Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sunday Morning, Part III (of III) - The Market Haul

market haul
As you have probably guessed if you've seen the other pictures, I went a little nuts at the farmers' market on Sunday.

Here's a complete list of what I purchased:

  • apriums
  • pluots
  • tomatoes and cherry tomatoes
  • fresh salsa
  • squash blossoms
  • fava beans
  • green beans and wax beans
  • spring onions
  • strawberries
  • bread and cie baguette
  • Guanni Chocolates
  • Brioche cinnamon roll
market haul
Suffice to say, we have eaten well this week. For Monday night's dinner, I stuffed the squash blossoms with ricotta cheese and lightly fried them in a beer batter. With the strawberries, I made a strawberry clafoutis.

On Tuesday, I oven-fried an organic chicken, which we ate with salad from the tomatoes, some of the bread, and some leftover Rancho Gordo beans (made on Sunday using one of the onions.) For dessert, we nibbled on the Guanni chocolates.

Wednesday's dinner was a pasta dish made with sprouted wheat pappardelle, another of the onions, the fava beans, some Niman Ranch bacon and Reggiano parmesan. I gave some of the green and wax beans to my mom, and had some in my lunches this week (they steam beautifully in the microwave).

Of all of the things I made this week though, my hands down favorite has to be the pluot and aprium tarts I made on Sunday. Saturday was my dad's birthday, and we celebrated on Sunday night. He had requested brownies, which I made - but I thought a birthday called for something more. Not a cake though, not today.
pluots and apriums ready for tart
My first idea was to make a tart using pate brisee and pastry cream - but I don't have an oblong tart pan, and I remembered that we had made some really delicious pear tarts using frangipane and puff pastry in my class. We built the tarts by rolling out the dough, cutting it into strips, and stacking the thin strips of puff dough on the sides with egg wash.

With the leftover puff dough from my St. Honore Cake and the recipe for frangipane, I set to work. Here's the Frangipane, ready for spreading.
I thawed the frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight, rolled it out very thin, and cut it into two three-inch strips, and four 1/2-inch strips. I glued the half-inch strips onto the edges with egg wash, trimmed the tarts to even and filled the centers with a generous smear of frangipane, spreading it with a offset spatula. I laid the sliced fruit on the frangipane in a pattern, sprinkled the top with toasted almonds, and brushed the edges of the pastry with egg white. They went on a parchment lined sheet pan, and baked at about 375 for 40-45 minutes, until they were deep golden brown and the frangipane had puffed and dried between the slices.
pluot and aprium tarts with frangipane
Here they are just out of the oven. (I sprinkled the edges with powdered sugar from a shaker.)

The recipe for the puff dough can be found here. I have two recipes for the Frangipane. The one I used here is the one from my class, but when I made almond brioche a while back, I used a different recipe from the Joy of Cooking. Here I have included both. Chef Foran's is a little lighter and fluffier - while the other recipe has more almond flavor and a little more heft.
pluot and aprium tart with frangipane
Frangipane I - a la Chef Foran
(makes about two cups)
4.5 ounces of butter - softened
4.5 ounces of sugar
4.5 ounces of almond meal
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla paste
3/4 cup of All Purpose Flour
pinch salt

With the paddle, beat the softened butter, sugar and almond meal until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla paste and incorporate. Blend in the flour and pinch of salt.

Frangipane II
adapted from the Joy of Cooking

1 cup almond meal (ground whole almonds)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons soft butter
1 egg white
1/4 tsp almond extract
a couple of teaspoons of water

Mix the flour, powdered sugar and almond meal in a smal bowl. Whisk together the soft butter, egg white, almond extract and corn syrup. Stir into the almond meal mixture, adding a little water if it seems dry - you want a fairly light spreadable texture.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sunday Morning Part II (of III) - the Hillcrest Farmers' Market

