Archive for the ‘Food’ category

Leave the Fork at Home – Review of Blue Nile Ethiopian Cuisine in Houston

April 25, 2010

Do you order the same item off the menu every time you go out to eat?

I can’t do that. To me that would be like paying my $12.50 for a ticket to watch a movie I’ve already seen a second time… and a third… and a fourth… and so on.

And thus when it comes to restaurant dining, I like to mix it up once in awhile. Try something new and adventurous, maybe something I’ve never had before, and oftentimes something entirely too dangerous and death-defying.

Last week, Megan and I decided to embark off our culinary beaten path and dine on a recommendation by Katharine Shilcutt of the Houston Press, who recommended Blue Nile Ethiopian Cuisine here in Houston. We figured since Katherine is such an unabashed foodie and raved about this place, it might be an excellent opportunity to try something new.

Ethiopian Food – A Background on Culture and Customs

How much do you know about the country of Ethiopia? Before I give you my take on the dining experience at Blue Nile, let me give you some background information on country and culture.

As a country, Ethiopia has been an independent nation since ancient times, their roots dating back well-over a millennia to 10th century BC.  It’s also one of the oldest sites on record of human existence and may be the point where homo sapiens first ventures forth from Africa into the middle east and the rest of the world. That’s right boys and girls, this place is truly the cradle of life.

In Ethiopian dining custom, meals are typically serves on a large platter around which family and guests gather. These platters, usually composed of weaved baskets, are lined with a pancake-like bread called injera, which is made with an Ethiopian grain called teff, which is recognized as one of the smallest grains the world.

Ethiopians do not use dining utensils. Pieces of injera are torn off with the right hand and used to scoop up food, much like naan and tortillas. In Ethiopian custom, it’s considered rude to use the left hand when dining. And when you’re full, expect to be urged to take more food. Providing an abundance of food is a sign of hospitality.

The Experience at Blue Nile

As I mentioned previously, we had no knowledge of Ethiopian dining custom nor any familiarity with Ethiopian cuisine before we went to Blue Nile last week. They could seriously have served me chicken enchiladas and I would have been none the wiser.

Blue Nile’s location is fairly low-key. They are in a fairly nondescript strip mall on Richmond Avenue in between Gessner & Fondren. The strip mall itself looks sketchy but the interior of Blue Nile’s dining room is well-decorated and clean. The staff at provided prompt and polite service. We were sat quickly and the waitress came by quickly to take our order. Though the place was not full at 8pm on a Thursday night, it was not empty either. Just right in terms of ambiance for a quiet dinner.

What we ate.

  • Doulet – (An Ethiopian delicacy – minced lamb tripe, lamb liver and lean top round meat (Beef) sautéed with spiced butter, mitmita (Hot pepper) and herbs. Served lebleb or raw.)
  • Doro Wot – (Chicken, in Ethiopian traditional way, cooked in berbere, onion, specially spiced butter and spices.)
  • Tej – A Sweet honey-wine. It is often homemade and is of varying strengths, ranging from the very sweet and almost non-alcoholic “birz”, to the stronger and less sweet true tej.

The injera that came with our platter was definitely new to me. I was hesitant at first because the texture and look of injera is very spongy and I didn’t know what to make of it. But once I realized  the lack of silverware at the table, I knew where this was going. I quickly tore off a piece and scooped up some meaty goodness. To my surprise, I enjoyed the injera more than I thought I would, and it made the meal, in its entirety, feel very filling.

As far as our entrees, everything was very, very spicy! It reminded me much of spicy Indian food. I liked the texture and taste of the lamb on the doulet but the liberal addition of jalapenos was a mixed-bag for me. It seemed to overpower the other components of the dish. The best part of the doro wot is the flavoring of the stew, which was a spicy red-pepper sauce. I also thought the whole egg thrown in was pretty neat. I was unimpressed by the portion of chicken in this dish though. I expected to get way more than one chicken drumstick in this entree for my $12. Next time maybe they can tell me this chicken leg was certified 100% organic free-range poultry. That would help cheap me feel more at ease with this order.

