Spanish Dreamsicle

Let’s play a little game.

I’m going to start listing off ingredients, and I want you to stop me when you think that their combination is starting to get weird. Here we go:

Orange, olive oil, basil, almond, saffron, olive brine, chamomile, vanilla… Have you gagged yet? No? Good. Let’s move on.

Out of the few dishes that I have made from the Alinea cookbook, I have to say, this has been the most fun to make. I know that there are professional chefs that shy away from making desserts, and there are those for whom dessert is their main focus. I guess it’s a benefit to me that I’m in no way a professional chef, because I love to do both. This dessert straddles both worlds, as it combines both sweet and savory elements. Additionally, this dish also afforded me the opportunity to play with some new “Modernist” chemicals, which you may have already read about here.

One of the many great parts of the Alinea cookbook, is all of the introductory essays that come before the actual recipes. In Chef Achatz’s own introduction, he highlights some of the creative techniques that go into the restaurant’s menu-development. It’s a fascinating insight into the mind of a culinary genius. One such technique, I believe was dubbed “role-reversal.” I could be wrong about that, though. The basic premise, however, is that once you know that a set of flavors goes well together, then, in theory, they should always go well together, regardless of the setting. Things which normally go well together in a salad, can be served as dessert. Or flavors from a dessert could be served as a main course. The key, is balancing the elements of sweet, or salt, sour or savory, etc.

Many of you may not have tried the combination of olive and orange, but in many Mediterranean cuisines, the combination is fairly ubiquitous. Indeed, one of the many salads that my mother prepares for Shabbos, is from this very combination. The short ribs that were served (Catalan beef stew) at the same meal as this dessert, by Dan and me, also had orange zest and olives in their sauce. The trick here, is making this salad combination into a delicious dessert. And boy, was it delicious–and time consuming, but well worth it.

The central piece of the dessert was, what Dan called, “the Spanish Dreamsicle,” a la those orange and cream popsicles we all grew up with. Except that this one was orange sorbet and olive oil ice cream, on top of a liquefied and re-frozen almond and olive oil cookie.

To make the cookie, I had to start with a basic almond shortbread, or “sable” as it is also known. Sugar and margarine were creamed together–

to which a mix of almond and regular flour were added, along with some salt. I formed it into a sheet, then froze it before baking.

The cookies that were baked out of this, are known as Sable cookies in France. Sable, meaning sandy, is basically the French version of our sugar cookies. Indeed, when these baked up, they crumbled in the mouth like some sandy, sugary goodness. But, this was not their last step in the process. Because there’s an underlying olive oiled theme in this dessert, Chef Achatz adds an additional, brilliant step, in which the cookies are ground up in a blender, and emulsified with olive oil. The resulting mix is then smoothed into a sheet and frozen, as we’ll soon see, later.

One of the reasons I had a lot of fun making this dessert, was that it gave me an opportunity to use these–

my chemical toolbox.

For the vanilla-olive oil powder component (that’s right, I said vanilla, olive oil, and powder in the same sentence,) all I needed to do was empty the seeds from ten vanilla beans into a bowl with some sugar and salt, add some olive oil, and whisk in that bag up there labeled N-Zorbit M. Now, a little preparation went a long way here. I remembered reading here how Carol had a hard time making this component in the recipe work. While I was researching the kosher status of the products from Modernist Pantry for this post, I remembered reading that N-Zorbit M needs to be added to an oil based mixture in a precise 2:1 ratio. I looked back at the instructions in Alinea, and, sure enough, the ratios were off. My good luck allowed me to produce this–

vanilla-olive oil POWDER!

The amazing illusion this powder accomplishes, is letting you think that it’s a powder, until you place it on your tongue, and it turns right back into oil, coating your mouth in a savory, salty, and sweet confection which is a true delight.

Almond brittle is easy enough to make. Boil some sugar and water until all the water evaporates, and watch the temperature climb to 350 degrees. Once it hits that point, mix in the roasted and salted almonds, pour onto a silicone mat, and let cool.

But that wasn’t the end of it. To make a tuille, I also had to make a fondant version of this hard candy,

(the recipe called for 240 grams–pretty good for a first try) where the fondant was boiled with some isomalt (an inverse sugar) and sugar–

then cooled into a hard sheet. Once both these candies had hardened, I ground them separately in a spice grinder, mixed and sifted them onto a Teflon-paper coated baking sheet, and baked them for a minute at 400 degrees.

The basil sauce was easy enough to make. Blanch and shock the basil, blend with some sugar and salt, then add some Ultra-Tex3 to thicken it to an almost oily like consistency.

