Sunday, July 24, 2011

Investing in cheese and omelet play
It’s funny how compulsive friends just find each other. A low-carb expert I know uses the freshest ingredients available, and she figured her bags of bob’s Red Mill almond meal/flour were “about to go bad.” They have a sell-by date of February of 2012, which is more than plenty of time in my pantry. So, she passed some to me and my instincts were right. It says on the label it’s good for sweets, so I right away imagined whipping a tablespoon of flour into an egg for a crepe-like presentation. I added cheese (see below), berries and agave nectar for an evening meal, tried it again the following breakfast, and planned ahead to do the same for dinner and the next day’s breakfast. Sometimes I added walnuts. Just my plan to continue perfecting this dish shows I’m as compulsive as my friend. What fun experimentation.

And now for the cheese:
A smidge of something great is usually preferred over a lot of so-so product. I was just telling my husband I’d like to “invest” in a hunk of high quality cheese. I’m not talking about the giant wheels that adorn supermarket displays. I was thinking about a $10 wedge of something pungent and satisfying that would accent a fruit and bread spread. The first time I ever noticed the label “extra-sharp,” I wondered who would bother with “mild,” but I’ve gained a new appreciation for subtlety. Makers of Calabro Cheese say known chefs insist on their award-winning wares because they use the old ways in developing cheeses. It’s what you’ll find at Lombardi’s, New York City’s oldest pizza parlor, where they accept no subsitutes.
“First curds” only go into signature Hand-Dipped Ricotta, that comes in a little metal bucket. I’ve been working in this warm, creamy cheese into sweet egg dishes topped with berries and agave nectar. It’s more subtle than I normally pick, as is Calabro’s Fior Di Latte (Flower of the Milk) mozzarella. Some times this kind of toning down reminds a cook that food combinations can artfully blend, without ingredient competition.
Scamorza is new to me, but the naturally smoked, smooth balls of flavor are my favorite of the three I tried. These cheeses, and even their packaging, class up my refrigerator.

Triple Delight
Kim Son restaurant, just about across from the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, is a family favorite. There, Triple Delight is a dish with Vietnamese Fajitas, Honey-Glazed Shrimp and Chicken. The phrase also represented the three delighted diners – me, my mother and my husband – who left a table with nary a grain of rice left. We shared dishes including Sugar Cane Shrimp, which was a paste molded around a soft “stick” of sugar cane which you could kind of munch and get some sweet juice. A bowl of warm water was placed at my side with no explanation, so we wondered if it was for cleaning up. Alas, we saw diners at the next table using the water to soften rice paper and roll their own spring rolls tableside. I make those at home, in the kitchen, so I didn’t figure that out. Mini faux pas aside, we can’t wait to get back to Kim Son.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mom finally makes it to Central Market
I grew up in a foodie family before we’d ever heard the word. I just knew my family didn’t have the usual ‘70s rotating menu of mac and cheese or meatloaf night. There were exotic things coming out of Mom’s kitchen.
After years of shopping amazing Central Market stores in Houston, Austin and San Antonio, I finally got Mom to the Houston grocer.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and most of my favorite sample areas were open. She took it slow and selected fresh rosemary and bread between tastes of cinnamon and brie sandwiches and juicy melon.
I hope she’ll tell all her friends how much fun she had.
My take-homes included a can of crispy roasted eel, which we ate over home-grown bean sprouts, and Spanish octopus in soy and olive oil. When my daughter saw these cans, she asked if we could have grilled octopus sandwiches for breakfast. That’s another generation of foodie.

Get lunch box ready
Kids today probably don’t make fun of granola like they did in my youth. It’s more flavorful and possibly even more healthy than it used to be. A diabetic looking to avoid blood sugar spikes inspired Granola Gourmet which is a chewy, flavorful blend of goodness that comes in chocolate and fruit combos. It’s good that they are packaged in portion-controlled bars, or I could be tempted to eat more than I should. They’re that good. It’s a treat you won’t feel guilty about after you read the label. A portion of each purchase goes to help fight diabetes.

Slimmed-up sandwiches
There’s no point in using a “light” version of something unless it tastes good. A little bit of the real thing may serve you better. Oroweat’s new 80-calorie-a-slice Health-full line is no sacrifice to me. Pick from 10 Grain, Hearty Wheat and Nutty Grain. I’ve just made some kind of triple-nut sandwich with the Nutty Grain, adding peanut butter and walnuts. A one-slice sandwich took me from lunch until dinner. I’ll be looking to try more.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dining out of your zip code is more exciting

