Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Anthony Sinsay's Mussels Adobo

Do you talk to your food? Anthony Sinsay does. The executive chef at Duke's La Jolla, which opened last November, says that this conversation helps you learn where your food is in the cooking process. Sinsay was showing me how he makes his signature dish, Mussels Adobo, which I had fallen in love with at dinner a few months back. He had sautéed a sliced jalapeño, garlic, and onion--one of the best fragrances ever, of course. Then he added the ebony Prince Edward Island mussels to the pan. He stopped talking to listen.

"You'll hear the mussels purge their water," he said. "Then you know you need to add a little liquid to keep them moist."

Sinsay has been cooking most of his life. He said with smile that his mom was no cook. But his dad was. Sinsay especially loved waking up to the scents of Thanksgiving dishes his father prepared from early in the morning to ready for hordes of cousins to eat at midday. Sinsay spent hours and hours with his dad, who suffered from congestive heart failure, watching cooking shows with him--Julia Child, Martin Yan, Jeff Smith--until he passed away when Sinsay was just 11 years old.

"I remember my dad through cooking," Sinsay says with emotion. "After he died, there was no one to cook. My siblings were much older so when I got home it was my job to make dinner."

Sinsay's culinary inspiration came from his dad. But after he died, his mom began exposing him to restaurant dining. "We dined out a lot with my Mom at places like Mr. A's," he said. "By the time I was 15 I knew I wanted to go into culinary."

Sinsay attended Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, learning the fundamentals of European cuisine. But over the years it's become important to him to infuse his dishes with his Filipino heritage. "These are flavors and techniques that come naturally to me."

It's become especially meaningful since he and his wife Elyse have had kids. "Food is a huge component of being Filipino. I want my kids to understand that there's more to life than Happy Meals. I want them to understand where they come from."

So, for instance, for their birthdays, he makes them pancit, a traditional noodle dish filled with vegetables. Like the Chinese, who introduced noodles to the Philippines, Filipinos believe in the symbolism of noodles representing long life and good health.

Now the Mussels Adobo, which Sinsay also used to make at Burlap when he ran that kitchen, is inspired by his mom. "She grew up in the southern part of the Luzon Island in the Philippines. She made this dish with chicken that would simmer in the adobo sauce. I like making it with mussels, but I had to add sugar to the adobo sauce recipe to compensate for the shortened cooking time. When you cook vinegar a long time it becomes sweet. This dish with mussels cooks so quickly I needed to add a sweetener."

This dish is based on a traditional adobo sauce--soy sauce, vinegar, and water. Sinsay quickly whips up the sauce and sets it aside while he first sautés the vegetables, then adds the mussels. He mixes in the adobo sauce and covers the pan, cooking the mussels until they open. Then, in what takes the dish to a seductive level, Sinsay adds coconut cream and butter. That's it. Oh, except for one more critical addition: grilled pan de sal, the addictive sweet white Filipino yeast bread. Just brush slices with olive oil and toast on a grill until crispy--then try not dunking them in the luscious mussels sauce. I dare you!

Mussels Adobo
From Anthony Sinsay of Duke's La Jolla
(printable recipe)
Serves 4

Adobe is the national dish of the Philippines and varies from region to region. This version is closest to the adobo I grew up with made by my mother from southern Luzon. The sauce is an acidic broth comprised of white distilled vinegar, soy sauce, and water. Cooked with onion, garlic, and jalapeño balancing sweet, umami, spicy, and salty. It's finished with coconut cream and butter to enrich the flavor and texture. The Pan de Sal is a Filipino yeast-risen dough with a slight sweet flavor, contrary to what the name suggests. Garnish the mussels with chive spears and crispy garlic chips (slice the garlic thin, blanch, then fry).

3 ounces adobo sauce (see below for recipe)
1/2 ounce of olive and canola oil blend
1 jalapeño, sliced in rings (include seeds if you want more heat)
1 1/2 ounces yellow onion, sliced in rings
1 whole peeled garlic clove, minced
9 1/2 ounces mussels, cleaned
1 1/2 ounces coconut milk
1/2 ounces butter
.1 ounce fresh chives, sliced into 2-inch pieces
1 loaf pan de sal, sliced
Olive oil

For adobo sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup water

1. Make adobo sauce: Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly until all sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
2.  Sauté the jalapeño, onion, and garlic clove in oil. Brush pan de sal slices with olive oil and grill.
3. Add the mussels and stir together.
4. Add the adobo sauce, stir together, and cover, cooking until the mussels open.
5. Remove lid and remove mussels from the heat. Stir in coconut cream and butter. Taste the sauce and add salt if necessary to balance the flavor.
6. Garnish with chives and garlic chips (optional). Serve with grilled pan de sal.

