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!

Print Page

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.

Print Page

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." 

Print Page

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Homemade Blueberry Pie

Given the unending heat and humidity, it may not feel like it in San Diego, but the end of summer is closing in on us. There's always one day around this time that--for me, at least--marks the end as the quality of the light changes. I think of it as "football season sunlight." It's the hazy light I associate with going with my family to my dad's favorite outing: USC football games. The day I experienced that light for the first time this year was last Wednesday and I mentioned it to my mom, who was over cooking with me in anticipation of a story I'm writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune's food section on Rosh Hashanah dishes. Outside my kitchen window, looking out on my patio, it seemed there was a filter over the sun instead of harsh glare. I always miss the idea of summer--it's supposedly lazy days and the vacations I never take--but, to be honest, I love autumn. What I do miss--really miss, in fact--is summer produce. The watermelon and peaches and big juicy tomatoes, and berries.

This evening I'm going to a potluck dinner party and was asked to bring dessert. I decided to bake a pie and thought, well, if summer is coming to an end, how about a blueberry pie as a send off? Fresh blueberries are still in abundance and I bought several pints. This, too, ties back to my dad. He adored blueberries. I think he would have loved this pie--even if he probably would set aside the crust, something he never much liked and that totally mystified me. I love a great pie crust.

Anyone who reads San Diego Foodstuff or who knows me knows how much I love baking pies--and, unlike my dad, how curious I am about different kinds of crusts. So I thought I'd change up my usual crust just a little. I scouted around online and recalled that vodka can make a crust flakier. I had some vodka in the freezer so I added that to the crust, along with a little sugar, salt, and fresh lemon juice, as well, of course, ice water.

For the filling, I combined the fresh blueberries with the usual: lemon zest and lemon juice, along with cornstarch to thicken it. But instead of granulated sugar I opted for brown sugar to lend a deeper flavor. And instead of cinnamon, I added a wonderful pie standby of mine: Divine Desserts fennel pollen blend.

The rest went along the usual way. I made the top and bottom doughs, formed them into discs, wrapped them in plastic and refrigerated them for a couple of hours. When you make the dough be sure you don't overwork it. You want striations of butter throughout to help make a flakier crust.

Before you start rolling the dough for the pie plate (and try to use a deep dish pie plate), make the filling. Just combine all those filling ingredients. The mixture can sit a bit and macerate while you roll out the dough.

Roll out one at a time, leaving the other to continue to chill in the fridge. Make a circle larger than the pie plate, then using your rolling pin, lift and set it into the pie plate. You'll want to trim the overhang to about 3/4 inch over. Save the excess dough and set it aside. Fill the pie with the blueberry mixture, then roll out the other dough disc, place it over the filling, and trim that overhang. Then you'll pinch and crimp the edges.

Brush the top crust with the egg wash, then cut slits into the crust to let steam out while the pie bakes.

That's it! Now it goes into the oven to bake. You'll start out at high heat for about 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature while it bakes another half an hour or so. Check at the 30-minute mark to make sure the pie isn't burning. If it's getting a little too brown but not ready to remove, cover it with a piece of foil.

Once you remove it from the oven, place it on a rack to cool before serving.

Oh, and that leftover dough? Form it into a small disc and wrap it up for the freezer. You can use it to make a small tart later just for yourself--perhaps with apples for fall.

Blueberry Pie
1 deep dish pie
(printable recipe)


4 cups AP flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 sticks (1 ½ cups) cold European-style butter cut into 1-inch chunky pieces
¼ cup chilled vodka
¼ cup ice water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

6 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed with stems removed
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup cornstarch
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon Divine Desserts fennel pollen blend

