Cheese.  Wine.  Kimchi.  Sauerkraut.  My favorite foods involve fermentation, pickling, and mold.  How is that?

We visited Tanaka Farms this past Fourth of July weekend.  Tanaka Farms is, I believe, the last operating farm in Orange County.  The sole memory of what used to be before shopping plazas, asphalt, and apartment buildings.  At 30 acres, the farm is big enough to deserve its name yet small enough to entertain wagons of guests who've never seen tomatoes growing on a vine.  

I bought a few pints of strawberries.  These red jewels are at the end of their season, and I was lucky to get a hold of a few before they disappeared.  

Now, I was born and raised in Santa Maria, California, a strawberry town unto itself.  I grew up eating berries as big as my palm, tossed in sugar or simply washed and eaten straight.  (Looking back, I wonder if the pesticides had any ill effect on me, but judging by where I am today, I think I fared okay.)  The Tanaka berries were much smaller, but, at the risk of libeling my hometown, they were far superior.

The berries were deep red, almost black, with an intense strawberry flavor.  Saying a strawberry tastes like a strawberry is a bit of a tautology, but I know no other way to describe it.  These were berries that had to be eaten within hours, lest they rot.  Unfortunately, I could only have a taste without fearing my allergies would attack, so I took my berries home and decided to make jam.  What better way to celebrate the end of strawberry season?

I was a little hesitant about jumping on the preserves bandwagon.  When would I ever find time to make jam?  How much jam could one savory tooth person possibly consume?  But I had some Weck jars I purchased at the Ferry Building during my last trip to San Francisco, and I was itching to put them to use.  And it turns out that small batch jam is simple, once you get past the fear of unsterile jars.  

Below are the results.  I plan to eat these with homemade biscuits.  Better yet--biscuits mixed with cheese.

Note: Don't use this post as a canning guide.  My jar is clean, but I'm not so sure it's ready to be stored in a cellar as emergency rations.  But even if you do plan to eat the jam quickly, here are some general tips I think you should keep in mind: (1) put hot liquid in hot jars to prevent the glass from cracking; (2) leave a enough head space at the top of the jar; (3) sterilize your jars thoroughly (warming them is insufficient!); (4) do not, do not, do not, do not, do not EVER touch hot sugar!! (trust me, it is a mistake)
 

In a big heavy saucepan, I added about 5 cups of mashed, organic strawberries, 2 cups of sugar*, and the juice and zest of 1 lemon.  I cooked this at a low boil for about 25-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, I had my jars boiling in a big pot of water.  I tested the jam by dropping a teaspoon on a plate I had stuck in the freezer.  When I could run a finger through the jam without it running together, I knew it was ready. 

* I found the jam too sweet but am nervous about adjusting the sugar, since it combines with the fruit pectin and acid to create the jam.  More research is due here. 

 I removed the jars from the water, dried them, set them on a dry towel, and carefully poured the jam into the jars.

  I left about 1/4" of space at the top.

I sealed the jars by adding the lids and clamping them shut.  This step is unique to Weck jars, which use glass and rubber instead of the usual lid and ring setup.  The clamps hold the lid down until a natural suction develops.  No rusting metal innards = awesome.

And there, I was done.  The next morning, I enjoyed homemade strawberry jam on toast with cream cheese.  Delicious.

(Note: I skipped processing the jars
since I plan to eat my jam fairly quickly.)

 

Love the strawberry design on the lid 

 

So I know I haven't been the best about keeping this blog up to date.  Chalk it up to an unpredictable, busy schedule(the one aside from cooking)!  When you only have so many hours in the day and spend most of them working, the first thing you feel like doing when you get home is not laboring over a hot stove.

Especially in this heat. It is hot.  I am happily soaking in every ray of sunshine in my first summer in Los Angeles.  Every passing breeze helps fade the memory of summer peacoats in San Francisco and other northern oxymorons (June heating bill?).

