Free Summer Dehydrator & Artichoke Tea - Connecting Every Little Bit

We've been known in these parts to kombucha anything that makes sense in our crazy heads. When you consider tea as something dried, flavorful and complex to be steeped, it's not that far afield to play with an alternative.

Artichoke Scrap Kombucha
I always find myself hanging out with with friends prepping for service. This often puts me in a position to take note of the odds and ends that often end up in the compost. Sometimes there are quality ingredients that have real potential that only require a little experimentation to unlock the beauty.


Artichoke Scraps Before Drying
In this case, Ian was breaking down a ton of artichokes for the hearts. As I watched him mound up the pile of leaves and stem bits, I wondered if I could make a tea with it. I asked him if I could have some. His look quickly switched from 'huh, that's weird' to 'oh yeah, it's you...'. He was more than happy to oblige. So off I went with a big bag of thistle scraps to play with.


Sun Dried Artichoke Scrap Tea
When I got them back to the kitchen, they needed to be dried to concentrate the flavor for tea. I decided to set them out in the sun on a cooling rack. In total, it took a couple days of catching rays. The only trouble I had was the rainy spell in between that delayed the process.


Car "Greenhouse" Sun Dried Sassafras
Within the same time span, I foraged some sassafras while I was visiting Eva. I left the branches in the back seat of my car on a sunny day and found the leaves completely dried out. We've all noticed this effect one way or another, likely undesirable. In the summer here, the cabin of your car is a greenhouse. Also consider that running the A/C dehumidifies as well. A free sun powered dehydrator!

At the end of the day, preparing and preserving ingredients is all about using what's available. More often than not, there are resources at your fingertips that don't require special tools or equipment to achieve what you desire. Sometimes all it takes is a little thinking to link what's been done, your experience and coincidence to coalesce into something pretty damn cool.


As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.


Coffee or Tea? - Just a Starting Point

There are rules and recipes for making all our favorite drinks. So many amazing folks out there endlessly practicing to concoct the perfect glass/cup of whatever you fancy. Balancing each one to perfection is of the moment art to be admired. The first sip can be a revelation. Now, ponder how any drink came to be. The origin stems from necessity, use of available ingredients and some level of preservation. When you think about these guidelines, all you need is in your kitchen even if you're out of "everything".


A couple years ago I was on an agua fresca kick. I was looking to infuse watermelon with a single ingredient other than mint, a little too refreshing and overdone. Initially, I was thinking acidity by adding dried hibiscus flowers, but that tanked hard with way too much astringency. Fortunately, I had chicory come in with the same order. All I did was sprinkle some on pieces of watermelon. It was bittersweet in the best possible way. Describing the flavor play wouldn't do it justice, so just try it.



So if chicory works, why not freshly ground coffee? Cold brewed watermelon coffee was born. So good!



Coffee ice cream is a favorite. Why not chicory, coconut milk & maple syrup? Vegan happens.



Often apple cider is too sweet and needs a touch of acid to make it great. A splash of apple cider vinegar does the trick. Infusing with hibiscus is way better.



If you think about tea as dried leaves with complexity, why not curry leaves in a kombucha? It adds a smoky element without fire. Thickened the fermented liquid as well. Crazy!



If your kombucha SCOBY needs sugar, why not koji, the sweet base for sake? A killer marriage of amazake & tea. Ultimately used to make a wonderful blueberry sauce to compliment a buttermilk umami ice cream.



If you like both coffee and tea, why not combine them? When there's cold brewed coffee in the fridge and garam masala hibiscus syrup around, there is really no choice. I couldn't stop drinking it.



Have you considered using the delicious flesh stuck to mango seeds as the sugar to feed your kombucha? What about infusing it with fresh elderflower you found on a walk and palm sugar that's been sitting in your pantry for a very long time. Perfect for a secondary fermentation. Gotta love natural carbonation.



Coffee or black tea dulce de leche is pretty great. Why not roasted medicinal reishi mushrooms?



Two years later we're still putting stuff on watermelon to tip the balance. No wild mint on the walk, but plenty of sassafras leaves. This definitely needs to be shared with family and friends.

Long story short, your favorite drink originated from experimentation and experience, so why not make a new one that's truly yours?

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.


