Of cheese powder and crutches

Somehow I’ve managed to sprain my foot again, a repeat of the injury I had just over a year ago during the winter. (And early “spring”, which gets sarcasto-quotes because we didn’t have spring last year. Or this year.) This sucks on a lot of levels, but I’m hoping I’m finally on the mend after getting through the terrible first week. Just like last time, this sprain was so bad a few days in that I was actually concerned it was gout; it throbbed and was extremely painful even at rest, and a couple of (partial) nights it was bad enough to keep me from sleep. I wouldn’t wish this on an enemy.

Just kidding. I’d totally wish this on an enemy. Or those phone spammers. Or that campaign that called for “Christine” last week while this was all going on, after that same campaign said they’d stop texting me. Or on Christine. That’s right, Christine, you stupid stupid piece of garbage, you deserve my injury. But I wouldn’t wish it on, say, some moron I randomly ran across in traffic—except that one guy from a few weeks ago; he knows what he did.

Anyway this foot thing has made cooking quite impossible, and yes I just turned this into a cooking post. HA!

My wife has been gofering dinner, and lunch on the weekends, which has meant an uptick in my fast food consumption. She’s also been doing a bunch of other things that I either couldn’t do all this time, or could sometimes do if aggravating this weren’t such a stupid idea. What I’m basically saying is my wife is awesome, but she doesn’t cook.

I am, at this moment, craving Kraft spirals.

This is one reason I’ve been thinking lately about powders. One of the simple lunch things I can do is take powdered cheddar cheese and make a simple sauce with it, some milk, and a piece of American cheese to smooth it out, then add that to ramen I nuke in the microwave for a great “poor man’s” mac & cheese. The cheddar powder clumps something fierce, although I found using a small strainer like a sifter works like a charm, if you have five minutes to shake it back and forth while the clumps dissolve.

But what if I could come up with a simple cheese powder that I could just add to a little of the reserved ramen water? I managed to find exactly one link online, from The Spruce Eats, about how to make a powdered cheese sauce base. I find the idea of adding onion powder or white pepper to such a sauce appalling to my very soul, and I think the flour would never work without actually cooking this on the stove for a bit, but I thought perhaps something in a non-roux direction might actually work.

Here’s what I’m thinking: the recipe calls for a 1:1 ratio of dry milk powder (nonfat) to powdered butter, which you can buy on Amazon, and just under a 2:1 ratio of powdered cheese to milk or butter. I think it’s reasonable for a nice ramen & cheese to stick with an easier 2:1 ratio. To that, I think adding a nominal amount of sodium citrate would be a wise choice: something very small, like 1/8 teaspoon per tablespoon of the milk powder. That will add some saltiness, so I’d probably forgo any table salt in a first attempt.

(A brief aside: I’ve never tried mixing sodium citrate into a powder-based sauce before, but Kraft uses sodium phosphate in their powder for this very purpose. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that it would retain its properties as a melting salt here and provide a smoother texture, emulsifying the cheese and butter and milk.)

Now if you know Kraft mac & cheese, you know that to prepare it properly (the “classic” way before they frelled up the recipes on the box) you need 1/4 cup each of butter and milk for 3 cups of cooked pasta, in the same 1:1 ratio, but the problem here is that powdered milk is nonfat, because that’s all you can ever find anywhere and it keeps longer; it’s effectively powdered skim milk, and if you make mac & cheese with skim milk you need to reflect on your choices in life. Personally I never buy anything but whole milk for cooking, so that means some fats need to be added back in. To me, this suggests that the ideal butter-powder-to-dry-milk ratio might in fact need to be skewed to something like 5:4.

Therefore, this is what I’d like to propose as a ramen & cheese powder base, in a test-batch size:

  • 1 tbsp. dry milk powder
  • 1 tbsp. + 3/4 tsp. butter powder
  • 2 tbsp. cheddar cheese powder
  • 1/8 tsp. sodium citrate

Blended well with a small whisk, I believe that would make a dandy cheese sauce base to add to freshly-made ramen. It’s probably more than one ramen packet worth of powder, though. As for how much liquid needs to be blended with this to make a nice sauce, I have no idea whatsoever. My inclination would be to start with 3 tbsp. of water for a batch that size, and add more as needed.

I’ve also mentioned in the past that I’ve wanted to come up with the perfect steak-flavored popcorn seasoning, and I think I have an idea there for making the steak flavor actually come out right: beef tallow mixed with tapioca maltodextrin. Combining that with the current powerhouses of smoked salt, pepper, MSG, and garlic powder might bring this home. But I realized also that butter powder might add depth to this as well.

I can’t experiment with any of these things right now, but I can dream. And my stomach can rumble.

About Lummox JR

Aspiring to be a beloved supervillain
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