Monday, January 19, 2015

The pepper sandwich and flavor trends

I was at the famous Whataburger on the Bay in Corpus Chrisi, home of the franchaise. It was a busy morning with bus loads of kids, and I was enjoying a  jalapeno biscuit and the view. A distinguished senior man in a pressed western shirt and bolo tie took his seat and the staff was making over this obvious regular.
He had a foam container at his booth, even before his order came up. When his sandwich arrived he discarded the top bun, cut up the remaining layers into precise squares and opened the lid of his container. He began spreading on a thick white substance like he was icing a cake. I had to step in.
I’d already pledged to wish this gentleman an good day as I left, but I had to ask, what was he spreading? It was mayonnaise, he said. A super thick layer.
Mr. Jim Webb
said he owned Crawdaddy’s restaurant in downtown Corpus, which started a conversation on good Cajun food. But, as we spoke, his breakfast ritual got more interesting. He had opened I don’t know how many tiny paper pepper packages and covered the layer of mayo with black pepper dots. It was a pepper sandwich for sure. I wondered if he was saving calories by not eating the top bun so he could compensate for all they mayo.
I could not eat at Crawdaddy’s on that trip, but I’d love to head back that way. When I mentioned Port Arthur, he said he’d put his gumbo up against any gumbo from Beaumont, Port Arthur, “and even Orange.”

Flavor trends of 2015
McCormick’s Flavor Forecast saus we’re headed for a “liquid revolution” of fresh purees and juices to blend with bold spices and herbs to intensify sauces, pasta, dressings and more; shawarma spice blends of cumin and cinnamon will be a favorite and a sour and salt will highlight pickled ginger and sour cherry. Look for smoked spices as well.
Heard of umami? It’s the “fifth taste” we will see in mushrooms, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and nori.

Gumbo query
I confess, or boast, that I have a jar of roux base in my pantry. I know, my grandma made it from scratch, but this stuff is good when you need a Cajun fix. Here’s my question to readers: How do you use this roux in ways other than mixing up a gumbo? Do you ever and a few tablespoons to other bases for a gravy or something? There’s got to be more ways of getting that gumbo flavor going for dinner. If you’re willing to share your ideas, please contact me at address below. Also, let me know if you are willing to share your ideas with readers.

Darragh Doiron is out there trying new things for you Culinary Thrill Seekers. Reach her at

Monday, January 12, 2015

Onions, quail eggs and Italian bliss

Tiny egg salad
The quail eggs I got for a New Year’s Eve spread did not go over well. I purchased the can at an Asian store. It contained tiny eggs, packed in water. By the time I thought about it, I was so uninspired I did not set them out in 2014, but tried to get excited again at a friend’s early January birthday. The bowl remained at the same level, though some said they tried one. Just one. I tried one, then just one more.
It wasn’t until I got back to my post-holiday healthy-eating mode did I appreciate the eggs. Even so, I mushed them up with a fork and added mustard powder and black and red pepper, for a kind of tiny egg salad. Served with carrot sticks and white cheddar, the rest of those wee eggs got me through the day. So now I’ve tried quail eggs. Next?

How much onion can you take?
My friend shares purple onions with me and I could eat them raw, daily. Sometimes there are more onions than I know what to do with, so I try new things. I sliced some very thin and fried them into a nest. From there you can melt in cheese, top with an egg or go just about anywhere.
I just tried it with marinara sauce and those tasty, sweet onions became a kind of base for pepperoni and melted cheese. I topped it with fresh sage, oregano and fennel from the garden. Yes.

Fried calamari? Check. Flatbread with herbs and oil for dipping? Check. Ciro’s, 9755 Katy Freeway in Houston followed through as an Italian Restaurant with atmosphere from murals, regulars getting warm greetings from the staff and vine-covered outdoor dining to, perhaps most importantly, amazing food.  I usually don’t order dessert, but was instructed to save room. I shared a “Mama ‘C’ with other chocolate lovers. Love it.
Darragh Castillo enjoys the latest flavors and sharing them with Port Arthur News readers.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Neches River Wheelhouse offers views, seafood

Neches River Wheelhouse offers seafood and views
Just about everybody in Southeast Texas has tried out Neches River Wheelhouse in Port Neches and I finally got to enjoy a lunch there. I’d already enjoyed some catered food from the Wheelhouse. Now I can tell others they ought to venture out the our newest seafood-with-a-view venue by Port Neches Park. Don’t wait until RiverFest. Go now. Even on a gray winter day there are great views of the river traffic. It’s set up for hanging out with friends. Fire pits and fried seafood just goes together.

