Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Weirdly Addictive Tortilla Pizza

When I was eating only flax groats and soaked linen last month, I craved pizza. This is not especially unusual because I love pizza. I love it more than my kids do. Basically every dinnertime I consider ordering a pizza, but rarely do because I like to keep it as my ace in the hole, for the nights when it all goes to shit around here. Anyways, it wasn’t generalized hunger I was experiencing. It was hunger for pizza. And not just pizza toast either, although I would have settled.

This was around the same time that Ben and I checked out Kenji Lopez-Alt’s book, The Food Lab, which is the book version of his long-running recipe-science column on Serious Eats. The column is terrific, and I have found the recipes to be careful and reliable. They have a little of that Cooks’ Illustrated obsessive perfectionism about them, but they’re more “lard turns out to be the best frying medium” and less “first we fried it in honey and it was a disaster.” (Sorry for the Cooks’ Illustrated inside joke.) Anyhoo, we made Kenji’s mac and cheese from the book, which is fantastic, but it has a stick of butter and 1 ½ pounds of cheese in it, so it fucking better be fantastic is how I feel about a recipe like that. But this recipe below, adapted from the website, is everything I love in a recipe: utter genius simplicity that results in something a thousand times better than the sum of its parts. As a pizza experience, it is uncannily satisfying.

Kenji calls this “Extra-Crispy Bar-Style Tortilla Pizza,” leading me to believe that bar pizza is a phenomenon I have missed entirely, frequenting bars infrequently, as I do. But it’s just brilliant, for some reason, even though you’re going to see right away that what this is is just an open-face quesadilla. There’s something about the way the cheese crusts at the edges, though. Or the way the whole thing bubbles up. Or the way its is simultaneously crisp-bottomed and tender-topped. 

The four of us ate nine of them in two days, and even though I had to make them one at a time, it was still quick. Michael put ham and pineapple on his; Birdy used corn kernels and fresh garlic; I did a green-olive one and a spinach one and some different ones for Ben to ease his rapacious starvingness. 

They were all perfection.

Birdy's snow-day companion.
Weirdly Addictive Tortilla Pizza
Kenji does not recommend whole-wheat tortillas, but that’s what we have and like to use, and I can’t imagine it being better with white. But I do think you need a cast-iron skillet for this. Definitely please don’t use non-stick, because toxic broiling fumes! A note about the sauce: I use either tomatillo salsa or crushed tomatoes seasoned with a little olive oil, salt, and garlic powder, but you can use whatever pizza or pasta sauce you like best. Oh, also, Kenji adds in some parmesan, but I have not bothered with this yet. I’m sure it would be delicious, though.

Olive oil
1 whole-wheat tortilla
¼ - ½ cup sauce
½ - 1 cup shredded cheese: supermarket mozzarella (I like whole-milk, either Polly-O or Trader Joe's) Monterey Jack, or a blend
Toppings: any of the usual suspects, including the regular meats and veggies, plus corn kernels and spinach leaves

Adjust your oven rack 6 to 8 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler.

Bloop a tiny bit of oil into a cast-iron skillet (one big enough for your tortilla to fit in) and heat it over high heat until it shimmers. Turn the heat to low, wipe  out the extra oil with a paper towel, and put the tortilla in.

Spoon on some sauce and spread it all the way to the edges, then add cheese, also all the way to the edges, and toppings (some toppings, such as spinach leaves, should go under the cheese; others can go on top like the word “toppings” suggests). You really want some cheese to come into contact with the hot pan. For some reason, my children call this part of a quesadilla or grilled-cheese sandwich "cheese crusto." But the accent is inexplicably on the second syllable: crus-TOH.

Turn the stove off and put the pan under the broiler for 2 to 4 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and, if you like, browning. Use a spatula to peek underneath and get a feel for the situation of the tortilla. If it is floppy and not browned on the bottom, put it back over medium heat on the stovetop for a minute or two or three, until it is perfect. Slide onto a cutting board (you might want to use a spatula to first release the melted cheese at the edges), then cut and serve.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fall-to-Pieces Ribs

Ah, kale.
As I suspect you know about me, I’m the kind of person who gorges on kale shakes and soaked almonds and air for three weeks and then, on day 22, I ease off my cleanse with friends at a great bar over a platter of French fries and a platter of nachos and a glass of Zinfandel and a beer. Then, on day 23, at my parents’ house, I virtuously eat a bucket of mashed potatoes, a pork chop the size of my own head, and a very small regular-sized bottle of good chianti. On day 24, we braved 25 inches of snow to walk 34 blocks so that I could eat a Shake Shack fried-chicken sandwich and cheese fries and, because I am virtuous, have long, noisy slurps of everyone’s Heath Bar shake without being a glutton and getting one of my own. “You have a real letter-of-the-law approach to your cleanse being done,” Birdy observed mildly. She did not mention the breach of my alleged vegetarianism that I had taken up partly in solidarity with her and partly because of all the YouTube videos of goats laughing and cows talking existentially about death and marine mammals singing their babies to sleep.

