Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summer Pasta with Goat Cheese

Wunderground tells me that today in my neighborhood, Tierrasanta, the temperature will reach 92°.  As I write this I've got a large glass of iced coffee on my desk, my desk fan is circulating, blowing my hair--and hopefully sweat--from my face. And I'm writing about a way to create a summery pasta dish with a cream sauce you don't have to cook.

The sauce, that is. You do have to cook the pasta. But that's it. And that hot pasta will make your sauce for you and you toss together the ingredients.

For my summer pasta, I first minced a couple of cloves of garlic, added it to a small bowl, and then added a pinch of sea salt and several tablespoons of one of my favorite olive oils. I wanted to let that sit for an hour or so to let the garlic infuse its flavors into the oil.

Once I was ready for dinner I put a big pot of water on the stove to come to the boil. While I waited, I halved a bunch of cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives. I still have those green onions, so I diced one up and set it aside. I have a pot of gorgeous big-leaved basil growing on the counter behind my kitchen sink, so I cut off several leaves, then rolled them up to chiffonade them into aromatic thin slivers. I seeded and removed the membrane from a serrano chile before dicing that. Then I added a little sherry vinegar to the garlicky oil.

I was ready--except for one last item. Goat cheese.

The goat cheese would pull the dish together. Yes, it would be wonderful without it. But when the goat cheese hits the steam from the freshly cooked pasta it dissolves into tangy creaminess. You could do the same with a fresh mozzarella--but you wouldn't get that distinctive flavor the goat cheese imparts. So I go for the goat.

From this...

To this... Just by stirring.
Do you really need a recipe for this? Nah. Just start with your favorite dry pasta. Me? I really enjoy DeLallo biodynamic whole wheat pastas, like these shells. You'll also want tomatoes, kalamata olives, onions or chives, fresh basil, garlicky olive oil with just a little acid from a good wine vinegar (or try lemon juice), and if you like heat, a chile or red chile flakes.

I also like to add artichoke hearts or roasted shrimp, toasted pine nuts or walnut pieces, marinated eggplant or sweet peppers or fresh peas. There's just a world of options out there. The point is you can create a healthy, delicious meal for yourself in short order with little heat or effort even when the temps are soaring and the only thing that sounds good is a popsicle.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Chilled Spinach and Green Onion Soup

Where are you on the gardening spectrum? I find myself drawn to spending time outdoors in my garden. I love watering and pruning, nibbling on cherry tomatoes or society garlic flowers. I have my successes--Meyer lemons, herbs, limes, cherry tomatoes, roses--but frustratingly frequent fails. And then there are those that fall somewhere in the middle--like the onions I harvested yesterday.

Now here's my problem. Clay soil. Clay soil that I work religiously with compost and gypsum until I'm ready to collapse. And as soon as I turn my back and put my shovel back in the garage, that damned soil smirks and tightens right back up. The dwarf fruit trees and rose bushes seem to defy it and thrive. But annual vegetables are suffocated by it--hence the fails.

The onion seedlings were gifted to me by my mom. I didn't look at the tag but assumed they were conventional onions. I duly went home and planted them in amended soil and waited. And waited. And waited. I planted them last summer and they grew, flowered, and when the tops finally started to turn brown I decided it was time to pull them. That was yesterday. They came out like green onions--no developed bulb. Was it the fault of the clay soil or were they destined never to fill out? I don't know. But, foolishly, I pulled them all.

So, yikes! Now I have tons of green onions. I gave some to my neighbor but still am overflowing. There's not even room in my fridge. Don't get me wrong. I love green onions--but I'm bursting at the stinky allium seams.

When you start poking around for inspiration on how to use them en masse, what you find is that green onions are pretty much limited to garnish or grilling material. That just doesn't do it under the circumstances.

Soup, I thought, would--and given the heat wave we're enduring right now, chilled soup. My inspiration came from Saveur and a soup they had made with spinach, chives, and yogurt. The green onions they included were grilled--and a garnish. But if chives, why not green onion? With that little start I came up with something my own I think you'll like.

I had spinach I was going to use for smoothies. I chopped up a bunch of the green onions. I added garlic. I was with my mom at her doctor's office and mentioned all this to her and she said, "Add dill." So, I went into my garden later that afternoon and cut off some dill. I also picked a Meyer lemon because I could tell this mixture, which had a base of yogurt and sour cream, needed some acid. The garnish would be panko crumbs browned in butter--and some more chopped green onion.

The soup is delightful--thick and creamy, and quite herbaceous. It's perfect for a steamy summer meal. Other than sautéing the panko, no heat is involved. Everything goes into the blender and poured into a bowl. If you want a more refined soup, puree all the greens first and then put the mixture through a sieve. Then add the yogurt and sour cream. I like a more peasant-style soup and on a hot day didn't have the patience for an extra step so I blended everything together.

The irony is, of course, it still didn't come close to using up the green onions. Any takers?

