Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Homemade Mustard Stocking Stuffers

I love making condiments, but have always been resistant for some reason to trying my hand with mustard. I grew up with the bright yellow stuff of French's. Not that it did anything for me, but it was the mustard du jour of the 60s. And, of course, there was the classic spicy deli mustard, Ba-Tampte, which was perfect for salami sandwiches, Hebrew National hotdogs and knockwurst, and corned beef and pastrami. Then in the late 80s, there were the inimitable commercials for Grey Poupon. You know, the ones with the two hoity-toity men in their Rolls Royces ever so politely exchanging those rounded glass jars. Mustard became aspirational. Became lifestyle. And within a decade or so emerged new artisinal trends, and soon we had all sorts of flavored mustards--made with raspberry and chilis and honey and garlic--and whatever anyone could think of.

Enter my friends at SoNo Trading Company--Zach Negin and James Magnatta--who launched their company a few years ago, initially selling their luscious flavor-packed mustards at several farmers markets. Now they've eschewed the farmers markets for distribution at places like Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca, Venissimo, and others, narrowing their flavors to three favorites: Whole Grain, Champagne Garlic, and Hong Kong Habanero. They're fabulous. And, the guys are also great teachers. Recently, Zach, who now lives in L.A. and teaches at the Institute of Domestic Technology, spent an evening with my Les Dames d'Escoffier chapter at The Wild Thyme Company, teaching us the secrets and techniques to making both mustard and lacto-fermented ketchup. The class was a blast and turned all of us into mustard- and ketchup-making fiends. Including me.

Around the large grouping of tables were bottles, jars, and containers of all sorts of potential flavorings--molasses, kona coffee, pomegranate syrup, citrus zest, nutmeg, allspice, and even grapefruit bitters. We learned from Zach that Canada is the biggest exporter of mustard seeds and that the easy little secret to Chinese mustard is blending ground mustard (like Coleman's) with a little water. Water brings out the heat, says Zach.

We toyed around with both yellow and brown seeds before getting started with some that Zach already pre-soaked.

The process itself is quite simple--but you can easily get into trouble. You have a proportion of liquid to solids--1 1/2 cups mustard seeds to 20 ounces of liquid. That's not the issue. It's all those flavor choices. Do horseradish and citrus zest really work well together? Maybe. Maybe not. Did we have too heavy a hand with the nutmeg? Did we get carried away and use too many flavorings and muddy the results? In other words, sure, be daring, but be also be respectful of the power of the flavors and combinations you choose. You could have a real winner or something your gift recipients will spit out.

Flor Franco and Maria Gomez mixing up their mustard flavors
So, back to the process. Essentially, you'll measure out your basics--mustard seeds and liquid--along with salt, and other flavorings. They'll soak in a nonreactive mixing bowl at room temperature for a few days to soften the seeds and meld the flavors. Then you grind it all together, transfer to a jar and cover. That's it. You'll want to keep open jars refrigerated.

Marie Kelley with her just-ground mustard.

And my selected flavorings? I went with honey, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, Kona coffee, and chipotle powder. Delicious!

Below is Zach's recipe. He's got a lovely flavor profile here with what I'd call baking ingredients. Use those or sub out your own. And, the beer is a great addition, but you can just as readily use water, wine, or fruit juice if you like.

Zach Negin's Homemade Mustard
(printable recipe)
Makes 2, 6-ounce jars

12 ounce bottle of Guinness Extra Stout (or wine, juice, water...)
1 1/2 cups mustard seeds (10 ounces), brown or yellow
1 cup red wine vinegar (or sherry, infused vinegar, apple cider vinegar -- not distilled)
2 1/2 ounces brewed espresso or 8 grams finely ground espresso beans
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1. Combine ingredients in a nonreactive mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for two to four days so that the mustard seeds soften and the flavors meld.
2. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a food processor and process. Or grind by hand with a mortar and pestle. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula until the seeds are coarsely ground and the mixture thickens, about three minutes. Transfer to a jar and cover.
3. Refrigerate overnight and use immediately or refrigerate for up to six months. (The flavor of the mustard will mellow as the condiment ages.)

