or two of the bread in my food processor, tossed them in olive oil and salt, and toasted them in a 350F-degree oven for 15 minutes.

The last thing to do was to finish cooking the pig cheek.  Here it is, out of its sous vide bag after having cooled in a bowl of ice water to room temperature.


I dusted the cheek in a mixture of rice flour and tapioca flour, then dunked it in heavy cream, then coated it in bread crumbs (couldn't find gluten-free panko).  Sautéed it in a bit of canola oil...

I made sure both sides were browned evenly, then put the pan in the oven with a bit of butter and let it roast at 350F degrees for 10 minutes.  Took the pig cheek out and let it drain on a paper-towel lined baking sheet.

The recipe instructed to bread just one side of the cheek, but I never get to eat breaded and fried food anymore, so I went hog-wild and did both sides.  Because I can.

If you have the book, or read the title of this post, you might be wondering about the pickled ramps this dish calls for.  I know in the springtime my food-loving friends go cuckoo-bananas over ramps.  They're just... not my thing.  I never understood the hype.  It's not that I don't like them.  They're fine.  They're good, actually, but I just never understood the celebratory nature behind RAAAAAAAAMMPSS!!!! WOOO-HOOOO RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMPS!!!!!!one!!!!!!eleven!!!!!!

So, I didn't have any ramps to pickle (they went out of season months ago), and I hadn't pickled any when they were in season.  The day before I finished this dish, I texted a few friends in town to see if they had any, and they didn't.  So, I decided I'd swap in pickled chard stems (which I make all summer long because I love their crunchy-pickley goodness in a salad or slaw). Done and done.  Problem solved.  Until....

The night before I served this dish, I ate dinner at CityZen here in Washington.  As you may or may not know, CityZen owner and chef, Eric Ziebold, worked with Grant Achatz at The French Laundry way back in the day, and stories abound about their friendly competitiveness in that famous Yountville kitchen.  It is such a pleasure and such a treat to have Eric here in Washington, because his food is, quite simply, extraordinary.  And, there's really no better deal in town than Eric's tasting menu at the bar.

My friend, Joe, and I sat down at the bar to begin what became a night of near-sinful amounts of eating, I noticed something in one of the dishes on the menu: pickled ramps.

Dare I ask for some "to go" after we'd finished our meal?


And thus, I, in my own way, brought Eric Ziebold and Grant Achatz together into my teeny, tiny kitchen the next day, and celebrated them both on this plate:


Pork cheek atop the raisin sauce ragout and some toasted breadcrumbs, topped with dried Gruyere, chives, pickled ramps, the onion-caraway powder, and a little sea salt:

I carried my plate to the dining room table, pushed the Sunday papers aside, poured myself a glass of wine, turned on some music, and sat down to take my first bite.

Oh, you guys.... I got a little weepy.  I'm not sure why.  I mean, I think it was maybe the first time I'd allowed myself to relax in the past few weeks and acutally enjoy a meal at home without reading email, writing position papers, or handling a client's crisis.  I think it was that it was Sunday evening, the sun had started to sink in the sky a bit, I was tired and drained and so, so hungry... and this dish was so, so good.  It blew away any expectation I ever had for it.  I knew it was going to be different than the original dish in the book because I'd made some adjustments and gluten-accommodations.  And, whenever I make something different, I often tell myself it's not going to be as good as it should be.

That's kind of assy to do to myself, isn't it?

So, I think I'd set myself up to think, well at least it probably won't totally suck because, hello, it's a pig cheek, but it blew me away. 

The pig cheek was so tender and lush and rich and silky.  The raisin-onion sauce was sweet and pungent and salty.  The dried Gruyere was a touch I wouldn't have thought of, but one that was needed (and very much loved).  The pickled ramps were absolutely outstanding.  And I didn't really taste any caraway AT ALL.  So, major score on that front!

I have a lot of the marinade left over, so I have a pork chop thawing in the fridge right now, and will baste that marinade on it as I grill that chop tonight, then top it with all the leftover elements of this dish.  Can't wait!


Up Next: Not sure yet, but probably one of the dishes with seedless watermelon, 'cause those things are bustin' out all over the place at the farmers market.

Resources: Pickled ramps from the always-amazing Eric Ziebold (thank you, Chef!); produce and Gruyere from Whole Foods; 365 butter and canola oil; Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce; caraway seed peppercorns, other dried aromats, and fresh bay leaves from the TPSS Co-op; Acrobat 2009 Oregon pinot gris; Bob's Red Mill flours; Natural by Nature heavy cream; Glutino bread crumbs; Rudi's gluten-free multi-grain bread; chives from my garden; pig parts from Truck Patch Farm.

