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Griffin to Go: Scenes from Restaurant Week

Griffin to Go: Scenes from Restaurant Week

Culinaria’s Restaurant Week continues, so what better reason do you need to go out and eat?

Smoke's Shrimp & Swine

Smoke’s Shrimp & Swine

Nothing, in my book, which is why I headed out to several lunches and a dinner in the past week.

The trips started with a visit to Brian West’s Smoke: The Restaurant and a $10 lunch that was largely wonderful.

It began with a warm pork jowl and shrimp salad, also known as Shrimp & Swine, in which the meats were tossed with cabbage and bacon. One bite convinced us that it was a masterful blending of flavors and textures, and it left us with an appetite for the meaty pleasures to come.

The main course is a three-meat plate. I don’t know if the lineup changes, but we were pleased with our trio of turkey, pork and brisket. A delicate touch of smoke laced the juicy slab of turkey while letting the real flavor of the meat shine through. The brisket was tender, but the salty crust was even more impressive; the thick-cut serving also tasted good with the house chimichurri sauce, thanks to its bright garlicky base. Strands of moist pulled pork filled out the tray and provided a great vehicle to try the six pack of sauces that arrived at the table; I preferred the tangy tomatillo sauce, while you might prefer the sweeter honey mustard. Give them all a shot.

Bolo's Monte Cristo

Bolo’s Monte Cristo

Dessert was a welcome serving of banana pudding that featured firm yet flavorful slices of fruit floating in a creamy base with a vanilla wafer offering a crunchy contrast. I had a hankering for this homespun favorite before the first morsel of food arrived, thanks to a waiter who bore a tray of servings past our table shortly arrived I arrived.

The food in and unto itself made for a great lunch, especially at $10, and we were lucky to have an attentive server even though the restaurant was slammed with diners. Unfortunately, the background music was so loud that it was hard to hear my companions that day. They had asked for the music to be turned down before I arrived a little late, and while their wish was granted, that seemed to last for only a song. By turning the music back up, Smoke lost one of my friends who decided he had no need to return, no matter how good the food is. I’ll opt for the outdoors when the weather isn’t so hot.

Bolo's lemon sorbet with stone fruit

Bolo’s lemon sorbet with stone fruit

My second lunch visit was to Bolo’s Rotisserie Grill at the Omni Colonnade, a short trip from my day job.

The special menu, at $15 for lunch, began with a grilled Caesar made with smoky romaine that had been wilted and slightly charred on the grill. A light taste of oil from the roasted poblano dressing added to the fresh of the lettuce while pearl tomatoes, grown on the hotel’s rooftop garden, added a bright touch. A couple of anchovies would have been even more welcome, but I welcome anchovies with most any dish.

The main course was a Monte Cristo sandwich filled with generous slices of honey-roasted turkey and Hill Country ham as well as plenty of Swiss to help melt it all together. The French toast that surrounded the meats and cheese arrived sizzling to the touch and went from hot and crisp to a welcome warm soft state before the last bite disappeared.

Biga's snapper with pappardelle and bacon

Biga’s snapper with pappardelle and bacon

Dessert that day was a lemon sorbet instead of the advertised mango, and that was perfectly fine with me as it arrived over a medley of plums and peaches in a passion fruit and honey sauce (the honey was also harvested from that rooftop garden). It sent me back to work with a sweet smile.

By Saturday night, I was ready for more, and Biga on the Banks happily delivered.

My friend and I were able to split most of the Restaurant Week options even without quibbling over who would try what.

She wanted the advertised soup choice, a chilled bowl of potato cilantro soup, which was refreshing after a hot day even as it excited with a drizzle of chile oil on top. I opted for a special that evening, a warm soup with roasted mushrooms and cauliflower, which proved earthy and bold; one spoon convinced me it would be hard to top, no matter how good the rest of the meal proved to be.

Biga's mousse bar

Biga’s mousse bar

And it turned out to be quite good indeed.

A Kobe beef burger (with a slab of foie gras for a $15 supplement) was practically perfect, thanks to a juicy slab of meat matched by a bun loaded with the flavor of caramelized onion. The bread overwhelmed the foie, so we merely removed it and enjoyed it by itself. The burger and fries were bolsterd by a robust Simi Cabernet Sauvignon.

I’ve been trying somewhat to increase my seafood intake, so I ordered the seared snapper over pappardelle pasta. The fish was firm and fresh, complemented by the dill in the sauce, and truly satisfying. I just won’t tell my doctor about the bacon that also appeared in the sauce, sending the dish into a whole new realm of texture and flavor.

We finished off the evening with a chocolate-raspberry mousse bar topped with melted orange marshmallow, which was dense and rich, but somehow couldn’t eclipse the brilliance of lemon custard with blueberries and coconut ice cream.

Add in Biga’s always excellent service and inviting ambience, and you have the perfect illustration of why Restaurant Week is such a favorite of diners. I hope your adventures are proving to be as rewarding.

Biga's lemon custard with blueberries and coconut ice cream

Biga’s lemon custard with blueberries and coconut ice cream

Smoke: The Restaurant
700 E Sonterra Blvd.

