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An Oasis of Calm and Great Flavors at NIOSA

An Oasis of Calm and Great Flavors at NIOSA

It’s Shrimp Parilla time at NIOSA. What are you waiting for?

Once the parked traffic on North St. Mary’s decided to move Tuesday afternoon, I was finally able to find a place to park and then rush several blocks to the Villa Espana area at A Night in Old San Antonio. I was late for my shift at the Shrimp Parilla booth, but chairman Mark Swanson didn’t seem to mind.

Booth chairman Mark Swanson displays his Shrimp Parilla.

His first crew had already begun assembling the shrimp skewers that would be grilled after NIOSA opened while he finished putting up the decorations, which included a pair of stuffed shrimp, strings of lights and more to brighten even more the already colorful booth.

I quickly fell into the habit of skewering alternate layers of marinated shrimp, green bell pepper and onions while chatting away with the rest of the team, which included several volunteers who work with Swanson beyond their volunteer time on behalf of the San Antonio Conservation Society. 

In midst of the convivial chaos that is NIOSA, the Shrimp Parilla booth proved to be an oasis of calm. Taking their cue from the laid-back Swanson, the team did their jobs with a sense of dedication but without rushing. While Swanson’s son, Wesley, chopped peppers and onions, we put enough skewers together to last longer than our two-hour shift. Swanson, who has worked the booth for about 12 years and has been chairman for the past two, paid attention to the grill and the heat level of the coals underneath. Others sold the skewers once they were ready, and two marched out front with signs designed to lure in the hungry masses.

For the past 18 years, I’ve worked at a different food booth each NIOSA. I started with Maria’s Tortillas and have gone through the booths that produce fried mushrooms, Yak-i-tori skewers, Cowboy Klopse, shypoke eggs, bean tacos, Bongo-K-Bobs, escargots, fried green tomatoes, anticuchos and more. I can honestly say that I haven’t worked a booth as straightforward and stress-free as this one. After the hassle of the traffic and the pace of the workday, it was a welcome relief. 

And the Shrimp Parilla tasted great, too.

“We really do not have a secret recipe,” Swanson insists. 

A customer gets his Shrimp Parilla.

Perhaps that’s why Shrimp Parilla would be an easy treat to recreate at home.

All you have to do is marinate jumbo shrimp as well as the chunks of peppers and onion in Italian salad dressing. Then thread the pieces onto moist kebab sticks, starting with a pepper or an onion, the alternate each with a shrimp in between. Place the kebabs on the grill over high heat and grill them until the shrimp turn from translucent to white and the tails begin to look crisp, Swanson says. The grilling takes no more than 15 minutes and includes turning the skewers once. If you pay attention, you should know just what to look for after your first batch. 

When you remove the skewers from the grill, top them with your favorite spicy seasoning before serving. The booth uses what Swanson calls “lemon pepper and redfish seasoning.” (Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme marketed his own Blackened Redfish Magic, but here’s a recipe if you want to make your own. Or you can tone down the heat if it’s not to your liking.) The end result is both fresh and refreshing, something I can see myself serving at home in the future.

It’s time to make the shrimp skewers.

 

“Even though there’s nothing really special done to them,” Swanson says, “they sure taste really good.”

If you’re looking for a snack at NIOSA that won’t leave you feeling heavy, give Shrimp Parilla at NIOSA a try. You’ll likely take this flavor of NIOSA home with you, too.

A Night in Old San Antonio, which benefits the San Antonio Conservation Society, continues through Friday. For more information, click here.

Mark Swanson finishes decorating the Shrimp Parilla booth at NIOSA.

Other scenes from the opening of NIOSA include images of San Antonio partygoers enjoying the great weather and some time spent with friends.

What’s NIOSA without some wonderful hats?

Churros fresh out of the fryer.

Lines for the fried mushrooms are always long.

Great weather and great crowds at NIOSA.

 

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Texas Treasures: Green Pea and Apple Salad

Texas Treasures: Green Pea and Apple Salad

Some food lovers go for Saveur or Bon Appetit, leafing through issue after issue in search of new recipes. I have a habit of scouring Texas cookbooks from all corners of the state. That’s how I came across this spring-time salad recipe, which features green peas, apple and mint.

The recipe was in the 1980 collection, “Waco Cotton Palace Cookbook: A Legacy of Gracious Dining,” which marked the 10th anniversary of the Waco Cotton Palace Pageant. The title of the book wasn’t promising. Who cares about a cotton pageant court? You might not, until you notice that there, opposite a picture of the Royal Court of 1976, is a recipe for Great-Grandmother’s Orange Pie with sherry in it. Or Dwight’s Picnic Chicken coated in Dijon mustard on the same page as Chicken Breasts Supreme with a topping of chipped beef and bacon.

