Rosemary and garlic brined pork

Rosemary and garlic brined pork

I never really got the whole brining-meat thing. . . seemed like a lot of time and effort when, presumably, a decent piece of meat cooked well and/or a nice sauce would do the trick. But after watching enough cooking shows – most recently Bobby Flay’s Barbecue Addiction – I caved and decided it was worth an experiment with a lean pork loin. And I totally get it now – it was tender and juicy, infused with rosemary, and perfectly seasoned without adding extra salt. Why is brining such magic? Harold McGee explains in On Food and Cooking. First, the salt “disrupts the muscle filaments,” so it acted as a tenderizer. The salt also interacts with the protein on a cellular level, which means the roast held more water, and all the flavors of my aromatics moved into the meat. (Remember osmosis? Never mind.) Any moisture lost in cooking is balanced out by the brine, so I ended up with an internally salted and flavored protein. Technically a brine is just salt and water, or vinegar and water. Most recipes include sugar to balance the saltiness as well as herbs or aromatics for added flavor. Because fat adds flavor and moisture to meat already, brining works best on lean or tough cuts of meat, pork, chicken, and turkey. It’s not a quick process, though. Here’s what I did to make the magic this first time through: Based on Bobby Flay’s brine recipe, I boiled 8 cups of water and then added 1/2 cup salt and 1/4 cup sugar, 4 garlic cloves, a handful of thyme and 4 sprigs of rosemary from my...
Sweet on sauerkraut

Sweet on sauerkraut

Every couple of Saturday mornings we go to the Cabrillo Farmer’s Market, where the Kids breakfast on loaded baked potatoes and sample the offerings from local cheesemongers and I make a beeline for a shot of Farmhouse Culture’s kraut juice. More often than not come home with a bottle. This is the real thing, the original superfood, boldly flavored and so loaded with goodness you can actually feel you blood cells dancing for hours afterward. Especially the kimchi juice – cabbagegingergarlicradish all condensed in a tiny cup. My notion of sauerkraut used to be clear mushy sweetly tangy ribbons of precooked cabbage that came packaged in plastic bags. The ones my mom used to buy and heat up with Polish sausage and boiled potatoes. You too? Then toss that idea out the window. It’s so . . .  last century. Or at least mid-last century. Real sauerkraut is the stuff of tradition, of home preservation, of real foods – crunchy and aromatic, and, because it’s fermented, not boiled it’s a raw food, loaded with healthy microbes and micronutrients. Plus, and most importantly, it tastes great. I was awakened to this new-old wave of sauerkraut after reading Burkhard Bilger’s profile of “fermentation fetishist” and raw food activist Sandor Katz, AKA Sandorkraut. He’s quite a passionate and fascinating guy, author of The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, The Art of Fermentation, and Wild Fermentation. He argues that we’re killing ourselves with cleanliness: pasteurization, processing, packaged prepared consumables. He’s onto something; quite a bit of recent research points to our gut microbes acting as an 11th organ system. So fermented sauerkraut is something I’d want to...
Easy scallion cakes (green onion cakes)

Easy scallion cakes (green onion cakes)

Scallions (also known as green onions, spring onions, salad onions, table onions, green shallots, onion sticks, long onions, baby onions, precious onions, yard onions, gibbons, or syboes) are the edible plants of various Allium species, all of which are “onion-like”, having hollow green leaves and lacking a fully developed root bulb. -Wikipedia Smitten Kitchen got me hooked on scallion cakes. It’s all because her recipe for Japanese vegetable pancakes, or okonomiyaki, that caught my eye one afternoon. Sliced cabbage, carrots, scallions, and kale mixed with eggs and a little flour to bind it all together. It sounded fresh and fast and a different sort of way to get some veggie love in with dinner. I gave it a shot. It was fresh, only too fresh, like an iceberg salad without the dressing. Perfectly acceptable, but with no depth of flavor – nothing I’d crave, or even think to make again. It was a good starting point, though. I liked the idea of the recipe, but I kind of wanted some punch. Everyone seemed to agree. After his first bite, LL said, “These would be really good if they had lots of onion, like scallion cakes.” Scallion cakes? That is not a dish I knew about, ever saw on a menu or tasted. Now, after doing the tiniest but of research, I’m just not sure how I missed them all my life. A.K.A. Cong you bing, 葱油饼; scallion pancakes, green onion pancakes . . .  this dish is one of Asia’s great street foods, as ubiquitous to Chinese cultures as muffins are to your corner Starbucks. I had to make it, yes. I love green onions. But you do know it’s tricky – even dangerous – to attempt...

