Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Look For My Blog.

Hello, all. I decided to try a different look for my blog. A face lift, if you will. After all, it's been a year. What doth ye think? I'm liking it. It's a cleaner look, I think.

My Very Own Alinea.

A couple of hours ago, Dixie started barking her head off, so I went to the window to see who or what was outside. Fed-Ex. I was curious as to what they were bringing, since I didn't recall ordering anything recently. Then I saw the Amazon.com logo and I remembered. With shaking hands, I carefully opened the box. And there it was.
My Alinea cookbook. No, I take that back. You can't call this a cookbook. I set the shrink-wrapped book on my table and just stared at it a while. You can see my overhead lamp and my camera in the reflection.
And stared some more.
With surgical precision, I cut the plastic and reverently peeled it back.
Check out the price. $50.00.
Check out my amazon.com price. $31.50. Now, subtract $30 from that since I applied for yet another Amazon.com credit card that they offered me with a $30 credit on it (Maybe the twelfth or so card I've gotten.) and do the math. I got this magnificent tome for $1.50.
I'm still staring at it. Doesn't it look like it was made for that table top? Or perhaps that granite was made for that book? I've read the first fifty pages of introduction about the Alinea experience, Michael Ruhlman's introduction, the post modern pantry, Chef Grant Achatz's creative process and conceptualization of dishes, using the avenues and approaches of reversal, special/rare ingredients, bouncing flavors, profile replication, ingredient expression, technology, form mimicking, global awareness, texture manipulation, and custom serviceware, and frankly I am in awe and exhausted. You can get an idea of what's involved by checking out this blog. Here's what Ruhlman had to say in his introduction: "So, what makes Alinea so distinctive? And what are we to make of its controversial food: the outrageous pairings, the extraordinary manipulations of texture, presentations that veer from ingenious to surreal, service pieces that make some diners squirm, ingredients that range from familiar vegetables and meats to Ultra-Tex 3 and xanthum gum, and techniques that include encapsulation and pillows of scented air? And finally, who is the chef behind it all? That's what this book is about." I've scanned through some of the recipes and now I am intimidated. Hey Carol, I wish you the best of luck on your new venture. I must say, Carol, you have ova.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mr. & Mrs. Hawthorne Enjoy A Delicious Repast.

After my last post about Ranch Dressing, 
I had fond memories of a salad I used to make
 which had Ranch dressing in it. 
I think it was called 7-layer salad.
 First, I had to call Xmaskatie for all the ingredients
 since generally I can't remember more than 3 items in a list. 
Sad, I know.
So, here we have: 
frozen green peas
 iceberg lettuce 
cheddar cheese
red onion
Ranch dressing
First layer is shredded iceberg lettuce.
Second layer is sliced red onion.
Third layer is shredded carrots.
Fourth layer is green peas.
 (I dropped them in boiling water for a few seconds, then drained.)
 Now, if I catch anybody using CANNED peas,
 I will come to your house and seriously HURT you..
Fifth layer is the Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing
 pharmaceutical hodge podge.
Oh, man.
 Gotta love them chemicals.
 When you think you've poured on enough ranch dressing, stop,
 then pour on some more.
Sixth layer is shredded cheddar cheese.
Seventh layer is bacon.
 I haven't made this for a long time.
 I'm glad I remembered it,
 because it is so good.  
Next up: Parmesan cups.
I grated some parmesan cheese.
 Big rounds. 
Baked at 375 for about 8-10 minutes. 
Immediately, remove from baking sheet
 and place over cups.
 Press down while pliable to try to make cups.
 This needs to be done very quickly.
 If you can't do it this first time,
 place the parmesan cups in the microwave and nuke for about 50 seconds.
 Then you can move the parmesan around to get a better shaped cup. 

 The Dressing:
Olive oil, honey
 (This is sourwood honey 
- the good stuff - from the Blue Ridge Mountains.),
 orange, lemon, salt, and pepper. 
I added about a tablespoon or so of sourwood honey to 1/3 cup olive oil.
 Grated lemon zest and orange zest. 
Salt and pepper. 
Juice of an orange. 
Juice of a lemon.
 Whisk all together. 
Spinach and mixed greens.
Sliced cucumbers, mushrooms, and red onions. 

Toasted almonds.
Orange slices. 
Spoon salad into parmesan cups. 

