Breakaway Cook

Daikon Fettuccine

Browsing through Morimoto’s book — I will be reviewing this book soon — I was intrigued with his idea of using a vegetable peeler to peel off long strips of daikon to use as “fettucine.” They really DO look like fettuccine, despite the overexposure of the photo above. No cooking required: just soak the daikon strips in cold water while you assemble your “pasta.” For this one, I sauted shallots and tomatoes, then blended that with plenty of yogurt, a dash of coconut milk, and a healthy fistful of cilantro, and worked that into the “noodles.” Topped with umami salt and pepper. It fooled our guests, who were sure it was a classic basic summer fettuccine ensemble. Not that I was trying to fool them! It’s just fun to taste something that’s radically different from what you normally expect, given the appearance.

The crunchy, rawness of the daikon makes this dish really more of a salad than a pasta, and it’s excellent in hot weather. The idea is such an intriguing one: I can now imagine carrots, turnips, potatoes, kohlrabi, perhaps lightly blanched becoming fettuccine and getting varying treatments. Jicama too!

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The All-New Wall of Spices!

Some exciting breakaway news: we moved! To Marin county (just north of SF), into an older house with lots of sweet Japanese-ish touches. It needs lots of love and attention, and the kitchen needs some serious rethinking, but I’m ecstatic to be here under these hallucinagenically blue hot skies. I look forward to sharing all the new concoctions that come out of the new space. And, for once, one goal realized: I can see all my spices!

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More Salts

I recently made some salts for the school auction of a friend. From the left: matcha, dried tangerine, smoked paprika, lavender, and umami. Now, if I only had some good labels! Any designers out there who want to give it a shot?

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Hangtown Fry, Breakaway Style

Has anyone outside the SF bay area heard of a hangtown fry? It’s an oddly compelling yet not very intuitive dish loaded with the richness of eggs, cream, oysters, and bacon. It’s a somewhat bizarre combination, one that cries out for, in this humble cook’s opinion, a more vibrant, breakaway interpretation.

“Hangtown”: former name for Placerville, in gold country, roughly halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. Legend has it that this camp, near the mother lode, held the first recorded hanging of, presumably, rogue miners. The name quickly caught on, until some early chamber of commerce or another decided Placerville sounded better.

The dish was allegedly the request of a prosperous miner who was tired of eating beans, and demanded the chef to make him a dish of the most expensive ingredients he had; the chef looked around and found canned oysters, hard-to-come-by bacon, and eggs, which I imagine would have been plentiful – getting hens to lay isn’t THAT hard – but apparently they were indeed rare. So the chef just threw it all together and declared victory.

I had eight or so small oysters from Kevin Lunny’s operation, and they needed to be used up. I still haven’t tasted a cooked oyster I’ve liked more than a raw one, but it seemed prudent to cook them, so a hangtown fry it was. With tweaks, naturally!

I started by cooking two pieces of bacon in a cast iron pan. Removed, blotted, and roughly chopped the bacon. I then opened the oysters, let them drain a bit, dredged them in a combo of flour, freshly ground coriander seed, and black pepper, and fried them in the bacon fat.

While they cooked, I combined three eggs, several tablespoons of greek yogurt (it really is better than cream — which the original calls for — in scrambled eggs, caloric considerations aside), and plenty of chives.

I removed the cooked oysters and set them on a plate while the eggs cooked in the same pan. It seems odd to cook three separate dishes in the same pan, only to combine them at the end, but that’s exactly what happened. Cooked the egg/yogurt mixture on low heat, made some toast, and when the eggs were two-thirds done I added the oysters and bacon and folded them in. Topped with more chives, good salt, and more black pepper.

It was good. But it didn’t make a lot of sense. Eggs and bacon certainly belong together, but the texture goes weird when the bacon gets folded in with the eggs. One bite of each yields far more pleasure than the mixture. And the oysters? If I had billions of oysters in my backyard, I might say what the hell, throw them in some eggs, but … again, weird texture with the eggs, and the triple-rich hit of oyster, bacon, egg is more confusing than dopamine-inducing/pleasure-giving.

