Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Texas Independence Day

“Independence is declared: it must be maintained.”
March 2, 1836
Sam Houston

Texans love to celebrate and they certainly love to eat. But what food is actually Texan cuisine? Sort of depends upon whom you ask and what part of the state you’re discussing. There are typical dishes such as Chili, Fried Chicken, cornbread and pinto beans and many others that would be familiar to just about any southerner. However, there are also many examples of dishes that might seem quite exotic but actually are the result of the vast foreign populations that have made their home in the Lone Star State.

For ten years, from 1836 until 1846, Texas was an independent republic. This is a fact that “Texians” have never forgotten. Independence was declared during the week of the battle of the Alamo, which is memorialized on March 6. We think that it is a great opportunity to host A TEXAS CHILI PARTY! Check out the menu.

Main Dish

Lone Star Polenta Pie
Mary Faulk Koock

Although this recipe with its Italian-Texas style fusion cooking sounds as though I might have dreamed it up… I did not. It is an original recipe by one of the Grand Ladies of Texas cooking, Mary Faulk Koock. Mary was a dear friend and mentor of mine. She founded the legendary Green Pastures Restaurant in Austin, Texas and was also the author of several cookbooks including The Texas Cookbook published originally in 1965. Mary Faulk Koock cooked extensively for President Johnson’s family, the King Ranch and darn near every other noted family in Texas. Presidents, First Ladies, Governors and regular folks, she handled them all with style and grace.

Serves 6 to 8 persons

Ingredients: (* Available at Avanti Savoia)
1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. sea salt * #35049 Sel Gris Velvet, Artisan
½ tsp. crumbled dry sage * #32145 Ferri Dal 1905
½ tsp. ground black peppercorn * #32001 Ferri Dal 1905
3 1/2 cups cold water
1 lb. mild cheddar cheese, cubed
¼ to 1/2 cup Nicoise olives, pitted and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced and mashed
2 medium onions, chopped
½ cup Jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 cup Tomato Sauce * #38004 Oliveri
1 Tblsp. or more extra virgin olive oil * #10005 Le Magnolie
1 Tblsp. oregano * #32050 Green Oregano “Sicily” Ferri Dal 1905

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Mix cornmeal, sea salt, sage and black pepper in a 2-qt. saucepan.
3. Stir in cold water. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until very thick. (This recipe does not lump.)
4. Pour into an oiled, flat 1 ½ qt. baking dish and bake until firm, about 15 to 20 minutes. Set aside.
5. Mix cheddar cheese, olives, garlic, onions, Jalapenos, Tomato Sauce, olive oil and oregano. Spread over hot cornmeal crust and bake in hot oven until cheese melts. Serve hot!

Texas Chili
Joseph Lowery

Serves 8
2-1/2 lbs. (coarsely cut) ground beef
2 green peppers, chopped
2 white onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced and mashed
¼ cup Masa (fine corn flour) or all-purpose flour
One 12oz. bottle of beer (room temp.)
3 or 4 Jalapeno peppers (or to taste), minced
One 28oz. can of stewed tomatoes
1 Tblsp. Green Oregano “Sicily” – *Ferri Dal #32050
2 Tblsp. Ground Cumin – *Ferri Dal #32040
2 Tblsp. chili powder
1 Tblsp. Sage – *Ferri Dal #32145
1 Tblsp. Ground Black Pepper – *Ferri Dal #32001
1 Tblsp. Salish Smoked Salt – *Artisan #35019
2 Tblsp. parsley, chopped
2 tsp. Red Wine Vinegar – *Claudio Rosso #25001
2 tsp. sugar
3-1/2 cups beef stock

In a large soup pan, brown meat in batches and set aside. Add chopped peppers, onions and garlic to hot grease And cook 4 or 5 minutes. Add Masa or flour and cook over a low heat for another five minutes stirring often, it will stick! Add beer, chopped Jalapenos, and tomatoes; bring to a simmer and stir in browned meat. Continue simmering and add rest of ingredients. Cook at a low simmer for two hours and stir from time to time. DO NOT let the chili stick or scorch. Taste for seasoning and serve with crackers, chopped onions and grated longhorn cheddar cheese. If desired serve a pot of pinto beans on the side but NEVER add beans to Texas Chili! Texans are fanatics about their chili (which is as it should be). The elements that contribute to the authenticity of this recipe are the following: Coarsely cut beef, Masa(corn flour), Jalapeno peppers, cumin and chili powder and NO BEANS.

Zuma’s Pecan Pie
Zuma Jones

Not famous, but still a Grand Texas Lady, Zuma Jones of the central Texas town of Grainger, gave me this recipe years ago. In its simplicity I think it is the perfect Pecan Pie. Did y’all know that the Pecan tree is the state tree of Texas?

