Tuesday, December 29, 2015

See Ya, 2015!

As we say so long to 2015, there are close to a dozen local chefs whom I'd like to thank for welcoming me into their kitchens and teaching me some of their best and favorite dishes, which I, in turn, shared with you here. These kitchen experiences are my favorite part of my food writing. I learn not just a recipe, but about the chefs themselves. These are people who love to share their passion. I get family stories, lessons in technique, a lot of laughs, and delicious food. It's also a way for me to gather knowledge about chefs, restaurants, and dishes that help me write stories for media like The San Diego Union-Tribune and Edible San Diego. It's a rich way to live and I truly am appreciative.

So, thank you to Chef Ozvaldo Blackaller of Cueva Bar on Adams Ave., who taught me how to make beautiful empanadas wrapped in house-made flour tortillas: chicken with gorgonzola, brisket and sautéed onions, and chorizo with smashed potatoes.

Many thanks to Rodnia Novarro and her talented mom, Rosario Sotello of El Borrego, for introducing me to their stunning green pork pozole, or Pozole Verde Guerrerense. As I write this on Sunday morning, it's a surprising 35 degrees outside and I could use a steaming bowl about now.

Ryan Studebaker, not only did you teach me how to make your beautiful Raviolini with Seasonal Vegetables, Pistachio Pesto, and Parmesan, you offered me some truly useful tips for how to sauté vegetables more effectively. Cheers to you and MIHO Experience! 

Nick Brune of Eco Caters and formerly with the now closed Local Habit is one of those cool guys who is passionate about collaborating with and promoting San Diego's culinary and musical talent. Local Habit hosted a fried chicken competition earlier this year and Nick travels around town with his Soundbite dinners, for which he brings in musicians to play songs with a connection to each dish. His Asian-influenced Cali-Creole cuisine resulted in this decadent Creole Noodle Soup. You could say in this bowl gumbo meets ramen. I love his dark roux noodles! And, I loved the sweet finish to the meal: Nick's take on classic Southern Buttermilk Pie. Thanks, Nick!

Thank you, Kurt Metzger! We miss Kitchen 4140 and are looking forward to your next venture. I appreciate your teaching me how to make this stunning Seared Day Boat Scallops with Grilled Peaches, Candied Bacon, and Micro Salad. I could not believe how many flavors could pop in one bite! 

Mille grazie to Fabrizio Cavallini of Monello and Bencotto for introducing me to your traditional Milanese technique for making pasta. It was beautiful to watch and not hard to replicate--with a lot of practice! Love your imported organic pastas, too!

Accursio Lota of Solare taught me the Sicilian style of making risotto--two ways. My friend Robin Ross of Cupcakes Squared and I learned how to prepare both his Risotto with Sardinian Saffron and his Risotto with Summer Truffles. Plus, Accursio schooled us on the difference between rice varieties and its importance in making this creamy dish. Thank you!

The following month, I took a virtual trip to the Philippines, courtesy of chef Evan Cruz of Arterra and his family, who run JNC Pinoy Food Mart in Chula Vista. His delightful grandmother, Rosario Cruz, demonstrated how she prepares a childhood favorite, Turon. Think sweet lumpia--with plantain, jack fruit, and sugar rolled in a lumpia wrapped, fried, then drenched in caramel. Oy! Thank you, Evan and Rosario!

Thank you, Vince Schofield, for introducing me to the wild and wacky world of gooseneck barnacles. You've got to go to Catania in La Jolla to try his Sautéed Gooseneck Barnacles when they're on the menu--or make them at home with this recipe. They're so unusual--and so tasty!

Bradrick Cooper, you just rock! I love your food at Coop's West Texas Barbecue in Lemon Grove and can't wait for you to open your fried chicken eatery! In the meantime, thank you for teaching me how to make your oh-so-crispy buttermilk fried chicken, which made you the winner of this year's inaugural Fried Chicken Challenge at Local Habit. It's totally addictive!

