Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Restaurant Review: Lucio’s

Scott and I are huge fan of BYOB restaurants, we frequent Collina’s and La Vista on a regular basis solely because they are BYOB. Last year we discovered a new BYOB favorite, Lucio’s. This place doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the magic is in the kitchen. Both times we have dined here, the restaurant has been packed, the service excellent, and most importantly the food delicious. Lucio’s is what I will call an upscale BYOB restaurant, it’s a little pricier, but hey you can bring your own wine so you aren’t paying a markup. And my personal favorite detail is that Lucio’s uses nice wine glasses, instead of the short glasses I see at other BYOB places.

We brought two bottles of wine, a white and a red, to pair with the various courses of our meal.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Rancho Chimiles Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
Silver Oak, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley

Jumbo Lump Crab Tower
Sliced avocado, pico de gallo, poblano coulis

The crab tower was the perfect start to the meal, the chunks of crab were huge and it was just enough to get our mouths watering for the rest of the evening.

Goat Cheese Apple Salad
Shallots, mix greens, candied pecans, chevre, apple, honey vinaigrette

This salad was an obvious choice for me because I love goat cheese. The only detail not mentioned in the description, which I consider to be a very important one, is that the goat cheese medallions are fried. We all know fried things are always better. The second reason I ordered this salad is that apples and pecans are in season so it had “Fall” written all over it.

California Tomato Salad
Fresh mozzarella, basil, mixed greens, balsamic reduction

Scott ordered this salad with thick slices of mozzarella and tomatoes, and it was loaded with fresh basil. I love the smell of fresh basil.

Grilled Jerk Quail
Potato hash, red pepper, onion & asparagus

The first time we dined at Lucio’s Scott ordered quail and the tiny bite I tasted was fantastic, so this time my decision was already made. The quail was so tender and delicious and the veggie hash was fantastic. I was asked 3 times if I had finished eating because I wanted to savor every bite. I will only order the quail from now on. Plus quail is one of those ingredients that unless you are a bird hunter, you don’t usually make at home or see on restaurant menus.

Rib Eye Au Poivre
Thyme cognac sauce, cheddar mash, haricot verts

Scott ordered the rib eye which is a true man’s meat and potatoes dish. I had a bite of the cheddar mashed potatoes which were of course delicious as is anything with cheese, and covering the potatoes was a rib eye so huge it took up most of the plate. The bite of rib eye I tasted was delicious, but my favorite is still the quail…I can make a mean steak at home, so I usually try not to order steak when I go out.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Poblano & Mushroom Tacos

The Fast Easy Fresh section of Bon Appétit is a great source for healthy, quick, and easy weeknight meals. These tacos are easy to make and very delicious. Scott and I both agreed this recipe is a keeper and I can’t wait to make it again. Maybe next time I’ll add some leftover Thanksgiving turkey.

Poblano Mushroom Tacos
Adapted from Bon Appétit, November 2009
Serves 2

2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1 Poblano chile, seeded and thinly sliced into long strips
1/2 small red onion, sliced
3 ounces crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
4 corn tortillas
4 thin slices Monterey Jack cheese
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, diced
¼ cup Feta cheese, crumbled

1. Heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add Poblano chile, red onion, and mushrooms; sauté mixture until brown, about 5 minutes.
3. Mix in ground cumin, and then transfer mixture to medium bowl.
4. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp oil in same skillet.
5. Add tortillas in single layer, draping up sides of skillet to fit.
6. Divide mushroom mixture among tortillas, placing mixture only on 1 side, and then top each tortilla with a slice of Monterrey Jack cheese.
7. Fold plain tortilla halves over filling and press firmly.
8. Cook tortillas 1 minute per side.
9. Transfer tacos to plates. Open tacos and sprinkle with chopped cilantro, diced tomatoes, and crumbled feta.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Spicy Cheese Straws

I love anything with cheese! I first made this recipe two years ago for my holiday open house. I recently made them again for a shower and I had forgotten how yummy they are. I love the spicy kick from the red pepper flakes as well as the crispy crunch. In addition to being an edible treat these cheese straws also became part of the tablescape. Cheese straws can be displayed in crystal glasses, short vases, or mint julep cups.

Spicy Cheese Straws
Adapted from Southern Living, December 2007

1 1/2 cups (5 oz.) shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese*
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces and softened
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon half-and-half

· Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
· Combine first 5 ingredients in a food processor; pulse in 5-second intervals until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add half-and-half, and process 10 seconds or until dough forms a ball.
· Turn dough out onto a well floured surface, and roll into an rectangle (about 1/8 inch thick). Cut dough with a sharp knife into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-wide strips, dipping knife in flour after each cut to ensure clean cuts. Place strips on ungreased baking sheets.
· Bake for12-14 minutes or until ends are slightly browned. Cool on baking sheets on a wire rack 30 minutes.

*I use cracker barrel sharp cheddar and grate the cheese using a hand grater. Trying to grate in a food processor makes the cheese too fine in turn making the dough too soft.

I like to make a double batch, if I can resist from eating the block of cheddar. Straws can be also be made ahead and frozen.

Puffy Pigs

These yummy appetizers are a twist on the classic pig-in-a-blaket. They are easy to make and guaranteed to be a hit. Small cookie cutters can be used to cut shapes for any occasion.

