Pasta, salad

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Inspired by a dinner at the 61st Street Farmers Market.

Salad

  • arugula
  • fennel bulb
  • pea shoots
  • grapefruit, peeled and separated into segments
  • hard cheese, flaked or shredded
  • buttermilk
  • fruity olive oil
  • salt
  • imaginary black pepper

Wash all the vegetables in cool running water then lay on a towel to dry.

Whisk together some combination of the last four ingredients in a small bowl and adjust to taste. Crush half a segment of grapefruit flesh with you hand and let the juice drip into the bowl of dressing.

Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, then crosswise into the thinnest possible crescents. Gather the first five ingredients into a large plastic container. Drizzle on the buttermilk-olive oil, toss well.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

  • two pounds fresh tomatoes – the soft, sweet kind on discount at the farmers market
  • one clove garlic
  • big knob butter
  • salt
  • buttermilk?

Store the tomatoes in the freezer until the urge to make tomato sauce strikes. Defrost slightly in warm water, then peel off the skin. It should come off easily. Smoosh the tomatoes with your hand into a bowl or pot.

Heat a big knob of butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until small bubbles are visible. Add enough squished tomato to form a thin layer in the pan. Let it bubble away until you have a thick, caramelized paste. Add the rest of the tomato pulp and a crushed clove of garlic. The mixture will simmer uncovered for fifteen or so minutes until it is of thin saucy consistency.  Remove from heat and toss with freshly cooked spaghetti. If you have it, a splash of buttermilk on top is extra good.

 

How to eat bread

Go to the farmers market and buy the dark crusty loaf you know will go stale in three days.

Pinch off nibbles of bread discreetly to occupy your hunger while tabling the info stand. All you had for breakfast was a Walmart kiwi.

Become worried you won’t have enough to have for breakfast with that fancy French butter and seedy black raspberry jam you keep in your dorm room closet. Continue eating while you worry.

When your friend asks for a slice, grudgingly cut off a wedge. Friendly-glare at him when he remarks it is a very “you” bread.

The next day cut off the end slice, slightly stale from a night neglected in the closet, and smear it generously with butter and jam.

Enjoy your birthday breakfast.

(Optional: write one of those how-to guides that you hate about how to eat bread.)

Food with friends

There is a lion’s mane mushroom in a crinkled paper bag on my desk right now. For the past ten minutes I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Every five minutes I have to open up the bag, peer in at the small globe of milky white fungus, drink the smell of earth and dirt, and feel the soft villi brush against my fingers before folding the bag closed again, leaving it with a crinkle more than before. It’s alive, it’s alive…I’m alive!

Tonight I will gently (making sure not to hurt it) slice it up and throw it in a skillet to crisp up in a pat of sweet butter and a crude sprinkle of sea salt. By then a flash sauté of garlicky baby greens should be done, and both dishes will be brought to the table to eat with Dasha’s quesadillas and David’s (powers of the universe help that boy) salsa. We will see how it goes.

Roasted Tomato Soup

After two weeks in a beautiful and distant land, I’m finally home, snuggled up in bed with my laptop. Relieved, exhausted, enlightened, confused, happy that it happened and sad to leave it behind–for a person who likes to keep her emotions locked away in a closet there are an uncomfortable number of them slipping out.

It was supposed to be a sort of hurrah to celebrate beginning the next phase of my life as an adult. As in, “Look at me, traveling solo like a boss! I can navigate foreign countries like it ain’t nuthin’.” Apparently it takes a trip halfway around the world to realize how much of a kid you are.

By the end of the first day I was there I already wanted to curl up in an air conditioned room and never wake up. It took me two hours in 38 degree weather to find my hostel, I didn’t know how the bus worked so I almost got fined, the world was speaking in a language I couldn’t understand, and I forgot my toothbrush. The hostel offered me a free drink at the bar during check-in but it only made me feel smaller.

Would you like an alcoholic beverage miss?

It’s not even like a big deal.

Why do you think it’s a big deal?

Oh because you’re a good kid from The States. Haha you can smoke and drive while wielding your semi-automatic but you can’t have a beer. (This was a recurring joke among the Italians…though it’s false.)

I don’t know, that’s how I remember it, but I could be wrong.

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The hardest slaps in the face were always subtle realizations that would hit me mid-step though, like walking around the Expo realizing I couldn’t put half the countries on a map, and discovering that Italians often don’t speak English (what was I expecting?), and being blown away that Italians and Australians and Russians and Romanians are people, not merely the identical cells of their respective countries. Of course I knew that, but somehow a person’s response to “Where are you from?”  automatically and unconsciously filled in some blanks that shouldn’t be filled in so quickly. Some Italians were partiers, others were quiet but quirky, some spoke Japanese, many were into American politics and pop culture–they were a colorful bunch, hardly described by their nationality.

