30 August 2011

Fish, butter, parsley.

Seared fish with butter & parsleyThe other day, on one of the forums I frequent (er, really the only forum I frequent), someone just learning to cook meat made a request for easy chicken or fish preparations. Here's mine.

Seared fish with butter & parsley

butterfish or other whitefish filet
salt, pepper
fresh parsley
lemon wedge

Get a nonstick or cast iron pan very hot. (Put on a potholder glove if you are prone to burning yourself on pot handles. Just trust me.) After several minutes over the high flame, throw a chunk of butter in. Quickly tip the pan back and forth; as the butter melts and bubbles, it will coat the pan.

As soon as the butter is melted, lay your fish filet in the pan. Grind some pepper and sprinkle some salt over it. Let it cook, shaking occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick to the pan, until nicely browned on the underside. While this took me about three minutes, the time will really depend on filet thickness and stovetop strength. When browned to your liking, flip the fish carefully over. Salt and pepper the other side, adjusting the heat slightly downward if needed. Cook your fish on the second side for another few minutes. While it's cooking, chop up a handful of fresh parsley and set it aside.

When the fish is browned on both sides, and the thickest part of the flesh flakes, gently lift the filet out of the pan and deposit it on a plate. Slide another chunk of butter into your pan. Add your handful of parsley and shake the pan over the burner until the butter is melted and bubbling. Immediately pour the melted butter and parsley over your fish.

Seared fish with butter & parsleyDone. Eat as immediately as possible, with a squeeze of lemon.

Seared fish really wants some simple green vegetable on the side. Green beans, peas, asparagus, broccoli, spinach (sauteed or salad), or any type of decent greens would all work just fine.

28 August 2011

Black raspberries yeah

Black raspberries
These were $4 at the farmer's market, aka "way too expensive to buy on any sort of regular basis," but I bit the bullet and brought them home, just for once.

One of the best things about the summer camp I went to as a kid was the gigantic thatch of black raspberry bushes growing behind the dining hall. They were certainly far superior to the institutional banana and pistachio pudding we'd get for dessert in the dining hall itself. Those raspberries were practically the highlight of the summer. Along with the wintergreen scattered around the camp at strategic intervals, they were my first foraging experience.

Here in NorCal we have way more options for urban foraging. Our yard alone supplies lemons, oranges, plums, spearmint, lemon balm, and chives, all without human interference. Herbs run wild; rosemary hedges and sage bushes overflow the road medians. The walkway behind the library is filled with self-seeding Italian parsley. Random stone fruit, fig, and citrus trees dot parks, parking lots, apartment complexes. Blackberries, scourge of the northeast, poke through fences and hedges to ripen in the sun. But there are no raspberries. I have to say I'm tempted to plant my own cane in the backyard.

Black raspberries are even more delicate than red or gold raspberries, both in flavor and physical stability. If you are so lucky as to get your hands on any, you should eat them as simply and immediately as possible. I ate most of mine right out of the box.

26 August 2011


Here's what I got at the farmer's market last weekend:

farmer's market haulHere's what I ate for lunch immediately afterward:

bread, heirloom cherry tomatoes, greens, cheeseSo I'm pretty happy about that.

PS. Tomato seed collection continues apace.

collecting tomato seeds

25 August 2011

Round snackings

grapes, grape tomatoes, blueberriesThis week has been super frustrating. John broke his toe and is currently thumping around with a giant foot brace. Our internet went out for a full 24 hours (did you know I work from my home office?). Solving that problem involved I think six different phone calls, all with different people who knew nothing about what anyone else was doing. This morning I got up & walked downtown super early to get cab money so John could actually go to work. And did I mention that we were woken up by a leafblower blowing about a foot from our bedroom window before 8 am?

At least the snacks are tasty: grape tomatoes, blueberries, and teeny tiny green grapes of the "you can only get these in a grape-growing region" variety.

I ate them all.

22 August 2011

Why to have a sausage in the freezer

penne with sausage and green beansYou can then have a lunch that looks like this with the most minor of effort.

Defrost precooked sausage in hot tap water. Sauté chopped onion/garlic in olive oil; add minced hot pepper, sturdy veg of choice (green beans), and sliced sausage (chicken & sundried tomato). Season appropriately and let cook. While you're waiting, boil water and also cook pasta of choice (whole wheat penne). When the veg and sausage are 2/3 done, add any tender veg (orange bell pepper) and cook until finished to your liking. Adjust seasonings, toss veg and sausage with drained pasta, and eat.

