Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Amy Finley's Pickled Loquats

I live in an HOA community. There are many things that frustrate me about this, but there are some distinct benefits--like the community guava and loquat trees that dot my morning dog walk. In the winter, I always wear clothing with deep pockets so I can pick the guavas from a neighbor's front yard. Technically they belong to the HOA and no one seems to eat them but the birds, so I pick as many as I can hold on each trip and my kitchen is fragrant with their scent for days as I eat them.

Come March, the loquats ripen. I know of four trees in the community. Only two bear fruit on branches low enough for me to pick, which drives me insane as I think of all that gorgeous fruit that's totally inaccessible. Some years those two are only sparsely loaded at the bottom. But this year one of the trees--the one that gets full sun--started producing early and low. So I've been packing my pockets with them daily for my breakfast. The fruit on the other tree is still kind of green, but there's plenty within reach so I'm psyching myself up for a mother lode that no one else around here seems to appreciate. 

If you haven't heard of loquats, I'm not surprised. They're so delicate, bruising so easily and turning brown so quickly that you'll probably never see them in a market--and perhaps not even a farmers market. Native to China, the trees grow beautifully in San Diego and are fairly drought tolerant. The fruit grow in clusters, starting out green and gradually yellowing. Eventually they'll ripen to a smooth orange and look almost like an apricot, but you want to eat them once they're yellow. That's when they have a sweet tang to them. The skin is smooth and thin--no need to remove it--but the fruit does have large, distinctive shiny brown seeds that you don't want to eat. I think the seeds are among the most beautiful in nature, like polished stones.

You can eat the loquats out of hand, of course, but they're also wonderful jammed or roasted with honey, incorporated into a chutney or turned into a sorbet or granita. 

And, I learned from my friend Amy Finley, senior editor at Riviera Magazine and a former Food Network Star, that they're delicious pickled. She generously gave me her recipe and I gave it a try.

Amy Finley’s Pickled Loquats 
(printable recipe

Yield: 1 quart jar 

1 pound ripe loquats, trimmed and pitted *

1 1/3 cups hot or boiling water 
2/3 cup cider vinegar 
1 tablespoon Kosher salt 
2 to 3 teaspoons sugar 
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed 
Nub of fresh ginger, peeled 
1 jalapeño, sliced 

Prepare jar/s by washing and boiling. Wash the bands in soap and hot water. 

Heat water. Combine cider vinegar, salt, and sugar.

Place trimmed and pitted loquats, garlic cloves, ginger, and jalapeño slices in jar. (Mix them up to distribute flavors.) 

Add hot water to cider vinegar mixture. Stir to dissolve the sugar. 

Pour the liquid into the jar over loquats, leaving half an inch head space. Top with the lid and screw on the band tightly. Turn the jar upside down and back again to spread the flavor ingredients throughout the jar. 

Refrigerate for five days, but if you can be patient, Amy says they’re even better after a week. 

*Note: The stem and flower ends of the loquat are fairly unattractive so I trim them. To pit the loquats I found the easiest method was to trim the ends, then make a little slice along one side of the fruit. Open it up gently and use the tip of a paring knife to release the seeds. Usually, there's just one, but check to see if there are two or more, like in the one below. The fruit browns quickly. It won't affect the flavor but you'll want to work quickly and prep the other ingredients before cutting into the loquats.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Eggplant Soufflé

I had this great story I was going to tell you about how when I was in college at UCLA I worked at Hunter's Books and took advantage of this by buying up tons of art and cookbooks. And how one of them was Anna Thomas' The Vegetarian Epicure, from which I used to make a dinner party or brunch eggplant soufflé that was totally foolproof and fabulous.

This actually is true--except, apparently, the part about my buying The Vegetarian Epicure there. Because this afternoon I noticed that there's still a sticker, faded red but readable, showing that I bought it at Crown Books on sale for $2.49 (reduced from $6.95). I got it as a remainder.

So much for my memory. However, I clearly did embrace the book's eggplant soufflé. I loved this recipe. It was totally satisfying and the directions were both easy to follow and totally reliable. In the late 70s and early 80s, it was oh-so-sophisticated a dish for a new college grad to make.

The Vegetarian Epicure dates back to the early '70s. I fondly embrace it as part of a moment in time along with The Whole Earth Catalog and Our Bodies, Ourselves. Yet, it stands out as one of the few vegetarian cookbooks of its day that actually had great recipes. Today everyone's talking about--with justification--Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty and Plenty More. But I think The Vegetarian Epicure deserves a revival.

