Tomato Time!

P1010743It’s my favorite produce season, when tomatoes are abundant, ripe, and worth the farmer’s market prices. (Plus, the peaches are quite plump this time of year.)

For most of the year I get bored if I’m haven’t cooked and eaten many nations’ worth of food in a week, but there’s just something about these perfect tomatoes that leave me content making nearly the same dish days in a row. Simple combinations of grilled bread, rubbed with garlic, olive oil, basil, tomato, and sometimes cheese can satisfy me for weeks, until the tomatos start to fade.

This week it was dry-farmed Early Girls (plus one tomato from my slow-growing, rarely-watered plants) with some amazing bread from MH Bread and Butter that I picked up over the weekend up north, and the sheepsmilk feta from Garden Variety Cheese.  And whether I’m making panzanella (my most common, as it is easiest to make and eat) or bruschetta, it is pretty much the same format–

Cut the tomatoes and put them in a bowl with salt and pepper, add a bunch of olive oil. Do this first to give them some time to release juices. Add some cheese if you want, like mozzarella or a lightly flavored feta.

Cut the bread into slices and toast, or grill. While still warm, rub both sides of the bread with a clove of garlic. If you’re making panzanella, cube it and add to the bowl of marinating tomatoes. Or, serve as bruschetta on a platter. In Italy we’d get this with extra glugs of olive oil and olives on the platter.

Add basil to bowl, toss, and devour.

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.

 

Simple Slaw

IMG_3900What do you do with the pickled carrot/jalapeño you often get with a burrito? I know I usually forget about it while I wolf down the whole burrito, then find myself overfull, with an extra baggie pickled veggies.

One of my favorite uses for them is to make a very quick slaw–just chop the carrots, as much of the jalapeño as you want for spice, and toss with shredded cabbage and a bit of buttermilk, olive oil, and freshly ground pepper. It’s a perfectly refreshing lunch salad, with more complexity than the quick cutting short ingredient list might suggest.

To make it more of a meal add avocado, nuts, or chicken, or some combo therof, or just eat it before you order another burrito, so that you’ll be fuller, with better nutrition, so you’ll only snarf half this time.

Lightly cured trout on a bed of cabbage

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A couple years ago, when the Omnivore World Tour stopped by San Francisco and had surprisingly low attendance for an inexpensive even featuring food and demonstrations from the likes of Magnus Nilsson, Dominique Crenn, Roland Passot, Danny Bowien, and Joshua Skenes.

The best thing I had tried in a long time was this tuna prepared by Joshua Skenes, the Saison chef. It almost made me want to spend the ridiculous amount of money to eat at his restaurant, though high end meals generally leave me disappointed because i don’t deal well with heightened expectations. In any case, it’s inspired me to use his simple, but delicious fish curing technique. Just toast some rice–preferably an aromatic type like Jasmine in a dry skillet until browned, then surround the fish with the toasted rice and salt. Put in a tupperware or whatever and leave it in the fridge for a week to a month. Yes, that sounds crazy, but it really works–the  rice draws out the usual moisture that causes fish rotting, and you end up with a more concentrated, yet still fresh tasting. (I did let a piece of tuna go for a bit too long once, and it did start to rot, but this was well over the 1 month mark. Skenes finished off the tuna by briefly searing it directly on a large wood coal, which added a nice smoky dimension, but everyday techniques work too.

I cured this nicely boned whole trout from Berkeley Bowl for about ten days, wiped off all the rice, and thought maybe I should try to use that too. The toasted rice really smells good. I rinsed it a couple times in hopes it wouldn’t be to salty, then cooked it in the usual rice in a pan method–a cold start with water a little under a knuckle up from the rice surface. Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down to low for 15 minutes or until done. The rice turned out quite mushy, and I probably which could be because I added a bit too much water, given that the rice had already absorbed all that trout water. Next time I might try frying, as the couple of pieces that remained on the trout were good and crunchy, but easy to bite.

For the trout itself, I went for the simplest of cooking–skin side down on high in a skillet with butter, olive oil, and scallions. The dried skin crisped up very nicely, and a flip over at the end of cooking (about 4 minutes) finished the thicker center within a few seconds.

To finish the dish, I added thinly chopped cabbage to the hot pan, to pick up the fond and brown a bit. I plated while still fairly crisp, but several bits had picked up good bit of browning. I added some sour cream to this mixture, as I’d gotten a bit of a bug in my head after hearing the Simply French combo of salmon on a bed of creamy cabbage was quite good according to chowhound’s cookbook of the month reporters. Of course, this is nothing like the Patricia Wells/Joël Robuchon recipe, as that is typically frenchy, and calls for the cabbage to be boiled, then sautéed in butter, then cream added.

All in all, I was very satisfied. I liked this trout better than the one I stuffed with lemons and baked when I bought them 10 days ago, and I think the fish and cabbage combo worked well. I even enjoyed the mushy rice, as the toasted rice aroma is so pleasing.

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.

Red curry pumpkin soup

I can't imagine anything more warming.

Yes, this does seem a bit out of season, but so does rain in the Bay Area in late June. I happened to have some roasted kabocha squash in the freezer, and I always have Thai red curry paste on hand, so I quick soup was just what I needed at the end of a long, rainy day. It is based of a true Thai dish, pumpkin red curry usually made with a kabocha-like squash and pork. This recipe is, in concept, that, thinned and blended smooth.

