April 2021 Is Bringing the Love

April in San Diego tends to produce spectacular weather. This year is no different; with people consciously getting back to life out of the house, April is shining even brighter than normal.

Although some kids have been in classrooms for awhile, mine are just getting back. Which is a gigantic breath of fresh air. Just like it’s nice to get away from home, it’s nice for the daily separation of kids and parents to resume.

Recently my family ordered in sushi for dinner, (Narumi). It was on point as usual, but it also led me to a fun and unexpected inspiration. For my dinner party the next evening, I landed on a sushi-esque preparation for salad.

Over the years, there has always been an element of pride I take in veggie preparations and salads. My belief is that a positive food memory contains balance. Overlooking those herbivorous courses will take you right out of flavor town and lost down fail sauce river. Veggie rolls of varying concepts have been created over the years, with good success. Not something I do for large parties because it is time consuming. But this one is just fire. Texturally and gustatorily, it weaves in new interest with every bite. Carrot, celeriac and zucchini make up the wrapper, while the filling is turnip, apple, avocado and mixed herbs. Everything comes together with a rich but restrained almond/ginger dressing.

So cheers to Spring and getting back into life. While you’ll most likely only see this salad on this blog page. There are other culinary creations to be conjured for your pleasure…and conjure them, I will.

The Best Meal of 2020 Is Not For Sale

It started from a Saveur magazine article that blipped through my news feed. I’m a sucker for an epic sandwich, especially one with a cultural anchor somewhere; so I read on. This French/Caribbean masterpiece that found it’s way to Guadalupe is called Bokit. The bread base is nothing new to our culinary world, yeast leavened fry bread has been done before in various parts of the world. I’ve been making different versions of loukamades for a couple decades, but I guess those are closer to doughnuts. Now that I think about it…most fry breads are soda levened and most places don’t fry naan. Regardless…I never made it into a sandwich, and I definitely never made this sandwich. Another magical creation stemming from random ingredient leftovers; a *Musgo if you will. Rutabaga, mint, unripened strawberries, peppers, lettuce, carrot…

Slicing the fresh Bokit bread
Carnitas to get this train rolling

Topping the carnitas with fresh rutabaga/mint slaw

A layer of chipotle lime baja sauce. Not tossing it into the slaw adds a layer of depth and keeps the slaw texture.

Ending it with pickled peppers and strawberries

My wife was skeptical about the strawberries, but they were essential to the moan inducing creation; as were all the ingredients. This sandwich is a microcosm of my food. Lot’s of unexpected flavors and textures bludgeoning you with pleasure until you have no choice but to close your eyes, let out a moan of ecstasy and try to comprehend the feeling you have been enlightened to. Wondering if what you just experienced was legal.

*anything in the fridge that “Must Go”

Life, Death, and Moving On

“Hmmmm, what personal chef shall I get? Oh! Here’s one talking about death…perfect.”

Beat up ol’ faithful

Sometimes it’s time to move on and sometimes you should have already moved on. Such was the case in this Chef’s life. I have been cooking with the same set of $200 pans for at least 14 years. They’ve been reliable and tough, but the time has finally come to be out with the old(shown above) and in with the new.

The death of my old cookware was meaningful because of all the food it’s seen. But that was not the death I was speaking of in the title. We had actual death here on “the homestead.” Not my first time butchering, but my first time butchering chickens I raised. We altered our flock of laying hens by turning two chickens and a rooster into meat birds. Two of the chickens were no longer producing and always starting fights. The rooster, although cool, wore out his welcome and usefulness by crowing loud and early every morning. Not a surprise, as that’s what roosters do, but it was our first rooster. Plus we raised him from egg, so it was special.

His name was Duck. #kidsnamingpets

Rooster is delicious, don’t let anyone tell you different. I went mostly classic on this guy with coq au vin, but slightly altered by grilling instead of pan frying. Tasted like something between rabbit and turkey.

Grilled and ready to braise

Burn It Up Baby, It’s Summertime

Summertime is a season where we crave things bright, cold and crisp, like cold watermelon. It’s also a time people don’t want to heat up their kitchens, so we move out to the grill. A truly iconic smell and flavor of summer is that of the grill. It screams relaxed and ready to party.

Grilled flavor is a consistent point of interest in 98% of my dinner parties. On top of that, I also utilize charring on at least one item during a multi-course dinner. Charring is in essence, burning. It’s a calculated burn with the end result being a charred exterior and sweetened interior. Sometimes the interior stays uncooked, and sometimes it’s soft. Both have their respective places in the menu and each can be an unexpected flavor blast. If you don’t have me coming to cook for your gathering, try it yourself. Sugary things like, carrots, onions and beets all work great for charring. Blaze your grill on high until it’s raging hot. Place an un-oiled item on the hottest part of the grill until the outside(s) burn. Remove from the grill to cool, then rub off the loose char. That’s it, but it might take one or two tries to perfect, so start with carrots.

Below is a dish that could have totally stood up to and benefited from some char. Although the beans are grilled, the bittersweet flavors of charred onion would have been lovely with the heavy butter tones of the risotto.

Alaskan Halibut with artichoke risotto

Summer Harvest

Summer produce options always makes cooking a little easier. Especially when we get all the stone fruits in the market; dessert becomes a little easier to formulate.

