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Swiss-Mex Enchiladas

IMG_4964Enchiladas Suizas are a new item on the menu at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe. In fact we use the Suizas sauce on several enchiladas plates including the Chicken Enchiladas Suizas, Avocado Enchiladas Suizas, and Crab and Avocado Enchiladas. Enchiladas Suizas means “Swiss-style Enchiladas.” 280 photo by Laurie Smith - Version 2Our Suizas sauce is a bechamel sauce with sour cream and seasonings.

I noticed that the recipe of the week at the Houston Press website is also enchiladas Suizas. The recipe given comes from food TV celebrity Marcella Valladolid, a native of San Diego and it includes tomatillos.

Brooke Viggiano at the Houston Press quotes another writer from San Franciso who credits the name Suizas to Mexico’s Swiss immigrants. If anyone has any information on the location of a Swiss Colony in Mexico, please fill me in! There were only 5,000 Swiss in Mexico in 2011 according to Wikipedia, and I can find no mention of an earlier Swiss migration.

imgres The image of La Lechera, as the fetching Swiss Milkmaid on the Nestle label is known in Spanish, and this restaurant recipe for enchiladas Suizas supplied by Nestle using its canned milk supports an alternate explanation.

IMG_531320 years or so ago, when I was interviewing Chef Michael Cordua of Americas and Churrasco’s fame, he offered a personal view on the history of Tres Leches cake. Cordua explained that here in the United States, canned milk isn’t held in very high regard by chefs.

images-1But he said that during his childhood in Nicaragua, canned milks, which were usually imported to Latin America from Switzerland, were a luxury. Local fresh milk was suspect as it was frequently stretched with water (often contaminated). According to Cordua, the original Tres Leches cake recipe was printed on the back of a Nestle milk can–the 3 milks were Nestle evaporated milk, Nestle sweetened condensed milk, and whipped cream or another milk. The theory that Suizas, or “Swiss-style,” is a reference to Swiss canned milk is pretty persuasive.

Post Script: A Saveur article with recipe suggests that Enchiladas Suizas was invented at Sanborn’s Cafe in Mexico City in 1950 and that the name does indeed refer to the liberal use of dairy products.

The Seedy Side of Galveston

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Seeding Galveston is an urban gardening project that has transformed some weedy vacant lots on Galveston Island into thriving community gardens.
collage-2016-04-30The largest plot, at 33rd and Avenue N, is a full-fledged urban farm. Tomatoes, eggplant, sorrel, cucumbers, cabbage, green beans, herbs, collard greens, several kinds of chard, kale, and potatoes are all planted there now. Along with all the vegetables, there are also dairy goats, laying hens, and honeybee hives.

On Wednesday mornings from 9 am to 11 am, you can buy fresh vegetables, eggs, honey and whatever else is being harvested that day at the farm stand set up by the front gate. A plastic supermarket bag full of greens goes for $2. IMG_5514

If you would like to volunteer, show up on Saturday morning in your gardening gear and do some weeding, watering, or whatever else needs done–you will be paid in fruit and vegetables.

collage-2016-04-30 (2)The vision behind Seeding Galveston is provided by veteran urban gardeners, Debbie Berger and John Sessions. The pair have been honored for their work with UTMB and other community organizations–both for making fresh produce available to those who need it, and for helping those who teach children and the disabled using gardening as a learning experience.

If you’ve ever visited the Galveston Farmers Market on Sunday, you’ve probably noticed Seeding Galveston’s half block “rent-a-garden” area at Post Office and 25th. There individuals and organizations use the raised beds to grow their own vegetables.

collage-2016-04-30 (1)When I visit the Wednesday morning market at N and 33rd, I buy a lot of French sorrel. Its long been a favorite ingredient of mine and you can’t find it at the grocery store. The past few weeks, I’ve been trying out some new sorrel recipes–including several from former Israeli spy Yotam Ottolenghi.

It’s amazing stuff!

Texas Barbecue Revisited

The 2nd Edition of Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook went on sale April 19.611+TY6qkoL._SX390_BO1,204,203,200_

There are some great new photos from Robert Jacob Lerma, 32 new recipes from famous Texas pitmasters like Joe Burney and Aaron Franklin and cook-off competitors like Robert Sierra and Ernest Cervantes. There’s also new information about community barbecues in Texas.

