Saturday, April 28, 2012

I'm told there's a margarita recipe in this video

Link in case the embed doesn't work.

FWIW, my male friends don't "get" this commercial.  That, in and of itself, is hysterical. IMO this is great marketing, along the lines of the "look at me, then look at your man, now look at me" man from the Old Spice commercials. Make us laugh while making fun of advertising conventions. I like it. :-)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fangirl Squee!!!!

I met The Bloggess y'all!  She's a total internet celebrity. From Texas. For those who haven't heard of her (!!!) start with this link. [Warning for language on all the links to her blog] It's her most famous. Or at least the one people talk about most often.  Then read this one.  It's epic.  No, make that EPIC.

Anyways, I met her because she was in Houston on tour promoting her book.  Which, by the way, is a NYT best seller (I'm almost done reading it and it's quite fantastic).  Awesome.  A gazillion more times awesome when you consider how hard it is for her to do any kind of public appearance.  Like the book's promotional video says, she deserves a medal.  Anyways, pictures!

How else would you display her books? This is at Blue Willow Bookstore, by the way. It's awesome and you should visit it if you're ever on the West side of Houston. Not far from the intersection of Hwy 6 and I-10.

So the evening started a bit early.  The description of the event stated that wrist bands would be given out starting at 6 pm.  I got there around 5 and hung out at a brand new bakery a couple stores down (more to follow) and grabbed coffee and a cupcake (more to follow).  At 5:30 I headed over to the bookstore and saw people were already purchasing books and gathering.  And taxidermy was being brought in and displayed. LOL! 

Just before 6 we were given colored tags indicating which group we'd be in for the signing. 

At 7, on-the-dot, the bookstore owner, Valerie, did a brief introduction and in walked Jenny Lawson, otherwise known as The Bloggess. She said hello and that she was nervous (understandably!!!) and she sat down and read a chapter from her book. Specifically the chapter titled The Psychopath on the Other Side of the Bathroom Door. It's messed up and hysterical all at the same time.  And you all should get her book to find out for yourself. The story starts on Page 201.

After the reading Mrs Lawson headed inside and we were all told the order in which things would happen and were invited to have some wine. Awesome.  Sadly I knew I had a 2 hour drive home so I didn't have any wine.  Ah well.  

Then it was time for my group to head inside.  After we told a helpful helper our names, she placed them on post-its inside our books and bookmarked the title pages.  Then we walked in and met...Juanita and Copernicus: two characters from The Bloggess' blog.

Copernicus, complete with coffin

And then it was my turn to get my book signed, briefly say "Thank You!" for her visiting Houston, and to give her a little gift I made.  Yup, zebra eggs. Or at least my interpretation of them. It was daemonnoire's idea and something I just kind of DID the night before.  Hey, the woman's a rock star on the blogosphere (LOL!) so she should get treated as such, ya know?

Yea, I'm totally a geek.

And these are the zebra eggs.  Those are ceramic duck and chicken eggs "painted" via Sharpie. That's zebra printed tissue paper at the bottom - no, I didn't print it myself, it comes like that.  And the bowl came with the sparklies, courtesy of Hobby Lobby. Yes, I'm a dork.

And because this is a Food Blog and all, how about I mention something food related?  Well, there's an awesome new bakery right next door to Blue Willow Bookstore.  I attempted to post its name and all to facebook, so I wouldn't forget.  BUT as luck would have it I had no bars. No bars meant failure to transmit. Failure to transmit meant I had a total brainfart and lost the info. And didn't think to switch on the wifi. Here's what I remember: French-borne owners/chefs, fantastic coffee, great service, gorgeous space, the strawberry cupcake was better than anything I've ever had from Sprinkles and it cost quite a bit less. Here's a pict of the interior:
I would totally go back if I was ever in the area.  Those cookies also look awesome.
I just wish I remembered the name of the place!

EDIT on 5/4/12: I found the name of the bakery. It's called Mabis Patisserie. Here's their website.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Titanic Meal

I found this in today's Houston Chronicle. Evidently a fine dining restaurant is holding a dinner in honor of the Titanic and they're serving as close a recreation of the first class menu as they can. There's no way I could ever afford this. And neither could this reporter.  But being a reporter he got an invite and wrote about it here in the print edition. [I just searched and couldn't find it online so I'm guessing it's print only?]  Here's the menu. Here's another news story on the event, complete with picts. And a Chronicle blog post, including how to make reservations if you and 11 of your friends have the $12K for the experience.

While it all sounds amazing there's a lot I could do with $12K.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Gran Bahia Principe: buffets and bars

As I mentioned in my previous post, all non ala carte meals at Gran Bahia Principe are served at the buffets and snack bars. Snack bars are open 24 hours and serve basic things like pizza, burgers, fruit and drinks.  So if you want a cerveza at 3 am, they've got you covered.  I only had one meal here and it was enjoyable.  I liked the service as well as the burger.  It surprisingly hit the spot when we had an early checkout and were hungry.

This beverage was called "capuccino". I don't care. It was delicious.

