Breakaway Cook

Raptor Eyes, and the Breakaway Breakfast Burrito

 

Thanks to the many of you who’ve written to inquire about why the hell I haven’t posted in so long, and to check in on how Part II of my eye surgery went. To which I’m very happy to report: it went swimmingly! The lasik procedure was fast (maybe one minute per eye; I was in and out of there in about 90 minutes), completely painless, and just crazy interesting. Dr. Mark Mandel, maestro among maestro, is one of those exceedingly rare MDs who can not only explain his art to lay people like myself, he has the magical ability to put his patients — or at least this patient — at complete ease. It takes quite a bit to surrender and totally trust someone who props your eyes open with a speculum (so that you can’t blink), wheels you under a huge humming machine, and tells you with a soothing voice, “Don’t worry, but everything’s going to go dark now.” But he made it easy. He’s even become a matcha convert/evangelist!

For the first time in my life, I now wake up and marvel at the fact that I no longer need to fumble for my glasses. It’s an amazing feeling. Mandel even “optimized” my vision to give me perfect distance vision in one eye, and excellent up-close vision in the other. The brain just somehow deals with it. Night vision is the best — I feel like a raptor!  Evolution has given birds of prey a high density of receptors and other adaptations that maximize visual acuity that I don’t actually have, but it sure feels like I do, given the contrast of what I had before. I’ll spare you any further rhapsody, but let’s just say that I am one happy raptor camper. One who’s been devouring some really great breakfast burritos of late.

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I’m such a sucker for breakfast burritos. I don’t think I’ve ever had one I didn’t like. How wrong can one go with scrambling some eggs with various ingredients, wrapping it all up in a tasty local tortilla, and eating it with salsa?

Now granted, starting the day with a carb-load of corn, rice, and beans might not be the smartest or healthiest route to take. But that of course refers to the traditional morning burrito. In the breakaway version, we can stuff it with whatever we like.

It’s not a lightning-quick breakfast, and you’ll need two pans (instead of the optimal one), but the dish scales up quite nicely, so you can feed quite a few people with essentially the same amount of work as feeding just two. And we also suppose that you can get your hands on very good eggs, since their quality in this dish more less controls how good the final dish is.

The idea is very simple:

  1. saute vegetables in olive oil, salt and pepper with a generous hand
  2. prepare the Herby, Fluffy Eggs recipe outlined in the Breakaway Cook (quick version of that recipe: melt butter in stick-resistant heavy pan, gently stir eggs, yogurt, and plenty of fresh herbs, plus s&P)
  3. combine the veggies and eggs
  4. spoon into stovetop-toasted large flour tortillas
  5. wrap, inhale

It’s not really a sit-down, lingering sort of breakfast; it’s one best enjoyed with few table manners at all, when one is very hungry, not sort of hungry.  You can easily scale the recipe up, by adding more veggies and more eggs (and more tortillas).

A final word on tortilla preparation: It’s good to lightly steam them, if you have time — this can be done first, by heating the oven to 250 and wrapping a few tortillas in a damp clean dishcloth, which goes inside a lidded casserole dish or pot. The idea is to not let the steam, once it’s created, escape, so you want a rather tight-fitting dish/lid. Alternatively, you can microwave them: stack them between layers of very damp/almost wet paper towel, and try not to let the paper towels catch on fire. You can also toast them in a dry cast-iron skillet, or place them directly on the gas burner, flame very low, and carefully flip them around (I just use my fingers, but tongs might be advisable) until they begin to lightly char. Use caution with this latter method, since they can burn/char easily from a moment’s inattention. It’s a great mindfulness exercise!

 

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Antioxidant Super Salad / The Power of Placebos

Can a salad full of “superfoods” boost your immunity? I have no idea, but I do know that this salad is pretty damn tasty, and that I felt pretty damn good after eating it. Steve Silberman’s magnificent article on placebos confirmed something that I’ve always suspected: believing that  something you ingest — be it food or pharmaceuticals — will be beneficial to your health usually IS beneficial to your health. Not always, of course, but frequently enough to make it real and measurable.

