Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Curtain Call for 2013 and Chef Encounters

I'm so looking forward to 2014. Already I have a food walking tour of downtown San Diego planned, an afternoon learning to make dim sum at the new French Concession in Hillcrest, a visit to an urban winery, and a new season of Catalina Offshore Products' terrific Collaboration Kitchens to talk about--and that's just January.

But 2013 was no slouch of a year. Before it ends, I want to take a last chance to thank the many San Diego chefs who invited me into their kitchens and taught me new recipes, techniques, and in general shared their kitchen knowledge with me so I could, in turn, pass it on to you in San Diego Foodstuff. Each of these chefs is wonderfully talented and generous--and also a lot of fun to hang out with. It's one thing to hand out a recipe--which I always appreciate--but to invite me into their sacred laboratory to give a lesson and give of themselves is a greatly savored gift.

So, thank you to Jeff Rossman of Terra and Pablo Ibarra, his sous chef at the time I came in. Pablo taught me how to make a tangy Charred Meyer Lemon Chutney. With Meyer lemons in season now, I'm going to dig out that recipe and make some jars.

Thank you to my friends Antonio Friscia and Fern Tran of the late Gaijin Noodle House. Most chefs invite me to come in before service. Antonio wanted me to help with service. He sent me out marketing to buy ingredients I'd like to see in cocktails and in yakitori, and when I came in that evening, groceries in hand, he had me visit first with mixologist Lucien Conner to turn out drinks. Then, Fern taught me her tricks for making yakitori. We had all sorts of odd yet wonderful stuff going on. Finally, Antonio showed me how to create unique Asian fusion s'mores. What fun that was. I'm still in mourning over the restaurant's closing.

Thank you to Monello chef Fabrizio Cavallini and owners Guido Nistri and Valentina di Pietro for making me so at home at their Little Italy kitchen as Fabrizio taught me to make four versions of creamy polenta. I'm still dreaming of the comforting, delicate white polenta covered in slices of rich gorgonzola.

Thank you to Joe Busalachi, a true showman who I think had as much fun as I did at his Po Pazzo kitchen in Little Italy whipping through several fish dishes in the course of about half an hour, then serving them family style to my friends and me. The cartoccho, or covered fish, is in my repertoire.

Thank you to Matt Richman of Table 926 for introducing me to salsify with his luscious cauliflower and salsify bisque. That morning also brought a lesson in smoking tomatoes (which I now do regularly) for a complex  Calabrese tomato sauce and in making a minty nepitella chimichurri sauce.

Thank you to Catherine Perez, the bread-making genius of Con Pane in Liberty Station, for not laughing too hard at me and Robin Ross of Cupcakes Squared, as we tried so hard to learn how to shape bread dough. You gave us a great lesson--and even greater appreciation of the artisans whom you've trained to create such perfection with such ease. Back to basics with your Pain Sur.

Thank you to my buddy Miguel Valdez, then executive chef at The Red Door and The Wellington and now at 100 Wines for giving me a primer in stuffing summer squash blossoms. I so need a fryer to get that delightful crispy exterior and oh-so creamy cheese interior.

Thank you to the rollicking Andrea Davis, truffle queen extraordinaire, for teaching me a new skill. Her chocolate truffles create smiles and swoons. I especially loved the Bacon and Whiskey variety we made that day, but every time I see her she surprises me with stunning flavors.

Thank you to my new friend Francesca Penoncelli of the magnificent BiCE for taking the time to teach me how to make something pretty minor given her capabilities but oh so impressive--schiacciatina and truffle cheese spread. Imagine a chef who's cooked at the James Beard House teaching you how to make a cracker. But this is some cracker and with the cheese spread and a glass of wine, it's enough for a fun evening with friends.

Thank you to another new friend, Kelli Crosson of A.R. Valentien. I love making pickles and Kelli asked me to help her make the annual batches of pickles for Celebrate the Craft. I learned so much and fell in love with a stainless steel confectionary funnel I still covet. I also am still eating my way through the pickled watermelon gherkins we made.

Thank you to Jenny Williams of Jenny Wenny Cakes. I'd written about her in the past, but it wasn't until this year that I got to play with her in the kitchen. And, of all things, she taught me how to make her great-grandmother's Christmas pudding. Dense and chewy, it's Christmas comfort food when heated and topped with Brandy Butter.

Thank you to dear friend Joanne Squires-Sherif of the cozy North Park eatery, Cardamom. She taught me how to make her annual Pumpkin Walnut Cranberry Quick Bread and a wonderfully boozy Spiced Apple Bread Pudding with Rum Rasins. Sigh... This week we're working on Dampfnudln a la Joan Nathan.

And, finally, thank you to the delightful Amber Smith of Biscuit Gourmet Biscotti, who only this month invited me in to teach me the techniques for making her light and crunchy biscotti. I've shared and shared with friends and family--but selfishly kept enough to enjoy with tea in the afternoons. But, even when they're gone, I've got the recipes--and knowledge--to make more batches!