Egg Wash
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk


1. In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, and salt. Toss in butter and using your fingertips, lightly coat with the flour mixture. Then quickly rub butter into flour mixture to get pea-size pieces.
2. Mix together in a small bowl the vodka, ice water, and lemon juice. Then drizzle over flour and butter mixture and mix together with a fork until it starts to get a little shaggy looking. Then use your hands and knead briefs just until the dough comes together. If it’s still dry, add a little more ice water.
3. Gently form the dough into two ¾-inch discs and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight. You can also put them in the freezer.
4. When you’re ready to make the pie, preheat the oven to 425°. Make the filling by combining the blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, cornstarch, brown sugar, and fennel pollen blend in a large bowl. Stir gently but thoroughly to make sure all the blueberries are coated. Set aside.
5. Pull one of the dough discs from the refrigerator. Flour your surface and roll out the disc into a circle large enough to drape over your pie plate. Place the dough into the pie plate and trim the edges to 3/4-inch over the pan. Refrigerate while you roll out the second dough disc.
6. Pull the pie plate out of the refrigerator and fill with the blueberry mixture. Place the second crust over the blueberry filling and trim.
7. Gently press the crust edges together and tuck the dough under the edge of the bottom dough. Crimp the edges by gently pushing the index finger of one hand into the edge of the dough and your thumb and index finger of your other hand, going around the edge of the pie.
8. Quickly make the egg wash by whisking the egg and milk together. Brush the top crust with the wash. Then score the top crust several times to let steam release.
9. Place the pie on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350˚ and bake another 30 to 40 minutes until the crust is a golden brown and the juices are bubbling.
10. Remove to a wire rack and let cool before serving.

Print Page

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Clairemont Produce Cooperative Builds Meals and Community

On the second Saturday of each month a dozen or so home gardeners who live in San Diego's  Clairemont community begin to gather around 9 a.m., bulging bags and baskets in hand. They're bearing the fruit of their labor to share with one another. The group, the Clairemont Produce Cooperative, or CPC, was started in 2011 by Lisa Raggio, who hosts the monthly exchange at her hilltop home. She got the idea for it around the time of Los Angeles' "Carmegeddon," thinking about how ridiculous it was that people today are so dependent on cars to have the basics on hand, like food. And since few people can grow everything, wouldn't it be nice to get neighbors together to share with one another.

"I wrote an article in the Clairemont community newspaper about this idea and invited people to meet me at the local Starbucks. Ten people showed up."

Raggio, who works in marketing at Graphic Solutions, publicizes CPC at the annual Clairemont Garden Tour and Clairemont Family Day.

Members John and Joan Brosnan, who have lived in Clairemont for 24 years, just learned about CPC last spring at the garden tour. "It's a neat way to share what we grow, learn tips for growing and dealing with insects, and see what people are growing," the couple, who finish each other's sentences, said. In their garden, they grow butternut squash, tomatoes, cantaloupes, banana peppers, green beans, herbs, and a variety of fruit trees.

At the August meeting, the offerings gradually expanded into an impressive bounty of figs, tomatoes, grapes, lemons, eggplant, mint, rosemary, both Cuban and Italian oregano, chilies of all kinds, bay leaves, kale, summer squash and zucchini, radishes, string beans, and even eggs. Someone brought sweet pea seeds and peas to plant, with instructions. And there was a brown paper bag filled with milkweed pods for people to take to attract butterflies and bees.

Spread along Raggio's outdoor grilling counter, the produce eventually is divvied up equally among the participants who can then do some trading if they'd rather have more or less of something. Over the course of the morning they enjoy refreshments Raggio puts out and chat about their garden experiences, the produce they've grown, and recipe suggestions and tips.

Four times a year the group holds potlucks with speakers. Among the group are master gardeners, but they've also had Farmer Bill of City Farmers Nursery in to speak. Member Michelle Innis gave a shitake mushroom presentation earlier in the year.

Another member, Sue Gerson, isn't the family gardener. Her husband is. But he has another standing commitment on Saturday mornings so Gerson, who says she's the harvester and cook, attends. "I saw a notice about it six or seven years ago in July," she said. "We live near Mesa College and grow a lot of stuff on our multi-level hillside. Today I just brought cherry tomatoes and rosemary. Usually I bring dates but they've dried out now.

