Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Bliss & Baker's Elevated Rice Crispie Treats

Popcorn balls, Dubble Bubble, Sidewalk Sundae ice cream bars, and Helm's glazed doughnuts fresh from the truck were the treats of my childhood.

And Rice Krispies treats. Everyone made them. Sticky, gooey, with a little bit of crunch. Easy to make. What's not to love about them?

So when I heard that about a year ago a San Marcos mother and daughter had launched a business to make them, I thought, yeah, really? I mean why not make them myself? Or buy them at Starbucks or some other coffee house or even at the market?

It wasn't until I saw what they were up to--or more precisely tasted what they were up to--that I got it. These small batch treats are good. They turn up the volume on a cherished childhood memory.

Laura and Natalie Potter are the team behind what they've named Bliss & Baker. Just one year ago they started making their treats, which you can eat as snacks, but also chop into ice cream--or even use to make extravagant s'mores.

"Mom always made them when we were growing up," recalls daughter Natalie. "It was something we thought we could play around with."

Mom Laura says that she used to dip the squares in chocolate and bring them to parties. She's always been a big baker and, in fact, used to enter the Pillsbury Bake-Off, even competing one year. She also wanted to start her own business after years of being a stay-at-home mom to Natalie and son Stephen. And how perfect to be in business with her daughter, who also loves to bake and, at 21, is in her last semester of college at Cal State San Marcos studying sociology?

The two started testing flavors and eventually came up with six: Salty Caramel, El Churro, Peppymint, Peanut Butter, Coconut Caramel, Sugar Cookie, and gluten-free Brown Rice Salty Caramel. They also create seasonal, holiday, and specialty flavors throughout the year.

Yes, they use Rice Krispies cereal and marshmallows. They tried some organic versions but the flavors and textures just didn't work out. And they tried making their own marshmallows but, according to Laura, they didn't work out texturally and they needed to keep costs down to make the treats affordable.

But, Laura notes, they use some local purveyors, like La Jolla Sea Salts and San Marcos' Hollandia Dairy Cream. Yeah, the dairy itself is no longer there but she has fond childhood memories of visiting it and is trying to stay local. And, because she knows some of our local dairies are part of the Challenge cooperative, Bliss & Baker also uses their butter.

I tried four of the flavors. My favorite was the Salty Caramel. Laura and Natalie make their own caramel and that mashup of sweet and savory really appealed to me. The El Churro, with its sweet cinnamon flavor was also terrific. And while I'm not a huge peanut butter person, I was surprisingly taken by that variety. They use a generous amount of peanut butter so you really get that gooey, salty, nuttiness combined with the Rice Krispies. To be honest I was less wowed by the Sugar Cookie. That would really appeal to a child, but for me it was just a bit too sweet.

No chocolate? Yeah, I'm disappointed, too, but, said the women, they found it was just too difficult to control the quality of the chocolate when packaging and shipping it--especially since they don't add any preservatives.

With the name Bliss & Baker, they've given themselves room to grow beyond the Crispies. Like a really great brownie. "And I've got bread pudding on my mind," says Laura. They're also working on new varieties of Crispies, including a Whiskey Crispie, adding Maker's Mark to their caramel. And a yet-to-be-determined flavor with an Italian spin.

Their ultimate goal is to open a storefront, perhaps in downtown San Diego. But today, you can find their Crispies at El Pescador Fish Market and Green Acre at Campus Pointe, as well as online. They'll also be at the Williams-Sonoma Artisans' Market in Fashion Valley on March 19 and on March 24th, will be participating in a pop up at Solace & the Moonlight Lounge to benefit the North Coast Unit--Rady Children's Hospital Auxiliary.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Help Send Fishermen to Slow Fish 2016

How many of you know about Slow Fish 2016? This Slow Food event is an international gathering of fishers, scientists, chefs, students and food artisans. Together they'll address the many environmental, ecological, economic and political challenges that impact fisheries, habitats, oceans, sustainable fishers, and cultural seafood systems. Slow Fish has been held every two years in Genoa, Italy. Slow Fish 2016 in New Orleans, which takes place March 10-13, will be the first time the event will be held in the western hemisphere.

