Spicy Mushroom Caps

The recipe is a pesto style filling for mushrooms that invokes spice and Mexican ingredients. If you want to substitute a hotter pepper, the ingredients promote the heat rather than temper it. (Learned the hard way.)

Preheat oven to 350o.

2 jalapeños
4 garlic cloves
2 scallions
2 tomatillos, peeled of paper
¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese or queso fresco
½ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
4 TBS oil, divided
¼ – ½ lb. chicken sausage (optional)
4 mushrooms, chopped
8 large button mushroom caps or 2 portobellos

Wash vegetables, removing stems and roots. Heat cast iron skillet on HIGH and add 2 TBS oil. Toast jalapenos, garlic, scallions, and tomatillos until seared on all sides. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

In food processor, add cooked vegetables and process. Add pepitas and cilantro, process. Slowly add remaining oil in a slow drizzle with machine running. Scrape down sides. Add cheese and chopped mushrooms, process. If adding sausage, process last.

Remove stems from large mushrooms and wipe grit off caps with a damp paper towel. Wipe caps again with oil. On a baking sheet, either oil the bottom or use parchment paper. Fill the caps with mixture and place on baking pan.

Bake 30-40 minutes. Tops will be browned.

Refrigerates well for leftovers.

Almond Butter cookies

“Someone” purchased almond butter as a possible replacement for peanut butter on sandwiches – not a successful idea. However, cookies were a hands-down winner and the container haunting the back of my pantry shelf now has a welcomed spot among the baking ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup sifted coconut flour
  • ¼ cup rice flour
  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup peanut oil
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt

In a mixer, combine almond butter, sugar, eggs, peanut oil, vanilla, and almond extract. In a separate bowl, mix both flours and salt. With the mixer running, slowly add the flours to the mixer until completely combined. Batter will be loose.

At this point you may preheat the oven to 375oF. Let the mixture rest in the bowl, either on the counter or in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes, 20 minutes is better.

Use parchment paper or a silicon sheet on top of the baking tray. Scoop out oversized tablespoons of dough onto the baking tray. Bake 15 minutes. The edges of the cookies should be brown. Remove from oven and let rest in tray for two minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. The inside of the cookie will be wetter, with a marzipan-like consistency.

Short Ribs – slow cooked

This is a pandemic recipe, for those working from home. Cooking time is 5-1/2 hours.

The prime rib was served in the better neighborhoods and the short ribs were on the menu in the modest neighborhoods of my youth. Short ribs were a working man’s affordable beef choice before modern restaurant fare discovered the qualities of this cut, ruining the easy affordability for everyone. The ribs were typically used in a beef stew where the bone marrow added flavor to the developing broth. Stew was difficult to cook correctly because the meat tends to be tough and chewy, and stovetop burners were unforgiving. However, stew was a one pot meal that could feed a family meat, potatoes, and vegetables. The standard fare was tough meat, limp vegetables, and pasty potatoes.

My family is done with the stew recipe.

This is an updated recipe for braised short ribs on offering to the modest homes of the world who can still afford beef occasionally. The recipe only works in a cast iron pot with a cast iron lid because we are braising. The limp vegetables and pasty potatoes are cooked separately, and you are on your own for those recipes.

Cast Iron Pot in its natural pristine form.

3-5 lb. short ribs

1 large onion sliced

2 tomatillos, cut into several pieces

1 tomato, cut into large pieces

2 cups broth (vegetable or beef)

2 cups salted water (your call how much salt)

1 cup flour

Salt and pepper

¼ cup oil (grapeseed or olive oil)

This recipe is for a cast iron pot with lid.

Preheat oven to 300F.

Place the pot on a burner and pre-heat on medium high. Add oil in small increments as the flour absorbs the oil. Be careful not to scorch the meat. Save the leftover flour for end.

Wash and dry the short ribs. Season the flour with salt and pepper before coating the dry ribs. Add ribs to hot oil in batches. Let ribs rest on a plate while working on the next batches. When complete, add more oil to pot with heat turned down to medium. Add onions and sauté until soft, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add tomatillos and tomatoes, stirring them to coat. Add broth and stir. Add water and stir again.