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Ultimate Adult Holiday Milkshakes

Three adult shakes: (l to r) Chocolate Cherry Pinot Noir, Egg Nog, and Dulce de Leche
One of my favorite holiday treats is eggnog. But I know there are so many people who cringe at the thought of it. So, when I learned that The Counter, the custom-built burger chain, makes "adult" milkshakes, including shakes with wine or with eggnog flavoring, I had to learn more and find out how they do it. Really, wouldn't these be fun to serve at holiday parties?

So, last week I had a mini milkshake seminar with Casey Bushrod, a supervisor and counter server at the downtown restaurant on 6th at G. Casey made me three shakes--and gave me the recipes.

The shakes are simple. No surprise there. And they open themselves up to riffing. So, use these recipes as your template and have fun. And, remember, that the suggested alcohol--both in content and amount--is just that. A suggestion. No alcohol? No problem. A little more or less? Sure, just make sure you keep the ingredients proportional. And, to make the blending easier, let the ice cream soften just a little.

Let's start with the Egg Nog. If you love traditional egg nog, you'll adore this chilly adaptation. You can certainly have a "virgin" version, but the spiced rum adds even more richness to the drink, and a real warmth inside your soul.

Egg Nog Milkshake
Makes 1, 20-ounce shake

12.5 ounces vanilla ice cream
1 cup egg nog
1/2 teaspoon egg nog spice mix or pumpkin pie spice mix (or ground cinnamon)
Whipped cream

If you're adding alcohol, the proportions change:
10 ounces vanilla ice cream
1 cup egg nog
2 ounces spiced rum, like Sailor Jerry

Add all the ingredients but the spice mix and whipped cream to a blender and blend until thoroughly combined. Pour into a 20-ounce glass tumbler. Dispense the whipped cream in a spiral motion. Sprinkle the spice mix onto the whipped cream.

Next up, Dulce de Leche. This creamy, caramel-ly drink is actually rather soothing--no doubt helped by the Baileys. It goes down like a dream.

Dulce de Leche Milkshake
Makes 1, 16-ounce shake

10 ounces vanilla ice cream
2 ounces Baileys Caramel Irish Cream
1 ounce caramel
2 ounces whipped cream

Add the ice cream, Irish Cream, and caramel to the blender and blend until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. Pour into a 16-ounce glass. Pipe with whipped cream and drizzle on more caramel.

And, finally, a stunner of a shake, the Chocolate Cherry Pinot Noir. I actually had this earlier at The Counter with a burger and fries. My friend Trish and I had just little tasters and it was all we could do not to down the tasters in one gulp and then ask for more. It's like the ultimate black cherry soda only a huge leap better. Who knew wine could be so perfect an ingredient in a shake? Surprise your friends with this one.

Chocolate Cherry Pinot Noir Milkshake
Makes 1, 16-ounce shake

8 ounces vanilla ice cream
3 ounces Pinot Noir
2 ounces cherry pie filling (although you can also mash maraschino cherries)
1 ounce U-Bet chocolate syrup
4 ounces whipped cream

Add ice cream, wine, cherries, and chocolate to a blender pitcher and blend until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Pour into a 16-ounce glass and garnish with whipped cream spiral. Top with a Maraschino cherry.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Smokey Turkey Chile

Comfort food comes in many forms. For some of us it's Mom's chicken noodle soup or mashed potatoes. For others it's roast chicken or mac 'n cheese or chocolate layer cake. For me, at this time of year, comfort comes cradled in a bowl. It could be mushroom barley soup, Hatch chile pork stew, or a batch of turkey chile. Last weekend, I opted for the turkey chile.

This turkey chile is a descendant of a lovely red chile stew created by Alice Robertson of Alice Q. Foodie. I had made some changes to Alice's recipe, as we all tend to do with recipes we love to make them our own. Instead of cubed beef and pork I used ground and then segued to lean ground turkey and eliminated the beer (that whole weight loss thing, remember?), also adding the fresh Hatch chiles I buy annually to roast and freeze, or canned chipotles in adobo.

