Friday, August 12, 2011

Coming Attractions!

1. B/CS has a whole lotta new sushi places. We've been slowly making it to all of them. Coming soon: a giant review of all of them.

2. A discussion and food porn of my trip to Crete. Complete with recipes. Heck yea!

3. A visit to and discussion about the new food trucks in B/CS.

And, OMG!, I'll actually update this blog. It's not dead, I swear!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

New Republic Brewery

There's a new brewery in College Station. That's right! And this time it's not a brewpub and it actually has a chance of success!

New Republic Brewery started last year after one of the owner's hobby of homebrew spread enough to catch the attention of the TABC. So instead of throwing in the towel, he jumped head-first into the world of independent microbrew. After a heckuvalotta work the result is the birth of a new brewery located by Disaster City in a hard-to-find industrial park. Make the trip out to their brewery/store and you'll find a very small operation helmed by very enthusiastic do-it-yourself science geeks. The resulting beer, Bellows, is very, very good. It's a good balance of hobby and malty so that hop-heads such as myself and malt lovers such as The Lovely Spouse can both enjoy it.

Currently you can only find Bellows at local pubs, including O'Bannons, Village Cafe, and Good Time Charlies. The beer is good so I predict they will expand. To date they only produce one beer, Bellows, but there are plans to develop a fig lambic. And, given the enthusiasm and realism exhibited by the owners I predict good things in their future.

Here's a tip if you go to the brewery, buy a pint glass and enjoy a beer. Otherwise the only thing they're allowed to sell you is a tee shirt. TABC laws are no joke so breweries are not allowed to sell alcohol directly from the brewery. But they can sell swag. :-)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reviews: Branded and Chuy's

Not related to anything: I just had an orange carrot karma smoothie from Jamba Juice. Yummie! Jamba Juice is so expensive that it's a splurge for me. $5 for a smoothie...I mean, c'mon! But there are times, especially when I have to go to the doc for shots and stuff, especially when I didn't quite pack enough for lunch and when I don't want to reach for cookies or high calorie granloa bars, that a smoothie just hits the spot. Yum! And the ads promise I just had 3 full servings of fruits and veggies. Minus the cellulose, of course.

Anyways, back to the purpose of today's post: reviewing Branded and Chuy's.

Last weekend The Lovely Spouse and I spent a day at AggieCon. It was awesome and full of geekery. Because we spent a full day there we had to eat something. We didn't really want a fine dining meal at the Hilton and the coffee bar didn't have much "real food" to offer. So we looked for other options. There are a few places across the street from the Hilton but we had yet to try the restaurant next door: Branded. Very recently it had been called Sodolak's Beefmasters. Before then it was T-Bone Jones. The location is a bit weird: at the bottom of what might be the only steep hill in this part of Texas. But there's plenty of parking. The menu was identical to the Sodolak's menu from before and it turns out it's pretty much the same restaurant, but not the same as the famous one in Snook, which is owned by a different family member and is incorporated as a different business. This one differs from the one in Bryan in that it has a smaller menu, featuring all the best sellars. So you can still get the small, medium and large steaks in addition to fried pickles and corn nuggets.

I got a build your own burger. It comes with tomatoe, lettuce, pickles, onion and mayo or mustard, plus two more toppings from about 10 other choices. I got mine with just the veggies and added mushrooms and cheese. I didn't specify how to cook the burger (normally I'd request medium or medium rare). The result was surprisingly tasty. Seasoned well with salt and pepper. Cooked well to about medium. And just as juicy as you please and not too greasy. All for around $6.50. I'd say it was just as good as Fudruckers on a good day. The Lovely Spouse got a chicken fried steak that he said was quite good. I still don't quite understand the appeal of chicken fried steak other than a way to make an inedible piece of meat somewhat edible. And I certainly don't like gravy on my food. But he enjoyed it and that's all that matters. :-)

The sides were what I call dressed-up pre-packaged foods. That means they took something that's pre-packaged in some way, such as canned or frozen, and dressed it up in the restaurant before serving. With "country cooking" it often works because it falls in with your expectations of the food. And that's how it was at Branded. The green beans and fried okra were dressed up just right and enjoyable in a comfort food kind of way.