But if I am not cooking, I am eating.  Korean doenjang jiggae over rice, wood fired pizza from GTA on Abbot Kinney (just opened five weeks ago), juicy burgers at City Tavern, porchetta sandwiches with pickled cauliflower from Mendocino Farms, organic watermelon and produce from Tanaka Farms, salted fish fried rice in Orange County, homemade sardine bruschetta from Mike.  Whatever happened to my fear of not finding good food in LA?  Crazy thoughts.

I'm also watching the plants on my balcony grow and grow--the tallest tomato plant is about my height, the Japanese peppers are forming, and the mixed greens are almost ready to snip.  And tbere is still shopping--or in my case, window-shopping: I eye stone fruits with envy, wishing I could eat them raw.  The summer weather makes me crave cold, juicy, and ripe things, things I cannot have.

It is becoming apparent to me that I slightly prefer eating to cooking.  I'm not a calculating cook; I don't dissect recipes or take careful note of my technique.  Recipes are a means to an end, and as soon as I finish one dish, I am thinking of the next.  I should really be more thoughtful. 

Anyway, here I find myself, thick in summer, by the beach, feeling warm and content.  And with that, I am off to (what else) eat.  

P.S. WCP got a shout-out in Serious Eats' Share Your Sweets slideshow!  Nothing exclusive, but I found it funny to see my words through another filter.

P.P.S. Up next - my stab at strawberry jam.  And, I hope, my attempt at this adaptation of a rosemary bean dip from Heidi Swanson's new book, Super Natural Every Day.  Thanks to my friend Phoebe for thoughtfully recommending the recipe(s) to me! :D

 

This is Mike Kim.  You might remember him from the first season of Master Chef.  The American version.  If you think back, you might remember a Korean guy who talks like the wind and runs like a roadrunner around his station.  
 

This is Conrad.  Conrad and Mike are both chefs at Bazaar (Jose Andres, anyone?).  They decided to take their love of food beyond the brick and mortar and start RnD Table.  The concept: Give young chefs the opportunity to experiment and collaborate.  The rules: None but an open mind, hard work ethic, curiosity, and passion.  Inspiration: Korean cuisine.  The result: An intimate, fun, delicious dining experience for curious eaters.   

I was really excited about RnD Table for three reasons: (1) whether you call it a pop-up kitchen, underground kitchen, or a supper club, I am a big fan of these fly by night food affairs because you get nothing but food, passion, and good company, (2) being Korean, I was curious to see whether this modern interpretation would give due respect to the culture (it does), and (3) my sister, who worked on MC, had said enough good things about Mike to make me curious to see him in action.  Turns out the television version of Mike is more or less accurate.  I was in the door but for a second before Mike tried to seat me, all while giving me a hug, telling me I could take photos, asking if I wanted a drink, and introducing his team.  Like I said, speedy.
 

But don't let the speed fool you.  
The team is the real deal.
 

Stomachs grumbling in anticipation
 

Blue bowls ready in line
 

First: Gyeran Jim (Egg Custard)
According to Mike, a melding of Asian and French techniques.  Inside: egg, trumpet mushrooms, crispy lotus root, green onion, soy.  Flavor: A delicious mushroom umami flavor permeating the creamy egg custard.


 Second: Hwe Dup Bop (yellowtail sashimi)
To me and all Koreans, hwe dup bop is something like a raw fish version of bibimbap-rice, raw fish, and a whole lot of other things jumbled together in a big bowl.  This was a lighter version, with rice replaced by rice cracker.  What you see here is sesame leaf chlorophyll spread like paint; atop it is asian pear, guacamole, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), and purple garlic flowers.  There's also masago, arugula, perilla leaf, and chrysanthemum sprout.  And of course, yellowtail.  Flavor: Light, more Japanese than Korean to me.
 


 Third: Dongchimi (Granita)
This is no ordinary granita.  It reminded me of naengmyun on a hot summer's day, or the cool liquid remains of mulkimchi (literally: water kimchi).  Refreshing and so, so good.  inside: Lobok radish, asian pear, fresno pepper, green onion.  What you can't see is the delicate arrangement inside, made to look like a flower.
 

