Sunday, February 22, 2009

Best damn potatoes, period!

The first time we made these potatoes, we lived in a tiny place in OB, and a patio on a cliff over the ocean with an old picnic table was our dining room. I know, it didn't suck. Anyway, with some fennel pollen pork loin (recipe someday), we made Roquey potatoes. They didn't suck either. Our neighbors were vegetarians and I wanted to give them a taste, as the potatoes came out great and we usually can't share our food with veggys, being carnys and all. I started to grab the potatoes, and was accosted by the 5 women at the table, yelling that there was no way I was giving any of these away. I know, I thought they were joking too! But nope, they were serious and I knew I risked an ass-whoopin if I didn't behave. Anyway, here's the recipe.

4 to 5 russet or other kind of baking potato
4 to 6 oz. Roquefort (see note)
4 to 6 oz heavy cream
couple tablespoons good bread crumbs
1 tsp fresh minced or 1/2 tsp dry rosemary
couple tablespoons cold butter (the better the better)
soft butter to grease baking dish

Preheat oven to 350. Using a mandoline or chef's knife, slice potatoes into 1/8 to 1/4 inch discs. Doesn't matter as long as you are consistent, so mandoline works best. In a small, heavy saucepan, melt the cheese and cream over low heat until incorporated. Meanwhile, grease 13 x 9 glass baking dish with soft butter. Install layer of potato slices, then give them a couple grinds of S&P. Easy on the salt, the cheese is pretty salty. Continue the process until potatoes are gone, giving each layer another grind of S&P. When done, pour incorporated cheese/cream over, covering up to about 2/3 (please don't cover them all the way, the liquid will never get absorbed and you'll have potato cheese stew), cover with foil, and bake 45 minutes to an hour, until most of the liquid is incorporated and the potatoes have softened. Meanwhile, mix bread crumbs and rosemary. When potatoes are almost done, remove from oven, increase temperature to 450, discard foil, sprinkle with crumb mixture and dot with butter. Return uncovered and cook until topping begins to brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Let sit for at least 10 minutes to cool and absorb remainder of liquid.

A neat trick I've learned is to leave a 1/4 stick of butter in the freezer wrapped in wax paper. Great for when recipes call for "dot with butter." Just pull out the frozen butter, get out your handy dandy box grater (use the big holes), and your life just got easier.

Note: Use roquefort, preferably Carles or Papillon. We've tried other blue cheeses, and it's not nearly as good. You need the power and richness of a good roquefort.

Rey at Knight

We are very happy to be the first retailer to offer our new friend Rey Knight's Salumi. Like Salumi out of Seattle or Fra Mani in Bezerkley, Rey makes fresh, hand-made salumi right here in San Diego. We love discovering fine local products to offer in the shop. You may have run into Rey and his team at one of San Diego's local farmer's markets. If you like salumi, Knight Salumi is a must try.

Rey was the first chef at The Linkery, then left to pursue his love of all things cured. He recently got the USDA approval, and can now distribute to retail shops. Timing is everything. We tasted a few varieties of Knight Salumi at the Hillcrest farmer's market, and immediately set upon convincing Rey to let Taste carry his product. We had to wait a couple months until he completed the USDA dance, which seems to be quite a complex and lengthy process. Happily that's now behind him and we're thrilled to offer several different styles of his fine salumi.

A few weeks ago, Rey came by and did a free tasting of a few different varieties of his salumi for our customers. The next week he was featured in a KUSI news segment where he kindly plugged Taste as the place to buy his salumi. It's been tough keeping up with demand ever since! So far we've carried six varieties and hope to continue mixing it up.

Here's a rundown of some of my (George's) favorites:

Coppa Molina - My favorite! This is very spicy, the kind that builds a burn on the lips and heat in your throat. My first bite sent me running for a cold beer. But once I had the beer, I couldn't stop eating it. Heat is indeed addictive, particularly when coupled with great flavor. Made with pork, fatback, sea salt, sugar, pimenton, black pepper and spices. Spices must be where the red pepper flakes hide, 'cause they're sure in there. If you like Coppa, you'll love this version.

