Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Anthony Sinsay's Mussels Adobo

Do you talk to your food? Anthony Sinsay does. The executive chef at Duke's La Jolla, which opened last November, says that this conversation helps you learn where your food is in the cooking process. Sinsay was showing me how he makes his signature dish, Mussels Adobo, which I had fallen in love with at dinner a few months back. He had sautéed a sliced jalapeño, garlic, and onion--one of the best fragrances ever, of course. Then he added the ebony Prince Edward Island mussels to the pan. He stopped talking to listen.

"You'll hear the mussels purge their water," he said. "Then you know you need to add a little liquid to keep them moist."

Sinsay has been cooking most of his life. He said with smile that his mom was no cook. But his dad was. Sinsay especially loved waking up to the scents of Thanksgiving dishes his father prepared from early in the morning to ready for hordes of cousins to eat at midday. Sinsay spent hours and hours with his dad, who suffered from congestive heart failure, watching cooking shows with him--Julia Child, Martin Yan, Jeff Smith--until he passed away when Sinsay was just 11 years old.

"I remember my dad through cooking," Sinsay says with emotion. "After he died, there was no one to cook. My siblings were much older so when I got home it was my job to make dinner."

Sinsay's culinary inspiration came from his dad. But after he died, his mom began exposing him to restaurant dining. "We dined out a lot with my Mom at places like Mr. A's," he said. "By the time I was 15 I knew I wanted to go into culinary."

Sinsay attended Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena, learning the fundamentals of European cuisine. But over the years it's become important to him to infuse his dishes with his Filipino heritage. "These are flavors and techniques that come naturally to me."

It's become especially meaningful since he and his wife Elyse have had kids. "Food is a huge component of being Filipino. I want my kids to understand that there's more to life than Happy Meals. I want them to understand where they come from."

So, for instance, for their birthdays, he makes them pancit, a traditional noodle dish filled with vegetables. Like the Chinese, who introduced noodles to the Philippines, Filipinos believe in the symbolism of noodles representing long life and good health.

Now the Mussels Adobo, which Sinsay also used to make at Burlap when he ran that kitchen, is inspired by his mom. "She grew up in the southern part of the Luzon Island in the Philippines. She made this dish with chicken that would simmer in the adobo sauce. I like making it with mussels, but I had to add sugar to the adobo sauce recipe to compensate for the shortened cooking time. When you cook vinegar a long time it becomes sweet. This dish with mussels cooks so quickly I needed to add a sweetener."

This dish is based on a traditional adobo sauce--soy sauce, vinegar, and water. Sinsay quickly whips up the sauce and sets it aside while he first sautés the vegetables, then adds the mussels. He mixes in the adobo sauce and covers the pan, cooking the mussels until they open. Then, in what takes the dish to a seductive level, Sinsay adds coconut cream and butter. That's it. Oh, except for one more critical addition: grilled pan de sal, the addictive sweet white Filipino yeast bread. Just brush slices with olive oil and toast on a grill until crispy--then try not dunking them in the luscious mussels sauce. I dare you!

Mussels Adobo
From Anthony Sinsay of Duke's La Jolla
(printable recipe)
Serves 4

Adobe is the national dish of the Philippines and varies from region to region. This version is closest to the adobo I grew up with made by my mother from southern Luzon. The sauce is an acidic broth comprised of white distilled vinegar, soy sauce, and water. Cooked with onion, garlic, and jalapeño balancing sweet, umami, spicy, and salty. It's finished with coconut cream and butter to enrich the flavor and texture. The Pan de Sal is a Filipino yeast-risen dough with a slight sweet flavor, contrary to what the name suggests. Garnish the mussels with chive spears and crispy garlic chips (slice the garlic thin, blanch, then fry).

3 ounces adobo sauce (see below for recipe)
1/2 ounce of olive and canola oil blend
1 jalapeño, sliced in rings (include seeds if you want more heat)
1 1/2 ounces yellow onion, sliced in rings
1 whole peeled garlic clove, minced
9 1/2 ounces mussels, cleaned
1 1/2 ounces coconut milk
1/2 ounces butter
.1 ounce fresh chives, sliced into 2-inch pieces
1 loaf pan de sal, sliced
Olive oil

For adobo sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup water

1. Make adobo sauce: Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly until all sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
2.  Sauté the jalapeño, onion, and garlic clove in oil. Brush pan de sal slices with olive oil and grill.
3. Add the mussels and stir together.
4. Add the adobo sauce, stir together, and cover, cooking until the mussels open.
5. Remove lid and remove mussels from the heat. Stir in coconut cream and butter. Taste the sauce and add salt if necessary to balance the flavor.
6. Garnish with chives and garlic chips (optional). Serve with grilled pan de sal.

