Spaghettigeddon

October 4, 2011

or,

Preparing for the End Times the Tastiest Way I Know!

Probably you are tired of this by now, but I’m not:

WINTER IS COMING.

A gorgeous and long-awaited fall has graced Chicago, and consequently I am girding up for winter’s terrible onset.  Actually, I’m excited.  Carolyn is terrified, and already misses summer.  I scoff at her, and put on my favorite KWUR hoodie. 

I’m so ready.

The change in seasons has me collecting food like  a chipmunk.  I recently purchased a chest freezer off Craigslist – a big one, but not the biggest one.  It’s, uh, noticeable.

Oh, no - wait.  It's huge.

See, I kept on running out of room in my freezer.  I’d cook in quantity, and then run out of space for ice cubes.  I made a large quantity of leek and potato soup, and froze 3/4ths of it, and with the chickens I’d recently de-boned, the stock cubes I made from those bones, and the bottle of homemade limoncello that my friend Aaron gave me a year ago, there wasn’t room for much of anything else in my freezer.  And, having just eaten a quart or so of the stuff, I was in no hurry to defrost and finish the soup.

Now I have space enough to store a hundred meals (and, to anticipate a few wags, yes, a coupla corpses.  Don’t cross me.).  Finally, with room to store anything I could ever want to make, I’ve finally found my calling – COOKING IN OBSCENELY MASSIVE QUANITY.  My new friend Terri works at the Chicago Food Depository as a cook, and if I asked her, she’d probably say that my exuberance for that very thing might wane the moment I had to stick my gloved hands into “a massive bucket of mayonnaise.”  Despite my hearty Defense of Mayonnaise, I think she’s right.  And I shall have to avoid buckets of the stuff.

Anyway, having storage space like this means that I can save money by buying in bulk and not having to worry about spoilage.  It also means spending a lot of money up-front for long-term savings.  That pork shoulder is $1.99 per pound, but it only comes as a full 20-pound shoulder?  Well, okay!  Lemme just throw down 40 bucks and we can do business!

It was this kind of thinking that led me to the realization that I could (and should!) make approximately 18 pounds of my mother’s spaghetti sauce.  I mean, after all, what else are giant stockpots and chest freezers for? 

If I am not mistaken they are for holding THIS!

This is the spaghetti sauce I grew up with; it’s not a bolognese or anything – it’s just a chunky tomato, beef, and Italian sausage sauce with a whole load of fennel.  I’ve modified it slightly to fit my more fennel! more red pepper! tastes.

I understand that probably you don’t have an enormous freezer, or even a stockpot the size of your torso, which is why I present this recipe in normal proportion, with wildly incongruous photographs.

Mostly My Mother’s Spaghetti Sauce
Makes enough for two pounds of spaghetti.  Freezes like a champion.

If you like, I’ve made up the (roughly scalar – I recognize that 24 ounces is not 3/4th of 28 ounces, but it makes sense as you scale up the recipe that the tomato outpaces the meat) part-to-whole ratios, although I’ve got to admit that they get a little ridiculous as we get to the spices, because they’re by weight, not volume.

The Setup
You will need:

  • 1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes (1 part)
  • 1.5 pounds ground beef (3/4th part)
  • 1.5 pounds hot italian sausage (3/4th part)
  • 1 large onion (1/2 part)
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic  (1/50th part)
  • 1 cup red wine (1/6th part)
  • 1 6-oz can of tomato paste (1/6th part)
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed (approximately 1/100th part)
  • 2 tablespoons italian seasoning (1/200th part by weight)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper (1/850th part)
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (1/850th part)
  • salt to taste (the sausage is probably going to be fairly salty, just warnin’ ya, so maybe don’t salt until after everything’s all together)

The Heist

1.  Dice the onion or onions and set aside.  Then peel and chop the garlic fine.  My friend Aaron was the first person to show this to me, so he gets the credit – there’s this video from Saveur magazine floating around lately that details a technique for quickly peeling an entire head of garlic.  Since I was using an entire head of garlic, I decided to try it – it certainly worked, but I think it’d be silly to do for fewer than eight cloves of garlic.  Don’t bother unless you wanna cover the insides of two bowls with garlic peels.

First, break up the head of garlic.

Then, give the garlic a hat and SHAKE PROFUSELY

omgz naked garlic look away (I washed the bowl to get the garlic paper out)
2.  Start browning the beef in a big, 6-quart pot (and, y’know, if you’re making it with 10 pounds of meat, use a great big multigallon stockpot).  Drain the fat (optionally, into a measuring cup) and set the meat aside.  I used a wire-mesh spider to get everything out of the pot.

That's a lot of meat.

4.  Deal with the sausage.  I actually liked that the sausage was still semi-frozen, because it made it easier to cut and portion evenly.

I stand corrected.  THAT'S a lot of meat.

Still.  That’s a lot of sausage.  I mean, we’re looking at a mountain of meat, here.  Cut or squish the sausage into 1/4-inch chunks and cook it in the same pot as the one you browned the meat in; remove the sausage from the pot once it’s evenly cooked through, and set it aside with the beef..  At this point, switch out your slotted spoon or wire spider for a Trusty Wooden Spoon.

The sausage, divvied.

5.  Dump the onion and garlic into the rendered sausage fat, add the fennel seeds, and cook over medium heat until your kitchen smells like heaven.  The onion will get yellow and soft, the garlic will melt like it’s sinking into a comfortable bath, and you will then…

Mmmm.  Garlic bath.

6. Give your sous chef, co-chef, guy- or gal pal a high five because it’s step six.  And Step Six always has a high five in it.  Secret handshakes, too, are admissible.

7.  Pour in the red wine and stir it into the aromatics – let the wine vapor fill your kitchen, and breathe deep: if it makes you feel special, you may pretend that a Calabrian has just burst.  (No, they aren’t from Star Trek.)

8.  Measure out your canned tomatoes and dump them in on top of the aromatics, the wine, and the fennel.  Wash the cans out with water (or more wine) and add their contents to the pot.  Stir to combine.

The metal thing beneath the bowl is a scale - I was working by weight because everything was in such quantity.

Tomato paste has such a pleasant look to me.  Y'know.  For a paste.

Shplop.

9.  Add in the cooked beef and sausage, as well as the red and black pepper, stir with your Trusty Wooden Spoon, and bring the mixture to a gentle bubble – reduce the heat and simmer for half an hour to forty-five minutes.

Blub blub blub

10A.  For service:  Fill your pasta pot with water (I’m assuming you’ve got a 6 to 8 quart pot) and a tablespoon of salt, cook the pasta of your choosing al dente (I like how this goes with spaghetti, even if it’s senseless and nontraditional to have a thin pasta with a chunky sauce.  However, nothing about this is traditional, or even Italian.  If you’re not into the long, thin pastas, the sauce goes nicely with penne rigate or rigatoni.  Crucially, reserve a cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.

Drain the pasta, put it back in the pot (over low heat), spoon over the sauce (a little at a time.  By god, not all of it – you’ll probably end up tupperwaring 3/4ths of this anyhow), and splash some of the pasta water over everything.  The starchy pasta water will thicken up the sauce, and lend a really full-bodied mouthfeel to the already quite-substantial sauce.  Cheese is, at this point, almost superfluous.  But feel free to be superfluous.

10B.  For packing up and freezing:  As soon as it’s cool enough to pack up, portion the sauce into pint and quart-sized containers (leaving at least a half-inch of headroom to allow for the sauce to expand as it freezes).  Cover and let stand until they’re cool enough to put in the refrigerator.  Let them hang out in the refrigerator overnight (or for a few hours) – you don’t want to melt the stuff in your freezer.  Then label them, pop them in the freezer, and let them freeze into lovely hard pucks of sauce.

Playing Puck as saucy is, in fact, my favorite way to see the character portrayed.  Nobody likes a sullen Puck.

