Tuesday, March 27, 2018

That's How the Cookie Crumbles--And They're Delightful!

Easter is this Sunday and if you have a tradition of gifting friends and family with Easter-themed treats, have I got a source for you: Crumbles Bake Shoppe.

I met owner/baker Alandra Masaoy at her booth at the La Jolla Open Aire Market last Sunday, captivated by the array of colorful, exquisitely decorated vanilla sugar cookies she creates. Masaoy, who had been a vet tech for years, has been focused on this business since she launched it in last June from the home she shares with her husband Freddy in El Cajon.

Masaoy is self taught. The idea was actually a shared dream with a friend of hers--but it involved making mini cakes, not cookies.

"We talked about it for a long time, but it was always a dream. It just seemed like it was so out of our reach and we had no idea how to get started. I don't exactly remember how we went from cakes to cookies. But the first ones I ever made were horrible! I remember sending a picture of them to my sister and asking her if she would buy them. Her response was, "Yes...but only because you're my sister!"

Eventually, though, Masaoy, who grew up in Chula Vista's Eastlake community, determined to walk the talk and make it happen. Between both of their work schedules, the timing with her friend didn't work out so she took the idea and ran with it on her own.

Masaoy said the cookies she sells now are the result of a lot of practice--everything from coming up with just the right sugar cookie to learning how to design and meticulously decorate them with icing, including hand painting the floral cookies.

"My floral cookies are all hand painted free hand," she said. "I've always like doodling flowers but I never even know I could paint a decent looking flower until I tried on a cookie!"

As beautiful as the cookies are, they are also quite delicious. They are thick, but with a nice bite and flavor. And, what surprised me, was that the icing is not overly, cloyingly sweet. It's a terrific cookie, almost too pretty to eat.

Masaoy finds inspiration everywhere, always thinking about how she can turn what she sees into a cookie. "I've also found a whole world of other cookiers online, so there are always ideas, tips, and tricks being shared."

Currently, you can find Masaoy and her Crumbles Bake Shoppe monthly at the La Jolla Open Aire Market. Masaoy will also be at the Antique Craft Fair at Summers Past Farms in Flinn Springs near El Cajon on Saturday, April 21.

But her big news is that she will have a space at the new SoCal Made at the Westfield Mission Valley Mall between the movie theater and Bath and Body Works. The store is holding its grand opening this Saturday, March 31 from 4 to 8 p.m. Cookies, Masaoy said, will be available for purchase there.

Eventually, Masaoy said, she'd like to have her own storefront or little bake shop one day--and maybe then consider making mini cakes again. And she's been throwing around the idea of teaching a class in the future.

In the meantime, you can find her designs on Instagram under the handle crumblesbakeshoppe. And you can request special orders from her via email (curmblesbakeshoppe.sd@gmail.com) or phone (808-226-9120). Orders, she said, are usually picked up from her house but depending on how far they are from El Cajon, she will sometimes meet people half way.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring = Asparagus

Happy spring! Even in usually balmy San Diego, it's been so long in coming. Thanks to a nasty flu I've been dealing with since mid-February I've had little inclination to cook but I'm perking up and decided it was time to indulge in my favorite spring vegetable: asparagus.

Back in the day, asparagus was exotic and pricey. At least pricey for my family. I may have first discovered them in their canned form. Not a winning introduction. Canned asparagus is overcooked and kind of slimy. But fresh! Oh, that's another matter entirely. Especially grilled or broiled.

Now over the years two questions about asparagus persist:

1. Pencil thin or thick? (As if my preferred medium girth weren't an option.)
2. Eat with your fingers or your fork?

The way I enjoy them the most requires medium girth and a fork at the table--because I cut the asparagus into two-inch pieces. You see, I love them sautéed in olive oil and garlic, before being caramelized by lemon juice, and tossed with toasted sesame seeds and sea salt.

This is the simplest of dishes and yet, to me, is all about the asparagus and how well it marries with each of these few ingredients.

Here's how it goes down: Wash the asparagus and then snap off the tough, woody bottom end. Slice into two-inch pieces (or as close as you can get). Mince a couple of cloves of garlic. Lightly toast a couple of teaspoons of white sesame seeds. Get a nice juicy slice of lemon (I use Meyer lemons from my garden but a conventional lemon is fine, too).

Now pull out your favorite sauté pan and place it on the stove over medium high heat. To be honest, I have a Scanpan wok that I've had forever (purchased at the late Great News! years ago). I rarely use it for Asian cooking (I have a "real" wok for that) but love to sauté veggies in the Scanpan wok because the flat bottom perfectly fits one of my ceramic stove's front burners and the swooping sides give me more cooking room.

Add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and let it heat up a bit, then add the garlic. Once you can smell the garlic's aroma, add the asparagus. Stir it in to coat with the oil and garlic.

Then be patient and let the asparagus cook for a couple of minutes. Stir and let it sit some more. It takes about six minutes for the asparagus to show signs of browning. You don't want it overcooked, just a little seared. Then add the lemon juice. Stir and let the juice reduce and caramelize the asparagus. The garlic will turn into brown bits that actually are delicious, not to mention crunchy. Sprinkle the asparagus with sea salt, then toss in the sesame seeds. Mix well. That's it. Time to plate it.

