Classic Île Flottante

Ile Flotante 2

Oh those classic French dishes (or Italian or Spanish). I love them and every so often one wants nothing more than a classic. While on the topic of European food, it’s a bit of pet peeve of mine when I hear something like “France (or Spain or whatever) is over, everyone is looking to blah blah, Nordic or Eastern European…or…who knows.” Before you know it we hear “Oh! France is back go check it out!” It’s really a ridiculous concept. Spain or Italy or France never went anywhere. These places have always made amazing food to one degree or another and have always produced great chefs and iconic dishes. It’s silly to trumpet the food of the Nordic countries (great as well and producing some fantastic movements now) at the expense of the rest. It’s the what’s-hot-now mentality where people put blinders on without any regard to everything else as if the exacting chefs of Denmark (10 years ago it was all Spain Spain Spain…) came out of nowhere and invented fine dining.

Ok, quick rant over and on to the delicious French dessert that is Île Flottante. It’s as awesome now as it was 100 years ago. It contains most of my favorite dessert components; custard, meringue, vanilla and a bit of crunchy caramel to top it all off.  The recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My home to Yours with almost no modifications. Afterall, why mess -well why mess too much- with a tried and true classic?

Ile Flotante Meringues

I prepared the creme Anglaise for the dish a few days ahead of time. This is the only modernist change I used for this recipe. The loose vanilla flavored custard is usually cooked on the stove top gently so as not to curdle the egg yolks. For all these types of preparations, from ice cream base to creme Anglaise, I use my immersion circulator. This is easier, more precise, fail-proof and so convenient. I bag the well-blended mixture in FoodSaver bag and drop it in the precisely controlled water tub (around 83 C) for 20 minutes. After a quick chill in some ice water the custard is ready to be stored in the fridge for hours or days until I need it.

One cool thing about dishes like this one is that you do not end up with a ton of spare egg whites or egg yolks. The custard uses the yolks and the meringue islands use up the whites. Nice and efficient. The meringue is whipped firm with the addition of sugar and cream of tartar. To finish it, I brought milk to a gentle simmer and used two large spoons to drop ovals of meringue into it. These poach very gently on both sides, allowed to dry on parchment paper and stored in the fridge for a few hours. Contrary to the creme Anglaise, these do not hold in the fridge for days, maybe 12 hours at the most. after that they loose the pillowy texture and start to seep.

Ile Flotante

To serve it, I whisked the custard to smooth it out and poured a good dose into a bowl. An “island” (or Île) of the poached meringue sits on top as if floating. A simple garnish of deep dark caramel that hardens on contact adds some sharp flavors and crunch. I also sprinkled in a few toasted almonds on some of the servings. That worked very well too.

Ile Flotante 3

 

 

The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau – 2016) B-

The movie does not do anything new with the old Disney animated one. It is however a fun movie for the family and we all enjoyed it. A huge plus goes to how good the integration of the CGI animals with the young actor (who also does a great job here). After the first few minutes I almost forgot that jaguars and wolves are not supposed to talk.

Alinea: Pork Belly, Pickled vegetables, BBQ sugar, Grits

PorkBelly-Pickles-BBQ6

How does barbecue done in a three star restaurant look like? Like this dish that I made using the last third of pork belly I had. It’s a one bite of porky smoky spicy and pickle-y goodness! In more detailed terms we have a cube of cured and spiced pork belly, topped with pickled vegetables and encased in a crunchy glaze of barbecue flavor.

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The trickiest component of this entire dish is that crunchy glaze that coats each bite. It requires some practice and a light touch to get it thick enough to coat the meat and vegetables with a translucent film. Make it too thick and you’ll be fighting to bite through it and picking candy out of your teeth. If it is too thin it will slough off the pickled vegetables and not cover the whole bite. The glaze starts off with isomalt, a product that is not as sweet as sugar but behaves very much like sugar so it is very good for savory applications. I mixed the isomalt with fondant and brought up to about 325 F (NOT the 160 F the book specifies which I am sure they intended it to be 160 C).

