Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Crisp-Stuffed Baked Apples

Last year I wrote about my childhood making custard for my mom. The ancillary to this was making baked apples for my dad--really, the whole family, but my dad was the driver; he loved them. In fact, years later when I had "graduated" to making apple pies he always said as he got older that he wasn't a crust guy. He just loved the apples. So I started making him apple crisps--and always kept a bag of crisp mixture in my freezer so I could make them for him at a moment's notice.

I wish it had occurred to me while he was still with us to make him a baked apple stuffed with the crisp mixture. He would have loved it! But it didn't, until now.

I got a craving for baked apples in December when the weather was so bizarrely stormy. When I made them for my family back in the day, my memory is we used either granulated sugar or brown sugar and cinnamon, along with butter, with water in the baking dish. Very straightforward. I think we also sliced off the top before hollowing out the apple--and added the top to bake, too. My dad's cousin Debbie told me her mom used to use diet soda as the liquid. Chef Matt Gordon of Urban Solace and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge said he used Dr. Brown's Black Cherry Soda.

But as I got to thinking about how to flavor them, I realized that all the ingredients I wanted--brown sugar, cinnamon, toasted nuts, and butter--were in my latest batch of crumble in my freezer, accompanied, of course, by oats. So why not just use the crumble?

And I did.

The bigger question, of course, was what kind of apple to use. Back in the day, my mom, who initiated me into making baked apples, used Pippins. But, here's the problem. Pippins, a wonderful tart/sweet green apple variety, are no longer around. There are fads in apple varieties, too, it seems. When I posted my baked apples on Facebook, I heard from friends that they have also seen their favorite baked apple varieties leave the markets: Braeburns, Roman Beauties, Gravensteins. (Although, I think I have seen Braeburns around.)

I did some research and found Fujis highly recommended. That's what I used but while they certainly kept their shape, I don't think they softened enough. My bet next time will be on McIntosh. The risk is, though, that if you aren't observant enough, the McIntosh apples will collapse. So, my search will likely go on. (Tip: my mom used to serve collapsed apples in custard cups to hold them together)

But don't let that deter you. Your favorite apples, baked with spices, sugar, and a little crunch, are the perfect winter dessert. Add a drizzle of cream and you'll be swooning.

Crisp-Stuffed Baked Apples
Yield: 2 servings
(printable recipe)

2 apples
4 tablespoons crisp mixture below
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup Grand Marnier or other liqueur or apple juice/cider (optional)
Water to fill up 1-inch of the baking dish

Caron's Crisp Mix
Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings, depending on how much you use per serving

Mix together:

2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 ½ cups lightly packed brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon fennel pollen
1 cup unsalted butter, melted

Store in the freezer until you’re ready to bake.

Pre-heat oven to 350°.

Peel about an inch around the top of the apple.

Rotate a paring knife into the core of the apple to begin hollowing out the middle. Don't go all the way down, just about three quarters to leave the bottom intact. Take out what you can and use a melon baller to dig deeper and remove the seeds and tough core.

Fill the hollow with 2 tablespoons of crisp mixture in each apple. Place in a baking dish with high sides that just fit the apples. Top the apples with butter. Mix water with liqueur or cider and pour  around the apples.

Cover with foil, place in oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. If the apples have still not softened to your desired texture, continue baking for another 10 minutes or so.

Try to serve immediately--but, you can also refrigerate them and warm them up later in the microwave.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Moro Beans with Lacinato Kale and Shiitake Mushrooms

With this chill in the air it feels like bean time. The last time I wrote about beans was to rave about Alubia Blancas, which are still my favorite. But I recently tried Moro beans, which are a project of Rancho Gordo with XOXOC. Moros are black beans indigenous to Mexico and grown by small farmers.

Uncooked, the beans are like little gems. You would hardly be surprised to see them along a sea shore like little pebbles you'd want to collect. They appear to be a cross between pintos and black beans and when cooked, release a delicious broth. The website notes that they should be cooked as simply as possible, which is fine. I, of course, played around with them a bit and came up with a very basic first batch, which was delicious, then turned them from there into an even more flavorful, nutritious soup. It was perfect for our recent chilly, rainy weather.

