New Year’s Nosh

It’s the last day of 2007, ladies and gentlemen! And you can’t ring in the New Year properly without the appropriate New Year’s Nosh.

An old tradition in the South (and here in Texas, which I don’t really consider to be a part of the South, but that’s a whole other story…) is to have black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve. A New Year’s Eve spent without black-eyed peas all but guarantees that you’ll have bad luck in the coming year, so I suggest you get yourself down to the grocery store ASAP for some black-eyed peas and saltpork and fire up that crock pot. You’ll thank me next year.

beps.jpg

Another tradition around our house is to have caviar on New Year’s Eve, as a once-a-year indulgence. We hit up Liebman’s for some divine sevruga caviar a few days before and keep it nice and chilled until the day of. Serve the caviar with wooden or mother-of-pearl utensils (so as not to spoil the taste) on pieces of mini-toast with a glass of champagne, and even if you’re just sitting in your living room watching yet another Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve, it’ll be a smashing time.

caviar.jpg

However, if caviar isn’t an option for you (for monetary, dietary or moral reasons), then let me provide you with a third option for your New Year’s fare which combines my two favorite New Year’s dishes into one: Texas Caviar.

Texas Caviar is a savory, spicy dish reminiscent of fattoush, except that it’s made with black-eyed peas instead of stale pita bread.  You can serve Texas Caviar and kill two birds with one stone: your black-eyed pea-induced luck will be taken care of, as will your desire for some luscious caviar.  It’s a winner all around!

Here are some recipes to get you started, but remember that Texas Caviar is ultimately a salad and therefore can be interpreted rather loosely, and no two recipes are the same.  Don’t like avocado?  Leave it out.  Prefer it less spicy?  Forget the jalapeños.  Try a bunch of recipes until you find one that you like; they’re healthy and delicious and will please a crowd, so you can’t really go wrong.

Texas Caviar from Allrecipes.com

Texas Caviar from Southern Living

Texas Caviar II from Southern Living (my old favorite!)

texas-caviar.jpg

Have a wonderful and safe New Year’s Eve!  As my extremely astute cousin always says, it’s amateur night out there tonight, so be extra careful on the roads and highways.  But above all, have fun!

The wonderful photo of Texas Caviar, above, is courtesy of Jason Perlow at Off the Broiler.

Advertisements

Dimassi’s vs. Dimassi’s

Dimassi’s, Houston, Texas (Katy Freeway location)
December 26, 2007

Dimassi’s, Houston, Texas (Richmond/610 location)
December 29, 2007

If it were up to me, I’d probably eat Mediterranean food every single day of the week. So when two separate groups of friends wanted to try Dimassi’s this past week, I eagerly accompanied them.

The original Dimassi’s location at Richmond and 610 has been a favorite haunt of mine since high school. The decor has changed a few times over the years, from the original “Assisted Living Facility Bland” to the current design scheme, which looks like my Egyptian friend Amin’s mother’s sitting room, if the sitting room were the size of a high school cafeteria. Not exactly beautiful, more quirky and fun and a testament to the heritage of the owners and patrons. But even with the changing decor, the food has remained consistently wonderful despite the fact that it’s all served buffet-style. I attribute this to the vast volume of people flowing in and out of this location daily; the food has to be fresh, since it’s going so quickly.

The newer Dimassi’s location took over the old west Houston outpost of King Fish Market after Chris King decided to pursue other ventures (which, by the way, what the hell? where are you, Chris King? I miss your crazy local commercials…). King Fish Market was a big loss to our restaurant scene: always busy and always good, it was a favored happy hour location for the entire neighborhood and an easy and pleasing answer to the age-old “…I don’t know…what are you in the mood for tonight?”

King Fish Market was cheerful and welcoming inside, so when I heard that Dimassi’s would be filling out the abandoned restaurant, I was elated. Now I wouldn’t have to brave Galleria-area traffic when I craved good baba ganoush and falafel! But when I first entered the reinvented space, I was disappointed to see that the Dimassi’s redecorating team had torn out the beautiful stained glass bar (I know that there’s technically no need for a bar in a Middle Eastern restaurant, but I’m sure it could have been repurposed as something…) and replaced the entire area with hideous, commercial kitchen-grade flooring and three extremely unaesthetic buffet tables. The walls had all been repainted with dark clashing colors and random lamps and wall art had been hung haphazardly throughout the now-derelict looking facility. It looked absolutely, unredeemably hideous.  Continue reading Dimassi’s vs. Dimassi’s

Your Moment Of Zen

There’s a palpable undercurrent of menace about this video, which is what I imagine would be the end result of David Lynch directing a series of ice cream commercials. It reminds me of a Discovery Channel special that Richard was watching the other day on maggots. It showed several different corpses (dogs, pigs, foxes, humans — all of which I’m assuming were donated to science/a body farm) being devoured by maggots over an extended period of time, but through the magic of time-lapse cinematography so that it wasn’t nearly as squicky as you’re imagining right now. They just kind of…collapsed in on themselves. That’s all. (note: I whited the text out because it’s a little PG-13, so highlight to read at your own risk.)

