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The Morning Chew – Breakfast with Carla Hall: Cooking For Solutions 2013, Monterey CA

cooking with love

It was hard to wake up early Sunday morning after two busy days of Cooking For Solutions.  But the third and final day had us jazzed for breakfast with Chef Carla Hall, so we were eager to enjoy a meal with her before exploring the aquarium.  She energetically chatted with us and other patrons, posed for photos, signed her book, and danced with the live band.  She was very welcoming to all who attended, and everyone had a wonderful time.

Local and organic, Clover produces some of the highest quality dairy products available in our area.  The toppings included gorgeous fruit and Earthbound Farm Organic granola to add to peach, forest berry, and vanilla yogurts.

brown sugar cured niman ranch bacon

brown sugar cured niman ranch bacon

Niman Ranch is famous as a leader in livestock sustainability, producing beef, pork, lamb, smoked, and prepared meats.  This bacon was sweet, smoky, thick, meaty, and amazing.

poached shrimp and grits

poached shrimp and grits

Shrimp and grits is not what first comes to mind when we think of breakfast since we don’t have a lot of experience with Southern cuisine, but it was totally appropriate here.  And of course, we’re at a seafood sustainability conference, so how could we not have had something from the sea?  The grits were buttery, rich, and creamy, perfect for each bite with a succulent shrimp.

smoked salmon asparagus frittata

smoked salmon asparagus frittata

With asparagus in season right now, we’re seeing it on so many menus and in so many items, but that’s okay because we like asparagus.  We wish this frittata recipe was in Carla’s Cooking With Love!  The eggs were velvety in texture and the smoked salmon had a great flavor.

carla's fried apple pancakes

carla’s fried apple pancakes

GMO-free and hardly your standard box variety, Carla’s fried apple pancakes were the highlight of the buffet.  Crisp and tart apples broke up the texture of the pancake, and the apple-cider syrup on top was delicious.  Compared to maple syrup, the apple-cider syrup was sweet yet a little tangy, but just as good with bacon as maple syrup is.

august's spread

august’s spread

August admits, she’s not a fan of yogurt so she swapped that out for a shipped-in mini chocolate croissant and fresh apricot.  But you have to admit, that’s a breakfast that hugs you.

fennel-dill brined and poached iceland arctic char served with horseradish-flavored sour cream, honey-citrus dressing, mustard cress, and almond crumble

fennel-dill brined and poached iceland arctic char served with horseradish-flavored sour cream, honey-citrus dressing, mustard cress, and almond crumble

Immediately outside the dining area, the aquarium opened up with a few food tables.  On the aquarium’s first floor, a small number chefs and businesses were preparing for the onslaught of aquarium patrons who would get a taste of what we had experienced the last few days, but we got first taste.  Chef Hákon Már Övarsson was back, this time with char and a whole lot of hyphenated extras.  Fennel and dill are wonderfully earthy herbs which enhanced the char’s natural taste, and horseradish is a favorite additive in our house, so the combination of flavors was particularly enjoyable.  August has always wanted to go to Iceland, but if this is a representation of the gourmet possibilities that await, then that dream had better happen sooner than later.

mini penny pops

mini penny pops

Thank you, anonymous rep for The Penny Ice Creamery, for posing so well with your yummy ice cream pop!  The strawberry ice cream was made from scratch with locally farmed and organic ingredients, then dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in cookie crumbs.  The equivalent of about three bites, this was a great dessert to round out our morning meal.

Since all of the animals were tucked in with the lights out on Friday, we were happy to see them today.  Buffet breakfast was bountiful, and we met a fellow writer who passed on invaluable knowledge, so our morning was all-around amazing!  Please enjoy an assortment of our favorite animal sightings of the day.

goodbye, monterey!

goodbye, monterey!

Pranzo Italiano! with Chris Cosentino and Jeremy Tummel: Cooking For Solutions 2013, Monterey CA

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Day 2 of Cooking For Solutions brought us to Pebble Beach.  Our favorite offalist Chris Cosentino and Jeremy Tummel designed a four-course meal for a lunch at Casa Palmero.  The weather was excellent, and the food matched.

While we waited to be seated, we sipped champagne from Chandon.  In fact, all the wine pairings were from Chandon.  Staff eagerly rushed out more flutes than we could handle as we anticipated the main event, and the sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and pinot noir were well suited to their respective entrees; at the third course with the pinot noir, August gasped, “This is my new favorite red!  It tastes like savory liquid dessert.”

