Friday, January 25, 2013

Life's lemons can be preserved

Here’s what I did; it’s too early to tell you if it worked. I was blessed to be invited to pick lemons from a local bush and came home with something like 50 fruits to share. The grower said he thought I could figure out things to do with them, so I got busy with drinks, face scrubs and cleaners. I was wishing I could preserve them, and I recall that our Mediterranean friends to just that, in beautiful jars that display the bounty. It was a simple thing to wash and cut the lemons, rub them with kosher salt and stack them into a jar covered with their own juice and with bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon and cloves. In a few weeks they should mellow into a flavoring to be eaten, peel and all. I’ll cook them with chicken or fish and couscous.

Star Pizza
My friend has been bragging about Star Pizza for years, and Houstonions seem to have a cult following. I had my first taste and am now hooked. It seemed an other-worldly experience. The whole wheat Starburst featured the basics of ground beef, Italian sausage, etc. There’s no explanation for why it was so good. Just quality ingredients, I suppose. The cheese in the shakers didn’t seem like the normal powdered stuff. I tasted it alone and the super-white substance was creamy. I asked the waitress and she confirmed it was Romano. The two Star sites offer many options, reasonable prices and area craft beers (which I did NOT sample on this venture).
Squid and pineapple
Vietnam restaurant in The Heights in Houston had pineapple and squid on the menu, and I thought that was weird enough to work. It did, with sweet chunks of fruit, long green onions and highly-textured squid over brown rice. The reason my aunt and I wanted to find this place again is the fried eggplant. It’s impossibly sweet and crunchy. The two of us ordered it as our third entrĂ©e and took some of all our leftovers home for a second round.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Organizing the flour

Something woke me up at 4 a.m. and I just couldn’t get back to sleep. I never expected to spend the next two hours organizing my flour collection and spices. I’m not a baker, so why do I even have a flour collection? I actually inherited the coconut flour, almond meal and ground flax seed from a low-carb cooking friend of mine. The wheat and white are around because someone gave me Amish Friendship Bread starter that I kept going for a year, and stashed in the freezer for later.
Then, my friend gave me three packets of yeast that had expired in December. My mom said yeast is so “iffy” that she wouldn’t even mess with it, but I just took that as a challenge. That’s how we ended up with the friendship bread, rustic bread and a variation of Greek bread, all with a combination of all those flours and additives.
That was fun, and now I’m done. No more baking for quite a while.

Dark Horse
My new professional chef friend said she didn’t taste the caramel at first. Then she let her Dark Horse Chardonnay “warm up” a bit, and tasted it just fine. Makers also boast aromas of ripe, red apple and peaches layered with buttery notes and nuances of caramel and vanilla. You learn something every day. Guess I don’t have to be anxious about how chilled the chardonnay gets. Hey, my friend is still into freezing the stuff for a chardonnay frosty.
Now, back to Dark Horse in particular. Cabernet Sauvignon is a favorite of mine and this one proclaims to be rich and intense with flavors of mocha, dark fruit and hints of vanilla. I kept this bottle going as long as I could, because the most tiny of sips was so good and fulfilling. Both Dark Horse offerings were winners.

Sit and Sip Tour
I met Charlie while killing time in Houston. He was handing out samples of Garrison Brothers Distillery Bourbon and he was an actual Garrison Brother. I loved the molded into the bottle and he told a great story on the challenge of creating that custom look. It’s the first legal bourbon distillery in Texas. Tours, in the Hye area, are $10, or free if you show up on a horse. The very next day I see in Southern Living magazine that they offer something like a bourbon camp. Get to know the brothers better at

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hot water hits the spot

We don’t appreciate something until we don’t have it. Think hot water after Hurricane Rita. My latest “new” tool is the T-fal Balanced Living Electric Kettle that heats water in a flash with settings for white, green or black tea. The family pictured on the box isn’t even drinking anything. They’re making a salad. They’re to put you in the mood for “enjoying the healthy rewards of tea.” Yes, I’m buying that theory. I’ve had more tea in a week than I’ve had for months. It’s got a cool, swivel base and the hot water can also go toward oatmeal, coffee, soups, etc.
That healthy nudge will also encourage me to boil water to sanitize my contact lens case more often, and the water for my netti pot. This kettle will be used at least once a day.