Duke's La Jolla is located at 1216 Prospect St. in La Jolla Village.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Christine Rivera's Brussels Sprouts in the Style of Elotes

If you're familiar with elotes you know that they're a summertime treat--traditional Mexican street food in the form of corn on the cob that's been grilled to smoky perfection, sprinkled lavishly with salt and chile powder, then slathered with mayo or crema, and topped with cotija cheese and lime juice. One crunchy bite yields layers of popping flavors and textures.

Of course, corn is summer crop. So what to do when it's unavailable? Galaxy Taco's chef de cuisine Christine Rivera says take the basic concept and extend it to other vegetables--in this case, Brussels sprouts.

I recently spent a morning with Rivera, a charming and driven San Diego native who has been working with chef/owner Trey Foshee for several years. Originally an elementary school counselor as part of the Early Mental Health Initiative, Rivera took up cooking as a de-stresser from work. It was something she picked up from her dad, whose Tijuana family are big home cooks. One of her family favorites is empanadas made with flour tortillas and then fried.

Rivera took culinary classes at Grossmont College and found she loved it so much she started hunting for work in restaurants and enrolled in the school's Culinary Arts Program. She began in the time-honored tradition of restaurant novices as a dish washer--for her it was at a local Red Lobster. From there, she started prepping at Kensington Grill under chef JC Colón--all while attending the Grossmont program. In the summers she worked at the Del Mar Race Track for Premier Foods, "turning and burning," as she described it. When Rivera learned that George's at the Cove was hiring, she applied for a job. Her interview with Foshee led to a job at George's Ocean Terrace.

"I loved it," she says. "I loved the culture and the pace." After a year and a half they moved her to George's California Modern to work the grill and hot line stations. When Foshee started planning Galaxy Taco he wanted her to be his chef there and began training her in how to run a kitchen--everything from inventory and systems to hiring.

"One year before Galaxy Taco opened, Trey talked to me about it. One of the things he wanted to do was make masa from scratch so we started experimenting with it. We went on a crusade to make it the best possible. And we focused on developing the menu."

Rivera opened the restaurant with Foshee last summer. In fact, it's become known for its organic blue corn masa, which Rivera makes daily. "I love making the masa and I'm excited to do it every day. I love the smell as it comes out of the grinder."

Rivera manages day-to-day operations and collaborates with Foshee on recipe ideas. "I've loved every single minute of it," she says with a grin. "It's not easy but it's fun. I learn so much from Trey. He's a chef. He's a restaurant owner. He has so many different roles. How he balances everything, including his family life, is pretty incredible."

For the Brussels sprouts dish, currently on the menu, the idea was to create the same flavor profile as traditional elotes, but use vegetables currently in season. I love the charred, smoky flavor the roasting gives the Brussels sprouts. Combining them with the heat and richness of the Spicy Chipotle Mayo, the acid of the lime juice and the salty cheese creates a lively bite that makes you just keep digging in. It brightens the fundamental earthiness of the Brussels sprouts. I can see making this dish with corn kernels, with cauliflower, string beans, carrots, and baby artichokes.

While the finishing of the dish is done in a cast iron skillet, Rivera pre-cooks the Brussels sprouts to cut the working time. Here she roasts them in a pan with olive oil. She also makes the Spicy Chipotle Mayo ahead of time so that the flavors come together. Be sure to get everything prepped before starting because the stovetop cooking goes very quickly.

Brussel sprouts in the Style of Elotes (Street Corn)
Christine Rivera of Galaxy Taco

4 to 6 servings as a side dish

You can use Brussels sprouts—or other vegetables you enjoy—to make this dish when corn is out of season. Or instead of corn, if you like. If you make it with corn, you can grill the corn on the cob and add the ingredients when you serve the corn (traditional style) or remove the corn from the cob and prepare it as directed below. Be sure to mix up the Spicy Chipotle Mayo ahead of time so the flavors will meld. Once you get started with the cooking process it will take about five minutes so you want everything prepped and ready to go.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed, and halved
Extra virgin olive oil
¼  cup cilantro, chopped, reserving 1 teaspoon for garnish
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon Cotija cheese plus 1 teaspoon for garnish
1 lime, cut in half
Spicy Chipotle Mayo (see below for recipe and make ahead of time*)   

Spicy Chipotle Mayo
1 cup mayonnaise
1 chile from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (you can find this in your local supermarket)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lime juice

Combine and mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss Brussels sprouts in extra virgin olive oil and salt. Roast Brussels sprouts for about 15 to 20 minutes (depending on size) and let them chill.

