Archive | March, 2016

Green Beans Made Easier

Green Beans Made Easier

green beansGreen beans have always been easy to make. But thanks to Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart, the process just got easier.

Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables v2The authors of “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables” (Gibbs Smith, $25) have simplified one step that will make your beans look as good as they taste: Instead of dunking your steaming hot beans into an ice bath in order to keep their color, as most recipes call for, all you have to do is run them under some cold water.

You can learn more vegetable tips from Dupree and Cynthia Graubart at this year’s San Antonio Book Fair. Their demonstration is set for 10 a.m. April 2 at the Central Market Cooking Tent at the Central Library Plaza on Augusta Street. A signing will follow.

Once you’ve got those green beans cooked up, follow the authors’ suggested variations, adding flavors and textures to make your favorite standby vegetable new and delicious. Of course, I’d add bacon to the list, too. After all, it’s considered a vegetable to some.

Green Beans

1 pound green beans, tipped, tailed and stringed
2 tablespoons butter or oil
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Bring enough salted water to a boil to cover the beans. Add the beans and return to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, utnil the beans are no longer raw but still crisp. Drain and run under cold water to fresh and set the color. The beans may be made a day ahead and refrigerated or frozen at this point.

When ready to serve, heat the butter or oil to sizzling in a large frying pan. Add the beans and toss until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


–Top the hot beans with tomato conserve or warm tomato sauce.

–Toss with 1/2 cup pecan halves.

–Saute 1 pound of quartered or sliced mushrooms along with 4 chopped shallots or scallions in 4 tablespoons butter or oil for 1 or 2 minutes. Add the cooked green beans to the mushrooms and reheat. Add a tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs if desired.

–Toss with the grated rind of 1 lemon, no white attached.

–Toss with 1 teaspoon ground cumin or coriander seed and 1/2 teaspoon sugar.

–Toss with 2 tablespoons sesame seeds or chipped pecans.

–Toss hot drained beans with a vinaigrette. Toss just before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

–Toss green beans with a mix of sliced roasted cherry, grape or small tomatoes, and add sliced green or black olives, sauteed pecans and/or crumbled goat cheese or other soft white cheese.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart


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La Frite Is Raising Money to Support Victims of the Attacks on Belgium

La Frite Is Raising Money to Support Victims of the Attacks on Belgium

musselsIn light of the recent tragedy that struck Brussels, La Frite Belgian Bistro, 728 S. Alamo St., will be donating a percentage of proceeds from their happy hour this Friday to the victims of the terrorist attack.

“We encourage everyone to stop by to show their support at happy hour this Friday, March 25, between 5 and 7 p.m.,” the restaurant said in a press release.

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Yes, You Can Squeeze Flavor from a Spring Turnip

Yes, You Can Squeeze Flavor from a Spring Turnip

Turnips get a bad wrap. Most of us only know them as these oversized, rock-hard roots that you couldn’t squeeze a drop of water from.

turnips and red peppersYet if you can find turnips at a farmers market, give them a chance. They taste very little like their larger cousins, which Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart call “storage turnips” in their new “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables” (Gibbs Smith, $25). The two will be discussing their book at this year’s San Antonio Book Fair. Their demonstration is set for 10 a.m. April 2 at the Central Market Cooking Tent at the Central Library Plaza on Augusta Street. A signing will follow.

“Turnips meld well with bell peppers and make a striking contrast that is particularly good with quail and turkey,” they write. “This may be made ahead a day or so and reheated.”

They also recommend storing spring turnips for no more than a few days, while those so-called storage turnips will last a few weeks.

One nice feature of Dupree and Graubart’s recipes is that they include variations to show you how versatile these vegetables can be.

Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables v2 This helped when testing the recipe. I had enough turnips on hand, but not enough red peppers, so I added a small golden delicious apple as the variation suggested. It worked perfectly with apple and red pepper both in the blend. And the dish was even more attractive with its blend of red, green and white. But flavor that is the real bottom line, and this recipe tastes so good that it’s a keeper. I would also serve it with pork chops, roasted chicken and maybe even a hearty fish, such as halibut or flounder.

Turnips and Red Peppers

1 pound red bell peppers
1 pound small white turnips, peeled
3 to 6 tablespoons butter, divided use
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

turnipsCore, seed and slice the peppers. Cut the peeled turnips into quarters if the turnips are golf-ball size, or into eights if the turnips are larger. (Smaller young turnips can skip the next step.) Add larger turnips to a pot of boiling water and cook for a few minutes to blanch; drain.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan, and add the peppers, young turnips or parboiled larger turnips and the garlic. Cook over medium heat until the turnips are tender when pierced with a knife and peppers are still crunchy; add more butter if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Variation: Turnips and Apples

Substitute any firm cooking apple for the peppers. Cut into wedges, leaving skin on and proceed as above.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart


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Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetable Salads

Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetable Salads

Cooks in the South have definite ideas about vegetables — and they aren’t always correct, no matter how tasty their creations are. Often the term is confused with side dishes, so you’ll find restaurant menus with something like macaroni and cheese listed among the vegetable options. Tasty, to be sure, but hardly a vegetable.

Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables v2So, don’t go to Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart’s “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables” (Gibbs Smith, $25) expecting to find a host of side dish recipes. Instead, the authors have followed up their definitive “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” with a sharper focus on the rich bounty of vegetables from throughout the region and how to prepare them in traditional ways your family will love.

The authors will present a free talk on their book during this year’s San Antonio Book Festival. It’s set for 10 a.m. April 2 at the Central Market Cooking Tent at the Central Library Plaza on Augusta Street. A signing will follow.

2016_SABF_POSTERIn the introduction, the writers claim, “We traveled all over the South and enjoyed seeing how and where its vegetables are grown. We ate tomatoes from the hills of western North Carolina and ripe melons from the sandy fields of southern Georgia. The Georgia commissioner of agriculture loaned us his plane, and we loaded its storage area with zucchini, squash and Vidalia onions to take home.” And on they go to include sivvy beans, Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, peanuts and cucumbers.

Great stuff, unless you’re one of those sticklers who would categorize tomatoes, squash, zucchini, melons, cucumbers and all other foods with seeds as fruit.

Does that matter? Hardly. Faced with this trove of great recipes, you’ll discover flavors that could conjure images from your childhood or enlighten you about how good turnips, butter beans, collard greens with “pot likker” or fried ramps can be.

I headed for the kitchen shortly after opening the book in order to make three salads, all of which came together easily and yet offered bold, rewarding flavors that made me want to revisit them again a few days later. In the next week, we’ll be running more recipes from “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables” in addition to those below.

To read more about Dupree and Graubart’s “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking” and to find an exceptional biscuit recipe, click here.

Traditional Coleslaw

Traditional Coleslaw

Traditional Coleslaw

“The diversity in coleslaw comes from the size of the cabbage pieces,” write Dupree and Graubart. “It’s very finely machine chopped for cafeterias and schools, and we’ve all gotten to like it on top of barbecue on a bun. Halved and quartered before slicing thickly, makes it more rustic and adds a homemade feeling, sort of “grandmother loves me.” And sliced thinly is like a gourmet chef is coming in your kitchen. Using commercial mayonnaise enables making this dish several days in advance. Some people salt, rise and drain the cabbage before using, to reduce the tendency of the cabbage to release water.

“Homemade mayonnaise is discouraged in all slaw recipes because it is easily diluted as the cabbage weeps. This dilutes the acid in the mayonnaise, which acts as a preservative for the egg in the mayonnaise. In a commercial mayonnaise product, the eggs are processed and therefore still have preservative properties.”

4 pounds green or red cabbage, sliced, grated or shredded
2 Vidalia or other sweet onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise, preferably store-bought
Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
Cider vinegar

Toss the cabbage with the onions and mayonnaise; taste. Add mustard, salt and pepper as desired. Add a little cider vinegar for a zesty flavor.

–Add grated carrots.
–Add a bit of hot red pepper.–Crown with chopped salted peanuts.

Makes 10 to 15 servings.

From “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart

cucumber saladRoberta’s Tomatoes and Cucumbers

“Roberta O’Neill Salma and I worked together when we were young women, and we’ve kept our friendship alive,” Dupree writes. “She is a painter and she makes simple ingredients look like art, her food tasting as good as it looks. Her husband shops for the fruit and vegetables and is very picky. Salt brings out the liquid in the tomatoes, making a mouthwatering tomato juice. Omit the vinegar if the tomatoes are ripe and juicy.”

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1-2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil or parsley
Up to 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, if needed
2 pounds cucumbers, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or other fresh herbs, optional

Sprinkle the tomatoes well with salt and pepper, and toss with the herbs. cover and leave 1 hour or up to 2 days to extrude the juices. Taste and add vinegar if necessary.

Sprinkle the cucumbers with salt and let sit in a colander over the sink for 30 minutes. Rinse well and drain. Stir inot the tomatoes. Add chopped herbs if using, stir, and pour into a serving bowl.

Variation: Add a few thin slices of red onion.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart


celery saladCelery and Olive Salad

“Frequently used only as an accent in salads, soups and stews, celery is overlooked as a vegetable,” Dupree and Graubart write. “It can step into service nicely, particularly when the storage bin is bare.”