"It's a community thing," she added. "I like the idea of a neighborhood community group where we grow our own stuff and it's all organic.

Raggio sends out an email at the beginning of the month to members, who need to RSVP so she can then send a final head count to recipients so they know how much to bring.

"The best part is we learn about fruits and vegetables not in the market. The rare ones. And we learn from one another how to grow them. There's such diversity in what's grown and brought here, thanks to the various microclimates here, not to mention that everyone's garden gets different light exposure," Raggio said.

"Then there's the community part of it," she added. "There are no nicer people than people who grow."

If you live in Clairemont and are interested in joining the CPC, contact Raggio at j.raggio@att.net. Do you know of another community produce cooperative in San Diego? Let me know about it!

Print Page

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Join My Fermentation Journey

If you know me you know that for years I've been making pickles, mostly dill pickles. I never really thought of it as "fermenting." But I recently researched and wrote a story on fermenting vegetables for the San Diego Union-Tribune which will appear on August 15. It was then that I realized that fermenting was exactly what I was doing.

Thanks to my friend Curt Wittenberg, who has been my guru through this, I decided to branch out and pickle other vegetables using a salt brine. (Pickling with vinegar is just pickling.) And that's what I started this afternoon with a simple quart of vibrant purple cauliflower, a pretty red and yellow stripped bell pepper, huge jalapeños, and lots of garlic cloves. I kind of had the makings of a giardiniera so I thought I'd use the seasonings for that: black peppercorns, dried oregano, celery seeds, and red pepper flakes. No olive oil, though.

And, by the way, this is the perfect post-farmers market shopping project. Do it with your kids or grandkids. Hey, it's a science project!

I had forgotten that several years ago I had contributed to a Go Fund Me for a little company called FARMcurious that was creating a fermenting set, with lids, stoppers, and airlocks. The set locks out air--and mold and yeast--and provides an escape for carbon dioxide. As a funder, I got one and put it in my garage--and it just became part of the landscape of the shelves. But no more. I pulled it out and was almost ready. But in interviewing Curt I realized I needed two other tools I didn't even know existed (I had jars): glass fermentation weights, to make sure the vegetables stay covered by the brine, and a vegetable tamper, which you use to cram as much produce into your jar. I ordered those from Cultures for Health, and they appeared yesterday--yes, on a Sunday!

Now I was ready.

The process is simple. Chop up the vegetables to the size you like. Make a salt brine. Make sure everything you touch--from the jar to the fermenting set to the tamper to the weights--is perfectly clean. Then start filling the jar. Add your spices first, then the vegetables. You can layer them by vegetable type or mix them up. I layered these. Tamp them down. Then add the brine. Top with the weight (and carefully pull out any little random pieces of vegetables or spices. Screw on the lid of the fermenting set. Set it out on your kitchen counter, away from direct sun, and let science do its work.

That's it. If you don't have a fermenting set, no worries. I never used one before and have been making pickles for seeming centuries. Instead use a clean lid and "burp" the jar, meaning slightly loosen it and then tighten it again once a day for the first few days. This lets that carbon dioxide escape.

Here's a quick note from Curt about the proportions for the brine and vegetables. In short, it's kind of improvisational. It depends on the size of the vegetable pieces and their density. So, he suggests having an extra bottle or bottles in different sizes in case there's overage. You can always rummage around your fridge and add more vegetables if you didn't prepare enough for another quart jar. And save any excess brine to add in case some bubbles out of the bottle or to add after you remove your pickle pebble and want to start sampling.

After a few days or up to 12 days (I'm going for five days, at Curt's advice, given the hot weather), unscrew the fermenting set and replace it with a regular screw-on lid and refrigerate. Then eat! Add these to a sandwich or a cheese or charcuterie platter--or just snack on them.

