Archive | Blogs

Griffin to Go: Get Your Pink On

Griffin to Go: Get Your Pink On

This coming Saturday is one of my favorite days of the year.

rosewine

Think pink on Saturday.

That’s when Culinaria presents Rambling Rosé at Becker Vineyards, 464 Becker Farms Road, Stonewall.

During the two panels, set for 1 and 3 p.m., a roomful of wine lovers get together to discuss one of the most maligned yet resilient wines produced.

When the event began more than 10 years ago, rosé was not taken seriously by too many American wine writers, at least the pompous overgrown boys who drink only Cabernet no matter what the temperature is outside. Back then, pink wine was also thought to be white Zinfandel, that cloyingly sweet concoction that tastes more like soda than wine.

We would ask the audience how many people drank rosé, which is dry, not sweet, and very few outside of the panelists answered yes.

But something funny happened on the way to the winery. Year after year, the number of people who drank rosé began to grow. The number of wineries in America making serious pink wine took off. Wine shops began devoting more shelf space to these beauties, and sales increased steadily.

Rosé comes in many shades of pink.

Rosé comes in many shades of pink.

Most importantly, people began to realize how enjoyable a dry rosé can be. It’s the perfect summer wine, fresh and refreshing, youthful and vibrant. It’s great with a whole array of foods or just by itself. And that may be why it’s now my go-to style of wine for the 10 months of the year when the thermometer shows a bit of red.

Plus, they’re often affordable, though Chateau d’Esclans from Provence makes a rosé that sells for more than $100 a bottle.

So, come join us to learn more about all of the styles, flavors and colors that can be considered a rosé. Winery owner Richard Becker, sommelier Steven Kreuger, Bonnie Walker and I will all be part of the panel, which has also included winemakers, wine educators and rosé aficionados. We’ll taste a number of pink wines from around the world along with food from chef John Brand of the upcoming Hotel Emma at the Pearl.

The price is $25, which includes the wines, the food and some summer fun at Becker Vineyards. For tickets, click here.

Posted in Drinks, Griffin to Go1 Comment

Griffin to Go: Are Too Many Diners Expecting the Moon These Days?

Griffin to Go: Are Too Many Diners Expecting the Moon These Days?

Diners, beware. Open season has been declared on those of you who eat out. And the complaints aren’t just coming from wait staff.

Do you see this person as friend or foe?

Do you see this person as friend or foe?

Chefs, managers, critics and even some actors are getting into the mix.

Oh, sure, there are still a few people who go out to eat, politely order their food, eat and enjoy themselves, tip their server between 15 and 20 percent, maybe thank the chef and then leave. But if you’re one of those people, you need to realize that you’re part a dying breed.

Today’s diners are far less gracious. Don’t think that I’m merely talking about the hipster crowd or Millennials, because the rampant bad behavior seems to belong to no single age group. There are grumblers, old and young, who are never satisfied with what they’re served and make no bones that anything less than perfection is unacceptable.

Take tables, for example. Anywhere they’re seated is not good enough. Too close to the kitchen. Too far from the bar. Too noisy. Too close to another table. Too lacking in feng shui. After playing Goldilocks with the chairs a half-dozen times, they still haven’t found a place that’s “just right,” and they blame the restaurant for it.

Or maybe the table is filled with diners who spend 20 minutes taking pictures of their food and then complain that the meal is not hot enough. Really, folks? How long does it take to take a picture? I have often joked that food photography has become the 21st century’s way of saying grace, because, in a way, it’s a form of being grateful for the food that has been set before you. But if it takes longer to get your picture than it does to say the common table prayer, then you have no right to complain about the temperature of your food — or much of any else.

And let’s not get started on the issue of tipping.

Sure, service needs to evolve to meet the new standards, demands and eccentricities of today’s entitled diners. But where is the line drawn between reasonable and ridiculous? The gripes and sniping have gained in volume, as if some people think they’ll get a free meal if they scream loud enough; their puerile behavior leaves the rest of us wondering what we did wrong because we were enjoying our meal. Some of the restauranteurs who failed to cave in to these diners’ demands have later discovered online reviews from those same upset people who have lashed out in their outrage. These reports pile grievance on top of grievance until it seems as if their dinner had been served in a prison instead of a neighborhood bistro.

Too often, though, these posts come across as outrageous and unintentionally funny, and they have led to the hysterical Real Actors Read Yelp series on YouTube. There are more than 20 of these short videos, and each one is sadder and more laughable than the one that came before it. For a particularly apt example, click here. At the end, you can choose any of the others until you’ve had your fill.

In recent weeks, various stories have appeared about a supposed report that a New York restaurant has done comparing its service from 10 years ago to its service today. Why are so many more complaints are generated nowadays about the service? Videos from both years show that, of course, the diners are the problem and not the restaurant. That is why I say “supposed,” because the restaurant’s identity has not been revealed, so there have been claims that it’s a hoax.