As far as the honey wine, we loved it! We were surprised to find out from our waitress that it is entirely homemade. Tej was definitely unlike any drink we’ve had previously and has a very unique taste and after-taste.

Conclusion

As a cultural learning experience, I’m glad we got to try Ethiopian cuisine at Blue Nile. It was definitely new and eye-opening. Dining with our hands was unexpected but cool. I wish they provided table-side hand washing (I read about this custom after the fact) because that would been good in this type of environment but what can you do.

I bet most vegetarians would love this place as that part of the menu seems to be a strong suit. I’d definitely recommend Blue Nile for that regard and would try the vegetarian combo myself next time. The dishes we did order this time around were good. Like I said, Ethiopian food definitely reminds me a little of spicy Indian food. My only complaint is that portion-wise, it filled us up, but still a little light for the price on dishes such as the doro wot.

All in all, Blue Nile was a unique dining experience and I’m glad I tried Ethiopian for the first time. Seek out this place for yourself and chalk it all up to cultural discovery.

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Review: Well Done Cooking Classes in Houston

February 1, 2010

For those of you in Houston that have aspirations for food beyond just constantly eating it, I have the most wonderful recommendation for you guys. Megan and I had the pleasure of trying our very first cooking class last Friday and I have to admit I left very impressed and surprised at what a good time it was.

 
What I Thought It Would Be Like
 

Prior to our “Dinner in Tuscany” class at Well Done Cooking  last week, I had no idea what to expect. I’m no stranger to restaurant life having spent time waiting tables and bartending for several years while slacking my way through college. I’ve even read Anthony Bourdain’s famed book, “Kitchen Confidential,” and admit that I have a perhaps disillusioned idea of believing I know what it’s like working in a busy kitchen. I even experiment in my own semi-regularly, looking up recipes and recreating my own versions to varying degrees of success. But I still had no idea what to expect going to an actual-hands on class for the first time!

My vague interpretation of what this experience would be like hovered between two ends of the spectrum.

On one-hand, I thought of Megan. After all, the main reason I ordered these classes was as a birthday present since she’d always wanted to try one of these. And hence, if she was happy, I would be too. For this, I imagined that would include some hands-on transfer of knowledge on cooking and then eating the fruits of our labor. The end.

On the other hand, I feared this experience would be like losing my Y-chromosome as I withered away in a corner, drinking my way to oblivion. Maybe watching a cross between something like this clip from “Julie & Julia” live and my college accounting classes. Very boring, no fun at all.

 
What It’s Actually Like
 

After stopping by our local liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine (they encourage that), we arrived at Well Done Cooking at the same time as a few other couples. The class only had 10 people total so it had a very intimate feel. It was actually very easy to socialize the entire time without losing any of what was being taught or said.

We picked the ‘Dinner in Tuscany’ class which meant we would be cooking the following:

Appetizer: Seasonal Minestrone Soup and Crusty Bread

Entrée: Roast Pork with Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Brown Butter, and Herbs

Dessert: Classic Espresso Drenched Tiramisu

Chef Celeste and Kathryn were knowledgeable and informative on the why’s and how’s of making everything on our menu. The class was very hands-on and every participant was a part of everything that was being prepared. My favorite part was rolling the Gnocchi. I truly did not know that making pasta was that easy. Nor did I know that Tiramisu was actually made with Lady Fingers. I think I could recreate that as well. And I’ve already got the Roast Pork marinated for this evening so I did in fact learn a lot that I took away from the class.

I even learned some interesting tidbits about my kitchen and Houston in general. For example, did you know that most microwaves, post -1993, take stainless steel containers with no problem? I didn’t either and have yet to try it but that was neat to find out. Also, we talked about the merits of buying fresh, local ingredients and where to get them. I never thought to buy spices in the shops around Little India (Hillcroft/59) but apparently, that’s an excellent area to get every spice short of saffron/vanilla bean  at a reasonable price. Phoenicia Deli on Westheimer apparently is too. And if you want to try some great tiramisu, try Lemon Tree, a small Peruvian restaurant in the Memorial area.

