Dinner for Eight

…not to be confused with Dinner at Eight, my favorite Rufus Wainwright song.  You should listen to it.  Right now.  Before you go any further.  Go on; I’ll wait here.

Great!  Now, about this dinner.  Contrary to popular belief, it’s not every day that I eat seven course dinners.  And it’s not every day you meet someone so talented in the kitchen that it makes you want to go play in traffic for the shame of it all.  Last night, those two things collided quite amazingly when we had dinner at Shannon‘s house.

Describing the Feta

Our gracious hostess, describing the process by which she debrines Bulgarian feta cheese.

Shannon, one of the newer (and younger!Houston Chowhound members and a recent transplant from St. Louis, kindly issued an invitation a few weeks ago for a dinner at her home.  We should have known what to expect when we received an elegantly printed menu in our email inboxes a few days prior to dinner: seven courses, all of which sounded magnificent and none of which were anything like you’d typically find in a restaurant, much less in someone’s home.

Place Setting
Place settings.

When we showed up yesterday evening — myself, Ruthie, Jenny, Joanne, Robert and his wife — we were all greeted by the intoxicating scent of freshly-baked brioche and another, less familiar aroma.  I soon discovered it was the first course: Ash-e Reshteh, Iranian bean and noodle soup.

First Course
Topped with crispy fried onions.

The soup was an immense hit right off the bat. None of us had ever had Iranian bean soup before. Except, of course, Shannon’s husband, who is Iranian and who serves as a huge inspiration for her cuisine. The soup — which normally has ground beef and is cooked with beef broth — was a vegetarian version of the traditional Iranian recipe made with kidney and garbanzo beans, which made it both immensely healthy and hearty. The copious amounts of dill and parsley managed to keep it from being too heavy, though, and lent a refreshing crispness to the soup.

Continue reading Dinner for Eight

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Na Zdrowie!

A few of the loyal Chowhounds and I met up last night at Polonia, one of the few Polish restaurants in town — really the only Polish restaurant in town, as far as I’m aware — for what I’m sure will become a cherished Election Night ritual in decades to come: pints of Pilsner, tons of cabbage and CNN on the big screen under a huge Polish flag.  I mean, that’s how you spent your election night, right?

Polonia

Before heading in for our feast, however, Peggy and I sampled the wares at Polonia‘s sister deli next door.  Although it may seem difficult to imagine, there are quite a few jars of sauerkraut lining the shelves at Polonia‘s deli.

Pickles

Even more surprisingly, there is roughly a metric tonne of sausage available for purchase. Kielbasa? Yes. Kabanosy? Yes. Kabanosy suche? YES. No need to do a crazy, eager waiting dance for days as you wait for your kabanosy to dry out — they sell it pre-dried here.

Sausages

Aside from sausage and sauerkraut, there is the traditional bounty of food one would expect in a Polish deli: jars of beets, freezers full of many varieties of pierogi, Princessa bars, bottles of carbonated water, to-go containers of bigos and gołąbki, and assorted Polish memorabilia.

I purchased some fresh kabanosy (which will go well with the bottle of Żubrówka that’s chilling in my fridge) and a yellow greeting card with a piano on it that says Serdeczne Życzenia.  I have no idea what that means.  My Polish is extremely limited, as you shall learn later.

Bar

Soon, our other Chowhounds showed up — Ruthie and Victoria — and we ended our shopping excursion and headed into the restaurant.  Inside, most of the tables were full of jovial families and couples, while a harried but charming waitress worked her way through the small, cozy dining room.  A bar stood in one corner, with only one beer on tap: Pilsner.  The breadth and variety of vodka behind the bar was staggering, though.

The menu at Polonia is like a guided tour through Poland’s best cuisine.  You’ll be hard-pressed not to find a dish that isn’t represented, from barszcz all the way to paczki (which are only available on weekends, however).  As a result, we were faced with the difficult task of choosing only four dishes off the menu.

Combo Platter

As you can see, we were more than up to the task. The combination platter presented a tidy solution to our dilemma, containing a heart-stopping mixture of pierogi, kielbasa, gołąbki (cabbage rolls), bigos, meat loaf, baked pork, duck legs and several cold salads.

Potato Pancakes

What’s that? Oh, you thought that was all we ordered? Amateur.

Before digging into the combination platter, we ordered a serving of potato pancakes (appetizer portion), two bowls of barszcz and a bowl of sour rye soup. All were huge hits as they were passed around the table. Ruthie’s germane comment on the barszcz was that it tasted “…like a bowl of health.” To her point, the dark ruby-red barszcz was very brothy — much more so than I’m used to — but had hearty meat-filled dumplings to offset its thinness.  The tangy sour rye soup with its chunks of sausage and hardboiled eggs also drew rave reviews, as did the utterly comforting potato pancakes.

What Were We Thinking?

Along with our combination platter, we also demolished a plate of golonka (braised pork shank) and some veal schnitzel.  The golonka was the favorite of the night, the pork falling off the bone with only the lightest breath and its silky, paprika-spiked sauce being eaten by the spoonful.

