Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Trish's Tangy Summer Cucumber Garden Salad

Today, my friend Trish Watlington celebrates the third anniversary of the opening of her two Mission Hills restaurants, The Red Door and The Wellington Steak and Martini Lounge. In that scant amount of time, these two places--and Trish herself--have become fixtures in the San Diego food scene, even as the restaurants themselves have evolved. The most dramatic change has been that Trish brought in Karen Contreras and her landscaping company Urban Plantations to build and maintain a large garden at Trish and her husband Tom's Mt. Helix home.

Friends Trish Watlington (l) and Karen Contreras (r) at the recent Le Diner event in June
In the span of about a year I've watched the garden grow from conception to a full-on producing farm that supplies both restaurants with an abundance of gorgeous produce imaginatively used by chef Miguel Valdez. They even have bee hives on site housing bees that do double duty, as bees do, pollinating the plants and creating honey.

So, it was no surprise to me when I invited Trish and some other friends to brunch a few weeks ago that she brought a salad filled with her garden's bounty. I loved this salad. Filled primarily with cucumbers, it's a huge augmentation of a favorite hot weather snack I make--thinly sliced Japanese or hot house cucumbers marinated in rice wine vinegar. I also toss in red pepper flakes and toasted sesame seeds.

What Trish did, though, was combine the crisp summery cucumbers with crunchy radishes, sweet red onion, and juicy cherry tomatoes to round out the flavors and textures. Then she make it all pop with fresh mint and basil leaves, and flavored balsamic vinegar before smoothing it out with unctuous extra virgin olive oil. The best part is that it's one of those salads that tastes just as good on day two as when it's first prepared. In fact, it could easily be the topping to a bowl of room temperature quinoa or wheat berries for a full meal.

Now, I've got Trish's recipe below, but like most salads it can be altered to suit what you have or have access to. I do have Sweet 100 tomatoes in full ripeness, but didn't have any purple basil or apple mint in my garden. So I substituted that with what's in containers on the patio: variegated basil and mojito mint, which served the purpose just fine, as did conventional radishes. Did I have fig and orange balsamic vinegar? Nope. But I did have some luscious blackberry balsamic from We Olive to use instead. I can also imagine adding slices of daikon, apple, celery, or other crisp produce to the mix.

Oh, and one of the best tools I used to make this dish is my little hand-held Kyocera adjustable mandoline slicer. I can't remember where I bought it (perhaps on Amazon, which I've linked to) but it makes perfect thin--not ultra thin--slices and cost no more than $25.

Happy anniversary, Trish! Here's to many more years for The Red Door and The Wellington!

Trish's Tangy Summer Cucumber Garden Salad
(printable recipe)

4 large cucumbers, thinly sliced
Fresh breakfast radishes, thinly sliced
Red onion, thinly sliced
Apple mint, chopped
Purple basil, chopped
Cherry or pear tomatoes, thinly sliced (I just sliced mine in half)

For dressing
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fig and orange balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the vegetables. Mix the dressing ingredients in a jar and shake. Pour onto the salad. Serve.

Print Page

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Exploring the Mother Grain: Quinoa Cuisine

At a time when the trend is to go gluten-free--whether health issues dictate it or not--quinoa is cast as a go-to grain. And certainly, it's a delicious, nutritious option for people with severe allergies to wheat or who suffer from celiac disease. But even those of us who enjoy our gluten can both relish quinoa's earthy flavors and chewy texture and benefit from its tremendous nutritional qualities. Quinoa is a complete protein and packed with calcium, iron, fiber, and potassium. I appreciate the fact that it helps manage Type-2 diabetes, thanks to the antioxidant quercetin that's found in it.

Quinoa is usually relegated to a side dish but in their new book Quinoa Cuisine ($16.95/Ulysses Press) authors Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser have developed 150 recipes that turn quinoa--the grain, the flour, and flakes--into everything from muffins and stuffings to tarts and pie crusts.

In the book's introduction, the authors set the lay of the land, explaining quinoa's background, health benefits, and the various cooking methods. While the book is organized by the seasons, they open it with 12 basic recipes that can be used alone or incorporated with other recipes in the book. So, the Quinoa Pizza Dough will find its way later in the book as a component in Spinach and Black Olive Calzones while the Quinoa Buttermilk Biscuits (I'm dying to try this) are the basis for Chicken Potpie with Quinoa Biscuit Crust.

There are a few recipes that just seem to stick the quinoa into the ingredients for its own sake. Their Hummus has all the usual ingredients--plus quinoa flakes. I gather it's to add a nutty flavor and smooth texture, but it does feel like an unnecessary add-on. Yet I do appreciate using quinoa as a thickening agent in their Mushroom Soup.

