Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Julie² or Just Call Us Dining Details

Two of the San Diego food community's favorite Julies have just announced a unique collaboration that begins August 1.

Julie Franz (l) and Julie Darling (r)
Julie Darling of Just Call Us -- Catering, Volunteers, and Kitchen Rental -- and Julie Frans of Dining Details personal chef and catering business have just signed an agreement that turns over Dining Details's El Cajon commissary kitchen to Just Call Us Kitchen Rental so that Julie Frans and her husband Robbie can move to Miami and Julie can spend more time with her two young kids as well as follow her dream to write a book, develop recipes, and participant in the local food movement as it impacts children.

Frans explained that five months ago she and her husband started re-evaluating what they wanted and realized that they needed to make some big changes. They love catering, but with two small children and a growing business, their family life was being short changed.

"I was back at work four days after Cassidy was born," she said. "The path was to get busier, busier, busier at the expense of raising the kids."

So Robbie decided he'd be the primary breadwinner and Julie would get some flexibility. He got a lot of offers but decided to return to work as a private chef for a family in Miami he'd worked for before. He's already started with them and the family will join him in Miami in October. Julie plans to dig into the local Slow Food group, develop her blog, and get involved with lunch programs at local schools as she did with her Chickpeas program here. And, yes, Julie, who has a lot of family here, will regularly return to San Diego to work with her Dining Details clients and their events.

Julie Darling, who runs a rental kitchen in Clairemont and has been looking to expand the business, will take over the Dining Details space and inventory and keep working with their chefs to work events. She's already got a couple of businesses interested in becoming tenants and is hoping to attract East County food artisans who need a licensed kitchen where they can make their products.

"I'm as excited for Julie as I am for us," Frans said. "The universe brought us together for a whole new chapter for each of us."

For Darling, it means she has an additional 1,750 square feet of kitchen space for what's been an under-served culinary community in East County. "The joke is that's out in the wilderness, but close to the kitchen there's North Park Produce, Sprouts, Harvest Ranch, Costco, and Smart & Final," she noted.

And, the space will continue to be a CSA pickup location for Be Wise Ranch. Julie Frans will continue to create recipes for the CSA, which are included in each week's bags of produce.

"This has been a very cooperative transition," Darling said. "Julie will still be here periodically for events and the Dining Details food will be consistent because her staff will remain. And, I can offer a great space for people who need to rent a professional kitchen in East County."

If you're interested in renting space from Just Call Us Kitchen Rental, you can reach Julie Darling at If you have an event you want Dining Details to cater, you can reach Julie Frans at

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Cooking with Friends: A Dinner Extravaganza

Those of us who love to cook can often find no greater pleasure than hanging out in the kitchen with friends who are just as passionate about good food and the joy of cooking as we are. So, when my great and oh so talented food writer friend Brandon Hernandez and his wife Heather invited me over for dinner recently -- and then put me to work -- we were all blissed out. It was the best possible way to unwind from a busy weekday of work.

Now, first, get a load of the menu he sent me in advance:

Fennel pollen-dusted scallops over zuchinni and summer squash angel hair with toasted garlic shingles, and Berliner wieze Sauce Grenoble, paired with Lightning Brewery Sauerstrom Ale

Dual pork tenderloin - rosemary-crusted and cinnamon-spiced with bacon-infused sweet corn grits and truffled grilled asparagus, paired with Green Flash Treasure Chest Belgian Pale Ale

Oy! What in the world would I bring for dessert? (And could I ever invite him over for dinner in turn?) I settled on David Lebovitz's Red Wine and Raspberry Sorbet, which I made with a rosé, along with Chocolate Heath Bar Cookies and I brought along some fresh raspberries.

There's an art to having people over and feel welcomed and wanted. Here's Brandon's first gesture:

The second was to hand me a knife and ask me to slice garlic cloves verrrry thin. My second job was to sear the scallops while Heather created the "pasta" with the squash using a mandoline. This truly was an act of friendship since I can't eat much regular grain pasta these days.

