Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sweeten Your Valentine's Day with Le Parfait Paris Strawberry Macarons

I am admittedly a Valentine's Day grinch. I get this from my dad, who used to dismiss it as just a Hallmark holiday. However, I do love the edible Vday bling--chocolates, those little NECCO sweethearts, cinnamon imperials... You name it.

But, honestly, as a grown up, what could be a better sweet gift than a box of French macarons. They're sweet, but not too sweet, and crunchy and gooey. They make you feel très elegant even as the bite you take utterly ravages them.

Funny, though, I'd never actually tried to make them. So when the folks at Le Parfait Paris offered to teach me, I was all in. Guillaume Ryon, who with his wife Ludivine Mas owns the bakery, met with me last week at their massive kitchen in Mission Valley. The Gaslamp bakery prepares their products offsite so that they can devote their downtown space to table service and point of sale and make their wholesale deliveries more efficient.

Ryon and macaron specialist Hayder Jasim spent a couple of hours showing me the ins and outs of macaron production.

It begins with a blend of almond flour and powdered sugar that Jasim weighs and then sifts together. He then whips egg whites in a stand mixture and prepares a simple syrup that he slowly incorporates into the egg whites as he continues to whip them.

Next Jasim adds natural food coloring to the almond flour/powdered sugar mixture. Then, using a scraper, he gently incorporates the egg white mixture into the flour mixture. Jasim explained and demonstrated that the texture should be soft and thick so that it flows like a ribbon. He warned against over mixing.

Now you're ready for piping. Here, technique is again important. As you can see below in the video, you don't swirl as you pipe. You gently press it out and with a flick of the wrist twist it off. Here Jasim made small macaron shells of about an inch and a half. You can also make them larger and there are sheet templates you can use to be accurate and consistent.

Then Jasim slams the cookie sheet on the counter a couple of times to remove that tail at the top and create a smooth top. He sprinkled these cookies with coarse sanding sugar that he had mixed with food coloring.

What happens next is the key to getting a crisp macaron. You let the cookies sit and dry. Depending on the weather and humidity, it takes between 20 to 30 minutes for the macarons to go from glossy to matte. Feel free to use a fan if you're impatient.

Then you'll bake the cookies in a 300˚ F oven. While the cookies bake, make the filling. This is pretty easy. Just dice the berries and mix them in a pot with water and agar agar--a vegetarian gelatin substitute--to cook for about 10 minutes. Then puree.

Finally, you're going assemble your macarons. Ryon showed me how they make a small indentation on one cookie with a thumb to be able to add a bit more filling. Pipe the filling into that cookie, then cover with another, gently twisting to secure it.


If you want to elevate them even more, you can dip them in chocolate.

That's it. To make them tastier, Ryon suggests putting them in the freezer for two days so that the flavor from the filling is infused into the shell.

Le Parfait Paris Strawberry Macarons
(Printable recipe)

Yield: 20 to 30 macarons, depending on how large you make them


210 grams powdered sugar
125 grams almond flour
3 eggs, separated (save the yolks for another use)
30 grams sugar
Water--enough to just wet the sugar
1 teaspoon natural red food coloring
10 grams coarse finishing sugar
1 drop of red food coloring
225 grams fresh strawberries
3 teaspoons water
1 gram agar agar
50 grams Valrhonna Dark chocolate or other high-quality chocolate

Pre-heat the oven to 300˚ F.

Mix and sift the powdered sugar and almond flour.

In a stand mixer, begin whipping the egg whites. While the whites are being beaten, combine the sugar and water in a pan and place over heat to make a simple syrup. When the syrup starts boiling, remove from heat and slowly incorporate it into the beating egg whites. When the mixture is fully incorporated, stop the mixer and set the egg white mixture aside.

Add the food coloring to the almond flour/powdered sugar mixture. Now gently mix in the egg white mixture, a little at a time, using a bench scraper. Don't over-mix. The texture should be soft and thick and pour like a ribbon. Combine the coarse finishing sugar with the food coloring and set aside.

Gently place the cookie mixture into a piping bag with a #2 tip. Pipe into small round discs on a sheet pan covered with either silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle with the coarse finishing sugar. Let the cookie shells rest for 20 to 30 minutes until the surface goes from shiny and glossy to matte.

Put them in the oven and bake for 16 minutes if small, 20 minutes if large.

