I am sure I have discussed this somewhere before, but when I was a child, my eating habits were messed up. And by that I mean my parents’ eating habits, and by that I mean my mother’s. Dinners at my parents’ house were things like “quesadillas” — a couple of flour tortillas done up in the microwave with vegetable-oil spread and American cheese between them. Sometimes it was honey instead of cheese. I used to find mayonnaise sandwiches in my lunchbox in elementary school, although to be fair, mayonnaise is pretty fucking amazing. They will to this day (or so I imagine, my intelligence is a little outdated) eat an entire pot of pasta that is swimming in alfredo sauce, with garlic bread on the side, and nothing else.
The lady would not touch vegetables outside of peas (which I still hate) and iceberg lettuce with tomatoes and bell peppers that you’d dump half the bottle of French dressing on, and call it a salad. Oh, and artichokes, because if you live in California you are legally required to like artichokes. Yes, it’s the law. Her idea of nutrition was less “things are made of healthy things” and more “things that don’t have fat”, and lately I expect “things that don’t have sugar”. So the vegetables were mostly not happening in my house, and of the vegetables I did eat, half of them were taxonomically fruit, and so for a “healthy side” we’d eat things like canned peaches in heavy syrup or applesauce with a layer of brown sugar at the bottom, and also at the top.
But, you know, not to police my parents’ eating habits. I liked that shit at the time. And you know what else I liked? Some goddamn pears. Screw the peaches, I hated the peaches. I’d get a bowl of canned pear halves as a “healthy side” and I’d eat them with a spoon and drink the syrup from the bowl. I didn’t have a real, fresh pear until I was 20, and internet, I still cannot get over the weird texture of raw pears. It is like biting into an old apple. It is wrong and terrible and why can’t they all taste like the delicate canned pears from Del Monte?
Cooked pears, on the other hand… you know what, I am not a big fan of cooked fruit. But pears seem to be made for this sort of thing. Like apple pie filling, but instead of getting a slice of hard, fleshy Granny Smith, you get a delicious warm fruit that melts in your mouth. So when I got a fruit basket (fruit! basket! For real, internet, someone sent me a fruit basket, I cannot even tell you how awesome that made me feel) and I saw like six different pears in there I was like, hell yes, because that meant some roasted pear amazingness for dessert.
Use Bosc pears for this one. I tried the three varieties in the basket — Bosc, Bartlett and I think red Anjou — and discovered that the Boscs were the most firm and flavorful and stood up best to roasting. You can probably use any pear, but for other varieties you might want to turn the heat down a little, or avoid baking them for quite so long.
Vanilla-Honey Roasted Pears
4 Bosc pears, medium ripeness
¼ cup honey
¼ vanilla bean
¼ tsp olive oil
Measure out ¼ cup of honey into a glass or ceramic bowl. Cut the vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds. Put the bean and seeds in the bowl and stir. Cover and leave for at least 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Put some aluminum foil in the bottom of a pan and grease the foil with the olive oil. Peel and halve the pears — you can core them or not. Place them cut-side-down on the greased foil.
Remove the vanilla bean from the honey mixture. Spoon half the honey mixture over the pears.
Cover and bake at 400°F for half an hour.
Remove from oven and serve, spooning remaining honey over pears.
Now, I am still getting the brisket, but I’ve started ordering a special cut every month, one that I’ve never had before and have no idea how to cook. This is the first month, but I’ve already got a favorite — the beautiful ribeye cap, or the best goddamn steak I’ve ever tasted, hands down.
Internet, are you familiar with ribeye steaks? Do you know that piece on the outside that is always well-done on a prime rib, and despite the abomination of gray meat, is the best part of the whole steak? Well, it’s not just because it’s had four hours to bake in a salty marinade over the fire, although I’m sure that helps. This cut is what makes ribeye what it is, and internet, eating it by itself is heaven. It’s like ice cream without the cone. Peanut butter and jelly without the crust. Dogma without Linda Fiorentino. Look at that:
This is not your shrink-wrapped grocery store cut of meat. The steak is tender, the fat is almost buttery and melts in your mouth with a beautiful beefy taste — unlike kidney fat — and in my opinion, it’s the finest cut of beef you can buy. Unfortunately, it’s not a common cut, nor, from what I’ve gathered googling around, is it normally inexpensive. I was lucky enough to pay $7 a pound for grass-fed, so shop around! It’s out there.
Ribeye cap steak
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp ground mustard
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 Tbsp koshering salt
- 2 lbs ribeye cap
Remove from oven and pan, and let rest on a serving plate for 10 minutes.
I am turning into one of those very infrequent bloggers who start out each entry with an apology for not posting, as though anyone is tearing themselves apart missing me/is checking nineteen times a day and not using an RSS reader/making with the gnashing of teeth and tearing of clothes, so I will skip all that and say that I have been hellishly busy and baskin in the cold relief of brainlessness when I am not. My commute is a nightmare. I am barely cooking. I get about three hours to myself every night (ha, you parents are laughing) and then it starts all over again the next day, and while I am learning very useful things and getting a chance to manage people, none of this is particularly conducive to writing weblog entries or coming up with new recipes or writing other things, like novels, which really needs to happen so I can get rich and buy a bunch of land out in Tennessee or something and never have to work again. Or that’s how it works out in my head, anyway.
We had a cold snap awhile ago, if “cold snap” can be taken to mean “it got below 50 degrees during the day for a few minutes”, and I immediately warped the loom, downloaded a bunch of sock patterns and drove up to Sebastopol for a bunch of apples and apple-related products — and though we’ll be back to warm weather for a couple more months, my autumn-industrial switch has been thrown. I am getting the hell ready for winter, internet, never mind that I live in coastal California and haven’t seen snow in seven years. And that includes a ton of cooking.
Anyway, if you come here for the recipes, you are in luck because Super Bee spent a weekend up here not long ago, and due to our shared interest in sheep, we tried a mutton recipe of my invention. We ate it as the filling in a garlic bread sandwich, which I am not even a little ashamed of, but I made it again later so I could take pictures, and I have to say, it is pretty decent on its own.
Tomatoey mutton stir-fry
- 1 pound ground mutton or lamb (mutton gives a stronger taste)
- 1 6.5-oz jar marinated artichoke hearts
- ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes
- cooking fat (I’ll try to post a tallow-making entry soon)
Cut each of the artichoke hearts in half and reserve half the marinade. Melt the cooking fat in the pan and fry the artichoke hearts with the tomatoes for about three minutes. Crumble the lamb or mutton into the pan and fry until cooked through.
Enjoy with a nice caprese salad.
On the first day of June I went out and bought an entire month’s worth of groceries, with the intention of spending no more than $100 and making that food last throughout the month. I was on unemployment, and that’s all my budget allowed me — I didn’t know how long that particular stretch was going to go on, and I wanted to make my savings last. So I went to the Asian grocery store in Daly City and came home with ten pounds of ground beef, 120 eggs, 16 avocados, 12 bunches of kale, a whole bunch of cheap fish and a bunch of salmon heads for the cats, to add to their regular raw diet so I could better afford to feed them.
The cats are pas, though, both of them, and after batting the first head around on the floor for an afternoon, they pushed it beneath the stove and I woke up the next morning to a godawful stench, and suddenly their late-night clamoring for more dinner made sense. I won’t tell you about the cleanup. It was horrific.
It’s mid-July now, and it turns out that I vastly overestimated the amount of food I can eat, because I’m still working my way through it. And so are the cats. Except they aren’t, because they still won’t touch the fish heads in the freezer.
So I tried them.
Fish heads are not something I would have ever thought to eat, and they do sound pretty disgusting, but if you’ve ever had salmon cheeks at a sushi restaurant, you’ll know what I’m talking about: the meat you get off of one is the most tender, delicious fish you’ve probably every tasted. They are also extremely inexpensive, and full of amazing healthy fish fat. Ha ha, cats! Your loss!
Salmon and seaweed soup
- 2 wild-caught salmon heads, or other salmon meat and skin
- 1 leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
- ¼ cup dried wakame seaweed
- 4 medium-sized garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 Tbsp gluten-free Tamari
- ½ lemon, cut into quarters
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp ground ginger, or some chunks of ginger root, whatever
- salt to taste
- red pepper flakes to taste
Clean the fish heads. My local market does this for me, but some places do not. With kitchen shears or a very large knife, split the head down the lower jaw and remove the gills (the dark brown things on the inside of the cheeks). Cut off any fins, and scrape off the scales.
Add olive oil, leeks and garlic to a pot big enough to fit both fish heads, and fry the leeks for about two minutes. Remove from heat. Add fish heads, Tamari, lemon, seaweed and ginger, and add enough water to cover completely. Bring to a boil and simmer for half an hour.
With a pair of tongs, remove the fish heads from the pot and scrape off all the meat and skin. This will be perilous, internet. You may wind up with cartilage in your soup. It is worth it. Pay special attention to the meat at the very back of the head — this is where you may get long thin fish bones that are no fun to swallow.
Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces if it isn’t already, and discard the cartilage and bones. Remove the lemon pieces and discard those, too. Heat again, and ladle into bowls.
The best part of acquiring gainful (one hopes) employment (one definitely hopes) is the period of down time between accepting an offer and actually starting work, and I was coasting through the tail end of that period, before I had to put my nice jeans on and actually take a shower on Monday morning. I was actually going outside again, and internet, summer has reared its ugly head. So far this week I have:
- Gotten heat exhaustion
- Gotten a sunburn
- Forgotten about the sunburn and tried to scratch it
- Stepped on a bee
- Tripped over my flip-flops and skinned both knees
- Acquired numerous mosquito bites
- Burned self in freak cooking accident
So let’s talk about how hot it’s fucking been.
I have had plans in Felton since maybe February, when I found out that Aaron Jones and Claire Mann were going to be back in town, and while the Felton establishment is my favorite, in a very affectionate sort of way that calls to mind a toothless old cat with three legs that you’ve had since you were four, it is in the middle of fucking nowhere, and on the wrong end of a highway that doesn’t so much wind through the mountains as crawl, particularly when it is 5pm, your show starts in an hour, and half of San Jose is trying to get home to the beach. I learned my lesson the first time and now Felton shows are an occasion for exploration — I take the entire day, drive down there early, and that is how I have found myself in amazing places I would never otherwise visit because they are too far away, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Mission Carmel.
Anyway, back when I bought my car, I lived in the south bay and it was the middle of February. Also it was raining, and I had a limited amount of money to spend and I had never driven a car with a manual transmission before. Tiki Bird and Dark Thing drove all the way down from the peninsula to teach me how to drive this thing. I had also been in a fairly scary accident the day before, necessitating the car purchase in the first place, and somewhere in all the chaos I neglected to ensure that the new car had air conditioning. Air conditioning is strongly encouraged in California, if not in all houses then certainly in all vehicles, but in my little bay area bubble, is not necessarily a requirement, and I suppose I saw an opportunity to save a few hundred dollars, plus it offered me the convenient excuse to avoid visiting my parents in the Central Valley for about eight months out of the year. Everybody wins! But this lack of air conditioning is the reason I cannot actually take the car anywhere without a somewhat ridiculous and predictable series of events occurring, and internet, Wednesday was hot. And both Felton and my intended pre-Felton destination were somewhat awkwardly inland, in places that exist independently of any soothing sea breezes.
By Fremont I had put my hair up.
By Milpitas I had both windows down.
By Morgan Hill I was seriously considering popping the hatch.
In Gilroy, I took a wrong turn and wound up pulled over in front of a bank with one of those gigantic and helpful bank signs that tell you exactly how hot it is, and that bank sign said it was ninety fucking degrees. I gave some thought to buying a bottle of water, but all I could think about was how horrifically hot the car would be when I got back in. So I kept going. And it would have been fine. Probably. But about five miles out of San Juan Bautista, where I assumed I would find relief in the cool mission breezeways, the traffic stopped. And did not show any sign of starting again.
Now, I am not sure what part of “hanging halfway out the car window, drenched in sweat and red-faced” says “flirt with me”, but that is exactly what the traffic-directing construction worker present took it upon himself to do. I was a little distracted by the assumed relief mere miles up the road, and did not immediately understand what he was doing, but let me say this, internet: there are very few people who can get away with calling me “sweetheart”, but it turns out that that number probably increases exponentially when I am beginning to suffer from heatstroke, because it was not until I hit the mission and drank about a gallon of water that I realized I had not calmly removed his head.
So I saw the mission, it was pretty, there were lots of cactus, and I was correct in assuming that the missionaries knew what the hell they were doing, building things in semi-inland California, and after a few hours of appreciating unstable masonry and temperatures that didn’t make me want to saw my hair off with the car keys, I got into the car and went to Felton.
Which is a post for another time. Meanwhile, Mission San Juan Bautista:
Same tree, during the 2006 Gippsland bush fires. The fires were like nothing else. The sun shining through the smoke turned everything an eerie, sickly muffled yellow, and the cockatoos screamed and croaked at us from nearby trees. It was dead silent otherwise, like being in a quiet room. We might as well have been the only people left on the planet.
This really has no business being called “hot and sour soup” at all. I threw it together last night when I had no meat thawed out, and usually that sort of thing turns into a meal that suffices the once but I never revisit — however, I reheated it for dinner today, added a few more ingredients and… hey, you know what, this could make my rotating meal roster. It’s not substantial enough for anything but a side, but accompanies a pork burger or a rare steak very nicely.
Not Really Hot and Sour Soup
- 1 lb beef marrow bones, marrow removed
- 1 can bamboo shoots, drained
- 1/4 cup chili oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 3 Tbsp gluten-free Tamari
- 12-15 pieces black fungus
- 5-6 lily buds (also called tiger lilies)
- 2 crimini or shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp black pepper
- Tabasco to taste (I told you it wasn’t authentic)
- salt to taste
Bone broth is the second greatest thing known to man or woman. Bone marrow is the first. It’s a rich, delicate, fatty substance found in beef bones, but you’re looking specifically for cut-up femurs, or the same bone you’d get when you buy beef shanks. If you find something that says “beef soup bones”, that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Roast those at 375F for about 30 minutes, salt them and then eat the marrow with a spoon, or spread it on something like toast, if you eat toast.
Put the bones into a 4-liter pot and add water. Let boil for about an hour. You’ll wind up with a rich, tasty stock. Remove the bones and discard.
In a separate pot or bowl, pour some boiling water over the lily shoots and allow them to rehydrate. When cool, tear them up with your fingers and add them to the pot along with the black fungus. You may wish to cut up the black fungus first, because it’ll expand a LOT, and can sometimes be unwieldy to eat.
Add bamboo shoots, sliced mushrooms, black pepper, vinegar, Tamari and chili oil.
Crack eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork. Bring the soup to a simmer and very slowly pour in the egg, in a thin stream. You want several “strings” of egg in the soup, not one giant clump of scrambled egg.
Stir, remove from heat and ladle into bowls, adding Tabasco and salt as desired.
This reheats extremely well.
I am still unemployed, and reality has hit, and it turns out that a single person eating paleo can blow an entire month’s grocery budget in two weeks. I won’t comment on what percentage of those groceries has included non-paleo items like diet fizzy caffeinated beverages (“to make sure I concentrate!”) and the occasional (okay, more than occasional) Snickers bar, but I am attempting to teach myself a lesson by using up all the crap in my freezer and fridge before I venture out to Safeway again, which has actually led to some pretty decent meals. Also no more soda, which is a blessing, because caffeine fucks you up. And by “you” I mean “me”. Anyway, I sat down the other day and went through everything in my freezer and came up with this glorious recipe, which I love so much I’ll probably eat it for a week straight and then crash and burn and never want to look at it again. Onward!
Thai Basil Beef Stir-Fry
- 1 lb chuck roast, sliced thinly
- 1 yellow or red onion, sliced into wedges
- 1 green or red bell pepper, sliced (I used frozen pre-cut, which is why you see two colors in there)
- 5 cloves garlic, sliced and crushed with the side of a knife
- 3 Thai chilis, deseeded (sub Trader Joe’s jalapeño hot sauce or non-smoky hot sauce of your choice)
- 3 Tbsp fish sauce
- 3 Tbsp oyster sauce (be careful if you’re gluten-free, more brands than not have wheat ingredients)
- 3 Tbsp crushed, chopped basil leaves
Fry the bell peppers, garlic and onion wedges in cooking fat over medium-low heat until onions are translucent.
Add fish sauce to deglaze pan, and immediately after, add beef, oyster sauce and chilis. Fry until beef arrives at desired doneness — I eat it rare, and usually it’s in the pan on medium-low heat for about five minutes.
Add basil and stir to combine. DON’T OVERCOOK THE BASIL. The longer it’s in the pan, the more flavor it will lose.
Serve immediately. This is also great reheated.