30 April 2013

Mango and avocado salad with toasted sesame seeds

Mango and avocado salad with toasted sesame seeds

It's mango season!

I got this year's incoming mango alert from Janet of The Taste Space, who clearly loves them above all other fruit. She has an amazing array of vegan mango recipes, for those of you. Super exciting!

Anyway, when I went to the store a few days ago I discovered not only giant flats of mangos everywhere, but also a serious two-for-$1 sale. I didn't know what I was going to do with two mangos, but I bought them anyway. Avocados, green onions, and a bunch of 49-cent cilantro happened to jump into my basket too. And a few days later, when my avocados were perfectly ripe, I realized I had the makings of a seriously amazing salad on my hands.

For one large serving or two smaller servings, you'll need one small mango, one similarly sized avocado, one green onion, a handful of sesame seeds, and several stems of cilantro. If you hate cilantro, you can switch it out with fresh mint, or just leave it out entirely and double your green onions instead. I totally ate this entire thing myself, no problem.

If we'd had a cucumber lying around, I would absolutely have diced it up and added it too. Now that I've thought of that, I really need to try it. The extra crunch would be a great contrast to the softer textures of mango and avocado.

Mango and avocado salad with toasted sesame seeds

Mango and avocado salad with toasted sesame seeds

green onion
sesame seeds
red pepper flakes
sesame oil

Start by cutting up your mango. If you've never done this before, here's a YouTube video that shows the technique very clearly.

Cut the mango flesh off the pit, one side at a time. Slice a crosshatch into each side of the mango, bringing the point of the knife up to but not through the skin. Scoop the finished pieces out with a spoon, or turn the skin inside out and cut off the pieces with a small knife. Trim as many extra bits from around the pit as possible. Peel and dice those as well.

Cut the avocado in half, removing the pit. Crosshatch each side, just like you did with the mango. Use a spoon to scoop out the cubes of avocado flesh.

Put your mango and avocado into a large bowl and mix gently. You may have to use your fingers to separate the bits of avocado.

Trim a green onion, halve it lengthwise, and cut it into fine slices. If you like cilantro, strip the leaves off several stems and chop them roughly. Add the green onion & herbs to the mixing bowl.

Toast a generous handful of sesame seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat. Keep an eye out and swirl the pan frequently. As they cook, the seeds will darken a bit, pop, and start to smell toasty and amazing. As soon as your seeds have turned golden, take them off the heat. Wait a minute for them to cool slightly before adding them to the bowl. The whole toasting process should take about five minutes.

Mango and avocado salad with toasted sesame seeds

Season your bowl of salad lightly with salt and red pepper flakes. Dress with a squeeze of sesame oil. Gently mix the entire business together. Taste, correct any seasonings, and serve.

This salad would be perfect alongside some seared teriyaki tofu or salmon. Actually, sushi-grade salmon cut into strips would be a great garnish to arrange across the top of a serving of salad. That sounds like the best lunch in the world.

What are you making with all the mangos that have been popping up lately?

28 April 2013

Tilapia with smoked almond crust

smoked almond crusted tilapia

Ok, y'all. I am back on the wagon. By "back on the wagon," I mean I am writing things. And yes, I am allowed to use the word "y'all" in good health & good conscience. I lived in North Carolina for a whole year!

I am also glad to hear that my MFA is standing me in good stead even 12 years after the fact. Thanks, guys.

So. Let's talk about nuts.

applewood smoked almonds

Every Sunday on my trip through our local farmer's market I make my way to the far back corner. That's where the almonds are.

I'm sure by now I've mentioned the amazing array of almonds at the farmer's market. There have to be at least 30 different spice mixtures. Cinnamon, toffee, sesame, citrus; cheddar, jalapeno, applewood, hickory. They're all out for the sampling, and the sample strategy works, because I regularly come home with a $6 container of fancy luxury almonds when I could totally get some ordinary roasted ones from the supermarket bulk bins. Still. These are better.

My favorite are all smoked. This time I got applewood.

They're delicious on their own, but they're even more delicious with something else.

Let's make some smoked almond-crusted whitefish, okay?

smoked almond crusted tilapia with cherry tomato mesclun salad

Smoked almonds! Beautiful white fish! Ten minutes of cooking! What's not to love?

Seared tilapia with smoked almond crust

smoked or roasted almonds
salt, pepper
tilapia or other whitefish filet

Finely chop a large handful of almonds per fish filet. You can use a food processor if you want to and have one, but otherwise, a knife will be fine.

