Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Irresistible Grains and Legumes from Conscious Cookery

Over the years the growth of the Hillcrest Farmers Market has continued to astound me. And when you tend to have your favorite vendors you sometimes unconsciously pass by people who it turns out have been there practically forever. So, this is something of an old is new discovery. With the reformatting of the market layout I came across Michelle Sadler and her Conscious Cookery booth, filled to the hilt with beans, lentils, rices, and other grains and legumes--even though she pointed out she's been low on stock.

A former cereal chemist for General Mills, Sadler has run Conscious Cookery for 11 years at the Hillcrest Farmers Market. And she's got a story to tell about every variety of grain, bean, and rice she sells. Want to try something new but can't decide? She'll point you in a novel direction.

She did that with me. I'm not a huge bean lover. I like them, but it would never appeal to me to make a pot for dinner. She set out to change my mind and sent me home with a bag of Good Mother Stallard beans. I love hulled barley, so she upped the ante with vibrant Purple Prairie barley. Then my eye was caught by a bag of flat rice in a basket. I'd seen something like this at a couple of Indian markets, but those were huge bags. This one, at 12 ounces, was manageable enough for me to try out.

Sadler gave me cooking advice for each purchase, and also wanted me to know that she had a number of items coming to the market and online by the end of October, including assorted heirloom beans from California, Colorado, and Idaho family farmers,  a huge variety of certified organic lentils--from Black Beluga and du Puy to Spanish Pardina, and Persian Crimson--along with bean blends, a crazy quilt assortment of rices (short and medium grain brown nrice, Akitakomachi brown rice from Northern California, Bhutanese Red Rice, Mekong Flower Rice... well this list goes on and on. Craving Bolivian kaniwa or Colorado-grown millet? She'll have it. Same with Idaho-grown einkorn, Amish-grown popcorn, purple gem popcorn, certified organic teas, and a variety of herbs and spices.

But let's get down to my purchases because I was blown away by each.

First there were the Good Mother Stallard beans. Now I love a good bean soup. But never have I understood enjoying beans as a meal. Until I made these Good Mother Stallard beans.

To prepare them, I pulled out my VitaClay rice/slow cooker and rinsed a cup of the beans before putting them in the cooker's clay pot. Then I added half a chopped white onion, two diced carrots, a cut up purple potato, three smashed garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and four cups of water. That's it. I set them to cook for four hours and when the timer went off, tentatively gave myself a spoonful to taste.

There was a lot of hype going into that pot along with the beans. But, the hype yielded to the real deal. Call me a convert, but when cooked these spectacularly colorful African beans expand in size and flavor. They become marble-sized meaty powerhouses robust earthy flavors. In fact, the bean liquor was so good I saved that, too. I had a small bowlful of beans for a late lunch and my plan with the rest is to find some good turkey or chicken sausage, slice it  up and sauté with kale, then add the beans and some of the bean liquor, and have myself an easy and delightful one-dish dinner.

The purple theme continued into the evening. Once the beans were cooked, I cleaned the clay pot and turned to the Purple Prairie barley. This heirloom variety originates from the Himalayas and in flavor takes basic hulled barley a step further and totally aces out pearled barley. But let's back up a moment for a brief explanation. Like many grains barley has an outer hull considered indigestible, requiring processing for removal. Pearled barley is the grain with the hull removed and the remaining grain polished--or "pearled"--which also removes much of its nutrients. Hulled barley removes the hull, but with little processing so more of the nutrients are maintained. It's considered a true whole grain.

Purple Prairie barley is touted for its high quantities of protein--something like 15 percent--and its uber-rich flavor. Most recipes will call for overnight soaking, and certainly it takes longer to cook than pearled barley. With the VitaClay, I cooked half a cup of the barley with two cups of water and ran it once on the brown rice setting and once on the regular rice setting. I think it took just about an hour to  cook with an additional 10 minutes warming. By then all the liquid had been absorbed. And, yes, the flavor is as advertised. Hearty and nutty, it made for a great side dish. I envision adding some toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley, chopped tomatoes, and a little red onion to the rest to transform it into a great little salad.

Finally, there's the unusual rolled brown rice. These flakes are made by parboiling short grain brown rice, then rolling it flat. Then it's dried and rolled again to break up into flakes. At this point it can be used as cereal, a soup thickener, or even part of a recipe for granola. Sadler suggested soaking it in  water for about 20 minutes and then cooking for five to 10 minutes. For my experiment, I measured out a quarter cup of the rice into a cereal bowl. Then I added enough water to cover and let it sit for the 20 minutes. By then most of the water had been absorbed. I then put it in the microwave for a minute, added some milk and maple syrup and had a delicious bowl of hot cereal.

The rolled brown rice has a fairly neutral flavor. You might want to combine it with oats for a hot cereal if it doesn't wow you. Sadler recommends it as a good baby cereal, but I think adults will enjoy it, too.

You can find Sadler every week at the Hillcrest Farmers Market or order from her website.

Print Page

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Boozy Caramel Sauces from Sea Salt Candy Company

What do you do when you're a candy maker and you also happen to like your drink? If you're Lisa and Gretchen Bender, aka the Salty Sisters, you do a little alchemy and, voila, come up with a line of boozy caramel sauces.

Saucy Sisters joined the Sea Salt Candy Company line up of sweet and salty toffees and caramels  months ago. Where was I? Avoiding sugary treats I'd get addicted to. But there I was at the Fishermen's Farmers Market last week. And there was Lisa Bender, who as the magician behind the confections, is usually in the kitchen but this week was taking care of sales. We got to talking. I got to tasting. And, well, I bought two of the five varieties of sauces they're selling.

Start your tasting journey with their Rum Away with Me. The duo gets their Marley on with a blend of rum, salt, and coconut immersed in a deeply rich caramel, creating a reggae spirit that sings over French vanilla ice cream, sautéed plantains, and apple pie.

Then go south of the border with Tequila!, a spicy concoction that will make you rethink the notion that caramel is meant to go down smooth and easy. The Benders don't just bring it on with the tequila, but get you punch drunk with the addition of habanero oil and chili flakes. This caramel doesn't have to be relegated to dessert. Lisa suggests using it as a glaze on pork ribs, chicken, or salmon.

My favorite, though, is the Frisky Whiskey Boozy Sauce. Caramel and whiskey were destined for one another. It's simplicity on steroids and a dreamy sauce that cries out for nothing more than a spoon and a dark closet to hide in while you take your licks. This is one of the two I bought.

Not all of the sauces are liquored up. There's a PG line of Dark Chocolate Salted Caramel sauce I also took home with me. Dark cocoa and a hint of salt make this sauce decadent without being cloyingly sweet. Dip slices of pears and apples into it. Drizzle it over pound cake. Pour over ice cream. Add some to your coffee.

Also in the PG line up is Virgin Vanilla Bean. So purely rich and buttery, this, too, deserves the spoon treatment. Or twirl it around with the chocolate over ice cream for a black and white sundae. Spread it over toast. Swizzle it over a brownie.

The nine-ounce jars can be found at the Little Italy Mercato, Hillcrest Farmers Market, and Fishermen's Farmers Market as well as online.

Print Page

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cooking Techniques with Olive Oil

In my cookbook library I have perhaps half a dozen books on olive oil. It's clearly a rich topic, given that historically so many cultures around the globe produce and have built rich culinary traditions around olive oil, primarily in Mediterranean countries. Now we have a new entrant on the subject, Cooking Techniques with Olive Oil by Mary Platis and Laura Bashar. Platis is a San Diego culinary teacher, chef, and blogger (California Greek Girl). Basher, also from San Diego, is a food blogger (Family Spice) and photographer.

The self-published e-book (beautifully rendered on a full-color tablet), is divided into a brief section on olive oil information--its history, production, varieties and flavors, and how to select and store--and then chapters of technique-based recipes around poaching (probably the most effective one), braising, marinating, steaming, baking, and lightly touching on other techniques, like infusing, whipping, and blending.

The techniques and recipes are truly the reason to buy the book. Other authors have dedicated more space and depth to the intricacies and history of olive oil, my favorite being Peggy Knickerbocker's Olive Oil, From Tree to Table. For those who have a casual interest in the details of olive oil production, varieties, and storage, Cooking Techniques gives just enough basics.

But, those of us who shop for olive oil often have pressing questions that Platis and Basher don't address here in any detail. We wonder, for instance, what the difference is between the Spanish, Greek, California, and Italian oils we see on market shelves--and why the distinctive properties of the oils found in each region are so well suited to its distinctive dishes. Quality olive oils can be pricey. What oils can we use confidently and with abandon for sautéing or poaching and what's best saved for finishing a dish? Where are the best places to buy olive oil, including online? Given the many news stories about mislabeling of olive oil, how do we know if what we're buying is legitimately olive oil? How can we be guaranteed freshness from the store? I once found a dusty eight-year old bottle of oil on a store shelf--and oil is not something that benefits from aging. A little more depth would have been useful.

Nevertheless, Platis and Bashar provide solid basics for the olive oil novice and the enticing recipes are accessible for the home cook. Each chapter is launched with a thorough description of the highlighted technique. There are recipes for making vinaigrettes and several on marinating--for chicken kabobs, pork tenderloin, salmon, and vegetables. There are some eye-opening ones for baking (for those who'd never considered that option)--including a dark chocolate olive cake with strawberries.

And have you considered olive oil drinks--like this watermelon shooter with Persian mint syrup and olive oil?

I'll still go with the poaching recipes, which take true advantage of the best qualities of olive oil: its flavor and unctuousness. While I was surprised not to see any true confit recipes, you'll find all four poaching recipes delightful, and don't ignore the recipes for the accompanying side dishes.

Platis and Bashar provided this "Poached Tomatoes and Onions in Olive Oil with Fresh Basil" recipe as a little taste of what you'll find in the book, which is available on Amazon.com. And, hey, we're in high tomato season now, so here's a wonderful and novel way to use them.

Poached Tomatoes and Onions in Olive Oil with Fresh Basil
from Cooking Techniques with Olive Oil by Mary Platis and Laura Bashar
(printable recipe)

There is nothing like the taste of warm tomatoes poached with two classic flavors, spicy plump garlic cloves and sweet fresh basil. Serve the tomatoes straight from the dish, rustic-style. Add slices of freshly baked bread to scoop up the softened flesh of the tomatoes and the flavored olive oil goodness.

Serves 6

3 large tomatoes, peeled and cored
3 large onions, peeled and cored
12 fresh basil leaves
3 - 4 cups extra virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 freshly ground pepper
2 - 3 basil leaves, julienned for garnish
1 loaf of artisan bread, sliced

1. Heat the oven to 375˚F. Line the bottom of a large ovenproof dish with the basil leaves.
2. Place the tomatoes and onions core side down in the dish so they are snug but not touching.
3. Pour enough olive oil to cover the tomatoes and onions halfway. Add the garlic.
4. Bake for 45 - 6- minutes or until the tomatoes and onions are soft.
5. Sprinkle with slat, pepper and freshly sliced basil.
6. Slice and toast the bread and serve with the warm tomatoes and onions.

Print Page

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

San Diego's Fishermen's Farmers Market Opens

Last Wednesday Catt White (of the Little Italy Mercato, the San Diego Public Market, the North Park Farmers Market, and the Pacific Beach Farmers Market) launched her newest venture, the Fishermen's Farmers Market at Driscoll's Wharf. It had long been a dream of White's and the late Cathy Driscoll, who managed the wharf for years before her death earlier this year.

The market brings together the seafood-loving public and San Diego's local commercial fishermen, enabling shoppers to buy just-caught seafood from the folks who catch it--bringing it straight from their boats to the wharf-side market. And, while they're there, shoppers can also buy the produce and other foodstuff they need from local farmers and artisan vendors.

The market's soft opening found the seafood stall manned by John Ford of Salmon Slinger, who docks at Driscoll's Wharf. He had a collection of local seafood--sea urchin, grouper, yellowtail--some pretty local from Baja--bay scallops and sea bass--and a mix of others. Ford told me currently they're working with a variety of purveyors, including Catalina Offshore Products and Chesapeake, as well as his own company, Salmon Slinger.

You can also pick up cedar planks for grilling.

Eventually, this one stall will expand into a full aisle of fishermen-manned seafood booths, with cooking demos as well. But, says White, while the focus is on our local fishermen, the reality is that fishing is seasonal and there will always be a mix of local and regional with other retailers participating to make sure that there will be enough seafood for consumers.

Along with the seafood, I found a bountiful number of farmers, including Pure Foods of Lakeside, Behneman Farms of Valley Center, Kawano Produce of Oceanside, and two of my favorites, J.R. Organics and Maciel. And, there were plenty of the regular artisan vendors--from Bread & Cie and  Majestic Garlic to Nicolau Goat Farms and Epicurean Gourmet. And, if you need refreshment, there's always Blue Quetzal's octopus tacos, Seb's Paninis, Gourmet Tamales, and Madison Avenue Pies.

Parking is available on site behind Driscoll's Wharf buildings. And the view while shopping? Spectacular! If you happen to enjoy bay views, of course.

So what did I purchase? Only some of the biggest, most beautiful Mexican shrimp I've ever seen.

After cleaning them, I tossed the shrimp with a blend of extra virgin olive oil, minced garlic, minced red chiles from my garden, and wonderful saffron salt from We Olive Oil, then roasted them for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Here they are on a plate of steamed farro with homemade sriracha drizzled on top. I couldn't get over how sweet they were, as large as they were.

The Fishermen's Farmers Market is located at Driscoll's Wharf off North Harbor Dr. in Point Loma. It's held every Wednesday from 3 to 7 p.m. Read more about it and its history in my new story in the fall issue of Edible San Diego.

Print Page