Breakfast Scramble – Seasonal Feasting


Last year,  we spent a few days in Portland and stopped by Navarre for a bite of breakfast. Navarre is a Spanish style cafe with Basque influences. In my admittedly limited experience it’s one of the best restaurants of its kind – or any kind – in Portland.

In the morning, Navarre does omelets, but they aren’t really omelets – they’re called scrambles. A scramble, apparently, is an omelet that is shaken, rather than stirred – an omelet that  does not fold neatly over a tidy packet of whatever-you’re-using-as-filling, but whose fillings are precisely chopped and dropped into the pan with the eggs, then folded about, hither and yon, ultimately forming a lovely, cohesive whole.

After leaving Navarre, I vowed to recreate their techniques for preparing this seemingly simple, yet beautiful and delicious dish. I  think I’m making progress. Here are a few ideas, a recipe and some photos to show you where I’m now at with this dish.

By the way,  scrambles like this make wonderful Breakfast for Dinner meals! Read the rest of this entry »

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Serendipity and the Beans – Green Beans with Vietnamese Caramelized Pork


I recently borrowed a large, coffee table cookbook from a friend – and Annette, I promise I will return it soon!! The book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, by Andrea Nguyen, is one of those wonderful cookbooks that offers not only dishes and recipes but core cooking techniques and pantry basics as well as rich insights into the cuisine of Vietnam.

It  came quite serendipitously, as I’d just gotten a ton – OK, a bag full – of just picked, gorgeous green beans from “East of the Mountains”. When we say “East of the Mountains” here in the Skagit County / Salish Sea area, we mean the Cascade Mountains, east of which are the fertile irrigated valleys that produce much of the nation’s apples, hops, sweet cherries, hops and much more. And green beans – and peas – East of the Mountains is the largest lentil production area in the country!

Yakima Valley Green Beans

Fresh Green Beans from East of the Mountains

We Love Stir Fried Green Beans

Many Asian cuisines have some type of stir fried or flash fried green bean dish. Often the dish has a bit of heat, a bit of aroma via herbs such as Thai basil and aromatics like garlic or shallot, a bit of darkness via soy or Kecap Manis (kind of an Indonesian soy based ketchup) or Nam Pla  (fish sauce).

Our own version(s) of this dish usually go like this – get some great green beans, put ‘em in the fridge. They are so beautiful that you are seduced, you buy them without necessarily thinking “what then will I do with these?”

And that’s OK, at least in our house, because we’re always up for a quick flash fried green beans-with-pork-herbs-soy-and lots of garlic. The general idea is to first heat a big wok. Now, by “heat”, I mean we turn the heat on under the wok and go off to play Words with Friends until the smoke detector goes off – it’s our timer. Then flash fry the green beans in just a T of oil, a little garlic, some soy and some pork until everything is seared and tasty and the juice from the beans + the added liquids makes a lovely light sauce. Serve over rice. The problem is that it’s tough to properly cook the beans and the pork together and it’s inconvenient to cook them separately. One great solution is to use Vietnamese Caramelized Pork with your flash fried green beans. Read the rest of this entry »

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Experiential Cookery – Savory Smoked Salmon and Asparagus Fritters. Or maybe they’re pancakes.


Side View - Asparagus Smoked Salmon Fritter / Stuffed Pancake

Side View – Asparagus Smoked Salmon Fritter / Stuffed Pancake

What is the difference between fritters and pancakes? What’s in a name? A batter of flour, milk, and eggs is common to both, although the flour may be amended by almost any additional starch, such as potato, and enhanced by rising agents such as baking soda or baking powder.

You make a pancake by frying a small amount in a pan to form a thin cake (a cake fried in a pan, aha!), which you can offer a slightly Continental flair by calling it a crêpe.

But it’s still a pancake.

You will typically serve this basic pancake with butter. Sugar. Maple syrup! Distilled fruit juices. You can even fill it up by folding or rolling it around something. Like bananas. Or blueberries. Or. . .Bacon!!