What I was looking for was a subtle smokiness that both add that could compensate for the flavors lost by eliminating the richer meats and the beer. But what was most compelling about Alice's recipe actually was the spice mixture and that I've pretty much kept intact. The cocoa powder and cinnamon give a lush depth to the chile and there's that smokiness again with the New Mexico (or Chimayo) chili powder.

This is a distinctive regional chili I fell in love with many years ago while visiting Santa Fe one November. In fact, one morning I drove over to the little village of Chimayo just outside of Santa Fe in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains where the chili is grown, and was mesmerized by the sweet, smoky scent that permeates the region when the farmers roast the harvested chilis in their clay ovens. I also took a cooking class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking that week. They sell a line of regional food products, including this rare Chimayo chili powder and New Mexico red chili powder, both of which I continue to purchase and recommend.

The tomatoes also make a difference in the chile's flavor and texture, and this time of year using canned tomatoes is preferable to fresh. I like to use the Muir Glen organic fire-roasted tomatoes to get an even bigger bang of flavor. Use both crushed and diced to mix up the textures.

The chile freezes well. This recipe makes about four servings, but you can easily double it and put some away for a rainy night when you don't feel like cooking.

Turkey Chile
Adapted from Alice Q. Foodie's Red Chile Stew
(printable recipe)
Serves 4

Spice Mixture:
1 tablespoon medium heat Chimayo or New Mexico red chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 - 4 peeled and seeded roasted Hatch chiles or 2 chipotles in adobo sauce, chopped
3/4 cup water
1, 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1, 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 14-ounce can pinto, black, or kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Mix together the chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder, cinnamon, sugar, oregano, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.

Heat a large pot and add the oil. Then add the onion and garlic, and saute until soft. Add the ground turkey, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Let it brown and then add the spice mixture. Stir to coat until the spices are fully incorporated. Saute for about two minutes.

Add the chopped chiles, tomatoes, and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook uncovered for two hours. Add the beans and simmer for another hour, covered, so the flavors intensify. Stir periodically and add a little more liquid if necessary to keep the consistency as you want it.

Take the pot off the heat and adjust the seasonings to taste. You can serve it now, but it will be even better the next day so, if possible, let cool and refrigerate for a day or two. Remove the fat from the top and discard, then reheat. You can serve the chile with corn tortillas or cornbread, or over chopped lettuce. Top with chopped red onions and sour cream, or shredded cheddar cheese, or crumbled queso fresca. Now you have comfort in a bowl.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Return to Victoria: A Confab Christmas Dinner

Craving a little tradition for Christmas, even if it isn't your own? For us former English majors, there's nothing as captivating as a savory description of a well-laid holiday repast--a table groaning from the strain of supporting a bulging  joint of beef, sumptuous pudding, quivering aspics, and anything with thick, fluffy mounds of cream. From Chaucer to Austen, Dickens to Woolf and beyond, English authors have known how to transform the basic annual Christmas meal into memorable culinary repasts.

Then there's real life. In San Diego. In 2012. But English expat Andrew Spurgin and his merry band of Confabularie will bring that style of sumptuous holiday dining on paper alive--in their unique way. On Sunday, Dec. 16, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Cafe Chloe's sister space, Oliver & Rose, Cooks Confab, with its extraordinary assortment of chefs and mixologists from around San Diego, will take us back to the days of Victoria and Albert--adding a bit of a French twist--and offer a Christmas meal that marries British tradition with Escoffier. Guests are even asked to arrive dressed to the nines in dinner attire, period dress, or even Steampunk-inspired ensemble. And, don't forget a Teddy Bear or some other new unwrapped plush toy that the Confab will be donating to children in need for the holidays.

