Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Gourmet Club Takes to the Backstreet

I'm back--no pun intended. I was laid up watching the Olympics 24/7 while my back was spasming and otherwise creating misery. But that was last week. This week, I'll be rejoining Robert and Maureen at the table and meeting our guest, Cindy Pawlcyn.

Pawlcyn, owner of Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen in St. Helena, as well as Mustards Grill and Go Fish, is a Napa Valley icon. From the fresh organic ingredients she's committed to using in her restaurants to her experiential food research, Pawlcyn creates delicious, heartfelt food that has earned her a devoted local and national following. We'll be talking with her about her new cookbook Big Small Plates, her restaurants and her travels to San Sebastian, Spain and Oaxaca, Mexico to try new restaurants and cuisines for inspiration.

We'll also spend some time talking about last weekend's Taste of Slow Food San Diego, the Temecula Olive Oil Company and what sounds like the ultimate birthday dinner, enjoyed by Maureen last Saturday (think Carl Schroeder and Michele Coulon).

So, tune in for the hour. The Gourmet Club is the tastiest meeting in town. Join Robert Whitley and me this Wednesday morning on signonradio.com from 11 a.m. to noon Pacific. You can also podcast the show and listen at your convenience.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Caron on KPBS' These Days on Monday Morning

On Monday, August 25th, I'll be a guest on These Days on KPBS radio at 10 a.m. I'll be on the show with Casey Anderson of the San Diego County Farm Bureau to talk about San Diego County's farmers markets.

Tune in at 89.5 fm at 10 a.m. Pacific or go to the KPBS website to listen or podcast the show.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Taste of Slow Food San Diego This Saturday

Just a brief hello. With my back out for a week I've only recently been able to sit in front of my computer for a few minutes at a time. But I'm getting better (and so sick of the Olympics -- in a drug-induced haze I've probably watched every obscure event aired; right now, I'm fleeing rhythmic gymnastics.).

Assuming I'm relatively painfree I intend to go to the 5th Annual Taste of Slow Food San Diego this Saturday night in Old Town. And, I encourage you buy a ticket and attend. And say hi!

Just in case you aren't on the Slow Food San Diego mailing list and have missed their many communications about this event, here are the details:

The dinner will be at the main plaza in Old Town San Diego Historic State Park on Saturday, August 23, from 5 to 9 p.m. You'll find a wealth of food stations that feature fresh, local, seasonal organic produce, artisan meats and cheeses. The chefs involved include Bernard Guillas of the Marine Room, Tom McAliney of Brandt Beef, KAtie Grebow of Cafe Chloe, Jeff Massey of Stone Brew World Bistro & Gardens, Starlight's Margarite Griftka, Javier Plascencia of Restaurante Romesco, Berta Utreas of Berta's, Currant's Geoffrey Yan and so many more. The dishes you'll taste will have been inspired by the food cultures of early San Diego.

They'll also have local breweries and wineries, and local purveyors and farmers.

Tickets are $65 and two glasses of beer or wine are included in the price. Proceeds will benefit projects of Slow Food San Diego and the Old Town San Diego Historic State Park.

Some tickets are still available for purchase online.

I'm hoping to be back up and moving around more tomorrow and back at the markets this weekend!

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Friday, August 15, 2008

New Farmers Markets in San Diego County

Lucky us -- we've got a bunch of new farmers markets that have been opening this summer around the County. That brings the total of regional markets to 30.

City Heights debuted its new market in June. It's the brainchild of a group of community organizers to create a healthy community and it's the first in San Diego to accept food stamps. (Just a heads up -- I wrote a story on this market for Edible San Diego's Fall 2008 issue, which will be available Sept. 1.) The market is held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wightman St. between Fairmount and 43rd St.

Little Italy just opened its farmers market. I was hoping to get over there this weekend but my back is out and I may not make it. But read Alice Q. Foodie's write up. Sounds wonderful. Little Italy Mercato is held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Date St. between Kettner and Union with over 70 farm and food booths, according to "market maestra" Catt Fields White.

The East Village farmers market opened in July. Friends tell me its still very small, but like all of these markets, they need local support to convince vendors to make the commitment. If you want it to grow, go! It's held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 8th and Market.

Valley Center is about to open its farmers market on Sept. 4. It will be held on Thursday afternoons from 3 p.m. till sunset at 28751 Cole Grade Rd.

