Eat it.

All things food

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

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

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.


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, 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

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.

HRW take 3

1025 S. Post Oak Ln.
Houston, TX 77056

4/5 melt-in-your-mouth chocolate fondants

We happened on this place by accident, meaning it was a last-minute decision to go. But lucky for us, it turned out to be the best HRW dinner we’d had so far. Things seem to be on the up and up. Here are the courses we tried:


Yummy calamari: the garlic & cilantro were key

First course:

  • Wild mushroom ravioli in a truffle sage broth
  • Garlic seared calamari in a soy reduction with oyster mushroom, shaved onion, and cilantro
Strip steak

So filling

Second course:

  • Pan seared New Zealand sea bass cooked in miso butter with leek couscous, oyster mushroom, and corn compote
  • Pan seared New York strip in red wine reduction with potato lyoannaise and pommes frites

Chocolate fondant

Got milk?

Pear creme brulee

A creme brulee in a pear peel!

Third course:

  • Warm double chocolate fondant with vanilla bean ice cream and and creme anglais
  • Butter roasted pear creme brulee and whole berry sauce

All of the dishes were excruciatingly delicious. The calamari was dressed in chunks of garlic and cilantro, the sea bass’s corn and couscous sides were flavorful, the creme brulee came in an actual cute pear bbowl, and the chocolate fondant was fudgy rich. Two questions for Masraff’s though:

  1. Why did the steak come with two sides of potatoes? This seemed a bit too starchy.
  2. What do all of those fancy words mean in your menu?

I can’t answer the first question, but I’ll attempt to answer the second. A compote is a traditionally a dessert of stewed or baked fruit. I assume the chef prepared the corn either in liquid or in the oven for a long period of time for it to be called a compote. The potatoes lyonnaise simply means potatoes cooked with onions. Pommes frites are a fancy way of saying French fries–and Masraff’s happens to serve them like shoestrings. And creme anglais is French for “English cream,” a light, pouring custard used as a dessert cream or sauce. Now there you have it: all these fancy culinary French-inspired terms to throw around in your kitchen next time you want to show off to your dinner party guests.

The self-proclaimed chef stopped by our table to ask how the food was, and I appreciate it when the busy man of the hour takes the time to visit with the guests. All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our Masraff’s experience. Next time, we’ll have to spend some time at the live piano bar and try the real menu.

Pasta 102: Cooking & eating

Welcome to the second installment of the course in Pasta. Perhaps even more intriguing than choosing and measuring pasta are cooking and eating it.

I know I like my pasta cooked al dente, but what exactly does this mean? Al dente means “to the tooth” in Italian and refers to the doneness of pasta, risotto, or vegetables. It suggests a firm resistance when bitten but not soft (overcooked) nor hard in the center (undercooked). So how do we cook this perfectly al dente pasta? Read on…

Cooking Pasta:

  1. Pasta should be cooked right before serving. Use enough water. This means one pound (16 ounces) of pasta requires about four to six quarts of water. This will wash away excess starch thereby preventing the pasta from sticking together and cooking unevenly.
  2. Begin with cold water, and bring to a rolling boil on the stove. Add salt only after it has started boiling. I use only kosher salt in my kitchen, and here’s why. Salt helps bring out the natural flavor of the pasta and won’t raise the sodium level of the dish. The reason you’ll want to add salt after it’s come to a boil is because: (1) unsalted water reaches boiling point faster, and (2) salt dissolves faster in hot water. Adding salt to cold water may cause it to crystallize onto the sides of your pot. Add about two tablespoons per pound of pasta. This may sound like a lot but it’s necessary for the flavor and most of it will wash off in the water. The water should taste like seawater.
  3. While What’s Cooking America (where I got all of this good information) doesn’t recommend adding any oil to the water because it prevents sauce from sticking later, I like to add just a little–maybe two teaspoons of olive oil–so the pasta is likely to stick together after draining. Another alternative is after draining, add pasta back to the pot and toss with some butter or olive oil.
  4. Don’t add the dry pasta until the water is at a rolling boil. Adding it beforehand will result in mushy pasta because the starch will begin to break down before it gets to finish cooking.
  5. Stir pasta frequently while it is cooking to prevent it from sticking together and to the pot. (Yes, it seems like a lot of pasta cooking involves preventing it from sticking.)
  6. Cooking time is a tricky thing. I find that my stove boils things rather quickly so I can’t rely on typical times suggested on the package or online. The best bet is after four minutes, begin checking the pasta by biting into it. (Throwing it against the wall to see if it sticks can also work for testing long thin pastas.) Watch the pasta closely because it can overcook very quickly. Remember that pasta also continues to cook a little bit even once it’s out of the water.
  7. For pasta that will be used in a casserole (e.g. baked ziti) or cooked again, you can cook it in 1/3 less of the allotted time. Boil until just flexible but still firm.
  8. Do not rinse the pasta after draining unless the recipe says to do so. The starch will help the sauce stick to the pasta. DO rinse wide pasta (e.g. lasagna) or else it will be difficult to separate them without tearing. Also, rinse pasta if using it for cold salads.
  9. As soon as it is drained, transfer the pasta back into its warm pot or a warm bowl. Toss it immediately with the sauce.

