Squishy & White

I should maybe feel delighted that at my advanced age, I’m still discovering things about myself.

But, because this realization was pretty much a gimme, I instead feel resigned and annoyed.  The sound “duh” comes painfully to mind.

What, Gentle Reader is this thunderbolt of personal awakening?It concerns marshmallows. 

I’ve always disliked the fluffy cylindrical confections. I’m not a fan of s’mores.  I’ve always steered clear of those seasonal chocolate covered candies.  And when toasting them over a campfire, I’d toast, eat the crispy caramelized shell only, and repeat.

But.But, I’m a fiend for rice crispy treats.  Those Lucky Charms marshmallows make my heart skip a beat. I even enjoy toasted marshmallow Jelly Bellies.

I have actually bought them like this before.  Spoiler alert: eat ’em quick, they go sad and soft quickly.

It took more than half a century, but I finally figured out my beef with those pillow-y confections.

I’d begun making marshmallows.  I packaged them in Christmas bags to go with homemade hot cocoa.  They’re kind of impressive, but once you get a reliable recipe (Alton Brown’s; natch), they’re easy to make.

Alton’s Homemade Marshmallowsmarshmallows 2018

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 vanilla bean, scraped, reserving pod

½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Nonstick spray

Place gelatin into bowl of stand mixer with ½ cup water.

In small saucepan combine remaining water, granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, and empty vanilla pod. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto side of pan and cook until mixture reaches 240 degrees, approximately 7 minutes. Once mixture reaches temp, immediately remove from heat and remove vanilla pod.Turn on mixer.  Using whisk attachment, turn on low speed and, while running, slowly pour sugar syrup down side of the bowl into gelatin mixture. Once you’ve added all the syrup, increase speed to high. Continue to whip until mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 10 to 13 minutes. Add the vanilla bean caviar during last minute of whipping. While mixture’s whipping prepare pan:Put confectioners’ sugar into small bowl. Lightly spray 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with cooking spray. Cover with a piece of oiled foil.  Add sugar and swirl to coat bottom and sides.  Save remaining sugar for later.

When ready, pour mixture into prepared pan, using oiled spatula for even spreading. Dust top with enough remaining sugar to lightly cover. Reserve the rest again.  Allow marshmallows to sit uncovered for a few hours before cutting.Once candy’s set, place a piece of parchment onto large cutting board.  Turn marshmallows out and peel off foil.  Dust bottom and sides with more powdered sugar.  Using powdered sugar dusted pizza cutter, cut 8 pieces wide and 4 long.  As you cut, place into zip-top bag with powdered sugar in it.  Gently shake to coat.  Place onto parchment to fully set.

*For fancy flavored candies, switch out vanilla for other flavors, such as peppermint, almond or orange.  You can also put spices into the confectioners’ sugar, like cinnamon, Chinese five-spice, or cayenne.  Or use cocoa powder instead of powdered sugar.What I discovered about marshmallows is I love the flavor.  It’s the texture that weirds me out.  That spongy, bounce-back, “it’s alive and will devour you” feeling—I can’t even.  I do not like food that feels like it’s fighting back.

And I’ve discovered and begun making two scrumptious items that have all the marshmallow taste and none of that marshmallow-y “sentient and plotting against me” consistency.

Next week I’ll talk about them and share the recipes.Thanks for your time.

Man can practically live by breadcrumbs alone

Last week I made one of the best meatloaves I’ve ever made.

And it was all because of the breadcrumbs.

But those crumbs didn’t come from bread.  It was the end of a box of Wheat Thins.  Which bring us to the very best thing about breadcrumbs.

They don’t have to contain bread.


No, really.

You know, I was gonna say I’d rather have the bread crumbs, but now…not so much.  He’s awful purty.

Japanese panko is the super trendy man-bun of the breadcrumbs world.  A few years ago, to get some you could only procure them by mail order.  Now, they carry them at Big Lots.  You can pick some up at the dollar store.  They even use panko on fish sticks, for the love of Mike.

But panko comes from bread in the same way that jelly beans come from the farmers market.

To produce those Japanese breadcrumbs, they make a slurry of wheat and a few other ingredients.  They then spray it onto canvas sheets, dry them, and flake them off.  That’s pretty much it, but panko was never, in its life cycle, bread.

In my freezer, I have a bag.  Whenever we have a bag or box of crackers that is almost empty, or has gone a little stale, I toss them into that bag. When I make a casserole that needs a crispy breadcrumb topping, I grind up enough to make a cup or so.  Then I season it, add herbs or spices that fit the flavor of the casserole, and pour in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, or melted butter and stir it through.  After baking, there is a beautiful, golden, crispy crust on top.

When I want shake and bake-style pork chops, I throw all the orphan crackers into a food processor.  Then I throw in some olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs and spices.  Cheese is also mighty tasty in the mix.  Dryer cheeses like Parmesan and Spanish manchego are really good, and easier to work with, but I’ve used things like provolone and cheddar as well.And nuts are a breadcrumbs best friend.

Whole Foods has a collection of breadcrumbs that have been enhanced with different nut and herb combinations.  But they are pretty dear, with a couple of cups coming in at more than ten dollars.