Chilled Spinach and Green Onion Soup
(printable recipe)
Serves 4

2 cups spinach, tightly packed
1 cup green onions, sliced (set aside a couple of tablespoons for garnish)
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
1/2 cup ice cubes
1 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups plain Greek-style yogurt
3/4 cup low-fat or "light" sour cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
4 ounces panko crumbs

1. Place all of the ingredients until the butter in a blender and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.
2. Chill the soup for at least an hour.
3. In a skillet, melt the butter and then add the panko crumbs. Stir and cook for about 30 seconds until the crumbs become slightly brown and crisp. Drain on a paper towel.
4. To serve, divide the soup between bowls. Garnish with the set aside slices of green onions and a sprinkling of the panko crumbs.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Daniel Wolinsky's Tagliarini with Hot Sausage and Clams

Last week I promised to share a pasta dish that Daniel Wolinsky, Chef de Cuisine at cucina SORELLA in Kensington, taught me how to make. Wolinsky, who teaches pasta-making classes at the restaurant, made a simple Tagliarni with Hot Sausage and Clams. Like many of us who cook at home, he created a "what's in the fridge" style dish. Initially he was thinking of a corn pesto, which intrigued me. But, there was no corn around that day. But clams and other seafood were. So we were going to go in a seafood and tomato pasta direction. Until he noticed his house-made sausage. Scratch the seafood. Instead it evolved into just clams with the sausage, along with garlic, and even green garlic (it is, after all, still spring), lemon juice, and white wine. Actually, there was fresh minced basil, too, which you can certainly add, although Wolinsky didn't include it in the recipe below.

If you don't know Daniel Wolinsky, it's probably because he's fairly new to San Diego. He came here from New York last year to open the restaurant. Originally from upstate New York, he grew up cooking as a kid. His mom, he said, is a great cook. He is especially fond of what he calls her "funeral" cookies--cookies packed with everything from coconut to walnuts to chocolate chips. They're the reliable cookie you bring to occasions like a funeral, he explained.

Wolinsky started out exploring food in Israel and returning to the U.S. to attend the New England Culinary Institute. He developed an interest in French fine dining, interning at a Michelin star restaurant, Auberge du Lac, in England as a young cook. When he returned to New York, he continued in fine dining for awhile, then worked at a Korean American restaurant called The Good Fork in Brooklyn, where he started making dishes like potato gnocchi. As his career continued Wolinsky segued back into French and Italian fine dining. In 2014, he staged at the three-star Michelin restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy under Massimo Bottura.

"The common denominator," he said, "was fresh pasta. The more I played with it, the more I loved it."

Surprisingly, Wolinsky doesn't leave cooking behind at the restaurant. He still loves to cook at home for himself and his girlfriend.

"It's hard to eat and be depressed so I also cook at home." He also hosts Monday night dinners for the staff with non-Italian food. "Our last dinner was Israeli. We've done Asian. And I hosted Passover."

Of the various restaurants in the Urban Kitchen Group, cucina SORELLA is the "pasta" restaurant. But given what he calls the micro cultures in Kensington, Wolinsky designed the menu to have something for everybody--gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian. He explained that he changes something on the menu every three weeks, making decisions based what's in the farmers market truck he buys from.

So, that explains the origin of our dish.

He started with making the pasta. He already had a batch of dough mixed that one of his line chefs had been turning into ravioli. This dough, rich in eggs, is a house specialty and Wolinsky felt it might be too difficult for home cooks not all that experienced in making pasta to get right. Instead, our recipe below is a little more user friendly with fewer eggs (three whole eggs instead of nine yolks) and your success that much more guaranteed.

The noodles Wolinsky prefers for a seafood pasta like this are thin. He explained that they cook quickly in water and in the broth of the seafood component they better absorb the flavors.

When running the pasta through the machine, you'll want to get it as thin as possible. When Wolinsky did his final roll, you could actually see the grain of the wood counter through the sheet.

The long flat pasta stretched about three feet along the counter so Wolinsky cut it into several pieces. Then sprinkled them lightly with flour so when he folded each up there'd be no sticking.

Then he sliced through the folded piece of pasta to create long, thin noodles of tagliarini.

With the pasta made we went into the kitchen to create the sauce. It was ridiculously quick. So first put a pot of water to the boil. Then grab a pan and add the sliced sausage. Sauté the coins until just golden brown on both side. If they don't give off enough fat, add a little extra virgin olive oil, and then add the garlic. Just before the garlic starts to brown add the clams and quickly cook together before pouring the wine into the pan. Cover the the pan so the clams will steam open--it'll take just a couple of minutes. Once the clams open, add the pasta to the boiling water and the green garlic to the pan. The pasta should be cooked in less than a minute. Pull it out of the water and drop into the pan and toss, adding the fresh lemon juice. Taste and add salt if necessary. If the dish is too dry for you, add a little of the pasta water to the pan.

At that point, it'll be ready to plate. Pour the pasta mixture into a bowl and top with the bread crumbs.

