Asparagus, And Then Some

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Picked up a nice bunch of asparagus yesterday from a not-quite local but nearby source. And, because I could, I decided to roast it.

Roasting asparagus is pretty simple, and you can turn it into an awesome gratin by just topping it with bread crumbs, or blue cheese or Parmesan, or whatever else you like. (There’s a discussion of this here and, as it’s asparagus season, you might also want to look at this Mini, if you haven’t already.)

But I happened upon the tiniest piece of guanciale in my freezer. When I say “tiny” I mean, less than two ounces; maybe one. So I took the easy way out. Peeled the asparagus (they were fat), and put them in a cast iron skillet with the diced guanciale, salt, pepper, and – because there was so little guanciale – a little bit of olive oil.

I roasted that for about 20 minutes, shaking the pan after 10 and 15. And talk about impact: it tasted like a meat dish. Made me wonder what other treasures are lying around in my freezer…

Posted in American

Can Real Asian Food be Mainstreamed?

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By Andrea Nguyen

[Andrea Nguyen, a food writer and teacher who lives in Santa Cruz, is the author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen and Asian Dumplings. She'll become a regular contributor to markbittman.com while maintaining the invaluable Vietworldkitchen.com. - mb]

Most sophisticated eaters don’t equate mall food and good food. And, despite my teenage love of Orange Julius and hot dogs on a stick, I’m in that crowd. But this spring, my curiosity drew me to the Century City Shopping Center in Los Angeles — not just once but twice — to sample the fare at RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen. It’s not a food court counter, but a new 7,500-square-foot, 250-seat restaurant – opened by the Cheesecake Factory, of all things.

On both occasions, I chatted with Executive Chef Mohan Ismail, an affable and talented Singaporean who has worked at Tabla, Blue Hill, and Spice Market. Ismail is working on how to deliver honest Asian flavors, mostly Southeast Asian and Indian, on a mass level. What he has accomplished thus far turned my head.

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Posted in American, Thai, Vietnamese

Sunday Supper: Memorial Day Crab Cakes

If the ribs piece – my latest post on Kitchen Daily - doesn’t turn you on, and you’re not in the mood for burgers, or indeed for grilling at all, you might think about crab cakes as a special Memorial Day treat. These are my favorites, made with as much crab and as little binder as I can manage. They are very crabby. (Buy “lump” or “claw” crabmeat, fresh if possible, though frozen is a good second choice; pasteurized or canned are not as good, but still worth eating.)

Crab Cakes, Curried or Plain

Makes: 4 servings

Time: 15 minutes, plus time to chill

Adapted from: How to Cook Everything

I expect crab cakes to be mostly crab, don’t you? That’s why just about every addition here is for flavor or is optional—there’s not a lot of bread.

Other seafood you can use: lobster.

1 pound fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage

1 egg

1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (optional)

1/2 cup chopped scallion (optional)

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons bread crumbs, preferably fresh), or cracker crumbs, or as needed

About 1 cup all-purpose flour for dredging

Curry powder

2 tablespoons peanut, extra virgin olive, or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons butter or more oil

Lemon wedges

1. Mix together the crabmeat, egg, bell pepper, scallion, mayonnaise, mustard, and some salt and pepper. Add enough bread crumbs to bind the mixture just enough to form into cakes; start with 2 tablespoons and use more if you need it.

2. Refrigerate the mixture until you’re ready to cook (it will be easier to shape if you refrigerate it for 30 minutes or more, but it’s ready to go when you finish mixing.

3. Season the flour with salt and pepper and add some curry powder if you like. Heat a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the oil and butter and heat until the butter foam subsides. Shape the crabmeat mixture into 1-inch-thick cakes, dredge each in the flour, and cook, adjusting the heat as necessary and turning once (very gently), until golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Serve with lemon wedges and/or tartar sauce.

Posted in American, Recipes, Seafood

Semi-Traditional Tacos, Straight Out of the Garden

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By Kerri Conan

No one drives a taco truck yet in my neck of Kansas, but since the craze is contagious and we do have access to good local corn tortillas, I too have become an aspiring tacologist.

In this new science, those behind the wheel of the taco truck trend provide both our inspiration and some ground rules: All of our experiments will be delicious. We will be respectful of—but not hamstrung by—authenticity. And the toppings should be crunchy, colorful, maybe creamy, and more interesting than iceberg lettuce and Jack cheese.  Continue reading

Posted in Mexican

License to Krill

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By Casson Trenor

(Above is a bag of krill meal – not for human consumption. Image property of Infinity Baits, http://www.infinitybaits.co.uk/)

Two days ago, the gavel came down in an adjudication decision which may, more than any other recent hammer-strike, determine the future of fishing: The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) officially bestowed its blue-and-white fish-check label to a massive factory operator that targets Antarctic krill.

