Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fried Eggs with Sizzling Vinegar


Having a total flashback. . . Have I already posted this recipe? I sincerely hope not. I know I've never posted this exact photo, given that this is the actual egg I ate for lunch an hour ago.

I love vinegar and always have. Pickled anything, tangy slaws, sharp salad dressings, salt and vinegar potato chips, white-vinegar-doused collards, vinegary hot sauces, you name it. And I love vinegar reduced with a bit of butter—which is as versatile a little sauce as you could hope to make. You can use balsamic vinegar or wine vinegar, and it’s great on asparagus, grilled chicken, frittata, even plain brown rice. But this recipe here works best with mellow, smoky sherry vinegar, and it makes one of those absolutely simple, absolutely perfect dishes that is so delicious you could stand up with your eggy fork to sing a song of richness and clarity. The golden yolks run into the buttery vinegar to make something like a dark, ad hoc hollandaise sauce for the toast and white, and it is just as good as you know it’s going to be when the vinegar hits the pan in a cloud of jaw-cramping aroma. Plus, as an added selling point, it takes about 3 minutes to make. I would estimate that Michael and I, alone and together, eat this for lunch on 3 out of 5 weekdays, and have for years. And I should mention that this is how Michael started liking fried eggs—which he had never liked before. Ben loves it too, and Birdy doesn’t, but only because she doesn’t like fried eggs—not because of the vinegar, which tempts her. If we’re eating this for dinner, she has her eggs poached instead.


The original recipe is Deborah Madison’s, from Local Flavors, which is a cookbook that I find deeply inspiring around this time of year, when food starts coming in fresh at the farmer’s market, and also a bit later, when our CSA farm share comes on hot and heavy. I read the recipe’s title and knew it would be just my kind of thing. She uses a little diced shallot, which she adds to the pan when she adds the second round of butter. If I have shallot, and I usually do not, I add it too, and it’s wonderful—but really, you don’t need it. You do need the best eggs you can get (still, we’re talking about a really cheap meal here) and, ideally, sherry vinegar—although wine vinegar will work in a pinch. Try this, even if it sounds bizarre. And report back.

p.s. Ben is home sick and just fell asleep on the couch by me while I was typing. I cannot remember the last time I've seen him asleep during the day. Highish fever, baby face, no other symptoms. Is this going around?

Warning: some scenes may contain animals on the table where people are eating.

Fried Eggs with Sizzling Vinegar
Serves 2 (can be halved or doubled most straightforwardly)

Adapted from Local Flavors by Deborah Madison. If you can’t get great eggs… try harder. Kidding! Make it anyways, because it will still be better than plain not-great fried eggs, which, believe me, I still end up eating often enough.

2 pieces of bread
2 tablespoons butter, divided use
2 very fresh eggs
1-2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Kosher salt and pepper

Put the bread in the toaster and heat a nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Add half the butter, then break in the eggs and fry them however you like your eggs. We like them over easy. When they’re done, slide each onto a piece of toast.

Add the rest of the butter to the pan, along with the vinegar and a generous pinch of salt and grinding of black pepper (now is when you could add a small chopped shallot, which I so seldom use I don’t even mention it in the ingredients, but it’s good). Swirl the pan until the sauce is foamy and reduced some (it should like shiny but not like heavy syrup—not that it really matters that much), then turn off the heat and divide the sauce over the eggs over the toast. Eat hot.







Yum.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Boob-hoo

The breasts of a college student in my yoga class


have got me thinking about my own.


Sigh.

My hot yoga class, I should say, so as to conjure the appropriate image of myself sweating and barfing and toppling to the mat whence I imagine myself screaming away in an ambulance to be resuscitated somewhere with the paddles. Plus, the instructor who looks like Rashida Jones. Kill me. At least the electrolyte imbalance makes me a totally cheap drunk. A cheap drunk with breasts like white elephant trunks.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sc'up?

escabeche

Do you know escabeche? It's a type of pickled fish, but the fish is kind of fried and oily before you marinate it, unlike ceviche, which is raw fish pickled in lime juice, which I also love. If “pickled fish” doesn’t rock your boat, well, I don’t know what to tell you. I, for one, am pretty much living for the day when I get invited to Scandinavia (hint hint) and/or a domestic smörgåsbord (hint hint) so that I can eat myself sick on various forms of herring. And if you’re considering inviting me, but aren’t convinced of my dedication, I just spent an hour figuring out how to do those two special Swedish symbols. I will totally be an asset to your smörgåsbord! Or to your Scandinavian country! (hint hint)

