Monday, May 31, 2010

He Said, She Said

It's the end of the month...and guess what's due...another He Said, She Said for Carrie and me. Here’s how it works:

We went to the same restaurant at different times.
• First time eating at the restaurant.
• We read no previous reviews.
• We wrote our reviews separately.
• Once written, the reviews were not changed.

The Grove is one of the many fancy, shmancy restaurants located in downtown Houston. Here's a few helpful reminders: reservations recommended, business casual attire, and you may want to park next door at the GRB Convention Center.

The Grove
1611 Lamar Houston, TX

Atmosphere: (5) Stars
He Said:
The Grove is about as sophisticated as it’s going to get in Houston. Big, open restaurant setting with floor to ceiling windows that look out to Houston’s new gem…Discovery Green Park. Beautiful oak trees (hey…it ain’t called The Grove for nothing) line the restaurant. Inside…the décor is modern, with some retro touches. We sat in a “booth”. I’ve never sat in a more comfortable “booth” in my life. It was more like a mini-sofa that hit me just right in the back. As you enter Grove, you’ll be struck by one of the nicer bars in the city…very elegant. The Grove is perfect for a business lunch or a romantic dinner. We went for lunch.

Atmosphere: (4.5) Stars
She Said:
Beautiful, clean décor with huge windows looking out onto Discovery Green. I loved the simple, chic table settings. Two minor details resulting in the 4.5 star rating…1. The tables were a bit close together resulting in feeling a little like you’re eating dinner with strangers. 2. The hard surfaces and many windows result in a noisy dining room. While we didn’t have to shout, this is not the place to go if you want to have a discreet conversation.

Menu Selection: (3) Stars
He Said:
The menu was fairly limited, but again…when you go to a restaurant of this status, you know going in the menu’s not gonna be an Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Menu Selection: (4.5) Stars
She Said:
Although the dinner menu was not extensive, I found plenty of enticing offerings, including 9 appetizers, 7 salads, soup of the day, a couple of sandwiches and burgers, 8 small plates (4 oz protein and half an order of the side) and 9 large plates (8 oz protein and full side). Vegetarian options available in each category. Wine and specialty drink menus also provided many options.

Taste: (3) Stars
He Said:
My entire meal screamed average. I ordered a wide variety of things and took a few bites off Sara’s plate. I started off with a speciality drink, (can’t remember the name) but it was the best thing I had. It contained rosewater, blood orange juice, vodka, fresh strawberries, and a few other things. Very complex drink and it was refreshing. I ordered the Dustin’s Farm Deviled Yard Eggs. Sounds fancy doesn’t it? Actually, they are average deviled eggs with a piece of Spanish chorizo (very good) and tapenade on top. The flavors just didn’t blend well…I thought it needed a sweet element. My entrée of Pulled Rotisserie Chicken Tacos with sweet black-eyed peas was good, but very small. The chicken was moist, but there certainly wasn’t enough…an almost comical amount of chicken. The peas provided a nice balance to the dish. I took a bite of Sara’s Lamb Burger. It was a little peppery, but not bad. Tasted like a gyro on a bun. We all split the bread pudding for dessert…and I was not too impressed. Had some good elements but they scrimpted on the Mexican chocolate. I did love the finely diced pears on the side.

Taste: (4) Stars
She Said:
We both ordered Caesar salads and small plates. Marinated black cod in a mushroom broth with baby bok choy for Warren, Gulf shrimp and scallop brochette with braised baby carrots, English peas and almond oregano pesto for me. The Caesar dressing with its bit of heat was excellent. Warren’s cod was perfectly cooked and presented in a sea of rich earthy broth. My scallop was perfect, the peas were a nice side and the pesto was delish. The shrimp, however, left a bit to be desired…overcooked and under seasoned. The real gem of the evening was our dessert, the Texas peach and Prosecco parfait. This layered dessert started with a Prosecco gelatin, covered with a peach foam, topped with blackberries and candied Meyer lemon. This is exactly what I love about going out to dinner. Something that you would never think to make at home, but makes you want to figure out a way to do it. It was amazing!

Service: (5) Stars
He Said:
I have not one complaint with the service. Our guy had a good, even-keeled demeanor and did a fine job throughout the meal.

Service: (5) Stars
She Said:
This is where The Grove really shines. Our waiter was very knowledgeable and offered detailed descriptions of entrees and desserts. The staff was extremely attentive (my water glass was never less than half full, Warren’s napkin was refolded when he went to the restroom) yet unobtrusive. It was clear that the staff does it’s best to satisfy patrons when a table next to us needed to accommodate first two, then four, extra diners.

Pricing: (1) Star
He Said:
This was a joke…even by classy, downtown restaurant standards. My tacos hit $12. Bigger portions would have made this price a bit more palatable. I think my drink cost $11 but I need to confirm that. Sara’s burger was $15…ridiculous!

Pricing: (3.5) Stars
She Said:
Given its location, the pricing did not surprise me, but I did feel that it was slightly overpriced for the food that was served.

Overall Opinion: (3) Stars
He Said:
The service, atmosphere and drink gave The Grove a respectable status. I wouldn’t go there to eat again, but I’d definitely stop in for a cocktail. I think this restaurant needs to spend more time trying to raise its food quality and less time writing fancy descriptions for average selections.

