Salad

What is your goal when you eat a salad? Why are you eating it? Obligation, pleasure…somewhere in the middle?

For me…I enjoy cool fresh crunch and the feeling of consuming health. I’ve always had a confidence with salads and see them as an opportunity to enjoy food, not put up with it. It can be simple or complex but it needs to be thought about or cared for as much as the roast in the oven.

If you can make a well seasoned dressing, then all you need is some stuff in a bowl.  Lettuce, canned beans, nuts, cheese, herbs.  Thinly sliced or shredded raw veggies like roots, cabbage or peppers.  Fresh or dried fruits are great as is diced or julienned apple. Rice! Rice is rad in salad.

There are no rules for a good salad, but there are some things to keep in mind for success. Some things need more dressing and time then others. For example. Most salads are best when everything is tossed just before service, like Caesar. Some salads need time, like kale.     

Kale salad is not hard but it has a few rules and is a great example of needing to structurally break down. You must work the kale with dressing. Oil, acid and salt break down tough greens but it has to be worked in. You will always want some sweetness with any bitter green; kale, arugula, endive all need a little sweetness. I also like to add a little garlic or onion with kale. Even if you’re thinking sweet, those flavors are needed balance.

Kale Salad:
2 bunches kale, washed and large ribs torn away
1 clove garlic, minced
1T honey
salt and pepper
4T lemon juice
2T virgin olive oil
1/3c slivered almonds, toasted
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
1 fuji apple, peeled and diced small
¼c raisins, dries cranberries or cherries
½c shaved parmesan, for garnish

Tear up the kale and toss with garlic lemon, salt and pepper, olive oil and honey. Massage a couple minutes then let sit for a bit. Work again until soft, then toss in the remaining ingredients, season to taste and garnish with parmesan.

Celery root and carrots are similar: Peel and julienne; toss with a little salt, oil and acid (lemon juice). Let sit and toss again, the texture should be noodley. Keep these macerating items separate until go time, or they’ll bleed too much liquid, which should be drained. Add this to the kale salad for lovely results.

Think about each ingredient and bite. Think of how the end product will come together in your mouth. If its a broccoli salad…are you going to blanch the broccoli? If yes, don’t over do it and dry it afterwards. If not, it better have a lot of rich dressing and it’ll need to be chopped up but not obliterated. Both of these questions for broccoli salad are important because the decision and execution of either step, sets the stage for what’s next. And what’s next is texture and dressing. Some toasted nuts, raisins and diced celery cover texture. Dressing could be grapeseed oil, lemon juice, lime juice, red wine vinegar, honey, salt and pepper and chives. Sneaking in more health at the end is nice as long as is stays crunchy, a little endive or esoarole works.  

See…it’s easy.

Happy New Year

Finally, we get some cold weather and rain. That rising crave for warm dishes and soups is unstoppable. 2018 was a veg heavy year; (that’s a good thing), when my mind is firing on veggies everything falls into place. Last night was similar but I made another play at one of my favorite beef dishes. I pound beef tenderloin thin, lay it on a warm plate, top with braised and grilled short rib, grilled asparagus tips and one huge gnocchi. Then it gets waterfelled with boiling cabernet jus so the fillet gets barely cooked ala pho or sukiyaki. It went well. This years proteins were strangely steady. Fresh grouper and grilled prime beef were always pairing beautifully, but fall saw alot of duck breast and thresher shark

The fish course was a classic example of why I use spontaneous market menus. Dover sole wrapped portobello with broccoli nage, sweet potato, kohlrabi and mushroom marinade reduction. No one is going to order this off a menu unless it checks their dietary boxes. Hell, I’m not even going to come up with it as a concept unless I’m standing in front of it. But when it’s presented as a course, and you know other flavors and proteins are coming. It allows you to relax and enjoy it for what it is. Something new and delicious.

This is Matilda. Our best layer and sweetest girl. You might eat her eggs if I cook for you.

“Team Building Exercise 1999”

Team building exercises were something I was a part of often when I worked in the Bay Area. Not as much down here but that might be my marketing. I like team building exercises. They’re fun, exciting and rewarding; and getting work mates together outside of work is always a hoot. The last group I did was actually two years in a row. Not a third as they moved to Canada, but it was fun both times. The hosts were foodies so we did alot. It got crazy with 15 people in a medium kitchen :-o, but we it got done with smiles and laughter.

