Marmite: The devil’s umami (repost)

This post is copied from one of my Twitter Threads because why not?

A few days ago, I read something about how some people love Marmite, while others hate it. I’ve never tried Marmite, so why not give it a shot? What is Marmite, you ask?

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marmite. In short, it’s yeast extract paste. In 1902, a crazy German guy got the idea to sell the waste yeast from brewing beer as a foodstuff. Some crazy Brits love it and spread it on toast or use it in cooking.

The theme I picked up on is “crazy”. I Like crazy foods, so I bought some. Join me as I try Marmite for the first time.


Opening it, the texture is like thick syrup. It spreads easily like honey that has been run through a ferret first. I have some Carr’s water crackers (or “Craquelins à l’eau”, which sounds like a Cockney “allo!”).

And then the smell kind of jumps up into my nostrils and assaults them. This is definitely not an “aroma” but a “smell”. Maybe “stink”. It’s like extreme umami, like herring paste but not fishy. Maybe a hint of caramel hiding in it. This is… well. Hmm.
It reeks like an old man’s undies.

Time to take the plunge I guess.

First bite: OMGWTF, it attacked my tongue. It’s… like what I imagine rubbing a dried oily herring on the tongue is like, but it’s not olive oil — it’s motor oil. Then that’s swept away by just relentless salt.

Salt is the second ingredient. I might as well have poured some salt directly from the shaker into my mouth. Oh, man. That’s aggressive. People eat this? People pay money for this torture? Gah!

Salt is the second ingredient in Marmite.

Now there’s a stunning, lingering aftertaste. It’s the demon of beer yeast. Satan’s beer farts.

OMG, I need more water. And plain crackers. Anything. Anything to get this foot fungus out of my mouth! Gaaaa! That is definitely the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth. Eff me! More water! UK, what the hell is wrong with you?

Well that was fun. My stomach is grumbling angrily, and my tongue won’t even speak to me. Marmite. Damn.

Porky pasta with lemon recipe

Looking around the kitchen, I found some stuff lying around that needed to be used up. Pork chops, veggies, garlic, lemons. You know what they say, when life gives you lemons and pork, make meaty lemonade. And that’s a really stupid saying.

Plated porky pasta
Plated porky pasta

This isn’t rocket science, but I’m bored so I thought I’d take photos and post a kind of visual recipe that I can refer back to later.

Ingredients

  • pork chops
  • 3 shallots
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 green onions
  • 2 lemons
  • parmesan cheese (optional)
  • flour (for coating and as thickener)
  • a cup of chicken stock
  • fettucini
  • salt, pepper

Preparation

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Christmas leftover mélange recipe

A blender, often used once right after Christmas, and thereafter used to fill space in the back of the bottom cupboard
A blender, often used once right after Christmas, and thereafter used to fill space in the back of the bottom cupboard

This recipe is not only an excellent way to finish up the endless Christmas leftovers, but also great for trying out the blender you unwrapped two days ago.

  1. Add some leftovers to the blender jar: cold, slimy turkey meat, dried-up mashed potatoes, and veggies with the good ones picked out (leaving mainly Brussels sprouts).
  2. If you have any gravy left, add that, but realistically all you’ll have is a gallon of cranberry sauce. Add that with a deep sigh of resignation.
  3. Carefully measure 1 cup of rum-and-eggnog, gulp it down, then put the rest into the blender.
  4. If you have any fruit cake or short bread you can optionally add them or you could keep them until next year. They’ll be completely inedible by then, but nobody will notice, since they’re never actually eaten.
  5. Purée until smooth. If you need more liquid, add the tears of young children who didn’t get exactly what they wanted for Christmas.
  6. Decant the mixture into a large, disposable cup, and throw it vigorously at your neighbour’s garish lights-and-sounds Christmas lawn display — it’s best served at Santa’s head, but Rudolf or Frosty are reasonable substitutes.

After the overwhelming merriment of the holiday season, a large mug of this mélange of Christmas cheer can bring relaxation and smug satisfaction as you peer between the curtains at your confused neighbours.

The Cornish pasty: traditional British fare

What are pasties? Depending on how you Google it, pasties are either a delicious meat and veg pie or nipple tassles. Some readers will be disappointed that this blog entry is about the pies. If you’re here for the other kind of pasties, you’ve come to the wrong blog.

Pasties fresh from the oven
Pasties fresh from the oven

Pasties are a traditional Cornish pie filled with simple meat and veg and lightly seasoned with just salt and pepper. If the sound of such simple seasoning and filling sound boring, a great thing about pasties is that you can actually fill them with whatever meat, veg, and seasoning you like, and they’ll probably turn out great.

I only recently learned how to make them, and it turns out to be pretty easy. They freeze well, so you can fill your freezer with these insta-meals.

How do you make them? Simple: wrap a seasoned raw meat-and-veg mix in pastry dough and bake. Done.

What? You want more detail? Alright. Here we go. This recipe makes six 15 centimeter pasties. More or less.