New Sweepstakes: #FuelABetterYou from Nutrisystem

This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Nutrisystem, Inc.. All opinions are 100% mine. I believe in healthful, whole-food eating; regular readers of Life In A Skillet know that. But I also know that sometimes we feel like we need a jump-start to losing weight, either for health reasons or just to get rid of those sneaky few pounds that creep up over the years. There is no more convenient way to get started on a progam than with Nutrisystem‘s perfectly portioned® entrees and snacks, delivered right to your door. They take the temptation and guesswork our of weight loss. Choose your favorites from over 150 items, and you’re one step closer. Fuel your goals. Fuel your greatness.  Nutrisystem has the credentials – they’re a publicly traded company (NASDAQ:NTRI) with 40 years in the business. Between home-delivered meals and live counseling via phone or online, they make it easy to fit weight loss into your busy schedule. Have you ever thought about giving Nutrisystem a try? Here’s your chance. Their new #FuelABetterYou sweepstakes gives you a chance to try a 28-day Nutrisystem plan for free. To enter the Nutrisystem Fuel A Better You Sweepstakes, just visit the sweepstakes tab on the Nutrisystem Facebook Page, fill out the entry form and press the enter button to submit your entry. Prizes for the Nutrisystem Fuel A Better You Sweepstakes: Four (4) winners will receive one Nutrisystem® Select® program with 28 days of food products delivered to their door. One grand prize winner will receive one Nutrisystem® Select® program with 28 days of food products delivered to their door AND $500 cash....
This powdered pea protein is delicious

This powdered pea protein is delicious

Have you ever fallen into this trap – the one that begins with a resolution to eat more vegetables, to try a detox diet, to lose a few pounds or bulk up, or to pack your kids’ diet with more nutrition than humanly possible just by eating? I used to. Every now and then I’d feel some tug of not-healthful-enough-guilt, sometimes making a pot of that infamous cabbage soup, sometimes something buying something like whey protein or flax meal, things that get tossed after some period of time because, well, they really don’t taste very good in the recipes I like to make.  Yogurt or sherbet make excellent additions to smoothies. Fish oil, not so much. It happened a few weeks ago, for the first time in years. I was at NOURISH in Santa Cruz, a really fabulous place if you every get a chance to stop in, waiting for a massage. Their berry tea blend was naturally sweet and soothing, and I amused myself by browsing the dietary supplements while waiting. For some reason, the powdered pea protein from Source Naturals caught my eye and my imagination.   Kid Two had decided to give vegetarianism a try and he likes peas, so it seemed like something I may rationally sneak into his smoothies to bulk up the nutrition. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do that to him, though. Peas and berries? Big ick. So the container sat on my counter for a couple of weeks, mocking me, destined as money down the drain. Until, on a whim, I tried whisking a couple of heaping tablespoonfuls into homemade...
Best barbecue sauce recipe

Best barbecue sauce recipe

Years ago, maybe when Kid Two was a baby and my parents, Downtown Tom and Grandma Juju, were visiting, I got it in my head to make barbecue sauce. I remember glancing at a few recipes, getting the gist of it, then just going to town improvising with some mad assortment of ingredients that I only remember included ketchup and tequila. It was surprisingly amazingly REALLY delicious. Even my dad, who claims to only really enjoy food that was available in Granite City, Illinois in the glory days of the old radio show, loved it. It spoke to my emerging whole foods/homemade/foodie sort of palate and I vowed to never buy a bottle of barbecue sauce again. But you see, I didn’t write down the recipe and my attempts to duplicate it fell flat, so my vow to eschew bottled sauce only resulted in years with a distinct lack of savory grilling sauces. Until this weekend . . . bingo! I finally realized there was no way I could recreate a recipe that only lives in my vague sense memory. So I started from scratch, inspired by a bottle of Bulldog sauce Buddy’s mom picked up for us at the Japanese market in San Jose. Bulldog is a fantastic thick sweet and savory hybrid barbecue/hoisin sauce that has an astonishing number of ingredients, including prune puree. (Which reminds me, the best cioppino I ever had included prunes in the sauce. There may be a prune-y moral somewhere.) Like all good soups and sauces, this one benefits from slow cooking. Add your ingredients in batches, first the onions and garlic to soften and...

Amana microwave parts (sponsored post)

Junior year. On the radio – Blondie and the Talking Heads. At school – Electric typewriters and hand-held calculators. At home – a brand-new Amana Radarange microwave. Popcorn was always fast and leftovers were always hot. Free to drive for the first time and explore the city, I couldn’t help but feel the future was now. It’s a slightly different future now. Driving for fun is a no-no. Radio is practically obsolete, as are electric typewriters and hand-held calculators. Electronics are designed to be disposable, since it’s generally easier and cheaper to throw something out rather than fix it. Except for Amana microwaves. I went through two little microwaves from some other company in three years, donating them to the Kids’ elementary school to be dissected at the end of their lifespan. I’ve had my Amana for over 6 years now, and it still works like a charm. Best of all, in this disposable world, I can actually buy parts online to fix it. So if you have an Amana microwave that’s on the fritz, or has a scratched up door or a missing shelf or even a missing strap-capacitor, click here to source parts. Because back to the future means actually being able to buy parts to fix your appliances....
Sooty shearwaters feeding in the surf (everything eats)

Sooty shearwaters feeding in the surf (everything eats)

Each summer flocks of sooty shearwaters fly low over the Monterey Bay, diving and squawking as they feed on masses of bait fish – anchovies, sardines, squid, and krill – that school just below the water’s glistening surface. You see them coming in the distance, an impressive mass a mile or more in length; thousands of birds flying low over the water forming a cacophony of feathered missiles plunging headfirst for food.

What do you do with 12 pounds of salmon?

What do you do with 12 pounds of salmon?

Don’t let the prospect of purchasing 9 or 12 or 15 pounds of salmon ever keep you away from buying a whole fish – although you do need a dependable freezer. Surprisingly, it goes faster than you imagine. Here are a couple of tricks I’ve picked up from my fishy friends for preserving that fresh sea flavor: Get it home as quickly as possible while keeping it cold. Fisherman Frank assures me that temperature fluctuation hastens that “fishy smell.” Exposure to air also makes your fish smell fishy instead of like the sea, so if you have access to a vacuum sealer, fantastic. Just vacuum pack individual portions and then freeze. No worries if you don’t, though – you’ll have to just MacGyver it. Put individual portions into freezer-friendly zip-lock bags. Seal almost all the way, and then suck the air out yourself. You know, with your mouth. Like in the old days when you smoked. Do it right and the baggie collapses around the fish, and you can breath freely again. Finish zip-locking it and freeze. Now you have freshly frozen pieces of salmon to defrost and cook at your leisure. Your first meal with that super-fresh salmon could be little sashimi. You don’t have to be a sushi chef to do this, just use a super-sharp blade and respect the fish. Slice thinly. Layer with a little avocado, while you eat close your eyes and imagine the sea:   I don’t like to use any sauce or marinade on salmon that is this fresh – I just toss it on a super-hot barbecue dressed with a little lemon, salt,...
First fish

First fish

A quick stop at Day’s Market for a bag of ice was the daily de rigueur in the sailboat days of our early marriage. No refrigerator on the Ericson 30 we called home, just a deep insulated box under the speck of formica counter that needed constant replenishment to keep our chardonnay chilled and sundries shivery. It had been a long time since I’d even glanced at that sign – a grow-the-baby-to-the-cusp-of-his-twenties length of time, and stopping there again that Saturday morning for a bag of ice made those memories misty and my nostalgia shivery. It wasn’t the time or place to reminisce, though; I had a date with a salmon. This email, from Fisherman Frank of the Gayle R, came late one Friday, 4 or 5 days after the opening of commercial salmon season: Dear Salmon Fans, Plenty of fish, but the early bird always gets the worm!  (No earlier than 10 o’clock though, please). The cost is $10/lb for the whole fish.  Frank will filet and/or steak the fish for you.  Please remember to bring an ice chest. Cash is preferred, but local checks are OK.  If you don’t think you want a whole fish (average is 11-12 lbs), find a friend to split one with you.  Can’t beat the price!! Thanks ~ see you at E-dock! I was a newbie on his list, the one he sends when he’s on his way back to the harbor with a fresh load of live Dungeness crab, so didn’t realize his repertoire included salmon. Who could resist the lure of the freshest, local-est, line caught fish around? Not me. I was there by 10am after a stop at the bank, the...
Caprese salad with chicken, penne, and pine nuts

