Saturday, December 1, 2007

Aloha for now

Hello to all my fellow foodies out there. We have had a blast on this blog over the past few months. But sadly that day job thing has kept me so busy. I have undertaken a few huge projects that have been keeping me away from blogging and updating the site. I must have 15 - 20 stories that I have photo's and notes on. We will return to updating first quarter 2008.
Aloha for now my friends.



Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ode to a friend

I awoke out of a sound sleep last night in a cold sweat having had a dark premonition Sue told me I had sat up in bed and mumbled about it and then went back to sleep. In the morning when we both awoke at our normal time I remembered who that dream was about. It was my friend Murphy, known to all as Tardo. I dreamed that he had passed on during the night and I knew it to be a fact. It was so strong a feeling. I knew he had gone. I later found him cuddled up under one of his favorite bushes to lay beneath in the backyard. When I first saw him I thought him to be sleeping. he looked so peaceful. He lay there on his side with his hands crossed and his bushy tail curled around him. I gazed at him for a few moments waiting and hoping to see the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest as he breathed. But his breath was no more. He had left this planet. He looked so peaceful and calm.
I am not a cat guy to be sure, but this curmudgeon had become my friend and confidant. I would bounce ideas off of him and he would just stare back at me while he lay on my desk and give me that look that only cats can give. you know the one. The one that says don't bother me. I'm licking myself. This cat was my culinary equivalent. He liked his food rustic and honest, Fresh and plentiful. No fancy Feast canned stuff. No way, only Meow mix, dry, straight up. Like me we both where picky eaters.

Tard was only 5 years old when he passed last night. He had survived so much. last year he tangled with a speeding car and lost. the doctor told us he would have to amputate his front leg or he would die. We said no way. we knew that the man of cats would never want to be a tripod. we asked the doctor to clean him up and give us antibiotics with which we hand gave him 3 times a day for a month, while he hibernated in the hall closest waiting for death. he beat that rap and lived another year and had regained 95% use of his bad leg. He was our Lance Armstrong.
He liked to be around the family and would we would allow him to sit on the table when we had dinner. He never begged for food, that would be beneath him. He was the feline equivalent to James Brown. He was cool, calm and totally a man cat. This was no pussy cat. He would back our 80lb retriever into a corner and then strut by and shake his tail as to try to make the big dog blink.
He was a companion to the whole family, He was our cat and our pet, but most of all he was my friend.
I will miss him

Thursday, October 25, 2007

My City

Not a food related post. Just wanted to post a few pics that I snapped over the last few days and to thank everyone in San Diego for coming together and helping others in need during the fires that have raged and are still raging on in our city. Keep up the fight. We have shown the world what we are capable of and more important we have shown our neighbors what we are made of.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sopa de Nopales y Hongos

So the other day as I strolled through one of my favorite produce stores I spotted some nopales and thought I haven't had a good cactus soup in a very long time. You know the cactus plants we see growing all over Southern California, the fruit when ripe are not only excellent to eat and make margaritas from, but the actual large cactus paddles, or nopales in Spanish are very edible as well. So I quickly grab a couple of them and some Shitake mushrooms and went home to conjure up this recipe for your approval.

I had some left over chicken stock that I had made, you can use a good store bought brand of stock if you wish.

6 Small to Medium Tomatillos husks removed and rinsed
5-6 Medium Roma tomatoes
4 Large Garlic cloves, peeled
1 Large Jalapeno
1 Medium White Onion, Sliced in half
1 Bunch, Cilantro
1 tsp fresh roasted anise seed, roasted and then ground
4 cups chicken stock
3 tbsp Olive Oil
1/2 lb Shiitake mushrooms, remove stems and slice caps
2 large Nopales ( cactus paddles)
1 Dried chile of your choice. Optional

Place the Tomatillos, Tomatoes, Jalapeno and Garlic on a foil lined baking dish. Pour some of the Olive Oil on top and slightly sprinkle with Salt and Pepper. Put under a very hot broiler to roast. Turning after about 5-6 minutes to make sure they are roasted evenly. Make sure you remove the stem and seeds from the Jalapeno after roasting. When finished roasting place in a blender with the pan drippings and a cup of the chicken stock. Add a medium handful of the Cilantro along with the Anise and Puree.
Puree to a nice but still semi chunky consistency. taste but don't adjust seasoning at this time. This will be your soups base. We can readjust the seasoning later if desired.

