Sunday, August 30, 2015

This was supposed to be the Roman version of a Burmese tea salad, but then my husband convinced me to add an avocado.

THE first time I tried a Burmese tea salad, I immediately started trying to figure out how to make them at my house all of the time.  They are amazing: you should go to a place that makes them and put said salad into your face at the first possible opportunity.

BUT I could not figure out how to buy high quality fermented tea leaves.  I gave up my hopes and tempered my love for these salads with the quite unreasonably long wait outside of the local Burmese place.  Very small tragedy.

HAPPILY, I started reading Apicus - a cookbook from ancient Rome. (There are a lot of great vegetable recipes. Every recipe marked "for vegetarians" has calf's brains in it. There are no desserts. Salt is always added as a brine.) What if I took some traditional Roman vegetables, and added a Burmese twist?  I could still use the fried shallots (fried shallots are the best) and the chopped romaine (for crunch: a salad is still delightfully crunchy if it is 10% romaine instead of 80%. Pro tip.) I could use kale instead of tea leaves, I could replace peanuts with walnuts, I could use parmesan instead of fish sauce (yes I know garum is very very Roman but it's a salad few people want fermented fish on their salad.) and cucumbers instead of tomatoes: it would be great!

THEN the spouse convinced me to add an avocado. It was an amazing salad entirely because of the avocado. You know what makes it more amazing? Abandoning the Roman thing almost altogether, and using chopped cilantro or mangos or tomatoes, replacing the walnuts with sesame seeds and chopped peanuts, and adding olive oil.  Olive oil makes most things better.

Serves 4
Slice one large shallot thinly, and place over medium heat with a little oil.  Fry until crisp, stirring frequently to prevent burning.  Add a little salt.  This takes about ten minutes.

Tear one bag or one and a half bunches of fresh, crisp kale into bite-sized pieces.  Salt. Microplane about an ounce of parmesan cheese onto the kale; add a tablespoon of olive oil and toss gently so every leaf has a little bit of cheese on it to make up for the fact that it is not a carefully fermented tea leaf. (you could also use soy sauce or Bragg's or nutritional yeast, maybe.)

See how I've divided the ingredients into equal pie-chart slices? Do that, it looks nice, and then you look real smooth mixing it at the table.  You are going to add one or more of each of the following ingredients:

A small romaine heart, chopped (this is enormous; you may need to excavate a small pit in the kale for your lettuce.)
A half cup to full cup of a sweet thing like mangos, apples, pears, peaches, peppers, or tomatoes. 
A chopped avocado
A quarter cup of chopped herbs like cilantro, green onions, or mint (this is optional.)
A quarter cup of crunchy nut-like things such as peanuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds.

Put the fried shallots in the center to disguise how badly the segments connect.

Look how pretty that is!  So pretty!

Now squeeze a lemon over it and stir it up and serve it.

Too many tomatoes problems.

Perhaps you had thoughts about how many amazing tomatoes you wanted in April, and now it is August/September.  Perhaps you were a rational economic actor at the farmer's market. Perhaps someone left a grocery bag full of tomatoes on your doorstep or conned you into taking some at work.  Regardless, you have TOO MANY TOMATOES. 

Here is the general advice: peel your tomatoes, cook them into some sort of sauce, put the sauce in jars, carefully follow the instructions on sealing jars OR put the sauce into tubs and freeze the tubs.  

Sometimes, that is too much work.

SO: let us say your tomatoes are beautiful and perfect, and the only problem is that there are too many of them.  You've had tomato salad and tomato sandwiches and gazpacho.  There are still a lot of tomatoes left.

You could cut out the stems and put them on a cookie sheet in the freezer.  After a couple of hours you can take them off of the baking sheet and put them into plastic bags where they will clink together like billiard balls.  Later, you can put these into sauces as if they were canned tomatoes.  Someday. Maybe it will stave off the tomato madness a bit next April.

Also, salsa.  Chop and/or puree them, add some cilantro and diced onion and lime juice and salt, place adjacent to some chips, watch it evaporate.

