Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook

You never know what a holiday gift can spark. For Kathy Strahs, her sister's Christmas gift to her of a panini press launched a career as a food blogger when she started investigating the possibilities of the equipment on Panini Happy. Five years later and with yet another blog, Cooking on the Side, Strahs is also now a published cookbook author. Her book, The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook (Harvard Common Press/$19.95) will be out on September 10.

So many cookbooks are designed to be aspirational. The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook is inspirational. If you don't already have a panini press, it'll make you want to rush out and buy one. Or a George Foreman grill, or any countertop grill. And, you don't have to use it to make grill-marked panini alone, as Strahs points out. The more than 200 recipes--lavishly photographed by Strahs--of course include plenty of sandwiches, but there are also recipes for panini-grilling everything from heads of garlic and peaches to tri-tip steak, spatchcocked game hen, and even ice cream cones.

Photo by Kathy Strahs
Additionally, she includes tempting recipes for a variety of condiments and other small dishes that you'll want to spread on your panini, like olive oil mayonnaise, grilled tomatillo guacamole, cranberry coleslaw, and arugula pesto. There are hints for how to buy and use the press, of course, but also for how to lighten up panini, and even a top 10 list of surprising uses for a panini press that includes making bacon, French toast, seafood, quesadillas, and cookies.

Quite a versatile piece of equipment.

But, really, it all comes back to the panini itself. Strahs has compiled a virtual tour around the world of various cuisines that can be sampled between two slices of bread. Go to Jamaica with a Jerk Chicken Panini that includes caramelized onions and fresh cilantro. Or Argentina with a Chimichurri Skirt Steak Panini with Provolone and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. Enjoy her Greek-Style Caprese Panini with plenty of feta crumbled onto rustic olive bread or Beer-Grilled Bratwursts. There are vegetarian suggestions as well, such as her Grilled Peach Salad with Toasted Pecans, Blue Cheese, and Honey Balsamic Syrup and her Black Bean Patty Melt Panini. She's even got breakfast panini suggestions--try her Egg White Omelet Panino or indulge in her Rajas, Steak, and Egg Panini, made with a flatiron steak. And, for the kids, there are Panini Pops--a star-shaped (thanks to cookie cutters) grilled cheese wonders on a stick that include cooked bacon, roasted red bell peppers, or whatever additions you desire.

Since Strahs is a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier's San Diego chapter (along with me), and will have a booth at Fig Fest 2013 San Diego, the Sept. 8 event we're holding at the San Diego Public Market, she offered to share this fig-laden panini recipe with readers.

Turkey-Apple Panini with Fig and Gruyère
From The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook by Kathy Strahs
(reprinted with permission)
(printable recipe)

Yield: 4 panini


4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
8 slices rustic whole-grain bread, sliced from a dense bakery loaf
1/2 cup fig preserves
8 ounces carved or deli-sliced roast turkey
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and thinly sliced
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, thinly sliced

1. Heat the panini press to medium-high heat.
2. For each sandwich: Spread butter on two slices of bread to flavor the outside of the sandwich. Flip over both sides and spread 1 tablespoon fig preserves on the other side of each. Top one slice with turkey, apples, and cheese. Close the sandwich with the other slice of bread, buttered side up.
3. Grill two panini at a time, with the lid closed, until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted, 4 to 5 minutes.

Photo by Kathy Strahs

Print Page

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

BiCE's Schiacciatina with Truffle Cheese Spread

BiCE chefs Francesca Penoncelli and Mario Cassineri
Hallibut in brodetto di Vongole e Granchio, Cipollotti e Zafferano (Pan-seared halibut with Clam, Mussel, Wild Salmon, Shrimp, Chilean Sea Bass, and Jumbo Lump Crab in a Lobster and Saffron Broth).

Bistecchine di Vitello al Parmigiano servite con Porri Brasati al Timo e Granchio (Pounded Veal Medallions, Bread Crumb with Parmesan, Thyme Poached Leeks and Jump Lump Crab).