Would I go back? Sure! Good burger. And I do like me some friend pickles.

Would I recommend it to a friend? Sure! Cheap, good location, good food. Not a lot of options for vegetarians, though.

For out of town guests who want "the Texas experience" I'd go to the Sodolak's in either Snook or Bryan. The one in Snook features world-famous chicken fried bacon. And the one in Bryan has the full multi-page menu...not to mention a lot of character. However the location in College Station is quiet and close.

Now on to Chuy's. Since moving to Texas *mumble* years ago I have learned to appreciated Tex-Mex and Mexican food as something far more nuanced then what you typically see in Mexican restaurants Up North. There's a lot more to Mexican than hard corn tacos, refried beans and flavorless orange rice. In fact I've found out that refried beans are supposed to have flavor! And tacos don't have to be filled with ground beef and standardized Mexican food flavoring!

I classify Mexican food into Tex-Mex, fine dining and everyday food. Tex-Mex is food that's typically only found along the border. Nachos fall into this category. A person who's never left Poblano probably doesn't know much about nachos. Mexican fine dining is as much of an event as American fine dining and you truly haven't lived until you've had a real mole that's been cooked by a master chef over the course of days. Mexican fine dining is how I learned that a chili relleno can be grilled to perfection and doesn't have to be breaded and fried beyond recognition. And then there's everyday food, which is what you find in most Mexican restaurants and food trucks. This includes enchiladas, tamales, tacos filled with barbacoa (food of the Gods), among other things, carne guisda, menudo, caldo and other Mexican comfort and quick foods. This is stuff I crave and typically have at least once a week. So when we went to Chuy's I was expecting everyday Mexican because the sign says "Mexican Food." [For what it's worth, fajitas cross all three categories depending on how they're made and how they're served.]

Chuy's just recently opening in College Station in the Post Oak Mall parking lot. We had been delaying trying them out because the average wait is around 3 hours. I'm not waiting that long for anything that's not fine dining when there are about a gazillion restaurants in town. So we went at kind of a weird hour in the middle of the week. And had to wait 5-10 minutes to get in. Seriously, they gave us a pager for 5-10 minutes. While we stood at the front door next to the hostess station. The first thing that caught our attention was the noise. IT'S LOUD IN THERE!!!! And you can see why as soon as you're seated: no fabric on the walls or anything. It's all ceramic or metalic something or other. The decor is what I call stereotypical Mexican dive bar/market. Hubcaps on the ceiling. Lots of bright colors. Chaotic decor schemes. All following an obvious kitch design pattern.

We shouted our orders to our server and got some guacamole as an appetizer. The server also brought chips and salsa. The chips were on the thin side, so that was a good start. The salsa was a salsa fresca, which The Lovely Spouse loves. I thought it was too heavy on the cilantro, but at least there was a good amount of jalapeno to even things out. The guac was actually pretty good: avocados mixed with salsa fresca. Served on a bed of lettuce? For $5.50? That's double what most Mexican restaurants charge. OK, it tasted good so I can justify it.

Then the entrees arrived. I got the fajita chicken tacos and The Lovely Spouse got the beef burrito. The burrito was the size of a Freebirds Monster. He only ate half. But he said it was good and he enjoyed the hatch chili sauce on top. The chicken tacos were good and the quality of the chicken was better than most places I get tacos. However it was just kind of alright.

In all I was unimpressed. I can get better Mexican food from the hole in the wall family-owned places around town for a lot less. And I don't have to wait 3 hours to get in.

Would I go back? Only if I don't have to wait to get in. And specifically for the guacamole. Everything else was just alright.

