Ensalada de Pulpo con tomates ahumados (Octopus Salad with smoked tomatoes)

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The variety of textures is pleasing on the tongue, and the variety of ingredients ensures that each bite will be slightly different from the one on either side. I think of this as a summer salad, but even though I’m making it in mid-September, summer is still in full swing in Los Angeles (save for the ever-shortening daylight hours).

INGREDIENTS

1.33 lbs / 600 g octopus, cooked and chopped
1 medium bunch fresh parsley, chopped (leaves only — well, mostly)
2 stalks celery, minced
1 orange, zested (zest only)
1 bottle (12 oz. / 340 g) marinated red peppers, diced
1/2 red onion, quartered, sliced thin, and macerated
2 tbsp / 20 g bottled capers, drained
2 dozen smoked and roasted cherry tomatoes, optional
vinaigrette dressing to taste
coarse or flaked sea salt to taste for finishing

DIRECTIONS

I bought my octopus already cooked, but if you don’t have a store that carries such, cooking octopus is pretty easy (cooking it well, however, is perhaps a little more difficult).

[I will be posting a technique for cleaning and cooking octopus in the Instant Pot® in the next week or 10 days. ]

Most of the work here is cleaning, chopping, and mixing. If you have a Microplane zester, it will make short work of the orange. You can substitute lime, lemon, or grapefruit zest if an orange isn’t handy, but I think orange suits it best.

Macerating the onion entails soaking it in red wine vinegar (or plain old white vinegar if you must) and a pinch of salt for about an hour. During that time, the purple/red of the onion will lighten considerably, and the onion itself will lose some (but not all) of its bite. After the hour is up, you can drain and rinse the onion before adding it to the salad. [You can dress the salad while the onion is macerating; it’s better when the dressing has had a little chance to mingle and be absorbed.]

As for the vinaigrette, I went super simple: 1 part red wine vinegar to 3 parts olive oil, and a teaspoon / 2.5 gm of ground black pepper. I didn’t want to get too fancy, because I didn’t want to overwhelm our cephalopod friend. That said, since there are so few ingredients in the dressing, I made sure to use a really good olive oil. If I’d had access to the appropriate Gegenbauer vinegar, I would have used that, but my remaining sour cherry vinegar wasn’t right for this recipe.

I happened to have roasted and smoked cherry tomatoes taking up space in the fridge, and they were a welcome addition, but by no means crucial. You could use regular cherry or grape tomatoes, or none at all.

Pop the whole lot in the chill chest and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. This will make an opening salad for 6-8, but the bride and I made it our main course, and polished off about 2/3 of it. We’ll finish up the rest tomorrow because, well, seafood.

And as for summer, I’m gonna hang on to it until reality intrudes, and I have to trade my rosé for a single malt, and my light-filled salads for soup.

 

 

 

 

What’s the matter, pig got your tongue? [Smoked Pork Tongue on the Electric Pellet Smoker]

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Dos lenguas de puerco.

I’ve mentioned in other places that the idea of eating an animal’s tongue is usually met with some, um, hesitancy by my Anglo friends, with the general exception of Jewish carnivores (though they tend to eat beef tongue rather than pork). Latinx, of course, have a rich history with this cut, and virtually any taco truck worth its sal will have lengua as a meat option. In a perfect world, I’d love to make this barbacoa style, but I’m too lazy to go to all that effort for just the bride and me (not to mention for a mere two pounds of tongue), so I’m going to smoke it instead.

Into the Instant Pot® for a quick bath.

I think one of the reasons that people are reticent to try tongue is that they don’t want to taste what the pig’s already eaten, and I get that. In fact, though, the surface of the tongue (including the rough part studded with lingual papillae) is removed in this particular preparation, though it isn’t in all recipes. One method for removing this stratum is to boil the tongue for about an hour and then use a knife to slice off the surface, but I’ve found that 40 minutes or so in a pressure cooker accomplishes the task even better (I threw in some Rancho Gordo Mexican oregano as an aromatic as well). Most of the surface could easily be peeled off by hand, and the rest I trimmed up with my Global chef’s knife.

Rubbed and ready.

When it came to a rub for the smoker, I wasn’t shooting for anything fancy; just some salt, black pepper, and pimentón de la Vera (Spanish smoked paprika, both to enhance the smokiness and because it reminds me of my beloved Galicia). I set the dial of my electric pellet smoker for “Hi Smoke” (average temp about 210°F / 100°C, though it varied by some 15°F / 8°C over the course of the cook). [For those of you who obsess over such details, the pellets I used were Traeger Grills Signature Blend pellets, made from hickory, maple, and cherry woods.]

Fresh out of the smoker.

After an hour and a half in the smoker, the internal temp registered 177.5°F / 80.8°C, which was just a shade higher than most of the recipes I’d read suggested (though a couple said 150°F / 65.5°C was where they pulled it out). Since I wasn’t planning on making tongue jerky, I removed it and gave it 25-ish minutes to rest before trying a slice.

INGREDIENTS

2 lbs. / 1 kg pork tongue
1 tbsp. / 17 g salt
1/2 tsp. / 1 g pimentón de la Vera
1/2 tsp. / 1 g black pepper
dash Mexican Oregano flakes (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Rinse off meat in cold water, pat dry. Place in Dutch oven or pasta pot. Cover with water and add a pinch of Mexican oregano flakes, bring to a boil on stovetop, then simmer, covered, for one hour OR cook on steaming rack in pressure cooker for 40-45 minutes on high pressure (add 1.5 cups / 350 ml water and pinch of Mexican oregano flakes for aroma). Remove meat and allow to cool, then peel tongue with chef’s knife or by hand.

While meat is cooling, turn on electric smoker to Hi Smoke setting (or 225°F / 107°C) and allow at least 15 minutes to come to temp.

Make spice rub with salt, pimentón de la Vera, and black pepper. Rub liberally into meat, making sure to get rub into any nooks.

Place on smoker for approximately 90 minutes, or until internal temp registers 175°F / 79.5°C, then remove and allow meat to rest at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Just had a slice, and boy, is it tender. Now all I need is a bolillo or a Kaiser roll, some mayo and either mustard or bbq sauce, maybe some of the living butter lettuce we have in the fridge, and I’ll be one happy camper… even if I’m not at Cantina Río Coves in Galicia.

Some pig!

When Grapes Met Cotton Candy – A Goofy Story

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Back in the day.

Back in the carefree, racist, Hazmat-filled days of 1964, Pillsbury decided to take on a soft-drink behemoth that has since acquired a second, political, meaning (Kool-Aid®) with a series of imitation drink mixes of their own: “Funny Face.”

There were initially six iterations of Funny Face, two of which (Injun Orange and Chinese Cherry) were promptly withdrawn because they were have adjudged to have exceeded even the racist norms of their time, and it was a time when many people actually got embarrassed about creating racist memes. Further scorn was heaped on the product when it was discovered to have been sweetened with cyclamates, which were declared a carcinogen and banned in America in 1970. But Goofy Grape was my fave Funny Face drink, cancer be damned.

At that time, Thompson Seedless green grapes were pretty much the only seedless variety to have penetrated the market, but since then, several horticultural entities have stepped up to attempt to unseat the Thompson. For instance, the University of Alabama (!) has developed several varieties, many of which (Saturn, Venus, Jupiter, etc.) are named after planets. [Not particularly surprised they didn’t name a grape after Uranus.]

On the private side, a producer known as Grapery® was, and is, bringing a little magic to the market in totally unexpected ways. Owners Jack Pandol and Jim Beagle of Grapery® both grew up in commercial ag; in fact, Pandol’s grandfather Stjepe emigrated from his native Croatia at the early 1900’s and farmed his first vineyard in California’s San Joaquin Valley not far from where Grapery®’s vineyards now stand.

The grapes, many of which look surprisingly, um, unusual are all non-GMO. And the shapes and flavours! Oh my.

Best of both worlds.

My favourite is a variety the bride brought home today and is only available for about 6-8 weeks each year. Cotton Candy® grapes look pretty much like your standard Thompson Seedless, but they embody that ephemeral sweetness for which cotton candy is famed. I also found some Moon Drops® at the local super; they seem — to me anyway — to have a more distinctive shape than taste, but they’ll definitely liven up a salad visually.

Moon Drops®.

Like any crop, it has a limited harvest, so git while the gittin’ is good. There’s just no substitute, and they’re worth getting goofy over.

Smoking Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Roasted Tomatoes in an Electric Smoker

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Sun-dried on the left; roasted and packed in oil on the right.

Over the course of playing with my new electric pellet smoker, I’ve discovered lots of recipes for smoking fresh tomatoes, but none for smoking sun-dried tomatoes. You can certainly buy smoked sun-dried tomatoes, but they’re not cheap. I happened to have both a bag of sun-dried tomato strips and a bottle of roasted tomatoes packed in oil lying around, so I thought I’d give then each a go.

This time, the sun-dried tomatoes are on the right.

I put them in the smoker at 175°F / 80°C for 15 minutes and checked them; no apparent smoky taste. So I turned the smoker to the “Lo Smoke” setting, which (somewhat counterintuitively) produces more smoke. [According to the mfr., Lo Smoke temp runs about 175°F / 80°C, Hi Smoke about 210°F / 100°C, and that on both settings the auger timing is slightly slowed, allowing pellets to smolder more than burn. In case you’re wondering, I used the Traeger Grills Signature Blend pellets, made from hickory, maple, and cherry woods.]

After 15 more minutes, I was sensing a bit of smokiness, but the tomatoes’ concentrated flavour still wasn’t permitting much to come through. By 45 minutes in, the smoke seemed more noticeable, but still not quite where I intended it to be. My concern at this point was not to allow the tomatoes to turn acrid, which over-smoking will do to just about anything if you aren’t careful. So I set the timer for one more 15-minute jaunt.

Roasted on the left, sun-dried on the right, looking pretty much as they did when they started, but tasting noticeably different.

Huzzah! Just the edge I was looking for. I put the roasted tomatoes and their oil back into their original jar, and I popped the sun-dried strips into a Snapware Glasslock storage container with a little Olea Farm rosemary olive oil.

Two takeaways:
1) Next time I will spritz the sun-dried tomatoes with a little olive oil, or even water, because the moisture helps them take the smoke better.
2) If your pellet grill doesn’t have a “Lo Smoke” setting, I’d smoke these at 210°-230°F / 100°-110°C for about 30-45 minutes, tasting at the half-hour mark.

Bacon-Wapped Peaches on the Electric Smoker

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If this isn’t the easiest summertime recipe ever, I don’t know what is. Summer, of course, is stonefruit season, and peaches go together with smoke and bacon just as magnificently as Peaches goes together with Herb. Simply cut as many peaches as you care to, wrap them each in a slice of bacon, stick them with a toothpick, and splash them with a little balsamic vinegar… or not. Half an hour later, they’re done! [I used a pellet mix of hickory, maple, and cherry; lighter woods (say, other than mesquite) are recommended.]

I served them with a little conserva de pulpo (Galician tinned octopus in olive oil), which I put, in the can, on the smoker for the last 15 minutes of cooking.

UPDATE 24 August 2019: Just got a shipment of fresh peaches from Frog Hollow Farm, and it was a complete game changer. I’m talking the difference between a Toyota RAV4 hybrid and a Lexus RX 450h. Or, if you’re not a car buff, the difference between Mumm DVX and Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d’Or. In other words, you’ll be starting off at an okay place with the basic recipe, but the upgrade is more than an order of magnitude better.

INGREDIENTS

2-3 firm yellow or white peaches, halved
4-6 strips thick cut bacon (1 per each)
1 tbsp. / 15 ml balsamic vinegar (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat smoker to 325°F / 163°C
Cut peaches in half
Wrap 1 bacon slice per peach half around fruit, secure with toothpick
Drizzle balsamic over peaches and bacon
Place peach halves directly on grill, close lid
Turn peach halves over half way through (15 minutes)
Remove at 30 minutes and let cool slightly

Electric Smoker Meats Its Match With Leg Of Lamb Two Ways

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Sell by? It will have been long gone by.

Headline pun intended.

The Internets have no shortage of opinions when it comes to smoking meats, and one is on a fool’s errand to attempt to secure a definitive answer. PRO TIP: This is NOT a definitive answer.

I’ve been grilling leg of lamb for about half my life now (which is to say over 30 years), and I was excited to try our new pellet smoker to find out how it stacked up against the various other methods (Big Green Egg, gas grill, trad charcoal grill) I’ve employed before.

The short version: Very Well.

You don’t need to follow me down the rabbit hole unless you’re slightly — like me — monomaniacal about research prior to grillage. If you are, I suggest these YouTube vids, one from Malcom Reed’s HowToBBQRight, the other from Darnell McGavock Sr.’s D Grill. Both of them used electric pellet smokers, so they were the most relevant to my immediate project, but I also watched a bunch of others. The reason I frequently turn to YouTube first is to see the actual cooks and their process(es) in motion, as well as to hear comments they might not bother to include in a printed recipe. [I also visited Steven Raichlen’s very informative online home, which I recommend highly.]