Sautéed Asparagus with Garlic, Lemon Juice, and Sesame Seeds
Serves 2
(printable recipe)

2 dozen medium-width asparagus spears (about a pound)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted
Juice from 1/4 lemon
Sea salt to taste

1. Wash and trim the asparagus to remove the woody bottom. Slice into two-inch pieces.
2. Heat a sauté pan over medium high and add minced garlic. Once you can smell the garlic, add the asparagus. Stir to coat the asparagus with the oil and garlic. Then let it sit for a couple of minutes. Stir and let it sit some more. Continue to stir a couple of more times until the asparagus starts to brown--about six minutes.
3. Add the lemon juice. Stir and let the juice reduce and caramelize the asparagus. Sprinkle with sea salt and stir in the sesame seeds. Serve.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Revisiting St. Patrick's Day Corned Beef and Corned Swordfish

Normally I'm not a big St. Patrick's Day celebrator. It was one thing when I lived in New York City and all of Manhattan turned into a green boozy, sudsy party. But as someone who's not much of a drinker, it's not one of my top holidays. Nevertheless, if St. Patrick's Day is your thing, be assured that celebrations will be going on (including a parade and Irish Day) and special menus and brews will be on San Diego restaurant and pub menus. So, release your inner leprechaun!

And, with the holiday falling on a Saturday this year, there's more opportunity to get in some St. Paddy's Day cooking and, who doesn't love the essential holiday meal?

That would be, of course, corned beef. Now there's nothing more Irish (or, yes, Jewish...) than corned beef. Several years ago Iowa Meat Farm's butcher Richie Vought taught me how they make theirs. It's perfect with the traditional boiled cabbage and potatoes, but I'm partial to enjoying it in a sandwich.

Not a meat eater? Well, there's nothing saying you can't "corn" fish, especially very sturdy fish like swordfish that chef Tommy Fraioli made at the late, great Sea Rocket Bistro. The brined swordfish is moist and tender, with a hint of cloves and a slightly pickled flavor. And you can add carrots, cabbage, and potatoes to the cooking liquid to add flavor.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Honey Skillet Chicken Thighs with Meyer Lemon, Garlic, and Anchovies

I am, I admit, a creature of habit. And so after a long day of work and chasing after a puppy recovering from hip surgery I just usually default to my reliable dinners. That includes roasting chicken thighs brushed with garlic salt, paprika, olive oil and lemon juice. By roasting them at 400 degrees for over an hour I really tasty crispy skin. It just works for me.

But the repetition can get to be a bit much so I thought about how I could augment what are clearly favorite flavors for me and change things up. Over the years I've seen skillet chicken prepared in all sorts of ways and decided to go with that, and in the process create a finger-licking sauce that made me shiver with happiness.

I like to caramelize chicken skin with honey on occasion so honey seemed like a good ingredient to start with, along with garlic--such a great pairing. But I wanted something to offset the honey's sweetness. Anchovies! I had ordered a large tin of salted Sicilian anchovies and thought they'd be perfect to mince with the garlic. I grow Meyer lemons so clearly they, too, would factor in.

Finally, butter. Yeah, butter, browned and foamy and nutty. That would pull it all together.

Making this dish isn't just a matter of throwing the ingredients together and shoving the pan in the oven to bake for awhile. Nope, you have to hover over the stove to build the flavors. So, I pulled out my reliable cast iron skillet and added a tablespoon of unsalted butter. While the butter melted over the heat, I seasoned the chicken thighs. I like thighs as much as I dislike chicken breasts, which I find dry and easy to make unpalatable. Thighs are forgiving. Thighs have flavor.

So, with a little salt and pepper, the thighs went into the skillet to sear, skin side down first, then turned. Then removed, along with most of the pan juices, which I discarded (the juices, not the chicken, of course). I added just a bit more butter to the skillet, scraping up the bits, and gradually the stirred butter foamed and browned. To that I added the honey, stirring it to get it to dissolve, then came the garlic and anchovies. Now don't make a face. The anchovies are fairly indiscernible in the dish, but create this lovely underlying salty umami.

Once the aroma becomes this side of mouth watering, add the lemon juice. Now you've got sweet, salty, and tart in a molten sauce. That's when you add the chicken back to the pan and continue cooking, spooning some of that sauce over the chicken to baste. You'll cover the pan to finish it up before running the skillet under the broiler for a couple of minutes to crisp the skin.

And that's it. For the effort, you get tender, juicy chicken bathed in one of the best sauces you'll ever love. Serve it over rice. Serve it over greens. I chose arugula for the spiciness. Then spoon the sauce over it all and swoon a bit.

Honey Skillet Chicken Thighs with Meyer Lemon, Garlic, and Anchovies
(printable recipe)


3 chicken thighs
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons honey
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 anchovies, minced
Juice from 1 lemon


Preheat your oven to broil.

Melt one tablespoon of butter in a 10-inch oven-proof pan or cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. While the butter melts, season chicken thighs with salt and pepper.

Sear chicken thighs, skin side down first, until the skin is crispy. Turn and sear again until golden. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the pan juices. Transfer chicken to a warm plate.

Melt the rest of the butter in the same pan or skillet the chicken was seared in over medium heat, scraping any bits left over in the pan from the chicken with a spatula. Stir the butter and swirl the pan occasionally for about 3 minutes as the butter changes color to golden brown and has a nutty fragrance.

Add the honey and stir it into the butter to dissolve. Then add in the garlic and anchovies. Sauté for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add the lemon juice. Stir well to create a well-blended sauce.

Return the chicken thighs skin side up to the pan with the sauce. Cook for 5 minutes uncovered in the sauce, occasionally basting the skin with the pan juices. Reduce heat to simmer, cover the skillet with a lid, and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Use a thermometer to measure the doneness. It will be fully cooked at 165 degrees F.

Remove the lid and transfer the skillet to your oven to broil for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the tops of the chicken are nicely charred. Then remove from oven.

Serve over rice or a plate of arugula. Drizzle sauce over the chicken and rice/arugula.

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