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Holy Cookie Butter! Trader Joe’s Now Open

Holy Cookie Butter! Trader Joe’s Now Open

A cashier hands a customer a free Trader Joe’s shopping bag on opening day in San Antonio.

After years of San Antonio begging on collective bended knee for a Trader Joe’s, that shopping dream came true this morning.

Customers make their way carefully through opening-day crowds at Trader Joe’s.

If you thought there would be mob scene at 8 a.m., you might have done what I did and waited until … noon. Which was, of course, a mob scene. But the officers in the parking lot directing traffic did a fine job of making sure it was not an unhappy experience. And, once inside, it was a happy mob.

“I haven’t had to haul out the pepper spray yet,” joked one employee as she guided shoppers through a particularly knotty intersection near the cheeses.

“I thought it was fine, it’s going very smooth,” said a shopper.

Mary, who moved to San Antonio from the northern Midwest, has yearned all the while for a Trader Joe’s to open. “I’ve waited five years for this,” she said. Her shopping cart was only half full, and I saw her still shopping as I made my exit.

Open at the Quarry Extension, across the street from Quarry Market proper, the store is “about average size for a Trader Joe’s,” one of the busy employees told us. (He didn’t know if Austin’s store is bigger.)

When I finally got in line to pay up, my basket was just under a quarter full. Judging it with an eye well-honed by some of the city’s other stores, I figured I’d purchased close to $100 worth of stuff. I was going to be surprised.

Into the basket (not in this order, necessarily) went wine. No, there was none of Trader Joe’s label of very good reserve pinot noir on the shelves. “Try around February. We don’t get much and it sells out in less than a month,” said the wine clerk. “Oh, and our employees tend to grab up most of it.”

Duly warned, I promised I’d be pestering him again after the first of the year. In the meantime, I picked up another passion, a very dry, pink sparkler from Bourgogne at a little more than $10. A slab of Compte cheese to go with that and a black olive demi-baguette kept this lovely, movie-time snack for two much less than $20.

From shiny eggplants to nicely trimmed leeks, the produce attracts crowds.

The fresh produce aisles also drew the crowds. They were moving through single file, more or less patiently. My eye caught on the $1.19 Hass avocados, the package of two fat, already trimmed leeks, salad mixes, Persian cucumbers and Trader Joe’s own salad dressings. The creamy cilantro went into my basket.

I bought food gifts for buddies not as fortunate as I, who were at work instead of shopping. A bag of Trader Joe’s organic popcorn, some stone-ground, whole-grain crackers and an Italian soda went into the cart for my husband. Another friend will get a hefty bar of Trader Joe’s chocolate with hazelnuts. I even bought some of Trader Joe’s cat food. We’ll see how that goes down with my picky feline tasters.

Fresh flowers at value prices.

Fresh flowers are a luxury that I had to cut back on when the $4 bundles of fresh alstromaria went away at my neighborhood supermarket. Here, though, I picked up a bouquet of alstromeria — plus zinnias and one fragrant lily, for $3.99.  That offer, right there, will bring me back on a weekly basis.

Finally, for dinner, I picked up a full Indian meal for two of Trader Joe’s Chicken Tikka Masala with rice, Baingan Bharta (Eggplant Curry) and Channa Masala, a spicy stew of vegetables and garbanzo beans.

I did not buy any Cookie Butter. Despite months of watching every foodie geek on Twitter rave about this product, I managed to pick it up, then put it back down. This, after checking the calorie count. Doing this once, though, doesn’t mean I will resist next time.

My total at the cash register, or the digital equivalent thereof, was a little more than — surprise — $62.

As I made my way out, I heard one customer ask a clerk, “When will it slow down?”

“Oh, try back in January of February,” he responded.

Photographs by Bonnie Walker



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Fresh: Fava Beans, Nice When You Can Get Them

Fresh: Fava Beans, Nice When You Can Get Them

One of spring’s marvelous crops is fresh fava beans. So, imagine my surprise to find fava beans at Central Market, in the produce section, in the pod and yes, in the fall.

Fava beans inside the pod.

I bought a bagful of the large and ungainly looking bean pods, shiny green with a few brown spots. My bag cost $3.50, and would yield (after preparation) what I considered a modest-sized serving for one.

An agricultural site on the web told me that when you can find fresh fava beans in the pod, it’s a good idea to buy a pound per person. Which is one reason I’ve looked into growing them in my backyard garden. Another site said that one can grow fava beans in Texas, but the plant doesn’t tolerate well temperatures over 80 degrees. It’s late October now, and it’s still getting up into the 80s.

Fava beans, called broad beans in Britain and also in many other parts of the world, are legumes and one of the world’s oldest cultivated crops.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has successfully grown favas in South Texas. (My guess would be that now might be a good time to start seedlings in the cool of the house, and put them in the ground sometime in November. Or, put them in the ground if you have a likely spot in the Hill Country!)