Then stack them to show how much there is.  Because you’re smart.  And stacking them is definitely a clever and intelligent thing to do.

Yeah, it fell over.  Shut up.
The sauce should keep for up to 9 months, and then get slowly less good as the months wear on, but let’s be real, here – unless you make an actual literal metric ton of the stuff, you’re probably going to eat it all inside of six months anyway.

11. To thaw and reheat: run hot water over the bottom of the container for about 30 seconds, until the saucepuck detaches from the container.  Plop the saucepuck into a smallish saucepan and pour a tablespoon or two of water over it.  Turn the heat up to medium, cover the pan, and go do something else for about ten minutes.  Uncover the pan, break up the saucepuck as it melts, and stir it around until everything’s warm and bubbly again.

Enjoy, and happy cooking!

The Whole Foods by my girlfriend’s apartment used to sell Sukhi’s Naanwiches, or at least, the kind she liked – the kind with spinach and potato and tofu.  She’d keep them in her fridge, and hurl one into the oven for dinner if the mood struck her.  I had one, once, and liked it.  I developed this copycat recipe back in February 2011; we made a bunch of homemade naanwiches and brought them to a Super Bowl party, where, despite the preponderance of popcorn, dips, and peanut M&Ms, they disappeared off the platter at Warp 9.

And then I forgot about it.  Completely.  Until Carolyn’s Whole Foods stopped selling the spinach Naanwiches.  “Remember when you made those?” she said.

“Sort of,” I said.

“I think that would make a great blog post,” she said, coyly.  I know what you were after, Girlfriend.  You mercenary.  She was in it for the naanwiches, America!

So, using the naan recipe I’ve previously detailed on this site, and the following recipe for saag paneer, I recreated the magic.  Except I did it a little differently; instead of just making a folded piece of dough like I had previously, enfolding the filling in a sort of folded pita configuration, this time I crimped the dough into little hand pies, so that they most resembled empanadas, or, more accurately, spanakopita – Greek spinach pies.  (Or Lebanese fatayer.  Or calzones!)

My cultural depredations lead me from India to the Levant to the Greek Isles* to, as you shall shortly see, Mexico.  I shall never rest.  I shall never stop bastardizing the cuisines of nations – not until I have trod on every page of Larousse Gastronomique.

I’d call this a samosa, except it isn’t, really.  It’s too large, and it’s baked, not fried.  I’m sure there aren’t exactly hard lines on nomenclature, but it feels like I’d be calling a knackwurst a cocktail wiener.  But yet, it’s not a spanakopita, either; it’s not made with phyllo dough, and it’s also a little bit too large.  If anything, it’s like a pasty, but it’s made with the wrong sort of dough.  It’s its own classification.  Naanwich or Naanakopita will do, although I prefer the second, for its quality of sheer phonemic bewilderment.

Now, palak paneer is a classic Indian dish, which I shall further insult by describing as being “essentially creamed spinach with fried cubes of fresh Indian cheese in it.”  It is very easy to make your own paneer.  I was going to advocate that you do it for this recipe.  In fact, I nearly did it myself, figuring there wasn’t any place within walking distance of me that sold paneer cheese.

But guess what?  There is.  Paneer is a fresh farmer’s cheese – it’s firm, kinda squeaky, and somewhat bland.  It doesn’t melt like other cheeses  would– it just gets nice and brown and crisp when you cook it in a non-stick skillet.  It is, in fact, identical to Mexican panela.  Identical.  There is nothing in the production of those two cheeses that would set them apart – you heat some milk; you add some lemon juice, you drain it, you press it, you salt it.  The end.  Cheese.

It looks like this!

Now, if you’re an American, and you live near a large city, there is undoubtedly a sizeable Mexican population in your community, and the grocery stores in your neighborhood undoubtedly stock Mexican goods.  You’re going to want to march right up to the deli counter and order several inches of cheese – don’t get it in slices, get it in a big ol’  chunk.  This stuff is delicious.

So.  If you can get paneer, excellent!  Good for you; it’s not so terribly difficult to come by in the first place.  And you could always make your own.  But I like the firmness of store-bought stuff.  It’s made with more patience, weight, and industry than I could ever muster.

* Which reminds me of a story my classmate Molly told, once.  She had pledged a college sorority, and her father, upon hearing this, exclaimed, “Excellent!  I’m so pleased you are Greek, now; did they bid you drink from the brackish waters of the Aegean Sea?”  Molly’s father is, evidently, awesome.

Naanakopita
A tasty pocket of spinach and cheese!

The Setup

You will need:

  • One full recipe of naan dough
  • a 10-ounce bag of fresh spinach, or, failing that, a thawed and drained package of frozen spinach
  • 1 cup of paneer/panela, cubed
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (feel free to use 1/4 cup of milk with a teaspoon of vinegar – just let it sit for ten minutes)
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 teaspoons of ginger
  • 2-3 tsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • salt, to taste

The Heist

1.  First, make the dough, following the instructions in my entry.  Set the oven to 400 degrees F.

2.  Fill the sink with water, if you’re using fresh spinach, and soak the spinach in the basin, shaking it around to get rid of any sand or dirt.

3.  Dice the onion, mince the ginger, and mince the garlic, too.  Set it aside.  Cut the paneer or panela into smallish, 1/2-inch cubes.

4.  In a medium-sized nonstick pan, heat a few teaspoons of oil and begin cooking the cheese, not doing much to them.  Make sure they don’t stick (use a rubber or silicone spatula), but other than that, let them cook at medium heat, turning every four minutes or so, until they’re brown on a few sides.  Reserve the cooked pieces of cheese on a plate or in a bowl.  Keep the pan on the stove.

What a fantastic smell this is.

5.  Meanwhile, in a large skillet or pot, heat a little oil, and wilt the spinach in it – use a tongs to squeeze all the water out of it as it cooks down, and plop it into a bowl.  It should take about two to four minutes to wilt all the spinach.  I grow weary of having to blanch spinach in a big pot of water, only to have to squeeze all the water out of it endlessly.  I think this way is a little easier.

And there's fewer pots and bowls to clean, too.  The more surface area you have, incidentally, the faster this'll go.

6.  Give the person next to you a high five.  You’re making naanwiches!

7.  In the pan you used to cook the cheese, which should still have some oil in it, add the aromatics (the onion, the garlic, and the ginger), and cook them, with a touch of salt, the curry powder, the coriander, and an optional pinch of hot red pepper flakes, until the onion is soft and yellow, about 5 minutes.  I believe it was around this time that I said, “Maybe this is too much onion.”  Carolyn almost slapped me.  She was right.  It cooks down.  And there’s no much thing as too much onion.

Just like there's no such thing as too much garlic.  And just like there's no such thing as Toledo.

8.  When the onions are soft, add the spinach in – stir until the spinach is evenly distributed , then add the yogurt and the buttermilk.  Stir, taste for seasonings, and cook until the mixture is still a little wet, but not drippy.  We don’t want too much buttermilk leakage in the naanakopita.  Stir in the cubes of paneer and kill the heat.

You could totally stop here, too, if you wanted, and just serve the saag paneer as is.  We had a lot of trouble not eating it all out of the pan.  Just sayin’.

 

Still not too many onions!

9.  Line a baking sheet with tin foil, and spray it with cooking spray.  Roll out your dough into six-inch rounds – just like you would for the naan recipe, but thinner – you might be able to get eight to ten of these, depending on how thin you go.  Place these rounds on the greased tin foil on the baking sheet.

All rolled out.  I made mine into half-moons, just 'cause.

 

10.   Plop a 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of saag paneer into the middle of them.

10 deposit

11.  Fold them in half, and crimp up the edges.  There’s no need to seal them super well, because if they leak, they won’t leak so terribly much – the filling shouldn’t be all that wet.

