Texas 1015 Sweet Onion and Bacon Croissant Sandwich with Maple Dijon Mayonnaise

Friends, gather close.

It is during the wonderful springtime that I must introduce you to the Texas 1015 sweet onion, if you’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting.

Did you know onions are Texas’ leading vegetable crop? According to Texas A&M University, onions contribute an overall $350 million to the state’s economy.

Texas’ long relationship with onions began in 1898 when the Bermuda onion was introduced to South Texas.

The famed sweet Vidalia onions in Vidalia, Georgia were actually a consumer-named variant of the Granex onions from Texas. In 1952 Granex transplants from Dixondale Farms in Carrizo Springs, Texas were first shipped to Georgia, where a farmer named Mose Coleman discovered that the onions he had planted were not hot, as expected. They were sweet!

Vidalia Onions have developed an international reputation as the “world’s sweetest onion.” Their mild flavor is claimed to be due to the unique combination of soils and climate found in the 20-county Georgia production area.

I was first introduced to the Vidalia onion as a young teenager. My family had recently moved to Alabama and an older couple invited us to dinner to welcome us to town. They enjoyed cooking and made an incredible Italian dinner with a beginning salad course of tomatoes, Vidalia onions and crumbled blue cheese dressed in an herbed vinaigrette.

At the time, I didn’t know I liked onions, but I knew I loved sweet Vidalia onions. Now, they remind me of my growing up years in the deep South.

Imagine my excitement last spring to discover the Texas 1015 sweet onion at my local farmers market!

Developed in the early 1980’s by Dr. Leonard Pike, a horticulture professor at Texas A&M University, Texas 1015 onions are actually named for their optimum planting date, October 15.

Named Texas official state onion in 1997, this large, prized onion was developed after ten long years of extensive research, endless testing and a million dollars in cost. As a result, Texas achieved a mild, exceptionally sweet onion that lives up to its nickname – the “Million Dollar Baby”.

During the few months the Texas 1015 onions are available, I simply cannot get enough. Onion pizza, French onion soup, grilled onions on burgers, sweet onion fajitas – our family frantically enjoys them, knowing there is no time like the present, for the sweet onion harvest season is short and they’re not particularly suited for long storage.

This little breakfast croissant sandwich of bacon and caramelized sweet onions, dressed in a dijon mustard and pure maple syrup mayonaise is a delightful way to celebrate one of Texas’ finest horticultural achievements – the Texas 1015 onion.

Bacon Croissant 2

Enjoy!

Sources for the historical content in this post: Texas A&M University and texas1015.com.

TEXAS 1015 SWEET ONION AND BACON CROISSANT SANDWICH

8 strips of bacon

1 Texas 1015 sweet onion or other sweet onion variety

4 croissant rolls

Lay strips of bacon flat in a skillet. Cook over medium heat until slightly crisp – about 10 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Bacon

Cut the onion into six or eight large wedges.

Veg - 1015 Onion


Cook the onions over medium heat in a non-stick pan until they are completely translucent, soft and lightly browned – at least twenty minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

Slice the croissant rolls in half lengthwise.

Pile two pieces of bacon on each roll. Spoon onions onto the bacon. Dress with maple dijon mayonnaise and serve immediately.

MAPLE DIJON MAYONNAISE

Bacon Croissant 1

2 tablespoons mayonaise

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon pure maple syrup

Whisk ingredients together until fully combined.

Spring Smoothie Kits

Sometimes when the rubber hits the road of busy mornings or we have unplanned interruptions and wow-I-cannot-believe-that-just-happened kind of days; I find it’s easy for convenience to trump conviction regarding our family’s preference for homemade food.

I find I’m considerably less likely to hit a drive through or reach for boxes of cereal at the grocery store if I take the time to plan ahead.

If this is your story too, maybe this little trick will come in handy for you.

A few years ago, my grocery store was offering a special. If I bought an item I was already planning to buy, I could get a free frozen smoothie kit.

