Salad

What is your goal when you eat a salad? Why are you eating it? Obligation, pleasure…somewhere in the middle?

For me…I enjoy cool fresh crunch and the feeling of consuming health. I’ve always had a confidence with salads and see them as an opportunity to enjoy food, not put up with it. It can be simple or complex but it needs to be thought about or cared for as much as the roast in the oven.

If you can make a well seasoned dressing, then all you need is some stuff in a bowl.  Lettuce, canned beans, nuts, cheese, herbs.  Thinly sliced or shredded raw veggies like roots, cabbage or peppers.  Fresh or dried fruits are great as is diced or julienned apple. Rice! Rice is rad in salad.

There are no rules for a good salad, but there are some things to keep in mind for success. Some things need more dressing and time then others. For example. Most salads are best when everything is tossed just before service, like Caesar. Some salads need time, like kale.     

Kale salad is not hard but it has a few rules and is a great example of needing to structurally break down. You must work the kale with dressing. Oil, acid and salt break down tough greens but it has to be worked in. You will always want some sweetness with any bitter green; kale, arugula, endive all need a little sweetness. I also like to add a little garlic or onion with kale. Even if you’re thinking sweet, those flavors are needed balance.

Kale Salad:
2 bunches kale, washed and large ribs torn away
1 clove garlic, minced
1T honey
salt and pepper
4T lemon juice
2T virgin olive oil
1/3c slivered almonds, toasted
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
1 fuji apple, peeled and diced small
¼c raisins, dries cranberries or cherries
½c shaved parmesan, for garnish

Tear up the kale and toss with garlic lemon, salt and pepper, olive oil and honey. Massage a couple minutes then let sit for a bit. Work again until soft, then toss in the remaining ingredients, season to taste and garnish with parmesan.

Celery root and carrots are similar: Peel and julienne; toss with a little salt, oil and acid (lemon juice). Let sit and toss again, the texture should be noodley. Keep these macerating items separate until go time, or they’ll bleed too much liquid, which should be drained. Add this to the kale salad for lovely results.

Think about each ingredient and bite. Think of how the end product will come together in your mouth. If its a broccoli salad…are you going to blanch the broccoli? If yes, don’t over do it and dry it afterwards. If not, it better have a lot of rich dressing and it’ll need to be chopped up but not obliterated. Both of these questions for broccoli salad are important because the decision and execution of either step, sets the stage for what’s next. And what’s next is texture and dressing. Some toasted nuts, raisins and diced celery cover texture. Dressing could be grapeseed oil, lemon juice, lime juice, red wine vinegar, honey, salt and pepper and chives. Sneaking in more health at the end is nice as long as is stays crunchy, a little endive or esoarole works.  

See…it’s easy.

Salt…and Pepper

I’m sure Thomas Keller would title this, “The Importance of Salt and Pepper.” I’m somewhere between that and titling this, “Salt ‘n Peppa.”
Proper seasoning is a simple but major difference in restaurant vs home cooking. Seasoning is a general restaurant term for salt and pepper or salt alone; specifically fresh ground black pepper and clean salt, (clean meaning no iodine). If you want to know way too much about salt, read Salt: A World History. A fascinating but not riveting read that I got halfway through before I had to return it to the library :-|

Salt will blow up your taste buds and pepper will tickle ’em. Too much salt and you over expand, things get uncomfortable. Too much pepper is like too much tickling…shudder.
The balance between salt quantity and timing are like anything else in food. Care and intuition will take you a long way, but it takes time and experience to be great…like anything in life.
Luckily with food, even failures can be good and/or easily fixed. It’s innate to learn from them because all your senses are in play with food. You aren’t trying to memorize a chapter; you’re smelling, seeing, feeling, touching, hearing and retaining…without trying.
You just have to keep cooking.
If someone really wants to be a cooking machine; make a drum of pico de gallo and see what happens. Seriously, if you made a drum of pico de gallo, knowing, that the result needs to make someone want to marry you? (meaning, it has to taste good)
You would learn:
Knife skills for life; including sharpening and blade maintenance, dicing, brunoise, mincing, knife variance and preference
5 integral vegetable variants, and specifics of their structure
Salt maceration and pickling
Seasoning and flavor balancing with salt, sweet, spice, acid and oil
Oil maceration and garlic processing are optional :-)

Simple favorites have a magic balancing point. That point when the taster is forced to close their eyes and contemplate the pleasure blanket they were just wrapped in. This can happen with pico de gallo, or mashed potatoes, or fried chicken, or steak, or salad, or a hamburger. This level of pleasure is quite difficult to attain without salt. That being said; I don’t love salt on the dinner table unless we are serving plain tomatoes or boiled eggs. I also don’t love auto salters. You know who I’m talkin’ about…shaking salt on their food before they’ve glanced at their plate much less tasted anything yet. My cousin is an auto salter and it irks me. I imagine shaking her but never do, because I’d probably get salt everywhere.

