Monday, December 27, 2010

Cheesemaking 101 a la Venissimo

"If you can't make ricotta, you probably shouldn't be in the kitchen."

So says Chef Jack Fisher of Nine-Ten--according to Gina Frieze. Frieze, the owner of Venissimo Cheese and self-described "Cheese Wiz." Frieze teaches a class on making both ricotta and mozzarella at her downtown shop, and it's great fun.

This is a demonstration class so you won't be getting your hands dirty here, but be prepared to eat. For while Frieze alternates between showing the various steps taken to make both cheeses, she'll also be offering plates of all sorts of decadent cheeses to try, along with a few wines. Among the selections were a delightful Boscetto, a goat cheese infused with truffles, and Verde Capra, a beautiful and exotic blue goat cheese.

But, to the cheese making. Frieze explains that there is some basic equipment you'll need, including a heavy (non-aluminum) pot, non-mesh colanders (the cheese tends to stick in the tiny spaces), a food thermometer, and cheese cloth.

That evening she started with the ricotta because it needs time to strain and drain. Talk about your three-ingredient recipes. All you need for robust ricotta is a gallon of milk (of any fat content), a quart of buttermilk for richness and to add a tangy flavor, and a teaspoon of salt, again for flavor. Okay, if you're a little nervous about whether or not it will all come together you can add a teaspoon of citric acid, but it's optional.

Basically, all you do is combine the ingredients and heat over a medium flame until the mixture reaches 180 degrees--giving it a periodic stirring while looking for curds to develop. Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then you remove the curds by pouring the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined colander set in a larger bowl.

The whey will rush into the larger bowl, leaving the curds, excuse me--the cheese--to drain.

Now you can pour the whey into another container and use it in a power shake, soup stock, to soak beans, make bread, or feed to your tomato plants. (If you have other suggestions, I welcome them in the comments section.) Then place the ball of ricotta over a strainer and let it drain until the whey is drained out and the cheese has cooled. At this point, you can eat it plain or add flavor enhancers--honey, lemon zest, lavender, truffle salt, or herbs, for example. Frieze left it plain and it was smoother and creamier than any packaged version I've had. With this amount of ingredients you'll end up with four to five cups of cheese, but you can easily halve this recipe so you can be sure to eat it within a week.

Mozzarella is a little trickier. Frieze likens it to baking because of the precision that's needed. Again, we're talking few and simple ingredients but it's like watching a good thriller--you're just not sure what the ending will be. Will it all come together in the end or fall apart into little curds?

Our class had a nail biter here. Frieze has made the cheese many times and still admits to the challenge. You need rennet for mozzarella, preferably animal rennet, which comes from the stomach lining of a calf. Yes, you can try vegetarian rennet, which is derived from the thistle, but Frieze doesn't really recommend it. The rennet is dissolved in bottled or non-chlorinated filtered water. Citric acid is also dissolved in filtered water. You'll need a gallon of whole milk, but be sure it isn't ultra-pasteurized. And, you'll need salt for flavoring. That's it.

The method is to first pour the citric acid solution into the bottom of your large stainless steel, teflon, or enamel pot and then add the milk. You'll stir the mixture briskly for 15 seconds and bring the temperature up to 90 degrees over low heat. Then remove the pot from the heat source and stir in the rennet solution using an up-and-down motion, for 15 to 30 seconds.

Cover the pot and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes--or even 30 minutes--until the curd forms. It should look like a smooth custard and the whey should be a yellowish color. It didn't form? Well, Frieze says you can put it back on the heat at this point and bring the temperature of the mixture to 100 degrees and see if the curd forms then. You'll cover the pot again and let it sit another five minutes. Assuming you've now got curd, you'll cut the curd into one-inch cubes and then put it back on the burner, heating the mixture to 105 to 110 degrees, gently stirring to release more whey.

Then it's time to remove the curds with a slotted spoon and place into a colander to drain.

Now, here's where you'll need some patience. Once the curds have drained, put them in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on high for 30 seconds. That's it. This should release more whey, which you'll drain off. Repeat this again until the curd reaches 135 degrees and gentle kneading will pull the cheese together.

You should then be able to knead the cheese almost like bread and stretch it like taffy until the cheese is smooth and shiny (you may have to reheat it again to help it stretch). For a softer cheese texture, stretch and knead less.