That vibrant green color is due to the process of blanching and shocking. Otherwise, soft herbs tend to turn a very unappetizing shade of green once they’re bruised. A good trick to know if you’re making pesto, as well.

The olive brine candy followed the same process as the almond brittl. The remaining olive brine from a jar of Picholine olives was sweetened with sugar, made a little more acidic with some citric acid, and brought to 320 degrees, then cooled.

Due to the 30 degree temperature difference between this and the almond brittle, the brine candy had the texture of a soft taffy.

The chamomile pudding (which I forgot in the final plating) follows the same process as the banana pudding in the Alinea Thai duck dish, meaning that agar-agar is used to set the flavored liquid, and once set into a gel, it is blended and then strained, giving it the texture of a pudding, with the one clear flavor of its main ingredient.

(I didn’t have time to run out to the health food store to buy dried chamomile, so I ran through an entire box of tea bags to get the desired 50 grams.)

The dehydrated olives were done at Dan’s house, so I have no picture. My terrible oven cannot hold a low enough temperature for me to attempt to dehydrate something without burning it, so, there you go.

Done! Finally. Now onto the final plating.

Clockwise from left:

Vanilla-olive oil powder, the “Dreamsicle” centerpiece, topped with the almond brittle tuille, a smear of dehydrated Picholine olive sauce, four dots of basil sauce, one plain orange segment, and one enrobed in Sanrgria (not part of the recipe, but Dan’s idea, and a great addition), and at the bottom, the olive brine candy.

This was a FANTASTIC dessert. The combination of the flavors was so unique, and they all worked as a dessert, when their normal function is salad! Seriously, a candy made from the gross liquid from a jar of olives that most people wouldn’t eat for a bet? It was delicious. I had a lot of fun bringing that into school, having the kids try it and like it, and blowing their minds when they found out what it was made from. The vanilla powder is such a cool trick, I can’t wait to incorporate that technique into other dishes of my own.

In fact, a couple of weeks later, I made an ice cream straight out of this dish, and I suggest many of you do the same. Instead of a bar, I made the olive oil ice cream, and the orange sorbet, swirled them together, and topped them with crushed almond brittle (skipping the fondant step.) It was phenomenal. Just goes to show you that cooking from Alinea can actually translate into real world use.

 

Have a great Shavuos!

–Yehuda

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Mac and Cheese with Soubise

I haven’t exactly tried to hide the fact that cooking, and especially learning how to replicate high-end cuisine has become a prominent part of my life over the last year or two. That said, I don’t try make every conversation with a stranger or an acquaintance about my most recent culinary experience. I think it’s a universal desire amongst people to not be pigeonholed, or as Tom Collichio is want to criticize cheftestants’ offerings, too “one note.”

More often than not, however, when someone does discover my interest in cooking and its extent, the first question out of their mouths is, without fail, “How did you start doing this stuff?” Depending on who is asking, I may or may not share with them the whole truth and nothing but. You see, the tale of my designation as the “main cook” at home, is not one I’m really proud of. I come out looking like a jerk, believe it or not, and I think I’m correct in assuming that another universal desire among healthy human beings is to not be perceived as such.

So, no, I’m not going to share that story with you tonight. I will tell you, however, that this post makes me a little nostalgic about that story, in the sense that it represents a diametrically opposed dish to the one involved in my untold story of jerkiness.

Mac and Cheese–I would be willing to bet that every American born-and-raised child has grown up with fond memories of this dish. Its comfort food that we’ve all eaten when nothing else comes to mind–or when no other ingredients can be found in the house besides for pasta, cheese, and some other last minute throw-ins.

I grew up on linguine-and-american-cheese-melted-in-skim-milk. It doesn’t take me very long to picture in my mind the battered, thin-walled, and scratched silver pot whose only consistent use was the making and storing this dish. We didn’t eat much dairy growing up. I only discovered the wonderous gift from G-d, butter, a few years ago, and have been in a loving relationship with it ever since. But I don’t look back. with scorn in my eyes, to our American cheese macaroni days. I could always count on Ima to make a batch whenever I was hungry, and didn’t want to eat anything already in the fridge. And I would find it waiting for me, and it was still hot.

As we grow older, and are weaned from the comfort of Mom’s cooking, we look to other foods to sate our hunger, and sometimes, for the purpose of feeding others. After a long day, coming home to nothing in the fridge and a family to feed, turns our minds to the comfort of our youth, in my case, Mac and Cheese.

Herein lies the problem. With all the foods that I’ve tasted, and all the techniques that I’ve learned from the likes of Ruhlman, Brown, Achatz, and Keller, I really can’t bring myself to keep American cheese in my own fridge, let alone to prepare and serve it as something of my own. Thus began my search for an improvement on my own childhood comfort food.

