Thursday, July 31, 2008

Out of the Water and Enjoying the Breeze: The Delights of the Air-Chilled Chicken

Americans love their chicken. According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, in 2006, the average person consumed 88.2 pounds of chicken. To keep our appetites sated, there are some 200 chicken processing plants in the U.S. slaughtering and prepping chicken for consumption.

But, are we enjoying it? There’s a reason why so often you hear a comparison between the flavor of most every out-of-the-ordinary animal and chicken. Rattlesnake? Tastes like chicken. Rabbit? Tastes like chicken. Frog legs? The same. How can that be? Well, unfortunately, most mass-produced chicken has no flavor. It’s often just a bland delivery vehicle for the gorgeous, rich marinade or the barbecue sauce it carries. When something tastes like nothing, it apparently tastes like everything.

I’ve been trying to remedy that in my own household by buying organic chicken. Trying because I still haven’t felt the love. I’ll do a simple roasted chicken with salt, pepper, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil and… nothing. It tastes fine, but it’s nothing special. However, on Monday afternoon I was on my way back to my parents’ house with my mom and niece and my mom wanted us to make a quick stop at Bristol Farms to pick up some lemon sorbet. I decided as long as I was there to buy chicken for myself for dinner and got a couple of air-chilled whole legs.

I finally felt the love. All I did was thin a couple of tablespoons of Majestic Garlic’s sun-dried tomato/jalapeño blend with a little olive oil and spread it over the legs and thighs. Then I roasted them at 375 degrees for about an hour. What came out of the oven was a gorgeous red-toned chicken with crispy skin and tender, juicy, FLAVORFUL meat. It tasted like something. It tasted like chicken.

So, I thought I’d find out a little more about air-chilled processing compared to conventional processing.

Since the mid-1990’s after some major E.coli and salmonella scares, the USDA required that the carcass temperature of chickens be lowered within four hours after slaughtering to at least 40 degrees to retard bacteria growth. Processors have preferred to do this through immersion chilling, soaking the chickens en masse in a communal vat of chlorinated ice water for about an hour.

Now, the problem with this is that, depending on which study you read, the chickens may absorb anywhere from two to 12 percent of their body weight in added water which weeps out of the meat. That’s the liquid you find in fresh chicken packaging at the grocery store. And, you’re paying for that extra weight.

Air-chilling is done by only a handful of plants in the U.S., although it’s a technique that’s been around for about 20 years in Europe. Air chilling involves spraying the chickens inside and out after slaughtering with chlorinated water, and then moving them one by one along a track through chambers where they’re misted with cold air. It takes about two-and-a-half to three hours before they’re fully chilled.

MBA Smart Chicken of Nebraska was the first in the U.S. to air chill chickens, and that was 10 years ago. Two years ago, Pitman Farms of Fresno became the first on the West Coast. Another processor, Bell & Evans, claims it has an air chill system with a single chilling line that prevents cross contamination from birds on higher racks dripping on those underneath.

So, what are the benefits to air chilling chickens? Supporters claim that the slow chill process, which gets their birds to under 35 degrees, tenderizes the meat and that the chickens’ natural juices are not diluted in or replaced by the water in a conventional water chiller.

Food scientist Harold McGee has said that it makes the chicken taste more “chickeny” because the bird absorbs less liquid, leaving the real flavor of the chicken undiluted. Based on my Monday night experience, I agree.

It also produces a higher cooked-meat yield than immersed chickens because the immersed meat absorbs more water, which then cooks out. And, air chilling contributes to crispier cooked skin.

Air chilling also saves tens of thousands of gallons of water a day. USDA researchers say it takes an average of seven gallons of water to process a chicken through immersion processing and estimate that air chilling would save a minimum of half a gallon of water for each bird processed—not bad in drought areas. They estimate that processors could save about 4.5 billion gallons of water a year if all nine million birds processed annually in the U.S. were air chilled. (However, air chilling takes longer than immersion chilling so more energy is expended on air chilling.) Another sustainable benefit is being promoted by Bell & Evans. They says that since chickens aren’t weeping liquid, the company can use recyclable and reusable shipping containers.

As for the chlorine, the fact of the matter is that chemical disinfectants are have long been popular way to disinfect food products, and chlorine is used about 80 percent of the time. But the amount is limited to 50 ounces per 7,800 gallons of water. So, it shouldn’t be detectable to consumers, particularly after cooking. Chlorine is also used in treatment of other food products like seafood and produce.

