Breakaway Cook

Lamb Chops Done Right

Like many Americans, I didn’t grow up eating lamb. I was well into my 20s before I realized what I was missing, and now I seem to be making up for lost time! I like all cuts of lamb, but my favorite — which also happens to involve the easiest cooking method — is simple roasted (or grilled) chops, which are also sometimes referred to as rib racks (see photo).

I once had the pleasure of eating lamb in southern France that had been pasture-fed on quite a bit of lavender; the meat was actually infused with the subtle scent of lavender, and I have never forgotten it. But since it’s awfully difficult to find lamb that have lived on such a delicacy, I searched for a way to introduce the same aromas into my lamb chops. The quickest, easiest, and best way? Simply sprinkle it with lavender salt. It is sublime. (You can make lavender salt by combining about a teaspoon of lavender buds with about two tablespoons of coarse sea salt in a spice grinder or electric coffee grinder).

I find that cooking one side in a hot cast iron pan, flipping it, and finishing it off in a very hot oven produces fantastic results. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Rinse and dry the lamb chops thoroughly, rub with olive oil, then sprinkle them liberally with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Melt a combination of butter and olive oil in the pan, swirl it around, and add the lamb. Cook for about five minutes until well-browned. Flip it over and transfer to the oven. Roast for about five minutes for medium rare (the only way to eat lamb chops, in my opinion). Don’t overcook it!

Let it rest on a cutting board for at least five minutes, and slice into individual chops. Squeeze some  lemon on the chops and give them a liberal dusting of lavender salt, pepper, and lemon zest.


Photo credit: Annabelle Breakey

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Yoga + Breakaway Meals = Nourishment

outdoors office matcha 7 -- 600


I’m happy to announce that I’ll be cooking lots of breakaway dishes for an upcoming yoga retreat, led by the inimitable Geoffrey Roniger.  We’re gathering on Friday April 19, and it ends after brunch on Sunday the 21st. We’ve rented a sleeps-20 house in West Marin, high in the hills of Woodacre, for a long weekend of yoga practice and exploration, with bursts of epicurean enjoyment in between.

You can expect nourishment from three discrete directions:

  • from the yoga
  • from the food
  • from the landscape

Geoffrey is one of those rare and gifted teachers that come along just a handful of times in one’s life.  He’s back in his hometown of New Orleans, but makes periodic returns to practice with his very appreciative SF base, and this is one of them. If you love yoga and the phrase “delicious sequences” sounds appealing you, you should come.

I’ll be making every meal we eat. I have no idea yet what the menu will be but it is likely to be mostly vegetable-centric (though I can’t resist cooking SOME meat), locally sourced breakaway food using staples from Japan, Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East.  Matcha will be available as well.

It’s a shockingly beautiful and intriguing landscape with plenty of deckspace and trails to enjoy it. Loads of “time off” to read, relax, hike, soak in tubs, etc.

It will be a unique and deeply relaxing long weekend.  You can write or call Geoffrey (contact info below) or myself to make a reservation — there are currently just four slots left.

Hope to see you there.




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SF Zen Center Turns 50 — Come Celebrate at Green Gulch

Wow, I never put it together that I’m the same age as the San Francisco Zen Center — what a nice little coincidence! We’re having a big benefit bash at Green Gulch on Saturday September 8 to celebrate the milestone, and to pay homage to the incredible farming that’s gone on at Green Gulch for much of that time. These zen-inspired farmers were way, way ahead of their time, and have been doing sustainable organic farming for the past 40 years. The farm-to-table luncheon will feature GG produce in an elegant menu written by Annie Somerville, the charming and long-time executive chef of Green’s Restaurant, and prepared by Aaron Jonas and paired with some very creative non-alcoholic cocktails specially created for the event by wine guru Mark Ellenbogen.

The event starts at 11 am, and goes till 2:30. Lots more info, including how to purchase tickets, here. For additional info about the event or even to sponsor it some form, contact Scott McDougall,  who happens to be a matcha maestro and incredibly nice person, at [email protected] And speaking of matcha, we’re trying to arrange a tasting of our Blend 97 near the dessert course, so even more reason to book a seat or two. Proceeds from this event will help support the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center’s Cloud Hall renovation project.