While the shells bake, make the filling. Dice the strawberries and place them in a pot with the water and agar agar. Cook for 10 minutes on high. Use an immersion blender to puree. Let cool.

Remove the shells from the oven and let cool.

When ready to assemble, use a thumb to gently press into the flat side of half the shells to create an indentation. Fill a piping bag, using a #2 tip, with the strawberry filling. Pipe about a teaspoon of the filling onto the indented shells. Then cover with the flat side of a non-indented shell.

At this point you can melt chocolate in a double boiler. Then dip half the cookie into the chocolate and place on a sheet topped with wax paper. Let rest until the chocolate has cooled and set.

Freeze cookies for two days before serving.

Le Parfait Paris is located at 555 G. Street in the Gaslamp.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Radish Greens Pesto

On a gorgeous January Sunday two weeks ago I spent the morning trailing Chef Norbert Moniz around the Hillcrest Farmers Market. Moniz runs the kitchens at Blind Lady Alehouse and Tiger! Tiger!.

I met him just before 8 a.m. at Tiger! Tiger! and we headed out in his fire engine red Ford Ranger pick up. On our drive over to the market Moniz told me that he's been in San Diego for about a year after spending six years working in Chicago. Originally from Santa Clarita, in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, Moniz attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and then ran a little restaurant in Santa Barbara. Concerned that he wasn't learning enough, he gave his notice and packed two bags--one with his clothes and other personal stuff, the other with hockey gear, and took off for Chicago. It was there he seems to have truly learned his trade, after working for what he calls "a lot of great chefs."

After six years, the SoCal native had had enough of Chicago winters and learned from a friend working at Blind Lady Ale House that there was an opening for a chef at Tiger! Tiger!. He got the job. That was a year ago. Now he oversees Tiger! Tiger! and Blind Lady.

Clearly, Moniz loves what he does--to the extent that on Sundays, his day off, he's up early to pick up orders and shop at the Hillcrest Farmers Market and then deliver his groceries to the chefs at the three restaurants.

"I do it because it gets me up and out of bed, I get to hang out with friends at the market, and I can see what's coming in," he says. "And I can geek out with my chefs over the produce when I deliver it."

While we were picking up orders from farmers at the market I came across the most gorgeous Easter Egg radishes at the Maciel Family Farm stand, where Moniz bought beets, mixed greens, butternut squash, fennel, kale, turnips, and other vegetables. Over the years I've bought from them, too, and was delighted to meet owner Paul and his daughter Sara, who is very involved in 4H. The family farm is up in Bonsall, where they also grow flowers.

Moniz was singing the praises of the Maciel's mixed greens so I bought a bag, but I couldn't take my eyes off the plump and colorful radishes so I bought a bunch of them, too. When I got them home I cut the stems off and, unlike your typical sad, wilted supermarket bunches, they were so fresh I couldn't bear to toss them. I'd sautéed radish greens with garlic before so I knew how wonderfully peppery they are. But what to do with them now?

I had to decide quickly. What you learn about radish greens is that they have a pretty short shelf life. I could make soup with them, make a stir fry, roast them, add them to pasta or an omelet, or make a salad with them.

Or, hmmm, make pesto. I had all the ingredients I needed, including a fresh bottle of herbaceous young olive oil from California Olive Ranch that would match the spicy radish leaves.

The first thing you need to do with radish leaves is wash them. Thoroughly. As root vegetables, the greens are close to the ground and seem to attract dirt like spinach. I did several rounds in a salad spinner before I got the grit off to my satisfaction. Once washed and dried I gave them a rough chopping for the blender.

With that, it's just a matter of grating your favorite hard cheese (I used Parmesan), toasting walnuts to bring out their flavor, and trimming some garlic cloves. You'll want to add a touch of butter to round out the flavor, and some salt--but not much because of the saltiness of the cheese.

After that you'll put everything but the oil in the bowl of a blender or food processor and gradually add in the oil until it reaches a smooth and creamy pourable consistency. Then you have the perfect sauce for pasta, salmon, roasted vegetables and all sorts of other dishes.

You can find the Maciel Family Farm at the Hillcrest, Coronado, Oceanside, Old Town Temecula, and Old Town Poway farmers markets. 

Radish Greens Pesto
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 cups

6 ounces radish leaves, with tough stems removed (save and snack on them or add to a stir fry)
1 cup walnuts, toasted
5 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
Pinch of salt
3/4 to 1 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil

After removing the tough stems, wash and dry the leaves thoroughly and roughly chop.