Locally, air-chilled chickens are sold at Jonathans, Harvest Ranch, Whole Foods and Bristol Farms. Chickens sold by the latter are also anti-biotic and hormone free and free-ranging. Robert Whitley tells me he buys air-chilled chickens at Costco.

And, a note to Lou, The Gourmet Club’s wonderful engineer and rabid foodie, who asked me about Blue Foot chickens. Lou, these are an American variety of the French chicken breed, Poulet de Bresse, which is the only chicken to receive its own AOC, or Appellation d’origine contrôlée, which translates as “controlled term of origin.” It’s the French certification granted to certain French geographical indications (GI) for wines, cheeses, butters and other agricultural products, all under the auspices of the government's Institut National des Appellations d'Origine.

This is an elite chicken, selling at about 10 times the usual price of most other chicken. And it’s almost always sold—and served—with the head and feet still attached. That’s because it has a gorgeous red comb and white feathers, and it has unique steel-blue feet. It’s slaughtered later than usual chicken and it, too, is air-chilled, both of which apparently give it a stronger flavor and texture.

You can buy Blue Foot chicken through D’ and at Exotic Meats. And, yes, you’re right if you think you saw these chickens featured as the secret ingredient on Iron Chef America. There was a Battle Blue Foot Chicken on Iron Chef America in 2007 with Bobby Flay going against Jeffrey Ford.

And, here’s a link to a delicious sounding recipe at Food & for Roasted Blue Foot Chickens with Glazed Parsnips and Carrots. And, if you are just mad about chickens, check out

Have some thoughts about air-chilled chickens, Blue Foot chickens or markets in San Diego? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Gourmet Club Takes It Slow

In one month, Labor Day weekend (that's August 29 to Sept. 1), Slow Food Nation will be foodie central in San Francisco. With a farmers market and urban "Victory" garden, Taste Pavilions showcasing the wares of producers across the nation, lectures, guided slow hikes, special slow dinners and even a Slow Food Rocks concert, Slow Food Nation will be an incomparable experience.

So, we're bringing in Anya Fernald, Slow Food Nation's executive director, to talk about what we can expect. Should San Diegans make the trek up to celebrate? You bet! I'll be among them and can't wait to share the experience.

We'll also be talking about summer puddings and the pros and cons of air-chilled chicken. Does it really taste better than the usual poultry found in the stores? I did a taste test and will let you know if it's worth the extra price.

The Gourmet Club is the tastiest meeting in town. Join Robert Whitley, Maureen Clancy and me for our regular Wednesday morning gathering on from 11 a.m. to noon Pacific. You can also podcast the show and listen at your convenience.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Scripps Ranch Farmers Market: The 'Burbs Go Organic

I give the market manager for Scripps Ranch Farmers Market credit. She often sends me interesting press releases detailing what's happening at their Saturday morning food fest. It's about 10 miles north of me but I hadn't been over there and was feeling guilty about it, so I met my friend Gayle there yesterday.

This is a locals market. Not that big. Not the swinging event that is OB, La Jolla or Hillcrest. It has a kids zone but there's not a ton of food or farmers. In short, it's kind of modest -- very much like my local Tierrasanta Farmers Market.

But, even with the heat and humidity, Gayle and I had a good time seeing what the vendors had, which included some wonderful jewelry and bags. I loved the produce--the sweet and juicy peaches, plums and nectarines, the creamy avocados and the pile of enormous heads of garlic. I picked up some beautiful green beans, tomatoes and fat Japanese eggplant. Gayle bought some flowers.

Baba Foods was there selling their tempting Middle Eastern products like flavored pita chips, hummus and baba ganoush. Belen Artisan Bakers of Escondido was there with breads and croissants. And, one of my favorite vendors, Majestic Garlic, was there. I've been enjoying their products for about a year. They make a vegan garlic paste in a variety of flavors and I've been working my way through them as I discover new ways to use it. This time, I replenished my "original" stock (just the garlic) and picked up the cayenne and the cumin. (In the past I've enjoyed the jalapeno and the sun-dried tomato/jalapeno.)

The original is obviously the most versatile and makes a tasty substitute for mayo on a sandwich and is great for layering flavors in a sauce for fish or chicken or even spread on a bagel. (I know, Nana, heresy!) The other flavors are equally wonderful for these but can also be used mixed in pasta, as a veggie dip or added to soup. In fact, the company's website has a host of ideas and some recipes.

