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Alton Brown Has Them Eating Out of His Hands

Alton Brown Has Them Eating Out of His Hands

“Don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

In four simple words, Alton Brown laid out his approach to parenting when it comes to picky eaters. It’s not the terrorists – er, children – who get to decide what to eat, the celebrity chef told a sold-out crowd at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts recently.

But even Brown, the host of such Food Network shows as “Good Eats” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” knows that pint-sized willpower can be formidable. So, when faced with a request like serving chicken fingers at his daughter’s slumber party, it’s best to remember one basic fact:

“Chickens don’t have fingers.”

Ask any ornithologist. You’ll hear the same thing. Chicken and fingers are not part of the same equation, Brown said, to the great amusement of an audience made up of plenty of parents and more than a few kids.

Alton Brown

Alton Brown (Photo: David Allen)

Brown’s way of dealing with the chicken finger request was to give his daughter the closest approximation he could come up with: He fried up some chicken feet, which he served to her gaggle of girlfriends, much to their shrieking horror.

It was a classic Alton Brown story, filled with the trademark humor and storytelling skills that he has displayed for the past 15 years on his TV shows. But the surprise for some of us was that Brown so easily transcended the limitations imposed by the formats of his various shows and shaped an evening of more than two hours that was consistently engaging, even when he was rapping or singing about the dire consequences of eating a bad shrimp in an airport restaurant.

The evening started with a list of culinary truths that Brown has been able to discern in his career. They included the grotesque: “Trout don’t belong in ice cream” And they covered the sensible: “Don’t leave out the NaCl (salt).” Each was accompanied by a story from some point in the chef’s life and career.

The salt story stemmed from the time that Brown left the salt out of a batch of bread he was making for a restaurant where he worked. Bread without salt? “Two words,” he said. “Communion wafers. … Nobody asks for seconds.”

That would be too short to be the whole story, of course. So, Brown went on to tell of how his salt-less dough, which he tried to hide in a dumpster, soon became a blob that kept expanding and “burping and farting” as it grew, he said.

“It’s alive!” he screamed, echoing Dr. Frankenstein.

An Alton Brown show wouldn’t be complete without some of the chef’s outlandish gadgetry, which appeared complete with audience participation and a cameraman who followed close on his trail. One was an ice cream maker that produced frozen chocolate fun in a matter of seconds. The second was Brown’s adult response to the Easy Bake oven that he had as a child and melted when he swapped out the 100-watt light bulb for a 150-watt beauty. Brown’s Mega Bake was so bright it could reach a brilliance level of more than 1 million lumens. It was so bright, it could be “seen from outer space,” he boasted.

Brown took the Mega Bake and showed how you could cook pizza in 3.5 minutes. But first he and audience member Millie demonstrated how to toss pizza dough while enjoying margaritas. The chef also decided the two would use salsa instead of pizza sauce as a base, which gave the final product a great kick and proved to be the best time-saving cooking tip of the evening.

Brown closed out his show with some questions from the audience.

What is the chef’s single most important kitchen tool? Spring-loaded tongs.

What was his favorite “Good Eats” episode? The garlic show from season five.

What is his favorite guilty pleasure? “Bourbon,” he quipped, before explaining that he loved Fritos dipped in caramel sauce. “Freaking awesome,” he cried. That discovery came about when he was once again trying to make something for his daughter and her friends.

What would his Final 4 of pastries be? Brown started with two savory choices: buttermilk biscuits and croissants. Then he chose two sweets: strawberry-rhubarb pie and glazed doughnuts. After settling on biscuits and doughnuts as the finalists, he crowned doughnuts the winner.

The real winner was the audience, though, for Alton Brown confirmed why he and his shows have remained popular in a cutthroat industry and attention-deficit market. He even throws in a few devastating comments about or impersonations of fellow hosts like Sandra Lee and, of course, his “Food Network Star” co-star Giada De Laurentiis at no extra charge.

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The Hambone’s Connected to the Easter Menu

The Hambone’s Connected to the Easter Menu

To many, Easter dinner is the perfect time for ham. But where did this tradition begin? If you check the Internet, you’ll find a host of possibilities, ranging from Christians co-opting pagan rituals to American soil being more suited to pigs than lambs. (Comparing the price of the two meats is a strong argument for the latter.)

