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Griffin to Go: At the Alamo Star Ball, It’s Dance First, Then Lunch on the River

Griffin to Go: At the Alamo Star Ball, It’s Dance First, Then Lunch on the River

Joy Lee and Rudolph Rene, front left, dance at the Alamo Star Ball. Ly Box and Aaron Alvarez dance to the right.

Joy Lee and Rudolph Rene, front left, dance at the Alamo Star Ball. Ly Box and Aaron Alvarez dance to the right.

For the last three or four months, I’ve indulged in a passion of mine that goes beyond the world of food. It’s ballroom dancing. It’s not a new habit. I’ve been dancing off and on for more than 16 years now, but I had to take off more than a year because of a number of projects, including working with Bonnie Walker on our book, “Barbecue Lover’s Texas,” and finishing my master’s degree.

Studio One owner Esteban Cardenas hands out paletas during the Alamo Star Ball.

Studio One owner Esteban Cardenas hands out paletas during the Alamo Star Ball.

So, when a friend of mine and fellow student, Joy Lee, offered to help me start all over again and get rid of some of my bad habits in terms of technique, I gladly accepted.

We’ve spent many nights and Sunday afternoons since then slowly going over the basics of foxtrot, waltz and tango, cha-cha, rumba and swing. My learning curve isn’t great at my age and there were times when my feet went into total revolt. But we also had our eyes on something greater: We wanted to compete in the first Alamo Star Ball, which was recently presented by Studio One, which is where we have practiced and take lessons.

The competition was a daylong event in which more than 275 heats were presented. Joy and I started in heat No. 1, a waltz, which happened precisely at the announced starting time of 9 a.m., and we finished our 17th and final heat, No. 265A, sometime in the early evening. Joy had quite a few other heats with one of her instructors, Rudolph René, who danced with his various students more than 100 times over the course of the day.

After all of Joy’s sequined gowns had been stored in her garment bag and my all-black outfits had been changed for something fresher and slightly more colorful (gray!), it was time to do some celebrating. All of our hard work has begun to pay off, as found out later that night that we’d won both of the championships in which we had competed.

The Wyndham RIverwalk's barge salad.

The Wyndham RIverwalk’s barge salad.

Sure, there was a party at the Wyndham Riverwalk, where the competition was held, but even better was the closing event of the three-day weekend: a late Sunday lunch on a river barge.

I am a sucker for barge rides, whether there’s food or not. Add food to the menu and you have a whole new layer of fun. I wasn’t alone in feeling excited. You could tell the rest of the locals, not to mention a charming Westie named Moroni, were ready to enjoy a sunny trip down the San Antonio River.

We boarded where the river meets the Pecan Street hotel. We were greeted with a lively Southwestern salad when we took our seats. The mix of freshly plated greens also featured crispy tortilla strips, corn and roasted red pepper. The main course was a chicken-stuffed chile relleno with rice, beans and a generous sprinkling of cotija over the top. An over-sized slab of tres leches cake polished off the meal. Margaritas flowed freely, adding to the fun.

A waiter prepares dessert while barge diners enjoy their chile relleno.

A waiter prepares dessert while barge diners enjoy their chile relleno.

A manager who was helping oversee the service told me that the Wyndham doesn’t cater many barge dinners, but you’d never know it from what we enjoyed. (You can actually book a barge dinner with any restaurant along the River Walk. Just speak to the manager of your preferred place about what you need to do to set up a dinner.)

But the afternoon was special for more reasons than the food. One of the places we passed on the river was the site of Joy’s old Chinese restaurant, which has sat empty for too many years now. Back in the day, she used to organize an annual holiday boat ride for the dance students and instructors from various studios in town who knew each other, and we would spend an informal evening during the Christmas season sailing under the lights. This is the first time many of us, including our host, Studio One owner Esteban Cardenas, had been on a barge ride together since then.

Add the gorgeous, sun-dappled weather Sunday brought as well as a laid-back and genuinely funny tour guide, who took us on a couple of not-t00-common stretches of the river, including a trek past the Southwest School of Art. His humor proved infectious. As we passed a barge without food, we let the other sightseers know they, too, could have been drinking margaritas and eating cake if only they had paid the $2 upgrade. “What? You didn’t know? Well, you should get after your boat guide,” we said rather smugly. (Yes, it was slightly mean, but most of them laughed along.)

A dense slice of tres leches cake.

A dense slice of tres leches cake.

There was a sense of pride, too, in showing off some of San Antonio’s finest to the out-of-towners in our group, which included a mother and son from El Paso as well as some of the guest judges from Houston and beyond. When the locals are as excited about playing the tourist in their own hometown, you know it’s special. When was the last time you indulged in a passion for spending a lazy afternoon along the river?

Thanks go to all of the organizers of the Alamo Star Ball. Finishing off the event on such a high note has us looking forward to next year’s competition. Here’s hoping my dancing improves enough by then.

A Westie named Moroni makes a friend, dance judge Kasia Kozak, aboard the river barge..

A Westie named Moroni makes a friend, dance judge Kasia Kozak, aboard the river barge.

Posted in Featured, Griffin to Go0 Comments

Getting a Taste of Kentucky’s Own Style of Barbecue

Getting a Taste of Kentucky’s Own Style of Barbecue

Kentucky loves its barbecue, but outside its borders, it really isn’t thought of as a barbecue destination. With the exception of Owensboro, that is.

Old Hichory now has six generations of the same family working in the barbecue business.

Old Hichory now has six generations of the same family working in the barbecue business.

The state’s fourth largest city bills itself as “BBQ Capital of the World” and has an international barbecue festival each May. All this is thanks to the city being home to the state’s only unique style of barbecue: mutton.

You read that right. Not some form of brisket, pork ribs or even pulled pork. Not sausage or chicken. Not even baby lamb, but older sheep meat that’s been turned into a smoky dish many would swear to be good enough to merit a lengthy car ride.

I, of course, had to find out for myself. While visiting my old hometown of Louisville recently, my dad and I headed west shortly after the morning rush hour traffic with the plan of having enough time to get to our first stop in time for lunch.

No one knows exactly why Owensboro or Daviess County would choose mutton as their meat of choice for their barbecue, but a local study of the subject did turn up the fact that there were 11,000 sheep in the area during the Civil War. So, there was a supply of mutton on hand.

Burgoo is on the menu.

Burgoo is on the menu.

If you read up on the subject, in information provided by the area’s top two restaurants, Moonlite Bar-B-Q and Old Hickory Bar-B-Q, you’ll discover that the tradition grew out of the local Catholic churches, who staged fundraising barbecues dating back to the 1870s.

