Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Galaxy Taco Announces New Season of Taco Tuesday Takeovers

Just got a note from Galaxy Taco's chef/owner Trey Foshee, listing the fall lineup of chefs and others who will be at the restaurant as guest taqueros and create a set of three innovative tacos for guests.

Foshee started this tradition in January with his friend Chef Jason Knibb of NineTen. And, Knibb will be back again on September 27. Tonight's guest chef will be Juan Carlos Recamier of Ceviche House.

"It's a real casual thing," said Foshee, who opened Galaxy Taco in La Jolla Shores a year ago last July. "We happen to have some heavy hitting people coming in but that's because they're my friends. It's not a competition. We kept getting asked all the time what we were going to do for Taco Tuesday and though this would be fun, but we're doing it as something of value and something we're offering in addition to what we already do."

I've been to these Taco Tuesday Takeovers, most notably one with Isabel Cruz. While it's essentially an evening like other evenings at the restaurant in that you can order off the menu, there's a celebratory air to it since friends and family of the chef tend to show up and hang out at each other's tables. And the featured taquero roams the restaurant chatting with them and other guests, answering questions. It takes on the air of a party--and then there are the tacos. You just don't know what creations these chefs and other talents (he's had authors and artists participate, too) will come up with.

Here's the lineup:

September 20: Juan Carlos Recamier of Ceviche House
September 27: Jason Knibb of NineTen Restaurant
October 4: Jose "JoJo" Ruiz, Executive Chef/Partner Lionfish 
October 11: Ruffo Ibarra Arellano, Chef/Co-Owner – ORYX Capital, Tijuana
October 18: Stevan Novoa                                   
October 25: Hanis Cavin of Carnitas Snack Shack
November 1: Dia de los Muertos guest chef dinner
November 8: Gisselle Wellman (Top Chef Season 13) of Pacific Standard Kitchen 
November 15Brittany Cassidy of CDC Rustic Canyon 
November 22: still open
November 29: Jeff Jackson of The Lodge at Torrey Pines

"Taco Tuesday Takeovers" run from 5 p.m. until close. The guest chefs will create three signature tacos. Customers can order these in addition to regular menu items. Since it's not a formal event, there's no start time, but reservations are suggested.

"I'm doing it for the fun of cooking with friends and seeing what they come up with," Foshee said. "The chef will be available to discuss their tacos and anything else, but I'm not setting anything formal up. Tacos are not that complicated. This is really just for the fun of it. We'll learn from them. They may learn from us."

Galaxy Taco is located at 2259 Avenida De La Playa in La Jolla. You can make reservations by calling 858-228-5655 or on the website.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Mort's Favorites

Over the years I've shared with you food I've made for or with my dad, Mort. I've done it because his love of food was contagious and inspired how I cook, market, and enjoy eating out. He was an adventurous eater at a time when Chef Boyardee and Swansons frozen dinners were more popular than crepes or tempura, just two of the dishes he introduced us to at L.A.'s few French and Japanese restaurants when my siblings and I were growing up in the '60s and '70s. He instilled that adventurousness and his happiness in the kitchen in his children. For him food and family were his greatest joy and totally intertwined. I think I've written here that my first memory is of him holding me carefully over the stove when I was about three, teaching me how to make scrambled eggs.

My dad suffered from Alzheimer's and Lewy Body diseases for the past few years. He lost his battle with them last Sunday, September 4, and my heart is broken. I always loved going out to eat with him or cooking him meals, but those activities became especially important to me as a way I could still connect with him as dementia took greater hold over his mind. He loved going out for burgers at The Habit, for Thai food at Supannee House of Thai or for sushi or Chinese. He got a kick out of visiting my friend Tommy Gomes at Catalina Offshore Products, who treated him and my mom like VIPs and gave them samples that could serve as a meal. Although he always was a big story teller, especially about his family, the conversations over the meals we shared in his last years often surprised me with new bits of information that his long-term memory could still dredge up. And he could always make me laugh, up to the end. He wasn't a joke teller, but a smart, naturally funny person who relished having the right comeback.

It also became a pleasure to prepare special edible treats for him--things I knew he'd love.

When I look inside my mom's refrigerator, there are still a few jars of preserved peaches I made for him early this summer.

He was delighted when I made him pickles--both bread and butter pickles and dill pickles.

The pickles are long gone, which makes me happy since he enjoyed them so much.

I even made him pickled beets--even though I detest beets. He was thrilled. This falls under the category of "anything for Dad."

