Baba at Home and Luna’s in Hillcrest

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I’ve been hearing some positive things about Luna Grill lately, so I finally checked it out over the weekend (http://www.lunagrill.com/).  It’s a Southern California chain with 6 locations in San Diego County and 2 locations in Orange County.  Its cuisine is Mediterranean and everything is made to order.  There’s an emphasis on hormone-free and anti-biotic foods.  You place your order at the counter, you are given a number, and the food is brought to your table.  First thing that arrived at our table was the Eggplant Dip.  I make a Baba Ghanouj with roasted eggplants and tahini, so I was thinking it would be similar.  It was very different from mine, but I really enjoyed it.  Mine is more creamy, and Luna’s is more like a Caponata.  There was a nice sweetness from the caramalized onions, and it was topped with yogurt and sautéed mint.  If you don’t like onions, don’t worry, you’ll probably never know you had any.  They just melt into the dip.  The dip was a great start, and the pita was so soft and warm!  Yum!!   It was delicious with my San Pellegrino Limonata – I love that stuff!  The husband opted for an Avery White Rascal: a perfect summertime Belgian Wheat.

Franz ordered the Gyros Plate Entrée with a Side of Falafel.  I had to order the Lamb Kabob Wrap.  First of all, this place calls itself  “The Ultimate Kabobery”, and, secondly, I can’t turn down lamb.   Franz thought his plate was standard, and we both thought the falafel was a little crumbly.   The garnish of either carrots or grilled tomatoes never made their appearance on Franz’s dish.  We didn’t feel like asking for them.  However, I liked when I placed my order, the cashier asked how I wanted my lamb cooked.  I didn’t expect that from a “fast food” style place.  I ordered it medium rare, and it was served as such.  The meat was flavorful, lean and a decent amount of meat for $12.  It came with either a side of Basmati rice or french fries.  I opted for the fries which did a great job at attacking my french fry craving!   We were stuffed, but we had a gift card so we needed to spend a few more bucks.  Franz couldn’t even finish his meal!  Shocking!  We ordered a Red Velvet Cupcake to go, and we had it later as an after dinner snack.  I’m picky when it comes to cupcakes, and I thought this one was a standard Red Velvet.  As my husband said “I wouldn’t kick it out of bed.”  As a side note, if you stop by the Hillcrest location, check out the bathroom hallway.  Very cool!

Below is my go to recipe for Baba Ghanouj.  Everything is really to taste, so if you want more garlic (I always do), throw it in!  Also, roasting the garlic first would be tasty!  Just make sure to taste after you’ve made it – you can always add more of something to it!  I usually add some Sriracha!  I can’t help myself.  If you want a greater roasted flavor from the eggplant, you could throw them on the grill or broil them in the oven.  Play around with this recipe and let me know what you do!

Baba Ghanouj (Or Baba Ganoush)

2 1-pound eggplants, halved lengthwise

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 garlic clove, chopped

Pita bread wedges

Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously oil rimmed baking sheet. Place eggplant halves, cut side down, on sheet. Roast until eggplant is very soft, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly. Using spoon, scoop out pulp from eggplant into strainer set over bowl. Let stand 30 minutes, allowing excess liquid to drain from eggplant.

Transfer eggplant pulp to processor. Add 1/4 cup oil, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic; process until almost smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to small bowl. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.) Serve with pita wedges.  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Baba-Ghanouj-107051

Take Care and Happy Eating!

Luna Grill on Urbanspoon

Hot Dogs at Daddy’s and Chili Time at Home!

I’m weird. I have no problem with eating soup in July. I love a bowl of chili for dinner during the summer. Of course I look forward to lighter, cooler entrees, like a salad with grilled chicken, quinoa with peaches, or veggies from my garden to dip in baba ganoush.  I can’t eat that way every day, no matter what the temperature is outside. Granted, I live in San Diego, so how hot does it really get? However, if the temperature is rising, I still crave hot stuff. Even if I have a nice cool grain salad, I’m still covering it with sriracha. I can’t get away from a little heat!
The other week, I realized I had some chorizo in the freezer that needed to be consumed. What else could I do but make a big pot of chorizo chili?? I used my go-to recipe for chili that I found on Cooking Light‘s website (http://www.cookinglight.com/ ) back in 2003. 2003? Yikes! The great thing about chili recipes is that you can substitute anything for what you might have in the cupboard or refrigerator!!

