Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Spend a Sunday Evening on the Farm

Farm dinners have become a thing--and for good reason. Farmers want to forge relationships with consumers/customers, who come to the farm for an event. It's an additional source of income for farmers trying to make ends meet. And it's a way to bring the community together.

This coming Sunday evening you can feast at Dickinson Farm in National City, a small farm specializing in heirloom fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown on the grounds of the historic Wallace D. Dickinson House. Organic farmer and veteran Stepheni Norton has joined with Stephanie Parker of Epicurean San Diego to create the four-course Sunday Supper dinner series, a quarterly 48-guest dinner that pulls out all the stops. They describe it as an opportunity for people to connect with liked-minded individuals while indulging in locally made beverages and food created by talented local chefs.

Farmer Stepheni Norton
Additionally, at each dinner a non-profit beneficiary is selected to be the recipient of the profits of the dinner. The non-profit's representatives join at the dinner to share what they do and their mission with participants. In short, it's a way to cultivate community.

This Sunday, executive chef Josh Kemble of UrbanLife Tables, A.G. Warfield of Common Theory Public House, and Erin Campbell of Canape Catering will be creating the meal, along with baked goods from Cardamom Cafe & Bakery. Ashley Drake of The Chocolate Lush will offer a dessert bar.

Finally, Dan Parker, co-founder of Epicurean San Diego and Certified Cicerone, has brewed a Sunday Supper Saison for the event, using heirloom buckwheat, Brewer's Gold hops, and coriander sourced from Dickinson Farm.

Craft beer veterans Coronado Brewing Company will provide additional beverage pairings that evening and local coffee roaster Trident Coffee will head up the coffee bar.

And, you'll be serenaded all evening by local band Aveona.

Here's what you need to know: The event is from 4 to 7 p.m. at Dickinson Farm. The address is 1430 E. 24th St. in National City (just down the street from Olivewood Gardens, by the way).

Tickets are $99, plus a service charge. You can purchase them on Brown Paper Tickets.

Photos courtesy of Deandra Jex.

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Spend a Sunday Night on the Farm

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My Favorite Summer Salads

How are you holding up this summer? If you're on the coast, congratulations. Go sit on your deck with a cocktail and enjoy the cool breezes. If, like me, you're further inland, you've probably got the AC cranking and are dreading the coming SDG&E bill.

My 10-year-old dog Ketzel trying to find cold comfort with the tile.
In short, it's been hot and sticky. I have all these ideas for dishes I'd like to make and eat--but the thought of turning on the oven or stovetop and generating heat makes my hair wilt.

So, I've been focused on chilled soups, smoothies, and salads. Over the years I've published lots and lots of salad recipes and in honor of this sultry season, I thought I'd collect six of my favorites here for you to try--again or for the first time. Look how colorful these all are!

Balela Salad: Ah, this was a wonderful revelation. Thanks to Trader Joe's, which sells this ready made, I decided to make it myself. It's easy and so refreshing! Tomatoes, garbanzo beans, black beans, red onions, and lots of parsley and mint make it the perfect summer salad.

Spicy Kale, Corn, and Mango Salad: This crunchy salad was the result of refrigerator scavenging. It was a hot and humid day and I had no patience for cooking. The ingredients seemed random--a bunch of kale, an ear of corn, a not-quite-ripe mango, as well as a tomato, jalapeño, and salty capers--but together they worked, bathed in vinaigrette.

Trish's Tangy Summer Cucumber Garden Salad: Trish Watlington of The Red Door and Bar by Red Door is known for the bountiful garden she maintains at her Mt. Helix home. The garden supplies much of the restaurants' produce. Several years ago I invited her, along with other friends, for brunch and she brought this salad with veggies straight from her garden. It combines crisp summery cucumbers with crunchy radishes, sweet red onion, and juicy cherry tomatoes to round out the flavors and textures. Then she made it all pop with fresh mint and basil leaves, and flavored balsamic vinegar before smoothing it out with unctuous extra virgin olive oil. The best part is that it's one of those salads that tastes just as good on day two as when it's first prepared. In fact, it could easily be the topping to a bowl of room temperature quinoa or wheat berries for a full meal.

