Monthly Archives: December 2010

EVE OF HOT POT

Hot pot is a culinary Chinese tradition that can be interpreted in an infinite number of ways. In our family, we tend to keep things simple and spicy. Every year, instead of anticipating Christmas morning with an overstuffed turkey and the requisite side dishes, we usher in the holidays with a festive Christmas eve meal of hot pot.

Heaping platters of finely sliced raw meats — including lamb, chicken, beef, or pork – are placed alongside plates of raw seafood like shrimp or fish. The tissue-thin slivers of raw meat — the thinner the cut, the faster (and better) it cooks – are poached in a tiny mesh basket that is carefully lowered into a hot pot full of bubbling water.  A variety of other aromatics, including snow peas, rice noodles, sprouts, mushrooms, lettuce and spinach, also flavor the broth. Finally, the cooked meats and vegetables are doused in our homemade savory peanut-sesame dipping sauce, and carefully tucked into a pita-like toasted Chinese bread.

At our house, the piping-hot bites are punctuated with ceramic cups filled with dangerously potent Chinese sorghum whisky. At the close of the meal, the reduced hot pot broth is ladled out like soup and slurped down with plenty of hot sauce. I’d choose it over a plate of dried-out turkey any day.

BURRITO HOMECOMING

Ah, the breakfast burrito. Pannikin’s iteration isn’t the best or most authentic, but it was pretty damn good. I like mine with lots of hot sauce, too many double espressos, one halved, toasted pumpkin muffin (more like cake), and the latest issue of Wire (good Invisible Jukebox with William Bennett).

One of the best parts of coming home is eating proper Southern Californian-style Mexico food. We already gorged on the overwhelmingly large ”Surf ‘n’ Turf” burrito from Lucha Libre (basically a California burrito — that’s tender carne asade and avocado with salty french fries nestled adjacent — but with sauteed shrimp thrown in the mix), and next on our list is the requisite trip to Marisco’s for their unbelievable $1 fish tacos (though it’s hard to not make a trip to the Normal Heights truck and not walk away having tried half the menu).

MAKING THE MOST OF IT

Cooking with leftovers:

(Leftover) truffle on buttered eggs, over-easy.

(Leftover) cinnamon-spiced roast duck, with chickpeas, red onion + basmati rice.

SARDINES AND SO ON

Grilled whole sardines / lemon / mizuna / fennel / mustard

Pureed jerusalem artichokes / butter / scallions

Sliced honeycrisp apple / comice pear / purple carrots

Lunchtime in San Diego. In December.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

No trip to San Diego is complete without an extensive, wallet-busting visit to Chino’s farm stand, where they grow and sell some of the most mouthwatering and exotic vegetables I’ve ever seen in the United States (their strawberries, which sadly weren’t in season, are purported to be the best in all of California). We bought six huge bags of produce, some that I’ve never even had — huge stalks of cardoon, a bag of stinging nettles, some obscure mustard greens, Japanese yams, and more — as well as some favorites that I love, including thick purple carrots, unblemished jerusalem artichokes, fresh bay leaves, baby brussel sprouts, tiny chioggia beets, dinosaur kale, tender baby garlic, and treviso radicchio. It is one of the most unbelievable farm stands in the country. When we didn’t know what to do with the cardoon, one of the ladies at Chino’s whipped out a vegetable cookbook and let us read recipes for inspiration. I mean, that’s the best. The best!

We’ve been happily playing around with our shopping bounty ever since Thursday’s monster shopping trip, and one of our favorite dishes has been a stinging nettle pesto, which we slathered thickly onto warm bread and topped with salty salami. Because the stinging nettles are blanched for a few minutes before pureed, this pesto retains its glorious kelly green hue long after it’s made (most raw pestos, like basil or arugula, oxidize if exposed to the air and need to be packed with olive oil). After relaxing the nettles in hot water, I blended them (which smelled incredibly like steamed spinach) with some flat leaf parsley, toasted pine nuts, the juice of one lemon, some shredding parmigiano reggiano, and a drizzle of olive oil.

