29 September 2010

Spasmodic everything entry

OK OK! We are going to NY in two days and I am going to write something about food or be forever behind and/or holding my peace.

(I am SO BUSY this year, I tell you what. OH. Anyway.)

Tiny tomatillos from the farmer's market! These dudes were smaller than a ping-pong ball, and occasionally PURPLE. So exciting! I made them into a pretty ordinary (yet delicious!) salsa verde, which I have put on nearly every taco I've eaten since. I have eaten plenty of tacos since.

Ok, one thing our year and a half/two years/whatever in Brooklyn did was seriously improve my Mexican cooking skills. I am very, very happy to be able to eat at the real taquerias and semi-upscale Puebla places around here, but I have to admit that a whole lot of my street Mexican food has risen to surprising levels. My refried beans are excellent and full of peppers, don't come topped with gloppy cheese, and are available in either black or pinto varieties. Corn tortillas blackened over the flame are now our default (although I must admit that the tortillas at the restaurants around here are pretty sublime). I have a pot of pinto beans boiling downstairs right now! Lo, I will either make refried beans tomorrow or put them in the freezer, and then we will have a massive amount of supplies ready for us when we arrive home late Tuesday afternoon, fresh from six hours in the air, another hour on the Caltrain, and a final walk home.

One thing we may have to do in NY is go to Greenpoint, eat the tacos there, and make a sincere comparison with recently-eaten California fare to determine their actual legitimacy as tacos.


John had to go to Atlanta a couple weeks ago for work. While he was gone, I did the usual: I made food I knew he would hate, and did so while he was out of range of taste or smell. This time my main subject was cilantro. (Yeah, we can discuss just how awesome my Mexican street food can be without cilantro all you want, because it's pretty good.)

Anyway. I think cilantro is ok in general and awesome in specific applications, such as in inside-out sushi rolls with yellowtail and jalapeno. So I decided to experiment to figure how just how much I liked it.

For the record, cilantro and avocado on top of pureed carrot-cumin-white bean soup is not the best combination. Now, if I'd had the presence of mind to make sweet potato soup, I'm almost entirely sure I would have declared the business a success. However, I'd already used up that combination for the week by baking and mashing a sweet potato, mixing it with chopped cilantro, labneh, and I think green onion, salting and peppering it, and twice-baking the whole shebang in a little pyrex dish, as the potato skins had totally collapsed. This had just about the same result as the soup, though: palatable, and fine, but slightly weird. It was also shockingly unphotogenic. Oh well.

I will say that sauvignon blanc over a glass of sliced green plums is an excellent combination, however.

Then I scrambled some cilantro into eggs, along with a pan of mixed softened peppers, tomatoes, and chard. This one was a much more obvious success. I still had plenty of salsa and avocado to work with (or, in the avocado's case, get rid of before it died), so they piled on too, making this one of the most crowded burritos in all burrito history.

It was still good.

21 September 2010

Additional harvest

We're at that point in the year when tomatoes are common. They just aren't as compelling as they were in June, even with the certain knowledge that they'll vanish, and soon.

With this in mind, I went out and got some of the last actual tomatoes of the year. I know I will want them them in January, even with the big bag of frozen summer tomatoes easily available, so I will make sure to eat them now.

I even treated my tomatoes like the first June harvest, and ate them raw, cut up in a bowl with a little bit of salt. Cucumber with milk-thinned labneh and chopped dill made an excellent and similarly early-summer-themed accompaniment.

For ultimate summer lunch experience, cut several pieces off a loaf of good bread, set tomatoes or spoonfuls of cucumber salad on top, and eat heartily.

20 September 2010

The end of summer advantage: melon and fig salad

It's starting to get cooler--or, well, it's just barely cooler, but we do live in California now, so I'll give the rest of the country the benefit of the doubt. Cooler weather! Leaves actually on the ground! Fall!

So I went to the farmer's market and got some more of the precious, precious end of summer produce. In this case, I got a tiny chanterais melon and a basket of Turkish figs. What should happen?

Salad should clearly happen. I made one.

End of summer salad

good salad greens mix
ripe melon
ripe figs
half a clementine or tangerine, or a big piece of orange

This is a salad, so you don't have to get fancy. Just wash and dry your greens and arrange them on a plate. Chop your melon into chunks and halve or quarter your figs; strew them liberally over the greens. Juice the citrus over the plate, cupping your hand underneath to catch any seeds. I used clementine, as I had one; also, I like them best.

