Mushroom Powder

January 14, 2012

And its multifarious uses!

I adore mushrooms.  I love shiitakes stir-fried with strips of flank steak, I love the earthy funk of fresh morels in cream sauce, I love porcini-and-pea risotto – I even love the unjustly-maligned white button mushroom (which is, you may not be aware, the exact same thing as a brown crimini or portobello mushroom – they’re all agaricus bisporus, and they don’t taste different in the slightest.).

Why is an Algonquin spirit selling mushrooms, anyhow?  I guess there's probably a Mushroom Manitou, but I would have associated that sort of nature spirit with, y'know, higher phyla like... chordata.  Or angiospermae.  Whatever, this undercuts my thesis that mushrooms are great, so ignore it.

I also love that my parents have a membership at Costco, where rather large quantities of dried mushrooms can be had for not too much money.  They recently picked up a big ol’ jar for me, at my request, since I’d used up most of the Chinese Black Mushrooms (same species as the shiitake, Lenintula edodes) that my friend Allison gave to me as a host present.  Thanks, Allison!  They were delightful, and giving people dried mushrooms is the best tradition.

Anyway, Carolyn and I were at Volo again, and we had the BMG flatbread on their current menu.  That menu won’t be around forever, since it’s seasonal, so here it is for posterity:

12        B M G     F l a t b r e a d
Berkshire bacon, mushroom, goat cheese

There’s no way that could be bad!  And of course, it wasn’t.  There were chunks of cooked mushroom, little batons of bacon, and half-teaspoon-sized dots of goat cheese – and simply typing that makes me salivate.  But the interesting part was the smell.  Cooked, fresh mushrooms don’t have a particularly intense flavor most of the time.  It’s the dried mushrooms that have that intense, musty flavor.  There was, I noticed, a dusty coating on the flatbread.  I asked the waitress, “Is this powdered mushroom?” and she was like, “Good eye, yes it is!”

So that was one of those things that I tried and immediately knew I wanted to steal.

Mushroom Powder
Not exactly a spice, not exactly a condiment

The Setup

You will need:

  • 1 cup (by volume) of dried shiitake mushrooms (or other dried mushrooms, but shiitakes are relatively inexpensive)
  • A clean and odorless coffee or spice grinder

I'm not particularly concerned about sand or grit, because it's going to get ground so fine you won't even notice it's there.  Whatever, it's good for you.

The Heist

1. In batches, grind the mushrooms into a rough powder, and gradually add in the mushrooms until they’re all ground up, and continue to process until they become a relatively fine powder.  You could grind them into a superfine, almost cakey powder, if you wanted, but I think you’d have to add salt (the added agitation of the salt helps grind other, softer stuff).

2.  Put the resulting powder into a bowl – you should have, by volume, about a half-cup.  Store in a tightly-lidded plastic container, out of direct sunlight, for a few weeks to a month or so.  Whole dried mushrooms have a shelf life of about half a year before they start to lose a lot of their flavor, so I figure the ceiling on this powder is maybe two months.

It looks like sand but smelled like mushroom!  I felt like a WIZARD.

It won’t last that long, however, because once you make  a batch of this stuff, you’ll want to put it on everything, like…

Mushroom Popcorn!

The Setup

You will need:

  • 4 parts mushroom powder
  • 2 parts kosher salt
  • 1 part black pepper
  • oil
  • popcorn
  • a large, heavy pot with a lid

The Heist

1. Combine the mushroom powder, the salt, and the pepper in your spice grinder and process until everything turns into a fine powder.  For a half-cup (unpopped) serving of popcorn, I’d use 2 teaspoons of mushroom powder, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper (and feel free to use the whole peppercorns here – they’re getting scrunched up anyhow)

If you need me, I'll be downstairs, with the shopvac.

When combined, it’ll look kinda like this:

You can call, but I prob'ly won't hear you, because it's loud with the shopvac on.

That is, rather like sawdust and pencil shavings.  Never fear, though; this stuff is delicious.

2.  Get some potholders ready.  Heat a few teaspoons of oil in your heavy pot, measure out your popcorn (more than 1/2 a cup of unpopped kernels in a 6-quart pot will result in I Love Lucy-esque overflow hijinks, so be forewarned.), and stir briskly over high heat for a minute or so, until the kernels begin to turn opaque.

3.  When this happens, cover the pot, and wait for the sound of popping kernels.  At this point, take hold of the pot’s handles with your potholders, and shake the pot vigorously, making sure it stays in contact with the heat.  Don’t shake it up and down, just side to side.  Give it a good shake at least once every ten to fifteen seconds so nothing gets stuck on the bottom.

4.  When the space between pops exceeds, oh, 10 seconds or so, turn off the heat, and let the pot stay covered for about a minute to protect yourself from rogue poppers.  Then decant into a large bowl, and from a relatively high height, sprinkle the mushroom seasoning mixture over it, and toss until coated and tasty.  You probably won’t need any additional oil to make the mixture adhere to the popcorn, since the grains are so small they’ll fit in the nooks and crannies of the popped kernels.  Health food!

Food blogger's secret: I test the recipes in full proportion, but sometimes, for photography purposes, I just make enough to create a single serving.   There is a second, smaller prep bowl underneath that popcorn, to give the appearance of greater volume.  The more you know!

I guess lots of upmarket restaurants, at least in Chicago, are giving out pre-dinner popcorn instead of bread.  Graham Elliot is known for it, and so is decorated newcomer Ruxbin.  It makes sense.  Popcorn is cheap, not particularly labor-intensive, and easier to customize on the fly than bread is.  It’s also less filling than bread, but it takes as long to eat.  Graham Elliot does theirs with parmesan and truffle oil; Ruxbin does it with furikake.  I’d like to put my mushroom popcorn right up against theirs.  I also love to douse popcorn in garlic oil, but we’ll get to that.

If popcorn’s not your speed, then allow me to return to a Clean Platter standby: Macaroni and Cheese!

Mushroom Mac
A recipe identical to the Essential Stovetop Mac and Cheese, with emendations in bold text.

  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/4 of a medium onion – about 1/4 cup, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk, any type of fat (I used skim and it was fine.)
  • 3 ounces, by weight, grated/dry mexican cotija cheese (or parmesan)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons mushroom powder
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced (optional but awesome; I didn’t have any fresh on hand)
  • 1/2 pound of elbow macaroni noodles
  • a 2-quart saucepan
  • a 6-quart pasta pot
  • a colander

The Heist

Prepare identically to the Essential Stovetop recipe:

1.  Dice the celery, garlic, and onion; measure your milk, cheese, fat, and flour.  Slice the mushrooms.

2.  Start heating the pasta water.

3.  Melt the butter in the 2-quart saucepan and cook the celery, garlic, and onion until soft, 5-7 minutes.  Add in the flour and mix into a paste over medium heat, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.

4.  Add the milk a little at a time, and stir vigorously but not extravagantly, until all traces of roux-lumps are gone.  Continue to stir and cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the mixture is pleasantly thickened.  Reduce heat to low.

