Breakaway Cook

The Many Blessings of Dried Tangerines

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Tangerine salt is one of my true standbys; it has earned a permanent place on my shelf next to the stove, where I place things I use on a daily or near-daily basis. I make tangerine salt in small quantities, using one dried wheel and roughly two tablespoons of sel gris. I first put the wheel into my coffee grinder, grind it to a fine powder, then add the salt, and pulse it a few times to combine.   The salt is a wonder; it turns a lovely shade of yellow-orange, smells fresh and toasty citrusy, and, siren-like, beckons me to use it every time I go near it.

Trader Joe’s used to carry acceptable dried tangerines, but, like many great products there, they have disappeared. But dried tangerines are dead simple to make at home: preheat the oven to 200, slice your favorite tangerine (the one in the photo is a Minneola, one of my faves) thinly into wheels, and place on a cookie sheet (outfitted with a Silpat if you like) for roughly two hours, or until they start to really dry out, brown a bit, and finally toast up. They then live in a jar, ready for me whenever I need them, which is often.The quantity in the photo is a single Minneola, and will last me a while, more than likely a month or two.

I’m also fond of using tangerine dust, i.e. pulverized dried tangerine into a fine powder. You can add it to crusts (breadcrumbs, lentils, rice, etc.) to give them color and citrusy zip. You can sprinkle a little on a salad for extra prettiness and vibrant flavor, you can just munch on them like potato chips — amazing with a glass of chilled sake and some edamame.

OK breakaway cooks, let put our collective wisdom to work here: what else can you imagine with them? Do try making them, and be sure to put them in a handsome jar that visible when you cook, so that they can constantly remind you of their wondrous presence.

Administrative addendum: You may have noticed a change in the right sidebar — I decided to show exactly what things I use most in my kitchen, with a short commentary on them.   It’s an Amazon Associates thing, i.e. I get a very small percentage of sales if it’s purchased from my link. So if you’re in need of any kitchen tools that I use heavily, please use my links! Thanks.

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Baked Crispy Yogurty Rice

I seem to always have quite a bit of cooked rice around. My standby for leftover cooked rice is a breakaway treatment of fried rice, but something got into me today when I glanced over at the Chamba (the Colombian claypot shown in the photo). I thought that I if just combined the cooked rice with some other stuff, gave it a crust, and baked it, that it might be good. It was! Four hungry eaters polished this one off in a heartbeat, and everyone wanted more! This is sure to become a staple around here.

Into a big mixing bowl:

  • roughly 5 cups cooked rice (I used basmati, but any rice will do)
  • 2 tablespoons greek yogurt
  • about 1/4 cup tofu, squished
  • 2 eggs
  • about a cup of leftover cooked, chopped vegetables: I had an onion/fennel/carrot mixture, but you could use any veggies at all
  • plenty of salt and pepper

Rub some butter or olive oil into the claypot, and spoon in the rice mixture. Then take a slice of stale bread (I used a grainy hippie bread) with a teaspoon of coriander seeds and whir. Sprinkle that over the rice, and spray the whole thing with olive oil. Bake at 375 for about half an hour, or until the top is nicely browned and crispy.

Serve a slab in lieu of your usual rice (or other carb), alongside whatever else you’re having for dinner.

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The All-Sardine Diet!

Little silvery wriggly pure goodness, how I worship thee! But it was a learned worship.

I didn’t grow up eating sardines, unless you count the supercheap nasty ones they sold in tins in our local crappy supermarket. Blech! No wonder so many people think they hate sardines! When I tasted real, i.e. fresh,  sardines for the first time in Japan, it was one of those handfuls of culinary epiphanies that come along in life. How was it possible that I had missed, for most of my life, something so good? They serve iwashi every conceivable way in Japan: cured, raw, sauteed, deep-fried, as ceviche (with yuzu, sudachi, and kabosu), on rice, as kabayaki (fried first, then basted with a sweetened soy mixture) . . . and dozens of other ways I’m too lazy to list. It was HEAVEN.