Anyways. This is not a Scandinavian recipe. It is a South American recipe, which, according to the Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking, is from Peru. 
My note, which is from 1992, says, "exquisite." I appear to have radically departed from the recipe, I'm noticing, given that I flour the fillets rather than crumbing them, and have long omitted the raw onion and pepper garnish. Also the cilantro, which would be great, and which I will use next time.
And it is absolutely delicious: velvety fish fillets in a puckery, aromatic dressing that’s fragrant with bay and allspice. It’s a perfect example of why I sometimes like to follow a recipe—otherwise I just use various combinations of the seasonings I love most (smoked paprika, garlic, lemon, parsley) without stretching towards the less familiar ones. This escabeche is a recipe I’ve been making for years, ever since we lived in Santa Cruz and bought red snapper from Shopper’s Corner for $2.99 a pound. Also, ever since I inherited this cookbook.

Doesn't this cover really make you realize how much cookbook styles have changed? You just don't get that "Yum!" feeling. And then there's the back, which shows a bunch of aging celery, some brown bananas, and a raw rack of lamb. 
I was inspired to make it again over the weekend because we bought into three weeks of a Cape Cod fish CSA, and in this week’s share was: sea bream!!! Sea bream. The newsletter did nothing to attenuate my skepticism. “Sea bream!” it said. “It’s just so darned sustainable! There’s actually more than enough to go around!” “That’s just not a terrific selling point,” I said to Michael, “its radical underfishedness. Or this note—that it’s a by-catch from the squid harvest. Like, Oops, we got some sea bream! We’ll give it to those CSA idiots.” But really it was the name: sea bream. Ew. I pictured something gastropod-ish. Slug-like Maybe because it sounds like sea cucumber? Or because I once ate some bad urchin, and a friend said it tasted like brie of the sea? Which sounds kind of like sea bream? I don’t really know. Does it help that its other name is scup? No. Not really.

Scuptastic!
But do you know what? All was forgiven. Because a) the sea bream was good and fresh and supremely normal and it made fantastic escabeche, and b) we also got these:

I don't even want to talk about these anymore.
I know. Scallops are my favorite thing in the entire world. “What would you eat if you could eat anything in the world right now besides scallops?” Ben often asks me. And I’m like, “I don’t know. Scallops?” I won’t torture you by going on and on about them, because who can afford to buy scallops if the purchase is not offset by the inclusion of weird bottom-feeding trash fish? Nobody.

Escabeche
Serves 4-6
Active time: 25 minutes; total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Did Birdy eat this? No. Of course not. She ate potatoes and salad and a large pile of Feta crumbles. “You could be a pescatarian!” we encouraged her, and she said, “Yeah, but I hate fish.” Good point.

1 ½ pounds white fish fillets (snapper, cod, bass, hake, or SEA BREAM)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup water
1 bay leaf
8 peppercorns
¼ teaspoon allspice
½ cup wine vinegar, either color
½ cup flour
Black pepper

Rub the fish with the salt, and leave it in a colander while you prepare the rest of the ingredients—around half an hour or so.

In a large pan, over medium heat, heat the oil and sauté the onion and garlic until they’re translucent and just starting to turn golden, around 10 or 15 minutes.

Bring the water, bay leaf, peppercorns, and allspice to a boil in a small pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and the onions and garlic (remove them from the pan with a spatula or slotted spoon so that you leave the oil behind) and simmer for 5 more minutes, then turn off the heat.

Put the flour on a plate with some black pepper,  and dredge the fillets, shaking off any excess flour. Fry the fillets in the oil left in the pan, over high heat, until they’re golden brown on the bottom, around 2 minutes. Flip the fillets and fry until cooked through, another 2 minutes or so (if the fillets are super-thick, you might want to turn the heat down a bit so they cook through without burning).

Remove the fish to a platter and pour the onion-vinegar mixture over it, then leave it to marinate at room temperature for at least half an hour (cover it if it’s going to be longer). Garnish with something green (parsley or cilantro or chives or celery leaves) and serve. Leftovers are, possibly, even better.

Salted scup.

Scup ready to flour.