5.  Add in the mushroom powder, stir, and taste.  Don’t add any salt, because the cheese is plenty salty.

6.  Yeah!  Add the cotija or parmesan cheese.  High-five the person nearest you.  Kill the heat, stir to combine.

7.  Cook the sliced mushrooms in oil over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until they’ve lost most of their liquid, shrunk, and browned.  Cook in a single layer.

8.  Cook the macaroni in the boiling, salted water, and cook until al dente – then drain and incorporate into the cheese sauce.  Add the mushrooms, stir to combine, and serve.

I only made a little bit, and I made it without the fresh mushrooms, and I should have put it in a ramekin and not a plate, but it’ll look something like this.Who serves Mac and Cheese in such a flat way?  It must be heaped, like a righteous, bounteous pile!

But with tasty chunks of mushroom on top.

Anyway.  I suppose I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a version of Volo’s bacon, mushroom, and goat cheese flatbread, but with an addition of my own – garlic oil!

Garlic oil!

You will need:

  • a head of garlic or two
  • a cup of good-quality olive oil
  • a clear plastic squeeze bottle – these should usually cost about 1 to 2 bucks.
  • a small saucepan.

Instructions:

1.  First, separate and peel all the cloves of garlic and, once peeled, tumble them into a saucepan.  Fill the pan with oil to cover the garlic, and put it on the stove over low heat – at the barest simmer.  You don’t want to really cook the oil here; you want to heat it enough to soften up the garlic, but you want to keep the oil as bright-tasting as you can.

2.  Let it go for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the kitchen smells magnificent.  Hot olive oil smells surprisingly fruity, so you may find yourself sniffing around for an unexpected banana (like ya do).

3.  Once the garlic is soft, remove it with a slotted spoon.  Let the oil cool off, and then pour it into a measuring cup, then a squeeze bottle.  Keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

4.  Do something wonderful with the oil-poached garlic cloves.  Slather them on a toasted baguette, eat them plain, throw them into a batch of mashed potatoes, dab them behind your ears – I don’t care.  They’re going to be delicious, whatever you do.

Bacon, Mushroom, and Goat Cheese Flatbread with Garlic Oil
Makes either 2 full-size pizzas or 4 little flatbreads

The Setup

You will need:

  • A recipe of pizza dough
  • Garlic oil (see above)
  • Mushroom powder (see above)
  • a 4-ounce log of goat cheese
  • 4 ounces of bacon, cut into little sticks
  • 4 ounces of mushrooms, sliced thin.

The Heist

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Cut your dough into either two or four balls, depending on your preference, and roll them out; place them on an oiled baking sheet.

2.  In a small skillet, cook the bacon over low heat until cooked through but not crispy.  Reserve the bacon, and cook the sliced mushrooms in the fat until they give off their liquid and turn brown.  Take off the heat and place in a bowl.

3.  Drizzle each flatbread with a teaspoon or so of garlic oil, then dot them with bacon pieces, mushrooms, and half-teaspoons of goat cheese.  Dust generously with mushroom powder!

4.  Bake in the 450-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until the dough is crisp and brown around the edges.  Let cool for two minutes, then cut and serve.

Well.  I think that’s enough for one day, don’t you?

Happy cooking!

-D

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Improv Dinner I

December 23, 2011

It didn’t start out this way.

Adam and Zev wanted to have a cooking double-date with me and Carolyn.  I would, based on their prompting, come up with a couple of recipes based on their suggestions, and then we’d all hang out in the kitchen and cook together.  We’d judge whether or not I’d done an accurate job sketching their relationship in recipe format, Z and A would take the recipe home with them, and we’d all learn something about each other.  Hooray.

Zev and I had a better idea.

When I asked him to think up a suggestion for me, he couldn’t summon up anything on the spot, so he impulsively challenged me thusly:

“So, I should just say ‘we have these five ingredients’ and you go all Lynne Rosetto Kasper on us?”

I said, “… A Stump-The-David Challenge sounds awesome.  Let’s do it!”

“I accept,”  he said.  “Prepare to die!”

He did not say that last part.

For the uninitiated, Lynne Rosetto-Kasper has a fantastic PRI food show called The Splendid Table, and one of her occasional segments is called the Stump The Cook Challenge – a listener calls in with five ingredients, and Lynne has to theorize a meal that could be made from them – she gets to pick three other ingredients that the caller has lying around her kitchen; water, salt, pepper, and oil she gets for free.  Usually Cook’s Illustrated host Christopher Kimball serves as Celebrity Stumpmaster, to help judge the proceedings.

Well, Zev and Adam were going to be the Stumpmasters, and I was to be Lynne.  They gave me 24 hours’ notice of what they were bringing, and I was allowed to incorporate a few more ingredients into the mix – spices were free, but I couldn’t 1) use too many extra ingredients or 2) try to hide the ingredients that Adam and Zev brought.  I’d also have to use 3) three kitchen gadgets in the course of making the meal – something I’m not particularly used to doing.  I’m not really a gadget person; that’s more Carolyn’s territory, with her collection of culinary Happy Meal toys that include the Garlic Zoom and the Vegetable Chop (which seems innocuous enough, but watch the video – it’s like watching the Slap Chop’s violent stepdad.)

So what did they bring me?

Well, this!

From left to right we have:
1.  A 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries

2. 2 pounds of boneless beef ribs

3.  1 pound of young turnips

4.  3 bars of dark chocolate

Oh, and

I don't even.

5.  A 2-pound sack of Tater Tots.

“Um,” I said, “Do I have to use all of the chocolate?”

“No,” said Adam.  “Just use enough of it.”

“And whatever Tots you don’t cook, we get to take back,” Zev said, a trifle unnecessarily.  I’m not so crazy ‘bout Tater Tots.

BUT!  In the interest of friendship and SCIENCE, I was willing to try my level best to make a meal for my friends that they would not only 1) enjoy but 2) be willing to recreate!

I had a plan.  It was time to put it into action. 

The Dinner

I decided to make a salad, braise the beef with the chocolate, mash the turnips with potatoes, and make the cranberries into a gastrique sauce.  The tots?  I’d… I’d figure something out with the tots.  With the help of my faithful assistants David and Carolyn, I knew we’d kick some ass.

Boeuf braisé à la Cincinatienne
Braised beef in the Cincinnati Style – serves 4 to 6

The Setup

I knew that, if I had beef and chocolate, I was probably going to have to return to the conceit of a Cincy-style chili (which, if you recall, contains chocolate, chili powder, and other non-traditional chili spices like clove, cinnamon, and allspice), because I’d be damned if I was attempting a mole.  Those things take forever, and I just didn’t have the time – Adam was picking up the ingredients from the apartment on his way back from work, so I was going to have to start cooking the meal around 6.  I wanted to get it on the table by 8:30 at the latest, so I figured I’d start with the thing that took the longest – the beef.

