I rarely manage to get up to Rancho Santa Fe but this month I've been there two Saturdays in a row. The first was to meet my friend, garden writer and author Debra Lee Baldwin, for lunch at the home of artist Sunna Bohlen. Debra met Sunna recently in the course of researching a story and not only did they hit it off, but they decided to bring me into the fold, given my interest in art, gardens (Sunna designed a lovely one for her property) and, of course, food -- for Sunna is also a talented cook. She specializes in French cuisine but also is quite adept in her native Korean cuisine. And that's what she prepared for us at my request.
We were seated at a long table on one of the hilltop patios that surround her spacious, light-filled home. To the right of us was a magnificent rose garden in full bloom with voluptuous, velvety scarlet Ingrid Bergman roses. A sparkling blue lap pool lay in front of us seguing into sprawling southwest views reaching past Del Mar and toward the ocean. The setting alone would have been enough, but thanks to Sunna we enjoyed a large chive pancake with a marvelous spicy sauce as our first course. Then she left us for a few minutes, returning with a huge platter of stir-fried glass noodles with thinly sliced beef and a variety of vegetables and a collection of petite bowls filled with tasty homemade pickles and other condiments. The meal ended with her sumptuous chocolate mousse accompanied by impossibly wispy, light-as-air but crisp cookies she made with meringue and almond flour.
As we were leaving, Sunna's son Daniel stopped by. Daniel, a chef trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, and his wife Michiru own Pantry, a little restaurant down the road in Rancho Santa Fe's village. Debra had been there weeks earlier with Sunna, who often takes a turn at cooking or bringing homemade desserts. The locals know her and love it when she shows up with her chocolate mousse or some other treat.
It sounded irresistible so last Saturday I met Debra there for lunch. It's a sweet, comfortable place filled with Sunna's large abstract paintings, some reminiscent of Rothkos only in more optimistic color palettes. A large patio faces onto the street, and attracts families with small children and dogs. Pantry's theme is "new American comfort food" and the menus are appropriately straight forward. Lunch choices include salads, sandwiches, wraps, pasta, meatloaf, chicken pot pie and the burger I enjoyed. It was a half pound of beef with melted gorganzola and sauteed onions nestled in a light wheat ciabatta-like roll from La Brea Bakery. Accompanied by crispy frites, of course. There's also a hint of Bohlen's Asian inheritance on the menu -- the same glass noodles and beef dish Sunna had prepared for us the week before and a Thai wrap with chicken, vegetables and a delicious peanut sauce, which Debra ordered.
Daniel may be the chef, but Michiru is the baker. Once we finished our lunch, Daniel stopped by our table with a tray of her cookies -- large chocolate chip, oatmeal chocolate chip and brownie chunk cookies.
Not only are they sold at Pantry, but you can find them at Stump's Village Market, Harvest Ranch Encinitas and Del Mar, and Cardiff Seaside Market. My favorite was the chocolate chip, a sweet, salty, chewy mouth pleaser.
Since I was so close, I decided to stop by the Chino Farms produce stand -- the same one, by coincidence, that Ruth Reichl writes about today in her Gourmet Weekly e-newsletter. (FYI, Ruth, as much as I hate to correct you, it's "Chino Farms" not "Chino Ranch." And, actually, the signage for the stand itself is "The Vegetable Stand.") The stand and the 50-acre farm that surrounds it have been around for decades. It's the local mecca for San Diego's top chefs and the inevitable subject of visiting food writers. To my mind, it's a revolving art gallery of edible nature. The beauty of each individual piece of produce is fleeting but stunning while it lasts.
Everyone who visits marvels over the strawberries (indeed, it's the subject of Reichl's mini essay this week). When I was there, the stand had three types of strawberries: the large regular berries, smaller Mara de Bois berries and teeny tiny seductive Alpines -- also called fraises des bois -- that reminded me of the aromatic wild berries I long ago picked by the side of the road in the Magdalene Islands. I bought a pint of the large strawberries, which were just as sweet and juicy as they should be.
Strawberries may be the most talked about item at Chino Farms but they sell a large selection of greens, herbs, root vegetables and, well, so much more in virtually every garish color you could imagine.
