Monday, November 28, 2005

 

Thanksgiving Part II

Friday my sister and her boyfriend came to my parents' house after visiting with his family in Temple. In Lorien's honor, Mom saved all of her favorite Thanksgiving side dishes for Friday.

Blackberry mustard pork tenderloin. Amanda used dijon mustard and blackberry jam as a marinade on some pork tenderloins. Amanda makes her pork perfect every time. Her secret? She swears by her meat thermometer. She can set exactly what temperature the pork should be (158 degrees F), and it beeps at her when the meat is ready.

Macaroni and cheese. There are hundreds of recipes for macaroni and cheese that don't involve getting a box at the grocery store. Forget about 'em. Just get the Velveeta Shells 'n Cheese, make it according to directions, and then bake it for aobut 10 minutes with a lot of extra cheese thrown on top. Beats the fancy-pants recipes every time.

Mashed potatoes with herbed butter.

Deviled eggs. What is it about little sisters and deviled eggs? Lorien likes them so much that she had them on Thursday and Friday. Amanda's little sister loves them, too. There's some magic trick to boiling your eggs just right, so that they peel perfect and easy. None of the Holloway clan have figured that trick out yet.

Sauteed peppers and onions.

Pumpkin bourbon cheesecake with a pecan grahamcracker crust. Amanda made this cake late Thursday night for Friday consumption. I thought about sneaking into the kitchen early Friday morning to grab some. But Amanda has big knives.

Pumpkin pie with pecans. I didn't have any room for this, but it looked great.

Apple pie. My mom makes super-fabulous apple pie. The recipe is very simple: she uses apples. No cans of filling, just apples (and some raisins this time), sugar, cinamon, and crust. It's so damn tasty.

Not long after lunch on Friday we headed down to Huntsville to see Amanda's family for a bit. Friday night I had my favorite Leftover Sandwich: wheat breat, turkey, cornbread dressing and cranberry sauce. Amanda and Toney were Thanksgivinged out, so they had nachos from Margarita's.


Thursday night we watched Ocean's 12 on my dad's giant television. I hadn't seen it before (the movie. I've seen the 52-inch television). That night I had an Ocean's 12-inspired dream: I was part of Danny Ocean's crew, and to practice planning multi-million dollar heists we had to...plan a menu. I had to wander around a gorcery store and choose eight items for a meal. I also had to choose an alternate for each item. The trick was that each alternate had to not anly be a suitable substitute for the original item (chicken instead of turkey, squash instead of sweet potatoes, etc.) but also had to work with the other seven items and their alternates. It was supposed to teach us coordination and flexibilty. Even as I was dreaming it I was laughing at myself for such a sillly dream.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

 

Thanksgiving, Part I

This is fast-breaking news. I just got up from the table twenty minutes ago.

Roast turkey. If there's one thing my mom can cook well, it's bird. She's great with turkey, chicken, duck, you name it. Today's turkey was no different. Juciy and seasoned. I normally eat my turkey without gravy, and today she didn't even bother making gravy. Her turkey is that good.

Cranberry sauce. Not the canned stuff. This year's recipe was sweeter than usual, and I liked the extra sugar (she used a combination of Splenda and brown sugar). She also added apples.

Cornbread dressing with sausge. This is Amanda's recipe that she makes every year. It was damned tasty this afternoon, but I like it best cold. Tonight's leftover sandwiches will be wonderful. Dressing and turkey with cranberry sauce on a wheat roal. Heaven.

Two-potato gratin with gruyere and herb-crusted manchego. Amanda cut the potatoes (Russett and sweet), and Stephen and I put together the gratin. Four layers of potatoes, cheese, and cream. Amanda thinks it's a little too rich and heavy, but I'm not sure. I'll have to tackle the leftovers with an analytical approach later this afternoon. If you're interested, the recipe is from the Williams-Sonoma Thanksgiving cookbook.

Green beans with pecans and cranberries. "And butter, lots of butter," adds Amanda from her semi-concious state on the bed behind me.

Fresh tomatoes.

Wheat rolls with herbed butter spread.

Goat-milk and honey cheese and brick cheese.

All the herbs--in the dressing, in the turkey, in the butter, in the green beans--are fresh from my mom's garden. The tomatoes were supposed to be fresh from Mom's garden, but they didn't ripen fast enough, so they're from the produce stand down the street.

We'll eat dessert in a few hours; nobody has room for it right now. Amanda made a cinamon-apple cake last night, and she's going to make a pumkin bourbon cheesecake soon.

Because of the strong antibiotics I've been on all week, I have yet to poach the bourbon, but I think my willpower will give out before the day's over. I haven't had a drink in a week--and you thought that was impossible.

