Sort-of Ajiaco Soup

By Michael Elmore

Ajiaco is a traditional Columbian soup (specifically, Bogota) that is hearty and filled with some pretty delicious flavors, from a rich, velvet broth to starchy potatoes, and chicken that has melted away. Making it here in the United States, however, proves difficult due to two ingredients that are pretty difficult to come by: a potato variety specific to Latin America of very think skinned, and very small yellow potatoes, and guascas, or potato weed, an earthy herb.

One of my closest friends is Columbian, and while she traveled there this year pre-pandemic, she sent me photos of this dish, and the mouth-watering sight put it on the list of new things to try. I confess, I forgot about my list until recently while watching a food documentary that happened to talk about it. Being in self-isolation from my move, what better time to reach for new flavors than the present?

This recipe is not ajiaco. Unable to find the necessary potatoes and the guascas, I did my best to replicate the flavors described to me by my friend while she attempts to hunt down those ingredients for me so that I can make a proper ajiaco. However, whatever this dish may or may not be, it is certainly delicious. While the recipe looks long, it is a fairly straight forward dish, but be sure to read the recipe first before planning on making it! Buen provecho!

Ingredients:

  • 5 green onion stems (white part with roots only – reserve the remainder for other dishes)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ of an onion, cut in half (reserve the remainder for other dishes)
  • ¼ of a bunch of cilantro
  • 3 chicken quarters
  • 3 cups chili stock (make this ahead of time – soak dried chilis of your choice in a big bowl of water, then blend the next day. You can skip this step if you like by replacing this with more stock).
  • 5 cups good quality chicken stock
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 6 small Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ¼ inch slices
  • 3 russet potatoes, divided (peel and grate 1 of the potatoes; peel and slice into ¼ inch rings for the other 2 potatoes)
  • 2 ears of corn on the cob, cleaned and sliced into 6 equal pieces
  • 1 tbsp Mexican oregano

Directions:

  1. In a cheesecloth (I did not have a cheesecloth, and if you don’t, that’s alright – use coffee filters like I did), place the first three ingredients and enclose, then tie tightly with butcher’s twine so nothing falls out.
  2. In a large pot, add the chicken, the cheesecloth, all 8 cups of the stock, the salt, and the pepper. The stock should submerge the chicken completely – if not, add more stock or water. Bring to boil slowly over medium high heat, then reduce to simmer and cover. Slow cook on low, checking on it frequently, for approximately 3 hours.
  3. Check on the chicken, it should be cooked at this point, and very tender. Using tongues, pull the chicken out and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pull apart into pieces (tip: save the bones to make some stock later).
  4. Add the potatoes to the pot, including the grated potato. Cook, covered, another 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are extremely soft and starting to fall apart. Using a stick blender, blend the mixture for 30-60 seconds until thickened. In the alternative, if you do not have a stick blender, take half the potato mixture out and put into a blender, then return it to the pan, or add a roux.
  5. Add the corn and the Mexican oregano. Cover and cook another 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  6. The soup is done. You can return the chicken to the pot or you can serve it in a more traditional style and plate the soup separately, then add the chicken and corn piece to each bowl. Serve immediately or serve later by reheating slowly!

A Tale of Two Kormas

By Michael Elmore

We are back after a couple weeks of delay with some exciting news. I am officially moved into an apartment in Austin to continue my culinary knowledge and journey with an exploration of flavors. Before I left my fiance, however, to come to this brave new world of flavor, I prepared a dish that combined two of our favorite cuisines together: Indian food and Italian food.

Not a combination you see every day, true, but this vegetable korma risotto led to no leftovers. The spiciness of the East Asian flavors coupled with the saltiness of Parmesan in the risotto led for a decadent dish full of flavor. Want to go vegan? Sub out the risotto with some regular rice for a more classic pairing!

Vegetable Korma Risotto

For the Korma:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp ginger, minced
  • 1 28 oz. canned tomatoes, diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 3 yellow potatoes, diced
  • 12 oz cauliflower (either frozen or 1 head, trimmed and cut)
  • 12 oz broccoli (either frozen or 1 head, trimmed and cut)
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp turmeric, ground
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

  1. In a blender, blend the tomatoes, garlic and ginger. Set aside.
  2. In a large pot, heat vegetable oil over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, add onions and carrots and a pinch of salt. Cook until translucent, approximately 5 minutes.
  3. Add jalapenos and cook until fragrant, approximately 30 to 60 more seconds, stirring.
  4. Add potatoes, cauliflower, and broccoli. Cook approximately 8-10 minutes, stirring, until potatoes are seared.
  5. Add puree mixture and remaining ingredients, scrapping bottom of pot as it is de-glazed. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
  6. Cook, covered, until vegetables are tender, approximately 30-45 minutes depending on range. Adjust seasonings and serve.