At this time you want to trim the Nopale by first cutting 1/4inch all the way around the cactus. Then placing it and the onion on the same pan that you roasted the first batch of veggies on. Make sure you lightly coat with Olive Oil and then pop it into the broiler and roast until slightly brown, turning once to make sure both sides are done.
Add the Mixture from the blender into at least a 4 quart stock pot that has the remainder Olive Oil heated in it. You want to actually start to fry this base quickly in a very small amount of oil for at least 5 minutes.
Then add the Chicken Stock. set heat to low and let slowly simmer without boiling.

When the Nopales and onions are finished roasting. remove them from the pan and place on a cutting board. remember to add the pan juices to the simmering soup. Roughly chop the onion and slice the Nopale in half lengthwise and then julienne crosswise.

Add the Nopales and the onion to the soup. Chop the dried Chili and add as well. Simmer slowly for another 5 minutes or so to let all the flavors mingle together. At this time you can adjust the seasoning by adding a little more salt or pepper.
Pour it into a bowl and top with a little chopped fresh Cilantro. I also like to add some fresh grated Aged Mexican cheese. I like to use the Buena Comida Brand of the Cotija Anejo. Or aged cheese. Slightly salty and tastes very similar to a Pecorino Romano cheese. Aged for at least 60 days and can be found anywhere nowadays.

So here we have for your approval our version of a Mexican classic. Sopa de Nopales y Hongos. We hope you enjoy it on a cold winters night in front of the fireplace. It will keep you nice and warm.


Monday, October 8, 2007

La Mesa Farmers Market

Every Friday from 3:00PM - 6:00PM you can
stroll through the various vendors of whole food products. This little outdoor market has been growing in popularity and increasing in size since it began a few years ago. All of the agricultural vendors are certified organic and all are from local family farms around San Diego. You can find great little gems here that are very hard to find anywhere else and even if you did, it would cost you an arm and a leg. Here, only a leg. I usually stroll through for the heirloom tomatoes a farm in Vista grows and a baguette from the Bread & Cie table. The Heirloom tomato's are by far the best tasting tomato anywhere and I would bet my can of San Marzano's on them being, well, better than the stuff from San Marzano. Just really fresh and bursting with flavor. Check these pictures out of a box of heirlooms. Ugly little buggers, but they make up for it with there taste and texture. Firm and smooth, not to much acid and not as strong in flavor as a San Marzano. Kinda medium taste and a little tart. I love them.
Little ugly pumpkin looking tomatoes. But worth seeking out. You can find everything here from Thai chili plants to flowers. Lots of flowers.Olive Oil from Temecula. And tons of fresh seasonal locally grown fruits and vegetables. The selection is always at it's peek when I go to the market. Here are a few more picks of the pickings.Let's hope that the city of La Mesa doesn't ruin this great little farmers market like they did with the Oktoberfest that is held here every year. They took a German beer drinking festival and turned it into a craft fair. Lot's of crochet pot holders and tie dye, but very little lederhosen. Not to crowded yet and a nice European feel to it, And by the way, after strolling through the market you can always go across the street and have a bite at All' Italiana or maybe a brew at that classic little and I mean little dive bar, Joe & Andy's.
Fresh picked peppers and unusual zucchini, some large
And some baby ones with blossoms still attached. I brought some of these back to the foodopolis test kitchen and they were outstanding. So skip out of work early next Friday and stroll through the La Mesa Village. You know some times it ain't so bad having your office in East County. You just have to know where to look for the cool stuff.

