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Our Mogannam Father’s Day Tradition: Mom’s Stuffed Grape Leaves

When I was growing up, my dad’s Father’s Day wish was simple: to be surrounded by his children (me, my sister, and two brothers) at the table on that June Sunday. And, as obedient first generation children, we obliged. We loved our dad, of course, but the promise of a feast made by our mom certainly didn’t hurt the proposition. Her stuffed grape leaves–perfectly timed since the leaves are at their most tender in summer–were always the star of the show and one of our favorite dishes.

If you’ve never made them, you may not realize how labor-intensive stuffed grape leaves are to craft, which is why they’re usually reserved as a special occasion food. Starting early in the morning, my mom would prepare the stuffing—a mixture of ground lamb, rice, onions, and allspice–filling the house with sweet and spicy aromas. She would then spend a chunk of the day rolling the grape leaves, one at a time, each leaf nurtured, filled, and rolled to uniform perfection. The dish took eight hours of work, start to finish, and our hands would be in the pot before it even hit the table. When the grape leaves were finally served, silence and the occasional grunt would be all you would hear. The dish was always obliterated in a matter of minutes. You’d think that would have frustrated my mother, but it actually fulfilled her. She knew we were happy and she savored that moment when my father would finally look up, and, seeing his wife and children around the table, simply sit content with a smile on his face.

Father’s Day is still the same in our household. We still celebrate at my parents’ house, and my mother still makes grape leaves, but now my wife and daughters celebrate the day with us. The meal is still devoured in minutes, although my girls tend to linger a bit on the grape leaves, now their favorite dish as well.

My dad is even happier now as he gets to share the day with his daughter-in-law and granddaughters. And as a father myself, I now completely understand that smile my father exuded at the end of each meal. He was celebrating one of life’s simplest and most important pleasures, one we don’t commit to often enough—family unity. When my family is together around the table, we focus on each other and the meal, share memories and jokes, and catch up on weeks past. They are moments to appreciate each other, and to celebrate. It is a time without distractions–no TV, no cell phones, no video games.  My father taught me to value family and to value the food we have been given. Together, my parents taught us to love and I will be forever grateful and savor every minute I get to share with them.

Thanks to Ali Slagle of The Recipe Club for getting me thinking about how special this tradition has been to me and my family!

Moroccan Lamb Meatloaf
Serves 8 to 10

This is no ordinary meatloaf. A hefty dose of fresh herbs and dried spices means it’s packed with flavor; the yogurt, tahini, and rolled oats help keep it moist. We developed this recipe as a deli sandwich special, but it’s just as delicious eaten on its own. For best results, try to get ground lamb with 15 to 20 percent fat content; ground shoulder usually falls in this range. Meat from the leg is too lean and will result in a dry end product.

1 large onion, minced (2 cups)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons ground toasted cumin (see below)
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds ground lamb
1 1/2 tablespoons harissa (see Note)
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a nonstick liner and set aside. Combine the onion, oats, cilantro, mint, yogurt, tahini, garlic, allspice, cumin, paprika, and cayenne in a large bowl, along with 4 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Mix well to blend. With your hands, break the lamb into small chunks and add to the bowl. Mix gently but thoroughly; overmixing will make the meatloaf tough and dry. When all the ingredients are evenly combined, transfer to the baking sheet and shape into a flat loaf about 13 by 6 by 1 1/2 inches.

Bake until an instant-read thermometer registers 150°F at the thickest part of the loaf, 55 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the harissa and tomato paste in a small bowl. When the meatloaf is done, brush the mixture over the loaf and bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, or until the internal temperature reads 165°F. Let the loaf rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing (longer is better, as the pooled juices will be reabsorbed into the meatloaf).

Note: Harissa is a chile-and-spice paste that hails from North Africa. For a slightly different effect, you could substitute Asian chile-garlic sauce.

Toasted, Ground Cumin Seeds
To toast cumin seeds, heat them in a small skillet over medium-high heat until aromatic and slightly darker, about 2 minutes. Let cool and grind in a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder or use the bottom of a sauté pan against a cutting board.

Eat Good Food research visit to Firebrand Artisan Breads

One of the best parts of working on our book Eat Good Food was going on “field trips” to meet and photograph some of the producers whose fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, and other products we sell at the Market. Our goal in doing so was not just to put a face to these products, but to explain what exactly makes the products so good. This video was taken on one such visit, when we went to Firebrand Artisan Breads’ facility in Emeryville, CA.