I have a friend who talks to restaurant managers to arrange ingredients, schedule around who is cooking and line up a dutiful wait staff several days before dining.
I wing it.
Don’t get me wrong: I love dining with her. There is fanfare. There is an appreciation of a client who knows what she wants.
I find an adventure just as exciting. On a recent trip to Houston, I had no trouble convincing my husband to take me to. . . Fiesta supermarket. I knew there’d be some amazing barbacoa, fresh tortilla and some tantalizing salsa, and I was right. I tried one of those crunchy whole fish with the head on, too. I liked it, but I won’t need to get it again. What was also fun was our crazy little table, wedged between soda machines, with our noses inches away from an exit door. At a store like that, shopping is a community affair and multi-generational families are out to do everything from ride little character cars in the parking lot to have lunch from a parking lot vendor. Shopping equals socializing.
Then there was more fun in the produce aisle and I came away with fresh jalapenos and a watermelon. Since we had shared a light meal at the Fiesta counter, I did something out of the ordinary and suggested ice cream. I would have preferred a caramel to go with the Mexican theme, but a pint of Blue Bell cookies and cream, one of my husband’s favorites, shared with flimsy plastic spoons in the hot car, could be my most memorable dessert this summer.
We were in town for a birthday party at Dave & Buster’s, a mix between Chuck E. Cheese for grown ups and a mini Las Vegas arcade. I looked up the menu on line and saw phrases like “stuff yourself silly” and menu descriptions such as “loaded” and “mountain.” A burger tempted me, but I somehow made it out of there for another Houston grocery store must-stop.
A Saturday evening at Central Market yielded olive oil, coffee and other samples, but we made room to share one more treat.
My aunt had been talking about Niko Niko’s on Westheimer for years and we battled the parking lot and line to order a Souvlaki Sandwich of top sirloin shish kebob on pita with tomato, bell pepper, onion & tzatziki sauce. It was such a hot spot I was thrilled to get a corner patio table under an elegant vine and we tore up that sandwich. Next time, I think I can convince Chris to try a gyros with lamb.
Maybe, since he’s out of his zip code, he’ll give it a shot.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sake sangria, herb cubes and Sharpie spice up summer
This is kind of a “peaches and herb” column, so just go with me here. I’m hearing that Sangria became an American hit in 1964 when the Spanish World area served it to visitors at the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York. My family says I was there, because Mom was pregnant with me and didn’t know it.
Now people are talking about Sake Sangria that’s good for patio parties, with Asian food or not, and here’s how it’s done, with Gekkeikan sakes and plum wines.
Mixologist Todd Richman created the following recipes and I have tried the first one out on guests, who were appreciative.

Peach and Plum Sake Sangria
28 ounces Gekkikan Sake
14 ounces Kobai Plum Wine
2 Fresh Peaches, sliced
2 Fresh Plums, sliced
2 ounces Soda Water

Muddle the fruit, add the sake and plum wine and let infuse. Add ice and stir well. Top with soda water.

Summer Sake Sangria
24 ounces Gekkeikan Sake
12 ounces Gekkeikan Plum Wine
¾ cup fresh watermelon, cubed
1¼ cups fresh honeydew melon, cubed

Muddle ½ cup watermelon with 1 cup honeydew melon. Add the sake and plum wine and let infuse. Add the remainder of the melon, ice and stir well. Top with ginger ale.

Sake Berry Punch
32 oz Gekkeikan Sake
½ cup fresh blueberries
½ cup fresh raspberries
1 bunch fresh mint leaves
4 ounces simple syrup
1 ounces ginger ale

Lightly muddle the berries, mint and simple syrup. Add the sake and let infuse. Add ice, stir and top with ginger ale.

Cool Sparkle
24 oz Gekkeikan Plum Wine
1 cup cucumber, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
4oz honey
7oz Zipang Sparking Sake

Muddle the cucumber, strawberries and honey. Add the sake and let it infuse. Then add ice, stir and top with Zipang Sparkling Sake.

Herb cubes always ready
I’m proud of my home-grown herbs, but I can’t be an expert at everything. Dorot has little red “mini-ice cube trays” a cook can grab from the freezer to pop out ginger, parsley, cilantro and some kickin’ red pepper. The garlic and basil are superior to those I usually come up with. I usually go for products with minimal packaging, but my sister pointed out that when she buys cilantro, much of it ends up in her compost pile. I think Doro is a good pick.

I love Sharpie
There are other women like me who long for the back-to-school season because Sharpie often has a new version out. I’ve spoken to them. The remarkable pens that always work just got better with Stained by Sharpie, with fade-resistant ink with a paint-brush tip that’s ideal for putting your name on aprons, lunch bags and things you don’t want to lose. It’s cool for passing around T-shirts and shoes to autograph. I’d put my name in a favorite bag with regular Sharpie and now I’ve traced over it with Stained by Sharpie and there is a positive difference. It’s amazing when a brand you love gets even better. I use Sharpie pens to mark food for the freezer.