Eat it.

All things food

Starting our urban (and hopefully organic) garden

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. I’m a firm believer in creating goals as soon as you find the need or desire to do so rather than waiting for the dawn of a new year to tell yourself you need to do something you should’ve done long ago. Last weekend, my husband and I finally planted our first greens in our urban garden, and even though it just happen to happen on New year’s weekend, it had been something I’d wanted to do for years. The original plan for a garden was delayed after I realized I would eventually put my old home on the market and move. Then when we settled into our current house a little over a year ago, there were just other things that took priority, e.g. furnishing the place. We purchased a cedar raised garden bed kit from Costco several months ago, and it wasn’t assembled until more recently after I’d declared a new household rule that for every time John played a round of golf, he’d have to accomplish some task around the house. (And tasks I considered maintenance (e.g. mowing the lawn) didn’t count–they had to be “new” tasks.) Even after assembly, it took some time for us to get around to doing the research for optimal urban organic gardening. John’s boss, who is an organic gardener himself, recommended us this book entitled How to Grow More Vegetables…. Can you say there is a lot to learn for gardening? I think John cracked open the book a few times and then gave up. We drove straight to Lowe’s and bought Black Kow manure which was then stored in our garage for quite some time. You can imagine how nicely our garage smelled for those several months of cow poop storage. Finally, on the day after New Year’s Day, we ventured over to Buchanan’s Native Plants, a nearby nursery specializing in Texas plants. The employees were incredibly patient and helpful, holding our hands through the entire timid process of popping our garden cherry. We ended up walking away with cilantro, oregano, Sicilian (or flat-leaf) parsley, rosemary, thyme, and broccoli for our vegetable garden. For the shaded area next to our front door, we bought a dormant hydrangea and several aureas which John planted in the half barrel whisky cask we’d also bought from Lowe’s last year. Hopefully the hydrangea will bloom nice and big once spring and summer come.

In February, we plan to return to Buchanan’s for some tomato plants and basil which fare better in slightly warmer weather. I don’t even know if the plants we’d already purchased will survive the rest of winter; we don’t have a clue as to what we’re doing so don’t take this post as advice of any kind–it’s more of an update in our culinary lives. Yes, with our new urban garden, John and I hope to cut the spending at grocery stores all the while learning to appreciate the care that goes into growing our own food and enjoying the delicious and healthier alternative of self-sustainability. I know it’s silly but I’ve been going outside almost every day and sticking my nose into the herbs and inhaling the magical scents. (Hey, how else can a blind person monitor the growth process of her plants?) More updates on our gardening experiences to come. In the meantime, here’s a picture of our humble garden. Also, feel free to leave some gardening tips for us in the comments section. We can use all the help we can get. Remember, this is a couple who’s killed a cactus and just about every plant they’ve ever come across.



Garden

Starting off small

Food that will touch your heart

Fung’s Kitchen
7320 Southwest Fwy. #115
Houston, TX 77074
713-779-2288


4.5/5 steamed xiu mai


Fung's xiu mai

Xiu mai - one of my favorites

Happy New Year! Dim sum used to be a New Year’s tradition in my family; every January 1st, we’d gather at a dim sum restaurant mid-morning for this delicious Chinese brunch. Like the Spanish’s tapas and the French’s hors d’oeuvres, dim sum is the Chinese’s variety of small dishes conducive to socializing.

Dim sum, which translates to “to touch the heart,” stems from the tradition of drinking tea while conversing with friends. Travelers on the Silk Road in ancient China would need rest stops along the way, and so teahouses sprouted on the roadside. After a long morning of manual labor, farmers also needed a place to commune and relax. Teahouses began serving snacks as an accompaniment to the tea, and thus, dim sum was born.

Dim sum is mostly associated with the Cantonese people in southern China and Hong Kong who, over the years, had transformed the dining experience from a respited to a joyful, bustling one. Today, dim sum is typically eaten for brunch, enjoyed by the elderly after morning exercises or on Sundays for family get-togethers. In some of these overseas restaurants, dim sum can be served from as early as six in the morning and continue until three o’clock when the typical Western afternoon coffee break takes place. Many dim sum restaurants in the States still follow this tradition, some not even serving dim sum unless it’s Sunday morning.

