Archive | January, 2011

Dress Up Leftover Ham with a Whiskey Sauce

Dress Up Leftover Ham with a Whiskey Sauce

Have you ever wondered what to do with leftover ham? Here’s an Irish recipe with a stunning sauce.

Ham in Whiskey Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
4 ham steaks, about 1-inch thick
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon white flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
1/2 cup beef stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then brown the ham steaks, in batches, if necessary, for 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove the ham from the skillet when done and set aside, covering the steaks with foil to keep them warm.

[amazon-product]081186670X[/amazon-product]Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the same pan, then add the onions. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the onions from the skillet with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Reduce the heat to low and sprinkle the flour into the pan, mixing it into the butter and pan juices. Repeat the process with the brown sugar, then add the whiskey and the beef stock and stir it in well. Whisk in the cream, then season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, put 1 ham steak on each of 4 plates, spoon a quarter of the onions over each steak, then gently pour sauce over the onions and ham.

Makes 4 servings.

From “The Country Cooking of Ireland” by Colman Andrews

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Ina Garten Jazzes Up Onion Soup

Ina Garten Jazzes Up Onion Soup

Cut your onions in half, then sliced them 1/4-inch thick.

“I love to take a recipe and ‘turn up the volume,'” Ina Garten writes in “Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That?” (Clarkson Potter Publishers, $35). “Who doesn’t love French onion soup gratinée with its topping of onion-soaked bread and gooey melted cheese? I add some fresh fennel to give it more depth of flavor and the results are delicious.”

On these recent cold days, this soup is pure comfort.

Onion and Fennel Soup Gratin

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 good olive oil
3 pounds Spanish onions, halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 pounds fennel, top and cores removed, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 cup good dry sherry
1/2 cup Cognac or brandy
1 1/2 cups good dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
8 cups canned beef broth
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 small sourdough or white French boule, crusts removed, sliced 1/2-inch thick, and toasted
4 to 6 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated

Heat the butter and oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and fennel, and cook over medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn a golden brown. If the onions aren’t browning, turn the heat up. Add the sherry and Cognac, scraping up the brown bits in the pan, and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer uncovered for 15 more minutes. Add the beef broth, bay leaves, salt and pepper, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and taste for seasoning.

[amazon-product]0307238768[/amazon-product]Preheat the boiler and position a rack 5 inches below the heat source. Ladle the soup into heat-proof serving bowls, top with the toasted bread, sprinkle generously with grated Gruyère, and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve hot.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “Barefoot Contessa: How Easy Is That?” by Ina Garten

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Truck Stop: Jason Dady’s Duk Truck

Truck Stop: Jason Dady’s Duk Truck

There's no mistaking the bright yellow of the Duk Truck. Even at night.

The following is the first in an occasional series of quick reviews of the growing number of food trucks in the area.

I pulled up to Jason Dady’s Duk Truck close to midnight Friday. It was parked in front of Artisans Alley at 555 W. Bitters. No lights were on, but several people were at home. The truck had just run out of gas, they said, but it would be up and running as soon as the tank was filled.

So, I decided to study the menu and see what I would eventually get with the $10 bill in my wallet. No credit cards accepted, the cook said.

Right off the bat, I knew I wanted the Smoked Deviled Eggs ($3). Who could resist deviled eggs, even on a night in which the temperatures were just above freezing. They were surely cooked already, so they could be served relatively quickly.

Beef tongue pastrami on pumpernickel rye

But what about the other snack? On the $6 menu were a number of choices that tempted me at so late an hour. I nixed the Two Bros. brisket, simply because I had had it before and wanted to try something new. The same with the smoked salmon. That left filet mignon meatballs, beef tongue pastrami and chicken-fried pork belly.

I went with the cook’s recommendation of the pastrami and was rewarded with a real treat. The fleshy meat, heated to order, had a slight tang complemented by the warm sauerkraut and the bittersweet flavor of pumpernickel rye bread. It was a little messy but thoroughly enjoyable.

Smoked deviled eggs

I wish the deviled eggs were as good, but I found the filling too smooth, too processed and lacking in all but an oddly muted smoky flavor. Salt, the savior of many a bland food, was not among the vast array of condiments set out by the Kool-Aid and “Ice-T” dispensers at the end of the truck, however. The cook gladly gave me some of his stash of sea salt, but even that couldn’t resuscitate the eggs. (An aside: Few snacks in this world are as perfect as an old-fashioned deviled egg. There’s no need to jazz it up with smoke flavor, wasabi, crab meat or anything else. Just my opinion.)

Condiments galore at the Duk Truck.