Lots of flavors and textures.
 Crispy parmesan, crunchy, toasty almonds, 
cool, fresh cucumber, sweet oranges.
What a light, fresh "leave-'em-wantin-'some more" salad this was.

 Next, our entree:
Soft shell crabs. 
Delicious soft shells with tartar sauce and 7-layer pea salad. 

Homemade Ranch Dressing.

Now, I like Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing as much as the next person. Perhaps more. But gosh, have you ever looked at the ingredient list? Maltodextrin. (Maltodextrin is a sweet polysaccharide used as a food additive. A polysaccharide is a complex carbohydrate.) Buttermilk. Salt. Monosodium glutamate. (MSG is a sodium salt used as a food additive and marketed as a flavor enhancer.) Dried garlic. Dried onion. Lactic acid. (I read the Wikipedia article on lactic acid and still don't know what it is. Only that it's found primarily in sour milk products, like yogurts and cottage cheeses.) Calcium lactate. (Calcium lactate is a white crystalline salt made by the action of lactic acid on calcium carbonate. Hmmm, OK.) Citric acid. (Citric acid is a weak organic acid and natural preservative used to add an acidic or sour taste to foods and soft drinks.) Spices. (Damn. Those unidentifiable spices.) Artificial flavor. (Crap. Has there been anything real yet?) Xanthum gum. (Xanthum gum is a dry ingredient, stable at high temperatures and easily dissolved in liquids. And here's a lovely description of xanthum gum: Xanthan Gum is basically a slime secreted by bacteria that is then used in commercial food preparation. You will see it described slightly more appealingly as "a natural carbohydrate derived from corn syrup". A bacteria called "Xanthonomonas campestris" is added to corn syrup, where it is allowed to ferment. The colonies of bacteria secrete a "polysaccharide" slime. The mixture of bacteria, secretion and corn syrup is then washed in alcohol to put it into solution, then dried and ground. The resultant powder is called Xanthum Gum. Though the bacteria are yellowish, the gum comes out with no colour. Can I just say, YUMMMMM? Calcium stearate. (Calcium stearate is a non-toxic stabilizer and lubricant.) Carboxymethylcellulose. (CMC is used in food science as a viscosity modifier or thickener and to stabilize emulsions, for example, in ice creams.) Guar gum. (Guar gum is a natural food thickener, the ground endosperm of guar beans.) Guar gum is a water-soluble fiber that acts as a bulk forming laxative, and as such, it is claimed to be effective in promoting regular bowel movements and relieve constipation and chronic related functional bowel ailments; such as diverticulosis, Crohn's disease, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, among others. The increased mass in the intestines stimulates the movement of waste and toxins from the system, which is particularly helpful for good colon health, because it speeds the removal of waste and bacteria from the bowel and colon. In addition, because it is soluble, it is also able to absorb toxic substances (bacteria) that cause infective diarrhea. Again, a big YUMMMMMM to that. That was the last ingredient on the list. The last notation was this: NO PRESERVATIVES. All I can say is, "WHEW!" Rosie wipes brow. So, as much as I love Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, I decided to ... well, you know ... MAKE MY OWN RANCH DRESSING.
Imonna wing it here. I have parsley, chives, and dill from the garden. About 1/2 cup mayo, 1/4 cup sour cream, 1/4 cup buttermilk, a garlic clove, and a bit of salt.
Again, when picking from the garden, be careful of certain unwanted proteins.
I minced the herbs - parsley, chives, and dill.
Mixed all together.
I tasted and decided it needed a bit more. OK, a lot more. White vinegar, Dijon mustard, Tabasco, Worcestershire Sauce, paprika, cayenne, oregano, pepper, celery leaves, and onion.
Chopped celery leaves and onion go in.
A bit of vinegar.
Grey Poupon Dijon.
Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce.
Cayenne, paprika, oregano, and pepper.
Mix all together. You all know what Hidden Valley Ranch dressing tastes like. (Heh ... You just didn't know what was in it.) Like I said, I like HV Ranch. Better living through chemicals and all. But golly, my ranch dressing was fresh tasting. Vibrant. Herby. With a definite "come and eat me" flirtation and a defineably prohibitive "don't eat those crappy chemicals in that package of powder" admonition. Just plain good eats. I can't wait for a salad tomorrow to pour this on.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ticky Visits!

