Saturday, March 13, 2010

Homage to Barbara Tropp

I took myself into San Francisco for some urban walking and a solo lunch.  Do you ever lunch alone?  It's quite wonderful - peaceful and self indulgent at the same time. I highly recommend it.

As I was walking past the Embarcardero Center and looked down at the wonderful sidewalk tiles

I remembered another day, walking on those same tiles, headed out to another solo lunch at China Moon Cafe, owned by the late, wonderful Barbara Tropp.  I remember what I wore, what I ate, and some chat time with Barbara, who happened to be there that day.  I miss her and her food.

Barbara did for Chinese cooking what Julia did for French cuisine: made it accessible, and almost easy. Her magnum opus should be in everyone's cookbook collection - it's a great read, even if you don't cook. She was a wonderfully opinionated, nuanced, writer and cook.

So, here is the simplest and one of my favorite of her recipes.  I'll just quote the book directly - why mess with perfection?

Dijon Mustard. Sauce
I loathe most Chinese mustard sauces, with their raw, strong bite. The culprit is dry mustard, which is almost always harsh and bitter. Here instead is a smooth and tingly East-meets-West mustard sauce, flavored by sesame oil and Dijon mustard. It is a superb garnish for an endless variety of foods, from hot Chinese meatballs to Jewish corned-beef-on-Rye. 
Technique Notes:  Sea salt works perfectly in this East-West blend.  Its flavor accentuates the charactar of the mustand in a way that Kosher salt does not.  it is a fine point, but if you have it on hand then try it.

Yields 1 cup

1/2 cup mild, unflavored Dijon mustard - Maille, Dessaux, Amora brands recommended in that order
1/2 cup Chinese or Japanese sesame oil
2 Tbsp. unseasoned Chinese or Japanese rice vinegar
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. Chinese rice wine or quality dry sherry
fine sea salt to taste

Blend the ingredients until thoroughly emulsified, in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel knife, in a blender, or by hand.  Taste and adjust with salt.  Let mellow several hours at room temperature or refrigerate overnight in a clean, airtight container jar. Use at room temperature for best taste and bouquet. Store airtight in the refrigerator.  The sauce will keep indefinitely. For best consistency, whisk or return briefly to the processor or blender before each use.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Enchantment of Cilantro

I lived in Anchorage, Alaska for a year and a half many years ago. The time was an adventure and truly something one should do in their 20's.  But as a foodie even then, I was a tad bereft.  At the time, there was not much good food to be had. Restaurant fare was generic, and raw ingredients, especially produce, were more than a challenge.  I do remember paying over $10 for a honeydew melon that I simply HAD to have.  The check-out clerk stopped with her hand on the melon after weighing it and seeing the price. "You sure?" she said. I was.

For some reason, I developed a craving for cilantro and there was none to be found.  I scoured the Mexican  and Asian grocery stores and occasionally found a sad, shriveled, muddy little bunch.  But not often.  Then miracle of miracles, I finally I found a Mexican dive - a hole in the wall, with the best mole I've ever had (even today) and a generous hand with the cilantro.

I grabbed my then boyfriend now husband and dragged him to this little place, gushing about the fantastic food, and wonderful mole.  We went on a very rainy, dreary night, good sport that he was.  This night, THIS night, the owner had taken the night off and had put the restaurant and the kitchen in the hands of 2 kids that I'm sure he just grabbed off the street.  The kids looked slightly hysterical with fear as the place got busy.  They had absoluteley no idea what they were doing.  No table got bussed, I can't remember how long it took to get served. And the food was a dim echo of what it should have been.  We finished, left, and quietly went out for a margarita somewhere else.  I was embarrassed and angry, and my sweet man never said a thing.

My friend Patricia Jinich a master Mexican cook and teacher does a lot of wonderful things with cilantro in her blog as does Monica Bhide in her blog on Indian food and spices  You will find many wonderful recipes using cilantro. I bow to these pros.  I just want to give you one of my favorites here.

Salsa Verde/Chimichurri
This is one of my very favorite condiments and once I've made a batch, slather it on anything that makes sense.  It's superb on a thinly sliced flank or skirt steak, wonderful on top of a vegetable frittata, and a spoonfull stirred into a bean soup is bliss.  As usual with my recipes, they aren't really recipes at all but suggestions - quantities will vary according to your taste.

Wash carefully parsley and cilantro in equal parts.  Chop to equal about 1/2 cup of each.  Add a clove of peeled garlic, and Tbsp or so of drained capers and 1/2 tsp of Kosher or course salt.  Continue chopping or transfer to a mortar if you have one, and smash to a rough paste with the pestle.  I have added anchovies in the past, but as much as I love them, I think it confuses the green flavor of the salsa.  Add enough good olive oil to make a thick sauce and taste for saltiness.  You may want to add a splash of vinegar to brighten it up. But the main flavor is an intense GREEN.  Lovely.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Meyer Lemons and a delay - but it's a good thing

Some times life gets in the way. I had and have every intention of developing this blog and connecting with many food friends.  Stay tuned, I hope to continue.

My business  is exploding and grabbing 200% of my attention.  It's a good thing.  So while I regroup, find partners, figure out how to work with my VA team, launch products etc. I'm a tad distracted.

I'll be back.  A girl has to cook, yes?

An ode to Spring - which really is bursting out in Northern California.  My favorite Meyer Lemon recipe, with a nod to Suzanne Goin

Meyer Lemon Salsa

Finely chopped shallot
a splash of white wine vinegar
about a tsp of honey
2 Meyer Lemons well washed
Pitted green olives - Lucques of course
a healthy amount of olive oil - say 1/3 cups
chopped parsley

Amounts are not critical.  The lemon treatment is.  Cut a smal slice from the top and bottom.  Stand them on their ends.  Slice thinly vertically. Then stack the slices and cut them into thin matchsticks and again into tiny cubes.  Yes, rind  and all.  The rind is what makes this so spectacular.

Combine the little cubes of lemon with the rest of the ingredients and let it sit for awhile to mellow.

This is wonderful on roasted halibut, or any grilled fish. Or top a cracker with goat cheese and this salsa.  Try not to eat it all with a spoon, but I have done that quite happily.

I'll be back.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I had a post ready to roll on Meyer Lemons.  But it does seem ridiculous now.  Everything seems frivolous after watching Haiti crumble. 

I am very much thinking about the abundance that surrounds me.  Husband, 2 kids, warm house.  Just the basics.  I did go through the Loma Prieta earthquake here in the Bay Area 20 years ago and remember the horror.  I didn't sleep for many weeks, and each after shock renewed the terror  That period seemed to go on forever - even though we had very little damage to our house.

I'm making chicken stock.  I make chicken stock for a million reasons.  It's soothing work.  I feel very safe while making it.  The house smells wonderful.  A freezer full of home-made stock is all it takes to make me feel very rich.  Try it.  It's completely intuitive, but if a recipe is required, so be it.

Chicken Stock

The carcass from a previously roasted chicken
chicken parts and bones (don't waste the breast - use wings, legs.  My butcher give me endless bones from the breasts he has fileted)
a few carrots
an onion, peeled and cut in half (or a leek or 2)
a stalk or 2 of celery
you can add bay leaf, thyme, garlic, a touch of curry powder (thanks ChezPim for that one) but these are just extras
Cover all with water plus an extra inch or 2 of water
Salt and pepper

simmer for 2 - 4 hours depending on your patience and need to eat said soup asap.
You can skim or not - I never do.

There.  Feeling rich yet?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Golden Globes of Another Sort

Tangelos have always been magical. During each of my pregnancies, I consumed enormous quantities of them, coming home from the market double-fisted with bags of the fruit. "And what will you do with all of those?", my husband would say, only to have them gone by the next day. That subtle, sour tang underneath the sweet citrus is so tantalizing.

Said to have originated in Southeast Asia over 3500 years ago, they are a hybrid of tangerines and Pomolo or grapefruit. Juicy, a tad mishapen with a nob on the stem end, they are in season from November through March and tend to get sweeter as the season progresses. Minneolas and Orando varieties are the most frequently seen in markets, but there are more and more types appearing recently.

I spent some time at my local nursery to see if growing tangelos in Northern California was an option. It's not, not really. Lemons, meyer lemons do well, but tangelos need hotter heat, as do oranges,grapefruit, and Uglis. One of the produce managers at Berkeley Bowl also smiled when asked about them. Minneolas in Feb. and March - it doesn't get any better. I agree.

Tangelo Olive Salad
One of those wonderful examples of the whole being far greater than the sum of its parts

1 cup dry-cured olives pitted and halved

4 tangelos sliced cross wise into thin slices

good fruity olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

fennel or cumin seeds, sliced red onion all optional

Layer sliced fruit and olive halves on a plate. Splash generously with olive oil, salt lightly and pepper. Let sit for a bit so flavors can blend. You can add either of the seeds above, and/or plate on a bed of arugala or mixed greens, and all of that will be lovely, but will take away from the purity of the flavors. I never do anything but the basic, and am happiest. Mark Bittman has another varation.

Tangelo Curd

Ah citrus curd. Best eaten with a spoon, also great on buttered brioche toast or English muffins. Oh, all right, in tarts and between layers of genoise. Tangelo curd has that additional tang that sets in apart.

3 large eggs

1/3 c. fresh tangelo juice

1 Tbsp grated tangelo zest (opt)

3/4 c. granulated white sugar

4 Tbsp unsalted butter at room temp

In a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and tangelo juice until blended. Cook, stirring constantly until the mixture becomes thick (160 degrees F or 71 degrees C). This will take about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and pour through a fine strainer to remove any lumps. Cut the butter into small pieces and whisk into the mixture until the butter has melted. Add the zest if desired and let cool. The curd will continue to thicken as it cools. Cover immediately to prevent skin from forming and refrigerate for up to a week.
Makes 1 1/2 cups

A footnote. I'm looking for gardeners, aggie types, and specialty produce experts, to connect with. If you know of anyone with a website, blog, store, or wholesale business that you can recommend, I'd love to start a dialog. Thanks in advance