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Tagine: Morocco’s Sumptuous, Spicy Dish

Tagine: Morocco’s Sumptuous, Spicy Dish

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

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

Tagines and other Moroccan cooking implements from Saundra Winokur.

Tagines and other Moroccan cooking implements from Saundra Winokur.

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

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

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

Tagine Recipes:

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

Beef tagine with finishing touches.

Beef tagine with finishing touches.

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

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

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

Chicken with Cracked Green Olives and Preserved Lemon Tagine

Chicken with Cracked Green Olives and Preserved Lemon Tagine

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

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

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

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

Brown the beef in turmeric, spices and herbs.

Beef browning in turmeric, spices and herbs.


Beef with Pumpkin Tagine

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

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

Tagine my pot cropped


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

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

Pleasanton bbq cookoff smoker

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









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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ropin2Photographs by John Griffin and Bonnie Walker

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

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

The cafe at Cakes & Ale in Decatur.

The cafe at Cakes & Ale in Decatur.

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

A chef at Gunshow offers a fried lobster tail.

A chef at Gunshow offers one of his dishes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sriracha milkshake, anyone? It's at Pallookaville.

Sriracha milkshake, anyone? It’s at Pallookaville.

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

Portuguese pork belly and clams at Gunshow.

Portuguese pork belly and clams at Gunshow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lox at the General Muir.

Lox at the General Muir.

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

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

Fried kimchi and bologna at Sobban.

Fried kimchi and bologna at Sobban.

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

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

Filleting a trout at Cakes & Ale.

Filleting a trout at Cakes & Ale.

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Griffin to Go: Trying One from the Recipe Files, Celery Victor

Griffin to Go: Trying One from the Recipe Files, Celery Victor

I picked up a couple of baskets of fruits and vegetables from Bountiful Baskets on Saturday. It was the first time I’d needed to use the food co-op since Bonnie and I embarked on our Texas barbecue tour, and I was surprised to find myself with two healthy stalks of celery in addition to the one I had in the refrigerator at home. So, what was I going to do with all of that celery?

Celery Victor

Celery Victor

My mind drifted to a hearty cream of celery soup, perfect for these cold days, but I couldn’t find a recipe for that treat in the first 15 cookbooks I opened, so I decided to focus on what celery recipes were there. One that immediately caught my eye was for Celery Victor, a salad of poached celery in a vinaigrette with anchovies and pimento strips crossed over each piece of rib. It was in a 1964 volume, “The Spice Cookbook” from Avanelle Day and Lillie Stuckey, which a friend of mine had recently given me while she was remodeling her kitchen and reducing her collection.

I had no idea who Victor was or why this was his dish.

Then I picked up another cookbook that I’d received from other friends when they cleaned out their collection. “The ‘Best-of-All’ Cook Book,” edited by Florence Brobeck, was released in 1960 and it, too, had a recipe for Celery Victor. Even more importantly, it was printed with the following introduction: “Here’s a world-famous salad originated by Chef Victor Hirtzler of the super St. Francis Hotel, of San Francisco. This is the recipe as given to me, and as they now serve it at the hotel.”

Who wrote that is a mystery since Brobeck took her recipes from a host of other cookbooks. She did cite “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook” and “Helen Brown’s West Coast Cook Book,” among others, as her sources, but it’s not listed in Toklas’ book while Brown’s version does not include anchovies. Whoever wrote this recipe says you can serve it with tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs or crab. Funny, but I noticed that I had bookmarked the recipe as one I wanted to make at some point.

While the celery was poaching, I turned to Wikipedia and learned that the dish originated in 1910 and the entry also gave credit to Hirtzler, who was also the creator of Crab Louie. The recipe there, however,  included no anchovies but added romaine lettuce, which is hardly a substitute in my book.

So, for my first attempt at Celery Victor, I stuck with the recipe in “The Spice Cookbook,” which is still available on Amazon. (New copies are selling for a princely sum, but used copies are far more reasonably priced.) It seemed a little tart when paired with the tomatoes and egg by themselves. But the flavors melded into something wonderful with the anchovies and pimiento added. One taste and I could see why this had been considered a classic. It’s certainly worth a new look. I might cut back a little on the vinegar, but I will be making this one again, perhaps in a day or two with one of the remaining stalks of celery.