At the time, I thought, “Why not?”

The concept was simple. The kit contained frozen fruit, cubes of frozen yogurt and directions on how to blend the kit contents with juice or milk to produce a smoothie.

I must confess that is the only time I purchased that kit. After trying the kit, I thought to myself, “For a fraction of the cost, I could make this myself with ingredients that do not include high fructose corn syrup, food dyes and other preservatives.”

Since that “Aha!” moment, smoothie kits have made the occasional rotation into my methods of planning ahead for the busy mornings of life.

I freeze plain Greek yogurt in ice cube trays.

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Then I pre-measure and chop all the fruit I need, combine it with the yogurt ice cubes and divide the mixture into multiple freezer safe containers* to store in the freezer.

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On weeks that are particularly busy, I pre-measure the juice I’ll need as well.

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Then during busy mornings in the week, I pour the juice into the blender, add a homemade smoothie kit of frozen fruit and yogurt, hit blend and presto!

Smoothies - Upright

Breakfast is served.

SPRING SMOOTHIE KITS

Makes 6 kits. Each kit produces three eight-ounce smoothie portions.

1.5 cups Greek yogurt

6 cups vanilla flavored coconut milk

6 cups pineapple juice

6 cups strawberries, washed and hulled

2 large bananas peeled and diced

3 mangoes, pitted, peeled, and diced (tutorial found here)

Divide the yogurt evenly in an ice cube tray. Set in the freezer for a couple hours to freeze.

Divide the coconut milk and pineapple juice evenly between six covered containers. Store in the fridge.

Divide the fruit evenly between six freezer-safe containers. In equal proportions, add the frozen cubes of yogurt to the containers of fruit. Cover and store in the freezer.

When ready to make the smoothies, mix one container of juice and one container of frozen fruit and yogurt in a blender. Blend on high until thick and smooth.

If you like a thicker smoothie, add ice cubes, one at a time to the smoothie while blending, until the smoothie is the consistency you like. For a thinner smoothie, add more juice.

Enjoy!

Smoothies - Arial

*A note on using canning jars – if you use canning jars for freezing purposes, make sure the jars have straight sides and specifically state they are freezer safe. Pull the jar out of the freezer a few minutes before making the smoothie and run cold water on its exterior to thaw the fruit enough to easily remove it from the jar.

Lemon Sorrel Mint Tea

Sorrel is a leafy green herb that grows in the spring in Central Texas. Its flavor is all at once, sweet, tart and delicate, reminiscent of a Granny Smith green apple.

Sorrel

I first learned of sorrel this winter.

After work Christmas Eve, my husband and I packed our car, loaded our kids and drove north to Colorado to visit my parents and sister for the holidays. On our way home we stopped in Taos, New Mexico for a few days.

Taos captured my heart and my imagination.

We used the Austin-based homeaway.com to find a home to rent for a couple days. We stayed in a gorgeous adobe home on a several-acre plot with beautiful views of the mountains.

View from the kitchen window of the Taos vacation home.

View from the kitchen window of the Taos vacation home.

As the days were bright and sunny, our son had a fabulous time playing in the foot of snow that fell before we arrived.

I warmed by this fire in a square in town and watched through the window as a couple ball-room danced.

I warmed by this fire in a square in town and watched through the window as a couple ball-room danced.

I visited the Stephen Kilborn art gallery in town and could have stood for hours drinking in the textures and colors of the bright abstract landscapes of desert and mountains brushed into geometric shapes on canvas.

The pueblo village that is just outside Taos is fascinating. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is a living study of a 1,000 year old life of survival in the American West.

Taos Pueblo

The pueblo homes are built to soak in the sun’s warmth into their walls in the daytime. Slowly this warmth is transmitted into the home during the cold desert nights. During the day, the heat in the home is slowly released through the walls cooling the home as the sun warms outside.

