30 July 2007

Further pomodoro

I really don't mind being a sucker for real tomatoes. I feel justified. Good tomatoes only exist for three months out of the year if you're very lucky. Terrible ones exist all the time. During the winter you may even be lulled into thinking they are real tomatoes. However, they are not, as you may notice when you try to economize during said summer and end up bringing home a vine of tasteless, watery lumps.

I really need to just can fifty jars of sauce. If we had tomato plants, especially ones that thrived in heavily alkaline soil inundated by eucalyptus every five minutes and also came with squirrel zapping ability, I could do that. I could do it anyway if I bought a flat of decent tomatoes while they're still in existence. Maybe that will happen sometime in the future.

In the meantime, I just want to you know that my previous iteration of pomodoro was crap. Ok, it wasn't crap. It was fine. It was delicious and edible. The new one, in contrast, was freaking transcendent.

The whole key to pomodoro from good fresh tomatoes is patience. You have to let the tomatoes reduce. This will take a while, but it is worth it.

Let's talk about reducing tomatoes. It is easy but crucial. I remember for instance a food-oriented party that my friend Ryan gave several years ago. Ryan always made the most perfect food for his parties, and we'd all end up wielding ancient knives around the kitchen while helping prep. On this particular occasion the food was mussels with an onion and tomato reduction. Since there were both onions and tomatoes involved, the reducing time was nearly an hour. There was some yelling at the pan involved. It was worth it, however, as eventually things melted down into beautiful goo, and Ryan threw in the mussels and some wine, and everything steamed perfectly in about two minutes, and Bethany, being then vegetarian, said "You have to have some, since I can't!" and I had some, and then I had more, and they were delicious. That was the first time I ever had mussels.

I did not have mussels in this case. Everything else, however, went pretty much according to that plan.

Transcendent, angelic, benevolent and kind pasta al pomodoro

real tomato
olive oil
dry vermouth/ whichever wine you're drinking
salt, pepper

First, warm a pan and add some olive oil. Peel some garlic; either leave it whole or slice it into big chunks. Throw the garlic into the oil and let cook while you chop up the tomato.

I used this entire pound and a half tomato just for me.

Core tomato(es) and cut out any ridgy bits of skin. If there are no bits, taste and make sure the tomato is decent. Real tomatoes are ridiculously bulgy and mutastic.

Chop the tomato into big chunks and put it in the pan with the oil and garlic. Stir it all up; raise the heat a little. Then let it sit.

Let it sit.

Let it sit. Add some pepper and salt and let it sit some more.

It took about fortyfive minutes for my tomato to go from big solid chunks to approximation of sauce. At about the half hour mark, or maybe a little before, start considering pasta. Put on the water for any slow-cooking chunky shapes; wait a little longer if you want angel hair. If you want mussels, may I suggest angel hair? May I also suggest at this point scrubbing, rinsing, and de-bearding any mussels you might have?

Put on the pasta; drain when done.

When your tomatoes have reduced enough to look puddly and lovely with occasional chunks of tomato mush, add some dry vermouth or wine. Also add mussels, if you want them. In that case I would put on the lid and cook until said mussels are done, i.e. until they all open, which will be in a very short time. I had no mussels, so I just stirred my vermouth into the tomato business and let it cook some more while the pasta finished. I had linguine.

Tear up some parsley and throw it into the sauce. Throw your pasta into the sauce and stir it all up. Now serve it and eat it.

I didn't even want parmesan with this, and would want it even less in the case of mussels. I would, however, want a good lot of wine. With sweet real tomatoes you can go either toward white or red wine really easily. It depends on what you feel like. What do you feel like?

27 July 2007


I probably don't have to say anything at all about this:

Good summer tomatoes. Mostly I am just eating them totally plain. I don't even put them in mixed salad; I just cut them up and maybe add a little salt, because salt and tomato goes together like That.

So this was a little bit of a stretch for me. Maybe sometime I will expand my repertoire even more and start applying heat as well. Ok, I've clearly cooked with them before, but you know what I mean.

