Another shot at playing with your food.

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.

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Caperberries on top; capers on bottom. Both are delightful acid perks in recipes.

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!

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Culinary research. A dry martini, shaken, not stirred, with caperberry garnish. Repeated, of course, for the sake of culinary science.

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

I love a dry martini,

One or two at most!

With two I’m under the table,

and three…

Hasselback Everything!

I’ve done some posts about how much fun (and work) it is to make hasselback potatoes and sweet potatoes. I found a terrific sounding recipe for hasselback butternut squash with a maple/fresno chile sauce that sent me off to the store for a squash and some chiles.  I served it with grilled chicken leg quarters. This recipe may become this year’s Thanksgiving surprise at the family gathering.

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Hasselback Butternut Squash with Fresno Chile Sauce and Bay Leaves. I left the stem on for the fun of it. The basting sauce has maple syrup and apple cider vinegar in to for a bit of sweet bite enhanced by the hit of bay infused during baking. This recipe is a keeper.

Hasselback Butternut Squash With Fresno Chile Glaze and Bay Leaves

 For this holiday-worthy recipe, roasting the butternut with several bay leaves slipped between the slices results in a subtle aromatic backdrop for the chile glaze.

INGREDIENTS

SERVINGS: 8

  • 1 large butternut squash or 2–3 small honeynut squash (about 3 pounds total)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1 Fresno chile, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup, preferably grade B
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 6–8 dried bay leaves

METHOD

Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 425°. Halve squash lengthwise and scoop out seeds with a large spoon. Using a peeler, remove skin and white flesh below (you should reach the deep orange flesh). Rub all over with oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast in a baking dish just large enough to hold halves side by side until beginning to soften (a paring knife should easily slip in only about ¼”), 15–18 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring chile, maple syrup, butter, and vinegar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high, stirring occasionally and removing chile as soon as desired heat level is reached (set aside for serving), until just thick enough to coat spoon, 6–8 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and keep glaze warm. Transfer squash to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Using a sharp knife, score rounded sides of squash halves crosswise, going as deep as possible but withoutcutting all the way through. Return squash to baking dish, scored sides up, and tuck bay leaves between a few of the slices; season with salt and pepper. Roast squash, basting with glaze every 10 minutes or so and using pastry brush to lift off any glaze in dish that is browning too much, until tender and glaze forms a rich brown coating, 45–60 minutes. Serve topped with reserved chiles.

Do Ahead: Squash can be roasted 4 hours ahead. Let cool until just warm; cover and store at room temperature. Reheat before serving.

HINTS

I used a freshly sharpened slicing knife because it helped me make thinner slices than my chef’s knife slightly thicker blade.  I placed a half of squash on the cutting board at a time and put the round handles of wooden spoons on either side of the squash My knife went as deep as the spoon handle and I didn’t cut all the way through the squash. I used a very small squash to make just two servings, but made a full recipe of the glaze. I was able to manage moving the cut squash early with a long bladed spatula.

 

There’s a New Game in Town!

 

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Anticipating the grand opening of our Whole Foods Market, I was prepared to wait it out!

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!

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I made it and survived the crowds to score a few purchases.

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.

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Speckled Swan Ornamental Gourds.

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Frightful pumpkins for Halloween. A fungus causes the distortion of the skins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spanish Padron and Japanese Shishito peppers in town at last!

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From the top: burrata and fennel salad, smashed potatoes, grilled Shishito and Padron peppers and grilled chicken thighs. Burrata is hard to find here. Whole Foods sold out of it in a day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bliss! Smoked pork belly. Savory and succulent! And even better when the clerk remembers you as a customer at his last job and puts an “it’s on us!” sticker on your package and it’s free!

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Pork belly, frambled eggs and toast for breakfast. Hard to top. Break two eggs into a small pan, scramble one and let the other cook sunny side up – frambled eggs.Bliss! Smoked pork belly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Shakshuka

I’ve posted shakshouka or shakshuka before. I’m doing it again, because today it fits in the “Play With your Food – Cooking Without a Recipe category. I’ll post a recipe for Shakshuka below as a starting point for you and then have fun with it as I did this morning.

I inventoried the pantry and fridge and found I didn’t have all the ingredients in the recipe.  I did have things that were close to it and decided to give it a go anyway.

What I pulled together were:

A bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 small white onion, peeled and diced

One good sized garlic, diced

One large fresh tomato

One can of diced tomatoes

One tube of tomato paste

A jar of green chile sauce

Four eggs

A bunch of cilantro.

Some crumbled Mexican Cotija cheese

Kosher salt

That’s sort of like the list of ingredients in the recipe, don’t you think?

Sweat the onions in olive oil, when soft, add the garlic followed by the tomato sauce, diced fresh tomato and the can canned tomatoes.  Cooked off about half the liquid, taste and added a couple of pinches of salt.  Then stir in four tablespoons of El Pinto Green Chile Sauce. I love El Pinto Green Chile Sauce and El Pinto Red Chile Sauce. They are manufactured by twin brothers who have the El Pinto Restaurant in Albuquerque, NM. Their salsas are good, but a little too Northern New Mexico style for this border guy. I tell people that the green chile sauce is huevos rancheros right out of the jar and the red sauce is enchiladas, slightly thinned, is enchiladas right out of the jar!

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Lower the heat under your skillet and carefully break four eggs into the mix. Cover the pan and let the eggs cook in the shaksuka until the whites are set and the yolks still soft.  When the eggs are nearly done, lightly sprinkle a few pinches of Cotija cheese over it all to add another subtle layer of flavor.

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Cotija cheese, a little cilantro and a few sliced yellow grape tomatoes finish the shaksusa and it’s breakfast!

Below is a very good recipe for Shakshuka.  I hope you’ll try it and that you’ll make it your own by adding your own special touches to the basic tomato/egg stovetop casserole.

 

Shakshuka

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium brown or white onion, peeled and diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 medium green or red bell pepper, chopped

4 cups ripe diced tomatoes, or 2 cans (14 oz. each) diced tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp chili powder (mild)

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

Pinch of cayenne pepper (or more to taste– spicy!)

Pinch of sugar (optional, to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

5-6 eggs

1/2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)

METHOD

Heat a deep, large skillet or sauté pan on medium. Slowly warm olive oil in the pan. Add chopped onion, sauté for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add garlic and continue to sauté till mixture is fragrant

Add the bell pepper, sauté for 5-7 minutes over medium until softened.

Add tomatoes and tomato paste to pan, stir till blended. Add spices and sugar, stirwell,and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes till it starts to reduce. At this point, you can taste the mixture and spice it according to your preferences. Add salt and pepper to taste, more sugar for a sweeter sauce, or more cayenne pepper for a spicier shakshuka (be careful with the cayenne… it is extremely spicy!).

Crack the eggs, one at a time, directly over the tomato mixture, making sure to space them evenly over the sauce. I usually place 4-5 eggs around the outer edge and 1 in the center. The eggs will cook “over easy” style on top of the tomato sauce.

Cover the pan. Allow mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked and the sauce has slightly reduced. Keep an eye on the skillet to make sure that the sauce doesn’t reduce too much, which can lead to burning. image: Some people prefer their shakshuka eggs more runny. If this is your preference, let the sauce reduce for a few minutes before cracking the eggs on top– then, cover the pan and cook the eggs to taste. Garnish with the chopped parsley, if desired. Shakshuka can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For breakfast, serve with warm crusty bread or pita that can be dipped into the sauce (if you’re gluten-intolerant or celebrating Passover, skip the bread). For dinner, serve with a green side salad for a light, easy meal.