IT is also possible that your tomatoes are over the tomato hill. Not gross, exactly, but a little soft, a little wrinkled.  

If you throw a peeled yellow onion and five-six tomatoes into a blender, and then put add some curry paste, a teasppon of salt, and either half a dozen chicken thighs or a couple of drained cans of garbanzos and simmer the whole thing over low heat for 45 minutes, you will have a passable masala-type dish, which you can eat with rice or spoon into your face alone.  

Or take the tomatoes, cut out the stiff stem bits, slice them in half unless they are cherry tomatoes, toss them with a little bit of oil, sprinkle them with salt and sugar, and put them in a low oven (350 degrees and down) for 2+ hours and you will get caramelized super tomato concentrate which can be added to your other tomato dishes to up the umami component.  This also freezes well, though I usually cover the top with oil so it doesn't dry out.  Downside: two plus hours with the oven on during summer.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bad Idea Friday: Pumpkin Tarte Tatin

I've been making Choire's excellent tarte tatin at least once a week: it's absurdly easy, and a half recipe is basically the perfect size dessert for four.  I've been trying to think of other things that would adapt well to being cooked in caramel and then baked.  Pomegranates and raspberries are too fragile, plums and peaches are not friends with caramel, quince and pears are not distinguishable from the traditional apple tarte tatin.  Then yesterday I paused, pipette in hand: pumpkin.  Pumpkin tarte tatin. Pumpkin tarte tatin, in time for the Thanksgiving blog resurrection. The idea glowed before me: it was even a Thursday.  Bad Idea Fridays are BACK, baby.

I told the spouse.  He said "let's not do that?" and ":(   I disapprove of this plan"  Miffed, I turned to another friend in gchat, a friend likely to encourage me in my experimentation.  He said "as someone who is not terribly fond of the taste of pumpkin, but who IS terribly fond of the taste of your tarte tatins, I view this as a commander might view rumors of a planned enemy invasion."

Philistines.  Why are my enablers never online when I need them.

SO.  Peel and slice a winter squash/ buy a bag of peeled and sliced winter squash.  You'll need about three cups.  (This recipe is already better than the apple version: THEY SELL SLICED SQUASH IN A BAG: no incessant peeling and coring and chopping for me!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 pinch salt, and 1 tablespoon sugar.  Slice half a stick of butter into 9- 16 cubes: smash the cubes into the flour mixture.  (Here the goal is to turn the butter into a butter-flour paste, but leave some of the flour in a non-butter paste state, so that later it will form a water paste and make amazing cracker-like layers in your pastry, because flaky pastry is cracker layers.  What I mean is "Don't do a great job mixing in the butter: half-ass it.  Or three-quarters-ass it.)  Add water a teaspoon at a time until you have a fairly reliable dough - not too dry.  Drop it onto a piece of saran wrap, cover it with another piece, roll it into a disc about the size of your pan.  (See step below.)

Because I make a lot of tarte tatin, I do the following step at the same time I make the dough.  Put the other half of the stick of butter in a 7-9 inch oven-safe frying pan. (This is the pan your dough should be about the size of.) Add half a cup of sugar: cook over moderate heat, stirring, as the sugar browns and melts.  When it looks like you've put a handful of Werther's Originals in the pan, add the squash.  You could also add half a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice: it's better for being simmered in butter.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the squash produces some liquid: about five minutes.  Take the top piece of saran wrap off the dough disc, flip the dough disc into the pan, take the saran wrap off the other side of the dough, tuck the dough neatly into the pan.  Cover up holes with bits you steal from the parts that flop out of the pan, flip bits that hang out into the pan along the dough; do not fret if the crust is not remotely even.

Bake in the oven for about 30-40 minutes: until the crust is golden-brown.  Take it out: while it is warm, put a plate over the top of the pan: invert the entire thing.  Flick the bits of squash that are sticking to the pan onto the tart.  Be shocked at how easy the pan is to wash.

How is it?

