Wednesday, June 30, 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 Houston-area restaurant at different times.
  • It's our first time eating at the restaurant.
  • We read no previous reviews.
  • We write our reviews separately.
  • Once written, the reviews are not changed.
BB's Cajun Cafe
2710 Montrose Blvd. Houston, TX 77006

He Said Atmosphere: (3.5) Stars
BB’s Cajun Cafe is small…smaller than I was anticipating. It’s a 10-table café located in the heart of the Montrose District. This place definitely had that artsy, Montrose, UST vibe going on. A steady flow of 20-somethings kept the place hopping, even on a Sunday afternoon. Some quirky elements added to the décor, but I actually wanted more . I loved the sign that read “Shut up and eat”. The Salvador Dali-isc clock was cool and so were some of the pieces of art. But other than that, not much to the place. Very open and laid back concept. The fountain drinks and coolers were in plain sight, as were unopened boxes of beer…which I didn’t find too cool.

She Said Atmosphere: (2.5) Stars
To me, the atmosphere is not BB's strong suit. Although the unpretentious feel certainly made BB's a laid back locale, I would have appreciated a bit more consistency in the style. Touches of Louisiana were placed throughout the small restaurant. This décor should have been capitalized upon. Instead, a large TV filled one wall and another was covered with cases of sodas and drink machines...not exactly stunning ambiance.

He Said Menu Selection: (5) Stars
I was extremely impressed with the menu selection…sandwiches, appetizers, rice dishes, breakfast…it was plentiful.

She Said Menu Selection: (4) Stars
Lots of Cajun favorites with a Texas twist. Po-boys ranged from the traditional shrimp, oyster or catfish to those with a Tex-Mex twist (the Product of Puebla has fajitas steak, queso, peppers, onions, avocado and lettuce) to southern favorites like chicken fried chicken. Entrees are divided into New Orleans Favorites (gumbos, steak and grits, etouffee), Breakfast, and Tex-Orleans Entrees (enchiladas, catfish, chicken). Most entrees were offered in more than one size. A variety of salads are also available.

He Said Taste: (4.5) Stars
I loved the food. I think Sara liked the food. I ordered the ½ portion of Morgan City Catfish ($7). It was a substantial portion for the price. The dish consisted of pecan-crusted catfish, in a creamy, peppery etouffee sauce with white rice. The catfish was thin and crispy and the sauce was very hearty, but perfectly spiced. Even the half portion put a hurtin’ on me, but I loved it. The full size would have shut down an artery. Sara ordered a pretty standard catfish po-boy with fries. I tried a bite and was very impressed. All the things you look for in a good po-boy…crispy fish, good sauce and the freshest of bread. The fries were a rarity..traditional shoestrings. The thing that impressed me most about BB’s was the attention to detail in how things were sliced. Some people make fun of me for this, but I think it really makes a huge difference. The thin catfish, fries and even the shredded lettuce were prepped to perfection. For dessert, we had the bread pudding ($6). In a word…divine. Some of you may remember I ordered bread pudding at our last He Said, She Said restaurant. This bread pudding crapped all over that one. There…I said it.

She Said Taste: (4) Stars
We started with the Loaded Pollo Bullets; chicken stuffed with cream cheese and jalapeños wrapped in bacon and served with a Cajun cream sauce. Similar to the more conventional jalapeño poppers, this dish confirms my theory that bacon makes everything better! A few pieces were definitely burned, but in general, great flavor and a solid appetizer. I had a shrimp po-boy and fries. Although I ordered the half portion, the sandwich was sizable. The shrimp were perfectly cooked, well seasoned, and served on wonderfully crusty bread with lettuce, tomato, and pickles. My only criticism was that it could have used more mayo or was a bit dry due to the hearty roll and breaded shrimp. Warren ordered the half portion of the Morgan City Catfish, a pecan crusted catfish fillet served on a bed of white rice with etouffee sauce. I think that I have determined that the muddy taste of catfish is not quite my thing, but it was well cooked and the etouffee sauce was delicious.

He Said Service: (2.5) Stars
Here’s where BB’s takes a turn for the worse. This café was a three-man operation…young dude (who looked like the owner), bus boy, and cook. I liked the guy running the show…nice personality and welcoming. But a few things went wrong during the eating experience. First, remember how I said the place was tiny? Well, we found the last table for four, but two Igloo-type coolers were jammed up next to the table. What the heck they were doing out in the restaurant is beyond me. But at the very minimum, they should have been moved immediately. They weren’t. One was so big, a midget could have taken a nap in it. Next, Sara and I both ordered a Diet Coke...out of it! That’s a no-no. We ended up getting water (which was never refilled). Finally, he brought us the check without asking if we wanted anything else. Guess what? I did…the bread pudding.

She Said Service: (4) Stars
Our waiter passed my first two tests before we had even finished our appetizer...he made recommendations when asked and the refilled my empty glass without being asked. It's the little things that make me happy!

He Said Pricing: (5) Stars
The pricing was great…included some prices up top. BB’s had big portions at reasonable prices.

She Said Pricing: (4.5) Stars
Can't really beat the price. The most expensive item was our appetizer. A lot of food even when we ordered the half portions.

He Said Overall Opinion: (4) Stars
The negative aspects of BB’s are all very minor and correctable. Bottom line…the food was excellent. I will definitely go back. Sara grabbed a take-out menu for grabbing some food after work. The bread pudding was some of the best I’ve ever had…rich, moist, and just the perfect texture. This is heavy eating… so be prepared if you go.

She Said Overall Opinion: (4) Stars
Solid food, good service, and lots of yummy menu options make up for the lack of ambiance in this local joint. Not exactly a date night venue, but we would certainly head back.

Tips: Parking is somewhat limited. Not many tables, so I’m guessing there’s a wait during peak times. Very casual.

