Technique #126 Vegetable Salads (Salades de Legumes)

My blundering stumbling tripping journey into the culinary arts is Salades de Legumes or Vegetable Salads. This is technique #126 from Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques.

Now the tricky part about this here technique is that its actually four techniques. There are four different vegetable salads listed here; String beans and Tomato Salad, Beet Salad, Zucchini Salad, and finally Carrot Salad. 

I have actually done two of four techniques, well, one and a half. I'll blog the other one another time but this time on the red carpet it is......drum roll please.......zucchini. That's right. It's summer and one of the best fresh foods that says summer to me is zucchini. Versatile, super green, filling yet light. I loves me some zucchini. 

So Zucchini Salad it is. Or, as Jacques would say Salade de Courgettes. I was very proud, by the way, when my wife and I were watching one of Gordon Ramsay's many UK shows (Best Restaurant) and they started talking about courgettes and I knew just what they were talking about. 

So first step? Get some yummy zucchini from the farmers market. I got some delicious zucchinis from Oak Hills Farm at the Pearl Brewery farmers market. 

Next step is to cut the top and bottoms off. 

Next step cut each one into roughly 2" sections. 

Then cut lengthwise (as in set them up vertical and cut from top to bottom) into quarters. 

Then slice off the seeded sections (at the tip of the quarter). 

Looking at them side by side (before and after) they should look something like this. 
Trimmed (left) and Not trimmed (right)

The above part, trimming the seeds, is something I might disagree with Jacques about. I don't know if there is a reason why. That is to say, am I removing them because they (the seeds) somehow impact the taste, the cooking, or the texture? OR does he suggest doing it because that is simply the way the french have always done it. I don't know. Sorry if I built you up thinking I was going to answer those questions. I really would sincerely like to know. My apologies for misleading you into thinking I had any clue about what I was doing. 

The reason I question it is because to me the seeds don't do anything to detract from the flavor. Also, trying to trim out the seeds resulted in cutting away quite a bit of flesh. But if that's what Jacques wants then that's what Jacques gets. 

Next step is to lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt. Then pop them into a preheated oven at 425 degrees. Oh shit, I guess I should have told you to do that at the start. Oh, by the way preheat the oven to 425. You'll need it in about.......um...zero minutes.

Well you only want to have it in the oven for about 3-4 minutes. Just long enough for the zucchini to start sweating. What do I mean by sweating? Check out the pic below. Can you spot the sweat?

Ok, how about I help you. Now can you see it? Relax, its not real sweat. That is, not people sweat. Just the moisture being pushed out of zucchini. 

Once they cool off (yes, this is a "room temperature" dish) toss the zucchini 1 tablespoon olive oil (or peanut oil), 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Now that's what the recipe called for. I actually used 2 teaspoons of olive oil (2/3 tablespoon for those that can't Google). I probably could have gotten away with one teaspoon of olive oil. 

Even with two teaspoons of olive oil (to me) it was a bit oily. Throw in a wife who isn't crazy about olive oil and you're bordering on disaster. 

All in all though it really is a very fast, very summery, and very delicious dish. I highly recommend. 


Technique #105 Asparagus Stew (Ragout d'Asperges)

This is technique #105 Asparagus Stew a.k.a. Ragout d'Asperges from Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques. Are y'all tired of me blabbing about Pepin's book? Well tough, suck it. I'm obsessed and his book will have me on TV by the time I've gone through all his techniques.

I really don't know if it should be called asparagus "stew". The quotation marks means that "stew" is what them there fancy peoples call it. But when I think "stew" I think 1)brown and 2)long cooked. This is more of a. .. .um.....saute? no.....poach? no.....braise? no.....ok,well its something. A wee bit of water, plenty of butter (of course), and really short cooking time. This is actually a really fast and delicious side to have with just about anything.

Ever since I realized there aren't a lot of foodies or contestants on Top Chef whose repertoire is confined to corn dogs and microwave mac and cheese I knew I was going to have to try new foods. After turning my nose up at asparagus for years (Green foods = Scary) I found out I actually looooooove asparagus.
Wow! I actually took this great picture of Asparagus. 
Up until now all of my asparagus cooking has been almost exclusively in the roasting categories. Snap the asparagus, a little olive oil, pepper, and salt. Pop in the oven, 10 minutes at 425 degrees, deliciousness done!!!

In addition to wanting to try asparagus another way I also to add another technique to my not-so-mad skills. So my main man Pepin (which is funnier when you say it aloud because "man" and "pah-pan"rhymes) had a simple fast way to put some asparagus together.

It calls for two dozen or so asparagus, 1/2 stick butter, and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. The butter should be cut up into itty bitty cubes.

Up until now I've always "snapped" asparagus to get rid of the less edible ends (opposite the spear). Just hold the spear and the other end and bend them towards each other until it snaps. Mother nature has a built in pull tab. Where it snaps is likely where the tougher portion that you would discard anyway. At least that's what my wife says.

