Doing fun things with greens keeps them exciting. Grilled romaine and steamed curly endive are welcome changes on the menu at my house. I found a recipe for charred chard. I enjoyed saying charred chard out loud (I’m easily amused). Saying “charred chard” three times must have been a mystical incantation because then the recipe demanded to be made.
Charred Chard and Shallots
1 lb rainbow chard
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper
Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray. Trim stems from rainbow chard. Divide chard leaves and shallots evenly between prepared pans. Spray vegetables lightly with cooking spray. Broil on high, one pan at a time until most of the chard is wilted and some is partially charred – 4 to 5 minutes.
Chop cooked chard into large pieces. Place chard mixture on a platter, top with golden raisins, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Do you ever really measure 1/8 of a teaspoon of anything? I keep a jar with a mix of 40% coarse ground black pepper and 60% kosher salt right by my stove for seasonings. A pinch or two of the mix does the trick for most things.
Watch the chard as it broils. You want it mostly wilted with a little char, not a pan full of ashes! The charred chard retains some texture and can be strongly flavored. It needs a touch sweetness.
I didn’t have golden raisins on hand. I used grape tomatoes on the side for sweet balance and was very happy with it. I’ll be making this again when I pick up some raisins.
The recipe suggests adding chickpeas and crumbled feta to make a vegetating main dish. I expect substituting a mildly salty vegan cheese world work, too.
Back in the late 1990’s new job responsibilities lead me to discover the Big Bend area of Texas and introduced me to a world full of splendorous topographical extremes, to folk in remote communities and to surprise pockets of sophistication where I’d least expected it. My adventures included hiking in the national and state parks, having astronomers on a mountaintop ask me to send some classical music cassettes their way because their resource was a mail order record club (this was long before the internet and Amazon) and the rustic cafe at Terlingua Ranch, reached by driving over 18 miles on gravel roads off the highway. The cook waited on the highway once a week for supplies from the Schwan’s Frozen Foods Truck. I worked with a remote frontier clinic physician assistant who used telemedicine in providing health care and arranged delivery by bus for medicines from the nearest pharmacy about 80 miles away. I have many warm memories of the people of the area and how much I learned from them and with them. I still go back as a tourist. In the ensuing 20-something years, some of the people are new to me. While things have grown and changed, the frontier spirit remains. I still love to spend time on the porch at the Terlingua Mercantile and and the Starlight Theater next door, now an amazing restaurant. And, when in Alpine, going to the Reata Restaurant is a must.
Grady Spears, a city boy turned cow puncher, chuckwagon cook and restaurateur is a man I have long admired and but not yet to met. He was the founding cook of the Riata and, with what he learned from ranch cooks, elevated cowboy cooking to cowboy cuisine. He went to Ft. Worth and opened the Chisolm Club downtown. After a tornado, he moved to the Caravan of Dreams building and opened a second Reata. I’m sure that somewhere, he is still making good old ranch hand food into amazing fare for city slickers. I was thinking about the Big Bend Bluebonnets the other day and wondering if there had been enough rain for a good bloomout this year. That lead me to the bookshelf and my three Grady Spears cookbooks. I got a hankerin’, looked up a recipe I hadn’t made in years and got to cooking. He calls it Cilantro-Nut Mash. I respect that very much. These days, people seem to call any vegetable or green leaf chopped in a food processor a pesto. Grady’s Cilantro-NutMash is what it is , so don’t you be callin’ it cilantro pesto where I can hear you!
The Cilantro-Nut Mash is a great accompaniment for chicken and fish. In the photo above, the chicken had a mild chipotle rub, was browned in a skillet and finished off in the oven while corn, green onion and grape tomatoes were season, wrapped in foil and roasted.
Cilantro-Nut Mash Ingredients
1 Cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (loosely packed)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped pecans (I like them lightly toasted)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp smooth goat cheese
Kosher salt to taste Method
Combine cilantro, cheese, pecans and garlic in a food processor. Pulse and gradually add oil. Add goat Cheese and season with salt, pulse until just slightly smooth.
The Gringo Gourmet has a new look with an easier to read color scheme. Please feel free to comment on it.
The end of the year us always hectic and 2017 was no exceptions. A number of things got me way behind in posting here. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is better organization of time and tasks and more posting here. Wish me well on that one!
