Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"True" Tuscan Kale Salad

If you've been on my San Diego Foodstuff Facebook page, you probably saw a post I wrote just over a week ago: "I think my current favorite flavor combination is lemon, garlic, olive oil, and salt. Made the best kale salad with that as dressing, plus grated Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. I thank Nathan Coulon for that..."

Nathan Coulon, of course, is the chef and member of Cooks Confab who had been at Modus, at Quarter Kitchen, and, of course, long ago, at his mother's pastry shop, Michele Coulon Dessertier. A San Diego native, he'd departed for awhile to join True Food Kitchen--and now he's back and opening San Diego's  True Food Kitchen this week in Fashion Valley.

Nathan, Michael, Mike Bragg, and me--refusing to relinquish the salad
Nathan, and his boss, former San Diego chef Michael Stebner (Region, Nine-Ten, Azzura Point), recently were guests on the radio show I had hosted, Wine & Dine San Diego Radio, to talk about True Food Kitchen. They stayed afterwards to do a video demo of one of the restaurant's dishes. And that's how I was introduced to this fabulous kale salad, which, Nathan acknowledges, is a recipe originally created by Dr. Andrew Weil, a partner in the restaurant.

There's nothing fancy or complicated about it, but the flavors are perfection. Raw kale can be tough and bitter, but the lemon juice in the dressing "cooks" the kale and tenderizes it. The olive oil (use a great one), the cheese (again, use the best you can afford), the red pepper flakes, and the bread crumbs give it a richness of flavor and texture that makes this salad wonderful not just when it's freshly made but also the day after. In fact, it may be the only leafy green salad I enjoy when it's wilted a bit.

This will be my summer go to. When I made it this week, I topped it with toasted walnuts. It's perfection on its own, but you can add nuts, dried fruit, other vegetables, roasted shrimp, fish, or other proteins to it for a more filling meal. Or enjoy it in all its splendid simplicity.

Thanks, Nathan! I'm looking forward to True Food Kitchen's opening this week!

True Food Kitchen Tuscan Kale Salad
From Nathan Coulon
(printable recipe)

4-6 cups kale, loosely packed, sliced leaves of Italian black (Lacinato, “dinosaur,” cavolo nero), midribs removed
Juice of 1 lemon
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mashed
Salt & pepper, to taste
Hot red pepper flakes, to taste
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Toscano cheese (Rosselino variety if you can find it) or other flavorful grating cheese such as Asiago or Parmesan)
½ cup freshly made bread crumbs from lightly toasted bread

Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, and a generous pinch (or more to taste) of hot red pepper flakes.

Pour over kale in serving bowl and toss well. Add 2/3 of the cheese and toss again.

Let kale sit for at least 5 minutes. Add bread crumbs, toss again, and top with remaining cheese.

My home version...

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June Gloom Be Gone With These Food Events

My head is spinning from all the food-related goings on this coming weekend. This is one of those weekends that you just have to start the stopwatch and, on your mark, get set, go! Here are my three top picks!

Let's start with The Taste of Little Saigon, along El Cajon Blvd. this Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. For $15 (pre-sale, $18, day of), you'll discover the variety of Vietnamese food in the area, including Maxims Seafood, A Chau, Song Huong Food to Go, Pho King, Hoai Hue, Minh Hoa Supermarket, Thuan Kieu, Cali Baguette, and Vinh Long Food to Go. You'll also have an opportunity to go on a guided tour highlighting the neighborhood's history and enjoy performances by local singers and a live painting by San Diego artist Leah Younker.

Tickets can be purchased pre-sale at Hoai Hue Restaurant at 4660 El Cajon Blvd., Suite 102.

Also on Saturday, but up the coast, is the Encinitas Foodie Fest at Pacific Station, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event celebrates sustainable foods and products and is promoting the Coastal Community Foundation's Healthy Day Fund. Six local chefs will be featured doing demos: Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room, Kaitlin Ramos of St. Germain's Bistro, Dennis Horton of Whole Foods, John Gonzales of Bottaro Wood Fired Pizza, and Jason Gethin of Union Kitchen & Tap. Draft beer and white sangria will be sold by Solace & the Moonlight Lounge. Vendors who focus on sustainable and artisanal products, including Millie's Gelato, Sea Salt Candy Company, Majestic Garlic, Sadie Rose Baking Company, Viva Pops, and Praline Patisserie will be there with their delicious wares. And, there will be plenty of musical performances. And, it's a free event!