In the bowl of a blender or food processor, add the leaves, walnuts, garlic, cheese, butter, and salt. Put the lid on but leave the opening available to add the oil. Turn on the machine and slowly add the oil. Puree the contents until the mixture reaches a loose, creamy consistency. Periodically, stop and scrape down the sides to incorporate all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings.

You can keep the pesto refrigerated for up to a week, although it's best used right away. Be sure to pour some oil over the surface to keep it from oxidizing and turning brown. Or you can freeze it.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Quinn Wilson's Bone Broth

Close to two years ago, Quinn Wilson, a San Diego chef I've known for several years, approached me with two concepts she was developing into a business. One was a master tonic that features freshly grated horseradish, fresh chiles, onions, ginger root, and garlic cloves. It's meant to alleviate colds and viruses, along with assisting with a number of other health-related issues. Whether it does or not, it's got an interesting flavor and the solids are wonderful for cooking. So, I featured it here, along with the recipe.   

The other concept Quinn was working on was a bone broth that she turned into a business called Balanced and Bright. Now bone broth has become quite the trend. The claims are that this ancient remedy can assist in the repair of joints and bone tissue; improve hair, skin, and nails, thanks to the collagen released from the bones; alleviate acne, promote fertility, help in post-surgical healing, and provide symptom relief for autoimmune disorders. In fact, there is a long list of ways it's suggested bone broth can be healthful.

I have no opinion on it one way or the other since I have no medical training. And, Quinn acknowledges that there is still no scientific evidence for how bone broth works or confirmation of its long-term benefits. What I do know is that it tastes delicious. And since I grew up with chicken soup--the Jewish penicillin--who am I to doubt the beneficial effects of broth, especially if it's made with care and good ingredients.

Well, Quinn came at this at exactly the right time. An avid social media participant, publisher Sonoma Press discovered her on Instagram. They were looking for someone to write a book on bone broth and picked her. Quinn had five weeks to produce a manuscript and recipes. She met her deadline and the book, Bone Broth: 101 Essential Recipes & Age-Old Remedies to Heal Your Body, has just been published.

In the book Quinn has provided a thorough explanation of bone broth and its history. She also explains how to select bones--whether those of large animals or poultry, rabbits or game birds or fish. She addresses the various ingredients you'll need to make her basic broths, cooking methods (pressure cooker, stove top, or slow cooker), and how to store it. She even explains techniques for effective clean up since it can be a messy process, complicated by fat. 

The basic broths range from beef, chicken, duck, and lamb to pork, rabbit, wild game, fish, and shellfish. Her Master Tonic is included, as is a joint soother, pregnancy broth, cleaning broth, stomach soother, and thyroid support broth, among others. 

I visited Quinn at her home and she first prepared a drink I had my doubts about, called The Cinnamon Roll. It's made with a neutral broth--one that omits vegetables in favor of ginger and fennel--as well as cinnamon, coconut sugar (or honey or stevia), and pastured butter. A sweet broth? It didn't sound promising. But I was won over. It was lovely, with a rich subtle flavor that was comforting.

In fact, Quinn adds neutral broth to all sorts of unusual applications--smoothies, hot chocolate, cocktails, pancakes, brownies, and other desserts. The savory recipes range from French Onion Soup, Ratatouille, Chicken or Rabbit Mole, and Poached Scallops to Braised Lamb, Pork Agrodolce, Posole, and this marvelous Autumnal Pork Stew below.

Quinn created the stew recipe on a whim, adding some very strange ingredients, like orange marmalade, brandy, and smoked sausage. But it works. She made it for me and I loved both the textures and the sweet slightly smoky flavor, made complex with citrus and spices. It's rich, aromatic, and satisfying--especially on a chilly day or night.   

Autumnal Pork Stew
From Bone Broth: 101 Essential Recipes & Age-Old Remedies to Heal Your Body by Quinn Farrar Wilson

Serves 8 to 10
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook:             Slow Cooker:
                        4 hours on high
                        8 hours on low

·      This autumnal stew gets better the longer it sits. For an extra flavorful stew, prepare it a day before serving.

