Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Umami's Earth Burger + Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Nine months after I married Bacon...
As was previously established, I have a problem when it comes to burgers.  I love them...  I mean, not enough to marry them (it's not like they're bacon)...  but I did like them so much that I was certain that they were the only delicious meaty food I would miss once I became a vegetarian (please note: I was wrong).

However, I wanted to give this vegetarian thing a fair shake so I set my sights on creating a delicious meat-free patty..  after all, I live in a big city and I know about things and I have been known to enjoy a spicy black bean burger from Chili's every now and again.  Besides, I reasoned, if I slathered enough ketchup and mayonnaise on anything in between a bun, it would kind of taste like a hamburger.  Right?

Chickpea Willy is...  pleased

The first burgers I attempted were almost completely chickpea based.  The results were mixed.  I had my favorites.  I created a smoked jalapeno patty that turned out to be delicious.  Most of the chickpea based burgers were pretty bland though...  even with herbs, spices, and peppers, there is only so much you can do to give a chickpea flavor.  They're versatile and mooshy.  They don't really have a flavor so you can mix them with just about anything and have the meal turn out "more full of chickpeas" than had you not added them...  but overall, they left me wanting.

I won't be back until they return my shirt.

Then, after a trip to mecca...  er...  Umami Burger in Santa Monica, I was inspired to try to create a new type of burger...  Umami offers a traditional-style veggie burger.  However, they also offer an "Earth Burger"- which is, as far as I can tell, edamame and mushroom based.  The combination of flavors was perfect.  It was earthy and mellow and just a little salty.  And the consistency was interesting...  most veggie patties are dry- but this one was malleable...  I can't explain it other than saying, have you ever had a Jimmy John's sub sandwich?  You know how it's so full of delicious meat and toppings that if you don't squeeze the back of the sandwich shut when you take a bite, the filling will come out the back?  Yeah- it's like that.  Delicious earth burger filling all over your hands and your plate.

Surprisingly, it was difficult to find a recipe for their burgers online.  (I've become kind of accustomed to finding recipes for anything and everything I wanted via Google searches).  Never fear.  While I was unable to find Umami's recipe, using some ingenuity and some good-old-fashioned-sticktoitivness, I was able to find a pretty good substitute.  Local chef Dana Slatkin created a recipe that, like most recipes I've been making lately, requires two ingredients that you will need to obtain from a specialty shop or order online.  (Wholefoods might also have them...  but currently I'm fighting with them, so I haven't been inside to root around their shelves).  Because I am getting married in a few months and need to lose a few el-bees, I've modified this recipe to take out some of the fat (find the original here).

OK.  Enough of the boraphyl.  Now what you really care about: how to make the burger and fries happen.

Allergic to mushrooms?  You will die.
3 sweet potatoes
Sea salt
Olive oil cooking spray

1 small onion, sliced
1 pound assorted mushrooms (I recommend using at least two different kinds)
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup white miso paste (specialty store this bad boy)
1/2 teaspoon mushroom base (and this one, too)
1/2 beet, sliced
1 cup shelled edamame beans
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 pinch salt


Baked Fries: Not as good as their deep-fried brethren.  
1.  Preheat the oven to 450.
2.  Have an assistant peel the potatoes.
3.  Cut the potatoes into wedges of equal thickness.
4.  Coat the potatoes with olive oil cooking spray and toss with salt.
5.  Spread the fries in an even layer on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven for 35 minutes.

The mix will have the consistency of ground chuck


1.  Spray the bottom of a saute pan with a non-stick cooking spray and place the pan on medium heat.
2.  Add the onions, mushrooms, beet, and pinch of salt and poke with a spoon, occasionally, until browned.  (About 10 minutes).
3.  Whisk together the wine, miso paste, and mushroom base and fling that in with the mushroom/onion/beet mix.
4.  Deglaze the pan, being sure to stir up all the delicious bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Cook until almost all of the liquid is absorbed.

5.  Transfer the mixture to a food processor and add the edamame beans.  Pulse, chop, and frappe until the mixture is about the consistency of ground chuck.
6.  Dump the beet pate into a bowl and have a trusty assistant mix in the bread crumbs by hand.
7.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
8.  Once the burgers are done chillin' out, maxin', and relaxin' all cool, spray the bottom of a saute pan with non-stick cooking spray and place the pan on medium-high heat.

I don't always relax all cool.  But when I do, I prefer West Philadelphia.

9.  Form the burgers into patties.
10.  Brush hoisin sauce on each side of the burgers and throw them into the hot pan and cook them until they are well charred on each side (about 3 - 4 minutes per side).

PROTIP: These patties will fall apart when you try to flip them, so be careful.

If you want to toast your buns, now's the time to do it.  Put your burgers on the buns, fix as usual, and enjoy.  I recommend making the homemade ketchup featured here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012



Nom Nom Nom

I fell in love with smoked tomato sauce quite by chance.