Unique Randomness

My random thoughts...brought to you once a week.
  • I figured out something the other day. I firmly believe most of our country's problems could be fixed if we let the managerial staff at Discount Tire Company run the show. Think about it...has a human being in the history of the world ever left that place upset?
  • While running on the treadmill at the gym, I noticed one of the televisions had a promo going. It was plugging three straight hours of Nancy Grace and Joy Behar. Not quite sure the channel. I could think of a 1000 torturous acts I'd rather have performed on my body than watching three straight hours of Nancy Grace and Joy kidding.
  • Speaking of torturous acts...had to stop by my local DMV yesterday to get my driver's license renewed. Hadn't been there in several years. It's a horrendous task...we've all heard the stereotypical stories about the DMV. One thing did strike me though...the people waiting didn't seem quite as grotesque as I remembered. Does that mean I'm now more grotesque? Just something to ponder.
  • Hey Farmville Facebook Peeps...the dudes that played Dungeons and Dragons in the college cafeteria called...and they said you're losers.
  • Love the piece on Real Sports last week about Dallas Braden...seems like a great guy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mighty Good Recipe

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

Honey Nut Chicken Sticks

Another tried and true chicken recipe...can't go wrong with this Rachel Ray classic. Back in the day (when my wife loved me and cared about me), Sara would make this recipe. But sometimes even great recipes get lost in the mix. I figure my guilt trip may bring this one back in the fold. The chicken sticks also tend to score big with the kids.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Restaurant Review

Each week, Mondays are dedicated to providing you with a restaurant review from a place in Houston or from around the country. This week, let's keep it local.

Perry's Steakhouse (chain, with locations in TX)
9827 Katy Freeway
Houston, TX 77024

The Rundown: I’ve been wanting to try Perry’s Steakhouse for a very long time. Why? I keep hearing about this Signature Pork Chop. Sara and I were in desperate need of a night out. We met our friends Brendan and Stacy at the Perry’s location in Memorial City. We got there a few minutes early…and did a little people watching in the waiting area. In ten minutes, we saw the full spectrum of individuals. Perry’s had it all…from the dude in the wife-beater shirt…to the two cougar skanks…to the 60-year-old dude sporting a blazer with a baseball cap. Enough with that...I was ready to eat! The restaurant is elegant, as you would associate with a steakhouse of this caliber.

The Food: The food was nothing short of spectacular…and I think I can speak for all involved on that one. Obviously, I had the pork chop. It’s really more of the entire freaking pig. They slice it up table side…and I must admit, it was one of the best pieces of meat I’ve ever eaten (that’s what she said). It was sliced into three portions and I was instructed to eat the different cuts in stages. I began with the “eyelash”….and according to the the waiter, the best part. Ummm, he was right. So tender, so juicy, such a crispy outside crust…and it had the whole sweet and salty thing going on. After consuming that…there wasn’t much room for the ribs and the loin portions (got them to-go). Sara had the rib-eye (medium rare). She reluctantly gave me a bite. I can’t imagine better steak. Had a bite of Stacy’s medallions in Bearnaise sauce…perfection. I forgot what cut of steak Brendan got, but I tried some…and it was awesome. We all shared sides of potatoes gratin and asparagus. I thought the asparagus was fine…nothing special, but we all agreed that something green on the table was much needed. The potatoes were special…only eclipsed by the fine meats (that was she said). The table bread was solid, as were the tasty mixed drinks. I had a margarita that I really enjoyed. Then came the desserts. If you go to Perry’s stay away from the lemon cake and the chocolate cake. They were barely edible. I think we each took two bites and stopped. My cake was more like a very bad piece of fudge. And Brendan and Stacy’s lemon cake tasted like it had been sitting in the parking lot all day.

The Price: Hey…it’s a fine steakhouse. There are more expensive steakhouses out there, but make no mistake, unless you are making serious coin, this is a special occasion place.

The Overall Opinion: We all loved Perry’s Steakhouse and highly recommend it. The service was excellent…very attentive. Dude even comped our gross desserts. Everything but the desserts was perfect. Sara and I go to a fine steakhouse like this once or twice a year. I think Perry’s is our new favorite place.

Helpful Hints: We went on a Friday night…it wasn’t too crowded but getting reservations never hurts. Like most nice places in Houston…I would recommend a dressy jean attire.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dinner Club

Each month...six friends meet for great food and good times! I'll get to how Dinner Club went last night in a few minutes. But first, the rundown...

The Jaegers hosted and made the appetizers and entree. The Shalins brought over tasty beverages, and the Shooks were in charge of dessert. Here's how it broke down:

Theme: Wedded Bliss (The Shooks and Jaegers celebrated June anniversaries)

Stuffed Mushrooms
Love Mussels
Baked Brie

First Course:
Italian Wedding Soup

Main Course:
Pasta Primavera (w/wo chicken)

Coconut Angel Food Cake

Wine and...
The Perfect Peartini
2 oz. pear vodka
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1/2 oz. amaretto
1/4 oz. lemon juice
Shake, serve, enjoy!

Let's see...words to describe last night's Dinner Club...phenomenal, overwhelming, gluttonous. Not quite sure if Carrie got the memo that Dinner Club has six members...not twelve. She prepared enough food for a Man vs. Food after-party. My goodness...I'm hungover this morning...from the food! Here's the deal though...everything was five-star restaurant quality. And don't get me started with the dessert. Oh...the dessert! The Shook's cake would have brought a fat man to tears.

Dinner Club is on an auto-pilot of greatness. Warren got some nice cigars, which the guys enjoyed on the deck. Carrie got anniversary gifts for the couples (framed pictures from our weekend trip a few months back). The Peartini got the party started and kept it rolling. Conversation spanned from Going Green to the oil spill to cloth diapers to haunted houses.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Test Kitchen

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

The Best Unbaked Cherry Cheesecake Ever

Description: This recipe is wonderful to make with kids. There's not much to it, and the kids can help every easy step of the way. As you can see, I substituted strawberries. Oh tastes pretty good as well. This dessert is solid, easy, and quick.

Recipe Difficulty (Scale of 1-10): 1
If 0 was an option, this recipe would be a 0. It doesn't get any easier. Buying a pre-made crust is the difference-maker.

How it turned out: Good...borderline great
This dessert isn't earth shattering, but in a pinch, it works out quite nicely. It's also easy to make a couple at one time and just top with different fruits.