You'll add salt at this point--just enough to get the flavor you want. With this amount of ingredients, you should get six to eight smallish balls, which you can now shape and then place in cool water to firm. You can store it in plastic wrap or cold salt water for up to five days or do what we did--eat it immediately.

If you're looking for a source for cheesemaking supplies in San Diego, Frieze recommends Curds & Wine, which is at 7194 Clairemont-Mesa Blvd. (858-384-6566). You can find supplies online at or And, you can sign up for classes at Venissimo on their website.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wilted Winter Greens Phyllo Rolls

I love a holiday appetizer that's healthy without tasting like you're sacrificing anything. So, when I took a class with the marvelous Alisa Barry at Rancho La Puerta's La Cocina Que Canta and tasted her "Savory Ricotta + Wilted Winter Greens Phyllo Rolls" I knew I'd be making them for parties. And I have, twice. Plus, I plan on introducing them to the kids I teach at Olivewood Gardens.

Alisa's recipe is straightforward and divine. I love the crunch of baked phyllo combined with the lusciousness of ricotta and wilted Swiss chard. The touch of nutmeg adds a spicy note. But, what's truly great about this recipe is how versatile it is. Add tiny pieces of preserved lemon. Add toasted walnuts or pine nuts. Or, as I did the last time, add scallions, marash pepper for some subtle heat, and plump raisins soaked in Grand Marnier for sweetness.

The other change I made to Alisa's recipe was to the assembly part. Alisa calls for folding one sheet of phyllo dough twice. That's fine, but yesterday I decided to make the rolls a little thinner so I sliced the sheet in half lengthwise and folded it just once. Since you roll the filled dough like a cigar, it's still plenty thick. But, I leave that to you.

Savory Ricotta + Wilted Winter Greens Phyllo Rolls
Adapted from Alisa Barry

1, 1 pound box frozen phyllo (or filo) dough (follow the directions on the box for thawing)

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups mixed winter greens (Swiss chard, kale, arugula, for example)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 large scallions (green onions), sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Marash pepper or other red pepper flakes
3/4 cup raisins, marinated for at least two hours in Grand Marnier
1 container (15 ounces) of ricotta
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For Assembly:
Olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and spray baking sheet/s with olive oil (or use parchment paper.

2. In a large saute pan, heat oil and add garlic, greens, scallions, and salt. Cook until wilted. Strain excess liquid and add to a medium-sized mixing bowl.

3. Add Marash pepper, ricotta, drained raisins, and nutmeg to greens and mix well.

To assemble, lay out one sheet of phyllo dough* and slice in half lengthwise. Brush both pieces lightly with olive oil. Fold in half lengthwise. Spoon two teaspoons of the filling mix at the short end of the dough and roll up like a cigar. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling, placing each roll on the baking sheet. Brush the rolls with olive oil and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until brown. Depending on the quality of the phyllo and how many usable sheets you get, you should have about 3 dozen rolls.

*Note: When working with phyllo, be sure to keep the sheets from drying out. Dampen a dish towel and lay it over the stacked dough, removing it only to remove a sheet of dough and then placing it back over the stacked dough.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Gift Idea: Homemade Sriracha

Every year I search for a great food idea to turn into a holiday gift. I've made herb rubs, chile de arbol hot sauce, rosemary-infused olive oil, and rugelach. This year, my friend Lorri Allen of Cook's Table posted photos on Facebook of her hot and tangy sriracha sauce. I had to try it and she graciously gave me the recipe. It's one of those sauces that will have different flavors depending on the kinds of peppers you use, but will always be utterly delicious. This was my find, and I've been making jars and jars of it to give to my friends and family. You see, it was also an excuse to finally understand the art of canning.

Canning has been eluding me. I've done all the basics, but haphazardly and, to be honest, chaotically. You wouldn't have wanted to be in my kitchen as I was giving  loquat jam or tangelo marmalade or pickled garlic scapes a hot water bath. It was a mess.

