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:

poke

… 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:

brie

…  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!

Mason Jar Salads and Mason Jar Dressings

These Mason jar salads are all the rage nowadays, and I am happy to say, I made these before they were cool.

Nothing to it, really, just get all of your favorite salad fixings together, plus a few mason jars. I like to use the wide-mouth pint jars (Ball and other companies even have them in pretty colors), and if you can obtain a few reusable plastic lids (like these), that would be even better.

mason jar salad

I generally like to keep it simple, so I make the same salad for every day. You can obviously change it up so you can have a different salad every day.

Once you have all of your supplies and ingredients, there are only two rules:

  1. Keep the dry stuff dry.
  2. Keep the wet stuff wet.

So, start with the dressing. Fill each jar with a tablespoon or two of your favorite or chosen dressing.

Next, add other wet salad ingredients: fresh tomatoes, legumes, fruits, beans or corn, pre-cooked (and pre-cooled) pasta, avocados, feta cheese, tofu, hardboiled eggs, etc.

Then try to put a “barrier” like chickpeas, quinoa, cucumbers or beets, but if you can’t create a barrier, just make sure the layers cover the whole jar.

Put your greens (lettuce, romaine, spinach, kale, etc.) at the top along with anything else that needs to stay dry, like tortilla crisps or crispy bacon bits.

That’s it!

Now you have premade, healthy meals that are ready to go all week.

beforenaftersalad

Mason Jar Dressings

OK, so these aren’t popular (yet, anyway) but they should be. You know that jar of strawberry jam or raspberry preserves in your fridge that you never use? The one that has just enough that you can’t use it for anything else? What about that one jar of mustard that only has a few teaspoons left? Do you have a container of yogurt that you need to use before it goes bad?

Oh yeah. We’re using up your fridge leftovers with this one.

First, take that almost-empty jar out of the fridge. Shake it around a little. Make sure it isn’t filled with toast crumbs from the last time you used it. The contents of this jar will be your binder.

Next, determine what flavors go well with that binder. Raspberry or strawberry (or other berries) go well with balsamic or dark vinegars. Mustard – particularly spicy mustard – is best accented with white or white wine vinegar. Then add fresh or dried herbs.

Here are a few ideas to mix it up:

  • Berry jam/jelly  +    Balsamic vinegar       +   fresh rosemary or basil = Balsamic Berry Dressing
  • Greek yogurt      +     White wine vinegar   +  fresh dill and lemon = Creamy Dill Dressing
  • Dijon mustard    +     White vinegar +  fresh or dried oregano = Herby Mustard Dressing
  • Pure Honey    +    Apple Cider vinegar  +  sriracha and lime = Spicy Honey Vinaigrette
  • Greek yogurt  + cilantro, lime, hot sauce + fresh, mashed avocado  = Baja Goddess Dressing
  • Creamy peanut butter + soy sauce, rice vinegar + cilantro, ginger = Peanut Ginger Dressing
  • Fresh hummus + white vinegar + feta cheese and fresh basil/herbs = Greek Hummus Dressing

Once you have established the flavors and the binder, simply add a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and put the lid on the mason jar and shake vigorously until completely blended.

Baja Goddess Dressing

Baja Goddess Dressing

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.

meat thermometer

Save or pin this recipe card for easy use!

Bacon recipe card

 

Boochcraft takes San Diego’s brewery scene to new heights

For the last several years, San Diego county has been called “The Craft Beer Capital of America” due to its over 100 small breweries and brewpubs. From big guys like Karl Strauss to local favorites like Mission Brewing or Belching Beaver, it’s not hard to find great suds in our fair city. (Learn more about our local breweries and brew pubs here.)

Likewise, kombucha has had a great rise in popularity recently, as more and more people are getting into fermented foods and health foods …. Booch is one of the best (and tastiest) ways to get your probiotics and make your gut happy.

ginger lime boochcraft

The Boochcraft company combines the best of both worlds: a healthy probiotic with a boozy kick, made locally and sustainably. In just the last few months – they’ve been open for two years but the first bottles didn’t hit the stores until March 2016 – they’ve become one of the area’s fastest-growing breweries.

I met with Adam Hiner, the founder “and stuntman” for Boochcraft, and he told me about how his passion for the stuff has led him to so much success.

Hiner started out at the now-shuttered Local Habit in Hillcrest, where he was in charge of the kombucha brewing. He saw how people would line up to fill their growlers with his kombuchas, and realized he had to take it mainstream. “I saw the demand every day,” he said. “I talked to my partners and we made it happen.”