That is a sad face, right?  A definite "no" vote is apparent in that expression.  But guys, this is his second piece.  I am REALLY good at that pastry.  (Crackers.  Remember the crackers rule of thumb.  Or pull out half of the flour mixture, and stir it back in after you've squooshed in the butter.  Now you are a pastry maven.)

The pumpkin is... look, this is when you make peace with your feelings about pumpkin.  It's nicely roasted (I was worried it wouldn't cook through, but it did), and tossed in caramel: this is pumpkin at its peak.  If you keep eating it because it is a beautiful tart with amazing pastry, but are saddened with each non-apple bite, you must acknowledge that you do not really like pumpkin very much.  Sometimes you just finished sharing thirty pumpkin facts with the world, and it's a difficult thing to face.  Sometimes, you've been opposed to pumpkin as a foodstuff from the beginning, and it is easy.

Make it with apples.  Impress your friends.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Gluten Free Brownies

Last night was movie night at some friends' house.  There were gluten intolerant people there; they made Trader Joe's gluten-free brownies.  The batter needed to be patted into the pan instead of being poured.  It smelled like rice instead of chocolate.  The result was not completely inedible - we ate occasional spoonfuls in a meditative way and said "This isn't terrible?" and "You can really taste the rice.  Yes." while waiting for the movie to be less horrifying.  Then we went out for ice cream.

I looked up the mix on the internet: the reviews are "not great and I wish I could eat gluten" and "pretty good if you replace the oil with applesauce - no pictures included." Well.

So today I made gluten free brownies because I was certain I could do better.  You guys know about me feeling certain - you usually hear about it under the heading "Bad Idea Fridays".  (Spoilers: look up at the title.  This turned out to not be a bad idea.)

You should make these!  Gluten intolerant people are nice, and if you're going to trick them into becoming your friends you'll need something other than creme anglaise and fruit for dessert.  Also they are damn good brownies, thank you, I am a genius, make the brownies.  Look at the recipe and say "no, actually, that looks pretty good" and then make them and serve them with whipped cream.  If people are allergic to something besides gluten, well, there are eggs and milk and tree nuts in here, so be careful.  I'm sure you could replace the milk products - and maybe the tree nuts, somehow - but the eggs are essential.

Melt 5 ounces of good dark chocolate - I use the microwave in ten second bursts punctuated by brisk stirring.  If you don't stir, it may burn.  There is no recovering from burned chocolate.

Once it's 75% melted and very very stirred, add a stick of butter and continue brief microwaving punctuated by lots of stirring.  You'll end up with a bowl full of glossy chocolate.  It's beautiful.  It's worth eating on its own.

If you don't have almond flour or other nut flours on hand, dump about a cup and a half of almonds or hazelnuts into a food processor and reduce them to cous-cous sized bits or smaller.  You'll need one cup of nut flour, loosely packed.

Break four cold eggs into a big bowl and add a generous pinch of salt.  Whip these eggs without mercy for A MILLION YEARS.  Whip them until they are foamy and pale - at least a full five minutes of staring into space, holding a whisking machine or whisking madly.

Add one and a half cups of sugar - whisk until combined.  Add the now cool-enough-to-not-cook-the-eggs butter and chocolate mixture - and a teaspoon of vanilla - whisk, damn you, whisk like the wind! Add one cup of nut flour.  Whisk until combined.  Pour into a 9x9 buttered pan.  Sprinkle the surface with kosher salt.

Throw that into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.  Is the center still liquid?  Does it rock when you tilt the pan?  Give it another ten minutes.  Foam from the eggs and chocolate form a high pale crust - don't listen to that when it says the brownies are done, pay attention to how the weight shifts in the pan - you're waiting for the moment when the weight doesn't shift. When that moment comes, take it out of the oven.  If it turns out to still be liquid, put it back in for a while.  It's fine.

If you let it cool, you'll be able to slice it neatly.  I did not let it cool because I wanted to know if it was terrible.  It was not.  It was quite good.  The high pale crust? It's brittle and crunchy and amazing, and the brownies are dense and fudgey and amazing, and I am brilliant.  Yes.


I've been eating a lot of parsley.

