Sunday, April 26, 2009

Never buy pita in a grocery store. Ever.

There are few things more likely to bring the bile up in the back of my throat than sinking my teeth into store-bought pita bread. In one of the biggest shams of American food capitalism, somebody had this big idea that they would pass off delicious pita bread as this cakey, crumbly, flavorless nightmare, and then overcharge poor saps for the honor. I'm sure you've had it as well, and unless you're just daft or haven't had the proper stuff, you know what I mean. Go to any gyro/falafel/shawarma shop around and get it from a restaurant. Notice the difference? It's resilient and flavorful.

Well, it's not rocket science to make the good stuff. Once again, people assume something is harder than it actually is. I'm gonna fix this.

  • 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 3 1/4 cup bread flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
Combine your sugar, yeast, and 1/2 cup of water in a bowl. In a large mixing bowl, combine your salt and bread flour. Form a well. Let the yeast sit five minutes in the water, then stir and add to the well, with the olive oil.

Stir in a little flour to form a thin paste and cover for 20 minutes to let it sponge.

Once sponged, start stirring in the rest of the flour. If the mixture binds too fast, add a little of your water. You want to keep the dough as stiff as possible but still keep it together. Eventually, you'll work all the flour in to form a very stiff dough ball.

Knead this thing out for at least fifteen minutes. You want as much gluten activation as you can manage. Once that's done, pop it in a greased mixing bowl, and cover with a damp towel.

Usually I give it 90 minutes to rise, but it's getting warmer these days so I cut it to 75, which is more than plenty.

Once that's doubled, punch it down, chafe it into an even ball, and cut it in two. Re-cover one half, and with the other half, cut it into four portions and make little balls with that.

Roll em out to about 8 to 12 inches diameter more or less. It should be pretty thin but not at risk of tearing apart. I usually give a few passes with the rolling pin, flip the dough, rotate it 90 degrees, and repeat. You'll get a generally round shape but don't worry if its not perfect. You want to cover these and let them proof for 20 minutes. While that's happening, work elsewhere.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and if you've got a pizza stone, put it in there. If you don't have a stone, go ahead and use a baking sheet, but it's not quite as efficient at soaking up heat and dishing it out. You can use paving stones in any hardware store for an alternative if you need stone, it's up to you.

While that's preheating, I go and fry my falafels. These are from an earlier blog posting from last year, all made from scratch stuff. Again, falafel from box mix is terrible, and it's not hard to make the authentic stuff very easily.

I also had made some hommous and tzatziki sauce in advance a few days before. If you want the low-down on the falafel and tzatziki, check the posting Falafel, Tzatziki, and Mutabbal - An Arabic Feast.

The hommous is very easy too.
  • 14 ounce can of cooked chicpeas, with liquid
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp tahini
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon, or 2 tsp citric acid granules
  • dash of hot paprika
  • extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on top.
Combine all that stuff sans the paprika and olive oil in food processor, and let that go on high for about five minutes until a silky puree. Spoon that into a dish, chill it, and when you serve, splash a little olive oil on top and a shake of paprika. That's it.

At any rate, when your 20 minutes is up for the proofing, take the first pita and ease it onto the stone. Let that bake for five minutes. Open the oven, and what looks like a weird bready pillow pops out!

Be gentle with it, it's going to be hard and brittle for a few minutes until it cools and softens up. If you have a towel or cloth bag or something, bundle it in there. Repeat the process with the next pita. Once they're all baked, they'll be supple and flat, but with a wonderful pocket. You can do the same with the next batch of dough, or what I recommend is to put that in the fridge for the next day. Pita should be eaten as fresh as possible to enjoy its full potential.

Dinner is served. We just recently got a nice wrought iron bistro set and wanted to eat outside to take advantage of the nice weather. My wife's carnivorous habits took over and she made beef souvlaki, which was fine by me. I also arranged some eggplant, red pepper, and onion on some awesome kebab skewers my mom gave me, and grilled those up as well. Dinner was served with beer and a healthy portion of Ouzo for a digestif.

