Friday, July 12, 2019

Fresh Corn & Smoked Salmon Flatbread Recipe

I always crave pizza but I am trying to cut back on carbs, so when I saw little street taco sized whole wheat tortillas at the store, I was inspired to revisit a recipe I created a few years back for Whole Wheat Mini Pizzas. This time I went in a slightly different direction, making flatbreads that are not very pizza like at all—no grated cheese, no tomatoes, no sauce, no meat. 

Right now it’s corn season and the combination of corn, smoked salmon, a little crunchy cucumber and goat cheese is a real winner. What takes this recipe from good to even better, is the addition of a bit of Chili Onion Crunch. Chili crisp has been a condiment I’ve been seeing all over the internet and I finally bought a jar from Trader Joe’s. It was so good I decided to do a little taste test and compare it to the more well known Lao Ganma brand. 

A comparison—

Lao Ganma Spicy Chili Crisp, 7.4 ounces, $2.19. available online or in Asian markets 
Ingredients: soybean oil, chili, onion, fermented soybeans, MSG, salt, sugar, prickly ash powder, sulfur dioxide and sodium sulfite
- Very oily and very crunchy, more salty than sweet, not much heat at all

Trader Joe’s Chili Onion Crunch, 6 ounces, $3.99 availabe at Trader Joe's stores 
Ingredients: olive oil, dried onion, dried garlic, dried red bell pepper, crushed chili pepper, toasted dried onion, sea salt, natural flavors, paprika oleoresin (color) 
- Fine texture, more crisp than crunchy, not very oily, balanced sweet and salt, heat on the back end

Both are delicious, but I prefer the vegetal sweetness, texture and heat of the Trader Joe’s Chili Onion Crunch. I also appreciate that it doesn't have any artificial ingredients. Also, doesn’t garlic make everything better? 

Fresh Corn & Smoked Salmon Flatbread
Serves 4 

4 small whole wheat tortillas
1/4 cup soft goat cheese
2 teaspoons water
1 small Persian cucumber, thinly sliced
1 ear corn on the cob
4 slices smoked salmon, torn into bite sized pieces
2 teaspoons or to taste, chili oil, crisp or crunch 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Strip the corn off the cob and place 2-3 tablespoons of the corn on a piece of foil. Prick the tortillas with a fork to minimize puffing. Place the tortillas on a non stick pan along wit the corn on the foil, and bake for 5 minutes, flip the tortillas at about the halfway point. You want the tortilla to be crisp and browned, but not burnt. 

In a small bowl mix the goat cheese with the water in order to make a spreadable texture. 

Spread each tortilla with a tablespoon of goat cheese, top with the salmon and cucumber slices and scatter about 2 teaspoons of the corn. Drizzle the flatbread with the chile oil. 

Enjoy! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ten Grapes to Know Book Review



Over time I’ve tried selling wine books back at a used bookstore with very little success. I’m sorry to say it’s because many wine books just aren’t that good and quickly become out of date. Sure there are some exceptions, but it can be hard to find a book that hones in on just the useful stuff you really need to know. That’s exactly why I’m so enthusiastic about Ten Grapes to Know by Catherine Fallis, the "grape goddess of Planet Grape." Fallis is a master sommelier but is not in the least bit snooty or pretentious and doesn't fall into the trap of writing for other wine writers and sommeliers. She’s all about enjoying wine and makes learning about it fun. And she lets you in on many of the secrets that sommeliers know and many wine drinkers don’t know. 

The book begins with what feels like the best cheat sheets on tasting wine, pairing food with wine and buying wine in a store or restaurant. She walks you through exercises for your senses and how to properly store wine (as well as explaining which wines will last longer once opened) and even explains how markups typically work. The main sections of the book are devoted to ten wine varietals. Each chapter follows a set pattern—there is a description of the varietal, the history and geography, taste profile and styles, a sense exercise, a section on matchmaking (what to pair with the wine) what to look for when shopping or dining out (with specific labels and price points) and “branch out” which gives you some other varietals to consider that are in some way related. There are also plenty of personal stories and anecdotes along the way all written in a light and breezy manner. 

You can use the book in several different ways. You can use it to learn about wine (there are even quiz questions to test your knowledge), to shop for wine or as a general reference guide. Now about the varietals. They are Pinot Grigio (Gris), Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah (Shiraz), Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Now if I had chosen the varietals, I would have swapped out the Viognier for Riesling and the Sangiovese for Tempranillo or maybe even Grenache, but those are just minor quibbles. The book is really entertaining and easy to understand and one I do not plan on parting with anytime soon. It would make a great gift for anyone who is interested in learning more about wine. 

