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What's Cooking? - Posted October 28, 2016 9:23 a.m.
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Photos by Shannon Richardson

Thanksgiving Sides with a Twist

“I love the traditional sides,” says Jessica Higgins, owner of Girasol Cafe & Bakery at 3201 S. Coulter St. “My heart goes out to my grandma’s potato casserole. I can’t lie. And my mom makes a pretty good cornbread stuffing.” Still, when we asked Higgins to come up with some healthy, non-traditional sides for a Thanksgiving meal, she had no problem putting together an alternative menu instead of the usual starchy, carb-heavy dishes.

Her roasted vegetable medley uses fall harvest vegetables – tricolor carrots, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and parsnips – to create a simple, delicious, and nutritious dish. The black and wild rice stuffing has more protein than most side dishes. “The flavors are rich with the mushroom base and chicken stock,” she says, and the pancetta adds incredible flavor. Finally, Higgins’ tangy, sweet beet-and-avocado salad features red and gold beets, which have become beloved staples of Girasol’s menus. “People seem to really enjoy [beets],” she says. “There are people here who just crave them.”


Black and Wild Rice Dressing

1 ½ cups black and wild rice or wild rice blend
2 teaspoons mushroom or chicken base
5 cups bread (like sourdough or ciabatta), cubed and dried
8 ounces pancetta, roughly chopped
2 white onions, roughly chopped
3 carrots, sliced on the bias into ¼-inch pieces
4 celery ribs, sliced on the bias into ¼-inch pieces
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 pinches fresh rosemary off the stem
Salt and pepper to taste
Pomegranate arils

Rinse rice in cold water. Bring water to boil, stir in base, and add rice. Bring back to boil then turn down flame and simmer with tight-fitting lid about an hour, until rice is fully cooked/tender. While rice is cooking, dry bread. Place cubed bread on cookie sheet (do not season or coat with oil.) Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees until bread is toasted. Let cool. Drain rice in sieve and spread onto cookie sheet to cool. Cook pancetta in skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove from skillet and reserve. Use rendered fat to cook onions, celery and carrots over medium heat until tender. In large bowl, combine onions, celery, carrots, pancetta, bread, rice and half the rosemary and parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to baking dish. Pour chicken stock over mixture. Bake covered at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake additional 20 minutes until heated through. Garnish with remaining herbs and pomegranate arils.

Makes 8 to 10 servings


Beet and Avocado Salad with Breaded Feta Bites

3 red beets, medium to small
3 gold beets, medium to small
4 kale leaves
2 avocados
1 cup flour
3 eggs, beaten
1 to 2 cups seasoned panko crumbs
Oil for frying feta
Sunflower seeds

Orange Vinaigrette (or dressing of choice)
2 oranges, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons honey
2 cloves garlic
Generous pinch Kosher salt and pepper
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¾ to 1 cup olive oil
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

Remove stems from kale; discard. Chop leaves into bite-size pieces. Sautee lightly with granulated garlic (optional) and salt and pepper; chill. Trim greens off beets and toss in canola oil; season with salt and pepper. Wrap individually in foil. Bake at 375 degrees until fork-tender. Remove from oven and cool (use ice bath if you're in a hurry). Cube cheese into 1/4- to ½-inch pieces; toss in flour. Remove excess flour and dip into beaten eggs. Roll pieces into seasoned bread crumbs, covering completely. Fry immediately at 350 degrees in enough oil to cover, or store up to two days in refrigerator. Fry feta until deep golden brown. Make Orange Vinaigrette. Combine all ingredients in blender; process until smooth. Slice chilled beets in eighths from top to bottom and add to bowl with chilled kale. Toss mixture with orange vinaigrette. Divide salad into 4 to 6 bowls. Peel and cut avocado into bite-size pieces. Top salad with avocado pieces and fried feta. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings


Roasted Vegetable Medley

1 pound Brussels sprouts, tails cut off and halved
4 peeled carrots (tricolor if available), sliced diagonally into ¼-inch pieces
2 small red onions, roughly chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
Himalayan or Kosher salt
Coarse pepper
1 cup canola oil
2 generous pinches chopped fresh herbs

Add salt, pepper and oil to large bowl. Add prepared vegetables; toss to coat. Place on baking sheet in single layer. Garnish with herbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 50 minutes until tender, stirring once during roasting. Remove from oven and serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Meet the Cook: Jessica Higgins of Girasol Cafe & Bakery

When your mom regularly wins amateur chili competitions and state fair prizes for her salsa, you tend to know your way around a recipe or two. That’s the environment in which Jessica Higgins was raised. “I’ve cooked all my life,” Jessica says. “My grammy was a cook, my mother was a darn good cook, and I grew up in the kitchen with them.”

A graduate of New Mexico State University’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, Higgins immersed herself in a corporate hospitality career. “I’ve been in kitchens ever since. I never went to the other [hotel] side,” she says, laughing. She worked for Aramark and Sodexho Marriott, an international food services company headquartered in France, before taking a position with Flying Star Cafe, a multi-location Albuquerque chain known for its artisanal baking. “I’ve worked with chefs from all over the world,” says Higgins. “I’ve hosted chefs from Spain and worked with them in the kitchens.” Her most recent kitchen environment included experts from Holland, France, and San Francisco. “I met a lot of interesting characters.”

After Jessica’s father, Cliff Higgins, died in 2013, she departed Albuquerque to join her mother, Jeana Higgins, in Amarillo. “I was looking for something to do,” she says, when an opportunity presented itself in the former location of Black Forest Bakery, tucked behind the Toot’n Totum at Holyoke and Coulter. Jessica and Jeana combined resources to open Girasol Cafe & Bakery in early 2016. Jessica describes the business as “a little gleam in my eye for so long” that finally became a reality. Girasol is Spanish for “sunflower” and is a word that reminds Jessica of her father.

Today, Jeana and Jessica operate the artisan bakery, serving fresh, creative fare to a dedicated lunch clientele. Popular dishes include the turkey pot pie and the duo’s turkey-avocado-Swiss sandwich, served on scratch-baked, whole-wheat bread. “People come in all the time and ask ‘Do you make this or that? Do you make it from scratch?’” Jessica’s answer, of course, is yes. Everything at Girasol is made from scratch. “I think there’s a standard in this town where people are expecting mixes or powders. But everything we touch here is so labor-intensive because it is all from scratch. All real ingredients.”

As for the non-traditional Thanksgiving vegetables recommended in this issue, Higgins says they’re perfect as complements for more familiar holiday sides like mashed potatoes or even green bean casserole. “Having an option of one or two different things to jazz it up is nice,” she says of these fresh, healthy choices. “It throws quirks into the tradition.”

by Jason Boyett

Jason is a journalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, and the author of more than a dozen books. His most recent is “12 World Religions: The Beliefs, Rituals, and Traditions of Humanity's Most Influential Faiths”, published by Zephyros Press. Learn more at jasonboyett.com.
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