Decadence for breakfast, and lunch, and…

Decadent Breakfast Tacos

My visit to the Kitchen Empress in Michigan revolved a lot around food, as all of our visits (and our individual lives) tend to do. As food enthusiasts who have lived in the East, West, Southwest, and Midwest of this country, and who have taken up long-term habitation in several of the other continents of the world, we swap food tales like foreign correspondents share their war stories.

One morning I was telling KE about this new fondness I’ve developed for tacos (they are a terrific, easy vegan and gluten-free meal, and those are in high demand around my house). She swapped back with stories of beloved breakfast tacos from when she lived in Austin. Breakfast tacos with potatoes in them. I could not stop imagining what that would be like – the soft, warm corn tortilla wrapped around the crisped potatoes and the fluffy scrambled egg.

My last morning in Michigan we finally made my taco dreams come true. Using leftover roasted potatoes, we put together some breakfast tacos that were everything I’d imagined and more. I couldn’t stop thinking about them when I got home.

The other night, I worked well past dinner and so on the way back home Duck and I ended up at midnight at one of San Francisco’s all-night restaurants. We ordered the only things you can order in an all-night restaurant that are both vegan and gluten-free: french fries and a small green salad. These weren’t just any fries, these were “desert fries” (at first I wondered if they were misspelled “dessert fries” and pictured them piled with cherry sauce and whipped cream) with spicy Cajun seasoning. You can only eat so many french fries for dinner, and everyone knows fries make terrible leftovers (not least because you don’t want to be reminded of your dietary excess). But the spectre of the breakfast taco compelled me. I packed our fries up to take home.

And boy was I glad I did. For what followed was more magnificent than I could ever have anticipated.

The one consistent bummer about making tacos has been that the corn tortillas get soggy and fall apart halfway through the eating. Taco trucks and other taco professionals get around this by doubling up the tortilla, but my store-bought tortillas aren’t yummy enough that I want to scarf down a plain double layer of them. So I concocted a plan to deal with all these hurdles, little imagining it would lead me to a breakfast taco so decadent that I had to leave most of it on the plate for lunch, and beyond.

Decadent Breakfast Tacos

Take a small stack of corn tortillas and warm them in a pan until soft. Take two tortillas and sandwich between them a thin layer of Laura Chenel aged goat cheese. In a pan, warm chopped desert fries and crumbled tempeh bacon in a little olive oil. Place these on the tortilla, and top them with a perfectly scrambled egg, sliced avocado, and some chipotle-lime salsa. Close your eyes and savor. It’s okay if it’s too rich to finish in one sitting – the tortilla won’t fall apart while it waits.

Zucchini and Baby Red Onions: Week of June 25th

AT LAST!

At last a new box!

This one really deserved to be photographed, by sheer virtue of being the first box in a month, but I was too tired and all the little veggies were lucky they even made it into the fridge.

It was a handsome box, though, and really well-balanced. A person could truly get all their needs met by such a box, and a have a bag of lettuce for the lettuce graveyard, besides!

In this week’s box:

Small red potatoes
Strawberries
Turnips, with greens
Stir-fry mix
Arugula
Zucchini (3 medium-sized ones)
Baby red onions (it says “Green onions” on my newsletter, so I am confused. These were very small, red, with long, floppy tops on them)
Lettuce
Apricots (a whole strawberry-basket of tiny ones)
Cherries (the yellow and red Ranier kind)

On another note, I made my first failed scrap stock. It smelled SO good when it was cooking, mostly due to the great smell of the sauteed yam peels. But when I strained and tasted it, it was impossibly bitter. I am not quite sure why. There was a tiny amount of radicchio trim, but too little to be the culprit, I think. There were also a few lemon peels. Partway through making the stock I remembered that you generally simmer fruit peels several times in water you discard in order to make them less bitter, and that by boiling them in my stock I was making my stock that discard-water. Perhaps I pulled them out too late?

At any rate, I have tried to be fearless with my stock experiments and always open to a negative outcome. It still comes as a shock and a disappointment, however, to have to throw all that beautiful (but inedible) stock away.

Radicchio

Sauteed radicchio with thyme fritatta

I posted my first ode to bitter greens back in November of last year. I haven’t had the chance to write any more, as that one glorious bunch of escarole in my box was followed by a winter and spring of wonderful but not at all bitter spinach, kale, chard, and turnip greens.

This week I returned from my travels to an empty fridge, so, for the first time in a very long time, Duck and I hit the farmer’s market. We checked out one we’ve never been to before, the Wednesday Kaiser farmer’s market. This was a tiny market – one stand with stone fruits, one with strawberries (they had just run out of organic, and strawberries are super high on my “No buy” list for conventionally grown fruit, too bad!), one with organic veggies, and then a juice stand, a Sukhi’s Indian food stand, and a bread stand (maybe? I never made it over to that one).