Tagliarini with Hot Sausage and Clams
from Daniel Wolinsky of cucina SORELLA
(printable recipe)
Feeds about 4 people

1 pound fresh tagliarini (Any long noodle will work but we recommend fresh long noodles; recipe below.)
8 ounces or 2 spicy Italian sausage links pre-cooked and sliced into coins 1/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped1 pound Little Neck clams (Manilla also work.)
3/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon green garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh toasted bread crumbs

1. Put on a 8-quart pot of water to boil and season heavily with salt.
2. In a large sauté pan over medium/high heat sear the sausage till golden brown on both sides.
3. Add the garlic and right before it starts to color add the clams and toss together. Cook for 30 seconds.
4. Carefully pour the white wine into the pan and cover to steam the clams open, about 2 to 3 minutes.
5. When the clams open drop the pasta to cook and add the green garlic to the pan.
6. Toss in the pasta and squeeze in the fresh lemon juice. Season the dish to taste with salt. If you like the dish more brothy, add a few tablespoons of pasta water.
7. Plate and top the pasta with a healthy portion of bread crumbs. Enjoy!

Fresh Pasta Recipe
3 whole eggs
300 grams 00 flour
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1. In a Kitchen Aid stand mixer add the flour and on a low speed with a dough hook slowly pour in the eggs and olive oil.
2. Mix for about 10 minutes (Note you may need to add a touch of water if it's too dry.). After the dough has formed wrap tightly in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.
3. Roll the dough using a pasta rolling machine to the desired thickness and shape. I recommend, longer thinner noodles.

Cucina SORELLA is located at 4055 Adams Ave. in San Diego.

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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Make Your Own Pasta

In a recent LA Times story, Evan Kleiman, the host of KCRW's Good Food radio show and the woman behind the great Caffe Angeli on Melrose in LA (which I adored when I lived there), wrote about why shoppers should not buy supermarket "fresh" pasta.

"If imported Italian dry pasta were choice A and fresh pasta were choice B and I could only choose one to eat for the rest of my life, there would be no contest. I’d choose A, dry pasta. Many home cooks, bamboozled by the glut of fresh pasta in restaurants, have come to believe that if it’s the chef’s choice, then it’s the better product. It is not."

Now while she acknowledges her story is about her love of dry durum wheat pasta, she also readily acknowledges that fresh pasta made well and served with appropriate sauces is a great dining experience.

Making really good fresh pasta demands quality ingredients and skill--and it's something that with practice home cooks can do for themselves. Back in the 80s, the idea was to make it, then hang it on "pasta racks" or broom sticks to dry and then cook later. Today, of course, we recognize that you can put a big pot of water on the stove to heat and make your pasta while the water is coming to the boil.

Because I've spent a lot of time with a several chefs who have shown me their techniques--and because with summer almost upon us and fresh tomatoes being a perfect foil for a good pasta in many cases, I thought I'd do a round up of four of my favorite pasta-making experiences with San Diego chefs. And next week, I'll have a new one for you from Daniel Wolinsky, chef de cuisine at Cucina Sorella in Kensington, whose tagliarini is in the photo above.

Here they are:

Fabrizio Cavallini's Organic Handmade Pasta: Who better to teach the art of pasta making than an Italian chef? Fabrizio Cavallini of Bencotto and Monello demonstrated how seemingly easy it is. All it requires is high quality 00 flour and organic semolina, both of which are available locally at Mona Lisa, and eggs. Oh, and skill. But I have a video of Fabrizio's demo, which shows how you go about making the dough.

Nick Brune's Dark Roux Noodles: Nick Brune is a Louisiana native who lives in California and has combined his culinary understanding of the two states to create a Cali-Creole cuisine that was the focus of Local Habit in Hillcrest. No longer there (both Nick's affiliation with the restaurant and then the restaurant itself), Nick has turned his focus to his longtime catering company Eco Caterers. When I came for a visit, he taught me a dish that combined his Creole background with Southeast Asian flavors, based on his travels there. This dish places dark roux noodles into a pho-like soup, which is stunning. But you can also enjoy the noodles as pasta with your favorite sauce? What's the secret to these dark noodles? You'll have to read to find out!

Ryan Studebaker's Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese Raviolini: Ryan, of MIHO Catering, makes a lovely egg pasta that he turns into little pockets of savory cheesey appetizers, thanks to a variety of seasonal roasted vegetables blended with goat cheese. You can take his recipe full hilt with the raviolini or simple enjoy the pasta recipe, make noodles, and top them with his vegetable goat cheese mixture.

Amy DiBiase's Ricotta Gnudi: Okay, technically this may be considered the "anti-pasta" since "gnudi" means naked, as in ravioli without the pasta. But why not make a tender, creamy pasta-like dumpling that so easily takes a good sauce. Amy, who is now with Grand Restaurant Group, taught me this dish while she was at Tidal. It's so luxe it's a whole meal, depending on how you sauce it.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

My Simple Bowl of Beans Topped with Roasted Tomatoes

Are you a bean person? I mean do you adore beans as a stand-alone dish? Revel in their unique flavors and textures?

