Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Most Dangerous New Pastry in San Diego: Meet the Froissant™

Feel bummed that you missed out on the cronut craze? Well, get in line. Literally, get in line. Karen Krasne, owner and pastry chef extraordinaire of Extraordinary Desserts, has set out to torture those of us trying to eat healthfully with an irresistible version of her own fried croissant pastry: the Froissant™(and, yes, she's trademarked it). It's so popular that customers at both the Bankers Hill and Little Italy bakeries are lining up early in the morning to buy them before they're sold out.

Given Extraordinary Desserts' elegant pedigree, this pastry is not your average fried, stuffed dough. Krasne and her staff make the croissants, getting them to their flaky best, then deep fry them. Once out of the fryer, they're rolled in vanilla bean sugar, then filled with a smooth vanilla custard. A fat ripe strawberry, sliced and sprinkled with a bit of gold foil, tops the confection. This final sweet touch, along with the elevated quality of the ingredients, clearly sends it to special event status, a dish you wouldn't dare accompany with a paper cup of coffee or tea.

Yes, I tried them. Sigh. How could I resist when they were literally presented to me at my door? I enjoyed the firmness of the fried croissant (although I expected it to be crispy and it isn't--but, it may well be if eaten when it's just out of the kitchen). Crumbs don't fly off randomly onto your clothes and the croissant holds the pastry cream well. I also loved the mellow vanilla-y flavor that, even with the vanilla sugar coating, isn't cloyingly sweet. This also makes it dangerous because it's too easy to then dig into a second one. Just be sure to have a napkin or two on hand (or eat one by yourself so you can lick your fingers). The sugar coating makes eating it a delightfully messy experience.

Krasne is only making her Froissants™ Thursday through Saturday mornings, so they're kind of a limited edition treat. But if you have a sweet tooth and a brunch crowd to please--especially going into the holidays--send a trusted loved one over to Extraordinary Desserts to pick some up while you set a nice table, and make a pot of coffee and pitcher of orange juice. Have some sparkling wine on hand, too. These deserve special treatment.

Extraordinary Desserts is located in Little Italy at 1430 Union St. and in Bankers Hill at 2829 Fifth Ave. On Thursdays and Fridays, they open at 8:30. On weekends, they open at 10 a.m.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Getting Reaquainted with Sand Dabs

I grew up eating sand dabs regularly. In our L.A. home, it was one of the few fish my dad enjoyed, relishing the sweet, delicate flesh and crispy skin. Typically, if we went out for dinner and it was on the menu, he'd order it and the server would bring the--usually--pan-fried fish to the table and de-bone them tableside. My mom may correct me on this, but I also remember her cooking them, already cleaned by the fishmonger.

Well, that was a long time ago and my parents and I have lived in San Diego for decades. In all that time my dad has still had cravings for sand dabs, but we've never seen them on a restaurant menu. That's understandable. These flatfish are small--perhaps five to eight inches--and rather fragile. I'm told that for years fishermen could get very little money for them so they've never been a high catch priority.

I've since learned that there are a few local restaurants--The Brigantine in Pt. Loma, King's Fish House in Mission Valley, and Bluewater Boathouse in Coronado--that have them on their menus, so that's something we'll check out.

But I finally found a place where I can buy them fresh--the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, which is held on Saturday mornings. There fisherman Giacamo Damato is currently selling them at his stall for $6.50 a pound. Now you'll need three or more to feed one person. For a little lunch feast with my parents I took home three pounds.

Fisherman Giacamo Damato with rockfish
Sand dabs caught by Damato on ice. As a flatfish, one side has the scales and both eyes.
Now I know it's so much easier to buy fish already cleaned, but these little guys are good to practice on. Damato explained to me that I needed to scale them, remove the head, then remove the stomach. Rinse, dry, and then dredge them in flour and salt. Then pan fry them. That's it.

And that's what I did. I took on the cleaning at my house, then packaged up my little school and took them over to my parents to cook up.

So, here's a step-by-step guide to what's involved:

1. Scaling: The only challenge here is that these little guys are a kind of slimy. So hold on to their heads and run a knife gently across and against the scales to remove them. They're only on one side, so they make it that much easier to do the job.

 2. Remove the head. Get just under that little fin behind the head and cut through. Yeah, yuck, but you can do it. (And don't throw the head away. Bury them and the guts in your garden to fertilize your plants.)


 3. Remove the stomach/guts. With the head removed, just press gently on the body near where you cut and it will pop out. Pull everything out and any blood you see. There won't be much.

4. The worst is now over. Get rid of the head and guts. Then rinse and gently pat dry the fish (not to mention the counter).

Now, get out a plate or dish and pour on all-purpose flour and seasonings--I used garlic salt here. This will be what you dredge the fish in.

5. Dip the fish into the flour mixture and coat them well on both sides.

6. Heat a pan and add your oil. I used olive oil, but canola or some other vegetable oil is just fine. When the oil is hot, add the fish--only enough so that there's no overcrowding. Give them about two or three minutes on each side.