"We're going to whisk you away to a forgotten era," Spurgin says. This is the style of food in which he finds great romance and he's long been fixated on even the most esoteric of traditions, like "port-iquette." For instance, Spurgin says, according to British naval custom, a decanter of port is placed in front of the host, who then serves the guest to his right, then passes the decanter to the guest of the left (port-side), at which point the port is passed to the left all the way back to the host. If the decanter doesn't make it all the way back, it's impolite to ask for it directly. Instead the host asks the guest closest to the decanter if his knows the bishop of Norwich or any other English village. This should get the decanter moving again. However, if the offender answers, "No," the response is that "the bishop is an awfully good fellow, but he never passes the port!" Even the most oblivious guest should realize then that he's hogging the decanter and will send it on its way.

Now, the menu is too long to list (mostly because I have a recipe to share with you below), but suffice to say that terrines, aspics, mince meats, Welch rarebit, rolling carvery, Yorkshire pudding, Christmas pudding, Stilton cheese--and port-- will all be involved. (There will also be a sixpence hidden in one of the puddings that will bring both good luck and a gift certificate for dinner for two.)

Surely, following dinner you'll be inspired to prepare at least one traditional English dish for your loved ones. Spurgin gave me his recipe for Yorkshire Pudding to share:

Andrew Spurgin's Yorkshire Pudding
(printable recipe here)
Serves 6

1 cup whole organic milk
1 cup hens eggs
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted twice
1 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup turkey drippings

1. Drain off turkey drippings and strain through a fine strainer. If cooking a beef roast do the same. If you have no drippings, use duck fat, bacon fat, lard, or butter.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.
3. With a mixer, beat the eggs into the milk and salt. Sieve the flour into the custard and get rid of any lumps. Let rest for an hour at room temperature. Pour through a strainer and stir in the rosemary.
4. Heat a 12-count muffin or pop-over pan in the oven until very hot.
5. Heat the fat if it's not liquid. Mix the cold water into the custard. Add about a teaspoon of fat into each muffin cup. It should be smoking.
6. Give the custard one quick stir, then immediately fill each muffin cup 1/3 full with the custard and pop it into the oven. Do not open the oven until they're fully cooked.
7. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown.
8. Remove from oven and serve immediately, sopping up with lots of lovely gravy.

Tickets for Cooks Confab Christmas Dinner are $175 with a percentage of the proceeds going, as always, to Slow Food Urban San Diego. You can purchase tickets at Brown Paper Tickets. Oliver & Rose is located at 726 Ninth Ave. in downtown San Diego.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Top 10 Online Thanksgiving Resources