First things first--actually cooking the beans. You can do this in all sorts of ways: in your basic pot on the stove, in a slow cooker, or in a pressure cooker. You can soak them. Or not. You can add all sorts of flavorings to the cooking water. Or not. It all depends on what you want the results to be and how you want to use them.

Here's what I did: First, I picked the beans over to remove any non-bean debris (little stones can inadvertently get into batches of packaged beans so always do this). Then I rinsed them and soaked them in a bowl of water covering them by about two inches. I did this in the morning and let them soak for about six hours. I did not toss the soaking liquid because that's where the flavor and some of the nutrition of the beans can leach out.

For the flavorings I diced and gently sautéed a couple of slices of bacon, not to crisp them but to render the fat, and then added diced onions and smashed garlic cloves. Once they turned opaque I added a couple of bay leaves along with the beans and soaking water. I brought the bean mixture to a boil, then lowered the heat after 10 minutes and partially covered the post with its lid (oooh, new brilliant red Staub 4 quart Dutch oven!). I simmered the beans for a little over two hours until they were al dente, adding more boiling water (to maintain the temperature in the pot) as needed. Then I added salt and enjoyed them as a side dish.

After a couple of days I revisited my leftover beans and decided they'd make a nice soup. I'm growing lacinato kale in my garden--a wonderful variety that I think is much more tender than standard kale). I lopped off half a dozen leaves, clipped a couple of Serrano chilies from their plant, and opened a bag of shiitake mushrooms, pulling out half a dozen or so to hydrate for several hours until nice and chewy.

As you'd expect, I kept the mushroom's soaking liquid and sliced the mushrooms. I roughly chopped the kale, and minced the chilies, along with a few cloves of garlic. The garlic started the sauté process. Then I added the chilies, then the mushrooms. The trick to getting the most beautiful and flavorful mushrooms is to place them in a single layer in your pan and just let them brown. Then flip and repeat. At that point I added the kale and sautéed them briefly--just until they began to wilt.

At this point I was ready to put the soup together. The beans went into my go-to little white Le Creuset pot with the remaining bean liquid and the sautéed vegetables. Then I added the mushroom liquid, stirred it all together, and brought it to the boil. Now it was ready to simmer gentle for about an hour. During that hour, when it started to look a little less soupy, I added a little more water to get it to the consistency I wanted. If you don't want it to be soup, let the liquid cook down. After an hour I salted it and dug in. I ate about half and when I had the leftovers the next day, it was even better.

Moro Beans with Lacinato Kale and Shiitake Mushrooms
Serves 4
(printable recipe)

1 cup Moro beans
2 slices bacon, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 bay leaves
Sea salt to taste

6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 red Serrano chilies, minced
6 large leaves lacinato kale, chopped
Sea salt to taste

Pick through beans and remove any debris. Rinse well, then place in a bowl and cover with water. Soak for several hours.

Sauté the bacon just enough to render the fat, then add the onions and garlic. The goal is for them to soften and become opaque, not brown.

Add bay leaves, the beans and the soaking water. Add more water if necessary so that it is about two inches higher than the beans. Bring to the boil and continue boiling for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to as low a simmer as possible and partially cover the pot to allow for evaporation. Cook until the beans are al dente. If necessary add more boiling water (to keep the temperature up). Remove and discard the bay leaves.

At this point they are ready to enjoy. However you can add additional ingredients to create more flavor and even turn the mixture into a hearty soup.

Soak the shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of water until they are soft. Remove the mushrooms and set aside the liquid. Slice the mushrooms.

Heat olive oil in a skillet and add minced garlic. Sauté until fragrant then add the chilies and sauté another minute. Add the sliced mushrooms, spread them into a single layer and let them slightly brown. Turn them and repeat. Add the kale and sauté until slightly wilted.

Place the prepared beans and any bean liquid in a pot with the sautéed vegetables. Add the mushroom liquid. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Simmer for an hour, adding a little water if necessary. Add sea salt to taste and serve. It’s even better the next day.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup

You can keep your butternut and spaghetti squashes. Your acorns and calabasas. When I see a red kuri squash, I kind of melt a little. Actually, I do love the others, too, but there's something about the magnificent red orange coloring and slight teardrop shape that makes me feel I'm not just going to eat something special, but that until I do, I've got a beautiful piece of nature's art to admire in my kitchen.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is the flavor of this Japanese squash. If you love chestnuts, you'll fall for the red kuri squash's rich chestnutty flavor. You can bake with this squash, but you more than likely will enjoy it in a stew, casserole, or soup.