Yesterday, Vinnie Abden--the owner--was encouraging me to melt a teaspoon or so of the cayenne flavor in a skillet (it does contain both flaxseed and canola oil) and then scramble eggs in it. That's what I did this morning with the addition of diced red onion that I sauteed in it first. The spread gave this lovely heat and garlic flavor but wasn't over the top. Vinnie also had me try the cumin, insisting that it tasted like hummus. I'd just had a sample of the cayenne and so I didn't get it, although Gayle did. But I took some home and sure enough, on a neutral palate, the cumin tastes remarkably like hummus. So, try it on pita or as a dip with raw veggies.

There was one very intriguing new vendor--at least, new to me. This is an outfit called Wildtree, which sells grapeseed oil and other related products like seasoning blends to be added to the oil, as well as natural soups and stew mixes, salsas, dressings, marinades and sauces, and bread, pancake and crepe mixes.

Their hook is that the founder--Leslie Montie--wanted to create nutritious, delicious, unprocessed food products because her kids had dietary restrictions. I tried the basil pesto blend, the garlic and herb blend and natural butter flavor grapeseed oil, as well as the Asian Ginger Plum dressing. And, yes, all were delicious, but I did find them very pricey.

While I wouldn't recommend the market as a real destination for people outside of the area since it still has some growing to do, it's a lovely place for folks in the neighborhood to bring the kids and the dogs and pick up some nice produce, flowers and other items, as well as fun crafts and jewelry. Indeed, the more people in the community support these markets, the larger and more diverse they'll grow as other vendors decide it's worth participating. So, Scripps Ranch and Poway residents, get on over there!

The Scripps Ranch Farmers Market is held every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at E.B. Scripps Elementary School on 10380 Spring Canyon Road at Scripps Poway Parkway.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Gourmet Club Goes for Elegance (With Caviar)

This week on The Gourmet Club we bring you caviar. Dafne Engstrom, co-founder of boutique caviar house Tsar Nicoulai Caviar, will be joining us by phone to talk about the sturgeon they raise and harvest. The sustainable caviar they produce is served in restaurants such as The French Laundry, Charlie Trotter's, Le Cirque and Wolfgang Puck, and can be found at Williams-Sonoma and Dean & Deluca. They also have a cafe at the San Francisco Ferry Building.

And tune in for another tippling tasting. This time it's Maureen who's bringing in the good stuff. She's loving the new liqueur VeeV, a vodka-like drink infused with açaí berries and acerola cherry that's filled with antioxidants.

She served it to great acclaim at a recent dinner party and thinks it's something we should all know about.

Sans alcohol but on the trend meter as well is Vivanno, the new 16-ounce fruit smoothie Starbucks introduced last week. Made with banana, milk, and an orange-mango-blend juice, along with whey protein and fiber powder, it will set back customers 350 calories and $3.75. We'll talk about whether this was a smart move for the struggling coffee megachain.
The Gourmet Club is the tastiest meeting in town. Join Robert Whitley, Maureen Clancy and me for our regular Wednesday morning gathering on from 11 a.m. to noon Pacific. You can also podcast the show and listen at your convenience.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Cool Finds at First Korean Market

I sometimes find I miss the old Woo Chee Chong market near Jasmine in Kearny Mesa. I was so disheartened years ago when the owners gave it up and a Korean market moved in that I rarely went inside. But recently I was out having lunch with a friend next door at Dumpling Inn and we decided to poke around inside. I've since been back a few times and have found a few marvelous items I think are worth the trip.

Garlic Scapes: These are now out of season, but I bought a bunch when I saw them. They are the essence of garlic and perfect for pestos and dips and anything else you need garlic flavor for. However, my experience was that when I cooked them, for instance, in a stir fry, they lost most of their powerful punch. Look forward to spring when they return.

Extra soft tofu in a squeeze tube: Yes, it sounds strange but this is great for smoothies. Kind of a yogurt substitute.

Chum-Churum: My friend Kim tells me this is a hugely popular drink. It's distilled potato with corn syrup. I found it kind of strange but... There's also Saan Soju, which I bought. This is a little different; it's distilled sweet potato with green tea extract. Straight from Seoul, South Korea with love. Too potent for me at 21 percent alcohol, but I'm sure someone out there will love it!

