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Cocktails and Cookies, Oh My!

Cocktails and Cookies, Oh My!

Viva Villa Taqueria serves up chicken mole.

The San Antonio Cocktail Conference’s Wednesday opener took advantage of the perfect weather by hosting a party outdoors in La Villita’s Plaza Juarez.

Heather Nanez of Peggy’s on the Green serves up foie gras s’mores at Women Shaking It Up.

But the evening was special for more reasons than a warmer-than-usual January night. It was a chance to be among the first to sample the Girl Scouts new S’mores cookie, a sandwich cookie filled with chocolate and marshmallow cream.

The Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas were the beneficiaries of the event, the annual Women Shake It Up, an event that toasts women chefs, women bartenders and women throughout the food industry.

A variety of sweet and tangy cocktails air paired with Girl Scout cookies.

So, in addition to being able to place orders for Samoas or Thin Mints, the guests were able to sample the cookies alongside snacks and cocktails that had been paired with each beloved cookie. They were also given Girl Scout-style green sashes that they could wear and collect badges from each food or cocktail station, a touch that appealed to more than one inner child at the event.

Among the treats of the evening were lamb snacks from Lisa Vatel’s Bite and two delicious variations on chicken with a spicy mole from Los Barrios and Viva Villa Taquieria. Heather Nanez from Peggy’s on the Green in Boerne offered foie gras s’mores while Brooke Smith of the Esquire Tavern dished up a tangy Sopa de Limon. And if the cookies weren’t enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, Two Bros. BBQ Market fed your cravings with their creamy banana pudding.

Look for the new Girl Scouts S’mores cookie.

In the meantime, the cocktails offered a variety of flavors, from the spiky Little Devil (Reyka Vodka with lemon juice, maple syrup and Ancho Reyes with sparkling water) to the smooth as silk, horchata-like Mantecado (1921 Reposado Tequila and 1921 Creme Tequila mixed with syrup, vanilla and cinnamon.) The Vivrant Thing had layers of flavor provided by El Dorado Rum, Chareau Liqueur, Fernet Branca, Cream, simple syrup, sparkling water and Clement Mahina (a type of coconut rum — and yes, I had to look it up).

Margarita fans had a choice of two variations. The Arandas Crusta was a sweeter confection that mixed Altos Anejo Tequila and Cognac with lime juice, maraschino syrup, dry curacao and City Acres Pecan Bitters. The refreshing Troop Counselor Nasty blended Corralejo Silver Tequila and lime juice with pineapple syrup over ice with a spritz of Sorghetti Sambuca. 

The San Antonio Cocktail Conference continues through Sunday. For more, click here.

Patrons enjoy the opener of the 2017b San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

Mole de Pollo from Los Barrios works surprisingly well with Girl Scouts Samoas.

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A Slice of Pie from the Past

A Slice of Pie from the Past

Last month, I was reading through the 1945 “Fireside Book of Christmas Stories” and came across a reference to a “Grandma Nadeli’s famed onion custard” pie in Jake Falstaff’s nostalgic “Merry Christmas.”

Onion Custard Pie

What exactly is that, I wondered.

The internet, of course, offered the answer. It was once an American winter favorite that predated the introduction of quiche to our culinary vocabulary. Softened onions were loaded into a prebaked pie crust and then topped with a delicious mixture of eggs, cheese and cream.

I wasn’t able to try the recipe until this week, but the end result was a rich treat, substantial enough to be a main dish, if you’re looking for a meatless alternative, one that’s perfect with a garden salad on the side. Or it could be a warming side dish with almost everything, including steak, chicken, fish and pork chops.    

I did have one problem with this recipe, which I found on Serious Eats, and it was a good reminder that recipes are guidelines, not written in stone. The original called for 4 onions without mentioning size. I somehow knew that those gargantuan yellow onions in the supermarket were too big, so I only softened three. Even that was way too much. So was the egg filling, which I made with Swiss cheese instead of Gruyere. I had enough of both left over from a deep dish pie to make a second pie.

A slice of crustless Onion Custard Pie

I did make one modification for the second pie. I omitted the pie crust and baked the remainder in a 7-by-11-inch casserole dish for a lower-carbohydrate alternative. It worked perfectly.   

What the internet did not have was a wealth of information on the author, Jake Falstaff. It seems that Falstaff was the pen name of Herman Fetzer, a Cleveland newspaperman who died in 1935. Yet the story, “Merry Christmas,” wasn’t published until 1941 as part of “The Big Snow: Christmas at Jacoby’s Corner.”

