Thursday, September 30, 2010

Asparagus, tomato and Gruyère tart

030 v1

This colorful vegetable tart is the reason favorite Daughter is hooked on asparagus!   I came across this simple recipe in Martha’s vast recipe collection several years ago and it has been requested many times.   Served as an appetizer or main dish when accompanied with a soup or salad, this tart has a handful of ingredients and is very easy to prepare  – it fits right into a young lady’s busy college schedule.  

I have been fortunate to have children that love vegetables.  We were never a fast-food family as that option was not available to my parents in South Africa when I was little.   My kids ate what was served at our dinner table and our extended family feasts from the get-go.   I was spared the drama of picky eaters and watched their friends exhibit some strange behaviors.  One young neighbor never ate at our home.   He subsisted on a diet of chicken nuggets alone.   I’m sad to see that he is now an obese young man.   Another young girl asked me what that whole bird was I had sitting in a roasting pan.  It was a chicken… And I once come across a kid at the check-out counter that could not recognize broccoli (!) so he couldn’t look up the PLU code.   It’s no wonder we are now in the midst of a health crisis with no change in sight.

When it comes to asparagus,  I always buy the bunch with the thinnest spears and fresh buds.    It’s just a personal preference, but any thickness is good.   An excellent provider of Vitamin K, folate, Vitamins C and A, asparagus is also a natural diuretic and is high in antioxidants.

This recipe combines the flavors or asparagus and Swiss-made Gruyère cheese.  They pair beautifully together and it’s no wonder – they are both common items in the Swiss kitchen.  Here I have added sliced cherry tomatoes to the mix for a beautiful and delicious presentation.

001-crop v2   

Asparagus, tomato and Gruyère tart  adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart

a little flour for the work surface

1 sheet frozen puff pastry

5½ ozs (2 cups) Gruyère cheese, grated

1½ pounds thin or medium asparagus

8 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle.  Trim uneven edges.  Place pastry on a baking sheet (I line mine with a silpat).  With a sharp knife, lightly score pastry dough 1 inch in from the edges to mark a rectangle.  Using a fork, pierce dough inside the markings at 1/2-inch intervals.

Sprinkle pastry with Gruyère.  Trim the bottoms of the asparagus spears to fit crosswise inside the tart shell. Arrange asparagus and tomato halves in a single layer over Gruyère.  Brush with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Bake until spears are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes.

Cut tart with a pizza cutter into desirable pieces.  Serve hot.

 007 v1

Make sure you sprinkle some cheese on the edges too! 

032 v1


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sōté seasoned salmon, roasted Hatch pepper sauce and Jicama mango ‘slaw’

004 v3

I was introduced to a great seasoning blend after a volunteer stint recently.  If you are a Houston Chowhound, you are undoubtedly thinking about food most of your waking hours.   Which vendor has the freshest seafood?   Which taco truck is conveniently located on your errand route?   Where to savor your next gourmet meal?   So it was no surprise to me when a fellow civically-minded Chowhound organized a meeting of our food-obsessed minds at the Houston Food Bank early one Saturday morning.  

After a short tour of the facility, we entered the vast kitchen.   A thorough hand-washing followed, and then we donned the oh-so-flattering hairnets, plastic aprons and gloves and formed two long assembly lines.   I was in first position in my line, separating individual containers and portioning out handfuls of ice-cold spaghetti from an enormous bin to my right.   My friend Maureen followed with a piece or two of chicken, and the rest in line scooped vegetables, sauce, parmesan, fresh basil (yes fresh basil) and lastly, canned fruit.   By the time each container reached Gary, Maureen’s husband,  it was pretty greasy and sticky.  Gary was responsible for one of the ‘sealing machines’ and tried gallantly to keep the plastic wrap in position so that it could form a tight seal on each tray before it was carted off to the freezer.   Fortunately for us he is mechanically inclined and in less than three hours we had assembled almost 1,000 wholesome meals!

To my left was a quiet gentleman named Larry.   He was not part of our assembly line.  He had a special spot at the head of the table and was our designated “basil chopper”.   Larry wowed us with his superior knife skills by mincing bushels of basil for the spaghetti dinners we were packaging.   I later found out that his ‘gramma’ Douglas developed a recipe for a delicious Kosher seasoning named Sōté. 