Sara Polcyznski's Shaved Baby Squash and Blossoms Salad: Sara Polcyznski of Sabor Imports has evolved into the consummate Mexican chef. I turn to her for magnificent Mexican flavors and a few years ago she walked me through three recipes, including this crunchy salad that makes the most of the proliferation of summer squash. Because this is a marinated salad, it can sit in the fridge for a couple of days and not lose its charm.

Maria Speck's Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing: Okay, okay, I said no cooking. But this marvelous salad takes prime advantage of the short fig season. So put on the barley to cook and just leave the kitchen. Then come back and put together this very simple but impactful salad. It's wonderful to bring to a potluck. The flavors are so surprising--including the barley--that people will be begging for the recipe.

True Food Tuscan Kale Salad: I know. Kale seems to have jumped the shark. But this is actually one of my hands down favorite salads. I'm so grateful to Chef Nathan Coulon of True Food Kitchen for teaching me how to make it. In fact, just writing about it makes me want to run to the market to buy the ingredients. I love a lemony garlicky anything. The brilliance of this salad is that the acid from the lemon juice cooks the kale and makes it--enjoyable. Plus, there's the saltiness of pecorino cheese--and I'll eat anything with good bread crumbs. I swear you'll love this salad.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Eat Your Weeds

They're baaack! And I couldn't be happier. After suffering for many seasons with roof rats eating everything in sight in my garden (except for some reason my citrus, for which I'm so grateful), those nasty critters seem to be gone, or at least at bay. And, along with the veggies I've planted, which I'm actually harvesting (yet another sign), purslane has started appearing again.

You've probably seen purslane growing in cracks on your neighborhood street--or perhaps in your garden. You've probably also pulled them and tossed them in the trash thinking they're useless weeds.

Don't! Pull them, wash them, and eat them! They're delicious, have a long culinary tradition, and are even nutritious! Purslane actually has the most omega-3 fatty acids of any other green vegetable. Plus it's filled with high amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as moderate amounts of magnesium, potassium and calcium. 

Purslane is a trailing succulent herb with a thick stem and fleshy little leaves. Keep your eyes open for them because they're summer annuals. If you go to Hispanic markets, you'll probably see bunches of them there called verdolago. In fact, I've seen them at Northgate Market, as well as some farmers markets and Specialty Produce.

One word of warning, thanks to my friend Jeromie Jackson, who noted that foragers shouldn't confuse purslane with spurge, another weed that looks something like purslane. Here's a link to a blog that addresses this.

Purslane was also cultivated and eaten in ancient Egypt and classical Greece and Rome--known by the Romans as portulaca. And, it's also popular in the Middle East and India.

Why is purslane so well liked? Well, it has a terrific crunch and is just a little peppery in flavor. And you can do so much with it. Chop it and eat it raw tossed in a salad. Sauté purslane and add to an omelet. Bread it (dip in flour, beaten eggs, and then bread crumbs) and fry it for an interesting snack. Add to a sandwich or to tortillas. Create a Mexican-style vegetable soup with them, along with tomatillos and chiles.

In fact, in Mexico, purslane is eaten in omelets, sautéed as a side dish, rolled in tortillas or dropped into soups or stews. I have friends in Mexico who eat it all the time, prepared like spinach (steamed a few minutes with a little water, then drained and seasoned with a lot of lemon, salt and pepper). They tell me it's better a little al dente than too soft. Joe Rodriguez of Rodriguez Farms suggested sautéing it with onion, garlic and tomatoes as a side dish or cooking it with pork. It also pairs well with cucumbers and is a great addition to a traditional Middle Eastern fattoush salad, which would include large cut up pieces of cucumber, tomato and onion, mint, along with parsley and stale pita and tossed with olive oil.

You know what else? You can pickle purslane. And I'm all about pickling. Add pickled purslane to a charcuterie or cheese plate, a sandwich, to a green salad, or even potato salad. Or just snack on it.

