Chillin at Jimmy Carter’s

I think I have found my new favorite Mexican food spot, you guys. They’re authentic, they’re classy, and they’ve got lots and lots of soups. What more could you want?

This past week, I finally got to check out Jimmy Carter’s Mexican Café in the Hillcrest/Balboa Park neighborhood. It’s been there for decades, but I am behind; I know. I had no idea what a great place I was missing. The service isn’t just great; the servers treat you like you’re a guest in their home … because you practically are. Most of Jimmy’s employees have been working for him for decades. It is quite apparent that everyone there loves their jobs, and loves Jimmy himself.

The food is ALL homemade. It is ALL authentic. It is ALL Jimmy Carter approved. But for me, the best part is the soup list.

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Albondigas (meatball soup)

There are four soups that are on the permanent, daily menu – Creamy Black Bean, Chicken Tortilla, Albondigas, and Chicken Pozole.

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Green chicken pozole

There is menudo every weekend.

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But that’s not all! Every day, the chef picks 2-3 more soups to have on special that day (Check out Jimmy Carter’s Instagram page for daily special announcements). There are over two dozen rotating soups, from calabaza y elotes and caldo de res, to Mexican clam chowder and spicy pork guerrero.

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Chicken tortilla soup

Their soup list is INSANE. I managed to escape with their internal soup list, which details the ingredients and garnishes for each one.

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I mean, right?! And this is just the soup list.

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I’ll take one of each!

You could eat here every day for a month and never have the same meal twice. I love it!

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In addition to the albondigas and green chicken pozole, I also checked out some delicious wet tacos (above) and some mini quesadillas (below) stuffed with chicken and carnitas.

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I also would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about their sauces.

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Every item on the menu can be topped with one of their handmade and super-authentic spicy sauces.

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I got to try them all, and I think the Tlaquepaque is my favorite. I see why it’s the most popular … it’s creamy and spicy and good on literally everything.

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There is literally nothing I would not like to eat with this sauce, but Jimmy himself recommends the cheese enchiladas with this gorgeous stuff on top.

Don’t forget the drinks and dessert! In addition to a super-huge menu of authentic Mexican cuisine, Jimmy Carter’s offers a fun assortment of cocktails and other drinks. As you know, I recently discovered the beauty of the tequila mule for myself, so I sampled JCMC’s mezcal mule.

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Outstanding!

And, although I was definitely slowing down by this point (those soups were so good I was licking the bowl), I had to sneak in a few tastes of the coconut flan.

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All in all, I am so glad I finally visited. I will definitely be back to try more of those amazing soups and sauces.

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!

 

 

Toast of Gaslamp 2018

The holiday season got kicked off right here in downtown San Diego last weekend … most of the tasting walking tours you generally get tickets to in this town are small bites of food only, and the Toast of Gaslamp is one of the few where you get food AND cocktails.

I went to the event (after giving away a pair on my Instagram page) with an awesome foodie friend, because of course you need an awesome foodie friend for an event like this one. Luckily, most of the participating restaurants were on Fifth Avenue or very close.

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First, we were all supposed to dress in festive holiday outfits. In contrast to the previous few days when the weather was FREEZING (read: San Diego “freezing,” which is about 40 degrees), Saturday was sunny and warm. Definitely the weather you want when you are doing a walking tour, but not when you’re wearing festive winter hats.

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So, this cute ensemble didn’t last long. (By the way, these gorgeous purple couches are at Side Bar downtown, where we also enjoyed a lovely taste of a cauliflower tempura dish.)

I think my only complaint about this event (other than the weather, which is hardly anyone’s fault), is that the tasting ticket all the participants were given also said what the tastes and sips were, and some of them turned out to not be correct.

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For example, the first entry, American Junkie, supposedly offered chipotle bacon mac and cheese with BBQ pulled pork garnish (!!) and crispy rock shrimp. The mac and cheese unfortunately was not really there, but the shrimp with sweet aji Amarillo sauce was delicious, as was the watermelon mule.

