Thursday, March 25, 2010

Avocado and poblano pepper omelette

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Everyone knows that I’m a huge fan of avocados, so much so that I have even experimented with it in a cheesecake!  Sunny South Africa, where I spent my formative years, was abundant with many varieties of fruits and vegetables and amongst them was the wonderful avocado.   My parents, young immigrants from the former Yugoslavia, had never seen an avocado, paw paw (papaya), granadilla (passion fruit) or guava before and gradually incorporated these nutritious and heavenly fruits into our diets (mom’s fruit salads were always the best!).  My father, upon his first taste of the avocado, deemed it needed salt and pepper, and from then on, my mother made sandwiches with mashed avocado, salt and pepper and they were simple but very tasty.  A wholesome food such as the avocado doesn’t need much primping, according to mama!  I still enjoy these sandwiches and the memories they evoke.

A long time staple of the middle Americas (earliest evidence of it is from 10,000 BC!), the avocado tree is native to the tropics.  The mild-flavored flesh is almost always consumed raw in salsas, dips and salads.   High in monosaturated fats (the best kind) and potassium (the mineral that keeps those pesky leg cramps at bay!), the avocado is also a factor in reducing cholesterol and consistently appears at the top of many healthy food lists. 

I try to incorporate it in our salads, sandwiches, tacos and another salad, and now, in a delicious omelette.  The buttery, rich texture of the avocado lends itself well to this preparation.  As it warms, its subtle flavor and creamy texture contrast with its surroundings -  bold onions, sweet red peppers and spicy poblano.  I highly recommend it!

The headliners…chopped cilantro, red onion, jalapeno, red pepper, poblano pepper, green onions and avocado:

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Sauté the vegetables in a pan.  When they are starting to soften, pour the beaten eggs over them and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste

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Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, push the egg mixture from the edges inward and tilt the pan so that the runny raw egg from the middle falls onto the pan and starts to cook.  Cover half of the egg mixture with the cheese of your choice and the avocados, and then flip the exposed end over to enclose them. 

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Avocado omelette

For 2 very generous portions (we like our eggs, what can I say!)

¼ red onion, chopped finely

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped finely

1/3 red bell pepper, chopped finely

1 green onion, thinly sliced

¼ cup chopped cilantro

4 eggs, beaten

salt and pepper, to taste

½ avocado, seeded, peeled and cubed

2 slices provolone cheese, mozzarella, feta, chevre, cream cheese, or whatever cheese you fancy that would melt quickly

Have all of the above ingredients prepared before you begin to cook the omelette.  Over medium heat, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan.  Add the onion, jalapeno, red bell and sauté for about 3 minutes.  Add the green onions and  cilantro and cook for about 2 more minutes.  Spread the vegetables out evenly in the pan. 

Pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables evenly.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Let eggs cook for about a minute or two (the edges will be cooked but the top will still be raw).  Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, push the egg mixture from the edges inward and tilt the pan so that the runny raw egg from the middle falls onto the pan and starts to cook.  Cover half of the egg mixture with the cheese of your choice and the avocados, and then flip the exposed end over to enclose them.  Remove from heat and cover with a lid.  Allow to sit for about 5 minutes so that the cheese melts and the avocado warms. 

Crispy egg, spicy peppers, gooey cheese and warm avocado makes for a delicious breakfast!

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sarma (cabbage rolls)