Roasting Reishi Like Coffee - Bitter is the Next Umami

I'm pretty new to the world of foraging and was crazy excited when I found reishi on a walk with my friend Nick. The brilliant color on a tall, dead pine was a beacon from across the woods. The lacquered beauty of this fungus is really something to behold. You'll understand if you ever come upon one.


So, what's up with this mushroom? This fungi is not typically for eating. Pretty tough and bitter. From the little I've read, it's used in Asian medicine for detoxification and boosting immune response. I'd love to know more, so please reach out to share knowledge and resources on the subject. 


Based on a multitude of suggestions from friends on Instagram, dehydration to create a powder for extraction is the first step. Many of these cool cats also pushed sweet applications that sounded delicious. As the slices of reishi were drying, I noted a malty scent on top of the earthy mushroom that sealed the deal. 


One suggestion that really spoke to me was Jeremy's suggestion to roast the mushroom after dehydrating it. Hmm... YES! Roasting is a wonderful way to transform a nice flavor into something seriously complex and downright brilliant. So how do we get there without too much fuss? The answer is a hot air popcorn popper. 


For beginner coffee roasters just getting into the game, there's a method of using a hot air popcorn popper to make small batches. It's quite simple and has the best even heating for the price. Having done this for years, I figured cut up chunks of reishi would work just as well. 


And so it did. The picture above shows the first trial run and the browning consistency is pretty good. Just a matter of dialing it in. The aroma during the roast was killer. I can't wait to get the rest done for infusing. It just so happens I have a mildly smoked dulce de leche hanging around. 

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.


Shio Koji Paste Accelerated Bresaola

After multiple successful executions of growing koji-kin on charcuterie to accelerate the drying process, I needed to know how well prepared koji would work. 


Sliced Curry Koji Paste Cured Beef Heart
Months ago, Chef Andrew McLeod got in contact with me to find out more about using aspergillus oryzae to accelerate the dry aging process. He asked me specifically why I was growing the spores in rice flour on the meat instead of just rubbing prepared koji on the surface. Honestly, I didn't know the answer. This question lingered in my head for a while, so I decided to give it a shot. 


Curry Koji Cured Beef Heart
Prepared koji is a medium that is already packed with proteases, enzymes that break proteins down into amino acids. So if you're focused on depth of flavor, it only makes sense to introduce as much as possible.


Salt Cured Eye Round Ready for Koji Paste Application
For a charcuterie application, a paste that would adhere to the meat's surface made the most sense. I went ahead and processed Jasmine rice koji with curry powder and 3% salt. Since the bresaola I planned to use was already salt cured, I only needed to add just enough salt to keep the rub safe.



Every surface of the Wagyu eye round of beef was coated with approximately a 1/8" layer of koji.



To contain and keep the paste in contact, wrap the coated bresaola in a few layers of cheese cloth.



One end of butcher's twine from the tied bresaola was brought through the cheese cloth to hang the meat. If you try to hang the meat by the cheese cloth, it will undesirably slump. 


Curry Koji Accelerated Bresaola
After 12 days of drying, the bresaola met the recommended weight loss requirement. This was 9 days ahead of the expected. When I cut into the meat, it was moist all the way through. The consistency of the center is similar to a prosciutto. The darker ring you see in the picture is closer to what you'd find in the center of a traditional bresaola. Also the koji coating was still moist and not dried out. The curry in the koji didn't penetrate very far, but offered a nice compliment to the depth of the beef flavor.

Let's talk a little about the other big advantage of the accelerated drying situation. Since the charcuterie is curing for a shorter period of time, that means the environment required is a lot less strict. For the most part, you don't need a curing chamber. "Cave" conditions with low humidity works well. A true game changer!

At the end of the day, this is another way to leverage the power of koji enzymes to yield a delicious piece of charcuterie. It is definitely easier to execute than the growing aspergillus on the surface method. I'm guessing that the softer texture may go hand in hand with the process. I'm not sure because I've only done this once. If you happen to have more experience, please reach out and share what you've learned.

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing. 

Miso Mason Jar Pressure Containment, Screw the Weights

Figuring out how to weigh down the tops of small batches of miso is a bit of a pain. Of course, a compacted medium is best for the fermentation process. Here's a straightforward method for accomplishing the compression with a standard wide mouth Mason jar and lids. 



Compact the miso as you would normally to get as much air out as possible. Fill until the compressed paste line is as seen above. Check the level by placing a regular sized lid that just fits inside the wide mouth jar with the lid against the miso and ring on the top. The ring must be above the top of the glass to create the surface pressure.



