saffron yogurt

It’s summer, and so my thoughts are turning once again to comparative literature icon, Yotam Ottolenghi, this time to his non-vegetarian restaurant book (called Ottolenghi).  Like Plentyand really most cookbooks in this genre, this book is filled with beautiful, glossy food porn set against spare white pages with black Helvetica text, almost as if it were an art gallery.  I have to say, as an aside, the use of Helvetica in this case along with the almost non existent margins and copious white space on the pages annoys me quite a bit.  It looks like the proof of a final book, not a final book itself.   Just sayin’.  (Also all the measurements are in metric, which is not a big deal actually)

Anyway, one of the benefits of spending some time cooking through Plenty is that I sort of have a feel of the kinds of things he likes to do, which helps make day to day cooking a lot better.  His recipes are written in a way that they allow you to take different parts and use them for other ‘applications,’ which is good since while the food is simple there is usually one or two extra steps involved which make the preparation less than completely simple.

In this case we have a saffron yogurt that he puts over roasted eggplant, but would go well with any kind of cooked vegetable, or on a  flatbread, or  with rice, or on grilled meat, and with many different cuisines.  Pairing it with fresh herbs is recommended, especially basil.  And it’s simple enough to not even really be a recipe.  If you don’t have saffron, please go out and get some.  It’s expensive, but a little goes a long way.  TAL got me a couple of small packets of saffron for my birthday last year, and I’ve used them fairly often, and they are not even close to being finished.  Really, all you need is a pinch.

Saffron Yogurt

1 cup greek yogurt

a few threads of saffron, crumbled up with your fingers

1/4 cup hot water (not boiling)

one small garlic clove, crushed through a press or finely diced

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil (or move)

1-2 tsp lemon zest

Juice of two lemons

salt to taste

1. mix crumbled saffron threads and hot water in a bowl and let sit for five minutes

2. mix yogurt and all of the other ingredients in a separate bowl

3. combine saffron/water mixture and yogurt mixture, and whisk.

4. taste and adjust salt accordingly.  You may also want to add more lemon juice (the originally recipe calls for only 2.5 tbs, but I think it could use more).

See, not even a real recipe, but simple and tasty, and good for pairing with all your summer farmer’s market produce, as you lament the excessive heat in your second story apartment.  Summer!

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seafood sunday: pan fried sesame tuna

Hoping to start/continue my seafood sunday tradition, I once again visited the West Coast Seafood stand at the Hollywood farmer’s market.  I can’t really distinguish good quality seafood from mediocre seafood (yet?), so it helps to go somewhere that I trust.  I bought a fairly thick piece of albacore tuna and some smoked salmon, both of which were excellent.  The tuna was also sashimi grade, so I could undercook and not worry about getting sick.

But what to do with it?  Here is a very simple recipe that’s probably very boring if you know how to cook fish.  My main inspiration is this guy/girl.  That person inspired me to completely copy their recipe, is what I mean.

Sesame tuna

tuna steak, 1.5″ -2″ thick

1/4 cup soy sauce

1 tbs Mirin

2tbs sesame oil

1tbs honey or maple syrup

1 tbs or more siracha

2 tsp rice vinegar

sesame seeds, lots


1/2 cup brown rice

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup or more scallions, sliced

step zero: first make the rice.  Add some olive oil to a medium sauce pan on medium high heat.  Add the garlic and a pinch of salt and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring (on medium).  Add the brown rice and cook for 1 min, stirring.  Add one cup of water, bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cover.  Do all the steps below while the rice cooks.  When the rice is done, stir in the scallions.

1. combine soy sauce, mirin, honey/maple syrup, siracha, and 1 tbs of the oil in a measuring cup and whisk briefly with a fork.  Pour half of this into a small bowl and reserve.  We’ll call this half ‘sid’.