Crimp my ride.  Yo, Carolyn - we heard you liked Indian food, so we put Indian food inside your Indian food so you could, I dunno.  Eat both at once.  Look, don't blame me.  I know I wasn't Xibiting proper judgment at the time.

 

12.  Bake the naanakopita at 400 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes, depending on how crispy and brown you want them to be.  Let them rest for at least 10 minutes before serving, because they will be insanely hot on the inside.

The one on top is upside-down.  You may want to flip them during cooking, if you want each side to be evenly browned, but I didn't mind.  It's still delicious.

These reheat spendidly. but they also freeze, uncooked, exceptionally well: cook them, straight out of the freezer, for 25 minutes at 425 degrees F – spray them with a little cooking spray first, though.  But pop ‘ em in, hot ’em up, take ’em out.  And that’s sort of the entire point of these – while they certainly make an excellent sit-down meal, I’ve designed these with long-term frozen storage in mind, so you can say, “Oh, dang.  It’s 5:45, and I want to eat something at 7, but I don’t want to make anything.  And I don’t want to get takeout.”  This is me, reaching out across the ether, preventing you from tearing the lid on another loathsome Lean Cuisine.

Why would you want to, honestly?

This is the first entry in The Clone Platter, a new feature in which I will attempt to clone an existing commercial product or piece of restaurant food, or generate a home-cooked equivalent.  If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments!  As a warning, I probably won’t take on anything that requires a deep-fryer – so I probably won’t take on the suggestion of “David, clone McDonald’s french fries!”, because, first of all, fried, and second of all, there’s an immense supply chain with a very specialized cultivar of potato (Oh sure, their website says they use regular old Russet Burbanks, but I’m convinced they’re the ones who buy up all the fancy Kennebec potatoes).  So there.  Lots of caveats, but request away.  If the product in question is available in my area, I’ll buy it, dissect it, and eat it, and then try to recreate it!  Otherwise, you’ll need to describe the hell out of it, and maybe take a photo.

Happy cooking!

The Further I Slide

September 2, 2011

or, Moribund the Hamburgermeister

I'm a tease.

One of the many marvelous things I acquired on the single greatest day of garage sale-hunting in American history was a meat grinder.  Not a hand-cranked jobbie, no: I’ve got one of those – an ancient piece of work from the 1930s.  I’m sure it works, but it’s more decorative than anything, and, more than that, I can’t really find any surface in my apartment to attach it to.

No, what I acquired was a never-before-used Krups Butcher Shop – a fully-automatic, electric plug-in combination meat grinder, pastry extruder, sausage-maker, and ice-crusher.  Also makes julienne fries (no it does not).  They don’t make the Butcher Shop anymore, which is a shame.  Krups pretty much only makes coffee machines now, and coffee-and-spice grinders.

But I bought this fabulous workhorse, capable of grinding 2.2 pounds of meat per minute (it says so on the box!), and my mind flooded with ideas.

When you use it as a pastry extruder, it’s possible to make cookie sticks, which is probably one of the most dangerous phrases you will read in your entire life.  We’ll cover cookie sticks when the weather gets cooler and I can start baking again in earnest, as opposed to what I do now: hatefully turning on the oven, giving myself a sweat-bath, and pulling some hard-won chunk of breadstuff out of the hotbox, cursing all the way.

But the best idea yet came to me after Michael and I cased a museum.  My friend Michael stayed with me for a bit, recently: we made beer together, beer from which I developed my spent-grain bread recipe.  I’d send him out on the town during the day while I worked, and we’d adventure at night.  I should explain about the casing the museum: I’m writing a book, a YA book in which teenagers have to pull off fabulous heists in famous Chicago locations.  To that end, Michael and I went to a Particular Chicago Museum that houses a Particular German Sea-Vessel.  My friend [redacted], who was kind enough to give us a tour, was wise to our scheme, and pointed out various things on the U-505 that we could steal.  You know.  In the book.

Anyway, Michael and I were in the car, windows down, headed north on Lake Shore Drive up from the museum, on the way to meet his friend (now my friend) Sharon, for dinner.  And out of nowhere I hollered, “MICHAEL!”

He went, “What!?”

I said, “TINY HAMBURGERS.”

“What about them?”  His long hair seemed to form a question mark in the breeze.

“WE’RE MAKING THEM.  TOMORROW.”

“From scratch?” he said.

“Oh yes,” I said.  “Everything from scratch.”

It should be noted that, when it comes to food, Michael is almost as, but not as insanely, devoted as I am.  Like me, he keeps a jar of schmaltz in his fridge.  Like me, he’s willing to take on absurd food adventures at a moment’s notice.  Unlike me, he’s apparently pretty good at making pork chops.

Needless to say, sliders were nothing the two of us couldn’t accomplish with our combined powers.

First, a definition:

Slider. /ˈslaɪ.dər/ Noun.  Americanism.  A small, round sandwich, usually two to three inches in diameter, generally with a ground-beef filling.  Named for the way they are said to slide down one’s gullet.  Slyder, with a y, was once a trademark of the fast food company, White Castle, which is known for its tiny hamburgers.

Notable usage:

2011: D. Rheinstrom, The Clean Platter 9/2/2011, “Let’s go make some friggin’  sliders.”

The Setup

We knew we wanted to grind our own meat.  It’s safer, because you know what you’re putting into the meat, it doesn’t stay compromised and uncooked for long, and you get to control precisely the proportion of fat and lean tissue that goes into the mix.

We decided we were going to do several different kinds of sliders – The Classic –  American-cheese and grilled onion burger – the Beet’n and Bleu, which, well, features sliced, cooked beets and bleu cheese, and the You Go Your Way, I’ll Gomae Way, which features wasabi mayonnaise, Japanese gomae spinach salad, and a single slice of pickled ginger (gari).

We also did a last-minute Edamame Burger, which I wanna call Ed’yo-mame’s-so-dumb-she-doesn’t-know-veggie-burgers-are-delicious.  But I won’t.  Because it’s too long.

Slider Day had four components:

1. The Buns

2.  Curd-istani Corn Salad

3. Cheater’s Gomae

4.  The Burgers

 

Setup 1: Buns

You certainly don’t have to make the buns, which we made from this King Arthur Flour recipe; just make sure to make the buns half as small as the recipe directs you to, and when it says 2 tablespoons of butter in the ingredients list, it means 2 tablespoons of melted butter.

They look like this when they're done!

But you could totally just buy slider buns somewhere.  They definitely sell them everywhere.

Setup 2: Curd-istani Corn Salad

A spicy side dish for Wisconsinites, or those who wish they were

A brief prefatory note: I understand this has nothing to do with Kurdish food.  I don’t think the Kurds have corn – I would assume that cucumber would predominate more.  No, this recipe came about because Carolyn acquired some cheese curds, and, despite not being from Wisconsin (ahem, honey), professes a profound love for them.  Okay, fine, she has Wisconsin roots, but she also has a tiny rack of antlers mounted on a wooden outline of the state of Ohio.  You can’t serve two masters, Carolyn.

A secondary prefatory note: Some of you may not know what Wisconsin Cheese Curds are.  They’re the fresh byproduct of cheese production – small hunks of mildly-flavored curd that squeak between your teeth in a really pleasing way.  I popped them into this hot corn salad for fun, and Carolyn was delighted.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups fresh corn kernels (about two ears of corn)
  • 1/2 an onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded (or not!) and chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup fresh cheese curds, or Chihuahua cheese (if this, then cut into smallish chunks)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • juice of half a lime

Directions

1. Divest the ears of their kernels: I like to do this by breaking the cob in half, placing the broken, now-flat side down on the cutting board and making stable, slow cuts down the length of the cob.

Joshua fit'the battle of Jericorn, Jericorn, Jericorn.  Joshua fit' the battle of Jericorn, and the walls came tumblin' down.

2.   Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet or pot, and saute the aromatics – the onion, the garlic, and the hot pepper.  Stir briskly until the onion has softened, 5 minutes or so.