Two things changed that recently. First, I interviewed Susanna Brandenburg, "Executive Pastry Mom" at Tender Greens in Point Loma's Liberty Station. Susanna is a magnificent baker and also makes lovely preserves that you can buy at the restaurant. As we got to talking I mentioned how challenging I've found it was to process the jams and pickles I make. She laid it all out in a simple way that made sense to me and that didn't require my having everything ready at the same time like a juggling act. Then I bought Ball's Complete Book of Home Preserving. Yes, it has hundreds of recipes, but for novice preservers the book's true (and forever appreciated by me) value is on pages 415 to 419. Finally, an illustrated and easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide to processing. And, it went right along with what Susanna had told me.

With this guide in hand, I could make large batches of Lorri's sriracha without having to tell people to eat it immediately or else. They can sit in a pantry for months safe and bacteria free.

So, onward with Lorri's recipe. To get good heat, you'll want fresh, powerful chiles. My great fortune has been that my friend Angela Nava brought me a beautiful ristra of fresh chiles from Seattle that I've been thinning out.

Red jalapenos are good, as are serranos, banana chiles, manzanos -- whatever you can find. And, if you or family members can't take any heat? No problem. I made this for my mom just using red bell peppers. It's not the same, but it is delicious.

The other note I should make here is that Lorri's recipe doesn't call for processing. This is something I decided to do to preserve the sauce. So, if you're not game to do that part of it, you don't have to. But you will have to keep the jars you make in the fridge and use it fairly quickly.

Sriracha Sauce
(Printable Recipe)
Makes about 3 pints

4 cups chopped chiles (3 1/2 cups red bells and 1/2 cup combination of hot peppers)
10 cloves garlic, smashed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce

Chop the chiles and place in a medium-size bowl. Add garlic, salt, and vinegar. Cover and let sit on the counter overnight or eight hours.

In the morning, remove the peppers and garlic from the bowl and place in a saucepan. Add one cup of the vinegar mixture, half a cup of water, and the two tablespoons of brown sugar. Add more vinegar if you want a more tart and thinner sauce. Bring to a boil and then simmer for five minutes.

Remove from heat and cool slightly. Then whirl in the food processor or blender until smooth.

If you do opt to process jars of the sauce, follow the directions in the Ball book or however you process, leaving the sealed jars to boil for 15 minutes.

Not only can you use the sauce in the usual ways for hot sauce, you can add it to a tomato sauce for pasta to give it a nice tangy, garlicky flavor.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

My Bread Baking Adventures, Part 2: Pain au Levain

This book just keeps impressing me more and more. Over the weekend, I made two loaves of the pain au levain, or naturally leavened sourdough bread. It's a bread that is made up of a tad of whole wheat flour with unbleached bread flour. The starter, which uses the mother starter, along with additional bread flour, wheat flour, and water, is straightforward.

Basically, this simply involves combining all the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer (or a bowl if you're doing it by hand), letting it work its mixing magic for about a minute and a half, then transferring it to a lightly floured surface and kneading for -- wow -- 30 seconds. I may use rye flour next time but here you can just see flecks of whole wheat.

I put the starter in a loosely covered, lightly oiled bowl and let it rise for eight hours. It should increase by one and a half times the original size and be nice and poofy. And, indeed, mine did and was. I then refrigerated it overnight before adding the rest of the water, flour, and salt. You can also add additional yeast, but I went for the "purist" version and let my mother starter do the work. Following Peter Reinhart's directions, you work it in the mixer briefly, then you take the now tacky soft dough out for intervals of periodic working and resting. I probably should have added a tad more flour at this point because it was still quite wet, but I stretched out the dough and folded it back on each side. Then it rested for 10 minutes. Then I did it all again. You do this three times. Then, back into the bowl to refrigerate overnight. The idea is that chilling the dough for this longer time will give it more flavor than baking on the same day. If I really wanted to intensify the flavors, I could let it sit for up to three days in the fridge.

Instead, I opted for overnight. So Sunday was baking day. I took the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature for two hours. Then it was time to shape the loaves and, 45 minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven. Here's when things got dicey. I had a fairly wet dough that I put into two oiled and floured oval bannetons. I let the loaves proof for another two hours.

I probably should have added more flour to the dough earlier, but it turned out not to have mattered much given the outcome. Yes, they looked pretty awful when I turned the loaves out onto the pizza peel covered with a sheet of parchment paper. They spread, they creased. They crept into each other and I kept pushing them apart. They just didn't look like they'd turn into anything worthwhile. But into the hot oven they went and 30 minutes later...