Whether it’s false or true, you may want to read one account of the story (click here) because it offers a lot to chew on, in San Antonio as well as New York. Pay attention to the comments at the end of the piece, too. The vitriol from the readers, who come from all backgrounds and not just the restaurant business, equals the petulance of some diners.

This standoff is likely to get worse before it gets better. But all you prickly, picky diners who expect support from food critics, think again. Your behavior is turning off those who eat out for a living. In a recent online chat, Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post had this to say after being asked what a restaurant was supposed to do after a person slipped and fell in the dining room: “More than any other business I know, people expect restaurants to be and do everything. Can you imagine asking your hair dresser to give you a free trim because it was your birthday? Or expecting half-off on a root canal if your dentist kept you waiting more than 15 minutes?”

So, the next time you go out, leave your attitude at home. You’ll find yourself enjoying the experience more. So will the people around you. If you can’t do that, then kindly limit yourselves to restaurant drive-thru windows. You may not realize it now, but it never pays to bite the hand that feeds you.

Posted in Griffin to Go, Restaurants3 Comments

Griffin to Go: Can’t Say No to the Price. Or the Flavor.

Griffin to Go: Can’t Say No to the Price. Or the Flavor.

popeyes2

A double order of the dark meat at Popeyes.

I don’t really care for standing in a long line to order food to go. Even waiting in the car behind a dozen or so cars isn’t my idea of fun.

popeyesBut there’s always an exception to every rule, and mine is Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

I have long loved the fried chicken here, largely because the spicy version packs a mouthful of flavor in each bit. The skin is largely crisp, and the meat, when it’s hot, is moist and tender. Even when served cold, any leftovers are still a treat. What other fast-food place can you say the same for?

And where else at a drive-thru window can you get Cajun rice — or dirty rice, as most of us call it — as well as meaty green beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, coleslaw and, of course, those buttery biscuits that are simultaneously flaky at the center yet substantial overall.

Tuesday nights brings us Popeyes lovers out of the woodwork. That’s because they charge only 99 cents for two pieces of dark meat, a thigh and a drumstick, two pieces that pack the most flavor. Or you can get those same two pieces with a 22-ounce soda, a biscuit and a side dish for $3.99. (The regular price for two pieces of dark meat is $3.55, though that order usually comes with a biscuit.)

The word has gotten out about this special. The Popeyes near my house has great lines both inside and out on Tuesdays, and the staff in back seem to be getting that chicken ready as fast as they can. And nobody seems to be in a bad mood if they have to wait a few minutes for their meal, either. They’re just as happy to get a great bargain as well as Popeyes’ irresistible fried chicken.

I’ve had this special at several Popeyes in town, but I don’t know how many stores are participating. You may want to check on the one nearest you before you, too, join the line.

Posted in Griffin to Go, What's Hot!0 Comments

Author Leon’s ‘Brunetti’s Cookbook’ a Mystery Lover’s Find

Author Leon’s ‘Brunetti’s Cookbook’ a Mystery Lover’s Find

Those who are passionate about serious detective fiction (the kind without cats as main characters) know the name Donna Leon as one of the best writers around. Set in Venice, Italy, her books are literate and witty. Her main character, Commissario Guido Brunetti, is very smart, a crack investigator with a quiet, inexorable approach to taking down killers.

Brunetti's Cookbook coverBrunetti also has some endearing traits — and the one that endears him to foodies is that he (and his family) savors the simple but deftly created meals that come from his wife Paola’s kitchen. Literal-minded, intellectual and outspoken, Paola is also a university professor — and suffers no fools gladly.

Leon was born in the United States, but has lived in Venice for decades. So, her award-winning Brunetti series is grounded in her direct experience of the fascinating city. Yes, it is known for its history, architecture, winding canals and boats and corner shops offering the best of Italian pastries and espresso, seasonal food and a strong culinary culture.

She also mixes in the blemishes that tourist brochures avoid: the garbage that floats in the canals, the mobs of unruly tourists and the tacky shops that cater to them. But most of all, crime.

The mobsters, murderers, serial killers and others who make up the bad guys in this vividly and intelligently written series would seem to be so rampant as to require a small army to keep them at bay. And Guido Brunetti, a sort of one-man army against this lot in Venice, can’t fight on an empty stomach.

Brunetti's Cookbook illusNevertheless, says Leon in the first of six essays included in the book, she never intended to write a cookbook — her characters ate the way Italians eat, with an expectation that the food would be excellent and meals luxurious.

“Though many Italians have read the books and remarked on them to me over the years, none has ever mentioned the presence of food: For them, as for me, Brunetti’s meals are simply a part of the received culture. How would people be expected to eat?” she says.

“Brunetti’s Cookbook,” (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24.95) is the second printing of the book, which originally was published in Great Britain in 2010 as “A Taste of Venice: At Table with Brunetti.”

