Saturday, October 10, 2015

Like a cold, sticky, semi-solid black jelly bean

I don't know about you, but I think my food photography is improving. 
Prune success, Prune failure. 

Success: roasted onions with onion butter sauce and seeds A good dish with the odd twists I’ve come to expect from Gabrielle Hamilton’s odd cookbook. You trim onions (she calls for several varieties), toss with a little oil and salt, and roast. 

As you would predict, the scallions were done before anything else.
Meanwhile, you use the trimmings to make an onion “tea.” When the tea is dark brown and oniony, you mix some of it with butter to create a superrich, superflavorful sauce that you pour over roasted onions. Sprinkle seeds -- poppy, sesame, flax -- and some millet on top of everything. The idea is to replicate the “uncanny” (her word) flavor of an everything bagel. I didn’t taste that, exactly, but what I tasted was plenty delicious. I'd make this again. If you have a magnifying glass and want to try this recipe, it is here.

Failure: black licorice granita. I don’t love black licorice, but every time I flipped past this recipe I grew more curious. I started imagining how it would taste: intense and tar-black, but icy and refreshing. Yum. Had to make it.

You boil 1 cup sugar and 2 cups water for ten minutes to form a syrup, "flavor with" (quote marks there for a reason) 1 cup blackstrap molasses and a tiny bit of anise extract to capture the “uncanny” (GH's word again) flavor of black licorice candy. Put in freezer, scrape with fork periodically to create coarse, icy granita. 

Well, in theory. This was like trying to freeze lava. The mixture got colder and colder and denser and denser, but it never got icy or even completely firm. Completely smooth. I figured I’d made a mistake. Maybe I didn’t put in the second cup of water at the very beginning? Because it was so easy I made it again right away. This time it got a little bit icy, but nothing close to a granita or even a rough sorbet. It was weirdly sticky. 
Second batch: you can see it was a little icy, but the texture was more like brownie batter. The most disgusting brownie batter ever.
And the flavor was horrid -- way too sweet. Overpowering. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to use the full cup of molasses she calls for? She does say to "flavor" the mixture with molasses and anise extract, so does that mean you shouldn't use the full cup she calls for? Then why specify a full cup? Maybe 10 minutes is too long to boil the syrup? I don’t know. If anyone makes this, tell me what happens. I'm done.

I put the pans from the freezer straight into the dishwasher without rinsing because I figured the goo would rinse right down the dishwasher drain. And it did. I opened the dishwasher this morning and the dishes were sparkling clean but holy hell, the licorice fumes! All the other dishes had to be rinsed in the sink because they smelled of licorice.

41 comments:

  1. Blackstrap molasses is so intensely bitter to begin with that I can't imagine how this could be palatable anyway, technical problems aside. Frozen bile, anyone?

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    1. I understand that blackstrap molasses was a prime ingredient in the "tonics" mixed by mothers and grandmothers in the early 1900's to thicken up the blood before winter set in. Because we all know, the worst it tastes, the better the medicine works.

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    2. I had to go to a special store to buy "blackstrap." Most recipes specify "not blackstrap."

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  2. Just want to say that I love your blog. I discovered you from your book, which I love. I absolutely loved your post on helicopter parenting and latchkey kids. Also, I love GH, too, and have Prune out from the library — still trying to decide if I'm going to buy it. But, one recipe I love is the Braised Green Cabbage with Anchovies and Garlic, page 186. I add lemon and parsley and parmesan at the end, but it is so good. True to your analysis, this one has lots of butter.

    That was a lot of loves.

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    1. I want to try that recipe! It's one that I've marked.

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  3. I cannot imagine how water, sugar, and molasses boiled together would taste like anything other than molasses. Bleuch. I'm impressed by your stamina in trying it twice.

    The onions, though, sound amazing! Must try! Also, if you go to the site you linked to and click through to the recipes, they all appear in a legibly-sized font, with a bonus recipe for frozen milk punch with sesame biscuits. That seems totally up your alley and much yummier than black licorice anything. I want to make the biscuits for sure. If it ever cools down here enough for me to think about turning on the oven, I will. Nom nom nom.

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    1. The biscuits were good, but not great. Make the punch if you want to get drunk!

