Monthly Archives: September 2012

Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper

I noticed this week that eucalyptus was being sold in the farmer’s markets downtown. I originally thought that fresh eucalyptus would be near impossible to find in Chicago, so I wasn’t planning on doing this recipe anytime soon. I decided to stay the night at the boyfriend’s place last night so that I could stop by the farmer’s market a couple blocks from his place this morning (and far closer to my own home). I just couldn’t bring myself to carry a bunch of eucalyptus with me through work and classes during the week.

I got this gargantuan bunch of eucalyptus for $4.00. It filled 2 vases, one big and one small, and was enough for cooking. Plus, I ended up throwing half of it into the dumpster because I couldn’t figure out what to do with the rest.

On to the recipe! What we have here is a hallowed out ball of Anjou pear encased in eucalyptus gelee, with olive oil in the center and garnished with mint and crushed black peppercorns.

I started with the eucalyptus gelee. I picked 20 grams of leaves and brought them to a boil in a pot of water, salt, and sugar.

I then let the leaves steep for about 45 minutes while I went to work on the Anjou pears. I first set up a bowl of water and lemon juice that I would put my pear balls into while I worked to prevent them from oxidizing. I’m sorry if any part of that sentence sounded just plain wrong. Then I peeled the pears and used a melon baller to remove 8 pear balls. Once I had my balls, I used a smaller melon baller to hollow out the center of each of my pear balls. I apologize if any part of this paragraph sounded just plain wrong.

Don’t oxidize!

Once I had my pear balls, I cooked them briefly in water, sugar, and dry white wine (I used a $10.00 bottle of Chardonnay).

I then reserved the balls with their cooking liquid in the fridge. Meanwhile, my eucalyptus was done steeping. I poured the eucalyptus liquid through a chinois and discarded the leaves. I then mixed in some sheet gelatin and poured a tiny bit of the mixture into a 4″ x 6″ pan lined with plastic wrap. The plastic wrap is important because later I had to pull the gelee out in one piece. Although the book doesn’t mention this, I also had cut out a piece of cardboard and put it between two layers of plastic wrap so it would be easier in the end to pull the gelee out in one piece. I had problems in the past doing this and have the entire thing just fall apart.

I let the gelee set in the fridge for about 45 minutes and it was ready. The book says it should take an hour, but mine took less time. I then added the pear balls and some more eucalyptus liquid, and returned it to the fridge to set. Finally, I added the remaining eucalyptus liquid so that it came up just to the brim of the pear balls. The book only adds to liquid in 2 steps instead of 3 like I did, but I opted to break it down some more because I knew it would be difficult to pour all the remaining liquid in at once and not have the balls swim through it or turn over while I was transferring the pan to the fridge.

Once it was all set, I carefully removed the gelee from the pan. I used a small round cutter to remove the pear balls from the gelee and set them on the utensils they were to be served on.

While I was at the farmer’s market, I also picked up some fresh mint to garnish the pear/eucalyptus balls. The book calls for zuta levena instead of mint here, but in another recipe it specifically suggests mint as a replacement, so I decided to work with that. I also crushed some black peppercorns with a mortar and pestle and put some olive oil into my food syringe for the centers. Garnishing done, here was the final product:

Overall, I liked how this turned out. My only complaint is that the eucalyptus gelatin had an strong earthy smoky flavor that I wasn’t expecting and I don’t think was intended. If I did this again, I would probably steep the leaves for less time. And for the record, I think this is the first recipe where everything went right the first time.

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Autumn Rundown

The seasons have changed, which is especially relevant in the Alinea cookbook. The book is divided into four seasons, with 26-27 recipes in each season. Each “season” in the book stands alone as a complete meal that you could potentially have at Alinea (though you never will because they change almost everything every year). For example, each seasonal chapter starts with an amuse bouche, progresses from there, eventually reaches a stage where a palate cleanser is needed, and then concludes with desserts.

An amuse bouche is a sign that you’re dining somewhere special. It’s usually a bite-sized offering of something that doesn’t appear on the menu but is specially created by the chef to represent the style of his restaurant. Aaron and I have dined at several places where we, always unexpectedly but always with pleasant surprise, were welcomed with an amuse bouche. Most recently it happened at the Aviary, which isn’t even a dining place strictly speaking; it’s a bar of superior quality (and from the same people that run Alinea). Nevertheless, we received an amuse bouche consisting of a tequila slushy drink mixed with a cinnamon stock and cider. How Autumn!

