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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Waffling Around Breakfast

Tender, fluffy, redolent of warm spices; the best cinnamon buns are the epitome of comfort food for those with a sweet tooth. Each rich swirl is lavished with buttery cinnamon filling and smothered in silky cream cheese icing, melting and mingling within the warm, freshly baked pastry. Such an experience can’t be replicated with anything store-bought or made in advance, so how does anyone enjoy such a treat on a busy morning for breakfast?

Turn that concept into a simple waffle batter and bake that decadent cinnamon sweetness right in for an effortless recipe renovation.

Want to save more time in the morning?

These waffles are your ticket to instant comfort food with some advance planning.

The waffles themselves can be made ahead of time and frozen for up to two months. Simply reheat in the toaster oven until hot throughout and lightly crisped on the outside. The cream cheese drizzle will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

What’s a good substitute for sweet potato flour?

Sweet potato flour is unique for its subtly sweet flavor and thickening properties. It’s an excellent gluten-free option, but may be tricky to find in some markets. If you don’t want to order online or simply want to start cooking ASAP, here are the best options to try instead:

  • Quinoa flour
  • Oat flour
  • Rice flour

Never again compromise between convenience, cravings, and nutrition. These decadent-tasting yet secretly healthy waffles have it all!

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65 Reasons to Love Mushroom 65

All good recipes start with a story. This one is downright legendary, awash in myths and theories, becoming just a little bit more embellished with each retelling. Chicken 65 has enough allure without the fanfare, sticky red glaze gleaming as it catches the light, hugging the curves of each crispy morsel. Knowing where the name came from has zero impact on the dish which clearly speaks for itself, and yet it’s an obvious question that demands answers: Why 65?

Why is it called Chicken 65?

Was the chicken marinated for 65 days? Did the original dish include 65 pieces? Were there 65 chilies that went into that blisteringly spicy sauce? Maybe it was simply the item #65 on the menu for easy ordering? At this point, one could say it’s from the 65 different ways that people thought it came about!

Chicken 65 isn’t nearly as mysterious as the name might suggest. In fact, it’s well documented that it was invented by chefs at Buhari Hotel in 1965. Thus, the ’65 is merely paying homage to its date of birth. In case that very reasonable explanation disappoints you, don’t worry; this story is just getting started.

Hot enough to make you sweat on a brisk winter’s day, I’d equate it to the Indian version of Buffalo chicken. Though it packs a punch, the vivid red color imparts a more daunting appearance than punishing taste.

Given its great popularity over the years, chicken hasn’t been the only subject for this treatment. You can easily find shrimp 65, fish 65, mutton 65, paneer (cheese) 65, and gobi (cauliflower) 65 all across India. The next evolutionary step was obvious to me.

Why not try Mushroom 65?

The same treatment has been given to humble button mushrooms many times already, but I’d like to up the ante with shiitake. Far richer in umami flavor, denser for a firm, meaty bite, and without the bland watery texture of the average fungi, Sugimoto Shiitake, and particularly donko shiitake, are really the only ones up to the task. They straddle the line between the realms of plants and vegetables, giving the impression of a meaty morsel in a more earthy way. Besides, when everything can generally be said to “taste like chicken,” why bother the living birds in the first place?

Plunged into a heady marinade of vibrant spices immersed in a creamy yogurt base, the hydrated shiitake truly blossom to release their full umami potency. Absorbing that brilliant blend right into their core, each bite practically glows crimson after that luxurious bath. Still, there’s more flavor on the way to reinforce that solid foundation.

Lightly battered, fried to a crispy finish, and then tossed in even more tempered whole spices, the aromas are so heady that you can start to taste it before it even hits your tongue. One unique addition here is fresh curry leaves, which are sadly obscure in the US. Yes, there is in fact a curry plant, not just a mixture of spices or a dish called curry. It has an irreplaceable nuance that adds nutty, toasted notes with a hint of citrus, a hint of herbal yet floral flavor like Thai basil, with a tangy, tart finish. My best suggestion for a widely available alternative would be fresh bay leaves, but nothing can truly replace such a singular sensation.

If you like it hot, you’ll LOVE Mushroom 65. The key is starting with quality ingredients, as with any other carefully calibrated formula. Some can be adjusted, in the case of curry leaves, and heat can be dialed back for those with more meek palates, but one this is a non-negotiable: Sugimoto Shiitake are the only mushrooms for the job. One bite, and you’ll understand why.