Next time I see the bright yellow truck parked alongside the road and gassed up for business, I hope I have a little extra money for the $9 menu with its duck confit Asian steamed buns, Thai green curry with blue crab or Moco Loco, a combination of fried egg, Two Bros. pulled pork, ginger rice and red-eye gravy. Or maybe I’ll splurge on the $6 Nutella Sundae.

That is, if I can resist another pastrami on rye.

Duk Truck
Cash only
To find out where the Duk Truck will be, follow it on Twitter (@duktruck) or e-mail

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Total Joy at TJ’s Hamburgers

Total Joy at TJ’s Hamburgers

In our years of restaurant reviewing, we have invested embarrassing amounts of time tracking down great burger stands.

How, we asked ourselves yesterday, had we missed TJ’s?

Now it has been found, at least by us. And we thank the good friend that brought it to our attention.

TJ’s is far down south on New Laredo Highway, almost to Southcross Boulevard.  It’s housed in a shack with covered parking outside, but we don’t think they serve you in your parked car. A shack, by the way, shouldn’t scare you when it comes to burgers.  Nor should it matter that the entryway to TJ’s is a tad shabby.

What does count is that when your paper-wrapped burger gets to your table,  it is almost too hot to handle. The beef tastes beefy and comes to the edge of the bun, and the fillings are fresh and just a bit drippy. Ketchup comes on the side.

TJ's Hamburgers good, drippy burger and fries.

The milkshakes are thick and rich and made with real ice cream; the french fries are thin, crisp and ours tasted as though they were just out of a freshly cleaned and re-stocked fryer.

A companion who’d ordered onion rings shared one with me and it burned the tip of my tongue, but when I managed to hold myself back a few more seconds it had a wonderfully crunchy exterior and a tender slice of real onion inside. A fried chicken sandwich was fine, with all the trimmings. There’s also a fish sandwich offered.

A hot dog, with a superior relish of freshly chopped onion and dill pickle, needed to be hotter. Those metal rung-type rollers for cooking hot dogs make them look tempting, but I’ve found that they’re not so great for getting hot dogs truly hot. Maybe restaurants — even burger joints — should just use them for show, kind of like those trays laden with plastic desserts some sit-down restaurants send to your table to help you order. (OK, maybe not.)

Frito pie and a milkshake duo? Why not, at TJ's?

Burgers come in three sizes: single, double and triple. The triple is $5.87, with prices going down from there. So, TJ’s also offers good value.

How much did we like the milkshakes? My colleague ordered one vanilla shake to go with his hot dog and Frito pie (yessir, fine gourmet dining at its best). That prompted another of our companions to head up to the line and order a chocolate shake, which she also shared around the table. Before the meal was over, the vanilla shake man went back to get himself the strawberry shake. After its turn around the table we all agreed that as fine as the chocolate and vanilla had been, the strawberry, with bits of icy fruit in it, was the best.

Frito pie? Oh, yes. The chili was good, the Fritos stayed crisp, but we’d much prefer real melted cheese OR shredded longhorn or Colby for the topping rather than the processed, liquidy stuff they had on top.  Just saying …

It seems that a fair number of San Antonians have been enjoying TJs for a long time. We’re planning another trip … soon.

TJ’s Hamburgers
477 New Laredo Hwy.
Open daily for lunch and dinner

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Weissman Addresses CIA Graduation in New York

Weissman Addresses CIA Graduation in New York

Chef Andrew Weissman addresses the graduating class of the CIA at Hyde Park, N.Y.

Andrew Weissman (right) poses with CIA president Tim Ryan.

Chef Andrew Weissman of Il Sogno and the Sandbar at the Pearl Brewery addressed the graduating class of the Culinary Institute of America’s main campus on Friday.

Giving the speech had special significance for the San Antonio native, who was graduated from the school in Hyde Park, N.Y., before starting his culinary career, which includes the lauded but now-closed Le Rêve. “It is very difficult for me not to sound like a paid sponsor for this school,” he said, “but the truth is the CIA has helped provide me and my family with an amazing quality of life.”

He offered the following advice to the graduates: “For those of you wondering what now, I challenge you to write the greatest story of yourself. You may stumble along the way, but it is all part of the journey. Go ahead and make mistakes. It is also part of your growth as an individual. The key is to not repeat them. … Check to see if things are impossible only after you are done.”

The CIA also has campuses in San Antonio and Greystone, Calif. A fourth campus in Singapore is being added this month.

(Photos courtesy CIA/Keith Farris)

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Pork-Pasta Perfection at Pike’s Place

Pork-Pasta Perfection at Pike’s Place

Fried green beans and artichoke hearts at Pike's Place.

