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Face Front, True Believers!

Happy New Year everyone! As I’m sure you may have noticed, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from writing. Not that I haven’t wanted to, but I’ve been trying to get back into some other hobbies I’ve dropped off from in the past couple years. I’ve got a couple good books under my belt this month, finished my first run through Borderlands 2, and caught up on Game of Thrones and Doctor Who (definitely going to be missing Capaldi after this next season).

By and large, what I’ve written here for a few years have been submissions for Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge. It’s certainly a fun challenge, and helps keep the creative juices flowing. Now that I’m gearing back up to write again, I want to do something a bit different. I’ve always really liked the idea of picking up a cookbook and just going straight through it, one recipe after another. Maggie Mariolis does a great series on Serious Eats titled Cook the Book , which follows that basic idea. You’re probably also familiar with Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia.

With stacks of cookbooks taller than I am, it was hard to narrow down one book kick off the new project(s). I have a few good books on meat preparation (including a wonderful read on organs and spare parts in general), a few antiquated books with interesting preparations people don’t see anymore, and a handful of Novelties like the Epic Meal Time cookbook (where portion sizes are often categorized ‘Feeds 6 puny humans or 1 Muscles Glasses). To ease myself into this kind of writing and cooking, I ended up picking a simple book, with a smattering of interesting recipes, and one that I’m sure will get plenty of fanservice (myself included)

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Stan Lee Presents: The Mighty Marvel Superheroes’ Cookbook

I got this book as a gift from my brother one year for Christmas, an original copy from 1977. It’s certainly an interesting book, to say the least. When I describe it to people, I normally say it has very little to do with food and even less to do with Marvel.

The artwork speaks for itself, as you can see from the cover. Joe Giella, known for his inking (depth and shading over an original sketch) work during the Golden Age on Human Torch and Submariner for Marvel and Flash, Green Lantern and Black Canary  for DC.

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A bit campy, sure, but lots of Golden Age comics were like that.

Recipes were created Jody Cameron Malis, a cookbook editor who largely worked on tie-in cookbooks such as The Newlywed Game Cookbook and The Dark Shadows Cookbook. As with the art, the recipes speak for themselves.

Not exactly what you might call high cuisine. Unfortunately, a large portion of the recipes in the book are like this. Even the recipes named for Marvel characters suffer from a lack of creativity, to put it lightly. The first instruction in the recipe for ‘Spidey’s Chocolate Web Pancakes’ is literally just to make pancakes. No joke.

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This may seem like a strange choice to start out a whole cookbook worth of posts and recipes, but I’ve figured out how to make it fun and interesting while still keeping in the spirit of the original.

First: I’ll only be cooking the named recipes through the book. That is to say, the recipes that are named after a specific character. There are countless pages of garbage-y recipes that I don’t want to waste the time and money on. Second: Rather than following those recipes exactly as they’re written, I’m going to be making an upgraded version of the same thing.

When it’s all said and done, here’s the recipes we’ll be looking at over the course of the next few months (or the rest of the year, I don’t really know how long this is going to take me)

Captain America’s Day Starters

Hulk’s Fried Potatoes with Bacon and Eggs

The Thing’s Clobbered Omelet

Spidey’s Chocolate Web Pancakes

Wasp’s Fruit Bowl

Hawkeye’s Corned Beef Hash

Galactus’ ‘He-Man’ Pancakes

Sumariner’s Submarine

Torch’s Fireball

Hulk’s Sloppy Joe

Spidey’s Parmigiani

Captain America’s Americana Hero

Shang-Chi’s Kung Fu Burger

Torch’s Char Burger

Thor’s Thunderburg

The Hulkburger

Mr. Fantastic’s Big Jaw Breaker

Panther’s Snack with Chips

Thor’s Asgardian Vegetable Soup

Iron Man’s Splendid Split Pea Soup

Silver Surfer’s Surfboard Sensation

Ka-Zar Steak Kabobs

Super Meat Loaf ‘Goliath Style’