Bag the lid and ring to prevent rusting from the salty environment. Make sure the lid is still outside of the ring. If you use a plastic top, you can skip this step.



Put two layers of plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar with at least one inch of excess all around.



Compress the bagged lid into the jar to force the plastic wrap to squeeze around the jar lid and ring.



Gather all of the plastic and bring it into the center of the lid ring then put the wide mouth lid over it. Push the lid down onto the jar as you tighten the ring until it just engages and compresses the miso. If you can't engage the ring, you will probably need to remove a small amount of the paste.



When you're done, the top must not be sealed. There has to be a gap for the future carbon dioxide created to escape or the vessel will pressurize and potentially explode. Also, don't forget that the tamari (liquid) will start coming out of the jar as it ferments so make sure to account for that.

Coming up with a simple solution with readily available parts that don't need modification is pretty great. Sometimes the answer is this easy.

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.

Shio Koji Burger, Umami Magic

I recently met with my friends, Alex and Aki, of Ideas in Food to share knowledge on the subject of koji. We had a conversation a couple years ago on the potential for an idea exchange, which lead us down this tasty rabbit hole together.

Shio Koji Cheese Burger Pizza

This all started a while back when I brought over some homemade koji and miso for a tasting. They appreciated the flavors coaxed from the combinations I shared. However, Alex's biggest hang up with everything that's made with koji is the overpowering characteristic flavor. To my understanding, a key concept of Ideas in Food is to make food better than itself. So what does that mean? For example, a steak should taste like the most delicious beefy steak you've ever had, not a miso steak. Not an easy feat.


Jasmine Rice Shio Koji
We were sitting in the kitchen milling over potential experiments then Alex broke out his brown rice & barley shio koji. I also happened to have a Jasmine rice version on hand. It only made sense to see if we could leverage the umami magic while pushing the "soy sauce" flavor into the background.

Shio koji is a Japanese meat marinade powered by enzymes to break down proteins into delicious amino acids, umami. It consists of a slurry of rice/grain koji, water and salt that has fermented for a week or two. The cool thing about applying shio koji to meat is that it produces flavor depth that by default matches the base product.


Just Formed Burgers: Brine, Barley, Jasmine and Brown Rice Shio Koji
We gave some thought to what would dial back the koji flavor and still produce enough depth. The straightforward answer was to use as little as possible. Considering that, optimizing the effectiveness of the marinade was important. Surface area contact is a driving factor, so it only made sense to use ground meat. Hence, the umami burger experiment...


Burgers Post Overnight Marinate
We started by tasting the three marinades (barley, brown & Jasmine rice), which all had unique flavors ranging from the former as the most complex to the latter as sugar forward. We used a 10:1 ground chuck to shio koji ratio and mixed it together. For our control, we used a brine to match the 1% salt content of the other burgers.


Brine Burger in the Back, Jasmine Shio Koji in the Front
Upon grilling, there was an obvious indication of which burgers had the shio koji treatment. Clear charred markings as a result of the caramelization of sugars from the grains. 


Shio Koji Burgers Ready for Tasting
Finally, after all that effort, we tasted the results. It worked pretty well for our first try. The umami level was pushing the limits in all of the shio koji burgers. Also, we could taste a transformation of the base koji grain flavors married with the meat. The Jasmine sweetness was the least favorite. To my palate, the brown rice had nutty notes and barley tasted mushroomy.

At the end of the day, this concept has shown great promise and it won't take many more iterations to make the burger of your dreams.

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.

Kojify All the Meats, Old is New Again

Curing meat with koji was on my list of for a long time. I first learned about this technique when I watched my friend Jeremy Umansky's TED Talk. It involves growing aspergillus oryzae (AKA koji-kin) directly on the surface of meats. The enzymes that are produced accelerate aging and dry curing to complete in much less time than traditional methods. A truly brilliant application that was literally unbelievable.

Mini Koji Cured Coppa
For our first crack at charcuterie, my friend Nicco Muratore had a coppa that just finished salt curing. He was happy to hand it over for the trial run. I followed Jeremy's method and it finished drying in 14 days. Truly amazing! To Nicco's palate, he didn't even really taste koji influence. I'd say that's a win.