7. Remove the fish and slice some lemons for everyone to squeeze over them. (Alternately, you can make a little lemon, butter, and caper sauce to pour over them.)

 8. Remember, the skeleton is still inside. No worries. The skin should be crisp and the flesh opaque white. It will easily pull apart, revealing the skeleton. Gently pull it out but still be careful to look for any errant bones left inside.

The Tuna Harbor Dockside Market is open every Saturday morning at 8. While it technically stays open until 1 p.m., my experience has been that it's pretty much cleaned out by 9:30. You'll find it at 598 Harbor Lane--or, more practically, at the end of Pacific Highway where it goes into Seaport Village Parking. On the right you'll see a little road from the parking lot going toward the bay. The dock you walk into from the road is where the market is.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Nibble Chocolate: Sweet Single Origin Bars in San Diego

San Diego has a newcomer to the handcrafted chocolate scene: Nibble Chocolate, run by Colombia natives Sandra Bedoya and her husband David Mejía.

When Sandra and David moved to the U.S. 16 years ago making chocolate wasn't on their radar. Nor was it when they relocated from North Carolina to San Diego just over a year ago. After all David is a brand manager for a North Carolina wine broker and Sandra is an accountant.

But the couple have been trying to become more health conscious and in changing their diet gave up meat and dairy. But what do you do when you still love chocolate and have a hard time finding a chocolate that has more cocoa than chemicals or other additives, like soy lecithin, vanillin, and non-fat milk? That piqued their interest and they started researching all things chocolate.

"We realized how unattended this market was," says Sandra. "We also loved that it was so similar to wine. And that's how we started this project."

The couple decided to start their business making single-origin bars with as few ingredients as possible. The first step, however, was education. Not only did they read everything they could put their hands on, they got certifications at the Ecole Chocolat. And, Sandra, explained, there was a lot of trial and error--with beans, with technique. After extensive tasting they settled on four origins for their beans: Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Madagascar. And within those beans they came up with three cacao percentages: 62, 72, and 77. The ingredients? Just cacao beans and organic cane sugar. It doesn't get any simpler than that.

photo courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

Of course, the buying of the beans gets complicated. Their goal was to get organic, fair trade beans. And beans from their home country. But trading practices in each country vary--and for a small start-up it's even more difficult to buy small amounts of beans. They're still working on getting Colombian beans, but for now all of their beans but the Venezuelan are organic. The Peruvian beans are, in fact, fair trade. The Dominican Republic beans are direct trade. And the Venezuelan beans are ethically and sustainably traded.

With the bean strategy set, they launched Nibble Chocolate a mere four months ago in their La Jolla kitchen. They've since moved into their own commercial kitchen in Sorrento Valley.

The process of converting the beans into bars is simple but time consuming. The beans come to the couple already fermented. They then roast the beans before embarking on the winnowing process, in which a machine breaks down the beans into nibs (which they are considering selling). From there, they put the nibs in a stone grinder for several days and then a refining machine. They add the sugar--another day's effort--and then the mixture is tempered, poured into bar molds, and packaged.

photo courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

While traveling to the various countries where they purchase their beans, the couple learned how to make a local Dominican Republic confection, bolas de cacao. Again, it's a simple if labor-intensive process--grinding nibs together with sugar. Here's David learning to make this from local farmers.

photos courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

With their wine expertise, it wasn't difficult for the couple to develop tasting notes for each of the single origin bars they create. Like wine and coffee, terroir adds to the distinctive flavors of each bean. So, you'll find that the Peruvian bars have a smokey flavor with notes of nuts, dried fruit and malt. Think dried cranberries in the fall.

The Dominican Republic bars are noted as being rich and earthy, and reminiscent of coffee. I actually found the flavor to be brighter.

The Madagascar bars are fruity--with plum, citrus, and raspberry notes. There's a hint of spice and earthiness. And I find a bit of tartness in each bite--or nibble.

Finally, there's the Venezuelan bar. The flavor description for these bars is soft fruity, strawberry, with delicate nuts and coffee notes. I also got soft raisin in my bites.

Regardless of the country of origin or the cacao percentage, the tempered chocolate has a gentle, full-bodied mouth feel to it in each bite.

The couple is now working on truffle recipes in different flavors.

You can find Nibble Chocolate at the La Jolla Open Aire Market, the Little Italy Mercato, and the Hillcrest and North Park farmers markets. The bars are $6 each or $20 for a flight of four.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Red Door and Wellington Have a Growing Passion

Who doesn't like to matchmake their friends? I'm not talking romance here, more like connecting like minds to collaborate on something really cool. Like a TV show. So, when my friend Nan Sterman of the KPBS show A Growing Passion was looking for a restaurant that had its own garden, well, who else would immediately pop into my head than Trish Watlington?

