Thursday, April 10, 2014

Texas Tamales

Texas is known for a lot of things.  Oil rigs, the Dallas Cowboys, cattle, steak, BBQ and Tex-Mex food.  While other Southwestern states can also lay claim to Tex-Mex, well, notice that there aren't cuisine names such as Ariz-Mex or New Mex-Mex. Nope, Texas has the Tex part sewn up.

Hats, boots, belt buckles, wooden Indian...they got it all. 
I happen to love Mexican food in all its forms. Since this was my first visit to the Lone Star State, I knew some sort of Tex-Mex was definitely in my future.  After visiting NASA/Johnson Space Center, it was time to fuel up.  We went to a place called Eduardo's Mexican Kitchen. I've probably talked about this before, but it's really, really hard to get a good tamale here in Columbia, SC.  They are usually too much masa, not enough filling and dry as the Agave Desert. If I could get a good tamale, it should be here in Texas, right?  Right.

My dad, mom and I all ordered the lunch tamales.  The meat was tender and moist, nice shredded pork, which I love. The masa was also tender and flavorful. The tamales were covered in a nice ranchero type sauce and served with charro beans.  Dad and I opted to pair ours with a frosty Dos Equis, while mom went the margarita route.  I wish I could get a tamale like this at home.

Moist shredded pork inside, tender masa outside

Yummm, Dos Equis amber
 For those of you who follow my Facebook page, you may remember that I mentioned the most, awesome tamales that came from a Kroger?  Well, it's true.  As much as I loved my lunch at Eduardo's, there is a Kroger near my sister's house that is serving up even better tamales than the restaurant.  I know, I know, sounds crazy.  But, ever since my parents went out to help Katherine move, they have been talking non-stop about these tamales.  In the deli, there are some Mexican ladies back there making fresh tortillas and tamales.  They bought some while we were all there this trip and OMG, who'da thunk it?  They were incredible.  The masa layer was a little thinner and the meat was cooked perfectly and so very tasty.  It made me think of how often Guy Fieri has discovered goat curry in a gas station or fish tacos at a Zippy Mart.  

Stay tuned.  I have more Texas food adventures to tell you about.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Crawdads!

My brother-in-law accepted a really great job offer back in the fall.  IN TEXAS. 

This is amusing on one very obvious level.  My sister lived in Colorado for many years.  Her best friend is a Colorado native.  One thing we know about Coloradoans, they LOATHE Texans.  This may sound silly, but one of the first thoughts that went through my sister's mind was "oh, crap, what's Amy gonna think?"

Well, they are alive and well in Houston, specifically the Clear Lake area.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Houston like myself, the Clear Lake area of town is where NASA is located. I mean, really.  I think it's pretty groovy that on a day to day basis, my sister is now traveling down Space Center Blvd and NASA parkway, etc. The other surprising thing is that Houston is coastal.  Now, before you all think I'm stupid, let me explain. I'm a map geek.  And, while I've always realized Houston is near the water and right across the water from New Orleans, I never realized that Houston has contact with salt water. It's freakin' awesome!

The first night we were there, Katherine and Darren kept talking about taking us to "the place under the bridge."  After I realized they weren't referring to a soup kitchen, I was intrigued.  It's a cool place called Outriggers and it is, in fact, under a bridge and right on the water.  

It is a casual place with an awesomely seafood heavy menu.  Mom and I ordered the same thing: the shrimp/avocado appetizer, which was just the right size dish I needed that night.  It was spicy grilled shrimp served on top of 2 avocado halves, which were seated on shredded lettuce.  All was drizzled with a terrific remoulade.  My dad ordered an oyster Po-Boy, which was the one dish of the night that didn't score any points.  Dad said it was way too much batter and not enough oyster.  

My sister ordered shrimp tacos and my brother-in-law went for the Tilapia Veracruz.  His dish looked wonderful, but I was so busy with my shrimp remoulade, I forgot to bug him to give me a bite!  But, the star of the night was what my Wunderkind ordered...crawfish.  According to Katherine, it seems to be crawfish season in Texas.  She said everywhere you go, you see people even steaming and selling them on the side of the road!  Of course, I immediately asked my baby-child if she was interested in having "crawdads" since she devours them each year at the Crawfish Festival in our neighborhood.  I was quickly reprimanded by Katherine..."we" call them crawfish.  Well, you know what happened next, right?  I refused to call them anything but crawdads.  After all, they ARE crawdads.