Would I make again: Without a doubt
This is just a great recipe to keep in the arsenal. Kids love making and eating it. There's also not much clean up afterward.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Back to Basics

Each week, Fridays are dedicated to the beginner cook.

EASY Baby Back Ribs

I've been fascinated with making great ribs, but with no fuss. A buddy of mine gave me a great tip the other day about preparing ribs. Figured I'd pass it along. Here's a few basic steps:

1. Take a rack of ribs, cut in half. Take 2 cups of water and 2 cups of white vinegar. Submerge ribs in the water/vinegar. Put in fridge for a few hours (2-3 hours). This makes the ribs very tender!

2. Set oven on 300 degrees.

3. Take your favorite rib rub (any spice shop has them) and generously coat the ribs. Wrap ribs in foil.

4. Bake for 2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven...coat with favorite BBQ sauce.

5. Get outside grill fired up....very hot (about 450-500 degrees) . Turn burner to low. Throw on ribs. Cook for 10-12 minutes.

6. Remove from grill and coat with sauce two more times. Let cool...then cut ribs.

They should turn out something like the picture. Doesn't that look good?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Unique Randomness

My random thoughts...brought to you once a week.

Lately, I've definitely been in a list mood. Figured I'd keep the ball rolling with another one. This week I'll hit on my "Top 10 All-time Favorite Comedies".

10. American Movie-The sad part here is that this documentary is not a comedy. You follow the absolutely pathetic lives of Mark, Mike, and Uncle Bill and just can't help but laugh your *ss off. This is a cult classic.

9. Dumb and Dumber-I switch gears a bit to some good ol' fashioned potty humor. But potty humor that has stood the test of time. I know a lot of people hate this movie, but I am obviously not one of them. I still quote many lines on a routine basis.

8. Swingers-First rented this movie many years ago...knew nothing about it and actually got into a verbal fight over why we should have rented Antz instead. As an immature protest, I refused to watch it. My goodness was that a mistake. A couple years later I did get around to watching the movie...about 100 times. I was at a phase in life when it really hit home. I'll admit...I overdosed on Swingers, but it still makes the list.

7. Anchorman-I love Will Ferrell...and to me this is his best work. I also love all the side characters. When Paul Rudd puts on the just can't beat that. What about when Ron Burgandy is doing curls in his office?

6. Raising Arizona-This 80's classic dark comedy has it all...great actors at the early stages of their careers. Nick Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman were all fabulous in this one. I still quote many of the lines 25 years later.

5. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles-It would be a sin not to include John Candy somewhere on this list. There are so many classic scenes in this movie...but none better than the "sharing of the bed". No scene makes Natalie laugh harder.

4. Annie Hall-Not only one of the funniest movies ever, but one of the top movies of any genre. The look on Woody Allen's face when Christopher Walken is driving the car is priceless.

3. The Big Lebowski-Where do I begin? Look at the cast...Goodman, Bridges, Buscemi, Moore, Hoffman, Turturro...just to name a few. This flick definitely has it bizarre moments...but the laughs outshine some of the weirdness. I have never in my life laughed as hard as the Donny burial scene. Here is it...delivered by Walter Sobchak (all-time favorite character name):
"Donny was a good bowler, and a good man. He was one of us. He was a man who loved the outdoors... and bowling, and as a surfer he explored the beaches of Southern California, from La Jolla to Leo Carrillo and... up to... Pismo. He died, like so many young men of his generation, he died before his time. In your wisdom, Lord, you took him, as you took so many bright flowering young men at Khe Sanh, at Langdok, at Hill 364. These young men gave their lives. And so would Donny. Donny, who loved bowling. And so, Theodore Donald Karabotsos, in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been, we commit your final mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which you loved so well. Good night, sweet prince."

2. Waiting for Guffman-The movie that got the ball rolling. Other great flicks from this group include The Mighty Wind and Best in Show. Follow Christopher Guest's character Corky St. Clair as he tries to produce a play for small town folk. So many great quotes from this's my favorite: "Well, then, I just HATE you... and I hate your... ass... FACE!".

1. Bottle Rocket-Owen Wilson's first and best movie. Dignan is my absolute favorite character ever! He's such a pathetic thief, you just can't help but cheer for him. He delivers so many great lines and plays so well off of the other characters. Here's Dignan at his best: "What a lemon! One minute it's running like a top, and the next it's broken down on the side of the road. And I can't fix a car like this, because I don't have the tools! And even if I did have the tools I don't know if I could fix a car like this!".

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mighty Good Recipe

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

Candied Chicken Breasts

This is my wife's absolute favorite recipe to make...and one she has passed on to many people. For good's a hit. The more sauce you make, the merrier. I'd ditch the pineapple rings. They aren't really needed. This recipe is so good, so easy, and best over some mashed potatoes.

Monday, June 21, 2010

City Jewel: Dayton

Thai 9
11 Brown Street

The Background: Since moving back to Dayton, Ohio, I have been itching to go here. Thai 9 is set in the heart of the Oregon District, which is right on the outskirts of downtown. During the day, you can visit art galleries where local artists showcase their work, go to a yoga studio, browse the shops, or even hit up the town's one and only Indie movie theater. By night, the Oregon District turns into THE place to be, filled with bars, late night bistros and yuppie clubs that your young professionals frequent.

The Scene: Thai 9 is a restaurant that is light on the eyes, dimly lit and very modern Asian in its appearance. You have the option of dining up in the loft area or the upstairs deck outside. Right off the bat, we were met with our friendly waitress who made us a fresh pot of coffee while we went over the menu. This scored points for me, and while it sounds trivial I would much rather wait for fresh coffee and being the coffee snob I am, I appreciate it wholeheartedly. I also mentioned that my mom has a severe sesame allergy, and she assured us that they are more than happy to accommodate. She even remembered this tidbit for dessert!