I also want to thank Bob Harrington and Specialty Produce for their always generous support--of this space, of my Close to the Source blog for Edible San Diego, and of the the community projects I work on. You just can't applaud these folks enough. And, thanks as well to Tommy Gomes, Dave Rudie, and Dan Nattrass of Catalina Offshore Products for being my seafood gurus and just great pals. Thanks to the many farmers, farmers market managers, and artisan vendors who always take the time answer my many questions and share their knowledge and bounty with me so I can help our community better understand what they do. And, last but not least, I thank you for taking the time to read San Diego Foodstuff and sharing it with your friends. It means a lot.

I'm looking forward to more chef encounters and other San Diego food magic in 2014, but in the meantime, I wish all these chefs, vendors, farmers,  and their loved ones, as well as you, a very happy, healthy, and joyous New Year!

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mixed Drinks for the Holidays

I always tell people I'm not much of a drinker--and I'm not--but that doesn't keep me from having the occasional glass of wine or champagne or a cocktail. I enjoy them, but on a small scale. So I'm usually resistant to pitches involving cocktails or their ingredients. But my friend Carolyn Kates at Whole Foods Hillcrest insisted I try some products they had in and when I spoke to her colleague, wine specialist Desiree Turchan, who also gave me some recipes, I was sold.

And since I go for chocolate even more than alcohol, I've also included a new find here that you can curl up with in front of a fire.

So, let's get drinking!

To keep up with all the caviar I enjoyed last week, I needed to have friends come over and help me sample. What else to serve with caviar but some bubbly. I pulled out a bottle of prosecco, but instead of just serving it plain, I dropped in some beautiful wild hibiscus flowers in syrup. This is, in fact, what the label on the small jar calls them. Made in Australia, they are, indeed, wild hibiscus flowers marinating in a simple sugar water syrup which unfurl once they hit the liquid.

Be sure to eat the flower once you've drained the champagne flute. They're sweet and crunchy with a floral flavor!

Now, one of my issues currently with drinking much alcohol is that it has a high carb count. So imagine my surprise in learning about a new product called Bon Affair. Created by Solana Beach resident Jayla Siciliano, Bon Affair is a wine spritzer that comes in two varieties Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.

Now why a wine spritzer--and why this one when you can easily create your own? Well, 100 calories and 3 grams of carbs for an 8-ounce serving is a good start. Woo hoo! Let's party! These spritzers are made with California wine, and according to the company contain electrolytes, purified carbonated water, and natural flavors and extracts--no added sugar. And, oh so important, it tastes great. Not sweet; just sparkly and crisp. Here's a glass of the Sauv Blanc with the hibiscus flower in it.

Another flavor we added to our sparkling wines was a new shrub from The Gingered Pear. Shrubs, of course, are blends of flavored vinegar syrup. This Del Mar-based business uses cold pressing to allow the fruit to maintain its true flavor. They're succeeding. Their shrubs were named the best new product at the Hillcrest Whole Foods in 2013.

The flavor I tried was pomegranate ginger. We tasted it in the Bon Affair Sauv Blanc and in the prosecco and it was a hit. The fear was that it would be too sweet and/or overpower the bubbly. It did neither. It was wonderfully tart and acidic, adding a nice punch to the sparkles.

Then there was the bottle of Bar Keep organic bitters. The bitters are a collaboration between Greenbar Collective and U.S. bartenders. Flavors include apple, Chinese, fennel, and lavender. I took home the Marshall Altier (a New York mixologist) apple and a recipe for a fruit salad using the bitters from Desiree. Using these bitters to make a dressing for a simple fruit salad makes complete sense. With the flavors of caramelized apple and baking spices, a few dashes are perfect for a dessert. I riffed on it a bit, including half a pear and a mix of dried fruit instead of currants. But this is a perfectly riffable dish.

Fruit Salad with Apple Bitters
from Desiree Turchan
(printable recipe)

Makes 3 or 4 servings

1 pink lady apple, diced
2 fuyu persimmons, peeled and diced
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
5 dashes apple bitters

Dice the fruit and add to bowl. Whisk together the cinnamon, honey, oil, and bitters. Toss dressing with fruit.

Thanks to the apple and cinnamon, it reminds me of a Passover harosets. It's sweet and crunchy and oh so aromatic.

But, of course, you'll want a cocktail recipe, too. I got one from Desiree that uses the Chinese bitters.

Chinese Mule
from Desiree Turchan

2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce apple fennel shrub
6 to 8 dashes Chinese bitters
2 to 4 ounces ginger beer

Mix the first three ingredients together, shake, and strain. Top with ginger beer.