Overall Opinion: (4) Stars
She Said:
I would definitely hit The Grove again for drinks, appetizers and dessert. The ambiance and service made this dining experience a treat! Given that it is a bit pricey and my entrée fell a bit flat, I would likely give it another try for dinner, but it would probably not be my first choice.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tip Jar

Each week I'll give out a tip...take it or leave it.

Grilling Burgers
Wanna grill some burgers this holiday weekend???

Lazy Way...But Still Good
Go buy a package of frozen, formed, 1/4 lb. hamburger patties from the grocery store. Throw them right on the grill...frozen. Maybe about 4-5 minutes per side. This way they won't get dried out. Season to your liking.

A Little More Effort Way...But Very, Very Good
If you're not feeling lazy...go to a meat market (better than a grocery store)...get some good ground beef. Mix in a package of onion soup mix, form patties (kind of thick) and throw on grill. Probably about 6 minutes per side.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Test Kitchen

Every Saturday I'll try out a new'll see the good and the bad of it. Thanks to a reader for sending me a great crock pot recipe link. For this week's Test Kitchen, I decided to give one a try...

Soy-Glazed Spareribs

Description: Bomb! But in all fairness, this recipe has a lot of potential. This is a classic example of the importance of reading other people's reviews of recipes. They offer great tips. That's one of the benefits of using a big site.

Recipe Difficulty (Scale of 1-10): 2
Any crock pot recipe should never have a high difficulty level. If it does, you probably should move on. This one was easy. I had to bake the spareribs in the oven and then transfer them to the pot. That was easy and so was making the sauce.

How it turned out: Uneatable
Cows whose favorite snack is a salt lick said this was too salty. This was shocking because I really didn't feel this would be a problem. The good news...the ribs were very tender. That's why this recipe has a world of potential.

Would I make again: Yes
Here's how I'll do it next time...and yes, there will be a next time. Cut the soy sauce in half (and use a low sodium). I plan on keeping the chicken broth measurement the same but use a low sodium as well. This recipe is a classic example of "you can always add more salt, but you can't take it back". Recipes like this get better each time you make them.

I'll be frank...I wanted this recipe to work, and when it bombed, I was pissed. That usually results in me immediately tossing it into the trash. Sara stopped me. I put the ribs in the fridge. The next day I cut all the lean meat off the bones. I then diced the meat into small pieces. I made a simple soup with cabbage, noodles, and a variety of other things. The rib meat provided all the seasoning I needed for the soup and because the pieces were so small and diluted from the turned out pretty good. Plus a good soup really cleans out the pantry.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Back to Basics

Boiling Water

Nope...not gonna write a post about how to boil water. But boiling water will be the hardest thing to do in this one-pot, basic recipe. About the only thing I hate about cooking is the clean up. Even the most basic of recipes can have tornadic affects on the kitchen. Not this one.

1. Get a large, deep pot and fill about 3/4 full of water...salt generously. Set on high and bring to boil.

2. Get some broccoli florets and diced carrots and throw in water. Boil for about 5-6 minutes.

3. Once you hit the 6-minute mark, leave veggies in the water and add a package of angel hair pasta.

4. Boil the veggies and pasta for 5 more minutes.

5. Turn off heat, drain everything, and return pasta and veggies to the original pot.

6. Place pot back on the cooling burner and add 2 TBSP of butter and a generous pour of olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. (Add a seasoning like dried basil if desired)

7. Finally, add a cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Mix well. Serve.

The clean up will be pot, one colander, one mixing spoon, one knife, and one cutting board.

*Note...If you like to add some meat to the dish, purchase some quality smoked sausage that comes fully cooked and add to the boiling water for about a minute.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Happy Hour


No...not just any rum...the good stuff! My brother-in-law Scott introduced me to this liquid gold on a family trip to The Keys. It's called Ron Zacapa and look to spend about $40 a bottle. Its chief competitor is called Zaya...which is also around the same price and has a comparable taste (in my opinion). This stuff is smooth and can only be appreciated straight. Mixing this fine rum with anything should result in an automatic arss kicking. Goes great with a nice cigar (occasional for me).

*Note...drinking more than what is pictured is probably a solid indicator of alcoholism.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Unique Randomness

My random thoughts...once a week.
  • I went to Kroger’s the other day. Wanted to pick up a few items…one of which was cilantro. Apparently, the mental institution let out some patients to do a little grocery roaming. I watched this nut-job rifle through every bunch of cilantro…and then every leaf on every bunch. Each time I went back…she was still there. I’m cilantro-less this week.
  • Sydney got a Leapfrog Walker for her birthday from her grandparents. It’s now her third favorite toy. Right behind the package of Welch’s chewies she carries around, and the air return grate she bangs on 100 times a day.
  • Speaking of kids…Nat hit me in the nuts again. And again it was accidental (true). The latest unfortunate incident occurred during a tickling session. Her left knee did a pile-drive on my package. Why do people think this makes your voice go higher? My throat is still sore from the low-pitched grunt. I’m up to about $30K if America’s Funniest Home Videos is watching.
  • This is who the Rockets are desperately trying to sign as our next savior. Really?
  • Denver's convention center is cool...why can't Houston have a giant bear looking in a window?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mighty Good Recipe