After sitting down with his friends to discuss business ideas, they decided to make their kombucha with an extra-high alcohol content to make it even more marketable. Once they finalized the best way to make healthy kombucha extra alcoholic, they inked a distribution deal with Stone Brewers, and San Diego culinary history was made.

kegs

Homemade kombucha usually has a very low alcohol content – between .5 and 1 percent. If you buy regular kombucha in a grocery store, expect it to be regulated — even though the alcohol content is minimal, any alcohol at all makes it the government’s business and they might ask for ID or stick an extra tax on it. Most grocery stores and health food stores carry a large selection of brands like GT’s, Synergy, KeVita and Celestial Seasonings.

Boochcraft, while it is starting to expand distribution to grocery stores, is sold like beer –  the variety of flavors are in the beer section of your local liquor store, fully sold alongside a selection of big bottles of IPA’s and stouts. Unlike GT’s and KeVita, Boochcraft’s alcohol content is 7%.

The "first ferment" - the tanks are covered with cloth to keep out insects and debris, but still allow the fermentation to occur.

The “first ferment” – the tanks are covered with cloth to keep out insects and debris, but still allow the fermentation to occur.

If you make kombucha at home, you can usually have something to drink within 2-3 weeks, and you can make it fairly easily with tea, sugar, and a SCOBY – generally there is a “first ferment” with tea and sugar, then a “second ferment” to make the booch extra bubbly. Because not all yeasts can tolerate kombucha and the process of making it, Boochcraft needs a few extra steps to make it extra boozy.

Boochcraft is made very similarly to how you’d make booch at home, except they add champagne yeast to the second ferment and let it ferment about 5-7 days extra. The total process – from purifying their own water to adding the fruit juices after the second ferment – takes about a month. The flavors are added at the very end, just before the kombucha is put into bottles and kegs for distribution. Right now there are four flavors of Boochcraft: ginger/ lime/ rosehips, watermelon/ mint/ chili, grape/ coriander/ anise, grapefruit/ heather/ hibiscus and tangerine/ turmeric/ ginger.

The tangerine flavor is a limited batch, but it will be coming back into production soon and will be back on the shelves in December or January. In the meantime, keep your eyes open for the new apple/ lime/ jasmine flavor, hitting stores later in October 2016.

Boochcraft still continues to grow – they’ve been producing all the booch they can, at full capacity, and this month will be expanding by almost 5 times. Get ready to see new flavors like apple/lime/jasmine, and some variety in alcohol content (as high as 10%!)

 

 

 

Winter Fruit Tart and Grilled Steak and Veggie Kebabs

This week, I and a few other San Diego-area food bloggers teamed up with Melissa’s Produce to come up with some fabulous new recipes using locally-grown winter produce.

Our challenge was to make a sweet and a savory dish, using Christmas Crunch seedless grapes, Korean pears, and Jeju mandarins, as well as Melissa’s pre-steamed and pre-prepared (totally ready-to-eat!) baby potatoes, baby beets, and chestnuts.

Korean pear, Christmas crunch grapes and Jeju mandarins

For the sweet dish, using all of those delicious fruits was pretty easy. The Christmas crunch grapes are really sweet, and the Korean pears are less sweet than their western cousins. So, I sliced the pears and cooked them in some clarified butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg before I put them in the finished product. As for the Jeju mandarins — they are so juicy and delicious, and almost too delicate for a tart — I juiced them and used the yummy mandarin juice to sweeten up the cream cheese filling!

The finished product really showcases the deliciousness of the fruits, and it’s not too sweet. It’s the perfect light dessert.

winter fruit tart

Winter Fruit Tart

  • 1 large Korean pear, sliced
  • 2 Jeju mandarins, juiced
  • 1 bunch of Christmas crunch seedless grapes
  • 5-6 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed and cut into squares
  • 5 tbsp. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 stick of butter, separated
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. nutmeg

First, prepare the phyllo dough. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and make sure your phyllo dough is ready to use (if you bought it frozen, make sure it’s thawed – or you can make your own dough using this really easy recipe). You can stuff the squares of dough into a (well-greased) muffin tin, and form cups, or you can simply lay the slices of dough on a baking sheet. Add a dab of butter to each cup or slice of dough, and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Then remove from the oven and let cool. Set aside.

*Note: I used phyllo dough because I prefer the dough to be a little crunchy, and I wanted the dough to bake into a hardened cup that I could fill with cream cheese and fruit. However, this recipe would work just as well with a puff pastry or other type of dough.