Place a pan on the stove at a low medium heat, add extra virgin olive oil. Once the pan is hot add Brussels sprouts. Toss them to cook evenly, then add cotija cheese, cilantro (saving some for a garnish), and lime juice from half a lime. 

Stir for about 5 minutes on low to medium heat. Remove from heat and add the chipotle mayo. Stir well to insure that the mayo is evenly distributed. Place in a bowl and sprinkle the reserved cotija cheese and cilantro on top and squeeze the second half of the lime. Enjoy!

Galaxy Taco is located at 2259 Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Help Feed Hungry Kids at April 17 Chef-Driven Bake Sale

Just because we don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. "It" is local childhood hunger and it's something that freelance food writer Erin Jackson feels strongly about obliterating. So Jackson decided to launch a fundraiser that would support the nonprofit No Kid Hungry, a campaign organized by Share Our Strength. The No Kid Hungry campaign connects kids in need with nutritious food and teaches their families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. The campaign also engages the public to make ending child hunger a national priority.

Jackson created the Bake Me SomeLove initiative to promote and brand her events. The first one will take place this weekend on Sunday, April 17 from 10 a.m. to noon. She calls it the Chef-Driven Bake Sale.

The Chef-Driven Bake Sale features a baker's dozen of San Diego's top chefs who will be creating  sweet and savory treats for the public to purchase at one of the coolest venues in downtown San Diego--LOUNGESix, the poolside rooftop lounge at Hotel Solamar, which also is home to JSix.

The $5 admission fee will give attendees the opportunity to purchase treats like Rachel King's Almond Joy Bars, Kayli Faucher's Cookies N Cream cookies, and Francis Laureano's Assiago Bavarian Pretzels with Grain Mustard. Each treat will be on sale for $5 with all proceeds going to No Kid Hungry.

Chef Matt Gordon of Urban Solace
"I've been wanting to do something like this for about three years," Jackson said. "Serious Eats, which I used to write for, had a pie social and it sounded like so much fun. It was people getting together and eating sweets to support the community. But I thought about it and I like going to bake sales. Doing a bake sale with a charity component was what I decided on and I wanted to support No Kid Hungry because it encourages people in their communities to get involved in ending childhood hunger."

The challenge for Jackson was choosing chefs. "I had a dream list of people whose desserts I've enjoyed over the years. The hardest part was narrowing the list down because of space restrictions at LOUNGESix. And when I finally came up with my first picks and everyone said yes I was really blown away at how everyone saw the value of it and wanted to participate."

Chef Vivian Hernandez-Jackson of Azucar
Freelance pastry chef Rachel King explained why she got involved. "Erin actually contacted me. It's an amazing organization that helps feed hungry kids. I know they hold bake sales across the country and was excited to get involved."

Freelance pastry chef Rachel King
The event will also feature JSix bartender Chris Burkett and his signature cocktail for Chef-Driven Bake Sale.

Participating chefs include:

  • Donna Antaloczy – Ironside Fish & Oyster
  • Tae Dickey – BIGA
  • Rygie Dy – Bottega Americano
  • Kayli Faucher – The Crack Shack
  • Matt Gordon – Urban Solace
  • Christian Graves – Jsix
  • Rocio Siso‐Gurriaran – Nine‐Ten
  • Vivian Hernandez‐Jackson – Azucar
  • Rachel King – Indie
  • Francis Laureano – Crafted Baked Goods
  • Donald Lockhart – Cusp
  • Jojo Rossi – Whisknladle Hospitality
  • Jessica Scott – Puesto
To buy your admission ticket for the event, go to their Eventbrite page. LOUNGESix is located at 616 J Street in downtown San Diego.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Moto Deli's Moroccan Meatball Sandwich

Fans of chef Alex Carballo have followed him around San Diego as he's gone from The Fishery to The Brigantine, then Indigo Grill and the Crosby Country Club. He's been with The Cohn Restaurant Group, but most recently at Stone Brewing Co. and then URBN Coal Fired Pizza.

