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.

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Instant Pot Love – How to make yogurt, cheesecake, meatloaf and more

Do you have an Instant Pot yet?

It was apparently the hottest gift for the 2017 holiday season, so if you’re like me, someone who loves you bought you one of these babies.

Happy Holidays to me!

It’s really an amazing machine.

It’s a pressure cooker – but not one of those old and clunky ones that your grandmother used to have that made horrible noises and looked like it might explode at any moment.

This is a computerized cooking machine that is smart enough to remember your past settings and cook everything from hardboiled eggs to cheesecake to BBQ ribs.

After using this machine for a few weeks, I was able to happily donate my old slow cooker (because the IP has a slow cooker setting that doesn’t involve pressurization), my rice cooker (it makes all rice, quinoa, oatmeal, and any other type of grains in half the time of the best rice cooker on the market), and my yogurt maker.

Yogurt

Speaking of yogurt, you can literally make a ton of it at the touch of a button. I recommend setting it up before you go to bed at night, and you’ll wake up to yogurt!

All it requires is:

  • a gallon of milk,
  • a small container of plain yogurt (approx. 6 oz.), and
  • a 5 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk.

Put it on the “Yogurt” setting for 10 hours (or more) and then refrigerate.

That’s it.

Six quarts of homemade Greek yogurt.

That yields 6 quarts of yogurt.

Wow!

Adapting Your Favorites to the IP

My first experiment with this machine was for a tagine recipe … one of my favorite Moroccan dishes with chicken, chicken livers, green olives, preserved lemons, and other veggies.

Instead of slow cooking this for 8-9 hours, or on the stovetop in a fancy tagine clay pot, I simply placed all the ingredients in the Instant Pot and pressure-cooked it for 25 minutes.

Instant Pot Moroccan chicken

I have to admit, I was still a little nervous. Would that be enough time to cook chicken? And to make sure all of the flavors were properly cooked in to the meat?

To my pleased surprise, it turned out beautifully. If you are trying to adapt your favorite recipes to the Instant Pot, check out this link.

I think the most important thing when adapting is to check the pressure release – a “quick release” of the pressure will let the steam escape right away and are for recipes that are not generally slow-cooked (see, for example, the meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe, below).

For a recipe like this chicken where you want the flavors to be infused into every bite, you will want to do a “natural release” method after the cooking time is over. It takes a few extra minutes, but it’s worth it. And it’s still ready to eat in a fraction of the time.

Sweet Dishes

One of the first rookie mistakes of the Instant Pot is to neglect the sealing ring. The IP comes with a clear ring that fits on the inside of the pressurized lid.

At the very least, you need to make sure the sealing ring is cleaned after every use, or the flavors from whatever you cook will stick to the ring and get into everything you cook later.

If you intend to use your Instant Pot for savory dishes (chicken, ribs, eggs) as well as sweet dishes (cheesecakes and desserts), then the first thing you need to do is buy at least one extra sealing ring. I got a pair of them on Amazon.

Now I only use the red sealing ring for desserts and sweet dishes.

I also purchased a springform pan that fits inside a 6-quart Instant Pot, and I can use this for cheesecakes and other desserts as well as lasagna.

Cheesecake

I made a couple of different types of cheesecake to see how well it worked. Basically, you can make the crust however you like (crushed cookies with melted butter, or even a brownie that is only partially baked in the oven).

Oreo crust!

Then the filling recipe is simple:

  • 4 8-oz. packages of cream cheese
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

The most important thing to remember is that the cream cheese and eggs MUST be at room temperature. If not, they will not blend properly and will result in a lumpy cheesecake. Make sure all ingredients are blended and smooth, then pour into your springform pan.

Cook on the (high) pressure setting for 45 minutes, and use the natural release method (which will take about another 10-15 minutes).

Let it cool and garnish with your favorite toppings.

Oreo cheesecake with berries.

This is one of my favorite recipes because it’s so easily adaptable. Try it with lots of different crusts and/or toppings!

