Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Yes, I'm a bad blogger. I hardly ever update. But since this is Thanksgiving I figured it was the best excuse ever to update the ol' food blog. :-)

What's on the menu at our house? Well my folks are in town so it's the perfect opportunity for The Lovely Spouse and I to show off.

* Irish Soda Bread with rosemary - recipe from an obscure vegetarian cookbook
* Candied Sweet Potatoes with a bourbon reduction (for those that remember the skunk bourbon that was dumped at my place, we found a use for it. Reduce the entire bottle and add brown sugar. Yum!)
* Mashed Potatoes with Hatch Chili Peppers
* Turkey Cordon Bleu (The Lovely Spouse's invention)
* Roast Turkey (this thing's a monster)
* A friend of ours will be bringing a special recipe stuff/dressing he just dreamed up yesterday. I'm told apples are involved. :-)
* Pecan Pie = recipe from a postcard from Graceland
* Apple Pie = Alton Brown's recipe
* Cranberry conserve = Joy of Cooking recipe
* all of this will be accompanied by a selection of wines, including a G-miner and a pinot. :-)

This morning we had Paula Deen's Ultimate Coffee Cake for breakfast. No kidding, this is probably the easiest recipe I have. The only thing easier would be to buy the thing already made. But even then, it would be more difficult to open the package of cake/pie than to make this monkey bread variation. The local grocery ran out of the frozen unbaked dinner rolls the recipe calls for so I bought pre-baked frozen dinner rolls instead. The recipe still worked just fine...the only modification I made was to bake for 15 min instead of 30.

[Image source = google image search]

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Oh Cafe Eccell.... WHY?

This post was meant to be a review of the fabulous Crush in Seattle. But that will have to wait. First off I don't have the time, at the moment, to give Crush the full write-up it deserves and second, well...this just can't wait.

The Lovely Spouse and I went to dinner at Cafe Eccell in College Station on Tuesday because Madden's is closed on Tuesdays and we were in the mood for some tastey, tastey seafood that night instead of waiting for Thursday. I have fond memories of Cafe Eccell's seared scallops. So The Lovely Spouse made reservations for Tuesday and off we went.

Imagine our surprise to find we didn't need reservations on the second day of the Fall Semester. Also imagine our surprise to find a New Menu. Um...OK...Cafe Eccell has changed their menus over the years.... But wait! Now it's one page for food and two separate sheets for wine and drinks. Um...'kaaaaaay. This is different. Wait! No scallops! No Gulf of Mexico red drum! What?! The sesame seared tuna is still on the menu. But most of the menu is dedicated And sandwiches. And salads. CRAP! It's the lunch menu, now being served all the time. [And, for what it's worth, they're still serving the unsustainable Chilean Sea Bass - something I highly recommend avoiding in order to discourage restaurants from serving a fish that will likely be extinct in less than a decade if fished at the same levels.]

To make matter even worse there were technical problems with the food. Rice should never give your dental work a run for its money. However the rice served with the tuna was desiccated and should have been started over from scratch. The salad served over the rice was spiced with what must have been purified capsaicin - rather unexpected on a predominantly savory dish. The guacamole was...odd and flavorless given the rest of the dish. At least the tuna was good. Even if the restaurant was LOUD.

Cafe Eccell has changed its name as well. It's now Cafe Eccell Pizza and Wine Bistro. I suppose the owners, the Dallis family, hired some overpriced consultant to come up with this. And it wouldn't surprise me in the least to find they've changed it again in a few months to something like a gastropub, as the trend seems to be across the country. I suppose they also believe that changing the menu to a far more casual one and focusing on the alcoholic beverages they'll attract more people from Northgate. Maybe. One thing is certain - they've lost a lot of their high dollar dinner patrons. The faces that were there on Tuesday were far younger and in much larger, louder groups. A number of them were even sharing meals.

What will become of Cafe Eccell? Not sure. It's something to ponder while enjoying a meal at Madden's.

Monday, August 16, 2010

More on Lentils and some other experiments in food...

Sorry for the long break in blogging. It's been a busy summer. Preparing for a conference and then going on the trip was more time-intensive than I thought. Not to mention family emergencies in the way of blogging. I'm back...for now at least. :-)

As some people know I've been mildly obsessed with lentils as of late. Mostly because of their nutritional content, inexpensive price ($0.80 a lb at Kroger) and versatility (this link has the text to the Good Eats episode where a nutritional anthropologist discusses the Mesopotamian roots of the World's oldest domestic crop: lentils). My last lentil experiment, Giada's Italian Lentil Salad was a huge success in our house. In fact I made it a second time to use up some of the remaining ingredients.