So, while the book is not a new release, the recipes, the stories and charming color illustrations by Tatajana Hauptmann are timeless. The recipes are accompanied by text from Leon’s novels and the recipes were created by Roberta Pianaro.

I didn’t know this book existed until I had read many of the books in Leon’s Brunetti series. The recipes sounded simple and every book had me convinced I’d soon be making such wonders as Paola’s Seafood Antipasto, or Monkfish Cutlets with Peppers or Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger.

One day, while reading, it occurred to me that of course, someone must have thought to present a cookbook project to the author. And if not, I’d be the one to do it. I went to Amazon and there it was: A cookbook embracing all of that beautiful food and also quite wonderful — excerpts from the books to accompany them, to provide context for many of the dishes and to display samples of Leon’s writing prowess.

It was hard to choose just a few recipes to share, too. But I chose them based on what I’d found most enticing. And yes, I still plan to cook them.

If you wish to enter into Brunnetti’s world, I’d suggest finding the book list for Leon’s series, start with No. 1 and make your way through the two dozen or so books. Another suggestion: Don’t chomp your way through these carefully crafted police procedurals, take your time — there is much to savor!

Recipes:

Chicken Breasts with Artichokes (Petto di pollo al carciofi)

Swordfish with Savoury Breadcrumbs (Pesce spada al pangrattato saporito)

Risotto with Squash Blossoms and Ginger (Risotto di fiori di zucca e zenzero)

 

Posted in Cookbooks, WalkerSpeak2 Comments

‘Chef’ a Feel-Good Film for Foodies

‘Chef’ a Feel-Good Film for Foodies

Jon Favreau and Emjay Anthony in "Chef."

Jon Favreau and Emjay Anthony in “Chef.”

Jon Favreau’s latest movie, “Chef,” is opening today in San Antonio, offering some fine cinematic fare food-lovers should enjoy.

It’s not without its flaws — some characters are cliched and the storyline is often predictable. This doesn’t mean “Chef” isn’t enjoyable. The kitchen scenes, replete with bandaged burns and cut fingers, lots of bro horseplay and language, do show the realities of preparing food — even bad restaurant food — for crowds. The film also gives us a stereotypical overbearing owner (Dustin Hoffman) to hate and a wonderful performance by Emjay Anthony as Casper’s 11-year-old son, Percy. It is Percy who introduces Casper to the perils of Twitter and handy aspects of other social media — some of funniest parts of the movie — while his obvious yearning for connection with his dad tugs at the heart.

Chef Jon Favreau pic 1The story: Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) loudly quits his restaurant job in Los Angeles for not wanting to make French onion soup and molten lava cake, etc., for a food blogger/critic; chef throws self-indulgent tantrum in the dining room telling food critic how much criticism hurts; chef buys a food truck in Miami with help from his ex’s rich and eccentric first husband, a hilarious cameo by Robert Downey Jr.; and finally, Casper reconnects with son, himself and maybe even his sultry (and kind) ex, the lovely Sofia Vergara.

Kitchen scenes are pretty realistic –  women aren’t  included. Female roles in this movie are relegated to cheerleaders and moral (and financial) supporters. Also, we’d mention that no self-respecting food critic announces to a chef when they are planning a serious review visit. Seriously.

The film also offers fabulous shots of food, notably the spread the Casper prepares in his (dumpy) apartment after he quits; the creation of his food truck Cuban sandwiches. Watching Casper’s face as he slices off bits of a lovely roast pork with faithful co-cook and friend, played by John Leguizamo, makes you want to reach out and get a slice.

You’ll appreciate that an actor took the time to learn to slice with a chef’s knife real fast. And, enjoy all of the stops the El Jefe Cubanos food truck makes on its way back to LA from Miami, including one at Franklin Barbecue in Austin. The music is great, too.

“Chef” has some good scenes, food scenes and laughs, as well as an interesting twist at the end, which we certainly won’t divulge here.

 “Chef” is playing at the Bijou, Alamo Drafthouse Park North and more. Check listings for times and places.

 

 

Posted in WalkerSpeakComments Off

Savor the Jet Set Era, Courtesy of PanAm’s Classic Cookbook

Savor the Jet Set Era, Courtesy of PanAm’s Classic Cookbook

The jet set era is the setting for "Catch Me If You Can" at the Woodlawn Theatre.

The jet set era is the setting for “Catch Me If You Can” at the Woodlawn Theatre.

It’s time to remember the era of the jet set, when martinis were made with gin and clam dip filled the center of the swankiest party tables.

We’re reminded of those swinging days of yesteryear thanks to the latest season of “Mad Men” on AMC and the arrival of “Catch Me If You Can” at the Woodlawn Theatre. You may remember that title from the Tom Hanks-Leonardo di Caprio film, but the story has been turned into a full-throttle musical filled with plenty of globe trotting and chorus lines of long-legged stewardesses (that’s right, they were not flight attendants back then) and nurses ready to fulfill any handsome doctor’s orders.