The only thing I wish I'd thought to ask was what type of spice, or level of spice they cooked their crawdads with.  They arrived at the table, and it was evident that they had a pretty good coating of spices on the shells.  Nonetheless, my baby was undeterred.  I peeled them for her and she made it through about 8 of them before the cumulative effect of the spices got her.  I asked the waitress for milk and was shocked to learn that they have no milk.  I actually asked her, "So, wow, you guys don't make White Russians here, huh?"  Her reply?  "Oh yes, we just make them with creamer."  <<Insert gag reflex here>>

They were incredibly good and the pound we ordered was only $6.99.  Needless to say, we had plenty to take home.  Next day, we ate them right out of the fridge and they were still just as good.  They were so tender, well flavored, so so good!  Truth be told, as we were all standing around my sister's kitchen island doing some late night snacking, I pretty much ate all the leftover crawdads.  Nobody else got in the game...oh no, too slow!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

AT LAST! A real menu for children

Kids are people too. But you wouldn't know it to look at most restaurants' children's menu.  I think "picky eaters" aren't born, they are taught. Of course, there are exceptions to this statement, but for the most part, I think I'm right about this.  

My mom told me years ago about an article she read. There was an experiment involving kids and their eating habits.  On day 1, the kids came into a room to find a long table filled with cookies, cakes, pies, ice cream, chocolate, potato chips, Doritos and the like. They also found grilled chicken, fish, green beans, spinach, squash, broccoli, fruits, etc. As expected, on day 1, the sweets were quickly demolished and the "real food" left untouched.

However, this began to change gradually. Each day, less and less of the sweets & junk food were consumed and more and more of the good stuff.  By the end of the week, the kids were eating full, balanced meals with maybe one dessert selection.  The conclusion?  The kids ate what they needed. Their bodies needed (wanted) the nutritious foods to survive.  The novelty of the junk wore off quickly even though the kids had unlimited choices of "fun" foods in front of them. 

This has been my basic philosophy about feeding my daughter: make available what she needs. From the time we began giving her solid foods, my husband and I focused on giving her good, balanced meals and we changed it up a lot.  We have continued to offer new, different dishes and meals to expose her to the great big world and to encourage healthy and adventurous eating.  Some foods are a hit, some not.  But, I don't give up.  I'll try them prepared differently next time and guess what?  Eventually those foods make it onto the "thumbs up" list.

Going to a restaurant with a child can be a challenge.  Most have a kids menu, but frankly, they usually just make me mad.  You've seen it before...the unhealthy, junky, uncoordinated selections they make available to your child.  Chicken fingers, french fries, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, corn dog.  And don't forget the lovely sides: jello, applesauce, fries, yogurt. 

Kids are people too!  When was the last time you waltzed into a restaurant and said "Yes, I'll have the corn dog with a side of applesauce and macaroni."  I'm betting NEVER.There's a place in the Vista that has macaroni for kids.  We ordered it one time.  I swear to you, they cooked an entire box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, dumped the whole pot into a bowl and served it to my 4 year old with an adult-sized soup spoon.  So, she was given a portion size fit for Paul Bunyan, a spoon that won't fit in her mouth to eat a bowl full of crap from a box that I don't even make at home.  

Here's a tip:  you're a restaurant.  Cook!  Make some macaroni. It's not that hard. Serve kids a smaller portion.  Or, for that matter, how about just serve ANYTHING on your menu at a kid-sized portion and price?  Now, that is sheer brilliance, if I do say so myself.



