Friday, February 26, 2016

Mushroom Catsup: I Muddle About With a Historic Recipe

One of my diverse interests is in historical recipes and cooking methods. If you have any interest in this sort of thing I encourage you to browse through "Enquire Within Upon Everything." This is a Victorian era tome that is (among many, many other things) chock full of insights into the culinary practices of the day.

Reading through EWUE an item that comes up again and again is "Mushroom Catsup." It is used as both an ingredient and a condiment in a variety of applications. The mushroom catsup that would have been consumed at the time was not of the thickened tomato catsup type substance we have today. It would have been something more akin to Worcestershire sauce.

Having developed a healthy curiosity concerning mushroom catsup I remembered having seen a recipe for it on one of my other favorite sources for historical recipes -- the Jas. Townsend and Son youtube channel. Jas. Townsend and Son run a business selling all sorts of wonderful items for Revolutionary War era reenacting. They also do a lot of period recipe videos on the channel which my daughter and I are very fond of watching. Here is the Jas. Townsend recipe for mushroom catsup from their blog.

I made that catsup recipe and it is really very good, you should try it. However, I can never leave well enough alone. I have tinkered with it and come up with my own recipe that is a bit more mushroom-y and has a stronger umami punch. Giving credit where credit is due I will say that my recipe is adapted from the Jas. Townsend and Son method.

Here is what you need -

2lbs mushrooms chopped
2 tablespoons salt
2 bay leaves
4 or 5 black peppercorns 
3 or 4 cloves 
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Crushed red pepper (quantum sufficit)
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish 
1 to 2 teaspoons mushroom catsup powder *(I'll explain below)
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 large onion chopped
Pinch MSG

Start by sprinkling the chopped mushrooms with the salt and sort of smashing it all with a wooden spoon. Leave it in a bowl overnight and you will see the delicious liquor of the mushroom leach out. Put the mushrooms with their liquid in a pot with all of the other ingredients.

Bring to a boil and let it simmer gently for about an hour stirring frequently. I pour the mess into a chinois and mush as much liquid as I can out of the solids. As recommended by the Townsend recipe I save the solids and dehydrate them. I spread on foil and put in the oven on the lowest setting until completely dry.

I run the dried mushroom mixture through a spice grinder to get the mushroom powder I mention in the recipe. This stuff is also great for dusting steaks, flavoring gravy, and adding some mushroom kick to soups or stews. It adds a rich depth of flavor to the mushroom catsup.

I should mention that I also include a little MSG which might be a bit controversial. MSG has been proven, to my satisfaction, as a safe ingredient. I think it is perfectly fine to use it under certain circumstances. Feel free to leave it out, but it really adds a little something to this recipe.

After straining the solids you are left with a pint or so of delicious liquid.

 I have replaced the cider vinegar in the original recipe with white vinegar as it lets more of the mushroom flavor come through. This catsup is a bit sharp at this point and would benefit from a little aging. I bottle the mushroom catsup and process in a water bath for a half of an hour or so.

This will go in the basement for a couple months to mellow out.

There you have it -- delicious mushroom catsup! Put it on your meat, put it on your rice, put it on your cornflakes. Get weird with it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sausage Cabinet: On At Home Dry-Curing

If you have followed my on and off internet ramblings over the course of the past decade or so (I really hope there aren't that many of you), then you will know that I have sort of an obsession with at home dry-curing. The idea of making homemade charcuterie out of our locally farmed meats has always delighted me.

When I bought my home 4 or 5 years ago I was delighted that it came with a dank, musky, creepy, fieldstone basement. I thought it might be perfect for home dry-curing. But as I experimented, I found that simply hanging things in the basement worked seasonally at best. There are a few months of the year when the temperature and humidity are right for some small diameter salamis. As for hams or large salamis the variance in temp and humidity are just too much. Another side effect of our Upstate New York weather.

So in a quest for a dependable all-year dry-curing chamber a monster was born. Literally. Meet "Franken-Fridge."