Fetzer, or Falstaff, if you will, never knew what that mere mention of Grandma Nadeli’s famed onion custard pie would result in 75 years later.

Onion Custard Pie

10 ounces pie dough or 1 pie sheet
4 tablespoons butter
4 medium onions, peeled and sliced thin
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups half-and-half or heavy cream
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Roll the chilled pie dough into a 12-inch round. Line a 9-inch pie pan with the dough, folding the edges in to make double-thick sides. Press the sides in well and prick the bottom all over with a fork. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Crustless Onion Custard Pie

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To keep the dough from shrinking while it bakes, line the shell with a piece of foil or parchment paper, then fill the tart with a layer of dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edge. Take the tart out of the oven; remove the foil and the weights. Return to the oven and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the pastry is an even light golden brown.

In a heavy bottomed skillet, melt the butter over a medium flame. Then add the onions and cook until soft and golden, 20 to 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Taste to make sure the onions are already delicious by themselves. Cool.

Mix together the remaining ingredients. When the onions are cool, spread them in the baked tart shell, pour in the custard mixture, and bake at 375 for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is puffed and golden brown. Let the pie sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so to firm up before you cut into it.

Makes 1 or 2 pies.

Adapted from


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Hospitality Adds the Right Seasoning

Hospitality Adds the Right Seasoning

Raise a toast to hospitality.

In looking back over the past year, I have found myself reliving more than a few outrageous food memories, which run the gamut from shucking oysters at a gin tasting party to standing in line with the guys from Naughty by Nature to get pulled pork sliders at Rachael Ray’s annual SXSW house party. If there’s a common thread running through all, it is that each involved sharing time with friends old and new.

The most spectacular event of all was one that I wasn’t originally supposed to be at.

Moutsounas Cafe in Zenia

I had been staying on Crete with my friend, Carol, at a resort high above the northern coastal town of Chersonissos. Every day we would hit the road, driving across the island, watching the landscape change every few moments as we passed olive orchards on one side of the road and vineyards on another with mountains stretching straight up from beaches. Windmills in the Lasithi Plateau made way for rockier climes echoing with the sound of goat bells. Oranges, apples, persimmons and walnuts all seemed to grow within reach of each other while wild herbs were easily scavenged if not trampled under foot.

Whenever we started to hanker for something to eat, we were suddenly on the lookout for an open taverna or cafe. We weren’t always in luck, as we were visiting in early November, which is after the tourist season has come to an end and many places were closed. But we knew this would be our largest meal of the day, and wherever we landed, we enjoyed sampling as much as we thought we could eat, which sometimes amounted to six or seven dishes.

Manolis Farsaris (front) and a friend tend to the annual raki making.

Early in our trip, we passed through the tiny village of Zenia, and we made a beeline for the Moutsounas Cafe, a massive tourist shop, restaurant and museum that was shaded with an arbor of grapevines extending the length of the building. We parked on the other side of the highway, in an area festooned with a lively assortment of signs and tableaux designed to catch your eye and invite you in. A small patio looked out over a dramatic gorge that swept between mountains on the way to the sea at the southern side of the island.  

Before we sat down, we met Manolis Farsaris, the owner and jack of all trades around the place, which seemed to become more baroque and diverse every moment. Every way you looked, there was something new to catch your eye. It could be a shelf of icons with a Pieta of Mary cradling the post-crucified body of Jesus, a naked Hercules or the mother goddess of Crete all occupying the same shelf. In the largest space, you could find olive wood dishes next to barrels of homemade wine and raki, the local firewater. 

At one of the few indoor tables, Carol and I found ourselves feasting on warm dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with rice, and tzaziki sauce, yogurt and cucumber with plenty of garlic, when Manolis returned to our table with a surprise, a dish of the eggplant and potato stew that his mother had brought to him for his lunch that day.

Making sure the barrels are clean

He didn’t seem to have time to eat with his family as a few other customers appeared on the scene, but he did take the time to explain one of the more intriguing signs in the room, which was taped to a barrel: “Raki with honey no doctor.” It seems that his grandfather lived to the ripe old age of 107 without having to see a doctor because, according to family legend, he drank his homemade raki mixed with honey every day of his life. (That honey, by the way, came from bees living in boxes on the mountainside above the cafe.)

