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Archive | April, 2010

New World Wine & Food Festival Sets Wine Seminars

New World Wine & Food Festival Sets Wine Seminars

Geography and climate played major roles in making this red wine.

The New World Wine & Food Festival is gearing up for May 12-16. This new spring date is set to coincide with the Valero Texas Open, a new partner for the festival.

The  latest additions to the schedule of events are two wine seminars to be held in the afternoon of May 15 at the Hilton Palacio del Rio, 200 S. Alamo St., downtown.

The wine seminars are described below. For a complete schedule of events and ticket information visit www.nwwff.org.

Napa Valley Rocks
1 p.m., Hilton Palacio del Rio, $35 per person
Napa Valley Rocks will dig into what makes the Napa Valley America’s premier winegrowing region. You’ll explore the unique geological formation of the valley, why it is the ideal climate to grow grapes, historical milestones, and the tradition of leadership that is continued today.

Mastering Wine Aromas & the Aroma ‘Wheel of Fortune’
3 p.m., Hilton Palacio del Rio, $35 per person
Wine is experienced through different senses — sight, aroma, and taste. But more than 90 percent of our sensory perception of it derives from its aroma. This presentation familiarizes participants with common wine aromas while presenting a thought- provoking and fun competition. Participants learn how to define wine aromas, understand “off” aromas (faults), and develop an aroma vocabulary to identify and discuss wines and their characteristic aromas (e.g., what does a great Cabernet Sauvignon smell like?).

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WalkerSpeak: Adventures with Marco Polo, Award-winning Cheese

WalkerSpeak: Adventures with Marco Polo, Award-winning Cheese

A pepper-coated burger with black and green peppercorn Marco Polo cheddar is great off the grill.

If cheese is “milk’s leap toward immortality,” as writer Clifford Fadiman once said, then cheese laced with crushed black and green peppercorns is at heaven’s gate.

We sometimes tend to take that grinder full of black peppercorns for granted. But long ago, explorers, such as Marco Polo in the 13th century,  went to far-off lands and sailed into uncharted seas to find pepper, then a highly valuable commodity.  Now, ground black pepper is so commonplace we pick it up in throwaway packets at fast food joints and find it on every restaurant table.

But black pepper still reigns as one of the cook’s best friends. The term “freshly ground black pepper” has become standard on recipe ingredient lists. Pepper is used to season food that is savory as well as sweet (try freshly sliced strawberries with a grinding of black pepper sometime).

If you chew up a fresh, good-quality peppercorn and focus on the flavor, you might notice a slight sweetness, as well as hints of other spices, such as nutmeg or allspice, along with that dark, spicy burn pepper gives on the tongue.

I recently discovered Marco Polo cheese from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, an artisan cheese producer from Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market.  I picked it up at Central Market last week, intrigued by not only the black pepper but the roughly cracked green peppercorns that promised additional great flavor.

I wasn’t disappointed. The cheese is creamy, with a firm, cheddar texture. The crushed black and green peppercorns made the cheese warm but not hot, as is a chile-laced Pepper Jack. It’s the kind of cheese to sit and savor with some good crackers and a handful of olives.

The cheese is an award-winner for Beecher’s, founded and owned by Kurt Beecher Dammeier. The cheesemaker is Brad Sinko. Marco Polo has taken gold and silver medals at the World Cheese Awards, and there is a reserve version of the cheese, too.

Marco Polo is a cheddar-style cheese with crushed black and green peppercorns.

I decided to use the Marco Polo to top grilled, pepper-coated burgers. Served on ciabatta rolls toasted with garlic butter, the usual trimmings and a dab of chipotle mayo, this was a happy meal indeed. A glass of Merlot topped it off.

A final word on peppercorns: the berry, from the pepper plant produces three kinds of seeds — black, white and green. The green peppercorns are unripe berries. They come in dried form as well as packed in brine. Black peppercorns are berries picked when not quite ripe, and white peppercorns are allowed to ripen longer. While white pepper is often used in white sauces and other dishes where you don’t want the black specks of pepper to appear, it has a characteristic flavor, slightly different from black or green peppercorns.

Marco Polo Burgers

3/4-1 pound ground sirloin
3-4 tablespoons course-ground black pepper
Kosher salt, to taste
Six slices Beecher’s Marco Polo cheese
2 ciabatta rolls or your favorite hamburger bun
Garlic butter
Burger trimmings, your choice

Prepare a grill, pan or oven broiler to make burgers.

Pat out two burgers, making the sides thick rather than thin. Put the pepper on a plate and spread it out. Roll each burger on end, like a wheel, through the pepper so that the perimiters are coated with black pepper. Season the top and bottom of the burger with more pepper as well as the kosher salt.