And soup is just what I made with the one I recently bought. A thick, rich soup with chicken stock and coconut milk, ginger and dried peppers, roasted carrots and both roasted and sautéed garlic.

Because winter squash soups can be a little one note--the squash can dominate even the freshest spices--my goal with this soup was to create the now clichéd but truly relevant "layers of flavor." So I roasted the squash with carrots and garlic. I added fresh ginger and fresh garlic--and shallots. I broke up dried serranos from my garden. In went garam masala and its fragrant spices. But I also added tomato paste. And lots of fresh lime juice from limes in my garden.

All these ingredients together were able to hold up and match the squash and together they created soup magic.

Roasting the squash, carrots, and garlic took about an hour and once it had cooled enough to handle and I removed the meat of the squash from its skin and sliced the carrots I had decided I had done enough cooking for the day. So I wrapped the squash meat and carrots in the  parchment paper it roasted on and bagged it, making it easy to remove the following day. I also wrapped up the garlic paste I had squeezed from the roasted head.

So, the next day making the soup was a breeze. In a four-quart Dutch oven I heated up a combination of vegetable oil and butter to sauté the fresh garlic, shallots, and ginger. Once they softened, I added the tomato paste, roasted garlic, and garam masala, and crumbled in the dried serranos and continued sautéing. Then, in went the squash meat and carrots. After about five minutes I souped it up, pouring in both the chicken broth and coconut milk. Once it was all stirred together well and come to just a simmer, I lowered the heat, covered the pot and let it cook for half an hour. At that point, I used my immersion blender to puree it into a smooth, creamy texture. Finally, I added salt and the lime juice.

I loved the kick the lime juice and serranos gave the soup. All that mellow chestnut flavor needed a little something to give the soup a little spark. And it was all built up by the many spices and aromatics that were its foundation.

You can serve the soup with toppings--perhaps those cool coconut chips or fried onions (or both) that Trader Joe's sells. Then you get a little crunch with your creamy soup. Or, you can do what I've been doing. Add a few dollops of chili oil with crunchy garlic. I found this made by S&B on Amazon by chance and it really appealed to me, being a garlic lover. It has a slight kick to it but it's not especially spicy hot. What it has is great flavor and texture. The perfect condiment for all sorts of dishes--roasted vegetables, dumplings, noodles--and this soup.

Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup
Serves 6
(printable recipe)

3 to 4 pounds red Kuri squash
4 or 5 medium-size carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 large head of garlic
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 large shallots, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger, from a 3-inch long piece
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons garam masala (or curry powder)
2 dried red serrano chilis
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
Juice of 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons)

Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Cut the squash into quarters, remove the seeds and fibrous material, and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Add the carrots. Slice the top off of the garlic head, drizzle with a teaspoon of vegetable oil and wrap in foil. Place that on the sheet pan as well. Roast for 1 hour.

Let the squash cool for 15 minutes until it can be easily handled. Then peel the skin away from the squash flesh.

In a 4-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. When the oil is hot and the butter melted, add the garlic, shallots, and ginger. Sauté for about a minute. Add the tomato paste, roasted garlic, and the garam masala and crumble in the dried serranos. Sauté for another minute, then add the squash and carrots. Turn the heat back up to medium to cook the squash and carrots with the aromatics for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the coconut milk and chicken broth, stir well to mix, and bring to a light simmer. Lower the heat and cover the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender. Alternately you can puree it in a blender in batches, holding the top down with a towel. Add the salt a little at a time, tasting until it reaches the right balance with the soup, and stir in the lime juice. Serve immediately.

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Patisserie Melanie's Kouign-Amanns

You'd be forgiven if, after stepping into Melanie Dunn's Pâtisserie Mélanie in Hillcrest, you thought you had been transported to a sweet little Parisian bakery. French posters and art rest on soft blue walls. A counter is stocked with pastries, baked in small batches. There's a small seating area and vintage/retro housewares and cookbooks for sale. It's very sweet, very sophisticated, and reflects Dunn's pastry training at Le Condon Bleu in Paris over three summers. Heck, she and her husband and young daughter even live above the shop. It's where Dunn does her baking with an assistant.

