Archive | June, 2010

WalkerSpeak: Food, from the Ironing Board to the Web

WalkerSpeak: Food, from the Ironing Board to the Web

During the past year at SavorSA, we’ve run a food and dining website that doesn’t depend on high-end photography or particularly expensive equipment, at least not for me.

My camera cost less than $200. My PC is a nifty little notebook computer that cost another $200. And I didn’t need to set up a darkroom or a photo studio.

The beginnings of Pork Green Chile Stew, shot in a steel bowl on my ironing board.

My photo studio is, for the most part, my ironing board. Because I live in a 1940s bungalow in the Jefferson area, that ironing board folds into the wall in the kitchen. When it folds down it is in a place to take advantage of the natural light that flows in from three big windows. It is also handily located near the stove and the kitchen sink.

While I’ve taken photos for every publication I’ve worked at over the past 30 years, I have never been what one might call a professional photographer. In my first journalism job, which was working as a police and courts reporter in Flagstaff, Ariz., I was the weekend photographer for four years. Being a cop reporter as well as photographer  meant I kept a police scanner on my desk or in the darkroom, and I carried around a portable one.

The easy weekends were when there was some kind of mayhem or murder or major fire going on for me to shoot. (A terrible thing it was, taking such shallow delight in finding a subject for the Sunday news.)

The worst weekends were when nothing happened and I (quite inexperienced) had to drum up a feature photo for the front of the Sunday newspaper.  Some of my efforts were OK, some laughable. One Sunday the best I could find was a couple reclining under a tree on a warm afternoon. On Monday there was a note on my desk from another reporter commenting on my effort: “Are those people sleeping or are they dead? I couldn’t tell.”

I loved carrying a scanner around and many times was awakened in the middle of the night to hear frenetic activity on the police bands indicating it was time to jump out of bed, grab my camera and get to my car. A couple of times this happened when the temperatures outside were 10 degrees below zero or more.  On one of those frigid nights I didn’t even have to phone the cop shop to find out where the fire was. I could see a large restaurant and nightclub burning down, flames and smoke shooting into the air, just a mile away from my front door.

My first food writing assignment was cop related. One of the sergeants at the Coconino County Jail was a woman renowned for her Mexican food. I went to her house one Saturday and sat around watching her make a fabulous pork green chile and ground beef tacos. Then, I sat down with a group of deputies who’d showed up and we devoured every last bite.

This officer’s other claim to fame was her upper-body strength. Prisoners who acted up at the jail experienced first-hand her deadly “tortilla hold,” strengthened by years of kneading tortilla dough. At least, that was her story.

Partway through my cop reporter career, I pitched a sideline as restaurant reviewer to the managing editor. He loved the idea; the publisher sort of liked it. The arts editor, who handled the Weekender section, hated it. Nevertheless I began writing the column and this, too, was very fun.

Several issues into my new project, the arts editor, who sat directly across from me, looked up from proofing his pages and growled, “Walker, if you want to write a restaurant column you have to learn to spell ‘spaghetti.’  There’s a g-damn ‘h’ in it!”  I liked this man, an opera buff who I knew, in his heart, secretly yearned to work the cop beat.

Seated to my right was another reporter (he was in his late 50s, so I thought he was elderly) who would get annoyed at me from time to time. I was never sure why, but I’d know about it because he’d reach into his desk, take out a giant, nasty, smelly black cigar and light it up. Then, he’d sit and blow the smoke over the top of his typewriter directly at the back of my head. Back then, nobody (but I) cared whether anyone smoked in the office.

This truly was the most fun I’ve had at any job in my life. But working on a website the past year and taking my own food photos has certainly had its moments.

The ironing board is surprisingly versatile. If I lay a long cookie sheet across it sideways and cover it with a white cloth, it makes a good backdrop. It forces me to shoot up close, so that things like nicks on the kitchen table or the cats’ water dish on the floor don’t show up. The board also swivels back and forth easily.