Chicken Valdostano

This is a great it has the added bonus of having a cool name. "Honey, what are we eating tonight?" "Chicken Valdostano...I said Chicken Valdostano." I wouldn't deviate from the recipe. I followed it precisely and was very happy with the results.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Restaurant Review

Los Dos Hermanos Mexican Restaurant
5013 N. Shepherd Houston, TX

The Run Down:
In baseball terms, Dos Hermanos is like that fourth outfielder on the team. He's good, one heck of a nice guy, and just finds a way to get in the game every once in awhile. Okay...if you're not lost yet, I'll get back to food speak.

The Decision: I used the baseball analogy because Dos Hermanos is located near some very formidable eateries along Shepherd Drive....some stiff competition. It's right across the street from Simo's Diner (one of my favorites). I've driven past the place a hundred times and when Sara got a hankering for breakfast tacos the other morning...I figured it was time to give Dos Hermanos a shot.

The Food: Our food was excellent. I kept it safe and simple...Huevos Rancheros...the litmus test for a good Mexican breakfast. They passed. The yolks were nice and runny, the refried beans were solid, and the pappas fritas provided a nice compliment. I mopped up everything with their homemade tortillas, which were excellent as well. I heard no complaints from Sara on her tacos.

The Price: Great prices...Sara paid for the bill, but I'm guessing it was in the $10 ballpark (get it...ballpark).

The Overall Opinion: Los Hermanos was clean, felt very safe, and was quaint. I have a real soft spot for the little neighborhood places. A woman, who I assumed was the owner, treated us like royalty. I could tell she was genuinely concerned whether we liked her cooking. In Houston, competition for these types of places is stiff, but I can see myself becoming a breakfast regular at Dos Hermanos. It makes you feel good letting that fourth outfielder get a few at bats. Especially when he makes tortillas this well!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tip Jar

Every week I'll give out a tip. Take it or leave it.

My lovely wife came up with this little nugget. Tired of making dry cornbread? Take a box of Jiffy...follow the instructions, but add about 7 oz. of creamed corn (half a large can). To me, cornbread tastes better when baked in an old caste iron skillet. Don't have one? Most antique stores have them for pretty cheap.

Perfect Pics

I saw this and just had to post it. Thanks Laurie for sending along this pic. She made this beautiful spread!

I am trying to put together a slide show of various food pics, so if you've got one, or two, or three...please forward it/them along to my email.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Test Kitchen

Every Saturday I'll try out a new'll see the good and the bad of it.

Swiss Sherry Chicken

Description: Nailed it on this one! I was looking for a very basic chicken recipe that yielded plenty of leftovers.

Recipe Difficulty (Scale of 1-10): 2
A recipe that tastes this good usually is not so very easy to make. I can't think of one difficult thing about it. I ditched the dill weed, because I'm just not a big fan. For the croutons, I used some Nonni's Panetini Garlic Parmesan (from Costco). They come in big pieces, but I just smashed them up into small chunks. You'll find that prepping the chicken is about the most difficult task (which is easy).

How it turned out: Great
No one in the family had any complaints about Swiss Sherry Chicken. The chicken turned out very moist, the sauce was just right, and it went very well with some squash and mashed potatoes. The buttery crouton topping provided a nice crunch with the sauce. My favorite part of the dish was the sherry. All the ingredients worked well together. I would even recommend bumping up the sauce mixture. It was great over the potatoes.

Would I make again: Yes
This one is going in the rotation. The best kept very well. Got two+ meals out of it. This recipe is cool because it can be made for a normal, casual "during the week" meal or for even a dinner party. Those are my favorites! The sauteed squash and mushrooms brought some veggies into the mix, and you can never go wrong with mashed potatoes on the side of chicken. This recipe was easy, tasted great, and was well received. Success!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Back to Basics

I love shrimp, but Sara is allergic to shellfish…so I rarely cook them at home. Although it’s completely bad for you, I feel the absolute best way to prepare shrimp is by frying them. My mom taught me at a young age how to do this. The best part…it’s very basic!

Fried Shrimp
Note: Frying shrimp is all about keeping it simple, don’t overdue anything. The headliner is the shrimp…so find a place that has the freshest and highest quality in your area. It makes a big difference. In Houston, I love buying my shrimp at B&W Meat Company. They are very fresh, usually come deveined, and are $7.99 a pound (jumbo). This is very reasonable.

1. Take 1 pound of shrimp and remove shells and clean. Rinse thoroughly with cold water.

2. Place shrimp on paper towel and dab with another paper towel to remove the moisture (if you don’t they will splatter when they hit the grease).

3. Salt and pepper generously.

4. Take a few cups of canola oil and pour into a deep, medium-sized pot. Get the grease going on medium-high heat.

5. Take several handfuls of Saltine crackers. Crush until they are almost a fine powder (food processor works well). Place crackers in a bowl.

6. Take four eggs and scramble in another bowl.

7. Take a pinch of the crackers and toss into oil…see how it fries. This will tell you if the oil is ready without ruining a precious shrimp.