This next recipe comes from Epicurious after doing a google search on coconut (I was in the mood for coconut milk) and lentils: Coconut-Red Lentil Curry. I had to make a few modifications. First off, the only lentils available at the local Kroger are green lentils labeled "Lentils." So I used those. Next I cut out the garlic and half the onion due to my own dietary restrictions. I also left out the cilantro leaves because I hate the flavor of them. And I doubled the jalapeno...for funsies. :-) The results were delicious served over long grain white rice, albeit a little too mild. Next time I'm going to double the spices and leave everything else the same. The next day, upon reheating in the microwave, the dish was doubly spicy, and still somewhat I'll still double the spices next time.

My next experiment was a result of a spontaneous side trip during a conference I recently attended in the Columbia Gorge. A group from my lab at at the Big River Grill for lunch just before heading up Mount Saint Helens (driving...not hiking). One of the specials was an African Peanut Soup. We were intrigued so most of us tried it. Fantastic. Savory and spicy with a surprise of occasionally crunching into a peanut. Therefore when I got home I just had to look it up. The first interesting results came from here. And (whoop!) we just bought grains of paradise from this same store on our trip to Seattle. Unfortunately on a closer read we definitely didn't have ajwain or tabil spice blend or know of any substitutes (none found on google). So I googled for more recipes and found Emeril's. The more recipes of his that I use, the more I really like his cooking - his is the sauce portion of my golubki, fyi. Of course I made some modifications to the recipe. I used vegetable oil instead of peanut oil, for convenience. I cut out the garlic and cut the onions in half. I substituted yams for sweet potatoes, due to local availability. The peanut butter I used was the all-natural variety you have to store in the fridge. And I used 1 lb of skinless, boneless dark meat chicken instead of ground turkey because the turkey just sounded weird in this recipe (*shrug*). The results: absolutely spectacularly delicious. And spicier the next day after reheating in a microwave. Although next time I'll probably kick the spiciness up a notch with some harissa.

To finish off this meal I added the one thing I was really in the mood for on Friday: cardamom rice pudding. A google search for "cardamom rice pudding" yielded Alton Brown's recipe as the first result. I followed the recipe, doubling it and cooking it in a nonstick wok with extended cooking times added to compensate for the added volume. The only modifications were leaving out the raisins because The Lovely Spouse doesn't like them and adding about a tablespoon of fresh ground cardamom instead of the measely 1/4 teaspoon in the recipe. The result was fantastic and the extra cardamom was necessary for someone who craves it like I do. It's a cool, refreshing, silky smooth dessert for a hot mid-August day.

My next blog post will be a review of Crush in Seattle that I've been promising a certain person. :-)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Awesome low-cal recipes

The Lovely Spouse is on a calorie-restricted diet at the moment. Which means, among other things, that in order to support him I've been looking for new recipes that fulfill the calorie restriction and are yummy enough to forget about the diet. This week I found two that fit the bill and thought you all might like to know.

The first recipe is Moosewood Restaurant's Herbed Fish in a Packet from the Moosewood's Low-Fat Favorites Cookbook. I bought this book when I lived in my very first apartment and haven't parted with it since. In fact my copy is probably due for replacement after the spine split. I always use salmon (wild-caught, if available - Kroger has them filleted, deboned, vacuum-packed and flash-frozen in the frozen seafood section) with this recipe in addition to sweet basil and rosemary (from the garden, if possible - if you're allergic to rosemary, substitute with fresh tarragon). The fish comes out very moist and full of rich, herbal flavor. I've had several people tell me they won't eat salmon unless it's used in this particular recipe. It takes around 30 minutes to prepare, including cooking time. And each serving is about 175 calories, mostly protein and very little fat. Recipe is conveniently on-line if you're shopping with your smart phone and left the book at home.

The next recipe comes from the Food Network website. While doing some research for my own sport-related diet and nutrition plan I keep hearing about how incredibly nutritious lentils are. Thus I decided it was time to give them a try. But where to start? I've only ever had them in Indian food, which, for me is a bit more advanced than just a quick family meal. So I went over to the Food Network website for a search. Most of the results yielded stews, which didn't interest me. Then I saw Giada's Italian Lentil Salad. Since I really hadn't had too many lentils I didn't really know what to expect. However one review caught my eye: "My entire family loved it and helped themselves to more." Sold! There were a couple of substitutions: pecans for hazelnuts (not available this time of year), I left out the shallots because I can't eat uncooked shallots, and generic lentils for Sabarots (Kroger didn't have a selection so I went with what they had). The results were yummy! The vinaigrette is absolutely necessary, so make sure you don't forget it. It lends a wonderful lemony flavor that improves with a couple days in the fridge - the recipe makes a lot so you'll have left-overs. Bonus points for getting The Lovely Spouse to eat grapes. Normally he doesn't like them, but they added a very nice character to this dish. About 30 minutes prep and cooking time, total. Roughly 100 calories per serving. A good mix of protein and carbs and very little fat. Also tastes great heated up in the microwave the next day.