Don’t Let Curry Push You Around

Image result for free pictures curry
hahahaha; curry…not Curry.

Most of us don’t make our own spice rub or curries and We tend to  make one of two curries.  They add curry powder coconut milk or curry paste to coconut milk.  Done, dinner served.  Now…there are definitely times when these pre-made curries are a life saver, I get it.  But if you have an extra five minutes, creating a fresh curry is cathartic and rewarding.  The complexity brought from fresh toasted spices is always a smell that makes you give a smiling, closed eye moaning exhale.  One ingredient can change the outcome of a curry but will almost never ruin it; so always feel free to riff or alter.  It’s always about the sum of it’s parts being stronger then any one ingredient.  Below is a simple curry made with spices you can get anywhere.  I hope this allows you to take a creative breath and add a little spice to your culinary lexicon.

½in cinnamon stick
1T coriander seeds
½T cumin seeds
1tsp cardamom seeds
1tsp whole black peppercorns
½ tsp fennel seeds
½tsp mustard seeds
½tsp fenugreek seeds
3 whole cloves
2-4 dried red chiles, broken in pieces
1T turmeric
1tsp kosher salt

sharp food produce color market powder market stall spices saffron bags taste flavor curry spice stand

Toast the coriander, cumin, cardamom, peppercorns, fennel, mustard, fenugreek, cloves, and the chiles in a small dry skillet over medium heat just until they smell fragrant, about 2 minutes; let cool. In a clean coffee grinder or spice mill, grind the toasted spices together to a fine powder. Stir in the turmeric and salt and you are done.  If you omit the turmeric you will have a lovely and spicy Garam Masala.

Making a spice mixture is the first step of a curry and can be made days and weeks ahead of time. The remaining steps are universal to most curry recipes and should never be fussed over.  Saute aromatics in plenty of oil over a medium heat until everything breaks down, and softens.  Add in a liquid and boil until perfect, season to taste and add meat as you see fit. Measurements and aromatics below:

2c grapeseed or avocado oil
1c sliced shallots
2 small chilies
2T minced ginger
2T minced garlic
1c chopped tomato
1c chopped cilantro
2-3T prepared curry powder
4c water or coconut milk

Broth

Had several people talk to me about bone broth lately.  I love the addition of the word “bone”.   It gives it a primal sound that demands a second look.  Nobody ever turned their heads at stock or chicken broth.  Show your grandma a bone broth recipe and she’ll say:  “What?  You mean soup?”                                                                                                      Whether soup, broth or stock; I’m glad people are interested in making it themselves; it’s a small extra step to making food delicious.

Chicken Broth…the short, short version.
Roast a chicken or buy a roasted chicken. Eat the meat. Place bones in crock pot and cover with water buy 2 inches. Turn crock pot on low. Go to bed. Wake up. Strain off bones. Cool, and refrigerate or freeze.

White Chicken Broth– Place a clean, raw yard bird in a large pot. Cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a full rolling boil. Spoon away any foam thate rises to the top. Cover and turn off heat. Wait an hour. Remove bird and let cool a bit. Pull off meat and return bones to water. Simmer for 6 hours or more. Strain cool and refrigerate or freeze.

Beef, Veal, Pork or Lamb Broth-
Place 1-2lbs of bones in a roasting pan. Roast for 45 minutes in a 425° oven; or until very browned; turn a couple times. Everything else is the same as the roast chicken broth.
If you are using a pot and not a crock pot: Bring to a boil. Skim the surface of scummy foam and turn down to a low simmer for 8 hours.

Fish Broth-
1lb white fleshed fish, head and bones. Cover with water or white wine buy 3 inches. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer for 17 minutes. Strain and cool.

