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Farmers Markets Have Found Their Foothold in SA


The array of foods at farmers markets has grown.

The array of foods at farmers markets has grown.

Ten years ago, San Antonio’s idea of a farmers market was little more than a roadside stand with some fruits and vegetables out of the back of a pickup truck. There were some exceptions, such as the Saturday get-together in the Olmos Basin, where you could get fresh eggs and even some exotic items mixed in with the usual array of zucchini, squash and beans as well as the ever-popular tomatoes and peaches.

Red and white onions at the Pearl Market.

But the audience was small. That would change within five years, when the Pearl Farmers Market opened. It wasn’t just the market and the initial wave of interest in the renovation project that had begun at the once-abandoned brewery. People’s eating habits had begun to change. They wanted something fresher, more organic and different from what they could get at most supermarkets.

Beets at the Quarry Market.

Beets at the Quarry Market.

But they got more than that. They found ranchers selling grass-fed beef as well as humanely raised pork and chicken. They found local bakers, a local chocolatier, winemakers, a bee keeper with raw local honey and Sandy Oaks with its locally produced olive oil. There were also food vendors, herb growers, musicians, cooking events and plenty of dogs, all of which made the Pearl a destination on Saturday mornings.

Suddenly, it was easy to see that the brightest and best flavors for you to put on your table could be bought year-round from your very own region. Within a short time, leeks, pattypan squash, fennel, daikon radish, kohlrabi, an assortment of mushrooms, purple carrots and okra, candy stripe beets and baby artichokes all came to be a part of what’s grown in the region and offered at the markets.

Dogs and farmers markets go together.

Dogs and farmers markets go together.

Other markets have joined the scene, but perhaps none has made as much an impact as the Quarry Farmers and Ranchers Market, which celebrated its third anniversary recently. This Sunday morning spot, in the parking lot of the Quarry shopping center at 255 E. Basse Road, has a decidedly different vibe and yet it offers many of the same items, from fresh produce and local baked goods to live music and food treats. With more than 30 booths, the array is rich, whether you’re looking for seasonal fruits, vegetables and herbs, locally raised meats or locally processed foods.

So, whether you shop on Saturday or Sunday, at the Pearl or the Quarry or any of the other markets in the region, you have greater choices for eating healthier than ever before, thanks to the growth of farmers markets in the area.

Bakers have become a market fixture.

Bakers have become a market fixture.

The Pearl Farmers Market

The Pearl Farmers Market

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Will BurgerFi Leave you Saying ‘Semper Fi’?


I stopped into BurgerFi, the new burger joint at the Shops at La Cantera, to check out the grass-fed Angus burgers that the new chain prides itself in offering.

I eat mostly grass-fed beef at home. It’s a flavor I remember from my childhood, when my folks would share the costs of a cow with another family. And it’s supposedly a lot better for you, with reports touting it having higher Omega 3 levels than wild-caught salmon, while conventional beef is high in Omega 6s, the kind that aren’t so good for you.

So, I was all set for a healthful treat. Surely, the burger was a thing of beauty, piled high with bacon and a fried egg (OK, so I leveled the playing field somewhat). Even the bun was branded, giving it an extra note of seriousness.

But looks can be deceiving, right? The truth lies in the taste. Well, I have to admit that BurgerFi had awfully good taste for a chain burger. It was certainly better than some of the other supposedly hand-crafted burger chains that I have found exceptionally overrated. (Five Guys, anyone? Puh-leeze.)

The patty was perhaps cooked a little too done for my taste, but the natural, lightly grassy flavor in the beef complemented the hickory bacon and egg as well as the lettuce, pickles and grilled onions piled into the bun. It was so tall that biting into was a sloppy, smeary delight. So, keep plenty of napkins on hand. You’ll need them.

Not into red meat? BurgerFi offers the VegeFi made with quinoa and topped with white cheddar. I didn’t go there, though.

Instead of fries on the side, I had the 100 Percent Wagyu Kobe Hot Dog, Chicago-style, which was a treat, right down to the celery salt and neon relish. (Again, if you don’t want red meat, you can order a chicken and apple dog. I didn’t go there, either.)

I splurged on dessert and had a frozen custard with my choice of mix-ins. The chocolate confection with coconut, chocolate toffee and cherries was a mixed blessing, however. The coconut and chocolate toffee were both fine, but the custard itself was unctuous, but curiously flat and shy on flavor. Plus, there was only one cherry, reserved for the top. Perhaps the vanilla custard shows off the cream and eggs, promised on the menu, in a better light.