For details about any of the farmers markets in the region, go to the San Diego County Farm Bureau's website.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Gourmet Club is Telling Fish Tales

What's your passion? For Chef Andrew Spurgin it's fish. In fact, he's a co-founder of the educational organization Passionfish, which addresses seafood sustainability issues.

Chef Spurgin, who is executive director and chef of Waters Fine Catering, will be on The Gourmet Club with equally ardent fish lovers Christian Graves, executive chef at Jsix, and Dan Nattrass, principal fish buyer of Catalina Offshore Products. With these three in studio as guests, we'll spend the hour talking about seafood sustainability, mercury in fish, techniques for preparing fish to keep it both safe and tasty -- well, basically all things fish. Actually, all things food -- because both chefs are champions of handcrafted, organic, regional cuisine, even if it doesn't have fins or gills.

So, tune in for the hour. The Gourmet Club is the tastiest meeting in town. Join Robert Whitley and me this Wednesday morning on signonradio.com from 11 a.m. to noon Pacific. You can also podcast the show and listen at your convenience.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Big Momma Market: The Hillcrest Farmers Market

Last week, KPBS radio's These Days had a discussion about buying local food and people were calling in, usually prefacing their remarks with "I go every Sunday morning to the Hillcrest farmers market." Even a woman from Scripps Ranch, which has its own Saturday market... Go figure. But the Hillcrest farmers market is a special place. I used to go almost every Sunday myself when I lived in Hillcrest, but since I'm in Tierrasanta now I tend to go there on Thursday afternoons. So, it had been awhile since I'd been by and thought it would be fun to see what's new.

I'd forgotten just how huge it is. Like the La Jolla and Ocean Beach markets, it's packed with all sorts of vendors and feels like a big festival. Many of the folks I'm used to seeing around town are there--among them, Baba Foods, Majestic Garlic, Smit Orchards, Gourmet European Pastries and Lisko Imports, Jackie's Jams and Creekside Tropicals.

Because of that, I'm not going to go through everything I saw. Stone fruit are front and center still this week, as are tomatoes, squash and avocadoes. What I will do is show you some things that caught my eye.

Like the produce at Valdivia Farms. I love their tomatoes, particularly their heirloom tomatoes. Today, they were overflowing.

But, they also had a box of sweet little baby corn.

I bought half a dozen and then spent awhile back at home trying to decide what to do with them. Regardless of how large the packaging is -- and some of these, as you can see, were seven or eight inches with lots of silk -- once you peel away the husk and silk, it still is a petite three inches or so.

Do I stir fry them with other veggies? Marinate them in herbed garlic oil and then grill them to serve as appetizers? Chop them and add to pasta? Eat them raw, dipped in chili sauce?

Raw won for one of them. This is not the same baby corn you get in the can. Straight from the husk, it was sweet and just a little crispy. The chili garlic sauce was a nice complement. As for the other five, I'm going to add them to pasta with the chopped heirloom tomatoes I bought from Valdivia, sweet basil and lemon thyme from my garden, a teaspoon of Majestic Garlic spread, olive oil and thin slices of Parmigiano Reggiano. Perfect for a sultry Sunday night meal.

The tomatoes. Aren't they amazing? Some of the heirloom tomatoes were so dark, they looked like fat purple plums. But they weren't the only ones to catch my eye. There were hefty globes in red, green and yellow. The green are perfect, of course, for frying. The yellow ones are fun to incorporate in a salad or sliced to make a sandwich with mozzarella, basil leaves and a homemade vinaigrette. They're sweet, juicy, meaty (yes, I ate one this afternoon with just a little bit of sea salt sprinkled on it). It is high season for these magnificent fruits. Buy them and enjoy them while they're looking so good.

Mountain Meadow Mushrooms of Escondido had a booth offering a smorgasbord of fungi. There were hamburger patty-size Portabellos and dark shitakes, big stemmed trumpets and little wild Maritakes, criminis and your basic white mushroom. I liked the baskets that offered a variety.

I walked past stalls filled with fresh herbs, including one that had such a beautiful display that one customer was creating a bouquet. I would have bought some myself, except that I grow them at home.

