For a number of years now, all that is petit or small has dominated haute cuisine.Small bites of pure flavors and food essences are served together for a meal full of individual sensations.In societies with a prevalence of plant based food, meals tended to be served in this tapas or mezzes manner.Here in San Diego, I often prepare and serve food using this model of numerous small tastes.This is especially true with dessert, where a simple sweet finish is all that is needed to complete a meal.
Sara had been watching chocolate shows on The Food Network and became obsessed with the thought of me building structures out of the Aztec bean. A trip to Williams-Sonoma was mandated where my “Honey-do list” included structural chocolate molds.After perusing the current collection, we discovered Williams-Sonoma no longer carried such kitchen apparatus, but had the latest presentation from chef Thomas Keller and his restaurant Bouchon, named after wine corks.Chef Keller is known for his signature small dishes and the display was pushing his book and baking mixes.Catching my attention was a silicone mold for baking the “bouchons or corks.”I came home with it and a recipe in mind.I whipped up the small batch of 12 tiny vegan chocolate “corks,” then dusted them with organic powdered sugar and served them warm to Sara, who was eagerly awaiting the results.The size and shape emphasized flavor and texture with perfect balance.It was the right amount of food to experience the sensuality without the common pitfall of overindulging the senses at the end of a meal.
A Vegan Bouchon can be good…moist and delicate, as well as healthy. Light in fat and made with good organic ingredients, having more than one or two can be sinless.Needless to say, once Sara’s sweet tooth kicked in, we had to make dessert for the next meal.This time it was an orange bouchon topped with homemade kumquat marmalade and served over and almond-vanilla bean “sabayon.”
Jenny, Sara and I walked through Old Town as we tend to visit tourist destinations when guests come into town.The streets were bustling with families and bar hoppers.Not many people shopping, but large populations in the bars.Mexican food is abundant and many restaurants have women in traditional Mexican dress making fresh tortillas right on the street.The rich aroma of toasted corn wafts throughout the entire neighborhood. Each tortilla maker uses their own method.Some use tortilla presses with wax paper, others roll with a pin, but the most impressive were those who formed each tortilla in their hands, perfect each time before they flipped it onto the griddle.
Reminiscent of days when we cooked chapatis in quantity, I started to contemplate making tortillas for dinner.As the evening approached, I made the masa ahead.In addition, our neighbor Joe had given us Tabasco peppers, Italian mild peppers and habanero chiles, so I also decided to put up Tabasco sauce, Pepperoncini and Hot habanero sauce.The kitchen air soon filled with spicy aromas laced with vinegar, causing the casual passerby to immediately start coughing.Sometimes, that is what it takes to clear a room!
The dinner menu took shape as tortillas were hand rolled and cooked one at a time.The main course of corn, pepita and lime enchiladas with walnut sauce would use the fresh tortillas to help define the dish.The filling was made with corn off the cob and pepita-cilantro-lime pesto with a fresh, green flavor.The creamy walnut-shallot sauce was ladled on top of each filled tortilla and the dish was garnished with fresh local avocado.
The home brewed Tabasco was served on the side, for those with a passion for heat.
Inspiration often can be unexpected as food is intimately entwined in the life of every person.
Last night Joan and Sara felt like pizza. Responding with a “no problem” I fired up the Wolf oven. Normally the dough requires a couple of hours to rise, but fortunately there was a frozen par baked Tuscan crust saved from last week waiting for such an occasion. For vegan pizza, the approach can be similar to any meal. It is a combination of bread, vegetables and proteins. In this case, I made a simple almond pesto for the base, sliced some tomatoes and small broccoli florets.Thinly sliced red onions were caramelized, then braised with balsamic vinegar. Red veined Bordeaux spinach from La Milpa Organica at the Hillcrest farmers market was seared in extra virgin olive oil, crushed red pepper and finely minced garlic. Then, I sautéed some small tofu cubes with tamari and smoked paprika. In addition, chopped Kalamata olives, diced red bell peppers and capers were on hand to sprinkle. The pizza was assembled with the creamy pesto on the bottom, spinach, tofu, onions, broccoli, sliced tomatoes, red bell pepper, olives and capers. After baking the pizza at 375 for 25 minutes, we sliced it and served it piping hot —about 50 minutes after starting. This was half the usual time and significant for busy, impromptu lifestyles.A pizza does not have to be unhealthy.In this case, it was full of life and unconventional textures. Good company, good pizza…an enjoyable evening for all.
This year, the peak of the corn harvest has passed. Still, just before frost, there are still fresh ears available that are a little tougher, but retain some of the sweetness. This recipe is ideal with peak harvest corn, but is also a good way to use any fresh corn. The level of spiciness may be adjusted by the amount of jalapeno used, even to the point of removing it entirely.
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
2 1/2 cups sweet corn, cut off the cob
1/2 cup sweet onions, finely diced
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup water
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups plain soy milk
1/2 cup almond flour
1/4 teaspoon white pepper, freshly ground
Heat oil in a saute pan on medium heat, then add jalapeno, cook for 10 seconds and add corn and onions. Cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes until corn starts to lightly bown around the edges. Stir in salt, water, Dijon, soy milk, almond flour and white pepper. Cook until liquid becomes creamy. Serve hot as a side dish.
Popular throughout the Mediterranean, Swiss chard is thought to originate in Sicily and is widely available throughout the U.S.
Swiss chard has a very specific taste that ends to take over any dish it is put in. While pleasant, sometimes a different flavor and use is desired. This recipe is just that. It is a variation of the Sicilian eggplant relish, caponata. Onions, dried cherries and balsamic vinegar create a sweet and sour effect that works with the chard, making a delightful condiment or side dish.
Sicilian Swiss Chard
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 sweet onions, sliced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (omit for a milder version)
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup slivered raw almonds
1 large bunch Swiss chard, stemmed and thinly sliced (4 cups packed)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
In a saute pan on medium low heat cook oil, onions and crushed red pepper flakes until the onions are clear. Add almonds and cook another minute, then add remaining ingredients. Cook, covered at a low temperature until the Swiss chard is tender and the liquid gone, about 8 to 10 minutes. Serve warm or cold. Will keep in a refrigerator up to 3 days and is excellent for antipasti or picnics.
Reminiscent of handcrafted salsas of Mexico and inspired by the bounty of chiles available in local farm martkets, this is a fiery condiment, tempered with a sweet finish from local maple syrup. It is a recipe that works well as a salsa, a dip or a spread.
Makes about 3 cups
A.1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 anaheim chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
4 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
4 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
¾ cup thin sliced red onions
1 pound tomatillos, peeled and quartered, about 3 cupsÂ½ cup cider vinegar
1 ½ cups maple syrup
1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
½ cup fresh cilantro
In a 2 quart covered saucepan, simmer step A on medium-low heat until onions are clear. Add step B and simmer until the tomatillos have merged and are reduced by one half. Turn off and allow to cool to warm, then puree in a food processor or blender. Transfer and serve hot or cold.