Currently, I employ two variations of Mac and Cheese in my repertoire. The first, easier method, is Alton Brown’s recreation and improvement on the standard, macaroni-with-cheese-packet boxes (WackyMac). It’s quick, easy, tasty, and the kiddies love it. The second method, which I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, is obviously a little more complicated, but well worth the extra effort. Ruhlman’s recipe is the one I used for Mac and Cheese with Soubise, and with it, he highlights one of the many uses of the often under-appreciated onion.

Here we go.

Half-a-stick of butter was melted (so much, because I doubled the recipe,)

and I let these onions sweat it out, with the help of a generous pinch of kosher salt. The salt helps draw all the moisture from the onion, which must happen before your onions can properly brown.

I wish my kitchen had better lighting.

Next, came the roux.

After briefly cooking some chopped shallots in the small pan of melted butter, I added flour, and cooked until it darkened in color, and began to smell “nutty.” Next, the milk–

and the spices–

that’s salt, pepper, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper, mustard powder and fresh nutmeg. The milk-roux mixture thickened for a bit, while the onions finished their browning.

When those two steps were complete, I mixed the milk mixture into the onions,

and added a whole mess of shredded cheddar. After the cheese melted, (I didn’t have Comte, as Ruhlman suggests, and I have doubts that a kosher version even exists…) I mixed it in with the macaroni.

Now, Ruhlman’s instructions are to blend the soubise before mixing with the cheese and macaroni. Sadly, my immersion blender broke not too long ago; apparently, making Caesar dressing was too much for it. Not wanting to make my full-size blender dairy by having it run through all this hot milk, I left the onions whole, and the soubise unblended.

I topped the mac and cheese with some fresh rye breadcrumbs (thanks, Shaloms, for the stale loaf,) and some more cheddar, and baked it in the oven until it looked like this–

Linguine-and-American Cheese-2.0

What was your childhood comfort food?

 

–Yehuda

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Pizza Parties

Lately, I’ve been having mad pizza cravings. Those of you familiar with the current kosher pizza situation in Silver Spring, would not be shocked if I said that there’s not much here to satisfy any of those cravings, no matter what WTOP allegedly has to say. So, with some help and inspiration from the wise Jim Lahey, Dan and I just started experimenting with our own. And boy, is it good…

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That delicious pie is nothing more than a layer of walnut and caramelized onion purée, topped with a whole mess of shiitake mushrooms, and rosemary. When it was out of the oven, we drizzled it with a little bit of exquisite olive oil, which we bought fresh from the tank at Cowgirl Creamery, in DC.

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This one was a classic combination of eggs and asparagus, except that quail eggs were used, because of their smaller size, and there is a layer of Fanticini Bros. Parmesan on the bottom, and topped with just a couple of drops of truffle oil.

Are you drooling yet?

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Chocolate cake with red beet ice cream

First of all, how cool is this?

I remember what must have been seven or eight years ago, going to the Museum of National History, and seeing the Julia Child exhibit. Her famous T.V. kitchen was on display, nice and tidy, no roast chickens on the floor. Where Julia would have been, stood a screen playing famous clips from her show, and some random interviews with celebrities who knew her. I really only remember one short clip, I think it was an interview with Dan Rather, or Tom Brokaw, or some other stuffy news anchor from that time. Whomever it was, was telling a story of how he was throwing a dinner party a while back, in NYC, and had some last minute panicky question about how something should be cooked. Somehow, he got the idea to give Julia Child a call. They didn’t know each other, her name just happened to be in the phone book! So, mustering up a little courage, he dialed her very public phone number, proceeded to ask his question, and received a quick, thorough answer, and a good luck on the night’s event.

I remember feeling just as shocked as Dan Rather, or Tom Brokaw, or whoever it was, because I couldn’t imagine how someone as famous as Julia Child would have her number in the phone book, and how she would be more than happy to answer a random caller’s question.

I do feel , in that particular respect, the great Michael Ruhlman is our modern-day Julia Child. He is an incredibly busy, accomplished chef and author, yet he is famously available (over Twitter, at least) to advise any one of his followers with a culinary query. Not only do I admire his work as a chef, but as a teacher myself, I admire his dedication to the giving of his knowledge to others. If you haven’t yet read anything of his, I’d recommend doing so ASAP.

***********

The truth is, I made this dessert a couple of months ago, but lately I’ve been totally swamped with work, and just haven’t had enough time as I’d like to dedicate to cooking new things and sharing them with you. This has been my second dessert that I’ve made from the French Laundry cookbook, and it turned out to be a real success, despite the general negative bias that people have toward beets.