Here were some unusual basil sprouts. Use them as a distinctive garnish, add them to salads or as part of a roasted pepper and olive oil appetizer.
Visually, they were tame, though, compared with the colorful array of cauliflower on display that day.
Nearby was an equally outrageous collection of carrots and radishes.
Beets, of course, followed, in hues of red, orange and cream, along with bunches of purple kohlrabi. Then my eye was caught by something less dramatic on the color spectrum but more dramatic to my taste buds: green elephant garlic.
This is the good stuff. Yes, they sell conventionally sized green garlic -- and, of course, I bought a few. I have to take advantage of the short time it's around. But I was bowled over by the idea of trying elephant garlic while it's still young and sweet. Cut into it and you can see the beginnings of the formation of individual cloves but at this stage you slice and/or mince them like onions to saute, add to a sauce or vinaigrette or, what I did: aioli. It's strong but not yet fierce.
That day, Chino Farms also had pints of itty bitty Brussels sprouts, enormous fava beans in the pod and half pints of beans in their jackets. There were lettuces and fennel bulbs, oranges and lemons, fragrant bundles of sage and thyme and a growing crowd of customers eager to get the makings of that evening's dinner.
Yes, we have an ever growing number of farmers markets that are offering us a similar wealth of wonderful produce and they're my regular haunts, but if you do have a chance to stop by Chino Farms, you're in for a real treat, the experience of a long-time San Diego tradition.
Chino Farms is located at 6123 Calzada Del Bosque, just off Via de la Valle. Look for the sign that says "The Vegetable Stand."
Pantry is located at 6024C Paseo Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
When I was about 12 years old, I launched into a weird period in which if I ate spicy food and then I ate chocolate my upper lip began to itch and would then swell up to look like what today we would call a horrifying Botox moment. Think Goldie Hawn in The First Wives Club. It was embarrassing and uncomfortable and to this day I try to avoid that combination.
But, lucky me, that—I think—has been the extent of troubles I’ve had with food, beyond loving it too much, of course. Unfortunately, a growing number of people in the U.S.—some 2 million, or one in 133—are having to live and deal with something far worse and debilitating: celiac disease. For these folks, eating habits must be reinvented. They must live without gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, because their small intestine can’t tolerate it, causing a variety of health problems including gastro-intestinal distress, bloating, fatigue and muscle aches. It’s not easy and not straightforward. They’re giving up more than conventional bread, cookies and pasta. In a world in which so much of what we eat is processed, we don’t know for sure what is added by manufacturers to seemingly safe items. Every purchase of packaged goods at a grocery store can be a potential disaster for someone suffering from celiac disease.
And, of course, for years people suffering from this disease—or from wheat allergies—have either had to avoid dining out or become a server’s worst nightmare, carefully ordering at best a grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables or something equally innocuous and then still worrying because gluten can show up in the oddest places—bread crumbs that extend tuna salad or chicken salad or a slight teaspoon of flour in an omelet. There can be cross-contamination in a kitchen and the restaurant may use packaged products that contain gluten, including items like soy sauce.
Happily, that’s changing, especially in
I was on KPBS radio’s weekday morning show These Days on Tuesday, May 26 at 10 a.m. to discuss gluten-free eating, as well as vegan and sugar-free diets. With me was Erin McKenna, a former San Diegan who now operates BabyCakes, a
I’ve been doing a fair amount of research for this so I thought I’d share my findings, although I don't pretend that this is comprehensive. If you or a loved one are newly diagnosed with celiac disease or have wheat allergies, I hope you find it helpful. And if you’ve got a great resource I’ve missed, please leave a comment so others can benefit from your knowledge.