In this fairly unassuming book are Texas recipes well worth exploring.

In the case of the Green Pea and Apple Salad, the appeal was first in the layering of favorite flavors, followed by the ease with which it all came together. The longest thing that took in making of this salad is chopping the apple. 

The only problem I had is that horseradish today isn’t like the horseradish of 37 years ago, when the cookbook was printed. The jar I bought simply had no zip to it. So, even though I more than doubled the amount, the salad lacked a slightly spiky quality that I think would have helped. In that case, the salt really helped. So, taste and adjust as necessary.

This salad was great with lamb. I’m sure it would be just as versatile with everything from picnics to potlucks.

Green Pea and Apple Salad

4 cups frozen peas
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon horseradish
1 teaspoon chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions (include some of the tops)
1 tart apple, unpeeled and finely chopped
Salt, to taste

You can add the apple to the dressing to keep the color fresh before stirring in the peas.

Thaw peas. Do not cook. Mix sour cream, horseradish, mint and onions. Add peas and apples and season with salt. Chill.

If fresh mint is not available, a few drops of spearmint or peppermint flavoring may be added, but add sparingly and taste — it doesn’t take much.

Makes 8 servings.

From Mrs. Edgar Jablonowski (Beth)/”Waco Cotton Palace Cookbook: A Legacy of Gracious Dining”

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What Do You Do with Mamey Sapote?

What Do You Do with Mamey Sapote?

Mamey sapote in the market.

I was walking through the produce section of my neighborhood H-E-B the other day when I first spotted them. They looked like overgrown sweet potatoes crossed with a football, but they weren’t with the tubers. They were in the exotic fruit section, next to layers of dragon fruit, guavas and fingerling bananas.

Mamey cut in half

The sign indicated that they were mamey sapotes and the price was close to $4 a pound.

Pricey to be sure, but I can’t resist something new — or at least new to me. So, I Googled the fruit on my phone and found out that I wanted one that was soft without it being bruised. I took one of the smaller ones, which still rang up at about $12.

Despite the size, the mamey can be cut in half lengthwise, like an avocado. There is a long black pit at the center, also like an avocado. You don’t eat the peeling, but you do eat the soft flesh inside. But there the similarities between the two fruits end.

Mamey tastes earthier, more like an dryer papaya. That could be a polite way of saying it is boring or too subtle to be truly enjoyable by itself. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the thick texture and the almost dehydrating pucker that it brought to my mouth. 

A mamey milkshake with ice cream and milk

But you don’t have to eat mamey by itself. Many of the recipes I found online referred to mamey milkshakes, so I hauled out the Vitamix and filled it with a bit of fruit, milk and vanilla ice cream as well as an extra splash of vanilla. You’ll want a strong blender, because the fruit is dense and absorbs a lot of extra liquid, so you’ll need a strong motor as you add more and more milk to dilute it to get the texture you want. The result was comforting without being especially exciting — which I find strange when you consider that it had ice cream in it. What isn’t made more wonderful by the addition of ice cream? 

I read up on the fruit. It grows in Mexico and Central America as well as Australia on trees that can gain up to 148 feet in height. That is, at least, if you believe the Wikipedia entry on pouteria sapote.

Just add rum

So, it likes tropical climes. It might like complementary tropical flavors, like coconut milk. So I started over and created a non-dairy milkshake with a can of coconut milk and a little water. I also added cinnamon this time, which brought out a really comforting, pumpkin pie like flavor. That was what the first milkshake needed, not more vanilla.

And then I got an even better idea.

Out came the spiced rum and suddenly everything fell into place. That was the real lift the mamey milkshake needed.

Or maybe it was just the lift I needed.

By the way, I thought about planting that pit, but I doubt I will. I don’t think the neighbors would appreciate a tree approximating Jack’s beanstalk shooting up out of my backyard. 

So what do you do with mamey sapote?

 

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Get a Preview of Springtime Riches with a Rhubarb Cherry Pie

Get a Preview of Springtime Riches with a Rhubarb Cherry Pie

Rhubarb Cherry Pie right out of the oven

I’ve been hankering for some “pieplant pie” ever since I came across the term while reading Della T. Lutes’ 1935 food memoir, “The Country Kitchen.”

“Pieplant” is apparently a late 19th century term for rhubarb, which is one of the first things to grow up north in the spring.

“Slender, almost translucent pipes of rose color blanching to snowy white where stem meets the parent root; mere rods of tart juiciness held upright by a deeper fibrous body that melts to pulp at the mere hint of heat,” Lutes writes.

