As chefs, inspiration often comes from hunger. This is something I realized, much to my dismay, during my blind basket final for the fine dining class in culinary school many years ago. When I'm completely stuffed to the gills it's very difficult to cook well. Perhaps going out for a cheeseburger and fries right before my final was a bad idea. Not that the dishes I created were bad per se, but they were incredibly light and delicate for an exam taking place in the late fall. Chefs who I had worked with for the past two years were frankly amazed at the dishes I came up with and not necessarily in a good way. I simply had no appetite and could not stomach the idea of creating anything that wasn't extremely light. I could have cooked anything that they put in front of me but any kind of personal inspiration for creating late fall/early winter dishes was seriously absent that afternoon. It was a good lesson and one I never forgot. Although I work equally poorly when I'm starving, lack of concentration and an incredibly bad temper being early warning signs of low blood sugar, I make sure that I'm never full in the kitchen.
I know I'm in trouble if I can't find anything to eat. Today was one of those days. I was opening coolers, perusing dry storage, feeding the guests, and I just couldn't find a bloody thing to eat myself. It's a professional kitchen full of food and I was starving, for hours. It was not a positive state of affairs. Then I stumbled upon our cache of freeze dried fruits and vegetables.
I started with the corn which is amazing. It's incredibly light and bursting with sweet corny flavors. It's crunchy and fun to eat. Then I moved on to strawberries which are more tangy than sweet, chewy like an eraser ( I used to love to sink my teeth into those scented erasers in grade school) with a delicate crunch that melted and stuck to my teeth. I tried the raspberries and cherries but they were both incredibly tart and not for eating out of hand, at least not by me. The cherries were smaller and slightly more chewy than the strawberry slices and the raspberries were lighter and crunchier than either of the other two fruits. I went back to the corn and snarfed down half a pint in short order. Then it was back to the strawberries. I was mesmerized by the texture even as my tongue grew slightly raw from the acid's subtle attack. Concentrated fruits are highly acidic and one should definitely be careful about eating too much of them at once. Trust me on this.
Now I'm somewhat satiated. I'm definitely not full because eating freeze dried fruits and veggies is like eating air. I'm pondering how best to make use of these. Fall is in high gear and there is snow on all of the high peaks within sight of the property. Fruit is becoming somewhat scarce in our neck of the woods. When we first picked these up, it was spring time and we were folding them into cake batters and pulverizing them into flavorful powders. But I love the textures, the crunchy and chewy. I'm a texture freak and now that there are less ingredients to play with I can focus on a way to harness these textures and flavors and make them work for me.
If I rehydrate these I'll have intense flavor but lose the texture. I recently rehydrated some dried figs in Harney & Son's Indian Nimbu Tea. The natural honey profile of the figs and the deep fruity flavors of the tea were a beautiful marriage. Then we pureed the two and folded the result into a cake batter. It was incredibly figgy with that delicate crunch from the seeds. I could definitely rehydrate the freeze dried products and create intensely flavored consommes and infusions. That would actually produce some pretty cool custards, sodas, vinaigrettes, purees, etc. The fruits and vegetables tend to lose a good bit of flavor to the rehydrating liquid so that could be a good use of product.
I suppose we could pulverize them and then rehydrate them and then spread them into thin sheets and dehydrate them for a version fruit leather or use the powders to create intensely flavored tuiles or crackers. Darn, I have to start getting ready for dinner service. I've got too many ideas and too little time at the moment. We'll keep playing with this, if anyone's got any suggestions we'd love to hear them.
PS: We get our freeze dried products from Just Tomatoes and they have a line of organic products that are fabulous.