Thursday, May 26, 2011

Create Your Own Food Truck Dishes

Early this spring I was on a cooking class blitz, scouting fun and unusual experiences to recommend to San Diegans for a just-published San Diego Magazine piece. Among my most favorite classes was the one I took from Chef Pam Schwartz of Sur La Table. America's Food Truck Cuisine introduced participants to four dishes from trucks around the country. It was a hands-on afternoon that yielded not just delicious tastings but a variety of new skills and ideas to transfer to home kitchens.

Schwartz, a CIA graduate who has worked at Nobu in Las Vegas and the Pamplemousse Grille in San Diego--and cooked at the James Beard House, led a group of about 15 students through Portland (KOi Fusion's Spicy Korean Pork Taco), Seattle (Skillet Street Food's Grass-Fed Beef Burger with Arugula, Cambozola and Bacon Jam), L.A. (the Border Grill Truck's Poblano Quesadillas), and New York (Street Sweets' "Macarella" Nutella Macaroons).

What I enjoyed about the class was not just the theme, although that's what drew me to it initially, but both the classroom set up (counter-high tables are outfitted with ingredients and tools around which four to five students work together) and the thorough and encouraging manner in which Schwartz and her team of helpers talk their students (including many culinary novices) through each recipe. They  demonstrated knife skills and walked around coaching individuals attempting to chop onions, mince garlic, seed avocados, and grill pork. And they offered tips for working with unfamiliar ingredients.

The Spicy Pork Taco was a delightful explosion of flavor--no surprise since the marinade itself has some 16 ingredients, including pear and kiwi juice, mirin, sesame oil, honey, Korean red bean paste, and rice wine. We made a tasty cabbage slaw with rice vinegar, lime juice, sesame oil, and sugar, grilled the marinated pork and then put all of it together in a corn tortilla, garnished with pico de gallo, bean sprouts, cucumber, cilantro, and kimchi.

From the taco we moved on to the burger. It's a simple dish, of course, but many in this class had never tried grass-fed beef and the herbaceous beef flavor was a revelation. It was also a great primer on how to effectively grill the lean meat so you keep the moisture intact. The best part, though, especially for one of my table partners, Alicia, was making the bacon jam. The many ingredients include applewood-smoked bacon, garlic, espresso, light brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, cinnamon and cloves. It's pretty simple to make, too. Just cook the bacon and render the fat, remove the bacon pieces, saute onion and garlic, add the other ingredients and the bacon pieces, then cook gently for about 40 minutes until the jam is soft and brown.

While Alicia was busy at the stove, the rest of us were molding the sliders and prepping the rest of the components before they finally all came together between a sliced Hawaiian sweet bun.

Burgers done, we moved on to the quesadillas, which, though simple, had several components needing preparation--the flour tortillas, the chipotle salsa, the roasted poblano chiles, and the Border Guacamole. It was fascinating to watch the flour tortilla demonstration. I've made many a corn tortilla, but flour tortillas require a whole different skill set--more like making pie dough, which makes sense since you're also combining flour with fat and water.

Standing at a high-BTU stove grilling first the chiles and finally the quesadillas was an event for most of the participants. Everyone took a turn but also circled their tables working on slicing avocados, seeding and dicing jalapeƱos, and chopping cilantro or cooking up and pureeing the Chipotle Salsa (which I learned can be frozen for several months, as can individual chipotles left over from the can).

Finally, dessert. These delightful sandwich cookies are easy to make and if you don't love Nutella, fill them with jam (bacon jam?) or chocolate ganache. Here's the recipe:

Street Sweets' "Macarella" Nutella Macaroons
Yield: approximately 12 sandwich cookies

3 cups dessicated/unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg whites
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Nutella for filling the cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a rack in the center. Place coconut, sugar, egg whites, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Stir thoroughly until the mixture reaches a soft and pliable consistency.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 1 to 2 heaping tablespoons of the coconut mixture on cookie sheet and press into 3-inch circles about 1/8-inch thick. Continue making circles with the remaining dough to create an even number of dough rounds.

Place cookies in preheated oven and bake until edges are golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool for 10 minutes.