Duke's La Jolla is located at 1216 Prospect St. in La Jolla Village.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Christine Rivera's Brussels Sprouts in the Style of Elotes

If you're familiar with elotes you know that they're a summertime treat--traditional Mexican street food in the form of corn on the cob that's been grilled to smoky perfection, sprinkled lavishly with salt and chile powder, then slathered with mayo or crema, and topped with cotija cheese and lime juice. One crunchy bite yields layers of popping flavors and textures.

Of course, corn is summer crop. So what to do when it's unavailable? Galaxy Taco's chef de cuisine Christine Rivera says take the basic concept and extend it to other vegetables--in this case, Brussels sprouts.

I recently spent a morning with Rivera, a charming and driven San Diego native who has been working with chef/owner Trey Foshee for several years. Originally an elementary school counselor as part of the Early Mental Health Initiative, Rivera took up cooking as a de-stresser from work. It was something she picked up from her dad, whose Tijuana family are big home cooks. One of her family favorites is empanadas made with flour tortillas and then fried.

Rivera took culinary classes at Grossmont College and found she loved it so much she started hunting for work in restaurants and enrolled in the school's Culinary Arts Program. She began in the time-honored tradition of restaurant novices as a dish washer--for her it was at a local Red Lobster. From there, she started prepping at Kensington Grill under chef JC Colón--all while attending the Grossmont program. In the summers she worked at the Del Mar Race Track for Premier Foods, "turning and burning," as she described it. When Rivera learned that George's at the Cove was hiring, she applied for a job. Her interview with Foshee led to a job at George's Ocean Terrace.

"I loved it," she says. "I loved the culture and the pace." After a year and a half they moved her to George's California Modern to work the grill and hot line stations. When Foshee started planning Galaxy Taco he wanted her to be his chef there and began training her in how to run a kitchen--everything from inventory and systems to hiring.

"One year before Galaxy Taco opened, Trey talked to me about it. One of the things he wanted to do was make masa from scratch so we started experimenting with it. We went on a crusade to make it the best possible. And we focused on developing the menu."

Rivera opened the restaurant with Foshee last summer. In fact, it's become known for its organic blue corn masa, which Rivera makes daily. "I love making the masa and I'm excited to do it every day. I love the smell as it comes out of the grinder."

Rivera manages day-to-day operations and collaborates with Foshee on recipe ideas. "I've loved every single minute of it," she says with a grin. "It's not easy but it's fun. I learn so much from Trey. He's a chef. He's a restaurant owner. He has so many different roles. How he balances everything, including his family life, is pretty incredible."

For the Brussels sprouts dish, currently on the menu, the idea was to create the same flavor profile as traditional elotes, but use vegetables currently in season. I love the charred, smoky flavor the roasting gives the Brussels sprouts. Combining them with the heat and richness of the Spicy Chipotle Mayo, the acid of the lime juice and the salty cheese creates a lively bite that makes you just keep digging in. It brightens the fundamental earthiness of the Brussels sprouts. I can see making this dish with corn kernels, with cauliflower, string beans, carrots, and baby artichokes.

While the finishing of the dish is done in a cast iron skillet, Rivera pre-cooks the Brussels sprouts to cut the working time. Here she roasts them in a pan with olive oil. She also makes the Spicy Chipotle Mayo ahead of time so that the flavors come together. Be sure to get everything prepped before starting because the stovetop cooking goes very quickly.

Brussel sprouts in the Style of Elotes (Street Corn)
Christine Rivera of Galaxy Taco

4 to 6 servings as a side dish

You can use Brussels sprouts—or other vegetables you enjoy—to make this dish when corn is out of season. Or instead of corn, if you like. If you make it with corn, you can grill the corn on the cob and add the ingredients when you serve the corn (traditional style) or remove the corn from the cob and prepare it as directed below. Be sure to mix up the Spicy Chipotle Mayo ahead of time so the flavors will meld. Once you get started with the cooking process it will take about five minutes so you want everything prepped and ready to go.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed, and halved
Extra virgin olive oil
¼  cup cilantro, chopped, reserving 1 teaspoon for garnish
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon Cotija cheese plus 1 teaspoon for garnish
1 lime, cut in half
Spicy Chipotle Mayo (see below for recipe and make ahead of time*)   

Spicy Chipotle Mayo
1 cup mayonnaise
1 chile from a can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (you can find this in your local supermarket)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lime juice

Combine and mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss Brussels sprouts in extra virgin olive oil and salt. Roast Brussels sprouts for about 15 to 20 minutes (depending on size) and let them chill.