The Starters: For an appetizer, we ordered a simple California Roll as well as Coco Shrimp. The Cali Roll was just like any other Cali roll, but I am by no means complaining! As for the Coco Shrimp - AMAZING. One thing that IS misleading about this though... I didn't read the description of this, and by the given name, I figured "oh, coconut shrimp, great!". It's not!! Honestly though, once I bit into the wonton fried shrimp, my minor complaint was quickly eradicated from my mind. I usually don't go for fried food, but this was the right amount of "crunchy"; thin enough to not overpower the taste of the shrimp. The honey mustard sauce, when paired with the strips of shrimp, really sealed the deal. I could have probably eaten 20 of these things.

The Main Course: On to the entrees - My dad ordered the Chicken Teriyaki, my mom the Cashew Nut and I the Singapore Noodles. Both my mom and I had to pick a "spice level" on a scale from 0-10; we picked 0 and 3, respectively. We also had the choice of soup or salad, and we all chose the Miso soup. Again, just your regular run of the mill Miso Soup but I could very well have had another bowl. With both a Cali Roll and Miso Soup - they're hard to mess up, but they're also hard to better; so take those reviews lightly! During the meal we were all silent [a good thing!], with nothing but a few "mmmm's" and "oh man's" muttered. The Cashew Nut dish had a great taste of sweet from the pineapple and also a minimal bite from the red pepper. The Chicken Teriyaki was pretty darn good, and the sauce was so good that my dad was mixing his rice with it. He picked at the veggies, but only because they "are too damn healthy", left apart from the meal as a personal preference. I should also mention that they are vegetarian friendly, which is a plus in my book as well. I usually don't eat meat, but felt compelled to get chicken with my noodles. When this dish was first put in front of me, I was pleasantly surprised. Surprised, at the fact, that they're wasn't a HUGE plate of food, with ingredients falling off at every corner. The spice level I picked was the best I could have asked for, and was coupled with the yellow curry perfectly. The vegetables and chicken were in proportion to the amount noodle, and I had a bit of everything in every bite. While I ate the entire plate, I could have definitely had more... no need to mention that I was already full and by that point I would just be indulging in gluttony!

The Grand Finale: While my two partners in crime were too full to even think about dessert, I dove in headfirst. From the moment I saw the description I knew I had to have the "FBI". While I don't know why it's named that, I can't really say that I care! Handmade coconut ice cream drizzled with honey, accompanied by fried bananas, sprinkled with sesame seeds [of course, said seeds were excluded]. This was, BY FAR, my favorite part of the Thai 9 experience. While I was full from my main course, I made room for this the second my lips hit the spoon. The perfect marriage of hot and cold, of sweet [banana] and slightly bland [the friend wonton around it]; I could have easily embarrassed myself had this dish been made for than just one person. My dad didn't partake, as he is not a coconut fan. My mom thought this was too sweet, but we came to the conclusion that this was in part to the sweetness of her dinner. Another reason as to why this dessert was a bonus for me - it knocked off the slight edge of spicy that my meal had. I also noticed that after the meal, I didn't have the dry mouth affect that you usually get when eating oriental food. Well my friends, this is because Thai 9 has your health in its best interest, and they do not use MSG.

The Verdict: All in all, this was a definite "10 out of 10" meal for us. It's affordable [think $8 entrees], in a great place downtown, and if you DO indulge a little too much, you could always walk it off! I haven't been to dinner here in awhile, but I would venture to say that their menu offers a wider variety of delectable dishes. By no means am I saying that there wasn't enough on their lunch menu, though. If you are ever in or around Dayton, Ohio for any reason at all I would say that this restaurant is a place to go.

Thanks so much to Natalie for writing such a wonderful review!

Mighty Good Recipe: Natalie's Edition

A Mighty Good Recipe is coming to you a little early this week. My daughter Natalie decided to start her own food blog (TheMightyWatermelon) and I promised her I'd post her first entry on my blog.

Restaurant Review

Otilia's Mexican Restaurant
7710 Long Point

The Run Down: Thanks to Kristyn for recommending this place to me. I've passed Otilia's a million times and never realized it. I guess you could say that about a lot of restaurants in Houston. Love the tips I get from readers...please keep them coming! Otilia's serves authentic Mexican food. If you are expecting the typical better move on to the next joint. Otilia's is a converted old Whataburger....nothing too exciting inside, but there is a nice porch out front.

The Food: Our food was really good. They took their time making it and the presentation was well above average . Don't expect a quick in and out experience. Good food takes a little extra time to prepare. It's well worth the wait. Sara had the enchiladas verde. She thought they were good, but just a bit too sweet for her liking. I honestly can't remember the name of my dish. But wow, was it good. One of the best I've ever had. It was a fried pocket of stewed chicken, sweet onions, capers, raisins, and other seasonings. It was very complex and I savored every bite. I wanted to try something different and this dish was a home run. The rice, beans, and sliced avocados were great. Oh yeah, had a small bowl of Cream of was a little thick for a soup but would have made an excellent sauce.

The Price: No complaints with the prices. Maybe just a little higher than a standard Mexican food restaurant in these parts, but for good reason. The preparation time and quality of ingredients factored into overall pricing.

The Overall Opinion: I thought Otilia's was a hit. I just love a restaurant that does things a little different. Wish I would have known about this place sooner. There's no question I'll be a regular.

Helpful Hints: They don't have the best parking, but my guess is you'll end up finding a spot. The service is good, but again, be prepared to spend a little extra time.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tip Jar

Every week, I'll give out a tip...take it or leave it! This week's tip is brought to you by Carrie. Thanks for sending this one our way.

That Darn Tomato Sauce!
Does this picture look familiar? You make a ton of spaghetti, put the leftovers in some tubberware and you're left with this. When you're ready to clean it up, wash with soap and COLD water. This will release the staining color. Then wash with soap and warm water. Guess what? I tried it out and it does work.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Test Kitchen

Every Saturday I'll try out a new'll see the good and the bad of it. We cooked dinner for some friends last week who had just caught some fresh redfish. I found this recipe and decided to give it a try.

Redfish Court-bouillon

Description: This is a classic roux-based, Cajun dish without all the spice (which can scare off the kids). Make some white rice and top with the fish and sauce. The sauce is thick and hearty and really makes for a complete dish.