You will need:

The Heist

1. Set your oven for 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Pat the beef ribs dry with paper towels, and sear them in a 6-quart dutch oven over high heat (with a touch of canola oil), two to three minutes a side.

I love the hiss and sizzle of seared meat.

2. You certainly don’t need to do this, but at this stage I used a Microplane (Gadget #1) to grate the chocolate.  Again, this is unnecessary – you can simply break up the chocolate and throw it in; it’ll all melt and incorporate anyhow.  Chop the garlic finely, and measure out the spices.

Yeah, you really don't need to do this.

3.  When the beef ribs are browned on each side, throw in the garlic and cook, stirring briskly, for a minute or so.  Then add the tomato sauce, the spices, the chocolate, the salt, and the water.  Mix this all together, and heat until bubbly – then take it off the stove, and put it in the oven for as long as you can stand to, adding water, if necessary, every hour or so, for a minimum of two hours.  You cannot overcook these ribs – not at this temperature – but somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 to 4 hours is probably ideal.  I wanted them to stay together and not flake when cut, so I hewed closer to the 2 hour mark.  When finished,  they’ll look something like this:

If the sauce breaks like this, just stir it and add a little more water.  It should reemulsify quickly.

Cranberry Gastrique

The Setup

I’d never made a gastrique before.  But I knew that I wanted to use the cranberries to bridge the gap between savory and sweet, so it wouldn’t be so impossible.  I hoped.  A gastrique is basically a caramel sauce with vinegar in it, which may sound horrific to some of you – it is, however, delicious – tart without being painful, and sweet without being cloying.

You will need:

  • 12 oz cranberries, washed
  • Water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup port

Directions:

1. Place the cranberries in a small saucepan with enough water to cover them.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, put the lid on, and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the cranberries are soft.

And there they go!

2.  With a potato masher (or a stick blender! [Gadget #2]), squash the berries into as fine or as thick a pulp as you desire.

3.  In a non-stick skillet, combine the sugar and the water, and mix, over medium heat, with a heat-proof spatula.  Stir briskly and cook until the mixture thickens and just begins to turn tan around the edges.We really had a lot of stuff going on in here, didn't we?

4.  Turn off the heat, add about a quarter-cup to a half-cup of cranberry pulp, and incorporate.  Turn the heat back on, and add the vinegar; stir and reduce over medium heat until thick again.

I was so exhausted after all of this that I'm pretty sure I fell asleep on Zev.

5.  Turn the heat off again, add the port, and resume cooking until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of your spatula, but not so thick that it can’t be poured (add more water if that happens, or more cranberry pulp).

This is approximately what nappé stage looks like.

6.  High five!  You made a gastrique!  Place in a ramekin and put that ramekin on a plate because this stuff is sticky and you don’t want it to get all over your nice tablecloth.

 

Neeps and Tatties
Mashed turnips and potatoes
I swear to God that’s what they call it in Scotland

The Setup

Turnips have a powerful, radishy taste that I wanted to temper with potatoes.  I think 1:2 is a good ratio for that.  Baby turnips don’t need to be peeled, but big old turnips do, so keep that in mind.  You’ll also want to cut the turnips smaller than the potatoes, because the turnips will cook more slowly and you want to get them to finish boiling at the same time.

You’ll need:

  • 2 lbs potatoes
  • 1 lb turnips
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 tb butter
  • 1 tb sour cream
  • Salt

The Heist

Instructions:

1.  Cut the turnips into 1/2-inch pieces, and the potatoes into 1-inch pieces.  Tumble them into a big pot and cover with water – add some salt to the water, or the mash will taste fairly bland, and you’ll have to compensate with way more butter than you’d otherwise want to.

Somehow, turnips manage to be the most consistently dull-sounding purple food.

2.  Bring to a boil on the stovetop and cook until the roots are tender, about half an hour.

3.  Drain the veg, return the pot to low heat and mash with a potato masher (I think they counted that as Gadget #3), then add in the milk, the butter, and the sour cream, as well as additional salt to taste.  Add more sour cream if you think it hasn’t got enough tang to it.

Once they were sufficiently mashed, I whipped them with a whisk.  I'm a root vegetable sadist.

The Salad

The Setup

I decided to make something approximating a salade lyonnaise, which means frisée lettuce, little sticks of bacon called lardons, and a poached egg.  I also decided to put in fresh croutons and a bacon dressing, because why not?  I used Alton Brown’s bacon vinaigrette recipe, because, even if I don’t like him that much anymore, he still knows his stuff.

  • 4 ounces of bacon, preferably thick-cut or slab (ideally homemade.  But let’s be real here)
  • Half a baguette, cut into cubes
  • half a head of frisée lettuce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tb bacon fat
  • 1 tb brown sugar
  • 1 tb mustard
  • one egg per person

The Heist

Instructions:

1. Cut the bacon into small, thin sticks, and slowly crisp them in a pan.  Reserve some of the fat.  In fact, reserve it all, but put aside 2 tablespoons specifically.

2.  In another pan, crisp the cubes of bread in olive oil, and sprinkle with salt.  Set them aside.

3.  Wash and dry the frisée.

4.  Whisk together the 2 tablespoons of bacon fat with the olive oil, the cider vinegar, the mustard, and the sugar, and toss the frisée with it just before you’re ready to serve.

5.  In the pan that held the bacon, fry the eggs, one at a time, until their whites are set but their yolks are warmed-through but runny, about a minute and a half.  Plop the egg atop a pile of dressed frisée, sprinkle with bacon lardons and croutons, and serve!

Yes, the yolk should be that wet, unless you're immunocompromised, nursing, or ALLERGIC TO FUN.

 

Plating the finished meal

I decided to start off each plate with a mound of neeps and tatties – I made an indentation in the center of each mound with my ladle, and plopped in a single beef rib, with the gravy-like sauce surrounding it, along with a drizzling of gastrique.

I should have put the gastrique in a little squeezy bottle for easy dispensing, but I didn't think of it.

“What about the tots?” said Carolyn.

"Crap,” I said, and pulled them out of the oven.

What about the tots?

Hold on, that needs more gastrique.

Plating this made me feel like a 3-year-old.

Everything was well-received – we washed it down with a few half-bottles of remarkably bad wine (I don’t know where they came from.  They were ancient and corky and I think someone snuck them into my wine rack during a pizza party), poured the rest of the wine down the sink, and enjoyed ourselves despite it.  I happen to know that Zev is waiting for this entry so he can snatch up the ribs recipe (which, I suppose, for simplicity’s sake I ought to just call Cincy Ribs) – but I’m pretty sure I didn’t win the Stump the Cook contest.  A and Z were generous in judging me a success, but I think I failed on a tot-related technicality.  I could not, for the life of me, think of something fun to do with the tater tots – later, my dad gave me this idea:

“What if you put them in a muffin tin?” he said.

“How?”

“Let them come to room temperature, smash them flat, and make them into a tater tot bowl in the muffin tin, and bake them that way.”