Pastry ingredients

  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 0.25 cups cold lard
  • 0.25 cups cold unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 or 6 tblsp cold water
  • 1 egg, beaten, for finish

Filling ingredients

  • quarter of a yellow turnip (aka “swede” or “rutabaga”)
  • half of a potato
  • 1 med carrot
  • quarter yellow onion
  • roughly 500 g meat of your preference, cut in 1 cm cubes (traditionally, it’s whatever meat you can get your hands on, but these work well: flank steak, lamb, chicken, goat, pork, guinea pig, rabbit, camel, wild boar, wildebeest, etc.)
  • salt, pepper
  • optional: 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • optional: spices of your choice (like Italian, curry, or whatever you like on your meats)
Make the pastry dough
  1. Sift the flour and salt together into a bowl.
  2. Cube the cold lard and butter and add it to the dry ingredients. Using only the ends of your fingers (to avoid warming the butter/lard), squish the butter/lard between fingers continuously until you get an even breadcrumb-like texture.
  3. Add the tablespoons of water and gently cut it into the mix with a knife a little at a time until all the water is evenly added. Using hands, gently press the mix into a consistent ball. Do not knead or gluten will be released. Doesn’t take very long at all.
  4. When you have a round, even ball of dough, wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes so that it can hydrate.
    Here’s a good video from “Cornish Nan” on making the pastry:

Prepare the filling

  1. Prepare the veg. Cut the peeled, washed veg into little 1 centimeter cubes. Mix the raw cubed veg (and optional garlic) into the raw meat. Adjust the meat-to-veg ratio as you like. I prefer a 2 to 1 meat-to-veg ratio.
  2. Season the mix with salt, pepper (and optional other meat spices). Cover and put in fridge until the dough is done resting.

Assemble the pasties

  1. Gently press and roll the dough flat until it’s about the thickness of a Loonie. Be sure to dust the surface and rolling pin with flour to keep the from sticking to everything. Dust your face with flour so everyone knows how hard you’re working.
  2. Place a 15 centimeter (~6 inch) plate on the dough and trace a circle with a knife. Do this as many times as you can, setting each aside on a flour-dusted surface. There may be leftover dough that you can use to patch holes if you make mistakes. You now have several circles of dough.
  3. Dollop the meat/veg mix in a line in the centre of the circles. About the size of an elongated golf ball plus any extra you can fit. You’ll figure out how much can fit inside with a couple of tries. Don’t use an actual golf ball.
  4. Paint half the edge of the circle with beaten egg mix and wrap the meat/veg up like a dumpling, gluing the circle edges like a ridge along the length of the pasty (see photo).
  5. Using fingers, press a wobbly pattern along the ridge of dough to strengthen the join (see photo), and then stab a few holes in the sides with a fork.
  6. Cover a cookie sheet with baker’s parchment and put the pasties on top, spaced evenly.
  7. Paint the pasties all over with the egg mix.

Bake the pasties

  1. Bake at 375°F for 40 minutes or until they’re golden brown.
  2. Pace impatiently in front of the oven.
  3. When they’re done, let them cool on a rack.

This pasty was made with ground beef and not much veg.
This pasty was made with ground beef and not much veg. It works much better with cubed meat and more veg.

Eat the pasties

  1. Place all the warm pasties on a plate.
  2. Sit down with the pasties in front of you.
  3. Grab 1 pasty in each fist and stuff them into your mouth.
  4. Chew.
  5. Swallow.
  6. Repeat from step 3 until you fall into a blissful food coma.

Caramel sauce recipe

Who doesn’t like caramel sauce on ice cream or a brownie? Nobody. Nobody but the scum of the earth.

In fact, if you want to find out if you should be friends with somebody, offer them a dessert with caramel sauce. If they refuse, kick them out of your home and never speak to them ever again.

This is caramel sauce. It’s important. I don’t think I’m being too extreme.

20150318-caramel_spoonThe greatest thing about caramel sauce is that it’s not some magical substance that can only obtained in a bottle at the corner store. It’s so amazingly easy to make, that you’re about to find out why you’ll never buy it again.

Why make it yourself? First of all, the bottled stuff isn’t real caramel. It’s almost certainly corn syrup with flavours, thickeners, and preservatives. You don’t need any of that. The real thing is caramelized sugar, cream, butter, and a hint of salt. That’s it. These simple ingredients can make a miracle substance that has the power to win you friends forever. That, or just rot your teeth and add pounds to your waist. Win-win, right?

Here’s how you make yourself a hero to your family and friends.

WARNING: Treat hot sugar very carefully. If it spatters on your skin, it can burn you badly.  

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp lemon juice (I’m not certain, but I think the lemon helps inhibit sugar crystallization.)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter in 1″ cubes
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Preparation

  1. In the bottom of a very deep pot, place the sugar, water, and lemon and place on medium heat.  DO NOT STIR.
    NOTE: The pot should be much deeper than you appear to need because when you add the milk (later), it will froth up energetically.
  2. While the sugar is heating, heat the cream in a separate pot until it starts boiling, then reduce temperature to warm.
  3. Stages of caramelizing sugar from wet, granulated sugar (left) to dark amber (right). Darker than this will taste increasingly bitter.
    Stages of caramelizing sugar from wet, granulated sugar (left) to dark amber (right). Darker than this will taste increasingly bitter.

    When the sugar begins to boil, watch the colour carefully. It will change colour from light amber to dark. Be vigilant because the time between a light amber and dark is less than half a minute, in which time the flavour changes from sweet bland to bitter and burned. Catch it in between, and your caramel will be flavourful.

  4. When the caramel reaches the right colour, remove it from heat and carefully stir in the hot cream until it’s an even colour. WARNING: It will froth up energetically, and by “energetically” I mean it’s just short of an explosion. 
  5. Before you’ve lost the heat, add the butter and stir until it’s an even, creamy colour.
  6. Add tiny amounts of salt to taste. Some people enjoy salty caramel; others don’t. It’s up to you.
  7. Pour into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.

Caramelized sugar mixed with cream and butter
Caramelized sugar mixed with cream and butter

NOTE: You can control the thickness of your caramel by varying the amount of cream. For caramel sauce, use the amount indicated above; for caramel filling for cake or chocolates, reduce that amount.

If your caramel solidifies in the refrigerator, warm it gently in the microwave or on a stove top, stirring regularly.