Music to Cook By: Will you laugh at me if I tell you it was Roxette's Greatest Hits?  Because it was.  On a non-stop loop for 3 days.  

Read My Previous Post: Hazelnut, apricot, curry-scented granola

May 17, 2011

Prosciutto, passion fruit, zuta levana

Last Monday evening, I ran into these guys:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

Herewith, a passion fruit:


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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

April 26, 2011

Porcini, cherry, toasted garlic, almond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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



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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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



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


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


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


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

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




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




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

I diced this bad boy:


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

And that was a good, good thing.

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

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

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

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

April 07, 2011

Chicken Skin, black truffle, thyme, corn

Things I am (irrationally) afraid of:

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

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

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

4) Opening the hood of my car;

5) Snakes; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

When the yellow pressure indicator popped up...

I lowered the flame...DSC_0002

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

Turned the dial to the "release steam" icon:

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

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

I rotated the lid to the right...

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

"Chicken skin,' I replied.

She winced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read My Previous Post: Applewood, muscovade sugar, fenugreek

November 11, 2010

Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar, Take Two

When I started this blog, I posted my rules of the road, one of which was that because I am not made of money, I would attempt each dish in the Alinea cookbook once.  Just once.  One and done.  If it failed, it failed.  Sayonara.  Peace out.  Check it off the list, and move on.

But last week's licorice cake blowout really got me down.  Instead of figuring out on my own how to adapt this recipe to eliminate the all-purpose flour, I used a gluten-free baking flour mix substitute.  I'm not gonna name names here, because it's made by a company I actually really love, but I guess the lesson I re-learned is that this specific "all-purpose baking mix" is not technically all-purpose.  And, you know what?  I knew that from the get-go and yet I still used it.  I think I just wanted to, for once in my celiac-baking life, be able to swap something out really easily and not have to think about it.  Silly me.

But if I really get to the heart of the matter, that the cake failed bothered me less than the notion that I failed.  That I failed to trust my instincts.  That I failed to use my resources wisely.  That I went from zenith to nadir by way of a few eggs and some flour... and, if I'm being honest with myself, a lack of confidence and focus.

So, I decided to pull myself up by my bootstraps and give it another go.

I decided to go back to the original sponge cake recipe for this second attempt.  It may not have been what Chef Achatz intended when he developed this recipe for the restaurant, but I wanted to make it again and see if it would work for this particular dish.

So, into the bowl of my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer went 8 eggs, 210g sugar, 5 g kosher salt, 140g grapeseed oil, and 20g Trimoline.  I combined it on high speed for about 3 minutes.  Then, I sifted and gently folded in the following dry ingredients: 20g dry licorice extract; 80g potato starch; 80g white rice flour; 40g tapioca flour; 15g xanthan gum; and 10g baking powder.

Last, but not least, I added 140g whole milk, and stirred it gently to combine everything before pouring it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet:



I baked it for 25 minutes in a 300F-degree oven, and had a hard time leaving the kitchen while it was baking, it smelled so good.  


So, instead of the cake the book's recipe called for, I now had a licorice-flavored sponge cake.  I was running low on dry licorice extract, so instead of pure licorice syrup (100g extract + 100g water), I did the remaining 25g of extract + 75g sugar +100g water to make a licorice simple syrup.

I added that to 600g of the cake, along with 250g half-and-half, 50g glucose powder, and then 6 gelatin sheets, and it came together and turned into a purée rather easily.





I pressed the purée through my tamis and spread it into an 8x8" cake pan:


I put it into the freezer overnight and finished the rest of the dish the next day.



First thing on the day's agenda?  Orange confit.  I was still floating on a cloud from smelling (and tasting!) the licorice sponge cake the day before, when the orange confit got underway.  And I gotta say: making orange confit might be my culinary Zoloft.  I don't know how I (or anyone) could be unhappy or stressed or anxious when this is simmering away in the kitchen.

And, it's incredibly easy.

Start with an orange:


Cut it into quarters and remove any seeds:


Place the orange quarters in a small saucepan with some water, bring it to a boil, let it boil for 20 minutes, then drain and rinse them with cold water.  Do this three times.  Do not complain or roll your eyes.  Just close your eyes and inhale.


