Local chefs shine at PBFW

Chef Todd Fisher wowed the crowd with his bone marrow and truffle popcorn salad.

Food Network star Guy Fieri gave Monterey County chefs the ultimate compliment following the Pebble Beach Food & Wine: “Let me tell you, the talent that’s in this area is right in line with anywhere. They can cook with me anytime. What a blast.”
Fieri hosted the Interactive Dinner on Saturday, a loud, fast-paced cooking demo (he made pork watermelon tacos) with each table getting a private chef. Helping out were the likes of local chefs Cy Yontz (Rio Grill), Thomas Snyder (Esteban), Todd Fisher (Sticks), Mo Tabib (The Fish Hopper) among others.
PBFW does not shine its bright lights on local chefs, choosing instead to focus on the celebrity chefs of our day, the “rock stars” of the culinary world. But there is some local talent sprinkled throughout the weekend, and our chefs managed to steal some of the limelight.
Fisher, who set up the demo kitchens used by the PBFW talent, was holding court at the Sunday Lexus Grand Tasting, with cries of “popcorn, get your popcorn!” His dish? Beef bone marrow with truffle popcorn herb salad. So rich and buttery and flavorful.
Fisher is in the midst of changing the culture at Sticks, imprinting the menu with his bold flavors and push-the-envelope style. Recent specials included: Crisp pork belly carnitas with pumpkin-seed romesco, burnt orange crema and guacamole; and Maine lobster

Chef Tony Baker's bacon pie.

carbonara with sweet corn, English peas and caramelized onion with a cage-free yolk.
Tony Baker of Montrio Bistro turned a lot of heads at Sunday’s tasting with his bacon pie. The founder of Baker’s Bacon, a British-style back bacon, made a bacon-pork shoulder terrine on top of a lard crust, garnished with Piccadilly relish and a side of pickled red cabbage. These decadent wedges were a hit.

Chef Tim Wood's shrimp and green garlic sauce.

Chef Tim Wood of Carmel Valley Ranch created two dishes on Sunday: shrimp with green garlic sauce and truffled gnocchi; and short rib and porcini bruschetta.
Chef Don Ferch, who with his wife Cheryl runs Contemporary Catering, was the founding chef (at Highlands Inn in Carmel) for the Masters of Food & Wine, the predecessor to PBFW. At Sunday’s grand tasting, Ferch made applewood smoked veal bacon lettuce wrap with pickled cauliflower, almonds and sun-dried tomatoes.
Chef Levi Mezick of Restauranat 1833 got to spend Thursday cooking an epic seven-course meal for Michelin 3-star legend Daniel Boulud, with whom he once served under at Café Boulud.
Originally from the Washington, D.C., area, Mezick brings a wealth of culinary expertise, cultivated under some of the world’s most famous chefs. Aside from Boulud, Mezick also worked at Thomas Keller’s Per Se, as well as stages in Michelin-starred European restaurants, including Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence, Italy.
 He also teamed up with superstar chef Michel Richard in 2008 at Michel at The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, Va.

Chef Anastasia Simpson's three-layed dessert cup.

Chef Anastasia Simpson, pastry chef for the Inn at Spanish Bay, wowed visitors with a three-layered chocolate and caramel dessert cup. Delicious and artful. Born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Marina resident attended Paul Bocuse’s Ecole des Arts Culinaires et de l’Hotellerie in Ecully, France. In 2000, she moved to the Peninsula and began working for the Pebble Beach Co.

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A market with heart

Produce was on hand at the market, but not the main focus.In these days of greed and consumer manipulation, it’s not often something lives up to its hype. Billed as a community gathering celebrating food, art and conviviality, the first Independent Marketplace in Sand City was all that and more.

Thursday’s mostly indoor event provided a venue where like-minded souls could mingle and feed their souls. It was packed with happy people, and it quickly re-invented the concept of a farmers market.

The tagline for this event? Four simple words: Devour. Imbibe. Create. Explore.

A nest provided by the Big Sur Spirit Garden (photo by Jenna Hale).

I spent nearly three hours there, and there was nothing laborious or tedious about it. I saw good friends and quickly made new ones, I spoke to purveyors who seemed genuinely interested in sharing their stories and philosophies, I sipped wine and suds and ate great food at a modest price point.

