Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Red Alert Lunch

There are some people out there who "forget to eat lunch," whatever that means. Not only am I not that kind of person, I am generally suspicious of those who are (after all, aren't we hard-wired for hunger?). But I fully admit that once in a while, I wait way too long to eat. And when that does happen, I eventually enter the zone I call:

Red Alert.


It happened today - I got engulfed in the project I'm working on and I decided to keep at it until I reached a good stopping point. Which was good for my progress, bad for the blood sugar.

When I did finally take a break, I realized there wasn't much around, ingredient-wise, so I slapped together the quickest thing I could find...some skyr (Iceland's answer to Greek yogurt), topped with killer extra virgin olive oil, some zaatar, and a sprinkle of salt. And it was really good! I would have stopped to savor it a bit if I had had any conscious control over my actions at that point.

It was delicious, and took just seconds to make - so fast that maybe next time I'll just sneak it in before I even take a break from work.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The final stretch...and the manuscript is done!

I'm finally back from my latest trip back to San Francisco. The main purpose of the trip was to do a couple of remaining days of photography for the cookbook, and finish the manuscript, but I managed to squeeze in some other fun activities as well.

As per usual, I hit up Tartine bakery my first morning there. As I stood in line for my gougere, I noticed that all the art on the wall featured bread in one way or another, a neat tie-in to the recent release of the (amazing) Tartine Bread book. I was completely smitten with this piece, which features baguette-as-surfboard:

On to work. We took lots of photos, both in the "studio," like this process shot of opening a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The aroma that wafted out once it finally cracked open was divine!

We also went on the road and visited some pretty special producers. Some of my favorites were:

  • Firebrand Artisan Breads.  This Oakland-based company is run by a husband and wife team, both under the age of 30, who make naturally-leavened bread (read: no packaged yeast) that they bake in a wood-fired oven. Here's Matt rotating the loaves to ensure even baking (and yes, that's flour all over the floor!)

  • Don Watson's Wooly Weeders. This man is a genius. He not only raises some of the most delicious lamb in the Bay Area, he's also figured out how to make money off of them before they're even slaughtered. He offers a "mowing" service to vineyards and, pictured here, the Infineon Raceway (which is surrounded by these gorgeous rolling hills). The pasture-raised sheep keep the vegetation in check and become ever-more delectable in the process. With views like this, how could the sheep not be happy? 
  • Saint-Benoit Yogurt. This yogurt is amazing. The milk comes from a dairy less than a mile away, and the yogurt itself is packaged in reusable (or redeemable) ceramic and glass containers. We were lucky enough to be there when they filled and sealed the crocks. Here's a tiny clip (you can't tell here, but they had the music blaring!) 

And after two weeks of photography and many, many final edits, the manuscript finally, finally was finished. With moments to spare, I got on a plane, came back to Honolulu, and popped open a celebratory brew. As they say here in Hawai‘i, hipa hipa!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Biscuits for breakfast!

This morning I made biscuits for breakfast, using one of my favorite biscuit recipes ever. Unlike others I've tried, this one actually produces flaky layers distinct enough to peel apart, as well as a wallop of buttery, buttermilky flavor.

The secret to the fabulous texture is in lamination, which is essentially the same technique used to make croissants and puff pastry. Instead of blending the butter into the flour, you press and fold them together. This creates distinct layers of dough and flattened butter, which in turn bake into lovely puffy strata.

Fear not: while croissants from scratch are indeed a finicky pursuit, these biscuits incredibly simple and easy. You don't even need a rolling pin! (A bench scraper helps immensely, though).    

I'm lazy, so once the dough is pressed to the final thickness, I just cut them into squares, leaving the jagged edges as they are. (There's an added bonus: there are no scraps to re-press and -cut, which eliminates the danger of overworking the dough).

For an extra special treat, you can fold in fresh herbs or grated cheese, too. And for a little extra golden glisten, I brush the tops with another tablespoon of buttermilk. Try them yourself!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bacon: still going strong.

Just when I was starting to think that bacon had peaked, that we'd run out of things to do with it...comes this. A gift from my savvy NYC source:
Bacon marmalade.

It's like a chewy, meaty chutney. Or pancakes and syrup with a side of bacon, but without the pesky pancakes (I never really liked them anyway). It's going to be hard to meter this stuff out.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Another farm day

Sunday we did another day of shooting for the cookbook, this time at farms in the South Bay. We saw tomatoes, onions, arugula, carrots, corn, strawberries, and epazote, and met the people who grow them all!

