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It was our turn to host Can’t Talk, Eating, the quarterly dining club we share with three other couples. Due to scheduling conflicts, we once again had the summer slot, which was the season for our first meal in the series. Not wanting to repeat the “summer harvest” theme of that dinner, we arrived at “summer picnic,” which works for certain values of “picnic.” If you are a person who uses “summer” as a verb, then nothing we served would have seemed out of place.

Gin and Tonic


What better way to start a summer picnic than with a cold G&T? Gin, yellow chartreuse, tonic, and cucumber juice bobas which stubbornly refused to stay at the bottom of the glass. This was a reverse-engineered version of a drink served at Aviary in Chicago.


If you had read my previous post, you would have remembered that I had a few liters of clarified gazpacho. We finally found the perfect opportunity to serve it, topped with some gazpacho foam and garnished with a cherry tomato on a rosemary sprig.

Shrimp Grits

Not shrimp and grits, but grits made from shrimp added to vegetable stock and some freeze dried corn powder, garnished with pickled jalapeños and scallion greens. This is Wylie Dufresne’s recipe from WD~50.

The gazpacho and shrimp courses were served with a Domäne Wachau 2016 Grüner Veltliner.


Fried Chicken, Biscuit, Coleslaw, Watermelon

Buttermilk brined fried chicken coated with a reasonable approximation of the colonel’s secret recipe, buttermilk biscuit, coleslaw, and watermelon-sake slush.

The slaw is actually “cold slaw,” made from carrot juice, red cabbage juice, and green cabbage juice. Gelatin and seasonings were added to each of the juices, which were then  frozen, grated, and flash chilled in liquid nitrogen. This technique was developed by Homaru Cantu at Moto in Chicago.

Lamb Belly Two Ways

Seared lamb belly, applewood smoked lamb bacon, pea and fava bean purée, and lamb reduction. If you summer on the cape or the Hamptons, this is still picnic food.

Served with a Ravenswood 2007 Belloni Zinfandel.

Before and After

Golden plum sorbet and a ripe whole golden plum, served as a palate cleanser.

Cake and Ice Cream

Peach and pecan cornmeal upside down cake with peach/brown sugar/bourbon ice cream. It wasn’t until I stared writing this post that I realized we served the same ice cream at the first dinner, a rare lapse of memory on our part. But at least the cake was different. We finished off with a shot of good bourbon, as should any picnic.

We’ve served one winter and two summer dinners. We hope to grab the fall slot next year. Stay tuned.

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Spin All the Things!

October 18, 2017

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Visitors to the Belm Utility Research Kitchen, after seeing all of the gadgets and equipment, always ask “Is there anything else you need?” My answer is always the same: I’d like a chamber vacuum sealer and an ultracentrifuge. The former is within the realm of possibility (and budget), the latter remains a fantasy. Ultracentrifuges, even desktop models, cost thousands of dollars.

Then I heard about the Spinzall, the latest project from Dave Arnold at Booker and Dax, makers of the Searzall. It’s a tabletop centrifuge for culinary use and it had a reasonable pre-order price on Kickstarter. I passed at the time because I couldn’t afford it, but also because I didn’t think it handled sufficiently large enough volumes to make it useful.

Then a friend posted the results of his first Spinzall experiment – clarified basil oil – on Facebook, asking if anyone else wanted to give it a whirl. I had just the thing: two quarts of gazpacho that I had clarified via ice filtration. I froze a gallon of gazpacho, placed the solid block in a cheesecloth-lined fine mesh strainer in a fridge, then collected the runoff. (I had employed a similar technique to make kimchi consommé.) The results were clear, but I wanted to see how clear I could go.

The Spinzall was smaller than expected, about the size of a food processor. This is when I learned that it had a pump that allowed continuous batch clarification: clarified liquid overflows the spinning head and is collected from the surrounding chamber.

Before we could start spinning, we had to prep the clarified gazpacho. First we added Pectinex, an enzyme that breaks down the naturally occurring pectins found in fruits and vegetables that would keep the solution cloudy. Next we added Kieselsol, a solution of suspended silica, and finally Chitosan, a hydrocolloid. These last two ingredients are the same fining agents that are used to remove suspended solids from wine. My formerly clear gazpacho was now cloudy and blotchy, but ready to spin.

We fed tubing into the container and attached the other end to the Spinzall head.

It took a while for the rotor to fill, but then we could see clear product sheeting down the sides of the outer vessel.

We collected the runoff in clean containers. Note the foam created by the aeration generated by the rotor.

All of the particulates remained behind in the rotor.

Once the foam had settled, we had a final product that was much clearer than the starting solution.

From start to finish the process took about two hours, twice the time needed for an ultracentrifuge. The Spinzall was remarkably quiet – it hummed and throbbed as if it had been constructed using Krell technology.

What will I do with the clarified gazpacho? I’ll either serve it as is, or use it as an infusion for cocktails. But I’m already thinking of the next thing to spin: clarified bacon fat, anyone?

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Dinner at Olo

August 26, 2017
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Sometimes my reputation as a foodie precedes me. As a member of the committee that produced Worldcon 75, I had the opportunity to travel to Helsinki on three separate occasions. During each of my visits, my hosts made an effort to expose me to all facets of Finnish cuisine, from the ten-euro lunch buffet through […]

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Twelfth Annual Birthday Dinner

July 11, 2017
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Trying to shoehorn an extended essay into 140-character tweets is a pain, the threading is a nightmare and it’s impermanent. If only there was some other medium better suited to the purpose… Oh, what’s this? *blows dust of WordPress* How is it possible that I haven’t posted anything here for a little over a year? […]

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We’re Out of Vanilla

June 16, 2016
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If you worked in an ice cream store in the mid-’80s you almost certainly saw this B. Kliban cartoon, probably pinned to the staff bulletin board or taped to a wall in the back room. When it was first published (Playboy, February 1983) it was a solid absurdist laugh – after all, who would make, […]

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Eleventh Annual Birthday Dinner

May 13, 2016
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How do I come up with the menus for the annual birthday dinners for She Who Must Be Obeyed? I pay attention to dishes that she’s enjoyed over the course of a year, either prepared by me, or that we’ve enjoyed while dining out. Penicillin We began with the same cocktail I made for the last Can’t […]

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Smoke ’em If You Got ’em

February 28, 2016
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It was our turn again for Can’t Talk, Eating, our quarterly dining club. Due to the host rotation this was our first winter meal, so we planned on heartier fare. We settled on a theme of “smoke” for all the courses, in both obvious and subtle presentations. Charcuterie Baguette, fig and butter spread, Serrano ham, […]

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Birthday Dinner at Tasting Counter

December 3, 2015
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Deciding where to have dinner on my birthday is a process that can begin months before the actual meal. After all the planning that went into last year’s wd~50 dinner, I wanted to limit this year’s choice to the Boston area. After reading this review in The Boston Globe, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I decided […]

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Dinner At Damon Baehrel

November 16, 2015
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I have a lot of foodie friends. We cook for each other, share recipes, trade restaurant info, and sometimes arrange to eat at some of the country’s (or world’s) best restaurants. One friend in particular, Scott Edelman, has a knack for wrangling “impossible” reservations, which has resulted in amazing meals at Alinea, The Fat Duck, […]

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Introducing Reading While Cooking

August 2, 2015
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Two weeks ago I saw this post from Rose Fox in my Twitter feed: Intrigued, I replied: Rose answered: Rose and I have worked together before, so after a few email exchanges we divided up the tasks. We grabbed a domain name, set up a WordPress blog, launched a Patreon campaign, and within 24 hours Reading While […]

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