From the back yard garden, kale and radicchio that’s finally forming heads (planted last fall).
With fermented Jimmy Nardello pepper paste…
A excellent, relatively quick dinner– Grilled steak, onions, and peppers. A fiery, fruity salsa made from grilled/blistered rocoto peppers, olive oil, lime juice, and salt. And tortillas also cooked on the grill as an experiment….
Starting each tortilla on a cast iron skillet for a minute gave it a skin on the bottom that prevented the soft masa from drooping down through the grating– then I transferred each tortilla to the grill, making it easy to quickly cook 4-6 in parallel.
For a savory brunch, we made cornmeal pancakes from some beautiful Floriani red flint corn my sister grew and ground:
I took a ‘Johnnycakes’ approach, which is more like a thin griddled cornbread or polenta, with no baking powder or flour. The general recipe (made 12 hearty pancakes, for 4 adults + 2 kids with toppings):
I made test pancakes with and without egg in the batter, and the one with egg and a bit more liquid made a thinner, smoother, more traditional-looking pancake (on the right)– but while both were delicious we preferred the texture of the eggless, thicker version on the left:
We served them with a buffet of savory toppings– black-and-white orca beans, cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs, avocado, and a collection of beautiful greens from the back yard ‘winter garden’ (which in Oakland has been just hugging the edge of frost at night)– mizuna, broccoli greens, kale, arugula, daikon greens, and some oregano and thyme, sautéed with caramelized red onions and garlic. The daikon greens have been a surprisingly good addition to many sautés– they give off a puff of mustardy spice when you first start to cook them but then mellow out.
This quick cell phone photo of a plate doesn’t make it look especially appealing, but this was a delicious (and relatively simple) combination I’d make again:
Reflecting recently how much I like a good paleta (Mexican popsicles, often made with fresh fruit and a little sweetener), I picked up a few molds and a book for inspiration.
And then for a New Year’s Eve party I made two flavors: toasted coconut and lime-mezcal-chili. The latter used limes, cayenne peppers, and limequats from our back yard (the limequat is the edible kumquat-sized citrus sliced thin and frozen into the paleta below, mostly for appearance):
These were easy and successful…
Lime-mezcal-chili paleta (makes about 10 regular-size):
I loved the way these turned out– with our Bearss limes the result is quite tart (which is good), and there’s just a hint of pepper heat. The mezcal adds some smokiness and a bit of liquor flavor while still being little enough alcohol that the paleta freezes (I estimate this works out to about 1/6th of a beer’s worth of alcohol per popsicle, so it’s not going to get anyone tipsy).
The red chili flake did tend to all settle to the bottom or float to the top, so if I did this again I might infuse it into the syrup and then strain it out, or try freezing the paletas for an hour to a slushy form and then mixing in the chili flakes, on the theory they’d stay more distributed.
Toasted coconut paleta (makes about 12 regular size):
(I based this on the ‘quick coconut paleta’ recipe in the book above)
These were pretty good– they had an amazingly creamy texture, and I like the toasted coconut. They were sweeter than I like, so if I did it again I’d put in significantly less sugar (maybe half as much condensed milk, and more coconut milk) and buy or make coarser shredded coconut (and use less of it) for some more variation in texture.
The best part of having leftover pulled pork and salsa from New Year’s Eve dinner?
New Year’s Day carnitas chilaquiles (tortilla chips soaked in tomatillo salsa, topped with fatty pulled pork that’s been crisped under the broiler and mixed with a little orange juice, and a fried egg):
For a small New Year’s Eve party, a meal cooked primarily in the smoker (tacos with pulled pork, homemade tortillas, and salsas made from smoked tomatillos and pineapples):
23-hour slow-smoked pork shoulder:
It didn’t even need any sauce– I just squeezed a few limes over it.
Smoked tomatillo salsa, a puree of both smoked and raw ingredients:
I’ve tried a few ways of using smoked tomatillos and this is the highlight for me– I’ve even frozen excess in ice cube trays to save for later:
Smoked pineapple salsa:
My friend judit turned me on to how well smoking treats pineapple– the low slow cook caramelizes it, and this sweetness helps balance the woody smoke.
I started by slicing two pineapples into discs and smoking / roasting them at 225F for two hours (at the same time as the tomatillos and pork– in the initial, smokier two hours). I pureed:
And then added for texture/contrast:
The meal turned out really well, if I may say so myself.
Plus, we had a lot of tomatillo salsa and pulled pork left over the next day for breakfast…
After years of successfully cooking steak in a traditional way (salted a few hours ahead of time, then high heat on a grill or a skillet on the stovetop followed by a 5-10 minute rest), I gave the “reverse sear” technique a try.
The general idea is to bake / roast the steak at lower temperature until it’s almost done, then rapidly sear each side on a hot grill. The slower, lower-temperature cook should uniformly get the steak to the desired medium-rare level, while the sear browns the outside for flavor– but with less of a gradient from the surface to the inside (and without requiring any special equipment like a sous vide).
After trying this a few times, a simple weeknight compromise in the level of effort that works for me is to set up a grill for indirect cooking (fire on one side, steaks on the other) at around 275, roast the steaks with the lid closed until they’re at about 115F internal temperature (20-30 minutes), take them out and let them rest 10-15 minutes while I open the vents and crank the grill up to high temperature (500F), then sear a minute or so on each side (internal temp 125).
The end result of the best attempt– beautifully done, tender, and delicious:
I wouldn’t say I’m a convert to *always* cooking it in this way, or am convinced it automatically makes a better steak– but it works well and does give a bit more latitude in the timing, where plus or minus 1 minute doesn’t rapidly take you past medium-rare.
In the future I’m curious to combine this with some fruit woods as a way to lightly smoke a steak, since it’s in the grill for longer than a traditional hot-seared steak.