There were few rules, but everyone remained civil, it was a bit crowded but people dealt with it. In short, it was a casual, free-form event that must have been meticulously planned but never showed it.

You could eat a double-double cheeseburger from Chef Dory Ford of Point PInos Grill in

Point Pinos Grill served double-double burgers for $5 (photo by Jenna Hale).

Pacific Grove for $5, or go lighter with his mini Belizean tostadas called salbutes, crispy, puffed-up masa rounds tinged with achiote and topped with stewed chicken and a bright pico de gallo (two for $5). Next door, our region’s most famous chef, Cal Stamenov, braved the wind putting together fried chicken boxed meals for $10. You could sip a beer poured by Jeff Moses, founder of the Monterey Beer Festival, for four bucks. Thomas Perez (Kristi-Lynn Wine Group) and other vintners handed out generous pours at a free wine-tasting bar. Food trucks such as Babaloo (with that lucscious Cuban cuisine made by hospitality maven Gladys Valenzuela) and San Jose visitor Arabian Bites, did their thing.

 

Food from the Bakery Station in Salinas (photo by Jenna Hale).

Serendipity Farms stacked up its amazing organic produce, and I found bunches of fresh pea tendrils for $2. The Bakery Station in Salinas stood toe to toe with Big Sur Bakery a few booths down, and I turned its amazing brioche into French toast the next morning for my daughter Jenna.

I could go on, and on, and on about this beautiful event, part neighborhood block party, part farmers market, part food festival. All heart.

On May 3, it will honor the Latino community with a Cinco de Mayo-inspired event, with an entirely new round of hand-picked purveyors.

It runs from 4-9 p.m. Be there at 4. Lingering is encouraged, and almost impossible to avoid.

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Generational convergence

 

A Rancho Cielo culinary student teams up with Mrs. Meyer from Park Lane senior community in an "Iron Chef" competition.

Anyone who owns a restaurant in Monterey County, or cooks in one, has taken a call from either Bert Cutino or Ted Balestreri about helping out at Rancho Cielo.

They do so gladly, because they don’t want to say no to the “emperors of Cannery Row” and they believe in the philosophy behind the unique campus in Salinas that transforms lives of at-risk youth.

Mrs. Dunn tackles a sweet potato.

The Rancho Cielo Drummond Culinary Academy is one of several programs of Rancho Cielo that teaches new skills through professional mentorship. The goal is to train young people in a work environment where they feel challenged, respected and accountable. And, in time, they will graduate and be absorbed into the Monterey County hospitality industry.

The academy is one of several programs at the youth campus tailored to help transform the lives of at-risk youth dealing with issues ranging from drug use, to truancy to gang involvement.

Last week five students from the academy took a field trip to Park Lane senior community in Monterey.

Culinary student Cheyy teams up with Mrs. Roe.

The idea? Match five at-risk students from a culinary school in Salinas with five senior citizens from a Monterey retirement home — giving each pair an hour to prepare a dish featuring three secret ingredients.

It was “Iron Chef America” with street cred — a May-December generational convergence of talents and ideals.

“Most of our seniors have a passion for cooking, but because of their age or disabilities they are forced to stop cooking,” said Park Lane program director Alison Coderniz, who set up a makeshift kitchen with five small workstations. “So I invited the students for an ‘Iron Chef’ competition. I thought it would be beneficial for both the youth and senior community.”

Hands hard at work.

As the five students paired up with their seniors, few words were spoken, as shyness took over, and the 60-plus-year gap revealed itself. But after the secret ingredients (chocolate, bacon and sweet potatoes) were announced, the teams quickly huddled and formulated their strategies.

I watched the action from the judges’ table, joined by chef-caterer and TV personality Wendy Brodie, executive chef Jon Knight from Roy’s at Spanish Bay and Suzanne Peterson from Bon Appetite Management Co.

Cocoa-crusted pork tenderloin medallions with sweet potato mash.