Pocket shot. Plenty of real estate in here. I packed in the grilled veg around falafel and drizzled tzatziki all over that.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lipstick on a Pig: Whiting Hemingway

So, I had some sea bass.


No longer.

Sadly, it went south on me within a couple of days. I was going to use it to make Sea Bass Hemingway, a totally BS-ed mockup of Grouper Hemingway of my own design. Instead, I was stuck in the midst of my mise en place with a wrapper full of stinky fish, and feeling a bit frantic. To keep dinner on the plate, I resorted to frozen whiting. It's not even close to a match at all, but sometimes bad things happen and you've just got to deal. My wife was very supportive of me and helped me turn the disaster around.

Now, the spaghetti and sauce were very tasty, and the skin on the whiting was at least pleasantly crispy. That's good. The rest of the whiting itself was a bit overdone and let's be frank, whiting on it's best day will never taste as good as sea bass on its worst. It was edible, and partly good, but mostly a lesson worth learning.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's for dinner roundup

Nothing much going on, just a few things I've been making for dinner lately:

First time making french fries. They turned out pretty decent. Served with some super creamy hommous from my double batch in the food processor.

Grilled cheese with homemade bread and Red Dragon cheddar cheese (infused with lots of mustard seeds!)

Some noodle & soup amalgamation with udon noodles, edamame, water chestnuts, baby corn, cabbage, carrots, shitake mushrooms, and green onion.

More stuff to come this weekend. Making some more tapas, and a proper middle eastern dinner spread!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tapas are an excuse to make lazy finger food

I've been dabbling in a book on Tapas I found on sale, and been kinda wanting to get into making them. For those not familiar, tapas are a sort of Spanish fast food / street food / finger food sort of thing. A few here and there make for a tasty snack, and given enough of em, you can make a meal out of them too.

This one was pure lazy. I served up a tin of sardines with a little garlic-infused olive oil. With that were some manzanilla olives stuffed with red pimiento peppers. To the right, cubes of spanish manchego goat cheese, and finally some oven roasted almonds with paprika and salt. I poured up a glass of a buttery-sweet Spanish red, and had a lazy night of eating with my fingers.

I plan on getting a little more involved with this as I go. I want to make a party spread with multiple assortments of olives, a lot of chorizo sausage, and maybe some spicy prawns and other such things. There's not many rules. The Spanish love almonds, paprika, olives, chorizo, and tasty little seafood bits. It's an entire cuisine built around bite sizes!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What the heck is a Rarebit, and what is that Shepherd doing to it?!?

Wales is a place I know next to nothing about. I can rattle off all sorts of trivial fluff about every far-flung corner of the earth, except for Wales and a few banana republics here and there. All I know about them is that they have a sweet-looking flag, have a disproportionately large number of people named Llewellyn, and have an unfortunate reputation for sheep relations that is probably unfair, but rivals that of New Zealanders. Baa Ram Ewe indeed.

The only other thing I know is that Welsh Rarebits rule. Rarebit, also known to some as Welsh Rabbit, is a play on words, when snooty fog-breathers in England and other parts of the Isles used to have a laugh at what a bunch of broke-asses that Welshmen were, and said that to the Welsh, cheese was considered to be their rabbit, since they were too poor for the real thing. The Welsh, being precursors to modern rednecks or something, turned it around on everybody and made rarebit, a delicious sauce for toasted bread made out of cheese and beer. I can only imagine that this would be the work of a proto-Redneck, because I can totally see some dude with a mullet waking up in his shanty with a four-alarm hangover, trying to cook something with cheese, and pouring in a warm pint of last night's libation because "Hold my beer and watch this shit" happens.

