Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Vince Schofield's Gooseneck Barnacles

I've eaten and written about all sorts of unusual seafood, from hagfish to sea urchin. So when chef Vince Schofield of the new Whisknladle Hospitality restaurant Catania in La Jolla started telling me about Gooseneck Barnacles I was intrigued. Schofield is a big fan of their briny flavor and clam-like texture. Popular in Spain and Portugal, where as a delicacy they can sell for as much as 60 to 100 euros a kilo, the barnacles can also be found in the waters off Morocco and Canada, and locally around Baja. And that's where Schofield gets his--from a diver in Ensenada and for far less: $16 a pound.

Gooseneck barnacles, also known as percebes, are crustaceans that cling to rocks in heavy surf. They're very peculiar looking creatures. Long--usually two to three inches--and encased in a rough, wrinkled tube with a roundish shell attached to one end, they have a distinctive look. In fact, Schofield joked, the Spanish slang for them is "pitos de mono" or, um, monkey dicks.

In Mexico, the barnacles are served very simply--with lime juice, onion, and serrano chilis. But they can also be added to pizza as a topping after being cooked. They can go into cioppino or seafood soups or a creamy sauce. Add them to a salad or create a barnacle crudo with them.

But before you do any of that, you need to learn how to prepare them--and that's what Schofield brought me into his kitchen to teach me. And he gave me a very basic but oh so delicious recipe to share that can enjoyed as is with a big hunk of toasted or grilled bread or added to pasta.

The first order of business is to blanch them. Yes, you could do this in plain boiling water (no salt needed; they're already infused with salt from being in the ocean), but Schofield makes an ersatz stock. He peels a carrot and tosses the peelings into the water, along with slices of fennel bulb, and herbs. The blanching lasts from 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. It could take a bit longer if you have a lot of barnacles or, as the ones we had were, they're larger than the usual 2 inches. Just don't overcook them or they'll be tough.

From there you shock them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Then, start pulling them out to remove the head-like shell and the gnarly outer skin. What you have is the tender meat, now cooked. Since they may still have some sea grit in them, put them in a bowl of water, which will loosen and remove the grit.

From there you can perform all sorts of culinary magic with them.

Sautéed Gooseneck Barnacles
From Vince Schofield, executive chef of Catania
Serves 3-4

1 carrot peeled completely
½ fennel bulb, sliced
Handful each of tarragon sprigs and basil sprigs
1 ½ pounds whole gooseneck barnacles (should yield 10 ounces meat)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, skin on (use more if you want to enjoy eating the garlic)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Pinch of fennel seeds
½ tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
Pinch of kosher salt
½ lemon, grilled

Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Fill another bowl with just water. Fill a large pot with water. Add carrot peelings, fennel bulb slices, tarragon, and basil. Bring to a boil. Add barnacles and blanch for 1 to 1 ½ minutes. Remove the barnacles from the boiling water and shock them in the ice water. While they’re still a little warm, remove the shell and the outer tube. Then drop into the bowl of water to remove any remaining grit.

Add olive oil to a pan. When warm, add the garlic cloves. Tip the pan slightly so that the garlic is covered by the oil. Add the red pepper flakes and fennel seeds and briefly toast as the garlic continues to cook and soften.

Add the barnacles, fresh oregano leaves (save some for garnish), a pinch of salt, and the juice of the half lemon. Stir and cook briefly; you’re really just rewarming the cooked barnacles.

Remove from heat. Spoon all of the mixture into a bowl or cazuela. Garnish with remaining oregano leaves. Serve with toasted bread. Alternately, you can add to pasta.

Catania is located at 7863 Girard Ave. in La Jolla Village.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tender Greens' Potato Cinnamon Roll with Bacon

I first met Susanna Brandenburg about seven years ago at a Slow Food Urban San Diego event at the then new Tender Greens in Liberty Station. She was serving the most delightful mini root beer floats and guests were going bananas over them. Brandenburg, whose son Ryan was a chef there at the time, was hired to run the pastry operation and while Ryan has since moved on (and will soon be opening a new restaurant in North Park), Brandenburg has stayed with Tender Greens as it's grown. The desserts she makes and has trained her staff to make are like crack. From the most seemingly mundane chocolate chip cookies to her carrot cake, fig galettes, and lemon curd tarts, Brandenburg is constantly creating and revising recipes that bring customers to their knees in weak desire.

Brandenburg has been cooking, canning, and baking most of her life. Back in the day, she and her husband lived in Oregon. She says it rained so much there that she spent most of her time in the kitchen with her kids. When the family returned to San Diego in 1980, she continued the tradition. She also opened The Soda Jerk in Ocean Beach before launching Creative Dining, a catering company she ran for 15 years. When Ryan and Pete Balistreri asked if she'd like to be the pastry chef at this new restaurant they were opening called Tender Greens she jumped at the chance, saying it was a dream of hers come true. The local, seasonal ethos of Tender Greens is aligned with her own philosophy about food.