Originally, my intention was to make pulled lamb, which in theory comes off the smoke at a higher temp than your standard smoked leg. From what I’ve read (at least in terms of pork), there are two sweet spots for removing meat from the grill/smoker: one is about 145-150°F/63-65.5°C, the other is about 195-203°F/90-95°C. Apparently, the in-between is the “tough zone.” I’ve encountered this phenomenon before when cooking octopus, squid, and shrimp (not always on the grill), so it doesn’t surprise me. Perhaps a quick revisit to Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen will yield an answer as to why, but that’s for another post. I opted not to pursue the higher finished temperature, because I read that the leg was not sufficiently possessed of marbling fat to make it tender at that temp; that recipe recommended bone-in lamb shoulder instead.

Lose some, but not all, the fat.

PREP
No matter how thoroughly your butcher trims the fat off your lamb leg, it’s not enough. You don’t want to take all the fat away, but an excess will give it that “gamy” taste that causes people to think they don’t like lamb. You can see in the lower right of the photo above how much fat I excised. I cut the leg about 60/40%, because I was feeling a bit experimentative, both in terms of marinating and cooking.

Pan-Asian Marinade Ingredients.

Marinade #1 (Asian Style) (for the 60% piece)
INGREDIENTS
2 tbsp. / 30 ml sesame oil
2 tbsp. / 5-6 cloves minced garlic
3 tsp. / 16 g ginger paste
6 star anise pods, ground
3 tsp. / 5 g five-spice powder
1 tsp. / 2.5 g white pepper

It’s Turkish-ish, kinda.

Marinade #2 (Turkish-ish) (for the 40% piece)
INGREDIENTS
¼ cup / 60 ml olive oil (I used Olea Farm, which I love)
¼ cup / 60 ml pomegranate molasses
3 tbsp. / 55 g Darrell & Nil’s Turkish Blend Spice*
5 large slices preserved lemon
2 tbsp. salt (preferably kosher or flaked; I used Læsø Salt from Denmark, because I had some and it’s a good story)

*Yeah, you’re gonna have a tough time finding that. It’s made from paprika, black pepper, cumin, coriander, allspice, cassia, sumac, oregano, Maras chile, clove, cardamom, and nutmeg. Maybe I can get them to cough up the actual recipe, but if not, make sure you include the sumac and Maras chile, which really push the blend toward Istanbul.

Rub rub rub it in; get your fingers into it; don’t be shy.

MARINATION DIRECTIONS

Rub it in to all the cracks and crevasses, and allow the lamb to chill overnight in the fridge. Due to a scheduling conflict, I left it in for two nights. Not a problem.

A WORD ON PELLET SMOKING

Ask 15 pitmasters what the best type of wood for smoking lamb might be, and you’ll get 67¾ answers. After way too much agita, I succumbed to crowdsourcing and went with Amazon’s Choice, Traeger’s Signature Blend (their hickory pellets were the #1 Best Seller). I am sure that at some point in the future, I will have a hankering to try a specific type of wood with a specific recipe, but this wasn’t it. Think Ford, not Ferrari.

A little over an hour in the smoker. Some colour, but no “bark.”

ON THE SMOKER

I checked the pellet level and fired up the smoker, letting the machine come up to temp (250°F/121°C) while I took the lamb out of the chill chest and tied it up with butcher’s twine to help ensure an even roast. 20 minutes later, I placed the pieces fat side up on the grill and left them alone, apart from one quick peek about halfway through to see if they needed to be swaddled in aluminum foil to keep from drying out (they didn’t). After 3.5 hours on the electric pellet smoker at 250°F/121°C, the one on the left came off at an internal temp of 148°F/64.4°C, the one on the right came off at an internal temp of 166°F/74.4°C (which is regarded as the high end of acceptable for lamb). Obviously, the marinades made some difference in the appearance of the two pieces, and I can say that the 166°F/74.4°C piece was not quite as tender as the other one, though both were highly acceptable, texture-wise, and both were absolutely delicious.

After the meat rested, I popped it back in the fridge for a few hours, but it re-emerged at dinnertime for “lambwiches” (lamb sandwich with rocket and mayo on a Kaiser roll). Still moist and tender, full of flavour. And hands down, the most effortless process for leg of lamb I’ve found yet. Just like I would be happy with my Instant Pot even if I used it for nothing other than beans, I’m thrilled with the Camp Chef SmokePro DLX even if it only ever gets used for lamb… which it surely won’t.

Soupe de la Semaine: Cajun White Bean, Andouille, and Collard Green Soup

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It turns out, thanks to the bride’s penchant for genealogical spelunking, I have recently discovered Acadian blood in my veins. It’s not an enormous surprise; on Prince Edward Island, the tiny Canadian province from which I hail, the populace is drawn largely from Scots, French, and Irish stock. In practise, PEI Scots didn’t tend to intermarry much back in the day, not just due to the language differences (Scots held onto their Gaelic before yielding to English), but also thanks to Catholic-Protestant interfaith snipery. It is, however, an island, so exceptions were occasionally made. Hence the occasional Arsenault or Paquet or Daigle or Cheverie among the Campbells and MacLeods and MacMillians and MacKays. And conversely.

Acadia, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, was originally a French colony that included the provinces of Canada generally known as the Maritimes, and a little of what is now Maine. [Fun fact: Prince Edward Island was originally known to its European settlers as Île Saint-Jean.] Over the years, wars and treaties with England whittled away at the territorial boundaries, and the people referred to as Acadians tended to be identified more by their language (French) than by their place of birth.

Unfortunately, things really went sideways between the Canadian Anglophones and Francophones in 1755. As a consequence of their participation in the French and Indian War, the Acadians were given the choice of swearing allegiance to the British king, or clearing the premises. You can imagine how that went. What happened next became known as the Great Upheaval, the Great Expulsion, the Great Deportation, or Le Grand Dérangement. Many Francophones, including some of my direct kin, were forcibly repatriated to France (which, incidentally, didn’t really want them). Other Acadians fled south to Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns.

While there’s a lot of intermingling between Cajun and Creole cultures, the reason this soup is more properly identified as Cajun rather than Creole is largely due to the absence of tomatoes, which is one simple signifier separating the two storied cooking traditions. By some measures, Creole cuisine tends to be “city food,” and Cajun cuisine tends to be “country food,” with simpler ingredients and less reliance on sauces. Please do note that these are generalisations, so please don’t flood my inbox with picayune (or Picayune) commentary to the contrary.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record (or, for our younger readers, digital audio stutter), but it never hurts to splurge on some of the key ingredients. I purchased fresh, uncooked andouille sausage (hotter than the quite tasty Aidells’ pre-cooked commercial version I used in an earlier iteration). The white beans in this recipe were Cassoulet heirlooms from Rancho Gordo. Because I had no homemade stock, I substituted Aneto, which is excellent, if pricey. I deglazed the pot with Croma Vera 2017 Rosé, because it was delicious, handy, and fit the bill. And while I seasoned the soup with fleur de sel from Ibiza, that was merely a pointless extravagance that gladdened me and enhanced the back story. We writers care about that stuff.

Best broth you can buy.

This soup can be made entirely on the stove top. I chose not to, partly due to convenience and partly due to shoddy time management. My Instant Pot® allowed me to bypass the overnight pre-soak for the dried beans, and it also condensed the time necessary to tenderise the celery and the collard greens’ stems. You may, of course, use canned beans and/or canned collard greens… if you must.

How much is enough? Maybe 6 cups or so, chopped. Be as green-dependent as you like.

While I favoured traditional Cajun ingredients for this recipe (although I omitted bell pepper, one-third of the Cajun “holy trinity”), my pal Inmaculada Sánchez Leira (no slouch in the cooking department herself) noted that, save for the comparative lack of root vegetables, it’s not particularly far removed from Caldo Gallego, the classic Galician soup. It’s also fairly close to many recipes involving Black Eyed Peas, traditionally served in the South for good luck on New Year’s Day. In fact, you could easily sub black eyed peas into this recipe… and yes, you can get them from Rancho Gordo (if they’re not sold out).

INGREDIENTS
1 lb. / 1/2 kg dried white beans (or four 15 oz. cans cooked beans, drained and rinsed)
30 ml / 2 tbsp olive oil
2 lbs. / 1 kg Andouille sausage links
1/2 cup / 120 ml white or rosé wine (or water or stock) for deglazing
1 large onion, finely chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large carrots, chopped or sliced into coins
2 large bunches fresh collard greens
4-6 large stalks celery, finely minced
1 medium sprig fresh thyme
3 liters / 12 cups good quality chicken and/or vegetable stock (I used Aneto chicken stock)
1 liter / 4 cups water
5-10g / 1-2 tsp salt
1/3 cup / 80 ml apple cider vinegar
chopped fresh parsley for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS
Rinse beans thoroughly, then drain (whether you’re using canned or dried beans). [This is where you would add the dried beans and two liters of stock to the Instant Pot®, if you are going that route. Add the 1/2 kilo / 1 lb. of dried beans and about 2 liters / 8 cups liquid (I used all stock). Cook according to instructions. For more recommendations on cooking times, check here and here.] My unsoaked Cassoulet beans took 48 minutes on high pressure in the Instant Pot®, with a natural release (I’m told this helps to keep the bean skins from splitting). Should you choose, you can use the stovetop method to cook beans pre-soaked overnight (or dried beans straight from the packet should you choose). When beans are soft, set cooked beans and stock aside.

Here is where the two paths diverged in the wood. First, I will lay out the stovetop version. Then, I’ll include the Instant Pot® shortcut, for those of you who care to use it.

STOVETOP VERSION
Dice onion; mince garlic and celery. Cut carrots into coin-size slices (if the “coins” get to be larger than a quarter or a 2€ coin, cut them in half). Strip collard green leaves from their tougher stems, slice (or tear) the leaves and dice the stems (skip this last bit if using canned collard greens).

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Then season the Andouille links with a little salt, leaving them whole, and brown them for about 10-12 minutes, or until cooked through and browned on all sides. Remove links from pot and let them cool.

Deglaze the browned bits with a little water, stock, or wine. Make sure to give pot a good scrape.

The liquid and browned bits will add depth to your stock base. Plus, you’ll have pre-cleaned the toughest stain in the pot.

[NOTE: If using Instant Pot® shortcut, skip to shortcut below, then come back here.]

Sauté the onion, celery, carrots, collard greens, thyme sprig, and garlic for about 7 minutes, until soft without colouring (the celery and the collard stems will take longer, so don’t wig out if they’re still a little al dente). While the vegges are in sauté mode, slice or crumble the cooled Andouille sausage. Add the beans and stock you set aside earlier, the extra liter of stock (if you’re not using the Instant Pot® shortcut), Andouille, vinegar, and water, along with a little salt. Bring to a low boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for about an hour or more, or until celery and collard green stems have softened to desired degree. Adjust salt and vinegar, if necessary; discard thyme sprig. Ladle into bowls and add optional shredded parsley leaves for garnish.

The Instant Pot® softens up those tough veggies real quick.

INSTANT POT® SHORTCUT
Instead of adding celery and collard green stems and thyme sprig to the main soup pot on the stove, put them into your Instant Pot® with a liter of the stock, set to high pressure for 7 minutes on the Bean/Chili setting, making sure vent is set to Sealing. When done, you can use either natural or instant release. [If you choose the latter, take care to avoid escaping steam.] Discard thyme sprig and add remaining contents to main soup pot. Continue with recipe as above

When Life Hands You Lemons, Preserve Them

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The chopstick jig proves invaluable to the preservation process.

In the words of the late Richard Armour, expanding on a poetic observation by the also late Ogden Nash, “Shake and shake the ketchup bottle / None’ll come, and then a lot’ll.” [Nash’s original, entitled “The Catsup Bottle,” is said to have read “First a little / Then a lottle.”] And while I am writing about a different condiment here, the purpose of the verse is to reiterate what every amateur crop-grower knows: your fruit tree, your tomato plant, your herb garden has a tendency to belch forth its bounty from zero to a degree where you’re practically begging neighbours to take the extra off your hands in about the time it took to write this sentence.

Thanks to a 10th century Egyptian Jew who was chief physician at Saladin‘s court, we have a way of managing the “very pretty” lemon tree‘s excess. And all it takes (apart from the lemons, of course) is a bunch of salt and a little patience.

Abū al-Makārim Hibat Allāh ibn Zayn al-Dīn Ibn Jumay‘ (a/k/a Abu-‘l-Makārim Hibatallāh Ibn-Gumaiʻ, but usually truncated to Ibn Jumay’, sometimes without the trailing apostrophe) apparently was a fairly prolific author, penning no fewer than eight medical tomes. His enduring masterpiece, though, seems to have been the lemon-plus-salt recipe that has gone largely unamended since the 12th century, and which was included in his treatise On Lemon, its Drinking and Use. The “drinking” part yielded the first known recipes for lemonade, and the “use” part gave us the preservation technique employed herein. Sadly, no original manuscript seems to have survived. As Toby Sonneman notes in his excellent book Lemon: A Global History, though, another physician [Ḍiyāʾ Al-Dīn Abū Muḥammad ʿAbdllāh Ibn Aḥmad al-Mālaqī (better known as Ibn al-Bayṭār)], born in Spain the year before Ibn Jumay’ died, lifted pretty much the entire On Lemon… text and incorporated it into his Al-Kitab ‘l-jami’ fi ‘l-aghdiya wa-‘l-adwiyah al-mufradah, also known as The Comprehensive Book of Foods and Simple Remedies. It went through dozens of editions in Latin, and was translated into French by Lucien Leclerc in 1842. To the best of our knowledge, Netflix has not as yet optioned it for a mini-series.

