Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen


Waldorf Salad – My Version 0

Posted on July 08, 2014 by Sahar

The origin story of Waldorf Salad is a fairly straightforward and simple one.  It was the creation of the long-time maitre d’ of the Waldorf Hotel (later to become the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel) in New York City, Oscar (“Oscar of the Waldorf”) Tschirky, in 1896.  It became an instant favorite with diners at the hotel.  Oscar, while not a chef, was the creator and inspiration of many of the dishes in the Waldorf’s first half-century. (He stayed with the hotel from 1893 until his retirement n 1943).

The original recipe consisted of simply apples, celery, and mayonnaise.  Not long afterwards, walnuts were added and became an important component of the salad.

Later variations have included turkey or chicken, dried fruit (especially raisins), lemon juice, orange zest, grapes, and yogurt.

It’s really a dish that simply lends itself to interpretation.

While I’ve stayed with the basic version of the salad, I have added my own variations as well.  Somewhere along the way, I thought, why not add some blue cheese?  It goes well with apples and walnuts as well as cutting some of the sweetness of the dried fruit.  Besides, I just like blue cheese.

 

A few notes:

1.  I like to use a mix of apples.  As always, whenever I use apples in a recipe, Granny Smith apples are my base.  I’ll add Pink Ladies, Gala, MacIntosh, or, if I’m feeling extravagant, Honeycrisp.  The flavor contrast works well.

2.  I’ve used both walnuts and pecans in this recipe.  It just depends what I have on hand.

3.  If you want to use yogurt in the salad, I would recommend going half-and-half with the mayonnaise.  Yogurt alone would be too strong a flavor.  Also, use a full-fat yogurt.  Fat-free – yuk.

4.  My preferred blue cheese in this recipe is either Amish Blue or Maytag Blue.  These are both excellent American blue cheeses and are readily available.  European-style blue cheeses (i.e. Stilton, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Cabrales), while delicious, are simply too strong.

5.  I don’t peel my apples.  You shouldn’t either.

6.  I use very little celery in my recipe.  Unlike the original recipe, I use it for flavoring, not as a main component.  However, if you prefer to use more celery, feel free.

7.  To make this dish vegan, simply omit the cheese (if you still want the cheese flavor, use nutritional yeast to taste), and use vegan mayonnaise.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Granny Smith and Pink Lady Apples

Granny Smith and Pink Lady Apples

Maytag Blue Cheese

Maytag Blue Cheese. Good stuff.

Walnuts. Not my favorite nut, but they work well here.

Walnuts. Not my favorite nut, but they work well here.

 

4 lg. apples, approx. 1 1/2 – 2 lbs.

1 lg. stalk celery, finely diced

1 1/2 c. walnuts or pecans, chopped (If you would like to toast them, put the nuts in a 350F oven for 5 – 7 minutes. Let cool before adding to the salad.)

1 1/2 c. dried fruit – one of each or a combination: cherries, cranberries, diced apricots, raisins, sultanas (gold raisins)

4 oz. (1/2 c.) Amish Blue or Maytag Blue Cheese, crumbled

1 c. mayonnaise

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  Cut and core the apples.  I like to use a melon baller to core out the apple and cut out the blossom and stem ends with a “v” shape cut.  With the flat side down, cut the apple in to 1/2-inch thick slices.  Then, with 2 – 3 slices laying flat on the cutting board, cut the apples into 1/2-inch dice.  Place the apples into the bowl.

I find using a melon baller very effective for coring apples. Plus, it's safer than either a knife or an apple corer.

I find using a melon baller very effective for coring apples. Plus, it’s safer than either a knife or an apple corer. (I frankly find apple corers to be completely useless.)

Core. Out.

Core. Out.

Remove the stem and blossom ends by cutting out a v-shaped piece at each end.

Remove the stem and blossom ends by cutting out a v-shaped piece at each end.

Blossom end cut out.

Blossom end cut out.

Apples cored, cleaned,  and ready

Apples cored, cleaned, and ready

2.  Add the celery, nuts, and dried fruit.  Toss together.

All mixed together.

All mixed together.

3.  Add the cheese and mayonnaise.  Mix together until well incorporated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Ready.

Ready.

4.  Traditionally, Waldorf Salad is served on a bed of lettuce.  I generally don’t.  However, if you would like to, go ahead.   I like to serve the salad with crackers or a good crusty bread.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Fattoush فتوش 0

Posted on June 24, 2014 by Sahar

Fattoush is another one of those Middle Eastern salads can be as simple or as complex as you like.  It is ubiquitous throughout the region, including Turkey.  While it can contain different ingredients, the base is always stale toasted or fried bread.

The word Fattoush comes from a mix of Arabic (fatt فت – meaning “broken”) and Turkish (ush).

The chief ingredients are generally tomatoes, cucumber, onions, parsley, mint, olive oil, and lemon.  Other ingredients can be radishes, lettuce, cabbage, bell peppers, pickled chiles, olives, sumac, garlic, and pomegranate syrup.

 

A few notes:

1.  While I have given some measurements here, there are no hard and fast rules other than the bread.

2.  English (hothouse) or Persian cucumbers are preferable.  They have less water, fewer seeds, and don’t need to be peeled.  If you need to use the more familiar salad cucumber, then you will need to peel it (the skin is tough and usually waxed) and scoop out the seeds.

3.  If you use large tomatoes, be sure to seed them.  If you use cherry tomatoes, don’t bother with seeding.  Just cut them in half.

4.  Curly parsley is more traditional.  However, flat leaf (Italian) is fine.

5.  If you use garlic, use less than you think you need.  Raw garlic is powerful stuff and can easily take over the rest of the salad.

6.  You don’t need to cut the vegetables fine.  They can simply be chopped.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

2 loaves pita bread, preferably day-old

1 cucumber, preferably hothouse (English) -or- 2-3 Persian cucumbers, cut into large dice or sliced roughly 1/4″ thick

2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped -or- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1 bunch parsley, chopped

1 bunch mint, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

Juice of 2 lemons, or to taste

1/4 – 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

1.  Prepare the bread: If you are toasting the bread, preheat the oven to 450F.  Split the loaves around the outside edge.

Splitting the bread. A serrated knife is especially helpful with this task.

Splitting the bread. A serrated knife is especially helpful with this task.

Don’t worry if the loaves aren’t split cleanly.  You’ll be breaking them up after they’ve been toasted.

The split loaves. if they;re not perfext, don't worry. They're going to get broken up anyway.

The split loaves. if they’re not perfect, don’t worry. They’re going to get broken up anyway.

Place the split bread directly on the oven rack and let toast until it is a golden brown.  Try not to let the bread get too dark or will add a bitter flavor to the finished salad.  It should take about 2 – 3 minutes for the bread to toast.

The toasted bread. Once it's cooled, break it up into bite-sized pieces.

The toasted bread. Once it’s cooled, break it up into bite-sized pieces.

Let the bread cool and then break it up into bite-sized pieces.  I generally like to accomplish this by putting the bread into a large zip bag and breaking it up. No mess and the bag can be re-used.

If you decide to fry the bread, heat your oil to 375F.  A mix of vegetable and olive oil works well for the flavor. (use pure olive oil, not extra virgin.) Cut the bread into bite-sized pieces and separate them.  Fry the bread in batches until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels and set aside.

2.  Place all of the prepared vegetables in a large bowl.  Add the bread and toss.  Add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and toss again.  Taste for seasoning.

The vegetables ready for the bread and seasonings.

The vegetables ready for the bread and seasonings.

Let the salad sit for about 15 minutes, then serve.

Sahtein!

Sahtein!

 

The salad will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator, but it’s really best the day it’s made.

 

سحتين!

 

Caesar Salad 0

Posted on June 16, 2014 by Sahar

The classic Caesar Salad can make a diner recall the days of martini lunches, 2-inch steaks, paneled dining rooms, and the Rat Pack.  In short, it’s an American classic.

An American classic that originated in Tijuana, Mexico.

Legend has it that Caesar Cardini, a restauranteur in San Diego, invented the salad in 1924.  He also operated a restaurant in Tijuana to circumvent Prohibition.  According to his daughter, the Caesar Salad was invented out of sheer necessity when the kitchen supplies were depleted.

After a rush on the restaurant one July evening,  Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the tableside preparation by the chef.  And thousands of tableside performances were born.

