Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Savory Citrus Salad

Pity the poor people outside of Southern California this winter. They get snow. We get citrus! And greens! And all sorts of other delicious produce.

I spent some time at Specialty Produce last week and picked up several unusual items.

First there was the real reason I went there: for Blushing Violet Potatoes. Owner Bob Harrington had posted a photo of them on Instagram and I just had to have them. I'd tell you to go rush over to get them but they appear to have been kind of a fluke, mixed in with other tiny potatoes from the Santa Monica Farmers Market. But keep your eyes open for these. They're sweet little potatoes that are cream and purple. Even when you cook them (I roasted several on a bed of course sea salt in my French diable clay pot), they maintain their distinctive colors. You could boil and slice them into a salad for an unusual-looking side dish.

With those in hand, I went into the chilly farmers market walk in fridge and learned about a couple of different and unusual citrus varieties.

One was a Vanilla Blood Orange, sold by Tom King Farms. It has the look of a blood orange but not the acid. So it's got a more bland, sweet--and, yes, slightly vanilla flavor to it. Doesn't sound like something to rush out for? Well, the coral color is lovely and the flavor actually complements the more dramatic flavors you'll find in some citrus, like grapefruit and the other fruit I took home with me, Daisy Tangerines.

Oh, you'll love these tangerines from Polito Farms. They are knock-you-on-the-head fruit in terms of flavor. Very sweet and juicy but also very acidic. They're perfect for snacking and would be wonderful for jamming or baking.

While I was cruising around the walk in, produce wrangler Nathan Bochler decided to introduce me to a couple of other unique items.

One is called yacon. It's a long Peruvian root most often used to make syrup. But if you peel and slice these tubers, you'll find they taste a lot like jicama or water chestnuts. They're fresh and crispy with a sweet, clean flavor. You can add them to a salad or stir fry.

Finally, Nathan produced a Valencia Pride Mango grown in San Diego and near the Salton Sea. Now, they look like conventional mangoes--sort of. They have the right coloring, but they're more elongated. These late-season mangoes also have a very smooth, thin edible skin and gives up a slightly coconut flavor. They also aren't nearly as fibrous as what you're probably used to. What Nathan likes to do is let them go very very soft. So soft that you cut off the tip of the fruit and squeeze to get a mango paste. I tried that but it didn't work for me. So what I did do is slice a large, very soft chunk off and cleaned the pulp from the skin to make a salad dressing.

Yep, a salad dressing. Because I took the citrus and the yacon and created a beautiful winter salad atop mixed greens. I added some sliced red onion, olives, and toasted pecans. Then I created a dressing with the Valencia Pride Mango pulp, lime juice from limes in my garden, really good olive oil, sea salt and red pepper flakes. The dressing was thick and sweet and tart with a little heat to it. Oh, who would have thought you could enjoy something so tropical in January!

Valencia Pride Mango Dressing
(printable recipe)
Yield: About 1 cup

1/2 to 3/4 cup of very soft Valencia Pride Mango pulp
Juice from 1 and 1/2 limes
Large pinch of high-quality sea salt
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons high quality extra virgin olive oil

Using a whisk stir together the mango pulp, lime juice, sea salt, and red pepper flakes. Gradually whisk in the olive oil until you get the texture you want. Depending on the texture of the mango you may need more lime juice or more olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Local Cookbook Author Carolynn Carreño Appearing at Next Good Earth Great Chefs Event

Photo by Adriene Hughes
San Diego magazine writer and cookbook author Carolynn Carreño will be the featured chef at the first 2017 Good Earth/Great Chefs event. On Sunday, January 29 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Carreño will sign her newest book, Bowls of Plenty: Recipes for Healthy and Delicious Whole Grain Meals. The event, held at Chino Farm, will feature complementary tastes of a bowl recipe made from vegetables picked that morning at the farm. And there will be live music to enjoy as well. Those who buy her book at the event can have her sign it.

I'll be writing a piece on Carreño and her book for the San Diego Union-Tribune's food section for publication next month, but I'm a fan of the Good Earth/Great Chefs series and encourage you to attend the free event and enjoy some time on the farm.

If you're a cookbook lover, Carreño may also be a familiar name to you. She is a James Beard Award-winning journalist and has co-authored a dozen cookbooks. Most recently, she collaborated with Nancy Silverton on Mozza at Home (which I recently wrote about for the UT). Just a few months ago Silverton also appeared at a Good Earth/Great Chefs book signing. Along with book writing, Carreño has written for publications including Bon Appétit, Saveur, Gourmet, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times.

Born in Tijuana, Carreño grew up in Mount Helix. While she spent time living in New York, she's recently moved into the house she grew up in.