Return ribs to pot, bone side down. Lid the pot and place in oven. Cook for 5 hours.

Return pot to burner. Plate the short ribs on a large platter. Using oven mitts, pour off the fat into cup.

To thicken the broth into a gravy, take three teaspoons of the reserved flour and put in a bowl. Add three or four tablespoons of the piping hot fat from the cup. Stir into a paste. Add the paste to the pot (it is still cooking hot), stirring until it is incorporated. Correct salt and pepper seasoning. Pour the gravy over the ribs and serve.

Faux Peanut Sauce

Dipping sauces are a huge stumbling block for people who have adverse reactions to MSG. Nearly every worthy sauce for dumplings has a strong MSG component. Asian sauces in particular, view MSG as a necessary ingredient, and Western industrial food companies have followed suit. Complimenting dumplings is a struggle.

This sauce is a not an imitation of Vietnamese Peanut sauce; rather, it is an homage. Several of the flavors have been lifted from Vietnamese cooking, but the sauce stands on its own. Some of the ingredients are European and one, Saba, is from medieval Italian cooking.

Faux Peanut Sauce

2TBS fresh ginger

1 clove garlic

1 lime, juice only

1 TBS saba (medieval Italian grape-based sweetener and thickening agent)

3 TBS peanut butter

½-1 tsp hot pepper sauce

½ tsp white wine vinegar

3TBS white wine

1 cup vegetable broth at room temperature

1 TBS rice flour

Chopped peanuts (optional)

In food processor combine all the ingredients but the broth and flour. Process. Transfer the puree to a pot set on medium high burner. Suspend the flour in a small bowl of the broth, then add to puree. Add the rest of the broth, stir until sauce is reduced to preferred consistency. Garnish with nuts before serving.

Hot Sauce – two ways

thai chilis

Of all the possible sauces, hot sauce is the poor people’s choice. First, hot sauce is cheap to make at home because there are only three base ingredients: salt, vinegar, and hot peppers. Peppers are easy to grow and are found on every inhabited continent. Second, hot sauce is an outdoor worker’s friend, promoting healthy sweat glands and thirst that are necessary to thrive in hot climates. Finally, hot sauce has a unique method of covering a variety of issues with poor quality food, transforming distasteful flavors, spicing up bland ones, and (sorry to say) making old and rotting foods palatable.

No matter how gourmet or expensive marketing managers make their hot sauce products, this is one sauce easily executed at home that will taste superior. Hot sauce will stay a long time without industrial additives. Even if a batch goes bad, a new, long-lasting batch can be whipped up in an hour.

20 hot peppers (jalapeno, serrano, thai bird, etc.), about 1 pound, less for the more potent peppers.

1 large clove garlic

½ medium onion, sliced thin

2 medium tomatillos diced

1 bell pepper diced

2 TBS vegetable oil

1 tsp salt

2 cups water

1 cup cider vinegar or white vinegar

*Either ventilate the room or wear a mask. The capsaicin fumes will burn the tissue in your throat and nose. Do not use cast iron for this recipe.*

Peel as appropriate and dice all the vegetables. Heat the oil in a large pan on medium high. Add the vegetables and ¾ tbs of the salt. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add the water and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. After 20 minutes or so, the peppers should be very soft and most of the water evaporated.

Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool down to room temperature. In a food processor, puree the mixture until smooth. Add the vinegar and the rest of the salt. Mix, taste, and add more salt, as necessary.

Two Ways

Spread – jar as is, in a mason jar. Let the mixture rest for two weeks in the refrigerator before use. Spread as a paste or add to mayonnaise, mustard, and dipping sauces.

Sauce – strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Toss the solids. Place the liquid in a mason jar, letting the mixture rest for two weeks in the refrigerator before use.