So, now you know. It has nothing to do with Julius Caesar (other than the fact that both he and Caesar Cardini were both Italian – technically). And, when my sisters and & I were kids, our dad try to convince us that it was invented by Caesar Romero. (You know, the Joker in the 1960′s “Batman” series.)

*******************

A few notes:

1.  I (and many others) use anchovies in the dressing.  The original recipe didn’t use them; the anchovy flavor came from Worchestershire sauce.  If you would prefer to leave them out, go ahead.

2. To make this dressing vegetarian/vegan, omit the egg, anchovies, and Worchestershire Sauce and use vegan mayonnaise and vegetarian Worchestershire Sauce.

3.  If you find the addition of all extra virgin olive oil too strong, you can cut it with half pure olive oil or an unflavored oil like vegetable or grapeseed.

4.  Since this recipe does use raw egg yolks, it is best not to serve this to anyone who might have a compromised immune system. Healthy adults should be fine  - especially if the eggs are fresh.  However, if you are concerned about using raw eggs, substitute the mayonnaise.

5.  Croutons are essential in this recipe.  You can buy them, but they are easy to make.  I’ve included instructions.

6.  When you grate the cheese, don’t use a Microplane; the cheese will be too fine.  Either do shavings of cheese with a vegetable peeler or a larger grater.

7.  The most common proteins served with Caesar Salad are grilled chicken or shrimp.  However, this does go with almost anything. Or, alone.

 

The Crouton Ingredients

The Crouton Ingredients

The seasonings I used:

The crouton seasonings I used: (clockwise from top: Italian Seasoning; Kosher Salt; Cayenne Pepper; ground Black Pepper)

The Caesar Salad Ingredients

The Caesar Salad Ingredients

Clockwise from top: Dijon Mustard; Worchestershire Sauce; Black Pepper, Red Wine Vinegar

Clockwise from top: Dijon Mustard; Worchestershire Sauce; Black Pepper, Red Wine Vinegar

 

2 heads Romaine Lettuce, cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces

 

Croutons:

4 c. day-old bread, cut into 1/2″ cubes

1/4 c. olive oil (you can use either extra virgin or pure)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

up to 2 tsp. additional seasoning, if desired

 

Dressing:

3 cloves garlic

6 ea. anchovy filets

2 egg yolks  -or- 1/4 c. mayonnaise

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

1 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. Worchestershire sauce

1/2 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

Pinch salt

1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

Grated Parmesan, Grana Padana, or Romano cheese

 

1.  Make the croutons: Preheat the oven to 250F.  Line a large baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with pan spray or line with parchment paper.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the oil, salt & pepper, and whatever other seasonings you like.  Spread the cubes out in an even layer on the baking sheet and place in the oven.

Croutons ready for the oven.

Croutons ready for the oven.

2.  Bake them for one hour, or until they are dried and crispy.  Set aside and let cool.

The finished croutons. Easy, right?

The finished croutons. Easy, right?

3.  Meanwhile, make the dressing: Have a blender or food processor running.  Drop in the garlic and anchovies and let them chop.  Turn off the blender or processor and add all of the other ingredients, except the oil.  Blend or process until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Everything except the oil

Everything except the oil.

4.  With the processor or blender running, slowly add the oil.  (You don’t want to add it too fast or it won’t incorporate and your dressing will separate.)

Adding the oil. Be sure to do this in a slow, steady stream.

Adding the oil. Be sure to do this in a slow, steady stream.

When you’re done processing/blending the dressing, taste it for seasoning.  It will be thick.

The finished dressing.

The finished dressing.

5.  Place a couple of big handfuls of the lettuce in a large bowl.  Drizzle over about a tablespoon or two of the dressing and toss until the leaves are lightly coated. (You don’t want the leaves soggy, just lightly coated.)  Place the lettuce on a plate and add some of the cheese and croutons on top.  Some people also like to sprinkle on some additional black pepper as well.  Have a bowl of the dressing on the side in case anyone wants more.

Buen Apetito!

Buen Apetito!

The dressing will last 3 – 4 days in the refrigerator if you use eggs and up to 1 week if you use mayonnaise.  The croutons will keep a week in an airtight container.

 

Salade Niçoise 0

Posted on June 11, 2014 by Sahar

Salade Niçoise has its origins in Nice, Provence, France.   No one really knows the complete origin story of this dish.  However, there is the ongoing legend that Catherine d’Medici brought a form of it to France before her marriage to Henri II.  How much credibility this has, I don’t know; but Nice is less than 20 miles across the Mediterranean from Italy.

The basis for this salad is its seasonality.  You use what you have fresh and in season.  Few, if any, of the ingredients are to be cooked (although, more modern versions certainly ignore this edict).  And, because of Nice’s proximity to the Mediterranean (and Italy), tuna and anchovies were added somewhere along the way.

The always main components of this dish are eggs (usually hard-boiled; sometimes poached), tomatoes, black (preferably niçoise) olives, green beans, and either tuna, anchovies, or both. It is always dressed with a vinaigrette. There are recipes that include artichoke hearts, white beans, radishes, potatoes, beets, corn, bell peppers, asparagus, cucumbers, green olives, mayonnaise, mushrooms, basil, tarragon, rosemary, and scallions.  Just to name a few.

So, basically, a French Cobb Salad made with whatever the chef has fresh in their kitchen.

I myself prefer a much more simplified version.  I try to stay as close to the traditional as possible.  By keeping it simple, I feel, each component can come through.  According to David Lebovitz’s post on Salade Niçoise (http://tinyurl.com/4rfsgjf), the original recipe stated that you don’t use anything cooked in the salad except for the eggs.  Nor are tuna and anchovies ever in the salad together. Well, I certainly bucked that tradition.  I think it’s all right in this case since cooks in Provence skirt the rules on this as well.

A few notes:

1.  You can use canned tuna in place of the tuna steak.  2 cans should be sufficient (but you can use more if you like).  Be sure to use a good quality brand packed in olive oil.  Be sure to read the label and avoid any that have extra flavoring (StarKist comes to mind).  Drain off the oil before you add the tuna to the salad.

2.  if you can’t find Niçoise olives, you can use Kalamata.  Just be sure to chop them a bit before adding to the salad.

3.  If you are using pitted olives, be aware that pits can still occur (especially with Kalamatas).  Whether you’re using whole or pitted olives, warn your guests about the pits.

4.  If you want to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, omit the anchovies, tuna, and eggs.  Use chopped garbanzo beans in place of the tuna (or, use a good recipe for “garbanzo tuna”; there are many available) and soft or firm-silken tofu cut into bite-sized pieces in place of the eggs.

5.  Some will lay the salad components on the serving dish separately, while others make more of a tossed salad-style.  It’s up to you how you like to serve.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Big Eye Tuna. You can use canned tuna,  but fresh is better.

Big Eye Tuna. You can use canned tuna, but fresh is better.

Nicoise Olives. These have a slightly smoky, peppery flavor.  These are pitted, but if you do have to use whole olives, let your diners know.

Nicoise Olives. They are a small olive with a slightly smoky, peppery flavor. These are pitted, but if you do have to use whole olives, let your diners know.

 

From the top and l-r:

From the top and l-r: olive oil; sugar; minced garlic, anchovies, Dijon mustard; black pepper, kosher salt, red wine vinegar

 

Vinaigrette

2 tbsp. red or white wine vinegar

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

1 cl. garlic, minced

1 tbsp. shallot or onion, minced

1/2 tsp. each salt, black pepper, sugar

3 – 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

 

About 1 lb. fresh tuna steak -or- 2 to 3 cans good quality olive oil packed tuna

2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped -or- 1/2 pt. cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1/2 c. red onion, very thinly sliced

1 c. black olives, preferably Niçoise (if you can get pitted, all the better)

1 c. green beans, preferably haricot vert, cut into 1/2-inch pieces -or- fresh fava beans -or- edamame beans

1 bu. Italian parsley, chopped

4 ea. hard boiled eggs

4 ea. anchovies, minced

4 c. mixed greens (any you like; my personal preference is baby spinach & arugula)

 

 

1.  Make the vinaigrette: In either a medium bowl (if making by hand) or in a food processor or blender, mix together all of the ingredients except for the oil.  Either constantly whisking the mixture by hand or with the food processor or blender turned on, pour in the oil in a slow, steady stream. (You don’t want to add the oil too quickly; it won’t incorporate and the vinaigrette will separate.)