I have been all about the beverage class of consumable this summer. It would be a pretty convenient time to have my jaw wired shut. Of course in that case I am positive I would be smacking my head against the wall in frustration over my inability to gnaw a beef bone or something similar. When I had my wisdom teeth out it took about eight hours before I said OH GOD I DON'T CARE ANYMORE and started slowly sucking triscuits to death. So maybe I should just shut up and start talking about food.

Yeah, I made a variation on this gazpacho. Gazpacho has never been a great desire of mine, mostly because my brain is wired to think soup is hot. So I've had all kinds of hot and spicy and interesting tomato soup, and for instance regularly finish the bowl I make for grilled cheese, but I haven't ever gone cold. Cold is for beverages. Fortunately, that's how I wanted this: as a cold spicy tomato beverage.


3 tomatoes
a cucumber
a jalapeño
a shallot
salt, pepper

First, skin the tomatoes. No, seriously. We are going to blend this, but skin them anyway. It will be substantially less of a pain in the neck by the end. Bring a pot of water to a boil; score shallow crosses through the underside of each tomato; add tomatoes to pot; remove after one minute; peel off skin with hands. The end. See, that was nothing, and the pot practically isn't even dirty.

Chop up tomatoes. Chop up cucumber, skinning it if it's a serious gourdy hollow-sounding American one. I use Persian cucumbers for everything, so that's what I used. Chop and seed a jalapeño. Skin and chop a shallot. All your chunks can be big, since you're going to blend them. Rip some parsley off its stems. Find some stale bread and rip that up as well. I tore the insides out of a couple pieces of stale sourdough.

Put everything in the blender. Add about two cups of water, plus some salt and pepper. Blend it until smooth.

Taste. How do you like the spices? Do you want to add anything else? Do it; blend again.

Now is the time for straining. If you are going to have a drinkable spicy juice, you have to do this. Otherwise there will be a billion little chunks of things everywhere and you'll be annoyed. Get a wire mesh strainer, put it over a pitcher or pot, and pour soup into it. Use a rubber spatula to force the soup through the strainer; chuck the leftover solids. This is the point at which you may notice the value of preskinning tomatoes. I had not skinned mine, and ended up scraping all kinds of gack out of the strainer between each measure of soup. It makes sense to limit the solids before you even start.

Now you are left with a relatively thick, dark pinkish liquid. Pour it and drink it. My gazpacho was slightly thick, so I put it in a bowl. Then I drank it out of the bowl. Drinky goodness! It was good as soup; I imagine it would be extremely good as homemade bloody mary. Sometime we'll have to try that.

I also tried to make crostini with the end of the sourdough, but managed to burn it under the broiler while spatulating. We tore out the insides of each piece and ate them anyway. I didn't take any pictures of the pile of blackened crusts, though. I know you are crushed.

25 July 2007

Full Niçoisery

Salade Niçoise gives the illusion of being insubstantial, like most salads involving greens of any kind, but is actually completely substantial. It's so substantial that I find it very hard to finish a full plate, especially considering previous cheese. This (plus fundamental laziness) explains why I often end up making a reduced array: generally some combination of potatoes, green beans, and/or egg in good vinaigrette.

This time we said screw it and made everything. We even seared the tuna, instead of getting out a can. Well, really John seared the tuna. He also, er, made everything else. I mostly sat around exhaustedly and enjoyed it. I also opened the wine. It was a good idea.

Salade Niçoise

butter lettuce
niçoise olives
new potatoes
green beans
dry vermouth
salt, pepper

Start with the potatoes.

Bring a pot of water to the boil. While it's coming up, wash and cut up your potatoes. How much you chop them depends on how big they are. I usually cut them in halves or quarters, or in more chunks if they're bigger red potatoes. If you have some sort of ridiculous fingerlings, you may not want to cut them at all. Ok then! Fine!

When the water is boiling, add the potatoes. You can keep the water from splashing by actually setting each potato in the water, so you break the surface tension gently. Or you can hold the cutting board over the pan and scrape the pile off with a knife, so the splashes probably won't hit you. Whatever.