Many who live in the Pueblo community are farmers. They still use ancient North American farming methods of growing the three sisters – corn, beans and squash. The corn stalks grow tall providing a natural trellis for the beans. The beans release nitrogen into the soil, nourishing the plants. The leaves of the squash act as a mulch to retain moisture in the soil and provide organic matter as they decompose.

The last night of our trip, the temperature dropped to ten degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Taos Kiva

My husband built a crackling fire in the home’s kiva fireplace while I nestled under a bright wool blanket to read a book from the home’s small library of New Mexican tourist guides and biographies.

As a long-time fan of Impressionist art and Georgia O’Keefe, I was delighted to discover a slender volume, The Genizaro and the Artist, the written translation of the oral traditions of Napolean Garcia, former driver and gardener for Ms. O’Keefe.

He began the book by telling of the time Ms. O’Keefe, eager to understand the lives of the Abiqiui natives with whom she made her home in northern New Mexico, accompanied him for the annual restoration of the earthen culvert that irrigated their farming fields from nearby natural springs.

“Why not build a concrete infrastructure for this important task?” he mused.

Mr. Garcia lamented that neighboring native communities had done just that, and in doing so the spring sorrel no longer grew for foraging. The water no longer seeped through the earth of the culvert to water the neighboring trees. As the thirsty trees died, the birds who made their homes in them no longer migrated to their area. The entire ecosystem and food supply chain of a community was compromised by something as seemingly progressive as a concrete irrigation system.

This spring when I spied sorrel in the booth of a local farm, I remembered Mr. Garcia, Ms. O’Keefe and our restful winter vacation in Taos. Curious, I determined to give sorrel a try.

After a not so successful attempt of adding sorrel to egg salad – too sweet! – and a delightful experiment of adding it to a chicken broth seasoned with garlic, green onions and lemon; I thought its light tart sweet flavor might pair well with lemon for a nice tea.

Sorrel Tea Side

Little did I know, the Ojibwa natives of Canada sell a tea with antioxidant properties that have been shown, according to a report published in the January 2006 issue of the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology”, to prevent DNA damage and reduce free radicals by 84 percent using a 50 percent tea preparation concentration. This tea, called Essiac tea, in honor of Rene Caissa, an Ontario nurse who first learned of it from a patient in 1919, is reputed to have anti-cancer effects. Sorrel is one of the component herbs.

I’m growing Mexican mint marigold and peppermint in pots on my porch. I added a bit to the lemon and sorrel while it boiled and simmered. The resulting tea is light and refreshing and can be served cold or hot.

Sorrel Tea Top

LEMON SORREL MINT TEA

6 cups of water

1 lemon sliced

1 dozen leaves of sorrel, thoroughly washed

1 sprig fresh peppermint, washed

1 sprig fresh Mexican mint marigold or other mint-flavored herb, washed

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil on high heat. Turn down heat to medium and simmer for twenty minutes. Strain thoroughly and serve immediately hot or pour over ice and serve. Sweeten to taste.

Whole Wheat Pancakes, Strawberries and Mexican Vanilla Whipped Cream

When I was a girl, my dad was in charge of pancakes.

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Often on Saturday mornings, he’d pull out his trusty griddle, dust off his well-worn recipe card, and get to work sifting, mixing, pouring and cooking.

I liked to help him.

As far back as the days I required a stepstool to reach the kitchen countertop, It was my job to crank the handle on our old metal sifter. I liked watching the flour fall through the sieve into a powdery white mound in the bowl below.

I also knew if I stuck around while he was cooking the small mountain of pancakes, inevitably there would be crumbs to sample while hungrily waiting for him to finish.

Our spring is quickly evaporating into the early heat of our fast-approaching summer. Strawberry season is nearing its end here in Texas.

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What a better way to bid, “adieu” to these sweet red berry friends than to pile them atop whole wheat pancakes with a dollop of sweet Mexican vanilla whipped cream?

