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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