Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fennel Gratin

Fennel is the coolest vegetable. It's a bulb and an herb, thanks to its feathery green fronds. The bulb and stems can be eaten raw (think thin slices for a sweet crunchy salad) or cooked--braised, sautéed, roasted, or featured in a soup. It has its own unique anise flavor but is welcoming to all sorts of other flavors. And--at least in our climate--it's a perennial plant.

For years I've used fennel for fresh salads but I've also sliced the bulbs in half lengthwise, brushed the surface with olive oil and then sprinkled grated cheese and bread crumbs on top before baking. It's a side dish I got from my mom.

But, inspired by an eggplant gratin dish I made awhile back, I thought I'd do something similar with fennel. I had two super large bulbs that still had some fronds attached. I separated those and minced them. I trimmed the fennel top and then cored the bulbs before quartering them. With the oven primed for roasting, the bulb quarters and sliced stems went onto a foil-lined baking sheet (along with some garlic cloves for me to snack on), got drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt before going into the oven for roasting for about half an hour.

Then I made a modified sauce with milk, gruyere and parmesan cheeses, green onions for flavor and color, and garlic. I don't love sauces that drown the main ingredient, but having just enough to bathe and flavor can be delightful. This does it. The onions and garlic were sautéed in olive oil to which I added the minced fronds and fresh thyme from my garden. I mixed them in a bowl with the milk, cheeses, and some salt and pepper.

Once the fennel bulbs came out of the oven, I placed them into a ceramic baking dish I'd brushed with olive oil. I tucked the cheesy oniony mixture over and around them. On top I sprinkled a topping made of panko crumbs and more cheese. Finally, I drizzled olive oil.

Into the oven it all went, back at 400° F for about 25 minutes until it was all brown and bubbly. You know you have something when you take a bite and involuntarily sigh and smile.

Fennel Gratin
(printable recipe)
Serves 4


2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt
6 green onions, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fennel fronds, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
½ cup milk
½ cup grated gruyere cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For topping:

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup gruyere cheese
½ cup panko crumbs
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400° F degrees.

Place fennel bulb quarters on a foil-lined sheet pan. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 30 minutes until soft and just becoming brown.

While the fennel is roasting, sauté the green onions and garlic in olive oil (about a tablespoon or more). Don't brown them. You just want them soft. Add the minced fennel fronts and thyme and cook for another minute. Set aside.

Remove the roasted fennel from the oven and place quarters in a baking dish coasted with olive oil.

In a medium bowl, mix together green onion and garlic mixture with milk, cheeses, salt and pepper.
Spread over the fennel in the baking dish.

To make the topping, combine the cheeses with the panko and evenly spread over the fennel bulbs and green onion and garlic cheese mixture. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake uncovered at 400° F degrees for 25 minutes until brown and bubbly.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Teriyaki Salmon Collars

Are we in the age of salmon collars? Back in the 80s, if you had a dinner party, chances are you were going to serve salmon "steaks"--remember them? These were thick cuts of salmon cut perpendicular to the backbone.

Then we seemed to evolve into fillets. They're the same meat--but instead cut parallel to the backbone and the bone. Fillets--of all kinds of fish--are still hugely popular. And delicious. But I'd like to think we've now evolved to enjoying more cuts of more fish. The belly. The tail. The cheeks. Maybe even the whole fish.

One of my favorites, though, is the collar. This is a cut right along the clavicle behind the gills. It's got some rich belly meat and a lovely fat cap. Get that collar near high heat and the fat caramelizes the skin and it becomes this crispy, luxe fish lollipop that you can grab by the fin to suck off the meat. Oh... And did I mention how cheap they are?

I picked up a couple of salmon collars at Catalina Offshore Products last week. They were priced at less than $2 a pound. Then I mulled how to cook them. Yes, they can really flavor up a stew. They're a delight in a curry. Yet to my mind, they're really best grilled, but this hasn't exactly been grilling weather. Instead I could run them under the broiler. Or I could do stove-top grilling using my carbon-steel pan. Since the pan is relatively new to me so I decided to test it out with the salmon using a sugary marinade I thought could possibly confound it (it didn't).

I thought first of using my sister's recipe. She and my brother-in-law had honeymooned in Alaska decades ago and when they returned with a salmon they had caught and flash frozen, they had family over for dinner with the salmon as the main attraction. It's still the best I've ever had. I only vaguely remembered the ingredients--soy sauce, butter, brown sugar...maybe mustard. Sounds great, right? Well, it was but I still need to work on it since I don't have the proportions. But it did get me to thinking about teriyaki as an alternative. And then making my own.

What I found was a recipe published a couple of years ago in Food Republic by Myra and Marea Goodman, authors of Straight from the Earth, a vegan cookbook. Their teriyaki recipe is part of a larger one for Teriyaki Tofu Broccolette on Wild Rice, which sounds fabulous. But in the meantime I made the sauce for my collars. Not exactly vegan, but a good recipe is a good recipe.

