Chef Monica Pope writes about eating & cooking where your food lives

It’s in Our (De-)Nature… August 19, 2010

Matagorda Stone Crab Claws

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, July 31st

My mind has already switched back into vacation mode (Yes, again! Every year, I close t’afia for a week so my staff can all have a nice vacation away without worrying about who’s going to cover whose shifts).  But before shutting it all down, I have a class to teach.  I decided, since I’m feeling great about going on vacation and really relaxing, that I will gift the class some Matagorda stone crab claws today.  We don’t get these often, so it’s a real treat.  We also have lots of blueberries right now and I haven’t done blueberries in class yet, so I’m going to make a clafouti.  That’s one of my favorite words, by the way.  I really like saying it.  It is French and it is typically a dessert, but I used to do a zucchini clafouti back in my Boulevard Bistrot days.  A clafouti is a crust-less tart – imagine fruit bobbing in pancake batter, that’s what it’s like.

One Handed Egg Cracking



It’s About Thyme… August 15, 2010

Screaming Summer with Summer Savoury Corn Chowder with Wild Salmon

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, July 24th

I’m on Mexican time, today.  Well, really Mexican thyme.  I just got back from a little vacation in Yelapa (no, not the new “beach food” restaurant here in Houston on Richmond).  Yelapa, Mexico might as well be an island, since no cars can get there.  Only boats.  And then only two or three times a day.  There is no infrastructure to speak of.  But I stayed in a beautiful, open “flat” called Casa Pericos, overlooking the water.  Our only souvenir, except for a hat for me, was the exoskeleton of a scorpion.  Yes, they have poisonous scorpions, tarantulas and snakes aplenty.  At night, I had to wear a spelunking light on my forehead to watch out for the creepy crawlies.  Luckily, there was just the dead one.  It helped me get through customs, oddly enough. They were looking for drugs at every juncture of our return and when the customs agents ran across the jar holding the scorpion skeleton, that was as far as they went!  My Mexican sea salt was safe.

Starting from scratch...



Long Enough For Me… August 7, 2010

Everything we need...

Green Plum Cooking School – July 17th

Right from the start, I’m not sure what is going on this morning.  Usually, we hand out tickets for seats to my free morning cooking class starting at 9:00 am.  People wander up and in, cradling breakfast and coffee in their laps.  We end up with a full house most Saturdays, sometimes overfull, that’s when I pull out the igloos to seat people on.  Tommy, who volunteers to man the door, tries to prevent overcapacity, but I just can’t turn anyone away.  Today is a little different, though.  The line begins at the top of the stairs just before 9:00 and snakes all the way down the stairs and just keeps going into the dining room below.  I’m shocked!  It’s the middle of a very hot summer and we’ve got people lining up for an early Saturday morning cooking class.  Maybe they are just now making good on their New Year’s resolutions.  I’m not sure, but it’s grate…I mean, great.

We also have a new vendor starting today at the Midtown Farmers Market (aka MFM): Hans Hansen of Twin Persimmons Farm.  Hans is a cool guy who specializes in native plants and sprouts.  I ask the class what brought so many of them here today and most say that a friend told them they had to come.  Hum…SHEEP PEOPLE, I love it!

Today, I am cooking Chinese long beans.  When the woman from The Secret Garden (another of our regular MFM vendors) says the name for Chinese long beans in Chinese, it sounds like six syllables.  I try to repeat the Chinese name myself, at least six times throughout the class; they laugh at me but I’m not sure it’s that funny, really.

I don’t know why, but I have a problem with long beans, kind of like I have a problem with shrimp.  And water.  Not shrimp with water, but shrimp…and (also) water, and maybe some other things.  I’m determined to leave the long beans long, but The Secret Garden folks tell me I should cut them.  Other people tell me that, too.  But I don’t get it — they’re long, why not keep them long?  The first thing I should do is start the beans to cook, but I’m waiting for them to be prepped — NOT cut, but topped and tailed.  So, instead, I start the blossom butter.  I usually just grab this secret ingredient from my kitchen downstairs and no one knows what the hell I’m talking about even though I say, “It’s a compound butter with herbs, edible flowers, lemon zest, and salt and pepper.”  They still don’t really get the beauty and use of blossom butter on or in everything.  So today, I am going to demonstrate it.