While the dough is in the oven, melt 2-3 tbsp. of butter in a skillet and add the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until the slices of pear are caramelized. Set aside.

caramelized pears

Mix the Jeju mandarin juice and softened cream cheese together in a bowl, and whip with a fork or whisk until there are no lumps. Set aside.

winter fruit tart cup

When the dough is cooked and has been cooled, fill each cup (or spread each baked piece of dough) with the cream cheese/ juice mixture. Then slices the grapes lengthwise, and arrange the grapes and slices of cooked pear on each cup or piece of dough.

winter fruit tart

You can prepare this up to a day ahead of time. Serve chilled.

winter fruit tart recipe card

***

For the savory part of my challenge, I had some of the items ready ahead of time, and luckily, the pre-prepared produce from Melissa’s made everything else really easy to cook.

A few weeks ago I scored some awesome eggplants, peppers and cucumbers, so I went a little crazy pickling things, including a lovely recipe for Lebanese pickled eggplant, from Linda Zeidrich’s book, “The Joy of Pickling.” (Here’s another adaptation of the recipe, but I highly recommend her book, if you do any pickling at all.) Traditionally, the Lebanese pickled eggplant is served with hummus, pita bread, and a myriad of side dishes or tapas, so I that’s how the idea was formed to use my pre-cooked produce for some tasty kebabs. Luckily the foods randomly selected for this challenge were perfect for roasting or grilling.

Normally I don’t go for pre-cooked produce, but I really love all of the options Melissa’s has for pre-steamed, pre-peeled and ready-to-eat vegetables. Check out all of the options offered on Melissa’s Produce Pinterest page.

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This was the hard part of the challenge … beets? Chestnuts?

The pre-steamed and pre-peeled potatoes were obviously ready to skewer and grill, but the chestnuts and beets?

I’ll be honest with you: beets are not my favorite thing to eat.

And, before this challenge, I had never eaten a chestnut (that I’m aware of) – in fact, I’d never even heard of them except in a Christmas song, which helpfully suggests roasting them.

Beets are also pretty tasty when roasted, and of course, so is a steak, so I thought a nice kebab would be the best way to showcase all of the flavors together. The final result was a really good combination of flavors. The chestnuts are a little difficult to keep on the skewers, so I used some in a pesto as well.

kebabs recipe card

grilled steak and veggie kabobs

Grilled Steak and Veggie Kebabs with Chestnut Pesto

  • 1 medium thick-cut New York steak, cut into chunks
  • 1 package steamed baby beets, cut into quarters
  • 1 package peeled and steamed chestnuts
  • 1 package peeled and steamed baby potatoes, halved or quartered if necessary
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more in a spray/spritz bottle
  • 1 tbsp. dried marjoram
  • 1 tbsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • wooden skewers (pre-soak before using!)

First, prepare the kabobs. Make sure your wooden skewers have soaked for at least several hours, or use metal skewers (you don’t want them to catch fire!). Arrange the pieces of steak, potatoes, beets and chestnuts on skewers, and season with salt and pepper, then spray with olive oil. Place on a pre-heated outdoor grill and cook for about 10 minutes on each side, until you can see grill marks on the food.

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Next, while the skewers are on the grill, prepare the chestnut pesto. Place the garlic cloves, cilantro, remaining chestnuts (there should be about a cup), plus the dried rosemary, marjoram, and salt and pepper into a chopper or food processor. Puree until smooth, and gradually drizzle in the olive oil. Set aside.

chestnut pesto

Finish up the kabobs by crumbling some fresh feta cheese on top and serving the pesto nearby.

steak/beet/potato/chestnut kabobs

I served my kabobs and pesto with all of my favorite munchies: hummus and pita chips, sliced cucumber and carrot sticks, homemade dilly tzatziki sauce, and lots of good cocktails.

kabob spread
I can’t wait to see what my fellow food blogger friends have come up with for this challenge. As usual, it was a mindbender, but eating the results is always fun!

I invite you to check out the other challenge recipes using Melissa’s Produce products here:

Disclaimer: Melissa’s Produce graciously provided most of the produce I used in this post, but no other financial consideration was given for my opinions or ideas.

Spicy Curtido and Cheesy Pupusas

Every once in a while, I stumble upon a recipe that makes me wonder why I had never heard of it before. I first heard of pupusas when I was searching for a recipe for curtido, which is a pickled or lightly fermented spicy cabbage slaw, and an international cousin to sauerkraut and kimchi, which I make often.

curtido

I found recipes for pupusas again when I was searching for ways to use this bag of masa flour I had left over from last weekend’s tamale party.

premade storebough masa dough

For the curtido to get spicy, make it at least a couple of days ahead of time. Start with a good, clean mason jar, preferably a large one. You can’t make too much of this stuff, trust me. You’ll be surprised how quickly it disappears.