The pastries are stunning. Flaky butter, chocolate, and pistachio croissants. Pain aux Raisins. Chocolate and lemon tarts. Cannelés Bordelais. And, oh, Kouign-Amanns, both classic and cinnamon. Dunn also makes caramels, macarons (of course), sable cookies, and preserves. The flavors change with the seasons. In fact, her holiday collection--Macarons "Les Fêtes"--is a box of four apple cider, fig, hazelnut, and pumpkin macarons.

Dunn opened Pâtisserie Mélanie on Valentine's Day 2018. Previously, the native Hawaiian had been an English teacher at Crawford High School for 15 years. She had thought about being a graphic designer. Then she applied to law school and got into USD. But law school wasn't for her so, with some experience teaching, she opted instead to get her teaching credential. All the while she felt she wanted something else and at the 10-year point as a teacher, burnt out and ready for a change she headed into a direction that had always intrigued her: baking.

"I was a picky eater as a child and didn't get to eat desserts, which made me obsessed with them," she says. "I have a persona that likes things just so and that fit with baking."

Dunn (who taught and is friends with San Diego chef Katherine Humphus) made use of her summer vacations from teaching to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for eight-week sessions focused on pastry. After three years she earned her Diplôme de Pâtisserie. Initially, her plan was to stop teaching and work in the industry. But around 2015 she and husband Axel Schwarz, also a teacher, started house hunting. They stumbled upon a townhouse in Hillcrest on Park Blvd. that had a large room at the entrance, with the rest of the space behind the room and upstairs. That front room could be a bakery--and with new cottage food laws in place, she could do her baking in her own kitchen. It took awhile to make it all work, mostly because she decided to pause her plans with the birth of her daughter. But by the beginning of 2018 Dunn was ready to launch. Now she's contemplating ways to expand.

I spent a wonderful morning with Dunn, learning how to make her Kouign-Amann. This is a Breton cake, filled with butter and still more butter. It's the perfect introduction to lamination--the process of folding butter into dough to get the flaky layers you enjoy in puff pastry and croissants. There aren't nearly as many turns with Kouign-Amann, so if you've been wanting to try making a laminated pastry, this is perfect. And, damn, they're both delicious and beautiful!

It also takes awhile. Dunn suggests making this a weekend process with the first day making the dough, then refrigerating it overnight and returning to it the next day to roll, fold, and bake the pastries.

This recipe makes 9 good-sized pastries. You can mix the dough in a 4-quart stand mixer using a dough hook, but if you have the larger  6-quart bowl, the hook won't engage. The recipe is too small. So, you can either double the recipe--or do what Dunn did and mix it by hand.

Let's do it by hand. It's pretty easy, especially if you have a thin scraper to pull ingredients from the side of the bowl.

You'll start with flour, salt, and 10 grams of unsalted butter in a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour-salt mixture to incorporate it. Then mix together year with water and add it to the flour mixture, using the scraper to bring the ingredients together to form the dough.

Once it's all mixed, turn it out onto your counter (I have a marble slab that works well; granite countertops are equally good.). You'll knead the dough for up to 8 minutes until it has an elastic quality. Shape it and wrap it in plastic and let it chill overnight.

The next day, you'll preheat the oven, depending on whether you have a convection or conventional oven, to either 350 or 375 degrees. Then you'll get out your butter (Dunn suggests that it be at least 85 percent butter fat) and shape it into a rectangle (you could also do this the day before and wrap it up to chill).

Now it gets real. You're going to start laminating. Pull the dough from the fridge and use just enough flour on the counter--or "bench"--to keep it from sticking. Roll it into a long rectangle, the same width as the butter's length and place the butter in the center. Now fold the top and bottom of the dough over the butter so they meet in the middle. Turn it over so the seam is underneath.

Dunn's helpful hint is to create a grid of indentations using your rolling pin to help you roll the dough straight. Then roll it out to 24 inches in length. Now for your first fold. It's called a "double book fold"--what that means is you'll fold one end to mid point of length of dough over the butter, fold the other end to same mid point, then fold one 'side' of the book on top of the other.

Now you'll create another grid of indentations and roll it out again. Then you'll do a letter/envelope fold, meaning you fold it in thirds. One end is folded two-thirds of the way up the length of the dough. Then you'll pull the other end over to the opposite side to cover the first fold. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for at least an hour.