La Mesa Farmers Market

Every Friday from 3pm-6pm



Saturday, September 29, 2007

Portland Saturday Market - Portland OR

The market is open on Saturdays an definitely a must visit if you ever find yourself in the"Rose City" on a weekend with some time to spare. I love Portland, Great restaurants that get almost no publicity, I guess because of it's proximity to Vancouver. And Portland is quickly becoming the beer capital of the west. Tons of micro breweries that crank out fantastic beers. Here are a few photos from this event. Live music playing, arts and crafts and of course food galore. Although there was quite a variety of food to be found. We didn't come across one that really stood out as being something great. Having said that though, The food, plus the music, beer and people, more than made up for anything. Here is a classic example of the attitude of the people of Portland. I was of course wondering around snapping pictures of food and people like the David Hemmings character from that classic Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up when I ran across a booth serving Thai food. I snapped a picture of man working feverishly over a flaming wok and the guy said, "Hey, you have to take one now with me and my wife" so I did, and the he says "Hey, now you have to take one with me and my wife and my mother" and so I did. Everyone has just a great attitude here.

The Street fair is located in what was once a very run down section of the city and is still populated by the unfortunate homeless masses that hold the most creative signs up for the tourists vieing for that loose change in your pocket. Some of the classic ones had phrases like " I need money for weed" and others with that old chestnut, " I can't lie I just need a beer". Highly entertaining on one hand and very thought provoking on the other. I looked at the street fair as if we were animals with a proper food chain. Some were on the top of the food chain while others roamed the streets like crustaceans feeding off of scraps of the other life forms. Wow, I really have to stop watching old French and Italian films. So let's get back to the food. Here is a pictorial of food stuffs that can be found here.
Lot's of baked goods. Fresh sourdough breads filled with clam chowder.
Indian food vendors

Here is Sue's Greek marinated beef kabob. This one was very good. Nice and tender with a Mediterranean feel to it.

I had the Philly steak sandwich. The people at this booth were once again just so very friendly and I had them make it to my specifications. and they obliged, I had them add tons of freshly crushed garlic to the saute.
Although the sandwich was huge on proportion it really lacked any flavor at all. I mean really very bland. But on a nice blustery day in Portland it did it's job of making me feel warm and cozy, oh and the local microbrew beer helped too.

This is people watch Mecca. You can get lost here, not physically but mindlessly and every once in awhile that's OK.



Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Di Leone's Italian Restaurant - El Cajon CA

After seeing the ads for Di Leone's for sometime now and reading all of the glowing review quote snippets in parenthesis on it's ads. We just had to try it out. I mean when a place constantly has reviews like, " Best food in San Diego" and "Best Italian Food anywhere" in there ads. You just have to go, mainly because like most film reviews with an over abundance of good review quotes on the ad, You know the film is gonna stink. When you look closer at the reviewers, there usually from the Fresno Review Journal or the Pacoima Sentinel. Papers that nobody reads anyway. So we went on a mission and I must admit bent on finding things that aren't good. You know the if you stick your neck out and tell people how good you are, then you put yourself under a microscope for inspection. We arrived around 5:30 on a Saturday Night. The place was packed with a line at the door. We were told about a 20 minute wait to be seated. No problem. We conversed with the folks in line and all of them had been coming here for years. All had absolutely glowing reviews and all said it was worth the wait and the weight. Did we discover restaurant "pod people"from Invasion of the body snatchers? or was this place actually this ferociously addictive.