I was astounded, though, by the large display of one of my very favorite fruits, passion fruit, which I discovered on a trip to Australia years and years ago. These egg-shaped fruits are the ugliest little things when fully ripe, but what's inside is a bright yellow-orange magical liqueur that is sweet and tart. I am happiest simply scooping up the liquid in a spoon and eating it, but drizzle it over French vanilla ice cream, add to a smoothie or incorporate it into a sauce.

Unfortunately, I couldn't buy any because I had run out of cash. And, here's my suggestion to the managers of any of these markets--invest in an EBT machine so people can use a debit card to get cash or tokens that vendors can cash in at the end of the market. As a customer, I find it's just too hard to anticipate how much I'll want to buy or what it'll cost. And, it may encourage customers like me to buy more.

The Hillcrest farmers market is held every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 3960 Normal Street at Lincoln, adjacent to the DMV.

Have some thoughts about the Hillcrest farmers market or other 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, August 5, 2008

The Gourmet Club is Homegrown

One of the most enjoyable of all culinary pairings is wine and cheese -- once you figure out what goes with what. We're going to have a guest who can help: Dan Pilkey, the sommelier with Addison at the Grand Del Mar. At 27, he's the youngest to have attained the level of advanced sommelier from the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers -- and only the second in San Diego. There are only several hundred who have reached this rank in the U.S.

Pilkey, who grew up in the wine business, will give us some tips on how to mix and match wines and cheeses. And, we'll try to emphasize some more summery wines so that you can go out and try some of his suggestions now, whether it be at a picnic dinner during an outdoor concert or as a special course of its own at your summer dinner party.

Matt Rimel's Homegrown Meats/La Jolla Butcher Shop opened last Saturday (see my previous post). Robert and I will talk about this new shop and what it means to have locally grown, grass-fed beef available to San Diegans for the first time.

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

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Homegrown Meats. Really.

Poor Matt Rimel. Here it is, Saturday, the day his new shop, Homegrown Meats/La Jolla Butcher Shop, is opening. He’s got a back room filled with meat and a grill party planned on the little patio in front of the shop. He’s got to be stoked about what the day will bring.

And, he goes and breaks his foot. So, while we’re all enjoying a beautiful Saturday afternoon in La Jolla eating burgers—his burgers—he’s at the hospital.

Well, Matt, thanks for calling and letting me know the shop was opening. I was there to check it out and I hope you’re not in too much pain.

Fortunately for Matt, his partners and staff kept all the balls in the air and customers happy. The first thing you see at the shop, which is in the same little strip mall on Fay Ave. as his restaurant Zenbu, is a display of sumptuous heirloom tomatoes, as well as a selection of fresh oregano, thyme, chives, basil and greens grown by Chef Andrew Johnson of The Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe. Rimel has partnered with Johnson to provide fresh produce for sale at the La Jolla Butcher Shop.

But, inside the shop, is of course, where the important stuff is and there’s a good selection of protein—basically a mix of local grass-fed beef from Mendenhall Ranch in Mt. Palomar and natural prime meats, such as beef tenderloin, pork chops, top sirloin baseballs, veal cutlets, slab bacon and leg of lamb.

The shop also sells Muscovy ducks, prosciutto and Diestel turkey breasts from Sonora in Northern California. There’s pheasant and squab. Savory cumin sausage and herb sausage. Veal sausage and roasted tomato sausage. Skewers of fish, red onion, tomato and green peppers. Wild boar bacon.

To round things out, there are Bread & Cie baguettes and Raptor Rubs, dry rubs from a local company that donates a percentage of its profit to the Montana rescue facility, Raptor Ranch.

Obviously, the story here is the local grass-fed beef. I know I was surprised to learn that we have ranchers in the area. After all, we’ve been programmed to think that if we want the good stuff it has to come from the Midwest or beyond.

But, Joel and Jenna Mendenhall are the latest generation of ranchers in San Diego County and they’re working with the La Jolla Butcher Shop to supply them with beef. According to Joel Mendenhall, they have 100 head of cattle in line for the butcher shop and another 100 cows being bred.

Now is it totally local? Not quite yet. Mendenhall says that the closest USDA-approved slaughterhouse is up in LA. So, his cattle are transported there and then the meat returns to San Diego for sale. “We’re working on getting a USDA-approved facility on our ranch to keep it purely local,” says Mendenhall. He explained that the cattle are a F1 cross of English breeds—the Aberdeen Angus and Hereford breeds. “The Aberdeen Angus are known for their good tasting meat and their hardiness,” explains Mendenhall. “The Herefords give us a bigger size.”