There’s a so-called “secret menu” worth checking out because it offers everything from a grilled cheese to the “green” style in which you can get your burger on lettuce instead of a high-carb bun. You’ll find that BurgerFi offers a number of other intriguing features, such as offering fresh-cut fries, fresh squeezed lemonade and Mexican Coca-Cola made with sugar. You can even get your fries “limp,” which are cooked, as the menu says, “opposite of well done, more raw than most people like them,” but still the way some people prefer.

If you enjoy dining some place that pays that much attention to detail, even though it’s considered fast food options, then given BurgerFi a try.

BurgerFi
The Shops at La Cantera
15900 La Cantera Parkway
(210) 362-1187
www.burgerfi.com

 

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Chef Hubert O’Farrell’s Argentine Beef Tenderloin Empanadas


A pocket pie

Argentine chef Hubert O’Farrell is visiting San Antonio this week to cook at NAO, the restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America. On his special menu are some down-home favorites, including these empandas, which showcase one of his country’s greatest culinary treasures, grass-fed beef.

The recipe calls for a salmuera, which is a brine, as well as a brunoise of the beef and the onion. What’s that? According to StellaCulinary.com, “Brunoise is nothing more than a very small dice. Chefs just like to call it brunoise because we love adjectives and nouns that make things seem more complex than they really are.

NAO is at 312 Pearl Parkway. Call (210) 554-6484 for information.

Argentine Beef Tenderloin Empanadas (Empanadas de Lomo Cortado a Cuchillo)

Salmuera:
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups water

Dough:
3 ¼ pounds organic all-purpose flour
10 1/2 ounces melted pig fat

Filling:
2 1/4 pounds grass-fed beef tenderloin, trimmed
3 1/4 pounds white onion
1 pound butter or “cow fat”
1 tablespoon sea salt flakes
3 tablespoons Spanish sweet pimentòn
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons coarse sun-dried aji chile powder
3/4 cup boiling water
1 pound scallions (cebolla de verdeo)

For the salmuera: Add salt to water.

For the dough: Place the flour in a mixer with a dough hook and pour the warm pig fat. Start in slow motion and slowly add the salmuera as much as the dough “needs” it. Once the dough is silky and smooth, you can turn it off and reserve for about an hour wrapped in film and refrigerate. Flatten the dough until it is thin enough without breaking. Cut in circles 2.5 inches in diameter.

For the filling: Freeze the meat for 1 hour so it is easier to cut. With a sharp knife, cut the tenderloin and the onions brunoise, separately. Toast all the dry condiments and add them to the boiling water with the salt. Cook the onions in the butter or cow fat until transparent and add the meat. Mix with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Turn the burner off and add the liquid and the scallions. Stir. Chill the filling in a baking sheet to stop the cooking process. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Assemble the empanadas using the preparation as cold as possible so that the juices will stay in the mixture and be more flavorful. Place the circle of dough in the palm of your left hand, place a spoonful of the filling and close quickly making a “repulgue,” a rope-like edge. Place each empanada on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until the dough is browned, about 12 minutes.

Makes about 2 dozen empanadas.

From chef Hubert O’Farrell

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Drought Takes Toll on Local Farmers, Ranchers


Peppers are one food in season -- if the plants have survived the drought.

If you go to one of the many farmers markets in the area this weekend, take a minute to talk with the purveyors about the problems they’re facing because of the drought.

Some, like Bob Mishler of Uncertain Farms in Seguin, have watched acres of plants burn in the merciless sun. He’ll still have his pickled and canned goods for sale at the Legacy on Sunday morning, but the fresh food from his farm is over for a while.

Neither he nor Cora Lamar from Oak Hills Farm in Poteet, who is at the Pearl Farmers Market on Saturdays, have any idea when to start fall planting, either, because of having to water the seeds. Many farmers usually begin their fall crops within the next few weeks, but no break in the weather could mean a lean fall for lovers of fresh food.

While not selling their wares at the farmers markets, wine grape growers and vintners are feeling the effects of the weather, too. For them, the news isn’t all bad, according to Becker Vineyards.They started their harvest early this year, says spokeswoman Nichole Bendele.

“Although we have a drip irrigation system in place, we are in a drought. We started the grape harvest about two weeks early, and will probably be finished by the end of August instead of the second or third week of September,” she says.  Besides Stonewall, we have another vineyard in Ballinger, and a third in Mason and also purchase grapes from growers in the Texas High Plains and West Texas areas.  Our winemaker, Russell Smith, says, that because of the drought the overall quantity is down, but because the grape clusters have such small berries, the wines of 2011 will be deliciously intense.”

Farmers and winegrowers aren’t the only ones hurting. Linda Perez of L&M Grass-fed Beef says she’s been feeding her cattle hay for weeks now because the grass is dead, and the hay is not in abundant supply.

Perez, who is also at the Pearl on Saturdays, recently posted the following on Facebook: “Bought the most beautiful hay imaginable today, but it cost me: $65 in gas, 6 hours driving time, one blow out tire to replace, not to mention the price of the hay and the incredible heat to endure (had to have the heater on high in the truck to keep the engine from over-heating!). But you should have seen the look on the faces of the cows and calves when they finally got to taste it. Priceless.”

The cattle aren’t quite so carefree these days because sometimes she’s able to buy only enough hay for four days.

Of course, food doesn’t just magically land on the table because it’s mealtime. We’re learning that this summer the hard way.

 

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Farm to Market Is One Man’s Dream Served Up to Hungry Customers


 

Who can resist a cup of sunshine at New Braunfels Farm to Market?

The following is the second of two parts.

Weeks before the New Braunfels Farm to Market opened last year, its creator, Ron Snider, wasn’t sure any farmers would show up to sell their just-harvested produce. Two weeks ago, the farmers market on South Castell Street boasted 72 vendors, the largest of any market in the region. Everything from fresh-picked peaches and tomatoes to grass-fed beef, artisan cheeses, fresh eggs and various types of garlic could be found.

More than that, it had plenty of customers picking up melons, mushrooms, Indian cucumbers and Indian breads while clearing out all of the offerings that the bakeries, the tamale vendor and several other booths had to offer. The roster of food stuffs for sale went on to include Cowgirl Granola, fresh-squeezed juices, German kettle corn and aguas frescas.

Plus, there were stands with handmade goods, including soaps and lavender goods, as well as henna tattoos and home-grown herbs.

New Braunfels Farm to Market's Ron Snider with his wife, Carol, and their granddaughter, 15-month-old Charlotte Lowe.

But, as large as it is, Farm to Market is only just beginning. Snider owns the art deco building next door to the parking lot where the vendors now set up their booths, and he is in the process of renovating it so the market has plenty of room to grow. Cooks will then have the necessary kitchen equipment as well as cleanup area, while some of the vendors will have better access to electricity to keep their meats, cheeses, dairy products and other items refrigerated.

The building once housed the Herald-Zeitung, New Braunfels’ newspaper, and Snider hopes to return its exterior to its former deco appearance, which was covered through the years by additions and a few too many Alsatian touches. He’s still doing research on the building, which hasn’t been easy.

“Most of the documented history of the old Herald-Zeitung Building was lost when the paper’s location on Landa Street flooded about 10 years ago,” he says. “I have a copy of the original architects’ rendering done by Phelps and Dewees of San Antonio. I’ve contacted family members and our local archives, but I have yet to find the true construction date or an as-built photograph. The only photos I’ve found to date have one or both of the additions.”

Snider began his career in the restaurant business and, after several detours, is glad to be back among food producers, chefs, bakers, butchers and the whole array of vendors who return every Saturday.  Watch him as he stops to talk with vendors and customers alike. “They have good cupcakes,” he says at the Sweet Dreams bakery booth. “They have good everything.”

Braune Farms of Geronimo is one of the vendors at New Braunfels Farm to Market.

He offers similar praise at every booth, whether it’s the sliders from Liberty Bistro or the farm-fresh poultry from Shady Falls Farm in Elmendorf.

“The market crowd for me is enjoyment,” he says. “I enjoy the connection with friendly farmers, ranchers, foodies and artists who are Farm to Market. These self-sufficient people who grow and make things with their hands have a certain satisfaction, pride and continence that you don’t find that often anymore. Gathering them outdoors with family, friends and neighbors makes traditional local markets something much more than a redundant march through another climate-controlled big box run.”

New Braunfels Farm to Market Hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, click here.

