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Blue Plate and Blu on Weekend’s Radio Shows

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NOW HEARD IN THREE GREAT TEXAS CITIES! 

AUSTIN Saturdays 10-11 a.m., Talk 1370

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

Chef Kent Rathbun has done a lot of great things, most of them (including Abacus in Dallas and Jasper’s in several cities) since arriving in Texas. Yet lovers of comforting homestyle cooking may end up loving his Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen the most, as we learn while tasting and chatting with the chef de cuisine and the general manager. In our Grape & Grain segment, we talk with wine buyer Collin Williams of Spec’s about what it means for a wine to be green, sustainable, biodynamic and a whole bunch of other words we’ve read on bottles lately. 

HOUSTON Saturdays 2-3 p.m., News Talk 1070 KNTH

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

This week we head to Sugar Land to profile a very interesting new restaurant called Blu. Still, even if the restaurant is new, we meet up with an old friend in the kitchen – Thai-born, New York-savvy executive chef Junnajet Hurapan, who was our guest on the show back when he was opening Gigi’s Asian Bistro and Dumpling Bar at the Galleria. In our Grape & Grain segment, we talk with wine buyer Collin Williams of Spec’s about what it means for a wine to be green, sustainable, biodynamic and a whole bunch of other words we’ve read on bottles lately. 

DALLAS Saturdays 7-8 p.m., 570 KLIF

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

Chef Kent Rathbun has done a lot of great things, most of them (including Abacus in Dallas and Jasper’s in several cities) since arriving in Texas. Yet lovers of comforting homestyle cooking may end up loving his Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen the most, as we learn while tasting and chatting with the chef de cuisine and the general manager. In our Grape & Grain segment, we talk with wine buyer Collin Williams of Spec’s about what it means for a wine to be green, sustainable, biodynamic and a whole bunch of other words we’ve read on bottles lately. 

Our 22nd Year of Eating, Drinking and Telling You About It! 

 

This Week’s Delicious Mischief Recipe

JALAPENO-RED PEPPER HUMMUS 

Somehow, all roads must lead to Texas. Otherwise, how can we explain the popularity of this eastern Mediterranean favorite often first encountered in Lebanese or Greek restaurants? Though the basic flavor of ground chick peas, sesame tahini, garlic and lemon is amazing enough, Texas cooks just had to start tinkering to achieve a bit more  great taste. And a little kick of heat, naturally. 

3 cloves of garlic

1 (15 oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1/3 cup tahini

1/4 cup lemon juice

½ jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, as desired

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup roasted red peppers 

Start by draining and rinsing the chickpeas. Place the garlic cloves in a food processor and pulse a few times. This way, you don’t have to chop the garlic by hand. Next add the chickpeas to the food processor, then the tahini. Add the lemon juice, jalapeno and the olive oil. Process the mixture until it’s thick and chunky. Now add the roasted red peppers, and process again until the hummus becomes smooth and creamy. Serve the roasted red pepper hummus with warm pita triangles or pita chips. Serves 8-10.

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Artisans and Texas Paella on Weekend’s DM

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NOW HEARD IN THREE GREAT TEXAS CITIES! 

AUSTIN Saturdays 10-11 a.m., Talk 1370

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

There are artists, we’re told, and then there are artisans. A new restaurant in Houston, created by not one but two exemplary French chefs, demonstrates just how much of the former there is in the latter. We chat with chefs David Denis and Jacques Fox about the foods and wines that make their Artisans tick. Appropriately, in our Grape & Grain segment, we taste and talk about  the wonderful wines of the Famille Perrin from the Rhone Valley in France. 

HOUSTON Saturdays 2-3 p.m., News Talk 1070 KNTH

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

There are artists, we’re told, and then there are artisans. A new restaurant in Houston, created by not one but two exemplary French chefs, demonstrates just how much of the former there is in the latter. We chat with chefs David Denis and Jacques Fox about the foods and wines that make their Artisans tick. Appropriately, in our Grape & Grain segment, we taste and talk about  the wonderful wines of the Famille Perrin from the Rhone Valley in France. 

