Sampling San Diego

The life of a food blogger is so rough sometimes. For the last few weeks, I’ve been invited to a number of amazing food events in my lovely city of San Diego. I literally didn’t have time to blog about them all separately, so I thought I would write about them all at once.

The first was a dinner at Saja, where the chef, Jason, would show us all his amazing creations … Korean food with a Japanese inspiration.

The menu alone was making me drool when I read it online before the dinner.  I started with the Tae Kwon Do, a “libation” made with cucumber, mint, honey, lime, and soju.

"Tae kwon do" soju libation

The “Brussel Chips” dish was really delicious, very reminiscent of the Brussels sprouts dish at BO-Beau, one of my favorite appetizers of all time (I even made my own versions of Chef Katherine’s masterpiece at BB when my friend begged me for a vegetarian adaptation.) These were amazingly crispy and spicy and earthy – perfectly cooked.

"Brussel chips" dish

As with all Korean food, a huge part of the spread is the pickles side dishes like kimchi, fresh vegetables, and other goodies. The offering at Saja included pickled cucumbers, spicy spinach, house kimchi, bean sprouts, pickled daikon radish and bean sprouts.

banchan

Here are some close-ups of the banchan.

banchan

Next, we were treated to two kinds of Korean pancakes, with seafood and with tons of vegetables. They were fabulous with kimchi.

Korean pancakes
Next were the Korean tacos … the exquisitely scented ones with the spicy pork and soft buns were situated so, so far away from me. I had to sit there staring at them longingly for like 100 hours until the plate got passed around. Excruciating. I probably would have just leapt for it, but those nice glass things were in the way.

Korean tacos

Finally I got my close-up and got to stuff these into my face.

 

spicy pork on bao bun "Korean taco" at Saja

I can’t even.

These haunt my dreams.

I need to go get a few more orders to-go and just eat them all myself.

Saja also offers a vegetarian option, delicious tofu squares, and you can also get lettuce wraps instead of the soft buns. I cannot stress enough how much I love both versions of these tacos.

marinated tofu/ butterleaf lettuce "Korean taco" at Saja

Another one of my favorites at Saja was the Spicy Tuna Tar Tar … which is similar to a spicy tuna nigiri, but the base is a crispy rice cake, and the top is a tiny jalapeno. It’s definitely spicy but I really loved the texture of the sushi-grade tuna with the crispy rice.

"Spicy tuna tar tar" tuna on crispy rice cake at Saja

Four types of soondubu are offered at Saja, and we got to taste the seafood and the  vegetarian options. They’re served in traditional communal stone pots, and a raw egg is dropped into the soup (and instantly cooked) at the table side.

seafood soondubu

Whew. By this point we had eaten enough for an army, and barely made it through the chef’s selection of small plates and soups. We had already sampled the tofu and spicy pork, so Chef Jason picked entrees with short beef ribs and spicy pork bellies, both perfectly marinated with in-house formulas.

BBQ Galbi short ribs

The short ribs were delicious (as was all of the food), but the pork bellies (below) really stole the show.

spicy marinated pork belly over kimchi

marinated chicken bimimbap

Over the last course of bimimbap at Saja, I was invited to the Taste of Downtown event, an annual event in San Diego, where a ticket holder gets to sample a certain taste of 39 participating restaurants.

Needless to say, I couldn’t eat at 39 different places, but I did have some truly excellent samples, and revisit some old friends.

bacon maple donut from Donut Bar

The donuts at the Donut Bar are always amazing. They use whole-food, organic ingredients, and everything is made from scratch. This is the maple bacon (real maple, real bacon) donut. I could go on for days about how amazing the Donut Bar is, but it’s all been said before, by like every food reviewer on the planet. Donuts = Impeccable.

sliders at Whiskey GirlThe Whiskey Girl bar is one of my favorite places to go downtown for Happy Hour ($3 draft beers from 11-7, heeeey), but they also have really yummy food. For the ToD offering, we got tasty little cheesy sliders.

I continued through the Gaslamp District, eating small munchies as I went along …

Buffalo nacho at Henry's

Delicious BBQ nachos from Henry’s Pub

Guinness beef stew at the Field

Hearty Guinness beef stew and soda bread (the bread was delish!) from The Field Irish Pub

Kormas from Royal IndiaChicken Korma and Vegetable Korma from Royal India

TJ dog and cochinita pibil street taco at La Puerta

And TJ dogs and cochinita pibil street tacos from La Puerta. I’m not going to lie, this was probably the best part. I am A HUGE fan of cochinita pibil (my good friend even shared her family’s recipe with me, here), and I have been to La Puerta before, and the food is really delicious. It’s another good Happy Hour spot downtown.

I finished off my evening of food (and a lot of walking) with a bit of dessert … The My Yogurt shop is a self-serve yogurt shop on 5th Avenue, and instead of offering a pre-set taste, they just handed the ToD tasters a cup and a spoon and let them go at it. I treated myself to a nutty divination: nutella and peanut butter yogurts swirled together, topped with a big hunk of pecan pie. Whaaat.

