Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Cultivating Conversation

Are you passionate about fresh, seasonal, local food--enjoyed in a serene garden setting while engaged in thought-provoking conversation about sustainable food systems?

Then you're going to love "Cultivating Conversation: A Dine and Learn Series" taking place at Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center on October 28 from 5 to 8 p.m.

I have a special affinity for Olivewood Gardens. As some of you may recall, I used to be a volunteer cooking teacher there, helping kids learn how to make delicious, nutritious food straight from the garden outside the kitchen.

Since those early days, Olivewood Gardens has expanded its programs. Not only do they still offer the School Gardens Workshops I was involved in, they also have gardening classes, cooking classes for adults in both English and Spanish as well as for kids, Mommy and Me, and Girl Scout Badge Workshops.

How do they fund these community-based programs? Well, they get grants for one thing. And there's their annual Seedling Soiree fundraiser.

And now there's Cultivating Conversation.

Cultivating Conversation is described by Olivewood Gardens at a dine and learning series that takes place in their outdoor garden setting. A farm-to-table dinner will be prepared by chef Jeff Rossman, owner of Terra American Bistro. Trish Watlington, an Olivewood Gardens board member and owner of The Red Door in Mission Hills, who happens to raise produce and chickens on her property which contribute to the restaurant's ingredients, will lead the discussion. She said it will be framed around what we can each do to support fair and local food through simple and more complex choices, why even bother, and what makes our San Diego community unique in its ability to make these choices.

"I'm going to start the conversation with my own stories from childhood and being a young adult and how they set the stage for my passion for farming, food as community, and social justice," Watlington said. "I can share some restaurant stories that illustrate some of the challenges of sourcing local. Then we'll talk about what each member of the audience can do, what's in it for them, and why this region is so special in how it allows us to make good choices."

Tickets are $75 a person and can be purchased online at Brown Paper Tickets. All proceeds will support the organization's garden-based nutrition education programs.

Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center is located in National City at 2525 N Ave.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Trust's Chicken Liver Mousse

Ever since I tried Trust's Chicken Liver Mousse, a luscious buttery spread with a hint of herbs and sweet liqueurs, delivered via a slice of grilled sourdough levain and accompanied by a tangy mostarda and sliced radishes, I knew I wanted to learn how to make it.

Well, it took awhile. After all chef/owner Brad Wise was about to open a new restaurant, Hundred Proof. But I finally got my chance in September and got Wise's tutorial on how to make this classic dish.

Wise, who's from South Jersey, has been cooking since he was 12 in pizza kitchens and eventually as lead line cook in a fine dining restaurant. He attended culinary school and came out to San Diego with some buddies at the age of 21, some 11 years ago. He started out at JRDN at Tower 23, served as executive chef at The Padre Hotel and most recently was executive chef at Belmont Park's Cannonball & Draft.

Wise may have spent time in fine dining but his passion is for rustic contemporary American. "It may not look great on a plate, but it's what I really like to prepare. I'm a wintertime type of guy," he said.

That, of course, explains the Chicken Liver Mousse, which has refined flavors but he serves in a very rustic style. The process for making it is very simple. And pretty quick. But you have to build in the time to prep the ingredients. You've got to soak the chicken livers in milk overnight. You'll need to slice shallots, stem and mince herbs, zest a few lemons, and cube a lot of butter. But once you do that, then the cooking process takes about 10 minutes. Oh, and then you need to let the creamy mixture sit in the fridge for at least five hours to reach the right consistency. Then before serving, take it out and let it sit at room temperature to soften.

Trust's Chicken Liver Toast is one of their most popular dishes--what Wise called a "portion of a charcuterie board in a bite." He said they make about 2 to 3 gallons a week, using five to nine pounds of liver. For this recipe, you'll only need one pound--and to be honest, once I made it I could see it could feeds scores of people, making it a perfect dish to prepare for a large party.

The directions are straightforward, but I have a couple of tips from Wise. A key one comes while you're sautéing the livers and shallots. You want the livers to be thoroughly cooked but not overcooked--think medium rare in a steak with a pink, not raw, center. You accomplish this by slicing into the larger livers as soon as you think they're almost done. If they're still on the red and mushy side, keep cooking--but remove the small ones so they won't overcook. Keep testing until they reach that sweet spot.