I remember that sight oh so well when I lived in upstate New York, where rhubarb would grow for more than six months each year. And that flavor could hardly be bettered, especially when baked in a pie.

Our rhubarb in San Antonio isn’t always fresh, especially this time of year. But you can find it in the freezer section. I went to pick up some and was surprised to find tart cherries next to it. I grabbed a bag of each and set out to make my own version of pieplant pie, which I hope you enjoy.

Rhubarb Cherry Pie

Rhubarb Cherry Pie filling

2 pie crusts, unbaked, separate use

1 (16-ounce) package frozen rhubarb, thawed
1 (12-ounce) package tart cherries, thawed
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces

1 egg white
Sugar

Roll out one of the pie crusts and line a 9-inch pie pan. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine rhubarb, cherries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Stir until sugar and starch are thoroughly incorporated. Let sit at least 5 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Make a lattice crust.

When rhubarb-cherry mixture is ready, pour into pie pan. Sprinkle the butter pieces over the top.

Roll out the second pie crust and cut into strips about 1/2-inch. You can use a knife, if you don’t have a pastry stamp cutter wheel. Create a lattice over the top.

Mix an egg white with a splash of warm water. Brush over the lattice crust. Sprinkle with a light amount of sugar.

Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes or until crust is a deep golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

Makes 1 pie.

Adapted from Michael Symon

 

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It’s Time to Go Cajun for a Good Cause, Ma Cher

It’s Time to Go Cajun for a Good Cause, Ma Cher

ARTS San Antonio is having its annual spring gala at 6:30 p.m. March 2. The Cajun-themed dinner, “Deep in the Arts of Texas,” will feature a multi-course dinner at Boudro’s Texas Bistro, 209 N. Presa St., along with special guest, two-time Grammy-award winning BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet.

The event is a major fundraising benefit for ARTS San Antonio’s education initiative ARtsTEach.

Chef Robbie Nowlin is preparing feast that will include stations offering Cajun Fried Turkey with a Rosemary Biscuit, Jambalaya with Roasted Chicken and Adouille Sausage, Crawfish Effouffee, Fried Catfish, Blackened Drum Pontchartrain, Shrimp and Stone Ground Grits, Fried Oyster Po-Boys, Roasted Quail and Baked Oysters Rockefeller, among other dishes. 

BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet is regarded as “the best Cajun band in world”, according to Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion. It takes the rich Cajun traditions of Louisiana and artfully blends elements of zydeco, New Orleans jazz, Tex-Mex, country, blues into satisfying music. BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet was featured on “Austin City Limits,” HBO’s “Treme” and on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion.” In 2005, BeauSoleil founder Doucet was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Each year, the ARTS San Antonio Board of Directors honors a person or group with its Lifetime Service to Community Cultural Enrichment Award. This year, it is going to Capital Group. The award recognizes and honors significant leadership, support and impact in improving the quality of cultural life and the performing arts in the community.

“ARTS San Antonio is thrilled to recognize Capital Group for its support. Capital Group has been a consistent and generous supporter of the arts and arts education in our community for many years,” said John Toohey, president and executive director of ARTS San Antonio. “A number of Capital Group associates have served in active volunteer leadership roles in nonprofit community service and arts organizations.”

“We are truly honored to be the 2017 award recipient,” said Erika Ivanyi, senior vice president, Capital Group and general manager of the San Antonio Service Center. “We value art, art education and everything it represents in the community. Art must live on in all forms. Serving others in this way means there’s a future in art,” said Ivanyi.

Tickets and sponsorships for the gala can be purchased online at www.artssa.org or by calling (210) 226-2891. Seating is limited.

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There’s No Denying It: We Love Our Margaritas

There’s No Denying It: We Love Our Margaritas

The rest of the county is like San Antonio in one way: Americans, no matter where they’re from, want a margarita when they go out to dinner.

The Boiler House Margarita

That’s accord to Restaurant Hospitality, which reports that, in the past three months, tequila was the most popular drink base for folks when eating out.

That’s why so many people are looking forward to Feb. 22, National Margarita Day. According to pollsters at National Today, here are a few facts about about this tangy cocktail and people’s preferences. According to a survey of 1,000 Americans, conducted Jan. 29,

–1 in 50 Americans own a margarita machine. That’s right: 2 percent of Americans own an electric margarita maker.

–19 percent of Americans say they love margaritas, while only 10 percent are not fans of the citrus-y cocktail.

–Margaritas are more popular with women than men: 20 percent of women say they love margaritas, compared to 15 percent of men who say the same.

