Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Time Again to Celebrate the Craft!

This is the food event I most look forward to annually. Celebrate the Craft, held this Sunday, Sept. 30 from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, is everything a sublime food orgy should be. It has breadth--but it still feels intimate. It brings together the best local chefs and artisans to showcase the regionally grown ingredients they cook with, and highlights local vintners. And, you dine and drink just where San Diegans ought to--overlooking the Pacific.

Celebrate the Craft is a project of love organized by The Lodge's Chef Jeff Jackson. This is its 10th year and will feature close to two dozen of our region's top culinary mavens:

Paul Arias of The Fishery
Pete Balistreri of Tender Greens
Olivier Bioteau of Farm House Cafe
Daniel Boling of The Grill at Torrey Pines
Jennifer Costa of The Lodge at Torrey Pines
Jack Fisher of Jack Fisher Confections
James Foran of Grossmont College
Trey Foshee of George's at the Cove
Antonio Friscia of Gaijin, Stingaree, and Campine Catering
Jesus Gonzalez of Cups La Jolla
Matt Gordon of Urban Solace and Solace and the Moonlight Lounge
Christian Graves of JSix
Katie Grebow of Cafe Chloe
Patrick Haymann of Brandt Beef
Jason Knibb of NineTen
Brian La Bonte of MIHO Gastrotruck
Javier Plascencia of Romesco
Carl Schroeder of Market
Brian Sinnott, chef at large
Andrew Spurgin, chef consultant and event architect
Monica Szepesy, Q'ero

Paired with the chefs will be Catalina Offshore Products, Aniata Cheese, Bread & Cie, Crows Pass Farms, Griffin Farm, Liberty Ducks, Suzie's Farm, Windrose Farm, and a host of others, as well a variety of local vintners.

Tickets are $75 per person and can purchased online here.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Maria Speck's Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing

A couple of weeks ago I decided to have an end-of-summer dinner party with a group of friends. Last year, one of my neighbors crafted a gorgeous redwood patio table for me that can seat 10 and it's become the perfect gathering place for an evening of food and drink and good conversation.

By mid-week before the dinner, though, I realized I'd be up against it. Hot and humid August had morphed into equally sweltering weather in September. It  lifted briefly with a brush with cool air and even a touch of rain. But the forecast for my dinner party weekend had temperatures charging over 100 degrees. My menu, which included baking Melissa Clark's plum polenta upside down cake, had to be tossed in favor of something that gave simultaneous hints of the waning summer and imminent autumn, but without the kind of cooking that would have me sweltering in the kitchen and my guests recoiling from traditional cool-weather comfort food.

You'd think grilling would be a natural to get out of the kitchen, but would you want to be the person standing over the barbecue in, let's be generous and say 90-degree heat at 6 p.m.? I didn't think so. So, roast chicken it would be. Misery would be contained in the kitchen for just an hour or so. The rest would be easy and could be put together over a couple of days. A tomato, cucumber, and feta salad would say so long to summer, while a quinoa salad with fresh figs and toasted pine nuts would beckon fall. In fact, plead for fall. Dessert? Forget baking; I'd get in touch with my friend, the ace baker Rachel Caygill, who among other things makes ice cream sandwiches for places like Carnitas Snack Shack, and ask her if she had a spare dozen or so to spare. I'd get fruit and make a fruit platter to accompany them. Done.

Except that when I started perusing some cookbooks for ideas on ways to ignite the quinoa salad I came upon Maria Speck's recipe for Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing in her wonderful 2011 book Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.

Barley has more heft than quinoa and would be a welcome change in salad form from the cliche that is becoming quinoa (substitute the word quinoa with arugula and you know what I mean). Figs were already part of my game plan and I grow Mexican tarragon and lemons in my garden. She calls for dried figs in her recipe, which makes sense for other parts of the country and seasons other than late summer, but in San Diego, figs are now in high season and plentiful. I wanted to take advantage of that. Her recipe also calls for apples, but, remember those high temps? I was still in summer mode and opted against them and added the planned toasted pine nuts. It's these little changes that are part of the fun of making a recipe your own and I know Maria won't mind the alterations.