Use fresh ham, not cured or smoked, in this recipe.A more common sense explanation can be found on the Christian blog, Liturgical Time: “Throughout most of the centuries of Christianity, (and still for Eastern Orthodox Christians, whose stick-to-itiveness is to be highly commended), no meat was eaten during Lent.  Since livestock was slaughtered in the Fall, and there was no refrigeration, any meat left over on Ash Wednesday, (at the beginning of Lent), had to be cured if it was to be preserved.  Hence, on Easter Day, when the long 55 days of Lent were finally over and meat could be eaten, a lovely cured ham was the natural choice.”

Does it really matter why people eat ham on Easter or the rest of the year? It’s delicious. It’s not too expensive. And it’s plentiful.

Texans love their ham, but the writers of a great many Texas cookbooks are more interested in offering recipes for what to do with leftovers. Perhaps they were all trying to prove the great Dorothy Parker wrong when she quipped, “Eternity is a ham and two people.”

But here are a few suggestions from Texas cookbooks to make your holiday dinner centerpiece even more enjoyable this year.

First are some glaze ideas from the “Houston Junior League Cookbook”:

Ham Glazes:

  • Mix equal parts of jelly and prepared mustard.
  • Combine 2 cups cranberry sauce and ½ cup brown sugar.
  • Mix ½ cup honey with 1 cup brown sugar and ½ cup orange juice.
  • Mix 1 cup honey with ½ cup orange marmalade.
  • Combine 1 cup brown sugar and ½ cup syrup from canned spiced crab apples. Garnish with heated crab apples.

And here’s a basting sauce you can use for more than ham, as it appears in “The Wide, Wide World of Texas Cooking”:

Basting Sauce for Meat Loaf, Ham, Pork

½ cup brown sugar
½ cup water
1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Vinegar, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and boil until sugar has melted. Keep warm until needed. Store leftover sauce, covered, in refrigerator.

Makes 1 ¼ cups.

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

Finally, here’s a recipe for a stuffed ham that appears in the “Celebrate San Antonio Cookbook”:

Bourbon Cashew Studded Ham


1 (5- to 6-pound) cooked ham
1 cup bourbon
1 cup packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
15 to 20 whole cashews


1 ½ cups herb stuffing mix (Pepperidge Farm preferred)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
3 tablespoons prepared mustard
3 eggs
¾ cup parsley, minced

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a saucepan, combine bourbon, sugar and cloves. Simmer mixture for 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, mix stuffing ingredients together. Make holes in top of ham with apple corer at 2-inch intervals. Save ham pieces for another use. Stuff holes in ham with one cashew then stuffing mix and one cashew on top. Spread rest of stuffing on top of ham. In a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish, place ham and pour bourbon sauce on top. Bake uncovered for 1 ½ hours until crust is golden brown. Baste with bourbon sauce while ham is cooking.

Makes 20 to 25 servings.

From “Celebrate San Antonio Cookbook” by the San Antonio Junior Forum


Posted in Cookbooks, Griffin to Go, Recipes0 Comments

Embracing Bitters

Embracing Bitters

Our fascination with classic cocktails has grown in recent years, and with it has come a return to the way drinks were made back when people took the time to craft something by hand. We’ve seen a return to the use of egg whites, for example, to give a frothy head to drinks such as whiskey sours and pisco sours.

Dale DeGroff appears behind the bar at Soho Wine and Martini Bar

Dale DeGroff appears behind the bar at Soho Wine and Martini Bar

In the past four or five years, the interest in bitters has skyrocketed. Go into just about any liquor store and you’ll find bottle after bottle of bitters boasting flavors of celery (made for a bloody Mary), cherry (for Manhattans or old-fashioneds), grapefruit (for salty dogs) and mint (for a more righteous julep). Sure, the old standby aromatic bitters, Angostura and Peychauds, are on the shelf, and they still sell for anywhere from $5 to $10 a bottle, but mainy places are starting to stock more exotic mixtures with price tags in the $20 or range or more.

But what are these mysterious elixirs in their bottles, which are occasionally covered in paper wrapping? They are often alcoholic liquids flavored with a host of concentrated botanicals and aromatic herbs, most of which are predominantly bitter. Ingredients could include gentian root, orange peel, cinchona bark, cardamom, eucalyptus, coffee, you name it. Their purpose in the cocktail world is to provide balance to a drink so that it isn’t cloyingly sweet. Think about the indefinable touch in a Sazerac that keeps the licorice flavor of the absinthe in check or the trace of orange bitters that enlivens a real martini.