It’s a tradition on Crete to make guests feel at home by offering them a little something, like Manolis did with his mother’s stew. But he didn’t stop there. He also brought out the shot glasses and poured us a taste of his raki, which I discovered had nothing to do with the Turkish liqueur of the same name. The Turks make something that is akin to ouzo and is marked by its strong licorice flavor, while Cretan raki is more like vodka in that the clear liquid is flavorless but has a potent effect.

How does he make his own raki? When does he do this? How much of his honey does he use?

Rather than provide us with answers directly, Manolis simply invited us to join him the following week when he made his annual supply. He didn’t know the date, but he said we could always contact him to find out. So phone numbers were exchanged and a new friend was made on Facebook. We were all set. 

Coals go from the still to the grill.

Word came in the following week that the raki making was going to be held on Saturday at a house nearby. That was the day I was supposed to fly back home, leaving Carol and her friend, Clairy, visiting from Athens, with the chance to go to the party by themselves. Then my flight home got canceled. After days of wrangling with airlines and ticket companies that didn’t care where I was or when I was flying out — at least until I shelled out a few hundred more dollars — I finally got things worked out so I wouldn’t leave until Sunday. And that meant I could attend the raki making, too!

We returned to Zenia early Saturday afternoon and were directed to a house that sloped up the side of a mountain. We scaled the steep driveway to a patio entrance on the side that let us know we were in the right place, thanks to the sight of an enormous double-columned copper still with a raging fire underneath the larger unit. The still was so close to the steps that you had to watch your step climbing onto the patio.

The grill is perfect for lamb and potatoes.

But there was Manolis with a host of friends and family tending to the fire as the alcohol from the mash was apparently siphoned from the main chamber through an overhead coil into the neighboring column still, out of which came the raki. The precious liquid was filtered through a mass of cotton before ending in a pot below. Firewater, indeed.

The mash had been made using potatoes as well as the leftovers from the previous weeks’ wine-making efforts. Skins, seeds and stems hadn’t been wasted; they all made their way into the mash for the elixir. Who knows if they had another use for them after the raki making? They didn’t merely discard the used mash. It was tossed the back of a truck, possibly for use as compost. Nothing on the island went to waste.

Who can resist lamb, potatoes, olives and raki?

Whenever the fire burned down a little, one of Manolis’ friends would take a shovel and move the burning coals to one of several nearby grills where food was being prepared for all to enjoy while the hours passed. Marinated lamb, thin slabs of potatoes and thick cuts of bread all made it to the grill, where Manolis and his sister tended the food. When the potatoes were done, they were drizzled with the family’s own olive oil and lemon juice before being finished off with a sprinkling of salt. Other potatoes were buried whole in the coals to roast until they were finished.

Manolis’ father savors the lamb. (Photo courtesy Carol Yeager)

A plate of olives, picked from a nearby tree no doubt before brining, appeared. So did a basket of apples from the year’s harvest, which our host peeled and cut up into pieces that he handed out. Everyone was soon handed a shot glass so that we could toast this year’s raki with some of last year’s. Our glasses were refilled several more times, and I was glad I wasn’t driving.

Not much English was spoken, except by Manolis and a friend who had once lived in London. Clairy translated a few questions that we had, but even that wasn’t always necessary. The hospitality transcended language, so did the raki.

At last it came time to head back to reality and let these people continue their work, which would likely last into the night. We thanked them  for their hospitality, which had helped make the day perfect for three visiting food lovers. 

I had taken more than 150 photos over the two hours or so that we were there, images that captured the scope of the enterprise, the serious nature of their work and the joy they derived from it. I also brought back a bottle of that handmade raki, which I plan to share with friends in the same spirit that Manolis and his family showered on us during our visit.

The outdoor operation

The still in operation

The raki is filtered after leaving the still.

Carol takes a picture of our new friends, including Manolis, his daughter, his sister and his brother-in-law, plus Clairy on the right.




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Give Your Holiday Brunch a Sweet Touch

Give Your Holiday Brunch a Sweet Touch

Chocolate Candy Cane Doughnut Bread Pudding

What did we do before Mint Twists came on the market? We tried crushing our own candy canes or peppermints, of course. And if you’re like me, you always made a mess of things. But now that you can find bags of the already-crushed candies in the aisle near the chocolate chips, you can make you’re own treats — and not just at Christmas.

This dish came about when life handed me more doughnuts than I could eat. At a recent office meeting, very few people touched the two dozen Krispy Kremes that someone had brought. Leftovers included a healthy mix of regular glazed and chocolate-glazed, which had me thinking about bread pudding.