Now it's time to get it ready for baking. Get out one of your muffin/cupcake pans. Set it aside, along with a ruler and a knife.

Sprinkle half the sugar on the bench. Unwrap the dough and place it on top, then sprinkle the rest of the sugar on the dough. Roll out the dough and do your last turn, an envelope fold, and sprinkle any remaining sugar on the bench onto the dough.

Roll the dough into a 12-inch square. Using your ruler, mark a 3 by 3 grid of 9, with each square 4 inches. Trim the edges so they're straight and cut out the squares.

With each square, you'll pull in the four corners and press into the center. Place/push each piece into a muffin pan opening and gently press the center down. Dunn suggests using the outer spaces.

Bake! It'll be about an hour for the convection oven and an hour and 15 minutes for conventional ovens. Get out a rack while they're baking and place it on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan to catch drips. The butter will leave a pool at the bottom but what you're looking for is a caramelized, golden brown bottom.

Too light on the left; just right on the right

The best tool for pulling out the pastries is a pasta tongs, Dunn says. When they're done, place each pastry upside down on the rack to cool.

Then eat! Oh, you did it!

From Melanie Dunn, Patisserie Melanie
Yield: 9 pastries
(printable recipe)

275 grams all-purpose flour
5 grams salt
10 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
2.5 grams instant yeast
165 milliliters water
225 grams unsalted butter (85% butter fat or higher preferred), chilled in the fridge
225 grams granulated sugar

Place flour, salt, and 10 grams of butter in a bowl and rub the butter into flour-salt mixture.

Mix yeast with water and add to flour mixture. Use a thin scraper to bring ingredients together and form dough.

Turn dough onto counter or other surface and knead from 6 to 8 minutes until it develops elasticity.

Shape the dough into a square, double wrap in plastic wrap, and place in a ziplock bag. Chill in refrigerator overnight.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees for a convection oven and 375 for a conventional oven.

Place the 225 grams of butter on a piece of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin smack it around and roll it out into a 5-inch by 7-inch rectangle. It should be about the same texture as the dough. Set aside.

Remove dough from refrigerator, unwrap and, using just a little flour to prevent sticking, roll it out into a 10-inch by 7-inch rectangle. Place the slab of butter in the center. Its length should be equal to the rolled out dough's width. Fold top of the dough over the butter so it reaches the halfway point of the butter. Repeat with the bottom of the dough.

Turn over so it’s seam side down and with the rolling pin, create a grid of indentations to help you roll the dough straight. Roll the dough out to 24 inches long. Do one double book fold (fold one end to mid point of length of dough over the butter, fold the other end to same mid point, then fold one 'side' of the book on top of the other). Create another grid of indentations and roll out again. Do a letter/envelope fold (fold in thirds = fold one end two-thirds of the way up the length of dough, then take the other end and stretch it to the opposite side to 'cover' the first fold ). Wrap it in plastic and let it rest for at least one hour.

Sprinkle half the sugar on the bench—your flat surface. Unwrap and place dough on top. Add the rest of the sugar on the dough. Roll to 22 inches by 9 inches. Do one envelope fold and then sprinkle any sugar remaining on the bench on top.

Roll to a 12-inch square. Using a ruler, mark a grid of 9 (3 by 3). Each small square should be 4 inches. Trim the edge so they’re straight, then cut the grid into squares.

Take one square and fold in all four corners, pressing toward the center. Place into a muffin cup and gently press the center down. Repeat for each around the edges of the muffin pan.

Bake at 350 degrees in a convection oven for about an hour or 375 degrees in a conventional oven for about an hour and 15 minutes. Check for caramelization by lifting up one of the pastries with a pasta tongs and looking at the bottom. If it’s still a little light and a little wet, return the pastry to the muffin cup and bake another 5 minutes. Check again. The bottom should be golden brown and caramelized.

Prepare a rack by placing it a sheet pan lined with parchment paper (to catch the butter and sugar drips. Remove each pastry immediately from the muffin cups and place upside down on the rack to cool.