Bavette del Senatore al Caviale (Bavette del Senatore with domestic black hackleback caviar or Keluga caviar).

These dishes and more (like their extravagantly decadent cheese bar) I've enjoyed at BiCE. But when the opportunity arises for me to cook with Chef de Cuisine Francesca Penoncelli what do I ask her to show me how to make? Cheese spread and crackers.

Don't roll your eyes. These are both extraordinary--and all the more so because of their simplicity. Yes, I'd love to learn how to make many of their other dishes. But their Truffle Cheese Spread is exquisitely divine in its creamy richness and seductively funky truffle aroma--and the fact that it can be whipped up in minutes is compelling. The cracker, called schiacciatina in Italian (meaning pressed), is a warm  orange color thanks to the addition of paprika and curry powder, Audrey Hepburn thin and yet, even in its crackly slimness, full of herbaceous flavors. It's derived from the leftover focaccia dough made daily in-house, a simple dough that for the purposes of the cracker, doesn't even need yeast if you want to leave it out. My impulse would be to put it in, make some focaccia (or an ersatz pizza), and save some dough for the cracker.

Penoncelli, a 35-year-old native of Piedmont, studied culinary arts from the time she was in high school, interning at restaurants during summers. When she graduated, she hightailed it to Paris to work. Eventually the chef took a job with the BiCE group, which sent her around the world to open up restaurants. Four years ago she landed in San Diego with fellow chef Mario Cassineri. The two have been a longtime team with BiCE and when the restaurant chain wound up with financial issues and let go of the San Diego restaurant, they chose to go with the new San Diego majority owner. So, this BiCE is actually an independent local spot and reflects the tastes and culinary sensibilities of the two chefs. Sensibilities so good and so successful that they've been tapped to cook at the James Beard House in New York on Dec 19, coincidentally, Cassineri's 40th birthday.

While the outgoing executive chef Cassineri tends to be the face of BiCE, Penoncelli feels like the heart. Despite her reluctance to be out front kibbitzing with patrons, she works the kitchen well and, as I learned, is a terrific, good-humored, and patient teacher. Which is a good thing, since she and Cassineri have been holding a summer series of two-part cooking classes at BiCE. The final ones are  being held Aug. 24 and 25. They're interactive and relaxed, teaching basic techniques like pasta and sauce making in the first session, then recipes that incorporate them in the second, and each features four courses, including an appetizer, pasta, entree, and dessert, as well as a wine-and-cheese pairing demo by Penoncelli.

My little session wasn't nearly as comprehensive, but I got a sense of Penoncelli's teaching skills--and came away with some new skills of my own, along with a couple of great recipes. Which I share with you now.

The first is the Truffle Cheese spread. All it takes is blending about half a dozen ingredients in a mixer, chilling it, and serving.

Truffle Cheese Spread
from BiCE
(printable version)

2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
9 ounces ricotta
4 ounces marscapone
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon truffle oil--white or black is fine
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Blend together cream cheese and ricotta. Add marscapone, salt, truffle oil, and pepper. Mix until it has a fluffy texture.

Refrigerate half an hour. It will stiffen so you can use an ice cream scoop to serve. Place on a serving bowl and pour a little olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar around the scoop. Serve with schiacciatina or other crackers.

*Note, you can also add fresh chopped herbs, blue cheese, honey, or other complementary ingredients to customize the spread.

Below is the focaccia recipe, to which you add additional ingredients to make the schiacciatina dough--really just herbs and spices. While she bakes these, she says you can also take the same dough, pull it into pieces, stuff with cheese and then fry it. Penoncelli says that another way they use the focaccia dough is to make pencil-thin bread sticks. So, truly, this is a versatile dough.

from BiCE
(printable recipe)

Focaccia Dough

1 pound high-gluton flour
1/4 pound all-purpose flour
3/4 pound semolina
2.5 ounces yeast
2.5 ounces salt
1/2 tablespoon sugar
4.5 fluid ounces extra virgin olive oil
25.6 ounces warm water

Mix the yeast and warm water in a small bowl. Let proof for 10 minutes (until bubbles begin to form).

