Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Su-Mei Yu's Savor San Diego Hits KPBS This Thursday

San Diego food lovers know Su-Mei Yu, the longtime owner of Saffron in Mission Hills. She's been a culinary fixture in the community for well over 25 years, as both restaurateur and cookbook author with titles including Asian Grilling, Cracking the Coconut, and The Elements of Life. So with that deep a connection to food and to San Diego it only makes sense that she has now turned her talents and enthusiasm to television to show off many of the local producers who represent what she considers the best of San Diego's foodstuff.

Su-Mei Yu with farmer Noel Stehly at Stehly Farms in Valley Center

Her new show, Savor San Diego, debuts this Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on KPBS (airing again on Saturdays at 3:30 p.m.). The six episodes taped so far reflect the diversity of Su-Mei's interests: hand-crafted tofu, grass-fed beef, avocado oil, citrus, seafood, farmers markets and community gardens. These far-ranging subjects, however, have something besides being local to San Diego in common--they exist to get people back into the kitchen. And that, says, Su-Mei, is why she's tackling this project.

"I did it because I want people to cook again," she emphasizes. "We have so much bounty. I want people to see what's available because it's all so good."

Su-Mei learning how tofu is made, with owner Shawn Daniels in purple apron.

Su-Mei is a big and lively personality and it comes through in the first episode, which I viewed on Saturday at a launch party she hosted. It's aptly named "The Yin-Yang of Protein"since it features a tofu maker and rancher. Each episode of Savor San Diego is divided into three segments, a focus on two different venues and then a short cooking segment that ties the two together. In this first episode Su-Mei first visits San Diego Soy Dairy in El Cajon, which for more than 30 years has made organic, small-batch tofu. Su-Mei cheerfully dons an apron and billowy blue hair cap, then eagerly follows owner Shawn Daniels around the plant as she--and we--learn how tofu is made.

The city girl from Bangkok on horseback with rancher Joel Mendenhall.
We next see Su-Mei up in Palomar Mountain on the Mendenhall Ranch and through her meet low-key  sixth-generation rancher Joel Mendenhall, who for several years has partnered with Matt Rimel in producing HomeGrown Meats. Su-Mei's bravado in getting up on a horse to tour the property comes through in her laughing plea to Mendenhall that, "I'm just a city girl from Bangkok!" She's then hoisted onto the horse and trots off behind the young cowboy. We learn from Mendenhall about the benefits of grass-fed beef and how the cattle are raised.

Then comes the tie-in with an open-air cooking demo on the ranch. Su-Mei, with Mendenhall beside her, prepares "Mama Yu's Beef & Tofu Stir Fry." It's a simple recipe, packed with protein obviously, but also lots of vegetables--and certainly accessible to the home cook.

Each episode of Savor San Diego, says Su-Mei, took two days to film. What made it easier was that, other than the fishermen, she knew everyone featured. "I've been cooking with their ingredients for years."

Su-Mei in the Olivewood Gardens teaching kitchen.
One episode, however, veers away from the vendors and reflects her social work background.  "Cultivating Communities" features the New Roots Garden in City Heights and Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center in National City. "I'm involved in community, in refugees. Once a social worker, always a social worker," she says. These two places touch her heart, not only because they grow  fresh, healthy food, but because their mission is to educate neighborhoods and help build community. Clearly this is a way for her to show how powerful that can be.

You can see the show promo here:

Savor San Diego - KPBS Promo from FortyOneTwenty on Vimeo.

You can also learn more about Savor San Diego and get the recipes on www.savorsdtv.com. Additionally, Saffron is offering a premiere special on Thursday, May 2: One whole chicken, jasmine rice, Cambodian salad and five dipping sauces for $14. And, they suggest pre-ordering.

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gobbling Up Turkey Eggs

I was at the Thursday UTC farmers market a couple of weeks ago, talking with farmer Eli Hofshi of Eli's Farms about his produce for my Local Bounty blog on San Diego Magazine--then I noticed some unusual eggs sitting in cartons. They were beautiful, slightly larger than chicken eggs and splashed with brown speckles.

It turns out they were fertilized turkey eggs. Hofshi's turkeys have been prolific so far this spring and he has plenty to raise, so he has started bringing the rest out to the farmers markets to sell. Clearly, I had to try them. I've cooked with duck eggs and quail eggs, but these turkey eggs were a first for me.

Back in November, Slate writer Brian Palmer questioned why we don't eat turkey eggs. He posits very simply that it's because they're expensive. They just don't produce like little factories like chickens and require far more space than chickens. And they require more food. All fair points. Hofshi sold me the eggs at $1 apiece.