PanAm CookbookPart of the fun of jet-setting was being able to try foods from around the world alongside the deviled eggs, the chicken liver pâté and egg rolls. One place where recipes could be found was Myra Waldo’s “The Complete Round-the-World Cookbook,” a PanAm-inspired series of recipes from more than 80 countries.

Waldo’s goal was global education through food. “The world of travel, the observation of the life and ways of others, the spirit of inquiry, the willingness to eat what others eat, and fundamentally and primarily the maintaining of an open mind on all subjects is the surest way for us to learn something about the rest of the world,” she writes.

Leafing through a copy shows that the author knew a thing or two about creating bold flavors from countries and regions as far-flung as Egypt, the Balkans, Burma, New Zealand and the Greater Antilles. Her recipes seem fairly easy to put together, whether you want to make German Paprika Fish, Turkish Fruit Salad, Canadian Pork Pie or Trinidad Rum Punch.

Waldo’s book is out of print now, but you can find copies for reasonable (and unreasonable) prices at half.ebay.com.

Noodles with Walnuts

Noodles with Walnuts

In the meantime, you can taste a few of these international treats in these recipes:

You can see “Catch Me If You Can” at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredericksburg Road, through May 11. Call (210) 267-8388 for tickets.

 

Brian Hodges (center) stars in "Catch Me If You Can" at the Woodlawn Theatre.

Brian Hodges (center) stars in “Catch Me If You Can” at the Woodlawn Theatre. (Production photos: Siggi Ragnar)

Posted in Griffin to GoComments Off

Nothing Beats Handmade, Even at NIOSA

Nothing Beats Handmade, Even at NIOSA

Whipping the beans with an immersion blender.

Whipping the beans with an immersion blender.

When Steve Guerrero started running NIOSA’s bean taco booth about six years ago, the product just wasn’t up to his standards.

Steve Guerrero is the chairman of the bean taco booth.

Steve Guerrero is the chairman of the bean taco booth.

The corn tortillas were store-bought and the beans were out of a can. So, he set out to convince the organizers of A Night in Old San Antonio that his team could do much better.

A bean taco, NIOSA-style.

A bean taco, NIOSA-style.

So, they started soaking their own beans and whipping them into a fine mash, and they rolled out their own balls of masa, which were then flattened into tortillas and cooked on comals over burning charcoal.

The result was a hit with more than the committee. Guerrero’s Tacos de Frijoles booth has developed a local following that grows a little bigger each year.

I had the chance to work with Guerrero, his wife, Cynthia and a host of family and friends on Tuesday, NIOSA’s opening night. Most every year for the past 15 years, I have had the pleasure and privilege of working in a series of different NIOSA booths, where I’ve helped make items such as Shypoke Eggs, Horseshoe Sausage, Fried Mushrooms and Bongo K-bobs. This year, it was time to try my hand at bean tacos, and it was a case of love at first bite.

Gene Arevalos gets some coals burning.

Gene Arevalos gets some coals burning.

For the ones who do the prep work before the gates open, the beans need to start cooking at around 2:30 p.m. In the large pots, which hold about 8 pounds of beans, go plenty of bacon grease, fresh onion and a heap of spices, all of which need time to cook together. When the beans are ready, one of the volunteers will take out that immersion blender and go to work, punching it up and down in the mixture until the texture is the consistency of peanut butter, says Victor Gutierrez, who has been volunteering with Guerrero somewhere on the NIOSA grounds for about 26 years.

Together with Gene Arevalos, they have worked tamales, wine, ice cream, enchiladas, quesadillas, you name it. They’re like family. They may only see each other once a year, for NIOSA, but it’s always a reunion that they look forward to, even if they work all four nights of the event, Gutierrez says.

Whenever a task needs to be done, you’ll likely find someone putting on a pair of gloves in order to go to work. It could be preparing the masa, which requires someone to add some of that beloved bacon grease as well as water to the corn mixture and then work it all together so that it is pliable enough. The corn dough is then rolled into balls before being pressed out to the right thickness. Each tortilla is then slapped on the hot griddle and left to cook until golden and perfectly hot to the fingertips.

Teresa Gonzales Ramon displays her Fiesta hat.

Teresa Gonzales Ramon displays her Fiesta hat.

My first assignment was to help with rolling out the masa balls. We finished off a batch of masa, which resulted in several hundred balls, which were refrigerated until needed. Then Guerrero, Gutierrez and others led me through the paces of pressing them using a metal press. To keep the masa from sticking to the press, each ball of dough was placed between two sheets of plastic that had been slicked down with a little, you guessed it, bacon grease. Gutierrez mentioned how his mother used to use waxed paper for that, which would make sense because the tortilla wouldn’t stick to that.