I know. You're frantically scurrying around town to pick up all the ingredients and other supplies for your Thanksgiving extravaganza. But, how are you set for how you'll actually prepare your spread? We all know that Butterball has its inimitable hotline (800-288-8372) for freaked out turkey cooks, but where else can you turn for great recipes, advice, or inspiration. Well, here are my top 10 picks:
  • The Splendid Table: I adore Lynne Rossetto Kasper and her weekly radio show. But don't miss out on her website, which has all sorts of great advice and recipes focused on Thanksgiving this week. If you need a turkey carving primer, it's there. A change of pace for cranberries? How about a Cranberry Port Gelee? 
  • Gourmet.com: Yes, gourmet.com is an endless source for anything about food, but this specific page turned me around when it came to roasting turkey. Go with high heat. Here, this archived and priceless advice from Kemp Minifie explains how the Gourmet test kitchen tried every possible roasting scenario and returned to this method. Plus. there's advice on how to select a turkey and how to prep it.
  • The California Cook: This is renowned food writer Russ Parsons' LA Times column. This particular link, though, is utterly charming as he recounts his mother's relationship with her Thanksgiving cranberries. It's something many of us of a certain age will relate to. But, of course, click on the link for the recipe. Too many people are intimidated by the idea of making cranberry relish, but it couldn't be easier--or more tasty than the canned.
  • Food52: Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs have done a brilliant job of pulling in home cooks and curating recipes. But it goes way beyond that. Witness this wonderful, much needed piece on 5 Thanksgiving Disasters and How to Fix Them. Dry turkey? No problem. Yikes, you forgot to defrost it and it's Thanksgiving morning? There's a workaround here. Also, you must watch Amanda and Merrill making a Brown Butter and Cheddar Apple Pie with Dorie Greenspan.
  • Zester Daily: If you love to read about food and you haven't discovered Zester Daily, give this roundup of their Thanksgiving stories a look. Zester Daily's writers are food culture junkies dedicated to their craft, many with name recognition like Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Here you'll find her pumpkin risotto, but you'll also discover Martha Rose Shulman's turnips and Louisa Kasdan's examination on to brine or not to brine the big bird.
  • Dorie Greenspan: Dorie is one of America's finest bakers. Take a look at this gorgeous Cranberry Crackle Tart she developed for Thanksgiving, and then scan the site for inspiration for other sweets.
  • Dessertier: This is Michele Coulon of Michele Coulon Dessertier's peripatetic blog. She doesn't blog much, but it's always worth a look. Last year, she did a three-part post on making pumpkin pie, including homemade pumpkin puree. It's worth the effort and Michele does a beautiful job explaining the process. If you're more of an apple pie fan, take a look at the fun we had making apple pie last year. This is the pie I make for my family and friends.
  • Nourish Network: Lia Huber's innovative site that focuses on a nourishing, eco-conscious approach to food has a terrific Thanksgiving page with features that speak to the issues you'll face before, during, and after the feast, including testing your leaveners before baking, wine pairing, and dealing with leftovers.
  • Punk Domestics: This site, created by Sean Timberlake, is dedicated the art and culture of preserving. I did a quick site search on Thanksgiving and it popped up with all sorts of creative ideas, including Cranberry Conserve with Apples and Pecans, Apple Sauerkraut au Gratin, and Pumpkin Pie-Infused Liquor.
  • The New York Times Dining & Wine Section: I know, how original, huh? But where else can you get the wisdom of Bittman, Clark, Asimov, and Fabricant in one place? This special Thanksgiving section offers Jacques Pepin's Steam Powered Turkey, Melissa Clark's Breakfast Muffins, and even a "Thanksgiving-erator" quiz to help you plan your menu. 
That's it! Enjoy your meal, but more than that, enjoy the people you're with and the memories of loved ones who may no longer be with you (that's my Nana and Poppa up at the top--and while I miss them terribly, I love all this photo represents).

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wee Be Little Soup for One

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a variety of pumpkins sold at Suzie's Farm booths at the local farmers markets in my Local Bounty blog on sandiegomagazine.com. Among the pumpkins I featured were petite Wee Be Littles, a lovely sugar pumpkin that can be chopped up and cooked or carefully emptied of the seeds and fibrous pulp and used as a container for everything from soup to salad to pudding.

In fact, Suzie's Farm employee Jenna Barnes gave me a wonderful quick soup idea for the Wee Be Littles that I included in the post. Then I took a couple home with the idea of making the soup--but it evolved from Jenna's very smart launching pad of a recipe into my own soup for one. I sauteed the vegetables and included a splash of Madeira. I used herbs from my garden, added some hot pepper flakes, and used gouda instead of cheddar cheese. The result was a rich, fragrant bowl of happiness. Easy to make and a splendid way to use the entire squash (and, yes, I always roast the seeds).

This is still Jenna's recipe, but it brings home the point that home cooks don't have to follow recipes to the letter, but instead should use them as a jumping off point to create a dish that reflects their own style of cooking.

So, with thanks to Jenna, here's my version of a Wee Be Little Soup:

Wee Be Little Soup for One
adapted from Jenna Barnes
(printable recipe here)
Serves, well, one

1 Wee Be Little pumpkin
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (plus oil to rub over the pumpkin)
Splash of Madeira or other sherry
2 teaspoons minced herbs (I used thyme and marjoram, but sage is also good here) Keep about a 1/4 teaspoon reserved.
3 tablespoons grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup of milk (amount depends on size of the pumpkin)
1 pat of butter

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a saute pan and add the onions and garlic. Slowly saute until golden. Add the Madeira and cook it down. Add the herbs and mix in well. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Slice off the top of the pumpkin, just taking off about an inch or so and discard. Using a grapefruit knife, carefully clean out the seeds and the pulp (save the seeds to roast). Rub the pumpkin with the extra olive oil and place on a foil-covered baking sheet.

