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Waking Up to Cowboys, Tacos, Biscuits and Coffee

Waking Up to Cowboys, Tacos, Biscuits and Coffee

The 38th annual Cowboy Breakfast is already known as the largest free breakfast in the world. But the organizers, under the sponsorship of Jordan Ford, wanted something more this year.

Shoveling the coals

Shoveling the coals

They wanted the event with the most tacos served at one time.

So, the booth volunteers were working overtime Friday morning to get tacos into the hands of the tens of thousands who showed up despite temperatures in the 30s before the sun rose. (Rain, sleet and who knows what all else Mother Nature dishes up won’t keep people from the Cowboy Breakfast, so you can bet a frigid little breeze was no problem.)

According to organizers, the following was going to be served:

–34,000 Mission Foods tortillas

–10,000 Kiolbassa sausage and eggs tacos

–6,000 Kiolbassa chorizo and egg tacos

–2,500 servings of Pioneer Biscuits and Gravy

–8,000 Pioneer biscuits and Kiolbassa Sausage

–10,000 Rudy’s BBQ beef tacos

–10,000 Delicious tamales

–8,000 Mrs. Bairds sweet rolls

–5,000 pints of Oak Farms milk and juice

–15,000 cups of McDonald’s special roast coffee

Also on the menu were plenty of smiles, despite the workload, and an extra dose of goodwill.

The Cowboy Breakfast is also the unofficial start of the rodeo season in San Antonio. The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo gets underway Feb. 11.

Spooning filling into tacos

Spooning filling into tacos

Waiting in line

Waiting in line

Serving up biscuits and gravy

Serving up biscuits and gravy

Warming the tortillas

Warming the tortillas

Who needs coffee?

Who needs coffee?

Prepping the sausage

Prepping the sausage

For many, it's a family outing

For many, it’s a family outing

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Stir Up Some Fun During Negroni Week

Stir Up Some Fun During Negroni Week

Cocktail lovers know that there are few pleasures that match a well-made Negroni. It is also one of the simplest drinks to mix: Stir equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth with ice. Garnish with orange peel.

For Jeret Peña of the Last Word and the Brooklynite, the end result is magic. “The Negroni is my favorite cocktail, hands down,” he says. I couldn’t agree more.

That’s why Peña and many of the rest of us are ready to celebrate Negroni Week, which runs June 1-7 this year.

A Negroni

A Negroni

The fact that this event, sponsored by Imbibe magazine and Campari, raises money for charity only makes the week more inviting.

The rules couldn’t be much easier: You buy a Negroni from the participating bar of your choice, and the bar, in turn, donates $1 to the charity of its choice.

According to the event’s website, “From 2013 to 2014, Negroni Week grew from more than 100 participating bars to more than 1,300 participating bars around the world and more than $120,000 raised for charities.”

This year’s list is growing, with the following San Antonio bars taking part and the charities that they’re raising money for:

Alchemy Kombucha & Culture
1123 N. Flores

Arcade Midtown Kitchen
303 Pearl Pkwy.

Bar Du Mon Ami
4901 Broadway, Suite 130
Pets Alive

2720 McCullough Ave.
Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Blue Box
312 Pearl Pkwy.
Wounded Warriors

Esquire Tavern
155 E. Commerce St.
The Children’s Shelter

George’s Keep
17101 La Cantera Pkwy.
Wounded Warriors

555 E. Basse Road
Texas Science and Engineering Fair

Piatti at The Eilan
17803 La Cantera Terrace
Texas Science & Engineering Fair

Silo Oyster Terrance
22211 I-10 W.
Wounded Warriors

The Green Lantern
20626 Stone Oak Pkwy.
Humane Society

The Hoppy Monk
1010 N. Loop 1604 E.
Eco Life

The Last Word
229 E. Houston St.
GBS | CIDP Foundation International

Once again, this list is growing. So, if you don’t see your favorite bar on the list, ask for a Negroni anyway. You’ll enjoy the drink and you might be helping a charity.

