Sunday, November 5, 2017

Duck egg and NPR wine club are culinary adventures


                             Port Arthur’s Vietnamese groceries offer finds from fresh vegetables, savory spices and attractive dishes from which to serve it all.
                             I stopped by one for a cucumber and spotted large, blue-tinted eggs. I supposed they were duck eggs, but thought I’d ask. Turns out they were the kind of duck eggs with a little duck, instead of a yolk, inside.
                             I’d heard on National Public Radio (see below) that these sold cooked at Asian markets and small children who behave themselves while shopping consider them a treat. You crack it open and eat the duck what’s inside, bones and all.
                             For about $1.50, I figured I’d try that experience, but I was told to boil the egg for about 40 minutes. And give it a “shot” of salt and maybe pepper.
                             I love culinary thrill seeking, but I was getting nervous as I cracked the tough shell and then pierced through a tough skin on the inside to reveal just what was supposed to be in there. I hesitated, but tried it.
                             It’s certainly the final time I’ll do that again, but won’t rule out trying one boiled and seasoned by someone who knows what he or she is doing.
                             The spread included sticky rice, pickled ginger, cucumber, carrots and persimmon, so I considered myself very well fed in the end.


                  NPR wine club
                             I’m a big fan of KVLU, 91.3, Lamar University’s public radio station. I grew up with it because my mom played it. The All Things Considered theme music has a Pavlov’s dog effect on me because it meant dinner was cooking.
                             When I had the chance to save items from recent flood waters, I nabbed my National Public Radio coffee mugs that I’d collected from fund drives.
                        Imagine my excitement about the new NPR Wine Club, dubbed an  innovative way to support public radio. How about a serving of “Weekend Edition,” which was like savoring a sweet grape jam at brunch. Hmm, maybe the experienced and comical label writers describe the notes better, but I loved it.
            "All Grapes Considered" Malbec,"Weekend Edition" Cabernet Sauvignon and an "Uncorked" Merlot, are some combos as clever as what you’d expect from the vineyards and NPR creative minds that got this deal together. Of course, some of my favorite public radio programs and interviews are about sharing stories of  travel, cultures and the foods that tell the stories of the world. That’s big news.
darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fall flavors and looks from pecans to popcorn, hot syrup to high brow



If D or     If D is for Dr Pepper and A is for Alamo, “This is Texas, Y’all!” is the book for all of us. Misha Mayerick Blaise offers the Lone Star State from A to Z in a fun book that’s fun for all ages. She’s got our flavors, cultures and holidays down. This week, let’s flip to P for Pecan in honor of the Groves Pecan Festival.
                             We learn that there are more than 1,000 varieties of pecans, which is Algonquian for ‘hard-shelled nut.” Many are named for Native American tribes such as the Apache, Chayenne, Shawnee and Mohawk. Hardly like a true Texan, a pecan tree canlive to be more than 1,000 years old and grow more than 100 feet tall. Of  course, y’all knew the pecan tree is the state tree of Texas.
 
                            Hot news in syrup
What do you know about Merquén chili peppers? Perhaps not much if  you’re in Texas, the land of jalapenos. Here’s a quick lesson about  Runamok Maple’s experiment, which I say is a success.  These folks in Vermpont barrel age syrups with exotic flavors and this, as predicted, has been my favorite of those I tried. Smoked Merquén Chili Pepper Infused maple syrup is available from runamokmaple.com.
  The syrup, in a beautiful bottle, uses a spice blend centered on chili peppers from the Mapuche region of Chile, which are first ripened to a dark red color in order to develop a rich flavor, then slowly smoked over a fire., is what makers say.
“We trialed many different chili peppers to find one that would result in a unique, superior product,” said Eric Sorkin, Co-Founder of Runamok Maple. “When we infuse the Merquén into our maple syrup it adds a balanced amount of richness, heat and smokiness that is enhanced by the natural caramel tones of the maple. I recommend using this new variety over cheddar cheese, on BBQ, roasted vegetables and meats, and even eggs. It also lends an exotic and sweet element to cocktails.”
Now, here’s how I first tired it. I toasted oatmeal bread, fried an egg and heated a banana. I dipped banana and toast into this lovely colored syrup and the experience was something that people would pay big money for in a restaurant. I was relaxed in my own house, making yummy sounds.

Popcornopolis!       There comes a time in October where I’m ready to eat popcorn for dinner a couple of times a week. It could be with butter, or olive oil and curry, or white chocolate bark or something akin to Chex mix. I’m all about it.
                             Popcornopolis is a place, on the web at least, where someone else will pop for you, and you will thank them.        
                             The Red Snowflake gift basket is something that will get you in the door of parties, or create a party right where you are. Look for this 5-cone gift basket with Caramel Corn, Kettle Corn, Cheddar Cheese, Cinnamon Toast and Zebra. Thee are listed in no particular order of yumminess, but come on, the Zebra is black and white drizzles of chocolate.
                             I was actually able to share a sample with two taste testers and one proclaimed joy through the fluffiness. The other one just kept his mouth full of popcorn. It’s five kinds of good for $41.99 in an eye-popping package.
                             Visit this magical pop place at www.Popcornopolis.com