3. Add the onion and garlic mixture to the pumpkin, followed by the cheese, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes. Add milk, leaving about half an inch of space from the top. Gently mix together, then top with the butter.

4. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft on the inside.

5. Remove the pumpkin from the oven. Using a spoon, gently scrape the flesh from the sides of the pumpkin, taking care not to break through the skin. Stir all the ingredients together to create the soup. You're not pureeing the pumpkin so the soup will be a little chunky, but this adds some nice texture. Sprinkle the soup with the remaining herbs and/or roasted pumpkin seeds. Serve with warm crusty bread for dunking.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

To Save A Child's Heart: Celebrity Chef Event for Kawasaki Disease Foundation

I'm a sucker for events that help children. Kawasaki Disease may not be something you're familiar with since it's a rare illness, but it's the leading cause of acquired heart disease among children, with 80 percent of patients being under the age of five. For my friend Beth Avant, it struck her family when her son Lucas was just nine months old. Lucas is fine, but Beth has become an advocate for research to fight the disease and find a cure. And that's what the upcoming Kawasaki Disease Foundation's "To Save a Child's Heart Gala," which takes place on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. at the La Costa Resort and Spa, will be raising funds for.

Chef Nate Appleman
Chef Nate Appleman of Chipotle, a KD parent and winner of the James Beard Award for Rising Chef, is the gala's "honorary chef." Our own Sam "the cooking guy" Zien will be the Master of Ceremonies. His job will be made a little complicated -- in a very good way -- by the unique structure of the event. Instead of each chef cooking one dish for everyone, each chef will cook an entire meal for a single table, which Sam will be checking in on with commentary and interviews.

The feasting will be a food-lover's dream. Take a look at this line up of local and nationally renown chefs:

Scott Thomas Dolbee of Kitchen 1540 in Del Mar
Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal in Los Angeles
Neal Fraser of BLD in Los Angeles
Amanda Freitag of New York
Chris Gerwig of Village Idiot in Los Angeles
Matt Gordon of Solace & the Moonlight Lounge and Urban Solace in San Diego

Matt Gordon
David Hernandez of Rubicon Resources in Los Angeles
Gavin Kaysen of Cafe Boulud in New York
Mourad Lahlou of Aziza in San Francisco
Ludo Lefebvre of Ludo Bites in Los Angeles
Joe Magnanelli of Cucina Urbana in San Diego
Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland, Oregon

Naomi Pomeroy
Jonathan Sawyer of The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland

Jonathan Sawyer
Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philadelphia
Chad White of Counterpoint in San Diego
Tandy Wilson of City House in Nashville
Tony Quartaro of The Bristol in Chicago

Each of these chefs will prepare a stunning five-course meal. The proceeds will benefit the KD Research Center at UC San Diego and Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego. Tickets start a $300 a person and can be purchased online.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kale and Cremini Mushroom Greenwheat Freekah Pilaf

We are enjoying a whole grains revolution. Not only is the public becoming enthralled with whole wheat breads, quinoa salads, and brown rice sushi rolls, but we're being introduced to a plethora of flavorful ancient grains whose names still mystify a wide swath of consumers. Cookbook after new cookbook is coming out with recipes for grains like spelt, farro, wheat berries, and amaranth, and vendors are showcasing them on market shelves. But it doesn't take much namedropping to underscore how much education still needs to be done.

Raw greenwheat freekah
A case in point would be greenwheat freekah. I posted a short note on Facebook last weekend that I was making a pilaf with this for dinner with my parents and friends responded with a big virtual, "Huh?"

