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Marioli’s Sugar Skulls Sweet Twist on Tradition

Marioli’s Sugar Skulls Sweet Twist on Tradition

By John Bloodsworth

Pan de Muerto, from Mariana Oliver at Marioli.

When it comes to Dia de Los Muertos, Mexican Le Cordon Bleu chef and Marioli owner Mariana Oliver doesn’t do boring.

In the glass display cabinets bursting with pastries and cakes at Marioli, an upscale delicatessen in Stone Oak, white chocolate sugar skulls adorned with bright pink and marigold flowers peer out at customers.

But unlike most traditional sugar skulls seen in Mexico, Oliver’s skulls are filled with chocolate frosted flakes that are only revealed when the skull is cracked.

“I thought it would be more tasty than (a hollow skull),” Oliver said.  “The skulls are very traditional in Mexico.  Every store has them.  But Americans are intrigued; they come in and tell me how cute and pretty they are.  It’s like they’ve never seen them—because they never have!”

The celebration of this Mexican holiday takes place on Nov. 1 and 2, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. As the day approaches, bakers and confectioners throughout the city will prepare the traditional treats and bread.

Along with loaves and mini loaves of traditional pan de muertos, sweet bread with bones embossed on top, the sugar skulls come in white and regular milk chocolate at Marioli.   The skulls are decorated with brightly colored sugar flowers ranging from pink to marigold.  A set of 10 skulls takes Oliver four hours to complete, from pouring the chocolate mold to filling the skulls and decorating them.   She often comes in as early as 8 a.m. and leaving at midnight to complete around 20 skulls a day, along with the other treats sold at her store.

Candied skulls, merrily decorated for Dia de los Muertos celebration.

The colors make the skulls much prettier than the plain skulls often seen in Mexican stores, though Oliver had a more significant purpose.

“Dia de Los Muertos is a big celebration in Mexico,” Oliver said.  “We celebrate our dead loved ones by creating a shrine with their favorite things and everything they loved to eat.  You’re supposed to lie a path of marigolds so (the spirits) can find their way home.  I think that’s my way of bringing people home.”

While some people purchase the skulls for party centerpieces, Oliver hopes they’ll use them for what they were made for—eating!

“Eat them!” she laughs.  “It’s a lot of work not to enjoy it.  First enjoy it with your eyes, then enjoy it with your tongue.”

In addition to holiday pastries such as pan de muertos and sugar skulls; Marioli offers traditional Mexican dishes such as tacos al pastor and enchiladas.  The sope, a thick corn tortilla topped with refried beans, shredded chicken and Monterrey Jack cheese with lettuce and freshly drizzled Mexican cream is very popular, as is their lasagna.

“It’s an eclectic mix—we have sandwiches, traditional Mexican dishes and French pastries,” Oliver said. “It’s very different, but it works.  It’s like a Mexican deli!”

For more information about Marioli or the sugar skulls, visit its location at 18730 Tuscany Stone Suite 2103 or call (210) 496-1111.

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Chefs’ Corner: Pumpkin Pots de Crème

Chefs’ Corner: Pumpkin Pots de Crème

A Pumpkin Pot de Crème at Luke.

Steven McHugh of Lüke on the River Walk, 125 E. Houston St., has created a seasonal dessert that is rich and rewarding on several levels.

First, it includes the great flavor of freshly roasted pumpkin, which is far superior to the canned product. (Though you can use the canned version if you run out of time.) A second appeal is the fact that he uses no sugar in the recipe; instead, it is sweetened with maple syrup.

It’s also easy to make. Best of all, the dish tastes great with a magical blend of warm spices, cream and pumpkin infusing each airy bite.

Pots de crème (French for “pots of custard”) are a traditional French dessert and are lighter than custards such as flan. You can serve these beauties in ramekins, coffee mugs or anything that will hold the custard. At Lüke, each is served in a jar with a clamp lid.

Pumpkin Pots de Crème

1 cup heavy cream
¾ cup milk
¾ cup maple syrup
½ cup pumpkin, roasted and puréed
7 each egg yolks
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ vanilla bean
½ teaspoon spiced rum

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a sauce pot, bring cream, milk, maple and pumpkin to a simmer over moderate heat to combine. In a mixing bowl mix egg yolks, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, vanilla bean and rum together. Slowly incorporate the cream mixture into the egg mixture while continuing to whisk. When completely incorporated, strain mixture.

