Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is at the top of the pop charts, which means, that it is ripe for the parodying. You can find any number of spoofs on YouTube, but few will likely please wine lovers as much as this version from Jordan Vineyard & Winery.
So, curl up with a glass of the Jordan Chardonnay, a vibrant Russian River treasure and one of my long-time favorites from California, or the Bordeaux-like Cabernet Sauvignon, and let some blurred vines sail by.
Ace Gonzalez is the winner of the national S. Pellegino Almost Famous Chef Competition sponsored by San Pellegrino.
That’s because the chef in training at the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America recently won the national S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef competition in Napa, Calif.
Winning the event was “so life changing,” said Gonzalez, who received $3,000 for her efforts. Most of the money is going toward the cost of her education, but she’s also got her eye on a new set of knives from either Shun Cutlery or Global Knives.
Gonzalez advanced to the finals after winning the South Central Regional Competition, which was held in Houston this year. In California, she faced the winners of the nine other regional competitions that make up the annual contest. In the end, she was crowned victorious because of two dishes she made. One was her signature dish, Pork Belly with Mole Pipian (recipe follows), and the other was for a caldo de mariscos that came out of a mystery basket competition.
Both of Gonzalez’s winning dishes were inspired by the food she grew up eating. Though she is from Dallas, her parents are from Mexico City, and the caldo was a taste of home with its chipotle, tomatoes, onions and garlic as well as the four mystery box ingredients, mussels, clams, cod and shrimp.
Ace Gonzalez cooks during the Almost Famous competition in Houston.
Even though the caldo from her childhood provided inspiration, it didn’t make the competition any less intense.
“They were all great cooks,” she said of the other nine cooks. “It was just awesome having the chance to compete with them.”
Now that the contest is over, Gonzalez is focusing on finishing her associate’s degree at the CIA. “I graduate in April,” she said. “Then I think I’ll work for a year or so.”
Becoming the latest Almost Famous Chef should help Gonzalez find a good position after she graduates. Winning “means a lot,” she said. “It gets my name out there.”
Her mentor in the Houston competition, chef Philip Speer of Uchi Houston, said that taking the top spot is “something that can take you to another level in your career.”
Ace Gonzalez’ Pork Belly with Mole Pipian
Pork Belly with Mole Pipian
This recipe involves several parts, each of which appears separately below. At the end are the instructions of how to plate the dish.
Huitlacoche Polenta Fries
10 cups pork stock
3 cups polenta
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 pound cojita cheese
20 ounces huitlacoche
Oil for frying
Bring pork stock to a simmer; add in polenta.
Season with salt and pepper. In a Robo Coupe food processor, process cheese until it’s fine.
Cook polenta until it’s done. Add in huitlacoche and cheese until melted in.
Cool in a small sheet pan that has been covered in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool.
Cut polenta in 1 inch by 2 1/2 inch sticks. Deep fry until crispy. Drain. Reserve until assembling.
Pickled Onions, Watermelon Radishes and Raw Chayote
5 cups white vinegar
2 cups honey
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
4 red onions
15 watermelon radishes
2 cups micro cilantro
Place vinegar in pot, add honey and spices. Bring to a boil.
Julienne onions and thinly slice radishes on mandolin.
Place onions and radishes in vacuum-seal bag and pour hot vinegar solution into bag ¼ full and vacuum seal the bag. Let compressed radishes and onions sit in solution for 30 to 45 minutes.
On mandolin, slice chayote in thin strips.
At service, add chayote strips to the solution with the onion and radishes.
7 pounds pork belly
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
8 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
7 cloves garlic, peeled
3 ounces sesame seeds
4 ounces peanuts, skinned
9 ounces pumpkin seeds
13 ounces tomatillos
2 medium white onions
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
14 green romaine lettuce leaves
4 hoja santa leaves
1 cup brown lard
3 quarts pork stock
Cumin powder, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cut pork belly into 2 1/2-ounce cubes.