To Any Broth:
You can add a multitude of flavors to add depth. Here are the Western European classics:
½ an onion
1 small carrot
1 small rib celery
salt
pinch pepper
1 sprig thyme
1 small bay leaf
small bunch parsley stems

Asian broth tends to roll with different aromatics like, ginger, green onion, garlic, star anise, soy sauce, bonito, kombu. Different but the same idea.

Cooling and storing a large batch of broth efficiently, is usually the hardest part of broth making. Ice baths are best but are still a bit clunky.

So there you have it. Broth.

Here is a picture of some trotters I breakfasted up the other day.  Feet are always a great broth additive.  They give flavor of course, but are really appreciated for adding collagen and gelatin, which adds a richness and viscosity.  IMG_1407

 

Aluminum Foil

Aluminium IMG_0843foil. Yes I added an extra i…Saying it like the Brits is delightful. Say it… alu-mini-um; gives it a certain dignity that only the English can extol.

Foil acts as my Mcgyverist safety blanket.  Whether I’m working or camping or wrapping a lovely holiday gift, I can’t imagine a world without it.  A little dramatic I know, but it really is an item I never forget for cooking and camping.  Check out these little bundles of joy we made over Easter weekend.  Meatloaf balls that were easy, fun and all kinds of delicious.  Just wrap ’em tight and throw ’em in the coals.  Give the kiddos some tongs, get yourself a beverage and call dinner…done.       IMG_0844IMG_0845

Just in case you grew up in a black hole and have no idea how to make meatloaf.  You can find a recipe like this, or, wait for my next update which I guess will be a meatloaf recipe :-|  Looking forward to the dessert versions which are chocolate cake cooked in a hollowed out orange and wrapped in foil.

Soup and Samich

Last spring we had one of those Sunday dinners that transcended what we knew of happiness and comfort.  It was a simple request and a simple dinner.  But like most things food–simple, done properly…is fekkin’ ridiculous.

What does “properly” mean? It means care and attention.  You can still be attentive and caring, while keeping it simple.  Simple just means not having too many steps or ingredients and no stressful time crunch.  The following recipe is for tomato soup and was adapted from one of Bobby Flays books over 15 years ago.  This was my first tomato soup and is still my favorite.  The sandwich can be anything you like; that memorable night was probably Gruyere or Manchego and serrano ham with sourdough.  Just make sure it has melted cheese and isn’t burned ;-)

Tomato Soup

10 roma tomatoes, halved and seeded
olive oil
salt
2T chopped garlic
½ onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1tsp fresh chopped fresh thyme
1qt. veggie broth
1c cream

Preheat oven to 325°. Toss the tomatoes with the olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Place on a sheet pan and roast for an hour. Heat a large sauté pot over medium high an add 1T of olive oil. Add in the onion and carrots to cook until softened, stirring regularly. Add the thyme and sauté one minute more. Add in the tomatoes, and the broth. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add the optional cream, and puree everything. Season to taste and strain through a chinois for a little unnecessary refinement.

photo (12)

Sourdough with Jarlsberg and caramelized onion grilled cheese taking a dip in creamy tomato soup.

Collagen, Gelatin and Fat, Oh My!

Another year and and another Super Bowl party.  This year we are starting a new tradition for Super Bowl.  From hence forth, Super Bowl Sunday will feature an earthly creature of unknown taste and texture.  To start off this soon-to-be tradition, I give you Suckling pig.

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This of course being my first time eating and preparing it, I wanted to taste the pig as true, simple and unadulterated as possible. I decided to roast it straight up with just some kosher salt in a 350 degree oven for 4 hours.  I made a couple mistakes but overall it went according to plan.  It was decadently moist and the skin was crispy.  Texturally it was out of this friggin’ world.  I’m a collagen, fat and gelatin freak with meat, so this was heaven as far as texture.  The flavor wasn’t bad, it was just a bit boring. I thought it would taste mellower then adult pork, but it’s “milky” quality, was actually more pronounced then expected. But still a flavor no one could really put their finger on.  “I recognize I’m eating pork, but it’s different.” We served it with an wonderful market salad and sticky rice. I’m glad I tasted it as is, now my mind is bursting with ideas to make it epic since the texture is so easy to achieve.  Next time I’ll brine and cook with aromatics, then add sweetness to the crispy skin.  It was a really cool experience though…I dove straight into the head.  Cheeks, ear, jowl, tongue, brain and snout. I wanted the parts of the animal that stores don’t carry. Everything was great except the brain. The sticky fatty texture was fine, but I can’t seem to enjoy anything tasting like offal…the irony, mineral quality is not something I’ve learned to enjoy :-|