Coming up: Thanksgiving Part II tomorrow, when Lorien and her boyfriend Sam get into town; Miss Molly will be dining with us Saturday night in Houston.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

 

Breakfast

Let's talk about breakfast. Most mornings my breakfast is small and quick. A South Beach breakfast bar. Or some yogurt. Or maybe wheat toast. But on the weekends, when there's more time for breakfast, there are plenty of places to have a full meal.

Java Java can be a little confusing the first time you go, because the awning above the door says "Flower Shop." Until a renovation this summer, one wall of the cafe was walk-in coolers where flowers were stored. Great: their homemade croissants. You get a croissant with almost any breakfast you order, but to really get the full experience, try the Java Sunrise--a breakfast sandwich made to order on a croissant--or the French toast made from croissants. Not so great: on weekends, the dining room is usually full by 9:30. The extra waitress that does nothing but refill coffee doesn't show up until 10 or 10:30. If you can, it's better to show up later and wait fifteen minutes for a table than to get an early table right away but have to wait fifteen minutes for coffee refills.

Baby Barnaby's is adjacent to regular Barnaby's on Fairview, and it has the same friendly service and neighborhood familiarity. Great: Bob's Helathy Plate comes with egg whites, chicken sausage, wheat toast and fresh fruit. Not great: you can sometimes wait for half an hour to get a table, because the dining room is quite small. They do have a coffee station set up on the patio so you can grab a cup while you wait, but if the line is long then the coffee has already run out. It's more of a trick than a treat.

Cafe Artiste is a block from the Menil Collection and the surrounding park. Great: each cup of coffee is made fresh individually, right in front of you, while you wait. They have about twenty different varieties of coffee to choose from, many organic. Not great: as cool as it is to watch them make your first cup of coffee right there, it's not so cool getting back in line to get a refill. You get used to this, though, and the coffee's worth it. They also have a big urn of coffee for faster refills, but who knows what's in that urn.

Buffalo Grille is a West University institution. They're pancakes are huge, and their hash browns are the best in town. Great: they serve Duncan Coffee, from right here in Houston. Not great: it's a lot farther of a drive. I guess this isn't true for the folks who live in West U, but it is for me. Our friend Julien, a Heights resident and Java Java regular, once taunted us for driving so far to eat breakfast. Though I don't think it merits a taunt, he's got a point.

The Daily Grind is a new place on Washington. They serve Katz Coffee, roasted in The Heights. It took them some time to get on their feet--the first several months they were using paper plates and plastic utensils, but the dishwashing station is now operational and you can get real dishes. Great: Daily Grind has wonderful cheese grits. I hate grits, but these are different. Not great: now that the church next door is open, the parking lot for Daily Grind is about a third the size it once was. Don't be afraid to park on Washington.

Bright & Early is a drive-through shack at Washington and Durham. I drop by for breakfast on the way to work about once a week for Duncan Coffee and a giant ham and cheese kolache. Great: try their omelette in a cup. They use the milk foamer from an cappuccino machine to steam the eggs perfectly fluffy, and it's served in a coffee cup for eating on the go. Not great: the kolaches are expensive, costing about twice as much as most donut shops'. And most of the kolaches are no better than the ones you get a donut shop (Christie's, for example). But the ham and cheese is different. It's in a class by itself, and is worth twice the $2.38 they charge. Trust me on this one.

You should know that all these places are breakfast, not brunch. They're very casual. I will go to any of these places without showering or even combing my hair. Brunch, the more expensive breakfast that requires clean clothes but usually includes mimosas--that's for another day.

Friday, November 18, 2005

 

Annabelle's

We went to Annabelle's about a year ago with our friends Melanie and Daniel. It's only about seven minutes from our house, on Taft just south of Grey. We went back last week.

We got there a little early, around six. We were the first customers there. We chose a two-top in the corner. Annabelle's is a BYOB restaurant, but our waiter said he could hook me up with some complimentary Chardonnay if I wanted some. Sure. When he brought the wine out, he explained that people leave half-empty bottles all the time, and they just keep it and serve it. Some paranoids might refuse to drink leftover wine from strangers, but I've done crazier things for worse drinks. Our waiter was pretty funny and very attentive. We were the only people there.

But soon a second table came, a table of sixteen people, and once they showed up we saw a lot less of our waiter. When we finally got him to come over to us, we asked for the spinach-artichoke dip appetizer. "Oh!" he lit up, "That's the best stuff in the world!" After chatting up the big top for about ten minutes, he came back to us to say that they were out of spinach-artichoke dip. Would we like some calamari instead? Sure, we said, we'll try some. "The second best stuff in the world?" I asked. "Absolutely!" Their fried calamari is not the second best stuff in the world. It's not the second thousandth best stuff on earth. Though it was cooked properly, it had no seasoning whatsoever. Just calamari and flour. Oh well.