Sōté, pronounced So-tay, stands for “salt of the earth”.    The Serb in me and my knowledge of Cyrillic loves the use of diacritic marks in the label!   Sōté is a mixture of Kosher salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic, chilli, ginger, spice extract, turmeric and other spices.   It is not spicy and contains no MSG.   Salt is King here and the accompanying spices dance delicately around him.  

Coarse Kosher salt, black pepper, paprika…005 v1

Larry gifted me with a few containers to share with friends and family (disclaimer: I am not making a dime as I promote it).   I have used it on baby back ribs and flatiron steaks with great results.    Sōté is also suitable for vegetables but be forewarned that it is mostly salt so a little sprinkle goes a long way.   I lightly sprinkled the salmon in my recipe below and paired it with a homemade roasted Hatch pepper sauce for a little fire and a sweet and crunchy jicama salad – the pairings were excellent!     

Sōté is locally produced (another positive point in my mind) and packaged by the Texas Custom Spice Company in Houston.   The packaging is understated and comes in a well-sealed metal container with a see-through lid.  To order Sōté, click on the link.   Also for sale are cool t-shirts and salt shakers.  

Juicy ‘slaw’011 v1

Sōté rubbed salmon with Hatch pepper sauce and Jicama mango slaw

Serves 2

¾ lb salmon filet

Sōté seasoning or seasoning of your choice

1 tablespoon olive oil

Pat salmon dry with a paper towel to remove any moisture. Rub a little Sōté seasoning on the salmon, remembering that the Sōté is mostly salt.

Pour olive oil into an oven-proof pan or cast iron skillet. Heat pan over medium heat until the oil is very hot. Carefully add the salmon, skin side down. Cover with a splatter shield if necessary to prevent oil from splashing everywhere. Sauté salmon until the edges begin to turn color, about 5 – 6 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Remove pan with salmon from heat and place under broiler for 2 minutes to sear the top. Remove pan from oven using an oven mitt. Serve with Hatch pepper green sauce and Jicama mango slaw.

Hatch pepper sauce

¼ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup sour cream

1 roasted Hatch pepper (spicy or not), skin removed, stemmed and seeded

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

¼ cup lightly packed cilantro leaves

1 peeled and chopped Roma tomato

Place all ingredients in a small blender and blend until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Jicama mango ‘slaw’

½ lb jicama, peeled and julienned (use the mandoline for this if you have one)

1 mango, peeled, sliced thin and then longwise into thin strips

8 radishes, sliced thinly (here again, the mandoline comes in handy)

1/3 cup red onion, sliced thin

¼ cup cilantro, chopped

4 tablespoons fresh orange juice

4 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon sesame oil

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Chill until ready to serve.  Serve using tongs to drain slaw from the juices.


Colorful juice from the ‘slaw’016 v2


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hatch chilies in scalloped potatoes and gruyere cheese

030-crop v1

If ever there is too short a season for a flavorful vegetable it has to be Hatch pepper season.  Two to three weeks is all we get and if you’re not paying attention, you might miss the call of these extraordinary chilies.  The arrival of Hatch chilies from New Mexico around mid-August is a much anticipated event in Houston.   It’s when my favorite grocery stores, Central Market and H.E.B roll out the rotating cages, crank up the fires and for a few lively weeks excite our senses during the Hatch Chile Festival. 

The aroma of roasting Hatches emanating from the parking lots act as a magnet to pepper lovers miles away.   As if we haven’t already perspired enough through the hot and humid summer, the Hatch heat index sweats our foreheads and clears our sinuses with spice levels from mild to very hot.   Live music adds to the festivities and a feeling of merriment and well-being follows!   In what must be a highly lucrative operation, Central Market has included Hatch chilies in products such as sausage, guacamole, meatballs, crab cakes, tortilla chips, bread and even granola and brownies.   They know a good thing when they see it!

A good char intensifies the deep rich green flesh and easily releases the thin skin.  Because the Hatch’s flesh is delicate, a quick tumble in the cage over flames for only 7 –10 minutes is all it takes.   I let the experts roast mine every year and purchase several pounds.  They freeze well and I plan to enjoy them in soups, stews and omelets for months to come.  