In short, the experience we had at the cooking class was very, very enjoyable.  We learned how to cook some neat dishes and had some good conversation with some interesting people. We even left a little tipsy from our bottle of wine and our bellies fully satisfied with some great food that we cooked for ourselves. Overall, a great date night for us but I’d highly recommend this to anyone who’s even remotely interested in learning more about cooking. Good times!

 
About Well Done Cooking
 

Located just off US59 & Weslayan in the Highland Village area of Houston, Well Done Cooking has served to provide Houston residents with culinary classes since June of last year. Well Done Cooking, offers classes on all types of cuisines, all of which are listed on their online schedule. They offer public and private classes and class sizes are kept small and intimate by design, which makes booking ahead a necessity since classes fill up pretty fast.

The purveyor of Well Done Cooking, Chef Celeste Terrell, a native of Louisiana, graduated from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Massachusetts in 2004. Upon graduation, she worked for “Sel de la Terre,” a French Provisional restaurant in Boston prior to travelling abroad and living/cooking in France for a year. It was then that she decided to go share her talents and teach others how to cook in Boston. Now, four years later, Chef Terrell continues to pursue the fruits of her passion with Well Done Cooking here in Houston, TX. Celeste is ServSafe certified, a member of Les Amis d’Escoffier Society of New England and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

Chef Celeste and Well Done Cooking were recently selected to host a class for the TLC series, “The Little Couple” this past November. Here’s the clip from television that was on air recently.

Book Review – Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential

November 20, 2009

If you’re heard the name Anthony Bourdain only ecently, chances are that you know him from his popular show on the Travel Channel, No Reservations, where he travels the world seeking to sample local cuisine and culture. As a fan of No Reservations, I’ve come to see ‘Tony’ as one of the rare unpretentious, down-to-earth type of people that would be fun to kick around with. An excellent character as a travel show host and television personality… But would you believe it… I didn’t even know this man was a true-to-life chef and author.

As luck has it, I recently discovered that Tony Bourdain is quite the accomplished writer. And thus, I recently picked up and finished his first book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Bourdain’s personal memoir which was released in 2000 and continues to be on the New York Times Bestseller List.

In Kitchen Confidential, Tony Bourdain takes readers through a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant business from the perspective of someone on the inside – and subsequently sharing the entirety of his professional journey from bottom-of-the-totem-pole dishwasher to executive Chef along the way. As you would probably guess  from watching Tony on television, Kitchen Confidential  is as engaging, witty, and undeniably entertaining as you think it’s be.

While foodies may shudder at his description of restaurant life, it is admirable that Tony does not pull any punches in his portrayal of life in commercial kitchens and the “wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths” who make their living serving up your fine dining.  From the intricacies of restaurant lingo to what it’s like for a line cook during a Friday night rush, Kitchen Confidential truly is a graphic account of the intricacies that make up the restaurant trade.

Having worked in the restaurant trade all the way through college,  I would highly recommend this book as a must-read  to everyone who has ever worked in the restaurant business or anyone else curious about what is behind that stuff you’re ordering.

And in case you still won’t pick up the book, here are some of Kitchen Confidential’s  tips for diners.

  • Never order fish on a Monday.
  • The best nights for dining out are Tuesday through Thursday.
  • Avoid ordering beef well-done.
  • Be wary of Sunday brunches.

Happy eating guys.

Movie Review – Food Inc.

August 21, 2009

We went to Houston’s Angelika Theater to watch Food Inc. this past week. The movie/expose by fimmaker Robert Kenner gives a look into America’s agricultural business and how the industry has evolved within oh-say, the last sixty years or so.

Here is the synopsis from the official website:

In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government’s regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation’s food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, herbicide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won’t go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli—the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually. We are riddled with widespread obesity, particularly among children, and an epidemic level of diabetes among adults.

Featuring interviews with such experts as Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto) along with forward thinking social entrepreneurs like Stonyfield’s Gary Hirshberg and Polyface Farms’ Joel Salatin, Food, Inc. reveals surprising—and often shocking truths—about what we eat, how it’s produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.