I, for one, happen to enjoy beets. The idea of beets in anything besides for a salad intrigued me just to the point of really wanting to try this dish, but not being repulsed by the very idea of it. The chocolate cakes here are flour-less, and required some technique that was new to me, but that’s the whole point of cooking these types of food, right?

I began by whipping up 3 whole eggs with some sugar over a pot of simmering water until the eggs became foamy, and the sugar dissolved. Then I put the warm bowl into my KitchenAid, and whipped those eggs until they tripled in volume and cooled down.

Next, I melted some bittersweet chocolate and Earth Balance fake butter–

lightened up the chocolate with a little of the whipped egg, and then folded the rest of the chocolate into the eggs.

Now, the problem here was that this recipe called for the chocolate mixture to be baked in souffle molds. I don’t have souffle molds, and sadly, my kitchen-supply budget has been frozen until, a. I start making more money, and, b. I find room in my tiny apartment kitchen for any new purchases. So, I tried to improvise by double wrapping the bottoms of some ring molds in aluminum foil.

Sadly, this was not a perfect system, and once I partially filled this baking dish with water, (the cakes needed to be baked in a water bath,) a little water seeped through into the bottom of some of the cakes. They were far from ruined, but unfortunately the one I popped out right before Shabbos to photograph wasn’t very photogenic, due to the water damage.

For the beet ice cream, beet juice was required, but I don’t own a juicer, and I couldn’t find any juice in the store. Instead, I peeled these guys–

and tossed them in my blender on high with a little added water to help them go around, then strained the whole bit in my chinois. (Isn’t that basically how juicers work anyways?)

I reduced the beet juice over medium heat until I had the amount required for the recipe

then added it along with the pulp to some creamer, rice milk, and sugar, brought it to a simmer and then let it steep off of the fire for an hour. I made the custard in the usual fashion, by whisking some egg yolks and sugar, slowly tempering them with the warmed milk mixture, and adding that combination back into the pot to thicken over gentle heat.

Once cooled, I ran the custard through my ice cream maker

I ran out of time before Shabbos, (it was still winter when I made these, and I don’t budget my time well on Fridays) and couldn’t complete the other two parts of this dish, namely, the candied walnuts and fried beet chips. So here’s how the sad, waterlogged cake looked with some of the ice cream in a hastily taken picture, without the other garnishes–

Now, while I’m not ecstatic about that picture, or the presentation as I’m showing it to you, I must say that this dessert was pretty darn great. Beet ice cream’s resemblance to raspberry is a perfect defense mechanism against the gag reflex the word “beet” causes to much of our processed food-addicted society. By the time people realize, “Hey! This isn’t raspberry!” it’s far too late, they’ve been tricked into realizing that beets are, in fact, quite delicious.

Until next time!

–Yehuda

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Why you wish you were in my class

As an incentive for some solid effort on the part of a few boys in my class, I invited them over for lunch today.

Lunch today was Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty fried chicken.

We sat on my balcony on a beautiful day and enjoyed what I am now able to say is the best fried chicken out there. Better, even, than the Ad Hoc at Home recipe.

I’ll be accepting new student applications next week.

–Yehuda

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After40 Dinner–Spain

Dan and I catered another dinner last night, and it was pretty amazing. I know how much you all love drooling all over your keyboards, so here’s some fresh eye candy for ya!

Oh, wait! The menu–

And here’s the rest–

Bread

Fish

Gazpacho

Stew

Granita (not pictured 😦 )

Lamb

Dessert

Enjoy the pictures for now. I’ve got a big test coming up tomorrow, so I’ll find some time to fill you in on the play-by-play soon after that.

–Yehuda

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The Kosher Modernist Pantry

If there’s one thing I take issue with in the vast world of Kosher food, it’s the fact that we’re usually so far behind the rest of the world with regards to technique, style, and flavor. Do I need to offer any proof to this, other than the sushi-sold-in-90%-of-all-kosher-food-establishments phenomenon? With regards to us as a nation of prepared-food consumers, we tend to find one trend to stick with for about a decade or so, and that trend has usually been out of fashion with the rest of the world for at least two decades.

Part of this problem, I assume, lies with the actual kosher barrier. As much as I’d like to, I cannot attend a non-Kosher culinary school, or visit a non-Kosher restaurant, whether to eat there, or to even intern in the kitchen. This limits the scope with which I, and those observant Jews like myself, can access the new discoveries in the culinary arts that are happening more and more, every day.