In a Vitamix or powerful blender, mix salt, pepper and cumin and peeled garlic cloves. Rub over pork belly and bake for 1 hour with foil on top and a little water on the bottom.
Take out of oven and when ready to serve, deep fry until crispy.
Toast sesame seeds until golden; transfer into a bowl. Repeat that process with peanuts and pumpkin seeds.
On a comal, roast onion, jalapeño, and unpeeled garlic cloves. Set aside.
Boil tomatillos in water until they change color.
In Vitamix, mix onion, jalapeño, garlic, tomatillos, lettuce, and hoja santa until smooth. Fry in brown lard, set aside.
In Vitamix, mix all the nuts and seeds until smooth. Add pork stock as needed.
Combine the two purées together and thin out with pork stock. Simmer for 30 minutes.
To serve: On a wooden plate, make a straight line with mole. Place 3 polenta fries along the mole. Place 3 pork belly pieces next to the polenta. Add pickled onions on top of pork belly and spread 5 radish slices along the plate. Stand the chayote pieces along the pork belly and garnish with micro cilantro.
How much do you now about making cocktails? Sure, you could follow a recipe, but the end result might not be exactly what you want. So, how do you correct it? Or how do you go about creating something suited for your tastes?
Can you identify flavors when blindfolded?
These were a few of the questions that Sly Cosmopoulos, corporate mixologist for Republic National Distributing Co., offered Saturday during the second annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. She showed a full room how analyze flavors as a building block toward making a perfect cocktail.
The participants were occasionally blindfolded, as they tastes the likes of orange juice alongside blood orange juice, so they could discover for themselves if they could taste differences and even if they could identify what they were tasting.
Scent is more important than taste, when it comes to spirits, whether you’re talking a distilled beverage or wine. So, Cosmopoulos had them taste alcohol without seeing it or smelling it. So, as a few held their noses, they got to experience something that many found hard to identify.
“Tequila?” guessed one man.
“Bourbon or whiskey?” said a woman.
When they took off the blindfolds, they discovered that it was a whiskey, though most in the room talked more about the pure sensation of alcohol that they had experienced.
Texture is also important in a cocktail, and psychological perceptions come into play when you talk about texture. In the video above, watch Cosmopoulos describe how creamy cocktails conjure a different image from frothy ones.
A See’s manager shows how to box chocolates quickly.
See’s Candies has long been a holiday fixture at North Star Mall with a kiosk that has sold milk chocolate candies, dark chocolate truffles and bon bons of various flavors.
But now See’s has opened a storefront in the mall that will be open year-round. It’s one of six stores in the South that See’s has opened this year, offering sweets in all shapes and sizes no matter what the occasion is.
Grabbing for a chocolate.
You can choose from the 100 or so flavors that the store offers, including truffles filled with almond, blueberry or key lime; dark chocolate with nougat, marzipan or mincemeat; white chocolate with apricot buttercream, hazelnut or cashews; milk chocolate with peppermint, strawberry cream or butterscotch; and specialty pieces, such as vanilla nut fudge, pecan roll or bridge mix.
The Scotch Kiss, a creamy caramel with marshmallow at the center, reminded me of treats families used to make each Christmas in Louisville, Ky., called Modjeskas. One bite and I felt as if I were back home.
See’s Candies has opened at North Star Mall.
The store also has chocolate coins for Hanukkah or just for the kids to play with, “seegars” for newborns and even thank-you boxes for whenever a note isn’t enough.
Kyan Jones gets ready to compete.
The quality of See’s candies are certainly the chain’s claim to fame, but the store was also immortalized in an episode of “I Love Lucy,” in which Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance work a chocolate conveyor belt. That scene was at See’s, which still uses the conveyor belt for all it’s hand-formed chocolates. (For a trip down memory lane, watch the clip here.)
In honor of that inspired bit of hilarity, the store’s preview party included similar contests. There was no conveyor belt, but the people in attendance were pitted against each other in competitions to see who could box chocolates the fastest. Claire Larson can be seen winning one round in the video at the top, while you can see several younger partygoers go up against a See’s manager (click here). Yours truly donned the hairnet and took first in another round.