DALLAS Saturdays 7-8 p.m., 570 KLIF

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

Burgers are big business these days, especially in the market segment known as the Better Burger. Recently we experienced one of these better burgers, in the funky setting that goes by the name Twisted Root. And we’re certain what we think about this all-American classic will never be quite the same. In our Grape & Grain segment, we taste and talk about  the wonderful wines of the Famille Perrin from the Rhone Valley in France. 

Our 22nd Year of Eating, Drinking and Telling You About It! 

This Week’s Delicious Mischief Recipe

COASTAL BEND PAELLA

This dish is half great taste and half nostalgia, since it references the Gulf Coast of Texas that curves south with ever more Tex-Mex flavor to the old shrimping port of Brownsville on the border. My plan here is to take Spain’s classic rice dish on a similar journey, with a nod to the Cajuns and Creoles of southwest Louisiana while we’re in the neighborhood. 

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 chicken breast halves, cut bite-sized

1 pound smoked sausage

1 onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 carrot chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon onion powder

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled

1 tomato chopped

½ cup frozen green peas

3/4 cup chunky salsa

2 (10-ounce) packages yellow rice mix

7 cups water 

Heat the olive oil in a large saute (or paella) pan and brown the sausage and chicken. Add the onion, red pepper and carrot and cook until lightly caramelized. Add the minced garlic and stir quickly until golden. Season with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, onion and garlic powders. Add the shrimp and stir just until pink, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato, green peas and salsa, stirring to incorporate. Pour in the rice and saffron seasoning, followed by the water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Serves 12-14.

A Late Afternoon in Provence

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It’s been a couple of years since I was lucky enough to spend time in Provence, researching a book but mostly going to open-air markets between severe bouts of eating and drinking. All those joys came rushing back to me yesterday afternoon, thanks to a late lunch with the Guy family of Houston’s Bistro Provence. Besides, any meal that starts with wine from Bandol and salad with the tres-crusty-twisty Provencal bread colorfully known as fougasse is guaranteed to remind me of something wonderful somewhere.

One of the beauties of Provencal cooking is that it doesn’t stop cooking when the weather turns hot. After all, being the crown jewel of the South of France and plugging directly into the French Riviera means the weather turns hot fairly often and tends to stay that way. On the other hand, with both Provence and Texas in mind, it’s hard to deny the good sense and great taste of this simply cooked fish served atop a room-temp, mayo-free potato salad. Did I mention that Provence produces some of the best olive oil anywhere?

Then again, here’s what I was saying about not stopping real cooking. In pragmatic terms, this roasted Cornish game hen may heat up your house a bit if you make it at home. But that’s only the cooking. As for the eating, complete with a crust of Dijon mustard and plenty of fresh thyme, this moist, flavorful bird is on its way to picnic food. In fact, chill the Tavel rose and call the outing le picnique, and I am so in.

If your taste buds insist on something with sauce whenever you hear the f-word – that being “French,” naturally – the Guys of Bistro Provence have a super-popular dish for you: honey-lavender roasted duck. Created a while back during a festival about the eight or nine different herbs in herbes de Provence, this duck has been taken off the menu once or twice, only to be returned quickly by mobs that resembled the ones outside the Bastille. Yes, lavender. Yes, honey. Two Provencal signatures. And veal demi-glace ain’t too shabby either.

By this point, just about everybody who cooks around here knows that I’m no chocoholic. Nonetheless, they also know that if their chocolate creation is intense enough, it plugs right into my love of dark-roasted coffee and chicory that I grew up on in New Orleans. Taking the bitter with the sweet, in other words. This double-thick version of mousse-meets-fudge is wonderful, especially when you get a little of the whipped cream with every bite.