I can't remember if I took picts at breakfast or lunch. That kind of looks like bacon....

Bread station. Carb Central.

Nope, still can't tell if it's lunch of dinner. Does it matter? :-)

The buffet we went to the most was the smaller, quieter one called the Cozumel at the Akumal Premier lobby.  This buffet was about a quarter the size of the main buffets but offered a good selection of food. I truly enjoyed the grilled tomatoes and ceviche. They also had fresh fruit, veggies and salad fixings.  And things like burgers at lunch and dinner, and an omlette station for breakfast.  I appreciated them having my favorite breakfast food: porridge/oatmeal. Nom! They also desserts.  And, of course, a fully open bar at all times.

I totally stole this decoration off the buffet.  Who can resist a chocolate bowl filled with fresh whipped cream, kiwi, strawberry and figs?  Totally worth the caloric hit.

Lovely dining room for a buffet.

Speaking of which, every lobby had a bar.  We spent most of the time at the quieter one at the Akumal Premier and really enjoyed the bartender's service and skill behind the bar. His mojitos were amazing.  And he made this unusual shot concoction called "Mexican Guiness".  Not sure what was in it but it did taste like Guiness.  In a cute little 1.5 oz shot.

Belly up to the bar, young man.

There were also bars on the beach. Every guest had wristbands.  Some wristbands restricted whether or not the guest could be served alcohol. I didn't get a look-see if this guy had a restricted band or not. I just thought it was kind of funny to see a kid at the bar. They serve softdrinks and non-alcoholic versions of things like pina coladas in addition to the normal stuff.  And, yes, they had cerveza. Before you say all Mexican beer sucks, let me remind you of Modelo Negro.  It's not too shabby.

If you look at online reviews of GBP you'll see lots of complaints about the food and service at the buffets. But, honestly, I don't know what these people were eating. I was always able to find something I liked. And the service was unhurried and quite good.  Even with servers I hadn't met or tipped before.  All of the fruits and veggies were super fresh.  Sure some stuff had sat on the buffet too long, but that's a problem with all buffets, everywhere. Go for the stuff that can't be ruined on a steam table. Especially veggies. The best proteins, in my opinion, were the ceviches.  They aren't ruined by sitting too long, because that's how they "cook".  The fish stays tender as long as it's in the citrus.

Here's a pro-tip: learn some Spanish. You don't have to be fluent but learn to say good morning, hello, thank you, please, etc. It'll help establish a connection with the people around you. You are, after all, in a Spanish speaking country. The least you can do is try to learn the bare minimum of language and culture when you visit.  So many people there also speak English so there's easy rescue if you forget a word. Just say "como se dice en Espanol [word]?"  It's pronounced co-mo say dee-say een es-pan-nole. It means "how do you say in Spanish [word]".  Nothing beats learning new vocabulary from a native speaker. 

Also, the Lonely Planet phrasebook on Mexican Spanish is quite good, although there are problems with literal translations that shouldn't be quite so literal with some phrases.  Here in Texas Spanish is mashed up with English somewhat randomly. The phrasebook helps iron out some of the mixed phrases into something that makes sense to a native speaker.  But, yea, watch out for the literal translations.

Gran Bahia Principe: Le Gourmet

I realize I haven't finished my reviews of places we ate in Mexico last month.  What's left is covering the meals at the resort: Gran Bahia Principe.  We stayed in the Coba section, which was nice because we wanted things to be quiet.  And they were.  We were close enough to activity that we could enjoy it if we wanted.  And there were trams to the beach and the other sections if we wanted to visit.  What surprised me most about the resort was how incredibly large it was.  It had neighborhoods that were eat their own resorts in and of themselves. 

Anyways, it was an all-inclusive resort, which means all food and drinks were included with all the other resort ammenities.  Unlike a cruise, even the booze was included.  More on that in a later post.

Today I'll cover the ala carte restaurant Le Gourmet.  At this particular all inclusive resort 3 ala carte restaurant meals are included with a 5 day stay and the rest of the meals are buffet or snack bar style (your choice).  We were given a number of choices and after much internet research (asking people) I chose the restaurants Le Gourmet, Don Pablo, and Mikado.  I wasn't sure if Don Pablo was Mexican or European. Turns out it's the latter.  I was hoping it'd be the former because there was a surprising lack of high end Mexican food where we Mexico.  But next time we visit I've been recommend a really nice place in the city of Tulum. Mikado is a teppanyaki/hibachi restaurant. 

We booked our reservation just before heading to Mexico via the hotel staff.  I didn't give them any preferences for times other than my folks like to eat relatively early.  They were able to accomodate us with no problems.

Le Gourmet was the first of our three ala cartes and we ate there after visiting Xel-Ha. Because this is a vacation destination there is a recommended dress code of long pants for the men and something other than flip flops.  They, of course, would allow guests to wear what they want, but they asked people to dress a little nicer.

We were presented a menu and asked to choose from a list of appetizers, soups, entrees, and desserts.  They asked that we order the first three, then brought a dessert menu for the last course. All the normal resort drinks were available, including a house red and white wine.  They also had a wine list for bottles of wine available at an extra charge.