I’ll start off with a recipe for an amazing and colorful slaw that looks and tastes as bright as fireworks welcoming in the new year, even if I’m doing it a couple of days early! In the next day or so I’ll post an interesting vegan dish we made for Christmas. It was a recipe from Jamie Oliver and all the measurements were metric. Fortunately, my daughter had a scale that could to metric weights as well as the weights we are used to in the U.S.! Keep an eye our for that one.
My pre-happy new year treat was part of a birthday party for one of my great grandnieces who turns 3 on New Year’s Eve. (Note: I have 10 great grand nieces and two great grand nephews. The consensus is I am a great, great uncle!) There was a luncheon featuring brisket, beans, fruit, guacamole, chips and salsa. Good TexMex eating on the border. I made a standard Cole slaw with a. creamy dressing and then, go fiesta with a Red Slaw with Spiralized Beets.
Red Slaw with Spiralized Beets
1 tsp lime zest, grated
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove(s), medium garlic clove(s), crushed through a garlic press
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed 1/2 tsp table salt 1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
3 medium uncooked beets, peeled (about 3/4 lb)
2 cup(s) uncooked red cabbage, thinly sliced
2 medium uncooked scallion(s), thinly sliced
3 or 4 sliced shishito peppers
3 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
6 Tbsp queso cotija, or Parmesan cheese, coarsely shredded
3 Tbsp roasted salted pepitas, (pumpkin seeds)
In a large bowl, whisk together lime zest and juice, oil, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper.
Spiralize beets; add to dressing.
Add cabbage, scallions, shishito peppers and oregano to beets; toss to coat. Sprinkle with cheese and pepitas.
Garnish with a few additional spirals.
Last Friday’s paper had a large article about a book promotion event for The Tacos of Texas, a newly released book by Jarod Neece and Mando Rayo, a former El Pasoan, both of whom now consider themselves taco journalists. The book is the product of 7,000 miles of driving around Texas eating tacos, interviewing local taco eaters and recruiting members of the Texas Taco Council for the promotion and perpetuation of tacos.
The promotion event was free tacos in different styles by four different chefs. There were traditional tacos, Tex-Mex tacos and New Americano Tacos. The gates opened at noon and the lines ran out the gates and up the block at Memorial Park’s special activity area.
I didn’t not choose to wait in long lines for a free taco. Instead, I had tacos and enchiladas at nearby Doña Lupe’s instead. Afterwards, I returned to the park go find the lines still were long. The book buyer line was very short. Go figure – 45 or more minutes or in line in the sun for a taco or five minutes in line and $20 for a book.
I purchased the book, waved goodbye to some friends in who’ve been in line line in the sun and headed home in the air conditioned comfort of my truck.
At home, I kicked back and read the introduction to the book and then skipped ahead to the chapter on El Paso. There are interviews with the owners and chefs at restaurants, taquerias and with local celebrities and just folks who know their way around a taco. Somehow, they failed to interview the Gringo Gourmet for the book
Each of the sections of the book follows this pattern of interviews and offers a list of five “bests” for tacos, based on the interviews. You’ll have to read the book to find out who is on the list!
Folks who read this blog know that there is a category called play with your food. Dishes there start with a basic premise and adapt it into something individual. It evolved from reading Bon Appetit’s Cooking Without a Recipe feature on their e-mail feature series. I use their model and list ingredients and tips on methodology if needed, but don’t create a formal recipe with things like quantities and measures. It becomes a fun adventure for me and no one, so far, has complained or been harmed by my creations.
The book calls tortillas, fillings and salsa the trinity of tacos. It also says a taco can be anything served in a folded-over taco, the exception being taquitos which are rolled and fried tacos sometimes called flats, and what folks in the north and eastern parts of the state call a breakfast taco that looks suspiciously like an egg burrito to me.
The book does have recipes from each of the five “bests” in each locale and a few from the local celebrities. It will be fun to try some from the different regions of the state – even those bastions of Mexican food, Midland-Odessa, Abilene and Dallas. I will give the authors credit for been unbiased-ish in their statewide taco tasting.
I am enjoying the book greatly. It is fun for foodies to read and to be inspired by some new approaches to tacos.
After a night of reading The Tacos of Texas I woke wanting a chile based breakfast. Here’s how the taco exposure affected a couple of breakfast favorites in this house – the Chile Relleno al Flojero (lazy man chile rellenos) and enchilada montages (stacked enchiladas with an egg on top).
