Nature’s Candy

Strongly associated with robust savory flavor, AKA umami, mushrooms across the board are prized for their meaty qualities. Not all mushrooms are created equal, much like people, and some stand out as particularly unique. Candy cap mushrooms are the outliers of the fungi kingdom, delicate and fragrant, with a distinctly sweet taste. How is it possible that such earthy edibles could earn the name of “candy”? Mother Nature works in mysterious ways.

What are candy cap mushrooms?

Unless you’re an avid forager on the west coast, you’re unlikely to find fresh candy caps anytime soon. They’re fragile, highly perishable, and very difficult to cultivate. Thus, most people encounter dried candy cap mushrooms sold in specialty or gourmet grocery stores in small quantities. A little bit goes a long way, so even though it feels like a substantial investment upfront, the price constitutes a considerable value for any food explorer.

What do candy cap mushrooms taste like?

Maple syrup is the most common descriptor of the uniquely sweet flavor and aroma; woodsy, subtly nutty and smokey, with an mistakable sugary aftertaste, despite containing no quantifiable sugar content. Other notes you may detect include butterscotch, brown sugar, caramel, and fenugreek.

What’s the best way to cook with candy cap mushrooms?

Unlike their umami brethren, these mushrooms are best suited for desserts. Ice cream and custard are very popular options, since the rich cream base is a great carrier for the flavor, easy to infuse without having large mushroom chunks in the final treat. Some people simply candy the mushrooms themselves in sugar syrup for a self-contained confection. Personally, I have a hard time taking the beaten path, so I had to look farther afield to honor my rare fungi.

Chocolate gravy is a southern staple, so why not take that concept and run with it? Remove the cocoa and use candy caps for both flavor and texture; the result looks alarmingly like sausage gravy while having the unnerving essence of maple pudding.

How can you serve candy cap gravy?

It’s an ideal breakfast companion for smothering all of your favorite comforting staples, such as…

Take a walk on the wild side with foraged flavors that only nature could create.

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We Need to Chaat

Chaat is more than just a dish or singular culinary concept; chaat is a whole lifestyle. In much the same way that almost anything could be defined as a salad, with minimal rationalization, everything and anything is chaat. In fact, salad could qualify as chaat and vice versa. You could eat chaat for every meal, even though it’s commonly thought of as a snack. It’s a solo savory treat and also a party starter. Everywhere you go in India, chaat is found everywhere tucked away in back alleys, hawked on the street, packed into kids’ lunchboxes, and spread lavishly across top restaurant tables.

So… What Is Chaat?

Known for its aromatic spices and tangy sauces, chaat is an entire genre of Indian street food that offers a symphony of exotic tastes and textures. The range of possibilities spans beyond conventional limits; there are no wrong answers. Every region has certain affinities or specialties, but that’s only the beginning of the story. Chaat is a living recipe that continues to evolve with every subsequent cook that puts their own spin on it.

How Can You Build Your Own Chaat?

Formulas can be simple or complex, ranging from a half dozen ingredients to a list that’s longer than your average CVS receipt. The key is to balance contrasting flavors and textures by including elements that are crunchy, creamy, spicy, sour, fresh, sweet, and savory. When crafting your own chaat, here are the basics to start with and some suggestions for making it your own.

All About That Base

Carbs are the foundation to build upon, which usually means potatoes for me. That’s why I call mine aloo chaat anyhow, but that doesn’t mean we can’t invite more players to the party. Cut carbs and swap half or all for roasted zucchini or cauliflower. Switch it up with sweet potatoes, or dig other root vegetables like parsnips, rutabaga, or turnips. Other traditional selections include smashed samosas and crushed papad.

Veg Out

Consider this the salad portion of the program. Raw vegetables are chopped finely for a refreshing foil to the often heavy base. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions are common. If you want a shortcut, you can always pick up some prepared pico de gallo, or any chunky fresh salsa, and no one would be the wiser.

Awesome Sauce

Chutney will never go out of style. It’s like an accessory that goes with everything and pulls the whole outfit together. You don’t have to choose just one, either; stack them to make a bigger statement. Top choices include cilantro chutney, tamarind chutney, and mango chutney, which are respectively herbaceous, tangy, and sweet to make a well-rounded trio. Don’t forget a drizzle of unsweetened yogurt for a bit of creamy richness.