Déjà vu… July 31, 2010

Bruschetta with Red Wine Fig Compote, Japanese Eggplant with Red Curry, Simply Wilted Bok Choy

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, July 10th, 2010

“We already did that one,” Megan says to me, aghast, when I tell her what recipe we’re doing for the Green Plum cooking class this Saturday.  I just hired Megan to be my kitchen assistant.  She reminds me that it was the class I did on the day that I met her and hired her on the spot.  I liked her spunk then, but now I’m being spunk-ed.  It was less than a month ago and I have absolutely NO memory of doing Armenian Eggplant.  “Wow, really?”   I guess I don’t remember it because I didn’t even blog about it (sorry, folks).

The Secret Garden has some gorgeous Japanese eggplant right now and Chinese chives.  Well, there’s more than one way to cook eggplant.  I like to cook eggplant…the right way.  Most people, including my own kitchen crew, don’t cook it right — that is, they don’t use enough oil.  Eggplant doesn’t cook to caramelized goodness without a lot of oil.  What I like about the Armenian eggplant salad is that we use the cooking oil that is used in sautéeing the eggplant as the oil part of the vinaigrette.  We season the cooked eggplant with champagne vinegar, cinnamon, and lots of parsley.  The cinnamon adds that je ne sais quoi-thingy I love.  I also add olives because I like cinnamon with green olives.  That’s not Armenian, but I’m not Armenian, so…je ne sais quoi.

I’m still going to do eggplant; however, I’m going to cut it differently and keep it simple.

I’ve just gotten off my Central Market cookbook tour:  five Texas cities in five days.  No wonder Lindsay Lohan is in jail — life on the road is tough.  I found out the hard way that Big D either doesn’t know me or doesn’t like me.  However, Ft. Worth wanted to take me home with them!  Or at least out to dinner.  One Ft. Worth-ian said that Dallas is about trendy and Ft. Worth is about tradition.  Hmmmm.

So, for this class, the first thing I’m going to do is a bruschetta.  Our growers have figs right now and The Houston Dairymaids have some Pure Luck Ste. Maure (an ash rind goat that is similar to a Bucheron) and SlowDough Bread Co. has some ciabatta.  So, I am going to make a jammy Red Wine Fig Compote.  Typically, I make this recipe with honey and lavender as a topping for a Provencal-style sundae with caramel semi-freddo and balsamic syrup.   Today, I am going to go savory with it for the bruschetta.  I tell the audience that they could also add some mustard seed or some ginger for a little heat, but you don’t have to.  I’m thinking it would be great with our walnut bread, but I’m not sure I say it out loud.  I seem to be jet-lagged even though I never left the Texas time zone.  I’m really not cut out for the cookbook tour circuit.

Pure Luck's Ste. Maure



“Sour, sweet, bitter, pungent, all must be tasted…” (Chinese Proverb) July 26, 2010

Bitter Melons...I can handle bitter.

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, June 26th, 2010

As I walked outside this morning to see what the growers had brought to the market today, The Secret Garden had an unusual but beautiful item:  bitter melon. I’ve never cooked bitter melon before but I want to use it for today’s class, so I get a quick schooling from the Leungs.  Apparently, the white melons are less bitter than the green ones.  I turn to Lisa and wisecrack, “I’m pretty bitter….”

We also get some amaranth — the leaves, not the seeds — and some pretty leaf spinach that is lighter in color than the spinach we are used to seeing.  Also, amongst the bounty of the day, a woman attending the class, named Carolyn, gifts me some beautiful eggplant, peppers and tomatoes from her garden.

What a gift! Thank you, Carolyn.