Of course, you can also just split the sausage vertically, sear it in a pan over high heat, throw it in a hot dog bun, and eat it with brown mustard and sauerkraut/etc. Whatever floats your boat.

(I clearly continue to miss NYC street corner hot dogs.)

17 August 2011

Homemade seasoning: gomasio

toasted sesame seedsI have to admit that I haven't yet made the celery salt that Heidi posted awhile ago. It sounds great, but I just don't drink enough bloody marys to justify making a full batch of salt. However, I suspect that said salt would work well for pretty much any savory application, so maybe that will happen in the future.

In the meantime, I made gomasio: Japanese sesame salt. Gomasio is super fragrant, slightly crunchy, and packs a huge punch. It's just a mixture of toasted sesame seeds and salt, ground coarsely in a mortar & pestle (or with a pulse or two in a food processor). In Japan they use a specialized mortar & pestle called a suribachi; my ordinary marble mortar & pestle worked just fine.

The proportion of sesame to salt varies a bit from recipe to recipe--some include dried seaweed and nettle as well--but I'm pretty happy with this version. You can use either black or white sesame seeds. I think white seeds are a bit easier, since you'll be able to see how toasted they are. I also used kosher salt, but probably any decent salt you like should work fine.

homemade gomasio recipeGomasio

4 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp salt

Making gomasio is simple. First, toast your sesame seeds in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Shake and swirl the pan gently over the heat until the seeds have turned golden and fragrant. The timing here depends on the strength of your stove; mine took less than five minutes. Don't leave the seeds on the burner and go off into the other room. Like all nuts or seeds, they will burn before you get back. Ask me how I know!

Ok. When your sesame seeds are toasted, tip them out of the pan and into a mortar. Add your salt, and pulverize roughly with your pestle. Aim for a roughly crushed seed mixture--don't mash the seeds beyond recognition! Now scrape it all into a spice jar or other appropriate container, and store it in your spice cabinet.

Voila! Your gomasio is finished. Now all you have to do it use it at every opportunity.

Opportunities include:
- a big bowl of rice with soy sauce and finely chopped raw vegetables
- a pile of wilted greens
- a plate of seared tuna or salmon
- sautéed green beans, broccoli rabé, or asparagus

Yay gomasio!

12 August 2011

Canning tomatoes

how to can tomatoes recipeLook what we made!

My mom used to can massive amounts of produce. The basement shelves were permanently full of homemade apricot jam, brandied peaches, and pickled beets. (We never got any brandied peaches: boo! On the other hand, this all took place before I was 16.) I wasn't allowed to help with the canning, though. This isn't exactly surprising--no one wants their 10-year-old to get scalded with boiling sugar--but the upshot was that I didn't learn to can. I saw what happened, and absorbed the basic principles, but never got to practice with someone who knew what they were doing.

So this was my first excursion into canning.

If you read the USDA guidelines or the Ball Blue Book (which you really should if you plan to can), you get a boatload of explicit warnings as to safety: food acidity, water bath vs pressure canning, sterilization techniques, and, of course, what to do if you ever even suspect that you have unwittingly cultivated a can full of botulism bacteria. The intimidation factor can get pretty high.

The thing is, as long as you follow all the safety guidelines, it's pretty difficult to go wrong. The preserving action itself is fairly easy, if a bit tedious. If you're canning tomatoes, you'll want to clear a full afternoon. But really, it's only a bit of prep and a lot of boiling. You can do that, right?

Canning tomato sauce

tomatoes (we used about 5 pounds, which made 3 pints of sauce; more is fine)
bottled lemon juice or citric acid
canning jars, new lids, and rings
a water bath canner or other pot large enough for your cans
canning tools: a wide-mouth funnel and jar lifter are the two crucial ones.

For my tomatoes, I followed these guidelines. Since we have no pressure canner (and in fact have no canner at all--I boiled my jars in a tall pot with a pasta insert and a towel to ensure separation and water circulation), I needed to make a sauce with only tomatoes. This ensured that my finished result would be acidic enough to process in a water bath. So I peeled and cored my tomatoes, put them all in a pot (squishing each by hand as I went), and boiled them down until they reduced by about half their volume. Since we like smooth tomato sauce, I pureed everything with a stick blender as well.

