Central Market Cooking School Demo

Chris Waters Dunn and I had a lot of fun teaching a Central Market Cooking School class on Wednesday night.  Mary Lanzi-Martini, general manager of CM cooking school, San Antonio, is a tenured and passionate leader of the team that prepares the while-you-watch meal. 

Chris and I demonstrated cooking secrets for some favorite dishes from our new cookbook, “Enchiladas: Aztec to Tex-Mex.”

Our cookbook has some sweet flavors but no formal desserts.  We borrowed the multitude of flavors in mole to create a strong interesting final dish, ever-popular vanilla ice cream with a warm, chocolate mole sauce. 

Here’s the recipe: 

Vanilla Ice Cream with Oaxacan Chocolate Mole Sauce

Yield: 20 ounces sauce


2 ounces ancho or mulato chiles (see note)
8 ounces (1 cup) water
5 ounces (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
2 1/4 ounces (3 tablespoons) light corn syrup
2 ounces (2/3 cup) powdered cocoa
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably Oaxacan), melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
Ground chile de arbol or cayenne, to taste (about 1/8 teaspoon)


Wipe chiles clean with a damp cloth.  Destem and deseed chiles, tear into large pieces, toast a few seconds per side on a comal over medium heat and rehydrate in hot water until soft, about 10 minutes.  Strain and discard soaking liquid, squeeze chiles dry, and place in a  blender with 8 ounces (1 cup) water.  Process until chiles are thoroughly pureed.
Pour mixture into a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and add sugar and corn syrup.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  
Place cocoa powder in a bowl and add enough of the hot syrup mixture to make a paste.  Gradually add the remaining syrup, thoroughly mixing until smooth.  Stir in vanilla, cloves, cinnamon and a pinch of salt.  Add the melted chocolate and stir until smooth and fully incorporated.  Add ground chile de arbol or cayenne to taste.  Strain and refrigerate until needed.  Bring to warm room temperature before serving.
TO SERVE: Spoon warm sauce over vanilla ice cream sprinkled with chopped pipettes, pecans, blanched almonds and tequila-soaked raisins.
NOTE: 4 teaspoons ancho powder may be substituted for the rehydrated chiles


Gumbo Challenge in NOLA


Our Enchilada book project has been a fun new adventure, but it has also been somewhat overwhelming and exhausting.  We all needed a break, and there’s nothing that cures the soul like a trip to New Orleans.  Suzy and I, our son Trevor and our friend Amy piled on Southwest and spent a few fun and meaningful days in New Orleans for bon temps.  Since we all love the hunt, we decided that we should search for the “best” gumbo.

After the devastation of Katrina, we decided to sell gumbo at our Cappy’s Restaurant and give half the proceeds to Katrina victims. Trevor and our executive chef, Gabriel Ibarra, worked hard to develop what has become a signature dish.  Our guests loved the gumbo, and that yearlong effort yielded over $16,000 in contributions.  I know it seems a bit backwards, but we wanted to see how the gumbos of New Orleans faired in comparison. 


During our four-day culinary exploration we sampled over a dozen gumbo dishes in some of New Orleans most famous restaurants.  We concluded there is no such thing as bad gumbo, but there are a wide variety of interpretations.  First, gumbo comes from the African word for okra: gambo.  It would seem that gumbo ought to have gambo, but many of our samplings had none.  All but one of our chosen competitors had roux, ranging from gravy thick to dark as a moonless night.  One, from a very notable restaurant, was tomato-based, and while it was tasty, it didn’t seem like gumbo.  The NOLA gumbo may have shrimp, oysters and fish or it may have duck, chicken or sausage.  Gumbo in truth is an undefined icon of the Crescent City.  It’s all good.


Our two favorites this trip were at Pêche and Brennan’s.  Both were delicious and almost as good as Cappy’s.  Now, you try.  Go to New Orleans, follow our trail and eat at: Felix Oyster Bar, Acme Oyster Bar, Paladar 511, Elizabeth’s, Cochon, Butcher, Shaya, Ruby Slipper, Pêche, Ralph’s on the Park, Brennan’s, Mr. B’s, Commander’s Palace, Lüke and August.  If you choose to enter this competition, forward this blog to 20 friends, go to New Orleans, spend a lot of money, eat too much, drink milk punches and Sazeracs, and surely we’ll be able to collectively decide who has the “best” gumbo.  It’s hard and dangerous work, but someone has to do it.  Fun travels and bon appétit!


Texas Book Festival in ATX

We had a great time at the Texas Book Fair in Austin this past Saturday.  It was my first time attending and presenting at this great Austin event, packed with people celebrating the written word.  Austin hosts so many different scenes now, from SXSW to football tailgates, which celebrate so many emotions. The Book Fair clearly brings out the thoughtful and happy Texans, and we were glad to contribute to the festivities.

Our demonstration at the Central Market cooking tent featured some of the recipes from our new book.  My son Trevor joined Chris Waters Dunn and me to make enfrijoladas and nopalito salad.  

It is hard to imagine a more inspiring backdrop than our Texas state capital. We are truly blessed to be Texans.

In Search of the "Best" Chile en Nogada

El diez y seis de Septiembre (September 16th) is Mexico’s Fourth of July, a celebration of their independence from Spain and official beginning as a Republic.  The traditional dish and centerpiece of this holiday is the Chile en Nogada.  A roasted, deseeded, and skinned poblano pepper stuffed with meats, dried fruits, nuts, & other secrets.   It is served room temperature in a decadent walnut cream sauce and garnished with pomegranate seeds.  This is a seasonal dish as the walnuts should be young & fresh and the pomegranate is only ripe at this time of year.  The combination of colors (white, green, & red) symbolizes the Mexican flag.  I can still remember my first experience with this iconic dish when I was in my 20’s on a visit to Mexico City.  It was a true taste explosion - rich, spicy, sweet, smooth and crunchy all at once.  It’s one of those dishes that will stay in your memory.


I asked many of my friends from Mexico what they thought made a great Chile en Nogada and to suggest some of their favorites and where to find them.  Unanimously they all agreed that only through tasting and comparison could you really define the best.  My daughter Avery and I decided to visit Mexico City and embarked on the search for the “best” Chile en Nogada.  Over the next three days, we tasted more than a dozen of the alleged “best” chiles in some of Mexico City’s most renowned restaurants from gourmet to “changarros” (dives).  Relying on her exceptional palate and analytical mind, Avery kept a detailed score card using a method taught in our restaurants - F.A.T.T. (flavor, appearance, temperature and texture).  The range in quality for this revered and traditional dish of Mexico was amazing.  Most were good, a few were great, and only one did we think was exceptional.  The one we favored did not come from any of the recommended establishments -- instead we discovered the best at one of my all time favorite yet not well known dining spots in Mexico City - Café del Palacio.  It’s a jewel in the historic and celebrated Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) on Paseo de la Reforma across from the Alameda Central.  I’ve always found that Café del Palacio’s simple menu has amazing and delicious food.  We returned home with all of our notes, photos and flavor memories and worked to develop our own “best” Chile en Nogada.  We now serve it at La Fonda on Main every year, only in the month of September, with many of our guests eagerly awaiting its arrival.