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All-American Chili  (http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/all-american-chili-10000000438689/)

6 ounces hot turkey Italian sausage (I used chorizo with the casings removed.)
2 cups chopped onion (I prefer red onions or Vidalia onions.)
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground sirloin (I used ground turkey breast. It’s summer, so it’s lighter! haha)
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped (I usually use a Serrano pepper.)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1 1/4 cups Merlot or other fruity red wine (Honestly, I use whichever red wine I feel like having a glass of later that night.)
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, undrained and coarsely chopped
2 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained (I use whatever beans I have in the cupboard. It’s all good!  Cannellini is always a favorite.  I like to put two different types of beans in this chili.)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese

1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage, onion, and the next 4 ingredients (onion through jalapeño) to pan; cook 8 minutes or until sausage and beef are browned, stirring to crumble.
2. Add chili powder and the next 7 ingredients (chili powder through bay leaves), and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in wine, tomatoes, and kidney beans; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
3. Uncover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the bay leaves. Sprinkle each serving with cheddar cheese.

And as Cooking Light notes, and as everyone knows, chili always tastes better the next day!

And what goes better with chili than hot dogs?  Now that is a food item I associate with summertime 100%!  My husband and I checked out Daddy’s Hot Dogs (http://www.daddyshotdogs.com/) on University Avenue in Hillcrest over the weekend.  William, the owner and possibly the only person who officially works there, gave us his recommendations and a couple other words of advice (He’s a talker!).

He was in the process of tasting a hotdog when we approached.  He went right into explaining that he was sampling a new idea and was playing around with different possible names for it.  Once we ordered, Franz went with the classic “Manhattan“, a hot dog topped with grilled onions, deli mustard and sauerkraut.  I chose the “Diego Dog“, a dog topped with grilled onions, jalapeno relish, and Russian dressing.  Everything is made to order, so the hot dogs come out super fresh and hot (unlike at Petco Park where Franz once returned a hot dog.  He’s a legend in my eyes.).   The hot dog is split and then grilled, so you get an all over tasty grilled flavor.  It reminded me of when I was a kid and made fried bologna sandwiches.  I would make the small cut in the bologna so it wouldn’t curl, and it seemed like the butter I put in the pan had a better opportunity to cover every inch of the bologna.  I would put a slice of Kraft American cheese on the bologna & put a lid on the pan.  It would only take a minute for the cheese to melt.   And, viola, I had the perfect after school snack on white bread ever made!  Sometimes, if we had them in the house, I’d put tomatoes on it.  Don’t think about the health factor.  Just let it go.

As we were enjoying our hot dogs, William told us about his being an ex-cop with the Feds and having a culinary background, which I thought was an interesting mix.  It’s easy to see he is very passionate about his food and kids – and the two things work together in a way.  He explained that he wouldn’t serve anything to a customer that he wouldn’t feed his children.  He sought out a leaner and healthier quality of hot dog which comes from the L.A. area.  If he can’t get a shipment of his dogs, and his shop runs out, he’ll have to close early that day, he explained.  As I took a picture of his hours, he was quick to point out that the posted hours are flexible and can change at any given moment.

But how did the dogs taste?  I really enjoyed mine!  The bun was soft and cradled the little dog perfectly.  I will say little because it’s small.  For lunch, I would probably have 2 or 3 and feel full.  Franz said he would need about 10, but he eats a lot.  The jalapeno relish had just the right amount of heat.  William told me that his kids have to be able to eat everything, so it can’t be so hot that you need a gallon of milk to cool the taste buds.  The Russian dressing was a nice touch, and it went well with the relish.  When we arrived, William had been sampling the Diego Dog topped with sauerkraut.  I think that’s the way to go next time!  Franz thought his was a good standard hot dog.  He did go with a classic, but he said he might have preferred one of the other ones listed.  I was eyeing the Reuben Dog: corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss Cheese and Russian Dressing.  Yum!

Given the location, I think this is a great place to stop when you are frequenting the bar establishments on University Avenue.  It only has outdoor bar tables, no seats, and it’s cash only (hot dogs are $3-$6 each).  So it’s easy to stop at the window, place your order, have a couple of dogs, and continue on your way.   While we were eating, William  came out and stood at a table and told us about his philosophy on food.  I would highly recommend stopping by and chatting with him.  Check out his website, too.  You really get a sense of his love of food and family.

Check out this video: Daddy’s Hot Dogs

Take Care and Happy Eating!

Daddy's Hot Dogs on Urbanspoon

Comin’ to Comic-Con? Hop Over to The Hopping Pig!

Happy Friday the 13th!! Oooooooo!!!!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the date: Friday the 13th!  Cue scary music!!  I love horror movies, especially Friday the 13th.  I’m hoping to talk my husband into watching that movie tonight for the 1 millionth time.  We’ll see. (I found this photo on a cool movie blog: http://www.gmanreviews.com/. So much fun stuff to read out there!)

