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.).
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.
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.
Not exactly a spice, not exactly a condiment
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
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 won’t last that long, however, because once you make a batch of this stuff, you’ll want to put it on everything, like…
You will need:
- 4 parts mushroom powder
- 2 parts kosher salt
- 1 part black pepper
- a large, heavy pot with a lid
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)
When combined, it’ll look kinda like this:
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!
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!
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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?
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
You will need:
- olive oil
- 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
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.
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.
It should be more like this:
6. High five! You’re almost there. Add in the room-temperature butter, and mix until everything’s incorporated.
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.
7. Now, the fun part: line a piece of tupperware with plastic wrap, and plop in the contents of the food processor.
Let this set in the fridge overnight, or in the freezer for a few hours, until it’s firmed up and become solid again.
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.
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.
Looks kind of unfamiliar to you? Try this angle:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
It looked like this:
Now, I smoked the other half of the bacon in a little metal box for about 4 hours. It ended up looking like this:
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.
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.
June 3, 2011
The second main heading in the professional cook’s handbook I purchased a few weeks ago is “World Cuisines”, which is designed to familiarize the culinary professional with the key flavors of different food cultures. The Americas get twenty pages. Asian cuisines get fifty. Europe gets about 40, with entries for Hungary, Portugal, Spain, and ‘Eastern Europe’.
The British Isles have no such entry in The Professional Chef. This saddens my heart. The late Laurie Colwin first opened my eyes to the notion that British cooking, particularly English cooking, could be enticing and wonderful in her book Home Cooking, which gave me a really good ginger cake recipe that I used to bake a lot in college. But it wasn’t my idea to do English-style bivalves. No, I give credit to Carolyn, my lovely librarian girlfriend; I was struggling with ideas for another Mussel Night.
“Do something English,” she said.
”How would that work?” I said.
”Serve it over mashed potatoes!” she exclaimed. “And put English flavors and aromatics in the mussels themselves.”
This was enough to set me off on a really excitable jaunt that stopped just short of Marmite (English Vegemite, or autolyzed yeast extract. One puts it on toast.). “What’s English?” I wondered aloud. “Ooo! Mustard! Mustard is exceedingly English. And bacon! And ale!”
My impression of traditional English cookery is very much one in which flavors are tamped down and tamed – save the heat for vindaloo; tonight we’ve a lovely roast with mint jam for tea. I can’t say I blame this on the books I read as a child, since my childhood was full of the glorious feasting dreams of the Redwall novels. But I’ve long suspected that the English were mistrustful of members of the Allium genus, finding garlic and onions rather too brash and Continental for their tastes. This suspicion stems from the way Geoffrey Chaucer describes the court summoner (sort of an ecclesiastical bailiff) in the 14th-century Canterbury Tales, which I’ve put at the end of the post, because it’s a little gross. *
I know this isn’t really true anymore, and hasn’t been for many years, but I didn’t want garlic to be a major player in this recipe – if you feel that two cloves of garlic is too many, I respect your opinion. But I wanted the mustard to come out and play – and if I were being really awfully traditional, I’d be using Colman’s dry mustard powder, not (hateful, French) coarse-grained Dijon mustard. In fact, really, I should be thumping the table, eating a sausage off a knife, scratching my muttonchops, and damning the Dutch over my claret. But I’m an American, by cracky – and I ask you to forgive my my trespasses.
I also felt that thyme was an herb so English as to be absolutely necessary. You must let no man steal it, after all. Jeez, this entry is so thickly buttered with references, I’m not sure what side would hit the floor first.
This is classified as a Mussel Day recipe, though there aren’t mussels in it. The folks at my favorite fishmonger, The Fish Guy at Montrose and Elston, were out of mussels. Jolene, who mans the counter on Wednesdays (womans the counter?), cried out, “Oh no!” when I came in. “I’ve got bad news, Dave,” she said. “We’re out of mussels BUT we have plenty of clams.” I pretended to be angry. “How could you, Jolene,” I deadpanned. “I am so furious with your business-type establishment.”
She assured me I’d be happy with the clams, and I remembered that she’d asserted her preference for clams over mussels anyhow. She prefers their taste. They’re easier to clean, too – clams don’t have beards like mussels do. Jolene is right: clams are excellent! Mussel Day might become Clam Day for a while.
Important Note 2:
Cockles and clams aren’t exactly the same thing. They’re both bivalves, and both part of the family veneridae (that’s right, all hinged-shell bivalves are named after the goddess Venus.), and that’s good enough for me. A cockle is a little clam, and we’re using big clams. I apologize. I really wanted to name this recipe something jocular and Englishy, so there. And phooey on your insistence on accurate nomenclature. Go back to sleep, Carl von Linné; return to thy unquiet grave.
Cockles ‘n’ Mash, or English-Style Clams and Mashed Potatoes
For the clams:
- A dutch oven, or any heavy pot with a lid, at least 5 quarts
- 2 lbs clams
- 1/4 lb bacon, diced
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tbsp coarse-grained mustard
- 1 bottle of ale (not IPA or stout), like Newcastle Brown Ale, or Boddington’s Pale Ale
- 4-5 green onions
- Salt and pepper
For the mashed potatoes:
- a large pot, 4 quarts or larger
- starchy potatoes, like russets
- a touch of cream
- salt and pepper(I’m not going to include a quantitative recipe for mashed potatoes because I don’t think I’ve ever used one. I’ll just give you basic instructions.)
- Execute your mise-en-place – chop up your onion, mince your garlic, dice your bacon thickly (if you have chunk bacon, make them into little cubes or lardons), and chop your potatoes into quarters or sixths, depending on their size. Scrub the clams with a brush and rinse them with cool water. Do not cover the clams with water or they’ll drown, never mind the fact that you’re about to murder them in cold blood and hot beer. You don’t have to worry about the green onions yet – that’s the garnish.
- Collect your chopped potatoes and chuck them into your potato pot. Cover them with cold water, sprinkle in a teaspoon or two of salt, and put it on the stove over high heat.
- Meanwhile, begin heating your dutch oven over medium heat, and start cooking the bacon in the dutch oven.
- When the potatoes come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-high and cook until fork-tender, almost crumbling. This will probably take about 25 minutes. I might start the potatoes before anything else, honestly.
- While the potatoes are cooking, and when the bacon is sufficiently crisped, remove it from the dutch oven with a slotted spoon and reserve it for later. Cook the onions in the bacon fat until they’re soft, and somewhat browned – perhaps 5 minutes. Then add the garlic, the mustard, and the thyme – cook for a few minutes until the flavors all harmonize and start singing together (that is, when you can’t distinguish any of the individual scents so distinctly anymore).
- Pour in the beer and bring to a boil – wait for the fizz to abide before you make that judgment; it’s difficult to discern carbonation from boiling in that first minute.
- Toss in the clams, and bring to a boil again – then clamp the lid on your dutch oven, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 7 to 9 minutes, until the clams open up. Kill the heat.
- Drain the cooked potatoes and return the pot to the stove over low heat – throw in a few smallish cubes of butter, a healthy glug of milk, and a little dose of cream (a tablespoon or two), as well as salt and pepper. Mash, stir, don’t overdo it cause you’ll turn it to glue.
- Slice the green onions thinly and sprinkle them over the clams – mix and then serve: fill half of a deep bowl with the mashed potatoes, and then the other half with the clams and their broth. Top with green onions and the reserved bacon.
Eat with splendid lashings of ginger beer, rhubarb tart, and post-colonial racism! Spiffing, isn’t it? Rather wizard! **
The Slightly Gross Chaucer Bit, below the fold