But I was tickled--and so was he--that I found one of his favorites, sand dabs, at a local fishermen's farmers market. I dusted them in flour before pan frying them for a big meal that made him so happy.

Then there were his Tom Aches. These are Dutch pancakes made with beer that come from our long-time family friend in Amsterdam, Tom van Leeuwen. For years all I had was a list of ingredients, no measurements. Dad knew what the proportions were and I was able to work with him, while he was still able, to make them and create a precise recipe. Now it's something I can make for friends or my nieces and nephews.

Dad taught me how to bone fish, eat artichokes, and marinate and roll flank steak into delicious broiled pinwheels. My mom and I just discovered tucked away in the living room bookcase a recipe book he had created for himself, complete with a hand-written table of contents for dishes like Turkish Spinach Salad, Cooking Guy's Frittata, and Chocolate Toffee Matzoh. He learned as a boy from Rosie, the cook at The Park Manor, his family's catering business in Brooklyn, how to make appetizers and carve fruit bowls for weddings and bar mitzvahs. It was something he did for dinner parties he and my mom held. Dad took us both to fine dining restaurants and to the original Tommy's on Rampart and Beverly Blvd. to get big, messy chili-laden Tommy Burgers--and we were expected to know how to behave and enjoy ourselves at both.

We loved the nights he'd come home from work with a big pink box in hand. It meant that he'd been in L.A.'s Chinatown, back when he worked downtown, and had pork buns for us. Sometimes, his secretary's mom and aunt made extra tamales for us over the holidays and we'd devour them as the rare treat they were. I can't think of too much he wouldn't try or encourage us to try back when these foods considered exotic--if they were considered at all.

There were so many ways I enjoyed my father. We shared so many interests--in jazz, college football, The New Yorker, politics, shopping. Even in the depths of his dementia, we'd reminisce about the restaurant meals or street food we enjoyed back when I lived in New York. Sharing a meal together? That, ultimately, was everything. He--with my mom, of course--turned me into a person who lives to eat, and eat well. Even as I'll miss him, I'll always be grateful for that.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Heat is On! My Favorite Chilled Soups to Beat the Dog Days of Summer

Here we go again. In San Diego we got almost a week of coolish, breezy weather in August before getting slammed again with another heat wave. I don't know about you, but I'm very nervous about my next SDG&E bill.

When the temperatures climb there's just no turning on the stove in my house. So I turn to chilled soups filled with vegetables or fruit that are simple to prepare and don't make me sweat. I thought you might appreciate these, too. Especially as we say goodbye to some summer crops that will make way for the fall harvest.

Evie's Chunky Gazpacho: Of course, I had to start with tomatoes and my favorite chunky gazpacho. As many of my friends and readers know, this gazpacho is something my mom has made for years and I adopted as my own. It's a powerhouse of nutrients and the more nutrients, the better the flavor. This soup is packed with it. It starts with the tomatoes, but adds cucumbers, corn, onions, garlic, bell peppers, chilies, cilantro, and lime juice--and I'm just getting started! Make your own tortillas to accompany this!

Coconut Peach Gazpacho: My friend Jesus Gonzalez, formerly the chef at Rancho La Puerta, makes a dynamite Coconut Peach Gazpacho that's a blend of savory (onion, cucumber, chili) and sweet (peaches or other seasonal fruit, agave nectar, and apple). Add some acid from lime juice and a touch of mint and you've got another refreshing summer soup!

Cucumber and Radish Confetti Soup: Many years ago, when I lived in New York and suffered from the sweltering humidity that is particularly eviscerating in the Northeast, a friend of mine introduced me to cucumber bisque. This simple chilled soup made with hothouse cucumbers, yogurt, garlic, dill, and tomatoes became a staple for me. Then I decided to scratch the tomatoes and add radishes to get a bit of a bite. Loved it!

Grant Grill's Cucumber Soup: Several years ago I visited the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego to check out their rooftop garden. They were growing tomatoes and peppers, Persian cucumbers, fennel, and a host of magnificent fragrant herbs. There I sampled their rich and creamy (from a blend of yogurt and sour cream) Persian Cucumber Soup. Even with the potent flavors of chilis, cilantro, mint, dill, and garlic, those cukes burst through.

Chilled Honeydew Coconut Milk Soup: Chilled melons may be the most refreshing of summer eats. Combine the melon--and an uber sweet honeydew at that--with fresh ginger, coconut milk, lime juice, and a smidge of kaffir lime powder and you have a dish that will serve as virtual armor against the dastardly rays of the summer sun.