“Mutton is simply mature sheep, much the way veal is young cow and beef is mature cow,” says Moonlite’s website. “The idea that mutton is ‘old’ sheep is one of the reasons it gets a bad rap, so let’s clear that up right now: there are definitely sheep that are far too old to be tasty, just as there are cows that are far too old to be tasty. Mutton is sheep that is just old enough to be really, really tasty. We call it ‘lamb’ if it’s less than 12 months old, and ‘mutton’ from 1 year to 5 years.

“Mutton is one of the best-tasting meats around, and there’s nothing like a good barbeque to bring it out.”

In 1918, Charles “Pappy” Foreman was sold on barbecue mutton, so he opened Old Hickory, and it has been in operation ever since by six generations of the same family. Foreman wasn’t the first in town to do that, but his has lasted the longest.

Mutton, mutton ribs and chopped pork at Old Hickory.

Mutton, mutton ribs and chopped pork at Old Hickory.

We decided to head there first. My phone’s map app sent us in the wrong direction a time or two, but we managed to arrive in time to be the first two sit-down diners of the day. There were plenty of people in line, though, to get to-go orders of some fine meat and some good looking sides.

It was a cold December morning, and the warmth of our waitress’ hospitality as well as her freshly brewed coffee made us feel right at home. Soon, she brought out a steaming hot cup of burgoo, a Kentucky specialty stew that can feature anything from squirrel to chicken. Old Hickory’s used lamb and pork in the mix bolstered by corn, tomato and more vegetables.

All of that had us primed for the three-meat plate that we were sharing, heaped high with mutton, mutton ribs and chopped pork. It was a beautiful sight, with one meat practically flowing into the other on the crowded plate.

I couldn’t wait to dig into the mutton ribs, almost hoping for a taste of something that would remind me of those served at Gonzales Food Market back in Texas. It didn’t, and that’s not a bad thing. Texas’ version of mutton ribs is often so laden with fat, you often have to work hard to find the meat in them. That was not the case here. These ribs were bright and tangy, thanks to a sauce made with a healthy dose of Worcestershire sauce in it, and there was plenty of meat to sink your teeth into. The hickory of the restaurant’s name was not too evident, but there was a slight smokiness integrated into the overall eating experience. The same was true of the chopped mutton.

The buffet line at Moonlite Bar-B-Q.

The buffet line at Moonlite Bar-B-Q.

The pork was a little sweeter and a little more Southern in style, with the hickory flavor a little more pronounced. My dad grabbed a couple of pieces of bread from the plate and, in no time, had himself an old-fashioned sandwich laced with a few slivers of pickle, which came with onions on the plate. It was like old times for the Alabama native.

Yes, this was barbecue well worth the trip. The locals seem to love it as well. All of the tables were filled by the time we left, and praise was flowing freely from all corners.

My dad had not been with me as I drove across Texas in recent months to work on my book with Bonnie Walker, “Barbecue Lover’s Texas” (Globe Pequot Press, $21.95), so he wasn’t used to sitting down to a full meal and then heading out for another full meal or two — or eight — over the course of a day.

He’s also not used to driving two hours in a given direction just to eat, so it surprised him a little that we were simply heading from one restaurant to the next. Following the map app, we got lost again as we headed across town in holiday traffic, but at least we got to see some of Owensboro, which one friend said really is all about the food and not much more. We passed plenty of shopping centers and a few residential areas as proof of that statement, before we landed in a traffic jam in front of Moonlite Bar-B-Q.

Actually, the traffic jam wasn’t in front of Moonlite, it was in front of the neighboring Big Dipper burger stand, but more on that in a bit.

Love those corn muffins at Moonlite.

Love those corn muffins at Moonlite.

Somehow, Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn has earned the tourist status of being the barbecue destination in Kentucky, with hundreds, if not thousands, of hungry diners piling in every day to get their fill of whatever is on the buffet. There’s also a gift shop with everything to commemorate your visit, from hats to jars of their sauce.

But if our visit was any indication, you should skip Moonlite altogether. Maybe I was asking for it by ordering brisket along with the mutton and the chopped pork on the three-meat plate. Or maybe I should have just gone through the buffet like everyone else. Instead, I was served brisket that was so desiccated, it was almost sawdust. The mutton was flavorless to the point of leaving no impression whatsoever. And the pork was merely sweet thanks to an excessive of the tomato-based barbecue sauce that swamped it. The two cornbread muffins on the plate were far and away the best item we were served.

I will say that we appeared to have been in the minority, as most of the people around eagerly heading back to the buffet for numerous visits.

The side dishes at both places were a little underwhelming. Kentucky may have fought for the winning side in the Civil War, but it’s still a Southern state to most cooks, which means their sides are going to be sweet. Expect plenty of sugar in the coleslaw as well as the baked beans. You’ll even find it in the potato salad, where Miracle Whip is often used instead of mayonnaise; that just adds more sugar to the equation, not to mention corn syrup. No thanks.

My dad approaches the order window at the Big Dipper.

My dad approaches the order window at the Big Dipper.

While dining at Moonlite, I received some text messages from a friend warning me about the place. If I wanted real Owensboro barbecue, I should head to Old Hickory. I messaged back that we had already done that, loved it and wondered what else we should try while we were in town. She said to stop at the Big Dipper for a burger “through the garden” and a shake.

My dad couldn’t eat much at Moonlite, not that he wanted to anyway. But I wanted to see for myself if there was a reason for all that traffic waiting to get into the small parking lot of the walk-up burger joint. There was. The Big Dipper gives you a fine, thin, old-fashioned patty – it reminded me of the Burger Chef chain from my childhood days – with fresh, ripe tomato, onion and lettuce, and it carried a price tag of about $1.80. I took a bite on the walk back to the car and finished it off before we arrived.

The shake was the real treat, however. You could mix and match flavors, so I got a chocolate shake with orange in it. It arrived with a nice malty flavor that helped the barbecue settle and send me home happy. Dad didn’t have room for a single taste.

Old Hickory Bar-B-Que
338 Washington Ave.
Owensboro, KY 42301
(270) 926-9000

Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn
2840 W. Parrish Ave.
Owensboro, KY 42301
(270) 684-8143

International Bar-B-Q Festival

Posted in Featured, Griffin to Go0 Comments

The Best Recipes from 2014

The Best Recipes from 2014

The year 2014 offered plenty of good eats, which made it hard to pick our favorites. Yet here is a collection of what we liked best from the last 12 months. They run the gamut from soup to desserts, and include dishes from local favorite Luca Della Casa, who had a memorable run on “Food Network Star,” and Ross Burtwell, who published his “Texas Hill Country Cuisine” cookbook. There’s even a recipe inspired by the research Bonnie Walker and I made for our “Barbecue Lover’s Texas.”
White Bean Veloute

Chef Hamlet's White Bean Veloute

Chef Hamlet’s White Bean Veloute

Chef Hamlet Garcia, or simply Chef Hamlet to the lovers of TV food programs, was in San Antonio Wednesday as part of a fundraiser for KLRN. The star of “Vme Cocina” presented a cooking demonstration of the various dishes that were presented in a lavish dinner held at La Taquilera del Patron, 17776 Blanco Road.