I’ve only recently discovered homemade whipped cream. Oh my yum! The few minutes of extra work to whip a cup of cream yields enormous returns of decadent taste.

A spoonful of Mexican vanilla infuses the cream with a rich sweet flavor.

A WORD ON MEXICAN VANILLA

Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid plant. The Totonacs of Veracruz, Mexico are credited with growing the first cultivars. The Spanish explorer Herman Cortez was so impressed with vanilla, he returned to Spain with vanilla beans as a gift for the king.

Mexican vanilla is particularly smooth in flavor. Its novelty and difficulty to find make it endearing as well. El Mercado, the historic Mexican market square in San Antonio, is the only place somewhat nearby I’ve found it. I stock up on day trips to the riverwalk city.

Curious about Mexican vanilla, but you have no plans to visit San Antonio? The brand I use is available for purchase from Amazon here.

My recommendation for Mexican vanilla comes with a caution. The FDA warns international travelers to read the labels. Some sources of “Mexican vanilla” are, in fact, not made from vanilla at all. Rather they are made from tonka beans which contain coumarin, a substance with a potentially-harmful blood-thinning effect that has been banned by the FDA. The best tip is to read the ingredients. Look for the words “vanilla bean” in the ingredients. A product approved by the FDA will also be labeled with an English label.

Enjoy!

WHOLE WHEAT PANCAKES

1 cup white flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon sugar

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk or milk*

1/4 cup melted butter

1 tablespoon butter

Sift dry ingredients together. In a separate large bowl, beat eggs. Add milk and beat again. Add dry mix to liquid. Beat until lumps are gone. Add one-quarter cup melted butter and stir.

Melt the tablespoon of butter on a griddle over a medium heat burner. Spoon batter onto the griddle in four-inch diameter circles. Cook the pancakes on the first side for about three minutes. Flip the cakes and cook on the second side for about one minute.

Place the cakes on a covered plate to stay warm while cooking the remaining pancakes.

The batter makes about fifteen four-inch cakes.

Serve warm with fresh sliced strawberries and Mexican vanilla whipped cream.

*I did not have buttermilk on hand, so I used my mother-in-law’s trusted technique for “soured milk”, a buttermilk replacement. I stirred one tablespoon of white vinegar into the two cups of milk before adding it to the batter. The resulting pancakes were fluffy and beautiful.

MEXICAN VANILLA WHIPPED CREAM

1 pint whipping cream

1 tablespoon Mexican vanilla

1 teaspoon sugar

Mix together ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric beater, beat the cream on high speed until stiff peaks form, about seven minutes.

Rhubarb Big Crumb Coffeecake

Rhubarb makes me think of my grandma.

When I was quite young, my mother grew a vegetable garden for a few years. One year she harvested a crop of rhubarb while my grandma was visiting.

Together they cooked and stirred the rhubarb to make a fuchsia-colored sauce my mother served at breakfast.

Rhubarb Chopped

Blink, and you might miss rhubarb season in central Texas. Simply put, Texas is too hot for the likes of this plant.

Curiosity piqued by childhood nostalgia, I buy a bundle of rhubarb each year during its short harvest.

The novelty of rhubarb excites me. Its oddity fascinates me. With texture similar to a smooth stalk of celery and an exceedingly tart taste in dire need of sugar, rhubarb presents an interesting culinary challenge.

Rhubarb Sugar

This spring I had visions of a rhubarb coffeecake with a streusel crumb topping, the sort of pastry sweet church ladies might have brought to a Sunday School potluck brunch in bygone eras. I figured it would be a fitting challenge for my personal mission this year to learn to make homemade cakes.

It appears streusel and rhubarb are indeed a delightful combination, for foodie blog, Smitten Kitchen, presented this very recipe some years ago.

