Strawberry Salad

heidiSwansonI’m always attracted to unusual recipes, but when I read Heidi Swanson’s recipe for Strawberry Salad in her latest cookbook, Near and Far, I thought it verged on the insane side of odd. It combines strawberries with a bit of sugar and salt, olive oil, lemon zest, toasted almonds, and (here comes the insanity) caraway seeds. In fact, when I brought it to cookbook club, organized by Christina of East Bay Dish, I couldn’t even answer whether it was savory or sweet, as I hadn’t tried it yet, and had no idea how strawberries plus 3/4 tsp of caraway seeds might taste.

It ended up being fabulous, with the fresh strawberry flavor brightened by the lemon zest, with an interesting herbaceous note from the caraway and olive oil, and crunch from the almonds. It worked well both as a salad, or, as suggested as a breakfast option, over Greek yogurt. It was everything I want a cookbook recipe to be–it helped me make something I never would have thought of and was better than the sum of its parts. I don’t know what inspired Heidi to add the caraway–we joked that she may be secretly sponsored by the caraway board, as the asparagus avocado tartine, roasted tomato salad, and strawberry salad all had caraway. Maybe IBM’s Watson suggested it as a chemically sound flavor combination, or maybe it was inspired by this companion planting. In any case, it was delicious here.

Strawberry Salad from Near and Far

2 baskets fresh strawberries
.75 tsp caraway seeds
1.5 oz almonds
1.5 T light brown sugar
.25 t fine-grain sea salt
3 T extra virgin olive oil
zest of one lemon

Core and quarter strawberries. Lightly toast the caraway seeds, then bruise with a mortar and pestle. Toast almonds until fragrant, and process in a food processor (I modified this, as the whole almonds I had at home are of much better quality than the sliced almonds from the nearby store). Add the salt, sugar, and almonds to the mortar, mix, and crush any stray large almond pieces. Microplane the zest from a lemon into the mortar. Stir in dry ingredients and olive oil to strawberries just before serving.

Winter Panzanella

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I picked up a “German Rye” from the recently opened Firebrand Breads in Oakland’s The Hive. While there I ogled the pastries, and left with a delicious miso dill salmon sandwich from the recently relocated Pal’s Takeaway.

In any case, I found myself with an excess of nicely crusty, slightly sour rye bread. Thinking of it on my way home, after advising a friend to roast all her vegetable sides for Thanksgiving, I decided to roast my own bread salad for dinner.

 

I started writing this out as an ingredient list and instructions like a standard recipe, but that’s not what this, or I am about. It’s a flexible, easy process, though I was particularly pleased with this combination of ingredients.

Preaheat the oven to 4oo F. Crush 3 large cloves garlic into more olive oil that you think you’ll need to coat your vegetables and bread. I used about 1/3 cup. I also added a couple of spoonfuls of homemade sauerkraut to the oil/garlic coating, to salt the mixture, and see if the roasted taste of the kraut added anything (it did). Cut several slices of bread into crouton sized cubes, add some sliced mushrooms and kale (the kale will shrink significantly) and toss with the olive oil mixture. It took quite a bit of tossing to get the oil to adhere to the bread, rather than just the kale/mushrooms. If bread doesn’t have a nice oil coating, add a bit more oil, then pour into a single layer in a sheet pan. Place in oven and check after 15 minutes. If bread is mostly brown, add a handful of walnuts to the pan. In your serving bowl, mix about 1/4 cup sauerkraut and and equal amount of grated cheese (I used an aged cheddar).  After about another 10 minutes, or until the bread looks a good degree of brown, turn the mixture into the serving bowl, mix with the cheese/kraut, and freshly ground pepper.

Consider a bacon variation. I added two 1/4″ slices from a frozen supermarket block of bacon, and I’m very happy I did.

 

I’m always set up for a basic Thai green curry

The chayote in the fridge should have been used a couple weeks ago, but there’s no time like the present. A Thai curry using curry paste is easy and quick to throw together, so I like to keep the ingredients around–at a minimum: coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, and limes. Luckily I still had some cilantro and mint garnish from the nam Kao I picked up at Chai Thai Noodles after my home inspection.

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Just cook the curry paste in a bit of oil (I use coconut), add a couple tablespoons of the coconut cream floating on top of the coconut milk, and cook until the oils separate. I’ve found it is too difficult to get the coconut milk to crack with most commercial coconut milks (and all coconut creams I’ve picked up in the US contain stabilizers) so the oil plus coconut solids plus curry paste is a decent substitute. After the mixture appears oily, add any long-cooking vegetables or meats, in this case the chayote. Cook for a couple minutes, then add remainder of coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice (I was lucky enough to have some makruts in the bottom of the drawer, so I added zest and juice.) and a pinch of sugar. Cook until vegetables are nearly done, taste and adjust salt (fish sauce), acidity, and sweet (I’m a sweet hater, and my end result never approaches sweet, but I do find it is always better and more rounded with a bit of sugar (or palm sugar or agave syrup). Add quick cooking vegetables, like carrot slices and cook until done. I ended up not adding the tofu, though it was open and would work, as I’m rationing it for a time I’m even hungrier, after all, this has appetite-suppressing coconut milk.
Served over jasmine rich, of which I have a couple servings under 10 pounds and will certainly prevent me from going hungry during this experiment.

