Celeb Chef & Mom Melissa d’Arabian Dishes on Her Fave Local Eats

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We all know and love celebrity chef and mom of four Melissa d’Arabian for her delightful personality and down-to-earth approach to cooking delicious family meals on a budget. But for now we’re hanging up our aprons and eating our way through town because Melissa (who lives in Coronado), is dishing on everything from where to bite into the best donut to where to buy the freshest fish. She also shares two of her family’s favorite recipes from her cookbook Supermarket Healthy. Read on for the scoop.

What are your favorite kid-friendly restaurants in San Diego?
I love Puesto at The Headquarters! My girls love watching the tortillas being made. Puesto is actually a place where you want to go the bathroom because right outside they have everything from an 8 cell jail block to police badges and memorabilia, so the kids (and parents!) will have a blast taking photos there. Another favorite for the family is The Crack Shack. The fun outdoor picnic-style seating is perfect for squirmy kiddos. We go to the Little Italy location, but I’m excited to try out the new Encinitas location. I also like Café Gratitude because of all the cool affirming words on the plates.

Favorite place to fuel up on coffee or tea:
I just love Starbucks! However, it’s on my list to explore some of the cool coffee bean roasters we have in San Diego. I just need to get myself over the Coronado Bridge early enough in the day to take in the caffeine!

Favorite ice cream shop:
My kids just LOVE the innovative and fun options at iDessert.

Favorite bakery:
The family’s favorite baked goods of all time have to be from the Donut Bar. Oh gosh – so incredible. Plus, I love the owner Santiago’s tradition of bringing donuts out to the kiddos waiting in line. For actual bread-type baked goods I love Panchita’s Bakery in the Barrio Logan area.

Favorite place to grab lunch to-go for a picnic:
I love Café Gratitude’s to-go for picnic food. Also, Northgate Market has great homemade chips, salsa and guacamole, plus a whole prepared foods section that I love as a treat.

Favorite restaurant to grab breakfast with the kids:
The kids just absolutely love Snooze––and a bonus is they have pancakes my gluten-sensitive daughter Valentine can eat!

What’s your trusty standby family meal for busy days?
Roast a bunch of veggies tossed in a little olive oil on a baking sheet, chop a bunch of leafy greens, cabbage or Brussels sprouts to make a quick chopped raw salad, and sauté, roast, grill or poach some fresh or frozen fish. Maybe throw in some quick couscous or quinoa since my kids love that.

What are your daughters’ favorite recipes from your Supermarket Healthy cookbook?
Flourless Fudgy Dream Cookies & Eggplant Meatballs. Here are the recipes!

Flourless Fudgy Dream Cookies

These cookies are fudgy and decadent, and no one would ever guess that there are chickpeas (!) in the dough. The chickpeas replace both flour and eggs, making this a fantastic gluten-free dessert option. Add 2 tablespoons of flour to give these a cakelike texture.

Makes 2 dozen cookies
Preparation Time: 10 Minutes
Cooking Time: 10 Minutes

1 cup cooked chickpeas (homemade, page 81; or canned, rinsed)
1/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread
1/3 cup almond butter
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. Add the chickpeas and chocolate-hazelnut spread to a food processor and pulse until you get a smooth paste, ten to twelve 1-second pulses, stopping the food processor halfway through to scrape down the sides and bottom of the work bowl.

3. Add the almond butter, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, vanilla, salt, and almond extract (if using) and process until the mixture is smooth. (The dough will be very thick and sticky. If too dense for the food processor, turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead by hand until well combined.)

4. Divide the dough into tablespoon-size balls, and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Press down the tops lightly, then bake until the edges are firm but the centers are still soft to light pressure, about 10 minutes. Rotate the pans top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking.

5. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and set them aside. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack until they are completely cooled.

PER SERVING (1 cookie): Calories 48 / Protein 1g / Dietary Fiber 1g / Sugars 3g / Total Fat 3g

Eggplant Meatballs with Marinara Sauce

Who says meatballs have to have meat? After being roasted in the oven, the eggplant takes on a meaty, hearty flavor that is an excellent foundation for “meatballs.” In addition, I flavor them with the traditional basil, garlic, and bread crumbs (whole wheat, in this case). I do have one other unusual twist up my sleeve, though: I add some smashed white beans for texture and an extra boost of protein. Pair these meatballs with your favorite marinara sauce and I bet no one will even know the difference!

