Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Delicata Squash Roasted with Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup

Another roasted winter squash recipe? Really? How many does a home cook really need?

I hear you. Really I do. But I just know you're going to fall over for this--and maybe want to add it as a Thanksgiving side. Yeah, it's that good.

My inspiration was a bottle of Trader Joe's Organic Vermont Maple Syrup, Bourbon Barrel Aged. I admit it. I was lured by the Fearless Flyer's description and bought a bottle within the week. Then it sat in my pantry until I picked up a Delicata squash last week.

I love this squash. It's already sweet, the skin is tender--even the seeds are delicious roasted. I literally stood and stared at it the other night, willing inspiration. And it hit. I peeled and minced a couple of cloves of garlic, pulled out some dried Greek oregano and Chimayo red chile powder, which has a smoky heat I love (you can use regular chile powder if you can't easily access this), and ground some sea salt.

Next I pre-heated my oven to 400°. Then I sliced the squash in half lengthwise, cleaned the seeds and pulp out of the center, then sliced the halves crosswise into pieces about half an inch wide. I put them into a medium-size bowl, and added the garlic, oregano, chile powder, and salt. I mixed it all up with a nice helping of extra virgin olive oil, then spread the pieces onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. And, then, of course, came the maple syrup. I drizzled the syrup over the pieces, then grabbed a pastry brush and made sure each piece was covered in the syrup. Into the oven the baking sheet went.

Half an hour later, the Delicata squash was beautifully browned. I popped a piece into my mouth and swooned. The syrup had permeated the squash and married with the chile powder to give a sweet, smoky heat. The garlic made sure it wasn't cloyingly sweet. It was like eating veggie candy.

Eat. Repeat next week.

Delicata Squash Roasted with Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup
Serves 2
(printable recipe)

1 Delicata squash
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1 teaspoon Chimayo red chile powder
Sea salt to taste
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Organic Vermont maple syrup, preferably bourbon barrel aged

Pre-heat oven to 400°.

Slice the squash in half lengthwise, clean the fibrous pulp and seeds (save for roasting) out of the center, then slice the halves crosswise into pieces about half an inch wide. Place in a medium-size bowl.

Add the garlic, oregano, chile powder, and salt. Mix together with the olive oil.

Spread out the Delicata squash slices onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure they don't overlap. Then drizzle the maple syrup over the slices. Use a pastry brush to brush the syrup onto each slice of squash. Place in the center of the oven and roast for 30 minutes or until golden brown. It's best served immediately, but, surprise, it's also delicious cold the next day.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Catalina Offshore Products Gets Opah Grant

photo courtesy of Catalina Offshore Products
Catalina Offshore Products announced last week that it has been awarded a $139,700 grant from the 2018 National Marine Fisheries Service's Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program for a project to grow demand for opah and other underutilized and undervalued species. The project, which could be scaled to a national level, is based on a year-long project that may help increase revenue to local fleets while also offering consumers new options for locally sourced seafood. The project will consist of data collection, roundtables with fishermen and consumers, kitchen workshops, recipe development, culinary demonstrations, and an “Ocean to Table” finale event. During this public showcase, project outcomes will be presented along with a suite of dishes highlighting different culinary applications for opah, as well as other Pacific highly migratory species currently being discarded but identified through research as having market potential.

One of the reasons opah, also known as "moonfish," is an ideal subject for this project is that it is a fish that tends to be caught as incidental or a by-catch of tuna fishing. Historically elusive, Pacific opah has been showing up more frequently in recent years. But instead of being discarded as waste, opah, which can weigh up to 200 pounds, can be enjoyed as food and represent increased profitability to fisherman, who can responsibly harvest it. There's no need to worry about overfishing it since U.S. fisheries are regulated.

Another benefit is that opah can be fully utilized. The belly, the loin, the top back strap, and the adductor/abductor make up most of the fish, and all have unique colors, flavors, and textures and, consequently, unique applications. This is rare; the flesh of other fish species tends to be the same throughout the fish. Below you can see the belly and back tail removed to the right and the section on the left that held the lean scarlet abductor (affectionately called the "tri tip" at COP). The adductor is below the abductor and with its elongated shape, is known as the "tenderloin" given that it looks like a beef or pork tenderloin. The belly is a pale pink and very fatty--and utterly delicious.

photo courtesy Catalina Offshore Products
So, what it comes down to educating the public. Instead of choosing what we already know and buy too much of--salmon, tuna, swordfish, and halibut, for example--we should open our minds to more options that would take pressure off those fisheries.

And, as Tommy Gomes of Catalina Offshore Products, says, "The big picture is to get people to eat beyond the fillet, which is only 20 percent of a fish."

Opah, which is sustainable and versatile, is one of those options. It's also not "fishy" tasting; instead basically a blank canvas for how you want to flavor it. It's also a leaner, healthier protein than red meat--and, when cooking up the abductor, can be used in many of the same applications as red meat. Steak, meatballs, tacos, sausage, and skewers just skim the surface.