Here are red onions poking up from the ground:

And a cool tractor that builds rows and plants seeds at the same time:

(that's Martin, famous for his lovely lettuces)

And here is our photographer, France, who is finding the perfect angle to capture these gorgeous rows:

It was a long but fruitful day, in more ways than one...every farmer we saw sent us off with an armful of veggies!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

5 Ways That Spain Changed My Life (or, what I did on my summer vacation)

Looking back on the last two months, it's pretty unbelievable how many different foods I've eaten while here in Spain. It's been interesting to try new foods, of course, but the experience has had a larger impact on me. All this exposure to Spanish cooking has fundamentally changed the way I think about food in several ways:
  1. Dinner at 10 p.m. - Yes I Can! As in many European countries, nobody in Spain eats dinner before 10 p.m. (Most restaurants don't even open until 9 p.m.) And I have to say, I was pretty apprehensive about this. Seriously, how can one possibly wait until the double digits to eat dinner without turning into a famished, raging, hate-ball of hunger? Well, I discovered that the key is to sleep until 9 a.m. When you do that, breakfast is at 11 a.m., which means you aren't hungry for lunch until at least 2 or 3 p.m., which puts you well on your way to a late dinner. Easy. 
  2. Even more legume love. I was already pro-bean before coming to Spain, but people here really know to do it right. The beans themselves are excellent to start with - buttery, melty, and unbelievably tender - but they're usually also simmered with some pork fat, chorizo, and blood sausage. The result is rich, unctuous magic.

    Pork and beans have never been so good.
    No pork, but still fab with lots of garlic and parsley.
  3. If you can put it on a slice of bread, you can eat it standing up! I used to really hate eating standing up (and I still refuse to eat while walking), but the pintxo scene in San Sebastian taught me a thing or two about the merits of non-seated eating. There, the pintxos (two-bite delicacies on a slice of bread) are generally self-serve from plates lined up along the bar. Seats are hard to come by anyway, but staying on your feet offers a distinct advantage; it means you're only two or three steps away from trying that yummy looking crab pastry at the other end of the bar. It's more interactive and, to my surprise, a really fun way to eat. 

    I'll gladly stand for these little gems.
  4. Simple really means simple. One of the best things I've eaten over the past two months is the pan cristal at La Taberna del Gourmet in Alicante. To say it's bread with tomatoes and olive oil on it is a serious disservice to the crunchy crackly billowyness of the bread...the freshness of the grated (shaved?) tomatoes...the fruitiness of the olive oil...the perfectness of the salt. It's a simple combination that's found all over Spain, but this particular version is exceptional. The ingredients are unabashedly few, but the quality of each is indisputable, and the result is transcendent.
  5. Pan cristal in all its simple glory.
    Another example of the "simple" ethos: When you can fry, you don't need no stinkin' sauce. Why do we Americans always insist on condiments for fried foods? French fries, chicken nuggets, onion rings, fish sticks...it's unthinkable to serve them without ketchup, "sweet n sour" sauce (ugh), or tartar sauce. I'm here to tell you that it's not necessary. The Spanish do love their fried things: croquettes, fresh anchovies, hell, they even fry their bread sometimes. But you hardly ever get more than a wedge of lemon with it. And you know what? That acid is all you need. Again, it comes down to good ingredients and a solid execution.  
    Boquerones (teeny anchovies) lightly battered and fried.
  6. With good olive oil, everything is better. At Alicante's central market, I bought a liter of olive oil for 4 euros. Despite its laughably low price, it was intense and flavorful and better than what $20 would buy you in the States. Because this olive oil was so good and so cheap, I used it for everything from sauteeing to salad dressings to drizzling over finished dishes (or "finishing it in the Spanish style," as I have come to call it). The result? Everything tastes better. I may not find the same bargain in once I'm back in the States, but I'm stuck on good oil, no matter the price. Because basically, good olive oil makes you a better cook.

    Goodbye, sweet evoo. I'll miss you.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gone Shoppin'

At the risk of being one of Those Bloggers (you know, the ones who post every six months, and each time apologizes for the lapse in posting)...yeah. In my own defense, I've been busy: I've done a lot of traveling (Honolulu to San Francisco to Virginia to Spain), working (including a photo shoot for the book), and, yes, eating.

While in Spain, I've gone heavy on the market visits, from la Boqueria in Barcelona (Europe's oldest operating market) to the Mercadona supermarket to Alicante's also-old open-air market.

There's la Boqueria, from front and side...


...and here are some displays of stuff in there. I loved the rustic "chicken coop" feel of this egg vendor.

The fish displays have been amazing. So abundant, and also with useful signage (the bottom one tells you where the fish is from and how it was caught).