3.  Dump in the corn and heat everything through – you’re looking for a slight change in color, but not much – you don’t have to cook the kernels until they turn brown, just till they brighten a bit.  It doesn’t take much to cook corn; I can eat it raw.  This should take maybe two or three minutes.

4.  Add in the tomatoes and stir to combine.  Once they’re heated through, about a minute, kill the heat.

5.  With the heat off, add in the cheese and stir – the residual heat should make the cheese slightly melty, but they should retain their essential shapes.  Add in the lime juice, as well as some finely-chopped cilantro, if you’ve got it.

 

Setup 3: Cheater’s Gomae

A traditional dish for people who hate tradition

Horenso no goma ae (spinach in sesame sauce) is a traditional japanese salad.  You boil the spinach and then grind sesame seeds with sugar in a pottery mortar (suribachi) with a wooden pestle (surikogi) and add water and soy sauce until they become a fine paste.  Then you dress the boiled spinach with the paste.

Well.  I have neither pestle nor patience for that kind of tradition.  Not when I’ve got pre-made sesame paste in my fridge.  That’s right.  Tahini!

A very not-Japanese thing.

This is how I make gomae, which, by dint of its inauthenticity, I call Cheater’s Gomae.  Let’s go steal a tradition.

Ingredients:

  • 10 ounces frozen, chopped spinach, or 1.5 lbs fresh spinach
  • 2 tbsp tahini paste
  • 1 to 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp soy sauce, or to taste
  • 2 tsp black sesame seeds (kuro goma)
  • 2 tsp white sesame seeds

Directions

1. Either blanch the fresh spinach in boiling, salted water, or defrost and drain the frozen spinach.  Squeeeeeze as much liquid as possible out of the spinach.

Plop.

2.  Slice the spinach into ribbons with a knife, or, if you’re using frozen, chopped spinach, skip this step.

Squish.

3.  In a bowl, mix the tahini, the honey, and the soy sauce, until it tastes how you desire it.  From here, you can either toss the spinach with the dressing, or keep them separate until service.  Regardless, keep them both in the fridge; gomae is best when it’s nice and cold.

Delish.

4.  When you’re ready to serve it, either A) take a clump of spinach and drizzle it with the dressing or B) take a clump of already-mixed spinach and sprinkle it with the sesame seeds.

 

Setup 4: The Burgers

For people who love themselves very much

For the burgers, Michael and I turned to J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, a man who takes his hamburgers very seriously.  We’re talking about the man who had an In-N-Out burger dissected, divided into zip-loc bags, and air-freighted from Los Angeles to New York so he could study the thing in his burger lab.

So when it comes to making hamburgers from scratch, Lopez-Alt is the man to consult.  After reading a number of his perfect-mix recipes, we decided to use a mix of chuck, short-rib, and brisket, but when I went to the (glorious, marvelous, WHOLESALE) Chicago Meat Market, they were fresh outta brisket.  So chuck and short rib it was.

You could totally just use chuck (which is the beef shoulder and neck primal cut), but Lopez-Alt likes the mix of fat and connective tissue that you get from the three meats in combination.  To make up for the lack of brisket, I asked politely for some beef fat, and received it in abundance, for something like 20 cents a pound (“what the heck were we gonna do with it anyway?” the butcher said to me.  But more to the point, what the heck am I going to do with the rest of it?).

 

Here's the shortrib.  Aw man yeah lookit that marbling and fat.

Slider Pre-Fab Meatmix

  • 2 parts chuck
  • 1 part short rib
  • 1/4 part unrendered beef fat

1. Before you begin, freeze everything for at least an hour, including every component of your meat grinder – the die, the chute, everything.  It should be as cold as possible so as not to smear the meat, and make sure that everything comes out cleanly.

2.  Cut up the meat and fat into one-inch cubes; separate the short ribs from the bones; reserve the bones for stock and throw them into the freezer for later.

3.  Grind the meat.  Michael and I could only watch, awestruck, as the magical grinder churned out fluffy pink snowdrifts of meat.  I was in love.

Imagine if it snowed beef instead of snow.  You could make Meat Angels!

4.  Form the meat into smallish, loosely-packed pucks of meat, and lay them in piles, on a plate.  They should weigh no more than two ounces.

I had another plate just like this.  Oh god so many tiny hamburgers.

Here’s the edamame burger recipe I used, except I switched out the millet with quinoa – it takes the same amount of time to cook.  Also, lose the panko – it’ll make them crumble and fall apart.  Make this mix well-ahead of time (maybe the day before), or your kitchen will be a god-awful mess.

Now you’ve got everything in order.  It’s time for…

The Heist

I’m pretty sure there’s only one way to cook a hamburger indoors, and that’s in cast iron.  You might want to consider getting a splatter screen, though, because these burgers will generate a lot of hot fat (in fact, it might behoove me to eliminate the extra fat in the mix, but I doubt it will), and it will spatter all over your cooktop.

Directions:

1.  Let the iron skillet get nice and hot.

2. Lightly salt and pepper them, and then cook the patties for 2 to 4 minutes a side, until they reach your desired doneness.

That sizzling you hear is the sound of hope.

3.  When one batch of burgers is complete, shunt them off to a waiting (nice and hot) plate.

4. Begin assembly! 


Pictured at left: the corn salsa.  Pictured at bottom right: that's a coaster, not an empty birth-control foilpack.
The Classic is a smallish slice of American cheese (no other kind will do!), with a sprinkling of grilled onions, and a squirt of ketchup.  Some mayo. too.*  Maybe a thin slice of tomato.

The Beet’n and Bleu probably should have had less bleu cheese on it.

And it needs mayo.

The You-Go-Your-Way-I’ll-Gomae-Way’s wasabi mayonnaise requires about a teaspoon or so of dry wasabi powder stirred into a quarter-cup of mayo.  Maybe less, maybe more, depending on your preferences.  I like to spread mayo on the lower bun, and hot Chinese mustard on the top, with a lil’ bit of gari atop the patty for fun.  Plop a little bit of gomae onto the bun and go to town, my friend.

I am salivating so hard you have no idea

 

Here’s the veggie version of the Japanese slider!  Hello, there:

 

"Hello," it says back.

 

These sliders will all disappear.  Like, immediately.  So secure some for yourself, to explore the various flavors you’ve created.  And branch out!  Invent all sorts of crazy toppings.  In fact, don’t even stick to beef, or even hamburgers!  Make tiny sausage patties out of pork!  Or shrimp!  Put crabcakes on a bun!  Zucchini latkes!  Polenta!  The world is your oyster.  Oo!  Oysters!  Make tiny po’ boys.

Whatever you do, tell me about it in the comments.

Enjoy!  Have a lovely Labor Day Weekend, America, and happy cooking!

 

-D

* ON THE SUBJECT OF MAYONNAISE ON HAMBURGERS

It’s really popular to hate on mayonnaise.  It’s fun to look at mayo and be like, “Ew, that’s a horrible, boring white-people condiment.”  Fine.  Whatever.

You know what’s really sexy and cool right now?  Aioli.  It’s everywhere.  It’s on the haughtiest haute-cuisine menus; it’s in neighborhood bars gamely attempting to turn themselves into gastropubs; it’s got 222 hits on the Food Network website.

Guess what aioli is.

Yeah.  I dare you.

IT’S GARLICKY MAYONNAISE.

Now get over yourselves and start putting mayo on the bottom buns of your hamburgers.  Here’s why – fat repels liquid.  A thin layer of mayo will protect the bun from the gradually-seeping meat juices of the burger, which prevents it from getting all soggy, and, as a bonus, creates an amazing, savory sauce that acts as another note in the meat-chord that is burger.

P.S.

Bonus if you’ve read this far!  Here and here are the songs I was referencing in my title and subtitle.

Spent-Grain Bread

August 26, 2011

Or, “Beer Bread, Minus The Beer”.

