Archive | June 27th, 2011

Winners! Coco Champagne Dinner for Two Final Drawing

Winners! Coco Champagne Dinner for Two Final Drawing

The great Coco Champagne Dinner challenge comes to an end, and the winners of the final two certificates are Libby Abston and Sandy Tremaine. Congratulations to both of you!

Our thanks goes out to Coco Chocolate Lounge & Bistro for their generosity in making this possible. Don’t forget, in recognition of their third anniversary, Coco has specials for all their customers, plus a new chef.

Coco Chocolate Lounge & Bistro Knows its Customers, Offers a Unique, Female-Friendly Ambiance

Despite a struggling economy over the past three years, Coco Chocolate Lounge & Bistro is thriving. They’ve managed to expand their concept, make changes and expansions, and continue offering a signature appeal.

“The initial concept for Coco was a simple one: to provide a unique space in terms of decor, offer sophisticated but unpretentious and affordable French food and add intrigue through unique cocktails and desserts, says owner Emmanuelle Lebourg.  The restaurant has a clientele that is more than 75 percent female during the week. It has expanded its square footage and recently hired a new, classically trained French Four Star Executive Chef.

“As a foodie myself, I never knew where to go out late after a show or movie for a bite to eat, so we decided to offer our full menu until 11 p.m. during the week and even later on weekends. I wanted to create a space that would be inviting for women to come to alone or in groups to enjoy a drink, dinner, or just share a laugh in, says Lebourg.

In addition to the weekly promotion with SavorSA, on June 23-25, the restaurant will have a three-day celebration in both the bistro and XO nightclub, with three special signature cocktails created by the in-house French mixologist as well as three nightly dinner specials designed by chef Eyhab Hatab.

The restaurant and nightclub are located at the Shops at Legacy at Loop 1604 and U.S. 281. Opened in June, 2008, Coco Lounge & Bistro is independently woman owned and operated.





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Moroccan Spiced Preserved Lemons

Moroccan Spiced Preserved Lemons

Delicious to use in spicy Moroccan cuisine, preserved lemon can be made at home following these easy instructions from Aliza Green’s book, “Beans”.

Moroccan Spiced Preserved Lemons

Use organic lemons to make Moroccan Spiced Preserved Lemons

24 lemons, preferably organic
5 cups kosher salt
3 sticks canela (true cinnamon) lightly crushed
1 tablespoon whole cloves
6 tablespoons coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1/4 cup black peppercorns, lightly crushed
6 bay leaves, lightly crushed

Rinse lemons in hot water. Place in a pot of boiling water and boil 1 minute. Drain and cool. Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1/2 inch of the bottom, pack salt onto the exposed flesh, then reshape.

Combine the salt with the spices: Place a layer of the salt mixture on the bottom of a large container. Pack in the lemons and pushing them down, adding more salt-spice mixture between layers for a total of about 4 cups salt.

Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for more lemons. Add more salt as the juices form and the lemons shrink. Let the lemons ripen in a warm place, turning the container upside down each day to redistribute the salt and juice. Let ripen at room temperature for 30 days.

To use, rinse the lemons, as needed, under cold water, remove and discard the pulp. Scrape off the inside white pith and discard, so that you use only the yellow part of the lemon. Refrigerate after the lemons have fully ripened. The pickling juice can be saved and reused for the next batch of lemons.

Makes 2 dozen preserved lemons

From Aliza Green’s book, “Beans”

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Moroccan White Bean Salad with Nigella Seeds

Moroccan White Bean Salad with Nigella Seeds

Moroccan White Bean Salad is seasoned with nigella seeds.

Beans taste best, says Aliza Green, when made with highly flavored condiments and served while the beans are still warm. This paprika-colored salad includes bold accents from Morocco like hot paprika, preserved lemon, toasted cumin and jet-black nigella seeds.

Moroccan White Bean Salad with Nigella Seeds

2 tablespoons nigella seeds
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of two lemons
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons hot paprika
2 teaspoons ground toasted cumin seeds
Kosher salt, to taste
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1 preserved lemon, rind only, diced (click here for recipe to make your own Moroccan Spiced Preserved Lemons, or use purchased)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (about 1/4 of a bunch)
6 cups homemade cooked cannellini beans

In a heated, dry skillet, toast the nigella seeds, shaking constantly until their aroma is released. Remove from the heat and cool.

