a food blog by samwellsphoto.com
December 4, 2014

It seems like a lot of people I know don’t like mushrooms. They flee from them like the plague. They’re probably traumatized from multiple experiences with terribly cooked button mushrooms, so they refuse to try them anymore. Or they might not like the texture – don’t get me started on that. It’s a shame because there are so many varieties that offer such wildly unique flavors, and everything deserves a try.

At the San Francisco farmers market I found a farmer selling unique organic mushrooms. I got some Nameko, Lion’s mane, hedgehog, black trumpet, king trumpet, oyster, and maitake mushrooms. I cooked them over the campfire when I was passing through Big Sur.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that these mushrooms tasted better than bacon juice injected beef dipped in butter. I used my favorite method frying in a dry pan (explained below) with the added bonus of oak smoke from the fire.

Here are some tips on how to properly prepare mushrooms so you can convert some mushroom haters you know.

1. Pick some interesting varieties. We all know what button and crimini mushrooms taste like, so try something different. There is usually someone specializing in mushrooms at most farmers markets, and all Asian markets have a more interesting selection of dried and fresh.

2. Don’t wash them!!! Please refrain from ruining the mushrooms. They are like sponges that pickup all the water you put on them. This makes them chewy and water logged. Most come pretty clean because they don’t really pickup that much dirt – depending on how they are grown. If they do have dirt on them, simply wipe the dirt off with a damp cloth or paper towel. This is very important.

3. Dry pan fry. Try adding them to a well seasoned cast iron pan or nonstick WITHOUT oil on medium heat. Let them fry to evaporate the moisture. This will allow you to brown them a bit and even make them crispy if you like. I like to add oil and garlic after 5 minutes in the pan. If you add the oil too early the mushrooms soak it up right away.

4. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Moisture will come out of the mushrooms as they cook, so to avoid boiling them in a puddle of water, leave space so the moisture can evaporate quickly.

5. Keep it simple. I like to just add salt and pepper. Sometimes I might add creme, garlic, or butter.

6. Ultra crispy. Slice some giant trumpets ultra thin on a mandolin slicer and add them to the pan wiped with a little oil and cook them on low until they dehydrate and crisp up. This makes an epic garnish.

7. Mushrooms on toast. Toast some good bread and rub with a garlic clove cut in half. Then add the mushrooms on top and garnish with some spicy greens (I used nasturtium leaves in this photo).

8. Marinate. You can marinate even boring button mushrooms to make them interesting. I use a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic, minced shallot, salt, and pepper. Marinate for a few hours and then saute.

November 19, 2014

I am a firm believer that you absolutely need an organized kitchen with everything you need at your fingertips. I recently added this new eight foot bar to hang all my pots and cooking accessories. It’s very cheap and easy to do. All you need is a 10 foot 1/2 inch conduit or galvanized pipe from home depot ($2.34) and two 4 inch stainless steel screw eye with 5/16 inch thread ($2.27 each) and as many Ikea Grundtal hooks as you want. Make sure you screw the bolts into the studs and you’ll be able to hang anything. This will clear room in your cabinets and let you find things quickly.

November 17, 2014

bay

I bought a small 1 gallon bay tree a year ago, and its been growing like crazy ever since. I up-potted it twice, and now its in a 14 inch terracotta pot. I had to give it a little trim the other day, and I got 10 small branches from this 2 foot tree . Now I use bay in everything I can – in all my soups, stocks, braises and marinades. I met an old couple in Argentina that tossed bunches of bay on the fire when they were cooking meat over coals. If you want a very useful tree you can cook from, I would really recommend a bay tree. Its hardy, it’s a fast grower, and if you keep it in a pot, you can keep it at a manageable size. You will be able to pick fresh leaves daily and always have bay on hand.

November 13, 2014

Last year we traveled to Spain, and when we were in Santiago de Compostela we found a market with a guy selling octopus from a small food cart. The other night I was reading an article in San Diego Magazine about how octopus is blowing up in all the restaurants in San Diego. Check out the article here if you are interested. This reminded me of our street lunch in Santiago where we tried octopus for the first time. The only problem with trying it in Spain for the first time is that it has been really hard to top that experience since then.