The next tip has to do with seasoning. Wise adds a good amount of salt to this dish. Consider what you'll be serving the mousse with. Ideally, you'll include a sweet/tart preserve, perhaps whole-grain mustard, and gherkins or cornichons--and the mousse will be served on a hearty bread or cracker. They all function as a way to add flavor, yes, but also cut the intensity of the fat. With that in mind, you'll want to punch up the mousse with more salt than you might otherwise think is appropriate. I found, as he salted, stirred, tasted, and added more, that early in the seasoning exercise the mousse seemed too salty. Then he actually added more, stirred and gave me a taste, and somehow the saltiness gave way to a more full-bodied flavor.

Finally, this is a dish you can prepared days in advance. Wise's trick here is to prepare it, then melt some more butter and pour it over the finished mousse in its container or serving dish. Refrigerate and then before serving, remove the congealed butter lid from the top and toss it. The cold butter will seal the mousse.

As for serving it, you can see here how Wise prepares the dish. He smooths the mousse over the grilled levain and slices it, then strategically spoons on mostarda and places thin radish slices and chervil on top. Then he finishes it with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

You can also pour the mousse into a concave serving dish and place little bowls of preserves, mustard, and pickles nearby. Slice up a sourdough baguette or levain and let it sit out all day to get just a little stale (another Wise tip) and serve that with the mousse.

Trust's Chicken Liver Mousse 
(printable recipe)
From Chef Brad Wise
Yield: 4 cups

1 pound chicken livers
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 ounces shallots, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
1 tablespoon fresh marjoram, minced
2 tablespoons cognac
2 tablespoons madeira
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¾ cup heavy cream
Zest from 3 lemons
2 pounds unsalted butter, cubed

1. Soak chicken livers overnight in milk. Place in colander over a bowl and drain. Put napkin on top of livers to soak up additional moisture.
2. Place a large skillet over medium high heat and add oil. Sauté shallots until they just start to brown. Stir in herbs. Add livers and cook until the middle is pink but not raw—medium rare. To check on doneness, cut through the thickest part of the livers.
3. About halfway through the cooking process, deglaze the skillet with the liquor. Reduce the heat as the livers absorb the liquor. Add the salt and stir well.
4. Once the livers are cooked, turn off the heat and let sit about 20 seconds.
5. Using a heavy-weight blender, like a Vitamix, add the liver mixture, scrapping the skillet clean to get all the bits included. Add the cream and the lemon zest. Blend until smooth.
6. Take off the top and slowly add the butter while at medium/high speed. Add a pinch more salt while mixing.
7. If you want, you can strain the mousse mixture through a sieve. Stir the mixture and add more salt until it’s just a bit saltier than you think you’d like, taking into account what you’ll be serving the mousse with, such as whole grain mustard and jam.
8. Pour the mousse into a concave serving dish and refrigerate at least five hours to let it firm. You can make this several days in advance. To keep it fresh, melt butter and pour over the top to seal it and refrigerate. Before serving, lift up the congealed butter top and discard.

Trust is located in Hillcrest at 3752 Park Blvd.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Nathan Lingle's Pear Tart

It must officially be fall if chefs are now making desserts with pears!

And, in fact, the morning I hung out in the kitchen with Kitchen 1540's executive chef Nathan Lingle the weather was cool and overcast. Perfect for making a pear tart.

We started the morning with David Johnson and his Specialty Produce colleagues tasting vegetables and fruits on their farmers market truck. I walked away with a small bag of smoked sun-dried tomatoes from Windrose Farm, but not before we tasted a variety of pears and melons. Lingle made his selections from both conventional Bartletts and Asian pears, then we walked through the L'Auberge grounds to the kitchen to make the tarts.

Lingle came up with a duck fat tart dough using L.A.'s Grist & Toll Urban Flour Mill's flour that he paired with almond frangipane, diced sweet Asian pears, grilled Bartlett pears (to bring out the sweetness in a bland piece of fruit) and pear balls poached in a dry Riesling syrup (the fragrant syrup alone is worth having the entire recipe; pour it over ice cream or poached fruit or custards). There were also pear slices tossed in fresh thyme and cinnamon, and a swoop of almond butter. Together the various taste notes created a lovely symphony of flavor. He made individual tarts using--get this--mason jar lids as tart "pans" but you could easily make a single tart to serve.