Typically, a French-style apple tart is more to my liking – and the one set in front of me yesterday at Bistro Provence was to my liking a lot. It was a bit Franco-American, I’d say, since the stewed apples are enclosed as in the pie that there’s nothing more American than. Yet the flavor profile is French, as in the legendary tart Tatin. Best of all, perhaps, the usual vanilla ice cream (which I never turn down, especially this close to Brenham) is augmented here by cinnamon. Let’s keep the apple pie ball bouncing, shall we, right into this ice cream. I swear: had I dared drink a glass (or three) of pastis, I wouldn’t have needed a plane ticket to get back to Provence at all.

Weekend Radio – with John’s Jazzfest Crawfish Rotini

NOW HEARD IN THREE GREAT TEXAS CITIES! 

AUSTIN Saturdays 10-11 a.m., Talk 1370

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

This week we look at an unexpected Texas phenomenon: the success of chef Tyson Cole and his Uchi and Uchiko Japanese restaurants, first in Austin and now in Houston. Tyson joins us to talk about his personal challenges getting inside this exotic, mostly seafood cuisine – and then convincing a carnivorous state to embrace it. In our Grape & Grain segment, we chat with Spec’s wine buyer Collin Williams about the perfect wines for this crawfish season. (see our recipe below.) 

HOUSTON Saturdays 2-3 p.m., News Talk 1070 KNTH

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

This week we look at an unexpected Texas phenomenon: the success of chef Tyson Cole and his Uchi and Uchiko Japanese restaurants, first in Austin and now in Houston. Tyson joins us to talk about his personal challenges getting inside this exotic, mostly seafood cuisine – and then convincing a carnivorous state to embrace it. In our Grape & Grain segment, we chat with Spec’s wine buyer Collin Williams about the perfect wines for this crawfish season. (see our recipe below.) 

DALLAS Saturdays 7-8 p.m., 570 KLIF

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

This week we’re “movin’ on up”…  no, not to the East Side next door to The Jeffersons but to the top of the Reunion Tower in Dallas, where Wolfgang Puck has a taste of Asia awaiting us. We chat with the executive chef and general manager of a restaurant whose name says how many feet it is off the ground: Five-Sixty. In our Grape & Grain segment, we chat with Spec’s wine buyer Collin Williams about the perfect wines for this crawfish season. (see our recipe below.) 

Our 22nd Year of Eating, Drinking and Telling You About It! 

This Week’s Delicious Mischief Recipe

JAZZFEST CRAWFISH ROTINI  

Whether it’s for the original introduced at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or just for any version using the bounty of crawfish season, Texans crave this pasta from the far side of the Sabine River. Here’s my version that doesn’t use any trademarked name, so you can enjoy it without inviting your lawyer. Unless you want to, of course.  

1 pound of dry rotini pasta

1 onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

5 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 can Italian-style chopped tomatoes

Creole seasoning

Crushed red pepper

1 stick butter

1 pound of fresh, cooked or frozen Louisiana crawfish tails, undrained

Dry white wine

2 green onions, sliced

2 cups of half and half

Chopped parsley

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Rinse and drain well. Prepare a base by sautéing the onion, green pepper, celery, carrot and garlic in the olive oil until golden and caramelized. Add the chopped tomatoes, season to taste with Creole seasoning and crushed red pepper, and cook briefly. Puree this mixture in a blender or food processor. In a large pan, melt the butter and sauté the crawfish tails, incorporating any “fat” from the package for flavor.  Deglaze the pan with white wine. When nearly all the wine has evaporated, stir in the green onions followed by the half and half, bringing to a boil. Add the puree. Quickly toss the cooked pasta in the sauce. Garnish with parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty French bread. Serves 6-8. 

Note: Since we interview Collin Williams in this show about wines to pour with crawfish, we sent him the recipe for this dish. Here’s what Collin suggests. 