Chicago, circa June
Last December, while on a road trip from The Middle Of Nowhere, MN to The Middle Of Nowhere, MI, my fiancee and I stopped to have dinner with my brothers and sisters in Chicago.  Residents of the Windy City are a proud people.  And as anyone who knows a Chicagoan can attest to, any time you are in, at, or around Chicago, they will take you downtown for a taste of life in the Big City.  It doesn't matter if you live in a much bigger city (like LA)...  or if your city has more types of Mexican restaurants than they have restaurants...  or if you don't have a winter coat and it's snowing...  they will cram all the glitz and glamour Chicago has to offer down your throat.

Begrudgingly (and freezingly) my fiancee and I zipped up our Northface softshell jackets and piled into the car.   In what can only be described as "the most terrifying eighteen minutes of my life", my brother managed to weave his way from Western and Armitage to an overpriced parking garage in the Loop...  home of Chicago's famed Heaven on Seven restaurant.

Skepticism reigned.  I have been to the Crescent City and  have had authentic  Cajun cuisine.  The place was a live-action cartoon.  It was like a Rain Forest Cafe run by Roger Rabbit, but without the inherent class such a combination would suggest.  Parade-sized Mardi Gras heads hung from the ceiling.  Bottles of hot sauce lined shelves on the wall.  Beads were strewn about like a Daytona storage closet in the off-season. The place smelled like someone had soaked saltines in beer and mayonnaise and dried them unaided in a basement.  However, it was 22 degrees outside and I was wearing a sweater.  I was not leaving that restaurant without eating.

Despite my initial impression, the food was good and, as far as I could tell, fairly authentic.  My fiancee had done the LA thing and converted to a pescatarian (no chicken, beef, or pork- fish is OK).  I tried to be supportive and said said I was "on-board" and "we could do it together"...  but I was totally not and we totally couldn't.  She ordered the smoked tomato sauce over rice and roasted vegetables.  The rest of my family and I scarfed down bowls of their famous gumbo and barbecued meats galore.  Galore I say!

Heidi's (my fiancee's) dish was very good.  So good, in fact, that she started craving it once we were back home.  While searching for local restaurants that might have similar dishes, I stumbled upon a cookbook by Heaven on Seven's owner and executive chef, John Bannos.  I was stymied when I discovered he was selling the recipes he used in his restaurant.  Why would anyone in their right mind sell the recipes they use to keep customers coming back for more?  Teach a man to cook, am I right?

Well, one quick peruse of the book revealed why  he was so quick to sell-out.  His recipes require so many ingredients and so much effort, it's not worth attempting.  Unless, of course, you live 1500 miles away.  I didn't buy the book, but through the magic of the internet, was able to find his recipe for smoked tomato sauce!

Urethra!  I found it!  This was to be my finest hour!

This is, without a doubt, the most pretentious thing I've ever made.  The sauce itself requires minute amounts of 19 similar, but different ingredients...  and one of those 19 ingredients is a quarter teaspoon of his Angel Dust Cajun seasoning...  which consists of 11 additional ingredients.  Once you gather the various paprikas (I'm not kidding), sugars, peppers, and host of other seasonings, you still have to smoke, puree, and simmer.  But man, is it worth it.

1/2 cups wood chips soaked in in water for 20 minutes (hickory or applewood work best)
1 pound plum tomatoes, cored, cut in half lengthwise, and seeded
1 small yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
1 (5.5 oz) can vegetable juice (like V8)
3 table spoons of water
1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon light molasses
1/4 teaspoon Angle Dust seasoning (Recipe)
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 cup balsamic vinnegar
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Pinch of chile powder
Pinch of dried thyme leaves
Pinch of ground cumin
Pinch of ground Mexican oregano
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

Opened outside.  Thank you protip.
Place the wood chips in a 10-inch cast iron pan. Put the tomatoes and yellow onion in a 9-inch disposable metal pie tin and place on top of the wood chips.  Cover with a tight fitting lid (to ensure a snug seal, loosely place a piece of aluminium foil across the top of the pan before pressing the lid firmly down; press any overlapping foil up against the lid, taking care not to let it touch the flame). Turn the heat to high and smoke the vegetables for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for several minutes.

PROTIP: Take your homemade smoker outside before you open it up.  If you don't, your fiancee will yell at you for making the house smell like a campfire.

Transfer the smoked vegetables to a blender and puree until smooth.  Pour into a medium sauce pan along with the juice, water, sugars, molasses, Cajun seasoning, salt, vinegar, cayenne, ground black and white peppers, red pepper flakes, chile powder, thyme, cumin, and oregano; bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Simmer for ten minutes, whisking occasionally.  Whisk in the butter, a few pieces at a time.

Monday, March 5, 2012


This all purpose Cajun seasoning is courtesy of Chef Jimmy Bannos (Chicago's Heaven on Seven restaurant).


3 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
1 1/2 tablespoons Spanish paprika
5 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl until thoroughly mixed. Store in a an airtight container.

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