The preparation of the fresh beans is not difficult, but you do have to work your way through two layers of shell that protect the tender beans, which are a fabulous shade of green and as delicious a bean as one can find.

Fava beans, still inside the secondary shells, blanching.

The method is basically this: With a sharp little knife, snip off the tip of the pod and pull at the string, which sometimes helps split the long bean open. More reliable is to split the seam with the knife a little ways, then insert your thumb and run it down the side of the pod. Inside will be the thick, roughly ovoid beans, which you remove. Toss the empty pods.

The creamy colored shells contain the smaller green beans. To get to them, you should have a pan of boiling water ready and toss the beans into it. Let them cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then drain and either put into an ice bath or run cold water over them. When you can handle them, slit open this second shell on one end, then gently squeeze, and the bean should slide out.

Some say that the creamy outer shells are edible as well, just a little bit chewy.

Now, you have a pile of green favas. Taste one – if it is tender, it’s ready to add to a recipe, or dress with herbs and olive oil and serve. If the beans are bigger, you can simmer them in a little water, not too long, to the tenderness you want them. Or, saute in a little oil.

Shelled beans: simmer in a little water to tenderize if needed, or saute in oil.

I’ve served them with fish, with roast chicken, put them in salads and just dressed them lightly and eaten them from the bowl, happy that I’d found them – and thinking, for the 100th time, why don’t I grow them? That’s plan B.

Here is a recipe that I found on Huffington Post. It’s a fine idea for party finger food.

Fava Beans, Herbs and Avocado Bruschetta

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups shelled fava beans
4 ounces mixed baby greens
1/4 cup parsley leaves
1/4 cup mint leaves
8 slices French country bread
1 large garlic clove
1 large avocado

Eat fava beans in a recipes, such as this one, or lightly dress with olive oil, salt and pepper and have as a side dish.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine oil, lemon juice, vinegar, maple syrup, and shallot. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk to emulsify. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add fava beans and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and shock in ice water. Remove outer skins and place beans in a large mixing bowl. Add baby greens, parsley, and mint.

Heat a grill pan set over high heat. Rub bread slices with garlic clove and brush or drizzle with olive oil on both sides. Grill until charred with grill lines, about 2 minutes per side. Set grilled bread onto a platter or individual plates.

Cut open avocado. Use a large spoon to scoop out flesh halves. Place on cutting board and slice lengthwise. Top each piece of bread with a few slices of avocado.

Whisk dressing to reincorporate. Drizzle over bowl of favas, greens, and herbs. Toss gently to combine. Divide salad among each piece of bread with avocado slices. Serve immediately.

Yield: 8 appetizer servings.

Adapted (slightly) from Huffington Post recipe



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Truffles: Mighty in Taste and Aroma

Truffles: Mighty in Taste and Aroma

Peppercorn, the culinary shop, is tucked into the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colo. It comprises three levels of jam-packed culinary delights from dishes to cooking equipment, linens to a well-chosen trove of cookbooks. It’s a treasure-hunter’s dream and my sister and I make a pilgrimage up there every time I visit.

This year, one of my  scores was a 4-ounce jar of Fusion Black Truffle Salt from the Artisan Salt Company. It was made in Washington State, it combines only sea salt and black truffle. I had to have it, and I paid dearly for it.

Black truffle, as most foodies know, has a powerful aroma and flavor. Use too much (and I believe there is such a thing) and the richness can bowl you over. (I would add, that’s a nice way to go!)

Use an inferior quality truffle oil or salt or a truffle that is not fresh, and you’ll wonder what all the excitement is about. I haven’t gone on a truffle hunt, I haven’t yet gone to Italy in truffle season and had it generously grated over my handmade pasta (though I did have this experience at Lydia Bastianich’s Felidia  in New York recently). But I have become intimately familiar with it’s singular aroma, the earthiness, the deep fragrance that makes you close your eyes when you breathe it in.

There are several types of truffles: the white truffles are rare, and thus very expensive, coming from Italy’s Umbria and Piedmont regions. The black truffle, found in the Perigord region of France, are, not surprisingly sometimes called Perigord truffles. There are other types, such as summer or grey truffles, used in both Italian and French cooking.

Slow-Scrambled Eggs with Peppato and Chevre.

My little jar of salt didn’t say where the black truffle was sourced, but opening the paper seal, just the tiniest bit, let out a cloud of mushroomy fragrance that I knew boded well for some truffle-accented dishes. I started with some buttery Slow-Cooked Scrambled Eggs with Pepato Cheese and Chevre — and a healthy pinch of truffle salt to finish.

Black truffle is  indispensable in the French pâte de foie gras truffé or for spreading on crostini or inserting under the skin of a roast chicken. Or, as herb and spice expert Aliza Green also suggests, in her book “Field Guide to Herbs and Spices,” “Serve beef carpaccio dressed with fine olive oil and shaved truffles.”