Choco Boy mushroom cookies: Oh, this is so much more my style than potato spirits. These are darling little mushroom cookies. No worries; they aren't actually made of mushrooms, it's only the shape. They are petite English-biscuit style cookies with chocolate on the "cap." They are favorites of little kids and adults would be amused to see them included as part of dessert (unless they're in your pantry and you lay waste to them before they see company).

Ice Bars: There are some interesting flavors here, including red bean, melon and honey. I loved the red bean and the melon. The flavors are unusual but really refreshing and delicious. The red bean bar has little tiny pieces of bean in a slightly sweet milky body. The melon tastes just like you'd imagine melon as ice cream would. It's creamy and not overly sweet. Just something fun to have on hand for a hot day.

Samanco Red Bean Ice Sandwich: I saved the best for last. I love this! It looked so bizarre in the package that I had to try it. I unwrapped it and here was this cute little ice fish sandwich. The ice cream inside is vanilla but topped with a thin layer of red bean paste that looks more like raspberry jam. It's enclosed in a crunchy cookie, similar in texture to a cake cone, in the shape of a fish, scales, fins, big lips and all. It would be a hoot to serve even if it didn't taste good, but I've gone back to buy more.

First Korean Market is certainly not limited to these wonderfully odd products. They have a full meat department, a petite but interesting produce department, lots of kimchi, fish (fresh and frozen) and all the typical Asian products you'd expect to find. Parking can be kind of challenging mid-day when everyone's trying to find a place for dim sum at Jasmine or lunch at Dumpling Inn, but they do have specially marked parking stalls so take advantage of them.

First Korean Market is located at 6425 Convoy St. in Kearny Mesa.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

What San Diego Foodstuff Has Been Reading Online

Do you know what to do with garlic scapes? Where do the curious names of Chinese dishes like “bean curd made by a pockmarked woman” come from? Should you really refrigerate chocolate chip cookie dough for 36 hours?

Lately, there have been some particularly interesting stories on food, or perhaps I just have found some extra time for reading. Regardless, if you haven’t come across these already, check them out:

  • “What’s Up With Chinese Menus: The stories behind ‘chicken with sexual life” and “bean curd made by a pockmarked woman” by Brian Palmer in Slate
  • “A Good Appetite: A Garlic Festival Without a Single Clove” by Melissa Clark in The New York Times
  • “Perfection? Hint: It’s Warm and Has a Secret” by David Leite in The New York Times
  • “Politics of the Plate: Food Safety Lapses” by Barry Estabrook in
  • “Lynne Rossetto Kasper: The Radio Journalist” by Miriam Wolf in
  • “Think Chocolate Can’t Get Any Better? These Willy Wonkas Beg to Differ” by Betty Hallock in the Los Angeles Times
  • "Are You Getting Ripped Off at the Grocery Store?" by Charlotte Dy in

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Unpelted Wheat? Mystery Solved

Recently, I stopped by North Park Produce and was noodling around the packaged foods when I found a bag of unpelted wheat packaged by Sadaf. Looked interesting so I brought it home. I couldn't find any reference to it except that it is used in Iranian cooking to celebrate the New Year.

Well, it was inexpensive and I figured how wrong could I go if I just cooked it up like other grains? So after a week or so of procrastination, I pulled out the bag and experimented. I put a cup of the wheat into a pot with two cups of water, brought it to a low boil and then reduced the heat and let it simmer uncovered for about an hour. While it was cooking, I sauteed half of a medium-sized diced red onion and two cloves of minced garlic. Once the water was completely absorbed and the wheat was cooked (chewy with a little bite), I emptied it into a bowl, added the sauteed onion and garlic and mixed it with a little red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper, and chopped chives and thyme from my garden. I then let it sit for about an hour for the flavors to take.

It turned out great. In fact, it was suspiciously familiar. So I opened the pantry door, pulled out my jar of wheat berries and, well, wouldn't you know. That's what unpelted wheat is.

You can, of course, find wheat berries at Henry's, Whole Foods and well, North Park Produce -- as unpelted wheat.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Top 10 Hot Weather Culinary Life Savers

It’s a hot and humid Saturday afternoon in San Diego and I can’t bear the idea of turning on the oven or even the stovetop burners. I don’t even want to grill. I don’t want to be near anything over 78 degrees.

This time of year is pretty much about having things around that satisfy hunger without requiring sweat-provoking activities like sautéing, roasting or boiling. I have some favorite cooling foods—some that I’ve found at the markets and some that are easy to prepare and are mostly about fruits and vegetables readily available at your local farmers market or produce store.