(note: the pictures came from Moosewood's and Food Network's websites)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Eating around at the Houston Rodeo

It's March in Texas and that can only mean one thing: time for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Every year the Rodeo comes to Houston at Reliant Park and includes the arena and stadium. This year I made it my goal to sample a couple of the more famous foods from the show. Specifically it was my goal to try the ultimate bad food: a deep fried oreo. But, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

For those of you who have never been to Texas, Houston or the Houston Rodeo, it's a bit of an understatement to say that Texans like things larger than life. And that even applies to how they eat. This is the state that brought you the 72 oz steak challenge, after all. Therefore for some of you it will be no surprise that the vendors at the Rodeo bring portable restaurants.

And there is generally a huge selection of sausage and other "Texas delicacies" such as chicken fried bacon.

What does chicken fried bacon taste like? Like a chicken bullion cube with a hint of bacony goodness. The texture's a bit weird because they overcook the bacon before breading it and frying it. Just...meh. (For the record, yes, the picture is from last year. We didn't bother to re-sample the chicken fried bacon,)

Additionally the trend this year, as in past years, is to try and put everything on a stick. No, I didn't actually try the pizza on a stick. It looks and sounds rather scary. Try not to make any sudden moves in front of it. O.O

Did I mention that everything is bigger in Texas?

What will also come as no surprise is the incredible variety of fried foods. If it can stay together in the fryer, it's on the menu. And even some crazy, never-would-have-thought-of-that stuff, like a hot dog surrounded by a potato? Whodathunkit?

For lunch I settled in on a restaurant that won an award at the Rodeo for their sausage and boudin. When I walked up to the window I asked which was better, the boudin or the sausage. The cook recommended the smoked boudin blanc, so away I went. And it really was fantastic. All boudin is sausage with rice in a natural casing. This one had mild creole seasoning and jalapeno peppers. Well-balenced and truly delicious.

The spouse got a burger with a side of one of my favorite street foods on the planet: ribbon fries. If you've never had them before, they're a whole potato that's been spiral sliced and dropped in a frier. The result is just like fresh potato chips. If done right they're crispy and delicious. And these were. *drool*

Lest we all forget the Rodeo is also an educational venture, meant to expose Texans to their heritage. So it was with great pleasure that I was able to stop by the chuck wagons and sample some real cowboy cooking. The beef stew was excellent.

In addition to the carnival food and restaurant vendors of the Rodeo there was also a retail show of sorts and I'm sure my guests at the Rodeo would be remiss if I didn't mention their favorite vendor: Silverleaf International, with the fortuitous url of While I was unable to partake, I am assured that that garlic products were excellent and that the sauces were even better the next day at breakfast.

Which leads me to my quest for the day: the deep fried oreo. I found the booth near the Kid's Corral in front of Reliant Arena. Evidently these people really know their fried foods, especially the sweets.
And, yes, they really will fry everything listed on that sign. The line was huge. So, I thought, "this MUST be the place." There were other vendors of fried oreos, but none had a line like this one. So I stood in line. And waited. And waited. After about an hour of waiting I was rewarded.

The fried Oreos are on the left. I also got fried green tomatoes because I realized I hadn't had any vegetables all day. So what did the fried Oreos taste like? Kind of like a beignet with an Oreo in the middle. If you haven't had a beignet, it's a French-style donut; kind of like little fried dough pillows. This was just like that...with an Oreo in the middle.

As you can see, my quest was a success. I finally tried my fried Oreo. And it was all I hoped it would be. If any of you get the chance, I recommend stopping in Houston in March and checking out the Rodeo. There are always intersting foodie finds. I didn't even mention the wine competition and auction or the beer selection. :-)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Funnies

This list is hardly new, but it came up in conversation today so I was inspired to seek it out and write about it. You all undoubtedly know about the Chuck Norris list. For example: "Chuck Norris' tears cure cancer. Too bad he doesn't cry." Well someone compiled a list for Alton Brown. And it's even more fabulous because it involves Alton Brown.

Anyways, here's the complete list. Some favorites:

"Alton Brown can boil a three-minute egg in thirty-seven seconds."
"Alton Brown doesn't reduce sauces, he demoralizes sauces."
"Grown men have been known to weep for joy in the mere presence of Alton Brown's vinaigrette. His hollandaise sauce can kill a man from sheer ecstasy at forty paces."
"Alton Brown's cakes don't rise. They ascend."
"When Alton Brown slices onions, the onions cry."
"Alton Brown doesn't whip potatoes. Alton Brown's potatoes whip themselves, if they know what's good for them."