Octopus is tough to cook – it is literally tough. An octopus is basically comprised of all muscle, so it can be a challenge to relax the meat enough to avoid being chewy. I’ve heard of sushi chefs massaging the meat for 2-3 hours to tenderize it. One sushi chef I talked to said you either cook it super fast and hot or extremely long and low. The guy in Santiago had the long and low method down to a science because he would pull out this beautiful octopus from his caldron of mystery that has been slowly breaking it down for the last day until he cuts a portion up for a customer. He was a man of simplicity as he just added some insanely good olive oil (I mean insanely good), sea salt, and a bit of paprika. It blew my mind and the experience will be etched in my mind forever.

November 11, 2014

After reading (and by reading I mean I listened to the audio CD) Michael Pollan’s book Cooked, I was more motivated to cook than ever. He describes in depth how to cook with fire, cook with water, preserve by fermentation, and bake rustic bread. His section on slow cooking tough cuts of meat motivated me to learn more about the technique of braising. The cheapest cuts of meat can be just as flavorful as any expensive cut, but they require careful slow cooking technique to make the meat tender.

The basic science is that the most exercised parts of an animal (leg, rump and shoulder) have more collagen which makes the meat tough and chewy. With enough cooking time at around 150 degrees, the collagen transforms into gelatin, so the meat becomes soft and breaks apart. So it is all about time and temperature – low and slow. It’s time to slow down and cook more.

This brings me to lamb shank. It is one of the cheapest cuts, but it requires some slow cooking. It’s basically the equivalent of a chicken drum stick, which is one of my favorite cuts. Here is my recipe for lamb shank.

  • 2 lamb shanks (one per person)
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1/2 large onion
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock (or water)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper (more than you think you need)
  1. Add smoked paprika, cumin, salt and pepper along with some olive oil and rub into the meat. Marinate for 1 hour.
  2. Chop carrots, celery, and onion. Rough chop garlic.
  3. Saute carrots, celery, onion and garlic on med-low. Don’t let it burn. Add to crock pot.
  4. Add oil to cast iron or stainless steel pan and brown the lamb shanks on med to med-high until you have brown all over.
  5. Add wine to deglaze pan. Make sure to get all the sticky brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Those are all good flavor.
  6. Put lamb shanks on top of vegetables in crock pot and add the wine liquid along with 1 cup of vegetable stock.
  7. Cook on low for 3-5 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone.
  8. Garnish with any herb you have. I used mint because it goes well with lamb and I have a ton of it in my garden.

 

 

October 29, 2014

I just picked the last of my pepino melons for the season. They are beautiful looking fruit that tastes like a cross between a melon and a cucumber. I put them in salads to sweeten things up or just eat them whole like any fruit. This has been one of my favorite plants to grow because its a perennial and it is super easy to propagate by cloning. I’ve cloned a bunch by cuttings, but I found that mound layering is the fastest way to do it. All you need to do is bend a few branches down to the ground and cover them with 4-6 inches of dirt. Wait a few weeks and the roots will grow and then you can cut it from the mother plant and dig it out to transplant. I bought my mother plant a few years ago for $12 in a one gallon pot, and i’ve made at least 30 plants from it. It’s a hard plant to find, but it is well worth growing.

May 2, 2014

Sorry I haven’t posted in a long time. It’s been a busy season in my life and even though I’ve been cooking a ton, I haven’t posted anything. Don’t worry, I’m not eating out at Applebee’s everyday. That place is…. Anyway, here is my version of chicken cacciatore. I love making this because it is so easy and doesn’t require much prep.

Fresh herbs are key to this recipe. If you don’t grow your own, stop what your doing, go to home depot, and buy some plants. Otherwise, this recipe (and all other Italian recipes) will cost you $5 more than it should. These plants are so easy to grow. Rosemary and thyme are some of the more hardy plants and are very versatile.

Here is one final note about cooking I recently learned from a chef friend. The last thing you put in is the first thing you taste. This means that if you like the taste of garlic, put it in last NOT first. If you like the taste of fresh herbs, put them in 5 minutes before it’s done cooking. You can alter the balance of flavor by timing ingredients to your liking. Try some variations. I’m also not a fan of adding garlic to the oil before I add the chicken because it tends to burn. If you like that flavor, try sauteing the garlic to a perfect crispiness and then taking it out to add in at the end.

