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NAO Celebrates Mexican Independence Day


New patio chairs at NAO.

New patio chairs at NAO.

NAO, the New World restaurant at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus, is celebrating Dies y Seis de Septiembre with a special three-course menu that you can sample Saturday and Monday.

Red Brick Mole with Beef Tenderloin

Red Brick Mole with Beef Tenderloin

The Mexican Independence menu begins with Tuna Brûlée with Mole Negro and jícama slaw, followed by a Red Pozole of Shrimp and Pressed Pork Belly with a traditional hominy and guajillo broth, onion, serrano, cabbage, radish, cilantro, oregano and tostadas. The meal closes out with Cazual de Chocolate y Caramel with whipped cream and a sweet corn cokie. The price of the meal is $35 a person.

A special cocktail, the Paloma, features tequila, lime and grapefruit and is offered for $9 apiece.

From now through Oct. 23, NAO will also offer special Oaxacan dishes developed with celebriy chef Susan Trilling. You can try items such as Ceviche Costeno with shrimp in a lightly spiced coconut marinade and Red Brick Mole with Beef Tenderloin. A special Oaxacan tasting menu featuring spiced nuts; a choice of ceviche or Caldo de Piedra, Shrimp Stone Soup; a choice between the beef tenderloin or Herbal Mole Verde with Chicken; and Oaxacan chocolate torte is priced at $39.

NAO is a 312 Pearl Parkway in the Pearl Brewery complex. For reservations, call (210) 554-6484.

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Griffin to Go: Tales of Portugal, Chocolate and Roasted Radishes


The holiday season always means an extra-busy schedule, filled with gatherings at work and with friends as well as shopping, stuffing stockings and enjoying the lights both on the River Walk and on many people’s homes. It also brings on a lot of good food, both homemade and in restaurants around town.

The following are some random food notes that have nothing to do with each other than they were recent treats that offered a few culinary lessons along the way.

At Portugal’s table

I’ve visited Portugal twice and hope to go back many more times. The cuisine from the country’s various regions, largely unknown in America, is a lesson in making the most of every morsel available.

The people in the county are not rich in money, but their food is certainly filled with the riches of the ocean as well as their own farms. Cheeses bursting with flavor, unctuous and tangy olive oils, and hundreds of desserts made with a mixture of egg yolks and sugar are just a few of the culinary treasures to be found.

So, when Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard in Elmendorf announced that Portugal would be the latest dinner in their ongoing passport series, I was more than willing to taste whatever chef Scott Grimmitt came up with for his menu.

Sure enough, the evening began with two of those stunning cheese, which vary from town to town. One was a creamy Azores Flores and an aged raw cow’s milk cheese call Sao Jorge, both of which paired well with a sparkling wine from the ever-reliable Casal Garcia.

Then the courses flew by, with a kale and sausage filled Caldo Verde, thickened with potato, a happy marriage of pork and clams, and, perhaps my personal favorite of the evening, grilled sardines with a piri-piri sauce and fresh lemon. Grimmitt shared his recipe for the killer sauce, which he described as a chimichurri with sriracha adding a welcome kick. (So, that’s parsley, garlic, olive oil, a touch of vinegar and salt, plus the fiery kick of sriracha used to taste.) Try it on fish, fajitas of any type, roast chicken or just a slice of bread.

A hearty steak with potatoes preceded a custard tart — those egg yolks and sugar, again — topped with port-soaked strawberries. While the tart was wonderful, the simple magic of the port-soaked strawberries could make an easy dessert throughout the holiday season. A dollop of whipped cream and you’re all set.

The program for the dinner included next year’s dinners at Sandy Oaks, so you may want to start preparing now:

  • Feb. 1 — Croatia
  • April 12  — Sicily
  • June 7  —  Andalucia
  • Aug. 9  — Morocco
  • Oct. 11  — Chile
  • Dec. 13  —  Mexico

For more information on Sandy Oaks, click here.

Chocolate many times over

A chocolate temple complete with torches and a pool of passion fruit sauce.

Susana Trilling, one of Mexico’s top chefs, made a welcome appearance at Las Canarias for a chocolate-themed dinner. It’s the first in a series the restaurant in the Omni La Mansion del Rio, 112 College St., has planned. Chiles and corn will be the themes of the next two meals, planned for early 2013.

The five-course tasting menu, accompanied by a savory starter and truffles laced with hot chiles, made you rethink all you thought you knew about the flavors of chocolate, cocoa and cacao.

Duck breast in an achiote-chocolate sauce was silky with a slight tingle of heat and the supple, dark mystery of the cocoa. Beef sautéed with wild porcinis in a chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon sauce offered a complex host of flavors, and a roasted pumpkin soup was served with chocolate croutons. Chocolate came in all three dishes, but that common ingredient didn’t taste the same from dish to dish.

Perhaps my favorite expression was a mixed green salad with matchsticks of watermelon radish, Honeycrisp apple and almonds tossed with a chocolate-orange-vanilla dressing. Las Canarias chef John Brand said that the original recipe had also called for kohlrabi, but his suppliers and local farmers could find any that day.

Dessert was a dark chocolate temple dedicated to the rain god Cosijo and arrived with a passion fruit sauce that disappeared as quickly as the chocolate.

For many chefs and restaurateurs, these special dinners can just seem like extra work. But not at Las Canarias during this meal. Everyone we spoke with from the staff was in awe of Trilling and the knowledge she had to impart. Some even came in on their day off to help make the banana leaf-wrapped mole tamales filled with olives and plantain.

Roast that radish

Roasted radishes a la John Brand

This coming Sunday is Noche de los Rabanos, the Oaxacan festival of radishes. Every year on Dec. 23, the citizens of that Mexican village get together with radish carvings of the most intricate nature. It’s a chance to celebrate together before enjoying the more private family gatherings of Christmas. (A bit of trivia: Trilling was born on Dec. 23, thereby earning the nickname “Rabanita,” or “Little Radish.”)

I love to use radishes in a lot of dishes, both raw and cooked, from latkes to raw ravioli, in which this slices of lime-soaked daikon radish have goat cheese spread between them.

Brand offered up another variation of what to do with these root vegetables: Take red globe radishes, rub olive oil over them and season with rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. Roast at 350 degrees for about a half hour or until the radishes are done. Then, serve them as a snack.

Brand said if he ever had a bar, he’d make this the snack food.

After giving them a try, I can see why. They’re aren’t just good by themselves, they’re great with a pilsner on the side.

Let no leftovers go to waste

A pot of ham soup.

In a column of leftover food items, it’s good to end with a few thoughts on real leftovers.

I found myself facing some really good leftover ham, minus the ham bone, so it just made sense to make a fresh pot of soup using the vegetables I had in the bottom of the fridge. A turnip, some broccoli stems, carrots, onion and cabbage, with a little garlic, became the base, sautéed for about 10 minutes in olive oil, while some vegetable broth came to a boil on the back burner. Then, about as much ham as vegetables went into the pot for a good warming before the stock was added. A beer was added at the end to provide an added richness of flavor.

There was still plenty of ham left. So more cabbage and onion got chopped up. This time, dill pickles were added with the ham to create a massive amount of salad, mixed with sour cream and mayonnaise, some extra dill weed for good measure, plus salt and pepper.

Both will come in handy on those days when making lunch takes up too much time in the morning.

When I told this to a friend, she wondered why no ham casserole. That’s certainly a possibility, but most casseroles have too many potatoes, carb-heavy soups and starches for my diabetic diet, but I could easily see layering ham, potatoes and cheese in a 9-by-13-inch pan, adding milk or cream and seasonings, and baking until its a bubbling thing of beauty. Or maybe adding ham to a baked macaroni and cheese.

What do you like to do with leftover ham when you don’t have a ham bone?

 

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Are You Ready for Paella? The Annual Challenge Returns March 11


Jeff Balfour's winning paella from 2011.

Have you ever wanted to taste the cooking of a few of the contestants on “Top Chef”? You’ll get your chance at the third annual Corona Paella Challenge on March 11.

Lindsay Autrey, who made it to the top three this season, will be at the Pearl Brewery, 200 E. Grayson St., for the event, along with Ty-Lor Boring and Keith Rhodes, both of whom were also involved in the season that was partially filmed in San Antonio.

Chef Jeff Balfour of Citrus in the Hotel Valencia, 150 E. Houston St., will be defending his title as champion of the event.

