bruschetta

Bruschetta

Voila! Classico antipasto italiano.

A classic antipasto italiano–Italian Appetizer–is bruschetta, pronounced with a short “u” as in “brush” and a hard “ch” sound like a “k” as in “basket”. Many Americans incorrectly use a long “u” and a soft “shh” sound, and while this is acceptable in most English speaking countries, I like to use the authentic Italian version, complete with rolling R’s and gusto.

Now that we’ve got the pronunciation stuff out of the way, let’s move on to the dish itself. I recently hosted another birthday dinner for friends Joy, Joanna, Heari, and Teresa. Their birthdays stretched way back from February and into the future to May; everyone’s lives had just been too busy for us to coordinate dates. But finally, during a recent Saturday evening, we found ourselves seated around my farmhouse table sharing a meal together.

I decided to go with A Night in Tuscany as the theme since they all enjoy those ever-so-reputedly-bad-for-you carbs. For the first course of the four-course meal, I made this classic bruschetta dish. It turned out yummy; the red onion added a sweet yet pungent kick to each bite. I used Genovese basil fresh from our garden and a saltier, French butter on the baguette slices before baking. The creamy richness of the butter (which my dad bought for us from a Vietnamese grocery store) added an extra oomph to the bruschetta. Perfection in every bite. If the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

Recipe: Bruschetta

Summary: Original recipe courtesy of my friend Karen

Ingredients

  • 4 roma tomatoes, diced & strained
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • minced garlic (optional)
  • extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • balsamic vinegar to taste
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 baguette, sliced into 3/4″ slices
  • melted butter
  • 1/8 c. grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a med. bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, and basil. Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Toss well and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, spread butter on each baguette slice. Bake at approx. 350 degrees for 3 to 5 min. or until butter is melted and bread is lightly toasted.
  3. Top with tomato onion mixture. Add parmesan cheese on top if desired.

Variations

You can add minced fresh garlic to the tomato and onion mixture if desired. Italian food is known for the garlic, after all.

Cooking time (duration): 20

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: hors d’oerves

Culinary tradition: Italian

Microformatting by hRecipe.

yee haw! trader joe’s coming to texas!

Trader Joe's

If you’ve ever been out west, you’ve likely come across Trader Joe’s, a decades-old organic grocery store offering higher quality foods at lower costs than, say, Whole Foods or Central Market. While I love Whole Foods and Central Market, their prices just sometimes leave me flinching. With some new competition on the block, consumers will have wider options, and I’m super stoked to have one open in our city. According to Houston Press‘s food blog, the market will open its first Texas store in Dallas by the end of 2011 and is currently scouting sites for their Austin and Houston counterparts. For years, I have been lamenting our lack of a Trader Joe’s, so you can imagine how excited I was when this news broke some weeks ago. Now my only perturbed question is: why does Dallas get everything first? (Ahem, H&M?)

my favorite cakes in houston

Wedding cake

From Leduc Gourmet Bakery

Since today is my birthday, I decided to do a post on where to find some of the best cakes in Houston. So here is the short list in no particular order:

  • Leduc Gourmet Baker located on Bellaire Blvd. between Kirkwood and Boone just west of the Hong Kong shopping center has some of the best Vietnamese-French cakes in the business and for a reasonable price, too. Since the French colonized Indochina some centuries ago, the fine French way of cooking has definitely left its imprint on Vietnamese cuisine, and this does not exclude the pastries and cakes which Leduc does a fine job of producing. Their most popular cake (and one of my favorites is a coffee cake with mocha icing topped with fresh strawberries and lined with almond slivers. I grew up with my mother buying a similar cake from another nearby bakery, and it always sends me on a nostalgic run every time I eat the stuff. John and I also ordered our wedding cake from Leduc; at $2.25 per slice, it was one of the better deals we could find for such a delicious cake. We got two flavors: (1) coffee cake layered with chocolate truffle and mocha butter cream (for the chocolate lovers), and (2) amaretto cake with raspberry jam filling (for the fruit lovers).
  • Whole Foods, the Austin-based grocery store specializing in organic products, makes a berry chantilly cake that is also super-delish. There are fresh berries on top with cream cheese icing, and the cake is ever moist. The best part is it’s made from all organic ingredients so you know you aren’t getting overly processed stuff in your system. My friend, Joanna, ordered the berry chantilly sheet cakes for her wedding, and I’ve never heard anyone not like the cake. Thanks, Jeanette, for first feeding me this cake for my birthday many years ago.
  • Take the Cake is a bakery that I haven’t had as much experience with but I’ve heard great things about it. I’ve had one cake from there that my cousin brought for Christmas lunch last year, and I do remember it was yummy. I’ve heard many like their Hummingbird cake (a springtime dessert with banana, pineapple, and pecan cream cheese icing–I know it sounds weird), so I might order it for my mama-in-law for our Mother’s Day/my birthday dinner this weekend.

