Prepkitchen Little Italy: A Restaurant Week Preview

Happy January friends! We may be passed the decadence of the holidays but we are still eating very well. Last night Papa Bird and I went down to Little Italy to the “partying step-child” of Prepkitchen locations.

prosciutto wrapped trout with carrots and lentils

I am collaborating with San Diego Restaurant Week (SDRW) to celebrate their 12th year of discounted fine dining and preview one of their 180 restaurants. You may know I’m a fan of seasonal, farm-to-table fine dining, so when they matched me with Prepkitchen Little Italy, I was thrilled. The Prepkitchen concept started with the La Jolla location as a spot “for chefs by chefs.” They serve seasonal comfort food, often Mediterranean-inspired. As it has expanded, each location has its own character, and Little Italy is known for being fun and in the center of nightlife.

Prepkitchen Little Italy

For those that have been living under a rock, San Diego Restaurant Week is when an impressive list of restaurants offer prix-fixe meals for a steal. A three-course dinner is $20, $30, $40 or $50 per person, and lunch (two-courses) is only $10, $15 or $20 per person. For reference, my entrée (the trout pictured above), would normally cost $28.50, so for $30 for the SDRW dinner at Prepkitchen, an appetizer and dessert are basically free.

San Diego Restaurant Week 2016

And let’s talk about appetizers. Prepkitchen is a particularly fun choice for Restaurant Week. They don’t offer a traditional prix-fixe meal with a few options for each course. They throw the whole menu open and let you pick from anything they are making that night. My pick of the appetizers was the Ahi Tartare (normally $14.50; GF) with a smoked onion puree, pickled shallots and crispy sunchokes. I was really hoping there would be some kind of crudo or sashimi dish available. I personally believe that all of the restaurants in the Whisknladle group (Prepkitchen, Catania and Whisknladle) do crudos exceptionally well. The General Manager (a sweet and friendly guy named Darin) told me they would keep one on the menu for SDRW. The menu changes nightly and the fish may change with the catch, but the basic idea will stay the same.

a wintery ahi tartare

The Ahi Tartare was definitely the most interesting dish we tried. Wintery, rooted and warming, yet refreshing at the same time. Papa Bird said tasting the sunchoke chip with the smoked onion purée reminded him of BBQ potato chips (in a good way.) The sunchokes certainly had the crunch of a perfect potato chip. The dish was light but substantial, and garnered an “I’d definitely eat it again.”

burrata, prosciutto, butternut squash mostarda, fried sage

I had checked out a sample menu before going down and was hoping the Burrata and Butternut Squash Mostarda would be there. It was! And should stay on through the season. Most of the squash is grown by the group at Milagro Vineyards. I wrote more about their farm2table efforts here. Mostarda is sort of like a jam or preserve with fresh mustard seeds. With quality ingredients, it was a classic combo: sweet and creamy from the burrata, with the salty prosciutto and crunchy pumpkin seeds and crostini. Satisfying. Probably the best part was the fried sage, perfectly brittle and crisp. (Normally $16.50 and GF without the crostini.)

Prepkitchen Little Italy January Menu

The menu changes every night, so I can’t promise every item will be there. In general, it will be similar, but may feature a different fish or cut of meat, for example. For entrees, Papa Bird chose the Fusilli Bolognese, with Beef, Pork, Rosemary and a ton of Parmigiano-Regiano (normally $20.50.) He was a trooper with my obnoxious photo taking, so I let him have one dish without stealing its soul. The GM was confident it would be on the menu throughout Restaurant Week and we all recommend it. The pasta was al dente, the proportions spot on. Cheesy and filling, it could easily have been shared.

Likewise, the Prosciutto-Wrapped Trout (pictured at top, GF) should be available throughout the week. For a humble fish, this was hands down my favorite dish of the night, with a sliver of lemon (rind and all) tucked into the fish. It rested above a bed of super flavorful lentils and shared its cast-iron tub with the cutest, sweetest agave-glazed carrots.  Topped with pickled mustard seeds and a liberal sprinkle of fresh parsley, I don’t think it even needed the prosciutto to be full of rich umami. Those carrots were super fresh and were sourced by Specialty Produce, who provide most of the restaurant’s fruit and vegetables. We chatted the server about the fun of going down to the Specialty Produce warehouse to shop as a home cook.

Other dishes that are popular include the Bacon Wrapped DatesBeef TartareMary’s Pan Roasted Chicken, and the Burger. Go! And please tell me what you order so I can vicariously eat more.