Serves 4 (16 meatballs)
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour, 10 minutes (plus 20 minutes to cool)

1 large eggplant (about 12 ounces)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ cup cooked white beans, such as cannellini or navy (homemade, page 00; or rinsed, if canned), smashed with a fork
1 large garlic clove, very finely chopped or pressed through a garlic press
½ cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves or flat-leaf parsley
½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling (optional)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup whole wheat panko-style bread crumbs
Olive oil mister or nonstick pan spray
2 cups marinara sauce (homemade or store-bought)

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the eggplant on top. Use a fork to prick the eggplant 4 times, then place the eggplant in the oven and roast it until it has completely collapsed and a paring knife easily slips into the center, 40 to 50 minutes. Cool the eggplant for 20 minutes. Leave the oven on.

2. Slice the eggplant in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the flesh (discard the skin). Place the roasted eggplant in a medium bowl and stir in the egg and beans. Add the garlic, basil, ½ cup Parmesan cheese, the salt, and pepper and stir to combine, then mix in the bread crumbs.

3. Again, line the rimmed baking sheet with a clean sheet of aluminum foil and lightly mist it with spray. Shape the eggplant mixture into balls about the size of a golf ball (you should get about 16). Place them on the prepared baking sheet and lightly mist the top of the balls with spray. Bake the eggplant balls until they are golden-brown and firm, about 20 minutes.
4. While the meatballs cook, warm the marinara sauce in a small saucepan. Remove the meatballs from the oven, sprinkle with a little extra Parmesan, and serve with the marinara sauce.

Per Serving: Calories 304 / Protein 14g / Dietary Fiber 10g / Sugars 14g / Total Fat 11g

Where is your favorite place to hang out with your family in San Diego?
We love the beach in Coronado––which is why we moved here!

What is the craziest adventure you’ve had in San Diego with your kids?
A few weeks ago, we decided to do a mini “staycation” and take the Old Town Trolley. We got our tickets in advance, and all four girls were very excited to be tourists for a day. We even dressed up like tourists, which made us all think we were so funny. Until… we couldn’t find our tickets. We had set them aside someplace safe, but we couldn’t remember where! After an hour of searching the house, we finally accepted the tickets were just gone. But instead of letting this ruin our day, we decided to do the tour by car, and just park the car at the various trolley stops.  Every time we saw a trolley, we took selfies with the trolley passing in the background and said things to each other like “wait for us!  We’re missing our trolley!” The kids had a ball all day doing our fake trolley tour. We never found the tickets. Sigh…

Favorite local food markets:
Catalina OP has the freshest seafood in San Diego!

Specialty Produce — I just load up my cart with healthy goodness here!

Which San Diego farmer’s market do you like to shop at the most?
I go most to the Coronado farmer’s market. It’s small but local and I love it. The Little Italy and Hillcrest farmer’s markets are incredible but they are really a full family outing.

Food aside, what would be your idea of how to spend the perfect day in San Diego?
The ocean is incredibly centering for me so I’d spend the day near the water. Yoga on the beach, or running the Coronado dunes with the kids, then coffee walking along the beach. Maybe driving up to Ocean Beach to walk around the antique shops. Our perfect family day always ends the same: watching the sunset from the beach––running around with the kids while they do cartwheel and handstand contests.

For more of Melissa’s restaurant recommendations in San Diego click here. To keep up with Melissa’s ventures and to get her latest recipes follow her on TwitterFacebookPinterestInstagram and visit www.melissadarabian.net.

Have you been to any of the places Melissa recommends? Which one is your favorite?

–– Beth Shea

Photos courtesy of Melissa d’Arabian

Recipes reprinted from Supermarket Healthy: Recipes and Know-How for Eating Well Without Spending a Lot. Copyright © 2014 by Melissa d’Arabian. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House LLC.