Monday, December 22, 2008

Chewing the Fat at North Park Meat Co.

There's something so fundamentally basic about eating a really good piece of smoked or cured meat. It represents our carnivorous side but also our frugal side and a whole lot of human creativity and ingenuity. Without refrigeration, by necessity cultures around the world had to devise a way to preserve hard-won meats. Sun and wind did the job until fire was discovered and methods were created to cook and dry the meats to make them last longer and prevent spoilage and botulism. Somewhere along the way, "salting" was found to cure meats and then salting, drying and smoking were combined to lend additional flavors to the meat along with preserving them by creating physiological, chemical and bacteriological changes to the protein.

We've become used to commercially prepared hot dogs, bacon, ham and sausages but if you've ever tried an artisan-prepared piece of smoked or cured meat you know it's a very different flavor experience. It's not the saltiness that hits your tongue with such power; it's the woods, the spices, the meat itself that makes an impact. And, when the meat comes from pastured animals, it's that much better.

So, San Diego has a new treat in store with the opening last Thursday of the North Park Meat Co. It's a little offshoot of Jay Porter's restaurant, The Linkery, which moved last year to a larger space on 30th at North Park Way. Where there has long been a bar area and extra seating to the west of the dining room, you'll now also see a meat counter with a variety of home-smoked and cured meats and fish. All the curing and smoking is done by a team of three: Michael McGuan, who runs The Linkery's meat program; Max Bonacci, The Linkery's chef; and Ernesto Romero, the primary sausage maker.

"We've been making all these products for years as part of the restaurant menu," says Porter. "But we decided to make them available for customers to buy to take home. There's nothing like this available in San Diego."

Porter pointed out that the meat comes from pastured animals owned by independent farms. "This is completely outside of the commodity chain," he explains. "The other thing is that this is artisan curing. We have a lot of historical research about traditions of smoking and curing and have recipes we've been using. So that means that if a customer comes in with a desire from a cured meat from a specific country or region of a country, we can probably make it on request. Of course, if they want a country ham made to order, it could take six months to a year to deliver it. But for bacon, it can take just a matter of weeks."

One of the reasons Porter decided to sell the cured and smoked meats to the public was the realization that people "have no idea what goes on in our kitchen. They think we buy these products off the shelf. But that slice of ham or bacon on their plate was made by us."

The offerings will change depending on the availability of the animals, which Porter buys whole from a variety of independent farmers throughout California and parts of the Western U.S.

One of the most imposing products is the enormous blackstrap molasses country ham from Berkshire breed pigs raised by Barney Bahrenfuse in Grinnell, Iowa. The hams are approximately 16 pounds each and sell for $275.

There are a variety of bacons--pork belly bacon and pork belly slab bacon, also from Bahrenfuse's pigs, pork loin Canadian bacon from Jim Neville's Hampshire and Blue Butt breed pork, beef belly navel bacon from Tallgrass Beef's Northern California co-op farm, and even goat belly bacon from Bill and Nicolette Niman in Bolinas, Calif.

I was delighted to see cured beef tongue, also from Tallgrass Beef cattle. Tongue is something my mom made when I was growing up and still a sandwich treat on occasion. Try it sliced thin on a good corn rye with mustard.

Someone recently asked me where she could find good pancetta that she could slice herself. She was looking for a place along the North County coast, but if she wants to drive down to North Park, she'll find homemade pancetta here.

If you're looking for smoked fish, North Park Meat Co. regularly has wild local smoked fish. When I was there, it was swordfish and Mexican opah.

If, on the other hand, you're looking to indulge (shhh, don't tell your doctor), Porter has the most delicious and creamy lardo, also from Barney Bahrenfuse. This is a cured pork product that comes from the layer of fat directly underneath the skin. Once considered "poor man's food" it's now considered a delicacy.

What do you do with lardo? Slice it thin and include it in on antipasto platter. Toss lardo shavings with pasta. Spread it on bread or mix it in a salad. Add it to stuffing or use it as a replacement for pancetta. It's actually very light with a creamy flavor, not at all greasy.