Dinner, of course, was stunning. The pork duo was tender, with just the right amount of herbs and spices to complement the meat. The grits were creamy, but I loved the addition of fresh corn kernels, which added sweetness to the smoky essence of bacon and a nice bite of texture. Here's the pork and grits course:

And, I was so taken with the bright flavors of the pasta and scallops that I asked Brandon if I could share the recipe here. Trust me, he has many magazine outlets where this could go, so this was another act of friendship. Thanks, Brandon -- and Heather -- for a perfect evening of food with good friends!

with Squash Angel Hair & Grenoble Sauce
(Printable Recipe)

A huge fan of craft beer, specifically San Diego craft beer, I’m always looking to turn people on to it, not only as a fine beverage, but a great accompaniment to food and ingredient in recipes…like this one. A more petite version of this dish was served as the amuse bouche for a big beer-pairing dinner I developed all of the recipes for at Trattoria Acqua last summer. It was a huge hit and is a recipe I’ve prepared at home several times since. Instead of white wine, I like to use a local saison-style ale (usually Carnevale Ale from The Lost Abbey in San Marcos). It does a great job of working with the natural tartness of the lemon juice and balancing, rather than adding to, the acidity of the capers.

Yield – 8 servings

2 zucchini, mandolin-sliced into thin noodles
2 yellow squash, mandolin-sliced into thin noodles
2 tsp unsalted butter
2 tsp olive oil (garlic-infused, if available)
16 sea scallops
2 Tbsp fennel pollen (or fennel pollen spice blend, such as M Ocean, to substitute)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tsp extra olive oil
¼ cup shallot, finely diced
2 Tbsp capers, rinsed of brine
½ cup saison-style beer (or dry white wine to substitute)
¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 cup unsalted butter, diced into ¼-ounce cubes
1 tsp Italian parsley, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 200° F.

Bring lightly salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the zucchini and yellow squash and blanch for 1 minute. Remove from water and set aside in a strainer to drain.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Stir in the oil and bring up to temperature. Season the scallops with the fennel pollen and salt on both sides and place in the pan. Sear until golden brown on each side, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove scallops from the pan and place in oven to hold.

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and capers, season with pepper, and sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Deglaze with the beer and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and reduce the liquid by half. Whisk in the butter, a cube at a time, until it is fully incorporated. Season with salt and pepper as needed and stir in the parsley. Add the zucchini and yellow squash to the sauce and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

To serve, spoon a mound of angel hair in the center of a bowl and place 2 scallops on top. Serve immediately.

–      Recipe courtesy Brandon Hernández


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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reeds: The Summer Avocado

While everyone is rhapsodic about the emergence of stone fruit, tomatoes, and melons--all that marks quintessential summer food--I'm blissed out over the arrival of Reed avocados.

Think of these as summer avocados. Fuertes are beginning to fade away with the season. Bacons are now months away. And, okay yes, Hass are everywhere almost year round -- but Reeds are a rich, buttery delight of an avocado in the form of a softball-sized globe. Like the Hass, they have a thick peel, easy to remove. And, my experience is that the seed also easily separates from the flesh. I've read that this variety remains firm even when ripe, making it a lousy candidate for guacamole, but I haven't experienced that.

In fact, one of my favorite ways to enjoy Reed avocados, is smashed on toast for breakfast. And, of course, I top it with a sprinkling (heavy handed) of Tajin. The salty and sour (thanks to dehydrated lime) qualities of the Tajin complement the gentle flavor and richness of the Reed.

Atkins Nursery of Fallbrook grows them. I found their stall at the Friday evening  Mission Hills farmers market on Falcon St. The other local grower who has them is Paradise Valley Ranch. They're at the North Park, Little Italy, and Pacific Beach farmers markets.

Looking for a unique guacamole? When chef Jesus Gonzalez ran the kitchen at Rancho La Puerta he introduced what he calls "Aztec Guacamole," which includes peas to boost the nutritional content and reduce the fat. It creates a slightly different flavor from traditional guacamole, but that creamy goodness from the avocado remains and you have a healthier, irresistible sauce perfect for dipping and topping tacos and tostadas on a sultry summer night.