Well, Friday and Saturday temps broke records and soared to well over 100 degrees (my garden's last tomatoes literally cooked on the vine) but fortunately by Saturday evening the air was becoming comfortable and even balmy. The menu morphed into the perfect summer meal and the barley salad was a surprise hit (along with my friend Julie's refreshing Micheladas and Rachel's butterscotch ice cream sandwiches).

Barley, it turns out, is much more versatile than home cooks give it credit for. Yes, it's the perfect addition to make a winter soup truly hearty, but it is equally delicious as the basis for a whole grain salad. The large grains and chewy texture work well with a variety of fresh, crunchy vegetables, with nuts, and with fruit--dried or fresh. And for those of us with Type 2 diabetes, it's one of the best grains to consume because of its low glycemic index.

Here's my adaptation of Maria's recipe. You can add 1/2 cup chopped tangy apple, such as a Macintosh or Granny Smith. In the future, I'd also consider adding fresh Asian pears, champagne grapes, Maria's dried figs or other types of dried fruit to the salad and even other nuts (think toasted chopped pecans). As I said, make it your own.

Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing
Slightly adapted from Maria Speck in Ancient Grains for Modern Meals
(printable recipe)

Serves 4

2 cups water
1/4 cup pearl barley
1 (2-by-1-inch) strip of lemon zest (optional)
3 peppercorns
pinch of fine sea salt

Salad, and to Finish
1 lemon
5 fresh figs, sliced into 8 pieces
2 stalks diced celery
1/2 cup finely chopped green onion (about 4)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Prepare the barley by combining all the barley ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan and bringing the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover the pot, cooking until the barley is just tender--30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain any remaining liquid and transfer the barley to a large bowl to cool. Remove the zest and peppercorns. You can do this a day or even a few days in advance and keep the cooled cooked barley in the refrigerator until you make the salad. At that point, take it out of the fridge an hour or so before you make the salad to bring it to room temperature and then stir it up or break clumps up with your fingers to separate the grains.

To make the dressing, finely grate the zest of the lemon to get 2 teaspoons zest. Squeeze the lemon to get one or two tablespoons of juice. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, zest, and honey. Season with the salt and pepper. Stir in 1 tablespoon each of the tarragon and parsley.

In a large bowl, add the barley, figs, celery, green onion, pine nuts, and fig slices. Mix well, then add dressing and toss to combine. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle. Toss again and sprinkle with the remaining herbs. Serve.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An Evening of Aloha: Celebrating the Friscia Family and UCSD Burn Center

This has been a life-changing summer for Chef Antonio Friscia (Stingaree, Gaijin, Campine). At a 4th of July party his wife Stacy was severely burned over almost half of her body in an accident around a fire pit. It was touch and go for awhile; she needed to be kept in an induced coma initially and required multiple and extensive surgeries.

The good news--for Stacy and Antonio, their two sons, and their extended family and friends--is that not only is Stacy recovering, she is homeward bound, where she still has a lot of physical therapy and healing to do.

To celebrate her recovery and the superb treatment she received at the UC San Diego Burn Center, Antonio wanted to throw a big bash. So, Enlightened Hospitality Group, which is home office to Stingaree and Campine, is hosting An Evening of Aloha, a benefit for the Burn Center which will be held at Stingaree this Sunday, Sept. 16 from 4 to 8 p.m. There's a minimum $20 donation at the door and all of the proceeds will go to the Burn Center.

Participating restaurants and chefs are San Diego favorites, including the Cooks Confab, to which Antonio belongs:

Brian Sinnott (L. A Specialty)
Jeff Jackson (A. R. Valentien)      
Jason Knibb (NINE–TEN)
Trey Foshee  (George’s California Modern)      
Chad White (Counterpoint)
Melissa Mayer (Martini Media)
Jack Fisher (Jack Fisher Confections)
James Foran (Market) 
Olivier Bioteau (Farm House Cafe)
Christian Graves (Jsix)
Aaron LaMonica (Blind Lady Ale House/TigerTiger)
TK Kolanko (The Fishery)
Paul Arias (The Fishery)                                           
Katie Grebow (Café Chloe)         
Paul McCabe (Delicias)
Amanda Baumgarten (Herringbone)
Shane McIntyre  (Searsucker)
Ryan Studebaker (Gingham)
Carlos Ochoa (Gabardine) 
Anthony Sinsay (Burlap)
Hanis Cavin (Carnitas Shack)
Donald Coffman (Paradise Point)
Andrew Spurgin

