Monday, February 25, 2008

Rolling Out the Red Carpet

I've noticed some furious blogging on the site recently. Especially a number of inspired and unconventional recipes from a certain home kitchen in Park Slope. With some extra time on his hands, Teddy has seemingly chained himself to the stove for days at a time (allowing small breaks for Martini construction and destruction) tweaking age old English recipes and whipping up some of his own......which is perfect for me, being within reasonable walking distance and a man of constant hunger.

Flashback to a recent Sunday night………
"Hello. I just happened to be strolling through your neighborhood with a chilled bottle of wine......oh, sorry dude, am I interrupting some cooking? Sweetbread croquettes huh? I don't want to impose.....sure, I guess I'll give them a spin. *Peering in Fridge* What else do we have in here?".

This special Tuesday edition of the Club came with a few extra surprises. Mona and Melissa (both of EATS magazine fame) joined us for their first Thursday Club and Teddy's better half Serena made it in time to enjoy the majority of the courses (instead of her usual late-night entrance consisting of leftover food, listening to alcohol-fueled babbling, and the periodical checking of J Boogie's vital signs).

This week's menu showcased flavor combinations running the gamut from bold to subtle and threw a few unlikely pairings at us.

* Crispy pork belly, smoked eel, beetroot and horseradish cream

* Chilled avocado soup with crab meat

* Halibut with butter beans, chorizo and smoked bacon, sherry sauce

* Goat cheese, cranberry and walnut tarts

* Poached pears with strawberry coulis and buttered shortbread

The first course couldn't come quick enough. After a few soothing, explicit words from the chef, I calmed, sat down (at knife point) and eagerly awaited the night-long onslaught. The first course was a progressive East meets West surf and turf. Sweet, tender eel and with pork belly that just melted away in your mouth. As strange as all the ingredients sounded, they worked so well together. Harmonious one might say.......yes, harmonious.



I’m slowly realizing how underrated pork belly is. Inexpensive, easy to prepare, and just damn tasty. It’s rocketing up my “Favorite Meat” list (I refuse to accept or deny the existence of said list) nestled amongst duck, lamb, bacons, pulled pork, brisket, pastrami....ok, it's a long cluttered list, but you catch my drift. Try pork belly, you'll like it.

The wines continued to flow, the chatter continued and with little warning or fanfare, the next course materialized in green streak. An island of tender crab meat surrounded by a vast lagoon of velvety avocado soup. The soup acted as a nice, creamy sauce and vibrant punches of cilantro accented each bite of moist crab. It was a nice, delicate setup to what was to be, a complex mammoth main course.

It's a shame to ruin a surprise, but the smell from the not-to-distant kitchen was impossible to ignore. Peeking around the corner into Teddy's work space, you could almost see the amazing smoky aroma hang gliding behind every plate. Each plate looked as good as it smelled, and hit the table with an approving applause. Grinning and salivating like mental patients at a buffet, we took a few shallow breaths, a nod to the Gods.....then everyone tore in. The smoky bacon, rich beans and flaky fish were quite the combination. The reduced sherry sauce was bold, silky and savory - a great compliment to a restaurant quality dish.


If ending on a high note was a standard dinner practice, I'm sure we could have stopped there and exited quietly and content staggering into the night. But clean plates all around meant we were moving on to the next course.

The mini tarts had some of the aspects of a fruit pie with the tart cranberries, but also were very savory because of the sharp, creamy cheese and buttery crust. Small enough to eat with your hands and gobble up. And that's just what we did.


The dessert was very light and a great cap to the meal. The pears were slow cooked to absorb all of sweet and spicy autumnal flavors, but held up surprisingly well and didn’t turn to mush. Although the color of the fluorescent colored coulis looked like the strawberries were picked off of a string of Christmas lights, the flavor tasted right off of the vine. A scoop of amaretto ice cream proved be the last bite of the night, good thing too as I couldn’t fit another. On the other hand, I saved plenty of room in my spare hollow leg for wine.

Never a dull meal at the Hunter lodge, and this one was no different. This is the kind of meal that watching countless hours of cooking shows, reading cookbooks and studying food porn (oh yeah?) will contribute, and ultimately lead to.