Omni Colonnade – Bolo’s Rotisserie Grille
9821 Colonnade Blvd

Biga on the Banks
203 S. St. Mary’s St., Suite 100

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Griffin to Go: Restaurant Week Brings a Welcome Mix of Old and New

Griffin to Go: Restaurant Week Brings a Welcome Mix of Old and New

Kirby's Angus New York strip

Kirby’s Angus New York strip

Culinaria’s Restaurant Week, which is actually two weeks this summer, offers the chance to see what some old friends are up to while introducing us to new places on the city’s dining scene.

Kirby's braised lamb shank

Kirby’s braised lamb shank

And so it was with visits to the new Alberico Fine Wine and the reliable Kirby’s Steakhouse on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Let’s start with Kirby’s, which has long gotten into the spirit of Restaurant Week by offering a varied menu and by being the first to extend the special an additional week.

This year’s special menu, available for $35, begins with an extra appetizer, available for $7 — and it’s worth every penny. It’s a chorizo-stuffed quail atop a bed of smoky jalapeno coleslaw, both of which are as fine as you can imagine. The spicy sausage offered a nice contrast to the moist fowl while the slaw had the right balance of heat and creaminess to make each of want more.

The menu begins with starters that included your choice of two bacon-wrapped scallops with spinach, fried artichokes or a baked Caprese, a kind of Napoleon of tomato slices topped with a Boursin-stuffed portobello mushroom. All disappeared quickly.

Kirby's baked Caprese

Kirby’s baked Caprese

Then arrived the real star of the evening: a rustic braised lamb shank in a meaty rosemary thyme au jus that was pure comfort food, tender perfection in every bite. A 10-ounce Angus New York strip lacked the velvety nature of prime, but the beef flavor won out. Glazed salmon topped with pecans was a little sweet for my tastes, but one of my friends enjoyed it as well as the red bell pepper risotto that came with it. There’s also a prosciutto-wrapped filet that might call us back for a second visit.

Dessert options included butterscotch chocoflan, which was a little on the dry side, and a strawberry mojito sundae that hit all the right buttons on a sweltering August evening, thanks to a lively combination of berries, whipped cream, mint and a touch of rum.

We forgot that Sunday was half-off wine night at Kirby’s, so imagine our surprise when we got the bill and noticed that our bottle of 2008 Ridge Lytton Springs was listed at $27.50, instead of the usual $55. It was just the right note to end the evening on.

Special mention must be made of the excellent service, which made the visit all the more special.

Alberico Fine Wine's tuna

Alberico Fine Wine’s tuna

We were looking forward to our first visit to Alberico Fine Wine, and we were impressed with the wine program as well as the help we received from the sommelier. The restaurant and wine bar, located in the Yard next to Olmos Perk, offers all of its wines by the glass and at a good price. Plus, you can enjoy it in your choice of environs: a light and cozy bar area; a cool, spacious dining area; or in the inviting wine room.

It’s too bad that the food largely failed to match the wine experience. Dad’s Salad was a single leaf of romaine lettuce topped with diced unripe tomato, a few paltry cubes of avocado and strands of red onion. The watermelon and feta salad with arugula was far better, in fact the refreshing combination was the best dish of the evening.

Duck medallions were served in a sauce that was far too sweet, throwing off the pleasantness of the dry Barolo we’d ordered. Just-seared tuna with grilled vegetables were good, but they were served atop a mound of risotto that was gummy and cold.

Alberico's watermelon and feta salad

Alberico’s watermelon and feta salad

A salt grilled peach struck the right note, but it was atop a nearly flavorless sorbet while a pair of creme brulees were a little too gritty when they should have been silken and creamy.

It didn’t help matters that our waiter was indifferent to his job duties and seemed to avoid our table, one of only three or four occupied in the place.

In the end, it was all a part of what makes Restaurant Week special. Here’s to more adventures in eating.

Kirby’s Steakhouse
123 N. Loop 1604 E.
(210) 404-2221

Alberico Fine Wine
5221 McCullough Ave.
(210) 320-VINO (8466)


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Griffin to Go: Are You Ready for Some Green Eggs and Ham?

Griffin to Go: Are You Ready for Some Green Eggs and Ham?

I ran into an H-E-B the other day to pick up a couple of things and started wandering through the store. Before I was finished, I picked up more than I had planned to, including the most highly anticipated book of the summer.

what petNope. It wasn’t “Go Set a Watchman,” the first novel from Harper Lee in more than a half-century.

I loved “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but I’m waiting for her new work to come in on CD at the library, so I can listen to it in my spare time.

The new book I grabbed was “What Pet Should I Get?” from the one and only Dr. Seuss, who left this life in 1991.

We want a pet.
We want a pet.
What kind of pet
should we get?

I won’t spoil the wonderful surprise in store for readers, but I will say that it got me thinking of my favorite Dr. Seuss books. Head and shoulders above the rest is “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” followed closely by its brother volume, “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.” They were tandem favorites of my childhood, thanks to the good doctor’s fine sense of storytelling and illustrations.

Dr. Seuss knew his food, too. From the roast beast in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” to the Truffula fruits in “The Lorax,” he had a keen taste for when food played a part in his impeccable rhyme scheme. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tale of the pickiest of picky eaters, “Green Eggs and Ham.” Or “Huevos verdes con jamón,” as it is known in Spanish.

Don’t know this version? It’s a great way to learn the language, though a few names have been changed to protect the innocent – and the all-important rhymes.