I'll admit. I haven't been. I like them well enough--I enjoy garbanzos in a salad or cooked and pureed into hummus. I'm all in for beans in chili or stews or soups. Barbecue baked beans are more a delivery system for sauce. Basically, I just haven't really pushed myself to seek out beans that stand up to taking a starring role in a dish.

Until recently. I'm a longtime fan of Rancho Gordo, which is bean heaven for aficionados, especially heirloom bean aficionados. I was noodling around on the site and came across Alubia Blanca beans. These small white heirloom beans are a customer favorite so I figured I'd order some and see what all the fuss was about.

I was gobsmacked. They've totally changed how I feel about bean potential.

Now, Rancho Gordo has lots of helpful, inspiring recipes on the site. The Spanish-style Alubia Blanca beans can be used in soups, salads, baked beans, bean dips, and pot beans. According to the website, they're marvelous cooked and spread on grilled Tuscan bread, topped with a green, fruity olive oil, chopped fresh sage, and grated hard cheese.

I did something different. I just cooked them, using a very basic technique that I'll share--and then I topped them with roasted tomatoes, peppers, and garlic. It was so simple, yet so profoundly perfect a meal it made me want to weep with joy. Beans! Who knew!

So, here's what I did.

First, I poured out about a cup of beans and checked them for debris. Then I put the beans in a medium-size bowl and covered them in water, letting them soak for about six hours. This speeds up the cooking process and lets the seasonings you cook them in permeate them more easily.

The cooking process itself was simple. In a saucepan, I sautéed half a diced onion with minced garlic in olive oil until I could smell their fragrance. I drained the beans and added them, along with some sprigs of fresh thyme. Then I added water to cover by about an inch. I brought the mixture to a hard boil, then reduced the heat to a slow simmer and let them cook.

I thought it would take a couple of hours for the beans to cook through. I'm so glad I checked after an hour because even then they already were nice and al dente. I added some sea salt, stirred, and removed them from the heat. And that was it. I gave them a taste and was amazed at how they had transformed into a mouthful of delicate, creamy sweetness.

While they were cooking, I addressed the topping. I had a large bowl of cherry tomatoes I couldn't keep up with and they were starting to go south. So I sliced them in half. To them I added a red bell pepper my mom had given me, cut that into bite-sized chunks. And I had a head of garlic from which I took about half of the cloves. I peeled those and tossed them with the tomatoes, pepper chunks, olive oil, and sea salt. I poured them onto a piece of foil and slow roasted them at 300 degrees for about an hour, when they had collapsed and made their own sauce.

I poured about half the bean mixture with its lovely pot liquor into a new blue and white speckled bowl I had recently purchased at the Empty Bowls fundraiser held annually at Coronado High School. Then I topped the beans with the roasted tomatoes. I could have added grated cheese, but I ate this bowl of beans as is and marveled at how the flavors of the beans and vegetables melded. At how simple and satisfying each mouthful was. I couldn't wait for the following day, when I could eat this dish all over again as leftovers.

So, yeah, I'm now a bean person.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lemony Buttermilk Olive Oil Cake

Funny the food you come up with because you need to use up some random ingredient. For me, it always seems to happen when I have buttermilk in my fridge. It would be so wonderful if the companies that package it would come up with a little carton--like the size of the ones that held milk at my elementary school cafeteria. But they don't and I hate to waste so then I'm off and running (often back to the market) to make something else with the remaining buttermilk.

As a result of recent cornbread with buttermilk, I had most of a pint left. I brined chicken with some but still have a good amount remaining. I started randomly googling buttermilk and saw cakes. Oh. How about pound cake? Oh, but all that butter (which I love, but still). Well then, how about substituting olive oil for the butter? (And does that mean it's no longer a pound cake?) I have a bumper crop of Meyer lemons so I could add lemon zest to the batter and, ah, that gorgeous bottle of homemade vanilla that Robin Ross of Cupcakes Squared gave me. That would taste wonderful.

As you can see I was off and running. I did a little research to get a sense of how much oil I needed to substitute for the butter and it was just a matter of mixing it all together--then sprinkling some sugar on the top of the batter to get a nice crispy crunchy top.

All this is to say that if you're a home cook who feels comfortable riffing on chicken dishes or pasta dishes but believes you have to go strictly by the book with cakes, well, I'm like you--but I can now say I feel more comfortable taking some liberties with baking recipes.

The cake rose tall in the large loaf pan and was wonderfully moist. It had a nice lemony aroma and flavor. The buttermilk complemented the citrus with its tangy flavor and richness. For those who haven't had a great experience baking with olive oil, I guess it depends on what kind of olive oil you use. A young, very grassy oil may give you a little too much bitterness. But a more mature oil is actually more buttery in flavor and plays well in a cake--and, especially this cake.

You'll get a lot of slices out of this and it is rich. The good news is that it also freezes well.

And take advantage of the season but mashing ripe berries, adding a little Cointreau and sugar (if necessary) to top the cake slice when you serve it.