Would I recommend it to friends? Only if you don't have to wait. And you're prepared for it being more expensive than a typical Mexican restaurant. Not as shocking as the price tag on Abuelo's, but still more than a mom-and-pop restaurant.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Sonya Renee's slam poetry performance of "Slices". Could also be called an ode of sorts to processed cheese. Enjoy! [Warning: language is perhaps PG13....maybe R-rated?]

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Odds and Ends: Taz! and Houston's getting an Uchi

First off, Houston's getting its very own Uchi! It'll probably be awhile before it won't take weeks to get a table, but I'm looking forward to a much shorter drive. ^-^ In other news, Uchi now has a cookbook out. Given that it's sushi I'm not sure exactly how much of it I could make at know, not living near water and all. But I'm sure it's full of food porn. Source for both.

And College Station now has a GOOD Indian restaurant!!!!! In case you haven't heard (it seems like almost everyone has), it's called Taz and is located in the Kroger shopping center along Texas Ave at Southwest Parkway in the old Honey B location. We've been twice so far and the food has been good both times. The first time was an order off the menu dinner. I got the malai kafta. The Lovely Spouse got the lamb vindaloo. His was just a tad too spicy for me, but was just right for him. The sauce had a nice blend of cinnamon and spicy. The malai kafta was completely different than any version I've had elsewhere, but I'm starting to believe that every single kitchen makes it a different way. The second trip was for the Valentine's Day buffet. The place was absolutely packed and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. The buffet items were quite good and there was a nice selection of North and South Indian items. I've been told that they have a lunch buffet 7 days a week as well. So far the prices have been excellent, as has the service. Both times we ate there they were absolutely slammed but at no time did the staff seem harried or impatient. Service, of course, gets a bit slow when they're extremely busy, so plan accordingly. I absolutely recommend them and will be back. ^-^ Now I have to go back and try their samosas and dosai. Nom!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Heavens to Betsy and Sakes Alive! Today I've expanded my culinary repertoire. Today. I made pate choux for the very first time. What's pate choux you ask? It's that heavenly substance that acts as the backbone to eclairs, cream puffs and profiteroles. In my naivete I thought it was culinary magic - stuff requiring the special chef's secret handshake - to make. Today, I've discovered that handshake and it's just a technique and a little exercise in chemistry. And it's not nearly as impossible as I thought it would be. Follow me on my journey, if you will....

The journey begins shortly after Christmas. A lovely friend visited from Seattle and brought with her incredibly generous gifts: Coffee of the Gods and the French Laundry-ad Hoc at Home cookbook collection. These came with one caveat: I was to make Gruyere Gougeres. *gasp!* Those require the making of choux. Something I've never ever considered doing before. However I was up for the challenge...especially given I've been waiting for an excuse since seeing Alton Brown do it.

However I did not head forth alone. No, I enlisted the help of some old friends: Joy of Cooking and Larousse Gastronomique. What food nerd house would be complete without both of them? Certainly not mine. I researched the recipes and saw that all choux recipes are nearly the same, with minor diviations. Not completely unexpected. And somewhat reassuring.

So armed with knowledge and books in front of me I began to build my ingredients.

  • 1 cup water
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter (I cut them into ~1 teaspoon slices to make melting easier)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups finely grated gruyere
Next I preheated the oven to 450F and placed parchment paper over my cookie sheets. I only own one silpat, and it looks like parchment paper is more convenient for this recipe.

Following the instructions I placed the water, butter, salt and sugar in an 8 quart saucepan then gently heated the mixture until the butter melted. According to Larousse, if everything is heated before the fat melts, bad things happen.

After the butter melt I turned up the heat to bring it to a boil. At the moment of boil I dumped in all the flour at once and mixed with a wooden spoon. It's important to not use a metal spoon or other mixing implement because metal conducts heat and you want this mixture to cool quickly.

Almost immediately the mixture formed a ball. Following instructions I mixed the ball around in the pan for 2 minutes at the lowest heat setting on my stove.