Anyhoo. This is a recipe that is not new, but that I have never posted here, and it is time. Yes, in the spirit of renewed gluttony, it is time. It might be my best-ever recipe. If you like ribs, you cannot not like these ribs. They are even better than the other ribs I have written about, although they are similar. Annoyingly, Michael and Ben slop gloppy sweet barbeque sauce on them, and, sure, feel free. But they’re so good just how they are: dry-rubbed, long-cooked, and mopped with smoke-addled vinegar; not sweet or sticky, but salty, tangy, and falling completely and utterly off the bone into porky sheets and shreds. 

They taste like they spent time in a barbeque pit—but they didn’t. They just hung out in the oven for half the day while you more or less ignored them. In that way, this recipe is in the spirit of a slow cooker, without actually using one—and you get the guilty winter pleasure of having the oven on for hours and hours, warming your kitchen cozily.

Fall-to-Pieces Ribs
Serves 3-8 (depending on the gluttony factor)

A couple of things: baby back are fattier and cook a little more quickly (and sound somehow friendlier) but St. Louis ribs, which is what I’m using here, are meatier and possibly even tastier. I like them both—get whatever’s on sale, or whichever look better. If you have time—and I don’t imagine you do—coat these ribs with the rub, and then let them sit in the fridge for a day or two. I almost never plan that far ahead, but they’re even more insanely good that way. Finally: liquid smoke. I know it’s like the artificial flavoring of the barbecue world, but in its defense, it is a natural product, and it really adds a certain wonderful smoky something here. Also, it’s cheap. Get some!

This recipe can be very easily halved or multiplied.

2 large, meaty racks of baby back or St. Louis ribs (2-2 ½ pounds each)
1 tablespoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 teaspoon celery seeds
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoons granulated garlic (aka garlic powder)
1/2 cup white vinegar mixed with 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon liquid smoke

Make the rub: mash the celery seeds and salt together with a mortar and pestle until the celery seeds looked pretty powdery (or else use celery salt and cut back on the salt a bit). Add the paprika and garlic powder, and stir together well.

Lay each rack of ribs on a large, rimmed baking sheet (I put them on parchment for easier clean-up), then sprinkle them all over with the rub, massage it into both sides. Refrigerate them for a few hours (overnight is ideal) if you can spare the time, otherwise, go ahead and pop them in a 275 oven to bake for 3-4 hours (or 4-5 for St. Louis). The longer the better: you want all the fat and connective tissue melted so that the ribs are falling apart. If at any point the ribs seem to be browning excessively, turn the heat down to 250.

When you suspect that that the ribs are about an hour from being done, brush the vinegar mixture all over the ribs every 15 minutes or so.

When the ribs are truly and totally falling apart (try to lift the rack with a pair of tongs and see if it wants to come apart) they’re done. Use a sharp, heavy knife to cut the racks into individual ribs, give them one last brush with the remaining vinegar mixture, and serve with lots of napkins. (And, if people require, with bottled sauce. Sigh.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Crazy (Good) Latte

You'd drink that, right?
Okay, okay. It’s almost over. I’ll be back next week, soaking my feet in a tub of beer and melted cheese like a normal person. I promise. But I want to share one last weird thing, and it’s this not uncaffeinated morning beverage. As you may know, I’m a huge fan of the placebo effect. I feel like it works beautifully, even if I’m aware of it being the placebo effect, because my brain is excellent at making up its own crazy ideas and exuberantly disseminating them throughout my body. 

Birdy's the kind of person who sits after dinner shredding a clementine peel into a million tiny pieces, and you don't think anything of it until later you go to clear the table and see this. It's like a performative speech act, in citrus.
So. Does the latte really give you enough good, clean energy to bounce off the walls and skip into the library and concentrate on your work? And then not even be tired later? Yes. Or: I’m convinced that it does, and so it does. Plus, it’s creamy and a little bit sweet and deliciously bitter, with just the barest whiff of green tea’s driftwood-and-rotting-seal-corpse aroma. And there is caffeine in it. The “good kind.” Or whatever.
I got the idea for the latte from this book The Plantpower Way, which I checked out of the library and which stars a large and lovely Los Angeles houseful of vegan ultramarathoners who are so fit and attractive that you kind of meanly want to send them a package of anonymous Ding Dongs in the mail. Because you’re small like that. But I like looking at the book and getting healthy ideas and acute house envy from it. Plus, whenever the kids feel like I sound nuts on my cleanse, I can read aloud sentences like, “Optimize the many benefits of kale by massaging it with loving intentions,” and then they realize that there’s a solid tradition of vibrant craziness supporting my dietary choices, and that my outbursts—“This green olive is the most fantastic thing I have ever eaten!” or “But I can’t culture the cashews until the rejuvelac is done fermenting!”—are relatively benign, or at least have some context.

p.s. I wrote this!