Well, Carballo is now in the role of entrepreneur with his consulting business Service Culture. And he's teamed up with friend Mario Warman to develop Moto Deli, an ambitious motorcycle-themed sandwich shop/deli in Leucadia on Highway 101.

The site, which since 1975 had housed the iconic Sub Palace, is a 1927 building that has pretty much been gutted and is now being rebuilt to house what will include space where Carballo, chef Andy Halvorsen, and their staff will be able to do their own smoking, bread baking, pickling, sausage making, and condiment creating. The deli will offer prepared sandwiches and tables for dining in, but customers will also be able to purchase all the ingredients--sliced meats, breads, mustards, pickles, etc. to take home. Plus, Moto Deli is set up to do catering. It's a big undertaking.

Carballo expects Moto Deli to be open in June, but neither he nor Warman have been waiting around for the doors to open. In the meantime they launched a food truck, previously owned by chef Hanis Cavin of Carnitas Snack Shack, that is usually housed in front of the construction zone but does travel. Their calendar is published on the website. Most of the prep is done at a commissary kitchen, where the larger catering production also happens. But inside the truck is a big commercial flat top and storage in a space that Halvorsen joked is actually a little wider than some of the kitchens he's worked at.

I visited with Carballo and Halvorsen last week and Halvorsen made me their signature meatball sandwich. I loved the play on the concept, which takes it from Italian American to Moroccan in a heartbeat. The meatball is made with ground lamb and veal, panko crumbs, and spices that include cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika. An extra bite of spice comes from chopped pickled chiles. They nestle into a toasted hoagie roll, surrounded by a unique harissa marinara, then topped with a couple of slices of melted muenster cheese and--get this--sprinkled with pieces of preserved lemon. It's a marvelous mouthful, rich and spicy-and accompanied by their fab house-made potato chips (they're lucky I didn't walk off with the tall container filled with them) and spicy sweet house-made pickles.

Halvorsen, who has worked at Blue Ocean in Carlsbad, the Lodge at Torrey Pines, and Stone Brewing with Carballo, shared with me the recipe for making these sandwiches. He emphasized that the cornerstone of a good sandwich is the bread. Got a big juicy sandwich like this in mind? Be sure, he said, to toast the bread so that it won't fall apart once you add sauce.

"What's fun about sandwiches is that you can do what you want," he said. "You can sneak all sorts of good things in them that may be unexpected or unconventional but really work."

Moto Deli Moroccan Meatball Sandwich
Recipe from Andrew Halvorsen of Moto Deli
(printable recipe)
Yield: 5 sandwiches

For each sandwich:
1 6- to 8-inch French or hoagie roll
3 meatballs
1/4 cup harissa marina sauce (can vary amount depending on your preference)
2 slices muenster cheese
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon (optional)

Moroccan Lamb Meatballs
From Andrew Halvorsen of Moto Deli
Yield: 16 meatballs

1 pound ground lamb
1 pound Ground Veal          
¾ cup  panko bread crumbs
¾ cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon toasted, ground cumin
1 tablespoon toasted, ground coriander
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
¼ cup chopped, pickled chilies

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Soak bread crumbs with milk for at least 20 minutes. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Form 2-inch meatballs and place on a well-oiled baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until browned and cooked through.

Harissa Marinara 
From Andrew Halvorsen of Moto Deli
Yield: 6 cups

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
About 5 medium red peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded (or 1, 16-ounce jar)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup garlic, minced
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon caraway seed, ground
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon Salt
¼ cup parsley, chopped

Place roasted peppers in a blender and puree. Add ¼ cup of water if necessary to help blending. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over medium/high heat, add oil and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes or until garlic is aromatic and just begins to brown.

Add dry spices and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant.

Add tomatoes, peppers and parsley. Mix well and ensure that there aren’t any spices or garlic stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Lower heat and simmer on low for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

To make sandwich:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

Halve the meatballs and warm them in the sauce.

Lightly toast a sliced roll. Fill the roll with warmed meatballs and sauce. Top with the muenster cheese. Place in oven until cheese is melted. Sprinkle the top of the sandwich with chopped parsley and chopped preserved lemon.