Using a flat-metal spatula, remove cookies from baking pan and coat the bottom of half of the cookies with a generous amount of Nutella. Place another cookie, bottom side down, on the top of the Nutella on the coated cookies to make a sandwich. Continue making sandwiches until all the cookies are used.

Classes are taught at Sur La Tables across the country. In San Diego, Sur La Table is at the Forum at Carlsbad, 1915 Calle Barcelona Space #130. You can get their full schedule of classes on their website.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nat Decants Has New Mobile App

I got to interview Canadian wine maven Natalie MacLean years ago when I co-hosted San Diego Gourmet back in the day. I still enjoy learning about wines from her from her e-newsletter and website and was delighted to learn her FREE mobile app, The Natalie MacLean Wine Picks & Pairing, now lets you scan bottle labels and bar codes to get info you want at the wine shop.

Whether you have an iPhone/iPod Touch, a BlackBerry, or Droid, you can use your camera to instantly scan from among 150,000 wines to get tasting notes, scores, and food pairings. You can also track your purchases in a virtual cellar, create a wine journal with your own wine notes and photos, and share your wines and pairings on Twitter and Facebook. 

Natalie is also the author of Red, White and Drunk All Over. Her second book, Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wines will be published this fall. I also recommend you subscribe to her free e-newsletter via her website.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

2nd Annual Eat. Drink. Read.: Can You Read a Menu?

If you can read a menu or a recipe, you're way ahead of many adults who, sadly, are functionally illiterate. In San Diego, the San Diego Council on Literacy supports numerous organizations that have programs to help adults and children become readers and improve their chances of success in life.

Once again, this year -- on Wednesday, May 18 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. -- the San Diego Council on Literacy is holding Eat. Drink. Read., a fundraiser that will help them support these programs. And this isn't like your other restaurant-focused food events. We (Yes, "we." I wrangled the restaurants.) asked our 10 restaurants to come up with an original dish inspired by a favorite book. You won't believe the splendid ideas that are the result. These are dishes you'll want to savor. Here's what we've got (the chef/book links will take you to a video of the chefs showing off their dishes):

Alchemy (Ricardo Heredia's book is Rikki Tikki Tavi): Bihari Aloo Paneer Potato Cake with Garam Masala and Green Peas

Craft & Commerce (Craig Jimenez's book is My Side of the Mountain): Shroom, Tubers, and Wild Game Pinxtos

Flavor Del Mar (Jason Maitland's book is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas): Terrine of Duck Rillette with Smoked Chino Farms Strawberries, Buffalo Trace Bourbon Syrup, and Chevre Powder

Photo by Stephanie Thompson

The Marine Room (Bernard Guillas and Ron Oliver's book is their own Flying Pans): Hibiscus-Infused Lemon Bars and Chocolate Kahlua Tarts

Photo by Stephanie Thompson

Quality Social (Jared Van Camp's book is The Confederacy of Dunces): House-Cured Cheddar Stuffed Dog with Sauerkraut and Creole Mustard

The Red Door (Brian Johnston's book is Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs): Lamb Meatballs and Mashed Potatoes

Searsucker (Brian Malarkey's book is Green Eggs and Ham): Braised Pork Belly with Poached Quail Egg and Greens Hollandaise on Brioche Bread

Sessions Public (Abel Kaase's book is The Dot): Duck Confit Thai Summer Rolls with Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce

Tender Greens (Peter Balistreri's book is Lord of the Flies): Porchetta Sliders on Pretzel Bread with Dijon Mustard

Urban Solace (Matt Gordon's book is Secret of the Tsil Cafe): Spiced Sweet Corn Cake, Confit of Turkey Leg with Ancho-Dried Blueberry Mole

Photo by Stephanie Thompson

Plus, we'll have a "Manmosa" (blackberries, maple syrup, bulleit rye, and Prosecco) from Ian Ward of Snake Oil Cocktail.

Photo by Stephanie Thompson
And, delicious coffee drinks from Cafe Moto.

