Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Red chile hot wings

red chile salsa wings

These days, when you say you’re serving wings, most people assume it’s the spicy variety that were made popular in the far upstate New York city of Buffalo. In a nod to their provenance, when these wings were first introduced to Texas in the late 1980’s, they were always called Buffalo wings, a name that perplexed me. My young mind reckoned they were named after the bovine mammal, which didn’t make much sense. Then I thought perhaps they referred to Buffalo, Texas—a small Texas town.

If you’re not familiar with Buffalo, Texas, it’s right off I-45 and was always a popular place for my family to stretch our legs as we journeyed between Dallas and Houston. It’s a quiet town, and stopping there doesn’t have the excitement of stopping in say, West for kolaches. The first time, however, that my mom and I paid a short visit to Buffalo, it ended up being quite an adventure.

Mom and I were in the process of moving from Dallas to Houston, and our car was loaded with boxes, along with our dog and cat. We had made the stop at night, and after pulling out of the gas station, Mom made a wrong turn and we ended up on a strange, dark road.

arbol and guajillo chiles

At first she thought it was the feeder, so we kept motoring along looking for the freeway entrance. But after we had traveled a good 15 minutes without any access, she began to get worried. Adding to the confusion were our pets, who after sensing her nervousness began barking and meowing while padding around the car.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chipotle blue cheese dressing



This time of year, when most days it’s too darn hot to stand in front of the stove, let alone turn on the oven, I start eating a lot of salads. Namely one salad—my BLT salad with chipotle blue cheese dressing.

Blue cheese dressing was something I avoided for most of my life, probably because I was only exposed to inferior bottled versions, which can often be too sweet or have a rubbery texture. A few years ago, however, I was at a dinner party and my friend had made a batch of blue cheese dressing.

His intent was for us to use it as a dipping sauce. It was certainly thick enough for the job, and yet it was also light enough that it could glide onto salad leaves without weighing them down. As for the flavor and texture, the balance between the pungent, salty blue cheese and creamy, tangy dressing was perfect. I had no idea blue cheese dressing could be so good, and I’ve been a convert ever since.



When he shared with me his recipe, I tinkered with it just a bit. I love how smoky flavors complement blue cheese’s salty bite, so I stirred in some chipotle powder for both its smoke and its heat. To cut through the dressing’s richness, I added splash of white wine vinegar, though I reckon red wine vinegar or lime juice could work just as well.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

French toast casserole with blueberries and sausage

french toast casserole with blueberries and sausage

When most people think of dad cuisine, they think of outdoor cooking. And sure, my dad is an expert with fire—preparing everything from smoked briskets to grilled fish with vegetables. But my dad also wields a deft spatula in the kitchen, especially when he makes his weekend specialty—French toast.

Admittedly, French toast is not a complex dish. It’s simply old bread that’s been rejuvenated with eggs and milk before being fried in a skillet. And yet—despite its uncomplicated ingredients—finesse is required to make a good batch, otherwise it can turn out soggy or burnt. My dad, however, always gets it just right. And that’s why his is the best.

My connection with French toast and fatherhood isn’t limited to my own experience. Take the film “Kramer vs. Kramer,” for instance. There’s a scene early in the film where Kramer decides to prepare French toast for his son. The two are clearly uncomfortable with Kramer’s new role as caretaker, and as they cook the French toast, eggs are dropped, milk is spilled, and Kramer burns his hand. Their breakfast is a disaster.

At the end of the film, however, you see Kramer and his son making French toast in a beautifully coordinated rhythm, as they’ve grown close and learned how to live with each other. Who knew French toast could so eloquently illustrate a father and child’s relationship?



Now, all that said—I’m not going to tell you how to make French toast. Nope, my belief is that it’s not a dish that can be explained by words—practice is what makes it turn out perfect. But, I will share with you the next-best thing—my French toast casserole, made with blueberries and sausage.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

JalapeƱo and beer brined pork chops



“Are you familiar with the pork chop theory?” asked food writer Virginia Willis. I admitted that I was not. “Let me explain,” she said. And then she did.

Before I tell you about the pork chop theory, however, let me just say that that illuminating conversation was just one of many I had last week in Austin while attending the International Association of Culinary Professionals annual conference. This gathering, which draws large crowds (over 800 were in attendance this year), is not one that I would normally be attracted to as I prefer smaller events. But when I saw that the conference was going to be held in my home state I knew that I had to attend.

While I’m still processing all that I learned, one thing that gave me joy was seeing first-time visitors to Texas fall in love with our great state. Despite the triple-digit temperatures, the conference attendees took to the Austin streets on foot and on bikes—sampling barbecue, tacos and ice cream, among many other excellent dishes on offer. In between sessions, people would gather in groups and compare notes about where they’d eaten that day—insisting that if one hadn’t been to a favorite place yet they must go soon. It made me smile to see people flush with discovery.



But besides the thrill of seeing people fall in love with my home state, the conference also gave me an opportunity to connect with far-flung friends that I usually communicate with only online. Sure, I’ve had many substantive conversations with friends over email, Twitter or Facebook, but there’s something to be said about the power of meeting in person and sharing a hug and a meal.

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