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Ready to Pop

With enough creativity, anything can be a taco. Beyond hard or soft shells, salads and bowls, the satisfying spices and resounding crunch can be translated in any edible medium. That’s why I’m going for a much bolder base to celebrate National Taco Day on October 4th. Taco jalapeño poppers could just change this beloved Tex-Mex snack.

Typical jalapeño poppers are a bit boring for my tastes. Stuffed with plain cream cheese before being battered and fried, they’re tasty enough with a beer or two, but nothing to write home about. Take it to the next level with Hodo’s Mexican Crumbles to make an instant taco filling, perfect for stuffing into these peppery shells. This high-protein staple is ready to eat right out of the package, infused with chipotles, oregano, and a squeeze of lime, so all the hard work is done for you.

Bringing the taco theme home, finely crushed tortilla chips replace bland breadcrumbs for an extra crispy, lightly salted, and perfectly corny bite. You get all the best parts of a crunchy taco in one killer app, ideal for a party or midnight cravings.

Considering how decadent and crave-worthy they taste, it might be hard to stop at a single serving. Go ahead, indulge!

These poppers have the edge on the nutritional competition for many reasons:

  1. Air fried, not deep-fried. The only fat here comes from the cheese, not frying oil.
  2. Dairy-free cheese means zero cholesterol.
  3. Plant protein. One package of Hodo Mexican Crumbles alone has over 45 gram of protein!
  4. Full of fiber. Try to find another game day snack that can actually keep you satisfied from kickoff to overtime.

In fact, the versatility of this recipe goes well beyond the opening act.

You can make it the main event by pairing with any of the following serving suggestions:

  • Plain or seasoned rice
  • Pinto beans, black beans, or refried beans
  • Green salad or cabbage slaw
  • Tortilla chips and salsa or guacamole
  • Elote or esquites

Jalapeño poppers are a relatively new phenomenon, appearing on menus only a few decades ago in the early 90s. It’s not too late to redefine the dish with new flair and brighter flavors. Take inspiration from beefy meatless tacos to get the party started.

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Compound Interest

You can’t live in Austin without developing a taste for queso. I do believe that at a certain point in your residency, if you don’t profess your undying love for the gooey cheese dip, the authorities will come and escort you out. Queso is a Tex-Mex staple that’s as abundant as the bats under Congress Bridge. It’s the glue holding together every menu, sometimes literally, as a stand-alone appetizer, side dish, and topping. Given the opportunity, I have no doubt that it would be blended into frosty margaritas, too.

All you need is liquid cheese with a bit of spice to have a passable queso dip. When you’re ready to take it to the next level, consider stepping up your game with Queso Compuesto.

Compuesto translates as “compound,” which means “made up or consisting of two or more existing parts or elements.” As such, queso is still the main attraction, but now you have a dollop of guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream in the same dish. Go all the way and hide a layer of cooked taco meat at the bottom, and you can basically call that a balanced meal.

How do you serve Queso Compuesto?

  • Queso is always a stellar party starter, served as an appetizer with thick, crunchy tortilla chips.
    • Pro tip: Warm the chips first to make them seem freshly fried and extra crispy. Just spread them out on a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for 5 – 6 minutes, until warm to the touch. Transfer the chips to a bowl so no one burns themselves on the hot pan.
  • Ladle or spread queso over tacos, inside burritos before wrapping, or use as instant quesadilla filling.

What are some tasty variations on Queso Compuesto?

  • Mix and match your favorite components to make this queso your own. Don’t like sour cream but love extra avocado on everything? Double up the guac and ditch the crema.
  • When you’re in a rush, there’s no shame in taking shortcuts. Use prepared guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream. Heck, you can even use ready-made vegan queso, if you just want to use this idea as a template to color by numbers.
  • Instead of meatless taco-seasoned grounds, stick with more whole foods like black beans or refried pinto beans for protein.
  • Switch out the pico de gallo for any other salsa, hot or mild, red or green, smooth or chunky.

What can you do with leftover Queso Compuesto?