I’ll be a featured speaker, as will legendary organic farmers Wendy Johnson and Sarah Tashker. Other speakers include CUESA’s Dave Stockdale, and 18 Reason’s Olivia Maki.

Don’t miss it! Afterward you can take the surreally gorgeous walk from Green Gulch to Muir Beach, which has to be one of Marin’s most magical. See you there!


Photo by Gyokuden Steph Wenderski 

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Pickled Ginger, As Featured in The Kitchn



Friend and Tassajara mate Dana Velden just published a lovely tribute to breakaway-stye pickled ginger over at The Kitchn. Dana writes the weekend meditation column there, and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of mindfulness, food/cooking, and good writing. Check out the pickled ginger piece, with recipes, here.

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Breakaway Cooking with Tea, at Tassajara

I couldn’t be more pleased to announce another workshop at one of my favorite places on earth, The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, in the Ventana Wilderness, east of Carmel. It will take place from May 31 to June 3, and it’s going to be all about cooking with tea. Well, our morning and afternoon sessions will be all about tea, but there will be heaps of time to explore Tassajara, sit in the zendo, get personalized meditation instructions, take long soaks in some of the finest baths in the country, take walks, read and relax, and eat fantastic food.

There are I think four spots left (we like to keep it small). People tend to have pretty magical experiences there — do join us if you can! You can email me if you have any questions about it.

You can reserve a spot online here,  and the  official description is this:

Discover and explore an entirely different culinary universe through the lens of fine teas.

Enjoy the taste, health benefits, and ritual of tea by learning to cook with it! We’ll explore all kinds of unusual uses of favorite teas, including matcha, rooibos, genmaicha, oolong, jasmine, hojicha, and lapsong souchong. We’ll learn how to make flavored tea salts and sugars, tea sparkling waters, tea crusts for proteins, tea infusions in soups, and much more. We’ll also introduce the notion of mindfulness while cooking and preparing tea, and discover the focused, yet relaxed, energy brought on by good tea.

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Pork Loin Roasts, To Go



Here’s a tip for those of you needing to bring something quick and easy to a bbq: pick up some (reputable) whole pork loins from your preferred butcher, and grind a bunch of fresh spices in a coffee grinder. Use whole coriander seed, cumin seed, an assortment of peppercorns, and star anise. Rub this all of over the pork, give it a spray of olive oil to keep everything in place, then dust it liberally with kosher salt. Spray again. That’s it, you’re ready! Pack it up and take it with you.

The bottle of liquid in the photo is fresh squeezed orange, lemon, and grapefruit, which had been simmered and reduced for about 20 minutes to concentrate its flavors. I like the baste the pork in this as it cooks on the grill. Try to grill the meat on the least-hot part of the bbq, and use a lid to ensure thorough cooking of the middle. The outside gets pretty dark and spiced and crusty, the perfect counterfoil for the tender, juicy inner sections. Cut it all up roughly when it’s done and rested, and toss chopped cilantro, more salt, and more citrus juice on it just before serving.


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How to Cook a Trout

I grew up eating trout; my father actually carried a set of fishing poles in the family car(!), and would stop off for a quick hit of his addiction at the local lake on the way back from work. He almost always came home with a bucket of trout. Now the only trout I eat usually come from a farm in Idaho, but I still find them delicious..

I’ve experimented with lots of cooking methods for trout over the years, but I’ve finally settled on one that produces perfectly crispy and delicious skin and moist, wonderfully seasoned flesh.Here’s what you’ll need:

  • * one big fat trout, cleaned (they’re almost always sold cleaned)
  • * a cast iron skillet
  • * some basic seasonings

Rinse the fish and dry it carefully and thoroughly. Then take your sharp knife and scrape along the entire sides of the fish. You’ll get some funky grayish crap on the knife — wipe it off with a paper towel, and do it some more, until you no longer produce any gray muck. This wonderful technique applies to almost all fish; it removes all impurities and paves the way for a wonderfully crispy, scrumptious skin.