Now how do I know how good it is? Porter had some samples of different items, including the lardo, prepared for me while I was there.

What you see here is, from the left, thin slices of lardo, Canadian loin bacon and pork belly bacon. As a palate cleanser, we also had toasted slices of homemade bread and gorgeous slices of watermelon radishes from McGrath Family Farms.

You'll find all of these items on The Linkery's menu in different dishes, but now you can buy them and take them home to use on your own.

"We're like a lab where we can keep alive traditional foods and ways of living," says Porter. "People think this is extravagant but what they forget is that it's all based on the thrift of a pre-industrial economy.

North Park Meat Co. is attached to The Linkery at 3704 30th St. in North Park.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rosemary Infused Olive Oil: Another Easy Edible Holiday Gift

I think I'm finally finished now with my homemade edible holiday gifts. My last project was to take some of the rosemary I had clipped and had leftover from making the rubs and turn it into something else. I found these very pretty little glass bottles with spouts at CostPlus. Surely, I could do something with them.

Of course, the answer was to make an infused olive oil but my concern was botulism. I certainly don't want to make anyone sick.

I did some research and found all sorts of techniques for infusion. I have to say up front that I'm researching a story for the San Diego Union-Tribune's food section on olive oils and one of the most fascinating tidbits I've discovered is the powerful flavor and aroma that comes when, in fact, the olives are pressed with the flavor additive -- whether it's lemons or blood oranges or garlic. The essential oils of the other ingredient come through in a very robust, very distinctive way. And, it maintains the integrity of the oil. You just don't get the same complexity in an infused oil.

However, most of us don't press our own olive oil and if we want to make flavored oils we have to come up with alternatives. I learned that one of the worst things you can do is introduce water into the equation. It's not the olive oil that is the problem, according to The Olive Oil Source. It's water -- in the form of fresh garlic, lemon peel, herbs, fresh peppers or spices -- that supports bacterial growth. Additionally, there's the risk of using fresh foodstuff that's been in the ground. It's another botulism hazard. That would include fresh garlic.

So, how do you get around this? Well, you can just go ahead and mix all these ingredients, keep the oil refrigerated and use it within a week. You can preserve the ingredients you're going to add. You can press the olives and the ingredients together (as noted above), perhaps roasting the garlic before pressing. Or you can dry the herbs, etc. to eliminate the water.

I poked around some more and discovered an interesting recipe for rosemary olive oil from Whole Foods that seemed to fit my new requirements. Almost. It calls for granulated garlic, which I couldn't find and didn't have time to canvas different markets for. Instead I found dehydrated sliced garlic, which I think I actually prefer. Aesthetically, it just looks cool. And having tasted a slice, I can tell you that it delivers on flavor and strength. And, it should have no moisture content.

That fit the bill for eliminating water and bacteria. So did the dry peppercorns. And, I left the rosemary out to dry for several days.

The other part of this recipe that I liked in terms of safety--perhaps without reason--is that it calls for the oil to be heated to 150 degrees. In my mind it's just another preventive measure, but perhaps it's unnecessary and only useful for the infusion of the herbs and spices. Then again, heating the oil breaks it down. But I decided to go ahead and try it.

So, here's what you do. I've linked to the exact recipe above from Whole Foods but precision isn't necessary here in terms of measurements, especially if, like me, the bottles you found aren't the same size as what they list.

Thoroughly wash the bottles, using hot soapy water. Rinse them well and let them dry completely. Again, make sure there's no moisture left inside.

In a large saucepan, empty a bottle of good extra virgin olive oil and heat the oil to 150 degrees (a candy thermometer works well for this). In my case, I got lucky. A liter bottle ended up filling the four bottles I had.

While the oil is heating, fill the bottles with your herbs and spices. I placed a couple of sprigs of rosemary inside, along with a dozen or so peppercorns and half a dozen slices of dehydrated sliced garlic. You could use any dried herbs, peppers or spices in the combination you like.