"The fun of being here is being able to educate people on the seasons and how that influences what they're eating during the year," she says.

One item that's not limited to the seasons, however, is her classic cinnamon roll. That strolls through the year unhampered by what fruits are available. Brandenburg has amped it up, first with the addition of mashed potatoes to the dough. "I've been making cinnamon rolls forever," she says, "but about a year ago I started adding potatoes to them. I'd been making potato bread and it dawned on me that the potatoes make the bread softer and fluffier, so why not add that to the cinnamon rolls. It doesn't change the flavor but it creates a much fluffier roll."

She also decided to periodically add bacon, which she bakes in brown sugar until it's just cooked. Crispy bacon doesn't work; you want to retain the luscious fat flavor and have the texture meld, not compete with the soft dough.

Last week I went into the downtown branch of Tender Greens and spent time in the kitchen with Brandenburg so she could share the recipe with me. One thing I learned, which is great if you're planning on serving these for a weekend brunch, is that you can make and shape the rolls in advance. Keep the trays of the rolls refrigerated, as well as the cream cheese frosting. Be sure that the frosting comes to room temperature before you use it so that it's spreadable once the rolls come out of the oven.

Potato Cinnamon Rolls with Bacon
from Susanna Brandenburg of Tender Greens
(printable recipe)
Yield: 8-12

For Rolls:
4 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 cup milk
1 cup mashed potato
1/3 cup butter, cut up
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
8 slices bacon
1 cup plus 1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, softened

For Cream Cheese Frosting:
1/2 pound (8 ounces) cream cheese
3.2 ounces butter, room temperature
3/4 pound (12 ounces) powdered sugar

Mix cream cheese and butter until very creamy. Slowly add the sugar and beat until smooth. You can add more sugar if the mixture is too thin. Refrigerate, but bring to room temperature before using so it's spreadable.

Directions for Cinnamon Rolls:

1. Preheat oven to 325˚.
2. In a bowl put 1 1/2 cups flour and the yeast. Set aside.

3. In a saucepan, mix together the milk and mashed potato. Heat and stir the mixture with 1/3 cup butter, sugar, and salt just until warm (about 120˚) and the butter almost melts. Add to the flour and yeast mixture, along with the eggs. Beat for 30 seconds, scraping the sides. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Add as much as the remaining flour as you can by hand.

4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in any remaining flour. Knead for 3 to 5 minutes until its smooth and elastic.
5. Shape into a ball and put in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic and let rise until it's doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.

6. While the dough is rising place the bacon slices on a baking sheet lined with silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle the bacon with 1/3 cup of brown sugar. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Don't let it get too crispy or you'll lose the flavor of the fat. Dice the bacon and set aside.
7.  Punch down the dough, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and let rest for 10 minutes.
8.  Grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.
9.  Make the filling by combining 1 cup of brown sugar and the cinnamon.

10. Roll the dough out to 18-by-12 inches. Spread 1/2 cup of butter onto the dough and then sprinkle the cinnamon mixture over the butter. Sprinkle the bacon pieces of the cinnamon mixture.

11. Roll up the dough and cut into the number of pieces you want. For large rolls, just cut eight pieces. For smaller, 10 or 12. Place them cut side up into the pan, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 30 minutes or refrigerate overnight.

12. Preheat oven to 350˚ (325˚ if you have a convection oven). Bake for 35 minutes. Cool slightly and frost with cream cheese frosting.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Meyer Lemon Chicken with Artichoke Hearts

I can't think of the last time I turned on my stove--it's been so hot and sticky recently. But we're enjoying a slight break in the monsoonal system and, knowing I was going to do some cooking for my parents at their house over the weekend I was in the mood for making chicken. It's something my dad always enjoys and something I can make enough of so that they have leftovers.

Recently I've been making them mustard chicken baked with panko. It's easy--just slather the chicken pieces with a great mustard and roll in panko. Drizzle with olive oil and bake at 375˚ for about an hour. My folks both love this dish, as do I. The mustard tenderizes and flavors the meat and the panko and olive oil create a fabulous crust. What's not to love!

But I don't want them to get tired of it, so I was thinking about other options. I love chicken flavored with lemon juice but I had one last ripe Meyer lemon on my tree and thought it might be interesting to chop it up and cook it with the chicken. And add artichokes. I knew I couldn't find baby artichokes right now--this would be great with trimmed fresh baby artichokes--but I could buy frozen artichoke hearts. It all started coming together--add some shallots, fresh herbs, some wine. And that was it.