Homebrewing is on the rise.  In 2010, according to a press release from the American Homebrewers’ Association, 82% of homebrew supply shops “saw an increase in sales of beginner [homebrew] kits”, which means, well, more folks are getting into the hobby.

Last summer, I started homebrewing, also from a beginner’s kit.  My friend Jack and I journeyed over to Perfect Brewing Supply in Libertyville, and I snatched up Jack’s father’s old carboy, as well as some of his other old brewing supplies.  Jack and I made a hefeweizen I named Too Clever by Hef, which was followed by a lemongrass and ginger-infused black ale I called Fit to be Thai’d, and that brewing season finished up with some hard apple cider (made from apples I picked with my friend Josh at his family’s home), which I dubbed Justifiable Applecide.

I am not a nice man.

Anyway, this year I’ve also been brewing – whenever a friend of mine visits, I put him to work in the brew-forges, crafting beers with me.  When Dave visited, we made a wheat beer.  When Michael visited, we made an October Ale (just like Foremole Diggum would have drunk – oo er aye.).

Now, when you make beer, you’re essentially making a sweet grain tea (the wort), which is a tasty substrate for your yeast to swim around in, eat up, and convert to alcohol and CO2.  You can make wort by adding malt syrup concentrate to a large quantity of water, or you can do a whole-grain mash and soak grains in hot water until they release all their sugars.  Basically.

Doing a whole-grain mash, as I do, leaves you with a lot of leftover, somewhat soggy grains – they don’t remain in the wort for fermentation.  And, if you’re like me, you might end up with quite a few pounds of spent grain.

Rather like this.

DON’T THROW THIS STUFF OUT.

Everyone’s always telling you to eat more whole grains.  Now you’re sitting on eight pounds of it and you just wanna chuck it out the back door?  No, sir or madam!  No, indeed!

Most of you are probably not homebrewers.  That’s okay!  Most of the people I know aren’t, either.  But, with the rising popularity of the hobby, I’m sure you have a friend or neighbor that brews.  I can think of two or three of my Chicago friends or neighbors who make beer, and I’m not even in any clubs.

My local homebrew shop, too, makes a lot of beer in-house (unsurprisingly).  I might call them, to see what they do with their spent grain, if I get the urge to make this recipe again.

Anyway, this recipe: it’s dense, it’s chewy, and it’s not too sweet.  I think a lot of bakers go wrong in their wheat breads by making them nearly dessert-cake-level sweetness.

I developed the recipe myself, after trying and failing to produce good bread with the spent-grain bread recipes I found online.  I have made this bread twice, and I am delighted to say that, for having developed a bread recipe on the fly, it works quite well.  (I followed my recipe to the letter the second time, so I know it works.)

AN IMPORTANT NOTE: this bread would taste awful if hops got into it.  Make sure that you get spent grains that haven’t touched any hops.  (This shouldn’t be an issue, if you’re brewing in the right order.)

Spent-Grain Bread
makes one large loaf

The Setup

Ingredients

  • 2 cups spent grain from all-grain mash, milled to a fine pulp in a food processor (measure after processing)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

The Heist

Directions

1.  First, if you haven’t, mill your grains in a food processor.  If you’ve got a lot, as I did, this may take several batches.  That’s fine.  You’ve got all the time in the world.

Doesn't that look pretty?  And not like a bowl full of unspeakable?

2.  Mix the water, the yeast, the honey, and the vegetable oil in a measuring cup, and let it sit until the yeast wakes up, about five minutes.

(Photo note: these photos are from two separate sessions, which is why it’s night outside in some and day outside in others.  You don’t actually have to work from dusk till dawn to make this recipe.)

3.  Take two well-packed cups of spent-grain mush and plop them into a great big bowl.  Mix in the four cups of AP flour, as well as the salt, and mix until everything is incorporated – it might get a little ropy or clumpy, but that’s okay!  Break it all up with your fingers until everything comes together.  It should feel a little like wet sand, honestly.

It's sort of like playing with brown sugar.  It makes that same sort of satisfying thwop as it falls into a bowl.

4.  Make a well in the center of the dough and pour in the liquid ingredients; mix until everything is completely hydrated and doughy, but not sticky.  If it’s sticky, add flour, a little at a time, until the dough becomes workable again.

See - the mixed grain-and-flour looks kind of sandy-pebbly.

5.  Oil the bowl, cover it, and let the dough rise until it doubles in volume, about 90 minutes later.  Punch it down, and transfer it to a well-greased 9-inch loaf pan, which you should also cover.  Let the dough rise again for another 90 minutes to 2 hours.

It's not so terribly pretty, as far as breads go, I'll warrant.  But is really good.
6.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and, once it’s ready, bake the bread at that temperature for 50 minutes.  If you’re a stickler for doneness, and who isn’t with bread, you can check the internal temperature of the loaf when you pull it – it should be hovering around 190 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Isn't that better?  I think so.

Now, you don’t need to put anything on this bread, as bread that requires butter to taste good is scarcely a bread at all.  However, bread that asks politely is rewarded with a pat on the crumb:

Hello, little pat of butter.  You are going in my mouth.

Good bread.  Good little bread.

This hearty bread makes fine sandwiches, but I like to just cut hearty slabs of it, spread it with mustard, and top it with a few pieces of strong cheese.  I had some for lunch today with a few slices of freshly-cooked beet, and it was marvelous.

Happy cooking!

While my parents were in DC a few weeks ago, I was tasked with watching Penelope, the familial springer spaniel.  She’s a very cute critter, and last summer she stayed with me for a time at the House in Indiana.  She served as my amanuensis, and even took dogtation.

Penny averages 120 wpm (woofs per minute).  Yes, I've got the leash around my foot.

She’s very smart.

Anyway, I was dog-sitting in the suburbs for a week – my fabulous job (as a game-writer, not a professional tweeter) permits me to work from anywhere with an Internet connection.  My girlfriend, Carolyn, came to stay for the weekend, and that Saturday, we went garage saling, where we found some TREASURE.

  • Two unused yoga mats in a carrying case: $7
  • One bamboo jewelry-organizer: $2
  • Some lovely wrist bangles for Carolyn, including a chunky brass one that will be All The Rage next season (so she claims.  I think it makes her look like Wonder Woman.  No complaints there.): $10 or so
  • A lovely green glass vase, which was: $free
  • A never-before-used Krups Butcher Shop, still in its taped-up box: $5

And

LA MACCHINA,

which is what I have taken to calling this gorgeous Marcato Atlas pasta maker, which goes online for €51 (about $73 USD), which Carolyn and I acquired for … yes.  Five dollars.

LOOK AT IT.

CUE HEAVENLY CHORUS

Ah! Che bella macchina!  I behold you and I hear the swelling chorus of a Morricone score.

Carolyn and I looked at each other.  There was no way we couldn’t make pasta for dinner.  I had to know if it was hard to do; I’d tried to make pasta without a machine a few years prior, and I had a hell of a time (using a rolling pin) getting it thin enough without tearing.  It was also obnoxious to cut the pasta into fettucine with a knife, because it wasn’t thin or straight enough, and I didn’t have a food-safe ruler to use as a straight edge.  (And frankly, the idea of rubbing a metal ruler against one of my knives makes me cringe a bit.)

I’m not a food gadgety person.  It’s taken me a long time to embrace Carolyn’s strawberry huller, her cherry pitter, and her totally adorable water-carbonator, but I knew I would love LA MACCHINA immediately.  It had such a handsome shine!  It clipped to the table!  It could roll and cut pasta to even thicknesses and dimensions!  I was in love.  (For the record, it only took me three dates to embrace Carolyn herself, who is cuter than a water-carbonating device.)

