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Archive | July 29th, 2009

‘Today’ Takes a Taste of San Antonio

‘Today’ Takes a Taste of San Antonio

todayshow2Wednesday morning came early for Blanca Aldaco.

The restaurateur got up at 3:30 a.m. so she’d be bright-eyed and ready to shake up some of her signature cocktails. That may seem an odd hour to start drinking, even one of her zesty margaritas with its vitamin C kick.

But Aldaco was appearing on NBC’s “Today” show, which was in town for a live broadcast from the Arneson Theatre on the River Walk as part of its ” ‘Today’ Takes a Vacation” series.

The owner of Aldaco’s Stone Oak poured a series of drinks for hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb over the course of the broadcast, showing them what patrons of her restaurant already know: If you want a great margarita or a cool cucumber martini with your Mexican food, Aldaco’s is the place.

Aldaco wasn’t the only restaurateur to squeeze into the crowded theater for a few minutes of air time.

Chef Jason Dady was on hand to demonstrate how he makes his cherry-glazed baby back ribs at Two Bros. BBQ Market on West Avenue.

He was glad the morning was cool. Well, at least cooler than it was during Tuesday afternoon’s rehearsal. “Yesterday was brutal,” he said. “It was so hot out here.”

todayshow8Plus, he was demonstrating a cooking technique that required a sizzling hot smoker, which added to the heat wave.

Yet the impact of a national television appearance far outweighed any complaints about the heat. “You almost never know the true impact of an appearance,” he said. Some people who see the show may not visit San Antonio for months, but they may show up at Two Bros. because of the Wednesday appearance.

Dady, who also owns the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, Bin 555 and Tre Trattoria, said there “was definitely some irony” in his appearance on the show for his barbecue as opposed to the French- and Italian-influenced fare at his other places.

Yet “barbecue is a way of reaching a mass audience,” he said.

It certainly hit the right note with the show’s hosts. “Stop it,” Gifford said about taking her first bite. “I want this for breakfast every day.”

The two women continued eating their ribs into the next segment, a live performance by country sensation Lee Ann Womak.

todayshow7Segments on San Antonio and the surrounding area were interspersed with the day’s headlines, largely about Michael Jackson’s doctor, and regular features, such as the health alert.

While the national part of the program aired, Gifford and Kotb, in cowboy hats and Texas garb, flashed their mega-watt personalities for the packed house. They also mingled with many, posing for photos and signing autographs.

“They’re coming to us at 4 in the morning with margaritas – now’s that’s a health alert,” Gifford told the crowd in her signature deadpan.

The food took up plenty of room in the Arneson, which also featured mariachis, dancers, barges full of soldiers from Fort Sam and tourists alike.

That’s as it should be. As Dady said during his segment, “We’re very passionate about our food here.”

todayshow6So, Aldaco was scheduled to talk about her celebrated tres leches cake, while caterer Don Strange was there to show off his Grilled White Wings, pieces of chicken breast with jalapeño and Monterey Jack cheese wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon. And Michael Cortez had a basket of Mi Tierra’s candies, a colorful mixture of pralines, leche quemada and coconut flags, that looked and smelled great.

Many in the crowd brought their own food and drinks, books and chairs to keep comfortable during the long morning. No one seemed to mind “going crazy,” as one crew member called it, whenever the spotlight was on them.

It was why some arrived as early as 5 a.m.

“I wanted good seats, so why not?” said Theresa Rodriguez.

“This is so cool,” said Kori Posey. “I never have done one of these things before.”

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Daily Dish: Discover Rosé Wines at Becker Vineyards

Daily Dish: Discover Rosé Wines at Becker Vineyards

Rosé is the quintessential summer wine. The crisp, dry versions, being made in virtually every wine-producing region of the world, are perfect for summer sipping and summer foods,  from seafood salads to barbecue.  On Aug. 15, head up to Becker Vineyards in Stonewall to enjoy tasting a series of rosés, along with tastes of foods to pair with them.

