one of the nicest thing i can recommend for when you’re feeling overwhelmed or unable to focus, is to grab a bunch of an herb, and pick the leaves or fronds off until you have pruned the entire bunch so they’re ready to cook with.
i did this yesterday with my coriander from the farmer’s market. i didn’t want to be doing it, i only needed a bit of it to top my taco. but i knew if i didn’t do it then, it’s not like i would want to do it later, so i persevered with the coriander. about half way through, i realized, as always, that i was settling in to this new practice of locating the base of the stem and pulling the herb off; a meditation of sorts.
cooking side note: i rinse my herbs in different ways, but it then feels satisfying to toss them in an extra cold (add ice cubes) bowl of water and let them soak. then pull them out, set them on a towel and let them dry. then, add them to a container with a small paper towel to help control moisture levels. from here, the herb lasts quite a while (typically weeks!). and you've completed a meditation practice.
this is also how i typically approach meditation, or exercise… the not wanting to start it, but once i have, getting into it and achieving a sort of “flow” state. it’s worth noticing. because all it takes to overcome an “obstacle,” is knowing that you have something good coming if you can only get through the first minutes of it. those are the few minutes where you’re still living in another mental state, your previous mental state. once you have achieved the “flow,” you will have enjoyed and accomplished a task! or perhaps even a feat! it is really those first few minutes of entering and changing thought patterns that can be the hardest to overcome, then it’s all smooth sailing from there.
and this is exactly how cooking can be for me. also, running, strength training, and various tasks at work. once i actually start on them, it’s nice to have the knowledge that even though i’m not enjoying it in THAT moment to start with, that within a few minutes, i’ll be in a new state of mind. and that i have control over that.
it feels like every time i bake, i learn something new that i can mess up… that i didn’t realize i could mess up before. for example, smitten kitchen’s jacked up banana bread. i have made many a banana bread in my day, but typically the same recipe. i decided to venture out and try a new one. enter, the jacked up banana bread.
when baking, i know to bring all my ingredients from the fridge to room temp (unless of course it’s a baking recipe where everything needs to be COLD, but usually when i bake, things need to come to room temp). so, before my walk yesterday morning, i grabbed the egg and measured out the salted butter and left them on the counter to come to room temp, so when i returned i could bake banana bread!
one thing led to another (work…) and i didn’t get to baking the banana bread til after work. well, the butter is meant to be MELTED, but i figured it was fiiiine because it was so malleable by being left out all day that it would do its melting in the oven. right? well, no. wrong.
back to the recipe. the very first step involves mixing the smashed bananas (nailed it) with melted butter (didn’t nail it). but i did mix them together and what resulted was, well… this:
what i discovered (i think…) is that melting the butter serves a purpose other than tasting really yummy. and that is, it enables the banana itself to cook and become firm to match the texture of the rest of the bread. i realized this because i had to cook the banana bread for nearly 1 hour 20 minutes instead of the suggested 50 min – 1 hour cook time. and the tester never came out completely clean. i eventually just said, fuck it, and let it cool. there was still some banana-y texture, but overall the taste was overwhelmingly GOOD. and i will certainly be having that banana bread for breakfast today.
so friends. i learned to use melted butter when a recipe calls for it because it helps stuff cook that may not otherwise cook in the way you want it to! a valuable lesson that did not end with an inedible dish, but an otherwise delicious dish (save for the perfect texture)! banana bread ftw!
since the shelter-in-place order began in the Bay Area, i have been cooking a lot. more than usual? hard to say, i always cook nearly all of my own food as i’ve worked remotely over three years now. but now, it feels a bit more forced and panicked. though i think that’s becoming less-so, yayyyy…
at first i thought OHMYGOD what do i have to cook? but then i realized i can chill, there are still groceries, and there’s even takeout! not to mention i have a ton of food. if Tamar Adler’s enlightening cookbook, An Everlasting Meal, taught me anything, it’s that if you have some dried beans and rice… you’re golden. even more, if you have some parsley and lemon to serve with that, then you’re really cooking with fire.