Lingle, who's originally from Camden Rockport, Maine, has been with Kitchen 1540 for two years. Previously, he had been in Woodstock, Vermont as a restaurant consultant, and before that with the Ritz Carlton--spending five years in Philadelphia and 10 in Naples, Florida.

"I grew up in a household where Mom always cooked dinner," he said. "We had a garden and bought eggs from neighbors down the road. The best pasta was made with those eggs. I was eating and cooking duck and goose eggs before they became trendy."

With an uncle who ran two restaurants in New Haven, cooking was central to the family. When he'd return to Maine, the family would gather for a stretch of cooking and feasting.

"As I started to get into cooking, that's what resonated with me--finding good ingredients and helping people to connect with that to have an experience of fresh ingredients and a meal that brought them together."

Nathan Lingle's Pear Tart with Duck Fat Tart Dough
(printable recipe)

There are several components to this tart. Each one is listed below, with instructions for how to put it all together at the end.

Duck Fat Tart Dough 
1 tsp thyme leaf
1 tsp salt
1 tsp water
3 T sugar
1 whole egg
2 T cultured butter
2 T duck fat
1 ¼ cup flour, sifted
½ tsp baking soda

In a bowl, combine thyme, salt, water and sugar. Add the egg, butter and duck fat. Sift together the flour and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture in small increments. Knead until pastry comes together, and then work dough for 2 minutes. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for one hour.

Roll out the dough between sheets of parchment paper. Place in a single tart pan or use mason jar lids to create individual tarts.

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Blind bake the tart shells for five minutes. Let cool and reserve.

Almond Frangipane 
2 eggs
1 ¼ cup powdered sugar
1 cup almond flour
10 T whole butter

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Reserve.

Dry Riesling Syrup Poached Pears
1 bottle dry Riesling wine
1/4 cup sugar
1 ripe Bartlett pear

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and reduce until syrupy over low heat. Using a fruit baller, scoop out balls from the pear. Add them to the syrup and continue cooking over low heat until pears are cooked through. Let cool and reserve.

Create Tart

Duck Fat Tart Dough
Almond Frangiane
Ripe Asian pears, diced
Fresh pear slices
Thyme leaves
Ground cinnamon
Almond butter
Dry Riesling Syrup Poached Pears

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Smooth a layer of frangipane over the bottom of the duck fat tart crust.
3. Add Asian pear pieces.
4. Bake for 10 minutes.

5. To plate, spread a swish of almond butter on the plate. Place the baked tart on the plate. Toss the pear slices with thyme leaves and cinnamon, then strategically place the slices on the plate around the tart. Then finish with the poached pear balls. Serve.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Borderless Dine & Wine to Raise Funds for Mexico Earthquake Relief

Celebrity chefs Javier Plascencia and Claudia Sandoval will headline a weekend of wining and dining at The Westgate Hotel to benefit the Mexico earthquake relief fund. The two-night Borderless Dine &  Wine event will take place Friday, Sept. 29 and Saturday, Sept. 30.

The hotel is partnering with the Consulate General of Mexico in San Diego to raise funds for Cruz Roja Mexicana (the Mexican Red Cross).

On Friday, guests will enjoy small plates poolside created by the Culinary Art School of Tijuana, using Baja produce and meats provided by Sano y Punto, an organic grocery store/distributor in Tijuana. This will mark the official culinary debut by the students. Music will be performed by jazz singer Lorraine Castellanos. This event will take place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and costs $40 per person.

On Saturday night, guests will dine on a four-course prix fixe menu created by Sandoval and Plascencia. Each chef will construct two courses using sustainably sourced ingredients, and will be accompanied by wine pairings from Valle de Guadalupe, as well as live music. This event will begin at 7 p.m. and cost $130 per person.

Tickets for both evening events and tables for Saturday's event are available for purchase on the Westgate Hotel website.