 We have a contingency from San Diego that will be attending the event, including Slow Food Urban San Diego board member, vice chair, and seafood liaison Sarah Shoffler; Pete Halmay, sea urchin fisherman and president of the San Diego Fishermen's Working Group; Chef and activist Andrew Spurgin; Baja Chef Drew Deckman, Chef Michael Poompan of the Coronado Marriott; three UCSD SIO students focused on sustainable fisheries; and several members of the local Slow Food community.

Andrew Spurgin
"Slow Fish aims to create community and connections between fishermen, the public, chefs, etc. and thus reconnect the public with its food producers and our food producers with the public -- like Slow Food does for all food producers, but Slow Fish focuses on seafood," explains Shoffler. "San Diegans are not very connected to our local fishermen, and vice versa, much like other food producers in general. I hope those of us going from San Diego will learn some tools to better do this with the overall goals of a San Diego citizenry that understands the many facets of sustainable seafood and supports a thriving local seafood industry." Her goal is access for all San Diegans to local seafood and for San Diego to be recognized as a sustainable seafood destination.

"We are lucky in San Diego to have an abundance of good, clean and fair seafood," Shoffler says, explaining the issues. "U.S. seafood is some of the most sustainable in the world. U.S. fishermen are some of the most stringently regulated in the world. Because our laws require that if there's a problem with a fishery -- either the fish being caught are overfished or the fishery is negatively affecting other animals like endangered sea turtles -- we must do something about it. Whether it's close the fishery, change fishing gear, or shorten the fishing season, for example. Plus, our fishermen need to get fair wages; they are not slaves. And by buying locally-harvested seafood, we reduce our carbon footprint compared to eating imported shrimp or tilapia, for example. So, by consuming locally-harvested US-caught seafood, we ensure good (fresh and tasty), clean (environmentally sound) and fair (workers get living wages) seafood."

For Halmay, Slow Fish 2016 is important to San Diego because he feels Slow Food had given a lot of attention to farmers and very little to fishermen. "I am committed to changing this to put equal emphasis on all producers of food." He expects that what will come out of the event is a recognition that fishing and fishermen are important to the culture and history of San Diego. To do that, "I am going to introduce the attendees to the idea of fishermen's markets and their role in a working fishing harbor," Halmay adds. "I hope to get support of working fishermen from all over the world."

But Halmay will need help getting out his message. What's needed are more fishermen--from San Diego and elsewhere--to attend the event and share their experiences and issues. The problem is that many fishermen are struggling financially and don't have the resources to travel to New Orleans for the event.

Recognizing that, the Slow Fish program committee and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance established a crowdfunding program to raise money to send fishermen to Slow Fish. Leaders, including Shoffler, are encouraging the donation of funds and frequent flyer miles via the Generosity website. Donation requests start at $10 and they have a goal of reaching $10,000.

In San Diego, Slow Food Urban San Diego is supporting the travel of two local fishermen, including Halmay. "We'd like to send another fisherman and we've reached out to quite a few," says Shoffler. She explains that if there are any San Diego fishermen who would like to attend and need financial assistance, they can apply for travel scholarships from Slow Fish 2016 here or let SFUSD know (reach out to Shoffler at sarah_at_slowfoodurbansandiego_dot_org) since they still have funds available to send a local fisherman.

Want to make a contribution? Just head over to the Generosity website and help a fishermen attend this significant event. Then share the campaign socially using the hashtag #slowfish.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sweeten Your Valentine's Day with Le Parfait Paris Strawberry Macarons

I am admittedly a Valentine's Day grinch. I get this from my dad, who used to dismiss it as just a Hallmark holiday. However, I do love the edible Vday bling--chocolates, those little NECCO sweethearts, cinnamon imperials... You name it.

But, honestly, as a grown up, what could be a better sweet gift than a box of French macarons. They're sweet, but not too sweet, and crunchy and gooey. They make you feel très elegant even as the bite you take utterly ravages them.

Funny, though, I'd never actually tried to make them. So when the folks at Le Parfait Paris offered to teach me, I was all in. Guillaume Ryon, who with his wife Ludivine Mas owns the bakery, met with me last week at their massive kitchen in Mission Valley. The Gaslamp bakery prepares their products offsite so that they can devote their downtown space to table service and point of sale and make their wholesale deliveries more efficient.

