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County Line Gives Your Favorite Cocktails a Makeover for Cooler Weather

County Line Gives Your Favorite Cocktails a Makeover for Cooler Weather

Big Ol' Vanilla Coke at the County Line

Big Ol' Vanilla Coke at the County Line

A new slate of specialty handcrafted cocktails for the fall and winter—as well as Texas craft beers—are now available at The County Line Bar-B-Q restaurant at 10101 I-10 W.
Jack Daly

Jack Daly

The cocktails were designed by the restaurant’s assistant general manager/pitmaster/chef Garrett Stephens to focus on a “playful twist on traditional fall flavors.” All beers and specialty cocktails are discounted during happy hour, which runs Monday through Friday from 3 to 7 p.m. Happy hour includes $1 off these handcrafted cocktails, as well as beer, house margaritas, Grande margaritas, Gallo Borracho margaritas, wells and all appetizers. These new handcrafted cocktails will be available through the fall and winter include:
  • Frozen Rebecca Creek and Coke: Frozen Rebecca Creek Whiskey and Coca-Cola - $6.75
  • Whirly-Gig: Bulleit Rye, Laird’s Applejack, apple cider, simple syrup and Angostura Bitters - $8.00
  • Ribs and Whiskey: Bulleit Bourbon, blood orange, chocolate bitters and simple syrup - $7.50
  • Big Ol’ Vanilla Coke: Double shot of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum, scraped vanilla bean and vanilla bitters, served on the rocks in a jumbo chalice with an upside-down 8 oz. Coke Classic longneck - $8.50
  • Ribs & Whiskey

    Ribs & Whiskey

    Caramel Green Apple Martini: Caramel vodka, green apple vodka, apple pucker and apple cider - $7.50
  • White Chocolate Peppermint Martini: Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur, vanilla vodka and peppermint schnapps - $8.00
  • Apples and Pears: Grey Goose Pear Vodka, apple cider and Prosecco - $7.75
  • Coco-Rum Chata Hot Chocolate: Rum Chata, Malibu Rum, hot cocoa, jumbo marshmallow, toasted coconut and cinnamon - $7.75
Past specialty cocktails that remain on menu:
  • Old Smokey: Texas Red River Rye, BBQ bitters, flamed orange and pit-smoked ice - $8
  • The John Daly: Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka, limoncello and sweet tea - $7.50
Texas draft brews include Busted Sandal 210 Ale, Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower, Rahr & Sons Helles Lager, Cedar Creek Dankosaurus IPA and Shiner Bock. For more information, call 210-641-1998.  

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Planning a Children’s Christmas Party 1935 Style