The small size suited me just fine, since, after nine months of CSA box delivery, choosing produce can actually be a little overwhelming. (My produce-selection muscles have atrophied!) Everything at the stands was beautiful and perfectly ripe. At the veggie stand we got our several bunches of kale, and Duck got to give another customer a run-down of the taste and tenderness of each of the three kale varieties on offer. We stocked up on cauliflower to make impressionist cauliflower, and picked out some potatoes to roast.

Then I spotted them. The little pile of burgundy spheres, their tightly curled red leaves shot with white. My mouth started to water.

“How much is the radicchio?,” I asked the woman behind the cashbox.

“A dollar-fifty a head,” she answered. I almost fainted.

I grabbed Duck’s arm and pulled him over to the pile. “Duck, they have radicchio for $1.50 a head,” I muttered. I had to keep myself from whispering, half-afraid the stand would be mobbed if I spoke too loud.

Duck looked blank. “Is that good?”

Before I could answer, the woman behind the counter explained, “It typically costs around $3 a pound.” She put one on a scale. “This would be $2!”

I could only stare at her. I happen to know that radicchio is currently selling at Andronico’s for $7.99/lb. Now that’s Andronico’s, mind you, where you walk in to just get change for the meter and somehow still walk out twenty dollars lighter, but still… Except for when I was in Italy, radicchio has been for my whole life a very carefully doled out treat, bought on only the most special of occasions.

As much as I wanted to buy the whole pile and make a bed of the leaves to roll around on, Uncle Scrooge-style, I restrained myself to two heads. Two lovely, bitter, luxurious, DOLLAR FIFTY heads.

And for all you San Franciscans reading this, if you have to make a run on Kaiser next week, at least save me a head!

Seared Radicchio with Balsamic Vinegar
Shown above with a pan-cooked fritatta of eggs, thyme, teleme, and brown rice

2 heads radicchio
Olive oil
Salt, fresh ground pepper, balsamic vinegar

Cut each head of radicchio in half lengthwise, keeping the core intact to hold the leaves together. Cut each half into four wedges. Brush both sides of each wedge generously with olive oil.

Heat a cast iron pan (or another pan that can handle high heat) to medium-high, letting it get good and hot. Add the radicchio wedges in a single layer and cook until a bit brown and wilted. Turn wedges over and continue to cook. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Some people like their radicchio still somewhat crisp, some like it absolutely limp. Taste a leaf every now and then until you reach your desired texture, being careful not to burn them! (If they start to get too dark before they are tender enough, turn the heat down some and add a bit more oil.)

Once the wedges have reached your preferred tenderness, turn off heat and sprinkle a few spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar over the wedges.

Serve for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for dessert! Radicchio is the appropriate food for any and every occasion!

The fourth way

Back when I still thought my problem with turnips was not having found the right way to cook them (as opposed to simply disliking them in general), I tried them three different ways in one night. Of course I ended up not very satisfied with any of those (because I don’t like turnips). But after trying some raw turnip that evening, I thought they might make good pickles. This, I suggested while the turnip project still had appeal, would be the fourth way to try turnips.

A fresh batch of turnip pickles (with beet for color)

Fast forward many months. A new round of turnip delivery begins. Duck and I eat the yummy greens very happily (and for all the people who find this site by googling “turnip greens” or “how to cook turnip greens” I recommend preparing them, alone or with other greens, steamed and then topped with kale sauce or sauteed “Venice” style or Asian style with ginger and garlic). But the turnips themselves sit in the fridge, unloved.

Then I remembered a favorite culinary memory. In New York, all the falafel places give you these yummy pink pickles with your food. They always seemed like radishes to me, but with a more rubbery rather than crunchy texture. Finally I asked a falafel cook what they were, and he told me they were pickled turnips. As far as I know, these pickles were my main contact with turnips before the advent of the CSA, but I completely forgot about them. The memory returned in my time of need as I stood staring at several bags of turnips nestled amidst the lettuce graveyard in my fridge.

Turnips and beets awating their vinegar bath

But what turns white turnips into pink pickles? It turns out sliced beets do, and a bunch of beets arrived fortuitously in the next box. Google led me to a recipe on the madKnews blog, and I put my turnips in to pickle before leaving on my big Midwestern adventure. (These are “refrigerator pickles” so they don’t get canned, just stuck in the fridge to sit in a vinegar solution.)

Tonight the pickles had their grand unveiling. They’d been hanging out in their vinegar baths for thirteen days, several days more than the recipe recommended, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Duck and I wanted to showcase them in their optimal setting, so we made homemade falafel to put on fresh lavash bread with heirloom tomatoes, tender red leaf lettuce, a squeeze of meyer lemon and a generous spread of Haig’s baba ganoush, a local delicacy and one of my favorite things.