¿No te gustan
los huevos verdes con jamón?

no me gustan nada,
Juan Ramón.

huevos verdesAll this Seussian delirium also got me thinking of a scrapbook of recipes my sister Linda once made for me. It featured recipes she had culled from numerous publications, everything from Katharine Hepburn’s brownies to Senegalese Deukhine, a stew with meat, fish, mussels, peanut butter and fiery chiles. At the very beginning was a recipe for Green Eggs and Ham.

It ran under the headline “Invite Dr. Seuss to brunch,” but there is no other marker telling me the source of this recipe. Nonetheless, I’m sharing it with you in an effort to raise a toast to Dr. Seuss, who has been entertaining me for decades.

The recipe, which is reprinted here verbatim, is an obvious relic of a time in which margarine and non-fat milk were thought to be healthy and the nutritional information of a recipe failed to include a carbohydrate count. We know better now, so modify the recipe as you see fit.

The important thing is to enjoy it as well as some new Dr. Seuss, no matter what pet you eventually get.

Green Eggs and Ham
En Croustade

1 loaf whole-wheat bread, unsliced
2 tablespoons corn oil margarine, melted
4 eggs
8 egg whites
½ cup non-fat milk
½ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh chives or green onion tops
½ teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
½ teaspoon salt, optional
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon corn oil margarine
1 cup chopped cooked lean ham
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives or green onion tops, for garnish
Parsley or tarragon sprigs, for garnish
Fresh cranberries, for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Slice the top crust off the loaf of bread. To make the croustade, carefully hollow out the loaf leaving walls ¾-inch thick. (Save the breadcrumbs to use in another recipe.) Using a pastry brush, evening apply the melted margarine to the entire croustade. Placce it on a baking sheet in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until it is well toasted. Remove to a serving platter and keep warm.

Put the eggs and egg whites in a bowl and beat them until they are frothy. Put the milk, ½ cup parsley, ¼ cup chives, ½ teaspoon dried tarragon, salt and white pepper in a blender and blend until smooth in texture.

Pour the “green” mixture into the eggs and mix thoroughly.

Melt the tablespoon of margarine in a large skillet and heat the skillet well before adding the eggs.

Add the egg mixture and reduce heat, stirring the eggs constantly until they are almost set. Add the ham and cook until eggs are desired consistency. Be careful not to overcook the eggs as it makes them too dry.

Remove eggs from the heat and spoon them into the croustade, which has been placed on a serving platter. Sprinkle the 1 tablespoon chopped chives over the top of the eggs and decorate the platter with sprigs of parsley or tarragon. Garnish with cranberries, if desired.

Makes 4 servings. Approximate nutritional value per serving: 300 calories, 228 mg cholesterol, 16 g fat, 864 mg sodium.


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Griffin to Go: Paging Through Some Texas Culinary Treasures

Griffin to Go: Paging Through Some Texas Culinary Treasures

It’s hard to break some habits.

When I was a kid, my idea of shopping nirvana consisted of visits to book stores and record stores. All these years later, I haven’t changed much, though wine shops and groceries of all varieties have made their way onto the list.

One of my recent obsessions has been in building a collection of Texas cookbooks. In the past year or so, I’ve gathered more than 125 volumes of everything from chefs’ collections to books produced by various community groups, such as the Junior League, symphony societies and arts guilds. A few are filled with family treasures, but many offer a look at the culinary riches produced in the Lone Star state.

Texas cookbooksA recent visit to a Half Price Books not on my usual path resulted in my picking up nine new volumes, including more than a few found in the clearance rack and marked down to $3 or less. The variety was wonderful. Some offered nothing but recipes, others offered stories and a few some history lessons; all of them create a savory picture of the vast treasures to be found in kitchens from as far afield as Odessa, Rockport, Dallas, Houston and beyond.

Let’s start on the coast. If the world of Gulf Coast Crab Cakes, Mexican-Style Crab Meat Salad, Texas Coast Clear Gazpacho with Chili Garlic Croutons and Jicama Salad sounds as good to you as it does to me, then seek out your own copy of “Texas Maritime Museum: Marithyme Treasures, The Cuisine of the Texas Coast.” It was a 2003 Tabasco Community Cookbook Award winner, and for good reason. The recipes in this collection, whether they feature seafood, beef, chicken or vegetables, are mouthwatering treats. Some, such as Lobster Spinach Pancakes, are for the gourmands among us while  even the most beginning cook make the Basil Walnut Garlic Soup.

“South of the Fork” was the 1987 offering from the Junior League of Dallas, which was printed at a time of culinary change in that city. As the flap on the book states, “While those of us who were used to plain cookin’ discovered that sole was not soul or ratatouille just a fancy dance step, these pioneer chefs learned to speak in several ‘tongues,’ from Southern to Spanish, Texan to Tex-Mex, Anglo to Italian, to name a few.” So, yes, there are recipes for Phyllo Triangles with Sausage-Mushroom Filling and Venison Game Tournedos, but there are also down-home treasures, including Sausage Black-Eyed Peas and Cold Avocado and Green Chile Soup.

Courtenay Beinhorn’s “Beinhorn’s Mesquite Cookery” from 1986 is a valentine to the wood that grows wildly across West and South Texas. Mesquite lovers know its charms with brisket made right, but how about using the woods on Cabrito with Cumin and Pequin Chiles? Or Venison Steak with Ancho Cream? The writer even uses mesquite with seafood in dishes that sound as wonderful as Oysters with Shallot and Cilantro Butter and Lobster with Tomato and Red Pepper Sauce.