Planning a Children’s Christmas Party 1935 Style

christmas-bookA friend cleaned out her cookbook collection before moving out of town, and she left me with 11 boxes of treasures that I've been going through them now for months. In one was a slender volume with a gorgeous cover featuring a handful of youngsters partying with Father Time, an Easter bunny, jack-o-lanterns, a witch and, of course, Santa Claus. It's called "Children's Party Book: Games, Decorations, Menus and Recipes," and it was written by Cornelia Staley. It was published in 1935, and each copy sold for the then-princely sum of 25 cents. A quick glance through it suggests a much simpler time. Much simpler than I can ever remember. Can you think back to a time when you taught your children how to write their own party invitations by hand, such as this one from the book's premier party girl, Barbara Smith?
Buy tiny horns, attach a tag and write on it: "Blow me at my New Year's Party." I do hope you can come. Wednesday, January 1, at 3:30 o'clock. -- Barbara Smith
Each occasion, from birthday to New Year's,  includes games suggestions far removed from the world of Xbox and World of Warcraft, such as this one for Halloween:
Bowls of Fortune Place in a row an empty bowl, a bowl of clear water and one of milky water. Each child in turn is blindfolded, turned about three times and told to put on hand in a bowl. If the child touches clear water, it means marriage to a bachelor or maiden -- milky water, a widower or widow -- the empty bowl, unmarried.
There are even tips on planning the appropriate decorations, including hanging groups of pastel colored balloons from your chandelier for an Easter party. For the Christmas party, Barbara Smith has learned that "Gay Christmas seals on white, red or green cards will make your invitation gala." And she suggests you use greeting: "School's out! Let's celebrate the Happy Holidays at my house on Thursday from 3 to 5." christmas-pictureIf you can make it, expect as many red and green balloons tied to the Smith home's chandelier. But don't expect Barbara and her party crew to stop there. Here are Staley's suggestions for table decorations:
Cover your table in white, and for a centerpiece dip a fat little Christmas tree in a thin solution of Staley's Starch. While still moist, sprinkle it generously with artificial snow or silver glitter. Hang red and green balls on it. Have a small tree at each place and a suitable gift gaily wrapped and tied to the stick of a lollipop.
Game ideas include Spider Web, Pin a Star on the Christmas Tree, Paper Race and Chinese Tag, in which "any child who is 'it' must hold on to the spot he has been tagged with one hand while trying to tag another child with the other." How that makes it Chinese is anybody's guess. The suggested menu for all this fun includes Minced Turkey or Chicken Sandwiches, Tiny Molds of Cranberry Jelly, Celery Curls, Hot Chocolate, Ice Cream Santa Claus, Snowballs and Lollypops. Yes, you can make your own Lollypops, and Cornelia Staley offers her own recipe, which naturally uses Staley's Crystal White Syrup. In case you can't find that, white corn syrup will work as a substitute. Lollypops 2 cups sugar 1 cup water 2/3 cup Staley's Crystal White Syrup 1/2 teaspoon vanilla Red vegetable coloring Cook sugar, water and syrup until sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly. Then cover and boil 3 minutes. Remove cover and boil undisturbed to 310 degrees or the brittle stage. Remove from heat at once, add vanilla and coloring. Pour into small buttered muffin tins 1/2-inch deep, and when almost cool, insert a wooden skewer in each. Makes 2 dozen, 2 inches in diameter. From "Children's Party Book: Games, Decorations, Menus and Recipes"/Cornelia Staley Serve your lollipops up with the following joke from Staley:
Why are lollipops like race horses? Because the more you lick them, the faster they go.
If that's not enough fun for your Christmas party, have the kids make Dried Fruit and Nut Men: "Funny figures can be made just as easily with fruits and nuts as with candies. Large fruits, such as prunes, are used for heads and bodies, toothpicks for legs and raisins strung on hairpins for arms." As silly as it sounds, I think that's an activity adults would enjoy as much as children. Everyone loves playing with food that they can then eat, even prunes. Staley's goal in Depression America was to show people how their children could have some fun and good food -- and for not much money. It's a goal that carries through to today. After all, it's not the cost of the party, but the good time that people have at it that matters.

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Treat Yourself to an Assortment of Russian Candies

Treat Yourself to an Assortment of Russian Candies

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

Russian candies from Sasha's.

Or maybe it's because I'm a chocolate addict at heart. Whatever the reason, I loved seeing all the bowls of various candies that you could buy in bulk. All of them come in bright, colorful wrappings that don't always tell you what's inside -- unless you read the Cyrillic alphabet, that is. And I don't. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a store in San Antonio that sells these wonderful treats. It's Sasha's European Market at 8023 Callaghan Road, and I've passed the storefront for months without ever noticing it. The store has been there for seven years, selling Eastern European specialties from ground sorrel and green garlic sprouts to wines from Russia and Georgia (not the state). If you go past the jars of celery salad and marinated pickles with prunes, you'll find the bowls of candies in their bright array of red, blue and green wrappers. Some sport images of Red Riding Hood or bears playing in the woods. Others display pictures of what's inside. One was even called Vodka, which needs no translation, though the actual alcohol content of the candy was fairly low. If you haven't tried these Russian candies before, please don't expect to bite into something akin to M&M's or a Mars bar. Marshmallows are used in some, jellies in others. Dried fruit, including prunes, can be seen on a label or two. Others are complete surprises. You may bite into chocolate-covered wafers filled with hazelnut cream or dark chocolate with lemon. The candies sell for $9.99 a pound and would make a great addition to any St. Nicholas celebration on Dec. 6 or any time of the year. For more information, call the store at (210) 348-7788. Tim's is expanding Tim's Oriental & Seafood Market, 7015 Bandera Road, is getting bigger. The store is staying put, but it's also taking over the space once occupied by Peng's Chinese Restaurant. The work should be completed within the next three weeks. In the meantime, you can still get a roasted duck (just like in the film "A Christmas Story" complete with the head on) for $19. Or you can get live blue crabs, roasted pork belly, yuzu juice, fresh bitter melon or Chinese Oreos, all of the stuff that makes Tim's one of the many unique markets in San Antonio that we return to on a regular basis.
Tim's Oriental & Seafood Market

