Wednesday, August 29, 2012

8th Annual Chef Showdown, Iron Chef Style

Well, I'm beginning to feel like San Diego Foodstuff is morphing into San Diego Food Events--but there's so much good stuff happening that it's hard to sit on my hands and not let you know about it.

So, let me tell you about the Sept. 13 Chef Showdown, which benefits the programs and services of the Center for Community Solutions, a local nonprofit that provides prevention and intervention support for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and elder abuse. They were founded in 1969 and assist more than 30,000 men, women, and children annually. They operate the only Rape Crisis Center in the City of San Diego, along with a 24-hour bilingual crisis helpline and hospital and court accompaniment services for rape survivors. CCS also provides two, 24-hour emergency shelter and transitional housing programs for victims of domestic violence and their children. In short, they do critically important work.

If you've never been to this event, you've got to get tickets and go this year. Think Iron Chef only with our local chefs and judges. The chefs are divided into two teams, given a secret ingredient, and have a limited time to create eight dishes during the evening. Sam "the Cooking Guy" Zien hosts this crazy circus.

Last year's winning team
Who are the chefs? A culinary who's who in S.D.: Amy DiBiase of The Shores, Dawn Parks from Wild Thyme Co., Joe Magnanelli of Cucina Urbana, Paul McCabe of Delicias, Bobby Marine from Viejas, Hanis Cavin from Carnitas Snack Shack, Matt Gordon of Urban Solace, Rachel King of Searsucker, Anthony Sinsay of Burlap, Augie Saucedo of Donovan's, Scotty Wagner of Chi Cuisine, and Chris O'Donell from La Villa.

The judges for the evening will be Chef Bernard Guillas of The Marine Room;  restaurateurs Ingrid Croce, Joe Bussalachi, and Michelle Lerach--and two judge spots offered to guests for bidding during the live auction portion of the evening.

Chef Showdown, which is co-chaired by Isabel Cruz and Dee Dee Castro, will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at NTC Promenade in Point Loma (Liberty Station to you and me). Tickets are $125 each or $200 for a VIP reservation. Order them by calling 858-272-5777, ext. 120.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Too Hot to Cook Cucumber and Tomato Salad

I've been a little kvetchy that it really hasn't been much of a summer in San Diego. May Gray slid into June Gloom, then eased into No-Sky July--and all the hot weather dishes I look forward to making this time of year just didn't have much appeal. Then August arrived and so did high temps and humidity. Meh. It was the old "be careful what you wish for" routine. But on the up side, tomatoes, which haven't appreciated the cloudy cool weather are now in full flush--a summer hallmark that had been missing--and I've been breaking out the no-cook recipes.

I'd mentioned my plan to make a batch of cucumber yogurt soup to my friend Trish Watlington so she stopped by my house on Sunday with some cucumbers from her Red Door Family Garden. I needed two, perhaps? She brought a shopping bag full. After giving some away to my next door neighbor (with her blessing) and putting some aside to make pickles, I still had a lot left the next day. Monday morning I looked around my kitchen and saw the pint of plump chocolate cherry tomatoes I'd picked up from Carlsbad Strawberry Fields at the Mission Hills Farmers Market that needed to be used right away. The wheels in my head started turning. I had a lunch meeting to attend. And I had about half an hour to pull something together to bring. And, at 10 a.m., my house was already 85 degrees inside.

So, I pulled out my handy little Kyocera slicer, set it to the thickest opening, and got to work. It took no time to slice two foot-long chunky cukes. Then I sliced the tomatoes in half in what, maybe two minutes? I clipped some mojito mint from my garden and rinsed and chopped that up in less than 30 seconds. Then I quickly mixed together a dressing using seasoned rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. I layered the cukes in a serving dish with a two-inch lip, tossed the tomatoes over them, followed by the mint, then a few dashes of toasted sesame seeds and red pepper flakes. I sloshed the dressing over the salad, covered it with plastic wrap, and was out the door a few minutes later. When I got to my friend's house for the meeting I slid the salad into her refrigerator and helped her set up. By the time everyone arrived, it had had a chance to chill and marinate.

