Toast of Gaslamp 2018

The holiday season got kicked off right here in downtown San Diego last weekend … most of the tasting walking tours you generally get tickets to in this town are small bites of food only, and the Toast of Gaslamp is one of the few where you get food AND cocktails.

I went to the event (after giving away a pair on my Instagram page) with an awesome foodie friend, because of course you need an awesome foodie friend for an event like this one. Luckily, most of the participating restaurants were on Fifth Avenue or very close.

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First, we were all supposed to dress in festive holiday outfits. In contrast to the previous few days when the weather was FREEZING (read: San Diego “freezing,” which is about 40 degrees), Saturday was sunny and warm. Definitely the weather you want when you are doing a walking tour, but not when you’re wearing festive winter hats.

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So, this cute ensemble didn’t last long. (By the way, these gorgeous purple couches are at Side Bar downtown, where we also enjoyed a lovely taste of a cauliflower tempura dish.)

I think my only complaint about this event (other than the weather, which is hardly anyone’s fault), is that the tasting ticket all the participants were given also said what the tastes and sips were, and some of them turned out to not be correct.

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For example, the first entry, American Junkie, supposedly offered chipotle bacon mac and cheese with BBQ pulled pork garnish (!!) and crispy rock shrimp. The mac and cheese unfortunately was not really there, but the shrimp with sweet aji Amarillo sauce was delicious, as was the watermelon mule.

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Because it was a holiday theme, lots of the food samples offered were sweets, like this gingerbread spread on plain bagels at Spill the Beans

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Or these delicious New Orleans-style beignets at The Dive

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I think one of my favorites was the chicken and waffle bite at Tin Roof, although their “Yule Mule” was a little too sweet for me.

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Although most of the non-dessert food samples turned out to be some sort of ceviche — luckily, all of them were quite delicious, especially the shrimp ceviche from Bar Vie and the house ceviche from Machu Picchu — there was also some ultra-smoky pulled pork and coleslaw from Gaslamp BBQ

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Stay tuned for more next year! 

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Smoke a (meat) fatty this weekend

There are a million amazing things you can make in a smoker, mostly involving meat. It’s a time-honored tradition now to coat a nice piece of protein in a spicy dry rub, perhaps inject it with some moisturizing, tenderizing marinade, and slow-smoke it over low heat for hours until the meat has reached perfection.

That’s one way to do it.

Another way take a little bit more hands-on work, but it’s an amazing smoked dinner that you can have on the table in half of the time it takes for your average brisket or pastrami or beer-can-chicken. One of the best things about smoked meats is that it takes very little work prior to smoking … you generally coat and/or inject your meat (as per above) and then the next few hours is hands-off, and you can enjoy a few beers while your meat cooks itself. A fatty takes a few additional minutes of prep time, but then you only need half of the smoking time.

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In a nutshell, you make a fatty with three main ingredients: 1) bacon; 2) ground meat; and 3) a stuffing of some sort. I have seen breakfast fatties with eggs inside; a Big Mac fatty stuffed with pickles and special sauce; and all sorts of other variations stuffed with mushrooms, cheese, vegetables, sauces … you name it.

This Thanksgiving, I decided to create two different Thanksgiving Fatties, both made using ground turkey, one stuffed with homemade cornbread stuffing and the other with some super-cheesy homemade mac and cheese. I think the mac and cheese version was better, mostly because (as you can imagine) the stuffing dried out the finished product — just slightly, but it was definitely dry. That isn’t to say not to make it, but just make sure you serve it with extra gravy.

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Mac and cheese on the top rack; mac and cheese-stuffed fatty on the bottom.

The mac and cheese version  -especially because my homemade cheese sauce tends to be extra saucy and cheesy – was very moist and flavorful. (See the end of this post for my homemade mac and cheese recipe!)

The procedure itself is very simple:

Step 1, make a bacon weave over a piece of plastic wrap:

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Step 2, cover the bacon weave with ground meat (make sure it is seasoned well):

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Step 3, add whatever stuffing you are using (this is the cornbread stuffing):

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and Step 4, roll and smoke.