The boiling took a long time--probably about four hours--but that was at least partially because I don't have a massive selection of gigantic stockpots, and the biggest pot was already serving as the canner. So I had to use a regular 3-quart pot, which couldn't handle all the tomatoes at once. We still came perilously close to boiling over during the initial cooking. In conclusion, I need to start looking out for either a real canner or several massive pots with lids at Goodwill.

homemadetomato sauceIn the meantime, I prepped the jars. While you don't need to sterilize tomato jars--you'll be boiling them for 35-40 minutes during the actual water bath canning process, which will provide plenty of sterilization--you do need to wash them and remove all hints of detergent. (I was under the impression that I needed the jars to be hot on packing, to reduce the risk of cracking, so I put mine on to boil anyway. So my jars were sterilized twice. Oh well.) I inspected my lids and put them on to simmer for a bit as well; this softens the sealing compound around the rims.

When everything was ready, I filled my jars, working one at a time. First, to acidulate the tomatoes enough for safe water bath canning, you need to add bottled lemon juice or citric acid to the jar. The amount will vary depending on what you use. I was using pint jars, so I added a tablespoon of bottled lemon juice to each jar. Then, using a wide-mouth funnel to prevent any spills, ladle your sauce into your jar. Leave 1/4 inch of headspace at the top of each jar. Run a thin spatula or a chopstick around the inside of your jar, against the glass, to remove any air bubbles. Wipe off the lid of your jar, making sure it's dry. Then put on a hot lid and screw on a ring. The rings should be tightened to "finger tightness," which is to say, as tight as you can get them without any undue effort. You want the jars closed securely, but not screwed down so tightly that no air can escape. Repeat until you have filled all your jars. If you have any odd fraction of sauce left over, you can either freeze it or refrigerate and use within the next few days.

Now all you have to do is boil your jars of sauce. Lower the jars into your canner, fitting them into the rack securely. (If you're me, put them in the pasta insert and tuck a towel around them.) Add water to cover your jars by at least one inch, lid the canner, and put it on to boil. When the water reaches a full, rolling boil, start timing.

The boiling time is different for different sizes of jars and different altitudes. If you don't know your altitude, you can find it with this tool. I used this chart to determine that I needed to boil my pint jars for 35 minutes.

Keep your canner at a full boil for the entire time, checking occasionally to make sure your cans are still sufficiently covered. If you need more water, boil some in a teakettle before you add it. It's super important that you keep everything at a full boil for the entire duration! This will ensure that any botulism bacteria is good and dead. If your water ever goes below a boil, you need to bring it back up and restart your timer.

When the processing time is finished, take your jars out of the canner one by one, using a jar lifter so you don't burn yourself. Be sure to keep them vertical, as the sealing compound in the lids will still be soft and permeable. Put your cans on a double layer of towels or a cooling rack on your kitchen counter. As the jars cool down, you'll hear a series of pings; this means the jars are sealing correctly. My jars pinged all at once, practically as soon as I took them out of the canner, but the timing really depends.

how to can tomatoes recipeLet the jars cool on the counter for 24 hours. Test your jar seals and remove the rings before storing your jars. Label your jars; I used permanent marker to note the date and contents on the lid, but you can always get fluffy and design fancy label stickers if you so desire. Store your canned sauce somewhere dark and cool, like your kitchen cabinet or your basement.

Now sit down and congratulate yourself. Hooray! You have successfully canned tomato sauce! Now, if you're lucky and find a bunch of cheap tomatoes at the next farmer's market, you can do it all again next week.

10 August 2011

7 posts

It was kind of a surprise when Jes tagged me for the 7 posts meme that's been going around. Thanks, Jes!


Most beautiful post

All the posts I think are beautiful seem to involve pictures of tomatoes. Look, here are tomatoes at the Santa Cruz farmer's market, and in an awesome pasta pomodoro, or in a massive salad of excellence.

I'm defining "beautiful" with respect to the pictures, not the prose. It's always super gratifying when I get a picture that turns out really well--like this one--because I am not a particularly good photographer.

Most popular post

Yam fries and coffee for breakfast. I went back and checked my stats for the entire 4.5 years of blogging to find this one. Slowest loading time ever!

This post is popular because I give away the secret of the yam fry dipping sauce from Seva restaurant in Ann Arbor. The secret is very easy! It's just mayo mixed with Ann Arbor's special local hot sauce, Clancy's Fancy. Of course, if you live in another part of the country, getting your hands on some Clancy's Fancy is a little difficult...or it would be if they didn't have an online store. Go forth!

Most controversial post

I honestly don't generate a lot of controversy over here. I mean, I'm an omnivore who eats vegetarian or vegan a lot of the time, but I've never been in a situation where I have to balance between those camps. I don't discuss politics much, and don't get any disagreement even when I do. I don't take militant stances on nutrition, restaurant eating, or sourcing food, though my opinions clearly inform my prose. I don't have any trolls to feed; I don't do corporate sponsorships.