Hillcrest Farmers Market
Sunday's visit to the Hillcrest market was the first in a while for me, and boy was I pleasantly surprised. We used to go almost every week. I'm not sure exactly why we stopped, but I think several factors conspired against it. There's the fact that we like to stay home on Sunday mornings listening to NPR, eating croissants (or waffles) and reading the New York Times; the fact that we don't live in the neighborhood anymore (though really it's only twenty minutes away); and last but not least - the fact that every time I go to a farmers' market I get carried away and buy tons of beautiful fruits and vegetables that end up drying out in my refrigerator.
heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market
All I can say is, not anymore. I suppose this really isn't fair, since this is probably an ideal time to shop the market, with all of the spring and summer produce in full bloom - but I just can't believe I ever gave it up.
strawberries at north park market
It seems like the Hillcrest market has expanded and improved since my last visit. For one thing, it's now out in the street, instead of taking up the whole parking lot. It's a little more cohesive and easy to navigate with the produce on one long strip, and the prepared foods in another section right next to it.
The produce was obscenely beautiful - stone fruits, cherries, tomatoes, corn, squash blossoms, onions, cherimoyas, avocados - you name it. I will have to go back when I can spend more time to get a handle on the various vendors. Some are certified organic, but most are not. That doesn't necessarily mean they don't follow good farming practices though - you don't know unless you ask.
squash blossoms at the market
Some things haven't changed. In the prepared section, the most popular vendor was clearly the "crepe guy," though I don't remember the line being quite this long before.
Crepe Line at Farmers Market
I opted for one of these eyepopping brioche, from Michel of San Diego Cake. (I had to giggle when he asked if I was a "Martha Stewart spy" when I asked to take some pictures.) He had some fantastic looking fruit tarts, a large pan of chocolate "fondant" (flourless chocolate cake) and other goodies.
Eye-popping Brioche
Next door to these delights was the raw vegan pie and pizza guy . Not many takers for this.
Vegan Pie and Pizza
Further down, I happened on this little stand, for Guanni Chocolates. I was intrigued by the display of organic cocoa beans and nibs, and the boxes with Peruvian textile ribbons. I asked a fellow customer about the chocolates, and he said they were phenomenal, and that they have them catered for party favors. He seemed to know what he was talking about, so I decided to give them a go.
Guanni stand
The chocolatier/owner, Mariella Balbi and her son were working the stand, and we chatted a bit about the flavors. I was intrigued by some of her unusual combinations, including the Pisco - with Pisco (Peruvian brandy) and currants; the Lucuma - which includes a Peruvian fruit by the same name; and a caramel described as lemony topped with Alaea sea salt. Thoroughly charmed and intrigued, I bought a box of nine. Frankly, I think these are so good that they deserve their own post. They were top quality - possibly even the best in town.
guanni products
I bought a lot, but I saw many things that I will go back for. Chief among them are cherries - I just couldn't do it, given everything else I bought - but I can't wait to get my hands on some. Clafoutis is one of my newest obsessions, and I am bent on mastering it. I tried one, with some strawberries - but it wasn't quite right. Tartine's recipe is next on the list.
Hillcrest Farmers Mkt

Next up, Part III - the haul I brought home from the market, and what I did with it!

Hillcrest Farmers Market
In the DMV Parking Lot
on Lincoln Street between Cleveland and Normal
Every Sunday, rain or shine - 9-1.
For listings of markets throughout San Diego, go to the San Diego Farm Bureau website

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sunday Morning Part I (of III) - Breakfast at Cafe on Park

Cafe on Park Interior
This past Sunday, I dragged James - kicking and screaming - out of the house on Sunday morning to go to the Hillcrest Farmers Market, located at the DMV parking lot in Hillcrest. We had originally planned to have breakfast beforehand at the new Cafe One Three, nearby on Park Boulevard, but when we arrived just before 9 AM (gotta get out early on Sunday morning!) they were sweeping out the place. We figured they would probably open at 9, but when James hopped out to ask, the answer was 10. That seemed a little late to us, even for Sunday, and we weren't about to wait an hour to eat. Next!

I remembered reading something on Chowhound about another new place that recently opened up over on Adams, Cafe 2121, so we swung over there. It too was empty, and though it was open, I looked at the menu and saw very few breakfast options.

