Wednesday, July 18, 2012

...Dijon Panko crusted Salmon with Lemon Thyme Creme Fraiche Sauce

Kids are sometimes tough to feed; or at least, they can be, if you actually care what they're eating.  With a toddler it's all too tempting to cook a nice meal for the adults and throw a hot dog and some tater tots onto a plate next to a pool of ketchup and call it day.  (And make no mistake, some nights, that's exactly what happens, much to the joy of all parties involved.)  The other side of the coin, though, is that we want our daughter to eat well.  Not just healthy, but hopefully to learn early the difference between good food and bad.  We're not exactly actively trying to turn her into a foodie, but on the other hand there are too many kids who don't have the privilege of a home cooked meal, of fresh ingredients, prepared with some degree of skill (he says modestly), to let her eat crap all the time, just because it's easier.

I was spoiled from an early age - my own Mother was an avid Organic Gardener (long before it was cool) and my Father was a Gastronome of some repute among his friends.  The rule at Mom's house during the summer was that if we were good, and if we ate our dinner, only then would she let my sisters and me go out into the garden to pick, shell and eat the sugar snap peas for dessert.  The rule at Dad's house was that he only offered "the good stuff" every so often.  So, if, prior to serving his guests, he offered to let you try the steamed mussels with wine, butter, and garlic, you quickly learned to jump on the opportunity, lest you be denied another chance after it became apparent the adults were enjoying something special.  In that vein, there are some habits that both the wife and I feel are good to establish early.  It's the usual stuff: "You have to try one bite, but if you don't like it, you can stop", and "No you can't have dessert until you've finished some vegetables.", etc.

Sometimes this tact pays off in spades.  Last night I prepared three salmon filets (mostly) following this excellent recipe from Eric Ripert.  Basically it's a filet brushed with dijon mustard and then top-coated with panko breadcrumbs, but watch the video - it's enlightening in it's simplicity.  My failure to purchase all the ingredients forced a small improvisation - I substituted some fresh Lemon Thyme from the herb garden for the Chives in the Creme Fraiche-based sauce, but it was a change that worked well.

The filets were served alongside a long-grain and wild rice pilaf (our daughter's favorite) and roasted asparagus (not her favorite these days).  I admit, my plating here isn't as elegant as that of Chef Ripert.  Our daughter's favorite cafeteria-style tray isn't exactly refined, but the cool summer evening breeze and outdoor setting wasn't bad.  We started her with about six ounces of salmon and put just a small dollop of the sauce on a separate part of the tray, just for her to try.  The result?

Yeah, that's six ounces of salmon gone in about six minutes.  The sauce was also hugely successful as she insisted on dipping every bite.  
I wish I could say she wolfed down the asparagus too, but that'll be a taste for another day.  For now, I just have to say that Chef Ripert has done us a great service by sharing a wonderfully simple recipe packed with so much great flavor.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

...BLTs, BLATs, and the TBS

Round my house, we're good Californians.  In culinary terms, that means that BLTs served at home are always BLATs.    I've written previously about my love for the Devilicious BBBLT which includes a fried egg and cheese, but at home we generally stick to the BLAT.  We're truly blessed here to have access to quality avocado that's really ripe through most of the year - so why miss an opportunity?

Well last night we were all (including the toddler) enjoying our BLATs with house-made potato and sweet potato chips when the toddler started creating her own sandwiches.  First, she had re-dubbed the BLAT as the "TBS": The tomato, bacon, salad sandwich.  OK, hard to argue with that, and especially hard to argue with a 3-year-old.  Next she created the TBSS - Tomato, bacon, salad, and sweet-potato chips..  I guess she thought it needed more crunch.  She wolfed down a rather large sandwich stuffed full...

For some reason, she always asks permission before experimenting with her food - we always tell her to go ahead (as long as she's eating).  I'm just sort of fascinated to see her relationship with food starting to evolve - she's starting to think like a chef (or at least a foodie); trying to figure out how to combine ingredients to the best possible effect.  I love that she "helps" me cook and watches me experiment and make mistakes.  Hopefully the practice will rub off on her.

