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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Seared In The Dragon's Breath

I survived the Dragon once! Part of me thought I'd never want to be sweating in front of it again, but the School of Culinary Arts at Santa Barbara City College has started taking sign ups for fall classes and a yearning arises in the other part of me to face the Dragon again. When I took the Modern Food: Design, Style, Theory class under Chef Vincent van Hecke last year, in the center of the largest commercial kitchen was what I call the Dragon: three stoves side by side, each with six burners, flanked by four ovens and topped with an open salamander. The cumulative heat emitted was like a dragon’s breath and somehow, though we changed teams each week, I always ended up at the counter opposite the Dragon, sweating under my crisp white chef’s coat. Unlike the tight, blue flames of my Viking, the Dragon has long, licking flames and when one is shoulder to shoulder trying to stir pots on the back burner, it is a world away from cooking leisurely in one’s own home.

I need Culinary Fundamentals and Pastry to complete my Personal Chef certificate, but may not get either class since I'm relegated to second place priority in registration. Priority goes to the young people in their last year, working towards the full culinary degree and just about ready to go out in the world to wow diners with their creations. Many are already working in kitchens and for caterers, armed with knife skills and naïveté. I hate to think that, especially in this economy, many will end up in the thankless jobs of fry and prep cooks--but let's hope they find their dreams. It can be done! The son of my awesome acupuncturist at Shiatsu Rincon started his own restaurant in the little burg of McArthur. John's son serves up fine cuisine like Spicy Tuna Tartare with pickled veggies and wasabi cream or 8 Piece Cali roll stacked and layered with spicy tuna and chipotle-baked shrimp, with spicy Chinese mustard, black sesame seeds, and sriracha (I had to look that last item up: sriracha is a Thai hot sauce made from chili, garlic, sugar, salt and vinegar). The restaurant is successful because the small town of just 399 persons is at the crossroads between Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen and Fall River Mills (travel guide here) and--well--just look at the food! But, for most culinary graduates, their own restaurant is going to be hard to achieve, though the myth of 90% of restaurants failing has pretty much been debunked. After a study by Ohio State University, the rate is thought to be more like 26%, comparable to any small business. In any event, Crumb's is thriving and the next time we're in Redding, I'm definitely taking a trip to see the lava tubes and to try their sushi rolls on the way. I 'borrowed' the images to the right from their Facebook page.

Unfortunately, the Culinary Arts program attrition rate is fairly high, I was told by students that last year's graduating class only comprised about a fourth of the students that began the course together. Some students need to work in addition to attending school, so have to extend their school time to meet their requirements, but many drop out. I asked one of the students why and she replied, “Because they think it’s all Top Chef”.  It's exciting to be in the seemingly chaotic kitchen with a dozen cooks scurrying from stove to cold storage to sink to deep fryer to station, making a snap decision on how to put a “spin” on your dish to make it stand out, the adrenaline-pumping last minutes of plating before time runs out, and the thrill of winning a medal. The part students don't see on "Top Chef" is what they don't like about classes--the massive cleanup of an unbelievable mound of pots, pans and utensils from the sautéing, braising, mincing and baking, greasy floors that need to be cleaned and sanitized, quite a bit of written homework and the many hazards: wickedly sharp knives, the slippery floor, and scalding pots. One learns to listen for “Hot pot! Behind!” or “Knife!” and give way or you get burned or cut, sometimes badly.

Anyway, I need the Pastry class to learn how to make cakes--the one thing besides candymaking that I've never done well. Part of the problem is that I don't eat cake and candy now,  but even when I did my cake making was abysmal. I made a layer cake in college for my dad in an ancient oven in my little student rental. The racks were listing to one side, but I figured since the batter was not spilling over the side of the pan, it would be ok (remember the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until about age 26). Not surprisingly, the cake sections were wedge shaped, but hey, they fit together to make a rectangle, so I iced and decorated the cake and no one could tell from the outside that they weren't perfect. Until I went back into the kitchen to bring out dessert and the top layer had slid off onto the floor. At least we could eat the bottom layer--my daughter's first birthday cake was worse. I was so intent on feeding her organic, healthy food that I made a sugarless carrot cake with fruit juice sweetened icing. I tried to make the cake in a pan shaped as a "1", but the cake stuck to the pan and ended up as an elongated lump. The icing didn't set up and was a runny mess. I swear the thing looked just like biscuits and gravy. When my one-year-old daughter saw it, she refused to eat any. We gamely to swallow our servings, but cake and icing without sugar is like an omelet without eggs--not good!