“Dishes that are higher in spice and cream bases require a wine that have brilliant acidity and a subtle touch of sweetness. For this I would normally turn towards a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. And, with this one I decided to go with the ol’ saying ‘What’s old is new again!’ I have always loved Rieslings from Australia because they seem to always showcase all of the flavors I love in Riesling (green apple, pear) while maintaining brilliant acidity and just a hint of sweetness. I tried this one recently and loved it: 

“Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Riesling 2010 $12.99 cash100% Riesling from Barossa Valley and Eden Valley on 80-year-old vines. This wine showcases a wonderful assortment green fruit and lemon/lime flavors on the nose with a wonderful array of floral notes. Off dry and medium body on the palate, this wine is a perfect pairing for spicy and creamy foods as the balance of acidity and slight sweetness will harmonize on the palate. Long finish that is complex and mouthwatering and flavorful.”

 

Burger Time: First Down and Five!

“Let the Cholesterol Begin!”

That’s the announcement I heard ringing in my ears yesterday as I embarked upon a journey for Prime Living magazine. My mission, which I chose to accept, was to taste and describe five burgers in Houston that I took to calling “sirloin skyscrapers.” Because the article is for Prime Living’s July/August issue (ah, magazine lead times!), I refuse to ruin my own suspense. But I will say the first of five burgers to be enjoyed and survived was crafted for me by chef Ryan Hildebrand at Triniti.

It’s called the Farm & Sea, and it’s only available at lunch sometimes, since the burger du jour (no, they don’t call it that, though maybe they should) changes almost every day. For sheer extravagance, though, consider a half-pound beef patty not grilled but basted with butter in a saute pan, joining forces beneath gouda cheese on the bun with house-cured bacon and even slices of duck foie gras. That’s the Farm in the title. Representing the Sea, there are thin slices of Japanese nori in lieu of lettuce, plus delightful chunks of lobster.  

As a matter of perspective, I went to downtown’s wonderful Samba Grill for a quite different burger last night, and have another stop on the mission as a late lunch today. To find out where and what, of course, you’ll need to wait for the July/August issue of Prime Living, and I suspect even I’ll get hungry again by then. As for me, I’ll just remember the vision below: Chef Ryan going all out in the middle of a busy lunch at Triniti – just to make me a burger to, I hope, live rather than die for.

Weekend’s DM Salutes Texas Crawfish Season

NOW HEARD IN THREE GREAT TEXAS CITIES! 

AUSTIN Saturdays 10-11 a.m., Talk 1370

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

You may have noticed a lot more bacon in Austin chefs’ kitchens and on restaurant menus lately, and that’s because we’re living in a Golden Age of Bacon. There’s a whole restaurant in town called simply Bacon, and we stop in to sample the myriad ways “the candy of meats” finds itself showcased.  In our Grape & Grain segment, we spend some time with the fascinating Joel Peterson, one of the winemakers who made us love zinfandel. 

HOUSTON Saturdays 2-3 p.m., News Talk 1070 KNTH

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

It’s crawfish season again, and all over the Houston area Cajuns and would-be Cajuns are bringing their pots of spiced-up water to a boil. It’s also the season of the Texas Crawfish and Music Festival in Old Town Spring, so we head there to chat behind-the-scenes with the guys who are making all that good food happen. In our Grape & Grain segment, we spend some time with the fascinating Joel Peterson, one of the winemakers who made us love zinfandel. 

DALLAS Saturdays 7-8 p.m., 570 KLIF

A Presentation of Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods 

This week we head west from Dallas a couple hours to the little town of Graham. More importantly, we’re lucky enough to check into a resort and spa called Wildcatter and enjoy a lively (eating and drinking) chat with the guy who makes its namesake steakhouse worth a special trip. In our Grape & Grain segment, we spend some time with the fascinating Joel Peterson, one of the winemakers who made us love zinfandel. 

Our 22nd Year of Eating, Drinking and Telling You About It! 

This Week’s Delicious Mischief Recipe

GRILLED BACON-WRAPPED ASPARAGUS 

1 1/2 pounds asparagus spears, trimmed 4 to 5 inches long tips

Extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

4 slices center cut bacon or pancetta

Chopped chives or scallions 

Lightly coat asparagus spears in extra-virgin olive oil. Season the asparagus with black pepper. Take a quick count of the spear tips, then divide the total number by four. Gather that number of spears and use a slice of bacon to wrap the bundle and secure the spears together. Repeat with remaining ingredients. To grill, place bundles on hot grill and cover. Cook 10 to 12 minutes until bacon is crisp and asparagus bundles are tender. Serves 4.

