Breakaway Cook

Yuzu — You NEED This Citrus

 

If you’ve never tasted yuzu, you’re in for a delightful surprise. It is usually translated as “Japanese citron,” but that doesn’t tell us much. It is about the size of a tangerine, and has a yellow-orange rind. The mature fruit is very seedy, and produces little juice, but  is mostly highly prized for its fragrant and florally zest, which seems to combine the best flavors of meyer lemon, mandarin orange, and grapefruit. The unripe fruit, with its green rind, does provide some juice, which is exceedingly sour yet delicious.

It’s almost impossible to find fresh yuzu outside Japan, but bottled yuzu juice—which is almost as good, and certainly more convenient—is becoming widely available in Asian markets, especially Japanese markets. A 10-ounce bottle will cost you around $12, but it will last a long time, since you need only small quantities at a time.  Yuzu powder—dehydrated and pulverized yuzu zest—is also becoming increasingly easy to find. Googling “yuzu juice” will yield a list of online purveyors. Intrepid gardeners can even try their hand at growing this thorny yet beautiful citrus. I’ve ordered two from Four Winds Growers, and both are doing well in our Marin climate, but, because it’s one of the few citruses that actually tolerate frost well, it should do well in chillier areas, too, as long as it has excellent drainage and at least six hours of direct sun a day.

In Japan, yuzu zest is used mainly to accent cooked vegetables, hotpots, custards, and fish, and is sometimes added to miso and to vinegar to infuse them with its florally wonders. Juice from green yuzu is often mixed with soy sauce (and often other ingredients) to form a dipping sauce known as ponzu. Many Japanese women love to put cut-up yuzu in their baths; there are even hot springs on the island of Shikoku, the heart of Japan’s yuzu country, that specialize in yuzu baths.

Yuzu has become the darling of many brand-name chefs, who are discovering its many joys and pushing the boundaries as they use it in ice creams and other desserts, cocktails, salad dressings, and all kinds of savory dishes. I’m told that the waiters at Jean-George, in New York, even put yuzu juice in an atomizer and spray it tableside on a scallop dish.

I like to use a small amount of yuzu juice—its intense power means that one must be careful of quantity—in braising liquids for fish and vegetables, and to combine some yuzu with raw tuna and eat it spooned over good bread. It’s also delightful mixed into a spoonful of miso, and then spread on fish and broiled. Or try some in a salad dressing along with some good olive oil, yogurt, and maple syrup.

Hunt it down–you’ll be really glad you did.

(photo by Craig Lee; originally appeared in the SF Chronicle on October 9, 2011)

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Toro Avocado Yuzu Crostini

Makes about 24 small or 12 full-size crostini

These make wonderful starters for a dinner party. The secret, as usual, is to use the freshest of everything, especially the toro. You can substitute halibut or hamachi, or even cooked Dungeness crab works, too. The yuzu is well worth seeking out, but you can substitute a combo of Meyer lemon and grapefruit juices.

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup finely diced shallots
  • — Sea salt
  • — Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound toro (fatty tuna belly), finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fruity extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) yuzu juice
  • 1 ripe but firm medium avocado, sliced into 1/2-inch cubes
  • — Zest of 1 Meyer lemon, minced or grated
  • 1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
  • — About 24 lightly toasted baguette slices or 12 thin slices of sourdough batard

Instructions: Heat the butter in small skillet over low-medium heat. Add the shallots, and cook, stirring, until they brown and become crisp (about 5 minutes); be careful not to burn them. Transfer the shallots to paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set aside.

In a bowl, gently mix together the toro, olive oil and yuzu juice. Taste for salt. Gently fold in the avocado cubes.

Spoon a heaping tablespoon (or more) onto each slice of bread, Top with the crisp shallots, lemon zest and parsley.

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Breakaway Matcha at the Remodelista Market in Marin, December 3

 

 

It’s happening again! For those of you who couldn’t make it last year, we’ll be frothing up cups of the tastiest matcha on earth next Saturday, Dec 3, in Larkspur Landing, in Marin County. It’s sponsored by the wonderful folks at Remodelista, headed by my long-time good friend Sarah Lonsdale.

It’s an excellent chance to pick up all your xmas gifts early (and be done with it). Breakaway Matcha is in excellent company (check out the list of vendors below), but here ar the essential details:

  • Date: Saturday, December 3rd, 10am to 4pm
  • Location: Marin Country Mart, 2257 Larkspur Landing Circle, Building B, Larkspur CA 94939.
  • Parking: Free, or just hop on the Golden Gate Ferry to Larkspur Landing (Marin Country Mart is across the street). Coming by car? Directions here.
  • Admission: Free; lunch offerings from The Farmer’s Wife.

I’ve also got a good supply of lovely black cotton furoshiki, in which I’ll be wrapping matcha gift sets. Do come by, say hello, and have a cup if you can.

Vendors include: Ambatalia Fabrics, BFF Bags, Breakaway Matcha, CC Made, Cocoa, Dagmar Daley, Erica Tanov, Foraged Flora by Louesa Roebuck, Heidi Swanson 101 Cookbooks, Heritage Culinary Artifacts, June Taylor Jams, Marie Veronique Organics Skincare, Mato Creative, Mint Design Play, Pope Valley Pottery, Public Bikes, Richard Carter Studio, Rough Linen, Sefte Living, Studiopatro, Whim and Caprice.

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Giving Thanks To All Breakaway Cooks!

Many of you are no doubt doing some last-minute scrambling to get your Thanksgiving table in order. It’s a fun and meaningful holiday (imagine that!), as long as the THANKS gets more emphasis than the GIVING. Give all that you’re capable of, to be sure, but don’t sweat it too much. You’re never going to have some textbook, idyllicized day and meal, no matter how hard you plan it, so why not take most of the pressure off yourself and just relax into it, knowing it’s all going to turn out just fine, or better than fine?

