Sunday, May 16, 2021


 Last weekend I attended a fabulous art festival in Tucson with my friend Dorita Pina. "Art in the Urban Grove" was held at the The Urban Grove on W. Orange Grove Road. The estate, owned by Sabrina Rigas was originally part of the historic 450 acre citrus grove dating back to the 1920's and founded by amateur horticulturist, M. L. Reid, father of Gene Reid, first director of Tucson City Parks and Rec, later to become the namesake of Reid Park. 

Dorita on the left and Sabrina on the right.

The event featured 42 mixed media vendors, all from Tucson. It was a warm day, but the nearly 40' tall date palms provided beautiful shade. And if you have never had a date palm, which I had not, try one! They are succulent little morsels; sweet and rich with deep hints of butterscotch. The variety of date I bought are called Barhi. Sabrina refers to them as "nature's butterscotch candy". They are quite phenomenal!

This is an oasis in a very hectic city resplendent with a variety of fruit trees, citrus and the date palms, offering 3 varieties of dates. The Urban Grove offers cooking classes, catering, and makes the estate available as a unique and very beautiful event space.
If you want to purchase dates, contact Sabrina by text/phone at:

Opuntia Cacti aka Prickly Pear

Nopal is from the Nahuatl word "nohpalli" meaning the pads of the plant. The Nahuas are a group of indigenous people of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. 

Nearly 2000 different cactus live in Arizona and many of them offer edible parts, but one of the most common is the Prickly Pear Cactus. Preferably young paddles are harvested and carefully peeled to remove tough skin and large thorns. Gloves are a must! The older, larger paddles can be tough. I have not peeled the paddles myself, but have encountered their thorns many times, while weeding around them. I am amazed each May when this thorny, rugged cacti bursts forth with the most gorgeous, delicate pale yellow blossoms; a true contrast in nature. 

My friend Dorita has been bringing me bags of these wonderful Nopales all cleaned and ready to cook for the last couple of weeks. 
She explained the way her mother, and mother's mother before her, cooked the Nopales. Put them in a dry saucepan over very low heat and cook covered for about 30 minutes until they have dried out. Stir occasionally to help release the liquid. Nopales are similar to okra in that they are filled with a thick viscose, slimy goo. It doesn't sound appealing, but slow cooking removes nearly all of this goo.
This is what they looked like after being cooked. You can also boil them, but that requires multiple rinsing and a long boiling time, which will remove some of the good nutrients. These cacti are touted for their high vitamin content; some believe they are a good hang-over cure. The Nopales have a citrussy, crisp, clean taste, almost lemony. After a little research I tried a different method of cooking them.

Place a cast iron pan over high heat. Add about 1 Tbsp. oil and once hot, drop in the Nopales and a dash of salt. Stir until they are just slightly browned. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking uncovered until all the goo is gone, stirring occasionally. 
They are delicious in salads, eaten plain as a veg, or mixed with eggs. 

I should call this blog, HOMAGE TO MY FRIEND DORITA!!
I love learning about different food cultures from around the world and Dorita has inspired me to learn more about Mexico. Even though we come from different backgrounds/cultures we share so many more interests than differences. Dorita is from an Hispanic/Mexican culture and I am from a half New England/Yankee-Hungarian culture. Is that a culture? We love talking about our pasts and sharing stories about harvesting and cooking, what our lives were like growing up, art, literature, history, gardening and so much more, but especially FOOD!
Here is Dorita's grandmother's recipe for a refreshing salsa fresca. 
I love recipes that are passed down generationally and have so much meaning to our families. This salsa is truly fresh, full-flavored and good on just about anything, and the story about her grandmother making batches of it and giving it as gifts at Christmas to friends, family and ranch workers is priceless!

That will do it for today! 

In a perfect world, I would always prefer 
to eat locally grown produce. 

Here is a shot from yesterday's beautiful 
pre-birthday celebration for ME!

Cake compliments of my dear friend Debby's husband, Steve--a coconut cake with coconut Italian merengue frosting!


Soon off to New England for a couple weeks 
and then to Ireland...

Many more food adventures ahead!!

Please join me again soon...