Chilled Melon Blueberry Soup: I actually just wrote about this in July, but the heat is on and I love this combination of melon with blueberries and potent herbs like tarragon and basil. Thanks to the yogurt, it has a welcome creaminess and tang.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pickling Summer Bounty

It's high August and the peak of summer produce. It's also just plain hot. I really detest cooking in this weather, but what I do enjoy is the cold, fresh snap of a pickle--and I'm willing to do a little work to turn the bounty of cucumbers and tomatoes, radishes and squash and beans into something tangy and sour.

Over the almost 10 years I've been writing San Diego Foodstuff I've written a lot about pickling. I've made quick pickles with the Balistreris of Tender Greens. I've made my Nana Tillie's dill pickles. There are the pickled beets I made for my dad and my favorite pickled marinated eggplant from the late, beloved Gourmet magazine. Read on for links to all these recipes and more.

Bread and Butter Pickles: I've been making these pickles for my dad for years now. It began when I learned how to make bread and butter pickles from Quality Social's Jared Van Camp and Sam Burman. My first batches went to Dad -- long called "Opopie" by my nieces and nephews -- as a birthday gift. He asked for more. Then I developed my own version, combining Jared's recipe with the traditional Ball recipe from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which has what I believe are the best instructions on how to do the much-dreaded water bath. Follow them religiously and you'll find it's actually a breeze.

Quality Social's Natural Pickles: Here's where I started getting my pickle chops. Charcuterie is matched perfectly with pickles. The acid from the pickles complements the fat of the sausages. With this recipe you can pickle just about any vegetable and, again, it's so easy!

Pickled Beets with Shallots: I made these for my dad just one year ago. As my friends know, I detest beets--so this was truly an act of love. But I have it on good authority that they're delicious. My dad went through jars of them in no time.

Italian Marinated Eggplant: This is my favorite eggplant recipe. I discovered it in Gourmet a zillion years ago and it's almost always in my fridge. It starts out as a pickle and goes on to be marinated in olive oil and garlic to become the perfect snack or appetizer. The actual prep doesn't take long but it's a day-long process as the eggplant is salted and then cured. Oh so good on sourdough rolls and the basis of this, my fave sandwich.

Quick Pickles: Looking for a quick and easy pickle to make? I have three recipes for you here from Pete Balistreri and his cousin Pete Balistreri of Tender Greens. There's their Asian-Style pickle with rice wine vinegar and sliced cucumbers, their pickled onions featuring red wine and red wine vinegar, and pickled cauliflower made with thyme, turmeric, and champagne vinegar.

Pickled Watermelon Gherkins: These little cukes look like miniature watermelons and when pickled, are divine! A few years ago I got kitchen time with Chef Kelli Crosson of The Lodge at Torrey Pines and together we made a batch of her pickles to jar for the upcoming Celebrate the Craft. I also coveted the funnel she used to distribute the brine--and, lucky me, was gifted with one by a friend later. It's a treasured kitchen tool.

Dill Pickles: My siblings, cousins, and I have sensory memory of these pickles our Nana used to make. When we visited her at her apartment near the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, jars of these would be out on her porch taking in the summer sun. When we ate them, the brine would dribble down our chins and we'd all smell like garlicky dill pickles in the heat of the car on the way home. But we'd be happy. These are easy to put together, as you'll see. Here's my mom holding a jar after we made a batch awhile back.

Crunchy Giardiniera: Jenn Felmley is responsible for this recipe, a simple giardiniera that is heavenly in a sandwich. Mix together the vegetables you prefer. I like peppers, cauliflower, carrots, and celery for a more traditional approach.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Cold Processed Homemade Berry Shrub

I love a good shrub. The chemical transformation in just hours of the mixture of fruit, perhaps some herbs, sugar, and vinegar creates a unique libation as part of a cocktail, blended with soda water, or used as an ingredient to make a dressing or sauce. You can pour shrubs over ice cream, too.

I first came across shrubs just over a couple of years ago when I met and wrote about the owners of The Gingered Pear. They create astounding shrubs and syrups--so wonderful that it really hadn't occurred to me to try my hand at it at home. Then I got some gorgeous berries from Specialty Produce and that little balloon thought appeared over my head. What if... So I did some research.

What I learned is that there are essentially two methods of making a shrub, both easy and requiring few ingredients. One is via heat and a fairly quick process. The other is a cold method that sits for several hours or even a day or two as the ingredients macerate.

Essentially what you'll want is your fruit, sugar, and vinegar--red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar are good choices. You want something that has some substance but won't overtake the fruit flavors. Balsamic is a good choice, too, but know that it will vie with the fruit in terms of flavors. It's actually what I used for my shrub along with the apple cider vinegar.