Ryon and macaron specialist Hayder Jasim spent a couple of hours showing me the ins and outs of macaron production.

It begins with a blend of almond flour and powdered sugar that Jasim weighs and then sifts together. He then whips egg whites in a stand mixture and prepares a simple syrup that he slowly incorporates into the egg whites as he continues to whip them.

Next Jasim adds natural food coloring to the almond flour/powdered sugar mixture. Then, using a scraper, he gently incorporates the egg white mixture into the flour mixture. Jasim explained and demonstrated that the texture should be soft and thick so that it flows like a ribbon. He warned against over mixing.

Now you're ready for piping. Here, technique is again important. As you can see below in the video, you don't swirl as you pipe. You gently press it out and with a flick of the wrist twist it off. Here Jasim made small macaron shells of about an inch and a half. You can also make them larger and there are sheet templates you can use to be accurate and consistent.

Then Jasim slams the cookie sheet on the counter a couple of times to remove that tail at the top and create a smooth top. He sprinkled these cookies with coarse sanding sugar that he had mixed with food coloring.

What happens next is the key to getting a crisp macaron. You let the cookies sit and dry. Depending on the weather and humidity, it takes between 20 to 30 minutes for the macarons to go from glossy to matte. Feel free to use a fan if you're impatient.

Then you'll bake the cookies in a 300˚ F oven. While the cookies bake, make the filling. This is pretty easy. Just dice the berries and mix them in a pot with water and agar agar--a vegetarian gelatin substitute--to cook for about 10 minutes. Then puree.

Finally, you're going assemble your macarons. Ryon showed me how they make a small indentation on one cookie with a thumb to be able to add a bit more filling. Pipe the filling into that cookie, then cover with another, gently twisting to secure it.

If you want to elevate them even more, you can dip them in chocolate.

That's it. To make them tastier, Ryon suggests putting them in the freezer for two days so that the flavor from the filling is infused into the shell.

Le Parfait Paris Strawberry Macarons
(Printable recipe)

Yield: 20 to 30 macarons, depending on how large you make them


210 grams powdered sugar
125 grams almond flour
3 eggs, separated (save the yolks for another use)
30 grams sugar
Water--enough to just wet the sugar
1 teaspoon natural red food coloring
10 grams coarse finishing sugar
1 drop of red food coloring
225 grams fresh strawberries
3 teaspoons water
1 gram agar agar
50 grams Valrhonna Dark chocolate or other high-quality chocolate

Pre-heat the oven to 300˚ F.

Mix and sift the powdered sugar and almond flour.

In a stand mixer, begin whipping the egg whites. While the whites are being beaten, combine the sugar and water in a pan and place over heat to make a simple syrup. When the syrup starts boiling, remove from heat and slowly incorporate it into the beating egg whites. When the mixture is fully incorporated, stop the mixer and set the egg white mixture aside.

Add the food coloring to the almond flour/powdered sugar mixture. Now gently mix in the egg white mixture, a little at a time, using a bench scraper. Don't over-mix. The texture should be soft and thick and pour like a ribbon. Combine the coarse finishing sugar with the food coloring and set aside.

Gently place the cookie mixture into a piping bag with a #2 tip. Pipe into small round discs on a sheet pan covered with either silpat or parchment paper. Sprinkle with the coarse finishing sugar. Let the cookie shells rest for 20 to 30 minutes until the surface goes from shiny and glossy to matte.

Put them in the oven and bake for 16 minutes if small, 20 minutes if large.

While the shells bake, make the filling. Dice the strawberries and place them in a pot with the water and agar agar. Cook for 10 minutes on high. Use an immersion blender to puree. Let cool.

Remove the shells from the oven and let cool.

When ready to assemble, use a thumb to gently press into the flat side of half the shells to create an indentation. Fill a piping bag, using a #2 tip, with the strawberry filling. Pipe about a teaspoon of the filling onto the indented shells. Then cover with the flat side of a non-indented shell.

At this point you can melt chocolate in a double boiler. Then dip half the cookie into the chocolate and place on a sheet topped with wax paper. Let rest until the chocolate has cooled and set.

Freeze cookies for two days before serving.