Really, even if you say you don't or can't cook, this takes so little effort and the flavor rewards are so great (since all these vegetables are at their peak ripeness) it would be a shame to not make this part of your homemade hot weather dinner repertoire.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad
(printable recipe)
Serves 8

2 large cucumbers, thinly sliced (if conventional cucumbers, peel the skin)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
2 tablespoons fresh mint, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)

1 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon good quality soy sauce
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil

Layer the cucumbers in a bowl or flat serving dish with a lip at least an inch high to hold the dressing. Sprinkle the tomatoes over the cucumbers. Sprinkle the mint over the cucumbers and tomatoes. Sprinkle the sesame seeds and the red pepper flakes over the top. Combine the dressing ingredients in a jar, give it a good shake, and then pour over the salad. Cover and chill for an hour. The vegetables should absorb most of the dressing and the cucumbers will soften a little but still have a little crispness to them. If you want to add some protein to the salad cooked shrimp will work just fine.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Eat, Drink Local Week: Brought to You By Edible San Diego

As you may know, I am a regular contributor to Edible San Diego. In fact, I can't think of any publishers I've worked with who are hungrier to learn about and advocate for our local food community than Riley Davenport and John Vawter. (And as delightful to work with!)

So, it was no surprise to find out that they are launching a new week-long community event--or, actually, series of events--to celebrate just that, local food and the many diverse people who bring it to us--the farmers and ranchers and fishermen, the winemakers, the olive and avocado oil producers, the coffee roasters and brewpubs. We're rich in talent and commitment to creating healthier and more sustainable methods of bringing food and drink to the table and these producers often go unacknowledged.

Time now, San Diego, to meet Edible San Diego's first annual Eat, Drink Local Week, which will be held September 1 through 8.

Eat, Drink Local events--and there are a whole bunch of them--will raise funds for three non-profits that promote healthy food and agriculture education: Olivewood Gardens (which I volunteer for as a cooking teacher), Seeds @ City Urban Farm, and Wild Willow Farm.

But, first let's talk about the restaurants. More than two dozen restaurants, all of which source locally, have donated funds to the event to participate and support its goals. Edible San Diego is encouraging us, in turn, to dine at these restaurants, which include Alchemy, Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria, Cafe Merlot, Carnitas Snack Shack, Craftsmen New American Tavern, Cups, El Take It Easy, Estancia, Farm House Cafe, Healthy Creations, Jeremy's on the Hill, JSix Restaurant, Leroy's Kitchen + Lounge, Local Habit, El Q'ero Restaurant, Restaurant at The Pearl, Saltbox, Sbicca, Sea Rocket Bistro, SOL Bistro, Starlite, Stone World Bistro & Gardens, Tender Greens, The Fishery, The Linkery, The Lions Share, The Red Door and Wine Bar, The Tractor Room, and The Wellington. (P.S. if you're a locally sourcing restaurant and want to participate, contact Riley at

And then there are the events--truly something for everyone and all of which will feature local food and beverage artisans--and some with local musicians. Some require purchasing tickets online. Others you can just show up to. Here are the events and you can go to Edible San Diego's website for more information and the eventbrite link to purchase tickets.

Kickoff: Cocktails, Appetizers, and Live Jazz
Saturday, Sept. 1 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Top of the Park, with live jazz, beverages, and hors d'oeuvres. It's also the fall issue release party, with new magazines hot off the press.

Taste of Local
Sunday, Sept. 2 from noon to 3 p.m. at Whole Foods Market Hillcrest, featuring local growers and food vendors and a chef demo. Proceeds from food sales will be donated to the three non-profit beneficiaries of Eat, Drink Local

Collaboration Kitchen
Sunday, Sept. 2 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Catalina Offshore Products, featuring a cooking demo by Chef/Owner Olivier Bioteau of Farm House Cafe. Warehouse chic decor and BYOB

Coffee & Chocolate Indulgence with Jazz
Monday, Sept. 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. at SOL Markets in Liberty Station, with jazz, locally made chocolates and locally roasted coffee--for $20.