Turtle cheesecake with brownie crust

I have tried similar recipes in the oven before, and I even made some in the oven while I was making some in the Instant Pot, just so I could see the difference in flavor and texture. The pressure cooking makes the filling much softer and lighter!

Food parties

During my first couple of weeks with the Instant Pot, I organized a few friends for a tamale party.

If you’ve never been to one, it’s basically a fun way to make a party out of something that can be pretty boring and tedious – making tamales.

Tamales are a popular dish around the holiday season, especially in the southwestern United States and Mexico. They are delicious concoctions of many types of fillings and masa (corn) dough stuffed into corn husks and steamed.

They are also a giant pain to make. Hence, a party.

Tamale party setup

Instead of spending hours doing all the work yourself, you get a few friends, everyone brings fillings and masa dough and corn husks (as well as a few bottles of wine and snacks to sustain you for a long afternoon), and everyone makes a bunch of tamales.

It’s a little bit of work, but everyone goes home with tons of tamales to eat (or freeze for later).

Tons of tamales. Literally.

As you can imagine, the Instant Pot made a ton of work a little easier.

The night before the party, I used my Instant Pot to make a vegetarian filling … literally a variety of vegetables and spices simmered for a few hours. Except that it literally took less than 20 minutes on the pressure setting. It took me longer to chop all of the veggies than it did for me to make a huge amount of delicious vegetarian filling.

Vegetarian tamale filling

I also made a chicken verde filling – literally a few boneless chicken thighs and a big can of salsa verde – that was ready in half an hour.

Saving the day at the tamale party

And, of course, tamales need to be cooked, too; and that usually takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours in standard steamer pot. But I actually brought my Instant Pot with me to the party (did I mention it’s very portable and has a handy handle on top?) and was able to steam a few batches right on the spot.

A full pot (I have a 6-quart) stuffed full of tamales steamed each one beautifully in 30-35 minutes. (Do a quick release afterwards.)

Weeknight Meals

Because the Instant Pot can make short work out of many dishes that would otherwise take hours and hours, it’s perfect for weeknight meals and holiday dinners.

For Christmas dinner I used it to make Brussels sprouts (in 3 minutes!); and for New Year’s, I made black-eyed peas and greens, a delicious Southern New Year’s Day tradition to bring good luck in the new year.

Usually it simmers in my slow cooker for 24 hours. This year, I made it in 35 minutes – from dried beans!

Black-eyed peas and greens for New Year’s Day.

Which brings me to another awesome feature of the Instant Pot – it’s multi-functionality! Although most recipes use the “pressure” setting, there is also an equally awesome “sauté” setting.

For example, before, when I made black-eyed peas in my crock pot, I would brown the onions and garlic and whatnot before adding them to the slow cooker.

With the Instant Pot, you can sauté the veggies, then add the rest of your ingredients and switch the setting to pressure to complete the dish! It saves tons of time in washing multiple pots and pans, not to mention that you are cooking the food in a fraction of the time.

Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes

The meatloaf and mashed potatoes recipe from I Wash, You Dry is definitely going to be a weeknight supper regular for me. It’s so easy!

Meatloaf and mashed potatoes AT THE SAME TIME!

You place the potatoes and chicken broth at the bottom, then put the wire rack over the potatoes and place the foil-wrapped meatloaf on top. You can even cook a vegetable side dish in there, too.

Meatloaf and potatoes dinner

With only 25 minutes on pressure, and quick release, you can have a delicious dinner on the table in no time.

Sous Vide Eggs and Meal Planning

I usually eat breakfast on the go, and it’s hard to do that and stay healthy sometimes. Luckily, the Instant Pot is also great  for meal prep.

This is another cool Instant Pot accessory … a silicone mold. The Amazon listing says it’s for baby food and egg bites, among other things, but I use it mostly for eggs.

Sous vide egg bites

The most important thing to remember here is to not fill the cups all the way. I made that mistake my first time, and the egg mixture expanded and almost popped out of the container!

Ah well. They still tasted good!

This is a really great way to prepare an easy and healthy breakfast.