Angel food
I don’t even know how the angel food cake mix showed up in my pantry. But someone gave me the lemon pudding mix. So I combined the two to make a birthday treat for a friend. I didn’t care for angel food cake as a child, going instead for something more rich. Now I appreciate the subtlety of the sweetness, but it’s easy to kid yourself that it is more healthy and you can have an extra piece or two. So I topped it with the lemon pudding/pie filling I cooked up and enhanced with vanilla and whiskey.
It went well, but here’s another observation. At our ages, I tend to top birthday cakes with one symbolic candle. It’s kind of difficult to decide where to put one candle in a bundt cake. There’s no middle.
Oh well, it worked. There were no leftovers.

Do you blame the sulfites?
I certainly have. Used as antimicrobial and preservatives for bottling and storing wine, sulfites cause a sensitivity in some people. I think I’m one of them. Jean Ishihara used to feel very sick after wine and came up with a Just the Wine, which comes in eye-drop sized bottles so you can squirt a few drops into your glass or bottle. That’s all there is to it, but the story is interesting. Go to for the background. I tried it over the holidays and offer a good report.
Darragh Doiron loves to dine and cook and write for Port Arthur News readers.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Oysters ring in new year

Oysters ring in new year
Oysters can mean living dangerously. You’ve read the health warnings on menus. But to me they represent clean, fresh sweeps, accompanied by some New Year’s Eve bubbly. Oysters on the half shell sparkle, with the ice and the lemon. Ever had any oyster shot? They put me in the mind of  New Orleans, or an image I saw in a book. I’ll probably never half them at a dockside brunch, but I can imagine.
I’ve often shared this quickie appetizer that fits the season:

Oyster Pate
Grab a can or two of smoked oysters, which are easy to stock in your pantry
Mash the oysters and mix in with a block of cream cheese.
Spread on French bread toasts or crackers.

Oyster Pasta
The contents of the smoked oysters and their rich oil are an instant topping for linguine or other pastas. You could add spinach and must add crushed red pepper.

Dining out in Houston
One of the best parts of having a hostess prepare food with love for you at her home is that you often get to treat the hostess to a restaurant for a thank you.
Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar: There’s a giant sign that says EAT in The Heights, but the tiny neon sign spells out Liberty Kitchen in blue at only a few inches tall. If you drive by it the first time, keep looking. I enjoyed oysters on the half shell for brunch while others around me got hash, fried oyster omelets, salmon omelets and other hipster offerings. No one at the table was brave enough to order something called “Now, Bitter than you’re a** breakfast,” which includes chicken fried steak, or red velvet pancake tacos with mapely bacon inside. It’s a fun stop for sure, and great antique and boutique shopping is all around.
Alicia’s Mexican Grille in Katy is a huge spread off the highway and I appreciate the bathroom is done in Frida Kahlo artworks. The salsa is something special and I love the cheesy, meaty bites people shared with me. I had a salad that featured uncut fajita meat that was thin and pungent with lime. It’s probably rare to offer a sweet mustard dressing and bleu cheese with that combo, but it worked very well.
Star Pizza No. 2 at 77 Harvard in Houston: You’ve got to pick your flour, crust size, toppings and more, but all that work is worth it. Please be a cheese lover when you go in. Even the powdered cheese in the shaker is above par. I love that most of the tables are those wooden ones designed for home use, with leaves you slide out to expand.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A guide to the pig