Disclaimer: This post includes an affiliate link

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

StarChefs San Francisco 2019

Courtesy of StarChefs
I've long been impressed by the Rising StarChefs awards. Unlike chef awards, their process is transparent and has a rigor that is often missing. I spoke with Antoinette Bruno, the CEO and Editor in Chief of StarChefs to discuss the upcoming awards and the diversity that they reflect. The StarChefs Gala takes place on June 11, 2019, buy tickets or learn more.

What’s the process for selecting Rising StarChefs?
Antoinette Bruno (AB): The selection process has more or less remained the same since 2002. The awards program has just grown in size and scope. StarChefs covers four cities or regions a year. From the nomination process through the Gala, it takes about six months per city. Today, we have a network of more than 1,200 Rising Stars alumni who contribute their nominations. We also accept recommendations through social media, our website, and during in-person interviews. We do in-house research as well, and candidates are vetted through a “pre-interview.” Generally, an editorial crew of two, sometimes more, visits the restaurants for an in-person interview, tasting, and photography, and then reports back to the editorial team at StarChefs HQ in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Many times we will return to restaurants for more than one visit.

Often the StarChefs Rising Stars Award is the first major award or national recognition a young chef, sommelier, bartender, or artisan may receive. Because StarChefs is on the ground in restaurants interviewing and tasting with hundreds of chefs and other industry professionals across the country every year, we have insights into the hospitality industry on a micro level. No other publication in the country has been able to do this kind of grassroots work.

The current list of Rising Star Chefs in San Francisco is incredibly diverse, was that intentional? 
AB: Talent is talent. Identifying the talented young leaders of the hospitality industry is our intention. We intend to find winners that represent the diversity of the industry and the city or region they represent. We have gotten better at this over the years by expanding the pool of communities we reach out to for nominations and from whom we gather information and recommendations. Unless the people involved in our process are diverse, generally the group of winners won’t be terribly diverse either.      

How important is diversity in the restaurant industry? 
AB: The diversity of the workforce in the restaurant industry is what drives it forward. It’s the industry’s greatest asset and strength. Some of the most exciting restaurants in America right now are run by immigrants or the children of immigrants—San Francisco Rising Star Chefs Robert Hernandez of Octavia, Nicolas Delaroque of Nico, Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz of Noosh, Francis Ang of Pinoy Heritage, Reem Assil of Reem’s, Janice Dulce of FOB Kitchen, and Bartenders Emilio and Miguel Salehi of The Beehive are among them.

It’s been a few years since StarChefs had an awards gala in San Francisco, what brought you back this year? 
AB: We’ve been taking a deep dive into the San Francisco Bay Area every three years since 2005. We return to a city in search of a new class of Rising Stars based on the city’s size and depth of the restaurant industry there. For example, we cover New York every other year, Chicago and Los Angeles every three years, and Washington, D.C. every four years.  

How would you characterize the San Francisco dining (and bar) scene?
AB: The Bay Area has always been a region of peaks and valleys, and indeed we saw a metropolis bouncing with growth and change. Still, in a challenging city for cooks, we found no shortage of talent—in San Francisco and Oakland. StarChefs gave out 23 Rising Stars Awards this time around, to a total of 26 winners. Eleven of those award winners are women—the most of any class of Rising Stars in the 17-year history of the program. The San Francisco Bay Area’s diversity—including the second largest population of Filipino Americans in the country—is reflected.

2016 Rising Star Chef Yoni Levy is now the chef of Salesforce HQ. He left his post at beloved Outerlands so that he could spend more time with his growing family. Chefs are now taking care of themselves and their staff more than ever. We saw these trends of self-care and tech influence merge at Rising Star Chef Adam Tortosa’s restaurant Robin, where he has created an extraordinary benefits program (including a trip to Japan!). We found San Francisco and Oakland in love with natural wines, with Rising Star Somm Louisa Smith leading the charge. And, of course, so much outstanding bread—more than you can stuff in a suitcase.

In what ways is the dining scene in San Francisco different from other American cities? 
AB: The Michelin stars for California were released today, and Northern California has the highest concentration of stars in the country. No surprise there. So, the bar is high in San Francisco. StarChefs is an industry-facing publication, rather than consumer. I encourage all young cooks to come to San Francisco to stage around if they can swing it. Because the city is such a tough one for young cooks to survive financially, the labor shortage is acute. Kitchens need the extra hands and it can be relatively easy to get in the door and gain valuable experience at some of the best restaurants in the country.    