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‘Turn Me Loose’ at Fiesta Oyster Bake

‘Turn Me Loose’ at Fiesta Oyster Bake

Rain or shine, the Fiesta Oyster Bake was happening Friday night. That meant, rain or shine, I was going to be working. Thankfully, the rain held off, for the most part, until I was under the protective cover of the pavilion where the wine booth was located.

Pork chop on a stick!

Pork chop on a stick!

My friends and I felt a few drops and sloshed through some mud puddles on our way around the St. Mary’s campus. But for the most part, the evening delivered on the fun that the event promises each year — down to the fireworks that sends the crowds home.

Before our shift, we wandered the food booths, getting an early fill of chicken on a stick, shrimp on a stick and steak on a stick, holding off on sausage on a stick, pork chop on a stick and even cucumber on a stick until we could fully assess our choices. An oyster shot, chilled and briny, prepped me for the oyster bucket that was to come. Toward the end of the evening, my friend Cindy and I squared off: She purchased a bucket of baked oysters, while I eagerly went for a bucket of raw. The plump Gulf beauties went down easily. And thank you, Kathleen, for being the designated shucker (after I lightly punctured my hand on a particularly stubborn bivalve. Thank goodness for those wet napkins that came with the dozen or so oysters, priced at $7.)

Chicken on a stick!

Chicken on a stick!

This year, the Oyster Bake featured a food truck area that included such favorites as the Duk Truck, Wheelie Gourmet, Saweet Cupcakes and Cheesy Jane’s. From barbecue to bacon-topped tacos, they had you covered.

More music was on the menu, too, as added stages meant you could choose jazz, country, Tejano and hip hop in addition to the headliner, ’80s favorite Loverboy, who had the crowd singing along to “Turn Me Loose.”

This year’s wine booth featured Robert Mondavi’s Woodbridge collection, and the lovers of sweet drinks were out in force.

“I want the sweetest wine you’ve got,” was a phrase we heard dozens of times throughout our shift. And when they saw the Moscato being poured in the cup, more than half would ask before taking a sip, “You sure this is the sweetest wine you’ve got?”

What? No oysters on a stick?

What? No oysters on a stick?

In a lineup that included Woodbridge White Zinfandel, Rosatello Rosso, a sweet red blend, and Rosatello Sparkling Rosé, the Moscato won the crown for being the sweetest. And the customers must have agreed, for we had many repeat customers.



We also had folks returning for the dry Woodbridge selections, including Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. And while they, too, were faithful to their choice, they were simply outnumbered, with Chardonnay and Merlot being the least chosen wines of the evening. That’s a change from years past.

We also had a captive crowd for an hour or so, as the sky opened up and sent those without umbrellas looking for cover.

The Oyster Bake was set to continue Saturday with more oysters, music and fun. Hopefully, the day will be a little dryer. But you may want to wear your galoshes, just to navigate the mud.


More galoshes.

More galoshes.

Happy customers at the wine table.

Happy customers at the wine table.

Fireworks through the trees.

Fireworks through the trees.

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Ben Ford’s Persimmon Salad with Goat Cheese and Candied Pecans

Ben Ford’s Persimmon Salad with Goat Cheese and Candied Pecans

Local food lovers may remember Ben Ford as the first winner of the annual Paella Challenge at the Pearl Brewery. He’s also a celebrity chef, whose Ford’s Filling Station has become a hit in Culver City.



Of course, moviegoers might focus on the fact that his father is the actor Harrison Ford. What they might not know is that his wife, Emily, is a San Antonio native.

All of these come together in the handsome new cookbook, “Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking” (Atria Books, $34.99), which Ford has written with  Carolynn Carreño.

The book covers a host of party possibilities from the whole pig roast to the Hill Country barbecue, but it also impresses with its simple, effective side dishes, such as this Persimmon Salad with Goat Cheese and Candied Pecans.