Celery Victor

12 ribs of crisp-tender celery
2 sprigs of parsley
1/4 cup sliced fresh carrots
1/4 cup sliced fresh onions
1 teaspoon salt
1-inch depth of boiling chicken stock in saucepan

1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive or salad oil
1/4 teaspoon chervil leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (2-ounce) can long anchovy fillets
Pimiento strips

Select tender inside ribs from 2 stalks of celery. Cut hen 4 inches long, measuring from bottom of rib. Place in a saucepan with parsley, carrots, onion, 1 teaspoon salt, and hot chicken stock. Cover and cook slowly 10 minutes or until just tender. Remove celery to a shallow dish to cool.

Combine vinegar, oil, chervil, salt and pepper. Pour over the cooled celery. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours or until serving time. Rinse anchovy fillets with water, cut each in half and arrange in 2 crosses over each rib. Garnish with pimiento strips.

Variation from “The ‘Best-of-All’ Cook Book”: Serve garnished with tomato and egg slices, or with cooked chilled crab legs.

Makes 6 servings.

“The Spice Cookbook” by Avanelle Day and Lillie Stuckey


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Griffin to Go: A Feast of Christmas Movies

Griffin to Go: A Feast of Christmas Movies

I’m a sucker for Christmas movies, especially the classic ones from the 1930s through the 1950s. Give me Nick Charles swilling martinits and shooting balloons off the Christmas tree in “The Thin Man” or Glenn Miller’s orchestra catching a sleigh ride through “Sun Valley Serenade” and I’m in back in the spirit.

Christmas in ConnecticutBut there are two films, amid evergreens such as “The Bishop’s Wife” and “Holiday Inn,” that are favorites to this food lover — and both are because of the way food is incorporated into the action.

The first is the 1945 charmer, “Christmas in Connecticut,” in which a recently returned war hero (Dennis Morgan) is rewarded for his efforts by getting to spend Christmas with a highly popular food writer (Barbara Stanwyck). The only problem is, she can’t cook.

Obviously, her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) doesn’t know that. Instead, he recites litanies of dishes she’s written about as if he were chanting prayers. And the ecstatic look on his face as he goes over her Christmas menu, “Roast goose brunoise with walnut stuffing, celery soufflé and real old-fashioned plum pudding,” is genuinely funny. But it’s topped by the horror he exhibits when he learned his own Christmas dinner prospects, prescribed by his doctor: “Mashed prune whip, creamed turnip fluff.  He expects me to eat these barbaric atrocities! Well, I won’t.”

The food fun goes on from there to include flipping flapjacks and a small confrontation over Irish stew vs. Hungarian goulash, but I don’t want to give too much away for anyone who hasn’t seen it.  Pour yourself a cup of eggnog and enjoy every savory morsel.

(By the way, the movie was remade by Arnold Schwarzenegger with Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson, but the results felt more like leftovers.)

The other Christmas movie with a smorgasbord of great lines, not to mention some wonderful food shots, is “The Ref,” a 1994 comedy starring Kevin Spacy and Judy Davis as an unhappily married couple and Dennis Leary as the jewel thief who takes them hostage on Christmas Eve.

Leary’s character is hungry, but, for some reason unexplained in the script, everything he tastes, from a Christmas fruitcake to a Scandinavian feast, tastes horrible to him.

He’s not the only one. A drunken Santa is chided by a small child for drinking Champagne instead of milk, which makes Santa mean. “Look, Santa can’t drink any more milk tonight,” he snarls at the startled kid. “Santa has a lactose intolerance. It gives him horrible gas pains. You want to see Santa farting down everyone’s chimney?”

Yes, the dialogue is raw, raunchy and downright hilarious, but not even Santa Claus getting knocked unconscious can keep the Christmas spirit from triumphing in the end.