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New Farmers, Ranchers Market Opens at the Quarry


Heather Hunter (right) offers tastes of her Cowgirl Granola to customers.

The organizers behind the new Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market may have planned for a soft opening Sunday, but if turnout is any indication, it was a solid success.

Twelve vendors offered fresh produce, artisan cheeses, gluten-free foods, meats, orchids and more to a healthy turnout of shoppers.

Kohlrabi

“We only had five weeks to pull ourselves together,” said Heather Hunter, who organized the market and who sold her Cowgirl Granola at the market. “And we’ve had a steady steam of customers all morning.”

Studio One dance instructor Esteban Cardenas was one of the many who showed up to shop at nearby Whole Foods and was pleased to see the collection of fresh produce for sale in the parking lot in front of the store.

Radishes, garlic blossoms, new potatoes, greens, zucchini and onions were among the foods for sale. Manuela Zamudio of Zamudio’s Farm in Natalia had some fresh kohlrabi, which she said she likes to cut up and serve raw in salads or serve by itself.

Chef Jason Dady of the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills made the market an occasion for a family outing, and his two daughters enjoyed some of the first peaches of the season.

Orchids are part of the Quarry Farmers & Ranchers Market offerings.

Humble House Foods offered fresh mozzarella while Good offered gluten-free cakes, cookies, sweets and breads. Whole Foods also had a table, showing its support for the venture.

David Lent, who organized the market with Hunter, said he expects 10 more vendors by the market’s grand opening on June 5. “At least 50 percent of the booths will always be produce,” he said.

A blues guitarist provided some morning music at one end of the market. In the near future, the organizers plan on having a tent with chairs where people can listen to experts talk about the health benefits of some of the foods available, such as grass-fed beef.

Radishes, onions and flowers are among the season's offerings.

The market will be open 8 a.m.-noon each Sunday in the Quarry parking lot, 255 E. Basse Road, though a good turnout could keep the vendors selling a half-hour or so later, Hunter said.

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Farmers & Ranchers Market Coming to the Quarry


A new Farmers & Ranchers Market is set to open in the Quarry Market parking lot, 255 E. Basse Road, on May 1.

The emphasis will be on fresh, locally grown, humanely raised and artisanally produced food, according to Heather Hunter, one of the two directors behind the enterprise. It will run from 8 a.m. to noon each Sunday, rain or shine.

The market will set up in the lot next to Whole Foods, which welcomes the new venture. “Whole Foods Market is committed to supporting local producers, not only by selling regional products in our stores, but also by supporting local farmers markets where they sell their unique artisanal products,” said Chris Romano, produce coordinator and local forager for Whole Foods Market Southwest region.

The lineup of vendors will be selling local and organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, pastured chickens and their eggs, honey, pasta, all-natural tamales, cheeses, mustards and other spreads and sauces, Hunter’s Cowgirl Granola, gluten-free foods, herbs and plants and more.

In addition to the products for sale, the market will offer lectures and seminars on topics such as where food comes from and how to plant a garden. Cooking demonstrations, live music and other special events are also planned.

Hunter’s partner in the venture is F. David Lent. The two are also establishing a board of advisers to assist in program development.

For more information, call 210-865-5900 or e-mail quarryfarmersmarket@gmail.com.

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Nouvelle and Classical Cuisine Combine on New Coco Menu


Coq au vin at Coco Chocolate Lounge & Bistro.

Coco Chocolate Lounge & Bistro, 14802 U.S. 281 N., has introduced a new fall menu that mixes traditional French fare with New Wave specialties.

The dishes are divided on both halves of the menu, with the classics on the left and the New Wave on the right.

The left boasts such time-honored dishes as pâté de campagne and “garlicky” escargots for starters and house cassoulet, coq au vin and duck confit among entrées. Classic desserts include a Grand Marnier soufflé for two, crème brûlée and a cheese plate.

Seared Yellowfin Tuna with garlic Thai basil noodles at Coco.

The right half offers pumpkin risotto, wild mushroom ravioli and Alaska king crab cake among the appetizers. Grass-fed filet mignon, Chicken Ballotine with an autumn harvest stuffing, seared yellowfin tuna, seared scallops with a Pacific Rim curry-coconut broth and vegetarian tagine are a few of the nouvelle-style entrées.

Thin-crust pizzas, salads and sharing plates, as well as a vast array of chocolate-themed martinis, are still offered.