Behind the counter and visible to customers are a refrigerated room for storage and where the breaking down of the meat is done and a small dry aging room. Hanging on display in the dry aging room were the front and hind quarters of one of those Aberdeen Angus crosses, a large whole prosciutto as well as most of a lamb carcass. Partner Peter Morris and butcher Lee Denham explained that the beef will be spending two, three, even four weeks aging before the butchers break it down. “We try to buy the meat as whole as possible,” says Morris, who is a long-time friend and hunting companion of Rimel’s.

That was a huge attraction to a young Iranian man who came in for some more unusual lamb parts you certainly can’t find at the grocery store. He was thrilled to find a lamb neck and was waiting for some other parts to be trimmed to take home to make kaleh pacheh, a traditional Persian breakfast dish. Basically, he explained, you brown the meat and bones, then braise it overnight on the stove in water with a bay leaf. About an hour before serving, add salt, pepper and turmeric. The liquid becomes gelatinous with a profoundly rich flavor perfect for dunking fresh traditional flat bread. When I researched this, I found that it’s often served with lemon wedges and herbs.

I didn’t go that far afield. First I went outside to enjoy a juicy slider burger grilled and served by one lone grown up and his posse of adorable little kids.

Then, I returned inside and selected a grass-fed rib-eye steak. While Denham took it in the back to trim it, I asked Morris for some coaching on how to grill it to bring out the best flavors. He said to let it come to room temperature and season it with just a little salt and pepper. Then put it on a grill over medium heat, no more than four minutes a side for medium rare. Then take it off the heat and cover it with foil for at least 10 minutes to let the juices reintegrate with the meat.

So, last night I fired up the grill. I trimmed a few small leeks, heated them in the microwave for two minutes to get them soft, then brushed them with olive oil. I had a roll of polenta in the pantry (one of those great staples for when you’re too lazy to make rice or couscous or whatever). I sliced it up and also brushed the slices with olive oil. All went on the grill.

Earlier in the day I had opened a package of hot peppers I had found at Andre’s Market on Morena Blvd. Aji Amarillo Mirasol Seco, the package said. Yellow Mirasol hot peppers. They were a lovely rusty orange and I couldn’t resist them.

I also couldn’t figure out quite what to do with them. So, I soaked them for several hours in water. Then I decided just to boil them. By then the peppers were pretty flexible so it only took about 20 minutes to completely soften them. I removed the stems, added them to the food processor with a couple of tablespoons of the water they boiled in and pureed them—seeds and all. Then I added most of a head of baked garlic, salt and olive oil. Another go at pureeing. The mixture was hot but not inedibly hot (which I’d feared). But, the roasted garlic wasn’t enough. So, I added three minced cloves of raw garlic and a little more salt and olive oil. That did it. Heat, smokiness, layers of garlic flavor.

That was the accompaniment to the steak (and will be the basis of a marinade for chicken tomorrow). I took the rest of the roasted garlic and mashed it in a small bowl with a few tablespoons of olive oil and some grated parmesan cheese. I brushed this mixture on the still grilling slices of polenta. I closed the lid and let it melt into the polenta for a couple of minutes once the steak was off the heat and resting.

It was a fine dinner. The steak was fresh tasting, kind of sweet and very tender. The yellow pepper paste complemented the meat with its smoky heat. The leeks were crispy on the outside and lusciously soft inside. The polenta just melted in my mouth.

Now, here’s the challenge. I really enjoyed the steak, but at $22 or so a pound, it’s a luxury for many of us. I know that the folks at La Jolla Butcher Shop will now want to call me or send me a note to tell me how much value I’m getting for that $22. I get it. Really. I know that the cheap cuts at the grocery store aren’t good for me. Aren’t that good period. Nevertheless, this is not going to be a stop for everyone all the time.

But, if you can afford it, buying meat that was locally grown and well-fed on what it was meant to eat is invaluable. It tastes delicious, it’s much healthier for you and better for the environment.

Homegrown Meats/La Jolla Butcher Shop is located at 7660 Fay Ave., Suite C in La Jolla Village.

Have some thoughts about Homegrown Meats/La Jolla Butcher Shop or other 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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