For years we’ve all heard about the  serious benefits of eating foods rich in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids. The biggest contenders in this group are those found in this salad: salmon (which I broiled with a pomegranate molasses glaze), wild blueberries, pomegranate arils, avocado, edamame, soft tofu, and a few chives. Dressing was just a drizzle of good fruity green olive oil (from Sicily) and a spoonful of vinegar brine from my pickled ginger, plenty of freshly ground black and green peppercorns, and matcha salt.

If you’re looking for a great first course to a special meal — or just any everyday meal for that matter — here you go. After the salmon is cooked, it can be assembled in less than five minutes.

And if you believe that this wonderful little quick salad is really good for you, it just might be.

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The Global Thanksgiving

Hard to believe Thanksgiving is here in a few days. I haven’t given it much thought this year, but for anyone tempted to do a country-themed one, here are a few ideas that might be intriguing:

  • Italian: brined turkey, stuffed with hazelnuts, grappa-laced dried apricots, sweet Italian sausages, and fennel. Serve it with a raw Tuscan kale salad, a sweet potato quiche made with La Tur and plenty of egg, Pumpkin panna cotta, persimmon ice cream.
  • Indian: spatchcocked turkey rubbed hard with fennel seed, turmeric, coriander, and fenugreek, baked alongside a ghee-laced dish of spinach, diced potatoes cooked with mustard seeds
  • Middle Eastern: marinate turkey in pomegranate molasses, cinnamon, and walnut oil, and stuff it with couscous flecked with dates and pistachios. Serve with tahini-infused mashed potatoes with sumac on top, along with some green beans wokked with harissa.
  • Japanese: yuzu and miso under the skin of the turkey, stuff with yet more fresh yuzu, mashed sweet potatoes with baby ginger and yogurt, a huge salad  with umeboshi dressing.

I suspect that the number of families that would go along for such a ride is exceeding small, but if you live with such a family, consider yourself very lucky!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone — be sure to let us know what breakaway dishes you came up with.

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Three-minute Supersalad: Salmon, Edamame, Avocado, and Pomegranate

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Sometimes it seems like cooking is really all about BEING READY to cook. To me, that means having stuff around — not only the basics like yogurt, pasta, eggs, oils, rice, etc., but also stuff that’s just ready to eat. I put cooked edamame in this category —  I try to have a tupperware full of edamame in the fridge at all times so that I don’t have to bother with the five-minute task of actually boiling them (an arduous task, I know) when I’m feeling superlazy or just don’t have time to do even that.

When they’re in season, as they are now, fresh pomegranates fill this bill as well.  When I’m in cooking mode I’ll split open a few and gently pluck the seeds out, put them in a bowl and into the fridge, where they’ll live, waiting for my inspiration. Roasted chicken and salmon, too, are favorites in a well-stocked fridge, and I always have a supply of avocados.

Cooking sessions at my house often involve cooking that’s not directly related to the dishes I’m preparing. Meaning: once I’ve got the dishes I’m making on any given evening underway, I’ll often use the “passive” time involved in cooking (waiting for something to roast, bake, braise, whatever) to restock the fridge for those days when I know it’s unlikely I’ll be cooking much. So I’ll boil some edamame, prep some poms, shred some cabbage, make some quick pickles, make some syrups for bubbly water, make some garlic confit, salad dressing, stock,  or flavored salts. Or refill my spice jars. Or make some food for Daphne. There’s always something that can be done to make cooking a little easier FOR THE NEXT TIME.

So this simple salad is presented in that spirit. It’s just pieces of salmon, combined with cooked edamame, pomegranate arils, and avocado, lightly dressed with a drizzle of olive oil, pom vinegar, and citrus salt. It was made in well under three minutes, simply by reaching in and grabbing stuff that I had previously taken the trouble to prep and have on hand. So much good, wholesome food can be made this way, in far less time than it takes to get take-out, or, for that matter, to order in.

So is this wonderful meal considered “cooking?” Who knows/cares? It’s a fantastic supper, bursting with flavor and health. AND I had the whole evening to read a book and watch a movie!

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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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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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Mmmmatcha!

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Ok, we’ve gone a little cuckoo for matcha lately, with all the blind-tasting going on. Daphne’s even salivating for her first taste!

