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FOOD ADDICTION OF THE MONTH: Breakfast smoothies (recipe follows)
RESTAURANT OF THE MONTH: Andiamo Ristorante,
2521 Rutland Dr, Austin, TX 78758 (512) 719-3377
JUNK FOOD OF THE MONTH: Popcorn (recipe follows)
ROCK STAR CHEF OF THE MONTH: Dave Lieberman, www.davecooks.net


Central Market recently invited me to be the guest chef for a taping of a new Yahoo webcast called “In Search of Real Food,” hosted by Dave Lieberman of the Food Network. The piece will stream on Yahoo in July, but here’s a sneak preview of what we’ll be presenting!


Pan-Roasted Mushroom Caps with Crabmeat, Spinach and Pernod
Fried Okra Salad with Oyster Medallion and Shoestring Sweet Potatoes
Twangy Lemonade Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

Fried-Okra Salad with Oyster Medallion and Shoestring Sweet Potatoes
Serves 6

For the salad:
12 cups mixed greens, lettuces or spinach, or a combination
3 large home grown tomatoes, cut into 6 or 8 wedges
1 cup thinly sliced cucumber
4 ounces shredded smoked cheese
1 (10-1/2 oz) can boiled peanuts **
1 cup pecan halves or pieces

For the fries:
1 sweet potato, peeled and left whole
peanut oil for frying
For the okra and oysters:
1 lb fresh okra, left whole if small
6  shucked whole oysters
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup flour
1 cup finely crushed corn flake cereal
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup mild salad oil (walnut is good)
3 tablespoons paper-thin sweet onion or shallot slices
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
2 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons cider or balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon whiskey  
1 teaspoon bacon drippings (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
** If you can’t find boiled peanuts in the canned food aisle, don’t substitute roasted peanuts. Use butter beans or black-eyed peas, about 1 full cup for 6 servings.

1. Prepare the dressing: Melt the bacon fat if using and combine it with the salad oil. Combine the onion and vinegar and let sit for several minutes or until the onion softens. Whisk in the remaining ingredients, then add the oil in a slow steady stream, whisking to emulsify. Let the dressing steep at room temperature.   
2. Prepare the okra: Rinse and dry the okra and place in a bowl with 1 cup buttermilk. Place the oysters in a separate bowl with remaining buttermilk. Soak for 15 minutes.
3. Prepare the potato: Heat oil in a small wok or saucepan. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off long slivers of the sweet potato into a bowl. When the oil is hot, carefully place a small cluster of potato slivers into the hot oil. Fry them for about 20-30 seconds or until the bubbling subsides. Remove them quickly with tongs to a towel-lined plate and salt lightly. They should be tangled and curled together. Repeat until all potatoes have been fried.
4. Combine dry okra ingredients in a separate bowl. Roll the soaked okra pieces one at a time in the dry mixture and fry over medium heat until deep brown. Remove with tongs to drain on paper towels. Repeat the fry process for the oysters and cook until they are golden brown.
To serve, coat the greens with dressing. Arrange a bed of greens onto each of 6 plates. Scatter with cheese and nuts. Top with a few okra, center an oyster on each salad and add and a nest of potatoes atop the oyster for height. Arrange tomato wedges, cucumber slices and peanuts in clusters at the edge of the plates. Pass additional dressing at the table.    
Variations: Seasonal produce, avocado and fruit can sit in for tomatoes when they go out of season. In the fall and winter I love to cook the dressing: gently heat the oil and add the nuts and onion. Cook briefly to release their flavors, then combine with remaining ingredients and serve warm, or wilt the greens with it if you like. Bacon or turkey bacon is a hearty addition.


