Thursday, October 29, 2009

Taste of Little Italy Returns on Nov. 4

This is one of those "wish I could be in two places at one time" moments. I'll be in Phoenix next week when Taste of Little Italy takes place on Wednesday, Nov. 4 from 5 to 9 p.m.

Among the participating restaurants are Anthology, Burger Lounge, Indigo Grill, Mimmo's, Mona Lisa, Po Pazzo, Rice at the W Hotel, Cafe Zucchero, The Waterfront Grille, and Filippi's Pizza Grotto. There will also be music and entertainment from musicians Regina Leonard and Luis Max and Blue Moon.

Tickets are $35 in advance and can be purchased online at the Taste of Little Italy website. They'll cost $40 at the door. Included with the tickets is a voucher for two people to enjoy Chef Eric Bauer's "Fresh Vibe Tuesday" at Anthology during the month of November.

Ticket proceeds will benefit the Little Italy Association.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Taking the Heat: San Diego's Peruvian Markets

Chef Ron Oliver has a thing for Peruvian food. So, The Marine Room chef got in touch with me recently with an invitation to introduce me to a little place in Hillcrest that sells Peruvian groceries. I wracked my brain trying to come up with the place. After all, I'd lived in the neighborhood for 12 years. But, I shouldn't have bothered trying because the place isn't a market exactly. It's a travel agency: Latin American Travel & Services. It's in an office building on Fifth Ave. next door to Hash House A Go Go. Step inside and it's pretty much what you'd expect of a travel agency office. But then there's that large ante room, with shelves filled with all sorts of unexpected treats. Owners Tomas and Nelly Centurion basically have a little grocery store going--and even have a freezer and refrigerator in the back with still more products for the homesick Peruvian.

When you think of Peru, often the first food that comes to mind is potatoes--and you can find them at this little shop, so long as you like freeze dried--or dehydrated--canned, and frozen versions of them.

Above you can see chuno blanco and negro--black and white potatoes. Yes, they're freeze dried, but this is an interesting Peruvian tradition, centuries old, derived from the necessities of harsh living conditions. First, a frost-resistant variety of potato is alternately exposed to the low night temperatures of the Andes and then intense sunlight. This goes on for several days.

The chuno blanco is the result of washing the now dried potatoes, which are then dried once again in the sun and stomped on to remove the skins and any residual liquid. Chuno negro isn't washed, just sun dried. The potatoes turn black from oxidation. Once the process is complete, the potatoes can be stored for months, even years. They're used in soups and stews, even desserts. And they can be ground into flour.

Grains, another staple of Peruvian cuisine, are plentiful at Latin America Travel Services. There were wheat berries--both white and green--as well an Kiwicha Amaranto, a whole grain in the quinoa family but with more protein. You can use it as cereal and also add it to soups. And, they have quinoa as well. I also found several varieties of large dried corn kernels (similar to what's used for corn nuts). I've bought versions of these in the past. They're fun to toast in a little oil and salt for a snack or to sprinkle on a meat dish.

On a shelf nearby were jars of quite large purple olives. I bought the ones on the left below and have been enjoying their salty meatiness as a snack.

The Centurions have a full line of tropical juices and nectars, including chicha morada, made with purple corn and said to lower blood pressure. And, if you want to make your own, they sell bags of purple corn on the cob. Just boil it with pineapple rind, cinnamon, and cloves. You only need to use one cob, according to Tomas Centurion. A little goes a long way.

Related to chicha morada is chicha de jora, a fermented corn liquid which is tangy like a vinegar. In Peru, it's a beer-like drink but at Sr. Centurion's suggestion, I've been using it in marinades for meats.

Back in the room with the freezer Sr. Centurion pulled out a number of bags of frozen corn and potatoes, and caigua, an unusual long green vegetable that can be used for stuffing. Chef Ron shows you how to prepare it, and has a recipe for quinoa salad that uses caigua.

