Breakaway Cook

Poached Eggs in a Carrot Base

Carrots, shallots, mushrooms, and eggs. Sounds simple enough, but it really doesn’t describe the harmony these four basic ingredients — which are very easy to keep in your fridge at pretty much all times — take on together.

The hardest part of this simple dish, like so many others, is dicing. The better you are with a knife, the less time everything takes. Getting comfortable with your workhorse knife vastly increases the pleasure of cooking, because fine dicing ceases to become a chore and more of a joy. Practice, people! It only takes a few hundred hours to get good, as opposed to the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell says it takes to get REALLY good at something, like golfing or playing the cello. So this is a great dish to practice,  and your family will exalt you for your efforts.

Dice up about a cup of carrots (I used yellow and purple ones in the photo above), and about half that amount of shallot and mushroom (I like criminis here, but any mushroom will do). Saute in a cast iron (or other) pan with some ghee or butter or olive oil (or combo of those three), stirring often. For extra umami, sprinkle on a big pinch of pulverized shiitake. When everything is soft, crack four of the best eggs you can find over the veggies. By now it’s almost a cliche to recommend quality ingredients, but this is ridiculously true with eggs: spend more, get some chickens, befriend your chicken-keeping neighbors — do whatever you have to do to get seriously great and fresh eggs. You’ll be amazed at the difference in color, texture, and taste.

Then pour a little liquid into the pan. You can use stock, carrot juice, orange juice, wine, water, whatever. Quickly cover the dish and let the eggs steam-cook in all that flavor. Finish off with a good pinch of pepper and good salt (herb salt is very nice here, as is lavender salt). When the yolks have largely set, but are still a tad liquidy, it’s done. Finish with some garlic chives, or whatever herb you like/have.  Time your toast and coffee (get those ready after you chop the veggies), warm your plates, get the newspaper, and get ready for a seriously pleasant, and energizing, breakfast.

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Another Flavor Blast: Tomato Confit

I‘ve become such a convert to garlic confit that I thought I’d try to preserve some tomato bounty in the same way. The result: we may have yet another permanent breakaway flavor blast in the fridge! Classic tomato confit calls for roma tomatoes, sliced in half and roasted in a warm (250) oven for about four hours, enough to time really concentrate the flavors, as we do with our semi-dried tomatoes (and an umami-kissed version of them is here). But I didn’t have any romas, and had a boatload of gorgeous dry-farmed (method of farming that intentionally gives the plants very little water, allegedly to concentrate flavor) heirlooms.

I cut them into largish chunks without the bother of peeling them (I was feeling lazy, and the skin was pretty thin on them anyway), and placed them in a claypot, just to see how they’d turn out in comparison to a baking sheet. Turned on oven to 225, set a little reminder to come back in five hours, and had a lovely afternoon on the local hiking trails. Five hours later, they were reduced and concentrated, just as I had hoped, with quite a bit of nectar-like liquid still in the pot, which I drank and got a total nutrition buzz! Added a little dried tomato salt (well-dried tomatoes whirred in the spice grinder with some sel gris), transferred to a mason jar, and topped with fruity unfiltered olive oil.

I immediately made a pasta with tomato to the 4th power:

  • raw heirlooms pureed with greek yogurt, thyme, and and tarragon, then heated and reduced
  • tomato confit
  • raw sliced heirlooms
  • dried tomato salt

It was out-of-control good, one that I’ll definitely be featuring in the new book, which I hope will come out in late fall.

Most recipes for confit say that it will keep, refrigerated, “up to a week.” I find this laughable — it will keep for much longer than that, even ignoring the fact that this stuff is so good that it just won’t sit around very long. I’m well aware of the dangers of botulism in an inaerobic environment, but as long as you don’t forget about it for a few years, feel rueful, and slam down the whole jar, letting it live in your fridge for at least a few weeks, or even months, should be perfectly fine. As with all things in your fridge, however, always obey the golden rule — don’t let stuff sit around forever. I often follow the “one-month” rule: if I haven’t used something in a month, I’ll reconsider whatever it is — next time I’ll buy or make a smaller quantity, or just throw it out if I wasn’t that crazy about it in the first place.

Whatever your feelings on longer-term fridge stuff, do try making this confit — it just might earn a permanent place in your fridge, too. And please: if you do make it, come back and tell us what you did with it. OK?

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Herring and Radishes? A Marvelously Refreshing Summer Salad

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For a few weeks every summer, it just bakes here in Marin; I make a few pitchers of herbed lemonade — three or four meyers, a handful of herbs (mostly mint), a big squirt of agave, filtered water, and plenty of ice, all into the Vitaprep, then strained — maybe make a cheese plate and a salad, and declare victory. The thought of going near the stove is anathema.

Yesterday was one of those days. I had a small tub of pickled herring, picked up at Berkeley Bowl, that I was looking forward to munching on, and a beautiful bunch of radishes. Together they went into a bowl, along with a splash of olive oil, plenty of coarsely ground peppercorns (a medley of black tellicherry, green, and pink), and some tangerine salt. That’s it. But the medley is magical. I think adding anything else would just confuse it.

I’m not sure why this isn’t a canonical combination, because it really ought to be. Snappy fresh biting radishes, mellowed slightly by the piquant, sweet-sour fish and the pickled onions they come packed with, all moistened by the fruity green grassy olive oil and brought alive by the citrus salt. With a glass of gewurtz from Navarro, Daphne dancing in her bouncy contraption, and some cherished friends, it’s hard to imagine a better afternoon.

Herring is a massively underappreciated fish; it’s under the radar of most fish counters because it’s not set up on display, you have to search for it or ask for it. And I think many Americans have an aversion to much fish in general, and processed fish in particular. That tub cost I think about $2.50, and fed four people. It’s one of those items that should live permanently in the refrigerator, next to the olives. It makes a fine, fine dinner when you just don’t have the energy to cook.

Any other herring fans out there?

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