Sassy Brassica

I know, it’s a stupid title, but it accurately evokes the spirit and delivery of this “instant classic” way to treat cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and their cousins. It originates with David Chang and Momofuku as an asian-y take on serving cauliflower which is NOT a traditional or widely grown vegetable in Asian cooking. This, from the Momofuku Cookbook, is the Creation Story:

This is one of the best Ssäm Bar dishes — a staple there since the late-night days and and fine way to dispatch either cauliflower or Brussels sprouts in season.

There’s not much of a story to it: we had a deep fryer, we had vegetables in season that we needed to cook, we had Tien‘s fish sauce vinaigrette on hand, and we were looking for a way to use boondi, a fried chickpeas snack used in Indian cooking that Tien brought with him from his days working for Gray Kunz. They all found each other, and the results were awesome. Sometimes it’s just that easy.

Later we swapped out boondi for puffed rice — which is what Rice Krispies are — seasoned with shichimi togarashi.

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Roasted Heirloom Tomato Sauce (again)

I had not intended to spend this afternoon making roasted tomato sauce; but here it goes.

When I posted my most recent eats story (Grilled Whole Salmon) I got a couple of nice comments on Roasted Heirloom Tomato Sauce written way back in July 2011. (Hey, heirloom tomatoes are in season this time every year.) We brought many jars of similar sauce when we moved from San Francisco to Reno, but they’re all gone now. (YUM)

That was on my mind when shopping at the Farmer’s Market. The heirloom tomatoes didn’t look very good, but I got enough of those and some Early Girls to maybe make a test sauce. It turns out a couple of the heirlooms went bad by Monday and I was a bit shy of a full dish, so I went out and got a sleeve of Kumato at Scolari’s. (Eric introduced us to this amazing hybrid tomato on his recent visit.)

tomatoes — including a couple Kumato — fit their roasting dish

During all this unplanned thinking and motion, I decided to make the sauce on the Big Green Egg (EGG). Perfect for roasting: 40 minutes at 400 degrees. And not only that… I can throw in a barrel stave smoker stick.

So, here’s what I did…
As soon as I decided on the EGG, and before my trip to the store, I got out a wine barrel stave smoker stick and put it in a baking dish to soak.

I got out the roasting dish I would use and put my tomatoes in to see what fit. I had about 4 pounds and they fit nicely. Knowing they fit, I washed and cored the tomatoes.

Light the charcoal fire in the EGG.

Meanwhile, add to the tomatoes in the roasting dish:

15 pitted Mediterranean-style black olives
15 pitted green olives
1 clove garlic, minced
15 basil leaves, torn in shreds
Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs thyme
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds

Drizzle the vegetables with 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon and 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar.

When the fire is ready, throw in the soaked barrel stave, place the Platesetter in the EGG, legs up and place the porcelain rack on the Platesetter legs. Put your roasting dish of tomatoes and stuff on the rack. Close the EGG and open all vents. Bring to a temperature of 400°F and roast until the tomatoes are soft, and collapsing, about 40 minutes.

ready to go in the EGG with the Platesetter in position, porcelain grate sitting on its upturned legs

NOTE: This arrangement of EGG equipment acts as a convection oven, the Platesetter shielding your dish from direct heat while allowing heat — and smoke in this case — to constantly circulate inside the EGG.

tomatoes bubbly and collapsed

tomatoes rest — note that the smoke has coated the roasting dish… that’s a bitch to get off… next time maybe a disposable roasting pan would work.

When the tomatoes are ready, let them rest a few minutes while you heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a wide skillet [green Le Creuset] over medium heat and sauté 1/4 cup minced shallots until translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

transfer tomatoes to pot

Add the entire tomato mixture and 1 1/2 cups dry white wine. Season with about 1 1/2 tsp salt & pepper mix. Bring to a low simmer and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes are thickened and the flavors blended, about 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool somewhat. Run the sauce through your food mill, using the disk with small holes to remove the tomato seeds and bits of skin. Add salt and pepper to taste.

tomatoes become tomato sauce in the food mill

pot is empty, food mill is used and sauce is sauce

Georgianna Brennan Note from original recipe: This sauce has a slightly caramelized flavor, with a hint of tartness from the olives. Its color depends upon the tomatoes you choose, although I usually prepare this with a mixture of the biggest, juiciest heirlooms from my garden, and the resulting color is a shade of darkish yellow.

second batch of tomatoes… this time about 6 pounds, all heirloom

Cooked again 9.14 — 6 pounds heirloom tomatoes from that “CA Peaches and melons place” at farmers market. When I put the tomatoes on the stove to reduce. I still had plenty of fire in the EGG, so meanwhile I grilled Steelhead Trout with the leftover fire. That was good. [The trout didn’t experience direct heat, but rather roasted in the “convection oven arrangement”]. It was dark by now, but I still had fire, so I put the pot back in the EGG to further reduce the sauce. Took longer than a Ken Burns doc, but came out looking great. Took off EGG. Stuck in fridge about midnight. Next morning, warmed and put through food mill. Yield, about 7 cups sauce.
NOTES: With this batch, I used mostly red wine and some white, used LO grilled red onions instead of shallots.