Proceeds for both events will be directly donated to Cruz Roja Mexicana, which is registered by the Government of Mexico.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Peperoncini Juice Vinaigrette

When I'm at home working, chances are I'll make a green salad for lunch with the requisite greens and diced tomato. The rest may vary, but usually it will include a couple of sliced green onions, olives, toasted walnuts, and garbanzo beans. Perhaps kalamata olives and artichoke hearts. Maybe some crumbled feta. Oh, and peperoncini.

I love peperoncini, but not all brands. Giuliano is my favorite--but for some reason it's become hard to find. The peppers are hot, but not too hot and they have a marvelous vinegary flavor. And the juice! This will sound very strange, but given that I'm not a big drinker of spirits, whenever I see people in movies throwing back a shot of whiskey I imagine the flavor to be that of peperoncini juice. I just love it.

Growing up, I ate a lot of pickled vegetables that my dad made reusing the liquid from a jar of pickles or giardiniera. What a waste to toss that juice when you could slice up a new batch of veggies to marinate in the sour tart liquid.

So, why hadn't I ever done the same with the peperoncini juice? Well, better late than never. Today I whipped up a batch of peperoncini vinaigrette that has that tang and heat I love, along with a garlicky Mediterranean essence. I dressed my green salad with it and marinated chicken in it that I roasted for dinner.

In the spring I'll mix it with mayonnaise to have a dip for steamed artichokes--or perhaps I'll make a batch to baste grilled or roasted vegetables.

The vinaigrette is easy to make. You're basically just substituting most of the usual vinegar with the peperoncini juice--although I add a little white wine vinegar to it to round out the flavors. I have a field of oregano growing in my garden, so I included about a teaspoon of fresh, minced oregano in the dressing. Plus, a minced clove of garlic, red pepper flakes, a little pinch of sea salt, and the best extra virgin olive oil I have. All you need to do is mix together all the ingredients but the oil, then whisk in the oil until the vinaigrette  emulsifies. Taste and adjust the ratio of oil and peperoncini juice so you get your perfect flavor delivered. Too much oil will mask the flavor of the juice. Too much juice may make your lips pucker.

Of course, the latter is not a problem for me.

Peperoncini Juice Vinaigrette
(printable recipe)
Yield: 3/4 cup

1/2 cup peperoncini juice (or your favorite pickle juice)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
Pinch sea salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine all the ingredients except the oil. Slowly whisk in the oil and keep whisking until the mixture emulsifies. Taste and adjust seasonings.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

How San Diego's Food Lovers Can Help Hurricane Victims

No recipes this week. No new places to try. Instead, I want to encourage readers to give what you can to those in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean left without homes, food, clothing, and other necessities. Bloomberg reports that the most recent costs in addressing damages for Irma are $49.5 billion--and that's just for Florida! It doesn't take into account the devastation in the Caribbean or the rest of the South getting pummeled still today as Irma keeps traveling. The price tag for Harvey is estimated at between $65 billion and $75 billion, according to AIR Worldwide. And before government disaster relief funds start flowing in, people are suffering. So let's help.

I've pulled together lists from various media for a number of organizations, from the traditional folks like the Red Cross to food banks and others, for you to choose from. My apologies for the awful formatting. That's Blogger for you!

Hurricane Harvey help:

Thanks to Texas Monthly, which compiled this, here’s a list of agencies that could use your support so they can help folks on the ground:

  • San Antonio-based The Texas Diaper Bank is creating a relief kit for families with very small children who need clean diapers during the flooding and evacuations.

  • People with disabilities need a lot of help during this crisis. Portlight has provided inclusive relief to people with disabilities for 20 years—including in Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. It’s now working to make sure necessary medical equipment and assistive technology is available for those who had to evacuate and to make sure that they’re are able to get to safety. They accept donations via PayPal.

  • If you take prescription drugs, you can imagine the fear of those in the heart of the disaster worrying about access to their drugs or those needed by family members. Direct Relief USA offers prescription drugs and other medical supplies to those who need it in emergency situations, and works with clinics and primary care doctors to ensure that the drugs and medical equipment are available to the people who need it. They’re accepting financial contributions

  • More conventional charities are also taking donations. Here’s a list compiled by NPR:

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner established a Harvey relief fund at The Greater Houston Community Foundation. The organization connects donors with a network of nonprofits and innovative solutions in the social sector.

