Oktoberfest Feast: Austrian-Born Chef Shares Flavor Secrets

 

Far from a beer-hall atmosphere, the chic Bayside Restaurant in Newport Beach probably isn’t what comes to mind when considering Oktoberfest reveling.

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YET, their menu heralds the seasonal celebration through October 20, offering a number of German-themed specials that are flavor boosted with Executive Chef Paul Gstrein’s contemporary spins.

 

Austrian-born and California inspired, Gstrein showed me how to prepare sausages with sauerkraut and roasted Yukon Gold potatoes. I’ve made the dish many times, but his tastes a thousand times better than mine. I wanted to see his secrets. The short video shows the secrets, step by step.

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First of all, his sauerkraut is nuanced in delectable ways. The fresh kraut is poured from the jar, rinsed and drained. Diced bacon cooked with thinly-sliced onion amp the concoction on the stove; chicken broth, bay leaf, caraway seeds and juniper berries come to the party, too.

Sweet-sour elements are also added – a pinch of sugar and a drizzle of sherry vinegar. He enhances the mix by adding slurry during the final minutes of cooking, a mixture of cornstarch and water that builds rich silkiness.

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The sausages that he uses are far better than any I’ve tasted. Plump Kaese Krainer sausages are made of lightly smoked lean pork generously dotted with small chunks of Emmentaler Swiss cheese. He carefully heats the fully-cooked links; nestled in a saucepan they bathe covered with water kept just under a simmer.

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The sautéed spuds are crisp and browned on the outside, lending a welcome texture contrast to the other components. Honeyed whole-grain mustard as well as pretzel bread, served on the side, put it over the top.

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The Search: I wasn’t able to track down those Kaese Krainer sausages stuffed with smoked lean pork and chunks of cheese in Orange County. I found them online at www.lobels.com (1 pound – about 4 sausages – is $15.98). Chef Gstrein said that Weisswurst could be substituted; it’s a traditional Bavarian sausage made with minced veal and pork (spiked with parsley, lemon, onion and spices). I found them at the deli in Old World Village in Huntington Beach. I also bought some sweet Bavarian mustard there.

Sausage – Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner: Chef Gstrein also showed me how to showcase sausages in morning and midday dishes. For morning, Kaese Krainers are cooked in milk and served with an AM beer to wash them down (see photo below). For lunch, Kaese Krainers rest in partially-split pretzel buns and are topped with zigzags of honey-whole-grain mustard.

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Sweet-Spicy Mustard and Pretzel Bread: Gstrein makes his own version of Bavarian mustard. He mixes 1 part Dijon-style mustard with 1 part whole-grain mustard and 1 part honey. He advises that pretzel bread is sold at Trader Joe’s.

Kaese Krainer Sausage with Sauerkraut and Roasted Potatoes
Sauerkraut:
1 teaspoon canola oil or vegetable oil
4 ounces smoked bacon, diced
1 small brown onion, thinly sliced
12 ounces fresh Sauerkraut, rinsed, drained
1 cup chicken broth
5 juniper berries
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Slurry: 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 teaspoons water
Salt, white pepper, sugar, to taste
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
4 Kaese Krainer sausages
Roasted potatoes, recipe follows
For serving: pretzel bread
For serving: whole-grained honey mustard
Garnish: parsley sprigs
1. Set a saucepan large enough to hold the sauerkraut on medium heat. Add oil and when hot, add bacon. Cook until bacon renders most of the fat and is just starting to turn brown, about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add onion and cook until onion softens. Add sauerkraut, broth, juniper berries, bay leaf and caraway seeds. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Stir the slurry; add to sauerkraut little by little, stirring often, to thicken it. Season with salt, pepper, sugar and vinegar.
2. Heat sausages in a water bath (just below a simmer) at about 165 degrees for about 10 minutes until heated through.
3. To serve: Remove bay leaf from sauerkraut. Arrange sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes on warmed serving platters and garnish with parsley sprigs. Serve mustard alongside with some pretzel bread.
Source: Paul Gstrein, executive chef Bayside, Newport Beach

Roasted Potatoes
6 medium-sized unpeeled Yukon gold potatoes, cooked, quartered
3 tablespoons clarified butter (or a combination of canola oil and butter)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley, some sprigs for garnish
Salt, white pepper to taste
1. In a nonstick sauté pan on medium heat, toast quartered potatoes in clarified butter (or butter and oil) until golden brown. Add herbs and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Source: Paul Gstrein, executive chef Bayside, Newport Beach

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…Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

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This Provencal-style vegetable concoction is delicious and quick to prepare.

The dish showcases a brand new (delectable and time-saving) product – steamed, ready-to-eat artichoke hearts (available at Bristol Farms, Gelsons and Mothers Markets).

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Provencal-Style Artichoke Melange
Yield: 5 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium-size red onion, thinly sliced
1 fresh fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence or dried Italian spice mixture
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 ounces steamed artichoke hearts, quartered or halved
1 (9-ounce) package thawed shelled, cooked edamame
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
6 pitted olives, drained, coarsely chopped
For serving: 4 cups cooked brown rice, long grain preferred
1. Heat oil in large, deep skillet on medium heat. Add onion and fennel; cook, stirring occasionally until softened and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and herbs; cook 30 seconds.  Add wine and increase heat to high; cook until most of wine evaporates (about 2 tablespoons of liquid should remain).
2. Add artichokes, edamame, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Cover and cook until heated through, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Garnish with feta cheese and olives. Serve over cooked brown rice.

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Indian Appetizers Guests Will Gleefully Gobble

Serve these to guests and they’ll gobble them down with gusto.

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Snacking is a part of everyday life in India.  I was delighted to find a wide variety of delectable chaats (savory street-style snacks) at ADYA restaurant at the Anaheim Packing House. ADYA’s chef-owner, Shachi Mehra, has a talent for combining tradition with innovation.

Her avocado raita is one example – one very delicious example.

Typically the condiment is made with plain yogurt, herbs, chilies and spices; often cucumbers are also included in the ingredient list. But in Mehra’s kitchen, a cucumber-free version is whirled with generous amounts of ripe avocados, making it creamy smooth and irresistibly rich.

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Move over guacamole, her raita topping is a contender.

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Here’s a short video that shows how easy this dish is to prepare … really!

THANKS to CURT NORRIS for photos and videos.

One way she uses her raita is atop masala papad, a salad-like concoction that is served on crisp poppadums; imagine an Indian version of tortilla chips topped with a mouth-watering vegetable concoction and garnished with tangy guac.

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Shachi used watermelon radishes. You can use other radish varieties.

Poppadums are the foundation of the dish; they become blistered and cracker-crisp when flame toasted. Also referred to as papads, at first glance the plain ones look something like fried-and-wavy flour tortillas. They are made of lentils and can be used like brittle tortilla chips for dipping or spreading.

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Mehra joined me in my home kitchen to show how to prepare these dishes. Of course she made it look easy, joking that in India a perfectly toasted poppadum, one without any scorch marks, is a sign that a woman is ready for marriage. She said that they can also be toasted in the oven or microwave, two options that require much less skill.

Best Gizmos: To whirl the raita, you can use a food processor or a high-speed blender. To remove avocado flesh from the skin, cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Keep a small electric coffee grinder to use specifically for grinding spices. It is best to use a mandolin slicing device when cutting the radishes for the salad because it cuts such thin slices.

