Breakaway Cook

Pickled Ginger, As Featured in The Kitchn



Friend and Tassajara mate Dana Velden just published a lovely tribute to breakaway-stye pickled ginger over at The Kitchn. Dana writes the weekend meditation column there, and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the intersection of mindfulness, food/cooking, and good writing. Check out the pickled ginger piece, with recipes, here.

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Pork Loin Roasts, To Go



Here’s a tip for those of you needing to bring something quick and easy to a bbq: pick up some (reputable) whole pork loins from your preferred butcher, and grind a bunch of fresh spices in a coffee grinder. Use whole coriander seed, cumin seed, an assortment of peppercorns, and star anise. Rub this all of over the pork, give it a spray of olive oil to keep everything in place, then dust it liberally with kosher salt. Spray again. That’s it, you’re ready! Pack it up and take it with you.

The bottle of liquid in the photo is fresh squeezed orange, lemon, and grapefruit, which had been simmered and reduced for about 20 minutes to concentrate its flavors. I like the baste the pork in this as it cooks on the grill. Try to grill the meat on the least-hot part of the bbq, and use a lid to ensure thorough cooking of the middle. The outside gets pretty dark and spiced and crusty, the perfect counterfoil for the tender, juicy inner sections. Cut it all up roughly when it’s done and rested, and toss chopped cilantro, more salt, and more citrus juice on it just before serving.


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How to Cook a Trout

I grew up eating trout; my father actually carried a set of fishing poles in the family car(!), and would stop off for a quick hit of his addiction at the local lake on the way back from work. He almost always came home with a bucket of trout. Now the only trout I eat usually come from a farm in Idaho, but I still find them delicious..

I’ve experimented with lots of cooking methods for trout over the years, but I’ve finally settled on one that produces perfectly crispy and delicious skin and moist, wonderfully seasoned flesh.Here’s what you’ll need:

  • * one big fat trout, cleaned (they’re almost always sold cleaned)
  • * a cast iron skillet
  • * some basic seasonings

Rinse the fish and dry it carefully and thoroughly. Then take your sharp knife and scrape along the entire sides of the fish. You’ll get some funky grayish crap on the knife — wipe it off with a paper towel, and do it some more, until you no longer produce any gray muck. This wonderful technique applies to almost all fish; it removes all impurities and paves the way for a wonderfully crispy, scrumptious skin.

Rub the entire fish, inside and out, with a light drizzle of olive oil, and liberally sprinkle everything, again inside and out, with freshly cracked pepper and kosher salt. I also like to sprinkle about a teaspoon or so of freshly ground coriander seeds on the skin — this really gives it an extra crispy blast — but you don’t have to.

Preheat oven to 400. Heat up the pan over high heat, and add a splash of olive oil and a small touch of butter, and swirl it around. When it’s very hot, add the trout, and cook it over high heat for four or five minutes, or until it gets very browned. Flip it over and brown the other side. While it’s cooking, cut up a Meyer lemon, regular lemon, or some other citrus, and stuff the wedges inside the fish. Transfer the pan to the oven for about five minutes, which should be enough time to cook the fish all the way through.

Remove it and plate it. Stand the trout up on its belly and, with the backbone facing up, and, using a knife and fork, carefully slice the skin along the backbone and gently separate the meat from the backbone. It should come off in one clean swoop. Squeeze the baked lemon over the flesh, and add a final dusting of salt, preferably an interesting salt like tangerine salt or saffron salt.

I sometimes cook two or three at a time, and put the extra meat in a Tupperware for an incredibly tasty trout salad the next day.


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Edaminty Shrimp Salad

Most people enjoy edamame on their own; they’re fun to shuck from their pods and pop into your mouth (and one of Daphne’s favorite activities), especially on a hot day, liberally salted, with plenty of cold beer to wash them down. But edamame also make fabulous purees, and nothing could be simpler if you purchase frozen, already-shucked edamame; just toss them into boiling water for five minutes or so, drain, and they’re ready for pureeing.

This is a dish I used to make often in Japan. Just toss a cup or so of cooked edamame into a food processor with big handfuls of mint leaves, olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little lemon. You can use other herbs as well; Thai basil makes and especially fine edamame puree. Sometimes I toss some fruit in as well (stonefruit works well if it’s the right season, but grapes are good, too) just to liven things up a bit, and I even add plain yogurt to it sometimes, if I want the puree to be a little thinner. You then transfer the green goo to a bowl, add some more (whole) cooked edamame for visual and textural appeal, and you’re ready to go. This can also be a fabulous and nearly instant pasta sauce: just combine with hot pasta.