But Pepin introduces me to peeling asparagus. Keeping the whole thing and just peel it. Now he says to use your fingernail to find where the asparagus gets tough. Well, let me say this, I scraped a line down about twenty or so asparaguses (sp?) asparagi (sp?) asparagus (?) and I walked away still having no clue what the hell he was talking about. I, for the life of me, couldn't figure out where this supposed magic line was. I think Jacques put it in his book just for sheets and giggles knowing all of his readers would scratch each asparagus.

But back to what I was saying. this was the first time I peeled the asparagus. Since I couldn't find Pepin's magical asparagus line I just peeled the asparagus with a regular old vegetable peeler.  I took each asparagus and rolled it as I peeled.

I think I probably pushed too hard because some of the asparagus got very thin in parts. I also think I peeled it much higher than I actually needed to. I probably could have gotten away with only peeling the lower 1/3 to 1/2 of the asparagus.

The next step is cutting them diagonally into about 1 inch pieces. I'm not a very good diagonal cutter person but I tried my best. My wife said the trick is to cut an angle on one side then roll it halfway over and it cut it again at an angle.
Don't look at my old man knuckles.
I didn't do that though. It sounded too complicated, it was frustrating try to roll asparagus that I had (probably) overpeeled, and (as with many things my wife tells me) I didn't understand why she was telling me to do it. In retrospect (i.e. writing this blog) it would have given them a little rooftop which would have looked prettier. I will next time do that.....I think.

Once everything was cut up and prepped I put the asparagus into a skillet with 1/3 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cover and bring to a strong boil. Boil for about 1 1/2 minutes, uncover, and add the butter and parsley.

Return to a strong boil and shake the pan (you know, kind of like when you make a french omelette) for about 20-30 seconds. The reason for the shaking (and strong boil vs. gentle boil) is to get the water and the butter to mix (bind) into a sauce. When there is an equal amount of water and butter a strong boil should bind the butter together with the water. If there is too much water you'll have buttery water. If you have to much butter you'll have watery butter. If equal parts (plus shaking/strong boil/other slamming of molecules) you get a creamy butter sauce (Beurre Blanc).

When the water/butter mixture starts to rise (lots of bubbles, think boiling over milk) its done. Slide it right onto a serving dish and you're done.

Delicious, fast, easy, and pretty darn nutritious. I highly recommend it. Enjoy.


Technique #172 Pepper Steak (Au Poivre)

Pepper Steak, Steak Au Poivre, or Technique #172. Anyway you describe it it taste delicious. How did I come up with calling it technique #172 you ask? Its actually from Jacque Pepin's book "Complete Techniques". Hands down it is one of the best books out there for aspiring cooks. It is so full of broken down step by step techniques.

I love to buy cookbooks. Especially books that focus on technique over pure recipes. I'm always stunned when I get distracted by other books why I ever left Jacque (or at least Jacque's book). His book is so complete, so well written, so explanatory. Truly a tome of tomes.

The recipe is simple enough. Take some fresh peppercorns and crack them all open. I'm not sure it matters a lot what you use. Jacque suggests rolling a heavy based pan over the peppercorns. I used a mallet after putting the peppercorns in a sandwich bag. I made a lot of noise and suddenly my peppercorns were transformed from mere mortal peppercorns to "mignonnette". Peppery flavorful and fresh.

Put your "mignonnette" ("ha ha ha, we all sound like Maurice Chevalier" -- that's an obscure Mel Brooks History of the World reference) on a plate and drop your steak in the peppers. Season with salt. Flip it and repeat the process. Your steak is just about ready.
If you look at the picture you can see where I started making a mistake. Or at least I feel like I started making a mistake. When it was all said and done I felt like I didn't do quite as well as I should have. If you look closely you can see an abundance of whole peppercorns. I don't think I crushed the peppercorns as much as I should have. When we were eating it we would hit whole uncrushed peppercorns and it was just a wee bit of too much spiciness.

I was definitely touchy about crushing the peppercorns too much. I was worried that I might be over-crushing them. Ok, its confession time and in retrospect I know this might sound silly. I was worried if I crushed the peppercorns too much it wouldn't be too different from the ground peppercorns from the grinder. I didn't think the recipe called for ground peppercorn. It called for crushed peppercorn. I tried crushing the peppercorns without pulverizing them.

In writing this blog entry I just reread the recipe and realized I made a second mistake. The recipe actually says to cook in browned butter. I, as is often my preference, cooked the steak dry. Why dry? Because I LOVE FOND!!!!!!