On a shallow plate, mix your chopped nuts with a tablespoon of flour and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Wash and pat dry your filet of fish. Dip it into the dish of chopped nuts, pressing gently to coat. Turn it over and do the same to the other side.

Sear your fish in a hot frying pan with a pat of butter. The timing will depend on the filet's thickness. Mine took about three minutes per side. When the first side is cooked and the nuts are beginning to turn dark brown, carefully turn it over with a spatula.

smoked almond crusted tilapia

Sear the other side until the fish is cooked through. Plate. Melt another pat of butter in the hot pan and pour it over your finished fish, if you like.

Eat your fish with a side salad or some sort of serious green vegetable of your choice. Lemon is not really necessary with nuts, but it can be delicious. It's up to you.

I am ok. How are you guys doing?

22 April 2013

Weekend tacos

On Saturday I went to the park to read a book and discovered a young woman sitting in the grass straight-up sobbing for a good ten minutes.

Afterward I walked up the street, passing two guys in their 50s playing basketball in a driveway. The ball got away from them, and one guy went after it, while the second made small talk with me. "Hi! How are you? Nice weather." I agreed that it was very nice weather. Then, as I continued to walk away, he said, "Don't get yourself killed." I immediately & without batting an eye agreed that I would try not to.

It turned out that he was actually talking to his friend, who had chased the basketball into the street, but still. That's what the week was like. I am more than willing and happy to accept wishes that I not die from a random person on the street.

I don't have a whole lot to say about food today. I transplanted the tomatoes a few days ago: Boxcar Willie and Caspian Pink. I stood around drinking Modelo and weeding and watering for a good chunk of the weekend. The jasmine is still in bloom. Overripe oranges keep falling off the tree, and I find them on the ground, smashed, half-eaten, and filled with ants.

Last night we made tacos. Onion, carrot, jalapeno, black bean; long-grain brown rice; chopped lettuce and grape tomato; corn tortillas charred over the flame; hot sauce. I put cream cheese on mine, because that was the cheese we had in the house. Later, for a midnight snack (ok, a 9:30 snack), I charred one more tortilla, filled it with leftover beans and cheese, folded it in half, and set it to toast over the gas. It was warm and tasty and comforting, and I ate it and played some puzzle games and went to bed.

19 April 2013

A nice relaxing beer

After this week, I think we all could use a beer.

Mine is Uncommon Brewers' Baltic Porter. Organic beer from Santa Cruz! You can't get much more relaxing (and local, as long as you're in the south bay) than that.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I plan to avoid as much stress as possible for the duration of the weekend. I hear that it's emergency blanket fort day in some corners of the internet. Well, it's too warm here for blanket forts, but not too warm for beer.

I hope you & yours all get the chance to draw some deep breaths and relax this weekend.

16 April 2013

Open-faced tomato, mushroom, and herb sandwiches with melted mozzarella

open-faced tomato mushroom and herb sandwiches

It's been a long few days. Here, have a sandwich.

(I'm so tempted to just title this "A Sandwich.")

Open-faced tomato, mushroom, and herb sandwiches with melted mozzarella

dijon mustard
green onion
grape tomatoes

Spread a layer of mustard on as many slices of sourdough bread as you want sandwiches. Chop up all your different vegetables and herbs and layer them on as well. If you hate cilantro, you can sub in parsley, or just chop up some spinach instead. Slice up some mozzarella and layer it over the top. Grind some black pepper over each finished sandwich.

Toast in the toaster oven until warm and bubbly and just barely golden brown.


Have some of the last few clementines for dessert.

11 April 2013

Coconut extravaganza!

red lentil curry with avocado

I have a new favorite ingredient and its name is coconut. Coconut oil, coconut milk, actual shreds of sweetened coconut--I want it all. Okay! Let's do it!

My stash of extra virgin coconut oil had been sitting around alone and unloved ever since I used it in my 3-ingredient DIY deodorant. (This has been working just about perfectly for me, incidentally, so if you've been putting off making your own homemade deodorant, go for it!) But now? Now it is no longer alone and unloved. I've started using it as a cooking oil, and is it ever great.

I started out by making Gena's curried lentils, substituting red lentils for the specified yellow, and serving the whole shebang over basmati rice. The coconut oil gives this curry a faint tropical undertone and a richer mouthfeel, making the whole dish much more satisfying.