You can customize the flavorings (and control the salt and fat, etc.), and make a whole pan of these in less than half an hour – 8 minutes of pressure cooking (which means it will take a moment to get to the appropriate pressure) and then 10 minutes to let the steam naturally release.

The result is a pan of delicious and super-fluffy egg bites you can eat all week long.

Coming soon

In addition to some fun and useful Instant Pot accessories, I treated myself to a new cookbook, too!

I really adore Indian food, and I can’t wait to experience how much easier it is to make at home with the Instant Pot!

Coming up soon on Starbright’s Kitchen!

Please stay tuned to Starbrightskitchen.com to see the creations from Urvashi Pitre’s Indian Instant Pot Cookbook!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

pastries and kombucha

And don’t forget the house-made kombucha.

pastries

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.

croissant

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.

mushroom baked eggs

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

baked egg with tomato

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.

curry chicken salad

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

banh mi

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

tuna melt

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:

thai sugar cane chicken skewers

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

root fries

Aaaand ice cream cookies …

ice cream cookies

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!

The Franken-Cookie

  • Sometimes, you just can’t decide. I was recently at home with a sweet tooth and a pantry full of goodies, and I couldn’t decide if I wanted an oatmeal cookie, a peanut butter cookie, or a chocolate chip cookie. I mean, who can choose?

So I created the Frankencookie. The best parts of all three cookies, rolled into one giant, soft, sweet — and not drastically unhealthy — snack.

Frankencookie

The Franken-Cookie

(makes about a dozen large cookies or 16-18 small ones)

  • 3 cups oatmeal, quick-cooking or old-fashioned
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325. Mix together the oatmeal, flour, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Slowly add the coconut oil, peanut butter, eggs and honey, and mix well until completely blended. Then add the coconut and chocolate chips (and the walnuts if you are choosing that option).

Form the dough into balls (makes about 12 large cookies or about 18 small ones) and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Frankencookies

Thanks to coconut oil instead of butter or oil, and brown sugar and honey instead of granulated white sugar, this is even a *relatively* healthy cookie.

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recipe card - Frankencookie

Easy and healthy Cranberry-Date Bars

I don’t know about you guys, but the “cherry pie” Larabars are one of my favorite go-to snacks. I was recently checking out the package, and noticed this:

cherry pie larabars

That’s right! In addition to being raw, paleo, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, kosher, dairy-free and soy-free, it only has three ingredients!

This year, I entered the Cape Cod Select Blogger Challenge, to join fellow food bloggers in creating some delicious new recipes starring Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries.

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I decided to make these “cherry pie” bars with cranberries instead of cherries. These are easy to make, really healthy and unprocessed, and YUMMY. I also added a touch of honey and cinnamon to counteract some of the tartness of the cranberries.

cape cod select premium cranberries

First, the ingredients. I know there are only three, but they’re important.

The Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries come frozen, so remove the bag from the freezer a few hours prior to making these. Then they’ll be easier to chop into small pieces.

I purchased this package of date paste, or baking dates:

baking dates

Just be sure to check the ingredients. If it says anything other than “dates,” buy something else. No additives are needed. Dates are naturally very sweet, so you don’t want anything with added sugars or oils.

If you can’t find date paste locally (I found it at my local Indian/Asian market), try purchasing it online. If you would rather make it from scratch, try this recipe.

As far as the almonds, the easiest way is to buy a package of the sliced almonds, and then break them up in the bag before you add them to the cranberries and dates.

  • 1 16-oz package of Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries, defrosted and diced
  • 1 10-oz bag of sliced almonds, crushed into very small pieces
  • 1 13-oz package of date paste (see note above)
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. honey

Step 1: Make sure all ingredients are as small as possible. Dice the cranberries, crush the almond slices, and make sure the date paste is smooth. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and blend completely.

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At this point, try to squeeze out as much excess juice as possible.

Step 2: Transfer to deep-dish baking pan and make sure it is packed in tightly. Bake on the lowest setting in your oven for approx. 2 hours.