My plan was to make a cherry tomato dressing.  Now that I have eggplant, I am going to pan-fry breaded eggplant and top it with the tomato dressing.  Today, I have some young assistants helping me with the tomato prep.  At some point, Carolyn (who is sitting in the front row), asks if I ever need unskilled labor to help out.  I think about this for a second and respond, “That’s all I’ve got!,” and look over at my sous-chef/volunteers who are proceeding to smash the cherry tomatoes rather than cut them in sixths or eights as I had instructed.  The boys were having fun, though, so I changed the title to Crushed Cherry Tomato Dressing.  There’s always a bright side, right?



Revelations… July 22, 2010

Local Potatoes

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, June 19th, 2010

We have lots of local potatoes this summer.   This has not always been the case in summers past.  I used to get a small handful from a few growers, not enough to make mashed potatoes for two people.  This year is bountiful.

And, so, have potatoes, make Potato Salad!  This one will have fresh Shell Beans and a Lime-Yogurt Sauce.

Lisa is running around bringing me supplies I’ve forgotten, so Cal helps with Googling about speckled shell beans.  There is some confusion in the class about butter beans vs. speckled beans vs. lima beans and I want to get to the bottom of it.  At first, Cal says a speckled bean is a butter bean, but then later amends this to say butter beans are sometimes called limas.  Just as I thought…they’re all the same!  I had Benjy cook the beans before class (no reason for us to watch pots boil…again).  I am, however, cooking the potatoes in front of the audience.

Speckled Shell Beans



Simple As Socca… July 21, 2010

Socca - Chickpea "Crepe"

Green Plum Cooking School – Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Socca recipe, by Jackie Burdisso

125 g chickpea flour (grams, really, I can barely do American math; it’s 4.5oz)

1 ¼ cups water

3 tbls olive oil

salt & pepper

pinch of French attitude

I’ve dragged Jackie Burdisso upstairs to guest chef today’s class (Jackie is the owner of Maison Burdisso, home of the best Parisian macarons ever – available here at the Midtown Farmers Market).

A few months ago, I demonstrated our chickpea fries with red curry-sambal-ketchup.  During that class, Jackie came upstairs and we had this impromptu discussion about panisse.  Jackie described how to make it – you pour chickpea batter into a special saucer, let it firm up, and then turn it out; you then bread it with flour and fry it in olive oil.  That was interesting and all, but not what I was after.  What I wanted her to tell us about was something called socca — a flat, crispy chickpea cake, almost like a crepe or thin flatbread.  I asked Jackie what it’s served with and she repeated (more than once), just salt and pepper, and sometimes a little olive oil.  I pressed her and she finally said, “Rosé wine”….ah, that’s what I was looking for!

It all seemed so simple.  But I definitely wanted Jackie’s French expertise to help us through.  We are pouring a Texas Rosé today.  It would have been a good thing if my assistants had counted the glasses before pouring the wine.  Jackie abstains, which is one more reason I believe she isn’t really French.  We joke that her name and her family’s gravestones are all in Italian or in Italy and that she isn’t really French. While I am bitching about not getting a glass of wine, my daughter Lili shows up to tell the audience that I am allergic to Tequila, which never fails to get a laugh.  In actuality, if I drink Tequila, it is as if someone goes into my body’s breaker box and starts switching all the breakers off; I feel fine, but I can’t stand up.  The crowd is roaring.  It really isn’t that funny.  Jackie shares that she allergic to rosé, which I think is bullshit.

I think the socca might be too simple (and I’m not sure Jackie can carry an entire class on her own), so I am making something, too.  I have cranberry beans and amaranth from our new grower, The Secret Garden.  Apparently, it really is a secret garden because there is no way to get there but to follow someone.  It is 17 acres and the Leung family farms it by hand.  Amaranth is a weed, seed, leaf and plant with many varieties.  It is high in protein and grows in tropical and subtropical regions, ours being one.

Cranberry Beans with Amaranth



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