“When persimmons flood the Filling Station kitchen in the fall, I make this salad,” he writes. “Make this salad with pears or apples when persimmons aren’t in season.”

Persimmon Salad with Goat Cheese and Candied Pecans

2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 heaping teaspoon finely chopped shallot
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 Fuyu persimmons or 1 pound pears or apples
8 ounces mâche or baby spinach
1 head frisée, torn
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
12 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 cup candied pecans (recipe follows)

tamingTo make the dressing, whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, salt and sugar together. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly, to make an emulsified dressing. You can make the dressing up to 2 days  in advance; refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.

To prepare the salad, cut both ends off each persimmon and peel with a vegetable peeler, removing as little flesh as possible. Remove the pits and thinly slice the flesh. If you are making this salad with pears or apples, cut then in half to remove the cores; lay them cut side down and thinly slice.

Put the mâche and frisée in a salad bowl. Drizzle with 1/3 cup of the vinaigrette and toss lightly to coat. Add more dressing if desired and salt to taste. Lay the persimmon slices over the salad, crumble on the goat cheese and scatter the pecans over the top. Grind black pepper over the salad and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

Candied Pecans

1 cup raw pecan halves
1/3 cup sugar

Adjust an oven rack in the center and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Spread the pecans on a separate baking sheet in a single layer and toast them for 5 minutes. Transfer them to a plate to cool to room temperature.

Cook the sugar undisturbed in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar begins to melt, about 2 minutes. Begin to stir the sugar with a wooden spoon and continue to cook until it is light brown, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, add the pecans and stir to coat each nut with the sugar. Transfer the pecans to the prepared baking sheet. Spread them out in a single layer and use two forks to separate them from one another, working quickly so they don’t stick together. Set the nuts aside to cool completely. You can prepare these nuts up to 3 days in advance; store them in an air together container for up to 2 days.

Makes 1 cup.

From “Taming the Feast: Ben Ford’s Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking” by Ben Ford with Carolynn Carreño

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Luca Della Casa’s Star Is Shining

Luca Della Casa’s Star Is Shining

Think TV doesn’t change a person? Ask Luca Della Casa, who recently spent a season on the cooking show, “Food Network Star.” He emerged from the show in second place, as the runner-up to cowboy chef Lenny McNabb, and he says the experience has helped him become “a better version of myself.”

It’s not just talk. Those who knew Della Casa before the show can sense a difference in the way he carries himself. There’s a greater poise in his manner as he sits down for a chat or greets his customers. His face is more open and welcoming, as he flashes his now-famous, dimpled smile. There’s more of a connection when he carries on a conversation. And, yes, it’s all because of being on TV week in and week out for an entire season.

Luca Della Casa sits down for a talk at Nosh.

Luca Della Casa sits down for a talk at Nosh.

It wasn’t easy work. Della Casa wasn’t used to being “judged so directly,” as he calls it. When a Bobby Flay or an Alton Brown takes you to task with a camera rolling, it’s tough. So, the Italian chef who runs the kitchens at Silo Alamo Heights and Nosh on Austin Highway had to learn not to take everything on an emotional level. “I learned to accept criticism in a more constructive way,” he says.

He also had to learn how to keep his energy levels up because there might be a long lull between shots. He drank a lot of coffee, which wasn’t always the best answer because “I would get nervous waiting,” he says. That came out when he had to pour a sauce over a dish he had to prepare for the judges, and his hand started to shake so badly that Brown reached out to steady it. “I wanted to stop it, but there was no way,” he says.

Then there is the stress, part of which comes from the whole setup. “TV is unreal,” Della Casa says, adding that during the filming of “Food Network Star” “there were hundreds of people around us at every turn. It was worse at the very beginning because there were so many of us.”

Still, “Food Network Star” fans could see Della Casa’s progress happen slowly but deliberately. It began after he got kicked off early in the process because he had failed to connect with the camera while cooking. His food, as local fans will attest, won raves, but he just didn’t raise his head as he prepared his food. So, he went to the online redemption show, “Star Salvation.” After several weeks of winning those judges over with his panini, his culinary skills and his engaging personality, he earned his way back onto the main show.