Bye the book definition of a taco being a tortilla filled with something, my Relleno al Flojero must really be a cheese stuffed green chile taco. It loses something in the translation, but the flavor is still there.
I usually use three tortillas for my breast enchiladas with egg. But under the taco spell, I decided to fill the tortillas in half with a green chile, cheese, onion and dollop of red chile sauce, then top the taco looking enchilada with more red chile, onion and cheese. I made two and added the requisite fried egg and christened it tacolada montada. I think this breakfast will appear on the the table again soon, perhaps with a side of refried beans that the authors call Mexican mayonnaise.
Caperberries have been appearing on relish trays with olives, cheese and crackers around town for a few months. People are always asking what they are. They look like olives on a stem, but they are not related to olives. I went searching for some and found them in the food section of Specs, an amazingly stocked liquor and finer foods store across from Sunland Park Mall. Caperberries are now also on the olive bar at the new Whole Foods Market. The advantage of shopping the olive bar is than you can just get a few to taste instead of a whole jar. I do say that I enjoy ta nibble or two whenever I can find them.
Capers, tiny immature flower buds, dried and pickled in brine and used in many wonderful dishes. They are originally Mediteranean and now are grown in many countries. I like them especially with something that has a little lemon juice in it. They enhance the acidity of a dish. Caperberries are the fruit of the same plant. Some say they have a slight lemon taste and others compare them to green pimento-stuffed olives. I lean toward the olive side. Both capers and the berries are pickled in a vinegar and salt brine. Capers need to be rinsed to cut the brine flavor. Caperberries are crisper and milder than capers. One resource I used said they may be substituted for olives in salads or chopped as a substitute for capers in recipes. It did not recommend using capers as a substitute for the berries because they have a strong flavor.
I was intrigued with the thought of using caperberries as a substitute for olives, so I immediately reached for gin and vermouth to see how caper berries would work in a dry martini. Of course this was in the interest of culinary science! Both of them were!
My usual martini recipe with an olive garnish is pleasantly dry. I use 2.5 oz dry gin and .5 oz dry vermouth, shaken until well chilled. I used the same recipe with a garnish of two caperberries on a pick. It was quite tasty. Rather than the slight brininess of the olive garnish, the caperberry was very lightly sweeter than I have previously experienced with two pimento-stuffed olives. I think I’m going to have to re-run the experiment with side by side tasting – olive vs caperberry.
I’ll publish the results after the experiment – probably the day after.
Two martini’s made me remember a wonderful Dorothy Parker rhyme. The challenge here is tell me who Dorthy Parker was and to complete the rhyme
We’re experiencing some changes on the Westside of El Paso. Wednesday, Oct. 18, the city’s first Whole Foods Market opened on Mesa St., near Coronado High School. It has been a mob scene as people marvel at the variety of produce and fish we’ve not had readily available before. Of course, I’ve been giddy with delight for a week now!
In addition to the groceries and health products the store has the hot and cold bars of prepared dishes by the pound. It has a restaurant with 24 beer taps, wine by the glass and more. Nothing like shopping tipsy to fill up a grocery cart!
For me, the experience has been enriched by finding that some of the staff I know from other stores have moved up and are benefiting from the Whole Foods training experience as they mature their skills.
You do have to be sensible when shopping Whole Foods. They have some very price things to make you gasp! I go to check the produce and the bulk foods for good prices and new things to try. And, there is the occasional splurge for something extra special. I’m enjoying having all they to learn about just a mile away.
I’ve very excited that we will have a Whole Foods Market in El Paso opening in about six weeks. I expect to have access to a broader variety of vegetables and condiments than we are used to finding here. I’m very glad that Mark Heins, formerly owner of the Greenery Restaurant is changing careers to become the manager of the Whole Foods store. His years at the Greenery and its wine shop and bakery next door make me certain that the Whole Foods people made a good choice.
I prowl El Paso’s little neighborhood stores for treasures like oil cured olives, sumac (not the poison kind) and epazote for my culinary adventures. In Jerusalem, a Middle Eastern restaurant and attached grocery, I found Aleppo pepper. I’d read recipes with it and finally scored a 1 lb. bag for a very reasonable price – about half the price of a one ounce can I saw at Williams Sonoma.