This was amazing, not to mention practically free. Isn't that a great feeling? I heart practically free food. And it tasted just about perfect, whether with avocado (always a plus) or with a big spoonful of plain yogurt and some sriracha sauce. When you put those two traits together, you know you have a good thing on your hands.

I liked it so much that I made a big pot of very similar red lentil soup with coconut oil and quinoa several days later. That one got the yogurt and sriracha treatment too. So good.

coconut bread

Next, I started drooling over Michelle's beautiful-looking coconut bread. Clearly, I needed to test it out and determine its actual deliciousness level. So I bought a bag of shredded coconut and went to town.

This recipe is based on the original at Smitten Kitchen, but substitutes in coconut milk in place of dairy. I'm thinking this made the loaf a bit heavier overall--but it also made it an especially coconutty delight. COCONUT!

The only change I made was to sub in wheat flour in place of the all-purpose. This is kind of the default at our house, since we almost never have all-purpose flour, but always have whole wheat kicking around. Wheat flour generally gives a slightly more damp and hearty character to baked goods, and that was certainly the case here. I think it worked especially well with all the chewy strands of sweet shredded coconut.

coconut bread with strawberries

Toasted in the toaster oven, cut into cubes, and topped with sliced sugared strawberries, this bread made one of the best desserts ever. Or maybe one of the best breakfasts ever. Either. Both. Yes.

Speaking of strawberries, how about a coconut milk and strawberry smoothie?

I had just about 1/4 cup of coconut milk left after making my coconut bread, so I stuck it in the freezer for a few days. Then, when I scored some windfall white grapefruit, but didn't want to make it into a typical alcoholic beverage--the fact that it was Monday at 11:30 am helped a lot there--I decided it was smoothie time.

coconut milk, strawberry, grapefruit, and yogurt smoothie

White grapefruit, strawberries, frozen coconut milk, and yogurt made a delightfully tart, thick, and filling creation. I also got to avoid the bane of my smoothie existence: frozen bananas. Seriously, frozen bananas are one of the main reasons I don't do smoothies more often (the other reasons are my visceral repulsion as regards the word "smoothie" and my dislike of washing the blender), so discovering the wonders of frozen coconut milk essentially made the heavens open right there.

coconut milk, strawberry, grapefruit, and yogurt smoothie

I put my smoothie in a mason jar. This worked out especially well, because when I discovered I was too full to drink the entire thing, I just put a lid on it and put it in the refrigerator, a la KERF. Then, the next day, I drank it for completely instant and ready-made breakfast. Hooray!

What's next on the coconut agenda? Hmmm...any suggestions?

08 April 2013

Baby leek and potato gratin

baby spring leeks

Spring means ramp season across much of the US, and the foodbloggers are starting to sit up and take notice. Ramp chimichurri, ramp pasta, ramp foraging and preserving guides--it's all ramps all the time.

Guess what I have never once seen in California? That's right: ramps.

Instead, when I went to the farmer's market last weekend, guess what I found?

baby spring leeks

That's right: it's the new season's first baby leeks. So tiny! So delightful! They aren't ramps, but they're still beautiful new fragrant alliums barely as thick as my index finger--and at $1.75 a bunch, I'll definitely take them.

And then I'll smother them in cream sauce and bake them into a fragrant potato gratin. Sure! Why not?

This recipe requires three main components: sauce, vegetables, and breadcrumb crust. If you are working by yourself, you may want to get the vegetables prepped in advance, but you can also cut them up afterward as long as you remember to watch the sauce and stir it occasionally. If you're working with someone else, you can do the veg and sauce at the same time. The breadcrumbs can go last with no problem.

All the leftover leek greens went immediately into a batch of vegetable broth destined for the freezer. Because it's great to make veg broth on the fly and everything, but sometimes you just want to whack a chunk of premade broth into a pot and walk away.

Baby leek and potato gratin

half and half/cream
nutmeg, pepper
olive oil
dijon mustard

For the sauce, start by melting half a stick of butter over medium heat in a saucepan of your choice. (We used the gratin dish, so as to avoid an extra dirty pot, but I wouldn't recommend it.) Add 4 tablespoons of flour and whisk together, cooking for about three minutes, to make a roux. Add a pint of cream or half and half and continue to cook, whisking frequently, for a good five minutes or so. The sauce will thicken as it cooks. You can add a bit of milk to thin it down if you think it needs it.