So, let's talk freekah. This is less a grain than a process which originated in the Middle East centuries ago in which grains are harvested while still green and then slow roasted in the hull. In this case, it's called greenwheat freekah because the freekah is made with young wheat kernels. It's reminiscent of farro and barley, with a nutty, grassy flavor and hearty, toothy texture.

I was sent an eight-ounce package of greenwheat freekah by Indian Harvest. What I love about it, along with the flavor and the fact that it cooks up in all of 20 minutes, is that it's so ridiculously healthy. It's low in fat, low carb with a low-glycemic index, high in fiber (a single serving has seven grams of dietary fiber), and is a prebiotic.

Cooked greenwheat freekah
Greenwheat freekah is as versatile as rice, even if it's more earthy, so it's an easy substitute for many of your favorite rice-based recipes. This time of year, mix it up with winter squash, crispy bacon, sauteed greens, fresh apples and pears, dried fruit, toasted nuts, or mushrooms. In warmer weather, turn it into a salad with fresh herbs, shrimp, berries, or figs.

With a full vegetable bin in the fridge, I decided to make a pilaf using kale, crimini mushrooms, and herbs. It was easy to put together and absolutely delicious.

Kale and Cremini Mushroom Greenwheat Freekah Pilaf
(printable recipe here)
Makes six servings

1 cup greenwheat freekah
1 3/4 cups water or stock
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch kale, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as sage, oregano, or Mexican tarragon
Juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring water or stock to a boil. Stir in the freekah. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes.

2. While the freekah is simmering, heat a large saute pan or wok. Add oil and let warm up. Reduce the heat and add the garlic and onions. Let them cook slowly until almost caramelized. Add mushrooms and cook until softened. Add kale and herbs. Cook until wilted. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the cooked freekah and mix thoroughly. Serve.

Kale and Cremini Mushroom Greenwheat Freekah Pilaf
You can order freekah online from vendors like Indian Harvest, but also try your local Whole Foods, Jimbo's, and even Trader Joe's to see if they stock it. And, there's a wonderful website from The Whole Grains Council that's a great source of information.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kitchenability 101: A Cookbook for College Students

When I was at UCLA and living in a tiny dorm room at Rieber Hall with a roommate, dining revolved around the student meal plan and our illicit popcorn maker. I know we had a mini fridge but I can't remember what we put in it. Probably beer, of course, but I think there was butter for the popcorn and perhaps some fruit. It never occurred to me to try to cook in my room; that's what the meal plan was for. And it showed; I gained that inevitable freshman 15.

I don't have kids, but I have nieces and nephews, three of whom are in college and two who are rapidly approaching it. And Nisa Burns' Kitchenability 101: The College Student's Guide to Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Food ($17.95, Kitchenability Press) would be a worthy gift for any of them.

Burns calls herself the "Chef of a New Generation" and she's not much older than the kids she's writing for. A graduate of the Art Institute of Virginia Beach, she's been cooking since she was five years old--something I can relate to--so she brings a joy and commitment to kitchen independence that translates into easy, mostly healthy, and winning dishes.

The first thing to appreciate in the book--as opposed to a more traditional cookbook--is that the recipes are designed to appeal to and be appropriate for a college audience who may have nothing more than the dorm room mini fridge or a limited kitchen space--and budget. So some recipes are not much more than elevated PB&J sandwiches or yogurt mixed with fruit.

However, Burns does ease her readers into homemade dishes that are the first step to a more sophisticated kitchen experience that includes exposure to ingredients some college kids may not have had or refused at Mom's table. Her Lemon Cilantro Chicken is all of six ingredients: olive oil, garlic, lemons, cilantro, salt, pepper, and chicken breasts. But Burns subtly teaches her readers how to marinate proteins and poach the chicken in the marinade to cook it and create a sauce. Not bad.

There's Asparagus with Balsamic Vinegar, Gnocchi with Pesto, Feta-Spiked Turkey Burgers, and even homemade Chicken Soup for the Tummy. Plus, there are a slew of breakfast dishes, party dishes, snacks, desserts, and drinks. Yes, some come from mixes or packages (think semi-homemade), but you have to start somewhere.

