Acharuli Khachapuri

I don’t remember what I was looking at, but I can spend a lot of time mindlessly clicking on recipes as well as reading blogs and browsing sites like Food Gawaker, but I was SOMEWHERE when all of a sudden I saw a recipe that I knew I had to make as soon as I could. The photo showed a canoe-shaped sort of bread bowl thing filled with slightly browned cheese and a runny egg on top.  How could that not be the best thing ever? After doing some research I learned that this bread is called Acharuli Khachapuri — a type Georgian cheese bread. Your guess is as good as mine as to the pronunciation (sometimes I just bashfully point at things on the menu at restaurants, plus I’m thinking if I figured out how to pronounce it correctly nobody would know what I was talking about anyway. It probably translates into Amazing Molten Cheese Boat.) The cheese traditionally used in this bread is called sulguni cheese, which from what I can gather is sort of a saltier, little sour/tangy tasting mozzarella. Sounds great, actually. I checked with my beloved local cheesemonger Nickel City Cheese & Mercantile but they didn’t have any, so I figured I would use a different combination. I could have maybe ordered it online but that probably would have meant waiting to make this recipe, which I wasn’t willing to wait any longer than necessary.

Georgian cheese and egg bread

The bread recipe I wound up using on Saveur called for Muenster and feta, but I decided to use mozzarella and goat cheese since other recipes suggested that was a better combination to imitate the missing sulgini. I was a little apprehensive because I’m not good at doughs. It’s something I don’t really know much about — I really need to buy a type of dough 101 book to really get down to why things work and why they might not, etc. I recently read Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty which is the best book I’ve ever read about cooking thus far, and it made me realize there’s so much you don’t learn just from making recipes you find in books or on the internet — more of a learning tool so you can formulate your own recipes and know what to do with thing such as missing ingredients or how to improvise. We have a ton of cookbooks around but I need to start all over more with how-to books that are more basic. (I can’t even use the phrase going ‘back to basics’ here because it’s just a foundation I’ve never bothered to build. I do plan on reading more stuff like that going forward so if anybody has any suggestions on books to buy I’d love to hear them.)

I thought it would be a nice lunchtime snack-type so I could spend the rest of Saturday wondering why I ate something so incredibly heavy and carb laden that it would make me want to die. The first set of dough I made with all purpose flour as the recipe calls for, but it didn’t give weights, which I should have taken as a warning sign — with how much something can vary with one cup of flour, if you fluff it on top or pack it down, I wished that it had listed the flour in ounces.  The little I do know about dough is that weighing ingredients like flour is the way to go so you have an accurate water to flour ratio, so I took the 1 and 1/4 cup measurement and I looked at King Arthur’s website and calculated how much they say a cup of their flour would be and measured it out on the scale.  I must have done something wrong (MATH) because the dough never rose and after two and a half hours was a still a giant sticky ectoplasmic mess, so in the garbage it went and I decided my cheesy egg boat dream would have to wait. I was so fixated on having this bread (and as far as I know, there’s no restaurant around here I could go buy it so it seemed like the only way to eat it.) Later in the day I remembered I had some bread flour so I used that and gave it a second go, just for the hell of it, and I’m REALLY glad that I did. I didn’t bother trying to weigh the flour, just went with the cup and a quarter and crossed my fingers that it would be close enough. Right away upon kneading I could tell this dough was going to be different. It was far less sticky and after about an hour doubled in size, just like it should.

I’m attempting to at least pretend like I’m going to cut down on buying things for our already cramped (and in need of a makeover) kitchen, but I did recently buy a pizza stone recently. This was my first time using it but I’m sure it won’t be my last and will become a regular tool in the kitchen — it’s amazing how it crisped up this bread so nicely and I’m sure that was the reason why. After letting it cook for roughly fifteen minutes, cracking an egg in the middle and giving it a bit more time in the oven, I carefully maneuvered the loaf off the safety of the pizza stone (I should have bought a pizza paddle when I got the stone — it would have made life a lot easier than the very old and somewhat warped cookie sheet I was using to remove it) and held my breath — secretly impressed with myself that it seemed to look so good and that I got it out of the oven without little too much cheese spill out.

I’d like to say we waited for it to cool down before we annihilated it, but we didn’t. This bread has a crunchy crust with chewy bread inside — the little knobby ends of the bread were my favorite part after swirling it around the middle to get it coated in melted cheese and egg. Most kachapuri also calls for some butter to be plopped on top after it came out of the oven, but it wasn’t until the bread was long gone that I remembered it. I really want to make the other versions of khachapuri that are out there and hopefully I can track down that specific cheese so I know what it’s really meant to taste like. The version I made was by no means bad, but I’m always interested in comparing to the way things “should” taste. Whether you can find the sulguni cheese or not you should give this recipe a go!

