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Hibiscus

By August 2, 2009Cooking

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Been a little radio silent lately, due to work getting more hectic, and feeling a little dejected about things in general. Not having much free time means I have to start compromising things. When I play Zelda, I’m the type of dude who needs to open EVERY chest and explore EVERY room, to satisfy my need to know the game is knowable. I have the same tendency with this stuff: I know each one of these recipes has a story and a ton of effort behind it, so just banging them out without really exploring them doesn’t sit right with me.

Trouble is, if I languish too much trying to make something more special, I get stuck in a rut and don’t move forward. Kevin told me once that sometimes you gotta just bang stuff out real fast for the sake of getting juices flowing again, like writer’s block or photography. Just burn some film and get momentum again.

I started this dish thinking I’d really have a good time exploring the proverbial space with it. The basic gist is super-easy: small spheres of hibiscus tea. I’d never tasted hibiscus before, so I thought: why not try expressing some other flavors in the same way? I thought I’d hit up the T Leaf downtown and buy a bunch of strange and mysterious teas. Yerba Mate spheres. Homemade herbal spheres. My mom’s ‘spiced tea’ spheres (mom’s ‘spiced tea’ is something she drinks in the winter since I was a kid…equal parts tang and nestea with a fistful of Red Hots sprinked in. I hated making that shit for her, pouring tang and nestea into a big tupperware container and choking on the mushroom cloud of powder that shot up out of it.)  I even have a new friend who I met through this blog, who’s building an unfathomly-awesome dehydrate-a-tron, who offered to MAKE some teas and share her discoveries.

None of this has really panned out, for a reason that will be come clear (allegedly) on Dec. 18th. Instead, I had to dial it back a few notches.

I did try one exotic flavor, introduced to me by Ken: Lapsang Souchong. I dig scotch, the smokier the better. So having one sip of this smoky, heady tea was all I really needed to be convinced I wanted to try making it this way. Another thing I knew I wanted to try was Chai (my own personal favorite), and I had some ideas about how I wanted to do it.

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Way more complicated than freezing tea is finding spherical molds for the shapes that I wanted. There aren’t a lot of online resources for this. One set I ordered struck me as kind of shabby in terms of quality, and the molds smelled really chemicaly. I made the mistake of making the Lapsang Souchong tea in them first off, which afterwards made them smell both chemically and really smoky. This kind of wrecked all subsequent flavors, and I haven’t figured out how to deoderize them.

So I tried ordering some different spherical molds from the Chicago Mold School. That’s right, there’s a school dedicated to making molds. AWESOME molds. The guys who work there are pretty awesome as well, and incredibly helpful. If you need a mold of something, this is where you wanna go.

So while I didn’t get to come up with the Giant Frozen Teabag Ball Tasting Tray I’d originally wanted, I DID have more than one flavor to share. The Hibiscus, per Alinea, was tart and tangy and sour. The Lapsang Souchong was overwhelmingly lapsang souchongy, kind of like sweet smoke. Sarah hated it but I can get on board with it. By far my favorite though was the Chai, mainly because I felt clever about it. It’s half frozen whipped-cream with cinnamon, and half homemade chai, frozen in two stages. The whipped cream is interesting in the mouth; it’s almost powdery as it dissolves. I think the chai section could have stood to be a bit stronger, but overall I consider it pretty successful.

I’m not going to dwell more on this. I had some time off last week, and used it to bang out a few more recipes, so I’m moving on to talk about them.

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