12 July 2009

Savory Watermelon Salad

This is summery and scrumptious. With minimal pre-amble and vague proportions:

~2 cups watermelon, cubed
1/2 English cucumber, chunked
2 decent heirloom tomatoes, chunked
1 x-lg or 2 med avocados, chunked

1 tbsp fresh mint, minced
1 tbsp chives, minced
~2 tbsp olive oil
~1-2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp fresh chevre (that's goat cheese)
salt & pepper to taste

This is pretty straightforward. My proportions are pretty inexact here, but it doesn't matter: follow your tongue! Use whatever herbs you have growing outside your front door or readily available, and just taste the dressing as you go. I thought about using a red wine vinegar but wasn't sure how that would jive with the chevre blended in ... will try it next time. The sweetness of the watermelon is really nice with the tang of the vinegar and goat cheese - num!


Here is the much more photogenic, less creamy inspiration for the above salad:

From the book, Pintxos, by Gerald Hirigoyen, which is full of delicious and beautiful Basque small-plates. More yum!

19 May 2009

Skirt Steak MM!

I'll keep this short and sweet.

Bought some skirt steak a couple nights ago that didn't make it into dinner, so yesterday I decided to marinate it in some yogurt for tonight. The yog gives the meat a nice tang and the cultures help to tenderize and break down the protein, or so they say. I also added some tumeric and dried sage, what the heck.

Tonight I sautee'd it up with a little salt, served with brown rice and broiled pencil asparagus with oil, salt, pepper and some shaved Reggiano. And man, that ish was GOOD! I highly recommend the yogurt treatment. It's great for just about any kind of meat, especially the ones that can toughen up, like goat or lamb.

Nom nom.

14 April 2009


I recently used the Joy of Cooking's recipe for Irish-American Soda Bread as the foundation of a kitchen experiment. JoC is usually a great reference and an excellent starting-point for me. I rarely have all-out success with their recipes as-printed, but who wants to follow a recipe verbatim anyway?

What caught me this time was the following ingredients:

4 tbsp butter
2/3 c. buttermilk

The butter was meant to be melted and whipped into the buttermilk with an egg.

Now, buttermilk is the by-product of whipping cream into butter. So by adding melted butter to the buttermilk, aren't you just re-constituting the original heavy cream? Even the proportions look about right here.

So why?

06 April 2009

DIY Mozzarella

This took me 15 minutes to make (plus another 15 waiting for the cheese to chill), which fit in right after work and before taking the dog to the park, leaving me with fresh, handmade cheese to bring to Katie's for dinner. No Martha Stewart, but not bad, right?

The one caveat is that this recipe uses pre-made cheese curd, which can be hard to find. We are selling it right now at The Pasta Shop, but you can also make your own with the right materials (blog entry to follow, also see www.cheesemaking.com for supplies).

The quantity of curd is entirely up to you - how many balls do you want? How big do you like your balls? There is a lot of ball freedom here.

1. Cut your curd into 1" cubes.

2. Heat a big pot of very salty water (1/3 c. salt to 5 qts water) to just before boiling (170 degrees if you have a thermometer).

3. Put your curds in a large, shallow bowl. Pour ~6 cups of the hot water water over the curd and let it sit 2-4 minutes until the curd is warm all the way through, soft and malleable.

4. Pick up (with a spoon, because the water's hot) as much curd as you like - i.e. more curd for big balls, fewer cubes for small balls - and knead the curd between your hands until it is smooth and elastic. If you overwork it, the mozzarella will be kind of tough and squeaky, so a light touch is good.

5. When curd is ready, fold into a ball and squeeze the ends together.

6. Put cheese in an ice bath and start over with the next handful of curd

7. Call me and tell me how it is

Easy peasy.

28 March 2009

Braised Short Ribs

Short ribs: delicious. Could eat 'em for days, not complain once. But somehow I had never cooked them myself, which I think is a by-product of doing little braising or meat roasts in general. In California, where produce is so versatile and so fresh, it's insanely easy to leave meat off the plate. And if it is on the plate, often it's just an ingredient - not a course or a meal. These kinds of meat adventures are special to me because they're so rare and unnecessary in this agricultural wonderland. So tonight, short ribs. Short ribs!

