Standard Pages (they don't change often)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A fuzzy view of the past

The Houston Press food blog Eating Our Words runs an occassional series called Where Are We Eating?, in which the reader is invited to guess the dining establishment where a photograph was taken. I guess it's a win win situation, sort of subtle advertising for a restaurant without actually saying where it is :). Well, here's something a little different - how good are you at history? - this is a photograph taken of a Houston restaurant that no longer exists. It was quite an old favorite, so I invite you out there to guess - Where did we used to eat?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Marketing Brilliance

Bell Plantation does something pretty clever - they make "extra virgin" peanut oil (I am guessing cold pressed, as per the definition for olive oil). But what to do with the rest of the pressing? Well, grind it up, and sell it as PB2 - powdered peanut butter.

I'm tempted to order some, and experiment with it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Really fresh fennel

Fennel is such a versatile plant. The bulbs are eaten as a vegetable, the stems and fronds flavor stock, and even the pollen is prized for its flavoring punch. The so called fennel seeds, as it turns out, is the whole fruit. I spotted this wild fennel plant growing in a nearby park, I plucked the green fennel fruit and tasted it. It's fresher and more intense than the dried fennel "seeds" often used in sausage. As in India, I chewed on a few of these as an after meal palate cleanser.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Skill in a bottle

I've often encountered restaurant reviews which describe the food in a restaurant as being nothing special, but quite complimentary about the wine selection. And then at the summary, the reviewer gives the restaurant high marks. I can understand the transformative powers of a good wine pairing to an otherwise less than stellar meal, but isn't that cheating a bit? After all, it is hiding the mediocre cooking skills behind prefabricated flavors. Granted, some skill is necessary to know how to pair items appropriately, but to rely upon this is hardly something to take pride in.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Tomatoes are so beautiful right now. I picked up this one from the
local farmers market. Sweet and juicy, all it needed was a few drops
of good olive oil, fresh cracked pepper, and large crystals of sea
salt (salt here procured from Zihuatenejo, Mexico). I had fresh basil,
but somehow, this didn't need it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mamey Sapote

Last weekend, I managed to score a good price for a mamey sapote. This fruit, about the size of a small melon, doesn't look like much from the outside. Heck, I often see it piled up with potatoes, given the appearance. But open it up, and it is a world of a difference from a potato.

One has to be careful about eating this ripe (it turns soft and yielding), as the unripe fruit, like an unripe persimmon, as an astringent sap. The actual fruit is sweet, and a texture reminiscent of a well cooked sweet potato, albeit with some graininess. I believe they make this into a popular ice cream in India, called a chikoo flavor.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cheese curds

Cheese curds are essentially very young cheese. They seem to be iconic
to the cuisine of Wisconsin. Mostly salty, they are revered for this
squeaky texture as they are chewed. Nor often available outside of the
region of manufacture, I found these boxes in Central Market.

Farmer's market day

Bayou City Farmer's Market

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Still life in produce

Figs from farmers market. Ranier cherries are on sale at the local
Fiesta for half the usual price.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The burger as the new international ambassador

My recent rounds of trying out the hamburgers isn't rooted in a particular love of this sandwich. Perhaps because most hamburgers are boring. It's a slab of ground meat on a bun; a testament to this old 1950s idea that a meal isn't a meal without meat. But there is hope yet - this recent article about the experimentation going on at the Hubcap Grill demonstrates some of the things being done. From what I can tell, they see the burger as a blank slate on which to draw new ideas.

So here's one idea - the UN assembly of burgers. Perhaps we should try it the next time at the Great Western Casa McBardo. The late South African restaurant "Out of Africa" here in Houston did the piri-piri burger - allegedly good, but I won't know now.

Hypothetical (some real) burgers and nationalities:

1. Korea - bulgogi burger, kimchi burger, banchan sliders
2. Belgium: the waffleburger
3. Germany: The wurstburger
4. India: the Masalaburger (and I will use beef here)
5. Philippines: adoboburger; tinapa burger
6. Malaysia: rendang burger; belacan burger
7. Thailand: green curry burger (ooo, that actually sounds quite good)
8. Mexico: the tortaburger (well, we already have those here in Houston); the posoleburger
9. Ecuador: the cuyburger - that may be a little difficult to do here
10. Argentina: chimichurri burger
11. Morocco: bisteeyaburger
12. Ethiopia: kitfoburger. On injera buns, of course.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Peanuts and more

Speaking of allergens - I recently had a chance to go try out the first of the Five Guys Burger stores that opened here in Houston. I guess the concept is simple enough - instead of being distracted by stuff like chicken and toys, the store just focuses on making burgers and fries. That's about it. Oh, that and peanuts.