so… this is mainly how i balance my meals. i keep the following ready to go in the pantry: grains like brown rice and rolled oats, dried beans, bananas, and nuts.
in the fridge, i keep: citrus fruits (lemons and limes), herbs (cilantro, parsley, and dill), fresh vegetables (broccoli and cauliflower), and lettuces (romaine, chicories), almond milk, plain greek yogurt, eggs, and some sort of protein. protein for me is typically tofu and tempeh.
in the freezer i keep mainly: frozen fruit and a loaf (or five) of sliced bread.
and then that bring us to, the tortillas. tortilla-style items have been a hot-button item for us lately. tortillas for breakfast, tortillas for lunch, tortillas for dinner — WHO CARES? it’s lockdown season, baby.
so, with the ingredients listed above… you know what i can always make?? TACOS. i can make salads, rice bowls, even traditional ‘recipes’ like a cheesy bean bake or chickpea bolognese (both things i’ve recently cooked). the bean bake was actually really beautiful so here it is:
okay back to the tacos. tacos are a glorious food item to have handy. and all you need are a few crucial elements, the likes of which can be swapped out every time you make a taco so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating the same thing over and over again. that would be torture. to me, this is what constitutes a solid taco: good tortilla (heat on pan!) + deliciously cooked protein + accompaniments. my favorite accompaniments for a taco are: rice, beans, cilantro, hot sauce, mashed sweet potato (idk why!), shredded lettuce, avocado, and salsa. the wonderful thing about a taco is that you really only need the tortilla plus a couple of more elements to create a MEAL. if you don’t have a traditional protein, you can use beans + rice as the workhorse, or whatever! get creative, ya know?
i am obsessed with tofu chorizo though, which is a recipe by mark bittman, my dad. not really. but i’m going to share my version of it here. i like it because you don’t have to do anything fussy with the tofu other than take it out of its packaging and cook it. no wrapping it up in paper towels and pressing it, the water cooks right off of it in the pan.
2 tablespoons olive oil 1 onion, chopped 2 tablespoon garlic, chopped Salt and ground black pepper 2 packages firm tofu 2 tablespoon chili powder 2 teaspoons cumin 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
Add oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Using your hands, crumble tofu into the pan. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet occasionally and adjusting heat as necessary, until tofu browns and crisps as much or as little as you like, about 10 to 30 minutes.
NOTE: Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan, I cook mine closer to about 20 minutes until it has a similar texture to chorizo.
Add the chili powder, cumin and cinnamon. Stir and cook, continuing to scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan until the mixture is fragrant, a minute or two. Stir in apple cider vinegar and adjust the seasoning taste.
NOTE: Taste and adjust seasonings until you love it. I often add more apple cider vinegar for that tangy-tang and kosher salt. This is your new tofu chorizo, so make sure you like it on its own. Taste and adjust til you can’t stop eating it by itself. That’s my rule of thumb.
that’s it! let me know if you have any questions about the recipe or tacos in general. this will keep in the fridge for about 3-4 days, maybe longer. my food-going-bad philosophy is that you’ll know when it’s bad because it will smell like it’s gone bad.
here is the final product (also seen on taco above!)
until next time, happy cooking and stay safe friends! i am always here to talk about food, so hit me up!
There’s nothing quite so rewarding as cooking a recipe that you haven’t cooked in a year, and realizing that your entire thought process in cooking has changed and evolved since then.
Last year, Charlie gave me a pizza stone for Christmas, and from there I made several pizzas. Then as the weather warmed up, we put the pizza stone away for one reason or another. And if I’m being honest, I think part of it is because I had two pizza dough balls in the freezer, ready to thaw and come back to life, and they got wrapped around one of the shelves in the freezer, and they’re literally still there. It seemed wasteful to make more when they were just… there. Isn’t it weird the things we humans let hold us back? From making more homemade pizza, to boot!
