Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving in a Pie

Last week I gave you what I thought was a pretty innovative twist on stuffing: Turkey Stuffing Muffins. But this week I give you the whole Thanksgiving meal in one pie. Yes, between a flaky bottom and top sage buttermilk biscuit crust resides slices of roast turkey breast, gravy, mashed potatoes, roasted green beans and bread stuffing. Layer upon layer of goodness that just requires heating up in the oven. 

And you don't have to do it yourself. This Thanksgiving Pie is made by Elizabeth Harris of Betty's Pie Whole in Encinitas.

The Pie Whole is the second incarnation of a space that she first launched as Elizabethan Desserts. She moved that retro dessert shop up to El Camino Real and then transformed the place, which sits in a corner of Sunshine Nursery, into a Western saloon-themed pie shop. Her regular menu is a mix of savory and sweet, plus soups and sides. Think items like Mama Jo's Meatball Pot Pie or the vegetarian Eat-Yer-Greens Pie with spinach, kale, mushrooms, ricotta, mozzerella, fontina, and parmesan. 

But Thanksgiving takes the menu to a whole other level of uniqueness. This Thanksgiving Pie--whether a traditional 9-incher ($45) that feeds about 10 people or the individual sized--has all the components of the feast, including its richness. And while it may sound weird, it works. The turkey is moist and tender, the beans still have bite to them. The mashed potatoes are luxurious creaminess, and the stuffing has nice chew. And the gravy rounds it all out. Missing the cranberry sauce? Don't. Harris adds some cranberry chipotle sauce for you to serve on the side. You can get it par-baked with instructions for finishing the baking process or already baked with instructions for reheating. And, hey, if you're already good with your Thanksgiving menu, you can have it after Thanksgiving. She'll be baking them through the holidays.

The Thanksgiving Pie doesn't have to be the only one on the table. You can also have your side dishes in a pie. Try the Grace's Mac n' Cheese Pie ($30 for a 9-inch pie), for an indulgence of creamy five-cheese sauce blended with elbow macaroni and encased in a soft garlic bread crust.

And don't forget the sweets. From traditional apple, pecan, and pumpkin pies to sour cherry, pumpkin crumble, Mississippi Mud, and Apple Pecan Bread Pudding with caramel sauce, you have plenty of choices.

You can pre-order the 9-inch pies. Betty's Pie Whole is located at 155 Quail Gardens Dr. in Encinitas. The phone number is760-230-6781. Email is

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Turkey Stuffing Muffins

What's on your Thanksgiving menu? If it's the same old same old in the name of tradition, give your guests a break and shake it up a little. My email inbox is deluged with food magazines touting new types of pies, new takes on turkey, new styles of stuffing. Surely, you've seen these, too. But at a class I just took at the Art Institute in San Diego as part of its new GetCreative series for the public, I learned how to make Turkey Stuffing Muffins. And I fell in love.

Now, I love and adore my mom's chestnut stuffing. Thanksgiving isn't the same for me without it. Even though we'll be going to a friend's for the holiday, I've ordered a turkey for Friday and Mom will make her family famous stuffing so we can have "leftovers." But these muffins, well, they are kind of rivaling this tasty tradition; and I can even see how to adapt them to get that nutty, sweet challah flavor into them for a new version of her stuffing.

One of the benefits--perhaps, really, the true reason for attending cooking classes--is to get schooled on technique. In this Thanksgiving Sides class, chef instructor John Miller, offered a series of terrific tips, addressing everything from efficient ways to peel and dice ungainly winter squash to how to puree hot soup in a blender so it doesn't explode.

For this recipe, which calls for dicing and browning bacon to render the fat, Miller, a CIA graduate, showed us that by covering the bacon in the saute pan with water and then heating it, you can extract the fat evenly and avoid burning pieces.

That's the kind of class this was--filled with aha moments that will stay with me for years to come when I'm in my kitchen. The seven students made five dishes--and all turned out beautifully. But this muffin is the one I knew I had to share.