1 teaspoon tallow (or some other cooking fat, coconut oil, etc.)
1 (1 ½ pound) pork shoulder, cubed
½ cup finely chopped smoked pork sausage
4 cups diced butternut squash
1 large white onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
½ fuji apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
3 ½ cups bone broth of your choice
¼ cup brandy
3 tablespoons orange marmalade
3 sage sprigs, tied into a bundle
1 ½ teaspoons Celtic sea salt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1.     In a large pan, heat the tallow over med high heat. Add the pork cubes and cook until well browned, stirring frequently. Transfer to a slow cooker using a slotted spoon.
2.   Add the sausage to the pan and brown well. Transfer to the slow cooker.
3.   Add the butternut squash, onion, fennel, apple, bone broth, brandy, orange marmalade and sage to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
4.   Stir in the salt and apple cider vinegar. Serve.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Meyer Lemon Marmalade and My Lesson in Jamming

I love the craft of preserving--for me it usually take the form of making pickles. Periodically I make jam, but only if I've managed to get my hands on more seasonal fruit than I can eat or bake with before it spoils. A case in point? My Meyer lemon trees have been weighed down with fruit. I adore Meyer lemons, but how many can I use on my own? I gave some away as holiday presents but that still didn't make a dent. And the fruit needed desperately to be picked. So, how about making Meyer lemon marmalade?

I've successfully made marmalade from a wonderful Ina Garten recipe in her Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook, but her large oranges didn't really translate into my much smaller lemons so I searched through my cookbooks until I found an actual Meyer lemon marmalade recipe in my ginormous compendium of all things Ruth Reichl, The Gourmet Cookbook. I was tickled to have just what I needed from one of my cooking bibles.

Other than tripling the recipe to use 4 1/2 pounds of lemons, I followed it precisely. It took me hours to halve the lemons, remove and reserve the seeds, then quarter the juicy halves and thinly slice them. I pulled together all the seeds into a cheesecloth parcel I tied with string. I mixed the lemons with water and the seed pouch and let the mixture stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

After racing out in the rain to get more sugar (12 cups!), running all my jars through the dishwasher, and then setting up my canning equipment, I started the cooking process. Everything went fine. I put a couple of small plates in the freezer to chill so I could test that the marmalade had cooked enough. The soaked lemon mixture simmered for 45 minutes, reducing by a third. Then I stirred in the sugar and brought it all to a boil, stirring and skimming.

Per the directions, after 10 minutes I pulled out a frozen plate, dropped a dollop of golden marmalade on the plate, put it back in the freezer and waited for a full minute. I tested it. Still runny. I cooked the mixture for five minutes more, tested it. Still runny. I did this four more times and by then the peels were collapsing. Enough.

At this point the jars had been sterilized so I started filling them, hoping that the mixture would set. I processed the filled and sealed jars and set them on the counter overnight, cleaned up the kitchen, and crossed my fingers.

I shouldn't have bothered. The next morning I had what I generously called Meyer Lemon Marmalade Syrup. It tasted delicious, but was still runny.

Fortunately, because I posted some of this on Facebook, pastry chef Kathleen Baran Shen of Bake Sale Bakery offered some advice. And this is why I am writing this--because this Gourmet recipe didn't mention it--you need to measure the temperature of the mixture and that temperature needs to hit 223 degrees to reach the jelling point.

"There are varying amounts of water in every lemon and the temperature assures a specific percentage of water remains in the mixture," she said. "Just cooking for a set amount of time doesn't get you a specific end result.

"Pectin needs a few things to set," she explained, "proper sugar concentration, acid, and to be cooked to the right temperature."

She added, "If you want to go to the trouble to dump it out and recook it, use a thermometer and bring it to 223 degrees and re-jar it. It will be good."

Kathleen was right, of course. I had some leftover jars of "marmalade syrup" in the fridge--jars I didn't have room to sterilize. I dumped the contents into a pot and followed her directions. After I poured the recooked mixture back into the re-washed jars, I let them cool and then put them back in the fridge. A couple of hours later I opened one up. Sure enough, it was perfectly jelled. I went back and emptied all my marmalade syrup into a large pot and brought the mixture to the right temperature, re-washed and sterilized the jars, filled them, processed them, and relabeled them--this time as just Meyer Lemon Marmalade. Okay, a slightly darker marmalade, though. Turns out that while sugar doesn't caramelize until reaching 300-plus degrees, if you don't stir constantly as you get close to the magic number or use a copper pot that conducts heat more effectively, the bottom gets hot enough to caramelize. And, as Shen added, some color change will happen no matter what as the fruit changes color when cooked. Second lesson learned!