Additionally, Burns coaches her readers on kitchen basics--everything from what equipment, spices, and utensils to have on hand to how to dice an onion. In fact, QR codes scattered through the book lead to short videos accessible via cell phone or tablet to show how to shop a supermarket aisle or chop that onion.

Kitchenability is well conceived and mostly well delivered. I have a few quibbles with some of the cooking directions in the recipes, which could be clearer--especially for kitchen novices. But the recipes are appealing and lean toward the healthy and budget friendly. It's a good start toward independence.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Kokopelli Tacos de Mariscos

Last weekend I attended the Batalla Culinaria that was part of Tijuana Innovadora 2012. Think Iron Chef, Mexican style with two teams of four chefs from both sides of the border participating.

As much fun as it was, the only folks who got to sample the food were the judges and I wasn't one of them. By the time the event ended--close to 2 p.m.--I was famished. The group I was with from San Diego headed out to return home, but our guide, event volunteer Genaro Valladolid, made a brilliant stop--at the street taco vendor Kokopelli.

Run by three graduates of the Culinary Art Institute in Tijuana, the permanent stand with the Baja vibe opened just last December and sells eight types of seafood tacos, plus a vegetarian one made with Portobello mushrooms--all on average for about $2 apiece. They also spice it up with a variety of sauces and other housemade condiments, like pickled onions.

Oso (yes, he goes by just that name, apparently), started us off--or perhaps tested us--with this queso fresco "surprise" taco.

Now, look closely on the right. No, you can't really see what it is. So, here's one that's open:

Look again. Yes, those are fried crickets nestled among the cheese and avocado slices. And, yes, I was that hungry. It looks bizarre but it was a delicious taco. (Actually, it turns out he thought our group was another called Club Tengo Hambre that was also there. No matter; it was fun.)

Now, while none of the rest of the tacos are what we'd think of as traditional, none of the rest had ingredients that most Americans would find particularly, well, off putting. In fact, the cooks of Kokopelli have a wonderfully deft and creative approach to the taco and the flavors are remarkable.

Oso sauteeing shrimp
Take, for example, the chewy octopus marinated in Mexican pesto or the shrimp in adobo. Or the Rasta, shrimp cooked in chimichuri with black olives.

There's a crispy corn tortilla smothered in a sole or flounder ceviche with squid ink and Asian spices that many in our group ravished (believing it was lengua).

My favorite, however, turned out to be the "Poblano," smoked marlin mixed in cream with corn and mushrooms, stuffed in a grilled red poblano chile, and topped with avocado slices. It felt and tasted rich and decadent.

Kokopelli is a pure street experience, including a random street guitarist playing, what else, La Bamba. You can find it open on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Calle Ocampo, between Blvd. Agua Caliente and Calle 11 in downtown Tijuana.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

African Restaurant Week

San Diego has a growing community of Ethiopian, Kenyan, Eritrean, and Somali immigrants. And where there are expats, there is of course, their food. Beginning Oct. 19 and going on through Oct. 28, the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association is holding African Restaurant Week to showcase African restaurants along El Cajon Blvd.-- mostly in City Heights.

Seven restaurants will be participating: Awash, Asmara, Fatuma, Red Sea, Flavors of East Africa, Laylah's Patties & Jerk, and Island Spice. And meals are a huge deal at $15 for a prixe fixe meal of appetizer, main course, and dessert.

The kick-off to the celebration begins on Oct. 19 at the WorldBeat Center in Balboa Park at 2100 Park Blvd. Beginning at 6:30, there will be a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony and drum call, followed by an Ethiopian beer and wine tasting, and "Taste of African Cuisine" from each of the seven participating restaurants. At 8 p.m. the World Beat Center's chef will host a free African vegetarian cooking class. The evening ends with a performance of African music. Admission is $10. Call 619-283-3608 to register for the cooking class.

Finally, various restaurants will host free cooking classes on week nights, as well as African dance and music on the weekends. Check www.africanfoodsd.com for more information.

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