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  4. Your first caption is very funny! I also had success and failure recently. The Roasted Wild Salmon with Avgolemono Rice, Two Kinds of Peas, and Scallions was several recipes within a recipe. First, you make rice pasta-style. This was new to me, as I have only ever simmered rice or used a rice cooker. I had to google the method because she doesn't specify how long the rice would take to done. In about 9 minutes, I had nice, fluffy jasmine rice that I spread out on a pan to cool. Her avgolemono sauce went off without a hitch- bright and lemony with no fat other than the four egg yolks. I liked this a lot and will probably make this in the future to serve under fish. It holds and re-heats well. She cooks salmon fillets that have been rubbed with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 350 for 10 minutes or so which is how I normally bake fish. We like ours a little under also. The problem came when I tried to finish the rice. She directs you to simmer scallion and fresh or frozen peas in the sauce on medium-high heat for a few minutes, stir in rice, and then add raw, sliced sugar snaps to simmer for another couple of minutes. I did this in two batches because I knew the peas would overcooked. And they were. And the rice smelled like a wet dog. One the second try, I reversed the pea cooking order but still ended up with crunchy sugar snaps. If I were to make this again, I would blanch the sugar snaps first, divide the white and green parts of the scallion, simmer the blanched sugar snaps with the white parts of the scallion, and stir in the peas and green scallion bits at the end. I wonder if this book was tested in home kitchens before going to print. Sigh. But hey- no butter!

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    1. Wow, that sounds like an ordeal. I had looked at that recipe, but it made me too tired and I didn't flag it.

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  5. It was great fun to have the mystery of the first photo solved. Talk about a great lead!

    I am averse to black licorice in general, especially the salty, very dark authentic stuff -- but those proportions sound way off to me. There must be a typo.

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    Replies
    1. Have you ever tried the Danish chocolate-covered licorice? YUM.

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  6. I was thinking of serving Alda's Braised Octopus with Potatoes when Matt's dad comes to visit next week, but not sure I'm brave enough. What if it's a total flop?

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    1. That might be overly ambitious for such an event.

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  7. You are incredibly patient in the kitchen, especially with Prune. I just can't get interested in cooking from a cookbook that is so hit and miss, even if the hits are really pleasing. I guess I am a cookbook curmudgeon! That top picture, oh my. I'm glad that you are still having fun with this cookbook - more power to ya!

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    1. Mostly hits, though, Beckster!

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  8. I wondered if you had taken up jerky-making

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  9. Please keep cooking from and writing about Prune! I spent a long time looking through it at the bookstore (my tiny local library doesn't have it) and though it is probably the most intriguing cookbook out there right now, I don't think I'll buy it. But your posts about it are interesting- and hilarious.

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    1. I'm sorry I've dropped the ball over the last few weeks. Trying to get back into it!

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  10. I tried making this last night, with the big difference being that I used my Donvier hand-cranked ice cream maker. I think my results may have been marginally better than yours due to that, but it was still much more liquid and sticky than any sorbet I've made in the past--like icy soup. I wonder if there's something in molasses that inhibits freezing? The flavor was reminiscent of black liquorice, but I couldn't eat more than a few bites. It's interesting that I may try again with only a dash of molasses and see what that produces.

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    1. To answer my own question...Yes, everything I see online indicates that the high sugar content of molasses actually does prevent it from freezing. So, I'm increasingly certain that there's something off about this recipe.

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    2. Update: I tried the recipe again with only a half cup of molasses, and it was much better. I would make it again like this, but I think I'll try cutting the molasses to a quarter cup next time just to see. My husband ate a full bowl and finished mine. Just like with black licorice candy, I can only eat so much before it starts to make me feel queasy. But (also like black licorice candy) after a few days I start to crave the taste again.

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    3. Thank you for this full report on the granita. There must be a mistake in the recipe because it sounds like with your adjustments it worked out pretty well, if not perfectly. I share your feeling about black licorice -- overwhelming and a little sickening, but still something I kind of want to eat.

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  11. Just finding your blog--it's great--and also struggling with this cookbook, namely, the smokey brisket recipe. Had it turn out both great and terrible. At least Prune doesn't fall into the "full of glossy photos and Moroccan Carrot Salads" category. There's something to be said for idiosyncrasy in cookbooks these days...cheers,
    Diane

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    1. You made the smokey brisket twice and once it was great, the next time horrible? I've been wanting to try that one, but doesn't it call for something like a cup and a half of smoked paprika? (I'm not near my book right now so I can't check.)

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