Season your thickened sauce with a tiny bit of nutmeg and a copious amount of ground black pepper. Gradually whisk in several large handfuls of grated gruyere cheese. If you want to use another cheese, feel free; just keep in mind that any highly flavored cheeses are going to dominate the finished product.

sauce mornay

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a pan of sauce mornay!

Okay. The vegetables mostly require a lot of cleaning and chopping. I used five little leeks and five boiling potatoes. Trim the roots and the ends of the tough greens off your leeks, split them in half, and wash them really well under cold running water. Slice them into inch-long chunks.

Scrub your potatoes well, removing any eyes. You can peel them if you like; I don't bother. Cut them in half, rest each half on its cut side, and slice into the thinnest slices you can manage. If you're prepping potatoes in advance, make sure to put them into a bowl of cold water; otherwise they can oxidize and turn to black mush in an astonishingly short period of time. Then just drain and pat them with a paper towel before assembling the gratin.

baby leek and potato gratin

When your sauce and veg are ready, mix them together and pour them into a gratin dish or casserole of your choice. I also splashed a bit of milk over the top of mine, since the sauce was pretty thick and I wanted to make sure the potatoes had enough liquid to absorb.

Now it's time for the crust. This is easy. Just mix a cup or so of breadcrumbs with a sprinkling of olive oil, a couple spoonfuls of dijon mustard, and a bit of pepper. We usually end up cubing pieces of fresh bread for our crumbs, but whatever you have should work. Mix everything together, making sure you have enough oil to coat the bread. Then spread your breadcrumb mixture over the top of your gratin dish. If you have extra grated cheese, scatter it on last. Otherwise, the breadcrumbs work well by themselves.

baby leek and potato gratin

Now put the whole thing in the oven and bake at 350F for about forty minutes, or until your potatoes are tender to the point of a knife and your breadcrumbs are golden and sizzling.

Hooray! Beautiful, golden, fragrant gratin!

baby leek and potato gratin with green salad

We ate our gratin as dinner, with big mesclun and grape tomato salads. Then I ate the leftovers for breakfast the next day, after a short encrispening in the toaster oven. I didn't put a fried egg on top, but I was tempted. That would be pretty perfect, especially with another big bed of greens.

The tomatoes were also at the farmer's market, incidentally, as were a vast array of heirloom tomato plants. I got two. Soon they will be in my garden. SOON.

Which alliums are popping up at your market? What are you making with them?

02 April 2013

Sauteed asparagus with cabbage and sesame

Asparagus and cabbage with sesame seeds and sesame oil

It's spring! And you know what that means: asparagus.

Yes. Asparagus has definitely been on our plates for the past few weeks, and it's going to stay there at least until the end of the month. Roasted asparagus. Steamed asparagus over salad. Asparagus risotto. Maybe we'll even try asparagus tempura one of these days.

So the other night we were clearing out some of the freezer and making simple spicy veg broth with vegetable and tofu dumplings for dinner. What would work well with that? How about an asparagus saute with some shredded cabbage and toasted sesame seeds? Fast, fresh, crunchy, and nutty--yes, please.

This was one of the swiftest dinners I've made in recent memory. The vegetables took about five minutes from start to finish, while the broth took maybe ten minutes to defrost and boil, and another three or four minutes to cook the dumplings. That's a multi-dish dinner in fifteen minutes. I could get used to this.

Asparagus and cabbage with sesame seeds and sesame oil

Sauteed asparagus with cabbage and sesame

peanut oil
1 bunch asparagus
1/4 cabbage (Napa or otherwise)
sesame seeds
sesame oil

Warm a large saute pan over medium to high heat. While you're waiting, trim off the hard woody ends of your asparagus stems and cut the edible parts into reasonable pieces. Core and finely chop your cabbage.

Add a slug of peanut oil to your pan and swirl to coat. Then add your asparagus and cabbage, along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

While your asparagus and cabbage are cooking, toast your sesame seeds in a separate small pan. I used enough seeds to cover the bottom of an 8-inch pan--maybe 1/8 cup. Toast for about 3 minutes, tossing frequently. When your sesame seeds turn slightly golden and begin to smell delicious, they are done. Turn off the heat and set them aside until your vegetables are done.

When your asparagus and cabbage are tender, turn off the heat. Pour your sesame seeds over your vegetables, add a few dashes of sesame oil, and stir to coat.

We ate this as a side, but I think it would also be good as a main dish, topped with a fried or poached egg. Who doesn't want a fried egg on top of a pile of delicious vegetables? I ask you.

How are you eating your spring asparagus?