The crust is crispy, the interior chewy and light with great tangy flavor. So, one more delicious bread to add to my arsenal. I think next time I'll also play around with olives or cheese or sauteed onions and garlic. What do you think?

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Monday, December 6, 2010

The Farmers Market Egg Challenge

Have I got a treat for you! I recently got to speak about food blogging at Chef Deborah Schneider's UCSD Extension food writing class and met a wonderful young writer named Erin Smith. She talked about a project she did for Deb that compared eggs from various farms and I was so intrigued I asked her to send it to me. I was thoroughly impressed, and it led me to a first for San Diego Foodstuff; I asked if she would be interested in my publishing it as a guest post. I think you'll agree that this is a hugely useful piece, especially as we head into holiday baking. Enjoy -- and enjoy Erin's blog, Butterbadge.

With the holidays and special meals coming up, it makes sense to seek out the best ingredients, including the eggs that go into our cakes, cookies, and custards. The Farmer’s Markets of San Diego have a diverse selection of eggs ranging from conventionally produced to those raised on small farms on grains, vegetables, or grass. We’ve had our favorites, but this year we decided to do some more formal research to figure out the best eggs for our holidays.

As a child, I knew that the best eggs were the ones in our yard. Our pet chicken Brownie was a small, white, fluffy chicken with a serious attitude. The queen of the yard, she would get into my mother’s vegetable garden to peck the green pepper plants down to the roots, and it paid off in her eggs. We’d search the yard to find her nest, and then Mom would fry them up over-easy in butter with a dash of Lawry’s Seasoning Salt. Brownish-red flecks dotting the bright orange yolks, they were thick and rich with an herbal nuttiness.

Pastured Eggs
Little did I know that Brownie was being raised on our lawn as an enviable “Pastured Poultry” and her eggs as such would now fetch a premium: $8/doz at Whole Foods. Pastured is code for animals that are raised on grassy areas: Brownie received chicken feed, but she spent much of her day outside pecking at grass, peppers, and bugs. This differs from “Free Range” birds that are raised in barns with only minimal required access to the outdoors and “Cage-Free” that aren’t in cages, but have no outdoor access at all.

Pastured poultry is gaining in popularity due in no small part to Joel Salatin’s work at Polyface Farms. Salatin, featured in both The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food, Inc., pioneered the use of egg mobiles that cart around egg-laying hens to fresh regions of pasture daily. While “Pastured” can imply this ideal, in actual practice the meaning can vary. Often, pastured layers get most of their calories from feed; even Salatin’s birds replace only 30 percent of their feed with bugs and grass.

How good are pastured eggs? Descanso Valley Ranch recently began selling them at the Little Italy Farmer’s Market. We set out to do a series of tests and for comparison and included our usual eggs from Schaner Farms, and two commercial sources: one high-end one, Eben-Haezer Ranch, and some regular eggs from Trader Joe’s.

Schaner Farms
Schaner Farms, located in Valley Center, is run by Peter and Kayne Schaner, and their kids. They grow fruits and vegetables, make fresh-squeezed juices, and sell a variety of eggs including duck, turkey, and guinea hen, as well as chicken ($5/doz). We caught up with their oldest son Luke, who feels that the best tasting eggs come from healthy chickens that have been fed a wide variety of foods. Their diet includes a mix designed for egg layers from a grain mill in Riverside, barley mash left over after brewing beer at the local breweries, vegetables that don’t get sold at the market, and left over rinds and pulp from the juicing operation. In nice weather, are placed outside in pens to run around. The eggs that they bring to market on Saturday have been laid from Wednesday through Friday.

Descanso Valley Ranch
Descanso Valley Ranch has a stall at the same market, just a block down the street. They raise pastured eggs ($6/doz) as well as pastured broilers. The broilers are serious: they are of the French Label Rouge-type breed and are the richest, fattiest, most flavorful chickens we’ve ever had. The layers get about 30 percent  of their nutrition from pasture, which has been seeded with oats and barley, and the rest from a grain mix. They don’t irrigate, so the chickens don’t necessarily eat green grass all year: they eat fresh grass in the spring and have been eating grasshoppers all summer. The eggs were laid during the previous week. They feel that the pasture keeps their chickens healthy and provides them with a lot of vitamins like carotene, making for tasty eggs.