So, if you’re desperate for some ways to eat cool over the next couple of months, here are my top 10 favorites—half from the stores and half are recipes.

At the stores:

  • Shangri-La Tropical Passion iced tea from Great News. I’m not a big fan of fruity teas. I like to keep things simple with green teas. But at a class last year at Great News I was ridiculously thirsty and, as always, they had pitchers of tea and water for students to enjoy during class. The water pitcher was empty so I reluctantly went for the tea and found I absolutely loved it. Since then I regularly keep my pantry stocked with it. There are five packets in each little red bag. Fill a large pitcher (with a lid) with water. Empty a packet into a large tea filter and gently lower into the mouth of the pitcher. Let the sun do the rest for a few hours, then remove the filter, put the lid on the pitcher and refrigerate.
  • Sharon’s Sorbet from Trader Joe’s. I’ve never been a big ice cream person but this time of year I love a cold dessert after dinner. I found Sharon’s Sorbet and now keep it in the freezer. My favorites are lemon, mango and passion fruit, but other flavors include blueberry, mixed berry, raspberry, strawberry, coconut and dutch chocolate.
  • Beet vinaigrette salad from Continent European Deli: I’ve written about this before. The salad is made with beets, potatoes, pickles, carrots and sauerkraut. It’s got a lot of flavors and textures going on at once—sweet, salty, crunchy and chewy. I enjoy this and I don’t even like beets!
  • Ceviche from Northgate Gonzalez: I love this market and one of the biggest reasons is their selection of ceviches. I’m particularly fond of the octopus and the shrimp but all are delicious. Enjoy with fresh tortillas or chips from their tortilleria.
  • Nopal salad from Foodland Mercado in El Cajon: Other Hispanic markets make this but Foodland’s is a winner because of the addition of red onion and crumbled queso fresco; again, pick up their fresh tortillas or chips (better than Northgate Gonzalez!)

To prepare:


My mom gave me this gazpacho recipe years ago and now it’s a dinner party staple this time of year. It’s got a lot of ingredients, but once you get the produce chopped, it goes quickly and you get a hearty, cold meal that’s great for entertaining or a relief to have around for a few days during a heat wave.

5 -8 large tomatoes, quartered

1 large cloves of garlic, minced

½ English cucumber, roughly chopped

1 or 2 red peppers, roughly chopped

6 – 8 scallions, roughly chopped

6-8 radishes, roughly chopped

½ medium onion, peeled and quartered

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped

½ bunch parsley with major stems removed and/or 1 bunch cilantro

1 tbl lemon juice

2-6 tbl red wine vinegar

A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce

A few dashes of your favorite hot sauce

2 tsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

½ tsp sugar

1 regular-sized can beef broth

1 can low-salt V-8 juice

1 cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen or canned – I like the frozen roasted corn kernels from Trader Joe’s)

1 pound pre-cooked bay shrimp, lump crab or cooked chunks of chicken or pork

Pull out the food processor and a very large bowl. Process each of the vegetables and add to the bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients, except for the proteins, which I would have at the table separately for guests to add as they wish. Adjust seasoning to taste. Top when serving with sour cream or Mexican crema.

Serves 8 – 10

Cucumber Yogurt Bisque

Years ago, decades actually, I lived in New York, where summers can be truly miserable. So, when my friend Susan Leon made this for me, I added the recipe to my hot weather arsenal. It’s ridiculously easy to make and you can riff on it by adding other ingredients, like hot sauce or additional chopped veggies. I sometimes will toss some cooked shrimp on top to get some protein.

1 large cucumber

2 cups unflavored yogurt

2 tbl red wine vinegar

½ cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ tsp dill

¼ tsp ground pepper

1 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped

¼ cup sliced scallions

Peel the cucumber, slice it lengthwise into halves and scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut the cucumber into chunks and combine in food processor or blender with yogurt, vinegar, onion, garlic, dill and pepper. Process briefly until blended. Stir tomatoes into yogurt mixture. Cover and chill at least 2 hours or overnight. Garnish with sliced scallions. (If you use a very thick yogurt, like Greek yogurt, you can add a little chicken broth to thin the mixture.)

Serves 4

One-Hour Japanese Pickled Cucumbers

This is a wonderfully simple snack I love to munch on while trying to survive a sultry afternoon. In fact, I’ve got a little bowl in the refrigerator now that I’m going to pounce on shortly.

