Breakaway Cook

A Paean to Pickles

We started out this video making three pickles: pickled ginger, pickled fennel, and pickled daikon. But some technical difficulties meant a reshoot, leaving only enough time for the pickled fennel!

It would be insanely great to have a ready-to-shoot kitchen. Push record, do it, push stop, push publish! That is sort of the Gary Vaynerchuk model, and it obviously works for him. Harder to pull off with cooking though….

Do try this pickle if you can — I still haven’t met anyone who doesn’t go gaga over it! Unique, refreshing, healthy, gorgeous — it’s got it all. Got a pickle you can’ t live without? I’d love to hear about it!

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SF Chronicle Breakaway Extravaganza

I was pleasantly shocked at how much space the Chronicle devoted to the inaugural essay, replete with multiple photos, long side bar on 10 key breakaway ingredients, editor’s intro, and five recipes! Can’t publish the whole thing here for a while, but please do read it online here. Thank youuuu! It’s going to be fun doing it on a regular basis.

(And maybe all non-food short posts here are good excuses for recent Daphne pix!)

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The Breakaway Approach to Cooking, Feeling, and Living Better

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What the hell is breakaway cooking, and what does it have to do with this baby?

Easy part first: This little buddha girl is our daughter Daphne, as many of you know by now. And I just turn to her whenever I need a good image for an abstract post! I often open up random spices for her to smell. She seems to enjoy it.

Harder part:

I’ve been defining breakaway cooking for more than 10 years as a style of “weeknight” home cooking that uses a lot of global ingredients and good produce in freewheeling and untraditional ways. The food tends be to unfussy, healthful, relatively quick, nutritious, and packed with flavor. It leans heavily on the great culinary ingredients and techniques of Japan, India, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia without “sticking” to any of those traditions. We’re interested in making food that makes us deliriously happy, and if we have to break a few traditions and rules to do that, so be it — we’re just not worried being “authentic” (whatever that means — it’s an endless source of argument for chefs and cooks in every country on earth).  All we want is breakfast, dinner, and lunch on the table, and we want it to be good.

So how can the breakaway approach to food make you cook, feel, and live better?

It all starts with a simple acknowledgement: that food is important, that eating has a HUGE impact on the nitty gritty of daily life. When you eat well, you feel good — you work with a clearer mind, you have more energy, creativity flows better. Your body’s various biological systems just work better. Conversely, when you eat crappy food, you feel crappy — you might feel lethargic, you tend to crave MORE food because you’re not satisfied with what you’ve just had, you might upset your digestive system. How we feel throughout the day is, at least in my experience, strongly correlated to what we put inside our bodies.

One way or another, we have to feed ourselves. Many of us cook, and many of us don’t — we just somehow get by with takeout, we go to restaurants, we succumb to fast food, we buy frozen meals from Trader Joe’s or supermarkets, we assemble salads occasionally, make a pasta here and there. We just sort of … make do.

This business of eating takes a great deal of time and energy, no matter what we do. If we cook, we have to shop for ingredients, prep them, cook them, and clean up. If we don’t cook — that is, if we outsource our need to eat to food companies — we still have to get to the restaurant or takeout counter or supermarket deli or wherever, pay (usually too much) for it, and come back home.

Once we accept that food plays such a massive role in our health and well-being, the next step seems painfully obvious: we have to make it priority to feed ourselves well.

In stark contrast to just a few generations ago, feeding ourselves well is so much easier today! Most of us can walk out our front doors and find very high quality raw ingredients, we have access to the world’s great cuisines just by visiting some ethnic markets, and we can order just about anything on earth with the click of a button and a credit card. Everything is available from anywhere, anytime! The earth continues to radically shrink, and home cooks continue to be the beneficiaries of it.

The flip side: it’s also easier than ever to buy packaged crap, heat-and-eat frozen meals, calorie-laden meals in restaurants that rely on hyperpalatability. It’s almost as if the “work” of feeding ourselves has been outsourced to those that can do it the cheapest and who can make it the most convenient. What’s missing in all this convenience, however, is the concept of “taking ownership” of what you put into your body. Breakaway cooks don’t look at the concept of feeding ourselves as work, or an unpleasant chore to get through. Taking a half hour or an hour to prepare something wholesome and tasty is the opposite of a waste of time; it’s an ideal opportunity, one that comes three times a day, to be in the moment, to become absorbed in the very old dance of connecting to the natural world. It delivers huge benefits to both the cook and to his or her family and friends. It’s a practice that has a lot in common with yoga or meditation. You get more comfortable, and freer, with it as you do it more. So please don’t think of cooking as a waste of time. It’s the opposite! And the breakaway approach can help.

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Green Miso Soup

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Think miso soup. What comes up? A bowl of brown, oddly separating soup — half is clear, and half isn’t! simultaneously! — with perhaps some squares of white tofu, maybe some wakame (sea kelp), possibly another veggie or two, yes?

Today I was really in the mood for some miso soup, but had to move a gigantic pile of chard to get at my tub of miso in the back of the fridge. Out came the chard. It looked so nice on the cutting board. Hmm, I wondered what would happen if I made my green soup the usual way — saute leeks in butter/oil, add chard, add stock, and puree — but just added miso at the end? Would it fulfill my jonesing for miso?

I’m ecstatic to report that yes, it did! I added about two tablespoons of miso to the last little batch of pureed soup, and mixed that into the rest of the soup. Satisfying, and then some. And just for a little textural fun, I julienned the chard backbone and sauteed the strips in breadcrumbs and ghee, and tossed that on top. This one’s going to be going into the regular rotation, and definitely into the new vegetarian book.

You could use any kind of stock for the broth; today’s was duck stock, but it would be equally good with veg stock or chicken stock.

I’m finding myself using more and more miso these days, in all kinds of dishes. I used to be a fan of the gutsy red misos from Nagoya, but lately I seem partial to the more delicate white misos from Kyoto. Less intensity, but more layered flavor.

Anyone use miso in unusual ways? Let’s hear about it!

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Fresh Herbs — The More, The Merrier


I’ve spent a good part of the last few weeks in the garden — major weeding sessions, fertilizing, planting, cleaning up. The oregano and thyme FINALLY made it into the ground, after two years in pots on the deck, and the difference is dramatic: they’re already spreading like mad, ecstatic to have some room to run. The lesson: if you can possibly get your herbs in the ground, do it! They’ll probably be a lot happier.

I’m often amused by the quantities of fresh herbs called for in recipes: quarter teaspoon here, half teaspoon there, and maybe even — gasp! — a full tablespoon sometimes! Around here we go by the cup, not spoon; I’ll add a half cup of tarragon to something, two cups of thai basil to something else, a cup of parsley to something else. I guess there is, theoretically, such a thing as too much herbage, but I don’t think I’ve encountered it. Large quantities of herbs make EVERYTHING taste good. They’re such an instant way to improve your cooking: just add fresh herbs!

In the next video I highlight my favorite herbs and make what is probably my all-time favorite breakfast: fluffy herby eggs. If anyone has any dishes that use large quantities of herbs, I’d love to hear about it — I’m always looking to increase my use of them even more. And now that my herbs are situated in a sunny spot with room to spread out, I expect truckloads of them will soon make their lovely presence felt.

How does one use TRUCKLOADS of herbs?

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