Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chinese Wing Beans Take Flight

Last weekend I stopped by Chino Farms to buy corn for my Labor Day Local Bounty blog post in San Diego Magazine. As I was trolling around the displays, also picking up some heirloom tomatoes and French strawberries, my attention was drawn to some very strange looking vegetables. Wide and wavy along four distinct edges, they were nothing I'd ever seen before.

Nina McConnel Chino, wife of Tom Chino, who runs the farm, was working at the stand that morning and saw me staring at them. She smiled at my confusion and told me they were Chinese wing beans. Yes, beans.

Wing beans, also known as winged beans, Manila beans, and Goa beans, are thought to be native to Southeast Asia. The plant itself is completely edible--not just the pods, but also the shoots, leaves, flowers, and seeds. Even the tubers, although they're very small.

What I found at Chino's stand, of course, were the pods, which have a grassy, salty flavor in a crisp bite. Nina explained that they can be eaten raw dipped in a Vietnamese-style sauce. They're also commonly included in curries and pork dishes. Or, they're delicious sauteed with ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. Add some corn and you're set.

Well, I had corn, so I bought about half a pound of the beans ($8 a pound but so light, you get a lot of beans for the money), took them home, trimmed both ends and then sauteed them in a little butter with corn kernels I shaved off the cob.

It just took minutes. Then I added a little soy sauce and oyster sauce. Just enough to suggest the flavors, but not so much that they overpower the sweetness of the butter and corn. Top with some toasted sesame seeds and you've got a delicious and wonderfully easy if unusual looking dish.

Sauteed Chino Wing Beans and Corn
Serves 3 as a side dish

1/2 pound of wing beans, trimmed on both ends
Kernels from 1 ear of corn
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds

Melt the butter in a medium size saute pan. Add the garlic and saute until it releases its scent--about half a minute. Add the corn and toss briefly. Then add the wing beans. Saute for about five minutes. Don't overcook the beans. You want them al dente.

Add the soy sauce and oyster sauce. Mix well, then turn off the heat. Transfer the beans and corn to a serving dish and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds. Serve. It's also good the next day as a cold dish.

Printable Recipe

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Forager: 1500 Ocean's Aaron Martinez

Like many San Diego diners, I was surprised and saddened when Brian Sinnott left the kitchen of 1500 Ocean at the Hotel del Coronado. A terrifically talented chef, he was going to be tough to replace. But, it looks like the management has found a worthy new team for the restaurant, led by chef de cuisine Aaron Martinez.

Martinez, who joined 1500 Ocean in June, arrived from across the bridge and just up the road at The Restaurant at Rancho Valencia in Rancho Santa Fe. Martinez also spent three years under William Bradley at Addison and was a sous chef at The Prado. But, intriguingly, he rounded out his training in two very different European countries: Belgium, where he interned at In de Wolf, and Spain, at the  three-star Michelin-rated Restaurante Martin Berasategui in Lasarte-Oria.

Raised in San Clemente, Martinez has a fierce appreciation for locally raised fresh ingredients. And, that includes wild plants. Martinez honed his foraging skills in Belgium. "That's what we did in Belgium," he says. "It just makes sense. Foraging makes you that much closer to the food. It's all about respect for our terroir."

Fortunately, San Diego's canyons yield plenty of bounty. Martinez lives in South Park and often forages in nearby canyons. He says he's found nettles there and the baby sorrel in our grouper dish came from a canyon expedition. Of course, the Del has recently redone its gardens and the beds surrounding the restaurant are filled with herbs and produce that he and his staff can wander outside to pick.

Martinez's menu is simple and focused on clean flavors that emphasize the ingredients. He describes his food as "modern American with French influences." Even the descriptions of each dish on his tasting menu are stripped of pretense. Tomato. Spot Prawn. Scallop. Grouper. Ham Hock. Beef Cheek & New York, Mille Feuille. A few accompanying ingredients are listed to give a hint of what you'll encounter, but there's no attempt to bedazzle through words. The food is all.

So, my friends and I made our way through beautifully presented dishes on the chef's tasting menu.

The tomato with currants, basil, and fresh cheese--house-made burrata--was set off with a light and fresh heirloom tomato consomme.

The cherry tomatoes popped with sweetness but were kept from being cloying by the tartness of the currants, the spicy anise flavor of the basil, and the creaminess of the cheese.

Then came the Santa Barbara spot prawn, lightly cooked and accompanied by concord grapes and a tangy ginger verjus reduction. What I especially enjoyed was the shaved celery. The light bitterness and crunch was more than a pretty garnish but a complement to the sweet and tender shrimp.