Under the circumstances, the food that these curious teams produced (using just one gas burner and little equipment) was extraordinary. My favorites? Team 3 (Mrs. Dunn and Ashley) cooked cocoa-crusted pork loin medallions with apple chutney and a puree of yams (inventive, delicious). Team 5 (Mrs. Anderson and Martin) put together a silky soup of yams, celery, bacon and chocolate (sophisticated, beautiful).

The best thing about it, though, was watching the tender, thoughtful interaction within teams, and trying to determine just who was learning from whom.

Sweet potato soup with chocolate and bacon.

The residents will go back into quiet retirement, while the students will continue training before being absorbed into the Peninsula’s hospitality world. In the meantime, the dining room at the Salinas campus is open to the public each Friday. Don’t look for wild ingredients and avant-garde cuisine, but rather classic entrees and sauces prepared under careful guidelines and with time-honored techniques. The restaurant (out on Old Stage Road) accommodates 60 guests inside, and another 40 on the patio. Three-course, prix-fixe menus are priced around $20. Information: 444-3521.

As for the winning team? They all won. Awards and smiles all around.

A satisfied group poses with their creations.

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The death of fine dining

The view from the Pacific's Edge dining room, which underwent a renovation in 2003.

 I fell in love with fine dining as a pimply-faced teenager tired of pork chops smothered in canned cream of mushroom soup or hot dogs wrapped in crescent dough.

 One summer day in the year 1980 a family celebration brought us to the Pacific’s Edge at Highlands Inn south of Carmel. We surrendered our Oldsmobile 88 to a valet and ascended the steps to the most elegant restaurant in Central California.

Strolling into the dining room, equally in awe of the ocean view and the sheer formality of it all, we approached the hostess stand, where a dapper older man pointed to me and informed my parents: “the young gentleman must be properly attired.” Wearing slacks and a sweater did not meet the dress code, so the man discreetly borrowed a jacket from a nearby closet and helped me into it.

Someone escorted us to the table, holding the chairs for the women, and an expert team of servers moved about us in stealth mode. Everyone had a job, and performed it with expert grace. I loved the rhythm of the room, and the low murmur of conversation.

At one point, someone led my grandmother to the restroom, re-folding her napkin before her return. Someone else swept away the scattered breadcrumbs from our table between courses. I remember cold butter carved into the shape of a rose. I remember tasting caviar for the first time, the tiny eggs bursting salty goodness on my tongue.

Most of the food was heavy and rich and delicious. I ordered a steak of some kind, and I remember running my bread across the plate to soak up the accompanying sauce (bearnaise, I believe). I could swear now that our dessert came to the table on fire.

That time, I know now, were the waning days of fine dining, as haute cuisine gave way to ingredient-driven, simplified fare without all the fuss and pretention.

Some say fine dining is now dead. I say it’s alive and well, and only its definition has changed.

In a fight to remain relevant and profitable, Pacific’s Edge was the first local restaurant to change with the times, beginning with its $750,000 renovation in 2003. It incorporated a lighter, brighter, more contemporary décor to match more accessible, less-pricey food.

When the economy tanked a few years ago, the restaurant already had a local, seasonal

Pacific's Edge chef Matt Bolton's pork trio.

menu with more love and less haute. Now it showcases spectacular views with food to match. Run by one of the best triple threats on the Peninsula (executive chef Matt Bolton, wine director Paul Fried and manager Jacques Melac), the restaurant matches the expectations and demands of the new dining public.

You’ll find local halibut, abalone and spot prawns, wild mushrooms, interesting greens such as mâche and micro-wasabi, and artisanal cheeses, honey and olive oil. It’s still fine dining, to be sure, just all put together without the heavy-handed pretention of the past.

Other high-end restaurants are following suit, especially since the shocking closure last year of Club XIX inside The Lodge at Pebble Beach. Plans there include a more contemporary redesign of décor and food, more in line with sister resort Spanish Bay, with patios, fire pits and food more compatible to a busy tourist’s schedule.

The dining room at Marinus will become more contemporary after a May redesign.

Marinus at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley plans a renovation just before Mother’s Day this year, to put the décor more in line with Chef Cal Stamenov’s “California Natural” cuisine. Casanova in Carmel has also announced a similar redesign of the décor and menu. Like Marinus, Casanova will provide more a la carte options, and smaller plates, along with a lower the price point slightly. This provides the modern diner with more flexibility and a larger menu.