Here's a pic of the finished product (served with corn and asparagus stew (see next post)). There's actually a balsamic reduction on top too.
So peppercorns weren't cracked enough. Should have used butter. I guess that means this technique goes back into "to do" list. Don't get me wrong. It still tasted really good. It just wasn't as good as it could have been done. The portions of the steak that had fewer whole peppercorns were delicious. I love the simplicity of the recipe as well. Don't get discouraged by my stumbles. It's still good and tasty.

I will say too that as I've started cooking more and more I am getting a better feeling on seasoning meats. I've learned that to properly season meat it includes using a lot more salt than I would have normally used. And when I am talking about seasoning I mean pre-cooking seasoning not post-cooking. If you are   adding some salt and pepper to a simply straight forward saute cut of meat, use more rather than less.


Cucumber Soup

I always have vegetables left over at the end of the week. In fact it always seems like I have either way too much or way too little. Either tossing fuzzy veggies or making midnight runs for a single onion. Too much or too little. I am indeed the Goldilocks of Veggies. 

Well this week I had a surplus of cucumbers. I've recently fallen back in love with cucumbers and they (like watermelon) are such a terrific summer vegetable. Somewhere recently I had heard someone talking about Cucumber soup. The thought of a cold soup that had that cool light airy taste and texture sounded like a winner. 

In this case I went to Allrecipes.com as one of my favorite recipe websites. I found this recipe and gave it a try. The garnish you'll notice is a combinaton of green onions, tomatoes (chopped, peeled, and seeded), and roasted almonds. 

I actually had to make this in two steps starting it on one day and finishing it on the following day  because I only had 2 of 3 cups of sour cream needed. The recipe was exceedingly easy to follow. The only thing that added a few extra minutes was blanching the tomatoes to that I could peel and seed them. The roasted almond garnish was great for the texture of the soup. The tomatoes gave a very needed acidic touch to a recipe that has equal parts sour cream and chicken broth. 

Overall the recipe was good but I would recommend it as a small light refresher or even snack but it with 3 cups of sour cream it was much more overpowering than I had expected. I don't know if I want to say it was "heavy" because it was light but I don't think I could take more than a cup at a time. It was also exceptionally white. Very very white. If you notice in the picture you can hardly tell between where the bowl ends and the soup starts. I would have liked (hoped) for it at least to a be a little green. Of course that may have had more to do with the cucumbers than the recipe. 


Curry Ketchup

So tonight its about ketchup. Not your run of the mill ho hum Heinz 57 or Hunts. No, its a magical ketchup     full of magical rainbows, hugs, and unicorns. Ok, well not really. But its does have one special ingredient that makes it stand apart. No, that ingredient is not love. It taste like it but its not.

Its curry.

Delicious curry. Its not hot curry. No, its savory delicious. It add a unique taste to the ketchup. It changes it from ketchup and into more of a tomato based curry sauce.

Apparently its very popular on street food like sausage and hot dogs in Germany and the Netherlands. I first heard about it from Kocurek charcuterie when he suggested mixing a little curry with ketchup. A couple weeks later when we were at the new fancy HEB/Alon Market we were oohing and ahhing over the international aisle we saw this brand. We couldn't be happier.

The consistency and look seems more similiar to barbecue sauce than ketchup. Darker and richer in color than ketchup.

The taste is really terrific. To me, there was a perfect mix between tomato and curry taste. The curry taste didn't overwhelm the tomato and the curry wasn't so slight that it was overshadowed by the tomato.

The brand we got was Burkhardt. Its imported from Germany. If you don't have an international grocery nearby you find it online including from Amazon at about the same price we paid at the grocery store.

I think I found a new favorite condiment.


Bagels and Cucumbers

A short entry today. Einstein Bros. Bagels for lunch and frankly it was very dissapointing. I knew going in that Einstein was a chain but I hadn't such a fast food taste. I thought being a bagel place that it would fresher or less processed. I think Big Apple Bagels (not to far from Einstein) was light years better in both taste and selection.

Tonight I started making a Cucumber soup from a recipe I found at Allrecipes (one of my favorite recipe sites). It seems that recently we've had more cucumbers left over at the end of the week. I hate the thought of food going to waste so I thought id through it into a soup. Conceptually the idea of a cucumber soup sounds so light and airy. The reality is well.....we'll see how it turns out. With ingredients like chicken broth and sour cream I hope it comes together. Its a cold soup of course.

Unfortunately I was a cup of sour cream short so I have to wait until tomorrow to finish it. I"ll let you know how it turns out.

I"ll also describe my salsa fiasco. If my post seems weird its because I'm trying it from the blogger app on my phone.


Watermelon Agua Fresca

Want a nice refreshing treat on a hot day? Not a fan on overprocessed sodas? Don't want tons of sugary syrups in your drink? Want something that tastes fresh, healthy, light, but still sweet? 

Well, I think I just may have a drink for you. Its called an agua fresca or water refreshment. Its becoming more and more popular. Its very common in Mexico and many other parts of Latin America. The great thing about agua fresca is that its not heavy, syrupy, or super sugary. 