When the oil is ready, ladle it into a funnel to transfer the oil into the bottle opening, leaving about an inch at the top. I can tell you from trial and error that unless your saucepan has a spout of some kind, the ladle is your best bet. Don't do what I did at first and try pouring it directly into the funnel. You'll end up with a hot, oily mess.

Seal the bottle. The Whole Foods recipe says to shake it to mix it but a) I think that's because of the granulated garlic they call for; it's not really necessary with sliced garlic and b) I'm using pour spouts and shaking wouldn't be a good idea. But use your judgment here. In any case, the recipe says to store the oil in a cool, dark spot for a week to let the flavors meld before using.

One additional benefit of using this recipe is that there's a link on the Whole Foods recipe page that leads to a PDF with printable gift tags that include a serving suggestion. So, I got a clever set of tags to accompany my gifts.

Now, to be on the safe side, I'm still going to recommend to my recipients that this go into the refrigerator and be used fairly soon. But I'm less nervous about it than I would have been otherwise.

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Stealing from the Garden: Easy Herb Rub Gifts

You know the tired old saying, "When life gives you lemons..." Well, life has given me several lemons this year which has meant that holiday gifts will be handmade for most of my friends and loved ones. Fortunately, lemonade isn't the only option; the lemons can also be turned into zest, accompanied by fresh thyme leaves, garlic and sea salt to make one delicious and even beautiful rub.

I learned this trick from a Twitter exchange with Judy Witts Francini, the Divina Cucina, and she directed me to David Lebovitz's post about it. Their rub is a fabulous mixture of rosemary, sage, garlic and coarse salt. I made a batch earlier this past fall and it's extraordinary as a rub on chicken or pork, added to soup or roasted vegetables or added to olive oil to enhance it for dipping.

Judy, of course, pointed out that any good combination of herbs and salts will work so I've been scavenging my garden, which has oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley and other herbs growing madly. Since my rosemary has gone especially crazy this year, it was the perfect way to get some pruning done and have something edible as well.

So, I next made a big batch of rosemary, garlic and sea salt rub. I took big bunches of clipped rosemary and stripped the green leaves from the stems. To this I added about eight large cloves of fresh garlic and about 2 tablespoons of coarse sea salt.

At first, I did the mincing by hand with a knife, then using my mezzaluna. But I finally yielded to practicality and put it all in my food processor. If there's a difference in outcome I can't tell but it saved me at least half an hour. Then I spread the mixture onto a cookie sheet for it to air dry for about three days. Don't dry it at low heat in the oven. You'll lose the oils that make this so aromatic. Plus, air drying makes your house smell outrageously wonderful!

Every day, mix it around a little with your fingers so that any remaining clumps can get exposed to the air and pull apart. When the ingredients feel dry, then store the rub in a tin or glass jar out of the light. This batch made just over two cups of rub -- enough for three gift jars. Oh and a tin for me.

Use the same technique for the thyme, lemon, garlic, sea salt rub. The ingredients are slightly different.

You'll need to zest the lemons and strip the thyme sprigs of the leaves. The first batch I made last week was large--I clipped big bunches of thyme, zested two bags of lemons from Trader Joe's, used about eight large cloves of garlic and about two tablespoons of coarse sea salt. This morning I made another batch. I only had three Meyer lemons from my mom's garden, so I used a smaller amount of thyme than before.

The bunch I clipped weighed 1 3/4 ounces before I stripped the leaves, ultimately yielding 3/4 of an ounce. The zest weighed 1/4 of an ounce. I used five cloves of garlic (I do love garlic; use less if you're not as fanatical) and 1/2 tablespoon of salt. Everything went into the Cuisinart. Here's the very moist result just after being placed on the baking sheet:

As it dries, the colors will actually become more vibrant. I've been putting the ones I've been gifting in lovely little clear jars with stoppers from CostPlus. This batch, though, will be for me and go in a tin, also from CostPlus. These rubs do make great little gifts, but just remember that you'll need a lot of herbs to get a good yield for the rub. That big batch of the thyme, lemon, garlic, salt rub I made last week? It made about one and 1/4 cups, enough for two jars about four inches high (holding just over 1/2 cup) and a bit left over for me to use on one chicken meal.