Let the potatoes boil for maybe ten minutes, then bust out your eggs. Stick them in the water with the potatoes and keep boiling. The eggs need about ten minutes, or a little more if they were cold.

Get out some green beans and cut them into pieces an inch long. Wash and tear up enough lettuce for your salad. Then have some sauvignon blanc and cheese and bread while you're waiting for things to finish cooking.

(Vlaskaas and Prima Donna: very Dutch cheeses)

When the eggs are nearly done, add the chopped beans. They need about two minutes unless you have very tiny haricots verts. Those I would only leave one minute. Have some more wine and stand around.

Is everything done? Drain it all. The eggs need to be immersed in cold water to stop their cooking. The potatoes and beans do not; they instead need to be swathed in vinaigrette while still hot, so they'll absorb as much of it as possible. Do this in some other bowl than your main server, so you don't kill the lettuce with heat. I just use the pot, rinsed with cold water. The vinaigrette can be either homemade or not, as long as it is delicious. Once things are reasonably absorbed, put the pot in the refrigerator to cool a little. In a minute or two, when the eggs are cool enough to touch, whack them all over with the back of a spoon, peel them, and chop them up.

So everything is cooked and ready except tuna. If you have canned tuna, you can just go ahead and assemble. We seared an actual tuna steak. This is pretty easy as long as you take it off the pan sooner as opposed to later.

Whip out a pan and heat it to medium-hot. When things are clearly good and warm, throw in a slab of butter. It should melt instantly. Swirl the pan and get the butter everywhere, then set in the tuna. It will hiss. Hissy tuna!

You want to sear the outside of the tuna while leaving it pink inside. Leave it completely still for two or three minutes, depending on thickness, then flip it over. Leave it another two or so minutes, then remove it from the pan to a serving plate (with no salad). Throw some dry vermouth in the pan to deglaze; stir everything up until it stops frothing madly, then pour it over the tuna. Add lots of chopped parsley. You're done.

Plate: get the greens together. Pile potatoes, beans, egg, and olives all over the place. If you have canned tuna, add it to the pile. We left the seared tuna on its own plate since it was HOT and would kill the greens.

Salt, pepper, and vinaigrette, then eat.

We had definitely eaten too much delicious cheese and cornichons and bread and olives while cooking. We barely made a dent in our gigantic pile of food. This was not such a terrible thing, however, since it meant lots of leftovers for me to take upstairs and eat in front of the computer at 6:50a while pretending I didn't have to go to work. Then it meant large container filled with salad for lunch. Then it meant picking away at bits for snacks before dinner. In conclusion, I highly approve.

23 July 2007

Salad is great

I don't feel like cooking even a little bit when it is summer and therefore hot.

Here you go.

Perfect cucumber and feta salad

mild feta (unless you are into the strong stuff)
a good persian cucumber or two
salt and pepper
maybe some parsley if you have some

Chop up the cucumber and toss it in a bowl with feta. Dress it with good vinaigrette you just made from the olive oil and vinegar that live on the counter (6:1 ratio) plus maybe some good mustard and salt and pepper. Add some more salt and pepper, especially pepper, and eat it up.

Things you can do to this salad:

The most obvious (to me) is the use and inclusion of shallot or red onion. This works best when slivered as thin as you can stand to cut it.

You could add some toasty slivers of almond or some similarly toasty walnuts. Maybe they could be honey-roasty as opposed to just toasty. You could heat up some honey with cayenne, toss in a bunch of walnuts once it's sufficiently liquid, spread the coated nuts on a cookie sheet, and toast them in the oven for a few minutes. Then you would have to let them cool before you put them on the salad. It's a little bit much cooking for this much heat, but would be delicious and probably worth it. Plus the honey left on the pans just melts off under hot water.

Or you could go the sweet direction and add WATERMELON to the salad. This did not occur to me at the time but is now perhaps the most appealing thing I've thought of all day.

Alternately, you could add no watermelon but instead blitz up said watermelon in the food processor with a little lime and ice. Then you could drink it With said salad. Or you could add some honey and mint instead of the lime.

It would be great.