More changes began occurring. His first episode back was in Las Vegas, and he found himself surrounded by gorgeous women who had really taken to his charm, his good looks and his accent. It was something that had not escaped the attention of the show’s third host, Giada de Laurentiis. A sex symbol was being born. He looks back on that episode with a sheepish grin. “I’m flattered,” he says of all the attention. “But I didn’t earn it. It wasn’t anything I did.” He credits his parents’ gene pools with the way he turned out and leaves it at that.

Luca Della Casa thanks San Antonio for the support he's received while he was on "Food Network Star."

Luca Della Casa thanks San Antonio for the support he’s received while he was on “Food Network Star.”

Della Casa gives plenty of credit to his wife, Marcella Algarra Della Casa, for the rest of his success on the show. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” he says. Marcella is an attorney who spends her some of her time addressing justices and juries, so she knows something about speaking in public. She drew on her background and Toastmasters to help him before more confident. “She told me, ‘You’ve got to get better at speaking in front of people,’” he says, adding that it helped him find himself in a way that made him become relaxed at ease in front of other celebrity chefs, his fellow contestants and the camera.

It helped that Della Casa is “a quick learner,” as he describes himself. His efforts, combined with his culinary skills, propelled him on to the finals, against McNabb and Nicole Gaffney. The outcome was voted on by viewers of the show, not the judges, and no one knew who would be the winner. “I thought Nicole was my first competition, which shows you what I know,” he says with a laugh. “I’m really happy for Lenny.”

This has been the latest chapter in Della Casa’s culinary journey from his hometown in Torino, Italy to the Canary Islands and then to Texas. “I didn’t go to culinary school,” he says. “I use the memory of certain flavors and I learned from other chefs,” as well as the grandmother he referred to often on “Food Network Star.”

“My food is the sum of all of these,” he says.

Ten years ago, he arrived in San Antonio to work for Massimo Pallottelli at Sage in the Fairmount Hotel. From there, he went to work for Andrew Weissman at Le Rêve and Il Sogno, and then Fralo’s before going to work at Silo and Nosh.

One night while visiting Copa Wine Bar on Stone Oak Parkway for a wine tasting, he noticed a woman who had come in to buy a bottle of wine. That turned out to be Marcella, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Luca Della Casa hopes his appearance on "Food Network Star" brings attention to San Antonio's culinary scene.

Luca Della Casa hopes his appearance on “Food Network Star” brings attention to San Antonio’s culinary scene.

When the opportunity to appear on “Food Network Star” arose, Della Casa pursued it vigorously; but he didn’t tell his boss, owner Patrick Richardson, until he had been accepted on the show. The chef was a bit nervous about that, but Richardson was excited for him and offered his support.

Della Casa is repaying that trust by pouring his energies into his work now that he’s back in town. “My first thoughts are about coming back to the restaurant,” he says. Fall menus are being planned and they could include some of the dishes he prepared on the show, dishes that made an appearance at a special meal Silo offered while the chef was still competing. There might even be a collaborative dinner with one of the other contestants from the show.

As if that’s not enough, Della Casa’s also helping local restaurateur and bar owner Chris Erck of Swig Martini Bar and Viva TacoLand, among other ventures, launch Panzanella Pizzeria, which will feature salads and pizza by the slice. The new eatery will open this fall with two locations, including one next to Erck’s Stay Golden Social Club on Pearl Parkway.

Della Casa is grateful for the encouragement he’s received from San Antonio throughout the “Food Network Season” and after it. “I couldn’t believe the kind of support I’ve received from everyone here and on social networks,” he says. “I feel blessed.”

Is there any more TV in Luca Della Casa’s future? “I’m confident that something good is going to come of it,” he says. “Where I am now is just the beginning.”