Using a hand-held or standard blender, blend the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and garlic. When smooth and creamy, blend in the sweet and hot paprika, cumin, salt and pepper.

Scrape off and discard the pulp and white pith from the preserved lemon; finely dice the rind. Pour the dressing over the beans and toss with most of the nigella seeds, most of the cilantro and most of the diced lemon. Serve the salad garnished with the remaining nigella seeds, cilantro and lemon.

Makes 8 servings.

From “Beans” by Aliza Green


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Seasoned Cuisine: Aliza Green’s World of Exotic, Unusual Herbs and Spices

Seasoned Cuisine: Aliza Green’s World of Exotic, Unusual Herbs and Spices

Need to kick-start a stale cooking routine? Award-winning  journalist, author and chef Aliza Green could help with that.

Green, who lives in Philadelphia, recently guided a large class of food enthusiasts on an aromatic as well as informative tour of lesser-known spices of the world. The class was sponsored by San Antonio’s Les Dames d’Escoffier.

A preparation of white beans and green lentils, with unusual spices, showed the great culinary possibilities of these humble foods.

As we gathered in a kitchen/classroom at the Art Institute of San Antonio, the scents of spice — rich and flowery, peppery and hot, smoky, toasty, musky and mysterious, and some almost off-putting  — filled our senses, evoking thoughts of far-flung countries and cultures.

Tiny packets of spice awaited each student at her seat, filled with such things as ajwain and Yemenite hawaij, wild fennel pollen, grains of paradise, the pungent and sticky Turkish urfa pepper, smelly asafetida, ground sumac, Australian wattleseed and nigella seeds.

Right away she told us things that most cooks know, but that really can’t be repeated too often.

First, spices that are ground lose their potency fast. Spices exposed to light and/or heat do as well.

“Sometimes, I just tell everyone to throw away all of their spices,” said Green. Spices that are pre-ground and have sat on the shelf for months (or years) lose their potency. “All of the delicate elements of the spice go away and what we have left are harsh elements,” Green said. Those just don’t taste good and cooking with them won’t help.

Second, it’s a great idea to grind your own spices. You can do it in a coffee grinder. Then, her tip was to run pieces of bread through the grinder and wipe it down to clear out one spice taste before you grind another.

Green was a four-star chef at the age of 27. She has been an avid traveler all of her life, beginning in her youth, when she lived in Holland, Israel and Mexico. Much of what we discussed in the class is described in her 2006 publication, “Field Guide to Herbs & Spices” (Quirk, $15.95).  She won a James Beard Award as co-author of “Ceviche,” and two new books are being readied for publishing.

As we sniffed and tasted our way through class, Green offered us the notion of “roots” cooking. Herbs and spices, generally, “go with” foods that are collected or grown in the same areas, and suit the tastes of the people who first gathered and used them.

The pungent (and to some, not in a good way) asafetida, is extracted from the root of a plant that grows in the wild in the eastern Mediterranean area to central Asia. It is widely used now in Indian and Iranian cooking. Because it is so powerful, tiny amounts should be used, and it is sometimes an ingredient in a spice mixture.

Art Institute chef and instructor Justin Sparkman prepares desserts to serve at Aliza Green's class.

Unusual flavors can take some getting used to. Green mentioned the fact that not all that long ago, cilantro was a similar exotic herb. “So many people didn’t like the flavor, actually hated it,” said Green. Prevalent in Mexican cooking, however, the herb is now nearly a household name and in most areas of the United States its dark, parsley-like flavor has become more accepted.

Grains of paradise, tiny, reddish-brown seeds from a plant that comes from Ghana. They have a bit of spicy heat, and are chewed by people in that country to help them warm up on cold days. The seeds, which also have spicy-nutty flavors also have a numbing quality, like camphor.

Ground sumac is one that is probably more familiar to Americans. Its dark reddish brown powder is tangy, almost to the point of tasting salty, with woody, citrus flavors.  One might see it sprinkled over hummus or on top of a salad in a Middle Eastern restaurant. Some restaurants in town, such as Pasha Mediterranean Grill, even put it out on the table in shakers, like salt.