ATE a test batch of sauce on Somen noodles for lunch. DIS is good.

Tons Of Tomatoes? Ferment'm!

Tons Of Tomatoes

It is early September in Maine. Our garden has peaked and is now overflowing like a bucket set beneath a drip which can’t fill fast enough early on, then suddenly becomes overwhelming. Above is the third mass tomato harvest from our garden, most of which are about to be canned in quart jars which will bring our total this summer to over 50 jars of tomatoes…so far!

We eat tomatoes with every meal these days, mostly sliced fresh with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and olive oil. It is an embarrassment of riches in many ways, and I hesitate before I describe this menu feature as “monotonous” because I know that in a few weeks I will pine for the flavor of homegrown sun-ripened heirloom tomatoes…so I won’t.

Still, WHAT TO DO with the steady spill of this wonderful but terribly temporal torrent??? The answer should have been obvious to me, someone who makes their living fermenting food, but it wasn’t until Alison came home from seeing Mr. Fermentation himself — Sandor Katz — speak at our local food Co-op and mentioned that Katz had described a new idea that had just been brought to him: fermenting fresh tomatoes to make an a tasty and shelf-stable conserva paste that from them in an ancient and time-tested manner.

All I needed was that one word — conserva — plus The Google to find out how I could do this.
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pickled beets


roasted golden beets

I’ve written about beets from time to time, the first being April 2006, shortly after this blog was christened. There, I wrote about pickled beets, among other beety things.

Over the years, I fiddled with the recipe, the original was too sharp for my taste, too vinegary.

In September of 2011, I tried a new recipe from Mariquita Farm:

Balsamic-Pickled Roasted Beets
Adapted from Mariquita
A change o’ pace from the puckery Pickled Beets

1 bunch beets, roasted – about 2 cups
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ounce Pastis
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Roast beets. Peel and cut as necessary to fit in a POM jar.
(Unfortunately, POM changed their packaging, so that straight sided jar only exists in my cupboard… I still have 5 of them.)
Combine all the other stuff in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, boil about a minute. Pour over beets.

Those were good; clearly enhanced, but not puckery tasting. I used it with both red beets and the golden beets. I like both, and will buy whatever looks best.

That was about two years ago. I love beets and eat them a lot. I kept tinkering. First, I substituted White Balsamic for the “regular.” Then I substituted white wine for half of the Balsamic.

Now, that’s a good recipe. Worth publishing.

Marc’s Balsamic-Pickled Roasted Beets
Adapted from Mariquita Farm and tinkered with by yours truly.

1 bunch beets, roasted – about 2 cups
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1 ounce balsamic vinegar
1 ounce white wine
1 tablespoon sugar (I use brown sugar)
1 ounce Pastis (or anisette if you can’t find Pastis)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Roast beets. Peel and cut as necessary to fit in a POM jar or pint jar.
Combine all the other stuff in a small saucepan; bring to a boil, boil about a minute. Pour over beets.

Finally, Fresh Pea Soup Defined

Peas loving their own pods with a potato sidekick.

Old subject, new take…
My take on peas and fresh pea soup has been evolving over the years as chronicled on eats…


June 2006

Sweet Pea & Green Garlic Soup by Janet Fletcher, SF Chronicle — where chicken (or vegetable) broth makes the soup soupy…

May 2009

English Peas and…
in this case, pasta, inspired by Tom Colicchio’s book, “Think Like a Chef.”

April 2010
Fresh Peas and other fresh things… where I took off from a recipe sent by son Eric:

Fresh Pea Soup
“Here’s what we’ve been serving on our table recently. Recipes from Eric & Alison’s Tilth Table, November 1998 (From the River Cafe Cook Book)”

It is real good, but fairly standard, using chicken broth as the soupy vehicle.