Thor’s Cabbage Rolls

Dr. Strange’s Mysterious Stew

‘Be-Deviled’ Swiss Steak

Submariner’s Magnificent Tuna Bake

Hulk’s Jumbo Shrimp in a Basket

Spider-Man’s Catch Seafood Platter

Powerman’s Fillet of Sole

Daredevil’s Deviled Dip

Iron Man’s Special Salad

Ms. Fantastic Short Cakes

Dare Devil’s Food Cake

Hulk’s Applesauce Cake

The Angel’s Heavenly Angel Cake

Captain America’s Double Cracker Jack Cake

Shang-Chi’s Peaches and Cream Cake

Spidey’s Vanilla Cheesecake

Dr. Strange’s Cinnamon Raisin Bars

Shang-Chi’s Fortune Cookies

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Side note: The ‘Jolly Sandwich Maker!’ is my favorite picture from the book. So much so that I actually got it as a tattoo a few years back.

So! We’ve yet again reached the end of the year! That means another round of the 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge in the books. If you missed it last week, I did a live stream on Facebook, making Nashville Hot Chicken in 30 minutes or less. This week I had just a quickie, Msabbha for Israeli week and didn’t really get around to doing a full write up, but it’s fairly self-explanatory.

This year has been a lot of fun, getting back into cooking and writing. 2015 was kind of a bust in that sense, but it gave me a good chance to get my head back on straight and start focusing on the things that make me happy, so I can’t say it was all for naught.

That being said, I’d love to know what you guys would like to see in the coming year! What excites you about food? What do you want to see learn? I’ve always thought it would be cool to do some food-based Mythbusters-esque pieces; what would you want to see examined more closely?

I haven’t entirely decided if I’m going to pick up the 52 Weeks challenge again for 2017, but it would certainly be a fun place to start. I kind of want to get into more essay style pieces. I kind of want to work on writing a cookbook (well, rewriting. Kind of. We can get into that later.) I really want to work on getting a business plan together to open a restaurant 5 years from now. There’s lots of things I want to get done, and lots of things that need starting. Time will certainly tell.

In the meantime, thanks for reading this year! Wishing all the best to you and yours this holiday season!

Eric

Miso Horny

I’ve been waiting for that joke for so long you guys. Anyway…

The Greek philosopher Democritus claimed that, when chewed, food broke into four distinct shapes, with the size and shape of the pieces determining the taste: Large, round pieces were sweet, while small, round pieces were bitter. Salt was given by small, angular bits, and larger angular chunks were sour.

Until the late 19th century, it was assumed that these were the four basic tastes. Then along came chef Georges Auguste Escoffier. Known as the ‘king of chefs and the chef of kings’ Escoffier developed nearly in its entirety what we now know as classical French cuisine. By developing rich sauces and deeply roasted meat dishes, he made food that didn’t just taste good, but was the best food anyone had tasted; A flavor that wasn’t simply a combination of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Just a few years after the publication of Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire, Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda noticed that dashi made with kombu, a type of seaweed, was especially more delicious or ‘yummy’ (in Japanese, umami) that those made without. By studying the chemical makeup of the kombu, Ikeda pinpointed the fifth taste.

Glutamic acid, known now as Umami, create the flavor of savory-ness “common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat” as Ikeda described. Think about the crust of freshly baked bread. Crispy, roasted mushrooms. Soy sauce. Steak, seared in a ripping-hot cast-iron skillet. It’s why brown food tastes so great. However, it’s difficult to create a dish that’s strictly tastes of umami. As with the other tastes, balance is the key.

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I find that one of the more interesting ways to utilize umami is in largely sweet products. In the same way that salt makes chocolate and caramel taste extraordinary, umami ingredients provide a truly unique contrast.

This week, I wanted to take a page from friend and queen of doughnuts Ren Weiner. Miso, a Japanese seasoning of fermented soy beans or other grains, is jam-packed with umami goodness, and plays quite well with rich, eggy doughnuts. The dough itself carries a smattering of white miso (also called yellow), which has a mild, smooth taste (I swear this isn’t a cigarette ad). Red miso, with a more intense, aggressive flavor gets blended with plain ol’ sugar to make a nice topping. My miso sugar didn’t really dry out like I had hoped it would, but was spectacular tasting nonetheless.