Once you have mixed in all the oil, taste for seasoning and adjust if you like.   Set the vinaigrette aside.

The finsihed vinaigrette. I like it a little more on the sharp side.  If you want a milder flavor, use more oil.

The finished vinaigrette. I like it a little more on the sharp side. If you want a milder flavor, add more oil.

2.  Prepare the fava beans (if using):  As you probably noticed in the main ingredient photo, fava bean pods are quite large.  To open them, you will need to press the pod lightly on the seam and pry open with your fingers (it’s easier than it sounds).  Remove the seeds and place them into a bowl.

Fresh fava bean. The pods are fairly deceptive. They're thick with an almost cottony inside and anywhere from 3 - 5 beans inside.  The pods should be bright green (a little speckling is fine), shiny, and no soft spots.  The beans inside should be plump and light green (this is from the extra skin on the beans that you'll remove later). If you find any beans that are brown, discard them.

Fresh fava bean. The pods are fairly deceptive. They’re thick with an almost cottony inside with any where from 3 – 5 beans. The pods should be bright green (a little speckling is fine), shiny, and no soft spots. The beans inside should be plump and light green (this is from the extra skin on the beans that you’ll remove later). If you find any beans that are brown or shriveled, discard them.

The shelled beans.

The shelled beans.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil.  Add the fava beans and blanch for 3 – 5 minutes.  Drain the beans and either run them under cold water or plunge them into ice water.  Drain.

The beans after boiling.

The beans after boiling.  Notice how the skins are loosened.

Here’s how to remove the skins from the beans in 3 easy photos:

Getting ready to peel the bean.

Getting ready to peel the bean.

To peel the bean, simply make a small tear in the skin to expose the bean...

To peel the bean, simply make a small tear in the skin to expose the bean.

Then, slip the bean out of the skin. Discard the skin.  Add the beans to the bowl.

Then, slip the bean out of the skin. Discard the skin. Add the beans to the bowl.

Easy.

If you can’t get fava beans (they’re still fairly seasonal), you can either use blanched French green beans (haricot vert – a very thin green bean) cut into 1/2″ lengths or edamame beans (If you use frozen, just cook them according to the direction on the package and let cool.)

3.  Boil the eggs:  There are no doubt a thousand ways to boil and peel eggs.  Some work, some don’t.  For me, the best way I’ve found is to place the eggs in a saucepan filled with water and bring it to a boil.  As soon as the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for 10 minutes.

Drain off the water and immediately place the eggs into ice water and crack the shells (leave the eggs under the water).  This allows the water the get between the shell and egg and make it easier to peel.

After boiling the eggs, immediately plunge them into ice water and crack the shells.  The water will get between the shell and egg and it will be easier to peel.

After boiling the eggs, immediately plunge them into ice water and crack the shells. The water will get between the shell and egg and it will be easier to peel.

ta da!

ta da!

Cut the eggs into quarters lengthwise and set aside.

3.  Cook the tuna:  Lightly coat the tuna in olive oil and sprinkle on some salt and pepper on each side.  Heat a skillet over high heat on the stove.  When the skillet is hot, lay the tuna steak in the skillet and let it sear until the side is lightly browned.  Turn the steak over and sear the other side.

Now, if you like your tuna very rare, you can stop at this point.  If you prefer medium-rare to medium, continue to cook the tuna on the stove, turning once more, until it’s done to your preference.

If you prefer your tuna well-done (as my husband does – at least for this), have your oven preheated to 450F.  If your skillet is oven-proof, take the skillet off the heat and place it in the oven for 5 – 7 minutes, depending on the thickness of the tuna steak.

Searing the tuna.

Searing the tuna.

Remove the skillet from the heat, take the tuna out of the skillet and set it on a plate to cool slightly.  When it is cool enough to handle, either cut the tuna into bite-sized pieces (as I prefer), or you can chop it so that it resembles canned tuna.

4.  Place all of the vegetables (except the mixed greens), olives, eggs, anchovies, and tuna into a large bowl.

Ready for the tuna and vinaigrette

Ready for the tuna and vinaigrette. Pretty, isn’t it?

Pour over the vinaigrette and mix thoroughly.

5.  Place a large handful of the greens on a plate.  Take a couple of large scoops of the salad and place it on top of the greens.  Be sure to get a little of everything.   Serve immediately.

Bon Appetit!

Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

 

Tabouleh تبولة 0

Posted on June 06, 2014 by Sahar

Tabouleh (or Tabooly, Tabouley, Tabouly, Tabboole, Tabbouleh) is one of those ubiquitous Arabic dishes that has entered the Western diet along with Shish Kebabs, Baba Ghannouj, Hummous, and pita bread.  Few people really give any of these dishes much thought about where they originated, but what they do know is with the ever-popular Mediterranean Diet, these dishes have become almost de rigeur to the Western palate.

Tabouley did originate in the Middle East, namely Syria, and has been eaten since at least the Middle Ages (and quite likely further back than that).  The word tabouleh comes from the Arabic word taabil (توابل) meaning “seasoning”.  There are, of course, regional variations.  In  Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, it is usually served as part of a meze (appetizer), with romaine lettuce. In Lebanon, cooks use more parsley than bulgur wheat in their dish. A Turkish variation of the dish is known as kısır, while a similar Armenian dish is known as eetch.

(some information from www.wikipedia.org)

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There are no real hard-and-fast rules to making tabouleh.  Every region, every household, has its own version.  The most common ingredients are:

Bulghur Wheat

Tomatoes

Cucumber

Parsley

Mint

Onion (yellow or green)

Lemon Juice

Olive Oil

 

Some of the variations include:

radishes

lettuce

couscous

garlic

oregano

thyme (za’atar)

 

I’ve also seen recipes that include:

olives

corn

cilantro

bell peppers

vinegar

 

For me, I like to stick to the classic preparation, with the inclusion of garlic.

The ingredients

The ingredients

So, in my tabouleh, I have (from l-r)

Mint, minced

Parsley, minced

Green Onions, sliced very thin

Cucumber, diced

Lemon juice, to taste

Tomatoes, seeded and diced

Garlic, minced

Olive Oil

Burghul Wheat, rinsed, soaked and drained

Salt to taste

 

A few notes on the ingredients:

1.  If you use cucumber, use either English (hothouse) or Persian cucumbers.  They have a lower water content and fewer seeds.  Plus, they don’t need peeling.  However, if you must use the standard cucumber, you will need to peel them (the skin is tough and usually waxed) and scoop out the seeds.  I cut mine into a roughly 1/4-inch dice.

2.  Tomatoes will need to be seeded and diced.  Unless you’re using cherry tomatoes.  Just cut them in halves and don’t worry about seeding them.

3.  The traditional parsley used in tabouleh (or any Arabic dish, for that matter) is curly.  However, if you have flat-leaf (Italian), that’s fine.  I happened to already have some on hand, so that’s what I used here.

4.  If you use green onions (scallions), use both the green and white parts.  If you use yellow onion, use a fine mince.  Don’t use red onion – the color will leach out.

5.  If you use garlic, make sure it is finely minced.  And, remember, raw garlic is powerful stuff.  Begin by using less than you think you should use.  Once the salad is finished, taste.  You want the garlic to compliment, not overpower.  Remember, you can always add, but you can’t take away.

The same can be said for any of the seasonings.

 

I don’t include any measurements in this recipe because, like I said before, there are no true hard-and-fast rules.

That being said, The ratio I prefer of bulgur-to-vegetables is about 1 cup (soaked) bulghur to 2 cups vegetables.

 

As for the bulghur, I like to use is a medium-coarse grind.  I prefer the chewiness of it, which is especially nice after the tabouleh has been sitting for a while, like overnight.

Bulgher Wheat. Medium coarse.

Bulgher Wheat.  It’s basically wheat that has been parboiled, dried, then cracked. It’s also known as “cracked wheat”.

There are four different grinds of bulghur:

#1: very fine – usually used in kibbeh

#2: fine – usually used in stuffings and tabouleh

#3: medium coarse – can be used in tabouleh, but is also used in soups and pilafs

#4: very coarse – usually used in pilafs, stews, and as a rice substitute

 

You will need to wash and soak the bulghur before adding it to the vegetables.  There is a lot of dust left on the bulghur during the manufacturing and packaging.  The best way to accomplish this is to place the bulghur in a fine sieve (or a colander lined with cheesecloth) and run it under cold water until the water runs clear.

