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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Yesterday I went to the University Barber Shop in Auburn, Al (my home town), which sells pecans from local trees. I bought three bags of cracked pecans. Cracked pecans mean that the shells have been cracked open but not removed. Besides being cheaper, I think they have a nice look in the big plastic bags: mostly striped shells with hints of the flesh showing through.

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I took them home and spent the late afternoon shelling. There is something so utterly calming about shelling peas or nuts, especially when they’re fresh, watching two bowls slowly fill, one with parts of shells or skins and one with the cleaned produce.  I love shelling pecans for the same reason I love cooking: it is a methodical process that engages the senses and the mind without tiring them. Time should be allowed every day, I think, for tasks that offer such satisfaction.

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And then, when the shelling is done, one can throw the chaff on the fire to make the flames flair and exude a toasty smelling smoke.

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Happy holidays to all.

Salty toasted pecans

Ingredients

A few handfuls of shelled pecans

2 tbs unsalted butter

Salt to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Go through the pecans with a nut scraper or fork to make sure none of the bitter pith is clinging to the flesh. When thoroughly cleaned, spread them on a baking sheet in one layer.

Melt the butter in a small dish. Spoon it over the pecans, give them a good shake, and then spread them out again so that they are not clumped together.

Salt liberally and bake in the oven for about an hour, or until the nuts become fragrant and crisp but not blackened.

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I’m back again on this wet and cold December evening with a recipe I want to share it is still relatively fresh in my mind.

First, I have to say that I am so glad to be posting here again. It is really a pleasure. After so many months to just come back and pick up again and not feel like I have to justify it – I do this because I like to, not because I have to. To have a place where I can talk to whoever wants to listen about what I made for dinner or what I am thinking about making is truly a great thing. And, on top of that, several of my friends and family even told me that they missed it! That means a lot – really. So thanks to those of you read and comment and “like.”

I am trying to post more spontaneously and so today I am here with a half-baked recipe, one that isn’t quite worked out yet but that I am going to post anyway because if I don’t now, then when?

This was one of those accidentally amazing dishes that I now want to recreate as much as possible. In my apartment we have been eating a lot of basic stuff: rotisserie chicken from the grocery store with steamed kale or broccoli or broccoli rabe or broccolini or cabbage; bolognese (the world’s best) over the same steamed vegetables; sincronizadas with ham and havarti; tuna salad a variety of different ways.

To break the monotony, I tried my hand at meatballs with tetrazzini à la Canal House (this is delicious but I still haven’t mastered it and have been avoiding buying sherry, which I think is vital to the recipe, so I may post about that when that happens). A couple of days ago we roasted a pork loin- something we rarely do- having marinated it in olive oil and lots of lemon juice and garlic and salt and pepper. The problem was that the marinade sort of burnt a little in the oven. But wow was it good.

Maybe it burnt because I roasted the loin in an aluminum cazuela instead of in a proper baking pan. There is a story behind this: I have been in need of a new cast iron Dutch oven for some time. Now that it is winter and I can turn on the oven in my tiny apartment and not sweat to death, I decided it was time to go out and find one. So I thought that instead of going to a fancy cookware store or a chain, I’d go to one of the kitchen supply places in Chinatown. I mean it’s right down the street! It seemed like a great idea.

Perhaps cast iron Dutch ovens are not the most useful thing for Chinese cooking, however, because out of the ten or so places I stopped into, only one store had them. It was way overpriced. So after an entire afternoon of looking, I ended up at K-Mart (sort of the opposite experience that I set out to have but I guess that just goes to show you) and bought an Imusa brand aluminum cazuela for under $20.

So far it’s been pretty great. I can make big rice dishes on the stove (the original reason I was looking for a Dutch oven), and I can also bake in it.

Anyway, because the surface is not non-stick or seasoned cast iron, the pork juices and accompanying lemony marinade sort of caramelized in a really lovely way. The flavor is slightly bitter (the lemon and the char) but it is also packed with umami goodness. It was fine for a winter’s weeknight.

The half-baked recipe follows. To signal that this is still in its experimental stages, I’m going to call it a “draft-stage recipe”. This is something I am going to instate on Sabasalads. I think it will prevent me from waiting to post something that really should just be posted, quick. If I make it again (and I will) and come up with any new tips, I will make a note of it here.

Pork loin with charred lemon marinade (DRAFT STAGE)

Ingredients

1.5 lbs boneless pork loin

Good olive oil

1 lemon

1 head of garlic

5-8 stems of fresh Thyme

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Cut 10-12 slits in the pork loin on both bottom and top. Peel 10-12 cloves of garlic and stick one in each of the incisions.

Put the pork in a dutch oven or cazuela and slather with good olive oil and lots of lemon juice. Try not to let lemon seeds fall in but don’t worry too much about it. Remove thyme leaves from the stem and scatter about. If you have any garlic cloves left over, scatter them around the pan as well. Now rub the marinade over the pork, making sure that it is covered. Massage some of it into the slits with garlic as well.