If you're interested in trying to koji cure with a whole muscle cut, below is the basic step by step roll through. This assumes that you have already successfully made rice/grain koji. If not, I strongly recommend making rice koji first as a learning building block as to prevent ruining a nice piece of meat.

Whole Muscle Cut Koji Curing Method

Post traditional salt curing, rinse and pat dry your meat as you would prior to hanging.

Jon Broida of Japanese Knife Imports Rice Flour Coating a Ribeye
Set up a coating station that consists of two plates or bowls and a resting rack that will comfortably hold the size of the meat you are working with. The first plate/bowl will be for sprinkling a light coating of rice flour cut koji spores, what's normally used for koji making, onto the entire exterior of the meat. The amount you apply is as if you were seasoning the meat. You do not need very much so use it sparingly. The second plate/bowl is to coat and pack the meat with rice flour. The rice flour is food for the koji-kin to flourish. 


Koji-Kin and Rice Flour Coated Five Spice Guanciale
Once you have completely covered every surface with koji spores and rice flour, place the coated meat on the wire resting rack in a container that will fit in your incubator. 


Plastic Wrap & Kitchen Towel Cover (Photo by Andy Doubrava of Rustic Canyon)
In most cases, you will need to suspend a cover over the meat so condensation does not drip onto it. If you're using a cooler incubator setup, a simple solution is to plastic wrap around your container with a kitchen towel on top. Remember to leave openings on the sides to allow for the humidity to flow through.


Koji Bloom on "Koppa" (Photo by Jeremy Fox of Rustic Canyon)
Allow your charcuterie to incubate at between 80 to 90 F (27 to 32 C) at high humidity for 48 hours. I understand that these conditions may make you nervous, but keep in mind that the meat already has the advantage of having been salted. On top of that, aspergillus oryzae has an amazing ability to inhibit undesirable microbe growth once it takes hold. 


Koji Coated Five Spice Guanciale in Cheese Cloth
Once the meat has a snowy layer of mold bloom, wrap it in a couple layers of cheese cloth and hang it as you would under the conditions specified by the traditional method. Allow it to dry to the weight or other indications as specified in the recipe. Keep in mind that it may end up being half the time thanks to the crazy enzymes! 


Koji Cured Five Spice Guanciale
At the end of the day, I'm not claiming that koji accelerated curing yields the same product as the traditional method. It's just different and too freaking delicious to pass up. Get at it!

Before you get started, please watch what inspired me to head down this delicious rabbit hole. Jeremy Umansky's information packed lecture on koji aging and curing meat!

As always, please share your discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.

Miso Method Dairy Amino Sauces

Based on the success with ricotta miso method cheese creating a Parmesan like flavor in a month or so, I've been trying all sorts of dairy based amino sauces. The examples below are among the most delicious combinations I've discovered so far. I hope they inspire you to develop your own. 


Cayenne Yogurt Amino Hot Sauce
(Flavor Profile: Spicy Pimento Cheese)

Jalapeno Yogurt Amino Hot Sauce
(Flavor Profile: Jalapeno Popper)

Yogurt Amino Hot Sauce Method
By weight, mix two parts yogurt, one part pureed hot peppers, three parts fresh koji and 5% salt against the total. Follow the same containment conditions as you would for miso. Ferment for at least one month in a cool basement or two months in the refrigerator. Keep in mind that there's risk for rancidity due to the fat content, so cool/cold conditions are important for success. 


Buttermilk Sweetened Condensed Milk Amino Sauce
(Flavor Profile: Creamy Sweet Soy Sauce)

Foamed Buttermilk SCM Amino Sauce

Follow the same process above with a mix of three parts buttermilk, one part sweetened condensed milk and four parts fresh koji with 5% salt against all the ingredients. Fridge ferment for at least two months. Foaming the sauce lightens the salt delivery in a dish. Soy lecithin and an immersion blender was used to suspend the bubbles seen above.


Fresh Jasmine Koji and Whey Protein Powder

Whey Protein Amino Paste
(Flavor Profile: Umami Nacho Cheese Sauce)

In the interest of boosting accessible protein to the protease enzymes to create as much umami as possible, I decided to use whey protein powder. It is 75% protein by weight! The mixture was made with equal parts whey powder and fresh koji. Add enough water to make a paste and 5% salt against the total weight. After only five weeks of fermentation, it tastes like a nacho cheese sauce. Crazy!

