Anyone planning a Halloween horror dinner menu?

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I am, and was wondering if this is strange behavior.

Goblin cupcakes don't count.


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Current working menu:

Amuse:
1. Crispy Troll Ears
2. Giant Snail Eyeballs
3. Roasted Witch Nose in Bloody-Nose Booger Sauce
4. Giant Squid Eyeballs
5. Zombie Stomach Bacon

Starter:
Ghoul's Delight--Blood Soup with Mystery Organs

Main:
Roasted Goblin Arm with Ear-Wax Gravy
Warm Alien Worm Salad
Troll-blood Bread

Dessert:
Edible Graveyard

(If any or all of this works, you'll get photos and recipes. For now, just teasers....)



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Perhaps I should say that my daughter's birthday is a few days before Halloween, and she'll be 9. Thus things like the "bloody-nose booger sauce."


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Since it looks like nobody else is doing this, I figure I'll use the space as a kind of culinary blog of my experiments and trials and so on.

The first real problem has arisen with the "giant snail eyeballs."

The idea is at heart simple (in a modernist sense, anyway). Make classic snail butter (escargots a la Bourguignonne), put a snail in it, and spherify. That is, using one of several techniques originally developed by Ferran Adria, get the butter surrounded by a thin layer of transparent high-temperature gel. When ready to use, drop the balls into a hot water bath. The butter will melt, but the gel won't, and so you'll have a golden-yellow "eyeball" with the black being the snail. Pop it into your mouth and you get an explosion of classic snail.

This turns out to be insanely difficult.

The first problem is that the various gelling agents are not fat-soluble. This means that if you disperse them in the butter, they won't gel. The water in the butter will, but the butter itself will just weep out.

Next, if you bind the butter to water with gelling agents, and emulsify thoroughly, it should gel--but as you know from mayonnaise, emulsions are almost invariably opaque. Even when heated, the little ball will stay yellow-white, which I don't want.

I tried freezing a half-sphere of butter (as a test) and coating it with gel, but the gels are very tricky to use this way, and if there's the slightest break anywhere along the way, the butter will just melt out again. I'm still working on this: it may be a technique thing rather than an approach thing.

Another approach I thought of today, and will try tonight, is to make butter-water. You take butter, white wine, and water, and process them at about 175F/80C for several hours. The water ends up flavored intensely with butter (supposedly). Then I'll chill it until the butter hardens on top, remove it, and strain the liquid very fine. This can then be spherified the usual way, and should taste just like butter. Of course, it will have the texture of water, so I'm going to shear in some agar gel to make a slightly creamy fluid gel, in order to get the mouthfeel right.

Let's see if it works....


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Another notion is to recall that eyeballs are white as we imagine them, so spherify a butter-water emulsion. A less elegant look, perhaps, but probably easier to achieve. I'll try both.


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The saga continues.

I cooked 60g butter (1/2 stick), a pinch of salt, 50g white wine, and 150g water in a water bath at 175F/80C for a couple of hours. The liquor that resulted smelled strongly of butter, but it had both a butter taste and a sour, off taste, which I think must have come from the wine. I chilled and strained it, then dissolved calcium lactate in it (2.5g per 100g of liquid). Here's where it gets strange.

To do reverse spherification, you want a liquid that has about the consistency of cream, so you add something like pre-set agar gel or xanthan gum. The latter is preferable, because it's very easy to scale the total quantities against the trivial addition of .5g gum per 100g original liquid.

I put the liquor, gum, and calcium lactate in the tube-bowl thing that came with my immersion blender and whizzed it. It turned white, like chalk, and foamed. It looked like thick cream. It had been transparent, now it was white. Strange....

Then I tried the same thing but replacing the xanthan gum with 10g of 1% agar gel, pre-set, and whizzed it together. It turned very foggy-translucent. Hmm...

Then I tasted both... And they were horrible. Bitter, acrid, and chemical-tasting. Awful.

After much thought, I decided to isolate the problem.

1. Water, calcium lactate, xanthan gum

2. Water, calcium lactate

Both came out clear and tasting of basically nothing at all. They have a very faint bitter hint, but it's extremely subtle. (The butter liquor thing, after these additions, was emphatically not subtle.)

So I conclude:

1. Neither calcium lactate nor xanthan gum were the problem, though one must be quite careful about the calcium lactate, as it clearly has a slightly acrid taste.

2. The right way to dissolve these ingredients into the water is NOT with an immersion blender, contrary to popular wisdom, as this seems to be picking up the traces of fat left in the butter liquor and producing an emulsion.

After some research, I learned that calcium lactate is fat-soluble. As a result, in theory (and I stress "in theory"), I should be able to dissolve it directly in flavored butter and spherify. Last time I had the problem that the butter froze in the cold water bath, which is a problem.

To test, I tried to dissolve calcium lactate in canola oil. Result: it's fat-soluble, but it sure as heck doesn't want to dissolve. I heated it a bit, and that helped, but if you get to the boiling point of water or so the stuff starts to get hard and scorched. We'll see on that one.

I now have the oil-lactate solution in the freezer in a little square mold-like thing. The idea is, when it is frozen hard, I will simply drop the block into the sodium alginate gelling solution. If I'm right, it will take a while to set, but after maybe 10 minutes I'll have a clear gel coating all the way around the oil ball. Then I rinse the ball well to remove excess solution and drop it into hot (140F/60C) water. If all goes well, the oil should melt and become clear and wobbly -- but the gel should remain intact.

Cross your fingers. This is getting irritating and exciting at once!
 
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I now have a functional, if not quite ideal, solution to the butter problem. It goes like this.