A guide to the pig
I’m already a Chris Chamberlain fan and I just wish my daddy was still here to taste the lima bean casserole he’s sharing in “The Southern Foodie’s Guide to the Pig” This cover bills it as a culintary tour of the South’s best restaurants and the recipes that made them famous, and says this book will offer how to select, prepare, cook and enjoy everything but the oink. Chamberlain writes about food in Nashville and the book takes readers around the south in photos and imagined parties where dishes such as fried green tomato blts, sweet potato hush puppies, Tennessee whisky sauce and maple bacon muffins are served. The pig is celebrated even in the dessert section. Who’s up for bacon peanut butter cookies. Bacon is a thing, and I can’t imagine candied bacon from Chef’s Market Café would be turned down at most holiday parties in Southeast Texas. Every page brings a new temptation.  Here’s a couple of ideas to enhance your pig fests:

Jalapeno soda from Stella’s Kentucky Deli
2 ounces of Jalapeno Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
12 ounces club soda
Jalapeno Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 to 3 medium jalapeno peppers, sliced and stem discarded (do not seed)
Mix the water and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, add the jalapenos and turn off the heat Let steep for 10 minutes and strain.

Pickled Mustard Seeds
1 cup white vinegar
2 tableslpoons kosher salt
one half cup waster
one half cup sugar
4 tablespoons dried yellow mustard seeds
Combine the vinegar, salt, water and sugar in a small saucepan and simmer on medium heat to dissolve the salt and sugar Add the mustard seeds. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the seeds soften and nearly double in size, about 30 minutes. Pour into a container and refrigerate. This will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Newk’s Eatery:  It may look like just another chain, but I’m now a big supporter of  Newk’s in Katy. Everyone makes the joke that it sounds like Nuke’s, like what they used to call microwave cooking, like nuclear power. But just make your joke and start enjoying. After some shopping my aunt took me to this new place in Katy for a salad. I wanted to eat light, but these salads are way more than a meal. I thought I ordered the Greek, but actually agreed to the Newk’s Favorite and had cranberries and nuts in that big mix of greens. I thought I saw packaged chopsticks on the condiment area but they were skinny little bread sticks. Did you ever dream of all-you-could-eat capers? Help yourself. But my dream was the unattended roasted garlic cloves. I had many, then went back for many more. They were sweet and soft and satisfying.
Darragh Doiron doesn’t mind eating another feast to share with Port Arthur News readers.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Janis Joplin's thoughts to ponder

Janis Joplin’s thoughts to ponder
I’m spreading out the leopard, polka dot and reindeer patterns of FreshTape, and these words come to view, that I recognize:
“Don’t Compromise Yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”
This quote belongs to Port Arthur’s own Janis Joplin. 
They’re one of the thoughts on this pretty amazing new product that perks you up as you peel off the tape to seal packages of  food for your pantry, like chips or spice packets, as well as frozen food, like spinach you should be sneaking or blatantly adding to just about everything. Happy organizing, from, me, and I guess, Janis.

Chestnuts not roasting
My mom had whole chestnuts one time and each year when the nut comes up in popular song, she never fails to mention how difficult they are to peel.  So, I’ve never bothered.
Italy is now doing it for us.  Chestnut Hill Tree Farm of Alachua, Florida, has spent the last 30 years leading the way to re-establishing the Chestnut Tree in the United States, after blight had wiped most trees out by 1950. And now they’re bringing artisanal products from Northern Italy, sold at select Whole Foods Markets.  I’ve tried Chestnut Sweet Cream, which is kind of a Nutella-like experience for toast and Chestnut Flakes, which make an interesting crispy topping for sweet and savory treats. There’s also a flour. 
So Mom’s going to try chestnuts again. Here’s a kind of weird thing I made from experimenting in someone else’s kitchen: A ramekin full of lightly cooked egg, topped with blue cheese and cranberry relish, then topped with chestnut flakes. Just crazy enough to work.  