21 July 2007

al pomodoro

i.e. pasta al FAST

Chop up some garlic and sauté it in olive oil with basil and oregano.

See that half a jalapeño starting to dry out in the crisper? Chop that up and add it too.

There are mushrooms and you should add them since they are delicious.

Dry vermouth.

Tomato chunks. Add them with some salt and pepper.

Is it done?

Pasta it up and add some parsley and cheese. Use mozzarella slices across the whole business or parmesan stirred through everything.

Is there half of it left over for tomorrow lunch?

18 July 2007

More soupses

We still have all that chicken stock in the freezer, frozen into a variety of shapes and sizes. Clearly, summer is an opportune time to be rediscovering such a thing. No, seriously. Soup is great in the summer, even and especially hot soup. I can't shut up about it, especially since the apartment complex next door just got torn down, releasing several million previously trapped mold particles into the air and reducing John to a miserable mass of gelatinous goo. I am more fortunate and less smacked by allergies in general, but even I have had a sore throat and several indiscriminate fits of sneezing. Soup is an even better idea than usual.

John had a gigantic bowl of hot hot spicy ramen. I hate ramen (although the broth for his particular stuff is actually quite good). So I went into the freezer and emerged with a gigantic ice puck of broth. Fifteen minutes later it was time for vast bowls of incredibly hot soup.

Clearly you can make this with whatever decent broth you have around, although you may want to taste and adjust spicing more assiduously.

good broth, chicken or otherwise
sriracha or other hot pepper sauce
little pasta shapes
green beans
parmesan if you want

Defrost and/or heat an appropriate amount of broth. I defrosted my broth under hot water enough to squeeze it out of the pyrex, then stuck it in a pot over high heat to melt. When enough had melted, I picked out what was left frozen and stuck it back in the freezer. The broth left in the pot came up to a boil. Bring your broth to a boil as well.

Add some hot pepper sauce. I like a good lot. Add some pasta as well. I had tiny shells, which expanded into medium-sized shells by the end of the business. Stir everything to mix, then put the lid on the pan, stopping the precious broth vapor from escaping, and turn the heat down.

Keep the pan at a simmer while the pasta cooks. Also, get out some green beans and chop them into little pieces. Whatever other vegetable sounds good probably will be good as well; just add it at an appropriate time for it to cook fully. For green beans, add when the pasta is almost done, then cook another two minutes or so. Salt and pepper the finished soup to taste.

Get your soup into a bowl, add some ripped parsley and maybe some parmesan, and eat it all. Drink it all and eat it all. Do both.

16 July 2007

I advise a blender

Get a real one with a real motor, because it will let you make things like this:

Pretty strong piña coladas:

2 cups ice
1 cup rum
1 cup pineapple juice
1 cup coconut milk or cream

Put it in the blender and blend it. Then drink it.

I feel it necessary to admit we used a piña colada mixer instead of coconut milk and juice. This worked, however, because we bought a real one with real ingredients instead of the kind that are all corn syrup and red flavoring.

This amount makes about 3 drinks to overflow 2 big tumblers. Put the rest in a little glass and stick it in the fridge. Or, you know, serve three people.

Very strong daiquiris:

2 cups ice
1 cup rum
as much lime juice as you can get out of 8 or 10 limes
1 pint strawberries
maybe a little simple syrup if it's too acidic for you

This also makes a bit too much for two people, especially since it's all rum oh my god. But it's all rum disguised with LIME LIME MORE LIME and tiny bursting bits of strawberry and several suspended layers of strawberry seeds. This is certainly the drink to have if you've been feeling susceptible to scurvy in any way. We made a version with much less rum later; the amount of alcohol was practically indistinguishable, at least by taste.

Jasmine tea squidgy ice:

less than 2 cups ice
strong brewed jasmine tea
some sugar

This one requires some advance planning, since hot syrup is no good for frozen business. Take two cups or so of strong tea and bring it to a boil. Add sugar. I used several handfuls. Boil and reduce a little until it's flavored simple syrup.