(Recipe makes about 1 dozen)

1 dozen cleaned mushroom caps                                      
 1 cup crab meat                                               
 1 lb raw washed spinach                                                 
1/2 cup finely chopped Vidalia or 1015 onion                                    
1/2 cup grated Gruyere  cheese                                                         
1 tablespoon Pernod                                          
1 garlic clove, peeled and left whole                                                          
Olive oil for cooking                          
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Salt to taste

  1. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large skillet and sautee the shallot until very tender and soft. Remove and set aside.
  2. Add the spinach until wilted and incorporated.  Drain well, squeezing out excess water.
  3. Place the cooked spinach in a mixing bowl and incorporate the crab meat and grated Gruyere. Season with the pepper, salt and Pernod.
  4. Lightly salt the mushroom caps and stuff them with the spinach/cheese mixture. You may want to slightly understuff them to allow for shrinkage while cooking.
  5. Working in batches if necessary, over medium heat, place the stuffed mushrooms into a skillet in which the olive oil and whole garlic has been heated (about 1/4 cup oil and 1 clove garlic per dozen ‘shrooms). Cook until the mushroom caps are deeply browned on the bottom. Skillet may be covered to facilitate thorough cooking.

Remove and drain on paper toweling if desired.

2 dozen

Cupcakes are totally fun, and totally different from a cake in how they bake. Since they’re so small they require more liquid in the recipe to keep them moist. If you want to have a little extra fun with these, sneak a teaspoon full of raspberry preserves on top of the batter in each cup, right before you bake them.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt
2-1/2 tsp baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup frozen lemondade concentrate, set aside
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. almond extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place cupcake liners into two muffin pans.

2. Beat the butter briefly to soften it. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy, about 3
minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Combine the dry ingredients; in a
separate mixing bowl combine the liquids and almond extract. Alternate flour and liquid
into the batter on low speed or by hand until well combined.

3. Spoon batter into cups and fill them 2/3 full. Bake 20-25 minutes or until cupcakes
spring back in the middle when touched lightly. Cool for 10 minutes in pan. Brush
reserved lemonade concentrate over tops of warm cupcakes. Cool completely before frosting.


1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 to 4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 tsp. vanilla
24 lemon drops (optional)
small mint leaves for garnish

Beat together the butter and 1-1/2 cups of the sugar. Add the lemonade and vanilla. Continue to
add remaining sugar just until frosting is of desired spreading consistency (you may use
more or less sugar). Tint the frosting if desired. Frost cooled cupcakes and garnish each
with a lemon drop and a mint leaf.

I also call these “Dexter’s Breakfast” because my nephew Dexter has an infamously discriminating palate and doesn’t really even eat. He’s one of those Crystal Children who apparently requires no food for sustenance. Anyway I can sometimes get the Crystal Child to consume this. I drink one every single day and I can’t live without them. Packed with protein, fiber and three servings of fruit!

Make one 8-10 oz. serving

1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 of a ripe banana
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 handful each (about 1/4 cup) sliced strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in the order listed in a blender and blend together on med-high until thoroughly combined. Try freezing the fruits for the best milkshake you ever tasted.


OK. Confession. When I was 15 or 16 I used to get out of school at 2:00 every day. I would come home, pop myself a bowl full of homemade popcorn, then sit down and watch the CBS soaps. I don’t remember ever doing any homework. But I do remember how to make fantastic homemade popcorn, and if you’ve never tried it then do yourself a favor. Once you get used to it you’ll make squeaky-perfect, fluffy mountains of popcorn every time. Here’s the recipe!

1/3 cup Really Good popcorn (like Newman’s Own or Orville)
2 tablespoons clarified butter **
Salt to taste

Have a nice big bowl ready for your popcorn. Choose a medium size saucepan that holds about 3 quarts minimum. Place it over medium heat and add the clarified butter. Let it melt and tilt the saucepan — you should have a little puddle about 1/2 an inch deep and about an inch and a half long. When it’s good and hot and kind of wavy-looking, like it’s moving around a bit, pour in the popcorn kernels all at once. Let them soften and you’ll see them fatten a little bit in the butter. Then put the lid on the saucepan and wait for them to begin popping. Hold the lid on and shake the pan constantly, sliding the lid open a hair now and then to let the steam escape. When the popping begins to subside, carefully lift your pan over the bowl, remove the lid with one hand and turn the pan into the bowl with the other. Salt lightly, shake the bowl, and salt again to taste. Makes enough for two people to share without fighting.

** clarified butter is also called “ghee” and the Tom’s brand is sold in most upscale grocery stores. It comes in a little round flat container. Substitute organic shortening (palm kernel oil) if you can’t find it. Yummy!

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