We have sort of had our fill of the Parkhouse Eatery, so we continued back down Park Boulevard to the aptly named Cafe on Park, located just South of University in a little strip of stores that includes a bondage shop and a pet wash. This place that has been there for ages, but somehow we had never been. (Probably because we always went to Parkhouse.) It also used to be quite crowded, as I recall, and we aren't much for waiting to eat breakfast.
Cafe on Park Menu
The menu is full of both standard breakfast meals and quirky combos like Cap'n Crunch pancakes, which I knew I'd seen somewhere before... In fact, I noticed several similarities between the menu here and that of the Hash House, as well as the pots of homemade jam on the tables and the pancakes the size of bicycle tires. It turns out that the owner and chef of the Hash House actually worked here for five years before moving on to open his own place. As it turns out, Hash House is really just a redux of this place.

We ordered conventionally - poached eggs with bacon, potatoes and toast for me, and a waffle combo for James - a waffle with eggs and bacon. Coffee all around.
Cafe on Park Eggs
The eggs were perfectly poached, with runny yolks but fully cooked whites, the applewood-smoked bacon was crisp, and the O'Brien-style potatoes included onions and strips of jalapeno peppers. I spooned the eggs over the potatoes and ate them together like a hash. The only problem was that there was a little too much butter-like substance on the toast. That's easy to fix though, I'd just ask for it dry next time. The jam on the table was homemade, but I couldn't tell what kind it was. I asked our server and he said he wasn't sure, but the owner's mother had made it. I think it was grapefruit, based on the color.
Cafe on Park Waffle
James' waffle was a little underbaked, but it had good buttermilk flavor. His eggs and bacon looked good as well. (They don't supply real maple syrup automatically, but it is available for an extra $1.25.)
Cafe on Park
The dining room is a cheerful mix of funky artsy-industrial and retro-country diner, with concrete floors, a cast concrete bar with varnished wood top, and butter-yellow walls. Currently they are hosting an art exhibit of some brightly colored fairly realistic-looking birds, mounted on the walls. (I wasn't facing them, but James claimed they looked real enough that they were creeping him out.)

The beverages (other than coffee) are served in mason jars, and the menu has a distinctive home-style flair to it - much like the Hash House. The coffee was good, and they kept it coming. They serve breakfast and lunch daily, and Thursday thru Saturday they offer dinner as well. (On the days they are open for dinner, they close between 2 PM and 5 PM, other days, they close at 2.)

By the time we left, close to ten, they had a few people stacked up outside, but not nearly as many as you'd find at Hash House or Parkhouse Eatery. I'm not sure if this place has been forgotten, if we were just early, or if it was just slow because of the holiday weekend - but we felt like we'd discovered something. It's always nice to find something new right under your nose! Given that I plan to start shopping the Farmers' Market more often, I'm sure we'll be back on many Sunday mornings in the months to come.

Coming Soon - Part II, Shopping the Farmers' Market.

Cafe on Park
3831 Park Boulevard
San Diego, CA
open daily for breakfast and lunch, 9-2. Reopen 5-9 for dinner, Thurs-Saturday.

recommended dishes - the poached eggs and O'Brien potatoes (a friend of mine also used to rave about the Buggs Benny - their special fancy version of eggs benedict.)

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Daring Bakers Do it Again - Gateau St. Honore

Gateau St Honore 013
This month, I was granted the privilege of becoming a member of the "Zeta" class of the Daring Bakers, a group started this past fall by Lis and Ivonne. In just half a dozen or so monthly challenges, the Daring Bakers have ballooned to include dozens of members.
Gateau St Honore 007
This month's challenge came from Helene of Tartelette. Being an accomplished pastry chef, she put us through our paces with a multi-component concoction called "Gateau St. Honore." Traditionally served on birthdays in France, the cake is made from a puff pastry base topped with rings of pate choux, filled with a vanilla diplomat cream, and ringed with filled cream puffs coated with caramel. (Got all that?) I had reservations about this challenge, but I felt I had to tackle it given that I learned to make the choux and puff pastry in my class. It was a perfect chance to practice, and I am so glad I followed through.
Gateau St Honore 004
Since the option was offered to purchase the puff pastry, I decided I would make my own using the shortcut "blitz" method, rather than the "butter package" recipe supplied by Helene. It worked well - as you can see above, the layers came up nice and flaky. My only mistake was that I didn't bake it quite long enough. The edges were perfect, but the center hadn't quite had a chance to finish, and it fell a bit when I took it out of the oven. The dough was very simple to make, and but for the resting time in the fridge, didn't take long at all. Here it is getting its last couple of turns.
Gateau St Honore 005
The marble pastry board I purchased recently came in very handy for this.