Once the hot tortillas were fully cooked, they were then wrapped in a towel inside a basket in order to stay warm until one of the women in the front line needed to fill an order. At that point, a steaming hot corn tortilla was placed on a plate, then smeared with plenty of beans before being crowned with shredded lettuce, tomato and cheese. Salsa and salt are available if you want to dress your taco up.

There were few questions asked, though a couple wanted their tacos without beans but extra cheese. Cynthia Guerrero, Steve’s wife, and her team in front were happy to oblige.

Cynthia Guerrero samples a bean taco.

Cynthia Guerrero samples a bean taco.

Of course, a taco or two had to be sampled, for purposes of quality control, you understand. And the answer is a resounding yes. I’m glad I hadn’t tasted these six years ago when everything was processed and prepared in advance. The creamy smooth beans with their cumin, garlic powder, onion and bacon grease was made even better by the addition of the hot tortilla as well as the cheese that just melted into everything else. Tomatoes, lettuce and salsa just made it all the more wonderful.

Tacos de Frijoles is on the way to anticucho booth. Make sure you stop for a taco to give you strength and patience while you’re standing in the long line there. You’ll really be glad you did.

Frijoles NIOSA-Style

Steve Guerrero shared the outline for his family’s recipe for beans, which are made each night of NIOSA at the Tacos de Frijoles booth. You can make them using canned beans, but they’re better if you soak your own pintos overnight and then start.

Assembling the bean tacos.

Assembling the bean tacos.

1 pound pinto beans, soaked overnight or canned
1 onion, finely chopped
½ cup bacon grease
Salt, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
Cumin, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

In a large stock pan, add the beans and onion with the bacon grease and the seasonings. Bring to a boil, then let simmer covered for at least 2 ½ hours or until the beans are soft. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Using an immersion blender, blend everything in the pot until it resembles creamy peanut butter in sight and texture.

Spread the beans on a hot corn tortilla. Top with cheese, tomato and lettuce, if desired. Serve with salsa.

Makes 10-12 servings.

Adapted from Steve Guerrero

Corn tortillas on the comal.

Corn tortillas on the comal.

Go, Spurs, Go!

Go, Spurs, Go!

Victor Gutierrez spots a friend in the NIOSA crowd.

Victor Gutierrez spots a friend in the NIOSA crowd.

 

Posted in Griffin to GoComments Off

Tagine: Morocco’s Sumptuous, Spicy Dish

Tagine: Morocco’s Sumptuous, Spicy Dish

How many exotic ingredients can go into a Moroccan stew called tagine? As many as you might want — tagine recipes probably number in the thousands, especially counting those not written down.

A couple of Sundays ago we set up shop in Saundra Winokur’s kitchen for a day-into-evening cooking party. Scents of saffron and cinnamon, braised beef, preserved lemon, fresh ginger, coriander and cumin mingled with the sound of wine glasses clinking — and plenty of chatter.

Tagines and other Moroccan cooking implements from Saundra Winokur.

Tagines and other Moroccan cooking implements from Saundra Winokur.

Tagine also refers to the earthenware (clay or terracotta) cooking implement that funnels the steam through a hole at the tip of the conical top while the food slow-cooks to tenderness in the bottom of the dish.

My own glossy black tagine was new, a Christmas gift from fellow foodie and SavorSA partner John Griffin. He found this one (see photo at bottom) from Ten Thousand Villages at the Pearl. Up to this point, it held down a place of honor atop the fireplace mantel, where it looked quite exotic, full of promise yet unfulfilled. Now was the time to put it to use.

While I’d made Moroccan-style stews before, this was the first time using an actual tagine — and yes, there was a learning curve! First, it had to seasoned or cured. Fortunately, I’d read about this with enough time to spare that I was able to do the soaking, seasoning, heating, cooling and so for that was required for using the glossy dark pot.  (The information that came with my pot was not as detailed as this information on curing the tagine that is on about.com.)

Tagine Recipes:

What I also learned — it takes more time to do a stew in this clay pot when it’s done in the oven as the pot can only handle up to about 350 degrees, according to the information that came with it. Fortunately, I was making chicken, not lamb or beef, which would have taken longer to cook to tenderness. The bright side of long cooking, too, is that the incredible aromas have that much more time to perfume the whole house.

Beef tagine with finishing touches.

Beef tagine with finishing touches.

While I made Chicken with Cracked Green Olives and Preserved Lemon, John assembled a savory stew of Beef Short Ribs with Cauliflower. My husband, David, prepared couscous with help from guests Linda Perez and Kathleen Kelly. Two cats and a dog sniffed around for treats, but we’re pretty sure the powerful spice aromas didn’t appeal as much to them as they did to us.

Sandy, who owns Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard in Elmendorf, had put together her tagine the day before. That dish of beef with pumpkin (or in this case squash) had had time to rest overnight. “The flavors really were so much better the next day,” Sandy said.