Caprese salad with chicken, penne, and pine nuts

A simple recipe for you today for this quick and easy caprese salad, a light dish for these longer hotter nights. The pine nuts are a nice touch, adding a crunchy earthiness and finishing the dish. 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved 1 cup fresh mozzarella balls, halved   1/4 cup each Italian parsley and basil, cut into ribbons 1/4 lb cooked chicken breast, diced   2 cups cooked penne and 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts Toss with Italian vinaigrette and serve. Caprese salad with chicken, penne, and pine nuts   Save Print Caprese salad becomes a dinner entree with the addition of chicken and penne, and pine nuts add crunch and earthiness. Author: Life in a Skillet Recipe type: Entree Serves: 4-6 Ingredients 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved 1 cup fresh mozzarella, halved ¼ cup EACH Italian parsley and basil, cut into ribbons ¼ lb cooked chicken breasts, diced 2 cups cooked penne ¼ cup toasted pine nuts Instructions Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Toss gently. Add your favorite Italian vinaigrette and toss again. Serve either chilled or at room temperature. Wordpress Recipe Plugin by EasyRecipe 3.2.1753...
Mystery dinner?

Mystery dinner?

So THIS is what the Kids are up to when I’m not home to cook. I saw this mystery meal after downloading the photos on my camera; the home-cooked fare I missed going to see the Stones. Kids cooking for themselves. Nice job, guys:     Mind if I steal the recipe? I’m thinking of adding poblano pepper, red onion and cherry tomato....
50 and Counting with the Rolling Stones in San Jose

50 and Counting with the Rolling Stones in San Jose

There’s got to be something wrong with getting dressed up and sipping roasted truffle bisque before a Rolling Stones show. Maybe not as wrong as Jessica Biel wearing a clip-on nose ring to Chaos to Couture, but when said roasted truffle bisque is accompanied by lobster tail and is served in a restaurant arena at a special reservations-required seating before the show, it’s cause to wonder. While Mick and Keith were backstage, possibly channeling eternal youth inside matching hyperbaric chambers, a legion of similarly-aged fans sat inside The Grill at the HP Pavilion at a $72.95-per-person-pre-fixe-Rolling-Stones menu, selecting from house made chanterelle pasta, red wine marinated poussin, applewood bacon wrapped filet, or potato scaled turbot. And drinking wine. Check it out.

Santa Cruz’s age of Aquarius

Santa Cruz’s age of Aquarius

There really aren’t that many restaurants in Santa Cruz County that have an excellent ocean view with equally engaging food. And THAT is why I love Aquarius restaurant at the Dream Inn. The Dream Inn is the coastline’s tallest multi-story hotel that had probably gotten to be a little shabby by the time LL proposed to me there all those years ago, but in recent years received an upscale hipster-worthy remodel from new management Joie de Vivre along with a total foodie remake of the restaurant, newly christened Aquarius. I LOVE this place . . .  LL and I go there a few times a year for lunch when schedules permit – are we really that busy?? This Monday, there were only three other tables seated, and we sat watching some hardcore couple in wetsuits playing kettleball in the surf with a couple of sea lions peeking their shiny heads up from the sea. If you ever are traveling along the coast between San Jose and Monterey, this is one restaurant worth stopping for both the food and the view – and it’s even a hotel restaurant. I’ve dug up a few photos for you to see why: Artisan reuben sandwich I say "artisan" because the pastrami came from Santa Cruz's own El Salchichero butcher shop, home of locally raised meats and artistry in the hands of owner Chris LaVeque. Then the sauerkraut isn't just any sauerkraut - it's Farmhouse Culture, also a Santa Cruz creation. Aromatic, spicy, and delicious. The scene of the crime The Dream Inn, now a Joie de Vivre-managed property, houses Aquarius. It's also where...