Those of us who know and love the Friscias are so grateful for Stacy's recovery and hope you'll join in to help raise money for the UC San Diego Burn Center, which serves San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial Counties as well as Western Arizona. It is one of only eight certified burn centers in California and Arizona that meets the standards of the American Burn Association and American College of Surgeons. The proceeds from An Evening of Aloha will go towards discovering new therapies, fighting infection, expanding facilities and capacity, purchasing specialized equipment, providing training, community education, and, of course, providing comfort.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hatch Chile Frittata

I don't live in New Mexico, but nevertheless I get absurdly excited when hatch chile season pops up in late summer. This year Labor Day barely passed when I came across them at my local Sprouts--on sale for 99 cents a pound (I've also seen them in past years at Albertsons, Bristol Farms, and various farmers markets). I scooped up a couple of pounds of these long, firm green chiles and headed back to my kitchen for the annual roasting session.

I wish I could tell you I had some fantastic hand-cranked fire-roasting contraption that you see at the farmers markets. Nope. It's just the chiles, heavy cookie sheets, and the oven broiler. There's no special trick to it. Just line them up in a single layer and fire them up. Let your nose tell you when they're ready to be turned--once--and then removed from the oven. You'll get the distinctive aroma of burning chiles and, indeed, they should be well charred.

Then it's time to gather them into plastic or paper bags, close the opening, and let them steam for about 10 to 15 minutes. This helps loosen the thick skin from the flesh. Then peel off the skin, remove the stem and seeds, and chop or slice them. I bag what I don't use immediately and put them in the freezer, so I have them to use the rest of the year. Which means I'll be heading back out to Sprouts again soon to stock up.

You could rightly ask at this point, "What's the big deal about Hatch chiles?" Clearly, there's some superb marketing going on. The chiles, known as Big Jims, are grown in one region, the Hatch Valley, along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. Maybe it's the elevation that gives them their distinctive flavor; maybe it's the volcanic soil. Or the hot days and cool evenings. Or the combination of all three. Our Anaheim chiles are descendants of the Hatch chiles, but Anaheims don't have nearly the allure or the flavor. The Hatch chiles have a uniquely smoky, earthy scent and flavor.

Traditionally, your prepped Hatch chile can go into posoles and enchiladas. I have long used them in a pork stew, corn bread, and tomato sauces. They can run from mild to hot, so gauge your accompanying ingredients accordingly, whether its for a savory dish or even desserts like cookies and brownies (you'll want to use a puree for those to create a uniform flavor).

No time to fuss over a big recipe? Then how about a Hatch Chile Frittata? That's what I did with a couple of the chiles I had after packaging the rest. There's no recipe here, just some suggestions.

Take a look in the fridge and see what's in need of being used. I had a quarter of an onion, a couple of boiled red potatoes, and a wedge of Pondhopper farmstead gouda that I'd just picked up at Venissimo. It's a goat milk that's slightly yeasty thanks to being steeped in beer. It would easily match the flavors of the chiles.

You'll need a well-seasoned cast iron pan. I have several but my favorite is an eight-inch Lodge pan I bought about 30 years ago at a hardware store on Broadway on the upper west side of Manhattan, where I lived once upon a time. It's in perfect, shiny condition from years of use.

Heat up the broiler. Slice the onions, chop the chiles and potatoes, and break the eggs. Beat them with a little milk till frothy. Heat the pan on the stove and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Then add the onions and sauté until they start to brown. Then add the potatoes and do the same, adding some salt and pepper. While they're cooking, dice up some cheese. Once the potatoes and onions are browned to your liking, reduce the heat and add the beaten eggs. Let them just start to cook, then sprinkle the chile pieces over the forming omelet. Let it cook for a minute or so, then top with the cheese. Use a thick towel or oven mitt and carefully move the pan to the broiler. It'll just take a minute or two to finish it off.

The result will be a puffy, almost souffle-like egg dish. For me, two eggs and an egg white made a complete solo dinner. More eggs, more servings. Add a salad, a glass or wine or beer and you've got an easy meal.

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