White truffles have a more delicate flavor, are harder to come by and, says Green, are “best enjoyed by shaving paper-thin slices raw onto eggs, pasta and risotto, just before serving.”

Truffle salt, on the other hand, seems to me to be an expedient way to get some of that wonderful flavor into your food any time of year, and at a fraction of the price.  If you have truffle salt, or decide to find some, look for an ingredient list of only two items: truffles, sea salt. (Locally, you can find it at GauchoGourmet, 935 Isom Road, or at

Here are some things to try

1. Truffle-salted cantaloupe or other sweet melon: The truffle gives the salt a heady, savory aroma, which might make it work well sprinkled on honeydew melon.

2. Portobellos on the grill. Portobellos are big and meaty, and if you’ve ever lightly oiled one and sizzled it on the grill, you know it’s a worthy accompaniment to steak, or sliced and served on a platter with other grilled vegetables. I might try stirring together some browned onions, cream and a cheese like Compté, season with some truffle salt and let it melt into gooeyness on the grill, inside the bowl of the portobello.

3. Use as a finishing salt for steak or lamb. Or make a flavored butter by mixing unsalted butter with sauteed minced shallots, a bit of lemon juice and a pinch of truffle salt. Shape into a cylinder and chill it, then slice into thick rounds to garnish the grilled or roasted meat. We’ve also found the truffle flavor wonderful with chicken, and why not with wings? Here’s a wings recipe that we’ve tried — and loved.

4. Popcorn. We’ll try a generous shaking of truffle salt with our popcorn soon, definitely with a drizzle of truffle oil.

5. Here are some other foods whose flavors have an affinity for truffles, from Aliza Green: Almond, chipotle, cilantro, cinnamon, coconut, cumin, duck, eggplant, ginger, honey, mango, mint, orange, star anise, sweet potato, tomato and tuna.




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Crafting Herb, Spice Blends Will Save Bucks, Please Your Palate

Crafting Herb, Spice Blends Will Save Bucks, Please Your Palate

There is a profusion of premixed herb, spice and seasoning blends out there, and it’s sometimes hard to choose just the blend you want.

We suggest making your own, for several reasons:

Put together your own spice mixes for specific ethnic cuisines, barbecue rubs, salad seasonings and more.

•  The cost will be much less.
•  You can fine-tune the blend to your taste.
•  The blend won’t have any filler in it or a lot of added salt or sugar – which is something you end up paying for with many commercial blends.
•  You can mix in small batches, so that the spices don’t lose flavor by sitting around on your spice shelf for long periods of time.
•  Spice and herb blends are easy to do, and make good gifts. Check out craft stores, art shops, etc., for packaging ideas, or use your imagination and make your own.

With no further ado, here are a few that we like.  Use them as they are, or start customizing!

Lavender, a good addition to a summery herb blend. (Photo courtesy Becker Vineyards)

Herbes de Provence

This is a fine-tuned blend, from the South of France, that alternates stronger herbal flavors with lighter.

It adds a wonderful, summery flavor to casseroles, game or poultry — even steaks. Also, add some fresh parsley to a couple of pinches of this as a dry blend, and whip it into the eggs for an omelet. Fold a little crème fraîche into the omelet just before you serve it.

This blend calls for dried herbs, but not ground (except for bay leaf). If you don’t want to grind the bay leaf, you could put a small, whole leaf into each blend, but not add the whole, dried leaf to food. (The edges are sharp, unless you grind it down some.) You can also make this blend with fresh herbs, if you have the herbs on hand. We don’t suggest mixing fresh and dried, though.

4 teaspoons dried leaf thyme
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2/3 teaspoon culinary lavender flowers
½ teaspoon celery seeds
½ teaspoon lightly ground white pepper
1 crushed bay leaf (take leaves off dried stem, and grind in a mortar)

Mix together the herbs. For using, 2-3 teaspoons is sufficient in a recipe for three-to-four people.

Adapted from “The Spice Bible; A Cook’s Guide” by Ian Hemphill

Fines Herbes

This “delicately balanced bouquet of finely flavored herbs … is found in French cuisine,” writes Ian Hemphill in “The Spice and Herb Bible.” This recipe may be made with fresh or dried herbs.

Flat-leaf parsley

Here’s a sidelight I found amusing. In my vintage (1961) edition of the English translation of the French culinary bible, “Larousse Gastronomique”, the entry for fines herbes is typically terse. However, the writer also allows himself (and, surely, it was a “him”) a little crabby comment to chefs of the time.

“Generally speaking, this term is used not of mixed herbs, but simply of chopped parsley. Therefore an Omelette aux Fines Herbes is an omelette containing only parsley, in addition to the usual seasonings.” (Probably a reference to salt and white pepper.)