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Fish Tacos

I‘ve been chasing down the “perfect” chili since the first time I ever made it (which if you ask my fiancé he will gleefully tell you about how the first time I cooked it I thought I invented this “new recipe). I’m sure I don’t need to tell anybody how long and awful the weather has been this winter — we’ve all been outside having to deal with the cold and ice for months now, and if you live in a climate where that isn’t an issue I’m sure you’ve at least seen plenty of screen caps of the weather app on Instagram, and if that is the case be glad that you live someplace where it doesn’t take 20 minutes to scrape stubborn ice off your windshield before you get to leave your house.

It’s very easy to start daydreaming when it’s so crummy outside and my mind keeps wandering to my brother and his family in San Diego, which automatically makes me think about fish tacos. We went to visit in 2013 and my plan was to eat as many fish tacos as I could get my hands on. My plans for taco fulfillment sort of fell through when Luke came down what I can only assume is the plague the second day we were there. (I guess that’s what happens when you’re talking and a little kid decides to cough on your face?) Anyway, instead of tacos and drinks on the patio out in the sun with an ocean view, our vacation quickly turned into vaporizers and me checking on him constantly to make sure he was still alive — it was so bad I wasn’t sure if he was even going to be able to fly when the time came to go home. I didn’t get my fill of tacos but at least I got to see my brother and his family — which is okay because three’s always more vacations and there’s always more tacos.

I started to get a little obsessed with fish tacos after that and decided I wanted to try to make them at home, despite the apprehensions I had about having a giant pot of 350 degree pot of oil on my stove. Apparently the idea of crispy fish tacos outweighed my fear of possible third degree burns, so off to the internet I went to research what makes a good fish taco. I quickly learned that people have very strong opinions of what a fish taco should be — I get it though, it’s the same thing I see here in Buffalo when people talk about chicken wings. I wound up reading Slate’s article “You’re Doing It Wrong” (which that title alone means this is a column I should be regularly reading) about fish tacos and decided that that recipe was the way to go. I especially liked that this recipe suggested you do your own tortillas, since one of the few things I really am a stickler on is homemade tortillas — I’m always disappointed when I’m out for Mexican food and the tortillas are store bought, which is more often than not. A good taco can be made with a store bought tortillas, but there’s nothing like freshly pressed and I wish that more places around here did it. The one thing I decided to change was instead of the sauce recipe they had on Slate I decided to use Alton Brown’s crema recipe.

When Taco Saturday came (I know normally it’s Taco Tuesday but we like to live every day as if it’s Taco Tuesday) I used a very deep and comically large pot — I figured the more barrier between me and the oil was a good thing. If I had those giant industrial gloves that they clean fryers with I would have worn them. But everything came together quickly once the oil was brought up to temperature – cut fish, dip in the beer batter, set it gently in the oil with it going away from you — that last part was probably the reason why I didn’t wind up with any oil splatter burns and I really wish I remembered where I read it so I could thank that person for saving my arms, otherwise I probably would have went along with my idea of throwing battered fish into the pot from as far away as I could stand. My only annoyance was how the house smelled afterwards — I worked at Burger King in high school and it reminded me of that (not that that was a bad thing — high school job with lots of friends who worked there also, I have great memories of that place), but totally a sacrifice I’d make again!

Fish tacos

As you can see from the photo I got the tortilla/fish ratio way off, but it didn’t matter, it still tasted balanced.  I would make these every day if I could. The citrusy lime reminded me of the sun and the beach — exactly what I needed on a lousy March day when there’s still feet of snow surrounding me.

If you’ve never made corn tortillas at home, what are you waiting for? it’s one of those things that is a piece of cake once you get the hang of it. A tortilla press makes the job a breeze — this is the one I have and at only about $14 it’s worth it. Once the fish started frying things came together really quickly and there wouldn’t have been time to roll them by hand.  I decided to use mahi mahi for the fish and it crackled and sputtered away in the oil until it was a nice golden brown until it was time to scoop it out, throw some salt on it and let it sit on paper towels to drain a bit. I was really glad I picked up one of these fryer baskets for $6 at the Asian market recently — my original plan was to use tongs since I don’t have a spoon that wouldn’t have melted away upon contact.

I kept the tacos very simple — finely shredded cabbage, a sprinkling of cilantro, crema and the corn tortillas, a squeeze of lime. I really think a recipe like this doesn’t need a million garnishes on it — I wanted it to be all about the crispy beer battered fish (which surprisingly didn’t get all soggy and gross).

They had a bit of smokiness from the chipotle pepper that was incorporated into the crema – I’d probably leave that out. I’m really not sure what I was thinking when I put it in as I’m really not a fan of smoky-type stuff. But everything else was so good that it didn’t even matter. On my second taco I threw some sliced avocado on and after that it complemented the smoky chipotle flavor nicely.

Sitting down to eat these all I could think about was San Diego and lazy vacation and the sun beating down on my face — the tacos were great no matter where i’d be eating them but having that added bonus of for a few minutes forgetting exactly where I was and what the weather was doing outside felt pretty terrific. The fish was crunchy and cooked perfectly — I was patting myself on the back for frying something without burning my face off (and now that I know how to do it my list of stuff I want to cook just grew by about 500 things.) I’d make this recipe again in the blink of an eye. At least it may keep me tied over until I actually get to San Diego again!