For burger rolls, split the ciabatta and butter the insides with garlic butter.

Put burgers on to cook. When you flip them, put the cheese on top to melt. In the meantime, broil or grill the ciabatta so that it is hot and toasty around the edges. Top with the finished burgers and serve with condiments and trimmings.

Makes 2 burgers.

From Bonnie Walker

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Southern Food Rules at Mr. and Mrs. G’s

Southern Food Rules at Mr. and Mrs. G’s

I go to Mr. and Mrs. G’s Home Cooking and Pastries largely for one reason: the fried chicken. It has always been among the best in the city, crisp and delicately coated on the outside, moist and delicious at the center.

Everything else at this cafeteria-style haven of Southern cooking is gravy —and rich gravy, at that.

On a recent visit, I decided to branch out a bit and let my friend order the fried chicken. I knew I’d get a taste, and if need be, I would could always go back and order some more.

Food: 3.5
Value: 3.5

Rating scale:
5: Extraordinary
4: Excellent
3: Good
2: Fair
1: Poor

His order was just about perfection, though a touch more salt in the batter before frying would help it reach the heavens.

After browsing through a selection that included such temptations as smothered pork chops and ham hocks, I ordered the chicken fricassee, which was served with a sauce full of bold chicken stock flavor. Surprisingly, though, the leg and thigh quarter I had was mealy and texturally unappealing. I don’t think it was overcooked. I just think that quality of the meat was less than it should have been before the cooking process started.

I contented myself with sopping up every last drop of gravy I could with my cornbread and then tore into the vast array of side dishes, which included a medley of fresh, firm okra tossed with tomatoes and onion as well as a bowl of boiled cabbage. Mashed potatoes, vanilla-scented sweet potatoes and a Southern-style creamed corn, with an accent on the sugar in the cream sauce, are among the other choices available.

A multi-berry cobbler made for an excellent dessert, as did a slice of buttermilk pie.

Home cooking needs a homey environment, and I’ve always enjoyed the pleasant company of the other folks who crowd into Mr. and Mrs. G’s. This visit was no different, as we struck up conversations with several tables around us. I haven’t gone as far as to eat off anyone else’s plate, but give me time.

Mr. & Mrs. G’s
2222 S WW White Rd.
210-359.0002

Photos: Nicholas Mistry

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So Much to Explore Along W.W. White

So Much to Explore Along W.W. White

Review: El Bucanero

There are so many restaurants along W.W. White that this series could continue for a long time to come. Virginia’s Tex-Mex, Chatman’s Chicken and Sapp Pit BBQ  are but three names that spring to mind among the many.

Why is the food along this stretch of road so good? You could site so many reasons, but the one that keeps coming back to me is that the majority of restaurants along this stretch are independents. The owners’ livelihood depends on turning out a good product. In the highly competitive restaurant world, the maxim that “You are only as good as your last meal” may be even more true along less-trafficked roads.

We close out this three-part series with a look at Southern home cooking at Mr. and Mrs. G’s, a cafeteria that has folks lined up out the door on any given day, and El Bucanero, a Mexican seafood restaurant that will reel you in with its treasures of the deep.

Have we missed any places along the road that we should know about? Is there another stretch of road in the city we should investigate? Let us know where your favorite concentration of restaurants is. And happy, well-fed trails to you.

Review: Mr. & Mrs. G's

Review: El Bucanero

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El Bucanero Reels In Some Fine Seafood Flavors

El Bucanero Reels In Some Fine Seafood Flavors

If I get asked one question more often than any other, it’s the one that starts with the phrase, “What’s your favorite …?” Already, I’ve been asked that about the restaurants along W.W. White more than a dozen times. It’s a hard one to answer when you look at the wealth of edible riches along the street, because that answer depends on what I’m in the mood to eat.

But I also have to say that I’ve been to El Bucanero, or Mariscos El Bucanero, three or four times in recent months, so it definitely has a hold on me.

I first discovered how good their food could be last fall, when the restaurant took part in the New World Wine & Food Festival’s Taste of Mexico and served a fresh ceviche to the throngs.

Food: 4.5
Service: 3.5
Value: 4.5

Rating scale:
5: Extraordinary
4: Excellent
3: Good
2: Fair
1: Poor

It took a invitation from friends a couple of months ago, though, to get me to the restaurant. There I discovered the joys of some of the best shrimp tacos I have ever tasted. The fried shrimp are as sweet and firm as you could want, wrapped in a warm, handmade corn tortilla. A creamy, tangy tartar sauce plus a sliver of perfectly ripe avocado on top pushed it over the top. The pickled carrots on the side made a nice accompaniment.