Oh, and PS, you can buy bulls that met their death in the bullring at this particular vendor. Which, of course, I did!

I've picked up some other pretty cool stuff, too...

Sobrassada, aka my New True Love. Despite holding its shape in this display, sobrassada is spreadable. It's like salami you can slather onto toast! It's from Mallorca (or, like this one, neighboring Menorca), which turns out to be the source of many delectable treats. Who knew?

The most beautiful salted anchovies ever! I used them in my Fourth of July deviled eggs and they were divine.

Gazpacho in a carton! It's convenient AND delicious, and comes in several varieties. Here I have the normal tomatoey version as well as the white kind that's made with almonds, bread, and garlic. Even though they're flash pasteurized, they taste just as fresh as "raw," homemade gazpacho.

Contraband! By that I mean Cuban rum, which gives me a zesty "rule breaking" feeling every time I drink it. There are also a lot of bitter sodas, which taste a lot like Campari. Several are made by the Coca-Cola company. (Which begs the question: If they can sell them here, why not in the States?)

Tonka beans? I found these next to the tonic at the fancy liquor store, and so I assumed they were some sort of natural quinine source. Wrong! Wikipedia tells me that it's something else altogether - the beans are used to infuse a vanilla/almond/hay flavor (I can see that...) into desserts and perfumes. I haven't tried using them yet - it might wait till I get back - but I can see them steeping into a little vodka with other aromatics.

And I nearly forgot to mention Marcona almonds, amazing and abundant. I buy these from one of several fruit/nut (fruitas secas) sellers at the market. In a moment of lust for these oil-roasted, salt-sprinkled beauties, I asked for a whole kilo last time. That's 2.2 pounds, friends! It's a lot, but I don't foresee a problem getting rid of them all.

Finally, a more mundane grocery item...
Bagged ice. It's really big.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Ground, ground, and more ground. And also dried. (Beef)

We soldier on in our relentless attempt to consume the 55 lbs. of Moloka‘i beef. The fact that half of it is ground is a bit of a drag, for two reasons: one, there are only so many variations on burgers and meatloaf and such. After a while, it starts to feel monotonous, no matter what spices or fillings you throw at it. And two, it turns out that the processors had a totally different philosophy than I: they ground all the cuts I'd rather have whole (bavette, skirt, tri-tip), and left whole many cuts I'd rather have ground (chuck and top round).

Nonetheless, good beef is good beef. Though Diana Kennedy would probably roll her eyes at it, I did a Mexi-inspired cumin-chile ground beef mix that made for awesome tacos. Here they're topped with local feta, avocado, and chimichurri (yeah I know, it's Argentine and not Mexican, but it really worked).

Closer to home, I also tried my hand at pipikaula, the local version of beef jerky that's usually served with a meal. I started with a recipe in the excellent book Ethnic Foods of Hawai‘i by Ann Kondo Corum (which happens to be available in its entirety via Google Books). The seasoning is a combo of soy sauce, Hawaiian salt, sugar, chile, garlic, and ginger; the latter two seemed a little tame so I bumped them up a good deal. I also used chuck instead of the recommended flank, which works just as well as long as you can manage to slice it thinly across the grain.

After a day's marinating in the fridge, I draped the strips over a rack and baked in a low oven for a few hours, flipping once. I think pipikaula is best when it's still a little moist, so I was careful not to let it get super leathery. The result, I have to say, was pretty killer. Although now that I think of it, preserving beef is a little strange; after all, the whole goal is to use it up, not hold onto it! Still, this pipikaula is so tasty that I doubt we'll have a chance to test the shelf life...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beefing up the freezer

Some people are into whole foods, but I prefer fractional ones. Because when you're talking about a cow, a whole one is just too much.

Tyler and I recently became the proud owners of an eighth of a cow from Puu O Hoku Ranch on the neighboring island of Moloka‘i, a purchase coordinated by our local Slow Food chapter. Although I'd much rather buy a half hog or goat, I was nonetheless excited in "going in" on a whole animal, especially one that was pasture-raised on a local farm.

Tyler was excited as well, although as the pickup day approached he became more and more nervous about our limited freezer space. After all, we were looking at 50-55 pounds of beef coming to us! His stress was understandable, but I knew we could make it work.

I was conveniently on the Mainland on the appointed pickup day, so it fell to Tyler to fetch and store our eighth. And though it was a tight squeeze, he did an excellent job of packing it all in to the freezer. Check it:

We made burgers straight away, which I see as sort of a litmus test for judging the quality of any beef. These did not disappoint. As a rule, grass-fed beef tastes markedly different from grain-fed beef; it's more strongly flavored, almost gamy, and to me that's a good thing. After all, cows that eat what they're supposed to eat taste more like they're supposed to taste like. (Conversely, cows are not designed by nature to eat corn or soy, and as a result the meat doesn't taste like much at all).