"Oh" you say, "Parsley is technically a food, I guess.  Parsley, huh?"

I have!  It's good!  You get a great crisp bunch and pick off about a cup of the best leaves.  You mix those leaves with your best oils and some very finely chopped onion or shallot and maybe a bit of orange or pear or sugar pea or artichoke heart and a dash of lemon juice and some salt and pepper and probably some cilantro or mint or shiso leaves: parsley salad.  Absurdly good.

Two days later it's too limp for salads, so you chop it finely with onion and lemon and oil and salt and pepper and actual peppers, perhaps, and probably whatever other herbs you used two days ago and you have a gremolata which is a nice thing to put on your avocado salad, your avocados on toast, your poached eggs on toast, or your poached eggs on lentils.  All of them are things I eat when I'm too tired to really cook - but this is a fancy dinner, don't you see the gremolata?

At the end of the parsley lifespan, you have several choices.  You can make more pesto, if your husband didn't ask you to stop making pesto, please, let's just eat all the pesto in the freezer first.  You can chop it and flick it over things to give them visual appeal.  You can substitute parsley for celery in mire poix because you aren't buying celery for a while since the time you found five rotting heads of celery in your fridge.  You can chop it up and make tabouli and then forget to photograph it until you're almost done eating because tabouli is delicious.  Parsley is delicious.  It tastes great.

Or you could throw it out.  Parsley is like a dollar.

2:4:1 Soup

We accidentally joined a CSA because the salesperson was very polite - and it isn't like I'm going to go to fewer farmers' markets - so there is a surfeit of produce around.  Produce is like colostrum - you end up using the freshest stuff first - so the old stuff was starting to get disreputable.

But then I found this blog post!  One takes two cups of broth, four cups of chopped raw vegetable, and one cup of dairy.  One simmers the vegetable in the broth, purees it, and then stirs in the dairy product.  It sounds good, right?  And it's technically a lunch if it's soup.

So I made my first soup - something I like to call "Ahahaha, hahahaha, mwahahaha, Vitamin A!" soup.  I like vitamin A.  Vitamin A makes you pretty: science agrees. (PLOS ONE, I know, I know, how the mighty have sunk.)

I used;
Two cups of chicken broth
One cup of roasted bell peppers that were hanging around the fridge
One cup of carrots, also mouldering in the fridge
One and a half cups of sweet potato - both orange and purple, because that is what was in the fridge.
One half cup of roasted garlic, because it was adjacent to the roasted peppers.

I cooked the carrots and sweet potatoes until soft first, and then added the garlic and peppers.  I threw the resulting mess into a food processor with some vandouvan - about a teaspoon - and pureed it.  (I think an immersion blender or a potato ricer would have been a better idea.)  I threw it back into the pan and added 2/3 cup milk and 1/3 cup yogurt, because I realized I had some yogurt that had not yet gone bad.

See how slapdash that is?  It's ridiculous.  AND IT'S AMAZING.  I have been eating it for every reasonable meal since.

Being that the first soup worked out so well, I sauteed two cups of chopped onion until a bit caramelized, and then added broth and two cups of broccoli.  I cooked that until the broccoli was tender - which honestly would be a lot easier had the broccoli not been sad, dessicated and wilted broccoli, contemplating its salad days in the bottom of the badly-named crisper.  I also added a half cup of cooked brown rice in a generous "this needs eating" spirit.  Puree with a generous spoonful of mustard - because I like mustard - and add basically all yogurt, where was all this yogurt hiding?

And that is also very good.  It could be sourer.

My next plans are tomato and onion, leek and parsley, maybe kale and potato - I will be eating soups until it is completely unseasonable.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Paleo car-camping

It's easier to eat paleo while camping because the store and the place that sells ice cream are far away, and the food is right here.  However, if you underpack, or think that maybe a lower number of calories is fine, you'll end up weeping unconsolably on the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, too hungry to make good decisions.  Don't short yourself, especially if you're going to hike or climb or paddle.  For reference, this is food that I eat while doing field work - hiking 6-10 hours a day with a light pack, and then car camping at night.  It would also work for river rafting - although it might not meet the high culinary standards of rafters - or pack animal camping or car camping like a normal person with normal desires vis a vis digging cat holes (no) and sleeping on some sort of mattress (yes).

