My Week as Almost a Vegetarian

My Week as Almost a Vegetarian

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!

We recognized the brand, but didn’t buy the product!

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.

Vegetarian attacks cactus enchiladas!
Cactus enchiladas with pickled onions and a nice salad for dinner.

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!

Fitting the squashes and eggplant for the vegducken.
Vegducken all trussed up and ready to go.

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.


Light displays at the Denver Botanical Garden set off the holiday mood!

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.

The vegducken made a delicious savory Christmas Eve dinner well worth the effort!


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.

Delicious lunch. Great flavors, perfect egg. There is never enough pork belly!

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.

You don’t see these suckers in Texas!

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.

Surft and Turf Rethought

It’s difficult for me to pass up surf and turn on a menu. A wonderful steak and lobster tail with drawn butter, or even steak and shrimp are a celebratory combination. I’ve even posted steak and 4 oz lobster tails here. I call the little tails 3-bite lobster.  Just enough to satisfy a craving for lobster without breaking the bank.

While looking over the seafood at my favorite meat counter, I kept coming back to a favorite treat – the green chile krab salad.  It is krab with a k because it is a whitefish surimi with crab flavor and a splash of red for color.  They add a bit of mayo, black olives, celery and little onion and lots of green chile and it is a great treat.  I like to serve it in an avocado half (or two) as a light lunch or dinner in hot weather.  Next to the crab was a icy bin of cooked and peeled large shrimp. A couple of windows back were some lush thick cut steaks. And suddenly, I imagined something that should be good for dinner or for lunch.  I collected what I thought I’d need, went home and got busy.

Surf and Turf al Gringo Gourmet: green chile krab salad from the deli, a lean hamburger patty, a schmear of avocado and shrimp on a toasted brioche. On the side, grape tomatoes, a jalapeño and a handful of Fritos.

I think this looks more complicated that it really is.  The only cooking (for me) was toasting a split brioche and frying up a couple of lean hamburger patties. The rest was assembly: top the bottom piece of toast with lettuce leaves, spread liberally with the green chile krab salad, top with a hamburger patty, a schmear of avocado and garnish with cooked shrimp. Finish the plate with grape tomatoes and a jalapeño for color and kick and a handful of Fritos because I love Fritos and a sandwich lunch is all the reason I need to have some!

It is a dramatic eat it with a fork sandwich that could become a regular here.

Boston Marrow Squash – There’s a First Time for Everything


Bev, a Master Gardener friend gave me a Boston Marrow Squash and challenged me to do something with it.  She told me that the squash is used in canned pumpkin pie filling, so I figured’ why not? I had discovered a buttermilk pumpkin pie recipe in a magazine and the course was set.

The squash starts out about the size and shape of a football.  My friend said she roasted hers for about an hour.  I halved mine and microwaved each half for about 20 minutes.  The squash skin is very tough.  I had to use a cleaver and my 10 inch chefs knife to cut it.  I really think the empty shell could be used in construction of bicycle helmets.

It takes sharp tools and some leverage to slice a Boston Marrow.


Half the  in a 11-3/4 X 7-1/2 Pyrex baker. I added 1/4 inch of water, covered it with plastic wrap, punched a few steam vents in the wrap and zapped it on high for about 20 minutes. The skin is so tough that I had to flip the squash to see if it was done. I couldn’t pierce the skin with a meat fork!



The whole squash yielded about 1.75 quarts of flesh when cooked – 3.08 lbs. by my electronic scale.


Despite my less than perfect crust crimping, The result was a very good pie, a bit sweet for my taste And although the recipe called for sprinkling the top with powdered sugar, I prefer my pie mit schlagobers (with whipped cream).  This pie was quite an adventure as you can read below.

TRUE CONFESSIONS OF A COCHINERO IN THE KITCHEN: In Spanish, a cocinero refers to a cook from the word cocina or kitchen.  I can be messy in the kitchen, so I sometimes refer myself as a cochiner0 (messy or dirty) from cochino. a not to flattering word for dirty.

I baked two pies.  Per recipe instructions, I baked them on a rimmed baking ban.  When I pulled the oven rack out to test the first pie, it needed a few more minutes.  I started to slide the rack back into the oven and it jammed and stopped.  The pie didn’t.  It fell off the rack into the back of the oven.  The air in the kitchen turned blue with my expressions of displeasure and shock.  A very cochino accident.