And that’s what a great Christmas movie is about. That and maybe some of what they dine on in “The Ref”: “Roast suckling pig, fresh baked kringlors with a honey pecan dipping sauce, 7-day-old lutefisk and lamb gookins …”


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Marcella Hazan Gave Us the Best of Italian Food

Marcella Hazan Gave Us the Best of Italian Food

Marcella Hazan’s gift to American cooks cannot be overstated.

amarcordShe was at the forefront of Italian chefs and cooking instructors who helped us understand that the food of her native country was all about using the finest ingredients in simple yet imaginative ways.  One of her hallmark recipes, a tomato sauce flavored with butter and onion, also showed many homemakers that they could cook up something special in a short time and without a lot of stress. There were no expensive ingredients and you didn’t need a cooking degree. Plus, families were sure to appreciate the fresh flavor the sauce imparted.

That’s what made her celebrated “The Classic Italian Cookbook” a treasure to so many. She reminded us that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. In an age when people have less and less time to cook at home, it’s a message that needs to be stressed more often. You’re likely to read it a lot this week, if you keep up with news that has nothing to do with the government. That’s because Hazan died Sunday at her Longboat Key, Fla., home at age 89.

Her passing has drawn numerous tributes on Twitter from celebrity chefs and home cooks alike. Giada De Laurentiis, for example, said, “Thank you for making the world more delicious. Riposare in pace.” Food blogger Angela Roberts offered her own succinct take: “Cooking from Marcella Hazan’s book is never a disappointment.”

I never got to meet Hazan when I lived in the same area of Florida, but I once assisted her son, Guiliano Hazan, in a cooking class there. He had his own take on Italian cuisine, but he kept it simple, just as she did. In fact, his “The Classic Pasta Cookbook” reflects that approach in a way that both reflected his creativity in the kitchen while his keeping to the tradition that his mother kept alive in her own classes.

classic italianTeaching the culinary traditions of Italy was important to her, even though cooking itself meant little to her in her early years. Yet she came to realize it was a way of explaining her homeland and of clearing up the misconception that everyone in Italy ate massive bowls filled with spaghetti and meatballs for dinner each night. In her memoir, “Amarcord: Marcella Remembers” (Gotham Books), Hazan described how she had to educate class after class in this:

“Why do Italians eat so much? they wanted to know. They don’t, I told them. But what about all those courses? they asked. I explained: We really don’t have that many courses; the appetizer course would be part of a special holiday meal, as would the dessert. At home, seasonal fruit usually takes the place of a baked dessert. We do have two courses, a first and a second, instead of a main course. However, we have two courses not in order to eat more but in order to eat less and more frugally. The pasta course, when it is served Italian style rather than Italian-American style, is quite small and has a minimal amount of sauce. The meat or fish in the course that follows is an expensive ingredient, but if you have a pasta or risotto or soup first, a small portion of it is sufficient. With meat, we always have a tasty vegetable, with fish, a simple salad of greens or tomatoes dressed with vinegar and olive oil. The quantities are small, but it is a more satisfying and a better-balanced way to eat.”

So, do yourself a favor and cook up this tomato sauce in tribute to Marcella Hazan. You’ll be surprised at how easy is — and hopefully it will make you seek out her cookbooks, either those that are sitting on your cookbook rack already or the ones you need to add to your collection.

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, or 3 cups canned whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
1 medium sweet yellow onion, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
5 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’re using fresh tomatoes, peel them. Coarsely chop the fresh or the canned tomatoes.

Put a 4- to 5-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, onion halves, butter and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer then lower the heat. Crush the tomatoes lightly with the back of a spoon as they cook. Stir every 10 or 15 minutes. Simmer for 45 minutes or until droplets of fat appear on the surface of the tomatoes. Remove the onion. (You could discard it or use it for another purpose.)

Toss the sauce with about 1 pound of just-boiled pasta and serve it with Parmesan cheese and black pepper, if desired.

Makes  4-6 servings.

From Marcella Hazan



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Brunch, Burgers Please Palates at Arcade Midtown Kitchen

Brunch, Burgers Please Palates at Arcade Midtown Kitchen

Back in the 1980s, when I wrote my first restaurant review for a daily newspaper in Flagstaff, Ariz., finding worthy restaurants to review was nothing like our current dining scene in San Antonio.