Now get out there and make a new miso method amino sauce with any protein base you desire. No limits!

As always, please share your ideas to keep the ideas bouncing...

Elements of Kojify the Dinner

Introduction


Microbiologist Ben Wolfe gave a presentation and showed guests our koji
growing with his microscope. Yes, that's Cynthia Graber of Gastropod.


First Course



Kvass fermentation kick started with raw honey.

Schmaltz Richness + Stock Depth + Earthy Beet Kvass = Killer Borscht

Sweet Tart Beet Koji Pickles (Bettarazuke Spin)

Horseradish pickled in gherkin brine smoothed out the harshness.

Schmears of horseradish gherkin cream with beet bettarazuke waiting for borscht.


Second Course



Dried Ricotta Miso, The Next Parmesan

Miso Garlic Lacto-Fermented Sunchokes for a Tart Crunch

Nicco's Ricotta Miso Agnolotti Making Focus


Of course incorporating fresh and dried ricotta miso worked well.


Third Course



Jasmine Shio Koji Marinated Hake
Crazy delicious combination of caramelization, Maillard & umami.

Extra Crunchy & Chewy Fried Rice
Powered by "al dente" cooked rice inspired by the koji making process.

Thai green curry hollandaise over the hake made this dish sing.

We hope all the guests of Kojify the Dinner enjoyed their experience and now better understand the versatility and delicious power of koji. Maybe we inspired you to create new fermentation based flavors as we built and executed this menu. Please share them with us to keep the ideas bouncing.

The intent of this event was to kick start our initiative to teach cooking methods. If you're interested in signing up for a workshop, sharing ideas and/or collaborating, check out our brand new official website. Just a cover page with links, but it does the job for now.

Cippolini Soup Dumplings

I often wonder if whole roasted cippolini onions are worth the effort whenever I see them. Granted they are quite delicious caramelized, but when prepping I end up destroying the first thick layer of some. This time I made an effort to figure out a way to consistently remove just the paper.


After playing around with a couple ideas, I discovered that aggressively rolling the onions on their sides released the paper skin with ease. It crushes the outer cell structure, but what do you care? You were going to roast them anyway.


After roasting the onions with schmaltz, I noted that they looked very much like soup dumplings. In fact, there were more similarities than differences. The only disappointment was that there wasn't enough of a textural difference between the outer "wrap" and inner "filling".


I couldn't help but hold over a few to see if a second roasting the next day would give me the results I was looking for. The inside was hot, creamy and sweet with a touch of caramelization. The outside was nicely browned and had an interesting chewy texture. The "wrapper" needs a little work. Maybe an oven frying technique at the end will crisp it up nicely? Any suggestions?

Sometimes simple investigations lead to unintended discoveries worth pursuing. 

As always, please share your ideas to keep the ideas bouncing...

Cantaloupe Parsley Sorbet - Starting the Frozen Treat Inspiration Chain

Cantaloupe Parsley Stem IPA Vinegar Sorbet

I recently met up with @maxfalkowitz and @verysmallanna out in NYC. Armed with the understanding that we all love making ice cream, Max took us to two killer shops that were inspiring. This led to an idea. I proposed a frozen treat jam session.

Shaved Cantaloupe & Parsley Stems in Light Simple Syrup

The concept is to create a delicious frozen treat inspiration chain. The focus is to have fun with making unusual flavor and texture combinations that we all can experience and benefit from.

Guidelines
  1. Riff on a previously made frozen treat in any way.
  2. Use something in abundance for the base.
  3. Accent with a flavor that has developed over time.
  4. Bonus points for: 
    • using an ingredient that would normally be thrown out
    • using byproducts to make something else
    • creativity of course
  5. Upon completion, post a photo or link with a description of your creation on Twitter or Instagram using #FrozenTreatIdeas, tag @ourcookquest @verysmallanna @maxfalkowitz and hand the challenge off to a friend. 
Cantaloupe Parsley IPA Vinegar Soda

We look forward to seeing all the refreshing mash ups and relationships in between.

As always, please share your investigations to keep the ideas bouncing...

Miso Making Madness

Koji is a crazy enzyme packed medium that has the potential to convert almost anything into a delicious miso. We all know the wonders it does to soybeans. The focus here is to mix koji in with different bases that vary the ratio of protein to carbohydrate to fat and see what happens. I used nutrition facts tables as a rudimentary baseline for comparison. I'm on a mission to see if there are any limits to this process.

