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Put a Little Fire into Your Egg Nog


Michael Sohocki’s Wood-Fired Egg Nog

National Egg Nog Day is Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, and what better way to celebrate than with a cup of holiday cheer as created by San Antonio chef Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn, Kimura and Il Forno.

Sohocki decided that wood fire didn’t just belong in the fireplace, tucked behind hanging stockings; instead he is pushing boundaries by adding it to everyone’s favorite holiday sip. He strove for a warm egg nog with a smoky and wood essence to it — and burning oak gave him just that.

With a dollop of brandy at the bottom of each mug, drinkers will experience a potent potable that has a very merry ending indeed. (Editor’s note: We have not tried the recipe ourselves, but we are willing to test it if anyone wants to make it for us.)

Wood-Fired Egg Nog

1 quart whole milk
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean (paste only)
6 egg yolks
2 cups burning wood (oak, hickory or maple)
Splash of your favorite brandy
Soft-whipped cream, for garnish
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Bring milk, sugar and vanilla to a raging boil. Before it spills over the sides, pull it from the flame.

Put egg yolks in a separate 4-quart bowl. Stir the boiling liquid into the yolks a little at a time, starting with about a tablespoon at a time until you see steam, then you can increase the interval to about 1/4 cup or so.


When the boiling liquid is incorporated, take about 2 cups of burning wood, preferably in small pieces (greater surface area) still on fire, and dump them all at once into the milk and egg mixture. Stir to extinguish the flames, and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes or so to absorb smoke and wood essence. Strain through fine mesh to remove wood pieces. (Note: Sohocki recommends only using clean, food-grade wood.)

 
 

Put a dollop of brandy in the bottom of a tall warm coffee cup, and pour the egg nog mixture from up high, so you get a swirling effect in the bottom of the glass (practice this in private: don’t pour it in your guest’s ear). Sohocki likes that the mixture is not the same throughout, a little more punch at the bottom.


Top with whipped cream and nutmeg, and serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.
 
From Michael Sohocki/Restaurant Gwendolyn, Kimura, Il Forno

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It’s Pizza Times Two


The antipasti plate at Il Forno.

The antipasti plate at Il Forno.

Everyone approaches pizza a little differently, and different is good in a world of too much uniformity. There’s the thin crust, which gets scorched on the bottom while the toppings sort of melt together in the blazing heat of the oven. Others go for a thicker crust, sturdy enough to hold a little extra in the way of toppings. And deep-dish pizza fans go for what non-fans politely call a casserole, in which each slice is stacked high with a lot of everything.

The Vegetali at Capos.

The Vegetali at Capos.

You can also go into the handmade approach to the crust, no matter how thin or thick, as well as the finest and freshest of ingredients spread out on top. And, in my book, there’s the delicate use of anchovies, which work to unify the rest into a boldly flavored whole. (Who am I kidding? Your touch with the anchovies doesn’t have to be delicate. Just make sure they’re included. And I’ll take a few on the side while you’re at it.)

Recent visits to two pizza parlors on different sides of town convinced me that all’s well in San Antonio when it comes to this favorite food.

The first was to Capos Deck Oven Pizza, 17676 Blanco Road, just inside Loop 1604. Hidden in a tiny strip mall next to the mighty fine El Jalisco Grill & Cantina, the restaurant makes no pretension when it comes to ambience. There are a few bar stools, if you want to eat your pizza by the slice on site or wait for your order to go. Instead of focusing on furnishings, owner Ricky Perna’s attention seems to be squarely on producing a Buffalo, N.Y.-style pie that will have you reaching for a second slice even before you’ve finished the first.

Capos' Calzone

Capos’ Calzone

That certainly was the case with the Capos Supremo with pepperoni, Italian sausage, black olives, roasted onions, mushrooms and, for dramatic effect, bright strips of roasted red peppers. The Vegetali was a sight to behold, with artichoke hearts, red pepper strips, spinach, red onions, mushrooms and more artfully arranged on top so that each bite brought a different fresh vegetable taste.

The crust for both was not wafer or cracker thin. In true New York style, it had a little more body, but it packed a good yeasty flavor and was sturdy enough to hold that mouthwatering array of toppings. The same dough was used to good effect in the stromboli with its pepperoni, meatballs and ocean of melted mozzarella and romano cheeses, and a meaty calzone that had more cheese than one person could handle with good meat flavor in every bite.

A solid cold Italian sub, with tangy red onions offsetting the richness of the ham, Genoa salami and cheeses,  finished out this meal with friends in style. I remember owner Ricky Perna from the days when he owned Goomba’s, which I had loved for its honest approach to Italian-American favorites. It’s great to see he hasn’t lost his touch.

The baked green tomato Caprese salad at Il Forno.

The baked green tomato Caprese salad at Il Forno.

Michael Sohocki’s Il Forno on Nogalitos is more authentic Italian or perhaps chef-driven Italian, but most every bite rated raves from the same group of friends. The interior of the restaurant is every bit as spare as Capos, though more spacious.

Watermelon Panzanella at Il Forno

Watermelon Panzanella at Il Forno

Sohocki, from Restaurant Gwendolyn, has assembled a group of cooks who stress the visual appeal of the dishes they offer as well as the blending of flavors, with the end result being art on several levels. We’ll let the pictures of the various dishes we tried — and we kept trying more and more — do most of the talking. Just remember that each dish contained some surprises that will haunt us until our next visit. Chief among them were the spicy sausage slices on the antipasti tray, the farm fresh egg on the pizza with prosciutto and sauteed parsley, the tangy croutons in the watermelon panzanella, the fresh tomatoes on the puttanesca pizza.

I’ll let the photos of the food at Il Forno tell the story. All were eye appealing, and all tasted even better than they looked.

Don’t settle for boring or chain creations when it comes to your pizza, people. People all over this town are creating soul-satisfying pies just for you, as both Capos and Il Forno ably demonstrate.

Capos Deck Oven Pizza
17676 Blanco Road
(210) 362-1901
www.capospizzasa.com

Il Forno
122 Nogalitos
(210) 616-2198www.ilfornosa.com

The puttanesca pizza at Il Forno.

The puttanesca pizza at Il Forno.

Prosciutto and a farm-fresh egg crown an Il Forno Pizza.

Prosciutto and a farm-fresh egg crown an Il Forno Pizza.

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Get Ready to Sink Your Teeth into Charc Week


Shark Week recently excited you with images of finned creatures of the deep from far and near. Now, it’s time to sink your teeth into something even meatier.

charc weekMichael Sohocki’s Restaurant Gwendolyn, 152 E. Pecan St., is sponsoring is annual Charc Week, a time to celebrate charcuterie in all its glory. (Charcuterie, for those who don’t know, is defined by Wikipedia as “the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, ballotines, pâtés, and confit, primarily from pork.” In other words, all the good stuff you love to eat.)

During July 20-26, you can find different charcuterie plates at a host of restaurants and bars around town, and eat chef brings a little something different to the table.

That’s why it’s fun to sample and compare plates from places such as Biga on the Banks, Boiler House Texas Grill, Cookhouse, Crossroads Kitchen at Faust, Cullum’s Attagirl, The Fig Tree, Granary ‘Cue and Brew, Kimura, The Last Word, Lüke, Mezcalaria Mixtli, NAO, Rosella Coffee, Tre Trattoria, TBA and more, in addition to Restaurant Gwendolyn. Little Gretel in Boerne and several restaurants in Austin are also getting in on the action.

There are rules the eateries have to follow, most important of which is that the charcuterie must be made in-house.

As the poster for the week says, “What comes from our hands tells the story of us.”

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Culinaria Stages a Grand Tasting of Fine Foods, Wines and Spirits


A grand night for Culinaria's Grand Tasting.

A grand night for Culinaria’s Grand Tasting.

Culinaria’s luck with the weather held another day during its annual Festival Week. The Grand Tasting at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center Saturday evening was marked by a balmy evening in which to enjoy some of the city’s finest chefs offering their best food to have with fine wines and cocktails.

Jordan Mackey of Las Ramblas offered golden tomato gazpacho.

Jordan Mackey of Las Ramblas offered golden tomato gazpacho.

Michael Sohocki from Restaurant Gwendolyn served blood sausage over polenta, while the Culinaria Institute of America scooped up mashed plantains, which they topped with shredded pork. Kirby’s Prime Steakhouse offered a beefy salad. Paloma Blanca served chipotle chicken over rice.

A trio of Saucy Sweets.

A trio of Saucy Sweets.

Jordan Mackey from Las Ramblas offered a refreshing golden tomato gazpacho, while Jesse Perez of Arcade Midtown Kitchen added a little punch with his spicy shrimp salad.  Jason Dady of Umai Mi presented a creamy-spicy spread over shrimp rice crackers with fresh basil and other herbs on top. Jeff White from Boiler House topped shredded pork shoulder with a cashew slaw and avocado for a treat reserved for the VIP area, though he managed to sneak a couple of samples out to us.

Several restaurants presented multiple tastings. Stella Public House dished up Brussels sprouts and a skewer of Caprese salad alongside their panna cotta with a salted caramel topping. Cocina Heritage caterers presented a spicy shredded pork as well as a lively salad.

A few wines of note in an evening filled with fine wines included the Michelle Brut Rosé from Washington state, the bone dry Hugel Riesling from the Alsace, the Megahertz Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, and the Bending Branch Petite Sirah from Comfort.

Perhaps the most welcome feature of the evening was the fact that Culinaria limited the number of guests, which meant no waiting for a sample of Saucy Sweets’ alcohol-laced sorbets in flavors such as mint julep and piña colada or for an extra bit of fried kale from Lüke’s booth. There were no elbows to avoid in case you wanted to turn around, and plenty of most everything in case you wanted to sample something a second time.

Culinaria’s Festival Week concludes Sunday with Burgers, BBQ and Beer at the Pearl Brewery. For more information, click here.

Cocina Heritage caterers offered a salad and spicy shredded pork.

Cocina Heritage caterers offered a salad and spicy shredded pork.

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Notes & Quotes: Lobster-Mania, Ramen Shop and More


Francescas Lobster Salad croppedIf you love lobster, you’ll be happy that it’s almost time for Groomer’s Seafood’s 2nd annual Lobster-Mania. This celebration of deliciousness and how to get your hands on some for a great price happens Aug. 1-3, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“For those of you who are new to shopping with Groomer’s, Lobster-Mania is the time of the year where we bring in thousands of live Maine lobsters and sell them for as low as possible! The price however is all in the hands of our customers,” says Blake Groomer.

It works like this: The more people who like Groomer’s Facebook page — and that’s already a lot of us — the lower go their prices. If they can add another 500 likes to their page in the next week, they’ll be selling those crustaceans for $7.95 each. If 1,000 like them, that price goes down to $6.95. (Cut-off to add your name to their Facebook ‘likes’ is Monday.) That’s social media in action!  Groomer’s Seafood is at 9401 McCullough Ave.

 

Zaza Gallery

Entryway to Zaza Gardens, on South Flores.

Slow Food South Texas Farm Dinner: Featuring chef John Russ

Slow Food South Texas’ next farm dinner will be at Zaza Gardens in downtown San Antonio for a Celebration of Farms with chef John Russ. Russ is executive chef at Lüke, San Antonio.  The dinner is Sunday, Aug. 11, and goes from 5:30 – 9 p.m. at Zaza, 723 S. Flores St.

Participating Farmers include Rancho Ojo de Agua, Braune Farms, Kitchen Pride Mushrooms, Peeler Farms, South Texas Heritage Pork, Oak Hill Farms, and Gulf Oysters from Port Aransas. Featuring Texas beer and wine from Karbach Brewing Company and others.

Wander from station to station devouring the joint creations of chef Russ and our local farmers and ranchers. Sip beverages from Texas beer and wine makers and mingle with your fellow foodies. Click here to buy tickets.

The next Slow Food farm dinner is Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, Oct. 12, 2013 Traditional Family Style.

 

Kimura Ramen Shop to open Monday

Chef Michael Sohocki will be opening Kimura, next to Restaurant Gwendolyn, a 152 Pecan St., in the space vacated by Cakery Bakery.  Sohocki said a soft opening this week will give him some information to go on in the last few days as he irons out the menu’s offerings before opening on Monday, July 29.

Noodle eaters in "Tampopo" Japanese comedy filmed in 1985.

Noodle eaters in “Tampopo” Japanese comedy filmed in 1985.

To whet your appetite for this Japanese (by way of China) dish we’d suggest checking out one of our favorite foodie movies, “Tampopo.”