Crunch Time

This is what I consider the fun stuff that really sets chaat apart from the average pile of foodstuffs. Sev, which are fine strands of deep fried chickpea noodles, are most popular. They can be a bit tricky to find in the US, so I like to use wheat-based crispy chow mien noodles instead. Crunchy chickpeas, either store bought or homemade, are another excellent addition especially for adding more plant-based protein. Don’t forget toasted nuts or seeds, pomegranate arils, and even crispy rice cereal.

The Spice Is Right

Arguably the single most important component of any chaat is the chaat masala, AKA chaat spice blend. This one is distinctive for its heavy use of kala namak, also known as “black salt” even though it’s a light pink color in real life, which contributes an unmistakable sulfur aroma. This is the primary culprit for eggy flavor in vegan scrambles, but it takes on all new life alongside a pungent blend of toasted spices. Already boldly umami, that savory taste is further heightened with the addition of Sugimoto shiitake powder. It comes alive when the powder touches moisture, becoming even more potent than a regular fresh shiitake mushroom. For best results, I like to toss the base with the chaat masala, infusing those flavors right into the core. You cal always finish it with a second sprinkle once fully assembled for extra oomph.

Want to simplify your chaat?

  • Start with a ready-made chaat masala spice blend and simply add shiitake powder to amplify those spices.
  • Use prepared chutney, and if tamarind eludes you entirely, try a drizzle of pomegranate molasses instead.
  • Cook the potatoes in advance and store them for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat them for 1 – 2 minutes in the microwave when ready to serve.

Don’t be daunted by the long list of ingredients. Everything is optional, adaptable, and open to interpretation. I haven’t even scratched the surface on all that chaat can be. Worry less about authenticity and focus on flavor first. There are endless ways to make chaat, and if you focus on creating a delicate balance between seemingly disparate, contrasting tastes, you will never go wrong.

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Just Trolling

Horror is not my first genre of choice nor area of expertise. For that, you should really be following Video Creep, videographer, comedian, and horror professional. With his guidance, I’ve picked out the perfect entertainment for your Halloween evening: Troll 2.

What is Troll 2 about?

Described by some as the “best worst movie” and “most disrespected horror films in recent history,” Troll 2 is not going to keep you awake at night. It’s not even going to make you remotely uneasy. The basic premise is laughable right from the start, seeing as there are no trolls to be found during the entire 95-minute runtime, only goblins. It’s also worth noting that it has nothing to do with the preceding movie, Troll, which has only marginally better reviews.

Without spoiling anything, one of the key features is green goop being offered at every meal, which no one seems to find suspicious. Unfortunately, just one bite will turn people into their own sort of human sludge, which is then fed to the hungry goblins.

Naturally, it’s the food element that I find most captivating. Between the implausible story line and iconic acting, the goblin goop is a standout success in terms of execution. I didn’t pity the people that were dumb enough to miss all the warning signs and thoughtlessly indulge in their own demise. Quite the contrary, I envied the goblins; I’ll have what they’re having.

Join me in feeding your inner goblin with the finest human goo that plant-based ingredients have to offer. It’s every bit as nutritious as dissolved people, but without all the fat and gristle! Besides, no one has time for that kind of messy cleanup. Save yourself the hassle of ensnaring and poisoning your own middle class nuclear family, and let’s pull out the blender instead, shall we?

A base of frozen mango and banana creates a naturally sweet, creamy, and subtly tropical foundation for some bright spices. Turmeric adds a bold sunny yellow hue that harmonizes brilliantly with ginger and cinnamon. The real crowning jewel is the swirl of green goo, of course. This comes in the form of fluid gel made from green juice and agar.

What is a fluid gel?

Despite the fancy molecular gastronomy term, it’s really a very simple concept: Set any fluid with a thickener, then blend it to break down the structure into a substance that straddles the line between liquid and solid, AKA, goo.

What’s the best green juice?