She had also added honey, white raisins (which she prefers for the most flavor) and currants to add a touch of sweetness. Since this was party among friends, not a tagine cook-off, we didn’t need to decide whose was best. And in fact, we all agreed later that it was pretty much a draw — and each dish was enjoyed on its own merits.

Chicken with Cracked Green Olives and Preserved Lemon Tagine

Chicken with Cracked Green Olives and Preserved Lemon Tagine

The flavors of the beef and pumpkin were spicy, but really offered a comforting umami from well-blended flavors and tender beef. The chicken and green olives was a bit more spiky than sweet, with the preserved lemon and salty olives (though they were soaked in water for awhile which toned down the salt).

The tagine pot imparted a mild, earthy flavor all its own, which is an expected part of the flavor profile.

Beef short ribs are always delicious — add chopped fresh tomato and warm toasted cauliflower, along with the chopped fresh herbs and you have one great stew. John mentions that Paula Wolfert’s “The Foods of Morocco” offers several dozen recipes for tagine, including one that is demanding to be made next — Lamb Tagine with Pears and Green Apple. A look around the Internet brought some interesting options, too. One, Camel Tagine, we doubt we’ll make any time soon.

Couscous, the tiny, grainlike semolina pasta, is good with this dish as is rice. Sandy also mentions that cauliflower, too, can be processed and steamed to make a couscous-like side dish. Take your time with tagine. Whether you get the pot with the same name, or use a Dutch oven, the reward will be one of the most delicious stews you’ve ever made.

Brown the beef in turmeric, spices and herbs.

Beef browning in turmeric, spices and herbs.

 

Beef with Pumpkin Tagine

We don’t have a recipe as such for Sandy’s dish, as she put the dish together after combing through a number of recipes. It could be easily duplicated, she says.

Braise 3 pounds of beef, cut into chunks; brown/sauté chopped onion, garlic and three peeled and cut up carrots with a blend of Moroccan spices (ground cumin, cinnamon and ginger). Add to the ingredients a peeled and seeded 1-2 cups of diced squash, honey (perhaps a tablespoonful) as well as a handful of white raisins and currants. Add beef stock to cover and simmer until the beef is tender.

Tagine my pot cropped

 

Posted in Blogs, Cooking, WalkerSpeak2 Comments

Turn-N-Burn: BBQ Action Heats up in Pleasanton

Turn-N-Burn: BBQ Action Heats up in Pleasanton

Pleasanton bbq cookoff smoker

PJ’s Smokehouse one of the big rigs — and top cookers, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLEASANTON — A lot more goes into winning a barbecue competition than luck, though luck plays a part when it comes to having good weather and a road-worthy barbecue rig. That’s because these men and women head to competitions around the state, as they did on Saturday, 150-strong. We headed south to get a taste of judging a really big competition. No, ours wasn’t the tough part of the work done on Saturday, but it was certainly a front-row seat with a lot of great-tasting ( and some not so great) barbecue.

Pleasanton bbq cookoff ribsMost exciting moment: With fewer than 10 seconds left to get his product to the judging table, one cooker raced through the entrance to the Atascosa Show Barn, his entry of barbecued ribs clutched in his hand, listening to a crowd chant a countdown. He made it with milliseconds to spare — and earned a hearty round of applause.

The Turn-N-Burn Cook-Off (actually its full name is 4th annual Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce and Western Premium BBQ Products (W3) Turn-N-Burn Barbeque Cook-off) was third in a series and sanctioned by the International Barbecue Cookers Association. Previous events in this year’s series were in Gruene and Helotes.

Why do so many compete? First, there’s the fun of it all, the thrill of competition. Then, there’s the money. The series grand champion will get a prize of $5,000, with prizes of $1,000 going to the winners of the pork ribs, brisket and chicken categories.

The total payout, however, was to be much higher. At the Pleasanton Turn-n-Burn competition alone was a payout of $35,000, plus the winners of the series finale and a custom barbeque pit trailer by One Man Pits (valued at $9,600) would place the event payout at just over $50,000, according to an article in the Pleasanton Express. pleasanton bbq cookoff rushing around

John Griffin and I sat through two preliminary rounds of judging (chicken first, then ribs). There were a few shouted instructions, then numbered boxes were set before each of us at a table for five. It was cut off a piece, taste, pass the box to the next judge, repeat — and there was no fooling around about it. And, no using your fork to take a taste, then use it again on the next entry — the barbecue judges’ brand of double-dipping. We used plenty of plastic forks, paper napkins and sliced dill pickles for palate cleansers — a perfect touch.

Judging an event like this isn’t necessarily a task to be done if you’re hungry. No, the monitor told us — we each didn’t get to pick up a whole rib and dig in. We got to cut off a slice and that was it. And it was enough when you were judging 14-15 entries at your table alone.