The uses for the umami-laden preserved lemon are legion. Just ask any friend from North Africa. Marinades. Drinks. With fish. With chicken. In salads. In risotto. Once you taste it, don’t be surprised if our imagination kicks into overdrive.

One note of caution: the preserved lemon(s) should be rinsed before using, as they are saltier than a sailor on leave. And, somewhat counterintuitively, the part you use is the rind. Go fig. But if you make these guys once, you’ll be a convert for life.

Lots and lots of lemons.

INGREDIENTS
NOTE: Amounts will vary depending on the number of lemons and size of container

lemons
kosher salt, or other large-crystal NaCl
Lemon juice, if necessary
cookie sheet, to keep the salt from going everywhere
Jar with lid (size depends on number of lemons)
Patience
Nothing else!
Ignore other recipes that call for cinnamon or bay leaves or whatever.
Totally unnecessary.

DIRECTIONS
Wash and dry preserved lemon container. [Some recipes have you go the full boiling-it-sterile route, which seems excessive to me. After all, the salinity and the acid content do a magnificent job of creating a hostile environment for wee beasties. Just make sure your lemons are covered with salt and/or juice during their stay in the jar. ]

Wash lemons.

Cut lemons nearly into quarters, taking care not to sever them entirely (see picture at top of post, in which chopsticks are employed as a device to keep the knife from cutting all the way through the lemons). Rub salt generously over all the interior surfaces, then pack salt inbetween the cuts. Place salted lemon in jar, and cover with salt. Repeat until jar is full, then top off the jar with salt and a little lemon juice, if it’s available and convenient. Basically, the salt will leach out the juice from the lemons, and you’ll have a sort of brine in which the lemons will morph into a really delicious condiment.

Wait about 30 days, turning the jar occasionally to mix it up and get the saline/lemon solution into all the nooks.

Use lemons. Refrigerate after opening.

Cacio e Pepe, Heretic Style (with Feta!)

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Solo pepe macinato fresco, per favore.

Cacio e pepe* couldn’t be simpler, right? It literally translates to “cheese and pepper.” But this is much like saying fútbol (or football or soccer, depending on your home) is simple; you just kick a ball into a net. People actually come to blows over whether to use Pecorino Romano, or Parmigiano Reggiano, or Grana Padano, or a blend of two or three of them, or one or more of them with a smidgen of Asiago. Not that I want to tar them all with the same brush, but if Italians didn’t invent arguing, they certainly perfected it.

Ultimately, you want a salty cheese that can (with a little of the pasta water) melt into the warm noodles to coat them in a creamy sauce, much the way the Day-Glo orange powder, along with some milk and butter, lovingly hugs Kraft Dinner. And, as it happened, I had such a cheese: Meredith Dairy Sheep and Goat Cheese, a Feta-like concoction from Australia. No idea where I got it; it sells for a positively jaw-dropping price on Amazon, and I won’t even link there because no sensible person would pay $14.99 USD + $12.99 shipping for an 11 oz. / 320 g jar, good though it is. [And you’re hearing this from someone who regularly uses chicken stock that sells for $7 USD per liter.] It’s possible that you might find something similar if you have a Greek market in your area, but it seems to be ridiculously expensive everywhere I’ve looked online. Fortunately, it is also stupidly easy to make, and I expect it will forthwith become a fridge staple, much like preserved lemons. Incidentally, some recipes will tell you to use your marinated cheese within two weeks. No need, especially if it is refrigerated. One blogger claims to have consumed some that was over four years old, and found it delicious. [Full disclosure: I just checked my jar, and the recommended “use by” date was December 2016. I promise to have my survivors update the page, should it kill me.] Not only does the marination process mellow out the Feta, but when you’re done with the cheese, the leftover oil can be used in a salad dressing. [What’s the analogue of “nose-to-tail” here? “Lid-to-base?”]

Bucatini is the ideal pasta for this dish, thanks to its toothiness. As with the other ingredients in this recipe, because there are so few, you ought to use the best you can reasonably afford. I even used filtered water for making the pasta, rather than just taking it directly from the tap.

INGREDIENTS
16 oz. / 454 g pasta (such as bucatini, egg tagliolini, or spaghetti)
11 oz. / 320 g marinated Feta (I used store-bought, but it’s easy to make at home)
1 tbsp. / 7 g freshly cracked black pepper, plus some for finishing (one recipe recommends 30 turns of the pepper mill at the coarsest setting)
1 cup / 250 ml pasta water, reserved
salt, if needed (between the salted pasta water and the saltiness of the Feta, I didn’t add any other salt)

DIRECTIONS
Make marinated Feta at least a day before.

Cook the pasta and drain, reserving 1 cup / 250 ml of the pasta water for later. Return drained pasta to the still-warm pot; crumble in bits of cheese, adding reserved pasta water a bit at a time to aid in the cheese melting. Combine by tossing with tongs. Add 1/3 or so of the pepper. Repeat process until cheese is melted and pepper is distributed. [NOTE: You may not need all the reserved pasta water; the sauce is intended to coat the noodles and cling to them. When you’re done serving, there should be virtually no trace of the sauce left behind, unlike with a marinara sauce.] Transfer pasta to bowl or plate; finish with a bit more ground pepper.

Serves 4 generously.

*[Why it’s not “formaggio e pepe” is a mystery to me. Perhaps someone fluent in Italian can lend a hand here.]

Soupe de la Semaine: Chicken Noodle Soup with Basil and Spinach

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The Warhol print was probably tastier.

I realize that I tool on Campbell’s soups a lot — probably more than they deserve, especially since I am descended from Campbells on my Mom’s side (not particularly unusual for someone of Scots heritage). And while Clan Campbell were a prolific lot, it’s likely far more Campbell has passed through my alimentary canal than was ever in my bloodline.

In my youth, their ubiquitous cans were a staple in our pantry. I was especially keen on Scotch Broth, Vegetable Beef, and Beef with Vegetables and Barley. I NEVER liked their Chicken Noodle, since it always got served to me when I was sick. The association has stuck for decades. But in a strange twist of fate, I find myself making soups for an ill friend, so I decided to revisit my childhood chicken soup trauma.

There’s nothing wrong with chicken in soup; Tom Kha Gai is an all-time favourite. And Mexican chicken soups aplenty with tomato and chili and cilantro show up happily, and not infrequently, at table. But my challenge was to attempt to concoct something that was at once chicken noodle soup and not chicken noodle soup. A Zen kōan of a soup, so to speak. In order to achieve this aim, I needed to isolate those elements of trad North American chicken noodle soup that failed to delight me, and simply Marie Kondo them away.

ISSUE #1: The Broth
Typical canned chicken noodle soup features a briny broth with no more point of view than a real estate agent trying to sell you a house. I wanted a stock that would echo our more trad notions wthout being shackled to them.

ISSUE #2: Carrots
Love me carrots, I really do. But not here. There’s a reason Billy Connolly developed a routine based around how, when you regurgitate, there’s always “diced bloody carrots in it.”

ISSUE #3: Celery
Celery in commercial canned soups frequently develops a revolting, slightly slimy texture, and it played an outsize role in the sense-memory flavour of my canned nemesis. I could have opted for celery seed, but I really didn’t want the texture or the taste.

ISSUE #4: The Noodle
Nobody wants a limp noodle. Typically, they look like tiny tapeworms, they have zero toothiness, they shame the marriage of water, flour, and egg. My noodle was going to be strong and proud.

ISSUE #5: The Chicken
This will sound like the proverbial deli diner’s complaint that the food wasn’t good and the portions were too small. But the industrially processed 6mm chicken bit cubes were virtually flavourless, and distributed very sparingly. Hey, I get it — chicken is the soup’s most expensive ingredient, and more chicken = less profit. I responded by loading the pot up with about three pounds (1.5 kilos) of hand shredded boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

But enough of what I didn’t want. Here’s what I did want: simple, healthy (after all, I’m feeding a cancer slayer here), and tasty. I don’t know how you go about planning your recipes (other than having the good fortune to land here, for which I am grateful), but I typically overthink. I read books, I go online, I consult my bride, I mentally review every version of the dish I’ve ever ingested, I engage in an internal Socratic dialogue, I ask friends about their preferences, I fuss.

While in the store buying chicken, I came across a special on fresh basil. The die was cast: green stock. I also had some spinach powder in my pantry, which I suspected would complement the basil, as well as providing an excellent source of beta-carotene and iron. Besides, spinach made Popeye strong, and the Big C is more formidable a foe than Brutus (or, if I might betray my age, Bluto), so bring it on. [You can use regular spinach if you want; I just wanted to play with my new toy. This spinach powder is nothing more than dehydrated fresh spinach ground into green dust. No additives.]

One caveat: the fewer the ingredients, the better each one has to be. Because I had no homemade chicken stock, I used the best commercial stock money can buy. Free range chicken. Wine and olive oil I would proudly serve at table, not hide in the kitchen. Durum semolina pasta from Italy (even if I will use a different shape next time). Of course you can economise (if you have the time and the freezer space, you can save plenty on the stock by making your own), but even in my extravagance this is still cheaper per serving than what you’d probably pay for a bowl at a restaurant.

INGREDIENTS
30 ml / 2 tbsp olive oil (I used Olea Farm Garlic Blush)
3 lbs. / 1.5 kg boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 10)
sea salt and pepper for seasoning chicken
2/3 cup / 150 ml dry white or rosé wine for deglazing (water or chicken stock work also)
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 oz. / 115 g fresh basil, shredded or chopped (reserve about 10-15 leaves for garnish)
3 liters / 12 cups good quality chicken stock (I used Aneto Low-Sodium Chicken Stock)
1/4 cup / 60 g spinach powder (or 4 oz. / 115 g fresh spinach, shredded or chopped)
16 oz. / 454 g dried pasta, cooked separately (I used casarecci, but next time it will be gemelli, ciocchetti, or gigli)
2 tbsp. /35 ml / juice of one fresh-squeezed lemon (I plucked a fresh Meyer from our tree)
OPTIONAL: Shaved or grated Parmesan cheese for garnish.

DIRECTIONS
Cook the pasta and set aside. [You can even undercook it a bit, in fact, given that it will swim in the broth later. Dealer’s choice.] One piece of advice that has served me well is that the pasta water should be as salty as the sea. This, and seasoning the chicken well, meant the recipe required no additional salt.

♫ Brown the chicken in the pot, doo-dah, doo-dah. ♫

Season your chicken liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. In your soup pot, drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons (30-45 ml) of olive oil, and cook the chicken. Depending on the thickness of the thighs, and the heat of your range top, this should take about 15 minutes. You’re looking for a little browning on the outside, but this is not intended to be fried chicken soup. When the chicken is done (I had to do mine in two batches), remove it to a plate.

What’s left after the chicken cooks is called the fond, and not just because I’m fond of it. When you deglaze the pot, the browned bits will transform into a very tasty sauce.

While the chicken is frying, dice the onion and chop the basil (and spinach, if not using powder), reserving a few basil leaves for later garnish. Afer removing chicken from soup pot, deglaze the pot with some wine or other liquid, then sweat the onion until it turns translucent. Add chopped basil, chicken stock, spinach powder (or chopped spinach), and reserved chicken thighs (including the juices that accumulated on the plate they sat on). Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least half an hour to 45 minutes or so (plenty of room for error here without any harm).

After the first simmer, remove chicken (again! It keeps jumping in and out, doesn’t it?) and set aside. Allow chicken to cool sufficiently so it can be hand shredded (or chopped, if you must).

OPTIONAL STEP: Remove most of the solids (basil and onion) with a slotted spoon and process in a blender or food processor with a little of the cooking liquid. Alternatively, you could use an immersion blender. This will thicken the liquid slightly.

Return shredded chicken to soup and add cooked noodles. Simmer long enough to warm the noodles, at least 15 minutes. Add lemon juice a few minutes before serving, to brighten and balance the flavour. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary.

Soup. Mmmm-mmmm-good.

Ladle into bowls, and garnish with chiffonaded basil leaves.

Instant Pot® Vegan Risotto with Mushrooms, Preserved Lemons, and Basil

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Canadian man makes Italian food.

As the news swirls with epic chills in the Midwest due to a polar vortex that has been altered by climate change, and when rain threatens my California home, it seems like the rib-sticking comfort of risotto is a reasonable response. Unlike my previous recipe for Saffron Risotto with Peas and Langoustine, this version was concocted in a cool bit of technology that had barely penetrated the public consciousness back then, and it’s vegan (although for my second helping, I grated a bit of Pecorino-Romano on top, and found it excellent).

Full disclosure: Although the idea for combining mushrooms and preserved lemons in a risotto originated with a yearning created in my tastebuds, several blog posts guided my thinking as I developed the recipe. You can find them at the Simple Vegan Blog, Vegan Heaven, Vegan Richa, Vegan Huggs, Chew Out Loud, and the ubiquitous Epicurious.