But it’s wonderful as a kind of hearty dip, and has special affinity with shrimp. It’s an appeztizer/pre-dinner snack that always disappears quickly at parties.

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From Iceberg to Raw Kale

If you ordered a “green salad” in almost any restaurant in the United States in the 1970s, they probably brought you a plate of iceberg lettuce, adorned perhaps with thin slices of cucumber and tomato. You then chose a dressing: French, Italian, Russian, or blue cheese.

And then, by sometime in the mid-1980s,  Jeremiah Tower and Alice Waters came along and showed us some new salad greens: arugula, little gem and other leafy lettuces, radicchio, endive, and sometimes fresh herbs, especially chervil. Mixed altogether they were known as mesclun, and the big supermarkets began to carry prewashed mixed bags of mesclun. The introduction of mesclun on a mass scale forever changed the way we think of salad greens.

Poor iceberg lettuce lost its predominant position, at least in terms of culinary cachet, as romaine and mesclun made their way to the top of the lettuce hierarchy. Nostalgia may play a minor role, but I’m still a fan of the classic diner special of a thick wedge of iceberg, chilled almost to the freezing point, drizzled with creamy blue cheese, eaten like a steak, carved with knife and fork.

And in the unlikely event that anyone should ever accuse me of food snobbery, allow me to relay that I still have vivid memories of myself, somewhere around age 7 or so, bugging Mrs. Meyer, my babysitter, to make me a third, or fourth or fifth, sandwich that consisted of Wonder Bread, a giant pile of iceberg leaves, and a huge smear of Miracle Whip. The beginning of the road to breakaway cooking!

Nowadays I’m going for greener, more intense salads, salads that satisfy so deeply that they can be, and often are, the main component of dinner. And salads that star raw kale fit this bill nicely.

Most home cooks think that kale must be cooked, but it doesn’t; it’s absolutely delicious raw. You do have to chop it somewhat finely, however, since big pieces of kale leaves require quite a bit of chewing.

And, unlike more delicate green salads, it benefits from a “marination” in the dressing: the longer it sits in the dressing, the better, which makes it the ideal make-ahead dish.

Raw kale also seems to go best with very bold flavor contrasts: lots of vinegar for tang, plenty of dried fruit for sweet, and a healthy dusting of crispy breadcrumbs for texture. Try the version below first, then come up with your own breakaway kale salad, using ingredients you already have on hand.


Raw Kale Salad with Dried Fruit, Aged Cheese, Spiced Breadcrumbs, and Flowers

It’s pretty rare to be surprised by a salad these days, but this one just might do it. It’s a very open-ended recipe in that you can substitute far and wide and still have it come out tasting great.

You can use any kind of kale for this, but the intense dark color of black kale, also called lacinato kale and dino kale, is especially alluring.

The dried fruit can be a big mix of any fruit, but ginger, gojiberry, cranberry, and apricot play beautifully together.

The vinegar can be a combination (apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, and a small amount of balsamic is an excellent one), or a single vinegar; the dried fruit will absorb most of it, creating little sweet-sour blasts throughout the salad.

The aged cheese, too, can be anything: a good parmesan, asiago, pecorino, aged cheddar, or–my preference–an old gouda. The flowers are optional, and purely for color, but they are a really nice addition. Don’t skip the breadcrumbs though — they give the salad a lovely and rather surprising crunch. Makes about six large servings.


  • * 1 cup diced dried fruit
  • * 1 cup vinegar of choice
  • * 2 small-medium bunches black kale, backbones removed, then somewhat finely chopped
  • * 1 small watermelon radish, sliced into matchsticks
  • * 3 or 4 tablespoons fruity green olive oil
  • * salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • * 1/2 cup shaved aged cheese, chopped roughly
  • * 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup (if you like more crunch) spiced breadcrumbs — stale bread, pulsed in a coffee grinder to produce something between traditional breadcrumbs and traditional croutons, with a little salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper added to it, then sauteed in a pan with some butter
  • * 1/4 cup edible flowers (optional)

Place the chopped fruit in a small mixing bowl, and pour the vinegar over it. Let the dried fruit macerate in the vinegar for a while if you can (say an hour); it will plump up nicely if you do. Do that step first while you wash and chop the kale, slice the radish, and make the breadcrumbs. Place the washed and chopped kale in an extra-large salad bowl.