You can make your own green juice from scratch, or buy bottled green juice at the grocery store. I’d suggest going with the latter for the sake of simplicity. A subtly sweet blend with a mix of fruits and vegetables is my preference here to pair with the smoothie itself, particularly if pineapple is involved. Top mainstream brands include:

At the heart of it, Troll 2 is a movie made for the plant-based crowd. The goblins were vegetarian, after all, so the only way they could enjoy their human feasts was by turning them into inert substance. Let’s raise a glass to these visionaries that were ahead of their time. Cheers, and Happy Halloween!

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Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Modern meat processing does a marvelous job of making flesh, fat, and gristle look like anything other than that. From ground sinew and muscle we get exquisitely smooth deli slices or hot dog links, completely divorced from their corporeal beings. As plant-based meats evolve to compete with conventional options, I think the next big step is to outpace them entirely. It’s time to embrace whole body butchery.

“Meathead” might be an insult, but “meat foot” is about to become a compliment of the highest order. The concept of feetloaf isn’t new, just not well understood. While it may have begun as a play on words, the flavors here are no joke. Let’s take a swing at this beast and break it all down.

What exactly is feetloaf?

First, you need to start with pasture-raised, hormone-free, organic, free-range humans. Next, you need to make sure they’re slaughtered humanely at a USDA-approved facility…

In truth though, feetloaf can be made from any meatloaf recipe you like. Standard yields will only make enough material for a single foot, or baby feet, so either double the quantities or plan the sculpting accordingly.

You’ll want to remove the natural toenails, which are pretty tough and sharp. Sliced cipollini onions make excellent replacements, adding flavor and covering any unsightly toe stumps at once.

Alternate vegetables to use for a “bone” instead of daikon:

Did you know that the tibia is is the most commonly fractured long bone in the body? If your human doesn’t have a suitable bone for the loaf, there are plenty of easy replacements. I prefer daikon for it’s mildly peppery bite and tender texture. Other great options include:

  • Parsnip
  • Whole hearts of palm
  • White carrots
  • Leeks (white parts only)
  • Peeled potatoes

What sides are best to serve with feetloaf?

Expect any side dish to be largely overlooked when you have such a grand show-stopper on the table. That said, it’s good to keep the supporting players simple and unfussy. My go-tos are:

  • Mashed potatoes
  • Steamed broccoli or peas
  • Leafy green salad

Those who have been raised eating only innocuous nuggets might have a hard time coming around to feetloaf. Some may even find it shocking or unsettling if not prepared for the meal. Rest assured that this is the only way towards a truly sustainable food system. No matter any initial backlash, this meal is absolutely the best way to get your foot in the door.

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On the Lamb

In English, Rogan Josh sounds like it could be a proper legal name. It’s fitting for a dish with such distinct character and personality. They’re the person that everyone talks about candidly, in any company, with open admiration. Have you met my friend here, Rogan Josh, before? If you haven’t, I’d love to formally introduce you.

What is Rogan Josh/Roghan Ghosht?

Known today as a staple of Kashmiri Indian cuisine, the dish originated in Persia. The words themselves can be translated to “butter” and “stew,” although that strikes me as a curious way of burying the lede. Sure, ghee is applied generously for tempering the spices and sauteing the vegetables, but it’s far from the main character of this story. Meat is at the heart of this highly aromatic stew, typically in the form of lamb (mutton) or goat. Braised in a crimson red bath of chilies, low and slow, sometimes for hours before serving, I wonder if the “butter” here refers instead to how it becomes so tender that it practically melts in your mouth?

Plant-based meat has the clear advantage here. Seitan, AKA wheat meat, can cook in a fraction of the time while soaking in that intensely spicy broth like a high-protein sponge. Working in concert with equal parts Sugimoto Shiitake mushrooms, you get the hearty umami flavor and chewy caps for a perfect hearty bite. Donko shiitake have the ideal texture for this kind of application, both blending in seamlessly enhance to unique the rich palate of spices and standing out as the drumbeat moving the parade forward. Even the water used to soak and rehydrate the mushrooms gets put to good use, maximizing every drop of savory potential.

What Can Be Used Instead of Seitan?