One of the dishes from his Venezuelan homeland was a velvety white bean soup topped with queso fresco, bacon, chives and the earthy brilliance of a few drops of truffle oil. The soup is easy to make, though it takes a day to let the beans soak.

12 slices of bacon
2 pounds of white beans, preferably soaked in water for 24 hours and drained
2 large ribs celery
1 large white onion, chopped in squares
5 cloves garlic, peeled
Fresh thyme
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 gallon chicken broth
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Queso fresco, cut into small cubes, for garnish
1/2 cup sliced chives, for garnish
4 tablespoons truffle oil, for garnish

Cook the bacon in the oven or in a pan until it is very crisp. Remove from the pot and save the fat for later. Finely chop or crush the bacon in a food processor; reserve for garnishing the dish.

In a saucepan, add the bacon fat and briefly cook the onion and celery in it; stir constantly without browning. When the onions are translucent, add the drained white beans, thyme, garlic, butter, cream and chicken broth. When the liquid is boiling, simmer the beans for 90 minutes, stirring and mixing the ingredients occasionally in the pot. Add salt and pepper as necessary.

When the beans are tender, remove the pot from the heat and let it stand for one hour. Then, reserve a little of the broth and add the mixture in a blender or food processor; blend until it achieves a velvety texture. Then add the reserved broth and add salt and pepper as necessary to achieve the desired texture or taste.

Garnish each serving with queso fresco cubes, chives, bacon pieces and a few drops of truffle oil.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Chef Hamlet

Luca’s ‘Franz’ PaninoLuca's PaninoKnown for his work at Nosh on Austin Highway, San Antonio chef Luca Della Casa made it to the finals of “Food Network Star” this year. One of the dishes he made was this panino, which spices up cured Italian meats with a chile paste, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard blend. Then it’s finished off with a caprese treatment, with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and basil. The best of both worlds!1/4 cup cut up red onion
1 garlic clove
6 black olives
Salt, to taste
Pinch, black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons chile paste
Juice from half a lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 baguette
4 slices mortadella
4 slices sopressata
2 slices fresh mozzarella
2-3 slices tomato
Several basil leaves

Chop together the red onion, garlic and black olives; combing this mixture with the salt, pepper and olive oil. Set aside.

Mix together the mayonnaise, chile paste and lemon juice, along with the Dijon mustard. 

Slice a baguette in half, spread with the mayonnaise/mustard mixture, then spread on the chopped onion and olive mixture. Layer on the sliced mortadella and sopressata. Put the baguette in a panini press for 5 minutes. When the panino is ready, add to it the fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil.

Buon appetito!

From Luca Della Casa

Photo courtesy Luca Della Casa/Food Network

Noodles with Walnuts (Gnocchi alla Granerese)

Noodles with Walnuts

Noodles with Walnuts

This Italian dish goes together quickly and makes a great side dish or a meatless main course. You can also serve it year-round.

1 cup ground walnuts
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound Ricotta or cottage cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 pound broad noodles
Chopped walnuts, for garnish

Roll or pound the walnuts and the garlic on a board or in a mortar until a paste is formed. Place in a large bowl. Add the Ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, salt and pepper. Mix well. Boil the noodles in salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Add to the walnut mixture and toss lightly with two forks until the noodles are well coated. Place on a heated platter and serve.

Use a few chopped walnuts for garnish.

From “The Complete Round-the-World Cookbook” by Myra Waldo

Bohemia Pork Tinga Tacos

Tinga is a shredded meat dish that’s been braised with chipotle sauce. This pork tinga recipe gets an extra kick from the addition of Bohemia Beer, plus it’s attractive because it’s made in a slow cooker. Just gather your ingredients and let it cook on its own until it’s ready.

1 ½ pounds lean, boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
½ cup Bohemia Beer
1 pound (about 5 medium) red-skinned potatoes, quartered
1 large white onion, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes with their juices (preferably fire-roasted)
1 cup chipotle salsa
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ cup crumbled Mexican queso fresco or farmers cheese
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from skin and diced
Warm corn tortillas

Bohemia Pork Tinga Tacos

Bohemia Pork Tinga Tacos

Pat pork dry with paper toweling. Heat the oil in a large, nonstick skillet until hot. Add the pork in a single, uncrowded layer. Cook, turning until brown on all sides, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove pork to a plate as the remainder browns. Afterward, pour Bohemia into pan and boil gently while scraping up all the browned bits from the pan.

Put browned pork and pan juices into a slow cooker. Add the potatoes.

Combine the onion, tomatoes, salsa, Worcestershire and ½ teaspoon salt in large bowl. Mix well. Scrape the mixture into the slow cooker and stir to mix thoroughly.

Cook for 6 hours at the highest temperature. After 6 hours, gently stir the tinga. If it seems really thick, add a little water. Taste and season with more salt.

Serve the pork tinga in a large bowl, sprinkled with fresh cheese and diced avocado. Pass warm tortillas for making tacos.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Bohemia Beer


Brisket Chiles Rellenos

Brisket Chiles Rellenos

Brisket Chiles Rellenos

If you love brisket tacos, odds are good you’ll like another Tex-Mex innovation, Brisket Chiles Rellenos.

As for getting that brisket, you might make your own at home. Just picking up brisket from the local barbecue joints is a good idea, too. We have our local favorites, of course, but now we also crave barbecue from places discovered driving around the state for our book, “Barbecue Lover’s Texas” (Globe Pequot Press, $21.95).

This idea occurred while we were using up leftovers from the mail-order Rustic Iron BBQ in Odessa.

Make these chiles rellenos as you would in the usual Texas style: peel roasted, meaty poblano chiles, stuff with chopped brisket and some cheese, too, if you like. Dip in egg batter, fry and serve with salsa.

One hint: Warm up the brisket, then chop, and stuff into room-temperature chiles before cooking. You want the cheese and brisket filling to be plenty hot. Another hint: If you don’t have time to make your own salsa, try Julio’s. It’s made in San Angelo and is our current favorite ready-made.  (No, they’re not paying us to say that!)

Sausage would work just as well in these rellenos.

2 large chiles poblanos, roasted and peeled, with seeds scraped out (cut a slit the length of on broad side of the chile and carefully pull seeds out or scrape out with a spoon)
8-10 ounces chopped smoked brisket, warmed
2-4 ounces cheese — longhorn, colby cheddar, Monterey Jack, etc. — grated or sliced into narrow pieces
1 tablespoon minced onion
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cooking oil for frying (about an inch to 1 1/2 inches deep in a roomy sauté pan or skillet)
Salsa, for serving

After preparing the chiles, set aside at room temperature while you prepare the brisket. After chopping the brisket, mix with the grated cheese and onion. Then, stuff each pepper with half of the mixture. Press the chile around the filling, making sure you can still close the sliced sides together over the filling.  Set aside on a plate.