Add the vinegared fruit, watermelon radish, and olive oil to the kale and, using your hands, mix well. Dust with salt and pepper as you mix (this is important–it makes the difference between a good salad and a great salad). Top with cheese, breadcrumbs, and flowers.

(photo by Craig Lee)

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Persimmon Grilled Cheese

A simple but amazingly satisfying sandwich:

  • * goat gouda (Trader Joe’s sells a really nice and inexpensive one)
  • * chevre
  • * slices of very ripe fuyu persimmon

All dusted with good salt and pepper, of course. The bread is the magnificent TJ English muffin bread, but any good sturdy bread will do. The perfect five-minute lunch. Well, true perfection would be a bottle of Belgian abbey-style ale, some lotus chips, and a plateful of breakaway superkraut, but perfection’s elusive anyway.

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Gingery Love


It took me long enough, but I realized today that I should be sharing my SF Chronicle articles and recipes here, for those who missed them in the paper. The original version appeared here.


*   *   *


It seems impossible to imagine nowadays, but I never tasted fresh ginger until I was in my late teens; it simply wasn’t part of our family’s culinary lexicon.

But don’t feel too sorry for me: I’ve spent the rest of my life making up for it. Fresh, pickled, crystallized, powdered, preserved, dried, I consume it mad quantities, and it still feels like I can’t get enough.

I vividly recall the first time I had pickled ginger, that small mound of ginger that comes with sushi. It was one of a small number of “whoa!” culinary milestones that was so different from what’s come before it that it’s not an exaggeration to call it an epiphany. And it was free, at the sushi bar! You could have as much as you wanted! To this day, I still probably eat ten times the amount of pickled ginger as the average person when I go to sushi restaurants.

And then I noticed fat bags of pickled ginger for sale at both Japanese and Chinese markets around town, for just a few dollars. So I began chowing on it, as a snack, with dinner, with all kinds of meals. But one casual glance at the ingredient list on the bag one day also produced another epiphany of sorts: ginger, white sugar, white vinegar, and red dye — surely I could make pickled ginger on my own, using better ingredients?

Why yes, I could.  Homemade pickled ginger made with high-quality ingredients — young, lithe ginger, excellent vinegars, and fantastic sweeteners (artisanal honeys, organic maple syrup, and organic agave)– not only tastes vastly better than its industrial brethren, one would have to conclude it’s better for you, too.

Epicurean reasons alone are enough to make ginger a part of daily life, but its health benefits are enticing enough to begin adopting it into breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.  There’s wide agreement in the medical community that it boosts immunity, promotes digestion, battles viruses, helps nausea, staves off sea sickness, gooses metabolism, reduces inflammation, stimulates appetite, ameliorates rheumatism and arthritis . . . the list keeps going.

I’m partial to its heady, spicy, sweet aromas, and to its bracing clean taste. It lends brightness and vibrancy to everything it touches.  Its pro-digestion properties and cleansing effects on the body are just happy bonuses.

If you’ve never had a ginger blast in a salad, you’re in for a treat. And do try bites of pickled ginger with meat dishes; I like to place a little mound of it next a piece of cooked meat on my plate — a small nibble between bites cleanses the palate in the same way it does sushi. And be sure to use the ginger-infused pickling liquid in salads, it’s beyond fantastic.


Three-Ginger Salad

If you like ginger, you’re going to like this salad, which is loaded with sauteed ginger, pickled ginger, and crystallized ginger. It has crunch and snappiness from the cabbage, firm texture from the edamame, and creaminess from the avocado, all brought together by the ginger symphony.