Rinsing the bulgur.

Rinsing the bulgur.

Once you have rinsed it, transfer the bulghur to a large bowl and cover with water (about 1″ above the surface of the wheat).  Let the bulghur sit for at least 20 minutes (depending on the grind) or until it is al dente.  The wheat will increase in volume by 50% – 100%, again, depending on the grind.

Soaking the wheat.

Soaking the wheat.

While the wheat is soaking, prepare the vegetables & herbs and place them in a bowl large enough for you to mix in when all the ingredients are ready.

The vegetables and herbs ready to go.

The vegetables and herbs ready to go.

When the wheat is ready (taste some to be sure it’s to your liking), drain it thoroughly in a fine sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth.  There shouldn’t be too much water left.  If there is very little water, you can simply squeeze the bulgher in your hands and add it to the vegetables.

The soaked bulghur.  It's hard to see in this photo, but there is a real difference in the volume.

The soaked bulghur. It’s hard to see in this photo, but there is a real difference in the volume. (Compare to the one above.)

Adding the bulghur to the vegetables and herbs.

Adding the bulghur to the vegetables and herbs.

Now, carefully mix together all of the ingredients until they are fully incorporated.  Add the olive oil, lemon, and salt to taste.  Mix again.  Taste again.  If you can, let the tabouleh sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Sahtein! سحتين

Sahtein! سحتين

The real beauty of this dish is it can be served with anything or alone.  It can be served cold or at room temperature.  And, anyone can eat it – omnivore and vegan alike.

It will keep in the refrigerator for 3- 4 days.

 

 

 

 

Stuffed Grape Leaves محشي ورق عنب 1

Posted on May 28, 2014 by Sahar

Stuffed Grape Leaves. In Arabic, محشي ورق عنب, or, spelled phonetically, mishi waraq ‘einab.  It was another one of those dishes my sisters & I ate gleefully growing up.  When Mom would make stuffed grape leaves, it was cause for great rejoicing. Especially for Dad.

Many know the Greek word, Dolmas.  Dolma comes from the Turkish word “dolmak” meaning “to be stuffed”.  In Arabic, “mishi” means “stuffed”.  There are literally dozens of variations of stuffed grape leaves all over the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, Central Europe, and Central Asia.

Probably the most common way to make the grape leaves is to cook them in an olive oil – lemon juice based-sauce.  However, the way I was taught to make grape leaves was the way my grandmother made them; with a tomato-based sauce.

I was talking to my mom about this one day.  She said the first time she ever ate grape leaves, the sauce was made from sour grapes.  She said it was awful.  The next time she had the dish, my dad had made it the way he preferred and the way his mother made them – with tomatoes.

I like to call it Palestinian-style.

**********************

If you would like to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, substitute an equal amount of roasted eggplant for the meat, vegetable broth for the beef broth, and add 1/4 cup tomato paste to the stuffing (this will help the filling bind together).

If you would like to use brown rice in place of the white rice, be sure to add 20 – 30 minutes to the cooking time.

**********************

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The spices clockwise from right:

The spices clockwise from right: Cinnamon, Black Pepper, Allspice, Salt

The grape leaves. be sure to rinse them thoroughly after remaoving them from the brine.

The grape leaves. Be sure to rinse them thoroughly after removing them from the brine; otherwise, the end result will be like a salt lick.

 

1  jar grape leaves

1 lb. ground lamb or beef

2 c. long-grain white rice

2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste

2 tsp. allspice, or to taste

3/4 tsp. cinnamon, or to taste

Lamb shanks, lamb chops, or beef short ribs, optional

1 large can (22 oz.) whole tomatoes

2 c. beef broth

 

 

1.  Take a large saucepan or stockpot and place a rack on the bottom. If you don’t have a rack, use a steamer that sits in the saucepan. (I like to use my pasta pot with the insert.)  This is done not only to keep the grape leaves off the bottom to keep them from burning but to help steam the stuffed leaves as they’re cooking.

If you are using shanks, chops, or ribs, place them on the rack or steamer.  Set aside.

My dad always used chops or shanks in the bottom of the steamer.  It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Plus, it's an extra treat.

My dad always used chops or shanks in the bottom of the steamer. It adds a lot of flavor to the final dish. Plus, it’s an extra treat.

2.  Carefully take the grape leaves out of the jar (take care not to rip the leaves) and rinse thoroughly.  You want to be sure that the brine is rinsed off. Usually, you will need to separate the leaves when rinsing.  I’ll also fill a large bowl with water and let the leaves soak for a few minutes, then drain.  You want the water to be as clear as possible.

3.  Parboil the rice:  In a large saucepan, place the rice and cover it with 1″ of water.  Over high heat, bring the water to a boil, stirring frequently to keep the rice from sticking.

Parboiling the rice. Be sure to stir occasionally to be sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

Parboiling the rice. Be sure to stir frequently to be sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Boil the rice until it is about halfway cooked (take some rice out of the water and test it; it should be slightly chewy with a very crunchy center).  Drain the rice in a colander and set aside until it is cool enough to handle.

The finished rice.  Let this sit until it's cool enough to handle.

The finished rice. Let this sit until it’s cool enough to handle.

4.  In a large bowl, mix together the meat and rice (it’s best to use your hands for this).  Add the spices and mix thoroughly.

Starting to mix together the rice and meat. It's best done with your hands.

Starting to mix together the rice and meat. It’s best done with your hands.

After adding the spices. My mom says she knows when it's seasoned right because of the smell.  I've not yet mastered that technique.

After adding the spices. My mom says she knows when it’s seasoned right because of the smell. I’ve not yet mastered that skill.

To taste for seasoning, take a small amount of the mixture and place in a hot skillet to cook (the flavor will be closer to what the finished dish will taste like). Adjust the spices to your taste.

Cooking a small sample to taste for seasoning.  I also consider this cook's treat.

Cooking a small sample to taste for seasoning. I also consider this cook’s treat.

5.  Once you have finished mixing the filling, it’s time to stuff the leaves. Which I will explain in the following photos. (My husband took these photos across from me.  I rotated them so you could see them from my perspective. So, admittedly, they may look a little skewed. Apologies.)

The most important thing to remember is to not wrap the leaves too tight.  You want snug, but not tight.  The rice will continue to expand when the stuffed leaves are cooked.  If you wrap them too tight, they’ll burst.  Conversely, if you wrap them too loosely, they’ll fall apart.  A happy medium is preferred.

Cut off the stem with a sharp knife.

1. Cut off the stem with a sharp knife.

2. Lay the leaf flat with the vein (rough) side up facing you.

2. Lay the leaf flat with the vein (rough) side up facing you.

3.  Take some of the stuffing (this was a large leaf, so I used about 2 tablespoons stuffing), press it together loosely into a sort of log shape.  Please it on the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf.

3. Take some of the stuffing (this was a large leaf, so I used about 2 tablespoons stuffing), press it together loosely into a sort of log shape. Please it on the bottom 1/3rd of the leaf.

4.  Take one half of the bottom and fold it over the stuffing. ( I usually go right to left.)

4. Take one half of the bottom and fold it over the stuffing. ( I usually go right to left.)

5.  Repeat with the other side.

5. Repeat with the other side. The stuffing should be covered.

6.  Now, fold the sides over the filling.

6. Now, fold the sides over the filling.

7.  Repeat with the other side.

7. Repeat with the other side.

8.  Now, finish rolling the leaf until the stuffing is fully enclosed.

8. Now, finish rolling the leaf until the stuffing is fully enclosed.

8. Done!  You want to be sure that the amount of filling you use is proportional to the size of the leaf.

9. Done! Now, do this another 40 times or so.  You want to be sure that the amount of filling you use is proportional to the size of the leaf.

6.  As you make each roll, place it in the pot.  When you are about halfway through, crush a few of the tomatoes with your hands and lay them on the finished leaves.  Pour on some of the tomato juice. Finish stuffing the remaining leaves.   Crush the remaining tomatoes and place them on top.  Pour over the rest of the tomato juice and the beef broth.

The grape leaves in the pot ready to cook.

The grape leaves in the pot ready to cook.

7.  Cover the pot and bring the liquid to boil over high heat.  Lower the heat to low, keep the pot covered, and cook until the rice and meat are cooked, about 30 – 45 minutes.  You’ll need to take one out to test.