Burgers and steaks were the general fare along with pizza parlors that didn’t range far from the basics — sausage and pepperoni. We had massive hotel Sunday brunches, all the rage at the time, and various mom-and-pop places that could turn out good ethnic meals.

Arcade Midtown Kitchen's Chicken and Waffles

Arcade Midtown Kitchen’s Chicken and Waffles

For more complex fare, we’d head to Sedona, a scenic 30-minute drive away. Restaurants in this now-raging tourist mecca stretched their culinary wings not so much to gratify Flagstaff diners but to lure in well-heeled snowbirds, down for the winter to soak up the beautiful scenery and climate.

The real high-rollers would fly into the tiny local airport at the top of a red-rock mesa from cities as far-flung as New York and Chicago. They would stay a few days for sight-seeing, seeking out “gourmet” meals. (This was pre-harmonic-convergence Sedona, before the crystal wearers came to town and the word “Sedona” turned into a hot branding term used to sell anything from socks to SUVs.)

I thought about these, my younger days, as I sat with at a table with a couple of dozen other dedicated foodies Saturday morning at chef/owner Jesse Perez’s Arcade Midtown Kitchen. Some were staff writers, others freelancers, bloggers, magazine owners as well as the indefatigable social media foodies taking the city by storm. Many of them were in their 20s and 30s and they are in a new world where chefs take on the fame of rock stars and diners had better know their stuff when it comes to profiling the complex flavors in a dish.

These folks ably deconstructed the dishes and weren’t shy about mentioning their personal likes and dislikes. They also seemed able to put those aside to make a reasonable and serious judgment of dishes on their own merits.

Happy Daddy, Arcade's approach to Huevos Rancheros -- with petite filet of beef.

Happy Daddy, Arcade’s approach to Huevos Rancheros — with petite filet of beef.

Perez had invited us in to sample brunch as he looks toward adding Saturday brunch in the near future. Sunday brunch is already a standby at the restaurant that opened earlier this year.

We shared dishes ranging from the traditional eggs Benedict with a couple of custom touches to Happy Daddy, a petite beef filet rubbed with chile along with potato hash and chorizo coins for a spicy take on huevos rancheros.  (The dish got its name as a particular favorite on Father’s Day.)

The Arcade burger, which is rapidly becoming one of the city’s favorites, was also brought out, inspiring as much comment as did Perez’s take on Chicken and Waffles (boned chicken, pounded out ‘Milanesa’ style and then breaded) or the luscious, multilayered red velvet cake.

Burgers are beloved. That was true long before I began my food-writing career.

While we don’t want burgers for every meal, we’re still excited to find one that is exceptional and inspires questions ranging from what is the meat used in the grind, fat-to-lean ratio, and of course, what’s in the ‘secret sauce.’

But our demands have changed over the years. Secret sauce better have some pretty good secrets in there – and in Perez’s burger, the only secret he would divulge was the dash of blood orange vinegar. His sauce also has a bite – Sriracha? He wouldn’t tell.

Arcade's burger is getting a reputation -- and it's a good one.

Arcade’s burger is getting a reputation — and it’s a good one.

In the old days, I don’t recall that we discussed the provenance of the beef, or what cuts were used in the grind other than the occasional reference to a “sirloin burger” on a menu.  Perez uses ground chuck and brisket, a combination that I’ve found to be one of the tastiest – and he uses a lean-to-fat ratio of about 70-to-30. Generous on the flavor, but not greasy.

The cheese is American – and I’d guess that is a nod to the country’s tradition, but a good natural cheese such as cheddar would make me happier. But the browned “soft” onions, as the menu describes them, seem to melt right into the beef and they just about cancel out the sticky cheese.

So, as things change, things remain the same. That cliché does apply to our appetite for burgers — as well as for Saturday and Sunday brunches, for finding food with the best flavor and always looking for an element of discovery.  And, may it always be so.

Arcade Midtown Kitchen
303 Pearl Pkwy.
(210) 369-9664

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Griffin to Go: Think and Drink Pink

Griffin to Go: Think and Drink Pink

Rosé comes in many shades of pink.

Rosé comes in many shades of pink.

This past Saturday brought Culinaria’s annual Rambling Rosé to Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, and for at least one day, it was all about pink.