A panel of wine professionals, including Dr. Richard Becker and myself, will lead the tastings and informal discussion.

Ramblin’ Rosé is a summer event from the New World Wine & Food Festival. There are three sessions this year. The first is at noon, the second at 2 p.m. and the third is at 4 p.m. The charge is $20 per person.

It you’d like to attend, go to www.nwwff.org for more information and to sign up. For information about Becker Vineyards, go to www.beckervineyards.com.

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WalkerSpeak: History Outshines Schnitzel in Old Vienna

WalkerSpeak: History Outshines Schnitzel in Old Vienna

wienerschnitzelIf I thought the flavor of Wiener Schnitzel in Vienna restaurants would be a revelation, I was wrong.  It was ambience in that historic Austrian city that gave us our money’s worth.

Wiener Schnitzel is a simple dish, made of thinly pounded veal scallops, breaded, fried and served with wedges of lemon. In Vienna, it was much like what I’ve had in the United States, and something like what I’ve made at home— only bigger,  much bigger.  It filled the plate and draped itself over the sides.  I’ve seen  chicken-fried steaks in Texas that would look puny in comparison.

But where the dish fell short of our expectations, the atmosphere took over.  On our first night in Old Vienna, my sister, Marcia, and I claimed a table outside on the sidewalk area at Café Leopuldo. Under a big, striped awning, we had glasses of cold Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s famous, crisp white wine and watched the stylish Viennese hurrying home from work, or out to play. Having both come from the drought-parched Western United States we lingered as long as was decent, soaking up the coolness of the evening and enjoying a light rain that came and went.

Cafe Leopuldo’s Wiener Schnitzel was dramatic in size but flat in taste. Lots of lemon juice and some salt made it more palatable.

The following evening, after a concert and a long walk through narrow streets, we came to  Zwölf Apostekeller, a restaurant in an old house at Number 3 Sonnenfelsgasse.  Once again the meal would consist of Wiener Schnitzel, this time accompanied by big plates of German potato salad. The folks who had planned our concert tour of several Central European cities had chosen this venue. Wiener Schnitzel was served to us all; once again, it was a plain, straightforward dish that I’d guess ranks among that country’s comfort foods rather than its haute cuisine.

But the place where we dined was remarkable.  After dozens of us crowded into the structure, we were led down several flights of stairs. We came to the cellar, then kept going. Finally, in a sub cellar, we found our seats for the late meal. Tables lined narrow aisles that ran the length of the space. Strings of twinkly lights cast a glow in the subterranean gloom.  Above us was the awe-inspiring sight of a brick vaulted ceiling, said to be part of a rebuild of this cellar in 1561. The house itself dated back to 1100.  Wrapped up in that kind of history we really weren’t overly concerned with food.

Later, describing Austria’s famous dish to friends, I mentioned that the breading was bland. I’d have added some salt.  Of course, Americans are famous for their salty food, which Europeans visiting here sometimes have trouble with.  So, it probably was just a matter of taste.

And let’s face it, where in the U.S. can we sit down to dinner in a house built more than 900 years ago?

Wiener Schnitzel

1 1/2 pounds sliced veal scallops, pounded thin (see note)
1 1/2 cups flour
1-2 teaspoons salt
Pinch of white pepper
4 eggs
1 1/2  sleeves Saltine crackers, crushed, or 3 cups cracker meal
1 teaspoon salt, if desired
Canola oil, for frying
2 lemons, cut in wedges, for garnish

Note:  I like to order a piece of veal and slice it at home, then pound it thin. I think this makes a more tender cut than the ultra-thin slices of veal scallopine you find already cut at the store. If you don’t want to slice your own, just ask the person at the meat market for slices between 1/4-and-1/2-inch thick.  Flatten with a mallet and put slices on a plate.  Veal is expensive. If you want to spend less, you can substitute pork for veal.