8. Once oil is ready…dip each shrimp in the egg bath, followed by the crackers. They are now ready for the fryer.

9. Take your time…each shrimp will take 3-4 minutes, but never put more than five shrimp in at one time.

10. Once each shrimp is a golden brown color, remove and place on another set of paper towels.

11. Salt to taste.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy Hour

Thank you to my friends Brett and Courtney for passing this recipe along. For many years I disdained the Bloody Mary. Thanks to them, not anymore. It’s now one of my favorite drinks. I recommend playing with the ingredient measurements to suit your liking. Below works for me. Enjoy…at any hour!

Bloody Mary
3 oz Zing Zang (found at any grocery store)
1 oz vodka
1 key lime squeezed
1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
Couple shakes of Tabasco sauce
Couple shakes of salt
olive juice (to taste)
celery stick

Mix everything together and pour over some ice. Garnish with celery. Mmmm…good!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Unique Randomness

My random thoughts...brought to you once a week.
  • Sex and the City 2 comes out soon. Hope my wife doesn't force me to watch this one as well. Still looking for the 6.5 hours the first movie stole from my life.
  • Ever have an itch, but when you go to scratch it, you're not sure where it is?
  • I know my next comment (along with my Sex and the City one) is gonna make me sound like I play for the other team...but, I am officially addicted to Strawberry Milkshake Pop Tarts. Damn they are good!
  • Houston sports is at an all-time low. The Astros are completely pathetic. The Rockets are eternally good, not great. The Texans' best player is threatening to hold out for a new contract...and another player brought up tumors in relation to getting busted for roids.
  • The History Channel is officially my favorite channel. Pawn Stars, Sliced, America-The History of Us...good stuff. It has surpassed sports and Food Network for me.
  • Want to inflict pain on your worst enemy? Follow these simple steps: 1. Go to Disney Store in local mall. 2. Purchase a pair of hard, plastic, 1-inch heel princess slippers. 3. Take said slippers, turn them upside down. 4. Place next to enemy's bed. 5. Enemy will step on slippers and experience intense pain. 6. Mission accomplished.
  • Can't help but feel good when I look at this picture. Just outside Columbus, Texas.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mighty Good Recipe

It's Tuesday...time for a Mighty Good Recipe.

Easy Ham and Cheese Appetizer Sandwiches

I know this may sound crazy, but this recipe is one of the absolute best in my collection. Just going to have to trust me on this one. These sandwiches usually make their way onto the menu of any function we have at the house. They go fast. There's one VERY important substitution. Ditch the dinner rolls and get a tub of those mini croissants. It means extra calories, but who cares?

Monday, May 17, 2010

City Jewel: Boston

City Jewel takes a quick look at various places from around the country.

Restaurant: Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe

429 Columbus Ave.

Restaurant Size: Smallish. Went there for breakfast and had to sit at the bar. I was there by myself so sitting at the bar was perfect. It gives me a great view of the cooking action.

Specialty: Turkey Hash...this was awesome. I'd never eaten anything like it for breakfast. The ground turkey worked well with the eggs and potatoes. Think it was like $6. This place just screams old school Boston...with local sports memorabilia all over the walls. Given the name, I also take it Charlie's makes a good sandwich.

Chance of getting food poisoning: LOW. The place isn't going to win any awards for cleanliness, but what diner is? It was nice enough, and the food was outstanding.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Dinner Club

Dinner Club last night was awesome. I think we all needed it. As usual, everyone brought their A game. The Shooks hosted and made the appetizers and entree. The Jaegers brought over tasty beverages, and the Shalins were in charge of dessert. Here's how it broke down:

Theme: Welcome to Summer

Mexican Salad

Pineapple and Cilantro Salad

Prosciutto with Melon


Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Burgers

Homemade French Fries

Summer Berry Brownie


Wine and...
Slushie Cape Cod

4 C cranberry juice
2 C orange juice
2 C vodka
Mix well and freeze for 4-5 hours before serving.

I love having Dinner Club at the Shooks because they have a great bar where you can sit and watch them cook. As you can see, the Mexican Salad appetizer was beautiful and tasted great. The Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Burgers were fantastic (and I finished mine for lunch today). Molly and Keith cut up some endive and apples as burger toppers. Really was good! The homemade french fries sealed the deal for me. I think many of us hadn't eaten them like that in several years. Kinda took you back to how mom would make them. You already know all about the dessert. Specials props to Warren and Carrie for bringing over the wine and those Slushie Cape Cods. Those went fast!

Tip Jar

This week's tip was given to me by Carrie via her mother Mickey. Ever notice an asterisk on a price label at Costco? According to these trusted ladies, it means that's the last shipment Costco will carry of the product. So if you see it, and love the item...better hoard it.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Test Kitchen

Every Saturday I'll try out a new'll see the good and the bad of it.

Summer Berry Brownie

Description: We were in charge of dessert for Dinner Club...and I found this brownie recipe a few days ago. It was from some random web site and had no previous reviews. This is generally a recipe I don't mess with. But hey...this is Test Kitchen.