GlobalGiving, which calls itself the largest global crowdfunding community, has a goal of raising $2 million for its Harvey relief fund. Funds will be used first for immediate needs of food, water and shelter and then transition to long-term recovery efforts.

United Way of Greater Houston has launched a relief fund for storm-related needs and recovery. The organization says it already maintains a disaster relief fund but anticipates the needs of Harvey will far exceed those existing resources.

GoFundMe, the social fundraising site, has created a landing page that gathers the campaigns on its platform related to Harvey.

The Salvation Army says it is providing food and water to first responders and preparing for massive feeding efforts for residents.

Send Relief and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief says its teams began responding before Harvey made landfall and continues on-the-ground relief work.

Samaritan’s Purse is accepting donations as well as volunteers for Harvey disaster relief for the coming months.

And, here’s what should hit you where you live… The Houston Press has compiled a list of food banks that are serving the population. The best way to help is through donations so they can buy what they need.

Houston Food Bank

Galveston Food Bank

Food Bank of the Golden Crescent (Victoria)
Closed Friday

Corpus Christi Food Bank

Southeast Texas Food Bank (Beaumont)

Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley (Pharr)

Brazos Valley Food Bank (Bryan)

Central Texas Food Bank (Austin)

San Antonio Food Bank

For more information on all of these food banks go to feedingtexas.org.

Hurricane Irma help:

Fast Company and The New York Times both compiled a list of ways to help Hurricane Irma victims. They include:
  • Florida’s hunger relief organization, Feeding Florida, is working with food banks across the state to feed those in need.
  • Americares is accepting donations on its website.
  • Crowdfunding site Global Giving is raising money to provide relief to survivors, including food, water and medicine, in the U.S. and the Caribbean. You can contribute here
  • GoFundMe has set up a dedicated page for Irma relief campaigns, filled with pleas from those in need. The site claims it works to verify that all funds go to intended recipients, but it can not always verify specific claims made by individual campaigners. 
  • Convoy of Hope is sending food and emergency supplies and help to the victims of Hurricane Irma in the U.S. Haiti, and Cuba.
  • Save the Children is helping children and families affected by the storms and setting up child play spaces in shelters.
  • Oxfam is working to provide clean water and sanitation, and Salvation Army set up emergency shelters. 
  • Apple made it easy for customers to donate to hurricane relief efforts directly through iTunes and the App Store. 
  • The Red Cross: You can donate online or text “IRMA” to 90999 to chip in $10.
And, of course, you want to make sure that your generosity is going to the right place. Before donating to an unfamiliar charity, check it out. One place to start is Charity Navigator.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Pisco's Peruvian Ceviches

Chef Emmanuel Piqueras has spent his life in kitchens--first under the tutelage of his grandfather's cook, Jesus, who he says taught him to touch ingredients and make rice. "She was my mentor," said the Peruvian chef now in San Diego to run Pisco Rotisserie & Cevicheria in Liberty Station. "I always watched her."

His other grandfather, an ex-Marine, took Piqueras fishing as a child and by age eight he was making ceviche. A career cooking, however, was not what his successful parents had in mind for him. (His mom was the first female mayor of Lima.) Trying to live up to their high expectations, he went to university and studied marketing, but his heart wasn't in it. At age 22, he went to work as an apprentice to chef Don Cucho La Rosa at his Lima restaurant, Pantagruel before attending Le Cordon Bleu and moving to Spain to train with Chef Juan Mari Arzak in San Sebastian. Piqueras returned to Lima but the bad economy sent him off to the U.S., where he opened Andina in Portland, Mixtura in Seattle, Limon in San Francisco, and Panca in New York City's West Village. In that time, he also became the host and co-producer of Sabor y Fusion, a popular Peruvian cooking show.

Piqueras met Sami Ladeki, of Sammy's Pizza fame in San Diego, in Peru last year and they developed the concept for this new restaurant, Pisco. With the recent opening, they are now working on opening more restaurants in San Diego and expanding to Las Vegas. Piqueras still lives in New York with his wife and young son, but expects to move with them to San Diego by the end of the year, he said. It's the perfect fit for a lifelong surfer.