Put the oil in a sauté pan or skillet and turn the heat on to medium.  Keep an eye on the oil, you don’t want it to overheat. As the oil is heating, put the egg whites into a mixer, or use an egg beater, and whip the whites up to a fairly stiff peak, but not too dry. Beat the egg yolks in another bowl with a whisk until they lighten in color, at least a minute or so. Fold the egg yolks into the beaten whites and gently combine.

Put the flour into a shallow bowl and add salt, mixing together. When the oil appears hot but not smoking, put a little bit of the egg into it. The egg should sizzle around the edges and fry quickly but not get brown too fast. Put the shallow bowl with the flour and the bowl with egg mixture near the stove.

Carefully put the sliced side of each stuffed pepper down in the flour, then carefully roll around, holding the sliced side closed with your fingers. Then, dip into the whipped egg mixture. Get plenty of the fluffy mixture on the chile, then place it sliced side down into the oil to fry. Repeat with the second chile. You can spoon some of the leftover egg mixture onto the top of the chiles, if you wish. Turn the chiles when you can lift one end and see that the bottom side has turned golden brown.  When they are done, lift the chiles out of the pan, place briefly on some paper towel and then transfer to plates. Spoon over a little salsa and serve more on the side.

Makes 2 servings.

From Bonnie Walker

Chicken Breasts with Artichokes (Petto di pollo at carciofi)

“The Venetians have always been meat-eaters. In times past they ate the whole animal, and were thus able to satisfy both their taste and their pockets.”

That quote comes from Roberta Pianaro, who created the recipes in “Brunetti’s Cookbook,” which is based on the popular mystery series.

5 medium globe artichokes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1  3/4 pounds chicken breast
2 tablespoons white wine
Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Remove the tough stems from the artichokes, trim the tips and peel the stems. Plunge into a bowl of cold water with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Cut into fine slices, starting from the stems, and place in nonstick pan or casserole with the oil, salt, garlic, pepper and at least 3 1/2 cups of water. Cover and cook over moderate heat for about 15 minutes. Place the 2 chicken breasts at the bottom of the pan among the artichokes and after 2 minutes add the wine and continue cooking. Be careful to not burn the artichokes. When the chicken is cooked, remove and cut into thin slices. Add slices to the artichokes and let season. Drain and serve hot.

From “Brunetti’s Cookbook”

Texas Tarragon Shrimp Scampi with Jalapeño Three-Cheese Grits

Chef Ross Burtwell

Chef Ross Burtwell

This recipe come from chef Ross Burtwell’s cookbook, “Texas Hill Country Cuisine,” and it has quite a lot of Lone Star flavor in it.

Texas tarragon is an herb generally called Mexican mint marigold, but it’s probably used in Texas more than in other parts of the United States. So, we claim it as ours.  If you don’t have any growing in your garden, use a mix of dried or fresh tarragon along with some minced fresh mint or dried mint (spearmint or garden mint, not peppermint).

Shrimp Scampi

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds large Texas wild-caught shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Texas tarragon (Mexican mint marigold), minced
20 grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 cup Texas viognier white wine
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and sliced
Jalapeno Three-Cheese Grits (recipe follows)
2 scallions, green tops only, thinly sliced

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Immediately add shrimp and top with garlic. Shake the pan to keep the shrimp from sticking.

Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, then add the tarragon. Saute until shrimp starts to curl, turn pink and begin to turn opaque in the center.

Add the grape tomatoes (if using) plus lemon juice and zest. Stir. Add wine.

Once the liquid is simmering and the shrimp are about 90 percent cooked through, add butter, shaking the pan back and forth to form a creamy sauce.

Jalapeño Three-Cheese Grits

2 1/2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup quick grits (not instant)
1/3 cup white cheddar cheese, grated
1/3 cup Texas goat cheese
1/3 cup Asiago cheese, grated
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 fresh jalapeño, finely minced
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring chicken stock to a full boil and whisk in grits.

Turn heat down to medium-low; allow grits to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove grits from heat and stir in all cheeses, cream, butter and jalapeños. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Dish assembly: Place a heaping spoonful of Jalapeño Three-Cheese Grits into warm bowls. Ladle shrimp and sauce over the top and garnish with sliced scallions. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Texas Hill Country Cuisine” by Cabernet Grill chef/owner Ross Burtwell with Julia Celeste Rosenfield

Ultimate Creamy Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes

Who doesn’t want the creamiest mashed potatoes imaginable? America’s Test Kitchen delivers with this recipe.

Why this recipe works: Sometimes we want a luxurious mash, one that is silky smooth and loaded with cream and butter. But there’s a fine line between creamy and gluey. We wanted lush, creamy mashed potatoes, with so much richness and flavor they could stand on their own — no gravy necessary.

For a creamier, substantial mash, we found that Yukon Golds were perfect — creamier than russets but not as heavy as red potatoes. Slicing the peeled potatoes into rounds and then rinsing away the surface starch before boiling helped intensify their creamy texture without making them gluey. Setting the boiled and drained potatoes in their pot over a low flame helped further evaporate any excess moisture. Using 1 1/2 sticks of butter and 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream gives these potatoes luxurious flavor and richness without making the mash too thin. We found that melting the butter and warming the cream before adding them to the potatoes ensured that the finished dish arrived at the table piping hot.

4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 8 medium), scrubbed, peeled and sliced 3/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
2 teaspoons table salt

Place the potatoes in a colander and rinse under cool running water, tossing with your hands, for 30 seconds. Transfer the potatoes to a large Dutch oven, add cold water to cover by 1 inch, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to heat to medium and boil until the potatoes are tender, 20 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted, about 5 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.

Drain the potatoes and return to the Dutch oven. Stir over low heat until the potatoes are thoroughly dried, 1 to 2 minutes. Set a ricer or food mill over a large bowl and press or mill the potatoes into the bowl. Gently fold in the warm cream mixture and salt with a rubber spatula until the cream is absorbed and the potatoes are thick and creamy. Serve.

Makes 8 to 10 servings. This recipe can be cut in half, if desired.

From “The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook: 2001-2015″

Looking for a way to add a little twist to your cranberry sauce? Try this spiky variation, which uses tequila and jalapeños. Best of all, it’s easy to put together.  

Tequila-Jalapeño Cranberry Sauce

Add some tingle to your cranberry sauce with tequila and jalapeños.

½ cup tequila
1 pound fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
¾ cup water
2 fresh sliced jalapeños in thin rings (seed and all)

Heat tequila over medium heat until reduced by half. Place cranberries, sugar, water and jalapeños in the sauce pot. Bring mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir often. Let cook for about 15 minutes. Take off heat and let it rest for 30 minutes occasionally stirring while resting.