My Yogurt concoction

Although by this point I was pretty full, I felt I had to stop by the lovely little Heavenly Cupcakes shop to see what they had to offer.  Then … I had to choose!

Heavenly CupcakesRed Velvet or chocolate? Cake pops or cookies? Gaah. Too much good stuff.

Lastly, I was invited to a craft beer dinner at Torrey Pints, the adorably named full-service craft beer bar located in the Whole Foods store in La Jolla. The whole setup is just as great as you’d imagine a La Jolla-area Whole Foods to be, and the beer bar is no exception. The Torrey Pints chef, Vanessa, did some amazing things with a few bottles of good beer.

First, the table got to split a couple of family style appetizers: Bison meatballs with Rough Draft Blonde Ale sauce, and pizza knots with Acoustic Ale White Snake beer cheese.

Bison Meatballs

Pizza bites with beer cheese

The beer cheese was amazing. Literally two of my favorite things rolled into one, and served with a handy bread vehicle for noshing. Perfect. We were also served an IPA from Acoustic Ales that was mixed with mango puree for a delightful and refreshing beer cocktail. Normally I don’t like my beers too fruity, but this was awesome.

The dinner itself was a choice between a gorgeous Alesmith Speedway Stout-soaked steak with potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts, and shrimp skewers with butternut squash, arugula and a glaze made from Rough Draft Saison.

stout-soaked steak

The steak was perfectly cooked and very flavorful with the Speedway Stout infusion, but I really, really loved the pairing of the briney-flavored shrimp with the earthy, bright flavor of the roasted butternut squash.

shrimp skewers with butternut squash

They’re two great flavors that you hardly ever see paired together. That needs to change. I need to remember this for the next time I make shrimp!

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October Unprocessed Made Easy: It’s the Little Things

How’s your October Unprocessed challenge going? This is my second year going clean for the month of October, and I see why this is really a lifestyle change instead of a simple diet or weight loss challenge. The more you employ small changes into your daily routines and everyday meals, the more an Unprocessed challenge won’t feel like such a challenge.

Obviously, living unprocessed is harder than it looks. It’s a great month-long challenge simply because it’s kind of hard to stick with. But making really small changes every day can help you eat clean the other 11 months of the year.

Here are a few small things that have worked for me, year-round:

Homemade condiments

Often, condiments and sauces are some of the first things people ask me about when I tell them about the Unprocessed challenge, but those sauces are some of the easiest things to make from scratch — and to leave out all of the mono-whatdjacallit sodium-hydrox-o-OMG. Seriously, read the label of the bottles in your fridge sometime. Most of them start with simple ingredients (salt, vinegar, tomatoes, etc.), and them all of a sudden, it goes off the rails with additives and stuff you can’t pronounce.

The solution is simple: Give up the labels and make your own. It’s very simple to make fresher, tastier, healthier versions of most of the condiments in your refrigerator right now. For the cost of a bottle of BBQ sauce laden with corn syrup, or mass-produced sriracha, or preservative- and dye-packed ketchup, or fake mustard, you can make a far better, healthier, tastier, cleaner version at home.

Here are my favorite condiments to make at home:

- mustard

- salad dressings (usually I use a few tablespoons of homemade mustard or homemade jam, and put it in a mason jar with a bit of vinegar, some fresh herbs and olive oil, then shake it up)

- sriracha (also kraut and kimchi)

- curry ketchup and roasted corn relish

roasted habanero salsa (and also a really awesome tomatillo salsa, but it’s not my recipe)

This week, I finished up a batch of homemade sriracha by draining the liquid from my fermented peppers …

fermented red peppers for hot sauce

then as I pureed the peppers for the sriracha,

homemade sriracha

… I used the liquid to soak a bunch of mustard seeds for a spicy homemade mustard.

spicy mustard

Awesome.

And have you ever tried store-bought sauerkraut? If you have, you probably hate kraut now, just on principle. Grab a jar or a nice chemical-free crock, and try making your own probiotics for a great project and a delicious and healthy nosh.

sauerkraut

Replace pasta with vegetables.

Lots of paleo recipe sites like this one have great ideas for replacing pasta with “zoodles,” or zucchini noodles. They’re easy to make and lots of fun, particularly if you have kids and need help getting them to eat properly.

Personally, I am a huge fan of spaghetti squash. It’s very simple to prepare; you can steam it my stabbing it with a few holes and either microwaving it (for about 2-3 minutes per pound) or slow-cooking it (4-6 hours on low setting, covered halfway with water), then using a fork to pull off all of the stringy bits, then mix it with your favorite sauce or pasta topping.

spaghetti squash

You can also cut it in half when it’s raw (you’ll need a wicked sharp knife) and roast it for the same effect. No matter how you prepare it, a medium-sized squash will give up enough stringy strands for at least 3-4 servings.

Replace meat with vegetables, or with better (aka cleaner) meat

Do you Portobello?

I love to replace hamburger patties with the big, hearty mushrooms, or just grill them with a little oil-and-vinegar salad dressing and serve as a side dish or vegetarian entrée option. No one will miss the meat when you grill up these babies. Eating Rules also has a great Portobello recipe this month.

cookout 019
Homemade bacon is beyond compare.