1-2 ribs celery,
2-3 Kalamata or French black olives
2–3 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove tough celery strings with a knife or scrape off with a peeler. Place the celery rib flat side down and slice on the diagonal as thinly as possible.

Cut the olives off the pit and in small pieces. Toss together with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, adding more oil as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve chilled.

Variation: Add 1 teaspoon grated orange rind, no white attached.

Makes 2 servings.

From “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubart

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Congratulations, Steve McHugh!

Congratulations, Steve McHugh!

It’s been a good week for Steve McHugh of Cured at Pearl.

Cured chef Steve McHugh

Cured chef Steve McHugh

The chef won Sunday’s Paella Challenge. Then on Tuesday, he was named a finalist for this year’s James Beard Foundation Award for best chef in the Southwest, an area that includes Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Utah in addition to Texas.

McHugh is up against several other Texans, including Bryce Gilmore, Barley Swine in Austin as well as Hugo Ortega of Caracol and Justin Yu of Oxheart, both in Houston. The other finalist is Alex Seidel, Fruition of Denver.

McHugh is only the third chef from San Antonio to be a finalist for the award. Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks and Andrew Weissman for his former restaurant, Le Reve, have also been nominated.

There was another Texan on the list of nominees. Grae Nonas of Olamaie in Austin was a finalist for Rising Star Chef of the Year, an award given to “a chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come.”

The other Rising Star nominees are Alex Bois, High Street on Market, Philadelphia; Angela Dimayuga, Mission Chinese Food, NYC; Matt Rudofker, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, NYC; Daniela Soto-Innes, Cosme, NYC and Jenner Tomaska, Next, Chicago.

The awards will be presented in New York on May 2. Tickets are available at

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Griffin to Go: A Tribute to the Food Lover and Novelist Pat Conroy

Griffin to Go: A Tribute to the Food Lover and Novelist Pat Conroy

Author’s note: The following column from September 2009 has become all the more meaningful, to me, at least, because of the news that Pat Conroy died recently. In the years since I wrote the piece, I did finish reading all of his works, and I also managed to get a copy of “Charleston Receipts.” I’ll be making the benne seed wafers soon in his memory.

One of my prized possessions is an autographed copy of “The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life,” a collection of food stories as well as recipes from the author of “The Prince of Tides.”

ConroyI ordered the book off the Internet from a store in Decatur, Ga., that has numerous signed copies of his work (Books Again), so there’s no backstory of standing in line to meet Conroy after a reading or bumping into him at some literary gathering.

But I did meet the author once, about 15 years ago, when he made an appearance in Sarasota, Fla. I hadn’t read anything of his at the time, and that kept me from interviewing him for the newspaper where I worked. It seems Conroy’s fame had taken him to the point where he could ask that he be interviewed only by someone who had read his work.

That may seem odd, but it really isn’t. Conroy wanted to discuss his work, not what Barbra Streisand or other Hollywood types had done with it when translating his stories into movies.Yet he agreed to come to the newspaper office, which, at the time, also housed a 24-hour TV news station.

While waiting for the interview room to be set up, Conroy wandered through the newsroom, introduced himself to a couple of us and talked about how his visit was going. He was jocular and ingratiating, a sort of bear that seemed to be enjoying life, even if it meant having to sit for yet another interview.

How nice he was made me search out his books, first “The Prince of Tides,” then “Beach Music,” “The Water Is Wide” and so on. I haven’t finished all of his output yet, but I have enjoyed each volume I’ve picked up. It could be the Southern boy in me that relates to his almost poetic prose about Charleston, S.C., a city I have longed to visit. Then, there are those grand sweeping sentences that match the sweeping emotions he conveys.

Or maybe it’s just the food. Not the famous dog food scene in “Prince of Tides,” mind you. But food pervades much of Conroy’s writing. This is a man who honestly confessed at the beginning of his cookbook: “The subject of food is nearly a sacred one to me.” And that permeates his writing. I could practically taste the pasta in the Italian scenes of “Beach Music” and the Lowcountry fare in just about all of his other novels.