The seminar at Soho (Photo: James Goulden)

The seminar at Soho (Photo: James Goulden)

Brad Thomas Parsons has written the exhaustive “Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes and Formulas” for those who must know every last detail about bitters in cocktail history and want to try making their own at home. Bonnie Walker and I lassoed a recipe for barbecue bitters from Bohanan’s Heather Nañez to include in our own “Barbecue Lover’s Texas.”

Dale DeGroff, known as “King Cocktail” and the author of “The Essential Cocktail,” offered a dash or two of his perspective on bitters recently during a Manhattans seminar presented at the Soho Wine and Martini Bar on Crockett Street. The cocktail chronicler produces his own version of these aromatic gems, Dale DeGroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters. And it was one of five that participants got to taste in a series of Manhattans that had been made with George Dickel Rye.

Manhattans all in a row

Manhattans all in a row

While leading the tasting, DeGroff also offered a little history on the subject. Bitters were part of the first printed definition of a cocktail, he said. It dates back to a newspaper article from 1806. That’s when someone told the Balance and Columbian Repository of Hudson, N.Y., that a cocktail was a stimulating mixture of “spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.”

But they date back further than that. Actually, they’ve been around since the late 17th century, he said. Stoughton’s Bitters were first produced in England in 1690 and were that country’s second patented medicine in 1712. The original recipe from Jerry Thomas and Pierre Lacour included 8 pounds of gentian root, 1/2 ounce red saunders wood or cochineal, 6 pounds of orange peel, 1 1/2 pounds of Virginia snake root and 1/2 ounce American saffron, among other ingredients. Ten gallons of distilled spirits were added to the mix before it aged. Now, that’s medicine.

"King Cocktail" Dale DeGroff

“King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff

Bitters returned after Prohibition ended. Cole Porter mentioned them in the 1940 torch song, “Make It Another Old-Fashioned, Please”:

     Leave out the cherry,
     Leave out the bitters,
     Leave out the orange.
     Just make it a straight rye.

But a funny thing happened to American tastes. Somewhere in the last 50 years or so, we surrendered our taste buds to syrupy sodas and other sugary confections. In doing so, we lost our appreciation for all things bitter. Or, as DeGroff said, “We have in our DNA an aversion to bitter things.”

So, for far too long, that bottle of bitters, which never goes bad if it has an alcohol base, was relegated to the back of the bar. Bartenders even took to joking: “What’s going to last longer, my bottle of bitters or my marriage?”

The Manhattan

The Manhattan (Photo: James Goulden)

No two bitters are alike, and each will influence the final flavor of your cocktail in a unique way, just as the profile of your whiskey, bourbon or rye will affect your Manhattan. So, do you prefer a bitter and fruity blend, such as the one attributed to Jerry Thomas that has been revived for modern cocktail drinkers? Or the classic, herbal profile of Angostura Bitters? You’ll have to conduct your own taste test. First, sniff and taste a tiny amount of the bitters by itself. What do you taste? Clove? Ginger? Cinnamon? Cola? All of the above? Then shake a drop or two into your drink and notice the changes that result.

Some people, DrGroff said, are so taken with the flavors of their favorite bitters that they’ll pour an ounce or so into an ice-filled glass and finish it off with mineral water or club soda. The end result is a digestif along the lines of a Campari, a bitter liqueur from Italy that’s often served with soda.

By the way, the name Angostura comes from a city in Venezuela, where the formula was developed in 1824. The distinctive bottle with its oversized label is perfect in such classic cocktails as the Horse’s Neck, Rob Roy, Singapore Sling or the Esmeralda, a winning blend of tequila, lime juice, honey and bitters that deserves to be resurrected. So versatile is Angostura bitters that one satisfied Amazon customer claimed they’re an effective mosquito repellant.

Luis Villegas with his winning Manhattan.

Luis Villegas with his winning Manhattan. (Photo: James Goulden)

You can take your bitters out of the bar and into the kitchen. In his book, Parsons suggests using them in everything from chicken wings to a topping for broiled grapefruit. I have used a dash or two in cherry and rhubarb pies to add a kick to the flavor. Just remember to start off slowly. The flavors are intense, so one dash may be all you need in the beginning. Your bottle will not go empty anytime soon. Or as DeGroff joked, if he ever goes into business again, it’ll be to produce something that people consume in quantities greater than a dash or two at a time.