‘Jett’ on Down to Blu in Sugar Land

The sky’s the limit, we always say. But executive chef Junnajet Hurapan, of the new “Euro-Asian” eatery called Blu in Sugar Land’s Town Square, likes to insist there is no limit to the sky. Thus the blue skies high above Texas have inspired the place’s name, while the Thai-born culinarian’s years of cooking as many as 15 different cuisines in New York City have inspired the menu.

Chef Jett, as he’s invariably called, became known to many around Houston when he opened Gigi’s Asian Bistro, a see-and-be-seen upscale dumpling-with-your-martini joint in the Galleria. Now, having made the move, he insists that Gigi’s was “too limited” – being only Asian. His new home, a former effort at a sophisticated sports bar that still wonders exactly what to do with large white screens, ceiling projectors and TVs everywhere, suffers from no such limits.

The food at Blu will come as a surprise to almost anybody who doesn’t live in Fort Bend County, to those who no doubt picture a whitebread suburban sprawl filled with inoffensive chain eateries. Those it has. But according to Amy Karnani, who grew up in her family’s catering business and now owns Blu with her husband, the days of all that one-way traffic on the Southwest Freeway are ending. “We drive to Houston to try all the great new restaurants there,” Amy tells me. “It’s time for Houstonians to come try ours.” She smiles, knowing what has to come next. “And we’re only about 15 minutes from the Heights.” 

With a multi-talented chef like Jett in the kitchen, there can be no such thing as too many tastes. The menu reflects this truth, with plenty of European and Asian items listed under “Tapas – Dumplings – small plates,” and then still more under “STARTER: soups – apps – salads.” Despite the assault of uncertain punctuation, there’s absolutely nothing uncertain about the shrimp with Spanish romesco sauce at the top, or about the authentically Indian lamb samosas. Or, just above, about the shu-mai shrimp with ponzu dipping sauce alongside the Singapore satay.

For the most part, as both Chef Jett and Amy walk miles to underline, Blu is a “No Fusion Zone.” In its vision of Euro-Asian Cuisine, the Euro stays Euro and the Asian stays Asian – each, as it were, sleeping on its own side of the bed. Yet a stellar example of when these two are “protesting too much” is the Meatball Lollipops. Jett, after all, learned to make meatballs in a New York Italian restaurant. But it’s a safe bet nobody there taught him how to pull off this oh-so-Asian sweet chili glaze.

While we’re talking Italian food that’s near and dear to Texans’ hearts, how about fried calamari? At Blu, however, fried calamari aren’t just the batter-fried app with the standard (or in some cases, sub-standard) bowl of marinara for dipping. They turn up in a salad – which has to make the whole affair healthy, right? With the tossed greens and creamy dressing, it’s a winner, no matter how good for us it is or isn’t.

Knowing that Chef Jett hails from Thailand – despite his attitude and even his accent of a New Yorker – I had to try his Tom-Yum Soup. It is on Blu’s menu, after all. And while the meaning of Tom-Yum in Thai is totally lost upon me, it’s closeness to “Yum-Yum” has been clear since my first taste many years ago. It’s kind of a Thai spin on hot and sour, though Jett might argue that the Chinese learned it from them – rather spicy, rather sweet, and suffused with the intense citrus notes of lemongrass.

By the time all these variations on starters have been dutifully and carefully sampled (so, that’s the process that always leaves me with clean plates!), there’s really no need or room for a main course. We are intrigued by dozens on things on the menu, though, like the category called “GOURMET SANDWICHES – TACOS,” in addition to the one dubbed “WOK off the street…” (the punctuation festival continues). But we closed with the terrific Crispy Fish, fried whole in a circle-the-wagons position with tamarind, chili and basin. As it might (or might not) be said in Thai: Yum-Yum!

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