2 cups cooked winter squash or pumpkin
1-2 shallots, sliced
1-2 T red curry paste (I usually have a tub of Mae Ploy on hand)
a pinch of sugar (I use palm sugar, but that’s not necessary)
2 cups chicken broth
2 T fish sauce
juice of 1 -2 limes (or about 3 T prepared tamarind pulp)
1 can coconut milk

Cook the shallots in soup pot until they begin to caramelize. I used coconut oil, but any oil will suffice. Add curry paste and stir. I like things fairly spicy so I used more than 2 T, but 1 T will provide noticeable, but pleasant spice. When paste starts to become fragrant add some of the coconut cream from the top of the (unshaken) coconut milk can. For a true curry, I’d crack the cream (as described in the last paragraph here), but since this is a quick soup, cooking the paste in coconut oil then adding some of the coconut solids will have to suffice. After a couple minutes add the rest of the coconut milk and the pumpkin. If you had frozen pumpkin, like me, lid and cook until pumpkin is completely defrosted, otherwise cook for a couple minutes to bring pumpkin up to temperature. Add fish sauce, lime or tamarind, and 1 cup of broth. Blend with a stick blender and taste for saltiness, hotness, sweetness, sourness, and texture. If the texture is too thick add chicken broth and reblend until texture is slightly more liquid than desired. Balance with lime, sugar, fish sauce, or additional curry paste after dilution, then cook and additional 5-10 minutes. Serve with lime wedges and fresh herbs.

Meatless Mondays: Ligurian pasta salad

Perfect for picnics

I’ve always been a bit of a picnic grouch (I’m also a lot of a going out to brunch grouch, if anyone is wondering). Instead of enjoying a beautiful setting, I often can’t stop thinking about how much better the food would be if we had a kitchen to prepare and heat things. (And of course there is the issue of bugs, though that situation has vastly improved since I moved to California). I just don’t get that excited about cold or room temperature foods–maybe it’s their congealed texture, or maybe I’m just a terrible person, but for a long time I struggled to find a prepared dish I loved, which would still taste great at a potluck or picnic.

I have finally settled on a dish I like better at cool temperatures than fresh off the stovetop. This simple salad is good just after cooking, but it seems to me that some sort of magic happens both with the combination of ingredients and cooling. The beans taste sweeter, the texture of the potatoes improves, and it makes a great salad that is substantial enough for a meal (or a double-carb nightmare, to certain people).

I usually make pesto in large batches when I harvest basil from my herb bed, or find a good deal on basil. It keeps fairly well in the freezer, I add a thin layer of olive oil on top to prevent oxidation. I generally use walnuts instead of pine nuts–they are much cheaper and not likely to run into problems with rancidity or pine nut mouth. While I haven’t experienced the horror of having a metallic taste in my mouth for weeks, I have found that almost all of the pine nuts I’ve purchased in the US have some rancidity to them.

Pesto, it's time for your close-up.

Basil pesto

2 large bunches of basil (~3 cups leaves)
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
~1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Wash basil thoroughly and pluck all leaves from stems. Process basil, toasted walnuts, garlic, and cheese until very finely chopped in food processor. Slowly stir in olive oil, without using the processor. I’ve read that high speed blades on food processors/blenders can cause extra virgin olive oil to become bitter. As a skeptic, I chose not to believe it until I experienced it, and I have. Add only as much oil as the mixture will absorb and become a smooth, fluid paste–this may be a bit less or a bit more than the 1/3 cup recommended.

Once you have the pesto made, the rest of the dish is easy and can be made in the time it takes to boil water and cook your pasta. Make sure you use a pasta that has a recommended cooking time of 12 minutes or more (and is actually al dente at that time), if you want to use the one pot meal technique. Trenette is traditional, but any shape you can imagine shoving in your mouth along with potato rounds and green beans will work. I’ve also made this without pasta when I didn’t want to double up on carbs, or decided to serve it as a vegetable dish with another pasta. Though it is a traditional Ligurian dish, it is as though the picnic traditions of pasta salad and potato salad

Pesto Pasta Salad

1 pound pasta
1 pound green beans
1 pound small, cleaned red potatoes
1+ cup basil pesto
Start a large pot of water boiling and add at least a tablespoon of salt. While water is coming to a boil cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch rounds. If your potatoes are much larger than a dollar coin, cut the rounds in half or quarters, depending on the size. Add pasta to boiling, salted water and set timer for the pasta cooking time. When water returns to a boil, in about a minute, add the potatoes. Cut the green beans into bite-sized lengths while everything is boiling. When there are 4 minutes left on the timer add the beans to the pot. Place about 3/4 cup pesto on the bottom of a large bowl. When the timer goes off, test pasta and potatoes. The pasta should be quite firm, but will be the perfect texture after standing. Drain, reserving some of the pasta water. Loosen the pesto with a small amount of the pasta water, just enough to ensure the cheese is melted and the sauce can coat the noodles. Add pasta, potatoes, and beans to the large bowl, adding an additional 1/2 cup of pesto to the top. Mix, sliding a spatula down the sides, through the pesto mixture on the bottom several times. If the pasta is not coated with pesto add a bit more until all strands are coated. Taste, and if undersalted add some more Parmigian0-Reggiano or salt. Eat some now, then see if you agree with me about it sweetening up (in a good way) after cooling.