Where do you get your favorite cake?

blind culinary student gets noticed by charlie trotter

This isn’t the newest of news but I recently came across the article for the second time and realized I hadn’t blogged about it the first time because, evidently, my blog hadn’t existed back then. Of course, that just wouldn’t do considering the fact that she is like the cornerstone for the entire reason my blog even exists!

Laura Martinez, a culinary student at Chicago’s Le Cordon Bleu, expressed concern with landing a proper job in a reputable kitchen after graduation because of her visual impairment. Last year, CBS featured her story on the Chicago evening news and arranged for her to meet Charlie Trotter whose same-named restaurant is one of Chicago’s top haute cuisines. The real kicker was when Trotter invited Martinez to work the kitchen in his flagship restaurant. But will she succeed in a kitchen full of sighted cooks? I don’t know but would be interested if anyone had the follow-up story.

  • Read more about and see videos of Laura Martinez, the blind culinary student, meeting Chicago’s Charlie Trotter.
  • first ever haute wheels food truck festival in houston

    WHEN: Saturday, May 14 from noon to 7 PM and Sunday, May 15 from noon to 5 PM

    WHERE: HCC southwest campus (5601 West Loop South)


    With Houston often racing neck-to-neck with Philadelphia to be America’s fattest city, and with a plethora of diverse (and actually really delicious) cuisine, it is only fitting that Houston host a food truck festival. Food trucks have been all the rage of recent years, beginning with perhaps the stinkin’ Kogi truck of southern Cali (which I stood four hours in line for–don’t even ask) and culminating with Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race”. What is our obsession with food trucks? I can only speak for my own personal penchant for them, and it stems from a love for travel and, if you look even deeper, a love for adventure.

    I was bitten by the traveling bug as soon as I had a little money to do it. It began with my first trip to NYC my senior year of college during spring break. It was the first non-family trip I took that involved getting on a plane (and not just loading up in a car and driving down to South Padre). It was then that I realized there were so many other things in this world that I had no clue about, and I suddenly wanted to be cultured. If NYC blew me away, what would Brazil, Ireland, Turkey, Japan do to me?

    Of course, I’d always loved food as well. And when I got older, accumulated more dollar bills in my pockets, I started venturing to more places, finally able to afford the finer things in dining life. And when I began to lose my vision, my appreciation for the sense of taste grew exponentially. Traveling has obviously become more of a burden now that I cannot see, and I often couldn’t care less about sightseeing, but trying indigenous foods of other cultures? I’m on that like white on rice.

    And how else does one experience true foods of a country than by eating at street vendors? That’s where you spend the least money for the most authentic (and often, tastiest) delicacies. And thus is born my/our love for food trucks. It gives us a sense of adventure, like we are in the middle of Copenhagen instead of just plain old Houston. (Or, rather, Mumbai since that’s probably closer in climate.)

    So the point of this whole long-winded post was to inform you that Houston will host the first food truck festival on a HCC campus in mid-May. Tickets ($16 for adults and includes $5 of concession vouchers) are limited, so get yours now. You can bet I’ll be blogging about it after the fact. Bon appetit!

    brunch on easter (or any other time of year)

    Backstreet Cafe
    1103 S. Shepherd Dr.
    Houston, TX 77019
    713-521-2239


    4.5/5 mimosas


    Backstreet Benedict

    Backstreet's version of Eggs Benedict

    Who doesn’t love brunch? What’s not to like about eggs and such savory delicacies melting in your mouth at the perfect time of day when it’s not too early that you’re rejuvenated and not too late that you still have a whole fresh day ahead of you? My friend, Teresa, loves brunch, and she told us about the yummy spread offered every weekend (11 AM to 3 PM on Saturdays and 10 AM to 3 PM on Sundays). I keep hearing from other friends that the brunch at Hugo’s is also phenomenal and being that Backstreet Cafe is their sister restaurant, I had to try the brunch for myself. But first, a little descriptive story behind the restaurant…

    Backstreet Cafe first opened its doors in 1983 as a burger joint but has since become a fancy diner serving fine foods in an intimate atmosphere. When I say intimate, I don’t necessarily mean quiet and dark–our brunch experience was far from that with the noisy bustling of the staff through the enclosed patio’s French doors–but I mean it’s cozy. My husband describes it as a sort of French country, beachside cafe. Just the kind of place I’d love to dine in; if only I could see! The restaurant is nestled inside a 30-year-old house in the River Oaks district and while I’ve only been here for brunch, I’d definitely want to return to try their other menus.

    Crepes

    The special that day: ham & gruyere crepes...ooh la la!

    Of course, now on to the important part: the FOOD. John ordered the Backstreet Benedict ($14), their rendition of the classic eggs Benedict: two poached eggs atop cheddar chive biscuits under a slather of jalapeno hollandaise sauce with Canadian bacon and grits. Teresa and I had the special which were ham and gruyere crepes. We thought it was really good although Houston Press bloggers called it secondary to the lobster sandwich. (I’ll have to try that next time–perhaps a gourmet lobster roll?)

    Service was prompt and courteous, and we had a good time with our small group. I’m sure Easter will be crazy so maybe make reservations today.

    I’m literate (for real this time)

    The last time I blogged about my Braille learning experience, I had just attended a little graduation ceremony which denoted that I finished grade one of Braille otherwise known as uncontracted Braille. Shortly thereafter, I was on my way to learning contracted Braille (grade two), and boy, is there a lot to learn (read: memorize) in contracted Braille! I finished the second book in my Braille program and borrowed a novel from the National Library Service in order to practice reading but I kept coming across symbols that I didn’t recognize. I called my Braille teacher, and it turned out there is a third book to the Braille series, and that he would have to special-order it for me. Apparently, there wasn’t a single copy in the office because nobody had gotten as far as the third book yet in this fairly new Braille method. I had to laugh: to think I am an overachieving nerd in all academic aspects of life.

    In contracted Braille, every letter not only stands for a word when written by itself, but there are also all other sorts of symbols that stand for groups of letters, e.g. “-ment,” “-sion,” “-tion,” “there,” “where,” and so on. It’s easily self-teachable since each subsequent lesson builds upon the previous lessons, but there are just so many darn things to memorize!

    I just got to the end of all my lessons recently, and it felt really good. It seems like all I want to do lately is read Braille. I guess I really do love reading. I missed it, and I didn’t even know it until I started doing it again. Braille is something one has to practice daily or else lose it very quickly. Now I’m on to attempting The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler all in Braille. The novel comes in three four-inch binders. Wish me luck.

    the looktel money reader app for phones helps the blind sort their cash

    Did I ever tell you I love my iPhone? I got the iPhone 3GS in December 2009 after John discovered that it is the most accessible phone for blind users. With Apple’s incredible VoiceOver feature that reads aloud practically everything on the iPhone (and other Apple products such as the Mac computers and iPads), I can virtually do everything a sighted person can do on their iPhone. For example, I can now send text messages, have text messages read aloud to me, check and reply to emails, find a certain podcast in my iPod app, check the weather, etc., because the VoiceOver function will orate everything to me.

    In a recent post, I complained about the U.S. currency bringing an unfair disadvantage to the blind; the identical size of every denomination made it impossible for the vision-impaired to discern between different bills. Why, I said, could the U.S. not follow other countries’ examples and issue ddifferent sized bills?

    Well, it seems that LookTel, a company that promotes independent living for the blind with their mobile object recognition and remote assistance solutions, has come up with a phone app that will solve the dilemma for blind users. Introducing the LookTel Money Reader. Featuring LookTel’s patented and proprietary object recognition technology, currency can be instantly recognized in real time using the mobile phone’s camera. The real time function aids in getting information at our fingertips quickly without having to capture the bill’s image by taking a photo and waiting to get data returned. Just by holding the currency and hovering the phone camera a few inches away from the currency’s surface with the Money Reader app open (and thus activated), a calm woman’s voice will, within seconds, tell you which denomination you’ve got in your hands. The app doesn’t require an internet connection so you can read your currency anywhere, any time, as long as you’ve got some cash and the app.

    My friend, Jade, originally told me about this product but at the time, it was not yet available on iPhones. Then a few weeks ago, John told me it was on the iPhone, and you can bet I was on that like white on rice. I downloaded the app on my iPhone for $1.99 and tested it out. Indeed it is pretty savvy and could recognize $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills in a matter of seconds. (Yes, I actually had a $2 bill in my possession from a Lunar New Year many years ago.) Now I no longer have to ask John which bill is which before folding it up into my wallet in different shapes. LookTel is in the midst of coming out with several apps for the visually impaired. Keep a look-out for future posts on their products. Thanks, LookTel, for making my life just a little bit simpler!

    50% off at feast

    For John’s birthday last year, I treated him to a dinner at Feast. By word of mouth, I’d heard that Feast features an exotic menu with locally raised and grown meats and veggies. The point is for the diner to be able to track exactly where it is the food on their plate came from. It was an enjoyable meal and not too pricey–you can even stop in for a cheaper lunch menu. We’ve been meaning to go back, and now’s a better time than any with today’s Living Social deal: for $20, you get $40 worth of food and non-alcoholic beverages at Feast. Located on Westheimer between Taft and Bagby, it is an unassuming little eatery offering great dishes. On Saturday nights, they even cook in the kitchen at Grand Prize Bar a few blocks over on Banks. Treat yourself to some good food, but hurry, the deal ends at the end of the weekend.

    cajun crawfish boil

    Since we are in the throes of crawfish season (which lasts from January to June), I decided to do this post. Crawfish (or crayfish or crawdaddy, as they’re known in other parts of the country) are little shellfish that resemble tiny lobsters. Here in the dirty South, we call them crawfish. They are little “mudbugs” that live in the swamps, and yes, while this sounds disgusting, they are actually delicious when cooked Cajun-style.

    First, let’s define Cajun cuisine. Often, it’s confused with Creole cuisine, but there is, in fact, a difference per se. The Creoles were wealthy planters who settled in southern Louisiana with their European chefs, thus it is a food of aristocracy. Using Old World techniques on indigenous ingredients, Creole cuisine was born. Bouillabaisse, native to Provence, gave way to gumbo; the Spanish paella was the basis for jambalaya; and so on.

    The Cajuns, on the other hand, descended from the Acadian refugees. They were less aristocratic and more agrarian; they cooked simple “one pot” dishes for mere sustenance. Cajun food is usually characterized by such ingredients as wild game, seafoods, wild vegetables and herbs. Ingredients from nearby swamps, woods, and bayous are typical things found in the Cajun black iron pot.

    Today, many Creole and Cajun foods have blended into a melting pot, if you will, of southern Louisiana. One things’ for sure, though: it’s an American cuisine from the South like no other.

    A crawfish boil is an event native to Louisiana but over the years has spread to most of the deep South (like my native Houston), and now, it can even be found in California, Colorado, and D.C. But because I’m a Southern girl, I don’t trust eatin’ crawfish nowhere but down he’e. What’s unique and fun about a crawfish boil is the atmosphere. Not only are you grubbin’ on good food, but you do it outside on a picnic table covered with newspaper or butcher paper. You do it over beer. You do it with your bare hands. (Or if you’re prissy like me, with plastic or latex gloves.) Most importantly, you do it with good company–it is NOT to be eaten alone. The crawfish and all the fixin’s are poured straight from the pot onto the middle of the table, and everyone grabs from the steaming pile of awesome goodness.

    This recipe is based on one I got from a former coworker who has French roots from southern Louisiana. Whether she’s Creole or Cajun, I have yet to determine, but either way, this recipe is pretty tasty. She and her family do a crawfish boil every year for about a hundred friends and family. I, of course, scaled down the servings and tweaked it a little, but remember that you need to do this with a group. Also, it’s like a half day affair, so make sure you have lots of energy. I haven’t held a crawfish boil myself since 2008 because the purging, cooking, and especially the cleaning up have been too much for this tired soul. But when the best restaurants around town sell crawfish for $7+ per pound, a little DIY is something to consider.

    Crawfish

    Crazy Cajun crawfish

    Recipe: Cajun Crawfish Boil

    Summary: From the Melancons of southern Louisiana

    Ingredients

    • 30-40 lbs. live crawfish
    • 3 lemons, halved
    • 2.5 tbsp. cayenne pepper
    • 6 med. onions, halved
    • 9 unpeeled garlic heads
    • 1.5 tbsp. minced garlic
    • 2.5 tbsp. Louisiana brand hot sauce
    • 1/2 to 1 lg. pkg. Louisiana brand crab/seafood boil powder
    • 12 oz. cans pineapple slices
    • 10 med. red potatoes
    • 1 lg. pkg. button mushrooms
    • 2 lbs. sausage links
    • 30 sm. frozen corn on the cob
    • 1/2 canister of salt

    Instructions

    1. Crawfish must be purged before cooking to rid the shellfish of dirt and impurities: an hour before cooking, dump live crawfish into a lg. bin and rinse with water. Dump water and repeat. Refill bin with enough water to cover crawfish. Add half the salt canister and stir.
    2. Fill the pot’s basket with crawfish. Place the basket inside the pot and fill pot with water to cover crawfish. Remove basket and note the water level. Dump water and refill pot to the noted water level.
    3. Heat water to rolling boil. Add Louisiana powder, squeezed lemons plus their rinds, minced garlic, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, and pineapple slices plus juice.
    4. Dump crawfish into bin. Rinse 2 more times.
    5. Dump crawfish, potatoes, onion halves, and garlic heads into basket. Hose down.
    6. When water reaches rolling boil, carefully lower basket into pot. Bring back to rolling boil, and then time for 4 min.
    7. After 4 min., turn off fire. Add corn, sausages, and mushrooms. Let stand for at least 20 min. The longer it soaks, the spicier the batch.

    Quick Notes

    Cook the crawfish outdoors using the same pot, basket, and propane burner used for deep-fried turkey.

    Many people say the larger the better, but I like medium-sized crawfish best because: (1) they’re easier to peel, and (2) they soak up the spices better.

    Use andouille or boudin sausage for an authentic Cajun boil.

    Avoid eating the crawfish with straight tails: they went into the pot already dead and could contain harmful bacteria. Stick with the curled tails.

    Dipping sauces: I like to eat my crawfish straight up without any dipping sauces as I prefer to taste the essence of the spices. But many people enjoy it with various condiments. The ones I often see are: (1) salt and pepper with fresh lemon juice; (2) mayo mixed with Sriracha (or rooster) hot sauce; and (3) Creole seasoning mixed with fresh lemon juice.

    This recipe should serve approx. 10.

    Variations

    The longer the crawfish soak after turning off the fire, the spicier they will be. Soak for a minimum of 20 min.

    My favorite crawfish restaurant in Houston is The Boiling Crab. They seem to use a ton of minced garlic on their crawfish, which I may try to emulate next time by upping my minced garlic by ten or something. If you get to this before I do, let me know how it is.

    Meal type: dinner

    Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)

    Microformatting by hRecipe.

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