making a reduction: another learning experience

And by “learning experience” I mean “somewhat unpleasant experience.” Maybe one of the reasons I’ve gotten lazy in the kitchen is because the more you experiment and try new things, the more likely you are to fail. Sure, you’re also more likely to do something great – even sometimes when you think you’ve messed up you might end up discovering something awesome. But…the failures terrify me. I have been known to cry. As you might imagine, it’s a little unnerving for me to write all about it for a blog, even if there are only a handful of you reading it! But I guess that’s kind of my job now, so.

Yesterday for the 4th of July (happy belated, by the way) my family had steak & salmon on the grill at my grandmother’s house. (Henceforth I will refer to my grandmother as Tete, which you should pronounce tay-tay – Arabic slang for grandma.) I decided to bring a bag of raw materials to Tete’s house and cook something for myself. This always makes her very nervous because she’s afraid I’ll be in the way with all (two of) my pots and pans and cutting board, and she worries I’ll never be able to cook my veggies as quickly as my dad can grill a thick slab of meat. So I end up being rushed to cook way before we plan to eat, and everything gets overdone and I end up eating a cold dinner. But I’m only cooking for myself, so it’s not too heartbreaking. And anyway, that is not the worst that happened, that’s just my long excuse for not having a picture of the final plating.

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This was my best discovery yesterday: Tipsy Russian Mustard by Sable & Rosenfeld. It says Sweet & Hot, but it was really just sweet. And you can kind of tell from the second picture, it has the consistency of a caramel sauce. Very good stuff!

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I randomly grabbed this wheat gluten when I stopped at the Asian market Tuesday, so I decided to try to make it chorizo-like and serve it with cabbage and zucchini. I thought I could tweak the pepperoni beet marinade I made the other day by doubling most of the ingredients from that recipe, except the soy sauce which I left at 2 Tbsp, adding 2 heaping tsp of the mustard along with some hot sauce and red pepper flakes, and using balsamic vinegar instead of regular vinegar. Oh, I also added some chili powder and little extra pepper. Next time I would omit the sage, but it was pretty good stuff.

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I let the wheat gluten marinate for about five hours in the fridge, then I had the bright idea to save the marinade and reduce it into a sauce, and cook the wheat gluten in it. Lemme tell you what was wrong with that idea.

First of all, I think it would be a much better idea to make your wheat meats from scratch and use something like the above marinade recipe in place of water. Then it already has the flavor right in it. The “skin” on the premade stuff is not porous at all. Neither is the inside, actually, so cutting it doesn’t help much. Maybe if I would’ve left it to marinade for a day or two it would’ve helped, but after five hours the flavor was just barely clinging to the outside (I tasted a piece before cooking).

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Second, obviously a reduction is just a very concentrated version of the marinade. All the flavors are intensified, including the hot sauce, red pepper flakes and mustard and vinegar. So my reduction was really spicy and somewhat bitter. I tried adding a little sugar as advised in some article I read online, but it didn’t do the trick.
Third, if I would’ve just pan fried the wheat gluten, it would’ve had a nice crust on the outside that tasted like the marinade. By cooking it in the reduction, the marinade flavor was gone, there was no crust, and the sauce was an ugly brown, where the marinade crust would’ve been a pretty reddish-brown. Now onto another bright spot.

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The zucchini and cabbage tasted great. I started by sautéing onions and mushrooms in Smart Balance margarine with salt, pepper and garlic. Added the zucchini.

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Then I added some red cabbage, more salt, pepper & garlic (all you really need for cabbage!) with a little gin and a spoonful of the Russian Mustard. It was very pretty *cough* at first *cough*
My aunt roasted sweet potatoes in vegetable oil with salt, cinnamon and cumin (not sure if there was anything else) and white potatoes with olive oil, salt, garlic, oregano and parsley. Both kinds of potatoes tasted good with my meal, and the sweet potatoes especially killed some of the bitterness of the sauce. Corn would’ve also been nice. Late last night I ate the leftovers cold, with my cashew spread, and it tasted even better.

Lessons learned:

-Don’t be lazy. Make your own wheat gluten products for best flavor.
-Concentrated flavor does not always equal better flavor.
-If you’re going to use a sauce, pan fry your mock meats in a separate pan and get a nice crust. Add the sauce on your plate, maybe on the side as a dip.

P.S. I love my Tete

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