Standard Pages (they don't change often)

Friday, October 29, 2010

For pride

Congratulations to BBQDude over at IndirectHeat for placing third in the blog based Duck Challenge. It may be all electron celebrations but it's still a win. Right?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In season: Persimmons

Persimmons are coming into season, and I had a recent discussion about choosing the right variety. A persimmon is such a unique time bomb of a fruit; unless it is completely ripe, many varieties will be mouthpuckeringly astringent. Both the American species, and the Asian species (hachiya) exhibit this astringent property. Consequently, as a rule, these varieties can only be eaten when they are pudding soft in texture. Which turns some people off, even though the flavor can be spicy and very sweet.

Fortunately, there are also non astringent varieties as well. Well, that's a misnomer, they are also astringent but lose the astringency earlier in the ripening process. The best known commercial variety is the fuyu, and thus, most non astringent varieties come to be known as fuyus as well, even though they may not be.

The fuyu is a little more squat, and can be eaten while it's still crisp like an apple. One can also wait until they ripen completely and be soft, but the firmer textured fruit offers opportunities the completely ripe form does not, such as slicing thinly for salads. Ripening does allow for a more intense flavor.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bloody good

Following up on yesterday's gory food ideas, I'm not sure why everyone is so queasy about eating blood. Well, maybe it stems from the religious taboos against eating blood, such as those of the Muslim faith, but blood as an ingredient shows up in many cultures and dishes around the world. Cooking blood turns it very dark, so things are often called black pudding, or svartsoppa (Swedish black soup). The French dish coq au vin is supposed to be thickened with the blood of the chicken, and chunks of congealed blood are requisite parts of the Vietnamese bun bo Hue soup.

Okay, maybe that's enough vampiric cogitation for a day. Sangria, anyone?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Unwimpify Halloween

What the heck is up with candy and Halloween? For such a macabre "holiday", the offerings to scare people are so wimpy. Fake eyeballs made from grapes? Jell-O "brains"?


Come on, if you're going to get into the spirit of things, serve these things as your treats:

  1. Soondae No, not an ice cream soondae (although I dare some avant garde chef out there to make that a reality). It's a Korean blood sausage, made with rice. Think boudin, but with gumption. Not that boudin is all that wimpish of a food to start with. By the way, I find it amusing that the site where I found this description conveniently doesn't mention the use of blood.
  2. Dinuguan. Ah, the famous Filipino "chocolate meat". Of course, you already know the secret ingredient, right? Hemoglobin, of course. 
  3. Tacos de sesos. It's just a taco. With braaaaaiiiins. Well, why mess around with gelatin and milk when you can have the real thing? You can even buy it around here in Houston year around. 
  4. Tacos de ojos. For that matter, what is up with the fake eyeballs? Why not the real thing? Of course, in a taco. 
  5. Candy. Oh, all right, I give. Have some candy. Scorpion candy.
Thanks and maybe apologies to all the associated websites to whom I am linking to. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bivalve compromise

Here in the Gulf coast, September is greeted with anticipation as the first month with the letter R in it, meaning it's the early start of the oyster season. However, troubles with the BP Deep Horizon operation has left people wary of Gulf Coast seafood, although experts assure us that no contaminated seafood have hit the market. The public relations damage is so bad, however, that on our visit to New Orleans last month, some restaurants slyly import Florida oysters so that they can continue to claim that they are serving Gulf oysters.

Fortunately, we paid a visit to the New Orleans restaurant institution, Drago's, and were assured that they were still serving Louisiana oysters. However, being early in the season, they refused to serve them raw, as the flavor wasn't there yet. Undaunted, we opted for the famous Drago's roasted oysters.

Charred in high heat such that the shells blacken, the oysters were coated in butter and cheese, and served with bread intended to sop up any melted butter. However, we ignored the butter, as we wanted briny bivalve goodness. And here, we tasted a good melding of oyster liquor and butter, but with enough cheesy incineration to distract those who are just here for the dairy.

Drago's other attempts at cooked oyster dishes are less successful. These bacon wrapped oyster brochettes were served a measly three sticks at a time, with two oysters on each stick, but tasted mostly of fried bacon. Not bad, but not oyster.

We ordered and consumed a second dozen roasted oysters to assuage our disappointment.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

They should have that in English cuisine

A few days ago, I introduced a couple of friends to a new hole in the wall Pakistani restaurant. As we sat at our table awaiting our order, I blithely commented that the most interesting thing about the restaurant so far were the cricket bats.

To which my friend replied, "I don't remember seeing those on the menu."

Of course, I was referring to these:

And not some dish made from a mixture of insects and chiropterid meat. Although I'm sure that would be delicious in a curry.

After laughing over the momentary confusion, my friend concluded,

"But I wouldn't put it past you to order it if it was on the menu."

Well put, sir.