Place a pan on the stove at a low medium heat, add extra virgin olive oil. Once the pan is hot add Brussels sprouts. Toss them to cook evenly, then add cotija cheese, cilantro (saving some for a garnish), and lime juice from half a lime. 

Stir for about 5 minutes on low to medium heat. Remove from heat and add the chipotle mayo. Stir well to insure that the mayo is evenly distributed. Place in a bowl and sprinkle the reserved cotija cheese and cilantro on top and squeeze the second half of the lime. Enjoy!

Galaxy Taco is located at 2259 Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Help Feed Hungry Kids at April 17 Chef-Driven Bake Sale

Just because we don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. "It" is local childhood hunger and it's something that freelance food writer Erin Jackson feels strongly about obliterating. So Jackson decided to launch a fundraiser that would support the nonprofit No Kid Hungry, a campaign organized by Share Our Strength. The No Kid Hungry campaign connects kids in need with nutritious food and teaches their families how to cook healthy, affordable meals. The campaign also engages the public to make ending child hunger a national priority.

Jackson created the Bake Me SomeLove initiative to promote and brand her events. The first one will take place this weekend on Sunday, April 17 from 10 a.m. to noon. She calls it the Chef-Driven Bake Sale.

The Chef-Driven Bake Sale features a baker's dozen of San Diego's top chefs who will be creating  sweet and savory treats for the public to purchase at one of the coolest venues in downtown San Diego--LOUNGESix, the poolside rooftop lounge at Hotel Solamar, which also is home to JSix.

The $5 admission fee will give attendees the opportunity to purchase treats like Rachel King's Almond Joy Bars, Kayli Faucher's Cookies N Cream cookies, and Francis Laureano's Assiago Bavarian Pretzels with Grain Mustard. Each treat will be on sale for $5 with all proceeds going to No Kid Hungry.

Chef Matt Gordon of Urban Solace
"I've been wanting to do something like this for about three years," Jackson said. "Serious Eats, which I used to write for, had a pie social and it sounded like so much fun. It was people getting together and eating sweets to support the community. But I thought about it and I like going to bake sales. Doing a bake sale with a charity component was what I decided on and I wanted to support No Kid Hungry because it encourages people in their communities to get involved in ending childhood hunger."

The challenge for Jackson was choosing chefs. "I had a dream list of people whose desserts I've enjoyed over the years. The hardest part was narrowing the list down because of space restrictions at LOUNGESix. And when I finally came up with my first picks and everyone said yes I was really blown away at how everyone saw the value of it and wanted to participate."

Chef Vivian Hernandez-Jackson of Azucar
Freelance pastry chef Rachel King explained why she got involved. "Erin actually contacted me. It's an amazing organization that helps feed hungry kids. I know they hold bake sales across the country and was excited to get involved."

Freelance pastry chef Rachel King
The event will also feature JSix bartender Chris Burkett and his signature cocktail for Chef-Driven Bake Sale.

Participating chefs include:

  • Donna Antaloczy – Ironside Fish & Oyster
  • Tae Dickey – BIGA
  • Rygie Dy – Bottega Americano
  • Kayli Faucher – The Crack Shack
  • Matt Gordon – Urban Solace
  • Christian Graves – Jsix
  • Rocio Siso‐Gurriaran – Nine‐Ten
  • Vivian Hernandez‐Jackson – Azucar
  • Rachel King – Indie
  • Francis Laureano – Crafted Baked Goods
  • Donald Lockhart – Cusp
  • Jojo Rossi – Whisknladle Hospitality
  • Jessica Scott – Puesto
To buy your admission ticket for the event, go to their Eventbrite page. LOUNGESix is located at 616 J Street in downtown San Diego.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Moto Deli's Moroccan Meatball Sandwich

Fans of chef Alex Carballo have followed him around San Diego as he's gone from The Fishery to The Brigantine, then Indigo Grill and the Crosby Country Club. He's been with The Cohn Restaurant Group, but most recently at Stone Brewing Co. and then URBN Coal Fired Pizza.