In a large bowl, stir together the two flours, salt, and semolina. Add the yeast mixture and olive oil to the dry ingredients and combine. When dough has pulled together, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

Let rest in a covered bowl for 45 minutes in a warm room. Then roll the dough and let it rest again for 20 to 40 minutes.

For Schiacciatina

Focaccia dough
0.4 ounces paprika
0.2 ounces fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, and thyme are good)
Fresh or dried oregano
0.4 ounces curry powder

All-purpose flour

Combine herbs and spices with focaccia dough in a mixer. The dough will be a little sticky. You can refrigerate it before using.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a sheet pan. Create a pile each of flour and semolina for sprinkling on the dough between rolling. Using a pasta machine or attachment, pull off pieces of dough and sprinkle liberally with both flour and semolina. Roll through the widest setting. Sprinkle again, reduce setting by one and roll again. Continue until it's so thin you can almost see through it. Place on sheet pan. When you have enough to bake. Brush lightly with oil. Bake about 5 to 6 minutes until crisp, but watch it to prevent burning.

Clockwise from top left: BiCE focaccia, focaccia dough, kneading the dough to incorporate the herbs and spices, focaccia dough with schiacciatina spices and herbs

Clockwise from left: Rolling the dough through pasta maker, the dough getting longer and longer, almost transparent

Schiacciatina rolled, oiled, and then baked

BiCE serves this duo daily, and it's one of their most popular offerings.

BiCE is located at 425 Island at 4th Ave. in downtown San Diego. Tickets for the two-day class series are $275 person; single classes are available for $150 per person. To sign up for the class, go to http://bicesandiego.com/events/cooking-classes-2013/ or call 619-239-2423.

Print Page

Monday, August 12, 2013

Getting Figgy: Fig Fest 2013 San Diego Set for Sept. 8

More Than Three Dozen Chefs and Artisan Vendors from San Diego and Baja +
San Diego and Baja Wineries and Breweries
All Showcasing California Figs

Decades after I first watched the movie Women in Love I still remember the lascivious way Alan Bates pulled apart and bit into a very ripe fig. I was young enough for the overt eroticism he created with the fig to make me blush in the dark theater.

Today, my experiences with figs are less fraught and more playful. Fresh, their sweet velvety softness is irresistible. I love to roast them with goat cheese or marscapone, top with a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts, and then drizzle them with honey or balsamic vinegar. I add fresh ones to salads, bake them in tarts. I chop the dried ones into cookie dough or sweet breads. They're truly versatile.

On Sunday, Sept. 8, from 4 to 7 p.m., Les Dames d'Escoffier's San Diego Chapter (to which I belong), the California Fig Advisory Board, and the San Diego Public Market are presenting Fig Fest 2013 San Diego. We'll have close to 40 chefs and artisan food vendors from San Diego--truly a who's who of the flourishing San Diego and Baja culinary scenes--all featuring fig-based dishes and products. We'll also have a host of wineries and breweries servings beverages that complement the food. And there will be a pavilion set up for Les Dames members to showcase their wares--from edibles to books.

Clockwise from top left: Bernard Guillas of the Marine Room, Pablo Ibarra and Jeff Rossman of Terra, Joanne Squires-Sherif of Cardamom, Trish Watlington and Miguel Valdez of The Red Door and The Wellington, and Fabrizio Cavallini of Monello and Bencotto

Chef Matt Richman of Table 926
Here's the line up so far:

A.R. Valentien
Beaumont's Eatery
Blueprint Cafe
Biscuit Gourmet
Cafe Chloe
Catalina Offshore Products
Con Pane
Cupcakes Squared
Farm House Cafe
Fresh Start Food
Grant Grill
Great Maple
Indulge Contemporary Catering
Jackie's Jams
La Querencia Baja Med
Misión 19
Roseville Cozhina
Ryan Steyn
Season Catering & Events
Sugar & Scribe
Table 926
Temecula Olive Oil Company
Tender Greens
The Marine Room
The Red Door and The Wellington
Waters Fine Catering
Wild Thyme Catering Company

