Breakaway Cook

Administrivia

Some of you may have noticed that I got rid of the Google ads that were on the site. They started out rather promising, and generated a very small amount of income, but over time became so pathetically off-topic most of the time that I just decided to yank them altogether. I also disliked their cluttered look. So they’re gone. I also cleaned up the right sidebar in general to create more negative space. More changes to come.

I’m very interested in hearing from you on what would make this blog more compelling FOR YOU. Clean design, innovative cooking ideas, good photos, occasional cookbook reviews (next entry will be another), focus on one ingredient at at time . . . . What else would make this place really valuable to you? Any widgets? More focus on vegetarian/vegan cooking? More thoughts on shopping/ingredients? Anything that would make you want to rush out and tell your good friends about it? I’m doing my best to grow our little community here, and would love to hear from you about changes you’d like to see to make your lives easier as innovative and experimental home cooks.

I know that many of you have already done this, but: if you know anyone that might benefit from being part of this community, please tell them about it. Thanks.

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Roasted Turban Squash With a Spice Crust

I picked up a turban squash — the orange/green, flattish roundish one with the bulb-like blossom top that really does look like a turban — at the farmers’ market the other day, and hacked it apart in the shapes seen in the photo. It got rubbed with olive oil, then sprinkled with a spice treatment of star anise, black pepper, and fine polenta, and baked at 375 for about an hour.

The flesh is very light, nutty, and sweet, but it’s a tad too watery for my taste, with the consistency (and color!) of baby food. This dish was unusual and quite good, but not compelling enough for me to experiment more with it. I’ve since learned that most turban squash are used as ornamentals!

I’ve been rather blown away at all the different varieties of fall squash this year, and want to try them all, so you can expect more squash reports in the future!

But just in case I’m not giving the turbans a fair shake: has anyone had any success with these things? I imagine the flesh would make a delicate soup, but my feeling is: eh.

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Three Little Tricks that Make Cooking Easier and Better

 

Over the years, I’ve discovered, through sheer trial and error, a few realizations that have really helped make me a better, more productive, and more interesting home cook. I would like to go over everything I’ve discovered over time, but one of the great things about the blog format is that it’s nice to present ideas in little snippets for easier overal digestion. So with that in mind, here are three little tricks, or habits, I’ve developed that have really helped me. Maybe they’ll help you, too. Thinking like this begets more cooking, and better eating.

1.  Upgrade your relationship with salt. Throw out the iodized table salt and replace it with kosher. Purchase some sea salts with varying textures and colors/origins, and get to know them. Then find some sel gris (coarse gray salt from the coast of Brittany, France) and begin to make flavored salts. Most of the salt that most people consume is consumed via processed foods, which are loaded — and then some — with salt. The breakaway cooking style may appear at first glance to place an undue emphasis on salt. But because processed foods play little or no role in the cooking and eating habits of breakway cooks, overall salt intake is probably much lower than those with average, conventional diets.

Salt is the most important ingredient in every cuisine on earth, and for good reason: it makes food taste good, and our bodies must take in adequate salt replenishment just to survive.  Surely it’s a good thing to control and tweak our own intake to our own preferences, as opposed to consuming huge quantities of salt through processed foods and then needing to “watch our salt” intake. Using better and more interesting salts also lends visual and textural interest to your food, in addition to making it taste a whole lot better.     

2.  Make way more than you think you’ll need for any particular meal. The reason? It’s just as easy to cook a pound (or more) of something than it is to cook a half-pound (or less) of something, be it meat, vegetable, pasta, salad, whatever. What to do with the extra? This is a good problem to have!  Simply eat it for lunch the day, or use it as a component for a future meal, or give it away to someone. It’s awfully convenient to have a tupperware full of cooked chicken, which can be used in all sorts of ways: in a stir-fry, an omelet, fried rice, in a sandwich, in a pasta dish, on pizza . . . and dozens more. It will save you a huge amount of prep time and cook time. Same with baking bread: make enough for three or four loaves, instead of just one, and refrigerate the dough — then it’s just a matter of shaping a loaf and throwing it in the oven. Same with salad:  washing and spinning a bunch of greens — enough for two or three or four salads — and storing the ready-to-go greens in a bag in your fridge means instant salad. Nice for the times when you just can’t deal with the hassle of putting it together. 