The food of his home state pervades his new novel, “South of Broad,” which deals with, among other things, the integration of schools in the South. Food is one item that transcends racial barriers, and it’s no wonder food is used as a way to bring people together. Here’s a short passage in which our young hero, Leopold Bloom King, is making cookies for some new neighbors:

“I opened the copy of ‘Charleston Receipts’ that my father had bought on the day I was delivered at St. Francis Hospital, and I turned it to the benne seed wafer thins, a recipe submitted by Mrs. Gustave P. Maxwell, the former Lizetta Simons. My father and I had cooked almost every recipe in the ‘Charleston Receipts,’ a transcendent cookbook put together by the Junior League and published to universal acclaim in 1950. Father and I placed stars each time we prepared one of the recipes, and the benne wafers had earned a whole constellation. I began toasting the sesame seeds in a heavy skillet. I creamed two cups of brown sugar with a stick of unsalted butter. I added a cup of plain flour sifted with baking powder and a pinch of salt, and a freshly beaten egg that my father had purchased from a farm neat Summerville. …”

Doesn’t that just send you into the kitchen to make your own batch? Well, I don’t have a copy of “Charleston Receipts,” complete with the old-fashioned term for what we now call recipes. But I did find one on the Internet, which appears below.

I also include a recipe for Conroy’s killer crab cakes from his cookbook. As he writes in the introduction, “I think I make the best crab cakes and shrimp salad in the world, and I will take on all comers.”

That’s it for now. I’m headed back to “South of Broad.”

Crab Cakes

1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over and cleaned, with all shell fragments removed
1 egg white, lightly beaten (until foamy, not stiff)
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh chives
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt, divided use
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons peanut oil
Lemon wedges

Place the cleaned crabmeat in a medium mixing bowl. Pour the egg white over the crabmeat slowly, stopping occasionally to mix it through. When the crabmeat has absorbed the egg white and feels slightly sticky to the touch, sift the flour over crabmeat and sprinkle the chives, black pepper, cayenne pepper and 1 teaspoon salt over the top. Lift the crabmeat from the bottom of the bowl, turning it over gently, to mix the ingredients without overhandling.

Separate the crabmeat into 8 equal portions and gently roll each between the flattened palms of your hands to form loose balls. Flatten slightly and transfer to a plate. Sprinkle both sides liberally with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before cooking.

Line a baking pan with paper towels. Fry the crab cakes in two batches to ensure a crisp crust. Using a small (8-inch) heavy skillet that conducts heat well, melt half the butter and oil together until the mixture is foamy and begins to brown. Carefully place the crab cakes in the hot fat and fry until a crust forms, turning once, about 2 minutes per side. (The fat should be sizzling hot enabling a crisp crust to form before the crab absorbs the cooking fat. This is the Southern secret to perfect crab cakes.) A small pastry spatula (with a thin tongue) will make lifting and turning the delicate crab cakes a lot easier. Remove the crab cakes and drain in the prepared pan. Cover loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm while you make the second batch.

Carefully pour off the cooking fat from the first batch, wipe out the pan and return it to the heat. Prepare the second batch of crab cakes using the remaining butter and oil.

Serve hot with lemon wedges.

From “The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life”

Benne Seed Wafer Thins

1 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place the sesame seeds on an ungreased baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, watching closely, until lightly browned. In a large mixing bowl mix the brown sugar, melted butter or margarine, egg, vanilla, flour, salt, baking powder and toasted sesame seeds together until blended. Drop dough by half-teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between cookies. Bake benne wafers for 4 to 6 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cookies cool for about 2 minutes on baking sheets; remove from baking sheets to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cooled sesame seed cookies in an airtight container.

Makes about 72 cookies.


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Peruvian-Asian Flavors Coming to Botika at the Pearl

Peruvian-Asian Flavors Coming to Botika at the Pearl

Chef Geronimo Lopez and Pearl have announced the opening of Botika, a new Peruvian-Asian restaurant. Featuring Chifa and Nikkei cuisine as well as inventive takes on classic dishes from Asia and Latin America, the restaurant will open this summer 2016 at the Pearl.

Geronimo Lopez

Geronimo Lopez

 “I am thrilled to open this new culinary gateway at the Pearl,” said Lopez. “Chifa and Nikkei were born during the waves of Chinese and Japanese immigration to Peru in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The new arrivals improvised, combining Asian recipes with local ingredients and spices, creating entirely new and exciting flavor profiles I think San Antonio will love.”

 “We are excited for Chef Lopez to introduce this new, imaginative concept to Pearl and to San Antonio,” said Shelley Grieshaber, culinary director at Pearl. “This global cuisine will be an experience that the city has yet to try, and we are delighted that Botika will call Pearl home.”

 The restaurant will feature an open kitchen and a sushi-ceviche bar with counter seating, plus an inviting cocktail lounge area with vibrant ambience and a wide variety of rums, piscos, and cachaças. Late-night dining service will also be available.

Lopez was most recently the executive chef and instructor at The Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, where he led the opening of the school’s NAO restaurant (now Nao Latin Gastro Bar).  Including his home country of Venezuela, Geronimo has led the kitchen at top restaurants and resorts in six countries over the past 20 years.  For more information on Botika, please visit


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