"No, actually, this. I mean, that green olive was great, but *this* is the best thing I have ever eaten." Miso and avocado on a rice cake with a squeeze of lemon. Right? (Okay, it's no brown-butter lobster roll, but it is seriously good.)

Crazy (Good) Latte
Matcha is a powdered Japanese green tea with reputed health benefits. I hate it, but love how it makes me feel. You could substitute a cup of brewed coffee for the matcha and water, and, yes, this would be a morally inferior drink, but you’d still get all the wonderful nutrients from the date, nuts, and cocoa. Or use just water and call it “hot cocoa” and it will be delicious.

1 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder (Or cacao, if spelling it that way and spending a thousand extra dollars on it makes you feel happy. I actually bought some, and it made me feel like a Portlandia character, yes, but not especially happy. But now I sound like my dad, who says things like, “As far as I can tell, the organic apples taste exactly the same.” I think there may indeed be health benefits to cacao's rawness.)
1 pitted date (decadent!)
1 heaping tablespoon raw almonds or raw cashews, ideally soaked in water overnight
1 teaspoon matcha (powdered Japanese green tea)
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
A few drops almond extract (optional)
1 cup freshly boiled water

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend on high until fully blended and frothy, about two minutes, if you blender can take it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Clean Green Soup

Thank you so much for your interest in the cleanse. (Maybe I should have started this post “Dear Sirs.”) I won’t go on at length about the details of it, because if you’re going to follow one in an orthodox way, you should probably check a book out of the library or sign up with a website or something. But I will explain my interest, in part to dispel any misconceptions about what I think a cleanse is or can do. For me, the idea is not really to detox in some magical way, whereby, thanks to a few days of snorting cayenne or whatever, my cells release all their ancient heavy-metal alchemy experiments and my colon suddenly disgorges piles of decades-old shit it’s been hoarding in its nooks and crannies. No. It’s more about resetting my baselines with regards to my many dietary passions, which include, but are not limited to, bread and cheese, buttered toast, coffee with half and half, chips and crackers, pizza, cheese without bread, and alcohol in all its many lovely forms. I love these foods passionately and do not wish to permanently stop consuming them. But come the end of December, I need to take a break so that, later, I can really appreciate one glass of pinot noir and two lovely pieces cheese, rather than drinking the whole barrel and eating the entire wheel and then scrounging around for more. And also my horrible old-lady acne, and how it goes completely away while I’m eating like this. And also energy, which I enjoy buckets of. Sigh.

Thee years in, though, I have a few tips to share:
  •       Coconut cream (the kind you buy in a can at Trader Joe’s) actually does a decent job of lightening your horrible not-coffee drinks, such as Tee-cino or Roastaroma. Decant the can into a mason jar, and keep it in the fridge.
  •       Have on hand an exciting little snack that you love (this year it is Trader Joe’s Truffle Marcona Almonds) and a little something lovely that you can pour an inch of into a wine glass at the end of the day (Red Jacket Tart Cherry Stomp from—prepare to cash out your retirement fund—Whole Foods).
  •      Pan-fried chickpeas make salads, and life, way more festive.
  •      Raw cashews are your friend, especially if you soak them. I’ve made, like, a million versions of this "cheese", served it with these crackers, and have been completely satisfied.
  •      A little square of dark chocolate never killed a person. 

Look, it’s not for everyone. As Ben put it, “I think the only cleanse I could really handle would be designed by the good folks at Frito-Lay.” And I know you know this, but if this is all driving you crazy, click on the recipe index and find one of the many molten-cheese or molten-pork recipes that are lying around here. There are plenty, I promise.

Clean Green Soup
Serves 1

I wanted to call this “Smooth Green Soup,” to alert you to the fact that it’s really a smoothie masquerading as soup, but then it sounded too much like what my kids used to call, with respect to prunes and bran cereal, a “pooping food.” It is surprisingly savory and rich and delicious and, whether or not the energy comes from my head and what it thinks this food is doing for me, the energy comes. I really don’t presume you have sauerkraut lying around, but oh, if you do, it’s so good in here. I bet that other pickled things would be good too, but I haven’t tried. And if you’re eating dairy, a little spoonful of plain yogurt would be a lovely garnish.

1 cup newly boiled water
1 tablespoon mellow miso
¼ cup sauerkraut or 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 smallish handful each: spinach, arugula, chopped kale (3 handfuls of one type is fine; watercress would be great too)
2 tablespoons almonds, soaked in water for a couple of hours or overnight
½ an avocado
1 small, leafy celery stalk, chopped
1 garlic clove
Salt to taste

Put everything in your blender and blend until blended. (That is such a terrifically terrible sentence that I’m leaving it.) But I do mean really, really blended. Taste and add more salt if it needs it.