So, if you are starting out as a jammer be sure to find the right recipes and also don't give up because it didn't come out right the first time. Kathleen not only saved my batch of marmalade, she saved my hard-earned lemon harvest--and gave me the gift of knowledge that will be used for my next jamming foray.

Here's my version of Meyer Lemon Marmalade, adapted from the Gourmet recipe with Kathleen's advice included. In terms of special equipment, you'll need a large canning pot and rack; canning jars, lids, and bands; a jar lifter; a funnel; a lid lifter; cheesecloth and string; and a candy thermometer.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade
(printable recipe)
Yield: About 6 cups

1 1/2 pounds Meyer lemons
4 cups water
4 cups sugar

1. Halve the lemons crosswise and remove the seeds, placing them in a bowl as you work--they'll provide the pectin you need to thicken the mixture.

2. Tie the seeds in a cheesecloth bag and reserve.

3. Quarter each lemon half and thinly slice crosswise.

4. Combine the lemon slices, seed bag, and water in a pot and let stand, covered, at room temperature for 24 hours.

5. When you're ready to make the marmalade, wash and sterilize jars in a large canning pot filled with heavily simmering water. Keep the jars in the water and keep the water simmering. Wash the lids and put them in a small saucepan. Fill with water and bring to a simmer. Wash the bands and set aside.

6. Place the lemon mixture on the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until reduced to about 4 cups--about 45 minutes.

7. Stir in the sugar, attach the candy thermometer to the side of the pot, and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Stir occasionally and skim off any foam until the mixture reaches 223 degrees.

8. Place a kitchen towel on the sink where your filled jars can cool. Remove a jar from the canning pot and drain it of water. Fill it with marmalade to within a 1/4" from the top. Wipe off any excess marmalade from the jar, particularly where the lid and band will go.

9. Place a lid on the jar. Seal the jar with a band and gently twist it. Do this with each jar and then return them to the water bath. (Note: If you have any leftover marmalade, place it in a container and refrigerate it to use right away). Discard the bag of lemon seeds.

10. Cover the pot and bring the water back to a boil. The jars should be in actively boiling water for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the jars in the bath for another five minutes. Then remove the jars to the towel on the counter out of a draft. Don't worry if there's water on the lids. It will evaporate. Let the jars alone overnight. Within minutes you should hear popping as the lids seal.

Questions about the nuts and bolts of preserving? My bible is the Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving. You'll find a step-by-step guide to the canning process. It seems intimidating at first because of the number of steps but it actually is very easy.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Broccoli Flower Salad

Last Saturday I went shopping at the Little Italy Mercato and was tickled to see Idzai Mubaiwa of African Sisters. I wrote a piece on women farmers for Edible San Diego last year and included this amazing woman, who emigrated here from Zimbabwe in 2002. Idzai got started farming in San Diego four years ago, thanks to the International Rescue Committee. They taught her how to run her business and helped get her into the North Park Farmers Market. Idzai has four daughters. One is at Howard University and, she bragged, one of her younger daughters was just accepted to Vassar.

This time of year, of course, the pickings at some of the farm stalls are slim, but I found two items to buy from Idzai. One was a gorgeous bunch of rainbow Swiss chard, which I'm cooking up in a hearty mushroom barley soup--just to also have some greens in there. The other was a bunch of broccoli flowers.

Now broccoli flowers sound unusual but really they are simply the sweet, petite yellow blossoms that sprout from the mature heads of broccoli. Yes, the florets you love to eat more than the stems are actually flower buds in waiting. Let them go and they'll blossom.

The challenge with eating them is that as the broccoli ages enough to bloom, the stems become tough. So, no roasting these. You can certainly boil or steam them to serve with a nice sauce or vinaigrette or strip the flowers, add the stems to soup, and then use the flowers as a garnish. But I like a good crunch, so I make a salad with them. If the ones you find are too tough to eat raw for your taste, then you can blanch them for about a minute.

This week, I basically rummaged through my fridge and pantry to figure out what would pair nicely with the broccoli. I had celery and scallions, mandarin oranges, a bowl of walnuts I'd already toasted, and garbanzo beans. I figured a hard-boiled egg would go nicely in there, too.