A national trend has seen elite chefs opening brew pubs, burger joints and neighborhood bistros, swapping slacks for jeans, foie gras for chicken livers, silent dining rooms for hipster-Yelpers, $800 bottles of Bordeaux for value-priced boutique wines.

We continue to see quality ingredients, cutting-edge techniques and expert service. There is no wasted motion, with no time to carve a flower from a carrot, fold a napkin into a swan, create a melting ice sculpture, or wash 11 different wine glasses that no one will ever drink from.

Restaurants desperately want to impress, and many of them do — by giving us exactly what we want: expert service without a cloying, in-your-face approach; a convivial atmosphere that engages us socially; and great-tasting food that thrills and surprises at every turn.

It’s a new era, and it tastes pretty damn good.

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Finding the best burger

At left: Burger King's Whopper sandwich as pictured in restaurant ads. Right: The same burger purchased and photographed immediately.

A popular theory maintains that the lowly hot dog is the quintessential American food, when in fact it’s the humble hamburger that deserves that distinction.

Each year we devour 14 billion burgers in this country. Its simplicity and convenience, along with the fact that it can dressed up or down — from avocado to za’atar — make it the go-to food for carnivores coast to coast.

We all know its distance relative is Germany’s hamburg steak, but who was the first to slap ground beef on a bun?

Of course there’s an argument tied to the provenance of the patty (just like the ice cream cone, the pizza, the fortune cookie, the margarita and many more).

The family of Louis Lassen, original owner of Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Conn., screams the loudest. They submit that in 1900 one of Louis’ customers wanted lunch in a hurry, so the cook put a beef patty between two slices of white bread.

The town of Seymour, Wis., begs to differ. For some reason Seymour built a Hamburger Hall of Fame, and stakes a claim as the burger’s birthplace. Local legend says that Charles Nagreen made the first hamburger. It seems while working as a vendor at a local fair in 1885 he realized that fairgoers would have an easier time eating his meatballs if he made them more portable.

Sounds more like a meatball sandwich.

Another story points to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis as the location of the first burger. The families of Fletcher Davis of Texas and Frank Menches of Ohio are fighting over which long-lost relative came up with the idea first.

There is no dispute that brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald opened the fast-food floodgates. The first McDonald’s opened in 1948, but business really took off in 1954, when the brothers met Ray Kroc, who developed an assembly-line production model still used today.

Today McDonald’s is the most popular hamburger in America in terms of sales, but certainly not the tastiest or the most healthful. Those who refuse to cross under the Golden Arches, and even some slow-food activists, tend to choose In-N-Out as the best of the fast-food empires. It seems they source better quality, more sustainable food stuffs and they treat their employees better.

But does that make In-and-Out the best tasting burger? Many think so, and that’s a travesty if true.

Where can you find the best burger on the Monterey Peninsula? In-N-Out is in and out of the discussion because it’s still fast, franchised food and the closest one is in Salinas.

According to Yelp, the highest rated burgers on the Peninsula belong to 1) Phat Burger, Seaside; 2) RG Burgers, Carmel/Monterey; 3) Bistro 211, Carmel; 4) American Burger, Monterey; 5) Carl’s Jr., Pacific Grove.

That seems like a faulty list to me. So, with the help of master Yelper and Herald restaurant reviewer Raul Nava, I will try to develop my personal Top 5 list. Give me a few months to eat my way around town, and I’ll get back to you.

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Squishy, slimy and … delicious

Market squid before processing isn't exactly a pretty sight.

Take one look at a live squid and the last idea you’d have is to gut it, fry it and pop it in your mouth. This 10-armed, prehistoric creature first described by Aristotle in his “Historia Animalium” around 322 B.C., is downright disgusting.

But thanks to the adventurous immigrants who called Monterey Bay home, squid (or calamari) has become a ubiquitous staple up and down our coast. In fact, it’s rare a local restaurant doesn’t list it somewhere on the menu.

The local leader in cleaning and cooking squid has to be Abalonetti Bar and Grill on Fisherman’s Wharf. The longtime restaurant processes about 1,000 pounds of the slimy cephalopod each week.