Try this refreshing dessert from Greenwood Ridge,  perfect after a fish course or a dessert in itself. Follow it with a glass of Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir Pomegranate Sorbet:
Serves 6
Equipment: Measuring cup and spoons, strainer, stainless steel bowl, whisk, saucepan, shallow pan and food processor (or ice cream maker), one 2 quart plastic container with a lid.

1 cup Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Pinot Noir
1 cup pomegranate juice (strained)
2 cups water
3 Tbs. granulated sugar
1/2 cup grapefruit juice (strained)
Combine 1/2 cup of water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cool to room temperature. Mix together the Pinot Noir, pomegranate juice, grapefruit juice and remaining water. Add the sugar syrup and mix well. Freeze in a shallow pan until solid. Empty the frozen mixture into the food processor. Process on pulse just until the texture is consistent, then freeze again in a covered plastic container. If you have an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer's directions for sorbet then transfer to a plastic container. If kept airtight and frozen, the sorbet will last for 3 to 4 days.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fava-lous Beans: What To Do With Broad Beans

These beans were one of the first plants to be cultivated, with evidence of their use found over 5,000 years ago in China and North Africa. Long a staple of Mediterranean cuisine, along with chickpeas and lentils, broad beans are also called fava beans. But, after the chilling line from Hannibal Lechter in Silence of The Lambs: "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti", one sees them less often labeled as such. Difficult to peel when older, since they must be blanched in boiling water then cooled in an ice bath so the skins will slip off easily, young fava beans have a tender outer skin that you can slip off with your fingers. If they are really small, you can eat the outer skin because it is not yet bitter. I grew fava beans for the first time this year and fortunately had no problem with aphids, which can be common pests. This spring has been ideal for vegetables here in California--mostly warm, sunny days with periodic rains to keep everything verdant. Already, I'm harvesting carrots, baby beets, arugula, new potatoes, fennel...and of course, these lovely beans.

If you buy them at the farmer's market for the first time, bring them home and pop the beans out of the pods, then peel away the outer skin to reveal the green inside. Young, the pods are green and the skin orange/yellow, but as they get older the pods turn brownish and the skins grayish. You can also eat the leaves of the plant--I find the taste of their raw leaves too herbaceous, but wilted with garlic, olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon and they are delicious.

If you are wondering what do do with fava beans, try the recipe below that I whipped up recently for friends.

We enjoyed this adaption of a Spanish Paella (made with jasmine rice for aroma and faster cooking time) with the perfect wine pairing: the 2009 Borsao Garnacha that was in a previous International Sampler. A fruit-forward red wine, Garnacha has less tannins than Cab, less sweetness than Merlot. It's a rich, smooth wine that is like a mouth full of dark cherry with a bit of spice. This fava bean and shrimp dish would also pair well with the 2005 Herencia Antica Tempranillo.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 orange or red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 Tbsp. minced garlic (one elephant garlic clove)
1/2 tsp. rubbed sage
2 pinches saffron threads
1 teaspoon hot Spanish or Hungarian paprika
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup jasmine rice
6 ounces peeled, deveined, raw large shrimp
1/4-1/2 cup peeled fresh fava beans (2-4 dozen in shell)
In a heavy skillet (with tight fitting lid), cook the onion, bell pepper and garlic in the olive oil over low heat until onion is translucent, stirring frequently. Add the sage, saffron, paprika, pepper, broth and rice and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, turn the heat to lowest setting and simmer until the rice is almost tender, about 20 minutes. Working quickly so not all the steam escapes, stir in the shrimp and fava beans. Cover again and cook until the shrimp are just opaque in the center, about 5 minutes. Don't overcook as the shrimp will toughen. Serves 4.

