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!

Hashing a Plot: Southwest Sweet Potato Hash

Looking for ideas for Sunday brunch? A hash can be a great way to use up some leftovers from the week and a great way to experiment in the kitchen!

By Michael Elmore

Few things remind me of my childhood more than a Sunday brunch. Growing up, it became a weekly tradition to have a large brunch after mass on Sunday morning. While my brunches all these years later do not always consist of hummus, falafel, and a glorious over abundance of cheeses, meats, and olives, it is a tradition I continue to try to maintain.

Being diabetic certainly led to some of my favorites having to be modified, however. Gone are the days of the buttermilk biscuit (though keep an eye out for a lighter version coming soon!) smothered in sausage gravy, but some things never changed. This hash is one of them. Have some leftover vegetables from the week? They may go well in a hash. We had some leftover sweet potatoes that we did not get around to finishing earlier this week, an onion and some potatoes on the cusp of their final days. Enter: the hash.

This hodgepodge dish delights the senses with its sweetness from the sweet potatoes being balanced with some heat from cayenne and chili powder reminiscent of flavors well known to Southwestern cuisine.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 cup diced bell peppers (feel free to use frozen if that’s what you’ve got!)
  • 1 Sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 3 small russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 3 tbsp cheddar, shredded
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. This recipe works well in a cast-iron pan as well but be prepared for more sticking (though crispier potatoes).
  2. Add the onions and peppers with a pinch of salt. Cook down until the onions are nearly translucent, approximately 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are crisp tender, approximately 15-20 minutes depending on stove top. Add the chili powder and smoked paprika while the potatoes are cooking.
  4. Once the potatoes are cooked, add the eggs, stirring frequently until the eggs are cooked. Add the cayenne pepper, another pinch of salt, and the black pepper to this step.
  5. Add the spinach, stirring frequently until it cooks down and is wilted. This will not take long. Turn off heat and add the cheddar cheese, mixing it in well so that it melts. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy. Optional: Serve some lime with it to brighten up the dish and have some acidity to play off the heat from the peppers and sweetness of the vegetables.

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!

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.

Under the Sea: The Grand Birthday Lobster Boil

By Michael Araj

It was my birthday last week, and my parents surprised me with a cooler of live lobsters. Those who know me know that I try to cook with new ingredients often (read: at least weekly) so I can learn about new ingredients and methods of cooking (and just in case I ever make it onto Chopped on Food Network). Despite this, I had difficulty a month back finding anywhere in my vicinity that sold live lobsters, but my parents came to the rescue in a big way.

I opted to make a Lobster Boil as I had been informed we would be having company over, and the recipe below follows. Few meals are as inclusive as a seafood boil – friends and family huddled over a mass of shared, delicious food can be the ultimate comfort food experience.

I then used the shells to make a lobster stock for Jambalaya, and that recipe will be posted later on separately. I did also take one Lobster and make a Lobster Curry, and I’ll share that recipe as well. I also apologize for the lack of photos – this was not originally intended to be on the blog, but enough people have expressed interest in how to do it that thought I would share!

Before we get started though, I want to say hello and thank you to our new followers. We’re happy to have you here!

So here where the lobsters that starred in the show:

Pictured here: Loki, Thor, Paul, and Dean, chilling on some ice and getting some rest.

Later on, we grabbed the pot and started pouring the liquids and first ingredients:

Add the onions, garlic, potatoes and the rest of the ingredients from Step 1 to the pot.

Next came the corn:

Due to the unseasonably hot weather here, we still have corn available!

Then, it was time for the seafood:

The heat started to open the mussels fairly quickly.

Let the feasting begin!

LOBSTER BOIL

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium onions, quartered
  • 1 head of garlic – all cloves peeled and crushed (not chopped)
  • 8 Yukon Gold Potatoes, halved
  • 3 Thai chilis, sliced
  • 3 Mexican Style Beers of your choice (If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute seafood stock).
  • 2 links of Turkey Sausage (We had some dietary restrictions with our company, but you could easily substitute Andouille or Kielbasa sausages, and if you eat pork, would recommend doing so). Cut these into about 1.5 inch pieces.
  • 4 ears of corn, husked and cut into 3 pieces of each for a total of 12 small cobs.
  • 5 live medium lobsters (about 1-1.5 pounds each)
  • 4 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp toasted coriander seeds
  • 4 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and cleaned
  • 2 pounds of shrimp, under 16, cleaned and deveined (alternatively, use frozen but make sure that they are cleaned and deveined as well)
  • 3 tbsp cilantro, cleaned and chopped
  • Limes

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place the onions, garlic, potatoes, chili peppers, and sausages in a large pot. Place 4 cups of water and both beers on top.
  2. Place pot on medium high heat to bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce to a simmer. Add the corn. Cover pot and cook for about 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the cumin, chili powder, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper together. You may want to make a double batch so you can sprinkle the mixture on top of the boil later.
  4. After 15 minutes has elapsed, add half the spice mixture over the ingredients already in the pot, then add the lobsters. Cooking time for lobsters will vary. We followed these guidelines to make sure that we treated the lobsters humanely before putting them in the pot: https://www.thespruceeats.com/ways-to-kill-a-lobster-1808804.
  5. After you add the lobsters, cover the pot. For the lobsters, you will need about 20 minutes for the first pound, and about 7 minutes per pound after. So after 20 minutes, add the mussels and shrimp and cover the pot again. Add the rest of the spice mixture. The liquid should be simmering and steaming during all of this.
  6. Cook for about 7-10 more minutes depending on size of lobsters and check on pot. Mussels should be open at this point (discard and do not eat any unopened mussels) and shrimp should be pink and opaque.
  7. Strain the pot and make sure to reserve the broth. Lay out the seafood wonders onto prepared newspaper or parchment paper. Garnish with chopped cilantro, more of the spice mixture, and lime wedges. Serve immediately.