Staring at a computer screen for 15 hours sucks.
It wasn't a straight 15 hours, thank heavens, as I'm afraid such a feat can be braved only by the truest of IT techs and World of Warcraft gamers and I am not a man of such mouse-clicking mettle; but rather 15 hours within a 30 hour time frame. Stephanie and I did take the occasional break to drink water, pee, or eat something that wasn’t 99% composed of carbs and dairy.
During the recent three day weekend we had rallied ourselves as key-striking soldiers for our most recent literary campaign. An editorial scorched earth policy where we would finally – Finally! – go through in hand-stitched detail all of the recipe feedback forms that had been pouring in from our testers for the cookbook.
Allow me, first, to provide some statistics to ease in comprehension of this task:
- 72 testers from eight countries, and nearly all 50 states
- 53 completed and approved recipes
- 3 testers per recipe, sometime more
Careful as a surgeon we read through each form as they trickled in over the past few months. Now we were going back and re-doing, re-testing, tinkering, or totally scrapping some recipes as testers wove stories of glowing dishes that wowed their friends, belabored the stresses of unclear or rather quirky instructions that left them in stupefied state, and hearing about the joyful discovery of new cheeses and/or the depressing inability to uncover them. Yet, to go over the whole of them again in one fell swoop for editing purposes was… daunting.
Like scaling a mirror-surface mountainside daunting.
More than once we attempted to forcefully distract ourselves with web cartoons or by teasing Rocky, Stephanie’s Aslan-looking cat with a Cowardly Lion demeanor. Yet, when one of us began to waver the other would rap the other on the knuckles like sister of the cloth-come-teacher and sit him or her back down in front of the computer because the work must be done.
The only real work breaks were, well, other kinds of work.
We did take a few hours to attend the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. It's a hard task spending five hours walking up aisle after aisle of food kowtowing and tasting at each booth that fascinated. The trials of meeting famous and known cheesemakers and sampling their wares, swapping stories, and exchanging business cards is no simply play. However, machete in hand we chopped through the thick of it in the vainglorious pursuit of networking.
Afterwards, of course, we spent a bit of time as kids in the candy store sampling coconut oils, olives, and, yes, candy.
Immediately after it was back to the computer for a few hours to wrap things up - sending a few e-mails out to testers whose feedback had fallen through the cracks. Assisting those who couldn't find Tomme Creyuese or who had a spot of difficulty locating a 7x4 baking dish. (What? Not everyone has one?)
We breathed for a moment. No more as we didn't have time. And off we went to the store for supplies to test three new recipes. A rather novel little fried wonton filled with Ben Nevis cheese and membrillo and served with a Cambodian sweet-spicy dipping sauce flavored with orange, chili, fish sauce, and honey. A delightfully fusion little creation that couldn't be more epic had Dante himself written it up.
This was the followed by the other two recipes. One with Shropshire Blue needed work but showed promise, and the other one we shall never speak of again.
As they say, no rest for the wicked, and neither Stephanie nor I are angels. Back to the drawing board we went to go through the vert last of the feedback. Wham, bam, and three hours later at 11 PM we were done.
Are any of these complaints? Not at all. We loved every second of it. Reading that feedback was endearing. We’ve gotten the chance to meet and know so many amazing, resourceful, and creative people. Once faceless testers from the internet at the beginning - people who knew us through our blogs but whom we didn't know at all - we now know rather intimately. We know the names of their kids, we’ve checked in on them after car accidents or births of nieces, and swapped stories of family holiday dramas and just who’s got the crazier in-laws. (The winner is still in debate on that one.)
The complaint I have is that somedays I feel heavy. Weighted. One can not live on mac and cheese alone. Believe me, I’ve tried. All it leads to is a struggle to breathe. Every few nights after a lot of testing all I want is a salad, no dressing. Perhaps steamed broccoli with a glass of sparkling water and a trickle of lemon juice for each.
Of course, sometimes I don’t mind doing something a bit more composed. Maybe with a bit of flashbang involved and some culinary razzle dazzle. And let’s be honest, citrus is all about the razzle and the dazzle. I find citrus is multifaceted that way.
This little composed salad is inspiried by Johnny Iuzzini. Surprise surprise I actually was trained in how to do some of that molecular gastronomy stuff through classes, from my teachers, and my bits of restaurants work. I've made peanut butter powders, pineapple gels, spherified pear, and gel-encased blobs filled with strawberry juice that burst on your tongue. I just never do it at home or for the blog because it's a pain in the ass and requires too many odd chemicals that cost more than I'm willing to pay for something I'll rarely ever use.
Still, making Navel cubes is shockingly easy (and sounds a bit dirty). It comes off as being complicated and sci-fi, but they're essentially jell-o jigglers with a fancy-shmancy name. Pectin, simple syrup, juice, and plenty of time. Cut them out and you have citrus cubes.
Served with supremes of dark and berry-flavored Moro blood oranges and candy sweet Cara Cara oranges it's a rather fanciful dish. A bit of thinly sliced bread and some sesame seeds for texture wrap it all up into a bright and aromatic citric salad that has plenty of textural play.
Now that citrus season is in full swing give it a try. I look forward to your feedback.
Citrus Salad with Navel Orange Cubes
Adapted from Dessert Fourplay by Johnny Iuzzini
For the Cubes
3/4 cup simple syrup
4 teaspoons powdered gelatin
grated zest of a lime
1 cup Navel orange juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup lime juice
For the Salad
2 thin slices of bread
2 Moro blood oranges, segmented
3 Cara Cara oranges, segmented
1. Rinse a 9x9 baking dish, shake out the excess water, and line it with plastic wrap. Put the simple syrup in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top and allow to soften for 2 minutes. Microwave for 1 minute on gentle heat until melted. Whisk the gelatin and zest into a bowl with the citrus juice. Pour into the pan and chill for 3-4 hours or until set.
2. Cut the bread into pieces. Toss with a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and sugar. Bake at 350F on a sheet pan for about 8 minutes. Let cool.
3. Arrange the segmented oranges, Navel cubes, and croutons on a plate. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.