Farm-to-Table Beer Dinner
Tuesday, Sept. 4 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Local Habit, with a three-course dinner and beer pairings created by Chef Nick Brune

Moonlight Jazz & Local Wine Tasting
Wednesday, Sept. 5 from 6 to 9 p.m. at LOUNGEsix at Hotel Solamar--a rooftop evening of jazz, wines, and Chef Christian Grave's locally sourced hors d'oeurves

Free Subscription Night
The first 10 patrons to dine at any of the participating restaurants for Eat, Drink Local Week will receive a free, one-year subscription to Edible San Diego; all other diners that night can get a one-year subscription for half off.

Beerfest & Foodtrucks
Saturday, Sept. 8 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Fixtures Living--a great way to conclude the week by enjoying local beer crafters and food trucks. The ticket price includes a $10 ticket to the food truck of your choice, a taste of every beer offered, and live music by the Bayou Brothers.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Aged Fruit 911: Savory Plum Compote

No doubt, like me, you have the best of intentions when you are at the market. All that gorgeous produce in all their vibrant colors and alluring fragrances can be too much to pass up. So you buy. And buy. And buy. You put the veggies away in the bins in the fridge and set out the fruit on the counter to ripen.

And you forget about them. Or you accept too many dinner invitations. Or you just overbought and can't keep up. But time passes and what was once bursting with freshness and seduction is now just this close to becoming garbage.

Of course, you want to prevent that to begin with, but if you somehow let that produce go beyond nature's expiration date there are ways to save it before it's time to toss. Veggies can go into soup or a sauce or undergo roasting. And, the same with fruit, too. Puree strawberries (which have virtually no grace period),  add them to a smoothie, or make jam or sorbet. Turn blueberries into a granita. And, as I did recently, rescue über soft plums and pluots and make a savory compote.

Those plums. Oh, they were delicious when fresh. Dribble down the chin juicy with a hint of crunch. Sweet yet tart. But, then I had a spell of outings and there they sat, waiting--fruitlessly--for me to remember they were there. They softened. They sank. And then finally when they caught my eye again they no longer held any attraction and I tried to ignore them. But there was no ignoring them and since I had some free time--and a gorgeous Berkshire pork chop I planned to make for dinner--it occurred to me that I could work their sad state to my advantage and turn them into compote.

Plums and pluots have plenty of natural pectin so they are perfect for jamming and for compote. Since I only had half a dozen pieces of fruit to work with, I decided on the compote as a perfect accompaniment for the pork chop and in about an hour and a half had a gorgeous purple sauce at the ready.

The process is simple. You'll sauté shallots and garlic until they're translucent, add a little wine--in my case, Madeira--and reduce it, then add the plums and the rest of the ingredients. Simmer slowly, stirring periodically, and the liquids will gradually evaporate, leaving you with a deeply rich perfumed sauce that complements pork, chicken, and duck.

Plum Compote
(printable recipe)

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 shallot bulb, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon Madeira
6 plums, very ripe, seeded and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons blackberry balsamic vinegar (or other fruity balsamic)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 dried red chile
2 dried lemon verbena leaves (or 1 teaspoon fresh, minced)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a stainless steel saucepan, add olive oil and heat. When warm, add shallots and garlic. Sweat them until they're translucent. Add the Madeira and simmer until it disappears.

Add the plums and the rest of the the ingredients and stir to mix. Slowly and gently simmer until the mixture reduces and thickens until jammy--stirring occasionally. It should take about an hour. Discard the cinnamon stick and red chile.

Serve as a sauce with pork, chicken, or duck.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dollar a Dish: We're Back, Raising $ for Hungry Kids

It's a little disconcerting to return to my office just a little too full from a hearty breakfast with visiting family and sit down to write a piece about kids in my city who don't have nearly enough to eat. But there you have it. Even in San Diego, with all its abundance, we are surrounded by chronically hungry elementary school children. Yes, those enrolled in school free breakfast and lunch programs get meals during the week, but there's no TGIF for them. Once they hit the weekend, there may be nothing for them to eat until they get back to school Monday morning.

Which is why the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank launched the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program. The program discretely provides weekend backpacks filled with nutritious, child-friendly food to these kids to stave off hunger for those two days. And these children often share the kid-friendly food with their siblings and other family members.