–11 percent of Americans like to lick the salt off their margarita glass. Women (12 percent) are slightly bigger fans of licking the salt than men (11 percent). While 8 percent of Americans prefer margaritas on the rocks, 14 percent favor frozen margaritas.

Here are a few variations on the cocktail to show you how versatile the drink can be.

Ostra’s Alta Belleza Margarita

Ostra’s Alta Belleza Margarita

This margarita at Ostra in the Mokara Hotel & Spa is made with the rare Casa Noble Alta Belleza Extra Anejo. It’s so rare that only 10 bottles made it to Texas at a retail price of $2,900 a bottle, and only 19 of these margaritas will be sold at Ostra and its sister restaurant, Las Canarias.

Each is served in a hand-blown glass made by San Antonio’s Garcia Art Glass.

No price was given on the drink. I guess if you have to ask …

1 1/2 ounces Casa Noble Alta Belleza Extra Anejo
1 ounce Grand Mariner 150
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce agave nectar
1/4 ounce vanilla sorghum

Mix the ingredients with ice in a shaker.

Pour into a margarita glass rimmed with salt if desired.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From Ostra and Casa Noble Belleza Extra Anejo

Dirty Mextini

Dirty Mextini

3 ounces anejo tequila
1/2 ounce olive brine
1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
1 1/2 ounces Cointreau
Splash of orange juice
TwangARita Gold Salt or salt, for rimming glass

Add ice to cocktail shaker.

Add in tequila, olive brine, lime juice, and Cointreau. Shake vigorously for several seconds.

Moisten rim of glass with lime wedge. Turn glass rim a few times in TwangARita Gold Salt.

Strain martini into rimmed glass.

Top with a splash of orange juice. Garnish with olives, lime or orange slice.

Makes 12 cocktail.

From Twang

Burro Borracho

Burro Borracho

TwangARita Paloma Salt, optional
1 ounce grapefruit juice
1 ounce orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier or Triple Sec)
2 ounces tequila
2 ounces ginger beer

Rim a copper cocktail cup with TwangARita Paloma Salt, if desired.

In a shaker filled with ice, add lime juice, grapefruit juice, orange liqueur and tequila. Shake. Pour into cup. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Makes 1 cocktail.

Adapted from Twang

 

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Harken Back to an Old School Chardonnay

Harken Back to an Old School Chardonnay

Remember those buttery, over-oaked California chardonnays that were so woody you felt at risk of getting splinters with each sip?

It started the ABC — anything but chardonnay — movement, which drove American chardonnay makers to using stainless steel barrels instead of oak. The resulting wines may have been crisp, with no hint of oak or malolactic fermentation, but what were they really? Too many weren’t rich like chardonnays of old, they weren’t as clean on the palate as sauvignon blanc, and they weren’t very attractive in their indecisiveness. They also weren’t Chablis, either, but that’s another matter.

For every reaction, there’s a counter-reaction, right? Remember all those bad pinot noirs that appeared in the wake of “Sideways” and the forced improvement in some merlots?

Well, the folks at Harken Wines in Parlier, California, certainly remember why people loved barrel-fermented chardonnay, and they’re leading the drive for its resurgence. Their 2015 Harken Chardonnay is purely old school, rich with flavors of buttered toast and ripe pear leading to even more butter on the finish. And it’s priced at an attractive $11 to $13 a bottle.

Harken succeeds because it manages to do what the mass producers of chardonnay forgot. There’s enough balance in the wine, so the oak and malolactic flavors work well with an enjoyable acidity, making for a wine that you can drink by itself or pair with food. It’s a great partner for something as fancy as crab cakes with avocado or as casual as hot buttered popcorn.

So, if you missed an old-fashioned California chardonnay, given Harken a try and welcome a taste of the past brought into the present.

 

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Feasting on Chinese New Year in Austin

Feasting on Chinese New Year in Austin

MT Supermarket

If you’ve ever shopped Buford Highway in Atlanta, you’ve likely wandered wide-eyed through one or two of the mammoth Asian markets that sell every imaginable food stuff from the Far East, from fresh bitter melon in the produce market to your choice of canned squid bites and shrimp-flavored potato chips.

The choices are vast.

Although I enjoy San Antonio’s growing host of ethnic markets, I missed the scale of those storehouses and the sight of an entire aisle devoted to more varieties of ramen noodles than I would ever know what to do with. But I did find one in Austin, MT Supermarket, which is located in the Chinatown Center, 10901 N. Lamar Blvd. 

The market bills itself as the largest Asian market in central Texas, and it’s certainly the largest I’ve come across. When we entered it recently, we were greeted with a massive Happy New Year banner, welcoming the Year of the Rooster, as well as an array of treats to help your celebration. 