Restaurants with Gluten-Free Menu Items
Urban Solace (printed menu of options)
Sammy's Woodfired Pizza (offers gluten-free pizza)
Ritual Tavern (has gluten-free vegan or meat shepherd's pie and many gluten-free appetizers, entrees, cider and beer)
Pizza Fusion (has gluten-free and vegan options)
Del Mar Rendezvous (has gluten-free menu with over 40 items)
Markets with Gluten-Free Products
I spent some time at Henry’s and found what looks to me to be a wealth of different items, from salad dressings to frozen meals. Everything is well marked by the store and stocked with similar conventional products. In other words, there’s no special GF section you have to find. Here are some examples of products I found:
Frozen foods: Gluten-Free Café’s Lemon-Basil Chicken, Amy’s Asian Noodle Stir Fry and Indian Paneer Tika. Bagels, bread, pizza crusts
Baking: Pamela’s Cake Mix (chocolate and vanilla), Pamela’s Frosting (chocolate and vanilla), Pamela’s Brownie Mix, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Bread Mix, Baking and Pancake Mix. Arrowhead Mills Brownie Mix, All-Purpose Baking Mix, Pancake & Baking Mix. Four Sisters & A Brother Italian Herbed Breadcrumbs. Red Mill’s vast selection of flours, a baking mix and chocolate cake mix.
Pasta: De Boles rice lasagna noodles, multi-grain angel hair, penne and spaghetti noodles. Ancient Quinoa Harvest spaghetti noodles and shells.
Cookies: Pamela’s chocolate chip mini cookies. Mi-Del ginger snaps
Salad Dressing: There was too much here to list, but included a vast array of Annie’s brand, including Natural Raspberry Vinaigrette, Red Wine and Olive Oil Vinaigrette and Artichoke Parmesan Dressing
Ethnic Foods: Thai Kitchen has a large selection of sauces and rice noodles. Patak has some Indian-style sauces including the Korma Curry, which I’ve used in the past and enjoyed.
Trader Joe’s has a wide assortment of gluten-free products. Their house products are labeled and throughout the store I found some surprising gluten-free options, including salad dressings, chutney, marinara and other tomato sauces, dips, brown rice penne pasta, brownie mix, pancake/waffle mix, granola, sausages and flourless chocolate walnut cookies. I saw the same brown rice bread I bought at Henry's, only on the shelf, not frozen, and less expensive. Look on the shelves for blue tags with a "G" "Gluten-Free" on them. And, here is their list of gluten-free store items, edited as of May 20, 2009.
OB People’s Co-Op has a wide variety of gluten-free products and a staff well-versed in helping customers identify what will work for them.
GNI Bakery in
thepurepantry.com is a website launched by a San Diegan selling gluten-free baking mixes.
Gluten-Free Mall offers a vast selection of products for celiac diets.
Take a look at the big supermarkets, too, but you'll have to look hard. I spent some time at the Ralphs in Hillcrest. They carry a wide selection of Bob's Red Mill products and some Arrowhead Mills gluten-free products. But only one Thai Kitchen packaged meal is labeled gluten-free. Be careful with the Annie's condiments. While the selection that Henry's carries has a number of gluten-free products, read the labels carefully at Ralphs.
For basic information on celiac disease:
On Being Gluten Free:
Living Without magazine
Artist and cookbook writer Karina Allrich has become a friend and is one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve come to know in this arena. Her blog is filled with wonderful recipes and resources, like her gluten-free cheat-sheet. She recently launched a gluten-free recipe search engine on Google and has put together and hosted a marathon gluten-free Twitter party, which you can find on Twitter by searching #gfree.
Shauna Ahern has also been at the forefront of blogging about being gluten free. She’s the author of the book, Gluten-Free Girl. Her blog has a wealth of information and online resources for those with celiac disease. Definitely worth bookmarking.
Vegetarian/Vegan: Some people who are gluten free are also exploring vegetarian and vegan options. Many of these same San Diego markets and restaurants also have vegan options. You can find lists of these at:
All Vegan Shopping website (includes a downloadable PDF of a vegetarian dining guide)
Urban Spoon (includes reader reviews and blog resources)
Happy Cow Compassionate Eating Guide (includes reader reviews)
- Read labels carefully and be on the lookout for wheat, rye, barley, spelt, wheat starch and commercial oats, according to Karina Allrich. “Oats themselves are okay, but those that are commercially grown tend to contain gluten because of cross-contamination,” she explains. “Some small farmers like Bob’s Red Mill are carefully growing oats to give people the option of eating them.”
- When in doubt about a packaged product, look on the label for the customer care or information number for the manufacturer and call to find out if the product is truly gluten free.