As is often the case, the recipe was developed around existing ingredients; I had some fresh basil in the fridge, it seemed like it would fit in with the other ingredients, and KAPOW, in it went. [One of my #squadgoals for 2019 is to undertake fewer unintentional fridge-based science experiments, a/k/a using ingredients before they stink up the joint.] Same deal with the dried mushrooms; they had been intended for a soup I was going to make for a friend who I later found out doesn’t like mushrooms.

The dried mushrooms I used were porcini (Boletus edulis), and an interesting variety known variously as slippery jack, pink boletus, and sticky bun. Although the package referred to them as Boletus luteus, which is their original 1753-era moniker gifted by the legendary botanist, physician, zoologist, and taxonomist Carl Linnaeus, they are now known to be of a different genus and are more properly called Suillus luteus. You are of course welcome to use fresh mushrooms in addition to or instead of the dried.

Two other ingredients might be slightly unfamiliar to those with a limited pantry. Nutritional yeast is sold as flakes, granules, or powder, and is often employed in vegan dishes to add a cheesy or nutty flavour. You’ll find it in my recipe for Vegan Potatoes au Gratin, in fact. If your local supermercado carries it, you’ll likely find it next to the spices or in the health food/gluten-free/dairy-free ghetto. If not, well, your local GNC or Amazon.

The other possibly unfamiliar ingredient is preserved lemons. Common in South Asian and North African cuisine, preserved lemon is basically a brined or pickled lemon, generally salted heavily and marinated/pickled/brined for a month or so in salt and either lemon juice or water, if liquid is employed. Sometimes spices are added to the mix, but not generally. If you have neither the time, patience, or lemons for this process, they can be found in jars at many Indian, Middle Eastern, or North African markets, should you have such in your area. And yeah, Amazon. But seriously, they are super easy to make and they last a long time, so even if you have to buy a jar to get started, you should make your own, too. Surprisingly, the part you mainly want to use is the peel, not the flesh. Weird, huh?

The Instant Pot® doesn’t let you off the hook entirely when it comes to stirring stirring stirring your risotto; it bypasses only about 85-ish percent, which is not insubstantial. And while this method in all honesty may not yield that Michelin-star-worthy risotto of your Tuscan dreams, it gets close enough that I’ll take it on a weekday when I don’t have the Zen-like attitude or schedule that the former requires.

INGREDIENTS
100 g / 3.5 oz dried mushrooms (to be rehydrated) (or 16 oz. / .5 kg fresh mushrooms, preferably crimini)
2 tbsp. / 30 ml extra virgin olive oil (or other preferred oil)
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups / 600 g uncooked Arborio rice
1/3 cup / 75 g preserved lemon, minced
8 cups / 2 liters Aneto vegetable broth, or other low sodium veggie broth
1 loosely packed cup (1.5 oz. / 45 g) fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup / 10 g nutritional yeast
1/2 teaspoon / 1 g white pepper
salt to taste

“Mushrooms and lemons,” ring the bells of St. Clements.

DIRECTIONS
Rinse dried mushrooms thoroughly to cleanse them of grit, then drain. Then cover them in a liter (or quart / 4 cups) of warm veg broth. I used the stupidly expensive and stupidly great Aneto vegetable broth, available at a case discount at Amazon. If you have your own veggie stock, great. Otherwise I would recommend a mix of water and one of Better Than Bouillon‘s stock bases, such as the No Chicken Base. The mushrooms should hydrate in about 1/2 hour. Remove them from the liquid, then strain the liquid to remove any remaining possible grit and reserve the liquid. [The mushrooms soak up about 100-150 ml of the original liquid, which you can replace with more stock, water, or dry white wine.]

Dice onion, mince garlic, mince preserved lemons.

You can chop the mushrooms if you want; I didn’t.

Set Instant Pot® to “Sauté” and add olive oil to the stainless steel inner container. Add onion and sauté for about 5 minutes, until soft without colouring. Add the garlic (and fresh mushrooms, if you are using them) and sauté for another two minutes or so, stirring regularly. Don’t worry if there’s some browning on the bottom of the stainless steel container. Add minced preserved lemons and sauté for another minute or so. Add rice, and stir, to coat all the rice with a little oil. [Add another few ml or a tbsp. of oil if you feel like you need to.] Deglaze the bottom of the container with a little of the reserved mushroom soaking liquid. Add the rest of the liquid and the mushrooms, close the lid, then set Instant Pot® to high pressure (I used the “Bean/Chili” setting) for six minutes, making sure to set the vent on the lid to “Sealing.”

Chop the basil and set aside.

How much basil? This much basil.

When the timer goes off, carefully turn the vent from “Sealing” to “Venting.” [You may want to do this wearing oven mittens; be mindful to avoid the rapid jet of steam that will be emitted.] Turn power to “Off.” When the steam has vented, carefully open lid and set aside. The risotto will look a little soupy at this point, but it will thicken as you stir in the remaining ingredients. Stir in the chopped basil, nutritional yeast, and white pepper a bit at a time, making sure they are well distributed, until remaining liquid is absorbed. Add salt (if necessary), ladle into bowls, and serve.

Just like mamma mia didn’t used to make.

Soupe de la Semaine: Bean and Ham Hock Soup

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♪♫ Do you or I or anybody know / Where the peas, beans, oats, and the barley grow? ♫♪

I used to sing this song as a kid, believing it to be a post-agrarian commentary on the disconnect between the urban bourgeoisie and proletariat farmers, the latter of whom were mocked by the former for their lack of culture and inexplicable fetishism of an idealized past. [The city-dwellers were, in turn, mocked by rurals for having no clue where to procure said foodstuffs outside of Selfridges, Harrods, or Fortnum & Mason. Or later, Tesco.]

How wrong I was!

It turns out to be a bit of that, of course, but it seems also to have been intended as a subtle indoctrination into the social bondage of cisgen heteronormative relationships designed to propagate the patriarchy while giving a transparently dismissive nod to egalitarian alliances based upon actual economic, sexual, intellectual, and political agency for both partners (or more, if a poly or communal unit were established).

Whew. That’s a lot of philosophical weight for a poor little legume to withstand. Let’s retreat from the library into the kitchen, thence to make soup.

This particular little bowl full of goodness lives right across the hall from its more famous neighbour,

…with serving suggestions!

There’s even a similar version that appears to be the only constant on the menu for the US Senate, dating back to the early 20th century.

Long story short, wherever tasty salty pig parts find themselves near a kettle and some legumes and veggies, sooner or later some form of this will emerge. It’s super simple to make, nearly impossible to bollix up, and tastes even better then next day.

The reason I made this mostly on the stovetop is that I intended to cook up a double batch, which exceeded my Instant Pot’s capacity. Also, I find the aroma of a soup bubbling lazily away on a winter afternoon to be one of life’s simple pleasures.

Best broth you can buy.

A couple of quick notes: You are welcome to use water as the main liquid for this soup, and it will turn out just fine. I used Aneto stock, about which I have ranted before. Expensive. Worth it. You are welcome to use any beans as the main legume for this soup, and they will be fine. I used Rancho Gordo Heirloom Beans (Snowcap and Cranberry, specifically), about which I have ranted before. Expensive. Worth it. Seriously, at an extra $4 per pound for the beans and an extra $4 per liter for the stock, I spent an extra $16 on the soup. That’s like four lattes at Charbucks. I don’t mean to sound cavalier here; $16 is serious folding dough. But the payoff is seriously huge. And while I pressure-cooked the unsoaked dry beans in an Instant Pot (which is frequently on sale, so look around before you buy), this totally works with pre-soaked beans and/or over the stove, the old fashioned way.

Two great beans that taste great together.

INGREDIENTS
30 ml / 2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 bay leaves
1-2g / 1-2 tsp dried thyme
pinch white pepper
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
2.5 – 3 lbs. / 1 – 1.5 kg smoked ham hocks
1 lb. / .5 kg diced ham (optional)
2 medium-large onions, finely chopped
4-6 large stalks celery, finely minced
2-3 large carrots, chopped or sliced into coins
2 liter / 8 cups good quality chicken and/or vegetable stock (I used some of each)
500ml / 2 cups water
2 lbs. / 1 kg dried beans (or eight 15 oz. cans cooked beans, drained and rinsed)
5-10g / 1-2 tsp salt
lemon zest (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Rinse beans thoroughly, then drain (whether you’re using canned or dried beans). [This is where you would add the dried beans and stock to the Instant Pot, if you are going that route. Add the kilo / 2 lbs. of dried beans and about 2.5 liters / 10 cups liquid (I used the stock and water). Cook according to instructions. For more recommendations on cooking times, check here and here.]

Dice onion; mince garlic and celery. Cut carrots into coin-size slices (if the “coins” get to be larger than a quarter or a 2€ coin, cut them in half.) Dice the additional ham, if using, and set aside.

Sweat the veg.

In a large pan, heat the oil, thyme, bay leaves, and white pepper, and then sauté the onion, celery, carrots, and garlic for about 5 minutes, until soft without colouring. Add the water, stock, beans, ham hocks, and diced ham (if using). Bring to a low boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for about an hour, or until meat begins to fall off hocks. Remove hocks, strip and dice or shred meat, and discard bones. Check and adjust the seasoning (be careful with the salt, as the ham will provide more than you imagine, as will store-bought stock, if it’s not Aneto). Remove bay leaves. Serve hot with crusty bread or rolls.

Sticks to your ribs on a winter’s night.

Soupe de la Semaine: Nässelsoppa, the Stinging Nettle Soup from Sweden

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In a perfect world, I’d have a beautiful serving shot for you, but I froze the soup for a friend, so here’s one I nicked from the Queen of Kammebornia.

I’m continually surprised by the lengths to which our species will go to get food. Olives give us stomach aches straight from the tree? Maybe soak them in lye, then, because a little lye makes everything tasty. Rhubarb leaves are potentially deadly? Okay, let’s just harvest the stalks, and see if they won’t kill us. Nettles sting us when we touch them? Then we’ll boil them, and then perhaps they won’t sting.

I completely apprehend the ancient sensibility of finding local greens, boiling them, and consuming the broth. In every culture, you can find some version of this basic idea. Maritimers all over the globe even harvested seaweed, which makes for a magnificent, if humble, soup.

So far, a credible origin story for the Swedish version of this soup has not emerged, but since there are similar versions of it in Ireland, Scotland, and Native American culture, I’m presuming that the arc of its development was probably not that of something being spread from a single source, but a soup with a parallel evolution wherever Urtica dioica flourished (originally Europe, Asia, and western North Africa, but now pretty much everywhere). The bottom line is that it is ancient, dating back to the Bronze Age, and if something has persisted that long, there’s a reason.

I dug through dozens of recipes to arrive at this one, many of them Google Translated from Swedish. If you go out hunting on your own, don’t be put off by instructions for chopping nostrils, or be dissuaded by “raspberry soup” mistranslations. So long as you handle the raw nettles with care, your nostrils are safe. You will want to use gloves or tongs for the initial cleansing, though. Gotta respect a plant that employs not only miniscule thorns, but also formic acid, to try to keep itself safe from the likes of soup-making us.

This can easily be adapted to a vegan recipe by omitting the eggs, crème fraîche/sour cream, and chicken stock. Be sure to use a really good vegetable stock to get the depth of flavour the soup deserves. Roasting the vegetables before putting them in the stock is a must for this recipe.

Have a care with these before they’re given the hot broth bath.

INGREDIENTS
30 ml / 2 tbsp olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped
500g / 1 lb stinging nettle shoots and leaves
1 liter / 4 cups good quality chicken or vegetable stock
500ml / 2 cups water
5-10g / 1-2 tsp salt
1-2g / 1-2 tsp dried thyme
pinch white pepper
20g / 2 tablespoons potato starch (or corn starch)
4 hard boiled eggs
10-20 chives, chopped
250 ml / 1 cup crème fraîche, optional (sour cream may be substituted)

Ready for the purée.

DIRECTIONS
Rinse nettles thoroughly, picking out grass and any foreign objects, then drain. In a large pan, heat the oil, thyme, salt, and white pepper, and then sauté the onion for about 5 minutes, until soft without colouring. Add the water and stock. Bring to a boil and then add nettles. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Using immersion blender, purée soup until smooth (or use food processor/VitaMix). Dissolve the potato starch in a little water and stir it into the soup. Bring back to a gentle boil, stirring regularly until it thickens slightly. Check and adjust the seasoning. Serve hot with quartered or halved hard-boiled eggs, chopped chives, and a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche.

Despite what Kermit said, it actually is easy being green.

Turned On by Turon

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Miss World 2013 Megan Young pops by Chaaste Family Market. She looks better in a leather skirt than I do.

In many ways, Angelenos are quintessentially American by being quintessentially provincial. To be sure, Los Angeles is segregated by politics and wealth distribution and ethnicity, but it is also segregated by zones where people Just Won’t Go. Part of this is a logical response to the most mercurial traffic density in the Continental 48: a journey of five miles can range from anywhere between eight and eighty minutes to complete. So people settle into their zone. Some won’t venture east of the 405, some won’t travel south of the 10, or cross the “Orange Curtain” that divides California’s first and third most populous counties. Santa Clarita? Long Beach? You may as well be on Deimos or Phobos, my friends.