The writer goes on: “Actually, fines herbes should be a mixture of herbs, such as parsley, chervil, tarragon and even chives. Indeed, this was the original meaning of the term. In earlier times chopped mushroom and even truffles were added to the list of herbs above.”

We give our firm approval to adding truffles to a fines herbes mix!

Hemphill’s recipe follows. In addition to the herbs mentioned above, he adds green dill tips and lovage. While the Hemphill doesn’t add chives, fresh chives would be fine, and it is included in this slight adaptation. Again, if you wish to make this blend with all dried herbs, it’s fine.

Fines Herbes (for fresh or dried herbs)

2 tablespoons parsley
1 tablespoon chervil
1 tablespoon lovage
2 teaspoons green dill tips
2 teaspoons French tarragon
2 teaspoons minced chives

This blend goes well with any egg dish, and is also wonderful in a creamy salad dressing, blended with a half cup each of mayonnaise and heavy cream.

Adapted from “The Spice Bible” by Ian Hemphill.

Texas Herb Rub

Lamb, beef, pork -- all will taste better rubbed with spices!

Here’s an herbal rub with a Texas twist, from Tom Perini. Put it on meat (of course).

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper

Combine all the ingredients and rub over the surface of the meat.

From “Texas Cowboy Cooking” by Tom Perini

Wild Willy’s Number One-derful Rub

This is a good, all-purpose barbecue rub, from Cheryl and Bill Jamison’s “Smoke & Spice.” Use it on ribs, brisket, chicken and more.

¾ cup paprika
¼ cup freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup coarse kosher or sea salt
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
3 tablespoons cayenne

Mix spices thoroughly in a bowl. Store covered, in a cool, dark place. Makes about 2 cups.

Tunisian Tabil Rub

This is a spice mix that’s become somewhat trendy in the U.S. in the past few years.  The  aromatic, spicy blend known as tabil is generally used with lamb and imparts a pungency that will give your barbecue an exotic flavor. Tone down the hot spice (hot pepper flakes) if you need to do so.

2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 tablespoons hot pepper flakes
2 tablespoons coarse (kosher or sea) salt

Combine the coriander, cumin and caraway seeds in a dry skillet and cook over medium heat, shaking the pan to ensure even cooking, until toasted and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.

Place the mixture in a mortar and grind to a fine powder with the pestle, or use a spice mill. Store in an airtight jar away from heat and light for up to 6 months. Makes about ½ cup, or enough for 3-4 pounds of meat, poultry or seafood.

From “The Barbecue Bible” by Steven Raichlen

John Griffin contributed to this article.



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Kitchen Tools: Tried, True and Unexpected

Kitchen Tools: Tried, True and Unexpected

When Foodista on Twitter sent out the question “what is your favorite kitchen tool” I thought about it for a moment. My first response is somewhat obvious — my hands — and the next obvious answer, my chef’s knife, aren’t particularly original answers.

Whisks, in many shapes and sizes, are must-have kitchen tools.

In short succession, I thought of the rest of my must-have items: kitchen tongs (and plenty of them), heatproof spatulas, steel bowls from huge to small, whips and various spoons. The other knives I keep close are the thin-tipped boning knife, a paring knife (expensive) and knife with a serrated blade (cheap).

There were things I used as a working cook, years ago, that I learned to love – then learned to live without when my cooking was confined to my home kitchen. A huge, copper pot that had its bottom replaced several times was my love in an Italian kitchen I worked in. I loved the heavy, workhorse buffalo choppers and stacks of indestructible sauté pans we’d fling around on the line each night.

As a home cook, I’ve found that more of interest now are the unlikely things that have found their way into my kitchen — some almost by accident.

I’d never seen much use for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, for instance. If I wanted to whip up eggs or knead pasta dough I could jolly well do it on my own power, I told myself.  Then, early one December, I started making biscotti and could not stop. I was obsessed. As the days went by I went from chocolate hazelnut to almond to dried cranberry orange peel —  it suddenly occurred to me that I could make so many more versions if I just had a stand mixer. Suddenly, there it was. I am happy I have it still, though the biscotti frenzy did come to an end.

The world’s smallest melon scoop is in the kitchen drawer full of other small, specialty tools. I rarely use it, but would never get rid of it. First of all, I bought it in a famous chef’s shop in Paris. My one and only trip to Paris.  The inspiration for buying it was a salad I’d had that consisted of a bowl full of cool, fresh watercress garnished with caramelized onions and tiny rounds of cucumber, all perfectly dressed with a Champagne vinaigrette. I had to recreate it, and I did. And, found out how long it took to scoop out all of those little tiny pearls of cucumber. It is a special-occasion salad for sure.

Tongs, for cooking and serving, are tops on many cooks' lists.

I recently realized that I’ve been using another unlikely item almost daily — to the point that I’m wondering how I’d gotten along so many years without it.  I don’t even remember how I came to have it.