So, I could have done that, and it would have been kind of fun!  Potatoes within potatoes, cogs within cogs – a cup of Tot full of turnips and beef.  Oh well.

Next time.  Because you can bet your ass I’m doing this again.  Adam said that turnabout was fair play, though – Carolyn and I could come up with a list of five ingredients for him and Z to use, the next time we’re over for dinner.  What should I choose?  What kind of mood am I in?  Am I a good friend, or am I a conniving bastard? (Am I both?)

You decide.  I look forward to your suggestions.

Have a marvelous holiday season, everyone.  I think I completed my last New Year’s resolution from 2011 just a few weeks ago, when I finally figured out how to pleat guotie (potstickers!), by reading and rereading my new favorite Chinese regional cookbook, Feeding the Dragonit’s a travelogue by a pair of globe-trotting siblings, Nate and Mary-Kate Tate.  Their writing is solid, and their recipes are reputable and easily reproduced – and what else can you ask from a cookbook?  They tell a great yarn, and I got a good sense for the incredible breadth of Chinese cookery.

Which gives me just enough time to start thinking about what my 2012 New Year’s resolutions are going to be.  I’ve been preempted – topping the list will have to be learning how to butcher a squid, thanks to the spunky and marvelous Susan of SusanEatsLondon; I mentioned in a comment on her Malaysian Squid Curry recipe that I’d love to know how to do it, and lord, did she deliver!  This entry is, perhaps, not for the squeamish, but if you’re a Fearless Midwestern Cook like me (*beams*), you’ll want to dive right into that squishy, baleful-looking cephalopod, and rip it apart with your bare hands, to remove, as Susan accurately puts it, “the squoogy bits.”  Happy Hanukkah, Susan!  Merry Christmas, folks!

Probably I won’t see you until the New Year.  Until then, remember, SQUID.  I’m doing something with it.

Happy cooking.  Stay warm.

-D

Justifiable Applecide

October 15, 2011

Depending on what part of the country you’re from, there are probably apples yet on the trees, hangin’ like a promise and achin’ to be picked.

Look at that, won'tcha?  Tempting as the takeout your girlfriend leaves in the fridge.

More than likely, though, there’s a bounty of apples on the ground, too.  These are called windfalls.  Some of ‘em are ugly.  Some of ‘em are bruised.  But are they useless in the kitchen?  Absolutely not.

At this time of year, just about everyone’s food blog lights up with suggestions of what to do with fresh, gorgeous apples; pie recipes abound, apples get baked, converted to fritters, or stuffed in the mouths of suckling pigs.  Y’know.  Simple stuff.

So I’ll focus on the apples that I see as getting short shrift: the big ol’ half-bushel baskets of windfalls they sell next to the donuts at the apple orchard.  They’re half the price of the kind you pay to pick, and they’re just as useful and delicious, in a slightly different way.

But look at how pretty they are!

For months, I had dreamed of Cider Season – I made some last year in Indiana, using a food processor, sixty pounds of apples, and a couple sheets of cheesecloth.  I pasteurized it and fermented it and turned it into very tart hard cider.  I had been thinking of doing it again this year, but properly – I commissioned my friend Josh to build me a real live cider press, but work was picking up for him, as well as training (he’s a USATF qualifying runner, and, if I ain’t puffing him up too much, supposedly he’s one of the fastest sprinters in the country.  Are you a sportswear company?  Throw him an endorsement!).  So he couldn’t build me one.

Carolyn and I went apple-pickin’ with our friends Adriana and Noah and Zev and Adam and a coupla others and we came away with, oh – maybe three-quarters of a bushel?  About 35 pounds or so.  About 20 pounds of that were windfalls, which aren’t great for eating.  Mutsus and Empires and Connell Reds and Ida Reds – all sorts of marvelously tart, funky, nuanced apples.  And I was gonna chop them into bits and drink them.

I realized I didn’t need a cider press after all.  Because I had a MEAT GRINDER.

Homemade Apple Cider
Makes about a half-gallon of unpasteurized amber wonder

Now, you can make this with a food processor quite easily.  I wouldn’t recommend it for making, say, a six-gallon batch, because, well, that took hours and hours to do.  But for a half-gallon, it’ll take you about half an hour.

The Setup

You will need:

  • 5 pounds of assorted windfall apples
  • a food processor, meat grinder, or juicer
  • a knife
  • a cutting board
  • some large bowls
  • a large cloth or fine-mesh bag

The Heist

1.  First, wash your apples.  Then cut them into one-inch chunks.  Cut out the brown, bug-eaten, or soft parts, but there’s no need to discard the stems or the peels – everything’s getting pulped, and everything contributes to the flavor of the cider.  This will taste like drinking an apple whole, and that’s why it’s special.

You are free to imagine me assaulting a pile of apples with two cleavers, Swedish Chef-style, and somehow ending up with all of these neat little pieces in a bowl.

2.  I set up my meat grinder on its coarsest grind setting, and prepped a bowl under it to catch all the runoff.  I’m also about to put a cloth bag over the spout, to catch all the solid pieces.

 Grind-o-tron hungers.  He hungers for apple-flesh.

3.  Start the grinder!  Or your juicer, or your food processor.  And work in batches.  Grind the apple pieces up until they’re as crushed-up as they can get, and then remove them from the workbowl of your processor and put ‘em in the bag in the bowl.

Always wear protection, kids.
4.  When everything is ground up, you should have a sack of wet apple pulp, sitting in a largish, opaque amber puddle.

I think this is the only time I have been not only happy, but ELATED to see a wet sack of pulp sitting in an opaque amber puddle.

5.  Wash your hands thoroughly, put the bag over a strainer, and squeeeeeze.  You will get a ton of liquid out, this way.  Normally, this is the point where the cider press would come in (people that are really committed run their apples through a specially-built garbage disposal in their garages, and then put that pulp on meshed racks for pressing.), but your hands will have to do!

Mm mm mm.  Just pretend you're juicing an enormous lemon.  A lemon that exudes cider. 

6.   High five!  You’ve got cider.  There’s gonna be some apple-particulate matter that escapes and gets into the cider, but do you really care?  If it’s anything, it’ll be a tiny, tiny piece.  And that’s delicious.  Meet your cider.

I swear to you I could drink that whole bowl right now.  One fell swoop.  Swoop. 

Funnel it into a bottle, refrigerate, and enjoy!  Drink it within a week or so, because it’ll start to sour and ferment if you let it alone for too long (and that’s no good, because you probably didn’t sanitize the plastic bottle you’re storing it in in the first place.  Don’t think you’ll make applejack, because you’ll just end up making Clostridium botulinum or something.)

This cider tastes like a short, powerful gust of wind, blowing red and brown sheaves of leaves off a tree.  It’s good.  Of course, it also depends on your apples, here – try to strive for a mix of as many different kinds as you can, and go for reds over greens.  Tart apples are good, but you don’t want them to predominate in this cider.  Avoid mealy, coarse apples like Red Delicious; although, if you’re going to the trouble of finding an apple orchard to get windfalls, I think you’re probably  as tired of Red and Golden Delicious apples as I am.  As Carolyn likes to say: “They are neither golden nor delicious.”