Another cool thing about shrubs has to do with the fruit. Since the fruit will be turned into a liquid, you don't need to buy the most flawless, perfect fruit. If you have peaches or plums or berries that are a little past their prime, they're great candidates for a shrub.

Okay, so what do you do? The quick way is to combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and stir the mixture over heat until the sugar dissolves. Then add your fruit. Stir as it simmers and the juice melds with the sugar mixture, becoming syrupy. Let it cool, strain the solids, and add your vinegar. That's it.

Now some people feel that the way to extract more complexity and brightness is to go with the cold method. There's no heat to dull the fruit flavors. This, too, is quite easy. And, it's what I did.

In a bowl I mashed the berries a little to extract some of the juice and allow the sugar to penetrate more easily--sort of a head start. Then I added the sugar, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerated it.

The next morning, I pulled the bowl out of the fridge and could see the juices and syrup already forming.

At this point you strain the liquid from the fruit. If you have a fine mesh strainer or chinois, that's the perfect tool for this. Press down on the fruit to get every last drop.

Then you'll whisk in your vinegar.

Pour it into a pretty bottle using a funnel and you're good to go.

Your shrub will be wonderfully tart and sweet, a combination that will mellow with time when stored in the fridge. I like to keep it simple and enjoy it combined with sparkling water on a hot late afternoon.

I've got a recipe for you that I adapted from Serious Eats that outlines the process perfectly.

Cold Processed Berry Shrub
(printable recipe)
Yield: 20 to 24 ounces of shrub syrup

1 cup of berries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1. Place berries in a bowl and gently mash them to release some juice.
2. Add sugar and mix together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least six hours or overnight until the fruit releases liquids into a syrup. There's no hurry here.
3. Place the mixture into a fine mesh strainer or chinois over a bowl or measuring cup and carefully press on the fruit and sugar mixture to extract as much syrup as possible. If there's some sugar remaining in the original bowl scrape that in, too.
4. Whisk the vinegar into the syrup.
5. Using a funnel, pour your shrub into a bottle. Seal and keep refrigerated.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fig and Goat Cheese Toast with Honey and Orange Zest

Life has been a whirlwind over the last few weeks with my dad being in the end stage of his battle with Alzheimer's and Lewy Body diseases. It's why I didn't have time to post anything last week. I barely have time at my house to do any cooking. Even toasting a bagel or sitting down with a bowl of oatmeal is an achievement.

But today I spent some time at home to get work done, do laundry, and water my garden. And I decided to splurge on a good breakfast for myself. I had beautiful black figs and a package of goat cheese in my refrigerator.

While settled in my bed the night before, knowing that I could make something special the next morning, I contemplated what I could do with them. What I decided on was to chop up the figs and mix them with honey and orange zest. I'd toast an English muffin (at first I was thinking sourdough bread but changed my mind), then with a crispy crust as a moisture barrier I'd spread some goat cheese on the muffin halves, top it with the fig mixture, and run them under the broiler.

And that's what I did. What a treat it ended up being. The figs and honey were sweet with a hint of the citrus that pairs so well with them. The cheese was warm and gooey. The muffin held up well and provided some heft and crunch. It was like eating a fig pizza.

It was also quick and easy enough to make for a week-day breakfast. Take advantage of fig season and make these toasts for yourself.

Fig and Goat Cheese Toast with Honey and Orange Zest
(printable recipe)
Serves 1

1 English muffin, split into halves
3 whole, fresh figs, chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
3 tablespoons goat cheese (or as much as you want to slather on your muffin)

1. Toast the muffins to get the top just brown and crispy.
2. While the muffins are toasting, chop the figs and mix them with the honey and orange zest.

3. When the muffins are done, spread the halves with goat cheese. Top with the fig mixture.

4. Place under the broiler for 4 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cultured Butter

Back in the 1930's when my mother was a baby, my maternal grandparents briefly owned a creamery in Denver. They made butter, ice cream--all the usual suspects for a creamery. At some point, they gave it up to move to Los Angeles, where my Poppa returned to his trade as a milliner. Given that women stopped wearing hats whenever they went out, he moved on from that, too. But that's another story.

Now you'd think with a creamery background in my family and a grandmother who loved to teach me how to cook, I'd have been raised learning how to make butter and other dairy products. But no. Clearly, she left that part of her history firmly in Denver. Not only did it never really enter into the family lore, until fairly recently it had never occurred to me to make my own. But then I fell hard for Brittany butter, sweet and just slightly crunchy from sea salt. I realized that commodity butter wasn't going to cut it for me any more.