I work right next to Cafe Rouge in Berkeley. Their butcher is off the hook. The boys behind the counter are sweet and sometimes a little too cool for school, but their product is genuinely badass. I ate the best steak of the 2000's a few short weeks ago thanks to them (and Katie, and the cow). Also their beef jerky is no nonsense. Have you ever seen beef jerky with fat in it? Neither had I. It was AMAZING. But enough praise, this is about me and my food. Yesterday I decided the short ribs looked plump and rich and reasonably priced. I picked out a fatty (1.5#, 3-ribs) and for the rest of my 12-hour shift I was daydreaming about what I might do with it. My very own short ribs? This was more than a little intimidating; is there some powerful ingredient to the world's best short ribs that I didn't know about? Not being a meat roaster, naturally I would not know about this. Danger. Caution. Ribs.

What follows is an amalgam of the thoughts of Julia Child and numerous web references, except, I must point out, that of Mr. Wolfgang Puck. I can't respect any man who instructs the masses to spoon the fat off of their roast and "discard." Discard! There are uses for that fat! Why don't you cut back on the shitty potato chips and plastic chocolate, maybe eat a smaller portion and let yourself enjoy the miracle of fat. It worked for centuries. I thought about serving this solo with some toasted pain au levain, but settled on farro for its nutty flavor and delightful texture and farro-ness. If I had been more hungry, or if I were more than one person and needed more food, I would have tracked down some asparagus and fava beans, because man would that be good.

First Short Ribs

A fatty strip or two of short ribs from the best butcher you can find
2-3 tbsp ghee
1/2 yellow onion
3 carrots
4 stalks celery
3 fat cloves of garlic
1 sprig of rosemary
2 tbsp tomato paste, or sauce in a pinch (like my Puttanesca)
~1 cup red table wine (I used a cotes du rhone)
~4-6 cups broth of your choice

1 cup Farro

Preheat your oven to 300*F.

In a dutch oven or some other stove- and oven-savvy pot, melt your ghee over medium/medium-high heat. Did you know that Ghee doesn't scorch until 475 degrees or so? It is pure butterfat - clarified butter that's been boiled for hours. Ghee is my new favorite fat: the duck fat of 2009 if you will. You can use bacon fat instead if you've got it around, can't go wrong there. Any good fat will do. Dogs like the smell of fat, and if you're lucky your neighbor's dog will wander in to keep you company while you work, like this.

Sear the short ribs on all sides in the ghee. Take the meat out and let it rest on a plate, like this.

Then add the onions, carrots and celery to the fat and stir it up. Let these cook until the onions are getting clear, and add the garlic and rosemary. Stir and fry until these are fragrant.

Add the tomato paste and let it caramelize and get nice and sticky. When properly gummy and sweet-smelling, deglaze the pan with your red wine. Hop the ribs back in the pan and add enough broth so that they are covered or nearly-covered, depending on how much meat is in the pan. My one fatty strip of meat was a little lonely in its big pot, so rather than drown it in 8 cups of broth I let part of it stick out - no problem. Cover your pan and slide it into the warm oven.

Roast ~3 hours. The ribs should be easily forked, tender, loose and full of juicy, meaty flavor. And they were.

If you've never cooked farro, this is how I do it: boil way too much water, add the farro and simmer for ~15-20 mins, then drain dry like pasta. I suppose 2:1 proportions would work, like with rice, but I find that measuring isn't really necessary. Farro also makes an incredible breakfast when mixed with a little cream and honey and served with roasted stone fruit. Very incredible.

About halfway through making this dish, I realized I had done it before. With brisket. Braising is, to some extent, just braising. Even if you do it just twice in 28 years, it is a simple thing.

In the end, I remembered that there was chard in the fridge just begging to be wilted. I spooned a few tablespoons of fat and juice from the hot roast and sauteed the chard in that until wilty and fragrant. This was the best chard I have ever eaten in my life. There, I said it. Even Pullo was entranced by the aroma.

Nom nom!