My original copy of Legends of Texas Barbecue has been with me since the beginning. It’s badly worn with dog-eared pages and plenty of grease and barbecue sauce stains. A lot has changed since those days, and Robb Walsh has been there to help shape and document the evolution of Texas Barbeuce. This new edition is a must-have.”
-Aaron Franklin
Author of Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto

“Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook was the first book to celebrate the great variety of barbecue styles across the state. The updated second edition provides more rich history that adds to the nuance of Texas barbecue. Walsh brings back all of your old favorites, and introduces a bevy of talented new pitmasters from all over the Lone Star state.
-Daniel Vaughn
Barbecue Editor, Texas Monthly

ZZ Tex-Mex

IMG_5490Billy Gibbons stopped by El Real Tex-Mex for brunch today. He wanted to try the bacon enchiladas–two cheese enchiladas with bacon inside and a sunny side up egg on top–it’s our number one brunch entree. Billy loved them. I gave his wife, Gilligan Gibbons, one of those northern Mexican goat’s milk caramel and pecan candies known as Glorias. That was a hit too.

We talked about the couples favorite versions of hot chocolate–they recounted awesome cups of chocolate they had been served in Paris and Madrid. Billy bought his wife a copy of the Tex-Mex Cookbook and the Chili Cookbook–she cooks at home all the time. They were knocked out by the photo of lobster in green chile with corn on the cob that’s one of the first images in the Chili Cookbook.

I once ran into Billy in the Hobby Airport food court. We were both traveling alone. I was carrying a tray of Chinese food from Golden Happy Panda Dragon or whatever that place is called. He was sitting by himself eating a plate of enchiladas with chips, salsa and a beer. I said hello and he recognized me from the restaurant and from a couple of other encounters and invited me to sit down. The Chinese food was awful and I found myself drooling over his refried beans.

“Billy, tell me the truth. Do you eat Tex-Mex at every meal?” I joked.

He said he ate lots of other stuff but there wasn’t any good Tex-Mex where he was going, so he was stocking up.

Captain Buddy down at Katie’s Seafood is a TV Star!

Galveston’s most popular seafood market and the family that runs the place are featured on a new National Geo reality TV show. It seems to be an imitation of Deadliest Catch, only without the icy water. Sure it’s a little contrived, like all reality TV shows, but its great to see Galveston and our local fishing fleet on the tube.

Reviews and Write-ups:

Olives from Spain

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The shockingly delicious combo of giant Spanish Queen olives stuffed with goat cheese and tossed with olive oil, honey and chopped apples will make you reconsider your preconceptions about how to eat olives. And the brightly tart combination of black pitted olives in a minced orange marinade will likely show up on my Thanksgiving table. (Although I may tweak the recipe to use up all the ripe fruit from my kumquat tree.) I used to be an olive snob who only served olives with pits–to the chagrin of my younger children. But lately, my olive horizons have widened.

Who knew you could take grocery store canned olives and turn them into a sexy appetizer with ingredients you probably already have in your fridge? The goat cheese-stuffed olives and another app of black olives with citrus were two of three sample dishes at the Olives from Spain booth at a recent Spanish food and wine showcase called Spain’s Great Match at Silver Street Studios in Houston. In past years, the Spanish olive producers have asked American chefs to come up with exciting restaurant dishes with olives. This year, their goal was to show American home cooks how easy it is to create cool olive dishes at home.

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It was Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the “Rat Pack” that made the martini garnished with a green olive stuffed with pimiento an American classic. Sales of the stuffed Spanish olives took off and the U.S. has been the largest export market for Spanish olives ever since.

Olives from Spain is the name of the Spanish olive producers association, look for their logo in the olive section of the grocery store. (That’s not much of a challenge since Spain produces the majority of olives consumed in the U.S. including 95% of the pimiento-stuffed olives.)
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Spain has a rich tradition of olive production and olive cookery, olive trees have been growing there since the first century.Today the highly modernized Spanish olive industry leads the world in quality and food safety standards. Spain also boasts the widest range of flavors in a staggering variety of olive types including top sellers like Manzanilla, Hojiblanca, Gordal and Cacereña, specialty olives like Carrasqueña, Aloreña,Verdial, Cuquillo, Lechín and Empeltre, and my favorite, the itty-bitty Arbequina.

Like olive oil, olives are good for you, they contain monounsaturated fat (the good kind).

If you’re using the Mediterranean diet as a model, olives are great in pizzas, salads, pastas, rice, meat dishes, fish dishes, and stews, and as a table snack with an endless variety of stuffings including anchovy and blue cheese. Mexican and Californian cooking traditions reflect the Spanish introduction of olives to the New World centuries ago. Black olives have become a familiar part of Americanized Mexican food—especially Cal-Mex. Huachinango (Red Snapper) Veracruzano is one of my favorite Mexican seafood dishes—and it’s loaded with olives. Modern Mexicans prefer their cocktail olives to be stuffed with jalapeños!