It is, in general, equal parts fruit(s) or fruit juice and water, a little lime juice, and ice. The slightest bit of sugar can be added depending on the sweetness of the fruit you are using.  In our case we used less than a tablespoon of sugar for a pitcher full of agua fresca. 

We chose watermelon agua fresca. Both because its summer and watermelon is so refreshing during the summer months but also because we had watermelon left over from the farmers market and we wanted to use it before it went bad. 

We started with some left over watermelon chunks. 

The first step was to deseed the watermelon. If we were just mixing watermelon and water then we could have left the seeds in and ran it through the strainer. But, since we're using the blender I was concerned about itty bitty seed bits getting through the strainer. 

The next step is to blend equal parts water or ice and equal parts watermelon. 

We also squeezed in just a tad more than half a lime. In other juice from 1/2 of lime and another       1/37 of another half. Something like that. I don't know if they sell measuring spoons that have 1/37 but it was something like that. They key here people is just to play it be ear. Mix it, try it out and add more if needed. 

Once you've got it blended its a good idea to run it through a strainer. Remember this is an agua fresca and not a slushie. I mean you can do a slushie, no skin off my nose. I didn't do a slushie.But you can. Whatever. 

Once you taste it you can add sugar if you want. Again, we made enough for about 4-5 glasses and only used a tablespoon of sugar. I've seen some recipes that call for the likes of 1/4-1/2 cups of sugar. That's just crazy. It should be light and slightly sweet. Not painfully sweet. 

The end result is a delight. Light, refreshing, and even not terrible for you 



Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

So my wife and I had a ton of leftover tomatoes from the farmers market this week.We knew that tomato sauce might be a good destination for the tomatoes that might not be suitable for other dishes. We had a great mixture of regular and heirloom tomatoes.

Our first step was to blanch the tomatoes so we could get the skins off easier. First step in that was to make criss cross cuts on the bottom of the tomatoes. This way after being blanched the skins will just peel right off.

Next step of course is to drop them into boiling salted water. Just for a minute or two, remember you're not cooking them here, only blanching to get the skins off.
After a minute or two they go straight from boiling water and right into an ice bath. That way they don't keep cooking. We want to save the cooking for the pan.
Once they've completely cooled off its time to peel the skins from the tomatoes. The criss crosses and blanching should help them slide right off. You can use a knife to help.
Here's a pic of all the tomatoes after they've been peeled. No, we don't have super gross tomatoes. I said some of them were heirloom tomatoes. They look weird. Deal with it. We paid extra money for that weird look. And it's super healthy. That's what they tell me.
Next step mash up the tomatoes in a saute pan. Cook on medium heat for a just a few minutes. One of the tricks is not to cook the tomatoes through all the way. We're going to reduce all the liquid but if we keep the tomatoes in the pan the entire time the flesh can wind up way too soggy and overcooked. By taking it out then adding it back later the flesh keeps its texture and it taste fresher.

In this case we used a strainer when we removed the tomatoes from the pan and used a spoon to press out more of the liquid to reduce.

Then we heat up the remaining liquid to a fast boil and just let it reduce until thickened to your likening.
Add back the tomato flesh and heat through. Throw in any spices you like as well. Oregano, etc. etc. All that Italian stuff. In our case we also added about 1/4 -1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar. We could have also added white wine vinegar. I've never been able to figure out whether the vinegar is needed more for taste, additional acidity, or as a thickening agent. I just know it works.
Then like magic you've got spaghetti sauce. In this case a lighter thin sauce. Absolutely delicious.
I will say we had about 2-3 lbs of tomatoes and we were both surprised just how much it reduced. I don't think it thickened as much as we thought it was going to. Still delicious but after being used to the jarred stuff it was just different. The taste though was superb. It took a little time but not too much effort. The result was a healthy non-processed yummy Italian treat.


Hot Wings Galore!!!

So this is my first review post to the blog.

The last 2-3 weeks I've been having fun letting Google Places choose my lunch location each day. I get in the car, fire up the phone, go to Google Places, type in restaurant, and see where Google is taking to me to eat. The only places I skip over are three dollar signs places because my oh so refined palate couldn't tell the difference in $$ food and $$$ food. My wallet however can. I also skip over places where a lack of clothing on the waitresses are supposed to make up for lack of taste in the food (sorry, Bikini's).

Why do you ask? Well the biggest reason is one man can eat at the same 5 restaurants for so long. I've tried well over 20-25 restaurants in the last 3-4 weeks. I've discovered a lot of hidden gems along the way. Taqueria Datapoint and Lorenzo's are among the best of those gems.

Well I've recently discovered hot wings. I don't mean to say that I'm now fanatical about hot wings. I only mean to say that I've eaten hot wings twice in the last 2 weeks. Once at Wing Zone then at Wing Stop today. I actually ordered the same flavor wings at both places specifically so I could compare.