But, there was a time when turkey eggs were not only an American staple, but also popular in Europe. And, you can still find them for sale online and in some British markets. Here in the U.S., your best chance at finding them is at a local farmers market from farmers like Hofshi.

Now why would you want to spend the money to eat them? Mostly because they have a richer flavor than conventional chicken eggs and, thanks to their size, you don't need as many for a given recipe. But, they are higher in cholesterol than chicken eggs. So, they're kind of a treat--and certainly a conversation piece. Soft or hard boil them, poach them, fry them. Use them for sauces or baking. Or as I did--enjoy them simply scrambled.

You can find Eli's Farms at the UTC, El Cajon, City Heights, and Pt. Loma farmers markets run by Brian's Farmers Markets.

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cheese, Pecans, and More at the Carrboro, NC Farmers Market

Last week I flew out to Chapel Hill, North Carolina for the first time to visit my brother Jay and his family. Jay is a professor at Duke University and director of the Duke Center for Sustainability and Commerce. It was a fairly brief visit, but he organized two special outings for me: a North Carolina barbecue lunch--from pork ribs and brisket to hush puppies and fried okra--and a trip to the local farmers market in Carrboro.

This part of North Carolina is a blending of rural with all the trappings of major universities and, of course, the renowned Research Triangle. Small towns are linked together by winding roads with views of lakes, farms, Colonial homes with gracious front porches, and only periodically, commerce. The Wednesday and Saturday Carrboro Farmers Market is held in the Carrboro Town Commons, a village center that also houses restaurants and shops and the local coop, the Weaver St. Market. The Carrboro Farmers Market has been around for 35 years and is notable for the facts that all the food sold there comes from within a 50-mile radius of Carrboro and that the vendors must represent their own products, be it produce, cheese, meat, breads, or flowers--and there are lots of all of these.

This time of year, my brother pointed out, the market isn't that large. Spring is just arriving and the full flush of spring harvest and summer bounty hasn't quite yet arrived. But there was still a feeling of abundance and while I saw lots of produce that you'd also find in Southern California--lettuces, radishes, kale, strawberries, beets (very big there), and tomatoes--I was charmed by surprise after surprise. Some of the most delightful surprises were simply the names of these regional farms: Coon Rock Farm, Captain J.S. Pope Farm, Wild Hare Farm, Two Chicks Farm, Ever Laughter Farm, Waterdog Farms, Fickle Creek Farm, and Celebrity Goat Dairy. Then there were the actual products. Here are a few:

Pecans--two types, Elliot and Cape Fear--in the shell.

And, pecan pie, of course.

Then there were the cheeses, all made at area dairies.

I sampled a number of delicious goat cheeses. But here at this stall was Florence of Chapel Hill Creamery, which she said is about seven miles away. Florence is the cheese maker and has an extensive repertoire, including fresh mozzarella, farmers cheese, Carolina Moon--her version of Camembert, Hickory Grove, and Calvander--an asiago-style cheese. When I return to Chapel Hill--hopefully this time next year--I plan to visit the dairy and learn about her cheese-making techniques.

Finally, there was the family-run Chicken Bridge Bakery, which had some of the most beautiful breads I've ever seen. The baker uses Carolina ground flour to produce a number of unique loaves, along with bagels, muffins, granola, and even naan. They run a Community Supported Bread project (CSB), which, like CSAs, is subscription based, enabling people to join by the month and receive a different loaf of bread weekly.

See those little samples in the basket above? For some reason I was drawn to them. They were dark and both crunchy and chewy in the way a dark bread can be when toasted. Well, they were the result of  a mistake, the baker admitted. He'd made--and burned--Danish Seeded Rye loaves. Instead of tossing them, he sliced the loaves thin and toasted them to make these delicious crackers. I bought a bag for $3.50 and am still enjoying them--with local goat cheese I later found at the Weaver St. Market and brought home.

The Carrboro Farmers market, which is vendor run, is only one of over a dozen farmers markets in Raleigh/Durham and the Triangle. And, if you happen to be in the area April 27 and 28, you can take the Piedmont Farm Tour--39 farms for $25 per carload in advance or $30 at the first farm you visit. You can buy your button online at www.carolinafarmstewards.org.

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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Snake Oil Teams with Cinepolis for Film-Themed Cocktails

Michael Esposito, founder of San Diego's Snake Oil Cocktail Company, has found a unique way to make a splash: at the movies.

The company has teamed up with the luxury movie theater chain Cinepolis to create themed cocktails that are inspired and pay homage to select films playing at the moment in all five Southern California locations.