It’s only about 19 miles (or 30 kilometers) as the crow flies between the Westwood campus of UCLA and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (where their team plays its home games in men’s football). And — it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much — that’s about the only time (except for New Year’s, obvs) you’ll find a dedicated mass of people from Westwood struggling across town to visit said city.

But thanks to a friend’s medical appointment, I found myself in Pasadena, which is gorgeous even when it’s not hauling rose-festooned floats down its streets. It was also, until 10 days ago, the home of the late Jonathan Gold, the only food critic in American history to have won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. We never met, much to my dismay, even though he was friends with a number of our friends, and I’m sure we could have arranged an intro. And there was the time at the now-shuttered Corazón y Miel — a restaurant his column introduced to us — when the bride and I saw him sit down to a solitary Sunday meal and decided to let him dine in peace. That was also the day that I learned (thanks to his recommendation) deep-fried avocado is spectacular.

But I digress.

With a couple of unscheduled hours before me as I awaited my pal Valerie’s eyes to dilate like a Disney Princess‘ and then return to something like normal, I headed out for some east side exotica. And I wound up at Chaaste Family Market.

Still life with Honda. Those are spare recyclable grocery bags in the back seat, not the World’s Saddest Balloons.

Initially, I was just poking around for ingredients. It’s a hobby of mine to find the most unusual/exotic/counterintuitive ingredient I can, take it home, then read about it and figure out how to use it. That’s how I once wound up with a bag full of this, for instance:

Actually perhaps the least effective marketing campaign on behalf of mushrooms this millennium.

The bride said, “You’re not going to bring home a bunch of stuff that you’re gonna leave on the counter for months, are you?” I swore I wouldn’t, but I wouldn’t have placed a two-bit bet on whether I was lying or not. I very nearly returned with a box of “Puto,” which as near as I can tell makes a bao-like dough for steaming and stuffing. Those of you from SoCal or for whom Spanglish is a second language already know that puto has a second, and very different, meaning.

This might be the only photo of puto in a box that my website provider would allow me to host.

But judging from the signage, it seemed that la délicatesse du jour was something called turon. [You can find examples of people making them here, here, and here.] Apparently, the day’s turon output was due to start rolling out to the public at 13:30, about half an hour away. I considered making my exit — “Be back at 1:30!” — with about a 10% chance of actually being back at 1:30. But things were slow, and the very friendly proprietor (whom I would later find out is the owner’s son Chris, pictured at the right of the photo at top), said, “It could be a little earlier than that. Why not hang out for a few minutes, if you’ve got time?”

Funky and functional.

Time I had. And attached to their market is a little restaurant, with room for 20 in a pinch. Maybe. If they were friends. It’s decorated in the way that lots of the best eateries in the world are, which is to say minimally. A mural depicts the founders riding in their horse-drawn wedding coach across a bridge from the Philippines to America. It also features the second generation, in various guises. And Manny Pacquiao, because, well, the Philippines. [I’m not being snotty or superior about this in any way, because the Maritimes from which I come has restaurants that boast of Anne Murray and/or Sidney Crosby; gotta support the locals.]

Not 100% sure of tall he iconography here, but it’a a cool mural.

What little knowledge I had of Pinoy food was mostly hastily acquired when I was recruited by a chef pal to participate in a relief effort for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan; I was part of the crew he organized to throw a benefit fund-raising dinner. My contribution was calamansi chewies. So, ignorant but open, I placed myself in the hands of my host, something I often do; after all, who better to know what’s good?

Rice is nice.

We moved onto some steam table items, and settled on bistek, beef giniling guisado (which Chris told me his Latino friends refer to as “hamburger helper”), pancit bihon (a dish very like a vegetable-laden vermicelli mix, though it can also feature a variety of proteins), and, of course, the rice.

From left, clockwise: bistek, giniling guisado, pancit bihon, rice. Yum.

It was a right tasty meal, especially the bistek, whose broth had the depth of a Borges short story collection. Came to a grand total of $8.10, which has to be one of the best under-$10 meals I’ve had in America. Is it worth hacking one’s way through the ugly maw that is Los Angeles traffic to partake of it on a daily basis? Probably not. Will it be at the top of my list the next time I find myself in the neighbourhood? You bet.

The best of both worlds: Christian halfway between the market and the restaurant.

Ah, but then.

Part of me wants to believe that the omitted apostrophe is entirely intentional, and a nod to the French; after all, Mama’s turon is so good it just flies out the door, so it’s no surprise she would find herself without any. Mama Sans Turon, indeed. It’s like an egg roll and a banana and a churro and some jackfruit went up to heaven and asked if they could borrow some manna and have a baby together.

Magic and happiness, fried in tandem.

Like clockwork, at 13:30, the shop began to fill with turon fans. The first few were warned not to try them right away, as the turons were just slightly cooler than a meteorite hitting the lower atmosphere. And after I watched several happy clusters of customers drift off, I joined them, turon package in tow, in sweet (and fried) bliss. So by all means do make your way over some day, plan it around lunch, and surprise your couch- (or house-) bound friends with a little manna that found its path from heaven via Manila and Pasadena.

Summer Vegan Bean Salad I

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Bless you, Steve Sando.

Summertime, and the livin’ is… damn sticky, for the nonce, in Southern California. And there’s another heat wave coming. The last thing I want to do is to, say, sit over a pot of saffron risotto for an hour. I’d like something cool, and refreshing, and clean, and if I were able to subsist on gin and tonic or Croma Vera Albariño, well, I’d probably do that. My doctor might suggest some other course; I bet she’d be just fine with this one.

The first trick to any bean salad is — duh — great beans. I’ve long extolled the virtues of Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans, and that’s where I started. The bride and I are particularly fond of their Royal Corona beans, which are kin to the Gigandes plaki, often spelled as yigandes, used in the great Greek meze served under an expansive canopy of tomato sauce and often accompanied by Feta cheese and bread. Rancho Gordo founder Sando is something of a bean whisperer, and cultivates heirloom beans all over the world, working with local farmers at fair prices. He is a hero, full stop.

The second trick to a good bean salad is a balance of flavours and textures. No one wants a limp bean any more than they want a wet noodle — and I mean that literally and figuratively. When I knew I would be building off a base of Royal Corona beans, I compiled a culinary dance card of prospective partners, seen below. Since this is a really adaptable bean, I knew I could go off in several directions, but not all at once. So: I decided to make it Vegan. I knew sun-dried tomatoes and marinated red bell peppers would be part of it for colour and taste and texture. Then it was a matter of filling in gaps. Celery for crunch. Capers for salt and tang. Slivered almonds for more crunch. Macerated red onion for a little assertiveness, but not too much, hence the maceration. Scallions and parsley for herbaceousness and colour. Fresh thyme for extra aromatics. There were some herbs and oil in the sun-dried tomatoes, and I decided to use them rather than rinse them off, and finish off the salad dressing as needed.

NOT “5 Livered Almonds.” The pen was malfunctioning.

This is truly a salad that can be assembled by an elementary schooler, as soon as she can be trusted with a knife (and has the upper body strength to open vacuum-packed bottles, or can inveigle someone to do it for her).

Macerating the onion in this case consists of dicing it and dropping it in a bowl with enough water to cover it, dumping in a glug — that’s a technical term — of some sort of vinegar, and about .5 cup / 170 g of sugar, then stirring it up and setting it into the fridge for an hour or so, to blunt the onion’s sharpness. It’s not quite a quick pickle, but it does temper its aggressiveness.

As for the beans, I made them in my Instant Pot®. Rinsed them, covered them with water, and set the pressure on high for 25 minutes with a natural release. You can soak them overnight if you wish, and cook them in a trad soup pot (I do this in winter, just for the atmosphere), but I was shooting for fast results. I drained the cooked beans and rinsed them with cold tap water, then dumped them in with the already macerating onion to cool them down some more. Kilotonnes of options here, feel free to follow your path.

Give it a bit to mingle flavours, and you may or may not want to top it with a vinaigrette. As it turned out for me, just a few drops of great old Balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of black sea salt flakes (the flakes were black due to charcoal; they weren’t from the Black Sea) finished it off nicely, even on the second day.

Summer Vegan Bean Salad I
Serves 6-8 as a main course, with extras

INGREDIENTS
1 lb. / 454 g dried Rancho Gordo Royal Corona Beans, hydrated and cooked
24 oz. / 680 g (2 bottles, 12 oz./340 g each) marinated red peppers, drained
25-30 capers
3 large stalks celery, diced
1 red onion, diced and macerated (see note above)
1 bunch scallions (10-12), sliced
1 cup / 60 g chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp / 2.4 g fresh thyme, finely minced
16 oz. / 454 g julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil (using the oil)
.75 cup / 85 g slivered almonds

Next go, we may find room for some of those other ingredients on the dance card, plus cucumber, jicama, nopalito, or something else!

Incidentally, if you’re not wedded to the Vegan thing, bacon & bleu cheese, prosciutto & Parmesan, or even chicken & chevre could be welcome additions.

One final and sad note: As I was writing this, I learned that the Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold died. He was as much a part of this city’s cultural life as Jim Murray or Jack Smith; he was the culinary literary equivalent for this city of the likes of Mike Royko or Studs Terkel or Herb Caen. He is simply irreplaceable, and his passing at 57 is too soon by decades. I cannot begin to imagine how much our lives will be impoverished by his absence.

http://www.latimes.com/food/jonathan-gold/

At $9 A Liter, Aneto Chicken Broth Is A Steal.

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Worth its weight in chicken.

I know, I know. For that amount of money you could buy THREE liters of chicken broth. You’d probably be better off mixing this with two liters of water, actually, if price is your sole criterion.

Full disclosure: Due to an upcoming medical procedure during which they insert a video camera up into the shadiest area of my body (i.e., “where the sun don’t shine”), I am currently on a liquid diet. Chicken broth is permitted. I decided to use this opportunity to test drive a suggestion I came across while writing the article on fideuà inauténtico. My research for that piece led me to an excellent food blog called The Daring Gourmet, which features not only recipes, but also product reviews, travel and health tips, restaurant reviews, and more. [You should visit it after you’re done reading this.]

They wrote an article about their visit to the Aneto factory in Artes, Spain, that I found completely captivating. Enough so that I was willing to plunk down $27 to pick up three liters of the broth as part of my hydration regime, knowing I would be renting it for not much longer than it will take you to finish watching the final episode of The Americans this evening.

I had considered myself a fairly savvy shopper, and the chicken broth in the pantry was Kroeger’s Simple Truth Organic Free Range Chicken Broth Fat Free, which I bought at the local Ralphs for about $1.99 or so. But compare the ingredient list between Aneto (at left) and Kroeger (at right).

The boxes are the same size, but that’s where the similarities end.

As Kimberly of The Daring Gourmet pointed out in her article,

    To be called “broth” the USDA only requires a Moisture-Protein Ratio (MPR) of 1:135. That’s 1 part chicken to 135 parts water. That translates as 1 ounce of chicken per gallon of water. As unbelievable as that sounds, we’re understandably left asking, “So where’s the chicken in the chicken broth?”

Indeed.

On the left, the Aneto broth. On the right, the Kroeger. Which one do you suppose has more chicken (and, for that matter, flavour)?

I don’t want to come across as picking on Kroeger; it’s one of the best of the conventional chicken broths. The problem is that we in the United States just don’t set the bar very high (another issue addressed at The Daring Gourmet). And most of us aren’t drinking our chicken broth straight. But I gotta say, from the bottom of my taste buds, that Aneto is to conventional chicken broth what a Maybach or a McLaren is to a Vauxhall Viva.

Of course, you could make your own stock. That gives you the option to tweak the taste, and it’s possible to make a stock that’s even better than what Aneto sells. But it takes time to buy and prepare the ingredients, and if you want to get some economy of scale, it also requires a significant amount of freezer space, so those costs deserve to be considered. I come from a family where it was considered to be something of a crime to let potential soup bones go to waste, so I do make my own stock from time to time, but it’s usually with veggies that are a mere few days away from becoming a science project, plus a fresh onion (I always have those). I rarely — read “never” — set out to make a big batch of stock from scratch with purpose-bought vegetables. Plus, Aneto makes really good stock, and it’s always handy to have some room-temp broth in the pantry even if your freezer is (ahem) well-stocked.

Appended to their 2016 article, The Daring Gourmet thoughtfully provided a list of stores across the USA where Aneto is sold (the company also make a ton of broths that are not sold in the US, such as their Caldo Natural de Jamón). I got mine at the local Sur La Table; I could have saved a couple bucks a unit had I bought a six-pack through Amazon, but I failed to plan ahead that far. Idiot me. Over the next few hours, I’m sure I will have ample time to sit and contemplate the error of my ways.

Meanwhile, go read the Aneto story!

Fidella? Paedeuà? Maybe We Should Just Call It Fideuà Inauténtico.

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A little bit of Valencia, a little bit of Catalunya, a little bit of Inglewood.