Pâtisserie Mélanie is located at 3788 Park Blvd., Suite 4 in Hillcrest.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Holiday Gift Ideas for Your Favorite Locavores

Trish Watlington of Two Forks Farm (and former owner of The Red Door) is the founder of Farm to Fork San Diego, a membership organization of local farmers, chefs/restaurants, fishermen, distilleries, wineries, caterers, and related professionals that focuses on supporting local food, farm families and their workers, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by lowering the number of miles food travels to the plate. Farm to Fork San Diego helps consumers and others interested in supporting this mission by verifying through local farmers that participating chefs and restaurants are actually buying from them. 

Now I can only think of two times I've let someone guest post on San Diego Foodstuff in the blog's 11 (almost 12) years. But as a member of Farm to Fork San Diego I want to help Trish highlight some of the amazing offerings other members have for holiday gifting. So, I'm turning today's post over to Trish. You'll love these unique gift ideas!

Struggling to find fabulous gifts and stay true to supporting local farms, friends, and neighbors? Or maybe you’re just looking for something unique or delicious that your family or co-workers will absolutely love. Farm to Fork San Diego has the perfect gift guide for San Diegans who want to pick up a fabulous gift and stay close to home.

Fork over a locavore feast with these unique tokens of holiday giving.

Cider from award winning Bivouac Ciderworks, brewed right in North Park is a rich, refreshing, complex and intoxicating beverage good for any occasion.

Farm to Table gift baskets from Garden Kitchen’s 100 percent scratch kitchen are full of local artisan jams, pickles, tea towels and soaps. Stop by Garden Kitchen to pick one up.

How about a little glitz and glam with gourmet local food. Grab a gift card to Kettner Exchange or gift tickets to any of the their upcoming events.

Go hog wild with some tickets to BIGA’s Third Anniversary Hog Roast.

Find holiday cheer and locavore luxuries at the Little Italy Wednesday or Saturday markets. From apples to zany custom creations, San Diego Markets have everything for everyone.

Make a memory with friends and family.

Join a cooking or gardening class at Olivewood Gardens. Meet new friends, learn new skills, and enjoy a day in a beautiful organic garden. All proceeds support the garden and nutrition education programs at Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center.

Grab some of your favorite folks and build a private food, farm, and libation tour. Whether your group is 4 or 40, Epicurean San Diego has an experience just for you.

Relax with friends, music and wine at Ramona Ranch Winery while selecting unique gifts including award-winning wines, jewelry, gift cards, and more from specialty vendors and family artisans.

Outfit the gardener in your life.

Our friend Nan Sterman, host of KPBS TV’s A Growing Passion, has the perfect book for plant lovers wanting beauty while still being mindful of water saving. Order a signed copy of Hot Color, Dry Garden or any of Nan’s books here.

Mission Hills Nursery can fill all your gardening gifts from gnomes to tools. Or stop by to pick up a Christmas tree. 

Buy them Soil Food, humus-rich compost made locally in small batches, or a compost bin to make their own. Food2Soil is a compost collective reducing the amount of food waste that lands in landfills.

Gift locally grown and climatically adapted seeds from our very own San Diego Seed Company. Choose some of your favorite varieties or buy a gift certificate so that gardeners can choose their own.

Or check out all the local member farms, restaurants, and businesses at www.farmtoforksd.com.

And join us January 12-19, 2019 for Farm 2 Fork San Diego's Local Libations Week, focusing on local beverages and their place with and without food. Caron promises more information here on the various events coming up, but we launch at BIGA with their Third Annual Hog Roast and tap takeover on the 12th (see above).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Double Chocolate Sourdough Banana Bread

Yeah, it happened again--as it almost always does. I buy bananas, vow to eat them--and life gets in the way and those sleek yellow fruits transition into ugly brown reminders of my lack of follow through.

And become banana bread.

Now I enjoy a good banana bread as much as anyone. But I also love chocolate. And, well, I have that sourdough starter in my refrigerator which I like to give a purpose to when I can. So I started to wonder if there was a way to incorporate all of them into one sweet bread.

Turns out there is. I just had to juggle the ingredients to make it work. This is an exercise my pastry chef friends do all the time, albeit on a much more sophisticated scale. I, however, am obviously not a pastry chef nor am I a science geek. If I goofed I could have had a cake/bread that didn't rise, was tough, was goopy, or... well, who knows what.