Avocado Raita
Yield: about 5 cups
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds, divided use
3 cups plain Greek-style yogurt, nonfat is OK, divided use
Salt to taste
4 ripe avocados, seeded, scooped from the skin
1/4 to 1 green chili, unseeded, minced
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1. On medium heat, toast cumin seeds until one shade darker and fragrant, shaking handle to redistribute seeds from time to time. Place on plate to cool. Grind in spice grinder or place in zipper-style plastic bag and pound with mallet or bottom of a saucepan until ground. Use 1/4 teaspoon in this recipe and 1/2 teaspoon in the Masala Papad (recipe follows); leftover toasted cumin can be refrigerated airtight and used in a variety of dishes.
2. Puree 1 cup yogurt, salt and avocadoes in food processor or high-speed blender. Add remaining yogurt and puree until smooth and totally blended. Transfer to bowl and using a whisk, stir in chili, cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon toasted ground cumin and lime juice. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Masala Papad
Yield: 4 servings
2 ears fresh corn, roasted until caramelized, kernels removed from cob
1 small watermelon radish or red radish, trimmed, cut into very thin slices, mandolin sliced preferred
1 small skin-on cucumber, Persian or English (hothouse) preferred, diced
1 teaspoon minced unseeded Serrano chili (use less if a less spicy version is preferred)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon chaat masala
1/2 teaspoon roasted ground cumin
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 toasted poppadums (plain, or with black pepper), see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: Uncooked poppadums and chaat masala are sold at Indian Sweets and Spices Market in Tustin. If you are using a gas stove, set the flame at medium-high. Holding 1 poppadum with a pair of tongs, flip it back and forth over the open flame until bumps start to appear on the surface and the poppadum turns light brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remember to shift the tongs in order to toast the part initially covered by them. Repeat with the remaining poppadums. Set them aside to cool. (Note that I find it easier on my stove to use tongs in both hands and hold the poppadum about 1 inch from the flame, turning frequently). OR, if you prefer, broil them in the oven. Place rack as close as possible to heating element, and preheat the broiler to high. Toast the poppadums until bumps appear on the surface and they turn light brown, 1 to 2 minutes. There is no need to turn them. Set them aside to cool. Microwaving poppadums on high power for 30 seconds to 1 minute is also an option. The poppadums will turn crisp and brittle as they cool. You can store them (cooled) in airtight plastic zipper style bags at room temperature for up to 2 weeks (but I bet they will be gone long before that).
1. Toss all ingredients except the poppadums in bowl; taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Place poppadums in single layer on platter or four individual plates. Top with corn mixture and serve; pass avocado raita for topping. Guests can break the poppadums into pieces and eat them using  their hands.
Source: Shachi Mehra, ADYA restaurant, Anaheim Packing House, Anaheim

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… Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

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Pickled turnips are a great way to showcase the tasty root.

Serve them alongside pate, or include them on a cheese board.

Quick Turnip Pickles
Makes about 1 quart
2 medium garlic cloves, sliced
1 fresh thyme sprig
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
2 cups water
1/2 cup cider vinegar or for milder version – seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound small turnips, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into wedges
Cook’s notes: I like to add a couple of cooked beets along with a little of their juice to stain the turnips pink.
1. Combine the garlic, herbs and spices, salt, water, vinegar, and olive oil in large saucepan. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Add turnips and stir. Bring to a boil on high heat; lower heat and simmer gently for 8 minutes (turnips should still be firm). Cool the pickles in the brine, then refrigerate overnight (airtight) before serving. Refrigerate up to 3 weeks.

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Gizmo Can Can: New Canning Contraption Cuts Work and Heat

New canning contraption changes the game …

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Dad said that his mother never cried. He could remember only one long-ago exception that brought tears. That was the winter day when the shelves collapsed in the basement of their Midwest farmhouse. All of her packed-to-the-brim canning jars broke into smithereens. The preserved bounty of the summertime harvest was lost.

Grandmother Young must have been devastated. She had a family of nine to feed, and a reputation as one of the best cooks in the county to uphold. (But I also imagine that the labor it took to “put-up” fruit and vegetables from the fields also factored into her sorrow.)

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Canning isn’t for sissies.

Large kettles of boiling water aren’t a picnic on a hot day. Traditional water-bath preserving requires large amounts of bubbling liquid for sterilizing jars and covering jars during processing. The kitchen gets steamy and the kettles are heavy, plus they require monitoring on a regular basis.

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The Sur La Table catalog featured a full-page display heralding the new Ball FreshTech Automatic Home Canning System, a pricy contraption designed to take the heat and heaviness out of home canning.

I longed to take this $300 counter-top electric canner for a spin. My small home garden produces a good number of cucumbers and tomatoes, too many to consume as they ripen, but not enough to open a roadside stand. I bit the bullet.

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I canned peaches (Honey-Spiced Peaches) and tomatoes (Tomatoes Packed in Own Juices), and then preserved pickles (Bread & Butter Pickles). I was happy with the delicious results, and the machine greatly reduced the work load.

Only a little more than 4 cups of water go into the gizmo, and that water is used both to heat the jars and do the canning process (so no heavy water-filled pots to carry). And the only steam that escaped was when the lid opened to remove the sterilized jars. Yes, I still had to boil some water to remove the skins from the tomatoes and peaches, but that was minor compared to the hot mist that usually fogs the kitchen on canning day.

The machine has digital buttons that relate to specific functions; jams, fruits, tomatoes, salsas, pickles and sauces line up mid-screen, with numbers one through 6 below. The recipe book that is included details which ones to push for each recipe. It was easy to use, and because I don’t have a big garden, it was sufficient that I could only can 4 pints jars at a time (or 3 quart jars, or 6 half pint jars). No monitoring was required, so I could do other tasks while the canning took place.

After I used it a couple of uses, I operated the auto canner while cooking dinner, drinking a glass of wine while the machine whistled and hummed.

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But getting back to the accompanying recipe book brings up the downside of using the auto canner. Only the recipes in the book and on the Website can be used. Many ambrosial canning classics are included, and according to test-kitchen chef Sarah Page, culinary marketing manager at Jarden Home Brands the manufacturers of Ball canning products, additional recipes are frequently added to the Website ( http://www.freshpreserving.com/recipes?field_category_tid%5B%5D=861). I asked her about tweaking recipes with dried spices, chili flakes in the pickles or a bay leaf in the tomatoes, and she gave me the green light. But as for canning low acid vegetables such as green beans, she said that the auto canner isn’t the appropriate tool. For that, she said, it is best to use a pressure canner. The auto canner is designed for high-acid foods.

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Here is a recipe for tomatoes packed in their own juices that is designed for using the Ball FreshTech automatic home canning device. I include it here for readers to get an idea of how the machine is utilized. The recipe includes instructions for using either 4 pint jars or 3 quart jars.