The wild wild west“The Wild Wild West” comes from the Junior League of Odessa with plenty of hearty dishes, from Chicken and Avocado Casserole to Pancho Pie, which you can make in a cast-iron skillet over a campfire. The Texas-style chili calls for a Texas beer, of course, and there are three variations on pecan pie to be sampled: traditional, one with a Ritz cracker crust and the last a crustless version with crushed graham crackers folded into mix.

The 1989 “Texas Hill County Wine & Food Festival: A Cookbook” shows the haute cuisine of the period from chefs, winery owners and writers, many of whom still carry weight on the state’s culinary scene, including Stephan Pyles, Ron Bechtol, Anne Lindsay Greer, Susan Auler, Patsy Swendson, Bill Varney and Paula Lambert. There are recipes from California wineries and chefs as well; of interest is noting that the executive chef of Chateau Souverain at the time was Gary Danko, who offers several recipes including Chicken Breast in Mustard Pistachio Sauce.

Marilyn Romweber’s “Under the Mushroom” is a self-published collection of recipes from the Dallas restaurant known as The Little Mushroom and the only spiral-bound book in the lot. It was first printed in 1977, a time in which you could find dishes like Burgundy Beet Molded Salad or canned pineapple chunks with Velveeta in a Hot Pineapple Salad on a menu. They may not seem like the most appetizing creations today, but the book is also filled with easy-to-make creations that include Baked Pork Chops with Apple Brandy, Sour Cream Shrimp Enchiladas, Quick Carrots with Wine, Pumpkin Rum Cake and an Orange Gin Fizz with ice cream, orange and lemon juices, and of course, gin all in a blender.

under the mushroom“Dining in-Houston” from Rona Abbott and Ann Criswell is a 1978 collection of recipes from Houston’s top restaurants, including Brennan’s, D’Amico’s, Maxim’s and Tony’s. Ninfa’s Frozen Margaritas, with no added sugar or sickly sweet-and-sour mix, is a keeper, as is the Guacamole Salad recipe. Fresh Spinach and Squash Soup with Orange from Ouisie’s Table was earmarked by the book’s previous owner, making it as good a place as any to start.

The members and employee partners of Barton Creek Country Club near Austin put together the recipes in “Beyond Bar-B-Que,” which features stories of each of the contributors. It’s an oddly designed collection that features recipes in no certain order. So, you can find Mum’s Irish Christmas Pudding on facing pages with Muy Caliente Grits Soufflé Casserole, or Coach Hannon’s Smoked Turkey and Coconut Cream Pie. And, yes, there are several barbecue recipes included for good measure.

It helps to pay close attention to any book you may be buying. Ibbie Ledford’s “Hill County Cookin’ and Memoirs” was included among the Texas cookbooks and the name makes it seem like a great fit. Plus, it’s filled with stories as well recipes for the likes of Debby’s Nacho Main Dish Salad with Catalina dressing, Flapjacks and Hot Blackberry Jam, Mountain Dew Cake and a mix of black-eyed peas and okra. Sadly, the Hill County of the title is in Tennessee, not Texas. I’ll still be using it, though I doubt I’ll be making Squirrel Stew with Potato Dumplings anytime soon.

When all was said and done, my treasures cost less than $30. I’m ready to go shopping again.



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Getting a Taste of Hawaiian Barbecue

Getting a Taste of Hawaiian Barbecue

To understand Hawaiian barbecue, it’s necessary to discuss the lunch plate first. This is a traditional meal presentation, served throughout the day, consisting of two scoops of sticky rice and a scoop of simple macaroni salad before the serving container is finished off with a generous portion of protein. You’ll find this setup whether you get a barbecue lunch plate from a roadside stand or from one of the open-air restaurants that draws you in because of its fabulous aromas.

Never miss a roadside barbecue stand.

Never miss a roadside barbecue stand.

Your choice, then, is what meat you want to order. It could be ribs, cut across the bone, or perhaps marinated chicken straight from the grill. My favorite turned out to be Kalua pig roasted in an imu, an underground pit dug perhaps in someone’s backyard or even on the beach.

Sure, we’re a far cry from Texas-style barbecue with its mouthwatering array of smoked meats. It’s far closer to Chinese barbecue, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the Asian influence on island cuisine. But take another bite of that Kalua pig and revel in how the smoke subtly complements the refreshing flavor of fresh pork. It’s that special, whether you eat it by itself, cooked with cabbage or served on a bun with mayo, onion and lettuce.

It’s also simply prepared, which may be why I like it best. There’s no marinade, just roast pork with some salt and the flavor of the ti leaf, which is the green part of the plant that produces the taro root. If you can’t find one of those, then a banana leaf will do.

A Kalua pig sandwich

A Kalua pig sandwich

That’s far cry from the sweet, sticky barbecue sauce used on chicken and beef ribs alike, which you can get a taste of in San Antonio at L+L Hawaiian Grill, 1302 Austin Hwy. Most recipes for this style start with shoyu, a dark soy sauce that has undergone fermentation, before adding sugar, garlic, ginger and onion. You then let the marinade and the meat rest until you’re ready to grill. Throw some buttered pineapple on the grill for a side dish that’s irresistible.