To procure said piglet, I wanted local but failed and found it online at Exotic Meat Markets. After hemming and hawing on the price ($160 + $35 shipping), I ordered it Monday, shipped on Thursday, arrived Friday and unbeknownst to me…sat on my porch for 3-4 hours :-( We cooked it before the game on Sunday so we were free to focus on the game. Of course that was a mistake as the game was a snoozer…unless you’re a Seahawk fan. Still, a great day with family, friends, food and football.

Our lovely complimentary salad
Our lovely complimentary salad

“Tangerine, Tangerine…

cake1 Living reflection, from a dream.”

This cake is indeed a dream come true.  I once again was a non-paying customer of McAnally Farm Organics–growers of premium citrus and avocado trees since 1975.  Tangerine season is upon us and although we’re just fine using them for juice, snacks and cocktails. Tangerines have found a new place in our home for this Tangerine Olive Oil Cake.

Quick back story:  I teach cooking classes with Big City Chefs.  One of their menus listed a tangerine olive oil cake.  I’ve made and had orange but never tangerine…so I made one. This is one of those recipes where your ingredients matter if you’re looking for ecstasy. Yes, Ralphs olive oil and tangerines will give you a yummy cake.  But, if you want your eyes to roll to the back of your head, you’ll want farmers market tangerines and kind olive oil.  I can’t get enough of The Groves On 41 Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil; it’s ridiculous.  They actually have a tangerine arbequina oil but I didn’t have any on hand when I did the recipe.  Speaking of the recipe, here ya go.

Tangerine, Olive Oil Cake

4 medium-large tangerines
1c sugar
1/3c crème fraîche or sour cream
3 large eggs
2/3c Arbequina olive oil
1¾c all-purpose flour
1tsp baking powder
¼tsp baking soda
½tsp salt

Pre-heat oven to 350º and position rack in the middle. Line a 9×5″ loaf pan with parchment or grease and flour it.
Zest 3 of the tangerines and supreme all 4.  Set the supremes aside and rub the zest and sugar together with your fingers until the sugar is evenly moistened, (I used a processor).  Add in the eggs and cream, blend and add the oil while the machine is running along with 1/3 cup of tangerine juice.
In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Whisk in the batter confidently but with as few strokes as possible. Fold in the tangerine supremes.
Pour the batter into the parchment-lined loaf pan, and bake until deeply golden on top and a tester comes out clean (i.e., sharp knife or toothpick or skewer) inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Use the parchment to lift out the cake and let cool.  Serve with plain sweet cream or flavor the cream with praline, tangerine, raspberry or regular olive oil.  About 1T or more will work for 1 pint of cream.

Here are some pics to help you along :-)

 

Pumpkin

photoWhat a charming word.  It’s the kind of word that feels good to say.  Place more emphasis on the second P and you’ll see what I’m getting at.  Kinda makes you grin doesn’t it…pump-kin.  Or are you more of the punkin’ type?  Not my favorite vegetable, but this time of year I still have fun cooking it.  It’s grand…even the smaller sugar pumpkins have a dramatic look and notion to them.   I only cook fresh pumpkin for fun.  Canned pumpkin has a taste that is expected and rich.  Plus, it’s a helluva lot easier. I enjoy using it for bisque, bread, pie and as a sugar carrier, but I’ve never found the texture to be ideal.  As a raw product, it can be a little cumbersome to break down and it’s quite watery;  veering toward stringy instead of dense.   I realized about 7 years ago, that if I’m going to cook with pumpkin, it’ll come from a can…a Libby’s can.  I’m not sure exactly what they do to to remove water; meaning roast it then purée, or purée then reduce?  But they do a great job of obtaining a dense, rich product.  A product none of us will ever achieve or re-create.  Libby’s uses a proprietary pumpkin known as a Dickinson pumpkin.  Dickinson is old school,  like Pilgrims and Indians old school.  It has a beige-matte exterior with  bright orange, dense, thick flesh and minimal seeds and strings.   Really more like a pumpkin shaped butternut rather then a classic ornamental.  Speaking of butternut…that’s my go to squash for all things squashy.  I enjoy Acorn and a couple others, but butternut is the squash king of texture and sweetness. Here are a couple pumpkin recipes to play with.  One is a simple cobbler raw diced pumpkin, and the other is a Pumpkin pie recipe that you’ll not only love, but it’s easy and healthier then the classic.  Healthy as in low glycemic, not caloric count.