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Breakfast is easy (if you’ve prepared nga yoke thee achin)

 

 

 

My usual quick breakfast of toast and almond butter hampered by my current breadless, almond-butterless state required a few substitutions, but resulted in a bit tastier, though less healthy than the original.

The stash:

Sesame bread, chunky natural peanut butter, and a tiny remnant of the excellent tart-sweet chile-garlic sauce (nga yoke thee achin) from Naomi Duguid’s Burma: Rivers of Flavor

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I just microwaved the hard, separated peanut butter in the chili-garlic sauce for 20 seconds so I could combine and spread, and toasted the split sesame bread.

toust

Cooking Lucky Peach: Arpege Egg

This is it.

Lucky Peach, the magazine from two of my favorites from different worlds–McSweeney’s and David Chang, is one of the few things I have had high expectations of that has managed to exceed those expectiations. I am the sort of person who likes to keep my expectations low. For example, if many trusted friends tell me I have to see, and will love a movie, such as “Lost in Translation” and I think it is a good movie, but nothing particularly special (but better than most to all other movies out at the time) I’ll be disappointed. But if I’m dragged to a romantic comedy that I expect to be terrible and it is watchable to enjoyable I’ll be pleased. I’m fickle!! I think it is a matter of judging something not against everything else, but against how good I could imagine such a thing could be. And I was worried, because I couldn’t tone down expectations on this one, yet it was everything it could and should be and more–fiction, narrative, recipes, and travelogue. Not to mention the adorable and useful graphics.

Just like the phone pic of Weiner’s Wiener, I took this low res picture to prove I have this and you don’t.

As you can see from the above picture, the recipes in Lucky Peach are presented flowchart style. This totally makes sense to me, as not only are you often following several separate foci in recipes, I view the recipes as a guideline, not a prescription to be followed, which can often be better indicated by a flowchart indicating which elements/stages are important, and which follow under those.

I have never eaten at L’Arpège (as I have an income level which rarely makes high-end cuisine seem worth it to me) but was intrigued by the recipe–an egg with maple syrup, sherry vinegar, and whipped cream. My favorite dishes are those where I can’t quite imagine how the combination of ingredients will taste, or where the listed combination tastes much better than expected. So this piqued my curiosity (though I’m sure I’ll get to most of the recipes in this issue (ramen gnocchi, WTF?). I halved the recipe, just because (it was only I eating eggs).

2 eggs
1/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 tsp. sherry vinegar
3/4 tsp. sugar
4 tsp. maple syrup
salt
pepper
chives

Heat oven to 400F and prepare the whipped cream. In my opinion this is the best element of the recipe. I will definitely be making whipped  cream with sherry vinegar again, as I couldn’t stop licking the whisk from this preparation. And just in case people are wondering if you can whip just 1/4 cup of cream–absolutely yes. In fact, it took so little time to whip up that I was worried about over-whipping while adding the sugar and vinegar.

You can easily whip as little as 1/4 cup of cream.

So whip the cream, then add sherry vinegar and sugar. Refrigerate in a pastry bag, or, in my case ziplock bag.
Prepare the eggs by cutting off enough of the top to remove the yolk. Initially I was quite annoyed with myself for having an egg topper in my Amazon cart for months and not checking it out (let’s not even talk about the ice cream maker), but it was not as difficult to remove the top of the egg as I had imagined. Once I pierced the top of the egg with a large needle it was easy to cut and/or broke the rest of the top of the egg off.

My first attempt at egg topping.

So remove the egg top and the interior. The recipe says to clean the interior egg for all white parts,  but I find the chalaza (the white, ropy part) usually sticks to the yolk, rather than the shell so I did my best to pull it off the yolk. I returned the yolk and 2 tsp. maple syrup and a pinch of salt to each cleaned eggshell (which seemed like a ridiculous amount of sweetener, but who was I to question the guy who came up with one of my favorite recipes, Fuji apple salad:  Kimchi, Smoked Jowl, and maple labne)?

looks about right–thickened but not solid, though where did the white stuff come from?

I placed the eggshells in egg cups, in a pan with an inch of hot water (not actually covering the eggs, and placed in the oven for 6 minutes, 30 seconds. The recipe indicates 5-7 minutes, but I wasn’t  sure my oven was preheated adequately, so I went on the higher end, but the edges of my egg were overcooked (not traditionally overcooked, as egg yolks go, but definitely solidish, which was not what I expected from the proviso that the goal was to warm the yolks and give them some body.)

The opulent interior.

Finish the egg with freshly ground pepper and chives.

I thoroughly enjoyed the production. The flavors blended so well that even though I knew I was eating an egg yolk cooked at 400F with maple syrup, it just tasted like one of the most delicious egg breakfasts I’ve ever had.