Before I got turned on to seriously great matcha — and I’m talking really, really, seriously great, as in the best in the world — most of my matcha experiences were of the “eh” variety: good, interesting, certainly healthy, but life-changing? No. It took me a while to figure out the reason: I was drinking matcha that was, essentially, meant to be used as a culinary ingredient, not consumed as a beverage. Almost all of the matcha on the market today is actually culinary grade matcha:  much of it does well in desserts and baked goods, and culinary-grade matcha makes good matcha salt, but it’s really not very good for drinking (and some of it is downright nasty, even for baking). One can make it work, and appreciate the many, many health benefits of it (more on these in another post to come), but to enjoy as one would a truly excellent wine? I don’t think so.

It took forever to dawn on me: ceremonial grade matcha, the matcha meant to be drunk straight up, is in a league all its own. Do you remember the first time you had a world-class sip of wine? If you’re like me, prior to that precious moment,  you had only had everyday drinking wines (or worse). But that one taste was such an aha! moment: NOW I get what all the fuss is about! I still remember mine: I was with my friend Jack, who took me to Trumps, in West LA. It was a bottle of Chambertin, and it was like drinking Eden.

Drinking real matcha the first time was an equally epiphanic experience. It was so different from any kind of tea, or even any hot beverage for that matter! It had the complexity of a great wine — electric color and dozens of simultaneous notes, including bamboo, sugar, grass, herbs, earth . . . and it had a long, powerful finish. It was almost like tasting photosynthesis itself. No baking with this stuff: using this grade of tea as an ingredient to bake with would be every bit as folly as using Romanee Conti as  “cooking wine.” It would destroy everything that’s wonderful about it.

I’ve gone from a once-in-a-while cup (when I was drinking culinary grade) to three or four a day, once I discovered ceremonial grade. It is expensive? Well, it’s deceiving because it certainly LOOKS expensive at about $65 or so for 30 grams. But since I only use about a gram per cup, that’s a little over two bucks for a Romanee Conti-like experience, which starts to sound not only reasonable, but in fact a great bargain, given the pleasure, not to mention health benefits, it delivers. And considering that no one ever blinks at spending  three or four dollars for a fancy cup of coffee . . . it also dawned on me that ceremonial grade matcha at a buck fifty a cup probably represents one of the best bang-for-the-buck epicurean experiences available anywhere.

Where to buy it? It’s not easy. Whole Foods sells a brand called DoMatcha, which isn’t bad, but it’s not ethereal, either. Nijiya, in Japantown in SF — where one would expect an excellent selection, and where they carry all kinds of wonderful artisanal Japanese ingredients — sells some truly dreadful matcha, really bottom-of-the-barrel stuff. A whole slew of places on the net claim to sell ceremonial grade, but the problem with buying from many of these places is that they are so damn secretive about who actually makes their matcha. Many of them clam up if you ask even the most basic of questions (the manufacturer, date it was picked and processed, exact place it was grown, use of fertilizers, which tea masters prefer it, etc.).

I find this really odd. Imagine a great winemaker who simply says “I can’t tell you even the most basic information about my wine, including year, varietal, terroir, etc., but trust me, it’s good.” Not everyone is like that, of course. But enough are to make the entire matcha business a bit, I dunno, shadowy. Come out into the light, matcha people! It’s much more pleasant in the sunshine.

I’m working with an innovative and quality-driven matcha producer with a venerable history on a “breakaway blend” that, I hope, will set new standards for quality and accessibility. Much more on that as it unfolds!

There’s lots more to say about matcha, which I will be doing in future posts. I also need to get a video up of how, exactly, I make it, and to explain why I think it’s important to drop the Japanese weightiness of it all and to just enjoy it the way Italians enjoy coffee.

All to come! But meanwhile: are there any hardcore matcha fans here? Has anyone had the really good stuff? Would you compare it to a world-class wine?

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Bitterly Delicious, Two-Minute Salad

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Pickings are somewhat slim these days at the local farmers markets, so I was doubly pleased to find one of the most beautiful displays of winter greens I’ve ever seen at the stand of Jesse Kuhn’s Marin Roots farm. He probably had ten kinds of bitter lettuces and chicories, all surreally gorgeous and deliciously bitter.