Prepkitchen Little Italy Drink Menu

Drinks are not included in the $20 lunch or $30 dinner, but are highly recommended. (You will be saving so much on the food, you will be able to afford an extra drink or two.) PKLI is known for their cocktails and eclectic wines and beers. My favorite was the Heart of Darkness with Tequila, Aperol, Lemon and Pomegranate Shrub. It was balanced, refreshing and very drinkable, as was the Comfort Blanket with Orange-Tea Infused Bourbon, Vanilla, Citrus and Angostura Bitters. Other drinks I’ve enjoyed there include the Colonel Jerry and Horse & Buggy. The beers and wine are thoughtfully chosen and unexpected. While they emphasize local makers, it is definitely not the same lineup as most restaurants around town.

budino

One of the best parts of Restaurant Week is that even though you are too stuffed for dessert, oh well, you have to get it. The Warm Chocolate Budino is a year-round staple on the menu because, chocolate. It is a chocolate pudding cake served in a wide mouthed mason jar, offering warm comfort with a zingy espresso gelato (house-made), whipped cream and little chocolate crunchies. I got half way through it before I felt guilty for not sharing it with our sweet-obsessed daughters.

Prepkitchen Little Italy Info

  • Get a reservation if you are thinking about going during Restaurant Week!
  • 1660 INDIA ST SECOND FLOOR, SAN DIEGO, 92101
  • 619-398-8383
  • prepkitchenlittleitaly.com
  • If you post a picture of any SDRW meal on social media, use #Food4Kids and tag the restaurant and Sysco will donate $1 to hungry children!

 

Picking Perfect Potatoes

Hanukkah started last Sunday. We had everything we needed for latkes, except for potatoes. In years past, we used Japanese sweet potatoes from our backyard for latkes, but this year’s potato harvest was slim. We could’ve run to any grocery store, but I thought it might be more fun to explore the Specialty Produce warehouse with the Little Birds. I figured we would find more potato varieties there, or at least something fresh and local.

hunting for potatoes at Specialty Produce

Specialty Produce is known for supplying the majority of the good restaurants in San Diego with fruits and vegetables. They also let the general public shop, seven days a week. That day it was just us, the most recent winner of MasterChef Claudia Sandoval (not to celebrity name drop or anything), and restaurant buyers in the warehouse. I had picked up Farmers’ Market Boxes there before, but this was our first time shopping the warehouse. After signing a liability release, the Little Birds and I were asked to put on gloves before touching any of the produce. The girls thought this was great. They were already dressed like princesses, so gloves only complemented their outfits.

We explored the organic section and the three large walk-in coolers, including the Farmers Market cooler, which is filled with finds from local farms. Tip: wear layers! It was a warm San Diego December day, and I froze in the cooler with just a sun dress on.

hunting for potatoes at Specialty Produce

Great success! We quickly found organic Russet and sweet potatoes. Diving into the Farmers Market walk-in, we discovered little purple potatoes from the Weiser Family Farms, and “Masquerade” potatoes. I had to look up the Masquerade potatoes on the Specialty Produce App – they are a yellow-fleshed potato, with purple skin, and a lighter gold coloring around the eyes. We also found these pretty potatoes with violet pink lipstick “kisses.” I tried to Google “kiss potatoes,” as the staff called them, but only found a Gene Simmons Mr. Potato Head… My best guess is that they are Klondike Royales.

We also stocked up on fruit, including super sweet, pink-fleshed Cara Cara oranges and crisp Shinko asian pears from Ken’s Top Notch Produce, Fuji apples from Fair Hills Apple Farm, and Pomegranate from Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm. I kept checking our receipt for a mistake. The medium-sized bag of potatoes (above) and a large bag of fruit was only $12. Try spending only $12 for this quality of produce at a farmer’s market or Whole Foods!

purple potato latkes

We love our latkes! I fried them in avocado oil and served them with homemade applesauce, alongside Tri Tip from Seaside Market (aka Cardiff Crack), donuts and gelt.

For latke-making tips, see last year’s latkes and lox with home-smoked salmon. And for a yummy twist, our Brussels sprouts and sweet potato latkes from two years ago included cumin seeds. Yum!


Green Eggs and Ham

“That’s not how my school made green eggs and ham,” Little Bird was quick to point out. No, probably not.