The only drawback might be from my husband’s point of view. He does his own ironing (bless him) and one morning unfortunately found out the hard way that I’d spilled a couple of drops of salad dressing on the ironing board. He ironed those drops directly into one of his good white shirts just before he had to get dressed and race off.  This caused a reaction.  I am now more careful.

Setting up the shots is also entertaining. After many years of accumulating dishes and pottery and table linens, I always have fun rummaging around in the cupboards or dining cabinets to find just the right prop. I pick up art paper at Michael’s and Herweck’s for backdrops. A couple of times I’ve taken cases off of throw pillows in the living room to use for their bright color.

Some of the ingredients for a sangrita include lime and/or orange juice, hot sauce, fresh tomato juice or even pomegranate juice. Sangrita is a chaser for sipping with tequila.

I don’t kid myself that these are “important” photos, and I’ve been more proud of some than others. Recently, in order to illustrate a short article on sangrita, I had no idea what to do except shoot a few of the ingredients I had on hand and fake the others; I won’t say which or how. (The shot, at left, took about 10 minutes, start to finish.)

A scoop of dulce de leche ice cream on top of a chocolate brownie in an old Fiestaware bowl.

Another one I liked was last year’s photo of a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream melting on top of a chocolate brownie (at right). The orange dish is original Fiestaware, which I have had for many decades.

I  discovered that shooting down into a bright, clean stainless steel bowl gives off many interesting reflections.

Wine, on a linen pillow, with a glass for a mate and a crocheted bed cover.

I learned (maybe for the hundredth time) that if I try to get too “witty” doing a photo illustration, it generally fails and ends up laughable. (See here my attempt to illustrate a “sleeping” wine.)

But, I like to laugh and I hope SavorSA readers do, too.

Posted in Blogs, Featured5 Comments

Christmas in July to Benefit Roy Maas Youth Alternatives

Christmas in July to Benefit Roy Maas Youth Alternatives

The Christmas in July Sangria & Salsa Kitchen Party, from 4-6:30 p.m. Thursday at Melissa Guerra’s Tienda de Cocina, is a fun way to start your holiday giving.

Christmas in July kicks off a campaign, The Little Refrigerator That Could,  to help the nonprofit Roy Maas Youth Alternatives stock its refrigerators and cupboards. New culinary items are needed, as well as kitchen tools, utensils, appliances, mixers, baking dishes and much more.

Roy Maas Youth Alternatives is a program that cares for more than 600 children a year. These kids come from backgrounds of abuse and neglect. Some have never had a healthy meal; many have lived without three square meals a day.

Through this program, businesses (such as Melissa Guerra’s store) can sponsor the refrigerator and kitchen drive, or individuals may host a culinary party to benefit RMYA.

The event at Tienda de Cocina Thursday is open free to the public. During July, those who purchase items at the store or online, or donate at least $25 through Melissa Guerra receive a 20 percent discount on personal orders.

Tienda de Cocina is in the Full Goods Building at the Pearl Brewery, 200 E. Grayson St.

Posted in Daily Dish, NewsComments Off on Christmas in July to Benefit Roy Maas Youth Alternatives

Ask a Foodie: What to Do With Salmon?

Ask a Foodie: What to Do With Salmon?

Salmon can be prepared in many wonderful ways.

Q. What’s your favorite way to cook salmon?

— Janet U.

A. Salmon can be enjoyed in many different ways, from smoked to cooked on a cedar plank. I generally search out wild-caught salmon when I go to cook it, because the flavor is stronger and brighter than the farm-raised. If that’s too fishy for you, then seek out the farm-raised.

I once tried a recipe of Jamie Oliver’s that had you wrap salmon in slices of prosciutto, before popping them in the oven. Then you topped the fish with lentils before serving. I’ve done several variations on that since, because I’m one of those who rarely makes a recipe twice. It’s the thrill of finding or tasting something new that usually interests me.

That said, here’s the next salmon recipe I’ll be trying. It’s from Rick Bayless’ “Everyday Mexican” (W.W. Norton & Co., $29.95), and it sounds perfect for a summer picnic. The salsa can be used in a variety of dishes or by itself.