Lemony Buttermilk Olive Oil Cake
(printable recipe)
Yield: 1 loaf

13.5 ounces all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 1/3 cups low-fat buttermilk
Baking spray
1 ½ tablespoons sugar


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, lemon zest, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and whisk together.

Place sugar, olive oil, and vanilla in bowl of stand mixer and beat at medium speed until thoroughly blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after adding each one.  Alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour mixture.

Spoon batter into a large (9 ½” by 5 ½”) loaf pan, coated with baking spray. Sprinkle top with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Cool pan on wire rack for about 10 minutes. Then run a thin knife around the edges of the pan and remove the cake. Continue cooling on the wire rack until it reaches room temperature.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Chicken and Whole Grains Casserole

It's so easy for contemporary home cooks who consider themselves sophisticated in the kitchen to poo poo casseroles. Many of us grew up in the days of tuna embalmed in noodles and Campbell's mushroom soup. Or macaroni and ground beef. Yeah, we've all been there.

But think of it this way: lasagna is essentially a casserole and we all love lasagna. It's really a matter of what you do with the concept, which is basically a meal in a baking dish. For some, it's a way to use up leftover ingredients. For others, it's the quintessential dish you bring with love to friends or family who are too stressed (from grief, illness, new babies) to be able to make meals themselves.

I got to thinking about this recently when I saw a piece on casseroles in The Kitchn. They ran a list of casserole links and what was interesting was that recipes not only described how to prepare the dish but in advance of that, how to prep the ingredients for freezing and provide instructions to the recipient for then making it.

One of those recipes struck a chord with me. It was baked chicken with rice. Once I sorted through the freezing instructions, which I didn't need, I realized that this was a casserole I could fall in love with. After all, it takes two dishes I really enjoy--roasted or baked chicken and grains filled with vegetables and herbs and spices. All this does it put them together in an easy-to-make, one-dish dish.

Like all great casseroles, you can change this up, depending on the season or the ingredients you have or prefer. I happened to be at Specialty Produce recently and they had elephant garlic scapes. These are a rare find so I nabbed what I thought I could use (I usually make pesto with scapes) and decided to add some to my casserole, along with mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts, and onion.

You could add sliced kalamata olives and capers for one specific flavor profile. Or you could go in a totally different direction with tomatillos, fresh poblano or Anaheim chiles. Or eggplant, zucchini, red bell peppers, pine nuts, and za'atar. Cooking for one? I am--I easily cut this recipe in half for two meals. I just used a smaller baking dish.

So, use this as a foundation for building your own one-dish wonder. I hope you'll share with me what you came up with.

Chicken and Whole Grains Casserole
(printable recipe)
Serves 2 to 4

4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
½ cup of your favorite vinaigrette
½ cup onion, diced
½ cup fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
½ cup garlic cloves sliced (or, when in season, garlic scapes)
1 cup marinated artichoke heart quarters
2 cups brown rice
¼ cup wheat berries, wild rice, farro, or other grains
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 cups water, white wine, or chicken broth, depending on your preference

1. The day before you make the dish, combine the chicken thighs and vinaigrette in a freezer bag. Seal and massage the bag to coat the chicken. Refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 375˚F.
3. Grease a 9X13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
4. Combine the vegetables, grains, and herbs and spices in the baking dish. Stir in the liquids. Remove the chicken pieces from the bag and place them on top of the grains mixture.
5. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover the dish and bake for up to another hour. You want the grains to have absorbed the liquid and the chicken to be cooked through with crispy skin.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Herb & Eatery's GF Almond and Walnut Coffee Cake

One thing you learn about pastry chefs: they are all about precision. Case in point. I was with pastry chef Adrian Mendoza of Herb & Eatery last week so he could teach me how to make his Gluten-Free Almond and Walnut Coffee Cake. We got to talking about the kitchen and he told me a story about a new pastry assistant who came to work. When it came time to label a batch of pastries, she automatically ripped off a piece of masking tape to write on with her sharpie. Nope. Mendoza told her she needed to use a scissors to cut the tape. Apparently, she laughed, thinking he was joking. He wasn't.

"I know it seems like a small thing," he acknowledged. "But I'm meticulous about what I do and those details create discipline in the kitchen, which you need in baking. So, yeah, I had her go back and cut the label with scissors."

Mendoza grew up in Apple Valley, California. He didn't grow up cooking, although he enjoyed watching his mom. But once he got into high school he attended after school cooking classes from 3 to 7 p.m. three to four times a week.

"I loved it," he said. "But I didn't think about becoming a chef. Actually I was thinking of becoming a mechanical drafter. I loved the precision. I remember learning how to build bridges from toothpicks."

But when Mendoza graduated from high school, he decided to leave home for San Diego to attend the Art Institute's cooking program. It was a choice, he said, of working behind a desk all day or being able to move around and produce something creative that people would enjoy. He also got a job at MacDonald's--on Aero Drive. There, he said, he learned about organization skills and timing. And, he got a job working on the savory side at Oceanaire, which is where he met Chef Brian Malarkey, whom he works for now and at Malarkey's previous restaurants.