Tim's Oriental & Seafood Market

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Learning the Joys of Greek Salads Firsthand

Learning the Joys of Greek Salads Firsthand

Horiatiki

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

HERSONISSOS, Crete -- When a friend with a timeshare calls and invites you to spend two weeks with her on the island of Crete, you don't say no. At least, I don't. So, I found myself on an island in the Mediterranean Sea surrounded by some of the best food I've had in ages.
Tomatoes drying in the sun in front of Marianna, a taverna in Mesa Potami, part of Crete's Lasithi Plateau

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

One advantage that Cretans have is that they grow or raise most everything that they use in their diet. Almost everywhere you look, there's food growing, whether it's olives on the many acres of trees that run up and down mountains, grapes in the growing number of vineyards or orchards filled with apples, oranges or pomegranates. We didn't see all of the family gardens bulging with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and more; some of those items were just after season for our visit, but we were given freshly harvested grapes, persimmons and walnuts by some of the wonderful people we met. In the mornings, I could hear the bells of the goats roaming through the undeveloped lands nearby, reminding me of how close one source of all the feta and yogurt was. Lambs and sheep often grazed close to the road, while the Mediterranean offered the promise of untold seafood specials. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the eating was built on the numerous herbs that were oh so easy to forage. It seemed that most every time Carol stopped our rental car, I could find something worth taking back to our kitchen, whether it was oregano or mint, dill, arugula or thyme. I used those in the series of Greek salads, called horiatiki (hor-ee-ah-tee-kee), that I made most every day. There is no hard and fast recipe for this beloved dish, and you can make plenty of substitutes to suit your tastes. But the foundation for ours included tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and olive oil. To that, we added green bell pepper and olives. The first supermarket we went to only sold onions by the large bag, so we used scallions until we found another place where we could pick up a red onion. We also tried lettuce in the mix; it worked, but it wasn't necessary, so we left it out after one or two tries. Cabbage worked much better, adding crunch in a way that was different from the cucumber or the bell pepper. The olive oil was so good that red wine vinegar or lemon juice wasn't necessary to dress the salad with. Plus, if you find the freshest, most flavorful ingredients, especially the tomatoes, you didn't need much oil, either. A little salt brings out the juices of the various vegetables, making it's own dressing that the olive oil only takes to another level.
A Cretan salad with greens and pomegranate seeds

A Cretan salad with greens and pomegranate seeds

We discovered a variation native to Crete. It is, of course, the Cretan salad, and it adds rusk, potatoes, hard-boiled egg, capers and sun-dried tomatoes to the mix. See, even they don't follow a single recipe. And in the case of the rusk, you'll see them using up every last scrap of bread rather than throwing it out. That, to me, has been the secret of some of the best meals I've had in my travels. The third salad recipe you'll find below is for a Socrates salad, which Carol's friend, Clairy Panagiotou, made for us when she joined our group. Clairy runs the Bouradanis Hotel on another Greek island, Kos, where she makes the meals nightly for her 70 guests. On the basis of this salad alone, I am ready to make a trip to her hotel. It's named after the Greek philosopher, Clairy said, because it's supposed to open up your brain cells and make you smarter. I don't know that my IQ shot up any while eating it, but my happiness level certainly did. Again, there is no hard and fast recipe for the dressing or for the salad. Just make it to taste. Just make sure you're using the best ingredients you can find, ingredients that tasted like they were grown in your own backyard and tended with care. You can taste the difference. Horiatiki (Greek Salad) Make this salad to suit your tastes. If you don't like or don't have bell pepper on hand, leave it out. Want to add lettuce or shredded cabbage? Go ahead. I added anchovies and occasionally some slices of radish to mine. Capers would also work.
Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

Horiatiki (Greek Salad)

Tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces Cucumber, sliced Green bell pepper, sliced Red or white onion, sliced Olives Salt, to taste Pepper, to taste Feta, crumbled or cut in a slab about 1/3-inch thick Extra virgin olive oil Red wine vinegar (optional) Herbs, fresh or dried Mix the tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and olives. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, if using. Top with feta. If using a slab of cheese, drizzle olive oil on top. If you're using vinegar with the oil, drizzle these on before you add the cheese. Top with herbs. Herbs both dried and fresh can be used. A few to consider are oregano, parsley, mint and thyme. Or you could serve with the oil and vinegar on the side. From John Griffin Cretan Salad with Rusk Cretans love rusk, dried clumps of leftover bread that soak up olive oil and tomato juice. They serve as a foundation for this salad, a variation on horiatiki that, once again, can be made using whatever ingredients you have on hand. One version we had used various field greens and was crowned with pomegranate seeds.
A Cretan salad with hard-boiled eggs, rusk, sun-dried tomatoes and capers.

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

Rusk or zwieback Tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces Cucumber, sliced Green bell pepper, sliced Red or white onion, sliced Olives New potatoes, boiled, peeled and quartered Hard-boiled eggs, quartered Sun-dried tomatoes Salt, to taste Feta, crumbled or cut in a slab Extra virgin olive oil Red wine vinegar (optional) Capers Herbs (optional) Place the rusk at the bottom of your salad bowl. Top with a mix of tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, olives, potato, egg and sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle salt to taste over the salad. Top with feta, then a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle capers over the top and finish off with a sprinkling of dried or fresh herbs. From John Griffin Socrates Salad Open your brain cells to the wonders of this salad laden with dried fruit and nuts.
Socrates Salad

Socrates Salad

Dried figs, cut into bite-sized pieces Dried cranberries Lettuce Radicchio Pine nuts Tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces Apple, peeled, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces Parmesan cheese Dressing: Balsamic vinegar Honey Olive oil Water Salt Toss the figs, cranberries, lettuce, radicchio, pine nuts, tomatoes and apple in a salad bowl. Make the dressing from a mixture of balsamic vinegar, honey, olive oil, a little water and salt to taste. Whisk together then lightly toss with the salad. Top with Parmesan cheese shavings. From Clairy Panagiotou/Bouradanis Hotel

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

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

I spent some time with family in Louisville recently and had the chance to make some pickles with my mother, using a version of her beloved bread and butter pickle recipe, which I have feasted on since I was a kid.
Let the squash sit in a vinegar solution for 2 hours before canning.

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

The only difference this time was that we didn't use cucumbers. We made them with fresh yellow squash that a friend of hers had given them. The end result tastes almost exactly the same. Both are available throughout the year, so whether you get squash from the market or your fall garden, you can enjoy these year-round. Next time, I'll try them with zucchini. Squash Pickles 2 1/2 pounds yellow squash, sliced thinly 1 small red bell pepper, cut in strips (see note) 1 small green bell pepper, cut in strips 1 large or 2 small onions, peeled and thinly sliced 1/4 cup salt 2 cups white vinegar or apple cider vinegar 2 cups sugar 2 teaspoons mustard seed 1 teaspoon celery seed 1 teaspoon turmeric Note: You'll only need 1 bell pepper of your preferred color, if you're using one of the large ones from the supermarket, In a large non-aluminum bowl, add the squash, bell pepper and onion. Cover with salt and stir together. Let sit for 2 hours. Stir occasionally. While the vegetables are sitting, combine vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, celery seed and turmeric in a saucepan and bring to a boil. When the 2 hours are up, squeeze the vegetables dry. Then add the vegetables to the saucepan. Stir to incorporate everything together and let sit for 2 hours more. When the 2 hours are up, bring the vegetables to a boil. Remove immediately and separate into 4 (1-pint) jars. Fill almost to the top with liquid. Seal using your preferred method or top with a jar lid and refrigerate immediately. Wait a day or two before eating.
Seal the jars, if you like, or cover and refrigerate them immediately.