Abalonetti devotes an entire section of its menu to calamari, offering infinite variations: flash fried (no more than 25 seconds); elegantly sautéed and simmered in marinara; flash fried over fried eggplant with Sicilian red sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella (called Marty’s Special); or modernized twists such as spicy Buffalo, Baha or garlic.

“We cook squid more than 20 ways . . . endless combinations really,” says Phillips.

The word “calamari” is the plural form of the Italian word for squid “calamaro.” Also know as “kalamari” (Greek), “kalamar” (Turkish), “calmar” (French), “kalmari” (Finnish), “calamares” (Spanish), the name derives from the Latin word “calamarium” for “ink pot,” after the black fluid that squid secrete. “Calamarium,” in turn, derives from the Greek “kalamos,” meaning “reed,” “tube,” or “pen.”

Called calamari on Italian menus, squid is fresh tasting and tender-crisp when grilled, sautéed or deep fried for no more than 3 minutes, or simmered for 45 minutes to an hour. Anything in between and it will be tough.

Squid grow quickly and reproduce at a young age, making them highly resilient to fishing pressure. The U.S. Atlantic longfin squid population is considered healthy and abundant, making this item a Seafood Watch “Best Choice.”

Following is a squid recipe from Abalonetti and a sustainable seafood recipe from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Be sure to scroll down and view Abalonetti’s vintage squid poster it produced in the 1960s.

Calamari Siciliano

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 2 T. pine nuts
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 T. hot red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup to ½ cup dry white wine 2 cups basic tomato sauce
  • (recipe follows)
  • 1½ lbs. cleaned calamari, tubes cut into ¼-inch rounds, tentacles halved
  • 5 scallions, thinly sliced, reserve some for garnish
  • Freshly ground black pepper Kosher salt

Steps: In a 12 to 14-inch saute pan, heat the oil until just smoking. Add the pine nuts, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and sauté until the pine nuts are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the calamari, stir to mix, and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the calamari is just cooked and completely opaque. Toss in the scallions. Season with salt and pepper, pour into a large warm bowl, sprinkle with the reserved scallions, drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.

Basic tomato sauce

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, ¼-inch dice
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 T. chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 T. dried
  • 2 (28-oz.) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
  • Salt

Steps: In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and cook 5 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds a week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Spaghetti with Squid, Bell Pepper and Lemon

  • 6 oz. spaghetti, preferably multigrain
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, flattened
  • Half large red bell pepper, seeded, cut into ¼-inch pieces
  • ½ lb. cleaned squid, bodies thinly sliced, tentacles left whole
  • ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup bottled clam juice
  • 3 T. fresh lemon juice
  • one-third cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 to 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 T. toasted pine nuts (optional)

Steps: Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Drain the pasta. Meanwhile, heat 1 T. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the whole garlic cloves and bell peppers and stir to coat with oil. Cover and cook until the peppers soften and start to brown and the garlic is golden, about 6 minutes. Discard the garlic. Add the squid and red pepper flakes; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir until the squid is opaque, about 1 minute. Add the clam juice and simmer until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice. Add the pasta to the sauce in the skillet and toss over medium-low heat to coat and warm through, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid a little at a time if the pasta is dry. Mix in the parsley then taste and adjust the seasonings. Drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil over the pasta. Divide between 2 warmed plates, sprinkle with pine nuts if desired, and serve immediately.

— Courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium

How to clean squid

  • 1. Holding the body firmly, grasp the head and pull gently, twisting if necessary, to pull the head away from the body without breaking the ink sac. The internal body and tentacles will come with it.
  • 2. Cut the tentacles from the head just below the eyes. At the center of the tentacles is a small beak. Squeeze to remove and discard.
  • 3. Set aside the tentacles to use (they’re edible and tasty). If the recipe calls for ink, reserve it, otherwise discard the head and ink sac.
  • 4. At the top of the body, there is a clear piece of cartilage. Pull it out and discard.
  • 5. If the squid has an outer spotted membrane-type skin, pull it off and discard.
  • 6. Under cold running water, wash the tube carefully, inside and out, to get rid of any sand or other remaining tissues, and wash the tentacles carefully as well.
  • 7. If you’re going to stuff them, you’re finished. Set them aside to drain.
  • 8. If you’re going to fry them, remove the side fins.