What’s so good about them? Everything. The taste, mainly — their natural oils are pure manna when hyperfresh.  Everyone has different food buttons, both good and bad, but sardines going into my gullet is pure crack for me; the body just goes AHHH, thank you kind sir, that is exactly what I needed! Whenever I read some bit of nutritional research that tells me how good sardines are for me — they contain more omega 3s than any other single naturally occurring substance, I believe — I just laugh, because how much better does it get when science has got your back on a particular food AND you can’t get enough of it?

Sometimes you can find plastic tubs of perfectly cured white sardines, sold next to the olives. I can go through a tub in a single sitting, like popcorn. But it’s best when you find sardines fresh; they’re not that easy to track down though. So I was elated when Santa Rosa Fish, the giant seafood purveyor at the Marin farmers market, had them in quantity.  Most of the fresh fish they sell there is well north of $10, $15, even $20 a pound, but beautiful, perfect, local (Monterey) sardines were …. $2.99! Their cheapness just underscores their beauty to me; they are the overlooked yet deeply attractive sea babes.

But how to deal with them?

You first cut off the head, fins, and tail. Make a slit with a sharp knife near the butthole, and glide the knife upward. The viscera should just pull out. Rinse the fish. Then, carefully using your index finger and thumb, grasp the backbone from the tail end, and gently lift it out; this may require a tiny amount of pulling and separating flesh from vertabrae. But it should come out reasonably easily. Rinse again. You now have a butterflied sardine. You can dust the fish with good salt and pepper and saute in a heavy pan heated aggressively with olive oil and butter (sardines are the bacon of seafood; you really don’t need to do very much to them) and be instantly rewarded with sardiney goodness.

Or you could do what I did, which is place the fillets in a bowl, rinse a few times, generously salt, then cover with a vinegar blend (apple cider and rice vinegar this time) for a few hours, or more. This will cure the fish, and make the delectable little morsels available anytime fancy strikes. You can just put them out on an antipasto plate, alongside some olives, salami, and bread, and have a stellar snack. Or you can get more ambitious and make a kickass pasta with nothing more than a few cloves of garlic confit, a handful of sardines, fruity olive oil, some toasted breadcrumbs, and a few fistfuls of finely chopped parsley (this is a very dangerous combination; caveat eator!). Sardines love cauliflower for some reason, too — saute some florets, add some chopped-up sardines and minced tarragon and you’ll have side dish guests will wolf down in record time. Nice on salads, too — be sure to have some spicy croutons around, along with some bitter lettuces like arugula, treviso, or other chicories.  Above I made a simple sardine, satsuma tangerine, and fennel salad.

Maybe I should start promoting the all-sardine diet! Any other sardine fans out there? Have you ever had any from a tin that taste great?

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Ginger Syrup

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Ginger syrup has become such an integral part of my cooking of late that I’m bumping it up to official status as a breakaway flavor blast, which some of you may recall as

What is it? Well it’s just chopped up ginger, good cane sugar, water. The formula couldn’t be easier:

  • one part chopped ginger
  • one part cane sugar
  • 2 parts water

How I love simple formulas!

I start by chopping up about a cup and a half of fresh ginger. I sometimes peel it first, sometimes not, depends if I care about its eventual color (peeled ginger will give a prettier, lighter, more pure look, while unpeeled is browner and more rustico; the taste difference is negligible). Toss that in the Vitaprep along with an equal amount of cane sugar (i.e. 1.5 cups), and three cups of water. Puree, transfer to saucepan, and bring to boil. Simmer for about 35-40 minutes, or until the quantity has roughly halved. Strain into a measuring cup, then carefully pour it into some pretty bottle that will live in your fridge, next to the maple syrup.

How to use it? Use it anytime whatever you’re cooking would benefit from a touch of complex sweetness. A small drizzle is fabulous in salad dressings. Into an omelet, into soups, in pan reductions. On pancakes and Dutch babies. Or just for guzzling! It’s a remarkable substance — you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it once you taste it.

Addendum: The spent ginger (what’s left after you strain it) also has a huge variety of uses — a few tablespoons of it is really amazing in soups. It really zings them up. Don’t throw it away!