PIPE CREEK — Suzanne and Kurt Pike have many years of restaurant experience under their belts. She worked the front of the house for Jason Dady at the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, while he served at Le Rêve, Soleil Bistro and a host of other restaurants since he was 15.

With such credentials, they seemed destined to open their own place, and now they have. Pike’s Place Restaurant is a gem worth searching out in Pipe Creek, a speck on the map between San Antonio and Bandera.

Thanks to a glowing recommendation from blogger Geekette Bits, we headed there on a recent dark, rainy Friday night armed with a map from the Internet and a hearty appetite. The map was great as far as getting us to Panther Ridge, the road on which the restaurant is located, but then it took us in a strange direction far past the building we missed in the darkness. (It’s the first building off State Highway 16 and is tucked behind an antique shop.)

Scallops atop pork belly with fettuccine.

Once we dried off a little, we were able to enjoy the charming setting of an old house filled with antiques for sale, down to the art on the walls.

Then we focused on the menu with its all-American favorites, including several steaks, burgers and a hearty array of salads, all at attractive prices. Plus, the specials board offered an array of more adventurous delicacies, mostly involving seafood, from chef Aaron Gonzalez.

We started the evening with a plate of fried green beans and fried artichoke hearts, with the latter proving exceptionally good. A roasted beet and blue cheese salad and the Eva Lee’s Herb Salad both featured sweet and spicy pecans that offered a pleasant contrast of texture in addition to tasting great. A cup of French onion soup also earned high marks.

Buttermilk fried chicken at Pike's Place.

One of the specials that evening featured a pair of seared jumbo scallops atop pork belly mixed with fettuccine. If this is available again, don’t think twice. Just order it. The scallops were firm, fleshy, voluptuous, sensual and all those other adjectives it takes to let you know that they filled your mouth with the most exquisitely soft textures while the sweetness of the meat caressed your taste buds. One friend who ordered the dish was even more impressed with the pork-pasta combo.

Other specials were pan-seared grouper presented with orzo and mahi mahi perched atop Thai-style coconut jasmine rice. In both instances, the seafood was as pristine, flavorful and fresh as you could want, though the sauce on the mahi mahi went more with the rice than the fish.

I opted for the buttermilk fried chicken, which was solid. A crunchy exterior, with just a touch of rosemary to balance the tang of the buttermilk, led to juicy, hot chicken underneath. It came with mashed potatoes, which I topped with the chicken-rich cream gravy. More impressive, though, was a mound of perfectly prepared zucchini, which had been sautéed with the most judicious amount of rosemary (too much and a dish can taste soapy). The attention that vegetable received was the right test to determine how much care is paid to all details, great and small.

Lemon cheesecake

Desserts that night included an excellent lemon cheesecake. The toasted coconut cake had a fine seven-minute frosting, though the cake itself was a little on the dry side. An apple dish, at times called a cobbler or a turnover, found no fans at the table.

For the record, I was with friends who have known the Pikes for some time, so it was impossible to remain incognito. Still, all of the customers that evening were given a friendly welcome and made to feel right at home. And that’s appreciated no matter where the restaurant is.

On the night we were there, Pike’s Place had not received its beer and wine license. When making your reservations, you may want to ask if it’s OK to bring your own wine or beer with you.

Pike’s Place Restaurant
167 Panther Ridge
Pipe Creek
Lunch and dinner: Wednesday-Saturday. Brunch: Sunday.

Again, use the map to find Panther Ridge, but look for the restaurant just off State Highway 16.

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Cook a Rib Steak in a Salt Crust

Cook a Rib Steak in a Salt Crust

“One of the great diversions of life in France is an intimate evening at the local bistro, where mainstays of French food are reduced to their basic elements for quick, casual dining,” Mark Bitterman writes in “Salted” (Ten Speed Press, $35). “Côte de boeuf en croûte del sel is among the great bistro dishes: beef rib steak, cut remendously thick, perfectly cooked and served piping hot with a little herbed butter.”

The French aren’t so different in that respect from most of us Texans.

Rib Steak in Salt Crust (Côte de boeuf en croûte del sel)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 two-rib bone-in rib steak (about 3 pounds and 2 to 3 inches thick)
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 pounds sel gris, such as sel gris de l’Ile de Noirmoutier (see note)
2 to 5 tablespoons water (optional)
Leaves from 2 rosemary sprigs

Herb butter:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh herbs, such as Italian parsley, rosemary and/or thyme
2 two-finger pinches fleur de sel

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Heat a heavy iron skillet over high heat for 10 minutes until very hot. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Pat the surface of the steak dry and season with the cracked pepper. Brown the steak on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Have ready a baking dish just large enough to hold the steak. Press the sel gris between your fingers. It should be moist enough to stick together. If it isn’t, stir in a few tablespoons of water until the salt is moist enough to cling together when firmly pressed.