Sunday, May 2, 2021


A couple weeks ago my friend, Dorita Pina took me to a fabulous meat market in downtown Tucson. This shop is packed with such a variety of wonderful products. Truly a cooks dream! We were served by Sean who was very knowledgeable of all their products and a delight to spend time with.
He told us that every week the store gets in two different fresh fishes. Sean is holding two beautiful Branzino's. Both Dorita and I bought one. Branzino is a Mediterranean white fish known as the European bass. It has a mild, delicate flavor. I cooked with the head on, as Sean had just cooked the whole fish the night before and said the eyeballs were delicious! I can't say I found them delicious, but didn't find them unappealing either. These were my first eyeballs! There are a lot of bones in this fish, but it is well worth picking through them. 
1 Branzino; about 1 1/4 lbs. 
1 stick unsalted butter at room temp; I used the leftover tarragon butter that I poached the cod in at Easter. The tarragon added a nice, almost sweet flavor to the fish. You will have lots of butter leftover.
1 Tbsp. capers 
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice 
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley 
1 large rosemary sprig 
3 Tbsp. olive oil 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix the butter with the capers, lemon juice and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Keep at room temperature.
Run water down the cavity of the fish and using your finger remove any stuff that might still be in there; a trick my mother taught me.  Dry with a paper towel. Season the branzino with salt and spread about 2 Tbsp. of the compound butter inside the fish coating both sides of the cavity. Add one sprig of rosemary to the inside of the fish. In a large cast iron or nonstick skillet, heat 3 Tbsp. olive oil until shimmering. Add the branzino and cook over high heat until the skin is browned and crisp, about 3 minutes per side.
Roast the fish in the oven for about 10 minutes until just cooked through. To serve, I filleted the fish to remove the back bone. It could have easily been served whole, 1 fish per person, but with brown rice and green peas it made a complete meal. Serve with about 1 Tbsp. of the Lemon Caper compound butter on the side. 

This is not a pretty picture, but I wanted you to see his little head popping up. 
My husband did not opt for the head. Lucky me, since we were splitting one fish, I got the whole thing!

I was impressed that Forbes Meat Company sells such a variety of meats, fish and poultry. They make their own sausages, cure their own bacon and make unbelievably huge meatballs! Here is the sausage, bacon, meatball freezer with Dorita trying to decide...
So many's not easy. I wanted one of everything! The meatballs are about 3" around.
I hope I've remembered this right, but I believe Sean told me they are made with 60% ground beef, 20% ground veal, and 20% ground pork. The fat ratio is perfect and they are spiced gently, but nicely. Last night I served them plain with some old fashioned corn and mashed sweet potatoes.
They were also delicious as a traditional spaghetti and meatball dinner with sauted zucchini and mushrooms.
From all of those beautiful sausages, I chose lamb merguez.
Merguez is a spicy lamb sausage originally from North African countries of Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. They quickly became popular throughout the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Western Europe. You don't see them offered that much in America. The ground lamb is combined with spices, such as chili, cumin, harissa, garlic, fennel, sumac, etc. Recipes vary regionally. Although often grilled to bring out the smoky flavor, I decided to pan sear the merguez in a little olive oil, sliced the merguez and mixed with some rich cooked lentils and mushrooms that I had made the other day. I cooked the lentils in shallots, garlic and a pork/lamb broth. I always save the bones from our meat and just happened to have both pork and lamb and thought that would enhance the lamby flavor of the merguez. It did, but chicken stock would work well, too.
I love the way the spices ooze out when you slice the sausage and also love the texture of the finely minced lamb. Traditionally merguez sausage are quite thin, less than 1" in diameter as lamb intestines are not huge, and links are made about 4" long. 
If you have not had lamb merguez you really must try it! 

Forbes Meat Company also had some plump and luscious looking chicken feet! That is a product you do not see in US meat counters! I actually have only cooked them one time before when my husband, Jerry and I were in Virgin Gorda. I admit these may not be for everyone, but they are more tasty than you might believe and as they cook in chicken stock make a deeply, rich flavorful broth. The feet become very tender and meat falls off the bone! to speak!
In the Caribbean I made chicken feet soup and that is what I plan to do again. 

To find the recipe, go to: 

Forbes had a wonderful selection of wagyu beef and I had to buy the chicken feet! Oh well, my friend Dorita got some wagyu rib-eyes and said they were out of this world! I can't wait to go back to Forbes! Thanks Sean for being so helpful on our fist (and not last!) visit to Forbes Meat Company.

My blogspot is a Google product and as with so many techie companies they are constantly changing. In July, they are doing away with the SUBSCRIBE feature so thanks to a person much smarter than me, I have imported your emails into a new email server and you should continue receiving an email from me each time I blog. Just click on the link in the email you receive and it will take you here. I apologize if you get two emails each time I blog until they take their SUBSCRIBE feature down in July. I am learning so just not sure. 

Kirk was also able to import the new SUBSCRIBE button so if you are seeing this blog for the first time and want to SUBSCRIBE, simply put your email in that spot in the upper left hand corner of the blog and you will start getting emails, too.