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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The Shroom

December 2, 2011

Or, “You’re Tearing Me Apart, Lisa!” Butter.

(What?  Oh.  You’re making a reference to a dumb movie?  Okay, cool.)

Oh-my-god that movie’s so magnificently stupid.

ANYWAY.  Those of you whom I have not yet alienated: hello!  By some stroke of fortune for me, and a stroke of misfortune for him, my roommate David’s brother was delayed in coming home from college for Thanksgiving – his parents had planned for the whole family to go out to dinner.  His dad elected to go collect the waylaid son, and his mother suggested to David that the two of them (she and the roomie) take me and Carolyn out to dinner instead.  To a fancy, excellent restaurant called The Girl and the Goat.  On the day after Carolyn’s birthday.  How could we possibly say ‘no’?

(Spoiler alert: we did not say “no”.  Thank you, Alice and Paul!  Y’all are great!)

I took assiduous notes during the meal, with an eye toward replicating some of the more accessible dishes in my home kitchen – requested especially was the Sautéed Green Beans In Fish Sauce Vinaigrette, With Cashews.  Those were a fantastic revelation – not so salty (and not so fishy!) as to be inedible, but salty enough to trick the palate into eating them ceaselessly.

Let’s review what the four of us ate:

  • “Not Campbell’s” Bread – Broccoli-and-cheese bread served with mushroom soup butter and tomato soup oil.  [Hint hint; this is the one this entry’s about.]
  • Apple Smacks Bread – Apple and pistachio bread with an apple puree and ginger butter
  • Those marvelous green beans
  • Empanadas with a goat-meat rillettes filling
  • Beet salad with beans, white anchovy, and avocado crème fraîche
  • Grilled baby octopus with guanciale, beans, radish, and a pistachio-lemon vinaigrette
  • Escargot ravioli in a tamarind-miso sauce
  • Crispy pig face served with a sunny-side-up egg (no, I won’t recreate this in a home kitchen; what do you think I am, a pork magician?)
  • Sugo – a rosemary-tarragon pulled-pork stew over papardelle, with tart gooseberries
  • Chocolate Thai chile gelato with chocolate cake, peanut fluff, pomegranate arils, and a stout-and-cream reduction poured over everything
  • A deep-fried wonton filled with poached, cubed pears in syrup, served atop a knob of tamarind gelato sitting on a puddle of parsnip puree, the whole business sprinkled with candied ginger
  • A cheese plate with Mont St. Francis goat cheese, from Greenville,IN, among others
  • and a Monastrell (red wine) from Jumilla, Spain

Gracious, I’m glad I wrote that all down – I’ve got loads of notes pertaining to those green beans and a few others, and I’ll endeavor to recreate them, but I very much doubt I’ll try to make the desserts.  Or the pig face (although, believe me – it was delicious!).

The most accessible item off the menu, I’m pretty sure, was that mushroom soup butter, so I decided to throw some together for a dinner party the next evening.  It’s easy, but it’d be a pain in the butt, I think, to make it in a small batch.  Thus, I recommend that you use at least two sticks of butter for this recipe, and freeze the rest of it (or, like me, bring a third of it to a dinner party, and throw the rest in your parents’ freezer for Thanksgiving, yelling “Eat it! It’s festive!”).  It’ll keep for up to a year, although, given its versatility, I don’t think you’ll need to test that out.

Mushroom Soup Butter
Inspired by the meal that transpired at The Girl and The Goat

The Setup

You will need:

  • olive oil
  • salt
  • One 8-ounce package of white button mushrooms
  • 3/4 cup (by volume) dried wild mushrooms, of any variety (but ideally possessing porcini and/or shiitake)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • a large skillet
  • a food processor
  • plastic wrap

The Heist

1.  Begin by soaking your dried mushrooms in hot water in a fairly deep bowl, and let them hydrate for about half an hour.  Let this work while you start your fresh mushroom prep.