Recipe Difficulty (Scale of 1-10): 1
This recipe is sooo easy. It makes for a wonderful presentation and given the taste complexity, it's just hard to imagine how it can be so simple to make. After everything is chopped up, just place is casserole dish and let bake. Doesn't get much easier than that.

How it turned out: Awesome
I guess I'll drive this point home a little more. Absolutely no complaints from anyone. The sauce was wonderful and almost any fish can be substituted (flounder, tilapia, etc.) If you desire it to be a little spicy, add some Tabasco Sauce and that should do the trick.

Would I make again: Definitely
This will make it's way into the rotation. I could see myself making this dish once a month for the fam. The kids loved it, and was very healthy. It's rare when I can't find one fault with a recipe.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pantry Clean Out Recipe: Tuna Salad

Tuna Salad Delight

1 can tuna
1 sleeve Ritz crackers
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
1/3 cup finely diced Granny Smith apples
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sour cream

Combine all of the ingredients together and serve on Ritz crackers. This makes a great snack.

Pantry Clean Out Recipe: Beef Stroganoff

As I get them, I'll pass them along. Thanks for sending the recipes my way! Pantry items are in bold.

Beef Stroganoff
1 pound ground beef
1 cup sour cream
1 can cream of celery
1 onion
1 bag elbow macaroni
1 envelope onion soup mix

1. Boil macaroni and set aside.
2. Brown ground beef with chopped onions.
3. Add sour cream, cream of celery, and onion soup mix to ground beef. Mix together for a few minutes.
4. Combine the macaroni and mixture.
5. Serve.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Happy Hour

Every Thursday I'll get you ready for the weekend with a tasty drink recipe.

White Russian
2 parts whole milk
1 part vodka
1 part Trader Vic's Kona Coffee Liqueur

I'll admit it...back in the day I went through my Big Lebowski White Russian phase. With this recipe, I put my little twist on it. The Kona Liqueur adds a nice touch. One of these will do you...not so much the alcohol, just a heavy drink in general. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unique Randomness

My random thoughts...brought to you once a week.

The Houston Press recently came out with an article about their Top 10 places to eat in the Oak Forest area. Thought I'd give my own version since I've lived here most of my life. My apologizes for alienating my "unfamiliar with Houston readers".

10. China Doll-Gotta keep it real with this one. China Doll has it's fair share of loyalists and critics. I grew up less than a mile from the restaurant and I've eaten here more than any other place. The fried rice, egg rolls and Pork Egg Foo Young are still spectacular.

9. Yo Mama's Soul Food-You will not find better mac n' cheese, sweet potatoes, and stuffing anywhere in the vacinity. Oh, and I almost forgot the meat loaf...awesome.

8. Tia Maria's-I know this place is a run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant, but it is definitely special to me. Although most of their food is average, the beef fajitas are tops in my book. The charred onions and bell peppers are what seal the deal.

7. Simo's-This blue-collar diner located right off Shepherd scores big points. They do a solid breakfast, but I generally find myself their at lunch time...consuming a gyro and fries. Can't beat it.

6. El Rey-Just great Mexican and Cuban food. I love the pastor tortas and the traditional Cuban sandwiches. Give the Key Lime Pie a try...very underrated.

5. Mi Sombrero-Speaking of underrated...I've got Mi Sombrero on my list. They serve a fabulous breakfast. For lunch or dinner, I usually get the shredded chicken nachos. My goodness they are great! How this place doesn't get more pub is beyond me.

4. Supreme Sandwiches-What??? You know that little place off TC Jester next to the other mega-sandwich chain? This place is far better and much cheaper. I love running in for lunch and grabbing one of their sandwiches off the counter. Love the chicken salad.

3. Miller's Cafe-How in the world did this not make the Houston Press list? This place serves one of the top burgers in all of Houston, much less Oak Forest. You walk up, you order a burger and fries, you sit down, you happy.

2. Cafe Red Onion-Seems too nice for a neighborhood restaurant and the prices are a bit high, but one can't deny the food quality. I love the chicken pupusas. Great margaritas...some of the best in Houston.

1. Olde Towne Kolache-And speaking of the best...right across the freeway from Red Onion, you'll find the best kolache in Houston and possibly the country at Old Towne. The tradional sausage and cheese is outstanding, but my usual choice is the sausage, egg and cheese rancheros. Just a hot pocket of cheesy, eggy, sausagy goodness...with just enough spice.

Crazy random fact for my sports lover:
June 16, one and only experience going to Wrigley Field. Cubs beat the Phillies that day. I was 8. Making his major league debut for the Cubs was a youngster named Jaime Moyer. He just 3-hit the Yanks tonight. I am almost 33.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mighty Good Recipe

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

Giant Ding Dong Cake

I'll spare you the crude, childish humor. That's not why I posted this recipe. I made this cake a few years back, and it really does taste like a Ding Dong. I know those aren't everyone's favorite, but if you are like me and enjoyed this tasty treat as a child...this recipe might be for you. It's fun to make, and let's face it...a decent conversational piece.

Monday, June 14, 2010

City Jewel: Cleveland

We're switching some things around this week. I made mention of a City Jewel Denver...but instead, we'll go north to Cleveland. Thank you to Rachel for submitting this fabulous piece.

The Greenhouse Tavern
2038 East 4th Street
Cleveland, OH
Reservations recommended


*Just rated as being one of Bon Appétit Magazine’s Top Ten Best New Restaurants in America

*Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs 2010 Award for Jonathon Sawyer

*First certified green restaurant in Ohio – created in collaboration with the Green Restaurant Association.

*Gravy Frites celebrated on the Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”

The Review:
Let’s just get it out... I’m a bad person. I was not looking forward to going to a ‘green’ restaurant. I thought that the theme of green would lend itself to rabbit-eating, non-tasting, small portioned food. I was so wrong that it is unbelievable! This restaurant is spectacular, and I definitely didn’t leave there hungry or my palate lacking from a flavorful meal. The Greenhouse Tavern is a real treat, offering French inspired dishes while using all local ingredients. The belief of the genius chef is that the proximity of farm ingredients and the restaurant directly correlate to the quality of the food.