To celebrate the new menu, Coco will offer diners a series of discounts: 40 percent off food items on Tuesdays, 30 percent on Wednesdays, 20 percent on Thursdays and 10 percent on Fridays. The offer excludes happy hour. It is valid until Nov. 19.

For more information or reservations, call 210-491-4480 or click here.

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The Cove: Cozy Place, Great Burgers


the-cove-008One of the best burgers in Texas, at least according to a high profile, Austin-based magazine, is the Texas Burger at The Cove. To their reviewers, this burger (with refried beans, corn chips and red onions, avocado and salsa) outshone more popular burger havens in town, including the traditional local favorite, Chris Madrid’s.

We have patronized The Cove for years, enjoying the food and the odd location — it’s also part car wash, part Laundromat. Play areas inside and outside are there for the kids, and a big, beer-hall style dining room is in back where one can escape most of the summer’s heat.

Food: 4
Service: 3
Value: 4

Rating scale:
5: Extraordinary
4: Excellent
3: Good
2: Fair
1: Poor

Hardy San Antonio diners, though, can be found in just about any weather, seated under shaded patio areas outside. At lunchtime during the week, there may be a line extended out the door — which has to be the very best advertising of all for any restaurant.  You do stand in line to order at the counter, but someone delivers the food when it is ready.

So, we have enjoyed the flavorful, meaty taste of these now-famous burgers at The Cove. Note that the S.O.L. notation on the menu stands for “sustainable, organic and local.” The Bison burgers are cooked right (that is to say, not overcooked) and served with chipotle sauce; lamb burgers are laced with salty Mexican cheese. Veggie burgers are available as well, including a grilled portobello mushroom with spinach, red onions and cheese. We had a bite of a burger on special last week, the meat topped with a perfectly fried egg. It could’ve won a mention, too.

While The Cove has plenty to offer, including a beer list with more than 100 beers, it is notable that the owners, Sam and Lisa Asvestas, were paying attention to certain buzzwords before they really got buzzing. They use recycled goods when possible; they pay attention to sustainable, local, fresh and organic when it comes to the food. “Homemade” is another word to throw in there, too.

The fish taco (now commonplace in San Antonio but just catching on in the rest of the world, apparently) is not fancy or overloaded. It’s made with mild-flavored, grilled tilapia, a fish I prefer to catfish. The shaved red cabbage and the spicy poblano chile sauce boosted this warm, foil-wrapped taco to better-than-ordinary.

Falafel Sandwich

Falafel Sandwich

I was tempted to go back for seconds, but managed to resist after a friend passed along a bite of her entrée. This was an Organic Falafel Sandwich with spinach salad, with hummus on the side. It was very good — something I’d eat instead of a burger and not feel at all meat deprived.

In general, one of the things I like about this restaurant’s menu is that they put the right foods together. This sounds elementary, but you might know what I mean. Like, I am never happy to find, say, canned pineapple chunks in a tuna salad, for instance. They just plain don’t belong there.

I do approve of bacon paired with avocado in just about anything, or goat cheese with a salad that includes grilled apples and walnuts. And, there appear to be two or three kinds of organic hummus available, which is a plus any way you look at it.

I will have to return to The Cove to sample the Jalapeño Carrot Cake.  As it was, I was allowed to have not one, but two, bites of a friend’s Green Brownie. It was gluten free but flavor packed, moist but firm, and the essence of deep, dark chocolate. Go and have one.

Check out the website for the music schedule, to learn about the chef and owners, and read the entire menu. If it sounds good on paper (or looks good on your screen), when you sit down to eat at The Cove you can believe it will taste good, too.

The Cove
(210) 227-2683
Lunch: Monday-Saturday. Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday.
$

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Daily Dish: Grass-fed Beef, Bison Hits at Earl Abel’s


Looking for a healthful way to get that steak and burger fix?

Check out the grass-fed beef and bison options at Earl Abel’s, 1201 Austin Hwy. The restaurant has added rib-eye and top sirloin steaks from Niman Ranch to their menu. The restaurant is also planning to purchase Niman chuck as well, so they can grind their own meat for burgers from this hormone- and antibiotic-free beef.

In the meantime, says owner Roger Arias, bison burgers have proven popular, too. “We’re buying 25 pounds of bison meat a week and the burgers continue to sell well,” he said. Want fries with that? For an extra buck, try Earl’s new sweet potato fries.

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