Hatch chilies are not a seed variety but are named after the village of Hatch in southern New Mexico around which they are farmed.  Considered to be the chili capital of the world, the area exports over 250,000 chilies to Texas alone!   For a recent family gathering I decided to add chopped roasted hatch peppers to scalloped potatoes.    The chilies complemented the sharpness of the gruyere, and the cream…enough said!  

Hatch chili scalloped potatoes with baby back ribs and green beans033 v1

Layer upon layer020 v1

Hatch chilies in scalloped potatoes and gruyere cheese

8 russet potatoes, peeled, sliced crosswise as thin as possible. This is a good time to use a mandoline slicer, if you own one.

4 cups whipping cream or half-and-half

5 -6 roasted Hatch chilies (spicy or mild), peeled, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

8 ounces gruyere cheese, coarsely grated

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Have a 9 x 13 casserole dish ready. Pour about 2 tablespoons of cream or half-and-half on the bottom of the dish and spread evenly.

Arrange potato slices evenly in a layer on the bottom of the dish. The potatoes should be touching but not overlapping each other. Sprinkle about 1 – 2 tablespoons of chilies on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle about ¼ cup of gruyere cheese on top of the chilies and potatoes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour about ½ cup of cream or half-and-half over cheese.

Continue layering potatoes, chilies, cheese, salt, pepper and cream. End with a layer of potatoes and then gruyere cheese. Pour the rest of the cream over the potatoes.

Heat oven to 400ºF. Cover the potatoes with foil. Bake for 1 hour.

After an hour, remove the foil. Bake for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are soft when pricked with a fork, the cream is set and the top is nicely browned.

Remove from the oven and allow potatoes to rest for about 10 minutes.

 Creamy, spicy, gooey deliciousness!045 v1


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Shrimp salad with avocado and radish sprouts

124 v1

I came across something beautiful in the grocery store that I had never seen before – radish sprouts.   Easily overlooked amidst the bigger and bolder green vegetables, these lovely delicate young shoots from the daikon radish remind me of the shamrock clover.   Growing happily together in high concentrations (each determined to be the tallest) a fresh bunch will surely cheer your soul! 

081 v1

If you love spicy radishes, you’ll love radish sprouts.  Their bright green heart-shaped leaves look innocent enough, but they pack a fair amount of spice – enough to clear the sinuses!   They house a significant amount of Vitamins C, B6 and A due to the fact that they are germinating seeds.   Potassium is abundant, and in 5 - 6 days of rapid-fire growth the sprouts can reach 8 inches.    Since a sprout is the beginning of a larger vegetable, higher levels of enzymes and photochemical compounds are present within their small bodies.   The are therefore considered by many to be a ‘miracle food’.  

Sprouts can be grown year round with little attention.  Too delicate to be cooked, they are a brilliant addition to salads and sandwiches, wraps and spring rolls.  

Bright green leaves 072 v1

The tender roots barely take hold of the moist medium underneath, as lanky stems support leaf tops. 082 v1

Shrimp, avocado and radish sprout salad

Serves 4 as a first course

12 Jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 cup boiled, diced potato

½ red pepper, diced

1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced

½ cup radish sprouts

marinade and dressing (below)

a few long chive leaves or 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped

Marinade (and dressing)

1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

¼ cup tightly packed radish sprouts

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon sugar

salt, to taste

For the marinade and dressing:

Place all ingredients in a small food processor and blend until sprouts are finely chopped and the mixture comes together.  Place shrimp in a medium bowl.  Add 3 tablespoons of the sprout mixture to the shrimp.  Marinate shrimp for about 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Set aside the left over mixture to be used as a dressing.

Marinate the shrimp first

091 v1

Grill or broil shrimp until cooked tender, about 3 minutes on each side.  Discard shrimp marinade. 

You can either layer the salad in martini glasses, or in individual bowls.  Layer as follows.

Bottom to top: diced potatoes, diced red pepper, a little dressing, shrimp, fresh sprouts, avocado, more dressing.  Stick the chive leaves in for a dramatic presentation or chop them up and sprinkle on top of the salad.

108 v1