Recipe Difficulty (Scale of 1-10): 3
Sara and I teamed up on this one. Actually, Sara did about 80% of it. I must admit, my baking confidence was not at an all-time high due to last week's blondie debacle (we shall never speak of that again). I was in charge of the whipped cream topping and slicing the strawberries. If you think that's special, I can also tie my shoes and chew gum at the same time. Anyway, Sara handled the much more difficult brownie portion. This was our first attempt at making brownies from scratch.

How it turned out: Good, not great
Even for brownies these turned out a little dense. They were good, but I'm gonna say what everyone was thinking last night...Ghirardelli Brownies are better (you can find the economy size at Costco's). How do I know this? I had to stop at one portion last night. With Ghirardellis, I tend to not stop until I feel my gut creeping over my pant's waist line.

Would I make again: No
It's not that I wouldn't make these again because they were bad. There's just too many good box brownies out there to really fool with making them from scratch. I'm glad we did it...but probably won't try it again. This recipe was the essence of Test Kitchen.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Back to Basics

Grilled Vegetables

My grilled vegetables are technically not grilled in the sense they aren't placed directly on the grates. But here's how I do it. Any vegetable will work, but nothing is better than asparagus.

1. Rinse asparagus, let dry, and snap the ends off.

2. Place the asparagus into a metal pan (one-inch sides).

3. Coat with olive oil, salt and measurements required...just eyeball it.

4. Give it a good shake after the coating, make sure every piece is seasoned and oiled.

5. Get all the burners on your propane grill going on high.

6. Place metal pan on one side immediately after starting the grill.

7. Close top and walk away, let the grill get warm...the other side is for the meat.

8. After a few minutes, when your grill is desired heat, turn down burners on veggie side and give the asparagus a good toss.

9. Come back in a few minutes and check...I find that when the asparagus chars just a bit, they are perfect.

10. Take off grill, transfer to plate and top with some Parmesan cheese if desired.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy Hour

I'm no wine snob, and I certainly can't talk the lingo. I like all wines, but definitely prefer reds. Figured I'd start with my favorite wine...Dry Comal Creek's Comal Red (actually enjoying a glass as I write this). It goes with just about anything. The flavors change depending on whether you serve it at room temp or just slightly chilled. I've yet to meet a person who doesn't like it. Through the years I've tasted just about every Texas wine... to me, this is the best. Comal Creek also makes a great White/Black Spanish. We've been to the winery, which is located just outside of New Braunfels, many times... and always leave with a case. It's one of my favorite, most relaxing places around. Comal Red is about $18 a bottle... very reasonable given the quality. It's found in H-E-B, Central Market, and some liquor stores around Texas.

He Said, She Said

Coming at the end of May...another He Said, She Said. Carrie's pick...The Grove. I've been wanting to go to this place for awhile. Should be fun.

Vegetarian's View

Molly gives her view of Ruggles Green through the eyes of a vegetarian.

Rate each category on a 1-5 star rating.

Overall Vegetarian Selection: (5) Stars
Brief Take: (Did the restaurant have a good selection?)
Since service is pretty fast at Ruggles Green, I have never ordered an appetizer but out of the six items on the appetizer menu three are vegetarian. That’s a win in my book!

The vegetarian entrée selection is also pretty vast for a restaurant that serves American style cuisine. There are about four vegetarian items in each menu category of soups, salads, pizzas and sandwiches. You can even add tofu on to a salad for $3.95. That makes me very happy and is a direct attempt to cater to the vegetarian crowd.

Vegetarian highlights from the menu include a veggie sourdough panini, fire-roasted tomato basil soup, Ruggles Green house salad (don’t let this boring name scare you…this colorful salad has blueberries, carrots, jicama and tomatoes, not your average house salad) and organic vegetable pizza.

Ordered Dish: (5) Stars
Brief Take: (What did you get and how was it?)
My for my entrée I ordered the five cheese, wood fired pizza and I can sum it up in one short word – YUM. This pizza is loaded with mozzarella, fontina, parmesan, ricotta and romano cheese and served on a thin, extra crisp crust. The pizza is always brought out in such a rush the cheese is still bubbling. Waiting for it to cool is always a task. As a vegetarian I am always keeping a daily running count of consumed protein grams in my head and I can rest assure this pizza always fulfills that requirement.

Now on to the glorious dessert display, no meat here I can ensure you. Ruggles Green has eleven desserts and I have tried six. But today I will be reviewing my favorite, and their best seller, the white chocolate bread pudding. Brought out piping hot in an oval dish, the bread pudding is accompanied by a petite cup of raspberry sauce. The bread pudding is crisp on top and soft on the bottom – a perfect bread pudding consistency. The white chocolate flavor is delicious and pairs very well with the raspberry.

Healthy Rating: (3) Stars
Brief Take: (Was it still healthy even though it was vegetarian?)
Calorie and fat wise my meal itself was not very healthy. Cheese is loaded with fat and I am pretty sure my white chocolate bread pudding was not low calorie. I gave three stars instead of two because at least the meal was mostly organic. If I really wanted, I could have ordered the vegetarian house salad and eaten healthier. It is nice to have that option because at most restaurants vegetarian means more butter/cheese and less meat.