Pickled Purslane
(printable recipe)

Ingredients1 quart purslane stems and leaves
1 quart apple cider vinegar (or leftover pickle juice)
3 garlic cloves, sliced
10 peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt

1. Clean the purslane stems and leaves by rinsing with fresh water. 
2. Cut into one-inch pieces and place in clean jars with lids. 
3. Add the spices and pour the vinegar over the purslane. 
4. Keep this in the refrigerator and wait at least two weeks before using. Serve as a side dish with omelets and sandwiches.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cherry Berry Salsa

Because cherry season is short and I adore them, I feel an intense obligation to figure out how to make the most of them when they're at that fabulous sweet/tart height of harvest. And that would be now.

I could eat them endlessly as a snack but I got to thinking about how well they go with savory foods like pork and poultry. Four years ago I made a salsa from stone fruit that included cherries, along with peaches. But I got to wondering how a salsa that really focused on cherries would work.

I had just bought about a pound of cherries and decided to put together a salsa that didn't rely on some lovely balsamic vinegar, but traditional lime juice. Not basil, but cilantro. Since I also had a large container of blueberries I thought they'd add both an intriguing texture and flavor--not to mention stunning color--to the salsa.

In came red onion, the one and only serrano chile in my garden, and the lime's zest. I didn't think garlic would be a happy combination so I left it out. I tasted the mixture and it was fine but lacking something, so in went honey--not much, but enough to heighten the sweetness. Another taste and something was still needed.

Then I hit on it. Tajin seasoning! I had considered then discarded the idea of adding salt but the Tajin added just enough to bring out the other flavors, just a bit more acid/tartness from lime, and a different kind of heat. It proved to be exactly the right finish to create three-dimensional flavor.

While the salsa stewed in its juices in the fridge, I pulled out a pair of pork chops I had been brining since late morning. Despite the heat of the early evening, I put a cast-iron pan in the oven and let both pre-heat until the temperature reached 400˚. I pulled out the seasoned, lightly oiled chops (adding more Tajin) and pan seared them (be sure to use oven mitts while handling the pan.

I love this technique because you put the chops on the pan and immediately they sizzle and start browning. Once they were golden brown, I placed them in the pan into that still 400˚ oven to cook until they reached an internal temp of 145˚. While they rested on a plate under a foil tent, I tasted the salsa again. It was delightful.

The pork chop was a success--made summery with my cherry berry salsa. Don't love blueberries? Add raspberries or strawberries--or both! You'll have a colorful sweet and savory fresh sauce that will be equally terrific on a pulled pork taco, on a quesadilla, roasted chicken or duck, or a pork tenderloin.

Cherry Berry Salsa
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 cups

1 cup cherries
1 large lime
1/1 cup blueberries
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, minced
1 serrano chile, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon Tajin seasoning

1. Pit the cherries, then quarter them. Set aside.
2. Zest the lime, then cut in half and juice both halves.
3. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix well and let sit in the refrigerator at least one hour. Taste and adjust seasonings.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Milano-Style Pizza and Chocolate Salami from Ambrogio15

Are you a frustrated pizza maker? I think all of us who love to cook have gone through a pizza-making phase, finally giving it up in frustration. We've lined ovens with tiles, spritzed with water, tried different flours, different methods of dough making. And then threw up our hands and went out to eat.

I think you should give it one more shot--based on an afternoon I spent with Andrea Burrone of Ambrogio15 in Pacific Beach. This sweet, charming, and very talented young man from Milan, who started out professionally working in banking, has clearly found his calling. And his calling is making pizza in San Diego using traditional Italian ingredients and techniques... Lucky us.

Now Burrone is working with something we don't have: a ginormous Marana Forni oven imported from Italy that reaches temperatures of 700 degrees--something your home oven can't even dream of. But are there any home cooks better than Italian home cooks? If they can do it in their ovens, so can we--if we know what we're doing. And with Burrone as a coach, we now know what we're doing.

In fact, Burrone revamped the proprietary restaurant recipe to work for a home cook. For one thing, while he uses a biga--or starter--at the restaurant, the recipe we have here is for a direct dough, using active yeast, 0 flour, water, sugar, and salt. (And while I don't have the recipe here, the restaurant also makes a superb, very crunchy whole wheat crust Margherita pizza below.)

