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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Easy Yellow Curry with Clouded Judgement IPA

I’ve been cooking up a storm in my new Instant Pot … it makes dishes with that slow-cooked flavor in a fraction of the time!

I was asked by Bitter Brothers Brewing Company to help them create a delicious yellow curry recipe that would pair with their new Clouded Judgement IPA, so I figured my Instant Pot was up to the job!

By the way, I also have instructions at the end of this post on how to make this without an Instant Pot in your slow cooker … but you should really get an IP if you’re able. They are so awesome.

This is my favorite kind of curry or stew – lots of chunky, fresh vegetables, lots of meat and lots of flavor. I use fresh kale and mushrooms in addition to more hearty chunks of onion, carrot and baby corn, but feel free to substitute your favorite hearty greens (chard or mustard greens would be great in this dish).

You can also omit the chicken, and replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock, to make this dish vegetarian or vegan. It’s also gluten-free and paleo/keto friendly (without the beer pairing, of course).

Speaking of beer, this delicious IPA is what they call a “hazy” IPA – which are minimally filtered, if not totally unfiltered. They also often have a distinct citrus flavor, almost like a Hefeweizen. The Clouded Judgement IPA is one of Bitter Brothers’ anniversary beers, and has a great citrusy flavor as well as (not surprisingly) a slightly bitter aftertaste.

It’s perfect to wash down a slightly spicy, chunky curry!

This recipe is fragrant and rich and spicy – but it’s not hot, unless you add the optional chili-garlic paste. I think all of the spices together, as well as the heaviness of the chicken and kale and the slightly sweet creaminess of the coconut milk, come together to pair perfectly with the hoppy haziness of the Clouded Judgement IPA.

Yellow Curry and Clouded Judgement IPA

Easy Yellow (Instant Pot) Curry

(yields approx. 5 servings)

  • 1-1 1/2 lbs chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 10-12 large mushrooms (whole or cut in half)
  • 4-5 stalks red kale, roughly chopped
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 tbsp. ginger paste
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 2 tsp. turmeric
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 can of baby corn
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp. chili-garlic sauce (optional)
  • Cooked rice (or zucchini noodles for a low-carb alternative)

Put your Instant Pot on the “Sautee” setting and let it warm up. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, chicken, and kale to the pot, and stir slowly until the chicken gets brown and the kale and onion starts to wilt.

Add the rest of the spices and make sure everything is evenly coated. (If you are adding chili-garlic sauce for extra heat, add it at this time.)

Chili-Garlic sauce is awesome but optional!

After the vegetables are slightly wilted and the chicken has browned (approx. 10 minutes), turn off the Instant Pot and add the chicken stock, the mushrooms and the baby corn.

Put your Instant Pot on the “Pressure” setting for 10 minutes, with the steam valve closed. After the time is up, allow the pressure to release naturally (which should take about another 5-10 minutes). Add the coconut milk and mix well. Serve immediately over rice or zucchini noodles.

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Slow-Cooker Directions:

Warm a large saucepan with olive oil or coconut oil. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, chicken, and kale, and stir slowly until the chicken gets brown and the kale and onion starts to wilt. Add the rest of the spices and make sure everything is evenly coated. (If you are adding chili-garlic sauce for extra heat, add it at this time.)

After the vegetables are slightly wilted and the chicken has browned (approx. 10 minutes), remove from heat and place all of the ingredients into the slow cooker. Add the chicken stock, the mushrooms and the baby corn.

Set on the “low” setting and simmer for 6-8 hours (or more). Add the coconut milk and mix well. Serve immediately over rice.

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.

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.

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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:

thai sugar cane chicken skewers

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!

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

Chocolate-Cranberry Smoothies

Honestly, I don’t know why more people don’t use cranberries in their smoothies. You know the huge bags you see in the grocery stores with frozen berries of all types, all ready to be tossed into a blender? All you really need are some cranberries and a ripe banana.

Berries

Cranberries have huge amounts of Vitamin C, Vitamin E and fiber, which lead to amazing anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant (and even anti-cancer!) properties. They also have a deliciously tangy flavor that goes great with chocolate.

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This is my second recipe post for the Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries – the first was my last post about how to make simple Larabar knockoffs with cranberries and just two other ingredients. I really enjoyed coming up with new cranberry recipes … and eating my mistakes. 🙂

I encourage you to check out the great recipes and other goodies on Cape Cod Select’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest; and if you can’t find them in your local grocery store, check out the store locator here.

For this simple recipe, you take a handful of Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries, plus a frozen or ripe banana and milk. I also add chocolate-flavored protein powder (I enjoy the Orgain brand powder in chocolate fudge flavor for this recipe, but use your favorite brand), and either some raw hemp hearts or chia seeds for extra thickness and fiber.

 

Chocolate-Cranberry Smoothies

  • 1 handful (about 1/2 cup) of Cape Cod Select Premium Frozen Cranberries
  • 2 scoops of chocolate protein shake mix
  • 1 tbsp. hemp hearts or chia seeds
  • 1 ripe or frozen banana
  • 2 cups milk or almond milk

chocolate cranberry smoothie

If you’re on the go and don’t have a fancy travel cup, remember that mason jars (with plastic, re-usable lids) are an excellent way to reduce waste!

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recipe-card-smoothie

Discover more here.

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.

sourdough starter

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.

sourdough bread

*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.

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.

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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