2.  Wash the fresh mushrooms, and slice them or chop them roughly.  Then get your biggest skillet out and start heating it over medium heat.  Then drain the rehydrated mushrooms, being careful to avoid the sand that’s probably collected in the bottom of the hydration bowl, and cut them up.  Feel free to retain the mushroom water, although it’s not strictly necessary for this recipe.

3.  Of the 2 sticks of butter you’ve got, slice off a largish knob – maybe two tablespoons’ worth, and melt it in the pan with a little olive oil, if you like, to prevent it from burning.  Then start cooking the fresh mushrooms, a little at a time – try to keep all the mushrooms in a single layer, if you can – the idea here is to get as much pan-to-shroom contact as possible.  Once all the mushrooms have started to brown, shrink, release their liquid and swallow it back up again (about ten to fifteen leisurely minutes), add in the cut-up rehydrated dried mushrooms. 
Cook the whole mixture for another 5 to 8 minutes, and then add in the milk, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is either absorbed or evaporated – we want the taste of milk, here, not the added water content.
 
See how they're faintly glossy, but not WET? that's what you want.

4. Continue to cook the mushrooms until you are confident that they are reasonably dry.  Then let them cool, as you bring the two sticks of butter to room temperature in your favorite way, whether that be restin’ on the countertop, gingerly poking in ten-second spates in the microwave, or rubbing them briskly between your hands (I dare you to try this).

5.  Once the mushroom mixture has cooled enough to your liking, dump it into your food processor and mill it into a paste – this isn’t fine enough.

Doesn't that look pretty, and not like mulch?

It should be more like this:

Viz., a fine uniform paste.  You know, I don't use viz. nearly often enough.

6.  High five!  You’re almost there.  Add in the room-temperature butter, and mix until everything’s incorporated.

Buttery goodness.

It’ll end up looking, well – kind of like canned mushroom soup, although thicker and less gelatinous and gloppy.  But roughly similar.  Feel free to season this compound butter, at this point, however you like.  I think it might be fun to add a little hint of fish sauce, honestly, to enhance the meatiness of the mushroom taste.

Piece by piece, puttin' it together.

7. Now, the fun part: line a piece of tupperware with plastic wrap, and plop in the contents of the food processor. 

PREPARE THE MOLD!

Let this set in the fridge overnight, or in the freezer for a few hours, until it’s firmed up and become solid again.

  Oh, that's so attractive!
8.  Take this butter and cut it into roughly stick-like portions, which you can wrap in wax paper (just like real butter!) and freeze, or stick some in a plastic bag with a corner cut off so you can pipe it into a ramekin, run a fork around it, and pretend like you own a fancy restaurant.

Oh man, look at that fancy forkin'

You don’t just have to spread this on warm, fresh bread (although I certainly think that’s a worthwhile thing to do) – it’d go great with any grain or starch – a pat on top of a potato pancake, for example, would be delicious, and I can’t see how it wouldn’t improve a spot of polenta.

It’d also be fun, I think, to put this compound butter under the skin of a bird you’re going to roast.  I just imagined putting this under the skin of a duck, and the fact that it would be completely unnecessary (by dint of duck’s fattiness) is eclipsed entirely by how much I’m salivating right now.  But a chicken, sure – a chicken would be a safe bet.

You might also be interested to know that I recently made bacon.  And it was actually quite easy!

My friend Sharon and I recently shared the cost of a small electric smoker (bought it off of Craigslist for $30.  It was an EXCELLENT decision.), with an eye toward making smoked meats and sausages.  The first thing we decided to make was bacon; I went to the Chicago Meat Market and bought about 7 pounds of pork belly.  If you were unaware, this is the fatty cut of the pig that one makes bacon from.

Rind up, lads and lassies; rind up.

Looks kind of unfamiliar to you?  Try this angle:

I summon a bacon elemental!

That little cross-section should suggest, well, bacon.  Bacon in its most elemental form.  Now, bacon is cured, which means that it has to be packed in salt for a while to draw out moisture and prevent spoilage – that’s the key principle behind preserving any kind of meat.  You have to remove water and make the meat an inhospitable place for bacteria.