Makes 8-10 servings.

From chef James Draper/Hyatt Hill Country

Two-Ingredient Biscuits

Two-ingredient biscuits

Two-ingredient biscuits

Biscuits are a cornerstone of Southern cooking. But, of course, they should never be hard as a stone; only light and airy will do.

You can do that in your kitchen, using only a couple of ingredients.

In “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” (Gibbs Smith, $$45), Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart write that “it’s miraculous to make a biscuit with only two ingredients, particularly when making such an impressive biscuit, light and tender, capable of convincing anyone that the cook was born holding a biscuit bowl. This recipe is a good fallback for anyone who hasn’t made a biscuit for a while or has to hurry up and get some baked. If using a cream with less fat (heavy cream has 36 percent), start with less and use only what is needed to make a moist, slightly sticky dough. Half-and-half just doesn’t work well enough to use by itself. This is really and hurry-up recipe, but the directions are detailed.”

2 1/4 cups self-rising flour, divided use
1 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided use
Butter, softened or melted, for finishing

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Selecting the baking pan by determining if a soft or crisp exterior is desired. For a soft exterior, use an 8- or 9-inch cake pan, a pizza pan, or an ovenproof skillet where the biscuits will nestle together snugly, creating the soft exterior while baking. For a crisp exterior, select a baking sheet or other baking pan where the biscuits can be placed wider apart, allowing air to circulate and create a crisper exterior. Brush selected pan with butter or oil.

Fork-sift or whisk 2 cups of the flour in a large bowl, preferably wider than it is deep, and set aside the remaining 1/4 cup. Make a deep hollow in the center of the flour with the back of your hand. Slowly but steadily stir 1 cup of the cream, reserving 1/4 cup, into the hollow with a rubber spatula or large metal spoon, using broad circular strokes to quickly pull the flour into the cream. Mix just until the dry ingredient is moistened and the sticky dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If there is some flour remaining on the bottom and sides of the bowl, stir in just enough of the reserved cream to incorporate the remaining flour into the shaggy, wettish dough. If the dough is too wet, use more flour when shaping.

Lightly sprinkle a plastic sheet, a board or other clean surface with some of the reserved flour. Turn the dough out onto the board and sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with flour if sticky. With floured hands, folks the dough in half and pat it into a 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick round, using a little additional flour only if needed. Flour again if sticky and fold the dough in half a second time. If the dough is still clumpy, pat and fold a third time. Pat dough into a 1/2-inch-thick round for normal biscuits, a 3/4-inch-thick round for tall biscuits , or a 1-inch-thick round for giant biscuits. Brush off any visible flour from the top. For each biscuit, dip a 2-inch biscuit cutter into the reserved flour and cut out the biscuits, starting at the outside edge and cutting very close together, being careful not to twist the cutter. The scraps may be combined to make additional biscuits, although they will be tougher.

Using a metal spatula, if necessary, move the biscuits to the pan or baking sheet. Bake the biscuits on the top rack of the oven for a total of 10 to 14 minutes, until light golden brown. After 6 minutes, rotate the pan in the oven so that the front of the pan is now turned to the back, and check to see if the bottoms are browning too quickly. If so, slide another baking pan underneath to add insulation and retard the browning. Continue baking another 4 to 8 minutes, until the biscuits are light golden brown. When they are done, remove from the oven and lightly brush the tops with softened or melted butter. Turn the biscuits out upside down on a plate to cool slightly. Serve hot, right side up.


  • For Sour Cream or Cream Cheese Biscuits, substitute 1 cup sour cream or cream cheese for the heavy cream. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. This makes a moist biscuit.
  • For Yogurt and Cream Biscuits, use 1/2 cup yogurt and 3/4 cup heavy cream or half-and-half.
  • For Yogurt Biscuits, add 1 teaspoon salt to the flour and 1 cup plain yogurt for the heavy cream. Add a bit of milk or cream to moisten if a “drier” yogurt is used. Yogurt biscuits are a bit “bouncy.”
  • For Strawberry Shortcake, add 1 or tablespoons sugar to the dough. Line a cake pan with parchment paper. Pat the dough into the lined cake pan. Bake as above. Remove from the oven, brush the top with butter, and turn upside down on a rack to cool slightly. When cool. slice in half horizontally. To serve, sandwich with sugared strawberries and cream or serve a bowl of each separately.

Makes 14 to 18 (2-inch) biscuits.

From “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart

Triple-Threat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Triple Threat Chocolate Chip CookiesPack a box of these cookies for your loved one in lieu of store-bought treats. That little bit of personal effort makes a gift a whole lot better, and this recipe from Pastry Queen Rebecca Rather and Alison Oresman is one of the best.

1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped walnuts
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coasely chopped
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/3 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups semisweet or milk chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the pecans and walnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast for 7 to 9 minutes, until golden brown and aromatic. Cool the nuts completely.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats, or grease generously with butter or cooking spray.

Melt the butter, bittersweet chocolate, and unsweetened chocolate in a small saucepan set over low heat. Stir occasionally, watching carefully to make sure the chocolate does not burn. Remove the pan from the heat to cool.

Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl on medium speed about 3 minutes until fluffy.  Add the vanilla and melted chocolate. Beat on medium speed about 2 minutes, until the dough is thick and glossy. Add the flour, baking powder and salt to the chocolate mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, which makes it easier to scoop.

Use a 1  3/4-inch-diameter scoop to drop spoonfuls of dough on the prepare baking sheets, spacing them at least 1  1/2 inches apart. Wet your fingertips lightly with water and gently flatted the cookie dough (no need to press hard, just press out the hump). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes before removing them from the baking sheets.

Rather Sweet Variation: Tor Triple-Threat Rocky Road Cookies, a favorite with elementary school kids, add 1 cup quartered mini-marshmallows to the dough along with the nuts and chocolate chips. Bake as directed.

Makes 4 dozen.

From “The Pastry Queen” by Rebecca Rather with Alison Oresman

Doughnut Bread Pudding

Doughnut Bread Pudding

Doughnut Bread Pudding

Rich? Yes. Delicious? How could it not be?

Also, if you’ll notice in this recipe for Doughnut Bread Pudding, it calls for dried fruit. This isn’t the fruit that goes into fruit cakes, and it isn’t freeze-dried fruit, either.  As you’ll see in the instructions, Nature’s Eats of Bourne makes a mixture that you can purchase at H-E-B and it works well in this recipe.  Enjoy!

10 stale glazed doughnuts
1 cup bite-size dried fruit (see note)
1/4 cup slivered almonds (optional)
Zest of 1 lemon
4 eggs, room temperature
2 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Whiskey sauce:
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon corn starch
3/8 cup whiskey, divided use
Pinch of salt

Note: Use the dried fruit of your choice, such as raisins, cranberries, blueberries or cherries. Nature’s Eats of Boerne does a Dried Fruit Medley that includes pineapple, apricots, raisins, cherry-flavored cranberries and papaya, all in bite-size pieces.You can find it at H-E-B.