Now you can eat it.

This salad is totally sweet and dripping with juice of all kinds. If you want to go even further into the overwhelming land of summer, you can rip up a few pieces of prosciutto and add them to the salad. I personally am not all that into prosciutto, as the fattiness is overwhelming, but it's certainly a classic to eat with figs and melon. I personally would probably go into the land of toasty nuts or sunflower seeds instead.

19 September 2010

Summer summer summer's going to turn into chili

You and your baby doll/better go to the beach, where you will then eat chili. Yes. Yeah, I don't know. However, my point: it's the end of the main summer harvest, and we'd better take advantage of all the excellent produce while it's still here. With that in mind: chili.

We made this chili with 1. fresh corn 2. fresh assorted peppers and 3. fresh tomatoes, all from the farmer's market. Have you ever made chili with fresh corn? I mean, I realize that most people with an interest in corn spend August boiling, buttering, and gnawing down full ears of it, yes. Maybe you don't want your exciting summer corn sullied with pepper-tomato-onion-etc. melange--but you should. It is so worth it. When you use fresh corn and fresh hot peppers, the difference from heavy conventional wintry chili is astounding.

End of summer chili

First, go to the farmer's market and get onions, garlic, a couple big handfuls of mixed hot and sweet peppers, some tomatoes, several ears of corn, and a bunch of green onions. You can also get some cilantro if that's your thing.

At home, soak and cook whatever kind of beans you like best for chili. Throw a bay leaf in the pot while they boil. I used mostly white beans in broth, but had a few leftover black beans in broth as well. My beans and broth both came out of my previously cooked freezer stockpile: a resource you should totally build, as it makes cooking with and eating dried beans 100% easier.

So everyone essentially knows how to make chili. I don't have any secrets of technique; just make this like you would make any chili. Chop your onion and garlic and soften them in olive oil. Chop all your peppers and add them to the pot. Chop the tomatoes and add them too. When everything is soft and fragrant and the tomatoes are well on their way to reducing, add your beans and broth. Season the pot with cumin, oregano, salt, black pepper, and paprika. No chili powder: the hot peppers bring it of their own volition. Let everything cook down together while you cut all the kernels off a couple ears of corn. When the chili is delicious, you can decide if you want to puree it a little and make it soupier; I generally don't. When the chili is your preferred texture, throw all the corn into the pot. Taste for spicing and correct as needed. Cook for about five more minutes while you chop up some green onion and cilantro for garnish.

When everything is perfect, put it in a bowl and eat it. I find that the super farmer's market chili has very little need for cheese; the vegetables make it. Nice bread, toast, or warmed tortillas are all definitely welcome, however.

I really need to make another batch of this, exercise my willpower so as to only eat a tiny bit of it and put it all in the freezer to be exciting and perfect in January.

12 September 2010

Hallelujah, tomatoes!

Here, o friends, is the dish that finally and with no undue rush converted John to the church of the raw homegrown tomato.

So we were hanging around cooking things and drinking champagne: not at all an unlikely saturday night at our house. John had the idea for the corn business: red onion, olive oil, asian eggplant roasted in the oven and scraped out of its skin, basil, salt, and five ears' worth of fresh farmer's market corn, all softened nicely in the pan and then flambéed with no less than Jameson. The result was pretty awesome in and of itself, but it was even better when dumped unceremoniously on top of a halved cherry tomato and sprinkled with yet more basil.

Although John often watches me eat raw tomatoes with a huge shit-eating grin on his face, he never, ever eats them himself. Clearly childhood crap tomatoes from the crap grocery store have a powerful effect. However, these tomatoes were not from the grocery store and they certainly were not crap. I had probably only picked them a couple of hours earlier. They were GREAT. So I ate a tomato-corn concoction, and John watched me eat it with a huge shit-eating grin on his face, as usual. But then! When I made another one for him to try, he did not demur politely such that I ended up eating it, as is standard procedure on raw tomato occasions! No! He ate the tomato. Then he practically fell on the floor gushing over how completely awesome real tomatoes are.

So we had to cut up a lot more of the cherry tomatoes and eat them. Now that the tomato barrier is broken, we can eat them together all the time! Hooray! Tomatoes and basil we grew on the balcony and farmer's market corn and glasses of champagne: awesome.

