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!

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.

cookout 019
Homemade bacon is beyond compare.

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

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

homemade bacon
Make your own cleaner version of everyday foods

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

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

Fresh is best 

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

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

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

0salmon

 

5 sweet foodie gadgets you can’t live without

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

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

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

1) Everyone needs a slow cooker.

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

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

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

crock pot stew

2) Princess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sprouter

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

seed sprouts

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

sprouts
4) Farmcurious fermenting set

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

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

Since then I’ve made some amazing pickles …

fermented dill pickles

… and tepache …

tepache fermenting

… and now some peppers are fermenting for sriracha.

fermented red jalapenos

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

fermented spicy pears

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

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

parmesean kale chipsdried strawberries

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

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

 

The perfect cheese plate

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

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

cheese plate

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

mini cheese plate

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

1) Have a good selection.

Don't be afraid of the sample basket!

Don’t be afraid of the sample basket!

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

cheese selection

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

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

salted watermelon jelly and kokos gouda

salted watermelon jelly and kokos gouda

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

apples and gjetost cheese

apples and gjetost cheese

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

endive and spicy cheese dip

endive and spicy cheese dip

carrot marmalade and port wine-soaked cheese

carrot marmalade and port wine-soaked cheese

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

bacon jam and cheddar

bacon jam and cheddar

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

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

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

cheddar and strawberry tarragon conserve

cheddar and strawberry tarragon conserve

4) Be an artist about it.

cheese plate 2

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

cheese plate 3

cheese plate 4

October Unprocessed: Starts tomorrow!

Ok, it’s getting down to the wire here. All weekend, I have been trying to get rid of all of the processed foods in my kitchen, and working on a meal plan that will make the next 31 days go by a little easier … and I’ve discovered a little bit about my eating habits already.

For one, I eat a lot healthier than I assumed I did. Bar the occasional box of cookies that I am sure someone brought to my house and left behind, the vast majority of “processed” food I have is simply convenience food: pre-made, frozen meatballs and sausage (they’re just easier to toss into a pot of sauce or soup), frozen shrimp (probably not very processed, but I think they are injected with water and probably other preservatives), premade salad dressing (honestly, I don’t even know why I have this; my own dressing is unprocessed and superior in every way to this), and pasta sauce from a can (who has time to make sauce?) and condiments of every kind.

This weekend, I used up my premade salad dressing, frozen shrimp and Parmesan cheese for a Big-Ass Salad …

shrimp &  sunflower greens salad

… and used the sausage and meatballs, plus canned pasta sauce and more of that processed parmesan from a can, over some spaghetti squash. Awesome!

Secondly, as far as condiments, I think I have that covered. I have made my own ketchup (seriously, homemade curry ketchup is like the greatest thing in the world), my own mustard and relish, and my own habanero salsa. So I guess I am covered if I can find myself some unprocessed hot dogs (do those even exist?) and a big bag of unprocessed tortilla chips. I plan to make some more ketchup this week when I get my CSA box on Wednesday.

Thirdly … I am SO glad I signed up for a CSA box! I live in San Diego, so there are quite a few local farms, and most of them offer a version of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box from a local spot called Suzie’s Farm. It’s a good 45 minutes away from me, but I can pick up my box at the farmer’s market just two blocks away. 🙂

This week (well, on Wednesday), I will pick up my box, which this week, contains pea greens, kale, sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes, summer squash, melon, and Blue Hubbard squash. Based on the good stuff I get this week (but won’t actually pick up til the day after the October Unprocessed Challenge starts), I have tentatively written out my menu for the next week.

Here is my plan for the next 7 days … a few pointers. I am a huge fan of the leftovers-for-lunch. I am a single girl and it’s beautiful and rare to find a good recipe that is worth cooking that is only for one person. Almost everything I cook has leftovers, and taking what’s left from dinner to work the next day allows me to be sure what I’m eating, and, more importantly, to not be tempted by the office lunches, packed with who-knows-what. I also don’t usually eat a very big or filling breakfast, so most of my breakys will be a piece of fruit, an acai bowl or a smoothie.

Tuesday:

B: acai bowl

L: carrots & hummus

D: stir-fry veggies and rice

Wednesday:

B: smoothie

L: leftovers

D: roast pork tenderloin/ carrot fries baked with chimichurri / green beans

Thursday:

B: melon

L: leftovers

D: spaghetti squash baked with kale/ salad of sunflower greens and pea greens

Friday:

B: smoothie

L: leftovers

D: Autumn chuck roast and blue hubbard squash/ steamed green beans

Saturday:

B: banana and smoothie

L: leftovers

D: tuna/lemon/garbanzo bean/ kale salad

Sunday:

B: acai bowl

L: leftovers

D: sauerkraut/ bacon/ potato soup

Monday:

B: acai bowl

L: leftovers

D: stuffed baked sweet potato

What are your meal plans shaping up like for October? Please share!