I do not understand how long distance backpackers feed themselves - I think y'all are basically John Muir, and that you just take two loaves of bread and a pound each of bacon and tea, and then three months later you're back, covered with welts and abscesses and less thirty pounds of muscle.  Thus, some of this stuff is heavy, and some of it requires a cooler.

If you say glamping, I will give you the look.

And for my actual regular readers, the lovely people who know me in real life and observe me eating wheat and legumes and pretty much all of the dairy, and of whom there are several who hate the idea of paleo from the depths of their souls, well...  this is how I eat when I'm working, because blood sugar crashes are a lot harder to fix out there and weeping is a bad career choice, paleo cooking blogs have the best vegetable recipes, really truly, the best, and one of you told me that acorns were edible.  I think that you can take deep breaths and control your impulses to expound on what people in the Paleolithic actually ate (spoiler, in California it was acorns) for the length of this blog post as penance for that indignity.

So, paleo camping: I give instructions for one person because C hates camping for fun, and when we do it I have to promise him bread.  Also, I camp for work, so often it is just food that exists to please me and no-one else.

Do not forget to bring
Salt (I use a 50%-50% mixture of potassium salt and regular salt, but I also drink like a million liters of water a day.)
Fat (You might think that olive oil or nut oil is the right choice here, but it's lard or clarified butter.  Oils will inevitably spill in transit, somehow.  Everything will be covered with oil.  You will have to sponge oil off of everything in your kitchen - and possibly some parts of the car, or whatever the kitchen was on top of {put the kitchen on the bottom of the things} with cold water and an improvised rag.  Bring solid fats, because even if they melt, they won't go far.)
Sponge, soap.  (So that when you don't listen to me and bring oil, you can at least clean it up effectively.  Also so you don't die of food poisoning from not washing your plate.)
Cutting board. (It can be tiny, but you want one.)
Knife that is only for food. (I carry a knife that is for cutting rope and branches and taking plant samples and whatever else.  You need a knife that is only used for food, because you eat food, and some of the things you cut with your pocket knife are not edible.  Also, some of the things you cut with a pocket knife make a pocket knife dull.  Also pocket knives are not good for chopping things with.)
Cast iron pan (Frying things in aluminum is an exercise in self-loathing)
Onion, Garlic, Ginger, Lemon (You might hit a point where you desire culinary experimentation.  Having these ingredients around will make this possible.)
Salt tabs (It is hot and you are working.  Please not to dehydrate, it will ruin your tomorrow.)

Breakfast: I fry nuts and seeds in butter or lard.  You could add dried fruit - it's quite good - and a generous sprinkling of salt.  I melt the fat, and then add a handful of almonds, stir, wait a minute, add a handful of hazelnuts, stir, wait a minute, add a handful of pumpkin seeds, stir, wait a minute, and then add a handful of sesame and flax seeds - with the dried fruit.  I sprinkle it with salt, and there, breakfast.  I suggest eating it with a spoon, because using your hands is greasy, and using a mug gives the impression that you're gargling almonds and looks pretty gross.

I also drink three cups of hot liquid that might include caffeine.  If you are addicted to caffeine, don't go cold turkey while planning to run around all day.  Also don't bring inadequate substitutes for your cherished daily ritual.  You can bring different or superior substitutes - but if you drink something handcrafted and beautiful every morning, don't lie to yourself and slam some Via packages.  Tea is fine.  Also fine; hot water with lemon and glaring.  Mint tea.  Basil tea.  Glaring.  Whatever facial expression you have is fine, as long as you are getting a jump on hydration.

