Friday, November 2, 2018

A conversation with myself

So over the past...I don't know, year or so? I randomly jot down a start to a post and then get distracted only to come back a few months later and everything is outdated or irrelevant - so I delete it and start a new post and get distracted and ... well, that's the cycle I am in now. See if you can figure this one out:

I find myself captive with a computer and internet connection for the first time in a long time - so why not try to squeeze one in? It has, after all, been a while. So after an uncomfortable conversation with my landlord, in which he referred to me as a 'writer', I decided to delete nearly all of the posts on this blog. I kept a handful of the most disproportionately popular ones - but a fresh start seems appropriate.

I still feel good about trimming this fat. 

For whatever reason, this reminds me of the last day of my Wedding/Celebration Cakes practical in Chicago. The routine was you had to take the shit you made in school with you after class - this included the three-tier wedding cake I had spent the past two days constructing. I wasn't about to take this thing on the train with me - so I walked straight out of the building, across the street to the alleyway and chucked it in a dumpster. If you have ever been in the loop during lunchtime -  this provided a LOT of witnesses who seemed gobsmacked by what I was doing. 

J & I are leaving South Newfane for the thriving metropolis...Brattleboro, VT. J started a new job in January which has been going very well and we have decided it made sense to move closer to it and commit to at least another year in the CT River Valley. As whatever as Brattleboro is, we are excited to be able to walk places again. Konigin will miss running off leash, but we are just a few minutes from the dog park now so maybe she will make some new friends.

We are now in a bright, sunny, apartment in Brattleboro. Its a much-needed change from the studio in the Green Mountains that we isolated ourselves in for the past year.

We have been in Brattleboro since June 1 and our quality of life has increased exponentially. We're walking all the time, we are doing things again, Konigin is very active (we have been to the dog park thirty times since 6/1 - including two weeks off because of weather and illness)

I stopped counting the number of times we were at the dog park after we hit 100 times some time in July. The road to the dog park is not plowed in the winter - so after the first snowfall, the park closes. I am pretty nervous about how Konigin take this news. Brattleboro is pretty lame but as far as our options go within a reasonable radius of J's seems like our best bet. Keene NH is a fucking cesspool. 

I have started reading the newspaper (the Brattleboro Reformer). I initially wanted to do this because I really have no connections locally and thought it was a good idea to 'understand' the community. In hindsight - all of that is irrelevant. What I love is that I have developed a routine that I feel good about. I get up, make some coffee and then go to the dog park with Konigin for about an hour. On the way home, we stop at our local place (Avenue Grocery) - we say hello, she gets a treat, and I get a newspaper. Then we go home - she naps in her crate while I sit and read the paper. I make it a point to read the entire thing (I really only skip the sports and sometimes the opinion if it's really bad). It's such a Zen thing....a meditation. It centers me, keeps me from checking my phone or using my computer. It keeps me from thinking about work, or stressing about whatever there is to stress about.

I am not so consistent with this anymore, but I am reading a lot of books now.

Cannot remember the last time I read the paper. Avenue Grocery is closed. 

Why do people think it's appropriate to mention or ask anything about anyone else's body? This includes, but certainly is not limited to, tattoos, haircuts, and weight gain or loss.

Why does anyone think anything is appropriate? 

Nothing will make me think you are an ass hole faster than talking to me about tattoos. 

I thought the capital district was fucking backward but after living in the CT River Valley for a seems like the most sophisticated place on earth.

The truth hurts. There are some gems here and there, but...well...yeah. It's a bummer. We did have a wine bar open up - and another which will be natural wine-focused is opening by the end of the year, both within 45 minutes of us.

One of the wine bars is open - and we enjoy visiting now and then. It has extremely limited hours - but the couple running it know what they are doing and are excited to have pretty interesting pours. The theme changes when they decide its run its course - from Sicilian Wines to the Rhone Valley and now Piemonte...We have been trying to convince them to do a High Altitude Wines of Europe

My favorite bakery in the US is Sub Rosa - in Richmond, VA. Never in my life have I gone somewhere expecting it to be good and been so totally blown away by literally everything.

Still true. Has been since 2014. We did find a promising place in Montpelier - Bohemian Bakery - the only one in VT worth mentioning (so far).

I wish Richmond appealed more to me because its entirely likely I will never go to Sub Rosa again.

As someone who is occasionally described as a 'pastry chef' - I am nervous to admit that I don't particularly like canele.

Yes, I have had 'good' ones.


I also don't like lemons.

As a flavor.

This doesn't equal me not liking citrus or acid. Just lemon.

I really don't like oranges with meat.

Nothing will make me skip something on a menu faster than seeing this.


I never really cared much for wine until the past couple of years. This is primarily because of some real guidance from HLV22 Second St Wine Co. I always said that before being turned on to natural wines - all wine kind-of tasted the same to me. I guess that's a bit of an oversimplification - but I think it makes the point. This is a pretty interesting article that sort of clues me into why...and it seems it's mostly to do with modern farming and brewing practices basically ensuring homogeneity. Natural wine is definitely not something I uniformly love - some are much more challenging than others - but it makes wine exciting for me. They can be so explosive...or seems no two are genuinely alike.

Wine is definitely a thing for me now. I've been reading quite a bit about it lately in an effort to not feel so...clueless when I'm at a wine shop or bar. My understanding now is yes - modern conventional wines are absolutely intentionally made to taste the "same" and natural wines can literally taste different (same) bottle to (same) bottle, depending on an infinite number of factors. I've always felt a bit crazy thinking - I remember loving this wine or this wine tasted so different last time. These wines are alive.

I don't really care to follow the link to that article but I would say at this point I have accomplished - to some degree - what I set out to do...That is, to not feel like a fucking moron when I am purchasing a glass or bottle of wine. It's fun educating yourself on something that is so closely aligned with a big part of your life - especially when you know literally nothing about it.  

Konigin is a very anxious dog. She has a number of triggers, but the biggest one seems to be sound. She takes Shen Calmer every day, and we give her Xanax during panic attacks. We have tried just about everything we could think of - rescue remedy, calming chews, dog appeasing pheromone, CBD treats, creating a safe space for her (her crate, which she loves but does not really use it to hide in), lots of exercise....and I'm sure plenty of other things I am forgetting.  Nothing seems to be as effective as acupuncture, which she now gets once a month (down from every other week).

Our acupuncturist is leaving the practice and we have been desperately trying to find another within a reasonable distance that isn't so cost prohibitive. The cheapest we have found is 150% what we are currently paying. Our solution seems like it will be to put her on Prozac and if need be spread out her appointments to 6 weeks apart. 

We have weaned her off Shen Calmer and she hasn't had acupuncture since her vet left the practice. The 'season' (for lack of a better word) for a lot of noises seems to have passed - so generally she has calmed down a bit. Prozac still comes up from time to time but we haven't made any decisions. She got really sick suddenly not too long ago and we wound up at the emergency animal hospital with her (for 7 hours). When it was all said and done, she was fine and was just given a fluid injection and put on a bland diet with some anti-nausea meds. The bill was something like $700 and immediately put to rest any doubts we had about having pet insurance for her. It is much easier it is to accept treatments for her having pet insurance. She has been suffering from allergies this year and we have talked about having a skin prick test done to determine what exactly is causing issues. Our vet noticed a focal murmur on her last appointment and we are going to see a cardiologist in a few weeks. It's amazing how different caring for a pet is now vs. even just 10 years ago. 