Therefore, I used a recipe which called for about 30% more cure than meat, by weight – and that cure was half-sugar, half-salt, with a little bit of rosemary and other herbs thrown in.

Jingle jingle jingle.

I cut the pork belly in half, and packed each piece in salt, in large plastic containers, and let them sit for a few days, letting the salt do its work: the salt draws liquid out of the meat, and pulls salt in – the salted meat makes bacteria less likely to propagate on its surface.

After a few days, you can see what happened:

Daw, the snow is melting.

A big pool of liquid collected around the pork belly, which I drained off.  Before packing everything in with more dry salt rub, I took photos:

I actually think this looks really pretty.  Like promise.

You can see that the lean tissue is starting to firm up and get darker – it’s constricting into itself.  This is good!

A few more days of the cure and I ended up with something like this.

Doc!  Doc! I'm cured!

If you stop at this point, with cured, unsmoked belly, you have something approximating pancetta, although pancetta generally has a slate of particular tastes associated with it, like fennel and garlic.  Or we could just call it unsmoked bacon.  Whatev.

In fact, this is what I did with half of the belly – I stopped at that point and let it air-dry for a few days before refrigerating some of it and freezing the rest.  At fridge temperature, it still sliced pretty thick – I’d probably want to freeze it for a half hour before attempting anything other than cubes or lardons.  You can see what happened when I cut strips:

Who's ready for THE GREATEST BLT IN AMERICA?

Delicious, but probably a little too thick for most people’s tastes.

I heated up my tiniest black iron skillet (which is why these pieces of bacon are going to seem so immense), and cooked them over gentle heat for about ten minutes, until they crisped up, released a few tablespoons of bacon fat (oh my god so much fat), and cooled off.

I have no idea what I'm going to do with this bacon fat.  Probably make myself inordinately happy.

It looked like this:

 The rind's a little too tough to eat, but it is a LOT of fun to just kinda thoughtfully chew on.

Now, I smoked the other half of the bacon in a little metal box for about 4 hours. It ended up looking like this:

That might look gross to you.  Me, I don't know what's wrong with your vision.

And the smell was incredible – I used hickory chips, and replenished their supply every hour or so.  I may have gone an hour too long for some tastes – my parents, for instance, found it a little too smoky – but it was good enough for a first excursion.

For more information on how to cure and smoke meats, check out the two resources I’ve been using: Preserved and Charcuterie.

My friends and I – namely Sharon and Brian – have already attempted a few other smoked creations, including a fabulous smoked tri-tip steak, a pound of smoked shrimp, some smoked habañero peppers, smoked sea salt, and smoked garlic.  Yeah, all of those were in the smoker at the same time.  We’re awesome.

Happy cooking!

-D

Cincy Mac

October 29, 2011

 
There used to be a place near my apartment called Cinner’s – it closed a few months ago, but before it did, it broke open my conception of what chili was.  Just, wham – broke it in half and filled the empty space between with a nest of spaghetti.  The restaurant was billed as a Chili Parlor and Cocktail Lounge, all done up in the style of Cincinnati, Ohio – Carolyn, an Ohioan (and don’t you forget it), squealed with joy when she first stepped inside, although I’m not actually sure if she’s ever been to Cincinnati.  I’ll ask her.

I had created, in my head, two classes of chili.  The first, a Standard-Issue Chili, made with ground beef, tomatoes, chili powder, and beans – the sort of thing I would have learned to make in the copy of Evelyn Raab’s Clueless In The Kitchen: A Cookbook for Teens that I got when I was twelve.  (Her chili has a little bit of curry powder in it.  Badass!)  The second class of chili was one that my high school friend Ian taught me about when we had a chili cookoff at my house – Ian’s family was from Texas, originally – a big, chunky stew of beef chuck cubes, ancho chiles, masa harina, and no beans or tomatoes.  I thought, “okay!  these are the kinds of chilis that exist.”  There was the Texan-style ur-chili, the proto-chili; and there were the bean-and-tomato-containing variations, like mine.