In the event that you tire of drinking your delicious, unpasteurized cider, I have someone you’d like to meet.  His name is Żubrowká, and he is very tasty.  He comes from Poland!

He, ah, how-you-say, he say, "Cześć".  Is like "hi."

Żubrowká, which you can say /ʐuˈbrufka/, if you wanna, is a vodka made with extract of bisongrass or sweetgrass.  The bottle comes with a It has a woodsy, cinnamon-vanilla sort of flavor to it, and by God does it pair well with apple.  My friend Ania, who is Polish, told me about this liquor a long time ago, and she’s had it with apple juice – the clarified, clear stuff.  And I think it’s a world of different with cloudy, funky, full-on-apply cider.

In Poland, a one-to-one mix of Żubrowká and apple juice is called a tatanka, from the Lakota Sioux word for buffalo, or a szarlotka, from the dessert called a Charlotte, which is sort of like tiramisu meets custard pie meets bits of fruit meets upside-down-cake.  I want one.

But in the interim, I’m happy to make this cocktail, which, since it’s not exactly a tatanka or a szarlotka, I have dubbed “The Buffalo Soldier”.

 

The Buffalo Soldier
A cocktail.

Ingredients

  • 1 fl. oz Żubrowká bisongrass-flavored vodka
  • 8 fl. oz unfiltered apple cider
  • cracked ice

Directions

1.  Fill highball glass with a lean handful of cracked ice or ice cubes.

2.  Pour vodka over ice and swirl it around.  Pour in the cider and stir with a long-handled spoon.

3.  Serve, and enjoy.

 Oh.  Yeah.  I cropped this out of one of the first images.  I was drinking the entire time.  Oops.

 

Happy cooking!

 

-D

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.

A Paean to Pea.

August 12, 2011

It was at Volo in Roscoe Village where Carolyn and I beheld an exceedingly awkward first date: he was a public servant, she was a Tea Party equity manager. He smiled at her blandly, steering the conversation away from politics in an attempt to be civil. She, upon learning that he worked for the government, snarkily retorted, “oh, so you’re part of the problem.” Despite agreeing to meet him at a wine bar, she confessed not just an ignorance of (which would be forgivable), but a disdain for wine. He had traveled to France during Beaujolais season. You can see where my sympathies lay.  Waiting for the check, Carolyn and I completely ignored each other to eavesdrop on this date. I gamely pretended to listen as she gamely pretended to comment on the attractiveness of the hydrangeas. But really, who were we kidding? Carolyn wanted to give the guy a pep talk while the girl was in the bathroom, but she never got the chance. I also think the pep talk would have largely been, “Run for your life, handsome lawyer guy!” Watching their awkward meal was the highlight of ours.

However! The second highlight of the meal was the meal, during which we were served a fabulous flatbread, bursting with verdant power, punch and perspicacity; the perfect pairing for pinot noir. Yes, friends: a springtime flatbread. A flatbread that was a paean to pea. It was a smallish, pizza-like disc of dough, slathered with a dollop of shockingly-green pea puree, slightly buttery peas, pea shoots, garlic, and little curlicues of Manchego. It was as appealing to the eye as it was to the palate. Nibbling a piece, I said to Carolyn. “It can’t be too difficult to make this at home.”

And it is not!

Essence of Springtime Pea-Puree Flatbread
makes four flatbreads, which is a cheery main course for four people, or a pleasant first course for eight.

The Setup
Equipment you will require:

  • one saucepan
  • an oven
  • a food processor
  • baking sheets
  • a spatula

For the flatbread:

  • 1 recipesworth of pizza dough, or enough for two pizzas.
  • 1 lb frozen peas (or, oo! Fresh! If you can get them, and it is springtime, and you are lucky)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 Tbsp butter – one Tbsp out on your work area, the other reserved in the freezer
  • a touch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • a lemon
  • a hunk of hard, fragrant cheese, like Parmesan, Romano, or Manchego
  • a handful of spunky salad greens, like mâche or arugula (or pea shoots!)
  • 5 to 10 mint leaves, depending on your preference and their size (optional)

The Heist

  1. Having made, risen, and rested your dough, form it into four small, equally-proportioned balls and let them sit under a kitchen towel for half an hour while you preheat the oven to 450 and prep everything else.
  2. Cut the top of the bag of peas – I assume you are using shelled frozen peas (get the sweetest kind you can!) for this recipe. Otherwise, y’know – shell, wash, and weigh out a pound of fresh peas, and lucky you for acquiring them! Slice the garlic thinly, and melt the one tablespoon of butter in a saucepan. When it has all melted, add the garlic and cook over medium to gentle heat, stirring continuously, for thirty seconds to a minute.
  3. When the garlic is fragrant, add the peas, frozen or not, straight into the saucepan, and stir until they are A) thawed, B) fragrant, C) soft, D) cooked through, or E) all of the above.
  4. Remove 3/4ths of the peas from the saucepan and put them in the workbowl of your food processor. Puree it finely, and, here’s the fun part – add in that frozen butter! If you want,you can cube it up really small before you freeze it, or after you freeze it, or not at all. This is sort of a takeoff on the traditional monté au beurre. Sort of. Not at all. The idea behind a monté au beurre is that you add a chunk of cold butter to a finished sauce to give it body and sheen, as the butter emulsifies the sauce. The principle is the same here – the cold butter will give the pea puree a little more body and shiny pleasantness.
  5. Season with salt, pepper, and the red pepper flakes, until it is DELICIOUS.
  6. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, a tiny dowel, or by tossing it in the air like a champ. Lay it on the baking sheet or pizza pan. Now throw the rounds into the oven until they’re lightly browned – about six minutes. Remove the pans from the oven, dose with three or four spoonfuls of the puree, a few spoonfuls of unpureed peas, and a few shavings of cheese. Then throw it back into the oven again for another four or five minutes, until the puree is heated through and the cheese, while not the melting sort, should have begun to perspire a little.
  7. Finish the flatbreads with the greens, and either a little fresh lemon zest, a fairy-dusting of torn mint leaves, or a combination of the two (let it be known that both of these additions were Carolyn’s ideas.  And fine ideas they are). Let them cool, cut them into segments, and serve to a grateful public.
As always, good luck, and happy cooking!  And mysterious public sector lawyer guy, wherever you are, keep up the good work.  We’re rootin’ for you.