J & I are going to stop eating beef. Or at least try our best. This is simply because we are constantly surrounded by cows in Windham County and they are seriously cute.

Stopped 6/1, if I remember correctly. Hasn't been difficult, but burgers were a very easy go-to meal both in & out for us. Also, I feel like Im going to miss out at Nighthawks, when I finally go.

Well, I still haven't been to Nighthawks, but I hope you have. Beef is still something we don't eat. We probably won't eat goat or lamb either - although I don't think we've made that official. It doesn't seem to matter that much to us as animal proteins are such a small part of our diets.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

My take on the Times Union / Upstate Magazine 50 Essential Restaurants

The Times Union has put out the inaugural issue of Upstate Magazine - in which it features a list of, "50 Essential Restaurants" in the Capital District. By this point, it seems that most people seem to agree that these sorts of lists are always flawed, no matter they are compiled.

Everything is so relative. Where you are, where you have been. It's actually kind of interesting to compare lists like these when they are put together by people who live or grew up in Albany vs Troy vs Latham vs Clifton Park and so on.

What I find interesting - which probably isn't the right word - is the use of the word essential.  What exactly does that mean? Of the essence? So what does that mean? "the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character". Reading into this has kind of shifted my thoughts a bit on what this list means, or rather - what it should mean. And I am not sure how effective Upstate Magazines list is. So I made my own.

This isn't a list of the best restaurants. This isn't a list of my favorite restaurants - which is a decidedly different thing than 'best'. This is a list of places that provide an example of what food culture is in the Capital District. It is this place, in this moment. It is reflective of where I grew up, where I have lived, where I have worked, where I have gone to school. The people I have known, my interests culturally. I have been to every place on this list - and while I don't love them all, they all serve a purpose. There are places that I enjoy that are not on here and places I'm not particularly in love with that are. These are all cemented in my life in the Capital District in one way or another - and to me, they are all essential.

In no particular order:

Ala Shanghai - Like it or not, they really brought soup dumplings into the mainstream in this area. Sometimes good, often times not. But always worth a shot.
Shining Rainbow - Go with someone who speaks Mandarin, and be thankful you did.
Plum Blossom - Great shitty Chinese place if you are dining in and admiring its dining room. Don't leave without ordering classic Chinese Restaurant cocktails from its bar.
Mings Wok - Absolutely nothing separates this from any other Chinese Take Out - but its the one I've ordered from maybe more than any other. I'm particularly fond of their Chicken Fried Rice with lots of extra 'spicy'.
Celadon Thai - Arguably the best Thai in the area, although everyone seems to find one closest to where they live or work and latches onto it as a favorite. It is a pretty standard gringo Thai menu, with everything you might expect and nothing you wouldn't. It's just all done rather nicely.
Sushi Tei - Not unlike Yoshi Sushi in Latham, the sushi here can be great. But it isn't always. What I gravitate towards is the homey Japanese stuff lurking around on the menu. Things like the Age Dashi Tofu, Nabeyaki Udon, and Katsu-Don. It's probably worth mentioning this is not affiliated with any other Sushi Tei in the Capital District.
Vans Vietnamese / Saigon Springs - I'd typically say these two are interchangeable because of the nearly identical menus, however, most recent visits to Van's tell me it's worth driving north for Saigon Springs. I almost always get grilled pork over rice and then douse it with the nuoc cham. 
Oaxaquena Triqui - Still the new kid on the block, but worthy of mention because of the relative scarcity of 'real' Mexican food in the Capital District. Like La Mexicana, its hit or miss...but you can finally try the fairly mild cricket taco you have always wanted.
La Mexicana - Maybe the most hit or miss restaurant on this list. We have narrowed it down to only going on Sunday's - which seems to be prep day? or when the good cooks are working? I dont know. I haven't tried the menudo - something I would reserve for places known for their menudo, that is unless you enjoy eating shit flavored soup. I almost always get a tlayuda because its essentially a bit of everything. I've had legitimately great tlayudas and ones so bad I couldn't finish it (if you know me, this is a VERY rare occurrence). FYI - Don't fall for the so-called "al pastor".
El Mariachi - A real Albany institution. Going here is almost always a painful experience because of the awful service, but you can't beat a warm night on the patio with some queso and a pitcher of margaritas. The poblano soup too, if you're fancy. 
Karavalli - When they first opened (the Latham location), this place was fairly mind-blowing for my Shalimar palate. It was great for a long time and only began to suffer in quality when they opened additional locations. I go maybe once a year at this point and always wish it was better. Still the only place locally that I know you can get lasooni gobi - one of my favorites. The weird tamarind appetizer is also worth getting.
Tara Kitchen Um...its good? Sit in front so you can watch them cook the tagines.
Ali Baba - Get the lavash and go big or go home. Try the Iskender Kabob, it's good enough I haven't really tried much else. The celery root salad and carrot salad are both really good too. We always take some home with us.
Mamoun's Falafel - It ain't that good and it ain't that bad. Used to be where you would go to get some good vegetarian food when you couldn't stand the thought of going into Shades of Green. 
Yono's - OG fancy pants chef. You can wax on about all he has done for the community and the food scene, but I sure won't.
Pecks Arcade - Well I worked here for 2.5 years or so, so it's hard for me to have any credibility here, but I'll leave it at this. It's where you go when you want intense food with bold flavors, made by people who are obsessed with food, served by people obsessed with service, who all work for people obsessed with all things hospitality.
Cafe Capriccio - Ultimate fancy pants Italian with quite a legacy. Old man teaches young men how to cook and they go off and cook good food. Sit in the bar area. Get the squid ink. Get the eggplant. Hope there is live music and it will be magic.  
Dans Place Two/Dirty Dans - Bring cash, practice your good manners, and do not under any circumstances swear. Best greasy spoon in upstate NY and a perfect place to go after a rough night in the student ghetto. 
Cafe Madison - One of the few places in the Capital District with a true signature item - and one that is actually good. Get the oatmeal raspberry pancakes. I have never been drunker than I have been at this restaurant.
Duncan's Dairy Bar - They make a lot of the shit here - which frankly I never believe most diners that say, 'bakery on premises'. Fucking seasonal - unbeknownst to me - which resulted in me going to the truly, truly awful Country View Diner. 
Bob's Diner - This is a truly trashy diner. And it's great. Always open. This is where we went to smoke cigarettes and eat cheap fried food in high school. Pretty much only get the breakfast. 
City Beer Hall - This is what you get when there is a good chef in the kitchen at a bar. Skip the free pizza. No matter how drunk you are.  
Bombers Burrito Bar - I remember getting food here before punk shows at Valentines. Fake chicken burrito forever. It was never good, but it was awesome. Then the bar came and ruined everything. I still go every few years and get the tofu fries. 
The Orchard Tavern - This is where you go for family pizza in Albany. Its counterpart in Troy would be Red Front or Testo's - although the pizza is a whole different beast. Daniel Berman will wax on about the importance of Tavern Pies at any opportunity, so if you want to know more have a look over there. 
Ralphs Tavern - Another tavern, though it's on the outskirts of Albany. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is in Colonie. People get food other than pizza here, but I don't know about that. Lots of people gush about their mozzarella sticks, which are good - but not nearly as good as Scubbers.
Scubbers - Go for mozzarella sticks with raspberry. Get wings if you want passable wings. Skip everything else. Scubbers used to be in Newton Plaza, and my parents would order takeout from them every Thursday night after putting us kids to bed. Five year old me caught wind of this and would 'wake up' every Thursday night after they got back with the food and I would get a mozzarella stick.
Graney's - Pizza fries are worth trying but they will ruin your life later. The bar food here is surprisingly good, the crowd not so much - a mix of jocks and ACP(HS) brats.
The Ruck - I remember when this place wasn't popular. I used to get trashed here and eat an inhuman amount of wings. Now you have to exercise some caution to avoid all sorts of crowds - RPI ass holes, beer snob ass holes, Troy ass holes, and so on. The wings are REALLY good, and if it's not crowded it can be fun to belly up and bullshit with whoever is bartending.
Esperanto's - I'll admit, I occasionally get a dough girl and maybe dough cousin when I'm sober. The conventional wisdom is to get blackout drunk on Caroline St and sober up with some dough boys. They are good.
Teds Fish Fry - I love everything about this place. I always went to the Latham one and all the other locations feel like imposters to me. Figure out your order before you get to the cashier. Study their lingo. Burgers with the works are great. Fish fry with tartar or chili are both great, but I love how they drown the thing with tartar. Onion rings and fries are both great (add your own salt), but they do not survive a trip even to the car - so it's best to eat them immediately.
Famous Lunch - I prefer the breakfast here to the hot dogs, which are no better and no worse than Gus's, which is where I go for those hot dogs. You will probably feel uncomfortable, or like an outsider the first few times here, but that's OK. It's also impossibly cheap.
Gus's - The hot dogs are what they are. Get them with the works. The sauce is bitter and weird, but you'll grow to love it. The sausage burger is good. I like eating inside. Admire the paper plates stapled to the wall. Someday, my plate will be up there.
Mac's Drive-In - You know...I like this place. It's your typical drive-in food. Nothings going to change your life. The fries are hand cut and pretty good for the Capital District. They have daily food specials - some sell out by lunchtime. They're all a good value. The ice cream is also pretty good - and made in-house. If you're in don't really have a lot of choices.
Cardona's Market - Get some great subs and eat a bunch of samples while you're waiting for them to be made. I'm pretty sure they make everything - or buy it from someone who does. Some people say Andy's is better, but Cardona's was my first. 
Roma's Market - Solid subs. No difference between the two locations. Get olives if you're a boss & don't break your tooth. 
Lyle's Hoagies - A place that really understands the bread-to-filling ratio on a sub. My standard was roast beef + provolone + Russian dressing. Double meat, double cheese. 
Gershon's - Are there any other Jewish style deli's in the Capital District? This place has been around forever
The Submaker - Cheeseburger sub with bacon and mayo. Textural bliss. This place is awesome.
Lombardo's - Old school fancy pants Italian, Albany style.
Lo Porto's - Old school fancy pants Italian, Troy style
Perecca's - Skip the tomato pie, which is quite good - but better across the street at Civitello's, and get any sandwiches they have. Roasted reds & Fontina is my favorite. Mufaletta is great too.
Civitello's - GET THE TOMATO PIE. Get whatever ice they have. Get a Salami Sandwich if you're hungry. Eat there. I could cry, remembering how perfect this place is.
Bella Napoli - Your run of the mill shitty Italian bakery. But you cannot live in the Capital District and never go here. The doughnuts are actually really good if they're fresh. 
Mrs. Londons - A legit great french bakery. One of my mentors in Chicago - who is a World Pastry Champion, James Beard award winner, honestly one of the worlds great pastry chefs excitedly asked me if I had ever been to Mrs. Londons after finding out where I was from.
DeFazzio's - The pizza, unfortunately, is kind of hit or miss now. But when it's good, its the best you can get in the Capital District. 
Red Front - Its hard to imagine a place I love more than Red Front, and if you're no stranger to this blog - you already know that. Get a pizza. Get a pitcher of beer. Eat there. Hope that its busy.
Testo's - Like Red Fronts uglier twin.
I Love Pizza - The OG pizza slice. Everyone has a story - good and bad - about this place. Not the best corner in Troy. Get a 2 liter, a fresh pepperoni pizza, shave some garlic on it while it's still hot and have a pizza party
The BearsThe Bears is to restaurants what David Lynch is to film. 
HattiesNot many places in the Capital District with a reputation like Hatties. The chicken really is very good - though I probably wouldn't stray too far from it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