Cut up the doughnuts in a 9-by-13-inch dish. Sprinkle dried fruit, almond slivers and zest over the top and mix in.

In a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and add the milk, then add vanilla, almond extract, cinnamon and mace. Incorporate thoroughly. Pour over the doughnut mixture. Let set for 15 minutes.

Eight or 10 minutes before it’s ready to bake, heat your oven to 350 degrees. When the dish is ready, place in a larger dish and add water to at least halfway up the sides. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve with whiskey sauce.

To make whiskey sauce: Warm cream, milk and sugar in a saucepan oven medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, a small bowl, whisk together the corn starch and 1/8 cup of whiskey until the starch is thoroughly dissolved. Whisk into the cream mixture and bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the sauce is ready, stir in a pinch of salt and the final 1/4 cup of whiskey. Let cook for another minute over low heat. Serve warm.

From John Griffin

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Making a Tradition of Serving Oyster Stew at the Holidays

Making a Tradition of Serving Oyster Stew at the Holidays

America’s history with the oyster has been chronicled in a number of books, articles and websites, with a pair of standouts being Mark Kurlansky’s “The Big Oyster” and Robb Walsh’s “Sex, Death & Oysters.” It seems the Native Americans on the eastern seaboard had been eating oysters for several millennia before the Pilgrims and other settlers arrived, and they introduced their new neighbors to this seafood treat. The newcomers quickly became addicted to the bivalve’s briny charms, and the love affair continues to this day.

Oyster Stew

Oyster Stew

Within that culinary history is a smaller chapter on serving up oyster stew for Christmas Eve. The likely origin of this is steeped in Catholicism and the practice of not eating meat on the eve of the observance of Christ’s birth. But the ties are stronger than that, Stephanie Butler writes on In an article on this savory American tradition, she traces a lineage that goes back to Ireland and a simple stew made with ling. Lings aren’t available here, but oysters are. They share a similar taste and texture, so the substitution was made. And soon, the Christmas Eve menu was set for many families.

I’m introducing the tradition to my family this Christmas Eve. For years, while I was growing up, our whole family would be invited to an oyster stew party that a co-worker of my dad’s threw every year. I’ll be honest: I didn’t really care for the thin, milky soup when I was 7 or 8 years old or the odd taste of the seafood, but we were not allowed to say that to our hosts. We ate every last mouthful of oyster stew and thanked our hosts.

I began to appreciate the flavors more as I got older. And I’m more grateful to that couple, the Meyerhausers, with each passing year. I’m also grateful to my parents for forcing me out of my comfort zone when it came to trying such culinary treasures, but that’s another story.

There are so many different variations of oyster stew that recipes could likely fill a chapter of a book. Emeril Legasse, for example, includes Andouille sausage mashed potatoes in his version. The folks in South Carolina’s Lowcountry add peanuts. I prefer the much simpler style I grew up with, which features oysters gently cooked in warm milk or cream until they curl. You can use as many oysters as you’d like for taste, and vary the seasoning, even the garnishes, to your liking. Robb Walsh’s single-serving stew calls for one pint of fresh oysters. The traditional recipe from, uses double that amount, but for six servings, which provides a math equation I’d rather not do, except to say that the amount of oysters is sadly less. In our collection of recipes, we also include one that serves 50, in case you’ve got plenty of family and friends coming by. (A tip to the wise: If you’re making oyster stew for 50, make it a party game and have your guests help with the shucking – if they’re sober, that is.)

The basic oyster stew recipe is simple, which is what makes it attractive when you have presents left to wrap and possibly plans for services later that evening or in the morning. If you’ve never made it before, make sure you watch the process closely your first time through. You don’t want to burn the milk and you don’t want to overcook the oysters. What you do want are oysters swimming in cream with a helping of crackers – and tradition – seasoning each serving.

Oyster Stew Recipes

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Griffin to Go: It’s Oh So Good — and It’s Pie

Griffin to Go: It’s Oh So Good — and It’s Pie

Fall weather has arrived, and it’s time to change up our pie baking to match the season.

Osgood Pie

Osgood Pie

This is the time of year when we love pies filled with apples, pumpkin or sweet potato, but why stop there? Why not make an Osgood pie?

What, you may ask, is that?

Some cookbooks say to think of a chess pie or vinegar pie with the addition of raisins, nuts and spice in sweet custard. That certainly sounds good, but it somehow shortchanges the uniqueness of this pie. The version I made reminded friends more of a fruitcake pie, only without the hated waxy citron cherries and pineapple.

There was no Osgood, at least so far as culinary history can show. Several cookbook writers, including Betty Furness, call it an oh-so-good pie, which leads many to think Osgood is merely a condensed version of that. That may also explain why this old-fashioned wonder is also known as allgood pie in some quarters, according to The Big Apple, a online compendium of food references.

But no one knows who made the first oh-so-good pie or where. Some legends point to Texas, others merely to some Southern region in which pecans grow.  In the news clippings references on The Big Apple, the earliest mention dates back to neither; it is from the Indianapolis Star in 1911. More mentions arose in the 1920s and 1930s, suggesting but the pie’s popularity seems to have dropped off the charts in the 1950s.

By 1970, the Associated Press’ food editor, Cecily Brownstone, professed she had never heard of the pie, The Big Apple reports. According to an article she wrote that appeared in the Dallas Morning News, “A Greenwich Village restaurant in New York City, specializing in Tex-Mex cuisine, serves an interesting dessert called Osgood Pie. When we first ate the pie there we didn’t remember ever seeing a recipe for it. But searching among our 3,000 cookbooks yielded results: two cookbooks from Texas and one devoted to Southern cookery had versions of the dessert.”

Osgood, or Allgood, Pie

Osgood, or Allgood, Pie

In my own collection, I found five versions of Osgood Pie in cookbooks as diverse as Morton G. Clark’s “The Wide, Wide World of Texas Cooking” and “We Make You Kindly Welcome,” a collection of Shaker recipes from Pleasant Hill, Kentucky.  Both books appeared in 1970, the same year as Brownstone’s article. Furness included Oh-So-Good Pie in her widely used 1954 “The Betty Furness Westinghouse Cookbook,” and Woman’s Day offered a version in its 1978 collection, “Old-Fashioned Desserts.”

The 1989 “Eats: A Folk History of Texas Foods,” by Ernestine Sewell Linck and Joyce Gibson Roach, offers no background on the pie, but the authors do make this observation: “Any of the molasses, raisin, chess, Osgood pies and their like — sticky, syrupy, often open-faced — could be called ‘shoo-fly pies,’ so called because of the worrisome winged visitors that came to the table uninvited. The children were given white cloths that they waved about to keep flies off the food.”