Mendoza also took some time to go to L.A. to work, including a one-year stint at Spago plating desserts. A bakery then hired him, and sent him to France for two weeks to train on equipment.

"That's where I got really in depth with croissants and baguettes," he said. In fact, Joanne Sherif of Cardamom Cafe and Bakery, whom he worked for part time while he was working at Oceanaire, told me recently that she thinks he makes the best croissants in San Diego--and they are magnificent.

Today, Mendoza works with six assistants--a bread baker and five pastry assistants--along with an intern to produce a wealth of breads, croissants, bagels, bialies, and sweets for both Herb & Eatery and Herb & Wood. The morning I was there, his assistants were working on a huge batch of Sea Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies. Earlier in the morning there were loaves upon loaves of challahs--both plain and topped with spices. They were almost gone by the time I was ready to leave a couple of hours later. I was able to snare one small plain one and a bagel--a really great bagel, in fact.

But what I was there for was the coffee cake. Now I'm not gluten free so I didn't care about that aspect of it, but I love a good coffee cake. The fact that it is gluten free makes it that much more interesting in terms of baking science. Mendoza uses Cup4Cup gluten-free flour, which is easily found at Whole Foods, Sprouts, Amazon, and Sur la Table. That means if you aren't interested in baking this cake gluten free you can simply use all-purpose flour in the same measurements. He also adds almond flour or almond meal, which, he says, acts as a tenderizer. You can buy it or grind it yourself from almonds.

The cake is pretty easy to make, but it has three distinct components. There's the cake batter, the streusel center--with walnuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon--and a crumble top--with butter flour, sugar, and sea salt.

We started with the crumble. Mendoza used a food processor (but you could use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment). It's a simple process of combining the dry ingredients in the bowl and pulse until combined, then adding the butter and pulsing until the mixture forms pea-sized pieces. Put the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate until you're ready to use it.

Then we moved on to the streusel center. You'll want to toast the walnuts to bring out the flavor. Don't care for walnuts? Not a problem. Use pecans or pine nuts or cashews. Or a mix. Again, you'll combine the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and pulse about 20 times until the walnuts are about 1/4" pieces. Put that aside.

Okay, so then it was time for the cake batter. We switched to a Kitchen Aid mixer. Our butter was at room temperature and, as you can imagine, all the ingredients were already measured and waiting. First you'll cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla, starting on low for about 20 seconds and then amping it up to medium high for four minutes. What you're doing, Mendoza explained, is building air to help absorb the eggs. Your key to completion is light and fluffy butter and sugar.

And, by the way, you'll notice that Mendoza uses crème fraiche in the batter. He doesn't buy it, of course. He makes it. It's just two ingredients--cream and buttermilk. If you want to make it yourself, use a 4 to 1 ratio of cream to buttermilk and leave it on the counter, covered, for two days at room temperature. You'll have a terrific, tangy sour cream.

Back to the batter: While the butter, sugar, and vanilla are creaming, sift together all the dry ingredients but the almond flour (over parchment paper so you can pick it up and use it as a funnel to add to the wet ingredients. Once, the dry ingredients are sifted, you can add the almond flour on top. Put that aside and--once the butter mixture is fluffy--add the eggs, one at a time, stopping and scraping down the mixture with each egg. Then you'll add a third of the dry ingredients, mix on low briefly, then add half of the crème fraiche, then the dry ingredients, the rest of the crème fraiche, and then the rest of the dry ingredients--scraping down with each addition. Don't over mix the batter or it will turn gummy.

We're almost there; it's all assembly now. You can make the cakes in muffin pans, as we did, or cast iron pans (which will take a little longer to bake). Whatever you choose, butter the pans (Mendoza uses a spray product called Vegalene, which is gluten free). You can also use cupcake liners.

To add the batter you can use a spoon or ice cream scoop--or a pastry bag, which Mendoza used. He uses KopyKake disposable bags (Amazon sells them). Place a 1/8" layer of the batter at the bottom. Then a small handful--about a tablespoon or two--of the streusel over that. The another thin layer of batter followed by a couple of tablespoons of the crumble topping.

Bake in a 350° oven for about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden dark brown.

I have to say that gluten free or not, this is a terrific coffee cake. The cake itself is moist and you'd never know that alternative flours were used. You get a fun surprise in the middle with a bite of the streusel--and I'm all about a good crumble. The cake just works. I brought some to my mom and she loved it. It's a hugely popular menu item at Herb & Eatery, but Mendoza told me the staff does give customers a heads up that while they do their best to segregate their gluten-free baked goods from their conventional wheat pastries, there is always a risk of cross contamination of flours in the air. If that's an issue, be forewarned. If not, enjoy!

GF Almond and Walnut Coffee Cake
from Adrian Mendoza of Herb & Eatery
(printable recipe)

1 stick plus 1 ½ tablespoon butter, cold, ½" cubes
½ cup Cup4Cup gluten-free flour
½ cup almond flour or almond meal
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoons sea salt

1. Combine all dry ingredients in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the blade attachment or in the bowl of the kitchen aid fitted with the beater attachment.
2. Process until combined.
3. Add the butter and pulse or mix on low until they are pea-size pieces.
4. Place into a mixing bowl, cover, and keep under refrigeration.