Ticky is coming to visit today, so I'm trying to prepare foods I think she would like. I know she likes shrimp, and my shrimp spring rolls yesterday were so good, I decided to make them again.
Top left, are Mr. Hawthorne's carrots from his mini-mandoline. Bottom left, are my carrots, carefully and thoughtfully julienned by my own little hands. Mr. Hawthorne probably did his carrots in 10 seconds. Me? Probably 10 minutes.
But mine taste better.
Top right is cucumber. Bottom right is celery.
In the middle is shrimp. In the little bowl at top right is faux crab. Well, actually it has some king crab in it along with pollock. Top middle is bibb lettuce.
Bibb lettuce, with carrots, cucumbers, celery, shrimp, and faux crab. Roll up in the tapioca sheets. By the way, when you're softening the sheets in water, only do one sheet at a time, and watch it. It will disintegrate if you leave it in there too long. Just do one roll/sheet at a time.
And here are my llllllovely, llllllittle ssssspring rollllls. OK, I'm sooo trying not to be 12 here.
So lllllet's just move on to the horizontal view.
Shrimp spring rolls are done. Refrigerate. Next up, barbecue sauce.
I sauteed garlic and onions.
Added brown sugar.
Cider vinegar goes in.
Some of Mr. Hawthorne's sourwood honey.
Worcestershire sauce.
I had some tamarind barbecue sauce leftover from the coconut salmon and added that.
Dark corn syrup.
Mr. Hawthorne slathers the sauce over the baby back ribs.
And I cooked the barbecue sauce down until nice and thick.
Now, it's time for cole slaw.
I have cabbage, celery, carrot, and apple. And I really like the halo effect around the carrot and celery.
I sliced the cabbage, chopped the celery, grated the carrot, and sliced the apple.
Add in a couple glops of mayo, salt and pepper, then some sugar.
Add in some cider vinegar.
Then, I had the great idea of adding RAISINS. Everything is ready for Ticky's arrival. I'm getting excited. At 3 o'clock, Ticky called and said she'd be here in an hour. "Great," I said, "That gives me just enough time for my tablescape!" Heh Heh.
Ta DAAAAAHHHH!!!!!! And what a tablescape it is. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Of course, a tablescape is not a tablescape without booze. Here, I have a precariously structured construction of miniature booze bottles. A darling party favor - the seed packet. Let's not forget the ambiance of candlelight. And, my precious place setting for Ticky, with a cheery "Happy Birthday!"
Moving on to Rosie's place setting, we have another scented candle, the booze pyramid, another seed packet, and the place card with a "Get Well Soon!" message. (Just in case any Sandyfood was used during dinner.)
Now, Mr. Hawthorne's place setting. Booze, scented candle, seeds, and a heart-felt "I Love You." WHOOT!
As for any true Sandyscape, there's plenty of extra booze available - in whatever form you might want - rubbing alcohol or aigstrax.
When I talked to Ticky last night, I asked her was there anything she didn't like. Yes, shellfish. What do you like? Velveeta and shrimp.
So, for my appetizers, I have a Velveeta, cream cheese, and bacon dip (which was the same I used to stuff my jalapeno poppers with). Ticky took one look and gushed, "Is that VELVEETA?" Yup, just for you, babe. On the right, is my tabboulleh.
Next, I had a taste test for Ticky. French Laundry veal stock. Ruhlman's veal stock. Can you tell the difference? They both look exactly the same. But, she picked veal stock B, on the right. I believe Ticky described it as "velvety." I think I said, a "subtle nuance" that made my tongue "shiver." Whatever, we both picked Ruhlman's. Next, more appetizers.
Here are my spring rolls. And assorted condiments.
And here's dinner: Mr. Hawthorne's corn and bacon, baby back ribs, cole slaw, and barbecue sauce.
This corn and bacon is quite a deliciosity. Try it. This time, I made him add cream. Even better, if possible.
Baby back ribs.
Sweet, tart cole slaw with raisins and apples. Darn, thinking back on it, I wish I had added some walnuts.
My plate. I'm like Ticky. I use a fork and knife to get the meat off the bone. I work for it, then am rewarded by a delicious, ready-to-eat treat. The dark spread at the bottom of the plate is my cooked down BBQ sauce. Bacon/corn on the left. Cole slaw at top. I enjoyed this meal thoroughly. Whilst Ticky went to "powder her nose," Mr. H. and I brought out the hidden birthday cake and lit the candles.
Happy belated birthday, Ticky!
Bitch has got some lungs on her. Three feet away and those candle flames were extinguished in a split second.
Ticky, thanks for visiting! Come back soon.