Le Parfait Paris is located at 555 G. Street in the Gaslamp.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Radish Greens Pesto

On a gorgeous January Sunday two weeks ago I spent the morning trailing Chef Norbert Moniz around the Hillcrest Farmers Market. Moniz runs the kitchens at Blind Lady Alehouse and Tiger! Tiger!.

I met him just before 8 a.m. at Tiger! Tiger! and we headed out in his fire engine red Ford Ranger pick up. On our drive over to the market Moniz told me that he's been in San Diego for about a year after spending six years working in Chicago. Originally from Santa Clarita, in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, Moniz attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and then ran a little restaurant in Santa Barbara. Concerned that he wasn't learning enough, he gave his notice and packed two bags--one with his clothes and other personal stuff, the other with hockey gear, and took off for Chicago. It was there he seems to have truly learned his trade, after working for what he calls "a lot of great chefs."

After six years, the SoCal native had had enough of Chicago winters and learned from a friend working at Blind Lady Ale House that there was an opening for a chef at Tiger! Tiger!. He got the job. That was a year ago. Now he oversees Tiger! Tiger! and Blind Lady.

Clearly, Moniz loves what he does--to the extent that on Sundays, his day off, he's up early to pick up orders and shop at the Hillcrest Farmers Market and then deliver his groceries to the chefs at the three restaurants.

"I do it because it gets me up and out of bed, I get to hang out with friends at the market, and I can see what's coming in," he says. "And I can geek out with my chefs over the produce when I deliver it."

While we were picking up orders from farmers at the market I came across the most gorgeous Easter Egg radishes at the Maciel Family Farm stand, where Moniz bought beets, mixed greens, butternut squash, fennel, kale, turnips, and other vegetables. Over the years I've bought from them, too, and was delighted to meet owner Paul and his daughter Sara, who is very involved in 4H. The family farm is up in Bonsall, where they also grow flowers.

Moniz was singing the praises of the Maciel's mixed greens so I bought a bag, but I couldn't take my eyes off the plump and colorful radishes so I bought a bunch of them, too. When I got them home I cut the stems off and, unlike your typical sad, wilted supermarket bunches, they were so fresh I couldn't bear to toss them. I'd sautéed radish greens with garlic before so I knew how wonderfully peppery they are. But what to do with them now?

I had to decide quickly. What you learn about radish greens is that they have a pretty short shelf life. I could make soup with them, make a stir fry, roast them, add them to pasta or an omelet, or make a salad with them.

Or, hmmm, make pesto. I had all the ingredients I needed, including a fresh bottle of herbaceous young olive oil from California Olive Ranch that would match the spicy radish leaves.

The first thing you need to do with radish leaves is wash them. Thoroughly. As root vegetables, the greens are close to the ground and seem to attract dirt like spinach. I did several rounds in a salad spinner before I got the grit off to my satisfaction. Once washed and dried I gave them a rough chopping for the blender.

With that, it's just a matter of grating your favorite hard cheese (I used Parmesan), toasting walnuts to bring out their flavor, and trimming some garlic cloves. You'll want to add a touch of butter to round out the flavor, and some salt--but not much because of the saltiness of the cheese.

After that you'll put everything but the oil in the bowl of a blender or food processor and gradually add in the oil until it reaches a smooth and creamy pourable consistency. Then you have the perfect sauce for pasta, salmon, roasted vegetables and all sorts of other dishes.

You can find the Maciel Family Farm at the Hillcrest, Coronado, Oceanside, Old Town Temecula, and Old Town Poway farmers markets. 

Radish Greens Pesto
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 cups

6 ounces radish leaves, with tough stems removed (save and snack on them or add to a stir fry)
1 cup walnuts, toasted
5 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
Pinch of salt
3/4 to 1 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil

After removing the tough stems, wash and dry the leaves thoroughly and roughly chop.

In the bowl of a blender or food processor, add the leaves, walnuts, garlic, cheese, butter, and salt. Put the lid on but leave the opening available to add the oil. Turn on the machine and slowly add the oil. Puree the contents until the mixture reaches a loose, creamy consistency. Periodically, stop and scrape down the sides to incorporate all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings.

You can keep the pesto refrigerated for up to a week, although it's best used right away. Be sure to pour some oil over the surface to keep it from oxidizing and turning brown. Or you can freeze it.

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