Note: Fresh-frozen cranberries are naturally much juicier than dried cherries, so you have a couple of options to dry the bars. If you have a dehydrator, you can also dehydrate then for 3-5 hours on the high setting.

bars on the dehydrator

Step 3: Wrap each bar individually. Keep chilled.

cranberry date bars

Save or Pin the recipe card for easy use:

recipe-card-cdabars

Learn more about Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries:

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Store Locator: http://www.capecodselect.com/store-locator/

 

Caramelized Banana Brioche French Toast

Caramelized Banana Brioche French Toast seems like it would be tricky and time-consuming, but luckily, it’s not. Unless you are making these for an army – which you could if you wanted to – they only take a few minutes. This simple recipe is for one, and takes as much time in the morning as a bowl of oatmeal.

I got the idea for a simple caramelized banana sauce from a recipe for caramelized banana pancake squares, from the new release, “The 8×8 Cookbook” by Kathy Strahs. Check out my review of “The 8×8 Cookbook” here and pick up a copy of the cookbook, too.

banana brioche french toast
This is also a great way to use up ripe bananas and slightly-stale bread, but if you can help it, don’t use any bread other than a thickly-sliced brioche bread.

If you’re in San Diego, like me, get it from Cardamom Cafe and Bakery. Trust me; you wont be disappointed.

brioche slice

Caramelized Banana Brioche French Toast

(one serving)

  • 2 thick slices of Brioche bread
  • 3 large eggs
  • a splash of milk
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 ripe banana, sliced
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 5-6 tablespoons butter
  • powdered sugar for serving

Scramble the eggs and add the milk and cinnamon. Place each slice of bread into the egg mixture and let sit for at least a minute on each side so the bread soaks up all of the egg mixture.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of butter in a pan and fry each piece of bread for about 3-4 minutes on each side. While the bread is cooking, put 2 tbsp. of butter in a separate saucepan with the banana slices facedown. Let the banana slices cook for about a minute in the butter to brown them slightly, then add the brown sugar.

Pour the hot banana and brown sugar mixture over the french toast slices, and serve immediately with a dusting of powdered sugar.

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french toast recipe card

Win Every Night with the 8×8 Cookbook

I’ve been cooking my way through this new cookbook, and it’s fantastic!

Kathy Strahs has taken the concept of simple baked dishes to another level with the 8×8 Cookbook – not just boring timesavers, but real tips for elevating simple dishes into impressive works of art. There are a million cookbooks out there about using baking dishes, but this one has real-life experience.

8x8 cookbook

First, I tried out the caramelized banana pancake squares. These are really easy, and the “self-saucing” technique Kathy uses makes the fresh pancake squares really impressive and delicious. This is what I mean by a simple technique for elevating a simple dish — everyone loves a banana pancake, but caramelizing the bananas in some brown sugar and butter first adds another depth of flavor to the dish, and it’s just as easy as making a pancake.

caramalized bananas

These would be so much fun to make with kids as a fun weekend breakfast, and I will totally have to make the next time I have a brunch or go to a daytime potluck. Aren’t they cute?

caramalized banana pancake squares

Then I made the roasted cod with gremolata and lemony orzo. This is a really simple and classy dish you can make for your sweetheart or for your whole family. You only need a few simple ingredients, and again, a simple technique — in this case, adding lemon zest to the boiling water when you parboil the orzo — adds another level of flavor that makes it better than your average weeknight baked dish.

roasted cod with lemony orzo and gremolata

The Boursin baked mashed potatoes were next – not the most photogenic dish, but definitely one of the best – a simple cheesy mashed potato recipe, kicked up by creaming the potatoes, adding extra butter, and baking in a hot, hot oven.

I couldn’t get away with a cookbook review without trying at least one of the desserts! The chocolate craving cake (shown here without the accompanying frosting recipe) was really rich and chocolatey. I totally want to make this again and experiment with different frosting toppings — but the fancy technique in this recipe makes it so moist, you hardly need any!

chocolate craving cake

I first encountered Kathy’s work in “The Ultimate Panini Press Cookbook,” and “The 8×8 Cookbook” is a perfect follow-up. I can’t wait to see what amazing tips she has in store for her next book.