Bravo......nice skills T.

Sushi Hai (3600 W. 32nd Ave. Denver, CO)

Coming from New York, where we're so spoiled for choice in all foods, I really didn't expect to find good sushi in Denver. Luckily, my sister took me to Sushi Hai in the Highland area.




We got there early on Friday, so we were able to miss the rush & hit up the tail end of happy hour. The decor is really swanky & you can tell that the place is relatively new. Sitting at a large booth, we started to order. We opted for the usuals; California roll (not my favorite), Edamame & Spicy Tuna roll. We topped off our plates with a special roll; The # Nine & some sushi; Salmon, Tuna, Yellowtail & Freshwater Eel.

All of the sushi was good (I found the color of the tuna to be a little strange, like an extremely dark purple), but I really enjoyed the #9 which was a crab & tempura shrimp roll with salmon & avocado on top. Top notch stuff. I really shows how versatile Japanese cuisine can be, ingredients can be combined into infinite variations with ease.

Even though I'm a 'Sushi Snob', I really had a great meal at SushiHai & found it to be very reasonably priced, so if any of you New Yorkers are in the Denver area (or, if you live in Denver & have stumbled on this blog), give it a look. They also have an awesome 3000 sq. ft. bar/lounge which looks wicked (we weren't able to check it out as we had sprouts in tow).


Awstin Agrees!

Pancreas + Hot Fat = Delectable moment














Most people think sweetbreads are the bollocks of either a calf or a lamb. They are in fact glands of either two kinds - the thymus gland from the neck, or the pancreas. This recipe is concerned with the pancreatic kind from calves.

My butcher, Los Paisanos, had them frozen so the first job was to defrost. All sweetbreads must then be blanched in boiling water first, cooled, trimmed of sinew and membranes, then pressed. The final preparation is your choice: Grilled, poached, braised, fried etc. On the back of a visit to Prune where the chaps and I had a plate of delicious deep-fried sweetbreads, and loosely following a recipe for 'BEIGNETS DE RIS DE VEAU' in Larousse Gastro, I wanted to bread and deep fry mine...

You should always soak sweeties in cold water overnight before prepping. This removes all the blood. Blanching, cooling, trimming and pressing were easy. I placed my treasure in a plan of cold lightly salted water, brought to the boil for a about a minute, then plunged the sweeties into some iced water to cool. After trimming away all the outer membranes and connective tissue, I put them in a pan between two tea towels, and weighed down a lid that fit inside then pan to press. Now I was ready for the fun part. Flour, egg, and 'honey panko' to coat. I Plunged these into a pan of hot oil and fried until just golden, then popped them in the oven to cook through, about 10 minutes. After a rest, they were carefully sliced open to reveal sweet white nodules of giving goodness.

Adam came round with a very good Sauv Blanc and after making a quick salad of parsley, capers, red onion, olive oil and lemon juice, we were ready to eat. They were delicious and had that classic subtle milky taste and a texture reminiscent of fish fingers. So rich were they though, that we couldn't quite eat them all, and sadly had to leave a few golden nuggets untouched.

By the way, I will be cooking real bollocks when I can get some from the butcher. He says he'll have some next week...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Boogie Night

Week two of my Thursday Club induction and already I’m on blog detail. Pen in hand, between mouthfuls I drunkenly scribble notes in Teddy’s hastily requisitioned notebook. A few days later, when the hangover wears off and my brain starts functioning again, nothing becomes clearer. The notes remain largely illegible. Those I can decipher don’t make much sense either, and I’m struggling to remember anything that wasn’t committed to paper. The Dark ‘N’ Stormies and Sake Bombs that topped and tailed the night are two notable exceptions.

I’m no food critic anyway, and I’ve read enough of AA Gill’s restaurant reviews in the Sunday Times (London) to know that I can fill three quarters of the piece with something quite tangential, before doubling back on the unsuspecting reader via a quick metaphorical shortcut to cover off the food.