Dredged scup. (Now there's an appealing phrase!)

Frying onions.

And then back in time, before the onion was cut up.

Sea bream in a pan.

Sea bream on a plate.

But now it actually looks delicious, right? That's because it is.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pretty in Pink

Guess who there's a New York Times piece about! Well, yes, Mitt Scissorhands. But someone else too! One of your favorite pink-loving somebodies. And it's not this somebody either.

Yes, I'm  gorgeous and I love pink. But, ack, I'm a boy! Now do you feel like you're in a remake of The Crying Game?

Fun and Games (the police blotter version)

Of course, you wouldn't want your kids illustrating reports of drunk fraternity antics or any truly gloomy situations, but some police blotter items really lend themselves to illustration. Here are a few the kids have snipped and drawn recently. You know, for Mother's Day. Because we're sentimental like that.






Thursday, May 10, 2012

How to Have Beans for Dinner


Okay, so this isn't really a recipe, it's just some thoughts about beans, and about how good they are. Recently I said to Ben, "If you could only eat one regular food--not, like, sushi or lobster--every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?" And he said, "I'm not sure. Maybe pasta or something like Caesar salad. Are you thinking beans?" And yes I was. I was thinking beans. Because they are so good that I can sit down to a bowl of plain, perfectly cooked pintos and say aloud, completely serious, "If I got this in a restaurant, I'd be thrilled." And then I get the that's-nice-mom-shhh-there-there smiles from the kids, the kids who say, genuinely, "These are great beans," but who might not be inclined do a series of cheering back handsprings about them.

Birdy's beans.
We eat beans at least once a week, often in dishes like tamale pie or tacos or soup, or with brown rice, but also very often just plain, with some fresh bread or buttered toast or tortillas on the side and, maybe, a salad. But here's the thing: the beans have to be nice and tender, they have to be salted, and you have to put out pretty little bowls of toppings, which is the thing that makes everyone feel like they got to have their perfect plate of food.

Were you wondering about the pink blur?
This does not need to be fancy! Things I typically put out:
  • good olive oil for drizzling (usually I just drizzle it as I'm serving the beans)
  • diced white or red onion
  • hot sauce (Smoked Tabasco is a current favorite around here)
  • jarred pickled jalapeno slices
  • arugula leaves or cilantro or slivered cabbage
  • diced avocado (if we have it, which is only sometimes)
  • lime wedges
  • crumbled Feta (or other grated cheese, but the salty crumbles of Feta really are perfect)
And then the beans themselves, which are usually pinto beans, because they are the best beans in the whole world: creamy and delicious, with an almost bacon-ish flavor that I find totally irresistible. Plus, they're full of protein and vitamins and antioxidants. If you're using canned beans, plan on two cans, warm them in their liquid, and then drain them well before drizzling them with olive oil. But if you can get your mind around cooking your own dried beans, then do.

Ben's beans.
I cook a pound of beans at a time: I pick through them haphazardly to get out stones and shrively beans and old coins, etc., then generously cover them with water in a large pot (or my pressure cooker, more on that in a minute), add a tablespoon of salt and an optional sprig of marjoram, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Heat off, cover, let the beans soak for an hour or more, and then cook them. If you're boiling them, then go ahead and bring them to a boil and then cook them, covered, at a simmer until they're tender, between 45 minutes and 11 years. (I am aware of the controversy over salting your beans before cooking: this is another reason to get a pressure cooker, since un-tender beans will be just a dim memory.)

Beautiful, unadorned beans. I fish them out of the pot with a slotted spoon, but then I usually end up spooning up the bean juice and eating that too. Should I write a book called The Pinto Bean Diet
But really, you should get a pressure cooker. I swear I don't work for Presto--although I should, because there are no how-to videos on their site. But you can always go to youtube and watch one, and see people with various regional American accents preparing corned beef or black beans or lamb shanks, and you will feel Very Informed and Slightly Bored. Also, you will plainly see that there are no explosions. One thing I recommend, though, is keeping notes about cooking times inside the cover of your pressure cooker guide, because they are nothing like what the guide says ("unsoaked pinto beans" are done in "3-6 minutes" only if you're tripping and think the chalky inside of a bean better connects your living self to the earth's very crust). I pressure-cook soaked pintos for 12 minutes and let the pressure release naturally, and they are perfect every time. Black beans, however, I cook for only 6 minutes, and soaked large limas for, get this, 3! And chickpeas for 15. You need to add a tablespoon of olive oil or lard to the pot before you bring it to pressure (this keeps the bean skins from clogging the vent--not that there would be an explosion if they did). Measure leftovers and freeze them in labeled jars. This is all of my bean advice.