Later you can stick the ice in the blender with the syrup and maybe a little more unsyruped iced tea and make it into squidgy ice. You may have to poke this around to get all the ice pulverized, since the small amount of liquid makes it more difficult to get everything done at once. Eat it with a spoon. Good for sore throats, which developed on sunday morning after a saturday full of trains and waiting around and the bus not coming and eventually deciding what to do in the middle of Folsom Street.

We were also very interested in freezing various things into cubes and then blending them. Pineapple juice cubes worked exceptionally well with just a little rum and lime. Then there were the ginger ale cubes which we made from a small-run ginger ale from Wisconsin. Go midwest! This worked out exceptionally well to fulfill slurpee cravings late in the sore throat period.

Ginger slush:

ginger ale ice cubes
the rest of the ginger ale

Freeze some ginger ale. When it's ready, stick it all in the blender with more ginger ale. Use a little more liquid than ice to make an actual slush texture.

13 July 2007

If fish is delicious,

here is what you should do to it:

1. make some delicious vegetable madness to go under it
2. fry it
3. bed it lovingly on said vegetables
4. eat it

Fish is great as long as you leave it mostly alone and just let it be fish. In this case, I had some perfect and quite cheap tilapia. I also had garlic and zucchini. What could happen?

tilapia/other white fish filet
salt, pepper, cayenne
butter/olive oil
dry vermouth

First vegetables, then fish. This is necessary because fish must be eaten INSTANTLY when done. Fish must be absolutely searing hot.

Vegetables. Get a sauté pan hot while you mince garlic and slice zucchini into fine rounds. I used half a reasonably large zucchini. Not one of those gargantuan late summer ones, just a normal one.

Stick some olive oil and butter in the pan. I like both, but you can clearly do this with just oil. Get things melted and ready, then add in the garlic. Give it a couple minutes to start to soften before you add the zucchini. Sauté it until everything is melting and the zucchini slices have turned golden. Then put it on a plate and stick it in a barely-warm oven to stay hot while you make the fish.

For fish, put a handful or two of flour on a plate and season thoroughly with pepper and cayenne, plus a little salt. Lots of cayenne is great. Mix it up, then bread the fish in it, turning to get flour on all sides and tapping excess off.

Now get the pan super hot. Give it another slug of olive oil and whirl it around. You are ready for fish.

Slap the fish into the pan and try very hard not to move it for the next three or four minutes. I always end up shaking the pan to make sure it's loose, which is not horrible but can sometimes get you a broken fillet. When the edges of the fish are white and opaque, flip it over. Look at that beautiful seared crust! Let it sit for another couple minutes, or until everything is opaque clear through and you can flake it with a fork. Then flip it onto your plate of zucchini and stick it back into the oven for a minute.

Scrape any overtly charcoaled bits out of the pan and put it back on the heat. Toss in some butter; it should melt instantly. Toss in some vermouth; it should sizzle and bubble furiously. While everything is acting so fierce, whip your spatula into action and scrape up every single last bit of delicious brown goodness from the bottom of the pan. A weak deglaze is nobody's friend. Then, when the bubbling has died down and everything smells fantastic, get the fish out of the oven and pour the sauce over it.

Eat it all as swiftly as possible.

I realize this is my last direction for nearly everything. Well. It should be. Food is delicious and you should eat as much of it as you can as swiftly as possible.

11 July 2007

Welcome to planet easy

This is the pita trick. It consists of people being 1. totally, irrevocably sick of normal delivery and/or frozen pizza and 2. unwilling to make the effort to make an actual pizza crust. Said people then 3. get some pitas and 4. use them as the pizza crust instead. They turn out 5. thin, crispy and perfect.

Ready? Ok.

You need pita and things to put on said pita. Nearly anything will work: zucchini, feta, red onion and walnuts, for example. We were doing fairly traditional pizza, so here are my things: (I cannot STAND the word "toppings", how about you?)

tomato sauce
olive oil

You can of course make an actual serious pizza sauce to put on said pitas, but what good is that if your ultimate goal is lazy sustenance? That said, we always have actual decent tomato puree in the house, as opposed to grody brand corn syrup nonsense.