No Knead Pain Au Levain

Lets talk about Jim Lahey's no knead bread. I have made it a few times in the past, and thought it was alright..but only recently realized how good it really is. As much as I love the entire bread making process - it can be a bit of a pain to do on a regular basis at home. So I have been playing around a bit with the no knead recipe because it is practical to make regularly at home. I want to see what I can do to improve on it. First things first - get a weight measurement rather than volume - which is what was printed in the New York Times. Easy enough. I think my third time making the bread I weighed everything and this is what I got (and have been using since).

472 g Bread Flour (I use King Arthur)
1 g Instant Yeast
8.3 g Salt (8 g is fine if you dont have a scale that measures less than 1g)
370 g Water (Filtered or Spring. 24 degrees C)

Simply to combine everything, let it ferment 18 hours, turn out onto a bench & fold a few times. Rest. Shape. Proof two hours - when you start proofing turn your oven on to 450 & put a dutch oven in it. Once the bread is ready to bake, put the dough into the hot dutch oven, cover and bake 30 mins. Remove cover and bake until done, 15 - 30 additional minutes. 

With that down, what is the next step I can take to improve the bread? 

Use a poolish. 

There are...different interpretations of what a poolish is but in the interest of brevity and ease (remember I want a bread that is a breeze to make often) I would recommend using one that I learned from this man. What you do is start with your water in the container that you plan on fermenting your dough. Sprinkle your yeast on the surface of your water, and then add your flour. No need to mix, just let it sit as is. Put your salt in a small well on top of the flour. Let this sit at room temperature a minimum of 15 minutes - and then proceed as normal (mix everything together, ferment, and so on)

How much does this improve the flavor? Marginally, if at all. So what else is there?

Pate fermentee. 

This is what I was doing for a while, with consistently good results. You start as normal, mixing everything together and letting it ferment 18 hours. Immediately after folding your dough, that is after turning it out onto your bench, cut away a fist size piece and put it into a container. Keep this in your fridge until you are ready to make another batch.  The next time you make the bread, add the (couple day) old dough to it. After the bulk fermentation, cut out another piece and save it for the following time you make bread.  Keep doing this every time you make bread. I felt that this helped the flavor of the bread quite a bit. 

And now the pain au levain, or pane levan, or whatever you want to call it. This is naturally risen bread. Made without the use of commercial yeasts. If you are looking to make this bead I can only imagine that you have a starter that you maintain. I keep mine refreshed at a 1:1:1 ratio. So if you want the bread you see in my should too. But its not that important. If you have a liquid starter or a firm will all work so long as it is alive and active. 

Here is the recipe that I use - as you can see it is a modified version of the regular recipe. 

475 g Flour
370 g H2O (24 C, filtered or spring)
8.3 g Salt
190 g Levain 

Measure the water, add the levain and mix until it is pretty much dissolved. Then add the other ingredients and mix until they form a dough. 

Put the dough in a large container & ferment for 18 hours. As you can see below, my dough had expanded to about 2.5 Q.

After fermenting 18 hours, turn your dough out onto a floured bench. Fold it a few times until it feels manageable. Let it rest, covered, for 15 minutes. Shape however your heart desires and proof for two hours - on a floured couche or silpat if your using the dutch oven. I use a banneton/bratform. It all depends on what shape youre going for. In the end you should bake it at 450 for close to an hour. Its a big loaf (if your not using the dutch oven you could divide it into two loaves). 