                            Sounds Good: High Brow
                              It’s amusing to see Halloween makeup featured when cobalt mascara and neon purple lips are the fashion year-round.
                              I grew up in an era where thick eyebrows were downplayed and now “bold” brows are the thing. Remember “The Good Wife” TV series? Everyone wanted the look those actresses carried and Dermelect Cosmeceuticals has the tools to make it easy. You may be surprised that there are multiple steps, but they’re all easy.
                             Brow Transformer & Revitalite Brow Lift are attractively-packaged double-ended tools to enhance sparse or thinning brows. The lift is a defining and highlighting crayon. One side gets swept, dabbed and blended above the brow arch and the other tip goes below. I love the feel of the Transformer with an angled tip to fill in Oak Brown or Ashe Blonde colors, you order your preference. The brush of the “spooley” to sculpture your work feels soft and feathery. Now you’re good to go for the office, dinner, the Groves Pecan Festival or even Halloween. Be “The Good Wife!”
            Darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Do you have to hide the cottage cheese?

 


                             Hidden Cottage Cheese
                             My husband says he won’t eat lumpy cottage cheese, so I sneaked some into a blender and creamed it to perfection. I’d tell you his reaction, but I ate it all myself. I blended a fresh jalapeno into one batch, and this light green spread was cool and spicy and just the right dip for chips and crackers.

                             It was much, much lower in calories than sour cream and a very good substitute.
                                         Pretzel Pieces
                             Are Synyder’s of Hanover Pretzel Pieces simply packaged crumbles of the whole? I don’t care. I’m all into the little bag of Hot Buffalo Wing Sourdough Hard Pretzel, “bursting with flavor” bag my sister introduced me to.
                             They’re artificially flavored, but again, I don’t care. There’s a health food nut next to me and between the two of us we may be about to finish the 3.5 servings that this bag contains.
                             They’re crunchy and the flavor pops.
           
            Halo Top
            I avoid keeping ice cream in the house but who could resist a coupon for a free pint? Halo Top all-natural light ice cream features a low calorie count featured into the label design.
            A coupon came on the back of my check-out receipt so I returned to the store to nab the pistachio. In a conversational way, I asked the checker if she had tried it.
            “Yep,” was her strongly-delivered, succinct, no-follow-up reply. It made me laugh.
            “Is that your review?” I asked.
            She had tried another flavor and for her money, she’d prefer her favorite Blue Bell.
            I get how she feels, but as a Weight Watcher, I truly appreciated Halo’s flavor, texture, “mouth feel’ and even appearance. I found it refreshing and the low calorie component was a welcome bonus. Here’s a tip: tasters are confirming its best to let it soften on the counter as opposed to gobbling it up straight from the freezer. Give it a minute, folks. Check out a label for other more-healthy aspects to this brand.

                             Hummus overload?
                             So this happened before Harvey and I’m still amused. A pool-party hostess specifically requested ‘finger foods” be brought. I asked about a curry rice salad I make and still got the vibe of “more fingery.”
                        I had all the ingredients for hummus and decided it would hit the spot. Then I started thinking about the people invited to this party tended to be healthy-minded people who gravitated toward natural foods. I began thinking “what if everyone brings hummus?” Turns out, nearly everyone did. They were all different and all enjoyed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Is your dog in on the pumpkin spice trend?




            The pumpkin spice trend is hotter than ever. After  shopping at gourmet grocers in Houston and snapping photos of pumpkin biscotti, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin spice seeds, pumpkin granola bark, pumpkin soup crackers and actual pumpkins, I put the camera away. 
      I brought home pumpkin spice coffee and a wee pumpkin for decor.   
    Did you realize that to be totally on trend, you will be feeding  pumpkin to your dog this season?
     I spotted a box of pumpkin dog treats. That was the day after I saw a Rachel Ray magazine spread on feeding fresh or canned pumpkin to your dogs.
    It's a thing. 
    What else to dogs get? In Houston's Central Market I was near the grind-your-own nut butter station. As I was considering whether to splurge on the calories and money for almond butter for my breakfast toast, a couple was discussing what sort of specially nut butters they would get to trick their dog into taking his pills. 
    As usual for the past several years, I invite readers to send me pumpkin updates this fall.
            Here’s my tip: Keep a shaker full of pumpkin spice to sprinkle on toast, into coffee and swirl into oatmeal. Keep it handy just for a whiff of fall flavor.
            Also, you can still send me your  contact if you would like to be in the pot for a 2018 Farmer's Almanac. Email me by Oct. 13 and I will share the issues that the makers sent to me, while supplies last.
            Happy harvest!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Boots and Bulls with the Cajun Army