Overall Opinion: (4) Stars
Summary: (Quick review of the eating experience…what was the restaurant like, service, etc.)
Ruggles Green serves organic, natural food that is free of hormones and preservatives. As a vegetarian I eat a lot of vegetables and grains. Conventionally both of those items can be loaded with pesticides. Dining organic at Ruggles Green is important to me because I can eat confidently knowing my meat free meal is healthy and safe. (They even grow some of their own ingredients!)

Ruggles Green is one of two green restaurants in Houston. What does a green restaurant mean you are ask? The restaurant is awarded the rating by being certified by the Green Restaurant Association. To get the certification, Ruggles Green has to meet certain criteria in areas such as sustainable food and pollution reduction.

The dining style is similar to Café Express by ordering at the counter and taking a number back to your seat. Service is very quick and the employees are friendly and accommodating. Ruggles Green is always packed and parking can often be a problem. I try to only visit right when they open or during off times. For that reason I painfully removed one star. Otherwise this place is a perfect vegetarian’s delight.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Unique Randomness

My random thoughts...brought to you once a week.
  • I'm a high school teacher for those of you who don't know. Yesterday was our senior field trip. It was outdoors, warm, and very limited in the beverage selection...that means nothing diet. I hadn't had a regular soda in a few years. Sucked down three of them in a course of five hours. Sometime around 6 p.m. my body began shutting down. Felt like I just received an esophagus transplant and my body was rejecting it. Dazed, lethargic and nauseous...I decided to call it a night at 8:30. Getting old(er).
  • My sports thoughts of the week: Love Dallas Braden sticking it to that pansy A-Rod by throwing a perfect game. Karma's a b*tch. Also, I am tired of listening to sports talk radio and having to hear about Brian Cushing's shrinking sac (probably need to be from Houston to get this one).
  • Chick-Fil-A...290/Tidwell...happy!!!
  • I was holding Syd (my 11-month-old) the other day. She gave me a smile...opened her mouth...and went in to give what I perceived to be a loving kiss. Instead she sneezed right in my face. Begs the what age does cute become disgusting?
  • Speaking of Syd...she turns one later this month. Ever been to a one-year-old's birthday party? It's usually held in a little place I like to call Hell. Everyone is in pain, not the least of which is the honoree. The kid sits there in horror, staring at his "personal cake" (also known as a cupcake), while others are laughing and pointing. After about ten minutes...little Timmy decides to take the cake and smash it into his face. Everyone thinks it's the cutest thing...little Timmy gets pissed because the party is in the middle of nap time...and five minutes later one parent decides to "get going". Within moments, the house is cleared out. Needless to say, in the Shalin household, parties start at 2-years-old.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mighty Good Recipe

It's Tuesday...time for a Mighty Good Recipe. I've made this one a few times and it's always well received. It's a great side dish and goes with just about anything. I know it's the wrong time of year, but zucchini gratin is also a nice alternative to some of the common side dishes for Thanksgiving. Sometimes I'll make this instead of green bean casserole. And one last thing...any dish that contains a good amount of Gruyere has about a 95% chance of of achieving awesomeness.

Zucchini Gratin

Monday, May 10, 2010

City Jewel: WDC

Special thanks to Rich and Bethany for sending this in.

The Eatery
If traveling during the Spring or Summertime in the D.C. area and you're looking for something to do, visit Nationals Stadium and pick up a Nats game. It's a new facility and the great thing about their stadium is that they allow local popular restaurant franchises to open concessions in the stadium, the best of which is Ben's Chili Bowl.

The Details
Ben's Chili Bowl original location is located in the U-Street Corridor in D.C. and is very very well known. The name gives away that they specialize in chili. The original Ben's Chili Bowl was founded and opened its doors to business in the 1950's and endured the riots in D.C. following Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination. Just recently, the owner and founder Ben Ali passed away and it was major news in D.C., not only was he the founder of the Chili Bowl, but he did a lot of good for the community. Many famous politicians, celebrities and athletes visit Ben's Chili Bowl and in fact the franchise in Nats stadium is the first and only one built due to Ben's interest in keeping quality high. One thing that leads to some personal concern is that the family, after Ben's passing, is now speaking of franchising further. Somehow I think this is wrong.

What to Get
Anyways, we went to the Marlins vs. Nationals on Saturday, after attending several games last year, we were eagerly anticipating eating some good ole' chili whilst watching the hometown Nats. We got there about a half hour before game time, enjoyed a beer, walked the stadium and found our seats. We made it to the break in the first inning and then went to Ben's. The line is usually the longest at the Chili Bowl, but it is worth the wait. I ordered the Traditional Half Smoke, which a Ben's is a blend of hot dog and smoked sausage meat in one fat casing and is served slightly charred. I got it with the special Ben's chili, melted cheese and mustard. Ben's chili is meaty and pleasantly spicy, and is good enough that they sell a lot of it simply by the bowl. I'm not sure if its because of the fact that we purchase tickets that are close to The Bowl or something else, but the Half Smoke always remains hot when you get back to your seat. Bethany ordered the Ben's Chili cheese french fries, which were basic hearty cut fries topped with the melted cheese and famous chili. The fries are basically chili-delivery sticks. The simple paper lined cardboard is the perfect serving plate for this sublime yet simple stadium grub, which is gone in way less time that you waited in line. The only bad thing about Ben's is that its so good that over the span of the game, we always find ourselves tempted to go for another round. This is of course enjoyable, but a liability when the next day rolls around if you know what I mean.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Tip Jar

Every week I'll give out a tip. Take it or leave it.