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Tomatoes Packed in Own Juices
Yield: 4 pints or 3 quarts
6 pounds ripe tomatoes for 4 pints, 9 pounds for 3 quarts
1 teaspoon Ball Citric Acid for 4 pints, 1 1/2 teaspoons for 3 quarts, see cook’s notes
Optional salt, 2 teaspoons for 4 pints, 1 tablespoon for 3 quarts
4 Ball glass preserving jars with new lids and bands for 4 pint jars or 3 quart jars
Cook’s notes: Bottled lemon juice may be used instead of citric acid; use 4 tablespoons bottled lemon juice for 4 pints, or 6 tablespoons for 3 quarts, divided between the jars. Bottled juice is suggested because it has a consistent acidity level.
1. Prepare tomatoes: Working in small batches, immerse tomatoes in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until skins start to loosen (the riper the tomato, the less time it requires). Immediately plunge into a bowl of cold water and slip skins off. In the meantime, preheat jars (see Step 2). Remove cores and any bruised or discolored portions. Leave tomatoes whole, halve or quarter.
2. Preheat jars: Remove inner pot from appliance. Remove rack and set aside. Fill inner pot with warm tap water to the fill line. Return inner pot to appliance. Place rack back into inner pot. Place empty jars onto rack in inner pot. Set clean preserving bands and new lids aside in your work space. Close and lock lid. Press “pre-heat” button, then press “start.” The red pre-heating light will illuminate and the appliance will begin preheating jars. Jars are preheated when green “ready” light is flashing. Keep jars in appliance with lid closed and locked until ready to fill with tomatoes.
3. To Preserve Tomatoes: Unlock and open appliance lid. Remove one hot jar (using jar lifter that is included). Close lid, but do not lock, to keep remaining jars hot. Add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid per pint, 1/2 teaspoon per quart. Or add 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice per pint, or 2 tablespoons per quart. If using, add 1/2 teaspoon salt per pint, or 1 teaspoon per quart. Pack prepared tomatoes into jar, pressing gently on tomatoes until the natural juice fills the spaces between the tomatoes, leaving 1-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles; slide a small non-metallic spatula inside the jar between the food and the jar wall, and then gently press back on the food, towards the opposite side of the jar, allowing air bubbles to escape. Air bubbles inside the jar can impact the seal – repeat 2 or 3 times around the jar. Wipe rim of jar with clean cloth or paper towel. Center a new lid on jar. Twist on band until fingertip tight. Return filled jar to rack in inner pot. Repeat until all jars are filled and returned to inner pot. Close and lock lid.
4. Press “tomatoes” button, then press “recipe 6” button. Press “start” button. The appliance will start sensing your recipe, indicated by the orange “preserving” light. When the appliance beeps and the green “ready” light is flashing, the tomatoes are done. Press “stop” button and open lid.
5. Remove jars using a jar lifter and place upright on a towel. Allow to cool, undisturbed, for 12 to 24 hours. Check lids for seals. Press on the center of the cooled lid. If jar is sealed, the lid will not flex up or down. Or, remove band and gently lift up on lid. You should not be able to lift it off the jar. If for some reason your lid did not seal properly, refrigerate and use within 5 days.
Source: Ball FreshTech Everyday Canning, instruction cookbook that accompanies the Ball FreshTech Home Canning System

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Gnocchi alla Marinara – With or Without Sausage
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, coarsely chopped
1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped (include leaves if present)
1/3 cup dry red wine
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes or 3 1/2 cups home-canned Tomatoes Packed in Own Juices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
Optional: 1 tablespoon drained capers
If using: 6 ounces Italian sausage, hot Italian sausage preferred
1 pound prepared gnocchi, or dried gemelli pasta (or penne or fusilli)
Garnish: grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Cook’s notes: Shelf stable potato gnocchi are sold in the unrefrigerated pasta section of Trader Joe’s and some supermarkets.
1. In a large deep skillet, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot and celery; cook, stirring when needed, until vegetables are softened and starting to lightly brown. Add wine and stir to combine; simmer 3 minutes, reducing heat as needed. Add tomatoes and their juices; cut them into small pieces with a spatula or wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper (use less salt if adding capers). Increase heat to high and add parsley; immediately after mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 30 to 40 minutes, or until mixture thickens. Stir in capers, if using. Sauce can be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated; reheat on medium, adding a little water or dry white wine if sauce is too thick.
2. Meanwhile, if using meat, break sausage into chunks (misshapen balls) about the size of a very large grape (if using link sausage, first remove casing). Place in nonstick skillet on medium heat and cook until crisp on the outside and thoroughly cooked, turning as needed, about 9 to 11 minutes. Set aside. When sauce has completed cooking, add sausage.
3. For gnocchi: cook according to package directions; drain. Or for pasta, bring a large pot three-fourths full of salted water to a boil on high heat. Add gemelli and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain. Toss gnocchi or pasta with sauce. Add sausage if using. Taste and add salt and/or pepper as needed. Garnish with cheese and more parsley.

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Here’s all the stuff you get with it.

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Lobster Marries Crab: Slapfish’s Clobster Roll

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Andrew Gruel, chef and CEO of Slapfish Restaurant Group, knows what makes an irresistible lobster roll.

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His repertoire also includes a crab-spiked rendition dubbed a Clobster Roll, a half New England lobster-half Dungeness crabmeat creation. It hoists the allure even higher.


Have a look at this short video; see how chef makes it easy and delicious.

Thanks go to videographer/photographer, Curt Norris

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Both versions let the cool, gentle sweetness of the shellfish shine through, the picked meat dressed in a mayo-sour cream mixture that boasts just-right acidity derived from fresh lemon juice and zest.

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More flavor bling is added with a smidgen of Sriracha hot sauce and Colman’s mustard, plus some snipped fresh chives and Old Bay Seasoning. For crunchy contrast, the roll is butter toasted until nicely browned and warm, and augmented with a judicious salad component. Crisp lettuce and sliced heirloom tomato snuggle in before the bun is liberally seafood stuffed.  heirloomtomatoes425On the international scene, the first Slapfish franchise has opened in Dubai, with a second due in November. American restaurants and shops are very popular in Dubai, especially in ginormous malls where everything from Cheesecake Factory to P.F. Chang’s share foot traffic with retailers such as Bloomingdale’s and Forever 21.

Slapfish Clobster Rolls
Yield: 4 servings
4 elongated top-split rolls (butter rolls, hot dog rolls, Hawaiian sweet rolls or baguettes)
For toasting bread: about 2 tablespoon softened butter
1/4 cup mayonnaise, see cook’s notes
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons Colman’s prepared mustard, or more to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce, or more to taste
1 lemon (minced zest and juice to taste)
2 tablespoon snipped chives
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 pound cooked, shelled, picked, chilled Dungeness crab
1/2 pound cooked, picked, shelled, chilled New England lobster
1 ripe, medium-large heirloom tomato, sliced
4 pieces lettuce, cleaned, drained, such as green leaf lettuce
Garnish: additional snipped chives and Old Bay Seasoning
Cook’s notes: Gruel says you can use all mayonnaise rather than half mayonnaise and half sour cream, if you prefer. He likes to use mayonnaise made with olive oil.
1. Brush the butter all over the rolls and surface of a large nonstick skillet. Toast on all sides using medium heat.
2. In medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, Sriracha, zest, juice, chives and Old Bay Seasoning; stir to combine. Add seafood and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. (Can be refrigerated at this point (well sealed), up to 24 hours. Taste before serving, adjusting seasoning if needed.
3. Pack toasted rolls with lettuce, tomato, and generous portion of seafood mixture. Garnish with chives and a small sprinkling of Old Bay Seasoning. Serve.
Source: Andrew Gruel, Slapfish

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s … lettuce wraps

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My family loves these delicious lettuce wraps. Instead of ground pork, ground turkey comes to the party! They are flavor-boosted with 5-spice powder and hoisin sauce. Jicama, carrots and bell peppers bring added crunch.