The program, of course, needs financial support so they can enroll more children in need. That's where you come in. We've got 43 very generous restaurants, caterers, food trucks, and farmers market vendors participating in our now annual Dollar a Dish fundraiser. Each has selected a featured dish or food and will donate money to the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program every time it is ordered during the month of August. Starting today through August 31, all you have to do is visit them and order the dish. How cool is that!

Last year we raised almost $9,000. That's great, but I think we can do much better this year, if you help. Please spread the word to your family and friends in San Diego, write your own blog post about it, let your tweeps and FB friends know--and get together a group of people and start visiting restaurants and ordering the featured dish. You'll dine very well and you'll help make sure that hungry kids get the food they need to make it through the weekend.

Here's the list of participants and their dishes (Click on the links to see the chefs show off their featured dishes.):

Acqua Al 2 Ristorante: Assaggio di Primi
Alchemy: Pan Roasted Sea Bass
Carnitas Snack Shack: BLT
Caxao Chocolates: SOFIA75 (3.5 oz)
Cowboy Star: 8 oz. Filet
Crepes Bonaparte: Crepe with Peanut Butter, Sliced Bananas & Nutella
Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar: Watermelon or Tomato Gazpacho and the   Alaskan Halibut
Cucina Urbana: Any Pizza During Lunch
Farm House Café: Fettuccine with Moroccan Spiced Lamb Bolognese
Finch's Bistro & Wine Bar: Catch of the Day
First Ave Bar & Grill: Roasted Halibut
Flying Elephant Pub: Elephant Burger
Georges at the Cove: Date Salad in California Modern
Indulge Catering: General Proceeds from Sales
Jenny Wenny Cakes: Dozen Hummingbird Cupcakes ($3)
Katsuya: Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna
Michele Coulon Dessertier: Gateau Aileen
Millies Gelato: Vegan Strawberry Sherbet
Poppa's Fresh Fish Co.: Dozen Oysters
Praline Patisserie: Fleur de Sel Caramel
Puesto Mexican Street Food: Frozen Horchata
Quality Social: Grilled Flatbread, Portabella Sandwich, and the Chili Dog
Rimel's: Grass-Fed Sirloin Burger
Ritual Tavern: Seafood Bouillabaisse
Salt Farm: 5-Pack Sampler
Saltbox: Oxtail Jam
Sessions Public: Sessions Dog
Solace & the Moonlight Lounge: Beef Cheeks
St. Germain's Cafe & Bistro: Pan-Seared Wild Atlantic Salmon
Terra: Housemade Chicken and Mushroom Risotto
The Palette at the Art Institute: Chicken Breast-Prosciutto Paupiette
The Red Door: Garden Vegetable Plate
The Wild Thyme Company: Artisan Cheese Board
Toast Enoteca & Cucina: Lasagna Degli Asparagi
Two for the Road: Cap'n Crunch Crab Cakes
Urban Chicken: Whole Chicken with 3 Sides
Urban Solace: Beef Cheeks
Via Lago: Rigatoni Contadina
Villa Capri: Penne Elena
Viva Pops: Dollar a Dish Pop
The Wellington: Duroc Pork Chop
Zenbu: Hot Rock New York Strip Steak

Garden Plate from The Red Door

And that's not all. We'll have three events that you'll want to attend as well: 
  • Fixtures Living is holding a fundraiser at the end of August for the Food 4 Kids Backpack Program. 
  • Catalina Offshore Products, with support from Specialty Produce, is dedicating its August Collaboration Kitchen to raising funds for the kids. 
  • The Red Door--along with participating in Dollar a Dish--is donating part of the proceeds from its August 15 Chefs Market Dinner celebrating Julia Child's birthday, featuring chef/writer Amy Finley, author of How to Eat a Small Country, and The Red Door's chef Miguel Valdez.
More details on these three events will come soon. We've got a very generous food community doing their part to raise money for hungry kids. We just need you to come in and eat! (And, if you don't live in San Diego or can't make it to one of our restaurants or want to give more, feel free to make a generous donation here!)

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