Round 1: Garlic
Garlic Libido - Wing Zone
Garlic Parmesan - Wing Stop
Obviously just looking at the pictures you can tell the styles are slightly different. The Wing Stop wings are just drenched in parmesan and much drier. The Wing Zone wings coated in wet sauce. I love parmesan but there was a little too much on the Wing Stop wings. Its one of those things that when you put it in your mouth you resist sneezing a billowing column of smoke. WS wings were really not that hot at all. I felt like the WZ wings for me were just hot enough. I think the edge on this one goes to WZ.

Round 2: Cajun
Wing Stop - Cajun
Wing Zone - Ragin Cajun
Let me start by saying I am not one of those guys who have to prove my virility or machismo by bragging about eating the hottest peppers or sauces. Everyone knows I prove it by beating 13 year olds playing Call of Duty. That being said I don't like food that is sooooo spicy that it stops me from tasting the food. Unfortunately that was the case with the Wing Zone wings. When halfway through the dish you think "holy crap, let me hurry up and finish this so it stops hurting" then you know it may be too spicy. I don't like that. I' sorry. I know that is supposed to be like a hot wings "thing" but its not me. Sorry. I know they're called "hot" wings. I just don't think putting "food" in your mouth should result it in burning through you mouth, the table, and the floor as if it was made with Alien acid blood. The Wing Stop wings on the other hand were much drier and still palatable. Edge - Wing Stop. 

One of the biggest differences between the two places is that WZ was wetter with a much thinner breading. The WS wings were downright crunchy even when covered in sauce. WS though bordered on being too crunchy like a super hard fried chicken bit that scrapes down your gums when you least expect it. 

I will say that Wing Stop is more of a fast foodie place picking up the order at and drinks at the counter. The Wing Zone is more of a sit down place. Why do I mention that? Because those on a budget know one requires a tip to be added on to the cost of the meal. The other doesn't. Do the math. C'mon my fellow cheapskates you know you were curious. 

So far it is a tie. So whose the winner between these two wing restaurants? The winner is....

Wait for it.........

I have no freakin clue. C'mon, I told you guys these were the first two times I've had chicken wings.

I am not a wing purist. I just know what I like. Both were edible (except the Ragin Cajun) and both were Ok. Maybe I'll pick a winner when I know something more about wings. 

Until then, try them out and see what you like.


Ribeye Balsamic Reduction

Last night's entree du jour was ribeye steaks with a balsamic reduction. I've tried doing reductons before and they've turned out horrifically. Luckily, this time it was terrific instead of horrific. I've figured out that I'm my culinary Achilles heels is flavor combinations. I really just don't know what goes together or what flavors and food compliment each other. I feel like I am just randomly throwing shit together like a six year old playing mad scientist. 

I mean after all I am the knucklehead who once experimented with putting cinnamon in scrambled eggs.  A fact that my wife will never ever everrrrrrrrr let me forget. 

So I've learned to review a lot of recipes before I try something new. I don't always follow one specific recipe but try to get an idea of what is most commonly combined.In this case I opted to run with balsamic vinegar and port. I like balsamic vinegar and ...well....port was about the only other thing I could think of to add.  I resisted the urge to try soy sauce, worchestshire, or other sauces I had seen a reduction recipe.....once.......about a decade ago. 

It turned out to be a pretty good choice. The other thing I did right was to actually allow the liquid to "reduce". My typical MO is to throw the liquids in the pan and three minutes later whine about it not reducing fast enough. This time I was determined to put on my patience hat and wait it out. To make myself feel better about actually having to wait more than 2 minutes for magic to happen I watched a lot of videos on balsamic reductions to see just how sticky and non-runny the reduction should be. 

This time I may have still taken it off too early but at least this time I was significantly closer to a reduction than I have been in the past. I did have to cover my nose with my shirt while the reduction was boiling off. The fumes were way stronger than I had anticipated. I'm still not sure if it was the balsamic vinegar or the alcohol in the port that was making my nose burn. The reduction itself turned out quite well. The balsamic gave it kind of a smokiness and acidity. (At least I think it did. Acidity is one of the fancy words I have learned on Top Chef and just been looking for an excuse to use).  The neat thing though was the flavor the port brought. As it reduced the sweetness and the fruitiness of the reduction kept increasing. You can actually taste the "grapiness" of the port. 

Of course, I have so little background in this I really don't know what I'm talking about. It could have very well been the balsamic that made it sweet and fruity. But I think anyway it was more likely the port. If I truly wanted to stick with only what I knew beyond a reasonable doubt then this blog would sound like Frankenstein wrote it "Reduction Good. Cinnamon Eggs bad."