Eat them like tacos!

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Ground Turkey Lettuce Wraps
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1/2 cup raw brown rice (I use Texmati long-grain brown rice)
2 heads of Bibb lettuce (Boston lettuce)
1 1/2 teaspoons Asian-style roasted sesame oil
1 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 large red or yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, cut into narrow crosswise strips
1/2 cup peeled, finely diced jicama
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon 5-spice powder
Garnish: shredded carrots and chopped fresh cilantro or fresh mint
1. Prepare rice according to package directions. Separate lettuce leaves; rinse in cold water and drain (I like to put them in a single layer on clean dish towels).
2. In a large deep skillet heat sesame oil on medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Add turkey and ginger; cook, breaking up meat with a spatula or sturdy spoon, until meat is cooked through about 5 minutes. Add rice, bell pepper, jicama, broth, hoisin sauce, and 5-spice powder. Cook, stirring occasionally, until broth is almost evaporated and vegetables are heated through. Place lettuce “cups” in single layer on a platter. Spoon filling onto lettuce; top with shredded carrots and cilantro or mint. Serve.

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Alfonso Ramirez’ Seared Albacore Salad Reaches for the Stars

Alfonso Ramirez learned in baby steps in his childhood home.

Eat. Walk. Cook …

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The executive chef at Pinot Provence, Costa Mesa, says that his chef-father is his culinary hero and was the one responsible for his early training.

His father was the accomplished executive chef at the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C., where the late, fearless French chef Jean-Louis Palladin reined over the Jean-Louis restaurant. jeanLouiePalladinChefs, foodies, and restaurateurs from all over made pilgrimages to the Watergate to sample Jean-Louis Palladin’s cuisine. And Alfonso’s chef-dad must have soaked it up.  The talent. The taste.

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Due to his father’s influence, Ramirez says that he feels like he has cooked French cuisine all his life. He brings to Pinot Provence a passion for French provincial cooking, a style that he calls “rustic French.”

With a fondness for his food, I asked if he would come to my home and shoot a culinary video with me. Watch the short video we shot, and get an up-close look at how he seasons and sears the fish and prepares the salad.

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Behind the scenes: It was clear that due to time constraints, Canard Cassoulet with Duck Confit was off the table. So we settled on a very flavorful and easy-to-prepare salad that showcases seasoned-and- seared albacore atop a colorful mélange of Bibb lettuce, radishes, tart apples and avocado. The mixture is draped in a shear glaze of ginger-honey vinaigrette.

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Best Gizmo: A Sugimoto 10-inch chef’s knife that has a carbon steel interior and has a stainless steel exterior to prevent discoloration. He appreciates the thinness of the knife and says it has great balance in his hand.

Fave Veg: Sunchokes are one of his most loved vegetables. Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, these plump knobby roots have a nutty taste and are subtly sweet, something like a blend of jicama and potato. They look something like fresh ginger.

The Competition: His favorite restaurant (other than Pinot Provence) is Taco Maria in Costa Mesa at the OC Mix. He loves the smoked potatoes and chorizo with shiitake mushrooms; it’s topped with a 62-degree egg.

Pinot Provence’s Albacore Salad
Yield: 1 serving with enough dressing for 8 servings
Vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon chopped fresh peeled ginger
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup yuzu juice, see cook’s notes
1/2 cup oil blend (90 percent grapeseed oil and 10 percent olive oil)
Salad:
3 ounces sushi-grade albacore tuna
Coarse salt (such as fleur de sel), to taste
About 1/8 teaspoon sesame seeds (black sesame seeds preferred)
About 1/8 teaspoon ground Espelette pepper, see cook’s notes
1 to 2 tablespoons oil blend (90 percent grapeseed oil and 10 percent olive oil)
4 or 5 leaves of Boston (Bibb) lettuce, smaller interior leaves preferred
1 French Breakfast radish (or radish of choice), trimmed, thinly sliced or cut in narrow strips
6 heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 Granny Smith apple, cut into 1/8-inch wide strips
1/2 ripe avocado, peeled, diced
Garnish: sliced fresh chives
Cook’s notes: Yuzu juice is sold in bottles at Japanese markets and online. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit that is prized for its perfume-rich juice. Ground Espelette pepper (piment d’Espelette in French) is made using dried chilies grown in Espelette, a town in the Southwest region of France, close to the Spanish border. It is often sold at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa, Savory Spice Shop in Corona del Mar and Costa Mesa, or online at amazon.com.
1. Prepare vinaigrette: Place all vinaigrette ingredients except oil in blender. Blend on medium-high speed until pureed. Add oil in a thin stream. (Can be prepared ahead and refrigerated; whisk to combine before using.)
2. Season fish with salt. Spread sesame seeds and Espelette on plate; roll fish in it to coat on all sides. Heat oil in a medium-sized nonstick skillet using medium-high heat. When very hot but not smoking, add albacore. Sear well on all sides, about 1 to 2 minutes per side for rare interior, using tongs to turn. Allow to cool in refrigerator for easier slicing.
3. In a bowl, combine lettuce, radish, tomatoes, apple and avocado. Add enough dressing to lightly coat; gently toss. Arrange lettuce on plate. Top with salad. Cut albacore crosswise into thin slices. Place slices on top of salad, slightly overlapping. Drizzle a little dressing on top of fish and season lightly with salt. Top with chives and serve. Leftover dressing can be refrigerated (well-sealed) up to one week.
Source: Alfonso Ramirez, executive chef, Pinot Provence, Costa Mesa

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Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

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Mustard greens are one of the most nutrient dense plants on the planet! I love the way adding a smidgen of hot Italian sausage to this dish tames the greens.

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It’s quick and easy to prepare.

I like to serve it atop cooked farro or brown rice.

Mustard Greens with Hot Sausage and Farro

Yield: 6 servings
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces hot Italian sausage
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
1 pound mustard greens, washed, drained, cut crosswise into 3- to 4-inch wide pieces
2 tablespoons water or dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For serving: 2 cups cooked farro or brown rice tossed with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper
1. In a large, deep nonstick skillet heat olive oil on medium heat. Break sausage in clumps (about the size of very large grape) and add to skillet in a single layer. Cook, turning once, until nicely browned and crisp. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion softens, about 2 minutes.
2. Add mustard greens. Use a spatula to push the greens down as they heat.  Add 2 tablespoons water or wine; cover. Cook 3 or 4 minutes, or until greens are wilted. Uncover and turn heat to high. Cook until moisture evaporates, about 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper; toss. Serve over cooked farro or brown rice.

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Best Farro Dish Ever: Chef Eric Samaniego, Little Sparrow

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Little Sparrow’s Warm Farro Salad with Arugula

When I query friends about Little Sparrow, the modern American cafe in downtown Santa Ana, they struggle to pinpoint their favorite dish. They are indecisive because a top choice is blurred when so many dishes reach perfection.

Executive Chef Eric Samaniego has a seductive menu that reflects both his talent and his passion for from-scratch cuisine.

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Some argue that the charcuterie plate is the pinnacle, with its made-in-house rillettes and terrines.  Others lobby for the grilled pork chops teamed with tomatillo sauce and red quinoa, or the finale of sweet-tart strawberry and rhubarb cobbler.