Wash hands and pre-heat the oven to 450. While the oven is getting hot, let the pork sit for about 30 minutes.

Give the pork in the cazuela or dutch oven a final glug of olive oil for good measure and roast for 45 minutes. When the pork is done, remove the pot from the oven and take the pork loin out to cool.

In the pan, you should have a thin film of blackened lemon juice, oil and pork fat. While the meat is cooling, add a bit of balsamic vinegar or maybe a bit of white wine to the pot and heat it over a gentle flame, deglazing the pan to make a sauce. The sauce will have little bits of charred garlic and thyme and that is fine. You will love it.

Hello from Brussels sprouts season.

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Please excuse the blurry picture – it’s been a while.

Wow. It’s been a whole eight months since my last post. Here’s what I think happened: after I moved back to the US from Berlin, I spent a lot less time alone. This was great, but I inevitably dedicated less time to thinking up recipes to share here. It used to be part of my weekly routine, and then it became bi-weekly, then monthly.

There was also something else nagging me though. The writing felt fake. I don’t know exactly how to explain this but all I can say is that the “voice” I assumed when writing blog posts just didn’t seem to be true. About this time last year, I was looking for a new direction, something to make the writing “stand out.” I even thought of changing the blog’s name and coming up with a new theme. Somewhere along the way it stopped being fun and felt like a chore. And the writing and recipes weren’t getting any more interesting.

There’s also the fact that living in NYC has changed the way I cook. I don’t go to farmers’ markets as often because I finally joined a CSA (great vegetables weekly but less rustic/charming market photo opportunities!). I also don’t have any kitchen space whatsoever and never invite people over for dinner. (Oh yeah, I moved to Manhattan in June and now share a 400 sq. foot studio with my partner. We don’t have a dining room table or any chairs – we use tatami mats – and barely own any kitchen utensils). It’s all great actually. I love it. But it means that cooking has been increasingly simplified and somewhat boring as a result (good, but boring).

Maybe all of these things created the perfect storm for an eight-month hiatus on Sabasalads. I hope I can now break out of that.

Now that I’m typing away I realize how much I missed this, and that instead of treating it like a job I should treat it like what it really is: a place to muse about whatever. A place where the stakes are low. This is a good thing! Also, I find it amazing that over the course of all these years (before and during Sabasalads), the one constant thing that always makes me happy is thinking and talking about food and drink. It doesn’t pay the bills, and it is a simple pleasure, but it always has been and always will be a pleasure. I have to listen to that.

Some people relax by exercising or reading or taking a walk. I like to read. I like to exercise. I especially like to take walks, but tend to use walking time as “thinking time”  (I talk to myself when I walk – I scheme to myself). For me though the thing that puts my mind to rest is cooking a meal. Cooking or listening to radio programs about cooking or watching cooking shows or reading about food or following Wikipedia threads about the origins of a dish are some of the only activities during which I am not thinking about the pressures of the “real world.” I can’t think about these other things because I get so absorbed and feel so satisfied that there is no room for the other stuff. And I’m proud to say that I almost always make time for one of these things on a daily basis, other “real-world” tasks be damned. Now it’s time to start writing about food and drink again, but this time, I hope, with less affectation.

The next few months are going to be tough. I am nearing the final phase of writing up my dissertation. I’m on the job market. I am not sure what is next in my life, but I have some ideas and they will require some work. But I do not ever want to leave this space fallow for so long again.

And so, here’s a recipe for Brussels sprouts that I heard about via KCRW’s “Good Food”. It is salty, rich and delicious:

Sqirl Store’s Brussels Sprouts (adapted from Jessica Koslow of Sqirl Store in Los Angeles, via the Good Food Blog)

Notes: The recipe calls for sherry vinegar. I substituted balsamic vinegar and it worked fine- you want to just add a splash of balsamic though or it will be too acidic. The original recipe also calls for fleur de sel as a garnish. I did not have this either and just added extra salt to taste at the end.

Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts (get the very smallest, sweetest you can find)

1-2 tbs unsalted butter

Sherry vinegar

Chicharrones (fried pork rinds) to taste

Salt to taste

1 poached egg

Directions

In a sturdy skillet, brown the butter (you want the butter to cook a bit and develop flavor – let it foam up and wait until the foam subsides). When butter is browned add the Brussels sprouts and spread them out so that they all get some surface area. Reduce heat to medium and cook these for 3-4 minutes, until they are well browned on one side. Then season with salt to taste, toss and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

While the sprouts are cooking, poach an egg in boiling water and reserve for garnish.

When the sprouts are done cooking, deglaze the pan with a splash of vinegar. At this point, season with salt to taste and let the sprouts cook for a minute more.

Serve the Brussels sprouts immediately. Finely chop or crumble the chicharrones and sprinkle liberally over the sprouts and top with a poached egg.