Puffy Pigs
Makes 40

1 lb chicken spinach asiago sausage (from Sam’s)
1 package puff pastry

· Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
· Cut each sausage link into 8 slices.
· Cook sausage slices in a skillet over medium heat, 4 minutes per side.
· Thaw puff pastry according to package directions.
· Use cookie cutters to cut pasty.
· Top each sausage bite with pastry shape and secure with a toothpick and place on a baking sheet.
· Bake for 20 minutes until pastry is puffed and golden.
· Transfer to platter and serve.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Delicious Destination: Savannah, Georgia

Scott and I traveled to Savannah in May to celebrate our 3rd wedding anniversary. Earlier in the Spring I had read a feature on Savannah in Southern Living . The brief article had everything planned for a romantic weekend getaway. So with Southern Living as our guide I booked our trip. We had a wonderful experience in Savannah and will let Southern Living be my travel guide again in the future. The hotel said we didn't need to rent a car since most things in the historical district are within walking distance and if they aren't then you can travel via trolley, horse drawn carriage, or pedi cab.

We left Houston Friday morning and arrived to Savannah early in the afternoon. We checked into the President’s Quarters and stayed the weekend in the Ronald Reagan suite. The hotel was originally two townhouses which were later converted into the cozy bed and breakfast. We were greeted with sweet Southern accents and told about the morning breakfast on the courtyard and afternoon happy hour. Since we had some time to pass before happy hour, we made our way a few blocks over to River Street.

River Street is your typical tourist trap that every city has...its kind of like The Strand in Galveston. There are tons of souvenir shops, some good people watching, and lots of casual and water themed restaurants. We stopped into the Shrimp Factory for an afternoon snack and to quench our thirst. I had a peach martini* which was divine and some sweet tea. I rarely have Sweet Tea because good sweet tea is usually only found in places like Georgia. For our snacks we had the Seafood Bisque:Creamy Seafood Broth with Crab, Shrimp and Fish, sauteed Onions & Celery and the Shrimp Fan-tail BBQ (Honey-laced Barbecue Sauce). The shrimp was overcooked, so based on that I would not return to Shrimp Factory.

After our stroll down River Street, we returned to our precious Inn to freshen up for Happy Hour and indulge in some savory appetizers and wine. They had a creamy spread made of pecans, peach preserves, cream cheese, and few other tasty items I cannot remember...I just know it was really yummy and my book club would have loved such a treat. After happy hour we freshened up again (thanks to the humidity) and made our way to dinner at the Olde Pink House.

The Olde Pink House does not have a website. I was extremely disappointed in this inconvenience when researching the trip, but once I arrived it was evident they didn't need a website. Several people had recommended we dine at The Olde Pink House so we had to go. We first made our way downstairs into the Tavern to a pre-dinner cocktail. Let me tell you they make a mean Strawberry Mojito*. Then we made our way upstairs for our meal. We started out with a glass of champagne to toast our 3 years of marriage together and then enjoyed the Gary Farrell Pinot Noir* for the remainder of our meal. Due to lack of menu online here is what I remember to the best of my ability. I won't go into too much detail other to say that this place was delicious and I highly recommend you dine here if you ever visit Savannah. At the end of our meal our waiter discovered it was our anniversary and brought out a plate of whipped cream and berries complete with a candle and some chocolate drizzle.

Appetizer: oysters with relishes
Soup: She Crab Soup*
Salad: BLT with fried green tomato*
Entrée: Pork Shank
Entrée: Crispy half duck
Dessert: chocolate torte*

Saturday we began our day with breakfast on the courtyard. It was some sort of croissant french toast stuffed with strawberries and cream cheese. Then we made our way down to River Street to hop on the Old Town Trolley Tours for a tour of Savannah. This is a great quick way to see the sights and learn some history. Also trolley tickets can be purchased with on/off privileges for the whole day so you can get around town without hurting your feet too much. Everyone has asked me why we didn't go to Paula Deen's The Lady & Sons when we were in Savannah--and I have several reasons for not going. 1. All of her recipes are on www.foodnetwork.com so I could make them myself and 2. You have to get there at 9AM the day of to put your name on the list and then wait an hour when you show up for your time. While we were touring on the trolley we noticed Il Pasticcio* and thought all of the sidewalk tables looked cute so we went there for lunch. I had the WARM PROSCUITTO AND GRUYERE CHEESE ON FOCCACIA and Scott the had the SLICED AHI TUNA W/WASABI AIOLI ON CIABATTA, both were delicious. And since were on vacation we each had a glass of the White Haven sauvignon blanc with our sandwiches.

We continued to spend the afternoon walking around the historical district and visiting places we passed on our tour. There were also quite a few antique shops that I browsed in. And I found a Christmas store so I bought an ornament of a crab to remember our trip every year.

The Southern Living article had highly recommended Noble Fare so we dined there on Saturday night. We traveled via Pedi Cab, and our "driver" was a nice young man who is a student at SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) and his girlfriend is from The Woodlands...what a small world. Anyway we had a fabulous dinner and I must say that the scallops were the best scallops I've ever had...they were cooked to perfection (however the ones at The Grove recently are a close second)

cocktail: basil ginger lemonade*
appetizer: soft shell crab
soup: Shrimp Bisque*
salad: baby greens with raspberry dressing candied pecans and goat cheese*
entrée: Swordfish with lobster mashed potatoes
entrée: Scallops with corn mashed potatoes*
dessert: strawberry crème brulee*
wine: Vinium Chenin Blanc Viognier

After dinner we returned to Il Pasticcio for some drinks before calling it a night. Il Pasticcio is part restaurant and part lounge so its a great place for an after dinner drink.