Eating Pasta:

  1. Don’t over-sauce the pasta. Italians say that Americans eat too much sauce with their pasta. There should only be enough to coat the pasta, not drown it. I.e. there should not be a puddle of sauce at the bottom of your bowl. (This is how I like my pasta–nice to know I have the taste buds of a true Italian.)
  2. Serve pasta in shallow bowls so that you can use the sides of the bowl as leverage to turn the tines of your fork when twirling pasta. It is not proper to use a spoon in addition to a fork, and it is definitely rude to slurp the pasta. Cut the pasta into smaller pieces with the edge of your fork if necessary.
  3. If you need to store the pasta, lightly toss it with some oil so it doesn’t stick.

And that concludes the Pasta class. Any questions?

Pasta 101: Choosing & measuring

Most of us started with pasta when we first learned to cook. Spaghetti with a jar of Ragu or whatnot. Just heat and serve. Or if we were feeling especially adventurous, we’d add some sauteed onions or mushrooms or ground beef. That was exactly me in my second year at college when I lived in my first apartment complete with its four-by-five foot kitchen.

More than a decade has passed, and while my pasta repertoire has stretched beyond spaghetti and jar sauce, I realized I still did not know exactly how to cook the perfect pasta al dente. This, of course, called for a blog post.

I found a plethora of pasta choosing, measuring, cooking, serving, and eating tips on What’s Cooking America. Because there is just so much to know, I’ve decided to split up the pasta tips into two posts. Here is lesson one, Pasta 101. Get ready to know everything you need to know about pasta.

Choosing Pasta:

  1. The best dried pastas are made of 100% semolina (“durum-wheat semolina” or “semolia”). Durum wheat retain their shape and firmness when cooked so they won’t be too mushy or sticky to toss with sauce. Of course, pastas not made of semolina can be used for casseroles as they won’t need tossing.
  2. Have you ever wondered the difference between noodles and pasta? Noodles are typically made of eggs which give it a more vibrant color.
  3. Also, have you ever figured why there are so many different shaped pasta? The shape is matched according to the type of sauce. Flat pastas are best with thin sauces while others with nooks and crannies are good for picking up chunkier sauces or catching soups.

Measuring Pasta:

  • Most dried pastas double in volume once cooked. A general rule is one pound of dried pasta will serve six as an appetizer or four as a main course.
    • 4 oz. dry long pasta (spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine, linguine> = 1 in. diameter bunchof uncooked pasta = 2 c. cooked pasta
    • 4 oz. dry short pasta (elbow macaroni, penne, shells, rotini, wheels, ziti) = 1 c. uncooked pasta = 2.5 c. cooked pasta

Stay tuned for the second half (and arguably the more important half) of Pasta class.

Salt 101: Why kosher?

I first encountered kosher salt some years ago when I bought my first Barefoot Contessa cookbook and noticed most of her recipes specifically called for kosher salt. At the store, I picked up a box of Morton kosher salt, and I never went back to regular table salt again.

Personally, the only reason I liked kosher salt better was because it’s not as salty as the iodized version I used to buy in cardboard canisters. But in writing this post, I dug around online and discovered why cooks like to use kosher salt in their kitchen.

We should begin by noting that the popularity of kosher salt is a recent phenomenon. Thanks to all the hype surrounding cooking shows on the Food Network nowadays, table salt has been cast aside into the dusty corners of our pantries. But don’t be so quick to disregard that table salt. You’ll see why in a moment.

Let’s begin at the beginning. All salt consists of sodium chloride and happens to be the only rock consumed by humans. All salt is also made by some process of evaporation. Here we’ll look at the three main types of salt found in American kitchens.

  • Table salt is made by driving water into an underground salt deposit or mine. This brine is then evaporated, leaving fine, cubic crystals that resemble granulated sugar. Table salt usually includes additives like iodine (to prevent thyroid disease) and/or calcium silicate (to prevent clumping). It has a sharper taste than kosher and sea salts, but because it dissolves quickly, it is the baker’s salt of choice. When baking, do not use any other salt or else it may not fully dissolve and thus leave your baked goods not so good.
  • Sea salt is harvested from evaporated seawater and essentially undergoes no processing, and so it retains much of the minerals from where it came. It is coarser than table salt, and because it’s expensive and loses flavor when dissolved, sea salt is best put into a mill and placed on the table as a condiment.
  • Kosher salt is made the same way as table salt except the brine is constantly raked during the evaporation process. The result is a flaky, coarser, purer tasting, less salty salt perfect for taking a pinch of and adding to savory foods while cooking. It contains no preservatives and comes from under the ground or sea. Kosher salt is not itself kosher; it takes its name from the fact that it’s used to make meats kosher. Its larger, flatter granules won’t dissolve right away, so it does a better job of extracting the blood by sitting longer on the meat.

And that’s why I prefer to cook with kosher salt. Of course, when a recipe calls for salt, it usually refers to table salt. You can substitute kosher salt by taking into account that kosher salt granules are larger than table salt granules and measuring about a two-to-one ratio in volume of kosher to table.

While the latest medical news say Americans consume too much salt (leading to high blood pressure), salt in moderation helps make eating even more enjoyable. It can take the edge off bitter and acidic foods and enhance the natural flavors of others. So there you have it: Salt 101. Any thoughts?

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