On the right end of the store is a massive produce section, rich with the latest offerings of the harvest, including daikon radishes, Japanese eggplant, gargantuan jackfruit, chestnuts, various styles of cabbage, bundles of herbs and items you may not even know how to use. 

At the back is a fresh seafood area with tanks filled with tilapia and catfish while the display cases were packed with numerous fishes on ice. An online poster complained of a “funky” smell to the place, but I would counter that by saying the seafood area had the fresh, briny aroma of a bustling seafood market. People not used to where their food comes from may not recognize that, which only makes me hope they never encounter a market that truly smells funky. 

The meat market is similarly massive, as is the frozen food section with everything from whole crabs and mussels to an oddity called vegetarian ham. But we didn’t have a cooler with us, so we kept our attention to the aisles filled with Indonesian, Korean and Japanese favorites in addition to Chinese staples. 

Vegetarian ham, anyone?

It was interesting to discover that food trends we’re used to have gone beyond our borders, such as gluten-free panko-style crumbs. And there were a few American foods that made it to an end cap, because, let’s face it, Heinz ketchup and mustard, not to mention Carnation canned milk, are consumed internationally.

Check MT Supermarket out for yourself the next time you’re in Austin. Carve out some time for the rest of the Chinatown Center as well, and a make a pig of yourself. At the First Chinese BBQ, you can get a pig’s head for $10 or you can find pig’s head cakes at the nearby Texas Bakery.

MT Supermarket, 10901 N. Lamar Blvd., (512) 454-4804. mtsupermarket.com

Step aside, Kitty. Say, “Hello Panda.”

Even Asian goods are becoming gluten free.

Or you can have your gluten fried and fixed with peanuts.

While you’re in the plaza, stop by the Texas Bakery for pig’s head cakes.

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Leave the Potato Out of the Potato Salad

Leave the Potato Out of the Potato Salad

Let’s face it, diabetics love potatoes like everybody else, but potatoes love our blood sugar levels way too much for our good. Mashed cauliflower has proven effective as a low-carbohydrate substitute for mashed potatoes, but would the same substitute work in potato salad?

The answer is a solid yes.

This No Potato Salad recipe mixes the best of cold potato salad — celery, onion, hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise and mustard — but uses steamed cauliflower instead of boiled potatoes. The idea came from Elena Amsterdam’s Paleo-friendly website, Elena’s Pantry, with a few adjustments for my tastes. You can adapt the recipe how you’d like, using dill pickles or leaving out the parsley. Just watch the added sugar, which is why I use Duke’s mayonnaise.

I took this to an office potluck, and it was a winner. The co-worker sitting next to me didn’t even notice that there were no potatoes in the mix. You can’t ask for a better compliment than that.

No Potato Salad

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/4 cup minced onion
1 generous tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more more garnish
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped, divided use
1/8 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons yellow or Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

You can make most of this salad ahead of time.

Steam the cauliflower florets for 7 minutes or until just tender. Shock in ice water and let dry.

Mix the cauliflower, celery, onion, 1 chopped egg and parsley. If making this salad in advance, cover this mixture and refrigerate until ready.

You can also make the dressing advance. Just refrigerate it until about 20 minutes before serving.

For the dressing, mix together the remaining 2 eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, salt and black pepper until everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Spoon half over the salad. Taste. Add the rest as needed and adjust seasonings. Garnish with more chopped parsley. 

Adapted from Elena Amsterdam/Elena’s Pantry

 

 

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Who Can Resist Some Liquid High-Jinx?

Who Can Resist Some Liquid High-Jinx?

If you’re throwing a cocktail party, don’t forget the High-Jinx.

High-Jinx

That’s the special cocktail created for this year’s San Antonio Cocktail Conference, which continues through Sunday.

In a sea of cocktails, why does this potent potable stand out? Imagine the smooth, silky nature of Monkey Shoulder Scotch mixed with the brightness of Solerno blood orange liqueur, lemon juice and grenadine balanced with sweet orgeat before being finished off with a fresh slice of orange. 

The cocktail is a bright pinkish orange that glows when served on the rocks.

You can make the High-Jinx as a punch to serve your party. Just remember to vary the proportion of the ingredients you use. A little orgeat goes a long way, and you may want to hold off on the club soda until you ladle up each serving.

High-Jinx

1 1/2 ounces Monkey Shoulder Scotch Whisky
1/2 ounce Solerno
3/4 ounce lemon juice
3/4 ounce pomegranate grenadine
3/4 ounce orgeat
Club soda

Stir together and pour over ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with orange.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From the San Antonio Cocktail Conference

You can make High-Jinx as a punch.

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