The Peanut Butter Cookie 2018

Peanuts

During this anniversary of the assassination, a condemnatory critique has come to the fore in our cultural conversations. This well-documented argument concludes that the image of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. presented today is a sanitized version of the real life and times of the reverend, especially his last years, after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. The legislation was present but the racism, the poverty, and the disparities in opportunity were still deeply embedded in the United States. He was fighting as hard as ever, with every growing headwind against his movement and his goals.

“They pay us peanuts,” many Americans on poverty wages say. The cliché is old, even dated now. Few realize that this statement is rooted in American slavery. Peanuts are intimately bound to the black slaves of the United States, including the commercial success of tan, highly nutritious kernels.

Peanuts reached the United States by a circuitous route. The peanut we know today is a hybrid of two plants that originated in South America, at least 3500 years ago. The record is scant, but kernels have been found with mummies on South American continent.

The European explorers discovered peanuts in the 1500’s and brought them back to Europe. From Europe, the peanut was distributed to Africa and to Asia. The peanut became a staple crop in parts of Africa.

In the 1700’s, the peanut makes its debut in North America as another commodity accompanying the slave trade. As slaves were loaded on ships, so were peanuts. North American farmers did not know how to grow or tend the peanut crops though, although they were interested in investing in them. They relied on their African slaves, who were already familiar with the peanut, to manage the crops. At this time, the peanut crops were considered appropriate for feeding livestock and slaves. Peanuts were slave food.

Peanuts rose in stature with the Civil War for military reasons. As the Union soldiers make their way through the South, they encountered peanuts as a snack and as a staple, appreciating the taste and the health benefits. Enjoying their new nut, the soldiers brought peanuts back to the northern states, incorporating them in their diet. Decades later, P.T. Barnum adds roasted peanuts to his circus show to boost his profit margin.

Peanut butter emerged more than once during the 1800’s. but gained a stronger hold in the American diet late in the century. A St. Louis doctor concocted a peanut spread recipe for his elderly patients who no longer had enough teeth to chew meat. He recognized that the nut was a good source of protein, which could be gummed.

Peanut butter produced by the large conglomerates today is a sweeten gooey concoction of what the slaves ate and the good doctor invented. Peanut butter was pureed roasted peanuts with nothing added. Today, we pay extra for the pure product while the adulterated one is less expensive.

One commentator called the presentation of Dr. King in today’s history books and holidays “cotton candy.” I have used the same term for years to describe many peanut butters on the grocery shelves, which is the origin of this essay. Food and images of a civil rights leader and minister are not the same phenomena and should not be equated with the same gravity. Nonetheless, the same sanitizing of the slave origins and the following historical chapters of purging the repercussions of that slavery do run in parallel.

Many of the best tasting dishes today began in poverty. The peanut, however, does not come from poverty alone, but from American slavery as well. Enjoy your peanuts; these nuts carry much history with them.

 

PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES (gluten free)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Ingredients:

½ cup sifted coconut flour
¼ cup rice flour
1 cup natural peanut butter
1½ cups sugar
3 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup peanuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
¼ cup peanut oil
½ teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

1. Mix together peanut butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, peanut oil and salt. Stir in peanuts and coconut and rice flours.

2. Drop by the spoonful 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake for about 14 minutes.

3. Cool slightly and remove from cookie sheet to racks.

The Italian Market

When I am travelling abroad, one of my favorite stops is always the markets and food shopping districts of towns and districts. Everything about an area, its geography, its demographics, its climate, and its economic life is in context. Children run and play, or pull their favorite adult towards the treat spot, whether it is a cart, a kiosk, or a stall. Some sellers look stressed while others smile and nod. Some even invite in a stranger like me and show off their wares and their produce. These experiences give me great pause and cause for reflection.

…Then the opposite happened. I was standing with my wife at my favorite butcher’s counter in the Italian Market in the Bronx, when the tour bus came through. I do not get many opportunities to visit my butcher in any given month and when I do make the trip, I stock up. I had a stack of chickens, cuts of beef, and a lamb shoulder all being wrapped in brown butcher paper as we waited patiently on the other side of the shoulder-high refrigerated cases with a scale perched on top.

