Breakaway Cook

Braised Scallops

Is there a more perfect disc of protein than a scallop? Naturally sweet, naturally brined, cooks in one minute, readily adapts a huge range of flavors . . . it’s the near-perfect breakaway food.

I typically go for a bit of a crispy texture on my scallops, easily obtained by dusting them with some finely ground pink lentils, which crisp up beautifully in a hot cast iron pan streaked with a film of olive oil.  But for some reason I had braising on my mind (it was cold inside the house), so I marinated the scallops for a few minutes in fruity olive oil, balsamic vinegar, meyer lemon juice, and a small drizzle of agave to offset all that acidity. I heated up the cast iron, added a touch of butter, and let it get really hot before adding the scallops and the marinade and capping the pan with a lid. Flipped them after a minute or two, and cooked the other side.

I already had my unplain rice (rice cooked in 2/3 water, and 1/3 carrot juice, plus a few bay leaves and a glop of dijon mustard) cooked and ready, so all I needed were a few sprigs of chopped herbs and a dusting of tangerine salt. With a fresh issue of the New Yorker, a steaming cup of green tea, and a chubby purr machine named Quincy on my lap, it was a 10-minute lunch that lit up the bliss neurons.

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Please — No More Restaurant Food!

It’s been a week since I’ve cooked anything, close to a record for me. Chicago was great fun — it was bracing to be in such cold weather (low teens much of the time), my day-long walks throughout the city were spectacular, and I really needed a week off to unplug and read a bunch of books (I was bowled over by Roth’s Exit Ghost, and mesmerized by Gary Greenberg’s The Noble Lie).

I really enjoyed and needed the break, but eating restaurant food every day, no matter how good it is, starts to be a real drag after a few consecutive meals. I found myself peering into kitchens, like a plant positioning itself toward the light, just to get a glimpse of ingredients and cooks! Food just isn’t as satisfying when you don’t make it yourself, so you tend to eat more of it in pursuit of satiation, and get uncomfortably full (the large quantities of fat most restaurants use don’t exactly help, either).

Does anyone else share my longing to get back in the kitchen after some time away? I feel like cooking a week’s worth of food, just to catch up! Today: preserved lemons, bread, cabbage soup, and a big-ass, vegetable-centric dinner. Gotta get the kimchee experiment up and running soon, too!

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Boozy Cranberry Chutney

As you can see, I’m not quite ready to give up on the thanksgiving-related posts quite yet! One reason: some thanksgiving-related crap is available ONLY at this time of year, including one of my favorites, fresh organic cranberries. Sadly, cranberries convey a certain “ew”-ness among the many of us who have only experienced them in the shape of a cylindrical gelatinous mass, replete with the horizonal lines of the can.  Sickly sweet industrialized fake jiggly fake red fake jello, mmmm!! But if you reverse-engineer this glop back to its source, and can find a few cups of real, no-spray organic berries, and treat them with some breakaway respect, we discover an intensely flavorful and healthful new addition to our ever-expanding repetoire of great ingredients.

It’s rare for my pals over at the Chow conference on the Well to unanimously agree on much, but a certain boozy cranberry sauce has had them swooning for a long time; it’s become the “official” sauce of Chow.The booze is port, and it’s terrific with cranberries. along with various dried fruit and a good glug of balsamic vinegar.

The sauce, which I’m calling chutney, is easily the best condiment for turkey sandwiches that I’ve had. I’ve also made a baked tofu with it that wowed the house critic and a guest (the dukkha topping–more on this wildly delicious discovery soon–didn’t hurt), scrambled eggs with it, and used it as part of deep-red sauce I made for broiled pork loins. It makes everything it touches taste like magic.

The official recipe asked for dried mission figs, but I substituted crystallized ginger and dried apricots, and used jaggery (Indian raw sugar, very caramelly) instead of white sugar (which is officially called white-ass sugar in our house, and is labeled as such), and tossed in a chopped-up manzano chile (my favorite chile — I’ll write about this chile in detail soon as well) to pack a little heat.