Bowls of Plenty is filled with one-dish meals targeted to the home cook. The recipes feature vegetables and optional meats that top a foundation of whole-grain staples. And, while that sounds like they would primarily be for lunch or dinner, there are also sweet and savory breakfast bowls and even dessert bowls.

At the Good Earth/Great Chefs booksigning, Carreño will be serving her Sambal Tofu Bowl. Below she shares another of her recipes you'll find in the book:

Photo by Beatriz de Costa
CHINO RANCH VEGETABLE BOWL with Kale Pistachio Pesto and Bagna Cauda 

Chino Ranch is a farm in my hometown, San Diego, made famous in the early 1970s when Alice Waters fell in love with their green beans because, unlike grocery store green beans, they actually had tasted like green beans. Extraordinary as those beans are, the Chinos are most famous for their corn, which, were you to try it, will ruin you to any other corn for life. I am lucky enough to call the Chinos friends, and to have easy access to their delicious vegetables. Naturally, I serve many a bowl in honor of them and their ever-changing, unparalleled produce. Pesto is so easy to make I can’t understand why anyone would buy it. You just throw a bunch of stuff in a blender or food processor and go. Try it, you’ll see. I make this with kale but use any combination of basil, parsley, kale, or arugula; as long as you start with 2 cups of leaves, you’ll have pesto. 

Serves 4 to 6

2 red or yellow bell peppers (or 1 pound mini sweet peppers)
2 ears corn, shucked
½ pound Romano beans, green beans, or yellow beans, stem ends trimmed
1 bunch asparagus, tough ends snapped off
1 pint small cherry tomatoes, such as Sweet 100s, Sungolds, or another sweet summertime variety
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Kale Pistachio Pesto (recipe follows)
Bagna Cauda (recipe follows; optional)
1 cup farro, cooked (about 3 cups cooked farro) and cooled to room temperature
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced, or burrata, broken into segments with a spoon
½ cup fresh basil

Preheat an outdoor grill to high or a stovetop grill pan over high heat. Brush the vegetables with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Put the vegetables on the grill and grill until they are black in places, turning to grill all sides,  and removing each vegetable from the grill to a plate as it is done. (For bright green asparagus and green beans like those pictured rather than grilling them, blanch them for 1 minute in boiling, salted water and immediately plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.)

Cut the corn kernels off the cob. Remove and discard the cores and seeds from the bell peppers (if you used baby peppers, leave them as is) and slice the peppers into thin strips.

Serve family style, with big platters of the summer veggies, the sauces in small bowls, and the grains for people to make their own bowls.

Makes about 2 cups I

1½ cups packed torn kale leaves
½ cup packed fresh parsley or basil leaves ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons pistachios (or pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts), toasted
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of 1 lemon

Put all the ingredients except the lemon juice in a blender or food processor and blend until the pesto is smooth with some flecks, stopping to scrape down the side of the blender once or twice. The pesto should be loose and spoonable, not globby; if it’s too thick, add more oil and blend it in. Stir in the lemon juice just before using. Use the pesto or refrigerate in a covered container for up to 2 days; be warned: the pesto will lose its pretty color with time but it will still taste great. Bring it to room temperature before using.

Bagna cauda means "warm bath" in Italian. It’s a simple condiment made of anchovies, garlic, and olive oil. It turns something as simple as blanched, veggies into something totally special and delicious. Drizzle it on blanched or roasted asparagus, green beans, Broccolini, cauliflower, or sweet peppers. Makes about ¾ cup

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (1½- to 2-ounce) can or jar of anchovies (8 to 11 anchovy fillets), anchovies removed from the oil and minced
6 garlic cloves, grated on a Microplane or minced
A pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
A few turns of freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the garlic is fragrant and the butter and oil just start to sizzle. Reduce the heat to very low and cook for 10 minutes so the flavors can all make friends. Serve warm.

Excerpted from the book BOWLS OF PLENTY by Carolynn Carreño. Copyright © 2017 by Carolynn Carreño. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Life & Style. All rights reserved.  

The Good Earth/Great Chefs event with Carolynn Carreño will be held on Sunday, January 29, 2017 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., rain or shine, at Chino Farm. The address is 6123 Calzada del Bosque in Rancho Santa Fe. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fennel Gratin

Fennel is the coolest vegetable. It's a bulb and an herb, thanks to its feathery green fronds. The bulb and stems can be eaten raw (think thin slices for a sweet crunchy salad) or cooked--braised, sautéed, roasted, or featured in a soup. It has its own unique anise flavor but is welcoming to all sorts of other flavors. And--at least in our climate--it's a perennial plant.

For years I've used fennel for fresh salads but I've also sliced the bulbs in half lengthwise, brushed the surface with olive oil and then sprinkled grated cheese and bread crumbs on top before baking. It's a side dish I got from my mom.

But, inspired by an eggplant gratin dish I made awhile back, I thought I'd do something similar with fennel. I had two super large bulbs that still had some fronds attached. I separated those and minced them. I trimmed the fennel top and then cored the bulbs before quartering them. With the oven primed for roasting, the bulb quarters and sliced stems went onto a foil-lined baking sheet (along with some garlic cloves for me to snack on), got drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt before going into the oven for roasting for about half an hour.

Then I made a modified sauce with milk, gruyere and parmesan cheeses, green onions for flavor and color, and garlic. I don't love sauces that drown the main ingredient, but having just enough to bathe and flavor can be delightful. This does it. The onions and garlic were sautéed in olive oil to which I added the minced fronds and fresh thyme from my garden. I mixed them in a bowl with the milk, cheeses, and some salt and pepper.

Once the fennel bulbs came out of the oven, I placed them into a ceramic baking dish I'd brushed with olive oil. I tucked the cheesy oniony mixture over and around them. On top I sprinkled a topping made of panko crumbs and more cheese. Finally, I drizzled olive oil.

Into the oven it all went, back at 400° F for about 25 minutes until it was all brown and bubbly. You know you have something when you take a bite and involuntarily sigh and smile.

Fennel Gratin
(printable recipe)
Serves 4


2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and quartered
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of salt
6 green onions, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fennel fronds, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
½ cup milk
½ cup grated gruyere cheese
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For topping:

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup gruyere cheese
½ cup panko crumbs
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400° F degrees.

Place fennel bulb quarters on a foil-lined sheet pan. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast for 30 minutes until soft and just becoming brown.

While the fennel is roasting, sauté the green onions and garlic in olive oil (about a tablespoon or more). Don't brown them. You just want them soft. Add the minced fennel fronts and thyme and cook for another minute. Set aside.

Remove the roasted fennel from the oven and place quarters in a baking dish coasted with olive oil.

In a medium bowl, mix together green onion and garlic mixture with milk, cheeses, salt and pepper.
Spread over the fennel in the baking dish.

To make the topping, combine the cheeses with the panko and evenly spread over the fennel bulbs and green onion and garlic cheese mixture. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake uncovered at 400° F degrees for 25 minutes until brown and bubbly.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Teriyaki Salmon Collars

Are we in the age of salmon collars? Back in the 80s, if you had a dinner party, chances are you were going to serve salmon "steaks"--remember them? These were thick cuts of salmon cut perpendicular to the backbone.

Then we seemed to evolve into fillets. They're the same meat--but instead cut parallel to the backbone and the bone. Fillets--of all kinds of fish--are still hugely popular. And delicious. But I'd like to think we've now evolved to enjoying more cuts of more fish. The belly. The tail. The cheeks. Maybe even the whole fish.

One of my favorites, though, is the collar. This is a cut right along the clavicle behind the gills. It's got some rich belly meat and a lovely fat cap. Get that collar near high heat and the fat caramelizes the skin and it becomes this crispy, luxe fish lollipop that you can grab by the fin to suck off the meat. Oh... And did I mention how cheap they are?

I picked up a couple of salmon collars at Catalina Offshore Products last week. They were priced at less than $2 a pound. Then I mulled how to cook them. Yes, they can really flavor up a stew. They're a delight in a curry. Yet to my mind, they're really best grilled, but this hasn't exactly been grilling weather. Instead I could run them under the broiler. Or I could do stove-top grilling using my carbon-steel pan. Since the pan is relatively new to me so I decided to test it out with the salmon using a sugary marinade I thought could possibly confound it (it didn't).

I thought first of using my sister's recipe. She and my brother-in-law had honeymooned in Alaska decades ago and when they returned with a salmon they had caught and flash frozen, they had family over for dinner with the salmon as the main attraction. It's still the best I've ever had. I only vaguely remembered the ingredients--soy sauce, butter, brown sugar...maybe mustard. Sounds great, right? Well, it was but I still need to work on it since I don't have the proportions. But it did get me to thinking about teriyaki as an alternative. And then making my own.

What I found was a recipe published a couple of years ago in Food Republic by Myra and Marea Goodman, authors of Straight from the Earth, a vegan cookbook. Their teriyaki recipe is part of a larger one for Teriyaki Tofu Broccolette on Wild Rice, which sounds fabulous. But in the meantime I made the sauce for my collars. Not exactly vegan, but a good recipe is a good recipe.

The sauce calls for what you'd imagine are the usual suspects--soy sauce, brown sugar, unseasoned rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. It's pretty simple. Put them all in a small, heavy saucepan together with some additional water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer until it thickens. It's wonderfully sweet, salty, and sticky.

I made things even easier by using three of my ginger-garlic flavor bombs. The rest was a snap.

Now you're not really going to marinate the collars. Instead you'll heat up your pan and add an oil with a high smoke point. I used canola. Forget doing the usual seasoning with salt and pepper. The marinade has plenty of each. So clean and trim the collar, which may have some "stuff" hanging on to it--organs and blood lines, for instance. Clip them into two pieces.

Then place them skin side down on the now very hot pan (and open windows, turn on fans because there will be smoke). It won't take more than a minute or two for them to cook up on the first side. Flip and brush the teriyaki sauce on the cooked side. Let the second side get brown and then flip and remove them to a plate where you'll brush more sauce on that side.

That's it. If it burns, don't worry much about it. That's just superficial--and makes it all divinely crispy. The meat inside will be amazing. And if you feel the need to use your fingers, all the better. Save the rest of the teriyaki sauce for seasoning chicken, vegetables, tofu.... You'll want to keep it on hand.

Teriyaki Salmon Collars
Serves 2
(printable recipe)

Teriyaki Sauce
(from Straight from the Earth by Myra and Marea Goodman)

3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 large salmon collars, cleaned

1. To make the teriyaki sauce, combine the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes and 1/2 cup of water in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. 

2. Bring to the start of a boil, and then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sauce sit at room temperature while you prepare the salmon.

4. Heat the pan on the stove top. When it starts to smoke add the oil. Then add the salmon collars skin side down. After no more than 2 minutes flip them over. Brush the cooked side with the teriyaki sauce. After about a minute flip the collars and remove them to a serving plate. Brush that side with teriyaki sauce or pour some reserved sauce on it.

5. Serve with rice or other grains.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Banana Bread Stuffed with Chocolate, Toasted Walnuts and Dried Fruit

It's a good thing it's so delicious because, let's face it, banana bread is the ultimate desperation dessert. I don't know anyone who sets out to make it, buys bananas, waits until they they are this close to spoiled, and then declares, "Okay, let's do it!" No, it's the opposite. We buy the bananas in total optimism that they'll be eaten when just ripe--and we forget about them. Then, when they reach that sad blackened state, we panic and think, "Yikes! Okay, looks like I need to make banana bread."

Or maybe I'm just revealing something about myself. Recently I ended up in the ER after having an allergic reaction to...something. It's still a mystery. Because of that and the abundance of drugs pumped into me that took their own toll I temporarily put myself on a BRAT diet. That's bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast for those of you who have been lucky enough to escape various stomach issues. After almost a week with no allergic eruptions, I started moving on and forgot about the bananas as I ventured back to tangerines and apples and newly ripened oranges on my tree. The bananas languished until, yes, I realized, "Yikes! Okay, looks like I need to make banana bread."

Not banana-bread ready. I vow to eat these when ripe!
I have a recipe going back to college that's very straightforward. I love it. I don't recall where it came from but it's simple and easy. But over the years, I've come to want more flavors and textures in my banana bread. So, I usually scrounge around my pantry to add some lushness to it. This time I found both milk chocolate and very dark chocolate chips. And a bag of Trader Joe's "Triple Fruit Treat"--dried mango, cranberries, and blueberries.

Then I toasted up some walnut pieces. That combination seemed just right.

With this bread, you do the usual: Sift together the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the rest of the wet ingredients. Finally, combine the dry and wet and add the goodies. Pour into a greased bread pan. Bake. Eat.

Now this is rich enough without enhancements. The bananas make the bread nice and moist and the batter readily accepts the nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit. Each bite has some wonderful mouth surprise. But try toasting your slice and then slathering some homemade cultured butter on it. Oh, you'll be so happy you let those bananas go bad. Maybe next time you'll even do it on purpose.

Banana Bread Stuffed with Chocolate, Toasted Walnuts, and Dried Fruit
Yield: 1 loaf
(printable recipe)

2 cups sifted AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 medium-size ripe bananas
1/2 cup sour milk or buttermilk
1 cup chocolate chips (try mixing milk with dark)
1 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1/2 cup dried fruit pieces

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. Cream together butter and sugar.
4. Add eggs, mashed bananas, and milk to the butter and sugar mixture and mix well.
5. Gradually add the flour mixture and mix well.
6. Gradually add the chocolate chips, walnuts, and dried fruit. Mix well.
7. Pour into a greased bread pan and bake for an hour. It's ready when a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean. Let cool and then turn out of the bread pan.

Note: The bread is freezable.

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