It also helped to know that grass-fed beef is leaner than conventional beef, so it will overcook if you're not careful. But then again, since this beef is from a good source that keeps its animals healthy, and we know it's from a single animal (neither of which is true for conventional supermarket ground beef), we could eat this stuff totally raw, with nary a second thought.

(Of course we will also eat it raw. Stay tuned.)

Since the initial burger fest, I've made a few other things with the beef, and I will continue to post reports and photos as we go along. So far I've also made:

Chili with peppers and ale (a recipe I developed for the cookbook*). For this I used the stew meat and a bottle of Boont Amber Ale. We don't have winter here, but this is such a wintry stew, it almost made me wish we did. Almost.
*want the recipe? Buy the book! Fall 2011, in stores everywhere. Or from me. I'll have lots.

Picadillo, a sort of gussied-up ground beef dish from Cuba. I did add the requisite green olives, but forgot the chopped hard boiled eggs. Not content to leave well enough alone, I then made empanadas using the picadillo as filling and Tartine's recipe for Flaky Pastry Dough as the wrapper. And you know as well as I that butter pastry makes everything better.

So we're about five pounds down, with 50 more to go...

Up next: more burgers on Friday, plus I'm going to tackle an island favorite and try my hand at pipikaula, which is sort of a soft, sweet soy saucy version of beef jerky.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

How do you do? (the dishes, that is)

There exists a cultural divide between my generation and the preceding one, which to my knowledge has gone completely without notice by anyone, anywhere. This under-the-radar-ness is baffling, because it arises after every Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas breakfast, or family reunion. Anytime, really, that the two generations clean up after a meal...and that's when the great question arises:

To fill the sink, or not to fill the sink?

Because I don't often cook with my family (or any other "elders"), I had totally forgotten that They Do It Differently. But it all came back to me recently when my visiting mother kindly offered to do the dishes after dinner, and asked me where I kept the stopper for the sink.

Stopper? We don't even have one. The closest I get is a mesh drain catch designed to keep olive pits from noisying up the garbage disposal. When it's time to do the dishes, I just soap up the sponge, run the water as needed, and go to it.

I should say that I didn't grow up using this technique. At home, I learned from my parents to fill the sink with soapy water, give everything a good scrub, drain the sink, and rinse. But college changed all that; there, everybody did the dishes piecemeal without committing to a full sink's worth of suds.

I can only think of one explanation for my generation's one-at-a-time dish approach, and it's this: roommates. Two of the most important things I learned in college were how to write a paper (debatable, really) and how to live peacefully with others. The latter can be a long, contentious process in which one roommate is inevitably more domesically inclined than the other. So what do you do if your slob of a roommate refuses to clean up after themselves? You clean around them, and you only wash the dishes you dirty. And filling the sink with soapy water is not the way to do that.

That's what I did, that's what my friends did, and it stuck. Everyone around my age (a gentleman never asks, but I'm 32, so there) does the dishes one at a time in an unfilled sink.

Does this even matter? I think it does. It symbolizes a shift not just in gender roles (I have no doubt that previous generations of women have Home Ec classes to thank for their dish-doing indoctrination) but in my generation's overall approach to housekeeping. A scrupulously clean house was once a source of pride for homemakers, but that's a foreign concept for contemporary women and men. If we don't outsource our domestic duties (and many of us do), we do as little as possible in order to maintain order.

I'm okay with that, actually. I'll happily continue in my modern approach: I won't fill the sink with water, I'll soap the sponge as needed, and -- perhaps most tellingly -- I'll keep on blogging about it.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Back from SF and Marin...

I've just gotten back from a few days in the Bay Area, where I was doing a photo shoot for the cookbook. All said, it was a great trip, even though I never did feel warm enough (even inside with the heat blasting).

The photo shoot was a total success, despite the pouring down rain we experience for the first couple of hours. It's always fun to do these shoots, especially since Sam and France and I work so well together.

I made my first ever video about some of the producers we visited. Take a look!

Marin County food producers from dabney gough on Vimeo.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sausages growing on trees? This IS paradise! (and other random discoveries)

It's true: I saw them at the Foster Botanical Garden. Okay, it's not actual sausage, but it sure looks like it, and that's really what the trees are called. The garden boasts quite a few actual culinary specimens, including taro, tamarind, black pepper, and guava.