And that brings me to yet another post of retracting what I said previously. A month ago I wrote about the cultural differences between Italy and America as if I knew what I was talking about. Because I thought I knew what I was talking about. Because I read it in a book. And now, after visiting the lovely country for myself, I can confidently say that I had no idea what I was talking about. I don’t even think I have the authority to make generalizations about America at this point considering I’ve only seen about 1/10th of it. Italians love tradition, but they are overwhelmingly progressive politically. Americans love excitement and innovation, but magazines churn out recipes for roasted turkey with cranberry sauce every year in November. Who am I to judge what country clings to tradition more? They are what they are.

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For a while I think I’ll just stick to what I know, like what I made for lunch today. One of the friends I met in Italy recommended I make a soup after I told her of my ridiculous tomato bounty from the farmer’s market. Tomato soup is one of those rare tomato-based foods that I will willingly, happily, excessively put in my mouth so of course I agreed. (I usually have to sheepishly slide the tomatoes out of my burger at restaurants and push them aside in salads.) Paired with some yellow rice, a sofa, and several episodes of Parks and Rec, I spent my afternoon feeling quite at home again for the first time in a while.

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Roasted Tomato Soup

I didn’t really have a recipe for this, I just went with my gut because it was that kind of a day. You can leave the skins on and the seeds in the tomatoes–they disappear to nothing in the blender.

3 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes (heirloom, cherry, red, orange, magenta…whatever you have on hand)

1 small onion, quartered

1 small leek, white and light green parts only, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds rounds

1 carrot, cut into 1/8 inch rounds (mine were larger, but they weren’t as soft as I would have liked them to be after roasting)

3 garlic cloves, unpeeled

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

pepper, to taste

hot water, or as needed

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Core and halve the large tomatoes, or quarter the extra large tomatoes. Place them in a large baking sheet along with the cherry tomatoes (if using), onion, carrot, and garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sugar, salt, and pepper.
  2. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until the onions are soft and the tomatoes are slightly charred.
  3. Remove the garlic skin. Scrape all the vegetables into a medium pot. Deglaze the baking sheet with some hot water and add it to the pot, leaving behind anything extra burnt. Simmer over medium heat for another ten minutes then transfer the chunky soup to a blender.
  4. Process in a blender until velvety. Adjust seasoning and thickness as desired. Serve warm.

How to make gnocchi like an American

Two more days of school left. Two! And while I know, the proper emotion when faced with this fact is a healthy mix of excitement, sadness, relief, and fear, I have trouble feeling anything but impatience. Two days is two days too many, in my book.

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Part of that impatience comes from the anticipation of summer travel. In August I’ll take a long overdue visit to my grandparents back in China, followed by a bit of brother-sister adventuring around Beijing, which will no doubt be interesting. But first, I’m heading off to Milan to work at the World Expo. This is where that jumble of excitement and fear strikes. I get to meet people from all over the world, experience aperitivo (legal), look at impeccably dressed Italian men (you know what they say), and travel alone. But I also have to watch my back for pickpockets, deal with a language barrier, figure out how the toilets work, and travel alone. Can’t wait!

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In preparation for my travels I thought I would brush up on some Italian culture, starting (and ending) with food. It’s not a bad way to get to know a country—if you know what they eat, you know how they live, and there’s not a country where that is truer than in food-obsessed Italy. I checked out this gorgeous book from the library.

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“The Painter, the Cook, and the Art of Cucina”

It turns out, there is no such thing as “Italian cuisine,” at least not in Italy. Each region of Italy has its own character. Gnocchi is made of semolina in Rome, of spinach and ricotta in Tuscany, and of potato in many other areas. But there is one thing that is common throughout Italy: its love of tradition. Italian grandmothers are the authority when it comes to cooking and they all seem to hold an attitude of Well if this heirloom recipe has been tested for hundreds of years, what else is there to change?

We Americans on the other hand have a constant itch for novelty. “Innovation” we call it when talking about technology, a quality we take great pride in. It’s why one of America’s trendiest bakeries sells cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate-chip cookies and why limited edition dill pickle wheat thins line the supermarket shelves: we love the new, even if it isn’t quite as good as the old, simply because it is exciting.

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Of course, I’m generalizing quite a bit here (Southerners have been known to fiercely defend their regional barbeque) and maybe it’s because I live in the hippie dippy Bay Area / Silicon Valley, but it would explain a lot. For starters, it would explain the cult following of Marcella Hazan and why I disliked her style so much. She was an opinionated Italian grandmother, a champion of tradition, and I, a girl who grew up eating limited edition crackers. This was the age old battle between tradition and innovation rearing its ugly head right before my eyes.

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With this realization I began to feel less stifled by Marcella’s rules. I mean, it’s just tradition we’re talking about. And seeing as I’m not Italian, I don’t see why I would want to cook like an Italian grandmother, however delicious her meals are. Her rules are more like suggestions, served with a side of Marcella persistence, for those who want to follow in her footsteps. Since I don’t necessarily want to do whatever she says for the sake of being authentic, I’m free to do as I like. (Oh man, I just realized how ridiculous this sounds since she “talks” to me from the pages of a cookbook. All that I can say is that her writing has a simultaneously frightening and reassuring tone that is hard to disagree with.) As my math teacher often said, “We don’t do cookbook style learning around here.” Amen, Mr. Lau.

And with that I give you…

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Potato Gnocchi

Adapted from Guliano Hazan’s recipe, which he got from his momma Marcella

I think I owe Marcella Hazan an apology. She really does have excellent recipes and I admire her for her stubbornness in defending what she thinks is right.

But I couldn’t resist tweaking something in her recipe. Her shaping method involves rolling a pillow of gnocchi dough along the tines of a fork using her finger, but I found my dough to squishy and my finger too fat (?) to do so with ease. The ridges just disappeared when I tried shaping it. So instead, (drumroll please I am very proud of this) I used TWO forks, one to roll the dough with and one to roll the dough on. This way you get two ridge-forming surfaces instead of one and the dough still curls to form that cute cavity. Pro tip: dip the forks in flour when the dough starts to stick.

Please, hold the applause dear readers.

1 3/4 lbs russet potatoes, unpeeled and scrubbed

Roughly 5 oz (1 cup) flour, more or less depending on moisture of potatoes (original recipe says 1 1/2 cups, no weight measurement)

  1. Boil the potatoes for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked. Try not to test them too often or they will soak up too much water.
  2. Remove the potatoes and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel them. Run them through a potato ricer, piling the riced potatoes on a floured cutting board. Sprinkle half the flour over the potatoes, working it into a sticky dough, then continue adding the flour little by little until the dough is only slightly sticky. A bench scraper used to fold the dough over on itself works well for this purpose since the folding motion will prevent too much gluten from forming. Otherwise your hands will do the job just fine. This is largely a matter of feel since different potatoes have different water contents, but it should be around 5 oz.
  3. Divide the dough into quarters. Take one quarter and roll it into a long rope of ¾ inch diameter on a floured surface. Cut the rope into square pillows. Place one pillow at the base (non-pointy end) of a fork. Using another fork, roll the gnocchi up the tines of the fork, creating little ridges. It should also have a little cavity where the top fork pierced it in the rolling process.
  4. Continue step three for the rest of the dough, placing each finished gnoccho on a floured baking sheet in a single layer. If you do not plan to cook the gnocchi in a few hours, you may freeze them in a single layer on the baking sheet before transferring to a Ziploc bag.
  5. To cook the gnocchi, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Salt the water like the sea. Slide some gnocchi into the water, making sure not to overcrowd the pot. When they begin to float, cook for 30 seconds more then remove with a slotted skimmer. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi.
  6. Serve with melted butter and crispy sage leaves, a Bolognese sauce, or cinnamon and sugar.

Braised short ribs

Not much is going on around here and yet I still somehow found a way to procrastinate enough on writing this post that it’s taken me three days to write this paragraph. A blur of Facebook, naps, Naruto episodes, cookbooks, more naps, and a distopian novel seems to have swallowed up my time. Somewhere along the way I learned The Cup Song with all it’s cup-thumping intricacies though so some good does come out of killing time doing nothing. Ah! there is nothing better than a good distraction to brighten the dullness and dull the listlessness of waiting…waiting…waiting for the school year to be over.

The best distraction this week was, of course, culinary. It came in the form of three pounds of luscious beef short ribs and a few hours spent on researching possible cooking methods. In the first five minutes I decided it would be braised but that was about the extent of my decisiveness. Even with my mental Excel sheet of each recipe’s ingredient proportions, hundreds of comments chipping in their tips, and plenty of superlatives guiding me to “The Perfect Short-Ribs,” it was overwhelming deciding on a single one lest I miss out on that other recipe that was met with rave reviews. In the end, in a rather uncharacteristically unadventurous decision, I went with one that I had made before (the last time I went through hours of research on short-ribs…).

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But that also means it was good enough to be made again. It was one originally chosen out of laziness and a love of economy, I admit. It uses just one cup of wine instead of a whole bottle, doesn’t require beef stock (which I keep on hand and for some reason is on the brink of extinction in the local supermarkets), and requires no browning. No browning! Even so, it is every bit as meltingly rich and succulent as I expect of a dish with such a devoted following.

Oven Braised Short-Ribs

Adapted from (the rather gimmicky sounding) Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys, by Lucinda Scala Quinn, seen on Tracey’s Culinary Adventures

Notes: The age old adage “Cook only with wine you would drink” that is repeated on just about every other recipe for short ribs ever, is a tricky one in my case because, well, not like I would know…ahem. So I used a bottle of two-buck Charles Shaw and it worked fine. Would it be better with $12 wine? Perhaps. Use your own judgement.

Also, short ribs are a notoriously fatty cut of meat, which contributes to its velvety texture but also about a 1/4 inch of covering of fat covering your dish. A tidy way to solve this is by starting the day before you want to eat the short ribs. In the early afternoon, start marinating so you can bake at night. Finish through step two then let it cool overnight. The fat will solidify into a nice airtight lid. The next day, about two hours before you plan to eat, continue with step three, making sure to remove the solid fat before doing so. Then you will have succulent meat without the excessive coat of oil.

1 medium onion, sliced into 1/2″ rounds

4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 cup red wine

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon sugar

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 1/2 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, cut into separate ribs (English style)

1 cup water

3 carrots, sliced into 1″ rounds

  1. Combine the ingredients up to the pepper in an oven-proof casserole, preferably with a lid. Add the short ribs and turn them so that all sides have been coated in the liquid. Cover with the lid (or fashion one out of aluminum foil) and refrigerate them for about 6 hours, turning when you remember.
  2. Take them out of the fridge while you preheat the oven to 400 F. After about half an hour, pour in 1 cup of water, recover, and stick the casserole in the oven to braise for 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Reduce the temperature to 375. Flip over the short ribs, add the sliced carrots to the casserole, recover, and continue baking for another hour to 1 1/2 hours. Serve with the glaze and potatoes of some sort. (Right now I’m fond of scrubbed new potatoes, thrown in at the last hour of baking, smeared with a little crème fraîche while they’re piping hot. You can also do mashed potatoes, pureed parsnips if you’re feelin’ crazy…)

 

One city, two worlds

Two of my favorite places, the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market and SF’s Chinatown, are separated by a mere ten minute walk. One smells of lavender, yeasty bread, and the ocean; the other of fish, bleach, and pee. The kombucha sipping crowd can buy two pounds of French cassoulet beans at one for the same price Accidental Asian Hipsters can buy a pound of live, croaking frogs at the other. San Francisco, this is why I love you–it seems two halves of myself have manifested in your vegetable markets. Anyway, I thought a side by side comparison would be fun.

The people

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What sticks out of people’s backpacks

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Wares

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note the prices!

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Toys

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Can guarantee–not safe for kids

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Can guarantee–no kid wants this for Christmas

Typical

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Blueberry Muffin Excuses

There are muffins and there are muffins and there are muffins. Some muffins come in a variety pack, wrapped in cellophane, with a uniform moistness that defies the Law of Staling. Others are little frostingless cupcakes in disguise, topped with buttery crumbs and glistening behind a glass case for wide-eyed children to press their sticky faces up against. Then there are muffins with a coarse, rustic crumb embedded with puddles of blueberry, appreciated as much with a glass of milk as they are afterwards when the warm scent lulls you to sleep before you remember to study for the physics final the next day. One guess as to which one this is.

In my defense, I am still in Second Semester Senior Land and will not return for another month or so. And the Rescission Fairy does not seem to be on my heels yet.

Also, please enjoy the high higher def picture at the top. New camera = no more iPhone pictures that have been filtered the crap out of!

Martha Stewart’s Blueberry Muffins

This is not the quickest, easiest muffin recipe out there. You have to cream the butter and sugar, separate eggs, and make sure the ingredients are at room temperature. But it makes a muffin with a substantial crumb and a craggly sugar crust that doesn’t get sticky over time.

Teach’em Martha

Notes:

-I weighed the flour and sugar instead of measuring by volume. 14 oz flour and 8 oz sugar

-Scrape the bottom of the bowl frequently while creaming butter and sugar. It might not look as fluffy as you might expect though because of the high ratio of sugar to butter.

-If you use frozen blueberries, coat them with a bit of the flour mixture before you fold them in. They will still streak the batter purple but it’s still pretty.

-I added 1 cup of chopped walnuts because I had them.

-If you watch the video, Martha makes 18 muffins, not 12. That’s the correct number. There’s way too much batter to fit into 12 average sized muffin cups.

-I lined them with muffin cups because my muffin pan is ancient and gross.