Now I'm eying the unruly oregano bush and mulling what to combine with it for a rub. Perhaps parsley, hot pepper flakes, garlic and sea salt.

Next up? Bottles of rosemary-infused olive oil, done the safe way. Stay tuned. I'm just waiting for the washed bottles to thoroughly dry inside.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Gourmet Club Gets the Holiday Spirit

It's our last show until the new year and it's all about the holidays. One of the ways we like to show our love is through baking. Cookies. Lots of them. But we've found someone who does this year round. Liz Chou is the cookie diva of The Cookie Chew, a delightful business that takes the cookie to a whole new level, as in truffles and lollipops in flavors like Peanut Butter Crunch, Smores, Chocolate Hazelnut, White Chocolate Cranberry Pistachio and Chocolate Toffee Crunch.

I met Liz at the Little Italy Mercato last summer and enjoyed her gorgeous looking and tasting cookies. Maureen met her recently and invited her to be with us on The Gourmet Club to tell her story and perhaps give some cookie baking hints.

And Maureen will be giving us a preview of her annual Holiday Gift Guide--a collection of fun, clever, delicious and budget-friendly ideas for food lovers to give and get.

San Diego Gourmet is the best place to hear about the San Diego food scene.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Seven Things about Caron Golden or Jeez, I've Been Tagged!

It's a good thing I like and respect my friend Indra Gardner so much because this feels like just a very polite chain letter that -- I apologize in advance -- I have to send on to seven more people. Basically, I've just been tagged by Indra on a meme circulating in which you post seven things about yourself that people probably don't know. Now I'm a huge blabber so I can't imagine much that people don't know about me that I really really don't want them to know but I'll try. Oy!

1. I've never been to Italy (I'm so ashamed).
2. When I was a little kid I had a thing for the King Family. Don't even bother to look them up. Or use it against me.
3. I cannot spell hors d'oeuvres without looking it up. Every time. Including now.
4. I always wanted to be a back up singer for a rock 'n roll band. Any that would take me.
5. In the '90s I ghost wrote a book for a sex therapist that she wanted to call Hormones and His Moans. Seriously. The actual title is The Alchemy of Love and Lust. Still on Amazon. (She's dead.)
6. My first job out of college was in the literary department of The William Morris Agency in New York.
7. At that job, I once found myself in the elevator with Susan Sarandon, Anthony Quinn and Jackie Kennedy Onassis. At the same time. With files I was delivering to the legal department.

Okay, that wasn't so bad. Now I have to tag seven other people who blog. Whose lists do I want to read?

1. Nicole Hamaker
2. Deb Puchalla
3. Zoe Francois
4. Amy Sherman
5. Laura Merrill Levy
6. Maria Hunt
7. Julie Wright

Indra tells me these are the rules:
1. Link your original tagger(s) and list these rules in your post.
2. Share seven facts about yourself in the post.
3. Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they've been tagged.

Been fun!

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hot Stuff: A Hot Sauce Alternative to Tabasco

Yesterday I got to spend the afternoon with my friend Angela Nava, her mom Bertha and their friend Consuelo making tamales. It's an annual tradition I always look forward to. Because Bertha is a dog lover, she opens her house to both me and my girls, so I get to bring Shayna and Ketzel, my two big Rhodesian Ridgebacks, with me to play with their "sister friends," Angela's two Ridgebacks. The four play together every weekend at what I'll just say is an undisclosed location, so they are their own happy pack and have a great time tearing through Bertha's home, getting treats of carrots and apples and barely stopping to catch their breath. I also love this tradition because tamales are just the excuse for an afternoon of talking and eating. Yesterday, Bertha made a big pot of vegetable soup for us and we noshed on El Indio chips and salsa in between tamale-making steps. Then Angela brought out some Christmas cookies she made and they opened the box of snowball cookies I brought.