Ok, ok, ranting aside, the real purpose of this post is to give major applause and accolades to Harper's in Five Points. We went in today after church.  Viv received the usual kids menu with accompanying crayons.  I started looking it over and almost fell out of the booth.  I have never, ever, ever seen a children's menu like this!  Actual entrees, vegetables, includes a dessert and only $6. Take a look:
  
Notice anything?  There is salmon, grilled chicken, BBQ sliders, roasted vegetables, fruit as well as brunch items.  Now with this, you can build a real meal for your child.  Viv chose the grilled salmon with honey mustard glaze.  She really does love salmon.  She was talking about ordering French toast when the salmon caught her eye. She selected fruit as her side and the scoop of ice cream for dessert.  Just for the record, despite what she circled above, I did give in and let her have a Dr. Pepper since her soda consumption is practically non-existent, but I 86'd the milkshake.


This is the plate she was served.  It looked fantastic and I had to try it.  It was perfectly cooked, you could taste the wood fire, nice "crust" on the outside.  It was delicious.  

I was euphoric through the rest of our lunch, because I was so jacked that someone finally gets it.  Kids don't need to live off cheese, fried chicken and pasta.  And, what kind of idiot puts PB&J on a menu?  Restaurants need to act like restaurants and cook.  Cook for all your customers regardless their age. Kids will eat real food.  But you have to make it available to them.  If every restaurant would adopt my "just make a smaller portion" concept (anybody remember "ladies' portions?), we could have kids everywhere experimenting and developing their little palates every time they eat out.

Kudos to you Harper's!  I hadn't been to your restaurant in a long time (no reason, just hadn't made it in) but I tell you what, we'll be in frequently now.  Thank you for offering vegetables and lean proteins to our kids.  Thank you for serving them an appropriate serving size at an appropriate price.  You get it.



Harpers Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Chef Fusco Returns!


The phrase "it's a small world" isn't just a cliche.  At least, not if you live in the South.  It's a FACT. This phenomenon is more than likely true in all areas of the world, but I can attest to its omnipresence here in the Southern United States. It would not be an exaggeration to say that at least once daily I meet someone that I have a connection
to, in one way or another.  Good example... today I overhead a man mention a "swing dancers club" and then it hit me that I'd met this guy before.  Sure enough, he was one of the organizers of a swing dance celebration a few years ago during which Neil's grandmother was honored.  Why, you ask?  Betty Wood, or Nana as we called her, was one of the original Big Apple kids.  She WAS swing dancing.  And sure enough, this was in fact the guy who arranged a weekend long celebration during which Nana taught Lindy, Big Apple and Jitterbug classes and received the key to the City from former "Mayor Bob" Coble.

Another example of the small-worlded-ness to which I refer?  Michael Fusco.  Mike Fusco was (is) the older brother of my high school buddy Dave Fusco.  When we were in college, the Fuscos opened Irmo's first gourmet, upscale restaurant called Restaurant 1-2-3.  

To this day I believe it was truly the only high caliber restaurant Irmo has ever enjoyed.  Later, the Fusco family moved on to open yet another high quality restaurant, this time in Lexington...Cinnamon Hill.  And then they hit the Vista with the Rhino Room. All of these ventures were successful, top quality, something-to-talk-about restaurants that we Columbians were fortunate to experience. Now, Mike has hit Main Street and true to form, we are all going to benefit from his experience and his talents.

Michael's Cafe & Catering officially opened today for breakfast & lunch.  They are located at 1620 Main Street.  Yes, that's the "Mast General" block.  For those of you who work downtown, you might be interested to know that just around the corner is a 24/7 gym.  You can work out, pop into Michael's for a coffee, juice or smoothie and grab breakfast to eat or take with you to your office...granola, yogurt parfaits or a hot breakfast burrito.  Something for everyone.  And, as you've certainly surmised from the title, Michael's provides catering services, including a full services, tech-outfitted conference center adjacent to the cafe for your big events.  And for those of us who attend downtown churches, Sunday brunch is on the near horizon!

Tonight, Michael was uber-generous and opened his cafe up to me and some of my friends from the food blogsphere.  We were able to tour the beautiful shiny new kitchens, the sharp conference center, the hip yet warm cafe itself and we were treated to some of Michael's menu treats!  We tasted, photographed, tweeted, instagrammed and otherwise bragged to our friends about the experience.  Let me tell you this...if you are ever invited to a restaurant preview, dry run, soft opening, whatever you want to call it, GO!  They are so fun and you really feel a connection to the place when you've been included in something so special.