I digress, I do. I was also gifted a kitchen scale around that time, which opened up new horizons in cooking and baking recipes. I remember diligently weighing the size of each dough ball to match what was indicated in the recipe. Last year, I always had one that was way bigger, because I matched up the weights until the last dough ball was leftover, and I somehow always had more dough than the recipe seemed to indicate that I should have. I didn’t yet know some things.
Now, I weigh the entire weight of the dough and divide by how many pieces I want (duh, right?) — this idea hadn’t made its way into my cooking experience arsenal or else I hadn’t yet experienced enough recipes to know to do this. I also added more salt than the recipe called for, because I know I like salt, and that mine is very coarse, so the measurements aren’t always exactly equal in recipes. Something else I’ve learned through my time cooking. I waited until the dry yeast was activated too, to make sure the packet wasn’t inactive. Another trick I’ve learned!
And it wasn’t only these things, it was the overall vibe that it’s so much more fun to cook and bake than it used to be when I was worried about making a mistake or not doing something exactly right. There’s no right way to cook, and mistakes often create unexpected results — hello, chocolate chips cookies!
I was listening to David Chang’s podcast this morning, The Dave Chang Show, and he and Angela Duckworth were discussing grit and what makes a cook great, and what holds a cook back. And one of the ideas is that people are so afraid to make a mistake or of failing that it holds them back from ever attempting something. It’s a sad idea that we aren’t cooking due to the fear of failure or because we are too concerned about perfectionism, especially when every great cook has failed. Many times. The failure is what drives change and it’s vital to how we learn.
This is all to say, no one is great without practice. I’m not great! And I don’t claim to be. But I do know that I like to feed my body with fresh, whole, local, & seasonal ingredients as much as possible, and this is made easiest by cooking for myself instead of looking to restaurants to take on this responsibility (which is another interesting conversation). Home cooking is also a way to share these ideals with my friends and family.
So go forth, make a homemade pizza dough and then the pizza, and reflect on everything that went into this process, mental and physical! If your dough is not perfect to you, then hopefully you’ve learned something new! And I’ll bet you that it’s still going to be pretty damn good regardless.
Food from the farmer’s market needs little more than simple preparation. But why does it taste so good? Read on for more information about locally grown foods, the inspiration behind this salad.
Farmer’s market stands are stocked with fresh, local ingredients, often harvested that very morning. The food itself has spent less time traveling than most conventionally grown food that you’ll find at the grocery store. Not only that, but food grown organically, seasonally, and locally equates to more flavor due to their higher quantity of nutrients, made available through their growing medium. Food grown outside of its seasonality window is likely able to do so using GMOs and pesticides, which in turn damages the soil, so that the final product lacks those valuable nutrients. This is why you can taste the difference in a tomato from the farmer’s market and a conventionally grown tomato from a grocery store. This simple salad is all about amplifying the natural flavors that occur in these foods!
For this recipe, I’ve used two types of tomatoes from the SF Ferry Building farmer’s market: Cherokee Purple and Carolina Gold. I came upon these two choices because 1) I’m from South Carolina, so I had to try the Carolina Gold, and 2) I asked the vendor which other tomato he would recommend, and without hesitation, he pointed to the Cherokee Purple. So that was that!
The radicchio and pistachios are also from the farmer’s market. The basil leaves are from my indoor hydroponic garden (which sounds cooler than it is).
This combination of food is infinitely riffable, and could certainly be served with burrata or mozzarella! I didn’t have any on hand, and it was still divine thanks to the quality of the ingredients. The dressing would also swap out nicely with nearly any vinaigrette… the main point being the acidity. And if swapping out the vinaigrette, keep in mind that you want it to have a synergistic effect with the lettuce, so you may want to swap out the lettuce to match the vinaigrette in this scenario. This is essentially a simple salad paired with tomatoes, basil, and roasted nuts.