Nigella seeds are very small and hard. They are cultivated from Egypt throughout India. According to Green, it is thought that the black cumin mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible is the nigella seed. It has an acrid, smoky flavor and a scent reminiscent of oregano. Indian naan bread is sometimes sprinkled with the seeds and lightly toasted nigella seed is often used to enhance Lebanese and Turkish cookery.

In Green’s “Field Guide” she includes places to find these spices, though some are often more difficult than others. Try international markets, or markets specific to one or a handful of cultures, such a Middle Eastern store that carries Turkish, Indian, Arabic, Moroccan and similar products.

Aliza Green teaching a class in exotic spices and herbs at the Art Institute of San Antonio

Culinary students at the institute, led by chef Justin Sparkman, prepared the foods for tasting. These included a Moroccan White Bean Salad with Nigella Seeds and an Ethiopian Lentil Stew with Berberé spices. Berberé is a blend that can include cumin, fenugreek seed, ajwain seed, black peppercorns, allspice berries, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and bird’s eye chiles.

The beans and lentils tasted great, and were paired nicely with wines from Becker Vineyards.

Green also mentioned the difference between true cinnamon (what we here in South Texas know as canella, or Mexican cinnamon) and the hard stick cinnamon that is what we usually buy, in a stick or ground. The latter is actually a spice called cassia and comes from a different, but similar tree. Much of the cinnamon we use here in the U.S. is actually Indonesian cassia, she says.

Another spice that is unusual in most cook’s kitchens but that we are seeing on more and more chefs’ menus is wild fennel pollen. This is expensive, usually purchased from specialty producers in Italy. It is potent and sprinkled on anything, from salads and vegetables to beans, fish and seafood, just before serving.

Some of the other herbs she discussed included black Thai cardamom, Cubeb pepper and long pepper, Chinese Tung Hing Cassia, Australian Wattleseed, and Australian lemon myrtle, featured in a yogurt mousse for dessert.

Green, an enthusiastic cook and a walking compendium of spice information, offers much more in her “Field Guide.” It’s just the thing to  revive a cook’s spirit and his or her cooking.


Ethiopian French Lentil Stew with Berbere Spice Blend

Moroccan Spiced Preserved Lemons

White Bean Salad with Nigella Seeds

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Ethiopian Lentil Stew with Berberé (Spice Blend)

Ethiopian Lentil Stew with Berberé (Spice Blend)

Berberé is a spice mixture whose ingredients usually include chile peppers, garlic, ginger, dried basil, rue, white and black pepper and ajwain. The mixture is rounded and warm, with a combination of hot, pungent and sweet flavors that make it quite adaptable, as well as delicious in this spicy lentil stew.

Ethiopian Lentil Stew with Berberé

Lentil stew is seasoned with the warm, spicy blend called "berberé"

2 cups French green lentils
6 cups vegetable stock
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1/2 cup chopped flat parsley
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoons minced garlic
2 cups chopped plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons Berberé spice blend, purchased or make your own, recipe follows

Place the lentils, stock and salt to taste in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 45 minutes or until tender but not mushy. Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, sauté the onion and carrot in the oil until softened about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and berberé spice and sauté several minutes longer, or until fragrant. Add tomatoes, bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Drain the lentils and add to the pot. Simmer 10 minutes to combine flavors, season with more salt if necessary and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

From “Field Guide to Herbs and Spices” (Quirk Productions Inc., $15.95)


Ethiopian Berberé Spice Blend

1/4 cup coriander seed
2 tablespoons cumin seed
4 teaspoons fenugreek seed
4 teaspoons ajwain seed
4 teaspoons black peppercorns
12-16 allspice berries
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 crushed bird’s eye chiles (substitute 1 teaspoon crumbled dried hot chile)
2 tablespoons sea salt

In a dry skillet, roast coriander, cumin, fenugreek seed, ajwain, black peppercorns and allspice berries until fragrant and lightly browned. Cool and then grind. Mix with ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, chile and salt. Store in a tightly sealed container in a dark place, up to 3 months.

From Aliza Green, “Field Guide to Herbs & Spices,” adapted from a recipe by Ian Hemphill of Herbie’s Spice’s Australia and author of Spice Notes.



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