Eben-Haezer Ranch
A few stalls down, Kosta Houdalakis from Lisko Imports carries eggs ($3.25/doz when you bring a carton, $4.25 without) from Eben-Haezer Ranch. Eben-Haezer, with 50,000 birds, has been family run for the last 50 years. Many restaurants in the area feature their eggs even though they come at a premium of three times the wholesale price of commercial eggs ($24 vs. $8 for 15 dozen). It is a commercial operation and while the chickens are fed a high quality feed (Veg-A-Pro), these particular eggs are not Free Range or even Cage-Free. Kosta is particular about getting them fresh and the ones we picked up Saturday were laid on Thursday.

Trader Joe's
Our final selection was from Hidden Villa Ranch under the California Ranch Fresh brand ($1.49) at Trader Joe’s. According to the Julian Pack Date on the side of the carton, they were packed on the 292nd day of the year, or Oct 19th: the Tuesday before we picked up our eggs at the market. Eggs can be held before their pack date, but are often packed within only a few days of being laid. So, all of our eggs have probably been laid within the last week to 10 days.

So what makes a good egg?
We started with the standards set by the USDA, a grading system based primarily on appearance. The highest grade, AA, goes to eggs that have high yolks and whites that stand up when the egg is cracked onto a plate and free from defects like shell stains. AA grade eggs will degrade over time to A grade: the whites will flatten out and become more watery. B grade eggs are generally not seen in markets, but are rather used in processed foods, and have very watery whites that spread out easily.

By these measures, both the Eben-Haezer and the California Ranch Fresh rank AA. The Descanso eggs had slightly weaker whites that formed pockets when we fried them, which we’re guessing puts them into the A category. The Schaner eggs had whites that completely spread out, putting them in the B category.

The USDA doesn’t grade on flavor, though. We tried three preparations and compared the eggs head to head. While my partner Dave was blinded, I knew which eggs were which. We started with a simple preparation: plain hard boiled eggs, the yolk and the whites passed through a strainer to make even fluffy piles. There was some variation in flavor, with some having grassy, lemony, buttery, or sulfery tones, but it was really quite difficult to tell which flavors were better. Pressed, Dave picked the Schaner eggs as the worst of the lot, ranking them Descanso, Eben-Haezer, California Ranch Fresh, and Schaner. We both felt uncertain about the results, though.*

For breakfast on Sunday, we chopped up pastured chicken giblets, fried them in butter and sweet shallots, and spread them over toasted multigrain. Fried eggs perched on top with a splash of parsley. This time, it was a complete switch with the Schaner egg a clear winner with a deep, creamy flavor that rounded out the fried organ meats. It was followed by Eben-Haezer and Descanso. California Ranch Fresh finished a distant last: it just lacked flavor and body.

The final test was a vanilla pots de crème, where egg yolks strongly influence texture and depth of flavor. These thick custards are made with cream, milk, sugar, vanilla, and egg yolks, slow cooked in a water bath. Schaner came out ahead with a very creamy texture, silky mouthfeel, and a light and delicate flavor that integrated the sweet cream with warm Mexican vanilla without being overly cloying. Eben-Hazer was second with a stronger, but slightly eggier flavor, and good texture. Descanso was third with good texture, but unremarkable flavor. California Ranch Fresh was again last with a watery texture, and a sweet flavor that tasted more like Jell-o pudding.

The Result
Across all the comparisons, we felt the overall ranking was Schaner, Eben-Haezer, Descanso, and California Ranch Fresh, with the top three being closer together than the last place. This surprised us. Although we didn’t know whether the pastured eggs would be better or worse than the Schaner’s eggs, we really didn’t expect the commercial, albeit high-end commercial, to beat out pasture. We had expected the pastured pedigree to hold up, especially given the bugs and any grass, even if it is dry autumn grass of San Diego. Could the handful of days between laying have done it? Or were the practiced protocols of industry actually more effective? Different batches of eggs or different times of the year may yield different results, and we will keep testing. We’ve learned that there is a lot more to this than official labels – the Schaner chickens may not be pastured, but their variety of diet is probably wider than many chickens that are.

Ah, but were they Brownie’s eggs? My childhood memory says no, but sadly we’ll never get to try them side by side.

