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Tasting best of Houston, Tucson (with gallery)

We have just returned from our yearly trip to Tucson and it was cooler there than in Mississippi. The monsoon season is in July and with the rain and overcast skies it was a pleasant stay. We were going to take a trip down the Grand Canyon by mule this year but learned that that must be booked a year in advance—we have made our reservations for July 2019!

We usually begin our journey with a stop in Houston where there are so many good places to eat. We ate at Xochi and Hugo’s, both restaurants the creation of Hugo Ortego, a James Beard Award winning chef.

At Xochi pronounced (so-chee) I had my first grilled octopus and it was delicious but a little chewy. But I guess that is to be expected. It was wood-roasted with a masa pancake, toasted pumpkin seeds, and pepper adobo. Our appetizer was a flash-seared tuna, cucumber, jicama, mangosteen, and mole vinaigrette. Best of all was a crispy pork belly, cactus salad, rice, beans, pickled onions, and tortillas. The dessert was the cocoa shell with ice cream and chocolate which I have talked about before. But it is the most decadent dessert I have ever eaten. Even the two of us couldn’t finish it.

Hugo’s again had their summer squash blossoms menu. We chose everything from the squash blossom menu and everything was delicious. We ordered three items: one was a salad of spring mixed lettuces, balls of goat cheese, avocado, purslane, squash ribbons, squash blossoms, herbs, and olive oil. We then ordered a ceviche consisting of shrimp, snapper, crab meat, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, squash blosoms, and lime. Our last item was three empanadas of corn, squash, quesillo, and mole amarillo. I was so taken with the menu I got an order of squash blossom soup to go, so dinner was prepared for five hours later.

You may ask why use squash blossoms? They are rather tasteless in themselves, but they do add beauty and interest to dishes. They can be found in farmer’s markets and your gardens. Being extremely perishable, they need to be prepared straight from the garden or upon returning from the farmer’s market. They are a good source of calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. Choose the slender-stemmed male blossoms instead of the females, which have a small bulb at their base. If you plan to stuff them, it is best to cut them early in the morning while they are still open and more easily stuffed.

Our trip to Houston included a visit to Peckerwood Gardens in nearby Hempstead. They are not open daily and visits have to be scheduled in advance. The garden was originally created by the late John G. Fairey and the Peckerwood Garden Conservation Foundation was created to preserve the existing collection and support continued plant exploration and trials. They are also now propagating plants for sale. The climate is not so different from here. We spent two hours with a very knowledgeable guide, fortunately mostly in the shade. If you are a plant person, this is a great garden. They have many plants collected from northern Mexico as well as natives and many from the Orient.

Breakfast in Houston was of course a koloche. I love these balls of dough stuffed with goodies. I had one with peppers and cheese, very hot but good.

 

Here is a recipe for ceviche, perhaps almost like Hugo’s!

Ceviche should of course be served well-chilled. It is a delicious summer treat, and very low in calories.

 

Shrimp Ceviche with Avocado

Serves 12

2 lbs. large shrimp, cooked and cut into 1-inch bite size pieces

1 cup lump crabmeat picked over, optional

1 fresh lemon, juice of

Salt, to taste

3 medium cucumbers, peeled and roughly diced

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 medium onion, diced

1 bunch cilantro, chopped

1 bunch green onion, chopped

4 medium firm tomatoes, diced

3 fresh limes, juice of

1 fresh lemon, juice of

Garlic powder, to taste

Lemon pepper, to taste

3-4 medium firm avocados, diced

Chili or seafood cocktail sauce, optional to serve

Tostadas chips or scoops, to serve

In a medium bowl, mix together the chunks of shrimp and crab if using and the juice of one lemon; season to taste with salt and black pepper. Set aside and chill (in the refrigerator or on ice) for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the ceviche by combining all the ingredients (add the avocados last, just before serving) in a large bowl with ice water, stirring well to combine. Drain well, fold in the shrimp and season to taste with garlic powder and lemon pepper.

Keep well chilled until serving time.

Serve with tortilla chips and optional chili sauce.

Ceviche is best served on the day it is made.