And thank you to Steven Riemer of Oceana Coastal Kitchen at the Catamaran in Pacific Beach, who taught me not one or two ways to make ceviche, but three: shrimp, scallop, and seabass. And who also introduced me to the house-made tortilla chips that accompany them. Dangerous! I appreciate your ceviche techniques and advice. No more runny ceviche!

I also want to thank Bob Harrington and Specialty Produce for supporting my work both on San Diego Foodstuff and my Edible San Diego blog, Close to the Source. I so appreciate all you do in our food community and the larger San Diego community. You are a smart businessman with a big heart.

Thanks to Tommy Gomes and the Catalina Offshore Products crew for always inviting me in to try something new and encouraging my seafood forays. You, too, are community gems!

And, thank you to the market managers, farmers, and vendors I've visited with this year, who so graciously introduced me to what they make and sell--and so patiently answered my questions. You--and our chefs--are the folks who are shaping the ever-expanding and maturing food scene in San Diego. It's been inspiring to spend time with you this year!

Finally, thank you to my readers. I am grateful to have you check in weekly, subscribe to my e-newsletter, and follow me on social media. In February, San Diego Foodstuff will begin its ninth year. It's evolved from covering local markets to pretty much anything food-related in our region, including my kitchen experiences. If you have ideas for other news and information I can cover here, let me know! Please subscribe to the blog and newsletter--and leave feedback in the form of comments! I want to hear from you!

Here's to a delicious 2016! May you all have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Soul of a Grove: La Vigne Organics

Early next month I'll have a story in the San Diego Union-Tribune on a cookbook, Jewels From My Grove, by Fallbrook grower Helene Beck. Beck, whom I visited with a couple of weeks ago, has more than 3,000 trees on her vast and magical property. Among the organic crops she grows are persimmons, blood oranges, kumquats, kaffir limes, satsumas, figs, pomegranates. In fact, the book focuses on her favorite fruits: persimmons, kumquats, and blood oranges.

As I was leaving, Beck not only loaded me down with a sampling of dishes she made for the photo shoot and a bag of sweet satsumas, she took me into the garage and gave me jars of some of the La Vigne line of products she has made for about 20 years from the bounty of those trees--Persimmon Chipotle Sauce, Kumquat Conserve, Kumquat Ginger Syrup, and Blood Orange Syrup.

I took the products home and started sampling them, starting with the Persimmon Chipotle Sauce. Beck happened to also gift me with four duck eggs. My 19-year-old niece, Samantha, was visiting from North Carolina and she'd never eaten duck eggs so I scrambled up a couple and we topped them with the sauce.

Made with organic Fuyu persimmons, orange juice, onions, cider vinegar, ginger, sugar, limes garlic, sea salt, and dehydrated chipotle, the sauce has a complex sweet heat to it. It was terrific with the eggs, and later, with tortilla chips. I think it would also be wonderful served with poultry or pork.

The Kumquat Conserve is a clever way to use the sour fruit. It sweetens them up a bit and makes them ready to use for baking or cooking. You can also add it--using the fruit or just the sauce--to a blender with oil, vinegar and other ingredients to make a marinade or vinaigrette.

Kumquat Ginger Rugelach
Chop up the fruit and add them to cookies. Or, as Beck does, to noodle pudding and the kumquat ginger rugelach above.

The two syrups are delightful, but the texture is less syrupy than liquid. I poured some of the Blood Orange Syrup, which is seasoned with cardamom and almond, over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Loved it. The citrusy orange flavor comes through, but there's a lovely hint of marzipan with the almond and sweet, almost citrus-like tones of the cardamom. 

Both this and the Kumquat Ginger Syrup are perfect for sweet applications--like an ice cream topping--but add it to oatmeal or pancakes and waffles. Or, use it as a base for a salad dressing or savory sauce for meats or roasted vegetables.