This week's Tip Jar is a story of redemption. Reeling from the previous night's blondie debacle, I knew Sunday's lunch for the in-laws was my chance to get back on track. I thought a little outside the box and decided to combine two recipes into one dish. Here's what I did:

I took the avocado salsa recipe from a few weeks ago and used it as a topping for a grilled pork loin. Turned out to be a great combination. For the pork loin, I sprinkled a common dry rub seasoning and threw it on the grill for ten minutes on each side. For the salsa, I cut the red wine vinegar in half and left out the bell pepper (because I didn't have one).

When you're not sure what to cook. sometimes it can be a good idea to combine two recipes that you know well to make one great dish!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Test Kitchen

Every Saturday I'll try out a new'll see the good and the bad of it.

Meredith's Molten Blondies

Sounds good doesn't it? This is a dessert crock pot recipe...supposed to be mistake proof.

Description: Imagine blondies slowly simmering in a pot of molten goo. Now erase that from your memory because yours truly made it. As you can see, the end product is visually scarring.

Recipe Difficulty (Scale of 1-10): 2
I still f-ed this one up. Why you ask? Because when I decide to bake (this technically was baking) my borderline IQ drops another 40 points. That makes me barely functional in society. Don't do what I did...which was to assume you just dump all the ingredients into the pot. It helps to actually read the entire recipe rundown.

How it turned out: Utter Disaster
These were suppose to be blondies. Turned out to be a sauce...and not a good one at that. I took several pictures of the finished product. This is the best one. I know...sad. You'd think Bluebell Homemade Vanilla could make anything taste great...think again. From start to finish, this was a disaster. Ingredients weren't properly mixed at the beginning and I left the mixture in the crock pot a few hours too long (we went out to dinner, and got home late).

Would I make again: Yes
This one has some potential...just don't let me handle it. I am an above average cook...and an awful baker. I apologize to Meredith and the advances she has made in the world of blondies.

Quick Hit

In regards to the link below...I love octopus...and would be willing to give this a shot. A reader sent this to me and I thought others might be amused.

*Note...I know this picture has nothing to do with the article...just further proof I visited the pawn shop.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Back to Basics

Mashed Potatoes

I learned how to make good mashed potatoes from my mother. I have probably seen her make them a few thousand times growing up. Thought it would be the perfect thing to highlight in the first edition of Back to Basics. I'll go step-by-step in this fairly simple process:

1. Peel several Yukon Gold potatoes (the number is up to you). This is very important. Yukon Gold has a natural buttery flavor.

2. Cut potatoes into one-inch cubes (doesn't have to be perfect). Throw in large pot of water. Add about a 1/2 TBSP of salt to the water.

3. Bring to boil...turn stove down a bit to a nice rolling boil. Let boil for 10-11 minutes.

4. Test softness with fork. Once the fork can easily slide through potato, remove, and drain water.

5. Add potatoes back to pot. Take out some milk, butter, and salt...along with a mixer.

6. It's important to remember that mashing potatoes is not an exact science. The key is never adding too much too early. Add a little at a time, taste, and continue to add ingredients if needed.

7. Add the butter, and a good pour of milk. How much milk really depends on the number of potatoes. Remember, hold back. Start out with just a little milk.

8. Mix on Low at first so the potatoes don't fly out everywhere. Add a good shake of salt. Not too much. Taste.

9. Turn the mixer on High, add some more milk if needed. The potatoes should have a nice fluffy consistency. They get gummy if too much milk is added. Add salt to taste.

10. The salt is key. Most mashed potatoes are bland because the salt is added to them at the table. By mixing in a moderate amount of salt, it gives the potatoes a consistent taste.

11. Keep potatoes in pot, add a pat of butter and drop on top of mixture. Close pot and wait to serve. The butter gives it a nice presentation when the pot top is lifted. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Happy Hour

Get ready for the weekend with a great drink idea. Don't worry, I'll get around to just about everything. And no, I don't usually take pictures of liquor bottles around my house.

Key Lime Pie Martini
1 shot of Vanilla Stoli (any vodka will do, I just like this one the best)
3/4 shot Licor 43 (pictured...not cheap, well worth it!)
1/2 shot Rose's Lime Juice
1/2 shot half and half
graham cracker crumbs

Directions: Chill a martini glass in the freezer for a few minutes. Take all of the ingredients, pour in shaker, and well...shake. Take some fresh lime and rim glass. Dip glass in a plate of graham cracker crumbs. Pour in drink mixture. Enjoy. This is a really good one!