The skewered kobe beef was superbly seared with a medium-rare center.  It was extremely tender with a deep beef flavor, and the sauce was rich yet mellow so the kobe was still the star of the bite.  The roasted artichokes with Bermuda Triangle goat cheese and pepper relish were marinated so there was some green acidity underneath the tanginess of the goat cheese.  Zach typically does not like goat cheese because it is strong for him, but this “wasn’t the strongest (he’s) had, it’s more like a medium to low range.”  The sweet, earthy relish was refreshing to top it off.  The oysters, though, stole the show.  Chef Chris shucked them for us while answering questions and sharing anecdotes.  The two mignonettes for the oysters were citrusy like a vinaigrette without oil, but each had their own zing (the serrano was a little spicy, but good).

40 lucky palates

40 lucky palates

Being Italian-American and growing up with certain attitudes towards food, Chef Chris explained to us that “Italian food is convivial,” so all but dessert was served family-style.  We had a great time meeting our table mates and making new friends.

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Chef Chris was not reserved in speaking to us about our meal.  He explained that our first course was “from the bottom of the food chain today,” with vegetables, anchovies, and an anchovy bagna cauda (for which we were given the recipe, yum).

carrots, squash blossoms, green beans, wax beans, sweet peppers, baby radishes, turnips, tomatoes, anchovies, microgreens

carrots, squash blossoms, green beans, wax beans, sweet peppers, baby radishes, turnips, tomatoes, anchovies, microgreens

We passed the platter to pile our plates of fresh, fragrant finger foods.  Some vegetables in this non-traditional crudité were raw while others were lightly blanched, but the bagna cauda was delicious for it all.  Like a super intense Caesar salad dressing, it was tangy, salty, and bright.

Second course was a green salad like none we’ve had before.  The vegetables tasted like they were harvested that morning.  The deep green colors aligned with the vibrant smells, so you could tell that the ingredients were as fresh as you could get.  To stay in the theme of seafood, Chef Chris shaved salted cured fish roe, which added an intensely rich saltiness.

braised pork shoulder with green garlic & clams

braised pork shoulder with green garlic & clams

When the third course arrived, Chef Zach took charge and served each person at our table since it was just too heavy to try to pass this around.  The pork was so tender and moist, he used a spoon to cut and serve!  Despite being that tender, the meat still had a nice rub on the crust, aka bark, so we’re happy to have gotten the recipe for the dish and learn how to recreate it.  For either this or the bagna cauda, if you’re interested in trying them for yourself, let us know and we will send you the recipe(s).

We don’t believe we’ve had asparagus as sweet as this was.  The sauce for the pork and clams was a mild green garlic, more like a deep broth with rich clam flavor.  The aioli, though, was killer.  It enhanced each element of the course and brought uniformity and theme among the different flavors.  Zach especially liked it with the asparagus, and August couldn’t get enough on her pork.

strawberried treats

strawberried treats

The desserts didn’t have a name or description, and we’re not going to make up a name, but we can still write about the flavors and textures.  The chiffon-like cake was very thin and soaked in a flavored simple syrup, with fresh strawberries set in the white chocolate mousse.  Smooth and creamy, the mousse was August’s favorite part of the plate.  It had a deep white chocolate flavor that perfectly complemented the strawberries.  The strawberry sorbet was rich but ironically light – sorbets are supposed to be light, but this was so creamy it almost fooled us because it didn’t have the same rough ice crystal feel that we’re accustomed to, and it didn’t even contain any cream or milk.  Zach felt it was tart and tangy with a natural, robust strawberry flavor.  Raspberry sauce and vanilla crème anglaise created a fancy border between the two parts, which was great for the cake as well as plain with a spoon.  It helped to offset the dessert so that we didn’t go on strawberry overload.

swag

swag

We can’t wait to pour over this cookbook organized by season.  Part of practical, conscientious eating is being aware of not just where our food is from, but when.  With an enthused sense of culinary responsibility and environmental awareness inspired by what we’ve learned so far in two events of Cooking For Solutions, we eagerly await (and look forward to sharing with you) tonight’s street food-themed dinner and tomorrow’s conclusion.

Off the Grid, Oakland CA

a dozen trucks came out tonight!

a dozen trucks came out tonight!

You can count on variety when you go to Off the Grid.  Small mobile food businesses from all over the Bay come together with the help of this organization, which coordinates space, permits, garbage service, and live music.  On a section of 10th St next to the Oakland Museum of California, every Friday from 5 to 9 pm admission to the gallery is half price, local beer and wine are featured, and music has an actual stage and lighting.  With the acoustics of the buildings, the music floated all the way up from the bottom to the top of the block, entertaining all the diners out for the evening.