End of the First Batch of Plantain Miso
Plantain miso was my first adventure into a mash that wasn't a legume or grain. The high carbohydrate content was what I was most curious about. The nutrition ratio is similar to rice. After a year, the funky green banana scented miso was quite good.

Pepita Paste and Teff Koji

Pepita Miso Looking Like Mustard
Why not a seed? Pepitas seemed like a logical choice due to their use in moles. Somewhat close to the soybean ratio but the carbohydrate dominates instead of protein. Nutty soy sauce paste after 7 months.

Miso Method Hard Cheese
A hard miso cheese was the result of pressing and hanging ricotta inoculated with Jasmine rice koji. Primarily protein and fat. Amazing how similar it was to Parmesan cheese after a couple of months. Check out Miso Method Cheese Making for how the base was made.

Peanut Butter and Jasmine Koji
Ground peanuts were used to make a PB miso. The enzymes converted the high fat content into something ridiculously good after only a couple of months. A peanut butter umami bomb.

Cookie Dough and Teff Koji
Why not use a medium that's already delicious like cookie dough? Twice as much carbohydrates as fat with very little protein. Still waiting on this one...

Cookie Dough Miso Cookies?
Why not bake it off after a short fermentation period to use as breadcrumbs?

White Chocolate and Teff Koji
White chocolate miso had to happen. Interestingly enough, the ratio is very similar to cookie dough. Still too early to know if it'll be good.

Raw Egg and Jasmine Koji
Raw egg is pretty much all protein and fat. We'll see...

The koji enzyme monster has converted everything I've thrown at it into miso with unique characteristics of the base ingredient. Pretty much anything works. I don't have the palate to parse out the protein:carbohydrate:fat ratio conversion differences I was looking for. It has all tasted good so far so maybe it doesn't really matter.

I hope these miso making adventures will inspire you to push the limits of processes you already know and love. The key to discovery is understanding the fundamental method and applying it to your heart's desire.

As always, please share your investigations to keep the ideas bouncing.

Bay Leaf Snickerdoodles

Aromas and complimentary flavors are ties to comfort. Cinnamon has a way but the wonder is long gone. Vanilla is ubiquitous. No need to rest on those laurels any longer.

Broken Bay Leaf Snickerdoodle

The scent of bay leaves cooked with rice is quite nice. It adds a depth of flavor to savory dishes that we all have tasted but can't quite describe. Always a supporting cast member that allows the whole company to shine. What happens when it becomes the star in a cookie?

Pulverized Bay Leaf

Snickerdoodles are simple. Aside from butter and sugar, the driving flavors are cinnamon in the coating and vanilla extract in the base dough. Grinding dry bay leaves into a powder to do a swap was the easy part.

Bay Leaf Rum Extract

The bay extract required a little patience. 125ml of white rum and 12 dried bay leaves got a pressure infusion treatment in a cream whipper then sat for 2 months. The final flavor was quite medicinal, bay leaf bitters.

Ground Bay Leaf Sugar Coating

With the flavor agents sorted, one for one swaps were all that was necessary to execute the recipe.

Bay Leaf Snickerdoodle

The aroma immediately after baking was buttery with a clear floral note. The flavor of the cookie was well... indescribably good.

Sumac Snickerdoodle

Next time you bake think twice about reaching for cinnamon or vanilla. Use a spice that you enjoy in a completely different context. There's a whole world of flavors out there waiting to be rediscovered in your favorite comfort food. 

As always, please share your investigations to keep the ideas bouncing.

Leftover Chicken Stuffing Gougeres

Stale bread hanging around often becomes breadcrumbs. If a little ambition takes hold, stuffing or dressing isn't far from reach. Leftover stuffing breadcrumbs were inevitable...

Chicken Crackling Topped Stuffing Gougere

A flavorful breading makes all the sense in the world and you've already made that connection. Water is to stock as flour is to stuffing breadcrumbs. Why not treat them as a flavor concentrate to enhance a savory baked good? I couldn't help but test gougeres, AKA cheese puffs.

For the pate a choux, I replaced one third of the flour with processed pan dried leftover chicken stuffing. The use of stock instead of water also needed to happen. Cheese was cut in half in efforts to allow the chicken flavor to come through. 