Below I've got picts from all of our courses and will try my best to remember what each thing is.  Truth be told, I'm not 100% sure I remember everything but I'll give it a go.

This is an amuse bousch.  All I remember is that it's a pate of some sort.  All diners received this at the beginning of the meal.
This was my appetizer. I was the only one willing to enjoy some foie gras. Served with fresh figs and a fig compote and little bread rolls. I know not everyone enjoys foie but enjoyed it.

This is a carpaccio of some sort.  Served with a pesto and cute little cucumber flower.
This is the salmon mousse. Actually not very good. It tasted very fishy.

Duck with sweet breads and a micro salad.  This, along with the foie, are my two favorite appetizers of the resort. You can also find this and the foie at Don Pablo.
Soup doesn't really photograph well.  I remember the two best soups of the resort were mushroom and celerey.  Not sure which this is.
This is the duck entree, served two ways.  Those are strings of candied orange peel on the top and fresh orange supremes on the bottom layer.  Both preparations were delicous and I highly recommend this.
This was the special: grouper.  Actually the fish wasn't good. It tasted far too fishy.  The little towers of potato on the side, however, were excellent.  There was a chronic problem at this resort and it was a lack of veggies in the ala carte meals.  I suppose they're catering to people who are more interested in the proteins, but still.  The veggies were all excellent and I'd have loved to have seen more of them. It didn't occur to me to ask for more veggies while we were there. I'm willing to bet they'd have brought me more, had I asked for it.
Dessert! This is a slow-cooked papaya tart. It was well balanced and delicious.  See that little ball of ice cream?  It was intensely vanilla gelato.  Nom!  The little chocolate treble clef was just cute.

Gran Marinier Mousse.  It doesn't look nearly as good as it tastes.  And more of that awesome vanilla gelato. Nom!

Not pictured: a selection of delicious breads was available throughout the meal. I liked the cheese and seeded varieties.

Perhaps the best part of dining at the ala carte was something not on the menu: the service.  Half of our party had to leave halfway through the meal: they didn't feel well after spending all day in the sun at Xel-Ha and something they ate there just didn't agree with them.  We asked the restaurant to box up their desserts, which they did.  Then we asked if it would be possible to get some pickled ginger from the Japanese restaurant next door.  Amazingly they did.  And they asked if we needed for their medical personnel to visit the person who wasn't feeling well.  That's incredible service.

If you're going to Gran Bahia Principe I recommend Le Gourmet in the Coba section.  It's in the building next door to the main lobby and Mikado.  If memory serves, first seating is at 6 pm.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Dining in Akumal Mexico: Turtle Bay Bakery and Cuevo del Pescador

So, yea, I've taken a bit of a break from blogging for the last few weeks.  I spent a week with my folks and The Lovely Spouse in Mexico, then the folks visited us for a week, then I've been catching up with school and work.  Now I'm back and, of course, posting on the wonderful eats from Mexico.  We stayed at an all-inclusive resort between Akumal and Tulum on the Eastern side of the Yucatan Penisula.  I had never been to an all-inclusive, or to Mexico, before.  I'll be posting more on the resort in a later resort.

Today I'll start you all off with the fabulousness that is Akumal.  We were there in March so the weather was amazing.  Highs in the 80s.  Lows in the 70s.  Sunny every day.

At one point we took a taxi from our resort to Akumal Playa, or Akumal Beach.  First order of business for the day was breakfast.  Based on Trip Advisor reviews I decided on Turtle Bay Cafe and Bakery.

As you can see everything is very casual.

Very casual. And I kind of like this picture. :-)

I ordered a breakfast, whose name I can't remember.  It was poached eggs with ranch style potatoes, tomatoes, avocado, peppers and onions.  Of course I ate around the onions. It really was as delicious as it looked.

Next we hit the beach and snorkeled for a few hours. The reef was gorgeous.  We saw all kinds of fish, corrals, urchins and such, as well as lots of sea turtles. (Photo courtesy of The Lovely Spouse)

After swimming around headed out for lunch to the place next door to Turtle Bay: Cuevo del Pescador.  Obviously they specialize in fish. 

Again this was a casual open dining place.

We had our first chips and salsa in Mexico.  Chunky salsa with thick chips.  I'm kind of used to the ultra thin chips they have here in Texas. 

I ordered the ceviche and let me just say it was even more fabulous than it looks.  This was a mix of fish, squid, octopus, and shrimp.  And all 100% delicous.  Ceviche is fish cooked by using a strong acid. Most places, including this restaurant, use citrus juice.  The result is that fish that might normally be rubbery when cooked end up tender and juicy. And the citrus imparts a wonderful flavor.

The rest of my group got the fish tacos, which weren't nearly as delicious.  Always get the local specialties and/or the specialty of the house.

Here's hoping we'll be back at some point in the near future.  I'd love to spend at least another few more hours snorkeling on that reef. [Heh, that's my bum. Photo courtesy of The Lovely Spouse.]