Here’s what the Alinea book gives me for Autumn:

Pheasant, shallot, cider, burning oak leaves
Duck, pumpkin, banana, Thai aromatics
Trout Roe, coconut, licorice, pineapple
Yuba, shrimp, orange, miso
Skate, traditional flavors powdered
Sardine, nicoise olive, dried tomato, arugula
Chestnut, too many garnishes to list
Black Truffle. explosion, romaine, parmesan
Kuroge Wagyu, squash, smoked paprika taffy
Bison, braised pistachios, potato, sweet spices
Idiazábal, Blis maple syrup, smoked salt
Cranberry, frozen and chewy
Matsutake, pine nut, mastic, rosemary
Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper
Foie Gras, spicy cinnamon puff, apple candy
Shellfish Sponge, horseradish, celery, gooseberry
King Crab, vinegar, aromatics, seaweed
Salsify, smoked salmon, dill, caper
Junsai, bonito, soy, mirin
Pork, grapefruit, sage, honeycomb
Kumquat, aquavit, Picholine olive, caraway
Venison, encased in savory granola
Marcona Almond, white ale, pink pepper, lavender
Persimmon, aroma strip, carrot, red curry
Coffee, passion fruit, buckwheat, mint
Chocolate, warmed to 94 degrees
Dry Caramel, salt

Clearly, I’ve already made a couple of these recipes. The Kumquat I made a couple months ago because it seemed easy and I suddenly saw kumquats at my local grocery store. But now I’m going to start confining myself to recipes that are “relatively in season,” which is why I did Yuba last week. If you look to my “Next Potential Recipes Section,” you’ll notice that everything I’m planning is either from the Autumn menu or the Summer menu. As we get closer to winter, you’ll notice the potential Summer dishes disappear and replaced by Winter dishes.*

Without rambling too much more, let me give you the rundown of those potential autumn recipes that you may see in the next few months.

Duck, pumpkin, banana, thai aromatics: This recipe, should I complete it, will probably be the most complex thing I complete this year. And I really want to complete it. All of the ingredients are readily accessible, though I need to do some research before I spend too much money on duck. And I already possess all the equipment I need. Yet still, this one will be no simple feat. It contains 9-14 components, depending on how you break them down, and involves specially made Alinea dishware that I haven’t decided whether or not I’m going to buy yet. In all honestly, I think I’m just intimidated by the magnitude of this dish. AND I’M GOING TO GET OVER THAT WITHIN THE NEXT 3-5 MONTHS.

Sardine, nicoise olive, dried tomato, arugula: This recipe is giving me my great excuse to stock up on Ultra-Tex 3, a modified food starch that is used in several of the Alinea recipes. It also, however, contains an ingredient that I may not be able to find, and which I know I’ll only be able to find by spending a good day searching the amazing Asian grocery stores nearby my apartment: Tatami Iwashi. No, that’s not a Naruto character (which I only know by googling this item). It’s a thin sheet of dried sardines. Yummy, right!…Right?

Idiazabal, Blis maple syrup, smoked salt: I’m not certain that I’m going to tackle this recipe just yet, but it might happen. Nothing is overly complicated in the process, but it calls for some very specific name brand ingredients that aren’t exceptionally cheap. We’re taking about a bottle of maple syrup that costs $19.95 plus shipping and handling. I’d rather do some cheaper recipes while I’m on student loan money, but we’ll see.

Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper: This recipe might happen this weekend. Formally, I thought eucalyptus was near impossible to find in Chicago. Over the past week, I’ve noticed eucalyptus shrubs being sold at various farmer’s market (which happen to be horribly inconvenient to where I live) for $5.00. And they’re huge. So my plan is to stay overnight at Aaron’s this Friday and stop by the farmer’s market right by his place Saturday morning, get my shrub, and take it on a 15 minute ride through the train back to my place. Assuming that they’re still available, you’ll see this recipe within the next week.

Junsai, bonito, soy, mirin: This recipe is currently the bane of my existence. Everything about it is rudimentary except for obtaining Junsai. It simply is not a product that is available in the US. Other Alinea Cookbook bloggers (see the right hand column to check out their fabulous work) searched forever to find Junsai and one finally found it on a Parisian website. The other bloggers immediately jumped on this find and finished the recipe. Now, to my great discontent, it’s now longer available for sale on that website. But I refuse to lose hope. I’m keeping an eye out and should I find any affordable means to get it in my hands, this recipe will be finished before the new year.