The sauce calls for what you'd imagine are the usual suspects--soy sauce, brown sugar, unseasoned rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. It's pretty simple. Put them all in a small, heavy saucepan together with some additional water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer until it thickens. It's wonderfully sweet, salty, and sticky.

I made things even easier by using three of my ginger-garlic flavor bombs. The rest was a snap.

Now you're not really going to marinate the collars. Instead you'll heat up your pan and add an oil with a high smoke point. I used canola. Forget doing the usual seasoning with salt and pepper. The marinade has plenty of each. So clean and trim the collar, which may have some "stuff" hanging on to it--organs and blood lines, for instance. Clip them into two pieces.

Then place them skin side down on the now very hot pan (and open windows, turn on fans because there will be smoke). It won't take more than a minute or two for them to cook up on the first side. Flip and brush the teriyaki sauce on the cooked side. Let the second side get brown and then flip and remove them to a plate where you'll brush more sauce on that side.

That's it. If it burns, don't worry much about it. That's just superficial--and makes it all divinely crispy. The meat inside will be amazing. And if you feel the need to use your fingers, all the better. Save the rest of the teriyaki sauce for seasoning chicken, vegetables, tofu.... You'll want to keep it on hand.

Teriyaki Salmon Collars
Serves 2
(printable recipe)

Teriyaki Sauce
(from Straight from the Earth by Myra and Marea Goodman)

3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 large salmon collars, cleaned

1. To make the teriyaki sauce, combine the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes and 1/2 cup of water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. 

2. Bring to the start of a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sauce sit at room temperature while you prepare the salmon.

4. Heat the pan on the stove top. When it starts to smoke add the oil. Then add the salmon collars skin side down. After no more than 2 minutes flip them over. Brush the cooked side with the teriyaki sauce. After about a minute flip the collars and remove them to a serving plate. Brush that side with teriyaki sauce or pour some reserved sauce on it.

5. Serve with rice or other grains.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Banana Bread Stuffed with Chocolate, Toasted Walnuts and Dried Fruit

It's a good thing it's so delicious because, let's face it, banana bread is the ultimate desperation dessert. I don't know anyone who sets out to make it, buys bananas, waits until they they are this close to spoiled, and then declares, "Okay, let's do it!" No, it's the opposite. We buy the bananas in total optimism that they'll be eaten when just ripe--and we forget about them. Then, when they reach that sad blackened state, we panic and think, "Yikes! Okay, looks like I need to make banana bread."

Or maybe I'm just revealing something about myself. Recently I ended up in the ER after having an allergic reaction to...something. It's still a mystery. Because of that and the abundance of drugs pumped into me that took their own toll I temporarily put myself on a BRAT diet. That's bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast for those of you who have been lucky enough to escape various stomach issues. After almost a week with no allergic eruptions, I started moving on and forgot about the bananas as I ventured back to tangerines and apples and newly ripened oranges on my tree. The bananas languished until, yes, I realized, "Yikes! Okay, looks like I need to make banana bread."

Not banana-bread ready. I vow to eat these when ripe!
I have a recipe going back to college that's very straightforward. I love it. I don't recall where it came from but it's simple and easy. But over the years, I've come to want more flavors and textures in my banana bread. So, I usually scrounge around my pantry to add some lushness to it. This time I found both milk chocolate and very dark chocolate chips. And a bag of Trader Joe's "Triple Fruit Treat"--dried mango, cranberries, and blueberries.

Then I toasted up some walnut pieces. That combination seemed just right.

With this bread, you do the usual: Sift together the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the rest of the wet ingredients. Finally, combine the dry and wet and add the goodies. Pour into a greased bread pan. Bake. Eat.

Now this is rich enough without enhancements. The bananas make the bread nice and moist and the batter readily accepts the nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit. Each bite has some wonderful mouth surprise. But try toasting your slice and then slathering some homemade cultured butter on it. Oh, you'll be so happy you let those bananas go bad. Maybe next time you'll even do it on purpose.

Banana Bread Stuffed with Chocolate, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried Fruit
Yield: 1 loaf
(printable recipe)

2 cups sifted AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 medium-size ripe bananas
1/2 cup sour milk or buttermilk
1 cup chocolate chips (try mixing milk with dark)
1 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1/2 cup dried fruit pieces

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. Cream together butter and sugar.
4. Add eggs, mashed bananas, and milk to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well.
5. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix well.
6. Gradually add the chocolate chips, walnuts, and dried fruit. Mix well.
7. Pour into a greased bread pan and bake for an hour. It's ready when a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean. Let cool and then turn out of the bread pan.