They also quote a 1941 article from Virginia Walker on “Pie Suppers in East Texas” that sheds a little light on why Osgood pie was so highly regarded in the Depression era: “The people who lived a cut above the folk would bring some pie with a store-bought ingredient like raisins or coconut.” It was a rare treat at a time when most people had to make do with what they had. It’s still a rare treat that’s worth the time it takes to make it.

Below are two variations on Osgood pie to get you started. I made the version from Woman’s Day, which came together easily, except I don’t have an 8-inch pie pan, so the filling in mine was a bit thin. No one seemed to mind it, especially when topped with whipped cream.

Few recipes for this dessert are alike, though most use raisins and pecans mixed with eggs, sugar and butter. Several versions add dates. Some call for vinegar, others for lemon juice. As for the spices, the choice of cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves is up to you. I may add different dried fruits, such as cherries or cranberries, the next time I make one. Or you could add chocolate chips, which is what a friend told me she expected when she saw the dark pieces in the pie filling before learning they were raisins; it may not be old-fashioned, but it would be oh so good.

Texas Osgood Pie

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 cup pecans
1 cup pitted, cut-up dates
1/2 cup white raisins
1 pinch salt
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar and beat in the egg yolks. Fold in nuts, dates, raisins and salt. Beat egg whites until stuff and fold into the mixture. Turn into pie shell and bake until done (about 45 minutes). Serve hot or cold.

Makes 6 or 8 servings.

From “The Wide, Wide World of Texas Cooking” by Morton G. Clark

Woman’s Day’s Osgood Pie

Sugar, raisins, pecans and spices are stirred in the batter.

Sugar, raisins, pecans and spices are stirred in the batter.

“Though the origin of this pie is unknown, recipes occasionally appear in regional cookbooks of Southern states where pecans are grown,” according to Barbara Myers in the 1978 cookbook, “Woman’s Day Old-Fashioned Desserts.” “The chewy filling, which includes raisins as well as nuts, has a thin, crisp meringue crust that develops while baking.” I thoroughly and gently folded the entire mass of egg whites into the dough and it formed no meringue on mine.

2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons vinegar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped raisins
2 egg whites
1 (8-inch) unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the egg yolks slightly. Add the sugar, melted butter, cinnamon cloves and vinegar. Blend well. Add the pecans and raisins. Mix well.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold in.

Turn the filling into the pie crust and spread evenly. Bake in oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until set. The egg whites will rise to the top, forming a thin crust. To test the filling, insert a toothpick halfway between the outer crust and the center; it should come out clean. Also, when done, the meringue will pull slightly away from the rest of the pie.

Cool on a rack and serve warm or at room temperature. Cut with a thin, sharp knife to avoid crumbling the meringue crust.

Makes 6 or 8 servings.

From “Woman’s Day Old-Fashioned Desserts” by Barbara Myers

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Griffin to Go: When Life Hands You Lemons …

Griffin to Go: When Life Hands You Lemons …

I was reading a cookbook from deep in the heart of Louisiana a few days when I came across a recipe for lemon ice cream pie that made my mouth water.

Top your ice cream pie with crumbs of whatever you have on hand.

Top your ice cream pie with crumbs of whatever you have on hand.

All you had to do was blend vanilla ice cream with lemonade concentrate and pour the mixture into a graham cracker crust. Then freeze and enjoy.

I thought about that simple recipe until I made it to a nearby grocery where I loaded up my cart with pie crust and ice cream. Then, after looking around for awhile, I found the frozen juice section, not a product I buy often. I reached for a can of lemonade and realized why. The main ingredient was high fructose corn syrup, not something I generally bring into the house unless it’s in a bottle of, you guessed it, corn syrup.

I put back the regular lemonade, the pink lemonade, the cranberry juice and every single frozen juice in the case I picked up until I reached the last one, an apple-kiwi-strawberry mixture that was, of course, four times the size I needed. But the there was no corn syrup in it, so I added it to my cart.

And I made the pie.

Enjoy an easy ice cream pie any time of year.

Enjoy an easy ice cream pie any time of year.

I used about 4 ounces of the frozen juice mix with a little more than a quart of vanilla ice cream. I blended both in my Vitamix with a good splash of raspberry vodka for extra flavor, and then spread the mixture into the crust.

The original recipe called for topping the pie with graham cracker crumbs. But the cookbook, “The Cotton Collection” from the Junior Charity League of Monroe, Louisiana, dates back to 1972 when people made their own graham cracker crusts. So, I didn’t have any leftover graham crackers to smash up over the pie. But I did have some brownie crumbs from a care package that my mother sent me recently. Perfect.

And the pie? Well, it wasn’t lemon, but who cares? It satisfied on its own terms, offering a cool and refreshing end to a nice meal.

The moral of the story is an oldie but a goodie: Recipes are not written in stone.

So, what recipe are you going to tailor to your own tastes?



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Griffin to Go: Judging a Margarita Competition Is Fun, Especially When the Drinks Are Good

Griffin to Go: Judging a Margarita Competition Is Fun, Especially When the Drinks Are Good

The booths get ready for the KISS Margarita Pour-Off.

The booths get ready for the KISS Margarita Pour-Off.

The 32nd KISS Margarita Pour-Off is a thing of the past, but the winner has a whole year to bask in the glory of serving up the best margarita.

Cucumber lime margaritas.

Cucumber lime margaritas.

You may not have heard of this year’s winner, 210 Kapone’s, a new nightspot at 1223 E. Houston St. So, the word is out, and it’s time to head there for a taste the next time you’re downtown. 210 Kapone’s also took the top prize for best decor.

In second place was last year’s winner, Matamoros Restaurant, 12844 I-10.

I had the honor and fun of judging for the third straight year. For the last two years, I judged the finals. This year, I got to taste all 17 entries in the semi-final round.

That may seem like a dream job, but it really is work, especially when you consider that,  of the 17 entries that we judged, I found only five that earned a score of 5 or above on a scale of 1 to 10 from me. In other words, less than one third of the entries made it to an average grade.

What went wrong?

Well, it all depends on what you think a margarita should taste like.

To me, freshness is a key factor. And there were far too many entries that tasted of cans, chemicals or artificial flavors.

Descriptors like “antifreeze” and “tin can” could be heard across the room as the judges sipped entry. Someone said a particularly awful margarita was reminiscent of “bong water,” someone said; I can’t corroborate that statement, but it was so bad that I’ll have to take their word for it.

Be careful of what you add to a margarita. Gummi worms don’t belong, no matter how cute you think they are.

Who made these beauties? The judges don't know.

Who made these beauties? The judges don’t know.