You might have thought it was hot today, with the thermometer reaching past 100 degrees. But that was nothing compared to what Sameer Siddiqui and the crew of “Eat St.” faced when they filmed at Boardwalk on Bulverde Sunday.
“Eat St.” interviews a Rickshaw Stop customer about the samosas.
As Siddiqui says in the video above, temperatures on the thermometer inside his truck hit 125 — because the interviews took place while the vents and the air conditioning were off as they made too much background noise.
Yet Siddiqui and his wife, Meagan, were so excited at being selected to be featured on the Cooking Channel show that they gladly braved the heat for a few hours. The same could be said of Rudolfo Martinez at Tapa Tapa, Jason Dady at DUK Truck and Brandon McKelvey and Drew Alan of Say.She.Ate.
Plenty of Rickshaw Stop fans were also on hand to enjoy the truck’s Pakistani beef kebabs served “taco style,” as the menu board says, in a pita bread or assorted styles of samosa, not to mention the kheer, a rice pudding delicately scented with a slight touch of rose water.
Samosas from Rickshaw Stop.
There were also plenty of diners at Boardwalk on Bulverde for the second annual Food Truck Thrown Down, in which about 20 food trucks gathered to offer everything from Stout’s Pizza to Belgian Waffle Co’s sweet confections to wacky drinks from Wine on Wheels and most welcome iced treats from KC’s Cones. Funds from the sales of drinks, of which plenty were needed to stave off dehydration, benefited the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Among the new trucks was Primo Passo Pizzeria, which has only been in business for three weekends. From an array that included Pork and Peas (applewood-smoked bacon and English peas), Funguy (pan-roasted oyster mushrooms and porcini-dressed watercress) and Sausage (lamb Merguez and Italian), I chose a Roman with white anchovies and mozzarella. A great to finish off a fine day of eating.
“Eat St.” finishes filming Monday at Boardwalk on Bulverde, 14732 Bulverde Road, with a focus on Society Bakery. Filming is open to the public at around noon.
It’s not too hot for a brave one to ride the mechanical bull at Boardwalk on Bulverde.
When I was in Italy recently with friends, we had duck on our first night at our home for the week. There was so much, that Cecil used the rest the following night with rigatoni. Then there was so much of that dish left over that he eventually turned it into a frittata for breakfast.
That’s the beauty of leftovers. They don’t have to appear or taste like leftovers. They can be special creations in their own right.
Here are a few leftovers from the trip that I haven’t written about yet, miscellaneous ideas on food that will work in your kitchen and hopefully set you out on your own food journeys.
Sandy spreads out dough for Focaccia Bianca.
It’s great to have a versatile dough recipe that can work for just about whatever you need. It’s even better when the recipe is easy.
We learned one while taking a cooking class from chef Lorenzo Polegri of Zeppelin restaurant in Orvieto.
The dough served as the basis for a thick pizza that we topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and garlic. We also made a focaccia with rosemary and anchovies, and snails rolls with guanciale, grana padana and more garlic inside.
When the pizza came out of the oven, all airy and hot with cheese melted all over the top, Lorenzo just ripped off slabs with his hands rather than using a knife. Though I generally prefer thin-crust pizza, that ragged slice, so fresh and steaming to the finger tips, was as good as it gets.
Rolling pasta through a machine.
The fresh, handmade pasta we had in Italy was the best I’ve ever eaten. It was a deep yellow color that appeared to have been painted in butter. Credit most certainly goes to the egg yolks, almost orange in color, and the flour used.
Twice at Zeppelin, I saw someone making the thin noodles by hand. One rolled the dough out by forcing it through a pasta maker. With speed that suggested plenty of practice, he pressed the dough through the machine over and over until it was almost paper thin.