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Bliss-Inducing Thai Soup

I’ve been in hypersoup mode lately, probably driven by 1) a nice selection of recently made stocks, and 2) crappy, cold weather. Every few days brings something new, but this one stood far above the rest, so here it is. It’s one of those soups that are destined to become mainstays.

Did anyone watch that Rodriguez video on puerco pibil I pointed out a few days ago? In it he had a great idea: he made a menu that he keeps around his kitchen featuring about 10 of his favorite dishes he’s perfected over the years. Whenever someone comes over, he just shows them the menu, and they can “order” off it if he’s in the mood.  I think of Rodriguez because I would probably put this soup on my menu if I had one.

I started with some crab stock, made a few weeks ago with the remnants of a few Dungeness crabs we devoured and then frozen in ziplocks. It was pretty intensely crabby, so I wanted to tame that taste a bit. But with what? By chance I had just made a batch of ginger syrup (a post is forthcoming on this amazing condiment, I promise), the byproduct of which is a few cups of pureed sweetened fresh ginger. I put about half a cup into the broth, and voila! Instant mellowness and gingeryness, exactly what I had hoped it would do. So the broth was pretty set.

What to put in? What you have, of course! I sauteed a sliced onion, a sweet pepper, half a daikon, and a fennel bulb, all cut into strippy julienne. Into the broth. Cooked for a bit, needed some creaminess. Over here, Mr. Can of Coconut Milk. Thai flavors were rapidly developing, so I tossed in five or so kaffir lime leaves, which sealed the deal. Over-the-top deliciousness after a half-hour simmer. The pot still had some room in it, so I opened a package of tofu shirataki (tofu that’s been extruded, looks like skinny egg noodles) and stirred that in. Adjusted with kaffir lime salt, tossed in some cilantro and chopped up chicory, and had a little moment of satori, blessings and all.

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Happy New Year, Puerco Pibil!

Happy new year,  breakaway cooks! It was a mellow one around here, the first in the new house in San Anselmo, and we were blessed have a handful of close friends around to ring it in.  I’ll *really* be celebrating the new year on January 20 — I think the entire world will be. Maybe Barak will really break away from the pack, like a lighting-fast point guard after a steal, with no one near him!

I made a bunch of dishes on new year’s eve:

  • ginger brisket
  • huge gobo (burdock root) braised salad (in onion, stock, and passionate fruit syrup)
  • lotus root, holes filled with ginger brisket and then broiled
  • cured saba (horse mackerel), roasted and eaten as fishcrack finger food
  • simple salad of pea leaves and persimmon dressing
  • stollen and various great holiday cookies (made by Delia)

but the show-stopper for me was the puerco pibil. This dish has breakaway written all over it: a few minutes of prep time, throw in oven, forget about it. The idea is to make a spicy goo, mix it in with pork shoulder cut into two-inch squares, lay some banana leaves in a casserole dish, transfer the pork, wrap it up tightly with the leaves, wrap the entire thing in foil, and bake at 275 for five or six hours.

I put it in around midnight, and woke up at 6 to hauntingly great aromas. What a breakfast! A few big chunks so tender they almost disintegrate, wrapped in tortillas and topped with avocado and cilantro, and a steaming cup of green tea.

Spicy goo: this one was toasted cumin, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, two habaneros, pear vinegar, juice and zest of several oranges and lemons, shot of tequila, plenty of citrus salt. The beauty of this dish is that it almost doesn’t matter what your goo is — just make sure it has vinegar/citrus and some heat from chiles. Next time I think I’ll try a superfruit version, with pureed fruit (both fresh and dried) and habs.

Here’s a very entertaining and very instructive video of filmmaker Richard Rodriguez cooking puerco pibil. My version came out very similar to his, though I’m sure the flavors were quite different.

Let me also say: THANK YOU to everyone here reading for the past year, and a big welcome to all new readers. This blog will be a year old in a month; we’ll have to have some kind of special celebration in February.  I’m really happy to keep cranking out new ideas, so yoroshiku onegai shimasu for 2009! May it be the best-ever, for all of us.

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