Pumpkin Pie

1 15oz can pumpkin
2eggs
1c whole milk
½c pure maple syrup
1T flour
1tsp cinnamon
½tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Whisk Everything together, pour into a prepared crust and bake until just set, about 50 minutes. Let cool and serve with cream.

Pie Crust:
2 ¼c all-purpose flour
8oz salted butter, cold, cut into 1/4″ pieces
1/4-1/3c ice water

In a cold processor bowl, buzz the flour and butter until incorporated but still left with small butter chunks. Remove to a large bowl and drizzle in the water. Stir at first by holding and swirling the bowl to toss in the water. Then, quickly agitate/stir with finger tips to distribute water into the flour then pour the crumbly mess onto a couple pieces of plastic wrap. Wrap into a tight disk or ball and refrigerate for an hour. Remove the plastic wrap and roll out with a rolling pin using more flour to prevent sticking. Roll the finished dough around the rolling pin to easily transfer to the pie plate.

Pumpkin Cobbler

1 sugar pumpkin, cleaned, peeled and diced
2T butter
1tsp pumpkin pie spice, Trader Joe’s is better then Spice Islands
6T butter
½c milk
1c sugar
1c flour
1tsp. baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat a large oven proof pan over high heat until hot. Add the 2T butter and the pumpkin to cook and brown. Only add enough pumpkin to cover the bottom of the pan, not a pile. Once softened and browned, stir in the spice and the 6T of butter to melt.

Whisk together the sugar, flour and baking powder. Whisk in the milk; and pour the batter into the pan, starting with the edges, then all around. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Let cool and garnish with the pumpkin cream

Pumpkin Cream:
1T canned pumpkin
3T Maple syrup or sugar
1c heavy whipping cream

Whip until stiff peaks.

Your New Favorite Carb

Cookin' Dumplin's
Cookin’ Dumplin’s

In case you didn’t know, I teach cooking classes 2-3 times a week. Big City Chefs and I have teamed up for over 10 years putting on these classes all over California. They’re usually in multi-family communities such as Irvine Company; that have a centralized clubhouse with a nice kitchen for everyone to gather around. It’s fun. You sit, relax with a tasty beverage and watch me do my thing; all the while being able to ask questions, interact and sample the tasty tasties. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about the classes is the tidbits I learn from the residents. I learned this year that baking soda is a great everyday facial scrub :-| And more recently, at 4s Ranch, I was informed on what is now my new favorite recipe. Perogi dough!  Or Pierogi or pierogy or perogy or pierógi or pyrohy or pirogi or pyrogie or pyrogy or Pierożki.  As you can see, there are quite a few European claims to this dumpling.  I’ve made Perogi before and any peasant food like this will always have slight variations from family to family and region to region. What makes this particular recipe so exciting is it’s simplicity and versatility. Usually this dough has several ingredients. Egg, water, flour, salt, maybe sour cream…melted butter; which is all fine and dandy, but I know the way you think. You want a tiny ingredient list and a short explanation of preparation.  Boom.  You’re welcome. Now go cook some good shit.

Multipurpose Dough of Supreme Awesomeness

1c sour cream
2c flour

In a bowl, mix together by hand then knead for a minute or two. Wrap in plastic wrap for 30 minutes or longer, then use dough as you see fit. Remember that when shaping or rolling, you can use as much flour as needed to prevent any dough from sticking to your work surface.

Use like Italian pasta dough for noodles or ravioli.
Use as dumplings large and small for soups or sauces.
Roll flat and cut to use like a won-ton or pot-sticker wrapper
Make actual Perogi’s.

This doughs texture is really tender and just chewy enough; but the surprise tang from the sour cream is what brings this dough out of left field to slap you in the face with something different then the norm.  It tastes like a warm hug from a happy grandma.  I threw it in some chicken soup the other night with awesome sauce results.