We also got to watch a pasta maker who introduced only himself as Maurizio (video above). Armed with only a rolling pin, he took a clump of dough and rolled out his pasta also to a near-impossible thinness. He stretched the dough out on the pin without letting any of it tear.
We happened to be in Italy during fresh porcini season, and for my money, there was no better accompaniment for the pasta than those mushrooms with a texture so voluptuous that it was almost like eating foie gras.
The porcini were the size of softballs, and restaurants would proudly display how fresh and large their supply was. In the United States, we like to do that with steaks, thick and juicy, or lobsters fresh from the tank. In Germany, it’s the white asparagus that ripes in May. In Italy, it’s the porcini as well as the white truffles, which were not in season while we were there. That will have to be another trip.
Wild fennel grows alongside the road.
The kitchen of the house we stayed at offered a few items we weren’t expecting. Instead of drying the dishes, for example, you could arrange them in a cupboard over the sink that had a draining board instead of a bottom, so any moisture just dripped back into the sink.
I also discovered a blender, which proved to be a big help with a snack one day. We had some leftover chicken that we needed to eat, which led me to think of chicken salad. But we didn’t have any mayonnaise. Rather than buy a jar, the majority of which would be left in the house, Sandy and I made our own mayonnaise. Neither of us had done this successfully before. Yet we blended egg, lemon juice and salt with a steady of stream of olive oil, and it all came together.
Then we added wild fennel that Pam and I had foraged on our walk that morning as well as celery and a few other ingredients that also needed to be eaten. Large leafs of butter lettuce made great cups in which to serve the salad, and we managed to make a bit more room in the refrigerator.
Rum-soaked cherries with raspberry whipped cream.
I’m a cherry fanatic. It doesn’t matter the level of sweetness, either. If it has a pit, it’s likely to end up in my mouth.
In the yard of the house where we stayed stood a tree was covered with tiny, tart berries while other trees in the neighborhood offered both tart pie cherries and sweet Bings. No one minded if passersby picked one or two from the branches that hung over the road. The markets were also filled with the fruit, glistening in the morning sun.
Perhaps that explains why I appreciated the simplicity of a recipe that Lorenzo taught us in our cooking class. He took more than a pound of those beautiful bing cherries and had us cut them in half to remove the stones (OK, so Steve pitted most of them). After that, they were marinated in rum and sugar for more than an hour. We then spooned those beautiful bites into nests of whipped cream that had been flavored with raspberry syrup before being piped into serving dishes. A little of the sweetened rum was drizzled over the top.
I’ve made this simple recipe once back home, now that cherries are in season here. But I’ve played around with the idea. I used sour cherry syrup with the whipped cream. I also plan on using almond extract, another flavor that goes great with cherries. I may also give it a whirl with peaches instead of cherries.
Amore for amaro
I’m not a big fan of sickly sweet cocktails, so the Italian love for amaro, Campari, Fernet and other bitters was a real treat. A Negroni made with Campari, vermouth (I prefer dry to the traditional sweet) and gin is a particular favorite, but I also enjoyed shots of herbal amaro by themselves.
If you look for amaro cocktail recipes online, you’ll find discussions about various types, light and dark, all made with family-held recipes. So, I asked Lorenzo if there were a way to figure out beforehand what type of amaro to buy; my question was dismissed without answer. Don’t be such a stickler that you can enjoy what’s in front of you, he seemed to say.
I discovered a new love in the kitchen cupboards: Cynar (CHI-nar), which is a bitter liqueur made from artichokes. It was great with a touch of peach soda mixed in or a little soda with a twist of lemon. You can find this at both Twin Liquors and Saglimbeni for about $27 a bottle. It’s yet another taste of Italy I’m glad to be able to enjoy back home.
W. Scott Grimmitt, the new chef at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, has some great things planned for visitors this summer, including a new series of lunches in July, which will be offered Wednesday-Saturday each week.
Working at Sandy Oaks has been good for the chef, who loves being able to use the wealth of ingredients grown and raised in the area in his cooking, including Sandy Oaks’ robust, aromatic olive oil.