Well, Carballo is now in the role of entrepreneur with his consulting business Service Culture. And he's teamed up with friend Mario Warman to develop Moto Deli, an ambitious motorcycle-themed sandwich shop/deli in Leucadia on Highway 101.

The site, which since 1975 had housed the iconic Sub Palace, is a 1927 building that has pretty much been gutted and is now being rebuilt to house what will include space where Carballo, chef Andy Halvorsen, and their staff will be able to do their own smoking, bread baking, pickling, sausage making, and condiment creating. The deli will offer prepared sandwiches and tables for dining in, but customers will also be able to purchase all the ingredients--sliced meats, breads, mustards, pickles, etc. to take home. Plus, Moto Deli is set up to do catering. It's a big undertaking.

Carballo expects Moto Deli to be open in June, but neither he nor Warman have been waiting around for the doors to open. In the meantime they launched a food truck, previously owned by chef Hanis Cavin of Carnitas Snack Shack, that is usually housed in front of the construction zone but does travel. Their calendar is published on the website. Most of the prep is done at a commissary kitchen, where the larger catering production also happens. But inside the truck is a big commercial flat top and storage in a space that Halvorsen joked is actually a little wider than some of the kitchens he's worked at.

I visited with Carballo and Halvorsen last week and Halvorsen made me their signature meatball sandwich. I loved the play on the concept, which takes it from Italian American to Moroccan in a heartbeat. The meatball is made with ground lamb and veal, panko crumbs, and spices that include cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika. An extra bite of spice comes from chopped pickled chiles. They nestle into a toasted hoagie roll, surrounded by a unique harissa marinara, then topped with a couple of slices of melted muenster cheese and--get this--sprinkled with pieces of preserved lemon. It's a marvelous mouthful, rich and spicy-and accompanied by their fab house-made potato chips (they're lucky I didn't walk off with the tall container filled with them) and spicy sweet house-made pickles.

Halvorsen, who has worked at Blue Ocean in Carlsbad, the Lodge at Torrey Pines, and Stone Brewing with Carballo, shared with me the recipe for making these sandwiches. He emphasized that the cornerstone of a good sandwich is the bread. Got a big juicy sandwich like this in mind? Be sure, he said, to toast the bread so that it won't fall apart once you add sauce.

"What's fun about sandwiches is that you can do what you want," he said. "You can sneak all sorts of good things in them that may be unexpected or unconventional but really work."

Moto Deli Moroccan Meatball Sandwich
Recipe from Andrew Halvorsen of Moto Deli
(printable recipe)
Yield: 5 sandwiches

For each sandwich:
1 6- to 8-inch French or hoagie roll
3 meatballs
1/4 cup harissa marina sauce (can vary amount depending on your preference)
2 slices muenster cheese
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon (optional)

Moroccan Lamb Meatballs
From Andrew Halvorsen of Moto Deli
Yield: 16 meatballs

1 pound ground lamb
1 pound Ground Veal          
¾ cup  panko bread crumbs
¾ cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon toasted, ground cumin
1 tablespoon toasted, ground coriander
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne
¼ cup chopped, pickled chilies

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Soak bread crumbs with milk for at least 20 minutes. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Form 2-inch meatballs and place on a well-oiled baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until browned and cooked through.

Harissa Marinara 
From Andrew Halvorsen of Moto Deli
Yield: 6 cups

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
About 5 medium red peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded (or 1, 16-ounce jar)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup garlic, minced
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cumin, ground
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon caraway seed, ground
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon Salt
¼ cup parsley, chopped

Place roasted peppers in a blender and puree. Add ¼ cup of water if necessary to help blending. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, over medium/high heat, add oil and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes or until garlic is aromatic and just begins to brown.

Add dry spices and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant.

Add tomatoes, peppers and parsley. Mix well and ensure that there aren’t any spices or garlic stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Lower heat and simmer on low for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

To make sandwich:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

Halve the meatballs and warm them in the sauce.

Lightly toast a sliced roll. Fill the roll with warmed meatballs and sauce. Top with the muenster cheese. Place in oven until cheese is melted. Sprinkle the top of the sandwich with chopped parsley and chopped preserved lemon.

Moto Deli is located at 810 North Coast Highway 101.

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