Sunday, January 11, 2009


1024 South Alamo
(210) 223-3600
On the Menu

Initially we were planning on an Indian takeout carpet picnic for New Year's Eve. Yup, just Mr. Panza, me, and 7 of our favorite dishes from Madras Pavilion. Very romantic.

But when we found out the inlaws were going to be joining us, we knew they probably wouldn't want to ring in the new year by sitting cross legged by the coffee table with flutes of Brut while watching Will & Grace on DVR.

Our task? To find an upscale, magical, intimate, delectable dinner for four. Oloroso did not disappoint. First, can I say what a breath of fresh air it was to have a high end dining experience somewhere other then North 1604? With all the beautiful old architecture in downtown San Anto, I refuse to believe that a stone facade strip mall is the best we can do! Oloroso understands a good first impression, as it's nestled in a rennovated historic home in Southtown, completely elegant and full of personality like most of the homes downtown.

We started with the charcutiere plate accompanied by the A to Z pinot from Oregon, my suegro's (father in law's) pick. The meats (prosciutto, duck prosciutto, pancetta, lomo, and Spanish chorizo) are all made and cured in house! When they arrived at our table, like red and pink jewels all sliced and layered on a plate, we all perked up and started chatting more festively. This starter was perfect for four, with toasted baguettes and the smoky, velvety mushroom soup.

I was very happy with my duck, roasted in its own rendered fat and perched on wilted swiss chard, but the surprise of the night for me was my suegro's hangar steak. According to Ronnie, our enthusiastic waiter, the hangar is the small diamond cut of meet just below the animal's throat and above the chest (get it? It "hangs"). There is only one per harvest, and it's particularly juicy and succulent.

I was caught offguard but the lack of presentation here, not much garnish on unremarkable white plates. But by the end of the meal, I realized that the chef's focus was on the balance of the food - the way the flavors and unlikely ingredients were crafted together, from the cranberry tartness and savory marsala sauce layered with the pork loin, to the delicate Alaskan cod cuddled with earthy brussel sprouts. Forget art, Oloroso is downright chemistry.

Until next time, Buen Provecho!

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pan de Plátano

When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad for six months in Santiago, Chile. I lived with a lively, loving family, the Castigliones, in a large rambling house with many hallways and many doors. In the middle of the home was an open, sun-drenched kitchen, and in the heart of the kitchen was Sra. Castigliona, mother to everyone who crossed her threshold, and matriarch of the family.

Sra. Castiglione had this inhuman ability of cooking exquisite multi-course meals for 10 to 15 people (her family plus whichever friends and neighbors coincidentally happened to be lingering at the time) with seemingly few ingredients, little hassle, and often limited time. The woman was a culinary genius. It was by observing her that I realized how intimate preparing food is - an act of careful creation meant to sate and nourish the bodies of the ones you love. I was fascinated.

Of course, at the time, I thought of myself as an enlightened feminist, and as such had purposefully refused to learn how to so much as fry an egg. I scoffed at the phantom man who might one day expect me to prepare his meals, barefoot in the kitchen - I thought I was being clever by nipping that nonsense in the bud.

Yeah, I was a little obnoxious.

The tangible vision of a summer pepper's bright skin, the sizzle of a sliced onion hitting a hot pan, the smell of fresh chopped cilantro, even better then just-cut was all as foreign as that new country. And I loved every second. I realized that to Sra. Castiglione, cooking was not an act of duty, but an act of love - love of food and love of family. She inspired me, and I've been trying to live up to her in the kitchen ever since.

I found out that Sra. Castiglione passed away unexpectedly a few years ago. I hadn't been in touch with her, but I was so saddened by her passing that I didn't cook for weeks. Now, whenever I bake her pan de plátanos, banana bread, and the warm, comforting waft fills the house, I think of her spirit, and I'm inspired by food all over again.


3 cups flour
3 ripe bananas
3 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp, baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt


Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Mash bananas in a mixing bowl, then add the wet ingredients. Mix with a wooden spoon. Add all the dry ingredients except the flour. Mix with spoon. Grdually add flour, mixing in as you go. Bake for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes - a knife should come out clean when the bread is ready.

To make two loaves, as Sra. Castiglione always did, double the recipe. Serve one sliced and warm with butter, and give the other as a gift to your friends or co-workers.

Until next time, Buen Provecho!
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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chicken Soup for the Cold

I've had the same "summer cold" for two weeks, and the day before yesterday, my poor Mr. Panza came down with it too.

Oh, how sad I was to leave off to work while my new husband lay miserable in bed, coughing and sniffling amongst the tissues and cough drops! So I made him some chicken soup to keep him company all day.

A quick note about this recipe: I wanted it to be not just about taste, but about restoration. I was reading the Herbal Drugstore in my utterly elusive gradual quest to become less chemical dependent (less processed foods, less synthetic materials, less gas), and saw that ginger and garlic have significant curative properties. So in other words, your breath will stink, but hey, you'll feel better.

1 1/2 cartons chicken broth (maybe 6 or 8 cups?)
2 cups water
1 1/2 lbs. chicken thighs, cooked and shredded
1/2 regular bag egg noodles
1/2 small head cabbage, shredded
1 med onion, roughly chopped
2 small carrots, cut into strips
2 stalks celery
3 cloves garlic, smashed (must be fresh, no powder!)
2 spoonfuls sliced ginger (must be fresh, no powder!)
1 lemon
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. chile pepper flakes

Okay, this may sound gross, but to cook the chicken I boiled it in salted water in my cast iron. While it cooked, I chopped the veggies. When the chicken was cooked through, I set it aside on a plate, then poured out the water until approximately a couple cups was left. I added the chicken broth to that, then put it back on medium heat.