In the video, he talks about his first Passport dinner, with an Australia theme, at Sandy Oaks, the setting and his plans for the future.
For the first dinner, he got some support from a chef-in-training, his son, Salem.
The next time you visit Sandy Oaks, 25195 Mathis Road, Elmendorf, you can check out the new gift shop as well as the array of olive plants for sale and the livestock, which include a new baby calf.
A young calf at Sandy Oak is curious about the camera, but not enough to stop drinking.
Nothing says San Antonio hospitality quite like a freshly made margarita.
San Antonio chef and caterer Johnny Hernandez is inviting people into his home.
Bistec tacos are one dish available at Casa Hernan.
Casa Hernán, just off Southtown at 411 Cevallos, is a catering venue that is now open to the public for private party rentals. The opulent space reflects the hacienda style of interior Mexico, from the koi pond at the front entrance to the colorful dining area with room for several food stations.
The dishes at Casa Hernan.
Hernandez, who also operates La Gloria Ice House at the Pearl Brewery, has had the place decorated with an elegance mixed with a bold, traditional color scheme that is both energizing and tranquil and makes you feel far from the neighboring railroad tracks and right at home next to La Tuna Grill.
At the opening party, the chef and his catering company, True Flavors, put on a spread that included samples from the various menus clients can choose from. Dishes included fish in an hoja santa sauce, several ceviches, bistec tacos, sopes and cochinita pibil as well as tres leches cake shooters for dessert.
You don’t have to wait for an invitation to a private party to see Casa Hernán. Come September, Hernandez is opening the space for a monthly Sunday brunch with each focusing on the regional foods of interior Mexico.
Joan Cheever prepares roasted carrots in the Chow Train.
Joan Cheever has learned that in the past year. The founder of the Chow Train food truck has relied on many to help her in her mission to feed San Antonio’s homeless and hungry.
The chef, who is also a student at St. Philip’s Culinary School, needed a corps of volunteers from Broadway Bank Sunday as she made food for more than 150 military men and women who were part of the crews building a home for a Wounded Warrior as part of the TV program, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The Floresville home for the Shiloh Harris family was co-sponsored by Morgan’s Wonderland, through the efforts of Gordon Hartman.
Hartman’s involvement was what got Cheever out to the site twice recently. The first was on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the second was this past Sunday, as the crews finished work on the house.
Cheever planned an elaborate dinner for these volunteers, a plate laden with a garden salad with cherry tomatoes and roasted corn, Coca-Cola braised brisket, roasted brussels sprouts with bacon, roasted carrots with parsley and mashed potatoes. Pan dulces donated by Don Strange Catering crowned each plate.
To get each plate to a worker in quick time required about a dozen workers adding the food in an assembly line that had the workers getting hungrier with each addition.
Volunteers from Broadway Bank help set up the serving table.
Cheever gets the same response most every day from the people she feeds. Part of it is because she caters to the needs of the people she feeds. She makes sure that those with diabetes have low-carbohydrate dishes and those who are vegetarian are given meat-free dishes. She even feeds someone she calls “Vegan John,” who always asks if the food on his plate is made without meat or dairy products.
You might expect such treatment if you were paying for your meals, but most of these people are either homeless or unable to pay for a meal.
“I’m not going to let anybody go hungry,” Cheever said.
“She’s like a woman for all diets,” said Chris Plauché, who works with Cheever regularly at the Catholic-sponsored soup kitchen downtown and is in awe of her dedication.
“You do what you can,” Cheever said, adding that she’s learned a great deal from dealing with people with special needs that extend beyond normal kitchen concerns, such as the dental condition of many of the homeless creates an added challenge.
Dennis Quinn helps wife Joan Cheever prepare the meal.
“When you’re doing a garnish, you need to be thoughtful about it,” she said.
Cheever also wants to make sure her meals are well-balanced and nutritious as possible, which means that though her food truck came equipped with a deep-fryer, she has yet to use it.