For a dressing, I made a simple vinaigrette with a sharp-flavored aged red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, whole grain mustard, and kosher salt.

What I found worked for me in prepping the broccoli was to slice the stalks, then remove most of the flowers from the florets before chopping them.

I used the small, tasty inner stalks of the celery and pulled as much of the fibrous strings off the peeled mandarin sections as I could. For the hard boiled egg, I used an egg slicer and just ran it twice in different directions to get a dice.

As I write this, it's the first Monday of the new year--heavy with dark clouds that portend a week's worth of rain. So the bright colors and flavors of this salad really lightened my day, even as it gave me a hearty lunch. The potent punch of the vinaigrette complemented the broccoli. I love the crunch of the stems and walnuts and the burst of sweetness from the little slices of orange. This is a happy meal! Plus, it's a great way to start the new year off healthfully.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

See Ya, 2015!

As we say so long to 2015, there are close to a dozen local chefs whom I'd like to thank for welcoming me into their kitchens and teaching me some of their best and favorite dishes, which I, in turn, shared with you here. These kitchen experiences are my favorite part of my food writing. I learn not just a recipe, but about the chefs themselves. These are people who love to share their passion. I get family stories, lessons in technique, a lot of laughs, and delicious food. It's also a way for me to gather knowledge about chefs, restaurants, and dishes that help me write stories for media like The San Diego Union-Tribune and Edible San Diego. It's a rich way to live and I truly am appreciative.

So, thank you to Chef Ozvaldo Blackaller of Cueva Bar on Adams Ave., who taught me how to make beautiful empanadas wrapped in house-made flour tortillas: chicken with gorgonzola, brisket and sautéed onions, and chorizo with smashed potatoes.

Many thanks to Rodnia Novarro and her talented mom, Rosario Sotello of El Borrego, for introducing me to their stunning green pork pozole, or Pozole Verde Guerrerense. As I write this on Sunday morning, it's a surprising 35 degrees outside and I could use a steaming bowl about now.

Ryan Studebaker, not only did you teach me how to make your beautiful Raviolini with Seasonal Vegetables, Pistachio Pesto, and Parmesan, you offered me some truly useful tips for how to sauté vegetables more effectively. Cheers to you and MIHO Experience! 

Nick Brune of Eco Caters and formerly with the now closed Local Habit is one of those cool guys who is passionate about collaborating with and promoting San Diego's culinary and musical talent. Local Habit hosted a fried chicken competition earlier this year and Nick travels around town with his Soundbite dinners, for which he brings in musicians to play songs with a connection to each dish. His Asian-influenced Cali-Creole cuisine resulted in this decadent Creole Noodle Soup. You could say in this bowl gumbo meets ramen. I love his dark roux noodles! And, I loved the sweet finish to the meal: Nick's take on classic Southern Buttermilk Pie. Thanks, Nick!

Thank you, Kurt Metzger! We miss Kitchen 4140 and are looking forward to your next venture. I appreciate your teaching me how to make this stunning Seared Day Boat Scallops with Grilled Peaches, Candied Bacon, and Micro Salad. I could not believe how many flavors could pop in one bite! 

Mille grazie to Fabrizio Cavallini of Monello and Bencotto for introducing me to your traditional Milanese technique for making pasta. It was beautiful to watch and not hard to replicate--with a lot of practice! Love your imported organic pastas, too!

Accursio Lota of Solare taught me the Sicilian style of making risotto--two ways. My friend Robin Ross of Cupcakes Squared and I learned how to prepare both his Risotto with Sardinian Saffron and his Risotto with Summer Truffles. Plus, Accursio schooled us on the difference between rice varieties and its importance in making this creamy dish. Thank you!

The following month, I took a virtual trip to the Philippines, courtesy of chef Evan Cruz of Arterra and his family, who run JNC Pinoy Food Mart in Chula Vista. His delightful grandmother, Rosario Cruz, demonstrated how she prepares a childhood favorite, Turon. Think sweet lumpia--with plantain, jack fruit, and sugar rolled in a lumpia wrapped, fried, then drenched in caramel. Oy! Thank you, Evan and Rosario!

Thank you, Vince Schofield, for introducing me to the wild and wacky world of gooseneck barnacles. You've got to go to Catania in La Jolla to try his Sautéed Gooseneck Barnacles when they're on the menu--or make them at home with this recipe. They're so unusual--and so tasty!