Lunch: Possibly because I eat oil fried in fat for breakfast, I don't eat a lot of lunch.  I keep snacks on me - more seeds!  Dried fruit!  Jerky!  Food bars! - both because I've gotten lost and because eating a little food breaks bad decision trees and helps encourage me to do difficult things.  (Difficult: accepting that the car is not down the road I've been walking on for 45 minutes, and I have to go limp back to where I started and find it from there.  Going and checking out that meadow even though the day is almost over and I'm tired.  Explaining how the GPS works again.)  I also carry a lot of water and some iodine tablets in case I get very lost.

Here are some suggestions, though: Sardines in olive oil with onions and mustard - make lettuce wraps or spoon into your face.  Wrap the can in plastic when you're done because it is candy for raccoons and bears.  (Are "sardines in olive oil" packed in real olive oil?  I don't know.  Hazelnut oil is a common substitute, so tell yourself it's that.)  Sometimes I make a trail mix that is basically two squares of very dark chocolate, almonds, hazelnuts, dates, and dried cherries and dried coconut.  Dates are amazing - they are the food God gave us so we could walk up hills at 5pm.  Lastly, hard boiled eggs are nice - bring salt - and so are apples and peach slices and carrots and baby tomatoes and I'm sure you can figure out how to make a lovely picnic lunch.

Supper: I eat eggs.  I eat the eggs from my egg dude that aren't pressure-washed, so they're fine at non-ideal temperatures for a few days.  Find someone who has backyard chickens, and then buy enough eggs so that you'll have 3-4 a day.  I fry them, and then I put them on pre-cooked lentils because I love lentils.  You could eat a little rice that you cook before you go - egg fried rice with garlic and ginger and a little shiitake mushroom is amazing - or roast some sweet potatoes in advance and then fry them up and put eggs on them.  I also have kale or collards - fried, yes, of course - with lemon, and sometimes tomatoes, either salted and popped directly into my mouth or sliced in half and fried.  I've also done hash browns, for those of you who eat white potatoes.  This is super good with a quick salsa - tomato, onion, cilantro - and a half an avocado and some sort of hot sauce.

Things you could do, but I don't do for various reasons (because I'm tired.  I've been walking all day.)
Make stew at home, freeze it, and then eat it on the second day because it helps keep everything else cold: an excellent idea if you happened to make stew before going out.  You could cook sausage or bacon in advance and then make stir fries (SO MUCH CHOPPING) - but be careful to use enough ice, because things chopped into stir-fry sizes go bad quickly, and chopping things for stir-fries while starving is awful.  You could also do this with other meats - you could bring steaks for all I care, and then fry some asparagus in fat and maybe make OH MY GOD, IT'S BEEN LIKE TWENTY MINUTES, I WILL EAT THE STEAK RAW.

Bring something to sip in the evenings - for me it's more mint or tulsi tea, because hydration is essential! - and maybe something to nibble on - dried figs are good, and I can't upsell dried Bing cherries enough, and of course very dark chocolate and maybe some nuts - macadamia nuts? Or even a small slice of Parmesan cheese.  The idea being that you eat very small servings of delicious things, and if you start not savoring them but instead shoveling them into your mouth, you should have another sweet potato or an egg; you are still hungry.  You may have not been hungry earlier because you were still dehydrated. For very bad days, I always have a can of broth that I drink - sometimes with an egg, sometimes not - as I baby myself back to being a functional human.

Wash your dishes before you go to bed: there are bears and raccoons, and I doubt having them lick your bowl clean is sanitary.  Also once they are at your campsite, they'll find something to eat.

S'mores: S'mores are disgusting, but it takes a while to figure that out.  I forget about once every three years.  What you want - and lord, it's not strictly paleo compliant, but you can see I don't really care - is plain mochi, cut into marshmallow-sized pieces and boiled for five minutes, and then neatly wrapped with raw bacon.  You can fry it in your pan - look, I'm not crazy about campfires either - or hold it on a stick over a campfire.  It's gooey and melty and generally amazing.

If you are with very small campers who are not sold on this whole paleo thing, you can avoid the campfire on tough nights by putting the ingredients inside a tortilla and toasting it quickly.

There.  That is how I camp, unless I am with my spouse.  On these occasions, there is a lot more bread.