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I smoked mine for about 3 hours over wood chips at approx. 300 degrees. The rack I used is actually for grilling vegetables, but it isn’t really necessary; it works just as well to use a bit of aluminum foil.

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As promised, here is my recipe for the most amazing homemade mac and cheese you will ever have:

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Starbright’s Kitchen Homemade Three-Cheese Smoked Mac and Cheese

  • 1 1-lb box of macaroni noodles, cooked to package directions
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth (* or use vegetable broth to keep it vegetarian)
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 cup grated Asiago cheese
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • panko crumbs or cooked bacon for topping (optional)

First prepare a white sauce by mixing butter and flour over low heat, then SLOWLY whisking in milk and stock. Once the mixture has become a thick sauce, add the cheese and spices.

Simmer for an additional 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick and creamy. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Add the cooked noodles and mix completely. Add any optional toppings. Transfer to smoker-safe dish and smoke for 2-3 hours over low heat.

Happy smoking!

Hatch Chile Season in Full Effect

Hatch Chiles are truly a marketing marvel of modern times. Typically, from around the beginning of August through the end of September, you will see many of your local stores featuring the mild New Mexican chile pepper, and many of them will offer free roasting as well.

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I was lucky enough to be the recipient of a “Hatch bag” from the Lazy Acres Natural Market in Mission Hills (on Washington Street, if you’re in San Diego). It’s a wonderful natural foods market, and they make a ton of their own products. I was given a bag not just of the chili peppers themselves, but a plethora of items made with Hatch chiles.

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That’s pie, cornbread, wine, crackers, cheese, cream cheese, beef patties, orange juice, guacamole, cream cheese, fiesta mix, and of course, some Hatch chiles, both fresh and roasted. Wow! Who knew they even made Chile Wine? (Not me.)

The first thing I did was grate up some of that Hatch chili cheddar cheese, and I used it in my Sunday meal prep to spice up my breakfast casserole.

The recipe for the casserole is wicked simple: the crust/bottom layer is crumbled up biscuits, then cooked sausage with mushroom and onion, then scrambled egg mixed with a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Top with cheese and bake til done, like 30 minutes on 400 degrees.

 

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Next, I used the Hatch chili cream cheese and the grated Hatch chile cheddar cheese, plus ranch dressing and chicken breast, to make this amazing little snack.

If you’re ever stuck needing a quick, easy, potluck dish, or just a regular appetizer or snack, this is for you. Simply mix the chicken (canned or fresh/cooked) with ranch and cream cheese, then top with grated cheese and bake until bubbly. This is a very versatile  – the original recipe is buffalo sauce and regular cream cheese instead of Hatch-flavored cream cheese and cheddar cheese – and will be an instant crowd-pleaser.

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I also used the spicy orange juice (I was too chicken to drink it) in my Instant Pot to make some delicious ribs … just cook the ribs (on their side, like pictured below) on a rack inside the pot, pressure cook on high pressure for 25-30 minutes (and natural release), and then finish off on the grill or under a broiler with your favorite BBQ sauce. You won’t be disappointed!

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I also used the cornbread for a few dishes … it was a perfect accompaniment to the sweet taste of the Mississippi “Coke” Roast I also made in my Instant Pot.

Coke Roast is one of those recipes that sound really crazy when you read the ingredients, but you know it’s for real as soon as you taste it. This particular insanely easy and fast Instant Pot recipe is a pork loin (or beef chuck roast, but I think the pork is more tender), a can of Cola-Cola, a stick of butter, half a jar of pepperoncinis (with the juice), a packet of ranch dressing mix and a packet of au jus gravy mix. Pressure-cook for about 30 minutes with natural release, and serve over something spicy.

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I used the Hatch chile cream cheese and cheddar cheese for variations on a few of my favorite recipes. In addition to the chicken-cheese dip, I also made one of my favorite side dishes with a spicy twist.

