Category Archives: food

Episode IV

Seeing as how I’ve announced all of my other life changes on this blog — the blog that got me hired at the Houston Press and began my new path as a real-life employed writer — it only made sense to return here after too many months away, to make another official announcement about the career I started four years ago.

A few weeks following my fourth anniversary with the paper and just a few months shy of my three-year mark as the food critic, I am stepping down from the Houston Press to explore a different path, both as a writer and now an editor.

By the beginning of June, I’ll be the Features Editor at Houstonia — our new metropolitan monthly — where I’m thrilled to be reunited with my old Press colleagues Cathy Matusow, John Nova Lomax and Robb Walsh. I owe a tremendous amount to both Cathy and Robb for being my editor and mentor, respectively, in a career I never thought I’d have. I’ve been tremendously lucky to have them both in my life.

I’ll miss my colleagues at the Press immensely, especially my editor-in-chief, Margaret Downing, who — not to be too cliche — took a chance on a wet-behind-the-ears kid with no writing experience and provided me with the guidance and education I so badly needed as a completely untrained journalist. This has been more valuable than any four years spent in any college (and I don’t owe the Press any student loans!).

As sad as I am to leave my home here at the Press behind, I’m excited to cultivate a new readership at a publication I respect equally. I think Houstonia will prove to be every bit as vital as our daily and our alt-weekly, filling a monthly niche that’s been wanting for passionate, discerning, thoughtful coverage — some of which I hope I’ll be able to provide as well. The team that Scott and Nicole Vogel have put together over there is amazing, and the chance to work among them will be humbling and inspiring.

Until June, I’ll still be at the Press, and taking suggestions as to the very last restaurant review I’ll write.

Video

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…

The Days of Wine and Cupcakes

Wine and cupcakes at 13 Celsius: The perfect pairing.

It’s rare for me to post here anymore. And it’s even rarer for me to post an event. I don’t recall posting a single one in recent memory. But I’d do just about anything for my good friend Jody.

Jody Stevens, also known as Jodycakes, is hosting an event tonight at 13 Celsius with Lucrece Borrego of downtown’s “Center for Culinary Entrepreneurship,” Kitchen Incubator, to talk all things cupcakes. The inaugural Houston Cupcake Meetup is an event for like-minded bakers to come and discuss matters from the trivial (cupcake crawls!) to the important (the Texas Cottage Food Bill; locating commercial kitchen and/or baking spaces in the city). Having navigated the city’s baking scene for years, Jody and Lucrece are just the women you want to talk to if you’re interested in baking for profit or just baking (and eating!) for fun.

The event starts tonight at 7 p.m. at 13 Celsius and the cover is $10. That $10 will net you a wine and cupcake pairing from 13 Celsius’ knowledgeable staff and Jodycakes herself. It will also likely net you some new friends and very useful contacts.

Hell, even if you aren’t a baker, there are few finer ways to spend your Wednesday evening than with wine and cupcakes. Trust me.

Why I’m Crying Today

Only nine months into my job as the food critic at the Houston Press, I was nominated for a James Beard Award today for my “Designer Meats” feature. Considering the fact that only two years ago, I was working [somewhat miserably] in the human resources department of a cement company, I’m gobsmacked to say the least.

It’s especially ironic considering that the feature for which I’m nominated was one that caused an enormous ruckus (or so I’m told; none of the chefs interviewed have ever said a single word to me about it) in the dining scene when some of the charcuterie discussed in the article was destroyed by the Health Department. I didn’t know about this until quite a bit after the fact, and was distressed to hear that it had happened. Nevertheless, all of the chefs I spoke to for the feature were well aware of any possible risks in publicly discussing their charcuterie programs. And examining both sides of the issue is what makes a piece actual journalism as opposed to a one-sided fluff piece.

I’m still stunned and shocked to have been nominated for anything at all, and it’s all thanks to this wonderful video of Catalan’s Chris Shepherd butchering a pig. The feature was nominated in the “Multimedia Food Feature” category and it wouldn’t have been at all possible if Chef Shepherd hadn’t graciously allowed me into his kitchen and let me witness the fascinating act of breaking down an entire half a hog.

