We finished the day by having dinner at Stephan Pyles Restaurant and what a delight that was. Stephan Pyles is a life board member at North Texas Food Bank and received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from Share Our Strength and was also a founding board member. In 1988 he founded Taste of the Nation and has raised over $2 million for hunger relief with an emphasis on childhood initiatives.7 But the most incredible thing I discovered about Pyles was not only his endless list of humanitarian efforts, but how his gentle heart and giving spirit shines through his daringly bold, yet comforting dishes.
The meal started with a Texas-sized Tamale Tart with Roasted Garlic Custard, Peekytoe Crab and Smoked Tomato Sauce. The moist tamale-like tart shell was made from a blend of masa harina, ancho chiles and a sweet red bell pepper puree and then steamed with an ever so tender custard that embodied this wondrous garlicky nirvana. Generously topped with sautéed crab meat, red and yellow bell peppers, cilantro and basil, the flavors together brought a sense of familiarity that made you feel right at home. The slight sweetness from the Peekytoe Crab was heightened through the earthy smoked tomato sauce – that Pyles, he’s such a genius.
Next up was the soup or salad course: Poblano-Asiago Soup with Yellow Tomato Foam and Stephan’s Original Southwestern Caesar Salad with Jalapeno Polenta Croutons. Yes it is indeed as amazing as it sounds; the Jalapeno Polenta Croutons have just made it to the top of the list of “My Last Meal” items. The Caesar dressing was equally amazing with hints of tamarind, chile powder and chipotle. It screamed Texas soul with a little Viva la Mexico on the side: playful, deep, and cultured. The soup had a wonderful, silky consistency that coated your tongue with a coziness that instantly made your eyes heavy with pleasure— falling into a smoky poblano trance you hope to never wake up from. The liberal size of these portions illustrates that Pyles has no intention of sending anyone home hungry tonight. But hold on, there are two more courses.
The main course was Braised “On-the-Bone” Short Rib with Oxtail-Creamer Pea Marmalade, Frittered Okra and Goat Cheese Chimichurri. The short rib melted off the bone and swimming beneath the perfectly cooked rib was the oxtail creamer pea marmalade. My God. This marmalade. How do words even begin to describe the grandeur, the magic, the decadence of this glorious marmalade? Let’s just leave it at just that, perfectly cooked creamer peas mixed with the best damn oxtail you will ever lay your mouth on. How does he come up with this stuff? Bite after bite, your mouth is left salivating – the bright goat cheese chimichurri, with the crunch of the fried okra made this short rib absolutely freaking irresistible. It makes you want to fist punch the air because the flavors make you so happy that frankly you’re just having trouble containing yourself. Don’t worry, punch away, no one will judge you, everyone knows that fist pumps make everything taste even better.
The grand finale was (drum roll please)… Stephan’s Coffee and Doughnuts – Freshly Fried “Beignet-Style” Doughnuts with Espresso Crème Brulee and Cajeta. Cajeta, a deep-bodied caramel made from goat’s milk, emanates a delicate tartness that pairs impeccably with the soft, warm, doughy doughnuts. Oh yes, and the espresso crème brulee that made your heart ache with passion – is it possible to fall in love with a dessert? Yes. I believe so.
The best part of the night was when the ConAgra Foods Foundation surprised all of the bloggers with $1000 donation in their names to their local participating Cooking Matters food bank, mine being The North Texas Food Bank. Along with our personal donations, the ConAgra Foods Foundation donated an additional $10,000 to The North Texas Food Bank as their way of saying “Thank You for Hosting”. It was an amazing feeling and one of the many steps I plan on taking to help end Child Hunger. This year I’ve made a personal goal to raise an additional $1000 – through bake sales, fundraisers and who knows what other whacky ideas I may have up my sleeve! Won’t you take the No Kid Hungry Pledge with me today? Together, we can end child hunger – one family at a time.