December 2011

carrots x 3 + peas
I made this dinner back in fresh English pea season, but then got involved with going to Kyiv and so on. I finally got around to publishing it because the colors are so fresh and beautiful.

tri-colored carrots

May 2011

Fresh Pea Soup
I’ve been working on the perfect fresh pea soup for some time. After a few tries, I found one from The Washington Post that made some sense to me.

“A surprising amount of flavor can be coaxed from spent pea pods by simmering them in water.”

Why wouldn’t anybody think of that? Continue reading

Fabulous Broccoli

I’ve been thinking about broccoli since a meal at the El Paisano hotel in Marfa TX. The restaurant wasn’t great and the meal wasn’t great but the broccoli was fabulous. I bought some broccoli at the first Market after we got back.

First off, buy (or grow) fabulous broccoli, so fabulous that when you separate the buds, they will look great.

Make your favorite vinaigrette. For this one, I used 1 tablespoon Navarro Vineyards Gewurztraminer Vinegar, 3 tablespoons Stonehouse Sevillano XV Olive Oil, 1 clove garlic, sliced very thin, and shook it up in a used up Mustard Mistress Sassy Sensation mustard jar, a scant amount of mustard clinging to the sides and bottom of the jar.

Steam the broccoli until it is just right to the bite. For me, four minutes. I cool mine on a “cooling rack” I put over the sink; or you can plunge it in cold water then drain well.

Lay down your vinaigrette on a plate.

Arrange your broccoli on the plate.

Beautiful, no?

I warmed plates on top of the oven while potatoes baked.

Serve your broccoli. This is with a Fatted Calf Lamb Crepinette (with greens and pine nuts), plus a small baked potato and half of a peeled, raw tomato.


So fabulous that I had the leftover broccoli with a sliced leftover baked potato for breakfast.

Have a Cabbage Roll, Mikolai

Back in the days when “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was new — or at least recent, one of Carol’s favorite dishes was Chou Farci, stuffed whole cabbage.

Here’s what Julia had to say:

“To stuff a whole cabbage you first make a delicious [stuffing] mixture. You then pull off the cabbage leaves, boiling them until pliable, and re-form the cabbage into approximately its original shape with your delicious mixture spread between layers of leaves. Finally you braise, sauce, and serve it up, and it looks just like a beautiful, decorated, whole cabbage sitting on the serving platter.”

We did it — just that way — once. And what a presentation it was. But that method is fraught with peril. One thinks of a cabbage as orderly layers of leaves formed around a core. In reality, the layers have wrinkles that clench to one another, and are a bitch to separate without tearing. Second, putting the head back together and holding it together while braising is a culinary feat of some majestic proportion.

But I like the idea of meat stuffed cabbage with a nice tomato sauce to round out the flavors. So we simplified to a wedge version. Cut the cabbage into wedges, let the leaves be connected at the core, stuff your meat mixture between the leaves, braise and sauce, etcetera. Not as impressive a presentation, but easier by a factor of about 10, and tastes about the same… and nice looking in its own way.

Fast forward to 2010. Influenced by our Ukranian daughter-in-law, we purchased the brand-new Veselka Cookbook, Recipes and stories from the landmark restaurant in New York’s East Village by Tom Birchard with Natalie Danford. From that, we made their version of Meat-Stuffed Cabbage, I call them cabbage rolls.


“At least one day before you want to make the stuffed cabbage, core the head of cabbage, place it in a large freezer bag and freeze. When you are ready to stuff the cabbage… place the cabbage in a large bowl of warm water to defrost.”

This works beautifully; the leaves are pliable and separate easily. Too bad, that in my opinion, the cabbage loses all of its flavor in the process.

Otherwise, the Veselka cabbage rolls are steamed, not braised, and sauced separately during serving.

Armed with that experience and information, I set out yesterday to make my own cabbage rolls. I looked to the more recent Julia Child and the master-of-technique, Jacques Pepin for their inspiration.

my desk with source books

my desk with source books

Indeed, there is a recipe for stuffed cabbage in their book, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. The dish is called Jacques’s Stuffed Cabbage, but its much like Julia’s Chou Farci from Mastering the Art. Whole head, deconstructed, stuffed and reformed, but Jacques uses different stuffing and saucing ingredients, uses the frozen cabbage technique, and uses heavy duty aluminum foil to hold everything together once stuffed. Good for him. He also suggests as a “Cook’s perquisite,” using the odd leaf and leftover stuffing to make “Jacques’s Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.” THAT’S the way I wanted to go. Continue reading

Happy New Year with Sugo and Sprouts

OK, over the first days of the new year, I’ve grilled Fatted Calf Lamb Crepinettes while C made this fabulous bar-quality Shrimp Cocktail