- Shop the perimeter of the supermarket. That’s where you’ll find produce, dairy and meats. It’s the center aisles with processed foods that prove difficult and dangerous.
- Enjoy grains like quinoa and buckwheat. Try sorghum flour with its lovely, grassy flavor.
- Ask questions when dining out. Find out if the chef adds anything like flour to egg dishes or breadcrumbs to tuna salad or chicken salad. Many restaurants now have gluten-free menus on request, so be sure to ask if they're available.
- Don’t assume that because spelt is low in gluten that you can eat it or that someone with celiac disease or a wheat allergy can. Allrich says that the equivalent of 1/10th of a grain of rice could set off a sensitive auto-immune system. Low gluten isn't no gluten; it doesn’t help and could make someone very ill.
- Make sure you keep gluten-free items and conventional items completely separate and well labeled so you don’t inadvertently cross-contaminate the gluten-free products.
Note: If you'd like a copy of BabyCakes, please leave a comment below. I have two copies to give two readers. Tell me your experiences with gluten-free, vegan or sugar-free eating, shopping for food and dining out. More resources? Let us know! The deadline is Friday, June 5 at 5 p.m. PDT. I'll randomly select two readers who have left a comment.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Whisknladle owner Arturo Kassel made a splash when he and chef Ryan Johnston reinvented the old Fresh into a stylish comfort-food haven for those who love their food hand crafted. Now the duo has taken the
Open for only two weeks, PrepKitchen is still a work in progress but already there are some big reasons to check it out. There’s the tender herb-roasted piece of halibut with a chimichurri-style sauce that is usually roasted in butter but was readily prepared on request with olive oil. A confit tuna salad is simply all about the sweet, tender chicken of the sea with no distractions like celery or mayo. Enjoy as one of their sandwiches or take home a half pint container and make your own.
In fact, the collection of half- and full-pint “snacks” or sides are home runs. If you enjoy Whisknladle’s stuffed piquillo peppers, you’ll be happy to know you can find them here, along with a mouth-teasing dish of roasted and marinated mushrooms, a sweet and crunchy eggplant caponata and a marvelous rustic potato salad, made with tender fingerling potatoes, sliced and whole green olives and strips of colorful marinated peppers. The couscous with plump dried apricots, slivered almonds and cilantro grows on you with every bite and the marinated olives pop in the mouth.
Not as impressive was the roasted Jidori chicken, which needs brighter flavors, moister white meat and a crispy skin. And the pure flavors of the perfectly cooked, slow-roasted Niman Ranch Tri-Tip beef were overwhelmed by the throat-catching heat of the dominant black pepper crust.
The Pear, Endive & Smokey Blue cheese salad with its bright balsamic vinaigrette is enjoyable and can be shared by two along with your meal. And you really want to bring home a selection of the house-cured meats. Take a taste of the smooth and luscious mortadella. In fact, take tastes period. You’ll find it’s the only way to choose from the enticing variety of dishes on display.
And, if you have any dietary issues, speak up. Joe, the PrepKitchen chef, seems happy to accommodate. Of course, there’s no changing the salted caramel, hazelnut and fudge brownie. And no reason to; it’s a sweet, salty, crunchy gooey combo in a small package that is a perfect end to satisfying meal.
PrepKitchen is located at
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
For generations business people enjoyed the elegant, clubby feel of The Grant Grill. But things began to slide, the U.S. Grant was sold and we waited while it found a new identity. That was a couple of years ago and the place couldn't be nicer. And with all the changes in the hotel, there were also dramatic changes in The Grant Grill, including the arrival of executive chef Mark Kropczynski and chef de cuisine Chris Kurth.
Kurth joined Robert Whitley and me today for a conversation about the restaurant and its renewed emphasis on contemporary American cuisine. He's all about local, seasonal and sustainable and it shows in his menu. Join us for a terrific conversation about The Grant Grill and Kurth's approach to dining. And check out the beef tasting menu from May 30 to June 13.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
I admit it. I just don't go up to North County all that often, or at least as often as I should. But I've reconnected with a cousin who lives in Escondido and she finally convinced me to come up on Cinco de Mayo to go with her and her husband to their farmers market.