Other chefs making paella for the crowds to sample include Jeff Littlefield of Waterfront Resort, Tim McCarthy of the Mayo Foundation, Jhojans Priego of Villa Rica, cookbook author and Seasons of My Heart Cooking School chef instructor Susana Trilling, Jason Dady of Bin 555 and Tre Trattoria, Steven McHugh of Lüke, who placed second last year, and Jeffrey Axell and David Wirebaugh, both of the Hyatt hotels.

Enormous paella pans cook enough of this Spanish rice dish for 50 people at a time.

The event is hosted by chef Johnny Hernandez of La Gloria at the Pearl, and proceeds will benefit The Culinary Institute of America­, San Antonio, and the Educational Foundation of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“Our goal is to raise awareness about the world-renowned culinary campus we have here in San Antonio: The Culinary Institute of America,” Hernandez said. “We are committed to increasing the opportunities for scholarships and funding for young chefs interested in a career in the food industry.”

In addition to an array of outrageous and outrageously good paellas, there will be wines from Spain and a line of craft and imported beers.

San Antonio band Bachaco will perform its blend of reggae, dancehall, and ska mixed with South America’s own Caribbean legacy rhythm of Cumbia.

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets cost $50 for adults or $25 for children under age 12. Tickets can be purchased at www.culinariasa.org/wine-festival/main/tickets.php and at Pearl during the event.

 

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Lines, Food, Spirits, Fun and More Lines


Barbara Hunt serves up a Mediterranean-style sandwich from Boardwalk Bistro.

Culinaria’s Grand Tasting is always an occasion for sampling excellent fare from the area’s best restaurants, fine wines and other spirits. But Saturday’s sold-out gathering was also a chance to mix and mingle with thousands of others while enjoying the evening.

Often that was while waiting in line for the likes of Jeff Balfour’s braised oxtail tostada from Citrus and John Brand’s combination of oysters from Ostra and pork belly from Las Canarias.

Guest chef Susana Trilling (right) from Oaxaca talks with Culinaria's director of development, Ginger McAnear.

It was the first time Ben Dorris had ever tried an oyster, but he braved a briny bivalve with friends Joe Carreon and Vanessa Jauer. He was not impressed with the texture, but his friends, who have had a little more oyster-eating experience, were.

The evening’s sponsor, Ambhar Tequila, offered samples of their silver, reposado and añejo tequilas as well as cocktails for those who wanted something in addition to the vast array of wines on hand. These ranged from the crisp Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet to the silky elegance of the Chalone Pinot Noir. Bottles of Belgian beer Stella Artois disappeared quickly during the balmy evening.

Diane Wiltz is one of the volunteers pouring wine at the Grand Tasting.

The long lines meant some restaurants had to stretch the food they brought, though each of the chefs and their restaurants brought enough for 1,500 servings. Barbara Hunt of Boardwalk Bistro started out serving a Mediterranean-style sandwich with lamb. When the lamb ran out, it became a vegetarian sandwich with a roasted tomato and some tzatziki sauce adding such bold flavors that no one really missed the meat.

Shea Ash of the Peach Cafe in Boerne handed out several treats, including a mini-muffuletta with olive salad from her business partner Nancy Fitch’s restaurant, the Pomegranate in Artisans Alley.

Guest chefs included Nordic chef Trine Hahnemann as well as Susana Trilling of Oaxaca, who hopes to have her new line of culinary products, including mole enhancers and salt from her region of Mexico, in area stores soon.

Chocolate truffles from Kirby’s and cake from Flour Power Cafe were among the choice desserts for those with a sweet tooth.

Long lines greet chef Jason Dady each year.

The longest lines were those waiting to sample the multi-course mini-meal prepared by Jason Dady’s restaurant group. As he has done in the past, Dady offered samples of dishes that represent his restaurants, which include the Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills, Bin 555, Tre Trattoria, Two Bros. BBQ and the DUKTruck.

Shredded flank steak with a molasses-Shiner Bock barbecue sauce and a bright coriander-based pickle on top, a Mediterranean tossed salad, smoked deviled eggs with crab meat and cheesecake were among the various treats he served.

It took 22 members of his staff to keep the plates moving and to offer guests a personal explanation of what each dish was.

Lines were so long at Dady’s booth that the chef stayed more than an hour after the event ended to make sure everyone still waiting in line got to taste what he had to offer. We ran into Dady at The Monterey shortly before midnight where he was treating his staff to a late meal for the hard work they’d done.

Photographs by Bonnie Walker.

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