Moto Deli is located at 810 North Coast Highway 101.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Junya Watanabe Adds That Missing Something to Poke

Tokyo native Junya Watanabe is a frequent visitor to Hawaii. After all, it's the natural stop between Japan and San Diego, where he owns the popular ramen restaurant Rakiraki Ramen &Tsukemen. Even with extensive studies in the culinary arts in Japan, Watanabe has his own way of doing things. His ramen, his shabu shabu, his tsukemon all fuse tradition with his distinctive flair. I love his crispy chicken karaange, a marinated deep-fried chicken; the rich oxtail in broth with ginger; and the tsukemen, or dipping noodles. And I love that Watanabe goes to the trouble to use locally sourced quality ingredients.

So, when it came to creating poke, his approach was no different. As popular as the dish has become in San Diego--hey, we even have a huge festival to celebrate it--Watanabe found it to be, in his words, "kind of boring." He was convinced something was lacking. He mulled it over and finally it came to him.

It needed his zuke.

Think of zuke as a secret sauce. It's something Watanabe learned from a three-star Michelin chef in Japan. The ingredients aren't a huge secret--soy sauce, mirin, and sake. It's the proportions that he says are proprietary. Reluctant to share, he finally just shrugged and said, "Okay, two to one to one." I'm not claiming this is exactly how he does it at Rakiraki, but I'm going with it because it's the best I could get.

Now it's not just a matter of mixing the ingredients together. Once you do that, you put it on the stove and bring the mixture to 180˚, then take it off the heat and let it rest at room temperature for a day. After that you can use it and refrigerate it.

What you have when it's ready is a sauce whose saltiness has mellowed, whose sweetness has softened, and which has lost most of the alcohol. It adds great flavor to the fish you marinate in it and, said Watanabe, it sanitizes the fish by killing the bacteria since some alcohol remains.

With that all explained, Watanabe prepared his Kale Salad with Poke. He placed large cubes of ahi in the zuke for about 30 seconds, moving them around to make sure they all were evenly sauced. Then he placed them in a bowl of sesame oil for about the same time. Finally, they were dipped in rayu, a red pepper oil.

The ahi pieces were placed on a bed of chopped kale--but you could use any greens you want.

To that he added pieces of avocado, tomato, and Japanese cucumber, and some cilantro leaves. He dressed the salad with a sesame dressing (no recipe offered here, but you can find recipes online pretty easily).

Once we were seated he poured out little dipping bowls of spicy Kewpie mayo and red spicy miso sauce. Both were delicious--hot, but more like a nice kick than tear producing. In fact, I hope he bottles that red spicy miso sauce; it's that good.

With that we dug in, dipping the marinated ahi into the sauces before each bite, even dipping the kale and other vegetables in the sauces as well.

This dish is on the menu at Rakiraki. And, stay tuned. Watanabe is nothing if not über entrepreneurial. Currently, he has Rakiraki and Angels & Hearts Creperie within Rakiraki and he's also a partner in a stand-up sushi restaurant in Tokyo. He's now building out Pokirrito, which is attached to Rakiraki on the Convoy St. side of the building. Yeah, you guessed it, he'll be making the now ubiquitous combo of sushi or poke and burrito, using nori as the wrapper, lined in a uniformly thin layer of with rice, thanks to this very cool machine he has in his kitchen that he also uses to make sushi rolls. Both restaurants will also be in Little Italy and he's planning a noodle and yakitori shop next door to Angels & Hearts, along with a remodel of the creperie.

Rakiraki Ramen & Tsukemen is located in the Convoy District at 4646 Convoy St.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Teri McIllwain's Farro Stir Fry

We tend to have different expectations of hotel chain restaurants compared with stand-alone eateries. We believe the chefs are mandated to think only in terms of massive numbers of customers, especially if they're also in charge of room service and catering. That the ingredients are limited to whatever can be ordered from contracted vendors. And that there's just no such thing as seasonal, nothing unique to the region, nothing particularly inspired.

I should know better. In San Diego alone there are many exquisite exceptions to this approach--Tidal at Paradise Point, A.R. Valentien at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, JSix at Hotel Solamar, Nine-Ten at the Grande Colonial, Cafe La Rue at La Valencia. The list goes on and on.

The first time I visited Chandler's Restaurant at Cape Rey Carlsbad, a Hilton Resort, it leaned toward the former set of expectations. The menu could have been found in almost any hotel restaurant anywhere in the U.S. The flavors were fairly pedestrian.

