The next stops on the Keys To The Kitchen book tour are taking me south to San Diego. As such, I reached out to San Diego-based blogger, Brandon Matzek of Kitchen Konfidence, to see what his key to the kitchen is. Clearly, Brandon and I are kindred spirits because his dogged search for hard-to-find ingredients is something I know all too well, but I’ll let him explain more.
Q: Brandon, what is your “key to the kitchen?”
A: Several years ago, I had stumbled upon a recipe that called for orange blossom water. Filled with giddy intrigue (who doesn’t love the idea of eating flowers?), I called my local grocery store to check on availability of the ingredient. It was a no go. I clearly remember the voice on the other end of the phone saying, “That actually exists?!” Several phone calls later, my initial excitement quickly turned to helpless frustration. No orange blossom water. Anywhere. Closing the tab on the recipe page, I put all thoughts of eating gloriously fragrant orange blossoms aside. They would have to wait.
As the years went on, I decided to explore San Diego to discover new food locations. I didn’t want my lack of knowledge to impede my cooking endeavors. In search of curry leaves, I contacted a local Indian hotspot and asked them where they sourced their ingredients. This quick phone call lead me to the Bombay Bazaar, a treasure trove of Indian goodies including naan, amchoor, jaggery, asafetida and curry leaves. I discovered Catalina Offshore Products, a reasonably priced seafood wholesaler, during a recipe swap with new friends. Pancho Villa Farmers Market, my go-to spot for Mexican ingredients, was a recommendation from a coworker, and Gonzales Northgate Market, the only place in town to get nixtamal corn (for pozole), a recommendation from David Nelson, a fellow San Diego food writer. Specialty Produce, a wholesaler that provides produce to many local restaurants, a referral from the Produce Manager at Whole Foods. I could go on and on here, but I’ll stop! One of the most important keys to my kitchen is knowing where to purchase ingredients. This knowledge allows me to be adventurous in the kitchen without bounds.
I was wandering around North Park Produce, a small Middle Eastern market, with eager curiosity when I finally discovered a small, brightly-packed bottle of orange blossom water. Nestled amongst a bag of salty feta cheese, packets of whole spices and a few fat pomegranates, the bottle sat in my back seat on the ride home. I was smiling the whole way. I’ve kept orange blossom water in my pantry ever since. This wonderfully fragrant water adds a sweet, musky orange note to desserts, drinks and salads.
During the autumn months, I like to make this Beet Salad with Orange Blossom Vinaigrette (adapted from a recipe in Plenty). Roasted with a little water, olive oil, salt and pepper, Chioggia beets are peeled then sliced thin. Serve with a small salad of parsley leaves, orange and red onion. Finish with flaky sea salt, cracked pepper, and a drizzle of orange blossom vinaigrette (shake up: 3 tbsp olive oil, 1.5 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 tsp orange blossom water, salt and pepper).
Though my new cookbook is called Keys To The Kitchen, the reality is that there are too many to publish in one single book. So, I’ll be asking some of my favorite food people from each city I’ll be visiting on my book tour to share his or her very own key to the kitchen in this interview series — read other interviews here.