For my part, I enjoyed the bigos and the gołąbki the most.  I’ve never tasted bigos quite like Polonia‘s, which was much sweeter and vinegary than I’m used to.  Instead of only sauerkraut, they add shredded carrots and apples to the mix, which — along with the traditional juniper berries — lend it a sharp sweetness that’s addictive.  I could have easily eaten the bigos as a meal on its own (and probably will next time I’m there).

Pilsner

And I realize that we should have been enjoying a nice vodka with our meal, but while I love and appreciate the Polish people and their culture, I’m simply not that in love with it.  I just can’t sip vodka throughout a meal; your mileage may vary.  We stuck with the cool, sweet Pilsner that perfectly complemented the meal — a good thing, too, since it’s all they have at Polonia.

As we wound down our meal, discussion turned to why I like Polish food and why on earth I speak Polish.  While that’s a long story, the night ended with me attempting to teach Victoria and Ruthie a few choice phrases.  I considered teaching them something highly useful, such as “Ja nie mam nogie…” but settled instead on the simple “Thank you” and “My name is Ruthie.”

Victoria managed “Dziękuję” quite handily, even if it sounded more like “Jane cool ya” when spoken aloud.  Ruthie, on the other hand,  ended up mnemonically remembering “”Nazywam sie Ruthie” as “nauseous upchuck Ruthie.”  That said, when she stopped our waitress to proudly display her newly acquired linguistic skills — “MY NAME IS RUTHIE!!!” — the waitress understood her Polish immediately and grinned from ear to ear.

“Who taught you that?” she asked.

“She did!” Ruthie grinned back, pointing at me.

“…her?”  The waitress stared at me quizzically.  “Czy mówisz po polsku?”

And at that point, my Polish skills ground to a halt. “Nie.”

“Nie?”

“Nie. Ja nie jestem polski.”

More staring. And then the waitress just walked confusedly away.

Now, this is a bit like walking around with a great green balloon tied to your wrist, and someone asking you, “Hey, do you have a green balloon?” And you responding, “No. No, I do not.” And then trying to pop that balloon really fast, while they’re still staring at it.  Awkward…

That lesson in linguistic diplomacy notwithstanding, I couldn’t recommend Polonia more highly.  Wonderful food, reasonable prices, friendly service and — most importantly — the best bigos this side of Krakow.  Bonus:  Check them out for yourself this weekend and you can catch some hot, fresh paczki.

Smacznego!

Memesday

It’s Tuesday!  But in lieu of Tuesday Trivia (after all, the ONLY questions you should be answering today are located inside of a polling booth), we’re having a nice, quiet Memesday in the midst of all this election hullabaloo.

This meme is extremely similar to the popular Mosaic Meme that was passed around a few months ago, except that it’s entirely food-related, so you should know the rules:

  • Type your answer to the questions into Flickr search
  • Using only the first page of results, pick an image
  • Copy and paste each of the URLs in the Mosaic Maker

And, of course, the questions:

  1. What is your favorite restaurant?
  2. What is your favorite type of cuisine?
  3. What is your favorite comfort food?
  4. What is your favorite childhood food?
  5. What is your favorite dish to prepare for company?
  6. What is your favorite wine?
  7. Who is your favorite chef?
  8. What is your least favorite food?
  9. What is the most adventurous food you’ve eaten?

mosaic4746459

1. Feast of the Cross K1, 2. Wat Arun at Sunset, 3. Three-Cheese Macaroni with Thyme-Parmesan Crust, 4. limbs, 5. Reykjavík, 6. polaroid, 7. ***, 8. old barbershop, 9. fantastic fox….

You might be nonplussed about the lack of actual food photographs in this photo meme about food, but relax.  That’s what makes this meme so interesting (not to mention beautiful!).  You can also feel free to elaborate on your answers to the questions, or — like me — leave the mosaic to be appreciated on a solely visual level.

Of course, no meme would be complete without tagging a corresponding nine of your nearest and dearest:

Happy Memesday, people!  Now get out there and rock the vote!

The Weekend In Food: Holy Monkeys, It’s November

It was a busy weekend, folks.  So keeping that in mind, I’m going to try and stick to the food-related milestones of the weekend, or else we’ll be here all day.  And no one wants that.  …or do they?

Friday

7:00pm:  Pulling up to Feast with Richard for our anniversary dinner.  No, we didn’t get married on Halloween, but who wants to go out to a fancy dinner on a Monday night?

7:15pm:  Love the service at Feast.  Love it.  We have a bottle of gorgeous Spanish red — Castell del Remei Gotem Blue — and some fresh bread and silky butter and ice water and we’re going to town on ALL of it.

7:30pm:  Appetizers are out.  Richard has the curried parsnip soup and I have the stuffed pigs’ feet.  Both are amazing.