Since I was in the aforementioned rush, I almost didn't do the caramel on top and on the puffs. I am so glad I did though - the contrast of the crunchy burnt sugar was a perfect accent for the flavor and texture of the rest of the dish. One interesting thing about this dessert is that the dough for both the puff pastry and the cream puffs are not sweetened at all. I barely sweetened my whipped cream, so the pastry cream and the sugar provided all of the sweetness.
Gateau St Honore 012
Trying to do too many things at once, I stepped away from my pastry cream on the stove for a moment too long, and overcooked it a little bit. Not enough to scorch it, thank goodness - but enough that it went a little lumpy on me. Luckily I was able to save it by pushing it through a sieve and adding a little whipped cream. The one change I made to this recipe was to add a little vanilla paste to the cream, along with the suggested rum, which I thought was nice. I like the look and flavor of the little vanilla bean flecks.

My favorite part of this dessert - by far, were the cream puffs filled with diplomat cream and covered with the caramel. I had thought the process of making and dipping the puffs would be complicated, but it really wasn't. Helene's recipe worked like a charm, and after the puffs chilled, I loaded up a small pastry bag with a small tip and poked a little hole in them. I overfilled the first one a bit, and it squirted out like toothpaste from a tube, but I soon got the hang of it.

To do the caramel, I just put half a cup of plain white sugar in a dry nonstick pan, and let it melt over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally to keep the edges from getting too brown. You really have to watch this carefully - it can burn in a flash. When the sugar was completely liquid, I put the puffs on a rack over some paper towels, tilted the pan, and just dipped them in, one by one, setting them on the rack. As I did it, the caramel started to harden very quickly, and I had to reheat it to get it liquid. Once it thickens it's kind of hard to get the puffs out without squeezing them, and you don't want to get any cream in the caramel if you can help it. I just scooped out the couple of tiny bits that wound up in it, to keep the rest from crystallizing.

I couldn't figure out how to do the spun sugar, so I took the caramel I had left and just drizzled it over an upturned bowl sprayed with a little oil for an impromptu sugar cage. I think the spun sugar would have been much nicer, but you have to work with what you've got. I'm sure that once I've taken the sugar class I will be a pro - but that hasn't happened yet.

The only problem with this type of caramel is that it gets sticky very quickly and doesn't last very long - you wouldn't want to put this dessert together any longer than a couple of hours before serving. I served this at a small party at my parents house, and actually packed all the components separately, including the cream and whipped cream - to assemble on site.

If you're interested in reading more about the puff pastry and choux paste, check out my earlier post about the day we learned these techniques in my pastry class. The puff dough recipe and a different (but very similar) choux recipe are included. The full recipe for this creation, including the butter package puff, the choux paste used above, and the diplomat cream can be found on Helene's blog, here. Be sure to check out the links on the sidebar to see the creations of the rest of the Daring Bakers!


À bientôt!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Biscuits and Beans

As I mentioned earlier, based on a recommendation from Maia and inspiration from Heidi and their website, I ordered some beans from Rancho Gordo the other day. They arrived today, along with a bottle of hot sauce, and a package of canela (cinnamon sticks.)
Rancho Gordo Shipment
I have to admit, I was compelled to order the beans in large part because they look so cool, but I really have no idea what to do with them. I love the idea of eating more non-meat forms of protein and getting more fiber and whole foods in my diet, but I wasn't raised in a bean eating family, unless we're talking about pork and beans, or those icky three bean salads made from canned wax and kidney beans. (I still can't get over the fact that you just open the cans and dump it in the bowl. Ick!!) Needless to say, I turned up my nose at those things, even going so far as to pick the beans out of my chili when I was a kid.
Marrow and Borlotti Beans

I need a little help, people. If these were your beans, what would you do with them?

I have heirloom Good Mother Stallard, (what a great name!) Cannellini, Borlotti and Marrow beans.