And that’s just fine with me.

Steven Krueger unveils a bottle of rosé.

Steven Krueger unveils a bottle of rosé.

For the past nine years or so, Bonnie Walker and I have been part of the panel along with vineyard owner Richard Becker, sommelier Steven Krueger from the Westin La Cantera and selected friends of dry rosé, including wine merchant Woody De Luna, to talk about the appeal of this special style of wine while we sampled a half-dozen fine examples with two large groups of interested tasters.

Nine years ago, it seemed as if we were all speaking in some sort of vacuum. The audience was made up largely of people who only drank either red or white wine, and nothing but, and they weren’t about to change.

In the last three or four years, however, people have become more open. A good number of people in the audience now freely admit that dry rosé is part of their regular wine-drinking diet. It might be once a month or only when the temperature is over 100 degrees, which it was on Saturday. But the message that this wine is perfect for Texas is getting out.

Rosé is now the style of wine I drink most. I love the fact that you can ice it down and refresh yourself with its youthful essence. Plus, it’s a perfect food wine, whether you want a wine to go with beef fajitas with a spritz of lime or shrimp off the grill. Krueger made a good argument for having rosé with your Thanksgiving meal because it goes with so much of the meal.

You find more rosés of all price ranges, styles and even colors in the market these days, and they’re coming from all corners of the wine-growing world. Plus, they’re made with grapes as varied as Pinot Noir, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The audience enjoys sampling the wines.

The audience enjoys sampling the wines.

On Saturday, we tasted several dry Old World styles from France and from Texas with bright acid, good minerality, vibrancy and an elegance that was quite pleasing. We also tasted several New World styles with lively fruit flavors and the occasional touch of residual sugar.

The lineup featured several from France, including the 2012 Le Poussin Rosé from the Languedoc-Roussillon and the 2012 Balandran Les Mugues Rosé from Costières-de-Nîmes. The 2012 Alexander Vineyards Rosé was from Bordeaux, and it was made by Claude Alexander, who is opening a tasting room next week along the 290 wine trail that stretches from Johnson City to Fredericksburg; his other wines include a Champagne and a German Riesling, with more, including Texas wines, to come in the future.

Also in the Old World style was the host’s contribution, the 2012 Becker Vineyards Provençal from Tallent Vineyard in the Texas High Plains.

New World-style rosés included the 2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Blanc from the Brugioni Vineyard on California’s Sonoma Coast and the 2012 I’M Deep Rosé from Napa Valley.

All are available for about $12-$15 a bottle, and all found fans among both audiences and the panelists. In the case of the wines we sampled, the Old World-style rosés were marked by a more copperish pink, or saumon color, as the French call it, while the two New World-style had more red in them.

A "Deep" Rose

A “Deep” Rosé

It was great to hear the comments from the audience about what pleased them or whether they enjoyed a certain wine by itself or with the duck confit that chef John Brand had served. One gentleman, whom I recognized from having attended in years past, made the astute observation that the quality of all the wines has increased greatly overall. In fact, he enjoyed all six of the wines poured. High praise, indeed, and it’s also a clue as to why rosés have become more popular. After all, who doesn’t like a good bottle of wine at a reasonable price?

Another sign that some sort of cultural tide has been forded? In two panel discussions, the dreaded words “white Zinfandel” were not mentioned a single time, even in a derogatory manner. Rosé has reclaimed its position in the wine world.

If you haven’t tried any lately, what are you waiting for?

Culinaria’s next event, Restaurant Week, begins this Saturday and runs through Aug. 24. Click here for details.

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Griffin to Go: Seeking Transcendence

Griffin to Go: Seeking Transcendence

I recently visited my folks in my old hometown of Louisville, Ky., and was pleasantly surprised to learn how the city’s culinary offerings have begun to take off. For too long, the River City seemed to rely on old-fashioned Southern traditions — and little else — to feed its citizens. You still find the city’s favorite local creation, the Hot Brown, turkey and bacon slathered with a mornay sauce, not to mention the meat stew burgoo on many menus, but you can also find a more diverse array of ethnic options and a growing number of places with exciting, inventive menus.