Aztec Guacamole
Makes 2 cups

1 cup frozen peas, slightly thawed
1 medium avocado, peeled and pitted
2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice, or to taste
1 medium tomato, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 red or sweet onion, cut into 1/8-inch dice
1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon  minced fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1. In a blender or the bowl of a food processor, process the peas until smooth.
2. In a medium bowl, mash the avocado with a fork or potato masher. Add the juice, tomato, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, garlic, salt, and black pepper. Add the peas and mix well.
3. If the guacamole won't be served immediately, press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent browning.

Variation: Instead of peas, use 1 cup of well-cooked broccoli, edamame, or cooked asparagus tips.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Caprese Beef Bacon and Heirloom Tomato Salad

Thank you, Mexico, for always sharing the remnants of your humid summer storms with those of us who live in San Diego. We're just recovering from a bout of hot and humid days that were the gift of a tropical storm south of us and I don't know anyone who's in the mood to do any major cooking. Me included.

So, when I took a look Saturday afternoon at my accumulated farmers market purchases to figure out what to make for dinner I was overjoyed to realize that I had a summer feast in front of me that required only a little bit of heat. On Friday evening I'd been to the Mission Hills farmers market, where I picked up a package of Brandt Beef's beef bacon, and Saturday morning I acquired an enormous and beautiful heirloom tomato picked hours earlier at Chino Farms, along with an unusual elongated green and yellow pepper.

I coveted this tomato while chatting with the Chinos--and it was still there when I was ready to buy.
Plus, I had some mozzarella (sorry, not from a farmers market, but Henry's), a red onion from Schaner Farms, basil from my garden, and, in my pantry, lovely Temecula Valley Blend olive oil from Temecula Olive Oil Company. Oh, and smoked salt from Salt Farm.

In short, a bonanza for a hot Saturday night at home with the dogs. Only one thing to do: make my version of a Caprese salad for dinner.

Look at how beautiful this is--inside and out.
Do I have a recipe for this? Nah. Just gather your ingredients, slice what needs slicing, cook what needs cooking, then layer one on top of another and sprinkle some salt and pepper over the pile. Drizzle the salad with olive oil and vinegar (my vinegar of choice was a strong Sherry vinegar from Spain that I picked up at Pata Negra), and dig in. You'll get a mix of flavors--acid from the tomato and vinegar, savory smokiness from the bacon and salt, sweet anise from the basil, more sweetness from the red onion, heat from the charred pepper, and that always lovely umami from the mozzarella. And you can't beat the mixture of textures--crunch from the bacon and onions, silky softness from the cheese, gentle chew from the vegetables. It's bright and refreshing, but, of course, its success is totally dependent on the quality of the ingredients--there's no hiding anything here.

The only cooking here was crisping up the beef bacon and roasting the pepper.
So after the salad, surely I must have had dessert, right? Oh, yes. How about half of a petite Snow Leopard melon (like honeydew but prettier) and sweet-like-candy Mara des Bois strawberries from, yes, Chino Farms. These are strawberries that make you believe in the magic of summer.

Mexico, I'm not wary of those thunderheads off in the distance. Bring it on again. I'm ready.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dill Pickle Lust Revived

I have this childhood memory--shared to my knowledge with at least one of my cousins--of going to see my Nana and Poppa (i.e., my maternal grandparents) on weekends and invariably seeing several quarts jars of dill pickles soaking in the sun on their front porch. And that meant one thing: that we'd be sent home with these oh so sour, garlicky pickles with instructions to shake the jars periodically and let them sit for several more days before opening.

Ah, they were good. Nana, a magical cook and baker in your basic Eastern European Jewish immigrant tradition, used small--perhaps three inch--pickling cucumbers and tons of fresh dill. She'd make a slit into the middle of each cuke so they would absorb the flavors of the spices and herbs that she stuffed into the jar with them. The pickles would have a bit of a crunch and then spill out a delicious sour garlicky dill juice that I still associate with summer and the knockwursts that my dad would split lengthwise and pan fry, then smother with bright-tasting Ba-Tampte deli mustard and crunchy sauerkraut. If we had a batch of Nana's pickles around, my dad's coming-home-from-work ritual would be to head straight to the fridge after entering the house, pull out the jar and reach in for a pickle or two for a quick snack before heading upstairs to change. My dad was obsessed with them, as was the rest of our family.