Streusel Center:
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted at 325° for 10 minutes
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon

1. In the same bowl of the processor, combine all ingredients and pulse about 20 times until the walnuts are ¼" pieces.
2. Set aside.

Cake Batter:
1 ½ cup butter, room temperature
1 ¾ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 extra large eggs, cage free
2 ½ cups Cup 4 Cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup almond flour or almond meal
1 ½ cups crème fraiche

1. In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract on low speed for 20 seconds.
2. Increase the speed to medium high and allow to blend for 4 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, combine the dry ingredients except the almond flour, and sift. Add the almond flour on top.
4. Scrape down the butter mixture and add the eggs in 1 by 1 scraping down after each addition.
5. Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients, mix on low for 10 seconds, add ½ of the crème fraiche and, scraping down after each addition. Repeat until you finish adding the in dry ingredients.

To Assemble:

1. Spray pans well or can line with cup cake paper.
2. Place batter into pastry bag and snip a ½ “ tip or can use a spoon.
3. Place a 1/8th inch layer of batter first.
4. Place 1-2 tbsp of walnut streusel.
5. Place another 1/8th to ¼” layer of batter on top.
6. Followed by 1-2 tbsp of crumble topping.
7. Bake in a 350F oven for approximately 30-35 minutes until golden dark brown.
8. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan before taking out, they are fragile.
9. Dust with powdered sugar or however you would like to decorate. A scoop of ice cream on top with fresh berries is a nice dessert.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

San Diego Jewish Food Festival

Looking for some good Jewish cooking? Well, Temple Adat Shalom in Poway will be hosting its biennial San Diego Jewish Food Festival this Sunday, May 7, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Featured at this fundraiser for the synagogue will be Chef Deborah Scott of The Cohen Restaurant Group, Chef Ron Oliver of the Marine Room, Noor Amiri of Pamir Kabob House, and Chef Nicoletta Grippo. All four will do cooking demos during the course of the event.

There will be a number of food booths overflowing with traditional foods, along with a Beer and Wine Garden.

The Sabbath Dinner Booth will include:

  • Pomegranate Chicken – boneless chicken sautéed in a pomegranate reduction with figs, yams, carrots and almonds served with your choice of Majadrah or Potato/Carrot/Apple kugel
  • Cabbage Rolls - (2) beef stuffed cabbage leaves simmered in a sweet & sour, tomato-based sauce served with your choice of Majadrah or potato/Carrot/Apple kugel 
  • Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls - with chunks of chicken, carrots and a fluffy matzo ball 


  • Israeli Salad – diced tomatoes and cucumbers, scallions, red & yellow bell peppers and parsley combined with a drizzled dressing of lemon juice, olive oil 
  • Potato/Carrot/Apple Kugel – a sweet baked dairy-free pudding 
  • Fresh baked homemade Challah, ~ 1 pound loaf - also available in the Bakery 

The Israeli Booth will include:

  • Falafel –freshly fried patties of ground chickpeas, served with Middle Eastern bread, Israeli salad, and tahini sauce
  • Hummus with Middle Eastern Bread – mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic
  • Majadrah – Middle Eastern, cumin-scented side dish with rice, lentils and caramelized onions
  • Israeli Salad diced tomatoes and cucumbers, scallions, red & yellow bell peppers and parsley combined with a drizzled dressing of lemon juice, olive oil


The Kosher Grill will include:

  • Grilled Flank Steak rubbed with a special mix and served with grilled peppers and onions on a roll
  • Kafta sliders - Middle Eastern mini beef burgers mixed with chopped onions and Middle Eastern spices served on a mini bun
  • Regular slider - mini beef burger served on a mini bun 
  • Potato chips 
  • Hebrew National Hot Dog on a toasted bun served with potato chips 

The New York Deli booth will include:
  • Corned Beef on Rye, pickle– 6 oz salt-cured brisket of beef ½ or whole sandwich
  • Pastrami on Rye, pickle–6 oz. brined, seasoned, and then smoked beef belly  ½ or whole sandwich
  • Chopped Liver on Rye – chopped chicken liver, w/hard boiled eggs and onions  ½ or whole sandwich 
  • Combo 1/2 and 1/2 – choice of any 2 half sandwiches (corned beef, pastrami or chopped liver) with pickle 

The Nosh Kart booth will include:
  • Potato Knish – seasoned mashed potato, caramelized onion filling encased in a flakey, puffed pastry shell 
  • Cheese Blintzes - (2) Cheese-filled crepes, garnished with berry sauce and sour cream 
  • Dairy Kugel  – a baked, creamy noodle pudding 
  • Potato Latke – large potato pancake served with apple sauce and/or sour cream 