First, a musing on the balance of flavors:

Pizzas are, generally, pretty robust affairs; it’s a rare one that I’ve made that trades on subtleties.  I wouldn’t call myself a subtle cook – if cooking were painting, I’d cook in big, wet, Post-Impressionist brushstrokes.  A recipe calls for two garlic cloves?  I’ll use four.  Half a teaspoon of fennel seeds?  Hardly – I’ll use half a tablespoon.  I like working with bigger swatches of flavor, but that doesn’t mean that I neglect the balance of those swatches.  And it’s not that I don’t have an appreciation for subtlety.  But if I’m going to go to the trouble of cooking for a lot of people, I don’t have time to waste on subtlety – I want to hit them in the tongues with a gustatory hammer: I suppose, sir, I am above all, an American in this, and every regard.

Where am I going with this?

When making a pizza sauce, if you can’t see the herbs, you can’t taste ‘em.  Friends of mine ask me what’s in the sauce – because I’ve gone to the trouble of making all that dough, and putting everything together by hand.  I wonder if my answer is disappointing: “Well, tomatoes, mostly.  Crushed tomatoes in puree, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, black pepper, and a bit of fennel seed.”  Yeah.  Canned tomatoes.  Most of the year, they’re better than anything you can get in a grocery store, and they’re probably not grown by slaves.  Do I have a proper recipe?  Barely.

Tomato Sauce for Pizza
(sauce for about seven or eight twelve-inch pizzas)

Ingredients:

  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes in puree (don’t scrimp on this – a good can of tomatoes may top $2. oh no, Scrooge McDuck, my heart bleeds for you.)
  • Italian Seasoning (a collection of spices including but not limited to rosemary, oregano, marjoram, thyme, and basil)
  • garlic powder
  • fennel seeds
  • black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • tasting spoon(s, if you’re squeamish/professional)

Directions:

  1. Open can of tomatoes.  Using a spatula, empty the can’s contents into a large, deep bowl.  Prepare a tasting spoon, because it is the most important part of this recipe.
  2. Add in a full tablespoon of Italian seasoning, a teaspoon of garlic powder, half a teaspoon of fennel seed, and a quarter-teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  You may not need the salt at all, depending on the brand of tomatoes – check the label for the sodium content.  Mix.  Taste.
  3. If you cannot see the little green flecks from the Italian seasoning, add another tablespoon.  Mix and taste again.
  4. Repeat step three until you are satisfied.
  5. To sauce a pizza, take a large soup spoon and dip it into your bowl of well-seasoned sauce.  Plop the spoonful onto the center of your pizza, and, using the back of the spoon, spread it out in concentric circles, getting as much even coverage as you can until you need another spoonful.  Repeat two or three more times, depending on how saucy you like your pizzas.  Be careful, though – once, at a pizza party in college, my friend Jim declared, “This needs more sauce!” and emptied half the bowl onto the dough.  The pizza came out wet and soggy.  Dammit, Jim.

Toppings

I know I said I didn’t do subtlety well earlier, but I should issue a warning: Pizza will not brook your excesses.  Pizza is a vicious god, and requires a gentle touch when it comes to toppings.  Pizza is a balancing act between the crust, the sauce, and the toppings; the toppings, despite their prominence, are not The Main Event of a slice.  It is all three components in harmony that make for the best ‘za.

As a rule, the thinner you slice your toppings, the better effect they’ll serve.  If you can get ahold of pepperoni from the deli, ask them to slice it paper-thin; if you get it in stick form, go ahead and use that mandoline slicer that you got for your birthday and have been afraid to use (the hand guard is ideal for pepperoni!).  If you get pepperoni in a bag, well – don’t hurt yourself trying to cut those slices thinner.  Don’t worry about it.

Make sure your slices are in small pieces.  This may sound elementary, but I’ve seen pizzas whose toppings were not sensibly cut – usually, they were immense pieces of meat.  Zac, the amateur-turned-pro pizzaiolo I talked about a few pizza entries ago, would top his pizzas with large chunks of steak and chicken – larger than the bite-size pieces I would have cut had I been eating the toppings off a plate.  They were delicious, sure, but they fell off the pizza, onto people’s shirts or the floor – and they were large enough to choke on.  So, if you’re going to put meats on your pizzas, slice them thin and cut them small.  The same thing goes for something like prosciutto – I don’t like taking a bite of pizza and inadvertently pulling all the toppings off with my teeth.

Top your pizzas with some consideration as to how someone will eat them, not solely on the basis of aesthetics.  I’ve noticed this with a lot of sandwich places; a sloppy sandwich is not assembled with a sense of design – you have to approach the making of a sandwich with the end user in mind.  It’s no good to make a huge friggin’ Dagwood if you don’t have the hinged jaw of an Anaconda. 

You want your pizza to have flavor, but it shouldn’t have a dump-truck’s worth of toppings on it.  There’s no fun in that, especially when it all ends up on your clothes.

Unless your clothes are also pizza?  I guess?  No, that's stupid.

Three Simple Rules for Topping My Teenage Pizza
… Ew.

  1. Not too much cheese.  For a twelve-inch pizza, use half a cup to a scant cup of shredded cheese.  A scant cup, approximately 7.5 oz, is going to be a pretty heavy covering.
  2. Not too much sauce.  Use about a quarter cup, total, per pizza: approximately 2 ounces.
  3. Not too much anything else, either.  Your total topping volume should amount to about a half cup, or four ounces.  Leave overstuffed pizzas to a crust that can take it – I don’t want to eat my thin-crust pizza with a fork.  We’ll get to deep-dish pizzas eventually, and it’s then that you can go nuts: pile it on, my gluttonous brother!

If you can keep it delicate, you can get, dare I say it, kind of subtle, like this fig, duck, and tarragon pizza I made at a pizza block party in the East Bay (thanks, Chris and Carol, for the duck leg!).

Duck and figgy pizza

And if you’re feeling especially adventurous, you could always attempt the ambitious pizza al frutti di mare, or, if you prefer, the squizza.

This needs a different sort of sauce, in my mind, and it takes a little time, and a little classical knowhow.  It also takes shrimp heads.

 

Squizza

An adventurous treat for the pie-curious
The Setup

For the shrimp velouté (up to four days prior to making the pizza):

  • 1 lb shrimp heads and shells
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 3 cups of water
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • 2 oz dry vermouth

For the toppings (the day of making the pizza:

  • 3 oz cleaned squid, cut into rings or tentacle bits
  • a touch of garlic
  • some salt
  • 2 oz pre-cooked salad shrimp (the tiny kind)
  • 5 oz mozzarella
  • half a lemon

A velouté, in classical French cuisine, is a stock thickened with roux.  We want to make a somewhat thicker velouté, so we can sauce the pizza with it once it’s cool and somewhat set up.  See, you’ve probably heard this a bajillion times, but as you cook the roux, the starch granules in the flour gelatinize and spring open and, erm, basically capture water.  Don’t hit me, Harold McGee.

Usually this would be done with chicken stock, or a veal stock.  But you know what, if you can find shrimp heads or shrimp shells, I say go nuts and experiment.