But what would make it more holiday friendly? Chocolate and peppermint, of course. I’m obsessed with dark chocolate-coated peppermint bark, so it only seemed right to add it to the mix, especially when some of the doughnuts already had a little chocolate on them.

Enjoy this at your next holiday brunch with hot chocolate, egg nog or even an Irish coffee on the side.


Chocolate Candy Cane Doughnut Bread Pudding

Let the stale doughnuts soak for at least 10 minutes before baking.

10 to 12 stale doughnuts, with regular glaze or chocolate glaze

3 large eggs

3/4 cup whole milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup chocolate chips, preferably dark chocolate

1/4 cup crushed candy canes or Mint Twists, or to taste

Hard Sauce (optional)

Cut or tear the doughnuts in small pieces. I use a pair of kitchen scissors. Spread out in a 9-by-13-inch dish. Set aside.

In a bowl, beat the eggs slightly. Add milk, heavy cream, vanilla and salt, stirring until thoroughly mixed. Pour over the doughnut pieces. Let sit for at least 10 minutes.

While the doughnut slices are soaking, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the doughnut slices and stir once or twice to make sure all everything is moist.

Shortly before you put the dish into the oven, sprinkle the crushed candy canes over the top to taste.

Bake for 30 minutes. Check to see if everything has a come together. You may need to bake up to five minutes more. If you do, turn the oven off and let it sit in there.

Serve warm. Top with Hard Sauce, if desired.

Makes 12-16 servings.

From John Griffin

Hard Sauce

This is a variation of Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond’s recipe.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons Godiva Chocolate Liqueur, Kahlua Peppermint Mocha or whiskey, or to taste

In your mixer, whip the butter for a couple of minutes at medium speed. Add the sugar slowly and scrape down the sizes so everything is thoroughly incorporated. Then add the liquor and mix for a minute or two more. Use at room temperature. (If you make this in advance, refrigerate until about an hour before it’s needed. Take it out, so it can warm up.)

Makes about 2 1/2 cups sauce.

Adapted from Ree Drummond


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Planning a Children’s Christmas Party 1935 Style

Planning a Children’s Christmas Party 1935 Style

christmas-bookA friend cleaned out her cookbook collection before moving out of town, and she left me with 11 boxes of treasures that I’ve been going through them now for months. In one was a slender volume with a gorgeous cover featuring a handful of youngsters partying with Father Time, an Easter bunny, jack-o-lanterns, a witch and, of course, Santa Claus.

It’s called “Children’s Party Book: Games, Decorations, Menus and Recipes,” and it was written by Cornelia Staley. It was published in 1935, and each copy sold for the then-princely sum of 25 cents. A quick glance through it suggests a much simpler time. Much simpler than I can ever remember. Can you think back to a time when you taught your children how to write their own party invitations by hand, such as this one from the book’s premier party girl, Barbara Smith?

Buy tiny horns, attach a tag and write on it:
“Blow me at my New Year’s Party.” I do hope you can come. Wednesday, January 1, at 3:30 o’clock.
— Barbara Smith

Each occasion, from birthday to New Year’s,  includes games suggestions far removed from the world of Xbox and World of Warcraft, such as this one for Halloween:

Bowls of Fortune

Place in a row an empty bowl, a bowl of clear water and one of milky water. Each child in turn is blindfolded, turned about three times and told to put on hand in a bowl. If the child touches clear water, it means marriage to a bachelor or maiden — milky water, a widower or widow — the empty bowl, unmarried.

There are even tips on planning the appropriate decorations, including hanging groups of pastel colored balloons from your chandelier for an Easter party.

For the Christmas party, Barbara Smith has learned that “Gay Christmas seals on white, red or green cards will make your invitation gala.” And she suggests you use greeting: “School’s out! Let’s celebrate the Happy Holidays at my house on Thursday from 3 to 5.”

christmas-pictureIf you can make it, expect as many red and green balloons tied to the Smith home’s chandelier. But don’t expect Barbara and her party crew to stop there. Here are Staley’s suggestions for table decorations:

Cover your table in white, and for a centerpiece dip a fat little Christmas tree in a thin solution of Staley’s Starch. While still moist, sprinkle it generously with artificial snow or silver glitter. Hang red and green balls on it. Have a small tree at each place and a suitable gift gaily wrapped and tied to the stick of a lollipop.

Game ideas include Spider Web, Pin a Star on the Christmas Tree, Paper Race and Chinese Tag, in which “any child who is ‘it’ must hold on to the spot he has been tagged with one hand while trying to tag another child with the other.” How that makes it Chinese is anybody’s guess.

The suggested menu for all this fun includes Minced Turkey or Chicken Sandwiches, Tiny Molds of Cranberry Jelly, Celery Curls, Hot Chocolate, Ice Cream Santa Claus, Snowballs and Lollypops.

Yes, you can make your own Lollypops, and Cornelia Staley offers her own recipe, which naturally uses Staley’s Crystal White Syrup. In case you can’t find that, white corn syrup will work as a substitute.


2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2/3 cup Staley’s Crystal White Syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Red vegetable coloring

Cook sugar, water and syrup until sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly. Then cover and boil 3 minutes. Remove cover and boil undisturbed to 310 degrees or the brittle stage. Remove from heat at once, add vanilla and coloring. Pour into small buttered muffin tins 1/2-inch deep, and when almost cool, insert a wooden skewer in each.

Makes 2 dozen, 2 inches in diameter.

From “Children’s Party Book: Games, Decorations, Menus and Recipes”/Cornelia Staley

Serve your lollipops up with the following joke from Staley:

Why are lollipops like race horses?

Because the more you lick them, the faster they go.

If that’s not enough fun for your Christmas party, have the kids make Dried Fruit and Nut Men: “Funny figures can be made just as easily with fruits and nuts as with candies. Large fruits, such as prunes, are used for heads and bodies, toothpicks for legs and raisins strung on hairpins for arms.”

As silly as it sounds, I think that’s an activity adults would enjoy as much as children. Everyone loves playing with food that they can then eat, even prunes.

Staley’s goal in Depression America was to show people how their children could have some fun and good food — and for not much money. It’s a goal that carries through to today. After all, it’s not the cost of the party, but the good time that people have at it that matters.

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Treat Yourself to an Assortment of Russian Candies

Treat Yourself to an Assortment of Russian Candies

I haven’t been to Russia, but I do have some Russian blood in me, thanks to my grandfather, Ivan Woloskiewitsch. Perhaps that’s why I fell so hard for the Russian candies that I founds in the markets I visited when I was in Little Odessa in Brooklyn.

Russian candies from Sasha's.

Russian candies from Sasha’s.

Or maybe it’s because I’m a chocolate addict at heart.

Whatever the reason, I loved seeing all the bowls of various candies that you could buy in bulk. All of them come in bright, colorful wrappings that don’t always tell you what’s inside — unless you read the Cyrillic alphabet, that is. And I don’t.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a store in San Antonio that sells these wonderful treats. It’s Sasha’s European Market at 8023 Callaghan Road, and I’ve passed the storefront for months without ever noticing it.

The store has been there for seven years, selling Eastern European specialties from ground sorrel and green garlic sprouts to wines from Russia and Georgia (not the state). If you go past the jars of celery salad and marinated pickles with prunes, you’ll find the bowls of candies in their bright array of red, blue and green wrappers. Some sport images of Red Riding Hood or bears playing in the woods. Others display pictures of what’s inside. One was even called Vodka, which needs no translation, though the actual alcohol content of the candy was fairly low.

If you haven’t tried these Russian candies before, please don’t expect to bite into something akin to M&M’s or a Mars bar. Marshmallows are used in some, jellies in others. Dried fruit, including prunes, can be seen on a label or two. Others are complete surprises. You may bite into chocolate-covered wafers filled with hazelnut cream or dark chocolate with lemon.

The candies sell for $9.99 a pound and would make a great addition to any St. Nicholas celebration on Dec. 6 or any time of the year.

For more information, call the store at (210) 348-7788.

Tim’s is expanding

Tim’s Oriental & Seafood Market, 7015 Bandera Road, is getting bigger. The store is staying put, but it’s also taking over the space once occupied by Peng’s Chinese Restaurant. The work should be completed within the next three weeks.

In the meantime, you can still get a roasted duck (just like in the film “A Christmas Story” complete with the head on) for $19. Or you can get live blue crabs, roasted pork belly, yuzu juice, fresh bitter melon or Chinese Oreos, all of the stuff that makes Tim’s one of the many unique markets in San Antonio that we return to on a regular basis.

Tim's Oriental & Seafood Market

Tim’s Oriental & Seafood Market

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Learning the Joys of Greek Salads Firsthand

Learning the Joys of Greek Salads Firsthand


Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

HERSONISSOS, Crete — When a friend with a timeshare calls and invites you to spend two weeks with her on the island of Crete, you don’t say no. At least, I don’t. So, I found myself on an island in the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by some of the best food I’ve had in ages.

Tomatoes drying in the sun in front of Marianna, a taverna in Mesa Potami, part of Crete's Lasithi Plateau

Tomatoes drying in the sun in front of Marianna, a taverna in Mesa Potami, part of Crete’s Lasithi Plateau

One advantage that Cretans have is that they grow or raise most everything that they use in their diet. Almost everywhere you look, there’s food growing, whether it’s olives on the many acres of trees that run up and down mountains, grapes in the growing number of vineyards or orchards filled with apples, oranges or pomegranates. We didn’t see all of the family gardens bulging with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and more; some of those items were just after season for our visit, but we were given freshly harvested grapes, persimmons and walnuts by some of the wonderful people we met.

In the mornings, I could hear the bells of the goats roaming through the undeveloped lands nearby, reminding me of how close one source of all the feta and yogurt was. Lambs and sheep often grazed close to the road, while the Mediterranean offered the promise of untold seafood specials.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the eating was built on the numerous herbs that were oh so easy to forage. It seemed that most every time Carol stopped our rental car, I could find something worth taking back to our kitchen, whether it was oregano or mint, dill, arugula or thyme.

I used those in the series of Greek salads, called horiatiki (hor-ee-ah-tee-kee), that I made most every day. There is no hard and fast recipe for this beloved dish, and you can make plenty of substitutes to suit your tastes. But the foundation for ours included tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and olive oil. To that, we added green bell pepper and olives. The first supermarket we went to only sold onions by the large bag, so we used scallions until we found another place where we could pick up a red onion. We also tried lettuce in the mix; it worked, but it wasn’t necessary, so we left it out after one or two tries. Cabbage worked much better, adding crunch in a way that was different from the cucumber or the bell pepper.

The olive oil was so good that red wine vinegar or lemon juice wasn’t necessary to dress the salad with. Plus, if you find the freshest, most flavorful ingredients, especially the tomatoes, you didn’t need much oil, either. A little salt brings out the juices of the various vegetables, making it’s own dressing that the olive oil only takes to another level.

A Cretan salad with greens and pomegranate seeds

A Cretan salad with greens and pomegranate seeds

We discovered a variation native to Crete. It is, of course, the Cretan salad, and it adds rusk, potatoes, hard-boiled egg, capers and sun-dried tomatoes to the mix. See, even they don’t follow a single recipe. And in the case of the rusk, you’ll see them using up every last scrap of bread rather than throwing it out. That, to me, has been the secret of some of the best meals I’ve had in my travels.

The third salad recipe you’ll find below is for a Socrates salad, which Carol’s friend, Clairy Panagiotou, made for us when she joined our group. Clairy runs the Bouradanis Hotel on another Greek island, Kos, where she makes the meals nightly for her 70 guests. On the basis of this salad alone, I am ready to make a trip to her hotel.

It’s named after the Greek philosopher, Clairy said, because it’s supposed to open up your brain cells and make you smarter. I don’t know that my IQ shot up any while eating it, but my happiness level certainly did.

Again, there is no hard and fast recipe for the dressing or for the salad. Just make it to taste. Just make sure you’re using the best ingredients you can find, ingredients that tasted like they were grown in your own backyard and tended with care. You can taste the difference.

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

Make this salad to suit your tastes. If you don’t like or don’t have bell pepper on hand, leave it out. Want to add lettuce or shredded cabbage? Go ahead. I added anchovies and occasionally some slices of radish to mine. Capers would also work.

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

Tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
Cucumber, sliced
Green bell pepper, sliced
Red or white onion, sliced
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Feta, crumbled or cut in a slab about 1/3-inch thick
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar (optional)
Herbs, fresh or dried

Mix the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and olives. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, if using. Top with feta. If using a slab of cheese, drizzle olive oil on top.

If you’re using vinegar with the oil, drizzle these on before you add the cheese. Top with herbs.

Herbs both dried and fresh can be used. A few to consider are oregano, parsley, mint and thyme.

Or you could serve with the oil and vinegar on the side.

From John Griffin

Cretan Salad with Rusk

Cretans love rusk, dried clumps of leftover bread that soak up olive oil and tomato juice. They serve as a foundation for this salad, a variation on horiatiki that, once again, can be made using whatever ingredients you have on hand. One version we had used various field greens and was crowned with pomegranate seeds.

A Cretan salad with hard-boiled eggs, rusk, sun-dried tomatoes and capers.