After the seminar, three bartenders presented their own Manhattans to DeGroff and a representative of George Dickel Rye in a competition to see who could put the best spin on the classic. In the end, Luis Villegas of Houston, who consults at Costa Pacifica on Loop 1604, took the top prize for his variation, which he named “Come and Taste It!” Here’s his recipe:

Luis Villegas’ “Come and Taste It!” Manhattan

3/4 ounce George Dickel Rye
1/4 ounce Carpano Antica
1/4 ounce
Margerum Amaro
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Blood orange extra-virgin olive oil
George Dickel-infused Cherry

Stir rye, Carpano Antica, amaro, bitters and oil in an ice-filled glass. Strain into chilled coupe. Garnish with George Dickel-infused cherry.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Luis Villegas


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Griffin to Go: Pancake Day Is a Tradition Worth Biting Into

Griffin to Go: Pancake Day Is a Tradition Worth Biting Into

This coming Tuesday, the final day before the Lenten season, has a bunch of different names. Mardi Gras is probably the most famous, or Fat Tuesday, as we translate it. But it’s also known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day.

Pancakes made to order can be yours. I  wasn’t familiar with either of the latter two names until in the last few years and had no idea where the names came from. I came across a reference recently in Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Vicar of Wakefield,” a picaresque novel from 1766. In the course of narrating his life story, the Vicar recalls how his parishioners “religiously ate pancakes at Shrovetide.” That phrase made no impression on me when I first read the novel back in high school, but it stopped me in my tracks when I re-read it a few weeks ago.

It made me think: How long have people celebrated the last day before Lent by eating pancakes?

A few answers could be found in Robert Chambers’ 1869 volume, “The Book of Days”:  “Shrove Tuesday derives its name from the ancient practice, in the church of Rome, of confessing sins, and being shrived or shrove, i.e. obtaining absolution, on this day.

“When Shrove Tuesday dawned, the bells were set a ringing, and everyone abandoned himself to amusement and good humour. All through the day, there was a preparing and devouring of pancakes, as if some profoundly important religious principle were involved in it. The pancake and Shrove Tuesday are inextricably associated in the popular mind and in old literature. Before being eaten, there was always a great deal of contention among the eaters to see which could most adroitly toss them in the pan.”

Chambers goes on to cite Shakespeare’s reference to the tradition in “All’s Well That Ends Well,” when one of the characters talks about how he’s “as fit as a pancake for Shrove Tuesday.”

But the author never settles on an exact history. Perhaps the initial date someone ate a pancake on the last day before Lent will never be unknown, but Ellen Castelow offers the earliest date I could find in an article on She traces the pancake’s appearances in cookbooks back to 1439. Scarcely a few years later, flapjacks and the last day of merriment before Lenten’s time of abstinence were already linked in the form of a pancake race, a decidedly British tradition that has not crossed the ocean.

pancake“The most famous pancake race takes place at Olney in Buckinghamshire,” Castelow writes. “According to tradition, in 1445 a woman of Olney heard the shriving bell while she was making pancakes and ran to the church in her apron, still clutching her frying pan. The Olney pancake race is now world famous. Competitors have to be local housewives and they must wear an apron and a hat or scarf.”

We Texans would rather race to a stack of pancakes than run with them, as the lines outside both Magnolia Pancake Haus locations prove. And we have modified the treat in various ways to suit our tastes. Looking through dozens of Lone Star cookbooks turned up a great many variations beyond the traditional blend of eggs, flour, salt and milk. Corn cakes are a given in a state where corn tortillas rule, but there were also pancake recipes that called for rice, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, you name it.

Here are four variations that show the range of flavors you can get from. Donnie’s Corn Pancakes comes from the San Antonio Symphony League’s “San Antonio Cookbook II” from 1976, while the Sour Dough Pancakes recipe can be found in the 1992 update of the “Houston Junior League Cookbook.” Sunday Night Pancakes, dressed to the nines with vanilla and cinnamon, appears in the 1973 “Fiesta: Favorite Recipes of South Texas” from the Junior League of Corpus Christi. Gingerbread Pancakes can be found in Terry Thompson-Anderson’s compilation, “Lone Star Eats.”

The best thing is that you don’t have to wait for Shrove Tuesday to try these treats. They’re good all year long.