So, anyway...you want to know about the food, right?  Tonight, we sampled lots of goodies.  Here goes:


  • Frieda's Special: this is a Greek salad, but it's a kick ass Greek salad.  Know why?  Frieda is a wonderful Greek lady who is a mutual friend and the salad is reflective of her; high class all the way.  Quality lettuces, ample feta, pitted Kalamata olives, tender & spicy pepperoncini, outstanding dressing.  Not your typical Z@#&b's iceberg lettuce salad, for sure! 
  • White Russian sandwich: OMG! It's not complicated.  Turkey, bacon, swiss and a homemade "not your typical" Russian dressing.  This is a fabulous sandwich, friends.
  • Pimento Cheese: We had this as a dip and also as a grilled cheese sandwich. Let's face it...pimento cheese rocks as long as it's homemade and made with really good quality cheese.  


  • Philly Cheese Steak:  I'm super picky about Phillies.  This is it.  Lean, well cooked "grilly" tasting steak, spicy peppers and yummy onions and cheese.  Add high quality hoagie roll and, well I don't need to say anymore.
  • Pasta salad:  We tried two.  The first was bow-tie pasta with pesto, artichoke hearts (I mean, can you go wrong with artichoke?  NO!) and red wine vinegar/olive oil vinaigrette.  The other was a multi-color fusilli with a rice wine vinegar vinaigrette...my fave! 
  • Shrimp salad: Ok, see, we live in the South.  If anybody can work with shrimp, it's those of us in coastal states.  This is a great example.  The shrimp are what my dad and I call "creek size" shrimp. They are just the right size for a salad on lettuce, in a cup, on a croissant.  Large, stuffable sized shrimp are not right for this job.  They are flavored with herbs and mayo, but lightly so.  It's not heavy, it's just what shrimp salad should be. 
  • Breakfast burrito:  Ok here's the one place I have to insert something personal.  When I heard that Michael was opening a new place, I told my 7 year old about it.  I'm proud to say that she is a very adventurous eater and loves to participate in the "grown up world."  As soon as she heard about Michael's, she said, it "must" have a breakfast burrito.  So, I told Mike about it and Viola! he added it to the menu.  Viv is so proud.  If only it were titled the "Breakfast Vivverito" or something...Just kidding Michael!
  • Veggie Hummus Wrap: My girl April is a vegetarian.  If you have veggie friends, you know that there are varied types.  Some are vegan (NO animal products at all...this is a very hard, rigid lifestyle), ovo-lacto (ok with eggs, cheese, milk), pesci-tarians (fish, shellfish ok), you get the idea.  My friend April describes her vegetarianism very simply as "no flesh."  That, I love.  I don't have to think for 10 minutes about what she can or cannot eat.  So, Michael's has several offerings for our veggie friends.  <<Let me insert here that I am a HUGE veggie fan, just not exclusive, so I want to be clear that I am, in no way anti-vegetarian. I'm an omnitarian, I guess. OMG...did I just make up a word?>>
  • And last but not least...SMOKED TOMATO RANCH. Holy mother of Krypton.  The mere description doesn't sound like much, it's true.  But after hearing a few others comment about this dressing, I had to make my way down the table to try it out for myself.  I don't really know a better way to say wow, other than wowza, shazamm, holy something...  We all know that in many cases, a salad is only as good as its dressing.  This is fantastic.  You just have to trust me and try it for yourself.  I loved it so much, I asked Michael if he could think of using it as a base for a pasta salad. And, I think this would be the ideal dressing for any salad, even Frieda's, if you want to deviate from the norm!                         
The evening was just fantastic and I know that the downtown community will love and support this new eatery. I want to thank Mike, Rebecca and Lisa for inviting all of us in and giving us the opportunity to try out the menu. Michael's is focused on good quality, culinary talent and supporting other local culinary businesses along the way. Those of you who read me know my opinion of the importance of supporting local people and local businesses.  Try out Michael's Cafe.  For a few reasons: because you love and appreciate good food, you need an efficient space for parties/meetings, and need a fantastic caterer for your special events. 