It was amazing to watch owner Matt Kreutz working with naturally leavened dough (i.e. no commercial yeast used) and a wood-fired oven. He works by hand in small batches, and really “babies” each loaf, giving it more or less time in the oven depending on what it needs. In this video, you’ll hear Dabney and I asking him questions in the background, and you’ll also see our photographer France off to the side. (She’s also the one with the accent, if you couldn’t guess.)

The real treat came at the end, when he gave us some of his incredible brioche rolls to take with us – the perfect thing to sustain us on our journey!

Our book has a cover, now on to the final edits!

We’re down to the wire:  Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food book is almost done. We got to see first round galleys this week and it looks awesome. We had to increase the page count by 48 pages to make room for all of the rich information we want to share.  I am most excited about the cover, which took a lot of back and forth (who knew it would be so challenging?) but we ended up with the perfect balance of image and graphics, just enough of a teaser to lure you in. I feel it looks and feels Bi-Rite, but let me know what you think. Email me and let me know.

Last week we filmed a video about the book, which was a lot of fun. I took Melanie, a Bi-Rite neighbor, shopping in the Market and then we cooked up a recipe from the book together. Peter and Sarah from Belle Creative caught the action on film, and we all learned a lot. Stay tuned!

The next few weeks will be busy with final edits and design layouts so we can get the manuscript off to the printer by the end of May.  There is still a lot of work to do in order to have books in hand by October—which I know will be here sooner than I can blink (in the meantime, you can pre-order a copy here). Our 18th Street world will be exposed to the whole world; I’m nervous, and a bit anxious, but mostly excited to get the book out there.  It has been two years in the works, but really a lifetime if you consider that all the info included spans from my childhood to now.  The experience has been wild and has exceeded all of my hopes and expectations.

I am hopeful that Eat Good Food will inspire change, empower more people to question where their food comes from, and give them the confidence to ask more questions wherever they shop.  But more importantly, I hope you have fun reading it and get a clearer understanding of what makes us tick. We’re a nutty bunch. We’re crazy about food and are passionate about feeding people. We love what we do, have a ton of fun doing it and hope you do too.

Put your bacon where your mouth is

This winter, we found out that our best-selling bacon, Vande Rose Farms Applewood Smoked, was made of pork from hogs raised in confinement. We have our friends at Food Democracy Now to thank for tipping us off to Vande Rose’s use of confined housing for their sows, which led to our decision to stop selling the product. Because of the stand we’ve taken to avoiding selling meat from animals raised in confinement, we had no choice but to take Vande Rose bacon off our shelves .

We replaced it with Benton’s, which was easy to do given how delicious Benton’s is (when we had a blind bacon taste test at 18 Reasons last year, it was a top pick). Allen Benton (who our friend Ari Weinzweig in his book Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon refers to as “seriously one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, in the food world or out”) makes this super smoky bacon in Eastern Tennessee. Smoke, salt and sweet all come through, and the pork bellies come from sustainably raised Berkshire hogs.

Nothing is black and white in the meat world. The more we learn, the harder it gets to do business.. The nuances of where animals are housed, what they’re allowed to eat, and how they are processed aren’t easy to put into buckets, so we do our best to evaluate each on a case by case basis to make the best decision possible. Even though these decisions might not be the best for business, we still take a stance, voting with our dollars, with the hopes of improving food production in our country.


Let it Grow

Our theme this week is “Be Your Own Farmer.” For the first time ever, we’re selling organic vegetable and herb starts in front of the Market, ready for planting in your backyard, window box or even (for some of them!) flower pot.

Vegetable 6-packs

We have a nice selection of Brasiccas (Toscano Kale, Red Russian, Broccoli di Cicco and Cabbages). These crops like cooler weather, but are also good in full sun, especially if you want to grow a large head of cabbage. Kales will grow in partial shade, and if the leaves are continuously picked the plant could produce for over a year. Brassica plants are large and like to have at least 18 inches  between each plant.

The Onion and Chard 6-packs have multiple plants and can be carefully taken apart to create more plants. Bonus!  Giving each individual plant the proper space helps with the productivity of the plant. Chard plants can also produce for over a year if the leaves are continuously picked. Both of these crops love full-sun but can do alright in partial shade.

The Lettuce and Escarole look amazing and are probably the easiest crops to grow in the city. Lettuces are cold weather crops that should be harvested between 30-50 days before they get too bitter; escarole will take at least 50 days to grow a mature head.

Peas are a true sign of spring and are a great plant to grow in a 2-3 gallon pot  up a trellis or fence.

The Chives and Cilantro also grow well in pots, as long as the pot is big enough to let the roots grow.  Herbs work well on sunny windowsills.