*Note: It turned out that Schaner Farms had recently taken over some new chickens that were still adjusting to farm life. Recent eggs haven’t had the watery white problem.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

My Bread Baking Revival, Reinhart-Style

Until summer hit, I had been on a bread baking tear. Not all of it was very good. I was trying to accomplish too many things at once. On my own. I wanted breads with a crispy crust. That had a light interior texture. Lots of holes. Lots more flavor, especially my sour dough loaves. After all, I'd been nursing a starter for over a year. I was inspired by my friend Nicole Hamaker and her Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge, but for whatever reason I just wasn't paying attention to author Peter Reinhart. I was reading Joe Ortiz's The Village Baker, trying out Jim Lahey's My Bread (his no-knead tome and the ultimate bust for me), and then attempting to adapt my go-to King Arthur Flour sourdough recipe to Lahey. Wet dough, lots of proofing time (as in days), a cast iron Dutch oven. Well, it worked. Sometimes. But I couldn't figure out what I was doing that made it work or fail.

And then came summer and it was just too warm for me to bake bread. Sadly, I also let my starter languish. So, by the time I was re-energized to start again, I needed a new starter (I like the King Arthur Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter). And, I definitely was ready for a new approach.

Enter Peter Reinhart. I have both the Bread Baker's Apprentice and Artisan Breads Every Day. For whatever reason, I just hadn't really dipped into them and never got around to baking from them. My bad.

But, I picked up the latter a couple of weeks before my starter arrived and found his 50 Percent Whole Grain Rustic Bread and Pizza Dough recipe. Perfect! My mom adores whole wheat bread and I could bring it to our Thanksgiving dinner. It calls for a combination of whole wheat and unbleached bread flours, kosher salt, instant yeast, honey, water, and olive oil. That's it. Except that Reinhart offers a formula for turning the whole grain into a multigrain. I picked up a package of Bob's Red Mill Five Grain Cereal and, following Reinhart's instruction, substituted 20 percent of the whole wheat flour with the cereal. And, I think one of the keys to success with this and all other bread baking was that I measured the ingredients by weight not volume.

The loaves, which are baked to his Pain a l'Ancienne Rustic Bread -- essentially a ciabatta -- were easy to make and delicious, even though the dough for this and all the others are wet and sticky. But Reinhart has figured out the best and easiest ways to work with them so the results are a cause for celebration not frustration or heartache. These loaves were light and full of complex flavors. My mom ate half a loaf at one sitting, so I consider them a success.

It was time to move onto another recipe.

Of course, it had to be a sourdough. By now I had my starter made -- although I will also try Reinhart's version in the future. I picked his San Francisco Sourdough Bread. He has two options here: one with just his wild yeast starter (which includes the mother starter) and the other that also includes instant yeast. I went purist because I wanted a more complex, tart flavor. Adding commercial yeast would produce the bread more quickly but with that reduced time for the bread to ferment, you lose some flavor.

Now my only complaint about this book is that you start out using one recipe but you end up directed to other recipes in the book for further instructions for shaping the breads, sometimes directed from one to another to yet another -- so keep some paper bookmarks handy. You'll need them. But that's my only quibble. Reinhart's instructions are clear, the processes are simple and there's almost no kneading; instead, easy turning and then proofing -- and the results are fabulous. See?

This shot was taken when the loaves were just out of the oven. I was tickled at the rise and the apparent crispiness of the crust. But how would they taste and what would the texture be? It was a long 45 minutes of letting them cool before I could cut into one of them. But, I was delighted with the results.

I so appreciate many of Reinhart's tips. He sprinkles olive oil on his work surface instead of flour to keep the dough from sticking but without adding more flour to the dough. He keeps a bowl of water by his work surface and dips his bench scraper and hands into it to keep the dough from sticking to them. Instead of sprinkling cornmeal on a pizza peel, he uses parchment paper on the back of a cookie sheet and the bread just slides with the paper onto the preheated baking stone in the oven. Marvelous!

So, I'll be making many more recipes from this book and trying out those in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I can't wait to try making his bagels!

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Food Truck Bash This Friday!

If you're a food truck aficionado you're going to want to head over to San Elijo Hills on Friday night, Dec. 3. The community is holding its annual Foodie Fest & Tree Lighting, and this year is featuring 20 gourmet food trucks from San Diego, OC, and Los Angeles.