08 September 2010

The best meat I've made in ages: spicy lamb meatballs

I don't eat a whole lot of meat, as you guys probably are well aware. (That said, this weekend I had a complete and major craving for a big, bloody steak, both cooked and served to me by someone else, and lo, we fulfilled that craving by going to Vive Sol and ordering me a big plate of carne asada. It was delicious.) However, when I went to the Persian market the other day, I decided it was time to try out something from their gigantic halal butcher counter, and so came home with half a pound of meatball-destined ground lamb in my bag.

Ok! These meatballs are totally easy. The only bit requiring any sort of patience is the actual rolling of the meat mixture into balls, which is really not that big a deal at all if 1. you have help or 2. you decide to make big meatballs instead of my tiny inch-in-diameter ones. I personally did not even think it was a big deal to make all kinds of tiny little dudes all by myself. Plus, I had meatballs afterward! It was truly an inspiring moment.


Lamb meatballs

ground lamb
labneh/plain yogurt
red onion
salt, pepper
olive oil

For half a pound of lamb, I used probably half a cup of grated stale sourdough, a heaping tablespoonful of labneh, three or four cloves of garlic, a fourth of a big red onion, and I believe just one long green chili pepper of indeterminate origin. They look sort of like cayenne peppers, all long and wrinkly, but the heat is more in line with that of a jalapeño, so I don't know. Of course, that could be because they're green and not their full ripe red, but whatever. Any kind of chili pepper that's to your liking should work fine.

Ok. Get out a big bowl and dump in your lamb. Grate up some stale bread and throw it into the bowl. Finely mince your garlic, chili, and red onion (or yellow or white onion; it's all good) and throw it into the mix as well. Add a spoonful of labneh, season with some salt and pepper, and knead everything together until well mixed. For a totally different meatball, you could add completely different ingredients: lemongrass, lime zest, chopped mint, pine nuts, or even some finely minced apricot, in whatever combination sounds good to you, would all probably turn out some fine meatballs. In my case, I was going straight for the easy choice: the savory, spicy, juicy meatball with few to no complications. This worked out well.

Turn the heat on to medium-hot under a wide frying pan. While the pan is heating, shape the meatballs. I like lots of tiny meatballs, which cook very quickly and have a high proportion of brown crust to meaty insides. If you want to make bigger meatballs, or even lamb burgers, that is fine as well; just adjust your cooking time.

When the pan is good and hot, add a few drops of olive oil and swirl them around to coat the bottom. Set your meatballs in carefully, flattening each one a little for maximum brown crust. Cook until browned, and then turn to brown the other side. The trick to developing a nice crust is not to move the meatballs, so keep yourself under control by washing the dishes or prepping further food; I, for instance, wanted to eat my meatballs in the least traditional spaghetti and meatballs context on the planet, so I heated up a pot of water and cooked some spaghetti at an opportune time. I also cut up some summer squash to sear in the meatball pan aftermath. This worked well.

When everything was done, I tossed the spaghetti with some olive oil, covered it with half of my meatballs and some farmer's market greens, and ate it all with cooked squash and an extra dab of labneh. Since I had both room and figs, I added a fig as well.

This was perhaps the most successful lunch I've had in months.

06 September 2010


Our local bakery of preference is called Acme Bread. I for one find this hysterical. So every weekend I go to the farmer's market and stand in their bread line (also hysterical, although for very different and somewhat disconcerting reasons), trying to figure out which kind of bread I should get. Since it's real bread, the time consideration is critical. Which bread will last the longest? Clearly, a bread packed full of damp herbs is a good choice. So last weekend I brought home our first herb slab.

Clearly, herb slab is great completely plain, as the herb content is delicious. (What exactly is the herb content? I'm not sure, but it is delicious nonetheless.) However, for further application, we had to make some sandwiches.

This one is herb slab with labneh, Turkish figs, greens, and pepper, because figs are finally, finally in season, and I cannot stop eating them. I knew this would be good, not only because I love figs, but also because I do some fig/herb/cheese variants every fall. How could it go wrong? It could not.

The next day (slab moisture still intact) we decided to have a kind of abbreviated smörgåsbord for dinner. Butter, mustard, cheddar, mozzarella, olives, spinach, apples, salt, and pepper. Practically any combination of the above turned out beautifully. Mustard, cheddar, and apples worked particularly well, as did plain butter, greens, and salt. If we had been feeling a little less lazy, we might have made some hard boiled eggs to slice and layer on as well.

I was a little miffed that we didn't have radishes to add to the board until I remembered the huge daikon hiding in the crisper.

Herb slab with butter, thinly sliced daikon, salt, and pepper: priceless.