— Courtesy Abalonetti Bar and Grill, Monterey

Abalonetti published this squid poster in the 1960s.

 

 

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Fortune cookies for the brave

iLLfortune is an East Bay company that has changed the face of fortune cookies.

I opened a fortune cookie last week expecting the typically vague, silly and overly optimistic drivel. Instead, I got this contemptuous missive: “Prosac is planning a long term relationship with you.” Another said: “The voices inside your head think you’re an idiot.”

Instead of an eye-rolling platitude, I got something interesting that brought a smile instead of a groan.

It seems there’s a new fortune cookie on the block, a bold and wicked treat with sardonic wit and a dose of surprise thrown into the recipe.

It’s called iLLfortune.

East Bay resident David Fenton grew weary of the letdown following Chinese food, so he started the first fortune cookie company not afraid to offend. He calls them “fortune cookies for the brave.”

The idea is spreading, but not yet seen in any Monterey County restaurants, where we get the same old platitudes, such as “meaningful relationships bring meaning to life” or “you are talented in many ways.”

“Clever, original thinkers have no interest in predictable fortunes,” says Fenton. “They crave surprise and wit.”

Fenton, thought: What if those sweet treasures contained something irreverent, mean-spirited or hilariously inappropriate? What if they could actually spark conversation, induce surprise or bring people together in unpredictable ways? Continue reading

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Free bacon: Are you in?

Baker's Bacon

Baker's Bacon makes an English-style bacon from the back of the pig.

Why are we obsessed with bacon, that fatty, salty, yummy, porky goodness that enhances the flavor of everything it touches?

Chef Tony Baker with his Baker's Bacon.

Well, science says it’s due to what is called the Maillard Reaction, a process that occurs when reduced sugars react with amino acids under heat. It’s the same reason we love roasted coffee, chocolate and caramel. The reducing sugars in the bacon fat are the key to our Pavlov response when that aroma hits the kitchen air above the frying pan.

Science aside, there is a certain primal urge to chew the fat, if you will, and to give the one-fingered salute to all that is healthful and reasonable. We love bacon, clogged arteries be damned.

How would you like to start your New Year off with two resolution-blowing packages of free bacon from Tony Baker, the Montrio Bistro chef who started making and marketing his own line of English-style bacon earlier this year. Baker’s Bacon is made from all-natural pork, without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. It’s hand rubbed and dry cured with no added water or phosphates.

Here’s how to bring home the free bacon:

Contest: One lucky Grub Hunter reader will win two packs of Baker’s Bacon (a $24 value), the all-natural, English-style Back Bacon and the Applewood Smoked Bacon that Americans are used to eating. Try them both and compare for yourself!

Entries, limited to those in the continental United States, will be accepted through midnight PST Dec. 28. Winner will be announced on Dec. 31.

How to win?

In 75 words or less, tell The Grub Hunter why you love bacon, and then submit a recipe for your favorite dish using bacon. Email to grubhunter@comcast.net.

Here’s my own bacon love story and recipe:

Nothing soothes the searing heat of chile peppers like the melty fat and salty goodness of bacon. I enjoy watching friends wipe tears off their cheeks with a smile when I make them my bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed jalapeños. The chiles are hot, the sun-dried tomato-spiked cheese is soft and slightly sweet and the bacon is crisp and salty. It’s the perfect flavor combination and the ultimate snack, especially during football season.

The Grub Hunter's bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed jalapeños.

Grub Hunter’s Bacon-Wrapped Jalapeños

  • 1 package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2-3 cloves minced garlic
  • ¼ cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes (fresh tomatoes add too much moisture)
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • Pinch salt
  • 10-15 jalapeño peppers (medium size)
  • 1 lb. thinly sliced bacon (room temperature)
  • Toothpicks

Steps: Preheat the grill or the broiler. Mix the cream cheese with chopped garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and the cilantro. Add a pinch of salt. Mix until soft and manageable.

Slice each jalapeño lengthwise on one side, careful not to cut the pepper completely in half. Blanch in salted, boiling water for 1-2 minutes before dumping in an ice bath to retain color and texture.