Peruvian ceviches are a dominant feature of Pisco's menu. But don't expect the flavors and ingredients to be like the Mexican ceviche we're used to in San Diego. Piqueras explained that Peru is a true melting pot of cultures--from Chinese to Japanese to Italian. And the ceviches certainly reflect that, as do many other dishes, like the stir fry "Lomo Saltado," a stir fried tenderloin with tomatoes, green onions, and red onions, melded in a sauce made with soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, and garlic, reflecting Peru's Cantonese influence. When the weather cools, I'll feature this dish for you.

For Piqueras, cooking Peruvian food is actually a way of sharing the country's history--as well as his own family history. "Peru," he said, "is a melting pot of food. It's fresh cuisine.

"I consider myself a teacher, teaching Americans Peruvian cuisine."

I spent some time in the kitchen with Piqueras, who taught me to make three of his dishes, including these two refreshing ceviches. They're very simple to make, with basic prep of the seafood and vegetables taking up the time in the kitchen, followed by mixing the sauces and then tossing the prepped ingredients together and plating. These are wonderful dishes to enjoy year-round, but as summer comes to an end and cooking over heat can be a drag, enjoy them now.

Ceviche Nikkei
Serves 4 to 6
(printable recipe)

1.5 pounds of ahi tuna yellow fin, cut into 1/2 inch squares
1/2 cup of fresh squeeze lime juice
4 ounces of Nikkei sauce*
1 ounce of Persian cucumber sliced
1 avocado cut into squares
4 ounces shredded Daikon root for garnish
Kosher salt

In a cold bowl mix the ahi tuna squares, the Persian cucumber, pinch of salt, the Nikkei sauce and the lime juice. Mix carefully.

In a white china bowl serve the ceviche mix, garnish with avocado squares and topped with the shredded daikon root.

*Nikkei sauce: In a blender mix 6 ounces of tamarind purée, 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger, 1 clove of garlic, 1 table spoon of organic brown sugar, 2 ounces of low sodium soy sauce and 2 teaspoons of Rocoto purée (available online or locally at Tropical Star Restaurant & Specialty Market on Balboa Ave. in Clairemont)

Martini De Tigre Ceviche
Serves 4 to 6
(printable recipe)

12 ounces of California Halibut, diced
6 ounces of Portuguese octopus, cooked and diced
4 ounces of calamari rings, cooked
12 each shrimp, cooked and peeled
12 half sea scallops
1/2 cup of Ají amarillo sauce*
3/4 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons of cilantro, chiffonade
1 small chopped onion
1 habanero, seeded and chopped
Cilantro micro greens for garnish
Kosher salt

In a cold bowl mix the fresh fish, the octopus, the calamari, the half scallops and the shrimp.

Add the salt to taste, the Ají Amarillo sauce, the chopped onion, habanero to taste and the cilantro. Mix well.

To finish the Ceviche add the lime juice, mix well and add the ice cubes, mix well again and serve in a cold Martini Glass, garnish with cilantro micro greens.

*Ají Amarillo Sauce: In a blender mix 6 ounces of ají amarillo paste with 1 stick of celery and  1 clove of garlic with 2 ounces of canola oil for salad.

Pisco Rotisserie & Cevicheria is located in Liberty Station at 2401 Truxton Road., Suite 102.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Discussing Summer Foods on Midday Edition

It's been awhile since I've been on the show, but Thursday afternoon, August 24, I'll be joining host Maureen Cavanaugh on KPBS's Midday Edition around 12:45 p.m. to talk summer foods.

Want to know what to cook or where to eat before summer ends? Tune in. I'll be talking chilled soups, unique salads, easy pickles that all take advantage of seasonal bounty--and some terrific places to dine or bring home food on those days when you'd rather have someone else work up a sweat in the kitchen.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Spend a Sunday Evening on the Farm

Farm dinners have become a thing--and for good reason. Farmers want to forge relationships with consumers/customers, who come to the farm for an event. It's an additional source of income for farmers trying to make ends meet. And it's a way to bring the community together.

