Breakaway Cook

Enlighten Me, Smartphone People!


Dearest breakaway cooks,

I’ve lately been a convert to the Palm Pre. I like it better than the Iphone for three chief reasons: it feels better in the hand, it has a way cheaper plan, and you can open tons of apps simultaneously on Sprint’s fat pipe with no slowdown in speed. The only downside to the Pre, from what I can tell, is that the number of outside applications is pathetically small. The Iphone is several orders of magnitude better for outside apps.

So why in the world am I talking about this in this space?

Well, I’ve been looking over the food-related apps on the Iphone, and they’re pathetic. I’m thinking that a breakaway app might actually do well. I’ve got some ideas on things I’d want to include, but I’d love to hear from you on things you’d like to see on a phone, things you’d actually use, and wouldn’t mind spending a buck on. If any of you are an Iphone or Pre user and would download a breakaway app from me, what kinds of things would be useful to you?

Because I don’t want to put these ideas into the public sphere just yet, I would REALLY appreciate it if you could email with your ideas and opinions, and not write them in the comments below.

I’m excited to enter the mobile space! I also have some exciting news of a Vook edition of the Breakaway Japanese Kitchen that will come out soon, but more on that later. Thanks everybody.

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Semi-dried Tomatoes with Extra Umami

dried tomatoes625

I got a HUGE — on the order of 15 pounds — bag of tomatoes at the end of the market in San Rafael last week for five bucks.  “Fill up your canvas bag for $5!” shouted the man who wanted to go home empty, so I felt obligated to help him out.

The flavor was good, but not eye-poppingly so, which could only mean one thing: I would replenish my stash of dried tomatoes. Or, more accurately, semi-dried tomatoes.

It’s amazing how a little heat — 200 degrees — can concentrate flavors. A tomato with slightly above-average taste can turn into a flavor monster just by slicing it, putting it on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, and slow-baking it for two to three hours. You could continue the baking and get *really* dried tomatoes, the ones that get superhard and then need to be resoftened, either by steeping in olive oil (which does give you a magnificently flavored olive oil) or by reconstituting in hot water. But why bother with the extra step? Why not just take them out when they’re semi-dry and easy to chew and even easier to cook with?

This batch got a rather special treatment, however. I decided to up the umami quotient (even though dried tomatoes are already loaded with umami) by dusting them with pulverized shiitake powder, kosher salt, and pepper. Wow, do they hit all the salivation buttons! I just keep them in a glass jar, with a lid, in the fridge; they’ve lasted a few months in the past using this method, but these umami bombs are so good I suspect they’ll disappear rather quickly.

Some of the tomatoes get a little harder than others. With the harder ones, I just whirred them in the spice grinder with some sel gris for a perfect (and beautifully colored) new umami salt. Made a quick omelet this morning with some of the semi-dried ones, along with greek yogurt, chives, fresh basil, and tomato salt, and man oh man we were the happiest campers on the block, though a few cups of Blue Bottle coffee espresso and a hunk of Acme herb slab didn’t hurt the mood either!

If you’ve got some extra tomatoes, do give this a shot. And please report back with what you do with them!

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Oyako Udon — A Quick and Very Tasty Soup

chicken egg soup625

“Oyako” in Japanese means, literally, “parent-child.” You have to love a language that describes a dish of chicken and egg this way. Oyako-donburi is a classic Japanese homestyle dish that sautes/braises chicken slices and some veggies in dashi, to which an egg is added, and the ensuing medley is served over hot rice. But why not make a parent-child soup with udon, especially if most of the ingredients are ready to go?

This was a fun, quick soup. I had roasted some chicken thighs the night before, so instead of just chucking the bones, after dinner I put them into a pot along with a carrot, water, and some bay leaves, and simmered it all, covered, for a few hours over very low heat. The resulting stock was rich yet light, and needed no defatting (thank god).