One of the products that got Chef Ron most excited was the Aji Amarillo, a yellow pepper paste with heat, but also an earthy aromatic quality that makes it sublime in stews. I bought a jar of that and Panca Pepper. This is aji panca, red chile paste from a chile that grows in the Andes. I recently used it in a braised lamb shank dish.

In the spirit of the morning, as we left Latin America Travel & Services I suggested to Ron that we have lunch at a little restaurant/market in Clairemont that also focuses on Latin America: Tropical Star. When we walked in, we both started laughing because on the shelves were many of the same products we'd just left.

Well, Tropical Star's focus is more about Puerto Rican and Latin American cuisine, but there obviously are overlaps. If you love Latin American and Caribbean cuisine it's a place worth visiting. Here, the focus is on the restaurant--tiny as it is--with a sideline in groceries (unlike many of my favorite ethnic markets, which also have small eateries). You'll find Cuban dishes like Ropa Vieja, Cuban-style shredded beef seasoned with garlic, onion, and bell peppers served with white rice, black beans, fried plantains, and boiled yucca; and Picada Colombiana, a Columbian feast of chorizo, morcilla (black sausage), chicarron (pork rinds, of course), patacones (fried green plantains), papas criolla (yellow potatoes), yucca frita (fried yucca), and arepa (a cornmeal griddle cake). There are empenadas from Argentina, Salvadoran pupusas, Brazilian bauru, and Puerto Rican arroz con pollo.

And, the groceries. We saw many of the same items we Tomas Centurion showed us along with some other interesting products, like bags of delicious crispy yucca chips.

I picked up small tins of octopus and squid, a container of dulce de leche, and some homemade cookies that were thick and deliciously crumbly.

Finally, if you're looking for yet another shop for Latin American and Caribbean groceries, there's Andres Latin Market, attached to Andre's Restaurant on Morena Blvd. in Bay Park. It's got a lovely assortment of many of these same items, as well as fresh produce, sausages, sweets, and prepared foods.

Latin American Travel & Services is located at 3636 Fifth Ave., Suite 204 in Hillcrest. The phone number is 619-296-9579.

Tropical Star is located at 6163 Balboa Ave. in the Crest Shopping Mall in Clairemont. The phone number is 858-874-7827.

Andres Latin Market is located at 1235 Morena Blvd. in Bay Park. The phone number is 619-275-6523.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's Time for Celebrate the Craft

I probably shouldn't admit this, but I think Celebrate the Craft is my favorite of all the big food events in San Diego. It's intimate and because of that the food is unfailingly spectacular. Chef Jeff Jackson of A.R. Valentien brings together over a dozen of his colleagues around town, and pairs them with regional farmers, vintners, and food artisans.

This is Celebrate the Craft's seventh year and as always, it takes place on the Arroyo Terrace at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. This year, it's being held on Sunday, Nov. 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. And, who's doing the cooking? Paul Arias of The Fishery, Pete Balistreri of Tender Greens, Daniel Boling of The Grill at Torrey Pines, Andrew Spurgin and Donald Coffman of Waters Fine Catering, Antonio Friscia of Stingaree, Christian Graves of JSix, personal chef Amiko Gubbins, Nine-Ten’s Jason Knibb, Javier Placencia of Romesco Baja Med, Carl Schroeder of Market, Brian Sinnott of 1500 Ocean, Monica Szepesy of Q’ero, Tim Kolanko of A.R. Valentien, Timothy Au of Marriot Hotels, and culinary instructor James Foran of Grossmont College.

They'll be collaborating with names you may already know: Crows Pass Farms, Bread & Cie, Catalina Offshore Products, La Milpa Organica Farms, Jack Fisher Confections, and many more. Plus, they'll have wine makers from up and down the California coast, including Kalin Cellars, Tablas Creek Vineyard, and Far Niente.

Tickets are $65 per person and may be purchased on The Lodge at Torrey Pines website.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keep It or Toss It? StillTasty Has Advice on Food Safety

Ever worry about eating eggs after the expiration date? Wonder about the best way to defrost frozen chicken or store oranges? Pondered if vinegar ever goes bad?