So, here we are on Day 1. I'm hoping: A) No mold develops and B) It tastes terrific. I already know that those vibrant colors of today will fade but with luck/science, the colors will be replaced by big flavor.

Stay tuned...

Fermented Giardiniera
Adapted from Curt Wittenberg's Lacto-Fermented Mixed Vegetable recipe
Yield: 1 quart
(printable recipe)

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Approximately 1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
6 black peppercorns
4 or more peeled garlic cloves
1 cup cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 red pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 large jalapeños, thickly sliced

To prepare brine, warm 3/4 cups of water, add salt, and stir to dissolve. Add 3/4 cups cold water to bring brine to room temperature.

In a quart jar add the oregano, red pepper flakes, celery seeds, peppercorns, and the garlic cloves. Fill jar with vegetables, leaving about 1 ½ inches of headspace. Pour brine over all, just covering the vegetables and leaving the headspace.

Cover jar with lid and airlock, if using, or tight lid. Ferment at room temperature for 3 to 12 days. If using a tight lid, be sure to burp the jar by slightly loosening the lid and then tightening it again daily for the first few days of fermentation.

Once the vegetables have developed the desired acidity, move them to cold storage.

Print Page

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho with Toasted Almonds

One of my longtime favorite salads is the Watermelon, Tomatoes, Cukes, Pinenuts, Arugula, Feta, Currants, Basil-Mint, Pom Vin served in the summer at Urban Solace. Not unlike my recent Peach Tomato Panzanella the watermelon in Urban Solace's salad is a perfect foil for tomatoes--and the combo is so refreshing in the heat of the season.

So when I came across this gazpacho in Serious Eats that features watermelon with tomatoes you know I'd have to play with it and then share it with you. After all, you need a break. It's hot and sticky (You can see how humid it is just by looking at those thick clouds off to the east; oh, do they make me wince).

Instead of prepping a hot soup that you can then chill, here's a cold summer soup that requires only the patience of waiting for flavors to come together in the fridge, not of schvitzing over a hot stove. The big activities are roughly chopping the fruit and vegetable ingredients and, after they have been mixed together with salt and marinated for an hour to bring out more flavors, puréeing them into soup in your blender. So easy!

So, what besides the watermelon makes this gazpacho unique? Well, first, let's not under rate the value of the watermelon since who doesn't love a cold slice in 90° temps plus high humidity? Add that splendid sweet juiciness to a traditional tomato soup and you'll be sighing in happiness. But the other factor is the substitution of toasted almonds for bread. Now we have a light, low-carb summer soup that adds nuttiness and creaminess.

Like a little heat to offset the sweetness? Me, too. So I added a couple of seeded Serrano peppers from my garden to the soup. It won't blow your top, but it will give your mouth a little zing, along with the acid of the sherry vinegar.

Top this light soup with crema, sour cream, or, as I did, some crumbles of goat cheese.

Watermelon Tomato Gazpacho with Toasted Almonds
Adapted from Serious Eats
Yield: 2 quarts
(printable recipe)

6 cups watermelon, roughly diced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly diced
1 medium cucumber, roughly diced
1/2 medium red onion, roughly diced
2 Serrano peppers, seeded and roughly diced
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
1/3 cup crema, sour cream, or goat cheese
Additional diced vegetables for garnish (optional)

1. In a large bowl combine watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, peppers, toasted almonds, kosher salt, and pepper. Set aside to marinate for about an hour.

2. In a blender, working in batches, purée the vegetables and their liquid until smooth and creamy. Transfer the soup into a large bowl. Whisk in the sherry vinegar and olive oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper (and even the sherry vinegar, if necessary, to balance the acid).
3. Cover soup and chill in refrigerator at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. Taste and further adjust seasonings if necessary. Ladle soup in bowls and garnish with the crema and diced vegetables.