3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
Pinch of salt
1 cup pecan pieces
1 unbaked 9” pie shell

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Slightly beat eggs and stir in all other ingredients. When mixture is blended, pour into unbaked pie shell and bake about 1 hour. Fine with homemade vanilla ice cream, but excellent just as it is, hot out of the oven.

Knock your guests out by serving your chili party on a Fusion tablescape and with elegant serving pieces from Jacaranda Style.

Beverage suggestions:
Although there are plenty of superior wineries in Texas, I think cold beer or sweetened iced tea is more in keeping with the spirit of A TEXAS CHILI PARTY. Enjoy!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Going Home

Recently my wife and I made a trip to North Eastern Kentucky to visit with her aunt and family. I had met Aunt “Bunny” at other family gatherings and had already formed a high opinion of her. I expected that we would have a nice dinner and a nice chat about old times.

After an unremarkable trip along the Interstate we wandered into the little working class neighborhood in which my wife’s family has lived for a couple of generations. Aunt Bunny had her house built in 1956, and although she was widowed in 1955, she managed to rear her two children and has been the center of life for her extended family ever since.

My wife Gail vividly remembers her childhood visits to her grandparent’s home adjacent to her Aunt’s and she remembers clearly how the children of the family gravitated to the warmth and food at Aunt Bunny’s. Homemade doughnuts were (and still are) a great favorite.

I had heard the stories and was looking forward to a pleasant enough visit as we walked up to the front porch. It was then that I smelled the cooking aromas wafting from the kitchen. I was honestly not prepared for the sense of encapsulated time that I experienced in those first whiffs. Fork tender roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and beans from the previous summer’s garden and of course sweet tea made up the perhaps unremarkable sounding menu. Guests included grown children and their spouses, a granddaughter and a new great grand baby gathered around a dinning room decorated with furnishings very similar to that of my grandmother.

My own mother passed away almost 35 years ago and it has indeed been a very long time since the last time I sat down to dinner at her table, but as members of Aunt Bunny’s family made small talk, I found myself thinking of my mother, Aunt Bunny and their generation. These are women born between the end of the First World War and the beginning of the Great Depression. These were the girlfriends and wives of the men that fought the Second World War and in some cases were in the service themselves. These are the women of the Greatest Generation and the mothers of the Baby Boomers.

As I watched the happy interaction at the dinner table in a quite corner of Kentucky that day, I found myself musing on the role of these women as “cultural custodians”. They provided the structure that held middle class American society together through some very dark times. And I was reminded by a charming 87 year old Aunt that this was achieved by their love and their cooking. I do wonder if in fifty years individuals that are children today will be as moved by the aromas of fast food and microwave cooking as I am by the foods of my childhood.

Coffee and Apricot Nectar Cake finished the occasion, while Aunt Bunny’s son-in law shared with me his impressive knowledge of the Western Theater of the American Civil War. The food continued to come even though I objected at first thinking that I was trying to spare Bunny more work. But, as she deftly turned out Fried Apple Pies I realized how natural cooking was for her and that it was how she had manifested a lifetime of love. I certainly ate my share of hot fried pies and then went on to enjoy left-over roast beef on bread with mashed potatoes and gravy. I know this dish as a “Kentucky Hot Brown” while my wife recognized it as a “Hot Shot”. Bunny said she just called it “Roast Beef” and when I quizzed her on her preparation, she said “roast beef is the easiest thing to fix, you just brown it with salt and pepper, put it in a roasting pan with a little water and cook it until its tender”. Seasoning with just a little salt and pepper was the accepted practice in most middle class homes, the widespread use of herbs not so common until the last few decades.

Biscuits, jellies, fried eggs, bacon and a great deal of coffee appeared for breakfast the next morning. Breakfast was barely over when chicken breasts began to boil for the chicken casserole that we enjoyed for lunch. As I watched her cook and talk, Aunt Bunny slipped out on the back porch to feed a stray cat, she smiled at me and remarked, “Nobody goes hungry here”. I believe it. As we hustled about loading the car and preparing to take our leave, I gave Aunt Bunny a big hug and said, “Thank-you for treating me like family” and she said “Well, you are family”. I knew what she meant and I think she knew what I meant.

On our way home, Gail and I wandered through the Red River Gorge in the beautiful Daniel Boone Forest and as the subject of eating came up, I commented that after a weekend of Aunt Bunny’s comfort food, I didn’t think I could eat fast food on the road. Gail agreed and we dined on left over Apricot Nectar Cake and an Ale 8 One, a locally bottled Kentucky Ginger flavored soft drink, dating from 1926. Named in a contest “A Late One” the product’s name “Ale 8 One” is a local joke and play on words.