You might have other plans.  Are you going to Comic-Con?  That’s the big question around town now.  If you live in the San Diego area, you know about it.  You might know about it if you live out-of-state or even out of the country.  If you’re unfamiliar, let me fill you in.  I’ve never attended the event, but I’ve been downtown when it was in full swing a of couple years ago .  Comic-Con started in San Diego.  So there’s a lot of local pride with the event.  In addition, local news channels cover it about as much as they cover Mitt and Barack’s daily agendas.  Here’s the link: http://www.comic-con.org/cci/  To sum it up, approximately 125,000 people at the Conference Center in the Gaslamp District attend meetings, Q&As, seminars, and exhibits dealing with comic books, anime, and gaming.  There’s a blood drive, a zombie walk, art exhibits, etc, etc.  Many of the people are in costumes – everything from Super Man to characters out of one’s own imagination.  As you can guess, it’s a great people watching event!  Many people go to the downtown area just for the people watching and celebrity sightings (which there are many!!).  One year, Dennis Miller walked by us while we were having cocktails at Morton’s, and then my party was seated next to Chevy Chase’s table .  Many celebrities are promoting a movie, but it seems a good number attend as fans of the event.  (By the way, Chevy was really nice and cracked a few jokes.  That was cool.)

If you are either going to gawk at the crowds or if you are attending an event downtown, you might wonder where to grab a drink and a bite to eat.   This past Sunday, Franz and I went to a ballgame at Petco Park.  Since it was a gorgeous day, we decided to walk around the popular Gaslamp District (http://www.gaslamp.org/).   I must admit, I’m not a huge fan of downtown.  It’s usually crowded (and this weekend, it will be mobbed!), people can be a little sketchy, parking is a pain (especially if you are like me and hate to pay for parking), and, in general,  it’s just not my scene.  Having said that, there’s some great people watching even when Comic-Con isn’t in town!  I saw a woman wearing stilettos – it was early afternoon on a Sunday!  Who does that?  People downtown, that’s who!  And it’s interesting walking past all of the restaurants and clubs – I love seeing what types hang out where and how the interior is decorated.

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We decided to check out a place I’ve heard lots of good things: The Hopping Pig Gastropub (http://www.thehoppingpig.com/site/).  A sign at the front door announcing their happy hour specials was a great start.  Walking inside, I felt like I left downtown behind me.  The mason jar lighting gave off nice warm light, and the windows and entrance allowed the natural light outside to come in.  There were three separate parties that had children (and I must add, the kids acted far better than some adults I’ve seen downtown!), and all of the employees were very friendly.

The sign outside and the server informed us that certain local beers were at the happy hour price.  A couple of the beers on special were technically not local, but who am I to argue?  Franz and I opted for Victory Helios, a Saison.  It was a perfect choice for a hot day and paired well with the small plates we ordered.  Out of the 3 things we ordered, I was loving the carnitas taco ($3.50 on special) and pulled pork sliders ($4 on special).  Tacos and sliders came 2 to an order.  I could have had a dozen.  My least favorite was the fish taco made with tilapia.  Fresh corn tortillas are the base for these delectable bites, and they are perfect.  I’m not a fan of store-bought tortillas being served to me.  I want a corn tortilla that isn’t dry, has a super fresh corn flavor with a hint of lard, and I want it to be able to handle the toppings coming its way.   The pork in the taco was juicy,  flavorful, and a just a touch smoky.  The toppings, salsa verde and pico de gallo, were fresh and full of Mexican-flavor goodness.  The bun for pulled pork sliders – bravo!!  I love a bun that can multitask:  be tough enough to handle a mound of pulled pork and the brandied coleslaw, but soft enough to create that feeling of homemade baked bread.  Did you see the photo I took?  I still get a little teary.  And I’m not sure why I didn’t like the fish taco.  Great tortilla: Check.  Fresh pico de gallo: Nope, but it did have a tasty mango and papaya salsa, so Check.  Crisp shredded red cabbage: Half Check (I prefer red and this one had the standard white cabbage.  When you are married to a man with a 100% German ancestry, you become an expert on cabbage.).  Flavorful Sauce: Check.  Lightly breaded fish: Check.  Overall, it just was standard.

If you want more ideas for good beer places, check out http://hoptologysd.com/.  My friend, Mr. HoptologySD, knows his beers and really knows his comic books.  He’ll be at Comic-Con, so I’m sure he’ll be posting or tweeting some helpful information.