The other thing we should do is to bake the crust first, then add the topping. This way the pizza crust gets nice and crunchy, not soggy (yeah, I've been there, too). And the dough should be baked first at the bottom of the oven sans toppings and then in the middle once it's filled.

Instead of making dough in his large mixer, Burrone demonstrated dough making in a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, using the dough hook. First, he began by activating the yeast, mixing it with room temperature water and sugar, then letting it sit for about 15 minutes.

Once the yeast was bubbling, he placed 0 flour in the bowl of the mixer. He then added the yeast mixture, slowly blending it until incorporated. With that, Burrone added more water and brought up the speed, then olive oil, speeding it up again, then salt. Max out the speed and keep it going until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball. Depending on the weather--both temperature and humidity--you may have to add more flour or more oil to get it to that point.

Stop the mixer, pull the bowl out, cover and let the dough rest until it doubles in size. Then comes the fun. Divide the dough into sections 100 grams each (yeah, you'll need a kitchen scale to do all this). Each ball will make a 12-inch round paper thin Milano-style pizza.

Turn each piece into a ball by pulling the sides out and under until the ball is smooth. Then turn it over and pinch the underside to seal. Do this to each piece, cover, and let rest at least two hours until they've doubled in volume.

When you're ready to make the pizzas, turn on the oven to 500˚F to preheat. Now you have a choice--you can either use a rolling pin to roll out the dough or use the tips of your fingers to gently press it out. Use flour or semolina to keep the surface from getting sticky when you shape the dough. And when you put the shaped dough on a pan, be sure to put oil topped by a sprinkling of semolina or cooking spray on the pan before placing the dough on it.

Now you'll place the pan in the lowest part of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Remove it and add your topping--whether it's the delightful Arugula Pistachio Pesto below or tomato sauce (be sure to use peeled San Marzano tomatoes with basil--in the yellow can--for what Burrone says is the most authentic margherita-style pizza), topped with cheese. Then put the pizza back in the oven, but on a rack in the middle of the oven. Bake it for another 4 to 5 minutes until the cheese is melted. That's it!

Here's another Burrone tip. If you're using fresh mozzarella on your pizza, make sure that the night before you place it in a colander over a bowl so that it will release its water--and you again avoid a soggy pizza crust. And don't, don't, don't use pre-shredded cheese. Just don't.

Pleased with yourself and ready for dessert? Burrone's co-owner Giacomo Pizzigoni shared a "grandma" recipe with me. A chocolate salami. This, he says, is very common in Italy but not something you'll ever find in restaurants (including Ambrogio15).

Make it now, taking advantage of the fact that it requires no cooking, or making it when it's most traditional--at Christmas time. The "salami" is, in fact, cocoa powder mixed with sugar, biscuit pieces, melted butter, and very fresh eggs, all mixed together, shaped into a sausage, wrapped in foil, and frozen for an hour. Pizzigoni said to serve it with whipped cream, mascarpone, or berries. I can tell you it's fabulous!

Arugula Pistachio Pesto Pizza
from Andrea Burrone of Ambrogio15
(printable recipe)

Note: Most American home cooks are used to measuring by volume, not weight. Here, most of the amounts are indicated by weight using grams. If you have a kitchen scale, this should be no problem--and the measurements will be more accurate, creating a more successful outcome.


Pizza dough
Yield, 5 to 6, 12-inch pizzas

25 grams fresh dry yeast
30 grams water, room temperature
5 grams sugar
575 grams 0 flour (If you can't find it locally at places like Whole Foods or Mona Lisa it's available on Amazon.com)
300 grams water
30 grams extra virgin olive oil
12 grams salt

Arugula Pistachio Pesto
Yield: 4 cups

3 cloves garlic
100 grams pistachio nuts, raw and unsalated
150 grams parmesan cheese
15 grams salt
300 grams fresh arugula
450 grams extra virgin olive oil

1 ball of fresh mozzarella, drained overnight
5 or 6 slices mortadella (optional)
6 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (optional)