Pour the mixture into 3-ounce ramekins and bake in a water bath for 45 minutes or until a pick inserted in the middle comes out clean. (For directions on how to cook with a water bath, click here.)

Makes 6-8 sevings.

From Steven McHugh/Lüke

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Chefs’ Corner: Max’s Wine Dive Truffled Ranch Dressing

Chefs’ Corner: Max’s Wine Dive Truffled Ranch Dressing

Max's Wine Dive Truffled Ranch Dressing

This dressing has been served on special occasions at Max’s Wine Dive, 340 E. Basse Road, and it’s a great way to dress up your ranch dressing. Pour it on salads  or use it as a dip for crudités. Or indulge yourself: Grab a spoon and dig in.

It’s a perfect fit for Max’s, where fried chicken and Champagne go so well together.

For more information on Max’s Wine dive, call 210-444-9547 or click here.

Max’s Wine Dive Truffle Ranch Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried chives
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped black truffle shavings (see note)
2 teaspoons white truffle oil
2-3 dashes of Tabasco

Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, garlic powder, dill, parsley, basil, chives, oregano, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, truffle shavings, truffle oil and Tabasco in a bowl and mix well.

Note: If you can’t find truffle shavings, try a little extra truffle oil to taste.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups dressing.

Source: Max’s Wine Dive

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Chef’s Corner: Louis Venditti’s Almond Cookies

Chef’s Corner: Louis Venditti’s Almond Cookies

Louis Venditti, former pastry chef at Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa

From Louis Venditti, the former pastry chef at Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa come these utterly delectable Almond Cookies. We had them on our dessert plates during a visit to Antlers during Culinaria’s Restaurant Week. I was determined to get the recipe.

Venditti was kind enough to share it. And, to my surprise, it called for a half-pound of lard. “That’s what makes them so delicious,” says Venditti.

Apparently the use of lard, whether in pastry, pizzas or pasta, has become trendy.

Regina Schrambling in “Slate” predicted this in a posting in 2009, “I’m convinced that the redemption of lard is finally at hand because we live in a world where trendiness is next to godliness. And lard hits all the right notes, especially if you euphemize it as rendered pork fat—bacon butter. ”

The “bacon butter” terminology works for me. Though, I’m thinking that butter and/or shortening could be substituted for the lard in this recipe.

Also, note that Venditti’s recipe indicates weight, not cup measurements for the flour and sugar. The first time I tested this recipe I used a conversion chart to turn ounces into cups and the results were not good. The second time I weighed the flour and sugar out on my kitchen scale (once used for Weight Watchers, and the irony did not escape me) and discovered I’d put extra flour into the first batch.

The results were much better the second time, and the measurements in parentheses below will work.

Almond Cookies from Louis Venditti’s recipe.

Almond Cookies

15-1/2 ounces flour (3-1/4 cups)
7- 3/4 ounces sugar (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 pound lard
1-1/4 ounces butter
1  egg
1  egg yolk
1-1/3 tablespoons almond extract
2 tablespoons half-and-half, for brushing
3/4 cup sliced almonds

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Cut in the lard and butter.  Whisk the egg, egg yolk and almond extract together, then and mix into the dry ingredients until combined. Roll dough into 1- inch balls, flatten between your palms and put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Flatten them a bit more, then brush with the half-and-half.  Top each cookie with slivered almonds.  Bake in 350 degree oven until just golden brown around the bottom edges and just starting to brown lightly up the outer sides of the cookies.  (In my oven this was 13- 14 minutes.) Let them cool on a rack.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

From Louis Venditti, pastry chef at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort & Spa

These were from the first batch of cookies. Not like Venditti’s, but good enough to eat.










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Chefs’ Corner: Rudolfo Martinez’s Shrimp Ceviche and Chicharrones

Chefs’ Corner: Rudolfo Martinez’s Shrimp Ceviche and Chicharrones

Tapa Tapa's Shrimp Ceviche and Chicharrones

Rudolfo Martinez, who owns the Tapa Tapa truck that can be found at Boardwalk on Bulverde, is a Culinary Institute of America graduate serving up extremely flavorful dishes that combine comfort foods in unique, playful ways. On a recent evening, he mixed watermelon and mint with old-fashioned Pop Rocks candy for a salad that gave your mouth a little extra burst of flavor.