Naturally, some barbecue got lower marks than others. Others, we found it tough to pass along a few of those boxes. A  certain lush, somewhat mustardy sweet-tangy sauce on the first pork rib entry we tasted was the one we still remembered lovingly at the end of the (preliminary) judging. We wouldn’t find out whether this was the winner — but for us, it was. Sauce on pork ribs, some of it generously slathered, did seem to be far more a popular treatment than dry rub.

A contestant brushes sauce on his pork ribs entry at the Turn-N-Burn competition.

A contestant brushes sauce on his pork ribs entry at the Turn-N-Burn competition.

By mid-afternoon it was time for the brisket prelims and we considered it. That is, until we saw the long line of prospective judges waiting for what apparently was the main event. Not sure that we’d make it back to the judging table, even if we stood and waited in line an hour, we ducked out.

It was not just a beautiful day for cooking outside, but fine weather for the cowboys, horses and long-suffering calves racing around for the roping event. That morning, as we wandered in the general direction of the show barn to judge, one of those horses got away from its rider and romped past us, kicking up plenty of dirt and enjoying a few moments of freedom.

At the end of the day, it had been a real taste of South Texas for us — even if we didn’t stay for the dancing. (Or the results. This hard-won battle will probably be posted on the Turn-n-Burn website Sunday or Monday. )

ropin2Photographs by John Griffin and Bonnie Walker

Posted in WalkerSpeakComments Off

Griffin to Go: Vacation with Friends Becomes Culinary Tour of Atlanta

Griffin to Go: Vacation with Friends Becomes Culinary Tour of Atlanta

The cafe at Cakes & Ale in Decatur.

The cafe at Cakes & Ale in Decatur.

It’s been five years since I was last in Atlanta, and in that time, the city’s culinary scene has grown much more flavorful. One sign is the growing number of local chefs and restaurants to make the semifinalists list for this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards, the Oscars of the culinary world.

A chef at Gunshow offers a fried lobster tail.

A chef at Gunshow offers one of his dishes.

But beyond that is the growth and increasing diversity of the city. Drive down Buford Highway and you can shop Asian supermarkets that astound with their variety and freshness. Head over to Howell Mill Road, where Bacchanalia continues to reign as the city’s finest dining establishment, and you’ll find the market Star Provisions, which is filled with plenty of gourmet items, including a pungent array of imported cheeses and charcuterie. Since I left a week ago, I’ve learned that the DeKalb Farmers Market is expanding into a facility that will eventually cover 700,000 square feet of space, and all of it devoted to the freshest foods.

My friends Bill and Laurie live in the suburb of Decatur, where everything they might want is in walking distance of their home. That includes groceries, restaurants of all ethnic stripes, bars, bakeries, breweries, butchers, a twice-weekly farmers market, you name it. So, this being a vacation for Bill as well as myself, we could head out to Leon’s for a hand-crafted cocktail and some swellegant, as Cole Porter would say, snacks of radishes atop buttered pumpernickel, before heading on to Victory a few blocks away for another hand-crafted cocktail. Even closer to their place was the Kimball House, which had some of the finest oysters on the half shell that I’ve had in years and, yes, the best hand-crafted cocktails we sipped. And we never had to get into the car to visit all of these places. Plus, walking in the cold has to be considered some form of exercise, right?

Oysters and cocktails at the Kimball House. Yes, please.

Oysters and cocktails at the Kimball House. Yes, please.

Also close by is Cakes & Ale, which is quickly gaining a national reputation for chef Billy Allin’s simple yet elegant cuisine: an irresistible North Carolina trout, filleted tableside and served with radish and greens; a firm slab of cobia with buttery fingerling potatoes and practically melted onion; sable fish collar with farro; roasted beets tossed with the supplest citrus; and a salad that married apple, pear and greens in a boiled cider vinaigrette.

There’s nothing on that list you won’t find in a many another restaurant, but Allin manages to take these local foods and make you taste them as if for the very first time. This is nowhere more true than in the combination of sweet beets matched with slivers of tart blood oranges, flavors so vibrant that they didn’t even need the yogurt dressing.

Sriracha milkshake, anyone? It's at Pallookaville.

Sriracha milkshake, anyone? It’s at Pallookaville.

The cakes part of the name can be had after dinner or at the adjoining cafe, which we visited on another occasion to fill up on pastries, cookies and breads from pastry chef David Garcia. The back of the cafe is one of those uncovered brick walls that always add a sense of authenticity to the ambiance; what the owners didn’t know when they cleared off the plaster, though, was that the wall had been painted with an turn-of-the-20th-century advertisement for another bakery, which they chose to keep, enhancing the experience.

Portuguese pork belly and clams at Gunshow.

Portuguese pork belly and clams at Gunshow.