Bradrick Cooper, you just rock! I love your food at Coop's West Texas Barbecue in Lemon Grove and can't wait for you to open your fried chicken eatery! In the meantime, thank you for teaching me how to make your oh-so-crispy buttermilk fried chicken, which made you the winner of this year's inaugural Fried Chicken Challenge at Local Habit. It's totally addictive!

And thank you to Steven Riemer of Oceana Coastal Kitchen at the Catamaran in Pacific Beach, who taught me not one or two ways to make ceviche, but three: shrimp, scallop, and seabass. And who also introduced me to the house-made tortilla chips that accompany them. Dangerous! I appreciate your ceviche techniques and advice. No more runny ceviche!

I also want to thank Bob Harrington and Specialty Produce for supporting my work both on San Diego Foodstuff and my Edible San Diego blog, Close to the Source. I so appreciate all you do in our food community and the larger San Diego community. You are a smart businessman with a big heart.

Thanks to Tommy Gomes and the Catalina Offshore Products crew for always inviting me in to try something new and encouraging my seafood forays. You, too, are community gems!

And, thank you to the market managers, farmers, and vendors I've visited with this year, who so graciously introduced me to what they make and sell--and so patiently answered my questions. You--and our chefs--are the folks who are shaping the ever-expanding and maturing food scene in San Diego. It's been inspiring to spend time with you this year!

Finally, thank you to my readers. I am grateful to have you check in weekly, subscribe to my e-newsletter, and follow me on social media. In February, San Diego Foodstuff will begin its ninth year. It's evolved from covering local markets to pretty much anything food-related in our region, including my kitchen experiences. If you have ideas for other news and information I can cover here, let me know! Please subscribe to the blog and newsletter--and leave feedback in the form of comments! I want to hear from you!

Here's to a delicious 2016! May you all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Soul of a Grove: La Vigne Organics

Early next month I'll have a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune on a cookbook, Jewels From My Grove, by Fallbrook grower Helene Beck. Beck, whom I visited with a couple of weeks ago, has more than 3,000 trees on her vast and magical property. Among the organic crops she grows are persimmons, blood oranges, kumquats, kaffir limes, satsumas, figs, pomegranates. In fact, the book focuses on her favorite fruits: persimmons, kumquats, and blood oranges.

As I was leaving, Beck not only loaded me down with a sampling of dishes she made for the photo shoot and a bag of sweet satsumas, she took me into the garage and gave me jars of some of the La Vigne line of products she has made for about 20 years from the bounty of those trees--Persimmon Chipotle Sauce, Kumquat Conserve, Kumquat Ginger Syrup, and Blood Orange Syrup.

I took the products home and started sampling them, starting with the Persimmon Chipotle Sauce. Beck happened to also gift me with four duck eggs. My 19-year-old niece, Samantha, was visiting from North Carolina and she'd never eaten duck eggs so I scrambled up a couple and we topped them with the sauce.

Made with organic Fuyu persimmons, orange juice, onions, cider vinegar, ginger, sugar, limes garlic, sea salt, and dehydrated chipotle, the sauce has a complex sweet heat to it. It was terrific with the eggs, and later, with tortilla chips. I think it would also be wonderful served with poultry or pork.

The Kumquat Conserve is a clever way to use the sour fruit. It sweetens them up a bit and makes them ready to use for baking or cooking. You can also add it--using the fruit or just the sauce--to a blender with oil, vinegar and other ingredients to make a marinade or vinaigrette.

Kumquat Ginger Rugelach
Chop up the fruit and add them to cookies. Or, as Beck does, to noodle pudding and the kumquat ginger rugelach above.

The two syrups are delightful, but the texture is less syrupy than liquid. I poured some of the Blood Orange Syrup, which is seasoned with cardamom and almond, over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Loved it. The citrusy orange flavor comes through, but there's a lovely hint of marzipan with the almond and sweet, almost citrus-like tones of the cardamom. 

Both this and the Kumquat Ginger Syrup are perfect for sweet applications--like an ice cream topping--but add it to oatmeal or pancakes and waffles. Or, use it as a base for a salad dressing or savory sauce for meats or roasted vegetables.

These and many more items, like lemongrass powder, organic persimmon fruit leather, and kumquat ginger scones, she sells online, as well as at Specialty Produce, Jimbos, and Nature Market.

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