So that’s a pancake. If you dip a filling in the raw batter, then fry it up, voila! You have a fritter. Now this is – of course – more of a guideline then a rule, but you see where we’re going with this. My take, after much observation of fritterists and pancakistas is that:

If there’s more stuff than batter, it’s a fritter. If there’s more batter than stuff, it’s a pancake. Pancakes and fritters have both been around for a very long time – see the recipe snipped below. Read the rest of this entry »

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Recipes: Algorithms or Heuristics – Pad See Ew – Factory Style


Pad See Ew - in the Wok, almost ready to serve

Pad See Ew – in the Wok, almost ready to serve

Heuristics, Algorithms and Recipes, Oh My!!

Some people like recipes that are algorithmic – in fact, most recipes are algorithmic. So many tablespoons of this, a cup and an eighth of that, 14oz. of flour – cook for 25 minutes at 387 ° Fahrenheit – you know the drill.

The thing is - ovens vary – 375 in one oven is 352 in another, and one person’s fast simmer is another’s medium boil. A cup – sure, that’s a cup, but you know, the real way to measure is with weights, and my cup of flour might outweigh yours by 15-20%!!

In that spirit, I offer this yummy heuristic recipe for Pad See Ew. Fat rice noodles with meat and egg and gai lan (Chinese broccoli), dark soy, onions and a few other condiments, this is street-food comfort food at its best. OK, you can use broccolini. Or, if it’s around, you can even use broccoli – standard, beautiful broccoli – if you just cut the stems into long thin strips and split the florets into 3-4 pieces, depending on their size. Read the rest of this entry »

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The loving kindness of gentle eggs


When they won't drip off the fork, they're ready!

When they won’t drip off the fork, they’re ready!

Years ago, my wife was ill and – as is sometimes the case with sick people – was rejecting food. Too spicy! Too bland! Too crunchy! Too much like – food!

I have a strong feeding instinct and it was being balked. Then, as in a dream, I saw it – a savory egg custard. What sickie would not love such a thing!!?

But – a traditional egg custard would not have the texture I felt she wanted and I felt it needed a little updating.

I soon found myself in the kitchen making what we now call gentle eggs. Our son asked me what I was making that took so much stirring and I said something like “Oh, I’m stirring them a lot, but I’m stirring very gently!” to which he responded, “So – these are “gentle eggs”, then?”.

 

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Snack Food as an Art Form – Tortilla Espagnole


 

An elegant potato frittata - a national snack food!

An elegant potato frittata – a national snack food!

I was lucky enough to win the blue ribbon at our local Culinary Art Society monthly dinner gathering with this dish – a rich, elaborate potato frittata that is one of the most popular types of tapas in Spain today. I adapted this recipe from one shared by Bobby Navarro (100eats100days).

I remain convinced that it is not necessary to fry the onions in the large semi-deep-fry amount of oil (see the recipe below) that you’ll later use for your potatoes. Proponents of the “cook the onions in the deep pool of oil” note that this will give the potatoes a better, more onion-y flavor.

I don’t think so, but I was in a hurry, and so – I cooked to the recipe’s indicated technique. Next time I make these, I’m going to try an entirely different technique and will report back to you on how it turns out!

This is the classic Spanish tapas and is something you will see (we did!) at virtually every place in Spain where tapas are sold or given away. I’ve tarted it up a little with some good local chorizo and a little homemade sofrito.

I love how the Spanish have transformed snacking into an art form. In the States, snack food is a mercilessly commercial operation, where we are besieged with engineered snack foods designed to turn us into, well, mindless munchers. In Spain, snacking – tapas – is an art form that celebrates local ingredients, unusual and beautiful preparations and regional culinary heritage.

Makes enough for 2 tortillas, about 50-60 small wedges as tapas. Served with chorizo and homemade sofrito.

Ingredients

  • 3 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes (or use any waxy potato), peeled and sliced into approx. 1/8th” slices
  • 3 large sweet yellow onions, peeled, halved and sliced into very thin slices
  • 14-16 large eggs (depending on the actual size!)
  • 1-1/2 T coarse salt (I used Kosher)
  • Half a sweet red pepper, chopped
  • ½ lb. chorizo (sausage style, not cured)
  • 1 Pint homemade sofrito
  • Olive oil for frying, so no need to use expensive Extra Virgin, whose flavors will be lost in the fry!

Method

Put potato slices in a large bowl of warm water for about ten minutes or so to remove surface starch. Strictly speaking, this is not required, but it makes for much easier frying and a cleaner tortilla. Treat your potato slices like this and they will not stick to the pan or to other slices!