Okay, so how about you adult nondrinkers? Or those adults who just love hot chocolate? A Massachusetts company called Taza has created intriguing chocolate flavors reminiscent of Ibarra Mexican chocolate. They are even molded and packaged in the familiar disc format. The stone-ground, organic chocolate is the brainchild of founder Alex Whitmore, who while traveling through Oaxaca, Mexico, became so inspired by the chocolate and chocolate-making methodology that he decided to open his own factory in Massachusetts. The company practices ethical cacao sourcing and established a third-party Direct Trade Cacao Certification program. But none of this matters unless the flavors are good. And, they are. They make about a dozen flavors. I picked up the Guajillo Chili and Spiked Eggnog packages and made hot cocoa with each.

I'm sold on these two at least. Now these are very sophisticated flavors (others include coffee, ginger, salted almond, orange, and salt and pepper). So they aren't really for young kids. But adults will love this chocolate, which can also be used for baking or just eating out of hand. The site has lots of recipe suggestions.

With so many options for celebrating the holidays, I doubt you'll go thirsty.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How to Buy Caviar on a Budget

One of the downsides of being a movie buff is that no matter the topic, there always seems to be a scene from a movie that provides just the illustrative image you don't want to have. For caviar, there are two and both involve Tom Hanks. The first is the holiday party scene in Big, when Tom the boy/man digs into some caviar not knowing what it is and when he finds out, he pushes it out of his mouth in the way only a grossed out kid can. The other is in the romcom You've Got Mail when he and Meg Ryan's character--also at a party--get into an argument after she discovers he's the Fox of Fox Books trying to take her down and he starts scooping up all the pricey caviar garnish to eat just to irritate her.

Tom Hanks aside, caviar usually gets much more lofty treatment. In fact, it's one of those foods that is considered elite and unreachable for the masses. And, the good stuff... the really luxurious good stuff is. I can't get enough of it when given the chance, but my budget prevents me from wildly indulging. But this year I've come across a wide variety of caviars that are very tasty and pretty budget friendly. And I'm not talking about the questionable uber salty jars of fish roe you'll find on shelves at places like CostPlus. A visit to Whole Foods and Catalina Offshore Products will offer a variety of options that you can enjoy without breaking the bank. And, they're perfect for the holidays, when you're feeling oversaturated with hams and crown roast of beef and turkey.

This year Catalina Offshore Products is offering a lovely Dom Petroff white sturgeon caviar, the Royal ($24.95 for 10 grams). It's a sustainably farm-raised product from Northern California. This is the first year Dom Petroff has created small containers of their products, complete with a little plastic caviar spoon and suggestions for how to enjoy it. The white sturgeon has a taste similar to Ossetra. The roe is medium sized, dark, and with a sweet buttery texture. I couldn't stop eating it with a spoon, but it's delicious on a blini with creme fraiche and a little smoked salmon or tossed with butter in fettucine. Buy some for yourself to enjoy with sparkling wine or buy a package to give as a hostess gift.

Catalina also has salmon roe, which you might recognize from Japanese menus as ikura. I can't get enough of this roe ($13.50 for 6 ounces). These big, juicy beads create a wonderful salty, tangy explosion when you bite into them.

Clockwise from top left: Dom Petroff white sturgeon caviar royal, salmon roe, tobikko, and capelin roe

I've enjoyed these on scrambled eggs, on blini, on a bagel with cream cheese (best brunch dish ever), and as a topping on stuffed mushrooms. Those stuffed mushrooms also incorporated the capelin roe ($3 for a 3-ounce package), sometimes known as smelt roe--or masago on sushi menus--and the tobikko, or flying fish roe ($14.00 for a 6-ounce package), which glistens like black diamonds in light. I blended the masago with sour cream and creme fraiche and chopped mushroom stems, which I used to stuff the mushrooms. Then I topped the mixture with the salmon roe and a dab of tobikko.

You can also use the capelin roe to make taramosalata, a terrific Greek dip. Or use it for sushi or as a garnish. Both the capelin roe and tobikko are quite sweet and flavored with soy sauce.

Dom Petroff sent me some samples in addition to the white sturgeon royal, and you can order these online. I got to try the Paddlefish roe, a small dark grey bead that looks like classic caviar, Ossetra, an imported farm-raised sturgeon roe that has a brown medium sized bead, and Hackleback roe, from wild Hackleback sturgeon native to the rivers and lakes of Tennessee and Illinois that is darker and smaller and quite briny. Cousins of the Paddlefish, to me they looked like pretty little French puy lentils.

Ossetra and Hackleback caviar on Dom Petroff blinis (just heat quickly in the microwave), smoked salmon, and creme fraiche

The company also sent me a jar of trout roe, which looks and tastes a lot like salmon roe. I couldn't resist putting them on a hollowed out everything bagel with whipped cream cheese.