Thomas Wolfe not withstanding, and even though I may have never been to this part of Kentucky before, this Baby Boomer was privileged to get to go home again.

Aunt Bunny’s Doughnuts
An Original Recipe From
May William’s Motel Diner circa 1938

2/3 cup scalded milk
2/3 cup water
4 Tblsp. sugar
4 Tblsp. shortening
1 tsp. salt
1 egg, beaten
4 cups All Purpose flour
2 cakes yeast
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
Shortening for frying
Mix 1 box powdered sugar with a few drops of vanilla and enough water to make thick paste. Use to glaze hot doughnuts.


1. Combine scalded milk and water and cool to lukewarm.
2. Add yeast, then sugar, salt and shortening. Stir in beaten egg.
3. Add flour and mix well. Place in covered bowl and allow dough to rise until doubled in size (about 40 minutes).
4. Roll out and cut with a doughnut cutter. Let doughnuts rise again until doubled.Fry in shortening and drop each in glaze when cooked. Drain and enjoy hot.

Chef Joseph Lowery is the Chef Consultant at Avanti Savoia. He has worked as a chef, author, and cooking instructor since 1971.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The New Avanti Savoia Spring/Summer 08' Catalog

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Celebrate Valentine's Day with one cool treat!

“Who, being loved, is poor?” ~Oscar Wilde

Celebrating St. Valentine’s Day is a familiar and widely recognized holiday in America, but one with rather vague origins. The holiday as we know it is primarily a western traditional, although many other global cultures have occasions in which romantic love is celebrated. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes at least three different Saints named Valentine, and stories and legends abound. Apparently, greetings, love messages and other gifts (especially chocolates, flowers and jewelry) have been exchanged in Great Britain and the US for some 300 hundred years. Our modern Valentine customs date from the 1840’s, when it was basically reinvented as a marketing ploy to sell greeting cards. With the introduction of mass produced cards around 1900, our card exchanging habits were permanently established. Permanently established to the tune of 188 million Valentine cards exchanged annually!

Whenever I begin to consider writing about a holiday, regardless of its broader cultural or social implications, I usually think back to my past and first conjure up whatever personal experiences stand out in my mind. With Valentine’s Day, I am instantly reminded of my Baby Boomer elementary school days. Middle class school children in those days tended to exchange small inexpensive cards with not only their teacher but with every classmate as well. The other standout memory has to be the Necco Sweetheart candies stamped with those little messages of endearment. We would also enjoy hearing from readers sharing memories of their traditions.

My candy choices have been upgraded these days with the superb European selections offered by Avanti Savoia. Luscious Pure Origin and Grand Crus from both Olivier and Castagna are revelations for real chocolate lovers. Samplers of Olivier with selections of 5, 7 or 8 different bars are the fast tract to understanding the great chocolates. Also, for a limited time an elegant assortment of French Chocolate Bonbons are available in the Olivier Signature Boxes in both 9 ounce and 13.2 ounce sizes.

For those that choose to express their love with a culinary creation, we offer a heart shaped Double Chocolate Baked Alaska which although dramatic in its presentation is really, really easy to prepare. There are much more complicated versions, but our recipe is a good starting place for anyone and can be made ahead, except for the final baking.

Double Chocolate Baked Alaska

Preparation time: 1 hour using pre-baked cake layer
Servings: 2 with leftovers (up to 6 persons)


1 layer of Devil’s Food Cake mix baked in a 9 inch heart shape cake pan (the heart shape is great for Valentine’s Day but any shaped layer of cake will do just fine)
About 1 quart of Blue Bell Triple Chocolate or other rich, dark chocolate ice cream, slightly softened
6 egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of cream of tartar
¾ cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract


1. Cover a piece of heavy cardboard (a couple of inches wider than the cake) with aluminum foil to use as a base.
2. Put cake layer on base and cover the top of the cake with a thick layer of softened ice cream. Place in freezer immediately and allow it to freeze solid.
3. Beat egg whites with the pinch of Cream of Tartar until they begin to stiffen; add sugar gradually while still beating. Add vanilla and beat until stiff peaks form.
4. Remove cake/ice cream from freezer and cover with ¾ of the meringue. (Optional) Place remaining meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and decorate top surface and sides of cake.
5. Place un-baked Alaska back in freezer uncovered until ready to bake. Leave in freezer at least 2 or 3 hours although it can stay over night if it is more convenient.
6. Bake on a baking sheet in a very hot oven (450 degrees) for about 5 minutes or until the meringue starts to brown. Remove Baked Alaska on its base from baking sheet and place on a nice serving platter; serve immediately.