A larger part of the problem, IMHO, is the fact that, with regards to new cuisines, we are not a very adventurous people. In my years of cooking for others, I’ve come across way too many people who won’t try new things, no matter how appetizing they may be to me. Some recent examples: Beef cheek, oxtail, duck (!), or even medium rare steak! (I’m lookin at you, K!) I feel kinda embarrassed just writing out that list for the whole world to see…

As I mentioned in my previous post, maybe this last factor has more to do with upbringing than anything else. Radishes, artichokes, fennel, chicken gizzards, and fish roe were all a staples of my diet by the time I was five. (No, not at the same time. The weirdest combinations growing up were more along the lines of scrambled eggs and peas. More on that another time…) I get it, though. Especially in households where both parents have full time jobs, making something like onion soup is much less time consuming when using soup mix, than cutting up and caramelizing a giant batch of onions. And when kids are brought up on these tastes, they really end up knowing no better. The tinokos she’nishbu of the culinary world…

Right now, the culinary world is going through a Modernist renaissance. Once referred to as “Molecular Gastronomy,” the methods and benefits of using “high tech” ingredients and cooking techniques, are being recognized in kitchens all over the world. There have been some truly incredible and creative pioneers in this realm, made up of restaurants, research facilities, and even home cooks/pro-bloggers–ElBulli, Alinea, Nathan Myhrvold/Modernist Cuisine and even the great blog, Ideas in Food, to name a few well-knowns. Some of the ingredients and instruments they use are hard to come by, but for the most part, the same stuff can be done in your average home kitchen, with new ingredients that now can be found easily, online.

But where does that leave the Kosher culinary world? With a new list of exotic ingredients whose Kosher status in unknown? Absolutely not! A surprising amount of these science-lab sounding ingredients are already widely used by kosher manufacturers, and all it takes is a small amount of research to determine which are already kosher.

So for all of you adventurous Kosher cooks, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve already done a good deal of that research for you. With the help of a great customer service rep from ModernistPantry.com, Chris Anderson, and the always reliable Star-K kosher certification agency, I’ve compiled a thorough, but somewhat incomplete list of the ingredients in their inventory, and their Kosher status.

Disclaimer:

I do not claim to speak on an official capacity on behalf of the Star-K, or ModernistPantry.com. This list is only intended as a beginning reference point. As always, contact your local Kosher authority with any questions.

The inventory can be broken into three categories: Those ingredients which can be used without any kosher certification, those which come from manufacturers that already have certification, but the status of said ingredient is unknown, but is likely not non-kosher, and those which unless they have explicit certification, are probably not kosher.

Like I said, this is an incomplete list. I’m hoping that some of you, my dear readers, may have a little more time and resourcefulness than I, and will be able to help in this public service to the Kosher culinary world, in finding out more about these new ingredients, both in their kosher status, and their many exciting uses.

 

All the best!

–Yehuda

Can be used without Kosher certification:

Arabic Gum/Acacia Gum
Agar Agar
Carrageenan – Iota
Carrageenan – Kappa
Carrageenan – Lambda
Guar Gum
Locust Bean Gum
Methylcellulose HV (High Viscosity)
Methylcellulose LV (Low Viscosity)
Sodium Alginate

N-Zorbit M – Tapioca Maltodextrin

Methocel® E4M FG
Methocel® F50 FG
Methocel® A15C FG
Methocel® E19 FG
Methocel® SGA7C FG

Ascorbic Acid
Calcium Chloride
Calcium Lactate

Carboxymethyl Cellulose (CMC)
Citric Acid
Dextrose Powder

Fructose Powder

Glucose Powder

Isomalt
Liquid Soy Lecithin
Malic Acid
Maltitol Powder

Sodium Citrate
Sodium Hexametaphosphate
Sodium Hydroxide (food grade)
Sodium Nitrate
Sorbitol Powder
Soy Lecithin Powder

Further investigation required:

Kelcogel F – Low Acyl Gellan Gum
Kelcogel LT100 – High Acyl Gellan Gum

Xanthan Gum

Activa GS Transglutaminase Preparation
Activa RM Transglutaminase Preparation
Activa TI Transglutaminase Preparation
Activa YG Transglutaminase Preparation

Pectinex Ultra SP-L

Tate & Lyle:
Versawhip 600K

Calcium Lactate Gluconate

Gellan Gum

Honey Powder

Tartaric Acid

Probably not Kosher if no certification:

Egg White Powder – AAA

Glycerol Monostearate (40%)

 

And here’s a link to the Kosher certification statement from TIC Gums, the manufacturer of most of ModernistPantry’s hydrocolloids.

 

 

 

 

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