I then transfered the ball to my stand mixer (losing just a bit to the dog/floor in the process) and mixed on low for about a minute to cool the mixture. Larousse states that the mixture must be cool or the eggs will cook prematurely leading to bad things. After about a minute I added the eggs, one at a time until incorporated. Then kicked up the mixer to high and let it go about 2-5 minutes, until I got a thick paste that formed a peak that falls over at the top. Next I added 3/4 a cup of the gruyere to the paste and mixed with a silicon spatula.

Next I employed the services of a regular old 1 gallon freezer bag. That's right, it's even the store brand. Copying what I saw chefs on the food network doing I opened the bag and folded the edges over my hand. Then, using the silicon spatula, I scooped the paste into the bag, working the paste to one of the bottom corners and "burping" the air out the top.

When all the paste was in the bag I sealed the top (forcing most of the air out) and continued to work the paste to one of the bottom corners.

Then I snipped the corner with kitchen shears, leaving an opening about the size of the end of my pinkie.

Next I piped out a little dollop, about the size of a pingpong ball onto the parchment paper. Each had kind of a hat on them which I tamped down using a finger (clean!) dipped in cold water. I then put a generous pinch of the remaining gruyere cheese on the top of each. I placed the cookie sheet in the oven at 450F and let it bake for 8 minutes (until they rise and don't fall on their own).

Then I decreased the oven temperature to 350F and baked for 22 minutes, until "golden brown and delicious."

When they come out of the oven the puffs are cool enough to handle [warning: the pan will NOT be cool enough to handle]. When you pop one open you should have a large hole in the middle and the exterior should be light and crispy. This recipe is slightly on the salty side, but I think it's also because I was expecting something a bit sweeter. It is, however, delicious and addictive. I ate 8 of the first dozen without even thinking about it. *blush*

The recipe states these make 4 dozen. I've already passed 4 doz and am expecting nearly a 5th. It's obvious, but I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you to reheat the oven to 450F before beginning to bake the next sheet worth of puffs.

FWIW, we can't keep more than about a half dozen of these at a time because we keep eating them out of the oven. Joy of Cooking recommends pairing them with champagne, but they go quite well with inexpensive table wine or even a glass of milk. Enjoy!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Those Black Eye Peas They Tasted All Right To Me.... ;-)

There are just certain songs that stick in my head at the weirdest moments. Like Goodbye Earl while I'm making Blackeye Peas for New Years Day.

This was, of course, my first attempt at making blackeye peas. All previous times I've eaten them involved restaurants that serve steaks the size of large plates and deep fried pickles. Usually blackeye peas are somewhat bland, resembling something akin to cardboard. However it was New Years Day and I was already feeling like making something for dinner at home, so I did an internet search. This is the highest rated recipe that came up on the first page of google. of course I modified it.

The modified recipe follows, but bear in mind at it's base it's still the allrecipes recipe. I believe the modifications make this a far more awesome recipe. Far from flavorless, just the right amount of spicy, and more than nomtastic. :-) I've been enjoying the leftovers.

  • 1 pound dry black eye peas
  • Approx. 1 pound pre-cooked ham steaks (I used 2 at about 0.5 lbs each), cut into quarter inch cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium sweet onion, finely diced
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can of crushed red tomatoes
  • 4 Hatch peppers, roasted, skinned, seeded and diced*

Place the peas in an 8 quart sauce pot and add enough water to fill the pot about half to three quarters full. Add everything else to the pot and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat, covered, 2 1/2 to 3 hours until the peas are soft.

* If you don't have a stash of frozen roasted and skinned Hatch peppers like we do, you can substitute Anaheim pepper or jalapenos, if you want extra heat. Roast the peppers over the flame of a gas stove or under the broiler of an electric oven, turning as the skin blackens, until all sides of the pepper are roasted. Then put the peppers in a paper bag to steam 5-10 min, until cool enough to handle with bare hands. Scrape the blackened skin off the peppers and discard. Then slice each pepper lengthwise and chop off the stem. Scrape the seeds and veins out with a knife blade. Then dice the peppers and add them the recipe above.

Image source (found via google image search).