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Because it was a holiday theme, lots of the food samples offered were sweets, like this gingerbread spread on plain bagels at Spill the Beans

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Or these delicious New Orleans-style beignets at The Dive

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I think one of my favorites was the chicken and waffle bite at Tin Roof, although their “Yule Mule” was a little too sweet for me.

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Although most of the non-dessert food samples turned out to be some sort of ceviche — luckily, all of them were quite delicious, especially the shrimp ceviche from Bar Vie and the house ceviche from Machu Picchu — there was also some ultra-smoky pulled pork and coleslaw from Gaslamp BBQ

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Stay tuned for more next year! 

High-alcohol Kombucha

It’s possible!

If you are like me, you are a huge fan of kombucha and all of its amazing healthy properties. But did you know that you can make your booch with the alcohol level of a good double IPA, and still retain those healthy vibes?

If you live in the southern California area, you are probably already familiar with Boochcraft. They make an amazing product. They have a few different varieties, but they all clock in at 7.0% alcohol.

 

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This past summer, I visited the Boochcraft brewery (here in San Diego county, along with a few thousand of the best breweries in the world), and learned a few tips to try to make it myself.

 

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After my trip to the Boochcraft brewery, I had to first invest in some supplies.

In addition to purchasing a SCOBY and a metric ton of pure cane sugar and black tea bags, I bought a 6.5-gallon brewing bucket with a spigot at the bottom (Trust me, that bottom spigot will come in handy later…):

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I also bought a 6-gallon clear plastic carboy for the second ferment.

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If you’ve never made your own kombucha before, it goes like this:

 

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  1. You obtain a SCOBY. That’s the funny-looking squishy thing at the top. It’s concentrated yeast and it’s what will give turns tea into kombucha. (You can obtain these online or get one from a friend who brews their own kombucha. It is also possible to grow one, but that takes a while).
  2. You brew strong black tea with a large amount of sugar in it. For one gallon, you will need 14 cups water, 1 cup sugar, and 8 tea bags. Brew it and let it cool, then add it to the liquid that comes with your SCOBY and place the SCOBY on top (it might sink a little, this is fine).
  3. Let it ferment for 5-7 days.
  4. Congratulations, you have now completed your first fermentation! Now for the second ferment (also known as 2F).
  5. Pour the kombucha into bottles and add fruit juices, or other sugar or flavoring.
  6. Let it ferment for another 3-5 days.
  7. Put it in the fridge and chill it, and it’s ready to drink!

This will make “regular” kombucha, which will have a negligible alcohol content or less than 0.5 percent.

To make your kombucha extra alcoholic, it only takes another step, another ingredient, and a bit more time.

Step one is the same. Obtain a SCOBY and brew your tea, and let it ferment for about a week. The difference comes in the second ferment.

Essentially, I placed my (pretty large) SCOBY in the bucket with about 5 gallons of brewed sweet tea (note: if you use a large bucket like I did, the SCOBY will expand to the size of the bucket!), then for the second ferment, I placed it in a large plastic carboy instead of glass bottles.

Don’t add any juices or extra flavors yet.

 

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To add extra alcohol, you need to add extra yeast and sugar to the existing ferment.

 

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For one gallon of kombucha, you will need one cup of water and one cup of sugar, Bring it to a boil, let it cool, then add between 1/2 -3/4 tsp. of champagne yeast.

After it starts to react (you will see lots of bubbles and/or foam), add it to the carboy filled with the partially-fermented kombucha.

You will also need to let it ferment for a few days (maybe even a week) longer than a standard 2F. I discovered that the best method is to use an airlock cap, and then when the mixture stops bubbling, it’s ready.

 

 

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Now it’s ready for you to test, flavor and enjoy!

Testing:

There are two different ways to test your home-brew:

  1. a triple-scale hydrometer, but this requires that you take a pre-fermentation reading and a post-fermentation reading to get an accurate percentage of alcohol content; or
  2. a refractometer, which is slightly more expensive but is very easy to use – after calibrating it, you simply put a drop of liquid on a slide and view it through the scope, and it tells you the alcohol content.