Note: The bread is freezable.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My 2016 Thank You Notes

It would be an understatement to state how tumultuous 2016 was for me. Losing a parent slowly and painfully--and finally, permanently--to dementia takes its toll. It'll be awhile before I'm truly back to my life. Even so there still were a lot of bright spots. There were big-hearted friends who made sure I was doing okay by bringing me food or yanking me out to the occasional movie. And there was my work. How could there be a totally bad day if I got to spend part of it in the kitchen with a chef?

So, I'd like to end the year by thanking all the chefs who over the past 12 months invited me into their most sacred space and taught me a recipe, a skill, a neat trick for me to share with readers.

Thanks to Quinn Wilson of Balanced and Bright, who invited me into her home to teach me about her bone broth and demonstrate how to make her Autumnal Pork Stew. It would be so lovely to have a bowl of that right now!

Thanks to Willy Eick, such a talented young chef who now has his own place in Oceanside, 608. But earlier this year while working at Real Bar & Bistro, he taught me how to make a lovely Seared Scottish Salmon with White Beans, Bacon, Chard, and Pesto Aioli.

Thanks to the energetic Teri McIllwain of Chandler's Restaurant at Cape Rey Carlsbad. She made me her Farro Stir Fry filled with plump shrimp.

From Junya Watanabe of Rakiraki Ramen & Tsukemen, I learned a terrific version of poke that's fresh and flavor popping. Thanks, Junya!

Moto Deli's chef Andrew Halvorsen taught me how to make their rich Moroccan Meatball Sandwich from their food truck. Congrats on completing the new deli! And thank you and Alex Carballo for the experience!

Thank you, Christine Rivera of Galaxy Taco, for teaching me how to make your fabulous Brussels Spouts in the Style of Elotes!

Chefs move around so much! This thank you goes to my friend Anthony Sinsay, who earlier this year was running the kitchen at Duke's and made me his stunning Mussels Adobo. Now he's ensconced at JSix and my story on how he forages in his kitchen will run in the San Diego Union-Tribune next week.

I love Bottega Americano, so it was a huge treat to have Chef Jeremy Oursland invite me to come in and learn how to make his Salmon with Vegetables, Gnocci, and Tomato Fonduta. Thanks, Jeremy!

Chocolatiers are a special breed. Michelle Lomelin of Sweet Petite Confections fits right in with her mix of precision and whimsy. Thank you, Michelle, for taking the time to teach me how to make your bonbon, The Earl and the Tarts.

Oh, my friend Maeve Rochford! I love Sugar and Scribe and loved our time together in your kitchen, learning about the Irish Halloween tradition of Tea Bramback! So good!

Finally, there's Lorne "The Hammer" Jones, whom I met through the training program Kitchens for Good. The Hammer has worked hard to reach the goal of becoming a certified baker and is now baking at Panera. The day we got together he taught me how to make a family favorite, Pineapple Upside Down Cake--only miniature versions. They were divine. Thanks, Hammer, and good luck to you!

I also want to thank Bob Harrington, Kelly Orange, and Specialty Produce for their always generous support--of this space, of my Close to the Source blog for Edible San Diego, and of the community projects I work on. They are smart and far-sighted people--and beyond kind. And, thanks as well to Tommy Gomes and Dave Rudie of Catalina Offshore Products for being my seafood gurus, community teachers, and just great pals. Thanks to the many farmers, farmers market managers, and artisan vendors who always take the time answer my many questions and share their knowledge and bounty with me so I can help our community better understand what they do. Thanks to the many restaurant owners and chefs who are working so hard to put San Diego's best on the table and do it responsibly--and clue me into their efforts. And, last but not least, I thank you for taking the time to read San Diego Foodstuff and sharing it with your friends. It means a lot.

Thank you all for pulling and tugging me through 2016 with your love and concern. It has meant more than you will know.

I'm looking forward to more kitchen fun with chefs in 2017, but in the meantime, I wish all these chefs, vendors, farmers,  and their loved ones, as well as you, a very happy, healthy, and joyous New Year!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Carrot Turnip Latkes

Last week I did a latke demonstration at the North Park Holiday Thursday Market. Because Chef Matt Gordon of Urban Solace was set to do one after me, making traditional potato latkes, I came up with a different version: carrot turnip. As far as I'm concerned, much as I revere tradition, latkes are a relatively new one so I feel liberated in taking some twists and turns in terms of ingredients. But there is one non-negotiable: the oil. Frying these pancakes are the whole point of Chanukah. You know the story: oil for only one night; instead it lasts eight; it's a miracle! Freedom! And a holiday (minor until we needed something to shimmy up to Christmas)! Add a menorah, a dreidel, latkes (if you're Eastern European), and chocolate coins we call gelt. That pretty much sums it all up. Eight nights of candle lighting and fried pancakes--and, of course, gifts.