After the third and final boil, return the oranges to the pan, cover them with water, add some D'Aristi Xtabentun (we'll get to that in a minute), some sugar, and bring it to a boil over medium heat.  Then, turn down the flame and let it simmer over low heat for three hours.  Try not to be mesmerized.  Try not to stay glued to the stovetop.  Try not to smile and relax.  I dare you.

So, yeah.  D'Aristi Xtabentun.  Let's review the pronunciation: duh-REE-stee eesht-uhben-TOON. Thanks to Derek Brown of The Columbia Room for clarifying that for me.


D'Aristi Xtabentun is a Mayan liqueur made in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, and is named for the small Xtabentun flowers from which the local bees get their nectar.  It's a fermeted honey and anise liqueur, and it is, for me, a kind of cure-all.  Taken straight, it's quite good, though sometimes a little sweet, but has come in handy when I've felt like a cold was coming on, or had a scratchy throat.  Just an ounce or less of this in a giant mug of coffee or tea, for me, wards off "the icks" -- though y'all know I'm not a doctor or anything so don't do anything stupid like drink this instead of, oh I dunno, going to chemo/dialysis/getting a flu shot/whatever.

When added to the water and sugar the oranges were simmering in, it broadened what already was sweet and citrusy, adding a sense of warmth and comfort (if that makes any sense).

After three hours simmering, the oranges looked like this:


And when you stick your face into the pan to smell them, you might just have a Snuffles-like reaction, like I wanted to.  The orange, combined with the D'Artisti Xtabentun... my, oh my.

Moving on....

I let the oranges cool to room temperature, and then cut them into 1/4" dice, which you'll see in the final plating photo.

The next thing I needed to do was make the muscovado candy.  This is pretty straightforward: water, sugar, yellow pectin, and citric acid...


Bring it to a boil, then add Trimoline, glucose, and muscovado sugar, and continue boiling until it reaches 225F degrees:


I poured it into a clear glass baking dish I'd sprayed with Pam to let it set at room temperature, before cutting a few small dices of it then refrigerating it until I needed the candy for plating:



The very last step is to make the spun sugar.  I was really looking forward to this because the photo of this dessert in the book is so strikingly pretty -- and I knew mine wouldn't look the same, but I was hoping I could, at the very least, not screw up heating isomalt to 325F degrees, and then whisking it across two saucepan handles.








I took the cake purée out of the freezer and let it get a little closer to room temperature before cutting out small pieces of it with a 7/8" round cutter.  I put a piece of the cake on a spoon, topped it with an anise hyssop leaf, then placed a piece of orange confit and a piece of muscovado candy next to it, and topped the whole thing with a bedraggled nest of spun sugar:




Spoon in the mouth, and bite.  And chew.  And feel all the flavors come together.  Now, let me get this out of the way first: I wasn't thrilled with the texture of the cake purée and wished I'd upped the licorice extract amount because it wasn't anise-y enough for me.  That said, the cake with the sugar candy, crunchy spun sugar, and the orange confit?  Very, very nice.  I liked the flavor profile of this bite, but it needed to be more concentrated and amplified.  And that's all my doing that it wasn't.

But, I mastered the cake (wahoo!), and made spun sugar (which was a hell of a lot of fun to do).  And? I've got a lovely little pot of leftover orange confit in the fridge which I think will go quite nicely with the pork tenderloin I just bought to make for dinner.

Up Next: I bought 15 pounds of salsify this week, so chances are you'll see a salsify dish (or three) coming your way very soon.

Resources: Eggs from Smith Meadows Farm; flours from Bob's Red Mill; Domino sugar; Trimoline, isomalt, yellow pectin, and glucose from L'Epicerie; Monini grapeseed oil; Natural by Nature half-and-half and milk; King Arthur Flour gelatin sheets; licorice extract from; orange from Whole Foods; D'Aristi Xtabentun from; muscovade sugar from Yes! Organic Market; anise hyssop leaves from the plant on my front stoop.

Music to Cook By: Robbie Williams; The Ego Has Landed.  This album takes me back to a very specific beach house with some very specific people and some very specific circumstances involving no sleep, drunken Yahtzee, and a bright full moon rising over the ocean.  And I very much needed to be reminded of that time this week.  :)

Read My Previous Post: Licorice Cake, orange confit, anise hyssop, spun sugar, Take One

October 11, 2010

Tomato, balloon of mozzarella, many complementary flavors


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

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

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