This is what you get. Beautiful crust & crumb. Lovely sourdough flavor. Just a great loaf of bread. And easy enough to make every day.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How Wet Is Your Dough or A Visual Representation of the Effect of Dough Hydration on Hearth Baked Bread

Left to Right: 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%, 110%
So I wanted to give a visual representation of the effect that water has on your bread.  The hydration level of your dough is directly related to the amount of flour in your dough. To figure it out you  divide the water weight by the flour weight. For example if you have 100 g of water and 200 g of flour, your formula would be: 100/200 = hydration level or 100/200 = 0.5 which means you have 50% hydration. Simple enough, right?

I seem to have 'misplaced' my notebook where I wrote the specific recipe that I used but the ratios were based off of Jim Lahey's 'No Knead' recipe (which I translated to weight measurements a while ago). I just scaled it down to have smaller loaves and - of course - I changed the water measurement. 

I decided on making doughs with 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%,  and 110% hydration. In order to eliminate as many variables as possible I did not knead any of the doughs...seems appropriate for using the no knead forumla. Anyway - I also skipped over some techniques that bakers use to make higher hydration doughs more...friendly to work with. I did not score the doughs. I did not use steam (pitching ice cubes). I baked everything for the same amount of time at the same temperature regardless of how 'done' it was.

The actual process went as follows: 
1. I scaled everything
2. I mixed all the doughs
3. I fermented the doughs at 24 degrees C for exactly 18 hours. This would provide adequate time for gluten to develop without kneading the doughs. 
4. I folded the doughs 2 times
5. I rested the doughs 15 minutes
6. I shaped the doughs into 'boules'. (I am using that term loosely)
7. I proofed the dough at 24 degrees C for exactly 2 hours.
8. Everything was baked for exactly 45 minutes and then cooled on a wire rack until room temperature. 

Clockwise from the top right: 60%, 80%, 70%, 50%
The 50% was not extensible at all and was rather difficult to shape. Things got progressively easier as the hydration level went up (go figure).

Clockwise from top right: 100%, 110%, 90%
This is where the hydration started to make shaping the dough more difficult. The boules are a bit larger because rather than holding a nice shape, they spread out.

50% - Notice the tight, round shape & fluffy, sandwich bread like crumb.

60% - Shape still holding pretty well, crumb starting to have larger bubbles. This looks like a store bought loaf of 'french bread' to me. 

70% - Maybe a bit more open structure than 60% but still pretty similar

80% - Losing its shape a bit, noticeable change in the crumb.

90% - Not sure why this one held its shape better than the 80%. 

100% - Less round shape, crumb looks moist, chewy crust.
110% - Flattest shape, open structure, moist interior, chewy crust.

Lets take another look at the first photo:
Left to Right: 50%, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, 100%, 110%
Here you can see pretty clearly that the crumb progressively became more and more open and moist - as well as the fact that the dough held its shape better as the hydration level went down. 60 - 80 were a joy to work with. 50 & 90-110  were not so much. I had a batch of 120% but it was more like a batter and...well it didn't survive. It could have though, if I was more prepared for it. Ill give it another shot sometime soon.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sous Vide Coffee ..?

A few days ago I was trying to figure out what temperature I should try my first round of sous vide coffee at...I sat on the web for hours trying to find any bit of information on making coffee this way and...well I didn't find any. Ive already talked about how crappy my googling skills cut me some slack here. This caused me a bit of stress because there were an infinite number of variables...any temperature (above say...4.5 C) for any amount of time. So there I was trying to think of other things...similar enough to coffee that I could try to find some times and temps for. As I was doing this I was sipping a cup of coffee and I realized that it was a very nice temperature. Not super hot, still I stuck a probe in it and took the temperature....51.5 C (124.7 F for my fellow Americans). And with that I had my starting temp. 

For this round, the brew was the same for all cups - the variable was the time.

Brew: Standard, Sous Vide
Room Temperature: 24.7 C
Water Bath Temperature: 51.5 C
Grinds: 10.6 g, room temperature
Water: 171 g, filtered through a Brita, room temperature

Brew Time(s):
Bag A: 10 minutes
Bag B: 30 minutes
Bag C: 60 minutes
Bag D: 120 minutes
Bag E: 180 minutes
Bag F: 240 minutes

(*some bags stayed sealed at room temperature for a few minutes while I filled and sealed the other bags)

Bag A:
As you can see this brew is pretty clear. I decided on 10 minutes as my first pull because the water temp was...about half what a normal brew would be so...therefore it would take twice as long (logical, right...ugh). Really, I was having a particularly groggy I wound up guzzling the entire glass before realizing I should save some for a comparison at the end of the test. Oh well.

So what did I think of the 10 minute brew? Not bad, actually. It was a little...watered down. That is, the flavors were not very intense yet. It was mellow, nutty, roasty - had a sweet middle and was definitely not very acidic. 

Bag B:
Maybe a shade darker than Bag A? 

This brew had a slightly stronger flavor. It was actually a really good cup of coffee. Not very acidic, lots of darker flavors, the perfect amount of bitterness. I also drank this entire it was not present for the comparison at the end. I suspect this was my favorite brew but it may have been...

Bag C:
Getting darker..

Very similar to Bag B. Enough so its difficult to describe their differences...but I think this one was just a tad better. The finish seemed a little more bitter...and it was just slightly less sweet overall.

Bag D: 
Looks pretty dark now

So this one was the first brew that was opaque. As you can see, light was not passing through it completely. It also did not filter as easily as the others. It wasn't bad either...bitter up front that quickly dies into a mellow...sweet flavor..and then finishes bitter. Overall the flavor was starting to seem a little out of balance. Maybe a little too much bitter flavors here.

Bag E:
Hard to tell if its any darker than Bag D, but...well its dark.

This one tasted a bit...chalky. Is that a flavor? Kind of bland. I don't seemed odd.

Bag F:
Definitely the darkest of all the pours

This was...okay. A bit acidic now.

So in the end, I had kept some of Bags C, D, E & F in the fridge to see how they compared to each other.  Here's what I thought:
1: Bag D (120)
2: Bag C (60)
3: Bag F (240)
4: Bag E (180) - I thought this ones flavor was the most similar to the n2o cold brew I was doing, but it had a very strong bitter finish that kind of ruined the flavor.

Now..I drank these cold, and...if you don't already know - you perceive flavors differently at different temperatures. This is why you should always adjust seasoning after tasting something at the temperature you intend to serve it at. Initially, for the hot pours I thought that my favorite was either Bag B or Bag C, but cold I definitely liked Bag D more than C. So...a definitive line up is hard to give. Here's what Katie thought (she only tried the cold pours of Bags C,D,E, & F):

1: Bag F (240)
2: Bag C (60)
3: Bag E (180)
4: Bag D (120)

What does that tell me? We both liked Bag C? Hmm...yeah, but really its the same as before - all of this is totally dependent on flavor preferences...which can change at any time for any reason. If I ran this today my results could have been completely different. 

One conclusion I did make with this though? This middle temperature brewing kind of brought the best of both worlds (as far as I am concerned anyway). It wasn't too sweet, like cold brews have a tendency to be. It wasn't too acidic, like a lot of hot brews are. It had a very nice balance of both slightly sweet (cold brew)  and darker, more roasty (hot brew) flavors. I'm excited to explore it some more.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Town House - Chilhowie, Virginia. The best restaurant in America?