And of course, a trip to southern California is never complete without a hefty swordfish steak — one food that I really miss out on in the Northeast. Thrown on the grill briefly for optimal char and topped with a few turns of black pepper and generous amounts of squeezed lemon wedges, it’s one meal that really reminds me of home.

Happy happy holidays!

TRUFFLE UP

We recently scored a truffle from Alba. The smell of our truffle is so strong, I can pick up a whiff of its earthy, funky deliciousness from two rooms away. I don’t have that much experience with truffles, but I have learned that these things are very good with them: eggs, cream, butter, and mushrooms. To celebrate the delivery of our truffle, we made a deceptively easy pasta dish — just some fresh tagliatelle soaked in melted butter, a splash of cream, porcini mushrooms, and an egg yolk whisked in. Topped with extremely generous shavings of truffle, it was a simple meal that I’ll never forget.

[Tip! To best extend its shelf life (apparently they're best a few days after delivery), we stuck it in a huge jar with some butter and eggs. The truffle infused the jar's contents with its flavor, and I've been enjoyed truffled butter on my toast in the mornings.]

DÉPANNEUR LE PICK UP PHOTO EXPLOSION

Over DÉPANNEUR LE PICK UP I’ve posted photos from the incredibly fun candied fruits workshop with pastry chef Michelle Marek. (A million thanks to Adam for being a champ and taking the photos). It was a lot of work but I’m so happy we did it. The results were impressive, and the recipes have proved themselves indispensable (I made a double batch of the ginger cookies this weekend!). I’m already brainstorming topics for monthly food workshops at the Dep, although I’m worried that Michelle’s evening will be tough to beat.

Check out the photos from that snowy evening + enjoy!

MIDDAY TROUT

This meal is the perfect break from all the holiday gluttony — just a simple trout fillet, seared on high heat in some olive oil and duck fat, and topped with crispy fennel strings and plenty of fresh lemon. Served with cardamom and tumeric-scented rice, and sauteed green beans, mushrooms, and red onion. The key to a charred yet fully-cooked bean is to blanch the green beans for two minutes in salted water, shock them in an ice bath, and then add to a very hot skillet once the mushrooms are almost finished.

KEEPING IT REAL

Like many other people I know, I have sworn to give (mostly) give homemade gifts for the holidays this year.

At the Dep, we are currently featuring lots of wonderful DIY things — jams by Camilla of Preservation Society (I bought a jar of the strawberry jam and it is outrageously good, like eat with a spoon out of the jar good), oignons confit by Anthony of …An Endless Banquet (man, so excited to see what they cook up for their annual holiday party!), lovely hand-painted cards by March Hutchinson, and pickles (including pickled milkweed! and bacon corn!) by Sunny Stone of Comptoire… and my granola and shortbread! So excited to be lumped in with all of these talented folks.

Right now we have two kinds of granola: ‘naughty’ granola (pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, dried blueberries, cardamom, orange zest) and ‘dejeuner’ granola (almonds, dried raisins, cinnamon, flax seeds, sesame, applesauce, and maple syrup). We also have two kinds of shortbread: espresso with cacao nibs, and toasted coconut. I love them both! So for an affordable present idea in a pinch, please come by the Dep! [More photos and information at the Depanneur Le Pick Up blog]

LIGHTEN UP

It’s not always meat-cheese-cream-butter-time around here. Sometimes I even need a break. Sometimes I just need vegetables. I know. It’s shocking.

So after a month-long bender involving heavy amounts of butter, heavy cream, pasta bolognese, steaks, duck confit, and bacon almost every day, I was relieved to have this plate put in front of me by my awesome boyfriend. Navy beans (that he shucked himself over the summer!) tossed with my homemade pesto; tuna packed in olive oil + mixed with sauteed leeks; halved cherry tomatoes + salty kalamata olives; fresh sunflower sprouts; slow-roasted tomatoes packed in olive oil that he made at the peak of summer; diced green beans blanched and spritzed with lemon juice; a single perfect hard-boiled egg.

This meals appeals to the very best part of me: the part that loves snacking, nibbling + trying lots of little things at once. Every bite is different, but a nice challenge is to see if you get every bite the same.