For your rarebit sauce, grab some stuff:
  • 1 1/2 cup cheese, grated (I used some swanky black & yellow marbled Cahill's Porter Cheddar, but regular cheddar works plenty fine.)
  • 2/3 cup cream
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2 cup dark beer (Porter or Stout preferably.)
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Begin by combining your flour and butter to whisk over medium heat in a 2 quart saucepot. You want to make a really thick roux. To that, add your Worcestershire & mustard, and whisk around quickly. Add your cream and bring the heat down to medium-low.

Mmm beer. Add the beer. Stir. That should be about half a bottle if you're like me and having a weenie 12 ounce instead of a pint. Rectify your situation with the other half of the bottle going into your face. Keep stirring.

Cheese in, pepper in, keep stirring!

Here's your finished rarebit. Mine's darker than usual on account of the Cahill's Porter cheese. Now, go toast you up some bread, and lets put it on a plate and ladle some of this stuff on top.

Haha yeah right.

You think I'd make something this awesome and just drop it on some toast? I've got bigger plans. Let's put this rarebit into some science machine and cross it with a Shepherd's Pie! Also since we've basically made a drunk-ass relative of Sauce Mornay, let's put some macaroni all up in here. It may sound like I'm making all this crap up as I go, and you're absolutely right.

To begin the transformation, grab this junk:

You want about 1/2 cup frozen peas, maybe 1/3 jar of dried beef or maybe a half cup of leftover mince or whatever. You also want a small-medium russett potato. Not pictured, but also get a pound of elbow macaroni, and bring a gallon of water to boil with a few teaspoons of salt in it. Cook your macaroni about a minute or so shy of al-dente (aka done). You also want a small pad of butter reserved for the potato. I'll get to that later.

Chop your meat. This stuff is crazy delicious and I snuck a nibble. Cook's prerogative.

When your macaroni finishes, drain in a collander and transfer to a bowl. Toss with the dried beef and peas, and ladle your rarebit onto that.

Wash and dry the potato, and if you have a food processor, use the grater function to make you some awesome hash brown things. If you don't have a processor, use a grater with big holes. If you don't have that, you can always do this like a traditional shepherd's pie and mash the spuds for the topping. I want something a little more solid to contrast the macaroni, so I went with hash browns instead. When you've got your gratings, melt the pad of butter in a skillet and cook for a few minutes on medium-low, stirring a lot. You are only interested in turning the potato slightly translucent and soft. Don't crisp em yet. We'll get to that later.

Spoon your macaroni into ramekins or similar oven-happy dishes. Make it as level as you can, and leave about half an inch of space up top.

Top with the hash. Again, make it pretty even, and space it out so you get a crust and cover the macaroni. Go ahead and set your oven's broiler on, and make sure your rack is on the next-to-closest setting from the top.

Pop your ramekins onto a baking sheet and slide em in. Keep the door open because you want to watch them at all times. Don't worry about losing hot air because broiling is doing its work with direct radiant heat instead of hot air. This is fine.

Remove, let cool for a good 5-10 minutes or so, and serve with a glass of the same beer you used. In my opinion this is a one-ramekin meal, so if you are having other things make sure they're not quite as fattypants as this is. The stuff I suggested in the recipe will make easily six servings if not eight. The only difference is that each potato yields about enough hash for three or four servings. If you need more tater, just shred another one.

Mmm United Kingdom-ey.

So is this a Shepherd's Rarebit? Is it a Welsh Pie? Is it a Rarebitaroni Surprise? I don't know but it's pretty awesome stuff, and a hell of a lot more fun than some silly toast.

Les Poissons

Les poissons
Les poissons
How I love les poissons
Love to chop
And to serve little fish
First I cut off their heads
Then I pull out the bones
Ah mais oui
Ca c'est toujours delish
Les poissons
Les poissons
Hee hee hee
Hah hah hah
With the cleaver I hack them in two
I pull out what's inside
And I serve it up fried
God, I love little fishes
Don't you?