If you’ve ever been to Spain — and even if you haven’t — there’s a fair likelihood that you have at some point encountered paella, that rice-based Valencian marvel redolent of saffron and pimentón de la Vera. Believe it or not, the paella you treasure in your taste buds’ memory is likely, in a word, inauténtico. Paella, like pizza and pretzels, rallies a passionate coterie of prescriptivists to its bosom, each claiming that a single path alone leads to the culinary ecstasy prized by gourmands. Yeah, bunk.

The earliest precursor to paella I could find dates to about 1520, when the notes of the master chef to Ferdinand I, Rupert de Nola (who, despite his name, was not from New Orleans), were codified into Libre del Coch (later Libro de Guisados), said to be the first printed cookbook in Catalan (and, some further allege, in Spain). It seems to have been compiled originally in 1477, which indicates that book publishers back then maintained the same sort of leisurely release schedule they do today.

What? A book without pictures? Depends on your edition.

But I digress. According to Saveur magazine, the original Valencian paella was likely cobbled together from local ingredients. Rice was a Moorish legacy dating back to the overthrow of the Visigoths in 711, and Arab traders brought saffron to the region a couple hundred years later. Then, all they had to do was add some veggies and protein, and presto! It’s said that snails (which sound much tastier in Spanish, as caracoles) and rabbits were often featured, as were local beans. [Beans and rice? How is it that there’s no paella burrito food truck in Los Angeles? Maybe this.] In any event, the natives are passionate about what is and is not authentic (even when they disagree on specifics), but what else would you expect from citizens of a town that sports its own rice museum?

In the early 20th century, one Valencian had gone completely heretical, not only adding seafood to paella, but substituting noodles for rice! There are competing legends surrounding the origin of fideuá, one of which portrays it as an accident by a chef who had run out of rice, another concerning a chef who attempted to dissuade a gluttonous sea captain by ostensibly making his paella less palatable with noodles. Whatever the truth, the dish became a hit, though it migrated up the coast into Catalunya for its most elegant expression.

While I have a great deal of respect for the tradition of Spanish cuisine, I’m not above a cultural mashup (I am going to pull together a paella burrito one of these days!), so I assembled a dish I proudly call Fideuà Inauténtico. [I once worked with a multiple Grammy-nominated art director who occasionally said, “Go ugly early.” I’m not sure exactly what she meant by that, but it seems to apply here.] I will note that, as with many of the recipes found on this blog, this is more of a suggestion than an absolutist set of instructions.

Developing the socarrat.

Fideuà Inauténtico
Serves approximately 4 to 6, with a little left over

NOTE: This was made in a 16″ Staub pan designed for cooking paella. Technically, the pan is also called a paella, so saying “paella pan” is as redundant as saying “La Brea Tar Pits.” Mine is rather heavy and thick, while the traditional Spanish version of the pan is thin. The size and weight of your pan will affect cooking time, so have a care. The ultimate goal is for the pasta to absorb the liquid, and to develop a bit of a crust (or socarrat). While the dish as pictured was made on top of my ancient O’Keefe and Merritt stovetop, I often use my outdoor gas grill for this dish, because it produces a superior socarrat, thanks to the larger burners and higher BTU output.

INGREDIENTS
2 packages fideo pasta* (7 oz. / 400 g each)
½ cup / 120 ml extra-virgin Spanish olive oil
1 pound / ½ kg boneless chicken thighs, cooked and chopped
1 – 2 teaspoons / 2½ – 5 g pimentón de la Vera (sweet/dulce if you have it, but bittersweet/agridulce or hot/picante work fine)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds / 1 kg tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped or two 14-oz / 400 g cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes
20-24 large shrimp, tail on, uncooked
8 oz. / 225 g link of Spanish chorizo** cut into 20 or so slices
3½ – 4 cups / 820 – 940 ml of stock (I used chicken stock, but fish or veggie or beef would work fine also), heated
⅛ – ¼ teaspoon / .09 – .17 g saffron (not really very much, because it’s super expensive, but you can add more if you want)
¼ cup / 60 ml dry Spanish white wine such as Albariño (optional)
Salt to taste

*Angel hair pasta and vermicelli also work well, so long as they are in broken into short pieces and you adjust the cooking time and amount of liquid so they don’t get overcooked. Spaghetti, on the other hand, is too thick.
**Spanish chorizo, unlike Mexican chorizo, is cured and has the texture of a hard sausage.

DIRECTIONS

Cook chicken thighs in advance, using whatever method you prefer. I braised mine in wine, intending to finish them off with a little browning on the gas grill, but I skipped that step for time’s sake, and it worked out fine. In fact, I made the thighs the previous night, and just chopped them up the following evening. I saved the cooking juices to combine with the stock.

Heat the stock in a saucepan to simmer; you will be adding it in a bit at a time later in the recipe.

In large paella pan (sic), combine olive oil and fideo over high heat; brown fideo to golden colour, stirring frequently (don’t worry if some gets a little too dark, just don’t burn it). Add pimentón de la Vera and onion and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and continue cooking about one minute. If it looks like the fideo is getting too dark, splash in a little stock or wine and allow it to evaporate.

Add tomatoes, cooked chicken, chorizo, shrimp, and saffron, arranging them in the pan evenly. Begin pouring stock in a bit at a time (about 40% the first time, then 20% or so with each subsequent pour), allowing it to reduce a bit before adding more. DO NOT STIR, because this will mess with the formation of the socarrat. [You can sample the pasta along the way, checking to see if it has gone from crunchy to al dente. Typically, fideo requires only 4-5 minutes in boiling water.] A couple of minutes after the first stock addition, flip over the shrimp. When they are cooked, they’ll turn from grey to pink and white. You may need to turn them over a couple of times to get them there. Should you run out of stock, you can add a bit of dry wine, such as Albariño, or even a dry rosé. It’s also possible that you may not need to use all your stock. Let your tastebuds be your guide. If the pasta’s done and the shrimp are pink, you’re good to go. Allow the liquid to evaporate, take the pan off flame, and let it sit for a 3-5 minutes to help build the socarrat.

Lift portions out of pan with spatula, making sure to scrape off the socarrat in the process. It is traditionally served with allioli, a kind of garlic mayo that can be made in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle. Possibly due to the number of margaritas I had consumed, I skipped this step. It tasted fine without the condiment.

Just about fork-ready.

The Power of Food / LA Times Food Bowl Event

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Food — not parking — included.

To close out May Day 2018, the bride and I attended an LA Times Food Bowl function at The Wiltern that commingled elements of Iron Chef, a cable news roundtable, and a spiritual revival. The topic was “The Power of Food,” and featured guests including internationally recognized chef and humanitarian José Andrés, Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold, actress and food activist Zooey Deschanel, guerilla urban gardening advocate Ron Finley, restaurateur and author Susan Feniger, Scratch Food Truck chef/owner Tim Kilcoyne, restaurateur and Top Chef contestant Nyesha Arrington, and L.A. Kitchen founder & CEO Robert Egger.

Zooey Deschanel and Ron Finley.

In the words of co-host Andrés, “Food is powerful because it has a history that no other profession has behind it. The Boston Tea Party was a great revolution ignited by food. The salt march led by Gandhi created the freedom of an entire nation. Food can and does change the world, and that’s what gives it such unbelievable power.

And now more than ever, it is critical to recognize that food — how we grow it, sell it, cook it, and eat it — is as important as any other issue we are facing, one that is vitally connected to our lives. From culture and energy, to art, science, the economy, national security, the environment, and health, everything is connected through food, and we need to start giving it the attention it deserves.”

L-R: L.A. Kitchen’s Robert Egger, World Central Kitchen’s José Andrés.

Chef Andrés went beyond the mere sustainability and distribution of of agricultural products to address one very large and unruly elephant in the room: immigration. If you ate this evening in America, whether you cooked your own meal or had someone prepare it for you, it’s a virtual certainty that an undocumented immigrant worker was instrumental in some portion of the chain that stretched from the farm to your table. This is a moral issue, a political issue, a social issue, an economic issue, and a human rights issue that will take contributions from all sides of the debate and all points along the political spectrum to resolve, because our present system is, in a word, untenable.

But the spirit in the room was enthusiastic, upbeat, and hopeful. As the great philosopher John Lennon once observed, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” All you need is love. Well, maybe not all you need, but it’s a good place to start.

Soupe de la Semaine: Duck Egg Drop Soup

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Soup is good food.

Let me say this right up front: working with lemongrass is a pain in the ass. When I discover pieces of it in tom kha gai, it’s always like tasty little bits of indigestible wood, and I never have a graceful way of disposing of them. In theory, you can pound it into paste, but since I don’t have a four-ton press hanging about, I haven’t done that. I may try chopping it up and popping it in the Vita-Mixer with a little liquid to see if I can get something useful, and when that happens, I will share the consequences, even it it results in having to replace the Vita-Mixer. That said, lemongrass tastes so good, it’s worth the effort.

Today, I decided to throw about a dozen stalks and three liters of filtered water into the Instant Pot® and make, in essence, lemongrass broth. It was almost like a tea; fairly aromatic, but somewhat insubstantial, so I threw in some Better Than Bouillon stock paste for good measure. A couple of recent impulse purchases meant that I had a dozen duck eggs and a gigantic bag of Chinese leeks laying about, so I went improv in a big way. I’ve always liked egg drop soup, so I thought I’d try my hand at it. Simple simple simple.

The first chore was to clean the lemongrass, which had a fair amount of residual dirt, and then chop off the bits that weren’t going to be useful. The New York Times food section website has an excellent video on just how to do that. I did not bruise the lemongrass first, figuring that there was no need to leave any of those aromatic oils on my butcher block; the Instant Pot®’s pressure cooking function was adequate to force them into the broth. 30 minutes of high pressure with a natural release was just fine, as I was in the midst of doing other stuff at the time. Yay for multitasking, especially when a machine takes on half the tasks.

After the lemongrass broth was complete, I added the Better Than Bouillon stock paste to give the broth some heft, and added a little potato starch for thickening. The Chinese leeks are actually more similar to garlic chives than traditional leeks in taste and texture, and a quick clean and chop rendered them soup-ready. For the finale, a couple of duck eggs (or chicken eggs, if that’s what you have) pulled it all together. I could easily have gone more complex with spices or seasonings, but the stock paste brought sufficient salt into the equation, and I wanted to let the rest of the ingredients speak for themselves. A tablespoon or two of fish sauce would have been a welcome addition on some other day, and you’re welcome to play with your own mix. I can even imagine a place for some five spice powder or star anise as potential components, but on this day in this place, I opted for simplicity and it tasted fresh and good.

The technique for “dropping the egg” is pretty straightforward. whisk a couple of eggs in a Pyrex® measuring cup, then whisk a couple of ladles of the hot broth into the eggs. At that point, you can drizzle the egg-broth mixture into the hot soup a bit at a time as you stir the soup. Voila: egg threads. Done and done. I served it in bowls because it was hot and needed the surface area to cool a bit, but mugs are fine serving vessels as well.

Duck Egg Drop Soup
serves 8-12 as a starter

Tiny for leeks, aren’t they?

INGREDIENTS
3.5 liters / 15 cups water
12 stalks lemongrass, cleaned and halved (see above for technique)
3 tablespoons / 60 g Better Than Bouillon stock base
2 cups / 200 g Chinese leeks, chopped (green onions or garlic chives or leeks can be substituted)
2 duck or chicken eggs
2 tablespoons / 20 g potato starch (or corn starch)

DIRECTIONS
Clean and chop lemongrass (see video for technique). Add to Instant Pot® with 3.5 liters / 15 cups water. Turn lever on lid to “Sealing” (rather than “Venting”) and press the “Soup” button, adjusting the time to 30 minutes if necessary. When cycle is done, allow to depressurize naturally or turn lever to “Venting,” depending on your time constraints. Remove lemongrass stalks and add stock base and chopped Chinese leeks. Turn Instant Pot® off, then press the “Saute” button to heat the soup base. Whisk together potato starch and a small amount of stock (approximately 125 ml / ½ cup) to form a slurry; gradually add another 125 ml / ½ cup of stock while whisking, then add the thickened stock to the Instant Pot® container.

Crack two eggs into a Pyrex® measuring cup or other bowl, then whisk in about 250 ml / 1 cup of hot broth, stirring constantly. Drizzle that mixture into the Instant Pot® container, stirring constantly, so the egg becomes threadlike. Turn Instant Pot® off (or set to warming mode), and serve.

Curried Chickpea Smash [Vegan]

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It takes all my will to keep from eating it directly from the bowl.

Total dishes dirtied in the course of making this recipe: 1. [Plus five utensils: the can opener, potato masher, knife, fork, and measuring spoon. Oh, and I had to clean off the cutting board that lives on top of the right-hand sink.] That in itself gives this recipe a warm place in my heart.

Big ups to Jessica Prescott, from whose book Vegan Goodness: Delicious Plant-Based Recipes That Can Be Enjoyed Everyday this recipe was adapted. Further thanks to Deb Lindsey and Joe Yonan of the Washington Post, the former for making it look appetizing enough to try, and the latter for testing the recipe so I could goof with it in my own kitchen.