But while I do love some gadgets, I’m also frugal (or a skinflint.  you decide), and although a new handcranked pasta machine certainly won’t break the bank, I guarantee you can find an unwanted pasta machine no matter where you are.  A pasta machine is just the sort of thing a couple might receive for their wedding, regardless of whether or not they put it on their registry.  Where there are garage sales, you will find pasta machines at reasonable prices.  And even if you did buy a new one: in the past two weeks, I’ve already created enough pasta to exceed its retail price – three different ravioli dishes, enough to serve four, assuming an average restaurant price of $14 per plate comes to (3 x 4 x 14) $168.  And that’s not counting the other pastas I’ve made.

We decided we would make ravioli, and so I decided to do what I generally do when I’m staying at my parents’ house: mount raids on the freezer, the pantry, and the liquor cabinet.  I found a pound of frozen, uncooked shrimp, a can of tomatoes, and a handle of Stolichnaya vodka.

“Carolyn?” I hollered up the basement stairs, “Do you like vodka sauce?”

I couldn’t find a recipe for shrimp ravioli in my parents’ capacious cookbook library, but I found and tweaked a basic recipe for pasta dough from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian CookingThen I hunted around on the internet, and found this recipe for shrimp ravioli in a vodka sauce, which I have slightly adapted, defatted, and seriously copy-edited.

This recipe has a lot of steps, but isn’t altogether that complicated.  You can make the filling and the sauce well ahead of time, but the dough should probably be made the day you intend to assemble the ravioli.  However, they freeze beautifully, and we’ll get to that later.

Let’s get started!

Ravioli/Tortellini di Gamberi alla Vodka

The Vodka Sauce

The Setup

Ingredients:

  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup basil, ribbon-cut (chiffonade)

The Heist

  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and lightly fry the garlic until fragrant.  Kill the heat.
  2. Add the vodka.  You don’t want to add liquor to a pot over a live flame because there could always be a wayward splash, a sudden flare-up, and then it’s goodbye, eyebrows (and possibly goodbye, face).  Bring the vodka to a bare simmer and let it cook over low to medium heat for about five minutes.
  3. Add in the tomatoes, bring back to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add in the cream, bring to the very barest of simmers, and stir.  It should get somewhat thicker after a few minutes.  At this point, add the basil and kill the heat.

What a pleasant color.

Pasta Dough (for Ravioli)

makes enough for about 50 ravioli or so
The Setup

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp milk or cream

(So, one half-cup of flour and one teaspoon of milk per egg)

The Heist
Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and make a little well with your fingers, or a fork.

  1. Crack the eggs into the well, and pour in the cream.
    Well, well, well, my pretties.
  2. With a fork, beat the eggs and the cream, first into one another, and then gradually begin introducing the flour into the egg mixture, until it’s fully incorporated.It's the world's tastiest vortex.
  3. Clean off the fork and begin kneading the dough with your hands until it has picked up most of the flour and is relatively unsticky. Pad the dough into a flattish round, and perhaps cut it into thirds or quarters with a knife or dough scraper.  Put another half cup of flour into the mixing bowl, because you’ll be using it later to dust the pasta.
    This might warrant a little more kneading - you can see how it looks a little rough at the right edge; it should be smooth all over.
  4. Cover the dough with a towel and let it hang out while you make…

The Shrimp Filling

The Setup

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb shrimp, defrosted, peeled, and deveined*
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • a generous handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper

* Save those shrimp shells for a shrimp velouté for your SQUIZZA!  Or, if you like, incorporate them into the vodka sauce with the garlic – but be sure to strain out the shells before serving.

The shrimp don’t need to be big, or even that attractive-looking; they’re going to be minced into tiny little pieces anyhow.  Ah-ha-ha-ha.  But seriously, the part of this dish that looks good isn’t the shrimp filling; nobody can see that bit.

The Heist

1. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a pan, and gently cook the garlic until pleasantly scented, about 30 seconds to a minute.
These shrimp were already somewhat pink just due to their natural color, which was a little alarming to me.
2. Drop the shrimp in, and sauté until the shrimp curl up (which they do because of proteins contracting during cooking.  Shrimp cocktail pro-tip: if you want to prevent shrimp from curling, make little slits on the ventral side of the shrimp; it’ll hamstring that muscle and curtail the curling.

Of course, we don't care whether or not the shrimp curl up, now do we?  We're making a ravioli filling; the shrimp are invisible.

3. Remove from heat, and either mince the shrimp finely, or quickly pulverize in a food processor.  Move the shrimp to a mixing bowl and add the ricotta, the eggs, the cheese, and the parsley.  Season to taste (yes, I know there’s raw egg in there.  It won’t kill you.).

Much.
Making the Ravioli

4.  Pass a chunk of your pasta dough through the machine, on its widest setting.  Fold it into thirds, rotate it 90 degrees, and repeat two or three more times, until the dough is glossy, pliant, and cheerful.Yes, friends, it's The Thin Pasta, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy!

5. Begin passing the dough through the rollers at increasingly thinner settings – just once through on each setting will do.  I tend to stop at the penultimate thinness.

6. High five your significant other, for finding a pasta maker. *

7. Lay out a sheet of dough on your work surface – maybe one foot long by six inches wide (depending on how wide your rollers are).  Lay out another piece with similar dimensions beside it.

8. Take a 1/2 teaspoon measure and dollop out the filling onto one of the sheets, about an inch and a half away from each other, and from the edge.  This means that if your sheet is 6 inches wide, place one dollop at 1.5 inches, the next at 3 inches, and the third at 4.5 inches.

9. Wet a finger or a pastry brush with water or egg wash and brush down every part of the dough that doesn’t have filling on it.  Lay the other piece of dough on top of it, and crimp the dough around the filling.  Then press everything down so that the dough fuses together.  You can see Carolyn and I were doing something slightly differently, and making tortellini andravioli, but mostly because we weren’t sure exactly how to do either, at first.

Who knows!  There's no effin' rules, dude.  I mean, yes there are, but we don't follow them.

10.  Take a knife, or, if you have it, a scalloped pasta roller (I don’t have one yet, but I think I’d like one.  They can’t be hard to find) and cut the ravioli close enough so that you’re not just eating a sheet of dough, but not so close that you expose the filling, either.  Recover the dough, ball it up, and put it aside – you can mix it with the remaining dough to make the rest of the ravioli.

11. Sidenote 1: as you cut each raviolo free, dunk it in flour and shake off the excess; you don’t want them to stick to each other as you prep them for cooking – trying to separate stuck-on ravioli will rip their skins and expose the filling, which will cause you to curse assiduously.

12.  Sidenote 2: if you wish to freeze the ravioli, line a baking pan with parchment or wax paper, and plop the floured ravioli on as you complete them – let them sit in the freezer for at least 40 minutes before removing them from the sheet, putting them in a freezer bag, and throwing them back in cold storage.
These are not quite done!

13.  Bring salted water to a rolling boil and cook the ravioli until they float, and the filling is hot throughout, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size, quantity, and thickness of ravioli.  Frozen ravioli take 4 to 6 minutes to cook, on average.

That's what they look like when they float.  And when they're tortellini.

14.  Toss lightly with sauce, and serve.

Tadahhh.

* Just so you know, from now on, Step Six is always going to be “Give the person you’re cooking with a high five.”  I jokingly put in the original step six when I was writing out this recipe to myself in an email, while Carolyn read over my shoulder.  Now, whenever we reach Step 6 in a recipe, we high-five.  We have even gotten to the point where we refer to high-fiving as “step six”.

Sure, it’s ridiculous, but I think it’s also important, in a way: cooking is always more fun with others, and it’s important to acknowledge your co-chef now and again.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Never high-five your co-chef while holding a sharp object.

Contra odii (a note to the haters):

I am aware that the images in the photos above do not depict ravioli, but rather tortellini.  Yes, they are not square.  Yes, they’re somewhat ring-shaped.  I got better at making them; more photos to come.