But if I’ve learned anything in my brief Thursday Club career, it’s this: the club exists for friends to cook, meet, eat, drink, and show their appreciation by blogging about it. It would be not only a disservice to the Club but, more importantly, disrespectful to our hosts – who tonight are J Boogie, with Stefan as his sous-chef – if I waffled on for ages about the bar from Crocodile Dundee, which is on J’s block.

So I will try to re-connect the synapses that were so easily and willfully destroyed by the ravages of the Dark ‘N’ Stormy storm and the Sake Bomb explosions. (Although here we are, a couple of hundred words in, and I’ve yet to name drop so much as a crudité.)

The warm up begins with several pints of Guinness in one of my favorite haunts, Old Town Bar (45 E 18th between Broadway and Park). I like it because it does what it says on the tin: it’s an unassuming, old, authentic pub, reminiscent of many London boozers. Before we head for J’s Alphabet City crib there’s time for a quick overview of Teddy’s genius idea for a breakfast sausage. (Having just bought a sausage making machine, he is keen to experiment with the apparatus.) His plan is to combine a full English breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, black pudding, fried tomato, and – for me the killer app – toast, in a sausage casing. I forget if there was actually sausage in there too. Perhaps not. There may be untold metaphysical repercussions of creating a sausage within a sausage. Regardless, and Myer’s of Keswick’s chipolatas aside, New Yorkers are so bereft decent sausages I think he might be on to something big.

In the sixth paragraph we finally arrive chez J and are greeted with highly charged and very quaffable Dark ‘N’ Stormy cocktails: Appleton Estate Jamaican rum, ginger beer and lime. This is my weapon of choice in the highball department and I encourage you to request one from the mixologist next time you find yourself in somewhere like Milk & Honey, where it tastes so fresh it’s like they brewed their own ginger beer on the premises, and comes with a delectable lump of candied ginger on top.

The menu is as follows:
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Potato and leek soup
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Tuna and salmon tartare served on endive
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Deviled crab
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Pistachio crusted baby rack of Lamb, goat’s cheese mashed potatoes, Bordelaise sauce
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Bread pudding with crème Anglaise
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The soup is to be served with Gruyere croutons and the fantastic smell of the toasting cheese has us all gagging to get going. The Guinness has created a huge stomach void and I’m starving. The soup is delicious and barely touches the sides. I imagine that on a cold winter’s night such as this, in other Lower East Side locations nearby, there are people much hungrier than me drinking free soup with better manners.

I confess I remember little about the tuna and salmon tartare except that it arrives served on endive shaped like an edible Japanese shamoji rice spoon, which is just as well because I could eat a spoon. And I do.

Deviled crab from the Boogie Man. How appropriate. And just as appropriate is the way we succumb to gluttony. Incredibly moreish. I for one have (at least) thirds. The crab triggers a debate: which is the better picnic food, deviled eggs or deviled crab? For me, leave the picnic eggs to the Scots. The crabs belong in hell. And that’s a good thing.

I’ve heard that J’s forte is his meat dishes and so I’m particularly relishing the thought of the baby rack of lamb with pistachio crust. When the roasting tin comes out of the oven I do a double take. There must be a whole lamb in there. I have never seen so many ribs sticking out of one piece of meat. It’s top quality, from Essex Street Market, but through my Dark ‘N’ Stormy goggles it could easily be from Terminator, looking as it does like a robot arachnid (a-rack-nid perhaps) standing on its many legs, flesh cooked to perfection but mechanical rib-legs unaffected by the heat and marching relentlessly onwards in its war to annihilate the human race… (Er, what was I saying earlier about tangents?)

Luckily – and literally – the nightmarish vision is butchered by J and Stefan and gives way to an altogether different dreamlike experience: lamb cooked with such a light touch, so pink in color, as to be almost ethereal.

As I tuck in I’m told off for using my knife and fork. Everyone else is tearing tender flesh from bone with hands and teeth. (I defer to cutlery for the wonderful accompanying goat’s cheese mash and Bordelaise sauce though. As much as I enjoy eating with my fingers some food just doesn’t allow it.)