Tuscan Inspired - pork, fatback, sea salt, garlic and spices deliver the flavors of Italy. I like this one with some Piave Vecchio cheese, crusty bread, rustic red wine and a crisp green apple.

Finocchiona - We're out as I write this, so I don't have the ingredient list in front of me, but this is my 2nd favorite after the Coppa. Made with fennel pollen and fennel seed, and very lean, this is a great choice for a cheese and meat board, or to surprise your guests with a salumi flavor they probably haven't tried.

Hungarian - Just tried this one over the weekend, and love it. Made with beef, pork, sea salt, peppercorns, garlic, white wine, spices (that must be where the paprika lives). Great spicy flavors, but not hot. At Wine Steals' brunch this morning, I had Icaro in their kitchen make me some roasted potatoes and mix some of this in. Really good. The potatoes soaked up some of the spice and fat, taking them to another level.

Basically, every variety of Rey's salumi we've tried have been excellent! We hope he is the new undiscovered gem in San Diego. Look for his products at Taste, and select local farmer's markets, and discover him for yourself.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

It's Oscar Time!

We had a customer in today planning for her Oscar party. She is preparing 5 dishes, each inspired by one of the Best Picture nominees. For instance, she got some aged Gouda, Cheddar and Piave Vecchio in honor of Benjamin Button - she wanted something that aged well. For Milk, some San Francisco sourdough bread. Schnitzel for The Reader. Frosted cake for Frost/Nixon. Curry for Slumdog. She's gonna make her guests guess which movie goes with which. Cute idea!

A friend and I once had an Oscar party where we made pizzas from the Spago cookbook. It was a blast!

Whatever you're doing for the Oscars, we hope you celebrate in style. And we hope you'll stop in and let Taste help you on that front.

81st Annual Academy Awards
Sunday, February 22nd
5pm PST/8pm EST

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day Beers

George and I decided to take a pass on the insanity that is dining out on Valentine's Day and instead, hit Toronado - one of our favorite beer haunts- for a few beers and pizza (romantic in it's simplicity, no?). In honor of the hallmark holiday, I tried two VDay inspired brews.

1) Rejection - Russian River Brewing
They bill this as a Belgium-style black ale. It was fantastic! I don't know if I've ever had a black ale before and I was surprised at how tasty this was. Unlike stouts and other darker beers, I didn't taste much coffee in this one, nor did I find any hints of chocolate. Instead, it was just malty goodness and a bit fruity. Yum.

2) Next up was My Bloody Valentine, locally brewed by Alesmith. These guys make some of our favorite beers (Anvil is amazing!). They bill MBV as a red hopped ale - and hopped to the max it is! You could smell the hops from across the table. And you could taste them too, but what was surprising was the lack of bitterness. I expected a biting finish but instead found it kind of sweet and fruity. Another winner.

I know a few great spots around town are pouring these and seeing as they're seasonal, I recommend you hop on over to your favorite pub and have a pint or two.

Happy V-Day-After

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mary's new favorite cheese

Almost daily, I'm asked by a customer or two what my favorite cheese is. I generally say something flip like 'what does it matter what I like - it's you we need to please!'.

When pressed for an answer, my favorite - I mean ABSOLUTE favorite, is really ripe camembert. Generally, I would say that meaning French camembert, I mean, is there really any other kind? As it turns out, yes there is. We just discovered it last week and it's from a surprising locale - Tasmania, to be exact.

Tasmanian Heritage Camembert. It's won international awards over the past few years and is just now becoming available. It's insane. In fact, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's the best darn camembert I've tried.

So, I guess my new favorite cheese is not just ripe camembert, it's ripe Tasmanian camembert. Wonders never cease.

New Cheese Classes on the Calendar

We've just announced some great new cheese classes...check them out! Pre-enrollment is required and we've already had a good response so sign up soon if you're interested. Send us an email (, call the shop (619.683.2306) or stop in soon.

The Wild, Wild West – Wines & Cheeses from California, Oregon & Washington
Wednesday, March 11th, 6:30pm@ Taste$45
We’re excited to present our first exploration of the excellent wines and cheeses from the states of California, Oregon and Washington – aka The Wild, Wild West! Join us as we take a 90-minute tour of our favorite wines and cheeses from this fertile region. We’ll sample a variety of wines, and discover the variations – some subtle, some not so subtle – in wines, some stylistic, some terroir-based. We’ll pair the wines with incredible cheeses from small, independent producers from each of the three states.

