Monday, May 28, 2012

La Playita Seafood

House Tostada at La Playa Seafood

The first time I ate at La Playita Seafood was almost 15 years ago now - it was my first Mexican mariscos experience in San Diego. I fondly remember chowing through a "Tostada Loca" on my first visit.

It had been a long time since I last ate there, but it has  remained in the back of my mind as a place I needed to return to. A friend of ours now lives within walking distance, so one day we decided that it was time for a visit.

La Playa Seafood

Tucked back away from the street in a mini-mall on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, La Playita is a tiny place, with a few tables inside and one outside.

The menu is pretty much as I remember it - including the aforementioned "Tostada Loca":

La Playa Seafood Menu

Our lunch was comprised of selections from the Tostada and Taco sections of the menu.

The "La Playita House" tostada comes heaped with a mixture of shrimp and bay scallops, with a few strands of surimi and a chunk of avocado on top:

House Tostada at La Playa Seafood

The shrimp were good, but the scallops, while fresh and nicely textured, didn't have much flavor. Some hot sauce helped a lot.

The "Fish Mixta" was shrimp and fish, again with some surimi and avocado:

Mixed Fish Tostada at La Playa Seafood

We also had a couple of tacos. The Gobernador had grilled shrimp with peppers and cheese. It didn't look like much (unless you find pepto-bismol colored sauce more appetizing than I do), but it was actually very good.

Shrimp Taco at La Playa Seafood

Their shrimp taco comes battered and fried, with a bit of savory rice hidden underneath. Again, very tasty.

Taco Gobernador at La Playa Seafood

La Playita is definitely worth a visit - there aren't many places like it in the area (are there any others?). We're planning on not taking so long to revisit again next time!

La Playita Seafood
5185 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego, CA

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lunch and an Avocado Grove Tour at Fairfield Farms

After our tour of West Pak Avocado, we headed out South-East of Temecula to  the Pauma Valley for an avocado-centric lunch and a grove tour at Fairfield Farms.

Fairfield Farms is owned by Bill and Carol Steed, who hosted us in the backyard of their home on the property.

Lunch began with some hand-held snacks, the first of which was a toast of avocado bread topped with hummus, a jam (made from what, I can't recall) and a slice of avocado on top for good measure. Very tasty.

Next up was a panko crusted fried shrimp skewer drizzled with a lemon avocado-oil vinaigrette:

Taking a bite revealed some avocado tucked inside along with the shrimp:

The final appetizer was a smoked avocado gazpacho, which was the only dish of the lunch that we didn't really enjoy. An interesting idea, though.

Lunch proper included some very nice salad preparations. This one, with watermelon and avocado and a balsamic dressing made for a surprisingly good combination:

A simple, but very well seasoned salad of greens, avocados, orange segments and pumpkin seeds:

and finally a quinoa avocado salad:

I'm often not a big fan of quinoa, but I really enjoyed it here.

The main part of lunch was rounded out with a piece of steelhead topped with an avocado and corn salsa:

Dessert was an avocado frozen yoghurt topped with granola and fruit. It was rich and creamy, with just the right amount of avocado flavor.

Overall, it was a lovely lunch. The food was catered by Sorrel Restaurant / Bistro in Temecula. If you are in the area, you should check them out.

After lunch, we piled onto a tractor-pulled wagon and headed up into the avocado groves.

We wound our way through the groves, ducking avocado branches as they passed overhead, and arrived at one of the sections currently being picked.

The pickers use a simple, but effective tool - a long pole with a basket on the end. A rope along the pole controls cutting blades in the mouth of the basket.

Once a few avocados are in the basket, the picker pulls them down, snips off excess bits of stem, pops them in his bag and then goes up for some more.

In addition to avocados, Fairfield Farms also grows blueberries and several kinds of citrus.

But today, the focus was squarely on the avocado.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Homegrown Popcorn

Homegrown Popcorn

We're just about out of popcorn, and being out of popcorn is not acceptable. Fortunately, Sherry just planted this year's crop.

What? You don't grow your own popcorn? You should - it is easy to do, and tastes great. We grew it for the first time last year, and now it is firmly planted on the list of items we no longer need to buy.

Homegrown Popcorn

Growing popcorn is a lot like growing regular corn - only easier, since you only need a tiny patch. Well, I guess that depends on how often you eat popcorn... For us, though, a 3 by 4 foot square area was plenty.

We chose Dakota Black Popcorn, from Seeds of Change as our starter seed. It germinated well and grew quickly into six foot stalks with two small ears each.

In mid-summer came the hard part - waiting for the corn cobs to completely dry out. You need to leave it on the the stalk until the husks, cobs and kernels are nice and dry before harvesting the ears.

The reddish black kernels are small, somewhat pointy, shiny and beautiful:

Homegrown Popcorn

Once off the plant, we set the ears aside for another couple of weeks to fully dry the cob. Then all that remained was to pop the kernels off the cob, discarding any damaged ones.

This task is a bit tedious, but was easily accomplished over several evenings while watching TV or a movie, using a large paper bag to catch the seeds.

Homegrown Popcorn

For this year's planting we used select seeds from last year's batch. Gourmet popcorn on the cheap!

Here is what it looks like popped:

Homegrown Popcorn

The dark bits you see aren't burned - the dark kernels just make it look that way. We find that this popcorn has a more interesting texture and flavor that your typical store-bought variety.

If you don't have a garden, or just aren't interested in growing your own, we still recommend trying this kind of popcorn. Before we started growing our own, we used Boulder Popcorn - you can buy from them online.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Tour of West Pak Avocado in Temecula

As if sensing our love of avocados, the nice folks at the California Avocado Commission invited us, along with a group of other SoCal food bloggers, to the Temecula area for an interesting, fun and tasty avocado-filled day-trip.

The first part of the day was held at the West Pak avacado packing facility in Temecula.

Talk about a building full of avacados - from the moment we stepped inside, we were completely surrounded by them!

The avocados arrive at the facility from the growers in large bins:

After being dumped out of the bins, they go through a hand-grading process to classify them as "Ones" or "Twos", based largely on their outward appearance.

The control room has monitors that can view all parts of the facility. Some of these feeds are available online to growers so that they can remotely watch their crop being processed.

After grading, a machine sorts the avocados by weight:

We saw two packaging methods - there is a bagging line where avocados are fed onto a conveyor (shown in the photo at the top of this post) leading to a packaging machine. Here are a bunch of avocados being fed onto the conveyor:

and here is a short video of the avocados bouncing along their path to the bagging machine:

The other packaging method is boxing:

Despite all the machines moving the avocados from here to there, it was interesting to see just how much of the entire process was done by hand. The workers hand-sorted initially, hand-packed the bagged fruit into boxes, and with lightning speed, hand-packed individual fruit into trays in boxes.

The lower-grade avocados are sold under the "Dos Amigos" brand - destined primarily for the food service industry where outward appearance is not important:

And here are their more shiny, attractive siblings, destined for a grocery store near you:

We are fascinated by operations like this - seeing the step-by-step process in which a farm crop is transformed into a consumer-facing product.

Thanks to West Pak for having us as guests for the morning, and thanks to all of the West Pak employees who tolerated a bunch of annoying, camera-toting food bloggers in their midst!