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Get Ready for a Cinematic Feast

Get Ready for a Cinematic Feast

Manish Dayal and Helen Mirren star in "The Hundred-Foot Journey."

Manish Dayal and Helen Mirren star in “The Hundred-Foot Journey.”

Jon Favreau’s summer hit, “Chef,” is proving to be merely an appetizer for a full cinematic feast for food lovers.

Next on the menu is “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” which features Oscar-winner Helen Mirren as the owner of Michelin-starred French restaurant who becomes upset when an Indian family opens a restaurant across the street from her place. The food flies as cultures clash, but Mirren soon realizes that the young chef can help her take her restaurant to the next level. If you’ve seen the preview, you’ve seen most of the movie — and what does that matter? The food scenes alone have made many of us hungry for more.

“The Hundred-Foot Journey,” produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, opens locally on Friday at a number of theaters, including Santikos Palladium IMAX and the Silverado theaters.

But the movie industry hasn’t finished serving us food films. Later this summer, we can expect “The Trip to Italy.” Steve Coogan and Rob Byrdon embark on a road trip across Italy in a film that features six meals in six different areas. Yes, the food looks as good as the comedic scenes. Better still, the pedigree of the film is very good. Director Michael Winterbottom and Coogan (“Philomena”) teamed up on the outrageous “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.” Hopes are high for this comedy basted with plenty of Italian food and scenery.

Several release dates for “The Trip to Italy” have been announced, but when the film will finally reach San Antonio is anyone’s guess.

Also in the works is a film called “Adam Jones,” in which Bradley Cooper plays a chef who tries to assemble the best kitchen crew ever. Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Sienna Miller, Lily James and Jamie Dornan are part of the cast. The original title of the film was “The Chef,” but the success of Favreau’s movie led to a change. No preview of the film exists yet, but here’s a promotional clip announcing the fact that Cooper is learning his kitchen skills from bad boy chef Gordon Ramsey. No release date has been mentioned on

If you’ve been to the Bijou recently, you’ve probably seen a preview for “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon.” This documentary is filled with stories about the famous folks he’s represented, including Jimi Hendrix, Michael Douglas, Mike Meyers, the director of the film, and more. But you might have forgotten in all the motion and noise of the preview that Gordon coined the term “celebrity chef” and represented Emeril Lagasse, Charlie Trotter, Paul Prudhomme and Wolfgang Puck, among others. So this qualifies, even if food isn’t foremost.

No word yet on when “Supermensch” will arrive, but look for it in the next few months.

And if you haven’t seen “Chef” yet, it’s still playing at the Bijou.


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Enjoy a Glass of Jordan and a Chorus of ‘Blurred Vines’

Enjoy a Glass of Jordan and a Chorus of ‘Blurred Vines’

Jordan ChardonnayRobin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is at the top of the pop charts, which means, that it is ripe for the parodying. You can find any number of spoofs on YouTube, but few will likely please wine lovers as much as this version from Jordan Vineyard & Winery.

So, curl up with a glass of the Jordan Chardonnay, a vibrant Russian River treasure and one of my long-time favorites from California, or the Bordeaux-like Cabernet Sauvignon, and let some blurred vines sail by.

It’s a great way to escape on a summer afternoon.




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Ace’s High: Pork Belly with Mole Pipian Makes Chef Almost Famous

Ace’s High: Pork Belly with Mole Pipian Makes Chef Almost Famous

Acenette “Ace” Gonzalez is Almost Famous.

Ace Gonzalez is the winner of the national S. Pellegino Almost Famous Chef Competition sponsored by San Pellegrino.

Ace Gonzalez is the winner of the national S. Pellegino Almost Famous Chef Competition sponsored by San Pellegrino.

That’s because the chef in training at the San Antonio campus of the Culinary Institute of America recently won the national S. Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef competition in Napa, Calif.