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The warm farro salad is my clear cut favorite. It has earthy nuttiness and alluring chewiness, and is gently toasted and then cooked in a leek-based stock.  It’s combined with sautéed mushrooms, a concoction of robust slices of king “trumpet” oyster mushrooms …  mushroomking

and more diminutive honshimeji, a clustered variety that is similar to oyster mushrooms but with dark brown caps and very slender stems.

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Caramelized with skill and patience, the fleshy mushrooms add sweetness and umami meatiness to the grain.

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The mixture tosses with baby arugula, just enough to slightly wilt the bright green leaves. Once plated, it is topped with a 5:10 egg, a soft-boiled beauty that when boiled for exactly 5 minutes and ten seconds delivers solid white and runny yolk. Once a guest’s fork pierces the egg, the yolk provides a delectable sauce that brings all the flavors together.

I was delighted when he consented to tape a video in my kitchen to show each step of the salad’s preparation. He offered many interesting tips in the process and I had a chance to ask him about some of his other favorite things:
Best Gizmo: A deba knife made by Aritsugu purchased on a recent trip to Tokyo (the company was founded in 1560, making it one of the oldest still existing knifemakers in Japan).
Look It Up: Favorite cookbook is “Culinary Artistry” by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. He says that the pages are filled with coffee stains.
Kitchen Heros: He spent 7 years spent working with Chef-Restaurateur David Myers in Los Angeles, 2 years at Sona followed by 5 years at Comme Ca. He says that Myers molded him into the chef he is today.
Off Hours: Appreciates spending time with her wife of 11 years and their two children, Brieana and Benjamin.
The Competition: His favorite restaurant (other than Little Sparrow) is Broadway By Amar Santana, Laguna Beach. He says that it is always fund and exciting.

Little Sparrow’s Warm Farro Salad with Arugula
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, finely diced
Pinch of salt
2 cups semi-pearled Italian farro, see cook’s notes
4 to 5 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound oyster mushrooms, cut at base, see cook’s notes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup baby arugula
Four 5:10 eggs, see step #3
Small drizzle of soy sauce
Small drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Chopped fresh herbs: parsley, chives
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of fleur de sel or sea salt
Cook’s notes: Most restaurants and home cooks use semi-pearled farro, grains that are processed to retain some but not all of the exterior bran. Semi-pearled (the package often says “semi-perlato”) cooks in 20 to 25 minutes in simmering water or broth. If the package doesn’t designate it as “semi-pearled,” look at the cooking directions on the package; if it says that it cooks in less than 25 minutes, you can assume it is semi-pearled. Farro is sold in the natural food section of some supermarkets and at natural food stores or Italian markets. For the video, Samaniego used King oyster mushrooms and honshimeji mushrooms, but advises that cremini mushrooms and oyster mushrooms would work as well. It is easier to prepare 5:10 eggs in advance (it is difficult to peel them when they are hot); chill and peel, then reheat just before serving by submerging them in hot water for 30 seconds.
1. In a large deep skillet on medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until softened, about 4 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and farro; cook until lightly toasted. Add the broth and turn to high heat. Once the liquid is boiling reduce to simmer. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain.
2. In a separate large deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil on medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until tender and caramelized, being mindful not to overcrowd the pan. Season with a pinch of salt and little freshly ground black pepper toward the end of cooking. Toss in the cooked farro. Adjust seasoning. Just before serving add in the arugula and toss just slightly wilt the leaves. Taste; add salt and/or pepper as needed.
3. Cook the 5:10 eggs: Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Place unpeeled raw eggs in water and cook for 5 minutes and 10 seconds exactly (chef used his cellphone to time them). Remove and shock in a bowl of ice water. Peel the eggs, just before serving run the eggs under some running hot water for 30 seconds (see cook’s notes).
4. Serve in individual bowls, or in a large platter. Drizzle with a little soy sauce. Top with a 5:10 eggs. Drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil on top of each egg; season each with fine sea salt, pepper, and chopped fresh herbs.
Source: Eric Samaniego, executive chef at Little Sparrow, Santa Ana

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…. Here’s a QUICK TIP from MELISSA’S PRODUCE ….

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Dukka (also spelled “dukkah”) is an Egyptian specialty that is blend of spices, roasted nuts and toasted sesame seeds. One way to serve it is to combine the blend with good olive oil and dip bread or grilled pita into it. When eating it this way, I like to include a good dollop of yogurt as well.

Dukka makes a crunchy coating for cooked chicken or fish. It is delicious sprinkled over mixed green salads or green beans tossed with a little olive oil. The recipe used here is adapted from a formula devised by Susan Carter, manager at Savory Spice Shop, Corona del Mar. Carter adds sunflower seeds and Sucanat (whole cane) sugar to her blend.

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Yield: about 1 1/2 cups
2/3 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup roasted, salted cashews
1/4 cup roasted pistachios, salted or unsalted
3 tablespoons ground coriander seeds
2 tablespoons ground cumin seeds
Optional: 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste, see cook’s notes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cook’s notes: If using salted nuts do not add salt. Most cashews in the marketplace are roasted. If you buy raw pistachios, roast them on a rimmed baking sheet in a 350-degree oven until lightly browned. Watch carefully because nuts burn easily. Cool nuts before using in this recipe. This mixture is delicious sprinkled on the kale salad (recipe included).
1. Toast sesame seeds. Place a rimmed plate or bowl next to stove. Place half of sesame seeds in medium-sized dry saucepan on medium heat. Toast until golden (lightly browned) using a spatula to stir constantly (a heatproof silicone spatula works well). Sesame seeds burn easily. Place seeds on plate and repeat process with remaining sesame seeds. Set aside to cool.
2. Place nuts in food processor. Pulse until nuts are chopped (some pieces will be fairly large, others ground into a powder). In a bowl, stir together the nuts, cooled sesame seeds, coriander, cumin, salt (if using) and pepper. Store in an airtight container. Best used within two weeks (it usually disappears in just a few days at my house).
Nutrition information (per teaspoon): 50 calories, 95 percent of calories from fat, 5 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 8 mg cholesterol, 0.5 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g protein, 15 mg sodium, 0.1 g fiber

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Secrets from A Restaurant’s Chef Jon Blackford – His Irresistible Halibut

Sample one of Jon Blackford’s Imperial Wagyu strip steaks, and you may never want to explore other entree options.

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The meat is so richly flavored and the texture so velvety, it could be addictive.  Blackford, executive chef at A Restaurant in Newport Beach, sears the perfectly marbled beef directly on a French burner. He says that the device is 10 to 15 percent hotter than a more conventional plancha. The process caramelizes the exterior in a mouth-watering manner before it is finished in the broiler.

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I understand any resistance to wander off the steak path. But if you don’t try Blackford’s Alaskan halibut, you are missing out.

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The short video shows the step-by-step preparation. Watch it, you’ll be impressed with all the practical tips he shares.

The fish is a center-cut fillet. It has a lovely crust, browned just enough to create texture contrast with the moist interior. It sits atop a piping hot potato concoction that has just-right acidity, a quality that brings out the sweetness in the halibut. The rustic potato mix teams tender, spoon-broken Yukon Gold potatoes with two vibrant mustards, as well as crème fraiche.