My favorite section was the salads. I'm eager to try the Kimchi-Quinoa Salad with black quinoa and cucumber. What I did try was the Quinoa Salad with Kale, Pine Nuts, and Parmesan. It's a very simple dish and packed with flavor, especially if you make the salad a day in advance of serving to let the quinoa absorb the mustardy dressing. It's listed as a fall dish, but here it is July and my kale came straight from the farmers market, so it works for me for in hot weather months.

Harlan and Sparwasser--both with many years of culinary expertise--have created recipes accessible to home cooks, although finding ingredients like quinoa flakes and flour could be challenging in some cities. The recipes themselves are not especially complicated and are nice twists on the familiar, plus there's something for everyone. There are kid-friendly recipes, gluten-free recipes, many that are perfect for vegans and vegetarians, and some that are for time-challenged cooks who need to get something on the table in 30 minutes or less. Quinoa Cuisine is a terrific introduction to a grain that's been a bit mysterious to many and a great resource for those who are looking for new ways to prepare it.

Quinoa Salad with Kale, Pine Nuts, and Parmesan
(printable recipe)
from Quinoa Cuisine by Jessica Harlan & Kelley Sparwasser

Serves 6 to 8

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small onion, minced
2 cups white quinoa, rinsed
1 1/2 cups water
3 cups chopped kale (about 12 ounces)
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)
kosher salt and black pepper

1. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the quinoa and sauté, stirring until lightly toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the water and kale, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the quinoa is tender and the water has been absorbed, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer the mixtures to a large bowl and let cool. Stir occasionally to bring the warmer part of the  mixture up from the bottom.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and mustard until smooth. Add a pinch each of salt and pepper. Slowly add the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, whisking continuously to emulsify the dressing.

3. Drizzle the dressing over the cooled quinoa mixture. Stir in the pine nuts and Parmesan cheese and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Cover and chill completely, 2 to 3 hours. Stir just before serving to fluff the salad and break up any clumps.

Print Page

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jewish in L.A. in the 60s: Chocolate Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Let me take you back to the days when bubbes got together for an afternoon of mahjong or canasta and gossip. When stay-at-home moms, otherwise known as moms, dropped the kids off at school and then stopped by a friend's for a cup of coffee and a cigarette. When the family gathered for Sunday brunch. Everyone. Every Sunday.

This was the age of the coffee cake, the centerpiece of all these gatherings.

I miss coffee cakes. I miss the Sara Lee pecan coffee cake my mom regularly bought, topped with skinny curving lines of white icing that my brother, sister, and I would surreptitiously peel off the top, leaving it naked and crusty--and Mom very irritated. I miss babkas--especially the chocolate cinnamon ones--sweet and yeasty with a scent straight out of the Diamond Bakery on Fairfax Ave. in L.A. (which is still there) or Bea's Bakery in Tarzana (also still there).

In other words, I miss being Jewish in Los Angeles in the '60s and '70s.

That life will never be recreated--and it's probably a good thing. But I have a coffee cake recipe from my friend Beth Goren that sends me straight back to those days. This was her Grandma Adele's cake that Beth would bring back to summer camp from her days off when we were camp counselors. I lived for that cake back then--as you would if you lived for over three weeks with 10 12-year-old girls. It's your classic coffee cake, made moist with sour cream and sweet with a boatload of chocolate chips. But the aroma. It's a heady cloud of cinnamon. Does anyone even make these anymore? I was so tickled when I found Beth on Facebook and was able to get the recipe from her. Because now I make it.

This isn't some very fancy dessert one of my very talented pastry chef friends  would make. In fact, they'll probably laugh when they see it. No, this is your grandma's humble coffee cake and it requires your gathering a group of girlfriends over for a leisurely gossip session, ideally with a pot of percolated coffee served in cups and saucers--no mugs.

So get out the butter and chocolate chips. The angel food cake tube pan. The sour cream (de rigueur for coffee cake) and the cinnamon. And enjoy going back in time.

Grandma Adele's Coffee Cake
(printable recipe)

This cake has a very thick batter so don't worry that you can't "pour" it into the pan. Also, it is very cinnamon-y, so feel free to cut back on that a bit if you want a less powerful cinnamon flavor. While many coffee cakes are made in bundt pans, you'll want to use a two-piece tube pan, usually used for making angel food cake.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour

Mix until lumpy and set aside. Save 1/2 cup for topping.