Of course, I couldn't refuse. And, as it turned out, a friend of mine was there as well.
The market is held year-round on Tuesday afternoons in downtown Escondido on Grand Ave. on the block between Kalmia and Juniper. Here I found a lot of familiar folks -- Majestic Garlic, George Petrou, J. R. Organics and Smit Orchards. But, there were some stand-out folks I hadn't met and items that were either irresistibly gorgeous or that I hadn't seen before. So, I'll share:
In the irresistibly gorgeous category was the produce of The Morning Star Ranch from Valley Center. I don't think I've ever seen Swiss chard or carrots or lettuce quite so stunning. "We grow with love," said the gentleman in the booth. And, they welcome visitors to the ranch.
Now, if you can't make it up to Escondido, no worries. They also have a stand at the Ocean Beach farmers market on Wednesday afternoons.
Also in the gorgeous produce category were the offering of J. R. Organics. I've seen them at the La Jolla farmers market and love their radishes and carrots. They had plenty of them available at the Escondido market.
But, I also found some lovely spring onions and also bought a big red head of butter lettuce.
Now, we tend to gravitate to the beautiful and produce is no exception. But sometimes it should be. The best apples tend to be the homely ones and sometimes you have to be a little forgiving aesthetically with other produce. I found these small -- not really baby -- purple artichokes and bought half a dozen. They weren't the prettiest around but they were delicious.
I basically just trimmed them, cut them in quarters and put them in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Then I drained them, tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them for about 20 minutes at 425 degrees. While they were cooking I put several ounces of rotini pasta in the artichoke water and made a little dressing with olive oil, minced green garlic, lemon juice and minced anchovies. I toasted some pine nuts, shaved some Parmigiano Reggiano and when everything was cooked, put it all together for a lovely dinner -- actually, it ended up being enough for dinner and lunch a day later. Not bad for two bucks.
On the south side of the market, look for Valley Center's Behneman Family Farms' citrus and avocados. I bought several avocados for a ridiculous price. And, not just Hass avocados but a variety called Zutano, which are the first of the season. They have a bigger seed than Hass with a shiny yellow-green skin. They're very buttery and tasty. Because of the thin skin, they don't travel well, so if you want to try something a little different, you'll have to seek these out at the farmers market.
I also bought a bag of delicious tangelos from them, which I turned into Mother's Day marmalade gifts (thank you Ina Garten for writing completely reliable, delicious recipes. This was from her Barefoot Contessa at Home book).
With Sunday being Mother's Day, I think most of the wonderful local PR folks I know expected me to post a list of their clients' Sunday brunches. But no. I'd have to include pretty much every restaurant in town and, well, I'm just not going to do that.
Instead I'm going to celebrate my mom, Evie Golden, and one of her most celebrated talents among those who know her -- entertaining. For as long as I can remember, she's pretty much been the queen of dinner parties. My dad was in the museum "business" so curators, donors, artists and other colleagues were always coming over. Plus, my parents have always loved to have friends and family at the house for meals. My mom is an astoundingly good cook, someone whose gift I continue to aspire to. I regularly served as her sous chef, server and dish washer (actually, I still do). I was told, "watch and learn" -- and that continues today. She doesn't do that much entertaining any more but she did have eight guests over for Passover last month and some habits die hard. For weeks ahead of time she was chopping, cooking and freezing. The day before the Seder, the table was set. The day of, only the last-minute cooking and reheating were involved. By the time the guests arrived, she was (fairly) rested, ready and able to enjoy the meal along with everyone else.
So, what's her secret? I sat down with her for lunch at a little Vietnamese restaurant recently and asked her straight out what she thinks are the keys to a successful dinner party. Watch and learn:
1. Plan your your meal around one special dish and keep the rest simple so you can have a focal point. Most people think that's the big protein -- a leg of lamb, roasted chicken -- but it can also be a very special, exotic side dish.
2. Don't feel that you have to make every dish. Make some yourself and buy some that are prepared -- like side dishes, desserts or appetizers. "Back when I was really entertaining a lot, there wasn't much available so we had to do almost everything ourselves, but today you can go to Trader Joes, Whole Foods, Bristol Farms or ethnic markets and get some very good prepared foods," she says.
