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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Low Carb Chicken Tetrazzini – and a giveaway!

I really love the Del Real Foods company.

Two years ago, I participated in a recipe contest using Del Real products, and although I wasn’t one of the winners, they gave me a free trip to Los Angeles to film my very first recipe video! (If you haven’t checked out my awesome video, click here.)

In addition to Del Real just making great food  – authentic Mexican food that only requires heating – they are also a caring and thoughtful company. A few months after I filed the video, I began treatment for Stage 2 breast cancer, but Del Real Foods didn’t forget about me … they even sent me a huge box of free, delicious, easy-to-cook food! It was such a blessing to me to have healthy and tasty food that I didn’t have to spend precious energy cooking.

So in addition to being a great company that makes healthy food, they are also just good people.

Recently, I came home to this.

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Isn’t that a beautiful sight?

Yep, I knew right away that it was packed full of delicious Del Real food, but it also contained a cool lunch box, a sweet reusable shopping bag, a couple of water bottles and two awesome t-shirts. And the good people at Del Real Foods want to share the same box with one of my lucky readers!

But first, here is my favorite new recipe using Del Real Foods shredded chicken.

I first got the idea for this recipe from a video I saw on the Fit Men Cook Instagram page, where they used spaghetti squash and rotisserie chicken to create a low-carb (read: no pasta) chicken tetrazzini. I adapted this recipe to a) add Del Real pre-cooked shredded chicken, b) add red onion and “zoodles” (spiralized zucchini) to the spaghetti squash (for extra colors and flavors), and c) I cooked it all in little acorn squash bowls, just to make them adorable.

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Low-Carb Chicken Tetrazzini

(adapted from Fit Men Cook)

  • 1 package of Del Real shredded chicken;
  • Two acorn squashes, with the tops sliced off and the insides scooped out;
  • 1 spaghetti squash, sliced into rings
  • 1 zucchini, spiralized
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
  • 3/4 cup milk (can substitute coconut milk or other milk)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 panko or breadcrumbs (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. diced rosemary
  • 2 tbsp. dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp. parsley
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

First, slice the spaghetti squash into rings and remove the seeds inside. Lay each slice on a baking sheet (with a spray of olive oil) and bake for about 20 minutes at high heat. Let it cool; then you can easily remove the “spaghetti” on the inside.

(Note: unless you are using your spaghetti squash for a “boat” or something, this is probably the easiest and fastest way to prepare it. Save time and try it this way the next time you make spaghetti squash for anything!)

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Mix the squash, the zoodles, the herbs and half of the parmesan cheese, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, sauté the garlic and onion with olive oil and let cook until the onions are translucent. Add the milk, the cheese, and the chicken broth and let simmer until it thickens slightly.

Blend the squash mixture with the milk mixture, then add in the shredded chicken. Then fill the acorn squashes (or mason jars), cover with more parmesan cheese (and optional breadcrumbs) and bake at 300 for about 20 minutes until the cheese and crumbs form a crust on top.

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Note: This mixture is quite tasty by itself and can be used as a healthy side dish as well as baked in a large casserole dish for a party or large dinner. I decided to use mason jars and squash, mostly so I could use the mason jars for an easy lunch, but this recipe is totally adaptable.

Pin or save the recipe card here:

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Now, for the giveaway.

The Del Real Foods company has offered to let one of my lucky readers get this huge gift box full of food, t-shirts and water bottles, as well as this totally adorable lunch box and grocery bag. (I told you they were nice!)

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Here’s what the lucky winner will receive:

  • Two (2) Del Real Foods water bottles;
  • Two (2) Del Real Foods t-shirts (“Home is where the Tacos Are”);
  • One (1) Del Real Foods lunchbox with utensils;
  • One (1) Del Real Foods twine reusable grocery bag;
  • One variety pack of delicious Del Real Foods food products (actual products may vary)

(Note: when a winner is randomly selected, I will be contacting the winner for their mailing address. The box will be shipped to the winner by Del Real Foods.)

Click this link and enter as many options as you can to increase your chances of winning!

 

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!

Bar Basic is anything but Basic

I was invited to join a group of awesome San Diego food bloggers this week for a pizza party at Bar Basic in the East Village, and it was fantastic! Despite their name, the bar is anything but Basic … the drinks were well-made and strong (hello, Classic Mule!) and all of their pizzas were simple but packed a great punch.

We started off with (cocktails) and the BASIC Salad: a simple but very delicious mix of greens, sliced pears, candied walnuts and gorgonzola, tossed in Basic’s house made vinaigrette.

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I knew when I arrived that I had to try the “MASHED” pie – a white pizza with mozzarella, mashed potato and bacon. It sounds like carbs on top of carbs might not be a good idea, but it’s actually pretty small blobs of mashed potato alongside tangy cheese and smoky bacon, so it’s not as overwhelming as you might think.

I regret nothing.

I regret nothing.

We got one pie that was half Mashed and half “4 MAGGIO” also a white with mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, gorgonzola and basil. You guys know how I love cheese, so this was perfect – and the fresh basil on top was a perfect touch.

half Mashed, half 2 Maggio

My second favorite pie of the evening was the “SO MEATY,” a red pie with bacon, pepperoni, sausage, ricotta cheese and fresh basil. It definitely had a lot of meat, but contrary to the name, the meat wasn’t overwhelming or too greasy (which I find often happens with meaty pizzas).

SO MEATY

 

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.

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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