8.  When the grape leaves are cooked, place a serving on a plate, carefully pull out one of the shanks or ribs, and spoon out some of the broth to pour over the leaves on the plate.  You can also have some yogurt and pita bread on the side.

Sahtein!

Sahtein!

 

Admittedly, this is a dish that does take some time to put together.  But, the results are well worth it.

 

Sahtein!

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival: Final Dispatch 0

Posted on May 16, 2014 by Sahar

Finally. The last installment.  It’s admittedly a little later than I intended; but we’re now reaching the finish.

*****************

Day 4 – Saturday

Steve & I woke up with – surprisingly – no hangovers.  Must have been the rich food.

Alpine's Mural in a Weekend.  They completed this the last weekend of July 2013.

Alpine’s Mural in a Weekend. They completed this the last weekend of July 2013.  It was inspired by Jesus Helguera’s “Poco a Poquito”.

 

We soon met my parents to take a look at the Alpine Farmers Market.  It’s a rather small market.  Not much in the way of fresh produce, but there were plenty of homemade goods like preserves, goat cheese, gluten-free baked goods, and pickles.

Alpine train station

Alpine train station

At the farmers market

At the farmers market

Fresh eggs. We didn't buy any.

Fresh eggs. We didn’t buy any.

This gentleman and his granddaughters were selling all kinds of goat milk products.  I bought 2 types of chèvre. It was great.

This gentleman and his granddaughters were selling all kinds of goat milk products. I bought 2 types of chèvre. It was great.

Chocolate goat milk ice cream. It had the texture of ice milk.

Chocolate goat milk ice cream. It had the texture of ice milk.

These folks had, oh, I don't know, about 10 flavors of preserves an chutneys.  I bought the last cranberry chutney. I'm still savoring it.

These folks had, oh, I don’t know, at least 10-12 flavors of preserves and chutneys. I bought the last cranberry chutney. I’m still savoring it.

We spent about an hour at the market and then took a walk through town.  On the other side of the tracks, so to speak.

Not sure what this used to be. Almost looks like a market.

Not sure what this used to be. Almost looks like a market.

The Three Amigos. And Steve.

The Three Amigos. And Steve.

Someone's rose bush.

Someone’s rose bush.

Old buildings in old Alpine.

Old buildings in old Alpine.

Blooming cactus. I think this is a Barrel Cactus.

Blooming cactus. I think this is a Barrel Cactus.

When we went back across the tracks, Mom and I took a detour into a jewelry store that I frequent every time I go to Alpine, La Azteca Jewelry.  The couple that own the store design their own jewelry into one-of-a-kind pieces.  Beautiful stuff.  And very reasonably priced.  Mom fell in love with the store and bought herself a new ring. I bought two.

After this, we went our separate ways for a few hours.  Steve and I headed to the Big Bend Brewing Company (http://bigbendbrewing.com) for their big barbecue and music party.

Big Bend Brewing Company. Since 2012. Damn good beer.

Big Bend Brewing Company. Since 2012. Damn good beer.

I offered to work the gate for Stewart.  Steve, Mom, and Dad went on in to enjoy the food, beer, and music by the Doodlin’ Hogwallops (http://www.piggigger.com).  Steve was kind enough to bring me a plate of barbecue, boudin, and potato salad.  The lady who helped me at the gate, Mary, was a volunteer for one of my classes last year.  I was happy to see her again.  She lives in Dripping Springs and has family near Fort Davis.  So, she comes out often.  She sure seems to know a lot of people.

Lines for the food & beer.

Lines for the food & beer.

The Doodlin' Hogwallops

The Doodlin’ Hogwallops

Enjoying the music and the food.

Mom & Dad enjoying the music, beer, and the food.

It was, from what I observed, the biggest event of the festival.  I felt great for not just the brewery, but Stewart, too.  It, to me anyway, was a very positive sign that  the festival is becoming successful and can be even bigger next year.

Cowboy on tank.

Cowboy on tank.

By about 3pm, traffic into the brewery was had slowed considerably (the event was to end at 4), so Stewart let me leave.  Mom, Dad, and Steve were off doing their own things – Dad went back to his hotel to rest; Mom and Steve to a Tito’s Vodka Infusion Class.  I took advantage of the alone time to go back to my hotel and take a quick nap.  Glorious.

Honeysuckle bush in our courtyard. It smelled heavenly.

Honeysuckle bush in our courtyard. It smelled heavenly.

I couldn't tell what flower this was, but it's lovely.

I couldn’t tell what flower this was, but it’s lovely.

Later that evening, we went to our last planned even of the festival – Dinner at the Cow Dog.  I’ve written about Cow Dog before in one of my previous Big Bend posts, but, just in case you haven’t read it, I’ll just say that those are quite honestly the best hot dogs I’ve ever had.  And, with Hogan and Moss (https://www.facebook.com/Jonhoganband) providing the music, it was a wonderful ending to a fun festival.

Cow Dog!

Cow Dog!

The German: Sausage, Saurkraut, Caraway Seeeds, Mustard

The German: Bacon, Sauerkraut, Caraway Seeds, Mustard

The El Pastor: Red Onion, Pineapple, Cilantro Pesto, Lime Mayo.

The El Pastor: Red Onion, Pineapple, Cilantro Pesto, Lime Mayo.

We left the party early to head out to the McDonald Observatory for the Star Party (http://mcdonaldobservatory.org).  Steve, Dad, and I had attended a Star Party before and the night was perfect – clear with no moon.  Unfortunately, the night we went with Mom (who’d never been to the observatory), it was overcast.  Once we arrived at the observatory, there was a bit of touch-and-go as to what they were going to do if the weather didn’t clear.  Apparently, they do have contingency plans for just these sorts of events.

Sunset at the Observatory. What I could see, anyway.

Sunset at the Observatory. What I could see, anyway.

One of the telecopes at the observatory the public is allowed to look through during the star parties.

One of the telescopes at the observatory the public is allowed to look through during the star parties. (This is a photo from 2012.)

When it was time for the Star Party to begin, we were informed that it was too overcast to go to the amphitheater  Instead, the employees directed us to the indoor theater to talk to us about what we would be seeing that night if it was clear.  Mom’s and my favorite part was when they displayed pictures from the Hubble Telescope on screen.  We later agreed that we could’ve sat there and just looked at more of those all night.

The theater where we had our opening lecture.

The theater where we had our opening lecture.

Different ways people would navigate by, and study, the stars.

Different ways people would navigate by the stars.

About 30 minutes later, it was announced that it was just clear enough to go outside and hopefully catch some of the night sky.  We all got to see Jupiter.  Mom, Dad, and Steve got to see the moon.  I opted for the telescope pointed at Mars.  However, by the time I got to that telescope, it had clouded over again.  Bummer.  We left not long afterwards.  Despite the disappointing night sky, we all had a good time.

Back to Alpine.  Then, to sleep.

 

Day 5 – Sunday

With the festival officially over, it was time to head back to Austin.  However, breakfast with my parents before they left for home was in order.

Somewhere in his travels around town, Dad saw a sign for Magoos.  A Tex-Mex restaurant that served Menudo.  Well, there was no way he was going to pass that up.

Dad's Menudo. It actually wasn't too unpleasant.

Dad’s Menudo. It actually wasn’t too unpleasant.

In case you don’t know what Menudo is, I’ll tell you.  It’s a rather hearty soup made with a base of chiles, broth, and beef tripe. Sometimes hominy is also added.  You garnish the soup with onion, dried oregano, and either lemon or lime.  It’s believed to be a traditional hangover cure in Mexico.  If the tripe is cleaned properly, the soup has a rather mild and slightly gamey flavor. If the tripe isn’t cleaned properly – yuk.

I did try some of Dad’s Menudo.  It was pretty good.  It didn’t taste dirty at all.  I don’t know if I would’ve eaten a whole bowl of it, though.

Mom, Steve, and I went a little more safe:  Huevos Rancheros.  They were excellent.

 

Mine - Sunny Side Up

Mine – Sunny Side Up

Mom's - Over Easy

Mom’s – Over Easy

Steve's - Scrambled

Steve’s – Scrambled

After breakfast and hugs good-bye, Mom & Dad headed back to north Texas while Steve & I headed back to our hotel to check out and head back to Austin.