*So after publishing this post I reread it and - while its certainly a love letter to Town House, I'm not sure that I really conveyed how spectacular this meal was. For some time now I have felt...burned out (?) on fine dining or food of the caliber. Too often I get so excited about it and in the end its just okay. I've found that almost without exception chefs today are trying to wow their customers with bells and whistles - that is with new techniques or service trickery (eg: the candle on the table is actually butter for this course) if it is more important than the food itself. And while the food at Town House is certainly contemporary and utilizes many modern techniques..the food is the star, not the technique. Every dish I had...every component, every ingredient belonged and served a improve the overall dish. Every bite was delicious before anything else. Now...with that being said..:

So for a while now I have been drooling over the serious food porn on Town House's blog. I can't quite remember where or when exactly I first heard about the restaurant or the blog but its been some time. I essentially wrote it off as being out of the way enough that I probably would never wind up eating there. Then this past May I was asked if I would be willing to drive some kitchen equipment from upstate New York to Dallas - where my friend Caitlin would be competing at the ACF National Convention. I immediately agreed to do this and knew right away that this was my opportunity to make a pit stop in Chilhowie. This was certainly going to be the only time in the near seeable future that it would be on the way to wherever I am going.

For those of you not totally up to speed with the Town House story... It goes something like this. John and Karen Shields - alumni of such great restaurants as Alinea, Charlie Trotters, and Tru - decide to leave Chicago to take over a restaurant in rural Virginia...aka the middle of nowhere. They're given carte blanche to do as they please...and the rest is ..history.(?) 

 Now since they took over in 2008 (I believe) there has been some pretty steady buzz. Every now and then Id see a write up here and there - almost always from people who I know and/or trust - saying that this place is one of the best restaurants in America and that it is absolutely worth the trip to eat here.  Now that I've had the chance - I can say that without a doubt it is worth every bit of hassle required to get there. I cannot stress how incredible it was - one of the best meals I have ever had...and certainly the best restaurant meal I have ever had. I have been very fortunate in that I have dined at many of the best restaurants in America and I do not hesitate to say that Town House has surpassed them all - by quite a bit. I haven't been able to stop thinking about the meal I had and I am anxiously awaiting the next chance I get to be there.  

Theres not much I have to say about the food beyond how incredible it forgive me for my...lack of words here (as well as my redundancy) because...for the most part I sound like a baffling idiot:

It was a pretty hot day so I started with a nice cold beer; Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA - recommended to me by sommelier Charlie Berg. Like everyone else in the world I love IPA's and this was a great example - Id love to try more brews from Starr Hill.  

My first course, or amuse, or whatever:
 Oyster leaf - Ive read a bit about these guys but this was my first opportunity to try one...and it was pretty awesome. The texture is that of a hearty green but the flavor is identical to an oyster. Awesome.

Course 2: 
 Flowers - An absolutely stunning salad of flowers and crispy fried artichoke - with an artichoke emulsion poured table side. This is when it really hit me that I was in for a treat. This was so much more than a plate of flowers -  it was a delicately composed salad with a beautiful play of flavors and textures. Everything on the plate served a purpose and nothing was there to just look nice. This was delicious.

Course 3: 
 Zucchini Gazpacho - Razor clam ice, green tomato, green bean, pickled coriander, zucchini...just amazing. Another essentially perfect dish that captured summer in ways that I hadnt imagined possible. Green, fresh, briney, crunchy, refreshing...just unbelievable. 

Course 4:
Barbecued Eggplant - Lemon, basil, black garlic, ashes of smoked mussels. If I were force to pick a favorite dish of the night this would probably be it. But...thats like picking a favorite movie or song...or child. Its just unfair. This was served chilled - which I was not expecting and was simply an explosion of flavor. SO good. 

Course 5:
 Sweet Corn, Chicken, Lovage - Crispy chicken skin, corn silk, chicken liver, chicken reduction. This was incredible.

About this time bread and olive oil were brought to the table. I was told the bread was ciabatta, which I have always thought of as being an airy, chewy, high hydration bread with irregular crumb structure. This was not the case here. Because of this I looked into ciabatta a bit and came the realization that it - along with pretty much all Italian food, is a very regional thing and can vary greatly ..from a dense, tight loaf to what I just described...and everything in between. ANYWAY - the bread was very nice!  

Course 6:
Lobster in Brown Butter & Butter Whey - Spring onions, shellfish cream, lime, crisp scallop, pork stock. Well this was every bit as good as it sounds.  

 Course 7:
Squid 'Risotto' - A risotto made without any rice or diary..Among the very best risottos I have ever had. Ive read a bit about the process of making this dish and was very excited to finally try it and...well like I said, it was incredible. Perfectly toothsome, runny, sweet...great. I feel bad for whoevers job it is to prepare the squid to look like rice!

Course 8:
 Beef Cheek Pastoral - Cows milk skin, toasted garlic, horseradish, grasses, hay, tongue, crispy tongue. Seriously awesome. The meat was all perfectly cooked and hugely flavorful...the accompaniments all provided wonderful contrast...and get it? grass - hay - beef - about 'what grows together goes together'...brilliant. 

Course 9:
 Border Springs Lamb Shoulder & Wild Blackberry - Glazed in black malt, barbecued beets, licorice, black olive, caramelized yogurt...While it was not as beautiful to look at as the other dishes - it certainly made up for it in flavor. This was without a doubt the best lamb I have ever had. 

Course 10:
 Liquid Chocoalte Bar - Burnt ember ice cream, sour yogurt, milk, sugar, chocolate soil. A very nice dessert - the highlight of which was the burnt ember ice cream. I would kill for this recipe. It was most similar to a smoked ice cream I had at Boka - but not nearly as overwhelming in the smokey flavor department. Man I would love to have some now...

Course 11:
 A Curd of Sour Quince, Olive Oil, Black Pepper - Dill, pine ice cream, pine shoots, toasted meringue, blueberries. Just look at this dish:
 It was so beautiful it hurt to eat it. 

Course 12: 
 Broken Marshmallows - Cucumber (slush), softly whipped cream, preserved green strawberries, geranium, lemon verbena. My favorite of the dessert courses. So light, so delicate, and beautiful. Just wonderful. 

Course 13:
Cocoa and Black Sesame Chewy Meringue with Wasabi and Lime - Just awesome. 

I also want to acknowledge Charlie Berg and Jeannie Barrett who ran the front of the restaurant with such warmth and care...and were so genuine about everything..its really rare to come across people like this in this industry. This place is something special and I cannot recommend it enough. Go here now. Seriously...You will thank me later. 

Monday, May 31, 2010

TGRWT 21 - Sage and Roasted Peanuts Round-Up

**New submissions added, 6/2/2010**

Last month I asked bloggers to try and create a dish that features both sage and roasted peanuts. On the surface, the combination seems..marginally interesting, but as everyone seems to have figured out...they certainly go together. Almost too well. In my announcement I also noted a few ingredients that shared volatile compounds with both sage and roasted peanuts, and I was happy to see them used in a few entries. I will highlight those ingredients in bold wherever they were used.