This coming Sunday evening you can feast at Dickinson Farm in National City, a small farm specializing in heirloom fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown on the grounds of the historic Wallace D. Dickinson House. Organic farmer and veteran Stepheni Norton has joined with Stephanie Parker of Epicurean San Diego to create the four-course Sunday Supper dinner series, a quarterly 48-guest dinner that pulls out all the stops. They describe it as an opportunity for people to connect with liked-minded individuals while indulging in locally made beverages and food created by talented local chefs.

Farmer Stepheni Norton
Additionally, at each dinner a non-profit beneficiary is selected to be the recipient of the profits of the dinner. The non-profit's representatives join at the dinner to share what they do and their mission with participants. In short, it's a way to cultivate community.

This Sunday, executive chef Josh Kemble of UrbanLife Tables, A.G. Warfield of Common Theory Public House, and Erin Campbell of Canape Catering will be creating the meal, along with baked goods from Cardamom Cafe & Bakery. Ashley Drake of The Chocolate Lush will offer a dessert bar.

Finally, Dan Parker, co-founder of Epicurean San Diego and Certified Cicerone, has brewed a Sunday Supper Saison for the event, using heirloom buckwheat, Brewer's Gold hops, and coriander sourced from Dickinson Farm.

Craft beer veterans Coronado Brewing Company will provide additional beverage pairings that evening and local coffee roaster Trident Coffee will head up the coffee bar.

And, you'll be serenaded all evening by local band Aveona.

Here's what you need to know: The event is from 4 to 7 p.m. at Dickinson Farm. The address is 1430 E. 24th St. in National City (just down the street from Olivewood Gardens, by the way).

Tickets are $99, plus a service charge. You can purchase them on Brown Paper Tickets.

Photos courtesy of Deandra Jex.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

My Favorite Summer Salads

How are you holding up this summer? If you're on the coast, congratulations. Go sit on your deck with a cocktail and enjoy the cool breezes. If, like me, you're further inland, you've probably got the AC cranking and are dreading the coming SDG&E bill.

My 10-year-old dog Ketzel trying to find cold comfort with the tile.
In short, it's been hot and sticky. I have all these ideas for dishes I'd like to make and eat--but the thought of turning on the oven or stovetop and generating heat makes my hair wilt.

So, I've been focused on chilled soups, smoothies, and salads. Over the years I've published lots and lots of salad recipes and in honor of this sultry season, I thought I'd collect six of my favorites here for you to try--again or for the first time. Look how colorful these all are!

Balela Salad: Ah, this was a wonderful revelation. Thanks to Trader Joe's, which sells this ready made, I decided to make it myself. It's easy and so refreshing! Tomatoes, garbanzo beans, black beans, red onions, and lots of parsley and mint make it the perfect summer salad.

Spicy Kale, Corn, and Mango Salad: This crunchy salad was the result of refrigerator scavenging. It was a hot and humid day and I had no patience for cooking. The ingredients seemed random--a bunch of kale, an ear of corn, a not-quite-ripe mango, as well as a tomato, jalapeño, and salty capers--but together they worked, bathed in vinaigrette.

Trish's Tangy Summer Cucumber Garden Salad: Trish Watlington of The Red Door and Bar by Red Door is known for the bountiful garden she maintains at her Mt. Helix home. The garden supplies much of the restaurants' produce. Several years ago I invited her, along with other friends, for brunch and she brought this salad with veggies straight from her garden. It combines crisp summery cucumbers with crunchy radishes, sweet red onion, and juicy cherry tomatoes to round out the flavors and textures. Then she made it all pop with fresh mint and basil leaves, and flavored balsamic vinegar before smoothing it out with unctuous extra virgin olive oil. The best part is that it's one of those salads that tastes just as good on day two as when it's first prepared. In fact, it could easily be the topping to a bowl of room temperature quinoa or wheat berries for a full meal.

Sara Polcyznski's Shaved Baby Squash and Blossoms Salad: Sara Polcyznski of Sabor Imports has evolved into the consummate Mexican chef. I turn to her for magnificent Mexican flavors and a few years ago she walked me through three recipes, including this crunchy salad that makes the most of the proliferation of summer squash. Because this is a marinated salad, it can sit in the fridge for a couple of days and not lose its charm.