Pasta with Roasted Tomatillos and Salmon

Tomatillo Salsa:
4 medium (about 8 ounces) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and halved
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
Hot green chiles, to taste, stemmed and roughly chopped (Bayless likes 2 serranos or 1 jalapeño)
About 1/2 cup loosely packed, roughly chopped cilantro
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
Salt, to taste

12 ounces pasta
2 cups coarsely shredded salmon or cooked chicken (see note)
1 generous cup grated queso añejo or Parmesan, plus more for garnish
Chopped cilantro, for garnish
Wedges of lime, for garnish

To make the salsa: Set a large (10-inch) non-stick skillet over medium-high heat (if you don’t have a non-stick skillet, lay in a piece of foil). Lay in the tomatillos, cut side down, and garlic. When the tomatillos are well browned, 3 or 4 minutes, turn everything over and brown the other side. (The tomatillos should be completely soft.)

Scrape the tomatillos and garlic into a blender or food processor. Let cool 3 to 4 minutes. Add the chiles, cilantro and 1/4 cup water. Blend to a coarse purée. Thin with a little additional water if necessary to give the salsa an easily spreadable consistency.

Scoop the chopped onion into a strainer and rinse under cold water. Stir into the salsa. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Keep warm if using with pasta.

For the pasta dish: Put on a pot of water to boil, then make the salsa, without letting the ingredients cool. Boil pasta (fusilli or shells are good choices) in salted water until al dente.  Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Return the pasta to the pot, and add the salsa, the reserved cooking liquid and 2 cups coarsely shredded salmon or chicken. Sprinkle on a generous cup grated Mexican queso añejo or Parmesan, toss and serve with chopped cilantro, extra cheese and a few edges of lime for each hungry eater to add to his or her liking. Wonderful at room temperature for a picnic.

Note: Bayless likes to use pepper-coated hot-smoked salmon or rotisserie chicken that’s easy to flake.

Makes 2-3 main-course servings or 4-6 side dish servings.

Source: “Mexican Everyday” by Rick Bayless

If you have a question for Ask a Foodie, e-mail

Posted in Ask A FoodieComments Off on Ask a Foodie: What to Do With Salmon?

Sign on for ‘Epicurean Experiences’ at Las Canarias

Sign on for ‘Epicurean Experiences’ at Las Canarias

John Brand, executive chef at Las Canarias and Pesca on the River, soon will be offering a three-day culinary event, Epicurean Experiences. These chef-guided weekends will be at Las Canarias, the restaurant at the Omni La Mansion del Rio. Brand will guide attendees as they create dishes with maximum flavor and artful composition, using fresh, local ingredients.

The weekend packages are available for up to eight participants and open to local residents and hotel guests.  In addition to learning to make Hill Country cuisine, they also may indulge in a spa treatment, such as a Spanish Rosemary Herbal Massage from Watermark Spa, if they choose.

Brand feels the program will get people to back into their kitchens. “I find that most of what keeps people from exploring in the kitchen is a general discomfort in approaching ingredients and how they work together.  People feel that they can only enjoy a good meal at a restaurant or by following a recipe verbatim.  I’m looking to change that.”

The first Epicurean Experiences event will be July 9-11. The weekend begins that Friday at 7 p.m. at a Las Canarias’ Chef’s Table reception.  Guests can relax with Champagne and canapés while conversing with the culinary staff and watching the kitchen’s behind-the-scenes action.

Saturday begins with breakfast and a trip to the Farmers Market led by Brand, who will discuss produce selection, pairing, and cooking options.  That afternoon, he will conduct a class in the auxiliary kitchen of the Omni La Mansión del Rio, using produce purchased that morning.  As the menu develops, participants will get hands-on experience with preparation techniques like chopping, simmering, and roasting.  Wine will be paired with the menu, and participants can enjoy the results of their labors for dinner.

On Sunday, the group attends the hotel’s Champagne Brunch and each participant will receive a chef’s apron, as well as recipes from the weekend.