San Diego favorites Joes on the Nose, Flippin Pizza, MIHO, Tabe BBQ, and Kal-bi-Q will be there. But so will a host of others, including Ludo Truck (fried chicken), Fishlips Sushi, Chomp Chomp Nation (Singapore street food), and Barcelona on the Go (Spanish tapas). The complete list is on the San Elijo Hills website. The dishes will range from $3 to $10 and you'll want to bring plenty of cash since these folks rarely take credit/debit cards.

The evening starts early -- at 4 p.m. -- for Happy Hour. At 5 p.m., the trucks open for business. At 7 p.m. there will be a tree lighting-- all at the San Elijo Towncenter at 1215 San Elijo Road in San Marcos. You can find directions here. There will be free parking in the town center at San Elijo School, San Elijo Hills Park, and at the Albertson's parking lot.

See you there!

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fall Fest: Bounty to Be Grateful For in the Form of Community

It's our final Fall Fest post and the topic is "Bounty to Be Grateful For." I could rattle off the names of all sorts of beautiful produce grown by our local farmers. Year-round, San Diego has such abundance it's almost embarrassing. Fortunately, the abundance is matched by a true community feeling that's been nurtured through our farmers markets, Slow Food Urban San Diego, our chefs, and a host of volunteers who take this abundance and turn it into nurturing, nutritious meals.

Last Sunday, for instance, my friend Julie Darling, who runs Just Call Us Volunteers -- along with her catering business and professional rental kitchen,  organized a group of people to make pecan pies for Mama's Kitchen. Mama's Kitchen provides meals to HIV/AIDS and the elderly who need assistance. Chefs Sara Polczynski of the Cohn Restaurant Group -- our fearless leader in this endeavor -- and Hanis Cavin of Kensington Grill with his girlfriend Sara Stroud showed up on a very rainy morning with a couple of other volunteers to make and box 100 pies.

And, that's just one morning. There's the crew of chefs and other volunteers who give their time on Mondays and Tuesdays at Olivewood Gardens in National City to teach low-income kids how to make fresh, nutritious dishes -- with a giggle or two included. Some of San Diego's best chefs, as well as artisan purveyors and food writers, are down there regularly to help (again, organized by Julie).

There are the farmers who donate their produce to fundraisers and to organizations like the San Diego Food Bank. There are the restaurants that  participated in my Food 4 Kids Backpack Program fundraiser this past summer. There's Specialty Produce, which seems to always say yes to anything asked of them. There are the chefs who have adopted local schools. The list goes on and on.

So, the bounty I'm grateful for is the community I'm so lucky to be a part of. Food is about more than the ingredients, the techniques, and the recipes. We sit down at a table and, hopefully, we talk, we listen, we embed ourselves into each other's lives. We eat dishes we or our loved ones have prepared and savor the flavors and textures -- and appreciate the labor that went in to nourishing our bodies. If we're feeding those we don't know or teaching those who don't know how to prepare meals for themselves, we're pushing hunger away and encouraging self-reliance and good health. The best food experiences are really about sharing and nurturing -- and that's what these very gifted people do. Collectively, they inspire me with their generosity and simply huge hearts. When I say thanks on Thursday, they'll be at the top of my list.

This Thanksgiving as with every Thanksgiving, we'll celebrate the bounty of the earth and the sweetness of life. Pie, one of those homey foods we associate with bounty and sweetness this time of year, often carries with it associations of family who may no longer be with us. This time of year, I remember my grandmother -- my Nana -- Tillie, who, among other things, taught me how to make apple and pumpkin pies. Pecan pie wasn't a part of her repertoire but it is part of Sara Polcyznski's. Here's her super easy and delicious recipe. This is only for one, but you can do the math to make 100. No sweat!

Pecan Pie

1 pie crust
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon milk
2 eggs
1 cup pecans

Par bake the pie crust in a 350-degree oven for about 13 minutes. Mix all the rest of the ingredients except the pecans together until smooth. Spread the pecans around the bottom of the par-baked pie crust, then pour in the mixture. Bake at 350 degrees until set and golden brown.