A Cretan salad with hard-boiled eggs, rusk, sun-dried tomatoes and capers

Rusk or zwieback
Tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
Cucumber, sliced
Green bell pepper, sliced
Red or white onion, sliced
New potatoes, boiled, peeled and quartered
Hard-boiled eggs, quartered
Sun-dried tomatoes
Salt, to taste
Feta, crumbled or cut in a slab
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar (optional)
Herbs (optional)

Place the rusk at the bottom of your salad bowl. Top with a mix of tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, olives, potato, egg and sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle salt to taste over the salad.

Top with feta, then a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle capers over the top and finish off with a sprinkling of dried or fresh herbs.

From John Griffin

Socrates Salad

Open your brain cells to the wonders of this salad laden with dried fruit and nuts.

Socrates Salad

Socrates Salad

Dried figs, cut into bite-sized pieces
Dried cranberries
Pine nuts
Tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
Apple, peeled, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces
Parmesan cheese

Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil

Toss the figs, cranberries, lettuce, radicchio, pine nuts, tomatoes and apple in a salad bowl.

Make the dressing from a mixture of balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, a little water and salt to taste. Whisk together then lightly toss with the salad.

Top with Parmesan cheese shavings.

From Clairy Panagiotou/Bouradanis Hotel

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8th Annual Mole Throwdown Set for Oct. 20

8th Annual Mole Throwdown Set for Oct. 20

Get your taste buds ready for one of the most delicious fundraising events you have ever attended. The 8th Annual Mole Throwdown is a culinary, Art-filled experience that blends together our efforts to promote Chicano/Latino Art and Culture in an innovative and creative way that benefits Centro Cultural Aztlan’s year-long programming.

How many styles of mole will be served at the Mole Throwdown?

How many styles of mole will be served at the Mole Throwdown?

Mole is traditionally prepared for special events, which bring together friends and families. Mole a rich tasting delightful dark sauce is infused with the flavors of chili peppers, chocolate and about 25 or more, spicy ingredients, then married with turkey or chicken.

This succulent dish will be prepared and generously donated by local restaurants and local chefs for your delicate palate that is sure to ignite the taste buds. Cerveza (beer) will be iced down and served to compliment the meal.  Tequila tasting bar will be provided by Salud Tequila Bar, and Tito’s Handmade vodka will be serving a cocktail to refresh your palate.   First year participant, Boiler House Texas Grill & Wine Garden will be serving a mole inspired cocktail and mole ice cream.  Patrons will be asked to vote for their favorite recipe, and a new winner will be announced!  Participating chefs include: Ana Sandoval & Mario Bravo, The Box Street Social, Veronica Castillo Salas, Cocina Heritage, Colibri Llevando Sabor, Francisco Cid, Jenny’s Catering, Chef Jerry Steakhouse & Catering, Los Laureles Café, Samantha Lopez, Berta Romo-Rios, and Viva Vegeria.

In addition to the sampling of mole, there will be a Silent Art Auction featuring the great works of contributing artists that have supported Centro Cultural Aztlan for over three decades. These participating artists’ contribution is their testament of pride and accomplishment, and their way to show their gratitude to an organization, which focuses on promoting Chicano/Latino Art and Culture.  Musical Entertainment and performances by Ghost Tracks, The Berts, Salute, Roger “Rabbit” Garza, Jerry Vasquez and Grupo Folklorico de Bendiciones.

The evening promises to be an exciting fundraising event sure to go down as one of the most creative ways to unite Arte, Cultura, Musica y Comida in a venue that truly supports the Chicano, Latino and Indigenous traditions such as Dia de Los Muertos, Virgen de Guadalupe Exhibit and the Lowrider Festival.

General Admission tickets for the event are only $40.00 per person. Other donation levels are available.

For online ticket sales visit:

For more information please call the center M-F, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 210-432-1896 or come by the offices located in the Deco Building at 1800 Fredericksburg Road, Suite 103.


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Don’t Stop at Cucumbers. Squash Can Make Great Pickles, Too.

Don’t Stop at Cucumbers. Squash Can Make Great Pickles, Too.

I spent some time with family in Louisville recently and had the chance to make some pickles with my mother, using a version of her beloved bread and butter pickle recipe, which I have feasted on since I was a kid.

Let the squash sit in a vinegar solution for 2 hours before canning.

Let the squash sit in a vinegar solution for 2 hours before canning.

The only difference this time was that we didn’t use cucumbers. We made them with fresh yellow squash that a friend of hers had given them.