It’s stupid easy to make, and the homemade version is far better than any store-bought, nitrate-packed, pink slime. I take a nicely trimmed pork belly (my local Korean grocer does it perfectly and doesn’t look at you curiously when you request pork bellies), put it in a freezer bag with 2:1 ratio of kosher salt and brown sugar, then let it sit refrigerated for 3-4 days. When the meat is tough to the touch, it’s ready.

Rinse the meat, leave it in the fridge overnight without a cover, and smoke it for 3-6 hours, or until the internal temp is 160. That’s it. It’s unprocessed. It’s nitrate-free, it’s super-easy to make, and it’s f***ing delicious.

homemade bacon
Make your own cleaner version of everyday foods

Speaking of things that are easy to make, and the homemade versions far surpass the store-bought … my yogurt make is one of the best purchases I’ve made this year. You only need a bit of yogurt starter and some good milk, and the machine does the rest. I just make plain yogurt, then add organic honey or homemade jam. Bonus if you add some of this chow-chow from Friend in Cheeses Jam Company … it’s amazing! It’s all delicious and organic, and still unprocessed.

homemade yogurtAnd don’t forget, the idea is to control the ingredients. Think about other every day meals you can make from scratch instead of purchasing processed.

Fresh is best 

I have a subscription to a local farm network, so I get a weekly delivery of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. (I use Farm Fresh to You and I love it, but there are literally thousands of services out there, depEnding on your location.)

Cooking seasonally and locally usually means you’re eating the best, and no matter what you get in your weekly delivery, a recipe for it is only a Google search away. And when in doubt … CURRY. This is my favorite recipe for pumpkin curry, but you can literally replace the vegetables with anything. I did the same recipe with cauliflower. Yum.
curry

Lastly, don’t forget to use all of your gadgets! If you’re concerned about added fats, oils, and greases, you can’t go wrong with the clean taste of outdoor cooking and smoking. I used my outdoor smoker to pretty quickly (less than an hour) smoke a couple of pieces of salmon, plus some yams, fingerling potatoes and sliced delicata squash. A little olive oil, a few herbs, and you have a delicious unprocessed dinner in no time.

0salmon

 

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Gearing up for the October Unprocessed challenge

october-unprocessed-2014

 

It starts tomorrow. Are you ready?

If you’ve never heard of October Unprocessed, it’s a fun project started by Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules, and the basic idea is to commit to clean, healthy eating for a month. Check out Andrew’s website to learn all about the specifics.

If you haven’t done so yet, I hope you’ll take the challenge with me.

For me, the benefits were numerous … I started reading labels more, and started paying more attention to all of the ingredients in my food. Once October was over, I kept reading those labels and avoiding processed foods entirely when possible. I realized that I was a pretty healthy eater already, because often I took it upon myself to make something from scratch rather than buy it in a package with a cartoon character on it. To me, it was never a contest, in terms of taste or of health — think about a homemade cheese sauce with pasta versus a box of flourescent yellow mac and cheese. The homemade sauce with no processed chemicals and who-knows-what is infinitely better, albeit more expensive. It also takes time. For some hardworking families, homemade is hard to do. Poor families can score dozens of processed meals for the price of one unprocessed … eating clean isn’t just more expensive; it’s hard.

With that in mind, here are some great ways to make it easier.

Phone applications

If you have a smart phone, there are dozens of apps out there that will help you count calories, track your fitness progress, and help you shop intelligently. One of my favorites for shopping is Fooducate, which I discussed in my October Unprocessed post last year. They have a great website about learning more about your food, but their smartphone app is really handy. You can scan the bar code of any product, straight from your phone, right in the store, for complete nutritional information, as well as tips for how to use that product (or a recommendation to not use it) depending on your specific nutritional needs.

This year, the Foodie app has a collection of really good October Unprocessed recipes. recommend the Foodie app anyway, but I love having these recipes handy when shopping and whatnot.

Also check out the hashtag #Unprocessed on other applications you use every day, like Twitter or Pinterest. I have an ever-growing October Unprocessed Pinterest board, so subscribe to it or check back often for more.

Online Support Groups

Last year there was an October Unprocessed 2013 Facebook group, which I found really helpful. This year it’s been transferred to “October Unprocessed” (no year) and I look forward to the same great community of people taking the challenge.

Some of the stories there are really, really, inspiring.

Buddies

In addition to great social media ventures and smartphone apps, you can just go old-school: get a buddy. Having a friend participate in the challenge with you makes you keep each other honest and helps you keep your head in the game and stick to your plan.

Speaking of plans ….

Have a (doable) plan

Last year when I took this challenge for the first time, I had a plan. A great one. A super-duper insanely-detailed one. My plan contained daily menus.  My plan contained shopping lists and recipes. My plan also lasted less than a week. I had forgotten that although I am a foodie to the bone, I skip meals like crazy sometimes. I had forgotten that on weekdays, I am not spending the time to cook my oatmeal and quinoa from scratch in the mornings before I leave for work. And I had forgotten that … well, I am lazy sometimes.