Leftover Chicken Stuffing = Beautiful Breadcrumbs

Prior to baking off the cheese puffs, I wanted to add a crunch factor. Topping them with the breadcrumbs was my first thought, but I knew they would probably burn. I figured a little fat is all I needed to temper the heat. A tiny piece of leftover chicken skin over the middle of the crumbs was the answer. The crumbs were basted by the slow release of fat from the skin as it crisped up. In the end, a beautiful crackling was a perfect compliment to what I would describe as an amazing chicken pot pie gougere.

Cooking is all about getting the most out of the ingredients you have on hand. Leftovers are no exception. Phoenix food.

As always, please share your investigations to keep the ideas bouncing...

Crunchy Cornmeal Crust for Cookies

I recently caught @srealsimplefood's post on barley chocolate chip cookies. Knowing her history of wonderful ideas and well thought out recipes, I had no doubt they would be delicious. I also couldn't resist spinning my own version.

Barley Teff Chocolate Chip Cookies with Plantain Miso

One key to a great chocolate chip cookie is the combination of textures. Each of us has our own favorite balance between chewy and crispy. Aside from the main event, folks have added cornmeal for a micro crunch accent.

The recipe called for barley flour and I didn't have any on hand. Fortunately, I had a bag of barley and a food processor with a milling blade. If you've spun grains before, you very well know that you get to a point when there's a small portion of bits that aren't quite flour.

Barley Teff Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough with Miso

As I stared at the coarse barley meal sitting in the fine mesh strainer, I had a light bulb moment. This stuff was no different from the khao khua, toasted ground sticky rice, crunch I've enjoyed on larb gai before. It went right into the dry mix.

Coarse Ground Barley Bits Embedded Cookie Bottom

Of course, I couldn't wait until they were fully cooled. I broke one in half and looked inside. The evenly distributed specks of barley looked like the night sky. The balance of the external crispy shell and internal chewy core was delicious. The micro crunch of the grain bits was a nice accent.

Cookie Dough Ball Rolled in Cornmeal

I pulled that idea thread and started thinking about the crunch of a pizza crust. I couldn't help but roll cookie dough balls in cornmeal and bake them off. The bottom crust of the cookie developed a serious crunch that was an amazing compliment to the chewy core. I'm not sure I can go back to the standard now. This method definitely deserves further investigation.

Cornmeal Crusted Cookie Bottom

Next time you experience a texture that you enjoy, don't be afraid to inject it elsewhere. Even better if it ends up using a by-product that you would otherwise throw out.

As always, keep the ideas bouncing...

Chewy Caramel Popcorn Potential

Inspired by @maxfalkowitz's tweet a while back about buttered popcorn caramels, I investigated some possibilities.

Huge Chewy Caramel Popcorn Ball with Coffee Dust

We all know and love caramel popcorn. Aside from the obvious flavor charm, the butterfly and mushroom shaped puffs have awesome texture. The crispy crunchy thin candy coating over all the nooks and crannies is what makes us come back for more. So why mess with a good thing? Because that's what we do here.

Chewy Butterscotch Popcorn with Sumac

The first attempt was a chewy butterscotch coated popcorn. I took the final candy temperature to the soft-ball stage. It tasted fine, but the candy drowned out the delicate popcorn. The bite was too compliant so hard-ball stage needed to happen. Also enrobing was clearly not the way to go. Then I began to think about how to change the ratio.

Popcorn on a Thin Sheet of Caramel

The answer was simple. Create a thin layer of caramel for the popcorn to rest on. It only made sense to form a roulade. I was imagining a pinwheel slice lollipop or even squeezed onto a scoop coffee ice cream. I put it into the freezer to harden it up a bit to make it easier to cut.

Chewy Caramel Popcorn Roulade

The balance of caramel to popcorn worked nicely. The candy was still cold when I tasted it and the brittle to chewy transformation was a bonus. The only issue was the roulade not holding together when it was cut. Next time...

Sticky Caramel Popcorn Spirals

Sometimes experiments take a lot more iterations than you'd like. Fret not! There are always discoveries along the way that will be more interesting than what you originally intended and expected. That's the beauty of the creative process.

As always, please share your investigations to keep the ideas bouncing.

Furikake Peanut Brittle (AKA Dashi Candy)

Sweets deserve the fifth taste dimension of umami. It only made sense to continue my furikake kick inspired by @tavallai's peanut butter. I also got encouragement from the label on the container that read, "SPRINKLE ON ANYTHING". Who am I to argue?