Here’s how this salad came to be: I started with the star of the show, the tomatoes. From there, I added the basil, because basil and tomatoes are always a winning duo. Then I hand-tossed the radicchio with the lemon-caper dressing in a separate bowl before adding to the plate with the tomatoes and basil. I finished with a topping of pistachios to give a nice hit of fat to the salad.
Slice tomatoes and arrange on a plate however you’d like, sprinkle with kosher salt, to taste
In a bowl, place the few handfuls of radicchio and add a tbsp or so of the vinaigrette, tossing with hands (to ensure each leaf is coated)
Add radicchio and vinaigrette salad to plate
Top with sliced or torn basil leaves and the roasted, salted pistachios
Grind some peppercorns on top
*If you aren’t a subscriber of NYT Cooking you may not be able to access the recipe. It’s essentially as follows: 1 clove garlic, ten grinds of fresh pepper, and 1 tsp of capers, and a little kosher salt. These four ingredients are pounded into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Transfer the paste to a bowl, and stir in ~3 tbsp of lemon juice, and ~5 tbsp of freshly grated parmesan. Then slowly add in about 1/4 cup of olive oil. From there, try with a lettuce leaf, and adjust as needed by adding more lemon, olive oil, capers, cheese, and/or salt. Tinker and try a bit on the leaves after each adjustment until you think, damn! that is a good dressing!
The first time I tasted lemon verbena tisane, I was at Chez Panisse with my love, Charlie. During this phase of my life, I was not drinking. I am so glad that I wasn’t, or I certainly would have completed my dining experience with a dessert wine over the lemon verbena tisane.
I thought I had never tried tisane before; but in reality we have probably all tried tisane, only called it herbal tea. Tisanes are simply an herbal infusion. Tea is technically only made with tea leaves (black, green, etc.).
The lemon verbena tisane was out of this world. Not only that, but I noticed that it had an overall calming effect similar to chamomile, which I always love. I later researched to find that it is a stomachic, which helps aid in digestion and in toning the digestive organs. Additionally, it helps to soothe anxiety and has a slightly sedative effect. I left Chez Panisse on a cloud.
When I came across fresh lemon verbena at the farmer’s market on Saturday, I knew I would be in for a treat making fresh lemon verbena tisane for at least a week.
I brew it just like tea in my tea pot. I strip the leaves from a couple of stems (though you can add the stem if you’d like), and add them to the tea basket. Then, heat your water to almost boiling, and pour over the leaves. Let sit a few minutes. The longer the leaves steep, the more flavorful the tisane will be. After a few minutes, you’ll likely become intoxicated by the scent and need to pour yourself a cup!
I made this David Tanis recipe yesterday, inspired by its seasonality and lovely colors. I didn’t know what to expect, knowing radicchio is bitter, but not knowing how it would pair with persimmons and pomegranate seeds. This turned out to be one of the best salad I’ve ever had.
When I headed to the farmer’s market yesterday, I thought this would be the perfect recipe in which to buy all ingredients from the farmer’s market and recreate. It looked so beautiful from the photo, plus I love the simplicity of David Tanis’s recipes. I confirmed that persimmons, pomegranates, and radicchio were all in season in California in early October. So, off to the farmer’s market I headed with persimmons and pomegranates on the mind.
There were a lot of pomegranates in season. Nearly every fruit stand was selling pomegranates, pears, peaches, pluots, plums, quince, etc., (I did pick up some pluots and quince, two things I’ve never had before yesterday!), but there were no persimmons to speak of. I asked around, and it turns out they won’t be in the markets for another couple of weeks. There are a few random stands out in front of the Ferry Building that I typically ignore, but I knew I had to check every last stand before leaving.