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Full disclosure: The Olives from Spain folks hired me to spread the word about Spanish olives this month. It was my recent blog series about curing my own olives at home (my new house in Galveston has an olive tree) that caught the attention of the Spanish olive gang. Along with the descriptions of olives from around the world, I wrote one blog post about the amazing combination of Spanish green arbequina olives, Marcona almonds, and Fina sherry. I first sampled that combo at the bar of the now-shuttered Catalan restaurant—and I’ve thought about it ever since.

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A variation on that ancient Spanish triumvarate turned up the third olive dish served at the Olives from Spain booth–it was a giant bowl of Spanish green olives and marcona almonds, mixed with chopped, slightly piquante, piquillo peppers, olive oil, sherry vinegar, honey, thyme and big chunks of cabrales, the distinctive Spanish blue cheese. It was a real show stopper.

259A6606 When my pal Pete Mitchell, the owner of Under the Volcano bar, came by the olive booth, I handed him a sample bowl of the Spanish olive and marcona almond mélange and walked him down to a Spanish winemaker’s booth where they were pouring samples of Fina Sherry. Pete was blown away by the uncanny combination of flavors. Don’t be surprised if Spanish olives, almonds and sherry shows up on the menu at Under the Volcano soon. What a great appetizer to kick off a Monday steak night!

Check out the recipes at the Olives from Spain website.

The Making of… Chili

When was the last time you had a steaming bowl?

DIY Olives: Home Curing Recipe

How to Cure Olives:

Galveston olives from my backyard tree

Galveston olives from my backyard tree

Our new house in Galveston has a small, and very old, olive tree near the back porch. I haven’t figured out the cultivar–my iPhone plant app says they are “African olives.”

When I noticed that these olives were starting to get ripe, I decided to pick them–and come up with a plan for how to use them. I went with a simple brine fermentation. IMG_7342So, now in the months that it takes to cure these olives, I will share my trials and errors and few thoughts about the ancient foodstuff.

IMG_7436 We had a dinner party last week and I served Spanish arbequnia olives, olive oil-fried marcona almonds and sherry as the first course. We had our olives and sherry on the porch. It turned out that our guests were familiar with the tradition from their time in Spain–and they were delighted.

The sherry was La Guita, a manzanilla, and I served it chilled. Manzanilla is nearly the same as Fino sherry but produced around Sanlúcar de Barrameda, closer to the sea than Jerez. Marcona almonds are a Spanish variety of almond that are gaining in popularity recently–they are often served roasted or fried. The olives were tiny arbequina olives–their flavor is the model I am shooting for in my own olive curing.

For the last three weeks, I have been soaking the olives I picked from my tree in a brine solution, changing the water every day. (Okay, almost every day–I forgot a few times.) I tasted the olives every couple of days to see what was happening. The olives started out very bitter–like laundry soap. After the soaking, they got softer and less objectionable. Then I put them in another brine with vinegar for a longer malolactic fermentation. Three months is the suggested curing time, but every few days, the olives get a little tastier. I may take them out early.

When do cured olives start tasting good? That’s an interesting question–and entirely a matter of personal taste.

Years ago, the California olive industry concluded that Americans like their olives without any bitterness whatsoever. And so we got the American industrial black olive–picked green, chemically turned black and treated with lye until all of the native olive bitter flavors were gone. As American food lovers began to discover the wonderful flavors of Middle Eastern and European olives, they started to prefer olives with a little of that native bitterness left in. If you taste a lot of olives side by side, you can determine just how much “olive flavor” you prefer.

Green French picholines are treated with lye, then brined so they are pretty mild. Tiny green Spanish arbequina olives from the Catalon region are brined, but not treated with lye. They have lots of herbal flavors and some of that natural bitterness. That’s the flavor I am going for. Here’s a recipe I adapted from several sources:

Robb’s Olive Curing Recipe:

For: 2 cups raw olives
Soak olives in a 7 to 9% brine, change the water everyday for two weeks.

Transfer olives to a jar with lid.

Dissolve 4 tablespooons of salt in
2 cups of water and add
4 tablespoons of sherry vinegar
Pour the solution over the olives to cover.
Place a slice of onion in the top of the jar to keep the olives submerged. Then pour 4 tablespoons of olive oil on top as an oxygen barrier.
Soak 3 to 6 months, testing often.
(Replace the onion slice if it starts to get funky.)
Prepare for serving by placing the finished olives in a marinade of olive oil, garlic and herbs, etc.
You can add lemon peel, peppers, or other flavorings if you like.