The end result tastes almost exactly the same. Both are available throughout the year, so whether you get squash from the market or your fall garden, you can enjoy these year-round.

Next time, I’ll try them with zucchini.

Squash Pickles

2 1/2 pounds yellow squash, sliced thinly
1 small red bell pepper, cut in strips (see note)
1 small green bell pepper, cut in strips
1 large or 2 small onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup salt
2 cups white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons mustard seed
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon turmeric

Note: You’ll only need 1 bell pepper of your preferred color, if you’re using one of the large ones from the supermarket,

In a large non-aluminum bowl, add the squash, bell pepper and onion. Cover with salt and stir together. Let sit for 2 hours. Stir occasionally.

While the vegetables are sitting, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, celery seed and turmeric in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

When the 2 hours are up, squeeze the vegetables dry. Then add the vegetables to the saucepan. Stir to incorporate everything together and let sit for 2 hours more.

When the 2 hours are up, bring the vegetables to a boil. Remove immediately and separate into 4 (1-pint) jars. Fill almost to the top with liquid. Seal using your preferred method or top with a jar lid and refrigerate immediately. Wait a day or two before eating.

Seal the jars, if you like, or cover and refrigerate them immediately.

Seal the jars, if you like, or cover and refrigerate them immediately.

Makes 4 (1-pint) jars. (If you aren’t sealing the lids, the pickles will keep up to 2 months in the refrigerator.)

From Annaliese Griffin and John Griffin


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A Trio of Bright and Bold Indian Salads

A Trio of Bright and Bold Indian Salads


My Bible study group recently decided to have an Indian themed dinner, and it fell to my lot to bring a salad. When I started to do my research, however, I couldn’t stop at one. So, I made three.

Each of these is easy to make, which is always a plus. But their greatness, individually and collectively, lies in the bold, clean flavors that will add to any meal, Indian or otherwise. I have already made the Mango Salad and the Onion and Tomato Salad twice since then.

If you’re looking for a fresh alternative to a lettuce salad, check out these options.

Cucumber Salad

2 cups cucumber, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cashews coarsely ground (optional)
1 tablespoon mint, finely ripped

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons ginger juice (see note)
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely ground

For the dressing: In a bowl, mix oil, lemon juice, salt, sugar, black pepper, ginger juice and fennel. Set aside.

For the salad: Peel the cucumber, leaving strips of skin. Slice thin, crosswise. The slices should look like half-moons.

Toss the cucumber with ground cashews, if using, and mint to coat the slices.

Just before serving, add the dressing. Mix it well.

Note: To make the ginger juice, shred the ginger using a fine shredder or zester. Squeeze the shredded ginger with your fingers to get all the juice out. Or you can place a piece of peeled ginger in a sturdy lemon juicer and press hard several times.

Adapted from Jain

Onion and Tomato Salad (Piaz aur Tamatar ka Salad)

red-onion-and-tomato-salad“Marinating the onions in salt and lemon juice reduces the pungency and makes them sweet and tangy,” says Madhu Gadia in “New Indian Home Cooking” (HPBooks, $20).

1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch wedges
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt, divided use
2 medium tomatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch wedges
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the onion, lemon juice and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt in a bowl. Cover and marinate for 20 minutes or longer, stirring occasionally. (Editor’s note: Having made the recipe twice, I would suggest marinating the onion at least 30 minutes.) Drain and discard the juice.

Add the tomatoes and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Toss lightly to mix.

Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Approximate nutritional value per serving: 17 calories, 4 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 1 g dietary fiber, 1 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 182 mg sodium.

From “New Indian Home Cooking” by Madhu Gadia

green-mango-saladMango Salad (Aam ka Laccha)

“In season, the swee4t and sour taste of an underripe mango when combined with salt and cayenne peppers adds and excellent taste to any meal. It is eaten more like a pickle, in a small quantity, rather than a salad,” writes Madhu Gadia in “New Indian Home Cooking.”

1 firm, underripe mango (3/4 pound)
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wash and peel the mango. Slice the mango flesh into 1-inch strips. Discard the seed.

Toss the mango with the cayenne pepper and salt in a bowl. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes or longer in the refrigerator.

Serve cold or refrigerate for up to 2 to 3 days.

Makes 16 servings.

Approximate nutritional value per 3 tablespoon serving: 12 calories, 3 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0.5 g dietary fiber, 0 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 67 mg sodium.

From “New Indian Home Cooking” by Madhu Gadia

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