The Details:
My husband and I have been there on three occasions since I’ve moved to Cleveland. Each time has been nothing short of spectacular. It’s a little pricey on Cleveland standards (which are low in comparison to other cities). But, for $35, you can do the chef’s tasting menu – a combination of any 4 items, each from a different course. I believe the first time that my husband and I went with our friend David, we all decided to do this and made sure that we all grabbed something different so we could try each other’s food. For our appetizer course, our three selections were a combination of an olive tapenade, house-made fromage blanc with fresh thyme, olive oil and grilled bread, and a tasty beef tartar. The “seconds” course consisted of Crispy Chicken Wings Confit (this was one of the most amazing parties in my mouth EVER with roasted jalapeno, lemon juice, scallions and garlic in the sauce), pumpkin ravioli (it was November), and Lamb Shank. Our “thirds” course (mind you, I’ve already eaten enough and am barely still hungry) was a dry-aged Ohio beef burger (with raclette cheese on top, served with pommes frites), a pork chop saltimbocca (spectacular gravy served on top), and a fresh fish of the day. Our final course, which is called a ‘half course’ and served simultaneously as the third was the gravy frites (this is a meal in-of-itself with mozzarella cheese curd and brown gravy), the egg frites (a beautifully presented meal with a 2 minute egg still in the shell surrounded by French fries), and something that I can’t seem to remember – but I’m sure it was fantastic.

The Wrap-Up:
Needless to say, we went home with massive amounts of food. Since we’ve returned, our food options changed slightly (though the gravy frites and chicken wings confit will always be on my menu choice), and we can both gladly say that all of the food has been spectacular. The menu changes with the seasons and ingredients available. Likewise, there are spectacular vegetarian and vegan options. The service has been ideal each of the three times we went. The first time, as mentioned with our friend Dave, unfortunately a glass of wine was spilled on his shirt. Our waitress not only reduced part of our meal but also gave Dave a dry-cleaning coupon for his shirt to be fixed. We were impressed. And we always have been. We can’t wait to go back.

***Follow-up Note:
We were really disappointed with our last visit there (as were some other friends of ours). We think that they either have expanded too much and can't keep up the fine quality or have gotten too bog for their britches.... The prices have increased greatly and the quality has decreased.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tip Jar

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

Gooey Cinnamon Rolls

Want do learn how to make delicious cinnamon rolls the old fashioned way? Tough sh*t. Go to Martha Stewart's web site for that. You ain't finding it here. The amount of time and effort to accomplish such a task leads me to the Tip Jar. Head on over to Costco and plunk down $7.99 on the ol' AMEX for the most delicious treats imaginable. I'm told they taste just as good as the corporate giant's version located in your nearest mall. Wouldn't know...I've never had one. There's just something very unappealing about eating massive amounts of dough while shopping.'s a fraction of the price as well.

Heat for a few minutes in the oven and enjoy!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Test Kitchen

Every Saturday I'll try out a new'll see the good and the bad of it. I got the craving for some onion rings...went to a few sites and found this one.

The Absolute Best Fried Vidalia Onion Rings

Description: I like my rings super crispy. These turned out a little softer ( that a word?) than I favor due to the batter. I cut the onions pretty thick so they wouldn't fall apart. Everything remained intact.

Recipe Difficulty (Scale of 1-10): 5
Anytime I fry something I deem it somewhat difficult. It always makes a mess and you better have that oil at the right temp. If you don''s gonna suck. The difficult aspect of this recipe is those darn rings fry up so a minute for each side. Getting a good dipping rotation going is essential. I guess another set of hands wouldn't hurt.

How it turned out: Not bad
I know this isn't a glowing endorsement, but it is what it is. They were tasty. I just like my rings extra crispy and this batter recipe just wasn't going to allow that.

Would I make again: Probably not
If you favor this type of onion ring, this recipe is for you. It's just not my style. I also have a problem when someone puts "Absolute Best" in the name of the recipe. They d*mn well better be the absolute best...and these aren't. There's a million ring recipes out there. I'll probably seek another one if I get in the mood again.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Back to Basics

Simple Strawberry Sauce

Each week, Fridays are dedicated to the beginner cook. Anytime the word "Simple" is in the title, things are looking up. A strawberry sauce makes everything taste better.

1. Wash and chop up 1-2 pints of fresh strawberries.

2. Take a large pot. Add 3/4 cup of sugar and 2/3 cup of water. Bring to boil and let boil for 8 minutes.

3. Add strawberries...bring back to boil.

4. Let mixture boil for 2-3 minutes. Take off burner and let cool to room temp.

Doesn't that look good? Don't you just want to jump through your monitor and take a bite? Kids love it, adults love it...h*ll anorexic people love it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Happy Hour

Atomic Lokade

This is no earth-shattering drink. I was inspired to find a cool drink recipe after spending an hour at Nat's swim lesson. It was hotter than a mofo outside. I got home, went online and came upon Atomic Lokade. I had all the ingredients and went with it. I know...from the looks of the picture, I'll probably be forced to turn in my man card for posting a blue drink. In short, it was cool, refreshing and not bad for a summer drink.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Unique Randomness

I decided to focus my thoughts for this week's Unique Randomness. I’ll take a closer look at my five best and worst fast food items.

Let’s start with the POSITIVES:

McDonald’s Big Mac
I just had to start out with a classic. There’s no middle ground with the Big Mac, you either love or hate it. I partake in the gluttony about twice a year.

Sonic’s Strawberry Limeade
Little known fact regarding me and Sonic...I have never eaten actual food from there…just drinks. Don’t plan on changing.

McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets
I'll save you the speech. I know they are vile. But I still love them. And if it wasn’t so frowned upon by society, I bet I could take down a 50 piece…just saying.

Murphy’s Deli’s Supreme Club
I probably shouldn’t technically qualify this as fast food, but there is no way this is healthy for you.

Taco Cabana’s #4
Oh yeah, sucks if you don’t live in Texas and can’t experience this. I am not the biggest fan of TC, but I am of their #4…Shredded Chicken Burrito with chips and a Diet Coke.