That said, I might try a few different things year, including spatchcocking and grilling the bird, maybe with some Vietnamese influences (fish sauce and chile and fresh herbs and grilled turkey sound great to me), plus maybe a new, fruit-based stuffing with a few kinds of rice (lately I’ve been combining brown, red, wild, and japonica, held together with olive oil and minced herbs), and maybe some simple persimmon-based dessert. I’m also going to try making quince paste/membrillo, except I plan to use persimmon instead, to be served with some fresh-baked bread and good cheeses. With some good wine, that ought to do it. Some effort, yes, but no going crazy.

The best part is consciously being thankful for this surreally blessed life of ours. Try to list a few things you’re insanely grateful for, and — this is the harder part — sustain that feeling for a good 10 minutes, multiple times throughout the day. Drop whatever you’re doing, and just let that gratitude flow, unencumbered, for a while. It’s an instant cure for any anxiety you might be feeling about the meal.

And thanks for reading and participating here. I’m grateful for our little community, too.

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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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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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Daily Candy Discovers Breakaway Matcha!

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Any Daily Candy fans out there? To our great delight, their curators have discovered Breakaway Matcha. They often feature great stuff — check them out. It’s a big coup for us, for sure — lots of new matcha family members already.

Who is Daily Candy? From their website:

“DailyCandy is dedicated to helping you live the sweet life. DailyCandy editors scour the corners of the U.S. and London to deliver the very best in style, food, fashion, and fun for free via email, video, and the Web. Want the latest and greatest? Sign up for the DailyCandy email. Need help navigating your city? Visit DailyCandy.com, the new one-stop for what to do, shop, see, and eat in your city and beyond. It’s your life — curated by DailyCandy.

Lots more on beautiful matcha at Breakaway Matcha.

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Matcha and Chocolate Tasting at TCHO SF, September 24, 5pm

Artisanal matcha is one of those drinks that’s best imbibed on its own; most foods just interfere with and often obviate the delicate umami and acid structures of the tea. Matcha is almost like a food itself, really, with its chewy and creamy textures; it really doesn’t need much, if any, accompaniment.

But there’s one big exception to that rule: great chocolate. Artisanal chocolate and artisanal matcha play incredibly well together.  The combination is a rare one, one whose sum is far greater than its parts. Both are laden with umami, have perfectly balanced acid structures, and have long finishes. Taken together, the experience intensifies into a calm elation that must be experienced to be believed.

I’m really happy to announce that Breakaway Matcha has partnered with TCHO chocolate, the SF-based obsessive makers of some truly dreamy chocolate. It’s almost scary how well our matcha goes with their chocolates.

So come taste! It’s only $20 to sample all three matcha blends and the complete TCHO line. The event takes places at TCHO’s trippy and wonderful headquarters on Pier 17, and we’re limiting it to just 20 people so that it can be as intimate as possible. From 5 to 6 pm on Saturday, Sept 24.  Write Tyler at [email protected] to reserve a spot. It will be a perfect unique start to your Saturday evening! Check out the cool flyer they made for the event. And come join us!

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Matcha and Caffeine

One of the most common questions we get is, “how much caffeine does matcha have?”

Matcha contains roughly 25mg of caffeine, which is approximately one-third the caffeine of a cup of brewed coffee. This is by most standards a very small amount of caffeine; it is easily tolerated by many people for whom coffee makes them jittery because all of the other components that make up matcha in effect slow down the release of caffeine into the body. It typically takes a good three to six hours for this minimal amount of caffeine to be absorbed into the bloodstream, and yet the wakefulness effects are apparent almost immediately upon drinking it.

In other words, matcha doesn’t make you “wired” — it’s nothing like coffee. If you’re wary of caffeine, you can relax  (and matcha will make you relax).

By definition, all “real” teas — that is, teas that come from the plant camellia sinensis, including all black, green, and oolong teas — contain some caffeine. It’s built into the molecular structure of the plant.

Matcha is different from coffee, and from other teas, in one important aspect: the caffeine in matcha works in a synergistic manner with all the other great stuff that matcha contains, including hefty quantities of phytonutrients, antioxidants, and amino acids.

This combination of caffeine + phytonutrients + antioxidants + amino acids produces an unusual effect on matcha drinkers: an uncanny ability to focus and be productive over an extended period of a few hours (for some, the effect can last up to six hours). The effect is quite fascinating, and extremely pleasant for most people because there is none of the jitteriness associated with caffeine from coffee.

Because the caffeine molecules in matcha bind to larger and more stable molecules (especially catechins), the caffeine is, essentially, released over time, instead of all at once, as it is with espresso or brewed coffee, into the bloodstream. In contrast to coffee, this timed-release mechanism tends to inhibit any sudden insulin increases, so there is no “crash” associated with quick drops in blood sugar that so many coffee drinkers feel an hour or so after drinking a cup. Nor does matcha stimulate the production of cortisol, the stress hormone, as coffee can.

Our favorite description of the effects of caffeine in matcha comes from Dana Velden, a writer at The Kitchn.com. “The caffeine hit of an espresso can be a bit like having an express train screaming through the middle of your body: a deep, powerful, jittery roar. I find the effects of matcha to be just as stimulating but in a more delicate, refined way, as if a thousand butterflies have descended on my body, beating their wings until I’m lifted, gently but resolutely, a few inches off the ground. (Seriously.)” Love those final parentheses!

I finally got around to publishing part of the new masterclass in matcha — lots more to come!

More at Breakaway Matcha.

 

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Gingery Love

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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.

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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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