I thought about all this a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine, a wonderful cook and cookbook writer, Kathy Strahs, posted a piece on Facebook about her challenges in making a soufflé and I responded by bringing up this recipe and book. Then I thought, "Wait a sec. It's been decades since I've made this. I wonder if it holds up all these years later."

So, I pulled out the much worn book, which opened directly to the recipe, and gave it a try. And, yes, my friends, it's still as forgiving and fabulous as ever. The flavor is smooth, the texture rich and creamy. It's not loud and bold. It's actually a kind of comfort food. So, I feel the need to share this with you, in case you, too, have been intimidated by the idea of making a soufflé--or think they're passé.

Now, I really don't change a thing in this recipe (okay, I do add an extra clove of garlic and cook it up in a larger saucepan than called for, but that's it), but one thing I did come up with years ago was a spicy tomato relish to accompany it. The relish is simple: fresh chopped tomatoes, julienned fresh basil, a diced jalapeño, diced red onion, minced garlic, sea salt, and a dash of balsamic vinegar. You may not think this soufflé/relish combo works, but I love it still. It brings the punch I like to an otherwise mild, comforting dish. These days, I also appreciate that the soufflé is low carb and low fat.

Eggplant Soufflé
From The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas
(printable recipe)

Serves 4

1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb.)
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. butter
1 small clove garlic, put through a press
2 Tbs. flour
1 cup milk
2 to 3 oz. fresh-gated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
3 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

Bake the eggplant in a pie dish in a 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until the pulp is soft. Cool it under running water so that you can handle it, then split it in half and let the excess water drain out. Scrape out all the pulp and mash it well. Season it with a teaspoon of salt.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan [note: use something larger since all the ingredients will go into it.].  Stir in the flour and let the roux cook for a few minutes.

Heat the milk slightly and beat it into the roux with a whisk. When the sauce thickens, remove it from the heat and stir in the grated cheese and the eggplant pulp. Season with black pepper. Finally, add the egg yolks, lightly beaten.

Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat them with a whisk until they are quite stiff but not yet dry. Stir about a third of the egg whites into the eggplant mixture thoroughly. Gently fold in the remaining whites.

Pile the mixture into a buttered 6-cup soufflé dish and place it gently into a preheated, 350-degree oven. Bake the soufflé about 45 to 50 minutes and serve at once.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Jennywenny Cakes Opens in Carmel Mountain Ranch

Owner/baker Jenny Williams (on the left), assistant Joyce, and their Mini Guinness Cupcakes with Bailey's Frosting

In the five years that Jenny Williams has been baking professionally she's been a bit of a vagabond, operating out of rental kitchens. But in January, Jennywenny Cakes found a permanent home off Carmel Mountain Road--at 1,200 square feet, large enough to spread out and welcome clients for consulting on custom special occasion cakes and desserts, as well, of course, as bake and decorate them.

Photo courtesy of JennyWenny Cakes
"I've been looking for my own space for a long time," says Williams. "When you decorate you need your own quiet space. And this also gives us a lot more flexibility to test flavors and recipes."

Once you could find Williams at the farmers markets or at restaurants, but she's pulled back on wholesale to focus on custom cakes and desserts for weddings, birthdays baby showers, and corporate parties. Even the desserts are relatively new, but reflect a philosophy her grandmother, a nutritionist, had--which is written as a large greeting on a big blackboard surrounded by a turquoise frame: "A little of what you fancy does you good."

Hence bite-size tastes of delightful sweets like sticky toffee pudding; hazelnut trifles with frangelico, chocolate mousse, and praline; banofee pie, and profiteroles with lemon cream and white chocolate drizzle.

Williams is also contemplating holding periodic pop-ups at her new space--perhaps for special holiday baking treats, like hot cross buns or her Christmas pudding.

You can find Jennywenny Cakes at 12265 World Trade Center, but by appointment only. So contact Williams at jennywennycakes@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of JennyWenny Cakes

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Ryan Studebaker's Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese Raviolini

The first time I encountered Chef Ryan Studebaker was several years ago at a Collaboration Kitchen event. I can't remember who the main attraction was that evening, but there was a bit of time at the end and ringleader--much more accurate than ringmaster--Tommy Gomes spotted Studebaker in the audience and dragged him up to the cooking dais to have him do an impromptu cooking lesson in making, I believe, salmon fillets. Studebaker, at the time the chef at Gingham in La Mesa, was a great sport. Whatever fear he may have had in performing without notice in front of a crowd of 75 or so people was undetectable. He made a terrific dish and did himself proud. I wasn't the only one who was impressed with this young guy.

I also fell in love with his food. He invited me to dine at the posh Gaslamp restaurant Encore Champagne Bar and Dining Room, his next gig, and prepared some stunning dishes that clued me into his range. There was the New York Strip Carpaccio. The Potato Gnocchi with Lardon. Braised Pork Cheeks. And a lovely Scottish Salmon. Oh, and dessert? Yes, he does dessert. Like an Apple and Black Fig Tart.

But Encore didn't make it. Now, this Michigan native who learned to cook at his dad's restaurant and got his first job in San Diego at Mr. A's, is running the kitchen at MIHO. Originally a top food truck in San Diego, Studebaker explained that the business is branching out to events and catering. Weddings now make up 70 to 80 percent of their business, but they are also engaged in large events, like the upcoming Art Alive at the San Diego Museum of Art in April. So, MIHO Gastrotruck is transitioning to A MIHO Experience that includes The Vetted Table, the business' catering arm.

Studebaker is relishing this new gig. "There's so much more I get to do than in a restaurant," he says. "For instance, I get clients who want something they've seen somewhere else, like a slider. But I couldn't find any great slider buns, so I started experimenting with making my own. I tried four times and failed before finally succeeding. Now I'm the bread master! I love those opportunities we have when we're a little slow to do research and test recipes."

That includes making his own pastries, which is a pressure situation given that he's married to one of San Diego's premier pastry chefs, Rachel King of NINE-TEN. Friend him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram to watch his progress.

I finally got into the kitchen with him last week and he showed me his tricks for making a sublime roasted vegetable and goat cheese raviolini--a dish that will actually be a passed app at Art Alive.

Before we dive into the recipe, here are a few tips Studebaker shared for successfully making this dish:

  • Anytime you roast or saute vegetables, get the color you want first before seasoning. Cooking pulls out the water from vegetables and your seasoning may get pulled out with it--and you won't get the color you're after.
  • Studebaker oven roasts the vegetables for this dish, but for this small batch he sauteed them. Individually. "Saute vegetables one at a time because different vegetables cook at different rates," he says. "You can oven roast a variety of vegetables together as long as they have a similar density."
  • To saute or roast the vegetables use a 75/25 blend of canola oil and olive oil. "Olive oil can be too strong a flavor and it will smoke once you reach a high heat. Canola oil creates a more neutral flavor for you to incorporate other herbs and spices and it has a higher smoke point."

Raviolini with Seasonal Vegetables, Pistachio Pesto, and Parmesan
from Ryan Studebaker
(printable recipe)

Serves 4 to 6

This dish is hugely flexible--in the type of vegetables you use and the pesto. For the pesto, use your favorite recipe and substitute traditional pine nuts with pistachios and you're good to go.

3 cups of seasonal vegetables (In our version, he used yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, and red bell pepper), small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
75/25 blend of canola and extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Whatever herbs and/or spices you want to include
3/4 cup goat cheese

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Toss the vegetables, garlic, and shallots in the oil mixture and spread onto a heavy baking sheet or pan. Roast until caramelized. Alternately, you can saute each of the vegetables, including the shallots and garlic, separately until they begin to brown and then mix together. Let cool and drain. Once the vegetables reach room temperature mix in the goat cheese. Set aside.

Egg Pasta Dough
Yield: About 1 pound

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon milk

Let's address making the pasta, which is the one issue many home cooks will find intimidating, although Studebaker calls it a labor of love. I videoed Studebaker in two crucial steps so that you can see how simple this actually is.

On a clean and dry table or counter, create a well with flour. (Studebaker suggests making the well wide so you have more room to move your hand and not break the wall.) Pour yolks, egg, olive oil, and milk into the center. Using your finger, break the yolks and begin swirling without spilling over the edge of the well.

Continue this motion while occasionally pushing small amounts of flour into the center, making sure you're slowly incorporating the flour to avoid lumpy dough.

Once the dough begins to pull away from the table, begin adding flour more quickly by sprinkling it over the top and kneading.

Continue kneading the dough until it has a nice sheen. The kneading process can take 10 to 15 minutes. The dough is ready when you can pull your finger through it and it snaps back into place. You cannot over-knead this dough.

Wrap in plastic and let rest at least one hour before rolling out. If refrigerated, let the dough come to room temperature before handling.

Now you're going to put it all together. Using a pasta machine or attachment, set the stop at number 1. Pull off a chunk of dough and flatten it so it fits into the opening and run it through. You'll do this four times, increasing the stop each time until you reach number 4.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add plenty of salt.

Make a wash with egg and water. Place about a tablespoon of filling in mounds along one piece of dough. Gently cover with a second piece of rolled out dough. Then gently push the top dough around the filling mounds and push out any air. Lightly brush with the egg wash.

Using a round 2-inch cookie cutter, cut each of the raviolini circles. Using a fork, press the tines gently around the edges to seal.

Boil the raviolini about two minutes and drain. Plate the raviolini, top with pesto and freshly grated parmesan.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Einkorn, Pea, and Mandarin Orange Salad

And the fun with ancient grains continues!

Einkorn is a grain I first heard about from my friend Maria Speck, the author of a wonderful book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. Her new book, Simply Ancient Grains, will be published next month. Einkorn is such a unique name that I figured it was some sort of exotic grain. But, in fact, it was much more familiar than I'd expected. It's a species of wheat that is truly ancient, in its cultivated state dating back over 10,000 years ago to archeological sites in southern Turkey. In grain form, it is essentially a wheat berry--something I've been cooking with for years.

As one of the earliest cultivated forms of wheat--along with emmer--it can survive in the poorest, dryest of soils. But it faded from popularity. Now it appears to be coming back, thanks to its health properties, which includes a higher percentage of proteins than modern red grains and higher levels of fat, phosphorus, potassium, and beta-carotine.

It also tastes really good. It has a sweet nutty flavor and a marvelously chewy texture, making it terrific for grain salads/sides, stuffing, and cereal. It can also be ground into a flour for baking.

Einkorn is not all that difficult to find. I bought a package (Jovial) at Whole Foods in La Jolla, but you can also find it easily online from a variety of producers and retailers.

Now some people suggest soaking einkorn berries overnight before cooking since the berries are hard and can take a long time to cook. I've never actually bothered with soaking wheat berries and haven't had a problem. But I thought I'd see if it made much difference in the cooking process. What does happen, of course, is that they expand as they soften and absorb the water.

For the Jovial brand of einkorn wheat berries, the instructions say to bring 3 cups of water to a rolling boil and add 1 1/2 cups of einkorn, then simmer on low for 30 to 35 minutes. So, what you have is, like rice, a 2-to-1 ratio of water to grain and much shorter cooking time than with regular wheat berries (my experience is that it takes closer to an hour). There was no mention of pre-soaking. With my soaked berries, the time was cut by perhaps five minutes because all the water had been absorbed. So, make of this what you will.

I tried the einkorn in two preparations. First I made a salad filled with citrus and dried figs, sugar snap peas, toasted walnuts, and garbanzo beans. I had cooked up 1 cup of dry einkorn and used 3/4 of that for the salad. The rest I saved for breakfast the following day. I added a little more water to the cooked einkorn, stirred it up, then heated it in the microwave for a couple of minutes. I transferred it to a bowl, added a bit of butter, maple syrup, and more toasted walnuts, along with a splash of milk. It was divine. Einkorn just absorbs any flavor you pair it with and serves it back to you in a nutty, chewy mouthful.

If you're intrigued by the commercial emergence of yet another cool ancient grain, give einkorn a try. And this salad, easy to make, is perfect for a late winter side dish.

Einkorn, Pea, and Mandarin Orange Salad
(printable recipe)

Serves 6

3/4 cup dry einkorn wheat berries

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot bulb, peeled and minced
1/2 cup fresh shelled sugar snap peas
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
6 dried figs, chopped
1/2 cup garbanzo beans
2 mandarin oranges, zested and peeled

3 tablespoons high-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
zest from above

1. Prepare einkorn according to directions on package.
2. While einkorn is simmering, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in saute pan. Add shallots and saute for about one minute. Add the peas and saute for another minute or two to warm. Stir in half the zest and remove from heat. Add to a medium size bowl.
3. Add the walnuts, figs, garbanzo beans, and mandarin orange sections. Be sure to remove as much of the fiberous string from the sections as possible.

4. Whisk together the three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the sherry vinegar, salt and pepper, and remaining zest. Taste and adjust seasonings.
5. When the einkorn has cooked, remove it from the heat and let it come to room temperature. Stir it up to separate the grains and let the steam escape.
6. Add the cooled einkorn to the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. Add the dressing and mix well. Serve.

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