I ventured to the front with an offer of toffee from a vendor. I accepted. Then, my friends, I stumbled upon persimmons. I had actually never tried persimmons, so I told the man working the stand, and he let me try one. My initial thought was that it was not sweet, but had the texture of a soft apple. So there you go, an expert review of persimmons. I said that I hadn’t been able to find persimmons anywhere so far, and he said his stand was the only one he knew of that had persimmons right now. I thanked him, so relieved. I grabbed two ($1.50 each), and called it a day, and victoriously scurried back to BART to begin my (25-minute) trek back to Oakland.
Once I was home, I photographed all of my farmer’s market goods, because I am trying to be better at documenting my cooking life.
I promptly began preparing the lettuces by slicing and then cleaning them. Once everything was cleaned, sliced, and put away, I made a quick treat of greek yogurt, sliced pluot, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, honey, and cacao nibs. I went on a walk with Gary, because I’m not a neglectful dog mom. Then… I pulled up the salad recipe, and pulled out my goods.
I started by slicing the pomegranate. And it had been so long since I’d sliced a pomegranate, I had forgotten the best technique. So, I googled it and found this helpful video that did not disappoint. I was surprised to see that, for the first time ever, I had a pomegranate that did not have the deep red-purple seeds. They were nearly clear, with a yellow tint! I tried one, to make sure it was fine. It was delicious, maybe even sweeter than what I’ve had before, and I started gobbling them by the handful. But I had to show restraint because I needed them for my salad.
I first whipped up the vinaigrette for the recipe. It consisted of a finely sliced shallot soaked in red wine vinegar with a little salt for ten minutes. (Note: Here I differed from the recipe; it called for sherry vinegar. The red wine vinegar was more than delicious though.) The shallot is soaked in vinegar because it helps infuse the vinegar with delicious shallot flavor. During the ten minutes, I sliced the persimmons. Then I whisked in 3 tbsp. of walnut oil to the vinegar and shallot, and seasoned with a little salt. I dipped a radicchio leaf into the vinaigrette to test for needed adjustments, and I almost lost my mind. I did not think such a simple vinaigrette could become so flavorful and perfectly paired with radicchio. Radicchio is a hard lettuce to satisfy, not any vinaigrette will do, but this was synergistic, and I knew I was in for a treat once the salad was full composed.
From here, all that was really left was to assemble the salad. I first added the persimmons and coated with the vinaigrette.
I added in the radicchio, and added 1-2 tbsp. more vinaigrette and tossed it together. Once tossed, I sprinkled the pomegranate seeds and previously-roasted walnuts on top. (Note: the recipe calls for candied walnuts, but I had roasted walnuts already in the fridge, so I decided not to put in the extra effort there. It was fine.) Then I set up a photoshoot for my salad.
And that was the journey to create this beautiful salad. Now that I’ve made it, I will be buying persimmons, pomegranates, and radicchio whenever they’re in season. I bought walnut oil especially for this occasion, and I am so glad that I’ve introduced it into my culinary world. It has a nutty flavor that is so perfect paired with the radicchio, and I’m excited to use it in new cooking applications.
This recipe should serve around 4, but for the actual composition I’m leaving up to you and how much you want to add of each item — use this as a guiding point, but use common sense when adding in the vinaigrette. Don’t be afraid to save the vinaigrette if you don’t use all of it, and serve it with only the radicchio or any other lettuce for a simple house salad later. Use your hands to mix the salad with the vinaigrette, and only add 1 tbsp or so at a time into the salad.
2 ounces roasted walnuts
1 shallot, minced
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 tbsp. walnut oil
3 medium Fuyu persimmons, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 head of radicchio, or other chicory
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (OR MORE)
Salt and pepper
Make the vinaigrette: Combine vinegar and shallot with a bit of salt, and let sit for ten minutes. Then, add walnut oil.
Assemble the salad:
Toss persimmons with some of the vinaigrette to ensure they’re all coated. Then add the radicchio and more vinaigrette until the leaves are all coated and it tastes delicious (season with salt and pepper, if needed).
Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds and roasted walnuts on top. Taste again and adjust seasonings as needed.