Rub the entire fish, inside and out, with a light drizzle of olive oil, and liberally sprinkle everything, again inside and out, with freshly cracked pepper and kosher salt. I also like to sprinkle about a teaspoon or so of freshly ground coriander seeds on the skin — this really gives it an extra crispy blast — but you don’t have to.

Preheat oven to 400. Heat up the pan over high heat, and add a splash of olive oil and a small touch of butter, and swirl it around. When it’s very hot, add the trout, and cook it over high heat for four or five minutes, or until it gets very browned. Flip it over and brown the other side. While it’s cooking, cut up a Meyer lemon, regular lemon, or some other citrus, and stuff the wedges inside the fish. Transfer the pan to the oven for about five minutes, which should be enough time to cook the fish all the way through.

Remove it and plate it. Stand the trout up on its belly and, with the backbone facing up, and, using a knife and fork, carefully slice the skin along the backbone and gently separate the meat from the backbone. It should come off in one clean swoop. Squeeze the baked lemon over the flesh, and add a final dusting of salt, preferably an interesting salt like tangerine salt or saffron salt.

I sometimes cook two or three at a time, and put the extra meat in a Tupperware for an incredibly tasty trout salad the next day.


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Edaminty Shrimp Salad

Most people enjoy edamame on their own; they’re fun to shuck from their pods and pop into your mouth (and one of Daphne’s favorite activities), especially on a hot day, liberally salted, with plenty of cold beer to wash them down. But edamame also make fabulous purees, and nothing could be simpler if you purchase frozen, already-shucked edamame; just toss them into boiling water for five minutes or so, drain, and they’re ready for pureeing.

This is a dish I used to make often in Japan. Just toss a cup or so of cooked edamame into a food processor with big handfuls of mint leaves, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little lemon. You can use other herbs as well; Thai basil makes and especially fine edamame puree. Sometimes I toss some fruit in as well (stonefruit works well if it’s the right season, but grapes are good, too) just to liven things up a bit, and I even add plain yogurt to it sometimes, if I want the puree to be a little thinner. You then transfer the green goo to a bowl, add some more (whole) cooked edamame for visual and textural appeal, and you’re ready to go. This can also be a fabulous and nearly instant pasta sauce: just combine with hot pasta.

But it’s wonderful as a kind of hearty dip, and has special affinity with shrimp. It’s an appeztizer/pre-dinner snack that always disappears quickly at parties.

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From Iceberg to Raw Kale

If you ordered a “green salad” in almost any restaurant in the United States in the 1970s, they probably brought you a plate of iceberg lettuce, adorned perhaps with thin slices of cucumber and tomato. You then chose a dressing: French, Italian, Russian, or blue cheese.

And then, by sometime in the mid-1980s,  Jeremiah Tower and Alice Waters came along and showed us some new salad greens: arugula, little gem and other leafy lettuces, radicchio, endive, and sometimes fresh herbs, especially chervil. Mixed altogether they were known as mesclun, and the big supermarkets began to carry prewashed mixed bags of mesclun. The introduction of mesclun on a mass scale forever changed the way we think of salad greens.

Poor iceberg lettuce lost its predominant position, at least in terms of culinary cachet, as romaine and mesclun made their way to the top of the lettuce hierarchy. Nostalgia may play a minor role, but I’m still a fan of the classic diner special of a thick wedge of iceberg, chilled almost to the freezing point, drizzled with creamy blue cheese, eaten like a steak, carved with knife and fork.

And in the unlikely event that anyone should ever accuse me of food snobbery, allow me to relay that I still have vivid memories of myself, somewhere around age 7 or so, bugging Mrs. Meyer, my babysitter, to make me a third, or fourth or fifth, sandwich that consisted of Wonder Bread, a giant pile of iceberg leaves, and a huge smear of Miracle Whip. The beginning of the road to breakaway cooking!

Nowadays I’m going for greener, more intense salads, salads that satisfy so deeply that they can be, and often are, the main component of dinner. And salads that star raw kale fit this bill nicely.

Most home cooks think that kale must be cooked, but it doesn’t; it’s absolutely delicious raw. You do have to chop it somewhat finely, however, since big pieces of kale leaves require quite a bit of chewing.