The first submission I received was from Dan Perlman at with his Sage and Roasted Peanut Pork Chop :

Dan marinated his pork in fresh orange juice with sage leaves, salt, pepper, and a chopped hot chili. He then brushed them with peanut oil and grilled them to finish. He topped the chops with a 'pesto' made of fried sage leaves, roasted peanuts, roasted garlic, salt, pepper, and peanut oil; and garnished them with a couple fried sage leaves. The chops were accompanied by a lentil dish made of bacon, shallots, sweet potatoes, lentils, fresh sage, salt, pepper and dried sage.

Dan said, "This dish was, and I do say so myself, amazingly, mouthwateringly good. The combination of all the various grilled, roasted, toasted, and fried flavors all came together beautifully -- caramelization is like that. The hints of orange and chili that came from the pork made a nice counterpoint so that it didn't get all too sage-y and peanut-y. And I liked the mix of the flavors that came from using the sage in different forms -- fried, fresh, and dried"

The second submission I received was from Martin Lersch at with his Gnocchi with Peanuts and Sage:

Martin combined mashed boiled potatoes, ground peanuts, butter, salt, egg, and flour to create his dough, which he then rolled into gnocchi. He then briefly cooked the gnocchi in boiling salted water. He served the gnocchi with melted butter, chopped sage, black pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese.

Martin said, "The amount of peanuts used gave a noticeable, yet mild nutty flavor which actually fitted the gnocchi quite nice (for future gnocchi attempts I can imagine even trying other nuts as well, such as hazelnuts or walnuts). The sage works very well as an aromatic and fresh component together with the more 'heavy' flavors of potato, butter, and Parmesan. And frankly, I must say that the gnocchi were a success!"

Martin also noted, "While cooking I tried to chew some peanuts with a sage leaf, and this was a quite remarkable experience. The roasted peanut flavors blended into the sage, and the sensation was stronger than what is usually the case from previous TGRWT rounds. When tasting sage by itself it will actually remind me of peanuts and vice versa".

The third submission I received was from Daniel Campagna, from Long Island, NY with his Pliable Peanut Butter Yokan with Basmati Rice Pudding, Sage Creme and Orange. Daniel does not have a blog:

To make the yokan, Daniel combined home made peanut butter with a liquid comprised of water, sugar, and agar agar. He placed this liquid in a pan and once it was set, he cut a thin strip and rolled it onto itself. He placed the yokan on top of his basmati rice pudding which was made with basmati rice, milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon. To create his orange gel and caviar, Daniel created a mixture of orange juice, mirin, water, and agar agar. He used the cold oil spherification method for his caviar and pureed the rest for his orange gel. Lastly, for his sage creme, Daniel blanched & shocked some sage leaves, pureed them in a blender, and then combined them with heavy cream. He put this mixture into a siphon and charged it with two N2O cartridges.

Daniel said, "As I ate the whole dessert, it all seemed a little too sweet for me. For the Yokan, I wanted to keep it the shape of a cube, but it just didn't look right when it came time to plate up. Though traditional Yokan is sweet, I would cut the sugar in half and maybe dip in chocolate next time. I think the orange, and the Basmati rice went well together. The sage brought some 'airyness' to the dessert. If the peanut butter was a little more savory and some crunch was added, I think the dish would be better"

Next up is John Sconzo, at, with his Chicken Roulade with Asparagus, Celeriac, and Baked Chicken Skin:

John started by skinning a whole chicken, taking care to leave the skin in one piece. He then cut two boneless breasts, and two boneless thighs both with the drumstick attached. He pounded the breasts, cut a pocket in the thighs and applied salt, pepper, sage leaves, and ground peanuts. He then rolled up the breasts and legs in plastic and cooked in a CVap. To finish, he browned the meat in ghee (butter shared volatile compounds with both sage and roasted peanuts, not sure if the milk solids need to be present, but I'll include ghee) on his stove top. He paired the roulade with asparagus, celeriac puree, and baked chicken skin that he seasoned with peanut oil, soy sauce, powdered sage, salt, and pepper. John also made a satay like sauce comprised of chicken stock, peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sage. He garnished the plate with chopped peanuts and fresh pea shoots.

John said, " Overall the dish was pretty tasty and the ingredients did work well together. Both of my sons who had it enjoyed it. The sauce went very well with the asparagus as well. As might be expected, the thigh/leg preparation was moister and more satisfying than the rolled breasts, which though moist and adequately cooked out of the CVap, had dried out in the browning process. The most satisfying element of the dish was the crisp chicken skin. All the ingredients came together amongst a very pleasurable crisp bite."

The fifth submission I received was from Erik Andersen at, with his Peanut Crusted Cod, Sage, and Israeli Couscous:

Erik started by grinding dry roasted peanuts in his food processor. He then coated his cod with the peanuts and lightly fried them with his sage infused oil. He made this by pureeing fresh sage leaves with warm canola oil. He served the fish on top of some Israeli couscous and garnished the dish with some fried sage leaves.

Erik said, "I really enjoyed the flavor of the cod and peanut together. They complimented each other nicely. The peanuts also added a nice texture to the dish. As far as the sage, I didn't end up with a whole lot of its flavor in the final dish. When I got a bite with some of the fried sage and the fish, it worked well. The sage added a bit of brightness and freshness to the overall profile."

The next submission I received was from Martin Zibauer at, with his Sage and Peanut Truffles:

Martin started by trying to figure out how to incorporate the sage flavor into his chocolate. He infused Limoncello with some chopped fresh sage, brewed sage tea, heated sage in cream, and pureed fresh leaves all with varying degrees of success. Ultimately he decided that the best transfer of flavor was with dried ground sage. Martin you may like to know that when making my sage buttercream, I went through the same process and wound up using dried sage as well - much more than I would have guessed to use too!

To make the truffles Martin combined cream, Limoncello, lemon zest, and sage in a bowl and brought the cream to a boil in the microwave. He then stirred in white chocolate. Once the mixture was homogeneous, he let it cool and set in the refrigerator for about an hour, at which point he shaped it into truffles. To finish the truffles, he rolled them in finely chopped peanuts.

Martin said, "Theres a distinct flavour progression here: First you get the peanut taste and texture, then the sweet lemon and white chocolate, then the sage hangs on for a while. Seating the lemon between the peanuts and sage improves their behaviour in class, and all take turns expressing themselves politely"

The following submission I received was from Claudia Riley at, with her Sage Infused Tofu in Roasted Peanut Sauce:

To make her dish, claudia began by marinating her tofu in warm sage water. While this was happening, she stir fried some garlic, shallots, bell peppers, and green onions in butter.
She then pulverized roasted peanuts, rice vinegar, sweet chili sauce, soy sauce, pomegranate molasses, salt, and some of the sage water in a food processor. This mixture was then added to the vegetables. At this point she made a slurry with the sage water and some corn starch and added the slurry to her vegetables to thicken the sauce. She finished by adding the tofu and garnishing with fresh sage. She served everything over Basmati rice.

Claudia said, "I think the flavors combined very well. The only thing I'll do differently next time (and there will be one) is to make the sage infusion stronger. It was only mildly discernible in this and could stand being more of a presence, since tofu has the wonderful capacity to carry other flavors."

I received not ONE, not TWO, but THRLinkEE submissions from Sila Blume, from his blogs,, I will start with his Red Beet Salad with Sage and Roasted Peanuts:

Sila stared by grinding his peanuts in a mortar and grating a medium sized red beet. Next he made a dressing by adding about 15 chopped sage leaves (about half of which were raw and the other half were roasted in a pan), a small amount of coffee, salt, and pepper to warm olive oil. This helped the ingredients release their aromas. He then combined the ground peanuts, grated beets, and dressing and garnished with the peanut coats.

