Friday, April 23, 2010

bienvenido a umami


Did you know about umami? Umami is the “fifth” taste. Not too long ago umami broke into the taste game, a game that was once solely dominated by the Big Four: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Umami came into the market late in the game but gained favor with food lovers because it’s so sensational. It’s like the Fox network of tastes. Except not evil. Actually, forget that I mentioned Fox; I don’t want you to think umami’s some trashy late comer who may or may not be bringing down the fabric of our country.


Umami is described alternately as “brothy” or “meaty” (I’m not sure how I feel about that second one) and is also identified as “savoriness.” At this point I would like to thank Wikipedia for the vocabulary words (except “meaty” I’d like you to take that one back). But anyways, if you’re a savory-leaning eater like me, you dig on some umami. Think parmesan cheese, mushrooms or soy sauce. Deep and salty, but earthy as well. Umami. I just like the word. It sounds like Puerto Rican slang for “girlfriend” or Japanese for “wicked.”


So I had some mushrooms that I bought because they were on sale and I had a vegetarian buddy coming over for dinner. I bought them thinking meatless main course; however, when I double checked with her on whether or not she liked mushrooms she said she “liked their flavor, but sometimes the texture sicked her out.” So I reevaluated my dinner plan and decided not to make mushrooms the centerpiece of our dining experience that night. Instead I utilized them in an appetizer. And I cuisinart-ed them into a tapenade to bypass the textural issues. I bet I’ll be good at tricking my future children into eating things. Not to compare my friend to a child. I fully get textual issues (I’m talking to you bananas). Great success! She loved it, I loved it, and I just added a mushroom appetizer to my repertoire that is like 5 times easier to prepare and 10 times less fattening for you than stuffed mushrooms. Win, win, win.



2 packages baby portabellas
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. butter
¼- ½ (ish) cup soy sauce (maybe a little more)
¼ (ish) cup Marsala wine
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 scallions, chopped


Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add shallots and sauté for a few minutes, add garlic. While the shallots are working clean and chop your mushrooms. Mine were already cut up, so I took the opportunity to pour myself a generous glass of wine. Add the mushrooms and toss to coat with the butter and oil (feel free to drizzle a bit more oil on if the pan is a little dry). Let the mushrooms work for a few minutes, until they begin to purge a bit of their liquid. Shake in some soy sauce and Marsala. I must admit, I was like “playing kitchen” when I made up this recipe and was tossing things in willy nilly. I just shook some soy in, then some Marsala, then a little more soy. Then I was like “hmmmm, scallions feel right here.” So I chopped up two and added them. Then the Dijon mustard caught my eye and I was like “get over here, sir. I’d like to utilize you” and tossed a wee bit of him in too. The measurements listed above are complete “guestimates” (gross! I hate that word) be wary of too much soy (too salty) or too much Marsala (too sweet). I would suggest starting with a couple good shakes of both, but with one extra shake of soy to Marsala. God, does this make any sense? Whatever I did it was good. Just come over my house and I’ll show you. I might even share my wine if you’re nice.



Once this concoction was together, I let it cook down for about ten minutes, so that the flavors could really meld. Then I turned off the heat and let it cool for a few before dumping the whole lot of it into the food processor and pulsing it until it was chopped up fairly finely, but still had a bit of texture. You don’t want to create soup, see? The end result is not that pretty to look at (think brown chunky paste) but whoo whee! Does it taste good! It’s delicious! I would spread this on a veggie wrap, crackers, with pita and hummus; eat it straight out of the container with a spoon, etc. The ideal way to serve it up is too make small crostini, or toast, if you don’t have a baguette handy. I did not, so I took some whole grain sandwich bread, toasted it and cut it into long strips (triangles would also work well here, but I was in a rectangular mood for some reason or another). On the toast strips spread a thin layer of goat cheese topped with a slathering of the mushroom tapenade. So good!


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

when life gives you chickens, make chicken enchiladas

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When I was 8 years old, my parents took us to El Torito for my dad’s friend’s birthday. In 1988 El Torito was the only game in town when it came to Mexican cuisine. Up until that point, the only foreign cuisine our young taste buds had sampled was at Cathay Hanover, the Chinese food place next to the mall. At El Torito, when a birthday is celebrated, the staff circles around you clapping in a festive manner as they sing “feliz cumpleanos.” During this performance, the birthday boy or girl wears a giant sombrero and is served a plate of fried ice cream. Fried Ice Cream! My sister and I exchanged impressed glances. Mexico must be like heaven! I assumed in Mexico every birthday went down like this. I wanted to move there immediately. We were so jazzed about the incredibly exotic nature of this meal from afar. It was a pivotal moment for us. Finally, a glimpse into authentic Mexican culture! I believe, if memory serves correct, that I had the traditional Mexican delicacy of chicken fingers. As I pretty much exclusively ate chicken fingers until I was 12. I wasn’t yet ready for the delights of mole poblano.