Put the flour in a large, flat bowl or plate; add salt and pepper and blend in well.  Scramble eggs in a large, flat bowl.  Put crushed Saltines or cracker meal on a large plate and blend salt, if using, in well.

Pour oil to the depth of about an inch-and-a-half in a good-sized skillet. (Preheat oven, too, to 150 degrees. This is so that if you are doing the schnitzel in batches, you can put the fried pieces on a large plate or baking sheet in the oven to keep warm. Don’t stack pieces on top of each other and don’t cover them; they’ll get soggy.)

To bread the veal pieces, press each piece in the flour, turning to flour both sides. Shake off excess. Dip each piece in the beaten egg, to thoroughly coat.  Then, press each slice into the cracker meal, turning to coat all sides.

When the oil is hot, but not smoking, gently slide the bread pieces into the oil. It should sizzle energetically, but not foam up or threaten to fry over the side of the skillet.  Fry one side of each piece to a deep golden color, but not to dark brown.  Turn, and fry the other side until it is gold. Each side will take a minute or more.  Take out of the oil and blot lightly on paper towel.  Sometimes, if the oil gets too thick with crumbs that have fallen off, I pour the oil off, clean out the crumbs with a wadded up paper towel, and then reheat the oil. If you leave crumbs in the pan they will get brown and bitter, and stick to your veal cutlets.

When all the pieces are fried, put on plates, garnish with lemon wedges and serve.

Serves 4.

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Silky Leek Salad Packs a Wallop of Flavor

The leeks this summer have been exceptionally sweet and tangy, forcing me to expand my repertoire on how to prepare these milder members of the onion family.

For those with not much experience with leeks, here’s a little history via “The New Food Lover’s Companion”: “Nero believed leeks would improve his singing voice and is said to have eaten prodigious quantities to that end. In the sixth century A.D., the Welsh made leeks their national symbol because they were convinced that the leeks they wore on their helmets to distinguish them from their enemies strengthened them and helped them win wars.”

Thinner leeks are said to be more tender, though the large ones at the supermarket have great flavor, even if you often have to peel back the first couple of layers.

You can eat the white part of the leek and the pale green that lies underneath the dark green outer leaves. Peeling the leeks varies from person to person. All want you to remove the bottom, then the advice begins to vary.

Some will have you cut the leek in half, removing all of the green; others will have you peel in small circles upward, so you can get to the edible green near the top. Slicing them in small pieces or larger pieces will depend on your preference.

Whatever cut you desire, you have to clean the leeks before cooking to remove any grit between the layers. You can rinse the pieces by hand, running your fingers through them to remove any dirt. I like soaking the pieces in water for 10 minutes or so, careful to remove only the leeks from the top of the water. The dirt will settle at the bottom.

You are now ready to cook.

Mye new favorite recipe this summer is a variation on a French classic: Steam the leeks, let them cool and then top with an herbal vinaigrette. You can find a version of this at Damien Watel’s new Bistro Bakery just off the Olmos Circle.

But something happened with my first attempt. I cleaned the leeks and cut them into 3-inch pieces before steaming, yet that was too fibrous and ungainly for friends to eat comfortably.

For my next attempt, I took a large bunch of leeks and sliced them thinly before steaming. This worked on texture, but it was also strange to see the leeks reduce greatly in size. One large bunch produced one medium bowl.

Still, the flavor was intense and cooling on a hot day, which has led me to make it several times.

Steamed Leeks With an Herbal Vinaigrette

1 bunch leeks, trimmed, cut into 1/8-inch slices and rinsed

Vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped capers, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon dill pickle relish, optional
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Steam the leeks until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir them around the steamer once or twice. Let drain, squeeze some of the water from them. Refrigerate until cool.

About 30 minutes before serving, make the vinaigrette by mixing vinegar, oil, parsley,  capers, shallot and dill relish. Add salt and pepper to taste, then toss with leeks and let marinate before serving.

Serve cold or at room temperature. It goes well with grilled meats from burgers and sausages to steaks or seafood.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

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