Then you need to check out and bookmark StillTasty: Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide ( The site can help you decide whether to keep or toss edible items—everything from condiments and oils to snacks and baked goods. Their sources include the food safety research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with state government organizations and non-profits that conduct studies of food storage and safety.

So, can you safely eat a whole chicken that been in the freezer for two years? According to StillTasty, yes, but it may not taste all that good.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Knight Salumi: The Best Cure for Meat

As an unapologetic carnivore, I've had some of the most pleasurable moments of my life occur while tasting all the innovative ways great chefs and cooks prepare meat. So, when I first came across Rey Knight and his salumis--the spicy sopressata with its big coarse nodes of fat, the garlicky cacciatori, and the buttery coppa molina--I knew I was in trouble with the cholesterol gods. If salumi is irresistible temptation, Rey Knight is surely the devil. But, what a wonderful hell it is!

Then Rey invited me to hang out with him and one of his partners Albert Juarez at Knight Salumi. The two work side by side creating stunningly delicious cured, fresh, and aged meats. Rey's developed some 22 recipes drawn from regional Italian traditions but with his own twist. At any given time he has six or so types of salumi in production to produce 500 pounds of packaged product weekly. They're sold at 16 local farmers markets, at shops including Venissimo and Taste Artisan Cheese, and online on a wonderful website called Foodzie. Plus, Knight Salumi is served at a dozen local restaurants, from Cafe Chloe and Urban Solace to Starlite, Cucina Urbana, and Farm House Cafe.

Knight Salumi now seems inevitable. Rey grew up in rural Montana, where he made elk proscuitto and moose ham from animals his dad hunted. He attended the Culinary Institute of America, earning a BA in restaurant management while taking the school's charcuterie program. For 15 years, he was in restaurant kitchens as a chef, including at The Linkery in North Park, where he developed the charcuterie program.

But two years ago he decided to follow his passion and devote his energies to salumi. Fortunately, his brother-in-law Matt Gordon had his own kitchen at Urban Solace. So Knight started developing his business in the Urban Solace kitchen before moving to his own place in an industrial park in Kearny Mesa. Now he's expanded that kitchen to meet the growing demand, and may be expanding again, even including a 500-pound smoke oven so he can make mortadella and pates.

It's a cliche to say that you shouldn't watch sausages being made, but I have to tell you that in Knight Salumi's case, it's a wonderful thing. The pork is ground, as is the fat, to varying particle sizes depending on the product being made. Sopressata, for instance, gets a coarse grind of fat because Rey's looking for particle definition. As the particles of meat lose water and shrink--sometimes by 70 percent, the fat takes center stage. "It's like dough, but we're elongating proteins not gluten," Rey explains. "This way the meat encases the fat for a nice presentation in each slice."

When I was visiting, Albert was doing the grinding for a batch of sopressata while Rey was wrestling with a 55-gallon barrel of beef intestines that were to be used as the casings. Each drum holds 200 sets of beef intestines that can be 50 yards long each (The barrels don't go to waste; Rey saves them to make beer.). Rey uses the beef intestines for cured meats and hog casings for fresh products and his coppa molina. I watched him pull the intestines into a large sink and untangle them one by one, rinsing each to get rid of the salt they're packed in.

Once the chitlins were rinsed and ready, the men began the process of stuffing, tying off each sausage with a clipper, pricking them with holes to release air, and then hanging them on racks which are then lined up in an odiferous aging chamber to dry. Initially the salamis expand in the fermentation process, then, as water evaporates, they shrivel up and grow a lovely coat of mold.

Some 6,000 pounds of salamis at different stages of curing make for an amazing aroma. I saw newly aging salumis, still plump but embraced in a bold sweater of puffy white mold above me. Nearby were racks with older salumis, a little wrinkled now with the mold more of a gauzy white. If you love salami, this is really a beautiful sight. If you love nature, you can appreciate microbiology doing its thing in front of you.