Maria Speck's Barley Salad with Figs and Tarragon-Lemon Dressing: Okay, okay, I said no cooking. But this marvelous salad takes prime advantage of the short fig season. So put on the barley to cook and just leave the kitchen. Then come back and put together this very simple but impactful salad. It's wonderful to bring to a potluck. The flavors are so surprising--including the barley--that people will be begging for the recipe.

True Food Tuscan Kale Salad: I know. Kale seems to have jumped the shark. But this is actually one of my hands down favorite salads. I'm so grateful to Chef Nathan Coulon of True Food Kitchen for teaching me how to make it. In fact, just writing about it makes me want to run to the market to buy the ingredients. I love a lemony garlicky anything. The brilliance of this salad is that the acid from the lemon juice cooks the kale and makes it--enjoyable. Plus, there's the saltiness of pecorino cheese--and I'll eat anything with good bread crumbs. I swear you'll love this salad.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Eat Your Weeds

They're baaack! And I couldn't be happier. After suffering for many seasons with roof rats eating everything in sight in my garden (except for some reason my citrus, for which I'm so grateful), those nasty critters seem to be gone, or at least at bay. And, along with the veggies I've planted, which I'm actually harvesting (yet another sign), purslane has started appearing again.

You've probably seen purslane growing in cracks on your neighborhood street--or perhaps in your garden. You've probably also pulled them and tossed them in the trash thinking they're useless weeds.

Don't! Pull them, wash them, and eat them! They're delicious, have a long culinary tradition, and are even nutritious! Purslane actually has the most omega-3 fatty acids of any other green vegetable. Plus it's filled with high amounts of vitamins A and C, as well as moderate amounts of magnesium, potassium and calcium. 

Purslane is a trailing succulent herb with a thick stem and fleshy little leaves. Keep your eyes open for them because they're summer annuals. If you go to Hispanic markets, you'll probably see bunches of them there called verdolago. In fact, I've seen them at Northgate Market, as well as some farmers markets and Specialty Produce.

One word of warning, thanks to my friend Jeromie Jackson, who noted that foragers shouldn't confuse purslane with spurge, another weed that looks something like purslane. Here's a link to a blog that addresses this.

Purslane was also cultivated and eaten in ancient Egypt and classical Greece and Rome--known by the Romans as portulaca. And, it's also popular in the Middle East and India.

Why is purslane so well liked? Well, it has a terrific crunch and is just a little peppery in flavor. And you can do so much with it. Chop it and eat it raw tossed in a salad. Sauté purslane and add to an omelet. Bread it (dip in flour, beaten eggs, and then bread crumbs) and fry it for an interesting snack. Add to a sandwich or to tortillas. Create a Mexican-style vegetable soup with them, along with tomatillos and chiles.

In fact, in Mexico, purslane is eaten in omelets, sautéed as a side dish, rolled in tortillas or dropped into soups or stews. I have friends in Mexico who eat it all the time, prepared like spinach (steamed a few minutes with a little water, then drained and seasoned with a lot of lemon, salt and pepper). They tell me it's better a little al dente than too soft. Joe Rodriguez of Rodriguez Farms suggested sautéing it with onion, garlic and tomatoes as a side dish or cooking it with pork. It also pairs well with cucumbers and is a great addition to a traditional Middle Eastern fattoush salad, which would include large cut up pieces of cucumber, tomato and onion, mint, along with parsley and stale pita and tossed with olive oil.

You know what else? You can pickle purslane. And I'm all about pickling. Add pickled purslane to a charcuterie or cheese plate, a sandwich, to a green salad, or even potato salad. Or just snack on it.

Pickled Purslane
(printable recipe)

Ingredients1 quart purslane stems and leaves
1 quart apple cider vinegar (or leftover pickle juice)
3 garlic cloves, sliced
10 peppercorns
1 tablespoon kosher salt

1. Clean the purslane stems and leaves by rinsing with fresh water. 
2. Cut into one-inch pieces and place in clean jars with lids. 
3. Add the spices and pour the vinegar over the purslane. 
4. Keep this in the refrigerator and wait at least two weeks before using. Serve as a side dish with omelets and sandwiches.

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