3. When planning the dishes, try to make them stand out in color, texture and, of course, flavor. (I took this to heart. For a recent dinner I planned to serve roasted chicken and rice with dill and fava beans but I was stumped over the vegetable. Mom shook her head at the idea of asparagus or baby artichokes. "Color!," she decreed. So, I decided to head over to Specialty Produce to pick up multi-colored mini carrots and red-and-green micro beet greens. The carrots were trimmed and steamed, then tossed in melted butter and honey, lemon juice, the minced greens from a stalk of green garlic, and salt and pepper -- and placed on a bed of the beet greens.)
4. Make what you can ahead of time and freeze it. That could be soup stock or homemade ice cream or even a pot roast.
5. Along the same lines, do your prep work in advance -- chop herbs, marinate proteins, make your salad dressing. Then, the day of the dinner, much of what you have to do is just heating up and putting everything together.
6. Feel free to use short cuts. Make a pie using a prepared pie crust (I like the ones Trader Joe's sells) or a tart with puff pastry dough.
7. The day before the dinner party, write a time chart of what needs to be done, step by step, so you know when to pre-heat the oven, when to take out meat from the refrigerator to come to room temperature, when to start heating soup, when to start the grill -- whatever. Add time for getting yourself (and your family) ready, feeding the dog, vacuuming. Basically, you want everything in your day to be accounted for so that you don't have a last-minute crisis and to make sure that your dishes are ready to serve at the right time. And -- very important so that you won't be exhausted by the time your guests arrive -- with a detailed time chart you can pace yourself throughout the day with little tasks.
8. On the day of the dinner party, take out your serving dishes and utensils, write their function on a post-it note, then tag it. That way, you don't have to think about what goes where when your company arrives and you're distracted.
9. Set the table the day before or early that morning. Pull out wine glasses or whatever you'll need for apertifs, clean them and set up that space.
10. Clean up and put things away as you go along so you're not facing piles of dirty dishes, pots and pans after your guests have left.
And, most important, don't worry so much about impressing your guests with your cooking and focus more on making them comfortable. The more relaxed you are, the more fun everyone will have.
She's right. She always is. Thanks for everything you've taught me and continue to show me! Happy Mother's Day, Mom!
Only the best San Diego sushi restaurant can serve you the freshest sushi and the most delicious Japanese food in town.
We had some fun on San Diego Gourmet with Giuseppe Ciuffa of Giuseppe Restaurants & Fine Catering! If you've enjoyed lunch at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's Museum Cafe, you've definitely enjoyed Ciuffa's cooking.
Robert, Maureen and I got some wonderful tips about warm weather foods, everything from what types of dishes work best for a picnic to how to actually make a good pasta salad. And, oh, his description of his mother's artichoke dishes. You've got to hear it! And you can -- below:
Monday, May 4, 2009
We've got a couple of big events coming up this month and chefs are in the thick of it to help.
Following the reception, guests will enjoy dinner by the Sheraton’s executive chef Steve Black, dancing to the big-band tunes of Society Beat and an evening emceed by Channel 8’s Barbara-Lee Edwards.
Last year’s event raised more than $725,000 to help recruit leading physician-scientists to the Moores UCSD Cancer Center, who provide care to cancer patients throughout the greater San Diego area. For ticket information, go to celebritychefscook.org or call Jennilyn Tan at 858-822-0023.
Also on May 16 is the 5th annual ARTSea Cafe, hosted by A Reason to Survive (ARTS) in San Diego. To be held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront from 6 to 10 p.m., the event is inspired by the power of art and music -- and so is the food.
Among the participating chefs are Culinary Chair and executive chef Andrew Spurgin of Waters Fine Catering, Christian Graves of Jsix at Hotel Solamar, Brian Malarkey of The Oceanaire, Antonio Friscia of Stingaree, Katie Grebow of Cafe Chloe, Jason Knibb of Nine-Ten and Patrick Dahms of Vela at Hilton San Diego Bayfront.
You can purchase tickets, become a sponsor or make a donation at the web site.