Monthly Archives: November 2012

Dry Caramel, salt

This recipe is probably one of the three easiest in the entire book. Or so it seems at first glance. All I had to do was make caramel, mix it with a weird super-light powder and serve. In reality, I had to make this twice. And I want to try it a third time once I’m back home because I feel like it could be better still.

This dish was also ┬ámy contribution to the Thanksgiving dinner at my boyfriend’s parents place. I’ve been planning to make this for Thanksgiving for some time because it is easily transportable, and thus I could make it at home and work out the kinks there. I’m glad I did.

To start, I measured some sugar, light corn syrup, butter, and heavy cream (clockwise from top). The book calls for glucose, but the the light corn syrup was an adequate substitute.

The book says to heat the ingredients to 230 degrees and then pour the resulting caramel onto a silicone lined sheet tray to cool. The first time, my caramel stopped heating up at 220 degrees. After letting it cook at a steady 220 for at least five minutes, I decided to pour it. I figured that something was wrong with my thermometer and I was already over cooking it. It ended up cooling into a mostly liquid form that didn’t react with the aforementioned weird super-light powder as it should have. And I created the biggest mess I’ve made so far trying to add more weird super-light powder to the caramel in the food processor.

Pictures from the bad batch.

The weird super-light powder is tapioca maltodextrin, a food starch that adheres to fat instead of water. Tapioca maltodextrin can be found easily online. The powder is extremely light; the one pound bag I have is the size of a pillow. Because it’s so light, it makes a mess easily, I found. Mixing enough tapioca maltodextrin with any fatty substance will turn that substance into a powder. When that powder comes in contact with moisture, such as saliva, it re-constitutes into what it was before.

I did some more research after the first failed batch and learned that there was a reason why my caramel stopped heating at 220 degrees. Turns out that the structure of sugar begins changing at the stage. I just needed to wait longer. So I did that. But still, the second time, once the sugar mix had reached 230 degrees, it still wasn’t browning the way that caramel appears. So I let it reach 240-245 before taking it off the heat and pouring it out to cool. I knew that if I let it heat up any more, it would cool to a hard candy-like consistency instead of a soft-caramel consistency. Anyway, the difference is clear between the first and second batches. (I also halved the recipe for the second batch because it produces way more than you need).

This time, after cooling, the caramel mixed much better with the tapioca maltodextrin. I still had to add more than the book said though and in the end, my dry caramel was more crumby than powdery.

Nevertheless, the family loved it. The dry caramel truly does turn back into a soft and chewy caramel after being in your mouth for about five seconds.

I still want to try this recipe again and see if I can get more a powdery texture to the dry caramel. Based on what other people who have tried this recipe have said, it seems that the tapioca maltodextrin mixes better with the dry caramel the harder the dry caramel is at the beginning. Alas, that’s an experiment for when I get back home.

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Tuna, candied and dried

One thing I’ve found surprising so far in this journey through the Alinea Cookbook is how some recipes come together almost effortlessly and others are a pain in the neck every step in the process. I can never tell at the beginning how it’s going to play. This one came together almost effortlessly, but was a pain in the neck when it came to plating the damn thing.

Here, we have a stick of tuna that been marinated and dehydrated. It’s covered with a candied glaze, sesame seeds, and red pepper flakes. Wrapped around it is a piece of grapefruit zest and a sliver of ginger.

I began by making the marinade. The marinade was first cooked with water, soy sauce, fish sauce, coriander seed, lemongrass, chili peppers, ginger, white wine vinegar, and a TON of sugar. The recipe calls for red thai chili, but I couldn’t find it so I substituted some serrano chilis. After steeping for a little bit, I added the juice from 5 limes, some lime zest, ginger juice and some cilantro.

The recipe calls for a tuna loin, and I know I’ve seen what the book calls for before in many local grocery stores, but alas at the time I actually needed a tune loin, I could only find a tuna steak. It still suited my purpose, but I was really hoping for another kind of cut.

I cut my tuna steak into strips and saved some of the bigger, yet not long pieces, for dinner tomorrow night.

Once the strips were done marinating, I rinsed them off and put them in the dehydrator for a couple hours.

While the tuna was still marinating, I prepared the grapefruit zest. I think I did a mighty fine job of cutting a long piece of rind with a vegetable peeler. I removed the pith with a paring knife and cut the zest into long thin strips. Then I boiled some sugar and water together. Once the sugar was completely dissolved and the mix was boiling, I threw the grapefruit zest in and turned off the heat.

While the tuna was dehydrating, I strained the marinade to remove all the solid and simmered it until I had a glaze that was thick enough to cook the back of a spoon.

Just before serving, I toasted some black and white sesame seeds with some red pepper flakes and sliced up some ginger.