And now...the NEGATIVES:

Arby’s Seasoned Curly Fries
It’s been about eight years, but never again. Stopped there out of desperation (nothing else for miles). About ten minutes later I had to stop at the nearest trash can. Why? The fries smelled like a pack of construction workers after a ten-hour shift. I could barely drive with those in the car.

Anything Burger King
I hate to blanket an entire establishment. It’s been 14 years since my last visit. Overdosed on BK freshman year in college. On a side note…have you seen their new commercial? They now sell ribs. Although you may be fooled. Looks like someone took a mold of a rib and filled it with dog sh*t. At least it would smell better than Arby’s fries.

Jack in the Box’s Ultimate Cheeseburger
Just bad feelings here…got violently ill after downing one in high school. Another little known fact about me. Did you know I’d rather starve than eat anything from Jack in the Crack? It’s true.

KFC’s Family Meal
I spent my Christmas 1998 in Louisville for the big basketball game between the Cardinals and Wildcats. Only thing open was a KFC. I figured…when in Rome. Never in my life have I gotten so sick. Thought I was gonna die. Have not eaten KFC since (nor will I ever).

Pizza Hut’s Pan Pizza
This shouldn't even be legal to sell. The health ramifications must be worse than chain smoking. I gotta admit…love the taste. But after three pieces you just want to die. It’s crippling. And this was in college. I shudder to think what it would do to me now.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mighty Good Recipe

Baked Potatoes with Shallot-Corn Butter

This recipe is perfect for a good, quick meal. I make it about once a year and I can't imagine a better topping for a baked potato. The sweeter the corn, the better this will taste. You could put this stuff on just about anything, and it would improve the taste. Be sure to make plenty, as it will go fast.

Next week's recipe: Giant Ding Dong Cake (don't's good)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Restaurant Review

Red Balloon Cafe
4410 Westway Park Boulevard, Suite 300

The Run Down: My dad asked me to lunch the other day. He'd heard great things about Red Balloon...a nondescript cafe located just inside the Beltway. Red Balloon occupies a corner suite, and if you don't know about the place, you're sure to pass it up (much like we did). The restaurant has some very interesting aspects. First, it is surrounded on one side by several beautiful oak trees. Second, half the restaurants is an outdoor patio...and with the Houston heat, thank goodness for the trees. The inside has a modern, open feel and features a walk-up order counter.

The Food: Our food was very solid. My dad ordered a guac burger and I had a crispy chicken sandwich. Both tasted good and were bigger than average (that's what she said). My chicken had a perfect texture, and although a bit under seasoned, I dosed it with mustard and ketchup which made it just right. It came with a side of complaints.

The Price: Great prices...especially considering the big portions.

The Overall Opinion: Red Balloon is a typical burger/sandwich/salad place. But what they do, they seem to do quite well (at least from my limited experience). I can't wait to hit this place when it gets cooler outside. Would love to enjoy a drink out on the porch under those oaks. Oh yeah, forgot to mention...they serve margaritas.

Helpful Hints: We hit Red Balloon right before the big lunch crowd. I'm figuring the place gets pretty crowded around 12-1. But the service is fast. Red Balloon has definitely not seen the last of me.

City Jewel: St. Louis

It's Monday, time for another City Jewel. Special thanks to Amy for sending this one in from her trip to St. Louis. We've now hit City Jewels in Houston, St. Louis, Boston, and Washington, DC. And looking for more! Next week...we'll look at a place in Denver.

Yemanja Brasil

The Vibe: Pretty cool place in what appears to be an old brownstone type house in the Benton Park district near downtown. They have a patio, and instead of curtains, hammocks hang over the windows. Excellent wait staff was very helpful. I was excited to try it, as all the Brasilian places I have been outside of Brasil are churrascarias.

The Drinks: The caipirinha is “the national drink of Brasil” so you can’t go wrong with that. If you’re lucky, the Cadillac caipirinha is the drink special – they add apples and oranges to the original, so it’s a little like sangria

The Food: Everything looked lovely. They have beef, pork, fish and vegetarian items. I had the Lombo Ipanema which was the best pork loin I have ever had. Perfectly cooked (not overdone at all, faintest bit of pink, perfect!) and the right balance of garlic and rosemary and I don’t know what else besides good. It came with a pureed collard green soup to start, which tasted so good, million times better than what you are thinking when you hear “collard green soup.” Everyone else loved theirs, so I don’t think you can go wrong. We didn’t have appetizers or deserts, but they sounded great, too.

The Price: My meal was $16 and worth every penny. Most dishes ranged from $12 to $24.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Vegetarian's View

Molly gives her view of Zabak's Mediterranean Cafe...through the eyes of a vegetarian.

5901G Westheimer

Overall Vegetarian Selection: (4) Stars
Brief Take: (Did the restaurant have a good selection?)
Mediterranean is my favorite cuisine and there is no coincidence that Mediterranean restaurants have a lot of vegetarian items to choose from on their menu. Besides the gyros and shawarmas, Zabak’s had several meat free meal options to choose from. I really liked this place so I am eager to go back and try something new on the menu like their vegetarian plate which consists of options for falafel, spinach pie, hummus, baba ghanouj, tabouli salad, cucumber and tomato salad and pita bread.

Ordered Dish: (4) Stars
Brief Take: (What did you get and how was it?)
For my appetizer I ordered hummus (Ordering hummus at a Mediterranean restaurant is a must. It’s kind of like ordering queso at a Mexican restaurant.) and a spinach pie. The hummus was served with a generous portion of oils and spices. Perfectly creamy with a mild nutty flavor, this hummus is a keeper. The pita served with the hummus was good but not my preferred style. Brought out warm in a bread basket, the pita was thin and coarse; I like mine fluffy and a little thicker. Don’t get me wrong, Zabak’s pita was not bad – it was not stale or poorly cooked but just not my style. The spinach pie disappeared off my plate in under a minute so yes you can safely assume I thought it was delicious. About the size of the palm of my hand, the spinach pie was served warm and enclosed in a pastry shell. Inside the shell the spinach was cooked with a tangy vinegar type dressing.