This is a battered but sturdy, 16-inch pizza pan. I’ve used it for making pizza, of course. But it’s come to play a larger role. It is perfect for ferrying prepped food from counter to stove, or meat from kitchen to outdoor grill; for holding  pecan halves or slivered almonds, spread out for toasting in the oven. It’s handy for taking food from the freezer to counter, and holding it while it defrosts. It is there when I need a flat, heat-proof surface on top of the stove to hold foods I’m frying or sautéing in batches, like a stack of softened tortillas for enchiladas.

It’s more versatile and useful, easy to clean and is pretty much indestructible. It will probably stay close at hand in the kitchen for the duration, while shinier, more expensive implements sit unused in a back drawer.  Utility, in the end, is what it’s all about.



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Color Explosion: Pumpkins, Squashes and Gourds Are Here

Color Explosion: Pumpkins, Squashes and Gourds Are Here

Blue pumpkins looking exotic among the orange.

Big orange pumpkins tell us fall is really here. Above, blue pumpkins add exotic color next to the green and orange.


While the calendar told us that fall began on Friday, I had my first taste of this welcome season a day early.

A visit this time of year to Central Market has become as traditional for me as picking out a Christmas tree or driving downtown to see the holiday lights on the River Walk. It’s time for the pumpkin display.

This sprawling array of amazing colors, shapes and sizes of pumpkins, as well as squash and ornamental gourds at Central Market, is one of the best ways I know to get a big, beautiful eyeful of fall color. Giant orange pumpkins for impressive jack-o-lanterns, a big crate full of eerie,  pale-as-a-ghost white pumpkins, gnarled blue pumpkins and pumpkins so intensely orange as to be almost red; pumpkins so big they’d probably take up the passenger seat in a Smart car. How much more fun it is to gaze upon this splendor, I thought, than it is to stare at those masses of poinsettias coming up in a couple of months.

The label called this a 'blue warted apple pumpkin.' Apple-shaped, but is more green than blue.

Each year, I choose one “pet” pumpkin to display as living sculptural art on the coffee table or mantel. For the past few years this has been a blue pumpkin. This year I strayed, however, and fell for a lovely Blue Warted Apple Pumpkin. At least I think that’s what its name is. It was more pale green than blue, but the shape was right on.

On Friday, fall announced itself by a temperature in the actual 70s as I left the house late in the morning. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt and, to my amazement, I wasn’t dripping wet by the time I was settled in the car.

So, here’s to fall. We’ll be gratefully looking up fall recipes and sharing them in the next weeks. Honest. We are determined to wallow in a good measures of fall, Halloween and Thanksgiving spirit before getting into the coming “C” season.

Thai Red Curry Pumpkin Soup

1 (2-pound) pumpkin or butternut squash, steamed and peeled, with flesh cut in 1- to 2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
Salt, to taste
White pepper, to taste

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add pumpkin and curry paste. Cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture starts to stick to bottom of pan. Add coconut milk and one cup chicken broth. Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes, letting some of the liquid reduce.

Let soup cool slightly, then blend (taking care to cover the top of the blender) the soup in batches until it is smooth. Reheat, and let reduce more if you wish to have a thicker texture. Season with salt and pepper, tasting. Spoon into bowls or cups and top with the chopped cilantro.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe adapted from AU


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Dear Bon Blue Bell Ice Cream a ‘Cult’ Favorite?

Dear Bon Blue Bell Ice Cream a ‘Cult’ Favorite?

Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean Ice Cream beat out a panel of contenders at a Bon taste test. The results were published Sunday on Yahoo’s home page and Blue Bell was described as a “cult” favorite. Bon mentioned where it was distributed, but not that it originated in Texas, in Brenham, where it has been produced for more than a century. We thought we’d point that out.


Dear Bon editors, Julia Bainbridge and Supermarket Standoff participants:

I write to you with some amusement and just a bit of chiding.

In a recent article entitled Supermarket Standoff, you sampled 10 vanilla ice creams.Your taste test winner (and in fact No. 3 in relative healthfulness) was Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

We applaud the results. But, here’s a fact that you left out:  Blue Bell Ice Cream originated, and still is made, in Texas. (Only in the 1990s did the company open additional production facilities in Broken Arrow, Okla., and Sylacauga, Ala.)

It has been a favorite here in its home state for more than 100 years. It is still produced in its original location in Brenham, a little town northwest of Houston. It is delicious (as you discovered), and it is sold in grocery stores all over the state at a reasonable price and in plenty of flavors.

How would this make it a “cult” ice cream?

This is not homerism. I believe you’ve misused the word. You do mention, in fact, that it is available in some 20 states. To me, “cult” is a word I’d use for a product that was not readily available to the general public — perhaps it is hard to find, or it is hard to afford. I think of the term “cult” wines and my first thought is that I probably can’t get them in my favorite wine shop, and if I could, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford them.