Transplanting Tips

  • All of these starts are ready to transplanted and will thrive with a hit of organic fertilizer.
  • Remember to massage the roots and break them up a bit.  This prevents them from growing in a ball and never really living up to their expectations.
  • Plants love their space so they don’t have to compete for sunlight and water.
  • All of these plants can be grown in pots, but will do better in a nicely prepared garden space.
  • These starts are in small containers and can dry up quickly.  They usually need a little water every day if they are in full-sun.

If you’re someone who really likes to start at the beginning, we sell an assortment of seed packets from Baker Creek, a great heirloom seed company out of Missouri. They opened a seed bank up in Petaluma and from their collection I selected a handful of varietals that grow well in our SF climate. Just $2.50 a pack, give it a try!

Mayors Youth and Education Program Visits Bi-Rite for Career Day

Recently, Liz, Rosie, Simon and I got to host a group of high schoolers at 18 Reasons after a tour of the Market and Creamery. The kids were part of the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program. On this day, hundreds of youth got to spend a day off from school supplementing their education gaining insight about careers that interest them. Over fifty local businesses generously opened their doors to provide a glimpse of what they do and to sit down and engage in a conversation that could hopefully inspire future career paths.

We had eight kids in our group who were interested in learning more about the food business. Some wanted to be chefs, others just loved food, all were really excited and thankful to be sitting with us. Our first stop was the Creamery where the kids got see how our ice cream was made. They were blown away, especially after they got to taste the goods right out of the machine.

We then went down to 18 Reasons so we could talk in a less chaotic setting and to taste some more goodies. We brought raw milk, avocados and cara cara oranges with us. They couldn’t believe how great raw milk tasted and got a mini lecture on pasteurization and the nutritional benefits of raw milk. The Haas avocados we brought were from California and Chile so we could do a comparative tasting. The California grown Haas was from a small family farm in San Diego and only available to us for about a month. A few of the kids said they didn’t like avos, but after seeing their peers ask for seconds, they dug in and thought the California Haas was “way better”. They couldn’t believe how creamy and luscious it was compared to the seemingly watered-down Chilean fruit. The highlight of the tasting was the cara cara oranges, a navel orange cross that is pinkish-red in color. The students marveled at how beautiful they were but were even more enamored once they tasted them.

Kaythari (one of our young visitors) drew her impressions of Bi-Rite

The four of us talked about the various paths we took before getting to Bi-Rite. It was great to hear the personal stories from Liz, Rosie and Simon. I am constantly inspired by how dedicated and passionate our staff is. I also got to share my history and the story of Bi-Rite with them–they couldn’t believe I started working when I was six years old and laughed when I told them that I wanted nothing to do the with the grocery business by the time I graduated from high school.

It was a great day and reminded me of the day that inspired me to get into the hospitality industry. My high school held a Career Day senior year where we got to spend an entire day with someone in an industry that we were interested in. My first choice was law, second choice was accounting and third choice was hotel management. I was a bit disappointed when I learned I got my third choice (Could you imagine me in a suit every day? )—but it ended up being the catalyst to get me to where I am today. I got to spend the day at the Sheraton Palace Hotel in downtown SF, getting the opportunity to see the inner workings of the hotel. I was blown away. I loved how autonomous and complicated the hotel was, how many people with different skill sets it took to make it work. It was like a city. Long story short, I pursued an education in Hotel Management and when no hotel would hire me without any experience, I got a job as a prep cook. I fell in love with food and decided to become a cook. I got to travel to Switzerland to work and returned to open my own restaurant at the age of 23. The rest is history.

I feel really lucky that I found my calling early in life and hope that sharing my passion will inspire and lead to more kids pursuing something they love.


Small Fish in a Big Sea

About 6 months ago we made pledge to go “farmed-salmon free” at the market.  Although the Loch Duart Company, the salmon farm we have been using for the past 10 years, utilizes the best practices for open water aquaculture, the risk of fish escaping, competing with and potentially contaminating wild salmon populations is too important to be overlooked. We successfully discontinued farmed salmon in our fresh seafood case when we found a direct source of wild Alaskan salmon, but had trouble adapting our smoked salmon recipe utilizing the wild fish and did not want to compromise the quality of the final product. This was a hard decision for us as our house-smoked salmon is one of the most revered items we make.  After several months of experimentation, we have finally developed a recipe using wild caught Alaskan King salmon that we are proud of.