For his shrimp ceviche, he takes fresh tomatoes flavored by serranos and mixes them with pickled onions and shrimp. He serves the mixture over pork rinds for a lively variation on this seafood specialty.

More of Martinez’s food will soon be featured at Counter Culture, which is opening in a few weeks next to the Spectrum Club at 20144 U.S. 281 N. at Evans Road.

Shrimp Ceviche and Chicharrones

1 medium white onion, sliced thin
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (reserve lime peels for broth)
1 cup medium diced tomatoes
2 serranos, cut into thin coins
1 bunch cilantro leaves, torn
1 pound 16/20-count shrimp, shell on
Salt, to taste
1 bag pork rinds or chicharrones (see note)

Rudolfo Martinez

Mix the onions in lime juice and marinate at least 6 hours (overnight is best).

Mix the tomatoes with the serranos and cilantro and perfume at least 6 hours (overnight is best).

Boil shrimp in a broth of juiced limes and water for 90 seconds.

Remove and shock in a ice water bath to stop cooking. Remove from water bath, shell and reserve meat.

When ready to serve, mix all the ingredients together, salt to taste, and serve over chicharrones. Serve immediately.

Note: You can serve this ceviche with tostadas or corn chips. Serve it on avocado halves or on nothing but a plate.

Makes 4-5 appetizer servings or 2-3 main course servings.

From Rudolfo Martinez

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Chefs’ Corner: Chama Gaucha Has a Tangy, Unique Chimichurri Sauce

Chefs’ Corner: Chama Gaucha Has a Tangy, Unique Chimichurri Sauce

Grilled salmon topped with Chama Gaucha's Chimichurri Sauce.

Q. Could you possibly get me the recipe for the chimichurri sauce at Chama Gaucha?

— Cindy

A. Long Phu, the general manager at Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse, 18318 Sonterra Place, was happy to share the basic recipe for this chunky sauce, which he was quick to point out is not like the traditional chimichurri sauce from Argentina.

The Argentine version is made with fresh parsley, garlic and olive oil, while Chama Gaucha’s is made with sautéed bell peppers and onions with a touch of dried herbs while getting a lively kick from vinegar and tomato sauce.

The difference took a few friends by surprise, but most warmed to its tangy charms.

Beef at Chama Gaucha topped with its chimichurri sauce.

Phu didn’t offer any proportions of the ingredients, because part of the fun is playing with it until you get the flavors adjusted to a level that’s right for you. We offer a version to get you started.

This version is great with steaks, such as the many skewered versions that are served at Chama Gaucha, a Brazilian steakhouse. You could also use it with chicken, firm seafood or even grilled portobello mushrooms.

By the way, Chama Gaucha is quietly becoming a chain. The first is the Sonterra Place location, while a second opened in Chicago in 2008. A third opens in Houston on Aug. 24, Phu says.

To reach the restaurant, call (210) 564-9400 or click here for more information.

And if you have a recipe you’d like, email Bonnie Walker or John Griffin.

Chama Gaucha Chimichurri Sauce

Chama Gaucha’s Chimichurri Sauce

1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 yellow bell pepper, finely diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more to taste, divided use
1/2 cup white wine vinegar, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried basil, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried mint, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried cilantro, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley, or to taste
4 ounces tomato sauce, or to taste

Lightly sauté the peppers, onion and garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil. You want the vegetables crisp, so don’t overcook them. Remove from heat and add vinegar and more olive oil, to taste. The amount of each is to taste, but it also stems from with how much sauce you want around the vegetables. “It’s almost like a vinaigrette the way it’s prepared,” Phu says, adding that the ratio of oil and vinegar is close to even.

Stir in basil, mint, cilantro, oregano and parsley, and adding more of each to taste. Stir in tomato paste. Adjust seasonings to taste.

The end result should be chunky. It should also be very thick. “This is not a light sauce,” he says.

For those who want it spicier, think of adding jalapeño or spicy paprika to the mix, Phu says.