We tried the pickles straight first, and then rolled them into sandwiches with all the other goodies. The first pickle-only bite was so spicy, I felt like I’d licked the maror dish at Passover (that would be a bowl of horseradish for those of you who are seder-uninitiated). And Duck made a face when he tried his that made me certain I was going to be eating two jars of turnip pickles by my lonesome. But then his fingers kept sneaking back into the jar.

“You like them!,” I exclaimed.

“I don’t know if I like them,” he replied, “but I seem to be addicted to them.” At least that’s what I think he said – his mouth was full of turnip pickle at the time.

Subsequent bites proved a little more mellow. And the little guys were absolutely phenomenal in our falafel wraps. I’m having a hard time finding words to describe their flavor. Zesty, certainly. And so yummy I was stuffing another little slice into each bite of my wrap. It looks like, after what ended up being considerably more than four tries, I have at last found a way to enjoy my turnips! Continue reading

Farm Stand

While visiting my sister, the Kitchen Empress, last week I got to experience some of the food-related perks of Michigan living. To start with, little downtown Ann Arbor has no fewer than four chocolate shops – the serious old-fashioned kind where they pull taffy in the window and display row upon row of bright red candy apples as well as the newer, swankier kind with “European-style” chocolates and post-modern names like “Schakolad.” My favorite food adventure, though, was the farm stand.

We’d been to the supermarket the night before, but KE had said we should wait to buy our eggs from a local farm stand. Since it was well after dark by the time we left Ann Arbor for her little cottage, located on a lake about 20 minutes outside of town, I figured we’d have to wait another day. I was quite surprised when we pulled into what seemed like the driveway of a private house.

“KE,” I whispered, looking around the dark yard, the silhouettes of small outbuildings showing up in the light cast by her headlights, “don’t you think the farm stand is closed by now?”

“Grab your camera and come with me,” she whispered back. I followed her into the yard, expecting a sleepy farm wife to come out brandishing her rolling pin at any minute. She led me over to a tiny wood structure with a peaked roof. “Fresh Eggs Self Serve,” the sign read. Comprehension dawned.

We opened the fridge and pulled out a dozen of what would turn out to be the freshest, most golden-yolked eggs this side of Eatwell Farm. “Please put money in lower left drawer,” said the sign inside. We left $2.50 in quarters in the designated drawer and, loot in hand, drove off into the night, as silently as we had come.

Out of my box

In My Box will be on a short hiatus while I travel the Midwest seeing family. Duck will hold down the fort at home (and make sure the rats have their kale!) while I head to Chicago for my cousin’s PhD graduation ceremony and Michigan to visit my sister. I feel a little anxious away from my box – not because I have a compulsive need to be near it at all times, but because it is so complicated to be a guest in other people’s homes when I have to say, “No meat, no wheat or gluten, not too much dairy…” It’s really the no-wheat thing that leaves people at a loss as to how to feed me, especially on hectic days with lots of events crammed in. Join the club, guys – I have no idea how to feed myself under those circumstances, either! Although I know my visit to my sister – who first sparked my passion for cooking and who has been my constant companion in food-lust, across several continents – will be very much in the manner of Box, Michigan-style.

Sweet potato and kale

When I think of sweet potato and kale soup, I think of winter, no question. It sounds like a healthy but still sturdy and comforting dish to make when the temperatures drop and just going outside seems to take more energy than usual. But one of the nice things about my box is that it keeps me truly seasonal. And this doesn’t just mean swearing off tomatoes for eight months of the year. It also means discovering that sweet potatoes and kale can be spring/summer seasonal vegetables. How do I know this? Well, there’s no hothouse at Eatwell, and it’s currently June, and there are the tenderest, most adorable sweet potatoes and a beautiful bunch of kale in my box.

Considering that I’m in San Francisco, summer is sadly often the time when you need a hearty, warming meal. Haven’t you heard the quote, widely attributed to Mark Twain? “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Sweet Potato and Kale Soup with Fennel Seed and Ginger

In addition to the sweet potatoes and kale, my box this week also included a newsletter featuring a recipe for sweet potato and kale soup. Duck and I decided this wasn’t the best use of our gorgeous bunch of purple-tinged kale (we love it so much plain – no, we crave it plain – that the box can’t even keep up with our appetite for plain kale, much less have anything leftover to be sticking in soups) but then Duck went out of town before we could eat the kale and I just couldn’t stop thinking about this soup.

I decided to make a batch of it, and I am really, really glad I did. The recipe brings out perfectly the sweetness of both the kale and the sweet potatoes, and the fennel seed manages to be interesting without being overpowering. I slightly tweaked the original recipe, which seems to be a home-invented one from another Eatweller. I changed the proportions and only blended part of the soup, so the texture I ended up with may be rather different from the original intent, but I thought it was perfect. I also worked a little FASS magic and added a touch of lemon juice – the dish is already perfect on the sweet and salty, and the cheese or yogurt or cream at the end takes care of fat, but it needed just a hint of acid for my tastes.

The recipe follows… Continue reading