2. Add the rice vinegar to the other half, and taste (to see if you like it).  We’ll call this half ‘nancy’.

3. Take out your tuna steak(s), wash and pat dry.  Brush liberally with ‘sid’.  Then cover with sesame seeds.  The best way is just to pour a bunch out on a cutting board or plate and roll the steak around, pressing to make sure they stick.  I also covered the sides of the steak, because it seemed like the right thing to do.

4. Heat a cast-iron pan on high for at least 5 minutes.

5.  Add oil and then the tuna.  You can add more oil if you want.

My steak was a little more than 1.5″ thick.  If you have quality tuna, I would do 2 minutes per side, then flip vertically and do 30 sec on each of those sides.  I did this while holding the tuna piece up with a wooden spoon and spatula.  I cooked it for slightly longer than this on each side, because I didn’t have this post to direct me. (The original recipe calls for just 30 sec on each side – so that’s really just crust and raw tuna, which is cool too). Transfer to a cutting board, and slice.

6. Spoon some of ‘nancy’ over the tuna and rice.  You can always keep the bowl of ‘nancy’ with you as you eat.

The general flavor combinations here – soy plus something: sweet, spicy, and sour/tangy works well in a lot of different preparations, and also recalls one of my favorite tofu dishes (r.i.p., vegan yum yum).  also enjoyable is the combination of the exterior of the tuna, which is crunchy, and the interior which is fresh and still tastes like the sea.  The fishy sea.  Fish.

cookie time: almond biscotti

Almond biscotti: practically a starbucks common place at this point.  But in some ways, the more common something is, the more impressive it is to make yourself, right?  Bread?  Whatever, the Vons loaves they have at 5pm are fresh and cheap and actually pretty good.  But bread-making, which basically involves tossing flour, water, and some yeast together and then hitting it really hard, seems like an extraordinary domestic feat.  Same thing with making iced coffee, or doughnuts, or cheese.  But such is the cooking-phobic world in which we live.  Unless you are depending on cookies as the cupcakes of the future, ignoring all signs that people are starting to prefer fried dough, with bacon.  But grad students are used to desperate, sub-prime risks, and so an investment in cookie preparation seemed reasonable.

So I made smitten kitchen’s almond biscotti (minus, OF COURSE, the orange liqueur).  They are very simple to make, except that you have to shape them into thin loaves, cook them partially, and *then* cut them into biscotti shape before the final bake.  Their recipe, which I won’t repeat here, calls for a fair amount of butter.  This has helped me really appreciate the versatility of butter.  Ok, yes, it make stuff taste good.  But it’s more than that.  In baking recipes, it produces fluffiness, lightness, flavor, longevity, and texture that no other ingredient could provide.  I love making vegan desserts, but butter has a unique and special place in cookie baking, and baking in general.  I’m sure ‘science’ will back me up.  So, I understand how not having butter could drive people crazy, like not having salt or something.

here are my pictures; not as good as SK’s I know, but I try my best, damn it, I give it my best

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washington, pt 2

More pictures from olympic national park.  Nature!

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Recently, I took a trip to Seattle, WA to meet my sister and brother-in-law, who live there.  My parents joined us too, so it was a family affair.  We went to Olympic National Park, a temperate rain forest to the west of Seattle, across Puget Sound.  It was actually very sunny, warm, and resplendently verdant.  I mean, it’s a rain forest.

There were trees!

There were mountains!!

There was the ocean!!!


there were no ducks!  I had been hoping that when we went to Dungeness wildlife refuge we would see some, because one of my sister’s guidebooks promised waterfowl in the spring, but there were none.  However, between Seattle and ONP, we did eat some. [EDIT: we ate food, generally, that is.  not ducks.  why would anyone do that?]