Miso Doughnuts, adapted from Bon Appetit

makes about 10 doughnuts

  • Red Miso, 1 tablespoon
  • Granulated Sugar, 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon, divided
  • Active Dry Yeast, 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • Egg, whole, 1 each
  • Egg Yolk, 1 each
  • Butter, unsalted, melted, 3 tablespoons
  • Whole Milk, 3 tablespoons
  • White or Yellow Miso, 3 tablespoons
  • All-Purpose Flour, 2 cups, plus more as needed
  • Vegetable Oil, for frying

Pulse red miso and 1/2 cup sugar in a food processor until mixture resembles brown sugar. Spread out evenly on a parchment-lined  baking sheet and let sit until dry, 2−2 ½ hours. Pulse in food processor until no clumps remain. Transfer miso sugar to a bowl and set aside.

Combine 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over and let sit until foamy, 5−10 minutes.

Beat egg, egg yolk, butter, milk, white miso, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with whisk attachment until smooth. Add yeast mixture and flour and mix until a loose ball forms.

Switch to dough hook and mix on medium until dough is smooth,  5−7 minutes. If dough is wet, add more all-purpose flour as needed.

Place dough in a large bowl lightly coated with nonstick spray. Cover and let sit in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, 1−2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; lightly flour. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat out to 1″ thick. Punch out rounds with biscuit cutter. Repeat with scraps. Transfer rounds to prepared baking sheet, cover loosely, and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, 45−60 minutes.

Pour 2 inches of oil into a large heavy saucepan. Heat over medium-high until thermometer registers 325°. Working in batches, fry doughnuts until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels and let cool slightly before tossing in miso sugar.

America really is the melting pot of the world, especially and literally when it comes to food. As a nation of immigrants from its inception, American cuisine really had no other way to come about than through numerous cultural influences. Fusion of ingredients and techniques from the world over has strong historical significance, although it may seem to be a more modern trend.

But there is certainly a line to be drawn to between the way our culinary forefathers cooked and ate and what’s often thought of today as “fusion” cuisine. Thoughtfully prepared dishes that maintain the integrity of their contributing parts can certain be wonderful, but shoehorning things where they don’t belong is where the style draws criticism; It’s the difference between swapping sauerkraut for kimchi on a Reuben sandwich and filling egg roll wrappers with the ingredients of a Reuben. Right up there with not-really-fusion cuisine, Spanish Tapas have gotten swept up in the wave of appropriation. In any major urban area, you’re sure to find restaurants offering overpriced and bigger-than-an-appetizer-but-definitely-not-an-entree dishes alongside tequila cocktails and surprisingly thoughtful red wine lists under the guise of being a “tapas bar”.

At its earliest origins, tapas were pieces of bread that you would put over your glass of sherry to keep flies from getting in. Tapas have evolved as bar culture has to include a wide range of small, snackable items to have while you’re drinking. Hell, in Spain some places will still give them out for free as long as you’re still drinking (think like popcorn and nuts at your favorite dive bar). In essence, the idea is simple: food that you don’t have to think about too much, to be consumed innumerably, while drinking. Sound familiar?

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While the types of foods that are normally served as tapas can vary widely, a few strongholds are always there: olives, sausages, bread, potatoes, cheese. Things to enjoy, but also to fill you up a bit.

Chorizo a la Sidra

  • Spanish-Style, dry-cured Chorizo*, 1 large sausage**
  • Hard Cider***, as needed

Heat a heavy-bottomed sauce pot to medium-high heat. Cut chorizo into small chunks and cook until slightly crispy and fat begins to render, about 4 minutes. Add cider and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking chorizo over low heat in cider at least 20 minutes. Traditionally, the chorizo is held warm and served directly from the pot of cider

Papas Arrugadas

  • Baby Yellow Potatoes, 2 pounds
  • Kosher Salt, as needed

Cook potatoes until tender in very well-salted water, beginning with cold water. Strain potatoes and return to pot. Cook over medium heat until potato skins dry and a layer of salt form. Serve hot.

Mojo****

  • Red Bell Pepper, seeded, chopped, 2 each
  • Garlic, 3 cloves
  • Sweet Paprika, 1 tablespoon
  • Cilantro, 1 bunch, stems removed
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, 1 cup
  • Fresno Chile, seeded, chopped, 1 each
  • White Bread, crusty piece, about 1/2 cup
  • Kosher Salt, as needed

Blend all ingredients at high speed until smooth. Season with salt to taste.