Sunday morning we enjoyed our final brunch of shrimp and grits on the courtyard. Then I spent some time on the balcony of our room reading my book. We had a quick lunch down street at Café Ambrosia and enjoyed a Grilled cheese Panini with Colby jack and a hummus tray complimented by pita, red bell pepper, carrots, celery, mushrooms. Then it was time to go to the airport and head back to reality.

* super delicious would definitely order again

Monday, August 17, 2009

Restaurant Review: The Grove

Scott and I joined some friends for dinner at The Grove on Friday night to participate in Houston Restaurant Week. We decided to use this opportunity to try something new. 3 courses for $35 per person with $10 of those dollars benefiting the Houston Food Bank. Their pre-fix menu had quite a few delicious options for each course. Everything sounded really yummy, but since I have 3 bathing suit trips in the next month I decided to order items that were light and summery. I have outlined several of the menu items our table enjoyed I didn't get to taste everything but what I did taste was excellent. I also enjoyed the openness of the restaurant and the view of Discovery Green. I am hoping to dine at The Grove again in the near future.

Pomegranate Margarita
My friend Courtney had recommended the pomegranate margarita...this concoction was so delicious I ordered two of them. It had the perfect balance of tart and sweetness to get that yummy sourness without the mouth pucker.

1st Course:
Smoked Texas Quail Skewers
Pineapple Bourbon Dipping Sauce

I don't see quail on menus very often so I decided to indulge in this Texan delicacy and delicious it was.

The Grove Picnic Platter
Artisan Meats + Cheese + Pickles

Scott ordered the Picnic platter and he usually eats all of his food and at least half of mine, but I actually had to help him out there was so much to choose from. So I gladly helped myself to some prosciutto and cheese.

Fresh Fish Ceviche
Tropical Fruits + Chiles + Plantain Chips

Our friend ordered this and it was such a generous serving that I got to sample this too. It was very fresh, light, and had the perfect amount of citrus. I would order this for myself next time.

2nd Course:
Hand Rolled Fettuccine
Baja Scallops + Summer Corn + Basil

This dish reminds of one of my favorite summer recipes from Bon Appetite: Linguine with Summer Succotash. This is just a great balance of fresh and light flavors, a perfect summer dish.

Petit Filet
Grove Mashed Potatoes + Broccolini + Brasserie Butter

Our friend ordered the filet and enjoyed every bite and she said the mashed potatoes were particularly awesome. Had I not been watching my figure I would have been tempted by this dish too.

Colorado Lamb T-Bone
Braised Lamb Tamale + Mole Sauce

Scott ordered the lamb t-bone, most restaurants usually feature rib chops so it was good to see a different chop. He enjoyed every bite. Bobby Flay has a similar recipe in Mesa Grill cookbook that I will have to try at home soon.

3rd Course:
Frozen Lime Mousse
Ginger Snap Crust + Cherry Lime Compote

I love citrus desserts and the lime mouse tart was divine but it was so rich that I barely ate half of it. Maybe if I hadn't eaten so much during the 1st course I could have devoured it.

Chocolate Chess Pie
Whipped Cream + Shaved Chocolate

Everyone else ordered the chocolate chess pie but they also could not clean their plates. I heard it was really yummy but I didn't have any room in my belly for a sample.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blackberry Shortbread Bars

When I first received my copy of the Peace Meals cookbook and flipped through to preview all the recipes I knew this was going to be a great one! The ladies at the Junior League even dedicated a full page for a photo. I first had the pleasure of tasting these yummy treats at a sprinkle (shower for a second baby); they were everything I expected and more. A few weeks ago I hosted a bridal shower at my home and made these for the dessert buffet. All I sampled of this divine goodness was a scrap for the crispy edge. The shower guests devoured the blackberry bars and even came into the kitchen and ate all the crispy edges that I had left in the pan…not a single crumb remained. Last night I made these again to share at work for our monthly birthday celebration, in hopes that I could enjoy more than a few crumbs. I think I ate at least 4 and they barely survived past the lunch hour. Sweet Success!

Blackberry Shortbread Bars
Adapted from Peace Meals
Makes 24 bars

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups sugar
¼ tsp salt
3 sticks butter, chilled and cut into ½” cubes

· Preheat oven to 350.
· In a food processor combine flour, sugar, salt for 45 seconds. Then add butter and process for 30 seconds or until mixture is crumbly and butter is distributed.
· Reserve 1 ½ cups of the mixture to sprinkle over the top of the filling.
· Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with Pam for Baking. Then fill baking dish with the remaining crust mixture, pressing the crust mixture firmly into the bottom of the pan.
· Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown and then cool for 10 minutes before adding the filling.