Knight Salumi uses a variety of suppliers, including Niman Ranch, Eden Natural, and Cargill's Good Nature Line. He also buys from local producer, Dave Heafner of Da-Le Ranch. You won't find any nitrates in Knight Salumi products. And, while most of the attention he gets is for his salumi, he makes an outrageous pancetta, as well as hams and speck--a lovely smoky product infused with juniper and coriander that takes up to 90 days to cure.

So, let's say you buy a Knight salumi; how do you store it? Well, if it's a dry salami, wrap it in paper an keep it in the refrigerator. If you like it firmer, keep it on a shelf instead. It'll last from four months to a year. If it's a cured product or fresh sausage, keep it refrigerated at under 40 degrees.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Talking About Ethnic Markets on KPBS-FM's These Days

I did my monthly food hour on These Days with host Maureen Cavanaugh on Oct. 5, talking about San Diego's wonderful ethnic markets. Chef Trey Foshee of George's at the Cove joined us.

We covered a lot of territory, and there were listener requests on the These Days website asking for a list of the markets we talked about. I provided them with my list -- not comprehensive but as thorough as I could get -- and it's here below. You can also read the transcript or listen to the show on


  • 99 Ranch Market (7330 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. San Diego,CA 92111 858-974-8899)
  • Mitsuwa Marketplace (4240 Kearny Mesa Rd # 119 San Diego, CA 92111-3772 (858) 569-6699)
  • Nijiya (3860 Convoy St., #109, San Diego, CA 92111 (858) 268-3821)
  • First Korean Market (4625 Convoy St. San Diego, CA 92111-2309 (858) 278-8303)
  • Zion Market (4611 Mercury St. San Diego, CA 92111-2419 (858) 268-3300)
  • Lucky Seafood (9326 Mira Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92126 (858) 586-7979)
  • Sage French Cake (3860 Convoy St #112 San Diego, CA 92111 (858) 571-3484)
  • Sun Flour Bagel (96955 El Camino Real Ste 105, Carslbad, CA 92009 (760) 929-8047)
  • Marukai (8111 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92111-2421)
  • Seafood City (Four locations in National City, Chula Vista and Mira Mesa
  • Northgate Gonzalez Market 21 (1410 S 43rd St San Diego, CA 92113-4105 (619) 266-6080)
  • Foodland Mercato (Five locations in San Diego)
  • Tropical Star Restaurant and Specialty Market (6163 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92111 (858) 874-7827)
  • Mercado 2000 International (1415 3rd Ave Chula Vista, CA 91911-4905 - (619) 427-7701)
  • Pata Negra Market (1657 Garnet Ave San Diego, CA 92109-3117 (858) 274-7282‎)
  • Pancho Villa's Farmers Market (3245 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA (619) 584-4595) ‎
Middle Eastern
  • Balboa International Market (5907 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92111 (858) 277-3600)
  • Parsian International Market (4020 Convoy St. San Diego, CA 92111-3726 - (858) 277-7277)
  • North Park Produce (3551 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92104 (619) 516-3336)
Eastern European/Jewish
  • Continent European Deli ( 4150 Regents Park Row Suite 110 La Jolla, CA 92037 (858) 623-0099)
  • D.Z. Akins (6930 Alvarado Rd San Diego, CA 92120-5305 (619) 265-0218)
  • Elijah’s (8861 Villa La Jolla Drive, La Jolla - (858) 455-1461)
  • Ralph’s Kosher Experience (La Jolla/Nobel)
  • Sausage King (811 W Washington St. San Diego, CA 92103)
  • S.A. Deli (8360 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Suite 112 San Diego, CA 92111 (858) 694 0212
  • Ker and Little India (9520 Black Mountain Rd San Diego, CA 92126 (858) 566-0034)
  • Indian Sweets and Spices (5440 Clairemont Mesa Blvd # B San Diego, CA 92117-2357 (858) 277-5787)
(Big thanks to Wendy Fry of KPBS for taking my list, adding links and addresses/phone numbers and sending me the xhtml code!)