Speaking of great names, I am at the section in Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, where she talks about the names for all of the heirloom varieties of vegetables you can buy. It's making me really excited to seek out some unique and unusual varieties when I plant the garden next year. (I'm going to need a lot of boxes to grow all that I have in mind!)
I'm just trying new things all over the place. I've made scones a million times, and shortbread for strawberries as well, but I had never set out to make big fluffy biscuits from scratch until this week - when I decided to give them a try for my supper club meeting tonight.

I actually had a false start on my first effort, following the recipe from Joy of Cooking. (You know there's a serious disconnect when one recipe that calls for three cups of flour makes a dozen biscuits, and another that uses only two cups claims to make twenty!) What I wound up with was something more akin to a cracker. They were crisp and flaky but slightly flat, and tasted sort of like like buttery saltines. I actually think they would make great canapes, baked in small squares, split and filled with cheese or salty ham. We ate them with some fig jam and bleu cheese as an accompaniment to oven fried chicken and a green salad.

This morning I got up a little early to do a re-do on the biscuits, so that I would have something to take to the supper club this evening as promised. I needed a new recipe, and I thought I remembered seeing one recently on the adorably funny blog Smitten Kitchen. Sure enough there it was, lurking among a number of delicious-sounding brunch recipes. I didn't use the chives because I wanted to be able to drizzle the biscuits with honey and/or slather them with jam, and I didn't have any buttermilk on hand so I was forced to substitute some yogurt, which worked just dandy. I was very pleased with the way these came out. They were fluffy, flaky, light and delicious - in short, everything a biscuit should be. Here is the recipe, as I adapted it.
More Biscuits

Fluffy, Flaky Biscuits
adapted from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, who in turn adapted her recipe from Dot's Diner in Boulder, CO

3 cups Organic All Purpose Flour, sifted
1 Tablespoon of sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) chilled unsalted organic butter, cut in 1/2 inch slices
3/4 cup organic plain lowfat yogurt (I used Trader Joes Organic)
1/4 cup organic whole milk, plus a little more as needed.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda with a whisk. Add the butter and cut in with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles bread crumbs, with pieces no larger than a pea.

Combine the yogurt and milk in a measuring cup, and pour all at once into the flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon just until it comes together, adding a little more milk if necessary. Knead against the side of the bowl five or six times, and turn out onto a floured marble or stone surface. Roll out to 3/4 of an inch thick, forming a large square. Cut into 9 even pieces with a sharp knife. Flip the squares over, dust off any excess flour, and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Spray with a light mist of olive oil or brush with melted butter. Bake until the tops are lightly browned, about fifteen minutes. Serve warm with softened butter and a drizzle of honey.

To reheat room temperature biscuits, place in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. These would also freeze very well.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


This morning for breakfast, I had organic Cafe Fanny granola, with organic strawberries and milk from Strauss Organic Creamery. For lunch? Probably a corn dog.

Just like Joy, it turns out that I am a big fat hypocrite when it comes to Disneyland. I am sure it has a great deal to do with childhood nostalgia - growing up in Southern California we went at least once a year - but many of the things I enjoy most about it actually didn't exist then. I especially love Disney's California Adventure (they have booze!) and the faux-lodge fanciness of the Grand Californian hotel. I have a peculiar fascination with romanticized old California - as portrayed the likes of John Muir, Diego Rivera and Ansel Adams - though I know it's all a fiction (see Joan Didion). I can't help it though, I love the whole Craftsman, deco, socialist El Dorado aesthetic, and somehow, California Adventure manages to capture it in an amusement park, no less.

We're heading up to there today and spending the night at the Grand Californian as a little mini vacation. It's going to be insanely hot - I'm looking forward to repeated rides on that Grizzly River Rapids ride, where you can - no will - get soaking wet.

As far as eating, our itinerary includes many of the places on Joy's list - but we won't be there long enough to hit them all - only about 24 hours. For dinner tonight we're planning to try Catal at Downtown Disney. I really like the fritters at New Orleans Square (if the places is open, it hasn't been on our last couple of visits) and the Monte Cristo sandwich at the Blue Bayou - which, let's face it, is just a fritter in the shape of a sandwich.