As is our wont, we decided to take an alternate route back home as opposed to driving back on IH10.  We decided on US190 to US71.  It took us about 2 hours longer than the traditional route home, but we did get to drive through some towns that time forgot and see some new scenery.

At a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. We were switching drivers.

At a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. We were switching drivers.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

At the middle-of-nowhere rest stop.

Not everything out here is bucolic. Let me tell you, the gas fumes smelled awful.

Not everything out here is bucolic. Let me tell you, the gas fumes smelled awful. And lingered for miles.

While we were on US190, we passed through the towns of Girvin, McCamey Iraan, Sheffield, Ozona, El Dorado, Menard, Mason, and, finally, Llano.  Some of these towns were simply a crossroad while some were almost bustling metropolises.

Girvin, TX. This is literally the whole town.

Girvin, TX. This is literally the whole town.

Heading into Menard.

Heading into Menard.

While Steve was dozing in the passenger’s seat, I passed an old ruined fort.  I decided to turn around and check it out.  If, for no other reason than to stretch our legs.  It was Fort San Saba (Presidio de San Saba).

Fort San Angelo

Fort San Saba (Presidio de San Saba)

The original fort (presidio) was built in 1751 on the banks of the San Gabriel River.  In 1757, it was rebuilt on the banks of the San Saba River where the remains stand today.  Like many Spanish forts, it was a way to gain a foothold and hold onto conquered land, for protection, and to convert the native inhabitants to Catholicism.  The fort was abandoned after an attack by native tribes in 1772 and was basically left to the elements.  In 1936, the Texas Centennial Commission made attempts to restore the fort and, frankly, did a rather poor job of it.  Most of what they restored fell to ruin once again.  The Texas Historical Commission and the town of Menard both oversee the current restoration to see that it’s done carefully and properly.

One of the facades in what was known as the "VIP Area"

Some of the walls in what was known as the “VIP Area”

The San Saba River at the back of the fort.

The San Saba River at the back of the fort.

Prickly Pear along the front gate.

Prickly Pear along the front gate.

One we hit US71, we decided to stop at our favorite barbecue joint, Cooper’s.  For me, it’s the best.  Anywhere.

Of course, we way over bought and overindulged.  Brisket, Sausage, Pork Chops, Steak, Potato Salad, Coleslaw, Bacon-Jalapeno Mac & Cheese (a new item for them; in fact, I bought more for home), and Peach and Blackberry Cobblers.

Barbecue porn.

Barbecue porn.

What the hell, we figured.  We’ll just take it home.

Another hour driving.  And, finally, home.

Steve & I decided while it was lovely to be in our own house again and settling in with the cats, we already missed Big Bend.  It just has that kind of pull on us.

I mean, how can one resist this?

I mean, how can one resist this?

Or this?

Or this?

 

Just so you can get a little taste of the fun we had, here’s link to the official trailer of the Viva Big Bend Food Festival 2014 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRm-BIZThmc).  Yes, I’m in there.

 

Hope to see you all there in 2015!

 

 

 

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 3 0

Posted on April 18, 2014 by Sahar

A little late. But here it is…

***********

Friday was my busiest day and it dawned early for me. Too early.

I was up late into Thursday night starting prep for my cooking class and was exhausted by the time I fell into bed.  However, even after 16 years of teaching cooking classes, I never sleep well the night before because I tend to worry too much about everything that might go wrong.

So, long story short, I laid there in bed for another 2 hours trying in vain to go back to sleep.

Then, the alarm went off. It was time to get up and head to the Cowboy Breakfast at Fort Davis.

It was a chilly, overcast morning and perfect for a nice hearty chuck wagon breakfast.

Chuckwagon time.

Chuck wagon time.

Mr. Moreland's pantry.

Mr. Moreland’s pantry.

The chef that morning was Glenn Moreland, a champion amongst chuck wagon cooks.  And, after eating his food, I can see why. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, Dutch-oven Biscuits, and cream gravy with sausage.

Perfect.

Oh… Yeah…

Let's not forget the Cowboy Coffee.

Let’s not forget the Cowboy Coffee.

While we all agreed that while the eggs were very good, but nothing special, the biscuits and cream gravy were the best we’ve ever had.  And, after living in Texas for as long as Mom, Dad, Steve & I have, that’s saying something. It wasn’t greasy, flour-flavored wallpaper paste; it was a lovely, not-too-thick, flavor balanced amalgamation of sausage, flour, and milk.  There are many restauranteurs who should take cream gravy-making lessons from Mr. Moreland.

Then, there were the biscuits.  Fluffy as a new pillow.

Buscuits ready for the campfire.

Biscuits ready for the campfire.

Baking biscuits.

Baking biscuits.

And, of course, our scenery made everything go down easy.

The view from the chuck wagon.

The view from the chuck wagon.

The view at breakfast.

The view at breakfast.

After breakfast, Steve & I drove back to Alpine while my parents went with Mom’s friend Betty (we happened to run into at the breakfast) to her home and then took a trip into Marfa for lunch.

I had to get back to the hotel to prep for my class.

On Thursday night, I cut & marinated the meat for the kebabs and cooked the eggplant for the Baba Ghannouj; Friday, I did everything else.  My class was on Middle Eastern Mezze. The menu consisted of:

Hummous

Ful Mudammas

Baba Ghannouj

Fatoush

Shish Kebabs

I taught a very similar menu last year that proved popular, so Stewart & I decided that it would work again.  And, while the prep was easy (especially since I’ve done all these recipes dozens of times), it took me about 4 hours to get everything ready to take to the hotel. So, yeah. I was just a little stressed.

Prep. Whew.

Prep. Whew.

Because I didn’t have any hard-and-fast numbers, I had no idea how much food to make.  So, I went with a triple batch of each recipe.  I figured, if nothing else, I could leave the extra food for the kitchen staff at the hotel.  Actually, my biggest fear was no one except Steve and my parents showing up.

Well, my fears were unfounded. More than 3 people showed.  By Steve’s estimation, I had 25 – 30 for my class. And, I made just enough food.

A few members of the class.

A few members of the class.

A few more students watching me behind the counter.

A few more students watching me behind the counter. I can’t remember what I was making at this point. Either hummous or baba ghannouj.

From my vantage point. And my mess.

From my vantage point. And my mess. Looking at al the food that was already on the counter, I must have been talking about the kebabs.

Stewart joining me at the end.

Stewart joining me at the end.

It was a good group.  They listened, took recipes, asked thoughtful questions, and seemed to enjoy the food.  I admit I felt a strong sense of relief.

Overall, I think the class went well.  There was just enough food for the class with a little left over for the kitchen staff. Except for the kebabs. Those were gone.

I must give credit to William Paynter, the Century Grill General Manager, who was a great help. I couldn’t be more grateful to him and his staff.

At the end of class, after Stewart & I announced the gin-and-oyster party in the Holland Loft Courtyard, I cleaned up and cleared out as quickly as possible so I could get some oysters and put my feet up for a while.  I didn’t really care about the gin drinks. Although I did have a few sips of Mom’s and Steve’s drinks.

Lots of gin.

Lots of gin and mixers.

Oysters. Lots of oysters.  I think I  had 10. I didn't want to seem greedy.

Oysters. Lots of oysters. I think I had 10. I didn’t want to seem too greedy.

The party was actually just outside Steve’s & my room, so we and my parents were able to get our food and drinks and hide out inside.  If we wanted more, we could just walk two steps out the door and partake. Since I hadn’t eaten since the breakfast, I was grateful for the snack.

We chatted for a while, I got cleaned up, and then we headed to our next event: The Tito’s Vodka Cocktail Dinner at the Granada Theater.

The whole event was, in a word, incredible.  The food was catered by the Saddle Club by Chefs Stephen and Jonathan Wood.  The cocktails were mixed by David Allen, whose book “The Tipsy Texan” was an event at the festival in itself.

The dinner started out with a “passed app” of Slow Roasted Cabrito with Avocado Mousse, and salsa on flour tortilla cups.  The cabrito was perfectly cooked – a lovely shredded melt-in-your-mouth treat. The mousse was simple and the salsa added just the right amount of heat.

 

The "Passed App"

The “Passed App”

The cocktail was a mason jar full of the “Little Miss” made with Tito’s (as all the cocktails were), roasted pineapple juice, lime, cinnamon/clove syrup, and bitters.  I only had a small taste of the Little Miss.  Wow.  If you weren’t careful, these could be dangerous.  They tasted almost like a spicy lemonade. (Full disclosure: I’m allergic to cinnamon. So, I only had a small taste of this cocktail and the dessert.) Mom and Steve enjoyed it.  Dad sipped.