Both Summer Fest and Fall Fest have been wonderful experiences and I'm a little sad that the "Fest" is drawing to a close this year. Thank you, Deb Puchalla, for inviting me to participate, and Margaret Roach, thanks for being such a great host and organizer. I've loved the camaraderie of my fellow bloggers as well as the contributions in the form of comments from all of you. But, it's also time for me to get back to writing about markets along with this process of creating recipes. I hope you'll stick with me for that journey.

Now, let's see what my Fall Fest colleagues are grateful for:

Gilded Fork: Gratitude
Caroline at the Wright Recipes: Butternut Squash Biscuits
Paige at The Sister Project: A Thanksgiving Surprise
Alana from Eating From the Ground Up: Turkeys and Apples 
The Food Network: Thanksgiving Bounty We're Grateful For 
Todd and Diane at White on Rice Couple: The Hungry Travelers Video
Tara at Tea and Cookies: Stuffed Pumpkin

It's Your Last Chance to Join Fall Fest 2010!
This collaborative effort wouldn't have been any fun without you! It's our last time this year to collectively share the bounty. Have a recipe or tip that fits our final weekly theme? You can contribute in various ways, big or small.
  • Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. 
  • Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Fall Fest post on my blog any upcoming Wednesday, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.
The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and then we're all cooking with some great ideas. Or go big: Publish entire posts of your own if you wish, and grab the big Fall Fest 2010 pumpkin badge above (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites). We'll also be tweeting using #fallfood as our hashtag. Here's the schedule:
Sept. 1: Sweet and Spicy Peppers
Sept. 8: Garlic
Sept. 15: White (or colorful “white”…but not sweet) Potatoes
Sept. 22: Spinach
Sept. 29: Apples
Oct. 6: Fall Salads
Oct. 13: Pumpkin and Winter Squash
Oct. 20: Pears
Oct. 27: “Mad Stash” (as in what you’re freezing/canning/drying, etc.)
Nov. 3: Root veggies
Nov. 10: Brassicas: incl. Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage or other
Nov. 17: Sweet Potatoes (couldn't squeeze them in this week!)
Nov. 24: Bounty to Be Grateful For
Finally, I hope you and your family and friends have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Too Much Swiss Chard? Make Pesto!

This week I got to do one of my favorite activities -- teach at Olivewood Gardens. And, the dish I decided to make with the kids, who are in the fourth and fifth grades in National City, was a lavash pizza with garden veggies and Swiss chard pesto.

See, we have several criteria for our recipes -- they need to be nutritious, they need to be able to be made and eaten in 25 minutes, they should be something the kids can help prepare, and the ingredients should include produce grown in the gardens. Well, it's November and the pickins are a little slim right now. What did they have in abundance? Swiss chard. So, I played around with the pesto idea and came up with a recipe that tasted good but also would be fun for the kids to squirt out of a bottle and decorate their pizzas. Sort of a cooking/art project.

The kids, of course, were completely unfamiliar with lavash (and we discovered they also need help with geography since they had no clue about what countries make up the Middle East), but they were open to trying it. First came a layer of shredded mozzarella. Then they each added a rainbow of veggies that could include mushrooms, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, red onions, red peppers, jalapenos, grated carrots, sliced black olives, zucchini, and chopped tomatillos. Then a little more cheese followed by squirts of the pesto.

Each square went into a 375-degree oven for about 13 minutes. I have to say they were delicious and the kids loved them. I have photos to prove it, but we didn't get permissions for publishing them so they'll stay in my computer...

Now, here's the kicker. By the third class I was looking to change things up so when we were making the pesto I asked the kids if they wanted to add any other ingredients and see what would happen. They decided on a handful of chopped tomatillo and a few tablespoons of chopped chives. And, it was delicious! Even better than the original, plus the kids were thrilled that they had created a recipe.

Swiss Chard Pesto
Makes 2 cups

1 pound Swiss chard (or kale, spinach, or other leafy green)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon honey
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
½ cup or more olive oil
(feel free to add about 1/2 a cup of chopped raw tomatillo and 3 tablespoons of chopped chives)

Carefully wash the Swiss chard leaves. Remove the tough central ribs, then tear into smaller pieces.

Puree all the ingredients in the food processor or blender to form a smooth paste. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Store in the refrigerator in a glass jar, covered with a thin layer of oil, where it will keep for a week or more. It also freezes well.

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