*disclaimer: I paraphrased a bit.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Alinea 3: Chinky Chicken

Part of an ongoing series recapping a meal at Chicago restaurant Alinea.

At the start of the third course, our waiter put down this plate of what looked like freshly pressed napkins on the table.

Given the avant garde nature of the presentation, I wouldn't be surprised if we were told that this was edible. But then, this course is supposed to be an exploration of the cuisines of Asia, and came as a triplet of bites. Allegedly from China, is this battered bite of chicken wrapped around a cinnamon stick (disclosure, due to dietary restrictions, all of my dishes were done with chicken while my dining companions got lobster or crab - I presume the preferred ingredients).

The middle item was a tribute to Japan, and consisted of a crispy fried stick of yuba, around which was wrapped some chicken and sesame seeds, and presented with a small tub of miso mayonnaise for dipping. I didn't manage to photograph that creation, but eating it was akin to eating a savory version of this:

And finally, the final item was supposed to be a tribute to Vietnam, where a sugar cane stick is infused with various flavors evoking the streets of Saigon.

If you've never eaten a sugar cane stick before, you essentially chew it to extract the juices and flavors, and spit out the woody pulp. That's what the napkins at the start of the meal was for.

While I applaud the desire of chefs to expand the horizons of their diners, I find this trend of injecting "Asian flavors" as a point of exoticism tiring. Because what I tasted wasn't so much a nuanced celebration of the three highly disparate cultures before me so much as a touristy distillation of the stereotypes. I think the fried chicken thing was supposed to evoke the feathery crispness of fried taro, but the cinnamon was like an uncomfortable bystander. There was no fire or sweetness to the sugarcane (which I suppose is a credit to the technique of the chef) but evoked nothing of the Southeast Asian experience. The yuba dish was perhaps the most successful, mainly because it was indeed fun to eat.

And why it disappeared before I managed to photograph it.

Previously on this series:

Act 2: Green
 A symphony in 21 acts

Friday, October 8, 2010

The moving of the months

The cooling of the weather means a change. We must bid adieu to the heirloom tomatoes. But then, I look forward to oysters. To those following on Twitter, I've chosen my camp.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Picnic in a restaurant

I once attended a seated dinner party, where one the guests proceeded to unpack some bagels and smoked fish as the meal was being served. I learned then that since devout Jews often bring food to gatherings hosted by goyim, since one can never be sure of the kosher state of the kitchen where the food is prepared.

Although this could be interpreted as a sign of disrespect for the hospitality being offered, from the point of view of the Jewish guests, they were simply being considerate, and removing from the hosts the pressure of needing to cater to a minority of their guests.

But what about a restaurant setting? Vegans, allergy sufferers, Muslims, or any other patrons with dietary restrictions present a major challenge to chefs in general, as they disrupt the initial planning of a well run kitchen. To wit, our selection of vegan establishments are so few in Houston that vegans don't have the luxury of choice. And vegans hoping to eat out are often subjected to questions like, "why would a vegan go to a BBQ restaurant?"

Because dining out is usually a social experience. People with dietary restrictions accompany friends and family to places where, while they may in the minority, they still seek to break bread in companionship. Restaurant owners and managers are well advised to perhaps accommodate people like my Jewish friends above, who come prepared with some packaged food as a gesture of acceptance that in this case, the food itself is not the focus, rather shared experience is.

Likewise, to my fellow diners with strict dietary requirements, we must accept that life is a bit unfair, and to reward restaurants that understand this situation with our patronage. And to please tip anyway, even if you bring your own food.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Act 2: Green

Part of a series describing a dinner at acclaimed Chicago Restaurant, Alinea.

The second course focused on one key vegetable: English peas. This may be the best version of mushy peas I've ever had. The peas were pureed, then aerated, and frozen to make something texturally resembling ice cream. This is complemented with raw pea shoots, an iberico ham powder (I think in this form, any old ham would have worked, as part of the appeal of jamon Iberico is the cured fattiness lost in being powdered) and a myriad set of accoutrements from a melon gel to little spheres of soy sauce. I don't think this is a minimalist dish, items could be deleted and substituted, and it may still work.

But the interplay of textures, and bold contrasts in flavors balanced out, and I did enjoy it quite a bit. Win.

Previously: A symphony in 21 acts.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Starch in starch

You'd think it wouldn't work, but imagine the challenge: take two things commonly thought of as baseline starches, rice and bread, put them together.

In a pastry.

Where else but in Houston can this wacky combination work?

At El Bolillo Panaderia, they serve up these arroz con leche empanadas (2517 Airline; the website,, is nothing more than a placeholder). Essentially, rice pudding wrapped in flaky puff pastry. The very moist nature of the pudding weakens the pastry so much, it is incredibly delicate. But wonderfully delicious, and goes really well with the Mexican style spiced Abuelita chocolate drink, available in the same store.