These onions are usually made with Asiago cheese … simply wrap a slice of bacon around a half an onion, then add broth, cream, and roast until tender. Then add a bunch of grated Asiago cheese on top. I followed this same recipe but added Hatch cheddar instead of Asiago. It doesn’t have the same funky Asiago flavor, but the spiciness certainly made up for it.

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I think my favorite item in the bag was the delicious beef patties … they were clearly handmade, stuffed with cheese and lots of chunks of Hatch chiles, and the meat was very tender and fresh.

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I served the burgers on cauliflower sandwich thins with ketchup, mustard and mayo, and topped it with some sautéed mushrooms and fresh Hatch guacamole from the Hatch bag.

It was EPIC.

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What’s your favorite Hatch chile recipe? Let us know in the comments and your recipe might be selected for our Hatch feature next summer!

BBQ Class with the ‘Czar of Char’

This week, I was lucky enough to be a part of a small gathering of food bloggers to meet with Chef Alex Benes at the Wood Ranch Restaurant in Hazard Center (San Diego). We were all treated to most of the items from the menu, including desserts, all while Chef explained to us some of his favorite tips and techniques.

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There was a lot of talk about meat – and I’ll get to that later – but to me, some of the biggest stars were the vegetables and sides. To start, we enjoyed sweet potatoes and cauliflower fresh from the grill:

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Or the Farmhouse Salad, with kale, Brussels sprouts, quinoa, black beans, roasted broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, scallions, cucumbers, radishes and hard-boiled egg (and to which many people also add chicken or other meat):

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And we got to sample this INSANE burger known as “The Ultimate,” which has pulled pork and slaw, brisket and cheese, kielbasa and jalapeno, and topped with shredded fried onions:

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To my surprise, Chef said that when he’s cooking for himself or his loved ones, his favorite food to grill is actually fish! You’d think he would be all about a brisket or a tri-tip, but his favorite thing is to grill a whole fish. Wood Ranch doesn’t feature a whole fish on its (already pretty extensive) menu, but they do have some amazing options for salmon and shrimp. We got to sample salmon three ways (with blackened seasoning, and with two different spicy glazes), and they were all delicious.

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And look at these sides! The mashed potatoes and mac & cheese were pretty standard but very tasty, and the peanut coleslaw is a perfect crunchy side for their smoked meats.

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We had a bit of a debate at the table about whether the tri-tip or the brisket, and honestly, while both of them were amazing, I think I liked the tri-tip more. The tri-tip was served with Wood Ranch’s signature BBQ sauce (which you can purchase by the bottle):

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… But the brisket was so tender, and it was served with this awesome housemade cherry chipotle sauce, which I would happily buy by the bottle if they let me.

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I didn’t partake in the desserts – but they looked amazing. You can choose from cheesecake:

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… chocolate cake:

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… peach cobbler:

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or Oreo Cookie Crunch:

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I was trying to stay on my diet but it was difficult.

I highly recommend this place, for the convenience (right off the freeway and the trolley line), the ambiance and the friendly staff; but most of all the food. The chef clearly takes the time and effort to put out a premium product.

Herb and Eatery

A few of us lucky food bloggers got a chance last weekend to visit Brian Malarkey’s newest venture, Herb & Eatery – an extension, really, of his award-winning restaurant Herb & Wood.

Herb & Eatery is the front of the store and the Herb & Wood dining room is in the back.

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Herb & Wood has already won a ton of accolades for being the most stylish and sexy new restaurant in town- and now with Herb & Eatery, you can take all of the goodness home with you.

Jars of goodness at Herb & Eatery

Jars of goodness at Herb & Eatery

Herb & Eatery essentially has all of the goodies that make chefs (and humble food bloggers) swoon. Brian Malarkey gave us a sweet tour of the chef’s shop and restaurant before filling us with food.

Brian Malarkey

Almost everything is made in-house. You like the tapenade or the salsa that was part of your (award-winning) dinner at Herb & Wood? Come next door and you can buy a jar of it to take home.

Want some fresh herbs, fresh-baked croissants, imported cheeses, frozen ice cream cookie sandwiches, or even the designer flatware you used? It’s all for sale next door.