The La Brea Bakery near the Disneyland gate is a good stop for a quick breakfast (even though Nancy Silverton doesn't actually own the place anymore) and there are a few decent snacks in the DCA - like the turkey leg at the Bountiful Farm, (now Carsland) and the Wine Country Trattoria.

Back when they first opened, Mondavi was running the Golden Vine restaurant and it was really excellent - just like something you'd find in Napa, right down to the fancy linens and wine glasses. I have no idea what it's like now, but it's a gorgeous room, all open to the outside with a plein air mural along one wall. I think it's only open Thurs-Saturday for dinner now, which doesn't bode well for success.

I've also had decent luck dining at the Hungry Bear cafe - mostly because they have lots of seating and it's a nice setting right next to the water. The food is mediocre in the extreme. The Bengal Barbeque skewers are good, but the eating environment leaves a lot to be desired - sandwiched between the Jungle Cruise and the Indiana Jones ride. That Dole Whip is also mighty refreshing.

I'll be back in a couple of days with more on Disneyland, a couple of restaurant reviews (Jack's Ocean Room) and some more baking adventures!

See ya real soon!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Cake Decorating Is Not My (Pastry) Bag

As I am nearing the end of my cake decorating class, taught by pastry chef James Foran of Market here in San Diego, I am realizing that I have learned a lot. What I learned is not exactly what I expected, but important nonetheless.
foodblog 18694

I took the class because I wanted to learn the type of decorating you see on wedding cakes - flourishes like flowers, ribbons, bows, etc. And I did. I can write with icing (though I need more practice), I can make shell borders, I can do swiss dots, fratelli lace, smooth buttercream and gum paste roses. Will I do them again? Probably not. When I need gas, I go to a gas station, I don't drill a hole in my backyard and refine the crude oil myself. Similarly, I think this type of work is best left to the professionals. I will, from now on, have no problem paying good money for a professionally decorated cake (mind you one that tastes good) given the amount of tedious labor involved.
foodblog 18628

I had really thought that I would like it. I love clay, I love artsy stuff, and I like to play with food, but there's something about handling all of that pasty stuff and molding it into unnatural shapes that gives me the heebie jeebies. Why go to the trouble to use artisanal ingredients, like Scharffenberger chocolate, organic butter and flour, and then slather the whole thing with something that comes in a plastic tub and tastes like Lucky Charms marshmallows??
gum paste can

It's funny because in the beginning - Chef Foran said that stuff really wasn't his thing, that he preferred simpler desserts - and he taught us those too. We did some very classic recipes - Opera Cake, a passionfruit mousse cake ringed with joconde sponge, and another ringed with ladyfingers. We did mousses, glazes and some other stuff I missed (I actually missed several of the classes due to work, unfortunately.) We did a lovely glazed chocolate torte, topped with some sugar decorations and a plaque reading "happy birthday" - this I will do again. I sat through these, waiting patiently for the wedding cake decor - so imagine my disappointment when I realized that the other cakes are the ones I really want to make.
foodblog 18565

If I do ever make a fondant covered cake for a special request - I will make my own fondant or seek out a better quality product than what we used in class. I know they're out there. Though we used very good quality products for most of the class, it just wouldn't do for us to be butchering huge quantities of fondant and gum paste at Chef Foran's expense.
foodblog 18692

The deeper truth is that I am probably not a pastry chef, though I have always fancied myself as such. I like to tweak and fiddle with recipes - something you simply can't do with a cake until you make it the next time, and I have absolutely no patience for something that doesn't come out right. I had hoped to learn things in these classes that I am still light years away from doing - like formulating my own recipes. I am starting to realize that that kind of experience comes from experimenting - which is something I rarely have time to do. I also find it difficult to risk the kinds of ingredients I want to use - chocolate, butter, eggs, etc. in recipes that may or may not turn out the way I want them to.