Gooey, delicious grilled cheese sandwiches

We stopped for lunch at our favorite McPhee's Grill in Templeton (see here and here, ) on the way north for their grilled artichoke, fish tostada, a glass of Jim Clendenen's Pinot Gris and--first time trying it--the amazing Grilled Three Cheese and Mushroom Sandwich. Fabulous. Grilled cheese made with rustic bread and artisan cheese is all over California menus and filling new cookbooks like Laura Werlin's Grilled Cheese Please. Besides using great ingredients (not the Velveta cheese and white bread we were served in school lunches!), I've found the secret is twofold: first, use at least two types of cheese--the first a firmer melting cheese like cheddar or Gruyere and the other a soft cheese like chevre (or in this case sour cream) and second, brush the melted butter on the outside of the bread before grilling it instead of grilling in a pool of melted butter. The following is what I had for dinner, along with steamed vegetables and a glass of 2008 Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet. The grilled cheese was crispy on the outside, satisyingly bready and chewy, and filled with flavorful gooey deliciousness!
Ingredients for one sandwich
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 slice rustic bread, cut in half
Approximately 1 oz. of sharp cheddar, sliced very thin
1 Tbsp. sour cream
1/2 small tomato, sliced thin
1 Tbsp. roasted green chili salsa
Brush one side of each piece of bread with butter using a pastry brush and taking care to cover the entire side. Place butter side down. Place cheese slices on top of each slice, tearing to fit so the entire bread is covered. Carefully spread the sour cream over one half of bread, over the cheese. Lay the tomato slices on the other side, salt lightly, then spoon the salsa on top. Quickly turn the sour cream half on top of the other half, holding the cheese in place with your fingers as you turn the bread. Heat a skillet over medium low (a cast iron skillet works great) and place the sandwich in it. Cover with a lid. Cook slowly so the inside melts, about 3 minutes on each side.
Another comfort food from the 60's, updated to be made from scratch:
6 4 oz. ramekins
3 Tbsp. melted butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh pineapple
6 heaping Tbsp. loosely packed brown sugar
Cake Batter:
1 1/3 cup cake flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
optional whip cream
optional ice cream
Preheat oven to 325. Divide the melted butter between the ramekins and use a pastry brush to spread the butter across the bottom and sides. Divide the pineapple between the ramekins, sprinkle each with a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar, then sprinkle each with cinnamon.
In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar and baking powder. Add the milk, butter, egg and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer set on low for a minute. Scrape down the sides, then beat with electric mixer on medium for another minute. Divide the batter between the ramekins, pouring over the pineapple mixture. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place ramekins on a baking rack to cool for a couple of minutes, then use a sharp knife to cut around the sides of each cake to loosen them. Upend onto your serving dishes and serve warm. Garnish with mint, whipped cream or ice cream.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Many Types of Salsa

I traveled to Mexico once or twice a year for 18 years as a kid, usually in the very back seat of the lumbering turquoise panel truck we called "Chamuyo". The Dodge was like a friendly beast, colorful and expressive with two great headlight eyes and a hint of a smile under the massive front hood. My mother told me the name meant "Green dragon" in Spanish which delighted me for some reason. I loved to tell people the his name. As an adult, I discovered "chamuyo" is street slang for "bullshitter". Thanks, Mom, for once again fooling me with your wicked sense of humor and colorful personality!

My mother was a raconteur and the life of the party. With a brilliant mind and ever present sense of humor, my mother charmed and amazed everyone she met. In our travels throughout Mexico, she made friends everywhere--from poor fishermen living in shacks on the beach who shared their caldo de tortuga with us, to the film director Emilio Fernández whom she met in Chapultepec Park; he invited our family to dinner that week. She was forever making instant best friends and had loyal and devoted friends throughout her long life. But, as a mother she was confusing. Her love of a good story led her to embellish the parts that got a good laugh, to the extent that I never quite knew what was real or fabrication when it came to her life. Pale white Anglo, she was a master of disguise with her dark wig and colorful sarape. Her amazing facility for languages meant she could speak fluent Spanish and pass as a native, accompanied by her dark husband--my dad--full Japanese but with a mustache she had carefully penciled on to turn him into a local. He looked the part but was the polar opposite when it came to languages--he had to keep his mouth shut or blow his disguise. One time the sight of a wild herd in the distance broke down his reserve and he pointed them out to our new Mexican friends" "Horse-o, horse-o!".

Chamuyo carried us all over Mexico, often getting stuck in the sand while my mother quickly found a nice truck driver to help us out--another instant friend. We camped along the way, though "camping" in the sense most people know it has nothing to do with what we did. There were no cushy mattress pads or stoves. I slept in the stuff sack instead of a sleeping bag when I was young and often there was no tent. I remember waking up one morning on a dung heap surrounded by cattle after we literally rolled out of Chamuyo late at night in the dark. We cooked our meals over a fire and the youngest one--me--was sent out of the tent in the morning to make the coffee. My mother used to boast that I could make a campfire and coffee when I was 4, oblivious to the unhappy expression on my face as I recalled the dread of that onerous duty. My daughter and boyfriend have heard all these stories of my privations and secretly thought I was exaggerating until I found photos of those days. The black and white images seem to be of 1930s Dustbowl Okies with us dirty from subsistence travel with our motley collection of tin pots over the fire. Chamuyo was resolutely steadfast in the photos, witness to the ardors of "dirt camping" but also witness to the many laughs and jolly times we had on the road.

A wide range of diverse regional cuisine developed in Mexico due to the country's mountainous topography and the difficulty in travel. Historically, the north produced wheat and pork and the south more corn, dairy and beef. The Yucatan Peninsula, is rainy and lush so bananas, avocados, coconuts, mangos and black beans were available. Ubiquitous is the use of salsa. Some of the best known general categories are salsa fresca (also known as salsa cruda) which has raw tomato, onion, garlic, chili and cilantro, salsa verde (see below) which is made with tomatillo, pico de gallo (means “rooster’s beak”) which is a dry version of salsa fresca, salsa roja which has cooked tomatoes, salsa negra which is made from roasted chipotles, salsa tacquera (taco sauce) a smooth, blended sauce made from tomatillos and morita chili (smoked Jalapenos), salsa ranchera which is served warm, mole poblano which is made from chocolate, almonds, and chili, and mango salsa. Click the salsa name for more recipes off the web! Salsas are used as toppings, fillers and side condiments. Below are two of my versions:
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 large mango, peeled and diced
1 Habanero or 2 Jalapeno (for hot salsa) peppers, seeded and minced
1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
1/8 tsp. white pepper
salt to taste
Mix all the ingredients in a glass or ceramic bowl, serve immediately. Makes about 2 cups.

2 medium tomatoes, cut in half
1 head of garlic, unpeeled
2 Anaheim or Serrano chilis
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Cut the bottom off the garlic head and peel the loose skin off but leave the cloves and their skins intact. Wrap in a piece of tin foil and put in oven. Make a slit in the side of the chilis--remove the seeds if you don't want very hot salsa. Place the tomato halves and chilis on a piece of tin foil on a baking sheet and turn up the edges to catch any juice as the tomatoes bake. Put in the oven and roast about 15 minutes until cooked through and charred.
Put the tomatoes, the chilis (minus the stems) into a blender. When the garlic is soft, you can unwrap the head and squeeze the cooked garlic meat out into the blender. Add the cilantro, lime juice, pepper and salt. Pulse until smooth, stopping and scraping the sides down with a spatula if needed. Season to taste with salt. Makes about 3 cups.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo! Tangy tomatillo spices mouthwatering crab enchiladas to pair with the 2009 Chateau Julien Monterey County Gewurztraminer.

6 medium tomatillos
2 large green chilis (Anaheim for mild spice, Jalapeno for hot)
1/4 medium onion (for cooking only)
1 clove garlic (for cooking only)
1/2 cup chopped onion (uncooked)
2 clove garlic (uncooked)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/8 tsp. cumin
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
Put the tomatillos, chilis, 1/4 onion and clove of garlic into a medium saucepan, cover with water and boil until the chilis are tender.  Remove chilis and tomatillos and let cool. Remove the seeds and stems of the chilis (no need to peel either). Put them into a blender with the uncooked onion, garlic, cilantro, cumin, lemon juice and 3/4 cup of cooking liquid. Blend until smooth, adding part of the cooking liquid if needed for the proper consistency.
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup minced onion
1/2 cup minced celery
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 cup peeled and minced raw potato
1 cup crab meat (2 6 oz. cans, drained)
1 Tbsp. minced parsley
1/8 tsp. white pepper
salt to taste
1/2 c. sour cream
1  cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese or 1/2 cup goat cheese + 1/2 cup Monterey Jack
olive oil
12 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat, then cook the onion, garlic, celery, cumin, chili powder and potato in it until cooked (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally. Potato should be minced, not diced, so it will cook easily. Remove from heat, let cool for a couple of minutes, then stir in the crab meat, parsley, sour cream and either 1/2 cup of goat cheese or 1/2 cup of shredded Monterey Jack. The goat cheese will be creamier, with a slight tang; the Monterey Jack will be richer and milder.

Spread out a couple of squares of paper towel, three layers deep, on your counter or cutting board. Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with oil and put over medium heat (don't let the heat get too high where the oil will smoke). Place as many tortillas in as you can without overlapping and cook them briefly so they are soft but not browned (about 15 seconds). As they are done, place them on the paper towels to drain. In a 8" square casserole, pour a thin layer of the salsa verde over the bottom. Dip a tortilla in the salsa verde then place about a heaping tablespoon of crab meat mixture in the middle and spread it out to the sides with the spoon, roll up, then line up in the casserole. (This process is easiest done in the casserole itself so the sauce stays in the dish and doesn't drip on the counter.) Spoon the remaining salsa verde over the top, sprinkle with 1/2 cup Monterey Jack and back for about 30 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned.

Serves 4-6. Pair with the crisp 2009 Chateau Julien Monterey County Gewurztraminer.