The Owner, Vito Seragusa used to be the chef at Mama Leone's restaurant in Manhattan. That place is an institution and has been open for almost 100 years. The first thing you notice in the place are the family photos of the Seragusa family, kids, grand kids. Italians are kings at putting that family first mantra into action. Located in an East County strip mall this place is beautiful inside. nice contrasting earth tones abound. We were seated by I believe a niece of Vito's, very nice woman with a genuine smile and warmth. You could tell she liked working here, and who wouldn't, this is definitely a family run business, with nieces, sons and grand kids working here and all very professional. The Patriarch, Vito sat in a booth with some friends and he continually worked the room as the evening progressed, he knew and spoke with everyone there.
That's him in wearing the white apron. Seemingly a lovely guy. We were sat in a booth towards the front of the restaurant and where immediately served some warm focaccia bread. The bread was more of a pizza dough, more dense than a normal focaccia and seasoned with dried herbs consisting of rosemary, oregano and basil. The nice touch was that they had bottles of Extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar already on the table. Sue and I grabbed the menus, but first we gave each other that snickering look of, "let's see what we have here". And we found a beautifully laid out menu that hit on everything it should have. Various pasta dishes and chicken, veal, real classic stuff and a few exceptions.

If clams are on the menu, I will always order up a batch. I love clams and the ones on this menu are definitely the best clams I have ever had anywhere. Clams Bordelaise ($12.95) and worth every penny. Wonderful and flavorful large clams in a garlic, butter and wine broth. Just give me some crusty bread and a straw to slurp it up. This is one of those signature dishes that I would drive across town to get no problem.
You can just see all of the chunks of garlic and shallots in this broth. I could have easily acted like Homer Simpson and tipped the bowl to my lips to finish it off.
The Chicken Tortellini soup had the most intense chicken flavor I have ever had at any restaurant or anywhere for that matter. I ordered the Chicken Pizzaiola with Eggplant ($16.95) chicken breast sauteed in a light red wine marinara sauce and topped with capers, olives, and layered with lightly breaded egg plant with hints of oregano. OK, So we were beginning to get the picture here and Sue and I started to get on the bandwagon along with the other patrons of this place. As our eyes glazed over in a culinary haze, we felt we where becoming assimilated into one of the "pod people" fans that this place has. The chicken was pounded flat and sauteed along with mushrooms and eggplant, in a really nice piquant sauce. nice blends of textures and tastes.It came with a great side dish of spaghetti with marinara sauce. Sue had the Lasagna($10.95)
Lasagna is such a generic name. It only refers to the noodle style and not really what else comes with it. But here in the states Lasagna is mostly that classic red sauce and ricotta mixture. The Lasagna here was superb and compiled together fresh onto the plate and not premade which I just detest. The sauce was a very tasty Bolognaise style with Italian sausage mixed in throughout. This place is really a nice little eatery and the way the family works the room definitely reminds me of a neighborhood restaurant in New York.
My only gripe would be the wine list. $25.00 for a $5.00 bottle of Bella Serra is way overly steep. So skip the bottled stuff and go for the house wine.

Is it the best and most authentic Italian restaurant in San Diego? Well, have you ever seen Italians argue over a game of Bocce? If you have then you know that no one can answer this question. Is this place good? It is an outstanding little place with excellent service and flavorful well thought out dishes. Not a gourmet joint to be sure but it takes the family style restaurant to a new level.
Definitely worth a visit. We will be back.

Di Leone's Italian Restaurant
1480 Jamacha RdEl Cajon, CA 92019



Monday, September 10, 2007

All'Italiana - La Mesa Ca

We must have driven past All'Italiana restaurant well over a thousand times in all the years that it has been in La Mesa and every time we did, we would say to ourselves, "We really need to go to this place". None of our friends had ever been and virtually no one we spoke to about it had been either. How can that be? in our own backyard an Italian restaurant that we had never been to? So it happened that on a Friday night we decided it was time to check it out. As we parked and walked to the eatery there seemed to be a large group of people eating and drinking and having a great time outside. So we opted for a more intimate table inside. This is a quaint little place and has the ambiance of eating in a home in the hills of Italy. it felt like we had indeed strolled into a small trattoria. Although really dark inside when the sun goes down. Very small only 6 or 7 tables and the room lined with shelves containing photos and knick knacks from Italy and it's surroundings. The shelves also served as the wine cellar as the very limited wine lists inventory was stored there on the shelves in the dining area as well. I believe there was only four offerings of wine on the list and all priced at $18.00 per bottle. we opted for a bottle of the Vestini, a Sangiovese from the Campania region of Italy. Very nice and light wine. Typical of the region and European wines on the whole. More about slight earth tones and regional mineral qualities and how they mix ever so subtly with the grape than about a bold fruit taste like and Aussie wine. I love both styles of wine making.