She does use items like bacon to help make some taste foods as foreign as brussels sprouts, soups or salads more appealing. “They know by now that if they don’t eat the appetizer, whether it’s a soup or a salad, Chef won’t give you the main course,” she said. “But I tell them, ‘Try it. You don’t know it, but you’ll really like it.’”
Her non-profit mission, which was registered as a 501(c)3 last summer, has grown because of the contributions of area farmers, who donate what they don’t sell at the end of their market day at Olmos Basin. She’s also been getting donations from Broadway Daily Bread. Kiolbassa donated sausage for the “Extreme Makeover” meals, and Saweet Cupcakes offered dessert for the first meal the chef provided.
Cheever juggles her truck duties with her classes at St. Philip’s, which should conclude in May.
This isn’t Cheever’s first career. In a former life, she was a New York attorney and a journalist. She’s also the author of the book, “Back from the Dead: One Woman’s Search for the Men Who Walked off America’s Death Row,” which is used as part of the curriculum at Incarnate Word.
The volunteer builders line up for a Chow Train meal.
Cheever’s family drew her and her husband, Dennis Quinn, to San Antonio, and she decided a couple of years ago to pursue a culinary degree. Out of that, the Chow Train was born. “I love to cook — and I just wanted to be a part of something,” she said.
Her truck doesn’t feed only local people. She took the truck to Joplin, Mo., last year right after the tornadoes, so she could feed the workers who were helping with the cleanup efforts there.
Cheever also plans on going across the country on what she calls a Hungry America tour, in which she would visit the most poverty-riddled areas of the country. “We would do a fabulous meal for people with local ingredients,” in order to bring them some information about nutrition and eating better, she said. She’s hoping to have other trucks offering medical screenings and advice where needed.
But she has to learn how to drive a pickup first — and a pickup with a food truck hitched to it. Until then, her husband has been helping out, both behind the wheel and in the mobile kitchen.
The finished house for Wounded Warrior Shiloh Harris.
In the meantime, she’ll continue feeding the people who show up wherever the Chow Train kitchen rolls to next.
As Cheever said, “What does the Bible say? The poor will be with you always, so we need to do something.”
Beer of the Week is sponsored by the Lion & Rose. Each week, we introduce you to a wonderful brew that’s a little bit different and well worth seeking out.
There’s always a soccer game on one of the TVs at the Lion & Rose, and the football game of football games — the Super Bowl, that is — is fast approaching. So, I felt it would be a great time to talk about beer and sports pairing this week, in case you wanted some tips for getting ready for the next game.
Get some good beers together for the big game.
Downing a pint or two during a game has been a tradition ever since the Sumarians and the Egyptians developed something to drink after a long day of building pyramids or towers to the heavens.
The Sumarians, who eventually became the Babylonians and later the Iraqis, once had about 20 varieties of beer on tap in their repertoire. But what did they down on the weekends?
We’ll never know. But we do know a few rules that are good to follow.
One: Put away the ultra-fancy stuff. You don’t want to waste your best beers on an occasion like this. Why? Because your attention is going to be on the game. No focusing on bitter hops finishes or caramel tones allowed. It’s all about what goes down smooth, clean and nice.
Two: Don’t skimp. If you like your friends, get something better than a few 12-packs of canned water that passed through an idle horse. If you don’t have the money to buy decent beer in quantity, then ask people to bring a six-pack for a shared tasting. You’ll never know what you’ll end up with.
Three. Think fun. Crowd-pleasers we’ve written about in the past include:
Redbridge Beer — This gluten-free beer is great to keep on hand in case any of your guests is living with celiac. But it tastes good, regardless, and would be great
Red Stripe — The most popular Super Bowl food seems to be guacamole, which would be great with this light lager. But then again, so would chili, fried onion rings with ranch dressing, or chips with onion dip.
Smithwick’s — This Irish beauty is great if you’re serving up grilled sausages, bratwurst or bangers of any sort.
We’d also recommend a specialty drink or two, such as black and tan, which you can learn how to make by watching the following video: