Saturday, May 30, 2009

FRITATTA! Fun to Say. Fun to Eat.

OK, true story. Last week an entire pallet of eggs fell off the back of a pickup truck directly in front of our home. You can imagine the mess. There were however some cartons that survived the fall. I was just pulling in to the driveway as Noah was bidding goodbye to the truck's driver, and clutching a windfall of brown eggs.

This was an occasion that called for one of my favorite breakfasts-- FRITATTA! I think of fritatta as more of a technique than a recipe; like an omelette, once you get the basic idea, the possibilities are endless. Fritattas

-- essentially a crustless quiche-- are easy to make, keep well in the fridge, and are a great way to use up ingredients, but there are some basic guidelines that are important to follow.

First, it's important to understand the main ingredient: eggs. When I was in culinary school, Chef Marco Ilaria(my favorite instructor) taught us that eggs are delicate, and meant to be treated gently. Even though it's possible to scramble eggs in less than a minute (over very high heat), the finished product is going to be tough and dry. Eggs should never be tough and dry. Properly cooked eggs are a thing of beauty. They should be silky, fluffy, and moist. Is there any greater egg turn-off than the brown, leathery crust that you get from super hot short-order griddles? Yuck. Be gentle with your eggs. Lower the heat. And for goodness sake, settle down with that whisk. They only need to be stirred a few strokes beyond the point of breaking the yolks.

Secondly, and this applies to both omelettes and fritattas, cook your accoutrement. When vegetables, and greens, and breakfast meats cook they release liquid, and that is not going to improve your fritatta. Saute your mushrooms, wilt your spinach, steam your broccoli, fry your sausage, and then, give it a minute to drain or steam off excess moisture. Cooked vegetables are also going to complement the overall texture of the dish.

Thirdly, season well. Eggs love salt and pepper. The right amount will take your fritatta from ordinary to eggstraordinary (sorry...had to). Remember to account for added salt content from cheeses like Feta or Parmesan. All I'm sayin' is even if it just gets sprinkled on at the table, don't forget the salt.

Below is the recipe for our Windfall Fritatta. How did I come up with it? I went through the drawers of my fridge. Potato, onion, and egg are always a great combo, but the sky's the limit. Here are a few other ideas to get your wheels turning:
  • Roasted Red Pepper, Zucchini, Goat Cheese, Shallot, and Fresh Rosemary
  • Broccoli Cheddar with or without Ham
  • Prosciutto, Peas, and Parmesan
  • Bacon, Mushroom, Spinach, and Swiss Cheese

    Windfall Fritatta

What to make when a pallet of eggs falls off a truck in front of your house.

  • 8 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, halved and very thinly sliced (1/8 inch)
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion (like Walla Walla), sliced longitudinally
  • 1 cup sliced button mushrooms
  • 2 cups chopped fresh spinach
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Crack the eggs into a small mixing bowl and whisk gently to break the yolks. Set aside.

In an oven-proof skillet (*see note), about 8 inches in diameter, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Once the butter has melted add the potato and onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and continue to cook until potatoes are just becoming tender. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 1 minute.

Turn the burner to off. Add the eggs, and another sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir lightly to evenly distribute all ingredients. Sprinkle evenly with feta and chives. Place in preheated oven and bake 20 minutes or until the middle is set (no longer liquid).

*Note: Cast iron and fritatta are the best of friends, but any oven proof skillet will do. If you don't have one, don't worry. You can also use a similar-sized casserole, souffle, or baking dish. Just keep an eye on it as the cooking time will need to be adjusted.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

How to Feed 10 People with $7

The other day my sister Kim called from Seattle to let me know she had been stocking her freezer with bargain pork.

"The sales are crazy right now," she told me. "No one's buying pork because of Swine Flu."

Even though there is zero correlation between consumption of pork products and swine flu, it just goes to show, there truly is a silver lining to every cloud.

Sure enough, the next day I happened upon a special display of pork butt at the grocery store, and hot dog! it even had the bone in it. I bought a 5 pound roast for SEVEN dollars. It wasn't even close to expiring. So I tucked it away in my freezer and waited for inspiration to strike.

It didn't take long. My lovely friend Keegan and I were out trolling for king salmon, and discussing the menu for an outdoor party on the beach. Her husband Dustin is a barbecue sauce fiend-- the kind of guy who puts barbecue sauce on his Cheerios-- so Keegan has become a wiz at making things like the ultimate BBQ sauce pizza.

"I have this big pork roast," I told her, "But I'm not sure what to do with it."

Her brilliant reply: "Pulled Pork Sandwiches."

So I said, "Yes yes YES!" That's what I always say to pulled pork.

I had a preconceived notion that to make a proper pulled pork I needed to have been born in Texas, Kansas City, or the Carolinas. I believed I needed to spend an entire sweaty day tending hickory wood embers in the barbecue, and basting every ten minutes. I thought that because I wasn't a fourth-generation pit boss my first five attempts would be mediocre at best. I was wrong.

Purists may cringe, but this Michigan-born Alaskan found the answer to low maintenance and succulent pulled pork in her crock pot. This is pulled pork you can make when you've got other things to do all day, and it will still stop the show. I like my pulled pork nice and messy, topped with Cole Slaw on a soft burger bun.

As it just so happened, right around the time I was making crock pot pulled pork in Juneau, my sister Kim was making traditional barbecue-smoked pulled pork in Seattle. She said that she's never seen plates so clean, but it did take a long time and she was completely saturated with smoke fumes by the end of the day. She shared hers with a bunch of friends from culinary school (she's a pastry chef), and they all agreed that the secret ingredient-- the one that made it a champion sandwich-- was the addition a few bread n' butter pickle chips. Might as well give it a try.

Crock Pot Pulled Pork
(serves 8-10)

4 to 5 lb. pork butt or shoulder roast, preferably
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon sugar
2 yellow onions (preferably sweet ones like Vidalia, Maui, or Walla Walla)
12 oz. lager beer (I used a can of Rainier)
2 cups (16 oz.) barbecue sauce, or more to taste
1/4 cup stone ground mustard
2-3 tablespoons cider vinegar (to taste)
1-2 teaspoons Louisiana-style hot sauce (I like Crystal)
salt and pepper to taste

2 or 3 days ahead of time, combine salt, pepper, chili powder, and sugar in a small bowl and rub evenly over the pork roast. Let sit in the refrigerator until ready to use (this step is optional).

The night before you want to serve the pulled pork, place the roast in a crock pot. Add half (6 oz. or 3/4 cup) of the beer, one of the onions (peeled and sliced), and enough water to cover the roast. Place lid on crock pot and cook on low setting overnight, for 10 to 12 hours, or until meat is very tender.

The next morning, remove the roast from the crock pot and let sit until cool enough to handle. Discard cooking liquid. Pull the bones and excess fat from the roast and discard. Slice the large hunks of meat into pieces no more than 2 inches thick, and pull apart. The meat should shred easily.

Return the shredded meat to the crock pot. Add remaining 6 oz. (3/4 cup) beer, the barbecue sauce, mustard, cider vinegar, hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Peel and dice the remaining onion and add to pot. Stir to combine. Turn crock pot to "low" setting, and cook an additional 4 to 6 hours. Stir occasionally to avoid burning from the "hot spots" in your crock pot. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve on burger buns with Cole Slaw and bread n' butter pickles.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fish in a Packet: A Guilt-Free Delight

My husband Noah used to be able to eat like a lumberjack- think Paul Bunyan-sized portions- without gaining an ounce. He comes from a long line of lean and lanky folk. But in the couple of years since we turned thirty, he's begun to develop the tiniest of pooches, which he lovingly refers to as his heli belly (he's a helicopter pilot).

Personally, I think it's adorable, but Noah has taken notice, and is more on board than ever in my quest for healthy recipes that are big on flavor.

My metabolism slowed down a lot earlier than Noah's did, and I do not share the same genealogical tendencies. The only skinny genes in my family, are hanging in the backs of our closets. On my family tree, we pretty much all have to approach diet and exercise with diligence.

I do pretty good most of the time, but hey, I love to eat. And I'm not going to deny myself certain pleasures (like creme brulee) in this lifetime because I'm worried about my pant size. So I moderate as best I can, and search endlessly for dishes that satisfy both the weight watcher and the gourmand in me . When I find a recipe and/or cooking method that does both, it gets added to my home cooking repertoire. This is the way Noah and I like to eat at home.

Click here to see the recipe for Chef John Ash's Wild Alaska Seafood Hobo Packs. This recipe, in which you steam fish with aromatics and vegetables in a foil packet, was quick, easy, and full of flavor, without a bunch of added fat. Noah and I made these using some wild Alaskan Cod but I think pretty much any kind of fish would agree with this flavoring. The fish was delicate and super juicy.


  • I recommend oven-crisping some crusty bread to serve with the hobo packs, as the abundant juice they contain serves as a nice "liquor" for dipping bread into.

  • Rice pilaf would also make a nice juice-absorbing accompaniment.

  • If you cook them in the oven, put the foil packs on a rimmed baking sheet in case of leakage.

  • This recipe calls for sprigs of thyme. I recommend interpreting "sprig" as a singular stem, rather than a full branch. The right amount of thyme adds a light herbaceous aroma. Too much thyme imparts a bitter pine-pitch sort of flavor.

Once you get a feel for this method of cooking fish, there are endless ways to play with the accoutrements. Noah and I like to cook salmon this way with fresh fennel, sweet onion, tomato, and capers. I also like to do Asian-style hobo packs, with rice wine, soy, garlic, ginger, and green onion, and serve on a bed of rice and wilted spinach.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Chickening Out

Okay, after this I promise, no more chicken for a while...

I like chicken. Chicken is good. Chicken takes almost any kind of flavoring I give it. It doesn't break the bank, or get me lectured by my doctor. I also really believe in the healing properties of bones and connective tissue, which release their goodness (in the form of collagen and elastin), when left in the chicken while cooking. The same is true for any meat or fish, but poultry has a great meat to bone ratio. Bones and connective tissue (tendons and cartilage) are what make that homemade chicken stock so gelatinous when chilled, and what makes our own bones, joints, and connective tissues feel lubricated and good.

When I was in culinary school, Noah and I lived just off of Clement Street in San Francisco. In addition to a handful of budding bars and bistros, Clement had a great number of Chinese grocers and Dim Sum shops. We often did our grocery shopping on Clement, and I noticed in those markets, that squeamishness with animal parts was not a factor. When I bought chicken on Clement Street, it still had a face. (I can hear your collective eeew's. It's okay. We're not used to seeing that sort of thing in the U.S. )

Noah and I would walk down Clement Street with our face-filled grocery bags, smelling the mahogany-colored Peking ducks (head included) hanging in the steamy Dim Sum shop windows. Below the ducks sat an array of miniature delights. Among them: Hom Bao- Golden brown wheat buns, warm and filled with candy-sweet pork. Siu Mai- Tiny noodle cups full of meat and scented with star anise and dried orange peel. Har Gow- shrimp dumplings showing their coral-pink stuffing through the velum of steamed pastry.

And then, there were the chicken feet.

"Eeeew," we would say, daring each other to go in and buy one. What kind of detritus was once on those feet? And wouldn't they be leathery, tough, and sharp with little chicken bones? We would step up to the counter, and invariably leave with a little paper bag containing some variety of filled noodle or pastry. Never the chicken feet.

"Before we leave San Francisco," Noah vowed, "I am going to eat chicken feet."

I wasn't so sure I could do it. But I really wanted to, if only out of culinary machismo. I consulted my classmate Annie, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, and asked her if she ever ate them.

"Oh yeah," she said, pointing to her elbow. "They're really good for your joints." Annie ate chicken feet not so much because she liked them (which she did), but more so for medicinal purposes.

Still, the thought of putting that scaly little claw in my mouth gave me the willies. My cultural conditioning regarding animal parts was being challenged. I wasn't used to seeing that sort of thing, and it was good for me. Chickens, after all, do not grow in striped paper buckets, or in shrink-wrapped Styrofoam packaging. And isn't utilizing every part of the animal less wasteful, more respectful, even more sustainable? I want to be fully aware of what I'm consuming, to not turn a blind eye to the truth of being a carnivore.

As a result of my education in San Francisco, both in school and on the street, I have come to appreciate the goodness of bones and other chicken parts that one of my poultry-averse friends calls "choingers". Noah even more so. Now, when he's finished with a drumstick, the only thing on his plate is the bone. He eats it all.

"I love it," he says, pointing to his elbow, "It's crunchy and it makes my joints feel good."

Did he fulfill his vow to eat chicken feet? You know what? He never did. Neither did I. And we both regret it. Next time we're in SF, we are definitely eating chicken feet.
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