After the oven cooled off, I removed the gooey mess.  In the interim, I pulled out the operators manual and figured out how to use the self-cleaning cycle.  What an amazing thing that is!  After the cycle finished there were just three or four tiny spots of gray ash that blotted up with a paper towel and the oven looks like new again.

My range has double ovens. I use the upper one most of the time.  When I use the bottom one, it can be a challenge getting things in and out without kneeling or sitting on the floor.  Something of a hassle for a guy who is getting “mature.” Still, I love the gas range especially at those times when having two ovens is a great convenience.

Cleaning cycle complete, my lower oven is showroom shiny again.

In spite of the oven accident, I enjoyed experimenting with the Boston Marrow squash.  I’ll try the buttermilk pumpkin pie recipe again and see if there is a notable difference in the sweetness levels of the fillings.

Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie


15 – ounce can of pure pumpkin puree

1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

2 large eggs

3/4 C packed light brown sugar

1/4 C granulated sugar

1/4 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 C buttermilk

2 Tbsp all -purpose flour


Preheat oven to 375.  Put a rimmed baking sheet in the oven to heat while you make the pie filling.

Whisk the pumpkin puree, melted butter, eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar, allspice and cinnamon in a medium bowl until well combined. Add buttermilk and flour and whisk until smooth.  Pour into your crust (I used a ready-made crust from the supermarket dairy case).  Put the filled pie on the hot baking sheet and return the sheet to the oven.  I cover the edges of the crust with strips of foil to prevent over cooking or browning. Bake until the filling is set, 50 minutes to an hour.  The top of the pie may crack slightly. Dust with confectioner’s sugar just before serving.

The text of my squash pie was not as firm as pies I’ve made with canned pumpkin. It still held its shape when cut.  If you use a scratch made crust, treat it as you always do for pre-baking or not.  The ready-made crust I used did not need to be pre-baked before adding the filling.

Good Friends Get Some Attention

As a Master Gardener, I spend most summer Saturdays at the farmer’s market.  Over the years I’ve been doing this, friendships have evolved with many of the vendors.  From time to time, I’ll be sharing thoughts about them and experiences with their products.  I’ve raved about Julio’s Gourmet Barbecue Sauce in several posts. I’ll continue to do that because it is so good!

Julio’s wife, Paula, and I knew each other for years when I was working at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center in El Paso and she was a section editor at the El Paso Times. Her editorial skills are sorely missed by readers of the paper.  I keep tabs on Paula through Julio at the market.

I first started chatting with Julio over tastes of his sauce on bites of beef he prepares on a tabletop grill. Those tidbits are a regular temptation on market Saturdays! I always brag to other shoppers about how he taught me to use the sauce on grilled salmon.

Julio the barbecue sauce master!
There are mild and spicy versions of Julio’s sauce. I’m hooked on the spicy one.

When Julio told me to try the sauce on salmon, I thought that was one of the strangest things I’d ever heard. I took it as a challenge and gave it a try.  I’ve been using it on grilled salmon ever since.  Be brave and give it a try.



Last night was a Julio Salmon night.  Keta salmon simply slathered in lemon juice, grilled with indirect heat (no fire under the salmon, just near the thick side of the filet) until it starts to flake, then brushed two times with Julio’s barbecue sauce. The deep color of the keta salmon and the rich red of the spicy sauce make it almost look like a rib rather than fish.  On the side, is a simple salad of curly kale and white beans dressed with lemon zest, lemon juice, minced garlic, an anchovy filet and olive oil.  OMG, what did I do?  I prepared a very healthy meal.  It happens from time to time.

Thank you, Julio, for introducing me to barbecued salmon.

Food Trucks Rock

As in most big cities food trucks are becoming the rage in El Paso.  I’m fascinated by these mobile kitchens, the people who own and staff them, the menus and the whole experience.  Fantastic food prepared fresh before your eyes in a carnival-like atmosphere of happy eaters is quite an experience. These modern food trucks and the fare they dish up are a far cry from the old “roach coach” burrito trucks of yesteryear.  (They are still around, though.)  This new generation are true mobile kitchens, some with appliances I’d love to have in my home kitchen.

Robyn Renner and Lisa Noe started the Red, White and Chew Mobile Food Truck just 3 months ago.  I discovered them at Food Truck Friday on a Title Max Parking lot on the West Side.  They specialize in great pizzas and calzones.

Robyn is the creative chef who invents special recipes and executes them beautifully.