What a ridiculous person I am. I cobbled this thing together out of all sorts of bits and ends. It actually ended up working fairly well, but in the end it was too fussy. I was always having to fiddle with it and I had some catastrophic equipment failures that ended in the heartbreaking trashing of some lovely salamis.

So I cannibalized Franken-Fridge's guts for various other projects and his corpse lives in the corner of my basement awaiting transport to the dump.

Disheartened, I took a long break from the meaty wizardry of home charcuterie production. There are a few reasons for this hiatus I think. First, I am fickle in my interests. I flit between my various hobbies like a mad man. This very week I was researching how to make a small home kiln. I had a yen to start producing my own stoneware... I didn't even try to introduce that one to the wife.

Secondly, my philosophy on meat has changed in recent years. It takes quite a bit of meat to make a worthwhile batch of sopressatta or something. Lately I tend to purchase good quality meat in increasingly small quantities so it is hard to allocate the meaty assets for a charcuterie project.

The other week I decided to throw caution to the wind and get some pork to do a sopressatta. I had intended to do the salamis in standard hog casings and just hang them in the basement. The weather/humidity down there tends to be about right going into March. But then I had another idea. Salami cabinet.

I had some cabinetry lying around from a small kitchen remodel and it occurred to me that this one was just the right size for dry-curing some lengthy salamis. I drilled some holes in the top of the cabinet for air circulation and put a small bowl of salt water int he bottom for humidity.

I made the batch of sopressatta in hog middle sized collagen casings. It was a very simple recipe of salt, pink salt, black pepper, red pepper, and some bactoferm t-spx. I inoculated the surface of the salamis with some loukanika from the Cheese Traveler. Nobody recommends this method of surface mold inoculation but I have always had it work.

And there you have it. The drying sausages and the bowl of salt water keep the humidity about right and my basement stays at about 50-55 until June. The salamis are a few weeks in now and coming along perfectly. Almost covered in white mold and not a hint of any case hardening.

I won't be able to make salami all year long, but this is a great solution for the colder months.

Here is where I will wax philosophical about dry-curing salami and turn it into a metaphor for life...

For many years I have been trying to force the issue of dry-curing. I spent so much time, treasure, and thought constructing Fraken-Fridge. My creation ended up being a modest success, but in the end it was too complex and overthought. I had tried to play salami-god and have my own creation turn out salami year-round. I flew too close to the salami sun.

Now I have my solution. A simple wooden box that works for a portion of the year and does its job.

That is the rub. All things according to their own time and season. Don't overthink things. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Relax. Let time wash over you like waves at the beach. Leave your salami alone in the darkness and resist the urge to open the door. Let patience be rewarded. Enjoy the process as much as the result...

Friday, February 19, 2016

Port Wine and Portmanteau. Herkimer Cheese Co. (Chutter!)

 I have long had an affection for the Herkimer Cheese Co. (Ilion, NY). It simply would not be Christmas without their Port Wine cheese-balls. Those bright red nut be-speckled beauties have been a fixture of my holiday table for as long as I can remember.

Ever heard of cheese fudge (my post concerning the glorious subject)? Herkimer makes it and it is really pretty good. That is if you can wrap your mind around cheddar and chocolate mushed together into fudge...

But today I would like to take a look at Herkimer Cheese Co.'s Chutter. Let it roll off your tongue -- "Chutter." What a lovely portmanteau! Cheddar butter. That sounds delicious. I have been after the stuff for ages and I finally found some (on special no less) over at the Slingerlands Shoprite.

Reading the ingredients I was a little disappointed. I expected the list to read something like, "Cheese, butter." But alas, the Herkimer Chutter is made of cheddar cheese, cream cheese, whey, and sundry other ingredients. No matter. Despite my better judgement I tend to love even the most processed spread-cheeses.

 I let the Chutter come to room temperature. It softened much to the consistency of a cream cheese. I smeared a hearty glob onto the heel of a loaf of Prinzo's bread (Delaware Ave, Albany).