Adapted from Chama Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse

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Chefs’ Corner: Johnny Hernandez’s Ceviche Verde

Chefs’ Corner: Johnny Hernandez’s Ceviche Verde

Ceviche Verde

In the newly redesigned Bon Appétit magazine, the August Challenge for four chefs was to come up with a dish using avocado. One of those chefs was San Antonio’s Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria.

His recipe was for a sensational Ceviche Verde, which calls for tomatillo, green olives, cilantro and jalapeño in addition to avocado.

The other recipes are from Carly Groden of Proof in Des Moines, who offered an avocado smoothie, Greg Baker of the Refinery in Tampa with Avocado Salad with Peaches and Shaun McCrain of Book Bindery in Seattle with Avocado and Crab Soup.

By the way, Hernandez was also honored recently by the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as Business Owner of the Year.

Congratulations to him for both honors.

Ceviche Verde

1 pound fresh Pacific halibut or other firm-fleshed fish, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more, to taste
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
3/4 cup sliced green olives
1/2 cup diced tomatillo
1/4 cup very finely chopped onion
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded and minced (optional)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Tostadas or tortilla chips, for serving

Place the fish in a medium bowl. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Toss to coat. Add lime juice and toss to coat. Marinate until the edges of the cubs begin to turn opaque, about 30 minutes. Add avocado, olives, tomatillo, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño, if using. Add olive oil and season with salt, to taste. Serve over tostadas or with tortilla chips for dipping.

Makes 4 servings.

From Johnny Hernandez, La Gloria/Bon Appétit

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Chefs’ Corner: Rossini’s Insalata al Tonno (Salad with Tuna)

Chefs’ Corner: Rossini’s Insalata al Tonno (Salad with Tuna)

Insalata al Tonno at Rossini Italian Bistro.

Looking for a light salad for a hot summer’s day that is substantial enough to work as a main course? You might want to try this delicious, rustic array from Rossini Italian Bistro. It goes together in minutes.

“This is how we eat at home,” says Maria De Rosa, whose husband, Ezio, is the chef.

The dish, like the best of all Italian food, is simplicity itself. That means you need the best ingredients you can find because you can taste just how perfect (or imperfect) each one is. At Rossini, the field greens are organic, the extra-virgin olive oil packs plenty of flavor, and the asiago cheese aged enough to make it crumbly on top of the salad.

You can also change the recipe to use what you have from your garden or what you’ve just picked up from the farmers market. Tomatoes would work beautifully, as would hard-boiled eggs, cold roasted chicken instead of the tuna, or strips of zucchini, whatever you wish.

Rossini Italian Bistro is at 2195 N.W. Military Hwy. at West Avenue. Call 210-615-7270.

Rossini’s Insalata al Tonno (Salad with Tuna)

Field greens
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Canned tuna, well-drained
Asiago cheese, shaved into thin slices

Fill a salad bowl with desired amount of greens. Lightly dress the salad with olive oil and vinegar, to taste, and place on chilled plates.

Top with shreds of tuna and asiago cheese. Sprinkle capers on top. Drizzle a little more olive oil and balsamic vinegar to taste.

From Ezio De Rosa, Rossini Italian Bistro.



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Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in a Sherry Cider Vinaigrette

Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in a Sherry Cider Vinaigrette

This flavorful dish, served by chef Cathryn Tarasovic at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, is a perfect addition to a spread of tapas or mezze.

Sandy Oaks Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in Sherry Cider Vinaigrette

We had it at Sandy Oaks’ recent Mezze Day Delights, where the mezze plates were served with cool glasses of sangria, on a shaded patio overlooking the ranch’s live-oak dotted pastures and the olive tree nursery.

Serve this dish with slices of French bread, pita bread or Spanish breads. Accompany it, if you like, with a variety of olives, hummus, fresh fruit or other Mediterranean-influenced snacks.

Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in a Sherry Cider Vinaigrette

1  tablespoon Sandy Oaks Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1  pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and diced into 1-inch cubes
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 package Aurelia’s Spanish Chorizo, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2  tablespoons sherry vinegar (more if needed to balance the flavors)
2  cups apple cider
2  cups green grapes, washed and sliced in half lengthwise
1  small  red bell pepper, trimmed and finely diced
1/4 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and add the olive oil.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and then place it in the hot pan.  Sauté the chicken until nicely browned and cooked through.  Remove to a plate.