WINE SUGESTION: Rinaldi “Bug Juice”, Moscato D’Asti 2006

Friday, February 1, 2008

Mardi Gras

a perfect time to celebrate oysters.

Mardi Gras comes early in 2008 and I expect to be really busy, however busy or not, Fat Tuesday requires at least a minimum of gold, green, and purple celebration. New Orleans does hold a special place in the history of regional American cuisine. The cultural background of the city alone ensures its uniqueness. Creole cooking is most identified with the French immigrants in the city itself. French cooking techniques with other cultural influences coupled with the local game, seafood and produce has resulted in the cuisine now known as Creole. The word Cajun, a corruption of the word Acadian, refers to the descendants of French refuges relocated from Nova Scotia to the bayous of Louisiana in 1795. Two cooking styles that although similar is different.

I have very personal culinary ties to New Orleans myself. My memories go back to over 40 years ago and include not only vivid memories of grand restaurants, but of chefs and their dishes and even certain tables where I sat decades ago! It was as a teenager that I first experienced the dishes Coquilles St. Jacques and Pompano en Papillote at Antoine’s Restaurant. I was also delighted to discover the late night or early morning pleasures of Café au lait and Beignets at the French Market. And many, many years later, I was thrilled to spend several days at The French Market learning how to make those famed Beignets. Four decades ago, the oysters on the half shell were $1 a dozen at tiny French Quarter cafes and even though those times are passed, oysters raw and cooked remain one of my favorites. The author Tom Robbins observes in his distinctive novel, Jitterbug Perfume, “The oyster was an animal worthy of New Orleans, as mysterious and private and beautiful as the city itself”.

I particularly enjoy this baked oyster recipe honoring the founder of New Orleans, Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville. Several of the cookbooks that I have read include egg yolks and mushrooms in Oysters Bienville. The recipe that I use does not, but does contain red peppers and celery. Does this jive with your experience with this Louisiana favorite? There are probably as many recipes as there are cooks. Take this as an oyster challenge and share your version with us! Traditionally, the Bienville sauce is packed on individual oysters in their half shell and baked on a bed of rock salt, although a quick version of the dish can be prepared as a casserole. Make a layer of oysters, cover with the sauce, and top with bread crumbs and then bake. Either way they are delicious and will have you saying “laissez le bon temps rouler”!

Oysters Bienville
Preparation time: about 2 hours
Servings: 4

Ingredients: (*Available at Avanti Savoia)

3 Tblsp. butter
3 Tblsp. All-purpose flour
¼ cup cream
1 cup clam juice (Clam juice is a bottled product that serves as a quick substitute for Fish Fumet or Fish stock. We will have a recipe for homemade fumet and a discussion of stocks soon).
2 Tblsp. butter
2 Tblsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Fruttato Intenso from Marcinase (#10001)*
2 cloves garlic, minced and mashed
1 cup green onion, chopped
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
½ cup red bell pepper, chopped
½ cup celery, chopped
2 Tblsp. dry sherry
1 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1 tsp. ground white pepper - Ferri Dal 1905 (#32003)*
1 tsp. Sel de Mer (sea salt) - Artisan (#35021)*
½ tsp. Thyme – Ferri Dal 1905 (#32055)*
¾ cup tiny boiled shrimp
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup quality bread crumbs
1 Tblsp. sweet paprika – El Ruisenor (#32100)*
24 oysters on the half shell


1. In a saucepan, melt the butter and stir in flour. Stir and cook slowly for a couple of minutes to cook away the raw flour flavor.

2. Add cream and clam juice. Blend and cook until white sauce thickens. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil. Add garlic, onion, parsley, bell pepper and celery. Cook over moderate heat for 3 minutes.

4. Add sherry, Tabasco, pepper, salt, thyme and shrimp. Cook for 1 more minute and remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly.

5. Stir in the cooled white sauce and Parmesan, mix well and taste for seasoning.

6. If using oysters on the half shell, cover each oyster with a liberal amount of Bienville sauce. Top each with a sprinkle of bread crumbs mixed with the paprika. Bake at 400 degrees about 7 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Time can vary with different sized oysters.

WINE SUGESTION: The traditional wine of “old” New Orleans was “Claret”, although I think a fruity Pinot Grigio suits my taste a little better.

Chef Joseph

Chef Joseph Lowery is the Chef Consultant at Avanti Savoia. He has worked as a chef, author, and cooking instructor since 1971.