So the next day I just simmered a few sliced carrots, some leftover chicken, and chard leaves in the stock, cooked some udon (in a separate pot — udon throws off too much starch to be cooked IN the stock) and made a very tasty, very light lunch. The coup de grace was a perfect backyard egg (from neighbor Joy) cracked into it at the last moment, and some chopped chives. The silouette in the photo is Delia slurping hers down.

The lesson, if there is one: don’t throw away random chicken bones! Just chuck them in a small pot, fill with water and maybe some bay leaves and whatever vegetable you have, and simmer away till it reduces a bit. You’ll have a light and tasty broth for soup the next day.

I’ve been liking quick soups of late. Does anyone have any favorites they’d like to share?

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Thoughts on Feeding Nine Billion People — A Terrific Discussion


It’s kind of staggering to imagine that the world’s population is set to rise by 50 percent, to some nine billion people, by 2050. That’s a big enough challenge for global agriculture, but add to that the fact that incomes are rising in most places where populations are increasing the most (India, China), along with constrained supplies, processing capacities, and distribution channels, and you have some rather frightening prospects for keeping everyone reasonably fed.

Rapidly rising incomes in the behemoth developing nations also mean that people there tend to want to eat more meat, which in turn creates voracious demand for world grain. And if biofuels continue their pace of development, that will put even more strain on global grain and vegetable oil production.

All of this and much more was hashed out at the Aspen Ideas Festival a few weeks ago, at a session called “Billions to Be Served: Meeting the Needs of the People and the Planet.” I found it captivating, and you might too; it’s led by my old pal Jim Fallows.  It’s long but very much worth it. Check it out by clicking below:

Billions To Be Served

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Give Poor Little Suffering Dukkah Some Champagne


I love the fact that dukkah (sometimes spelled dukkha), the classic Egyptian spice mixture made of toasted spices and nuts and taken with olive-oil moistened bread, refers to the concept of suffering in Buddhist terminology. It’s simply hard to imagine even the IDEA of suffering when one first encounters this manna; pleasure neurojuices begin to slosh, sometimes quite jarringly, especially with a bite of ultrafresh crusty bread (Tartine’s country loaf gets my vote for best bread in the the SF Bay area, if not earth) lightly dipped in a small bowl of fruity green fresh olive oil. It also makes a fantastic crust for snapper, or some other sturdy, neutral-tasting fish.You just want to inhale its aromas, and then its essence. One would be forgiven for experiencing the temptation to simply roll around in it.

There is no better party dip — make up a batch of dukkah and set it out next time you have guests over, and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s famously flexible — you can of course use any combination of nuts and spices that you like, but typically the dish will include toasted (in a cast iron pan, naturally) coriander seeds, cumin seeds, sesame seeds, salt and pepper, and a medley of nuts, usually almonds and hazlenuts, but I’ve made drooly dukkah with a heavy hand on the macadamias, walnuts, pecans, and pistachios. Quantities really don’t matter very much, but because it’s hard to get a feel for it the first time making it, use the following guidelines, graciously provided by Ana Sortun and her quite wonderful book, Spices: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean.

I’ve tweaked her assembly instructions a tad by eliminating a few steps in the spirit of getting it on the table at breakaway speed, with no discernible hint of subsequent suffering,  but the quantities she lists are thus:

  • 1/2 cup blanched almonds
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened dried shredded coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a dry cast iron pan over medium heat toast the almonds and the coconut until golden, then transfer to a food processor. While the nuts and coconut toast, in another smallish cast iron pan, toast the coriander,  cumin, and sesame until fragrant. Watch the spices closely; a moment’s inattention can cause them to burn, forcing you to suffer, feel badly about the horrible waste, and start over.  Transfer to a spice grinder/coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder.

Process the almond/coconut mixture until it’s finely blended. Add the toasted spices, plus the s&p. That’s it.

Serve it in a beautiful smallish bowl, alongside a beautiful small saucer of olive oil and a basket of bread torn into small pieces.  Instruct your guests to take a small piece of bread, dip it into the olive oil, then dip into the dukkah. Prepare to leave suffering behind! Goes great with champagne.