As we picked over the menu it became very clear that this place was a pasta house. No pizza and none of the classic red table clothed varieties of what you would expect. Chicken Parmigiana and Eggplant Parmigiana being the exception. All the rest are pasta dishes. OK. No problem I thought. But being Italian you know that it better be done right because chances are your family dog has had better left overs after a Sunday family get together than most places can make.

Very interesting dishes on the menu. I ordered the special of the evening, Which I thought very amusing to call it the special of the evening. And maybe after I tell you the origin you will get the humor as well. So I ordered up a batch of the Pasta Alla Puttanesca ($12.00) and for Sue, She had the most interesting dish on the menu. Pasta Alla Caruso ($15.45). First came out the salad and an order of the house specialty, A bowl of the Tomato Basil Bisque. The salad was journeyman in nature and was nice and fresh. The Bisque on the other hand came in a nice little bowl with dried basil around the rim like an Italian Margarita. I didn't care for it. It had a rather uninteresting tomato sauce taste. although pinkish in color letting you know this was a cream sauce the soup just had no distinct or robust tomato taste. Should have been bursting with concentrated tomato taste. The Garlic bread on the other hand was some of the finest we have ever had. The bread light and flaky with fresh garlic rubbed into every nook and cranny. and then butter slathered on. Awesome stuff.
The pasta dishes arrived. I dived into the Pasta Alla Puttanesca first. This is a dish that is normally served without cheese. But first let me tell you the back story on this dish. Pasta Alla Puttanesca literally means "Pasta the way a whore would make it". It seems that after WWII the brothels were state run in Italy and these lady civil servants were only allowed to go to the market once a week so they had to stock up on a lot of non perishables. And apparently back then you got a home cooked meal as well with your paid admission. Only the Italians. The recipe consists of the following items: Anchovies, capers, tomatoes, black olives, garlic, red peper flakes and maybe some basil or parsley chopped and thrown on top and of course your pasta of choice. This is one of those classic little seemingly easy to prepare dishes, that cause a lot of trouble for most cooks as the simple yet very powerful ingredients all try to vie for your taste buds attentions. So you have to learn to balance them out and to coach only the ones you want to be predominate to the forefront. This version was served with a perfectly cooked Linguine, nice and firm to the tooth. The Puttanesca sauce was very tasty but seemed to lack any anchovies or red pepper flakes. otherwise it was an excellent rendition of a dish you rarely see anymore on menus. Worth asking if they make it at your favorite Italian eatery.And speaking of dishes you rarely see on a menu comes next, Pasta Alla Caruso. A favorite of that classic voiced opera singer and named for him as well, Enrico Caruso. I cannot remember the last time I saw this dish on a menu. Done well it can be sublime and like a good tenor, it's culinary voice can either be on or off. It's made with mushrooms and chicken livers all blended together in a red wine reduction sauce and tomatoes and when done has this rich and velvety brown creamy sauce that just wraps itself around the pasta and your tongue like a kid holding onto a carousel pony for the first time. This version at All'Italian was spectacular and one of my favorite pasta dishes anywhere and can possibly be the best pasta dish in San Diego! It was that good. the chicken livers just melt into the sauce and they're taste mellows. The mushrooms are usually crimini and have that nice and slight woodsy flavor. This dish was pure heaven.
The owners of this quaint little eatery open and close when they feel like it. Very European feel and just very nice people here. If you are in the mood for some very tasty non run of the mill pasta. You really should try this place out.


8356 Allison Avenue
La Mesa, CA 91941



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