The Chutter was OK. A very mild cheddar/cream cheese-y taste. I perhaps would have went with a bit sharper flavor for consumption of Chutter as a spread. But it seems that Herkimer Cheese Co. is marketing the stuff more as an ingredient for composed dishes. Take a look over here. Herkimer provides you with about a hundred recipes that include Chutter.

The recipes include a somewhat disconcertingly long list of Desserts... The unfortunately named "Pumpkin Dump Cake" being my favorite. I was calling my wife, "my little pumpkin dump" for a week.

So, I am putting Chutter firmly in my "its OK" file. If you are really jonesing for actual cheese-butter, consult my recipe for sodium citrate cheese butter.

Chutter, pumpkin dumps, cheese fudge... Thank you, Herkimer Cheese Co., for bringing these concepts into my life.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

On Sandwiches... (Today's: Bauernschinken, Bread, Butter)

I had quite the nice day yesterday. First, I was over at the Home Despot (Depot) on Central Ave. in Albany poking about the garden department. A nice gentleman and I struck up a conversation about starting seedlings inside under grow-lights. Knowledge was shared, pictures were shown, tips were given... Boy do I love some good gardening banter.

To gild the day's lily I decided to swing by Rolf's Pork Store (Lexington Ave., Albany) under the auspices of "only picking up some bacon." Who am I kidding? I never walk out of the place without a large paper sack having spent at least 50 bucks.

Part of my haul was some good German bread and a pound of Bauernschinken (I splurged). As I was making my breakfast open-faced sandwich I decided to share some thoughts on bread and meat.

Eating bread and meat together is a lost art. Most everyone seems to have been conditioned from birth to pile half of a deli cold-cold case and the contents of a small kitchen garden on top of a bread-y vehicle at the very sound of the word "sandwich."

I blame both the Jewish deli tradition of meat-pile sandwiches and the ubiquitous fast food "sub" shops that abound in our horrid age. Not that I have anything against Jewish delis or sub shops (except Subway which smells bad). But they have warped our sense of "sandwich."

I am an enormous fan of sandwiches (often open-faced) made with scant ingredients on sturdy bread. A couple thin slices of flavorful cured meat, perhaps a smear of one dairy fat or the other, and a slice of bread. This is all you need. You have to resist the urge to overcomplicate things. No limp lettuce, no out of season 'maters, and definitely no foul goo of the demons (mayo) out of a jar.

I think I spent 20 dollars on the pound of Rolf's Bauernschinken (worth every penny) and it dishonors the quality of the ham to mask its flavor. By the way, Rolf's doesn't get enough credit for their meat slicing. Every slice of the ham is paper-thin and beautiful.

Here are some steps to get good bread and meats in your belly.

Step 1: Bread.

Step 2: A smear of something. Herb butter this time.

Step 3: Ogle meats for a bit. Sniff the meat. Smile at it some.

Step 4: Layer meats. A thin layer. If its good you don't need much.

Step 5: Eat sandwich standing up in kitchen while your dumb mutt stares at you (dumb mutt out of frame).

I could eat many, many of these. Today I ate 2. But I could eat many, many more.

Below linked are more ramblings on this theme. I have been posting for many years now, I'm getting repetitive in my themes. Food blogs are a flat circle. I trust you will forgive me this.

Salami and Butter Sandwiches
Grilled Headcheesus
Rolf's Teawurst/Prinzo's Bread

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ozymandihash. (Empire State Plazago Delenda Est)

Yesterday I recreated elements (The Egg and the Corning Tower) of the Empire State Plaza in meat and eggs. Today I destroyed and consumed them.

I have been reading the wonderful 98 Acres in Albany page that documents what was lost when Rocky erased the heart of the City of Albany to build the ESP. So I am going to turn this plate of hash into a metaphor of sorts. I'll explain.

Due to the Plaza's 50th anniversary it seems to have become fashionable among a certain set to point out all of the ESP's supposed good qualities. You will see dewey sunset pictures of the reflecting pool on folk's facebooks and they will say things like, "the architecture is actually really beautiful" while giving you a face that supposes you are not ready to be in on the secret. I call them ESP apologists. They are idiots.