"I mean, what's better than a 3-D experience," Esposito said, "having specialty cocktails and food coming at you while you are in the theater!"

Frankie Thaheld, Snake Oil's new director of culinary mixology, who is also responsible for the culinary cocktail program at George's California Modern, is designing these fresh-juice cocktails--two for each film--and then trains the Cinepolis staff to execute them onsite. Now, how does one create a film-inspired cocktail? Esposito explained that they look at the film and then explore how the ingredients play with the film's setting, plot, and theme.

So, what's playing now? Snake Oil picked two films this quarter to focus on: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Next quarter will be Great Gatsby and Iron Man.

Wonderful Wonderstone: vodka, pressed watermelon, lavender essence, fresh lime, sea salt
Marvelous Marvelton: Nolet's Dry Gin, smashed kiwi, vanilla essence, sparkling wine
Cobra Venom for G.I. Joe: Aged rum, juiced pomegranate, pressed moro blood orange, Chinese 5 spice
Lady Jaye for G.I. Joe: Ketel One Vodka, pressed tangerine and lime, torn mint, club soda, cocoa nib

The signature cocktails sell for $13 at all five locations--and can be delivered to your seat during the movie.

Note: photos courtesy of Snake Oil Cocktails.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pesci Three Ways at Po Pazzo

Back in the day when I lived in Hillcrest, one of my favorite restaurants for good Italian cooking was Busalacchi's over on Fifth Ave. That was in the late 80s and 90s. Since then, owner Joe Buscalacchi expanded his Sicilian culinary kingdom to include Cafe Zuccharo, Po Pazzo, Zia's Bistro, Tratoria Fantastica, and Via Lago. He closed the flagship, replacing it fairly recently on Fifth and Pennsylvania with Busalacchi's A Modo Mio.

In other words, the Sicilian-born Busalacchi's a busy guy. Happily, however, he made time for me on a recent afternoon to share with me his favorite ways to cook fish--or, more expansively, seafood--at the Po Pazzo kitchen in Little Italy. And what I learned was that as complex as the flavors turn out to be in the finished dish, the preparation is very homey, very accessible for the home cook. In fact, no formal recipes are required, just a simple explanation, with the ingredients.

We started with striped bass, a couple of them, both about a pound and a half. They'd been cleaned but remained whole, head included.

The first dish was what Busalacchi called cartoccho, or covered fish. You'll need a baking sheet and aluminum foil for this. Make two cuts on each side of the fish to better tell when the fish is fully cooked. Rub the fish with olive oil, salt and pepper, dried Greek oregano, lemon and orange juice, and add lemon slices, roasted onion, and some scallions. Stuff the cavity with a couple of lemon slices. Fold the foil to cover the head and the tail so they won't burn and run it under the broiler for four to five minutes on each side, using the foil to flip the fish. Then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, cover the fish with the foil, and bake another 15 minutes until the flesh (check the opening of the cuts) is just white.

From there we went on to a gently poached striped bass Sicilian style with boiled potatoes and an olive oil dressing. Bring a large pot of water with a couple of bay leaves and a pinch of salt to the boil. Peel, cut up, and boil the red potatoes first. Once they're fully cooked, remove them from the water, bring it back to the boil and add the fish, cooking about 10 minutes. While the fish is cooking, pour about a cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil in a bowl to which you'll add two cloves of sliced garlic, minced parsley, dried Greek oregano, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, a few saffron threads, and salt and pepper. Whisk it together.

Remove the fish carefully from the water and set on a platter. Arrange the potatoes around the fish. Zest part of an orange over the fish, then pour the olive oil mixture over both the fish and the potatoes.

That wasn't all. Accompanying these two magnificent fish dishes was a large plate of pastina, a very tiny pasta that absorbs all flavors. To make it Busalacchi got out a large skillet, poured a tablespoon or so of olive oil and then added shallots, which he sautéed until they were translucent. Then he added chopped tomatoes, fish stock, and a cup of the pastina, stirring it all together. He periodically added water if the mixture got too thick or dry. It took about 10 minutes for the pastina to cook to al dente. Then, he grated in some parmigiano reggiano, and added clams, shrimp, and calamari, letting the seafood cook until done. He arranged roasted carrots and peppers around the pasting, along with a mound of fried yam strings, then topped it with the roasted striped bass before finishing it off with a little drizzle of truffle oil.

Both fish dishes were packed with the flavors they were cooked with--aromatic and juicy as well. And, Busalacchi was quick to point out, you can use any small, firm white fish.

Lunch is served!

Po Pazzo is located at 1917 India St. in Little Italy.

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