3.   Keep a bunch of different liquids in your fridge. So much of good cooking involves liquid: boiling, braising, simmering, sauteing, poaching . . . most cooks typically use water and stock for this type of cooking, but using different liquids adds layered complexity and flavor to foods without extra work or fuss. The more liquids you have lying around the kitchen, the better! I almost always have on hand the following:

  • fresh carrot juice (by far my favorite; I think of carrot juice as a stock)
  • white wine, dry and not so dry
  • red wine
  • sake
  • apple juice
  • boxed organic chicken stock (homemade is obviously better, but not by that much, and the convenience factor is a massive plus)
  • boxed organic beef stock (as above)
  • maple syrup
  • pomegranate molasses
  • ginger syrup
  • date syrup
  • plum syrup
  • I’m interested in hearing more supersimple tips — cooking philosophies, even — from YOU. What epiphanies have made you a better cook?

     

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    Simmered Daikon Wheels

     

    Daikon is a challenge for a lot of people who aren’t familiar with it.  Especially when cooked, It has a rather strong, radishy flavor that, if untamed, can be off-putting. Japanese people seem to never tire of it though — more agricultural land is devoted to daikon than any other vegetable! In Japan it’s often grated finely and infused with soy sauce and sometimes yuzu, for a wonderfully pungent and flavorful dipping sauce for tempura, meats, fish, and stewed dishes. It’s also commonly sliced into 1/2-inch wheels and cooked in a broth made with water, kombu, soy sauce, and mirin; it’s supercomfort food, especially during cold weather. 

    I found some nice-looking organic daikon the other day at Berkeley Bowl, and thought I might try cooking it in another flavorful broth, this time made of carrot juice, chicken stock, white wine, and plum syrup (bottled reduced plums cooked in sugar and water, often sold in Chinese markets, and a wonderful global flavor blast sweetener in its own right).  The daikon wheels came out soft, fragrant, and popping with umami. We had them alongside a roasted chicken leg and some rice cooked in homemade beef stock and kaffir lime leaves. 

    Lunch the next day (above photo) was a winner: rice refried in a huge quantity of ginger, the daikon wheels, avocado with lavender salt, and homemade pickled turnips for crunch and tanginess (though you can’t seem them in the photo). There’s something supremely satisfying about a lunch of rice, vegetables, pickles, and avocado; it hits all the right buttons for me, and can be assembed in just a few minutes with leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. 

    Any other daikon fans out there? What do you like to do with it?

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    Come Have Some Breakaway Fun at SieMatic's Drop-Dead Gorgeous Showroom

     

    If you’re in the SF Bay area on Wednesday, October 22, please join me for an evening of fun, food, cooking, and design at the showroom anniversary event of SieMatic, designers and manufacturers of wildly innovative — and drop-dead gorgeous — kitchens.  I’ll be cooking and demonstrating a half-dozen or so dishes, assisted by the amiable and incredibly capable kitchen staff at Purcell Murray. I’m told I’ll even have a Gaggenau induction burner to cook on, so woohoo! We’ll have wines to match, a book signing, and a raffle for a private dinner for four, cooked by moi in the home of the winner. All proceeds from the raffle and book sales will go to Project Open Hand.  SieMatic throws awfully good parties — don’t miss this one!

    SieMatic’s showroom address is 235 First Street (near Howard), SF.

    And because we’re trying to get a semi-accurate headcount so we’ll know much food to prepare, please RSVP to [email protected] or call 415-442-0255. It goes from 5 to 8 pm — hope to see you there, and be sure to introduce yourself to me if we haven’t met yet!

     

     

     

     

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