This year I am not doing a month-long meal plan. At least not before I get started. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make a plan; some people perform better when they have everything planned out in every detail, and if you’re one of those people, by all means, do so. But make a plan that is as tailored to your schedule and your family’s needs as it is to the #Unprocessed plan.

Good luck, everyone! Have a great October #Unprocessed!

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5 sweet foodie gadgets you can’t live without

I should preface this by saying that I am not, in principle, a gadget person. I have a small apartment on the beach with a kitchen befitting my apartment’s size (you don’t even want to know my square yardage), and frankly I don’t need a lot of things that take up a ton of space and are only good for one thing. Although, as you can see by this list, I totally broke my own rule for a few items.

I get a lot of questions from readers about what sort of products I would recommend, so I decided to make a quick list of the gadgets I use regularly. Since as you know (and much to my mother’s chagrin), I do not get paid to write this blog or to recommend or advertise any product. If I tell you I like a thing and that you should buy it, it’s because I own it myself and I like it.

Also, I eat a lot of yogurt and rice, so I have a yogurt maker and a rice cooker as well. They take up very little space, and the yogurt maker especially saves me a lot of money in store-bought yogurt with who-knows-what added to it.

1) Everyone needs a slow cooker.

I use my crock pot for about a third of the meals I make — from pork carnitas to beans and greens to smoked chicken stock to every kind of chili or soup you can imagine, to apple butter for canning  (or not) and bacon jams for just about everything.

Plus, a crock pot, or slow cooker, isn’t technically a gadget, right? Everyone should have one. They’re cheap, they last a long time, they don’t require anything fancy, and most slow-cooker recipes are pretty fool-proof.

Even if you buy a really fancy and expensive one, it’s worth it. The first time you enjoy a hot, homemade soup that has been cooking slowly all day while you’ve been at work, the thing will have paid for itself.

crock pot stew

2) Princess.

I bought a Masterbuilt M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking system a few years ago. I bought it on Overstock, which for certain purchases gives you free shipping, and I paid about $160 total (although I have seen it on other websites for similar prices or cheaper). I paid another $40 for a used propane tank and another $30 or so for a fancy digital thermometer (which I would recommend regardless of the smoker).

The M7P use both charcoal and propane, and can be a grill or a smoker. It can also be a campfire grill  (you simply remove all but the base and you can lay firewood on it) a boiler (use the giant pot in the kit on the flame without the drum-shaped piece), and a steamer (add the big steamer pot to the other pot).

My M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking System. Best $150 I ever spent.

My M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking System. Best $150 I ever spent.

In addition to the insanely amazing smoked turkeys, chickens, hams, and grilled foods, I have been known to make a pretty kick-ass crab boil using my M7P.

beer can chicken and ribs
Even if you opt to not buy this particular model, I think everyone should have the ability to smoke their food … or at the very least, grill it outdoors. Don’t just use that propane grill or that charcoal smoker for special occasions, or even just for meat. Try roasting some pumpkins or squash for soup in it, or smoking some garlic and peppers to use for other dishes. Try smoking your wings.

3) I kill plants. Yet I love this mini-garden for non-gardeners.

How about THIS thing? Cool birthday present, a four-level seed sprouter. As you can see below, it takes up very little space on your countertop and it’s easy-to-clean plastic.

sprouter

It’s also very simple to use … you get some seeds. A few come with the kit, plus I got a few more as part of my present, but they generally cost less than $4 a pack. You soak the seeds for a few days, then spread the seeds on the sprouter.

seed sprouts

Once it’s done, you have a great pile of sprouts, perfect for sandwiches, salads, and a myriad of other dishes.

sprouts
4) Farmcurious fermenting set

I won this set in a cool contest from Killer Pickles this spring, and I’ve been using it pretty much nonstop. It’s basically a set of caps and airlocks.

Farmcurious set
This was my first use of the kit … some red cabbage, fermented with green garlic and green apple.
fermented red cabbage
fermented red cabbage and bratsIt made its debut with some Bratwurst at a Memorial Day party this summer, and it was SO AMAZING that I had to go buy some half-gallon-sized mason jars, which is the largest size jar you can buy and still fit the airlock caps. So … I’m not new to fermenting, but I needed to try all of my previous recipes using these bad boys.

Since then I’ve made some amazing pickles …

fermented dill pickles

… and tepache …

tepache fermenting

… and now some peppers are fermenting for sriracha.

fermented red jalapenos

I also fermented some pears with spicy peppers. I think they’ll be amazing on a cheese plate.

fermented spicy pears

5) Preserving on a different level with a food dehydrator.

I’ve been making homemade jams and pickles and preserves for a few years now, and I had been focusing on them so much that I neglected one of the best and oldest forms of preservation – drying. I scored a Nesco brand dehydrator — a promotional version of the 4-tray dehydrator called a “Jerky XPress” that comes with a jerky gun and spices and curing salts for making jerky.

parmesean kale chipsdried strawberries

Of course, it can be used to dehydrate anything … lately for kale chips with parmesan cheese, fresh berries, and spicy peppers.