Winning the event was “so life changing,” said Gonzalez, who received $3,000 for her efforts. Most of the money is going toward the cost of her education, but she’s also got her eye on a new set of knives from either Shun Cutlery or Global Knives.

Gonzalez advanced to the finals after winning the South Central Regional Competition, which was held in Houston this year. In California, she faced the winners of the nine other regional competitions that make up the annual contest. In the end, she was crowned victorious because of two dishes she made. One was her signature dish, Pork Belly with Mole Pipian (recipe follows), and the other was for a caldo de mariscos that came out of a mystery basket competition.

Both of Gonzalez’s winning dishes were inspired by the food she grew up eating. Though she is from Dallas, her parents are from Mexico City, and the caldo was a taste of home with its chipotle, tomatoes, onions and garlic as well as the four mystery box ingredients, mussels, clams, cod and shrimp.

Ace Gonzalez cooks during the Almost Famous competition in Houston.

Ace Gonzalez cooks during the Almost Famous competition in Houston.

Even though the caldo from her childhood provided inspiration, it didn’t make the competition any less intense.

“They were all great cooks,” she said of the other nine cooks. “It was just awesome having the chance to compete with them.”

Now that the contest is over, Gonzalez is focusing on finishing her associate’s degree at the CIA. “I graduate in April,” she said. “Then I think I’ll work for a year or so.”

Becoming the latest Almost Famous Chef should help Gonzalez find a good position after she graduates. Winning “means a lot,” she said. “It gets my name out there.”

Her mentor in the Houston competition, chef Philip Speer of Uchi Houston, said that taking the top spot is “something that can take you to another level in your career.”

Ace Gonzalez's Pork Belly with Mole Pipian

Ace Gonzalez’ Pork Belly with Mole Pipian

Pork Belly with Mole Pipian

This recipe involves several parts, each of which appears separately below. At the end are the instructions of how to plate the dish.

Huitlacoche Polenta Fries

10 cups pork stock
3 cups polenta
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 pound cojita cheese
20 ounces huitlacoche
Oil for frying

Bring pork stock to a simmer; add in polenta.

Season with salt and pepper. In a Robo Coupe food processor, process cheese until it’s fine.

Cook polenta until it’s done. Add in huitlacoche and cheese until melted in.

Cool in a small sheet pan that has been covered in plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool.

Cut polenta in 1 inch by 2 1/2 inch sticks. Deep fry until crispy. Drain. Reserve until assembling.

Pickled Onions, Watermelon Radishes and Raw Chayote

5 cups white vinegar
2 cups honey
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
4 red onions
15 watermelon radishes
8 chayote
2 cups micro cilantro

Place vinegar in pot, add honey and spices. Bring to a boil.

Julienne onions and thinly slice radishes on mandolin.

Place onions and radishes in vacuum-seal bag and pour hot vinegar solution into bag ¼ full and vacuum seal the bag. Let compressed radishes and onions sit in solution for 30 to 45 minutes.

On mandolin, slice chayote in thin strips.

At service, add chayote strips to the solution with the onion and radishes.

Pork Belly

7 pounds pork belly
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
8 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
7 cloves garlic, peeled
3 ounces sesame seeds
4 ounces peanuts, skinned
9 ounces pumpkin seeds
13 ounces tomatillos
2 medium white onions
7 jalapeños
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
14 green romaine lettuce leaves
4 hoja santa leaves
1 cup brown lard
3 quarts pork stock
Cumin powder, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut pork belly into 2 1/2-ounce cubes.

In a Vitamix or powerful blender, mix salt, pepper and cumin and peeled garlic cloves. Rub over pork belly and bake for 1 hour with foil on top and a little water on the bottom.

Take out of oven and when ready to serve, deep fry until crispy.

Toast sesame seeds until golden; transfer into a bowl. Repeat that process with peanuts and pumpkin seeds.

On a comal, roast onion, jalapeño, and unpeeled garlic cloves. Set aside.

Boil tomatillos in water until they change color.