*Note...make it easy on yourself and buy the box of pre-crumbled graham crackers.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Unique Randomness

My random thoughts…brought to you once a week:
  • Today marks the 15th anniversary of a very embarrassing moment in my life. Senior year, Scarborough HS…Cinco de Mayo was a big deal, celebrated with a lengthy lunch and various activities. One of those activities being “pet the horsey”. My experience with equine was limited…I was intrigued. So intrigued that I paid absolutely no attention to the enormous pile of horse shizzle I stepped in. Bell rings to go back to class…I walk about 40 yards down a white-floored hallway before a friend gives me the bad news. I make a run for it, slip, and get more excrement on my jeans. That was good enough for me to call it a day and go home. Happy Cinco de Mayo!
  • My daughter wants to go to an Astros’ game this weekend. No child should be subjected to such horror. Although, you gotta figure a decent shot at seeing a no-hitter.
  • Ever eaten a burger from Five Guys? “Wow”…as in a good “Wow” (sorry, had to include some food).
  • Ernie Harwell will be missed. Don’t know him?…google this classy man.
  • Went to the pawn shop in Las Vegas a few weeks back…the one from Pawn Stars. Probably would have taken me an hour just to get through the door. Too hot, I left. I wanted to meet Chum. Maybe next time.
  • Natalie (my oldest daughter) accidentally wacked me in the groin the other day. In terms of pain, is that the male version of giving birth? (I'm guessing the answer is still no)
  • Bet you didn’t expect to see a pic of M&M mascots on the blog.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mighty Good Recipe

It's Tuesday...time for a Mighty Good Recipe. I think it hit 90 degrees in Houston yesterday. Summer is here. How do I know? Started sweating on my ten-foot walk from the back door to the car door. Ahhh, wonderful humidity. All right, enough being cute. Here's an awesome cole slaw recipe that I thought would go good for this time of year. This can keep for a few days and it goes with a lot of things...especially BBQ. Cut back on the vinegar just a bit if you are not a big fan of tangy. Also, let marinate for several hours. Go in the fridge and turn a few times. Enjoy!

California Cole Slaw

Monday, May 3, 2010

Rich Being Rich

My good friend Rich has a unique sense of humor. He's fooled me once or twice through the years. He emailed me this the other was too good not to post. It's not real, but don't you wish it was?

If you are ever in the Washington D.C. area and feel like a good slice of authentic local flavor, we went to a wonderful little spot where the pizza was piping hot and delicious. It's located in the Kingstowne/Alexandria, Virginia area. There is usually a large crowd, but we sat in the bar area, which is wonderfully decorated with local sports flair. There are several t.v.'s that display sporting events for the patrons to enjoy. They even at happy hour, have 24 oz. domestic drafts, of which we enjoyed two Coors Lights.

The service is friendly, prompt and pays attention to detail, as we ordered the meat pizza for dinner, which is advertised as having a thick, chunky lusty tomato sauce, the specialty of the house. It was also loaded with fat steaming Italian sausage, peppery pepperoni, zesty Romano cheese and other delicious meats. Of course there are other options on the menu including perfectly crafted sliders (with a tangy mustard pickle sauce), fried mozzarella sticks (whoever heard of such a thing), various leafy salads, they even advertise a Jack Daniels flatiron!

Our server, Tyler, quickly took the order and within 10 minutes voila, our piping hot pizza pie arrived in a thick deep dish pan, I thought we were in Chicago!!!!

The pizza was great, the crust was heavenly, sweet and salty, crunchy and it held the smoky flavor of all the meats. As we were finishing our wonderful pie, we thought about ordering one of the wonderful desserts.....oh yeah, another great thing the menus are colorful and actually show a picture of each of the appetizers, entrees and desserts. We couldn't decide between the scrumptious looking bread pudding or the intriguing brownie bottom sundae and we were stuffed to the tits with pizza pie.

Anyways if you are ever in D.C., but wish you were in Chicago for some grandiose Chicago style pizza, visit Uno's Chicago Grille #722 for a truly unique dining experience that you probably can only get in 721 other locations. It was a life changer.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tip Jar

Each week I'll give out a tip. Take it or leave it.

Ever roasted an eggplant? It's easy. And eggplant is high in fiber, as well as many vitamins. I am not the biggest fan of hiding veggies from kids, but eggplant is not the most visually appealing vegetable for a child. Here's a good tip for hiding it.

1. Take a medium-sized eggplant and lightly coat with olive oil and some salt.

2. Put the eggplant on a baking sheet and place in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes.

3. Open oven and give eggplant a little tap...should be soft. If not, cook a little longer.

4. Remove from oven with some tongs, and immediately place eggplant in a ziplock bag. Seal.

5. Wait five minutes. Carefully take out eggplant. It will be very hot.

6. The skin should peel away easily. Separate skin from eggplant meat using a knife and fork.

7. Take a large knife and chop up the should be quite mushy.

8. Take a large pot, pour in a jar of your favorite tomato sauce and stir in the soft eggplant.

9. Warm through and serve with ground beef over a pasta of your choice.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Quick Hit: Tested

I gave the PB, mayo and lettuce sandwich a try...not bad. Honestly, the peanut butter overwhelmed everything else. Thought I'd class-up the sandwich a bit by toasting the bread. If you do give it a try, don't be afraid of the mayo. The sandwich looks a lot grosser than it tastes. Now that's a glowing endorsement! Thanks for sending me the recipe. I'll give it three stars though, not 4.5.