Check back later to see what I’m making with those dehydrated peppers. :)

 

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Curried Cauliflower Soup

I love a good soup, and I love a versatile dish. This amazing soup can be ready in 30 minutes, and it’s delicious served at any temperature. Right now, it’s a muggy 80 degrees in southern California, but my CSA box hasn’t gotten the message … the produce sections everywhere are full of cauliflower and other fall-like vegetables … so I ate this cold, too! This is also a super-healthy recipe, and will be a big hit during the October Unprocessed challenge next month.

For just a few cheap ingredients (either fresh, or probably in your pantry), you can have a simple filling, yummy, spicy soup. Customize it any way you like: I made mine extra spicy, and I used smoked chicken stock (homemade of course), but if you don’t like spicy foods, you can use a lighter curry paste or less of it than I did … and if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can use vegetable stock.

Curried Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 large head of fresh cauliflower
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 head garlic, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 quart of chicken stock (or use vegetable stock to keep vegetarian/vegan)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1/2 cup Thai curry paste, any type (I used red)*
  • 1/2 cup ghee or butter (or olive oil to keep it vegan)

First, dice the vegetables and saute them in the ghee for a few minutes, and add the Thai curry paste and ginger. Cover with stock and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender.

curried cauliflower soupRemove from heat and, using an immersion blender, puree the ingredients. Add the coconut milk (be sure to shake the can first), and then taste and season accordingly.

* Depending on how spicy your curry paste is, you might want to add more broth or more salt. I like mine spicy, so I use an authentic red curry paste. If you don’t like it hot, use less than a tablespoon, or use a milder paste. For this brand (see below) a tablespoon is more than enough to fully flavor an entire pot of soup.

red curry paste

Sprinkle with a bit of chili powder on top and serve with some good bread. It will be spicy, but it’s worth it.

curried cauliflower soup

Try your leftovers chilled the next day. :)

 

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Alex’s Lemonade Stand-inspired wings and cake toppings

This week I have two awesome new recipes for you, inspired by a great charity. I am partnering with friends to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand in San Diego, which is one of the biggest fundraisers in California and one of the top ten Alex’s Lemonade Stands in the country. Since its inception, Alex’s Lemonade Stand has raised over $80 million worldwide for childhood cancer, and has funded more than 450 research projects at 94 institutions. They also help families struggling with childhood cancer through a Travel Fund and an annual Educational Symposium.

If you’re in San Diego, here’s the info for the foundation event:

Saturday July 26: 10:00-6:00 pm
3366 Adams Avenue, 92116 at the Masonic Parking Lot
FM 94.9 Live Broadcast
Bands, lemonade, silent auction, kids’ activities, and more!

ALS_postcard_Revised071014

If you can’t attend, please click here to donate. Let’s help the Miller Tribe reach their goal of $15,000 this year, which would be a total of $100,000 for the nine years they’ve been running.

MillerTribe
I’m helping out by participating in the San Diego Food Bloggers Lemonade Online Challenge, sponsored by Melissa’s Produce. In addition to my two recipes (below), more than a dozen San Diego Food Bloggers will be cooking with lemons in support of Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Please check out their lemony recipes online between July 21-28, and make a donation to the Stand through links on their blogs, linked at the end of this post.

I accepted the lemon challenge and came up with a savory and a sweet recipe using the delicious fruit from Melissa’s Produce. I hope you enjoy these. I sure did.

Savory Lemon Challenge:

Epic Lemony Wings

For the savory part of the challenge, I opted for the best recipe I have made all summer, Epic Wings. Seasoned. Smoked. Fried. Tossed in sauce. I’ve made them a number of times so far this summer and you can’t beat them for crowd-pleasing. They’re the best. And as usual, one of my favorite things about this recipe is its extreme versatility.

plate of lemon wings

I decided since I was doing a lemon challenge, the sauce for these Epic babies would be a delicious Meyer lemon sauce. I based mine off of this one, but used more lemon juice and lemon zest, and had a different preparation process.

To really switch up the flavors, I decided to try some different wood chips than I usually use; the Jack Daniel’s brand wood chips, made from the oak barrels they use to age the whiskey. Just remember: Oak chips need to pre-soak a little longer than most.

jack wood chips

Feel free to use any type of wood chips because all of them taste good, and frankly, I don’t think it’s possible to screw up these wings.

Ingredients for the chicken wings:

  • 4-5 lbs chicken wings
  • 2-3 tablespoons of salt-free house seasoning
  • 1 cup bacon grease or vegetable oil
  • wood chips for smoking (your choice)

Ingredients for the Lemon Sauce:

  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp. corn starch
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon

First, season the wings. Make sure the seasoning you use is salt-free (or at the very least low-salt) because too much salt will dry out the meat during smoking. Prepare your smoker according to manufacturer specifications with soaked wood chips of your choice, and let the chicken wings smoke for at least one hour.

smoked wings

While the wings are smoking, prepare your sauce. You should do this regardless of which sauce you decide to use, but for the lemon sauce, I mix the water and sugar in a pot and bring it up to a simmer. Separately, mix the lemon juice and corn starch, while the liquid is still cold, and add it to the pot, stirring constantly. Add the lemon zest and set aside.