1. Art of the Table

The northwest really takes the whole local, organic, ‘rustic,’ farm-to-table new american thing to its most extreme form, if not always in pretense than in ubiquity (but isn’t a lack of pretense part of the pretense of these restaurants?).  Anyway, because their menu changes weekly, according to season or whatever, what I specifically had specifically is relegated to the compost bin of history.  As I remember though: tuna crostini with rhubarb, fish cakes, and a cheese plate with pistachios and honey (for dessert).  The last was really the highlight of the meal; the cheese I believe was a camembert and paired wonderfully, and surprisingly, with the pistachios.  Probably the best part was the wine list, which included a lot of excellent northwestern wines.  The names of which I can’t remember.

albacore tuna crostini

2. Michael’s Seafood and Steakhouse

Found on my yelp iphone app during the short periods in which I actually had a connection, we arrived at Michael’s  after a long day of driving and strolling through the wilderness for a 8pm reservation.  The people at what was supposed to be our table were lingering, most likely lauding at length the recent performance of their daughter in Oberlin’s production of The Vagina Monologues. Anyway, this meant we had to wait, which led my sister to believe we were not dressed appropriately for this place and my parents (and I, to a degree) to believe that our type just wasn’t welcome in such a fine, caucasian establishment.  I don’t think either was true, though I wished they had given my mother something free to put her less on edge.  ANYWAY.

We were a couple miles from dungeness, so I thought I may has well have the crab cakes and the salmon.  The latter was cooked perfectly, something I appreciate more now, and the former were probably the platonic ideal of crab cakes (which itself is not the platonic ideal of crab-related food nor of savory ‘cakes,’ but I digress (or do I?)).  If anything the crab cakes had too much other crap, sauces and vegetables or whatever, around it.  But it was good.  We finished with a heavenly creme brûlée.  I love dessert!

crab cakes, michael’s seafood

3. Carmelita

This is a vegetarian restaurant that blew me away the first time I went there, a year and a half ago.  So I was eager to return.  Sensitive to vegetarian commonplaces, the first time I visited I was impressed with their creativity and with the depth and complexity of their dishes.  I was a little less impressed this time, but it was still the culinary highlight of the trip.  I started with the ‘smitten,’ described as “Old Overholt rye, Lucid absinthe, Plymouth sloe gin, rosemary syrup, lemon.”  For a rye drink, it was extremely bright with only hints of sweetness and rosemary.  It looked pretty too:

Smitten -Old Overholt rye, Lucid absinthe, Plymouth sloe gin, rosemary syrup, lemon @ Carmelita

Great way to start the meal.  We continued with the mezze pate, a sort of vaguely middle eastern appetizer, which consited of “Fava bean falafel, tahini sauce, tzatiki, romesco, marinated olives, house-pickled fruits & vegetables, Spanish Mahón – cow’s milk cheese, housemade pita.”  Delicious.  Third best thing of the evening.  I love pickled vegetables, so that was a hit with me.  The cheese was high quality and the cumin-encrusted pita bread was perfect for the various spreads.  Then I got the artichoke pesto pizza.  It was good, though not as sumptuous as the gruyere and spinach buckwheat crepe that my mother had.  The pièce de résistance, in any case, was the dessert we ordered, which was a “Macadamia nut & vanilla Pot de Créme, cardamom candied tuille.”  First of all, I love any hint of cardamom in any dessert.  Second, this custard was somehow both effervescent and substantial, rich in flavor but not overpowering.  It really put everything over the top.  Plus I just kind of like the vibe to these sort of vegetarian restaurants, their inconspicuously haute novelle-amérique style notwithstanding.