05 February 2009

Apple Pancakes

Deceptively simple and easy, perfectly fluffy and moist. If you only eat one meal on a rainy day, this should be it.

(Tilt head)

Serve it up with your favorite toppings (pictured here: apricot-orange marmalade and dollop of fresh whipped cream) and some mouth-smacking-good thick-cut bacon. These pancakes are so sweet and light they don't really need any topping, but I find a naked pancake entirely irresistible to toppings.

Apple Pancakes

Whisk together in a bowl:

1 1/2 c. flour
3 tbs brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt


4 tbsp. sweet butter, room temp

Cut the butter into the flour mixture using a fork, two butterknives, a pastry cutter, or whatever you like to use. I'm not sure why, but this step has made a big difference for me in the fluffiness of my pancakes. When the butter is in reasonably small bits, add:

1 1/2 c. milk
2 eggs
splash vanilla extract

Mix it all up well. Grate into the bowl:

1 apple

I used a Fuji, skin-on. If you're single like me and not planning on using all the batter at once, only add the apple to what you plan on cooking that day -- otherwise it will oxidize and get soggy. Fruit in pancake batter should always be fresh.

The rest is history, and if you don't know how to fry a pancake ... well, it's easy and you should try harder. I learned a secret from the tv-show "Dead Like Me" -- flip 'em before the bubbles burst, and they will be more springy and pleasantly pert. Don't burn 'em, or the insides will be moist and goopy. The apples keep these moist and fragrant .. enjoy!

04 January 2009

Dangerous/Painful Potato Turnip Croquettes

Adapted from a recipe for potato-turnip latkes which was much less of a pain in the ass and just about as tasty. When I made the latkes, the fat was not quite hot enough so they had a tendency to sog.

I had an amazing croquette experience at Tacubaya, so I thought I'd try to turn the delicious duck-fatty latkes into light fluffy duck-fatty croquettes for the perfect marriage of texture and flavor. The result: the world's best tater tots, with an incredibly light, moist, delicate filling and fantastic crispy crust. Unexpected results: an entire house filled with thick, fatty smoke; half of a kitchen spattered in greasy spots; multiple burns on self. I do not recommend making this at the same time as the Amazing Granola, which I did last night to my painful and burnt dismay.

If you've never cooked with duck fat before: what the hell are you waiting for?

Dangerous/Painful Potato Turnip Croquettes

4 medium russet potatoes
2 medium/small turnips
a few green or spring onions
Panko japanese breadcrumbs (the kind for tempura)
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste
~1 cup duck fat (maybe a little more)

Quarter the potatoes and turnips and boil them until ready to mash. Drain well and mash 'em up in a big bowl with the chopped green onions, salt & pepper. Mix in the cream, being careful not to get the mixture too wet (My mistake #1).

Fill a shallow bowl with bread crumbs, and start spooning onto them small balls of potato/turnip mix -- I used the same 2-spoon technique that a lot of people use for drop cookies. Don't try to handle the croquettes too much in the breadcrumbs (my mistake #2), but try to coat them evenly. I ended up tossing the balls between both hands with the crumbs, which worked well but didn't squish the croquettes into useless paste as much as my first efforts.

Get your duck fat pretty damn hot - med. high heat until shimmery. If the fat isn't hot enough, the croquettes will be oily and soggy without a good crust. Fry the croquettes on as many sides as possible for maximum crisp, about 2-3 minutes per side if the oil is hot enough. Drain on a paper towel and serve hot with creme fraiche.

One problem with using Panko breadcrumbs .. or perhaps breadcrumbs in general .. is that some of them will undoubtedly flake off into the fat, where they burn to tiny tiny crisps. After about 15 minutes of boiling, smooshing and frying, while juggling my granola project at the same time, I turned around to see that the entire house was filled with noxious grey smoke. The dog was standing in the kitchen doorway with his feet apart, giving me a what-the-hell-are-you-doing look. By the time I was done, I collected a tiny mountain of the black crisps on one side of the pan. My hands, face and front were covered in tiny burns and my eyes and lungs stung from the smoke. Perhaps the whole experience wouldn't have been as overwhelming without the simul-baking of the granola (my mistake #3).