Each pita gets some olive oil first. Olive oil. Then it gets some tomato, a little more olive oil, some garlic, and some basil and oregano. It is always a good idea to add some salt to canned tomato anything, to take away the tinny taste, but in this case I forgot. It didn't really matter, though, since I had plenty of salty cheese.

I made two kinds of pita: mushroom and jalapeño. The mushroom got lots of mozzarella and parmesan; the jalapeño got only a little of each. This worked admirably. Then I sprinkled on a little crushed parsley, previously fresh but dried out over a week, and stuck the business in the oven at 425F.

It only takes a few minutes for these to heat, melt, and brown on top. Check them after five minutes or so, or as soon as you start to smell everything turn delicious.

For dessert, have some of these:

PLUMS. Also a little apricot. This one came off a tree at the side of the road during my week of 30-mile commute. There is nothing like fruit off the trees at the side of the road, especially when they're clearly just accidental trees at the side of the county road from which you can pick fruit with impunity. The plums, in contrast, came from the store, since our neighbors already picked all the plums off our apartment complex trees and made them into two huge batches of jam, two jars of which we now have in our greedy, conniving hands. Er, pantry.

09 July 2007

Less mundane burritos

AKA "brunch with no eggs" due to the large amount of potatoes and spicy business involved. Or perhaps "huevos rancheros with no eggs" since we didn't sit around and have four cups of cafe con leche apiece either. Now that sounds really good. BREAKFAST.

In this instance I wanted lots of spicy potato and white cheese of some variety in a huge roll of burrito. I also wanted corn, which we didn't have. Blast! So I have to figure out some other, similarly awesome vegetable to add. This necessitated a look through all the little bits and pieces we have lying around in the refrigerator.

Here's one: oh my god olives! Premarinated! Chopped! Panfried!

This was perhaps the best idea ever. It even made the roasted red pepper I had left over from salad the other day fade into the background a bit.

In another instance, I would use both olives And corn for maximum deliciousness.

Potato and olive burritos

olive oil and/or butter
boiling potatoes
hot pepper of some type
soaked and boiled black beans
corn, fresh or defrosted
black olives
spices: cumin, cayenne, oregano or cilantro, salt, pepper
white cheese
salsa or whatever

Get a big pot 2/3 full of water and bring it to a boil.

Start with potatoes. Dice a bunch of them up. I used maybe five or six for four burritos. I always use redskin (because I'm cheap) or yukon gold (because they're delicious). In this case it was redskin. When the water comes to a boil, slide the potatoes in and blanch them for maybe ten minutes. You want them about halfway cooked at this point. Drain them.

Bust out a sauté pan and heat it on medium high. When the potatoes are done boiling, stick a substantial slug or three of oil and a chunk of butter in the pan. Swirl everything to melt the butter, then add several good shakes of cumin, one of cayenne, and a few of oregano or cilantro. You want to toast the spices so they get faintly aromatic. Stir everything up and cook for a minute or two, until you can smell something besides oil and butter. Then tip in the potatoes, plus some salt and pepper.

Get the potatoes into a single layer in the pan, if possible. Then let them be. Don't move them for a good three or four minutes. This will let them start to get some golden crust action on. After a bit, stir it up and get another single layer going. You may need to add more oil so nothing sticks. Repeat this a few times, until the potatoes are browned at least a little on all sides.

While the potatoes are crusting, chop up a hot pepper of your choice and four or five cloves of garlic. If you want onion, that'll work too. What's around? Use that. If you have corn, defrost it under hot water or cut it off the cob. Anything else you might want to add should go in at this step, too: I had that roasted red pepper. Stir the vegetables into one of your last crusting batches. Turn the heat down to medium and let everything cook together, so the tastes can mix. Five or ten more minutes should be enough.

While you're letting that cook, warm up your black beans in a little pan or in the oven. It doesn't really matter as long as they get warm. Or you can go without black beans altogether. The whole burrito concept is always flexible.

You can also get the plates and tortillas ready at this point. If you want, you can heat the tortillas in a foil packet in the oven. I just got them to room temperature and layered with a little mild white cheese. Jack or queso fresco are probably your prime choices; I like mozzarella.