We had ham leftover from Thanksgiving. And the basil she planted from seeds from a Mother’s Day fundraiser at Green Acre is still going strong, so we made a hand-chopped pesto and served it over fresh eggs and the leftover ham.

green eggs and ham

Little Bird was happy to cut some of her basil.

cutting the basil she planted from seed

Our youngest hens have just started laying.

backyard eggs

I wanted to try hand-chopping the pesto. I saw someone in Italy do that once on a show several years ago. I used a curved knife and chopped the dry ingredients first and then stirred in the olive oil. The ingredients were the same as from my pesto recipe here.

hand-chopped pesto

To make a more complete dinner, we ended up eating all of this over spaghetti. And we added avocado, because, well, we eat avocado at almost every meal!

How to Make a Perfectly Flaky All Butter Pie Crust

This post on a foolproof, flaky all butter pie crust is three years in the making. This is the recipe and method I’ve been using for almost ten years. My mom is a master pie baker, I think my lack of fear of pastry dough comes from her. She taught me to use half butter and half shortening, but I prefer all butter for taste, texture and health reasons. For most of my adult years I’ve been the designated pie baker at Thanksgiving, bringing various Pumpkin Pies and my favorite, Chocolate Espresso Pecan Pie. I like baking, and letting someone else host the rest of the meal works for me.

How to Make a Perfect, Flaky, All Butter Pie Crust via @babybirdsfarmSo, ever notice how successful food bloggers post recipes well in advance of a holiday? (The reason is so that the post has time to get shared on Pinterest and Facebook.) I’m clearly not organized enough to be one of them, although I have aspirations. I tend to just bake/cook and take pictures if I can. Writing and posting happens when I have free time. We took pictures of making this butter pie crust three Thanksgivings ago! I actually started drafting this post in September, and I’m only remembering to share it today as my friend asked me for an all butter pie crust recipe last night. Today (the Sunday before Thanksgiving) is actually the perfect day to make pie crust. It will be just fine in the fridge. Little Bird and I are starting our pie dough today, so join us in real-time baking! This is also the perfect recipe for procrastinators as it is one of the few that doesn’t have to be chilled before rolling.

How to Make a Perfect, Flaky, All Butter Pie Crust via @babybirdsfarm

Tips for making a flaky butter pie crust:

  • The secret is really to have big chunks of butter suspended in the dough. They steam a little when they bake, making pockets in the pastry, which gives it the crunch and flake.
  • You don’t want the butter to ever melt, either from a hot kitchen, or warm hands. Fortunately freezing the butter this way really helps.
  • Don’t over handle the dough. If you mess up, just try to patch it back together with a little water. Don’t ever ball up the dough and roll it out again. Over-handling it like that makes it tough.
  • With this much butter in the recipe, the quality of your butter will be apparent. Use a good grass-fed or cultured butter if you can. And make sure it is unsalted!
  • Make crust “cookies” (kid-cook friendly) with any extra dough (or make an extra batch!)
  • There is no “perfect” in baking, and letting go a little helps. I’ve actually heard of pie baking being good therapy for anxiety. Maybe one day I’ll combine my private practice (psychotherapy) with baking in a workshop!
  • I really should do a video to show more of the rolling technique, but in the mean time, don’t worry about it being a perfect circle. If you historically struggle, make 1.5x the dough you need, so that it is bigger than what you need when you roll it out. Then use a knife to cut it into a circle! The scraps can be used for crust cookies or decorating.
  • The dough can be prepared the weekend before Thanksgiving. Make a round, 1.5″ thick disc of the dough. Wrap tightly in plastic and store in the fridge, up to 4-5 days. Can also be freezer for longer.
  • Pies taste the best when baked the day of. That way the bottom crust is still flaky. When stored in the fridge after baking, it can get tough or mushy. You can, however, roll out the dough the day before, put it in the bottom of the pie pan, cover in plastic and store, unbaked, in the fridge for a day or two. Then fill it and bake the day you want to serve it.
  • For more pie tips from Matt Gordon of Urban Solace, along with a Sweet Potato Pecan Pie recipe, click here.

How to Make a Perfect, Flaky, All Butter Pie Crust via @babybirdsfarm

Flaky All Butter Pie Crust
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
 
Makes a double crust. For a single crust pie, such as pumpkin pie, freeze the other half for an easy pie crust in the future. From The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook via eggbeater.
Ingredients
  • 2 Cups all purpose flour
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar (optional, I usually omit)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter
  • ice water, to incorporate
Instructions
  1. Cut the butter evenly into small pieces, place on a plate in the freezer and chill for about 30 minutes. Put ice and cold water in a measuring cup and chill (you won't use it all, but might as well have it cold.)
  2. Place all dry ingredients in the bowl of a Kitchen-Aid mixer. When butter is frozen, use paddle attachment with mixer on the very lowest setting, and drop butter in a few pieces at a time. Stay close by. When the chunks of butter are slightly larger than pea size, dribble in the ice water until dough does not appear dry and JUST begins to come together.
  3. Move the dough to a dry surface and push together with the heel of your hand. Try not to knead or overwork the dough, you want it to come together so you can roll it out. This dough can be used right away! This amount makes enough for a top and a bottom. If you are not going to use it right away, double wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 3-4 days or freeze for up to a month.