Southern Christmas
“Christmas All Through the South”  is from Southern Living, so that there says it all. From a Hearty Picnic in the Pines with skillet-fried chicken to lucky New Year’s oyster spreads, is a big, thick book showing how it’s done. Laden tables, lighted landscapes and our mossy, waterside, outdoor vistas we love fill this book. Besides the photos, there’s the writing, then there’s the recipes. If you can’t be with family, you’ll read this and make a new family of friends so you can make one of these parties. It’s not all about showing off, it’s just how hospitality is done down here. This book takes you across the south and across time with memories of how we all used to slow down and appreciate this season.
I’m a huge rosemary fan, so this virgin drink popped off the pages for me:
Rosemary-Scented Cold Cider
Pick up a jug of fresh-pressed cider for optimum results with this refreshing drink.
5 cups apple cider
4 fresh rosemary sprigs, 4- to 5-inches
2 cups cranberry-apple drink, chilled
2 12-ounce cans ginger ale, chilled
1. Bring cider and four rosemary springs to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool to room temperature. Cover and chill 8 to 24 hours. Remove and discard rosemary sprigs.
2. Combine cider and cranberry-apple drink in a pitcher or thermos. Add ginger ale just before serving.
Darragh Doiron proudly shares her Culinary Thrill Seeking adventures with Port Arthur News readers.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Ease the Thanksgiving stress

Taste of Home has a new cookbook and its magazine is always good for ideas. I’m  loving these easy tips for a great gathering:
            * Gravy Glitches: If your gravy is runny, slowly stir cold turkey or chicken stock into a bit of cornstarch until it’s dissolved. Then gradually whisk it into the simmering gravy. Lumpy gravy can be poured into a blender for 20-30 seconds. You can also whisk in turkey or chicken stock—just a little at a time—until you get the right consistency
*      Crank up the Cranberry: Make whole berry cranberry sauce according to the directions on the bag of fresh cranberries—it’s just berries, sugar and water. Whomp up the flavor when you take it off heat by stirring in a little orange marmalade or jalapeño jelly.
*   Give the Kids’ Table VIP Status: Use place cards for each kid. Ask a fun uncle or aunt to eat at the kids’ table, then enjoy as they all giggle through the meal. You’ll wish you’d sat there, too!
*     Revive Soggy Stuffing: Spread it on a cookie sheet and bake at 350° for 10 minutes. If the stuffing is still mushy, then stir and bake it for an additional 5 minutes.
*     Disguise a Cracked Pie: Chocolate! The solution to many of life’s problems. Melt together 1 cup chocolate chips and 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, stirring until smooth. Pour over cooled pie and chill until set. Hint: You really should try this even if your pie doesn’t have cracks. 
*    Make the Fluffiest Potatoes: The key to super-fluffy mashed potatoes is to make sure they’re dry before mashing. Once the potatoes are cooked and drained, put them back in the pot, cover it up, and let them dry for 1 to 2 minutes. The drier the potato, the fluffier the mash.
 galore! You can even put gravy in a smaller, 2-quart slow cooker. It holds beautifully for up to an hour on the warm setting.

Oh the flavors
The UV Vodka flavor concoctors have got it going on. I’m going to try UV Salty Caramel Apple ASAP. But now I’m enjoying a little something they call Sugar Crush. It’s a sweet, sweet mix-in for the holiday season.
UV Vodka is made with all-natural ingredients and now there’s some limited-time-only seasonal treats. Look for UV Salty Caramel Apple, the sought-after UV Sriracha and the topical UV Sugar Crush. So they may sound a little “girly.” I did a taste testing with “girls” over 60 and the four of them were very impressed with their Sugar Crush shots. Play with the following and create your own:

Not Your Mama’s Bloody Mary:
1 part UV Sriracha Vodka
3 parts Bloody Mary mix

Stir and serve with your favorite Bloody Mary garnishes.

Haute Hot Toddy
1 part UV Salty Caramel Apple Vodka
1 cup hot Apple Cider

Stir and garnish with a lemon, cinnamon stick and / or cloves.

Tropi-Candy Cosmo
1 part UV Sugar Crush
1 part cranberry juice
1 part Peach Schnapps
1 part orange juice

Rim glass with sugar. Shake ingredients with ice and streak into a martini glass.
Garnish with an orange slice.

Pools and more
Even if you don’t have a pool, visit Larry Tyson, who just hosted an opening of Achtwoo Pool & Spa Pros on East Parkway in Groves. They’ve expanded from Bridge City and Galveston, bringing a wall of very interesting barbecue tools, like flexible skewers. Can you envision a sort of necklace of meat and mushrooms on your grill? I was partial to torches and bird feeders fashioned into oversized, colorful metal flowers.