Is everything pretty much done? Now then: olives. Black olives are excellent for this purpose; I guess green ones would work as well, but that didn't really appeal to me. You don't really need a large proportion of olives to everything else here; I used about six for two olivetastic burritos. Chop whatever olives you want to use into rough chunks, then sauté in some olive oil over pretty hot heat. Double olive for maximum deliciousness!
When everything is ready, put a layer of beans, one of potato deliciousness, and one of olives into each tortilla. The heat of the ingredients will melt the cheese, especially if you roll quickly for maximum insulation. You can also add salsa, lime, or chopped fresh vegetables if you want. They're burritos; they can take it.

Eat swiftly, while things are good and hot. Have a beer. Have that cafe con leche. Oh man, do I ever want some of that now. It is time for dinner!

06 July 2007


Of course, this salad requires roasting things, so perhaps it's not the best idea for hot weather. On the other hand, you can certainly buy roasted red peppers in a jar. Certainly!

I revised this slightly down from the Tassajara Recipe Book. There wasn't much to simplify: I just didn't add the olive oil and vinegar to the dressing. It was me being lazy more than anything else. I would, however, add them in future. Without them, the dressing flavors are almost too pungent and dominant. We need a second source of fat to tie the dressing to the avocado really well.

From this, you will infer that this salad could be described as a SUPER FLAVOR BURST SPECTACULAR. This is true. It was really, really strong, and really cool, and really good.

Avocado salad with roasty red pepper dressing

red bell pepper
clove garlic
olive oil and vinegar
salt and pepper

First, roast the red pepper. Stick it under the broiler, turning every couple minutes, until the skin has charred and blackened all over. Then take it out of the oven and carefully and immediately put it into some sort of container with lid/closure device. Close the lid/whatever and let it sit for five minutes or so. This will let the heat steam the skin, making it really easy to get off. You can use nearly any container that isn't going to melt from the heat of a broiled pepper. Paper bags work. I used a big tupperware container in this instance.

Peel the pepper's skin off with your hands, rinsing if necessary. Then cut it up, removing the stem and seeds.

If you want to use jarred peppers, just take a couple out of the jar, but what fun is that? Also, then you have a whole jar of red peppers to use up before they go bad. Wait. Actually, that wouldn't be so bad.

Here is the fun part. If you have a mortar and pestle, you get to grind a sauce by hand. If you have a blender, you get to grind a sauce by blend. If you are lazy, like me, you get to chop up a sauce manually on the cutting board. In any instance, combine the pepper with 1 clove of garlic and a pinch of salt and grind/blend/chop everything until fully pulverized. You are clearly going to get different textures according to method: chop = rough, grind = medium, and blend = smooth. It doesn't really matter, though; it will still all taste good.

Mix the pepper and garlic with appropriate amounts of olive oil and vinegar. I would use a good big slug of oil but barely any vinegar. Taste it and see what you like. Hello raw garlic!

Slice and peel your avocado. If you want, you can arrange it decoratively. I like it all piled in one big pile.

Pour dressing over avocados, salt and pepper, and eat.

The taste combinations in this salad remind me strongly of the hearts of palm salad at Osteria in Palo Alto. That one is just marinated hearts of palm with similarly marinated red pepper strips, dressed in awesome herby vinaigrette. That gives me another idea, actually. Instead of making an elaborate mashy dressing, why don't you just cut the roasted pepper into strips and toss them with your own awesome herby vinaigrette and the sliced avocado? This idea clearly wins. Oh, man! Why did I eat the other avocado mashed on toast for breakfast?! WHY?

04 July 2007

Puff pastry = dinner

Another exciting idea from the land of Nigel Slater is puff pastry: stuff that isn't dessert. In fact, it is totally dinner, or lunch, or plate of very flaky party food that sheds scales of crust all over the kitchen floor. It goes with beer! Have you ever had a puff pastry concoction that goes with beer? Probably not, because puff pastry is generally confined to such things as fruit tarts, or, much worse, horrifying "chocolate peanut butter marshmallow cups", for which you can find the recipe inside any box of pepperidge farm frozen puff pastry dough. The box is gone, so let me try to recreate it from memory.