Kevin Gillespie’s Gunshow was decidedly different, in a very good way. The two-time “Top Chef” contestant has created a space with an almost carnival-like atmosphere that draws from both Chinese dim sum and the Brazilian churrascuria styles of dining. Enter the nondescript dining area with its open kitchen, exposed ceilings and cement floors, and you’ll find a series of carts being wheeled in between long aisles of community-style tables. You may not realize right off, however, that the people pushing the carts are the restaurant’s chefs, six in all, who have prepared the dishes — and it’s up to them to sell you on each of their creations.

This is fun. It brings you into direct contact with your chef, so you can ask any and all the questions you want about the food or the ingredients they used — if you can hear them or be heard above the din that surrounds you, that is. Gunshow is loud, but it’s a lively noise filled with clanking forks and knifes, and it whets your appetite as much as the sight of a fried lobster tail or a bowl of warm banana pudding topped with a a swirl of meringue. The menu changes frequently, depending on what’s freshest and what your chefs want to create. On the night we visited, the menu reflected a global smorgasbord of influences. There were Portuguese pork belly and clams, Floribbean snapper, barbecue quail with “Southern fix’ns,” braised beef short rib with Moroccan flavors, Scandinavian shrimp salad and veal schnitzel with lingonberry. There was even an attempt to create a handmade In-N-Out burger, which appeared as an off-the-menu surprise.

The General Muir is one of this year's James Beard Award semifinalists.

The General Muir is one of this year’s James Beard Award semifinalists.

You try what you want and how many servings you want. But don’t wait for seconds. We didn’t see any dish repeated over the course of the evening. Wash it down with a glass from the well-chosen wine list — a fruity, dry French rosé worked well with all of the savory dishes, from fish to beef. Or you could get a cocktail from the drinks cart that is wheeled to your table in the same way the dishes arrive.

No one from San Antonio would mistake the fish taco from Taqueria del Sol for what we have here, and there are no substitutes for a handmade tortilla. So, how did this perfectly average place get on the radar of the James Beard Foundation? Chalk it up as one of the mysteries of the culinary universe. I didn’t give the place a second thought once we left it for Chai Pani across the street. This Indian fusion palace, with its punderful wordplay on Chez Panisse, is a funky delight, decorated in vintage Bollywood posters. We started with okra fries, a seasonal treat that everyone should be serving, and a pair of shrub-based cocktails with their tang cutting through some of the richness of the rest of our order: tomato and cheese uttapam, a type of Indian pizza, and Sloppy Jai, spicy lamb sliders.

Fusion works if you can pull it off. And if you don’t, it can be painful. The folks at Sobban, “a Korean Southern diner,” manage to blend the two cultures successfully, in dishes as fun as a fried kimchi bologna sandwich and some sriracha deviled eggs that were reminiscent of those Jason Dady serves at Umai Mi. So, could we be seeing Korean-Mex as the next progression? Who knows?

Lox at the General Muir.

Lox at the General Muir.

Sriracha was used in a milkshake at Pallookavilla Fine Foods, a place known for its double-fried corndogs and shaketails. The fiery sauce was layered thickly between the ice cream and milk, and they balanced each other out to create a fine novelty. Besides, who wouldn’t like going to a place that has a framed, autographed photo of Tura Satana, star of the classic film, “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” hanging in the wall?

Thankfully, the folks at Fox Bros. did not attempt any sort of fusion with their Texas barbecue. Moist, tender brisket and meaty ribs were filled with plenty of smoke, so it should come as no surprise that brothers Jonathan and Justin Fox are originally from San Antonio and have lived in other parts of Texas before moving to Georgia. I felt like I was back on the barbecue trail, and I was happy to be fed in a manner that made me feel right at home.

Fried kimchi and bologna at Sobban.

Fried kimchi and bologna at Sobban.

For breakfast, head to the General Muir, another Beard semifinalist, which offered some amazing salt-cured lox atop a toasted bagel with a schmear of dill horseradish cream cheese. If that’s too early in the day to get fishy, then maybe latkes with applesauce or warm chocolate babka will fill the bill.

Atlanta isn’t the ideal city. Its unemployment rate remains above the national average, and the liveliness of the central city is shadowed by the near-abandonment of some outer suburbs. But there are signs of growth that show its vibrancy and determination, and the pending reintroduction of streetcars should help, especially with tourists and with the ever-increasing number of people relying on public transportation. Within that framework are chefs who are dedicated to using what grows around them. It may not be in the classic Southern style of sweet and fried, but it honors the area’s provender as well as the amazing diversity and cultures of the people who live there. Plus, the restaurants seem to have a clientele ready to be taken along for all sorts of new culinary adventures. That allows the chefs the freedom to get bolder and more creative, prompting more to be tasted. I can hardly wait to taste what they’re doing next.

Filleting a trout at Cakes & Ale.

Filleting a trout at Cakes & Ale.

Posted in Griffin to GoComments Off

Ad
Advert
Advert

Articles by Date

August 2014
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031