Asparagus Pico de Gallo

My Mom used to live in Texas. That isn't useful information to anyone, really. It does, however, explain how I came to know of Pico de Gallo. Until I went and spent my last university spring break with her in South Texas I thought that what you scooped up with nacho chips was salsa. In fact, at that point in time nachos were only served in bars, drenched in cheese, olives, and green onions with a side of insipid salsa and sour cream.

Oh how South Texas showed me the way.

First off, nachos are indeed what they serve in the bar. Fried tortillas are what nachos pretend to be. The tortillas that didn't get eaten that morning get cut into triangles and fried for snacks. Pico de Gallo is a bowl of finely chopped and uncooked tomatoes, onions, hot pepper, garlic, and lime. Pico de Gallo is always served with those fried tortillas. Sit on the beach in South Texas where you can order any beer and it will come with fried tortillas and Pico de Gallo. It is about the most perfect bar food, beach or not.

I'm nowhere near a sandy beach and I'm pretty sure any Texan would shoot me for this addition, but here you go: Asparagus Pico de Gallo. I was craving the spice, I had the fried tortillas, and I was staring at a large bunch of asparagus in the fridge. All that was left was the beer. And, of course, the beach.

Asparagus Pico de Gallo
Makes 2 cups

10 stalks asparagus (choose the skinny ones)
2 plum tomatoes
1/4 medium red onion
1 clove garlic
1 jalapeno pepper
1/2 lime
1-2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)

1. Steam the asparagus for 1 minute, if you prefer not to eat it raw.
2. Finely chop the asparagus and tomatoes into 1/2 dice or smaller. Keep the tips of the asparagus intact. Finely chop the onion, garlic, and pepper. Toss them all together in a bowl.
3. Juice the lime and add the juice to the vegetables. Add cilantro if you're using. Stir once more and serve.

Lollipops, Wine, and Mexico

Taking advantage of the sale at our favourite liquor store led to Sunday dinner this week. One could also argue that the near constant desire for a lollipop by The Monster and her knowledge that they have them at the same liquor store also led to Sunday dinner. Regardless.  We shopped, we cooked, we ate.

Tasting a lovely wine yesterday (Walter Hansel Cahill lane Vineyard Chardonnay 2007) I was instantly brought back to our trip to Mexico. It wasn't that the wine reminded me of the cheap imports we got at the supermercado, rather, it was the instant pairing that popped in my head. I immediately though fish, peppers, and a bit of spice. 

Sadly it was too late to get some fish for dinner last night, so we picked some up at the market today. And peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and some lime.  Sadly I forgot the cilantro.  Oh well, it still worked. I finely chopped sweet peppers, tomatoes, garlic and tossed them with a splash of olive oil, tequila, and a half a lime, juiced.

We served it with a quickly seared Opah. A bit of chili powder and cumin to season, and a few minutes per side. It would have been better grilled, as we did in Mexico (although it wasn't Sierra Mackerel), but my grill is currently inaccessible. On the side some sliced cukes, basmati, and sweet potatoes roasted with cumin and lime.

And in case you were wondering, I did not enjoy it with the wine.  One, it is an expensive wine, and two, I'm home alone with the girls so the last thing I need is a full bottle of wine to myself. Or maybe that's exactly what I need!

Taste Adventure - Jicama

Behold the simply boring jicama.  Crisp but rather bland, fresh but neutral.

I can't say the first time I had it.  I do remember an extensive search to find the first one.  Once Hubby and I gave up our weekly trips to the bar on Friday nights we often found ourselves, with roommates by our side, watching Iron Chef and the Chris Isaak Show on our crappy oak cabinet TV.  Somewhere in there we might watch Emeril Live and any other random Food Network show because the rest of Friday night TV sucked.  So I have no clue who made jicama look good, but we became obsessed with finding it.

Every grocery store we went into for years afterwards would warrant a trip to the special vegetable section, where they housed the so-called ethnic veggies, in hopes of seeing the vaguely potato-like root.  This was before we shopped around much, relying on the farmers' market and the neighbourhood grocery store only.  Now I not only know I can find it in most grocery stores, but I know more than a few speciality produce stores which carry it.  And I am thankful for that because I love that root.

The Monster loves crisp veggies, especially peppers.  And Smilosaurus handled greek salad well last weekend, so I thought both of them would enjoy jicama.  I was half right.

Jicama is common in Mexican and some Asian cuisines.  It has a simple, crisp flavour and texture - like a watered down apple or crisped up sweet cucumber.  It takes well to spicy or bold flavours like a sesame vinaigrette or chilis.