What better produce to get then somewhere local offering high quality at a reasonable price. Jared’s Real Food farm in Lakeside has been our go to farm stand this year.

Earlier this summer I was cooking for groups of 2-6 quite often; as people were looking to celebrate in small groups at home. I even had a couple parties of 10. They rented a house in San Diego to party it up and be on vacation, without actually leaving the house. I being alone am a safer option than any dine in business at this point. The only drawback to my service, (compared to a restaurant), is fancy table ware. Restaurants usually have plates and bowls that are elegant or unique, while I serve with whatever the household supplies. Occasionally someone is set up with fancy pants dishes, but usually there are not enough of the cool ones to serve everyone.

Bellow are a couple luscious dishes that have quit a bit going on. First is a wild boar meatball with grilled and marinated baby eggplant, peeled cherry tomatoes and rutabaga noodles. (Yes, even if you don’t like eggplant or rutabaga…this is gooood). The second pic is a lovely, yet complicated salad of bitter endive, tart rhubarb, sweetened broccolini and peeled fresh loquats.

Masked and Ready For Business

I am currently entertaining small groups of wonderful people eating memorable food. Being masked up during parties is no fun, but it beats not being at the party.

Moving forward, we will continue to be healthy, vigilant and kind. We will keep some of our protocols as business returns to whatever the new normal is. June is looking great for me as I hope it is for you. Remember; the world is churning right now, but sometimes agitation gives you something magical…like butter. Below is a quick snap from an anniversary dinner for two awesome parents.

Big Eye tuna with caramelized cauliflower, chile and corn with soy dipping sauce and fresh turmeric oil

Looking Forward…In 2020

I think we are all looking forward to whatever the new normal is going to be. Although my actual cooking hasn’t slowed down, who I am currently cooking for has, as my family has been eating very well.

A random dish from last year: Fresh polenta stuffed with gruyere and served with wild boar sausage and gravy. Crispy kale and herb flowers round it out.

Sooner rather then later, I’ll be back shopping in the markets in some fashion. Practices will change; I imagine I’ll need a mask and removable top to shop before a party. But once I’m at your home, not much will change. I’ll be cooking private dinners for ravenous foodies; which is always great fun. But I love the family vibe and the complications that lie within that type of setting. It’s all fun, like getting a compliment from the grumpy father in-law that proudly “doesn’t like anything”. Or trying to please all the palates for a mutli-generational family of 13. Those successes are just as gratifying as preparing a multi-course fine dining experience.

No matter the occasion, I am excited to bring fresh locally sourced foods into your kitchen. 2020 will end like a flower blooming, and I’ll be here ready to add that flower to a salad…or garnish a soup or something :-)

Aplomb About Plum

Lemon Plums have hit the market. A bright, happy version of the classic plum; this will put a twist into any springtime fruit situation you’ve got goin’ on.

Same relative size as a red or black plum

I’m a bit of a sucker for new flashy fruits or cute veggies of unusually small size. Plum cobbler is my favorite of all fruit cobblers. Coming across this stone fruit made my dessert planning an easy decision. Ingredients like this plum are a prime example of why planning menu details can be counter productive. Planning food around known ingredients can spoil the opportunity for surprise, creation and invention. Which in turn create excitement, which triggers emotion and helps us hold onto a memory.

While the base of this recipe is old, tried, true, and simple. As in all food, It still has to be done properly. This properly cooked cobbler was course 6 of 6. Served with butter roasted, salted cashews and brown sugar/vanilla whipped cream. It was a lovely end to an awesome dinner.

Perfect cobbler waiting for 6 lucky dinner guests

Life’s Just Beachy

A small group of friends at a Mission beach rental are in full vacation mode. Appetizers, with a beautiful sunset at cocktail hour are nice wherever you are. But there’s something special about beach sunsets that you just feel.

A good time was had by all this night; with the guests all interested in the goings on of the kitchen more then most. Cooking demo style, we worked through 4 courses and 2 appetizers. One of the client requests was crab cakes. I enjoy crab cakes but haven’t made ’em in awhile…which is great. I enjoy cooking requests and favorites.

The crab cakes where made simply, without much added flavor. Mirepoix with fresh thyme and garlic were there. But a crab cakes magic lies in being moist on the inside and crispy on the outside with minimal, to no bread crumb in the mixture. This version of crab was set with celery root slaw, citrus salad, turmeric oil, pickled Armenian cucumber and edible flowers. However, it took a keen eye and a lust for perfection, for the group to decide which plate up design was the best.

We have a winner!

New To You Veggie

Well, probably new to you.

Cardoon is a late fall thistle that pops up in the grocery store every year. Being a thistle, it’s in the artichoke family, which is the reason we eat and buy the scary looking thing. It has a mild bitterness absent in artichokes, but it’s never the overwhelming on the palate. More of an, “oh, yeah, I see what you’re, talking about.”

Preparation

For quick and easy artichoke flavor, you only need 20 minutes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While you are waiting for it to heat, prepare the Cardoon. Rinse off any dirt, then slice or peel away the thorns on the edges. Cut the trimmed stalks into 1/2″ slices and dump into the boiling water with a big pinch of salt. Boil for about 5 minutes or until tender. Strain and toss with good salted butter. They are also great in a casserole.