In tasting it at the end of the night it really was remarkably edible. Not inedible at all. LOL, OK, it was pretty good. When my wife came home from work she commented that the house absolutely stunk and I'm pretty sure it was the reduction that stunk up the place. 

I used about 1 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1 cup of port, and 2-3 tablespoons of butter. I mixed the balsamic vinegar and port in the measuring cup  before adding it to the cast iron skillet. I pre-empted that combination with the butter to help lift the ribeye fond. The nice side effect of doing the reduction in the same cast iron skillet you've cooked you steaks in is that it helps tremendously with cleaning up the skillet. All the stickie bits have already been scraped off. 

I was worried about reheating the reduction though. After I had made the reduction I poured it from the cast iron skillet into a small saucepan then into the fridge. For some reason (feel free to tell me why) when I reheated it on the stovetop it almost separated. It separated into a clear watery substance and a fond riddles clumpy dark liquid. After a few more minutes it seemed like it got its act together and was reintegrating. 

Overall I would say dinner was a win. Ribeyes from L&M beef were delish as always. The roasted asparagus and fresh made salsa were good too (Salsa was stunningly good according to the wife) and the reduction was more than adequate for the first semi-successful attempt at reductions. 


Top Chef Tour

So this past Saturday the Top Chef Tour was in San Antonio at a local grocery store. I was super excited at the possibility and likelihood to see a couple of my Top Chef favorites. Who would it be? Stephanie Izzard? Antonia Lofaso? Jennifer Carroll? Or the awesome Casey Thompson? 

Not quite. The Chefs on the San Antonio stop were Dale Talde and Ryan Scott. Both were on Season Four of Top Chef and of course Dale Talde came back from Top Chef All Stars
Chef Dale Talde
So this past Saturday the Top Chef Tour was in San Antonio at a local grocery store. I was super excited at the possibility and likelihood to see a couple of my Top Chef favorites. Who would it be? Stephanie Izzard? Antonia Lofaso? Jennifer Carroll? Or the awesome Casey Thompson? 

Not quite. The Chefs on the San Antonio stop were Dale Talde and Ryan Scott. Both were on Season Four of Top Chef and of course Dale Talde came back from Top Chef All StarsSorry, Dale, unfortunately this was the best picture  had of you. I swear folks he really didn't look this drunk. It was just a bad picture. I was just at a bad angle for all the other better pictures.

Chef Ryan Scott

Pretty boy Ryan Scott was the other chef. I would definitely have to say of the two chefs Ryan was the real crowd pleaser. He was very talkative outgoing funny. He played the audience to a tee. Dale on the other hand started out much more quiet (at least initially). 

Bravo TV was of course shilling all their Top Chef branded items. T-shirts, books, and even wine. My wife watched the Bravo website for weeks up to the event hoping tickets would go on sale but to no avail. It was a first come first serve event. We got there a little too late to get a seat inside the tent. But, remarkably, the event (at least at the 1200 show) was really not that crowded. 

Of course the heat may have played a factor in the low attendance. Being in the upper 90's might have played a factor. 

I despised Dale during his first season. He was overly competitive to the point of being obnoxious and a tantrum throwing baby. Even then I didn't doubt his prowess in the kitchen but still felt he was one of the lead villains of his season. His second go around though during the recent All-Star session was an entirely different experience. Dale was likable from the start. You knew watching that he was a great chef and then to also see him be a team player and talk openly about his anger management issues made him instantly likable and respectable. 

Even though he was sooooo much quieter than Ryan Scott during the start of the show he opened up later. He talked about the three years of therapy that took place between his first appearance on the show and his second. He (and Ryan Scott) both joked Dale spent $58k on therapy after his first appearance on the show. 

The whole show lasted maybe 20-30 minutes. It was a cook off that gave both chefs 15 minutes to cook a meal for the three local "judges". In this case the local judges were the food and wine columnist for the local newspaper, one of the top chefs for the grocery store hosting the event, and Chef Johnny Hernandez from La Gloria (at Pearl Brewery). 

I did enjoy seeing Chef Dale Talde (though I hardly remember Ryan Scott) and as he walked around between signings and shows it really seemed like he was everything the show painted him to be (energetic, competitive, funny, etc.). 

Don't get me wrong I did enjoy the show. I think though I could have enjoyed it more if HEB employees had not bogarted all the seats inside the tent (the guys who get to actually taste the food). I also think it was a remarkably brief show. 

It was fun. I was just glad I didn't go all the way to another city to see it. 


Review: Magnolia Pancake Haus

My Mom is in town this week so my wife and I decided to take her out to breakfast at Magnolia Pancake Haus (found here). 

The breakfast was fantastic as usual. There is definitely a reason that this is one my absolute favorite breakfast places in town. Their food is consistently excellent and I can so that over than two dozen times I've been there that I've never had a bad experience. Magnolia Pancake Haus is only open for breakfast and lunch. They are always packed on the weekends but a little slower on the weekdays. 