To finish it’s bread pudding with crème Anglaise – custard to us Brits – and I don’t know anyone British or otherwise who doesn’t like a good old bread pudding. It’s delicious and laced with rum-soaked raisins, which I’ll be willing to bet were still grapes before they met the Appleton. As I wolf it down I realize it’s a close call to determine which is more potent – the pudding or the Laphroaig single malt whisky we’re drinking as an accompaniment. Either way I am getting yet still drunker.

Later, we leave and head to Satsko. Tiny, funky bar… Sake Bombs… Pretty, young Lower East Side chicks drinking $100 bottles of sake with balding Wall Street bankers… From here the memories are fragmented and strewn over the evening like shrapnel. Call the bomb squad and evacuate the area. J and Stefan’s work is done, but the long and arduous task of rebuilding the synapses, picking up the pieces and reassembling them for the blog is just beginning.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Trotter Gear shows me the way....

With my glut of trotter gear in the fridge, I was itching to make a brilliant dish I had on a visit to the Spotted Pig when FH was cooking there - Pot roast bacon with trotter and prune, another recipe from his new book.

Once you've made your trotter jelly, putting this beauty together is a piece of piss. Sweat down two sliced onions ion a blob of duck fat, take about 1.5 lbs of smoked bacon loin (not sliced obviously) and sit that on top, 'sprinkle' about 3 cups of trotter gear around the bacon, add a glass of white wine, two handfuls of stone-in prunes, some of the prune juice (if, like me, you bought them in a jar!) and top up with stock. Saeson with black pepper, and bang the bugger in the oven for about 2 hours, keeping a lazy eye on it. That should give you plenty of time to get a couple of martinis on board.


Remove the bacon joint, slice it thickly and serve with the prunes and onion and the brilliant sauce.

Fucking delicious. The man's a genius.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cashew Tarragon Salad


Here's a recipe for a really tasty, yet simple salad that takes very little time to make. Feeds 4 (as appetizer or side)




Salad;

2 heads butter lettuce
14 oz. hearts of palm, sliced thin
1 avocado, diced
1 cup roasted cashews

Wash & tear lettuce & toss with avocado & hearts of palm.

Dressing;

2 tbsp fresh tarragon, minced
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil

Blend all ingredients in a food processor, then toss with salad.

Sweet Potato Soup w/Chipotle Cream

Yield: 15 cups
Work Time: 45 min
Total Time: 85 min

Ingredients;

Soup:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 lbs sweet potato, peeled & diced
2 carrots peeled & diced
1 tbsp tomato paste
8 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp sage
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 bay leavessalt & pepper to taste

Chipotle Cream:

1 finely chopped chipotle chile
2 tsp adobo sauce
1/2 cup toasted pumkin seeds

1. In a large pot, heat oil over low heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Increase heat to medium; stir in potato, carrot and tomato paste. Cook until vegetables begin to caramelize, about 4 minutes. Add broth, syrup, juice, salt, cumin, sage, pepper, nutmeg and bay leaf. Cover and cook until vegetables are fork-tender, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Purée using an immersion blender or in batches using a standing blender.
2. For Chipotle Cream, in a small mixer bowl, beat cream on medium speed to firm peaks. Fold in chile and adobo sauce.

3. Ladle soup into bowls, top each with a dollop of Chipotle Cream and sprinkle with seeds.

Golden Unicorn (18 E. Broadway)

Nursing a massive hangover (go figure!) I braved the rain & met up with my culinary cohort Alesha for some Dim Sum in Chinatown last week. I've been to Golden Unicorn several times & I really love the place. It has consistently been rated as some of the best dim sum in the city; believe the hype!

The building is really unassuming & looks like any other dull office building. Basically, if you weren't looking for it, you wouldn't know it was there. We were whisked to the top floor (there are 2 floors in the joint) & enjoyed excellent service as the place was pretty empty. We warmed up with some tea & before long, the merry-go-round of Dim Sum carts began.

We started with Shark Fin Shumai & Vegetable Dumplings. I was really looking forward to the shark fin & they were truly delicious. They were far denser/meaty than I expected which was a pleasant surprise. The veggie dumplings were nothing special, but still tasty.