But this isn't about tamales. It's about the hot and zesty sauce that Consuelo used to season the pork filling for the tamales and which ended up next to the traditional chunky salsa for us to dip our chips into. Consuelo, who is from Mexico, can't stand Tabasco sauce because she finds it too vinegary. She makes her own from chiles de arbol, an extremely hot pepper thought to be derived from cayenne. Its name, which translates to "treelike" from Spanish, refers to the woody stems attached to the pod. The chiles are often used to make wreaths or other decorative items but when used in cooking, a couple or few can ratchet up the heat of dishes like salsa, chili, tacos, a stir fry, soups and stews. You can find them in Hispanic grocery stores but also in many big-name supermarkets.

I was delighted that Consuelo was willing to share with Angela and me how she makes the sauce. It is very simple but those chiles are fiery hot and you get the full thrust of the heat throughout the cooking process. It fills up the air when the chiles are boiling and continues to force its way into your sinuses even when you're blending them with other ingredients in the food processor. The chiles are that powerful. But it's worth it. The result is delicious and one of those things that, if you like spicy food, should be a staple in your refrigerator.

Now, what she told us was kind of loose, as in no measurements. I made it today and think I've come close to what I tasted yesterday.

Consuelo’s Hot Sauce

1 2oz.-pkg of chiles de arbol

3-5 cloves of garlic

2 tsp. salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

¾ cup distilled white vinegar


1. Remove stems from chiles and place the chiles in a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes or until the chiles are very soft.

2. Remove the chiles from saucepan and place in blender or food processor. Let them cool.

3. Add garlic, salt, pepper and about ¼ cup of water and puree.

4. Add vinegar and blend.

The result is a vibrant red sauce studded with seeds.

This makes about 12 ounces of sauce. I'm giving some away as a Christmas present in one of the great little jars I found at CostPlus.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Gourmet Club Tries New Flavors

The pre-holiday rush of cooking and baking and buying and partying is on. We're no different at The Gourmet Club and our calendar is packed. Robert is off in Napa -- again -- so Maureen and I will be hosting a full house of guests.

First up is our pal Mike Mitchell, now of Cafe Coyote. We'll get a rundown from him of festivities taking place around town. Take note and make reservations!

Then my Twitter buddy and cookbook author Amy Sherman will call in from Hawaii to talk with us about what's new in appetizers. Her new book for Williams-Sonoma is New Flavors for Appetizers.

Its 44 recipes are the perfect inspiration for throwing a party. Funny how a slightly different ingredient or cooking method can create a whole new concept for an old favorite. We'll learn some of her tricks.

And, joining us in studio is our friend Susan Sbicca.

Her wonderful restaurant, Sbicca, in Del Mar celebrated its 10th anniversary earlier this year. We'll hear what her holiday plans are for the restaurant and get some ideas for home entertaining.

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

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sweet San Diego: Holiday Desserts Spreading Cheer

On Monday morning I'll be going on These Days on KPBS radio (89.5 FM at 10 a.m.) with the wonderful Michele Coulon to talk about holiday desserts. And, like all my appearances on the show, this required focused preparation. To that end, I've been traveling around San Diego to some of the hottest sweet spots. I've eaten tarts and French macaroons, Buche de Noels (Yule logs) and pumpkin spice cakes. And lots of chocolate, of course.