Sila said, "Well, I doubt much I will be using peanuts in my kitchen more than I did before and I do believe I will stick to my peanut butter cinnamon shakes and to my toast with peanut butter and honey in the future, but I was pleased with the results of my Red Beet Salad with Sage and Roasted Peanut."

Sila's second submission was his Peanuts Coated in Sage and Coffee:

Sila started by taking raw peanuts, removing their coats, and splitting them in half. He tossed them in olive oil an roasted them for about 15 minutes. While the nuts were roasting, he chopped up some sage leaves and mixed them with some muscovado sugar, mocca coffee powder, and egg whites. As soon as the peanuts came out of the oven, he tossed them with the sage mixture and then returned them to the oven for another 15 minutes.

Sila said, "The is one snack for the so called epicurians. That means, it is not for those watching TV and eating snacks, without noticing what they are eating. The first taste in my mouth every single time was the sugar. Needless to say, peanuts develop their best taste when chewed completely and that is the taste that disperses soo with the sugar, before the sage comes into play. The best thing for me was to experience once more where different tastes take place. The tip of my tongue is not as able as I thought, while the palate - this rich roof of the mouth - got like a light shower of sage. I think, I will do this often"

Sila's final submission was his Carrot Mini Cakes with Roasted Peanuts and Sage:

Sila started by mixing grated carrots with olive oil, black-lava-salt, black pepper, sage leaves, and coffee powder. He let this mixture rest for a bit so the flavors could combine, and then strained it of all the liquid and mixed in some egg whites. He then folded in some roasted peanuts and put the mixture into small forms and baked them until they were finished. He also noted the mixture could be used for a quiche.

Sila said, "After my first couple bites I kept thinking of meat. Again and again I tried making some connection or trying to understand which was the true connection to meat, until a bit later it dawned one me: veggie burgers! I guess it is due to the roasted peanuts and the carrots, both ingredients which are sometimes used to provide the 'meat' taste some non-meat eaters wish to have" Sila went on to note that next time he would prepare the peanuts in smaller chunks, not drain all of the liquid in the beginning, and possible replace the carrots with potatoes or add some flour.

The next submission I receive was from Eran Katz, who writes his blog (English translation: Food Is Tasty) with his fiancee Idit Narkis. The blog is in Herbew, but for TGRWT he translated it to English. Here is Eran's Sage and Roasted Peanut Dark Chocolate Truffles:

Eran started by scalding some sage leaves in cream, and then letting them steep for about 15 minutes. He then removed the sage leaves, reheated the cream and then poured it over a bowl of chopped dark chocolate. He then added some butter, corn syrup, and some whiskey. At this point he cooled the mixture and began to shape them. He first coated the truffles in finely ground roasted peanut powder, and then in cocoa powder. All I could find about how it tasted was Eran saying 'They will go lovely with a good cup of coffee after a nice meal or just as a snack" Im guessing they taste just as wonderful as they look!

The next submission I received was from John Rosendahl at defunctlegend.comb/blog, with his Sage, Roasted Peanut, Baked Pear, and Prosciutto Pierogie:

John took some pears and halved them. He then baked them in the oven until they were cooked, but still a little firm. Once the cooled, he diced the pears. He then made a sage peanut butter to which he added diced prosciutto and creme fraiche. Next he added the pears, and after tasting he had to balance the flavors by added more prosciutto, creme fraiche, and a surprising amount of sage. Once the flavors were in balance, the pierogies were made, and served with melted butter.

John said, "The peanut hit first, followed by the sage which kind of took over, then the flavore from the prosciutto came in on top, with both the sage flavor and the prosciutto flavor being taken over by the peanut in the end....I thought they tasted great. The dough took a bit of the ege off of the sauce. I hope to make this again, but I really want to grill the pears next time."

For my own attempts at combining sage and roasted peanuts, I tried a few different approaches. I asked myself, 'What is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of sage'. The answer was brown butter. I knew I wanted to focus on desserts for this round, for a few reasons - one, I am more comfortable in the pastry side of the culinary world, and two I wanted to go the route that seemed less obvious - to me anyway. So I tried to think of desserts that use brown butter. The first thing that came to mind are financiers. For those of you who don't know, financiers are traditional French teacakes made with ground almonds and brown butter:

Sage and Roasted Peanut Financer:
I started by browning some butter with a few sage leaves. I figured this would be a subtle way to incorporate the flavor of sage into the cake. I then combined the butter with flour, salt, ground peanuts, sugar, a vanilla bean, and egg whites. Before baking the batter, I placed a sage leaf on top of each financier.

How did they taste? Okay. Maybe its because of all the financiers I have had in the past few months (a couple big events at school meant at least a few hundred financiers) and I have become used to the almond flavor. I thought the sage and peanuts went together fine, but frankly I didn't like the peanut aspect of the cake. It tasted too...muddy. Not a total loss, but next time I would probably just make the same recipe but with almonds.

Not long after the Financiers, I had to make some macarons (for Mothers Day). It made perfect sense to me to try making a Peanut and Sage Macaron:

There is endless discussion on the Internet about what kind of meringue to use for macarons - some people think a common meringue is best while others like to use an Italian meringue. I enjoy the process that goes into making an Italian Meringue and it is, without any doubt, the most stable meringue. To do it, I whipped some egg whites to soft peaks with a small amount of sugar, at which point I started to drizzle in a 230 degree sugar syrup while continuing to whip the whites to stiff peaks. At this point I folded in a mixture of equal parts ground peanuts and powdered sugar. Once this was done, I put the mixture into a piping bag with a plain tip, and piped out quarter sized discs onto a silpat lined pan. I then tapped the pan on my counter, which supposedly helps the

macarons form feet. I let the macarons rest for about 45 minutes to form skins. At this point I placed the pan in a second pan (this is called a double pan...makes sense). This helps with slow, even heat from the bottom - which I find to be key with properly baked macarons. The filling is a neoclassic buttercream flavored with dried sage. The process for a neoclassic buttercream is very similar to an Italian meringue except you use egg yolks instead of whites and then you whip butter in at the end.

So - these weren't bad. I enjoyed them more than the financiers. Texturally they were very pleasing, as macarons should be. The peanut provided a nice flavor to the shell - much more pronounced than the usual almonds. The play between the sage and peanut was very nice. It was a mellow balance, where both flavors were present but did not compete. The weirdest thing about these was that the first flavor that I noticed when I bit into them was mint. And it wasnt obvious - more like a ...hummm what is that...I know It lasted only briefly and I had to eat a few cookies to figure out what it was. I thought maybe I was crazy so I had my father try the cookies and he had the same experience. I wonder if anyone else found this when they combined peanut and sage. I thought I picked up on it in my final dessert too - but I'm not sure.

After two trys at dessert, I wasnt totally satisfied. I threw around some ideas for a week or so before I decided on something. This time I was going to try something I had never made - or tried before. My girlfriend and her family are from Taiwan, and often make me incredible food that I would otherwise not be exposed to. One thing my girlfriend loves to talk about is the food from night markets in Taiwan. An item that has always stuck out for me is 大腸包小腸, or big intestine (sausage) wraps little intestine (sausage). Essentially what it is is a sausage casing filled with rice that is grilled and then split open like a hot dog bun. Then you put another sausage in it (again, like a hot dog) and garnish it with whatever yummy stuff you have. Heres what it is *supposed* to look like.