So to Chef Shepherd and all the chefs who participated in the feature — Ryan Pera of Revival Market, Justin Basye of Stella Sola, James Silk and Richard Knight of Feast — and to Robb Walsh, my fellow nominee and the man who brought me to the Houston Press in the first place…thank you. Of course, there wouldn’t have been a feature in the first place without my incredible editor Cathy Matusow, without whom I wouldn’t be half the writer I am, and the beautiful charcuterie photos from Troy Fields. And it wouldn’t even have been considered for a nomination if my awesome editor-in-chief, Margaret Downing, hadn’t believed it in enough to send it in. There are so many people involved in one piece and they all deserve to be thanked, repeatedly and profusely.

Thank you. :)

Stay tuned when I go to NYC in May to attend the awards ceremony, try to keep from vomiting every time I see a famous person and lose to Andrew Zimmern, because…really. It’s Andrew freaking Zimmern. It’d be an honor to lose to a man who’s eaten squirrel brains and lived to tell.

Smooth Sailing

I ran into my friend Sharon at the new City Hall Farmers Market today and I mentioned to her – and my mother, who’d come with me – that this whole “eating on $20″ thing wasn’t as difficult as expected. My mother chalks it up to the fact that I keep a somewhat well-stocked pantry now.

Sharon said that she wasn’t surprised I wasn’t encountering any difficulty; the real challenge, she said, would be eating off only the stockpiled pantry goods. That’s certainly a challenge for another week, to be sure. We’ll call it Hurricane Survival Week. Or Zombie Apocalypse Survival Week. Whichever I can find better art for.

This is what I made last night for dinner. As with my first meal, it made such a large quantity that I could — in theory, at least — eat on it for the rest of the week. As usual, I didn’t follow a recipe. I made this up based on what I had on hand. I hate recipes.

But if you want to try this for yourself, it makes an impressive cold salad/entree that’s tasty and moderately healthy at the same time. Sub in chicken breasts for my beloved chicken thighs if you want to go that extra healthy mile. (Boring.)

I marinated two little chicken thighs in a mixture of olive oil, rice wine vinegar, Sri Racha (a/k/a rooster sauce), orange zest, orange juice from half an orange, a few dashes orange bitters and salt and fresh black pepper to taste. I baked them in my little copper skillet (because all my baking dishes are way too large) at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then let the chicken cool while I cooked up some orzo, wilted some spinach in the heat of the steam from the boiling pot and threw some frozen soybeans in at the end of the orzo’s cooking time to defrost them.

I strained the whole mess, shredded the now-cool chicken and threw it all together. I poured some more rice wine vinegar and rooster sauce on top (not to much) and mixed it all up with a little more kosher salt. I diced the other half of the orange and threw it in for color and flavor. Added a few sunflower seeds for crunch and DONE.

Seriously. Easy as sin. Day three done. Day four and promises of kippers lay ahead!

A Week’s Worth of Food for $20

Yesterday, I announced my intention to try and eat for a week on only $20 (an arbitrary amount based on what I had in my wallet at the time, but one that low enough as to be a challenge) and what I had in my pantry and freezer. I’ve been stockpiling blog posts to meet my three-per-day quota at work (as so much of what I write about has to do with eating out) and intend to cook every meal myself this week: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

That isn’t much of an accomplishment for your average person. I get spoiled in my new line of work, frequently and excessively. I get to attend media dinners and eat things like foie gras torchons on a typical Tuesday for lunch and expense a significant portion of my meals. I often don’t put as much thought into the things I’m eating as I feel that I should. It’s a lifestyle for which I am endlessly thankful and one that I don’t ever want to take for granted.

The decision to eat on $20 and what’s in my pantry (as you will see, I’ve gotten better at keeping supplies on hand) was borne out of this, but also out of a desire to eat and live more simply and yet more creatively. One day into the project, and I’ve already rediscovered spices and vinegars that were hidden away in my pantry — which, as you’ll see, is already very small to begin with — and use them to my advantage while cooking. Washing dishes, trimming fat, blooming spices, zesting fruit, et cetera: All are things which make me more mindful of the food I’m eating and which provide me with a very needed sense of calm and simplicity.