Fung's fried taro puff

Fried taro puff - my other favorite

Dim sum in the U.S.is an experience in itself. The restaurants have open floor plans as large as ballrooms, and all tables are made for ten; even if you’re a party of three, you may get seated at a table for ten. Food isn’t ordered off the menu; carts piled high with steaming hot dishes are pushed around the restaurant, and you point to what you want and it’s given to you straight away–now that’s literally “a la carte.” The wait staff marks the dishes you order by stamping a paper that remains on your table until you’re done and it’s time to calculate the bill. In smaller or less traditional restaurants, you’re given a sheet of paper, and you mark off which dishes you want before handing it to the wait staff. Dishes come in small quantities (which I love) so you can try a little of everything. There are steamed buns filled with Chinese barbecue pork, all sorts of dumplings and fried pastries, cold jellyfish salads, congee (or rice porridge), braised chicken feet, egg tarts, and so on. Dim sum experts claim you should start with the steamed dishes, then move on to the exotic, then fried, then finish everything off with the sweets. And hot tea is always the beverage of choice–it aids in the digestion of the greasy foods. My friend, Joy, and even John when we had first met both did not like dim sum, saying that every dish tastes the same and not that great. I said they were going to the wrong places and eating the wrong dishes. Personally, these are my dim sum staples that I have to get at every dim sum meal:

  • Xiu mai – steamed dumplings filled with either pork or shrimp wrapped in a wheat flour skin and topped with crab, roe, and/or mushrooms
  • Har gau – steamed shrimp dumplings wrapped in wheat starch skin
  • Cheung fun – steamed large flat rice noodles rolled around shrimp or meat and served with sweet soy sauce
  • Nor mei gai – a lotus leaf filled with sticky rice and other savory ingredients such as hard-boiled egg, Chinese sausage, chicken, and/or pork
  • Gai lan – steamed Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce
  • Pork spareribs steamed with black beans and jalapenos
  • Fried taro puff

Fung’s Kitchen, along with Golden Palace and Dim Sum King (which serves dim sum every day, all day), are my favorite places to eat dim sum in Houston. These are the top three–I think I’ve only had better dim sum in Vancouver. I know this entire article was about dim sum and not about Fung’s itself, but I really can’t pinpoint what it is exactly that I like so much about Fung’s aside from the fact that their food is just damn good. Try it and see for yourself. Now after typing this post, my mouth is watering for a little food that would touch my heart. Maybe I’ll have to revive the old family tradition and plan a dim sum outing today. Happy eating! Here’s to many more in 2011…

What do Vera Wang and White Castle have in common?

Vera & Martha

Smell my candle.

No, it’s not a wedding gown made out of those little delicious sliders which have a cult following and are even featured in a movie. If you said a bride wore one of Vera’s gowns to a wedding at White Castle, your guess gets closer, but still no cigar. (Somehow I doubt a bride who gets married in a fast food joint would be wearing Vera Wang for fear of smearing that grease all over the tulle.

It turns out the renowned designer herself was at a White Castle in NYC’s Herald Square Tuesday night. She, along with Martha Stewart, were there to promote a new slider-‘n-onion scented candle made by Nest Fragrances. The candle will be sold at White Castles everywhere for $13 (equivalent to 14 sliders), and proceeds benefit Autism Speaks which promotes awareness for, obviously, autism.

Supposedly the candle smells more like sweet onions than greasy burger, but what a novel gag gift idea nonetheless. It’s funny that I read about this story today because I was just craving White Castle cheeseburgers lately and had just added them to my grocery list before stumbling across this story. Living in Texas for most of my life, I was not fortunate enough to taste a “fresh” White Castle slider, but the blue and white packages could frequently be found in my freezer throughout my childhood. I love how they’re a savory, satisfying snack and so easy to prepare–just wrap in a napkin and microwave for 60 seconds. I personally prefer frozen White Castles to fresh Krystal ones. (I’m much more a fan of grilled onions than mustard in my sliders which, if I remember correctly, is what Krystal’s adds to their sliders.)

Perhaps even more fascinating than the concept of a slider is the history of White Castle. It began in 1921–19 years before the first McDonald’s even opened– in Wichita when a dude named Walter Anderson partnered up with a cook named Edgar Waldo “Billy” Ingram to push hamburger eating on America. The country was weary of ground beef at the time due to Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, which exposed the unglamorous meatpacking industry. Anderson and Ingram tried to change America’s views by invoking a sense of cleanliness with their burger joints, using white porcelain enamel on stainless steel along with spotless employees’ uniforms to conjure a sanitary image. Anderson is credited for inventing the hamburger bun and the kitchen assembly line, a method similar to Henry Ford’s car manufacturing process, which guaranteed customers everywhere the same product every time. Almost a century later, and White Castle still exists. Amazing. I can’t wait to get my hands on some sliders ASAP.