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons fruity green olive oil
  • 1 cup minced leeks
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • — Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups finely chopped green cabbage ( 1/4 head, about 8 ounces)
  • 2 cups finely chopped red cabbage ( 1/4 head, about 8 ounces)
  • 2 cups cooked shelled edamame
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced pickled ginger (see recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced crystallized ginger (see Note)
  • — 2 tablespoons seasoned vinegar from accompanying pickled ginger recipe
  • — Matcha salt or medium-grind sea salt (see Note)
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped, roasted unsalted almonds

Instructions: Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and fresh ginger then reduce heat to medium-low; season with salt and pepper to taste. Gently cook until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Combine the red and green cabbage, edamame, pickled ginger, crystallized ginger, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and vinegar in a large bowl; mix well (your hands work best). Add the reserved leek mixture, and combine. Season liberally with matcha salt or sea salt and pepper. Taste, and add more vinegar, if desired.

Halve the avocado, slice each half lengthwise into 1/2-inch wide wedges, and remove the peel. Then cut each wedge into 1-inch pieces. Add to the salad, and mix gently. Serve, topped with a scattering of chopped almonds.


Breakaway Pickled Ginger

Traditional gari, as it’s called in Japan, is made from rice vinegar and white sugar, but it’s much better when made with quality ingredients. Fruit vinegars – raspberry, fig, and Muscat – work especially well, but so do balsamics and wine vinegars. For the sweetener, try agave nectar, a good local honey, maple syrup, or your favorite sweet syrup. I’ve even used excellent jam to great effect. Mature ginger will also work, but the young variety is superior – check produce specialists like Berkeley Bowl or any Asian market. The dish is still good with older ginger, too, so if you can’t find young ginger don’t let that stop you from making it. I use an inexpensive plastic Japanese-style Benriner mandoline to slice the ginger, but you can also use a sharp knife or vegetable peeler. The formula is easy to remember: 1 part ginger, 1 part vinegar, and a touch of sweetener (to taste).

  • 1 cup shaved baby ginger (see Instructions)
  • 1/2 cup fruit vinegar 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey, or to taste

To shave the ginger, use a spoon to peel off the skin, then slice it very thinly with a knife, vegetable peeler or mandoline.

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the ginger, and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain, and transfer the ginger to a bowl. Add the vinegars and honey, and mix well.

Transfer to a jar and refrigerate. The flavors are excellent immediately, but will improve with time. And it seems to keep forever.

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A Quick Way to Great Pizza

I must say for the record: having a small child DOES impact one’s everyday cooking. It’s often a race to get something good on the table by about 6:30, since Daphne goes to bed by 7:30 or so. We’re believers in not only eating dinner together every night, but also in serving Daphne the same thing we eat — no separate “child friendly” dinners here at Breakaway Central.  I figure that the wider a variety of foods Daphne eats, the more adventuresome she’ll be with food (and maybe other things too) later on. (She sometimes reaches for her tongue with alarm if something is aggressively spiced, but she gets over it quickly!)

Daphne’s vocabulary is exploding, and one of her favorite words is “pizza” (it does feel good to say, especially when you really accentuate the first syllable). So I’ll rummage through the fridge and garden to collect a few things, turn the oven on to 550 (with pizza stone inside), and begin preparing the world’s simplest pizza.

Breakaway cooking has always been about little “tricks” that save time and hassle. And what I’m about to say is sure to disappoint a few people, but here’s a valuable trick/tip: buy your pizza dough at Trader Joe’s. It’s sold in the refrigerated section near the tofu, in a plastic bag, for about a buck, and is ready for immediate use. You just lightly flour a pizza peel and spread out the dough, forming a small mound around the perimeter. The dough even freezes well, so I’ll buy four or five at a time. I then simply transfer one from freezer to fridge, where it will live for a day or two, ready to be pulled out on a moment’s notice.

I usually just saute an onion with some fresh rosemary and thyme and oregano and maybe some garlic confit, and toss in a veggie or two — summer squash, mushroooms, fennel — and lightly cook. The dough then gets sprayed with plenty of olive oil and  slid on to the pizza stone and baked, sans toppings, for a few minutes to let the whole thing get exposed to blasting heat. Then the veggies go on, followed by a little cheese (I’m kind of a minimalist with the cheese, to the great consternation of European Delia, who always wants more cheese). When it’s done, about five minutes later, I’ll usually add very generous lashings of black pepper and good salt, followed by a big toss of chopped fresh herbs. Sometimes tomatoes go on, uncooked, if we have them, and maybe a final fleck of shaved pecornino. Total prep is about 10 minutes, and baking time is about the same.

Anyone else a fan of this dough?