The trip that The Club took to Montreal really opened my eyes to some of the foods that are overlooked & it really helped me to get over my fear of the unknown. In the past, I've refused to eat chicken feet, but today, I was up for it. Drenched in a rich red sauce, I found them to be extremely gelatinous, yet flavorful. I think that by the time were were done, there was no meat on the bone!

Next up were the Dim Sum staple; Pork Shumai & the lesser-known Sticky Rice. The Shumai was average, but it felt like Xmas in February when we peeled back the lotus leaves, dug into the rice & were greeted by an awesome pork filling.



I enjoyed my meal at Golden Unicorn & you can bet your ass that I'll be back there again. We lucked out as it was raining, but if you're going to go, get there early, very early. Service is from noon till 2pm. After 1:30 the selection gets limited. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

How do we Iron Chef? Like this...

We were low numbers this week, so Adam and I decided we should have a sort of head to head Iron Chef style challenge if there was only two of us. He turned up with a bunch of ingredients at my place, I gave him a mystery bag of ingredients to cook.

Strangely enough, we both chose beef for the other, perhaps because we were low confidence seeing as this was the first head to head IC challenge, and frankly it's easy to do something, anything, with beef. What could be more versatile?

Adam was given: Beef, celery, mushrooms, truffle pate.

I, Teddy, was given: Oysters, beef sirloin, duck confit, cherries.

In addition to these ingredients, we had my fridge and cupboards at disposal - carrots, onion, celery, herbs, spices, beans etc etc. The idea was that we would both make two courses in one hour. We decided to take turns so as not to get in each other's way in my space-restricted kitchen. Adam would go first, from 8-9pm, and I from 9-10pm. I also had the makings of a dish I wanted to try - Cod with cockles and oxtail, a sort of Anglo-Welsh combination made famous by Bryn Williams. I would prepare this at a more leisurely pace after the Iron Chef hour.

Clearly, this was perhaps not the most classic way to host and deliver anything remotely like the TV original, some of our instructions to each other regarding ingredients and limitations were confused and misunderstood, but for the first attempt, I thought we did OK, and most importantly, it was a lot of fun.

Here's what happened:

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The finished dishes looked like this:

In order of completion, from L-R and top to bottom:

Adam - Wild mushroom salad with brandy-soaked sultanas and truffle
Adam - Seared sirloin with potato hash
Teddy - 'American Dream' tart
Teddy - Oysters 'Theodore' (baked with cheese, garlic, bread, herbs)
Teddy - Duck confit 'salad' with crispy potatoes, cabbage, cherries and Madeira sauce

Teddy - (not part of IC challenge) Bryn Williams' Cod with Cockles and Oxtail


















Friday, February 08, 2008

The best black puds I've made so far....

Instead of using the recipe I shamelessly cribbed from John Desmond and used countless times, I decided to go off-road and really think about perfecting my very own recipe.

I did cut out many of the ingredients Desmond uses and my recipe is very simple and highly effective: A bit of ground pork, pancetta, blood, cereal, spices. That's it. I ran the mixture through the sausage machine into some natural casings instead of making a terrine, and boiled them for 15 mins in simmering water. They were dull grey when I pulled them out of the water and plunged them into iced water, but when I hung them for a couple of hours they began to take on a characteristic black colour, and the results were truly fabulous, even if I say so myself.
They looked like the stuff my dear old Mum used to buy from the butcher's shop in Cheshire. And, dare I say it, they tasted even better.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Exploring unctuous potential....

Fergus Henderson reckons there's no moment quite like a lip-sticking wobbly moment, and there's no better provider of that than a jar of his homemade 'trotter gear', which, he explains, has 'unctuous potential'. I found myself needing something uplifting on a wet miserable Monday and decided that creating some 'wobbly nuduals in a splendid jelly' would be a fine antidote.

I visited my great local butcher, Los Paisanos on Smith Street, and bagged a pair of organic piggy trotters. I got my man to split them too - I didn't want the release of gelatine and wobbly bits to be hindered in any way.

I raced home, put on some sounds and prepared to explore homemade unctuous potential. I followed his recipe in Beyond Nose to Tail - British Cooking Part II.

I boiled my trotters first to remove impurities, for about 5 minutes. I drained them.