This is not a good thing.

Antarctic krill are tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that cluster in vast multitudes (known as “blooms”) in the waters of the Southern Ocean. They form a critical building block in the oceanic food web: small fish consume the krill before being eaten themselves by seals, penguins, toothfish, and other animals. Krill are also a primary source of nourishment for migratory whales — in fact, the majority of the world’s baleen whales journey to the southern ocean to feed on krill and replenish their energy supplies after depleting their reserves during their mating and calving seasons. Continue reading

Posted in Food Politics, Seafood

It’s Party Time: Make Dumplings!

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By Cathy Erway

My brother recently celebrated his 30th birthday. And just like his 29th and 28th, he celebrated with a dumpling party in his apartment. Friends showed up, having been told to bring any type of dumpling filling of their own, and after folding lessons and several rounds of pan-frying the party enjoyed “lasagna dumplings,” kielbasa and sauerkraut dumplings, and cream cheese, salmon and scallion dumplings, among other less-traditional varieties. We don’t think this is very strange at all: We toss out the books and invite any and all kinds of food combinations and cuisines inside a typical Chinese potsticker (guotie or jiaozi).

For us, there are no boundaries of taste when we’re making one of our favorite foods. We certainly didn’t inherit this inclination for unheard-of dumpling fillings from our Chinese mom, whose response to the latest creations was that they sounded “weird.” But I distinctly remember her squeezing out thawed, frozen spinach to chop into her pork dumpling filling, when she didn’t have the chance to get Napa cabbage from the Asian store. Nice one, mom. Now that I know to substitute with what’s available, I’ll make available everything.

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Posted in Chinese

Foraging for Fritters

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By Barry Estabrook

We live at the end of a gravel road named, appropriately, Locust Lane in recognition of the ancient black locust trees that line it. The recent spate of unseasonal heat has brought them into full, fragrant bloom. They perfume our entire yard. Our noses tell us that  it is time to invite the neighbors over for the most fleeting foraged treat of the year, usually available for less than one week.

Sunday’s brunch: Locust fritters with perhaps a gargle of prosecco to wash them down. We always use the recipe Jacques Pépin included in his memoir, The Apprentice. Continue reading

Posted in Recipes

Pork Fat and Spontaneous Cooking

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After roasting my pork – read about that here, if you haven’t already done so – I had a cup of gorgeous fat, scented with sage, garlic, salt, pepper, even potatoes. It sat in the fridge for days, and I used it randomly – in a risotto, to fry eggs, one or two other times. I felt, however, that I was not really exploiting its presence.

Until the night we came home late, to four already-cooked artichokes. We wanted pasta. (I have said this before: combine late-night hunger, my kitchen, and enough energy to cook and, three times out of five, the result is a spontaneous pasta dish.) I had a lovely onion. And some basil.   Continue reading

Posted in American

Enjoying and (Sort of) Preserving the First Strawberries

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By Edward Schneider

Not only was a favorite grower/vendor – Maxwell’s Farm, from Warren County, New Jersey – back at our local farmers’ market for the first time since last year, but they had brought strawberries with them. So had another vendor, but Jackie and I could smell Maxwell’s berries from yards away. We bought two quarts. Were these May strawberries as good as the ones we’ll get a little later in the season? Of course not. But they gave us a little thrill.

Rinsed, immediately drained, and hulled, they served two purposes: that day’s dessert (about a third of them, lightly sprinkled with sugar and eaten with cream) and future desserts, in the form of a quick, liquidy kind of jam that Jackie tells me Russians call varenye.   Continue reading

Posted in Produce

Fish, Steamed over Vegetables (or Samphire!)

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If you forage for something, it tastes much better than when you pay $12 a pound for it. This is why talk of ramps always seems to annoy me, I guess. Fiddleheads too – they’re not meant to be bought but found.

The same is true of samphire. I’ve never bought it; I always forage it. I’m so addicted now I might buy it if I had to, but I’m lucky enough to know a place on the Cape where it grows like mad and, from roughly now until mid-July I can pick as much as I want. (Now, the pickings are slim, but super-tender; it takes ten minutes to gather a pound; in a month, I’ll be able to gather three pounds in that same time.)  Continue reading

Posted in Produce, Recipes, Seafood