And, because I said so.  :-)   
 


Michael's Cafe & Catering on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 15, 2014

It's Hardly Even Cooking

You know how you always hear people say things like "keep it simple" or "it's the simple things" or "the simpler the better?"  The reason you hear these phrases is because they have become cliches.  Why have they become cliches? Because they are true.  As much as I love elaborate, gourmet food, the simple truth is that sometimes, the simpler the dish, the more complex the satisfaction factor.


 Our dinner tonight was a classic example of this phenomenon.  I found this on Pinterest and as I recently said to a high school friend via Facebook, it's hardly cooking at all.  It's embarrassingly easy, especially for someone like me who loves to cook, experiment and tell the world about it. I've made this dish several times because a) it's really good b) it's crazy easy and c) my husband practically breaks down in tears when I tell him it's what's for dinner. So far, I've shared it with my friend Laurin, who has some challenges getting her kids to eat.  They love this dish.  I've also shared it with my mom, who tells me that she's also made it with chicken with great results.  


Today was one of those action-packed days. Pick up the veggie box first thing in the morning, hit Bed, Bath & Beyond for coffee, shop for birthday gift, take Vivi to birthday party, meet with clients while she's there and then home for a minute (or two) of Saturday relaxation. (I have to tell you that Viv cracked me up today in the store when she declared that Bed, Bath & Beyond wasn't really "all that beyond.") Knowing that the crockpot was bubbling away eliminated one important part of the day for me to be concerned about. 

The ultimate beauty of this dish is its simplicity.  Like I said, it's hardly even really cooking, but the result is very tasty and it seems to please everyone.  As you can surmise, this is perfect for weeknights when we all need about 12 more hours in our days.  I don't actually fool with the parmesan potatoes because I think it's overkill.  A simple, plain mashed potato is all you need because of the flavorful sauce.  But, you feel free to make whatever kind of potatoes are your favorite. Tonight, I served this with a simple side of steamed broccoli drizzled with a little lemon butter.  Simple and satisfying.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Worst Cooks or Best Actors?





You know, when the Food Network debuted "Worst Cooks in America," I was in love with it.  The first season actually had a woman from South Carolina on it.  Unfortunately, she was cut pretty early.  I often wonder about her.  What's she eating?  I remember most of what she concocted all came out of cans.


As we say en France, malheursement, the subsequent seasons have become less believable and substantially more theatrical.  I get that TV has to have some level of theatrics so people will watch.  But, some of the kitschy antics are just downright stupid. The current season is really beginning to infuriate me.  From the first episode, it was evident that all the previews, commercials and then the "worst cooks" introductions were all written and mapped out as supposedly witty scenes. 

Want to know why I'm calling bulls&%t on Food Network?  Let's examine a couple things.  Season One was a truly varied group of regular, average Joes.  Current season? All tatted up, pierced up, primped up weirdos. In Season One, the contestants actually got more and more focused on really learning.  Current season?  Constant bitching, whining and freaking out over everyday stuff like chicken and fish.  And, my personal favorite?  The opening sequence of the current season shows Anne Burrell yelling at the red-headed lady about licking her fingers, but yet, circus freak tattoo artist Amber is allowed to participate in this show with 2" bacterial nails.  I don't think you could locate a chef on this planet who would allow that nastiness in her kitchen.  I don't care if hand me a Big Gulp full of chicken juice, I'd rather slurp it up with a straw than eat anything prepared by that Cruella and her germy claws.

The same is true with Mystery Diners.  I love, love, loved this show when it started.  But now, it's evident that it's nothing but a bunch of stupid scripted theatrics just for the sake of putting something on TV.  Clearly, Food Network has joined the ranks of the other television moguls who think we're all so stupid we can't even be trusted to watch something involving truth and actual reality.  It's pitiful really...Survivor started it all.  Redefining the word "reality" to mean staged, outrageous, fantastical crap.

And, as we all know, Anne Burrell (who I love, btw) was long overdue for a new 'do.' But seriously Anne, #1 fadeup on the sides simply doesn't update the old-hat spiky mess.  Come on girl!

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