I feel silly having to write this, but after having too many badly built BLTs in my time, I guess basic sandwich construction is still an artform not mastered by all.  Therefore, for the record, in order to maximize flavor and minimize the dreaded "ingredients slide", here is the proper construction of a BLAT:

Mise en place:

  • Slice 1 large, ripe, heirloom tomato into slices no thicker than 1/4".
  • Wash and pat dry several leaves of Red Leaf or other flavorful lettuce.  If you're going to use iceberg or butter lettuce, better to skip it, you won't taste it anyhow.
  • Take 1 large ripe avocado, split, de-seed, and remove meat from skin.  Mash in a bowl with a generous shake of garlic salt, like you're making a particularly boring guacamole.
  • Cook your bacon.  I prefer well-crisped in the oven so it stays flat, but choose your favorite method here.  If you're feeding a vegetarian, we highly recommend the MorningStar frozen Veggie Bacon Strips.  These warm easily in the microwave (use a swatch of parchment paper to avoid sticking) and are VASTLY superior to any of the refrigerated soy substitute bacon products.  They actually have "veins" of different material, so they have a texture/consistency that is more like real bacon (i.e. some crispy, some soft).  They are not wobbly and brown all over, and they do not smell like pet food.  Real thick-sliced center cut bacon still kicks this product's ass every day, but if you MUST use a substitute, use a good one.
A la minute:
  • Lightly toast two pieces of VERY sour sourdough. Don't overtoast lest you ravage your hard palate like the sandwich was a cheese grater...  
  • Lightly coat one slice of bread with your home made mayo or aioli.   If using store bought, it had better be Hellmans/Best Foods mayonnaise.  If you use a different brand, we just can't hang.  Sorry.
  • Coat the other slice of bread with a good spread of the mashed avocado.  Do these two steps right after the bread comes out of the toaster or else the bread will dry out.  See above, re: cheese grater.
  • Place the lettuce on the mayo-coated slice of the bread.
  • Place the tomato on top of the lettuce. Apply in a SINGLE LAYER ONLY.  This is why it's important to use good heirloom tomatoes - so you can taste them in small amounts.
  • Apply bacon to the avocado-covered slice of bread.
  • Add extra optional ingredients next like a fried egg, cheese, and/or onion (or apparently sweet potato chips).
  • Combine halves and slice sandwich.  Serve immediately.
There you have it, a properly engineered sandwich.  Having a good fat coating on both slices of bread will protect the sandwich from sogginess, etc.   The proto-guac will also now act as a mortar to keep things together, versus sliced avocado which is the leading cause of ingredients slides in most sandwiches.  The texture of the bacon and lettuce keeps the tomato layer from sliding; and limiting the tomato to a single layer means no low-friction mating surfaces within the tomato strata.  This sandwich can be sliced easily without toothpicks to hold it together, and even our toddler has been able to hold it well enough to eat without ingredients sliding out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

...Italian Sausage Tacos

One of the many reasons I really love Breakfast at home is that it's the meal of they day where I have the most freedom to experiment for myself.  Even if I brown-bag lunch, I'm limited by what I can carry, store, and re-warm in my tech-company break room.  Dinner affords me more time to plan, shop, prep, and cook, but I'm bound by the need to put food on the table for my beloved Lacto-ovo-pesco-vegetarian wife and our toddler daughter.  Both are relatively adventurous (given their respective limitations), but there is a whole world of food that neither one will touch and it often just isn't worth it to prepare adventurous things for one.  Breakfast, though, is somehow more freeing.  Most of the freedom comes from the relative ease of feeding the rest of the household.  On weekdays the wife is satisfied with good coffee and the toddler prefers dry cereal with a little dried fruit.  On weekends I move through the kitchen like a short-order cook at the local coffee shop.  Everyone usually gets what they want, to-order, (made easy by the fact I can usually predict what they'll want.)  On even the most hectic Saturday before a playgroup or Zoo excursion I can still bang out a steaming pile of biscuits or pancakes in a few minutes, with a side of substitute-bacon and real-bacon for the appropriate diners.  No problem.  The remaining freedom for breakfast comes from the fact that I love savory breakfasts, which means I positively adore experimenting with leftovers, odd flavor combos, and food nobody else would eat.  Practically speaking, one of my experimental breakfasts is usually more lasting and satisfying for the inclusion of protein, etc.