Venison, encased in savory granola: This one is probably the most unlikely recipe to happen this Autumn. You see, I have almost all the equipment to make it,  but I’m sure that venison is both hard to find and expensive to buy. Plus, it just looks so pretty in the book that I lack the total confidence to tackle it. BUT, I know it’s possible.

Dry Caramel, salt: I could do this recipe today, tonight in fact within an hour if I had the motivation. But I’m holding off because it’s SO simple and SO easily transportable. You see, I will likely be spending Thankgiving at Aaron’s parent’s place, and I would love to contribute to Thanksgiving dinner and treat them with this dessert since I can make it at home and take it over there SO EASILY. So expect this one shortly after Thanksgiving.

So there’s your Autumn Rundown! Expect another Rundown in about 3 months.

*Even though it’s Autumn, I may still be making some Summer recipes and you might see some Winter recipes before Autumn is over. To get technical, I’ve decided to allow myself to make Summer recipes until we reach the point in Autumn that it’s closer to Winter than Summer. At that date (approximately November 7th), I’ll finally abandon Summer and start exploring Winter. Through this method, two Alinea seasons are open to me at any given date.

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Yuba, shrimp, orange, miso

This dish marks two milestones: 1) it’s the first dish I’ve made in the book containing meat, and perhaps more significant, 2) it’s the first of three in that book that I actually had when I dined at Alinea.

I remember our server asking us if we knew what yuba was. “No.” “Not many people do. It’s the skin that forms when you heat soy milk,” he so elegantly informed us. Here, that skin is rolled up into a stick, dried out and fried. Shrimp is wrapped around it, along with sweetened orange rind and chives. It’s dusted with togarashi and dipped in miso mayonnaise.


With the yuba, I really started out from scratch with dried soybeans. I immersed them in water overnight…

…and then blended them with water at high speed for a minute.

What resulted was a very frothy soy milk that I had to drain through my chinois before pouring into a wide saucepan to heat up.

It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for each yuba skin to form, and it’s no easy task to pull them out because it sticks to itself and they’re very hot. Nevertheless, I soon got the hang of it and was able to make some decently sized sticks.

I threw these in the dehydrator for a few hours until they were “dry but pliable.”

Then, they were fried in canola oil. I don’t fry food very often. The last dish was probably my first introduction to frying. So I ended up being completely amazed when they puffed up to almost twice their size.

Miso Mayonnaise

I don’t really have any pictures of making the miso mayonnaise. Basically I cracked an egg yolk into a bowl and slowly whisked in canola oil until it emulsified. I then add the miso paste, lime juice, sugar, water, salt, and a tiny bit of cayenne pepper. The miso I bought was a much darker and thicker red miso than I think they use at the restaurant, so my mayo didn’t turn out in the orange hue that I remember from Alinea.

Final Prep

While I was making the yuba sticks, I also prepared the orange rind and the shrimp. For the orange rind, I peeled an orange and removed all the white pith. I then cooked it in boiling simple syrup for a short time and shocked it in cold simple syrup.

The shrimp were bitches. The book tells you to cut 1/3 down from the tail end to the head, then to turn your knife straight down and cut down one third farther and back to the tail end. Essentially, I was removing the middle third of the shrimp. Somehow I didn’t completely botch this task, although I do confess that I got lazy with some of the shrimp and just cut a slit halfway from tail to head. This is all done so that I could wrap the shrimp around the yuba sticks.

Last step was putting the yuba into the oven for a few minutes to cook the shrimp, and then add the orange rinds, chives and togarashi. Obtaining togarashi required going to one of the Asian supermarkets in Uptown. Togarashi is a spice mix seasoning containing (directly from the list of ingredients on the label) chili pepper, orange peel, black and white sesame seed, Japanese pepper, ginger, and seaweed.

And yes, it was fucking delicious.

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Dry Shot, red pepper, garlic, oregano

The Alinea cookbook contains several “shots,” one of which I’ve already completed. This dry shot is one of two dry shots (the other I will probably be completing around Thanksgiving time). Each of the shots is a condensed and reconstructed version of more usual dishes. Here, I believe the chefs were inspired by pizza, yet perhaps surprisingly, neither tomatoes nor cheese are used in the recipe. It should also be noted that even though we’re reconstructing food into a “dry shot,” you will not find any chemicals or other ingredients that you may assume is a part of the “molecular gastronomy'” style at Alinea.