In this great hall, the deli had a long line and no empty seats. The bar, with its long tables, was packed. The vegetable vendor was grabbing bags to weigh with blinding speed and there was a line to buy the freshly hand-rolled cigars. The place was full of happy noise. In the midst of this bustling cacophony, a bus-full of tourists came bursting in to watch and to learn.

“Huh,” I said to my wife. “So, this is what it looks like when we travel.”

At first, I was envious. I wanted to be the traveler, the one experiencing a different culture and a different people. Their questing eyes and curious looks made me look at the counters and the tables with fresh eyes, and appreciate the layers of peoples, communities, and culture that were woven into the fabric of the stalls, their employees, and their wares. After all, this is not some chichi Food Hall in Manhattan, but a neighborhood shopping district in the north Bronx.

Their guide was impatient to begin his spiel. He was waving his arms, motioning his charges to gather around and listen. I paid my bill. Picking up my heavy bags, I smiled and nodded hello, and added an “excuse me” or two as I maneuvered around the gathering without whacking anyone with my bags.

We still needed a couple of bottles of wine and my wife and I had agreed to indulge in a couple pastries. Then there was the pizza pan on display in the window and a question of whether we should buy a new one now or replace it later. The sun was bright and people were sitting outside enjoying the afternoon.

The visitors got a taste of an old neighborhood shopping district in the Bronx, which I thought was an excellent excursion. Still, their trip was just a taste because the cheese monger is a tiny storefront and there are at least a half dozen pastry shops and bakeries within two blocks of each other – and pizza, and bareks, and oysters on the half shell and a couple of decent expresso joints, and, and.

I suppose my travels abroad have helped me to appreciate what I have near to home. Even more, I have learned that there are a lot of people across the globe like me, who want to step into the day-to-day lives and cultures of other countries and just breath in the smells and sample the tastes. I may be imagining or embellishing, but when I visit such touchstones, everything seems to be delicious and worth savoring.

It was a good day.

Meatloaf

The American meatloaf is the evolutionary result of the American industrialization of the slaughterhouse. Industrialization brought down the cost of meats and promoted the distribution of meat products across the nation. For decades, carcasses in whole, half or quarter cuts were shipped from central points to any city or butcher shop. Times change and the modern version of shipping meats is more specialized, with specific parts aggregated into one package and shipped in cardboard boxes. Only specialty butcher shops work with whole carcasses today. Within this business structure, meatloaf is one of the most economical meat dishes that can be assembled at home.

Meatloaf is part of a minced meat tradition that goes back at least two millennia. The Romans had a recipe. With the technology of a knife or a cleaver with a durable sharp edge, even the toughest and most undesirable meats could be reduced to good, tasty recipes. The most difficult cuts (ears, nose, and tails) were processed into sausages but the tough pieces of muscle could be made tender too by fine dicing. Minced meat recipes can be found in every culture but the variations of meatloaf, using the meats and ingredients at hand, are favored dishes in Europe, South America, Africa, and the Near East. In Lebanon, the dish will be minced lamb or lamb mixed with beef as kofte while in the Philippines, a dish called embotido and is made from ground pork stuffed with hardboiled eggs. The variations of minced meat recipes across the world depend on the availability of inexpensive ingredients in the local economy.

The American Meatloaf gained prominence in home kitchens during the Great Depression, after the 1928 Stock Market Crash. Rationing during WWII confirmed its status as a gut filling dish that could be served using many variations. The recipe of minced meat could be stretched with breadcrumbs of any bread, stale cereal, or crushed crackers. Saltines were popular. The dish could be enhanced with ketchup, jelly, barbeque sauce, mashed potatoes, and spices. Even more, immigrant traditions could add their own flair to the minced meat dish.

The United States is a melting pot and meatloaf is a unique example. The mid-twentieth century witnessed the rise of advice columnists, who began as a staple in immigrant newspapers on matters of assimilation and who evolved into a nationwide ethos of community and behavior. Ann Landers and Dear Abby, competing sisters, were some of the most trusted voices in American print during their tenures. Ann Landers printed her meatloaf recipe in her column and the dish became an enduring sensation. In the decades since, Ann Lander’s recipe (or some near variation) has become the American meatloaf:

Ingredients

2 pounds ground beef

1 egg

1 1/2 cup bread crumbs

3/4 cup ketchup

1 teaspoon Accent® seasoning mix

1/2 cup warm water

1 package dry onion soup mix

2 slices bacon

1 can (8 ounce size) tomato sauce

 

Mix all the ingredients except for the bacon and the tomato sauce. Form a loaf and place in pan. Lay bacon on top and pour sauce over the loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

First, the recipe is not kosher or halal. Second, Accent and onion soup mixes are high quantity MSG products, which makes the dish particularly tasty, yet makes it untenable for those avoiding MSG. Most of the ingredients are bagged, boxed, or canned too. Only the egg and the beef need to be fresh, making this recipe clearly rooted in the supermarket cuisine of the mid to late twentieth century.

For a current recipe, the history of meatloaf points to a dish of minced meat and local ingredients; local, as in what is in your refrigerator. Instead of dry mixes, add the liquid from leftover soup or broth. Add a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar and a raw egg. If you don’t have stale bread to turn into breadcrumbs, mashed potatoes work great with a little elbow grease. Any ground meat will do, from beef, pork, and lamb to turkey, chicken, wild game or fowl. Along with salt and pepper, any typical spice combination in the cabinet will work.

As a dish, meatloaf ingredients are flexible to your tastes and traditions. Jalapenos on top – why not? Some European recipes stuff the loaf with olives, East Europeans stuff with hardboiled eggs like the Filipinos do.

Use your hands to mix this recipe. If you want to cook the fat out by letting it pool in the pan, then use less breadcrumbs.

If you want to freeze the dish for later, only cook for ½ hour. Let cool and wrap in freezer paper. Use within six months. Defrost overnight in refrigerator and cook for ½ hour (@ 350) to serve.

 

Basic Meatloaf

2 lbs ground meats

1 egg

1 cup of broth

2 TBS grape must* (Italian Saba) and 2 TBS red wine vinegar

1 ½ cups breadcrumbs

1-2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

½ tsp each: basil, thyme and celery seed

Tomato sauce or any gravy

 

Mix in one ingredient at a time (all spices together though), leaving tomato sauce aside. Form loaf and place in greased bread pan. Pour tomato sauce on top and cook 1 hour at 350 degrees. Recipe doubles easily.

*thickened grape juice

Nostalgia versus the Roasted Chicken

“O dear God, not chicken again!” was a common refrain  in my household and across many other houses as well. Chicken was tasteless, a poor excuse for a good meal because it was overcooked and dry. The skin was a spongy limp mouthful of yuck. Hiding it under tomato sauce or burying it in flavored rice did not dispel the fowl’s worst qualities.

(Fried chicken was apparently in a food class by itself and had little functional relationship to the roasted, broiled, baked, or boiled fowl of gastronomic dismay. My memory is a bit fuzzy but I am fairly certain that fried chicken was an entirely separate category in the food pyramid, right up there with candy, cookies, brownies and cakes, which is why my mother would not make it very often. Fried chicken is still the top American entry for the title “Food of the Gods” in my book.)

The domesticated chicken in the West emerged from India from a small red jungle fowl. A similar chicken emerged in the East, probably from Thailand. Cocks crowing are mentioned in the Bible but when the Bible discusses sacrificing birds and eating them, the text is referring to turtle doves. Ancient Greece mentions chickens by 600 BCE but again, as cocks crowing. They were considered exotic birds. Ancient Persia deified them and a pope elevated them. The earliest chicken recipes come from Rome, where the bird was preferred boiled and served with sauces made with the offal.

No fried chicken for the Romans.

According to the New York Times, roasted chicken is supposed to be a nostalgic comfort food that evokes the ancient ritual of families sitting around the table together to eat dinner. What I remember as nostalgia was picking up a white oven-bag of a whole roasted bird from the heated tray at the Winn Dixie after band practice and before homework. The birds in those bags were always available, no matter the day. Adding to the cozy warmth of store-cooked birds was the expectation of the leftovers of this salty, greasy mess turning into an unrecognizable science experiment by the next morning. Perhaps nostalgia for roasted chicken is a bit more fiction than food writers are willing to admit.

Returning to the dish: The holy grail of the roasted chicken dish is moist meat, crispy skin, and sweet juices collecting underneath for a simple gravy. I assume that a generation ago the educated cook could turn out a great dish with just a little bit of effort on the small, non-hybrid birds. Today’s version of oversized breasts and un-exercised muscles makes the cooking overly cumbersome and usually not worth the effort: the finished fowl today is typically not a religious epiphany.

However, even with the hurdles of the modern chicken farming (which is scary), a home kitchen can turn out a decent roasted chicken. The essential tool one needs for roasted chicken is a cast iron pan. Without cast iron, this simple recipe will not work.

1 whole chicken

Butter, oil or (best) chicken fat

Kosher salt and ground pepper

 

Preheat oven to 350o F

Wash the chicken. Pop out one thigh bone from the spine. Using a knife or chicken shears, cut the chicken in half up that side of the spine. Turn the chicken over and, using the palms of your hands, press down and break the breast bone, leaving the chicken flat.

Cover the bottom of the cast iron pan with kosher salt. Place chicken in the pan, folding the thighs so that the legs are facing in. Rub the chicken with the preferred fat. Season the skin with more kosher salt and pepper.

Shove the pan in the oven and roast for 90 minutes. Ten minutes before the end, check the skin. If the skin is not crisp, turn on the broiler to crisp the skin, being careful not to burn it.

Remove and plate the chicken if serving immediately. If not plating, let the bird rest on a chopping board, covered. The juices in the bottom are usually three or four tablespoons of fat and the rest is juice. You can use these juices either to make a gravy or to pour into a mason jar for another dish. I use the chilled fat from the mason jar to coat my roasted chicken the next week and the solidified juices for the gravy.

 

Pizza, no pretensions

Pizza, for all the fanfare and faddishness about it, is another example of a flatbread. Some historians and anthropologists conclude that flatbread was probably the first type of bread created and certainly, it origins predate written history. Relatively late historical entries in the record include Persian soldiers baking flatbread on their shields out on fields and Classical Greeks serving flatbreads painted with olive oil and topped with cheese.

While flatbread concoctions such as pizza magherita emerge from noble Italian houses, pizza was a poor family’s food. The dough was basic and cooked very quickly. In Southern Italy, the very poor could bring their own scraps of dough to the baker and cook a pizza in the baker’s oven at the end of the day for a coin or two. Anything could be thrown on top. Flatbread with toppings had been sold in takeaways and in outdoor stalls for centuries to the working classes.

Pizza dough today is enriched white flour and often cut with shortening for extra crisp, very difficult for those with food intolerances. Whole wheat pizza dough is often bitter and hard to crisp, even on a baking stone. However, there is a trick, a simple ingredient that suppresses the bitterness and promotes crispy, even as a leftover for breakfast the next morning: buttermilk.

NOTE: Most buttermilks have extra chemicals. The best buttermilk is only pasteurized milk and two bacterial cultures.

This the bread machine version: (in order of placement in loaf pan)

  • 1-1/4 cup water
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 Tbl sugar
  • 1 Tbl bread machine yeast

 

  1. Set on quick dough setting (45 minutes).
  2. Remove and place dough in ceramic bowl and cover with plastic wrap, letting sit until dough rises (1/2 hour to ¾ hour)
  3. Make pizza, focaccia bread, or flat bread of choice.

Can be refrigerated in Ziploc for up to 24 hours.