April 2016

ham and cheese

Posted on April 27, 2016

Growing up I was never really a big ham fan. It was turkey or peanut butter (hold the jelly), or nothing. And then I entered into a six year vegetarian phase, considered to be a dark period by both our families, and so I really didn’t have much experience with ham before moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina for my third year of college.

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Argentines are big fans of ham. You can get just about anything ‘completo’, which means topped with ham, cheese and egg. You can get a sandwich completo. An empanada completo. A pizza completo. Pizza! Topped with ham, cheese and egg! I was forced to confront my ham prejudices head on. Ham was inescapable.

And so I embraced it. My favorite way to eat ham and cheese was as a tostada. There was a little cafe in my neighborhood where you could get a cafe con leche with ham and cheese toasty. Made on thin white bread (pan de miga) with ham (jamon cocido) and mild, melty cheese (port salut), it was toasted on this terrifying wire contraption, which I tried to use at home and which always, always resulted in burnt toast. Alongside your coffee and sandwich, they’d give you two of the tiniest creme puffs. Marble sized balls of pastry filled with a tiny squeeze of vanilla pastry creme, dusted with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. If that is not a totally adorable touch, I don’t know what is.

For some reason, one particular tostada stands out in my memory. It was a rainy day, it can really pour in Buenos Aires, and so we took shelter inside a cafe to fortify ourselves with tostadas. That tostada, it was a sandwich that felt like a hug. Or maybe a towel that’s warm and fresh from the dryer. A sandwich so perfectly suited to the moment it was eaten that I still haven’t forgotten it eight years later. This specific memory popped into my head last weekend, and I had to try to recreate that sandwich.

We got close. Not perfect, but close.

For this sandwich, contrary to grilled cheese wisdom, it’s important not to butter the bread. I’ll pause there to let you take it that in. It’s a pretty dry sandwich. The cheese should melt, but not so much that it bubbles or browns. You also want a ham that is pretty mild. I’d stay away from anything honey-baked or too smokey. Honey-baked is not the Argentine way.

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Ham and Cheese Tostada
2 slices of pain de mie bread, crusts cut off (do it, it makes a difference, ask any 4 year old)
a few slices of ham (we used a french ham from our favorite cheese spot in the neighborhood)
a few slices of mild, melty cheese (we used a french port salut, raclette would also be nice)

Cut the crusts off the bread. Put the bread on a baking sheet. Top one slice with ham, one slice with cheese. Put into your oven at 350° F and warm until the cheese melts. Once the cheese has melted, put the slices together and toast each side under your boiler, just a minute or two per side.

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the year of the dumpling

Posted on April 9, 2016

We’ve been on a bit of a dumpling kick lately. Eating dumplings at spots all around the city, making our own at home, forcing friends to work for their dinners, being forced by friends to work for ours. We’re affectionately referring to this obsession as the Year of the Dumpling, but based on how things are going, it may evolve into the Decade of the Dumpling.

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I have a backlog of dumpling recipes to share, but I’m thinking it’s best to start with a classic. Basic pork dumplings. A little garlic, ginger, scallions, and that’s about it. When I was doing research, it seems that many recipes also call for cabbage, sesame oil, onions and pepper, which we added the first time we made these. The second time, we forgot those other ingredients and no one was the wiser. Simple wins.

I like my dumplings with vinegar, a good amount of it. Jordan likes chili oil. We joined forces for this sauce—if joining forces can be described as mixing together two ingredients in a bowl. If you like spicy, make the sauce. If you don’t, mix a little soy sauce and rice vinegar in a dish. Or just eat the dumplings plain. Everyone is free to eat their dumplings however they like, we accept all forms of dumpling eatery.

Dumplings also freeze exceptionally well, which is handy because this recipe makes about fifty. I love dumplings, but I can’t eat fifty in one sitting. Yet. Make sure to take the frozen-factor into account when steaming or pan frying, they’ll take a few extra minutes to cook. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re nervous if there isn’t a bag of dumplings in the freezer. (Trader Joe’s frozen gyoza are also really good, if you’re in the mood to eat dumplings but not to make them yourself). Dumplings are perfect for a quick, weeknight dinner. Steam some rice, sauté some greens, fry up a few dumplings and you’ve got yourself a great meal. We have it at least once a week.

Basic Pork Dumpling with Chili Sauce
1 lb pork shoulder, cut into cubes and ground with a meat grinder (or ground pork, the fattier, the better)
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, diced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, diced
4 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thinly
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 package of dumpling wrappers (about 50 wrappers)

For the Chili Sauce
2 tablespoons sambal oelek chili sauce (find it at any Asian grocery for $1.70, or substitute sriracha)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar

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Cut the pork shoulder into 1 inch cubes and sprinkle with salt. Chill in the freezer for 20 minutes, then grind on the fine die with your meat grinder. Or, if you don’t have a husband who loves to grind meat, purchase some ground pork from your butcher. Make sure it isn’t too lean. A little fat means juicy dumplings.

Mix the ground pork, garlic, ginger, scallions and soy sauce together until everything is evenly distributed. Lay out a few rows of dumpling wrappers on a baking sheet or countertop. Put a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each wrapper. Using your finger, moisten the edges of the dumpling wrapper. Fold in half and crimp the edges.

To cook, heat a small amount of water in a pot and top with a steamer or colander. Line the steamer with some parchment paper so your dumplings don’t get stuck to the steamer. Plan to cook at least 10 dumplings per person—they go down easy. Steam the dumplings for about 5 minutes, until the internal temperature is 160° F. I recommend using a thermometer to check the temperature until you get your steaming technique down. If you let the dumplings go too long, the pork filling can end up a bit dry and crumbly instead of juicy and succulent. Top with chili sauce and enjoy!

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oysterfest 2016

Posted on April 3, 2016

Oh hi, how are you? It’s been a while. We’ve been grooving hardcore in our Northern California lifestyle. Answering those emails, building those websites, grading those exams, running those participants, and then 7:30pm/the weekend hits and it’s pure San Francisco magic. Making dumplings and sausages and paintings, doing yoga, relaxing in the park, strolling the neighborhood with a hound who’s miraculously back to her peppy 2011 self after surgery to remove glass from her paw, eating lots of foods with lots of friends. It’s a damn good life.

Now if you happen to find yourself in Northern California on sunny weekend not unlike the ones we’ve been having lately, and want to feel those good vibes that make California the greatest state in the nation, I’ve got a perfect plan for you. Go buy yourself 200 oysters for $200, drive a few miles down the road, sit on a beach and eat all of them. Works best if you have some good friends to go along with you, but I imagine you’d still have a decent time if it was just you and your shucker.

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Things you’ll need: 
– Oysters (get them fresh from the source at Tomales Bay Oyster Company)
– Ice (the boys at TBOC have got you covered)
A shucker
– Lemons and/or hot sauce and/or mignonette
– Beer and/or wine
– Bread
Cheese
– Plaid shirt
– Bocce set (optional)

The next part is easy. Sit on the beach, bask in the sunshine and eat oysters until the fog rolls in. You’ve never had a better Saturday, at least not one you can remember. That oyster-high, it’s unbeatable.

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Be back soon with dumpling recipes. We’ve been experimenting and it’s starting to get real good.