My entrée consisted of one of my favorite meals ever - a falafel sandwich. Served in the same pita bread as the hummus, the falafel patty it’s self was the best I have ever eaten anywhere. (And since falafel is one of my favorite foods, I’ve tried a lot.) I read before visiting that Zabak’s had the best falafel in town so I was excited to try it out myself. Instead of tiny oval balls like how I’ve mostly seen falafel, the falafel in Zabak’s sandwich was a thin patty the size of the pita it was tucked in. The patty was cooked perfectly with chickpeas, loads of parsley and many other vibrant spices. Topping the falafel sandwich off were lettuce, tomato and a hot sauce. The hot sauce was a good element at first but then it began to overpower the sandwich. Maybe next time I will ask for it on the side. I took off one star because of the pita and the hot sauce on the sandwich.

Healthy Rating: (5) Stars
Brief Take: (Was it still healthy even though it was vegetarian?)
Eating healthy vegetarian food at Mediterranean restaurants is always easy. Most of the time, the food is not only vegetarian but vegan as well – even healthier. The hummus and falafel patty were made of chickpeas. Chickpeas are very nutritional. They are low fat and very high in protein, iron and fiber. The spinach in the spinach pie had lots of vitamin a, vitamin c, calcium and iron.

Overall Opinion: (5) Stars
Summary: Quick review of the overall experience…what was restaurant like, service, etc)
Zabak’s Mediterranean Cafe is a small, no frills, counter service, family owned and operated restaurant ….and when I say family operated, I mean the sister, Sandra Zabak is at the counter taking your order and her two brother’s Peter and Donald Zabak can be seen behind the counter in the kitchen cooking your meal. After your meal is cooked one of the brothers happily brings it to your table.

Zabak’s is one of the nicest, friendliest restaurants I have ever visited. It is evident the three siblings really care about their eatery and patrons. The customer service is impeccable and the Zabak’s are very warm and welcoming. While eating my meal, a few different regulars came into to dine, and Sandra happily greeted them by name before they even had two feet inside. Wow – you just don’t get that very often these days.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Reader's Suggestion

When I get a suggestion from a reader, it's a good bet I'm going to try it out. A few weeks back I put up a ravioli recipe. Frank suggested I make a sage brown butter sauce with it. Here's what I did for the raviolis (changed things around a bit):

1. Sauteed one bag of chopped baby portobello mushrooms in a couple tbsp. of olive oil. Added some dried oregano and basil to mushrooms.

2. Let mushrooms cool and mixed with one container of ricotta cheese. Added a little salt and put in the fridge.

3. Scooped some of the mixture and filled wonton wrappers.

4. Boiled for 2-3 minutes. Topped with sage brown butter.

5. And here's the butter:

This makes for an unbelievable appetizer...just a little too heavy to serve as an entree. The brown butter sauce is spectacular! One of the best new things I've prepared in a long time. Thanks Frank!

Test Kitchen

Every Saturday I'll try out a new'll see the good and the bad of it. With all the bbq-ing that goes on this time of year, I decided to try out a new potato salad recipe. This is always a challenge in my family. Sara is allergic to mayonnaise.

Red Potato Salad

Description: This recipe is basically a deconstructed baked potato...which is not a bad thing. Like most potato salad recipes, this too contained mayonnaise. But after reading over the other ingredients, I just nixed the mayo and doubled the sour cream. Worked out very well, and even saved a few calories. That may be a first on this blog!

Recipe Difficulty (Scale of 1-10): 3
Like most of my recipes, this one is very easy. The hardest thing was frying bacon, and that's not difficult. By the way, I would make this with at least three strips of bacon (not one). D*mn, those calories I just saved you are back in the picture.

How it turned out: Good
I enjoyed this recipe, although I must admit...when it comes to potato salad, I am more of a traditionalist. Translation...I need some mustard! Everyone seemed to enjoy it. What's not to like about potatoes, bacon, cheese and sour cream?

Would I make again: Yes
It wouldn't be tops on my potato salad list, but given the constraints in my household, I will definitely make it again. Doesn't hurt that it makes for a pretty good presentation (at least by potato salad standards).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Back to Basics

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Each week, Fridays are dedicated to the beginner cook. It doesn't get more basic than this. But it also doesn't get much better...

1. Take two pieces of fresh sourdough. Butter the outside of each piece.

2. Sprinkle some garlic salt and a little pepper over the butter. Press the seasoning into the bread with your fingers.

3. Add a thick slice of Gruyere cheese.

4. Sandwich press is preferred, but if you don't have one...grill each side on a pan over medium heat.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Happy Hour


1 part Licor 43
2 parts milk
2 parts orange juice

Pour ingredients into a shaker with ice. Drain and drink.

My take: I found this simple recipe in one of those little books attached to the bottle of Licor 43. It really does taste like a Dreamsicle. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Unique Randomness

My random thoughts...brought to you once a week.

  • Religion Alert!!! I know I promised no politics or religion, but I’m breaking the rules. What religious cult decided that it was a good idea to storm people as they pump their gas? You know what I like to do when I pump gas? It’s pump gas. Get back in your leader’s Corolla and drive the h*ll away from me.
  • Weekly Testicular Update. Tired of reading about my damaged sac? Too bad. It hurts, and the world needs to know. Actually, pretty decent week for the boys. I suffered a slight, errant graze from Syd’s foot. I was fortunate…sometimes the graze hurts even more. Must be building up a resistance.
  • Nat (the 5-yr-old) has a small scratch on her chin. She told us yesterday that she “probably just needs to put some Proactive on it”. D*mn Teen Nick!
  • The Astros are in shambles. Lance Berkman is either hurt or finished. Judging by the bat speed, I’m guessing finished. Manzella, Hernandez and Feliz are not major league players.
  • How does Ashton Kutcher continue to get work? Have you seen the previews to his latest movie?
  • Speaking of movies…I went to see Iron Man 2. Thought it was entertaining. Robert Downey is the anti-Kutcher.
  • Four years later and still one of my favorite pictures. Those darn invisible cows.