A Niçoise Change to Niçoise Salad

By Michael Elmore

A niçois salad can be controversial. Traditionalists swear it must only include raw vegetables. Modernists appreciate changes that were recommended in the late 19th century that added eggs and potatoes (cooked, of course). It is the one salad that nobody can seem to agree on.

This twist certainly is not traditional in some ways. It welcomes the history of the origins of a niçois, however, developed by peasants who could not afford much and focused on fresh regional vegetables available to them and the tuna and anchovies available in the nearby seaports. This takes that same approach.

Moving to Austin and having access to abundant and fresh southwest flavors, we’ve incorporated the regional aspect of the origins of the salad. Here, instead of vinegar and olive oil, we replace it with a salsa verde with tangy tomatillios, spicy jalapenos, and zesty limes.

Ingredients for tomatillo sauce:

  • 1.5 pounds tomatillos, paper and stems removed
  • 1 jalapeno, stem removed
  • 1 red onion, peeled and stems removed, chopped
  • 1 avocado, pit and skins removed
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Zest and juice of two limes

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. If you wish for a less spicy salsa verde, seed the jalapeno prior to blending.
  2. Put in a container and put in fridge for at least an hour so flavors meld.

Ingredients for guacamole:

  • 1 avocado, pit and skin removed
  • 2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • ½ tsp cumin
  • Juice of one lime
  • ¼ tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Prior to plating, mash all ingredients using a mortar and pestle or the back of a fork.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of tuna, drained
  • Zest and juice of one lime
  • ¼ tsp of salt

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients together.

Plating directions:

  1. Take one radish and slice thinly. Using a ring mold, first put the guacamole for the first layer in the middle of a plate. Next, pack the tuna mixture tightly. Arrange the radish in a layer. Place in fridge for approximately 5 minutes.
  2. Remove plate from fridge and add a teaspoon on top of the layers, removing the ring mold carefully. Spoon salsa verde in a circle around the plate and serve immediately.

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.

Short on Cake: Macerated Berries with Vanilla Cream

By Michael Elmore

Eliminating the shortcake from this traditional dessert drastically reduces the carb and sugar count allowing anyone to enjoy!

Every Fourth of July, my family traditionally went all out. We would grill out in true Middle Eastern American fashion (think kabobs and chicken in lieu of burgers and brats), enjoy some fireworks, and then, of course, came dessert. As a kid, this was always the same: strawberry shortcake.

Despite its origins in the United Kingdom, America, in time, evolved this dessert into the quintessential American dish with its biscuit-like cake, fruity, jam-like sauce, and, the piece-de-resistance, the whipped cream. Like all traditions, though, mine changed this year. Being diagnosed with diabetes this past October meant re-thinking this classic and pulling the essential components of this dessert and lightening it up significantly.

Enter: the cake-less “shortcake.” Omitting the delicious biscuit reduces the carb and sugar count in this recipe significantly so that even the most health conscious among us can enjoy dessert. The best part? For those not worried about health issues, you can still go ahead and serve this variation on top of biscuits, pound cake, or sponge cakes so that everyone is happy!

Macerated Berries with Vanilla Whipped Cream

Ingredients:

  • 2 pints blueberries
  • 2 pints strawberries, stem removed and hulled, sliced
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla + 1 teaspoon
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the blueberries, strawberries, sugar, zest and juice of the lime, a pinch of salt, and 1 tablespoon of vanilla. Stir gently until everything is coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
  2. Place the whipped cream and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on high until stiff peaks. If desired, add some powdered sugar to make a sweeter whipped cream. We purposely did not do this as we felt the berries were sweet enough!
  3. When ready to assemble, in a bowl, place a generous serving of the fruit mixture with a dollop of the whipped cream. In the alternative, serve on top of a shortcake or biscuit!

Chicken Taco Salad

By Michael Elmore

Hi, everyone! I know it’s been a long time since my last post. In October, I was diagnoised with diabetes. As a result, in the last few months, I had to focus on my health. I appreciate everyone’s support during this time, and while I am not entirely out of the woods, I am on the path next to the exit after losing 40 pounds from changing my food intake.