On a recent trip to Maui, I found that barbecue holds fast to tradition, but there are the occasional attempts to broaden it.

At Fat Daddy’s on South Kikei Road, burnt ends and brisket were both on the menu, a tough choice when you’re from Texas. I was expecting something more like what we’d get back home, so I ordered the burnt ends. I certainly got what I ordered, fatty bits of meat with tender strands under a well-done exterior, but I also discovered that the meat had been covered in sauce, which is more of an East Texas style than I was expecting. They were served with truffled mac and cheese and blue cheese coleslaw on the side, both of which are from a barbecue tradition I have yet to discover, though the slaw was excellent.

Burnt ends from Fat Daddy's in Kihei.

Burnt ends from Fat Daddy’s in Kihei.

On the road to Hana, we our driver zipped past a roadside barbecue stand that I would have loved to have visited. He stopped instead a little further down the road at another roadside stand, one that promised Aunty Sandy’s handmade banana bread, which was truly exceptional and featured, no doubt, bananas grown on the nearby plants. But it was the Kalua pig, advertised a little lower on the sign (below “hot dog” even) that caught my attention. One bite of my sandwich was enough to convince my traveling companions to get their own. We were all taken in by the fresh pork flavor with a touch of smoke well balanced by the mayo. It quickly became one of my favorite flavors of the entire trip.

I wanted that flavor again when I stopped by King’s BBQ and Chinese Restaurant, again on South Kihei Road, a couple of days later. It was not to be. Instead, I ordered up a combination of luau pork wrapped in ti leaves and Kalua pig sauteed with cabbage. Both boasted fine flavors; I especially like anything sauteed with cabbage.  But it missed the clean, straightforward beauty of that simple pork sandwich from a roadside stand.

Kalua pig joy

Kalua pig joy

It made me remember another lesson from the global barbecue trail: No matter the style of ‘cue you’re talking about, don’t pass up those roadside stands; you’ll never know what culinary treasures you could be missing out on.

John Griffin and Bonnie Walker are authors of “Barbecue Lover’s Texas” (Globe Pequot Press).

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Sandy Oaks Olive Leaves — Try Tea From the Bountiful Olive Tree

Sandy Oaks Olive Leaves — Try Tea From the Bountiful Olive Tree

By Saundra Winokur
Owner, Sandy Oak Olive Orchard
Founded 1998

ELMENDORF –For centuries, olive trees have been valued for the medicinal properties of not only the fruit and oil, but also the leaves.

When I started my orchard in 1998, I read every article I could find about the virtues of olive oil.  In the process, I learned that the ancients brewed a medicinal drink from the leaves, using it to treat various ailments and fevers.

Sandy Oaks Olive Leaf Tea

Olive leaf tea tastes good, and has health benefits, too.

That piece of information piqued my curiosity so I brewed a cup for myself, only to discover that the healthful tea is also quite tasty.  I served some to my crew at Sandy Oaks, and from that point forward, we drink it hot every winter and iced every summer.  During the exceptionally cold winter of 2015, my staff and I consumed buckets of hot tea to help alleviate the aches and discomfort that accompany colds, allergies and sinus infections.

Sandy Oaks Olive Leaf Jelly a popular item at Sandy Oaks' store.

Sandy Oaks Olive Leaf Jelly a popular item at Sandy Oaks’ store.

In 2002, I used leaves to make a unique olive leaf jelly.  The recipe is obviously a closely guarded secret.  When you taste it, you are definitely in for a treat. We use it in a number of ways in our restaurant, The Kitchen, which we opened in 2009.

It was so good, we began serving the olive leaf tea to our customers.  We also serve it for special events and offer a sample in our gift shop and at the Farmer’s Market. Not surprisingly, our customers prefer olive leaf iced-tea to the traditional iced-tea that we also offer.

Sandy Oaks leaves are used in several of our products because olive leaves contain twice the antioxidants found in green tea and 400 percent more vitamin C then other sources of that vitamin.

All of our skin care products are made using the leaves in one form or another.  Our creams are made with extra virgin olive oil, infused with olive leaves.  Our soaps are made with olive leaf tea as the liquid in the manufacturing process, and some of them also contain the ground up leaves in the bar.

So, celebrate the leaf with us!  Buy fresh leaves from us at our booth at the Pearl Farmers Market, in our store at the orchard, or from our on-line store.  Better yet, come dine in our restaurant at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard or stop by our booth at Pearl Farmers Market to taste our freshly brewed olive leaf tea.

Editor’s note: Check out Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard’s website here for a thorough preview of the property just a 25-minute drive from downtown San Antonio at 25195 Mathis Road. If you love the olive leaf tea — you can buy it by the bagful at the store or grow your own — from a tree at the olive tree nursery, also carefully managed at Sandy Oaks.








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Hot Wells Springs to Life with a Bounteous Harvest Feast

Hot Wells Springs to Life with a Bounteous Harvest Feast

Chris Jara offers a winning cake made with fruit from the Hot Wells property.

Chris Jara offers a winning cake made with fruit from the Hot Wells property.

Brandon McKelvey of Say.She.Ate made a fresh salad packed with fresh herbs and graced with slices of beets. Josh Cross of El Toro Taco roasted a whole goat for cabrito tacos topped with a zippy salsa. Stefan Bowers of Feast dished up mulberry soup with chicharrones and hot peppers.