Macadamia nut & vanilla Pot de Créme, cardamom candied
tuille – Carmelita

So an ok food trip, especially considering everything was paid for.  An even better nature trip, which, at long last, included the local ducks-of-the-week community at Green Lake park, in Seattle:

more pictures:

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butter poached shrimp

Continuing on what will hopefully become a theme this summer, I once again visited the fish stand at the Hollywood farmer’s market a couple weekends ago, and so had seafood sunday.  Alliteration!  So this must become a thing.  Anyway, I decided to pick up some shrimp (the last they had) because I had just heard this recipe/technique on the splendid table.  Popularized by Thomas Keller for American audiences, it’s basically cooking shrimp in butter, as the name would imply.  The ‘trick’ though is to not heat the butter to a point where the fats do not separate from the water.  It even has a name, in French no less: beuure monté.  It’s so simple I don’t really know how it qualifies as a sauce, and in fact I’m beginning to think that this whole ‘complicated french sauces’ is a huge racket.  In any case, it indeed produces very tasty shrimp (how could it not?).  I didn’t make it with grits, as per the recipe, but rather made a risotto with saffron and bitter greens.  When I make this again I’ll just have it with rice cooked maybe with some garlic, because the creaminess of the sauce is more than enough, and the whole thing is quite filling before you add in a heavier risotto.

In typical lazy fashion, I will simply link to the recipe.  Here.

The process is really quite simple: In a smallish pan, heat up a tablespoon of water on medium, and then start adding 1-tablespoon chunks of butter, stirring continually and on medium heat to make sure it doesn’t get too hot and separate.  If you are cooking for just yourself, one stick of butter should be more than enough (you’re not going to actually ingest all of that – it’s just the poaching liquid).  Maintain temperature at 170 ℉.  Good luck reading that accurately with a thermometer; really just watch it to make sure it’s not starting to simmer.  Add the shrimp and cook for 4-5 minutes.  I had very large shrimp, so I cooked them on each side for maybe 3 minutes.  I would think smaller shrimp would cook faster, without the need for turning.

See, I’m not so lazy.  There’s your recipe.  Another trip to The French Laundry averted! (right now they seem to be doing butter poached lobster (using, actually, a different technique) with Belgian Endive, Navel Orange, Marcona Almonds, Cilantro Shoots.  Anyway throw all that shit on the plate and it’s probably the same as what you’ll get there.  More or less.)

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plant update

I recently went to the Huntington plant sale with VH and W.  Supposedly there were many obscure varieties of plants that one cannot find elsewhere, but what do I know, I just pick things that look nice.  My succulent collection had grown a bit stagnant, partially due to my inability to grow plants and also because I didn’t really have enough and the ones I had were in the wrong kind of pots.  I think one got a disease and died quickly.  But enough of these somber thoughts.  On to the new ones.

1. Gollum Jade

Like the Lord of the Rings character?  YES, my precious, like the Lord of the Rings character!  There is also such a thing as a “hobbit” jade, which has leaves that are more flat, while these are tubular.  Though humble now, it looks as it will grow in surprising, gravity defying ways without requiring repotting.  “Young plants will quadruple in size in one year only.”  How exciting.

2. pachyphytum glutinicaule

This is a very funny looking plant.  Doofy.  I’ll go with doofy.   It should have a more common name, no?  Shouldn’t all plants have common names?  Possibly it does have one, which is “moran,” but I can’t tell for sure.  Moran would be a good name in any case.  Anyway I really like this one.  I can’t find too much more (interesting) information about it though.  Very mysterious.

3. crassula arborescens undulatifolius

I think my favorite.  I love the curling but stiff leaves with the red tint (because of sun exposure).  “Undulating,” says one grower.  It is also a “comparatively recent discovery, first described by Toelken in 1974, known only from the southern parts of the Klein Winterhoek Mountains in the eastern Cape Province,” growing near jade plants.  Learn something new everyday.  Also Toelken is sort of like Tolkien and thus continues our lord of the rings theme.

Most exciting, however, is not a plant I bought but one that I’ve had for 1.5 years.  Drumroll…my orchid is blooming!  I have no idea what I did to make this happen.  When I first got this plant some of the flowers were in bloom and there were many buds on two different spikes.  The flowers and buds rapidly fell off and I was left with a(nother) sad looking orchid plant.  Well now it’s blooming.

Thus ends the plant update.

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