In the same pan, wilt the shallots and garlic, then add the chorizo and sauté until it also nicely browned.  Remove to the plate with the chicken.

Deglaze the pan with the sherry vinegar, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom.  Next add the apple cider, bring to a boil and reduce by half.  Return the chicken and chorizo to the pan and heat through to meld all the flavors.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.  Add more sherry vinegar if necessary to balance the flavors.  Set aside to cool (to room temperature).  Just before serving stir in  the grapes, chopped red pepper and parsley.

Makes 4 servings

From Cathryn Tarasovic/”Master Cook”


Photograph by Bonnie Walker


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Sandy Oaks a Picturesque Setting for Mezze Treats

Sandy Oaks a Picturesque Setting for Mezze Treats

Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard chef Cathryn Tarasovic has taken the tapas concept to a delicious new level with her plate of Mediterranean-influenced appetizers called “mezze.”

Really, both “mezze” and”tapas” small plates, or little snacks, are similar. “Mezze” is a Middle Eastern or Arabic term; “tapas” is Spanish.

Mezze at Sandy Oaks include hummus, a red-pepper muhammara and the lively flavors of Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in a Sherry Cider Vinaigrette.

But it’s not about words when you go out for a pleasant Saturday afternoon at this working ranch near Elmendorf. It’s about the flavors, and we were treated to a palate-pleasing array of them.

Sandy Oaks is owned by Saundra Winokur, who is one of the state’s pioneering olive tree growers. The orchard, which comprises some 11,000 trees planted on a 40-acre tract, supplies oil and olives that go into products sold at the ranch.

Ranch artisans also make lotions, herbal salves and other skin care products based on the rich healthful oil.  These, along with olive leaf tea, aroma oils, olive wood cookware, gift baskets, books and growing manuals and more are offered at the orchard gift shop. Some of Sandy Oaks’ products also are offered at the Pearl Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Those who are interested in seeing how this relatively new Texas agricultural product is grown also can take a Saturday tour regularly scheduled at 11 a.m., or make arrangements for private tours. The orchard is holistically managed, with an emphasis on organic fertilizers and natural pest control.

These days, the sounds of construction are commonplace as well, as a new, two-story building that will house the gift shop and office space nears completion. Separate kitchens for the cooking and catering operation, and the product-making activity, are housed in a spacious barn across the parking lot from the current gift shop and office.

The food program at Sandy Oaks also includes classes, as well as an upcoming new series of international dinners, the first being a Passport Adventure to Italy, June 24.

On Father’s Day, June 18, there will be tours as well as complimentary tapas. (Check these out at

Cathryn Tarasovic is executive chef at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard.

Tarsovic holds the Diplome Superieur from L’Ecole de Cuisine Française Sabine de Mirbeck and is a member of the culinary professional organization Les Dames d’Escoffier International.

Mezze Day Delights, which is occasionally added to the schedule (check the Sandy Oaks’ website for these) features chef-made artisan breads accompanying an array of appealing snacks.

The dried Fruit and Pecan-crusted Goat Cheese combined the suppleness of the creamy cheese with tart dried cherries and crunchy nuts. Pine nuts gave the crunch to the silky Kalamata Olive Hummus, while red peppers formed the base for the Mediterannean spread called Muhammara.

Among our favorites on this colorful mezze plate was  the chef’s Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in a Sherry Cider Vinaigrette.  The title doesn’t mention the dish’s cool, sweet surprise of green grapes — a perfect contrast to the tangy sherry sauce and spicy chorizo. The chorizo, too is an artisanal product from Boerne, produced by Leslie Horne under the brand name, Aurelia’s Chorizo.

Diners enjoy the shaded patio that overlooks the nursery at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard in Elmendorf.

Every bit of the mid-afternoon lunch, under umbrellas on the breezy patio, accompanied by George Gaytan playing Spanish guitar, was, as promised, a delight. A glass of icy sangria gave the meal a perfect Spanish accent.

Mezze Day Delights is also nicely priced, at $10 per person. The next Mezze event will be 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. July 9. Sandy Oaks is at 25195 Mathis Road, near Elmendorf.  210-621-0044.

Recipe: Spanish Chorizo and Chicken in a Sherry Cider Vinaigrette

Photographs by Bonnie Walker

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