 

Grand Opening of Fresh Catch Fish Market and Grill

April 30 is the grand opening party of Fresh Catch Fish Market & Grill in Hillcrest – from 5:30 to 9:30 tonight, you can enjoy complimentary tastings and free wine.

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I got a sneak peek of a few of their specialties before the big event. The shop is full of fresh seafood offerings, right there in the window for your inspection when you walk in the door.

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The menu is deeper than it looks … every type of fresh seafood they offer is available in a salad, sandwich or plate … making a decision is really, really hard.

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But I managed. I seriously considered the oysters and the salmon burger, then waffled about a fish taco or some sea bass, when I finally settled on the shrimp mac and cheese.

 

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I did not regret my choice. The shrimp mac and cheese was just the way I would make it at home – big, meaty shrimp, a thick, yet delicate creamy cheese sauce, and extra crumbs on top – served in a perfectly adorable teeny-tiny cast-iron skillet. (You know I would totally do that part!)

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I also shared a salad of lump Blue Crab and shrimp.

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The night I visited, they offered three different varieties of ceviche … red snapper / jalapeno, octopus and shrimp.

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Fresh Catch Fish Market & Grill is located in the Hillcrest area, at 3650 5th Ave.

They’re open all day, but the event tonight is only from 5:30-9:30.

Homemade mustard – easy to make and suited to you!

Mustard is one of those amazing condiments that can be switched up and adapted to your personal tastes and favorite flavors. Maybe you like a sweet honey mustard. Maybe you prefer a spicy pepper or horseradish. Maybe you’d rather have a milder, herby mustard. Well, all of them are super easy to make — and these are all delicious variations of a similar recipe.

I adapted Local Kitchen’s recipe for Roasted Garlic and Lemon Mustard, only I substituted garlic smoked over pecan wood chips instead of roasted garlic. Then I realized that the recipe could also be adapted to be spicier — with smoked jalapenos — and milder — with dill and extra lemon. All three versions were amazing!

Smoked Garlic and Lemon Mustard

(also see variations below for Smoked Jalapeno Mustard and Dill-Lemon Mustard)

  • 4 heads of garlic
  • 1 cup mustard seeds (dark or yellow, or a mix of both)
  • 1 1/2-2 cups white wine
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup good honey
  • juice from 2 lemons
  • kosher salt
  • olive oil, salt and pepper, for smoking the garlic
  • mustard powder and/ or garlic powder

First, either the night before or a few hours before, place 1 cup of mustard seeds in a jar or glass and cover with white wine  — at least a cup. After just a couple of hours (it’s actually surprisingly fast), the mustard seeds will absorb the wine, soften, and puff up a little. The longer you let the seeds marinate, the more flavor you will infuse, but honestly a couple of hours does the trick just fine.

I set the seeds to marinate, waited about an hour, then smoked the garlic and jalapenos. I clean the garlic heads and peel off the outermost papery layer, then sprinkle salt and pepper and drizzle a little olive oil on each head. Then wrap loosely in foil (you do want the smoke to get in there) and smoke over soaked wood chips at 150-200 degrees for about 2 hours, give or take 20 minutes. I smoked my garlic heads at the same time as a boneless turkey breast, and they were ready at almost exactly the same time.

Once the garlic is cool enough to handle with your clean, bare hands, the cloves will pop out very easily and will be deliciously fragrant and a little soft and gooey.

If you think I didn’t stuff one of these into my face standing there at my kitchen counter, you are sorely mistaken.

This mustard I wanted to be fairly grainy and chunky, so instead of pureeing the marinated seeds and garlic in a food processor like the Local Kitchen guru did, I left half of the seeds whole (but softened) and the other half, I ground by hand with a mortar and pestle. 

Then all of the garlic and mustard went into a pot on the stove, where I added the lemon juice and honey, and then (SLOWLY) added vinegar and wine until it was at the desired consistency. You might not need all of the vinegar and wine specified above, so pour it slowly — remember you can always add more, but once you add it, you can’t take it away. Make it a little thinner than you want the final product to be, because it will thicken upon cooling.