And, unlike more delicate green salads, it benefits from a “marination” in the dressing: the longer it sits in the dressing, the better, which makes it the ideal make-ahead dish.

Raw kale also seems to go best with very bold flavor contrasts: lots of vinegar for tang, plenty of dried fruit for sweet, and a healthy dusting of crispy breadcrumbs for texture. Try the version below first, then come up with your own breakaway kale salad, using ingredients you already have on hand.


Raw Kale Salad with Dried Fruit, Aged Cheese, Spiced Breadcrumbs, and Flowers

It’s pretty rare to be surprised by a salad these days, but this one just might do it. It’s a very open-ended recipe in that you can substitute far and wide and still have it come out tasting great.

You can use any kind of kale for this, but the intense dark color of black kale, also called lacinato kale and dino kale, is especially alluring.

The dried fruit can be a big mix of any fruit, but ginger, gojiberry, cranberry, and apricot play beautifully together.

The vinegar can be a combination (apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, and a small amount of balsamic is an excellent one), or a single vinegar; the dried fruit will absorb most of it, creating little sweet-sour blasts throughout the salad.

The aged cheese, too, can be anything: a good parmesan, asiago, pecorino, aged cheddar, or–my preference–an old gouda. The flowers are optional, and purely for color, but they are a really nice addition. Don’t skip the breadcrumbs though — they give the salad a lovely and rather surprising crunch. Makes about six large servings.


  • * 1 cup diced dried fruit
  • * 1 cup vinegar of choice
  • * 2 small-medium bunches black kale, backbones removed, then somewhat finely chopped
  • * 1 small watermelon radish, sliced into matchsticks
  • * 3 or 4 tablespoons fruity green olive oil
  • * salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • * 1/2 cup shaved aged cheese, chopped roughly
  • * 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup (if you like more crunch) spiced breadcrumbs — stale bread, pulsed in a coffee grinder to produce something between traditional breadcrumbs and traditional croutons, with a little salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper added to it, then sauteed in a pan with some butter
  • * 1/4 cup edible flowers (optional)

Place the chopped fruit in a small mixing bowl, and pour the vinegar over it. Let the dried fruit macerate in the vinegar for a while if you can (say an hour); it will plump up nicely if you do. Do that step first while you wash and chop the kale, slice the radish, and make the breadcrumbs. Place the washed and chopped kale in an extra-large salad bowl.

Add the vinegared fruit, watermelon radish, and olive oil to the kale and, using your hands, mix well. Dust with salt and pepper as you mix (this is important–it makes the difference between a good salad and a great salad). Top with cheese, breadcrumbs, and flowers.

(photo by Craig Lee)

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Some Changes to Breakaway Cook


A much-belated happy new year to all. A month seems like the new week now, and an entire year goes by in a quarter, doesn’t it? I’ve been pretty inactive here lately, though hyperactive on the fronts of matcha, cooking for events, editing, and ghostwriting. One big change of late: I’ve discovered that having an office away from home (even if it’s just a five-minute walk away) means that my food photography has waned, since most of my cooking is done in the evenings now, and I’ve never mastered the art of the flash — I just can’t seem to make food look good without natural light. I still feel that having a good photo on top of these blog posts is pretty necessary; it just makes it more fun to look at and read. And my lack of photos recently has impeded blogging, for sure . . . .

Another problem with this blog is the crazy amount of spam it generates. For some reason the blog attracts all kinds of black-hat SEO types who want to sneak links in through the comments section, despite the otherwise-excellent Akismet antispam software I have installed; battling them has become such an unpleasant chore that I’ve decided to disable comments altogether for now, I’m sorry to say. (It’s still easy to reach me via email though, and I do enjoy email exchanges with readers). And there’s plenty of commenting opportunity on twitter and facebook, where I love to engage. I also think I’d like to make this space a tad less formal, to publish shorter pieces on all kinds of subjects, and to just write a little more freely.  I do love hearing comments from genuine readers, and even like the comments sections of many blogs, which are the key attraction to so many, but I think it’s time to try something else.

Thanks for hanging here with me, I do appreciate it! Lots more breakaway goodness to come.

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