And that's just the eats and drinks. You'll want to bid on some amazing silent auction opportunities, including SDSU football tickets, a one-night stay at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, passes to several terrific local museums (Natural History, Museum of Art, Museum of Man, U.S. Midway Museum, Automotive Museum), tickets to the San Diego REPertory Theatre, In-N-Out coupons, and so much more.

So much more? Oh, yes... Sea Rocket Bistro is donating a four-course dinner in the winning bidder's home for up to six people, with a personalized seasonal menu created by Executive Chef Chad White -- plus wine pairings for each course. This is brilliant!

The event will be held at the McMillin Event Center on 2875 Dewey Road in Liberty Station. Tickets are $60 and may be purchased online at They are going fast, so hurry up and get yours now!

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Three Olives Olive OIl

Regular readers know that I'm something of an olive oil geek. There are few things more fun for me to do than cozy up to an olive oil bar and taste different varieties from an assortment of countries.

But I'm a big fan of our California oils and a new one was sent to me by Anna Zoitas, the owner of The Artisanal Kitchen. I have to admit I was a skeptic. After all, she's a New Yorker, but her oil is a combination of three olive varieties grown in California--hence the name Three Olives Olive Oil.

But Zoitas, whose family owns the New York City specialty food chain Westside Market, explained to me that "making olive oil is in my family roots, as both my grandparents produced their own olive oil on the island of Lefkada in Greece." That's where she spent her summers and she admits that trying to replicate in New York the kind of farm eating and artisan living she experienced in Greece has been a challenge. She chose olives grown in California because they had the standards she'd been searching for and she could have the oil certified by the California Olive Oil Council, or COOC. Additionally, she could work with the farmers to optimize the flavor with the varieties she wanted.

What she ended up with are the small, fruity Arbequina--a native of Spain, the nutty and peppery Arbosona (also from Spain), and a Greek variety--the fruity and aromatic Koroneiki. The result is a rich and complex unfiltered oil with just a hint of a kick to it, thanks to the Koroneiki. This is not a cooking oil. You'll want to save it for dressings, dipping bread, or finishing a dish so that you can pull in all the flavor possible.

Three Olives Olive Oil is available only on The Artisanal Kitchen website.
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Monday, May 2, 2011

6th St.: Tijuana's Seafood Alley

You'd expect a major seafood district to be ocean side, but in Tijuana, it's  downtown along a stretch of 6th Street. There are something like 20 individual markets, some catering primarily to the public, others to restaurants. But even mid-morning on a weekday, the area is bustling, looking like a street ceviche party waiting to happen.

Okay, the day I was there was the Thursday before Easter, so massive shopping in anticipation of the holiday was in full force. But the ceviche party metaphor remains. Parked on the street and included in many of the shops are stalls brimming with all the makings of a fresh ceviche--chiles, tomatoes, celery, cilantro, onions, limes--the ultimate one-stop shopping.

Much of the fish sold by the wholesalers there go to Chinese buyers, but you'd never know that by the throngs of locals there to buy everything from clams and octopus to red snapper and grouper. I was there with Catalina Offshore Products' Dan Nattrass, who visits regularly to buy for the company which has a warehouse a block away, and Chef Trey Foshee of George's at the Cove. With every turn, I could almost see the wheels in his head spinning as he took in the possibilities and periodically asked Dan to get him some of this and some of that for the restaurant. It was an object lesson in culinary creativity at work.

Me? I was gawking at the brightly colored fish, the brilliant mix of seafood cut up and sitting in bins for Caldo de Siete Mares (Seven Seas Soup), and all the people patiently waiting their turn to be served by (mostly) men in blood-stained aprons butchering fish. It's a remarkable scene and worth a visit if you're planning a day trip to Tijuana.

Dan Nattrass inspecting fish in a wheelbarrow
Burdillo--used a lot for fish tacos
Brown Baqueta--a member of the grouper family
Brilliant red Huachinango at Las Playas, one of the more popular fish markets
Sienas stacked up in Las Playas -- frequently used at George's California Modern

A Cabrella, or leopard grouper. Dan says only 1 percent turn this bright orange color.
Sorting fish at Las Playas
A split fish head, perfect for grilling, according to Trey. The best part? The tender cheeks.
Wholesale workers showing off the catch of the day, a black sea bass

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