Tuile

I poured it on a Silpat and allowed the mixture to harden. The isomalt-fondant mixture hardened into very clean and clear glass. I broke it into shards and pulverized it in a food processor with a smoked paprika and cayenne. This mixture is what gives the pork bites the “barbecue” smoke and spice flavor. but we are not there quiet yet…

Tuile4

Tuile5

Tuile6

The Isomalt mixture is made into thin wafers or tuiles. To do that I sifted the powdered mixture into a Silpat using stencils to get even 2 inch squares that are about 1/8 inch thick.We need to work fast here because the powedered mixture sucks up the humidity very fast from the room and gets difficult to work with.  After a few minutes in a hot oven the powdered spiced sugar squares melted but kept their shape. When fully cooled they were nice thin crunchy squares. I stored them in a box with a pack of silica to wick away humidity and keep them crispy. These can easily last a week or more like that if needed.

Carrot Pickle

Like any good barbecue plate this one needs a tart crunchy element, like pickles and fresh veggies. The pickles here are tiny spheres of carrots made with a parisienne scoop, the tiniest melon baller you can imagine. Just like any other vinegar pickle the vegetables are soaked in a hot mixture of vinegar, water and sugar and allowed to cool and chill for a couple of days. The other vegetable topping are also tiny cucumber balls and small cubes of red bell pepper.

Cucumber2

Pork Belly-Pickles

Corn and barbecue is a delicious combo, maybe on the cob, creamed or corn bread. Here we have creamy rich grits that combines almost all three. Maybe a few charred corn kernels would have been nice too. Chef Achatz actually uses yellow polenta but I had some good South Carolina stone-ground grits. So I cooked those in water and stirred in butter and mascarpone.

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For the pork, I made a mixture of sugar, salt and a healthy dose of smoked paprika and chipotle powder. The paprika along with chipotle gives the meat a good smoky-spicy flavor. After several hours in the fridge I washed the meat off and then cooked it sous vide for 4 hours at 85C. To finish I cut the meat into even  2 inch squares and seared them gently . I topped them with 4 tiny balls of the vegetables and 2 squares of the bell pepper. Balancing a square of the tuile on top of the vegetables is a tricky thing but I managed to get most on there and under the broiler. The broiler quickly melts the squares of barbecue sugar and coats the meat and vegetable cubes.

Pork Belly

PorkBelly-Pickles-BBQ

To serve I put in a dollop on the grits and topped it with a cube of the glazed pork. A few leaves of fresh oregano and it is done. The flavor is rich, spicy and sweet with lots of crunch. the grits work great to tone down the sharp flavors and for that great creamy element. It is labor-intensive but it’s one hell of an impressive looking and tasting bite. It went perfectly with a home-brewed red rye ale. Cheers!

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Captain America: Civil War ( Anthony Russo, Joe Russo – 2016) A-

I am so tempted to downgrade Superman v. Batman to a D after watching this movie. This is basically a very similar plot but done so damn much better. It is movie with characters whose actions make sense, with plans and motivations that make us empathize with both sides. The action is fantastic, the characters -both old and new- are well developed and we actually care about them. These are characters we do not mind knowing more about and hang out with. Above all, It is a very fun movie that I look forward to watching again.

Boyhood (Richard Linklater – 2015) A

I’ve heard it called a gimmick. Nothing more than an interesting exercise. Others see much more in it than Linklater’s 12-year challenge. They see a compelling, nuanced, real and unique way to tell the story of a modern family. I am squarely in that camp. Sure, we can make a movie the “normal” way instead of filming it two weeks at a time over 12 years but it would be a different movie. The look and feel are particular to each time period. The actors change and their conversations flow and grow as the times change. I liked these people a lot and enjoyed checking in on them and on their every day problems through out their lives. There are no major epiphanies here or huge crises that overshadow everything. For most of our lives that’s how it works. We get problems and solutions. What seemed huge at one point (divorce, relocating, high school love,…) is really not that big of a deal in the long run. We live, we learn and we go on.

 

Perfect Sense (David Mackenzie – 2011) C-

It’s an interesting idea and the actors do a very good job but I just did not like it. The human race is slowly losing each of their senses one after the other and the film centers on a love story between a chef and a scientist trying to live through it, find each other and maybe make it through. Ultimately it did not come together well for me and does not strike the emotional cord that I think it was going for.