A creamy mélange of asparagus and oyster mushrooms accompany the dish. The mixture has a scattering of black garlic, caramelized garlic cloves that lend alluring sweet-sour taste and depth of flavor.

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Blackford consented to come to my home and show me exactly how to prepare the dish while taping a short video. I was impressed with the number of tips he offered along the way, from pre-reducing cream for pan sauces to make the cooking time shorter, to cutting green onions to get the best flavor and texture.

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A Restaurant’s Alaskan Halibut
Yield: 4 servings
8 medium-size unpeeled Yukon gold potatoes, washed, dried
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 (6 ounces each) halibut fillets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons cooking oil, either grape seed oil or blended (90 percent canola, 10 percent extra-virgin olive oil)
1/2 cup crème fraiche
2 tablespoons sliced green onions, middle light green portion only
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, strong French–style preferred
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Sauce:
1 tablespoon cooking oil, either grape seed oil or blended (90 percent canola, 10 percent extra-virgin olive oil)
6 asparagus stalks, thin preferred, cut on diagonal into 2-inch lengths
2 to 3 large clusters oyster mushrooms, torn into small clusters, shallowly trimmed at base
1 large shallot, peeled, julienned
1/3 cup Riesling (slightly sweet)
1/3 cup reduced cream, see cook’s notes
Finishing fish:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pinch chopped fresh thyme
8 cloves black garlic, peeled, see cook’s notes
Cook’s notes: A sauce-making restaurant tip is to reduce cream by half in advance, cool and refrigerate it. This saves time when making the sauce. Black garlic is made by heating whole bulbs of garlic over the course of several weeks. It is sold at Surfas Culinary District in Costa Mesa and online at melissas.com.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a roasting pan, toss potatoes with garlic, thyme and 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and then foil; bake in preheated oven for about 1 1/2 hours.  Make sure the potatoes are soft when they come out of the oven.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Just before cooking, season fish generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil on high heat in ovenproof skillet (large enough to hold fish in single layer, or use two skillets). When golden brown around the bottom edge, place it in the oven. After 4 or 5 minutes turn fish and cook just until barely cooked through, about 1 minute (time varies depending on thickness). Tiny bubbles will start to appear on the side of the fish when it is done.

3. Remove and discard any woody thyme stems from potatoes. Crush the cooked potatoes with the back of a good-sized spoon; add crème fraiche, green onions, mustards, salt and pepper. Mix to combine. If they are still hot from the oven there will be no need to reheat; but if not, mix everything in a sauté pan and heat on the stove.

4. For sauce: Heat a sauté pan on medium high heat; add oil.  Add asparagus and shallots; cook for 1-2 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté about 1 minute. Add Riesling and scrape up any browned bits in pan. Cook until liquid is reduced by half in volume. Add cream and simmer on medium heat until thickened.

5. Finish fish: When fish comes out of the oven, add thyme, butter, and black garlic cloves to the hot pan.  Using a spoon, baste the melted butter over the fish to flavor it.  Place a serving of potatoes on each of four plates and place a fish fillet on top of each, leaving the remaining butter in the pan, but topping with the black garlic. Spoon asparagus mixture with the sauce on either side of the potatoes and serve.

Source: Jon Blackford, executive chef A Restaurant, Newport Beach

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…Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s…

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Creamy kale soup is quick and easy to prepare. To make it vegetarian, use vegetable broth.

Cream of Kale Soup

Yield: 4 servings
1 large baking potato, such as Russet, peeled, coarsely chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth, divided use
1 large bunch washed kale, curly or Tuscan variety, central stalks removed (scroll down through the video to see how to do this), coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried, or dried Italian herb mix
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Garnish: Greek-style yogurt or cream
1. Place potato, garlic and broth in a Dutch oven or large saucepan. Bring to a boil on high heat; lower heat to medium low and simmer 10 to 12 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, combine remaining broth, kale, bay leaf and oregano. Bring to boil on high heat; reduce heat to medium and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Puree potato mixture with immersion blender or in a food processor. Remove and discard bay leaf from kale mixture. Stir potato mixture into kale mixture. Puree about 1/3 of the mixture either with an immersion blender or in the food processor. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir; taste. If needed, adjust seasoning, stirring in lemon juice if desired, and additional salt and/or pepper if needed. Divide into 4 bowls. Top each with a hearty dollop of yogurt or a spoonful of heavy cream.

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Temptation: Indian Street Foods, There and Here

India totally enchants some visitors.

Count me among them.

indiaDelhiDoorman450My recent journey left me with joyful impressions of captivating sites and bold colors, vistas set against an exuberant backdrop of rhythms and scents. Imagine the syncopated toots of rickshaw horns mixed with buzzing motorbikes, the aroma of chai, curry and incense perfuming the air. indiaDelhiStreet450

My visit was short, spending less than a week, with the time divided between Delhi, Agra and Mumbai. At the heart of the charm was the lure of the food.

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The dishes I ate in hotels and restaurants were scrumptious.

These warm Indian-style breads were served with a luscious assortment of chutneys at the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi.

The street foods on the other hand, frustrated me; due to the use of questionable water, I was warned not to eat it. IT LOOKED SO DELICIOUS!

Snacking is a part of everyday life in India, and to my eyes the on-the-street noshing seemed nonstop. Carts and makeshift tables provided the framework for the street vendors to show off their treasures. Fruits and vegetable stole the show, with ingredients arranged like squares on a vibrant quilt.

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Some were simple, such as sliced pineapple or cucumbers, or ornately cut jicama pieces, all set atop glimmering ice. Each was seasoned to a customer’s liking with salt and chaat masala (a dried ground mixture of mango powder, cumin, black salt, coriander, ginger and chili).

 

 

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Others were more complex. Clear containers of panni pooris (puri) set next to some carts. These hollow crisp puffs were about golf ball size.

indiaPaniPuri450They were filled on the spot with a mixture of mashed potatoes and garbanzo beans, and then topped with chutneys, yogurt and chaat masala. I watched as they were consumed with gusto, the whole shebang becoming a one-big-bite delicacy.

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At other locations, the pooris were filled with spicy water. Called gol gappa pooris, these spheres fill a mouth with a burst of piquant, ice-cold liquid.

(What a thrill to find these luscious treats at ADYA restaurant at the Anaheim Packing House. You pour in the beautifully-spiced water into the shell and do a one-bite chomp.  (The chef-owner is Shachi Mehra, former executive chef of Tamarind in Newport Coast – 440 S. Anaheim Blvd.).

Now … back to India.

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One cart was topped with geometrically arranged bunches of cilantro, red-ripe Roma tomatoes, fried garbanzo beans (topped with chili powder and salt), fried peanuts, and a mixture of chopped red onions and green chilies. Chopped and tossed together for last-minute service,

the concoction was served with crunchy wedges of poppadums.

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When flame-toasted, poppadums become blistered and cracker-crisp. Also referred to as papads, at first glance the plain ones look something like fried-and-wavy flour tortillas. They are made of lentils and can be used like brittle tortilla chips for dipping or spreading.

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I loved the look of the fresh mint infused ice water.

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The Indian spicy, salty street beverages fascinate me. I wanted to make the salty-spicy-sweet limeade that seemed to be sold on every corner.  But weather factors as well as an infection of trees in some areas of Mexico have driven up our local lime prices.