Though I debated tweaking Smitten Kitchen’s recipe with substitutions of whole wheat pastry flour and Greek yogurt, in the end, I decided I’d like a little more cake-baking experience before I improvise from a scripted recipe.

It was a fine call. The coffeecake was the perfect blend of lightly sweet with pops of tart tasty rhubarb. I like it best warm.

Rhubarb Cake

Though I stayed true to the original ingredients, I strayed a little from the method. I do not have the mixer Smitten Kitchen suggests, so I simply gave the cake’s dry ingredients a stir, used a pastry cutter to mix in the butter and finished with a handheld mixer to mix the remaining ingredients. It worked like a charm.

Pop on by Smitten Kitchen for the recipe. Hurry though if you live around these parts. The rhubarb’s nearly gone.

Summer 2013: What’s Growing In My Yard?

Garden - Seed Packets Spring 2013

This summer my family is growing vegetables from seeds I purchased from Seed Savers Exchange.

Seed Savers Exchange is a nonprofit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds. They have a fascinating variety of vegetables and herbs.

After hours of browsing their website, I chose Hill Country Red OkraOh So Sweet WatermelonRattlesnake Green BeansCulinary Sage and Greek Oregano.  I specifically chose these cultivars because the seeds were submitted to Seed Savers Exchange by Texas gardeners, they state they are drought resistant or local gardening guides suggest these herbs for edible perennial landscaping.

If you are interested in growing heirloom vegetables and herbs, Seed Savers Exchange may be a great source of seeds for you. You can purchase their seeds from various locations around the country or order from their website at www.seedsaversexchange.org.

Asparagus, Crimini Mushroom and Parmesan Cheese Frittata

A few years ago, I realized I was letting entire days pass without consuming any vegetables.

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The government’s recommended daily allowance, five total daily servings of fruits and vegetables, seemed like a decent guideline for beginners when I decided to make a habit of eating fruits and vegetables.

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I quickly learned I must eat fruit or vegetables at every meal if I wanted to get anywhere close to the suggested five servings.

So began my obsession with frittatas.

In ten minutes or less, I can quickly saute vegetables, whisk eggs and let them cook around the cooked vegetables.

A sprinkling of cheese, a quick finish under the broiler and breakfast is complete.

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This spring frittata is one of my favorites. The light, slightly bitter taste of the asparagus blends perfectly with the salty pungent flavor of the parmesan. The mushrooms, rich and meaty, give depth to the whole dish.

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It is a perfect way to begin a day.

Enjoy!

Asparagus, Crimini Mushroom and Parmesan Cheese Frittata

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 stalks of asparagus, washed and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 crimini mushroom, washed and thinly sliced

1 green onion, washed and sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

3 eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon milk

A dash each of salt, white pepper and cracked black pepper

5-6 shavings of parmesan cheese

Whisk together the eggs, milk and seasonings.

Pour the olive oil into a small stovetop and oven-safe pan. I use a six-inch cast-iron skillet.

Add the asparagus and mushroom and cook over medium heat until tender, about three minutes.

Add the garlic and onion and cook for about thirty seconds until the garlic is translucent.

Pour the egg mixture over the vegetables and cook for about three minutes. While the mixture is cooking, run a spatula along the sides of the pan to loosen the edges. Tilt the pan from side to side allowing the egg mixture on the top to run to the edges of the pan to cook.

When only a very thin layer of uncooked egg liquid remains on the top of the frittata, add the parmesan cheese slices.

Turn on the oven broiler and adjust the shelf to the top position. Place the frittata under the broiler until the remainder of the egg is cooked and the cheese is melted – about one minute.

Slice into wedges, serve and enjoy! Makes about three servings.

We Will Not Live in Fear

My heart has been heavy this week with the attack on the Boston Marathon and the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, home to one of my favorite road trip splurge breakfasts – kolaches from the Czech Stop.

As I’ve been pondering the weight of these events, a quote from the days after 9/11 came to mind, “We will not live in fear.”