Here's a very cool short video of Gomes breaking down a huge opah:

San Diego chefs have understood the value and potential of opah for quite awhile. Big fans of opah include Davin Waite of Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub and Rob Ruiz of The Land and Water Company. The two are engaged with Catalina Offshore Products in the project.

Gomes first encountered opah back in the early 1980s as a fisherman. Working with Koreans, he found that they served the fish pickled, then barbecued on deck, served on skewers with kimchee and rice. "For them it was just an edible piece of meat," he recalled.

So, imagine dining on this poached opah belly made by chef Nick Brune.

photo by Sam Wells
Or, this slab of opah bacon togarashi.

photo courtesy of Catalina Offshore Products
I sliced a piece of the belly and fried it in peanut oil until both sides were a golden brown, then sprinkled it with sea salt. It was like the best fish stick you could imagine--moist and succulent. You can also turn the belly into chicharones. Or grind it with the abductor meat to make a full-flavored burger, meatballs, or meatloaf.

As for the abductor, I cut a portion into pieces and stir fried them with garlic, hoisin sauce, and garlic chili sauce. I had some leftover shrimp chow mein from lunch at Steamy Piggy the day before. So I emptied that into the wok with the opah to heat up for a more protein filled dish.

opah side fillet; photo courtesy of Catalina Offshore Products
Mitch Conniff of Mitch's Seafood in Point Loma, said Gomes, makes corndogs with opah. Chef Miguel Valdez makes opah carne asada and burgers.

Still not sure? Then catch one of Gomes' demos on Saturdays in the Catalina Offshore Products parking lot. Catalina Offshore Products is located at 5202 Lovelock St. in the Morena district.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Civita in Mission Valley Opens Farmers Market

San Diegans, if you've been waiting for the return of a farmers market in Mission Valley, your wait is over. On Fridays from 3 to 7 p.m. you'll find the Mission Valley Farmers Market at Civita Park, just off Mission Center Road, north of Friars Road. The market is being operated by the San Diego Farm Bureau and just opened Oct. 5.

(And, for transparency's sake, you'll notice that they are also now advertisers on San Diego Foodstuff for the next couple of months.)

The market is on a long, easy-to-navigate stretch of pavement in the park. Parking is easy, there are tables if you want to nosh on any of the variety of global dishes sold by vendors. And, when I was there, a clown was ready to face paint and Bruce Gemmell, co-founder and research director of the Art Science Complex held court at a table filled with paper and writing/coloring tools to work with kids and adults on art projects.

But, of course, you want to know about the vendors. According to market managers Tasha Ardalan and Brandon Janiss, there are about three dozen of them--mostly people they work with at the other markets they manage around San Diego County. So, many will be familiar to regular market shoppers, including Da-Le Ranch, Majestic Garlic, Pacifica Culinaria, and Kawano Farms.

I bought some beautiful young broccoli from IRC grower Felicia Venegas. I bought persimmons from Valley Center Growers, which also had some magnificent oranges (and they give huge orange samples, by the way). I had plenty of honey at home, but am eager to return to buy more from Bee Safe Honey, which also does safe and humane bee removal (it's how they get the honey). Need cheese? You'll find it at Thyme of Essence. You can start a succulent garden, or replenish your current one, with beautiful plants from Farmers Nerceri.

Hungry or thirsty from shopping? You can travel the globe along this stretch of market. There's Full Belly Barbecue, SoCal Lemonade, House of Bao, Chilanga with Mexico City street food, Bam! Bun! with Filipino dishes--both traditional, like citrus-infused Chicken Adobo, and vegan, Barbecue Pulled Jack Fruit--and Little Someone Hong Kong Cuisine. Owner Syrus Kwan will make you a Hong Kong-style milk tea made with strong black tea and condensed milk. At Yipao Coffee, you can get free-trade Colombian coffee roasted in San Diego. Aya Cafe makes and sells banana brittle, kale chips, and walnut butter.
Finally, for dessert, stop by Flora Bake Shop with the kids for gorgeously decorated vegan cupcakes baked by owner Camille Dumbrique. Or Donut, Hello's PB&J or S'mores mini donuts.

According to Ardalan, the market is expected to grow as more vendors join the line up. She also noted that if you don't have enough cash to pay vendors, you can stop by the market manager's booth and use your credit or debit card to get market tokens. There is a dollar surcharge.

The official farmers market address is 7964 Civita Blvd.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Everything Sourdough Popovers

Consider this post another chapter in my quest to identify ways to use excess sourdough starter when I do my weekly feeding. I've made cake, crackers, and biscuits so far. Unlike fresh starter, the pre-fed starter doesn't contribute much to rise. Its role instead is flavor.