Now before I give you my honest review of the issues within the movie, I think its important to tell you what type of person I am, so you can see the foundation of my opinions.

  1. foodincI am the most cynical person I know.  As an example, when it comes to politics, I’ve smiled and listened to both extremes of the left-wing and the right-wing on issues. And oftentimes, I think both sides are full-of-you-know-what spouting off uneducated none-sense and propaganda. I’ve seen too many people incoherently babbling on issues that they don’t even have full knowledge of recently.
  2. In going with the above theme, I believe it to be important for individuals to educate themselves on all sides of an issue in order to form their own opinion. Doing so will help you avoid coming off like an uneducated dolt aka one of them ‘sheeple.’ Understand that others will always try to influence you. From individuals and organizations to politicians and activists, everyone will have an argument to back their side. Take an objective look at the whole picture before you figure out where to plant your feet. And for God’s sake, when somebody tries to influence your thoughts and beliefs, check their premise before believing them.
  3. As soon as you have your facts straight and have planted your feet fully on issues, I think its okay to be an advocate – so long as you do it respectfully and avoid coming coming off like an idiot trying to push your beliefs on people. Challenge others to awareness and not opinion. Let them figure out issues for themselves through objectivity rooted in factual knowledge. That’s the respectful way to affect change.

 My Opinions on the movie, Food Inc.

 Variety’s review is correct in stating that this movie “does for the supermarket what “Jaws” did for the beach — marches straight into the dark side of cutthroat agri-business, corporatized meat and the greedy manipulation of both genetics and the law.”

With that fact in mind, I’ve gotten the following feedback all too often when talking about Food Inc. this week, “I’m scared to watch this movie.” or “Don’t do it, you won’t want to eat for a week.”

 Well duh you idiots, that’s what the movie is intended to do. But why in the world would you want to avoid something you could possibly learn from? I’m not saying believe everything you hear because I certainly do not. What I am saying is that maybe by watching films like Food Inc. and other like it, you may raise your own awareness of problems in the world you didn’t even know existed. I know that’s unfathomable for a lot of people. Most of us don’t want to be bothered. And films like this one delve in issues on a much-higher level than our usual ‘things that go boom’ and ‘girls like Sarah Jean Underwood’ that we like to be entertained by. I’m cool with that. I love those types of films too. But for real, it’s okay sometimes to walk out of the theater not jumping up and down about the bad-ass explosion sometimes. What a startling concept huh? To actually walk out of the theater with your head down because you learned something that jarred your consciousness… LOL.

Like I said, Food Inc. deals with complex issues. If you haven’t watched it yet, ask yourself how much you know about how our agricultural systems work. Probably not much. Films like this are good at showing you that. Honestly, walking in to the movie, I was thinking it would be nothing but a collection of propaganda and ‘facts’ bordering on bullshit. I was expecting another Da Vini Code but what this ended up being was my Zeitgeist about chicken. Except the facts were a lot newer and certainly a lot more irrefutable. I’m sure there is a lot more behind the food issue and the agricultural industry that I need to learn before I go off advocating anything other than awareness.

But here are just a few facts I got from the movie that warranted some thought.

  • It’s insane that four multi-national corps. (Perdue, Tyson, etc.) control most of the the food chain from planting to our stomach. The choices we see on the aisles are all coming from the same sources.
  • It’s sick how they grow beef, chicken, and pork. They’re truly not growing animals naturally, but rather growing meat for consumption. It’s not natural.
  • I never know large the corn industry was and how our government subsidizes it. From ethanol to food to beauty products, damn near everything we have contains corn.
  • Genetic-manipulation and patenting of said genetic advances have created monopolies of monstrous proportions. Scary sh*t. It’s Orwellian for sure.
  • There is much more to the agricultural business than I ever thought there was and it’s a lot to digest, no pun intended.

Reviews from other Sources about Food Inc.

Entertainment Weekly, LA Times, Salon.Com, Village Voice, and Rolling Stone gave highly favorable reviews. Rotten Tomatoes  gave the film a 97% rating.

Comments about Food Inc. that made me laugh

“It’s an “Inconvenient Truth” for food, minus the droning Al Gore and a handful of PowerPoint slides.”
 
“Smart, gripping, and untainted by the influence of Michael Moore.”

“A brutally disturbing, fundamentally important new documentary.”

“Consider food your guilty pleasure? Well, “Food, Inc,” shows it’s a killer. You need to see this film.”

Food Inc. Trailer

2009 Houston Culinary Awards -Vote Katie Leggett!

July 31, 2009

Andres_Pastry_ShopA Pastry Chef at Thierry Andre Tellier’s self-titled Andre’s Pastry Shop and Cafe, our very-own Katie Leggett  has been wowing Houston foodies and the finicky River Oaks crowd with her sweet creations for quite some time now.

From assorted French pastries, fruit tarts, and pies, all the way to the most complex types of cakes, this ninja can attest that her creations at Andre’s make up the BEST that Houston has to offer when it comes to pacifying the sweet tooth and I mean that.

The experience in both taste and presentation when trying Katie Leggett’s concoctions versus any other is akin to a Wine Taster trying a 1959 Chateau Lafite for the first time while he’s been used  to previously drinking the infamous pink Beringer Zinfandel all along. Truly an eye opening experience.

My Table, Houston’s Dining Magazine, recently opened up voting for the 2009 Houston Culinary Awards. This year, Katie has the distinguished honor of being a finalist in the category of Pastry Chef of the Year. Due in no small part to the cheesecake she brought over that one time, DNC Worldwide is pledging our support  for Katie Leggett as Houston’s 2009 Pastry Chef of the Year. Please do your part and VOTE NOW!

andresAbout Andre’s Pastry Shop and Cafe: Our café & pastry shop has been creating fantastic and award-winning pastries for years. A recipient of numerous awards and accolades, we continually strive for perfection to bring the best quality and flavor to our creations for every customer. Our true passion for this art extends to all our staff, whose constant goal is crafting fantastic pastries with amazing design and flavor. Whether a simple chocolate to your dream wedding cake, we hope to pass along our enthusiasm for fresh food with great ingredients. Our entire culinary team will strive to make your dining experience or special event a true success.

mytableAbout My Table Magazine: From soup to souffle, My Table covers local food and wine via a highly specialized magazine devoted to the pleasures of dining out in the greater Houston area. Each issue offers readers the most complete information on the restaurants, chefs, shops, foods, trends, caterers, festivals and personalities that make up the city’s lively culinary scene. – Teresa Byrne-Dodgem, Editor & Publisher

Houston Foodie Review – Pete’s Fine Meats & Deli

July 19, 2009

If you’re the type with an eclectic taste and a do-it-yourself attitude when it comes to preparing a fabulous meal, I have just the place for you.

2009-07-18 11.36.20

Pete’s Fine Meats & Deli, located at 5509 Richmond Ave, has a quality collection of every type of meat possible. With an exotic choice list that includes wild game such as wild boar, kangaroo, rattlesnake, and emu, Pete’s has just about everything a meat eater could want.

Serving Houston for over twenty-five years now, Pete’s also has your standard cuts of steak as thick as you desire. They’ve also got turduken, crawfish-stuffed sausages, all kinds of jerky, and much more. Pete’s also has an awesome selection of fine cheeses and homemade jams, as well as just about everything you need for a grill-out Sunday.

2009-07-18 11.49.51From what I saw, the staff at Pete’s Fine Meats & Deli is top-notch. The guys there greeted us as soon as we walked in. The prices weren’t listed on all the items but the staff is more than happy to give us any information we wanted. They gave us help on everything from what to buy to how to cook it all as well. Excellent customer service.

As far as pricing goes, this neighborhood butcher shop in the Galleria is surprisingly not that outlandish. You can expect about $25-28 on the really exotic stuff like the black bear, python, etc. but their steaks are about $5-8 a pound cheaper than most places, cut to your liking.