Fry the wings in bacon grease or oil. I don’t really need to tell you why bacon grease is the optimal setting for this, or why you can substitute oil if you so desire. I don’t have a deep fryer so I used bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet, but again, the idea is to deep-fry the wings you just smoked, so it really doesn’t matter how it gets done. If you have a deep fryer, use it. If you have duck fat or something somehow tastier than bacon grease or duck fat, then by all means, fry it in that. They’re already fully cooked in the smoker, and the flash fry will seal in the meat juices and the flavors of your seasoning and smoking, and add a nice crispy edge to your wings so that the last step doesn’t make them soggy.

lemon wings

The last step: Toss the wings in the sauce, and make sure you get them nicely coated. Serve immediately. Sit and bask in the compliments you receive.

 Sweet Lemon Challenge:

Key Lime and Lemon Swirled Curd

For the sweet lemon recipe, I wanted to make a nice lemon curd like this one I used from Linda Ziedrich’s book called “Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves.” It’s simple and delicious, and a beginner like myself can make it. My box of produce from Melissa’s Produce had two kinds of lemons as well as Key Limes, so I opted to make a curd from Key Limes, a curd from lemons, and then swirl them together for a fun dessert topping.

lemonlime curd on angel food cake

Yum!

First of all, I would recommend, especially if you are cooking with Key Limes, that you get yourself an assistant. Preferably one with strong hands. Or when you plan your cooking, add at least a half-hour for juicing. For the curd recipe, you need 2/3 cup of lemon juice (or lime juice if you’re making lime curd), and for those tiny Key Limes, you’ll need about a dozen to get 2/3 of a cup.

juicing

I added a bit of green food coloring to the Key Lime-flavored curd, because with the egg yolks and eggs, the finished product looked too yellow. In the end, the lemon curd and the lime curd together was lovely on top of a fluffy angel food cake.

lemonlime curd on angel food cake

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Summer Favorites

If you are a regular reader of this blog, thank you.  Sometimes my daily or weekly food projects aren’t much more complicated than “hey, I smoked this tasty chicken,” so I don’t always do a full blog post on everything I make. I do not post often enough, so I thought I would remedy that by sharing with you some of the foods that have been pleasing crowds at Casa de Starbright all spring and summer long.

Also, if you are so inclined, I encourage you to check the links on the right of this page and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, which are updated far more often.

First up is the old standby: beer-can chicken. I do this all the time. It takes only a couple of hours to smoke, and every time it’s perfectly juicy and tender. if you have a vertical smoker like I do, you don’t even need one of those fancy racks … just manipulate an empty aluminum can snugly into the inside the bird, make sure you can see the tab through the top (see picture below) and then when you set the whole thing on your smoker you can work the chicken’s legs around so it’s sitting up on the can. Then you fill up the can with the liquid of your choice (pretty much anything except really strong liquor as that will just be a fire hazard), coat the outside with a dry rub and a bit of oil, and smoke it til the internal temperature is at least 160.

beer can chicken

This is the chicken I smoked on the Fourth of July, alongside a homemade pastrami brisket (just a corned beef brisket coated in brown sugar, black pepper, coriander and paprika, and then smoked), and a foil packet full of garlic, onions and other items.

I usually have a packet of something random smoking alongside of my meat. If I have a few extra cloves of garlic or jalapeno peppers, those will always get smoked. Sometimes if I have a huge surplus of onions or other fruits I will smoke those for a BBQ sauce, and sometimes I will also smoke the sauce ingredients with the meat the sauce will be used on, which is always delicious.

Here, I smoked a nice rack of baby back ribs … this is the “after” photo when they came off of the smoker, and before smoking they only had a very basic dry rub. On the top rack of the smoker I had a few small foil packets, containing red onions, whole heads of garlic, and two ripe peaches.

baby back ribs

After about an hour I took the fruit, onions and garlic off the smoker, and put it all in a pot on the stove with a large can (14 oz.) of crushed tomatoes, 2 cups apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp. kosher salt, 2 tbsp. brown sugar, and 1 tbsp. each of black pepper, oregano, paprika, cumin and chipotle chili powder. The smoked peaches and onions had the same smoky flavor as the ribs, so it wasn’t too sweet, and the sauce complimented the meat perfectly.

ribs with peach BBQ sauce

And a couple of days later on some BBQ chicken breasts, served with roasted corn and some warm greens.

peach BBQ sauce with chicken

Of course, one cannot forget the cocktails! Homemade tepache is getting to be one of my favorites … it’s so simple, it’s delicious and unique … and it impresses the hell out of your friends when you tell them you just made your own alcohol.

tepache

Check out my first blog post here about tepache, back when I was just discovering it, but know that this is just as adaptable as any fermented drink like beer or kefir … adapt it to your tastes and style. I’ve tried it with a whole pineapple (you can re-use that boozy fruit later) or just the core and peel, and I’ve also added whole peaches to the mix. Te-peach-e is definitely something you should try.

I’ve also tried making it in my Korean fermenting crock, and lately with my new Farmcurious airlock cap set (see below), and if you are into fermenting at all, I would definitely recommend one of these cap sets. It makes fermenting anything really simple.

tepache fermenting

Of course man cannot live by meat and boozy fruit alone, so we must also make somewhat healthy snacks. I guess. Sorta healthy. It has fruit in it.

I subscribe to a number of websites wherein people send me samples of things. Like, all the time. At any given moment I have no less than a dozen sauces, glazes, toppings, jams, jellies, pickles, and various other things in jars, most of which I have not made myself. One of those jars happened to contain a salted caramel sauce for desserts, so I decided to see what it could do with some grilled fruit.

Grilled fruit skewers

Pineapples and blueberries happened to be both ripe and in my kitchen, plus a single slightly underripe peach. They made very lovely skewers, and were topped with the salted caramel glaze right at the end for a little extra sweetness. It was perfect.

Grilled pineapple and blueberry skewers

I also got to enjoy a number of awesome food festivals so far this summer, including a Greek festival  … where I may or may not have bought a hunk of homemade feta cheese the size of my head. There were no witnesses who are talking. However, I did entertain my guests with many, many, many feta cheese dishes for the next few days, including this  … well, can you even call this a “recipe” or a “dish”?

Slice a watermelon. Crumble some really good feta on top. The end.

watermelon feta

Seriously, that’s really all there is to it, and I could totally eat that entire plate right there. The slightly salty flavor of the feta is so perfect with the melon. I have also seen a number of variations on this dish, but all of them seem way too complicated to me. One called for freezing the slices of feta, then coating them in breadcrumbs and frying them, then serving those fried cheese squares in the most picturesque, Pinterest-worthy plating with the perfectly molded hunks of watermelon you’ve ever seen.

However I am a simple girl. Like my adorable niece right here. All she needs is some fruit to match her outfit, and look at that smile! She doesn’t even need the cheese! (But don’t omit the cheese unless you are also a baby.)

Moxie

This summer, I also started cooking with orzo for the first time, and I think it is going to be my go-to starch for cold salads from now on. Orzo is actually made of barley, so it’s extremely healthy for you. It also cooks up in no time, chills really quickly, too, and then takes whatever flavor you give it. And it holds its own with hearty veggies. What more can you ask for?

Orzo salad

This tasty salad is a 1-lb packet of orzo, boiled about 6 minutes in salted water, then cooled, and tossed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, green peas, diced carrot, sautéed yellow squash, sliced red onion, and bits of leftover pastrami.

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Epic wings are so … epic.

I have found the dish that will forever be the star of your outdoor dinner party. I first tried these at a friend’s house (he was trying to copy some wings from a local bar) and I have made them a few times. I’m in love. And I am no slouch with party snacks.

It’s a fairly simple recipe, taking a total of about 2 hours, only about 1 1/2 of them are hands-off (unless you are making your own sauces). It can be adapted for size, tastes and ingredients. It also showcases two of the best ways to add flavor to some meat: smoking and frying. Lastly, you drown those delicious wings in lots of epic sauce, and you can get really creative with the toppings.

097

Very simply, epic wings are so F*^%^% epic because of the easy, yet profound cooking process.

smoked wings

Step 1: Season the wings. I use a simple herb mixture. Try to keep the salt content low so it doesn’t dry out the meat during smoking.

Step 2: Smoke the wings. Of course I use my awesome Masterbuilt 7-in-1 smoker/grill, which is well-seasoned and smokes pretty quickly. Use any type of wood, for at least an hour. If you smoke it longer than one hour it will add more flavor, but they’re already fully cooked after about 45 minutes on 250 degrees.

smoked wings

Step 3: Fry the wings. A good flash-fry, in hot oil. Preferably in a cast-iron skillet with bacon grease.

fried wings

Step 4: Toss the wings in sauce. This is a great time to get creative, or even (especially at a BBQ or party) to do a few different types of flavors.

dipping the wings

Get ‘em saucy. They can take it; that flash-fry got them nice and crispy, so they won’t get soggy.

smoked, fried, tossed in sauce

When my friend tried this recipe for the first time, he tried to re-create the local bar’s “dirty sauce,” which is all four of their sauces — Buffalo wing sauce, sweet and sour sauce, BBQ sauce and ranch dressing — and it was really amazing.

epic dirty sauce

Those were using generic, store-brand sauces, except for Sweet Baby Ray’s brand BBQ sauce and Hidden Valley Ranch from the packet.

I also made this same recipe and dirty sauce using my own homemade BBQ sauce and homemade Buffalo wing sauce (traditionally made with Frank’s Hot Sauce and butter, instead of Frank’s I used my own homemade, lacto-fermented sriracha).

 

 

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The perfect cheese plate

Ok, I am not an expert on most things, but since I was a little kid, there are a few things I know I can do well.

