August 31, 2010

Restaurant Week 2010 Review

Once again, Houston Restaurant Week had its successes and failures.  We limited ourselves and didn't go crazy trying every single new restaurant on the much longer menu, but after one month, I realized I went to a lot!

After my restaurant week experience from last year, we stayed away from hotel restaurants and actually re-visited a few places where we recalled the food being quite delicious.  Some raised our opinion - ahem, Marks - while others were a tad disappointing - Mockingbird Bistro.

Below are my reviews in priority order. Marks topped the charts (I'm SO glad they are part of Restaurant Week now) and Canopy got last place.

1. Marks
You can't go wrong with Marks. I don't think I've ever not liked one of their dishes.  We were seated in the small private room at the very top and despite the overly pink decor (pink walls, pink tablecloth, pink napkins - and not a pretty pink but bubblegum pink!), experience and atmosphere was still great.  They also offered a wine pairing for $22 for each of the three dishes.  
-Seared Foie Gras with duck and quail leg.  DELICIOUS.  Marks changed my outlook on Foie Gras and I absolutely love it.  Ross had the lobster bisque and it was good but not as good as the foie gras.  He mentioned it was slightly too salty.
-Roasted duck with berries and couscous.  Duck was cooked perfectly and there was plenty!  You usually expect a few slices of meat but they served around 5-6 slides and then the duck leg as well.
-Seven Layer Chocolate Cake was good and went very well the port, but so were the other two options.  The lemon meringue was light, not overly tart or sweet.  The shortbread tart was warm, good balance of sweet and the crispy dough.

2. Del Friscos
This was my first time to go to Del Friscos and while it was good, service was a little lacking.  Atmosphere is a down side here - it's hard to get to since it's in the Galleria and you have to battle the traffic.  I'm assuming since it was HRW was why it was so packed but the service was minimal.  We finished our entrees and one of the waiters came our with our dessert to find that our empty entree plates were still sitting there...
-Dinner salad with avocado ranch dressing.  No surprise on the dinner salad, it's a dinner salad, but the dressing was pretty good.  I was basically a ranch dressing with an avocado puree mixed in - why haven't I thought about that before?  Will try to emulate at home.
-8 oz filet mignon with a HEAPING of mashed potatoes.  Meat was cooked perfectly and entirely consumed :)  Potatoes were very rich but good and it filled the plate.  
-Bread Pudding with Jack Daniel Sauce - My main disappointment of the night.  I didn't even finish or get through half.  I didn't like the sauce.  Still think Ruggles Green and Bayou City has the best bread pudding in town.

3. Catalan
Ross and I have heard of the amazing food at Catalan for quite some time from friends.  We just haven't had the chance to make it out there and since HRW extended, why not!  We also went to celebrate that Ross had finally taken his GMAT.  Hooray!  We order a few appetizers from the main menu as well.  It was a oink night for me as I had everything pork :) I's happy.
-Bone Marrow is delicious. There's was good but not amazing.  You scoop someout and put them on these buttered bread, which were a tad too butter.
-Pork skewers was one of the off the menu items and was good, not fantastics.  I think I liked the sauce more than the pork. 
-Pork belly was great! I love pork belly despite the fat but that's what makes it good. I've had pork belly since I was little so when its availabe, I'm usually on board.  The sauce was good and could be a tad overwhelming if you completely doused your pork in it.  But a small dabble with each bit - pretty good!  Ross has the boudin balls and they were pretty good too!  Still would pick the pork belly over them.
-Suckling pig, vietnamese style. I was surprised by how large the portions were!  There are two large pieces of pork (some with the skin and fat - yum) and it was combined with vietnamese noodles and one of my favorites veggies - brussel sprouts!  So good but I was so full and could not finish.
-Pecan bread pudding.  I would definitley get this over the others.  We tried all three and I think it was the best one. Again, still not as good as Ruggles or Bayo.  DO NOT get the panna cotta - it was one of the worst things I've had in a while. I had one of those moments where you want to spit it out but can't  so you reluctantly swallow as fast as you can.  