                             Diana LaBorde called from the Nederland Chamber of Commerce and invited me to be a celebrity Boots and Bulls waiter. Finally, a chance to brush off my old Bennigan’s skills!
                             This packed event at Sevenne Hall drew out some fancy folk willing to socialize and bid on tempting silent auction items and eat barbecue. What we won’t do to support our chambers. . . . Serving was bunches of fun.
                             I noticed some guests wearing Cajun Army t-shirts. These are Louisiana people who have come to “muck out homes” after Harvey. They were heartily welcomed. Sandra Keuhn was checking to see if there were more Rao’s sugar cookies. They had been served to tables in upturned cowboy hats. There were no more cookies in the back, but I told her no one would deny a woman wearing the Cajun Army shirt. We went from table to table asking for an extra cookie or two. What happened was, tables gave her whole hats full of cookies to share with the rest of the Army.
                             I asked Revonda Kirby, also with the Army, how I could get her a copy of this column. She said the group expected to be in our area for about six months to help Southeast Texans.
                             “We help others. That’s what we do,” she said.


                      Farmers, your almanac is ready
                             Your grandfather’s copy of “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” may not have had mention of yoga huts, but those culinary, weather, planting and general interest tidbits fill the pages of the 2018 edition, and the makers have sent me a few to share with readers.
                             Are you familiar with walking stick kale that grows up to 10 feet high? Did you know mushrooms, not sugar, may be added to reduce the bitterness of cacao beans in chocolate? Small-scale out buildings are being used for yoga and other spaces in some urban backyards. Slow cooker chicken tacos sound good on your fall table. The recipe is on page 256.
                            Almanac.com/media has more details. Readers, about those few copies I’ve been given the opportunity to distribute, e-mail me at darraghcastillo@icloud.com and I’ll put your name in a hat and draw out the winners until the copies run out. Don’t worry. The stores will have more.

                             Darraghcastillo@icloud.com

Slow Cooker helps after Harvey; no time for pests


                                         Sometimes the gift of feeding is all we have. It’s most necessary.
                                         I heard second hand of a woman with a generator who collected all the slow cooker pots in a neighborhood that lost power after Harvey. She then collected food from their freezers and kept those neighbors fed as they cleaned their homes.
                                         One tip on “how to help” to help those cleaning their flooded homes is to offer to bring cooked food to a home at a specified time. Bring paper plates, etc. and serve it to the exhausted family. Then leave the leftovers or pick it all up so everyone can rest, or get back to work.


                             One Egg
                             A single egg meal has been another thing appreciated of late. Recently, the floods made finding even the most basic of foods difficult.
                             My one egg breakfast is often augmented by festive “leftovers.” We’ve whipped up an egg each for my husband and me and folded in the likes of guacamole, queso, and fruity cream cheese spreads. Leftovers are never wasted around my house. May this idea inspire you for all the rest of the mornings of 2017.
Version:
Pesky
                     Pesky pests
H                 Harvey waters have made us prep for insects, even as concerns regarding West Nile already caught our attention.  Some southeast Texans may be in need of DynaTrap offering a green, pesticide-free solution to pest relief as we rebuild. We’ve all been outdoors a lot. IInterested? Here’s what the makers say: “DynaTrap is a technology-driven indoor/outdoor insect trap that protections against mosquitoes, biting flies, moths, wasps, and more. DynaTrap relies on UV light and CO2 to mimic human beings and maximize predatory insect attraction, rather than pesticides or harmful sprays. Its strong yet silent fan then vacuums the insects into a retaining cage. Safe and simple, just plug-and-hang the DynaTrap 24/7 to stop the mosquito life-cycle. With no pesticides, chemicals, odors, noise, or hassle; it’s perfect for your backyard.” darraghcastillo@icloud.com


                           

Monday, September 25, 2017

Don't Mess with Class of '67, or their Amuny's


                             Port Arthur’s Amuny’s  famous sandwiches were recognizable amid crystal and fanfare on the buffet at Brentwood Country Club. The occasion: Monsignior Kelly High School class reunion.
                             Frank Messina, an Amuny’s owner and reunion organizer brought the PA delights that were a hot topic as guests caught up with one another. The gang also attended the Kelly Homecoming the night before with fajitas. I was the date of my sister Debbie Doiron Madisetty, who traveled from Alabama for festivities.
                             The Class of ’67 got down to “Ride, Sally Ride” and other hits of the era while flipping through the yearbook and photos. The Brentwood menu also included pork stuffed with boudain and my first sweet potatoes of the season.
                             Meanwhile, downstairs was another Port Arthur tie. The Beaumont country club houses Boudain Hut North at Brentwood, which features some of the goodies that the Port Arthur Boudain Hut made so popular.
                             At the homecoming, I chatted with a classmate who now lives in Boston. I made it a point to present her with a “Don’t Mess With Texas” sticker to take home. Her reaction took me by surprise. She said she had that stuff all over her house. Her sister was instrumental in turning this anti-litter campaign into a household term.
                             I’ve always loved the “Don’t Mess with Texas” phenomenon. Little did I know one of the people who brought it to life used to play in my house with my sister.
                             I’m just going to point out that I attended high school in a different school and in a different era. I’m part of the French High School Class of 1983, and I’m ready to jam with those guys any time.
                             darraghcatillo@icloud.com