I don’t normally include specific recipes here — the whole idea of this blog is one of idea generation, and to leave the details in your capable hands — but I think that there’s not much that’s intuitive about fresh cranberries, so here we go. Give it a try, you’ll thank me!

BOOZY CRANBERRY CHUTNEY

  • 2/3 cup port (use ruby, not tawny)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic
  • 1/2 cup jaggery
  • one cup chopped up dried fruit combo: crystallized ginger, apricots, currants, or any other fruit
  • 1 manzano chile, seeded and chopped (habanero would work well too)
  • pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries

Combine everything except the cranberries in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer. You’ll need to stir quite a bit to dissolve the jaggery. Reduce heat to low, and continue to cook for another ten minutes. Add cranberries, and cookuntil the berries start to pop, stirring often. Continue to cook for another five minutes or so, or until it’s as smooth or chunky as you’d like it to be. Taste for sweetness/sourness. If it’s too tangy for you, add a little sweetener (more jaggery, maple syrup, honey, agave, anything but white-ass sugar). Let cool a bit, and transfer to a large jar. Keeps for a few weeks (or longer) in the fridge if it’s tightly sealed.

(PS — I’m headed for Chicago tomorrow. If anyone knows of any especially good places to eat/shop there, I’d be hugely grateful if you emailed me. Thanks.)

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Help Obama Nominate a Real Secretary of Agriculture

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Breakaway cooks,

Michael Pollan recently sent out a letter to his list, asking people to sign a letter urging Barack Obama to nominate an agriculture secretary committed to reform. Its goals are laudatory –to wake up to the harm done by gargantuan industrial agriculture and to guide the nation’s food path toward sustainability, health, and sanity. I’ve signed it — please check it out. And if you haven’t seen Pollan’s letter in the NYT to the “farmer in chief,” do check that out as well (may require a login/registration; well worth it).

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Indian Turkey, Heady Turkey Broth, and the Perfect Turkey Sandwich

I may have set a record for getting every last gram of turkey off the carcass this year. It was a 10-pound wonder from Diestel that got spatchcocked/butterflied — i.e., I took some sturdy shears and snipped out the backbone, first one side of it, then the other, then kinda flattened the whole thing out — and slathered it with a blended combo of sauted onion, cumin, coriander, fennel seed, cardamom, tomato, and homemade applesauce, all spooned under the skin, and roasted for about 90 minutes at 375. I used cut-up ruby grapefruit wedges as “scaffolding” to layer it into my pan. It was as excellent as Indian turkey could be, and again made me wonder, as it does every November, why we only cook this bird a few times a year.

I’m a sucker for a good turkey sandwich, so I macked on them for a good four days. Lots of permutations, but here was the winner: combo of dark and white meat, on toasted sourdough, slathered with:

  • drizzle of olive oil
  • schmear of Grey Poupon
  • drizzle of salad dressing made mostly with hachiya persimmon
  • slices of fuyu persimmon
  • liberal dusting of tangerine salt and freshly ground pepper

Fruity, hints of sweetness, juicy as hell. A close second was a sandwich with a liberal dose of mango chutney, thus rounding out the full Indianness of this highly versatile bird that Indians ought to love! (does anyone know if turkey is served in India?)

The carcass, tossed into a stockpot along with a few carrots, bay leaves, chilies, and dried galangal, along with enough water to cover it all,  yielded a huge wealth of meat and a rich, smoky, intense broth that got bagged up in Ziplocks and frozen. It turns out to be much more pleasant to make stock with a turkey carcass than it is with a chicken carcass, I think because the fat content is just so much lower; virtually no de-fatting was necessary.

I hope everyone had a good holiday.  Would love to hear about any standout moments! And, if you like, your favorite way to prepare turkey/turkey sandwiches.

(photo by the hypertalented Annabelle Breakey)

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