The Empire State Plaza is horrible. It is a hideous concrete headstone over the grave of a city. Rockefeller stole the future of Albany when he built it. So I say tear it down. Tear it all down. Move the workers to the Harriman complex and let life creep into those acres again. Let this monument to Nelson Rockefeller's odd fancy sink beneath the sands of time. Stranger and more expensive things have been done.

So perhaps my Scotch "The Egg" and "Corninged Beef Tower" are totems. I ritually constructed these monuments from meat, ritually destroyed them, and now I have eaten them. This seems like some manner of witchdoctor voodoo. Perhaps I have set in motion an avalanche of mystical juju that will eventually lead to the Plaza being reborn as a neighborhood.

This is all, of course, nonsense. But futile wishes are wishes none the less. I'm sure Cato never thought that Carthage would be erased when he ended all of his speeches, "Carthago delenda est."

So, Empire State Plazago delenda est.

(Well, not really "destroyed." But I don't know how to say "miracle into existence billions of dollars and transfer the workers to new offices elsewhere then bulldoze the place" in Latin.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Scotch "The Egg" and the "Corninged Beef Tower"

I have a long history of turning local themes, personalities, and foods into "art."

Sometimes this takes the form of meatloaf ("Meatloafistry" I call it).

Loafy Jennings
Meatloafy the Whale
Meat Romney
Meatloafy Puss
Grumpy Loaf

Sometimes I like to suspend things in aspic, like local minidogs for instance.

I haven't done any of this sort of thing in quite a while, but today I found inspiration...

Lately I have been hankering for some down and dirty homemade corned beef hash. I had the day off today so I decided to venture out for a can of corned beef for the hash.  On the way to the store I remembered a conversation I had on the twitters about how there is a dearth of Empire State Plaza themed food items. One of the ideas I had been tossing around was for a sandwich called the "Corninged Beef Tower." A couple mental leaps later and an idea for corned beef Scotch Eggs in the shape of "The Egg" occurred to me...

This is not the first time I have attempted to recreate that weird and wonderful piece of Albany skyline in eggy form. Several years ago I toyed with hardboiled egg floated in aspic (similar to my minidog project "Capital Region in Aspic"). I was not satisfied with the results so I don't think I broadcasted it publicly. Here it is --

Another view --

I had a feeling that my present inspiration would turn out much better. I started with a can of Libby's corned beef. I love the look of this odd trapezoidal can. Cracking open the can with the little key it comes with is more fun then it should be.

Corned beef!

I took about two thirds (saved the other third for the "Corninged Beef Tower") of the corned beef and mashed it up with a little breadcrumb. I then liberally enrobed two hardboiled eggs with the meat paste and rolled them in more breadcrumb.

Into 350 degree oil until nicely browned they went.

Then I got to sculpting... I was delighted with what I came up with!

Here she is folks -- Scotch "The Egg" and the "Corninged Beef Tower" --

I am thoroughly amused with this project. I think it came out swimmingly.

And lest you think I wasted any of the food involved, I didn't. I hacked it all up and fried it with some potatoes and onion to make the hash that stared this whole fiasco. All is right with the world.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Daddy/Daughter Date at Tanpopo Ramen (Broadway in Albany). We Sat in the "Ironweed" Booth.

My darling daughter has developed a ramen habit. She was served (at her Grandma's) a piping hot serving of Nissin Cup Noodles and it is all I have heard about since. I have been stressing to her that this particular sort of ramen noodle is decidedly a "sometimes food." However, the seven year old heart wants what the seven year old heart wants. I figured a good compromise for slaking her ramen thirst was to take her over to Tanpopo Ramen on Broadway in Albany for a bowl.

Heading over there was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me. Tanpopo inhabits the building where Miss Albany Diner was. Sigh. The world has moved on.

We arrived early, at about 4:00 PM, so we had the pick of the booths. It goes without question that we selected the Ironweed booth.