4. Mockingbird
This was actually a disappointment for me.  It's been a long while since I've been back but remember it being pretty fantastic.  It's a cute little restaurant with some great old world decor.  Dessert was the best thing about the meal.
-Cantaloupe Soup.  It was a tad too mealy/grainly for me and actually and I don't know what I expected to get when I ordered it.  The bits of the proscuitto was a tad odd and I dont think fit that well the texture of the soup.  Should have gotten the onion soup.
-Prime Steak was okay.  A tad mealy and after having Del Friscos, you definitely see the difference.  The fries, however, so good!
-Trio of Dessert of Bread pudding, chocolate truffle and creme brulee was the BEST part of the night.  Bread pudding the creme brulee was gone first.  Truffles are hard to eat since they are so dense.  Only able to take a few bites but those bites were quite good!

5. Canopy
HRW has the new deal where it's $20 for lunch of two dishes.  After looking through all the menus, Canopy caught my eye.  We went for a lunch while my sister was in town and it was okay - actually, not sure if it was worth the 20 bucks per person!  Interestingly, Ross and I went to Shade the week prior and had a disappointing experience.  Food was okay and not worth the price.  Found out that Canopy is a sister restaurant of Shade....
-Mussels in white wine sauce.  Sauce was minimal and they didn't even bring out bread to dip! Big no no.  The mussels were small and you only get 5!  Also, didn't get the sense that they are incredibly fresh.
-Pan roasted salmon was actually pretty good.  It was cooked perfectly and had that great crunch top on it.

August 30, 2010

Baked Lemon & Thyme Chicken

While shopping at the amazement that is Costco, I tend to get sucked into the book section as well and that day, found an Ina Garten Back to Basics cookbook.  Hooray!  Since I'm already going to spend $100 bucks at Costco (why is it that you can NEVER leave Costco without spending at least $100?), what's one book?  It seems that convincing yourself to buy more things when you're already spending a lot is pretty easy....

I've tried this two ways - baked in the oven and also on the grill.  I prefer cooking in the oven since the meat is a little more tender, moist and juicy.  Grilling seemed to make the chicken a tad too dry and didn't hold the flavor as well since you are not grilling directly in the juices. 

I suggest marinating this the night before in a plastic bag or in the baking dish so when you get come, preheat the oven and then just put in the dish.  So easy.

Also, notice those green beans in that top picture?  From my daddy's garden!  He's the only one in this family with a green thumb.  I usually get a bag of fresh green beans every time my folks come over = very spoiled.  Clean, snap and cook in oil with garlice, salt and pepper - so good and love the crunch too.

Baked Lemon & Thyme Chicken
Adapted recipe by Ina Garten

4 chicken leg and thigh (bone-in)
6 sprigs of thyme and chopped
2 tspn of salt
2 tspn of pepper
4 lemons (zest of 2 and juice from four)
1/3 cup of good olive oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1. Take the thyme and roughly chopped.  Do the same with the garlic.  Add both to a baking dish large enough to fit the chicken. 
3. Clean the lemons and zest two directly into the baking dish.  Squeeze juice from all four.  Add S&P and the olive oil.  Give it a good mix.  Do a quick taste test - and add more lemon juice or S&P as ncessary.  
4. Rinse and pat dry the chicken.  Add to the baking dish, moosh around and then turn over the chicken.  Cover tightly and let it sit in the fridge for at least 4 hours.  I highly recommend doing this the night before and the next morning, turn over the chicken before heading into work. 
5.  In a 420 degree oven, cook chicken for approximately 20-25 minutes.  Halfway through the cooking process, I like to scoop the juices over the top.  When time is up, insert a fork and make sure it's cooked through.  Serve with a side of veggies and rice!