Cut puff pastry into squares. Turn corners up to form cup. Fill with chunk of chocolate, chunk of peanut butter, and 3 STA-PUFT brand mini-marshmallows! STA-PUFT: the brand that devoured New York! Bake until golden and crispy.

We are clearly not having that for dinner. Instead, look what is in the oven:
Onion Puff!

sheet of frozen puff pastry
several onions, shallots, and other oniony devices
cheese for melting
parsley, or whatever herb you like with onion

First, thaw the puff pastry. You can also make it from scratch. I personally have never done so, and would find it very hard to contemplate in July: the month that requires sticking whatever pastry you may be making into the refrigerator every two seconds so as not to just completely melt the butter, let alone bring it to room temperature. A regular pizza dough would also work here.

Unfold the thawed dough and take a look at it. Chances are it's not thin enough for a full-sized tart. Flour the counter and roll it out to a more reasonable thickness and size. "No thicker than a coin" is the general rule I've heard (from Nigel Slater). Make it a good shape for your cookie sheet, then slide it into said sheet. Score a line around the edge for a crust, and prick the rest all over with a fork. The pastry will puff up a lot anywhere you don't prick it, so be thorough if you want defined edges.

Get out a pan and melt some butter. Use a lot.

Chop some onions into largish chunks and put them in the pan. I used two yellow onions and two shallots, which was barely enough, You want maybe five or six onions total for ultimate caramelized onion business. Sauté slowly no browning until they're all soft and melty. This may take a while.

In the meantime, take a look at your cheese. You could use a wide variety of mild cheeses here. I used the end of the rind of idizabal from the crostini the other day, plus mozzarella for serious melt quality. Slice your cheese thinly or grate it. Also at some appropriate point preheat the oven to 425F.

When the onions are ready, it's time to assemble. Spread the onions over the puff pastry. Spread the slices of cheese over the onion. Sprinkle a good lot of black pepper and some slightly old (i.e dry and crumbleable) fresh parsley over the whole business.

Put it in the oven and bake it until everything is crispy met melty. Golden-brown is clearly the ideal. Things will also puff up alarmingly; this is actually what you want here, so don't worry. It will only take about ten or fifteen minutes to cook, so check pretty often once you get within that range.

Take it out of the oven, wait the painful few minutes for it to cool enough to cut, and eat it.

As mentioned, drink cold beer. You could clearly go in a few directions with this, but I find that beer is entirely fine with me. I mean, at some point you realize that this is just really really good bar food. It's bread and onion and cheese! What would you do to have a neighborhood bar that served plates of this instead of breadsticks and cheese sauce? I believe the answer would be "plenty".

02 July 2007

We are exhausted; let's be lazy

It was another one of Those weekends:

- sourdough batard
- butter lettuce
- fresh parsley
- cotswold and mozzarella cheese
- decent dill pickles
- olive oil with garlic
- sidecars

I love eating olive oil as a food.

I really am not fond of the texture of fresh mozzarella. I like the rubbery business instead. I wouldn't describe it as "rubbery," either, but "smooth" or something along those lines. It is perhaps the greatest when shaved really really thinly and eaten plain. Or when shaved again thinly and stuck in a tortilla to which you add a bunch of hot scrambled eggs and salsa, then rolled and eaten. Or when stuck on wheat crackers of your choice with a slick of good brown or dijon mustard.

In this case, the cheese went on bread. Bread goes in garlicky olive oil, cheese goes on bread, lettuce or parsley goes on cheese, pepper and crushed salt go madly scattered over everything. Bread goes in mouth. Bite of pickle goes in mouth. Bread goes in mouth. Sidecar goes in mouth.


Mix 2 parts brandy with 1 part each Cointreau and lemon juice; garnish with lemon peel. Try to use actual lemon juice; the fake stuff works ok but tastewise is pretty much an invitation to the land of the corn syrup fairy.