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So instead I turned to “The Great Pepper Cookbook” from Melissa’s Produce (Oxmoor House, $19.95) for a recipe for chili-spiked lemonade. I rimmed glasses margarita-style with a little kosher salt to get an Americanized version of the Indian elixer. I’ll prepare it with limes when prices come down.

For further help with my project, I called my Mumbai-born friend Raghavan Iyer, the award-winning author of many cookbooks, tomes that are designed to take the mystery out of Indian cooking. His latest, “Indian Cooking Unfolded” (Workman, $$19.95), is a master class in the art of simple Indian cooking, with 100 easy recipes that each use ten ingredients or less.

I wanted to master the art of flame-toasted poppadums and stuffed pooris, plus learn to make two irresistible chutneys (that would team with either). Most ingredients were available at my local supermarket, but a few weren’t. Armed with Iyer’s recipes, I headed to Indian Sweets and Spices Market in Tustin. There I purchased packages of uncooked poppadums and ready-to-use poori shells, along with tamarind paste and chaat masala.

Red-Hot Iced Lemonade
Yield: 8 servings
2 quarts (8 cups) cold water
Juice of 4 lemons (about 3/4 cup)
1 fresh red Fresno chili, stem and seeds removed, finely sliced, see cook’s notes
1 cup sugar
Cook’s notes: Fresh Red Fresno chilies are about 2- to 4-inches long. They are similar in size and shape to jalapenos but have wider shoulders, thinner flesh and mild to medium heat. I like to rim the glasses with a little kosher salt; dip rims in lemon juice and then in a small amount of kosher salt.
1. In a large pitcher, stir together all ingredients until sugar dissolves completely, about 3 to 5 minutes. Fill glasses with ice and pour in lemonade.
Source: Melissa’s “The Great Pepper Cookbook” (Melissa’s Produce, Oxmoor House, $19.95)

indiapanipuripackage450Crispy Poori Shells with Potatoes, Garbanzo Beans and Two Chutneys
Yield: 6 servings
For the filling:
1 medium-size russet or Yukon Gold potato, peeled, boiled until tender, drained (reserve water), coarsely mashed
1 cup cooked chickpeas (can use canned, drained)
1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher
For the crispy shells and topping:
30 round poori shells (sometimes labeled pani puri or panni pooris)
Tamarind Date Chutney, recipe included
Tangy Mint Chutney, recipe included
Chaat masala for sprinkling
Finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems for sprinkling
1. Combine the potato, chickpeas, and salt in a medium-size bowl, and blend well, mashing the chickpeas (I used a potato masher). If mixture is dry, stir in enough reserved cooking water to make a mashed potato consistency.
2. Working with one poori at a time, cup a shell in the palm of one hand, and with the forefinger of the other hand, gently tap the thin surface to form a finger-width hole, letting the crumbs and small pieces fall in. Repeat with the remaining shells, and place them in a single layer on a serving platter.
3. Carefully spoon a scant teaspoon of the potato-chickpea filling into a shell. Drop about 1/4 teaspoon Tamarind Date Chutney on top, and then top that with Tangy Mint Chutney.  Lightly dust with chaat masala, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve immediately. Repeat with the remaining shells. (Or, if you’re prepared to move speedily, set this up assembly-line style so you can fill and serve a number of the shells at once).
Source: adapted from “660 Curries” and “Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer (Workman Publishing, $19.95, $22.95)

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Poori (Puri) shells stuffed with mashed potatoes-garbanzo bean mixture, topped with chutneys and cilantro.

Tangy Mint Chutney
Yield: about 1 cup
Juice from 1 large lime
1 small daikon radish, see cook’s notes
1 medium-size tomato
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup firmly packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 large clove garlic
1 to 2 fresh green serrano chilies, stems discarded (I’s a sissy and only use 1/2 of a serrano chili) 1 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher
Cook’s notes: I use only a 3-inch piece of daikon – all of the daikons are enormous at my market.
1. Pour lime juice into blender. Peel daikon and lop off about 1/2 inch from both ends (see cook’s notes). Wash and thinly slice crosswise. Add slices to juice in blender.
2. Core tomato, coarsely dice it (there’s no need to peel it or remove the seeds). Add tomato to blender along with mint, cilantro, garlic, chili(es), and salt. Puree (if needed, stop motor and scrape down sides to insure a smooth puree).
3. Serve the chutney either at room temperature or chilled as a dipping sauce. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze for up to 2 months.
Source: adapted from “Indian Cooking Unfolded” by Raghavan Iyer (Workman Publishing, $19.95)

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Tamarind Date Chutney
Yield: about 1 1/2 cups
1 teaspoon tamarind paste or concentrate
1 1/2 cups chopped seedless dates
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, such as kosher
1. Whisk the tamarind paste and 1 1/2 cups of warm water together. Stir in dates, cayenne, and salt. Bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium-high heat. Once it starts to boil, lower the heat to medium and let it continue to simmer vigorously, still uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the dates soften, 6 to 8 minutes.
2. Pour mixture into a blender, and, holding the lid in place with a towel or potholder, pulse the liquid until pureed. Transfer the sweet and sour chutney to a glass jar (nonreactive is what you’re looking for because of the acidity of the tamarind). You can store the chutney in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Serve the chutney chilled as a dip for any of your favorite appetizers.
Source: “Indian Cooking Unfolded” by Raghavan Iyer, Workman Publishing, $19.95

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Phil and I pose with our dear pals, Ron and Marcia Kay Radelet at the Taj Mahal.

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Best Appetizer Pancakes Ever from Lark Creek Newport Beach

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John Ledbetter’s pancakes could make you forget the traditional limp breakfast disks that whisper a bland one-dimensional tune.

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No drizzle of butter or syrup is necessary for these vibrant appetizer cakes.

This short video shows how Ledbetter, executive chef at Lark Creek Newport Beach, amps his savory pancakes with a battalion of complementary ingredients. His pancakes are thick and irresistible, especially when topped with a tangle of barbecued chicken, guacamole and slivers of crisp tortilla chips.

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At the heart of his pancakes is a rich sweet-corn taste provided by prepared masa, the type sold in many local Mexican markets that is blended specifically for making tamales. (I buy it at El Gallo Giro, Santa Ana)