The only post that's provoked any real vocal objection is Crispy crunchy soggy spicy, in which I advocate the use of plain yogurt on top of apple crisp. Yogurt is actually very good in this application. Perhaps you are horrified, but it's true! Besides, we never have any vanilla ice cream in the house.

Most helpful post

I think the big veg broth FAQ is a huge deal. Making veg broth is awesome! and easy! and practically free! So few people know how to do it, and so many people should. Make all the vegetable broth, & your food will be so much better. Don't worry; you can still compost all the vegetable scraps when you're done boiling them.

A Post Whose Success Surprised Me

Hmm. The response to Kale fagioli was a surprise, mostly because it seems like such an obvious idea to me. Doesn't everyone make huge, burly pasta sauces with winter greens and/or white beans? Isn't this the main way to make vegetarian pasta a feasible meal?

A Post I Didn’t Feel Received the Attention It Deserved

Well, since I'm not going to cite the great veg broth FAQ twice, I will say soup with popcorn garnish is the big one. Popcorn on soup! Why is everyone not making popcorn and using it to garnish soup (that's totally made with your aforementioned homemade veg broth)? It's by far the best when you add the popcorn a few kernels at a time, so it's just beginning to melt by the time you get it in your mouth.

The Post I’m Most Proud Of

I'm not specifically proud of any one post; it's more about the long-term nature of the project. I'm coming up on five full years of food writing! That makes me really happy, because while I am excellent at being a modern dilettante of all trades, I am not that great at independently following through on huge projects. I am following through on this one, though. Go me!

06 August 2011

Fried rice, egg optional

fried rice egg optionalTime for a fast, easy kicktstart. More food! More!

Fried rice, egg optional

rice/other grain
hot peppers
bell peppers
chard/other greens
salt, pepper, whatever spices sound best
tortilla (if that's how you roll)

For breakfast: soften chopped onion in olive oil over medium-high; add minced hot peppers and any other sturdy vegetables you want. I wanted bell pepper and grape tomatoes. Add a couple big spoonfuls of rice or other leftover cooked grain. Mine was brown rice mixed with quinoa. Season with salt, pepper, and whatever other herbs & spices sound good. You can go really Asian (soy sauce, ginger, sriracha), Italian (oregano, basil), or just leave the business mostly plain. Whatever floats your boat.

If you want tender greens, chop them roughly and add them in at the last minute. Spinach will melt instantly; chard takes a minute to wilt; kale is tough enough to go in with the bell pepper and tomato.

For egg fried rice: When the rice and veg are just about done, shove them all to one side, add a touch more oil (or butter), and scramble an egg in the empty bit of the pan. This gives you feasible egg bits in the finished product. If you don't care about feasible egg bits, you can always just scramble the egg right into the veg and rice, so it amalgamates more thoroughly. I didn't want any egg, personally, so I just had my rice and veg alone.

Eat by method of your choice. I put mine in a tortilla that I'd warmed by laying it over the hot (full) pan for a minute, but it would be just as good to use a fork and a bowl. It's all good.

01 August 2011

Many seedings

how to save tomato seedsSo with the acquisition of a huge & exciting garden bed, guess what I've been doing? (Besides "planting various seedlings and gloating over them every single day.") That's right: I am saving seeds.

Since the farmer's market is now officially full of tomatoes, I decided to start with them. I followed the directions from this pdf at wintersown.org. You should totally check those guys out, incidentally--they will send you free seeds! You know we can all use some of those.

Now, ok. Many of the seed saving instructions I've seen for tomatoes require a week of fermentation. This set of instructions instead requires powdered detergent (i.e. Comet or Bartender's Friend) to dissolve the little sacs of gel around each seed. So I'm thinking it wouldn't be considered organic, but it does work really well. I'll be interested to see the germination rates next spring.

Since I've been saving seeds from random farmer's market tomatoes, I'm not 100% sure what any of them are. I mean, "red beefsteak" describes an awful lot of tomatoes, and internet search only takes you so far. On the other hand, certain tomatoes are prevalent and easier to identify. I know for sure I have some Purple Cherokees and Early Girls, because those were labeled, but otherwise? I harvested seeds for what appears to be Black Krim, some sort of red beefsteak type with yellow-orange shoulders, & a smallish lemon-yellow beefsteak.

Next up: an apparent Mr. Stripey, Orange Oxheart, and some lipsticky grape tomatoes with pointy tips.

I don't think I'm going to have enough garden space for all these next year, but I kind of don't care. We'll cross that road when all the seeds germinate and explode into hungry little seedling beasts.