Aleppo pepper is named after Aleppo, a long inhabited city on the Silk Road in norther Syria. It is grown in Syria and Turkey. It starts as pods that ripped to a burgundy color, then are semi-dried, seeded and crushed or ground. It has a moderate heat of around 10,000 on the Scoville scale. Its scent is a little fruity and mildly cumin-like. It reminds me of ancho chile powder, but is a little more mild and oily. It is delicious.
I’ve been assigned to make a potato dish for a potluck on Saturday night. I decided to experiment with tiny new potatoes and thought of my stash of Aleppo pepper. I sautéed potato coins in a little olive oil until they were crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. After plating them, I drizzled them with Aleppo oil and a light sprinkle of kosher salt. I modestly have to say they were terrific. I expect the Aleppo oil will probably be a new experience for my friends on Saturday night. I also, drizzled a bit of oil on my steak, but decided that it was too subtle for the red meat. I’ll be report on work with the oil and other vegetables soon.
1 Tbsp Aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
In a small pan, simmer Aleppo pepper and paprika in oil for about a minute to infuse their flavors into the oil. Swirl you pan frequently while simmering. Let cool and drizzle over vegetables.
I had the pleasure of being invited to do a Gringo Gourmet Cactus Cooking talk at the Sierra Vista Master Gardeners Annual High on the Desert Gardening and Landscape Conference in March. It was fun to introduce the Arizonans to new ideas about enjoying prickly pear cactus. One of the audience told me I had just changed her menu for a dinner party she was planning. I shared a recipe I developed with ingredients for the filling of the Nopal Chile Rellenos at a favorite El Paso restaurant – Sabertooth. I tweeted it a little to make it my own and enjoy serving it cold and as an ingredient in hot dishes. The Sierra Vista group got to taste it on mini-sweet peppers and on a tortilla as a mini taco. I’ve posted the it below with a photo of a couple of ways I use it. Both will be featured in the next El Paso Cactus and Rock Club News letter in April.
Fellow El Paso Master Gardener Doc Stalker did a great talk on Roses in the Desert at the conference. We West Texan Master Gardeners have a lot in common with our Arizona friends. We’re glad that we were able to share some of your experiences with them.
Gringo Gourmet Magic Mix
A Versatile Recipe for Your Imagination to Enjoy
16 oz chopped nopales
16 oz chopped roasted, peeled and seeded long green chile
16 oz. frozen corn
1 jar Mexican table crema (regular sour cream thinned with milk may be substituted)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 guacamole salsa – jarred or made fresh (if making fresh, add lime juice to prevent discoloring of the avocado.
1 round asadero cheese
Sauté nopalitos in olive oil until sticky secretion is reduced. Add one Tbsp water at a time to create steam and accelerate evaporation of sticky stuff. Nopalitos are done when dark green and majority of sticky stuff is gone. At this point, you may choose to rinse the nopalitos to get all the sticky off.
Add chile if using fresh. If using jarred, let drain in a colander. You might need to press some moisture out.
Pour frozen corn into a hot dry skillet. Stir and let the corn thaw and take on a little brown color. You may use fresh corn cut off the cob, in season.
Mix nopales, chile and corn together. Stir in crema until moist, but not too wet.
Things to do with the Gringo Gourmet Magic Mix
Halve and seed mini colored peppers. Stir whipped cream cheese into Magic Mix to get the consistency of a dip. And serve with the halved peppers and/or tostadas.
Stuff long green chiles or poblanos with mix, chill and serve on a bed of lettuce as a cool salad. Garnish with squiggles of guacamole salsa and a sprinkle of grated or crumbled cotija or asadero cheese
Cactus Enchilada Casserole
Add more crema to Magic Mix to moisten and layer with corn tortillas in a casserole dish. Sprinkle with cotija cheese. Heat in a 350 oven until heated warm through and cheese is soft.
Garnish with squiggles of avocado salsa and serve. Note: do not over heat because the crema will break. You can even add a few spoonsful of guacamole salsa to the Magic Mix.
When no one is looking…
Use a spoon or your finger and clean the Magic Mix bowl. That’s the cook’s reward!
The New Year has been very busy. Even though it is well into February, I want to share my holiday season.
Last December (2015) I went to Denver for a week at Christmas. It was a great time with my daughters, Mande and Emily, that passed too quickly. Now that both girls are in Denver, visits will be easier to coordinate than when one there and the other in Austin.