Next dump the bay leaves, all the vegetables, except for the ginger and garlic, and the noodles in the broth. Cut the lemon into quarters, juicing all of it into the broth and adding one of the quarter rinds for good measure. Raise the heat and shred the chicken while the broth comes to a boil. Once the broth is rolling, lower the heat, add the chicken, give the whole thing some solid grinds of salt and pepper and about a 1/2 tsp of thyme. Last add the garlic and ginger.

Once the noodles are done, the soup is ready for battling nasty man colds .

Until next time, Buen Provecho!

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

License to Cook

Julia Child was a WWII spy!

Cross this woman and you'll be sleeping with the fishes...

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Texas Fare

Good Morning America had a feature on Texas carnival food this morning! Check it out here.

Take my word for it, heaven is a deep fried snickers bar... Read more!

Thailand Part III: Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay

Our best meal in Thailand back in June was on a crickety open air dock in a small fishing village in the the middle of nowhere, Phuket. Go figure. (More on La Panza in Thailand here and here)

The restaurant was completely empty except for a smattering of locals, and completely quiet except for the singing of crickets and the occasional hum of a motor boat. The sun was just sinking into the hills behind the water as we sat down to eat. In other words, Talay Tong was our kind of place.

We started with the steamed green lipped mussels. Within minutes we were happily slurping the biggest mussels we had every seen, dripping with lime juice infused with lemon basil and galangal.

Um, yeah, those bad boys were basically gone in 5 minutes.

Next up was the squid. We weren't really sure how they prepared this - it was definitely not fried. And it seemed too solid to have been steamed. Baked maybe? Can you bake squid? I have no idea, but it was sweet and succulent. We smothered each slice with the burning hot chile sauce pictured.

Before we we were done with the squid, out came the crab curry.

I was so thrilled when I saw (and smelled) this dish, I almost fell out of my chair. Can't you smell the spicy coconut curry just looking at this picture?

Last was a steamed white fish, which came to the table on its own mini iron stove. Our waitress suggested this one, and we understood why. It was so fresh and bright, we could tell the fish had been caught that day.

Again, what impressed me most about the food at Talay Tong (and all the other spots where we ate really) was (1) how fresh the food was and (2) how simple the ingredients were. Just take the dishes above for example - not one has more than 4 or 5 components. Blissfully simple and impossibly delicious, no doubt because of how darn fresh those few ingredients are. I think those are lessons I'd really like to emulate in my own cooking.

We got all this plus virtual gallons of Singha beer to wash it down for less that $20! And I'm sure we got inflated tourist prices! Unbelievable!

For anyone planning to visit Phuket soon, Talay Tong is a must visit:

Address: 162/7 moo3, Maikhao District, Thalang, Thailand
Phone: 66-818955933

Until next time, Buen Provecho!
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Friday, August 8, 2008

Mini Chicken Pies for the Guys

Some good friends of my husband just returned from Prague, and we spontaneously invited them over for dinner last night to share their adventures. Just one little catch - we are well overdue for a grocery run, and I had no food in the house. Pesky little details...

Fortunately, a quick survey of the fridge revealed some leftover roast chicken, and some frantic digging through the freezer produced a bag of frozen peas and carrots and some long neglected puff pastry sheets. Voila - mini chicken pot pies. Fast, simple, and I could even knock it off as "comfort American food" to welcome them home to the States. Success!


4 tablespoons butter
4 spoonfuls flour
small carton of heavy cream
chicken stock
shredded leftover chicken (about 4 thighs worth)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bag frozen peas and carrots
1 puff pastry sheet
1 egg
strong grainy (or dijon) mustard (optional)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Make a rue. I find that the secret to a good rue is to melt the butter first on low to medium heat, then whisk in small amounts of flour at a time. This way you can control any lumpage.

Gradually add about half a cup of chicken stock to the rue, slowly whisking the stock in. Then do the same with an equal amount of cream. I then alternated between the stock and the cream until the gravy came to a consistency that was thick but fluid, using maybe a cup of each.

Take your gravy off the heat. With a wooden spoon, fold in the onion, vegtables, and chicken, combine well. Add salt and pepper to taste, and if you're fanatical about grainy mustard like me, a heaping spoonful of grainy mustard (I think dijon would work well too). If I had thought of it last night, I would have also added some paprika and nutmeg. Set aside.

Whisk the egg with a fork in a small bowl. Set aside.

Roll out the puff pastry with a rolling pin, and use a small bowl or cup slightly larger then the opening of a ramekin to press circles into the dough. A circular cookie cutter would have been useful here, but I'm not much a baker and don't have any!

Fill 10 ramekins equally with the chicken mixture, then press a pastry circle over each so that the mixture is sealed inside. Place the ramekins on a foil lined baking sheet.

Brush over each pastry lidded ramekin with the egg wash, and poke a fork once through each. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until pies are golden.

The guys liked the pies, a little too much - they were gone before I was able to snap pictures.

Until next time, Buen Provecho!
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