My Mom had the regular buttermilk pancakes and my wife had the apple cinnamon pancakes. My wife's dilemma is always whether to get eggs or pancakes. If she gets eggs she wishes she had gotten the pancakes. If she gets pancakes she wishes she got the eggs. 

I had The Magnolia Breakfast which included three eggs cooked anyway (I had them sunny side up), hash browns, and a choice of one of their "signature meats" (I had the applewood smoked bacon). My breakfast pictured below. I also got a short stack of buttermilk pancakes. 
The eggs were excellent. Perfectly cooked. In the past I would have never gotten sunny side up eggs. I have always been a tried and true scrambled eggs kind of guy. It's only after the last 2 years or so as I have been experimenting with learning more about cooking that I've come to appreciate a warm thick well cooked runny yolk. 

The hash browns at Magnolia always have an odd taste to them for me. It is not a weird enough taste to ruin the hash browns. Just enough to make me wonder what the taste is. 

The applewood smoked thick cut bacon is always one of my favorite things about eating here. It is always cooked the way I like my bacon. Slowly cooked so that the bacon is crunchy and crumbly. A far cry from the soggy noodle microwaved bacon you find at other restaurants these days. 

The buttermilk pancakes were also great. Light and fluffy. Just all around awesome. 

I highly recommend Magnolia Pancake Haus. Its quickly becoming a San Antonio institution. 


Mustard Bonanza

Yesterday's post was the bacon showdown between the Czech and English bacon with the results being a dead on tie. Today it is another showdown. This time its mustard. 

In this corner we have Caraway Seed mustard. Weighing in with ingredients including caraway seeds, beer, white wine, salt and "spices".

Caraway Mustard

In the other corner we have Bavarian Sweet mustard. Ingredients include mustard seeds, beer, dark cane sugar, salt, and "spices". 

Sweet Bavarian Mustard

Just like the bacon challenge both mustards were from Kocurek Family Charcuterie. As a matter of full disclosure I receive no compensation from Kocurek.

Though I would like to. 

Seriously, free sausage would rock my world. 

Just saying. 

The first time I tasted the mustard I just about choked. It had nothing to do with the mustard and everything about expectations. My loving wife who said she was getting some ice cream and wandered off into the kitchen came back with two spoons and told me to open my mouth. Being a good blindly obedient husband I opened my mouth anticipating a cool creamy treat. Instead she had put the mustard on a couple of spoons. My reaction was instant and repellent.

I know those with a refined palate can easily taste condiments by themselves. OK, well my palate is not that refined. I think the initial shock of the ice cream/mustard substitution stuck for a few minutes because even when my wife put a little on wheat thins the taste didn't agree with me. 

So I though about what fine dining dish would best allow me to analyze and break down the flavors and subtle undertones of the two mustards. Would it be prosciutto, roast beef, braised pork belly? No, I knew I would need something more substantial. I would need something that hands down would be the true measure of mustard. 

I knew there could only be one food I could use....
Hot dogs with Caraway Mustard (left) and Sweet Bavarian Mustard (right)

That's right. For me, regular ole' hot dogs are the true measure of any mustard. Again, I make no pretensions about having a super refined palate. In this case I just used Ball Park beef franks. Over the last couple of months I've tried to steer more away from processed foods but when we got the mustard I knew I needed regular processed hot dogs. 

I could have gotten frankfurters from Kocurek also ( I hear they are really good) but I was concerned having both new hot dogs and new mustard wouldn't let me sample the mustard. I wouldn't know how much of the taste came from the franks and how much from the mustard. 

Looking at the pictures above it looks like I caked on the mustard and you might have expected the mustard to completely overwhelm the hot dogs. Surprisingly not. The taste of both was remarkably restrained considered how much I put on. I liked both. You might also suspect (based on the pictures above) that both would be "seedy" to the point of ruining the texture of whatever was eaten with mustard. Also, surprisingly not. Neither was seedy to the point of being distracting though the Caraway mustard was slightly more seedy than the Bavarian. 

Both have that slightly bitter taste with the Bavarian having a stronger bitterness than the Caraway. Probably (or maybe) because the Bavarian has both beer and vinegar. In many cases the beer substitutes the vinegar instead of both being used. 

The Caraway taste in the Caraway mustard really comes out when eating it and sifting through the mustard with your tongue. That sounds kind of gross and what I really mean is rolling the seeds aside while swallowing then really tasting the Caraway. 

Both were good and I would recommended both but if I was on desert island with only one mustard (and hot dogs) I would probably go with the Sweet Bavarian. The great thing about the Bavarian was it was only slightly sweet and not the overwhelming sweetness you find in store bought brands. 

Overall I would give both mustards a big spoon up. 