View of the pastries from the second floor

View of the pastries from the second floor

Herb & Wood was the first phase of this project; and this awesome shop is phase two. They have already expanded the upstairs area into a lounge for private gatherings; and the adjacent space into an art gallery and private event room.

Art on display in the private event space next door to Herb & Eatery

Art on display in the private event space next door to Herb & Eatery

In addition to a drool-worthy “chef’s shop,” a host of housemade pastries are available, every one of them made around-the-clock by pastry chef extraordinaire Adrian Mendoza.

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And don’t forget the house-made kombucha.

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Speaking of croissants, YOU WANT THESE CROISSANTS.

They are made fresh daily (and sell out really fast) with tons of specialty imported butter and they are said to rival the best Parisian café. We enjoyed them plain, stuffed with chocolate, stuffed with meat and cheese, and made into these lovely breakfast sandwiches.

This is the Maple Croissant: filled with maple pork sausage, a fried egg, gruyere cheese, arugula and aioli.

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We also got to sample a few of the baked eggs dishes: Brian was very exited about these … they take a loaf (bread) pan and fill it with scrambled eggs and potato, then bake it, slice it, and cover each slice in one of five different topping combinations.

This is the one with mushrooms, Humboldt goat cheese, herbs, kale, and crème fraiche. It was heavenly.

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And this is the baked egg with tomato, capers, olives, basil pesto and lemon zest:

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We weren’t even close to being finished. Next we got to sample a few of the items from the All Day Menu (breakfast is only served from 8-11 a.m.).

One of my favorites was the poke & avocado salad, with kimchi, cilantro, housemade ponzu and mixed greens:

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… but I also loved the smoked curry chicken and cashews salad with kale and cilantro.

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We also sampled some of their amazing sandwiches, like the banh mi with chicken sausage, papaya, and chicken liver pate:

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… as well as the amazing tuna melt with olive oil-poached albacore tuna, preserved lemons, herbs, capers and white cheddar cheese.

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As if that wasn’t enough carbs to put us all into respective food comas, we also got a sample of two of Brian Malarkey’s favorite appetizers: a Marin triple cream brie with seasonal mustard and jelly:

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…  plus these beautiful sugar cane Thai chicken skewers:

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And really amazing root fries with homemade smoked French dressing and yusu aioli:

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Aaaand ice cream cookies …

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The ice cream cookie flavor blends were perfect: they have chocolate chip cookies with mint chocolate chip ice cream; cranberry oatmeal cookies with vanilla bean (my favorite) and peanut butter cookies with banana ice cream.

I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise given the amazing reputation that Malarkey enjoys in this town, but LITERALLY everything they have is amazingly delicious.

This isn’t one of those places where you might drop in for a breakfast pastry because they have a good baker, but not come for lunch or dinner because other items aren’t as good.  Here, everything is good. You can tell that the chefs and employees there take food quality seriously and want you to experience the best. I’ll definitely be back!

Easy sourdough bread

Sourdough is one of my favorite types of bread ever, and I can’t believe it’s so easy!

If you don’t have your own sourdough starter, you can find instructions on how to make one here. But I got mine from a lady giving it away in a Facebook group post; and if you know anyone who makes their own bread, chances are very good that they have a sourdough starter to share with you.

It’s very simple: you start with this 8-oz jar of bubbly liquid. You can store it in the refrigerator, and once a week, you take it out and empty out half (4 oz.).

You can use this to give to a friend so they have starter, or you can use it for baking bread or a myriad of other sourdough things: muffins, biscuits, crackers, pizza dough, bread, English muffins, even sweet breads and muffins like blueberry or banana. Then you add 4 oz. of water and 4 oz. flour, and mix well. Now you have starter for next week.

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By the way, you can also keep your starter at room temperature and discard/feed it every day, but who has time for that?! That method is for people who have the time to bake a loaf of bread every day.

Here is a simple, quick bread baking method (no, really, this IS quick, most sourdough bread recipes require at least 12-24 hours for proofing and rising). You can make this in one evening after work or weekend morning/afternoon.

