isn't quite ashamed enough to present

jr conlin's ink stained banana

:: Meat Burger

There's a restaurant called "Umami Burger" that bills itself as having crafted the ultimate umami flavor, delivered in hamburger form. i kinda held off going there for a while, not because i don't appreciate the fine umami flavor, but mostly because it was sorta trendy and i'm not a fan of that. Time passes, as do crowds, and finally we decided to visit (this may have been spurred on by Anne Marie's hangover, but that's a different story).

Suffice to say, i wasn't really impressed. It was a pretty good burger, presented stylishly and i will take away one good idea. Still, i'm a fan of my own.

First off, what the heck is "Umami"? In short, it's what makes meat taste good. It's also found in things like soy, tuna, Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and a few other sources. It's hard to define, much like trying to explain what "sweet" or "salty" tastes like, other than your tongue is hardwired to taste it, and some are more wired than others. (i'm one of those types.) Umami can be brought out generally by dry cooking methods that also reduce the fat content. Generally, the leaner something is, the more Umami it has. This kinda goes against a large portion of humanity which wants butter and fat, but hey, they can have their addiction if they'll let me have mine.

Reasonably long time readers probably know my recipe. i've actually tweaked it a tad over the years, so here's a much more detailed take:

JR's Burger (Kyūkyoku no umami style)

ingredients

(makes 4 burgers)

  • 1 lb(.5kg) 80+/20- course ground chuck
    You want a grind where you can distinguish bits of meat. Honestly the courser the better. You can also use leaner 90/10, but you'll definitely need to blend in mushrooms.
  • 1/4 lb(.1kg) brown crimini mushrooms (4 large or 6 small)
    These are the baby versions of portobellos. While it's possible to use whites, you won't get quite the same hit. You can also use something fancier, but you're putting it on a burger so you're kinda wasting the taste of the mushroom. Crimini are a good balance between flavor and not going broke.
  • 1 yellow onion
    i find that yellows have more sugar in them when they cook down. Look for one about the size of a baseball. You won't need a ton of onion here, and are using it mostly to flavor the mushrooms (although they go very, very well with the finished burger)
  • soy sauce
    Yeah, don't use Kikoman here, unless it's all you can find. i prefer going to the Asian markets and trying various types and have found a few that are fantastic. You want to look at the ingredients and go more for the ones that don't have wheat in them. If you can find one that's also flavored with mushrooms, get that.
  • tumeric (optional)
    You'll only need a pinch for this. Tumeric can be a very powerful flavor, and can taste "chalky" if you add too much, in smaller portions, though, it's pure umami.
  • sourdough rolls
    Feel free to use rye if that's better, or pumpernickle if you can find it, or really anything other than a sweet, potato roll. (Really, you're building something to hit the umami button, why are you trying to dilute it?)

Preperation

Now that you've got your ingredients, start by getting a large bowl and washing your hands. You're going to be getting wrist deep in beef, no reason to bring anything unsavory to the party. Now take the ground beef out of the fridge and putting it on the counter (wrapped).

You want it to warm up.

No, it's not going to suddenly go bad if it reaches 50°F (10°C). (i mean, it would if you left it there over a warm summer night, but you'll get to it in an hour or so. For now, just let it loosen up.)

Right, so where were we? Oh, right… slice up your onion, then brown it in a skillet over low to medium heat. i'd recommend sauteing them in olive oil, until they are light brown and practically falling apart. This Will Take Time! Do Not Rush Things! Feel free to use the time to wash and slice the Mushrooms.

Once the mushrooms are done, put them in a small bowl and cover with foil so they stay warm.

In the same pan, add the mushrooms and saute them over the same low to mid-heat. You should cover them at first, and listen to when the sizzle becomes less pronounced. Lift the lid and see how much liquid they produced. Feel free to deglaze the pan using that liquid if you like. In any case, you're looking to give the mushrooms a golden brown sides to them.

Once they're done, set them into their own bowl as well. Fire the grill up and now you can turn to the meat.

Mix in the soy (start with 1tsp, adjust later if desired) and optional tumeric (1/4 tsp at most), and mushrooms. You can layer the mushrooms on top later if you'd prefer, but i like them in the meat instead of squirting out of the bun. Mix well, then form into equally sized balls. Flatten into patties (with the center thinner than the edges).

Once the grill hits about 350°F (175°C), cook the burgers. (5 minutes, turn, 5 minutes, flip, 5 minutes turn, 5 minutes serve) i'm also a fan of using a cast iron fajita pan to griddle the burgers. Note that no oil, butter or other bits of grease are required (although if you're using a brand new grill, you may want to add a bit of spray cooking oil).

i serve on lightly toasted rolls with dill pickle and topped with some of the cooked onions and brown mustard. Your tastes are different, so feel free to use whatever, but i will not look kindly upon your use of ketchup.

i'll also note that there's a lot of room for experimentation here. That's a good thing. Make yours better.

And with that, i've just saved you $40 (191,534 Dogecoin).

You're welcome.

:: Fáilte Dining

Ah St. Paddy's Day. A day when everyone is a bit Irish and tuck into a taste of the Emerald Isle.

Well, no, not really. No sane, sober person would, but let me explain a little about why i tend to enjoy Pasta or Thai instead of Corned Beef and Cabbage.

First off, let me introduce you to my Grandfather. That's him, tending the bar that he ran for a few years in Brooklyn. Sadly, the pub he ran closed, partly due to his tendency to be more generous than business savvy, but that did have one interesting side-note.

Far more often than my Grandmother appreciated, he'd come home with someone he'd met while at the pub. His arms would be filled with unusual ingredients and he'd usher his wife from the kitchen and away from the shortbreads and creamed tripe stew, and soon the apartment was filled with exotic scents and tastes from strange and wondrous lands, like Germany or Italy. My sainted Grandmother generally hated whenever he did this, but my Mom and her siblings didn't.

Irish cooking tends to "use everything but the grunt", and they pretty much mean it. Traditional Irish country food tends to use a, frankly, terrifying amount of pork, cabbage and potatoes, most of it boiled in pots above peat fires. One need remember that it was the loss of the Potato that pretty much devastated the country and lead to massive starvation. This was not a country with a wide and varied diet. Special occasions might include a bit of roasted lamb, but that tended to (literally) eat into the export business.

This might also explain why folks drank, but only a wee bit.

Mind you, modern Irish cuisine is a helluva lot better now and has even included things like fish and beef. i'll also note that Irish have taken to, ahem, "embracing the foods of other cultures" with a surprising enthusiasm to those not familiar with traditional fare.

So, aye, i'll not be partaking of the bacon knot and cabbage this year (or the next), and i prefer my corned beef peppered and sliced thin from the deli counter. i'm not exactly sure how many shepherds kept meat grinders in the dairy, either.

Still, raise a glass and a toast. To my ancestors from Roscommon, Tabhair dom ar ais ar mo dhia damanta caorach, bastaird tú!

:: Jelly Topped Thumb Scones

Anne Marie is attending a Ladies Holiday Cookie Exchange. Aside from this blatant sexism and exclusion of men, (a Real Man's place is in the kitchen, with the knives and fire and meat and stuff) she's decided that she's not going to bring some of my Chocolate Chip Cookies.

This means that i she has to find another recipe for the cookies i she'll bring. She is a fan of thumbprint cookies so we figured that would be what we'd go for.

Mind you, there are many different types of thumbprint cookies. Most tend to be sugar cookies with a big dollop of jelly in the middle. Nice, but often a bit overly sweet. i prefer more of a shortbread base. Of course, if you're going to do a shortbread, you could cheat a bit and do a quickbread. And if you're familiar with all the sorts of things you can do with quickbread….

Right, so this is both easy, and kind of a pain in the ass. There aren't many ingredients and things go quickly, but preparation temperature is more important than it normally is.
cookies
Let's start with the goods:

Dry

  1. 1 cup (125g) flour
  2. Pinch salt
  3. 1/4 tsp (~1g) Baking Powder (not Baking Soda)
  4. Nutmeg to taste (i go for about a tsp/4g)

Wet

  1. 1 egg yolk (Save the white, you'll need that later)
  2. 1/2 cup (100g) brown sugar
  3. 1 stick (4oz/118ml) butter (room temp)
  4. 1 tsp (healthy splash) vanilla

Ok, so let's make cookies:

  1. Sift together dry ingredients into separate bowl.
  2. Cream butter and brown sugar together
    Pretty straight foward. i dice the butter into smaller chunks, but you don't have to.
  3. Add yolk and vanilla
    Beat until blended and fragrent
  4. Add dry to wet in batches
    You're looking for biscuit method here, so don't overmix. Things should just come together, and stop. There should even be a fine crumb at the bottom of the mixing bowl.
  5. refrigerate dough for 30 minutes
    This is surprisingly important and will add to the flakiness.
  6. While dough is in the fridge, heat oven to 350° on convection.
    Oven will beep that it's ready before 30 minutes. That's fine, it's lying to you anyway. You want the walls to heat up too so that things bake evenly.
  7. Line (preferably ventilated) cookie sheet with parchment
  8. Once dough has chilled, portion out in small balls.
    Be careful to work the dough as little as possible to keep it cold.
  9. Press thumb into center of balls to make a depression, fill with jam.
    It's easier to do this if your thumb is wet. The dough won't stick to it.
  10. Use remaining egg white as a wash for the top of the cookies.
    You can skip this, but the cookies will look kinda anemic.
  11. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until GDB
  12. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, or preferably longer.

Serve with tea, because you are not a barbarian. Of course, considering the amount of cholesterol in these, you may want to also serve Lipitor. i may work on a slightly more "heart friendly" version of these later.)

As always, this recipe is CC (like you could trademark a recipe anyway), so if you figure out any improvements, please share!

:: Halloween Chili

Oct. 31st brings two traditions to my house. Doling out lightsticks and full sized candybars to the children of the neighborhood, and chili.

A few folks have asked for the recipe, which i don't really have written down, so i'll make up for that now:

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb lean stew beef
  • 1 large can of stewed plum tomatoes
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 can of red beans
  • Seasonings (these are mostly to taste, but i tend to use in descending amounts):
    • Chili Powder (about a tablespoon)
    • Oregano
    • Basil
    • Sage
    • Cumin
    • Salt
  • Optional stuff:
    • 1/2 can Lager beer
    • Cast iron dutch oven
    • long tongs

About the ingredients:
Like with everything else you get out what you put in. If you just grab what's cheapest at Fresh & Easy, you're not going to be that happy with what you get out. Meat should be fresh (that means it's red all over the cuts), the Chili Powder should be actual dried, ground chilis. On that note:

Stew Beef
You can usually get this from the butcher counter. It's usually cubed chuck. Don't get the ground chili beef since that's full of silver skin, which gets tough. You may have to trim up the meat to get it to the right size. You want some fat, but you don't need that much. If you can't find stew beef, get 1 lb of leaner chuck and cube it yourself. Make sure to remove all the silver skin, otherwise you're going to wind up chewing some meat gum, and that's never pleasant.

Chili Powders
i like a mix of dried poblano and chipotle, but feel free to experiment. You can usually find these in cello packs hanging in good mercados or the "ethnic" food aisle. Don't use the pre-mixed "taco seasoning" McCormic crap. That's mostly salt and MSG. On the plus side, those cello packets usually sell for about a buck each, and you won't use that much of them, so you're saving a lot of money by getting the real stuff.

The Prep
Proper prep will make your life much easier. Cut and clean the meat and set it into a large bowl, Mix the seasonings well and set them into a small dish, dice the onion and set that into a small bowl. Turn on your hood fan and open a window. Open the beer (but don't start drinking yet). Have the tongs handy as well as some paper towels in case you need to clean anything up.