I ordered the grilled chicken breast with sauteed mushrooms. It came with mashed potatoes and sauteed vegetables (see, I do eat vegetables). Though grilled chicken with mushrooms is a pretty plain-Jane dish, it too was perfectly cooked and perfectly sized. I ate all my veggies, most of my chicken, and half of my potatoes without getting too full. Amanda ordered a chicken burrito. It was very large (she only ate half of it) and came with onion rings. On the menu, a burrito and onion rings looked funky and cool. On the plate, it just looked strange and out of place. She only ate one ring. I had one too.

But neither the chicken with mushrooms nor the burritos are what you should really go to Anabelle's for. If you go, order a pizza or one of their daily seafood specials. I just hope you're not too picky about what's on your seafood special. I overheard our waiter tell the big party that the tilapia was pecan crusted. A minute later he told them it was parmesean crusted. When he repeated again for some new arrivals, it was pecan crusted again.

Annabelle's is one of at least two Houston restaurants named for a dog (Barnaby's being the other one I know). They're dog-friendly, encouraging customers to bring your dog--but only on the patio.

When we left, the sixteen top were still the only people there. They brought a bunch of champagne, so maybe you can get some of their leftovers if you hurry.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

 

Happy Birthday

If you're reading this, there's a pretty good chance that today is your birthday. Happy Birthday!

Monday, November 14, 2005

 

Killing two birds

First of all, I want to give a shout-out to my parents and their personal hobby/new business. Please click here and check out the latest news on their website.

Secondly, I'd like to say that neither myself nor any of my family endorse horse meat for "overseas markets." They just report the news, they don't export culinary horse meat.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

 

Dreaming Is Free/Houston's

I had the greatest dream this morning.

I was a contestant in an eating race, but not one of those horrible events where you shove hotdogs down your throat for sixty seconds. In this race, we ran to the top of a mountain in France, stopping at every restaurant along the route to eat a plate of food. The imagery was taken directly from Tour de France coverage: I'm running up a mountain road with crowds just inches away from me on either side, clapping, cheering, waving flags. I run into a dining room to eat a plate of breads, meat, and dessert. I swallow a small glass of wine and jump up to hit the road and work off the meal, only to stop at the next place a little ways up.

Naturally, I won. It was my dream, after all.

Not long after waking up (late) from my Nyquil-induced fantaisa, Amanda and I went for an early lunch at Houston's. I say all sorts of negative things about chain restaurants, but Houston's is exceptional. For one, they put their money into well-trained staff and fresh ingredients instead of "table tent" advertising and gimicky appetizer combos. Their key to success--besides having a higher average check than most chain restaurants--is pretending that they're not a chain at all. In fact, I had been to Houston's severel times in Dallas before I realized that it wasn't an independent restaurant.

And their staff really is good. I worked with a number of people who had worked at Houston's at Deep Ellum Cafe, and they tell me that Houston's runs a tight ship. Every shift began with a uniform inspection and quiz on the menu. A good friend of mine had to go through several interviews for a "salad expeditor" position, and she didn't get the job. I'm not sure what kind of qualifications they're looking for in a person that moves salads five feet from the kitchen window to the server station, but they apparently have high standards. That being said, we had a streak of visits to Houston's that were less exceptional. We got stuck with a bad waiter a few times in a row, but I haven't seen him there the past two times we've been.

Another thing about Houston's. It's the most integrated restaurant I've eaten at in Texas. I've never walked in when there aren't a least a few tables of African-American customers, which you almost never see at other restaurants in the same price category. I have yet to figure out how Houston's attracts the black middle class in a way that nobody else does (except black-owned restaurants like The Breakfast Klub), but it's a great thing. I'll look into this.

I had a club sandwich with fries, Amanda had a veggie burger with slaw. We split the spinach artichoke dip appetizer. I almost always get the fresh fish sandwich, but the "original" club sandwich, with super-premium ham, turkey, and bacon, is only available on the weekend, so I gave it a try. It's the best club I've ever eaten, and I've eaten a lot of them. But it's not as good as the fish sandwich, which has whatever they're fish of the day is. So sometimes it's a mahi-mahi sandwich, sometimes a snapper sandwich, sometimes something else.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

 

Sneak Preview?

I have been a bad blogger lately. I haven't kept up. There are reaons/excuses: I can't get to my blog from work anymore, I had a lot of grading to catch up on, I've been under the weather for the past few days, Arrested Development is back on the air.

But I haven't forgotten to eat, and here's a brief glimpse of what's to come.

Try Annabelle's, but don't expect greatness.

Onion Creek has really become noisy, hasn't it?

Dry Creek has been open for a while now, and they've got their shit together.

The Daily Grind still doesn't have their shit together, but the food is worth it, especially if you like grits (I don't).

The chiken fingers at the Toyota Center aren't as good as the chicken fingers at Minute Maid Park.

As my sister says, Ta Ta You Losers!

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