Tacos for breakfast is a great example of this.  We do "taco night" fairly regularly at home.  The wife enjoys a re-seasoned soy-based taco substitute, I enjoy carne- or pollo-asada, and the toddler vacillates between them.  Things improved dramatically when I recently re-discovered the Azteca Mexican Market hidden near my workplace, which finally provided the reliable and convenient source of hand-made style tortillas I'd been searching for for years.  As an aside:  Seriously, this is San Diego.  We used to be part of Mexico, why is it so hard to find a decent tortilleria north of I-8?!?!  An artifact of purchasing tortillas this way, we have to buy somewhat in bulk (2-3lbs minimum), and they aren't fresh for very long, which leaves me looking for ways to use up the wonderful little discs of corn.  Usually, I can just use up whatever leftover protein went into the tacos the night or two before, but every so often, I make the "mistake" of buying just enough pollo asada (or the toddler surprises us with her appetite) and I'm searching for other fillings.

This week, the "just enough taco filling" problem collided with the "had a lot of leftover ingredients after a DIY-pizza-party" problem and a new favorite was born:
Italian Sausage "Street" Tacos

  • 2-4 corn tortillas, hand-made if you can get 'em
  • 1 link, spicy Italian sausage (casing removed)
  • 1/2 Avocado, ripe but preferably still a bit firm
  • 1/2c cheese - Mexican blend = good, Cotija or "Queso Blanco" = better
  • Small handful of Cremini or button mushrooms
  • 2 lime wedges (or 1/2 tsp of Real Lime juice, etc.)
  • 1/2tsp olive or vegetable oil
  1. Wet a hot pan with a very small amount of oil and begin frying the sausage.  As it cooks, you'll be able to break it up with a spatula into bite-size chunks.  If you're using a salty cheese like Cotija, resist the urge to add seasoning.  If using a basic Mexican blend, a pinch of salt is probably a good idea.
  2. While the sausage is cooking, slice the mushrooms.  After the fat has rendered, add the mushrooms and brown them.
  3. Slice the half-avocado into two quarters and then cube the meat while in the skin.
  4. Place tortillas between two sheets of paper towel on a plate and microwave for 30s (if scaling up the recipe for >1 person, use your favorite tortilla warmer - I use a terra cotta garlic baker pre-warmed in the microwave with damp paper towels)
  5. Once the filling is cooked, assemble your tacos - some prefer doubling up the tortillas but the ones I buy are thick enough to use one-per-taco.  Distribute the sausage/mushroom mix evenly, then add your cheese.  Turn the avocado cubes out of the skin and add to the tacos, then finish each with a light squeeze of lime juice.
  6. Feel free to experiment with finely diced white onion, cilantro, or pico de gallo, but keep it simple and light! Taco sauce, etc. would easily muddy the flavors here.
Makes 2-3 small tacos for a very satisfying small meal.

Monday, April 23, 2012

...W?ch Addiction

I've raved in the past about my love for the Devilicious Food Truck, and touched on the trend of Food Trucks as the new medium for getting into the food business.  Imagine my surprise, then, when I made the lamentably late realization that the new restaurant I saw going into my work-neighborhood was in-fact a brick and mortar establishment by the same folks behind Devilicious.  Enter: W?ch Addiction.

Dyann and Mark have continued riffing on "New American" cuisine and have done a seemingly smart thing in designing the menu around the same quick-turnaround handmade food that makes the truck so awesome.  Fortunately, with the advent of actual tables, they can get away with a few more things that just aren't easy to do in the mobile environment.

As the name implies, Sandwiches feature heavily on the menu, though salads, sides, and the ever-eclectic Poutine are added.  For my first visit, I was called by the Panzanella salad, and of course I couldn't resist adding the crispy pork-belly on top.
The salad itself already packed a big punch of flavor and was suitably rich - so the pork belly may have been overkill.  Indeed, by the end, I was feeling I might have over done it. In any case, the flavors were excellent and I couldn't wait to dive into the rest of the menu.

Imagine my joy, then, upon receiving a newsletter only days later from Dyann dropping the bomb that this week they'd start with a new 7am Breakfast menu!  They "had me" at the mention of Corned Beef Hash - probably my all time favorite breakfast dish.

The corned beef itself was excellent, but Dyann seems to be well aware that good meat alone can't hold up a hash, and it's the potatoes and veggies that really seal the deal.  Roasted Red potatoes, herbed with (at least) Rosemary and Thyme, along with caramelized onions and tomatoes and cheese are the stars of the dish - savory, sweet, and filling.  I was also very pleasantly surprised that the obligatory fried egg topper was actually seasoned - Kudos to Chef Dyann for having the temerity to put salt and pepper on an egg.  Too many cooks will leave the poor thing naked, which on a dish this big in flavor would be a letdown.  My wife seldom enjoys eggs when eating out because they're usually some combination of overcooked or under-seasoned.  I think she'll be enjoying the eggs here.

I had initially read that W?ch Addiction was going to be Breakfast/Lunch only.  Then, they were showing their hours as 10a-7p during the week (10a-2p Sat), which I thought was probably a better business choice.  Adding six days a week of 7am Breakfast service is gutsy and I hope it pays off.  Either way, I know my wife will be relieved at the opportunity to give it a try for a weekend Breakfast, as a mid-week dinner visit was going to be a mixed-bag with the vegetarian and toddler in tow.

Which brings me to my final thought:  One of the things I love about trying a restaurant in it's early days is to see what the owners end up changing.  In the quest to make the concept work while remaining profitable, many restaurants fail outright, and many more end up changing radically.  What makes the process interesting is that sometimes the stuff I thought was key to the restaurant is seen as a flaw (or at the very least expendable), or vice versa, so you learn a lot about the owners from how they make those early course corrections.  Sometimes a new restaurant will just fix the problems and refine the process and flavors, or adjust portion sizes.  Other times they see the need to make larger shifts in mission or delivery.  I remember the Linkery, for example, going through several phases of lunch service, no lunch service, and back again while they struggled with their too-small kitchen, ingredients sourcing and costs.  In the end they've settled on a concept and schema that seem to work for them, though at times I do miss the raucous nature of some of the early food there.  Given the Devilicious background and W?ch Addition's promising early start, I have to say I'm excited to see where this thing goes for Mark and Dyann!

...Cajun Salmon and Pilaf a la Ara

Readers of my other blog will know that one of my hobbies is Overlanding - vehicle-based, self-reliant adventuring.  Basically it's what Car-Camping used to be, in the days before ubiquitous good roads, campgrounds, and RVs.  Get into a 4x4, and go someplace, away from other people whenever possible.  The main trade-show and annual center-of-gravity for this hobby in North America is Overland Expo.  I attended last year with the goal to "Get Outfitted. Get trained. Get inspired. Get going..." as their motto reads.

Mixed in with the training on how to safely recover a stuck vehicle using a winch, how to build your First Aid kit to avoid problems at border crossings, and how to get your wife to go with you, I took a great little class called "One Pan Cooking and Provisioning (No Fridge)".  The first half of the course title sounds like any one of hundreds of cookbooks for frustrated housewives, but the second half gives away the secret.  Ara Gureghian and his dog Spirit overland full-time on a BMW motorcycle and sidecar.  Ara is also a classically European-trained chef, so when presented a very tasty lesson on how to plan and provision for meals that don't require refrigeration, and are easy to prepare, I made sure to pay attention.

Like most great recipes, Chef Ara taught a method, more than a list of ingredients.  In fact, no recipes were ever provided for the class (although a few of his are available from his website.)  Upon returning home, I was anxious to try to replicate some of what I'd tasted - I think he'd be proud, and my wife certainly approved.

The "cajun" salmon is an ongoing favorite of mine because it's simple to prepare, packs a big flavor, and most importantly is an approved "go-to" protein for a meat-eater who has to cook for a Lacto-ovo-pesco-vegetarian every day.  I won't go into detail here but it's basically oil and some variant on a spice rub (Emeril's Bayou Blast, for example) in a hot pan.  I prepared it alongside this new side dish mostly as a hedge against culinary failure - you never want to go hungry because you blew the new side dish.  It turns out, I needn't have bothered.  Choosing a combination of quality fresh veggies and dry foodstuffs, adding some herbs, oil and a good hard cheese results in an easy one-pan meal that is filling and satisfying.  More often that not these days, I prepare this solo, instead of as a side dish, though I still usually need a standalone protein for the toddler as she has not yet latched on to the adult quality of these flavors.

As I've said, it's more of a method than a recipe, but here's my best attempt to present for those who'd wish to emulate.


  • ~1/2 Onion, white or yellow, coarsely chopped.
  • Largeish handful or two of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • Handful of fresh or frozen peas
  • Handful of diced carrot (when camping I just put a big handful of frozen peas & carrots mix into a zip back and toss it in the fridge, but fresh would be fine too)
  • 1-2C of fresh zucchini, squash, or whatever else looks good
  • At least 1/4c of a good cheese.  Hard cheeses survive w/o refrigeration, soft ok in a coldbox.
  • Herbage.  I like chopped basil, but parsley or whatever else will work too.
  • Whatever other sundries sound good to you: slivered Almonds, Olives, sun-dried Tomatoes, etc.
  • 1C of your favorite dry starch.  I started with long-grain rice, and have also done Qinoa, but our current favorite is a wonderful "mix" from Trader Joes that includes, Rice, Orzo, Qinoa, Couscous, and some yellow lentils, IIRC.
  • 1-2C of water or your favorite stock (appropriate volume for your selected starch, as this ratio varies)
  • Appropriate Oil of your choice
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  1. Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in your big pan and sweat (or saute) the onion and whatever other aromatics you're using. Sweat vs. saute depends on the flavors you're going for and what your heat control is like.  My Coleman white-gas camp stove really only runs well on "high", so I work fast in the field.
  2. Add in any "hard" veggies if they'll need a while to cook.  Ripe zucchini or mushrooms cook fast enough that I tend to add them after the next step:
  3. Add your starch and saute the grains/pasta until GB&D.
  4. Add remaining ingredients except cheese, but reserve a small handful of herbs and sliced tomato for garnish.  Season to taste. Cook briefly.
  5. Add appropriate volume of liquid for your starch.  Cover, reduce heat, and cook for the appropriate amount of time.  (Pasta ~10 minutes, Qinoa/Rice ~20 minutes, etc.)
  6. When starch is cooked and liquid absorbed, grate in a hefty volume of hard cheese (or crumble in soft cheese), toss, re-season, and plate up.  Garnish with reserved herbage and tomato.
Makes more than you'd expect.  Enough for 2-4 as a main, or many more as a side.

Friday, April 20, 2012

...Less (but still good) Food

My goal here has been to refocus myself on many parts of my relationship with food.  A lot of it will be outright food-porn and descriptions of how much I love something I've eaten, but part of it too will be my attempt to come to grips with the basic thermodynamic equation of calories-in and calories-out, while still keeping the experience enjoyable.  The last part of that sentence is key, because where I've erred in the past has been to let the process of "eating right" turn into something that was less-than-fully-enjoyable, which has been a recipe, forgive the pun, for failure.

For many years now, I've maintained a good level of ingredient quality when I cook for myself and the family.  We eat lots of fresh veggies, organic whenever possible and cost effective, and mostly balanced veggie/protein mixes.  My wife is Lacto-ovo-pesco-vegetarian, and I frequently eat meatless meals with her just out of convenience of preparation.

The two problems in my habits are (1) quantity I tend to eat when cooking at home and (2) low overall quality of food when I eat at work.