2 eggs, whisked
½ cup sugar
½ cup light sour cream
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
16 oz frozen blackberries, thawed*

· In large bowl whisk eggs and then add the sugar, sour cream, and flour to combine.
· After the eggs and other ingredients have been mixed together gently fold in the blackberries.
· Pour the mixture evenly over the prepared crust.
· Sprinkle the top evenly with reserved crust mixture.
· Bake in oven for 45-55 minutes or until crumble top is lightly browned.
· Let cool for at least one hour before cutting into bars.**

*when thawing blackberries place bag inside of a plastic grocery sack to prevent leaks.

**If the baking dish is lined with aluminum foil, once the bars have been cooled they can be lifted out of the baking dish for easier cutting.

These bars would also be great if made with raspberries or a berry medley of blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Restaurant Review: Catalan

Last Thursday night Scott and I enjoyed our first dinner at Catalan. As we were browsing through the menu we quickly realized that narrowing down our choices would be next to impossible because everything sounded so good. We inquired about the Sandbox Tasting and discovered it was 7 courses of the chef’s choosing. This was the perfect solution to our problem. However, we were warned in advance that we should not have plans to go out afterwards, fortunately for us we did not. We also requested to have a wine paired with each course so that we could have a perfect complement to the meal. 3 hours later we made our way home with very full bellies. I highly recommend this option if you want to try some new culinary delights.

The Sandbox Tasting:

Market greens tossed in a local citrus vinaigrette with strawberries, goat cheese and Marcona almonds
Adelsheim Rosé of Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley, Oregon)

This was the perfect starter with all my favorite components. I would definitely call it a taste of spring.

Raventós i Blanc L’Hereu Reserva Brut Cava (Penedes)

We couldn’t quite figure out the details of this since it was not on the menu, but it had a spicy kick to it, some chile oil perhaps and we think the fish was tuna but maybe not…it doesn’t really matter anyway because it tasted excellent.

Roasted Oysters topped with gruyere cheese on a bed of cauliflower puree
Ermes Pavese Blanc de Morgex et De La Salle (Vallée D’Aoste, Italia)

I think this might have been Scott’s favorite course since he is a big oyster fan. Once I figured out how to get them out of the shell I enjoyed every bite. These are the chef’s favorite however they aren’t a regular menu item since he’s very picky out his oysters.

Snapper with jumbo lump crab meat and tomato rice
Dom. de Marcoux Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône, France)

Earlier in the meal the waiter brought out a whole snapper for our approval, it had just come in from Galveston that afternoon. I’m not much of a fish person but will branch out and eat it if I have to. I was pleasantly surprised…and wow it was a lot of fish.

Lamp Chop with chickpea, tomato, and zucchini salad
Marimar Estate “Dona Margarita Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast)

I love lamp chops and had we not ordered the sandbox I most likely would have ordered this from the menu….I was not disappointed.

Duck Confit with pickled red onion topped with fried duck egg
Miner Vineyards “The Odyssey” Syrah/Grenache/Mourvèdre (Napa)

Duck is one of those rare finds on restaurant menus but I love it…although I let Scott have my duck egg. The wine paired with this was very yummy and a great compliment.

Local Meyer lemon cream tart, Texas pecan crust, and sweet tea ice cream
Chocolate Espresso Bread Pudding
Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port (Portugal)

We got the best of both: Scott loves Chocolate and I love citrusy desserts.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies

I made this cookie recipe for the first time about a month ago for my hairdresser’s birthday. Last year for his birthday I made him the traditional Neiman Marcus cookies, so this year I decided to kick it up a notch and bake the Neiman Marcus Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. This of course meant that Scott and I had to perform some “quality control” testing. I have several chocolate cookie recipes (Mississippi Mud and Chocolate Raspberry) that I love to bake, however Scott said these were his new favorite. Scott is a serious chocoholic so this revelation came as no surprise.

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Neiman Marcus Cookbook
2 dozen cookies

3 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

· Pre-heat oven to 300°F.
· Place 2 cups of the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave the chocolate chips in 30 second intervals, stirring chips after each interval until chips are melted, about 1.5 minutes.
· Place butter and brown sugar in a mixer bowl and using the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugar for about 30 seconds until combined. Then with the mixer running on low, slowly add the eggs and melted chocolate. Slowly add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt to the mixing bowl. Scrape down sides of mixing bowl and mix a little longer, and then add the remaining chocolate chips and mix a little longer until chips are incorporated.
· Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Using a 1 oz (2 Tbsp) cookie scoop; scoop dough onto cookie sheet. Scoop about 9 cookies per batch.
· Bake cookies for 20 minutes.
· Let cookies rest for 1 minute on cookie sheet and then transfer cookies with a spatula to a wire rack to cool.
· Repeat process for remaining cookies.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spice Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Baby Carrots

Serves 2-3
Adapted from Bon Appétit, April 2009

This is a great dish to serve during the week for a simple dinner or to entertain guests since the oven does most of the work.