Harvest a smart chip and salsa
Thanksgiving motifs of abundant wheat seem a harvest seasonal thing. I’m seeing a lot of whole grain/seed talk around New Year’s for marketers appealing to people who have pledged to eat better. Salba Chia Salsa’s label read’s “Hey Smarty Pants!” and says this product respects your brain and your body. Salba Chia Snacks’ bag reades that the yellow corn tortilla chips are “smarter than your average chip.” I love the little “bumps” of seed in both and they do have a great gourmet taste. Will they go over at your game party with extreme snackers? I think so. I also love how many times the word “organic” appears in the ingredient labels. The makers are actually the smarty pants.

Finally I unscrewed the power of R.W. Knudsen Family’s Sparking blueberry non-alcoholic juice for a special occasion. Pretty in a wine glass, it was a refreshing way to quench the fire from bacon-wrapped jalapenos I had refused to deseed. I’m not sure if that’s the pairing makers had in mind. I’m still measuring out servings of the company’s Santa Cruz organic fruit spread onto breakfast muffins.

If you have some cod, pick up some Rioja Bordon Reserva Tempranillo-Garnacha-Mazuelo  as it performs nicely against the cod’s fish fat and is a compliment to spicy red pepper and tomato sauce. Well, I read that. But I’m willing to try it. I had my Reserva with just pasta and I’m impressed that it was aged two years in American white oak and further aged for two more years in the bottle. My label read 2006. Now as I recall, we were still covered in blue tarp from Hurricane Rita that year. So this vintage is like a memory of survival and a toast of  good times to come.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Empowered Eating a 2013 trend

Empowered eating, to create wellness and harmony in your body, is a thing now. But what does it taste like? Maybe like ferro grain, blackberry and clove. McCormick & Company sends flavor trends of 13. Here’s what we can look forward to:
No Apologies Necessary – Diving headfirst into sumptuous flavors to enjoy the gratification of a momentary escape
Decadent Bitter Chocolate, Sweet Basil & Passion Fruit – An intensely indulgent combo that delights all the senses
Black Rum, Charred Orange & Allspice – An instant tropical getaway, this sultry collision balances richness and warmth
Hidden Potential – A waste-not mentality, uncovering the fullest flavors from every last part of the ingredient
Hearty Meat Cuts, Plantain & Stick Cinnamon – A new take on meat and potatoes, these ingredients inspire creative approaches that unlock their full flavor potential
Artichoke, Paprika & Hazelnut – Ingredients you thought you knew invite new explorations, unleashing their deliciously versatile starring qualities
Global My Way – Discovering the unlimited flavor possibilities of global ingredients, beyond traditional roles in “ethnic” cuisines
Japanese Katsu Sauce & Oregano – Tangy flavors of barbecue and steak sauce create the next go-to condiment
Anise & Cajeta (Mexican caramel sauce) – Sweet, rich delight transports desserts and savory dishes to new places
For more, visit

Angelini Estate
Note to Southeast Texas Italians and Italian food lovers:
Winery owners Julius and Paul Angelini of Angelini Estate, Marche Italy and Angelini Wine Imports of  Centerbrook Conn., have a cappellitti in brodo recipe that makes about 400. Is that enough for your gathering? Pair it with Angelini Estate Sangiovese. I didn’t go to so much trouble, but my family enjoyed a sip of this full-bodied dry wine with my new favorite notes of cherry, leather oak, vanilla and tobacco. It’s so full bodied that tiny sips will make you cradle that glass for a long, long time. The Angelinis know what they are doing.
Not every southern state carries this line, but since we do, it’s another thing for Texans to be proud of. Look for Pergola Rosso  with aromas of rose petal and lavender to pair with white grilled meats and risotto with mushrooms, another slow sipper to impress guests, or just yourself.

Handpicked in Columbia
Sometimes you never know the good stuff is there. Navitas Naturals has fresh goldenberries picked in  Columbia, freeze dried and milled into a fine powder at low temps to preserve nutrients. Let’s give it up for the Incan Empire for this Andean Superfruit fu of vitamins A and C, beta-carotene and bioflavonoids  A 10-calorie teaspoon of a serving departs a slightly tangy taste to oatmeal, yogurt, drinks and desserts. My personal favorite for New Year’s resolutions is breakfast smoothies, and this powder is something the maker knows is there and those who think they are afraid of things that are “good for you” don’t have to know about. I’m glad I know about it.