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Really Easy Gojiberry Ginger Scones

Thanks to so many of you who wrote me to ask about my eye surgery. I’m happy to report that the entire thing was painless and unscary, thanks to the incredible skill of my ophthalmologist. Dr. Mark Mandel. There have been no complications, and I’m seeing like an eagle. Well, an eagle with a minus 5 diopter, but still eagle-like compared to before! We’re going to lasik down the rest, to zero (i.e. 20/20 vision) in September. Then I really will be hawk-like. It’s been tremendously liberating, and I can’t wait for part II. I’ve even turned Dr. Mandel on to matcha, after I unearthed a study linking matcha with the prevention and healing of eye ailments, including glaucoma.

Other matcha news: had a cup with Morimoto — more on that development soon!

We recently had some visitors from Japan that included three of the world’s cutest children (along with their dad, Aki, the founder of Cookpad, Japan’s largest cooking site, with a mind-boggling 7 million subscribers, and his lovely wife Junko), so I thought I would serve some hot scones and tea. I made them with copious amount of gojiberry and crystallized ginger, and they turned out to be a hit. As you know, I don’t normally include recipes in this blog (it’s the “teach a man to fish” belief that the IDEAS behind making good food are far more valuable than the recipes themselves) but with baking some guidelines are necessary, so here we go. Let me know what you think of them, please.  The “secret” to these great scones is cornmeal — it makes for a fabulous texture. And the combo of gojiberries and ginger is a winner; your guests will rave. Yields about 15 scones.

Gojiberry Ginger Scones

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 1½ cups cornmeal (medium grind)
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, sliced into ½ inch cubes
  • ½ cup gojiberries
  • ½ cup crystallized ginger
  • 1¼ cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (can also use any kind of vinegar)

1)  Preheat oven to 425.  Prepare two baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper.

2) Using a large mixing bowl, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cornmeal. Stir with a sturdy wooden spoon until well mixed.

3) Add the cubed butter and, using a pastry knife or your fingers,  work the butter until it’s the size of small peas. Using the spoon, mix in the gojiberries and ginger.

4) Make a well in the center; add milk and lemon juice. Mix briefly, until ingredients just come together.

5) Gently shape the dough into balls about 2 inches in and place them on the prepared pans about 2 inches apart, 7 or 8 balls per sheet. Dust each of them with a pinch of sugar.

6) Turn down the oven temperature to 375, place the scones in the upper and lower oven racks, and bake for 10 minutes.

7) Switch sheet positions (top sheet goes to bottom rack, and vice versa) and  bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool.



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A New and Tasty Way to Cook Squid

I think squid is the great underappreciated seafood, and can’t figure out why it isn’t more popular. Provided you don’t overcook it (which is easy to do), it has a fabulous, toothsome texture, especially if you make a crispy crunch crust before you cook it. It’s plentiful and completely sustainable, AND it’s local, at least for us lucky Bay Area residents. It may not be widely available in the huge supermarkets, but those aren’t the places you want to be buying fish anyway. And it’s cheap — I rarely pay more than $7/lb for top-quality squid, and a pound will make three or four generous portions.

Sold yet? Good, now go find some. As always, I can’t recommend the folks at Monterey Fish highly enough. You can get quality squid (and other sustainable tasty fish) online, believe it or not, from I Love Blue Sea.

My latest and greatest way to cook squid is to give it a crust made of amaranth, that ancient grain that kind of looks like quinoa, except the grains are even smaller. I often use other crusts, including ground rice, ground pink lentils, farina, and spiced breadcrumbs, to make my squid, but amaranth is really nice: it imparts a nutty, poppy, very lively crunch to the squid.

To prep the squid, rinse and dry it thoroughly (don’t skip this very important step) and then rub the whole thing generously with olive oil. Season generously with good salt and pepper, spray the squid with more olive oil, toss on some amaranth on one side and gently press it into the squid. Spray the whole thing again with olive oil (so that the amaranth doesn’t just fall off when you transfer it from cutting board to pan). Heat up a cast iron (or other) pan, give it a film of olive oil, get it very hot, and gently place the squid inside. Cook until deeply browned, as shown in the photo, about 3 to 5 minutes, and flip it over to cook another few minutes. Serve with wedges of meyer lemon and matcha salt (or other salt) and a huge salad.

Anyone have any favorite (and great) methods of cooking squid?

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