Bubbie's Bakery Booth will include:
  • Black & White Cookies – soft, cake-like cookie with vanilla and dark chocolate icing
  • Hamantashen – a tri-corner “hat” cookie filled with apricot or chocolate 
  • Rugelach – crescent shaped, cookie, w/cinnamon, nuts, raisins, apricot jam 3 for (no added sugar variety also available) 
  • Strudel – baked this morning, a slice of traditional Eastern European pastry filled with apples, nuts and raisins 
  • Freda’s Walnut Chocolate Chip Brot – a toasted nut and chocolate cookie, similar to biscotti 
  • Allison’s Rainbow Cookies – found in the Jewish deli’s and bakeries of New York this is our take on an Italian specialty – a chocolate covered Technicolor cake-like treat 
  • Chocolate Coconut Macaroons – a gluten-free treat, a favorite at the Passover table. 
  • Challah - homemade braided egg bread, an essential part of the Sabbath dinner. ~1 pound whole loaf
  • Coffee 
JFF tickets can be purchased at the Temple Adat Shalom office or at the Festival May 7th. The $20 JFF food ticket includes one paid adult admission, $20 worth of food, and an entry for the opportunity drawing. $60 JFF Family Pack ($80 in food, admission for two adults and up to 4 young adults (ages 13 to 20) are available. There's no admission fee for kids who are 12 and under, when accompanied by an adult. Food booths can't accept cash. All food purchases at the 2017 San Diego Jewish Food Festival must use official San Diego Jewish Food Festival Punch Tickets.

Temple Adat Shalom is located at 15905 Pomerado Road in Poway.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Roasted Marinated Peppers

Somehow I got myself on a cooking and baking tear this past weekend. It all started with buttermilk. You see, my mom and I have these family friends who weren't feeling great so we decided to make them some meals last weekend. One was a simple turkey chili. My mom then said, "We should make cornbread to go with it. Buttermilk cornbread." And that was fine. But you have to buy a pint and all you need is like half a cup. So now I have this pint of buttermilk I'm trying to use up.

I started scouring recipes for something and found cakes and pies. So I decided to try my hand at a buttermilk pound cake. I came up with something pretty cool (that's for next week). Then I brined chicken in the buttermilk, along with garlic and some spices.

And with that I was in a cooking frenzy. I have a story coming out this week in the San Diego Union-Tribune's food section on my friend Chef Sara Polczynski showing readers how to use three different types of Mexican kitchen tools so I made one of the recipes using a comal--her Smoked Tomatillo Salsa.

And, finally, I pulled out some extra peppers I had from buying for the turkey chili and made my favorite roasted, marinated peppers. I have to have these peppers in my fridge. Not only do I love them on a slice of sourdough baguette, garlicky oil dripping off the bread, but also as a pizza topping or to add to a tomato sauce. By the time I use up the peppers, they've insinuated themselves into the olive oil I used to marinate them. And then I have this reddish spicy (from marash pepper flakes) oil redolent of anchovies to enjoy on a crostini or bruschetta, to sauté vegetables (try it with asparagus), or toss with pasta.

Now it doesn't seem possible that I actually haven't written about these before since they're such a recurring part of my personal eating habits. But I couldn't find them. After 10 years I guess I'm allowed a repeat, so if you have seen these my apologies. But oh, these are great, especially as we head into the warmer months.

I don't use any real recipe. This is sort of free form. So, here's what I do.

Wash three or four bell peppers--red, green, yellow, orange--it doesn't matter. If you have an electric stove, turn on the broiler. Dry and place on a large piece of foil, then place in the broiler. Use tongs to turn them as the skin blisters. If you have a gas stove, you can simply dry roast them over a burner.

When they are totally blackened, place in a brown paper bag and fold down the top. Place on the kitchen counter and let steam for about 15 or 20 minutes. While they're steaming get out a head of garlic and separate four or five cloves (or however many you want). Peel and slice the garlic cloves. You'll also want to have sea salt, dried herbs, red pepper flakes or marash pepper flakes (or whatever you like), and a jar of anchovies (if they are salt packed, rinse off the salt).

Peel the skin from the peppers, remove the core, and brush away the seeds. Dry them (this part gets juicy) and slice into 1" wide pieces.

Now you can start layering. In a flat container with a lid (I use one that's about 5" by 7"), place the bottom layer of peppers, sprinkle some sliced garlic over the peppers, sprinkle with salt, pepper flakes, herbs, and anchovies. Repeat until you run out of pepper slices. Sprinkle with the rest of the herbs, red pepper flakes, and salt. Now get out some great olive oil and pour over the layers until they are totally covered. Let sit about an hour on the counter, then refrigerate.

Now a couple of tips:

1. When you roast and steam the peppers, really let them steam and cool down so you can handle them and not be tempted to run them under cool water when you peel away the skin. Do that and you basically rinse away the flavor.

2. Feel free to change up the flavors. Sometimes I include dried herbs like thyme or oregano. I love to include this herb rub. If you make and use it, you won't need any extra salt. Use more or less garlic. I love garlic, so I put in plenty. Don't like anchovies? Don't use them. You could also add some vinegar, but keep it mild--like a white wine vinegar--so it doesn't overpower the peppers.

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