Watermelon was a big flavor this year, and that was not necessarily a good thing. Especially when the watermelon didn’t taste natural or look good. One drink had a chunk of watermelon floating in it that looked as if someone had already been eating it. Yikes.

Then again, I’m a purist. I don’t believe that sugar has a place in a margarita. I’ve never seen it listed as an ingredient in any form in any recipe that dates back more than 20 years. That’s right: No simple syrup, no agave nectar, no sweet-and-sour mix, no Sprite, no sugar on the rim.

Give me the taste of tequila, lime and orange, and I’m all set.

Here’s a version from one of my favorite mystery writers, Randy Wayne White, who writes the Doc Ford mysteries. He has also written a fun cookbook of Florida favorites, “Randy Wayne White’s Gulf Coast Cookbook: With Memories and Photos of Sanibel Island” (Globe Pequot Press, $19.95) and that includes a refreshing margarita.

Randy Wayne White’s Margarita

“I like to serve a variety of drinks in canning jars with lids,” White writes. “It is not just delicious, but it’s also really good exercise.”

1 1/2 ounces tequila
1 ounce triple sec
Juice from 2 fresh limes
Sea salt
Lime slice or mint to garnish

Place tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a canning jar with ice. Tighten the lid and shake vigorously. Serve with lime or mint garnish.

Makes 1 serving.

Adapted from “Randy Wayne White’s Gulf Coast Cookbook: With Memories and Photos of Sanibel Island”


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Griffin to Go: On the Trail of Slang Jang

Griffin to Go: On the Trail of Slang Jang

When Bonnie Walker and I were driving across the state to research our new book, “Barbecue Lover’s Texas” (Globe Pequot Press, $21.95), we learned about Texas culinary treats that went far beyond brisket and the pit. One was a dish that bore the odd name of slang jang.

Slang Jang made with fresh ingredients.

Slang Jang made with fresh ingredients.

I never encountered it at a barbecue joint. I came across it, instead, in the “Eats: A Folk History of Texas Foods,” by Ernestine Sewell Linck and Joyce Gibson Roach. It was in a chapter on Central Texas foods, and the authors included a recipe but little context, except to say it was part of a proper Sunday dinner and was served over peas. Not green peas, mind you, but cream peas or black-eyed peas.

The recipe looked good, really good. It was a mix of items fresh from the garden, including tomato, green pepper, celery and onion dressed in vinegar and a little hot pepper.

I wanted to learn more, so I turned to the Internet. That’s when things started to get weird.

Mary Anne Thurman, in a post on the northeastern town of Honey Grove, Texas, said the dish originated with a bunch of men in a grocery store who just started mixing things together. Their recipe didn’t include too many fresh ingredients, as her recipe illustrates:

Mix undrained canned tomatoes with chopped dill pickles and chopped onion to taste.  Add a can of oysters, chopped.  Add Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste.  Add ice cubes to chill.  Serve with saltine crackers.

Many people vary this recipe.  Some add canned salmon or Vienna sausage in place of the oysters, or in addition to the oysters.

Thurman goes on to offer a vegetarian version that included crumbled saltines to thicken the mix.

Really? No, really?

No answers were forthcoming in September 2006 article in the Dallas Morning News, in which Angie Rhodes of another northeastern town, Malakoff, talks about the dish. But she did add a hyphen to the name:

“My dad grew up in a small town in northeast Texas in the ‘30s. During warm months, families in the community would come together on Saturday nights to visit and play dominoes. Each would bring an ingredient that would be mixed in a giant washtub for dinner. It was a sort of cold stew called ‘slang-jang.’ The ingredients were canned salmon, oysters, green onions, dill pickles, Vienna sausages and canned tomatoes.”

The recipes began to vary wildly, too, such as the Oxmoor House version, which calls for three tins of oysters mixed with three heads of cabbage, apples and hard-boiled eggs. Recipe Binder‘s version calls for tequila, Dijon mustard and barbecue sauce in addition to the tomatoes, onions and peppers, and you can use it on “burgers, dogs and sausages.”

The articles on slang jang go back to the Lawrence Journal-World of 1922, which describes the dish as “neither liquid salad nor chop suey, but a combination with a Mexican piquancy and a sufficient relish to satisfy a healthy appetite.” It goes on to quote a newspaper publisher’s wife, Mrs. J.R. Ransone Jr. of the Dallas area town of Cleburne, as being “a square meal, which will put so much pep in a person that he will feel he has supped from the fountain of youth, for what one ingredient fails to give, another furnishes fully.”

Ransone’s recipe includes a host of canned and preserved items, including oysters, tomatoes, sweet pickle and Tabasco as well as saltines.

The article does make a veiled reference to another legend about the recipe’s origin, which is that those men in that grocery store Thurman referred to were actually a bunch of guys who tied one on and wanted something to ease their hangover. That would explain the mix of ready-to-eat foods easily grabbed off shelves, from oysters to tomatoes, and the welcome touch of something spicy, which can help take the edge off.

So, is slang jang something made with canned goods or fresh foods? Of course, it’s made however you want to make it. No two recipes are alike. It is what you want to make it.

But that didn’t stop my research. In fact, it made me want to find other variations. So, I turned to my collection of community cookbooks from across Texas. No mentions of slang jang were found in any of cookbooks from towns west of the Piney Woods, but it was fairly common in those from East Texas. That sent me to the Deep South to see what I could find. Sure enough, there’s a version in the hefty “The Cotton Country Collection” from the Junior Charity League of Monroe, Louisiana.

Not all of these community cookbooks were easy to search. Not all have an index at the back, so I found myself leafing leaf through volume after volume to see if a slang jang recipe might be tucked in among appetizers (usually the version with smoked oysters) or grouped with relishes, pickles, condiments or accompaniments, which means it you might find it categorized with recipes for spicy broiled grapefruit, cherry sauce for ham, mustard pickled relish and even barbecue sauce.

But several of these recipes did feature another odd ingredient, Accent, otherwise known as monosodium glutamate, or MSG. Do you really want that in your food? That’s up to you.

Part of the fun of such research is experimentation, so I tried several of the recipes, including the oyster combination. It may sound bad and it lacked visual appeal, but it worked as a snack and the flavors blended together surprisingly well. I wouldn’t eat a lot of it, but I also wouldn’t try it with salmon and most definitely not Vienna sausages. I preferred the fresh version, such as the one in the recipe below. It is great by itself on a saltine or over black-eyed peas. That’s slang jang to me.

Mama Perkin’s Slang Jang

If you have a dish that needs a little zip, slang jang will do it. It’s traditionally served over freshly cooked purple-hull or black-eyed peas or butter beans.

2 fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
1/2 medium bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
2-3 hot peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 to 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Combine vegetables in a medium bowl. Add vinegar, salt and pepper, and mix well. Refrigerate.

Makes about 3 cups.

From “More Tastes & Tales From Texas With Love” by Peg Hein


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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.


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