But back to these latkes... To the carrots and turnips I add onion, of course--but here, green onions for color. And I add herbs and garlic. I'm looking for more flavor here, too.

Not a fan of carrots or turnips? Try sweet potatoes. Or parsnips. Or winter squash. Or apples. Add radishes or celery root. Mix, match, and grate. You can change up the flavorings, too. Curry, for instance, works well with sweet potatoes and apples. And they all go well with sour cream or applesauce as the go-to condiments.

Everything else you need to know is in this recipe.

Happy Chanukah!!!

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

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).

Note: If you don’t want to stand at the stove frying when company comes, you can make latkes ahead of time, place them in a single layer on sheet pans, and place them in the freezer until hard. Then store them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer until the day you plan to serve them. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the frozen latkes on sheet pans in a single layer and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes until crispy. Turn them over about halfway through. Drain again on a paper towel-lined plate and then serve.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Learn to Make Latkes (from me) at the North Park Holiday Market This Thursday!

The first night of Chanukah is coming up December 24. Are you ready for making latkes?

If you're looking for inspiration, join Chef Matt Gordon of Urban Solace and me on Thursday, December 15 at the North Park Holiday Market. We'll be demonstrating our latke-making techniques, starting at 4 p.m.

Matt, whose demos will take place at 5 and 6 p.m., will be making traditional potato as well as curried latkes. I'll start it off at 4 with carrot and turnip latkes.

Now maybe you're wondering what the heck latkes are. Simply, they're pancakes--crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Traditionally for Chanukah as celebrated by Eastern European--or Ashkenazi Jews--they're potato pancakes fried in oil.

As traditional as they are, 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 the norm, but also mashed, according to Gil Marks’ "Encyclopedia of Jewish Food." Somehow they morphed into a Chanukah tradition brought over to the U.S. with Eastern European emigration.

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

So, that's what Matt and I will be doing, and handing out plenty of samples accompanied by the traditional sour cream and applesauce. I hope to see you there!

The North Park Holiday Market is located at 3000 North Park Way and 30th St. It runs Thursdays from 3 to 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Balela Salad

One of the cardinal rules of grocery shopping is not to shop on an empty stomach. Well, last week I fell short of that but as a result I discovered a salad I didn't even know existed.

My marketing was at Trader Joe's. I had just gotten my hair cut at noon and needed to make a quick grocery run so I could get back home to work. But, oh, was I hungry. I had all these crackers left over from Thanksgiving and was looking for some kind of dip to make the most of them before they'd go stale. I picked up some eggplant hummus (disappointing) and then noticed containers of something called balela cozying up next to the tzatziki. I did a quick read of the ingredients--garbanzo beans, black beans, tomatoes, parsley, mint, sumac, garlic--and thought this would be my perfect lunch in front of my desk.

Well, I loved it. The flavors are fresh and bright. And you couldn't find something healthier to eat as we head into the holidays. But why pay three bucks for a small container given that the ingredients were not at all pricey? So I figured I'd make my own.

I'd love to tell you the roots of balela salad but I've been hard pressed to find them. It's supposedly Middle Eastern. But it could also be Mediterranean. One source I found claimed it was Greek but I checked with a Greek-American friend who's a cooking instructor and she said no--but maybe it was Persian. If you know, please share.

The recipe came together pretty easily. The focus is on the garbanzos with less of the black beans. There's heat. There's tang from what I figure is lemon juice--and lots of parsley and mint. For the heat I added a bit of cayenne pepper. I added more tanginess with red wine vinegar. Sumac also adds some tartness and I love its vibrant red color.

You could add feta and/or olives to enrich this salad. I've left it without so far.

Eat balela salad as a side dish, as a condiment for a pita-based sandwich, or serve it as an appetizer with pieces of sangak bread. I've written about sangak before. It's one of my favorite treats--a flat, spongy Persian bread that is perfect to eat with labne or baba ganoush. You can now buy it freshly made in San Diego at Balboa International Market in Clairemont (you can also buy ground sumac there). Yes, it's ginormous for bread--like three feet or so. But I cut it up into sections, wrap them in wax paper, and freeze in a freezer bag. When I want to eat some, I take out a wrapped up stack, let the pieces defrost, and then heat them up just a little so they retain the spongy texture.

Balela Salad
Serves 4 to 6
(printable recipe)

Salad ingredients
1, 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
4 ounces black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/3 cup Italian parsley, minced
2 tablespoons mint, minced

Dressing ingredients
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground sumac
2 cloves garlic, minced
Black pepper and sea salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Mix together salad ingredients in a medium bowl. To make the dressing, which together all ingredients except the olive oil. Whisk in the olive oil. Once blended, pour over the salad ingredients and stir well to fully incorporate. Refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight before serving.

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