I also wonder about your sentence: “We included it because it is such a cult favorite …” Why the dismissive (or even grudging) note here? Did you, perhaps, use the word “cult” because it was preferable to using the word “Texas”?

Blue Bell has a venerable history. The ice creamery was established by a cooperative of farmers to make good use of their excess milk and cream back in the early 1900s. It has long been the everyday, go-to ice cream for Texas ice cream lovers and families. Oh, and probably lots of families in those 19 other states you mention.

When I moved to Texas from Arizona years ago, I would joke to my husband that Blue Bell Ice Cream and ZZ Top were the main reasons I moved here. (Actually, I moved here to marry him.)  Not only was the flavor and texture of Blue Bell excellent, I loved the fact that they rotated flavors by season. For instance, when summertime comes, they take advantage of the bounteous crop of peaches grown in the Texas Hill Country and elsewhere to make one of their rotational ice creams.

Texas (as did other agriculturally rich,  food-producing states) actually had that “seasonal, local” thing going many years ago — maybe even before it was recognized as a hip restaurant concept “originating” in that politically correct state, California.

I am really glad that you did choose Blue Bell to test, and that your taste test discovered what we’ve known for years. You might even want to send a writer out to Brenham — it’s a great topic for an article.


Bonnie Walker,

Editor, SavorSA


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Hot Dogs in Court? Who’s Kidding Whom?

Hot Dogs in Court? Who’s Kidding Whom?

As Labor Day cookouts approach, some are planning sausage and brisket, some burgers and wienies. When it comes to hot dogs, most any of us can pitch a few points about our personal favorites.

So, the timing is right for the fight between food giants Kraft Foods Inc. and Sara Lee Corp. to heat up. Lawyers for each of the Chicago-based companies went to court Monday to point well-manicured fingers each others’ clients for advertising claims to having the best, or best-tasting, hot dogs.

Sara Lee touts its Ball Park Franks, while Kraft Foods claims its Jumbo Beef Franks are better. Millions, we assume, are being spent on this litigation, which is also generating a whole lot of publicity.

Readers who commented on Monday’s article provided a bit of entertainment. There were the inevitable Anthony Weiner jokes and Barney Frank got a slap or two.  The expected aspersions were cast at people who actually eat hot dogs.

We concur that hot dogs made with the full dosage of preservatives aren’t good for you, and especially not for your colon. I’m sorry to mention this word, but it tends to crop up in stories about hot dogs.

The comments also mentioned good hot dogs we didn’t know. One said that Cloverdale natural casing franks were the best. Cloverdale Foods Company is in Mandan, N.D. And, just in case anyone was wondering, the “natural casings” are sheep intestines. (See what I mean about that word?)

Another touted Ted’s Hot Dogs in Tempe, Ariz. (Except he got the name wrong the first time and said Tom’s Hot Dogs.)

Another said hot dogs from Michigan were the best. “Koegel’s in Michigan is the best hands down and by Michigan law contains no ‘mystery meats’. Many diners across the nation use Michigan hotdogs due to the strict laws and excellent quality,” he said.

Koegel’s, is in Flint, Mich., and apparently supplies only in Michigan with a few of its products going to Toledo, Ohio. Their slogan is one we’d like to suggest both Kraft and Sara Lee consider:  “Made Up To a Quality … Not Down to a Price.”

One or two comments roundly dismissed my own favorites, Hebrew National and Nathan’s.

I changed my mind about putting Nathan’s in the top spot earlier this summer. We did a Hebrew National reduced-fat frank tasting alongside Nathan’s in July. Not a formal tasting; just my husband and I sitting around the patio sweating, drinking beers and sampling wienies off the grill. (Yes, we eat wienies from time to time. And, some people don’t wear helmets when they ride their motorcycles. Choose your danger.)

Tasted alongside the kosher dogs, the Nathan’s suddenly seemed to acquire a livery taste. “Tastes like liver” is a real kiss of death for me, unless we’re talking about a duck and green peppercorn pâté or seared foie gras sprinkled with sea salt. So, that decided the wienie question.

Here’s why I think that Kraft and Sara Lee should just give it up: Truth is, aren’t they actually fighting for the right to claim to be third and fourth best wienie, or even seventh or eighth? And, what is the point of that?

They might sell the most hot dogs because they are corporate giants —and this public battle might be pushing those sales to new heights. But they’re kidding themselves if they think they even have a dog in the fight for No. 1 Best Wienie Champion of America.  Or, maybe they’re just trying to kid us.



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In the Pink at Culinaria’s Rambling Rosé

In the Pink at Culinaria’s Rambling Rosé

Wines are poured for panelists, audience, at Rambling Rosé 2011

Inviting hues of deep rose, palest pink and salmon are characteristic of one of summer’s most popular wines: dry rosé. The fact that the wine is served well-chilled, even iced, as is a good bottle of Champagne, sure doesn’t hurt, either!