But really, I just love the beans.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Google Search Terms for benandbirdy

"hirsute children"
It's true that Ben has pink hair, and that it's very long. But, my gosh, he's not covered in it!

"poutine healthy"
Poutine, as in the Quebec dish? The one that's made of French fries, gravy, and cheese curds? Yeah. Good luck with that.

"pizza toast"
Well, sure.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Chicktons



Is that the worst name ever? I know. I’m sorry--I just couldn't resist the whole chickpea/crouton thing, plus it does have a certain Cajun ring to it, no? I’m also sorry that we’re going to skate abruptly here from the wild and icy canal of pink-haired gender politics into the placid rink of salad toppings. But you already knew it was like .

Chicktons! 
I love, love, love roasted chickpeas, and lately I’ve been adding them to salads instead of croutons. (Adding chickpeas, instead of croutons, to salad, that is. Not adding chickpeas to salads instead of adding them to croutons.) I crave the salt and crunch of croutons (which I have only ever made when we’re eating Caesar salad), but I’m so happy to be adding protein and B vitamins instead of grody dust and oil (the packaged kind of croutons) or yummy bread and oil (the homemade kind). These chickpeas can single-handedly (single-beanedly?) turn a salad into an actual meal. Plus, they’re ready in the time it takes me to wash and prep the lettuce, cukes, and radishes. Or, if we’re having Caesar salad, to sliver the romaine, grate the parmesan, and whisk together the mayo, garlic, lemon juice, pepper, salt, and Worcestershire sauce.

Romaine, arugula, radishes, cukes, feta, chicktons. Yum.
I am still using the odd tin of beans, despite my ongoing love affair with cooking them from scratch in my pressure cooker, which I do at least weekly. But I take seriously the worries, like Stephany's, about canned beans and the BPA (bisphenol A, an endocrine disrupting chemical) that leaches out of the can lining, and I would like to stop using them altogether. Food for thought. Speaking of which: how do we feel about dentists telling us to “coat” our kids’ teeth? Thoughts? Sorry. Salad. I’m sticking with the topic at hand. I am.

Edited to add: Eden Organics has no BPA in the linings of their bean cans. Thanks so much, rebecca, for mentioning that. Trader Joe's also appears to have no BPA in their cans, although they seem somewhat inconsistent about it. And Campbell's has pledged, somewhat nebulously, but still, to get the BPA out of their cans too. Way to go Stefany! But the teeth. . . the whole "my dentist says it's safe thing" doesn't move me, cynic that I am. That recent NYT article on early puberty in girls did mention, in passing, the BPA risk of dental sealants.

Chicktons
For general snacking, I do love getting them really crisp in the oven. But for salads, I love the softer crunch of these, done on the stovetop. Use a nonstick or well-seasoned pan, if you’ve got one.

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and spread to dry on a double thickness of paper towels
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste (but lots—like a teaspoon)
Garlic powder (optional)

Heat the oil in a medium pan over medium heat until it is medium hot. Add the chickpeas in a single layer, salt them liberally, and leave them for a few minutes, unmolested by you and your spatula, so they can start to turn a bit golden on the bottom. Now start flipping and turning them every so often, shaking the pan around, until the chickpeas are as crisp and brown as they could be without burning. This will take 10-15 minutes. Add a sprinkle of garlic powder, if you’re using it, then taste for salt and remove the chickpeas to a paper-towel lined dish to cool a bit before their introduction to the salad.

That's it! Except for the kind of grody-looking bottle of garlic powder I seem to be using and didn't photograph. Garlic powder gives me a little flush of shame. Thanks for loving me through it.

Nature's Promise to disrupt your endocrine function! Look at all those chubby little buttpeas.

They're crowded in the pan at first.

But they lose volume as they roast.

You'll need to taste them very many times to determine when they're done. Very many times.

Close up, they're kind of terrifying.

But look at them on that salad! Gorgeous.

I was feeding lunch to my friend Jennifer, hence the rings and pretty hands. Don't worry, my hands still look like your grandpa's.