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What's Cooking? - Posted June 23, 2017 9:30 a.m.
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Photos by Shannon Richardson

Ripe and Ready

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Summer is melon season, but that doesn’t mean these juicy fruits have to be dished out and served on the same old fruit trays. We asked Livia Woodburn of Pan-Handlers Cafe & Catering to share her favorite alternative recipes using watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew.

Instead of throwing out your unused watermelon rind, Woodburn suggests slicing it up and pickling it. Her sweet-and-spicy watermelon rind recipe results in a similar texture to bread-and-butter pickles. “It’s a fun and different kind of pickle, just without cucumbers,” she says. “It makes a sweet, savory addition to a burger, or you can just eat them straight up.” Woodburn’s frozen cantaloupe margarita begins with a sorbet base and makes for a delicious and refreshing drink. As for the grilled cod with honeydew-avocado salsa, she says the simple salsa pairs well with almost any seafood, as well as with chicken or pork. The fresh appearance is a bonus. “I think it looks pretty with all the green,” she says.


Sweet & Spicy Pickled Watermelon Rinds

1 (4-pound) watermelon, quartered
8 cups water
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 cups sugar
1 ¼ cups apple cider vinegar
8 whole cloves
8 whole black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
2 to 3 jalapeños, sliced
½ teaspoon pickling spice
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger

Cut watermelon pulp from rind, leaving thin layer of pink on rind (reserve pulp for another use). Cut green outer skin from rind; discard. Cut enough rind into 1- by ½-inch pieces to measure 4 cups. Combine 8 cups water and 2 tablespoons salt in large pot; bring to boil. Add rind pieces and boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Strain. Transfer rinds to large metal bowl. Combine remaining 2 teaspoons salt, sugar and next 8 ingredients in heavy, large saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour over watermelon rinds in bowl. Place plate atop rinds to keep rinds submerged in pickling liquid. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight. Strain liquid from rinds into saucepan; bring to boil. Pour over rinds. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Repeat straining and boiling of liquid and pour over rinds 1 more time. Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Chill in covered jars.

Makes 3 ½ cups


Frozen Cantaloupe Margaritas

For the melon-tequila sorbet:
1 medium melon (2 pounds), peeled and seeded
¼ cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons tequila
1/3 cup sugar or ¼ cup agave nectar
½ ounce triple sec
½ ounce Grand Marnier
Big pinch of salt

For the frozen melon margaritas:
6 scoops (8 ounces) melon-tequila sorbet
¼ cup tequila
4 ice cubes
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

To make sorbet, cut melon into chunks and puree in blender with lime juice, tequila, sugar or agave, and salt until smooth. Chill thoroughly, then freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Another option is to pour mixture into ice cube trays and freeze. To make margaritas, blend scoops of sorbet with tequila, ice cubes, and lime juice. Taste, and add more lime juice as desired. Chill margarita glasses then sprinkle sea salt on half of a small plate; press half of the rims of glasses into salt. Then divide mixture between the two glasses.

Makes 2 margaritas


Grilled Cod with Honeydew-Avocado Salsa
Finely grated lime zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 ½ pounds honeydew melon, rind removed and melon cut into ¼-inch dice (2 ½ cups)
1 Hass avocado, cut into ¼-inch dice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 (5-ounce) cod fillets

Light grill. In large bowl, combine lime zest and juice with olive oil. Using rubber spatula, gently fold in diced honeydew melon and avocado. Season salsa with salt and black pepper. Drizzle cod fillets with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Grill over moderately high heat, turning once, until nicely charred and just cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer fillets to plates, spoon salsa alongside and serve.

Makes 4 servings

Meet the Cook: Livia Woodburn of Pan-Handlers Cafe & Catering

Until 2010, Livia Woodburn was employed as a graphic designer and layout artist. But when she lost her job, she found herself applying her creative skills in the kitchen. She had always loved to cook, and before long, she and her cousin, Lizzie Smith, had begun catering parties for friends and family. “People started asking if we were doing it for a living,” she says. “So we decided to try it out.”

They opened a catering business in Western Business Park, delivering fresh sandwiches and other healthy alternatives to nearby offices. As their six-month lease was coming to an end, they heard that the cafe space in the basement of Amarillo National Bank’s Plaza One was unoccupied. “It had been vacant for almost a year,” Woodburn says. “We weren’t really looking to open a restaurant, but we went to check it out and liked the space.” By May of 2011, she and Smith had remodeled and opened Pan-Handlers Cafe & Catering.

Known for its fresh, local food and unlimited soup and salad bar, the cafe proved a hit with health-conscious bank employees as well as the larger Amarillo community. After six years in business, Lizzie Smith recently “retired” to spend more time with her young family, leaving Woodburn the sole proprietor. “She has small kids and wasn’t able to be here as much,” Woodburn says of her former business partner. “It’s easier for me to be here every day.” Regardless, she says customers may still see Smith there from time to time. “She still comes out and helps when we need her.”

Despite the change, Pan-Handlers will continue offering its popular lunchtime salad bar, which has developed a reputation for providing some of the best variety in Amarillo. “We try to keep it new and different,” says Woodburn, who tries to use local produce whenever possible and has become a regular shopper at the farmer’s market. “You never know what you’re going to get.” The staff still prepares their own homemade dressings, pickles and pre-made salads on a daily basis.

New for this summer is a Friday Happy Hour from 4:30 to 7 p.m. After becoming licensed to serve beer and wine, Pan-Handlers has developed a unique Happy Hour bar menu. “The dishes are all meant for sharing,” Woodburn says, citing house-made chicken strips and habanero cheddar cheese fritters as Happy Hour favorites. She says regulars have found the ANB basement to provide a cool alternative – literally – to hot summer nights on a restaurant patio. “We have lots of games like dominoes or marbles or Cards Against Humanity. It’s a great place for people to hang out and play before going home, or on the way to somewhere else,” she says.

by Jason Boyett

Jason has written more than a dozen books and is the host and creator of “Hey Amarillo”, a local interview podcast. Visit heyamarillo.com and jasonboyett.com.
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