1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 16-ounce container sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
12 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips (setting 1/4 cup aside for topping)

In another bowl, mix wet ingredients and slowly add the flour mixture (minus the reserved 1/2 cup) to the wet ingredients. Mix by hand until blended. Mixture should be lumpy.

Add chocolate chips (minus the reserved 1/4 cup). Scoop the mixture into a greased tube pan (not a bundt pan) and smooth/even the top. Spread the topping over the cake and then sprinkle the reserved chocolate chips over the topping. Bake at 350 for one hour.

Cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for at least an hour on a wire rack. Slide a knife between the edges of the cake and the pan and carefully slide the cake out of the pan. Then slide the knife under the cake and carefully separate the cake from the bottom/tube and lift it onto a platter.

Print Page

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer Crab Fuji Apple Salad

In June, Catalina Offshore Products' Collaboration Kitchen--a monthly evening of often wacky BYOB seafood cooking demos with "hosts" Tommy Gomes and Dan Nattrass playing off each other like the car guys, Tom and Ray Magliozzi--went "back to basics." Meaning that instead of featuring a local star chef, it was Tommy and friends demonstrating seafood recipes.

We started with delightful and unusual Mauritian "soul food" from Fazil Osman, who has a blog called Martian Foodie. Wild Mexican shrimp were doused in a fragrant and spicy tomato sauce and paired with crispy "gateau piments," spicy fried little ringlets of split yellow peas, turmeric, and hot chile.

Then Tommy grilled up his white sea bass fish tacos, wrapped in flatbread instead of a tortilla, filled with cabbage crunch.

Tommy's buddy Ken Gardon followed with his first dish, white sea bass picatta--unusual in that it was sans flour. So, you had the pure sea bass flavor with white wine, olive oil, and capers mingling with pan-grilled summer veggies topped by a balsamic glaze.

We did have a couple of professional chefs in the audience--Olivier Bioteau of Farm House Cafe, scoping out the event in anticipation of his appearance in September, and Ryan Studebaker of Gingham, just there to hang out. Tommy pulled Ryan out of the audience and all of the sudden, the prep chefs in the back were quick fire prepping salmon and vegetables for an impromptu demo by Ryan. Kudos to them--and to Ryan--for speed, accuracy, and deliciousness.

The evening ended with what turned out to be my favorite dish, made with one of my favorite ingredients, crab. Ken Gardon's Crab Fuji Apple Salad is the perfect summer lunch. It also makes for a great appetizer. The ingredients are straightforward (you can get a container of pasteurized crab at Catalina Offshore Products, of course) and the dish itself is easy to make--perfect for a 4th of July party. Ken gave me the recipe to share.

Crab Fuji Apple Salad
from Ken Gardon

This recipe will provide 4 servings as a luncheon, or meal salad, 6 as an appetizer, and approximately 14 as an amuse bouche.

1 pound container of Baja Stone Crab meat
1 medium sweet or Maui onion
2 tablespoons golden brown sugar
3-5 celery stalks, tops and butts removed
2 Fuji, or similar apples
2 large lemons
Cranberry walnut or similar bread, sliced about ½ inch thick
Unsalted butter
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (homemade or premium store bought)


Turn crab out into large, non reactive bowl. Break apart lightly with hands, endeavoring to maintain “chunkiness.”

Add finely diced onion, sugar and mayo and combine lightly. Take care to keep mixture as “dry" as possible, adding mayo a bit at a time.

Once combined, cover with plastic wrap, place in coldest spot (bottom) of refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably 3 hours for flavors to combine.

Shortly before serving time, prepare the bread by removing the crusts, cut into desired shape (triangles have least waste), butter lightly both sides with unsalted butter, and toast in a pan on stovetop. A light golden brown color is your goal. Set aside on a tray to cool and do not allow overlap of slices.

Finely dice the celery, make a small julienne of the apples. Place apples in a bowl and squeeze lemon juice over them, tossing to coat.

Remove chilled salad, correct seasoning with sea salt, and fold in celery.

To serve, place a toast on serving dish, use a tablespoon to create a quenelle (football-shaped ball) or a sherbet scoop for a sphere, and place on top. Garnish with a tent of apple “matchsticks” and serve immediately.

Recommended wine pairing: crisp Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc , Prosecco, or of course, Champagne.

Catalina Offshore Products teams up with Specialty Produce for "Collaboration Kitchen" events monthly on Sunday evenings. Follow them on Facebook to learn when they'll be held and to buy tickets. Proceeds support non-profits around town. I'm especially excited about the August event, since Tommy and crew will be dedicating the proceeds to the San Diego Food Bank's Food 4 Kids Backpack Program during our Dollar-a-Dish fundraiser.

Print Page