Recipe for 4 servings

  • 4-5 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 – 24oz can of fire roasted tomatoes
  • 5 handfuls of penne pasta
  • 3 TBS balsamic vinegar
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced rosemary
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  1. Add oil to pan on medium heat and bring to temp.
  2. Add chicken and cook on medium-high. After a few minutes lower temp to med-low to cook for 5-10 min per side. Make sure it is low enough so it gets crispy but does not burn. Don’t move the chicken around until it comes loose on its own. Lower heat is important here so it releases before it burns.
  3. Puree roasted tomatoes and add to chicken along with herbs, minced garlic, and balsamic vinegar. Drizzle some more olive oil on top and mix everything in.
  4. Simmer on low for 20 minutes
  5. Add diced zucchini 3 minutes before serving.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste and add to pasta.
September 9, 2013

It’s been hot the last few weeks here in San Diego, so I had to revert to cold brew for my coffee making method of choice. Hot coffee is miserable when your working in the heat, but I still gotta get some coffee in me. I asked my resident coffee expert friend Serge if he could solve my problems, and he showed me how to cold brew like a Portland hipster. It’s very simple and you get great flavor out of your coffee. Use whatever beans you like. Serge only uses small batch roasted beans from Ethiopia or Columbia, but that’s too rich for my blood, so I turn to my medium roast fair trade organic beans from Trader Joe’s for $7 a pound.

Here is his technique: 100 grams medium ground coffee to 800 grams cold water. Brew in fridge for 24 hours. Strain using a paper filter.

Here is my cheater technique: Fill a quart or half gallon mason jar to just above the 10% mark with medium ground coffee. Add cold water to the top. Cap it. Brew in fridge for 24 hours. Strain. (My version is a little less strong because I’m not as Russian as he is).

July 2, 2013

Peppers were super cheap, so I bought a ton and roasted them to use in a bunch of recipes. I like roasting big batches, so I can eat some right away and freeze the rest. I love to use them to make tapenades, put in sandwiches, and rough chop them to add in rice or beans. Check out this method of roasting peppers so you can remove the skin leaving you with a smooth and silky sweet pepper.

Here’s how to roast peppers for maximum flavor:

  1. Toss whole peppers in a large mixing bowl with enough olive oil to coat. Add salt and pepper. You can also add a peeled onion cut into quarters and a whole bulb of garlic broken into pieces if you like.
  2. Put on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. They taste better if they char black in some spots (but not too black). You will peel off the skin anyway. If they don’t darken, you can add them to the broiler for 5 minutes on high.
  3. Turn them half way through to get color on the other side.
  4. Remove from oven and IMMEDIATELY put back in mixing bowl and cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap to lock in the steam. The plastic wrap will start to puff up if you’ve created the seal correctly. It usually takes 2-3 pieces to seal the bowl.
  5. Let sit in the fridge until cool. They get better after a day in the fridge, but you can move onto the next step as soon as they cool down.
  6. Uncover and peel the skins off by hand. They should just peel off like butter. Remove the stems and seeds.
  7. Add to any recipe.
  8. To freeze, add to a mason jar and cover with the juice left over in the bowl. Fill 70 percent of the way, add cap, and freeze.

Here is a pepper tapenade recipe:

  • 4 roasted bell peppers
  • 1/2 roasted onion
  • 3 roasted garlic gloves
  • handful of basil
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  1. Roast peppers, onions, and garlic and peel.
  2. Rough chop everything with a knife or use a food processor.
  3. Add olive oil to get the consistency you want.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Eat with high quality bread.

When we were in Hawaii we tried this macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi, and I fell immediately bought some fresh fish and tried to imitate it. My version is a much more simple and fresh version that requires much less ingredients. We got some epic macadamia nut oil while we were there, so I used that in the recipe instead of olive oil.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb Mahi Mahi
  • small handful raw macadamia nuts
  • any veggies
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • macadamia nut oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut up vegetables of your choice and partially boil.
  3. Crush mac nuts into fine powder by placing them in a plastic bag and bashing them with a bottle.
  4. Place vegetables in an oven proof dish and toss with some mac nut oil.
  5. Place fish in center of dish and spread honey over the top.
  6. Spread crushed mac nuts over top and drizzle a little more mac oil on top.
  7. Back for 20 minutes or until done at 350 degrees.