The project was also borne out of a desire to truly look at the money that we’re spending on food as entertainment, not food as nourishment or food as a connection to our dining companions. $20 may seem like a difficult sum of money to eat on for an entire week, but that’s a budget that millions of people — here in America and in less wealthy portions of our world — have to adhere to every week of their lives. If they can do it, so can I and so should I. Forcing yourself to consider other perspectives and circumstances is crucial for leading a more enlightened, more considerate, more gracious and more thankful life.

I intend to do a full writeup of the project when I’m finished, but for now, here’s my starting point. Below are photos of what I already had in my pantry and refrigerator, what I bought with $19.54 at Fiesta and what I made my first evening for dinner. I’ve already planned out every meal for the week, so I’m terrifically excited for the week ahead and can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.

The "staples" I had in my pantry: two cans of tuna, a tin of smoked kippers, several rices and pastas, a jar of red peppers and a can of chickpeas.

As you can see, I don't keep much in my fridge, mostly St. Arnold's and water. The broths and the shredded cheese had to be thrown away (expired), which left me with butter, mustard, grape jelly and two kinds of relish.

(Not pictured: the contents of my freezer. I have one-half a bag each of frozen green beans, frozen edamame, frozen broccoli and frozen peas.)

My "pantry" with spices, sugar, two vinegars, two oils, bread crumbs, tea, honey, a can of evaporated milk, powdered chocolate and all the "staples" put back where they belong as well as all the groceries I bought with my $20.

All of the groceries I bought for $20. Not pictured: a pack of five chicken thighs, quarantined because they were covered with gross chicken juice.

Last night's first dinner: One and a half baked chicken thighs, cooked with a mustard-tarragon sauce over garlic and onions, served with wild rice and green beans.

Chicago On My Mind

This time last week, Eric and I had just finished pounding the streets in Little Vietnam and Wrigleyville, and were headed back to our hotel along the Chicago River and the Magnificent Mile for some well-needed rest. It was the first vacation I’d taken in well over three years, and one of my favorite vacations to date. I couldn’t have asked for a better traveling companion than the always game, always enjoyable Eric and I couldn’t have asked for a better city than Chicago. It was my third visit to the city and — with five days to enjoy it — the best one yet.

To go into detail about all the wonderful places we ate at while we were there would take at least a dozen different blog posts. Instead, here are some of the photos we took while we were there. I’ll let this one post act as a dining scrapbook to look back at when I start to get vacation-sick for the City of Big Shoulders.

A "North of the Border" omelet with cheddar, apples and Canadian bacon from Nookie's.

This adorable little cafe in Old Town is the epitome of a casual, neighborhood restaurant. We loved it.

We tried pho in Little Vietnam at Pho Xe Tank for comparison purposes. Houston's is still better, although the clove-saturated broth here was a nice twist.

We stumbled into Little Joe's on Taylor in Little Italy more or less by accident. No mass-market beers on draft, a great girl behind the bar who knew her microbrews and a cozy, welcoming vibe. I'd kill for a place like this down the street from me.

Afterwards, we walked down the block and grabbed an Italian beef (combo, with sausage) with cheese, dipped, at Al's.

I kind of lost my mind eating this thing, it was so damn good.

For his part, Eric enjoyed the twice-fried French fries and the bag they came in.

Sunday brunch at Bin in Wicker Park was our second best meal in Chicago, especially because of the inventive Bloody Mary and mimosa flights.

The food was also inventive: Eric's egg sandwich had lovely, peppery escarole on it and the hashbrowns had a layer of caramelized onions.

The omelet of the day was only $10 but came with fresh crab meat, escargot, Gouda and was cooked in truffle oil. I know it's overdone and slightly weary (thanks to the truffle oil), but I loved every bite.

Waiting for the Chicago Architecture Foundation boat tour, we sucked it up and ate at a tourist trap along the Chicago River.

Despite that, the food at Cyrano's Bistrot was better than expected, especially the leek quiche and frites.

Our favorite meal was at The Purple Pig, both times we went. The coppa panini with Provolone, house-pickled peppers and whole grain mustard was an amazing $8.

Salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and pistachio vinaigrette were my favorite, while Eric preferred the shrimp and clams with rosamarina.

For more photos from the trip (and better photos, at that), check out Eric’s set over at Flickr. (Yes, they’re for sale.) (Kidding.) (Kind of.)