For the Risotto:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup short grained rice, like Arborio
  • 6 cups good quality vegetable stock
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup Parmasean, grated
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. In a sauce pot, bring the stock to a simmer and keep it at a low simmer during the cooking process.
  2. In a large pan, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add the onion with a pinch of salt, and cook until translucent approximately 5-6 minutes. Add the rice, and cook another 1-2 minutes, stirring, until well coated with the onions and oils and beginning to toast.
  3. Add approximately 1 cup of the hot stock to the pan, de-glazing it, and stirring frequently.
  4. When the liquid is mostly absorbed by the rice, add another ladle of stock, continuing to stir frequently. Keep repeating this until the rice is cooked through and is al dente with a slight bite.
  5. Stir in the cheese until incorporated and melted. The mixture will be thick. Taste and adjust salt as desired. Serve with the Korma above.

Under Thai Sea: Thai Chili Scallops

By Michael Elmore

My fiance, Catie, loves scallops. If given the choice between some tender seared scallops and a rib eye, I think she would be hard pressed to choose. As a lawyer, she works pretty long days, and so I surprised her with dinner by combining her favorite flavors: tender, lush scallops with Thai flavors.

We had these as an appetizer with a steak dinner entree (hey, just cause I said she would choose one over the other, doesn’t mean I made her choose!), but the scallops were the real star. A balanced, controlled heat from the peppers, a lushness on the tongue from the butter, and a tangy acidity form the lime juice that brings all the flavors together made every bight scrumptious. So grab some seafood and enjoy this epic journey under the sea!

Ingredients:

  • 15 scallops
  • 1 Thai chili, minced (to lower heat, seed the chili; you can also use a jalapeno to drastically drop the heat level without sacrificing flavor).
  • 6 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp fish sauce
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1.5 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom, ground
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Fresh mint, chopped

Directions:

  1. Put 2 tbsp vegetable oil into a large pan (just enough to coat) over medium high heat. While heating, pat the scallops as dry as possible with a paper towel on each side (this will help give a better sear). Cook the scallops approximately 3 minutes per side, making sure to flip only once, until cooked through and opaque. Remove from pan onto a paper towel to dry any excess oil and sprinkle with salt.
  2. To the same pan, add the chili pepper and ginger, stirring frequently until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds.
  3. Add the fish sauce and soy sauce, and, using a wooden spoon, scrap the pan of any browned bits on the pan.
  4. Add the butter, cardamon, lime zest and juice along with a pinch of salt. Whisk and cook for a couple more minutes, making sure not to boil the butter (lower heat if required).
  5. Plate scallops then spoon on some of the sauce on top. Garnish with fresh, chopped mint if desired.

Can’t Run a-fowl: Keto Italian Chicken

By Michael Elmore

When my doctor first diagnosed me with diabetes, I was terrified. Not only for my health, but also the overwhelming changes to my diet that had now become mandates rather than recommendations. A good friend from law school often talked about eating keto and the benefits she found worked for her from cutting out some of her carb count.

This recipe is borne from that spirit. While I used to love roasted Italian seasoned chicken with heavier starches, this fills the craving with ease. In place of polenta or mashed potatoes, instead we have a medley of vegetables, a culinary parade of onions, fennel, and spinach. Throw in some tomatoes, and we even have the red, white, and green found throughout Italian cuisine. These vibrant flavors and colors please any day of the week. Buon appetito!

Ingredients:

  • Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Onion, chopped
  • 1 fennel, stalks and outer leaves removed, chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 3 cups spinach
  • 18 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tbsp cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated finely
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

Instructions:

1. The night before, toss the chicken and Italian seasoning together. Cover and place in fridge to marinate overnight.

2. Take chicken out of fridge 30 minutes prior to cooking. When ready to cook, heat up approximately 2 tbsp of vegetable oil to a large cast iron pan. When the oil is hot, add the chicken. Stir occasionally so the chicken does not burn until the chicken is nearly completely cooked. Remove with slotted spoon.

3. To the remaining oil, add the onion with a pinch of salt. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, then add the fennel. Sauté well for another 2-3 minutes before adding the garlic. Cook until fragrant, approximately 30-60 seconds.

4. Return chicken to pan along with the spinach. Add a pinch of salt. Cook down the spinach for 1-2 minutes, and then add the tomatoes. Add the red pepper flakes here if desired. Sauté another minute, until spinach has nearly completely wilted, and turn off the heat.

5. Stir in the cheeses until mixture is melted and fully incorporated. Adjust salt and seasonings to taste. Serve and enjoy!

Taking out the Take Out: Zucchini Lo Mein

By Michael Elmore

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It’s Monday evening. A long day of work finished, and the project of dinner
looms like a towering obstacle. Ordering take out may be your go to option in this weekday struggle, as it often was mine. Before my diagnosis of diabetes, I ate take out at least a couple of days a week. With the demands of long workdays and household tasks to also accomplish, it was an all too easy solution.

With this recipe, the preparation is done ahead of time on the weekend so
the entire meal on the weekday takes a mere 15 minutes to cook. A perk? It’s delicious – with some key, light substitutions, you can have a far healthier version of one of my favorites – chicken lo mein. Here, we replace the pasta with zucchini noodles and the hoisin sauce with a lighter mixture. An optional sprinkle of everything seasoning adds another twist.

We hope this recipe inspires you to take on take out and eases the weeknight
struggles!