Use a mandoline to thinly slice an English or Persian cucumber. Place slices in a shallow bowl and add rice vinegar to cover. Refrigerate for an hour or so until the cucumbers have absorbed some of the vinegar and have chilled. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and hot pepper flakes. Pull out a set of chopsticks and dig in.

Hearts of Romaine Salad Dressing

My dad swears he doesn’t remember faxing me this recipe, but I have the original. I love this. It’s thick and goopy and the flavors are sharp—just perfect for the romaine it was created for, but also for a tomato salad or just dipping with veggies.

1 cup olive oil

2 tbl feta cheese, crumbled

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 to 8 anchovy fillets, minced

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fresh lemon or lime juice to taste

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or in a blender or process till smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Use as a salad dressing or dip for Romaine leaves.

Peggy Knickerbocker’s Fennel Salad with Black Olives and Arugula

This is why Bay Area writer and teacher Peggy Knickerbocker is so good. She takes unlikely combinations of foods—fennel and olives in this case—and creates something so splendid. Our La Cocina Que Canta class at Rancho La Puerta got to make this salad and I love it. Fennel is so refreshing a flavor and it benefits from the saltiness of the olives.

For the dressing:

3 tbl sherry vinegar

2 shallots, minced

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:

3 to 4 medium heads of fennel, tough outer leaves discarded

12 black imported olives, pitted and cut into long slivers

½ cup chopped parsley leaves

4 stalks celery, thinly sliced into rounds

A few handfuls of arugula leaves, washed and dried

To make dressing: In a small bowl combine the vinegar with the shallots and salt and pepper to taste. Allow it to macerate for a few minutes, then whisk in the olive oil.

To make the salad: Cut the fennel in half lengthwise, removing the core. Cut the fennel into thin strips and place in a salad bowl. Toss with the olives, parsley and celery.

Make a bed of arugula leaves on a serving platter. Toss the salad with the dressing in a bowl and mound on top of the arugula leaves.

Serves 6

Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? What do you do to beat the heat in the kitchen? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Gourmet Club Heads to Roseville

If you live in Point Loma, then you must have heard the news that George Riffle (Laurel, Blanca, the Ivy Hotel) has opened a new French-Mediterranean-style restaurant called Roseville. With Chef Amy DiBiase, Riffle has created an upscale brasserie on Rosecrans that serves classic duck confit, Carlsbad mussels, frites and seasonal dishes.

It sounded intriguing to us, so Riffle and DiBiase will be joining us this week on The Gourmet Club to talk about this new venture and its unlikely neighborhood location.

Mike Mitchell of The Oceanaire will be calling in with his Mitchell Report. Tune in to hear about his latest gastronomic adventure in town.

And, Maureen has ravioli, raviolo and raviolini on her mind. Confused? Well, tune in and find out what the differences are between the three and what unique versions are so deliciously distracting her. Yes, I know I promised this last week, but we ran out of time. This week Maureen unravels this pasta conundrum.

The Gourmet Club is the tastiest meeting in town. Join Robert Whitley, Maureen Clancy and me for our regular Wednesday morning gathering on from 11 a.m. to noon Pacific. You can also podcast the show and listen at your convenience.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

When Sweets Collide

Two dessert trends are exploding simultaneously in San Diego--frozen yogurt and cupcakes. I'm puzzled. I'm curious. I'm trying to use logic when perhaps something else is at play.

But, answer me this: why?

Starbucks may be closing 600 storefronts, but frozen yogurt and cupcakes are seemingly everywhere now. What's your take? Is dessert the new lipstick or skirt length as a measurement of the state of the economy? Do we just want to get fat and forget our troubles? Or is something entirely different going on? And, do you think these are just passing fads or sweets that will stay in demand?

Help me solve the mystery--click on "comments" below and enlighten us with your wisdom!

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Foodstuff Miscellany

It's a quiet Thursday before the 4th, but food folks are busy...