As San Diego Foodstuff and Edible San Diego readers know, Trish is a friend of mine who owns The Red Door and The Wellington in Mission Hills--and supplies much of the produce for the restaurants from the large garden she cultivates alongside her home in Mt. Helix. I love what she does--for the restaurants, the community, and healthy eating initiatives--and the innovative fare executive chef Karrie Hills creates.

A Growing Passion is a terrific reflection of Nan's interests--in the nitty gritty details of the garden, as well as its aesthetics, and beyond that to the environment, food and food justice, and water conservation issues. Nan and her team create a show that makes our outdoor environment not just the stuff of hobbyists but a critical part of our daily lives--something to take joy in as well as protect.

So, I thought it would be a perfect match. You'll be the judge when the episode airs as part of A Growing Passion's third season next year. But I'll give you a sneak preview and a recipe for the tomato jam Karrie and Nan made that long, hot afternoon when Nan and her crew arrived for a visit.

By 9 in the morning the crew was with Trish in the garden and Trish gave Nan a tour of what was growing--mostly tomatoes and a lot of squash. The focus clearly would be on the tomatoes since it was heading toward the end of the harvest and the ladies were going to make jam with them.

Then everyone headed back to the house and into the kitchen. While the crew set up Karrie got her tools and ingredients organized. Now just so you know, for every shot you see, there are any number of takes needed to capture it just right. Not only do they want shots from different angles, including close ups, but invariably a fly will swoop in or someone will flub a line or clothing is awry or the sound isn't quite right or a spoon that was one place as the previous shot ended winds up somewhere else in the next shot and has to be repositioned for continuity. Anyway, it takes a long, long time and a lot of patience to get what seems a simple shot.

As you'd expect, Karrie started off explaining what is involved in jam making and then showing Nan the various ingredients.

Then they got to work, chopping tomatoes and grating ginger.

Karrie added red wine vinegar to the pot to balance sweet with acid.

As the ingredients began to meld, Karrie offered Nan a taste so she could test the flavors and their balance.

Once the jam was cooked, it was time for the canning process. Under the best of circumstances (no cameras or filming involved) it requires some quick, efficient moves to get this part accomplished. During filming, there are lots of starts and stops, some spills, a lot of moist heat--and a lot of joking around. But when the camera was rolling, it was all business and look at how well Nan got those jars filled for their water bath!

In brief, you wash and sterilize the jars in a hot water bath, fill them with the jam, put on the lids and lightly tighten them, then put them into the rapidly simmering water for another 15 minutes to kill off any remaining bacteria. That allows you to store your jams (or pickles or whatever else you can) in your pantry for a year or so.

Karrie and Nan got most of the jars completed, then they had to leave to finish taping at the restaurants. Trish and I finished off the remaining batch. It was about 4 p.m. by then. I was done but on it went at The Red Door until I don't know when. And, of course, after that would come editing sessions to put it all together into a polished half hour show.

Seamless? Flawless? It takes a whole lot of time and repetition to make it look that easy!

And, here's the recipe. Here we use cabernet sauvignon to enhance the tomatoes instead of ginger.

Red Wine Tomato Jam 
(printable recipe)
From Karrie Hills

We made this jam during an earlier preserving session, but you can adapt this recipe to your own favorite flavors. Trish Watlington happened to have an open bottle of cabernet so in it went, along with some black pepper and orange zest. Hills likes to use the jam with a garden bruschetta and goat cheese, as a dip (mix with a soft cheese like ricotta or Neufchatel), as part of a Bloody Mary mix, as a garnish on soup or chowder, or as a sauce—adding beer and apple cider vinegar—with chicken, fish, or shrimp. 

7 to 8 pounds tomatoes, roughly chopped with skins on
5 cups granulated sugar
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons orange zest (Tip: slide the blade on the orange zest while pressing down to bring out the oils, which is where the flavor is.)
1 ½ teaspoons salt or to taste
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon

Place tomatoes is a large non-reactive pot. Add sugar, red wine, and orange zest. Bring to a boil. Skim the foam, which is filled with impurities, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about 45 minutes, all the while skimming the foam. Add the salt. You’ll stop the cooking process once the mixture has thickened. You can test this by dipping a spoon into the tomato jam and either getting a slow drip from the back of the spoon or carefully placing the spoon with the jam in the freezer for about eight minutes. If the thickness is to your liking, it’s fully cooked.

Once the mixture has thickened, you can use an immersion blender to break it down into a consistent texture or you can leave it chunky. Then skim again. (Note: you may get as much as a cup of impurities from skimming from the time you started with the boil.)

Add the black pepper and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the flavors.

Fill sterilized jars just to the neck and screw on the lids. Process for five minutes in a simmering water bath. Remove from the water bath and let cool. While you can use it immediately, it’s better when it’s had a chance to rest for a couple of days. Otherwise, store in a dark, cool spot and refrigerate after opening.

Yield: 7, eight-ounce jars

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