Because not everyone has started baking their holiday pastries yet, I've only got photos where they were available. So, let's start the round up:

  • Michele Coulon. The always elegant Michele Coulon is already starting its holiday baking extravaganza. The first items Michele showed me yesterday were a plate of Christmas cookies -- gingerbread dipped in chocolate, organic orange, shortbread and cappucino. Then there were the stunning caramel apples, drizzled with Belgian chocolate and nuts. These are the small ones, but she also has them in medium and large sizes. The cupcakes were so clever -- lovely pink and red poinsettias in an assortment of cake flavors like chocolate, vanilla and lemon. Of course, there's a Buche de Noel. This log is a flourless Belgian chocolate cake in Bailey's cream and covered with Belgian chocolate mousse with flourishes like a marzipan snowman and meringue snowmen. You should call at least a couple of days before Christmas Eve to have one set aside for you. Other holiday specialties include a rum eggnog cheesecake decorated with marzipan holly leaves, traditional American pies, French macaroons, and specialty sweet breads like a Danish Kringle (Danish pastry filled with almonds, cinnamon and marzipan) and Kougloff (a brioche filled with rum-soaked dried fruit). Michele Coulon is located at 7556 Fay Ave., Suite D in La Jolla.
  • Mille Feuille: I stopped by Mille Feuille last Friday, thrilled to find a metered parking spot near the cafe's prime location at Fifth and University in Hillcrest. Assistant pastry chef Sherry Punch led me through the variety of sweets they're preparing for the holidays and sent me home with a number to try. The Black Forrest is a deep, rich chocolate sponge cake soaked in brandy and dipped in a chocolate glaze before being topped with chocolate curls. The Eggnog Whisperer, an olive oil sponge cake layered with caramelized cinnamon apple slices and eggnog mousse, is topped with a caramel glaze and candied chestnuts with gold leaf. The flavors are sublime and subtle. Delicious but not so subtle is the Pumpkin Spice Cake, a chocolate sponge cake soaked in Grand Marnier alternating with pumpkin spice mousse and glazed in chocolate. The spices are bold, but not overwheming. It's a strong flavor in a very pretty package. Mille Feulle also has little packages of French macaroons in a rainbow of colors, orange blossom marshmallows (my friends and I found these disappointingly grainy in texture), and a variety of traditional cookies. Mille Feuille is located at 3896 Fifth Ave. at the corner of Fifth and University in Hillcrest.
  • Heaven Sent Desserts. I just adore Tina Luu. She's so creative and works such sweet magic at this North Park dessert cafe. She's got a variety of holiday specialties, starting with the traditional Yule logs -- both chocolate chocolate and vanilla lemon, which has a vanilla sponge cake soaked in lemon juice and wrapped with lemon marscapone. Chocolate fondant leaves and sugared cranberries add an extra festive flair. For something a little different, try the frangipane tart with cranberries, pomegranate seeds and orange confit. A little almond, a little citrus. A crunchy crust. Very nice.For pure decadence, it's got to be a the sea salted chocolate caramel tart. Inspired by the much-loved Millionaire's Shortbread of Ireland, with its cookie, caramel and chocolate layers, the tart adds a little something extra with crushed lavendar. Then there's the party girl, toasted pecan and spiced cream pie. Think caramel pecan pie filling studded with bittersweet chocolate, topped with a layer of vanilla custard and then Chantilly cream. Tina will also have an assortment of cookies ready for the holidays, including ginger cookies with candied, fresh and toasted ground ginger. Heaven Sent is located at 3001 University St. at 30th in North Park.