Guests could walk into a part of the former spa.

Guests could walk into a part of the former spa.

Those were three of the many dishes served up Wednesday at the Hot Wells Harvest Feast in which an array of chefs from across the city showcased the finest fruits, vegetables and herbs from the gardens on the grounds of the former hotel and spa.

Planners had expected about 500 to show up for Jason Dady’s Connecticut oysters with a blackberry vinegar, Tim the Girl Mcdarmid’s felafel granola or John Fahle’s smoked salmon with dill. But organizer Robbie Nowlin, executive chef of the Hotel Valencia, said the final total was “792.”

A postcard of the former hotel and spa.

A postcard of the former hotel and spa.

That’s a good amount of money for the Hot Wells Conservancy, which is trying to keep the historic property a vital part of the community. The original resort has suffered from two fires and the sulfur springs have been blocked,  but the ruins provided a perfect setting for the evening.

The array of foods served showed off the riches grown on the property, including several dozen varieties of heirloom tomatoes, tongue-tingling hot peppers, fennel, hoja santa, Swiss chard, peaches and more. Halston Conella of Cirtus brought his own wood-burning oven and made pizzas that included many of the ingredients as toppings. PJ Edwards of Gardner in Austin used several varieties of tomatoes to top a cheese-rich tart. Brooke Smith of Esquire Tavern served up a lamb paté, and Jeret Peña of the Brooklynite and the Last Word used herbs to create his own “Chartreuse” for use in one of the cocktails he and his brother, Jorel, were mixing up.

As more than one guest satisfied said, it was all good. The mosquitoes seemed to be enjoying themselves, too.

Visitors stroll the grounds of Hot Wells before sunset.

Visitors stroll the grounds of Hot Wells before sunset.

In the end, the crowd had to narrow down their choices to name the two top tastes of the evening. Chris Jara of the St. Anthony Hotel was the top vote getter for a gorgeous layered cake that incorporated fruit from the gardens. In second place was Jeff Wayne White of Boiler House Texas Grill, who was last year’s big winner; he made a Vietnamese banh mi featuring corned brisket and a spicy slaw that used some serranos from the garden.

The sun eventually disappeared behind what’s left of the pool house and the stars began to dance above as the chefs and the last few visitors let the party stretch into the night.  Leaving the party full and happy prompted one question: What’s happening next at Hot Wells?

Tim the Girl's team

Tim the Girl’s team

Jeff Wayne White tastes his own Vietnamese banh mi.

Jeff Wayne White tastes his own Vietnamese banh mi.

Josh Cross serves up cabrito tacos.

Josh Cross serves up cabrito tacos.

Ernie Estrada with Rockin' Rabbit and Piggy Rillette.

Ernie Estrada with Rockin’ Rabbit and Piggy Rillette.

Visitors check out the gardens.

Visitors check out the gardens.



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Getting Wicked for a Good Cause

Getting Wicked for a Good Cause

Have you ever wondered what chefs do in their off time?

PJ Edwards and Robbie Nowlin (right) address the Wicked Nights at Wickes crowd.

PJ Edwards and Robbie Nowlin (right) address the Wicked Nights at Wickes crowd.

Robbie Nowlin of Citrus in the Hotel Valencia likes to get together with other chefs and cook up some fun.

That’s why he has started up a monthly dinner party at his Southtown home. He’s called it Wicked Night at Wickes, or #WickedNightsAtWickes, as it has come to be more commonly known, thanks to its social media hashtag. Its main purpose is to raise awareness of Haven for Hope, the center that helps the city’s homeless and less fortunate. In lieu of a set dinner price, guests are asked to donate H-E-B gift cards, which Nowlin and his friend, artist Justin Parr, use to buy ingredients so they can make breakfast for folks who use the center.

“I’m super stoked about the dinner series,” he says. “For me, doing a supper club where we didn’t charge was the real point. We encourage people to bring H-E-B gift cards to help Justin Parr and me purchase ingredients to make tacos for Haven for Hope or to just give haven the cards to do what they will with them.”

Spring peas with yogurt, garlic and flowers

Spring peas with yogurt, garlic and flowers

Each month, Nowlin asks a different chef to set the menu for the evening. Though the series of dinners dates back only to December, the lineup so far has included old friends from some phase of his career in the restaurant business, and each has obliged by devising a multi-course menu that showcased the best of what’s in season. Chefs featured so far have included Jeff Wiley, who works with Nowlin at Citrus, and Rebecca Masson of Houston’s Fluff Bake Bar.

In March, the invited guest star was PJ Edwards, sous chef of Gardner in Austin. Nowlin and Edwards both worked for Jason Dady, but their history together goes back much further to the start of their careers. They were both on the line at one of San Antonio’s Olive Garden, where, because of the lack of creativity involved in the job, they focused on honing their chopping skills and other fundamentals, often racing each other to see, for example, who could cut their way through carrots the fastest.

Instead of feasting on the elaborate meal with the other 30 or so guests, I asked Nowlin if I could help out wherever necessary behind the scenes to see what preparation was involved in staging each of the dinners.

Before the first guest arrived, I found myself alongside several other volunteers foraging the yard for an edible garnish possibly to use later in the evening. I also found myself having to taste test a cocktail from Jeret and Jorel Peña of the Brooklynite and the Last Word that would be served with the appetizers. (Hey, it had gin in it, so somebody had to volunteer.)

Shucking the oysters

Shucking the oysters

The evening began with oysters on the half shell with a strawberry mignonette as well as pea meringue with fermented mushroom.

Once the guests took their seats at the horseshoe-shaped dining table in Nowlin’s backyard, the pace picked up. I found myself helping assemble plates or serving them to the guests as soon as possible, so that they could get their fill of the likes of spring peas with yogurt and garlic garnished with a colorful array of edible flowers or grilled turnip with serrano ham and preserved persimmon.

Live music filled the background, as did a scattered squawk from Nowlin’s hens and the satisfied sounds of people enjoying their meals and each other’s company. Bottles of wine went from full to empty as the evening wore on, and I soon joined in the train of servers, who whisked away plates after the diners had finished with pork loin crowned with artichoke and guanciale or crawfish served with green garbanzo, leeks and nasturtium.

The crew that it took to keep the action going was large. Other chefs, cooks, servers and friends willingly gave up a free night to do what they do for the rest of the week, all for a good cause and all to keep the evening running as smoothly as possible. Nowlin has also managed to get a number of sponsors for Wicked Nights at Wickes, including the RK Group, which provides the setup for the evening, including the tables, chairs, china, silverware and glassware.

Robbie Nowlin's hens

Robbie Nowlin’s hens

Nowlin came up with the idea for the dinner series after he landed his job at Citrus. He felt the need to do something for the community, but he also wanted to have some fun on a night off.

“It’s really about getting the community excited about coming together to eat a meal from an awesome chef and be able to meet new interesting people,” he says. And it’s about getting the chefs to try to outdo each other from one month to the next, of course.

So, where did the name come from?

It’s a tribute, Nowlin says, to the Wickes Street home’s previous tenant, the late Craig Pennel, who hosted outrageous parties that he called Wicked Nights. The chef felt he wanted to continue the tradition in his own way.

Getting a seat at the table for one of the dinners isn’t easy. You can’t just call someone and make a reservation for the next Wicked Night at Wickes. First, you have to like the event’s Facebook page and wait for an announcement of the next dinner. Then post a comment that you’d like to join, and your name will be entered into a lottery for the seats. The dinners are usually the last Sunday of the month, though the April/May dinner has been set for May 3 with Stefan Bowers of Feast as the guest chef. There’s also talk of a future dinner featuring one of Nowlin’s associates from his days at the French Laundry, but you’ll have to keep an eye open for future announcements.

Next time, I’m hoping to snag a seat at the table. I’ve got my H-E-B cards ready.

It's time for Wicked Nights at Wickes.

It’s time for Wicked Nights at Wickes.



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Griffin to Go: When It’s Time to Bake, It’s Always Mother’s Day

Griffin to Go: When It’s Time to Bake, It’s Always Mother’s Day

I won’t be in Louisville Sunday for Mother’s Day. My visit will follow a few days later, so I can be there when my parents celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.

But every time I step into the kitchen to bake something, it’s a form of Mother’s Day.

Mom's CookbookThat’s because Mom taught me the basics of what to do when making a cake or how to use a cookie press, how long to let butter and sugar cream in the mixer or how to make sure you never burn a cake. (Turn off the oven five minutes before the cake’s finished and let it cook further in its still-warm cocoon.)

I didn’t start out watching her while she worked as a baker out of our home. I spent my childhood pursuing more worthwhile interests at the time, such as watching TV for hours on end. But I was there whenever she happened to break a cookie or had a little icing left after finishing a cake.

Yet when I started to write about food, I realized that I had learned a little more than I thought. But I hadn’t learned all I could.

So, when Mom decided she wanted to put together a cookbook of her recipes, I readily agreed to help. Little did I know how long the project would take. Or how much I’d learn.

For eight years, I worked off and on, trying to get her recipes together in a way that even people who don’t spend any time in the kitchen could be able to follow. It wasn’t always easy.

When you’re baking bread, you don’t just go from mixing yeast and water to having a dough that you can knead, though that’s what her notes said. Even I knew that, and I rarely make bread. So, trying to figure out the missing steps took work, even with Mom available by phone.

There were some short tempers, some big laughs and some blanks that needed to be filled in. For example, Mom hadn’t made Pork Cake in more than 50 years, and all she wrote down in her notes was a list of ingredients. But what a wonderful sounding and wholly forgotten creation.

There were other treasures. Her award-winning Tennessee Jam Cake, her beloved Rum Tarts, and some regional dishes, including Bean Pie from Eastern Kentucky and cookies from her German childhood. The recipes show an evolution in American tastes, from the dense cakes filled with dried fruit, once so popular in winter, to the once-trendy Better Than Sex Cake and on to modern classics, including her take on Key Lime Pie.

Tennessee Jam Cake

Tennessee Jam Cake

Time passed, and Mom honestly thought the book would never be finished. I had my doubts, too, especially when I decided to get my master’s degree at the same time I was working on two books of my own. But then my sisters got involved. They took what Mom and I worked on, dealt with a publisher and finished what is now known as “Cookies and Cakes You’ll Love: Annaliese W. Griffin’s Recipes.” Dad’s always been a willing guinea pig when it comes to tasting.