*Spanish Chorizo is very different than Mexican Chorizo. You’re looking for something more similar to a salami. If you can’t find Spanish chorizo, do not substitute Mexican.

**Finding a whole link of chorizo can prove to be difficult, I couldn’t find one in about 4 different stores in town. However, there were some pre-sliced snack packs available, so I made due with that.

***Spanish cider is very dry, more similar to white wine or brut champagne. Please don’t cook this with Woodchuck.

****Again, Spanish Mojo can be very different from Mexican or other Hispanic Mojos. This version is the style that’s served in the Canary Islands.

 

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

In America, Thanksgiving is kind of a big deal. Restaurants bust out catering pickups all week long, and the smarter of the home cooks begin their prep days in advance. I generally have a good gameplan for the gluttonous holiday (which was recently featured in State14!), but even the best laid plans can go awry due to weather, lost attention, or a host of other mishaps.

Today, as you may note, is not Thanksgiving. Today is the day after Thanksgiving. That means I just had one of the deepest sleeps I’ve had in weeks, and also that I’m nearly out of tupperware. As great as Thanksgiving is for bringing family together, sharing food and spending time with loved ones, the more practical application is packing your fridge with enough leftovers to last a good couple of weeks. The ultimate use of Thanksgiving remnants is to pack it all into a sandwich. I’ve said before that sandwiches are by far the best category of food, and I will continue saying that to my grave. This is the holiest of all sandwiches. I often tout my love of a classic Reuben as the best sandwich, but the Thanksgiving Leftover sandwich, saved for just one day of the year, is a beast all of its own. While I love that sandwich more than any other, I’ve written about it multiple times before (in 2012 and 2013), and wanted to push my creativity a bit this year.

Getting weird with your leftovers definitely isn’t a new idea. This year, I’ve seen my share of cool recipes: Egg Rolls, Burritos, Eggs Benedict, Pizza, Nachos; the possibilities are near endless. Serious Eats may get the trophy for their Stuffing Waffles, but I wanted to take it just a step further.

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As my southern friends will vouch for, chicken and waffles is truly an amazing combination. Sweet and savory, breakfast and lunch. Sneakers Bistro knows what’s up. I prefer to break down my turkey rather than roasting it whole, which left me with some big ol’ turkey wings to do something cool with: Sous vide until super tender (a la Modernist Cuisine), then fried with a crispy breading. The debate rages online as to whether gravy or maple syrup is the appropriate condiment for this behemoth, but being that I’m from Vermont I’m sure you can guess what side of the line I fall on. I like to mix some of the good stuff with my leftover cranberry sauce and a bit of Cholula.

Život je hořký, Bohudík

When you talk about the origins of foods, it’s sometimes a difficult to task deciding where to look. For example, it’s pretty well known at this point that noodles and pasta were developed in Asia before making their way to Europe. However, we tend to more strongly associate that type of dish with Italian cuisine. They weren’t by any means the originators, but they certainly took the ball and ran it out.

Around the same time that pasta was being developed in China, about 4000 years ago, beer was being brewed in Sumer. Made from smoked barley bread and fermented date wine, it was a far cry from what we think of as beer today. So while that may be our earliest recollection of beer, the Czech really brought it into its own.

Břevnov Monastery in Prague has been brewing since 993CE, just over a thousand years of beer.  Cities such as Pilsen and Budweis (sound familiar?) have been brewing consistently since the 13th century, spawning arguably the most popular styles of beer in the world, Pilsner and Budweiser respectively. With greater consumption of beer per capita than anywhere else in the world, it’s often joked that beer is the national sport of the Czech Republic. And as with all major sports when your team is playing, if you’re hosting, it’s nice to have a good spread of snacks.

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In America, our beer snacks are usually laden with salt; popcorn, chips, pretzels, nuts. In the Czech Republic, it seems to be fairly different. Meats, cheeses and breads are common, likely to help absorb some alcohol and allow you to keep drinking long into the night. The most common of these kinds of snacks is Nakládaný hermelín (nahk-la-dan-ee her-mel-een). Hermelin is a soft cheese similar to camembert, marinated in spices, onions, garlic and oil. Pickled sausages are also common, and much to my surprise are far less gross than I imagined the ones in the jar at the gas station tasting. Smokey, fatty, and just a little bit of acid. I can definitely dig it.

Czech “Pickled” Cheese

  • Camembert, 1 wheel
  • Yellow Onion, thinly sliced, 1 each
  • Garlic, 4 cloves
  • Pickled Banana Peppers, sliced, 1/2 cup
  • Black Peppercorn, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Paprika, 1/2 teaspoon
  • Bay Leaf, 2 each
  • Thyme, fresh, 1 tablespoon
  • Kosher Salt, 1 teaspoon
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, as needed

Cut cheese into small wedges or strips. Toss with remaining ingredients and transfer to a sealable container. Cover with olive oil and marinate at room temperature for 5-7 days, up to 6 weeks.

Pickled Sausage

  • Water, 4 cups
  • Cider Vinegar, 4 cups
  • Kosher Salt, 2 tablespoons
  • Bay Leaf, 2 each
  • Kielbasa, 1 large link

Combine water, vinegar, salt and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Cut sausage into 4-6 small links. In a sealable container. pour pickling liquid over sausages and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and store refrigerated at least 5-7 days.

Pushin’ Down on Me

From time to time, we think it necessary to pick up that latest and great kitchen gadget; You know, that new one that’s on TV now? It’ll replace a drawer full of tools for just 3 easy payments of $9.95! Sadly, nearly none of these kind of products deliver on their promises, and most are useless garbage. So, like me, most of you have a cabinet or cupboard or drawer full of equipment that you really only pull out once in a blue moon.

While the allure of single-tasking equipment prevails, sometimes you have useful equipment stashed away somewhere and you don’t even realize it. For me, that crown goes to the pressure cooker.

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I know I got a pressure cooker from my grandmother at one point or another, but I don’t remember when or why. Or I saved it from a yard sale pile somewhere. Definitely one of the two. Either way, it’s sat in a cupboard or basement ever since because I really just had no idea what to do with it. The more I’ve read though, the more it seems to be a multi-tasker as useful as an immersion circulator. Adding pressure to heat drastically reduces the time needed to prepare traditionally very long cooked items; Soups stews and stocks in a fraction of the time. As always, Kenji at The Food Lab has a great piece on pressure cookers and how useful they are.

Pressure cooking can also make quick work of tough cuts of meat, and I knew just what would do the trick.

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I’ve made no secret that I’m a big fan of Chefsteps. The Seattle-based site creates amazing recipes and videos, giving detailed instructions and exploring some of the science behind why food works the way it does. Their recipe for chicken wings has always intrigued me, largely for its utilization of of a pressure cooker. Cooking wings before they hit the fryer is a no-brainer, but pressure cooking is probably the only way I hadn’t tried it before.

In just 15 minutes, an otherwise difficult piece of poultry becomes luscious and tender. So tender in fact, that you can actually remove bones  and bits of cartilage that would normally get in the way when trying to eat them. A quick dusting of cornstarch before frying keeps the skin from getting soggy when drenched in your favorite hot sauce. I went into this recipe thinking “Okay, wings can only get so good. There’s really only so much you can do.” Without exaggeration, I may never make wings any other way again.

Pressure Cooked Chicken Wings, adapted from Chefsteps

makes 2 pounds

  • Chicken wings, tips removed, split, 2 pounds
  • Water, about 1 cup
  • Cornstarch, as needed
  • Canola Oil, for frying
  • Kosher Salt, to taste
  • Buffalo-Style Wing Sauce, as needed (recipe follows)

Add chicken wings and water to pressure cooker and seal. Over medium-high heat, bring cooker to pressure. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to depressurize naturally. Transfer wings to a wire rack-lined sheet tray, discarding water. Remove cartilage from wings and drum pieces, and remove small loose bone from wing pieces. Allow to chill 2 hours. In a heavy-bottomed pot, preheat 4 inches of canola oil to 400F. Toss wings lightly in cornstarch to cover completely, shaking to remove excess cornstarch. Fry wings until crispy, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel- lined bowl to drain excess oil. Season with kosher salt. Toss wings liberally in sauce and serve with ranch or blue cheese and celery.

Buffalo-Style Wing Sauce

makes about 2 cups

  • Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, 1 cup
  • Butter, unsalted, 1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons)

Combine hot sauce and butter. Heat oven medium heat until butter is completely melted. Mix to combine evenly.