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! 

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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.

Paradise in a sip and a taste

My first guest post! My fellow Tennessee State University alumna Stacey Diltz is the President and CEO of StaceyWines.com, and a resident expert on the most delicious and popular wines. She was kind enough to let us in on her favorite new pairing!

Frost Bitten Ice Riesling

At a recent Food & Wine experience in Atlanta, I discovered paradise … in a sip and a taste.  

I am not usually a fan of creamy cheese, or as I used to call it, “soft cheese.” But as my palate developed in wine appreciation, so did my palate in cuisine. Frost Bitten Ice Riesling is made in the style of an ice wine with a hint of acidity that is common amongst Rieslings; but Ice Wine is a bit sweeter due to crushing the grapes after they are frozen. Soft cheese and a sweet icy wine are a perfect pair.

 

The sweetness and acidity matched perfectly with Secret Des Lys cheese and Epoisses cheese from French Cheese Club umbrella and also the Le Roule Garlic & Herb cheese log. The Secret Des Lys cheese is a triple-cream cheese with a fluffy texture and a buttery sweet taste. The Award winning Epoisses is a soft cheese washed with Marc De Bourgogne. The paste is richly flavorful.

 

Lastly, the Le Roule Garlic & Herb cheese is simply delightful. Rich and bursting with garlic flavor, it balances perfectly with the apricot, peach and acidity profile of Frost Bitten Ice Riesling. Truly a winning match!