Late last year, 27 cases of books arrived at the Griffin home. Since then Mom’s been busy selling as many copies as she can, and she’s proved to be quite the saleswoman, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows her. After only six months, she only has about four cases left, and I’m planning to bring one of those back with me.

In the meantime, I’ll be cracking open my copy to make a treat for a luncheon I’ve been invited to. What will it be? Cinnamon Bars? Rocky Road Brownies? Mocha Rum Bars? I like the sounds of Congo Squares, not just because of the ingredients, but because the directions say, “They’re also easy to make.” That always is appealing when you don’t have much time.

Thank your own mother by getting her recipes down in print or on video. She may not use measuring cups, but you can tape her in action using your phone and you’ll always have her family recipes with you.

Congo Squares

2/3 cup (10 tablespoons) margarine or butter, at room temperature
1 pound brown sugar
3 eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
6 ounces chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream margarine and brown sugar until well incorporated, about 5 minutes in a stand mixer. Add eggs one at a time. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt together, then slowly add to the margarine mixture. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips. Spread in a greased 15-by-10-by-1-inch pan and bake for about 25 minutes until brown.

Makes 5 dozen (2-inch) squares.

From Annaliese Griffin/”Cookies and Cakes You’ll Love: Annaliese W. Griffin’s Recipes.”

Here are a few other recipes from Mom:

Whiskey Nut Cake

Whiskey Nut Cake

Christmas cookies

Whiskey Nut Cake

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Melting Moments

Best-Ever Lemon Pie

Tennessee Jam Cake

Raspberry Vanilla Cake

Chocolate Almond Cookies

If you’d like a copy of “Cookies and Cakes You’ll Love: Annaliese W. Griffin’s Recipes,” please send an email to Copies are $12 apiece, plus shipping and handling. They are available on a first-come basis.



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The Kentucky Derby’s Coming. Are You Ready to Party?

The Kentucky Derby’s Coming. Are You Ready to Party?

“The most exciting two minutes in sports,” aka the Kentucky Derby, is coming up Saturday!

Are your ready to have some fun?

Here are some local parties celebrating the 141st Run for the Roses as well as some tips and recipes to get you into the spirit. I just wish I had some tips on which horse to bet on.

(Courtesy Bending Branch Winery)

(Courtesy Bending Branch Winery)

Derby at the vineyard

Bending Branch Winery, 142 Lindner Branch Trail, Comfort, has become known for its lavish derby day party, which runs from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday.

There will be a hat parade competition, live music from Phil Grota and Friends as well as single-barrel blanc mint juleps and food.

Limited seating is available, so people are advised to bring their own chairs.

Advance tickets through April 30 are $40 apiece or $60 a couple, while VIP tables for 10 are $1,000 apiece and VIP tables for 10 with a case of wine and bottle service are $5,000. Tickets at the gate will be $50 apiece.

Ladies, get out your hats

Watch the derby live and in style at Sustenio Lounge in the Eilan Hotel & Spa, 18603 La Cantera Terrace.

Pre-show festivities begin at 3 p.m. During the event, you can:

–Enjoy Sustenio’s own Lavender Mint Julep and other drink specialties.

–Participate in the Best Hat Contest — and possibly win a dinner for 2 at Sustenio.

All women with hats will be treated to free appetizers.

For more information, call (210) 598-2950.
The Brooklynite steps up to the line, too

At 4 p.m. Saturday, check out The Brooklynite’s $5 bourbon cocktail specials and raffle prizes, sponsored by Maker’s Mark and Old Grandad.

Also, three guest bartenders, including: Houston Eaves of The Esquire Tavern, Stephan Mendez of The Last Word, and David Naylor of Park Social will be put through their paces as well.

Derby attire (hats and bowties) is recommended, especially pretty hats.

Address: 516 Brooklyn Ave.

Reservations: 210-444-0707
Give your julep a twist

Kentucky Derby, of course, means mint juleps, which are truly refreshing sippers this time of year.

Marie Zahn, one of Louisville’s leading mixologists, has provided her own twist on this classic in a recipe that uses Basil Hayden’s Bourbon and mint with some apricot preserves instead of sugar or simple syrup.

BH_High Stakes JulepBasil Hayden’s High Stakes Julep

10 mint leaves
2 parts Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
1 bar spoon Apricot Jelly or Preserves

Add 8 mint leaves to a glass and lightly press with the back of a bar spoon.

Add bourbon, apricot jelly and crushed ice into the glass.

Swizzle briefly and add more crushed ice until it is mounding over the top of the glass.

Add a straw and garnish with additional sprigs of mint.

Makes 1 julep.

From Marie Zahn/Basil Hayden’s Bourbon

If you want a recipe for a classic julep, click here.

julep cupThe right cup for juleps

A mint julep is traditionally served in a silver cup presented to you on a silver tray. The cup gets so cold that servers opt for the tradition of wearing gloves. (OK, we Kentucky folks love our tradition, no matter the reason, so the gloves will be worn regardless.)

If you want to get into the derby spirit, you can get silver julep cups at Twin Liquors. I saw these beauties at the one on U.S. 281 near Bitters Road. Call whichever store you’re closest to if you want to see if they’re in stock before making a trip.

They sell for $19.79 apiece. And, yes, they are silver.



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