For example, I am still on a quest for a brownie that satisfies all of my requirements. It needs to be moist, dark and chewy - that is the elusive quality that I can't quite find. I tried Tartine's recipe the other day, which called for a POUND of bittersweet chocolate, and it still wasn't what I am looking for. I posted a recipe a few months back that I optimistically declared the Ultimate Brownie - but I was in denial if I thought I was done. Maybe the answer is dark brown sugar, more cocoa and a little less butter. I guess I'll have to keep trying. Luckily, I have co-workers who will take the leftovers off my hands no matter how they turn out!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Will Fundraise for Food - Island Divine, the Junior League of San Diego's Annual Spring Fundraiser

The annual Island Divine fundraiser is the Spring event for the San Diego Junior League, aimed at raising money for nutrition education programs for local kids. This year the event was held in a spectacular setting at Kellogg Park near La Jolla Cove. Participating local restaurants included Cendio, JRDN, Coldstone Creamery, The Shores Restaurant at the LJ Beach and Tennis Club, Fresh, Bread and Cie, Bread on Market, Gringos and Delirios. The wine and beer vendors were really too many to mention (maybe that's why I can't remember them all!) but included local favorites Stone Brewing Company and Orfila. There was the requisite silent auction to raise money, with some great items up for bid. I tried for a cocktail making set with some organic Square One vodka and pomegranate and lavender simple syrups - but someone kept outbidding me so I finally just let them have it.
foodblog 18595
Several of the restaurants served up interesting samples. JRDN was doing seafood dumplings in a beurre blanc sauce. Chef Victor Jimenez was there doing the serving himself. The new restaurant Delirios in Bird Rock was a standout, with a short rib in mole sauce served over risotto. They also had some ceviche on tortilla chips, and both the owner and chef were there serving and handing out $15.00 gift cards. The chef, Aaron La Monica, worked with Michael Stebner and Jason Knibb at Region before striking out on his own as Executive Chef here.

The most popular dish though, had to be the seared scallops that the Shores Restaurant was dishing out, served with a bit of roasted artichoke and red pepper, and a beurre blanc sauce. The scallops were perfectly cooked, and they did a stellar job with the presentation.

Cendio in La Jolla had some dates stuffed with parmesan and wrapped in bacon, which were definitely tasty, but not exactly original cuisine. I have heard good things about this place though. Gringos was doing a lobster martini over mashed potatoes, which was quite good. I also have to give them kudos because they were one of the few vendors who brought enough food to continue serving longer than an hour or so.

One of my favorite booths was the Square One Organic Vodka. They were pouring little martinis, made with the vodka, a little sparkling water and pomegranate or lavender simple syrup from the Sonoma Syrup Co. The vodka is made with rye, and according to their website at least - produces waste so pure it's fed to organic dairy cows. Gotta love that.

Throughout the venue, bread and cheese stations were set up for easy grazing, with breads from Bread and Cie and Bread on Market. Apparently these were deemed necessary a couple of years ago when the wine was more plentiful than the food. This year the crowd was well under control - smartly dressed in their "preppy chic" best in accordance with the event's Nantucket theme.

Speaking of chefs and the Junior League - I also participated in a recent project where Joe Manganelli, the chef of Chive, donated his time to teach kids about nutrition. Jeff Rossman of Terra is also slated to come out and help us teach kids to garden in the coming months. I am hoping to participate in that project and will be writing about it if I am lucky enough to be appointed a co-chair of the committee. I'll be learning right along with the kids on that one.

The next Island Divine event won't come around for another year, but in the meantime the Junior League is selling a fantastic cookbook year round called California Sol Food. It really is a great book - the recipes are triple tested so they really do work, and it's is practical for both entertaining and every day cooking. I have used it many times myself, and have even blogged about a few of the recipes. The local paper wrote a nice article about it here. If you're interested in a copy, you can order one through the Junior League website at, or drop me a line. I have also seen them in some local bookstores, including Warwick's in La Jolla.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Happy International Workers Day!

and happy birthday to me! If I were going to bake myself a cake, which I am not because I don't have time - this is the one I would make. I have been talking about making this cake for oh, I don't know - a year now? But it just never seems to be the right time. Maybe I'll just have to bust it out one of these days for the heck of it. It's also my "blog day," at the end of the month, so maybe that would be a good time.

Today is not just my birthday, it is also the birthday of Nathan Ballard - Communications Director to San Francisco's illustrious mayor, Gavin Newsom and our very good friend, and of course International Workers' Day is celebrated on this day throughout the world. Turns out pagans and socialists love May first, which suits me just fine!

Happy Birthday Nate!