Here's something for tempting the palate
Prepared in the classic technique
First you pound the fish flat with a mallet
Then you slash through the skin
Give the belly a slice
Then you rub some salt in
'Cause that makes it taste nice

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dead Animals om nom nom nom

Easter's here! Time to get some serious grub on. For those who don't know, I've kept myself on a vegetarian diet for the duration of the Lentan fast, and that went really well. Does that mean that I'm on the fast track to veganism? Not so fast chief. While I have nothing at all against vegetarians and vegans, many of whom I'm friends with and know they can cook some seriously good food, it's not a lifestyle that I'd choose to embrace. True to my ultimate nature as an adventurous omnivore, sometimes I gotta just answer that call. If I find myself over some slain prey in the faint moonlight howling at the sky, that's just how I roll.

But before Bessie the Cow has a nervous fit, I think it's best to put on training wheels. Diving directly into a ribeye and arugula salad might be tasty, but I might not be able to handle it. So to start, let's go light. How about seafood?

I worked a good six hours today to put together a spread that would be gobbled up and gone between me and my wife within less than one. Some people would think this is crazy, but I just love to cook. Some people tinker in garages on muscle cars for years and drive them one day a month. If you love it, half the fun is the journey.

For a salad, I went with an adaptation of something I'd read in a French bistro cookbook about a Basque seafood salad with red peppers. I liked the general idea, but wanted to make a dressing out of peppers instead, and use some neat little things like pearl onions to go with stock-boiled calamari.

I really had fun with the presentation, and this thing tasted great. If I do it again, I might not use arugula though. I think spinach would be tastier greens, as the arugula is a little loud in comparison.

Next was a pouch-steamed filet of sole, with garlic, lemon, fresh thyme & parsley, with a crusty garlic bruschetta. The flavors complemented each other really well, but next time I don't think I'll pair something as hearty as a bruschetta with this fish, because it's seriously delicate and tender. If I pan-fried it instead, different story, but no big deal.

Risotto with lobster fumé and saffron. I took a lobster carapace from one of my wife's previous meals and put that in a pot with mirepoix vegetables and a bouquet garni, which is a little bundle of herbs that work like the mirepoix, to amp up flavor. I strained it, reduced it, strained it again through cloth, and it was excellent stuff. Definitely the best fumé I've made from lobster. I think my risotto craft is definitely improving as I make the stuff, because I loved it. The only downside is that by the time I got to this, I was only a few bites in and then I was full. Oh well, there's always leftovers.

The wine I had with all this was an off-dry Riesling that went well with the sole, but I think it was too sweet for anything else. Dry Riesling would've been better for the salad, and the Risotto could've handled Sauvignon Blanc, because it's big and rich, and wouldn't be crowded out.

All in all, it was a really fun experience to make this sort of food again, and I had a great time doing it. Am I back to murder on a plate every day? Probably not. I like meat a good deal, but I expect it's something best done on a weekend, when you can do it right.

Okay, so maybe one more veggie dish...

For many a moon I have fussed and fretted with my wife to get a deep fryer, and the answer has always been no. Now, she's not unreasonable, and her refusal has been largely pragmatic. You see, our house and our kitchen are pretty damn small. In fact, I have absolutely no idea how I'm able to squirrel away the amount of culinary crap that I manage to own. I run my kitchen a lot like a U-Boat. Space is a premium that cannot be wasted. I believe I just recently put away a sack of potatoes into the keyboard drawer of a derelict computer cart! Soon, I'll get a chain-suspended cot to drop from the ceiling and I'll hot bunk in shifts with a bearded fellow named Johann. He'll handle breakfasts and torpedoing British freighters in the morning, and I'll come around for the second shift to tackle dinner and dodge depth charges. A pity I don't know any German sailing songs, and I'm pretty sure that Rammstein was gauche even back in the 1940's.

So exactly how on earth did I pull this con? She brought up the space issue again, and I countered by saying that I'd make room. She was unconvinced, so I brought out my wild card. I would make pakoras and bhajjis.

Among the first Indian food I ever made, these bite-sized potato and onion junk foods are some of my wife's favorite stuff. She says I make them better than anybody, and she's pretty good about not flattering me without meaning it. Did I mention I love to have my ego stroked? At any rate, that must've done the trick, because today I brought home a big ol' frying cauldron.

I also managed to pull down in a binge of capitalistic excess a nice clear plastic multi-portion dish. I planned to use the thing for Spanish Tapas, but my chances of finding a good Sherry in this one-horse town are hit and miss, so that was on a back burner. She wanted to fill the thing up for the two of us. I told her she was crazy, but I wanted to play with my fry monster!

Along with the fried vittles, I toasted up some naan, and served mango chutney, pickle, and some cold IPA. True to form, we didn't even get close to finishing half, but I guess we'll have fun eating leftovers. Not the healthiest thing in the world to be sure, but sometimes it's fun to have junk.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday is at an end.

With the sun setting tonight, so too ends my wonderful experiment into the world of vegetarianism.

So, what have I learned? Has any wisdom been gained from the experience? Was it too much to bear?

The last question first I guess. It was easy. It was perhaps too easy really. I don't really eat much meat at all in my normal activities, but this foray certainly proved the point. I changed my habits very little. Surprisingly the hardest thing to give up were anchovies, which I think are perfectly savory and anchor so many tasty sauces in place.

How about wisdom? Sure. I learned not to hate and fear fortified greens, as long as they're cooked properly. I learned how to reconnect and enjoy some southern food. I learned that seitan is a pretty tasty, albeit pretty silly food.

Now more than ever, eating bravely is an exciting hobby. As long as the food is of good quality and prepared well, there's not really anything I won't try once. I've washed clean the stubborn pickiness of my childhood.

Is this saying goodbye to vegetarian eats for me? Hell no. I love 'em, and I'm sure they'll continue to be a major portion of my diet. I must admit I'm looking forward to easing into a habitual meat dish every now and then though. In particular, I want some seafood this weekend. More on that later.

Until then, I leave you with my final veggie dish of Lent - some yummy paneer mattar :)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Evolution of recipe ideas

As most people here know, I usually don't follow recipes. Mind you, I own a zillion cook books and I read recipes the way that some nerds read comic books, but it's mainly for general concepts and ideas. I might like the way that one recipe recommends a sauce, but think that the rest of it is crap, and think about a completely different way to take it and go with a random idea. To sort of illustrate the process that goes on in my mad science lab of a brain, I'm posting up a bit of a work in progress.

Basically, I wanted to make a dish with a general Italian sense of style using three things in particular.
  • Fresh asparagus (it's so in season it would be a crime not to eat it often)
  • Pungent & garlicky bruschetta (Italian toast basically)
  • An egg, preferably poached (cooked in liquid just slightly under the boiling point)
Now, my first day of tinkering resulted in hit or miss stuff. My egg fell completely apart in my poaching liquid! Disaster! I had forgotten to swirl the water before adding the egg, and also forgotten to add a little bit of acidic liquid to my water, which helps to denature the proteins in the egg and make them semi-solid like we like. The swirling helps to more or less wrap the egg up in itself as it cooks, so it stays together instead of becoming a whispy white cloud in your pot.

In my frustration, I opted instead for an over-easy egg. Bad idea on two fronts. One, it ain't poached like I want it, and two, I really suck at flipping over easies. Broke the yolk, ranted and raved, and moved on. Can be eaten, just isn't pretty.

The asparagus was a simple affair, and I wanted nothing more than to just pan fry about five stalks of the stuff in maybe a teaspoon or two of olive oil. To that I'd accompany some very thin slivers of garlic clove. Now in this iteration I added them a little early to the pan. Garlic is a tricky thing. Heat changes its flavor profile dramatically. Raw or lightly cooked, and it's very pungent and a little peppery. Cooked more and it sweetens a bit. Beyond that and it gets a bit bitter. If you like that skanky, flower-wilting effect that only the first category provides, you want to add the stuff just a minute or two before removing the pan from the heat. It doesn't need much to flavor everything around it.

The bruschetta in my case was a bit of thick-sliced baguette (quiet you big babies it isn't important whether the bread is Italian or French, just as long as its crusty) that I blitzkrieg'd through my oven's broiler on the high rack. If you remember my Pecorino Toscano cheesies from the cacciatore posting, the high rack gets a huge blast of heat down onto your food. You're essentially grilling in your oven. The only thing you're not getting is a little bit of the charcoal or wood smoke, which is okay. It's best on the grill for sure, but this is convenient and still very tasty. Eyeball those like a hawk and when they look good and golden brown on top, yank em. Take a clove of garlic or two and chop in half. Now pretend its an eraser and you're erasing something you've written on the toasty top of the bruschetta. You scour the entire surface with the garlic, which is going to slowly start to disintegrate from the chafing the toast is giving it. Once you're garlic'd up, you top with extra virgin olive oil, and I went with a few flakes of fleur de sel (fancy pants sea salt) and thin slivers of red bell pepper.

I still suck at plating but I like to pretend I can do it!

It tasted great, but I felt a little meh about it. For one, that damn egg was making me mad. I don't want an over easy (and a bad one at that!) in my pseudo-Italian hodgepodge. Over easy is appropriate for a lot of things in my head, but here it's a cop out. No, that wouldn't do. Hell or high water I'd poach me an egg.

Also the red pepper tastes awesome, but its kinda blah when in raw slices. Also it didn't really do anything on that bruschetta except fall off when I went to eat it. No, needed to change that somehow. Still, the arrangement was good on the asparagus, and even though the garlic was a little overdone, it tasted great. In fact, it all tasted very nice, but that's only part of the equation. My wife may never understand my Rainman-esque obsession, but I find a particular zen in being able to not only get food to taste good, but also to feel good in my mouth and look good. Sometimes I get this to work.

This is getting places! I made a few little changes and improved my experience for the most part. I finally got my poached egg, which was a tricky jerk about wanting to stay on that bruschetta. I think the real estate is a little bit high for the egg's liking, and I think thinner bruschetta would make it happier. It would also make it easier to cut with the flat of a fork when I bleed that yolk into the toast. And believe me buddy, you'd better do just that.

I also traded the regular extra virgin oil with one that was infused with rosemary, which was paired with a tender shoot of rosemary from my garden for garnish. A falling back to my comfort zones perhaps, but I love rosemary with my bready experiences and I regret nothing.

The red pepper? That went in the pan with the asparagus, adding sort of a little ribbon effect to the intertwined stalks and definitely making a pretty contrast of colors in the veg. White garlic? Green asparagus? Red bell pepper? Italian nationalism worked for pizza margherita's backstory so I might as well have fun with kitsch right?

The poached egg took two shaves of Manchego, which is a really hard and savory goat's cheese. It's similar to Parmesan and other hard fragrant cheeses, but I think the flavor is a lot brighter and helps to say "Hey here's some fresh stuff in here".

I smashed two or three peppercorns with the flat of my knife to sprinkle on the egg, and fleur de sel went on the veg.

In the end, it made an improvement, and an evolution in my menagerie of half-assed ideas. Can I improve this further? Probably! Why shouldn't all recipes be works in progress anyway? With evolving tastes happening at all times, I think saying you can't continue to tinker with your ideas is an act of unforgivable hubris. Create new things, eat them, and make them better next time. You'll usually succeed.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

You can't make vegetarian cacciatore that is unpossible.

Cacciatore in Italian means hunter, so naturally it's a dish you'd expect meat to show up in. It's one of those really comforting meals full of big, hearty flavors, simple ingredients, and well, some dead animal right? Chicken and Rabbit cacciatore in particular have a following and are among the most popular rustic Italian dishes out there. So who the hell is going to eat some temporary vegetarian's version of Cacciatore?

I know who would:

Think about it. Elmer Fudd is a terrible hunter. Has he actually ever bagged anything at all? He's got dogged determination, I'll give him that, but at least when I went hunting a few times as a young guy I got the hint that I generally suck at it. That said, it isn't helping us figure out just what on earth would go into some vegetarian's version of cacciatore. I mean, all Fudd ever kills is time, and I'm not exactly sure how to properly season a metaphysical concept anyway.

No, for this one, I need some spiritual insight into matters. What to use, what to use?

"Hmmm...could it beeeee....SEITAN?!?!"

You betcha.

Seitan is a weird mad science dough represented by A + B = C. A is some random flavoring crap I don't know whatever you want and also probably water I guess. B is vital wheat gluten, which you can find in the flour isle of most grocery stores, and is the protein extracted from a wheat berry's endosperm. Gluten is what makes bread flour bake into much chewier bread than all purpose, and what generally holds your doughs together. C, if you are just not paying attention to me at all, is the Seitan, which is the delightful protein mass we want to eat today.

Okay, so lets make it, right? Get your mise en place on, homie:

Here's what you'll use:
  • 2 cups vital wheat gluten
  • 2 tsps kosher salt
  • 2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp white truffle oil
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • about 1/2 cup water, give or take
Alright, it's the same drill as making bread. Combine your dry ingredients in a bowl, make a well in that, and start by adding your water, then wet ingredients.

Alright, the similarities end right here. Full stop. This ain't no damn loaf of bread, so take what you know about bread dough and toss it out of the window. This is quick setting edible concrete, and the moment you combine wet and dry, your gluten is going to start to daisy chain and coagulate like crazy. You've got to work FAST and combine wet and dry before everything locks up, or else you're not going to have a unified mass of veggie protein. Like so:

Looks positively visceral doesn't it? You can feel yourself wanting to eat this seitan with fava beans and a nice bottle of Chianti...fthfthfthp!

Well, we'll have Chianti at least. Or I will. You buy your own!

Take your protein blob and add it to about a quart of boiling vegetable stock. I bought mine in a box because I'm super lazy but I'm sure if you make your own it'll be tasty too. Boil the seitan for about 20 minutes, then drain. You can reserve the stock for making something I'm sure. I just can't think of anything right now. Maybe reconstitute some dried mushrooms, add chopped green onions and make a lazy bum soup. Of course you can just chuck it, up to you.

Pardon the blue pictures. My camera is really big into Van Gogh or something. At any rate once your seitan is cool, you can cut it up how you please. Think of it like any cut of meat, only you don't have to fuss with fat, bone, or any of that junk. For my cacciatore, I want little cubey bits that I can stab with a fork, so thats what I do. From there, we cook it. Again. Why? Well, consider what you have in front of you as a hunk of "rare" flank of seitan. While you could probably bang that out and make seitan carpaccio with arugula, I'm not about to try it. Plus, we're making cacciatore, so we want that stuff in a stew, yo.

Now, when I'm going to be stewing meat, I like to hit it with good temperature on the stove so that it browns on all sides. Nerds call this the Maillard Reaction but basically its just a chemical change that's taking place on the contact point with your pan. Why should you care? Because it makes stuff taste good! We already know that browning stuff makes it taste good so it should stand to reason that browning seitan guessed it.

Now before we do that, I dredge my seitan bites in a little dusting of rice flour. It's a completely judgment call on my part because I like a little added crisp.

Doesn't need to be long. Remember, we just want the flavor on the outside. We can cook it more when we put this into the pot with the rest of our yummies. Once you get the brown, lets put the pieces on paper towels to dry. Grind down some kosher salt in a mortar and pestle to sprinkle on it if you want, but I don't think its necessary.