There was no room for Cincy-style in my repertoire, simply because it was off my radar.  I’d heard of it, sureBut I’d never eaten it.  It never stayed in my head for very long.

Cincinnati-style was invented in the 20s by a coupla Macedonian immigrants who put allspice, clove, cinnamon, and chocolate in their chili and put it over hot  dogs (they call ‘em coneys!) and spaghetti.  I didn’t know you could eat chili over spaghetti.  Okay, that’s not completely true – I did it once at my friend Jack’s house in high school, but his dad’s from Milwaukee, and God only knows what they do up there.  Cincinnati chili, or Skyline Chili, after the most famous Cincy-based place that sells the stuff, is almost more of a sauce than a chili, and what I like the most about it is that, unlike Texas-style chili con carne or my Midwestern Chili-an-beans, it’s got a completely uniform texture.  It’s tender, which isn’t really something that comes to mind when I think of ground beef.  Yeah.  This is one to make in your crockpot – it’s best after hours and hours of slow bubbling.

Anyway, the thing about Cincy Chili is that it goes over pasta, served with shredded cheddar (Cincy Chili 3-Way), cheddar and either diced onion or red beans (4-Way), or cheddar, onions, and beans (5-Way!).  But at Cinner’s, since their entire menu consisted of chilified food, they had other options, and among them was the legendary CINCY MAC.  This was just the thing for a blustery, miserable day in mid-february.  You’d sit down with a can of Hamm’s beer (which is a Minnesota beer but they sold it there proudly – it’s a thin lager on the order of a Pabst Blue Ribbon), lean on your elbow, and sigh as the steam from the Cincy Mac slowly wafted up into your nostrils and rejuvenated you.

The only problem with it, really, was the macaroni and cheese itself, which had the sort of rubbery consistency of a Type I mac.  So, after the restaurant closed, I decided I’d recreate it.  My way.

I hunted around for a multitude of recipes, since the owner of Cinner’s flatly refused to give me his.  And after an afternoon of kinda-hectic recipe testing with Carolyn (Sorry I was a jerk, honey), I came up with a recipe.  Well, two recipes.

See, there’s not so much artistry or variation in the technique of making a chili – you brown the meat, you cook the onions and garlic, and then you throw everything into the pot and let it simmer for hours.  No, the true art of any chili recipe is the spice mix.  Which is why I made two of them.  But both of them involve chili powder, which is its own thing – it’s the magical moment, for me, when a chile, with an e, takes its first step toward chili, with an i.



David’s Homemade Weapons-Grade Chili Powder
Less a recipe and more a set of ratios – make as much as you want

Ingredients

  • 1 part Ancho chiles
  • 1 part Pasilla chiles
  • 1/2 part to 1/4-part Árbol chiles – these chiles are very hot.  The half-part ratio was hot for me and I have an iron tongue.  However, in the chili itself, the heat mellowed.  But beware, is what I’m saying, because this stuff is hot.
  • 1/10th part cumin seeds – just throw in a teaspoon or two.  Nobody’s going to judge you for not doing it by weight.  I’m not, at least.

Directions

1. Cut the chiles into small strips with a kitchen scissors.  Keep the seeds, if you like fun.  Discard them if you don’t.  Over very gentle heat, toast the ingredients in a large skillet, stirring frequently, until the chiles are fragrant and the cumin seeds are lightly browned – about five minutes.  Be careful not to lean over the skillet while the chiles are toasting, because the volatile compounds that come off those chiles will HURT YOUR FACE.  There’s a reason they call it pepper spray.  It’s because it comes from hot peppers.

So good, but oooogh how it hurts.

2.  Let the chiles and cumin cool, and then grind it in a spice grinder or small food processor.  You could also grind them in a mortar and pestle, but that would also take a while.  Do that if you’ve got a really big mortar and pestle, and if you just plan to sit with the thing between your knees while you watch half an hour of television.

Blend the crap out of it.  It'll take a few minutes.