The king salmon is a bit leaner and not as uniform as the farmed fish, but the final product is absolutely delicious and just as luscious.   The variation in each fish is a result of mother nature– different genetics, location of catch, and the natural feeding patterns of wild fish.

The one down side of the switch is that there will be a slight increase in the price.  The reason for the increase starts with the cost of the raw whole product.  Farming fish allows for streamlined production, less variable expenses in growing and harvesting, and more controlled yield and loss.  Wild fishing has many more variables (weather, fuel spent fishing, quota permits, etc… ) that affect the quantity caught as well as money spent in catching, storing and transporting the product.  The high demand for a wild caught salmon also has a big impact on the market price, especially when the season’s yield is unknown from year to year.

We hope that even though the price increased, that you would agree with us that ultimately it is more important to promote and support the most sustainable seafood possible.


How to Cook Meat, Bi-Rite Style

While nothing is as good as talking about a recipe for how to cook meat in person, we’ve created brochures for how to cook beef, chicken, pork and fish so you’re armed with basic how-to’s once you get home with that delicious pasture-raised cut. These brochures, download-able here as pdfs, include guidelines for cooking temperature as well as what to look for no matter what meat counter you find yourself standing in front of.

How to Cook Chicken (printable pdf) Breasts, thighs and our Meyer Lemon Roast Chicken

How to Cook Beef (printable pdf) Tips for steaks, roasts, stews, braises…including your holiday prime rib!

How to Cook Pork (printable pdf) Ribs, chops and tenderloins

How to Cook Seafood (printable pdf) Filets, steaks, small whole fish, scallops and shellfish

EAT GOOD FOOD: The Manuscript is In

Finally, after 16 months of writing and research, we’re done with our manuscript for EAT GOOD FOOD, the Bi-Rite book to be published by Ten Speed Press in October. I could not have come close to finishing without the help of the entire Bi-Rite team, Ten Speed and my brilliant and tireless co-author Dabney Gough.

It’s been a long process, and we’ve learned a ton connecting more deeply with vendors and producers– we’re excited for you all to read it. If you want to check in with some of our staff to see what they think, it’s in their hands right now to read through for the first time.

Over the months of writing the book I re-visited many of the farmers, ranchers, winemakers and other food producers we feature, and caught a few moments on film. Here’s a quick clip from our visit to Straus Family Creamery–you can see Dabney for a brief moment too:

Now it’s time to tackle the cover! We’re pushing for a photo-less cover (today’s norm for most books is a full bleed photo cover)– something timeless and classic, like the exterior of Bi-Rite. We want the experience of opening up the book to be like walking into the store–a burst of color with mouthwatering texture and information.

If you want to learn more about our book and how it contributes to our mission of Creating Community Through Food, reply back to this post! Or send me an email with your questions or hopes for the book.

Orach from Mariquita Farm: What is it, how do we cook it?

Orach is a darkly-colored, less common variety of hybrid spinach, great in salads and cooking. Mariquita Farm is not only awesome enough to give us this nutrient-rich veggie (I would bet that we are the only retail market in the city that has it!) but they also post great recipes on their website to teach their community about how to use it. Thanks to Mariquita’s hard work, we can spread the love! Here are some cooking ideas they recommend for Orach:

Recipe 1: Orach Salad

1 clove roughly chopped garlic
pinch salt
1 teaspoon (scant) dijon mustard
2 teaspoons plum jam or any other jam available
4 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Washed orach leaves

  • For the Dressing, whirl all ingredients besides the orach in a blender until emulsified.
  • Dress washed orach leaves with dressing; add other chopped vegetables as desired.

Recipe 2: Orachy ‘Green Sauce’

Green sauce is a common and age-old early spring recipe, adaptable to what you have on hand! This sauce can be a soup embellishment, a potato topper, a risotto flavoring, and more– experiment and enjoy.

2 cups orach
1 clove garlic or 1 shallot or 3 scallion bottoms, chopped fine
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste

  • Put all ingredients in a mortar and pestle or a food processor and mash/whirl until desired consistency is reached.

Orach Pasta

2 cups cleaned and lightly chopped orach leaves
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil to taste
2 cups hot cooked pasta (shaped pastas work better than long noodles)
Optional additions: roasted pine nuts or walnuts, crumbled blue or other cheese, grated parmesan

  • Saute the onion & garlic in the moderately hot olive oil (about 1-2 Tablespoons) until soft.
  • Add the greens and the salt & pepper.
  • Cook until the greens are wilted, about 2 minutes, depending on how hot your pan is.
  • Mix with the hot pasta, and optional additions if you’re using any of them, and serve.