The Cookening
This is best done in stages, and will take time. This isn't something you dump in the crock pot. You will be rewarded.

First thing to do is sear the meat. Put the pot on the burner and turn it to high. Once the bottom of the pan reaches about 400° (way past the 'smoke point' for oil, that's why you're not using any) start placing the meat. It'll stick hard at first, and that's fine. Make sure there's space between the chunks. About when you've placed the last chunk, you should be able to turn the first. You're looking to get a good sear on most of the meat, but not cook it. In cooking terms, you're "blue"ing the meat. Once you've got a good dark sear on the chunks, get them out of the pot and replace them with whatever is not yet cooked.

When you're about half way through the last batch, turn down the heat on the pot to low. There should be a lot of burnt meat at the bottom. That's good. It's also why i recommend a cast iron pot for this. Take the last of the meat out when done. Toss the meat in the spices (or more likely, toss the spices onto the meat) and make sure the meat is coated. You're going to let the meat juices bloom the spices while you're cooking the onions.

Speaking of which toss the onions into the pot. You don't want these to burn (that's why you lowered the heat), if you think the pot is still to hot, use some of the beer to deglaze and cool the bottom. Plus, beer simmered onions are amazing. Onions take time to cook, so don't rush this. Plus the longer the meat blooms the spices, the better. Depending on how much you like raw onion, you can either just sweat them or caramelize them. i go for more caramelized, which takes longer, but really brings out the flavors.

Once the onions are done, turn the heat up to medium and add the meat back to the pot (may want to use a spatula to scrape out the juices from the bowl). If you still have beer left, you may want to deglaze the bottom of the pot now and get up all those delicious burnt bits, don't spend too long doing that you don't want all the liquid to boil away or the meat to cook. If you don't have beer, no worries just pour in some of the liquid from the tomatoes.

When you feel like you've gotten as much up as you'd like, carefully add the tomatoes and beans, and any extra beer. Bring the pot to a medium boil, then drop the temperature to a simmer. Let lightly simmer for about 3-4 hours or until the meat falls apart. If you don't want to leave this thing on the stove that long, you can also park the pot in the oven at 250° for that long.

Serve with cornbread, cheese, hot sauce, more beer, and anything else you'd like.

:: Cook Books vs Cookbooks

Recently, the topic of cook books came up. Truth be told, i kind of miss them.

i don't mean recipe books. There are plenty of those, full of lush pictures of carefully crafted cuisine staged under perfect lighting and designed to be the dining equivalent of women's magazine covers. Beautiful, but you know damn well that whatever you try just ain't gonna look like that. We have some of those too, and as reference books, they're useful, but i'd hardly describe them as real cook books.

My mom gave me a set of books fairly early on that had some of her favorite recipes. One of my personal favorites is Beard on Bread, a tome authored by James Beard. Good Mr. Beard was a contemporary of Julia Child, an avid researcher, writer and food critic, and because of that wrote chapters that informed, instructed, and enticed you to try something different. Because of that, his books are still legendary. Think Harold McGee, with examples.

Honestly, the only thing that comes close to that now are the publications from America's Test Kitchen, and to a somewhat lesser extent some books by Alton Brown, although neither of which are the kind you'd want to just pick up and start reading.

About the only books that come close to real cook books as far as i'm concerned are ones by Anthony Bourdain, but even those are less about how to prepare the dish than everything around it.

i guess it comes down to the simple fact that once you master the fact that you don't need to have your stove up to max heat to make tomato sauce and that roasting spices before you use them is actually a pretty good idea, you're less interested in finding yet another variation for fried pork chops with grilled onion dip. (Yeah, i thought it was gross when i heard it too.)

Sadly, i'm betting those just don't sell that well.

Since i'm an idiot, i nearly forgot one of the better online cooking resources. Valette not only shares recipes, but makes them damn entertaining to read and the photos she takes are top notch. Someone needs to get her to publish.
Blogs of note
personal Christopher Conlin USMC memoirs of hydrogen guy rhapsodic.org Henriette's Herbal Blog
geek ultramookie

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