This takes literally about 10 minutes to pull together, even if your knife skills are as poor as mine, and it packs a wallop, taste-wise. Also, if you prefer to make this with garbanzo beans rather than chickpeas, they are an acceptable substitute.*

Curried Chickpea Smash
makes four sandwiches

INGREDIENTS

    1½ cups (one 15-ounce / 425 g can) chickpeas, drained (save the aquafaba!) and rinsed
    Flesh of 1 large ripe avocado, mashed
    2 tsp. / 10 ml extra-virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons / 30 ml fresh lemon juice, or more as needed
    ¼-½ cup / 40-75 g finely minced red onion
    4 baby dill pickles, finely chopped (about ½ cup / 71.5 g)
    ¼-½ cup / 15-25 g finely chopped fresh cilantro/coriander (or fresh parsley)
    2 tablespoons / 13 g curry powder
    ½ tsp. / 3 g kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
    ½ tsp. / 1 g finely ground black pepper, or more to taste
    About ½ cup / 115 g lightly packed baby spinach leaves
    4 hamburger-bun-size rolls (or 8 slices of bread), toasted; or several slices of pita bread, cut into wedges for dipping

[NOTE: The amount of onion and/or coriander can vary widely according to taste. I like mine with a little more kick, which is why I go to the high end of the recommendation. Also, I use twice as much curry powder as was in the original recipe, I think partly due to my palate and the fact that my jar of curry powder has a little age on it and may have mellowed. To me, the main bar to clear is finding the right bread-to-filling ratio. If the bun is too big relative to its surface area (like a slider bun), you’ll have too much bread. On the other hand, if you toast regular sandwich bread, you need to go a little light on the filling for structure’s sake. Believe me, it’s a fun problem to have to work out.]

Next time, homemade bread.

DIRECTIONS

Combine the chickpeas, oil, and lemon juice in a medium bowl or flat bottomed storage container such as the one pictured at top. Smash with a potato masher or fork until fairly chunky (try to leave no chickpea whole). Stir in the avocado, minced onion, pickles, cilantro/coriander, curry powder, salt, and pepper. [If you are using this as a dip for pita, chop the spinach and mix it in; otherwise, reserve it for the sandwich building, directions to follow.] Taste, and adjust spices as needed (I often add more lemon juice and/or olive oil to keep it from being too dry, especially if I’m using it as a dip rather than a sandwich filling).

If you’re not using this as a dip for pita bread, place a few baby spinach leaves on the bottom halves of the toasted rolls (or bread) and top with the chickpea salad. Top with the remaining halves of the rolls/bread, and slice in half if the resulting sandwich seems unwieldy.

*Chickpeas and garbanzo beans are the same thing. That was a joke.

Soupe de la Semaine: Green Posole Soup [Vegan] [Instant Pot® recipe]

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This could actually be seriously vintage posole.

It is possible that I made soup the other evening with posole that’s older than Ariana Grande. As you can tell from the packaging, marks from the inner lining’s adhesive have bled through the external paper bag, and the very top (which had not been exposed to light) is a great deal lighter than the rest of the bag. To the best of my recollection, I’ve been to Santa Fe only a couple of times in the last 30 years: once in 1990, on my honeymoon; and once in 2015, to see the Santa Fe Opera’s excellent production of Donizetti’s La fille du régiment. I’m sure I didn’t buy this bag of posole on the latter trip. When the bride said that it was probably from 1990, I was gobsmacked. That would have meant it survived two cross-country moves, both of which took place in the previous millennium. Oy.

That said, it was really tasty soup. Full marks to The Chile Shop in Santa Fe (which is still in business) for the quality and durability of their products.

The word “posole” (or “pozole”) originates in the Nahuatl language, and is possibly derived either from “posolli” (or “pozolli”) which is alleged to mean “frothy” or “foamy.” Or it could come from the Nahuatl word “potzonti,” meaning “to boil or bubble.” It apparently used to be called “tlacatlaolli,” which is said to mean “threshed men corn.” But hey, I don’t speak Nahuatl, so I’m sort of agnostic on the issue. It is further alleged that human flesh was a key ingredient in the original recipe (although some have been less eager to embrace the description in Fray Bernardino de Sahagún’s twelve-volume 16th century masterpiece, Historia general de las cosas de nueva España, also known as The Florentine Codex). I expect that very few modern butcher shops cater to the cannibal crowd, so as long as we’re going inauthentic, why not jump to a vegan version?

The central ingredient, of course, is cacahuazintle, or hominy corn. [Q:”Hominy corn?” A:”About a pound’s worth.” FX:rimshot.] Much like the Mexican flag, the soup comes in three colours: red, white, and green. I chose green, basically a riff off the version found on the 10th Kitchen website, based upon ingredients at hand and my culinary aesthetic (which included trying to make it fairly quickly).

Green Posole Soup
Makes approximately 14 cups / 3½ liters

INGREDIENTS
1 pound / 500 g dried white hominy (or two large cans pre-soaked) [25 oz. / 708 g per can]
1 large white onion, sliced thin lengthwise into strips
6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp. / 1 g dried Mexican oregano
1 bottle (23 oz. / 652 g) crushed tomatillos OR 1½ pounds / 700 g tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed
1 can (7 oz. / 198 g) diced green chiles (or 1-3 diced serrano chiles)
1 big bunch fresh cilantro/coriander, finely minced
2 tablespoons / 30 ml olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
½ cup / 65 g pepitas (optional)
8 cups / 64 oz. / 2 liters water or vegetable stock (Better Than Bouillon enhanced my stock)
Salt to taste

Soaking the dried hominy. When you pour the water into the center of the pot after you’ve added the corn, it looks like this. Cool.

DIRECTIONS

If you are using dried hominy, it’s best to rinse it off and soak it overnight. [That in itself makes a good case for buying canned hominy, which must be drained and rinsed before being added to the mix.] In either case, drain the soaked hominy and leave it in the strainer.

In the Instant Pot® interior container, add onion, olive oil, Mexican oregano, and a generous pinch of salt. Set Instant Pot® to “Sauté” function, and sweat onions, stirring occasionally, until softened; it’s okay if they get a little brown. Add chopped garlic and sauté for another minute or two, then press the “Keep Warm/Cancel” button.

If you are using whole tomatillos and chiles, you should pop them in a food processor with a little bit of water and the cilantro; chop until fairly smooth and add to the Instant Pot® container. Otherwise, just mince the cilantro and dump it in the Instant Pot® container with the crushed tomatillos and diced canned chiles. Add the hominy and stock (and pepitas, if you are using them). Close the Instant Pot®, and set the vent on the lid to “Sealing.” Then press the “Soup” button, making sure that the pressure is set to high.

Here is where paths diverge in the woods. IF you are using the canned hominy, set the time for 12 minutes, and allow pressure to release naturally when done, unless you’re in a huge hurry. IF you are using the dried and soaked hominy, set the time for 35 minutes, and allow pressure to release naturally when done, unless you’re in a huge hurry (in which case you should have used the canned hominy in the first place). [NOTE: Because my hominy apparently dated to the Mesozoic, it was still a little more al dente than I would have liked at the 35 minute mark. I replaced the lid and added another 15 minutes of cooking time. Still not quite there. So I replaced the lid again and added another 15 minutes of cooking time. Perfect. The lesson here is not to use hominy that was dried before the first web browser was invented.]

Yummy goodness that tastes better than it looks, I promise. I’m a way better cook than food stylist.

Soupe de la Semaine: Vegetable & Rice Soup [Instant Pot® recipe] [Vegan optional]

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Please, anything but this.

This soup was borne out of a need to use up a bunch of celery before it went south. [Seems like I make a lot of “necessity” soups.] Being an enterprising lad, I Googled “celery soup,” and got about 1.83 bazillion recipes for Cream of Celery Soup. I don’t want to demean the good folks whose soup provided Andy Warhol such a rich vein to mine for his art, but the cream of celery soup of my youth was possibly the worst-period-soup-period-ever. It was always the last can in the cupboard, and was only ever served out of dire necessity. To be fair, I think the only reason my mom kept any in the first place was so that it could be used as a sauce for some sort of ’60s casserole that has mercifully and permanently gone out of fashion. Fortunately, my Google Fu skills are strong, and I eventually landed on what appeared to be a terrific recipe by Martha Rose Shulman of the NY Times. It was modified to fit my ingredients, but it’s fairly faithful to the original.

Stop me if I’m sounding like a broken record here, but if there are two things I could ever want you to take away from this blog, they are these:

    1) You can do this. Goodness knows, I’m no chef. But I can make a tasty meal; that’s all anyone ever asks from an amateur.
    2) A recipe is a roadmap. There’s always more than one route to your destination. And, failing that, there are always other destinations.

Perhaps the two most delightful aspects to this recipe are 1) you don’t have to pre-cook the rice (a few minutes at pressure in the Instant Pot® does the job); and 2) you can make it vegan simply by removing the Parmesan cheese. If you can operate a knife, a spoon, a can opener, and a measuring cup, you can make this. You don’t even really need an Instant Pot®. It just will take longer on the stove (probably about 45 minutes to an hour of simmering, depending on how quickly your rice cooks up).

Doesn’t that look like a bowl full of healthy goodness? And we haven’t even added the tomatoes or the stock yet.

Vegetable & Rice Soup
Makes approximately 16 cups / 4 liters

INGREDIENTS
6 celery stalks / 400 g, diced
1/2 red cabbage / 400 g, shredded
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
1 bell pepper, de-seeded and diced (I used 6 mini peppers instead)
6 garlic cloves, minced
Salt (preferably kosher) and pepper (preferably ground white) to taste
1 cup / 180 g uncooked rice (I used brown basmati)
3 tbsp. / 45 ml extra virgin olive oil (spring for some good oil!)
1 28-ounce / 794 g can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
1 1/2 quarts / 1.5 liters water or vegetable stock (Better Than Bouillon enhanced my stock)
2 tbsp. / 50 g tomato paste
1 teaspoon / 4 g dried thyme
2 tbsp. / 3 g dried parsley flakes (or 1 tbsp. / 4 g fresh parsley)
A small (50 g / 1.75 oz.) Parmesan rind
Celery leaves for garnish (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Chop up celery, cabbage, onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic cloves; place in Instant Pot® container. Sprinkle salt and pepper over vegetables and stir. Add olive oil and uncooked rice to container. Set Instant Pot® to “Sauté” and sweat vegetables, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes, until they soften a bit. Add chopped tomatoes, vegetable stock, tomato paste, thyme, parsley, and Parmesan rind (if desired — omit for vegan version). Mix briefly with spoon or spatula. Turn Instant Pot® to “Keep Warm / Cancel,” which will end the sauté function.

Place lid on Instant Pot®, making sure vent is turned toward “Sealing” rather than “Venting.” Press “Soup” button, making sure pressure is on “High.” Set timer for 16 minutes. Go answer some email or vacuum your front room.

When timer goes off, allow Instant Pot® to decompress naturally, or at least for 10 minutes, before carefully switching vent from “Sealing” to “Venting.” Remove lid, and adjust spices as necessary (soup will be hot). Ladle directly into bowls or mugs and garnish with celery leaves and/or grated Parmesan (omit latter for vegan version).

To borrow a phrase, “Mmmm-mmmm good.”

More than Bacon, Egg, & Cheese : Coconut Curry Soba Noodle Egg Bites [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Doesn’t take much to send me down the rabbit hole.

I’ve been goofing around with the Starbucks®-style egg bites for a bit now (as you can see here and here), and I’ve had some fun exploring sort of vaguely North American/Mediterranean variations on the theme commercially available at everyone’s favourite coffee charrers.

But why not move away from the tried-and-true cheese-and-egg model? How about something vaguely Caribbean? Or Eastern European? Or South Asian? The worst that could happen is the wasteful expenditure of some time, a few eggs, and my interest in “improving” on the already terrific.

Hard to get much more authentic than a coconut curry sauce marked “Product of Canada.”

I’d like to say I made my own coconut curry sauce for this recipe, but I’d be lying. It was totally an impulse thing, given that the local mercado had several bottles on markdown to $1.49 USD. [The total outlay for this recipe came to less than $14.00 USD, since both the sauce and the mushrooms were on special. I paid extra — like 25 cents per egg extra — for humanely-farmed eggs, but I think it’s worth it. For the first seven bites, it costs out at $4.00 per two-egg-bite serving, a fairly modest savings from the commercial version, especially when one adds in one’s time. But I still have sauce, mushrooms, eggs, herbs, and noodles left over for another batch and change, so the cost per serving going forward plummets way further, to $2.00; if I get some more coconut curry sauce, it goes even lower. Not too shabby.]

Soba, awaiting the warm embrace of sauce, eggs, herbs, and fungus.

I’m pretty sure you don’t just happen to have 5 ounces (or 150 g) of cooked soba noodles lying about, so allow me to offer you an option for the rest of the soba noodles you’re likely to cook in order to make this recipe. [This No Spoon Necessary blog’s recipe was the inspiration for last night’s dinner, but since the bride and I are ovo-lacto vegetarians until Lent’s end, I had to mess with it a bit. That’s another post for another day.] Also, this version is dairy-free, unlike most other egg bite recipes.