The result was a marvelous tangy, yet rich dish. The roasted Meyer lemon pieces contributed to the juices but were also wonderful bites, drenched in chicken juices and wine, since they don't have the bitterness of conventional lemons. The chicken practically fell off the bone, yet the skin was crisp. And the mellowness of the artichokes and shallots complemented the bright sweet flavors coming from the lemon and wine.

I made some basmati rice to accompany the dish, which was perfect because this lemon chicken creates some magnificent juices and you want a grain that will sop it all up.  And there are plenty of leftovers for a couple of days. This goes in the rotation, especially so Mom can enjoy it later when she's feeling better.

Lemon Chicken with Artichoke Hearts
(printable recipe)
Serves 5 to 8

5 whole chicken legs, cut into drumstick and thighs (trim excess fat)
1, 12-ounce bag of frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
2 Meyer lemons, washed, cut into pieces and seeded
3 shallots, peeled and sliced
About 12 sprigs of fresh oregano and thyme
2/3 cup white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 300˚F.

Place chicken pieces skin side down in casserole in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn over and season the skin side.

In a large bowl, combine the artichoke hearts, lemon pieces, shallots, and herbs. Toss with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Add to the chicken, tucking into the crevices between the pieces. Keep as much of the chicken uncovered as possible. Pour the wine over the chicken mixture.

Cover with foil and bake for two hours. Increase the oven temperature to 425˚F. Remove the foil and roast uncovered for half an hour or until the skin is brown and crispy.

Serve with rice or another grain.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Chilled Honeydew Coconut Milk Soup

It's hot. And sticky. And apparently, it's going to get even hotter and stickier this week. Usually this is when I make a batch of gazpacho--but I did that a couple of weeks ago during the last heat wave and I'm kind of over it for now. Yeah, I made too much.

Last week I came across a display of orange-flesh honeydew melons and knowing how beautifully sweet they are, I picked one up. And the wheels started turning. Chilled honeydew soup! Oh, how perfect! Yogurt? Check. Mint? Check. I could even add some Persian cucumbers. Or maybe I'd make a smoothie and add some baby kale. And then I thought, oy, melon, mint, and yogurt; that's so obvious. So I scoured my pantry and discovered a can of light coconut milk. Ah, here we go! It sent me off in a totally different Southeast Asian-style direction. I had a little container of kaffir lime leaf powder from Specialty Produce that would work perfectly. All I needed was lime juice and ginger. And maybe some honey.

Ginger. I don't know about you but when I buy ginger, I use a bit of a knob and then store it away for the future in the fridge or just keep it on the counter. Invariably it shrivels into the saddest little root and I end up tossing it. Well, I was done with that. I knew I could freeze it--but I don't like the texture of whole frozen ginger root. So I poked around a little online and, voila, thanks to The Kitchn, realized I could peel a hand of the root, grate it, measure it off in teaspoons, and freeze it. Did you know this? Well, if so, why didn't you tell me?

I actually did it a little differently. I didn't peel the root and instead of grating it, I pulled out my mini food processor, sliced sliced it up, and ground it as fine as I could. Then I used a mini cookie scoop, which measures about a teaspoon, and before I knew it I had more than a dozen scoops of ginger on a parchment-lined pan. I put the pan in the freezer. Two hours or so later, I placed those now-frozen ginger rounds in a little freezer bag so I can have what I need when I need it. And sans waste.

That was over the weekend. When I decided to make my honeydew soup, I pulled out a round of ginger and gathered the rest of the ingredients--all five of them--and puréed them together in my Vitamix. In other words, on a sweltering day when you don't want to be in the kitchen, you'll be in for all of 10 minutes, including clean up.

Now you probably will only need five of the six ingredients. I added a touch of honey, but I don't think it was really necessary since the melon was so sweet. I would add it to a version of this made with cantaloupe, however. Be modest with the kaffir lime leaf powder and the ginger. You don't want to overpower the mild honeydew, just complement it.

The result is a bright, refreshing creamy liquid that sings honeydew but has delightful background notes of acid from the lime juice and bite from the ginger and kaffir lime leaf powder. Enjoy this with a salad for a light meal on a sultry day. Or pour it into a glass with ice for a chilly drink.

Chilled Honeydew Coconut Milk Soup
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 cups

1/2 honeydew melon (about 2 cups), seeded and cut into chunks
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1 teaspoon ginger, minced or grated
1 pinch kaffir lime leaf powder (available at Specialty Produce or spice shops)
Juice from one lime
Drizzle of honey

Combine all the ingredients. Puree in a blender until smooth. Chill for an hour before serving. Grate a little lime zest over the soup as garnish.

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