1. Combine yeast, water, and sugar. Let sit 15 minutes. It should be bubbling.
2. Insert dough hook in stand mixer. Place flour in the mixer's bowl. Add yeast mixer and start blending at the 3 speed until incorporated. Slowly add water and bring up speed to blend. Slow it down and add the olive oil and speed it up again. Slow it down to add salt (and, if it's too thin, more flour). Bring the mixer to maximum speed (6 to 8) and mix until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball.
3. Remove bowl from mixer, cover, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes until doubled in size.
4. Divide the dough into 5 to 6 pieces, each weighing 100 grams for a 12-inch pizza. Form balls with each by pulling the sides out and under while turning until the surface is smooth. Pinch the underside to seal. Sprinkle some semolina or flour on the counter or a tray and place the balls on them. Cover and let rest for at least 2 hours until the balls double in volume.
5. To make the pest, place all the ingredients except the oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend them together, then slowly add the oil. If it's too thick, add a little water. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside.
6. To cook the pizza, preheat the oven to 500˚F. Roll out the dough by hand, pressing and shaping it in a 12-inch circle with your fingertips, or use a rolling pin. Spread a little oil on the pan and then sprinkle it lightly with semolina or use a baking spray like Pam. Place the pizza dough on the pan and place on the lowest rack in the oven. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
7. Remove pizza crust from oven. Spread about 2 tablespoons of pesto on the crust and top with pieces of mozzarella.
8. Place pizza back in the oven, but on the middle rack. Bake another 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and top with folded slices of mortadella and fresh cherry tomatoes.

Chocolate Salami
from Giacomo Pizzigoni of Ambrogio15
(printable recipe)
Yield: 1 "salami"

300 grams sweet biscuits, like McVitties, broken up into bite-sized pieces
130 grams white sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
2 eggs (make sure they're very fresh)
200 grams butter, melted and cooled

1. Combine the biscuits, sugar, cocoa, and eggs. Mix well. Add butter and mix well.
2. Pour the mixture on a large piece of aluminum foil--about 2 feet long. Shape into a salami.

3. Wrap the foil around the salami and freeze for 1 hour. Place in refrigerator.
4. To serve, slice pieces and plate. Serve with berries and mascarpone or whipped cream.

Ambrogio15 is open Monday through Thursday from 4:30 to 10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. on Fridays. On Saturday, it's open from noon to 11 p.m. and on Sunday, noon to 10 p.m. It's located at 926 Turquoise St. in North Pacific Beach.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Cucumber Peach Summer Salad

It started with a peach. A perfectly ripe, fragrant peach that I was about to bite into, anticipating the juices running down my chin.

Actually, no. Let me start over. It started with a hot and humid afternoon--so humid that there was a freak five-minute downpour in my neighborhood, with thick raindrops striking the pavement and surprising neighbors outside my window walking their dogs and babies.

There was no way I could cook anything for dinner. So as I lifted that rosy peach to my mouth I thought the better of it, set it down on the counter, and contemplated what I could do to turn it into the star of a cold meal.

Slicing it into a salad of greens would be easy, but--eh. I wanted it to be the salad--a composed salad.

I pulled out an English cucumber. Not a natural peach partner, but why not? Nothing says chill like a cucumber. It got thinly sliced and laid out onto a rectangular plate. I sliced a red onion and placed those on top.

Then came slices of peaches. Now, on a different day with different weather, I would have grilled the peach--but that was not the point of this particular meal.

Next up were pecans. Pecans are lovely paired with peaches and Trader Joe's sells these marvelous roasted and salted bags I keep in the freezer. I pulled that out and shook out about a quarter cup, which I then roughly chopped.

I have basil growing on my kitchen windowsill so I cut off a half dozen large leaves and did a chiffonade on them.

That was it. If I had had a ball of fresh mozzarella or burrata I would have added slices of cheese.

Next was how to dress the salad. I combed through my pantry and pulled out a bottle of thick, sweet violet balsamic vinegar from Baker & Olive and my favorite McEvoy olive oil. I mixed up a couple of tablespoons and drizzled the mixture over the salad before digging in. Simple, easy, no sweat--and delicious.

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