 Next up was a gorgeously seared scallop.

Martinez played off the scallop texture and color with an artichoke heart quarter, then created a diversion with a salty slice of olive and a sparkling Meyer lemon froth.

We moved on from that light dish to a more deeply toned one of grouper with sea urchin sauce.

I loved this dish. The grouper had a brilliant crispy skin while the flesh was delicate with a wisp of citrus tones. The sea urchin sauce beneath was satiny and rich with an ocean brine finish that was set off by the sour sorrel leaves. And how cool to roast and smoke the carrots. It's something I'd like to try at home with root vegetables.

That roasting and smoking theme carried over to the next dish, the ham hock. It  was sweet and salty and oh so tender. The ham hock was accompanied by a mustard duo of emulsion and tiny fresh flowers. I enjoyed the roasted turnip--and, by all means, show us the root--and the peppery nasturtium leaves.

The last savory dish of the menu was the combination beef cheek and New York steak.

Both pieces of beef were precisely cooked and both benefited from dollops of  sweet and salty corn pudding, studded with tiny sauteed chanterelles. And, what a lovely idea to combined slices of charred onions with a dab of onion jam on the New York steak. A little green, thanks to floating arugula leaves, provided a splash of color and tinge of bitterness. A perfect ending.

Except, of course, for dessert. Sweets are a challenge for me these days, but I couldn't resist dipping into Martinez's confection of chocolate mousse between paper-thin chocolate wafers with orange and coffee purees and a small scoop of house-made vanilla bean gelato. In fact, I dug in before I realized I hadn't gotten a photo of it. My apologies, but this was tremendous. Martinez focused on pastry making while in Europe and it will be fun to see what he does with pastry going forward.

Each of these dishes were paired with wines presented by wine director and manager Joe Weaver. I'm not drinking these days, so I can't speak to the pairings, but Weaver has an established reputation at the Del as a distinctive sommelier and manages the wine program--with over 800 labels--for ENO, the Del's wine, cheese, and chocolate room. Weaver kept his pairing presentations simple and concise, explaining each wine's provenance and the elements to look for in each sip.

With Martinez and Weaver collaborating at 1500 Ocean, plus the beauty of the oceanfront setting and the comfortable and attentive service, the restaurant should be a destination for locals as well as the Del's tourist trade. I'm looking forward to seeing how it will evolve as Martinez settles in.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Square Deal at the Farmers Markets

photo by Nick Bastone
It can sometimes get frustrating while shopping at the local farmers market when  the items we want to purchase are a little too pricey for cash or add up to more cash than we have on hand--and the vendors can't take a credit or debit card. True enough, the merchant fees for the cards can be steep and some of the smaller guys just can't afford them. But, who wants to lose a sale because the customer didn't have enough cash? And, who wants to be the customer who really wants that beef brisket, bacon, and package of sausages but has to walk away because of a lack of ATM twenties?

So, it's been interesting to see a new card technology called Square showing up at the markets. A project of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, Square launched last October, it's a combination mobile app and small white hardware device that plugs into the headphone jack of an iPhone, iPad, or Android. Vendors simply download the app, plug in the device, and then swipe debit or credit cards to have payments deposited directly into their bank accounts within 12 to 36 hours, depending on the bank.

photo courtesy of Square

The beauty of this is that there are no contracts or hidden fees for the vendors. It's a flat rate of 2.75 percent per transaction. If vendors enter credit cards manually, the fee is 3.5 percent plus 15 cents a transaction. Nick Bastone, who works for Square, also says that Square meets and exceeds all industry-standard security practices. Square's network and servers are housed in a secure facility monitored around the clock and the software uses industry-standard security best practices, including encryption of customer information. And, Bastone adds, unlike typical credit card processors, Square can track the location of a sale and send receipts via SMS or email. (Actually, I don't think that's quite right. At least two vendors I know using more traditional payment systems have asked me if I wanted my receipt emailed to me.)

Square already is being picked up locally. At the La Jolla farmers market, for instance, six vendors already are using it. And, people I spoke to at the Little Italy Mercato on Saturday told me that they had made purchases from vendors using Square.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Peck of Peppers

Every once in awhile my friend Kelly Orange at Specialty Produce does the Twitter equivalent of whispering something enticing into my ear. "@carondg, we've got French heirloom potatoes," she'll tweet (knowing these are my favorites). Well, last week it was, "We've got peppers." No sooner had I seen this irresistible note then I raced over there to see what was available from the Santa Monica farmers market trip made that day by the other Kellie--Kellie Palermo.