To that end, we’ve developed our new direction. We will journey into the depths of the deepest caverns of how to maintain the flavors that we love in comfort foods, while also making the dishes a bit lighter and healthier to enjoy!

We hope you’ll stick with us in this new direction and join us on this adventure! Today, as our launch post, we’ve developed a lighter take on a taco salad, and we are introducing our first video! So grab your spatula, and join us in our new beginnings!

Chicken Taco Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • ½ small red onion, sliced into half moons
  • 2 scallions, sliced, omitting white parts
  • 2 limes, juice and zest
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine the vegetable oil, cumin, paprika, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and salt into a small bowl and mix into a paste. Coat the chicken with the paste and let marinate while the oven is heating or up to overnight (in the fridge if not making right away).
  3. Bake in the oven until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, approximately 30 to 35 minutes. Use a thermometer to verify internal temperature.
  4. Take the cooked chicken out of the oven and let rest on a cutting board. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine all the vegetables and toss to incorporate them well. In a mason jar, combine the lime juice, zest, salt and pepper to taste, and the extra virgin olive oil. Cover the jar and shake well until the vinaigrette has come together.
  5. Slice the chicken and add to the salad bowl. Dress the salad with the dressing – leftover dressing may be stored in the fridge. Serve and enjoy!

First Watch: A Refresher Course in Breakfast

By Michael Araj

In my recent business trip to Omaha, Nebraska, where I previously lived for three years, the changes to the city cannot adequately be enumerated in one post. Omaha, a barren and spread out city eight years ago, has exploded and continued on the culinary journey it had begun when I left it.

Enter: First Watch. A farm to table, breakfast and brunch focused restaurant that puts a healthy spin on some classical dishes, an uphill battle when dealing with southern comfort food like pancakes and biscuits.

For the first day, we had a leisurely breakfast, and the eclectic, modern vibe with current pop music caught my attention first. The place started out leisurely enough, but became more crowded towards the tail end of our meal.

Our very friendly wait staff started us out with hot coffee for me and cold brew for my friend. The coffee tasted well roasted, but the cold brew left much to be desired with an overtly bitter taste. One person opined that it may have been burnt; in the alternative, perhaps the proportions to the water were just off.

While not a great way to start the meal, First Watch soon redeemed itself, and in spectacular fashion. The Farmhouse Skillet Molly had looked amazing and expertly executed; my lemon ricotta pancakes left no complaints. The fluffiness and delicateness of the pancake with the richness of the ricotta proved to be delectable. The homemade lemon curd and fresh strawberries became streams of sunshine in the pillows of delight below, necessitating no syrup (this, too, was expertly provided, warmed up).

I returned two days later to explore the menu further. This time, I opted for one of the juice blends they promote, seasonally named “Summer Blush.” Light, refreshing and crisp, the apple flavor proved to be the main melody in a balanced harmony of watermelon and lemon and a light percussion of mint. It would be difficult to find a complaint with this drink; if it has any faults, it may hint towards being too sweet. However, overall, it is well balanced and the herbal earthiness cuts through the natural sweetness of the fruits perfectly.

I also opted to try two Southern staples: cheesy grits and biscuits and gravy. Don’t order the grits – they are nothing special. Do they taste good? Yes, though slightly bland, they are executed well texture-wise and the butteriness is nice. Save the room for something more special like the bacon, which is singularly excellent.

The biscuits and gravy are a revelation. The use of turkey sausage lightens up this classic dish enough to prevent you from going into an immediate food coma. A Southern grandmother could not make better biscuits. I do not say this lightly being a Southerner, but they are fluffy, buttery and flaky as all good biscuits should be. The lift on the biscuits is just right.

The over medium eggs were ever slightly overcooked, but the main complaint is the presentation of this dish. The biscuits and gravy come in their own vessel, necessitating lifting the eggs into the vessel (because what’s better than a runny yolk adding another dimension to your biscuits and gravy?). The potato hash that came on the side came also expertly cooked with the crispy exterior masking tender bites of love.

Overall, this is a great place for breakfast or brunch in Omaha, living up to the high standards set by Dixie Quicks before it. Next time I return to Omaha, this will certainly be on the short list for revisits.