Spread the sel gris 1/2 inch thick in the baking dish. Scatter half the rosemary leaves over the salt. place the steak on top and scatter the remaining rosemary leaves over the steak. Pack the salt around the steak until it is completely encased. Bake for 30 minutes for rare, or 40 minutes for medium-rare.

[amazon-product]1580082629[/amazon-product]While the steak is roasting, make the herb butter. Mash together the butter, garlic and herbs in a small bowl with a fork until well blended. Gently stir in the fleur de sel, trying to keep the salt crystals as intact as possible. Set aside.

Remove the beef from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Break the salt crust, brush off any excessive salt adhering to the steak, and remove to a cutting board. Cut into thick slices, arrange three or four slices on each plate, and serve with a general ball of herbed butter.

Note: If you can’t find sel gris, use kosher salt for the crust and add water as needed.

Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from “Salted” by Mark Bitterman

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Expect Higher Prices at Supermarket, Restaurateur Says

Expect Higher Prices at Supermarket, Restaurateur Says

Expect higher prices at the supermarket in the near future, says Roger Arias, co-owner of Earl Abel’s, 1201 Austin Hwy.

The restaurateur says he has been warned by many of his suppliers to expect increases in prices of everything from meat to produce.

Dairy prices have recently shot up and show no signs of dropping.

“We’re going to see rising prices across the board,” he says. “It’s something all restaurants are going to be faced with.”

Fresh foods are more affected by weather, such as this winter’s freak freezes. That, in turn, affects places like Earl Abel’s, because “we don’t buy any processed foods,” Arias says.

Just how high prices go will determine if and when restaurant prices will change.

“We’ll keep an eye on it,” he says.

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Sweeten Your Cocktails, Desserts with St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Sweeten Your Cocktails, Desserts with St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Elderflower liqueur is cropping up on drink and dessert menus in bars and restaurants, but what is it?

It is a liqueur distilled in Dijon, France, from white elderflower blossoms picked by just a few dozen men in the foothills of the Alps in the spring. Then, the blossoms are put into baskets and delivered by bicycle to market.

Of most consequence to foodies as well as bartenders is the flavor, of course.

Elderflower liqueur has a hard-to-describe, but delicious, flavor.

On St-Germain’s website, it is described thus: “Neither passionfruit nor pear, grapefruit nor lemon, the sublime taste of  St-Germain hints at each of these and yet none of them exactly. It is a flavor  as subtle and delicate as it is captivating. A little like asking a hummingbird  to describe the flavor of its favorite nectar. Très curieux indeed, n’est-ce pas?”

I received a small 50 ml bottle of St-Germain for Christmas. My taste buds detected kiwi and gooseberry as well. I could see using it to flavor ice cream or sorbet, in a dessert omelet or crêpes, or for flavoring a buttercream frosting.  Here, from the bottle tag, is the recipe for the St-Germain Cocktail.  Look for St-Germain in most well-stocked liquor stores.

St-Germain Cocktail

1 (50 ml) mini-bottle St-Germain
2 shots brut sparkling wine, Champagne or dry white wine
Soda water, to top

Serve the cocktail in a tall glass with ice. Garnish with a twist of lemon.


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Chimes Ginger Chews a Bracing Treat

Chimes Ginger Chews a Bracing Treat

In this wet season, sore throats and colds are more common than ever. One way of staving off those symptoms is with ginger.

And one way to get ginger is with Chimes Ginger Chews.

These candies, which originate in Indonesia, are made with only a few ingredients, including cane sugar and ginger. There are several flavors in the lineup, including Apple, Mango, Peppermint, Peanut Butter and Orange, all with the sweet burn that an intense dose of ginger provides.

The bag, which sells for about $3.50, says the candies “are music for your mouth.” It’s not a far-fetched claim, as they are certainly a lot stronger than most candies you come across. Think of a chewy version of Altoids.

Don’t underestimate the power of ginger. Some use it to fight indigestion, others for sea sickness or motion sickness. Other claims are that it helps with morning sickness, headaches, allergies and sinus problems.

You’ll find some versions of these candies at Tim’s Oriental Food Market, 7015 Bandera Road, and at World Market.

A word of warning: Chimes Ginger Chews, which being all-natural, do contain maltose, which can cause diarrhea in some.

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