In the years since, I have expanded beyond a chicken fingers exclusive diet, but the glow of that exhilarating dinner stayed with me and I hold a special place in my heart for Mexican cuisine; although, I’ve since realized that much better can be had than that at El Torito. Last week when I was out west, Mexican food ended up on the agenda. In Southern California, it always does. Actually, a lot of food ended up on the agenda since my sister is eating about every hour and half these days. As you can imagine, I had little difficulty falling in step with her feeding schedule. On Monday night we were contemplating what to do with about 4 pounds of leftover fully cooked chicken from our Easter BBQ feast. After a small amount of brainstorming we settled on making enchiladas. We consulted a few recipes online and got a rough idea of the how’s, why’s and what’s and set to work. Since we had precooked chicken ready to go, this was a very simple and easy supper. If you are feeling lazy, my suggestion would be to get a pickin chicken from the grocery store to make these, or just simply bake up the chicken when you have time and use the meat later on to concoct these savory little pockets of heaven. The original recipe we looked at called for cooking the chicken in the sauce until cooked through, you can do that if you want, but since I did not, I will omit that step here. Sorry, I’m lazy.


(The original recipe we found was on Annie’s Eats, a very nice blog with some great recipes and beautiful photographs. While perusing her mouthwatering enchilada recipe, my sister and I read about Annie. She is not only a kickass food blogger, but also mother to a toddler and a full time actual medical doctor. These three pieces of information led us to believe that she may or may not be a robot or android of some sorts who subsists on achievement alone and has no need for petty human needs, such as sleeping (I mean, seriously woman, when do you sleep?). So we started to hate her a little bit, until we ate her enchiladas. I followed her recipe for the sauce to the letter. After that the instructions for assembly, technique and cooking time got a little too fussy for me and I just followed my instincts on the rest. I tend to do that. No offense, Annie.)


Meat from one whole chicken (or several leftover BBQ carcasses), shredded
1 medium sized white onion, diced
2 ½ jalapeño peppers, core and seeds removed, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs. Cumin
3 tbs. Chili powder
1 tbs. sugar
1 can tomato sauce
1 tomato, diced
1 cup water
2 cups shredded cheddar and/or jack cheese (or a combination of both)
12 corn tortillas

Heat a drizzle of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and jalapenos and sauté until softened (8-10 minutes). Add garlic, cumin, chili powder and sugar and stir together until fragrant. Add tomato sauce, diced tomato and water and turn the heat up slightly, letting the whole mixture simmer together and the sauce to reduce a bit. Add your shredded chicken and stir to coat. Try your best to keep a large section of the sauce on the side by itself, this will be the sauce to top your enchiladas with. Annie’s original recipe calls for straining this whole thing, then prepping your enchiladas, then baking them at like two different temperatures, etc. I’m sure hers were better than mine, but it was 8 p.m. and we were hungry, so I streamlined.

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Preheat your oven to 425 while you prepare your enchiladas. One at a time fill your tortilla with an appropriate amount of shredded chicken, a healthy (and by healthy I mean large) amount of shredded cheese. “Appropriate” here means that you will have a reasonable amount of chicken to nosh on, but you will also still be able to close the folds of your tortilla. I found the easiest way to ensure each tortilla would shut was to fold one side over the other and then place them folded side down in the baking dish. This way they wouldn’t act all annoying and come undone. Repeat this process with each tortilla until your baking dish is ready to go. I kept pressing my chicken to the side to make sure I had an adequate amount of sauce for the top of the dish, because if there’s one thing I don’t like, it’s dry corn tortillas. Once your enchiladas are successfully nestled together in the baking dish, top them with the remaining sauce from your sauce pan and the rest of the shredded cheese. Bake for about 20-30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and browned and the sauce is bubbling.

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Also, any additional saucy chicken that won't fit into the enchiladas, makes an awesome deconstructed enchilada salad topper:

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Monday, April 12, 2010

quick snack

see these?


these waffles are unlike any waffles you've ever seen. They are the result of a four year journey into the heart of waffle making. If you've had legit Belgian waffles like this, made with pearl sugar and/or beet sugar inside them, and made with real active yeast, you know what I'm talking about. In the words of my brother in law, maker of the above-pictured waffles, these waffles could turn an atheist into a believer. They are that good.

We first ate these waffles a few years ago at a Belgian Beer Festival in Boston. Then last year Heather and Chris went to Belgium and ate waffles on every street corner. Last Christmas, Heather gave Chris a waffle maker and he set about perfecting his waffle recipe at home. These here waffles are what I ate for breakfast my first morning out in California last week. They are tooth achingly sweet and totally amazing. If you have never experienced waffles like this, I suggest you seek them out. I think they have a waffle house in Somerville that makes 'em like this. Either that or go to Belgium, or go to my sister's house in Thousand Oaks, California. Due to the volume of waffles made last Saturday, they have a freezer full of these suckers.

More on waffles and California cuisine as soon as I can see the wood grain on the surface of my desk under this pile of paperwork. I swear it. xo.
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