Okay, so it was really gross. But in an enriching way, because– hey — it’s the Discovery Channel!

Which makes it all the more disturbing to me that I enjoy watching this video and find it relaxing, even. I’m hoping that all that says about me is that I really like Mulholland Drive and the Discovery Channel.

Merry Christmas From The Family

No, my family is not quite as bad as the eponymous Family from the famous Robert Earl Keen song (what? you don’t know that song? go here posthaste and familiarize yourself with this holiday classic!). We don’t serve bean dip or Diet Rite at our Christmas meals. And we don’t use cans of fake snow. And we don’t have relatives that drive in from Harlingen and park their motorhomes on the front lawn.

But we do have our share of holiday moments each year, being thismuchremoved from the boonies of East Texas.

This year’s festivities included a bird getting trapped inside of the house, me trying to chase it back outside and my ever-helpful husband following behind me with the video camera, giggling hysterically while hooting “This is going on America’s Funniest Home Videos!”

Great. As if I didn’t hate that show enough, now there’s the very real possibility that my husband is going to send in footage of me in pajamas, with crazy hair and brandishing a rake, tear-assing after a tiny wren while shrieking to Richard, “You’re not exactly helping, asshole!”

The festivities also included my father and brother bringing back a big buck from the deer lease. So, in lieu of the leg of lamb that was originally planned, my folks went to work preparing the deer for our big feast.  My father spent all day Monday cleaning the carcass in the backyard and carving out some venison steaks for Christmas dinner. And then my mother spent all afternoon Tuesday soaking it in milk in an effort to reduce its gaminess while making side dishes to accompany our venison feast.

For Christmas dinner, we had the venison steaks with a — for lack of a better word — confit of red onions, Maytag blue cheese, golden raisins and pine nuts, with sides of potato and leek gratin and some delicious little peas. It was a beautiful dinner. My mother had laid out the table on par with any Martha Stewart production and the food was plated brilliantly. Everything was quite posh, all in all.

As we all sat down and joined hands to say grace — our heads bowed in thoughtful reflection and the scent of venison wafting gently towards us — my father began to pray: “Dear tiny infant Jesus…” and the whole table just lost it in fits of howling, snorting laughter.

We can only keep our inner rednecks inside for so long, it would seem. Hope you and yours had a merry Christmas, too!

Santa Cake!

I came into work this morning to find that my awesome Day Job boss had left this on my desk as a Christmas present:

santa-cake-2.jpg

Not the actual Santa cake, mind you, but the adorable cake pan from Williams-Sonoma that one would theoretically use to create the Santa cake pictured above.  To wit:

santa-cake.jpg

She had also thoughtfully packaged it together with this scrumptious-sounding cake mix:

eggnog-cake.jpg

Although I prefer baking from scratch — sans mixes — the addition of eggnog (extract? flavoring? tiny eggnog molecules? I have no idea how Williams-Sonoma is defining this) to a poundcake is irresistable.  It should make for a nice, festive dessert on Christmas Eve alongside our leg of lamb and whatever else my mother is whipping up for dinner.

Now, as to the actual decorating of said Santa cake, I fear that with my subpar decorating skills it will turn out less like the lovely cake pictured above and more like this:

evil-santa.jpg

Thank God we don’t have little kids coming to Christmas dinner this year.

J. Alexander’s

J. Alexander’s, Houston, TX
December 19, 2007

As with so many of my restaurant excursions, I did not intend to end up at J. Alexander’s for lunch yesterday.  It happened only because the other occupants of the car had suddenly decided that Thai food was too “different” and the accessibility and familar food of a chain restaurant beckoned to them from Westheimer (seriously, sometimes I really struggle with my very nice but very sheltered and timid coworkers).  And so it was that we wound up directly across the street from the restaurant I never wanted to leave the day before (Bistro Le Cep) and, sadly, in an entirely different culinary universe from the one that Bistro Le Cep inhabits.

If it’s not already been well-established, then let me get this out of the way right now:  I strongly dislike chain restaurants.  Thank God I live in a city like Houston where they can be deftly avoided in favor of locally-owned and operated establishments.  I’d be utterly screwed if I lived in Dallas.

dallas-bad.jpg

There are a few chain restaurants that I will go to, knowing full well that they serve microwaved Sysco products cooked by a person a few rungs up the evolutionary ladder from an orangutan.  On those occasions, I’m doing what is fondly referred to as “giving up” because I’m exhausted or preoccupied with other matters and I’ll eat whatever is put in front of me.  However, I don’t often make a conscious choice to eat at chain restaurants.  Yesterday’s meal was a perfect example of why I maintain this practice. Continue reading J. Alexander’s