These and many more items, like lemongrass powder, organic persimmon fruit leather, and kumquat ginger scones, she sells online, as well as at Specialty Produce, Jimbos, and Nature Market.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tres Ceviches from Oceana

Come holiday season and it seems that everything on our plates is filled with butter, cream, big carbs, and big meats. And, yes, we love it. But how about adding something to your holiday buffet that's a little lighter, a little fresher, and--okay--healthier. And yet still packed with flavor and bright festive color!

Yup, I'm talking ceviche. Fresh seafood married with acid to cure it and mixed together with fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices. Irresistible, right? Absolutely. We tend to think of ceviche as a summer dish because it's so light. But there's no reason not to serve it over the holidays.

I visited the new Oceana Coastal Kitchen at the Catamaran in Pacific Beach recently and got a marvelous tutorial from executive chef Steven Riemer. Riemer doesn't have the high profile of many of San Diego's chefs, but his 25 years as a chef include working with Jeff Jackson at A.R. Valentien at The Lodge at Torrey Pines, as well as 11 years at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, which included representing the culinary team at the James Beard House in New York.

It was Riemer's idea to teach me his ceviche dishes. He loves the versatility and creativity that are part of making ceviches--not to mention that it's a dish that can take full advantage of leftover parts of a fish that don't lend themselves to other dishes. So, ceviche is a bit of a sustainable dish, if you will.

Riemer selected three different ceviches to prepare for me: a shrimp ceviche with cherry tomatoes, cilantro, red onion, pineapple, and jalapeño; a seabass ceviche with mango, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and aguachile onions; and a scallop ceviche with grapefruit slices, and a marinated vegetable medley. All were festive in their colors and offered power-packed bites accompanied by thick, house-made tortilla chips.

If you've never made ceviche and have even been a little wary of doing so, I have to tell you that as long as you have very fresh ingredients, you have nothing to worry about (marinating in acid cures the fish and kills bacteria) and everything to enjoy about the process--which takes little time given the amount of flavor you get in return.

Riemer gave me some tips for how to do it well:
  • Marinate your seafood in a combination of lime juice and salt; that combination gives both a great flavor and kills bacteria.
  • Considering using vinegar instead of lime? Riemer isn't a big fan of this. He finds that it can be so acidic that it can be too strong in flavor and that it will cure the exterior of the proteins faster than the inside. So, stick lime juice and salt.
  • Avoid mussels for ceviches; Riemer says they just don't work well. Clams, however, are a great choice.
  • Also avoid oily fish, like mackerel, sardines, and salmon. They don't tend to look as good following a marinade in lime juice and their flavors are too strong. You can, instead, use them in an escabeche, which is like ceviche in that you marinate them in lime or lemon juice, but then you'll also sauté them in olive oil.
  • The secret to a great shrimp ceviche is to chop the shrimp into bite-sized pieces so they cure more quickly and evenly. Don't leave the shrimp whole. If you want to use cooked bay shrimp, don't turn it into a ceviche. Instead mix the shrimp with salsa.
  • Be creative with the vegetables and fruits you include in your ceviche. Riemer suggests including everything from spicy pickled asparagus and jicama to avocado cubes.
  • Be sure to drain most of the liquid from the cured seafood when you're ready to mix it with other ingredients. This drier version will make it easier for your guests to lift it up with chips.
Shrimp Ceviche
Shrimp Ceviche

From Steven Riemer of Oceana Coastal Kitchen
Serves 4 to 6

For marinade:
12 ounces raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
Fresh lime juice to cover—approximately 2 cups
¼ teaspoon salt

½ jalapeño, minced seeds and veins removed.  Unless you really like the heat.
12 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
½ bunch cilantro, rough chopped
Salt and pepper to season
3 teaspoons red onion, minced
1/3 cup fresh pineapple, diced

Slice the shrimp into ½-inch pieces. Place in bowl and add lime juice and salt. Marinate for two hours. Drain the shrimp. Mix in a non-reactive bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Serve in a single bowl or individual dishes with tortilla chips or place on crispy tostada and top with Mexican crema.