For more information or reservations, call 210-367-6428.

Photo by Nicholas Mistry

Posted in What's Hot!Comments Off on Sign on for ‘Epicurean Experiences’ at Las Canarias

Bar Rojo’s Sansai Sushi Offers Japanese Fare with South American Flair

Bar Rojo’s Sansai Sushi Offers Japanese Fare with South American Flair

South American Japanese food?  The Grand Hyatt’s Executive Chef Jeffrey Axell explains the concept: “We did some research and discovered that Sansei are third-generation Japanese, born in South America, who take regional Latin American influences and ingredients and meld them with traditional Japanese sushi preparation techniques and culture.”

The menu at Bar Rojo, available in the evenings on Wednesday through Friday, offers maki, sashimi, and nigiri with Latin American ingredients like fresh jalapeños, mango, hearts of palm, and jicama.   One unusual maki, the Achiote Roll, is made with Yuzu Orange Snapper Ceviche, mango, daikon, and micro cilantro, topped with smoked jalapeño aioli.  Another unique combination is the Bar Rojo Roll, which is Jalapeño-Cilantro Spicy Tuna, jicama, cucumber, and flying fish roe, all topped with avocado cream.  Some of the regular fish selections include salmon, yellowfin tuna, yellowtail (Japanese Amberjack), and Kona Kampachi.  A signature soy sauce, Aji Rojo Satsuma, adds spice and citrus notes.

To complement the meal, they offer sakes such as Tu Ku and Momokawa Sake Pearl, as well as Japanese beers, Asahi Select and Kirin Ichiban.

Bar Rojo
Grand Hyatt
600 E. Market St.
San Antonio, TX 78205
Menu Hours: Wednesday – Friday, 5 – 9 p.m.

Posted in Daily DishComments Off on Bar Rojo’s Sansai Sushi Offers Japanese Fare with South American Flair

Ask a Foodie: Where Can You Find Cheese Curds?

Ask a Foodie: Where Can You Find Cheese Curds?

Cheddar cheese curds

Q: Do you know of any place in San Antonio where one can find cheese curds? I’m looking for unfried, just plain cheese curds.

– C.H.

A: You can find cheese curds at several stores around town, including all locations of Sun Harvest. Central Market, 4821 Broadway, offers them on occasion (call 210-368-8600 first), while the folks at Culver’s, 5836 DeZavala, say they will sell them to you uncooked if you like.

At Culver’s, you can order Dairyland Cheese Curds at any time. “Real dairy fresh white and yellow cheddar cheese curds breaded and cooked to a gooey, cheesy golden brown,” its website says. “These curds are made in Wisconsin just for Culver’s!”

For those unfamiliar with them, cheese curds are “the solid parts of soured milk used in various regional dishes, mostly in Canada and the northeastern United States,” according to Wikipedia. Use them quickly because their freshness is fleeting.

I first heard about them in a Quebec dish called poutine, in which french fries are covered with cheese curds and then topped with brown gravy and, as Wikipedia says, “sometimes additional ingredients.” I haven’t tried this regional specialty yet, but here’s a link to a recipe just in case you want to make a batch for yourself.

Most of us know the term curds from the children’s poem, “Little Miss Muffet.” According to the Maple Leaf Cheese package, “Some of us believe Little Miss Muffet and the spider symbolize Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), and John Knox (1505-1572), a minister who wanted to scare her off the throne due to religious differences. Another story attributes the origin of this nursery rhyme to Dr. Thomas Muffet (1553-1604), an entomologist who wrote the first sciencific catalog of British native insects. It is believed the poem, ‘Little Miss Muffet,’ was written for his stepdaughter, Patience, who, much to Mr. Muffet’s dismay, didn’t like spiders.”

If you have a question for Ask a Foodie, e-mail

Posted in Ask A FoodieComments Off on Ask a Foodie: Where Can You Find Cheese Curds?

Artichoke Pesto

Artichoke Pesto

You can find artichoke pesto in jars, but making it is easy and you can adjust all those flavors to your own taste.