If gluten is a concern, fear not. There are plenty of other plant-based proteins that would be excellent alternatives, such as:

  • Soy curls or chunks
  • Chopped tempeh
  • Cubed extra- or super-firm tofu
  • Vegan beef chunks or strips
  • Cooked chickpeas

Typically, the creamy component in this curry comes from plain yogurt, but I wanted something that would further bolster the lamb-like impact here. A big part of what makes game meat so distinctive is a unique grassy flavor, since they’re free to graze on wild grasses, of course. While that’s usually a negative aspect that cooks try to downplay, I’m bringing it back in to imitate that tasting experience. Hemp seeds have a similar earthy aspect, like a fresh bale of hay, which works in our favor this time around. Blended to a smooth consistency alongside tart, unsweetened yogurt, we get the best of all worlds.

What Does Rogan Josh Taste Like?

It’s hard to accurately describe the full volume flavor of the finished tomato curry sauce, but it’s one you’ll never forget. For the heat-seekers and hot sauce fanatics, this song is going out to you. Tune is melodious, haunting at first, like something familiar but long forgotten. Slowly the intensity grows, rising to a crescendo until you’re on the dance floor, electrified by the sensation. In other words, keep a tall glass of non-dairy milk nearby to douse the flames, or consider scaling back on the kashmiri chili powder in the first place.

What Can You Serve with Rogan Josh?

It would be a crime to let any of that luscious sauce go to waste. While it’s a complete dish that’s fully capable of standing alone on the dinner table, it’s even better with a side to soak up every last drop. My favorite options include:

To combat the fiery heat, some refreshing contrasting flavors help, such as:

  • Cucumber salad
  • Raita or plain, unsweetened yogurt
  • Mango lassi

Despite starting with melted coconut milk instead of clarified dairy, there’s no denying the downright decadent and impossibly buttery results. Simply having a well-stocked spice rack is more than half the battle in all good cooking. Knowing how and when to apply the umami power of shiitake mushrooms takes care of the rest.

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Pull Yourself Together

There are few universal truths in life, but I know this to be true: Everyone loves pizza.

Pizza is quite possibly the world’s most perfect food. Between the crispy yet chewy crust, savory-sweet tomato sauce, and gooey cheese, it’s easy to understand the appeal. While some may dispute the ideal approach to each individual component, no one will disparage the overall concept. Even as it shape-shifts into different forms, that fact remains unshakable.

Thus, in honor of World Bread Day, I present to you pizza bread like you’ve never seen before. Forget the juvenile cafeteria fare that the notion may evoke and brace yourself for the ultimate pizza experience reconfigured as a generous loaf. Accordion-Style Pull-Apart Pizza Bread takes notes from monkey bread as an irresistible finger food, translates it into savory terms, and then flips it on its head for the final grand presentation.

If you want to impress friends, this is your new party trick. Though it may look complicated, it takes little more effort than shaping a standard loaf of bread. Divide and conquer, rolling out small sheets of dough piece by piece, then reassemble the whole thing like Frankenstein’s monster, but far more attractive. Tomato sauce gets baked right in for complete coverage so all you have to do is add cheese and toppings, then slap it together. There are no points awarded for cleanliness, so get in there and have fun!

The trick is knowing your spacial limitations. There is no loaf pan that I know of designed precisely for such unconventional culinary experimentation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find creative solutions. I quickly ran out of dough before my standard 8 x 4-inch pan was filled, which ultimately came at my benefit. Simply tuck in the open end using foil as a brace and insert a ramekin with water for support. Now, you have both the perfect package and a built-in steam bath to help it rise to even greater heights.

What else can you add to your pull-apart pizza bread?

I’m glad you asked! Like the classic, fillings are as limitless for toppings. Dig into any of your favorites, such as:

  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Sliced olives
  • Diced red onion
  • Plant-based pepperoni, sausage crumbles, or bacon
  • Sauteed mushrooms
  • Diced bell peppers
  • Fresh basil, parsley, or scallions
  • Baby arugula or spinach
  • Diced pineapple

The only way you can go wrong is if you don’t try it in the first place. Even bad pizza is pretty good, and I can assure you, this one far exceeds all expectations.

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