Seasonal Superfood: Soup!

One of my favorite authors as a child was Maurice Sendak. In addition to his celebrated book Where the Wild Things Are, on cold winter days I’m reminded of his poetic calendar Chicken Soup with Rice. In it, soup is venerated through rhyme each month. March’s verse goes like this:

“In March the wind blows down the door
And spills my soup upon the floor
It laps it up and roars for more
Blowing once, blowing twice
Blowing chicken soup with rice”

More than just comfort food, soup nourishes us from deep within. Traditionally soups are based on a hearty stock made from bones, cartilage, marrow and vegetables. These often overlooked treasures are full of vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and good fat and contribute to a soup’s nutritional and gastronomic value.

Here at Bi-Rite, we use house-made stocks in all of our house prepared soups. Wanna make your own pot? Pick up any of our stocks in the freezer section; we offer light and brown chicken, pastured chicken,  beef, seafood and veggie stocks made by our chefs. Or come to the Deli for a pint of hot soup to go ($4.99-$5.99/pint). We always have a meat and a vegetarian option.

So what are you waiting for?! Get your soup on now. In the words of Maurice Sendak:

“I told you once, I told you twice
All seasons of the year are nice
For eating chicken soup with rice”

Heirloom Navel Oranges: Brazil–> Washington–> Riverside–> Bi-Rite–> Our Community

I want to tell you about an amazing heirloom navel we’re getting from Bernard Ranches (50 acres in Riverside County, about 430 miles from Bi-Rite). But first, a little background on how we arrived at the navel on our shelf today:

Navel orange trees in general, and Washington navel orange trees in particular, are not very vigorous trees. They have a round, somewhat drooping canopy and grow to a moderate size at maturity. The flowers lack viable pollen so the Washington navel orange will not pollinate other citrus trees. Because of the lack of functional pollen and viable ovules, the Washington navel orange produces seedless fruits. These large round fruits have a slightly pebbled orange rind that is easily peeled, and the navel, really a small secondary fruit, sometimes protrudes from the apex of the fruit. The Washington navel orange is at its best in the late fall to winter months, but will hold on the tree for several months beyond maturity and stores well.

The introduction that led to adoption of the name Washington and to its commercialization in California occurred in 1870, when twelve budded trees were received from the Bahia region, on the Atlantic coast north of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil by William 0. Saunders, superintendent of gardens and grounds for the U.S. D.A. in Washington.  These trees were planted in a greenhouse and immediately propagated for distribution.

Several years later, trees were sent to a number of people in California and Florida.  Among those who received trees were Eliza Tibbets of Riverside, CA.  Before leaving Washington, Eliza Tibbets, a friend of Saunders, persuaded him to ship two of the navel orange trees that originated in Brazil to the Tibbets home in Riverside. The trees were planted in 1874-5. Anecdotes have it that Eliza nurtured the little trees with her dishwater!

Upon maturing the fruit was found to be superior in every way. Bud sales were brisk, and the two trees, ringed with barbed wire, became famous. Although officially called the Bahia, the fruit was soon dubbed the Riverside Navel, and its popularity eventually made Riverside a citrus center and prosperous showplace.  In fact, one of two original Navel Orange trees planted in 1874-5 spawned California’s entire citrus industry. Navel oranges have no seeds, so cuttings from original trees were used to start navel orange groves across southern California, and an industry grew. Every navel orange grown and eaten in California is a descendant of this tree, which still stands as a historical monument in a small park at the corner of Magnolia and Arlington in Riverside.

Now, zoom in on Bernard Ranches:

Vince and Vicki Bernard pride themselves on the superior flavor and sweetness of their citrus fruit, which they attribute to the combination of their rich soil and suitable climate, as well as the use of seaweed as a fertilizer. They began farming their land in 1979 and have been bringing their produce to market since 1980. They work their farm together and sell their fruit themselves. They farm their land sustainably, from the use of hand weeding, to the release of beneficial insects (parasitic wasps, lady beetles, & lace wigs), to hand trapping gophers (they do not use synthetic pesticides).

At Bi-Rite we are blessed to have Bernard Ranches’ fresh picked heirloom navels on the shelves in the market, which are descendants of exactly the same heritage line as those originals from Brazil. We are just getting started with them and hoping they are around all throughout spring just like last season.  Already they are easy to peel, super juicy with a soft silky texture that just melts.  Additionally the flavor is AMAZINGLY SWEET like honey or nectar that goes great with acid to make what is probably the most classic tasting citrus on our shelves.  My experience is that it is almost hard to eat just one.