Catalina Offshore Products salmon roe and Dom Petrov trout roe
Whole Foods carries several varieties of the Caviar Russe brand. Yes, you can get a pricey ounce of imported Caspian ossetra Russian sturgeon ($89.99), but if that isn't feasible, try the whitefish caviar ($13.99 for 1.75 ounces) from the Great Lakes region, salmon caviar or ikura ($13.99 for 1.75 ounces), tobika ($13.99 for 1.75 ounces), or--what I took home and enjoyed--hardwood smoked caviar ($15.99 for 1.75 ounces). Get your splurge back on with imported Siberian Russian sturgeon ($59.99 for 1 ounce).

You can also pick up a package of the brand's cocktail blinis ($7.99 for 20 count). Like the Dom Petroff prepared blinis, they are easy to heat up quickly and, while not quite as good as homemade, they are just fine and make life a whole lot easier for a busy holiday party host.

A very popular offering at Whole Foods is wild salmon caviar from Echo Falls ($11.99 for 2 ounces). This is King salmon roe from the Seattle area.

Caviar Russe smoked salmon roe on scrambled eggs

I thought long and hard about how to enjoy the smoked salmon roe and for total indulgence, made scrambled eggs in butter that I topped with the caviar. It was perfection.

Now, it's all well and good for me to rhapsodize about these various roes, but given that in January Encore Champagne Bar and Dining Room is opening on F St. in the Gaslamp, I thought I'd ask executive chef Ryan Studebaker for some input. Along with champagne and sparkling wines, the menu will feature classic caviar.

Studebaker discovered his love of caviar at a meal at Mr. A's. "I loved it and when it's available, I love to have it whenever possible. Caviar for me has been a social experience--when you're out to a nice meal with friends everyone can get a taste and it brings up great conversation."

Studebaker points out that not all caviar is salty. Yes, the lower end ones are, especially salmon roe, but "once you get into the middle and higher-end products, it's more of an oceanic taste and very rich and creamy." The California white sturgeon and Russian Ossetra fall into that category, he notes.

At Encore Gaslamp, Studebaker plans to start with dishes that showcase the different levels of caviar in terms of flavor, quality, and affordability. "As we grow as a restaurant, you'll see it make appearances in other dishes as well. Think blinis with house-smoked salmon, creme fraiche, and chive with paddlefish or California white sturgeon caviar. We'll also have the classic full ounce platters with California white sturgeon or Russian Imperial ossetra with traditional seived eggs, red onion, and capers."

Studebaker gave me two recipes to share--one for his buckwheat blinis and the other for smoked salmon. Both are pretty easy. Buy a container of creme fraiche and the caviar of your choice and you'll have an impressive appetizer for a party.

Buckwheat Blinis
From Ryan Studebaker
(printable recipe here)

Yield: About 12 blinis

2 tablespoons buckwheat flour
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup whole milk
1 egg, separated
1/4 cup butter, melted but not hot

Whisk together dry ingredients. Add milk and egg yolk and whisk until smooth. Whisk egg whites to soft peaks and folk into the batter along with 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Brush a nonstick pan with butter and heat over medium heat until hot. Drop five to seven level tablespoons of the batter at a time onto the pan and cook until bubbles form (about 45 to 60 seconds). Flip the pancakes and cook an additional 45 to 60 seconds.

Serve immediately if you can. Otherwise, hold them at room temperate and reheat in the oven briefly later if needed.

Smoked Salmon
From Ryan Studebaker
(printable recipe here)

5 pounds salmon filet, pin bones removed
1 quart salmon rub (below)

Rub salmon with cure and let sit overnight (minimum 12 hours, maximum 24 hours). Rinse and place on sheet trays with racks. Smoke at 140 degrees F for two to three hours.

Salmon Rub
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup salt
2 tablespoons dill weed, dried
2 tablespoons oregano, dried
2 tablespoons fresh thyme

Combine the ingredients.

You can also use this rub with the salmon to make gravlax if you don't want to smoke the salmon. Let the salmon cure for two to three days, depending on the thickness. Tail pieces will be finished before the thicker center cut. It's done with the texture is semi firm. Flip the salmon over after each day to ensure even curing. You can even put al amount of weight on it to assist in the curing process, but it's not necessary.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Biscuit Gourmet Biscotti: Not Just Holiday Treats

Just over a year ago Amber Smith was an occupational therapist with a passion for baking and pastries. She lived in Europe, based in London, and says she spent a disproportionate amount of time in bakeries and cafes.

"It tells you so much about where people are at in different countries," she says.

Feeling restless professionally, Smith wanted to spend more time in the kitchen. She didn't necessarily want to open a bakery, but at some point while baking biscotti, she says she had her aha moment. The recipe she'd been perfecting--a lighter, airier, updated biscotti--wasn't being done in the States, at least nowhere she'd been.

So, she launched Biscuit Gourmet Biscotti. I found her earlier this year at the Solana Beach Farmers Market and kept track of her. The cookies she bakes are truly lighter and airer than traditional biscotti with wonderful flavors that change with the seasons. Customers have responded. She's now selling at Caxao Artisan Chocolates in Little Italy, Birdrock Coffee Roasters, Arricia Italian Market in La Jolla, and Pigment in North Park, with the occasional fill ins at the Solana Beach and Hillcrest farmers markets. That doesn't include online sales across the country. She and her business partner now have four part-time employees to keep up with demand.

"I'm trying to make biscotti something to enjoy anytime, not just the holidays," Smith says.

I invited myself to the kitchen she rents in Coronado. It's a surprising light and airy space, sitting behind an office supply store on C Ave. just off Orange. Smith was waiting for me, ready for us to bake two varieties of biscotti, her Vanilla Orange Biscotti with Dark Chocolate and Grand Marnier-Infused Cranberries and her Nutmeg Biscotti with Toasted Pecans.

There is certainly an art to making the biscotti. While the ingredients can all go in your stand mixer for blending, shaping is critical so that the cookies retain a consistent size. Like the mandelbread I grew up with, the dough must have the right feel to it. Unlike mandelbread, a recipe which never changed in my lifetime, Smith has to balance creating new flavor combinations with the alchemy of making dough. Add liquid like Grand Marnier or a flavored extract and you have to adjust the amount flour. Every action has a reaction. That's why she spends so much time refining her ideas.

"I have at least 100 flavors in my head, but I try to keep it simple and hip," she explains. "And it's very important to me to layer flavors so that each bite has some complexity."

So, shall we get to the recipes?

The basic idea is to measure and add ingredients into a bowl to blend. We used her red Kitchen Aid stand mixer. Then we divided the dough in half, manipulating each piece into a long log that we then flattened into a rectangle. They go into the oven for the first baking. Once, they've cooled just enough the pieces are sliced into individual cookies and go back into the oven for a second baking (Smith says you could enjoy the cookies just fine after the first baking, but it's the second that gives them a firmer biscotti texture). Cool. Eat.

Vanilla Orange Biscotti with Dark Chocolate and Grand Marnier-Infused Cranberries
From Amber Smith
(printable recipe)

Makes 35 cookies

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 teaspoon orange extract
zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or any orange liqueur
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dark chocolate chunks or semi sweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350℉ and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Roughly chop the dried cranberries into smaller pieces and put into a microwave-safe bowl. Add the Grand Marnier and warm in the microwave on high for 45 seconds, remove and stir, then let cool. Rehydrating the dried fruit will keep it from dying out too much during baking.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a separate bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, using the paddle attachment for a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer on medium speed. Add eggs and extracts and continue to mix on medium speed until fully incorporated, adding the orange zest and mix until well blended. Slowly add the flour mixture on low speed until fully combined.

Add the chocolate and rehydrated cranberries. The combination of the liqueur and cranberries will form a syrup. Be sure to scrape it all into the dough for maximum flavor. Mix on low just until fully incorporated into the dough.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into two, 16- to 18-inch loaves on one of the prepared sheet pans. Flatten the logs until the are about 2 1/2 inches wide and a half inch thick. Be sure to leave at least four inches in between the loaves to allow for spreading.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops of the loaves turn a warm brown. Remove the pan from the oven and let loaves sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Turn oven temperature down to 300℉.

Slice cookies 1-inch thick. Arrange the biscotti on both sheet pans with at least one inch between each cookie to allow for air circulation and adequate cooking. Bake for an additional 25 minutes and remove from oven.

Note: Bake one sheet a time (unless using a convection oven) to ensure even baking.

Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to three weeks to maintain the crisp and light texture.

Nutmeg Biscotti with Toasted Pecans
From Amber Smith
(printable recipe)

Makes 35 cookies

3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
*1 1/2 cups toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 350℉ and line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon in a separate bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, using the paddle attachment for a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer on medium speed. Add eggs and extracts and continue to mix on medium speed until fully incorporated. Slowly add the flour mixture on low speed until fully combined.

Roughly chop the toasted pecans and add them to the dough. Mix on slow just until fully mixed in.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into two, 16- to 18-inch loaves on one of the prepared sheet pans. Flatten the logs until the are about 2 1/2 inches wide and a half inch thick. Be sure to leave at least four inches in between the loaves to allow for spreading.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the tops of the loaves turn a medium brown. Remove the pan from the oven and let loaves sit for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Turn oven temperature down to 325℉.

Slice cookies 1-inch thick. Arrange the biscotti on both sheet pans with at least one inch between each cookie to allow for air circulation and adequate cooking. Bake for an additional 20 minutes and remove from oven.

Note: Bake one sheet a time (unless using a convection oven) to ensure even baking.

Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to three weeks to maintain the crisp and light texture.

*A simple and fantastic variation is to use candied pecans or caramelized hazelnuts!

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Living Coastal--For the Holidays

Ah, the mad rush of holiday gift shopping. How about taking a zen moment to gaze upon the calming blues of the Pacific, a picnic basket filled with an array of fruit and breads and who knows what else, with a wedge of brie and a couple of wine glasses just beckoning for a pour.

You're now in San Diego artist and designer Jolee Pink's whimsical, tactile world, as depicted in her beautifully photographed new book, Living Coastal: Inspirations for Entertaining, Decorating and Cooking California Style ($19.95, Chefs Press, Inc.).

While Pink talks California, the style, food, and drinks are strictly SoCal coastal and buoyantly, aspirationally so. The eighteen featured chefs are San Diegans, known for utilizing local produce and sustainably sourced local seafood. They and their recipes--beautifully photographed dishes by Mike Pawlenty--are paired with artists and sometimes mixologists and artisan vendors in 16 cute, short chapters themed for entertaining.

"Spring Fling" features Brandon Brooks of Sessions Public with his Pan-Seared Local Sardines with Tapenade and Coleslaw, accompanied by Smoke & Mirrors Cocktail Company with Smiles in the Morning cocktail and artist Cheryl Tall with her aqua and sea foam green ceramics.

There's Andrew Spurgin with his Salt-Baked Spot Prawns with Aromatics, Lemon and Black Mayonnaise in the "Trip to the Tropics" chapter, accompanied by Pink of Wabisabi Green and her sea-oriented sculpture.

Alex Carballo, late of Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens and now cooking at URBN Coal Fired Pizza, is part of the "It's Game Day" chapter, with his tempting Stone IPA Marinated Mahi-Mahi Skewers with Pineapple Chimichurri, along with Stone Farms and artist Elon Ebanks's whimsical sea life sculptures.

Among the vendors who get small featured roles are Tommy Gomes of Catalina Offshore Products, fisherman Peter Halmay, Susan Sbicca of Millie's Gelato, potter Mike Totah of The Wheel (you can find his gorgeous pottery at farmers markets like the Little Italy Mercato), and Sea Salt Candy Company.

I want to make the dishes of all these chefs--from Simon Dolinky, Amanda Baumgarten, and Bernard Guillas to Matt Gordon, Ricardo Heredia, Jeff Rossman, and Kathleen Wise. They and the rest of the chefs have provided beautiful, accessible mostly sea-inspired dishes. This one by Tim Johnson of Zenbu simply couldn't be easier.

Johnson's recipe, featuring local oysters, sea urchin, and Pacific spiny lobsters--currently in season--is in a chapter called "Date Night" that also highlights the art of Matthew Antichevich, who created the 16-foot surfer statue called Magic Carpet Ride in Cardiff-by-the-Sea.

Oysters with Uni and Lobster Ceviche
from Tim Johnson of Zenbu
(printable recipe)

Serves 1

Chef's Notes: Invest in a good oyster knife with a narrow blade. When you begin to pry the oyster open, always twist the blade to pop it open. By forcing it straight in, you may damage the meat. The goal is to keep the oyster whole.

Oysters and Uni
6 small oysters, shucked
Crushed ice
1 live sea urchin (uni), roe cleaned and divided into 6 pieces
6 thin round slices jalapeño
6 dashes ponzu sauce

1 steamed Pacific spiny lobster, split in half, cleaned, meat removed
2 tablespoons salsa fresca
1/2 avocado, cubed
1 lime, juiced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Finishing Touches
Roe (I prefer baked spot prawn roe or masago or tobiko)
Lemon wedges
Tortilla chips

Lay oysters on a bed of crushed ice. Place a small piece of uni and a slice of jalapeño on each oyster. Garnish with baked spot prawn roe, a dash of ponzu sauce, and lemon wedges.

Cut lobster meat in 1/2-inch pieces. In a bowl, mix lobster, salsa fresco, avocado, lime juice, salt, and freshly ground black pepper, to taste. Marinate refrigerated for 30 minutes. The lobster shell make a great dish to hold the ceviche.

Serve oysters with a dish of the ceviche garnished with microgreens, lemon wedges, and your favorite tortilla chips.

Is Living Coastal purely a cookbook? No, it's a hybrid cookbook, art book, design book. It's the perfect siren song for your coffee table and your kitchen, a homage to the spirit of the Pacific as translated by San Diego and its border influences, and a temptation to those who live in colder climes and dream of this iconic beachy SoCal lifestyle.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

San Felipe Salts

Last October I took a trip to Guadalupe Valley with a group of friends to celebrate several birthdays. On the first evening, Javier Plascencia hosted a massive birthday party at his new restaurant called Finca Altozano. Since the group of friends were a mix of chefs, artisan vendors, food writers, and restaurant and market owners, it wasn't surprising that the dinner was also a way to introduce those of us from north of the border to some interesting new Baja food purveyors.

And that's how I met Francisco Sosa Mendez of San Felipe Salt Co. He was there with dozens of gorgeous turquoise blue grinder bottles of salts from the Sea of Cortez. I snagged a garlic-flavored bottle that behind the glass displayed big chunks of sea salt intermingled with equally big chunks of roasted garlic. It's become my go-to grind for roasted vegetables, chicken, and meats.

Of course, that's not San Felipe Salt Co.'s only variety. They've developed several while also selling natural sea salts that come in the forms of rock salt, coarse, and small grind for rimming cocktail glasses.

I managed to acquire five salts, including the garlic--each unique. The Chipotle, a powerful dark blend of sea salt, chipotles, and cacao beans has that smoky sweet heat you crave from chipotles.

The Copal is a smoked sea salt. Plascencia tells me that he uses this salt--a blend of sea salt and wood smoke from copal wood--for their wood-roasted quail and for the suckling pig. "We like it because it gives the dishes a more smokey wood flavor."

The Mexicana is a killer hot salt. Use with caution, but be sure to use it because it's got a punch of flavor from habanero, chipotle, pico de pajaro, and chiltepin chiles.

Then there's the very simple, but lovely Natural. The naked sea salt. Plascencia uses it as a finishing salt on meats and other dishes, including vegetable dishes like his garden tomatoes mixed with olive oil and fresh oregano on toasted bread.

Plascencia says he also uses San Felipe's margarita salt with chapulines for their mescal margaritas and other mescal drinks. "The salt is a bit wet, not like Maldon, but its flavor is great; it has a very natural pure taste."

And that's what I've come to appreciate in these salts. It sits well on the tongue. It's smooth. It plays well with other flavors, and, truly enhances them.

Sosa is actually a co-owner of the business with Michele and Bob MacDonald, who retired to San Felipe a few years ago with the idea of traveling and playing in the desert. But, they got bored. They had noticed trucks coming out of the salina, or salt flats, in San Felipe and decided to investigate. After tasting the salt, they decided to send it out to labs in both Mexico and the U.S. for testing and all of the testing, according to Michele MacDonald, came back with the same results. "The salt was low in sodium chloride, very high in trace elements, and had no pollutants. We knew we had a winner."

They got the shape of the distinctive bottle from Bob whittling a large candle. And, they say, they had a business. They had met Sosa, an attorney, at Rotary in San Felipe and asked him for help forming the Mexican corporation. They all got along so well, sharing a passion for gourmet food and Baja wines, that he then became a partner.

The flavors have naturally evolved, says Michele, some directly influenced by work with major Mexican chefs, including Aquiles Chaves, Benito Molina and his wife Solang, and, of course, Plascencia.

You can purchase the salts online--and the bottles are refillable if you email Michele at michele@sanfelipesalt.com. San Diegans can also buy San Felipe salts in Old Town at Fiesta Cocina on Calhoun St.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Crunchy Giardiniera

A few weeks ago, the San Diego Press Club held its 40th annual JAwards event and those of us in attendance got to dine at the hands of some two dozen fabulous chefs. Among them was Jenn Felmley, who was serving up an extraordinary head cheese accompanied by a tangy, crunchy giardiniera. I loved the head cheese, but it was the simple giardiniera that really made me take notice. It's something I love but haven't made since it's so easy to buy. And, it's something my dad loves. I asked Jenn for the recipe and sure enough she delivered it to my inbox last week. So, last Sunday I stocked up on vinegars and made a few jars to pass around.

As you can imagine, it's a simple concept--pickle and marinate the veggies of your choice. I went traditional, opting for cauliflower, red bell peppers, carrots, and celery.

But you could go with zucchini, broccoli, radishes, turnips, parsnips... And, you can go spicy or not. Add olives. Add peperoncini. Add capers. This time, I stuck with Jenn's ingredients, but divided the recipe in two and made half spicy for myself and the other sans chiles for my dad.

In this recipe Jenn directs the vegetables be cut in a small dice, which I did. But next time, I'm going to go chunky. The small dice is perfect to create a polite accompaniment to a dish--like head cheese. But us snackers want something crunchy to dig into and you get a better appreciation of it with bigger pieces.

With this recipe, instead of plain old distilled vinegar you get three bright varieties of vinegar and they play nicely with one another with a sweet-tart mashup. Just be aware that the vinegars may not be acidic enough for long-term storage. So, keep them refrigerated from the get go and eat up within about two weeks. Also, note that Jenn's recipe actually calls for 1/2 cup white wine vinegar, 1 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar. I found I needed more to have enough to cover the vegetables--perhaps my head of cauliflower and other veggies were larger than what she uses. Also, as the vinegars simmer, the liquid evaporates. So, use this as a guideline. Your mileage may vary.

Jenn Felmley's Giardiniera
(printable recipe)

Makes 2 quarts

4 serrano chiles, cut in half, seeds removed
2 red sweet peppers, small dice
2 celery ribs, small dice
2 carrots, small dice
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets
6 cloves garlic, peeled
3 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
4 black peppercorns
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups rice wine vinegar (not the sweetened)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper to taste

Finely dice 1/2 to 1 whole serrano chile (optional) and add to a large bowl with the other vegetables. Mix with your hands until well combined.

Place the remaining serrano chiles, garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon celery seed, and black peppercorns into cheesecloth and tie into a bundle.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegars and the spice bundle. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium high and simmer for 10 minutes.

Pour the hot liquid and spice bundle over the vegetables and add the remaining ingredients. Stir, then cover with plastic wrap and let the mixture cool to room temperature. If the vegetables haven't softened to your desired texture, you can place the vegetables and liquid into a pot and bring to a boil, then repeat the cooling process.

Place the vegetables and liquid into clean jars with lids and refrigerate. Let the mixture mellow for a couple of days before serving.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Jenny Wenny Christmas Pudding

So, just so we all understand each other before I continue, my writing about extravagant Christmas foods is like a 14-year-old taking the wheel of Mini Cooper on a freeway at rush hour. In other words, this Jewish girl knows just enough to be dangerous.

Nevertheless, my instructor in this, Jenny Williams of Jenny Wenny Cakes, is all about Christmas desserts. And, she's especially adept at a family tradition, her great-grandmother's Christmas pudding. Jenny, who is from Birmingham, England, contacted me over the summer, asking me to come in and make a dessert with her. And the dessert she wanted to show me--and, yes, she delighted in the irony--was her family's Christmas pudding. We finally got together at the end of September, which is when she begins making these desserts. Those in the know will get that a true Christmas pudding must sit in the fridge for months to develop the flavor and texture you want to deliver on Christmas day. But, here we are in November. I'm betting that you still have time to make and store a delicious Christmas pudding if you get right on it.

In case you don't know, Christmas pudding is all about dried fruit. According to British pudding maker Matthew Walker, the first mention of plum pudding goes back to the 15th century--plum referring to any kind of dried fruit. It also included beef or mutton broth, breadcrumbs, spices and wine and was eaten after the fast of Advent. Today, basically, you combine dried fruit, suet, black treacle, brown sugar, and eggs with breadcrumbs and ground almonds and then pour the mixture into a pudding basin (you can still find these online), then steam. Refrigerate for at least a month, then you'll un-mold the pudding, heat it up, pour brandy over it, and light it. Impressive, no? Then you'll accompany it with some lovely brandy butter.

Jenny has substituted several of these traditional ingredients, but the recipe definitely goes back to her great-grandmother's handwritten recipe.

Jenny nostalgically references the well-worn heirloom, The Main Cookery Book, which is filled with great-grandma's notes and additional family recipes. Her recipe is tweaked a bit, but you can see Jenny's follows the general guidelines. She's got a combination of sultanas, raisins, currants, and glade cherries. She includes ground almonds like great-grandma. But molasses substitutes for the black treacle and coconut oil for suet. She mixes the wet and dry ingredients separately, then stirs them together to make the batter.

And, instead of filling a pudding basins or even ramekins, Jenny opts for glass jars.

The jars go into a water bath to cook for about an hour and a half.

Once they're removed from the oven and cool, into the fridge they go for a month or two to develop their flavors. What does it taste like? Well, Jenny gave me a couple of jars to take home and I just opened one of them. I pulled it out of the jar onto a plate, which I heated in my microwave for just a minute. Unfortunately, I had no whipped cream or brandy butter, but the pudding is lovely--chewy from the dried fruit with a dark sweetness. The brandy butter would give it a woozy deep lusciousness.

I may just make this for Christmas myself!

Christmas Pudding
From Jenny Williams
(printable recipe)

Serves 12

4 ounces breadcrumbs
12 ounces sultanas
8 ounces raisins
8 ounces currants
2 ounces glace cherries
2 ounces ground almonds
8 ounces dark brown sugar
8 ounces black treacle/molasses
4 ounces coconut oil (instead of suet)
4 eggs, beaten

Mix all the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and add the beaten eggs, one at a time, stirring hard.

Leave overnight in the refrigerator and stir again.

Fill two traditional pudding bowls or 12 little ramekins with mixture.

If cooking traditionally, steam six to seven hours with parchment paper over the top. Or you can place the ramekins in a water bath (fill a high-sided pan or pot with a half-inch of water) and cook for 1 1/2 hours at 300 degrees (275 degrees for convection). The interior temperature should read 180 degrees when done.

Remove and let cool. Cover and place in the refrigerator for one to two months so the pudding can fully develop its flavor.

To serve, remove from the pudding bowl or ramekins, heat in the microwave around two minutes per pudding, let stand one minute, and serve with whipped cream or brandy butter.

Brandy Butter
Adapted by Jenny Williams from The Guardian Newspaper

Serves 10 to 12

6.5 ounces butter, diced
6.5 ounces brown sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons brandy
pinch of ground nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

Beat the butter and brown sugar until soft. Stir in orange and lemon zest, then slowly add the brandy and spices. Cover and keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. May be frozen.

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