Plating the next course
 

Mike was a pro-in and out of the kitchen, serving the dishes, introducing each course with his signature "stop to catch my breath" excitement.
 

Fourth: Samgyetang (chicken risotto)
This was my favorite of the night.  A perfect marriage of Italian and Korean.  Inside: chicken breast, sweet rice, jujube, ginseng, onion, garlic, cilantro flower, toasted pinenut, crispy chicken skin.   That little puff of white?  Ginseng air.  The risotto had an addicting quality-moist, chewy, rich with Korean flavors.  The chicken was moist (thank goodness).  The pinenuts, chicken skin, and cilantro flower added texture and highlights to this otherwise deep, savory dish.   
 

Fifth: Galbi Jim (braised shortrib)
A little overexposed, but here you see shortrib with pico de gallo, pickled carrot, cilantro-lime crema, and tortilla chips.  You guessed it-Korean and Latino.  This was the favorite of a lot of the guests, but to be honest, I would have preferred straight-up, honest-to-goodness galbi jim, the way my mom makes it: Giant hunks of melt-in-your-mouth galbi, humble chunks of radish turned brown from soaking up all the liquid, eaten on top of white rice.  Mmm.  I think I have an idea for my next dish.
 

Sixth: Soobak (Watermelon)
Koreans don't eat dessert.  Unless you count fruit and rice cakes.  This dish looks like a circus on a plate, and that's exactly how it tasted.  Carbonated watermelon marinted in lime and ginger, honeydew cake, coconut milk ice cream, yuzu vanilla gel, and basil.  It basically tasted like every cool Japanese candy flavor combined with poprocks and light, fluffy cake.  Pure fun.
 

With heavy bellies and happy hearts, we filled out survey cards so that Mike, Conrad and crew could plot out their next RnD Adventure.  All are welcome to sign up, but spots fill up FAST.  If you're interested in cooking alongside them, then, as Mike told me, be willing to learn, willing to work, and curious.  In the meantime, taste everything.
 

A blurry shot of the crew.  
And yes, that's Lee on the right.

Pie.  Not a word in my vocabulary.  Not a craving of mine, nor my childhood experience.  Just a line in the diner menu, a word that stirred communal drool at hometown gatherings.

This was my first pie.  Lemon meringue doesn't count.  I'm talking flaky butter crust, oozing fruit inners.  Why now?  Pie intimidated me-all that talk about soggy crusts and deflated tops.  And if you know me, then you know I (1) don't like sweets and (2) am allergic to most fruits.  Why do I like baking? Unclear.  There is something about the precision of baking that appeals to me.  When I pull something out of the oven, I eye it not with lust but with a cold, clinical stare.  I examine it for deformities, flaws.  I taste it to see if it has the right texture, a balance of sweet and salty.  I declare it a success or a failure.  Either way, I don't eat it.  I find people who do.

I'm glad I waited.  If there is ever a time to bake a pie, it's summer.  Ripe fruit is abundant, waiting to be encased in delicate pastry and scant sprinklings of sugar. 

Off I went, shopping.  I picked up organic strawberries and yellow peaches, and the rest was a blur.  Before I knew it, I was pulling out a fiery pie with molten fruit lava exploding through the lattice crust.  It took serious patience to wait two hours for the pie to cool in front of the open balcony door.

So, I don't mean to sound arrogant, but this was the best fruit pie I have ever had.  I know that's not saying much, given my normal disdain for sweets.  But Mike can attest.  The fruit was moist, yet the bottom crust stayed intact.  The crust was golden, flaky, buttery-a perfect complement to the warm, thick filling.  The best part?  The pie tasted like fruit, not artificial gunk.  The brown sugar added just a hint of sweetness without masking the peach and strawberry flavor.  

It's summer.  Time to enjoy nature's bounty.  Go make a pie. 

 

Tossing the fruit in brown sugar and letting it drain
before adding it to the pie dish.
 