In Vitamix, mix onion, jalapeño, garlic, tomatillos, lettuce, and hoja santa until smooth. Fry in brown lard, set aside.

In Vitamix, mix all the nuts and seeds until smooth. Add pork stock as needed.

Combine the two purées together and thin out with pork stock. Simmer for 30 minutes.

To serve: On a wooden plate, make a straight line with mole. Place 3 polenta fries along the mole. Place 3 pork belly pieces next to the polenta. Add pickled onions on top of pork belly and spread 5 radish slices along the plate. Stand the chayote pieces along the pork belly and garnish with micro cilantro.

From Acenette Gonzalez


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Use All Your Senses When Creating Cocktails

Use All Your Senses When Creating Cocktails

How much do you now about making cocktails? Sure, you could follow a recipe, but the end result might not be exactly what you want. So, how do you correct it? Or how do you go about creating something suited for your tastes?

Can you identify flavors when blindfolded?

These were a few of the questions that Sly Cosmopoulos, corporate mixologist for Republic National Distributing Co., offered Saturday during the second annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. She showed a full room how analyze flavors as a building block toward making a perfect cocktail.

The participants were occasionally blindfolded, as they tastes the likes of orange juice alongside blood orange juice, so they could discover for themselves if they could taste differences and even if they could identify what they were tasting.

Scent is more important than taste, when it comes to spirits, whether you’re talking a distilled beverage or wine. So, Cosmopoulos had them taste alcohol without seeing it or smelling it. So, as a few held their noses, they got to experience something that many found hard to identify.

“Tequila?” guessed one man.

“Bourbon or whiskey?” said a woman.

When they took off the blindfolds, they discovered that it was a whiskey, though most in the room talked more about the pure sensation of alcohol that they had experienced.

Texture is also important in a cocktail, and psychological perceptions come into play when you talk about texture. In the video above, watch Cosmopoulos describe how creamy cocktails conjure a different image from frothy ones.

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Get Your Chocolate Fix. See’s Candies Opens a Store in North Star Mall.

Get Your Chocolate Fix. See’s Candies Opens a Store in North Star Mall.

A See’s manager shows how to box chocolates quickly.

See’s Candies has long been a holiday fixture at North Star Mall with a kiosk that has sold milk chocolate candies, dark chocolate truffles and bon bons of various flavors.

But now See’s has opened a storefront in the mall that will be open year-round. It’s one of six stores in the South that See’s has opened this year, offering sweets in all shapes and sizes no matter what the occasion is.

Grabbing for a chocolate.

You can choose from the 100 or so flavors that the store offers, including truffles filled with almond, blueberry or key lime; dark chocolate with nougat, marzipan or mincemeat; white chocolate with apricot buttercream, hazelnut or cashews; milk chocolate with peppermint, strawberry cream or butterscotch; and specialty pieces, such as vanilla nut fudge, pecan roll or bridge mix.

The Scotch Kiss, a creamy caramel with marshmallow at the center, reminded me of treats families used to make each Christmas in Louisville, Ky., called Modjeskas. One bite and I felt as if I were back home.

See’s Candies has opened at North Star Mall.

The store also has chocolate coins for Hanukkah or just for the kids to play with, “seegars” for newborns  and even thank-you boxes for whenever a note isn’t enough.

Kyan Jones gets ready to compete.

The quality of See’s candies are certainly the chain’s claim to fame, but the store was also immortalized in an episode of “I Love Lucy,” in which Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance work a chocolate conveyor belt. That scene was at See’s, which still uses the conveyor belt for all it’s hand-formed chocolates. (For a trip down memory lane, watch the clip here.)

In honor of that inspired bit of hilarity, the store’s preview party included similar contests. There was no conveyor belt, but the people in attendance were pitted against each other in competitions to see who could box chocolates the fastest. Claire Larson can be seen winning one round in the video at the top, while you can see several younger partygoers go up against a See’s manager (click here). Yours truly donned the hairnet and took first in another round.

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