Kasa Indian, Sanguchón, Señor Sisig, WhipOut!, The Architect’s Kitchen, and KoJa Kitchen were half of a dozen vendors with broad and popular menus.  We confess, we got here with a little less than two hours before closing, so we didn’t get to try everything but we did what we could.

rice plate with chicken masala and palak aloo

rice plate with chicken tikka masala and palak aloo

Zach hasn’t had Indian food except for once, so he’s not an expert by any means on typical flavors of the subcontinent, but August felt the spices used by Kasa Indian were as authentic as they get.  In fact, we were so swept up with the flavor, August forgot to snap a picture of the truck, so thank you, Kasa Indian, because we’ve borrowed one of your images for our collage above.  And clearly, thank you for an impressive entree.  The masala sauce was spicy and rich over the tender, juicy chicken.  For how simple spinach and potato may seem, the palak aloo was deep in flavor.  The crew is definitely well trained in their preparation of Indian cuisine, because even the pickled onion and fresh, refreshing cilantro sauce were tasty condiments.

Sanguchón offers up sandwiches with Peruvian flair.  A sanguchería is a Peruvian sandwich shop, traditionally serving the types of sandwiches you might want at late hours of the night after lots of drinking.  We can imagine that this pan con chicharrón would win favor with native peruanos.  In fact, it is pretty special indeed because we noticed a plaque indicating that Sanguchón is a Peruvian ambassador in recognition for its representation and dedication of this sandwich with sliced pork loin, fried yams, marinated onions in lime juice, and crema de rocoto. Another type of sandwich we picked up here was the buttery, light cookies with dulce de leche.  These were a nice treat for each of us when we got home.  If you’re looking for an all-in-one meal with meat, vegetables, and bread, this is the thing to try.

señor sisig burrito

“señor sisig” burrito

The Filipino burrito from Señor Sisig was familiar in the basic burrito sense, but there were a few elements that made it new and zesty.  The adobo garlic rice, pinto beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, and cilantro cream sauce combined for a slightly spicy yet slightly sweet flavor mix, with savor throughout as it was packed with garlic.  This is a mild fusion of a Mexican-American burrito with Southeast Asian ingredients, so it is perfect for those with a craving but wanting to jazz up the taste experience.  The truck spends a lot of its time in San Francisco during lunch, so keep an eye out.

split pea fritter slider

split pea fritter slider

August wished the split pea fritter slider from WhipOut! was bigger.  Sure, she could go back in line to get more, but the line was long since the food is that good, and she still needed room for items from other trucks.  Being a vegetarian option in respect to Oakland Veg Week, of which Sunday is the last day (we had no idea it was going on until tonight), this was super delicious and further proof that vegetarian food isn’t always bland.  The patty was made from split peas and risotto rice, with a crispy exterior and creamy yet filling center.  The mild Serrano relish was sweet and tangy, and the garlic aioli added an extra richness.  Mustard greens were a surprising lettuce alternative, and the delicate brioche bun was perfect for keeping it all together.

the works

the works

ArKi (The Architect’s Kitchen) is all about fried chicken.  We almost got individual pieces of chicken, but we wanted to see what they would serve it with; we tried it in a sandwich called The Works.  All the sandwiches come on Acme Torpedo rolls, and The Works boasted coleslaw, hash browns, and sweet n’ spicy aioli.  This is likely a college-student favorite.

Zach was lured to the KoJa Kitchen truck when the kamikaze fries flashed on the flat-screen display, then August saw the mochimisu.  He enjoyed the crosscut fries with Korean barbecue beef, sauteed onions, kimchi, green onions, Japanese mayonnaise and the house’s special red sauce.  The mochimisu, though, blew both of us away.  It was definitely a traditional tiramisu as far as the main ingredients go, but the one variance was the addition of chocolate mochi.  The mochi soaks up the coffee-flavored alcohol, blending in taste-wise with traditional tiramisu, yet the gummy texture is a layer of newness and innovation that made this dessert really stand out.  Heads up, tiramisu lovers!  Track down this truck and try it for yourselves.

off the grid 030

We’ve gone to two Off the Grids and among 20 trucks total now, we only saw one repeat.  We are very much looking forward to future jaunts in order to try more of the Bay’s diverse foods from some very creative minds.  High five to the band, you were really spirited and maintained your energy through the evening!  And thank you, Off the Grid crew, for keeping a big supply of chairs so that anyone who wanted to sit, could.  Being able to sit when eating makes a big difference in the enjoyment of the food.  See you guys again soon!