Appetizer cheese dish
Chicken wings of some awesome flavor
Lightly smoked fresh fish
Ceviche or shrimp cocktail
Ribeye with umami mushrooms
Curry sauce for naan
Grilled carbs–naan as mentioned, pizza, panzanella salad

Although they can get crazy and busy, my goal is always to keep everyone involved, engaged and eating a delicious meal at the end.

I remember one time we broke everyone into teams with a knife and cutting board. They got to choose ingredients from a big table and utilize anything else in the room. There was a sink, microwave and dishwasher. I got to taste all the entries and it was awesome. The winners used the dishwasher to steam some salmon :-)Grilled veggies that are not usually seen on the grill

I can’t not think of this when I say team building exercise.

 

 

Staying In Vacation Mode

Vacations can be crazy and tiring, especially if you’re coordinating people and especially if you have kids. Staying in “vacation mode” is real and important. Ever had the feeling you need a vacation after your vacation? That’s where I come in. You already rented a great house. Having me come in to cook a mind blowing dinner while you throw the kids in the pool and refill cocktails is a smart decision.
Let me paint a picture…vacation night 3 of 4. You’ve already done Legoland and the beach, but you spent this day at the zoo. You pull back to your rental around 3:30 and as you carry in the sleeping children, you realize you only have an hour or two to chill before you need to start getting everyone ready to go out for dinner. Feeling hungry, you attack some of the leftovers from the night before in the fridge. A cocktail sounds nice but you have to drive and wrangle the kids in a little bit, so you forgo. After showers getting ready and parking; you are 10 minutes late looking at your phone seeing a message from your mother in law wondering where you are. Dinner was some good, but mostly “just ok”. Full, you pile everyone back in the car just to come back home to have the kids still be hungry. Bummed you missed the sunset on your deck, you put the kids to bed, pour a glass of wine and finally exhale with your love.
Or…I arrive at your place and create a memorable and highly delicious dinner with apps and dessert, served at your leisure. You get to relax, relax with your kids, relax with your parents, relax with your love, relax in the pool, relax chatting up the chef whirling around your kitchen. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you to watch the sunset.

Old Menus Still Sound Fresh

Mulberry and brie crostini with honey, chile and savory
Blue cheese and hazelnut stuffed Khadrawy date, panko fried and lemon dressed
Grilled zucchini cups with brunoise Parmesan, bacon roasted walnuts, chive, finger lime
Chiogga beet/candy drop grapes/mache/chervil/macadamia/honey dressing
Moroccan tomato sauced chicken leg “lollipop”
Halibut ceviche/cilantro flowers/white pomegranate, over yellow fin “poke” and diced golden potato
Golden nugget squash and toasted barley risotto
Broiled sunfish/corn “cream”/green dragon apple/caramelized onion Brussels sprouts
Loquat cake/passion fruit cream/balsamic cinnamon gastrique
Ran across this 5 year oldish menu recently. I thought it relevant because it’s still a great representation of my food and what you would get from a party with me. Apps are playful with sweet and spicy. I always serve two proteins Seasonal produce driven menus Original cuisine and ingredient pairings New and/or unknown items The “problem” with this menu is it will never be repeated. There were several ingredients that day that drove this menu in it’s direction. I’m not sure what their dietary preferences were, but it looks like they requested chicken and fish
Chef Joshua

Fava’s Since ’01

I was introduced to fresh fava beans by my Chefs at Mr A’s. I’d like to tell them, thank you.  It took…a friend, hosting a friend from Taiwan, curiously purchasing them to play with but never getting around to it. Then, months later, the host was cleaning out his pantry in the efforts to streamline his new gluten free lifestyle, brings me his box of “here ya go’s”. Side note- my house is the dumping ground for random scraps or ingredients unknown.  Chickens get the scraps and I experiment or utilize the unknowns. IN this box, was a bag of dried whole fava beans. Now, I have been successfully avoiding whole dried favas since the first time I saw them at a Mediterranean market forever and who knows when ago. But when I saw this random bag, left from the *departed friend, I saw it as a sign that now was the time.

