Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer Tasting Menu Wrap-Up

As with all of my tasting menus, this was about elevating the status of local foods. I joked on Saturday that people only view local foods as casseroles, and there's some truth to that. But it doesn't have to be that way. Knowing that it would be hot, the meal was cool, light and fast. While the guests were gathering in the bar of Gallery 400/Gila House B&B, we served three amuse bouches. The first was the only one I didn't get a picture of - beet lollis. I lightly seasoned local roasted beets, froze them in my full sphere mold, dipped them in cocoa butter with wasabi and maldon salt, then re-dipped them in white chocolate. They were served thawed - meaning liquid centers with hard out shells, so guests were warned to just pop them in their mouths...even with that, we had one explosion on a guest's white shirt.

Our second amuse was fresh squeeze cucumber juice served with bottarga caviar (not sure if anyone got the joke) - meaning bottarga infused into some 25 year puerh tea, squid ink, then set with sodium alginate.

The third amuse was a light mojito shooter using fresh mint from our surrounding wilderness. We recently discovered this vast field of wild mint that is bustling in its minty glory right now, and served as a perfect starter for the evening.

While the guests are seated, let me share some breaking news! Not even a week ago a revision to the gelatin clarification technique was released at Cooking Issues (listed in my blogroll). Great timing for me since I wanted a clear gazpacho. I'll let you read the details at their site, but lets just say that within 30 minutes I had a nearly clear tomato juice. Here's the agar which holds on to the color:

And here is the clear liquid seeping from the cheesecloth:

A really rather amazing technique that lead to my gazpacho. In the juice which I only seasoned with a light salt, is a piñon milk ball, frozen micro spheres of cucumber, mint "caviar" of sodium alginate, and for decoration a dried tomato slice and espresso salt. One guest really understood the concept which was to use the boba straw to drink the juice with the cucumber and mint, and then drink directly from the glass for the piñon and salt. I thought this was a very complex, yet inviting combination of flavors and the impetus for the whole meal.

I then wanted to slow things down and get some food in the guests stomach. Nothing fancy, just a vegetable "terrine."

Fresh basil on top, everything wrapped in cucumber, and inside carrot, basil, white asparagus and other veggies I found at the farmers market.

This was served with yucca blossoms that were pickled in ginger rice vinegar, then carbonated, and a quenelle of sunflower sprout ice cream.

Try to find a jicama in this town and you'll be sorely disappointed! Good thing there were some turnips because that let me make turnip spaghetti using the technique recently released in the Pastry in Europe cookbook. I served this with red radish sprouts.

Enough with the slowing down! Let's have some fun again! Monkfish ceviche using my favorite ceviche broth recipe, roasted corn salad, avocado pudding, and frozen salad of spinach and red wine vinaigrette.

And then came the big project. I have been toying with the idea of clay baking for quite some time. And I wanted to present it in two formats, the first using New Mexico red clay. Traditionally this would be used to encase a fish and bake on an open flame, but that's a bit rustico for me. I attempted to make a clay vessel in my mooncake mold, fill it with meat and bake it. There were many problems with this concept. First is that clay needs to dry before it is fired, and that involves time, and time can lead to bacteria. New Mexico red clay is actually a good option then since it dries quickly and fires at a low temp, but I also added a safeguard of pre-cooking my meat.

In my trial run I dried for about 2 hours then baked at 550ºF. That resulted in shattering - it was still cool looking, but not perfect. I think the problem here was that I rolled and folded my clay which most likely produced air pockets. In the final version I simply took a clump of clay and shoved it in the mold with no manipulation. This worked much better.

When I finally addressed the shattering they came out looking really nice:

I scored the sides before firing so that they could be opened like an egg with a simple rap on the side of the table (at least in theory). But when we finally opened one we had another problem. My moist meat that had been topped with some prosciutto fat had completely dried out. My potter friend explained that clay draws a lot of moisture out so anything inside would be dried as well...okay, fine, but I wasn't ready to give up. So instead of pate, how about going to pork belly. With all of that fat, surely something would remain after the firing.

And with the major problems behind me and a dinner in just a few short hours, I inserted some sous vide cooked pork belly seasoned with powdered pear into the clay vessel, sealed it, poked a small vent hole in the top and crossed my fingers.

Much to my surprise it mostly worked. Some were harder than others to open, and some guests didn't care for the inside, but others raved about it. Cest la vie. I'll keep playing with this technique for the future. On the remainder of the plate going clockwise - clay coated potatoes (really beautiful in my opinion), sous vide cooked bison tenderloin that was seasoned with espresso and cocoa, a potato dome filled with pâté de lapin, brie and cherry reduction, and in the center a rolled geleè of saffron and molasses which was a very nice combination.

Cheese course - locally produced goat cheese, aged in lavender and pink peppercorns, basil oil, a field of dried herbs and served on a lambs quarter leaf. On top I made a cherry foam sphere filled with 25-year balsamic.

Desserts in red:

Raspberry macaron, watermelon candied with cardamon, ginger and szechuan, sour cherry film and topped with a sugar balloon. BTW, this was my launch into the ship in a bottle fixation that begins today. I really want my dessert inside of that sugar orb. Here's the watermelon:

Bad picture, but good bite - a white truffle infused 72% chocolate mousse tower topped with an organic roasted Ghana- FT- Kuapa Kokoo '08 cacao bean. That cherry reduction made one more appearance in this dish.

And last but not least, 4petitfour:

Clockwise: A verrine of four layers - madras curry infused chocolate almond horchata, lemongrass geleè, cardamon coconut milk & orange barley geleè; fresh lychee, espress madeleinitos, flexible chocolate coil topped with sel gris.

That was it - just right for a hot summer night! I hope the guests enjoyed themselves and I look forward to our next dinner in September or October.


Tri2Cook said...

Good job. I'll pop in again this evening for a more thorough look/read but it looks like you did it yet again. Awesome!

Manggy said...

I wanna say you outdid yourself but it's so difficult especially since I was really impressed with the last ones too; I really can't compare them. You do a great job employing new techniques with each one.
I can think of a few ways to do the ship in a bottle thing but the easiest would probably be to blow perfect spheres with a small access hole and then do as the ship assemblers do ;)
Love the use of the mooncake mold. Very inspired!

racheld said...

Oh, My Dear Lord.

I have no words. Simply beautiful. Simply genius.

You DO beat all.

Gfron1 said...

Thanks guys. And Manggy, you really can't compare them. Every dinner is influenced by the seasonal foraging, and I'm constantly seeking new techniques, so each meal becomes a new starting point and not a continuation from the last. I was attempting to work on the artistry this time moreso than in the past, and there was improvement, but I am SO far from where I want to be.

racheld said...

Aside from all the beautiful and intricate and absolutely amazing, I have one plain old everyday question:

How did you slice the vegetable terrine so neatly?

Gfron1 said...

Very good question Rachel - and realize you're seeing the prettiest cut for the pic. I kept the log as cold as I could as long as I could. I used a very sharp knife - I debated if I should use a serrated and decided if I was doing my job and keeping my knife sharp it should do fine. And last, I went zen. I knew that the toughest part would be the asparagus, so as I was sawing through, when I hit the point that I knew had the asparagus, then I let up on my pressure to really let the blade do the work.

Jennifer said...

I love the pictures because they take me back to each fabulous experience. There were so many it is otherwise impossible to keep them all in mind. Highlights? So hard to choose but the gazpacho with the espresso/salt rim and melt-in-your-mouth dried tomato slice garnish was heaven. This was my first dinner, Rob. I was a fan before but am now a believer. Thank you!

Tri2Cook said...

Yep, I read through everything and carefully looked over the pics. Definitely very nice, wish I could taste them.

Sooo... where did you find those 4 section plates?

Gfron1 said...

Thanks Jennifer - it was fun having you there. Larry - the plates are from Cost Plus World Market. They have a line called, "Tasting Menu" or something like that. The plates weren't available online, just at stores.