I did know that by adding a cup of starter I was adding half a cup of flour and half a cup of water. Both would have to come out of the usual ingredient measurements. But banana bread doesn't add liquid specifically. Tricky. Plus, the starter would be live, not discard that simply adds flavor. So, I had to take into account the amount of baking soda I would add (or, rather, subtract).

I scoured my favorite banana bread recipes and figured that if I left out the sour cream of one, along with reducing the amount of flour I would get what I was after. The starter would take on both the tang and moisture/texture of the sour cream and make up for some of the flour. And I'd subtract half the amount of baking soda since a newly fed active starter would contribute to the rise.

Hey, hey, hey, it worked. Really well. I got a beautiful crumb, huge crowns--and beautiful flavor. Oh, and did I even mention the chocolate? The gorgeous, deeply, richly brown chocolate which pairs so well with the banana? With slightly sour notes?

When preparing the batter, think of the process as setting it up in thirds:
  • Sifting together then mixing the dry ingredients
  • Creaming the butter with the sugar and then adding the other "liquid" ingredients
  • Mashing the bananas before adding the starter 

It will all come together in the bowl of your stand mixer with the addition of chocolate chips. You could use semi-sweet chips, but be bold and go for dark chocolate. My brand pick is Guittard, along with their Cocoa Rouge unsweetened cocoa. They make this bread magical.

This is a bread you can gift. And I'd suggest baking not one huge loaf--although you could--but a few mini loaves. You can gift them or, if you keep them, you'll have one to indulge in now, and two to wrap and freeze.

Note: A word on starters. King Arthur has a great primer on how to make your own starter from scratch here. And they do sell starter online. However, if you are in San Diego, you can take advantage of the generosity of Cardamom Cafe & Bakery's Joanne Sherif, who loves to share her starter discards with others. I'm happy to gift discards as well. Or in San Diego or beyond, find a friend with starter to share. At that point, all you have to do is feed it (add equal amounts of flour and water--as in 2 ounces each--stir well and let sit at room temperature to rise and bubble before using or refrigerating). Each week, you'll take some out (hence, "discard") and then feed it with fresh flour and water. And, with a starter in your fridge, you can gift the discards to others or use it to make a variety of breads and desserts--even pancakes/waffles. 

Double Chocolate Sourdough Banana Bread
Yield: One loaf pan or three mini loaves
(printable recipe)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, soft and cut into chunks
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh sourdough starter
2 very ripe bananas
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Lightly grease 1 large loaf pan or three mini loaf pans with butter or spray with Pam.

Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder into a bowl and stir to mix them thoroughly.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and sugar and beat until light and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and continue beating until fully incorporated.

In another bowl, mash the bananas, then stir in the sourdough starter.

Add the banana/starter mixture to the butter mixture and mix together at low speed. Then slowly add the dry ingredients. Don't over-mix. Finally, slowly add the chocolate chips and mix until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the loaf pans and place the mini loaf pans, if using, on a baking sheet to make getting them in and out of the oven easier.

Bake for 45 minutes (mini loaf pans) to an hour (1 large loaf pan). Use a cake tester or toothpick to insert into the center. If it comes out clean, the bake is done.

Remove from the oven and let rest in the loaf pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then carefully remove the breads from the pan and place on the rack to completely cool.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Time for Latkes

Chanukah began last Sunday night. Were your frying pans, potatoes, and oil at the ready?

Like most Jewish kids of Eastern European, or Ashkenazic, descent, I grew up eating potato latkes, or pancakes, every Chanukah. My extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would gather on the first night of the holiday at one of our homes and the air would soon be heavy with the aroma of potatoes cooking in oil. Because it was technically a full meal, someone would make brisket or roast chicken. Someone else would make vegetables and salad. But the centerpiece of the meal, the only dish that counted that evening, was the latkes—crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. And we’d take sides over what accompanied them. Those who were on the savory side ate them with salt and sour cream. The rest would go for sugar and/or applesauce.

Latkes may be iconic Ashkenazic Chanukah food now, but they’re actually relatively new in Jewish history. The Maccabees—the priestly family who led the successful rebellion against the Syrians back in 168 B.C.E. which the holiday celebrates—never would have had latkes since they would never have seen a potato. It was only at the end of the 18th century that German Jews began making potato pancakes, but not for Chanukah. And these potato pancakes weren’t just from grated spuds, as we’ve come to assume are traditional, but also mashed, according to Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.