Whole dried fava beans never seem worth the effort because they are not worth the effort. I mean, if that’s your only bean…cool, it’s good enough to enjoy. But shucking each bean is an extra step I like to reserve for fun and special foods that taste delicious…like a fresh fava. Now, if you purchase peeled and split dried fava beans, it is faster and easier to process, but I’d still rather have the taste and texture of other beans, instead of a starchy mellow lima bean.  I made a cumin and garlic flavored dip that was pleasant and filling. here is the recipe:

2c dried favas
salt
1/4c olive oil
1/4c sesame oil
1/4tsp chile flake
2T garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
2T lemon juice
2T minced parsley

Cover the beans with water by one inch and bring to a boil. Cover and turn off heat to let sit an hour. Strain and cover again with water and add a tsp or more of salt. Simmer for 2 hours, strain and keep some of the water. Shuck the beans and discard the soft shells. Heat half the olive oil with the chile flake, garlic and cumin. Once everything starts to bubble and fry, remove from the heat. Place the beans in a food processor with 2T of the reserved liquid and all other ingredients. Puree until smooth and season to taste, adding more liquid or oil if too tight.

Shells in compost

Boiled with reserved liquor

Soaked and shucked

Finished fava bean dip

*Departed on a plane, not dead.

Salt…and Pepper

I’m sure Thomas Keller would title this, “The Importance of Salt and Pepper.” I’m somewhere between that and titling this, “Salt ‘n Peppa.”
Proper seasoning is a simple but major difference in restaurant vs home cooking. Seasoning is a general restaurant term for salt and pepper or salt alone; specifically fresh ground black pepper and clean salt, (clean meaning no iodine). If you want to know way too much about salt, read Salt: A World History. A fascinating but not riveting read that I got halfway through before I had to return it to the library :-|

Salt will blow up your taste buds and pepper will tickle ’em. Too much salt and you over expand, things get uncomfortable. Too much pepper is like too much tickling…shudder.
The balance between salt quantity and timing are like anything else in food. Care and intuition will take you a long way, but it takes time and experience to be great…like anything in life.
Luckily with food, even failures can be good and/or easily fixed. It’s innate to learn from them because all your senses are in play with food. You aren’t trying to memorize a chapter; you’re smelling, seeing, feeling, touching, hearing and retaining…without trying.
You just have to keep cooking.
If someone really wants to be a cooking machine; make a drum of pico de gallo and see what happens. Seriously, if you made a drum of pico de gallo, knowing, that the result needs to make someone want to marry you? (meaning, it has to taste good)
You would learn:
Knife skills for life; including sharpening and blade maintenance, dicing, brunoise, mincing, knife variance and preference
5 integral vegetable variants, and specifics of their structure
Salt maceration and pickling
Seasoning and flavor balancing with salt, sweet, spice, acid and oil
Oil maceration and garlic processing are optional :-)

Simple favorites have a magic balancing point. That point when the taster is forced to close their eyes and contemplate the pleasure blanket they were just wrapped in. This can happen with pico de gallo, or mashed potatoes, or fried chicken, or steak, or salad, or a hamburger. This level of pleasure is quite difficult to attain without salt. That being said; I don’t love salt on the dinner table unless we are serving plain tomatoes or boiled eggs. I also don’t love auto salters. You know who I’m talkin’ about…shaking salt on their food before they’ve glanced at their plate much less tasted anything yet. My cousin is an auto salter and it irks me. I imagine shaking her but never do, because I’d probably get salt everywhere.

Don’t Let Curry Push You Around

Image result for free pictures curry
hahahaha; curry…not Curry.

Most of us don’t make our own spice rub or curries and We tend to  make one of two curries.  They add curry powder coconut milk or curry paste to coconut milk.  Done, dinner served.  Now…there are definitely times when these pre-made curries are a life saver, I get it.  But if you have an extra five minutes, creating a fresh curry is cathartic and rewarding.  The complexity brought from fresh toasted spices is always a smell that makes you give a smiling, closed eye moaning exhale.  One ingredient can change the outcome of a curry but will almost never ruin it; so always feel free to riff or alter.  It’s always about the sum of it’s parts being stronger then any one ingredient.  Below is a simple curry made with spices you can get anywhere.  I hope this allows you to take a creative breath and add a little spice to your culinary lexicon.