To prepare jicama you peel the thin papery skin and slice it, dice it, chop it, or julienne.  I've never eaten it cooked, but it is possible.  Truthfully, I like it as a simple raw veggie, alongside my carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes.  But my favourite way to eat jicama is to add it to slaw, maybe with some apples to compliment the simple flavour, or in a mango jicama salad.  

When I served it last night I gave some to the girls as a simple matchstick first.  The Monster happily ate the pile placed in front of her, munching away as I chopped mango.  Smilosaurus was pretty much indifferent.  I don't think she had a problem with the taste, but the texture was still too crunchy for a girl without molars.  When it came to the salad, Smilosaurus picked out the mango and left a pile of jicama on the tray of her high chair.  I was hoping for leftovers, but both The Monster and Hubby ate more than their fair share.  I guess I better hit the grocery store again.

This is an easy salad.  It is easily dressed up and added to.  If I have it, I will add in some chopped fresh cilantro, minced red onions, or diced peppers.  It is also very good with some shredded savoy cabbage, some additional lime, and fresh chilis.

Mango Jicama Salad

1 jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 ripe mango, finely diced
1 lime, zest and juice
splash of olive oil
generous pinch of chili powder
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together, season.  

More Chocolate

I have officially reached a point where there can be chocolate in the house and I am not constantly thinking about devouring it.  Shocking, especially to me.  That's what a week of hard core chocolate eating does to you.

On the weekend I co-hosted a baby shaker for one of my new nephews.  It wasn't about cutesy games or pastel-coordinated favours.  It was about friends and family getting together to officially celebrate the arrival of the latest member of Team A.  Rather than resort to hummus and spinach dip we decided on a chocolate theme for the food.  Who doesn't love a party with lots of chocolate?

We had cookies, chocolate covered cream puffs, a large platter of fresh fruit to make us feel somewhat virtuous, and some memorable tasty treats.  This was my chance to try a chocolate blackout cake.  I need special occasions to bake cakes and this was one I was dying to try.  It was a hit at the party, with not even one extra crumb leftover.   Surprisingly I was rather disappointed myself.  Moist cake covered in chocolate pudding covered in cake crumbs - it should have been spectacular.  It was sweet, creamy, and almost fudgy, but it didn't knock my socks off.  I was, however, in the minority with this opinion.

Another hit with The Monster was the chocolate tasting bar.  I chunked up some dark and milk chocolate from Bernard Callebaut, Choklat, and Kerstin's Chocolate for a side by side tasting. There was nothing official or even blind about it.  It was striking to taste the differences.

Bernard Callebaut was smooth and tasted exactly like you would expect the chocolate to taste. Choklat's contribution was also smooth, but distinctively fruity.  I went with their Brazillian 48% Milk and Ocumare 70 % Dark.  They really are unlike anything you've tried - sweet but far from cloying, smooth but not terribly creamy, and fruity without tasting juicy.  Finally, we had two offerings from Kerstin's Chocolate in Edmonton, the Venezuela Dark Milk Chocolate and the Ecuador 72 % Extra Dark.  It is impossible to say what was the crowd favourite, but their was none of the Choklat Milk left.  Of course, that may have been due to the proximity to the edge of the kitchen island and The Monster's sneaky fingers.

Truly, though, my favourite thing about the food was this chili chocolate sauce.  I didn't even make it, my talented mother-in-law did.  When the other co-host and I decided on the chocolate thing we tasked my mother-in-law (and grandma of the star of the show) with bringing something savoury.  We knew she would be up for the challenge, and boy did she step up!  

At the party she served the sauce with some chicken skewers.  On Monday I spooned some warm sauce over grilled pork chops.  And then I cooked some black beans and made a dip by pureeing the sauce and the beans together.  It needed a touch more chopped cilantro at that point, but it was still fragrant and yummy on some rye bread at Julie's house the other day.

Chili Chocolate Sauce
(Adapted from this recipe)

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 poblano chili - grilled, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 onion, diced
2 ounces red wine
1/4 cup chopped milk chocolate
2 tablespoons chili powder
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1. Combine the salt through red pepper flakes into a seasoning mix.
2. Over medium-high heat saute the poblano, onions, and a pinch of the seasoning mix.
3. Add the red wine and chocolate and stir until combined.  Add the chili powder and remaining seasoning mix.  Stir until thickened.  Add the chopped tomatoes and stir.  Continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, puree, and stir in cilantro. 

PS  Who am I kidding? I'm digging out some of the leftover chocolate right now.