Curious, I googled the quote, only to find that inspiration, indeed, comes from strange places.

The words were spoken by Vince McMahon as he opened the WWE smackdown in Houston just days after the 9/11 attack. It was the first public gathering of its size post 9/11.

Here is an excerpt from his speech:

“…We will not live our lives in fear. The citizens of Houston are not afraid. The citizens of Texas are, indeed, not afraid. And, by God, the citizens of the United States are not afraid. For we are a proud people. Proud of who we are. Proud of our nation – and proud to be Americans. And we will fight. We will fight for our families, we will fight for our rights, and we will fight for our great nation.

America’s heart has been wounded, but her spirit shines as a beacon of freedom that never has been nor ever will be extinguished.”

Yes! The best way to live without fear, is to live – to take joy in the small everyday events of life, to share our hearts with those we love and to seize every morning as though that day may be our last.

Boston and West, Texas – my heart and prayers are with you.

Click here to read the full transcript of Vince McMahon’s speech in 2001.

Ginger Orange Whole Wheat Yogurt Muffins

A few years ago I stopped buying boxed cold cereal.

I began looking more closely at the price-per-pound of food I was buying. I realized the price-per-pound of flour was significantly lower than the price-per-pound of cereal.

The trade-off for this cheaper price was the cost of my time to convert the flour into something edible.

Thus began my obsession with muffins.

Muffin Orange Whole Wheat

For the cost of a few minutes of mixing and stirring and a couple hours of baking while multi-tasking on other projects, I could make multiple batches of muffins and freeze them for upcoming breakfasts.

Recently I’ve made moves to limit the sugar in my life to the foods I really love. Muffins have made the cut.

I do not find much in life to be more delightful than a homemade muffin paired with a cup of hot tea. These dense muffins, infused with a hint of ginger and fragrant orange from the last of winter’s citrus, are particularly great served warm and topped with a small dollop of apricot jam.

GINGER ORANGE WHOLE WHEAT YOGURT MUFFINS

Adapted from Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book, Eleventh Edition, Orange-Yogurt Muffins, page 119.

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

8 ounces plain Greek yogurt

Freshly squeezed orange juice from one small orange plus extra light olive oil to equal 1/3 cup

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line twelve 2.5 inch muffin cups with paper baking cups and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flours, sugar, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and salt. Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture and set aside.

In a second bowl, combine the egg, yogurt, juice, oil, and vanilla and stir until smooth.

Pour the egg mixture into the dry mixture and stir until moistened. Batter will be thick and lumpy.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each two-thirds full.

Oven rack should be placed to the center position. Bake for 18-20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack five minutes before removing muffins from the muffin pan.

Makes twelve muffins.

NOTES:

These muffins freeze well in freezer-safe plastic zip bags. Be sure to squeeze out all the air before completely closing the bag.

They are best served warm and reheat well in a toaster oven.

How to Zest and Juice an Orange

Generally speaking, I’m a minimalist. I prefer to live and work in clean uncluttered spaces with only my favorite and useful items surrounding me.

Not so with kitchen gadgets. The more the merrier is my philosophy. The kitchen gadget drawer at our house is just a big overflowing party of purposeful handtools.

I really like my orange zesting tool. It was just a cheap impulse purchase at a Walmart, of all places, while picking up supplies at a family reunion in Colorado. Nothing says “souvenir” like an orange zester.

To use the zester, place a washed orange upright on a cutting board. With quick strokes, run the sharp circles of the zester along the orange portion of the peel to remove it. Take care to not extract the white pith also.

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Voila! Pretty fragrant orange zest!

To quickly juice a single orange, lay the orange on a cutting board with the stem side to the right or left, rather than up or down. Cut the orange in half.

Hold the half over a bowl. Insert a fork into the sectioned area. Use the fork to apply pressure to the sections while using your other hand to squeeze the orange half.

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Juice will be released from the orange into the bowl.