Eat What’s In Your Pantry

Inspired by this recent post on the eGullet forums (and whomever pointed me to this, let me know in the comments section, because I can’t remember who you are!), I decided to take stock of my cupboard, fridge and freezer. The post calls for people to go without shopping for a week and instead live off the bulk of their presumably packed pantries:

Surely I’m not alone in having a freezer and pantry full of food, much of which will get thrown out as it expires over the course of the coming months and years. Indeed, I live in a small apartment. People with houses, basement freezers and walk-in pantries surely have far more of this stuff lying around than I do. Surely I’m not alone in having overbought at the supermarket last week. Surely I’m not alone when I get home from the supermarket and can barely fit the new food in the refrigerator because there’s so much of the old stuff. Surely I’m not alone in being able to skip a week of shopping and still eat well.

So let’s do it again, together. Let’s all skip a week of shopping. Let’s declare national eat the stuff in our freezers and pantries week.

Think about it from an economic standpoint. Times are tough right now. If you spend $100 a week on groceries, this experiment will put $100 back in your pocket quicker than you can say stimulus. If you’re home 50 weeks of the year and you perform this experiment once per quarter, you’ll reduce your grocery bill by 8%.

So this Sunday, I’m not going shopping. And whether you shop on the weekend or on another day, I’m asking you not to shop either. Instead, let’s eat all the stuff we already have around. And let’s talk about it, compare photos, help one another figure out what to do with that jar of giardiniera or that packet of pilaf.

I know plenty of people (Mom, I’m looking at you!) who could comfortably subsist on the contents of their pantries for a week, if not an entire month. In fact, my great-grandmother and great-grandfather — notorious horders who kept huge freezers full of food on their property in anticipation of the next stock market crash or an impending zombie apocalypse — would have stared this challenge in the face and laughed hysterically at it.

I, however, cannot. I’m not an all-at-once kind of shopper. I love Costco, but don’t buy in bulk. Instead, I go shopping nearly every day, buying whatever looks best for dinner that night and grabbing any staples that may have run out. That said, I’ve been…a bit busy lately. Without elaborating, allow me to simply run down a quick list of what is currently residing in my fridge, freezer and nearly-bare cupboard.

Continue reading Eat What’s In Your Pantry


A Bitter Brew

There’s something foul afoot in coffeehouses along the Washington Avenue corridor lately.

Catalina Coffee
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jeremey

First came the sad tale of Catalina Coffee and their owner’s bizarre snit immediately after Hurricane Ike, in which he bolted metal plates over all the wall sockets and turned off the wi-fi so that his customers wouldn’t be able to charge their electronics or access the internet despite the majority of the city being without electricity.  When asked about these “alterations” and their effect on his customers, his response was “Customers? I don’t care what customers want. What matters is what I want. I opened my own shop because of that.”

He eventually apologized, stating that ” We provided free wi-fi and electricty for anyone and everyone (after making the decision to cap the plugs, we set up charging stations in front of the cafe where the wi-fi signal is still strong, oh and by the way, some jerk stole one of our power strips). For anyone that did not have money, we gave them coffee any way.”  But the apology came too late for a community of customers that was utterly repelled by the initial actions the coffee house, and many people have stayed away from Catalina ever since (and at last report, those metal plates are still on the wall sockets).

And out of this Thanksgiving weekend comes an even stranger story: the owner of The Daily Grind, down the street from Catalina, appears to have totally and completely lost her mind.

no thanx to the taggers
Photo courtesy of Flickr user chuckwheat.

It began simply enough:

This past Sunday my wife and our friend decided to meet for a late breakfast. At my suggestion we tried the Daily Grind on Washington. I hadn’t been there in a while and had been meaning to as their breakfast sandwiches are fantastic.

My wife and I arrive and our friend was at the counter ordering her food. Excited as we’re up next we both order the breakfast sandwich with coffee. The woman(#1) behind the counter notifies us that they may be out of  croissants. Checking she confirms that they are out. The key ingredient in their breakfast sandwich is the croissant so we cancelled our order and I ordered the Migas, my wife ordered an omelet with potatoes. Two simple orders.

”That will be $26.35 please.” Woman #1 said

“Are you freaking kidding me? For a half order of migas, one omelet and two coffees?” I screamed in my head.

I paid without mentioning my displeasure, it was a nice day and I wasn’t going to ruin it by complaining about being overcharged for eggs, potatoes and tortillas. Flag #1

The story is best appreciated in its entirety, suffice it to say that an otherwise benign — if expensive and extremely late — meal ended with the owner kicking out Jason and his wife while screaming expletives at them in front of the entire restaurant:

“Get the fuck out of here you pieces of shit and never come back!” She screams again.

“Go to fucking IHOP.” She says while flicking her hand as if to shoo us away.

Now say what you will about IHOP and their menu but at least they have a code ethics and the big rule in that code of ethics that all businesses in the service industry adhere to is; The customer is always right, even when they aren’t.

Well, we were and now this woman is going insane. My wife and I have never backed down from a fight before so this woman has obviously gotten our blood boiling.

“Are you serious.” I say to her still trying to figure out if I am still asleep or not.

“Get the fuck out of here! Get the fuck out of here!” She screams again.

If you’re anything like me, you’re completely nonplussed at this point.  The Daily Grind has been dead to me for a while, ever since their prices increased and their service and food quality conversely decreased.  The last time I went there, I also waited nearly an hour for my food (but at least there was a good coffee selection).  There are too many wonderful places to eat breakfast or brunch in Houston to put up with that kind of service.

But this story is definitely a new nadir.  I — along with Jason, I’m sure — would love to hear an apology or even an explanation, a la Max from Catalina Coffee, who at least had the balls to face his critics.  I can’t imagine what scenario would have pushed the owner — the owner, fer chrissakes! — of The Daily Grind to act this way towards paying customers who did nothing other than request the food they’d paid for, but I’d love to hear her excuse nevertheless.

The story has made its way quickly out of the blogosphere and onto Twitter, where news — good and bad — about local customer service spreads like a wildfire set with gasoline.  I think it goes without saying that The Daily Grind is going to be dead to a lot more people after this.

Tripping the Night Away

The Social

So…that Flavor Tripping party this weekend?  WAS AWESOME.  You should have come.  If you didn’t, I fully expect to see your bright, shining faces at the next one on November 23rd.

To whet your appetite, here’s a little slideshow and writeup from the ultra-exclusive “weekend edition” of Houstonist:

Houstonist Was There: Flavor Tripping at The Social

And if you live in Houston and love food and you haven’t yet joined the Houston Chowhounds, what are you waiting for?  Upcoming events include a special dinner at Himalaya cooked by Chef Kaiser Lashkari — with a portion of the proceeds going to benefit the Houston Food Bank — and a taco truck crawl.  You know you want to…

At the End of the Rainbow

Exciting news from the Randy Rucker camp: the former chef/owner of laidback manor and the genius behind tenacity is now the executive chef at Rainbow Lodge!

Rainbow Lodge holds a special place in my heart, as it’s where my mother and stepfather were married back in 1991.  The restaurant and its grounds are absolutely gorgeous, the 100-year-old log cabin that serves as the main restaurant evoking a warm, sanguine, lodge-like feeling despite being right in the middle of Houston.  Their motto of “sophisticated but not stuffy” couldn’t be more perfectly paired with Randy’s own brand of cuisine.

Randy, too, is excited as you can tell from his blog:

i am very excited about this project because it allows me to continue developing my style of contemporary gulf coast cuisine and with plans are already in effect to increase their potager (kitchen & herb garden) to include citrus groves and many large vegetable gardens.  please come and support us this monday for what is to be the beginning of a very very good thing…

His first dinner will be served this Monday, November 3rd, and will feature a traditional Randy-style menu of modern, experimental American and Gulf Coast cuisine:

  • Gulf amberjack, black lava salt, heirloom beets & cilantro pistou
  • Tartare of local bison, smoked mustard, dried capers & farmhouse egg vinaigrette
  • Crisped sausage, miso, white bean gnocchi, aged sherry & charred Brussel sprout leaves
  • Charred axis venison heart, malabar spinach, shaved cauliflower & truffle anglaise
  • Grey triggerfish, zucchini pesto & foamed goat’s milk
  • Roasted breast of pheasant, local pears & mushroom marmalade
  • Frozen white chocolate charcoal, raspberry curd & rosemary-rose water

The dinner will also feature the debut of his own version of the Savoy Truffle, which I recently wrote about in Houstonist.

This is wonderful news, indeed.  Make sure you drop by Randy’s page and congratulate him!  Houston needs more chefs like him, and I’m glad that Rainbow Lodge has offered Randy a home.  Here’s to a successful pairing and a long, happy partnership!

Pizza Fusion: Organic Pizza Comes to Town

A new post this morning on Houstonist about the first and only certified organic restaurant in Houston, which will be opening in November: Pizza Fusion.

Green Pizza Comes to Houston

Located up north at Highway 249 and Louetta, Pizza Fusion will feature not only a totally organic menu and an extremely environmentally-conscious building, but a glut of gluten-free, lactose-free, vegetarian and vegan items on their menu.  They even have organic wine and gluten-free beer.  How freaking cool is that?