You see, the signature thing about the place is that they keep bulk containers of peanuts for people to snack on while waiting in line, talking on the phone, dessert...there are peanut shells everywhere (makes you wonder why they don't serve elephant burgers...). Fortunately, the very front of the store has a sign that clearly warns away people with peanut allergies - that this place is toxic for them.

About those burgers - they come cooked one way (no rare, no other way - the rapid assembly line allows few choices other than toppings). They're an okay, moist medium...and rather bland. They could be better seasoned. It's reasonably sized for the price, and the burger toppings are fresh (tomatoes were remarkably un-mealy, meaning that this is one group that didn't refrigerate them in spite of the Houston heat). It's better than the average burger...and that's not difficult. The average burger is bad.

Servings of chips were ridiculously generous. The large order could have fed a family of four. Of course, I see the next table over, and the group of four there had FOUR orders. The fries themselves are okay - not limp, just a little greasy, and the tell-tale skin on that is supposed to signal that these potatoes were real (and not that the processing cut out a peeling step).

Verdict: worth a try. But not on the top of my list,

Hachiya persimmon

Ripening in the sun.

Chills from remote corners

Let's try that again.

Searching for more refresquerias yielded this little store from that seems to specialize in homemade Popsicles. They offered some other interesting fare like aguas frescas and some peculiar flatbreads topped with pickled pork rinds. Sadly, the raspas here don't look all that great.

Agua fresca

Just a test of photo posting.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mochi cake

Here's a new and unusual product I tried. It has a blueberry jam filling, surrounded by a layer of mochi, and then a thin baked soft "cookie" crust. As with most desserts and snacks tailored for Asian tastes, it wasn't overly sweet. But not much blueberry flavor, either. Interesting, though.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The secret lift

Ahab had his whale. Edmund Hillary had Everest. And I have manually made angel food cake.

Some day, I'll attempt it again, this solidified foam of a cake that uses all egg whites and no leavening, to create it without the use of machines (save the oven). I've so far failed twice at it.

Many are fans of angel food cake because it is practically fat-free. Troublesome as it is to make traditionally, don't you find it so surprising that ready made angel food cake can be found in most megamarts, usually right next to the strawberries, for a reasonable less than $4 a cake? Although the massive scale up in factories of whipping and folding egg white could be the reason for the lowered cost, I suspect the real revolution comes from the use of angel food cake mixes.

Looking at the instructions of a typical angel food cake mix box describes a ridiculous reduction in labor: a mere 90 seconds of beating to equal the lift of 12 eggs worth of meringue! What could be the secret? Looking through the ingredient list, I find the "whipping aid" : Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (aka, sodium dodecyl sulfate or SDS). Biologists and biochemists will recognize SDS as a denaturing agent in their protein gels - it is a detergent, very often the active ingredient in shampoos. In this case, it's the sudsing capability of SDS that is employed to make the lots of bubbles that traditional leavening agents provide. Of course, there are people who already object to the suspected harmful effects of having so much SDS in the environment (it's in practically most cleaning solutions) - how much more so when cooked and eaten?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Allergens from the other side

A couple of interesting reads from the web: First is the perspective of a server at a restaurant on accommodating people with allergies. It's a telling point of view - that subtle exasperation at dealing with the special needs cases, which actually reflects quite a few views, ranging from engineering buildings to handle wheelchairs, to having translators on hand for non-native speakers. However, sometimes it doesn't matter what the server says, since ingredients, as they get imported, may already be contaminated with unintended materials. A group samples food from Los Angeles area vegan restaurants, only to find quite a bit of the food high in animal proteins. Some people with allergies to seafood choose the vegetarian option as a safe route, but this may be a problem.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Where do I file this?

A PBS special on the genome of Mario Batali? For the foodie scientist, this is such an interesting topic...maybe. After all, such association studies require large correlations of data; maybe if they did the entire Batali line, along with phenotypic studies of their preferences for Crocs and Sriracha.