For additional guidance on making ravioli, I refer you to this video featuring Sergio Maria Teutonica (which is a pretty excellent name) making shrimp ravioli and a ragù di mare (a sauce of the sea – here grape tomatoes, shrimp, pine nuts, and basil).  It is, unsurprisingly, entirely in Italian, which I do not speak, but the technique is pretty self-explanatory.

I’m just starting to get into pasta; we’ll see where this takes us.  Probably weirder places than this – just warning you.  (I see more squid in my future.)

Enjoy, and happy cooking!

Now, I trust you kept hold of that mussel broth, like I asked you to in the last entry.  This is one of those fridge-emptier recipes, one of those “Oh, damn it, what am I going to do with all this ingredient x” standbys.

Often, after having confronted a tasty bowl of mussels in a restaurant, one is left with a delicious pool of broth that one is powerless to address.  Sure, the waitstaff has brought out bread for the mussels, but it is never enough for one, is it?  One cannot request more bread, as one would feel like a glutton, especially if the mussels in question are intended to be the prelude to the evening’s entrée.  One is therefore resigned to bidding the delicious mussel broth a tearful goodbye.

No more, I say!  I’m not about to go out and say that you request to have the mussel broth boxed up and taken home with you, although that isn’t, strictly speaking, a bad idea.  But when you make mussels, reserve that broth!  Hold it tight to your breast, because that’s half the work of another meal right there.  There’s no reason that the work of one meal can’t be the work of two or three.  In fact, let’s codify that as a Recession Tip:

David’s Tips for Living Well in A Recession

Tip #4: The effort it takes to generate one meal can be redirected into easily making others.

I suppose I’d sort of forgotten about those.  I should point out that making your own coconut milk fits neatly into Tip 3#: process it yourself.

Anyway, let’s say you’ve just made either the Thai Mussels or the Garam Mussela, and you’ve got, oh, a cup and a half of broth left over or so – this is a coconut-mussel stock, with either wine or tomato providing the rest of the liquid.  This is the time when those little freezer packs of tilapia come in immensely handy, though this would, obviously, work with fresh fish of any sort.

It's easy to assemble!  No batteries required.

Morning-After Fish-and-Mussel Soup, à la Thaïlandais

Serves two, or one for breakfast and then lunch

The Setup

You will need:

  • a little oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • a piece of ginger the size of your distal thumb joint (the part with the thumbnail on it), minced
  • 4 ounces of mushrooms – about eight, sliced
  • 1½ to 2 cups leftover mussel broth, with the mussels removed and set aside
  • 1 tilapia filet, maybe 4 to 5 oz, frozen (or not.  Also, any other firm, white-fleshed fish in similar quantity)
  • a touch of fish sauce
  • the juice of half a lime
  • (optional) a splash of cream
  • Hot steamed rice, to serve with

The Heist

  1. Execute your mise-en-place: mince the garlic and the ginger, put in a tiny bowl.  Slice the mushrooms and set aside.
  2. Cut the fish into 1-inch chunks, and set aside while you heat a small saucepan with a little bit of oil.

    Fish is awfully easy to cut when it's frozen.  These tilapia also come in those little single-use packs that I so abhor for chicken breasts, but they don't seem to bug me for fish.

  3. Saute the garlic and the ginger until they’re aromatic and soft.

    As you read these recipes - especially if you don't consider yourself someone who cooks - start looking BEYOND the recipe and into the structure of the thing.

  4. Then add the mushrooms, stirring occasionally; cook till somewhat brown.

    For example, it seems like every recipe I ever start on the stove tends to involve the cooking of aromatics in a fat of some kind - in this case, our aromatics are garlic and ginger, and that fat is a vegetable oil. 

  5. Add in the mussel stock (reserving the mussels themselves – you’re going to add them in just before serving, because you just want them to warm through, and bring to a bare simmer.  Squirt in the lime juice, the fish sauce, and the optional splash of cream.  You are also free to add more stock, more water, or whatever you wish, if you feel that you lack enough liquid in the pan.

    We cook things until they're brown, usually, because brown is evidence of tasty Maillard reactions or caramelization, which, in the case of the first, rewrites protein molecules so that they say Brown and Delicious, whereas, in the case of the second, sucrose gets melted and broken down into component sugars, which are also rearranged to spell Brown and Delicious, molecularly speaking.

  6. Tip in the chunks of tilapia and cook over medium heat until the fish is firm to the touch or tooth, about five to seven minutes.

    I'm sure I'll run afoul of a great number of organic chemists, particularly the ones that read alt-text (I know great scads of you read XKCD, anyhow).  If you happen to be one, and you recognize how poorly I'm representing these chemical reactions, send me an email: DavidRheinstrom@gmail.com.  I'm all ears.
    It should look somewhat like this:

    The point is, though, that, as a general rule of cuisine, we cook things until these reactions happen, and then, in the case of soup, we add a stock or a broth or some kind of liquid to cover, and the Brown and Delicious molecules get rearranged into a solution and in that way are distributed throughout a dish.  If you think about it, a deglazing is very similar, except that you use quite a bit less liquid.

  7. Stir in the mussels, and heat through, about a minute or two.

    Encourage yourself to start thinking beyond the constraints of Recipe, as they're only guidelines.  I didn't use a recipe to come up with this soup.  I just used taste memory, good sense, and  a long and storied relationship with soup to craft it.

  8. Serve over hot white rice, sprinkle with chopped cilantro, and eat with iced tea.  Enjoy your day.

    There's no reason why you couldn't do the same.

Fun with Coconuts.

April 30, 2011

(or, Pumping Up Your Mussels)

You’ll never see a can of coconut milk for under a dollar.  Not the good kind.  -Sure, there’s the Roland Classic kind, which sometimes sells for 99 cents, but that brand has guar gum in it, which artificially thickens and emulsifies the coconut milk.  A sign of good coconut milk, surprisingly, is that it doesn’t emulsify – when you open the can, you should see a nice, chunky cap of solid coconut fat.  This is called the head.  What’s great about this is you can use this head to start a curry – you gently fry the curry paste in the coconut fat and let the aromatics bloom.  The rest of the can – the thinner, more watery milk – is used to make up the liquid body of whatever dish you’re making.

Anyway, a good can of coconut milk, like a 14-ounce can, will probably run you about $2.19, in 2011 dollars (assuming that, y’know, those of you reading in the future haven’t switched over to beaver pelts or the bimetallic standard, and you still know what a U.S. dollar is).  I wondered about coconut milk – why was it more expensive than a can of chicken broth?  Well, probably, first of all, economies of scale and the relative popularity of chicken broth (as well as a surplus of unused bones from all those boneless-skinless chicken bits) account for that.  But perhaps, too, it was more effort to make a can’s worth of coconut milk than a can’s worth of chicken stock.  I resolved to find out.

Doctor, I've got the strangest pain in my forehead and I can't figure it out.

A single coconut at HarvesTime, my local grocery store, cost $1.29.  Cackling, I drove a screwdriver into one of its three eyes – those sunken, dimply patches on the coconut, and drained the water.

Here’s an important distinction: many people think that if you poke a hole in a coconut, coconut milk comes out.  This isn’t so; a coconut is full of water.  What we call coconut milk is the meat of the coconut, which has been ground into a pulp with plenty of water and strained.

This is what comes out of a coconut:

Coconut spinal tap.  Yeah, I bet you weren't thinking that.  Now you are, and I'm not sorry for it.

It seems like there have been al sorts of coconut-based drinks cropping up these days – coconut water has lots of potassium and electrolytes, so it’s being touted as a sort of low-carbohydrate, all-natural Gatorade.  People have been drinking coconut water in Southeast Asia since the earth was young, but I’ll say this: a mature coconut is probably not your ideal vector for coconut water.  You want to get your coconut juice from a young, green coconut, because this stuff was – I’ll be the first to admit it – slightly vile.

I'll see what the younger-coconut stuff tastes like soon.