A few months ago I poked around and found instructions for butter making--really easy ones (but not involving shaking a jar). I tried it and found I loved the results.

Of course, once you start... and so I had to try making cultured butter. Cultured butter has a tangy, more layered taste than regular butter. And it really comes alive when you take the time to culture it yourself. All that involves is adding the culture to the cream in a bowl and letting it sit at room temperature for from eight to 24 hours, covered. You can purchase the culture from cheese-making stores or you can simply add a couple of tablespoons of yogurt, which is what I did.

Now where regular butter takes little effort and a very short time to make, cultured butter requires little effort but many hours of waiting. Kind of like making bread, but without the kneading. But if you're not in a hurry, this is makes an ├╝ber version of butter that you'll want to try.

As with all recipes with limited ingredients, the few used for making cultured butter have to be really really good. So, be sure to use organic unpasteurized heavy cream or whipping cream, high quality yogurt, and, if you're going to add salt, very good flaky sea salt.

To start you'll mix together the cream and yogurt in a bowl, cover the bowl with a towel and leave it to sit on the counter at room temperature for at least 12 hours. Ideally room temperature is in the 70s. It should get thick like sour cream and a little bubbly. It should smell clean. If it smells funky, toss it and try again.

Once it reaches the right consistency, refrigerate it for an hour. You can leave it in longer if you don't have time to make it immediately. I left mine in the fridge overnight, then took it out the next morning and left it for an hour to come back to room temperature before making the butter.

Now the way I make it is in the blender. And what I've learned by using my Vitamix is that you have to rein in your impulse to whip the cream on high. Instead, don't even move the dial from the lowest speed. It's fast enough to do the job of spurring the cream and yogurt mixture from thick to chunky.

Once you have some good sized chunks, stop. Let the mixture rest and separate. The liquid you get is buttermilk and it's delicious. Don't toss it but do drain it into a container and save it for baking muffins or making buttermilk dressing or however you like to use buttermilk.

Now you're going to wash the butter to remove any remaining remnants of buttermilk since that will make it spoil faster. There are different ways to do it. You can squeeze it by hand. You could pull out the chunks of butter, place them in cheesecloth in a bowl and pour ice water over them and press the butter into the ice water so that the water turns cloudy--and repeat this several times until the water is clear. Or you can make life easier for yourself with a trick I learned from The Kitchn--add cold water to the butter chunks in the blender bowl and pulse a few times. Let the mixture sit until the water separates from the butter. It'll be cloudy. Pour it out, being sure to use a slotted spoon or spatula to keep the butter in the bowl. Repeat a couple more times until the water is mostly clear. Move around those chunks at the bottom near the blades where water accumulates so you can drain it all out.

Now if you want to salt your butter, this is the time. Add just a scant quarter teaspoon of your sea salt to the blender bowl with the butter and pulse a few times to mix it in. Taste and make sure you have enough. If not, add just a bit more. Pulse again.

That's it. Scoop the butter into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Alternately, you can shape it into a log, using plastic wrap and refrigerate it. It should be good for about three weeks in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer. If you want to make regular butter, there's no waiting, simply pour a pint of the heavy cream into the blender bowl and follow the instructions above.

Cultured Butter
Adapted from The Kitchn
(printable recipe)

1 pint organic, unpasteurized heavy cream or whipping cream
2 tablespoons yogurt
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (optional)

1. Whisk together the cream and yogurt in a bowl. Cover with a clean towel and let sit on the counter for 12 hours. Check to see if the mixture has thickened to a sour cream-like consistency and has formed bubbles on the top. If so, it's ready. If not, give it some more time. When it's ready, place it in the refrigerator to chill for an hour.
2. Bring the mixture to room temperature for an hour. This helps it separate into pieces faster. Then place in the bowl of a blender. At low speed, blend the cream-yogurt mixture for a minute or two until it it forms into chunks. That's your butter.
3. Let the butter chunks separate from the liquid, which is buttermilk. At that point, pour off the buttermilk for another use.
4. Add enough cold water to the butter in the blender bowl just to cover. Now you're washing the butter. Pulse three times. The water will be cloudy. Pour it off. Repeat two or more times until the water is relatively clear. Make sure you remove all the water.
5. Add salt now if you want. Pulse again a few times to make sure it's well mixed. Taste to see if you need to add more salt.
6. Scoop out the butter and place it in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerate--or shape it into a log using plastic wrap and refrigerate. It should be good for a few weeks. It can also be frozen for up to three months.

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