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

Makes 4 (1-pint) jars. (If you aren't sealing the lids, the pickles will keep up to 2 months in the refrigerator.) From Annaliese Griffin and John Griffin  

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A Trio of Bright and Bold Indian Salads

A Trio of Bright and Bold Indian Salads

cucumber-salad My Bible study group recently decided to have an Indian themed dinner, and it fell to my lot to bring a salad. When I started to do my research, however, I couldn't stop at one. So, I made three. Each of these is easy to make, which is always a plus. But their greatness, individually and collectively, lies in the bold, clean flavors that will add to any meal, Indian or otherwise. I have already made the Mango Salad and the Onion and Tomato Salad twice since then. If you're looking for a fresh alternative to a lettuce salad, check out these options. Cucumber Salad 2 cups cucumber, thinly sliced 2 tablespoons cashews coarsely ground (optional) 1 tablespoon mint, finely ripped Dressing: 1 tablespoon olive oil 2 teaspoons lemon juice ½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon sugar 1/8 teaspoon black pepper 2 teaspoons ginger juice (see note) 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely ground For the dressing: In a bowl, mix oil, lemon juice, salt, sugar, black pepper, ginger juice and fennel. Set aside. For the salad: Peel the cucumber, leaving strips of skin. Slice thin, crosswise. The slices should look like half-moons. Toss the cucumber with ground cashews, if using, and mint to coat the slices. Just before serving, add the dressing. Mix it well. Note: To make the ginger juice, shred the ginger using a fine shredder or zester. Squeeze the shredded ginger with your fingers to get all the juice out. Or you can place a piece of peeled ginger in a sturdy lemon juicer and press hard several times. Adapted from ManjulasKitchen.com/Manjula Jain Onion and Tomato Salad (Piaz aur Tamatar ka Salad) red-onion-and-tomato-salad"Marinating the onions in salt and lemon juice reduces the pungency and makes them sweet and tangy," says Madhu Gadia in "New Indian Home Cooking" (HPBooks, $20). 1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4-inch wedges 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 1 teaspoon salt, divided use 2 medium tomatoes, sliced into 1/4-inch wedges 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Combine the onion, lemon juice and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt in a bowl. Cover and marinate for 20 minutes or longer, stirring occasionally. (Editor's note: Having made the recipe twice, I would suggest marinating the onion at least 30 minutes.) Drain and discard the juice. Add the tomatoes and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Toss lightly to mix. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 6 servings. Approximate nutritional value per serving: 17 calories, 4 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 1 g dietary fiber, 1 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 182 mg sodium. From "New Indian Home Cooking" by Madhu Gadia green-mango-saladMango Salad (Aam ka Laccha) "In season, the swee4t and sour taste of an underripe mango when combined with salt and cayenne peppers adds and excellent taste to any meal. It is eaten more like a pickle, in a small quantity, rather than a salad," writes Madhu Gadia in "New Indian Home Cooking." 1 firm, underripe mango (3/4 pound) 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1/2 teaspoon salt Wash and peel the mango. Slice the mango flesh into 1-inch strips. Discard the seed. Toss the mango with the cayenne pepper and salt in a bowl. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes or longer in the refrigerator. Serve cold or refrigerate for up to 2 to 3 days. Makes 16 servings. Approximate nutritional value per 3 tablespoon serving: 12 calories, 3 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0.5 g dietary fiber, 0 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 67 mg sodium. From "New Indian Home Cooking" by Madhu Gadia

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Weeknight Porchetta Is Bursting with Flavor

Weeknight Porchetta Is Bursting with Flavor

This porchetta dish is easy to make.

This porchetta dish is easy to make.

What's in a name? We've been asking ourselves that since Shakespeare proffered the question in "Romeo and Juliet." We asked it again when we spied this recipe for Weeknight Porchetta from the January 2015 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. Yes, it was the name "porchetta" that attracted our attention, but there were so many differences in approach that we were skeptical, despite Alison Roman's introduction: "Sometimes it's OK to cut corners. Here we make the classic Italian dish with bacon and skip the multiday air-drying process. It's not traditional, but it sure is delicious." We gave it a try anyway and was pleasantly surprised at how satisfying the dish was on so many levels. The roasted garlic is perfect by itself, if you want an appetizer to spread on toast; or you could pair it with another cut of meat, such as a juicy steak or a thick slab of prime rib. Roman offers this insight into why you wrap the tenderloin in bacon: "As the bacon cooks, the fat renders, basting the tenderloin with flavor and ensuring it stays juicy (all while cooking perfectly itself). To keep the bacon in place, wrap the slices around the tenderloin, tucking ends underneath each other." One time we made the dish, we varied it by adding slices of apples at the last minute. The slices added to the overall dish; whether you like the baked apple slices depends on your fondness for rosemary, because they absorbed a lot of the herb's flavor. Weeknight Porchetta
Use apple if you'd like.

Use apple if you'd like.

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped, plus 2 bulbs, halved crosswise 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary, plus 4 sprigs 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, coarsely chopped 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use Freshly ground black pepper 1 (1 1/2-pound) pork tenderloin 6-8 slices bacon 1-2 apples, cored and cut in small slices (optional) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss chopped garlic, chopped rosemary, fennel seeds, salt and 1 tablespoon oil in a small bowl; season with pepper. Rub garlic mixture over all tenderloin (if you have time to do this in the morning, great; refrigerate pork until dinner). Scatter rosemary sprigs in a large baking dish and set tenderloin on top. Wrap bacon slices around tenderloin, tucking ends underneath, so bacon stays put. Nestle halved heads of garlic around tenderloin and add apple slices, if using. Drizzle everything with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of tenderloin registers 145 degrees for medium, 40-45 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing. Approximate nutritional value per serving: 300 calories, 15 g fat, 1 g fiber Adapted from Bon Appetit January 2015  

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This Chocolate Fig Tart Tastes Even Better Than It Looks

This Chocolate Fig Tart Tastes Even Better Than It Looks

Mom's birthday was last week, and I made the trek to Louisville to help the folks celebrate. I didn't have time to work up all the figs from the backyard, so I filled my suitcase with tins of fresh fruit. (In a way, it was like bringing coals to Newcastle, to use that old cliche, because their fig bushes were covered with enormous, juicy figs.) fig tartWhat to do with them? I know she likes chocolate, so I had to include that somehow. That's when I got the idea of making a ganache and serving it with the figs and a crust using my go-to pastry recipe. Here's the end result, which was more beautiful than I had imagined and the flavor was even better. Chocolate Fig Tart Crust: 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt 1/8 teaspoon almond extract or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla or your choice of flavoring 1 1/2 cups flour Oven-roasted figs: 12 fresh figs (I have black mission figs) 2 tablespoons honey Ganache: 1 (85 g) bar 70% or darker chocolate, to taste 1/2 cup canned milk, plus more Pinch of sea salt For the crust: Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.   In a stand mixer, cream butter and add sugar, sea salt and flavoring on medium. Reduce speed to low and slowly add flour to create a dough. Press the dough into a 9-inch circular tart pan. Cover the dough with a sheet of aluminum foil and weight it down. Bake for 8 minutes. Then uncover and bake another 5 minutes or until golden brown. (If you don't want to overbake, turn the oven off 2 or 3 minutes before you think it will be done.) Set aside and let cool. Once it's cool, remove from the tart pan and place on a serving plate. For the figs: Pre-heat the broiler with the rack as close to the top as possible.   Take half of the figs and slice them thinly lengthwise. Quarter the rest of the figs. Place on a rack. Brush them with honey. Place under the broiler and let them roast. Watch closely and remove as soon as the honey on top starts to boil. Set aside and let cool. For the ganache: When ready to assemble, set up a double boiler and melt the chocolate. Stir in the milk at little at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Add a pinch of salt. fig tart3 On the crust, lay out the fig slices in concentric circles, starting at the outside and building in until the top is covered. Carefully spread the ganache over the center and out just to the edge of the fig slices. Top the tart with the quartered figs, starting at the center with three fig quarters and working out to the edge of the chocolate. fig tart2 Serve with whipped cream, raspberries or raspberry sauce, if desired. Makes 1 tart. From John Griffin  

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Big Red Cake. Of Course.

Big Red Cake. Of Course.

Big Red Cake

Big Red Cake

If you live in the San Antonio area long enough, you'll come to know that Big Red has seeped into the culinary fabric of the city in a big way. It's easy to see why. In addition to its pleasant vanilla flavor, it's bright red color and over-the-top level of caffeine make it a genuine eye-opener on several levels.
It's a poke cake, so poke it good.

It's a poke cake, so poke it good.

Needless to say, Big Red has been adapted for uses beyond merely drinking with barbacoa on weekend mornings. One way is this Big Red Cake, the recipe for which I found in the 1991 "Market Trail Heritage Cookbook," a collection from a number of cities in and around San Antonio, including Hondo, Castroville, D'Hanis, Pearsall, Devine, Somerset and more. I knew the book was a treasure when I saw this recipe from someone named Thelma Ramirez, who has combined a number of favorites, including the ever-popular poke cake, into one outrageous treat. It's not just a poke cake. There's a layer of pudding on top, then it's capped off with Cool Whip and finally fresh fruit. (That makes it healthy, right?) I made a few variations to the original when I tried it. I made the box cake with melted butter instead of oil, milk instead of water, an added egg and a splash of vanilla, all of which helped create a more homemade richness to the cake mix. I also used blueberries instead of strawberries on top, because it's the Fourth of July weekend and I wanted a red, white and blue cake to help celebrate. Big Red Cake 1 box yellow cake mix 1 (6-ounce) box strawberry-flavored gelatin 12 ounces Big Red, cold 1 (3.4-ounce) box instant vanilla pudding 1 (8-ounce) tub Cool Whip Fresh strawberries or blueberries Prepare cake mix as directed and bake in a 9-by-13-inch pan. Let cool.
Make the cake however you want to. I changed a few ingredients to make it denser.

Make the cake however you want to. I changed a few ingredients to make it denser.

Mix the strawberry gelatin with 1 cup of hot water and the cold Big Red. Poke holes in the cake and pour the gelatin mixture evenly over the cake. Pour the entire mixture over the top. The cake will eventually absorb all of the liquid. Let it set for at least 30 minutes.
See the air bubble? It takes time for the cake to absorb all of the Big Red-gelatin liquid.

See the air bubble? It takes time for the cake to absorb all of the Big Red-gelatin liquid.

Prepare the vanilla pudding according to the directions on the box and spread evenly over the cake. (If you are making this ahead, cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
Cover it with vanilla pudding and let it set until you're ready to eat. This looks so good, I think I'm ready to eat now.

Cover it with vanilla pudding and let it set until you're ready to eat. I'm ready now.

When you're ready to serve, spread the Cool Whip over the top and garnish with fresh strawberries. If you want a red, white and blue look, use blueberries on top.
Cool Whip covers any imperfections below it.

Cool Whip covers any imperfections below it.

Add blueberries, strawberries or your favorite berry.

Add blueberries, strawberries or your favorite berry.

Makes 1 cake. Adapted from Thelma Ramirez/"Market Trail Heritage Cookbook"   Save

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Enjoy a Make-Ahead Salad Filled with Freshness

Enjoy a Make-Ahead Salad Filled with Freshness

tomato saladA friend recently went through a lifetime of cookbooks and gave me 11 cases to go through. Needless to say, it's going to take some time, especially when I pause all the time to read through a recipe for this or that. I'm not going to keep all of them, of course. After all, there are a few duplicates in there. But you never know where you're going to find a treasure. The following recipe for Green Pepper, Olive and Tomato Salad comes from "Pantry Pleasures," a fundraiser for the Mercy Hospital Auxiliary in Grand Rapids, Mich. The year the cookbook appeared is a mystery, though my guess would be in the early 1970s. I was drawn to it because of the freshness of the ingredients, many of which are personal favorites. But the real appeal is that you can make this a day ahead. So, if you know you're going to be running short on time, here's one course that you won't have to worry about. It's also easy to play around with the ingredients to suit your tastes. I added an English cucumber. Radishes and cabbage would also be good additions. (If you use red radishes, add them shortly before serving because the color of the skin will run and turn the whole salad pink.) Green Pepper, Olive and Tomato Salad 2 green peppers, chopped in thin strips or small pieces 1 cup sliced olives (green or black or a combination of both) 3 large tomatoes, cut into wedges or bite-sized pieces 2 ribs celery, chopped 1 large red onion, cut into thin half-rings 1 cup apple cider vinegar 1 cup neutral-flavored oil, such as grapeseed or avocado 2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon black pepper In a large bowl, mix together peppers, olives, tomatoes, celery, onion, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Marinate overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving. Makes 12-15 servings. Adapted from "Pantry Pleasures: Mercy Hospital Auxiliary"

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