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.