The fish tacos are just as good, with firm strips of fish in a corn meal batter tucked into the tortillas. If I prefer the shrimp version, it’s merely because I haven’t tasted shrimp quite that good in some time.

Other dishes that coaxed contented smiles included fried fish with garlic, shrimp with a smoky chipotle sauce and several styles of ceviche with pristine flavors bursting through the citrus marinade.

The folks at El Bucanero know how to make great guacamole. You might think that’s a commonplace in a town known for its Mexican food, but too few restaurants go beyond mashing avocado with fork and charging extra for it. Not here. El Bucanero’s recipe includes cilantro and plenty of pico de gallo incorporated to great effect. Spread on one of the house crescent moon tostada chips, the guac was gone quickly, as we battled over who got the last bite.

Service has been as attentive as you might expect for a homey, family place that’s often overrun with people. When a friend ordered beef on a Friday night during Lent, it took quite a while  for the plate to appear. In fact, the plate didn’t arrive until after the rest of us had finished. The waitress was so embarrassed by the delay that she took it off the bill.

No matter how many foodies hear about El Bucanero, the praises of which have been sung in such publications as Texas Monthly and the San Antonio Current, the clientele seems to remain local to the neighborhood. Don’t dismiss it lightly. You’ll be hard-pressed to find Mexican seafood in the city to equal this.

El Bucanero
2818 S. W.W. White Road
210-333-0909
Lunch and dinner daily.

Photos: Nicholas Mistry

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Kids’ Competition Turns Lemonade into Business

Kids’ Competition Turns Lemonade into Business

Lemonade Day contest participants.

The competition was rough, but the results were delicious. These kids competed in a lemonade competition held April 17. They are, from left to right, Alejandro Pequeno, Krystal Farthing, Catherine Horner, Laura Garcia, Sebastian Caballero, Lemonhead, Kadyn Miller, Cecily Rizo, Ella Flister, Jessica McNelly, Matthew Pequeno and Benjamin Pequeno.

These and other participants will be opening their own stands around town on Lemonade Day on Sunday.  Watch for them and buy some lemonade.

Competition winners included:

Sebastian Caballero (1st place Most Creative)

Krystal Farthing(1st place Healthiest)

Catherine Horner(1st place Best Tasting)

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Lemonade Day for Kids Coming Sunday

Lemonade Day for Kids Coming Sunday

Lemonade is a sure sign of summer on the way.

San Antonio launches its first Lemonade Day on Sunday, so keep your eyes open for kids at lemonade stands around town.

Kids in Business Foundation, a non-profit organization created Lemonade Day to teach children the basics of business and finance.

This Prepared 4 Life event was created to be a fun, free way to teach financial and entrepreneurial skills to children of all ages.

San Antonio is one of the latest cities to join in Lemonade Day.  Last year in Houston, more than 27,000 youth registered for Lemonade Day, sold over 2 million cups of lemonade and donated close to $500,000 to their favorite charities. Local title sponsors for San Antonio are H-E-B and Imperial Sugar.

“Kids are encouraged to find their own investors, create their own stands and design their own marketing plans,” said Gary Walton, co-chair of Lemonade Day San Antonio.  “When I saw what an impact it had in the Houston area, I knew that it would be a perfect fit for San Antonio. The goals that kids are encouraged to set — spend a little, save a little, give a little — are lessons about money that they can carry with them through life.”  Janet Holliday is co-chair.

So, give a kid a break on Lemonade Day — buy some lemonade and support a future businessperson.

Children still can sign up for Lemonade Day. For more information about Lemonade Day, its sponsors, registration and to pick up schedules, please visit sanantonio.lemonadeday.org.

Go to Kids’ Competition Turns Lemonade Into Business on this website to read about participants in the lemonade contest held on April 17.

Photo by Bonnie Walker

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Ask A Foodie: What is White Vanilla?

Ask A Foodie: What is White Vanilla?

Varieties of white vanilla powder, plus clear vanilla

Q. You ran a NIOSA recipe recently that called for “white” vanilla. I though vanilla only came in brown? Can you buy white vanilla here?

A. I, too, was interested in the reference to white vanilla, as I hadn’t run across that ingredient before. I can see why one might think of adding white vanilla to a white cake or white ice cream. But really, I doubt if one generally adds enough vanilla, whether it is paste or extract, to turn something white into brown — or even off-white.

Nevertheless, you can find clear imitation vanilla from McCormick, as well as a variety of powdered vanilla should you wish to use them. If the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon vanilla, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of the powdered or clear vanilla. (I haven’t tested this, but I found it in several references.)

I found the accompanying selection of white vanilla powder and clear vanilla at Central Market.

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Chilean Cab Offers Full Flavor at Low Price

Chilean Cab Offers Full Flavor at Low Price

Casa Lapostolle Rafael Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Fact: Chilean Cabernet Sauvignons are can be fine wines at good prices. This one is a good example, priced as it is in the $12.50 range. Aromas of bright red fruit, including plums, greet you on first sniff. The flavors are a little more complex, with currant and blackberry mingling with a touch of oak, cocoa and smoke. Supple tannins and a good acid structure are friendly on the tongue; the wine dances to a tart finish.

The wine is a blend of 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 8 percent Syrah, 5 percent Carmenère and 2 percent Cabernet Franc.

Feeling: I visited Chile a few years ago and so I’ve been following news of the earthquake and its aftermath fairly closely. One way to support the country at this difficult time is to buy its products, so I have been searching out  new Chilean wines to add to the list of ones I already love. This may not be quite as full-bodied as some cult Cabs from California, but it is far more food friendly. It was paired with braised short ribs, a combination that made both better.

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Chefs’ Corner: Cajun Tamales from Mike’s in the Village

Chefs’ Corner: Cajun Tamales from Mike’s in the Village

Cajun Tamale

Mike Romano of Mike’s in the Village, 2355 Bulverde Road, Bulverde, made these Cajun-inspired tamales for the recent Tamalada Throw-Down at the Spire in Sunset Station. The dramatic presentation was matched by the flavors of rich corn masa, Cajun spices and succulent crawfish meat as well as the creamy sauce. The filling may not be traditional, but after a taste or two, these Cajun Tamales could become a tradition in your house.

Cajun Tamales

Masa Harina:

When preparing tamale dough, season the dough (make at least 2 pounds) with fresh ground chiles, such as mild ground red chile or pasilla chiles;  fresh herbs (such as thyme, parsley or a little oregano);  garlic, salt, pepper, house-made seafood and garlic butter and seafood stock .

You can either buy dry masa mix and follow the instructions on the package, or you can pick up fresh masa from a molina or H-E-B. To this dough you need to add some fat (seafood and garlic butter or your choice of shortening or lard) along with the seasonings. Then, use the seafood stock to moisten the masa into the correct consistency. Pliable but not wet —  so it will stick together inside the tamale. If you don’t have seafood stock, use a light chicken broth.

Tamale filling:
½ pound chopped Andouille sausage (Cajun pork sausage)
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup finely diced bell pepper
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 pound chopped crawfish tail meat (see note)
¼ cup of seafood stock
Pinch of kosher salt (see note)
Pinch of fresh ground pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of granulated garlic
Pinch of ground thyme

8 large dried corn husks, soaked in hot water until pliable, drained and patted dry
Eight boiled whole crawfish, for garnish  (optional)

Place Andouille sausage in a sauté pan and render for about 10 minutes. Add onion, pepper, celery and garlic, sautéing until translucent, then add crawfish tail meat and seafood stock and mix well. Add the spices and cook down for an additional 10 minutes.

Mike Romano plates his Cajun Tamale.

Let cool slightly. Divide masa and filling evenly between the corn husk: roll tamales, and steam for 30 minutes. Let cool slightly and serve with Goat Cheese and Roasted Corn Sauce (recipe below).

Note: You can purchase frozen crawfish tails, but the meat will need to be cleaned well with cool water to remove all fat. This will eliminate the fishiness that crawfish can produce when not cleaned properly. Also, my pinch tends to be a few pinches, but I like to season everything really well. You might start off with a pinch and adjust to your tasting. You can also use Cajun seasoning to substitute for all the seasoning listed; 2 tablespoons to start and season gradually to your taste.

Goat Cheese and Roasted Corn Sauce:

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 minced garlic
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
½ cup white wine
3 cups heavy cream
Seafood base
1 ear roasted sweet white corn, kernels cut from cob
1/4 cup goat cheese

Sauté shallots and garlic for 4 minutes. Add thyme leaves and cook for an additional 4 minutes. Add white wine to deglaze the pan. Add heavy cream and bring to a soft boil. Add seafood stock, white corn and goat cheese, and reduce the sauce at medium low heat for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until you reach a thick, rich consistency.

To plate, open tamale but leave in husk. Top with cream sauce and garnish with a boiled crawfish.

Makes 8 servings.

From Mike Romano/Mike’s in the Village

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