Seabass Ceviche

Seabass Ceviche
From Steven Riemer of Oceana Coastal Kitchen
Serves 4 to 6

For marinade:
12 ounces raw seabass diced into ½” pieces
Fresh lime juice to cover—approximately 2 cups
¼ teaspoon salt

½ bunch cilantro, rough chopped
1/3 cup fresh mango, diced
10 drops of toasted sesame oil, more or less
½ cup mango puree

For garnish:
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup lime juice
1 teaspoon white and black toasted sesame seeds
½ serrano chile, shaved

Slice the seabass into bite-sized pieces. Place in non-reactive bowl and add lime juice and salt. Marinate for two hours. Drain the seabass. Mix in a bowl with the cilantro, mango, and sesame oil.

Combine the red onion and lime juice to marinate so it pickles—about 20 minutes. Drain the onions. This is your aguachile onion mixture.

To plate, place a dollop of the mango puree into a margarita glass. Add the ceviche. Top with slices of pickled red onion, a sprinkling of sesame seeds, and a few slices of the shaved serrano chile.

Scallop Ceviche
Scallop Ceviche
From Steven Riemer of Oceana Coastal Kitchen
Serves 4 to 6

For marinade:
8 ounces raw scallops
Fresh lime juice to cover—approximately 2 cups
¼ teaspoon salt

1 Oro Blanco grapefruit, peeled and sectioned
1 Pink grapefruit, peeled and sectioned

For the lime-cured garnish:
½ small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 small carrots, shaved
2 Japanese cucumbers, sliced into thin rounds
¼ cup poblano chile, shaved
¼ cup sweet red and green chiles, shaved
½ cup lime juice
¼ teaspoon salt

Slice the scallops into bite-sized pieces. Place in non-reactive bowl and add lime juice and salt. Marinate about 45 minutes, then drain.

Prepare the onions by marinating them in half the lime juice and salt for about 20 minutes. Combine them with the carrots, cucumber slices, and chiles. Add remaining lime juice and marinate for another 20 minutes. Drain.

Combine the scallops, pickled vegetables, and grapefruit in a serving bowl or individual dishes. If you want, you can dice some avocado and add that to the ceviche and then serve it inside avocado halves.

Oceana Coastal Kitchen is located inside the Catamaran Hotel at 3999 Mission Blvd. in Pacific Beach.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Vom Fass: Oils and Vinegars and Spirits--Oh My

I'd like to proffer a bit of advice during these mad shopping days: if you wander by an unfamiliar shop that looks intriguing--go in! Don't be intimidated because it's new to you. Just step on through the doorway and prepare to be enchanted. I say this because for months I somehow ignored this credo of mine at the HUB (known to longtime residents as the Hillcrest Uptown Center but now called Hillcrest Uptown Block). Yes, I, who has long written about ethnic markets to demystify them so shoppers across the board would feel comfortable out of their comfort zone and excited by the possibilities, kept passing by the new Vom Fass after getting my hair cut, momentarily marvel at the weird name, glance inside, but then continue on to Trader Joe's.

Photo courtesy of Vom Fass Hillcrest
Big mistake, but I finally rectified it last week. Vom Fass (German for "from the cask") is a global franchise some 20 years old of tasting rooms for oils, vinegars, spirits, and liqueurs. They source from small artisanal producers, mostly in Europe, although they also have a manufacturer in Madison, Wisconsin. About six months ago, San Diegans Colleen and Jay Cavalieri opened up a tasting room in the HUB, next to Ralph's. They had discovered Vom Fass earlier when they had taken their son to visit colleges in Claremont, north of San Diego, and at someone's suggestion, stopped into the one there. Clearly, they loved it. Loved it so much, in fact, that they decided to launch a store here, the fourth in California (the other two are in Ventura and San Francisco) and the 25th in the country.