Instead we have oregano, niçoise olives, garlic, red bell pepper, white bread, and capers. I posted the above picture a few days ago on facebook and the Wonder Bread in particular raised a few eyebrows. But the recipe calls for “white bread” and what is quintessentially white bread if not Wonder Bread? That aside, let’s go through these primary ingredients in turn.

1. Oregano

The oregano is this recipe is fried and then dehydrated. This component of the recipe was the most pleasantly surprising. It’s one of the few components which didn’t give me any grief at all, was super easy to complete, and resulted in the most individually delicious piece of food I’ve had so far out of this book. I could snack on these things all day.

Check out that lustrous sheen!

2. Niçoise Olive

My god, these things were a bitch. The recipe instructs you to pit the olives before putting them in the dehydrator for 12 hours. I don’t have an olive pitter and honestly, the olives were so small that I find it hard to believe that one could easily pit these things even with the right tool. I attempted to carve out the pits with a paring knife but the process was so laborious that I quit after about 10 olives (which took me 30 minutes to “pit”) and threw them all into the dehydrator, figuring that it’d be easier to get the pits out once they had been in there for a while. Unfortunately, after 12 hours, the olives had wrinkled up but it was barely any easier to get the pits out. I spent another 30 minutes after dehydrator attacking them with my paring knife and ultimately threw the resulting olive shavings back into the dehydrator for a couple hours. Sadly, they just refused to crisp up and by this point, I was done with every other component of the dish so I wasn’t about to wait another 12 hours for them to get to the point where they could be crushed up into a powder.

As a result, I ended up with less than the book calls for in the dry shot mixture, even though I started out with almost double the amount of olives that I was supposed to put into the dehydrator. Alas.

3. Garlic

I don’t have any photos of the garlic element. The recipe calls for elephant garlic but I couldn’t find any so I settled for regular old garlic and I don’t think the dry shot turned out any worse because of that decision. Several heads of garlic were sliced up and boiled in skim milk three separate times and then dehydrator for 3 hours. Once again, this component didn’t crisp up to the point that it probably should have and I also ended up with a little less in the end than I needed, but not drastically so. Alas.

4. Red Bell Pepper

I cored a few red bell peppers and removed the seeds and ribs on the inside. I then cut the peppers into thin slices. It was at this point I noticed an instruction in the recipe to remove the skin before cutting them into thin slices. Too late for that! I tried shaving the skin off several slices but only managed to destroy them so I proceeded to put them in the dehydrator. ONCE AGAIN (are you seeing a theme here?), they didn’t crisp up to the required point and I ended up with severely less than I needed, even though I started out with double the amount the recipe initially calls for.

5. White Bread

Finally, something that went right again.

I removed the crust from several slices of bread, measured it out, and mixed it up with some olive oil, a liberal amount of black pepper, and salt. Then I threw them in the oven for about 45 minutes and ended up with perfectly crisp and non-burnt pieces of bread (doesn’t it need to burn just a little for it to be toast? Discuss.). I then broke up those pieces of bread to create a powder of bread crumbs.

6. Capers

I began by rinsing the capers and patting them dry. Then I fried them in canola oil for a couple minutes.

After frying, the capers were supposed to be crispy enough in their own right to break up into a powder. This wasn’t true. So I put them in the dehydrator for a little while hoping that would solve the problem. In retrospect, maybe a better idea would have been to put them in the oven because oil doesn’t dehydrate and the capers were soaked in them. They didn’t crisp up in the dehydrator, and lest you haven’t been paying attention to the recurring theme here, I ended up with less than I needed.

Each of the Alinea recipes is supposed to serve 8 people, and at this point, with all my components ready, it was time to mix them together in varying quantities. Since I ended up with less than I needed for most of the components, I made an executive decision to quarter the amounts in the book and effectively create a mix appropriate for 2 servings.

The last step was adding 5 oregano leaves to each serving. In the book, this dry shot is served in a vellum envelope. I originally was going to substitute plain white paper but then realized that I didn’t have any on hand. Stemless wine glasses ended up being an adequate substitute.

For the record, despite all the hurdles in the making of this dry shot, it was delicious. And the fact that nearly none of the components broke down into a powder as they were supposed to did not seriously affect the final result.

PS: Since the last post, Alinea Newb got some press in Canada. Check it out!

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