But, I was told, hang on. The resort and the restaurant were going to undergo a big change.

That was about a year ago. Last week I made another trip up there to meet the new culinary director, 35-year-old Teri McIllwain. The words being thrown around about the restaurant's "reimagining" included "local, coastal, and unexpected." I was dubious, figuring overselling was in play.

And I was wrong. While Chandler's decor hadn't been changed, clearly the menu and overall direction of the restaurant had. McIllwain, who came to Cape Rey from Omni La Costa Resort and Spa, where she had been chef de cuisine and nutritional chef for their Premier Fitness Camp and Chopra Center, clearly has taken a different approach to Cape Rey's dining program. McIllwain, who attended the San Diego Culinary Institute in La Mesa, had been a personal chef in San Diego and spent time as a Bon Appetit culinary instructor at local Sur La Table stores. She comes to her current job with a perspective on health and nutrition as well as food education that is being channeled into what shows up on Chandler's menu and how she works with her cooks.

Chandler's now benefits from dishes made with ingredients from local farms that McIllwain partners with as well as produce from the Specialty Produce farmers market truck, where she and her cooks can select items grown in Southern California.

Healthy meals are deeply important to her both at the restaurant and at home. She told me she regularly cooks up batches of whole grains and ancient grains at home to heat up for breakfast so she has energy for the day. McIllwain told me about a dish she loves to make--a variation of which will be on the menu, she added--that involves sauteing pancetta in a pan, then adding shredded yams that crispen up in a pancake. To that she adds green onions, feta, and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Her awareness of seasonal changes dictates when she changes the menu, she said. If she sees pea tendrils at a farm or in the Specialty Produce truck, she also knows that halibut will be coming back soon. Fish is just as seasonal as produce and she keeps that in mind while updating menus. The menu I saw last week featured Burrata and Vine-Ripened Tomatoes with grilled asparagus, arugula, pesto, and red apple balsamic reduction; Capeside Poke with ahi, rainbow quinoa, thai chili aioli, cucumber marinated seaweed, lime, and ponzu; Jidori Fried Chicken with yellow corn polenta, farmers succotash, and garden herbs; and Spinach Pizza wit lemon ricotta, spinach, mozzarella, parmesan, and garlic. There are vegetarian dishes, gluten-free dishes, and still plenty of comfort food.

For my visit with McIllwain, she showed me how to make her Farro Stir Fry--another dish that will be on the menu soon, she said. What I enjoyed about this dish was not just the flavors, but the fact that it's something a home cook can easily make and that it's so versatile. This is a dish whose ingredients can change to keep up with the seasons. McIllwain calls for butternut squash in the recipe but used delicata squash with me, and will be shifting in the next couple of months to summer squashes. For local greens, we used lacinato kale, but you could use spinach or Swiss chard or any other type of greens. Are you vegetarian? Switch out the chicken broth with vegetable broth and use tofu instead of shrimp as your protein. And, here's a tip for you from the long-time cooking teacher: Always add acid before you add salt because it pulls out the sodium from the ingredient, meaning you then don't need to use as much salt. And, on the flip side, if you wind up with a dish that's too salty, add acid to tame it.

Be sure to have everything prepped before you start cooking because--other than cooking the winter squash--it goes pretty quickly.

Farro Stir Fry
From Teri McIllwain of Chandler's Restaurant at Cape Rey Carlsbad
Serves 4

16 16/20 Baja prawns, peeled and deveined
1 lemon, zest and juice
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil 

In a large mixing bowl add combine shrimp, lemon juice, lemon zest and salt and pepper. Toss and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium heat add the olive oil, allow for oil to heat through and cover entire pan. Once hot add the shrimp to the pan, and evenly place shrimp to cover the pan. Cook shrimp without moving until shrimp begin to turn slightly pink and begin to tighten. Flip shrimp and continue to cook until pink and fragrant. Remove from the pan and hold to the side.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, small diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup butternut squash, small diced
2 cups beech mushrooms
3 cups cooked pearled farro
½ - 1 cup chicken broth
1 green onion chopped
2 cups local green, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce
1 Meyer lemon, zest and juice
Sea salt and black pepper to taste 
1 lemon, quartered, for garnish

Over medium heat using the same pan, add olive oil and heat through. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, and the squash until cooked through. Add the mushrooms, sauté until slightly cooked, 30 seconds, then add the farro. Stir-fry the farro until golden brown, then add the chicken stock until the farro is slightly covered. Simmer until most of the stock is absorbed, then fold in the greens and green onions. Remove from heat and add olive oil, soy sauce, lemon zest, and juice from half the lemon. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Plate stir fry and add shrimp, squeeze more lemon on top, season and serve with quartered lemon slices.