Looking forward, any predictions for how dining will continue to evolve?
AB: I hope that we will continue to see more of what we found in this class of Rising Stars: more women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community represented in leadership roles. I also hope we continue to see the expansion of proper benefits programs for restaurant workers, like we have seen in the Bay Area, as well as a continued focus on the work/life balance and the mental and physical health of chefs and hospitality professional on the whole.

Thanks StarChefs!

Friday, March 08, 2019

7 Trends from the Winter Fancy Food Show 2019

The Winter Fancy Food Show is a great place to identify trends. It’s also a way to see how trends are evolving. Here is a short list of what caught my attention. 
Cauliflower is everywhere! This isn’t new and you've probably seen cauliflower rice in stores. From the Ground Up makes gluten free pretzels and crackers from cauliflower. I wasn't crazy about the pretzels, but the cheddar crackers taste a lot like Cheez-its. The other brand I liked was Caulipower. They make gluten free cauliflower pizzas, pizza crusts and tortillas. They each have the right texture, something I found lacking in other brands. 
I wrote about mushrooms before but this year I saw even more innovations, including snack bars with mushrooms, from a brand called Shrooms offering a sweet and savory version as well as one with chocolate. Mushrooms are also showing up more in tea and coffee including one from the Republic of Tea called Restore and Reset that combines Reishi and cocoa. 
Long a favored ingredient in skin care, collagen is moving into food. I saw it in fuel bars and drink mixes from the Paleo focused Primal Kitchen, teas and added to random products like a sweet and creamy “granola butter” from Kween. Will ingesting collagen peptides help support healthy joints, tendons, and muscles, skin, hair, and nails? From what I’ve read, the jury is out.
One of the coolest things I noticed at the show this year were all the new ways food is being packaged, new form factors in particular. Lots of individual packets of things like ghee from Fourth and Heart, extract pastes from the British company Taylor & Colledge, nut oils from La Tourangelle. Remember the Altoids tin? It’s back but ingeniously filled with teas for travelers from Numi, and with tubes of curry and harissa from Jacobsen Salt. Fit Fit Bites offers fruit snacks in little pucks. Uncle Dougie’s solves the frustration with barbecue sauce bottles by packaging their product in a squeeze-able pouch. Another cool innovation is the Slingshot with chia granola to add to an accompanying yogurt based drink. 
Hummus has been trending for a while, but now in addition to being available in tons of flavors, it’s showing up as an actual ingredient. A couple of examples include Firehook's hummus crackers and O’Dang hummus dressing which comes in a variety of flavors. 
Turmeric is another trendy ingredient. This year I saw it in ghee, in “shots” that a coming soon from Numi, in a particularly delicious hummus from Blue Moose of Boulder, in tonic from Turveda, in crackers from RW Garcia, in bone broth from Nona Lim, in pinchetti pasta from Al Dente Pasta, in ice cream from ReThink and even in Ritrovo balsamic vinegar. 
Frico is a cheese crisp from Italy, traditionally made from heating Parmigiano Reggiano until it melts and forms a thin crust. But companies have created products that mimic this treat, Sonoma Creamery, Whisps and Parm Crisps were a few I noticed this year. Crunchy, cheesy and available in a variety of flavors and shapes, these snacks are gluten free, low in carbs, high in protein. 

A few other things I took note of this year that were new to me included: 

Schizandra which sounds like the name of a Disney princess, but is really a berry and showed up in an elixir from Rebbl called Schizandra Berries & Creme as well as in the Daily Beauty tea from Republic of Tea. It’s used in traditional Chinese medicine for and is adaptogenic, which means it supports the adrenal system and combats stress on the body. It supposedly tastes sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. 

You know about probiotics, but what about prebiotics? Prebiotics complement probiotics, basically providing food for probiotics grow, which in turn help promote better digestive health. When you see prebiotics on labels it means generally some kind of fiber. 

My favorite prebiotic product was Zen Basil, a line of organic drinks made with basil seeds. Basil seeds are similar to chia seeds, they plump up when added to liquid but compared to chia seeds they have more iron, fiber, potassium and calcium. Used in ayurvedic and Chinese medicine they purportedly have antioxidant, anticancer, antiviral, antibacterial, antispasmodic and antifungal properties. The drinks which are made from a family recipe are fruity, juicy and delicious. They also offers bags of the basil seeds. 


Last but not least, I don't remember seeing eggs at the show before. This year several companies were featuring eggs from pasture raised chickens.