But think about the combos you could make in your own kitchen.

For an Asian twist, what about Chinese five spice powder and cashews?  Feeling Italian?  What about hazelnuts, Parmesan, lemon zest and basil?  For a taste of Spain mix Marcona almonds, pimiento powder, and some delicious Manchego into your breadcrumbs.

Hey!  What if I tossed the pasta tonight with some stale, gound up bread?

You can even dress pasta with breadcrumbs.  In the days before freezers, frugal Italian peasants came up with a way to use stale bread.  This recipe is a take on one from the lovely mind of Nigella Lawson.

Pasta with lemon & garlic breadcrumbs

Ingredients (serves 2)breadcrumb-pasta8 ounces pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Zest & juice of 1 lemon

¼-½ cup shredded Parmesan

½ cup breadcrumbs

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley


Bring heavily salted water to a boil.  Add pasta, and cook until al dente. Before draining, remove a cupful of cooking water.

While pasta’s cooking add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a non-stick skillet and add lemon zest; it’ll sizzle.  Add breadcrumbs, lightly season, and toast until golden.  Set aside.

After draining pasta, pour it back into pot, then add second tablespoon of olive oil and half the lemon juice.  Toss to combine in hot pan until much of the liquid’s absorbed.  Add garlic and cheese.  Toss again, while adding enough pasta-cooking liquid to emulsify it into sauce consistency.  Season then taste, and add more lemon juice if desired. Right before serving, gently fold in parsley and breadcrumbs.Here’s something else nifty about breadcrumbs.  There doesn’t have to be any kind of bread/cracker product in them.

Don’t believe me?

Next time you need breadcrumbs, break out the potato chips, corn chips, or leftover rice that has dried out in the fridge and you’ve ground up in a food processor.

Now you never need to buy a pre-made can of saw dust…I mean breadcrumbs again.Thanks for your time.

DIY Umami

The Kid and I keep rehashing it.  And making no headway; we’re still flummoxed.

We’re not fairies, but is this a great book title or what?

At a get-together over the holidays, The Kid and I were talking about the flavor of bell peppers.

Suddenly, a family member, who shall not be named, piped up, “Bell peppers and celery both have unami.  Unami is a flavor that we (meaning Americans, I guess) discovered a few years ago”.  This person went on to lecture us for about 20 minutes.  And just about every fact delivered was wrong.

First, it’s umami–with an “m”.  Neither bell peppers nor celery contain it.  A Japanese scientist discovered it in 1908.  The U.S., and much of the rest of the world recognized it as the fifth taste in the early eighties (the other four tastes are; sweet, sour, bitter, and salty).


The Kid, the night before culinary school started.  I thought about using this demented face for our Christmas card.

The Kid and I did a lot of smiling and nodding.  But we’re honestly puzzled as to why we were treated to this erroneous speech in the first place.  My child graduated from culinary school with two degrees.  And because I both write about food and am obsessed with it, I learn everything I can about it.  We both know from umami.

So, The Kid and I received the gift of confusion for Christmas.  But if I think about the whole episode and its motivation too much it gives me a headache.  I feel like a wind-up toy that bumps into the wall, backs up and repeats until brain damage ensues.

But, I digress, umami’s the subject.

Umami bombs.

There are many foods that are umami-rich.  Tomatoes, soy, mushrooms, and anchovies are but a few.  Trader Joe’s actually sells the flavor, in squeezable tubes.  You can order it online from various sources, as well.

But you can create your own umami paste.  And if you’re the kind of person for which this endeavor sounds interesting, you probably have the majority of the ingredients on-hand.

A word about the ingredients.  I use tomato paste in the tube.  Most grocers now carry it, and I usually find it in the Italian section.  Anchovy paste isn’t quite as ubiquitous, but if they have it, it’s usually in the same spot.  Dark soy is richer, sweeter, and less salty than light soy sauce.  You may also see mushroom soy; it is basically dark soy, so either can be used.

Homemade Umamiumami2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon anchovy paste

2-3 tablespoons Parmesano Reggiano, finely shredded

2 teaspoon dark soy

2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 cloves garlic, peeled

Put everything into a small food processor, or mortar.  Mix until it’s fully incorporated and homogeneous.  Refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for 3 months.

This packs a big flavor punch, so go easy.  I like it in my herbed potatoes.

Calico Potatoescalico-spuds3-4 pounds of assorted colors of baby potatoes, cut in half

¾ cup water

1 tablespoon chicken base

1 tablespoon umami paste

½ teaspoon dry thyme

¼ cup butter

Salt & pepper to taste

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup snipped fresh chives

Put everything except fresh herbs into large Dutch oven.  Stir, cover and cook on medium until potatoes are tender (15-25 minutes).

Uncover and cook until liquid is gone and the potatoes are glazed with the sauce that’s been created. Pour in fresh herbs and toss until they’re evenly distributed.  Serves 4-6.

This paste can go in most savory dishes.  You can’t really taste it as such, but it adds a savory deliciousness that makes you want to come in for another bite.Thanks for your time.