We went to the garden with my mom and aunt, who were visiting for a few days. They also treated us to a luau. It was actually pretty fun, and the food was better than I expected. My favorite part was, after two hours in slow-moving traffic to get there,* being greeted by giant punch bowls of Mai Tais. One taste and I could tell there was hardly any booze in there, but they nonetheless had a Pavlovian effect and soothed my crankiness almost as well as a properly spiked one would.

The KCC Farmer's Market, now part of our Saturday routine has also proven to be a treasure trove of discoveries:
Not at the market, but on the way, is a tree full of tiny, bean-like baby mangoes. Just hanging out in someone's yard. Aren't they cute?

And though we have long been loyal to the Kukui Sausage Company's grilled kimchee sausage for our market breakfast, I think there's a new sheriff in town. It's called the KCC Culinary Arts Program. Why? Three words for you: kalua pork sliders. These people know what's up. Slow-roasted pig with citrus slaw on a taro bun. One is just $3, and it's the perfect size for me. Okay, it leaves a tiny bit of room...perhaps for...
Chicken skin chicharrones! I seriously don't know why it's taken me this long to encounter these. They're so deliciously awesome. An Okinawan family sells them, along with omelets and other made-to-order hot food using the chickens and ducks that they raise. But between an omelet and these chicharrones, I know which one I'd choose (hmm, unless they could be combined...)

Papayas, my favorite fruit. Lots of them. Delicious and cheap. And also, the flowers are insane. But you can't eat them, and I hate how you end up with dry petals and pollen all over the place, so I just enjoy them from afar.  
 * Full disclosure: it's not like I actually had to drive in that traffic. We took the luau company's shuttle, on which our escort "Cousin Bill" made us shout "Aloha" about a thousand times during his little spiel. So yes, it would have been worse to drive ourselves, but it was nonetheless a test of my patience (and blood sugar levels). Having said that, it was a fun experience overall and I certainly don't want to come off as ungrateful to my mom and aunt who were so generous to treat us. (Good lord, I think all their Southern hospitality and "I wouldn't dream of putting you out" attitude is wearing off on me)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A stranger in a strange kitchen

Well, here I am in paradise! Who knew I would call this place home?

To be honest, I feel more like a stranger in a strange land than I thought I would...by virtue of dialect, culture, and finding it impossible to remember street/place names correctly (is it Lili'uoKUlani Street, or Lili'uoKAlani? Kukui Market, or Kokua Market?). That aside, I have also discovered how cooking in someone else's kitchen can feel a bit like a foreign country as well.

You see, through a stroke of luck and good timing, Tyler and I are living in the apartment of two friends who moved to Mexico. Because of the nature of their move (and ours), they left much of their stuff in the apartment for us to use - everything from furniture to linens to office supplies.

It goes without saying that I'm thrilled to have not just a full kitchen (with four whole burners and an oven!) but a full array of utensils, cookware, and staple ingredients.  While I'm waiting for my crate to float in from San Francisco, I am quite happy to make use of Scott and Nina's water kettle, wooden spoons, silverware, and plates...their dried pasta, condiments, and even powdered green shake mix (integral to my special morning cocktail). And although I'm glad to have use of these things, it has also made me acutely aware of the fact that one person's "must have" items are not necessarily the same as someone else's. Some things in the cabinets I simply have no use for, such as...
  • Perforated plastic jar lids used for sprouting seeds
  • Lots and lots and lots of bagged tea
  • Oat flour, rice flour, nutritional yeast, and pancake mix
  • A half gallon of Grade B maple syrup (hmm, someone did the Master Cleanse!)
But more baffling are the things that, to me at least, are sorely missing:

How can you have a full array of specialty baking ingredients, and yet have no mixer of any sort? No electric mixer, no hand-cranked egg beater, not even a whisk! I wonder what kinds of things they did bake, and how they managed to pull it off without some of the most basic equiment.

And I took my OXO grater for granted until I struggled with the barebones version pictured here. Not only does the tiny grating surface double or triple the work, but it doesn't stand up on its own, and it's difficult to keep it in place while you're grating. So frustrating. I long to grate on my own securely anchored tool and enjoy the efficiency afforded by good design.      

Lastly, an ode to the cast iron skillet...Actually, I look forward to cooking on any non-nonstick surface. But mostly I miss the heft of the cast iron, its ability to hold heat, and the fact that I can use it in the oven. But the fact that it won't give me cancer is a nice bonus.

The good news? I just found out that the crate containing all my earthly belongings has finally landed on this little island. Next Tuesday I'll start unpacking my cooking goods, and that's when it will really start to feel like home.