Any suggestions for what we should cover next month? The obvious is Thanksgiving, but I'm open to other ideas.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Playing with Fire? Nah, Just Dragon Fruit

On Mon., Oct. 5, I'll be on KPBS radio's "These Days" with Chef Trey Foshee of George's at the Cove talking about ethnic markets. He and I are big fans of these markets, loving them not just for the amazing products you find, but for the cultural experience of diving into another world.

I bring this up because people often remark on how uncomfortable they are at the idea of going to, say, 99 Ranch Market or Mitsuwa, Northgate Gonzalez or Lucky Seafood. They're worried that they won't know what to buy, that no one will understand them, or they're just intimidated by being someplace "foreign."

So, I tell you this story to underscore how completely non-intimidating these wonderful stores can be and how they have the potential to change the way you shop, cook, and eat.

Yesterday I decided to stop by several of my favorite places to pick up virtual "show and tell" items for the show. Listeners won't see them, but host Maureen Cavanaugh will and she likes to try new things. I walked around 99 Ranch picking up my favorite garlic peanuts, a package of sesame ball cookies, some packaged lily buds (great for hot and sour soup), and finally landed in the produce department. They had fresh water chestnuts, which I'd hoped for, and daikon, of course. Then I saw something unfamiliar. These brilliant fuschia dragon fruit (also known as Pitaya or Pitahaya Fruit).

I've heard of them, of course, but I don't actually recall having seen them--but here they are in a big bin and I've just got to have a couple. But, what do I do with them?

Well, I could just get some and go home and Google them, but there was a woman standing there, picking one up and turning it around in her hands, putting it down, and picking up another with apparent experience with the fruit. So, I asked her, "What do you do with them?" She and I got into a conversation about how you eat the fruit (she cuts off the ends, slices them lengthwise and peels the fruit like a banana), how you can add them to fruit salad, what a great deal they were because they're from Vietnam and not locally grown. Did I know they grow on cactus? It was terrific.

She showed me how to pick out nice ones (look for a bright color, no marks, firm but with a little give--"like kiwi," she said) and I started to move on. Then I saw another woman stop in front of the bin and ask her the same question. Then another. Soon there were about half a dozen Asian women and me, the lone Caucasian Jewish woman, standing around discussing the relative merits of dragon fruit. After about five minutes of animated discussion, everyone filled their carts and walked away satisfied.

This goes on all the time. Long ago I learned not to be shy in these situations from my mother, who often parks herself in front of an unfamiliar item and just waits for someone to come by so she can ask. And, she's gotten some great recipes out of that strategy.

So, really, there's nothing to fear when it comes to shopping at ethnic markets. Just be your friendly, inquisitive, polite self and ask someone for help. They'll probably love being considered an expert.

As for the dragon fruit, I took a couple home and still did my research. They're very nutritious (with carotene, calcium, B1, B2, B3, phosphorus, and Vitamin C) and are full of fiber. Interestingly, they aren't pollinated during the day by bees. Instead, they have huge aromatic flowers that bloom at night, with pollination performed by bats and moths.

How do you eat them? Sure, you can follow the lead of my new friend, but you can also just slice them in half lengthwise, slide a large spoon between the inedible skin and the flesh (which you'll see is studded with lots of itty bitty black edible seeds), and remove the flesh.

It's very dramatic looking, which is good, because, honestly, dragon fruit aren't a powerhouse of flavor in the same way mangos and papayas are (again, think kiwi). But, you can cut the fruit up and add it to a salad, eat it plain, juice it, or perhaps make it part of a tropical drink, like a daiquiri as @PaulaJohns suggested on Twitter. I'm also thinking smoothie or even a tropical homemade ice cream. Of course, you can also make it part of a sauce or even salsa. I found a couple of recipes on Your Produce Man's website for dragon fruit sauce, salsa, and chutney.

I hope you'll tune in on Monday. Trey and I have a lot of other great places and products to share in the hopes that you'll stop just driving by these stores and, instead, make a point of stopping in and trying something new.

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