8:00pm:  Noshing on the main courses.  Richard is having the steak and kidney pudding with fresh suet, which was made expressly for us by James.  It is divine, and this is coming from someone who does not like steak and kidney puddings, pies or anything else of that nature.  I’m having the equally heavenly sweetbreads with roasted root veggies.  SO GOOD.

9:00pm:  Far too stuffed for dessert.  Sloshing a bit as we finish off the wine.  Watch the Montrose pub crawlers go by outside on Westheimer, on bicycles and on foot, all dressed in outrageous costumes.

9:30pm:  Playing “World Capital Trivia,” which Richard is winning.  Bastard.  I’m no good at geography when I’m full of wine and pancreas.

10:00pm:  Headed home.  Need to sleep off massive amounts of food…

Saturday

7:00am:  Up early for no particular reason.  Would make breakfast if we had food in the house.  Must go grocery shopping.

8:00am:  Have discovered some smoked salmon in the pantry!  NOM NOM NOM.

9:00am:  Piddling around on computer, attempting to write Dynamo article for Houstonist and failing.

12:00pm:  Leave house to meet Groovehouse for lunch at BB’s Cajun Cafe.

12:30pm:  Elbow deep in an overstuffed oyster po-boy and a St. Arnold’s Lawnmower.  It is an absolutely gorgeous day outside, I’ve got a great beer and a great sandwich — what more could a girl want?

12:31pm:  CHEESE GRITS.

12:32pm:  AND CATFISH.

12:33pm:  I’ll bet Groovehouse is regretting eating lunch with me right about now.  Me = notorious food thief.

1:30pm:  Must go back to BB’s soon; too many menu items I didn’t get to this time around.

5:00pm:  Back at the house after a long afternoon of piddling around with friends.  I do an inordinate amount of piddling.  But it’s good for the soul.

5:30pm:  All dressed up and looking semi-cute.  Richard and I ready to leave the house for the McCormick & Schmick grand opening party with Jenny and Fulmer when he gets a call from Trafton: Rockets tickets, tonight.  Bye-bye, husband!

6:30pm:  At Jenny’s house, drinking a bottle of Pulque and waiting for Fulmer to show up to escort us out on the town.  I like the Pulque.  I don’t care what the world thinks of me!

7:30pm:  At the McCormick & Schmick opening.  Free champers and oysters FTW.  Except that they don’t seem to be checking invitations and there are an awful lot of randoms in shorts and flip-flops.  Boo.

9:00pm:  Getting bored.  There’s only so many trays of dropped sliders and random Police cover band songs to hold your interest for so long.

9:30pm:  At Morton’s Steakhouse, drinking coffee and eating a key lime pie that Fulmer owed me from the last Tuesday Trivia.

10:15pm:  Jenny has decided that we need to get into the Foundation Room at the House of Blues.

10:30pm:  And so we do.

11:00pm:  After a lovely tour by the GM (the whole place smells like nag champa; it’s intoxicating), we’re given some free drinks and left to our own devices.

11:30pm:  Those devices include going to Saez & Zouk.

12:00am:  Bottle service?  Hah!

1:00pm:  Can’t hold my own anymore, even though I’m only *mumblecoughmumble* years old.  Jenny and Fulmer drop me off at my car and head off into the great night beyond.  I head home and collapse into bed.

Sunday

6:00am:  Up early again; extra hour of sleep helped.  Cleaning house and doing weekendy-around-the-house things.

2:00pm:  Head over to Coffee Groundz for Houston Twitter Meetup.  Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!

2:30pm:  Mmm…gigantic bold coffee.  Love.

3:00pm:  Some delicious gelato is being passed around: honey lavender.  What?  MUST HAVE.

3:01pm:  ALL GONE.  SO GOOD.

3:02pm:  Licking gelato cup.  I have no shame.

3:30pm:  Free glasses of Malbec?  Yes, please!

4:00pm:  Free glasses of Chardonnay?  Yes, please!

5:00pm:  Free glass of Merlot from the totally and all-encompassingly awesome MagsMac?  YES, PLEASE.

6:00pm:  MORE free wine from MagsMac?  Yes, but not before I get on this awesome golf cart and drive around while Fayza yells at people and we cuddle cute dogs named Bentley.

7:00pm:  All this free wine and coffee is awesome, but I’m HUNGRY.

8:00pm:  Heading over to Chuy’s with Monica, Fayza and Groovehouse.

8:05pm:  OH, CRAP.  Lost track of time!  I was supposed to be at Sacred Heart for the fundraiser this evening!!!  !&#!&*!$%@()&!*#

8:10pm:  It’s probably over by now…  Tex-Mex will have to calm my guilty soul.

8:30pm:  Steven rolls up to Chuy’s for our Tex-Mex feast.  We have a healthy five people at a four-top, cause we’re cozy like that.

9:00pm:  NOM.

9:30pm:  Taking leftovers home to Richard, who has probably not left his little Richard-shaped indentation on the couch today for fear of missing football-y goodness.

10:30pm:  Aaaaaaaand…bed.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend, folks!  And just think: you made it through yet another Monday, so only four more days to go until the next one.