1 pound baby carrots, peeled, trimmed, leaving 1/2 inch of green tops attached
1 tablespoons water
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, diced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 small jalapeño (preferably red), seeded, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

1- to 1-1/4-pound pork tenderloins
1 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

· Preheat oven to 400°F.
· Whisk together water, EVOO, butter, garlic, jalapeno, honey, chile powder, cumin, and salt in a med bowl.
· Arrange carrots in a 9 x 13 baking dish and coat with seasoning mixture.
· Cover baking dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
· While carrots are baking, make pork seasoning mixture by mixing together oregano, cumin, chile powder, paprika, and salt in a small bowl. Rub pork tenderloin with seasoning.
· Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and add EVOO. Brown pork on all sides about 5 minutes.
· When carrots are ready, remove foil, and nestle pork tenderloin among the carrots. Bake for about 18 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the pork registers 145°F.
· Let pork rest 5-10 minutes before cutting to serve.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Iron Chef: Bobby Flay vs. Neiman Marcus

Last night Scott and I cooked a fabulous dinner inspired by Bobby Flay and Neiman Marcus. With spring around the corner, this was the perfect menu to get excited about the end of winter and the time change.

I love cooking recipes from Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill cookbook, every dish I have made always surprises with me new elements of flavor. Last year I had the pleasure of eating lunch at Mesa Grill in Las Vegas and in my opinion it was the best meal I had that weekend.
The Neiman Marcus tea room is a great lunch spot. However, I always get the same thing Chicken Tortilla Soup and a Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookie to go. The Chocolate Chip cookies are the reason why I purchased the Neiman Marcus cookbook (even though I do have an email forward with the infamous recipe). While planning my menu for the evening I needed an appetizer or salad that would pair well with my Bobby Flay choices and the Southern and Southwestern roots of Neiman Marcus were a perfect fit.

Scott and I went with a divide and conquer method so he prepared the NM shrimp cocktail while I worked on the BF rib-eyes and mashed potatoes.

Neiman Marcus Ten-Spice Barbeque Shrimp Cocktail
Bobby Flay Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks w/ Chipotle-Honey Glaze and Whipped Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto

Ten-Spice Barbeque Shrimp Cocktail
adapted from Neiman Marcus Cookbook
serves 4

Ten-Spice Barbeque Mix and Shrimp
1 Tbsp paprika
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ancho chile powder
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp ground thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne
12 jumbo shrimp (about 1 lb), peeled and deveined
1/4 cup EVOO
Mix together paprika, cumin, chile powder, coriander, salt, garlic, onion, thyme, pepper, and cayenne in a small bowl. In a large bowl coat the shrimp with olive oil, and then sprinkle with 3 Tbsp of the spice mixture. Cover the shrimp bowl with plastic wrap and chill for a few hours. Cook on a grill, grill pan or skillet (with oil) 2-3 minutes per side.

*Save extra spice mixture to season chicken, pork, or steaks for another meal.

Roasted Corn-Jicama Salsa
yields: 3 1/2 cups

2 cups roasted corn kernels (from 3 large ears of corn)*
1 cup peeled and finely diced jicama
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/4 cup seeded and finely chopped red bell pepper
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tsp seeded and minced jalapeno
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

Mix together the corn, jicama, red onion, bell pepper, cilantro, and jalapeno in a large mixing bowl. Then combine with lime juice and salt to taste.

*Roasting the corn is optional. If you are pressed for time,corn fresh off the cob will still be very tasty.

**Extra salsa can be saved as a snack later or garnish for other dishes.

Cilantro-Lime Dressing
yields: 2 cups

1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 tsp honey
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups EVOO

In a blender or food processor process the vinegar, lime juice, cilantro, honey, salt, and process while slowly adding olive oil.

*Dressing will last for several days in the refrigerator and can excess can be used for salads or season fish.


Margarita or Martini glasses make a great presentation for this shrimp cocktail.

Finely shred 1 heart of romaine and add to a mixing bowl with corn-jicama salsa, and ½ cup of the dressing. Divide salsa mixture among 4 glasses and top each with 3 shrimp.

Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks with Chipotle-Honey Glaze
Adapted from Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill Cookbook
Serves 4

1 can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
½ cup honey
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
¼ cup canola oil
Kosher salt
4 (12 oz) rib-eye steaks
Black pepper
Roasted Pepper Relish*

Puree chipotle chiles in a blender or food processor. Place 1 Tbsp of chile puree in a medium bowl and reserve the remainder for another use. Add honey, mustard, canola oil, and 1 tsp salt to the bowl whisk together with the chipotle chile puree.

Preheat grill pan to medium-high heat.
Rub steaks with 2 Tbsp EVOO and season with salt and pepper. For medium rare grill steaks on one side for 4-5 minutes, then turn steaks over and brush with honey glaze and continue grilling for 6-7 minutes. Remove from heat and brush with more glaze. Let steaks rest 5-10 minutes before serving. Top each steak with the roasted pepper relish.

Note: I prefer to get my rib-eyes directly from the butcher so they can be cut thick about 2 inches. Prepackaged rib-eyes are usually cut very thin and will cook to fast.

*Roasted Pepper Relish

2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, cut into strips
2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, cut into strips
3 cloves roasted garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp EVOO
2 Tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
2 Tbsp finely chopped cilantro
Kosher salt and pepper

Combine ingredients in a bowl.

Whipped Potatoes with Cilantro Pesto
Adapted from Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill Cookbook
Serves 4

3 lbs Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
Kosher salt
1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
½ cup packed fresh flat leaf parsley
1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp pine nuts
½ cup EVOO
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Black pepper
1 stick butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup skim milk

Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring potatoes to a boil over high heat and cook 25-30 minutes or until tender.

While potatoes are cooking make cilantro pesto and warm the milk and butter mixture.