I feel like there should be a bronze plaque above this booth. If you don't know, this is where Meryl Streep had her toast in the movie version of the novel Ironweed by William Kennedy.

But I guess Meryl Streep has nothing on wee Giblet.

For the daughter I ordered plain ramen in broth. I wanted to ease her into this ramen business. She is notoriously suspicious of any sort of "toppings." I ordered the "Tanpopo Spicy Ramen" which is -- "tonkotsu broth with mince spicy pork paste, chashu pork, scallion, fish cake, and kikurage mushroom."

Young Giblet was delighted by the appearance of the narutomaki (fishcake) in my bowl and even acquiesced to a taste of the spicy pork. I thought the ramen was fine. I am no ramen expert, but the noodles had a bit of chew and the broth had a nice feel in the mouth. The "chashu pork" had an assertive anise/5 spice powder taste, and I could be wrong, but I don't thing it was belly. Isn't chashu supposed to be belly?

In any event, we had a great time. I promised young Giblet that we would be back.

I should say that I don't think the daughter and I are the target audience for this place. I have to take a couple buddies there at night after several oat-sodas and throw down a couple of bowls before I give my final verdict.

The only critique I have is the decor. The interior of Tanpopo is very spare. Perhaps this is a design choice. For an old Albany guy who remembers Miss Albany as it was, I ached for the cluttered decor of the old diner. I recommend that Tanpop put a bunch more crap on the walls to satisfy stodgy old bastards like myself.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Piss Beers of Upstate New York: Part 6, Genesee Ice

Piss Beers, Part 1 - Genny Lager
Piss Beers, Part 2 - Uncle Charlie (Utica Club)
Piss Beers, Part 3 - Genny Bock
Piss Beers, Part 4 - Genny 12 Horse Ale
Piss Beers, Part 5 - Stewart's Mountain Brew Ice v1.0
Piss Beers, Part 5 1/2 - Stewart's Mountain Brew Ice v2.0

Well aren't I right back on the hack food-blog horse? I've been spitting out posts left and right. I think I'm on track to outpace my entire last year's post productivity and it is only February...

Wouldn't you know it? Today the piss beer muse came a-knockin' on my door. So here is part 6 in my ongoing "The Piss Beers of Upstate New York" saga. Tonight we have a look at Genessee Ice. As always, I am writing this post apr├ęs-drinking (the tallboy in question).

I've squawked about it before, but I am absolutely in love with the newer Genesee can designs. The Genny light can is a thing of beauty. It is art in my opinion.

So when I saw that they were issuing Genny Ice in an ominous looking black can of the new design I began questing for it. Look at this thing, it is like the Darth Vader of beer cans.
But alas, I have had no luck finding a specimen. I did, however, come across a tallboy of the stuff in an older style can at the Speedway on Delaware Ave. in Delmar. By the way, is anyone else ticked off that all of the Hess-marts turned into Speedways? If the Speedway folks ask me if I have my "Speedy Rewards" card one more time I might lose my mind...

You won't get any good pour shots here because I decided to break in my new (opaque) Genesee chalice. I have a wonderful friend who was so kind to pick it up for me at the Genesse Brew House.

I was immediately surprised when I began pouring the Genny Ice. It is deep amber in color, much darker than any other 'ice' brew I have had the pleasure of sampling. It almost looks like Genny Bock. There was a frothy head that stuck around for more than a few seconds which was likewise a bit surprising.

During my first sip I tasted toasted malt and none of the icky corn sweetness that I expected. Genny Ice is much "drier" then your typical 'ice' beer. No real off flavors or funk that I could detect. Don't get me wrong, you are not going to be enraptured by this brew. But it is all together not so bad. At the very least it is novel when compared to your usual ice beer suspects.

I have heard tales that you can find Genny Ice in 40 ouncers. That is my next mission. Episode 6.5 of "The Piss Beers" series will attack that problem. Expect a less coherent post after I have gotten one of those bad boys into me.

Now the only thing left to see is if I will suffer a case of the "Genny Screamers." Will "Genesse Lighning" strike? Only time will tell...

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