But potatoes became a staple of Eastern European Jewish food and eventually the potato latke, made from hand-grated russet potatoes, became associated with Chanukah in Eastern Europe and then the U.S. by the mid-19th century, as  immigrants arrived here.

Given how relatively recently the potato latke became part of Jewish history, why not riff on tradition and create other forms of pancakes from different root vegetables to celebrate the festival of lights? After all, the main point of the holiday is celebrating the miracle of the single jar of oil that burned for eight days.

Baby Turnip Latkes frying
No matter what root vegetable you use, here are some tips for getting them as crispy as possible:
  • Be sure to squeeze all the liquid out of the grated vegetables. Cheesecloth is good for this.
  • You don't have to deep fry the latkes. Just use enough oil to cook them.
  • Make sure that the oil has a high smoke point, like canola or avocado oil. 
  • Fry them in cast iron skillets to get them really crispy. 
  • And, if you’re entertaining the crowd, make them ahead of time and freeze them. Then reheat them in the oven. Making latkes is a hot and messy affair. It’s fun, but it may not be what you want to do when company is there.
Evie's Latkes
Adapted from Molly Goldberg
Makes 20 pancakes
(printable recipe)

Five russet potatoes
One onion, grated
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons matzoh meals
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 slices eggbread, softened and squeezed of water (Nana)
Vegetable or peanut oil (or shortening)
Salt and pepper

1. Put grated potato and onion in strainer over a large bowl. Knead it to get moisture out, the let sit in bowl to draw out potato starch. Dump water but keep starch at bottom of bowl. 
2. Put potatoes/onion in tea towel and wring to get out moisture. 
3. Add to bowl with other ingredients, Mix well, including starch.
4. Fry in cast iron pans. Drain on paper towels and keep warm on cookie sheets in 200º oven.

Carrot Turnip Latkes
From Caron Golden 
Makes about two dozen, three-inch pancakes
(printable recipe)

Here’s a colorful variation from the traditional potato latkes I grew up with. In winter, you can make these pancakes with any root vegetable. Try sweet potatoes, parsnips, or beets, separately or in combination. For a more traditional latke, use an onion instead of the green onions and leave out the garlic and herbs. My grandmother used to add two slices of eggbread, crusts removed, softened with water and then squeezed of the moisture. My mom still makes traditional latkes this way.

½ pound of carrots, trimmed and peeled
½ pound of turnips, trimmed and peeled (look for sweeter baby turnips if available)
6 large green onions, trimmed
3 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons matzoh meal or flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons fresh, chopped herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme, etc.)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable or peanut oil or duck fat

1. Grate the turnips and carrots coarsely, using the large holes of a box grater or food processor grater. Place in large bowl.
2. Chop the green onions coarsely and add to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade. Add the garlic and pulse until the onions and garlic are minced. 
3. Put all the vegetables in a large bowl and add the matzoh meal, baking powder, herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper. Stir it all together to fully mix the ingredients.
4. Add the eggs and mix well. The batter should be moist but not runny.
5. Heat 1/4-inch of oil or duck fat in a hot pan. Place a tiny bit of the batter in the pan. If it begins to sizzle, the fat is hot enough for the batter. Use a large spoon and drop the batter into the pan, then flatten into a pancake. Don't crowd the pancakes by putting too many in at one time. Cook for several minutes on each side until the pancakes are golden brown. Put the pancakes on a plate with paper towels placed on top to drain the fat. You can also heat your oven to 200 degrees, place the pancakes on a baking sheet, and keep them warm until you serve them. 
6. Serve (with applesauce, sour cream, or creme fraiche). 

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes
From the New York Times via David Wasserman/Joes on the Nose
Yield- 16, 3-inch pancakes
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
2 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk approximately
Peanut oil for frying

1.Grate the sweet potatoes coarsely. In a separate bowl mix together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin, salt and pepper.
2. Add the eggs and just enough milk to the dry ingredients to make a stiff batter. Add the potatoes and mix.  The batter should be moist but not runny. If too stiff, add more milk.
3.  Heat 1/4 inch of peanut oil in a sauté pan until it is barely smoking. Drop in the batter by tablespoons and flatten. Cook several minutes on each side until golden. Drain, serve.

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