This tasted like a slightly spicy hard lemonade.

This tasted like a slightly spicy hard lemonade.

My alternate cocktail.  Basically vodka and ginger beer.

My alternate cocktail. Basically vodka and ginger beer.

The first course was a Pork Belly Carnitas with Marinated Grilled Artichoke Bottom, Pickled Watermelon Radishes, and Bacon Creme.  (For those of you unfamiliar, carnitas is basically pork that’s been braised or roasted then pan fried.)

Wow.  All I can say is wow.  Artichokes aren’t my favorite vegetables, but I’d eat them every day if they could taste like this. The carnitas had just the right amount of flavor, richness, and textures.  And the creme; well, everything’s better with bacon.  The pickled radishes added just the right amount of contrast to the rest of the dish and cut right through the richness.

First Course

First Course

The paired cocktail was “Southern Days”.  It was made with vodka, watermelon, mint, and sugar.  A very refreshing summer-sipping-on-the-porch cocktail.

Refreshing

Refreshing

The main course was Jalapeno Rubbed Beef Tenderloin, Bacon & Pepper Jack Hominy Cassoulet, Chayote Squash, and Fire-Roasted Jalapeno Cream.

This was my favorite course, hands down.  The tenderloin was at least 4-5 ounces of Chateaubriand cut cooked to a well-rested medium rare.  While I don’t believe the tenderloin is the most flavorful cut of beef (or any animal for that matter), Chef Stephen found a way to make its grass-fed goodness shine.

I think I found a new way to make chayote squash – a vegetable I rarely use.  I should’ve asked him how he made it, but it seemed to me to be very simply pan seared.  It still had some crunch to it.

One of my favorite foods is hominy.  And by pairing it with bacon and cheese, it was moved to new hights of possibilities.

And the Bacon Creme? What do you think?

Main Course

Main Course

The paired cocktail was “Tito’s Martinez”.  Made with vodka, Carpano Antica (a sweet vermouth), Luxardo Maraschino (a cherry liqueur), and bitters, it acted as a digestif to help counteract the richness of the course.

Dad didn’t like it.  Mom & I split it.

Strong.

Strong.

Sadly, I didn’t get to try to much of dessert: Sopapilla Cheesecake.  It looked like a wonderful amalgamation of creaminess with a cinnamon brulee crust.  I did try a couple of bites of Dad’s portion and detected coconut as well.  However, no one else could confirm this.

Steve's dessert. I just managed to get a photo before he finished.

Steve’s dessert. I just managed to get a photo before he finished.

The final cocktail more than made up for my lack of dessert experience: the “Iceberg”.  Made with vodka and frozen Cremes de Menthe and Cacao it tasted like melted chocolate chip mint ice cream.  I was only sorry they served it to us in shot glasses.

Yum.

Yum.

After the meal and some well-deserved applause for Chef Stephen and his crew, we made it back to our room in a relatively straight line.

After discussing meeting up at the Farmers Market the next morning and relaxing a bit, Mom & Dad went back to their hotel.

Steve & I were in bed by 10.  We’re old.

 

Day 4.  Soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 2 0

Posted on April 12, 2014 by Sahar

Thursday started a bit earlier than Wednesday.  Well, truth be told, much earlier.  Not only was it Park Day, but it was also moving day.

A little background.  When we arrived at the Holland on Wednesday, we found out that the room we were originally booked for (more specifically, a loft) wouldn’t be ready for us until Thursday.  So, we were put in a regular room for Wednesday night.  The hotel would move our things the next day; but, of course, we needed to be packed up.

Fine.  Although, I kinda felt bad for the person who had to move our stuff.  It was more than the usual suitcases.  We also had a cooler and bins full of food and accoutrements needed for my class at the Holland on Friday.

After cleaning up and packing, Steve & I went to grab a quick breakfast from the hotel spread.  It was the usual variety of pastries, cereal, and granola.  I will say, though, it was certainly a step above the average hotel breakfast fare.

 

Part of the Holland Hotel breakfast buffet. Steve said the bacon scones were grreat.

Part of the Holland Hotel breakfast buffet. Steve said the bacon scones were great.

And what's a hotel breakfast buffet without those cute little cereal boxes?

And what’s a hotel breakfast buffet without those cute little cereal boxes?

After breakfast, we went to pick up my parents at their hotel for another sojourn to Big Bend National Park.  Steve & I have been there, oh, I think, 10 times now. Dad, a couple of times.  Mom had never been, so we decided now would be as a good a time as any to take her.  Plus, it always seems to be just a little different every time we go.

But first, a quick stop in Marathon.  Mom had to go to the post office.

Taking random photos while waiting for Mom.

Taking random photos while waiting for Mom.

Task completed, we headed down the road to the park. For those of you who haven’t been out here before, nothing is close together.  The three largest towns out here – Alpine, Marfa, Fort Davis – are all 30 minutes away from each other and the park itself is an hour from Marathon (or, as the locals call it, Marath’n).  If you factor in getting to the park headquarters (which is what the road signs measure), it’s almost 2 hours from Alpine.  But, the scenery makes the drive worth it.

Driving to the park.

Driving to the park.

If you leave early enough in the day, you will (hopefully) see the buzzards sitting on the fence posts with their wings spread warming themselves up.  They’re sinfully ugly and kinda gross birds, but they’re fun to observe.

I just caught this guy as he was flying away.

I just caught this guy as he was flying away.

If you want to take pictures of buzzards (or any carrion bird), you have to be careful.  If you startle them, their preferred method of defense is throwing up the contents of their stomach. And, since they eat already dead things, you can just imagine the smell.  Well, maybe you can’t.

Buzzards either circling breakfast or just riding the thermal waves.

Buzzards either circling breakfast or just riding the thermal waves.

On into the park.  We just hit the time between the wildflowers and the cactus blooms.  So, not much color foliage-wise, but still, as always, beautiful in its own desert way.

Chisos Mountains.

Chisos Mountains and the Chihuhuan Desert

Ocatillo in bloom.

Ocatillo in bloom.

Ocatillo bloom. Beautiful color.

Ocatillo bloom. Beautiful color.

Big sky.

Big sky.

Yucca in the desert.

Yucca in the desert.

i can only guess at the size of tarantula that's in this nest.

I can only guess at the size of tarantula that’s in this nest.

Looking up.

Looking up.

After the many stops requested by Dad & me so we could take photos, we finally made it to the park headquarters, Panther Junction.  So, we decided to eat lunch at the lodge in the park.  The Chisos Mountain Lodge.

Lunch was, in a word, dull. The food was edible but, like all places that cater to large, diverse crowds, boring.  The best part of the meal was the appetizer, Texas Toothpicks.  Basically, deep-fried onion and pickled jalapeño pieces.  They weren’t greasy and the dipping sauce – a kind of chili-mayonnaise thing – that wasn’t bad.

Texas Toothpicks.  The best part of our lunch. Good thing there were 4 of us eating.

Texas Toothpicks. The best part of our lunch. Good thing there were four of us eating.

Mom went for a BLT. She says it’s the only sandwich she eats at restaurants because it’s not too messy.  She said it was good.

Mom's BLT with fruit on the side.

Mom’s BLT with fruit on the side. Everything looked fresh.

Dad went for a burger.  He said it was dry.  The pattie definitely looked like it had been cooked immediately from its frozen state.

Dad's burger.

Dad’s burger.

Steve & I both opted for the fish tacos. Bland doesn’t even begin to describe the flavor. We liberally poured on the appetizer dipping sauce to help out. It did. Kinda. It also looked as if they tried to warm up the tortillas but waited too long to get them to the table, because by the time we got them, the tortillas were stiff and dry.

The rice and beans were good, though.

Fish Tacos. Meh.

Fish Tacos. Meh.

After lunch, we decided to take a short walk around the Basin.  We’ve made this walk before but never during the daylight hours.  So, it was nice to see the Window in its daytime glory.

The Window. The photo is nice, but seeing it in person is even better.

The Window. The photo is nice, but seeing it in person is even better.

The prickly pear budding out. We were just a few weeks too early to catch them in bloom.