To make pesto using a blender or food processer, add cilantro, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and then slowly add olive oil while processing.

Combine butter, cream, and milk in a small sauce pan over low heat.

Drain potatoes and return to the pot. Slowly add hot milk mixture while mashing potatoes. Then gently fold in cilantro pesto.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

Scott and I celebrated Valentine's Day part II with a delicious dinner at home with some bubbly, vino, and one of my all time favorites...lamb chops! I don't know what it is about lamb chops, but I love them. However, the downside is that most restaurants just don't make great lamb chops, the ones I make at home are much tastier. Exceptions to this are Ousie's Table and Da Marco which have the best lamb chops in town.

We kicked off our evening with some Champagne since it was a special occasion. We like to drink while we are cooking, so of course that meant the Champagne wasn't going to make it through dinner, even though it was the recommended beverage for the menu. Our wine with the meal was a Cabernet. Both of these bottles are what we refer to as Ike wines, which means they survived the hurricane. Ike taught us a lesson about wine storage. We have a wine chiller, and since we were without power for a week, and our wines came up to temperature, the wines were affected...which meant they just weren't the same. If we had never put them in the chiller to begin with they would be just fine. Luckily these two tasted just fine.

The inspiration for our menu came from Williams-Sonoma Entertaining cookbook's Valentine's Dinner for Two. The Williams-Sonoma recipes are always delicious and I have yet to be disappointed.

Crab, Avocado, and Grapefruit Salad with Chive Vinaigrette
adapted from Williams-Sonoma Entertaining
serves 2

Chive Vinaigrette
1/4 cup EVOO
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
1 Tbsp creme fraiche (or sour cream)
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 Tbsp Champagne vinegar
1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

  • Combine the EVOO and chives in a blender and process until smooth, then set aside.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the cream fraiche/sour cream, mustard, vinegar, and lemon juice.
  • While whisking slowly add in the chive oil.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.

1/2 lb Dungeness jumbo lump crab meat, picked for shell fragments (or regular crab meat)
1 Tbsp finely chopped celery
1 avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and sliced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 pink grapefruit, peeled, sectioned (no membrane) and excess juice reserved
salt and pepper
2 cups mixed torn frisee and radicchio leaves
1/4 cup fresh chive pieces

  • In a bowl combine the crab meat, celery, and 3 Tbsp of the chive vinaigrette, and excess grapefruit juice.
  • In another bowl toss the avocado with lemon juice to prevent browning.
  • Then combine the crab mixture with the avocados, grapefruit sections, and 2 Tbsp of the chive vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Divide the salad greens onto each plate, and top with the crab, avocado, grapefruit mixture. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.

The great thing about salads is that if you are missing a few ingredients or can't find them you can easily improvise. I couldn't find Dungeness crab (and I went to two grocery stores), and while I could have just purchased regular crab, I have to buy it by the pound and I only needed a half pound...so instead I omitted the crab from the recipe. Also I only found one sad looking piece of frisee in the produce dept at Central Market (very unlike them) so I substituted my greens for a mix of arugula and radicchio.

Pink Peppercorn Rack of Lamb
adapted from Williams-Sonoma Entertaining
serves 2

1 rack of lamb, frenched with 6-8 ribs
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp fine dried bread crumbs
1 Tbsp pink peppercorns, crushed
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup EVOO
1/3 cup dry white wine*
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Rub the fat side of the lamb with mustard and set aside.
  • In a small bowl combine bread crumbs, peppercorns, rosemary, garlic, and salt.
  • Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the mustard and lightly pat it, so it adheres to the lamb.
  • Place a nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium heat and add EVOO.
  • Sear lamb on both sides for about 3 minutes per side or until lightly golden.
  • Place skillet with lamb fat side up in the oven and roast until cooked to your liking. Medium Rare: 13-15 minutes.
  • Remove lamb from oven and transfer to a cutting board and tent with foil. Let lamb rest for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile place the skillet back on stove top over medium heat (don't forget the oven mit, the handle will be hot from the oven).
  • Add wine to skillet, scrapping up any brown bits from the bottom. Pour the pan juices through a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, and discard solids.
  • Carve the chops and spoon the pan juices over the chops.

*Since we already had the bubbly open, we used Champagne instead of a dry white wine. If you were drinking red wine that could be used as well.

These lamb chops were so tender and flavorful, I even nibbled the remaining meat off the bone when I through eating. So yummy and so easy to make.

Cauliflower Gratin
adapted from Williams-Sonoma Holiday Entertaining
serves 8

2 heads cauliflower, separated into florets
5 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup+ shredded Gruyere or white cheddar cheese

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  • Steam cauliflower in a steamer basket over boiling water for 10 minutes or until barely tender.
  • Spray gratin dish with Pam and arrange the florets tightly in one layer.
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, melt 4 Tbsp butter, heat until the butter foams and then remove from heat and stir in flour, salt, and pepper. Return the pan to medium-high heat and while constantly whisking slowly drizzle in the milk. Reduce heat to low and simmer stirring occasionally until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and half the cheese, stirring until the cheese melts, about 2 minutes.
  • Pour sauce over cauliflower florets, top with remaining cheese, and dot with remaining butter.
  • Bake 20-25 minutes or until top is browned and sauce is bubbling.
  • Serve immediately.