Me, I think it’s easier this way.  Although maybe that’s because nobody has ever given me an enormous mortar and pestle.

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you breathe the vapors that come out of the blender when you open it.  You will cough for half an hour.

3.  Bag it and tag it.  Taste it, too, on the tip of the finger, and close your eyes and blink back the tears as a sweet scourge of flame lashes your tongue.  This is the moment that chile becomes chili.  Know it well.

ALCHEMY.   

Now, with that made, we can continue on with the two spice mixes.  One is milder, and one is more powerful – not necessarily more spicy, but just bolder and more overstated.  To that end, I have named one Team Classico, pictured here:

These are some of my favorite pictures, actually.

And I named the other Team Hypa-Spice.

I spent way too long trying to portion out the spices into those little bowls.

Both recipes contain chocolate, clove, cinnamon, chili powder, and allspice, but in different quantities.  The (unsweetened!) baker’s chocolate is important, because it gives a deep, mellow bitterness to the whole dish – it wouldn’t be the same without it.  So! Let’s get to the real fun.

Cincy Mac

A schema-breaking chili!

The Setup

Option A.  Team Classico Spice Mix

  • 1 tablespoon Homemade Weaponsgrade Chili Powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt

 

Option B.  Team Hypa-Spice Spice Mix

  • 2 tablespoons Homemade Weaponsgrade Chili Powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 5 allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon ground clove
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt

They’re not all that different – it’s just that some of the proportions are doubled, and it makes a pretty big difference in the pot.  I prefer Team Hypa-Spice, but that’s my tastes.  You may prefer something a little less in-your-face.  (Although how else do you eat food?  Okay wait I don’t need to know.)

The Heist

  • 1 recipesworth of either Team Classico or Team Hypa-Spice
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 large onion, plus another for raw onion topping (optional)
  • 1 can of red kidney beans, rinsed and drained (optional)
  • Shredded cheddar cheese, for topping (optional, but what’s wrong with you?)
  • 1 recipesworth of Essential Stovetop Mac and Cheese

Directions

1. First, measure out all of your spices.  Put the dry spices into one bowl – the liquids in another, and leave the garlic on the cutting board because it’s going to be used soon.  You can use the time it takes to cook the ground beef to put your spices away.

 

2. In a large pot, cook the ground beef until brown.  Drain the fat and set aside – reserve a tablespoon or two of fat for the next step.

3.  Return the pot to the heat and add back some of the drained-off fat; cook the onions (and the garlic from the spice mix) until soft and translucent.  Return the beef to the pot.

No matter what else happens in my kitchen, this is still one of my favorite smells.

4.  Here, you could either A) transfer everything into a crockpot, add the spices and liquids, and cook, on low, for 4-6 hours, or B) add the spices, liquids, bring to a boil, and then simmer, covered, for 2-3 hours on the stovetop.  Why so long?  The spices need to get all integrated, the beef basically needs to be falling apart, and any variable texture should be gone.  It should be a molten lava-sauce.THE SPICE MUST FLOW.
  This must cook FOREVER.

5.  Make the macaroni and cheese as directed, and top with the Cincy Mac!  Don’t forget to pull out the bay leaves.

Splut.

6. High five!  You made some awesome-ass Cincy Mac.

7.  You could also just make spaghetti instead of the macaroni and cheese, and have yourself a merry little four-way:

Have yourself a merry little four-way; let your plate fill up, but don't come crying when there's not enouuuuugh.  Serve it up over olden spaghetti, lovely golden spaghetti... okay never mind.

I think my Cincy-Style chili could stand to be a little more sauce-like, in that I’ve seen other recipes that add a few cups of water to it to ease along the braising, but I really like it at this consistency.  It coats pasta well and it’s not too wet.

Oh, and I asked: Carolyn’s never been to Cincinnati.  Did someone say ROAD TRIP?

But seriously, Cincinnati residents: let me know if I’ve scrawled heresy all over your city’s dish.  Better yet, let me know if something’s missing from my recipe.

Happy cooking, everyone!

-D

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!