½in cinnamon stick
1T coriander seeds
½T cumin seeds
1tsp cardamom seeds
1tsp whole black peppercorns
½ tsp fennel seeds
½tsp mustard seeds
½tsp fenugreek seeds
3 whole cloves
2-4 dried red chiles, broken in pieces
1T turmeric
1tsp kosher salt

sharp food produce color market powder market stall spices saffron bags taste flavor curry spice stand

Toast the coriander, cumin, cardamom, peppercorns, fennel, mustard, fenugreek, cloves, and the chiles in a small dry skillet over medium heat just until they smell fragrant, about 2 minutes; let cool. In a clean coffee grinder or spice mill, grind the toasted spices together to a fine powder. Stir in the turmeric and salt and you are done.  If you omit the turmeric you will have a lovely and spicy Garam Masala.

Making a spice mixture is the first step of a curry and can be made days and weeks ahead of time. The remaining steps are universal to most curry recipes and should never be fussed over.  Saute aromatics in plenty of oil over a medium heat until everything breaks down, and softens.  Add in a liquid and boil until perfect, season to taste and add meat as you see fit. Measurements and aromatics below:

2c grapeseed or avocado oil
1c sliced shallots
2 small chilies
2T minced ginger
2T minced garlic
1c chopped tomato
1c chopped cilantro
2-3T prepared curry powder
4c water or coconut milk

A Little Corny

We joined a lovely CSA  last summer, run by some seriously solid human beans, Agua Dulce Farm of San Diego.  Kelsey and Ben sweat it out in Chula Vista, but also keep it hyperlocal as well when they started the Bancroft Center For Sustainability, which I’m fired up about because that’s ma hood. In our last box we received a bag of corn meal.  Oaxacan Green Dent corn to be precise. Already seeing a Facebook post about it, I knew what it was immediately but was still excitedly surprised. We mulled over how to use it because we really wanted to highlight the corn flavor. Not just use it…but really taste it. We settled on cornbread and it was a good decision. It had a lovely blue green hue and tasted like corn, not cardboard; I know, shocking! 

With our remaining corn meal we made Johnny cakes for breakfast. If you’ve never had Johnny cakes, they are cornmeal pancakes and they are rad.  Below is a recipe and some pictures for you to make your own. Do it, because they are super bomb-omb.

Johnny Cakes

1/2c cornmeal
1/2c water
1 egg
1T oil
1T sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/3-1/2c buttermilk
1/2c flour
1/4tsp baking soda
3/4-1tsp baking powder

Whisk the water and cornmeal then let sit for a minute. Whisk in the oil, sugar, egg, salt and milk. Dust over the flour and leavening, stir until combined. Cook like pancakes with equal parts oil and butter…don’t skimp on the fat. and serve with something sweet.

San Diego Grilling Season Is Here

Happy New year and if you live here, happy grilling season. A 365 day grilling season is convenient and I try not to take it for granted. I want to build a big outdoor grilling station, but right now my time and moolah is required elsewhere. That dosen’t change the fact that a grill was needed. Not anything I want to drop coin on, but not a piece of crap that I’ll regret. After researching new grills, there was nothing worth buying under $250, but $350 was at my peak. Being a charcoal enthusiast, I had needs. Being married to someone that appreciates the simplicity of gas was also important. I wasn’t torn, I just new my parameters and was confident the was an answer.  And there was…the  Char-broil, Gas2Coal Hybrid Grill. At $250, it had a good rating, good company history, easily found parts, heavy iron grates, a side burner and the option to use charcoal. The only question was, did it produce the heat to suit my needs and did the charcoal insert work as advertised.

Aside from the lame red stripe and the needed panel modifications, I’m very happy.  Back burner rages away nicely, the grill grates retain heat, the charcoal insert is easy and awesome. It is the easiest lighting and cooking of charcoal I’ve ever dealt with.  No flare ups, and I was cooking fatty hamburgers. The aforementioned panel mods entailed unscrewing some bolts and attaching a magnet as the front panels are not designed to open.  Forcing you to access the grill from the rear. Super inconvenient and irritating but easily fixed.  I did the same with the red panel.  I highly recommend this grill for anyone not wanting to invest long term and wanting a charcoal option.