Seitan's up, but what about the rest of this? What the hell is a Cacciatore anyway?

Well, Cacciatore is a stew dish that traditionally features tomatoes and mushrooms. Pretty tasty stuff, so lets construct the rest, eh?

Get all this together:

  • 1 pound whole peeled tomatoes (I find the tinned ones are best unless you're doing this with tomatoes in season, then knock yourself out!)
  • 1 pound mushrooms (I use small portabella, but crimini or other small-ish ones are fine. Just wash 'em!), quartered
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 2 tsp fresh oregano plus extra for garnish
  • 1 tsp fresh basil
  • 2 bay leaves (not pictured, sorry!)
  • About 1/3 cup Marsala cooking wine
  • Hunk of good firm cheese with the rind (Parmesan, Pecorino, etc are best, but you can also do this with Grüyere if you must. I used Pecorino Toscano in mine)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • black pepper to taste

Okay to start, add your oil to your pot, heat to medium-ish, then add sliced shallots and pinch of salt. Let that go for about 5 minutes, then add your mushrooms.

You want to cook those covered for about ten minutes. Let the mushrooms leave a bit of water in the pot and get juices flowing. To that, we add our wine!

Turn the heat up to high. The steam that comes up will smell like Keith Richard's breath so let it do its business for about two minutes, then add your tomatoes. We want to evaporate that alcohol, but keep the flavor of the wine in the pan. Simple enough.

Let it boil for about two more minutes, then bring it down to a good simmer.

Now we get to have a little fun. Add about 2/3 of your garlic to this, along with your capers, and bay leaves. With that, we also want a little dark magic at work, which we get with a piece of rind from your cheese. Just take a knife to it and extract your rind, and toss that into the cauldron. What you're doing is adding a nice umami baseline of flavor to the dish, and also thickening it ever so slightly.

So what about the rest of that cheese? Hey, lets make some cheesy garlic bread for an accompaniment, and something to mop up the remaining sauce!

Just slice your fresh-baked Mantovana bread, and...

Wait, you didn't fresh bake Mantovana bread? I guess I didn't send out that memo. Nevermind, grab whatever whole loaf of italian bread you can get and cut it up into two thick toast slices. As long as you're not using Wonderbread it doesn't really matter I guess, and it's gonna probably taste good.

The remaining garlic you reserved from earlier? Go ahead and spread those across the top of the bread. Cut thin slices off your cheese hunk and arrange them across the surface of your toasts. Try and leave no bread exposed, and maybe even overhand cheese around the edges. We're going into the broiler and we want to bubble and brown cheese, not to burn bread. Cheese covers bread, problem solved, capice? Put these on a baking sheet and get ready for fun!

If you've never used a broiler, basically your temperature is regulated by the distance of the cooking rack to the heating element or gas or whatever. Closer to the hot stuff, the hotter the heat you radiate to your food surface. Set that rack as high as it will go. We want to napalm these puppies. Now since we're cooking at such ludicrous temperature, we want to keep an eye on the cheese breads. They are going to cook within a minute or two. Keep the oven door open and watch them. Pop a squat and eyeball them. When you get leopard spots on the cheese, you're set.

Now, lets finish the cacciatore. Add your seitan, and chop and add your fresh herbs. Notice I'm only adding the herbs now, and that's because they're fresh. Fresh herbs work best right at the end of the cooking process and before service. If you only have dried, don't despair, but you want to add that stuff about when you added the garlic, bay leaves, and such.

Ladle your cacciatore into a dish, cram a cheesy bread into that, and if you've got that fresh oregano, garnish it up. For wine, I went with a Bell'agio Chianti 2007 which tasted great to go with that heavy tomato sauce. If Chianti ain't your bag, I'm a huge Merlot fan so maybe that's more your worldview?

At any rate, dig in. You may not have caught that wascally wabbit this time, but that doesn't mean you can't tuck into your cacciatore.