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If you are of Eastern European heritage, one of your favorite winter meals is bound to be sarma.   Sarma varies from region to region and family to family, but the basic ingredients are meat wrapped in fermented cabbage leaves and flavored with smoked pork.  It is made with ingredients taken from the food that was prepared for the long cold winters – known as zimnica  in Serbia.  It has become the comfort food my family longs for at the beginning of winter.  It is the comfort food that my extended family and friends share at our Orthodox Christmas and other gatherings.
Kiseli kupus (sauerkraut) is the key to authentic sarma and can be easily made at home.   Even during our milder Texas winters, my father has had much success with the process.   People have been fermenting cabbage leaves since ancient times.  In remote villages it was a way to preserve food during the cold winter months when fresh vegetables were not readily available.   For my parents, homemade kiseli kupus is superior to the store-bought product and it’s the only sauerkraut they use for their sarma.  It’s a wonderful sight to see the pride in my father’s face when he offers his sauerkraut and smoked pork ribs and neck for sarma. 
My college-age kids requested sarma at the same time a local food critic asked me for the recipe.  My mother follows no written recipe, only the knowledge that it is best made with fermented cabbage leaves, lean meat with a little bit of rice, a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and sweet paprika, and smoked pork to add a depth of flavor to the clear broth.  Tomatoes are not part of mama’s sarma as she believes the acidity in the tomatoes would mask the distinctive flavors of the sauerkraut and smoked pork.  
We spent a wonderful morning together, mama and me.   We cooked and I measured each ingredient as we progressed, and when the sarma was ready, it was packaged and ready to be delivered to my kids who love their Serbian heritage and sarma!
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First, you get your human pepper grinder to work.  You need lots of freshly ground black pepper.  Here is our sauerkrautier and meat smoker par excellence - my dad!
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Smoked pork neck (left) goes in the filling, and the ribs flavor the sauce.  It’s important to have ample amounts of Turkish coffee on hand when making sarma:
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Smoked pork ribs flavor the sarma and broth.  When these cook for 3-4 hours, the meat is very tender and falls off the bone.  You can trim the thick skin if you wish, but remember that a lot of flavor is in the fat.
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Fermented cabbage leaves, rinsed and draining:
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To roll each sarma, cup the leaf in the palm of your hand.  Fill with about 3 tablespoons of the meat mixture:
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Fold one side over without straightening the ends:
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Then the opposite side, but don’t straighten it at the end: 
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 Fold the thick end over and roll:
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Keep on rolling!
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When you get to the end, tuck the ends into the sides created by rolling.  This way, the sarma won’t unravel as easily.
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 Stack them as you go, the largest ones in one pile, medium in another, and small in a third pile: 
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In your biggest soup pot, cover the bottom with a layer of the leaf rejects.  Arrange the largest sarme (plural) in a snug fashion:
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When you’ve reached the top, nestle in about 6 smoked ribs:
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Fill the pot with water but don’t cover the top layer.  Sprinkle with lots of paprika.
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Cover the top layer of sarme with more of the leaf rejects.  Cover with the lid and simmer for 3-4 hours. 
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Makes 78 sarme (plural) 
3 large onions, finely diced
canola or olive oil
6 oz smoked pork, diced. Pork neck is the best – see picture of the smoked meat.
5 lbs ground beef (about 92% lean)
2 tablespoons salt
1½ cups long grain rice
½ cup ‘sweet’ ground paprika, plus more for sprinkling the top
3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
78 fermented cabbage leaves (recipe below, or you can purchase them at your local imported goods store)
About 6 smoked pork ribs
Please note a slight change in the method below (changes in bold). We no longer sauté the meat beforehand, only the onions. 
On medium heat, sauté diced onions in a little canola or olive oil until they are soft and starting to turn brown. Remove from heat and add diced pork and stir briefly. Increase heat to high setting and Add ground beef. Brown quickly to retain the juices. Add salt, rice, paprika and pepper and combine well.
Rinse excess salt off cabbage leaves and allow to drain in a colander. Separate the smaller, broken leaves and set them aside. For the larger leaves: trim the thick middle vein with a sharp knife or kitchen scissors without cutting through the leaf. They will be easier to roll that way.
For each cabbage leaf: fill with about 3 tablespoons of meat mixture. Roll in the palm of your hand by following the photos above, or place each cabbage leaf on a cutting board, and then fill and roll with both hands. Stack sarme on the side until all are rolled.
Drizzle a little oil on the bottom of a large stock pot with a wide base. Using the small, broken cabbage leaves, line the bottom of the pot with a single layer. Arrange sarme seam end up and close together on top of the cabbage leaves. With the seam end up, the sarme will stay intact when you scoop it out underneath it with a spoon when you are ready to serve them. Continue layering sarme until they are all in the pot.
Nestle the ribs in the top layer and fill the pot with water almost to cover the top sarme. Sprinkle generously with more paprika and cover sarme with leftover cabbage leaves.
Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 3-4 hours. 
To serve:  Carefully spoon 2 – 3 sarme per person, and rib meat into a bowl.  Ladle some of the broth into bowl.  Serve with warm crusty bread.
Kiseli kupus (sauerkraut)
To make sauerkraut, start with heads of cabbages that have the greenest outer leaves. Wash and remove the damaged leaves and discard. Core the cabbages (the core is delicious eaten raw). Stuff the hole with plenty of salt, pushing it in as tightly as you can. The salt will act as a preservative and prevent decay.
Place the cabbages in a barrel or plastic container large enough to fit them. My parents use a garbage can especially for this. Fill the barrel with water and a very generous amount of salt. You will be rinsing the cabbage leaves off later, so don’t be shy about adding plenty of salt.
Cover the cabbages with a large pan or plate and weight it down with a rock. Place lid on container. Place in the coolest part of the house or garage.
EVERY DAY for 3 weeks, the cabbages must be turned and shuffled in the container. This will prevent spoilage and keep the salt evenly dispersed. The sauerkraut will be ready in 3 weeks for sarma.
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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Apple galettes with Vanilla bean goat’s milk ice cream and Blue Heron Farm cajeta

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I have never met a goat cheese I didn’t like!  Who can resist the rich layered cake-like wonder that is Humboldt Fog, a perfect French crottin or the red wine-soaked Drunken Goat?   I’ll never forget my first taste of chèvre.  It was a young crottin, covered in chopped walnuts and then toasted so that the cheese was warmed through. It garnished a green salad at lunch years ago at the Château de Chenonceaux in the Loire Valley.  The setting: perfect, the chèvre: a revelation!