Grilled a perfect piece of swordfish


Slow-cooked a lamb shank braised in red wine and served over peas and noodles


(actually, a lamb shank is very dark and not photogenic after braising for about 5 hours in red wine)

So enough of the “special meals.” I wanted to do something easy and plain. That’s just why I always have some Fatted Calf Sugo di Carne in the freezer. (You’ve heard of that.)
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The black cod of FISH CLUB fame was fabulous, as noted. The extra bag of fish, sous vide, we put on a plate and into the refrigerator, where it patiently waited until Friday. No hurry, no worry… the fish is cooked and in its juices, it can only get better.ff_bag_o_fish
I had this idea of using it in a fish soup, where I could make a soup base and just lay the cooked fillets on top to warm.

A few years ago, I found a recipe in the NYT for Fish Soup With Fennel and Pernod. It is written in two steps:

make a broth,
add the fish.

Just what would seem to work for this occasion. The reason it was written in two steps had to do with noisy cooking before the writers put their baby to bed and quiet warming after. (What newspapers and mags won’t do to concoct a fresh and plausible story.)

In any case, this recipe will work for me.

  1. Prep before Carol gets home,
  2. take a break for a cocktail with C,
  3. concoct an accompanying dish,
  4. finish the dinner.

Carol has been on my neck to use the three ears of corn in the refrigerator hidden on the very shallow shelf over the vegetable crisper; out of sight, out of mind. Now what to do with corn to go with a fish soup?

I found a recipe for “Skillet Corn” from 2005 NYT Magazine story about David Halberstam in my TO COOK folder.

Put an oiled cast iron skillet in the oven at 425° for 30 minutes. Cut and scrape kernels from 8 ears of corn. Add 2T cream and 1/4 cup flour, mix and dump in the skillet. Bake for 40 minutes.

Sounds preposterous. No wonder I haven’t used it in over six years. No time to experiment now. But I do like the idea of scraping all the corn goodness off the ear.

“Real Creamed Corn,” — a playing with corn essay by Edward Schneider and appearing on Mark Bittman’s NYT blog — sounded doable and fun. I especially liked the part about “it made… a mess (yay!) and yielded a nice wet mass.” So there’s nothing to do but get started.

A two-step deal, as noted above… and the first step has a few steps of its own —
On the right, onion, celery, garlic and fennel pulsed gently in my little Braun Multimix, until chopped into a coarse paste.
On the left, the recipe called for:

1 cup canned tomato purée, prefer San Marzano
4 whole peeled canned tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, rinsed and chopped.

What the hell… I happen to have a flat of actual San Marzanos for my upcoming Tomato Saturday. I peeled and chopped four of those fresh babies. For the puree, I threw four more in the aforementioned Braun Multimix and whipped their ass into shape. This dish looks good already. Continue reading

Summer Stew and Le Creuset

Events and Discoveries

This just started out as Monday dinner. I bought this wild caught shrimp at Shogun at the Market on Saturday, and needed to use them. Since I found this recipe for Summer Shrimp & Corn Sauté last week and had it on my mind, I bought the fresh corn, as well. In this season, I always have lots of fresh tomatoes on hand.

I did the recipe straight and was not disappointed. So why write about a straight, easy, darned good recipe?

summer stew cooks

summer stew cooks

When I transcribed the recipe from the SF Chronicle (ok, copy and paste from the “e-edition”) I made a note to serve with grits, since I had a hankering for grits at the time. Today, I had a hankering for polenta (largely because Carol got a tube of store-bought polenta to serve with pesto last week, and I ate it a couple times for breakfast and lunch). I haven’t yet perfected my go-to polenta recipe, foolproof, good tasting, EZ making. Although I have evolved beyond the stand over the pot and stir for a half hour stage, I still haven’t reached the tried and true ingredients + method = results stage. Good time to work on it.

polenta cooks

polenta cooks

This time, I combined a Mark Bittman “Polenta Without Fear” (3 to 1, liquid to cornmeal) recipe with a recipe I transcribed from a Cooks Illustrated video (4 to 1, liquid to cornmeal). Basically, I added a cup of milk to the Bittman recipe (2C milk, 2C water; CI uses all water) and used the CI method: “Bring liquid to a boil with lid on, sprinkle corn meal into water while whisking vigorously…” I interpreted “vigorously” as “in a frenzy” from the video. Cover (Bittman doesn’t cover) and cook over low low heat for 1/2 hour, whisking every 5 minutes. (Note: you see a wooden spoon in the picture. That was for final stirring, I used a strong whisk for the initial whisking.) Continue reading