Now if you can order better than you can cook, the deli at Pete’s is rumored to have some of the best steak tacos & hoagies in town. They also serve some delicious barbecue, buffalo burgers, etc. The menu for their deli can be found here.

My Conclusion: Simply put, they are the end-all be-all when it comes to meat markets  in Houston.

4304258Pete’s Fine Meats & Deli
(713) 782-3470
5509 Richmond Ave
Houston
, TX 77056-6615

Houston Foodie Review: Calliope’s Poboys

July 9, 2009

oysterpoboyHaving eaten in New Orleans-style eateries ever since I moved to Houston from New Jersey, I thought I had a good handle on what constituted Crescent City cuisine. I knew what gumbo was… I’ve had many Po’Boys… But little did I know that I had been missing the key to good NOLA food all along.

You see, ole boy, it’s the intricate details that distinguish good New Orleans-style sandwiches from the rest. And despite the fact that I named the Po’Boy as one of America’s Top 10 Greatest Sandwiches prior to this review, I never really had one that truly captured my taste buds in such a way as it did about two weeks ago.

It was then that DNC Attorney-At-Large and our resident Bourbon Street expert, Eric Junker, wanted to pick me up for lunch in downtown Houston. Eric said he had something specific in mind, as he had been meaning to try out a Po’Boy place by the name of Calliope’s (pron: cal-eye-oh-pees) for quite some time. You see, Junker is a true foodie when it comes to Cajun / Louisiana-style cooking. I would even go so far as to call him a snob in that respect. So I knew he would be highly critical in judging this place afterwards.

We both agreed that we discovered at Calliope’s was nothing short of what is likely to be, without a doubt, the best Po’Boy place in Houston. And not only are their ingredients fresh and high-quality, but the portions at Calliope’s are significantly larger than what you’d typically get at your typical Cajun sandwich place. I think both Eric and I were very impressed with this unassuming little shop in the warehouse district. Personally, I loved the gumbo. The oyster in there was really key.

While we were eating, Eric questioned the owner, Lisa, on just about everything from how long they cook their red beans to who makes their bread. (they do.) She even shared a little of their history with us. It turns out that they’ve had a long time to perfect their unique brand of New Orleans cuisine. Calliope’s journey actually began right in the heart of New Orleans and they’ve taken it to Hattiesburg, Mississippi before the disastrous Hurricane Katrina landed then in our space city of Houston, TX.

Co-owner Lisa Carnley had this to say about Calliope’s on their newly-formed Facebook fan page:

“We are the first in Houston of a 20 year tradition of Po’Boy shops run by our family. Our food is great because the recipes have been tweaked and polished through years of experience.

Our vision is to bring an authentic New Orleans Po’Boy to the city of Houston. It all starts with fresh cooked french bread. New Orleans style french bread has a distinctive look and texture that was particularly difficult to duplicate in Houston. Like any sandwich we are only as good as our contents. Our seafood is fried and battered to perfection. We also feature a very authentic sloppy roast beef po’boy with homemade gravy. We are confident that you won’t find a po’boy in town that can compare to ours.

Calliope’s opened in Houston on 3/24/2009. We hope that you can take the time to stop by our neighborhood, located on the edge of downtown, and check it out.”

n90240906778_780My Final Verdict is that this place is best New Orleans-style eatery in Houston. But I’m probably not the authority you should ask. I’ll leave it to Junker to give our readers his final summation of Calliope’s…

“The red beans and rice are authentic New Orleans. Hands down the best in Houston.” Says Eric. “The key is in the bread. It’s as close to anything at Mother’s or Johnny’s in the French Quarter as you’ll find. The attention to minute details sets them apart.”  – Julius Eric Junker, Attorney specializing in Estate Planning, Probate, and Wealth Management in Richmond, Texas.

Additional Information on Calliope’s:

  • Address: 2130 Jefferson, Houston, TX 77003
  • Phone: (713) 222-8333
  • Hours: Mon-Sat 11:00 am – 8:00 pm
  • Houston Press Review of Calliope’s.
  • Diner Reviews from Yelp.