Ingredients:

  • 6 zucchinis, ends removed
  • 6 carrots, peeled and stemmed
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 cups baby spinach
  • 4 green scallions
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¾ cup chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp siracha sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger, freshly grated
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp everything seasoning

Directions:

  1. The day before cooking, use a spiralizer to make the zucchini into thin strips like noodles (you can also buy them already like this at the grocery store.
  2. Grate the carrots. Slice the scallions into ¼ inch pieces, omitting the white ends, and slice the red onions into thin half-moons.
  3. Cut the chicken breast in half and then into strips. Season with the vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, tossing well. Marinate overnight. Whisk together the soy sauce, mustard, sriracha and broth, and put in the fridge in a separate container.
  4. The next day take all ingredients out of the fridge and get your mis-en-place ready (everything ready beside you).
  5. Heat a wok with 2 tbsp of sesame oil on medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken. Stir often but not too frequently until the chicken is mostly cooked. This will not take long. Remove the cooked chicken from the pan and put in a clean bowl (do not use the same container you had the raw chicken in).
  6. Add the garlic and ginger. Sautée until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds, stirring frequently.
  7. Add the vegetables with a pinch of salt. Cook down, stirring frequently. Return the cooked chicken to the pan and mix to incorporate. Add the soy sauce mixture to de-glaze the pan, scrapping any brown bits.
  8. Add the zucchini, tossing well to incorporate. Cook an additional 1-2 minutes, until softened. If desired, add the everything seasoning, and toss to incorporate again.
  9. Plate and serve.

Getting Curried Away: Thai Lobster Curry

By Michael Araj

When we made our Lobster Boil, we had Loki the Lobster Queen leftover who was simply too big to fit into the pots with the remaining lobsters. As a result, we experimented with making a Thai inspired curry. Fragrant aromas of garlic, chili and coconut will make your kitchen transform into the coast of Thailand. Sweet, spicy and acidic, the sauce compliments the subtle sweetness of the lobster without overwhelming it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 Thai chili peppers, stems cut off
  • 1 can coconut cream
  • 3-5 mussels
  • 1 lobster, approximately 2 lbs
  • 1 cup water
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Lime wedges for garnish

Directions:

  1. In a mortar and pestle, ground the garlic and peppers to make a paste. To help with friction, add a pinch of salt.
  2. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pot over medium high heat. Add the shallots. After they soften, add the paste. Once fragrant after approximately 30-60 seconds, add the coconut cream and stir.
  3. Once simmering, add the lobster and cover. Steam the lobster for approximately 15 minutes.
  4. Add the water to the mortar and stir to get the excess oils.
  5. Uncover the pot and add the mortar water. Flip the lobster, cover again for approximately another 10-15 minutes until the lobster is red and mostly cooked. Add the mussels, and baste the lobster with the sauce from the bottom of the pan, approximately another 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the lobsters and mussels to another plate. Put the sauce into your serving platter, then put the lobster and mussels on the platter.
  7. Garnish with chopped cilantro and lime wedges.

Falling into Autumn: Butternut Squash Stew

By Michael Araj

Despite the hot heat, fall has arrived with its abundance of autumn squashes and warm flavors, not to mention the colors. This warming stew keeps quite a while and increases in flavor the longer it melds. While it’s not a quick meal to cook during the week, it’s a great Sunday prep meal, freezes well, and can be eaten throughout the week.

As always, the first step is to get all your ingredients in place, or mise en place. This helps prevent me from looking like a chicken with its head cut off in the middle of my cooking since everything is ready to use.

Now it’s time to start cooking! Let’s heat up some oil and start cooking down the jalepenos, garlic and peppers!

Now time for the squash – the ultimate feel of fall. When you add the spices, after a few minutes, your kitchen should smell like a combination of all the flavors.

Time for the tomatoes and to cook down the squash since it will take less time than the beans to cook.

After the squash is mostly cooked, we add the beans, finish cooking the squash and then reduce the liquid.

Now we can enjoy our finished stew and celebrate the colors outside with those inside our bowls!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH STEW

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp jalapenos, minced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 4 bell peppers, diced into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat two tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add jalapenos. Cook until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds. Add garlic. Cook until fragrant, approximately another 30 seconds.
  2. Add bell peppers and stir well – this will prevent the garlic and jalapenos from burning. Cook approximately 4-5 minutes until peppers are softened slightly.
  3. Add the squash and stir gently to incorporate. Add the spices and stir again. Cook for approximately 10-15 minutes on medium heat to bloom the spices.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir gently to incorporate well – there should be a fair amount of liquid from the can which should also be incorporated. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook covered for approximately 25 minutes.
  5. Check on the squash – it should be softened but still not fully cooked with some resistance. Once at this point, add the beans. Cook another 15-20 minutes, covered.
  6. Check the stew and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed and desired. Cook another 10-15 minutes, uncovered, so that the stew thickens.
  7. Serve immediately or let cool then store – the flavors will meld the longer they are together. Serve heated, garnished with chopped cilantro and a lime wedge if desired. In the alternative, top with chopped parsley and finishing salt.