Print Page

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Sweet Italian Pepper and Goat Cheese Toasts

In my garden this summer I have been growing two varieties of sweet Italian peppers: Jimmy Nardellos and Marconi Reds. Both are considered frying peppers, although the Marconi Red--yes, singular; so far I've only gotten one--is at least three times the size of the Jimmy Nardellos.

These are what you could call "wash and wear" peppers. They don't need skinning. They barely need seeding. Put them on the grill, chop and add to a sauce, add raw to a salad, pickle them, or sauté and add to eggs or a quiche or wherever you enjoy a pepper.

I decided to culture bend and create a lovely summer appetizer.

This doesn't call for a strict recipe. All you'll need are olive oil, the sweet peppers, a red onion, garlic, sea salt and pepper, a baguette or long loaf of Italian bread, and a creamy cheese.

Slice the peppers into thin strips. Slice the red onion. Mince the garlic. Sauté them in olive oil until they're soft and just beginning to caramelize, then season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Want to change up or deepen the flavors? Add capers like I did. Or add toasted pine nuts. Add currants or diced dried figs. Or basil leaves. Or sauté a small amount of fennel root. Or a dash of sherry vinegar or dry sherry or your favorite red wine or balsamic vinegar.

Okay, once you've cooked up the peppers, turn on the broiler. Slice the bread in half lengthwise and into individual pieces (about 2 1/2 inches in length), then place in the broiler cut side up for just a few minutes. While the bread is lightly toasting, break up the cheese. It could be mozzarella or ricotta or panela, or--as I used--chevre (remember, I already acknowledged culture bending).

Pull the bread out of the oven and top with the pepper mixture. Then dot with the cheese. Put back under the broiler for about 3 to 4 minutes until the cheese begins to melt or darkens. Remove from the oven to plate and serve.

Have extra pepper mixture? Don't toss it! Add it to scrambled eggs. Or a tomato sauce. Make polenta and top each serving with a spoonful. Stir it into pasta. Just don't waste it!

Print Page

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Baked Vanilla Custard and Orange Poached Figs with Vanilla Custard Sauce

I've been making baked vanilla custard since I was a tween. That was when my mom developed a ruptured disc in her back and sporadically through my college days was on extended bed rest. During those periods when she was flat on her back I'd come home from school and go upstairs to my parents' bedroom, where my mom lay, help her into the prescribed corset that was attached to two heavy sandbags on a pole tucked into the end of their bed. With everything in place I'd carefully lower each sandbag, which had the effect of stretching her spine and relieving the pressure on the disc. That, my friends, was called "being in traction."

To get through these intervals, my mom was reliant on two things--small doses of valium (that's what was prescribed back then) and baked custard, which I'd make every few days after setting her up in traction. Everyone has their comfort food and custard is my mom's.

Turns out it still is. Recently, she underwent oral surgery. The weekend before we talked about provisions she'd need while recovering from it. Mashed potatoes. Check. Smoothies. Check. Jello and pudding. Check.

How about custard, I joked. Her face lit up. "I told my friends about how you used to make it for me when my back was out and hoped you'd ask me if you could make it."

So, I am back to making custard. It was like muscle memory. It takes all of about five minutes to whip up. The waiting is in the baking--and my oven must be off because it took far too long for it to bake. But once it did, it was the same divine dessert I made regularly for almost 10 years, using a reliable recipe from Joy of Cooking.

Once I got going on the baked custard I started contemplating the nature of custards. After all, this timeless mixture of milk, eggs, and sugar takes all kinds of forms--sauces, pie, flan, crème caramel, crème brûlée, sponge custards, pot-de-crème, floating island, and ice cream. Any of these variations lead to creamy comfort. They're the yin to mashed potato yang. Clearly someone who needed a hug from her mommy created the original dish.

But, as with anything worthwhile, making custard comes with risks.