This is definitely a party-sized serving, so if you want to have a fiesta for one or two, don’t worry about the extra going to waste. It’s an incredibly versatile addition to…

  • Pasta bakes
  • Pizza
  • Chili
  • Baked potatoes

Alternately, you could always divide the components into single servings. This is a great approach for portion control, planned leftovers, and simply preventing anyone from hogging the dish!

Some people still refer to this as “Bob Armstrong Dip,” attributing the creation to the former Texas land commissioner who allegedly asked for something different, off the menu, at Matt’s El Rancho in Austin, Texas. I think you can confidently name this one after yourself for improving upon the concept by making it far healthier, vegan, gluten-free, and even more flavorful.

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Pop On Over for Papadum

Culinary magic is the only way to explain how papadum are made. Ethereally thin and immaculately crisp, each fragment shatters upon impact like a flavor grenade straight to the tongue. Even after subsequent bites, palate fatigue never sets in because each piece is a little bit different, sparkling with both whole and ground spices embedded into the peaks and valleys formed by air bubbles while cooking. Calling them crackers or chips doesn’t do this classic Indian snack proper justice.

While plain versions do exist, the vast majority apply seasoning with a liberal hand. Why stop at just cumin and chili powder when you could further enhance your papad with umami? This is a job for Sugimoto shiitake powder, of course! It’s the ideal addition because it won’t clash or cover up other spices, but serves to further enhance their inherent flavors. That’s another kind of magic that seems fitting for such a captivating crisp.

What make papadum so special?

The basic ingredients that go into making papadum are spare, common, affordable pantry staples. Chickpea flour is the only non-negotiable in this recipe, although lentils, rice, and potato are traditional variants, so there’s certainly room for more experimentation. This legume base creates a delicate dough that’s not only high in protein, but also gluten-free.

It’s the technique that creates the alchemic transformation. After initially rehydrating the flour, the individual disks are dehydrated. At this stage, uncooked papads have such a low moisture content that they can keep for months in a cool, dry place. A quick and intense blast of heat brings them to life. This is the same principle at play for shrimp chips and chicharrones: the remaining water expands, stretching the dough and creating the fine matrix of bubbles just below the surface.

Tips for making perfect papadum:

  1. Use a stand mixer to bring the dough together. It’s extremely thick and dry which makes it difficult to effectively mix by hand. Resist the temptation to add more water, which will quickly transform the malleable dough into a sticky paste.
  2. Lightly oiled hands are much more effective at flattening the individual papad than a rolling pin. Just stretch somewhat like a pizza dough first before placing each one on a piece of parchment paper. Use your fingertips to gently press it out as thinly as possible. A rolling pin is much more likely to stick, tear, and generally make a mess. For the gadget lover: If you have a tortilla press or a pasta roller, those are other great alternatives for a more consistent, smooth surface.
  3. Thickness, or more accurately thinness, is critical for success. Aim for about 1/16 of an inch thick; thinner than gingerbread cookies, thinner than western crackers, thinner than you think is really possible.
  4. Dehydrate slowly and thoroughly. Traditionally, papad are simply left out in full sun for 2 – 3 days, but it’s important to control the drying rate accurately for long term storage. Excess moisture invites bacteria growth that will cause spoilage.

What’s the best way to cook papadum?

You have three options for that final step: Microwaving, air frying, and deep frying.

  • Microwaving is the quickest, easiest, cleanest, and arguably healthiest. In a matter of seconds, papadum spring to life with no oil at all. It’s safe for kids (or particularly accident-prone adults) to use by themselves for an instantly gratifying snack. The downside is that not all microwaves are created equal, so it may take some trial and error to find the sweet spot for timing, power levels, and placement.
  • Air frying is my personal favorite approach, reaping the textural benefits of dry, intense heat for quick cooking, with just a touch of added oil for a subtle extra depth of flavor. This sensation, the richness of fat, is known as kokumi in Japanese, which works in concert with the umami of the shiitake powder to create a more rounded, harmonious, and simply delicious experience.
  • Deep frying or pan frying is most traditional, harnessing the firepower of hot oil to make the crispiest, crunchiest, and quite frankly the most addictive food around. It’s fantastic on special occasions, but I hate the mess and peril that comes hand-in-hand with setting a bubbling vat of edible napalm on the stove.

Once you start making papadum from scratch, it’s hard to go back to store-bought. Detonating with a calculated barrage of spices, each wafer-thin bombshell blows the competition out of the water.

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