Okay, local, right? And I asked them about that. These peppers were from farms in Northern California and, well, this is San Diego Foodstuff and I do write a column for San Diego Magazine called Local Bounty and here I am surrounded by peppers grown hundreds of miles away.

But, according to the Kelly/ies, it turns out that not many peppers are grown locally. Yes, I've seen them--primarily poblanos, shishitos, and padrons--at Suzie's Farm and Chino Farms, but they don't sell to Specialty Produce and that's about it, they say. (And, yes, I welcome any corrections/enlightenment someone wants to offer.) Okay, I'm also growing my own. I have jalapeños, chocolate, and spicy Thai chiles in my garden right now. But these... You have to take a look before I chop them up, pickle them, grill them, or whatever else I decide to do.

So, here are Sweet Bananas peppers. These can be pickled or stir fried.

These Guernicas are huge--five or six inches long--by contrast to what they're typically compared to: Padrons. Yes, like Padrons you can toss them in oil and salt (and maybe add some lemon zest a la Searsucker) and then grill them to eat as a snack. They're also perfect stuffed with cheese.

Piment d'Anglet are a curious-looking Basque sweet frying pepper. Long with a curl and they want to hang together like those plastic toy monkeys of childhood. These are great raw in a salad, fried or sauteed. Or, again, like the Padron, toss with oil and salt and grill.

The vibrant red Lipsticks are so visually compelling. Slice them up and saute with onions and garlic, stuff them with chopped crabmeat, stir fry or roast them with eggplant, or chop them and add to a salad.

White jalapeños are just that, so they are going to go into a salsa this weekend. They're also delicious grilled.

Hungarian sweet peppers are a little controversial. There are also peppers this color that are much smaller and rounder and also called Hungarian sweet peppers. These look like pale yellow bells. Fry these up with onions and sausages or chop into large pieces and pickle them.

You can pick any of these peppers--and even more varieties--at Specialty Produce. And, I'd love to get some inspiration from you about how you use them.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Dig That "Dollar a Dish" and Support Food 4 Kids Backpack Program

It's that time of the year again when we raise money for the San Diego Food Bank's Food 4 Kids Backpack Program. This year, the focus is on Dollar a Dish and Alice Robertson and I have handed over the reins to the Food Bank so they can continue the tradition.

So, starting today, August 1, we have over 30 restaurants and food trucks participating. Each one has pledged to pick one popular dish on their menu and donate $1 to Food 4 Kids each time it's sold during August. The money goes to buy food and backpacks for elementary school children who receive free school meals during the week, but who go hungry over the weekend or school holidays. The program currently serves 800 children in 22 schools. With our help and the support of the community, the Food Bank will serve 1,050 children in 26 schools in the 2011-2012 school year.

All you have to do is go out to eat at the participating restaurants and be sure to order the featured dish. So, you'll have a nice meal and help make a difference. Me? I'm launching the fundraiser with lunch today at Blueprint Cafe and ordering the signature salad. Where are you going?

Here's the list of participants and their dishes:

Food Trucks
Chop Sooey: BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich with Cilantro Lime Cole Slaw & Lobster Roll
Devilicious: Burger DuJour
Corner Cupcakes: Six Pack of Cupcakes
Flippin Pizza: Buffalo Chicken Pie
Food Farm: Soyrizo Chili Fries
MangiaMangia: Meatball Panini
Ms. Patty Melt: Patty Melt Burger
Two for the Road: Cap'n Crunch Crab Cakes

Blueprint Cafe: Signature Salad (first week only)
Burlap: Red Chili Rock Shrimp
Cowboy Star: Pan Roasted Chicken Breast
Croce's Restaurant and Bar: 2 Appetizers: The Seared Sea Scallops and the Charbroiled CAB Filet Mignon
Cucina Urbana: Any pizza during lunch
Flavor Del Mar: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Sweet Corn Relish and Banyuls Vinaigrette
Flippin Pizza: Buffalo Chicken Pie (4 locations)
Kensington Grill: Sweet Chili "fall of the bone" pork baby back ribs with jalapeño cheddar cornbread + lime butter
Nine-Ten: Nine-Ten Burger
Prep Kitchen: Salted Caramel Brownie
Rimel's: Potstickers
Ritual Tavern: Seafood Bouillabaisse
Searsucker: Artichoke Hearts
Sprinkles: Cinnamon Sugar Cupcakes
Terra: Potato, Brie & Red Onion Quesadilla
The Red Door: Turkey Meatloaf
The Wellington: Beef Wellington
Whisk n'Ladle: Chocolate Pot Du Creme
Zenbu: Hot Rock

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