The Heist (the sauce part)

  1. Thinly slice 2 cloves of garlic.  Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium, and when the oil is hot, add them in, stir for about 30 seconds, and add the shrimp heads and shells. Let this cook over medium heat for about five minutes, until everything turns nice and pink, and the heady aroma of shrimp fills your kitchen (NB: if you do not like shrimp, or its scent, do not attempt this recipe – at least not without a fume hood.  It is odorous.)
  2. When the shells and heads have gotten nice and blushy, pour the three cups of water over them, bring to a simmer, and cook for about ten minutes.  Then kill the heat.
  3. Meanwhile, in a much smaller saucepan or skillet, begin making the roux: melt the butter, and stir in the flour.  Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat, until the roux is incorporated into a blondish paste.  Don’t overcook it, because we’re going for thickening power, not flavor, here.  Once it has reached a sort of tawny beige, kill the heat and let it cool down.
  4. Carefully strain the shrimp bits out of the stock by pouring it through a strainer into a bowl, and then back again into the pot.  Return to the heat, bring to a simmer, and carefully stir in the roux, using a spatula to get it all out of the little pan.
  5. Whisk the sauce as it simmers until everything is incorporated.  Add the vermouth and the other seasonings to taste.  Let it cook over gentle heat until the liquid gets viscous enough to coat the back of a spoon (which is the classical metric for judging a thickened sauce’s doneness).
  6. Let the sauce cool, put it in a tupperware container, and leave it alone, up to four or five days, until you are ready for…

The Other Heist (the pizza part)

  1. When you’re ready to make the pizza (refer to this entry for more elaborate instructions on that), prep your oven and your dough.  Take your dough round and top it with a few spoonfuls of now-cooled shrimp sauce.  Sprinkle on the cheese.  Throw it in the nice, hot oven.
  2. Slice the squid and set it aside.  You may also slice some garlic, if you wish – one or two clovesworth.
  3. When half the cooking time has elapsed, about six minutes, take the pizza out of the oven, toss on the (pre-cooked) teensy salad shrimp, and throw it back in the oven.
  4. While that’s going on, heat some oil in a skillet on the stove.  Add the optional garlic and cook briefly, before adding the squid.  Cook over high heat until the squid firms up and turns opaque, about 45 seconds to a minute.  Kill the heat and salt the squid very gently.
  5. When the pizza is ready, remove it from the oven, and distribute the freshly-cooked squid on top (I didn’t have you put it in there with the shrimp because squid is notoriously finicky – it’d be a shame to rubberize it, but even worse to undercook it).
  6. Let the pizza rest a bit, squeeze lemon over it, and serve with additional lemon slices.

Squizza

I would be surprised if it lasts five minutes.  The pizza had barely been cut before I managed to take this picture; in another 45 seconds it was gone – that’s why there are so many slices: everyone wanted to try it.

Happy eating!

P.S.  Everyone should check out my friend Heather’s blog over at the Minimum-Wage Hedonist; we’ll probably be cross-linking in the coming weeks and months, because her food ethos is pretty similar to mine (for God’s sake, it’s in her title), and she is, barre none, the cleverest and best baker I know.

In fact, I’ve got a big ol’  thing of yogurt I should probably use up, which means it’s time to make the lemon yogurt cake of legendary legend.

Or,

Necessity is the mother of culinary insanity.

 

So I moved.  I live in the city of Chicago, now, in a lovely apartment, with a kitchen that pleases me, in a neighborhood I am swiftly coming to adore.  And last night, I did something I rarely do, which was to improvise a completely new dish.  I was half-heartedly fumbling through the kitchen for something to make for dinner around 5 PM, and I looked at the contents of my refrigerator:

  • A gallon of milk
  • half a package of shredded mozzarella from the spinach lasagna I made last week
  • approx. 2 oz of red curry paste in a little saran-wrapped cup
  • a red pepper
  • a bunch of cilantro

as well as a couple of artichokes, some carrots, and some parsnips.  I put an artichoke over a steamer (30 minutes) and made an aioli while I schemed (non-franco-traditional.  Egg and oil and tons of garlic and some dried tarragon and a little bit of coarse-grained french mustard and salt and pepper, whisked until mayonnaisey).  I figured if whatever I made for dinner completely failed, I’d at least have an artichoke to retreat to.

I did this because the idea had already begun to coalesce in my head that a macaroni and cheese dish had to happen, and it had to use the curry paste.  And this seemed to me at once a wonderful and a terrible idea.  But living in St Louis, the idea of combining thai curries and mozzarella cheese was not foreign to me, and I decided, “To hell with it!  LET’S DO THIS THING.”  To my surprise and delight, it worked.  I think the idea is to make sure not to use too much cheese, or to use any cheese more powerful than mozzarella (an aged provolone would be, I think, a terrible idea in this case).

I didn’t really write down my measurements, but for a 9×13 inch casserole pan, I can give you the approximate amounts.

The Set-Up

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons of red curry paste (I use Maesri brand)
  • 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • Approx 1 & 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 1 lb elbow macaroni noodles
  • 1 red pepper, diced fine
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • a pot for the pasta, a 2-quart saucepan for the curry-cheese sauce, and a 9X13 casserole pan for the finished dish

The Heist

Macaroni and cheese, in its most anatomical sense, is just elbow noodles tossed with a sauce mornay, and then baked.  Sauce mornay is a béchamel with cheese in it.  A béchamel is milk with a roux in it.  If these words sound like gibberish to you, don’t worry.  I’ll decode them.  I’m also being pretty simplistic, but let’s face it, none of us are French hotel chefs, circa 1870, so I don’t think the specter of Escoffier is going to float through my door and begin thwacking me about the giblets with a rolling pin.

A roux: an equal proportion of fat and flour, cooked over low heat to crack open the starch molecules in the flour – a thickener.

A béchamel: a white sauce made by thickening scalded milk with a roux. One of the French Mother Sauces.

A sauce mornay: a béchamel with cheese in it!

So.  When you’re making a roux, it’s important to remember to cook the roux over really low heat; this isn’t the sort of thing you can just set up and walk away from – you have to keep your eye on the saucepan, and stir frequently.

Normally, when I make the sauce base for a macaroni and cheese, I start by sautéing the aromatics – the garlic and the shallots.  I can’t think of anything more aromatic than sautéing curry paste; it’s how a Real Curry begins, too.

0. Start heating your pasta water – I tend to salt mine pretty heavily, but yeah, do what you like.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  As you make the sauce, cook, rinse, and drain the pasta.  Grease the pan.

1. Heat a saucepan and add a little oil – drop your curry paste into it and begin to poke it around with a spatula, let it sizzle for about a minute over medium heat.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the flour.  Stir gently, but assiduously.

You'll roux the day!

2. Eventually, your roux will turn into a sort of thick, bubbly paste.  This is good.  This is very good.  It’ll probably take about five to seven minutes for this to happen.Squinch. 3.  Add the milk.  Stir or whisk for many minutes to get the lumps out, and let it cook – don’t let it come to a boil, because you don’t want to make the milk taste funny.  It should go from looking like this:

A pan full of milk with some red lumps in it

to this: a pan full of orange stuff that is of a uniform consistency

 

4.  Stir in your cheese, and stir gently.  Add a little more milk, if necessary (or! oh ho!  some pasta water.  Added starch and a little bit of flavor.).  Cook over low heat until your sauce has reached the desired consistency – thick, but not too thick, and not too stringy, either.