This weekend at the Pearl Brewery Farmer's Market we picked up two different kinds of bacon from Kocurek Family Charcuterie. We got Czech bacon and English bacon and decided to have a BLT off between the two.

The picture below shows the Czech bacon on the left and English bacon on the right.
The Czech bacon was definitely more akin to traditional bacon than the English bacon. Even looking at the picture above you can see the difference in the marbling. The English bacon seemed more like slices of ham when a thin cut of fat along the outside. The Czech bacon though had the same traditional streaks of fast.

Smelling both bacons before pan frying them it was apparent these were definitely not Oscar Mayer over processed cuts. They both smelled truly smoked and cured. It was a distinct heavy smokiness that made my mouth water. I started cooking the Czech bacon first since I felt like I needed to cook it more like traditional bacon. I heated it up slowly so I could avoid the inevitable under cooked curls that pop up when you throw cold bacon into a hot pan.

Taste wise the Czech bacon didn't have the over powering saltiness of store bought bacon. Some might say that lack of saltiness is a minus. I would disagree and say the lack of saltiness is a plus. It lets you actually taste the bacon instead of eating a fatty piece of salt lick.

I wasn't sure how long to cook the English bacon. Since it was more like a slice of ham than traditional bacon I didn't cook it nearly as long. I just waited until it got some good brown spots and the whole piece started to curl again. The thin trim of fat around the English bacon disintegrated within a minute or two of putting it in the skillet.

The taste and texture of the English bacon was exactly what I expected based on how it looked. It tasted like a slice of ham minus the heavy salt. The texture though was more "meaty" than sliced ham from the grocery store.

We tried both hams on BLTS and as individual strips. Both were good but my personal preference was the English bacon. It may just be the fact that I've been conditioned to salty bacon but (as a sandwich topper) the Czech bacon didn't quite do it for me. I think some of that may have been that I just overcooked the Czech bacon.

As a side with eggs I would probably lean more towards the Czech bacon. Both bacons were great and it was really fun to try something other than Oscar Mayer processed pork.


Oh, A Blog.

Well, as I wrote in my first post I got kind of distracted and wandered off from the blog. I have some extra time this week since I'm on vacation so I thought I might touch base with everyone again. 

Since my last post my wife and I have started going to the Farmer's Market at the Pearl Brewery every Saturday. I'm really starting to enjoy the fresh vegetables and getting to actually know and be familiar with the farmers we're buying our food from. I'm not a hippy type at all. I don't insist on purely organic and completely pesticide free food. For me the best part of the Farmer's Market is a combination of the freshness and kind of fun aspect of trying to use the food that is currently in season. 

There is an odd mix of people at the Farmer's Market. They generally fall into one of a couple of categories. There are the hippy types. Most easily identified by their long hair, minimal make up (on the ladies), tie dye, and the baby wraps they carry their younguns in. A good 99% of them have t-shirts that somewhere somehow some way include the work "green" or "eco" on them. They aren't full blown Haight Ashbury hippies but they are as close as San Antonio conservatives get. 

Then there are the yuppie types. While the hippies use the minimalist baby wraps the yuppies go with the full blown over priced European baby strollers. I know they are overpriced because my wife who works retail constantly points them to and says "that one cost $700" or "oh my gawd, that piece of crap is $1200." They are also spotted because they roll up in their SUV's with a "Think Green" sticker on the back. 

I tease though. It really is a good mix of folks and I wouldn't want it any other way. It is actually that odd mixture of folks that makes the Farmer's Market a good time. 

I've made some discoveries since we started going to the Farmer's Market. 

One being that despite an unfortunate and tragic experience with Hickory Farms smoked sausage when I was 11 I am finally at the point that I can eat and enjoy sausage again. 

Kocurek Family Charcuterie, who makes a weekly appearance at Pearl Brewery, makes some absolutely fantastic sausage and pates. They offer a terrific variety of sausages, pates, mustards, terrines, and other items. We haven't bought anything from them so far that we haven't loved. I think the only exception is the pork belly boudin we got but I don't blame that on them. We hadn't ever had boudin before and I think it was just a little different than we expected. We've gotten everything from spicy Italian sausage, coq a vin sausage, czech bacon, andouille, and a crazy good Currywurst that they told us Germans eat as street food. 

I've also learned that (at least at Pearl Brewery) the Farmer's Market is equal parts market and an event. The market runs 0900-1300 every Saturday. At least every other Saturday there is some type of event.

There are cooking demos from local chefs most Saturdays at 0930. Chefs from some of San Antonio's best known restaurants show up to teach us a little something. 

Even more often there is live music from local musicians. Well, I assume they are local. They range from the adequate to the very good. Folk, zydeco, bluegrass, and country tend to dominate. There is often a little jazz thrown in as well. 

Overall the farmer's market at Pearl Brewery is a terrific time. A hodge podge of personalities, amazing fresh food, entertainment, and delicious samples.