I'd like you to open on a day you're normally closed and customize a dish for me that may not turn out and that will never end up on the menu.
Still interested? Oh, good.
Additionally, here is a list of things that you can't make because they've already been done or because they're too easy or because they won't work or because I'm not interested or because they look too much like a waffle and even though, yes, you are going to make this in a waffle iron, it's really best if the finished product does not look like "just" a waffle.
Wait. You are?
I'll see you in two weeks.
* * *
I walked up to the door of Birchwood Kitchen, cupped my hands against the glass, and peered in. I was early, but Jason Ball was in the kitchen.
He let me in. We shook hands.
"Just let me turn on some music and we can get started."
We were going to waffle polenta.
"Have you tried this before?" I asked.
"No. Do people usually try it first?" he asked.
I shrugged. I think some chefs do and others don't. I can certainly see where they would. On the other hand, I can see where they don't have time.
At any rate, I was pretty confident that Jason's polenta would waffle.
He whisked the cornmeal into the cream and soon we were ready to go.
He took the pot off the heat and poured the polenta from the pot into the waffle iron.
Under no circumstances should you do that.
Our first attempt stuck to the waffle iron. So did the second attempt, with the waffle iron even more heavily greased.
Here's what worked:
You can set out to do this step ahead of time in preparation for making these polenta waffles. Or you can use leftovers.
Make the polenta on the stovetop and then pour it into a sheet pan or similarly shallow pan to cool. The polenta that Jason ended up using had been refrigerated overnight.
You can find polenta recipes in most good general-purpose cookbooks, such as Fannie Farmer or How to Cook Everything. At Birchwood, Jason uses a ratio of 1 pound of polenta to 1 quart of cream and 1 1/2 quarts of water, with salt and pepper to taste. He brings the cream and water to a simmer, and slowly whisks in the polenta. He continues whisking until the polenta pulls away cleanly from the sides of the pot.
Once you have your cooled polenta, proceed with waffling.
Jason wanted the polenta that came into contact with the waffle iron to be the top of the cooled polenta, where it had formed a bit of a crust. He sliced the cooled polenta in half horizontally and then cut the top part into two pieces. He sandwiched together the pieces with the slightly crusty parts facing outward.
It went into the waffle iron. We could tell it was working.
We watched the polenta waffle and ate the mistakes.
"It's really corny," he said. And it was — a satisfyingly sweet corn flavor with a bit of salt and a pleasant piquancy from the ground pepper.
The black beans had been bubbling away on the back burner while the rest of this was cooking. In a frying pan, he crisped slender slices of chorizo — the Spanish, picante kind.
Jason piled the waffled polenta pieces one atop another and crowned them with the chorizo. The fat from the chorizo dripped onto the polenta. The black beans were on one side. Two sprigs of cilantro rested against the stack. He spooned a little more chorizo fat from the pan onto the plate.
Someone pointed out to me that I never photograph anything that's been cut into, bitten, half-finished, or polished off.
Don't I eat this stuff?
Yes. Of course.
But once I put down the camera and pick up the fork, that's it. There's no going back. Not usually, anyway.
But, yes, I eat this stuff.
This time, Jason helped me.
* * *
There's a really lovely article about this blog in the Chicago Tribune, accompanied by what I consider a pretty great photo of me — and I'm not really given to saying that sort of thing. I will warn you, though: The last half of the article contains a preview of some posts yet to come. If you're the sort of person who prefers to take the blog as it unfolds, you can just click on the link, ask yourself why I have a waffle iron in my living room, and bookmark the article for later.