I added trotters to a large pan containing a chopped onion, a split leek, a chopped carrot, a sliced stick of celery, 1/2 - 3/4 pint Madeira wine, black peppercorns, half a head of garlic, bay leaf, some thyme, and enough chicken stock to cover everything in the pan. As Fergus suggests, I put the pan in the oven (at about 300F) and let it sit there happily for 3 hours.

I strained and reserved the braising liquid (which was of course impossibly rich by now) and shredded all the meat, skin, and highly adhesive bits from the trotter bones. I added this to a Parfait jar and topped it up with the braising liquid. I had enough for one and a half jars actually. Apparently, this 'trotter gear' has innumerable uses and bags and bags of unctuous potential. I shall be exploring it's uses later this week.



Bastardization of Chinatown's Finest

Instead of sentencing them to a lifetime of freezer burn, I decided to use some leftover wonton wrappers to cook homemade pot stickers in hopes of duplicating the Chinatown Dumpling Shop-style treat. Although nothing compares to those Lower Manhattan classics (especially in the speed of preparation department), this recipe was close in my estimate. You'll need:

1 lbs Ground Pork
1/2 lbs Shiitake Mushrooms diced
3 Cloves of Garlic minced
3 Scallions chopped (both white and green bits)
1 bunch Cilantro
1 tbsp Chili Sauce
3 tbsp Hoisin Sauce
2 tbsp Soy Sauce
1 tbsp Ginger Paste
Dash of Sesame Oil
One package of defrosted Gyoza Wrappers (roughly 50)
1 Egg beaten
Water

Add a light oil (I used vegetable) to a heavy pan and saute mushrooms for a few minutes until they start to take on color, then add garlic. Make sure to keep at a medium to medium low temperature so the garlic does not burn and turn bitter. Add salt and pepper and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes.

While mushrooms continue to soften, whisk together chili sauce, soy, hoisin, ginger paste and sesame oil in a separate bowl. Taste to check the levels of flavor and adjust to your preference. Then, double the sauce in volume with water and whisk to combine. Increase pan to high heat and add liquid to the mushroom mixture. Simmer and stir until the liquid has absorbed, leaving plump little shrooms and little excess sauce. Set aside to cool. In another bowl, combine the uncooked pork, scallions and cilantro. When mushrooms have cooled down, add to pork and incorporate all the ingredients along with more salt and pepper. Using your hands is the best way to make sure all of the ingredients will make it into every dumpling.



Add a small dollop of the pork mixture (careful not to over stuff, as you need room for a tight seal around the edge) to the center of the wonton wrappers. Line the outside of the filling with the beaten egg all the way to the edges. With your hands, gently not to rip the covering wonton wrapper, stretch the dough in a circular motion to create a slightly bigger wrapper to cover the filling. Place over the top. Create a seal with fingers around the entire dumping ensuring the two wrappers are pinched tightly at the edge and no excess air is left inside. This is a very important step so your finished product won't inflate and/or blow up in the cooking process.



In a non-stick pan, add oil and bring to medium high heat. Add dumplings flat side down making sure not to overcrowd. My pan held 7-9 comfortably. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until a brown crust has formed on the bottom. Feel free to shimmy them around to prevent them sticking to each other or the pan. Flip dumplings to the other side, add a 1/2 cup of water, and immediately cover with a tight fitting lid. Be quick with the lid and watch for splashing when you add the water to whatever hot oil might be left in the pan. The water will steam the dumplings and should completely cook out within 4 minutes (keep an eye on it, but try not to remove lid too often, as it slows down cooking). Don't be afraid to add more water and recover if the meat is not completely cooked through. When water is gone, cook with the top off at a low heat for an additional minute, or until the bottom (what started off as the top) is browned and crisp. Remove to a paper towel to drain excess oil.



A simple, but kick-ass dipping sauce for the dumplings uses the same sauce that went onto the mushroom mixture, minus the water, and add the juice of one lime. Whisk and serve in a side bowl.

Forks can be used to cut the finished product into manageable pieces, but I found the best way to inhale these bad boys was use chop sticks and shovel down the whole thing in one bite. Enjoy....
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