  • Eclipse Chocolat is holding a Cupcake Extravaganza Weekend, starting Friday. Owner Will Gustwiller has 36 flavors available at once and is counting on you to come in and help rate your favorites. The idea is to pare down to 16 or so in rotation. A box of nine will be $20. Each cupcake will have a rating card, which also serves as an entry to a Grand Prize Raffle (think Willy Wonka and the golden ticket). The winner will receive a VIP Eclipse Pass for a box of nine cupcakes every week for two months. Eclipse Chocolat is located at 2121 El Cajon Blvd. at Alabama in University Heights.
  • Pinkberry buzz has arrived. The frozen yogurt chain opened its 59th store this week in downtown San Diego at the Hard Rock Hotel at 207 Fifth Ave., across from the San Diego Convention Center. A second San Diego store will open later this summer in Hillcrest. No comment about its "healthy and all-natural" claims.
  • Keep an eye out for the July 15 opening of Homegrown Meats, a new butcher shop that's the brainchild of Matt Rimel, owner of Zenbu, Mesquite and, of course, Rimel's Rotisserie & Local Seafood. Homegrown Meats will be located next door to Zenbu at 7660 Fay Ave. in La Jolla and feature locally raised grass-fed beef from Mendenhall Ranch on Palomar Mountain, local wild turkey, ostrich, lamb, chicken and duck (when in season)--all hormone free. You'll also be able to pick up farm-fresh produce courtesy of a partnership with Chef Andrew Johnson of The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe. While the initial opening will be low key, Rimel will soon announce a grand opening to be held in August, with, of course, a tasting barbecue for customers. Be sure to check the website to get the most up-to-date information about the openings.
P.S. Check out Maureen Clancy's wonderful site for a description of Rimel's favorite fish dish on the grill. He told us about this on The Gourmet Club yesterday and stomachs began to rumble with pleasure just at the thought of it. Easy to make and obviously finger-licking...well you know the rest.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Shalom Convoy: Convoy Market & Deli

Aaron's Eatzz is out but a new shop has opened up in the tiny storefront on Convoy at Balboa in Kearny Mesa. Convoy Market & Deli is a sandwich shop/grocery/liquor store combo that is not the glatt kosher haven for the local Jewish and Israeli community but still a good resource to get kosher products hard to find elsewhere.

The owners, Rafe Potres, an Iraqi, and his wife Shirley Tajedini, a Persian Jew, used to own a liquor store in Lakeside. Potres had hoped to begin introducing himself to the Aaron's clientele before the shop closed, but that wasn't possible, so now he's very enthusiastically introducing his new place to longtime customers who, he says, can still place special orders for items they need, like challah or kosher brisket, an ideal set up before major holidays.

Potres and Tajedini bought the remainder of Aaron's Eatzz inventory, so you'll find shelves laden with Sadaf and Zergut products such as olives, pickles, green tomatoes and vegetable spreads. There are boxes of couscous mixes, matzoh, canned vegetables, sardines, packaged spices and even marmite. In the freezers are cheese blintzes, Cornish game hens, gefilte fish, fish sticks and pizza. And, as a convenience store, the shop has a large selection of liquor, some wine, lots of soft drinks and an assortment of chips and candies.

The various salads and other traditional homemade Jewish dishes are gone, of course, but Convoy Market & Deli has a nice little sandwich counter offering six- and 12-inch long sandwiches. You can get turkey, roast beef, veggie and the like on a long roll, as well as corned beef, pastrami and Reuben (although not, apparently, on traditional corned rye bread). I was there yesterday and they didn't have corned beef or pastrami so I had "The Italian," a full-throttle sub of Genoa salami, pepperoni, ham and cheese. It was unpretentious deli food and very tasty.

Potres is planning on carrying kosher meats for sandwiches and is gearing up for the kosher prepping for that with separate storage and utensils, carving machines and whatever else is necessary to get rabbinical approval.

Convoy Market & Deli is at 4488 Convoy St., Suite F at Balboa Ave.

Have some thoughts about Convoy Market & Deli or other ethnic markets in San Diego? Do you have a favorite neighborhood market or shop that carries unique or unusual foodstuff? Let me know or add to the conversation by clicking on comments below:

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Gourmet Club Goes Under the Sea

Matt Rimel joins The Gourmet Club this Wednesday. The owner of Zenbu, Rimel's Rotisserie and Mesquite will chat with us before the 4th of July holiday about fish (he catches much of what is served at all three venues) and maybe even give us some tips on favorite ways to prepare it for an outdoor fireworks bash.

Maureen has ravioli, raviolo and raviolini on her mind. Confused? Well, tune in and find out what the differences are between the three and what unique versions are so deliciously distracting her.

The Gourmet Club is the tastiest meeting in town. Join Robert Whitley, Maureen Clancy and me for our regular Wednesday morning gathering on from 11 a.m. to noon Pacific. You can also podcast the show and listen at your convenience.

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