My daughter Emily is a vegetarian and describes herself as almost vegan “except for that cheese and egg thing.” This started more years ago than I dare share when she was in high school. I respect her dedication and work to accommodate her dietary preferences when we are together. I am quick to remind her of an old New Yorker cartoon in which two women are dining in a posh (tiny table, white table cloth) restaurant. One held her martini in her hand and confided to the other, “I became a vegetarian to be a pain in the ass.” (At least I laugh at that cartoon!)
My almost a vegetarian week started immediately after Mande picked me up at the airport. We went to Emily’s apartment and we decided to go to the neighborhood pizza joint for dinner.
Denver had had a heavy snow the week before and there were a few icy patches left in shadowy places and some snow plow drifts here and there. We hiked through a dark alley with icy patches as a short cut to the pizza place. Just what a desert dweller with no real boots for snow needed to experience in the dark!
We made it safely to the restaurant. It was dark wood charming and had been there a long time. It was obviously a neighborhood favorite. We enjoyed a very good vegetarian appetizer and veggie and cheese pizza made even more tasty by a few good beers.
When we left the restaurant, we took the long way back to the apartment on the sidewalks, rather than through the icy alley.
Emily had to work the next day, so Mande and I did some errands and then drove to a grocery store that caters to a Mexican-American neighborhood. I felt like I was back in El Paso and recognized many of the same products and brands my local stores carry. We were there to pick up ingredients for a new recipe I’d been working on for nopal (prickly pear cactus) enchiladas. This store carries fresh, sliced nopales and frozen green chile. We were well on our way to dinner!
I showed the girls how I sauté the sticky sap off the diced cactus. We thawed and squeezed the water out of the chile, chopped onion and garlic and grated cheese. A sweat for the onions and garlic, and the addition of cactus and chile and the assembly began. Another trick for the girls was making pickled red onions to garnish the finished casserole.
Heated through and cheese melted, sprinkled with chopped cilantro, the enchiladas were attacked by a hungry vegetarian and the carnivores.
We are chimeras chile eaters) and proud of it! The girls made and canned red chile sauces to give special friends for Christmas. I got to sample it as one of my favorite breakfasts- red enchiladas montadas (it means stacked, not mounted) topped with a fried egg! Lush.
Enchiladas montadas (stacked) with egg. A favorite breakfast treat!
Emily was off the next day, so after we all went shopping, she made Reuben sandwiches for dinner. Remember, Emily is the vegetarian. No corned beef or pastrami on her Reubens! The protein was tempeh – a mystically transformed soybean pseudo-meat that when seasoned and browned and actually very good! Tempeh, sauerkraut and mustard on rye and coleslaw on the side was great.
Tempeh Reuben sandwich on rye with a side of coleslaw. Who needs corned beef?
Christmas Eve was a culinary adventure. Mande and I made a Vegducken – a vegetarian take on the three-fowl stuffed Turducken. We used a butternut squash, an eggplant and zucchini layered and stuffed with trimmings from the vegetables, minced mushroom and butter. All trussed up, it was impressive!
While the vegducken roasted in a crockpot, we picked up our friend Callie, had a quick brewski and went to see the light display at the Denver Botanical Garden.
Christmas Eve Dinner untied and served. The vegducken was worth the work! A champagne toast celebrated a beautiful Christmas season with my wonderful daughters, and hopefully the start of a new tradition of holiday togetherness.
Christmas Day was lunch out and a light dinner. I enjoyed pork belly and egg on pita points. I love pork belly and sadly have to say there wasn’t enough on the serving to offend any of the noncarnivores in the room.
The day after Christmas, I woke weak and trembly. I knew what I had to do. I dressed and braved the morning chill and icy patches on the sidewalk and the parking lot. I made it in one piece to the McDonald’s around the corner. Bacon and sausage biscuits got Mande and me set for the day. Maybe the Mickey Dee munchies were related to what Santa left in my stocking.
No photographic evident of the meat run exists.
Mande treated me to a fabulous seafood buffet on Sunday.
Oddly, Emily declined the pleasure. She did get her turn. For dinner that evening we has polenta topped with steamed greens and poached eggs. Emily’s first attempt at poaching eggs was a success!
On my last day in Denver, Mande poached eggs and served them on green chile and cheese polenta. Another poaching success!
It was an incredible week with my kids. Good times together doing fun things, trying restaurants new to me, enjoying time with the girls’ friends and the three of us loving cooking together. I survived almost being a vegetarian for a week!
My first night back home, it was a satisfying steak and potatoes.