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I saw this nifty little trick done on No Reservations when Bourdain went to Rome, and had to give it a try. Imagine a delicious taco salad in a hard shelled bowl, and now replace the taco salad with spaghetti and replace the bowl with CHEESE! That’s righht– BOWLS MADE OF CHEESE!
First thing’s first, grate your wedge of delightful, high quality parm, and mix in about a tablespoon of crushed black pepper.
You could theoretically use any hard cheese (Asiago, Pecorino, Romano, etc.), but since this was the first try, we’ll do the traditional. I’d pick up a medium-sized wedge, but you could use as much or as little as you’d like, depending on how thick you want the bowl. Just remember not to overdo it, or it’ll never harden. By the way, if you do a lot of grating, I cannot recommend investing in a rotary grater highly enough!
OK, you’ve got your cheese grated, so now you need to make ‘molds’ for the bowls. I just used a couple of soup bowls covered in foil and brushed with a nice olive oil:
Next, we take a crepe pan, and lightly brush with olive oil, and put it on the stove at about medium. Don’t want it too high, or the cheese will burn, and don’t want it too low or you won’t get a nice, even cheese pancake. Then, we sprinkle the cheese fairly evenly around the bottom of the pan:
Give it a little time on the stove, but don’t leave., and don’t stir the cheese. You want to keep an eye on it and watch for the very moment that the grated cheese melts together into a solid ‘pancake,’ but you don’t want it to get too liquidy and run off of the mold.
Now comes the tricky part: put your bowl mold into the center of the pancake, and flip the whole thing over. The cheese should drape over the bowl, remaining after you’ve removed the crepe pan. You may need to shape it manually a little, but as long as the basic shape is there, you’re golden.
Next, put your cheese-covered bowl mold into the fridge, and leave it for at least an hour. If all worked well, after the hour is up, you can remove the mold, and you’ll have a really nifty, quite impressive bowl made of cheese!
Fill with anything that suits your fancy. The only caveat is that the bowl is made of cheese, so if it gets too hot it’ll melt. I wouldn’t recommend serving a hot marinara or anything. We just drizzled some olive oil over some spaghetti, tossed in a few olives and some fresh farmer’s market tomatoes, and topped with (of course) more cheese.
This would also be an excellent— and impressive– way to serve salad at your next function.
Make some parmesan cheese bowls today!
I’ve always been on the fence regarding the MSG question. I know lots of people who claim to have bad reactions to it. E, in particular, has a nasty reaction to certain asian foods that we attribute to MSG (strangely, they’re usually Taiwanese, which makes me wonder if it’s some other ingredient peculiar to Taiwanese cooking). On the other hand, plenty of evidence (including the millions of Asian people who use it every day) seems to indicate that it’s not as bad for you as its reputation would indicate.
Here’s a fantastic article from the Guardian (from 2005) all about the substance and whether or not it’s yuck:
When you next grate parmesan cheese onto some dull spaghetti, what you will have done in essence is add a shed-load of glutamate to stimulate your tongue’s umami receptors, thus sending a message to the brain which signals (as one neuro-researcher puts it) ‘Joy and happiness!’ Supper is rescued – and your system has added some protein and fats to a meal that was all carbohydrate.
Ripe cheese is full of glutamate, as are tomatoes. Parmesan, with 1200mg per 100 grams, is the substance with more free glutamate in it than any other natural foodstuff on the planet. Almost all foods have some naturally occurring glutamate in them but the ones with most are obvious: ripe tomatoes, cured meats, dried mushrooms, soy sauce, Bovril and of course Worcester sauce, nam pla (with 950mg per 100g) and the other fermented fish sauces of Asia….
It’s not surprising that the MSG-makers are so busy on their product’s image, because MSG-phobia still shows no signs of subsiding. This despite the fact that every concerned public body that ever investigated it has given it a clean bill of health, including the EU, the United Nations food agencies (which in 1988 put MSG on the list of ‘safest food additives’), and the British, Japanese and Australian governments.
In fact, every government across the world that has a food licensing and testing system gives MSG – ‘at normal levels in the diet’ – the thumbs-up. The US Food and Drug Administration has three times, in 1958, 1991 and 1998, reviewed the evidence, tested the chemical and pronounced it ‘genuinely recognised as safe.
Of particular interest is the chart at the end, which I’ll duplicate here in full because it’s worth checking out. It’s a list of ingredients found in many processed foods that are actually MSG in disguise:
So you think you don’t eat MSG? Think again…
Some of the names MSG goes under
autolyzed yeast extract
E621 (E620-625 are all glutamates)
The following may also contain MSG natural flavours or seasonings
natural beef or chicken flavouring
hydrolyzed milk or plant protein
Free glutamate content of foods (mg per 100g) roquefort cheese 1280
parmesan cheese 1200
soy sauce 1090
fresh tomato juice 260
grape juice 258
human milk 22
Me, I’m on the fence. I can’t imagine ever buying any for use in the kitchen, but since I don’t tend to get the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” the question is more academic.
That said, I do keep a package of kombu on hand in the kitchen. I add a piece to rice while it’s cooking, or to any ‘one-pot’ stew or simmer, and the difference is notable. What’s really easy and fun is to make a kombu dashi (broth), which can be used as a base for miso soup, added to savory dishes that require liquid or deglazing, mixed in with rice, or used instead of water to steam vegetables.
This version is quick and dirty, and largely improvised. It’s a little different than the usual kombu/fish-flake I’ve provided veggie and non- variations. Enjoy!
2 large pieces of kombu (let’s say 3-4 inches)
4 cups water
1/3 cup Mirin (a Japanese cooking wine)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 Tbsp bonito flakes OR 1/4 cup chopped dried and reconstituted shiitake mushrooms for a veggie version (or both, if you’re inclined to a stronger flavor)
Soak the kombu in the water for 30 minutes. Add the Mirin and the vinegar, and turn the heat up to medium high, but keep an eye on it. Right before the water starts to boil, turn off the heat and remove the kombu. Add the bonito flakes/shiitakes and simmer for an additional 10 minutes (or to taste). Strain the liquid, and you’re golden.
Eat some Glutamate today!