“Deliciously bitter” may sound like a contradiction, but it’s not (it also sounds better in Japanese: “nigakute oishii” is high praise there). The trick to enjoying these beautiful, healthful salad greens (“salad purples” is more like it) is to introduce a tiny amount of sweetness in the dressing to offset the bitterness. So my two-minute prep of this salad went something like this:

  1. Tear up enough leaves for your salad (Jesse washes his lettuces meticulously, so I often don’t even bother with rinsing and spinning)
  2. Drizzle on your best fruity green unfiltered olive oil, along with a drizzle of something sweet. My favorite sweetener for this use is jaggery syrup (watch for a video on how to make this soon in this space), but you could also use agave, ginger syrup, simple syrup, or maple syrup). A brief squeeze of Meyer lemon or other citrus for acidity.
  3. Toss on pomegranate arils, a few marcona almonds, and flowers, and dust with s&p (yuzu salt or tangerine salt are especially nice).
  4. Declare victory, and get ready for an entirely different — and thoroughly pleasant — salad experience.

You could tart this up a million and one ways — with more fruit, smoked fish, other veggies — but sometimes the simplest salad is the best, provided your ingredients are top-notch.

Does anyone else here like bitter lettuces?

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Fantastic Breakfast: The Savory Sourdough Strata

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I suspect I’m not alone in my breakfast rut: we have a decent rotation of morning dishes — killer oatmeal (made with persimmon goop this time of year), homemade granola over Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, poached eggs, fluffy herby eggs, baked eggs, orange yogurt pancakes, Dutch babies, and a few more — but I often find myself pining for something new.

So I was cruising around the web, hoping to find something good to make on Christmas morning, and happened upon something I had never heard of called “strata”: a casserole dish layered with aromatics and bread. The idea is to alternate layers of bread and veggies and to pour an eggy custard over them, refrigerate overnight, and bake in the morning. I don’t normally do much overnighting of anything, but I figured what the hell, I wanted out of my rut.  You do have to have a modicum of energy at night to assemble it, but it only takes 10 minutes or so to prepare, and you’ll be glad you did in the morning: you just have to turn on the oven, take it out of the fridge, and plop it in the oven.  It’s especially great as a stress-free way to serve a hearty breakfast to guests, along with a bowl of fresh seasonal fruit (it’s fantastic with fuyu persimmons).

I naturally wanted to up the overall savoriness of the dish, so I added my umami standbys of pulverized dried tomato, shiitake dust, and parmesan. All the recipes I’ve seen use milk, but I think it’s better with yogurt. I think it tastes better in a claypot, too. Here’s how I did it:

  • 3 cups cubed sourdough bread
  • 1 cup finely grated parmesan
  • ¼ cup minced shallots
  • 1 cup diced crimini (or other) mushrooms
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon pulverized dried tomato
  • generous sprinkling of salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon shiitake powder

1) Place half the bread into a large claypot or other earthen vessel, or casserole dish that’s been lightly buttered. Sprinkle in half the parmesan, half the shallots, and half the mushrooms. Follow with the rest of the bread, parm, shallots, and mushrooms (this creates the “strata”).

2) Whisk together eggs, yogurt, salt, and pepper, and pour this over the strata. Top it with the shiitake powder. Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator overnight.

3) In the morning, preheat oven to 325. Bake for 30 minutes, then crank up the heat to 425 for another 10 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and crusty. Serve in the claypot, at the table, with some fruit.

Has anyone ever made a strata before? Does anyone have any can’t-live-without breakfasts you’d like to share?

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Happy Holidays, Breakaway Cooks!

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Christmas this year is oddly peaceful for us — having a newborn means you don’t have to do *anything*! No one expects any meals or much socializing … it’s pretty much Daphneluv, 24/7!

So a quick note of thanks to this cool community we have here. It’s a pure pleasure for me to write this blog, and I look forward to another year of good cooking with you all. Next year should be a banner one, I hope: we’ll roll out the video series, and I hope to have the Breakaway Vegetarian Cook ready by late spring/early summer. As many of you know, it’s going to be a digital book, complete with video sections, lots of great photography, and deep links to writing I’ve done over the years. We’re also rolling out a facelift for the entire website, including a new section we’re calling “gifts and gear” — a webstore with all kinds of products I’m enamored with and use on a near-daily basis. And, most importantly….. we’ll be documenting Daphne’s growth into hypercuteness! I can’t wait till I can start feeding her solid food………..

Happy holidays!

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