Dashi Brittle on Popcorn

Furikake is a Japanese rice seasoning that typically consists of dried fish flakes, seaweed and sesame seeds. That simple description doesn't do it justice. It's a savory flavor bomb that's highly addictive. If you haven't tried it, go get some and thank me later.

As my first investigation, I happened to be whipping up a batch of Madeleines and decided to sprinkle some into the last bit of batter. A citrus seaweed scent hit the nose as I broke one open hot out of the oven. Dashi cake is the best description I can come up with. I was wishing for a bowl of tomato soup at that moment.

Split Furikake Madeleine

Inspired by spiced nuts and Chinese sesame seed candy, I gave peanut brittle a spin. I added furikake (10g per cup of peanuts) just before the final baking soda mix in. My intent was to see if I could maintain the aeration as with a honeycomb candy. Dashi peanut brittle was born. As you crunch away, the flavor starts as expected and finishes reminiscent of rice cracker mix.

Furikake Honeycomb Peanut Brittle

Adding furikake to sweets allows them to have an umami thread that can easily be tied to a driving savory component. I hope this inspires you to think more about how to blur the lines between sweet and savory because it's damn delicious.

As always, keep the ideas bouncing...

Fermenting Kumquat Hot Sauce

I was out in San Diego and couldn't help but indulge in all the citrus at the farmers' markets. At Imperial Beach, I came across the most delicious kumquats I have ever eaten. The popping sensation of the tart juice contrasting against the more sweet than bitter peel as you chew is unforgettable.

Kumquat Pasilla Hot Sauce

I brought some home with the intent of preserving them to remember that moment. I wanted to harness the essence of the kumquat without going sweet. Inspired by the salty air of the beach and vicinity to Mexico, I decided that fermenting with sea salt and dried pasilla chiles would be a great combination.

Pasilla Chile Ribbons on Kumquat Puree

I weighed one dry pint of kumquats and measured out 2% sea salt. I cut four large pasilla chiles into ribbons. Next I pureed the kumquats then added the pasilla and salt for a final spin until the chiles were well incorporated. Now I'll need to wait at least a few months to see if the preservation brings me back.

As always, feel free to share your flavor discoveries to keep the ideas bouncing.

Coffee Butter

After a recent success with using finely ground coffee in a streusel topping for crumb cake, it only made sense to make a compound butter.

Coffee Compound Butter

Everyone knows cinnamon butter and how delicious it can be. If you think of coffee as a spice, there isn't much of a stretch to make the swap. Straight up it tastes and smells like buttery coffee toast. The espresso dust gets immediately infused as you mix so there's no wait. Of course, beurres composes get better with time. We'll see if this one follows suit.

Coffee Butter on Teff Rye Sourdough Toast

It's simple to make. All you need is unsalted butter, finely ground coffee and salt. Cut up 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) of butter up into small chunks, add to a medium bowl and lightly dust the butter with coffee. Sprinkle over a bit of salt. Mash the ingredients until the coffee is combined. Taste as you go and add more coffee and/or salt to your liking.

Chai compound butter anyone?

As always, keep the ideas bouncing...

Coffee Spiced Crumb Cake

Inspired by a tweet from @akikamozawa about sipping coffee while smelling crumb cake bake, I decided to give coffee streusel a go.

Coffee Enhanced Ideas in Food Crumb Cake

Of course, the easiest option is adding espresso powder, a form of instant coffee. However, I figured fresh espresso ground coffee would be much better. We've all seen it before in spice rubs so why not in a pastry application?

Coffee Streusel Mix

I used the Ideas in Food crumb cake recipe as my starting point. For the streusel, I replaced half a teaspoon of the cinnamon with finely ground coffee. I also swapped out the brown sugar for smoked dulce de leche wetted granulated sugar for fun.

Coffee Crumb Cake Crust

The results were ridiculously delicious. The aroma alone was enough to make me want to eat it right out of the oven. The microbursts of coffee within the streusel were amazing. The kicker was the richness of the butter pleasantly pushing the bitterness into the background. Another fun bit was the dulce de leche that gave the streusel bits of brittle like qualities.

Espresso ground coffee is a spice well worth investigating further. 

As always, keep the ideas bouncing...