The t-shirt reads, “BECAUSE BEING A FREAKIN’ AWSOME CULINARY BAD ASS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL JOB TITLE.” Robyn is one freakin’ culinary bad ass in my book!

I almost missed a photo op when another customer got up his Mac and Cheese Pulled Pork pizza. You can see it at the bottom right of the photo just before he picked it up and dashed off to find a table.

My first experience with Red White and Chew was Robyn’s fantastic muffaletta calzone stuffed with ham, olives, artichokes and cheeses with a marinara dipping sauce on the side.  Last night, I tried the Pesto Porker pizza.  The delightfully chewy home made pizza crust topped with pesto and roasted garlic and a combination of  sausage crumbles, pepperoni slices and diced smoked ham and more pesto drizzles was almost too rich.  It’s explosion of diverse flavors with the bite of roasted garlic and pesto kept me going until I ate the whole thing. I’ll have to do penance with the veggie pizza next time!

Red, White and Chew’s Pesto Porker. Sorry about the lighting – the photo was shot on a folding table in a parking lot with an iPhone. Trust me, it was a beautiful and delicious pizza.

Look out, Robyn, I’ll be back!

Still Lovin’ Sabertooth and Their Neighboring Hope and Anchor

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Sabertooth and what a great place it is.  Eclectic menu! Great flavors! Talented Chef and Staff!  It remains a real favorite.

Sabertooth is adjacent to the Hope and Anchor Bar.  You can go to the bar, get a beverage and take in to the 24 seat restaurant.  Or, waitstaff from the restaurant will take your order and serve you in the bar.  It’s a good deal, either way.

Last night, we went to the Hope and Anchor because the restaurant was full.  We ate on the patio and it was a good experience.  Since it was the middle of the week, we didn’t get carded and tossed out for being too old in a place that is very popular with the younger crowd.  It was a good experience and one we’ll repeat.

I had my favorite nopalito and corn stuffed chiles rellenos as a birthday treat. See how good they are! Jack had the pulled pork tacos and a side of ranchero beans.

Look out, Kassandra and crew, we’ll be back!

Sabertooth’s chiles rellenos – before.
Sabertooth’s chiles rellenos – after.
Pulled pork tacos with red cabbage, avocado crema and a squeeze of lime.




Farmer’s Market Favorites

El Paso Master Gardeners will be at Ardovino’s Farmers Market one more  week.  Over the next few days, I’ll share some of the best treats from the market and some of the many people who have become friends.

Eva, a spry and delightful German lady makes wonderful jellies, preserves and stollen.  Even better, if I don’t get to her booth in time, she comes hunting.  She likes to sneak up behind me and give me a little poke in the ribs.  Then I get a big hug and a peck on the cheek. I then tell her, “Now, it’s a very good day!”

Every thing she’s made that I have tasted has been delicious.  My most favorite is her tomato jelly.  From my first sample taste, it has had me hooked.  Beautiful color, sweet with a little underlying tartness and a favorite part of breakfast!

Eva’s Tomato Jelly.  So good it has to be spread edge to edge on toast!
Cleaning up after the shoot is a hard job, but someone has to do it.

After the photo shoot, I get to clear the set up.  Don’t think for a minute I’d let a drop of this jelly go.

Visiting Eva will make going to the fall and winter market worth the trip.

Photo Styling by the Gringo Gourmet.

Tonight, I’m doing a cooking demo for the Trans-Pecos Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists.  I’m showing them what can be done with traditional southwestern foods for more contemporary tastes.  In prepping for the program, I did a little work on my PowerPoint that complements the cooking and tasting.  I’d like to share a couple of new photos from my recipe “The Three Sisters Meet the Guys from Down the Block.”  The recipe takes the traditional three sisters – corn, squash and beans – and gets them mixed up with onion, garlic, tomatoes, cilantro and and, sometimes chile.  One of the sisters told me they like it when chile comes to the party because they think he’s hot!  What do you do with those girls? There’s an answer to that question in the program, but I won’t spoil it for you.

About the pictures…  shooting on white plates against a black background makes the food pop!  Elevating the back of a square plate and moving around the dish makes for interesting perspectives and angles in the picture.  Here are some of today’s shots. I think I need to stop being too lazy to set up the black background and forget about using the old everyday placemats when I shoot a photo.  Please feel free to let me now what you think.

Thank you.

The three sisters.
The guys from down the block.
The kids mix it up.