We scaled this recipe down to 2 servings, but it was so tasty and a nice alternative to the standard potato. Roasted Yukon Gold potatoes were the suggested side for this menu, but I wanted to try something different and was very glad I did. I will have to member to add this dish to my Christmas 2009 menu.

I had also made some Rosemary Popovers from this cookbook for New Years Eve and had planned to make them for V-day because they were so good...but we got distracted and forgot.

Chocolate Raspberry Fondue
suggested by my friend Courtney on her blog
adapted from Betty Crocker

1 container chocolate frosting
1/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves
brownies cup into 1 inch cubes
dried apricots
  • Combine frosting and preserves in a microwave safe bowl and zap it on high for 20-30 seconds.
  • Stir to full incorporate ingredients and transfer to a fondue pot to serve.

This dessert is so quick, easy, and sinfully delicious. But if you have some fruit with it you can pretend its healthy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Restaurant Review: Bedford

This past Saturday Scott and I celebrated Valentine's Day Part I at Bedford in the Heights. Yes we know Valentine's day isn't until this coming Saturday but we prefer to go out for a nice Valentine's dinner on a day other than February 14th. Restaurants are always so crowded and even with a reservation there is a sense of urgency for a quick table turnover to accommodate as many customers as possible on this Hallmark Holiday. And then there is a second issue...the prix fixe menu which drastically limits a diners choices for what they would like to order. So on the actual day we opt instead to cook a delicious gourmet dinner at home and enjoy some nice wine from our "collection" to go with it...stay tuned for the details on Part II next week.

We first heard about Bedford not from friends who had dined there, but from a show on the Food Network called the The Chef Jeff Project. The show is about helping at risk young adults live a better life learning skills used in the kitchen and cooking food. Robert Gadsby was a judge at the end of the show, and gave one of members of the project a job offer in his new restaurant Bedford. At the time the episode aired, Bedford hadn't opened yet. Scott and I immediately googled Bedford and found nothing, nada, zip. Well a few weeks later Bedford passed the google test, and several of our friends had dined at Bedford and all had glowing reviews. We knew we were in for a treat.

Bedford has an option to select an item from each of the 4 menu sections at a reduced portion for only $55 per person...we opted for the tandem selection so that we could try as many items as possible on the menu and not have to be rolled out of the restaurant. Scott and I prefer a mix-and-match approach when we go out to eat, and we both order something different so that we try some of each. Many of the items we ordered had a surprise Asian flare to them that we enjoyed as a little surprise in our mouths. Instead of ordering a bottle of wine, we went with wine by the glass options so that each item was paired with a wine that would compliment and enhance the flavors of the food.


Seared Scallops: Cauliflower Puree, Cucumber Red Pepper Relish, Lotus Crisps
wine: Pine Ridge Dijon Clones Chardonnay

Chinese Duck Ravioli: Mixed Shiitake Mushrooms, Stir-Fried Bean Sprouts
wine: house champagne

Fish & Crustaceans

Gulf Shrimp & Crab: Mixed Vegetables, Kaffir Lime Shellfish Sauce
wine: Pine Ridge Dijon Clones Chardonnay

Tellicherry Peppered Tuna: Celery–Apple Whipped Potatoes, Endive & Citrus BBQ Sauce
wine: Joel Gott Savignion Blanc

Poultry & Meat

Boneless Beef Short Ribs: Button Mushrooms, Fingerling Potatoes, Root Vegetables
wine: Kaiken Malbec

Pepper Glazed Texas Quail: Torn Pasta, Petite Vegetables, Minted Cilantro Pesto
wine: Rex Hill Pinot Noir

Desserts & Finales

Assorted Chocolate Truffles

Assorted Sorbet

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thai Pesto Shrimp with Coconut Rice

This recipe is inspired by Southern Living, they actually have a "Healthy Living" section in their February 2009 issue. Not only is this recipe a tasty, quick to fix weeknight meal, but its good for you too. And my favorite part...you can freeze the extra rice and pesto and save yourself the prep time next time you make it. I like freezing extra portions because its great to have on hand for quick meals, especially if I need my husband to cook dinner without my assistance.

Thai Pesto Shrimp (Southern Living, February 2009)

yield: 6 servings*

1 1/2 pounds unpeeled, large raw shrimp (16/20 count)
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher or 3/4 tsp. regular salt
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided

  • While the rice is cooking you can make the pesto and cook the shrimp.
  • Thaw shrimp, peel, and devein.
  • In a food processor or blender process the cilantro, lime juice, peanuts, ginger, garlic, salt, honey, red pepper, and 3 Tbsp of the olive oil until smooth.
  • Taste pesto and make adjustments as needed, if its too tangy add more honey, if you want more a kick add more red pepper flakes.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, heat remaining Tbsp of olive oil, then saute shrimp for 2 minutes per side or just until the shrimp turn pink (you don't want to over cook the shrimp or they will become rubbery).
  • Stir in the cilantro pesto and serve over rice.

300 calories, 13.9 g fat

*Since this recipe makes 6 servings, I scaled part of it down to two servings. I bought frozen shrimp and only used 1/2 lb of the shrimp. However I did make the full Thai pesto recipe so I could freeze the extra for future use. The extra small Ziploc containers are 1/2 cup and are the perfect size for freezing small portions of pesto or chicken broth.