This week I've made popovers. Who doesn't adore airy popovers? Along with the intriguing sourdough flavor these have, I've added something a little extra: everything topping--you know, the topping you find on bagels. You can find everything seasoning online at King Arthur Flour and locally at Trader Joe's. If you're not a fan, no worries. You can leave them naked and dunk into a gravy or sauce. You can make them a little sweet by topping them in cinnamon sugar. You could also top them with finely chopped toasted nuts with or without sugar. Be bold! Or not if you're a purist.

The other delightful aspect of these popovers is how ridiculously easy they are to make. You'll heat up milk until it's just warm--not hot! Then you'll combine the milk with eggs, the sourdough starter, and a little salt.

Whisk in the flour--but don't over mix. Even a few lumps are just fine. This batter is very forgiving. Notice I used the word batter, not dough. This mixture is very loose--like heavy cream. Don't worry. It'll work just fine.

It'll start baking in a very hot oven. After 15 minutes you'll turn down the heat and continue baking for another 15 to 20 minutes. Try as hard as you can to time this with when you want to serve the popovers because these guys demand being eaten right away.

If you are going to add a topping, melt butter in a wide little bowl just before the popovers come out of the oven. Then pull them out of the cups, dip, and roll.

And eat!

Everything Sourdough Popovers
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
(printable recipe)
Makes 6 popovers

8 ounces milk
3 large eggs
4 ounces sourdough starter, fed or discard
¾ teaspoon salt
4 ¼ ounces all-purpose flour
¼ cup melted unsalted butter
¼ cup everything topping (available from Trader Joe’s or King Arthur Flour)


Preheat oven to 450° and add muffin or popover pan.

Warm milk in the microwave or a small saucepan until it’s just warm to the touch.

Combine warm milk with eggs, sourdough starter, and salt. Gradually whisk in flour until it just comes together. Don’t worry about eliminating all lumps.
The batter will be loose, about the consistency of heavy cream.

Remove hot pan from the oven and spray it thoroughly with non-stick pan spray or brush generously with oil or melted unsalted butter.

Pour batter into the popover cups about ¾ of the way up. If you’re using a muffin tin, fill all the way to the top. Space the popovers around so each one is surrounded by empty cups to allow the popovers to expand while they bake.

Bake popovers for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375° and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove the popovers from the oven. Dip the top into a small bowl of melted butter and roll in everything mixture. Serve immediately.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Pasta Mama!

This week marks my 30th anniversary of my move to San Diego from Los Angeles. I grew up in L.A., attended UCLA, and--after several post-college years living in New York--returned to L.A., where I worked for four years before deciding to relocate to San Diego.

I still have a big place in my heart for my hometown, but the reality is L.A. is no longer the place I knew so well. Like any city, so much has changed and disappeared. It's the very definition of a city. So many of my personal landmarks are gone. Movie theaters and bookstores. Childhood restaurants like Mike's Pizza (best garlic rolls ever), the Encino Dupars, and the Encino Deli. Even neighborhood names have changed to become more hip. I know this from watching House Hunters and looking up places that I'd never heard of in the San Fernando Valley, where I grew up. But there's still one place I enjoyed that's still there--and still has its landmark item on its menu. The place is a restaurant called Hugo's and the dish is Pasta Mama.

Back in the day Hugo's had only one location: in West Hollywood. Now it's also in Agoura Hills and Studio City. I, of course, went to the original one in West Hollywood.

I don't know why I started thinking about this dish recently. I know I loved it, but I hadn't sought to recreate it. But why not? Pasta Mama combines the best of breakfast and dinner: pasta and scrambled eggs. Toss in some garlic, herbs, and grated parmesan cheese and you've got a dish that works from morning till night. It's a compound comfort food dish since it's a mix of two others.

And, there's no reason you can't riff and add other ingredients. Bacon, of course, but also roasted shrimp. Seasonal herbs. Or vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, Swiss chard, tomatoes. Or lush, gooey cheeses. You can see where I'm going here. Mama's flexible.

I scrounged around online to refresh my memory and found lots of versions of this dish. Here's my "best of" version. And I made it using, not spaghetti, but a really cute seasonal butternut squash zucchette pasta I just found at Trader Joe's.

The trick to making this dish is to have all your ingredients prepped in advance. Once the pasta is cooked it all goes very fast. So mince your garlic, place your garlic powder, oregano, seasoning salt, and onion powder together in a little bowl, chop your parsley, beat the eggs, and grate your Parmesan cheese.

Ready? All you need to do is cook the pasta (and save the hot pasta water). Heat a sauté pan, add the oil or butter, and then add the garlic and seasonings. Stir it around for up to two minutes, then add the parsley. Mix together and add the pasta and hot pasta water. If you're reheating pasta, use hot water. Once it's all stirred together, add the beaten eggs. Pretend you're scrambling them, but with lots of other goodies added. Once the eggs are just cooked through, stir in the Parmesan cheese. If you're adding other ingredients, add them when it makes sense. Cooked bacon should be chopped into pieces and added at the end to maintain the texture. Same with the vegetables--or cook them in advance if they need it. Add a cheese that will soften and run after you've cooked the eggs.