I can write well. I can put on eye makeup without the assistance of a mirror. I can smell when milk is even slightly sour. I can write my name using a pen between my toes. I can make an excellent mix tape … and that was back in the day, when you made a mix tape from recording songs off of the radio, and you had to be super-fast to hit the “stop” button before the DJ came on, talking over the end of the song you were trying to record. Nowadays the kids have it much easier with the mP3s and playlists. But I digress.

cheese plate

And I can make an excellent cheese plate. This isn’t hubris or boasting, it’s a simple fact. Part of the reason is because it’s nearly impossible to make a BAD cheese plate … I mean, honestly, just take a look at Pinterest one of these days and search for the term “cheese plate.” (Or check out mine right here! Shameless plug!)

mini cheese plate

Some people seriously pull out a pretty platter, slice a few bits of cheese and meat, and call it a day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to do it …. if you’re going to have a great party and you want to really hit it out of the park … there are a few simple guidelines to follow.

1) Have a good selection.

Don't be afraid of the sample basket!

Don’t be afraid of the sample basket!

Seriously, people. No matter how much you love that one awesome cheese, not everyone at your party is going to like it. Present a blend of hard cheeses, soft cheeses, and stinky cheeses, and switch up the types of cheese as well … you want some sheep’s milk cheese, some goat cheese and some cow’s milk cheese.

cheese selection

My favorite local cheese shop keeps a basket near the register full of the odds and ends and weirdly-shaped chunks of cheese they have left over. This is an excellent way to sample certain cheeses you might not otherwise try.

2) The cheese is just the star. It needs a limo.

salted watermelon jelly and kokos gouda

salted watermelon jelly and kokos gouda

Don’t forget the rest of the plate! You want a nice crusty bread and at least one type of cracker, and some vehicles for cheese that are fresh fruits or vegetables.

apples and gjetost cheese

apples and gjetost cheese

Try mixing up different breads and crackers, and different fruits and vegetables like apples, pear, strawberries, endive, celery, carrot sticks, and radishes (slice them lenthwise).

endive and spicy cheese dip

endive and spicy cheese dip

carrot marmalade and port wine-soaked cheese

carrot marmalade and port wine-soaked cheese

Always have at least one savory spread and one sweet spread on the plate. I love the selection of jams and toppings from the Friend in Cheeses Jam Company, a small buisness that specializes in things that go great with cheese. (Seriously, how awesome is that?) More than once, their amazing creations like salted watermelon jelly, strawberry tarragon conserve, carrot marmalade and pisco pear butter have been the best parts of my cheese plates.

bacon jam and cheddar

bacon jam and cheddar

Meat items are also important to keep a good balance on your platter. The salty and sweet punch of bacon jam, or the smoky depth of smoked chicken liver pate or storebought liverwurst, are excellent accompaniments to most cheeses.

3) It’s a carpenter, not his tools. But get some nice tools.

mini cheese graterOk, not crazy tools. Or expensive tools. Just things like a tiny cheese grater so you can grate your cheese on the spot. Or a few of those tiny forks and knives for spreads and cheeses. Just a handful of toothpicks for your olives and your bits of meat, and a few small bowls or rammekins for those jams and jellies.

cheddar and strawberry tarragon conserve

cheddar and strawberry tarragon conserve

4) Be an artist about it.

cheese plate 2

I usually set up my larger selections on a handmade wooden board, but it’s certainly not necessary. A cracked plate works as well as a fancy decorative platter. What matters is how delicious everything looks.

cheese plate 3

cheese plate 4

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Easy squash and vegetable soup (perfect for the holidays)

This is a great, easy soup that is perfect for Thanksgiving or other family dinners. It’s vegetarian (although it can be adapted to include chicken or meat stock), and it’s great for an appetizer or as part of your holiday meal.

As usual when cooking with butternut squash (or any squash or gourd that has a very hard outer shell), I made the process easier on myself by cutting the giant squash into a few manageable chunks, then I dry-roasted it on my grill until the peel was charred. Let it cool down until you can handle it with your bare (clean) hands, and it’s super-easy to peel the rind off and cut up the sweet squash inside.

Butternut squash and vegetable soup

Easy Squash and Vegetable Soup

  • about 2 lbs of butternut squash, roasted, peeled and chopped
  • one container (about 14 oz.) soft tofu, chopped
  • one large onion, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, diced
  • 2-3 small red potatoes, diced
  • 3 heads garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. dried sage
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. ginger
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 1 bottle of good beer
  • salt and pepper
  • crumbly feta cheese or blue cheese, for serving

Feel free to clean out your fridge when picking the vegetables to use … I just used the few items I had on hand, but a few stalks of celery, maybe sweet potato, some fresh fennel, or some fresh leek(s), would be a great addition to this recipe.

I simply added all of the ingredients (no pre-cooking needed except for the butternut squash), and cooked everything together in my slow cooker overnight. Cook it for at least 6 hours on the low setting, but the longer you cook it, the more the flavors will develop. Then puree the entire contents of the pot with your trusty immersion blender, taste the soup, add more spices if necessary, and serve.

Posted in cooking, food, holidays, leftovers, soups and stews, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment