THE IMPOSSIBLE BURGER AT UNDERBELLY AND HAY MERCHANT

A burger that “looks, handles, smells, cooks and tastes” like ground beef, but is 100% plant-based?

Not unpossible — impossible.  Impossible Burger to be specific.

Last week I was invited to a media event debuting the Impossible Burger, available exclusively in Texas at Underbelly (lunch only) and Hay Merchant — nationwide it’s currently only offered at 13 other restaurants in a handful of cities.   The Impossible Burger was developed by Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley start up whose stated mission is to “transform the global system to support 9 billion humans by 2050.”  Patrick O. Brown, Impossible Foods’ founder and CEO, is a Professor Emeritus at Stanford University’s Biochemistry Department.  During an 18-month sabbatical in 2009, he set out to learn what makes beef “smell, sizzle, bleed, and taste gloriously meaty,” and discovered it’s a single molecule called heme — “a basic building block of life on Earth, including plants, but it’s uniquely abundant in meat.”  Heme is what makes blood red, carries oxygen, and gives meat its bloody taste.  Brown and his team discovered how to take heme from plants and produce it through a fermentation process.

According to Impossible Foods, the ability to produce meat and dairy products from plants results in a significantly decreased environmental footprint.  Because the Impossible Burger is made entirely from plants, it uses less water and less land than that used to produce a beef burger, and emits fewer greenhouse gases.  As Chef Chris Shepherd describes it, “it’s an answer for the future.”

  Shepherd and the Impossible Burger

Although the Impossible Burger is a vegetarian and vegan (sans cheese) burger, it is intentionally not marketed as such.  Its target consumer is not vegetarians, but meat-eaters looking for a satisfying alternative.  In fact, company reps report that some vegetarians don’t like the Impossible Burger because it tastes too much like the meat they avoid.

So what’s in an Impossible Burger?  Here’s the ingredient list:  Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Coconut Oil, Potato Protein, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Leghemoglobin (soy), Yeast Extract, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Zinc, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

And here’s the nutritional information for a 3-ounce patty:

I was surprised to learn that a 6-ounce Impossible Burger, which replicates 80% lean ground beef, is roughly 450 calories, and contains 26g of fat, 22g of which are saturated fat, and 760g of sodium.  In comparison, an 80% lean beef patty of the same size is roughly 425 calories, and contains 34g of fat, 13g of which are saturated fat, and 113g of sodium.  BUT — and this is a big but — the Impossible Burger contains zero cholesterol, compared to 119g of cholesterol in a comparable beef burger.  Additionally, the Impossible Burger is hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and contains no artificial ingredients.  As Shepherd explained,, “if I’m going to eat 2 burgers a week, one of them is going to be an Impossible Burger, because at some point my doctor is going to tell me to chill.”

The Impossible Burger, currently manufactured in New Jersey, arrives at Shepherd’s restaurants in 5-pound blocks, and looks like raw ground beef:

Shepherd is currently serving it in the style of his Cease and Desist Burger — two patties, double cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickles, accompanied by fries.  The price is $18, but as production capabilities increase, Impossible Foods anticipates that prices will come down.

Photo courtesy Impossible Foods

And here’s the Impossible Burger I actually sampled:

Naturally, I’ve received a lot of questions about what I thought of the Impossible Burger.  I liked it, and I would order it.  The flavor and aroma was, as represented, remarkably like that of a beef burger.  The burgers were served medium rare, which is the doneness at which they most resemble beef, and were well-seasoned with a nice sear.  The texture was softer than a beef patty, which kind of blew its cover, but it was not unpleasant (the company is continuing to work on making the texture like that of a beef burger).  I would have preferred a single patty (same for beef burgers too — I would never order a double patty), and I think the difference in texture would perhaps be less noticeable with a single patty.  (Update:  I saw on Hay Merchant’s Facebook page that they have already determined that a single patty works better.)  I asked Shepherd if he has any other plans for the Impossible Burger (Brown said his wife has served it tartare and it was “delicious”), and he said he’s going to play with it.  I would love to see it served as a dinner option in the style of a Salisbury steak smothered with mushroom gravy — I think it would lend itself nicely to that.

It was exciting to be invited to this media event, and I want to thank Impossible Foods for extending the invitation to me.  If you try the Impossible Burger, leave me a comment and let me know what you think of it!

PDQ

PDQ — which stands for “People Dedicated to Quality,” is a fast casual chain of chicken restaurants, with locations in 12 states, including 4 Houston-area locations.  Today I visited the location at 9440 Katy Freeway to learn more about the restaurant’s new menu items.

Recently my husband and I were at a champagne-tasting event, and someone brought a few platters of PDQ chicken tenders (you know fried chicken goes with champagne, right?).  This was the first time we had ever tasted PDQ chicken, and my husband would not stop talking about how much he liked it.  So when PDQ invited me to sample its new dishes, I readily accepted.

The restaurant’s interior is spacious, clean, and bright.  There’s an open kitchen, where you can see everything being made fresh to order.  They encourage you to “wave hi” to the kitchen staff, and promise “they’ll wave back.”  Try it — I dare you.  😉

PDQ was founded in 2009 by Bob Basham and Nick Reader.  According to information on the company’s website, they found a down-home neighborhood joint in North Carolina called Tenders, that had the “tastiest, freshest, made-from-scratch chicken tenders.”  They struck a deal on the spot with the owners, and in 2011 opened the first PDQ in Florida.

And here they are — the star of the menu, the glorious hand-breaded chicken tenders.  Crispy and juicy, with your choice of 8 homemade sauces (ranch, buffalo bleu, creamy garlic, honey bbq, sweet sriracha, chipotle bbq, honey mustard, and bleu cheese):

But PDQ is more than just fried chicken and French fries.  Operating Director Frank Wallace excitedly guided us through the new menu items, which debuted 2 weeks ago.

Among the new items are several salads, including Kale Caesar Salad with grilled chicken, shredded kale, and shaved Brussels sprouts, and this pretty Fruit Harvest Salad (for those desiring lighter fare) with grilled chicken, mixed greens, Granny Smith apples, tomatoes, edamame, candied almonds, and craisins with a blueberry-ginger vinaigrette:

They’ve also introduced three bowls:

 Thai Peanut Bowl (honey marinated nuggets, roasted garlic broccoli, mango salsa, peanuts, and toasted coconut over basmati rice, with Thai peanut sauce)

Smokehouse BBQ (crispy tenders dipped in honey BBQ sauce, bacon, fried pickles, smoked Gouda, succotash, roasted sweet potatoes, and scallions over basmati rice with BBQ ranch sauce)

Southern Buffalo (crispy tenders dipped in Buffalo bleu sauce, succotash, broccoli, bleu cheese, and scallions over basmati rice with Buffalo sauce)

I chose the Southern Buffalo to try, and I really liked all the textures the vegetables added.  The chicken was tangy and just spicy enough.  It was a generous bowl, very filling.

PDQ also introduced 3 new side dishes, all of which are a nice change of pace from French fries.  I especially liked the roasted garlic broccoli, but the beans and rice (edamame, black-eyed peas, corn, and rice), and the roasted sweet potatoes (with marshmallow fluff and pecans) were very good too.

Last but not least, PDQ added three new sandwiches to its lineup, for those with hearty appetites:

Southern Pimento Crunch (crispy chicken, homemade pimento cheese, lettuce, potato chips, and bacon) — stretchy pants mandatory

BBQ Bacon Ranch (crispy chicken dipped in BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese, bacon, and ranch slaw)

 

Grilled Hawaiian Chicken (teriyaki glazed grilled chicken, pepper jack cheese, bacon, grilled pineapple, and sweet sriracha slaw)

Everything I sampled was fresh and attractively presented.  I was impressed with all the choices PDQ offers, and look forward to taking my family there soon.  I noticed on the website that on Father’s Day, dads receive a free combo meal with the purchase of any meal — lucky dad!  And through July 7, it’s BOGO Tender and Nugget Platters, which is a great deal.  Next time you’re looking for quick, tasty, budget-friendly meal, think of PDQ.

RETRO DINING: MOLINA’S CANTINA

Molina’s Cantina is Houston’s oldest family-owned and -operated Tex-Mex restaurant.

Recently I was invited to learn more about Molina’s, and came away with a greater understanding of the history of the restaurant, its impact on the Houston restaurant scene, and the origins of some of its most popular dishes.

In the 1920s, Raul Molina moved to Houston from Mexico, in search of a better life.  He worked in small restaurants, working his way up from dishwasher, to busser, to eventually opening the Old Monterrey Inn in 1941 with his wife Mary, which was one of only a handful of Mexican restaurants in Houston at the time.  Eventually, the restaurant evolved to become Molina’s.  Today there are three locations in Houston —  3801 Bellaire Blvd. (or as we call it, “our Molina’s,” where we have been dining for almost a quarter of a century, although it was originally located nearby on Buffalo Speedway), 7901 Westheimer, and 4720 Washington Ave.

A sampling of menus over the years

Molina’s is currently owned and operated by brothers Raul III, Ricardo, and Roberto Molina, Raul Molina’s grandchildren.  In 2009, Raul Molina Jr. was inducted into the Texas Restaurant Association’s Hall of Honor, followed by Ricardo Molina in 2013, in recognition of their significant contribution to Texas’s restaurant industry.

Raul Molina

One of the things we admire about Molina’s is the loyal and cheerful staff.  Two of our favorite waiters are Art and Joaquin, both of whom have been there 26 years:

A frosty margarita — frozen or on the rocks — is always a great start to a Tex-Mex meal, especially this time of year, and Molina’s makes one with a nice sweet/tart balance:

Frozen or on the rocks (photos courtesy of Kimberly Park)

Before you can whip out your phone and check in on Facebook, a complimentary basket of crispy tortilla chips, several salsas, and carrot escabeche will appear on your table.  Molina’s was the first restaurant in Houston to offer escabeche, a zesty carrot relish Raul discovered in Mexico City.

When my kids were little, they used to order Chicken Dinosaurs from the kids menu, which were dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets (I’m not sure if they’re still on the menu, and really chips and queso are so much better).  One day, my then-5-year-old daughter asked me “what’s Mexican about Chicken Dinosaurs,” which was pretty hilarious, and to which I had to reply, “nothing.”  I think that killed it for her, and thankfully, the kids have graduated from the kids menu to the regular menu, which has many dishes they love.

A number of Molina’s signature dishes are named after staff and guests.  Nancy Ames Nachos, for example, are named after Nancy Ames, a folk singer/songwriter/entertainer who had a morning TV show in Houston in the 70s.  Raul Molina, Jr. was a guest on her show demonstrating how to make nachos.  Nancy shared her favorite nacho toppings — each chip layered with refried beans, spicy beef, cheese, guacamole, diced tomatoes, and jalapenos — and Nancy Ames Nachos were born.  They remain a top seller, and we’ve enjoyed them many times over the years.  They’re colorful, delicious, and filling — it’s easy to make a meal out of them.

Nancy Ames Nachos (photo courtesy of Dragana Harris)

Then there’s the famous Jose’s Dip.  Decades ago, a former waiter named Jose began adding spicy taco meat to his guests’ queso.  Soon, customers began requesting “Jose’s Dip.”  I don’t know anyone that doesn’t love Jose’s Dip, which remains a staple on the menu.  In fact, it’s the password for Molina’s complimentary Wi-Fi.  Tip:  If you sign up for Molina’s E-News Club, you’ll receive a complimentary bowl of Jose’s Dip  (you’ll also receive an email coupon for a complimentary bowl each year for your birthday — Happy Birthday to ME!).

 

Jose’s Dip

Another popular item is Berly’s Burrito, named after long-time guest Jim Berly.  One night he came in wanting something different, and requested a burrito filled with fajita meat, smothered with chili con carne and topped with queso.  I assume Mr. Berly was wearing stretchy pants at the time.

Berly’s Burrito (photo courtesy of Dragana Harris)

Williams Special and C.W. Special are two of my family’s favorite entrees.  Williams Special gets its name from William Lyons, a cook who worked for the Molina family for more than 40 years.  One day, Raul Jr. asked William to surprise him with something different, and William brought him a plate filled with carne asada, grilled onions, and 2 cheese enchiladas, all topped with “William’s sauce” and Chihuahua cheese — the rest is Molina’s history.  The C.W. Special was created by Chris Wilson, a childhood friend of Roberto’s, after the two spent a night out on the town.  It includes a taco al carbon, cheese enchilada, rice, beans, pico de gallo, and guacamole.

William’s Special (photo courtesy of Dragana Harris)

C.W. Special (photo courtesy of Kimberly Park)

Enchiladas a la Michael are named after Michael Garay, a former manager who created a delicious salsa verde that he served on top of the restaurant’s chicken enchiladas, followed by Chihuahua cheese, cilantro, and avocado slices.

Enchiladas a la Michael (photo courtesy of Dragana Harris)

Of course there’s a variety of enchiladas, tacos, fajitas, and other Tex-Mex favorites to choose from.  One dish that I particularly enjoy, which I like to think is on the lighter side, is Raulito’s Shrimp — jumbo shrimp sautéed in garlic butter, served with frijoles a la charra, guacamole, and mango pico de gallo, accompanied by tortillas:

Raulito’s Shrimp (photo courtesy of Kimberly Park)

If you dine at Molina’s on a Saturday night, you may be lucky enough to be serenaded:

At the end of the meal, look forward to a sweet ending of complimentary pralines:

It’s not hard to figure out how Molina’s has stayed in business for over 75 years.  The cheerful staff, the family atmosphere, and the restaurant’s heritage certainly contribute to its longevity.  The food is always fresh, made from scratch in small batches, and is delicious and satisfying, with items to appeal to all ages.  I can’t speak for the other locations, but the Bellaire location has a comfortable neighborhood feel, and it’s a rare occasion when we do not run into friends and acquaintances there.

LAWYERING IN LA GRANGE, ARGUING IN AUSTIN


Last year on my birthday I spent the day in urgent care, and was sent to the hospital by ambulance, where I spent 6 miserable days.  This year my birthday was significantly better, and involved a trip to Austin for oral argument in the appeal of a case we tried in October 2015 in La Grange.

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La Grange, population approximately 4,600, is located about 100 miles from Houston. Established in the 1830s, the town is rich in history, although it’s best known as the location of the Chicken Ranch — “the Oldest Continually Operating Non-Floating Whorehouse in the United States,” and the subject of the Broadway musical and movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”  (Don’t get too excited — the Chicken Ranch closed in 1973.)  Kinda  makes you wonder how many floating whorehouses are out there, doesn’t it?

As is usually the case, my role was towards the end of trial, when I was summoned to assist with the jury charge.  And as is also usually the case, opposing counsel did not appreciate my sudden appearance in the case.  At one point, as we were attempting to draft an agreement and opposing counsel would not tell us what he would agree to, he emailed me and copied everyone in the case (oh, grow up): “I don’t understand this.  I think we have had a good working relationship with the attorneys of the firm of which you are of counsel.”  And his point was??  Was he telling on me?  He never did share what it was he would agree to.  Yeah, we won’t be exchanging Christmas cards.

Once outside the big city, I really enjoyed the drive, past fields of purple grasses and ranch lands (and an occasional smoke stack):lagrange1

The trial took place in the Fayette County Courthouse, which is the most stunning Texas historic courthouse I have been in yet.  Built in 1891, the Fayette County Courthouse is a “prime example of the Romanesque Revival style of architecture with its arched openings along with the use of different stone types and  colors.”  It’s built of red and blue sandstone, pink granite, and white limestone.  Thanks to a $4 million grant from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program of the Texas Historical Commission, the courthouse was beautifully restored in 2003.

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In the center of the courthouse is a 30′ x 30′ courtyard, around which the courtroom and offices are arranged:

I think opposing counsel got excited believing there were “hot chicks” in the courthouse:

Ready to see the beautiful courtroom?

Note the star of Texas on each seat:

The all-important jury box:

Here’s the star witness from the trial — steel casing used in an oil well:

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I won’t bore you with the details of the trial (we saved that for the jury), but we won.  🙂

Before we leave La Grange, a few highlights of the courtyard square.  Lukas Bakery is across from the courthouse at 135 N. Main St.  I saw the A/V guy in the courtroom munching on oatmeal cookies from there throughout the trial.  I brought home a bag of their Cherry Slice cookies, which everyone went crazy for (I have had no luck reproducing them at home).

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Prause’s Meat Market, at 253 W. Travis St., is a popular lunch destination, but you better get there early before the barbecue sells out.  The day I visited, there was a line out the door of women waiting to buy meat:

There are a number of retail establishments in the courtyard square, including this one that caught my eye:

Heading back to Houston, I stopped at the La Grange Smokehouse, 4315 E. State Highway 71, to pick up some smoked beef sticks.  Not much to look at inside, but those beef sticks are really tasty:

Usually when I see a Buc-ee’s billboard I pay attention and start counting down the miles (Yes!  Yes!  I CAN hold it!):

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But if you look a little closer, you’ll see that right after the Buc-ee’s sign is Hruska’s, 109 W. Highway 71, in Ellinger, established more than a century ago, and well known to travelers for its famous kolaches.  So, sorry Buc-ee’s, but history won out this time.

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Hruska’s menu lists 16 varieties of kolaches, a dozen different klobanskys (savory filled pastries, what we call sausage kolaches), 8 different cookies, breads, rolls, and filled cookies they call “skrumptions.”  My family was pretty happy to see me when I got back home, but was even happier to see the pastries, beef sticks, barbecue, and cookies I brought them.

Our opponent was not happy with the outcome of the trial, and appealed.  And so a year and a half later we traveled to Austin for oral argument of the appeal — on my birthday.  We got in around noon the day before, and headed over to the Texas Chili Parlor, established in 1976, for lunch.

We used to eat there occasionally when I was in law school, so it was a little bit of a side trip down Memory Lane.  The chili was just as I remembered — hot, spicy, and chunky:

My hotel room had a view of the beautiful Capitol:

The rest of my group bailed on me for dinner, so I strolled over to The Clay Pit, an Indian restaurant down the street from the hotel.

Dining alone I was only able to sample a few things, but I really enjoyed my meal and  recommend this reasonably-priced restaurant.  Being the party girl that I am, I started with a glass of hibiscus iced tea and an order of papadum, which came with red and green chutneys:

For my main course I ordered channa saag, which was made with spinach, garbanzo beans, and herbs, and was served with rice:

Bright and early the next morning — my birthday — we headed over to the Third Court of Appeals for argument, located in the Price Daniel, Sr. Building.  According to the historical marker outside the building, Price Daniel held more offices of public trust than any other individual in Texas history.  Learn something new every day!

The building’s exterior was plain, but inside the courtroom was elegant, with comfortable upholstered benches.  Usually the benches are wooden and it feels like being in church; this felt more like being at the movies:

My boss expertly argued the appeal in his typically animated manner, and we felt like it went well.  We left, as always, cautiously optimistic.  It’ll be a few months before we find out which side won.

On the way home, my boss steered us towards Meyer’s Smokehouse in Elgin.  That was some good barbecue — so good I forgot to take any photos before everyone scarfed down their lunch.

Back at home, my family was waiting to take me out for birthday dinner at Provisions, one of my favorite restaurants.  We enjoyed everything we ordered, including:

White asparagus vichyssoise

Ham ‘O Day (a family favorite)

Bread service of Rye Berry Pumpernickel with Bay Blue and Beer Jelly

Cresta Di Gallo (a permanent fixture on the menu)

Fish Taco (from The Pass menu) — kombu/snapper/uni/avocado

King crab, watermelon, and tomato gazpacho (from The Pass menu)

All in all, it was a great birthday, full of fun surprises, and a million times better than last year’s!

SEIWA MARKET

Seiwa Market is a Japanese grocery that opened in September 2016.  It’s located at 1801 S. Dairy Ashford, #116, in a large strip center, flanked by numerous Asian businesses.  I’ve been to a number of Chinese and Korean groceries in Houston, and was curious to see what this Japanese market offered.  It has an unusual business philosophy, which is stated on its website as “What is the right thing to do as a human being?”  (Wouldn’t it be nice if we all stopped to think that from time to time?)  Seiwa Market advertises that it offers “affordable Japanese quality products at affordable price through partnership with GYOUMU Supermarket Japan.”

This little market is packed full of interesting things.  The produce department, which is the first area you’ll see when you enter, although small, offers plenty of fresh items, including a variety of fruits (biggest apples I’ve ever seen), herbs, potatoes and yams, shishito and other peppers, and citrus.

Beautiful red yams 

One produce item that intrigued me was gobo, which I was unfamiliar with:

I’ve since learned that gobo is burdock, a thin root vegetable that grows to be more than two feet long.  It’s often added to stews and stir fries, and pickled gobo is sometimes sold to accompany sushi or rice dishes.  It’s crunchy and has a sweet flavor similar to lotus root.  I wish I’d bought some when I saw it.  Next trip.

If you’re a green tea aficianado, you’ll be ecstatic at the many green tea and matcha items available.  In addition to dozens of excellent green teas (sold loose or in bags) and matcha powders, there were a bunch of green tea confections — a whole end cap display full of them

img_8633How about some matcha Oreo bits sandwiches, for example?

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Or matcha Oreo soft cookies?

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Matcha Pocky, anyone?

On weekends, the market has soft, sticky sweets flown in from Japan.  These were very popular with shoppers–there was a line to buy them, and they sold out by lunchtime:

There’s lots of interesting grocery items on the shelves, including a wide variety of sweet and savory snack foods and condiments.

Of particular interest to me was the many rice cookers for sale (I’ll be purchasing one for each of my kids soon).  They range in price from around $50 to several hundred dollars.

There was also a nice little assortment of Zojirushi thermoses, as well as tiffins, and lunch kits.  Zojirushi thermoses are incredible, and will keep your liquids hot or cold for at least 24 hours — they are reportedly popular with chefs for keeping sauces warm.

Seiwa Market also offers prepared foods and sushi, and although I did not try any on this visit, they appeared to be fresh and nicely prepared.

On my way to check out I passed a freezer case full of Mushi Cake.  I don’t know what Mushi Cake is, but I am guessing it is a popular treat.  Maybe next time — to go with the gobo.

There are some unusual recipes on the market’s website, none of which looked terribly appealing to me, but are worth checking out for the unintentionally awkward translations, like this description of Mixed Rice of Ginger:  “A little ginger and soy sauce are accented. Because ginger is not too tight, I will eat many cups! It is an easy recipe that can be even surplus rice.  If you keep the mixed rice with a rice cooker etc. for 1 ~ 2 hours, the taste becomes familiar and it becomes even more delicious.  Well, maybe ginger is “not too tight,” but I’m pretty sure that if you eat “many cups” of this mixed rice, soon your pants will be.  🙂

My daughter and I enjoyed our visits to Seiwa Market.  It’s quite out of the way for us, so we won’t be going regularly, but when we’re in the area, we will be sure to stop by.

THANKSGIVING DAY GIVING

It’s not that we don’t have seasons in Houston — it’s just that they tend to not be very dramatic.  It’s been unseasonably warm this fall — too warm for the leaves to turn color — and the signs that Thanksgiving was approaching were subtle.  One clue was the ripening pecans hanging in clusters, which made the squirrels very happy:

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Another clue was the appearance of acorns.  I pass some kind of oak tree on my way to work that had the BIGGEST acorns I’ve ever seen:

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There was an occasional colored leaf:

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Soon, turkeys started going on sale at the grocery store, along with canned pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and Pepperidge Farm stuffing, leaving no doubt that Thanksgiving was nearing.  And that meant it was time for my son’s Boy Scout Troop’s 2nd Annual Thanksgiving Day Luncheon for senior citizens living in and around our little community.

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When my son was working on his Eagle project (a fence around utility structures in a neighborhood park), a city employee suggested that the Troop might consider hosting this luncheon, which had been abandoned 5 or 6 years ago by the group that had previously hosted it.  Sure, why not?

Last year we had 19 guests, but this year word spread and we had close to 50.  Through donations of ingredients and dollars, we were able to provide a mostly home-cooked meal (meats and pies were purchased) of roast turkey with gravy, smoked ham, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, Southern-style corn, green bean casserole, fresh cranberry relish, vanilla cranberry sauce, rolls and butter, and assorted pies with whipped cream.

We did most of the cooking two days before, using Senior Services’ well-equipped kitchen.

img_3821The day before, Troop volunteers set up the activity room.  Working within our budget and the fact that we had to use paper and plastic tableware, I think we managed to make the room look worthy of our guests.

Our guests started arriving about 30 minutes before the start of the meal, and it gave us an opportunity to visit with them.  They were excited to be joining us, and many came elegantly dressed.  The room was buzzy with happy chatter.

The scouts did a great job of serving up the meal and interacting with the guests:

We sent each guest home with leftovers, for later in the day (because really, it isn’t Thanksgiving without leftovers):

leftovers

Each guest also received a festively-wrapped loaf of homemade Pumpkin Ginger Bread or Cranberry Orange Bread, for snacking on later in the day:

I’ve previously posted the recipes for Pumpkin Ginger Bread and Cranberry Orange Quick Bread.  These are such great little loaves — fragrant and moist, not too sweet.

The luncheon was a great success, and I enjoyed it as much as our guests.  As one of our guests was leaving, he called me over and said “I only have one complaint — everything was so good that I have nothing to complain about.”  He gave a little chuckle and said “That’s my joke.”  That’s the kind of complaint I love to hear!  I hope you got lots of “complaints” this Thanksgiving as well.  🙂

 

HOLIDAY ENTERTAINING WITH LA MADELEINE

This morning I attended a special holiday event at the original Houston location of La Madeleine County French Cafe, located at 10001 Wertheimer, in the Carillon shopping center, featuring some of the restaurant’s new offerings.  This bright and spacious location is one of my favorites.

La Madeleine’s first location opened in Dallas in 1983, and since then has grown to approximately 70 locations nationwide.  The restaurant’s casual atmosphere and French-inspired dishes make it a relaxing place for a leisurely meal, or to savor a cup of dark French roast coffee with a freshly-baked croissant or pastry.

We were ushered into a private room, where orange juice and champagne were waiting at each place setting for guests to make their own mimosas.

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What a great way to start the day!

We were told that we were going to be served three courses — breakfast, lunch, and dessert — in order to sample a variety of La Madeleine’s new holiday dishes.  The invite should have read “Dress — stretchy pants.”

First up was the new Country French Brunch from the catering menu, which included Egg & Cheese Croissant Bake, Cheesy Potato Gratin, an assortment of mini croissants (plain, almond, blackberry, and chocolate), and Fresh Cut Fruit Salade.  If you have it delivered, the restaurant will set it up like this:

You can also pick it up packaged and ready to bake at home (350 degrees for 20 minutes, I believe) (this is a more economical option, if you have an oven available):

The two hot dishes were rich and cheesy and just plain delicious.  Even though we all knew there was more coming, there were a lot of members of the Clean Plate Club.  If you need a dish to bring to a holiday potluck, or something special for a holiday weekend brunch, or just don’t feel like messing up the kitchen yet again this holiday season, the Country French Brunch is your answer.  The fruit salad, prepared fresh daily, was a nice complement to the rich dishes, and looked pretty on the plate.

Next up was the Holiday Cafe Sampler, which included the new Turkey and Cranberry Puff Pastry (also referred to as a friand), with a side of the restaurant’s famous Caesar Salade and a cup of the equally-famous Tomato Basil Soup:

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The sandwich, which also had gruyere inside, was accompanied with a side of gruyere cheese sauce, just in case there was a button on your pants that hadn’t popped open yet.  The sandwich, with everything it had going on, was a meal in itself, although that didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the soup and salad.  The cranberries in the sandwich provided a nice tart contrast and a bit of color, and definitely felt Thanksgiving-ish (or maybe day after Thanksgiving-ish).

As you might guess, at this point, there wasn’t much room for dessert, so we were invited to pack a to-go box to enjoy later.  The desserts, in true La Madeleine style, were beautiful and worth every calorie.  There were 3 creme brulee creations — caramel creme brulee, creme brulee cheesecake (cheesecake with a layer of creme brulee on top), and a gingerbread creme brulee tart.  There was also pumpkin pie, pecan tart, sacher torte parfait, and a fruit and cheese danish.

You can check out pricing and order online here.

Before we left, we were given a gift bundle, prettily packaged for holiday giving, which included a 12-pack of k-cups of La Madeleine’s french roast coffee, a cheerful coffee cup that said “joie de vivre,” a giant heart-shaped linzer cookie, a jar of La Madeleine’s tomato basil soup, and a soup bowl decorated with tomatoes that said “Bon Appetit.”

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I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be as thrilled as I was to receive one of these great bundles for a gift.  For that person who is difficult to buy for, or maybe just for someone you really like, keep this in mind.

I get invited to events like this from time to time.  Sometimes, if I’ve previously been to the establishment and was not impressed, I decline.  Sometimes it conflicts with my day job.  And sometimes I go and end up not writing about it because if I can’t, in good conscience, enthusiastically recommend an establishment, I won’t post about it — too many other places to find negative content on the internet.  This was one of the nicest events I’ve been invited to.  The staff was warm and welcoming, the food was wonderful, and everyone had a good time.  My family has been going to La Madeleine for decades — the sachertorte and strawberry napoleon have been desserts at many a special dinner here, I craved their blueberry scones when I was pregnant, and we always have a bag of their croutons in the refrigerator for Caesar salad.  I expect that the Country French Brunch is about to become a new holiday tradition for my family.