Pin the recipe to remember it for next year!

How to Make a Perfect, Flaky All Butter Pie Crust via @babybirdsfarm

 

Brunch at Catania

Ever since dining at Catania in La Jolla, I’ve been looking forward to returning. I was happy to accept an invitation to sample the new brunch menu last weekend.

Brunch at Catania Coastal Italian in La Jolla

Joining a group of friendly San Diego foodies, I sampled several of the new menu items. Our waiter brought out Two Eggs and Ham (above) and let us know the Italian sausage and Prosciutto Coto were made and cured in house. The tomatoes, like the arugula in the salad below, were planted and harvested by the restaurant staff at the Milagro vineyards. It sounds like a farm to fable boast but the veracity is backed up by my friend from Revolution Landscape and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Brunch at Catania Coastal Italian in La Jolla, CA

The Arugula and Eggs includes pancetta, roasted mushrooms and Pecorino Toscano. I swear I’m going to start putting a poached egg on top of my salad now. I’ve mentioned before in my “restaurant recreation” posts how I like to get ideas from restaurants. I love finding simple, easy things that I can replicate or add to my cooking repertoire at home. I know some people think putting an egg on top of everything is a food fad that is past its time, but in this case my eyes are totally open to how delicious it is on top of a slightly bitter green salad. Try it!

Italian brunch at Catania in La Jolla, CA

Next up we tried two dishes that are worth getting out of pajamas to let the chefs make for you: Veal Milanese, with eggs, tomato and toast, and (my favorite) Eggs All’Amatriciana, eggs baked in a delicious sauce made from tomatoes, guanciale, white beans, swiss chard and breadcrumbs. The sauce was cozy, and homey, and made you just want to keep eating.

We sat on the patio again. I love how the atmosphere can be casual and laid-back, while still being special. I sent some good friends to the Catania patio at sunset for their anniversary. This time I spied a stylish shopgirl run in for a quick bite solo, and later saw her in front of her shop, which is visible from the patio. The third story deck is poised for some of the best people watching in La Jolla.

Polenta Pancakes at Catania in La Jolla, CA

Can I make a confession? I had super amazing ricotta pancakes at home before going to the restaurant… Papa Bird is a pancake master. I usually request pancakes on Mother’s Day. The Little Birds ask for them at five days a week (and get them four.) Still, I had never tried Polenta Pancakes. These were dressed with an abundance of fall fruit (persimmon, pear, figs, blackberries), lemon syrup and mint, and were light and fluffy.

Farro Oatmeal with Pistachio Marscapone, persimmon, fig and currants

The Farro Oatmeal was also topped with persimmon and fig, along with currants, honey and cinnamon. For me, it edged out the pancakes by the inclusion of a pistachio marscapone. Which was every bit as creamy and decadent as it sounds.

What To Order at Brunch at Catania

My two picks for a perfect brunch would be the Eggs All’Amatriciana and the Farro Oatmeal. Go halvsies with a brunch date, or just show up solo like the shopgirl, order them both, and bring any leftovers home for your afternoon snack. Then again — lunch items are also available and it’s hard to avoid one of the seasonal crudos. Decisions are the worst.

Catania has self-serve coffee and nutella brioches on a side board. It makes the place seem more home-like and is perfect for those that come hungry and can’t wait to be served.

Today’s Restaurant Recreation Inspired by the Catania Brunch

Rice Pudding with Papaya, Pomegranate, Grapes and Honey

I thought I’d for sure be trying out the poached egg + salad for breakfast soon, but I ended up finding inspiration this morning from the farro oatmeal plating. I made my Baby Birds these two bowls of rice pudding with cinnamon, topped with papaya, pomegranate, grapes and local honey. It was a hit, in part because I had them help prep the fruit. If you follow my kids’ cooking posts, you’ll know my philosophy is to bring kids into the kitchen from infancy.

VISIT CATANIA

Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday until 3 pm.

Catania website

7863 Girard Ave, Suite 301, San Diego, CA 92037
(858) 551-5105

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Go and Let Me Know What You Think!