Get a good night's sleep because the next day you'll want to head over to Normal Heights and Kensington for a Taste of Adams Avenue. Always a great splash of deliciousness, The 12th Annual Taste event will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. along Adams Avenue and feature the area's top restaurants, including Bleu Boheme, Blind Lady Ale House, Burger Lounge, Cafe Cabaret, Cantina Mayahuel, El Zarape, Farm House Cafe, Tao, and many others. Tool around by foot or take the complimentary trolley while you eat and shop.

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 on the day of the event. For advance purchase, you can buy your tickets online here.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Beyond Kimchee: Exploring K-town's Galleria Market

I was up in L.A. last weekend on assignment for Sunset Magazine to take in Koreatown's restaurant scene with chef Debbie Lee of Next Food Network Star, Season 5 fame and owner of the Glendale pub grub eatery Ahn-Joo. Before meeting her Saturday night I tooled around the neighborhood on my own, stopping at the large Galleria Plaza on Olympic and Western. This plaza, along with the Koreatown Plaza on Western at 9th, is known for its splendid food court. And the Galleria Plaza is home to the expansive Galleria Market on the ground floor. Well, I'm not about to skip a market opportunity...

In San Diego, I've been a regular shopper at two Korean markets, Zion and First Korean. But having read Lee's cookbook, Seoultown Kitchen, and gotten more familiar with ingredients, I was more directed than aimless with this market visit. And, it didn't hurt that on a Saturday afternoon, there are free samples galore. So, let me point out several highlights of the market that can translate (to some extent) to our local Korean markets, understanding that I'm just skimming the surface.

One of the ingredients I was looking for was Korean peppers. This is most certainly a staple of Korean cuisine and while they are longer (about four inches), thicker, and smooth, not wrinkled--like a shishito or padron--they have a similar flavor. So, we're not talking crazy heat but great flavor. While you could certainly grill them, my experience with them that day at lunch was raw, sliced, and mixed with a sweetish chile sauce.

In the produce section, there was a lady surrounded by customers getting free samples of half-dried persimmons. Sweet and chewy, they are a wonderful snack even if they're a bit odd looking. And, according to the customers I spoke with, that's all they're meant for.

Around the corner from the produce was a display of bags filled with two kind of unusual crackers. One was peanut rice crackers, which were sweet and crunchy with a touch of salt from the slivers of peanuts, and the other darker crackers were made with beans, and also sweet and crunchy. Again, these are just meant for snacking, perhaps with a cup of coffee.

The seafood section is one of those fabulously classic Asian displays, filled with live crabs, a variety of unusual whole fish, shrimp, and, something I hadn't seen in a supermarket, a case of live abalone. They also had refrigerated packages filled with seafood and other ingredients to make different kinds of stews. So, for instance, if you wanted a no-brainer spicy crab stew, you could pick up this package which not only has crab, but clams, shrimp, sliced peppers, onions, green onions, jalapeños, squash, enoki mushrooms, soy bean paste, and hot pepper paste.

Behind me as I was eying the seafood counter was the scent of something fragrant cooking. I turned around to find a woman working over a saute pan, creating a seafood pancake made with shrimp, mussels, squid, and clams. Also there for tasting were plates filled with cooked mackerel and razor clams with peppers.

That sight eased me into an aisle filled like a cafeteria with banchan--a row of at least 30 prepared side dishes ranging from stir-fried radish stalk and marinated sand lances to fried fishcake, salted octopus, various kimchees, pickled perillar leaves, and seasoned fresh cucumber. This is when I wished I still lived in L.A. and could buy an assortment of these to take home.