INGREDIENTS

4 eggs
5 oz. / 150 g cooked soba noodles (I flavoured the noodle cooking water with fresh ginger, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, and tamari sauce)
10 tbsp. / 150 ml coconut curry sauce
4-5 small mushrooms, chopped
3 tbsp. / 18 g chopped green onions (2 or 3 shallots, just to make it easy)
3 tbsp. / 9 g chopped cilantro
2 scant pinches salt
olive oil or, even better, coconut oil to coat the molds
2 cups / ½ liter tap water for Instant Pot®
aluminum foil

Fungus and greens sweating it out.

DIRECTIONS
If your leftover soba noodles are in the fridge, put the ones you’re using for the recipe in a bowl with 4 tbsp. / 60 ml of the coconut curry sauce and let them sit overnight, or at least for a couple of hours; they’ll soak up the flavour. If you’re making the noodles expressly for this recipe, take the still-warm drained noodles and pop them in the bowl with the curry sauce and let them sit for as long as you can; overnight is best. In fact, I made both the soba noodles and the mushroom/cilantro/scallion combo the night before, because the timing worked out for me.

Oil egg bite tray, distribute soba noodles evenly into each cup and set aside. Chop mushrooms, green onion, and cilantro, place in a small frying pan with 1 tsp. / 5 ml oil (coconut, olive, or neutral), 2 tbsp. / 30 ml of the coconut curry sauce and the first pinch of salt; cook until soft and mushrooms have given up their liquor. Set aside to cool. [You can do this the night before if you want, and allow them to soak up the curry sauce flavour in the fridge.] In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs, the remaining 4 tbsp. / 60 ml curry sauce, and second pinch of salt together until smooth. Fold in the cilantro, green onions, and mushrooms. Spoon mixture evenly into oiled cups in the egg tray. Add the water to the Instant Pot® container. Cover the egg tray loosely with aluminum foil, place it on the Instant Pot® steaming trivet, and lower it into the Instant Pot®. Set to “Steam” for 8 minutes at high pressure, making sure that the vent is set to “Sealing” rather than “Venting.” When timer goes off, wait four or five minutes (or more, if you desire), and flip vent from “Sealing” to “Venting.” Remove egg bites and allow them to cool for a few minutes before serving, or store in refrigerator up to five days. Reheat one or two at a time in the microwave for 30-40 seconds on “High” and serve.

Ribbons of soba in egg bites that bear a disturbing similarity to what are euphemistically known as “bull fries.”

Los cojones del toro. There’s a little something you can’t unsee.

The Return of Be a Star and Save the Bucks — Breakfast Egg Bites [No Instant Pot® Needed Version]

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The so-called Balneo Mariæ, as seen in “The Newe Jewell of Health,” 1576. The one we’re going to use is a little simpler to operate.

In the wake of my recent post about trying to duplicate the Starbucks® sous vide egg bites in an Instant Pot®, a couple of things happened that occasioned this revisit. 1) The bride said I’d gotten the origin story all wrong (she recalls it as having happened this past summer when we were headed out of the Denver metro area on the way to South Dakota in a rented monster truck, and she’s right, as per usual); and 2) my pal Sharon asked via Facebook (and hence via the bride, as I’m still on my 60-day Facebook vacation) whether the recipe could be replicated without benefit of sous vide machine or Instant Pot®.

On the latter point, I had some experience with a technique that I was confident would point me in the right direction.

The low-tech version I’m about to describe has a lot in common with making oeufs en cocotte or, as they’re known in English-speaking countries, shirred eggs. In both of those recipes, though, the yolks are still quite liquid, which means they’re probably not the best option for food destined for on-highway consumption. Also, I wanted to mimic the approximate size of the Starbucks® bites, and all the cocottes (or ramekins) in our pantry are too large for a single-egg bite, unless you’re willing for it to be more puck-shaped than ovoid.

Now that I have you intrigued, frightened, or both, it’s time to introduce you to the delights of the hot water bath known as the bain-marie.

Ever wonder for whom the bain-marie was named? Take a guess: Marie Antoinette? Marie Curie? Marie Osmond? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Maria the Jewess, chemist and process engineer.

Maria the Jewess (a/k/a Maria Prophetissima, Maria Hebræa, Miriam the Prophetess, and Maria of Alexandria, among others) is credited with creating the water bath process that bears her name. Although none of her manuscripts survive, she was cited by the Gnostic mystic Zosimos of Panopolis in the 4th century and the noted physician Arnaldus de Villa Nova in the 13th century for her accomplishments, which also are said to have included the invention of the alembic (an early still). And while Italian cookbook author Giuliano Bugialli is quoted as saying the device is actually named after a 16th century Florentine named Maria de’Cleofa, that seems to be a somewhat dubious claim, given the way earlier Villa Nova citation.

Yeah, great, but what does all this have to do with my eggs?

At sea level, the water in a bain-marie can’t exceed 212°F / 100°C, because it turns into steam. Duh. So the technique is often employed in the creation of cheesecakes, custards, and warm emulsions (such as Hollandaise sauce) that need to be cooked gently. One serious egg-cooking challenge is that the proteins in their whites and yolks coagulate (technically denature) at slightly different temperatures. Cook an egg too long (or hot), it gets rubbery like a Super Ball. Not long enough, and it comes out like a big yellow sneeze. The way these silicone pans are constructed, the bain-marie water can flow around almost all of the egg’s exterior, which makes them an efficient option (as opposed to ramekins or cocottes, whose thicker ceramic sides inhibit the transfer of heat).

Upside-down silicone egg tray.

My silicone tray holds seven servings of 75 ml / 5 tbsp. each, although you won’t want to fill each cup up to the tippy-top, since the egg mixture expands. [If you don’t have (or are not willing to purchase) a silicone egg tray, but you have ramekins/cocottes, by all means give this recipe from the FatLossFoodies blog a shot. I haven’t tried it personally, but it looks legit; read the comments on it as well for some interesting insights.]

All the ingredients in this recipe came directly from the fridge, although over the course of being mixed together and awaiting the water to come to a boil (maybe 10-15 minutes total), I’m sure they warmed considerably. When I put them in the oven, I draped the top of the tray loosely with aluminum foil to prevent the egg bites’ tops from being exposed directly to the oven’s hotter ambient air, which could toughen their texture.

Chillaxin’ in the bain-marie.

I also changed up the recipe a bit from the one in the other post.

INGREDIENTS
4 eggs
2 tbsp. / 30 g sour cream (or crema Mexicana, Salvadoreña, Hondureña, or Centroamericana)
½ cup / 100 g tomato artichoke bruschetta mix
1 cup / 125 g grated cheese (I used queso de bufala from Spain, but any melty cheese works)
2 tbsp. / 11 g fresh basil, chopped
pinch pepper
olive oil or canola oil spray to coat the molds
6 cups / 1½ liters boiling tap water for bain-marie
aluminum foil

DIRECTIONS
Set water on to boil. Preheat oven to 300°F / 150°C. [Alternatively, you can put your bain-marie tray and the water — even warm tap water — in the oven as it heats, and let it all come to temp together. It will save you a pot, if not any huge amount of time.] Oil egg bite tray and set aside. Chop basil, grate cheese, and set aside. In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs, sour cream, and tomato artichoke bruschetta mix together until smooth. Fold in the basil and grated cheese. Spoon mixture evenly into oiled cups in the egg tray. Sprinkle pepper evenly over egg cups. Add the boiling water to the bain-marie, if you haven’t already done so. Lower the egg tray (or ramekins/cocottes) into the bain-marie. Cover the egg tray loosely with aluminum foil, and cook for 50 minutes. Remove bain-marie from oven, remove egg tray from bain-marie (the easy, non-finger-burning method is to slide a spatula under the tray and lift it while balancing it against the potholder in your other hand), and then allow egg bites to cool for 10 minutes before unmolding. Eat immediately, or refrigerate in sealed container for up to five days. Reheat for 30 seconds on “high” in microwave.

Silky and seductive.

Be a Star and Save the Bucks — Breakfast Egg Bites [Instant Pot® recipe]

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Mmmmm. Eggy.

Even if you don’t follow my formula, you simply have to make these. They are so simple, so satisfying, so tasty, and so (at least potentially) wholesome that they tick off every box I could hope for in a recipe.

Here’s the backstory: A little over a year ago, the bride and I were driving from Northern California to our Los Angeles-area home. It’s about a five hour ride, punctuated by the standard gas and potty breaks, and we often fit in a snack somewhere during a pit stop. Independently, we concluded that fast food, while convenient, was just plain sad, and probably not all that good for us. So we left it behind and began to pack our own road chow. On one trip, though, our planning (read MY planning) was severely deficient, and we were left to the mercy of Interstate 5’s culinary jungle. To make matters more challenging, the bride was on a gluten-free kick, which diminished our already circumscribed choices by about 87.3%. As luck would have it, Starbucks (a popular American coffee-and-snack chain, for all you international readers) offered sous vide eggs with cheese and some sort of meat (Gruyere and bacon, as I recall, though there are several variants available now) on their menu. They were — are — delicious. And while I’m not gonna hate on Starbucks for their pricing strategy, let’s just say they were a tad more expensive than a McGutbomb.

Let them eat eggs: $4.45 USD. Less than Beluga, more than filet mignon.

But I digress. I came to praise Starbucks, not to bury it.

Even without a sous vide machine, you can make a very acceptable substitute in your Instant Pot®, and it’s so easy, it’s actually more work to write this down — and probably more even to read it — than to make the recipe.

One thing you’ll likely want is a silicone tray variously described as an egg bites mold or a baby food storage tray or some such. I purchased this pair of molds at Amazon, both because I wasn’t sure what would fit my cooker and because I wasn’t sure how big the finished eggs should be. In retrospect, given that I have an 8-qt. Instant Pot®, I probably should have gotten a pair of the larger trays. Live and learn. There’s nothing wrong in theory with mini-bites, even if I haven’t made them yet. While some folks recommend making these in tiny Mason jars, I think it’s a huge pain in the patootie, cleanup-wise. Egg just loves to weld itself to glass.

Here’s a down-and-dirty roadmap for the eggs I generally prepare for the bride to take to work. It’s super easy, endlessly modifiable, and produces a taste treat which, while not vegan, slides under the ovo-lacto vegetarian bar with ease. If that’s not a dealbreaker for you, the sky’s the limit. Anything you could put in an omelet you can put in these, from oysters to tortilla strips, so let your fancy run amok a bit. Pulled pork with BBQ sauce? Hot dog bites with Dijon mustard? Water chestnuts, scallions, and ginger? Why not? It probably goes without saying (except that I’m saying it now) that if you are concerned about cholesterol, you can modify this “recipe” by substituting egg whites for whole eggs.


Starbucks-style Egg Bites

Makes 7 egg-ish size servings

Cheese and cilantro and tomatoes, oh my.

INGREDIENTS
4 eggs
2 tbsp. / 30 g sour cream (or crema Mexicana, Salvadoreña, Hondureña, or Centroamericana)
1 cup / 125 g grated cheese (I used Monterey Jack) (and remember, this is not a packed cup)
3/4 cup / 40 g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup / 25 g fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon / 2 g pimentón de la Vera
pinch salt
olive oil or canola oil spray to coat the molds
2 cups / 500 ml tap water for the Instant Pot®
aluminum foil

Covered egg tray ready for the steam bath.

DIRECTIONS
Oil egg bite tray and set aside. Chop tomatoes and cilantro, grate cheese, and set aside. In a medium size bowl, whisk the eggs, sour cream, pimentón de la Vera, and salt together until smooth. Fold in the cilantro, tomatoes, and cheese. Spoon mixture evenly into oiled cups in the egg tray. Add the water to the Instant Pot® container. Cover the egg tray loosely with aluminum foil, place it on the Instant Pot® steaming trivet, and lower it into the Instant Pot®. Set to “Steam” for 8 minutes at high pressure, making sure that the vent is set to “Sealing” rather than “Venting.”

Looks like this? You did it right.

When the timer beeps, you can either let the pressure release naturally or carefully move the vent from “Sealing” to “Venting,” making sure to keep your hands clear of the steam. Allow the bites to cool for a few minutes before eating, or put them in the fridge for future use.

Reheat one or two at a time in the microwave for 30 seconds on high and serve.

Incidentally, if you want to make multiple trays at a time, just stack them slightly offset to one another and go for it. I’m guessing you could fit a three-tray stack in the 8-qt. Instant Pot®, which would use up a dozen eggs. Because the bride and I are a duprass, we don’t really have much use for 21 egg bites at one go. Your mileage may vary.

Pro tip: My chef pal Stefhan Gordon turned me on to Vital Farms eggs, which are ethically raised. Of all the horror stories that my anti-omnivore friends trot out, few can compare with the way most commercial/industrial chickens are treated. To make matters worse, egg producers employ a dazzling variety of unregulated terms designed to fool consumers into thinking chickens are being treated better than they actually are. In Southern California, Vital Farms eggs are widely available at supermarkets, and they conform to the highest standards. Yeah, they are maybe a couple bucks more per dozen. But I’m willing — no, make that happy — to spend a quarter per egg to inject a little humanity into my breakfast. Do yourself and your avian friends a good deed, and have a care about sourcing your eggs.