MilkWood's seared scallops with pork belly.

MilkWood’s seared scallops with pork belly.

At the forefront of this growth is Edward Lee, James Beard Award nominee and author of the hot new cookbook, “Smoke and Pickles” Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen” (Artisan, $29.95). Sure, it capitalizes on the trend of honoring Southern cuisine, and Lee offers a host of decidedly different dishes with a dash of humor, such as his Bourbon-and-Coke Meatloaf Sandwich. But he takes it a step further by merging old favorites with a Korean touch that comes from his upbringing. (His recipe for Grilled Kalbi is below.)

I had met Lee briefly when he was in San Antonio to film “Top Chef Texas” a couple of years ago. He was serving up pickles with a bowl of chili, which isn’t traditional, to say the least, but it worked surprisingly well. His main restaurant, 610 Magnolia, was where I had dinner on prom night, though that was decades before Lee bought the place and took it to even greater culinary heights.

MilkWoodGiven all that, I was interested in seeing what he was up to on his own turf. The weekend I was there, the local paper, the Courier-Journal, ran a review of his second restaurant, MilkWood, which opened in the cellar area the Actors Theatre of Louisville. It was a homecoming of sorts, because I had spent a lot of time in that venerated theater when I was high school, as both a patron and a volunteer.

I make an early reservation, so early that I found myself nearly alone in the cool, relatively dim interior. I slid onto a comfortable banquette and slipped into Lee’s menu of “comfort bar food with an Asian pantry,” as he calls it on the theater’s website.

MilkWood's chicken and waffles.

MilkWood’s chicken and waffles.

The fun started with an umami cocktail that featured a lively blend of chartreuse and lemon with a seaweed sheet crumbled on top. The end result filled my mouth with a welcome mix of sweet-tart-salty that was great by itself but also went well with my dinner.

The parade of dishes started with a pair of Southern favorites upended in style.

Lee got chicken and waffles right by finding the right balance between sweet and spicy, which is what gave the traditional dish its appeal. It’s also where most other chefs get it wrong: They’re afraid of the heat, so they omit it, leaving an unappealing, sticky mess on the place. Lee’s version is actually more like a salad with nuggets of fried chicken sprinkled with sesame seeds before they were tossed with waffle bites and a garnish of tomatoes, cilantro and radish over a buttermilk ranch-type sauce.

At almost the same time, a plate of rock shrimp sausage and buttery Texas toast arrived. I could image this as a shrimp sandwich, only one that the chef somehow rearranged on the plate with the sausage on the outside of the plate, the bread at the center, and an Asian slaw scattered about.

I had planned on making a meal of small plates. Another contender from the menu paired smashed potatoes with something called octopus bacon, which a waiter explained to me was octopus with all the water pressed out of it and then cured like bacon. Sounded great, except I can’t have the potatoes.

MilkWood's house-made rock shrimp sausage with Texas toast

MilkWood’s house-made rock shrimp sausage with Texas toast

I was questioning my move when I heard the waiter address a group of six people who had been seated across the aisle from me. He politely explained the vegetarian options on the menu and finished by saying that the smashed potatoes could be ordered without the octopus.

I left my food bubble and noticed that several of the people sitting at the table were wearing robes. It led me to think they were recently arrived from the Dalai Lama’s appearance, which I had heard was taking place at a nearby convention center.

I didn’t give it a second thought because my plate of caramelized scallops with pork belly arrived. The fat, juicy scallops had been seared until the tops and bottoms were lightly crispy, while the salty pork belly added a fatty unctuousness of a different texture to the plate.

I looked up while enjoying it to see the man in the center of the table opposite me watching me for a moment while I ate. He was smiling at me and continued to do so for a moment until  he rejoined the conversation going on around him. I didn’t give it a second thought until I saw the front page of the next morning’s paper: That had been the Dalai Lama sitting across from me. And I hadn’t a clue.

Go figure. I was more absorbed in Lee’s culinary transcendence. It’s not the first time that’s happened. I doubt it will be the last.