The History of IPA with Hamilton's Tavern & Green Flash Brewing
Tuesday, March 24th 6:30pm@ Taste$40
Join us as we welcome two of San Diego's beer icons and explore the history of the beer style that put San Diego on the beer map - IPA (India Pale Ale). We're excited to welcome Scot Blair, proprietor of beer mecca Hamilton's Tavern and Chuck Silva, award-winning brewer from Green Flash Brewing. They'll be joined by our favorite cheese monger George Palmer as they take us through a guided tour of IPA's then and now, paired with some of our favorite artisan cheeses. This class is offered for one night only - space is very limited.

Cheese & Wine On a Dime
Wednesday, April 15th, 6:30pm
@ Taste $35
April 15th is Tax Day so we thought it was a good time to explore cheeses and wines that stretch your dollar further. We’ll sample a range of wines from lesser-known regions like Argentina, Chile and others offering excellent wine values. Our favorite cheese monger, George Palmer will dig Taste’s selection of artisan cheeses to create pairings that are as easy on the budget as they are on the palate. And for this special class, we’ve knocked $10 off the enrollment fee…and no taxes required.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

First Impression - Blind Lady

Mary's take:

We made it by the Blind Lady in University Heights for the first time last week. The place was packed and the vibe good. We ordered a caesar salad and the prosciutto pizza - perfect for 2! The beer selection is akin to what you'll find at Toronado, Hamiltons and O'Briens, tho IMO, not as extensive a selection.

Cons - the process. You order from a receptionist/cashier (I couldn't ascertain any other role she played) and they give you a number and a receipt that you then wait in line for a missing bartender to fill beers from. It's kind of beer centric so we were disappointed that it took so dang long to get a beer filled. This is a definite area that needs work.

Pro- community tables. Very cool vibe from mixed parties sitting together. And surprisingly, the noise level wasn't overwhelming.

Pro- Pricing. Decent food for the price. Our salad was $7 and the pizza was $11 and 2 of us were too stuffed to finish it all. Beers were priced similar to the 30th St brew pubs - maybe a bit higher.

Con -Selection... No Stone? Wassup with that? And as far as the beer selection- taps anyway - we found it to be a bit, meh. Had a 30th Street from Green Flash and a glass of Pliney the Elder. Really was hoping for a surprise or two among their tap selection

Overall, we'll be back and watch the progress but at this point, there isn't enough differentiation to give it preference over our more local haunts.

George's take:
Yes, pizza was good, and fairly priced for how tasty it was. Beers maybe half a buck or so higher in price than O'Brien's, Hamilton's, etc. I'm not a hop monster, but there were still a few selections on the list that made me happy. Can't speak to the bottle selection, as I didn't get a good look at the cooler, but seemed limited compared with the other great pubs. Also had a Caesar salad. Decent enough, but the anchovies were way too fishy, and I need anchovies on my Caesar!

The crowd was nice, mostly locals. Ran into one of the tenders at Hamilton's. Even saw Sampson's mom from the bark park there. Parking in this neighborhood sucks. But we enjoyed the crowd inside, not too noisy and mostly being good.

As M sez, the process is awful. They make you work to get a beer. And after paying, we had to wait on the bartender both times to get a beer, as she seemed to wear more than one hat. The seating is problematic, as in most pubs. But since these folks seem to be playing the restaurant side as much as the beer side, I think they need to figure out a better way. After ordering and paying for your food, then waiting to get your beer, you look for a seat. Frankly, after I've ordered and paid for food, I don't want to hope I find one. They need to lose the line of people waiting to order and pay(it got quite long), and hire a server or two to take your orders after you've found a place to sit. The process in place will turn many off.

Some bugs to be worked out, but we'll check them out again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Spanish Veal Chops

If the idea of consuming veal bothers you, read no further. I understand the moral issues many folks have, and have no intention of debating them here. Or anywhere else, for that matter. As I tell customers all the time, you spend your hard earned dollars for the food you eat, so only YOUR taste, values, and opinions matter. Nuff said.