This wine, so beloved in the hot, southern regions of France, particularly in Provence, has fought an uphill battle for respectability in the United States. For decades, wine aficionados have turned up their noses at pink wines, and in some cases for good reason. We can sum that up in one word: sweet.

The sugary white zinfandel that came of age more than 30 years ago earned the term “blush” wine and the unenviable reputation for being sweet, bland and really not what any self-respecting wine drinker would waste his or her time with.

Now, rosé is the rage, with sales still on the rise as well as its overall quality and reputation.

At Saturday’s Rambling Rosé, an annual event for Culinaria held at Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, there were stalwarts who insisted that to them, this was still a “ladies lunch” wine and they weren’t giving up their red wine for rosé.  And to that we say, to each his own.

But as more and more wineries in the  U.S. start making fine, dry rosés in a variety of styles — some New World and robust, with deep rosy colors, some of palest pink, such as Old World styles from Provence — we are finding that this wine is not something you drink “instead of” something else. There is so much to explore and appreciate and a good rosé holds a place of its own. And, its respectability is growing.

“We started making our rosé (Provenςal) when Bunny suggested it in around 1996,” said Richard Becker, Becker Vineyards owner with his wife, Bunny. Because the Beckers had traveled through Provence and fallen in love with the excellent rosés produced in the Bandol and Tavel regions, this seemed a natural progression. (For a video of Richard and Bunny Becker discussing the Provenςal, click here.)

Chef John Brand and sommelier Steven Krueger at Rambling Rosé 2011.

Since then, the Becker wine has held pride of place on the tasting tables at Rambling Rosé’ since the beginning of the popular event. Provenςal always been one of the top crowd pleasers during the blind tasting. Becker also served his Chenin Blanc during the food-wine tasting after the panels were over. Fillets of steelhead trout on a bed of seasoned quinoa was prepared by John Brand, executive chef for two River Walk hotels, Omni La Mansion del Rio and Ostra at Mokara Hotel. He was assisted by sous chef Javier Vasquez of Ostra.

Leading the panel at Saturday’s tastings were Steven Krueger, sommelier at Westin La Cantera, and Becker. Other panelists were John Griffin and Bonnie Walker of SavorSA, Jennifer McInnes of the Express-News and Becker winemaker Russell Smith.

The Becker rosé, said Smith, is made in a Provence style, where the red grapes (Mourvèdre) are pressed just enough to allow the juice (which is white) to retain some of the color from the skins. The wine has received a varying amount of time in wood barrels over the years to see just how much oak tastes best. The 2010 Becker Provenςal was very pale, with a good zing of acidity balancing the fruit, bone dry and refreshing.

Refreshing was the word of the day. As one panelist said, summer around South Texas lasts a long time —and we still have a couple of months ahead of us to really appreciate the dry rosé.  As Becker pointed out, rosé and Champagne are the two wines the French ice down to serve. Its good to give a rosé a chance to breathe as well.  Our suggestion: The refrigerator keeps the wine at just above 40 degrees. Take it out, open it and let it breathe 10-15 minutes. It will still be cool (42-44 degrees) when you serve it. If you want it to stay at the cooler temperature, keep the bottle or carafe on ice after opening.

The following rosés (most 2010) were poured at this year’s Rambling Rosé:

• Belle Glos Pinot Noir Rosé, Santa Barbara County (around $19): One of the day’s favorites, dry, well balanced.

Dr. Richard Becker

• Becker Vineyards Provenςal, Texas ($12): A wine in the style of Provence, pale pink, bone dry, well-balanced fruit and acid, and a pleasant scent of berries and herbs.

• Folie à Deux Menage à Trois Rosé, California ($9-$10): Much too sweet for this panel, though some made the argument that the sugar would help balance the wine with barbecue made with a sweet sauce.

• Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese, Australia ($13-$15): Not as sweet as the Menage à Trois, but a little residual sugar, cherry aroma, a deeper pink color.

• Chateau du Campuget Costieries-de-Nimes, France ($10 -$12): This is very Old World in style, pale rose color, with pointed acidity and minerality, very dry, dusty earth and berries on the nose. One of the day’s favorites.

• Chateau d’Esclans Whispering Angel Rosé, France ($20): Pale peach in color, aromas of herbs, flowers, sleek rather than rounded flavors, dry, good acidity.


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Salad: If We Like it, Why Are We Eating Less?

Salad: If We Like it, Why Are We Eating Less?

Americans are not eating enough salad. That’s because, according to at least one food marketing research group, it takes labor to prepare.

As one chef observes, even boxed salad mixes aren’t a solution, and might be part of the problem as we slink around avoiding salad. This chef was quoted earlier this week in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying that boxed greens sit around too long, get slimy and end up being so unappetizing we don’t use them anyway.