August 16, 2010

Kiwi Vinaigrette - Aunt Chien's Versatile Salad Dressing

I've referenced my Aunt Chien in prior posts.  She's the amazing aunt that cooks, arranges flowers and graciously shared her banana nut bread recipe with me.  Well, she was in town again for a visit and of course, our family EATS.  She showed us how to make the most simple salad dressing with common cupboard ingredients and fresh fruit.  That night, it was with kiwi and mangos.  I don't see why you couldn't use strawberries, rasberries or blueberries if that is what you have in your fridge.

Beyond just tasting good, knowing exactly what went into it, and simply how fast and easy this is to make, I also like that you can keep this in the fridge for a few weeks. Make a batch, put into a pourable container/jar, and it's a quick pour each time I need it.  In addition to salads, I'll just use this when I have my cucumber or sweet snap pea veggie snacks throughout the day.  If you have some cheese, even better.  I had this kiwi dressing in a salad with some blue cheese - um, hello!  They tasted delicious together!  I've made this with kiwi, mangos and strawberries with the latter being the best in my opinion.

Also, my other Aunt had this fun appliance called the Magic Bullet.  You put everything in the cup, blend and in two seconds, it's done.  Serve right about of the cup.  Amazing.  I want one. 

Kiwi Salad Dressing
Recipe from my Aunt Chien

2 kiwis
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp honey
4 and 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lemon

1. Peel and cube the kiwi. 
2. In a blender, add everything in except the lemon.  For the honey, adjust if your fruit is very sweet.  For istance, if you are using a sweet mango, I would only use 1 tbsp of honey.  You can use about 6 large strawberries or a good handful of rasberries.  I have some frozen rasberries that I will try next. 
3. Give it a good blend and then squeeze half of the lemon in.  Taste and if you feel like you need more, squeeze the other.  Also, I like my dressing on the tart side and find myself adding just a tad bit more vinegar. 

August 09, 2010

Home Comfort: Creamy Cauliflower Soup

Wow, so sorry for the lack of posts in over a month.  Had a very busy month and found I barely cooked full meals, which meant I had boiled dumplings, heated totinos pizzas or mac and cheese. 

Back to this post.  I had started this post a while ago and never had time to finish it. It's hot in Texas so the thought of soup isn't incredibly appealing but after reading Pioneer Woman's post of one of her favorite recipes, cauliflower soup, I was willing to reconsider.  Granted, I made this dish about a  month ago when we did not have the 100 degree weather.... I love cauliflower but not in soup - my go to recipe for cauliflower is to simply roast it in the oven with garlic, olive oil and S&P.  This soup was hearty - definitely not healthy with the cream - and a nice change from the roasted veggies.  Hooray for cream! 

As for the recipe, I changed it quite a bit.  Cut down on the butter significantly and omitted the entire step for the roux.  I just added the cream directly into the pot with the stock.  And, I added a lot more veggies and cut down the milk and stock.  I added in some additional herbs and omitted the parsley.  Also, I have to admit that this makes a ton of soup (even after I cut down on the stock) and while I hate throwing away left-overs, I found it hard to eat night after night. After the third night of having some for lunch or dinner each day, I just had to say, no more!

Creamy Cauliflower Soup
Adapted from Pioneer Woman

2 tbspn butter
1 onion, chopped
3 medium sized carrots, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 cauliflower head, cut into small bunches
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup cream
Pinch of dried thyme
Pinch of dried oregano
3 bay leaves

1. In a large pot, melt the butter and add the onions until they become transparent on medium heat.  Add the carrots and celery.  I let it cook for a good 5 minutes.  I add in the garlic here and let it quickly cook until you can slightly smell it. 
2. Next, add in the cauliflower - don't worry, your pot will be overwhelmed but they will cook down. Cook for 15 minutes covered on low heat.
3. Bring up the heat again and pour in the chicken stock and cream.  Let it boil and then reduce to low heat again.  Add in the dried oregano, thyme and bay leaves.  Let it simmer and thicken for about 15-20 minutes.  Taste and add S&P as necessary - or more dried herbs as needed.