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What's Cooking? - Posted March 24, 2017 10:08 a.m.
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Photos by Shannon Richardson

Making the Most of Spring Veggies

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The list of seasonal vegetables available during April is a short and largely unpopular one. It includes veggies with a reputation for being, well, less popular than their summer counterparts: Brussels sprouts, asparagus, kale, Swiss chard. Then there are the beets. Jessica Higgins believes their lack of love is undeserved. “Beets are kind of the stepchild of root vegetables, but they’re beautiful,” says the owner of Girasol Cafe & Bakery at 3201 S. Coulter St. “They actually have a really gentle taste if they’re cooked properly.”

That endorsement led us to ask Higgins to suggest some recipes using spring veggies. She describes her beet caprese salad as “a delightful little salad that’s refreshing and about as healthy as you can get.” She praises the delicate flavor of grits made with spring greens. And her radish quiche combines the bite and texture of radishes with garlic, green onions, curry, and coriander. “It all works together in your mouth. The flavors really compliment each other,” she says, especially the subtle dynamic between the mild, green garlic and the peppery radish. “You kind of have this little party going on,” she says.

It is spring, after all. Party on.


Spring Radish Quiche
1 tart shell or prepared pie crust, weighted and par-baked 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees

Tart Shell:
10 ounces flour
2 ounces brown sugar
2 ounces sugar
4 ounces butter
Pinch of salt
1 egg

Quiche Custard:
12 ounces cream
12 ounces eggs
½ teaspoon curry
½ coriander seed, crushed
½ teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Green garlic, thinly sliced on bias
Chives, sliced on bias
Radishes, sliced

For tart crust, cream butter and sugars together. Add egg and incorporate fully. Add flour and salt; mix briefly until flour is incorporated. Finish by kneading and forming into ball and chilling 30 minutes. Roll out to desired consistency and size. Dough is delicate but easily repaired if tears occur. For custard, combine eggs and cream; whisk until smooth. Add spices and veggies; pour into prepared quiche shell. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 ¼ hours, until quiche has risen and is set in center when touched.

Makes 6 servings


Spring Greens Grits with Scallops
One quarter of box of grits or equivalent in corn meal
4 ounces butter
24 ounces water
8 ounces white wine
2 eggs
16 ounces heavy cream
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 tablespoons lemon zest
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 bunch asparagus, blanched and chilled
1 leek, whites sliced thin
1 fennel bulb, core cut out and thinly sliced
1 cup fresh blanched and chilled peas or frozen green peas
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
4 ounces parmesan cheese
Scallops

Sautee fennel and leek together until golden and tender. Blanch asparagus and peas; dip in ice bath to halt cooking. Bring water, wine and butter to boil. Add grits and stir until they start to thicken. Add eggs, cream and spices and cook to desired consistency. Add in spring vegetables and cheeses until melted. Garnish with additional parmesan, salt and pepper. For scallops, heat cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat on stove. Add pat of butter. Pat dry scallops and place in hot butter – do not touch until you see searing on edges of scallop. Flip and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. When other side has a nice color, remove for service. Add splash of lemon juice, if desired.

Makes 10 to 12 servings


Beet Caprese
2 each red and gold beets
1 fennel bulb
1 package goat cheese
Tangerine white balsamic vinegar (I buy it at Amarillo Grape and Olive)
Salt and pepper

Peel and slice fresh beets; rub in olive oil and grill on charbroiler on medium-low heat until tender (preferred). Lightly salt and pepper. Thinly slice fennel bulb; remove and discard core. Finely chop fronds and reserve for goat cheese. Roll goat cheese log in chopped fronds and slice (plain dental floss slices the cheese well). Arrange ingredients on platter or serving dish; drizzle with balsamic.

Makes 2 to 4 servings

Meet the Cook: Jessica Higgins of Girasol 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 and 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 both 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.”

Over the past few months, Girasol has continued to attract new customers, especially for its weekend brunch on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. “We recently extended our brunch hours,” she says. “They’re going crazy. Every day is almost a record day.” She says the most popular dish remains her Santa Fe Eggs Benedict, which swaps out the traditional English muffin and Canadian bacon for homemade green-chile-cheddar biscuits and glazed jalapeño bacon. “People are loving it.”

She says any light, refreshing vegetable dishes – like those in this issue – are what she begins to crave when spring temperatures start to rise. Higgins says to watch for a few new salads on the menu at Girasol, infused by locally grown microgreens from Green Wolf Vertical Farm in Panhandle.

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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