Ramen noodles, and the proper preparation thereof, was a focal point for the Japanese movie, filmed in 1985. The production and consumption of ramen was a large part of the 1985 Japanese comedy film. Truck drivers, Goro and Gun help a widow polish up her product and thus save her languishing ramen shop – though food of all sorts is touched on in this comedy. There are many types of ramen, and the movie leaves you with an appreciation for this simple – or not so simple, as it turns out – food.

 

Hat’s on!  San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo Bar-B-Que Cook-off & Festival

smokin' joe's barbecueThe San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo Bar-B-Que Cook-Off & Festival is coming up Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27 and 28. Spend Friday evening at the Ace in the Hole Casino Night (must be 21 and older) including great food, Las Vegas-style gaming, music and live and silent auctions.

Saturday is a full day of  family-friendly events and activities including Mutton Bustin’.  Enjoy live music throughout the day, shopping and plenty of Texas barbecue  to sample.

The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo Bar-B-Que Cook-Off is a championship event sanctioned by the Texas Gulf Coast Bar-B-Que Cookers Association.  The cook-off features over 300 teams of the world’s best barbecuers. For more information click on their page here.

 

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Three from San Antonio Among James Beard Semifinalists


Semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation Awards, the culinary world’s equivalent of the Oscars, were announced Tuesday, and the list includes three from San Antonio.

Biga on the Banks, 203 S. St. Mary’s St., was included on the list of Outstanding Service in the entire country.

Included in the list of semifinalists for Best Chef in the Southwest are Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn, 152 E. Pecan St., and David Gilbert, who recently left Sustenio at Éilan Hotel, 17101 La Cantera Parkway.

Michael-Sohocki-300x295

Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn.

A number of other Texas chefs are included in various categories across the list of semifinalists. Tyson Cole of Uchi in Austin and Stephan Pyles Restaurant in Dallas are on the list for Outstanding Chef nationwide.

How many of the semifinalists will make it to the finals will not be known until March 18. The awards will be presented in New York on May 3 and 6.

For a full list of the semifinalists, click here.

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A Restaurant Is a Team, Gwendolyn’s Chef Tells CIA Graduates


Chef Michael Sohocki addresses the CIA graduating class.

Friday was a homecoming for Michael Sohocki, chef/owner of Restaurant Gwendolyn, 152 E. Pecan St. He returned to his alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., to deliver the keynote speech during commencement exercises.

Sohocki advised 49 recipients of associate degrees in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts at the college’s main campus that running a restaurant is a team effort.

“A chef can’t carry a restaurant any more than a captain can carry a ship,” Sohocki told the newest class of fellow CIA alumni. He urged graduates to be nice, to not be afraid to wash dishes, and to listen when they become bosses. “I’ve learned so much more by ‘listening up’ than by ‘talking down.’ Turn off your phone and when people talk to you, give them your undivided attention.”

Sohocki graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the CIA in 2002. The Robstown native opened his own restaurant in 2010 after working for fellow CIA alumnus Andrew Weissman at Le Rêve, Il Sogno and the Sandbar. Earlier this year, Sohocki was named a San Antonio Rising Star by Starchefs.com.

Restaurant Gwendolyn is at the location of the former Le Rêve on the River Walk, not far from the CIA’s San Antonio campus. The menu features local, handmade, and seasonal ingredients, and changes daily. There are no blenders, mixers, deep fryers, or any other kitchen appliances with a motor. The concept at Gwendolyn is to prepare food the way it was done before the Industrial Revolution.

 

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Calling All Pork Lovers: It’s Time for Charc Week!


The Discovery Channel has kept us entertained for years with its annual Shark Week. Michael Sohocki at Restaurant Gwendolyn, 152 E. Pecan St., is hoping to give San Antonio something a little tastier. He’s sent out the call for the city’s first Charc Week, devoted to all things charcuterie in nature. Charc Week will start on Tuesday, running Oct. 23-30.

What’s charcuterie? Wikipedia tells us it is “the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâtés, and confit, primarily from pork. Charcuterie is part of the garde manger chef’s repertoire. Originally intended as a way to preserve meats before the advent of refrigeration, they are prepared today for their flavors derived from the preservation processes.”

Gwendolyn won’t be the only participant. Also on board are Bliss, Where Y’At Food Truck, Monterey, Luke, Laurent’s Modern Cuisine, Feast, Cappy’s, Tre Alamo Heights, and Blue Star.