I’m thinking that the next time I try this, I’m going all separate. Large oysters with a proper spice or herb or citrus treatment, with some kind of crust, fried in ghee, plated next to the egg-herb combo, plated next to the bacon. The troika has an odd unity, but it needs some work!

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A Great Week of Local Cooking (and Eating)

I had a blast cooking at the Marin County Fair. The Marin Farmers Market “paired” me with a different farmer or rancher each day for five days straight, and my job was to make an innovative dish out of whatever product of theirs they wanted to highlight. We packed the crowds in, learned a ton from the farmers, and ate some great food.  The photo above shows me and Kevin Lunny, the mastermind behind Drakes Bay Family Farms, who surely farm the tastiest and healthiest oysters and clams on earth (they’re truly amazing).

The dish was sauteed onion, which got blended with

  • freshly squeezed carrot juice (thanks to Cafe Gratitude)
  • sake (daiginjo from Iwate Prefecture, Japan)
  • vegetable stock
  • about 10 umeboshi (pitted, of course)

That beautiful orange liquid then got poured back into the claypot and brought to a simmer, at which point Kevin’s clams went in to steam. It was especially tasty!

With Albert Strauss’s yogurt, I made a lovely stonefruit salad. Sauted onion and plenty of fresh ginger, tossed with raw, peaking yellow and white peaches and pluots, and worked in plenty of yogurt and freshly chopped mint. Strauss makes beautiful products; Albert also mentioned that they give tours (they’re up in Marshall, north of Pt. Reyes), which would be a fun day mixed with hiking in the national seashore.

Also featured was Doug Stonebreaker of Prather Ranch, and his amazing pork, which got a spice treatment of coriander, fennel seed, and star anise, and pan fried in the trusty cast iron pan, and topped with stonefruit chutney. Artie from Kashiwase Farms gave us boatloads of peaches of pluots to work with, so they figured prominently in everything. They redefine the peach! Really beautiful fruit. David Retsky of County Line Harvest provided gorgeous ribbed squash, herbs of all kinds, gigantic red onions, and much else.

The experience really hammered home how much better this food tastes than store-bought food. The quality is like comparing Wonderbread to Tartine’s country loaf, or to Della Fattoria (who also generously provided bread for us — it’s the best). There are a million reasons to support these guys, and all the other local farmers who sell at the markets, but even if you’re not politically inclined or interested in issues of sustainability: this food really doesn’t get any better.

I’d love to hear which local stands/farmers you especially like, so please chime in! And it’s not limited to the Bay Area — I’m interested in great food, no matter where it’s grown!

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Thyme, Cranberry, Tomato Chicken

Chicken is a lot like tofu: one can just keep dreaming up new ways to cook it.  My typical modus operandi — perusing the pantry and fridge and pulling out whatever needs using up — was in full play on this tangy, zingy interpretation. I started off by seasoning chicken thighs with plenty of s&p, and sauteeing them gently to render off some of the fat. While they cooked, I soaked a handful of dried cranberries and dried tomatoes in hot chicken stock until they softened a bit, then blended them with plenty of fresh thyme and olive oil. The chicken then got brushed with this mixture, and finished off in the oven until deeply browned and crispy. It had tons of umami.

You can imagine a million substitutes for my ingredients — what’s of interest here is the technique: gently render fat in cast iron, pour off, brush on flavoring, and finish in hot oven. For the ultralazy  but hungry (that’s me most of the time), use an extra-large cast iron pan and toss in some chopped vegetables to roast alongside the chicken, and fire up a pot of rice at the same time.

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Not Sure Which Fish Is Sustainable?

The good folks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium have performed a great service to people out shopping for fish who don’t have all the unsustainable fish memorized.  From your smartphone just log on to and you’ll be directed to the latest list, optimized for phones. Very useful!

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