I made my curtido as I started a few other pickling projects.

eggplant

I found a gorgeous bunch of tiny eggplants at the Korean market, and, along with a bag of small pickling cucumbers, a package each of jalapenos, habaneros, and Korean hot peppers, a head of green cabbage, a few carrots, onions, and heads of garlic, I consulted my trusty, well-read copy of Linda Ziedrich’s “The Joy of Pickling.”

pickle shelf

As a result, last week’s pickling shelf was a trip around the world: Puerto Rican pique (vinegar steeped in peppers, garlic, peppercorns, and salt); Lebanese stuffed eggplant (small eggplants sliced in half, stuffed with crushed garlic and spices, then pickled); Japanese-style cucumber and eggplant pickled with soy sauce and sake; and curtido, which is a delicacy of El Salvador.

Honestly, all of the recipes are pretty simple (as are most pickling recipes), and the curtido is also one of the fastest. It should be nice and spicy within 2-3 days on the shelf.

I based my recipe off of Linda Ziedrich’s as well as a few others– they’re basically all the same, but I left out the fresh onions. To my taste, the fresh-cut onions pack so much flavor, that it overpowers all of the other flavors mixing in there. I also add dried Mexican oregano, and let it sit on the shelf with an airlock cap while fermenting — and I ferment mine with vinegar. You can also ferment it without vinegar and it will take 5 days to two weeks.

curtido recipe card

Curtido

  • 1 head of green cabbage, thinly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, diced
  • 1/4 cup dried Mexican oregano
  • 7-8 hot peppers, diced (jalapeno, habanero, Thai chilis work well, or a mix)
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 3 tablespoons pickling salt
  • 2-3 cups white vinegar

Blend all of the chopped vegetables in a large bowl, and cover with salt and oregano. Using a large wooden spoon or a krautpounder, pound the vegetables until the salt has dissolved and the vegetables are coated. Add pineapple juice and mix thoroughly. Transfer everything to a large mason jar and fill the jar almost to the top with vinegar. Cover with an airlock cap and let it rest in a cool place for 2-3 days.

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Once it’s nice and spicy, the curtido is good for pretty much anything. It was a great accompaniment to all of the tamales we made before Thanksgiving … and, for that matter, it was good with my Thanksgiving leftovers, too.

I even ate it with some Chinese potstickers. You can’t go wrong with it.

However, they are traditionally eaten with pupusas, which are basically tiny handheld hot cornmeal sandwiches.

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I based my recipe off of this one from The Kitchn, but as I said, my masa was pre-made and store-bought. If you ask me, that’s the easier way to go when it comes to masa, whether it’s for tamales or anything else. Although it’s a good idea to mix in a few pats of cold butter to make the masa taste good.

040They’re very easy to make: I blended a pound of pre-made masa dough with a stick of cold butter, and formed it into little balls of dough. Then I made a hole in each ball of dough, filled it with cheese, then flattened the dough and fried it. That’s it! I made mine with two different kinds of delicious cheddar, but you can stuff them with any type of meat, cheese, beans or vegetables.

pupusas

 Pupusas

  • 1 lb premade masa dough
  • 1 stick of cold, salted butter
  • 3 cups grated cheddar cheese (I used half mild and half sharp cheddar)
  • salt, pepper, cayenne

Mix the dough and butter thoroughly (using clean, dry hands), and form the dough into balls (you should have about 12). Holding the ball of dough in one palm, poke a hole in the dough with your thumb, then hollow out a hole in the center. Fill the hole with grated cheese, and seal the hole again. Then flatten the dough. Make sure no cheese has escaped. When you have all of the pupusas ready, bring your cast-iron or other heavy-duty frying pan up to high heat and coat with vegetable oil. Fry each pupusa for about 4-5 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Once removed from heat, sprinkle each side with salt, pepper and a bit of cayenne. Serve with curtido.

pupusa with curtido

 

pupusas recipe card

Of course, now I see why these two go together so well. It’s like an awesome, handheld, spicy cheesy quesadilla, without all of the mess. The light crunch and spicy tang of the slaw is a perfect companion to the smooth cheese inside of a thick corn crust. When you give it a try, you’ll see.

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.

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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.

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