Rolling out the chilled dough 


Glistening fruit 


Lattice top.  Ignore that raggedy edge (this is pre-trimming).


Into the oven it goes!



Perfection.

Summer Strawberry Peach Pie
Variation of Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Recipe from Epicurious

Ingredients

Crust:

3 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) chilled, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
10 tablespoons ice water

Fruit Filling:

About 4-5 ripe organic yellow peaches, peeled and sliced
About 1-2 cups organic strawberries, hulled and halved
1 cup packed golden brown sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Glaze:

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water

And 1 nine-inch diameter glass pie dish

How To

[1] DOUGH| I had a fit with my food processor and did this by hand.  You mix your flour, sugar, and salt into a large bowl.  Cut in the shortening and butter using a pastry blender.  Do it gradually but work quickly so the shortening and butter don't get too warm.  When the mixture looks like coarse crumbs, add ice water two tablespoons at a time until you get a wet dough.  Form the dough into a ball, divide in half, make each half into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate the dough for at least an hour, until firm. 

[2] FRUIT FILLING | While your dough is chilling, combine your peaches, strawberries, and sugar in a strainer with a bowl underneath.  If your fruit is ripe (and it should be), the juices will seep out.  Though fruit juice is generally a good thing, you want to avoid a filling high in liquid so that your bottom crust doesn't become too soggy.  I let my fruit sit for as long as the dough, turning it occasionally with a wooden spoon and draining the excess liquid.

[3] CRUST | Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  On a well-floured surface, roll out one disk of chilled dough into a round about 13" wide.  My photos show that I made these measurements with ample guessing.  Carefully line your pie dish with the dough, leaving about 3/4 inch hanging off the edges.  Roll out your second disk of dough into a 13" round.  Slice it into strips about 1/4-1/2" wide.  Now, you are going to add the fruit to the pie dish.  Combine the fruit with the cinnamon and cornstarch.  Gently ladle the fruit into the pie dish.  Use your dough strips to form a lattice on top of the fruit, pinching around the dish to join the strips with the excess bottom crust.  Trim to make the crust somewhat even. 

[4] BAKE | Before you put the pie in the oven, brush the egg glaze over the crust.  Place the pie on top of a baking sheet, and put this into the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes, then decrease the temperature to 350 degrees.  Bake until your crust is a deep golden hue and the fruit filling looks viscous.  1 hour and 25 minutes at 350 degrees was just right for me.  Once done, move your pie to a cool spot and let cool completely before serving.

NOTES

  • The original recipe called for white sugar, which I didn't have.  I used brown sugar for both the crust and fruit filling, and the results were none the worse.
  • Using ripe fruit is key, since your pie is only as good as the ingredients you use to make it.  If your fruit's not ripe, you'll have to compensate with sugar, and the result might be less fruity and more. . . well, sugary.  Also, I am a believer in organic fruit, but that decision is up to you.  I will say, though, that though I paid a premium for this fruit, the taste was incredible.


 

 

 

 

San Francisco is treating us well.  It is unusually warm, and the Golden Gate Bridge has the slightest shawl of fog around its shoulders.  I hardly miss the computer.  But, I admit, having a dumb phone and a laptop with a broken USB port makes for photo uploading challenges. 

I'll have to wait until I get back to Los Angeles to post trip photos.  In the meantime, here is a quick fingerling potato salad.  If you like your salads substantial, this one's for you. 

I did a riff on this New York Times Magazine recipe.  The salad is simple, though it does require separate preparation of some of the ingredients.  But once everything is cooked, it comes together quickly. 

I added a bit of corn and cherry tomatoes (not pictured).  I think I would adjust this by adding more flavor-I lacked the called-for chives, parsley, and capers, and they would have probably carried this dish forward more. Maybe you could also add marinated olives or tuna, a sort of nicoise.  Whatever you do, be sure to toss the salad in the dressing while the potatoes are hot.  They'll absorb the flavors better that way.  Eat it warm or cold.  And the spiciest of arugulas is best.

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