Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 4 (quinoa cakes)

DAY 4:
Smooth morning. Today is the first day the routine is feeling a little more natural. Not easy, by any stretch, but it’s been a few days and it feels more like habit than it has. For the first few days I had to keep checking my cleanse schedule for reference, “ it lemon water first or psyllium first?” but today flowed fairly effortlessly.

I also found a new activity to entertain me and keep my mind off the bacon and whiskey. Well, actually that's not true. My activity was to think about all the foods and flavors I love, but instead of drooling over them and scorning my saltless brown rice, I decided to try and recreate them. As I mentioned before, I've been enjoying the cleanse food more than I thought I would, but I still having quite a few near-pornographic thoughts about pizza and cheeseburgers. So, I decided that I would try my best to fulfill those cravings rather than try to fight an ultimately loosing battle against them.

One of the aspects of my profession that I enjoy the most, and also one of the strongest driving factors for me personally and professionally, is my desire to innovate. Pushing the limits of ingredients and preparation with the intent of creating something new and provocative. The list of cleanse friendly ingredients is not infinite, but is certainly diverse and full of foods that are versatile, delicious, and a pleasure to cook. So why can’t I have something rich and creamy tasting? Or smokey and savory? No reason. So here's what I did: instead of writing down all the specific foods that I was missing or craving, I distilled what exactly it was about those foods that made me want them so much and made a list. My list was this:

I had a few other ones on there that I desperately wanted to be “general adjectives” but alas, they were a little too specific like “bacon cheeseburger-ish” or “mayonnaise-y” and so I decided to leave them out of the journal. Some of these, at least at first glance, are going to be extremely difficult to duplicate if not completely impossible. Like “chocolate” for instance or salt, these can be mimicked slightly but there are no satisfying substitutes for coarse sea salt. The others, however, seemed possible and I spent a good portion of my day enjoying the challenge of trying to create them, as well as anxiously anticipating eating them.

I started with crunchy /crispy. The first thought that came to mind was something that happened on the evening before the cleanse began. While I was investigating the contents of my cleansing food bag, the way a newly committed prison inmate might investigate is cell, I came across millet. Other than in passing reference I was completely unfamiliar with this grain and didn't really know what to do with it. So I picked up a pinch and tossed it in my mouth. It was crunchy. Very crunchy. Almost too crunchy, but still it was an intriguing texture. “Almost like… when something is dipped in cornmeal batter and deep fried,” I thought to myself. I then noted that the quinoa has a very confident texture that I was fond of as well. When cooked, it still really, really wants to be crunchy but just can't quite pull it together. So I decided to exploit millet's crunchiness, and quinoa's desire to be so, and make quinoa/millet cakes.

A quinoa cake is far from a culinary revolution but at the time the mental process that brought me to the quinoa/millet cake was. I cooked both grains together, and while they were still warm, I added garlic, nutritional yeast, flax, and hemp protein powder. After pureeing some of the mixture to bind it all together, I formed it into cakes and cooked them on a cast iron griddle. The outsides were golden and crispy and the insides were warm, light and soft.

I thought a spicy aoili would be great on top, but obviously not cleanse-friendly, so I pureed a mixture of green chilis, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and water together, then added sesame seeds to thicken and emulsify it, until it was reminiscent of mayonnaise. I went a little overboard with the chilis and made it lethally hot but ate it anyway on principal. I served it with some braised calamari with more chilis, garlic, onion, fresh tomatoes and parsley. It was pretty looking and did a great job satiating my appetite while cooling the burning cravings for sinfully unhealthy things. I didn't address every single category on my “wish list” but I hit a few of them, and it was enough. Tomorrow I plan on smoke roasting some fish and one of my all time favorite vegetables will make a reappearance: broccoli raab. Stay tuned.

I was fortunate enough to have invited Aaron over for dinner this night, having no idea that he had betrothed himself to such a project. While I busied myself making steamed fish with carrots and onions (nothing like a trained chef to put you to shame in the kitchen), he called to say that he thought he probably had enough food if I didn't feel like cooking. I had no idea what we were in store for. It was delicious and all the adjectives on his list that he was aiming for.

This has been such a fun collaboration for me. I have learned alot more about the science and chemistry of food and I think that Aaron is learning about food as well in other ways. It is also nice to share another voice here, a deeper, slightly more foul-mouthed, voice. I hope you are enjoying the insight and the recipe/cooking ideas. I am excited to whip up some quinoa cakes in the future!

Here they are, really nice.

Braised Calamari.

The dish, plated so lovely. I took the picture before he brought out the parsley and then I took a bite before I took out the camera again. The parsley added some nice color and flavor.

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