You get the idea. Just know you need to serve it immediately. It's not a dish that sits around well.

Enjoy--and happy San Diego anniversary to me! Cheers, L.A. I still love you--just from a distance.

Pasta Mama
Serves 1 to 2 people
(printable recipe)

5 ounces pasta (about 1/3 lb. fresh or dry)
1 tablespoon olive oil (or unsalted butter)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄4 teaspoon oregano
1⁄4 teaspoon seasoning salt
1⁄4 teaspoon onion powder
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon hot pasta water
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Cook pasta according to directions or measure out leftover pasta that you’ve warmed up.

Turn on burner to medium. Pour oil (or melt butter) in a 10-inch sauté pan.

Add minced garlic and the seasonings; sauté together for one to two minutes.

Stir in fresh, chopped parsley. Then add pasta with 1 tablespoon hot pasta water.

Add beaten eggs and stir in well.

Add Parmesan cheese, mix in and cook through. Serve immediately.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Dorie Greenspan's Lemon Goop

When it comes to condiments I have to admit, I think I'm a hoarder. Some of it has to do quite simply with my food writing. If I'm at a farmers market or ethnic market and see something I want to try and then write about, it goes home with me into my fridge or pantry. If I discover some marvelous sauce from a chef, I want to make it for my kitchen. One of my favorites is preserved lemon, which, yes, I've written about.

So, when I got Dorie Greenspan's new cookbook, Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook (HMH/Rux Martin Books, $35), which I'm writing a story about for the San Diego Union-Tribune, and I saw that she had a recipe at the back of the book she calls Lemon "Goop" I had to check it out. It's like preserved lemons, but it's a jammy-like condiment. And it's made with both salt and sugar. And in making it you also get lemon syrup. So it's also a two-fer.

Lemon goop and syrup ares easy to make. You're going to peel the zest from 6 large lemons, then cut off the top and bottom of each lemon and cut off the rest of the rind and pith so all that's left is the fruit.

From there you'll section the lemons. Then you'll combine sugar, salt, and water in a pot and bring the mixture to the boil. Add the zest and the lemon sections, bring back to the boil, then lower the heat so that it just simmers. Leave it for about an hour. Once it's cooked down and nice and syrupy, remove it from the heat, and strain the syrup from the lemon solids. Puree the solids in a food processor or blender, using some of the syrup to create the texture you want. That's it.

Lemon goop is just the acidic/sweet note you want to hit to balance the richness of a fatty fish. Or a pork chop. Or roasted chicken. The syrup can play all sorts of roles. Dorie adds it to vinaigrettes, as she mentions below. How about mixing it with garlic and ginger and a little neutral oil to brush onto shrimp for roasting? Or add to a seafood salad?

The great thing is that you have plenty of time to consider how to use the lemon goop and syrup because it lasts in your refrigerator for ages--like forever--until you use it up. Just keep it tightly covered.

Oh, and one more thing. Dorie Greenspan will be visiting San Diego on November 11. She’ll be appearing first at The Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe from 10:30 to 12:30 as part of the Good Earth/Great Chefs series to sign books purchased at the event. The event occurs rain or shine and is free to the public. In the evening, I’ll be interviewing her at the Lawrence Family JCC, starting at 5 p.m. General admission tickets are $18 and can be purchased online at www.lfjcc.org.

Lemon "Goop" and Syrup
from Everyday Dorie by Dorie Greenspan
(printable recipe)

Makes about ⅔ cup goop and ¾ cup syrup

I had something like this years and years ago at a restaurant near Le Dôme in Paris. It was served with tuna; perhaps tuna cooked in olive oil, I don’t remember. What I do remember is that I loved it, went home, tried to re-create it and came up short. The second time I had it was at a Paris bistro called Les Enfants Rouges, where the chef, Daï Shinozuka, served a dab of it with fish. Daï gave me a recipe — and this is based on it — but his started with preserved lemons. The recipe I finally came up with uses ordinary lemons and finishes up as a glossy jam that tastes a little like preserved lemons but is sweeter and more complex.

You’ll have more syrup than you need to make the jam — aka “goop” — but the syrup is as good as the jam. I’ve added it to vinaigrettes (page 307), roasted beets, sautéed green beans, tuna salad, chicken salad and more. It’s a terrific “tool” to have in the fridge.

I serve the goop with fish and shellfish, pork and chicken. To start you on the road to playing around with this, try it on Twice-Flavored Scallops (page 193).

6 large lemons
2 cups (480 ml) water
1½ cups (300 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons fine sea salt

WORKING AHEAD Refrigerate the goop and syrup separately until needed. In a tightly covered container, the syrup will keep forever, and the goop’s lifespan is only slightly shorter.

1. Using a vegetable peeler or small paring knife, remove the zest from 3 of the lemons, taking care not to include any of the white pith; set aside.
2. One by one, cut a slice from the top and bottom of each lemon, cutting deeply enough to reveal the fruit. Stand the lemon upright on a cutting board and, cutting from top to bottom, slice away the rind and pith, again cutting until the fruit is revealed. Slice between the membranes of each lemon to release the segments.
3. Bring the water, sugar and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan. Drop in the segments and reserved zest and bring back to a boil, then lower the heat so that the syrup simmers gently. Cook for about 1 hour, at which point the syrup will have thickened and the lemons will have pretty much fallen apart. It might look as though the lemons have dissolved, but there’ll still be fruit in the pan. Remove from the heat.
4. The fruit needs to be pureed, a job you can do with a blender (regular or immersion) or a food processor; if you have a mini-blender or mini-processor, use it.
5. Strain the syrup into a bowl and put the fruit in the blender or processor. (Save the syrup in the bowl!) Add a spoonful of the syrup to the lemons and whir until you have a smooth, glistening puree. Add more syrup as needed to keep the fruit moving and to get the consistency you want. I like the goop when it’s thick enough to form a ribbon when dropped from a spoon. Thicker is better than thinner, because you can always adjust the consistency with more of the reserved syrup.

LEMON “GOOP” AND SYRUP is excerpted from Everyday Dorie © 2018 by Dorie Greenspan. Photography © 2018 by Ellen Silverman. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Wasted: A Celebration of Sustainable Food

My last post was about Imperfect Produce, a company selling "ugly" produce to consumers to keep them from heading to the landfill.

This week's post also addresses food waste--but from a slightly different perspective: Celebrating chefs and organizations that prepare dishes and cocktails using food that would otherwise be tossed out.

Wasted: A Celebration of Sustainable Food is an event being held by Kitchens for Good on October 14 from 2 to 6 p.m. at Liberty Station. It's going to feature a competition between 30 local and national chefs and mixologists. Among them are James Beard Nominee Javier Plascencia, Bravo TV's Top Chef Katsuji Tanabe, Executive Chef Davin Waite of Wrench and Rodent, Bravo TV's Top Chef Brian Malarkey, Sugar & Scribe's Maeve Rochford--who was Food Network's Holiday Baking Champion, Elizabeth Faulkner, Danilo Tangalin, Keith Lord, and Martin San Román.

Kitchens for Good got involved in this project because it reflects core values of their mission. "We have long been inspired by creative challenge of reducing food waste, Aviva Paley, Kitchens for Good's co-founder and senior director explained. "We do this everyday in our kitchen by taking surplus and cosmetically imperfect produce and turning it into gourmet meals for hungry families. We wanted to extend that challenge to chefs and have them reimagine the possibilities of food that might otherwise go to waste. Partnering with Chef Works made this all possible with their $25,000 grant, and their incredible connections to the top chefs across the country."

Chefs, of course, are always keen to cut waste. Even if it isn't part of an environmental ethos it's critical to their profit margins. So, who better to learn from? Wasted attendees can see how chefs can repurpose day-old bread, bruised fruit, bits and pieces of leftover vegetables and meats.

And then we can vote on the winning dishes and cocktails based on these and other underutilized foods. Ideally we'll also be inspired to rethink how we address food waste in our households.

Another reason to attend Wasted is to celebrate the programs of Kitchens for Good, a local non-profit that trains men and women previously perceived as unemployable for careers in the culinary industry. These are students who had been in the foster care system, homeless, or incarcerated and who are now earning a place in San Diego's food establishment. In just two-and-a-half years Kitchens for Good has graduated 162 students and has a 90 percent post-graduation employment rate. Among the skills the students learn is food sustainability.

"Our culinary students learn about food sustainability from day one in their program. They are taught how to compost any scraps in the kitchen, how to use the whole product and avoid waste, and how to use by products to create things like stocks, sauces, and soups. Further, our students are exposed to the huge amount of food waste in San Diego, as they take thousands of pounds of surplus produce that we rescue from wholesalers and farmers markets, and turn it into thousands of nutritious and delicious meals for hungry San Diegans," Paley said.

In fact, Kitchens for Good has rescued 86,591 pounds of surplus food and turned it into 121,227 nutritious meals for the homeless, at-risk youth, and homebound seniors.

The Kitchens for Good van filled with surplus produce from partners like Specialty Produce, ProduceGood, and Senior Gleanors of San Diego County
At Wasted, Kitchens for Good culinary students will be paired with the competing chefs to help prep the dishes.

Along with the food and cocktail competition, there will be live entertainment and a silent auction. Proceeds will support Kitchens for Good.

General admission tickets are $90 and can be purchased online here. The event will be held at Luce Court and Legacy Plaza in Liberty Station at 2641 Truxton Road.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Imperfect Produce Comes to San Diego

How long do you spend in front of a display of apples or tomatoes or berries searching for the items that are just the right size, are unblemished, and with the coloring you consider the right stage of ripeness? In other words, seeking perfection...

Yeah, we all do it. But what you may not know is that all that produce already has to conform to grocery store sizes and qualities. The produce that doesn't make the cosmetic grade tends to get tossed. Yeah, we're talking about quirky shaped carrots and oblong yellow onions or really small avocados. According to UNESCO and the Environmental Working Group, 1 in 5 of these fruits and vegetables don't meet cosmetic standards and go to waste. All of them food we could eat and enjoy.

Now you might find ugly produce at your local farmers market--and you should buy them since there's nothing wrong with the quality. But here's another option for your "no-waste" tool belt: Buying from a San Francisco-based food subscription company called Imperfect Produce.

Imperfect Produce was founded in 2015 by Ben Simon and Ben Chesler. Simon had originally founded the Food Recovery Network as a student at the University of Maryland after noticing food going to waste in the cafeteria. The FRN has since expanded to more than 180 colleges and universities across the country. Simon and Chesler decided to scale the concept nationally and to source "ugly" produce directly from farms. They would then deliver it directly to consumers' homes at a discount. They claim their pricing is about 30 percent less than grocery store prices.

The produce arrives in a recyclable cardboard box--and nothing else--to limit waste. Like a CSA, you can choose from a small, medium, large, or extra-large shipment, organic, all fruit, all veggies, or mixed, with costs ranging from $11 to $13 weekly or bi-weekly for a small (7- to 9-pound) box of conventional produce to $39 to $43 for an extra-large (23- to 25-pound) box of organic produce. And you can customize your order. A few days before your delivery is scheduled to arrive you'll be notified that you can log in and select from 30 to 40 items what you want--you know, so you won't waste either. So if you hate beets or want all fruit, you can skip the beets and order citrus or whatever else is available. The site has tips for how to get the most from customizing--for instance, stocking up on items with a long shelf-life and multiple uses, like onions, potatoes, and hard squash that can be used in soups.

Imperfect Produce has already launched in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Orange County, Portland, OR, Seattle/Tacoma, Chicago, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and San Antonio. And in keeping with its mission, any produce that doesn't go to customers goes to a food bank or other nonprofit. According to the company, it has recovered 30 million pounds since its launch.

The company also collaborates with local restaurants. So far, Puesto is lined up with Chef Katy Smith using "ugly" carrots in the restaurant's escabeche and other produce in an upcoming "Taco of the Month." Modern Times will brew a collaboration beer utilizing Imperfect Produce. They expect other restaurants to come on board soon.

While Imperfect Produce tries to source locally, the options vary by the day and week, depending on the seasons and weather. Their company philosophy is "follow the waste" and, they note, since more than 80 percent of the U.S.'s produce is grown in California, this is where they source most of their fruits and vegetables. But, they also source from out of state and Mexico when it's necessary and seasonally appropriate.

"Our primary focus is reducing waste. Food waste has no borders," their website notes. "Waste is a problem worldwide, and we do what we can to reduce waste wherever and however we can. In the winter, this means sourcing from Mexico and beyond."

I got a sample box that contained four Roma tomatoes, a very small head of green cauliflower, a grapefruit, several apples, a couple of small oblong yellow onions, three small avocados, a bunch of carrots, and several small red potatoes. All look very appetizing. I've been enjoying the carrots (as has my dog Ketzel, who scarfed one from the counter), the potatoes, and the tomatoes so far.

For those who say, "Keep it local," I'm with you. First choice is to buy local and from our farmers. But I consider Imperfect Produce to be a great tool for those who can't get to a farmers market. In San Diego, admittedly it's not as critical. But for the time pressed, it's a great convenience. And consider some of the markets they're in that don't have a year-round growing season. I hope some of our farmers can get in on this so that eaters in Milwaukee or Indianapolis or Chicago can enjoy what we enjoy in January--and save food from landfills!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Break the Fast Blintzes

I've been eating or making blintzes since I was a small child. I don't remember my mom making them, but my grandmother did and taught me. I made them in college for my roommates. I made them for myself when I lived in New York and was homesick for my family. I made them for brunch for friends in L.A. And it goes on and on. In fact, a few years ago I wrote about my Nana's blintz casserole, which is so decadently rich I can only make it for company--and usually as a Yom Kippur break the fast dish for potlucks. As I wrote then, "It's a little reminiscent of a soufflé. You make the blintzes--here with ricotta cheese--and then pack them into a single layer in a casserole dish. Over the blintzes you pour a rich sauce made with eggs, sour cream, a little sugar and vanilla, and orange juice. Thanks to the eggs, the sauce puffs up and browns around the blintzes, which have also cooked and form layers of crepe and cheese."

I love blintzes as a breakfast for dinner treat, weekend brunch, or Yom Kippur break the fast, which is coming up next week. But I hadn't made them for awhile. Then, in August I got a text from Maeve Rochford of Sugar and Scribe, who was craving blintzes with blueberry compote and wanted to know if she could come over to make them with me. Well, yes. Of course. And she not only showed up with her husband Andrew and mom, Mary Margaret, but also a different way to make the filling--and the ingredients for it.

Now I have to admit I was a bit surprised. You know, blintzes are my thing. Scones and Beef and Guinness Pie are hers. But who am I to turn down a "chefier" version of a family tradition--and damn if it wasn't over the moon better than Nana's. Instead of eggs and ricotta and cinnamon sugar, Maeve uses goat cheese and ricotta with melted butter and sugar. So the filling remains creamy and full bodied, with a slight tang. This will now be my blintz recipe to pass down to my nieces and nephews. I think Nana would have liked it more, too.

Blintzes themselves are easy to make. The crepe batter is forgiving. Eggs, water, sugar, flour, and vegetable oil come together in a mostly smooth, just slightly thickened texture. Whisk it together well to get as many lumps as possible out--but don't worry if some remain. Heat a non-stick pan and add just a bit of oil. Using a ladle drop a couple of ounces into the center, swirling the batter around until you get a nice large circle. Let it sit until the edges curl up. You won't be flipping it. Instead slide it onto a plate and then start the next one.

At this point, if you aren't ready to actually make the blintzes, you can just refrigerate the crepes for a few hours or overnight. You can also prep the blintzes, which involves dropping a dollop of the filling onto a blintz crepe and folding it up like a burrito. Wrap them well and you can freeze them until you're ready to defrost them and then pan fry them in butter. So, yes, they're very versatile.

And we haven't even discussed the compote, which is divine. Maeve and I collaborated on this. Here's our blueprint, but feel free to riff on it with flavors you enjoy. We used citrus liqueur, honey, lemon zest, and lemon juice with the fresh blueberries. Simmer and stir it over heat until the blueberries begin to burst. You could just as easily, with just as marvelous a result, use sugar and cinnamon, and no liqueur.

Or, if you are über traditional, you can skip the compote and top the blintz with sour cream and/or applesauce. (But, really, make the blueberry compote.)

Cheese Blintzes with Blueberry Compote
Yield: 12 blintzes
(printable recipe)

5 eggs, beaten slightly
2 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Maeve’s version
2 cups ricotta cheese
12 ounces goat cheese
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup sugar


Nana Tillie’s version
2 eggs
1 pound ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar or to taste

Blueberry Compote:
¼ cup water
¼ cup citrus liqueur, like Cointreau (or substitute with more water)
½ cup honey
Lemon zest from half a lemon
10 ounces (2 cups) fresh blueberries
1 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Make the crepes by beating the 5 eggs slightly. Add the water and sugar and beat together. Slowly beat in the flour until smooth. A few lumps are okay.

Set out a plate covered with wax paper. Heat a skillet and brush it lightly with vegetable oil. Using a 2-ounce ladle, scoop in some batter and pour it onto the skillet. Tilt the pan all around so the batter forms a circle around 9 inches in diameter. Don't worry about perfection. This is a homey dish.

Return the skillet to the heat and let the crepe cook until the edges curl up slightly and the surface is cooked entirely--you won't be flipping them to cook on the other side. Use a spatula to help you turn out the crepe onto the wax paper on the plate. Then brush the pan again and repeat until you use up all the batter. You should have a dozen crepes. You can make these a day ahead. Just cover the crepes and store in the refrigerator.

To make the blueberry compote, bring to the boil compote ingredients. Simmer, stirring periodically, 3 to 5 minutes until the blueberries begin to burst. Remove from heat. Set aside.

To make the filling, blend together the ingredients from either of the choices above.

Make the blintzes by placing 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling in the center of the crepe. Fold the bottom half over the filling. Then fold the sides in. Then fold the top down over the center. Refrigerate until ready to fry.

Heat a sauté pan and add butter. Once the butter has melted add three to four (or five, depending on the size of the pan) and fry at medium heat until the first side browns, then flip the blintzes and brown on the other side. Serve with the blueberry compote.

The blintzes can be frozen before or after frying. The compote can also be frozen.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

2018 Fall San Diego Farm to Fork Week About to Begin

San Diego Farm to Fork Week has now become a tradition. This month marks the third such event, held by Farm to Fork San Diego, a membership organization conceived by Trish Watlington, former owner of The Red Door, that brings farming, fishing, and food awareness to consumers by verifying and promoting local businesses and non-profits that support local farmers and fishermen. San Diego Farm to Fork Week is the signature event of the organization, and runs from September 9th to 15th.

Here's why you want to participate: You'll get dining discounts and special dishes from the participating restaurants. And, it's a chance to try new, locally sourced restaurants, bakeries, and breweries at affordable prices.

"We hope diners will not only experience the fresh flavors and creativity that come from working with local food that’s in season," Watlington said, "but that they will appreciate and become part of the important food supply chain that starts all the way back with seed farmers and extends all the way to chefs, brewers, vintners and ultimately they’ll be proud to support a local, sustainable, accessible and healthy food community."

Among those participating in Farm to Fork Week is Garden Kitchen's chef/owner Coral Fodor Strong. She explained that she's involved to bring additional awareness to what her restaurant is offering in the context of totally supporting local farmers by executing a daily changing menu with what San Diego farmers are growing exactly within a 50-mile radius.

"Farm to Fork SD showcases so many amazing restaurants, chefs and diners that embrace the local food scene, so the upcoming week can bring more attention to those that are truly engaging and supporting our farmers, our fishermen and our community as a whole," she added.

For Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub's chef/owner Davin Waite, it's an opportunity to acknowledge both that San Diego's local farms are a treasure--and that, unfortunately, a lot of them struggle. "We like to be a part of events that recognize and showcase local growers. It's always a pleasure to play with food that comes from local farms, and we always love seeing our names mentioned next to restaurants we love and respect," he said.

Part of the fun of the event is sampling special dishes chefs will be making for it. Robin Ross of Pt. Loma's Cupcakes Squared is featuring a Lemon Fig cupcake giveaway, free with any purchase that week. The figs are sourced from Watlington's Two Forks Farm.

Courtesy of Robin Ross
"I fell in love with the concept of Farm to Fork Week at it's inception," Ross said. "It's a reliable source of information dedicated to showcasing the efforts of businesses, small and large, supporting local farms and food producers. Promoting seasonal eating allows our food to be at peak flavor. I am in hope that Farm to Fork Week will awaken the senses of diners as they partake in events and special
menus provided.   It should be a way of eating, daily, and Farm To Fork San Diego is a wonderful resource."

Like Ross, other chefs will be determining their own discounts, menu items, or prix fixe menus. For example, you can enjoy three exclusively local courses at Garden Kitchen, an omakase tasting menu at Wrench and Rodent, or an heirloom tomato salad with charred strawberries at Juniper & Ivy. And special Farm to Fork Week brews from Bivouac Ciderworks and Benchmark Brewing, made with produce from local farms, will be available all week.

Specifics are posted on each restaurant’s website.

Here's a complete list of who's participating:

Benchmark Brewing
Biga San Diego
Bivouac Cider Works
Blind Lady Alehouse
Ceviche House
Cupcakes Squared
FaVe Tacos
Garden Kitchen
Juniper and Ivy
Kettner Exchange
Land and Water Company
Loaf and Fish Sandwiches
Masters Kitchen and Cocktail
Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub

Along with the restaurant offerings during the week of the 9th will also be a host of other very cool events that begin on September 5 and go through the 17th.

The kick-off event is "Shop with Chefs at Little Italy Wednesday Market": Shop with local chefs including Mike Reidy of Ironside Fish and Oyster, Stevan Novoa of Duckfoot Brewing, Heath Toms of the Glass Door, Chef Juan Carlos Recamier of Ceviche House and D J Tangalin of Bivouac Ciderworks while they show you how to choose the tastiest, freshest ingredients from local farmers ranchers and food makers. Chat with Brijette Romstedt, owner of San Diego Seed company, about her seed-to-table project and how you can grow some of your own food with seeds specifically acclimated for San Diego's climate. There will be free seed samples too!

There will also be a similar event the following Saturday at Tuna Harbor, a Shop Talk Industry Mixer at Bivouac Cider, Garden Kitchen-Benchmark Pairing, Royale-In Good Company Guest Bartenders, a Sea to Fire Dinner at BIGA San Diego, Sunday Asado at Nopalito Farms, and, concludes with the Good Food Showcase on the 17th. You can learn more about each event here.

The big, in-your-face takeaway from Farm to Fork Week, though, isn't just participating in events. It's what we all do once the event is over. 

As Watlington said, "Celebrate every day and every week by supporting your local farmers and fishermen. Support farmers by buying direct at farmers markets or from locally sourced groceries like Stehly Farms Organics. Support fishermen and the environment by buying at Tuna Harbor Dockside market every Saturday. Become a regular at any or all of the restaurant, winery and brewery members and by supporting our business members and local non-profits. Supporting them also supports local farmers and fishermen and a healthy local food system. We’re here, not just to promote certain businesses but to create a community centered around food and food producers. That community depends on the support of all San Diegans." 

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