It was bitter, salty, and kinda funky.  Not one to waste anything in my kitchen, I quickly realized that the only way to make it potable was to make the coconut water into a cocktail.

The Man Friday
The Set-Up

  • The juice from one mature coconut
  • 1 oz heavy cream
  • 2 oz Malibu coconut rum

The Heist

  1. Mix or shake ingredients together until well-blended.
  2. Serve over cracked ice.

 I missed a really obvious "Lime in the Coconut" opportuntity here.  Look, we can't all bat 1.000, people.

Fortified with my cocktail, I picked up the coconut’s worst nightmare – a claw hammer.  Having made sure that the coconut was mostly empty of juice (this is best done over the sink, or outside), I rapped the coconut sharply around its circumference with the claw portion of the hammer, until I had made enough cracks in the shell to peel it off, or twist the thing in half.

What remains is a ball of coconut meat, slathered all over its surface with what looks like Crisco – this is raw coconut fat.

Try to scrape as much  of it as you can off of the inner black husk.

With a knife or a pastry scraper, cut the coconut in half and start breaking it into pieces.  You can see the big hollow where the coconut juice had been.

I know this is going to sound strange, but I swear it smelled and tasted very much like romano cheese.  Don't ask me why that is.

At this point, the coconut goes into a food processor; I used my girlfriend’s 3-cup mini-prep, since it lives at my apartment now.  She used to work at Williams-Sonoma, and suffers from an unfortunate condition; she possesses altogether too much kitchen equipment for her apartment.  I swear this isn’t why I’m dating her.  (Hi, honey.)

Mix the coconut meat with water until it’s a completely smooth, blended mixture, about the consistency of thin pancake batter.  This needs more water:

Much more.

Eventually it’ll get to looking like this.

Ooh, baby.

Now, this coconut milk still has all of those pesky coconut solids in it, and you’re going to want to isolate those for later.  This means you’ll have to strain them, through a method that I have become more and more comfortable with – pouring the whole mess into a (clean!) kitchen towel and squeezing it dry.

Things about to get MESSY up in this kitchen.

It’s sort of unfortunate, y’know; I blame my old college roommate David for this – every time I pour some kind of chunky solution into a container, I will invariably think, or make aloud, some noise similar to “Bluaaaargh,” as though the first container is throwing up into the second one.  Thanks, Dave.

Bluuuuuuuuuargh.

Now you’re doing it too, aren’t you?  I’m sorry.  I’m a jerk.

I'm kidding.  I'm not sorry.  I'm never sorry.

Now, squeeze!  Squeeze for great justice!  What goes into the bowl beneath is marvelous, fresh, fatty, and fine: it’s coconut milk, and you did it!  You did it, you son-of-a-gun in your gray flannel suit.  You’ve created coconut milk, and it only cost you about half an hour of your time, as well as the use of a hammer, a clean towel that you’ll have to wash, and the use of a food processor.  Time is your greatest currency in the kitchen, next to, y’know, actual currency. 

So is this really worth it to do on a regular basis?  I certainly don’t think so.  Might be if I’d started with, like, ten coconuts – but really!  What would I do with all of that at once?  The argument for canned coconut milk gets pretty compelling; you start to see where that cost comes in.  But every once in a while?  Heck!  Why not?  It’s fun to do!

You know, I bet if you had one of those fancy juicer machines, you could probably make pretty quick work of a coconut.

Reserve the coconut meat for later.  It’s unsweetened, so it’s got this sort of nutty, raw flavor.  It’s good, but best if you mix it with things.  We’ll come back to that.

Let’s take an abrupt left turn to talk about mussels.  Mussels are cheap, plentiful, sustainable, and delicious.  I’m not exactly sure when I first started eating mussels, because I’m pretty sure I found them sort of terrifying for most of my childhood.  At some point, I came to the realization that they were, in fact, fantastic – briny, rich, tender, and pretty easy to do well.  I’ve been making them in my own kitchen for just under a few months, and I have yet to screw them up.

It just so happens that the Fish Guy Market on N. Elston has a special on mussels every week – I’m actually hesitant to tell you the day, because I’m worried you’ll snatch up all the mussels before I get there.

So I’ve started making mussels every week, because, for goodness’ sake, they’re 5 bucks a pound, and far cheaper than that on the coasts.  Two pounds of mussels easily serves four people, given a loaf of good bread and a tasty vegetal side dish.

So I’m going to do just what Francis Lam says (click the word sustainable three paragraphs up) and explore pretty much every flavor combination I can possibly throw at the mussel.

This week, it’s red curry mussels!

Red Curry Mussels with Coconut Milk and Prosecco

Adapted from this Bobby Flay recipe

The Set-Up

Not only am I ripping off Food52 by styling the ingredients this way, it's also a good reminder to get all your prepwork (your mise en place) before you start cooking.

  • 2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and cleaned
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 3 tablespoons Thai red curry paste (I used Maesri brand)
  • 1 1/2 cups painstakingly-prepared coconut milk, or one 14-oz can (like Chaokoh brand)
  • 1/2 cup prosecco, or slightly less-fizzy white wine, like vinho verde.
  • 1 to 1-and-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • one big handful basil leaves (thai or italian will do)

The Heist

  1. Heat your favorite dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add some vegetable oil of your choice or melt a bit of the coconut milk’s fatty head.  Once it renders, add the ginger and curry paste and fry till fragrant, about a minute and a half.
    I swear this is one of my favorite smells.
  2. Add in the fish sauce – the original recipe calls for a full two tablespoons, and I feel that this makes the pursuant broth rather a bit too salty for my liking.
    Not my hand; note the total lack of fur.
  3. Add the coconut milk, and smile as the fragrance of the tropics wafts through your kitchen.
    This broth tastes so good.  How could it not?
  4. Add the wine.  I used prosecco, because it’s what was available – it was pleasant and dry!  I’m not sure if the bubbliness does anything, but prosecco has a nice dryness to it – a mild bitterness that does well here.  Bring everything to a boil.
    Blub blub blub.
  5. Once the liquid is at a boil, add the mussels and heat till boiling again.
    The mussels have the right idea.  I would totally take a bath in that, if it weren't 200-plus degrees, and it wouldn't result in my being eaten by other people.
  6. Cover and cook for five to ten minutes, shaking the pan every once in a while.  Lodge, send me some money.
    C'mon, seriously.  Your product looks so good in this shot.  And hey!  Next to that dutch oven?  Why, I believe that's a Lodge Brand Cast-Iron Skillet!  Good gracious I use your products often.
  7. You’re looking for most of the mussels to open, but not all of them have to.  If you like, separate out the cooked ones and leave the closed ones in the pot for more cooking.  Don’t waste your time if they don’t open after that, though – chuck ‘em.Chiffonade the basil (cut it into ribbons) and toss it into the pot, and mix everything together.You guys it's confetti you guys
  8. Ladle mussels into serving bowls, pour the lovely, fragrant broth over it, and serve with slices of crusty bread.  Enjoy with the rest of the Prosecco.

   

There’s certain to be more mussel posts on here; I don’t know where they’ve been all my life, honestly.

 

Oh!  And that leftover coconut meat from earlier?  I used some of it in some tembleque.  Tembleque is a Puerto Rican dessert I first learned about when I made it with my friend Rafa last Thanksgiving; it’s a delicate coconut pudding.  You make it by cooking coconut milk with cornstarch until it sets up; I cheated and used the Goya box mix, because it was a last-minute impulse buy.  It’s basically stovetop just-add-milk pudding mix; I added some coconut meat to give it some more body, portioned it into ramekins, and unmolded it like a flan.  It’s called tembleque because it trembles so much when you jiggle the plate.  It’s kind of fun just to poke it with a spoon.  Makes y’feel like Dr. Cosby.  Kinda.

 

I made Jell-O from a coconut!  Rudy!  Rudy, come see!