Red and gold beets, roasted and tossed with sliced onions and olive oil, make a simple but good salad.

There is even hard data to tell us we are eating way less salad than we used to. In the Wall Street Journal, market research firm, NPD Group, was cited as saying Americans are eating salad with our meals 20 percent less frequently than we did in 1985.

Oh, let’s think back to 1985. There were far fewer ready-made salad products (if any) on grocery shelves back then. In 1985, you were doing well to find some romaine or red-leaf lettuce to put with your iceberg lettuce, much less mesclun or arugula and herbs or triple-washed baby spinach. If you were so inclined and industrious, you could grow your own. Or, pick some up at a well-stocked farmers market.

Oh, wait. I don’t remember any of those being around in 1985, either.

So, what’s the big deal about salad?

Eating salad is good for you. If you make it right and don’t add a lot of cheese or sugary dressing, it isn’t high in calories, but it does contain fiber and vitamins. Add colorful vegetables, and it is a nutritional hero. Toss in a hard-boiled egg or protein-rich grain, such as quinoa, and it’s Iron Man, Hell Boy and Wonder Woman rolled into one.

Salad Nicoise at The Pomegranate, composed salad with grilled fresh tuna.

Really? So why are so many Americans guilty of salad avoidance?

I think the marketing research group is right. We find preparing it a pain. It seems so much easier to slap a meat patty in the pan, season it with salt and smother it with salsa or steak sauce than it is to compose a salad.

If this starts to sound preachy, the preachy-ness is aimed straight at myself. Even I, a true salad devotee, succumb to laziness  when it comes to preparation. I’ll skip salad because the thought of all the slicing and dicing and lettuce washing and preparation of dressing makes me feel whiny. I’ll paw around in the refrigerator to find the boxed baby spinach only to see a slime-puppy or two in there and lose my motivation. I’ll look around for an avocado or a can of petite artichoke hearts and, not finding them, say, “Well, humph, I guess no salad tonight.”  Then I haul my lazy ass back to the living room, pick up my cell and spend a few minutes on Angry Birds. Because, you see, even an idiotic game is better than taking those vegetables out of the the fridge and preparing them.

My husband will come home and wonder about dinner and I”ll say, “Oh, would you like a salad?” He’ll say, “Only if you make it.” Then I stare at him until he says, “Or, we could go out.”

Replay this scenario around the nation and you have a country that is eating 20 percent less salad.

How do we fix this situation?

I am not sure there is any one solution. But because I am a food writer (and lover of salads), I keep trying to find it. Here, I’ll share some of the Salad Strategies (for mostly vegetable salads) my inner adult uses to outwit the lazy child:

Damien Watel's Watermelon, Tomato and Feta Salad

1 . Plan ahead. Oh, I know—boo-rring. But in truth, putting those salad ingredients into your shopping cart is strategy No. 1. Just get ’em in there. You can deal with the consequences when you get home. Choose from any of these: colored peppers, lettuces of varying kinds, the darker the better, sweet onion or red onions, beets, summer squashes, vine or Roma tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, eggplant, green beans, carrots, sprouts if you like them, fresh corn, cucumbers and even watermelon. And, don’t forget the avocados (as if you would).

2. This is a corollary to No. 1. Get some ingredients to keep around in cans and jars: I always keep a can or two of small artichoke hearts (not marinated) on hand because they are so good in a salad. Toss into the cart some hearts of palm (true salad deliciousness here), good albacore tuna, anchovies, sliced beets, olives, pepperoncini, sweet pickled pepper rings, a jar of roasted red peppers, garbanzo beans, black beans, bean salad …
3. Get a strong-flavored, salty cheese that crumbles: You’ll have this for dressing, if you want, or for sprinkling on top of your salad for a little extra flavor —not because you want cheese salad. Suggestions are cotija ( in the Mexican cheese area), feta cheese, shredded Parmesan, asiago, Roquefort or a good blue cheese. Bacon, too, bears mentioning.

4. Now, go home and have a barbecue. Really. Put some of the squashes, sliced in half lengthwise and lightly oiled with olive oil, eggplants, asparagus, corn on the cob, onions, whole heads of garlic — whatever else sounds good on the grill before you do the meat. Make enough grilled vegetables for dinner and for saving over the next couple of days for salads. If you vary roasted veggie salads with fresh, salad becomes more interesting.
5. For flavor, I use plenty of olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs like dill, chervil, thyme or cilantro in any salad. I rub the salad bowl with a fresh garlic clove, then mince it up and toss into the salad. If you have good, juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes with plenty of acidity, then you can dispense with an acid and use only a good quality olive oil. At the most, just use a few drops of red wine vinegar or lemon.

Think about flavors, but also about color and texture. Then, consider all the great things in your salad and enjoy — with or without that slab of meat on the side.






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