How to start a recipe exchange

This email recently showed up in my inbox. Being the Blind Cook (thus always on the lookout for new recipes), I jumped on board. You can too. Just read below, and starting your own recipe exchange will be self-explanatory. If you’re the first person, just put your name in the #1 spot and instruct the recipients to add their name as #2. It’s easy, quick, and you could get an inbox full of recipes in the next few days.

Hello

You have been invited to be part of a recipe exchange. I hope you will participate. I’ve picked friends and family to make this fun.

Please send a recipe to the person whose name is in position #1, even if you don’t know them. The recipe should be something quick, easy, and without rare ingredients. The best kind is one you already have memorized in your head and can type right now. Don’t agonize over it; it’s one you make when you’re short of time.

After you’ve sent the recipe to the person in position #1 below (and only to that person), copy this letter into a new email. Move my name to position #1 and put your name and email in position #2. Only my and your names should show below when you send your email. Send to 20 friends/family members. If you cannot do this within 5 days, please let me know so it will be fair to those participating. It will be fun to see where they come from. Seldom does anyone drop out because we all need new ideas. The turnaround is fast since there are only 2 names on the list, and you only do this once.

  1. [someone’s name & email]
  2. [your name & email]

Turn on your man with…pumpkin pie?

Our friend Daniel loves pumpkin. Anything with pumpkin, he’ll not only eat it, he’ll ingest it with the utmost joy: pumpkin pie, pumpkin lattes, pumpkin eggnog, and so on. I imagine he’d eat pumpkin puree straight out of the can if given the opportunity.

Earlier this week, Daniel sent me this story which outlines a study that showed the popular Thanksgiving dessert ingredient to be an aphrodisiac for men. Say what??

According to Dr. Alan Hirsch, the Director of Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Center, a study using 40 aromas showed that pumpkin pie topped ladies’ fragrances. In fact, the number one aroma that aroused men was a combination of lavender and pumpkin pie. And by itself, pumpkin pie was the single strongest stimulant. In an attempt to explain it scientifically, perhaps the odor of pumpkin pie decreases anxiety, and less anxiety means lower inhibitions. Some alternative medicine experts even recommend pumpkin seeds for erectile dysfunction.

I always knew that vanilla was supposedly a “turn-on” aroma for men. (I read this in a magazine years ago.) But pumpkin? Interesting…You’ll have to test this out to see if it’s true. I guess it’s true what they say: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach (or nose?).

Best fried chicken ever?

Babe’s Chicken Dinner House
1456 Belt Line Rd. #171
Garland, TX 75044
972-496-1041


5/5 drumsticks

Note: Sorry, no photos for Babe’s; the restaurant was just too dark.

We enjoyed trying out a new place in Dallas, but then I had to return to an old favorite. Every time I go to Dallas, I have to eat Babe’s. I first discovered the Southern cookin’ delight in 2005 thanks to Karen who took me to a fast food version of the diner. The last two times I ate Babe’s, however, it was at their actual restaurant which has the feel of a true Texas eatery with its heavily wooded interior and the quaint Southern drawls of the surrounding staff and patrons. I prefer this Belt Line location because ambience and atmosphere often add to the elemetn of experience.

But most importantly, the chicken is damn good. How it works when you dine in is you choose a meat (entree)–pot roast, chicken fried steak, chicken fingers, fried catfish, etc.–and then the sides come “free” with the meal. I highly recommend the fried chicken; even though I haven’t tried any of their other dishes, this is their signature entree. For $11.99, you get the entree (in our case, it was a basket full of fried chicken), crushed buttered corn, green beans, buttery mashed potatoes, and biscuits. The fried chicken is completely awesome. The skin is fried to a golden brown: crunchy and full of all the right flavors. It isn’t too salty, which is a problem a lot of tasty fried foods seem to possess. The corn and mashed potatoes were yummy (probably full of butter) but I found the green beans a little too “canned”-tasting.

John says this is the best fried chicken he’s ever had, and I may have to agree (although I’m sad to say I think my husband may have a more discerning palate than me). Better than Popeye’s, Frenchy’s, KFC‘s original recipe, and Catalan‘s gourmet fried chicken. Besides improving the green beans, the only thing I’d say would make the place even better is if they’d start serving sweet tea. I mean, sweet tea is a Southern thing, so why not?