Stuff the pliable peppers with the cream cheese mixture and press closed.

With a tiny spoon or knife, remove the seeds and membranes from the now-pliable pepper. Using a pastry bag (I prefer a teaspoon), pipe the filling into the opening of the peppers and press sides together until closed. Careful not to overfill as the filling may spurt out during cooking.

Wrap each pepper with 1 strip of thin-sliced bacon, effectively sealing the opening in the pepper. Secure the end with a toothpick (you may want to soak the toothpicks first to avoid burning).

Cook the peppers over medium heat to slowly render the fat, until the bacon is lightly charred, fully cooked and crispy. A grill is recommended because the peppers can be turned easily and the fat can drip away (if using a broiler, use a drip pan to avoid over oily peppers).

Serve with ranch dressing or a little Mexican crema as a dip.

 

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Turkey Yucateca

Turkey Yucateca

Turkey Yucateca rests before carving.

Giving thanks in Mexico comes naturally — the wonders of sun, sand, salt and tequila working harmoniously to help peel away layers of tension left by fretfulness and angst that define our lives back home.

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner south of the border requires a little more effort, and a bit of creativity to boot. But we arrived in the sleepy Mexican fishing village of La Manzanilla with a plan for our holiday meal, put together with help from Chef Julio Ramirez and his wife Marie Perucca-Ramirez. The Ramirezes, of course, founded The Fishwife restaurants and Turtle Bay taquerias on the Monterey Peninsula, and left us all with an invaluable resource in the form of  “The Turtle Bay Cookbook.”

Julio Ramirez and Marie Perucca-Ramirez

Julio Ramirez and Marie Perucca-Ramirez.

We took along our copy, with promises from Chef Julio that anyone who tasted his Turkey Yucateca would become instant amigos.

Turkey? In Mexico? Actually, yes. The modern domesticated turkey descended from one of six subspecies of wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), found in the area bounded by the present Mexican states of Jalisco, Guerrero and Veracruz. Ancient Mesoamericans domesticated the bird, and used its meat and eggs as protein, and today many Mexicans enjoy turkey for Christmas and New Years, often with a liberal dousing of mole rojo. Continue reading

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Yes, soup IS a meal

Mary Chamberlin's classic minestrone

Mary Chamberlin's classic minestrone (with meatballs added).

As the days turn dark and cold, our moods seem to follow suit. But as we shut ourselves inside to brave another winter, a soup pot can be the antidote for much of what ails.

No one knows this more than Mary Chamberlin, Carmel’s most gracious host andTraveling Soup Pot thoughtful philanthropist — a kitchen maven and author of the new cookbook “The Traveling Soup Pot: A Savory Journey Through Many Lands.”

“I’ve had a lifelong love affair with good soups made from fresh ingredients,” said Chamberlin, who serves as chair of the Monterey chapter of American Institute of Wine and Food, hosting charity dinners in her gorgeous home in Carmel Knolls.

Nearly four decades ago, her romantic first meeting of her husband-to-be Roy Chamberlin, a TWA pilot, started her on a whirlwind journey. “Marry me and fly for free,” became part of his proposal.

Her love of soups blended with her love of travel. In the coming years, the Chamberlins sat and slurped together at cafes in Paris, trattorias in Italy, cottages in Wales, noodle shops in China and countless spots across the Pacific and beyond. “Everywhere I traveled, I ate soups as unique and different as the cultures that produced them … and I collected the recipes.”

Mary Chamberlin

Mary Chamberlin.

Along the way she found time to attend the Cordon Bleu Cooking School and was awarded a Certificat de Presence from La Varenne in Paris.

In between trips, Mary taught International Cuisine at Ohlone College in Fremont and owned and operated both Mission Delicatessen and Mission Gourmet Catering.

Soup was always an integral part of her repertoire, and each day she prepared a different 3-gallon pot for her customers. She estimates she’s prepared more than 140,000 servings of soup. That’s nearly 9,000 gallons of potages, broths, cream soups, bisques and chowders.

While soup is found in every country and region around the world, it is probably cherished more in Italy than anywhere else.

An old Italian saying reads: “La zuppa fa sette cose.” Continue reading

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