At this point, you want to taste the mustard, and if necessary, add more mustard powder or more garlic powder to even out the flavors and make it how you like it. Once it’s perfect, ladle it into hot, sterilized jars and seal in a water bath for 20 minutes. The total yield was two 8-oz. jars and nine 4-oz jars. Not bad!

* Smoked Jalapeno Mustard: Substitute jalapenos for garlic — smoke them in the same fashion, and chop the finished peppers very finely. Remember the heat is in the seeds and the ribs inside of the jalapeno, so if you scrape them out, you will get the smoky and peppery flavor without the heat.

I diced three jalapenos and scraped the seeds out of two of them, so mine was perhaps a 4 on a scale of 1-10. You can keep in all of the seeds and have a nice spicy mustard. Also, for this variation, I totally pureed the jalapenos and the mustard seeds instead of hand-grinding them; and I used apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar.

* Dill-Lemon Mustard: Add 1/2 cup of dried dill (or 1/4 cup of fresh, chopped dill) to the mustard seeds as they are soaking in wine, and add an extra cup of lemon juice to the total. It’s very mild (compared to the other two) and it tastes fresh and citrusy!

A taste of class on a budget: homemade paté

Paté is one of those dishes that people assume is difficult to make, exotic to taste, expensive to buy and luxurious to afford. But it doesn’t have to be! With a little work and the right tools (a smoker and a food processor), you can make a delicious paté for a great price.

I am lucky enough to have scored an invitation to a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, and since my help was not needed for making the turkey (although I make a nice juicy bird, if I do say so myself) or any other cornerstones of the holiday meal, I volunteered to make a cheese plate for an appetizer, including fancy cheese, cold cuts, homemade paté and sweet pickles. The cheese was storebought, but even the homemade parts of this plate were awfully easy to make.

For the pickles, I used this basic pickling spice and recipe, only obviously I used a variety of fresh veggies, and I also added a little star anise and clove for a little sweetness.

The paté was very easy to make  – although nothing is as easy as making refrigerator pickles:

Smoked Chicken Liver Paté

  • about 2 lbs. of chicken livers, trimmed
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves fresh or roasted garlic
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • fresh herbs (I used rosemary)
  • Worchestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper

I got two pounds of chicken livers (they’re so cheap, just over $1 each) and seasoned them with Worchestershire sauce and some seasoned salt and pepper. Keep in mind that this recipe works just as well with any type of liver — even the one from your Thanksgiving turkey.

I put the livers on my smoker, and I used wood chips made from the oak barrels they use for aging Tabasco sauce. It added a lovely-scented smoke to the livers (although feel free to use your favorite type of wood chips and your own favorite seasoning). You may also want to smoke some garlic at the same time, or roast it in your oven, just to kick it up another notch.

After smoking for about an hour at 200 degrees, the livers should be no longer pink (although a tiny bit of pink is OK). Make sure they cool completely — you can even do the smoking a day or two before.

First, chop the garlic and onion as finely as possible (not necessary if you have roasted or smoked the garlic), or grate them into the food processor. Then blend them in the food processor with the fresh herbs and 3 tbsp. butter. Pulse the mixture a few times to make sure the onion and garlic is as paste-like as possible — no one wants a big chunk of fresh garlic in their paté! Add the livers and pulse the mixture a few times to get the livers broken down as well, then slowly pour the cup of white wine into the food processor until the mixture is your desired consistency (you may not need it all).

I like my paté a little on the thin side, just thick enough that it will hold to a piece of bread or a cracker. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I served this as part of an epic Thanksgiving cheese plate with those pickles, lots of delicious cheeses and cold cuts — if you’re in southern California check out my friends at Venissimo CheeseThen, for dessert I cooked a wheel of brie on a cedar plank with roasted cherry/jalapeno jam. This is the “before” photo — and there isn’t an “after” photo because it pretty much disappeared within a few minutes.