Photo courtesy of Vom Fass Hillcrest

Photo courtesy of Vom Fass Hillcrest
Vom Fass Hillcrest is divided in half. On the right are the spirits, liqueurs, and wines. While pretty much everything else in the shop is sent to them via Vom Fass, the Cavalieris may select the wines, and often their choices are local. The spirits include a variety of Scotch whiskies--from Blair Athol and Cragabus to Irish and American whiskey, along with other spirits like rum, gin, and vodka. There's a broad range of liqueurs. I enjoyed sips of their nut chocolate and lemoncello liqueurs, but you can also find flavors like apricot liqueur with grappa, framboise, sour cherry with vodka, and Irish whiskey liqueur.

To the left is where I spent most of my time. I'm a sucker for great oils and vinegars and the ones Vom Fass has are both lovely and decadent. There are numerous olive oils from different regions in Europe, infused oils, nut and seed oils, and wellness oils. They have wine vinegars, fruit balsamic vinegars, what they call Balsamic Stars (more viscous thanks to the concentrated juices and vinegars), and Aceto Balsamicos.

I sampled any number of them, alone and in combination--in fact, Vom Fass is great about suggesting pairings and recipes. I started with the garlic extra virgin olive oil. It was rich and smooth with a punch of garlic flavor. Paired with the Old Spanish Wine Vinegar, it would be perfect for a salad or on roasted vegetables. The Old Spanish Wine Vinegar, aged about 12 years, may have been my favorite sampling. I love a great aged Sherry vinegar, but this topped it. It's bold and acidic going down; yes, you could just sip it and be happy. Use it for a vinaigrette or marinade--or as a finisher with a dish that would benefit from a strong flavor, like game meat or sautéed greens. Or, hey, vanilla ice cream.

This time of year I love a good pumpkin seed oil. Vom Fass has a marvelous one. I enjoyed its pure nutty flavor. I bought a bottle and drizzled it on a bowl of pumpkin soup. Later I may use it to make croutons. But it would also be wonderful drizzled on a baked potato or grains, or as Vom Fass suggests, mixed with honey and drizzled over pancakes.

I was floored by the pistachio oil. Just the aroma alone made me swoon. This rich oil that is totally pistachio in flavor is perfect over fish or a composed salad. Yes, I bought a small bottle of that, too.

And I bought the Calamansi Balsamic Vinegar. Calamansis, a small Filipino citrus reminiscent of a lime, are a favorite of mine and they're grown locally. So I had to try the vinegar version. It turns out this vinegar is a best seller at the Hillcrest Vom Fass and for good reason. It's got a wonderful bright citrus flavor that beautifully melds sweet and sour. This is your fish vinegar (think ceviche). This is the vinegar that will elevate a fruit salad. Combine it with their sesame oil for an Asian-inspired dish. Or with the Black Cumin Oil for a bit of spicy zing. It's just great.

Those are just several of what I tried. The great thing is you can go in and sample to your  heart's content. And when you're ready to buy from either the right or left side, you purchase the glass bottle in sizes and shapes that range from 100 ml to 500 ml. Use up the oil or vinegar and bring it back for a refill (they can't recycle bottles for the spirits). This to me is a great concept, especially for oils which can deteriorate quickly. Buy what you need and come back for more so it's always fresh. It also means you can experiment with flavors or purchase small amounts for baking or cooking without breaking the bank. The staff will handwrite with a white ink pen on the bottle what you've got and it'll come off when washing.

Vom Fass has business-card size descriptions of every product and recipes on the back. Plus, they also host classes, tastings, and private events.

As I'm looking ahead to Chanukah, which begins on Sunday night, I have someone special in mind who will be getting a collection of oils and vinegars as a gift. Need to send a gift? They have free shipping. And, yes, while it's a wonderful neighborhood shop filled with products that are hard to find elsewhere, if you can't get there, you can shop online. But if you can, go! Taste!

Vom Fass Hillcrest is located in Uptown at 1050 University Ave., Suite # E-103.

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