Burgers in Dallas

Twisted Root Burger Co.
2615 Commerce St.
Dallas, TX 75226
214-741-7668


4/5 buttery buns


U.F.O. beer

I like 'em milky.

Note: There are more than one Twisted Root locations so click on the link above to find the most convenient one for you.

Within the past few months, John and I had taken a trip to Dallas and L.A., both for NMO conferences of some sort. While the forefront of the trip was for learning about the latest NMO issues, the rest of the time was spent in search of good food.

Before heading up north, I did a little research into the must-eats of Dallas. After talking to a classmate who grew up in the Big D and poking around online, I settled on two places: Twisted Root and a place to be named next time.

Apparently Twisted Root has been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on the Food Network (whose host John can’t stand). But in spite of my husband’s loathing of Guy Fieri with his backwards sunglasses and wrist sweatband, we decided to pay the burger joint a visit for dinner.

Burger

Love 'em buns.

I ordered their regular cheeseburger, John had their turkey burger, and we ordered a side of fried pickles. While waiting for our to-go order, I tried a U.F.O. unfiltered wheat beer which I really liked. (I even might dare to say it’s my current favorite beer. I found it at HEB recently and have yet to pop one open so I will have to do the taste test again soon.) Clientele are given pop icon identities while they wait for their orders. So instead of listening for just boring old “John” or “Blind Cook” to be called, we got to be Walker, Texas Ranger for a few minutes. (And who doesn’t want to be Chuck Norris if only for ten minutes?)

The fried pickles turned out way too salty even with the ranch dip. And since I lost my fried pickle virginity to Pluckers back in college, my heart belongs to the Austin joint’s spear-cut pickles which I find superior to the chip-style cut. Cutting them into spears allows for a better crunch; cutting them into chips allows for saltier, greasier batter. And while I know many would argue the latter’s merits, I’m just biased, okay?

The burgers, though, were definitely good. My personal opinion is that the meat and the bun are what make the burger. The meat has to taste like juicy, flavorful beef. It’s gotta have a little bit of that bloody taste to it. It may sound gross, but the truth is if the patty tastes more like cardboard than cow, then it’s an inferior product. The bun is also important. It should be a little buttery, a little toasty. Not soggy, but not cut-the-roof-of-your-mouth crunchy either.

Fried pickles

Taste that juice.

John really liked his turkey burger. I liked my regular beef cheeseburger, too, but I felt my meat was slightly overcooked, resulting in a texture a tad tougher than I prefer. I know, I know. This is coming from the girl who used to order her burgers rare. (In my defense, this was before I learned about mad cow and other health risks concerning ground meats.) But I can’t fight my taste buds, and they like the carnal taste of a little animal blood, not to mention the chewy bits of cartilage. But I still give Twisted Root a 4 out of 5 because their buns were pretty awesome.

Overall, I would definitely go there again. I have yet to taste the perfect burger. In Houston, many claim it’s Beck’s Prime. Others say Pappas. Still others say Christian’s Tailgate or Petrol Station or the classic Fuddruckers. Like the perfect taco, I will eternally be on the hunt for a perfect burger. Who makes your perfect burger?

What do I do with all this pumpkin?

My laziness got the better of me, and the other night, we did not carve a single pumpkin. We did not get a single trick-or-treater. We did not watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I was able to convince a friend to take home one of the pumpkins, but I still have a huge pumpkin sitting in my foyer that I don’t know what to do with. At first, I figured I could puree it and use it to make a pumpkin cheesecake (recipe forthcoming) for Thanksgiving, or give it to John to use in the bread maker and bake a pumpkin gingerbread loaf, or even use it to make pumpkin ice cream. But alas, while doing some research online to figure out how to turn fresh pumpkin into the canned variety (which so many of these recipes call for), to my dismay, I discovered that a carving pumpkin used for jack-o’-lanterns (also called a field pumpkin) is not the same thing as a sugar pumpkin, which is darker and squatter and whose sweeter flesh is more suitable for baking. Ugh. Now I’m stuck and clueless with this field pumpkin. Besides roasting the seeds, does anyone have any idea what I can do with this thing? John suggested leaving it in a corner of our yard and taking a photo of it every day for a year and posting in on a site we’d start called shrinkingpumpkin.com, but I know laziness will overtake us once again, and the photo-taking will soon cease, and we’ll just have a rotten, ugly gourd in our yard. So any other suggestions, anyone?