Coconut Rice**

yield: 2 servings

3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp light coconut milk
¾ cup water
½ tsp kosher salt
¾ cup basmati rice
½ tsp lime zest
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp thinly sliced green onion (both white and green parts)

  • In a small saucepan over high heat bring 3/4 cup coconut milk, water, and salt to a boil.
  • Add rice, reduce heat to low, and cover saucepan.
  • Simmer for about 15 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.
  • Keep pan covered, but remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
  • Spoon in additional 2 Tbsp of coconut milk, lime zest, lime juice, and green onions.

**I have another recipe that I prefer over the Southern Living recipe, so I'm going to share it instead. The Southern Living version is 104 Calories, 2g fat per serving, so we are going to guesstimate this one is close to the same.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pomegranate-Glazed Shish Kebabs

I recently acquired a Weight Watchers cookbook so we can try some easy and healthy recipes for weeknight dinners. These kebabs were very quick and easy to make and also very tasty and filling. Its a great way to incorporate a variety of veggies.

WW Pomegranate-Glazed Shish Kebabs

1/4 cup low sodium low fat chicken broth
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses (this part takes a long time to make and needs to be done in advance)
1 tsp salt
1 lb boneless sirloin, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 mushrooms halved or 1 portobello mushroom cut into 8 pieces
1 green or red bell pepper, cut into 8 pieces
1 red onion, cut into 8 pieces
1 zucchini, cut into 8 pieces

  • Make pomegranate molasses if it cannot be purchased at the store (click link for recipe)

  • Spray a broiler rack with Pam and preheat the broiler.

  • Combine broth, molasses, and salt in a small bowl.

  • Thread 4 skewers with veggies, mushrooms, and meat.

  • Place skewers on the broiler pan and brush with half the broth mixture.

  • Place broiler pan under broiler and broil for 4 minutes.

  • Then turn and brush with remaining broth mixture and broil for an additional 5-6 minutes.

4 servings (1 skewer = 1 serving)
189 cal, 6 g fat prep 10 min, cook 10 min

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Restaurant Review: Ruggles Green

This week Scott and I had our weekly date night at Ruggles Green, followed by the Wine Bucket. It was my first time to eat at Ruggles Green, which is sort of a miniature, green version of Ruggles Bakery. We arrived around 7:30 and the place was packed, and its a good thing we got there when we did because after we finished ordering the line went all the way to the door. This is a great spot for good food with a casual atmosphere. We will definitely make the effort to eat at Ruggles Green more often, and that shouldn't be too difficult since its located by our favorite place the Wine Bucket.

So here is what we ordered...

Hummus with homemade flat bread
This was a great way to start the meal, the hummus was creamy, the flatbread tasty, and it even had some sundried tomatoes and a few other garnishes to add.

Roasted Corn Chowder
This had a great corn flavor, but was also light enough that I could still eat my salad. I ordered the cup which was a rather large cup since it was more like a small bowl.

Honey Fried Goat Cheese Salad: Gundermann Farm Organic Arugula, Almonds, Raisins, Mango, Parmesan, Sliced carrots, Cracked pepper with a Home-made Mango Ranch Dressing This was a very tasty and unique salad. I love anything with goat cheese so I knew I would not be disappointed. My only complaint was that I felt the salad had a little too much dressing on it, so next time I will remember to request the dressing on the side. There was a light hint of honey on the plate, and I wasn't sure if it was part of the goat cheese batter or if the plate had been brushed with it, but it added a hint of sweetness with each bite.

Buffalo Burger: 98% Lean Buffalo Burger - Micro Greens & Fresh Mozzarella, Lettuce, Tomato & Red Onion, served on a Whole Wheat Bun
Scott ordered the burger and I'm guessing that it was really good because he did not even offer to share it with me. He did say though that it was better than the Barnaby's Buffalo burger.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Have your cake and eat it too...

I spent 4 Saturdays this month taking a Cake Decorating Class at the Cake Craft Shoppe in Sugar Land. Wow, this was definitely more challenging that I had expected. The first class was lecture only, and I learned that since Crisco decided to remove Trans Fats from their shortening, buttercream icing is no longer as stable for decorating a cake as it used to be. So if I don't want to purchase special Trans Fat shortening from the CCS (Cake Craft Shoppe) I must go on the search for a needle in a haystack find shortening with Trans Fat. I havne't found it myself, but I've been told to look for Bake Rite at HEB...otherwise you will need to add a ton of powdered sugar to your icing recipe to thicken it up.

After practicing icing techniques each Saturday I learned that I need to start workout out my hands in addition to the rest of my body. Squeezing those piping bags is hard work and I began to feel as if I had arthritis at the age of 29.

The last class happened to be the same day as my Grandma's birthday celebration, so of course my class cake was made to honor my Grandma's special day. I don't usually bake with box cake mixes, as I prefer to bake from scratch. However I do highly recommend Betty Crocker's Butter Pecan cake mix. Per my cake instructor I substited the water for sprite, and added a softened scoop of vanilla ice cream at the end of the mixing process. Grandma is blind so she couldn't really see her cake, and I of course noticed all the crumbs in my icing, but for my first real decorating attempt I think it turned out pretty. I will be practicing more in the future.