Easy Sourdough Bread

  • 4 3/4 cups bread flour*
  • 3 tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
  • 2 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast (0.25 oz.)
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 2 tbsp. softened butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. water

First, combine 1 cup of the flour with the salt, sugar and yeast, and mix well. Add the wet ingredients (sourdough starter, milk and butter) and once fully incorporated, slowly add the rest of the flour.

Turn dough out onto a flour-covered surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, then put it back into the mixing bowl (add a little oil first to prevent sticking). Cover and let the dough rise for about 1 hour.

After about an hour, punch down the dough and form into loaves (you can use traditional rectangular bread loaf pans, or form the dough into a ball and bake it in a round cake or pie pan). Let rise another hour.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, then sprinkle the egg wash (a large egg scrambled with 1 tbsp. water) on top of each loaf. Then bake another 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

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*Tip: You can totally use all-purpose flour for this recipe, and it will make a fine loaf of bread. But bread flour is much finer and softer, and will lead to a softer and better piece of bread.

There’s a great post to read about bread makers here.

Need more tips for your starter? Check out these tips and tricks on the King Arthur Flour blog.

Homemade Bacon – nitrate- and hassle-free

It seems weird, but homemade bacon is one of the easiest recipes I know – and now it’s one of my favorites.

Part of it is because I have a great smoker: it’s a Masterbuilt M7P, and it grills, smokes (both with charcoal or with propane), and has a few other attachments to allow for steaming, boiling, frying, and even campfire cooking.


But I digress. Point is, you need a smoker. You can get a good one for the same price you paid for that fancy grill you have in your backyard right now, and this can grill or smoke.

Once you have the equipment, the ingredients are relatively easy. For unflavored bacon, you only need a pork belly, kosher salt and brown sugar. If you want to flavor it, it’s pretty simple to do so. I’ll explain that later.

Pork bellies may or may not be hard to find: I live in San Diego, and after messing around the first few times I made bacon with going to a commissary (you need a friend in the military to take you shopping for that to work) and going to a fancy butcher shop (waaaay to expensive), I settled on buying my pork bellies from a local Korean grocery store. They are quite cheap ($5-$7 for about a pound and a half), and the bellies are already helpfully trimmed into lovely little blocks, just waiting to be cured and smoked.

Step 1: Once you get the belly home, place it in a large (gallon size) freezer bag, and add one cup brown sugar and two cups kosher salt. [Note: if this doesn’t coat your pork belly completely, add more of both sugar and salt, just make sure there is twice the amount of salt to sugar.] Make sure the salt and sugar is both completely mixed and completely coating the meat. Refrigerate.

Depending on the size of your pork belly, this curing process will take between 2-7 days (7 is for a really huge, dense piece of meat – most pork bellies will take between 3-5 days.) You will be able to tell the belly is cured when the freezer bag has liquid in the bottom and the meat is hard to the touch.

Step 2: Remove the meat and rinse the salt and sugar off, and put it on a clean plate.

Now is where you add flavoring if you desire; I recommend either coating the belly with cracked peppercorns, (real!) maple syrup, or even sriracha for a spicy bacon.


Step 3: Place the belly, on the plate, flavored if you like, with no cover or wrap, in your refrigerator. This will cause an invisible film to develop on the meat, which will act like a magnet for the smoke when you smoke the meat. Leave it this way for at least 12 hours (preferably overnight).

Remember you will need to soak your wood chips for smoking, too, so this would be a good time to put them on to soak!

hickory chips for smoking

The next day, remove from the refrigerator and let sit for about 20 minutes (just to bring it to room temperature) before smoking.

Step 4: Smoke it! Keep your smoker’s temperature between 200-300, and depending on the size and thickness of the meat, the smoking will take between 4-7 hours. 

Make sure you use a digital meat thermometer, or otherwise keep an eye on the internal temperature of your bacon. Once it reaches an internal temperature of 160, it’s ready, but feel free to smoke it longer to increase the wood-smoke flavor.

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Save or pin this recipe card for easy use!

Bacon recipe card