CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 13

Just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you have to give up date night.  In the crush of holiday parties, end-of-year deadlines, shopping, wrapping, decorating, and baking, there’s something very satisfying about turning your back on all of it while you enjoy a night out with your spouse or sweetheart.

This weekend we decided on the spur of the moment to go out for dinner, just the two of us, at a nice restaurant.  A little time-saving tip for last minute dining — instead of searching for reservations by checking restaurants one at time, you can go to Open Table, select your city, number of people, and time of desired reservation, and it’ll provide you with a list of available reservations.  In Houston, which regularly tops the Zagat list of cities where residents eat out the most (in 2013, Houstonians ate out an average of 5.5 meals per week), reservations are a necessity if you’re looking for something a notch above a burger or fajitas.  We saw on Open Table that Lucille’s had openings, made a reservation, and headed out for a relaxing meal.

Lucille’s is located at 5512 La Branch, catty-corner from The Children’s Museum (and thank heavens, my days of going there and chasing my kids around the van from Mexico exhibit are behind me).  The restaurant is named after Chef Chris Williiams’ great grandmother and “Texas culinary legend” Lucille Bishop Smith, who according to the website, “has been named the first African American business woman in Texas.”  She was famous for her chili biscuits, which were reportedly served at the White House and on American Airlines.

Inside, the dark-paneled restaurant has a neighborhood feel, with a well-attended bar.  But it’s Lucille’s charming patio, which must be one of Houston’s best kept outdoor dining secrets, that we really  look forward to.  On a cool evening, enjoying the restaurant’s clever takes on classic southern dishes under the stars, it feels almost like being on vacation.

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Start with an order of Lucille’s famous chili biscuits — tender little chili and cheese-topped bites:

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Fried green tomatoes are crisp and tangy:

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And even if you don’t think you like oysters (like me), you’ll flip over these fried oysters:

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One of my favorite entrees is the restaurant’s version of shrimp and grits, with big plump shrimp, savory smoked sausage, and a few roasted cherry tomatoes, in a delicious broth:

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Another standout is pork and beans, which is a huge braised pork shank with a caramelized exterior, sitting atop a colorful medley of fava beans, lima beans, peas, and tomatoes:

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On this occasion, my husband enjoyed a special of striped bass with shrimp, lentils, and broccolini:

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Other offerings currently include salads, fried yardbird (chicken), seared duck, braised lamb shank, and a juicy burger — something for everyone.

We had a great meal and a great time, and stepping away from the holiday stuff for a few hours was decidedly a good thing.  If you haven’t tried Lucille’s, consider it for your next date night, or lunch with friends, or birthday dinner . . . .

Lucille's on Urbanspoon

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN — DECEMBER 12

Baking cookies is an integral part of many families’ holiday traditions.  Two of my family’s favorite holiday cookies that I make every year are Ginger Cookies and Double Coconut Macaroons.

Part of my holiday baking tradition also includes trying a new cookie every year.   I’m not sure which recipe it’ll be yet (I’ll update when I decide), but have I got a cookie for YOU to try!  Recently, I won the grand prize in a holiday cookie contest sponsored by House & Home magazine.  The recipe, Golden Pecan Balls, was published in the November issue, and my prize was a beautiful set of Jamie Oliver T-Fal stainless and copper cookware.

Golden Pecan Balls are based on a cookie my Mom used to make called Walnut Crescents.  There’s a lot of variations of the cookie out there, which you may recognize as Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, Snowballs, or Butterballs.  My version is different in that it uses European butter, golden syrup, and toasted pecans, and if I don’t say so myself, it is delicious.  If you’re looking for a holiday cookie that’s easy and delectable, I would be honored if you gave my prize-winning Golden Pecan Balls a try.

GOLDEN PECAN BALLS
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup European-style butter, softened
  • ¼ cup Lyle's golden syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup toasted pecans,* finely chopped
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • *To toast pecans, place them in a single layer in a large dry skillet over medium-heat. Stir continuously for 4 or 5 minutes, until nuts are fragrant and beginning to darken in color, being very careful not to let them burn. Let cool before using.
Instructions
  1. Place butter, syrup, and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat using an electric beater, until smooth. Add flour and salt and stir until thoroughly combined. Fold in pecans. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Roll dough into 1" balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, approximately 1-1/2" apart. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until lightly golden.
  3. Place powdered sugar in a shallow bowl. When cookies are cool enough to handle, roll them in powdered sugar. For a pretty presentation, dust lightly with powdered sugar just before serving or packaging (see magazine photo above).

 IMG_3161Ready for the oven

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Baked to golden deliciousness

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All dressed up and ready to go