Monthly Archives: February 2013

Postcard – Recovery

sunset

My job performing viral research provides me with a false (and completely naïve) sense of security. In reality, it turns out that no extent of knowledge or understanding about the pathology of various viruses will actually protect my body from succumbing to the worst of the seasonal species. Such was the case for most of the last week. The flu – the real flu – hit me hard, leaving me feverish, weak and completely unaware of my surroundings (or the passing of time) for the better part of five days. Since then I have slowly gathered my strength and returned to my regularly scheduled life. Of course no one or thing stopped because I was absent and the work I have to catch up on is daunting to say the least – hence my absence from this space despite my recuperation.

For the past two days, I have had the pleasure of attending a scientific meeting held at a posh hotel in downtown La Jolla (above was the sunset view from our veranda conference room – what you can’t see are the shrieking gulls that seemed to laugh at each speaker as they took the podium).  I always enjoy conferences – hearing about the newest results in a field is always exciting, motivating and leaves me filled with a renewed sense of optimism and potential. This was doubly the case this time around, as I used these two days to ease back into the working world. Sitting and listening to presentations let my mind do the heavy lifting while my body recovered the last of the flu-sapped strength.

I just wanted to say hello. To reassure friends and family that, at this point, all is well here and we shall be returning to our taco-fueled, CSA-driven exploration of San Diego fun, food and frolicking shortly!

Advertisements

Weekly Harvest – Slaws (not just for BBQs anymore)

slaw!

Slaws are usually associated with summertime picnics and backyard barbeques, which is strange as most of the standard slaw components (cabbage, carrots, celery, onions, parsley) are hardy veggies that are standard offerings in winter CSA shares. For me, slaws are salads of winter and, with all of the stews and braises happening, a welcome serving of vegetables to break up the meat and potato parade.

cabbage

As with any salad, the quality of the finished product hinges entirely on the freshness and flavor of each individual component. That being said, the combinations of vegetables and herbs that can be used are vast, with each permutation resulting in a unique and colorful accompaniment to any meal. Like the quiche before, this flexibility makes slaw a perfect “template” to experiment and play with in the kitchen, only limited by your tastes and what is in the crisper.

cast of characters

To start, I usually use a cabbage for the base. In today’s variation, I used, a green cabbage from this week’s share. Chopped fine, it will make up the majority of the slaw greenery. Red (purple) cabbage is a perfectly fine alternative, and the combination of the green and red is both flavorful and visually stunning. One also doesn’t have to stop with cabbage – most any cruciferous veggie will do – raw Brussels sprouts sliced thin or finely chopped broccoli also work well for a slaw base. To note: using a food processor as a chopping assist will definitely help your slaws come together in a snap; personally, although I have a Cuisinart, I enjoy the rhythm of the slicing and dicing process too much to automate just yet.

xmas slaw

(A slaw from Christmas dinners past: Brussels sprouts, celery root, watermelon radish)

The topping choices come next. Most standard (and used in this variation) are carrots, onions (of the green, red or shallot variety) and celery. Like the base, the possibilities here are only limited by your imagination – I have used finely sliced radishes, raw beets (delicious, but beware – the entire slaw and your hands will end up a shocking shade of magenta) and celery root, to name a few. Anything crispy and cool will work here, and this includes some fruit as well – fresh tart apples spring to mind.

dressing

Last, but certainly not least, is the dressing. This is where many slaw fantics draw their lines in the ground. I land solidly on the side of a tangy vinegar-based sauce to coat my veggies, rather than the sweet, cloying dressings often found on store bought slaws and mixed vegetable salads.  My go-to slaw dressing was actually not originally intended for this purpose, but is known by many as the traditional dressing for the traditional French side dish celeri remoulade, in itself a slaw of sorts. My friend Camille has perfected the recipe, which you can find with a bit more information about the original dish here. I find that the combination of mayonnaise, Dijon, capers, shallot (here a bit of white onion because The Bat doesn’t yet keep shallots in stock) and a splash of cider vinegar creates a creamy, pucker-y, salty sauce whose flavors stand up well to the cast of strong flavors in any standard slaw mix.

dressed

If possible, I finish the slaw off with a sprinkling of fresh parsley and then its ready to eat! Slaws are great for picnics and barbeques, as we know, but that vinegary crunch is also a perfect complement to most any meat and potato dinner. I am also a fan of mixing in a chopped, poached chicken breast creating an easy, healthy, one-dish brown bag lunch. For me, the seemingly endless combinations make slaws a great ‘clean out the crisper before the next CSA share’ type of dish, and they keep well for days in the refrigerator – often getting even tastier after one or two days once the flavors have really had a chance to meld.

tossed

I am not the only one with a penchant for slaws. One of my all-time favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen, also has a pretty extensive slaw obsession. Her archives (I promise you, that blue cheese one is delicious) and ideas for slaw variations are truly impressive. I have seen several other CSA shares floating around the interwebs with  big, fat heads of cabbage… Join the slaw challenge and let me know how it goes (and what combinations of veggies you used – I am always looking for inspiration) in the comments!

Taco Tuesday – Chipotle con Pollo (Guest Post!!!)

taco2

(Tonight’s guest post comes from a new friend who is also a skilled chef. He was my worthy competitor the Super Bowl Sunday Taco Taste-off. Here was his very worthy – and delicious – entry)

From a very young age I have had a passion for cooking. One of the earliest photos of me is sitting on the floor of my mother’s kitchen, surrounded by a mixer, flour and whatever ingredients I thought were important at the time. My mother always encouraged me to cook and experiment. For all my time with cookbooks, I have always enjoyed local recipes and orally passed kitchen traditions the most.  As I have gotten older, I take these recipes and make them my own. So when Researching San Diego asked me to contribute to the Super Bowl feast and do a related guest post, I dug into my notes for my oldest recipe.

My first recipe gem came from an old Mexican lady in Amarillo, Texas who owned a restaurant called Los Insurgentes.  She taught me her family recipe for chicken fajitas. I took that very simple marinade and adapted it into my “Chipotle con Pollo.”

chipotle

The best recipes are simple with ingredients that are of high quality, few in number and big on taste. The first step of this recipe, marinating the chicken. embodies that concept. First, go out back and find two good looking chickens. Thank them for providing you eggs, then head to the store and buy 1.5 pounds of boneless and skinless breast meat. You will also need a cup of extra virgin olive oil, two good-sized lemons and some salt/pepper.

Wash the chicken under cold water and pat dry. Salt and pepper each side of the chicken breasts and put into a gallon size Ziploc bag. Next, squeeze the lemons for all they’re worth into the bag. Push out the air, seal the bag and put it in the refrigerator for three hours. After that time, let the chicken come back to room temperature. The meat should not be cold or chilly in any way. Fun fact: cooking cold is the reason chicken usually comes out dry.

Next, heat a covered sauté pan to medium high heat. Put in a couple diced cloves of garlic and wait until they just start to brown.  Crank the heat to high and put each chicken breast in the pan (you may have to this in batches).  Make sure not to crowd the pan so that no breasts are touching.  Let the chicken cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes, then flip.

sautee3

Do not worry about completely cooking through, as we will be slow cooking the chicken later.  Once all the chicken is done, let the meat rest for 20 minutes. Do not clean the pan, but leave it on the stove with no heat.

finished chicken1 In the meantime, open up your chipotle in adobo sauce and puree it. I use an immersion blender, but a normal blender is fine. Just make sure to save that sauce! Once you have your chipotle in adobo pureed, combine it with a 24oz container of plain Greek yogurt. You can go up or down on the yogurt depending on your desired level of spicy.

sauce1Returning to the chicken, cut each breast into bite sized pieces. Turn the stove back on to medium heat and let the pan, with all that juicy charred goodness, warm up. If there is anything stuck to the bottom use a wooden spoon to scrape it up, but leave it in the pan. Combine the chicken and the chipotle/yogurt sauce together and add to the pan once it is at temperature.  Turn the heat to low and cover.  The mixture should never boil, but should bubble up on occasion. Stir as necessary for the next 20-30 minutes.

mixing2To see if the chicken is done, take a piece of chicken out of the pan and lightly squish it onto a plate with a spoon. If it easily falls apart, you are done!  The key here is to slow cook the chipotle flavor into the chicken. As I always say, meat should be cooked low and slow!

ready for tacos Top with some chopped cilantro, serve with tortillas or over rice and enjoy with shredded cabbage, sour cream (to mellow the spiciness!) and whatever other taco toppings may be calling to you.  This dish goes great with margaritas and refried beans!

 

Weekly Travel Theme – Gaudy

holy hats

(She is just in time for Mardi Gras)

This week’s theme over at Where’s My Backpack  is “Gaudy”. Despite considering several interpretations I could run with, my mind kept returning to a weekly feature on my Researching Paris blog, the “Friday French Fashion Faux Pas (FFFFP), as the perfect answer to the gaudy call.

ffffp mom mt st michel

(Put on some clothes, mom!)

Paris is considered by many to be the fashion capital of the world. I do not dispute that and am the first to admit that the beautiful people-watching opportunities in that city beat any other by a country mile. I actually am quite in awe of how the French (women, in particular) look so good on a daily basis – in a laboratory, or simply stepping out for their morning baguette. Mostly, I was so impressed in the innate sense of style and self that each person seemed to have and express with little to no insecurity or self-consciousness (this, or they are putting on one hell of a show).

hammer-jump

(The hammer/harem-pants jumpsuit. What the world NEVER needed)

Clearly, not everyone can walk out of their flat looking like supermodel. One’s iconic fashion statement is another’s sartorial disaster. This is not a fashion blog, nor do I claim to have a sharp eye or even an innate sense of personal style (I am a sweater, jeans and boots kind of girl). Yet with many in Paris taking such risks to look edgy and new, there were bound to be a few non-starters.  These are the FFFFPs I collected. And here, to honor all things gaudy, I share the best with you.

ffffp eiffel tower

(This is what the tourists are really standing in line to see under the Eiffel Tower)

with-obi-wan

(And, of course, everyone’s favorite Bastille Day mascots – hefty Spiderman and teenage Obi-Wan Kenobi) 

And now, a few newbies, collected before my departure when I was so bogged down in moving details that the weekly FFFFP feature was left by the wayside!

highlighter

(Her outfit alone could light a city block)

roller

(The French LOVE “le roller”, but there is nothing to love about that much spandex, except for maybe longer shorts?)

socks

( I am going to go out on a limb and guess that she is actually not French. The socks-over-pants thing seems too much, even for some of the more wackadoo things I’ve seen – I’m going to go with American on that one.)

CSA Week 4 – Man Food (and Batman, of course)

CSA week 4

I am quickly learning what ‘winter’ looks like in California, produce-wise. Steady (fast-flowing) streams of citrus, hearty greens, a multitude of lettuces and root vegetables – carrots, beets, onions and the like. My gut feeling when picking up this share two weeks ago was citrus fatigue; there are only so many oranges I can eat whole. I promptly made it my weekend mission to conquer the orange; I think I was successful

mise en place

The rest of our share (first photo, starting at the oranges and going clockwise: mandarin oranges, blood oranges, bok choy, two heads of romaine lettuce, many mini broccoli crowns, red beets, celery, carrots, kale, curly parsley, yellow onions and an avocado) evoked warmer, heartier food. In fact, it was my boyfriend (whom I will refer to as Batman* from here on out) who stepped up to challenge, cooking his way through the remainder of our CSA fare.

lentil soup

When people speak of what makes certain relationships work, often their advice can be summed up with some variation on a few popular themes: common interests, complimentary strengths, shared goals and (very close to) unconditional love. While I feel that a blog is no place to discuss the latter concept, The Bat** and I have the first few points down pat; nowhere is that more evident than our balance in the kitchen.

stir fry

Over the past several years, my obsession fascination with home cooking and food in general has grown exponentially. I am an entertainer at heart and never shirk from being the primary cook. Beyond that, cooking for someone I care about is my way to express affection – and myself. I do not expect the same from my friends and loved ones (that would be silly and close-minded), only their respect that this is how I work. Imagine my surprise and elation to find out that the new person in my life, a man that I was so excited to be near once I made the move to San Diego, shared this passion? I knew before arriving that he appreciated good food and did his own cooking, but it was not until living down the street, spending lazy Sunday afternoons together and brainstorming dinner ideas that I realized that he was also a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen.

beef and broccoli

More exciting than our common interest are our complimentary skills. In the kitchen I rework standards – the lentil soup pictured above was my contribution from this week’s share (borrowed from here, that garlic oil!!). I strive for hearty, rustic comfort food. With the exception of his mom’s pot roast recipe (which is unrivaled), The Bat has little interest in reinventing standards. His interest is piqued by something different, in particular the foods of east Asia. He wants to master chicken terryaki and experiment with making 10-hour tonkatsu ramen from scratch (yes, he did). This week, using the fresh broccoli, carrots, onions and mushrooms, he kept it simple – his broccoli beef (based on this recipe) rivaled some of the best I’ve ever tasted, and we both agreed that the fresh crispness of the CSA broccoli was a crucial component. The bok choi and onions will be used this weekend in a riff on his basic chicken stir-fry. I always look forward to that because I am a sucker for lo mein and, really, what is more attractive than a capable man in the kitchen with a wok? Ok, maybe that’s just me.

beef stew

To finish up our stores before the next CSA delivery The Bat ventured a bit closer to home (culinarily speaking), breaking out the slow cooker to make this Flemish Beef Stew. This one-bowl-dinner hit the spot after a blustery, grey day; large chunks of slow braised beef were complimented by wedges of carrot, onion and mushrooms, all swimming in a thick, beer-based broth that warmed us from the inside out. After tasting his reworking of this standard, I mentally slid my standard Guinness Beef Stew recipe down the “to cook” list. If The Bat wants to cook and everything turns out this tasty (so far, so good), who am I to say no? I will gladly relax on the couch, sip a glass of wine and let the man do the cookin’!

always be batman

* Blog anonymity is something I take very seriously when it comes to friends and family. I make the individual choice to share some aspects of my everyday life in this space, but it is not my place to do make that decision for anyone else – even those joining me on most of these eating adventures. Many bloggers chose standard acronyms for their significant other (DH: Dear Husband; BF: Boyfriend), I thought if he was to be a recurring character (one can hope) it would be nice to let him chose his own pseudonym. He chose Batman. Really, who wouldn’t?

** However, typing “Batman and I decided to go to dinner…” seemed rather ridiculous. I’ve decided to shorten it to The Bat. Not that this is any less silly, but I like it more. And, in the end, it is my blog – my last word.

Our Three Hour Tour

whale!

I have had the great fortune to live most of my life in cities that are popular vacation destinations. This means that there is always plenty to do, rarely an excuse for weekend boredom and (unfortunately) activities I continuously put off  but never do (I still regret missing the Glass Flowers in Boston). Whale watching has always been on that latter list – something that sounds fun but never is a priority. A killer Groupon and some enthusiastic friends helped finally make it a reality last weekend.

sea adventure 80

Our trip was led by H&M Landing, a local operation based out of Point Loma specializing in deep sea fishing expeditions and including whale watching tours during the prime migration season. Grey whales pass through San Diego waters every January-March on their southward migration from Alaskan waters to breeding pools in Baja California. The fishing vessels serve double duty during whale season, a unforeseen benefit as they are smaller and more maneuverable than the packed, oversized vessels venturing out from other companies in the area.  This meant that, when necessary, we were able to get quite close to the whale pods and, most importantly, each passenger had a direct line of sight to take it all in.

skyline

We had a beautiful day for our three-hour tour; the sun was shining brightly overhead, the intensity of its heat tempered by a soft ocean breeze. As we exited San Diego harbor, the view of the skyline was crisp and clear. Our captain enthusiastically pointed out the North Island Naval Air Station, as well as the Coronado Bridge and Hotel del Coronado.

north island NAB

coronado and hotel de ville

Before exiting the calm safety of harbor waters, we took a quick detour to some defunct bait docks just off of Point Loma. They have been taken over by large numbers of sea lions and their pups. The boat was able to scoot just alongside the floating platforms, causing a bit of a ruckus amongst the colony, rousting several from lazy naps as our ship blocked their sunlight. Several jumped in the water, barking at us loudly from the safer waters on the other side of the dock, and one even waved hello.

waving sea lions

We stayed just long enough to snap a few photos and coo at the babies before setting our course for the open ocean once again.  As we closed in on the harbor neck, the old Point Loma lighthouse looked down on us from the cliffs above, and dolphins tracked alongside our boat, playing with each other while following us out to sea.

old pt loma lighthouse

dolphins1

We set our course for the Coronado islands, a few miles out to sea. This short island chain belongs to Mexico, but are uninhabited and a protected wildlife refuge, as well as a popular destination for divers year-round. We aimed our bow in that direction and spent the next several hours moving in and out of international waters on our quest for the (not-so-elusive, it turns out) grey whale.

coronado islands

Our group took up residence on the top deck and happily sipped coffee while enjoying the sunshine and ocean air as we moved further out to sea. We were asked to keep our eyes peeled for “blows” (the white stream emitted when the whale surfaces to breathe) in the distance, so he could guide our boat closer to the migrating beasts. We actually spotted the first whale, and from there we were off – tracking “blows” and “footprints” and chasing  watching whales (we ended up spotting at least 13!) all around us.

blow1

footprint

whale1

whale back

With such beautiful weather and, importantly, calm seas, we were not the only ones to take advantage of the day to get out on the water. We often joined small groups of  private sailboats and the like who also were scouting for marine life and enjoying the open water.

sailboat and island

While we seemed to have good (lucky) whale-spotting karma , the best part of our tour was our captain. Captain Scott was good humored and full of fun factoids to keep us laughing and learning while we were waiting to spot the next spout or during the 5-7 minute increments when the whales dove deep between surfacing events. More than that, I have never heard or seen someone so excited by the prospect of seeing a whale. Despite doing this job day in/day out, he was the most enthusiastic person on the boat anytime a new potential whale was sighted  and ready, when rare events took place, (i.e. “THE ELUSIVE DOUBLE BLOW!!!”), to be sure that we had our cameras out at the ready and that we understood how lucky we actually were.

capitan scott

double blow

(aforementioned ELUSIVE DOUBLE BLOW – saying that does not get tired)

In fact, at the point he announced that we’d be turning around and heading in towards land he mentioned in passing that we needed to return because, as he put it, “we accidently went over our time by an hour because of the outstanding whale watching.” Accidently? By an hour? Awesome.

last whale

We turned back just as the cloud cover was thickening, lending a chill (and occasional sprinkle) to the air. We tried to make good time getting back to the dock, although the captain did get pulled off course a bit by whale and dolphin sightings along the way. Can’t say I blame him, it was a pretty perfect day – one that I am ready to repeat (and recommend) anytime.

leaving the islands

H&M Landing

2803 Emerson St. 

San Diego, CA 92106

(619) 222-1144

Taco Tuesday – Carnitas, at home

carnitas tacoAlthough I am blessed with an excess of tasty taco stands all around town, it has been a long-standing goal of mine to learn how to cook some of my favorite dishes at home. In particular, I’ve had my eye on carnitas, the spiced, slow-roasted pork dish that makes a simple yet flavorful taco when stuffed in a tortilla alongside cilantro, avocado, salsa, sour cream and a squeeze of lime. It is my absolute favorite when done right, moist and meltingly tender, rich and slightly smoky. Plus, the best cut for the low and slow cooking method is the pork shoulder, a well marbled mass of meat, perfect for feeding a crowd. What better for Super Bowl Sunday?

roasts1

Usually when I decide on a dish I want to learn, I comb through multiple iterations of the same recipe from blogs I trust or a few go-to cookbooks, piecing together a version that fits my vision of the dish (or whatever ingredients I have on hand). This time I had a great guide – my mom. I tasted her carnitas for the first time about a year ago and I had been craving them since. When I visited in late November after first arriving back in the USA, I made a point to quiz her for the recipe and had been looking for the perfect occasion to dive in.

rubbed

With an anticipated guest list for The Big Game numbering in the low teens, I was very lucky to grab the last two boneless pork shoulders left at my local market. Although the original recipe called for a bone-in cut of meat, there was no flavor lacking due to the missing scapula, and the increased meat content, as well as reduced cooking time were appreciated perks.

pappys

There is no recipe, per se. I first rubbed each shoulder with plenty of olive oil to thoroughly coat the meat and pool a bit around the base of the roast. Next, a liberal shake (or five) of red wine vinegar, again ensuring that the meat was coated and there was a bit in the base of the roasting pan. The most crucial ingredient was the spice rub – my mom swears by Pappy’s Choice – and even gifted her remaining stock the last time I visited (after being endlessly badgered about the recipe). Pappy is an elusive spice master, as the ingredient list is not particularly forthcoming, indicating: “Salt, Spices, Sugar, Paprika, etc”. Spices, Pappy? Not cool. I might take the time later to try and parse out the different components, but not this time. Pappy’s Choice was liberally poured onto the meat, mixed with the oil and vinegar to make a thick paste that coated the meat entirely.

roasted1

The roasts were placed, uncovered into a preheated oven at 500F for 20 minutes. During that time I opened all the windows and doors in my apartment and prayed that my smoke detector did not work that well, as my efficient but old-fashioned kitchen is not equipped with the best ventilation system/strategy. After 20 minutes, I reduced the heat to 300F and let it cook, low and slow for the next five hours, rarely checking them in the process.

close up

When removed just prior to halftime for preparation, the outer layer of the roast crackled and popped with charred spices and smokiness, while the insides fell apart easily with just the slightest tug from a fork into moist, tender strips of meat, more than ready (but NOT at all overcooked) for taco construction.

shredded

I cooked about 8 pounds (4kg) of carnitas for the party and, except for a small portion that I squirreled away at the beginning (for those who could not join us), both the roasts were utterly demolished. Initially there were multiple rounds of taco feasting, including an informal ‘best taco’ contest between these and the pollo con chipotle tacos that were masterfully concocted by new friends (look for that guest post next Tuesday!). Yet even after the groaning commenced about how full we all were, holding our bellies to underline the message, guests were still swooping in, grabbing a few strands of meat at a time. It was one of those dishes where everyone just wanted one more bite and no one ever really stopped eating until it was gone.

super bowl spread

Clearly the carnitas were a smashing success. I lament the lack of substantial leftovers, as the few pieces that I did stash away were even tasteir crisped up in a frying pan later. And, in case you were wondering? I totally won the taco contest. Hands down. Thanks, Mom!