* 35g water
* 1g agar
* 1.5g xanthan gum
* 2.5g calcium lactate
* 60g butter
* Heat water with agar, gum, and calcium lactate, whisking or processing constantly until fully dissolved. Cool. While processing fast, pour in melted butter slowly; it will emulsify into a mayonnaise-type consistency.
* Pout this "mayonnaise" into hemispherical silicon molds and freeze overnight.
* Make up a .5% sodium alginate solution with cold water, and wait at least 1/2 hour until the solution is perfectly clear.
* Drop a hemisphere into the alginate solution, basting with the solution until it floats curved-side up and is well covered with solution. You can do however many you want at once, but DO NOT let them touch each other.
* Leave them alone 7-9 minutes, then carefully scoop out and into a big bowl of cold water. After 1/2 hour, scoop them very carefully into a different bowl of cold water. Refrigerate until needed.
* To use, gently deposit the spheres into a bath at 140F for 3-4 minutes.

Now the trick is, they will be white hemispheres. They will taste exactly like butter. So far so good.

The plan is to make the classic butter for escargots a la Bourguignonne, and proceed with this recipe using that butter. In the molds, I'll put a dab of the "mayonnaise," then a snail, then fill up with "mayonnaise." If all goes well, when I finish the recipe and have hot hemispheres, they'll look a lot like eyeballs looking up at me from a spoon, and will taste exactly like amazing escargots a la Bourguignonne.

Now that this works more or less, I have a couple little things to tinker with, but mostly I'm on to other recipes.

The local fancy butcher has some pig ears for me tomorrow, so that's the next project: Crispy Troll Ears!
 
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I got full spheres to work!!!

Very excited.

Now just the proper flavored butter and snails, and we should be good to go.

Just a whole bunch of other dishes to go....


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Flavoring the butter turns out to be trivial. Just put all the normal ingredients for snail butter (butter, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, maybe white wine) in a heavy zip-type bag and process sous vide at 140F for 2-3 hours. Strain fine, and you've got beautiful snail butter. Just be sure to go a little overboard on parsley and especially garlic, because unlike in normal snail butter, the solids will be strained out.

COUNTDOWN

For those waiting with bated breath:

1. Snail eyeballs are now essentially perfect and ready to roll; the recipe is completely written and can be followed scrupulously

2. Crispy troll ears are in the final stage of testing, and should be ready to go; recipe is written (final test: whether frying is necessary or slow-roasting can substitute)

The next series of experiments will build the zombie bacon. I am very confident with about 90% of what's involved.

Most of the rest of the meal is much more ordinary cooking, and should go well.

IN OTHER NEWS

I did work out a new method for spherifying butter, which should result in a transparent (greenish-golden) eyeball. Since it looks like I may not be able to get nice big duck necks without a lot of expense and trouble, I may try doing two types of snail eyeballs, although that'll be a bit dull in some ways....
 
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Here is what the test crispy troll ears looked like:


If you look closely, you can see that lovely green color, 'cause it's troll meat, obviously.

Tasted pretty good, especially since the braise I used was a sort of cheap halfway test version, not the full monty.

My wife shuddered when she saw the ears come out of the braise, all gray-green and hideous-looking. Yay!
 
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I think I have it almost all nailed:

AMUSE
Crispy Troll Ears
Giant Snail Eyeball
Roasted Witch Nose in Bloody-Nose Booger Sauce
Giant Clam Eyeball
Zombie Bacon

STARTER
Ghoul's Delight: Blood Soup with Mystery Organs

MAIN
Roast Goblin Arm with Ear Wax Gravy
Warm Alien Worm Salad
Ogre-Blood Bread

DESSERT
Edible Graveyard


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Crispy Troll Ears
Pig ears braised à la Su Dongpo pork, stained with chlorophyll, fried crisp

Giant Snail Eyeball
Braised snail in sphere of snail butter

Witch Nose
Duck neck sausage in red wine sauce with crumbled duck cracklings

Giant Clam Eyeball
Spherified moules marinières liquid with mussel inside

Zombie Bacon
Layered gels of olive oil, mozzarella, basil, and tomato water

Ghoul's Delight
Puréed beet soup with Florentine tripe, borlotti beans, and pasta

Goblin Arm
Roasted chicken ballottine stuffed with spinach, mushrooms, and sweet yellow pepper; golden-beet puréed pan gravy

Alien Worm Salad
Gelled vegetable noodles of various colors

Ogre-Blood Bread
Fresh hearth bread tinted with beet water

Edible Graveyard
Layered génoise, chocolate frosting, raspberry coulis filling, pounded Oreo topping, decorated with Halloween-themed sugar decorations


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Looking foward to it Chris.
Awesome menu!!
All your hard work will pay off!
 
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Chris, I have to tell you that this thread is awesome.

I am thoroughly enjoying it. And I hate mainstream holidays intended to fuel consumerism. 

Love what you are doing. Please, please, please, post pics of the final product. 
 
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Chris, I have to tell you that this thread is awesome.

I am thoroughly enjoying it. And I hate mainstream holidays intended to fuel consumerism. 

Love what you are doing. Please, please, please, post pics of the final product. 
Thank you, Jake!

As to consumerism and holidays, I completely agree. For me, this is actually sort of a re-tooling, in the sense that it's doing the whole Halloween Horror thing with almost total disregard for how the thing is marketed. (The one concession is that the Edible Graveyard will be decorated with Halloween-themed sugar decorations, but that's basically because (a) I don't know how to make them myself, (b) I understand it's not easy or cheap to get started doing so, and (c) I don't especially find the idea of learning all that interesting, so what the hey.)

And don't worry: would I do a whole thread like this and not  post the pictures?
 
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