  • Cardamom Cafe and Bakery: Meet the new kid in the neighborhood. North Park, that is. Last June, Joanne Sherif opened the cozy cafe/bakery on Upas just off 30th St. A home baker since she was a young girl, Joanne has been busy raising five kids and doing volunteer advocacy for special ed kids, but long had the idea of having a business of her own that filled the need she has had to feed others. Everyday, her bakers roll out a wide assortment of breads, brioche, croissants and pastries. Take a look at the platter she served me last week: a sticky bun from brioche dough, a spinach and blue cheese croissant, a slice of brioche, a sugar star (also from brioche dough), a chocolate croissant, and a brioche fruit tart. She also makes a mean chicken salad, substituting all mayonaisse as the binder with one-third mayo, one-third buttermilk and one-third sour cream. It's divine. Oh, but we're talking holiday goods here, so let me tell you some of the traditional breads she'll have on hand. (I don't have photos because these weren't ready yet -- in fact, it takes about two weeks to make the starter and craft the bread, so call early to reserve what you want.) There's the Holiday Stollen, with dark raisins, dried cherries, candied lemon and orange peel, and almonds soaked in rum. There's Julia's Fresh Cranberry-Walnut Pumpkin Loaf made with a yeasted dough, a little sweet, a little savory, a little spicy. The Pan d'Oro is a relation of Panettone, sans nuts and fruit. Instead, it has three separate doughs and is shaped in a star. Hungarian Sweet Cheese Bread is bundt shaped and made with sour cream and goat cheese with a Grand Marnier apricot glaze. This list goes on and on. A novel approach to holiday baking. And the cafe is a lovely neighborhood spot for breakfast or lunch. Cardamom Cafe and Bakery is located at 2977 Upas St. There's no web site yet, so call 619-546-5609.
  • Opera Cafe and Patisserie: Owners Thierry Cahez and Vincent Garcia have been known around town and beyond as superb cooks and pastry chefs. Their new cafe in Sorrento Valley is a boon to local office workers. But the duo spread their magic far beyond the sandwiches and pastries they serve at the cafe. They do a very nice wholesale and catering business as well. I love their French macaroons, a perfect holiday gift. But I also enjoyed their flourless chocolate cake, with its oozy ganache (thanks to a quick 30 seconds in the microwave at home). A breakfast treat? One of their fruit tea cakes. I took home the raspberry, but they also had blueberry, peach and apricot. Opera has a very long list of holiday specials, starting with a large Yule log in chocolate, coffee, tiramisu, or chocolate creme brulee. There are pumpkin and eggnog cheesecakes, tradtional pumpkin tarts as well as Bourbon Pecan Caramel, Apple Cinnamon Crumble and Linzer tarts. Or try the holiday minis -- cream puffs, chocolate praline tartlets or mini yule logs. Opera Cafe and Patisserie is located at 9254 Scranton Road in Sorrento Valley.
  • Extraordinary Desserts: Karen Krasne's Extraordinary Desserts is a San Diego mainstay. Her two locations, on Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill and now on Union St. in Little Italy/Downtown, draw a large swath of loyal customers. And no wonder. The pastries and cakes are delicious and just as decadent to look at, what with the abundance of flowers she uses to turn beige and brown into MGM color. Recently, I've enjoyed an amazing pecan shortbread with its crackle of sanding sugar. The chocolate streudel is nothing like what my Nana would have made; it's far more elegant in presentation and flavor but oh so good. Speaking of chocolate, there's also the decadent spire of Chocolate Cocada, a coconut macaroon like none I've ever enjoyed. And, the French apple cranberry pie was wonderful after briefly reheating it in the microwave at home and adding a drizzle of raspberry/blackberry sauce. What's on the menu for the holidays? It's a long list -- and you can even order online -- but it includes a Yule log of Valrhona chocolate, roasted almonds and a tough of whiskey, finished with a layer of chocolate truffle, white roses and gold leaf. There's also a Gateau Noel, a chocolate cake with raspberry creme brulee, raspberry-infused chocolate mousse and dark chocolate ganache; a toasted macademia cheesecake; and a white chocolate linzer torte. And then there's the Versailles, a decadent torte, with its four chocolate cake layers soaked with tuaca and surrounded by Valrhona chocolate mousse, salted caramel mousse and homemade caramel. Extraordinary Desserts is located at 2929 Fifth Ave. in Bankers Hill and 1430 Union St. in Little Italy (really more like downtown San Diego).
I know there's a lot more going on and I'll be filling in the blanks in the next weeks, so check back to find out what places like Eclipse Chocolat and Elizabethan Desserts are up to. And, if you have any favorite places to add, please let me know.

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