Chandler's at Cape Rey Carlsbad is located at 1 Ponto Road in Carlsbad.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

That Smart & Final Extra

Like many neighborhoods around San Diego, my community, Tierrasanta, has been living for months with the discomfort brought on by the Haggen debacle. We started out with an Albertsons, which, by my reading of posts on the community website NextDoor, was generally beloved. Then it became Haggen--and was fairly quickly despised. And then, of course, Haggen went bankrupt. In the auction that followed Tierrasanta became slated for a Smart & Final Extra, which was also highly debated on NextDoor. While we waited for that store to open, we were left with a tiny Vons with its equally tiny parking lot and an even smaller local market called Primo Foods.

Now I've never been a huge supermarket fan, so the absence of Albertsons/Haggen didn't affect me too much. I tend to roam between Sprouts, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and farmers markets. But I carefully watched the very emotional discourse on NextDoor, as neighbors argued alternately that the presence of Smart & Final Extra would sink local property values, that with its bulk foods wasn't an appropriate store for a residential community, and that it was amazing, fabulous, wonderful as experienced by others who had shopped at them in other cities or read about their plans.

Smart & Final Extra opened in Tierrasanta on March 9 and I stopped by. I had no expectations. I'd been to the regular Smart & Final in Clairemont only a few times over the years. It would never have occurred to me to shop there for regular grocery items. I had read a promising piece about the Coronado Extra that opened recently, so perhaps it would be a good thing and Tierrasanta wasn't being dissed because we didn't get a Gelson's, something neighbors were a bit upset about.

Smart & Final describes the chain as a "warehouse-like supermarket chain for produce, meats & packaged foods, plus discounts on bulk items." What I found was your basic commodity-stocked  market.

Yes, there's a produce department and a small organic department within that.

The signs clearly read that they buy from local growers. I took that to heart when I picked up some cluster tomatoes. After all, they were sitting on a bin that shouted local. But when I looked at the labels, it showed that the tomatoes were from Mexico. Yeah, you could argue that Mexico is local, but c'mon.

On the other hand, one of the shockers in the produce department given its limited real estate, was that fresh garbanzo beans, usually found at Mexican markets, were for sale. Yeah, they're from Mexico, too.

My pendulum kept swinging back and forth like this as I went through Smart & Final Extra. No deli counter, butcher, or fresh bakery. I suddenly had an urge for Thomas' English Muffins so I cruised by the bread aisle (also hoping against hope that perhaps they would also carry Bread & Cie products like many local markets). The bread aisle was fully commoditized and had that distinctive bread-in-plastic-bags aroma. Yes, they had the muffins, but only the original variety, not the sourdough I wanted. But if you want Original Thomas' English Muffins, they have stacks and stacks of them--enough for the whole neighborhood!

I was happy and relieved to see they carry the organic milk I like and that they have organic, cage-free eggs.

And Bob's Red Mill products.

But how much shredded or cubed cheddar does a family need all at once?

Hurray! They sell Meyer's products!

And also 50-pound containers with a variety of lards and shortenings. I guess Tierrasantans can't have too much donut fry shortening.

Or too much red food coloring. Or iodized salt packets.

I did end up picking up some things--milk, eggs, the garbanzo beans, onions, some sad old garlic heads, the English muffins. When I went to check out I saw that each register aisle was named for a Tierrasanta street. Strange but I suppose it will make community shoppers smile. Unfortunately, it felt like the most local thing about the market.

My sense is that the store and its products will evolve as it settles in and locals make their needs and desires heard. However, I find it to be a chain confused about its identity and ours. I can certainly see that large families would need some products in bulk. But this is a residential community with few local businesses that require a gallon of food coloring or 50 pounds of beef shortening. So, the "warehouse without membership" tagline is overselling things quite a lot. It's no Costco. I think the residents here would be better served with produce that really is from local farmers, a butcher and deli counter with quality products, a bakery--or at least fresh baked goods from local bakeries, and less emphasis on commodity products in general.

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