Blue heron farm goatBut I had never tasted fresh raw goat’s milk until recently.  It is marvelous!   While preparing for a dinner for our wine group, I visited Blue Heron Farm in Field Store Community near Waller, Texas.  Owners and artisans Lisa and Christian Seger were our special guests and provided their highly regarded chèvres for several items on the menu.  Expecting a gaminess beyond what my cow’s milk-trained palate could savor, I poured some over my granola for breakfast and was blown away by the mild sweetness and ever so subtle tang (which becomes more prominent when the milk is transformed into chèvre).  It was a delicious treat I enjoyed all week.  .

SPOILED GOATS, FRESH CHEESE exclaims the banner at the entrance to the Seger’s ten-acre property.  Forgoing quantity for quality, they have chosen the sweet-natured, long-eared Nubian goats that produce milk that is high in butterfat and mild in flavor.  It’s kidding season, and after meeting the adorable babies and their curious mamas, I left with a variety of creamy chèvres, cajeta (caramel) for dessert, and two quarts of freshly harvested goat’s milk.   The milk that I didn’t consume with breakfast I used to make a lovely Vanilla bean ice cream (recipe below). 

If you live in the Houston area you can find the Seger’s chèvre at several outdoor markets.  I suggest you reserve your portion…they are always the first to sell out!  You can also arrange for a tour and tasting at the farm. 

Our dessert was warm individual Apple galettes made by our friend Helen.  Vanilla bean goat’s milk ice cream and Blue Heron Farm cajeta were the perfect accompaniments.  If you have never tasted cajeta from Blue Heron Farm, I urge to do so!  It’s always fresh, all natural and contains no fillers.  It’s the perfect pouring consistency and I admit that I’m addicted to it!

Vanilla bean goat’s milk ice cream

Makes 1 1/2 quarts

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 pinches of salt

4 cups fresh raw goat’s milk (No guarantee that it will be good with commercially produced goat’s milk)

½ vanilla bean pod

2 eggs

Bring a little water (about ½”) to a simmer in the bottom of a double boiler.  Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt in the top bowl of a double boiler. Place on top of simmering water.  Slowly add goat’s milk, whisking continuously until the mixture is hot and thickens a little, about 20 minutes.

On a cutting board, split the vanilla bean pod in half lengthwise with a pointed knife.  With the sharp tip of the knife, scrape the vanilla seeds (caviar) out and add the bean pod and seeds to the milk mixture.

Beat eggs in a separate bowl until the yolks and whites are combined.  Ladle about ½ cup of the hot milk into the eggs and whisk together quickly to prevent them from curdling.   Add the eggs to the rest of the milk mixture and cook over the simmering water for an additional 5 minutes, but make sure that it doesn’t boil.

Cool milk custard in an ice water bath, stirring every few minutes.  Chill overnight in the refrigerator.

Strain the chilled custard through a sieve and discard the vanilla bean.  Freeze the custard by following the directions to your ice cream maker.

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Apple galettes

Adapted from Susan Spungen’s Almond Berry Tart  from More magazine.  Makes 8 galettes.


½ cup sliced or slivered almonds

1½ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

¼ cup ice water


4 cups thinly sliced peeled, cored and quartered apples

½ lemon, juiced or 2 tablespoons

½ cup sugar

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For the top

Sliced almonds

Coarse ‘crystal’ sugar or Turbinado sugar

To make the crust, combine the almonds, flour, salt and sugar in food processor.  Pulse to combine.  Add butter and pulse until the pieces are the size of peas.  With the machine running, quickly add the water.  Stop the machine just when the dough begins to come together.  Remove the dough and knead once or twice.  Shape into a disc and wrap in plastic.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line a large cookie sheet with parchment or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, combine the filling ingredients. Set aside.

On a well-floured surface, cut the dough into 8 equal pieces.  Roll each piece with a rolling pin until it measures about 6 – 7 inches.   Pile sliced apples evenly on each piece of dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold the border over the filling, leaving some of the apples exposed.  Brush the dough gently with cold water and then sprinkle with crystal sugar and sliced almonds.

Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 30 - 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving with goat’s milk ice cream and cajeta.

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