Be careful out there!  And if you happen to sit next to Green Lantern at a bar, take a picture and send it to me!

Take Care and Happy Eating!

The Hopping Pig on Urbanspoon

Been to BFD Yet?

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I’ve been busy lately!  I have lots to write about, but I’ll break it into small posts so you aren’t stuck with reading an Iliad-like post.  I must let you know that I’m writing this post while listening to my  “Classic Hip Hop” station on Pandora. It’s a fun way to spend a Monday!  It can also be a little distracting because I keep wanting to dance.  Fortunately only my French Bulldog, Sir, is here to witness.  Poor guy. (A sample of what was playing while I was writing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co3qMdkucM0  Mom, you probably won’t be a fan.)

Onto the food in my life!!  One of the recipes I tried out last week was Cake Filled PB Cups from http://vanillakitchen.blogspot.com/ (see specific link below for recipe).  It was a delicious treat for the 4th of July!  If you haven’t checked out the site, please do.  She posts great stuff and has beautiful photos.  Even if you don’t cook, you can at least drool over what someone else made!

There’s a spot that recently opened in San Diego on Park Boulevard that I really enjoy, BFD: Big Front Door (http://www.bfdsandiego.com/).  You can read all about the owners’ extensive culinary career on the website, and you can check out the menu.  My husband, Sir, and I stopped by to pick up sandwiches to take over to Balboa Park.  The interior is really nice because, as the name suggests, the shop has a huge front door that opens to create an open air, casual dining area.  They sell a really nice selection of bottled beer and wine, but you are not allowed to open it there.  So if a bottle strikes your fancy, plan on taking it to go.  I spoke with an employee, and he said they are hoping to get a license that would allow tasting events, but there’s nothing in the works for a full liquor license.  Also, don’t miss the specials when you visit! Franz noticed the specials after he placed his order.  D’oh!

I ordered the roast beef sandwich – always a favorite of mine.  I loved the broccoli rabe, and the tomatoes were super fresh.  I usually discard tomatoes on sandwiches because they are usually lack lustre to say the least.  These actually added flavor to the sandwich. Shocking!  Everything on the sandwich complemented each other.  Franz opted for the turkey sandwich with cranberry relish, stuffing and gravy.  His complaint was that the stuffing was a little under seasoned.  Both of our breads were a touch dry, but not so much that I wouldn’t go back.  I just hope the bread is a little better next time.  The portions were a really good size.  Usually when the quality of ingredients are this good, the portion is super small.  I didn’t get any sides and I was comfortable.  Next time I’d like to try some of their potato salads to go with the sandwich.   They looked tasty!   If you’re not in the mood for a sandwich, I saw a woman eating a salad with salmon, and it looked like a great choice.  I hope BFD does well because I’m happy to have their business in my neighborhood.  So check them out and let me know what you think!

Recipe for Cake Filled PB Cups:  http://vanillakitchen.blogspot.com/2011/10/cake-filled-peanut-butter-cups.html

Take Care and Happy Eating!

BFD: Big Front Door on Urbanspoon

Costco Gelato??!!

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My husband and I opted to brave the Sunday crowds at Costco (San Diego, Morena Boulevard location) yesterday.  After we picked up a flat of toilet paper, a bushel of blueberries and a couple of pounds of wild salmon, I was craving some ice cream.  As I stepped up to order, something caught my eye: a sign for gelato.  And the sign noted that the gelato is made daily!  And there are 3 flavors: pistachio, mixed berry and stracchiatella!!  And it’s served in a waffle cone!!! And (drum roll, please) it’s $1.50!!!!!!!!!!  What?  Of course we ordered 2 cones and loved every lick.  It was really good!  I didn’t think I’d care for the pistachio, but it I think it was my favorite.

I looked online and discovered that not all Costco locations serve this dreamy, cheap, tasty dessert.  That’s sad.  If you live in such a place, talk to the manager and demand it!  I know people are trying to survive the heat.  Here’s one way to combat the outdoor sauna!  And if you don’t want a cone at that moment, they sell quarts to go for $4.99.  And keep in mind, if you aren’t a member, and if the food court is outside, you can walk up and order off their menu.  And if it’s inside and you aren’t a member, I’m sure you have a friend or family member who can let you tag a long!

So give your local Costco a call and ask if they sell gelato in their food court, and hopefully they do!  (As I was typing this, I called the Costco where I usually shop, Mission Valley, to see if they sell it.  The man told me no.  I asked if they would be at some point, and he told me his location was not picked to serve that item.  So sad.  Thank the gelati gods I have the other location nearby!)

Take Care and Happy Eating!