Grilled Kalbi

Fans of Korean food know how good the traditional grilled short ribs, known as kalbi, can be. Edward Lee’s shares his family recipe in “Smoke and Pickles”:

“It took me forever to get this recipe from my mom. She doesn’t write down measurements, so whenever I asked for a recipe, she’d say something like, ‘Add a little bit of this and just enough of that.’ But even without a recipe, her kalbi always tastes the same, and it’s always a treat to have her make it versus eating it at a restaurant. I guess that’s just a mother’s touch. Finally, to get her recipe, I had to sit and watch her make it, taking notes as she mixed her ingredients together. Nowadays, I make this when my friends want traditional-style kalbi. And I’ve stopped using measuring cups, too. The marinade keeps well, so you can make it in advance to save time.”

smoke and pickles1 1/2 cups soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
1/2 cup Asian sesame oil
1 small onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
A small knob of ginger, grated (use a microplane)
3 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

5 pounds bone-in English cut short ribs, cut about 1/2-inch thick (you can have your butcher do this)
Cooked white or brown rice
Napa cabbage kimchi

To make the marinade, combine the soy sauce, sugar, brown sugar, mirin, sesame oil, onion, garlic, ginger, scallions, sesame seeds and red pepper flakes in a blender and pulse to a chunky purée; you want a little texture. (The marinade can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Layer the short ribs in a casserole, pouring some of the marinade over each layer and making sure every rib is nicely covered. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or for as long as overnight.

Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature.

Prepare a very hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill; a quick char is what you want here.

Grill the ribs for about two minutes on each side until charred on the outside but still a touch rare in the middle. Serve with the rice and the kimchi.

Note: The grilling part of this recipe is key. You really have to watch the ribs because, depending on the thickness of the meat, it can overcook in seconds. You can broil these, if you do not have a grill, but be mindful, because the broiler can also quickly overcook them.

Makes 6 to 8 servings as a main course.

From “Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen” by Edward Lee

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Cava, Truffles and Brunch: Just Because It’s Summer

Cava, Truffles and Brunch: Just Because It’s Summer

brunch table3













When summer gives you a holiday weekend and a friend has a beautiful, fresh black truffle, brunch is in order.

Brunch truffle and eggs

Eggs packed into a gallon jar with black truffle, covered and refrigerated, are infused with truffle flavor.

On Saturday we did just that, with the centerpiece being soft-scrambled eggs, infused in their shells with the powerful, heady scent of truffle.

This fancy fungus is in season now, and chefs around town have been featuring them in menus over the past couple of weeks.

Our friend and SavorSA colleague John Griffin had kept eggs packed with truffles in a sealed jar for several days, and had pronounced them ready to eat. He also baked and brought a fresh Ginger-Pear Quick Bread, a Rebecca Rather recipe that promised and delivered on the tempting flavors of the fresh fruit and fresh ginger. It isn’t cake, but the sweetness and rich, buttery texture served nicely as both a breakfast bread and light dessert.

David and I contributed a lively cava, Poema, chilled down and full of sparkle, fresh-squeezed orange juice and a brown-and-serve baguette. We pressed fresh minced rosemary, thyme and sage into the tops of breakfast sausage patties before grilling them in the oven, and put together a fruit salad of  sliced strawberries and cantaloupe, garnished with mint and doused with a few ounces of Triple Sec.

With the table set, a fan blowing fresh air into the dining room from the shady back yard, we celebrated the Saturday-after- the-Fourth of July. Here’s the menu, with a link to the Fresh Ginger-Pear Quick Bread, should you want to make it. Make up your own easy brunch, fancy it up a little and enjoy –  there are quite a few Saturdays or Sundays left in this summer!


  • brunch bread1Fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • Poema, a white cava (sparkling wine from Spain, which we found at Twin Liquors)
  • Sliced strawberries and cantaloupe in triple sec
  • Oven-grilled sausages with fresh herbs
  • Truffled soft-scrambled egg
  • Baguette and butter
  • Fresh Ginger-Pear Quick Bread
Brunch truffle plate vertical

Truffle-scented eggs, herbed sausage patties, Fresh Ginger-Pear Quick Bread and a cantaloupe and strawberry fruit salad.




Brunch Fruit Salad

Strawberries and cantaloupe with triple sec







Photos by John Griffin

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