This turned into a bigger project than I had expected - it has been some time since I had made any sausage and frankly I had nothing to go from (recipe-wise, anyway). So here it is, 大腸包小腸, or Big Basmati Rice Sausage Wraps Little Chicken and Sage Sausage:

First I had to decide what flavors I wanted to use in this dish, as I was not going to be using a recipe. I figured it was an Asian dish, so I might as well try to stick with Asian flavors. I started by soaking my hog casings overnight. The next day I took chicken thighs, pork fatback, basmati rice, garlic, sriracha, peanuts, sage, salt, soy sauce and a few other things I'm probably forgetting. I ground all the ingredients together and then filled the casing with the mixture. So far, so good. I then took some lightly overcooked (intentionally...not sure why) basmati rice and mixed it with a small amount of soy sauce, sriracha, and chicken stock.

I started to fill the casing when it almost immediately broke. Realizing the filling was still too firm, I put it back in a bowl and loosened it up with a little more chicken stock. I repeated this 2 more times before I got a little fed up and added a bit too much stock. It was easy to fill the casing, but when I went to grill the sausage I could not get it to dry out the way I wanted it to. Oh well. Once I finished making the sausage I got together my garnishes. Once everything was ready to go, I fired up the grill.
I grilled the both sausages until they looked good, and then I went to go split the rice sausage. When it opened up, the rice looked...not too far from the consistency of a risotto. Not firm and nice like the photo of the real deal I posted above. Now this is supposed to be eaten like a hot dog, and with the soft inside, the rice sausage simply was not firm enough to support anything. So I threw it in a hot skillet with some oil and tried to sear the inside to at least prevent oozing. This worked...sort of. At this point I had accepted that a fork and knife were in my future and I put the rice sausage on a plate. I put dowe a thin line of sriracha, then some long slices of green onion. Next went the chicken sausage, which I drizzled with some Thai peanut sauce, and garnished with some crushed peanuts and bean sprouts. I am sure you are all surprised to hear, my biggest issue with the dish was a textural one. Not just with the rice sausage which was still pretty soft, but the chicken sausage too. The flavors were spot on, everything worked together - it all blended into a very enjoyable mixture of flavors - I just had too much rice in the chicken sausage. It felt sort of...starchy..sticky...not right. If I cut the rice in half, it would have been a keep the recipe (or at least my notes) kind of sausage. So overall the whole dish was OK...flavors were good, textures not so much. I really want to try some real big intestine wraps little intestine.

Last but not least, my plated dessert. After the sausage fiasco I was pretty much finished with TGRWT for the month. I had enough sage and I certainly had enough peanuts. Then I received Daniels dessert submission, which kind of inspired me to give it one more go. I thought his dish was so much in the spirit of TGRWT and a lot of Martin Lersch's work, and I wasnt totally happy with making small alterations to classic recipes. And Im glad I did it. Although I wasn't 100% satisfied with the end result, Compari Ribbon, Orange & Sage Tortoni, Sage and Peanut Financier Crumbs, Sage Ice Cream, Black Tea Pastry Cream Profiteroles:

I know, its a mouthful. I'm not one for naming things, its much easier to just list whats there. Maybe Greg's Ugly Plate of Awesome Tastings Deliciousness would work better. First things first, I hate the plating. If you couldn't tell from the low lit, weird angle, kind of ambiguous photo...I had this beautiful picture in my head - I even did a dummy plate up with empty cream puffs, an egg in place of the ice cream quenelle, and other...fake things - and thought it would work great. But I was wrong. The fact of the matter is things don't always work the way you anticipate - but thats okay, in the end I had a great dessert.

So the cream puffs are pretty standard pate a choux - water, milk, pinch-o-sugar, butter, flour, and eggs. pipe. bake. done. Theyre filled with a black tea pastry cream. Why black tea? Because it too shares volatile compounds with many of the same ingredients (just not sage). To do this I made a straight forward pastry cream and just added two packs of Tazo Awake black tea. I think I used 2 US pounds of milk, if anyone cares to figure out the ratio and wants to re-create it. Into the milk goes the tea, a bit of sugar and then its brought to a boil. I turned off the heat, covered it and let it steep while I weighed my eggs & yolks...a couple minutes. Once I was done measuring the eggs, I beat them with some corn starch and sugar, reheated the milk/tea mixture and then tempered the two. I then strained it through two fine mesh strainers, at which point I realized I would never get all the tea leaves out. Back onto the heat and a few seconds later I had some black tea pastry cream. Finished it off with a knob of butter and a dash of vanilla extract. Tastes like light and sweet black tea. Not how I drink mine, but not a bad flavor by any means. I filled the puffs with this and that was that.

I decided to use Compari for a few reasons. Long story short, a dessert I made before paired orange with Compari and it was yummy. Theres also a pretty famous cocktail that does the same. I couldn't find bitter orange, which shares volatile compounds with both sage and peanut, Compari is bitter, you see where I'm going? I took a shot of Compari while chewing a sage leaf. If you have the two on hand, give it a try. I was shocked at how well they went together. Anyway - to make the ribbon I boiled a very small amount of water with some agar agar, then added some Compari and poured it into a pan and let it set.

Financier crumbs came from the Financiers I made earlier in the month (I always save leftover cake in crumb form in my freezer - great landing pad for ice cream, coating for cakes, and lot of other uses).

The tortoni I made by zesting and juicing a navel orange into a small sauce pan with two sage leaves. I brought the juice to a boil and covered and steeped...until it was cool. I then made some whipped cream and folded the (strained) orange juice mixture in. After that I made some swiss meringue (common meringue whipped over a warm water bath - heating the whites both increases their volume when whipping and pasteurizes them) and folded it with the whipped cream. I then piped it into a piece of acetate rolled up into a tube, packed each end with some chopped peanuts and froze the whole thing.

Last piece was my sage ice cream. I made a ice cream base -- milk & cream to a boil, beat sugar and eggs, temper, cook until it naps a spoon, strain, cool, freeze. The only thing I did to make this a sage ice cream is pulse some sage leaves with the sugar in a food processor before doing anything else. This imparted the flavor really well, and most of the leaves strained out in the end.

OKAY SO HOW DID IT TASTE? Awesome. I made an attempt to try every component on its own, and with every other component, which came out to about a billion different combinations...and I actually took notes. But I blabbered enough about this plate already so Ill just give you the highlights. The Compari strip and sage blend perfectly. Sweet, mellow, bitter afterthoughts. The black tea puff with the sage...beautiful - the spicyness blends perfectly with the herbal flavors and ends nicely with the choux. Tortoni with the puff - flavors blend perfectly without fighting. Everything together - wonderful, textural, sweet, smooth, herbal, with a soft bitter finish. The complexity of the all of the flavors and textures in this dish was incredible. Everything just played together perfectly, balancing without fighting. The only complaint I have is the plating. I will revisit this dish and try to refine it even more, until I am 100% satisfied. Ill be sure to post about it whenever that happens.

So there you have it, TGRWT # 21, Sage and Roasted Peanuts. I think everyone can agree that the two ingredients do pair very well, although doing it successfully can be a little tricky. It seems that the peanuts have the magic ability to mellow out the sage, making the two flavors blend into one. This requires more layering of flavors rather than combining, if that makes any sense. It also seems that you need to use much more sage that usual for its flavor to be more than just a note. I want to thank everyone who participated, and everyone who tried to incorporate some of the extra ingredients I talked about. I am looking forward to the next round!