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Transcendent Pork, Fruity Nutty Cauliflower


Last night we had chops from our recent pork purchase. We bought half a gorgeous Berkshire that was lovingly nurtured by Mark Pasternak at Devil’s Gulch in Nicasio, who feeds his animals ridiculously high-quality fare and gives them lavish digs on some of the most beautiful farmland  in California. The difference in taste between pork like this and what’s available at supermarkets can’t be overemphasized; it’s just marvelous. I encourage everyone in the SF Bay area to try it. It’s easy — just call him up and tell him you want some pork. You may or may not need a few friends to split it with you; he’ll either sell you a whole animal or part of one, depending on what he’s got.  It’s then sent off for butchering, wrapping, and freezing. You pick up your bags of frozen/labeled cuts when it’s ready. You can order the same way with Doug Stonebreaker of Prather Ranch, whose pork has been known to make poets of mere mortals! I am a huge fan of both of these guys and their ranching philosophies. But I’m sure there are many others like them throughout the country. Check out the Eat Well Guide: just type in your zip code and watch what happens.

I also had a head of cauliflower that beckoned, so it dawned on me to make a kind of cauliflower chutney to go with the pork. Here’s how I did it:

  • 1 cup of mix dried fruit; I used persimmon, crystallized ginger, fig, date, apricot, and cranberries + about a cup of plum wine
  • Chop up the fruit, transfer to a shallow saucepan, and pour in the plum wine.
  • Roast the olive-oil-drizzled cauliflower florets in a 400 degree oven till browned, roughly 30 minutes
  • While the cauliflower cooks, heat up the fruit mixture. Add a dab of butter if you’re feeling generous.
  • While the fruits heats up, roughly chop up a half cup of mixed nuts. I used pistachios, almonds, and pine nuts, but you could use anything, including macadamia, walnut, or pecan.
  • Toast them in a dry cast iron skillet and set aside.
  • Add the roasted cauliflower to the fruit mixture, mix well, andcontinue to cook on the stovetop for a few minutes. Top with the nuts, and maybe a tablespoon of chopped herb. I used oregano.

It’s a remarkable dish with pork; the sweetness of the fruit melds perfectly with the meat, yet the cauliflower provides savory goodness and some bite.

A keeper!

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Finally — My Iron Chef Appearance

iron chef apron

Just got an email from the folks at Iron Chef — we finally have a date! September 20, I think at 8 pm, but I’ll confirm as we get closer. A full 15 months after taping, but better late than never!

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A Few Breakaway Wines

Eric with wine

Our little wine project out in Bolinas has exceeded our wildest expectations. We started out three years ago with a plot of land and a single (used) barrel of Dry Creek merlot buried under some pine trees. We’d occasionally thief some out, taste it, have a fun day in Bolinas, and wait till the gods told us to bottle it, which we did, last year. The experiment went so well and we enjoyed it so much that, the next year, we upped it to five barrels — three of syrah and two of sauvignon blanc. Each barrel contains 60 gallons, or roughly 300 bottles (25 cases) of wine.  But don’t get too worried about my liver: I have two partners!

We bottled most of the syrah and all of the sauv blanc, and I must say: they’re really delicious.  Even more important, it’s been an absolute blast. We bought the crushed grape juice from trusted growers and just let it do its thing in the cool and groovy climate of Bobo.

There’s something wildly satisfying about popping open a bottle with our regular meals, yet one more piece of the overall food picture in place, alongside herbs and flowers from the yard,  meat from the whole animals we buy from (again) trusted farmers/ranchers, veggies and fruits from, yet again, farmers we like. It’s gratifying beyond description to be fortunate enough to eat and drink in this manner.

If anyone out there is considering making a little wine on a very small scale . . . do it!

Have a happy 4th, everyone.

wine bottle cliftons hand

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