I love condiments and the aisles devoted to condiments at Galleria Market were stunning. Sea salt is big in Korean cooking and there were a variety of brands and sizes, up to five pound bags, of sea salt--fine, coarse, roasted, flavored. Something I'll be picking up at a local Korean market to have on hand is a package of red pepper powder. Spicier than paprika, it turns dishes like those cukes above a vibrant red. It's also used with glutinous rice, flour, corn syrup, and salt to make hot pepper paste, which is added to meats, soups, stews, marinades or used on its own as a spicy dip or relish.

Then there are the toasted sesame seeds, both white and black. Put them in marinades, sauces, and add to vegetable sides. They are plentiful on Galleria Market's shelves.

I'll end with dessert. The bakery here has a crazy array of savory and sweet breads and pastries. Lee tells me there's heavy competition for the donuts on a Sunday morning. What I saw, though, led me to believe that there's heavy competition for everything there. The Korean white bread, which reminds me of Japanese white bread, is square and smooth and would be terrific for French toast.

I was charmed by the displays of cakes and these cupcakes. Like Japanese-style French pastries, Korean-style French pastries are less sweet, making it much easier to over-indulge. These are adorable.

Then there are the croissants and other more adult pastries. I was put off by the prepackaging, but in the back of the retail part of the bakery you can see that baked goods are made on site. So, I'm hoping these are fresh. With all the planned dining ahead of me, I didn't buy any to try; you go, and tell me what you think.

I am looking forward to Lee's visiting San Diego so we can hit not just the Korean restaurants along Convoy, but Zion Market. I wonder how it will compare.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Blueberry Ginger Granita

You can't have too many blueberries. Until you do. I was at Trader Joe's late last week and was overcome by the ginormous, 24-ounce containers for sale of plump berries for about $6. Of course, I bought one but even by the end of the weekend, I barely made a dent in it just by snacking. By Monday I saw the faintest beginnings of shriveling so I had to make a quick decision about their future. Since I rarely bake anymore (oh, do I miss that!), I opted for making a blueberry granita. And, since I had a big knob of ginger, a jar of local honey, limes on my little tree, and cinnamon, I figured this was an easy call.

Now, it may (unofficially) be summer, but the weather isn't cooperating. San Diego has been blanketed with June gloom. Nevertheless, a bite of icy, crunchiness with the sweet-tart flavors of blueberries is irresistible. And, this is one of those desserts that's both pretty healthy and just ridiculously easy to make -- just combine everything in the food processor or blender and whrrrr -- that's it. I think it took me longer to wash the food processor pieces and measuring spoons than it did to actually put it together for the freezer. So, it's also a perfect summer dinner party dessert for the stressed out cook.

We'll have a heat wave soon enough, so now you're prepared, right?

Blueberry Ginger Granita
(printable recipe)
Makes four servings

2 cups fresh blueberries, washed and stem-free
1/2 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (for just a hint of spice)
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor with the steel blade (or in a blender). Blend until smooth with just specks of blueberries. Pour the mixture into a shallow dish.

Cover and place in the freezer. After an hour, pull it out and scrape the mixture with a fork.

Return it to the freezer and repeat every half hour or so to get that grainy granita texture. It's ready when all the liquid has frozen and it's like a hard slush.

Garnish with more fresh, whole blueberries or small pieces of mango, pineapple, or other tropical fruit -- or with a big dollop of whipped cream and sprig of mint. Store in the freezer and eat within a couple of days while the flavor is still popping.

P.S. Hey, what are you up to next Tuesday evening (that would be June 12th)? How about heading over to Alchemy for a fun evening that supports the new Front Burner Fund? A group of local chefs, including Julie Darling, Flor Franco, and Maria Sparks, decided to launch a foundation that will provide financial support for back-of-the-house restaurant workers with healthcare emergencies. The first beneficiary will be Alchemy's executive chef Ricardo Heredia, who needs critical corrective eye surgery. No money? No health care? No surgery. So, this fund will enable that and get rid of his pirate's eye patch.

The event is from 5:30 to midnight at Alchemy, where chefs Hanis Cavin, Tommy Fraioli, Tina Luu, Miguel Valdez, Chad White, Ron Oliver, Cruz Caudillo and others will prepare tastes. Then come the food trucks! Plus wine! Plus beer! And, you can enjoy all this for all of $25. Buy your tickets here. See you there!

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