A side shout-out:  Cory, between the location and the menu, it’s like this restaurant was specially created for you and your wife.

When Pizza Fusion opens next month, you can be sure I’ll be one of their first customers — even if it means driving into the great unknown of north Houston.  😉

The Ultimate Blog Awards

Alright, food bloggers.  If you think you’re up to snuff (and want to part with $100 of your hard-earned money), you now have the opportunity to nominate yourself for a James Beard Award.

You read correctly.  A James Beard Award.

For the first time ever, the ultra-prestigious James Beard Foundation — which awards yearly prizes in categories like best chef, best restauranteur, best wine service, best cookbook author and best food journalist — will have an award for Best Blog.

No, seriously:

The Journalism Awards program has established a new James Beard Foundation Award for Blogs focusing on Food, Restaurants, Beverage, or Nutrition. Blogs have become an essential part of today’s evolving media landscape. They provide journalists from both traditional and nontraditional backgrounds with an immediate, direct outlet for their work, and open up an unprecedented avenue for vibrant dialogue with readers. With the addition of this vital new category, the James Beard Foundation recognizes the tremendous impact that blogs have had on food journalism, and their importance to the future of the medium.

There is no cash prize that comes along with any of the awards, merely the prestige of having won what’s popularly referred to as the “Oscar of the food world.”

The Best Blog award falls under the journalism category, which means that at least a few people out there in the world recognize blogging as something more than merely a social media tool, but as a legitimate means of conveying news and information.

Then again, the JBF folks could just want another category that will garner them $100 per entry.  Your call…

Albert Roux Comes to Town

Last night, I moseyed over to Discovery Green with Jenny to check out Culture Collision.  Which was both an awesome event and an awesome confluence of people that I normally see in very separate settings, all together in one place.  It was a gorgeous evening (Erin was very excited about her ability to wear both boots and a cardigan in the cool-ish weather) and the entertainment on the main stage by the lake was unparalleled: the Houston Grand Opera, several dance companies, some guys with drums.

Jenny and I stopped by the La Torretta Del Lago tent with Fayza, where the soon-to-be-opened resort was passing around bites from their signature restaurant, Chez Roux.  The restaurant will be famed Chef Albert Roux‘s first American establishment, located improbably at a luxury resort on Lake Conroe.  The multi-Michelin-starred chef has hired young chef Wyatt Maguire (and I do mean young) to head up the kitchen, which should be an interesting pairing.

The bites that the La Torretta tent offered last night were irresistable: spicy tuna rolls, edamame soup with yuzu foam and chocolate truffles.  Fayza was not a fan of the edamame soup, but Jenny and I gulped it down with relish.  The earthy, vegetal, slightly salty, pureed edamame was perfectly paired with the fresh, tangy yuzu foam.  The spicy tuna rolls were also executed flawlessly.

If they do this well at mass producing soup and sushi for passing out to hundreds of passers-by at a festival, then I can’t wait to see what Wyatt Maguire does in the kitchen at Chez Roux.  We will definitely be making a pilgrimage out there when it opens in January 2009.

On that note, if you’d like to catch the master himself while he’s in town, you need to RSVP now for the Albert Roux dinner at VOICE.  Held on October 23rd, the dinner will feature a tasting menu of six courses, prepared by Chef Roux and Chef Kramer, along with wine pairings.  Since it’s being held in the fantastic wine vault at VOICE (which means you’ll have a full view of the kitchen!), seating is limited.  Tickets are $150 and can be reserved by calling 832.667.4470.

P.S.  VOICE was recently named as one of Esquire’s best new restaurants of 2008.  Check it out!

Chili Cookoff: T Minus One Week

And where will you be a week from today at 2:00 pm?  Let me tell you…

You’ll be at the Second Annual No Holds Barred Chili Cookoff at Shady Tavern in the Heights, that’s where!  A $5.00 wristband gets you all-you-can-eat chili and a vote for the People’s Champ.  Winners in the other four categories — Best In Show, Most Original, Spiciest and Most Traditional — will be decided by the judges, one of which is yours truly.  The other three judges are the competition’s two founders, Dock and Brandon, and my fellow foodie Jenny of I’m Never Full.

Since this is Shady Tavern we’re talking about here, there will — of course — be plenty of live music and ice cold beer on hand.  And since there are nearly 20 competitors this year, there will be plenty of different chili styles to sample and peruse. Want to read more about the event?  Check out yesterday’s article in Houstonist:

Chili Cookoff: You Cumin?

Remember: October 11th at 2:00 p.m. … the competition begins.  See y’all there!