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.

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.

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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Worst first

Well, it is Winter, but one of the things I’ve liked best about Northern California is access to local fresh produce throughout the year (and not sweating in the summer). Unfortunately, since I’ve banned myself from buying any groceries for a month I’ll have to live like a pioneer family who forgot to do all their canning and who’s root cellar burned in a horrible fire. In my case, this means I will use whatever survived the confines of my refrigerator after 10 days of neglect, preceded by the usual avoiding buying too much produce because I knew I’d be gone for some time.

So, day 1 of project buy nothing involves using up the vegetables that are almost rotten, in this case a blackening cauliflower remnant. I also had a giant sesame bread from Happy Golden Bowl, which I had intended to bring back to my family to add a Sichuan touch to our traditional Chinese take-out Christmas Eve dinner, but my usual poor planning interfered.

I decided to do a Sichuan style sauce with the eggplant to serve on the bread with added peanuts for protein and because I’ve had a bag of unroasted peanuts sitting around forever. Add some cleaned up remnants of the cilantro and scallions that are about to go off and a decent meal is made.

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  • 1/3 head cauliflower
  • 1/3 cup peanuts
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 cayenne peppers
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • garlic oil
  • sichuan peppercorn oil
  • 1 t soy sauce
  • 1 scant T soaked fermented black beans
  • 1 T Shaoxing wine
  • 3 T chicken stock

Heat garlic oil (or just oil) over medium high heat. If peanuts aren’t roasted, add to pan and cook until they start to color. Chop cauliflower finely. Add cauliflower, peppers, fermented black beans, and shallot to pan and fry until the cauliflower browns, then add crushed garlic. Fry until fragrant and add soy, wine, and stock. Cook until mostly evaporated, but some sauce remains. Toast sesame bread and serve over the top.

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cauliFin

 

 

Pretty good for the bottom of the crisper.

It’s Springtime for Salmon, if you can get it

The most refreshing, balanced salad as a meal I've ever tasted.

I hear it’s been hot across the rest of the country, but in the Bay Area it just warmed up a bit this Sunday. And in warm weather, it is hard to eat anything but a salad or a sorbet (though it wasn’t, actually, all that warm here. Nobody has air conditioning–it’s a bit of a disaster if it gets above 85 F, but even so it always cools down at night. Okay, no more bragging, but there must be some reason for the astronomical property values.)

This is a springtime riff on a healthy salad I’ve been making from my grad-school days. It’s based on a traditional Italian salad of white beans sauteed in olive oil and garlic, with olive oil-cured tuna, parsley, onions, and lemon juice. I often swap ingredients based on what I have on hand, or to create different flavor profiles, but the basis of the recipe remains–beans plus cured fish plus herbs/greens plus aromatics in a lemon/olive oil dressing. It is my favorite healthy lunch. I usually eat it on toast or on greens as a salad. I was actually inspired to make this by the salmon at the Farmer’s Market. This is the first year since I’ve moved to the Bay Area that salmon stocks were healthy enough for the department of fish and game to allow a salmon season, so I grabbed some when I had the chance. That plus these adorable red onion scallions and mini spring lettuces from the market made me think of my go-to lunch. Peas from the garden round it out, and fingerling potatoes make up for the carbs I’m missing from the dried beans.
Though I haven’t yet adopted any sous-vide cooking devices, or even a true vacuum sealer (my cheapo variety Seal-a meal present couldn’t last the 6 years since I’d gotten it, and is now made up of a vacuum device not held together by brittle, broken plastic parts), but I do recommend the “sous-vide” (cooking, in a water bath, at the ultimate temperature you want the product to obtain) technique in many cases, especially salmon. I find 50 C to be the perfect temperature. I came upon this after reading an aside in Thomas Keller’s Under pressure that “salmon cooked to 120 F (48.9 C) tends to be moist and slightly tacky), wheras salmon cooked to 123 F (50.6 C) is  slightly firmer and no longer tacky.” So much like Barbara Lee, my congresswoman, 50 C works for me.

Raw Pacific Salmon

50 C Salmon:

    1. Heat a large pot of water to 50 C (122 F), or if you have a sous-vide water bath, set the temp on that. This is near the temperature of hot tap water. Also, bring a couple cups of water to a boil in case adjustments of waterbath temperature are needed.
    2. Make enough 5% brine to cover salmon. For 1 liter, add 3/4 cup table salt to 1 L cool tap water.
    3. Place salmon in 5% brine for 10 minutes. This helps season the salmon and reduces the amount of albumin (white goo) on the surface of the cooked salmon.
    4. Lightly pepper the surface of the salmon. Feel free to add other herbs at this stage, but start with small quantities, as they tend to taste more concentrated than they would with other cooking methods.
    5. Add olive oil and salmon to a Ziploc or other sealable bag. Squeeze out air and seal.
    6. Place bagged salmon in water bath. Swirl and check temperature. Add boiled water if necessary to bring temperature back up to 50 C.
    7. Set timer for 15 minutes. Check on water temperature occasionally, adding more hot water to keep temp at 50 C.
    8. Remove at 15 minutes and serve, or refrigerate without opening for use in future recipes.

Salmon cooked to 50 C.

Springtime Salad:

    1. Bring potatoes to a boil in heavily salted water. Boil for 20-25 minutes or until tender.
    2. Blanch snow peas. I do so by placing them in a strainer and placing it over the boiling potatoes for 1.5-2 minutes. I like them fairly crisp.
    3. Chop scallions thinly. I use the bottom half and save the rest of the green parts for another recipe. I don’t mean just the white portion–I like a mix of crunchiness and herbiness for this salad.
    4. Chop dill and parsley (or other herbs) finely. Tail and cut snow peas into 1cm lengths or so.
    5. Combine scallions, herbs, snow peas, olive oil, and salmon in large bowl and mix to combine. 50 C salmon will break up while mixing, so no need to work too hard flaking it, though very firmly cooked salmon may need to be flaked. In any case, make sure you remove any remaining bones before mixing. Remove skin if still present.
    6. Cut fingerling potatoes into slices while still warm–a serrated knife works best.
    7. Add potatoes to bowl, season with salt and pepper, and mix.
    8. Add the juice of one lemon, remix, and taste for salt and pepper. I like to add plenty of each. You can also adjust the amount of herbs, olive oil, and lemon at this point.
    9. Serve in lettuce cups, or atop chopped lettuce.

      Seriously delicious

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.