There’s only one rule, according to Gwendolyn: Everything must be made in house at each place, and all restaurants we’ve invited will sell their plate for $15.

For more information, call Restaurant Gwendolyn at (210) 222-1849.

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At Gwendolyn, You’ll Taste the Right Reasons for Eating Local


Purple hull peas with bacon

The hype surrounding restaurants that serve local, organic and sustainable foods has reached such a shrill cry that some of us would gladly patronize a place that stressed its authenticity by flying in all of its ingredients from around the world.

But from the moment you take one bite at Restaurant Gwendolyn, the downtown temple to local fare, you realize there is really something wonderful to be had in your own backyard.

Our visit Tuesday as part of Culinaria’s Restaurant Week began with a simple amuse bouche that consisted of a purple hull pea purée on a slender rectangle of toast with house-cured bacon. Simple, yes, but the freshness of the peas, from Cora Lamar’s Oak Hill Farm, sparked with just the right amount of salt was a real eye-opener. And the crumbles of crispy bacon provided the right contrast of texture while complementing the flavor.

Arugula with Blackened Tomato Vinaigrette

From the three-course prix fixe menu, two of us selected an arugula salad with house-made andouille, rings of red onion and blackened tomato vinaigrette. The leaves were so fresh and beautifully piquant — not to mention perfect in shape — that they pleased both eye and taste. Everything on the plate had its own bold seasoning, whether it was the sausage or the lively, spicy tomato dressing. An equally vibrant 2011 Willm Pinot Blanc added a citric punch that just made the salad extra special. (It was so good, in fact, that I couldn’t tell you what the other salad was, other than my friend finished it off.)

Braised pork shoulder

Our enjoyment continued to grow with the arrival of the entrées. Both friends had braised pork shoulder with house-made pappardelle, which they loved, though a small bite or two of the pork was chewier than the majority, which was fork-tender and perfect with the Spanish Tempranillo we shared. I had incredibly moist chicken from Peeler Farms, served over a bed of vegetables that tasted as if they had been picked that afternoon.

Dessert, a plate of chocolate for them and fresh fruit for me, was followed by a cheese plate that was the genuine highlight of the evening. An array of Texas cheeses, include a goat cheese and hard cow’s milk cheeses, arrived with Christmas figs (dried figs seasoned with clove and winter spices), dried apricots, fried almonds with honey and crazy good buttered crostini. But it was the Brazos Valley Eden, a raw milk brie wrapped in fig leaves with a thread of vegetable ash running through the center, that was the real mindblower.  It oozed an intense swirl of flavors with each bite and was gone all too soon.

Restaurant Gwendolyn’s cheese plate

So, from the purple hull peas to that last taste of brie, Michael Sohocki makes the strongest case for eating local that you can make: You’ll love it.

Culinaria’s Restaurant Week continues through Sunday with a variety of eateries across town taking part. Multi-course lunches are priced at $15 while dinners are $35. For a full list of participants, click on the Culinaria ad at the top of the page, and then go out for a special dinner.

Restaurant Gwendolyn
152 E. Pecan St.
(210) 222-1849
restaurantgwendolyn.com

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San Antonio Plans Its First Food Policy Conference


Are you concerned about the food that you eat? The quality? Where it comes from? How it is produced?

Do you know where your food is grown? And how?

Then you may want to attend the first food policy conference in San Antonio on May 10-11. It is being sponsored by the Food Policy Council of San Antonio in partnership with the Community Food Security Coalition, and organizers are hoping to make it an annual event.

The conference’s aims are to educate, organize, mobilize and support local community efforts in order to better manage the local food system, according to press information.

Keynote speaker is author Mark Winne, who will appear along with national, state and local policymakers, nonprofit leaders, researchers, health planners, farmers, local producers and other experts in the area of food and nutrition. Events will include a tour of the Spurs Community Garden at the San Antonio Food Bank as well as presentation from chef Michael Sohocki of Restaurant Gwendolyn.

Educational and skill-building workshops, a reception featuring local food and beverages, as well as ample opportunities to network with food policy professionals and advocates will all be included.

The conference registration fee for both days is $60; however, a Community Putting Prevention to Work grant is underwriting the cost for the first 200 registrants.

For more information, including an agenda of events, visit www.sabalance.org/Home/FoodPolicyConference.

 

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