Sour Dough Pancakes

1 package dry yeast
1 cup water
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs

Put yeast in a moderately large, dry bowl; add water and stir. Add flour to make very stiff mixture. Cover with wet cloth and let stand, overnight, in warm place. The next morning, before making pancakes, remove and refrigerate about 3 tablespoons yeast mixture. (This will be a “starter” to keep on hand in refrigerator.)

To make the pancakes, add to remaining yeast mixture the baking soda, salt, sugar and eggs; batter will be very thin. Brush griddle with bacon grease and cook pancakes. When bubbles rise and burst, turn cakes over. Cook only once on each side.

Makes 12 (5-inch) pancakes.

Any night before pancakes are desired, add 1 cup water and 1 3/4 cups flour to refrigerated “starter.” Cover with wet cloth and let stand, overnight, in warm place. Next day, reserve another “starter,” then proceed as before to make pancakes. Process may be repeated indefinitely.

From Mrs. H.E. Hunt (Elinor Pierce)/”Houston Junior League Cookbook”

pancake1Donnie’s Corn Pancakes

1/2 cup flour
1 cup corn meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 heaping teaspoon sugar
1 egg

Combine flour, corn meal, baking powder, salt, milk, sugar and egg, and beat well. Cook on a lightly oiled hot griddle or skillet.

Makes 12 to 15 pancakes.

From Mrs. Dorothy C. Pickett/”San Antonio Cookbook II” collected by the San Antonio Symphony League

Sunday Night Pancakes

2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Beat eggs; add sugar, milk and water and beat well. Add salt, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and baking powder. Beat until fluffy. Drop by spoonfuls on lightly greased griddle. Batter will be thin. Turn pancakes when they begin to bubble. They are delicious served with apricot syrup.

Makes 4 servings.

From Mrs. Robert Dunn (Ann Furman)/”Fiesta: Favorite Recipes of South Texas”

Gingerbread Pancakes

2 eggs
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup prepared decaf coffee
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups flour
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda

Mix eggs, sugar, buttermilk, coffee, water, spices and flour. Add butter. Mix just until blended. Add baking powder and baking soda. Mix just until blended. Cook as you would ordinary pancakes.

Makes 4 large pancakes.

From Kerbey Lane Cafes, Austin, “Remember the Flavors of Austin”/”Lone Star Eats: A Gathering of Recipes from Great Texas Cookbooks,” edited by Terry Thompson-Anderson

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Griffin to Go: A Not-So-Random Visit to Random Beer Garden

Griffin to Go: A Not-So-Random Visit to Random Beer Garden

Deep-fried crayfish mac and cheese balls with andouille sausage.

Deep-fried crayfish mac and cheese balls with andouille sausage.

Saturday was the perfect day for chili. The weather was damp and depressing. The rain didn’t know when to stop. And there was a cold snap to the wind that just made you want to turn your back to it while breathing in the warming goodness of a hot bowl of red.

Random owner Michael Stratis (right) talks in front of the Firehouse Fare food truck.

Random owner Michael Stratis (right) talks in front of the Firehouse Fare food truck.

So, it seemed appropriate to be judging the Random Chilibowl at the Random Beer Garden, 11 Upper Cibolo Creek Road, Boerne, that afternoon. What I hadn’t bargained on was that, cold weather or not, my first visit to Random would be filled with warmth and fun that extended far beyond the five entries that our group of six judged.

Fine bowls of chili they were, too.

Boerne Wurst from Z's Wood Fired Pizza

Boerne Wurst from Z’s Wood Fired Pizza

I’ve judged any number of chili cook-offs in the past, some sanctioned and others just for fun — and you never know what you’re going to get. One time, two of the entries tasted like an average vegetable soup while another, as one judge said afterward, was like a handmade version of Whataburger’s spicy ketchup. But these five entries, from the food trucks at Random that day, were all so good that it was difficult to make final choices.

The chili cheese dog from Hippie Mommas.

The chili cheese dog from Hippie Mommas.

All had meat, which isn’t required but is a plus in my book, though the meat wasn’t all ground. Some used tomatoes. A couple had beans. Two used cheese to top theirs with. But all seemed to draw their dominant flavor from chili powder working with the rest of the ingredients as well as other seasonings, including smoked sea salt in one and varying doses of cumin.