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The masa dough is mixed with fresh minced chilies, bell peppers and green onions, and then made into a batter by adding milk, baking soda and baking powder.
I watched the preparation. He cooks them slowly. Once a portion of batter is added to a hot nonstick skillet, he uses the back of a spoon to spread the mixture a little; then he gently cooks on medium-low heat to prevent scorching.
Tamale Pancakes
Yield: about 10 to 12 (5-inch) pancakes
About 1 cup whole milk (plus more if needed)
2 1/2 pounds prepare masa (masa for tamales), see cook’s notes
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced seeded jalapeno chili, or 2 teaspoons minced jalapeno plus 2 teaspoons minced Red Fresno chili, see cook’s notes
1 tablespoon minced green onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Butter as needed
Favorite barbecue sauce, enough to lightly coat chicken
Roast chicken, boned, skinned, pulled into slivers with two forks (store-bought is OK)
Garnish: guacamole, thin strips of corn tortillas (fried crisp) or crushed tortilla chips
Optional garnish: cilantro crème fraiche
Cook’s notes: Many Mexican markets, such as El Gallo Giro in Santa Ana, sell prepared masa. Be sure to designate that you want masa for tamales, not for tortillas. Use caution when working with fresh chilies; wash hands and work surface thoroughly and do NOT touch eyes or face. To make cilantro crème fraiche, blanch a good handful of cilantro in boiling water; refresh with ice water. Drain and place in high-speed blender with some cream fresh; whirl until pureed. Ledbetter says that when sweet corn if plentiful this summer, he will add kernels along with the other ingredients to the batter.
Procedure:
1. In a saucepan, heat milk until just below a simmer; set aside. In a stand mixer add masa, bell pepper, chilies, green onion and cilantro. Using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed to combine. Continue to mix on low speed and add milk in thin stream, using just enough milk to achieve a pancake-batter consistency (it will thicken up a little with refrigeration). Add baking powder and baking soda; mix to combine. Cover and refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Melt about 1 1/2 teaspoons butter in a large, nonstick skillet on medium heat. Add enough batter to make a pancake the desired size (he makes them about 5-inches in diameter). Use the back of a spoon in a circular motion to spread out the batter a little. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until bubbles appear on surface and golden brown (about 40 to 50 percent cooked). Turn and complete cooking.
3. Toss chicken with enough barbecue sauce to lightly cover. Top each pancake with chicken mixture, a scoop of guacamole and some thin strips of fried corn tortilla. If desired drizzle cilantro crème fraiche around edge of plate. Serve immediately.
Source: John Ledbetter, executive chef at Lark Creek Newport Beach

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… Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …

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Cherry-Blackberry Compote served with honey-spiked yogurt makes a delectable dessert.

Blackberries and fresh sweet cherries have such complimentary flavor profiles. Bing (bright red to mahogany red) is most common variety in the marketplace, but others such as Rainiers (yellow with a red blush) can be substituted.

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The easiest and least messy way to remove the seeds is to use a cherry pitter. The gadget works something like a scissor-style paper punch with a shaft that pushes the pit out.

Cherries Poached in Red Wine with Blackberries and Mint
Yield: 8 servings
2 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 cup sugar or agave syrup
2 (2-inches wide) strips of orange zest or tangerine zest, colored portion of peel
1 1/2 pounds fresh sweet cherries, pitted, halved
1/2 pound whole blackberries
Optional: 2 teaspoons minced fresh mint
3/4 cup plain fat free Greek-style yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
Optional garnish: 8 sprigs of fresh mint
1. In a large saucepan (not aluminum) combine wine, sugar and strips of zest. Bring to simmer on medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add cherries and reduce heat to maintain a simmer until cherries are just barely tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. When lukewarm, add blackberries and mint, if using. Gently toss.
2. In small bowl, stir yogurt and honey until combined.
3. Divide cherry-berry mixture into 8 small bowls. Top with dollop of yogurt mixture. If desired, garnish each serving with a small sprig of mint.
Nutritional information (per serving): calories 250; fat calories 5, total fat 0 grams; sat fat 0 grams, cholesterol 0 milligrams; sodium 10 milligrams; total carbohydrates 47 grams; fiber 3 grams; sugars 41 grams; protein 3 grams; vitamin A IUs 2%; vitamin C 20%; calcium 4%; iron 4%.

Source: “50 Best Plants on the Planet” by Cathy Thomas (Chronicle, $29.95)

Thanks to Curt Norris for the beautiful photos, as well as skilled videotaping.

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Treasured Time with Maya Angelou: Her Words, Her Cooking

Ten years ago I had the opportunity to interview Maya Angelou about cooking, life and love.  The time spent wasn’t rushed. She was generous of thought and deed.  Here is a portion of the story I wrote about it:

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My words sounded like a jittery chicken pecking corn through a picket fence. Maya Angelou’s voice sang in rhythmical patterns with sentences ending in slow-to-dissolve words that sounded like long, sustained tones on a priceless violin.

She was calm, wise and quick to laugh. Soon my nervousness would fade. Our topic was food when we met for a recent interview in Santa Monica. Angelou — accomplished poet, playwright, author, historian, entertainer, director and teacher — has written a cookbook, “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table: A Lifetime of Memories With Recipes” (Random House, $29.95).

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In the book, Angelou, 76, wraps treasured stories of her life around luscious, straightforward recipes. Through her heartfelt vignettes, readers will meet her cherished family — her grandmother, mother, brother and son — as well as a fascinating collection of friends, many of whom she met on her world travels.

Readers will discover that at 17, she was a chef at a San Francisco Creole restaurant, then later, marvel as she creates a home-cooked cassoulet for culinary icon M.F.K. Fisher. It’s easy to identify with her initial embarrassment at a colleague’s liberal use of Tabasco sauce at a prim Parisian restaurant, or feel her pride as she turns out an impeccable banana pudding after an ill-fated love affair folds. Angelou said that she wants readers to recognize how food brings people together.

“Food is greater than the sum of its parts,” she said. “Its parts may be salt, sugar, pepper, flour, oil, maybe butter, milk and eggs. Those are the parts that may make a cake. But its more than a cake, it’s that, and, something else. That and hospitality. That and care. That and appreciation. “So, when someone invites you to dinner it’s not just to eat. It’s that, and. That and a hug, or caress. That and approval.”
And, she pointed out, cooking can be powerful. It can snare a lover or gain a job.
“My cooking got me a couple of jobs. One was in Los Angeles from a Southerner who was longing, l-o-n-g-i-n-g for the South. This man gave me a job because I cooked spoon bread for him.”
Spoon bread, a classic Southern pudding-like mixture of cornmeal, flour, milk, eggs and butter, sent her soon-to-be boss into a dreamlike state.
“He chewed his way back to his Alabama childhood,” she said. Angelou said that cooking can be therapeutic, too. It can cure writer’s block, loneliness, even sadness.
“If I’m really lonely, or if I am very sad, I will cook and probably cook something that the person I’m mourning for would love,” she said. “And I cook it as carefully as possible. And maybe eat some of it. And he or she is almost there.”
When I commented on how cookbooks hold a special place in our lives, Angelou was quick to describe the prominent place they hold in her home in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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“I have about 300 cookbooks,” she said, laughing in an affectionate yet devilish tone. “I have a counter in my kitchen that separates the kitchen from the breakfast area; all of that wall from the counter to the floor, maybe 12 feet, that is where I keep the cookbooks that I use. “And there’s one set that really was the cheapest of all, that I like the best. It’s called ‘Woman’s Day Encyclopedia (of Cookery).’ They came out in the late ’60s or early ’70s. You could buy them at the supermarket in New York for 89 cents apiece. The cruel things, they stopped selling them somewhere in the R’s, maybe rutabagas. I searched all over town for them, but couldn’t find the rest.”
Later her soon-to-be husband told her he wanted to buy her a truly wonderful gift. She requested that he find the missing S though Z books from her cooking encyclopedia. He did.

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Spoon Bread
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Butter for greasing casserole
2 cups white cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups cold water
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 2-quart casserole with butter.
2. In large bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in cold water. Add boiling water and stir vigorously. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into prepared casserole dish. Bake 1 hour or until firm and browned. Serve at once.
Nutritional information (per serving): Calories 173 (26 percent from fat); fat 5 g (sat 1.2 g); protein 3.4 g; carbohydrates 27.2 g; cholesterol 56 mg; sodium 400 mg.

Source “Hallelujah! The Welcome Table”

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