Mardi Gras and ShamROCK

Being a food blogger and influencer is a great gig in San Diego! Almost weekly there are amazing events for foodies, from tasting tours to brewery fairs to block parties.

Coming up on the 16th of March, there will be an amazing ShamROCK St. Patrick’s Day block party in the Gaslamp District in downtown San Diego. Last weekend there was a 20-restaurant food and cocktails tasting tour in the Gaslamp for Mardi Gras. And we even got to preview both parties last Monday!

The preview party was a three-stop tasting party; it started at the Dive, where we sampled banana whiskey and banana whiskey mules …

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.. then we moved on to the Smoking Gun, where we sampled Hurricane cocktails and these AAAHHHHmazing lemon pepper chicken drummettes.

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I think these may be the tastiest chicken legs I have ever had in my life (and that is  BOLD STATEMENT). They are topped with a housemade ranch dressing and a spicy, herby wing sauce.

Unfortunately, on the actual date of the Mardi Gras party, I planned to hit the Smoking Gun last, but they were out of chicken by the time I arrived. It was brutal. Luckily I managed to distract myself with lots of beads and posing for pictures with my friends.

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I told you this was brutal.

The preview party finished up with a fabulous whiskey and green beer-tasting at the Field … who also participated in the Mardi Gras tasting with this spicy and creative (but definitely not gumbo) “Irish Style Gumbo.”

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It wasn’t bad, but it would never fly in NOLA.

I think my favorite food item from the Mardi Gras tasting (since I was denied another chicken leg) was the blueberry and brie waffle from Brian’s 24. It was my first time at Brian’s, and I loved the waffle (not too sweet, and the brie was whipped and blended with the cream cheese) as well as the ’57 Chevy cocktail they were making fresh at the bar.

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Speaking of cocktails, Ambrose whiskey was a major sponsor, so almost all of the establishments participating in the tasting tour offered some sort of cocktail made with Ambrose banana whiskey. I am a huge fan of whiskey and whiskey mules, but I did not care for the banana flavor.

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I understand from the company rep that they hired a chemist or scientist to find out a way to make whiskey taste like bananas, yet only use natural ingredients. I am glad they managed to do this without anything artificial … but, why? You really hired a guy just to find a way to make whiskey taste bad? What did it ever do to you?

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Anyway, I will have to find a way to make a boozy banana shake or bananas foster to use this whiskey.

Obviously, since it was a Mardi Gras themed tasting tour, there was a lot of jambalaya, gumbo, and Cajun-spiced dishes. Among the best were the chicken and andouille sausage jambalaya (with a Hurricane) at Suckerfree:

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… or the Southern shrimp n grits from Tin Roof:

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… or the Cajun mac and cheese from Henry’s Pub:

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… and the chicken and sausage gumbo (and martinis) at the Dive:

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There were also some amazing fish dishes, like the ceviche (and jungle juice cocktail) from the Rockin Baja Lobster:

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… as well as this amazing ceviche de pescado and seco de res (rice dish) from Machu Piccu.

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This is the second time I have been to Machu Piccu for a tasting tour, and it is very tasty. The service is wonderful, too.

Are you psyched for the ShamROCK party yet? I will be giving away a pair of tickets to the greenest party of the year in the next week, so check back soon!

 

 

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Latin Food Fest 2018

What a weekend!

This Saturday I enjoyed an afternoon of Latin food and music from all over southern California, including tons of delicious wines and sangrias, and more than one type of tequila (hiccup). I got a little sunburned, but it’s a small price to pay to enjoy all the bites and drinks I want for three hours, while partying at the Embarcadero Marina Park.

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It was a beautiful day, and the sangria was flowing like … wine.

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Most of the vendors were drink companies, so the few that were food had pretty long lines. Luckily they were all delicious, so who can complain? I really loved the bacon-wrapped hot dog con todo (with everything)…

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… and the Sheraton’s sample of marinated pork loin, savory sourdough bread pudding, house salsa roja and pineapple mostarda:

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There were many other fine offerings, like this fancy short rib appetizer:

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… potatoes with three “Mojo sauces” from Driana (Chef Adriana from the Food Network):

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… this gorgeous ceviche …

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…this amazing beef tartare from Born and Raised

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and even this simple classic from Northgate Market: the humble carnitas street taco.

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Definitely some honorable mentions go to the Gallo Pinto (beans and rice)…

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… the Brazilian torta …

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and the Peruvian steak:

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The annual event is about $27-40 per person (depending on when you buy tickets) without VIP. The general admission lasts from noon-3 p.m., which is plenty of time to sample everything at least once.

I’ll definitely be back next year!

 

 

Herb and Eatery

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

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

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

Jars of goodness at Herb & Eatery

Jars of goodness at Herb & Eatery

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

Brian Malarkey

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

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

View of the pastries from the second floor

View of the pastries from the second floor

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

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

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

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

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And don’t forget the house-made kombucha.

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Speaking of croissants, YOU WANT THESE CROISSANTS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…  plus these beautiful sugar cane Thai chicken skewers:

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

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Aaaand ice cream cookies …

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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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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. 🙂