Catalina Offshore Products' Tommy Gomes
Clockwise from top left: Maeve Schulz of Sugar & Scribe, Pete and Pete Balistreri of Tender Greens, Jeff  Jackson of A.R. Valentien, Javier Plascencia of Mision 19, and Flor Franco of Indulge Contemporary Catering

Our Baja wineries include Paralelo, Casa de Piedra, Estacion de Oficios el Porvenir, Aborigen, Vinisterra, Viñas Pijoan, Tres Valles, Viñas de Garza, Cava Aragon 126, La Lomita, and Möebius.

We'll be holding a chef competition, pairing local culinary students with chefs, with judging done by food gurus from outside San Diego. Winning teams will be awarded prizes.

And, you'll get something, too--a lush, full-color recipe booklet with tested recipes from participating chefs and artisan vendors. Not to mention some of the best fig-oriented food around.

Tickets are $45 before Aug. 15 and $55 thereafter, with $20 tickets for kids under 12. Hurry and get your tickets now by going to FigFestSD.com.

Proceeds from shares for Les Dames d'Escoffier will be donated to a variety of nonprofit projects that that chapter sponsors. Our history of giving includes recipients such as Olivewood Gardens, low-income female culinary student scholarships, The San Diego Food Bank, Rachel's Women's Center, St. Vincent de Paul's culinary program, Scrumptious Schoolyards and Grow Your Lunch, and St. Madeleine Sophie's Center.

And, huge thanks to Specialty Produce, which is on board as a featured sponsor!

Print Page

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Getting the Dirt on Truffle Making from Andrea Davis

Andrea Davis of Andrea's Truffles is your typical overnight success--in that while the San Diego food obsessed are now suddenly raving about her deeply rich chocolate truffles with the crazy flavor profiles, the San Diego native actually spent many years working in kitchens like The Prado, The Dakota, Pacifica Del Mar, and La Valencia. She started making truffles in 2003, and thanks to mentors and customers like Chef Hanis Cavin, Specialty Produce, and Catalina Offshore Products, now finds herself in wild demand.

Overnight success indeed.

Davis trained at the California Culinary Academy in the Bay Area and then returned home to San Diego, where she started her professional cooking life with The Cohn Restaurant Group. She worked on the savory side of the kitchen until she landed at Pacifica Del Mar. She initially was a line cook, working pantry and sauté, but when a pastry chef left, she took that on to learn those skills. She then went on to La Valencia to focus on pantry and pastry and get more knowledge before moving to Brockton Villa and its sister restaurant Beaumont's.

But Davis tired of restaurant life and escaped to Trader Joe's, all the while playing around with truffle making. She brought a batch to her yoga class, and was asked to make truffles for each shakra. It was a chance meeting with Cavin a couple of years ago that got her to consider starting her own business, making truffles for Carnitas Snack Shack. And the Pannikin. She made truffles for Chad White's initial pop up dinners.

Trader Joe's is now just a place where she shops. Davis's Andrea's Truffles has become a full-time occupation. She makes 500 to 800 truffles a week, calling Flor Franco's Indulge Contemporary Catering kitchen in Chula Vista home base. Now you can find her truffles at Carnitas Snack Shack, The Patio, Ripe, Specialty Produce, Mission Brewery, and, on occasion, Catalina Offshore Products.

I spent several hours with Davis this week, learning all sorts of great truffle-making tips. The first thing you'll notice about Davis's truffles is that, well, they're not traditionally truffle shaped--as in round and dusted with cocoa powder to imitate truffles rooted out from the dank ground. Davis admits she was watching Alton Brown on TV making truffles and when saw him pour the ganache into a tray, then slice them up into squares like brownies she had an aha moment. "For years I'd been scooping them into balls, but this was much better. Much less labor intensive," she says.

Davis works on several batches in different stages at a time--making the thick ganache that's the base of the truffle, tempering chocolate chunks for dipping other batches that have set overnight in the walk-in, prepping ingredients like her homemade raspberry jam that will go into a truffle variety she makes for The Patio, and reducing beers and red wines for still other varieties.

While I was there she was focused on three projects: a batch of Raspberry Jam truffles for The Patio, batches of Bacon Whiskey and Ballast Point Sculpin Caramel truffles for Carnitas Snack Shack, and a  batch of Spicy Cinnamon with Tequila truffles for the Specialty Produce farmers market bag. There was a double boiler holding chips and cocoa powder to melt and begin a ganache for the Raspberry Jams and another holding chunks of 72 percent chocolate that would be used for dipping the Bacon Whiskey and Spicy Cinnamon with Tequila. On still another burner, Davis was reducing the Sculpin to intensify the flavor.

Clockwise from top left: Melting the chocolate for the ganache, pouring the ganache into plastic-wrap lined aluminum trays, slicing the set ganache
For her ganache, Davis uses a combination of Callebaut and Valrhona chocolate, into which she blends butter and heavy cream, going low and slow with the heat. If she adds alcohol like tequila to the ganache, she take out an equal amount of the cream. To this batch, she added her raspberry jam. When it was thoroughly blended she poured the ganache into aluminum trays lined with plastic wrap. When the ganache has cooled and set, it's then easy to lift it out of the tray, unwrap and then slice into squares.

To make the Shack's pub-like truffles, caramel was called for. But not any caramel. Once Davis melted down the granulated sugar, she slowly stirred in the reduced Sculpin. Already she had arranged a layer of pretzel thins over the set ganache. Now, she poured the enhanced caramel over the pretzels. Back into the walk-in they went.

Then it was time to get messy and dip the truffles for Specialty Produce and Carnitas Snack Shack. With the temperature set to medium low, Davis was able to leave the chocolate over the double boiler to melt while doing other tasks. Once the chocolate tempered, she removed it from the heat and took it over to the station she uses to dip, stirring the chocolate to cool it down. Touching the bowl tells her when it's ready. If it's just comfortable to touch (as opposed to pulling back from the heat), she gets to work. She had me do some of the dipping, showing me how to place the truffle on a fork and quickly dunk, turn, and lift. To make it work, the ganache and tempered chocolate have to be cool enough so that the chocolate doesn't run and puddle around the truffle when it's set back down.

While it's still soft, Davis then adds the finishing touches. For the Spicy Tequila, she grated lime zest over the truffles, then a little cinnamon.

I thought that was it, but then out came a small container of gold dust. And a brush.

Next up were the bacon and whisky truffles. After dipping, she lightly sprinkled the tops with Celtic grey salt and brown sugar.

If this has inspired you to make truffles at home, Davis suggests using a basic truffle recipe that includes chocolate, heavy cream, butter, and cocoa powder. You'll often see recipes that include condensed milk. Davis frowns on that.

Here are half a dozen tips Davis suggests when trying this in your own kitchen:

1. When it comes to flavors, think about what works with what and remember that less is more. You don't have to mix them all together in the ganache either. You can always sprinkle some on top for an extra punch. For example, Davis made a green tea and white chocolate truffle but felt it needed a little something to round it out. So she sprinkled cinnamon on top.
2. With chocolate, use the best ingredients you can afford.
3. Layer your flavors. Don't mix everything together at once. Build the flavors as you're cooking the ganache or the caramel.
4. When using alcohol in the ganache, take out the equivalent amount of cream so it doesn't get runny.
5. When incorporating a dark stout or wine, reduce the liquid to half to capture more of the flavor when it's blended with the chocolate.
6. When using tequila you'll find that it actually makes the ganache sturdier, so take that into account and don't use a heavy hand. The tequila also keeps its flavor so, again, don't use so much that it will overpower the chocolate.

Print Page