I wish I could take credit for any of these. Alas I can only take credit for enjoying them. I hope you all do too! :-)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Madden's Market (tentative name)

If, like me, you absolutely love Madden's in Bryan, you'll be happy to know that the business is expanding. Over the weekend Peter Madden sent out an email to the list to inform everyone of Madden's Market.

Here's the concept direct from the owner/executive chef, himself: "...We have already started putting in 1-2 acre garden near the location where we will access a lot of produce, Tara is constantly on the phone with local and Texas producers looking for useable product for us, My Mom and Dad (they live in the Rio Grande Valley) have agreed to supply us with Texas citrus and other available products from down there like avocados, when they are in season. Some of our citrus will come right from their back yard. Local cheese makers, honey, fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy, eggs, meats, anything we can get and use we will. I hope that everything on the menu will be composed of at least 50% local and or Texas products. So if you know anyone who is a producer, send them our way. Oh yeah, the market aspect of our concept is that you will be able to purchase these products from the market section of the restaurant. Hill country peaches, Rio Grande Valley citrus, East Texas rice, West Texas cactus and sand, just kidding, don't know what we can get from out there."

The opening is scheduled, tentatively, for June 1, 2010 and the market will be located between William D Fitch (Route 40) and Rock Prairie, on the east side of I-6 in South College Station. My guess is it will be somewhere between McDonald's and Harley Davison. The market will be very casual and there will be no waiter service.

Madden's Market sounds absolutely fabulous to me. I can't wait for the opening. I'll let you all know more as I find out more information.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mi Cocina, aka Polly's Cocina - Bryan/College Station

To add some confusion, the following review is written about Mi Cocina, a restaurant in Bryan and College Station. Very recently the restaurant, Mi Cocina, had to change their name because a huge restaurant conglomerate in Dallas registered their trademark/copyright under the same name. The new name for the B/CS restaurants is Polly's Cocina. The owners and food are still the same.

Small, family-owned restaurants that make exceptional food, no matter what the genre, are prized possessions for any town. Our little hamlet of Bryan/College Station just so happens to have several that have become institutions on Mexican and Tex-Mex food. That is definitely NOT a complaint. My personal favorite of these is Mi Cocina. With four locations around town, Mi Cocina sounds like it should be a massive McDonald's style chain. However they are all owned and operated by the same family and on any given day you might find the owners waiting tables or delivering catering supplies to their customers.

The corn chips at Mi Cocina are the very, very thin variety found throughout Texas. They are s thin they break apart in your hands, but this enough to stand up to the wonderfully flavorful salsa they are served with. When visiting other parts of the country it seems weird to have thick chips. The guacamole at Mi Cocina is also a thing of beauty. Thick chunks of avocado, with integrated lemon and spices.

The menu features your typical fare for this part of the country. However my favorite is the barbacoa tacos. Barbacoa is the meat from the head of a cow that has been slowly roasted with spices until the point that it literally falls off the bone. The flavor is undeniably savory and the texture of the meat just melts in your mouth. This is served on hand-made flour tortillas imprinted with the TAMU logo, that sometimes arrive still warm.

If you order a meal it comes with homemade refried beans that taste far better than anything I've ever had up North. The Lovely Spouse typically orders Steak ala Mexicana. It's a small, flat steak cooked to order served with a vegetable gravy, rice and beans, as well as a small salad. It meets his very stringent requirements for steak and he eats it often. Therefore I assume he enjoys it. :-) However whenever I have a craving for Mexican, it's always for the barbacoa. MmmmmMMMMMmmmm...

The decor is nothing special. Two of the restaurants are located in gas stations. One is next to a Subway sandwich shop and the other is a small converted house. The napkins are paper, the flatware and plates are typical of what you might find in a cafeteria and the drink menu is limited to a few beers, margaritas and fountain drinks. There's no pretention here and you often see people arrive after work in overalls, work suits and a variety of casual wear.

And before I sign off, I would be an absolute cad if I didn't mention that they are also well-known for their Tex-Mex style breakfast menu which features migas and breakfast tacos (I don't typically eat out for breakfast so I can't give any personal opinion on this). They also are one of the few restaurants in the area to serve menudo and caldo, but only on weekends. So...if you've got a hangover you now know where to eat on weekends.

Would I eat there again? Sure! The Lovely Spouse and I eat there about once a week.

Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely. If you want descent Mexican food without any pretention at a very good price, you've come to the right place.