Remove from water, spin dry, then pat dry with paper towels.

Heat about 1” of oil in a good sized fry pan. Note: You can re-use this oil and not that much of it stays with the tortilla! It should be hot enough that an onion slice sizzles immediately after being dropped in.

Fry sliced onion until it begins to turn a little golden, about 8-10 minutes.

When the onion is almost done, add the red pepper and stir fry for another minute or so until the pepper has softened.

Remove onions with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined container. Try to shake off as much oil as possible from onions, and then turn them once or twice in the paper to make sure as much oil as possible is removed.

Using the same oil put about half the potatoes into the pan and fry them until they’re puffy and golden, about 10 minutes. Move them about a bit with a heatproof spatula or tongs, so they cook evenly.

Remove potatoes with slotted spoon, again shaking off as much oil as possible, and add to onion mixture. I like to put another paper towel or two on top of the potatoes briefly to remove additional oil, but it’s not required.

Repeat with remaining potatoes. Sprinkle with 1 T of the salt or to taste (mine is for a little bit more salt), turning gently to let salt come in contact with as much of the mixture as possible.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk eggs and mix with the remaining salt. You want to mix them a bit, but not so much that they homogenize entirely and get runny.

Mix the potato onion mixture with the eggs and fold in gently

Heat a medium sized nonstick fry pan and add a little of the olive oil from the potatoes. Add half the egg potato mixture and fry gently over medium heat, stirring a little with a spatula. When the eggs have just begun to set up, turn heat to low and cover the pan. Cook another few minutes until eggs are set, but still a bit loose.

Put a large plate over the pan and invert the pan over the plate, plopping the omelet into the plate. CAREFUL, there’s hot oil here! Slide the omelet back into the pan and cook for another few minutes until both sides have been lightly browned.  As Julia Child says “Flipping anything is an act of faith.” Have courage – this will work for you!

Slide tortilla out of the pan onto a cutting board and let cool. Repeat with rest of egg potato mixture. Slice into thin wedges for tapas.

If desired, top each wedge with a little fried chorizo, add a small thin piece of manchego cheese atop each wedge, and serve on top of slices of baguette, cut on the bias and lightly toasted or grilled. Spread a bit of your homemade sofrito on each baguette slice before arranging the tortilla wedge – you’ll be glad you did!

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There Are Two Kinds of Cooks in the World – Stuffed Scalloped Potatoes Gratin


Stuffed, Scalloped Potatoes with Kale Salad

Stuffed, Scalloped Potatoes with Kale Salad

No. Really. Two kinds. And hang on for a moment, because towards the end of this piece, we’re going to talk about what they are. But first, let’s talk stuffed scalloped potatoes.

They are astonishingly good, you can make them in a wide variety of ways – they’re one of those dishes that can be elegant and mannered or real refrigerator cleaners. And I mean that in the very best of all possible ways. Read the rest of this entry »

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Boiling Water in the Ghentish Fashion – Alsatian Waterzooi


Waterzooi - served with parsley, herbs and julienne of lemon zest garnish

Waterzooi – served with parsley, herbs and julienne of lemon zest garnish

Waterzooi – Alsatian Cream of Chicken Soup

I’m not typically a joiner. I don’t buy lottery tickets – they’re taxation for the math impaired. I don’t often join clubs or organizations. But all things in life change and since we moved, I’ve been joining up right and left – it’s helped me build connections with our new community here on the island.

One organization I’ve enjoyed connecting with has been the local Culinary Art Society. There are a bunch of talented cooks in this group. Once a month, we get together around a particular food genre or theme, have judged dishes, desserts, unjudged dishes – and wine! Mainly we eat and drink and socialize a bit.

Recently, the monthly meeting theme was “Alsatian food”. Alsatian food?? Now, OK, I like to think I have at least some grasp of many major national and regional cuisines – after all, everything we truly know and love about food is derived from our great national and regional cuisines – cuisines that have evolved to a point of perfection over many years, often centuries!!

But I had no clue whatsoever – no insight at all into this particular flavor. I knew that quiche was kinda Alsatian and I knew they used a lot of charcuterie and and there was some kind of pizza-like dish, the tarte flamande, that was popular. But that was it.