I do love veal. And on the rare occasions I can afford it, this is one of my favorite preparations. I don’t really follow recipes too much, and never write them, so bear with me.

For dinner for four, you’ll need:
4 large bone-in veal chops, about 1 ½ inches thick.
2-3 oz. Serrano ham, very thinly sliced
3-4 oz. Manchego, Zamorano, Roncal or Idiazabal cheese, sliced very thin (see note 1)
1 Tbs fennel pollen (see note 2)
1/2 Tbs Spanish paprika, the mild smoky one (and please, don’t use that Hungarian stuff) 1/2 tsp dried thyme, or 1 tsp fresh, finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Good quality EVOO, preferably Spanish

Using a sharp knife, make a slit in the side of each veal chop, about an inch long, almost to the bone. Using your finger (preferably washed), make the slit into a pocket by expanding inside the slit. Stuff each chop with ¼ of the meat and ¼ of the cheese, making sure none sticks out. Don’t worry, the cheese won’t melt to the point of runny, so you don’t have to use anything to close up the pocket. And go easy on the Serrano, it’s very salty and can overwhelm the veal.

In a small bowl, mix the fennel pollen, paprika, and thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the EVOO, a little at a time, stirring to make a paste. Don’t worry, if you add a little too much, just add some more fennel pollen and another dash of paprika. Paste should be wet enough to rub on the chops and stick, but not runny. Ok, you know what’s next. Rub the paste all over the chops. Do this sparingly, we just want the aromatics and flavors to subtly accent the veal, not overwhelm it.

Light your gas or charcoal grill. Preheat the oven to 375. Cook the chops over a gas or charcoal grill, medium high heat, for about 4 minutes a side for rare, an extra minute per side for medium rare. Place on lined baking sheet, and finish in oven for 7 to 10 minutes. This is all relative, depending on how thick your chop is and how hot your grill is. I don’t clock it, I poke it with my finger to test for doneness, so use your best judgment. (If you eat your veal cooked more than medium rare, we have nothing to talk about, and you shouldn’t be wasting your hard-earned duckets on veal.)

If you’re cooking them in the oven, preheat to 475, roast in a pan for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 til done.

Let veal chops sit under foil for 10 minutes before serving, and don’t waste any of that juice left in your baking pan or your resting plate…pour it on.

This is fantastic served on a bed of sautéed root veggies. After the notes, I’ve included a simple buy yummy recipe from our Napa friend Alan Bree.

#1 – My preference for this dish is the Idiazabal, for its subtle smoky flavor, but any of the aged Spanish sheep’s milk cheeses will do. Just make sure you slice thin, using a cheese plane or sharp chef’s knife.

#2 – If you’ve not cooked with fennel pollen, don’t worry, it is not like cooking with fennel. It does not have that anise flavor, it is delicate and aromatic. Once you’re used it, you will make it a regular item to stock in your kitchen. It’s that good, and plays well with veal, pork, chicken or lamb.

Recipe for root vegetable medley:
1 medium turnip
1 medium rutabaga
1 medium kohlrabi
(substitute or add your favorite root vegetable)
Milk (see note)
A nob of butter

Peel and trim your root veggies, and cut into ¼ inch dice. Poach in the milk, about 15 to 20 minutes, until beginning to get tender. Drain. Melt a couple tablespoons of butter into a small sauté pan or large sauce pan. Saute the veggies until tender and sweet, adding your favorite seasoning. I use a pinch of summer savory and a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper. A grind of salt and pepper, and you’re done.

Note: We’re not root vegetable fans, and had never used them in our cooking, until Alan was visiting one day. Took him to Chino Farms, and he loved the kohlrabi and turnips there, and said he’d fix us a great meal with salmon and the veggies. We advised we weren’t fans, particularly of turnips, due to the very acidic and earthy (dirty) flavors. That’s when Alan taught us the trick of poaching turnips in milk. We were skeptical, but he knows what he’s doing so….we ended up standing at the stove after dinner scraping up every last morsel of the veggies. They were awesome!