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Monday, October 15, 2007

Testing, Testing

I'm in the thick of a kind of over-the-top rush recipe-testing job, but I wanted to give some sense of the kinds of things happening here lately. Before I started the testing last week, I went ahead and made b'stilla, because I'd been craving it for some reason.

Buttery phyllo dough pie filled with shredded chicken thigh meat (traditionally squab), egg, almonds, cinnamon, parsley, onion, and topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon.

I haven't been able to take pictures of everything I've been testing, but in the first week I've been called on to poach an entire rack of lamb by submerging it in duck fat (three-plus pounds thereof); make sausages out of scallops, shrimp, and sea bass and grill them with a sweet chili glaze; thinly slice raw beef and roll each slice around a watercress leaf and homemade lemon mayonnaise and fried capers, set it in a Chinese soup spoon with a bit of broth made from the trimmings of two to five pounds of shiitake mushrooms, and top it with parsley sauce and a flatbread chip (this is a one-bite hors d'oeuvre); and do spherification to make coffee "caviar" as a topping for chocolate mousse:

I got everyone to try the syringing, and Mr. Chalmers (above) and my dad were by far the best at it. Most of my eggs had a little tail. This was just coffee and a bit of sugar mixed with sodium alginate, heated and cooled, dropped into a calcium chloride solution, then rinsed.

The spherification worked very well, but I would've liked a more intense coffee flavor. Some of the balls, probably the ones that spent less time in the calcium chloride solution, did have a little burst of liquid in the center. You can see what was probably one of my tadpole-shaped balls in the front.

Two dishes so far are tied for most difficult: (1) the duck breasts cooked sous vide, thinly sliced and place atop sautéed wild mushrooms with shallot and foie gras, in a truffle-scented foamed broth; (2) a three-part dessert for eighteen consisting of pastry puffs filled with lemon-thyme custard and decorated with white and bittersweet chocolate, paper-thin slices of mango wrapped around pillows of coconut-milk-cooked tapioca with cilantro and spices and placed on top of a pumpkin seed "gelee," and shots of cold hot chocolate layered over mango puree and diced strawberries and topped with cayenne-cinnamon whipped cream and shaved chocolate.

Even with a lot of help in the kitchen from my mom, I only had the energy to plate up about four servings of this, and couldn't be bothered to find matching platters or glasses or take a really nice picture.

The dessert took me all day Sunday to make, and it was our supper. Mr. Chalmers had grilled a bunch of hot dogs—with buns and everything!—for lunch, and it was the most comforting and satisfying thing I've eaten in seven days.