5.  At this point, your pasta should be done, and your oven should be preheated (you did pay attention to instruction #0, didn’t you?  There’s no reason you can’t cook a pot of pasta while this sauce bubbles away).  Mince a red pepper very fine, mix the cheese-curry sauce with the macaroni, and throw in that red pepper, too.

God that's a lot of food.

Plop this all into your casserole pan.

6. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes, then remove and let cool.

7.  Serve with a healthy pile of cilantro, if you’re into that kind of thing.

 

and I am!

Man!  You never know what you’re going to find yourself coming up with.  The creaminess of the cheese sauce complements the sharp, poky angles of the curry paste, which has these angles of lemongrass and ginger and galangal that poke through.  It’s hot, but it’s not Too Spicy.  It’s weird! It’s adventurous.  But it turned out pretty damned good, if I do say so myself.

Give it a try!

Brewing

June 17, 2010

or,
The Blind Leading The Blind*

*except there’s alcohol involved, which kinda makes it worse

As I mentioned, Jack came to visit on Monday, and I pressed him into service, painting parts of the basement, and starting a batch of beer with me.  Jack was such a fine guest, and such an able hand around the house, that I wonder if I might not slip some of my other friends the king’s shilling, and trick ‘em into coming out here to help me work on the house.

Honestly, though, by the time that happens, I’ll probably have finished excavating the basement and turning it into my workshop.  I never really imagined having a workshop before moving out to the house, but now I’m enthralled with the idea.

ANYWAY beer.  The home-brewer makes beer not in an enormous steel tun, but rather in the smaller, handsome glass vessel known as a carboy.  Jack’s father, Jim, lent me his long-unused brewing kit, in exchange for a six-pack of whatever I make (I think this is a fine arrangement).  Here is that carboy, a five-gallon model:

A carboy.  Also a carboybox.  A carbox.

Five gallons is pretty standard for home-brewing, because, for chrissake, how much more would you want?  5 gallons is 640 ounces, is 53 12-ounce bottles of beer, and if I didn’t have eager friends to descend upon the damned things like locusts, I’m not even sure I could drink 53 bottles of anything in a summer.  Could I?  Not beer.  I like beer, but not enough to drink one a day for two months.  That’s just not the sort of drinker I am; I might have two beers in a week, but even that is rare.

Then again, I’ve never really had much beer in the house before, so I may yet drink my words.

That’s sort of irrelevant at present, though – I’m sure I’ll meet enough people out here, especially in the local brewing crowd, who won’t pass up free home- brew.  I make that statement assuming everything comes out all right with this batch.

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I have definitely laid this down in print somewhere else.

David’s Kitchen Axiom No. 5: With a little imagination, anything can be a quesadilla.

And I mean it. Given tortillas, grease, and heat, anything in your kitchen can be made into a delightful quesadilla! But wait, you say. David, doesn’t quesadilla just mean ‘little cheesy thing’ in Spanish? Don’t you need cheese?

Oh, America. How little you know!

… Well, okay. You are right, technically. But I am more right, because anything in your kitchen can be successfully encased between two tortillas and cooked with some olive oil in a skillet, and rather than calling that a “pan-fried tortilla sandwich”, I propose the more familiar title. You can call it what you want, America.

But really. When in doubt, a sandwich is almost always your best option, especially when you’re trying to clean out the fridge. I kid you not, this can be done with anything: I made a quesadilla once with leftover tilapia and tarragon cream sauce, and it was delicious. Give it a try. What’s in your fridge right now, for example?

Say you’ve got some leftover barbecued chicken and some steamed broccoli (this is what is in my fridge at present, among other things). In fact let’s see what happens, here! Let’s do this, America!

Okay. Leftover blackened cajun chicken that Mama barbecued from the evening previous. We got some of that, we got some broccoli, we got… oh! Oh hell yeah! We have some jalapeño pepper that I chopped up about four days ago. Ooooh this is gonna be good.

Okay, I like to make my quesadillas primarily about the vegetables. You may have noticed that I am now eating poultry. Well. Yes. Red meat is a no, often enough, with rare exceptions (well.  medium rare exceptions)  But I’m trying to get the entire family to scale back on eating meat, and I think we can all have a little animal protein, so long as we have less of it overall.  So we have lots of vegetation to counteract it.

So note the proportion: three or four parts vegetable to one part animal.  I think that’s probably going to be my general rule of law from now on.  We have, looking like a weather-worn Italian flag (or a brand new and spunky Irish flag), orange bell pepper, onion, and broccoli, with that little sidebar of garlic and jalapeño.

A quesadilla is one of those foods that can just sort of fit around anything in the fridge, like I said; you can clean out the refrigerator with it, you can stretch a single barbecued chicken breast into a meal, it gets lipstick stains off your collar, it’s new, it’s improved, it’s old-fashioned, it never needs winding, never needs winding, never needs winding (apologies to Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan).

So a little olive oil and a skillet and I am in business, here.  And I’m not picky; I put it all together in the one pan.

A little cheese, a few tortillas, and you’ve got yourself a sandwich.  I like to squeeze lime juice over it.  Not a lot – just a lil’ spritz.

Fabulous.  It all works out really nice, and tastes lovely.  At least, with savory things.

Behold the fabulous train wreck that was the frutaycremadilla, a concoction J. and I came up with a few weeks ago.

Uh.

That was my idea.  We had a lot of fruit at the time.  And some whipped cream.

Look, I’ll say right now that this was maybe a dumb idea.  But it was a fantastic dumb idea.  (Those are the best kind.)

Yeah, don’t do this.

Sure, it seems like a great idea.  The warm fruit, the crispy tortilla, the soft, cool whipped cream…  … the soft, cool whipped cream.   … Damn it, I should have thought that through.

David’s Kitchen Axiom No. 5: Think it through.

So J. and I tried to make a quesadilla with fruit and whipped cream (and J. decided that it should be a cremayfrutadilla; nomenclature to, y’know, fit the contents), and everything was going swimmingly until that first incision.  I think those are J’s hands, not mine, because A) of the way he’s holding the knife and B) the fact that the backs of my palms are hairier.  Yeah.  Sorry.

J. made the cut, and…

There was splattage.  There was leakage.

The whole thing was a gorram disaster.  I will not post the image of J. attempting to eat said disaster, because it got all over him and it’s embarrassing for both of us, okay?  I don’t even have those pictures.  He does.  … Because I took them with his camera.

-D

I told you it’d get crazier.

The set-up:

My sister J. and I have made a veritable bounty of delicious eggplant schnitzel, laid out in detail in the previous entry.

But now we’ve got leftover egg and flour and bread crumbs.

What ever is to be done?

(More below the break)

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