Addressing problem #1 is an ongoing battle.  It's so easy to just make a slightly bigger portion and consume it until I'm full, when most often I probably should be eating less.  I'll continue to work on this, as well as look into strategies to help myself make good choices in this regard.

Addressing problem #2 is a twofold issue, it's partly a problem of making the time and taking the effort to bring healthier food from home and partly a problem of enjoying (perhaps too much) the social aspects of eating lunch out with coworkers.  Lunch is like recess, so I'm usually far too eager to join a group eating fast-food out just to catch up with friends.

In the coming days and weeks, I'll be trying to brown-bag more (with food worth eating) and just prepare and eat less, in general.  Wish me luck.

the Devilicious Food Truck

I'm scooping no "news" in the foodie world when I say that Food Trucks (or Gastrotrucks) are a "big thing" lately. Many have talked about their rise as an artifact of the "Great Recession" - the cost of starting a new restaurant concept can be prohibitively expensive in any climate, but with the recent additional crunch on credit, etc., it can be down right impossible. But a truck, on the other hand, is a relative bargain. Another recent food trend that seems to have a similar root in the economy is the rise of "New American" cuisine - upscale comfort food with a foundation of humble fare augmented by modern techniques and fusion sensibilities. It's no wonder, then, that these two sensibilities have combined in several excellent examples of New American - mobile style. I've experimented with several of these, starting with the MIHO Gastrotruck, which was merely interesting, to my latest favorite indulgence: The Devilicious Food Truck.

 I say indulgence, because that's what it is, especially in the context of this blog - this is the kind of food I could easily "overdo". It isn't exactly cheap. It most certainly isn't healthy. It is, however, absolutely revelatory. As has become the custom with New American, we can find ourselves being surprised by just how different and good something simple can be. All my life, I've been a huge fan of the BLT.  As a Californian, I should really say the BLAT, since until recently I've been utterly convinced that any BLT sandwich consumed without the addition of Avocado constitutes a missed opportunity at best, or a crime against bacon, at worst. Yes, I get it, augmenting the wonderfully fatty/saltiness of bacon with the fatty/creaminess of avocado seems redundant to some, and impure to others, but you'll never convince me otherwise. Or at least, I thought not, until I was smacked by the Devilicious BBBLT.
Immediately after tasting said BBBLT (the extra B's are for the extra bacon), I felt compelled to text my wife and tell her that all future BLTs must include cheese and a fried egg. And it's true. Add in some Red Onion and spicy mayo to the rest of the usual combo, and it's truly one of the greatest sandwiches ever made. As you'd expect, the soft yolk sauces up the sandwich nicely, so this is a messy one to eat, but more than anything this sandwich is about richness.  As is my way, I've experimented with this at home since then, and I've decided that this is a perfectly legitimate, though decadent, variation on the BLT. The ANSI-standard BLT may be lacking when compared to the CA-approved BLAT, but the BBBLT is as over the top as you can imagine.  Adding in truffled parmesan fries and a mexi-Pepsi or Pellegrino Limonata will put you well past $10, but it's money well spent on flavor.  I do feel compelled to throw in an extra walk along the canyon after one of these meals, though.

 Since that first visit I've tried several more examples of this "Mobile New American" and decided that this is my most dangerous food genre to date. This is the food that will make moderation so difficult.

If you'd like to tempt yourself as well, the Butter Poached Lobster Grilled-Cheese pretty much epitomizes temptation.  The Cubano is also not to be missed.  Purists take heart - you won't miss the roll in favor of the grilled sliced bread.

...the Blog.

Welcome to Herbie Eats... I decided to split off any food-related postings from my other blogs so that the few foodie-friends I have can see what I've been up to without having to wade through pictures of my cute daughter or the latest update on my camper conversion or newest hack. In focusing more on food - I'm going to try to focus on what I like, what others might like, and hopefully how to enjoy all of this without overdoing it. Yep, I have a renewed focus on Moderation - enjoying everything I love about food but without killing myself (slowly, but literally) doing it. So... Let's Eat!