And voila! Tuna, candied and dried. (Btw, the recipe also calls for micro lemongrass, which is wrapped around the tunasticks at the end. I’m still unable to find micro lemongrass.)

Like I said, the tuna was a pain in the neck when it came to plating. The sticks were dry enough to stand up on their own until I started putting the glaze on them. As if thinking of Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day, they went limp. On top of that, it was very difficult to get the grapefruit zest to stick well to the tuna; they kept wanting to unwrap from the tuna as soon as I put it in the glass. And of course adding more glaze was no help.

The taste itself left something to be desired. It was more spicy than sweet. I noticed that the tuna soaked up very little of the marinade, which was delicious. The glaze on its own was phenomenal, but as soon as I added the sesame seed/red pepper flake mix, all you could taste was the heat from the red pepper flakes. If I were to do this one again, I would probably marinate the tuna for longer, dehydrate the sticks a little bit longer, and omit the red pepper flakes.

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Duck, pumpkin, banana, Thai aromatics

It has been a while since I completed a recipe, much longer than I like, but it’s not for lack of effort. I’ve actually tried to tackle two other recipes this past month. One failed each time I tried and I ultimately decided I needed better tools and will try again next year. The other had a super elusive ingredient that I simply couldn’t find.

Before moving on to this recipe, I must confess that I’m simply not happy with the quality of pictures that I got for the final product of this one. This has never been a photography blog but it certainly does suck when I’m struggling to grab a decent, non-blurry picture of what I made. The photo above is perhaps the best pic I took out of 20. In addition, I did not get a lot of photos of the intermediate steps because I forgot most of the time.

On the fork is piece of marinated duck paired with banana pudding, cayenne glazed peanuts, curry-salted fried pumpkin deed, red chili, and candied lime zest. (The recipe also includes micro cilantro and micro lemongrass, but I forgot about the former and couldn’t find the latter.) In the bowl is a butternut squash soup topped with banana foam.

I started out a couple weeks ago by making the cayenne glazed peanuts. All this involves is mixing cayenne pepper, salt, sugar, a little water, and peanuts together and then baking the peanuts until the glaze melts. On the duck itself, the peanuts are crushed. I doubled the recipe so that I could snack on the extra peanuts. Here they are pre-baked:

A couple days before finishing this recipes, I baked a few bananas to use in the banana pudding and banana froth…

For the froth, the innards were mixed with dried banana chips, water, sugar, salt, and citric acid and set to steep for two days. Just before serving, I strained, heated this mixture up and added some soy lecithin so that it would foam up. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier that you can find at most health food stores. I highly recommend getting the powdered kind for recipes in this book. Granules do not dissolve as easily.

For the pudding, the innards were mixed with half-and-half, agar agar, salt and sugar….Wait, what the hell is agar agar? It’s a gelling agent made from seaweed that is commonly used in Asian candies and desserts. It can be found in Asian grocery stores, but if you’re using it for a recipe in this book, I caution you to make sure that your agar agar isn’t also mixed with sugar as many of the Asian grocery store varieties are. Pure agar agar can be found easily online or at spice shops.

Many of the puddings in the Alinea cookbook are made by mixing Something-Something with agar agar, letting it set, and then pureeing the solidified mass into a pudding, which is what I did with this banana pudding.

The recipe calls for duck tenderloin, which I couldn’t find despite inquiring with several online sources and several local butchers. I did find duck breast though and decided to use that instead. The duck is marinated in a brine of jalapeno, lemongrass, ginger, soy sauce, cinnamon (Note: not ground cinnamon as the book states. This was an error that hasn’t been fixed in the most current editions yet.), pineapple juice, brown sugar, salt and water. Just before serving, I grilled the breasts and cut them up into bite size pieces.

The soup is made with butternut squash. First I cut the squash in half and took out the seeds. Then I filled the hollows with butter and baked the squash. (My squash had a couple brown bits that were created by moisture which I cut out.) Once the flesh was soft but not yet colored, I scoped into a pot with heavy cream, water, sugar, and salt. I heated the soup, pureed it, and strained it through my chinois.

The duck has many garnishes. A couple days ahead of time, I had fried some pumpkin seeds and mixed them with curry powder and salt. I would recommend doing this step the day you’re planning to eat because my seeds lost their crispiness by the time I ended up using them. Another garnish is the candied lime zest. This involves zesting a lime, heating it up briefly, shocking it in cold water, and reserving it in simple syrup. I also crushed up those cayenne peanuts for a garnish. Ginger slices and red thai chili completed the picture for me.

Ultimately, the final product turned out very well. The two other people that got to try it both commented on how well the duck paired with the soup. For myself, I wish that the individual components, especially the banana, stood out some more. But I can’t truly complain about the taste on that front because everything did blend well together.

And just for fun, check out how messy my kitchen gets in the middle of everything.

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