Nana's been gone for close to 20 years, but I have her recipe. And my mom, who made them sporadically over the years but not lately, not only also has that recipe of her mother's, but also very similar ones from Nana's sister Goldie and daughter-in-law Lois. So, my mom and I got together a couple of weeks ago and pooled our recipe resources to create a batch.

There was a bit of a hiccup, though. Back in the day, these ladies all used alum to keep the cucumbers crisp. But it's hard to find and now regarded as not a good chemical to consume. Also, it was hard to find small pickling cucumbers and whole dill plants (My mom tells me that during the Depression, Nana grew hers in her victory garden; she also made her pickles in a large bowl, not in jars). Specialty Produce contributed to the cause with the cucumbers they had in stock, which were much larger. And I picked up some of the packaged baby dill sold at the supermarkets. To compensate for the alum, I also bought a container of Ball pickling spice for kosher dill cucumbers because I noticed it included pickle crisp granules. (I've since bought the granules and pickling salt online through Ball's website.)

With everything in hand, we set to work.

First things, first--scrub the cucumbers.

Here's my mom, Evie Golden, volunteer model for the photos and the best cook/baker I know.
 Then, I like to set up all the ingredients:

We didn't process the pickles (Nana never did), but we did wash, then boil the jars and lids. Then the big strategic question: How to fill the jars? First, because these cukes were so big, we could only squeeze three in if I really worked them. Not a viable solution, so we cut them into thirds (and a few even smaller to fit more into each jar). Then Mom tried putting in the cukes first before adding the spices.

But that made adding the dill too difficult. So, we pulled out the cucumber pieces and put the spices and herbs in the jars first. Much better.

After that, you fill the jars with boiling water, leaving half an inch of head space. Top the jars with the lid and screw the band on tightly before turning the jars upside down for a few days.

That's it. Sit them out in the sun for a day or so to expedite the curing process. Then bring them in the house and let them cure for five days. Once you open the jars, keep them in the refrigerator. I'm going to try processing them in a water bath next time so I can put spare jars into the pantry for eating later in the year.

Here's the recipe pulled together from the three I mentioned:

Badion Family Kosher Dill Pickles
(Printable Recipe)

By the way, this will also work for green tomatoes. When Valdivia's green tomatoes show up at the farmers markets, I'm going to try this recipe with them.

Makes 8 quarts (use wide-mouth glass jars)

6 to 7 pounds small pickling cucumbers OR green tomatoes (The larger cucumbers simply don't get the same intense flavor from fermentation as the smaller ones do.)

For each jar:
2 or more large sprigs of fresh dill (you can't use too much)
1 tablespoon pickling spices
4 cloves garlic, roughly sliced
1 dried chile pepper
4 bay leaves
5 or more peppercorns
1 pinch Ball Pickle Crisp Granules
1 rounded tablespoon kosher salt
Boiling water

(optional for color: baby carrots, celery)

1. Prep washed jars and lids by sterilizing in boiling water or running through the dishwasher. Wash the bands in soap and water.

2. Wash and scrub the cucumbers/tomatoes.

3. Make a small slit into the cucumbers or tomatoes so they will absorb the liquid. For the tomatoes, you can leave them whole or slice them in half to fit.

4. Fill the bottom of each jar first with the dill, pickling spices, garlic, chile pepper, bay leaves, peppercorns, Pickle Crisp Granules, and salt. Then pack in the cucumbers/tomatoes--but don't force them in.

5. Fill each jar with boiling water, leaving half an inch of head space.

6. Top with the lid and screw on the band tightly. Turn each jar upside down to spread the pickling spices throughout the jar. You can put them in the sun to cure for a day or two. They should be ready in five days but you ought to let them sit longer (up to 10 days) to get more sour and flavorful.

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