The prickly pear budding out. We were just a few weeks too early to catch them in bloom.

Heading out.

Heading out.

At the south entrance.

At the south entrance.

We came in through the north entrance, as we always do, but decided to leave via the south entrance heading towards Terlingua. We wanted to stop at the General Store there and check out the ghost town.

Steve & I have been to Terlingua Ghost Town maybe 5 or 6 times at this point. Sadly, it becomes more and more dilapidated every time.  The ravages of time and humans have taken their toll.

Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua Ghost Town.

Terlingua Ghost Town is in there somewhere.

Terlingua Ghost Town is in there somewhere.

Terlingua Ghost Town

Terlingua Ghost Town

We made a quick stop in the General Store for some t-shirts and Topo Chico. (For those of you who don’t know, Topo Chico is a Mexican carbonated mineral water.) Then, the 90-minute drive back to Alpine.

We dropped my parents off at their hotel and went back to ours to get the keys to our new room and clean up for the Viva Big Bend Food Festival opening night party.

Stewart had reserved a loft for Steve & me.  I needed it so I could prep for my class the next day without getting in the way of the kitchen staff at the hotel restaurant.  When we finally walked in, we were thrilled.  A nice large living area with a serviceable kitchenette and a huge bedroom area with a whirlpool tub and large bathroom.

Jackpot.

We cleaned up and headed towards the party at the Railroad Blues, a great music venue in Alpine.  The local telecom company was giving away free fajitas and coozies with magnets. Very handy.

Dinner. Perfect.

Dinner. Perfect.

The fajitas were very good. Most of the time, the skirt steak is so undercooked, the meat is chewy.  This time the meat was cooked through and was very tender. (Although, admittedly, I don’t know what cut of meat this was.) Plus, they didn’t overdress the fajitas.  Just grilled onions, peppers, and some excellent salsa. Steve got us both seconds. After my parents arrived, he went with Dad to get food and got himself a third one.

After conversing with my parents and Stewart, Steve & I went back to the hotel to begin prep for my class.  Mission accomplished, I went to bed.

 

Day 3… Coming up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival Daily Dispatch: Day 1 0

Posted on April 10, 2014 by Sahar

Yes. Husband Steve & I are out in the gloriousness that is Far West Texas. Again. Honestly, it’s one of those places where I look for any excuse to go.  Like New York.

I was invited back to teach and help out at the 2nd Annual Viva Big Bend Food Festival (http://www.vivabigbend.com/food_events.html) by its founder, Stewart Ramser.  I gladly said yes.  Stewart’s a great guy and I certainly hope I can play at least some small part in helping this festival succeed.

But first, Steve & I, along with my parents who met us out here, had a day and a half to entertain ourselves.

On our way out from Austin, Steve & I, as is our wont, stopped in Fredericksburg for some leg stretching, lunch, and gas for the car. (As an aside, since we are now down to one household car, we decided to rent one for this trip. It’s a behemoth that I’m terrified to drive.)

We stopped for lunch at a little bakery/deli on Main Street called Java Ranch.  Steve had a club sandwich while I had a BLT.  Simple sandwiches that you have to work really hard at to screw up.  The sandwiches were good, if serviceable. Nothing of note, really.

Steve's Club Sandwich.

Steve’s Club Sandwich.

My BLT

My BLT

After eating, grabbing a cookie for me, an iced latte for Steve, and filling up the car, we were on our way once again.

Something about this that chases the blue meanies away.

Something about this that chases the Blue Meanies away.

Sigh...

Sigh…

Breathe...

Breathe…

Steve & I finally made it to Alpine about 6:30.  We checked into our room at the beautiful Holland Hotel (http://thehollandhoteltexas.com), cleaned up, changed, and headed to pick up my parents at their hotel.  We were off to Marfa to dine at one of our favorite restaurants, Cochineal (http://cochinealmarfa.com).

Steve & I chose to take my parents to Cochineal because we both knew they, and especially my mom, would enjoy it.  Their food is exquisite (not a word I use lightly in reference to food), their wine list is excellent, and their cocktails are outstanding.  And the space? A quiet minimalism.

We started off with cocktails. Well, all of us except Dad.  He opted for Diet Coke.

Dad's Diet Coke.

Dad’s Diet Coke. His drink of choice.

Mom's Campari.  Do NOT try to pass off any imitations. She'll know.

Mom’s Campari. Do NOT try to pass off any imitations. She’ll know.

Steve's Gold Rush.

Steve’s Gold Rush. He said it was very bourbon-y. He drank it down, though.

My old standby. A White Russian. Honestly, it's my favorite.

My old standby. A White Russian. Honestly, it’s my favorite.

Next came the bread.  It tasted like a sourdough with a very dark hearty crust and a soft crumb.  It was served with a soft butter sprinkled with black sea salt. Lovely.

Bread and butter. The butter was soft. Those kinds of details count.

Bread and butter. The butter was soft. Those kinds of details count.

Next came the appetizers; or, as listed on the menu, small plates.  When they came to the table, my family being my family, we finished them all in less than 10 minutes.  By no means a record.

Crispy Duck with Citrus. The skin wasn't as crispy as I would have liked and the duck was a bit more done than I prefer. However, overall it was a very good effort.

Crispy Duck with Citrus. The skin wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked and the duck was a bit more done than I prefer. However, overall it had great flavors and was a very good effort.

Scalloped Oysters.  This was a kind of throwback dish.  They were baked in a cream sauce with crakers on top. The oysters weren't overcooked and the topping was wonderful. A win all around.

Scalloped Oysters. This was a kind of throwback dish. They were baked in a cream sauce with crackers on top. The oysters weren’t overcooked and the topping was wonderful. A win all around.

Vegetable Tempura.  Well, Cochineal's version, anyway. We were all excited about the red bell peppers and the fact that it wasn't the usual heavy tempura batter.  Mom & Dad especially liked the pickled onions.

Vegetable Tempura. Well, Cochineal’s version, anyway. We were all excited about the red bell peppers and the fact that it wasn’t the usual heavy tempura batter. Mom & Dad especially liked the pickled onions.

After this repast, it was on to the main entrees. Everyone was very happy with their choices.

Mom & Steve's choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.

Dad’s choice: Pork Tenderloin with a Herb Sauce with Crispy Crushed New Potatoes and Asparagus. I suspect the potatoes were purple new potatoes.

Mom & Steve's choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.

Mom & Steve’s choice: Hangar Steak with Tomato Confit and Potato Puree.  Mom said her steak was cooked perfectly.  Steve just ate.

My choice:  Tiger Prawns with Sorrel Sauce and Confit Romanesco. I'm not sure what the vegetables were confit in, but I'm guessing clarified butter.  The garlic in the confit was almost the best part of the dish.  And, the prawns were perfectly grilled.

My choice: Tiger Prawns with Sorrel Sauce and Confit Romanesco. I’m not sure what the vegetables were confire in, but I’m guessing clarified butter. The garlic in the confit was almost the best part of the dish. And, the prawns were perfectly grilled.

Dessert was a bit limited.  The one item Mom wanted, the Ginger Pot du Creme, was apparently an aspirational dessert and, according to our server, wasn’t good enough to actually serve to customers.  The other dessert, Creme Brûlée, was sold out.  So, that left Carrot Cake and Chocolate Souffle with a Molten Center.  You can guess which one we went with.

That's right. The Chocolate Souffle.

That’s right. The Chocolate Souffle.

The molten center. As far as I'm concerned, a molten center is just an underdone souffle.  It had great flavor, but I would have preferred a fully cooked souffle.

The molten center. As far as I’m concerned, a molten center is just an underdone souffle. It had great flavor and the crust had a slightly crispy chewiness that I liked, but I would have preferred a fully cooked souffle.

Overall, our meal was wonderful.  This was the second time Steve & I had been to Cochineal and both times have been a delight.  It’s definitely a destination restaurant; no doubt about that.  Even if you lived in the area, this would be a special occasion place.

Mom pointed out that not only was it an excellent meal, but the portions were reasonable.  She said (and I agree with this) that she would rather pay more for a good meal she can actually finish than pay less for a meal where she either stuffed herself or couldn’t finish.

After a walk around a closed and rolled-up-for-the-night-Marfa, we drove back to Alpine, dropped my parents off at their hotel, went back to ours and promptly fell asleep.

Because we knew Thursday was park day.

 

Next up… Day 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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