The other judges on the panel included Shawn Gordon, also known as the Food Truck Stalker; Shana Bumbalough Allen of Sugar Belles Bakery; Jennifer Ramirez of Crepe Nation; chili fan Mark Lowery; and Random regular Robert Lewis.

Little Texas Kitchen's gourmet grilled cheese.

Little Texas Kitchen’s gourmet grilled cheese.

We were asked to judge on aroma, appearance and taste, with the samples arriving at the bottom of Styrofoam cups. That’s where a surprise arose. The two samples that were topped with cheese initially had little aroma. The melted cheese sealed everything in. So, we had to spoon around all that molten richness in order to get to the chili underneath and take a good sniff of the magic at work.

The judges in action.

The judges in action.

We were asked to sample each chili and then surrender the cups before the next one arrived. Not much chili remained in each, but it would have been nice to revisit any number of the five after we had finished — except I had no idea which cups had been mine. One of the other judges did, however. Ramirez had marked her cups with her initials so she could go back to her favorites — and she did with most of them.

That desire to revisit most of the chilis is what made it hard to pick a winner, for the judges and for patrons there that day. In the end, the votes for judge’s choice and people’s choice were both close, and each had its fans. In the end, the judges chose the chili from Hippie Mommas, while the people’s choice was Z’s Wood Fired Pizza.

We judged the chilis in the main house on the property, which was built in the 1820s and has served as the site of weddings, charity events and parties, Random owner Michael Stratis told me afterward. It includes an underground cellar, or the Golden Room, which you have to enter through a trap door in the floor. The small cellar has a table and chairs and would be perfect for a wine tasting.

Random in the rain.

Random in the rain.

Random sits on seven acres off the side of the road that takes you to Boerne Lake. It started about two years ago as a wine bar, Stratis said, but the craft beer renaissance seems to have taken over. The place has more than 80 brews on tap, and the head beer-tender will be glad to help you find one to suit your tastes. I wanted an IPA, but not one of the hop bombs that too many brewers are producing these days. I was rewarded with an Inversion IPA from Deschutes that filled the bill nicely, cutting through some of the richer fare that I was to sample from the food trucks.

Stratis, who’s in the construction business during the day, owns Random with Mary Kanafani. The two have plans for expanding what’s on the site right now, which includes plenty of outdoor dining space, an indoor bar area with picnic tables (and heaters!) as well as a 70-foot-by-30-foot Kangaroo Pillow for the kids — at least when it’s dry. One of the short-term projects seems to be turning an old bomb shelter into a humidor. Another is to add a race course for remote control cars.

But nothing will take the place of the food trucks, which I sampled from heavily after the judging. Latin Fusion offered the best Cubano I’d tasted since seeing the movie “Chef.” The pickle added its spark to the melted cheese, ham, and marinated and roasted pork to create flavors I haven’t had since I lived in Florida. Little Texas Kitchen made me a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich my way; I got to choose the bread, cheese and add-ons, which lead to a delicious and gooey mix of cheddar, tomato slices and fried egg all melted into sourdough bread. It was the perfect side dish to a cup of chili.

I had more chili at Hippie Mommas, but this time it was happily part of an oversized chili cheese dog in which the hot dog had been wrapped in bacon and then deep fried. From Z’s Wood Fired Pizza, I had to try the Boerne Wurst, which arrived with smoked sausage, sauerkraut, blue cheese and mozzarella heaped high over tomato sauce spread on a perfectly charred crust.

Bacon-wrapped onion rings from Firehouse Fare.

Bacon-wrapped onion rings from Firehouse Fare.

Firehouse Fare offered a somewhat different take on things. I’ve had deep-fried macaroni and cheese before, but the folks at Firehouse add crayfish and andouille sausage to their filling. The macaroni mix is then breaded and shaped into balls before hitting the fryer. The end result is served with a shaving of Parmesan cheese and a zippy remoulade on the side.

But they’re not done there. Bacon-fried bacon — you read that right — features pork belly wrapped in bacon and served with a radish-celery mixture that just sent the dish over the tip. Bacon-wrapped onion rings would please anyone on a low-carb diet. Instead of breading two or three rings of onion, they wrap them in bacon and deep-fry them to the point that the bacon is cooked while the onion is both soft enough and crunchy enough. Yes, I love bacon, but believe me when I say that I appreciated both of these treats as much as I did because of the vegetables involved.

For more information on Random Beer Garden, visit their Facebook page.

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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.

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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

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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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