Add artichoke hearts to pesto for a different take on the popular dish.

Artichoke Pesto

1 (14-ounce) can petite artichoke hearts (not marinated), drained or 8 ounces fresh, trimmed artichoke hearts
2 medium cloves garlic
2 packed cups fresh basil leaves, plus a couple of leaves for garnish
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for tossing into hot pasta
1/2 cup olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Ground black or white pepper, optional
1 pound pasta, your choice

Put all ingredients except for the olive oil and pasta into a food processor or blender and process to a smooth paste. Then, pour in the olive oil through the opening on top of the appliance and blend.  Scrape pesto into a bowl and season, to taste, with salt and optional pepper.

For pasta: Be sure to cook the pasta in lightly salted water with no oil. Drain it well, but reserve a little of the pasta cooking water. Pour pasta into a bowl and add the pesto, tossing lightly until it is combined.  If the mixture seems stiff, pour in some of the pasta cooking water, a little at a time, to loosen it up. Serve right away with more grated cheese.

Makes 4-6 servings.

From Bonnie Walker

Photo by Bonnie Walker

Posted in Cooking, Recipes1 Comment

Summer, Fresh Basil, Pesto — It’s All Good

Summer, Fresh Basil, Pesto — It’s All Good

Basil has a strong, spicy aroma, a little bit like mint or licorice plus its own singular scent.

The Pearl Farmers Market is having a Basil Fest today, but the enjoyment of this fragrant herb is a year-round thing.

Fresh and best in summer, we can add it to salads and soups, use it with roasted antipasti or make pesto. It is pretty on a pizza or a fresh mozzarella salad. It’s useful as a garnish and in table arrangements, or just have it to look at growing in a pot on the deck.

Here are three ways to use basil from SavorSA:

Thai Basil Lemon-Lime Sorbet is icy and refreshing.

Try something different for that weekend cocktail: a Strawberry-Basil Martini.

Whip up an easy meal and make Artichoke Pesto to toss with your favorite pasta. Serve with a sprig of fresh basil and extra grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese.

Posted in Featured, NewsComments Off on Summer, Fresh Basil, Pesto — It’s All Good

Thai Basil Lemon-Lime Sorbet

Thai Basil Lemon-Lime Sorbet

Here is a refreshingly different twist to an ordinary citrus sorbet.  It is intensely flavored and a scoop goes very well in a glass of sparkling water like S. Pellegrino.  If you add a shot of rum or vodka, we won’t say anything.

Thai Basil Lemon-Lime Sorbet

2 springs fresh Thai basil
2 tablespoons fresh Thai basil, finely chopped
2 teaspoons grated lemon and lime zest
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
dash of salt

[amazon-product]0764524836[/amazon-product]Combine sugar and water in saucepan.  Bring to a boil and cook until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat, add sprigs of Thai basil, and steep for 5 – 10 minutes.  Discard springs and allow syrup to cool room temperature.  The syrup can be made in advance and stored covered in the refrigerator.

In a large pitcher or container, combine chopped Thai basil, zests, juices, and syrup.  Refrigerate until cold.  Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Adapted from “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” by Mark Bittman

Photo by Nicholas Mistry

Posted in RecipesComments Off on Thai Basil Lemon-Lime Sorbet

Pack Your Martini with Basil and Strawberries

Pack Your Martini with Basil and Strawberries

Strawberry-Basil Martini

Basil and strawberries make for a great pair in this martini.

Strawberry-Basil Martini

1 good-sized strawberry, cut in pieces
4 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon simple syrup or agave nectar, or to taste
Vodka, to taste
Strawberries and/or basil leaves, for garnish

Muddle the strawberry, basil leaves and simple syrup in the bottom of a cocktail shaker to mash the strawberry and break up the basil leaves. Add ice and vodka, to taste. Shake until icy. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a strawberry and/or a basil leaf.

Makes 1 martini.

Source: John Griffin

Posted in Drinks, Recipes, Wine, Beer, Spirits Q&AComments Off on Pack Your Martini with Basil and Strawberries