With custards the primary risk is curdling. After all, you're introducing eggs to hot milk. But, when you make baked custard, everything starts at room temperature until you put the dish or dishes into the oven. With baked custard you want to bake the custard in a bain marie, or hot water bath. It's simple enough. Pull out a baking dish or roasting pan just large enough to hold the custard dish or ramekins. Fill the latter with the raw custard and place them in the larger dish. Some people suggest lining the bottom of the larger dish with a towel. I never have and never experienced a problem. Anyway, carefully fill the large dish with very hot (some say boiling) water, without splashing into the custard. This helps the custard cook evenly. You'll place this carefully into the middle rack of a 300° oven and bake until a knife inserted along the side of the custard dish comes out clean.

So that's baked custard. But I actually have another dish for you, too. With figs in season I thought I'd play with poached figs in a custard sauce. This custard is cooked stovetop. It's more labor intensive and you'll get a bit of a steam facial but the flavor and texture are so marvelous it's worth it--and can be done in advance if you're entertaining, then put together when you're ready to serve it.

Instead of a bain marie, you'll be using a double boiler. And now you risk the curdling. So, what you'll want to do to avoid that is cook the custard over, not in, the boiling water in the lower pot so it won't get too hot. Stir the mixture constantly. Cook only until the custard leaves a thick coating on the back of a metal spoon, then remove it from the heat to keep it from cooking. If worst comes to worst and you see streaks of scrambled eggs, you can either pour it through a fine sieve into a bowl or pour it into a blender jar and process it until it's smooth again, then return it to the heat.

For the figs, poaching is a dream. You can riff on the liquid flavorings--using red or white wine or a dessert wine or water and juice or even balsamic vinegar. Add sugar, perhaps herbs, vanilla, or citrus zest. I focused on orange, with a syrup made of cointreau and orange zest. The flavor perfectly complements the vanilla custard sauce. Combine the ingredients, bring to a simmer for five minutes, then add the figs and simmer for another five minutes. If necessary turn the figs as they're cooking to be sure the figs poach evenly. Then remove the saucepan from the heat and let the figs cool in the syrup.

When serving, quarter the figs and place them on a plate with a lip and spoon the custard around them.

Baked Vanilla Custard
From Joy of Cooking
Makes 3 cups
(printable recipe)

2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
Seeds scraped from 1-inch length of vanilla bean
Freshly grated nutmeg

Pre-heat oven to 300°.

Mix together the milk, sugar, and salt. Add the eggs and beat well. Then add the vanilla. Pour into a baking dish or individual custard cups. Dust with nutmeg.

Place the custard cups or baking dish into a heavy ceramic baking dish and add hot water until it reach halfway up the sides of the custard containers. Carefully place in the oven and bake 30 minutes (longer for a single large container of custard) until a knife inserted near the edge of the cup comes out clean. The custard may still be wobbly but it will continue to set up as it cools.

Remove the custard from the oven and the custard cups from the bain marie. Set on a rack to cool. Then chill.


Orange Poached Figs with Vanilla Custard Sauce
Serves 4
(printable recipe)

1 cup orange liqueur
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups water
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 vanilla bean, split
8 fresh figs (I used brown turkey figs)
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt,
Seeds scraped from 1-inch length of vanilla bean

Prepare figs first. To make poaching liquid combine liqueur, zest, water, thyme, and vanilla bean into a non-reactive medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for five minutes.

Add figs to the syrup and continue simmering for another five minutes, periodically turning the figs to ensure they cook evening. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the figs cool for about 10 minutes in the syrup. Then remove to a plate. You can save the syrup by straining it into a container.

Prepare the custard by bringing water in the bottom of a double boiler to the boil. In the top of the double boiler scald the milk. Then slowly stir in the egg yolks, sugar, and salt. Stir the mixture constantly over (not in) the boiling water. Once it has thickened enough to coat the back of a metal spoon remove the custard sauce from the heat and continue beating to release any steam. Stir in the vanilla seeds. Pour into a dish and chill in the refrigerator.

To plate the dish, quarter the figs to show off their interior. Place two each flower-like on a plate with lips or shallow bowl. Carefully pour the custard around the figs.

Print Page