HRW take 4: The final cut

Pappas Bros. Steakhouse
5839 Westheimer Rd.
Houston, TX 77057
713-780-7352


4/5 raspberry sorbets

Note: Sorry, no photos for this post; the restaurant was just too dark for any of that business.

The final cut as in the filet mignon cut. Okay, bad joke, I know.

During our August Supper Club experience, we decided to hit up Pappas Bros. for steaks as part of Houston Restaurant Week. This was my second time eating here. I’ve found that steakhouses are usually the best bet when it comes to HRW so I was looking forward to the dinner.

We were seated promptly at our reservation time and served a baguette and butter. John and I could not get enough of their French bread and butter–you could say we were still on a Paris kick–it was so simple yet fresh-tasting, soft, and so complementary of one another. Throughout our entire dinner, we must’ve gone through three or four servings of bread, and the waiter, upon noting John’s enthusiasm, offered to pack us a hot one to go. Nice.

For the first course, I tried something off the menu which was a beer-based cheese soup infused with bacon and jalapeno. It tasted very “American,” almost like a baked potato or jalapeno popper in liquid form. The concept may sound gross, but was served in a small portion (plus I shared it with another dinner guest) so it wasn’t overwhelming at all.

For our second courses, I had the filet mignon cooked medium rare topped with a smoked mushroom ragout and jumbo grilled shrimp, John had the live Maine lobster with butter garlic sauce, and our friend Christian ordered the dry aged prime New York strip. All entrees came with a side of mashed potatoes and haricots verts (which are the fancy French version of green beans–they’re typically longer and skinnier than their American counterpart). Per a friend’s suggestion who ate there a previous night, we ordered the crab mac ‘n cheese (off the menu), and while it was palatable, I wouldn’t say it was anything great. (Stay tuned for an even better mac ‘n cheese recipe right here on this site.) And to make it worse, I felt sick eating it the next day, and it cost us like $20 for a side dish! Other than that, all of our main dishes were wonderful as expected.

For dessert, we tried the New York cheesecake (so-so, but I’m not the huge cheesecake fan I used to be) and the raspberry sorbet. The sorbet was served in a chocolate shell cup and fulfilled a much needed craving for something lighter and refreshing after such a heavy meal. Definitely a good pick.

I must say we ended HRW on a high note. Until next year…

In the meantime, what’s your favorite Houston steakhouse? Or where did you eat your best steak? I know of two friends who claim Pappas Bros. has the best steaks. They’re good but I think Del Frisco’s is also up there, and I have yet to try Fleming’s or Morton’s or Mo’s. Any opinions?

Eat a donut, ride a bike, make a wish come true

This week, John and I signed up to participate in the upcoming 2010 Tour de Donut on November 7 at 8:00 AM in Katy. The Tour de Donut is a charity bike ride supporting the Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation the largest wish-granting organization that brings joy to children with life-threatening medical conditions. The Foundation first started in 1980 when seven-year-old Christopher Greicius who was undergoing treatment for leukemia wished every day that he would grow up to be a police officer. One thing grew into another, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation was born, becoming big enough to warrant pop culture references (e.g. in “The Wink” episode of “Seinfeld”). In all seriousness, though, the Foundation does some great work, and with a cousin’s one-year-old daughter who died last year from neuroblastoma, I’m all for this line of charity.

The Tour de Donut’s concept is to bike one of two routes (28 vs. 55 miles) in the fastest time possible. A-ha, but here’s the trick. The more donuts you eat, the more minutes get shaved off your cycle time. The irony is blatant, but it’s all in good fun. This will be John’s third year doing the ride, and he said he’s even seen someone make a necklace out of the donuts to munch on while biking. Hardcore. But the grand prize this year, so I hear, are two ski lift tickets to a resort in Colorado. (Can anyone verify this?) So I’d say the snowy fun to be had may be worth the fashion sacrifice of a donut necklace.

This also marks our first supported ride on our tandem bicycle, not to mention my first supported ride ever. Hopefully our KHS holds up. We need a name for our tandem. Any suggestions?

I’ll blog about the Tour experience afterward, but in the meantime, why don’t you down some donuts, ride some bikes, and make some wishes come true? Click here to learn more about the Tour de Donut and register. I’ll see you there with a mouthful of glazed goodness a la Homer Simpson.

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