Turkey Stuffing Muffins
The Art Institute of California-San Diego
(printable recipe)

Yield 6 to 8

4 ounces of bacon, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1 Granny Smith apple, 1/4-inch dice
4 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
 salt and pepper to taste
1 day-old baguette, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place diced bacon in a saute pan and just cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and let water evaporate as the bacon cooks. Saute until bacon is crisp. If necessary, you can add additional neutral flavored oil to continue rendering the fat.

Add the onions and apple and continue to cook until translucent. Transfer to a bowl and let cool until it's under 180°F.

Whisk together the eggs, cream, milk, poultry seasoning, parsley, and salt and pepper. Place bread in a large bowl and pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes. Gently fold ingredients together and let rest in bowl for 15 minutes so the bread can absorb the liquid. Add the cooled bacon mixture to the bread and eggs. Don't over mix.

Lightly grease the cups of a muffin tin with butter or use a non-stick pan spray. Using your hands, fill the muffin tins with the stuffing mixture (squeezing out excess moisture) to slightly mounded muffins.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until the tops are browned and crisp.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bang Bang's 3 Way Salmon

I'm not a clubber. Surprised, huh. But I do love Asian food. And, Bang Bang, the downtown dance club/restaurant, replete with a huge disco ball and subway tile tunnel entrance allows me to skip the loud partying and head straight for the much calmer dining room where John Hong, aka Chef Kappa, presides.

Chef Kappa is Bang Bang's executive chef. Born in South Korea, he first moved with his family at age four to Paris and then to Los Angeles at age 10. By 17 he launched his culinary career. Four years later, Kappa was named head sushi chef of Yamato restaurant in L.A. and for a year ran an all-rice food truck called Bap Pul, which means "single grain of rice" in Korean. Kappa came down to San Diego in 2012 to launch Bang Bang's sushi menu, swiftly working his way up to his current position as executive chef.

While Kappa was trained by a Japanese chef and has traveled to Japan and Korea, he's actually worked in many cuisines. "I like to understand the basics of any cuisine and make it my own," he says. The influences show up in the menu. His Cobra Kai tempura is made up of spicy tuna, poblano chile, avocado, garlic paste, and cilantro with chili aoli and eel sauce. His Hummus Among Us is an edamame hummus served with wonton chips, cucumber, and celery sticks.

I met Chef Kappa a couple of months ago when the restaurant was celebrating its first anniversary. We decided to have an afternoon together in the kitchen so he could teach me one of his most popular dishes, 3 Way Salmon, which features six pieces of crispy sushi rice topped with baked salmon, salmon caviar, and shredded salmon skin, along with wasabi crème fraiche and micro shiso.

The dish is both simple to make and complicated. The best approach is to break it up into three basic steps--cooking and frying the rice, slice and cooking the salmon fillet and skin, and putting the dish together. Chef Kappa advises addressing the skin first. Then you can take your time making the rice and baking the salmon fillet. You'll also combine crème fraiche with wasabi for the dot of sauce. And, to make the crispy rice you'll need a sushi box presser called a battera.

The result is a striking appetizer that can serve two. I loved the crunch of the rice and the skin, the salty pop of the big balls of salmon caviar, and the mellow sweetness of the salmon meat. It just works.

3 Way Salmon
from Chef Kappa at Bang Bang
(printable recipe)

Serves 2 as appetizer

2 ounces salmon fillet, skin on, of which you'll use 3/4 of an ounce of skin
Sea salt

1 ounce salmon roe (ikura) available at Asian markets
2 ounces cooked sushi rice
1/2 cup panko (If you make more, pull out enough to make a ball the size of a tennis ball.)
Sesame oil
Vegetable oil for frying
2 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon wasabi
Eel sauce (available at Asian markets)
Micro shizo or other micro greens

You can buy a larger fillet and slice what you need. Chef Kappa likes using Scottish salmon which he cures with salt to pull out the moisture. He then uses the soft bone area between the back and the belly, which he says is very tender.

1. Skin the salmon fillet by arranging the tall side of the fillet toward you, skin side down. Using a sharp knife, slip the tip of the knife slide it between the skin and the meat and use a zig zag motion to separate the two. Preheat a toaster oven to 350°. Cut off a piece of aluminum foil and drizzle it lightly with sesame oil. Place the skin on the foil, skin side up and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Raise the sides of the foil so any oil released by the skin doesn't drip. Cook for 20 minutes. Let cool. Then remove the skin and slice into strips. Place on a new sheet of foil and cook again for about 10 minutes until crispy. Drain the strips on a paper towel and set aside.

2. Pull out the battera and line it with plastic wrap. Press the rice into the battera. Then press down with your whole weight, giving it four turns to make sure the rice is evenly distributed. Carefully remove the slab from the battera and the plastic wrap. Spread the panko on a surface to coat the rice. You want just enough to cover all of it.

3. Heat a wok with the oil. It should be deep enough to fully cover the rice slab. When it reaches 300° to 350° gently slide the rice into the wok. Turn it over once or twice to let it fully brown. Cook for a total time of three to four minutes. Have a flat plate lined with paper towels ready and pull out the rice, place it on the plate, and let it drain and cool.

4. Slice the two ounces of salmon fillet, without the skin, into three equal pieces. Drizzle a piece of foil with sesame oil and place the salmon on it and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake at 350° in a preheated over or 450° in a toaster oven for 10 minutes.

5. Mix together the crème fraiche and wasabi. Set aside.

6. Choose a rectangular platter. Slice the crispy rice in half by just pushing a sharp knife through the slab (don't saw back and forth). Then cut again until you get six equal pieces. Place them on the platter. On three of them, place a piece of baked salmon. On the other three, a dollop of salmon roe. Scatter the salmon skin around the plate. Top each on with bit of the crème fraiche and wasabi. Drizzle the eel sauce on the place over the salmon skin. Skatter with micro shizo. Serve.

Bang Bang is located at 526 Market St. in downtown San Diego.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

And Now for Something Different: Sweet Potato Leaves

It's not unusual for me to cruise the farmers markets looking for something I've never seen before. Surprise me!, I whisper to myself as I survey produce and baked goods, and prepared foods. Wow me!

I'm usually not disappointed, but when I did this recently at the La Jolla Open Aire Market, I really was stopped in my tracks when I hit the Blue Heron Farm stall. Among all the photogenic produce were bundles of organic sweet potato leaves for 75 cents a bunch. They reminded me of grape leaves, only smaller.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I was a kid we used to stick toothpicks into raw sweet potatoes to hold them up in a jar filled with water. Eventually roots would develop in the water and stems bursting with leaves would gradually trail around the kitchen. Then we'd toss the poor thing. It never occurred to us that we could actually eat the leaves.

But, in fact, not only can you eat them, you'll get nutritional benefits from them; they're terrific sources of vitamins K and A, niacin, calcium, and iron. Asian and African cultures have been dining on them, but somehow they're pretty uncommon as a cooking ingredient in North America.

Treat these leaves as you would spinach. Raw, they're tender like spinach with a neutral flavor. I even enjoy the crispy citric stems. You can eat them fresh in a salad, tossed here with Granny Smith apples, garbanzo beans, currants, and scallions.

You can sauté them and add them to pasta or an omelet or eat as a side dish. And, like spinach, they do cook down considerably. Here, I sauteed garlic in olive oil, added the leaves, and when they wilted, I added a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.

Unlike spinach, however, they lack oxalic acid--what gives spinach that unpleasant metallic aftertaste. So, another reason to eat sweet potato leaves!

How else can you use sweet potato leaves? I substituted them for spinach when I made a smoothie and loved the fact that I was getting all this nutrition without any weird flavors. You can also braise them or turn them into a soup. Because they're so mild, neutral tasting, actually, they're easily paired with all sorts of flavors--from maple syrup to curry to soy sauce.

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