So I began researching and prowling through my cookbooks and virtual sources. You know – it’s hard to find a really good recipe. I’m working on delivering recipes that are actually useful guides to preparing food – that strike that balance between offering enough information to really make the dish sing and offering too much information and losing you as a reader!!

Because I’d hate that – the “losing you as a reader” part – I work hard to make Calorie Factory recipes clear, interesting, and structured to make relatively easy reading, because the last thing you need when you’re working from a new recipe is to have to ask yourself – whilst perhaps elbow deep in julienned root vegetables – Wait!! Wait! What. . .???

Anyhow, here’s the recipe I came up with – it’s a synthesis of several recipes that I liked. Many Alsatian recipes call for beer or cream. I discovered that you can actually use both and it’s very good – they play nicely with each other in this particular soup, especially when you add them as described below in the recipe.

Oh and the name of the soup is technically Gentse Waterzooi Van Kip but really it’s cream of chicken soup – and it’s awfully good.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Where Would We Be Without Our Friends? Pissaladiere Nicoise


Pissaladiere with rough cross-hatching of anchovies, Nicoise olives

Pissaladiere with rough cross-hatching of anchovies, Nicoise olives

Pissaladiere is a French pizza. Its crust is most similar to Neapolitan pizza crust – but it’s thin and more cracker-like rather than thin and chewy. It uses no red sauce – just caramelized onions, olives, and anchovies. Quite a few anchovies.

I’d always thought it was a little bit of a pain to make and so, in my carefree way, I Never. Made. It.

And yes, this was a huge mistake, OK? But with a little help, I was able to overcome my lazybones attitude. Call it Pissaladiere therapy.

Sometimes the best kind of therapy is just hearing a friend say “I did this – why don’t you try it?”

One day my friend Susie stopped by with – count ‘em – not one but two Pissaladiere. They were steaming hot and so painfully delicious that we had a hard time thanking her around mouthfuls of crisp crust, gloriously sweet caramelized onions, tangy Nicoise olives, and anchovies, lots of anchovies!

“I was just making Pissaladiere and I thought you and Bonney would like some so I made a couple of extra pies.”

I wish all my friends were like that, don’t you!!?

“Susie, you shouldn’t have – thank you, they’re {Chew, Snorf, Swallow} amazing {Take second piece, inhale it}!! What a lot of work, though - wow!”

“Oh, they’re really not hard to make. It was just as easy to make enough for a couple more while I was making what I needed.”

Knowing Susie, she may well have knitted 3 scarves, a sweater and a doggie jacket while preparing the Pissaladiere, she is – amazing - that way, but I digress! The point is, she did it. Therefore, I could do it. And – by a leap of logic – you can do it!

Encouraged by Susie’s wild bound into mass production of Pissaladiere, I began making my own. I liked the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. I liked Ina Garten’s recipes. I ended up with something that took a bit from both these remarkable sources, to whom I bow down in the evening before retiring. And – you know, it turned out to really be not too tough to make. Read on – in a little while, you will own this dish! Read the rest of this entry »

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Factory Pot Roast and Roasted Root Vegetables


Pot roast gets a bad rap in some circles. “Diner Food”, “Boring”, “Old Fashioned”, “Gramma’s Dinner Choice”, and other, equally vile epithets. I’m here to tell you that properly done, a good pot roast is a sublime thing of joy. The aroma alone makes the house sing “Dinner is cooking and you’re gonna Love It!” and the simplicity and accessibility of the dish means most eaters will dive right in with no qualms.

I’ve made pot roast perhaps two dozen times in the past decade – about twice a year is my average. Last night my audience of critical eaters was kind enough to let me know that this pot roast was the best to date. Doncha love that “to date” thing – you could probably do better, improvement is always possible, but so far, this is the one!” But I digress. . .point being, they really really liked it.

And I know why.

I’ve tried searing the meat, not searing the meat, cutting the roast into pieces, leaving it whole, using flour to dredge the meat, leaving the meat undredged, using no seasoning other than salt and pepper, using a variety of different seasonings, using boiling water, using boiling beef broth, adding tomato, not adding tomato, cooking in the oven, cooking on the stovetop, cooking with X-ray lasers. OK, I’m lying about the X-ray lasers, but wouldn’t it be cool?? Read the rest of this entry »

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